September 15, 2012

This week in TV Guide: September 13, 1958

How times change.  Look at the TV Guide logo on the cover of this week's edition: not the famillar red, but blue.  TV Guide did this this from time to time, back in the day, when the cover's color scheme demanded it.  Blue, white, other colors.  I don't know offhand when they did this for the last time; I've got a Christmas issue from 1962 where the logo is gold. And then it became so, I don't, know, corporate.

And with that, we're off on another week of TV Guide, and in case you hadn't noticed, the theme is change.  Sometimes the change is evolutionary, based on changing times.  Other times, the changes we've seen make the past seem like it came from another planet.  Either way, things just aren't what they used to be.

The relationship between TV and football, for example.  Here we are at Saturday, September 13, and the big sports story on television is not college football, but the national pasttime - baseball.  It's a preview of the upcoming World Series, sort of: CBS' team of Dizzy Dean and Buddy Blattner covers the eventual American League champion Yankees vs. the White Sox in Chicago, while NBC counters with the Cardinals visiting the soon-to-be National League champion Milwaukee Braves, broacast by Leo Durocher and Lindsay Nelson.  Dueling national broadcasts - but as we saw last week, this was before leagues negotiated national broadcasting contracts, so the networks were free to deal with teams (and their sponsors) on an individual basis.   ABC would get into the act as well in the early 60s, before Major League Baseball awarded the exclusive national contract to NBC.

There's also no pro football on Sunday - at least none that counts.  The NFL's season, which today runs 16 games (with a bye week) and one year started before Labor Day, was only 12 games in 1958, which meant that the regular season didn't kick off until September 28.  So if you wanted some football, you got the preseason kind - in this case, an innocuous matchup between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts.  Ah, but little did we know that these two teams would meet again for the NFL Championship on December 28 - aka The Greatest Game Ever Played.

The great thing about a statewide TV Guide
Edition - if you don't like one station's ad,
there's always another one
And then there's the network news.  In the days before CNN introduced us to 24/7 TV news, the holy grail for news junkies was a prime-time spot, preferably an hour, with plenty of time for an in-depth look at serious issues, a chance to educate viewers, and a look at foreign news, which typically didn't get much attention in this country except in times of war.  Well, in 1958 you had it, or at least part of it: a regularly scheduled 15 minute broadcast* airing at 9:30pm CT, featuring ABC's news chief, John Daly.  Yes, the same John Charles Daly who was also hosting What's My Line? on CBS.  What I find remarkable about that is not that a newscaster was also doing a game show; Daly was always a newsman first, and besides, What's My Line? wasn't really a game show, but something far more sophisticated.  No, imagine the idea of a prominent television figure with prime-time shows on more than one network.  This at a time when networks were very protective of their turf: if you were the star of a series on CBS, for example, but you were a guest on NBC's Tonight show, you could only say that you appeared on "another network."  After awhile it became a joke; Daly himself would often flaunt it, mentioning that the week's Mystery Guest would be appearing on "another network, which might have the initials N-B-C," or something similar.  This wasn't the first time ABC had experimented with a prime-time newscast; they'd tried it in 1952, but it failed then, and failed now; Daly, who had been replaced by Don Goddard in the traditional pre-dinner timeslot when he made the move to prime-time, would return to the old timeslot by 1959.

*Four days a week; ABC had boxing on Wednesdays

Speaking of game shows as we were a moment ago, change is in the air there as well, with the advent of the Quiz Show Scandals signaling the beginning of the end of the big-money, big-ratings shows.  Burt Boyar's "Facts Behind Quiz Scandal" details the genesis of the scandal, which hasn't ripened into the full-blown Robert Redford era quite yet; the focus of the story is on the dispute between Herb Stempel and the producers of the show Twenty One, Dan Enright and Jack Barry.  Stempel claims he was forced off the program, while Enright and Barry counter that Stempel needs psychiatric care.  Dotto, the show that instigated the scandal, has been taken off the air, but Twenty One is still on NBC, and its most famous hero, Charles Van Doren, is still on the Today show.  Van Doren, in fact, isn't mentioned in the article at all, but there is what must have been a tantalizing line for those millions who idolized the brilliant, handsome Van Doren; Jack Narz, the host of the disgraced Dotto, says "there isn't a quiz show on the air which doesn't have some control over its contestants."  Boyar writes that "[w]here or when this drama will end is anyone's business," and, as is so often the case with these old TV Guide articles, it is the story yet to come that intrigues.

Suitable for TV snackin'
Another type of change - "out with the old, in with the new" - can be seen as the curtain falls on what was then television's longest-running and most storied drama series, the anthology Kraft Theatre, which had been a staple of NBC's schedule since 1947.  Its pedigree was indeed impressive; "the first commercial network show and the first sponsored show to go over the coaxial cable to the Midwest.  It was the first hour-long drama show in color, and the first to be televised in color on a weekly basis."  Its 650 presentations included a remarkable live version of the sinking-of-the-Titanic drama A Night to Remember.

Just don't throw it
through the window
Do you remember when local ads ran in TV Guide?  Not ads for shows, but for products like Listerine and cheese-flavored Kor-Chees.  It seems an odd thing to see in these pages - more appropriate, perhaps, to appear in the local newspaper.  But then, as suggested by this ad encouraging parents to sign their kids up as TV Guide delivery boys, maybe people used TVG in the same manner as they did a paper.  (Speaking of change, it took a lot less change to subscribe to TV Guide back then - $5.00 for 52 weeks.)  They consulted it for television listings, feature articles, the latest entertainment news from New York and Hollywood.  They even had a "Mr. Fixit"-type column on "How to Cure 4 Common TV Headaches."  The questions remind one of how far technology has come, and how much we take our crystal-clear HD pictures for granted:
  • At night a black jagged bar about a half-inch wide rips horizontally through my picture on Channels 2 through 6.
  • During the day, the picture on my set is beautiful.  At night it shrinks and gets dark.
  • When I was told my picture tube was weak I bought a new set.  I put the old TV in the den for the kids.  However, my new set acts erratic.  It only happens when I'm watching Channel 6 and the kids watch Channel 3.  My 6 whitewashes out. 
  • For the last few months we've had a ham-radio operator living across the street.  It seems to me that since then, Channel 6, which was my best station, has developed a continual herringbone-pattern overlay.*
* Seems to me being Channel 6 was not a good thing in those days.

Advertising has changed as well - while future back cover ads declare, "You've come a long way, baby," in 1958 there was still room for the ad on your right, featuring singing star Jimmie Rodgers, for Halo shampoo, reminding all you ladies out there that "You can always tell a HALO girl."  Ah, doesn't it make you all want to be Halo girls?"

This whole piece has been about change, but perhaps the biggest change of all was the change that doesn't appear in this issue, but was hinted at on practically every-other page: the 1958 Fall Preview issue, coming the following week.  In those pages we'd learn of the new season ahead, featuring "Eleven new Westerns, many music and variety shows, more gumshoes," sports and "spectaculars."  They always did know how to make you want to stay tuned, didn't they?

1 comment:

  1. It appears KMMT must have had a videotape recorder by September, 1958 so that they could record John Daly's ABC newscast at 9:30 P.M. Central for playback at 10:15 Central, after the late local news.

    Since ABC had a weekly Wednesday-night boxing match ion the 1958-59 TVs season, I would think Daly's newscast probably didn't come on until about 9:45 Central (10:45 Eastern); or if after 9:45 Central, right after the boxing telecast ended

    ReplyDelete

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