February 16, 2013

This week in TV Guide: February 18, 1961

Every year it seems there's yet another meaningless awards show on TV. And yet, very view of them seem to go away. (Personally, I don't think they'll stop until everyone's won at least
one.  I'm still waiting for mine.)

A variety of sources suggest that the "TV Guide Awards" began in 1999, but if the magazine says that then they're ignoring their own history - as this week's issue proves.  The TV Guide Awards started in 1960, and by the next year AP's Cynthia Lowry refers to the "three important awards-presenting shows - Oscar, Emmy and TV Guide."  The young medium hadn't been around that long, and there are already two awards shows devoted to it.

What makes this different from other awards shows of the time is that, in kind of an early People's Choice Awards, the winners of the TV Guide Awards are chosen entirely by viewer votes. The ballot we see here  for the 1961 Awards (which was scheduled to be on NBC April 11, but in fact didn't air until June 13) allows readers to cast their vote for Favorite Series, Favorite New Series, Best Single Musical or Variety Show, Best Single Dramatic Program, Best Single News or Information Program, Favorite Male Performer, and Favorite Female Performer.  Not many categories compared to today, hmm?


The awards show had a moderately successful run, lasting from 1960 until 1964.  It didn't always have a dedicated program built around it; for example, the 1963 awards were presented during the last segment of the Bob Hope Show.  According to the contemporary reports, the 1961 show had its pluses-and-minuses - the pluses included the entertainment portions, which were done on videotape; the minuses, which occurred during the live awards presentation, included technical glitches, speeches ending before they were done, and confused winners not knowing which way to exit the stage.  Despite all that, it sounds as if a good time was had by all.

Interested in knowing who won the '61 trophies?  You're going to have to wait until you get to the end of the column to find out.

***

One of those shows nominated for a TV Guide Award was Astaire Time, Fred Astaire's third television special, which was rerun on NBC Monday night "by popular demand".  Fred's guests include his current dancing partner Barrie Chase, the Count Basie band with singer Joe Williams, the Hermes Pan Dancers (Pan being Astaire's long-time choreographer) featuring Ruth and Jane Earl, and the David Rose Orchestra.  I've seen all the Astaire specials on DVD and this one, like the others, is terrific.

Continuing the awards theme, Wednesday night's U.S. Steel Hour on CBS presents "The Two Worlds of Charlie Gordon," starring Cliff Robertson, which would be made into the big-screen movie Charley, for which Robertson would win the Best Actor Oscar in 1968.

I don't think it won any awards, but one of the prestige shows of the time, David Susskind's Dupont Show of the Month, features a live 90-minute presentation of "The Lincoln Murder Case," starring Luther Adler, House Jameson and Roger Evan Boxill as John Wilkes Booth.*  I don't have a clip of that show, but for what it's worth, here's an episode of I've Got a Secret from 1956 featuring a gentleman whose secret was that he was an eyewitness to Lincoln's assassination.  Think of that for a minute - he lived during the Civil War, while Lincoln was President, and appeared on television.  That is something to marvel at.

*Meaning no disrespect to Roger Evan Boxill, I'd like to think he was cast as John Wilkes Booth because of the three names.


***

Once again, the sporting landscape is much different from today.  Let's take Saturday afternoon, for example.  Wide World of Sports hasn't premiered yet, and college basketball hasn't become a national obsession, with only two games on tap: SMU vs. Texas on Channel 11 and the Big Ten Game of the Week between Purdue and Michigan on Channel 4.  The NHL isn't on network TV and there isn't a team in Minnesota yet, so the hockey coverage is a taped replay of last night's game between the St. Paul Saints and the Omaha Knights.  The NBA isn't the cool game yet, so there's only one game - NBC has the Lakers and "Knickerbockers" in New York.  The PGA isn't a weekly happening, so the duffer out there has to settle for All-Star Golf  (Sam Snead vs. Bob Rosberg) on Channel 11.  Even the Pro Bowlers Tour hasn't hit the big time yet (it'll be on ABC next year), so we've got a potpourri of bowling shows: Bowling Stars at 3:30, and Championship Bowling at 5, both on Channel 5.  There is football, though, at least sort of: CBS presents a one-hour replay of the Packers-Lions Thanksgiving Day football game* from three months ago.

*That might seem strange, but CBS showed these condensed NFL games on off-season Saturdays through much of the 60s.  During the football season, they showed replays of major league baseball games.

But there's still boxing, and it's still a prime-time sport in 1961.  ABC's Fight of the Week features future middleweight champion Dick Tiger taking on Gene Armstrong from Madison Square Garden, which has apparently been turned around from the Lakers-Knicks game earlier in the day.  Tiger wins in a 9th round TKO, by the way.  Fight of the Week was the last regularly scheduled prime-time boxing show, running on Saturday nights through September 1963 before spending another year on Friday nights.  When it ended its run on September 11, 1964, it was the end of an era that at one time had seen as many as six televised boxing shows a week.

***

Jackie Gleason's profiled in an article sans byline.  He's described as "the star of a new CBS panel show called You're in the Picture, which went on the air Jan. 20 and which was pre-empted on Jan. 27 by Jackie himself, who spent a half hour apologizing to viewers for perpetuating 'that bomb' on them."

You're in the Picture was, in fact, one of the most infamous bombs in TV history.  Although the article professes confidence that the show would return, in fact it did not.  Of that initial episode, UPI's Vernon Scott wrote "Jackie Gleason is a big guy who does everything in a big way. Friday night he laid a big egg."  Gleason's apology on January 27, delivered with real panache, won raves from critics, including Scott, who this time called it "the most delightful show on television in the last few weeks"


Jackie Gleason : "You're in the Picture" by werquin

As detailed by Television Obscurities, there was great confusion as to what was going to happen after the January 27 apology show - as late as the day before the next broadcast (February 3), the network didn't know what they were going to get.  Kellogg's, the sponsor, apparently wanted (for some unfathomable reason) to continue with You're in the Picture, but Gleason did not.  What went out that night was Gleason again, continuing his apology, this time joined by a chimp.  Kellogg's dropped its sponsorship, and the remainder of the show's run (seven weeks) was in talk-show format, entitled The Jackie Gleason Show, with The Great One interviewing various celebrities.

Such a debacle might have brought down a lesser star, but not Gleason.  He would be back on CBS in 1962 with his big-budget variety show from Miami Beach, which would run for four successful years.

***

Maharis (left) with Milner and the famed 'vette
There's also a profile of George Maharis (again without byline), co-star of the CBS series Route 66. Maharis, much like Buz Murdock, the character he portrayed, comes across as loud, brash, a fighter, a man who "not only looks like a hood but might well have become one."  The article opens with the story of Maharis, while on location, walking into a bank and shouting, "All right, folks - this is a stick-up" before breaking into a big grin.  Everyone agrees that he was lucky he wasn't killed.  No question, he's a stark contrast to his Route 66 co-star, Martin Milner, a veteran actor who brings his family along during the location shoots whenever possible (virtually all of the show was shot on location).

Maharis is being prepped for stardom, - "the hottest thing to come along in TV since the invention of the hot plate," according to one executive.  But Maharis will miss several episodes in 1962, near the end of the second season, reportedly due to infectious hepatitis.  He returns for the start of the third season but there are rumors that he is difficult to work with, that he wants a movie career, that his illness persists.  Eventually he breaks his contract in the middle of the third season and leaves the series, and although he has steady work, he never does quite become the star that everyone thought he would be, back in 1961.

***

A few notes from the yellow Teletype section, where "It looks definite now for The Rifleman to switch from ABC to CBS in the fall."  For some reason the switch never happened though, and The Rifleman would end its days on ABC after two more seasons.

Producer Hubbell Robinson has four shows on tap for the 1961-62 season.  ABC is interested in Stage 61, although what they eventually got was Stage 67, and The Lawyer, which apparently nobody got.  NBC was luckier, though - it got not only the police series 87th Precinct, but the Boris Karloff-hosted Thriller.

There's also excitement about a TV version of the hit movie Some Like It Hot, with Vic Damone and Tina Louise.  Despite getting Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis to cameo at the start of the pilot, there were no takers.

***

And that goofy picture on the cover?  That's Nanette Fabray, who in 1961 was the star of her own sitcom, the appropriately-named Nanette Fabray show.  I must admit that I've never been a fan of hers; I find her brand of comedy loud, broad, obnoxious and overdone.  You know the saying "a little goes a long way?"  With Fabray, even a little could be too much.  And yet she's had a long and very successful career on television, and her fight with hearing loss has been quite admirable.  It just goes to show, as Jackie Gleason said, how hard it is to predict success.  It sure is for me, anyway.

***

That's right, I did promise you the winners of the TV Guide Awards, didn't I?  See how your favorites did:

Favorite Show: Perry Mason
Favorite New Show: Andy Griffith
Favorite Variety Show: Sing Along With Mitch
Male Performer: Raymond Burr
Female Performer: Carol Burnett
Best News Program: The Huntley-Brinkley Report
Dramatic Program: Macbeth, Hallmark Hall of Fame


3 comments:

  1. At home, I've got a sizable collection of old TV Guides dating back to before it was TV Guide (the earlist issues of Chicago's TV Forecast go back to 1948 - two years before I was born).

    Your featured issue here is one I had to pull out not long ago to settle a couple of friendly disagreements (all right, bets), so I took the opportunity to examine it further.

    I remember seeing the Jackie Gleason Apology show live, although the family hadn't seen the Game the week before. I was 10 at the time, and it was funnier than any cartoon I could have watched.
    The family watched the week after: Gleason started out by wondering what he was going to do for the half-hour, when he was joined onstage by a man carrying a chair, who put it down next to Gleason's - and turned out to be Art Carney. The two old friends spent the half-hour trading yarns from their early show days, with Carney showing off his skills as a mimic (FDR and Truman, and several news commentators from the war years). After the live show ended, Gleason informed CBS that this would be what he was going to do for however long they kept him on. (The chimp show you referred to was a few weeeks after that.)
    At the end of Gleason's run, CBS put on 'Way Out, a spook-show running mate for Twilight Zone, hosted by a pre-Willy Wonka Roald Dahl.

    Another show that aired the week covered by the TV Guide was Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall in its regular Wednesday time slot.
    The main guest was Anne Bancroft, who at the time was one of Broadway's most notable bachelorettes; the premise of the show was to show her the joys of married life.
    THe historical signifcance of this was that this show was where Anne Bancroft first met Mel Brooks, who was on Como's writing staff at the time. The two married a few years later, and the rest is history.

    As ong as I'm here, I'd like to address an item from your post of last week, in regard to the Superman TV series.
    That 60th anniversary would have been for Superman's first new York airing -
    - but Superman aired in Chicago for the first time back in the previous September, 1952.
    I've got the TV Forecast to prove it.
    Why Chicago before the rest of the country?
    Kellogg's ad agency, Leo Burnett, was headquartered in Chicago; they were in charge of syndication placement for the series, and gave first look to the old home town.

    Any time I can add on to a blog like this, I always seize the opportunity.
    Consider yourself warned.

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    Replies
    1. Great stuff, Mike! I love this kind of detail - keep 'em coming! I may be asking you for more info at some point!

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  2. When Fabray's sitcom was syndicated (despite only airing 26 episodes) it was under the title YES YES NANETTE. During its NBC run, its sponsor insisted on it being known as WESTINGHOUSE PLAYHOUSE.
    (and Bobby Diamond, who had costarred with Peter Graves on the Saturday morning show FURY, chose appearing in this one rather than becoming one of MY THREE SONS because the studio was closer to his home)

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