April 27, 2013

This week in TV Guide: April 27, 1957

There’s discontent rising in the land, my friends, and it’s about to boil over. It pits neighbor against neighbor, city against city, network against network; and there’s no telling how far it may go before it’s done. I speak, of course, of: Daylight Savings Time.

Daylight Time was scheduled to go into effect for the year at 2am on Sunday, April 28.  That is, in places where it was observed.  And what a mess that was, as TV Guide points out.   "Duluth, Minn., and Superior, Wis., lie right next to each other in the Central Time Zone.*  Both receive programs from the same TV stations.  During the winter, everything is fine.  Come summer, Superior goes to daylight time; Duluth, however, stays on standard (unless the state legislature passes a new law).  To which of the two times should programs be geared?"

*I can vouch for this, having been in Duluth before.  The area is often referred to as "Duluth-Superior."

See, at this point both the federal and some state governments have left it up to local communities to decide whether or not to go on Daylight Savings Time.  Minnesota, as a state, did not observe it; the legislature, however, was in the process of debating a law that would put Minneapolis-St. Paul and Duluth on it, leaving the rest of the state on Standard Time.  This becomes a major issue for the networks, who are at this point still dealing with a substantial number of live programs.  The advent of tape has helped things to an extent, but it's still confusing, as this example of the Ed Sullivan and Steve Allen shows illustrates.  The shows are initially broadcast live at 8pm in New York.  New York follows Daylight Time.

Instead of being televised [live to other parts of the country], they are recorded on tape.  The tape is held for three hours, then transmitted at 8 o'clock  Los Angeles PDT.  The tape is simultaneously fed back to stations in the Central Standard Zone for broadcast at the usual air time there of 9 o'clock and in the Mountain Standard Zone at 8 o'clock.

Do you have a headache yet?  If not, consider that Seattle remains on Standard time, which puts it an hour behind Los Angeles.  Seattle is frequent host to televised boxing.  With an air time of 10:00pm EDT, this means the main event must begin at 6:00pm PST, with the undercard starting even earlier.  As an NBC exec says, "What fight fan wants to watch a fight at 6 o'clock?  He hasn't even had is dinner yet."

The effect of this national confusion isn't limited to TV, of course - airlines and railroads have to deal with the shifting sands of time as well.  Whatever you have to say about Daylight Savings Time (I'm against it, personally), I think everyone can agree that things were much worse back then.

***

As you can see from the cover, the feature story this week is on Groucho Marx, whose show You Bet Your Life is one of the top-rated programs on TV.  Groucho  was seldom at a loss for words, and this week's interview, conducted at Romanoff's restaurant by staff writer Dan Jenkins (not this one)  is no exception.

Groucho on criticism of TV: "I don't see why everybody, including myself, should spend so much time criticizing television.  I think television has done a remarkably good job considering the circumstances.  If you were the advertising man entrusted with the spending of two or three million dollars, would you try to elevate the public or would you try to find yourself a good commercial show?  When the public wants to be elevated, it will do its own elevating."

On Hollywood creativity: "People look upon Hollywood as a great outdoor lunatic asylum.  This is not true.  There are some very intelligent people in Hollywood - intelligent enough to know what all the rest of the lunatics want in the way of entertainment."

On appearing as a guest on other programs:  "I've regretted most of the guest spots I've done.  But for one of them, a four-minute spot, I got $25,000.  How can I regret that?  If somebody wants to spend his money that foolishly, I am quite happy to help him out."

On the unfairness of the TV ratings system: "The only way to judge a show's value is to examine the sales record of the show's product.  I think I am safe in saying that De Soto [the car company that sponsored his show] barely existed in the public's mind before You Bet Your Life, and then only as a character who preceded Mark Twain on the Mississippi.  I think they know now that De Soto is an automobile.  I drive two of them myself, though not at the same time."

On the photographer suggesting Groucho might want to hide his drink before being photographed: "Why?  And if it looks like tomato juice, tell 'em there's vodka in it.  I don't see why I should hide the fact that I have a drink with my lunch.  Let's order a drink for the photographer.  He probably needs one more than I do."

On the future:  "The future will have a TV screen covering your living-room wall.  All in color."  Lest this sound too scholarly, considering this has to an extent come to pass, he adds, "The set itself will erupt popcorn at regular intervals.  They'll even send a man to your house to put his feet on your shoulders and provide background talking and paper rustling."

***

Saturday morning's presentation of Winky Dink and You on CBS is the last show of the series, to be replaced the next week by Susan's Show, hosted by Susan Heinkel.  Susan's Show debuted in 1956 on Chicago CBS affiliate WBBM before moving to the network a year later.*  The premise of Susan's Show was pretty simple: using a magic flying stool, Susie would travel to mystical lands, where she would engage in adventures with her dog Rusty.  In other words, pretty standard kids' TV fare.

*Chicago was a hotbed of television in the early days, and many series made the transition from local to national broadcasts.

By the way, did I mention that Susan Heinkel is 12 years old? Not only that, she's a show biz veteran, having started her career in St. Louis at the age of three, and she's a hit in Chicago, trailing only the Mickey Mouse Club in the daytime ratings.  Notes the article, "Susan ad-libs commercials with astonishing poise." 


Think about that next time you get a bumper-sticker talking about how your kid's an honor student.  Impressive, but does she have her own TV show yet?

***

As alluded to earlier, Ed Sullivan and Steve Allen continue their battle for Sunday night ratings supremacy.  NBC attached such importance to Allen's show that he gave up the Tonight Show to concentrate on Ed.  Since we don't have The Hollywood Palace to look at, let's see how Ed and Steve match up.

Tonight Ed welcomes Lena Horne, singer; young actor Anthony Perkins, in his TV singing debut; Bill Haley's Comets; comedians George de Witt and Jack Paar; Apaka, Honolulu's top recording star; the Happy Jesters, instrumental group; Heidi, Toronto's adding dog; and Jim Piersall, Boston Red Sox outfielder.

Meanwhile, Steve greets comedians Jack Carson and Don Adams' songstresses Brenda Lee and Abbe Lane, who is joined by Xavier Cugat and his band; and dancers Peter Gennarro and Ellen Ray from the Braodway musical "Bells Are Ringing."

Not bad.  You can clearly see Ed's vaudeville roots showing, far more than Allen, who concentrates on more established stars.  Abbe Lane, profiled in the front of the magazine, is not only a talented singer and dancer, she's a knockout (with "one of the world's most remarkable torsos"), who's married to the bandleader Cugat (his fourth wife; he later divorces her and marries Charo).  Don Adams will eventually become Maxwell Smart, and Jack Carson is a TV mainstay.

On the other hand, it's hard to top the great Lena Horne, and although Perkins is supposed to sing, he's also there to plug the movie Fear Strikes Out, the true story of Jim Piersall's struggle with mental illness.*  But the reason I'm giving this one to Sullivan is a more whimsical one: Jack Paar, who's appearing on Ed's show, will - three months later - take over the Tonight Show; the very program that Steve Allen had given up.  I love that kind of irony.

*Perkins' widow, Berry Berenson, was killed on American Airlines flight 11 during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

***


Wouldn't be able to get away with this today.
Baseball season!  But it's pre-major league baseball in the Twin Cities, so there's no Minnesota Twins.  Instead, there's the Minneapolis Millers, the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Giants,  who the year before moved from Minneapolis to the brand-new Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington (even though TV Guide, which lacks the subtleties, says the Met is in Minneapolis).  The new digs have been built in hopes of luring a major league team, and in time they will - the Washington Senators, who make Minnesota their home in 1961.  On Thursday night the Millers take on the Louisville Colonels.  A quick glance at the lineups gives me the name of at least one future star, Orlando Cepada, who plays for the Millers before being called up to the Giants, now in San Francisco, in 1958.  Cepada is elected to the Hall of Fame in 1999.

There is major league baseball on TV Saturday afternoon, though it isn't seen in the Twin Cities. (Perhaps the Millers were playing at home and the games were blacked out?)  Lindsay Nelson and Leo Durocher are behind the mic for NBC as the Brooklyn Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates face off from Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, while the irrepressible Dizzy Dean and Buddy Blattner call CBS's telecast of the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indians in Cleveland's Municipal Stadium.

***

"To a national audience, Mike Wallace is known as the sympathetic quizmaster on "The Big Surprise," which recently left the air.  New Yorkers, however, know him as the incisive interviewer on a late evening local program which made its debut last fall and created widespread interest."

And with that, ABC launched the debut episode of The Mike Wallace Interviews, which introduced us to the Mike Wallace we all came to know and love (or hate).  I've seen clips of Wallace as game show host, actor and commercial pitchman, and I'm sure that acting experience helped hone his skills when it came to interviewing.  Still, it's hard to imagine Mike Wallace as anything other than the newsman and 60 Minutes star, isn't it?  Kind of like finding out your parents were once young - it just doesn't compute.

Also, there's a note in the Teletype that confirms "CBS's new Perry Mason show, starring Raymond Burr, will replace Jackie Gleason next fall."  Who could have imagined how that would turn out.

***

Speaking of which, we'll end today with the kind of footnote to which I'm so often drawn.  Again from the Teletype:

"Charles Van Doren, Twenty-One winner, has signed an exclusive contract with NBC.  Tentatively, they'll build a quiz show around him, use him as consultant on educational shows.  He'll continue as college prof."

This was, of course, before the Quiz Show Scandals, before he was exposed as being part of the rigged show, before he was fired from NBC and Columbia University.  In other words, before everything fell apart.

But as far as this issue of TV Guide is concerned, all of that is in the future.  And what impresses me the most is looking at this note, so innocent and without guile.  It's not a reprint, it's not a message that blinks on a computer archive.  (As you'll be reading it.)  No, what I hold in my hands is the actual TV Guide, a historical document, if you will, which came out before anything had hit the fan.  It was not only written in the context of the time, it was printed and sold in that context as well.  It's kind of like the difference between a lithograph of the Declaration of Independence and the real thing, though not nearly as important, of course.  It is, nonetheless, living history. Our history.  And that never fails to impress me.

3 comments

  1. Susan's Show.

    Susan Heinkel.

    OMG, as the kids say these days.

    In 1957, I was six-going-on-seven; my brother and sisters had been watching Susan's Show from the start.
    I think Susan was a bit younger than 12 when the show started out, but that's neither here nor there.
    It may have been that I was not quite at the point of acknowledging that the difference between boys and girls was essentially a good thing, but that's neither here nor there either.
    What I do remember was that the network run was short-lived, but the local run continued until Susan started to get teenaged, whereupon she was promoted to a morning show called Susan And The Professor which teamed her with a wonderful comedian named Yonely, who had been doing a comic music act in Chicago clubs for years. Susan played straightwoman for "Professor" Yonely, quite proficiently; when that show ran its course, Yonely went back to nightclubs, and Susan left the business without looking back.
    In the Susan's Show clip, the other voices are being done off-camera by John Coughlin, a staff announcer at channel 2.
    Coughlin was at ch2 forever, doing funny voices and on-camera chracters for kid shows, booth announcing,and ultimately becoming the station's weatherman in the '70s.
    Coughlin was so popular in this role that when ch2 tried to replace him with a younger man, they got hit with thousands of letters and calls protesting the decision; he was reinstated forthwith.
    When John Coughlin retired (voluntarily) around 1990, Susan Heinkel, who had long since retired to housewifery, recorded a tribute to him for use on a ch 2 special program.

    So much for nostalgia.
    I've got this issue at home; I may have more tomorrow.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Missed your commentary last week, Mike. Welcome back! Thanks for providing some more information on Susan, as that answers a couple of questions that had come in.

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  2. I'm sitting here, with the TV Guide issue in hand.

    Last night, I gave it a once-over, looking for things to comment on, and I happened on something that attracted little notice at the time, but turns out to be quite significant indeed.

    Starting in the spring of '57 (several weeks before the week of this issue), the ABC network began a series called Hollywood Film Theater, consisting of a number of major movies from the RKO-Radio library, including Gunga Din, King Kong, Bringing Up Baby, Mr.Blandings Builds His Dream House, Top Hat, and other pre-'48 releases.
    There's a story behind this:
    RKO was on its last legs at this point. In order to stay in business they had to sell off any assets they could; this was when they sold their studio facilities and back lot to Desi and Lucy (hence Desilu).
    The first thing to go was the RKO film library, which was sold to the C&C Super Company, a Texas-based variety store chain, which promptly sold the whole 700+- library to TV stations around the country for broadcast use in perpetuity - any station that bought Movietime USA in 1955 still can show the old RKO movies to this day (and some do; more on that later).

    Among the first buyers of Movietime USA were the ABC owned-and-operated stations, in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Detroit. The package did well for the O&Os, outrating more expensive fare on the stronger NBC and CBS stations on many nights. The network brass took note, and made a separate deal to show some of the more famed RKO titles during the '57 season.

    ABC concentrated on the really major stuff: the films mentioned above plus some John Waynes and big-time war films from major directors.
    Wheeler & Woolsey, Fibber Mcgee & Molly, the Great Gildersleeve, Dick Tracy, and even the Falcon didn't make the network cut.
    (And I'm not absolutely sure, but I don't think Citizen Kane got on ABC that summer either.)

    Hollywood Film Theater only lasted until September, and it wasn't until 1961 that NBC bought a big package of Fox and Paramount movies for network use, thereby opening the floodgates for theatricals in prime-time.
    All those RKO clasics reverted to the Movietime USA package - and channel 7 here in Chicago still fills late overnights on the weekends with some of the more obscure ones (per the deal I mentioned above).

    There's lots of other stuff I could comment on in this issue, but they're mostly about local Chicago shows and personalities that you wouldn't recognize in Minnesota.
    The other thing you mentioned - the Quiz Show Scandal - probably deserves an essay of its own.
    When and if ...
    .

    ReplyDelete

And now for something completely different.