January 9, 2016

This week in TV Guide: January 8, 1954

As was the case with last week's issue, we're in Pittsburgh this week. But what a difference a week makes- or a dozen years, as it were. For whereas the issue of January 1, 1966 was, in every way, a TV Guide familiar to anyone who'd read issues from the '60s, flipping the pages of this issue is something like entering a foreign country.

The first thing you'll notice is that the viewing week begins on Friday, not Saturday, and runs through Thursday - a format that continues through July of this year. That can be a bit startling when you first see it. Speaking of which, when you get to the programming section, you won't see the familiar TV tube-shaped bullets denoting channel numbers. Instead, you'll see white numbers encased in a black circle, or black numbers with no outline at all.

In fact, as you page through the issue - all the pages are shiny, by the way, rather than the newspaper-like stock that the program section is printed on throughout most of TV Guide's run - you might be forgiven for thinking you're looking at one of those supplements from the Sunday newspaper, or perhaps the free handout you get at a convenience store. The magazine is heavy on local columnists and viewpoints, interspersed in the programming section rather than gathered at the front of the issue. There's a good reason for this - as TV Guide became a national publication, it frequently absorbed existing local publications, rebranding them but often retaining certain features that might have been unique to the market. In the case of Pittsburgh, it would appear that TV Guide's predecessor was a magazine named TV Digest, published by Television News, Inc. While the graphics, editorial, TV Teletype and some of the articles are from the national headquarters, there's also Bill Adler's Pittsburgh Parade (W.F. Adler was the editor on the Television News masthead), Harold V. Cohn's Observation Post, and a host of local advertisements.

There's nothing wrong with any of this, of course - it's just different.

***

ALL: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION   
I wonder. For all the talk about the Golden Age, for all the iconic shows from the decade of the '50s, the programs that are said to define the American fabric, is there any single show more indicative of America in 1954 than I Led 3 Lives?

The ad to your left says all about the '50s. In 1954, the Army-McCarthy hearings will become must-see viewing, the Cincinnati Reds will informally change their name to the Redlegs, and the Hollywood Blacklist is at its height. On the radio, I Was a Communist for the FBI, starring Dana Andrews, is syndicated to over 600 stations nationally. It is with this backdrop that in 1953, Ziv - the producer of the radio drama - makes a companion piece for television, I Led 3 Lives.

The show is based on real life, the story of Boston advertising executive Herb Philbrick, played by Richard Carlson, who joins the Communist party at the behest of the FBI. The catchphrase on that ad - "Citizen! Communist! Counterspy!" comes directly from the subtitle of Philbrick's 1952 book, I Led Three Lives: Citizen, 'Communist', Counterspy. According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, J. Edgar Hoover himself approved all the scripts.

Here's a sample episode of the show:


I'm not going to get into a political discussion of the program's merits, although longtime readers might be able to guess where I stand on it, but from the standpoint of a cultural archaeologist, it's a shame that I Led 3 Lives hasn't come out with an official DVD release of its three season. (One season for each life?) For regardless of whether or not you agree with the premise, whether or not you think it a good show, I can't think of any program that explains mid-50s America - its fears and anxieties, its politics, its heroes and villains, or the one issue that was an undercurrent to practically everything that went on in this country up to and including rock music - than I Led 3 Lives. It's a program that symbolizes it all in a nutshell.

***

Not only are the programs different from last week, the stations are as well. Channel 2, long the mighty KDKA, is WDTV here, the call letters it carries as a DuMont affiliate. There are only two other stations in Pittsburgh; WENS, Channel 16, the ABC affiliate, will go off the air in 1957, returning in 1959 as WQEX. It isn't even in last week's issue, nor is WKJF, Channel 53; that station will go off the air in August, not returning until 1969 when it is reborn as WPGH, the call letters it retains to this day. Speaking of WKFJ, look at the ad to your right, urging people to make the switch to UHF. I speak not of the technical merits of UHF vs. VHF, but doesn't the ad give off a little of the battle between AM and FM radio? "Convert NOW to FM for radio's clearest signal!" I can see that ad, can't you?

However different the lineups may be, there's still plenty that's familiar in this issue; you just have to look a little harder to find it. On Friday, for example, Jeanne Cooper and Walter Reed star in Pepsi-Cola Playhouse presentation of "The Gold Thumb" on ABC; Jeanne Cooper, of course, becomes a soap opera icon, as well as mother of Corbin Bernsen. Walter Reed does not go on to discover the cause of yellow fever and have a hospital named after him.

On Saturday Yvonne DeCarlo, still years away from playing Lily Munster, is part of "the average family" in The Backbone of America, and Barry Sullivan, not yet The Tall Man, is nonetheless a heroic newspaperman risking his life to help recapture the escaped killer he once saved from the Chair, in Ford Theater. Also on Saturday, Dave Garroway may be in the process of becoming a legend as host of NBC's Today Show, but he also has time to host his own variety show at 6:00pm Saturdays on NBC.*

*Although this issue doesn't show network affiliations, WDTV seems to take the smorgasbord approach - DuMont, NBC and CBS. Of course, at this point DuMont isn't even fielding a full schedule of programming each night.

On Sunday at 2:00pm ET, WJAC in Johnstown airs Studio One. The show is usually run on CBS Monday nights at 10:00pm, and when I flipped to the Monday listings, sure enough - there it is. But not on WJAC, which is instead showing NBC's Robert Montgomery Presents. At any rate, this episode of Studio One gives us comedian Jack Carter in a rare acting role in the story "Runaway," about a Brooklyn bus driver who uses his bus to drive to Miami. Now, Jackie Gleason played Ralph Kramden, a bus driver, and in the 1960s Gleason moved his show to Miami. Coincidence?

Also on Sunday, the Hallmark Hall of Fame, back when it was a weekly series, has "Crusade to Liberty," the true-life story of James Oglethorpe, "who fought a single-handed battle against England's debtor prisons" and later founded the colony of Georgia. Kind of a contrast to the sentimental chick-flick dreck that Hallmark has on today, don't you think?  And at 7:00pm on ABC, it's the third telecast of Motorola TV Hour, with a musical version of James Thurber's fanciful tale "The Thirteen Clocks" featuring an all-star cast: Roberta Peters, who will go on to become one of the all-time greats at the Metropolitan Opera, Basil Rathbone, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, and John Raitt.

Meanwhile, on Monday, it's the regular telecast of Studio One, "The Remarkable Incident at Carson Corners," written by Reginald Rose. You can see that episode here. On Tuesday, Bishop Fulton Sheen discusses philosophy and religion in DuMont's Life Is Worth Living. (Let's not forget Bishop Sheen also did many programs discussing the evils of Communism.)  Wednesday is fight night on CBS, and Blue Ribbon Bouts presents former heavyweight champion Ezzard Charles taking on Bob Satterfield in a ten-round bout. If you're interested in another example of early television, here is the broadcast of Charles' knockout victory.


If, like my wife, boxing leaves you squeamish, then NBC has This Is Your Life on opposite the fight, with perhaps the greatest program description I've ever seen, keeping in mind the show was broadcast live: "THIS IS YOUR LIFE. Ralph Edwards. Someone's life story." Almost like a Bob & Ray bit, don't you think?*

*By the way, the subject du jour on This Is Your Life turned out to be character actress Hope Emerson, whom us classic TV fans recognize as Mother on Peter Gunn.

There's nothing particularly noteworthy on Thursday, but I did notice something charming in the listing for Channel 2's 11pm news. It's called The World Tonight, with future legendary Pittsburgh anchorman Bill Burns and future legendary football announcer Ray Scott.* A notable pairing to be sure, but what intrigued me was that the listing also includes this note: "Sponsor: Fort Pitt Brewing Company." I dare say you wouldn't see that in a TV Guide of the '60s.

*Scott's signature call as the announcer of Green Bay Packers games: "Starr...Dowler...Touchdown, Green Bay." How many times I thrilled to that. Scott was known and loved for his economy of words when announcing a game, a trait today's announcers could take note of.)

***

A couple other things that caught my eye. The first is the ad below for the Copa nightclub in Pittsburgh, which I suspect Kliph Nesteroff could probably tell us more about.. Has nothing whatsoever to do with television; in fact, it might be thought of as a competitor. I suppose it's no different from the ads I've seen in '60s Twin Cities issues for the Guthrie Theater and local movie houses, but it still seems strange.


The second thing is this picture from the cover story on model-turned-actress Joan Caulfield. Had I not known she had been a model, this would have convinced me - it's a much more attractive picture than that used on the cover - even nicer than the picture of Dinah Shore they have earlier in the "TV Guide Singer Album." I wonder why they didn't use it?


6 comments:

  1. I have the Chicago edition for this week.
    Going through the listings just now ...
    ... apparently, Pittsburgh was the Delayed Broadcast capital of the Eastern Seaboard.

    Examples:
    - Dave Garroway's prime-time show airs on the NBC network on Friday night.
    - The Motorola TV Hour You describe aired on the ABC network the previous Tuesday. The new one this Tuesday is "The Last Days Of Hitler".
    - This isn't a DB, but This Is Your Life caught my eye.
    In 1954, Hope Emerson was best known for playing the menacing prison matron in the 1950 movie Caged, as well as other parts equally glamorous.
    Are you sure that the TIYL subject this week wasn't Faye Emerson, who was more the sort of celebrity that Ralph Edwards favored as a guest of honor (and who, coincidentally, is missing from I've Got A Secret this week)?

    - In Chicago, TV GUIDE made the switch from slick to roto paper earlier than Pittsburgh did; of course, we had more stations (four in town, plus two in Milwaukee), with the expected extra advertising and such.

    - Ads for nightclubs were fairly commonplace in Chicago editions, going as far back as the late '40s.
    Many singers and comedians (and even acrobats) would appear on local variety shows to plug their club dates around town and elsewhere.
    Jaye P. Morgan was quite popular in clubs and hotel showrooms at this time; TV appearances had everything to do with maintaining that status.
    It was, as they say, a Different Time ...

    'Til Monday ...
    (... which is probably gonna be a mess ...)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great wrap-up of the magazine, Mitchell. Interesting to learn that TV Guide essentially expanded nationally by taking over state-based magazines. Very clever strategy, actually.

    Interesting too to see the program week go from Friday to Thursday. I had just assumed TV Guide was always Saturday to Friday.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Well, as you probably know, if Pittsburgh had only one VHF station at that time, neyworks were going to pile onto it...leading to delayed broadcasts by necessity at times. And THE HALLMARK HALL OF FAME was a fairly serious anthology series up through the '70s...the cable channel certainly leans toward syrup an "comfort" television, but the HALL didi some good work for at least most of its run...certainly the longest-running, if never weekly, dramatic series in US television.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I have this same issue from NY City. Like the nightclub ad, the NY TV Guide had an ad for a non-tv form of entertainment. There was a small print ad for two then-current Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals, one a hit (The King and I), the other a relative flop (Me and Juliet).

    ReplyDelete
  5. When we all introduced ourselves here. We were received warmly by all those who participated in the event. Events at venue NYC are a lot of fun, giving access to features that aren't always the easiest to get into and aren't always the most wallet friendly.

    ReplyDelete
  6. At least the producer of I LED THREE LIVES, Ziv, would hire blacklisted actors!

    ReplyDelete

And now for something completely different.