July 23, 2016

This week in TV Guide: July 21, 1956

On the cover this week are Bill Lundigan and Mary Costa, the commercial spokespersons for the Chrysler Corporation, currently sponsors of the shows Climax! and Shower of Stars. Remember, this is a time when the sponsor, not the network, wields the most clout; many times, the sponsor buys the airtime and then puts a show in that spot. This would change following the Quiz Show Scandal, but for now sponsors loom large, and there are few gigs better-paying or offering more visibility than serving as the face of the product on its commercials.

In less than two years, Bill Lundigan - ex-Marine, ex-radio announcer, ex-movie star - has logged over 100,000 miles traveling on behalf of Chrysler, and has met more than a half-million people. He and Costa, who often travel as a team, have appeared at "auto shows, dealer conventions, company dances, board meetings and other institutions designed to move the merchandise." All this has made him so well-known, so familiar to viewers, that when he goes on vacation, Chrysler has to explain to the public that he'd be back soon.

Before you start thinking this is a step down for Lundigan and Costa, keep in mind this is essentially the same job that Ronald Reagan performed for General Electric, touring the country for the company, speaking to employees and appearing at civic events. That wound up working out pretty well for him, didn't it? Interestingly, this article notes that although Lundigan's price for a starring role has tripled since he started working for Chrysler, he's only done one movie - a training film for auto salesmen, natch - in the last two years. "So far," he says, "I haven't been in Hollywood long enough ot make a picture."

Later, Bill Lundigan goes on to star in the single-season science-fiction show Men into Space, one of the first shows to take a fairly realistic look at space travel. Mary Costa would sing at the Metropolitan Opera and appear on countless variety shows over the years, but might be best known as the voice of Princess Aurora in Disney's Sleeping Beauty. And we know what happened to Ronald Reagan.

◊ ◊ ◊

This week, on the aforementioned Climax, a story of danger in the Orient - "The Man Who Lost His Head," with a very strong cast: Debra Paget* (The Ten Commandments), John Ericson (Honey West), Sir Cedric Hardwicke, and Peter Lorre. That's followed, on NBC, by Ford Theatre, with Edward G. Robinson in "A Set of Values." And on CBS, it's Four Star Playhouse, this week featuring Dick Powell in "Success Story." A very big lineup of stars, indeed.

*Who will be appearing at the Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention in September. I'll be there; will you?

◊ ◊ ◊

On Sunday, CBS's You Are There presents "The Fight at the O.K. Corral," reported by Walter Cronkite and staff. You Are There was a great way of introducing people, especially young viewers, into historical events by covering them as if they were occurring today, with analysis, interviews, and the like.

The cast includes Robert Bray, John Larch, and John Anderson as the Earps, DeForest Kelley as Ike Clanton, and Arthur Rease and Ernest Baldwin as the McLowrys. When I read this to my wife, she immediately commented, "So 'Spectre of the Gun' wasn't DeForest Kelley's first trip to the OK Corral!" No, it wasn't - but talk about missed opportunities! In that classic Star Trek episode, Bones plays not Ike Clanton, but Tom McLowry. Kirk has to play Ike, leader of the Clantons, I suppose - but still, wouldn't it have been great for Kelley to revisit the same role in a different show twelve years later? Quick quiz: how many actors have played the same historical character in multiple series?

◊ ◊ ◊

I think we did this once before, but for those late to the party, one of Ed Sullivan's first great on-air challenges came from Steve Allen, who left Tonight to take over an NBC variety show opposite Ed.* Steve was able to assemble a pretty good lineup week-in and week-out, which he combined with his stock cast and regular bits to produce an entertaining series. It didn't run as long as Ed's, of course, but then Allen said his goal was never to conquer Ed, but to coexist with him, which he did for three seasons. Let's see who gets the best of the contest this week.

*Replacing the Colgate Comedy Hour.

Sullivan: Ed's guests include: the Ames Brothers, singing quartet; veteran song-and-dance man Ted Lewis; T.C. Jones, impersonator now performing in the Broadway musical "New Faces"; operatic soprano Elaine Malbin; comedian Larry Daniels; and the Fredonis, acrobatic team.

Allen: Comedienne Judy Holliday, comic Buddy Hackett and the singing Four Lads are Steve's guests tonight. In a special remote from Birdland, a jazz spot in New York City, we see Count Basie and his band perform.

Well. Ted Lewis was very well-known in his day; after all, you don't get the moniker "Mr. Entertainment" for nothing. And of course the best-known of the Ames brothers was Ed, who went on to great fame as a solo singing act and as an actor in Daniel Boone, and even greater fame as a tomahawk thrower on The Tonight Show. But let's get real: Judy Holliday was an Academy Award winner, Buddy Hackett had a great stand-up career, and Count Basie! I think that's more than enough to give Allen the edge this week.

◊ ◊ ◊

In sports, this week's programming consists mostly of baseball and boxing (nothing earth-shattering), so the real action is off the field. ABC will be covering the College All-Star football game, pitting the NFL champion Cleveland Browns against a team of the year's best college all-stars, on August 10. Meanwhile, NBC has locked up the television rights to both the World Series and the baseball All-Star Game for another five years, with Gillette paying $3.25 million per year for radio and TV rights.* Next year, NBC adds its Saturday Game of the Week to its TV coverage. Finally, CBS will introduce the National Hockey League to network television for the first time, televising 10 Saturday afternoon games from January through March of next season.

*With most proceeds going to the Baseball Players Pension Fund. Times have changed, as we say so often.

We also learn from the TV Teletype that "TV has arrived." Proof is that Budd Schulberg is doing a "TV exposé story" for the big screen, starring Andy Griffith. The name of that movie? A Face in the Crowd, of course.

◊ ◊ ◊

In other news, I've long lamented the disappearance of cultural programming from television, and another case in point is this week's Producers' Showcase, in color at 7:00 pm on NBC. It's "Rosalinda," an adaptation of Johann Strauss's operetta Die Fledermaus, starring the great Cyril Ritchard, Jean Fenn, and Lois Hunt. Now, I admit that Fledermaus isn't particularly my cup of tea, especially when it's done at the Metropolitan Opera, but I think it's great in a light opera setting, as it is here. And, of course, anything with Ritchard (Captain Hook in Peter Pan) is worth watching.

Another worthy show is Fred Waring's 40th anniversary show, at 10:00 pm on NBC. Unless you're into the Time-Life type of Christmas albums, you probably don't know much, if anything, about Fred Waring*, but in the years before and after World War II, Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians was one of the most popular singing groups in America, in the fashion (though not the style) of Mitch Miller and Ray Coniff. Here's a sample:


*Fun fact: Fred Warning was also the George Foreman of his time, investing in and promoting a very popular kitchen gadget: the Waring Blender.

Again, I'm not sure I'd say this was my style, and I don't know that anyone would go for this kind of music today, but that's not the point - the point is that television today is poorer for not having musical programs such as this. Unless you count the screaming divas on shows like The Voice. Whih I don't.

◊ ◊ ◊

Finally, every once in a while we'll run across an issue that gives us more information about movie programs that have an overall title - you know, like NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies. Some of these may have been local programs, while others were syndicated packages, but whatever the reason, many of these programs have wonderful titles - as we see this week.

For example, there's Family Playhouse, which airs on both WLW-T (Cincinnati) and WLW-D (Dayton). I'll admit this one is kind of confusing, seeing as how they air at 11:15 pm and 11:30 pm respectively, a time when most of the family tends to be in bed. A more neutral title, not to mention one that just makes you feel happy, is Bluebird Theater, on WLW-C in Columbus at 11:15 pm. Armchair Theater, at 10:45 pm on WBNS in Columbus, is pretty descriptive: unless you're already in bed, that's probably where you're watching the movie. But then you should be watching Home Theater, at 11:20 pm.

Some titles are more descriptive: on weekdays at 4:30 pm, WKRC in Cincinnati has Ladies' Home Theater - try getting a title like that on the air today. WTVN in Columbus has Midday Movie at 12:30 pm - very descriptive, even if midday is technically noon - which is when WCPO in Cincinnati has Movie Matinee. Seems things would have worked better if they'd just switched titles. WTVN has Early Home Theater at 9:30 pm, which really isn't all that early, unless you compare it to Evening Theater on WHIO in Dayton at 11:50 pm - more like night than evening.

Then there are the programs that have a number in them, such as Theater Five, but you never know if the number in the title refers to the channel number or the time of day. Thus, we're understandably thrown for a brief loop when WLW-C, Channel 4, has Theater Five on at five. At least WBNS, also known as Channel 10, covers its bases with Channel Ten Theater, Saturday night at 10:30 pm. If only they could have moved the start time up by a half hour, there wouldn't be any confusion at all.

Finally, there's truth in advertising. Hollywood Theater, on WCPO, isn't from Hollywood at all, or at least not on Tuesday night: the feature is Genghis Khan, made in the Philippines. And Million Dollar Theater, which appears in one form or another in many markets but here happens to be on WKRC, begs the question as to whether these movies are really worth a million.

Great titles, huh? Do you remember any from your area?

3 comments:

  1. Do I! Stations in Kansas City had tons of film showcases with cool titles. KCMO had the Million Dollar Movie, Studio Five, The 9 O'Clock Movie, The Great Ones and in later years, there was Sunday Afternoon Cinema and the more generic Cinema 5.
    During its' years as an independent station, KBMA presented The 8 O'Clock Movie on weeknights, and on weekends there was Chiller Theater, Charlie Chan Theater and a movie show titled Those Heavy Flicks.
    I cannot recall the ones KMBC and WDAF had, but I'm sure they were pretty fab, too.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Do I! Stations in Kansas City had tons of film showcases with cool titles. KCMO had the Million Dollar Movie, Studio Five, The 9 O'Clock Movie, The Great Ones and in later years, there was Sunday Afternoon Cinema and the more generic Cinema 5.
    During its' years as an independent station, KBMA presented The 8 O'Clock Movie on weeknights, and on weekends there was Chiller Theater, Charlie Chan Theater and a movie show titled Those Heavy Flicks.
    I cannot recall the ones KMBC and WDAF had, but I'm sure they were pretty fabulous, too.

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for writing! Drive safely!