October 22, 2016

This week in TV Guide: October 21, 1961

Do commercials actually have to be offensive? According to Martin Abramson's article, there's a school of thought that says this is precisely the case. (Then again, there was a school of thought that believed Hello, Larry was a good idea, too.)

What we have, apparently, is a situation akin to that which we find in political commercials today - namely, that obnoxious commercials are often the most effective ones. Commercials for pharmaceuticals generate the most complaints, but as Robert Robb, executive VP of the Reach, McClinton ad agency, points out, it's a case where you "sell through irritation." "When people suffer an attack of gas or a splitting pain, they run out for the remedy whose TV message they associate with their pain or discomfort. Some commercials - like the one for a headache tablet that had hammers banging in the brain - actually give many people the headache that the tablet will subsequently cure." Nice work if you can get it.

Rosser Reeves is seen as the hottest new voice in the ad business, and he's recently made waves with his comment that originality is "the most dangerous word in advertising." For Reeves, nothing succeeds like hitting the viewers over the head with the same commercial over and over and over again. (Now we know who to thank for the invention of the mute button.) It's not a universally-accepted thesis; Sylvia Dowling, VP of Benton and Bowles, says that the reason clever commercials often have bad track records is "because you can't sell on entertainment alone." No matter how fresh, how clever, how humorous the commercial, you have to be "getting across one strong simple selling idea in each commercial" in order to move the product.

Charles Kebbe, who runs a school for commercial performers, explains how the philosophy of people like Rosser Reeves came to be. Originally, he says, TV commercials were pretty clever. "But then as costs zoomed, the print-minded and print-trained agency heads and sponsor representatives too control of everything, and now 90 percent of the commercials you see are wrong for this unique, visual medium. They're static and they're as imitative as rabbits. The people turning them out are scared to take chances. And most of the performers they hire to deliver commercial messages are peas-in-a-pod, model-pretty girls and all-American boys who have no conviction or interest in what they're doing."

There is hope, however; CBS has started to crack down on the "more odious commercials," and the American TV Commercials Festival has started handing out awards to the best commercials of the year. Referring to those commercials for antacid and headaches, one ad agency executive says that because of steps like these, "There'll be fewer stomach arrows and explosions in people's heads in the future." And yet...

Let's look back at today's political commercials again for a moment. One of the comments that jumps out in this article is that the most effective commercials are those in which people remember the name of the product. "If their recall doesn't indicate a sales message is getting through, the commercial is dropped." We know everyone hates those negative political attack ads, and yet polls consistently indicate they're the most effective form of advertising when it comes to getting across a candidate's message.

People tend to give more negative feedback than positive; they're more likely to write a letter of complaint than one of praise. Perhaps, then, Rosser Reeves is right - the more irritated the viewer, the more likely they are to remember the message. And if they remember that it's the other candidate they're supposed to be irritated at, then you're home free.

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One of Ed Sullivan's first great on-air challenges came from Steve Allen, who left Tonight to take over an NBC variety show which, at the beginning, aired opposite Ed. 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.

Sullivan: Ed's guests include Phil Silvers and Nancy Walker, who present songs and scenes from their musical comedy "Do Re Mi"; comedy teams Wayne and Shuster and Antone and Curtiss; singer Matt Monro; and the winners of the Harvest Moon Ball dance. .

Allen: Vocalists Jennie Smith and Jack Jones and a group of singing comics called the Characters (Charles Hunt, Carmen and Champ Baccari, Johnny Rico and Jack Kent) are Steve's guests.

This is kind of hard to tell, because aside from Jack Jones I don't really know any of Allen's guests. However, Matt Monro had a long and successful careeer; bet you'll recognize him from his 1963 hit "From Russia With Love," from the movie of the same title. Phil Silvers and Nancy Walker ought to be able to carry Ed past the finish line, so the verdict goes to  Sullivan.

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In sports, television coverage of the 1961-62 NBA season tips off on Saturday as the New York Knickerbockers take on the Philadelphia Warriors. The Warriors coach, Frank McGuire, came to Philadelphia from North Carolina, where his Tar Heels won the 1957 NCAA championship by defeating Kansas, led by Wilt Chamberlain. Chamberlain is now the center for McGuire's Warriors, and in March of the following year he'll score 100 points for Philadelphia against the Knicks. For the year, Wilt averages 50 points a game, the all-time single season record. It's interesting that NBC starts their basketball coverage in October; with rare exceptions, it will become customary for the networks to wait until January to begin with the weekly broadcasts.

Football's in full swing, and you can take your pick of games. On Saturday, ABC has future Heisman winner Ernie Davis leading Syracuse against Penn State (Penn State wins 14-10), while Sunday's pro games include the once and future Los Angeles Rams playing the New York Giants at Yankee Stadium on CBS, the Cleveland Browns playing the Pittsburgh Steelers on NBC, and the AFL game between the Houston Oilers and Dallas Texans on ABC.

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We haven't had a starlet for awhile, so what better than to go across the ocean to get one? It's Ulla Jacobsson, who will be making her American acting debut on Wednesday night's episode of Naked City. It isn't her first time acting, though; she started off on the stage before moving into Ingmar Bergman's stock company, appearing in Smiles of a Summer Night.* It was that performance that attracted the attention of Naked City producer Bert Leonard, who asked her to come to America just to do this one episode. She's known for her "sensitive, subtle quality," which proves particularly effective in her role as a maid who conspires with her boss (David Janssen) to murder his wife (Constance Ford).

*According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, she's perhaps best-known  internationally for her nude scenes in the 1951 movie One Summer of Happiness. How appropriate that she'd be appearing in Naked City, don't you think?

After that, there are other roles, but she never does make it big in America (if she even wanted to), and she dies of bone cancer at the painfully young age of 53.

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Mrs. J.L. Waybourn, of Farmington, New Mexico, writes to remind TV Guide that "there are still many people in these United States who find such words as "hell" and "damn" used in television shows objectionable - especially coming from teen-agers as on last week's Bus Stop."

The program to which Mrs. Waybourn refers is based on the 1956 romantic comedy starring Marilyn Monroe, which in turn was (very) loosely based on the Tony-nominated 1955 play by William Inge. Bus Stop the television series, which debuted October 1 on ABC, boasts Roy Huggins (The Fugitive, Run For Your Life) as creator and producer, stars Marilyn Maxwell, and credits Inge as a script consultant, which may or may not mean anything.

Regardless of its pedigree, though, there's no doubt the series has created quite a stir. The network ws "deluged" with protests, so much so that network president Ollie Treyz banns all such words from future network programming. Typical of the letters is another that found its way to TV Guide, from Judy Vogel of Rochester, NY, who found Bus Stop "sadly disappointing. I shall never be able to understand why I cannot watch an adult program without hearing language like "damn" and "hell." Some of our writers must indeed be in a very serious situation if they can find no better way to get their ideas across to an audience than by the use of this coarse language." The simple answer to Ms. Vogel's question, according to Huggins, is that you can't watch an adult program without hearing that kind of language because that's the way adults talk. "The words . . . are genuine and realistic," he tells TV Guide, "but they are not essential for adult drama at all."

I think Huggins' last point is the crucial one. Quite soon the same type of question will be asked by movies, only there it will pertain to nudity rather than profanity. The essence is the same, though: is it essential to the story? Starting with the 1964 film The Pawnbroker, Hollywood's Production Code will begin to grapple with the situation; by the end of the decade, the Code is gone altogether, replaced with a ratings system that acknowledges that there is in fact a time and place for profanity, nudity, and violence in movies. Eventually, the debate will move to extremities; the words in question are no longer "hell" and "damn," but "s***" and "f***," and many of the same objections will arise, to be met with the same answers.

I completely agree with Ms. Vogel in that the use of profanity can often be seen as the mark of a lazy writer, just as nudity is, far often than not, used for gratuitous titillation. The fact remains, sad though it may be, that one has only to stand on the corner to hear language far worse than what most television shows contain today. For that matter, most of us probably hear it at work.

I don't know how old either of these women were, but one has to wonder if they lived to see the works of Steven Bochco, or Martin Scorsese, or HBO, and what they though of it.

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On Saturday, one of Ernie Kovacs' lesser-remembered programs, Silents Please, presents the first part of D.W. Griffith's 1916 spectacular "Intolerance." I can't imagine condensing even part of this movie to a half-hour, but there you go. Kovacs doesn't do much more than introduce each program, and considering the tax problems he was known to have, I suspect he might have done this for the money more than any love of silent films. It's the last show of the series, at any rate. Here's a sample:


On Sunday, we have Car 54, Where Are You, which stars this week's cover boys, Fred Gwyne and Joe E. Ross, and the aforementioned Bus Stop, which had better not have any swear words tonight, dammit.

Monday you can catch an episode from a Robert Young series that doesn't work - Window on Main Street (8:30 p.m. ET, CBS), in which Young plays an author writing about the people he meets in his small hometown. It's 34 episodes and out, allowing Young to go to medical school and change his name to Marcus Welby. Also, what was probably a provocative episode of Ben Casey, in which brilliant young surgeon George C. Scott hides the fact that he's also a drug addict.

On Tuesday, Milton Berle makes a rare dramatic appearance on The Dick Powell Show (9:00 p.m., NBC), playing a blackjack dealer who finds himself badly in need of money for his daughter's operation. I've seen Berle in a few dramatic roles; like many comedians, he's really quite good. His biggest obstacle is getting you to take him seriously; once you're by that, his character portrayals are often powerful. After that, on CBS's Westinghouse Presents (which sounds a lot like Westinghouse's Studio One), Ralph Bellamy, Earl Holliman and Dina Merrill star in "The Dispossessed," the story of American Indians hoping to live outside their reservation.

Wednesday gives us dueling cartoons, starting with The Alvin Show on CBS at 7:30 p.m.; in this week's episode, "David Seville and the Chipmunks are shopping for a foreign car. THey find one that an ostrich has mistaken for its egg - and is desperately trying to hatch." If that's not to your liking, try Top Cat on ABC at 8:30; "Benny the Ball is 'discovered' when a famous impresario named Gutenbad hears him play the violin. That is, Gutenbad things he hears Benny play - actually the music comes from a nearby record shop."

Eliot Ness and the rest of The Untouchables (10:00 p.m., ABC) go after heroin dealers on Thursday's episode; Martin Balsam stars as one of the pushers, while the incomparable Bruce Gordon probably steals the episode as Frank Nitti.

On Friday, The Flintstones (ABC, 8:30 p.m.) parodies The Untouchables with an episode called "The Soft Touchables," in which Fred and Barney go into the detective business. What could possibly go wrong? If you like music, it's not likely you can do better than The Bell Telephone Hour at 10:00 p.m. on NBC. The theme is trios, and to prove it we have Benny Goodman and his jazz trio, the three McGuire Sisters, the Kingston Trio, folk singers Margaret Mercier, Eric Hyrst and Vernique Landary, and opera stars Phyllis Curtin, Nicolai Gedda and Theodor Uppman.

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And finally, Jack Paar has announced he's leaving The Tonight Show next March after a five-year run. He'll be back in the fall, however, with a once-a-week hour-long prime time variety show, which plays much as his late-night program. Unmentioned is the $64,000 question: who will be his replacement?


Thanks to Jon Hobden for this week's issue!

4 comments:

  1. I always thought the reason Jack Paar did a prime-time show on NBC from 1962 until 1965 was that he was still under contract to that network until 1965, and had to do something for them, so the weekly hour-long show was created so he could fulfill his contract and reduce his schedule.

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  2. While the 1961-62 "Alvin Show" was produced and subsequently rerun in color, was it broadcast in color by CBS in its initial prime-time run?

    If it was, it likely was the only regular prime-time series CBS colorcast that season.

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  3. Ohboyohboyohboyohboyohboy ...

    - Steve Allen's 1961 show aired on ABC on Wednesday evenings.
    When it started, Steve had been off the air for more than a year; his NBC deal ended in the spring of '60.
    When ABC signed Allen, it was with the understanding that his weekly budget would be a fraction of what he'd had to work with at NBC; this precluded getting big-name guest stars, meaning no booking wars, which in this situation would more likely have been with Perry Como at NBC later that same night.
    Ed Sullivan had Sundays all to himself from 1960 on.

    At ABC, Steve Allen made do with his home team: Louis Nye, Pat Harrington, Joey Forman, Dave Ketchum, and some newcomers he'd picked up: Tom and Dick Smothers, Jim Nabors, and a TV director from Cleveland named Tom Conway (when someone mentioned George Sanders's brother the Falcon, Steve told Conway to "just dot the 'o'").
    The ABC Allen show only lasted til January, falling to Wagon Train.
    In the fall of '62, Allen launched his nightly syndicated show for Westinghouse, which had greater success.

    - Delayed Broadcast Time!:

    Silents Please was a summer replacement for Take A Good Look, Ernie Kovacs's sorta game show.
    Kovacs's regular time slot was on Thursdays, following The Untouchables; Silents Please had its final Thursday showing on October 1st, so your TV GUIDE is showing one helluva delayed broadcast.
    * Oops - make that one heckuva delayed broadcast*
    By the way, it was Kovacs's sponsor, Dutch Masters Cigars, who forced him on Silents Please, which had run on ABC the previous summer with no host.
    Dutch Masters was backing Kovacs's monthly
    specials and wanted the guaranteed time slot they were used to with Take A Good Look.
    Of course, it all became academic when ABC dropped Good Look, and Dutch Masters had to do a separate deal to keep the Kovacs specials coming.

    - In addition to this episode of The Untouchables, Bruce Gordon also pops up on that same night's episode of NBC's western The Outlaws.
    Gordon and Ray Walston play a couple of city slickers who trick Slim Pickens into robbing a bank.

    - Bus Stop is a strange case.
    William Inge's play, and the movie which followed, is more of a romantic comedy than anything else; it's mainly remembered today for Marilyn Monroe's awful singing of "That Old Black Magic" (Monroe was actually a decent singer, but the number proved to many that she had excellent comedy chops).
    When 20th-Fox tried to make Bus Stop into a weekly, they gave the job to Roy Huggins, who turned the show into an "anthology in disguise", much like the already successful Route 66.
    This meant that the regulars in the series served as backdrop to the guest stars; Marilyn Maxwell, who been led to believe that she would be the Star of the Show, quit not long thereafter.
    When that happened, the lead roles became the sheriff (Rhodes Reason) and the DA (Richard Anderson); hello melodrama.
    And that led to the Fabian episode - but that, as Mr. Kipling says, is another story ...

    Don't know how many characters I have left; I may be back ...

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    Replies
    1. Quick Add-on to the above:

      You didn't recognize Steve Allen's guests?

      Go to your sidebar and call up Kliph Nesteroff's Beware Of The Blog.

      The third post from the top, dated 2014, explains one of those guests in some detail.

      I'll leave it to you to do the looking-up.

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