March 26, 2016

This week in TV Guide: March 28, 1959

This week, a different way to decide what shows we look at - by looking at what other people looked at.

One of the sidebars in this week's issue includes the top 10 programs in the Fort Worth* metropolitan area for February, 1959 as measured by Telepulse research, a forerunner to (or competitor of, I'm not sure which is more accurate) of the Nielsen system. As you know, I put a lot of emphasis on looking at things in context, so let's put ourselves in context by looking at what each of these series is showing this week. Afterword, we'll discuss.

*I'm not sure if this includes Dallas, or if Fort Worth was measured as its own metropolitan area. I could probably find out, but would it really be worth it to you?

1. Gunsmoke (CBS) 
Saturday, 9:00pm CT
39.2 percent of all televisions tuned in 
Preempted this week for DuPont Show of the Month.

2. Maverick (ABC)  
Sunday, 6:30pm 
Peggy King sings and acts in "Strange Journey of Jenny Hill." Singer Jenny Hill combines a concert tour with a search for her outlaw husband. Bret Maverick, too, is looking for Jenny's husband, but he finds it hard to concentrate on his mission when he falls in love with the songstress. Miss King sings "Sweet and Low," "Some Sunday Morning," "Too Much Love," and Comin' Through the Rye."

3. Death Valley Days (Syndicated, shown locally on Channel 4) 
Saturday, 9:30pm
Also preempted this week for DuPont Show of the Month. 

4. The Real McCoys (ABC)  
Thursday, 7:30pm
"Batter Up." Grampa talks Luke into coaching a Little League baseball team and then proceeds to coach Luke.

5. The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp (ABC)  
Tuesday, 7:30pm
"The Judas Goat." A deputy United States marshal from Kansas City contrives a scheme aimed at netting him a large reward.

6. Have Gun - Will Travel (CBS) 
Saturday, 8:30pm
Preempted for - yes - that DuPont Show of the Month. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all.

7. (Tie) The Lawman (ABC)  
Sunday, 7:30pm
"The Gang." A cowboy travels a great distance to tell Marshal Dan Troop that the Hayes gang are headed for Laramie to exact revenge.

7. (Tie) The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok (Syndicated, shown locally on Channel 11) 
Wednesday, 6:00pm
"Dr. Pardner Rides Again." Wild Bill tries to stop a one-man crusade against an old horse. 

8. (Tie) The Rifleman (ABC) 
Tuesday, 8:00pm
"The Wrong Way." Jay Jefferson, a gun-slinging lawman, arrives in North Fork in search of an outlaw. Marshal Torrance and Lucas McCain will have little to do with Jefferson, but Mark decides to help him find his man.

8. (Tie) Wagon Train (NBC) 
Wednesday, 6:30pm
"The Matthew Lowry Story." Matthew Lowry, a Quaker who has only one arm, is constantly ridiculed by Jed Otis. Because of Matthew's pacifist beliefs, he is suspected of cowardice by his young brother.

9. The Perry Como Show (NBC)  
Saturday, 7:00pm
Perry welcomes songstress Dorothy Collins and young pianist Lorin Hollander. Dancing Waters, a fountain display which changes shape and color as music is played, is spotlighted.

10. The Restless Gun (NBC)  
Monday, 7:00pm
"Incident at Bluefield." Vint Bonner rides into the town of Bluefield and finds that his best friend has been shot to death.

Interesting, no? One of the things you probably noticed right away is how Westerns dominate the ratings. Comparing this list to the national top ten indicates that while Westerns are extremely popular nationally, (eight of the top ten are either outright oaters or rural comedies), there is a predisposition down here in Western country to like them. Neither The Lawman or The Restless Gun make the top twenty nationally, but they're both at the top of the local ratings. Additionally, we have two syndicated Westerns that make the top ten locally: Death Valley Days and Wild Bill Hickok. I think this speaks not just to the popularity of Westerns in general, but to the strength of local stations. No wonder they preempt network programming on such a frequent basis.

The program descriptions tend to be more comprehensive as well. Most of them include the episode title (with some of the more prestigious dramas, the author's name is given as well). A source of minor irritation: the complete name of the main character is also given, i.e. The Restless Gun's "Vint Bonner," Maverick's "Bret Maverick." This just sounds awkward - if you care enough about the show to watch it, don't you think you know who you're watching?

As far as the subject matter, most of the Westerns deal with either outlaws or the pursuit of justice (which can be two different things). It's not surprising, considering that most Westerns are essentially morality plays, and this leads to another interesting note about the rise and fall of the Western. In his book Glued to the Set, Steven A. Stark notes that the coming of "relevant" television led to the erosion and eventual end of the Western era; when "law and order" shows made a comeback during the tumult of the late '60s and early '70s, one might have expected the Western to return as well, but they'd been out of sight just long enough for the police drama (often led by a lone wolf cop) to take their place.

You probably wouldn't be surprised to learn that Gunsmoke, the top show in Fort Worth, was the leading national program as well, Altogether, seven of the programs in the Fort Worth list made the top ten nationally as well. It would appear that Texas was well in step with the rest of America.

◊ ◊ ◊

Sunday is Easter, and in addition to the plethora of religious programming throughout the day, there's an interesting article on the importance of such programs to the television schedule. It carries the un-ironic subhead, "Easter season emphasizes the contribution of religious programs," and talks with the directors of religious programming* for NBC and CBS.

*I wonder if any network today has executives with these titles.

At CBS, the long-running Sunday morning programs are Lamp unto My Feet and Look Up and Live. Both are interdenominational; Look Up and Live is, according to director Pamela Ilott, "not necessarily a religious show." "'It's just the best show we can produce utilizing the arts to project a religious idea. Call it God-centered thinking, or preparation for religious ideas. We're basically evangelistic." Lamp unto My Feet divides its programs between those produced in coordination with the National Council of Churches (Protestant), the National Council of Catholic Men, and the New York Board of Rabbis (Jewish), and aims, in the case of the Protestant shows, "at what the program's youthful producer Jack Kuney calls 'the unchurched youth,' featuring jazz artists such as Lionel Hampton and Dave Brubeck.

NBC's programming is ecumenical as well, one program split between Protestants (Frontiers of Faith), Catholics (The Catholic Hour), and Jews (The Eternal Light), and boasts scripts written by Rod Serling, readings by Carl Sandburg, W.H. Auden, Robert Frost and Mark Van Doren, and performances from stars such as Richard Kiley, Maureen Stapleton, Sal Mineo and E.G. Marshall.

Nobody from ABC was interviewed, leading me to think that they don't have a special department devoted to religious programming, but the network boasts of series by Bishop Fulton J. Sheen (Life Is Worth Living) and Episcopal Bishop James A. Pike (Dean Pike)*. In addition, there are syndicated programs far and wide, the most famous of which perhaps being This Is the Life and Insight, and local programs of all kinds.

*James Pike led a life far more colorful than that portrayed by characters in most of the network's series, going from Catholic to agnostic to Episcopalian, defending liberal causes such as birth control and abortion, and involving himself in political battles over homosexuality and civil rights. He was both a chain-smoker and alcoholic, and was married three times, and died in the desert while researching Jesus' 40 days.

Today, any kind of network programming about religion is limited to appearances in series television (where it's usually held up to ridicule), the news (most often either either being misrepresented or presented as a source of scandal), or the odd interview with a religious figure. Any religious service is probably around Christmas. To be sure, there are at least three or four networks devoted completely to religious programming, and many televangelists (a term unheard of in 1959) continue to have successful syndicated shows. Still, there's the sense from this article that religion is not only a vital part of society (it refers to Easter as "the most joyous day in Christendom"), but something that strengthens the overall television schedule. In other words, it's important as part of well-rounded programming.

It's perhaps one of the most distinct differences between then and now that we've seen in this feature.

◊ ◊ ◊

Mary Martin, the star of Peter Pan, has not one, but two programs on NBC Easter Sunday. The first, an afternoon program starting at 3:00pm CT, is entitled Magic with Mary Martin, in an hour-long program of "songs and fun for children," while Music with Mary Martin, at 7:00pm, allows viewers to sample hits from her movie and broadway careers. I don't recall anything like this on TV before; do you?

In the "news" section, we're told that Bat Masterson will be stretched to a full hour on Monday nights, but unless they show back-to-back half-hour episodes, it never happens. It remains at 30 minutes until it goes off the air in 1961.

William Shatner has been signed to play Archie Goodwin to Kurt Kasznar's Nero Wolfe in the show of the same name, scheduled to premiere next fall on CBS. There's no evidence that the idea ever got beyond the pilot stage, but the photo at the right gives you an idea of what it would have looked like.

However, that doesn't make it particularly unique. According to the Hollywood TV Teletype, "There are now some 230 new series in pilot-film form being peered at by ad-agency executives looking toward next season's schedules." As you may recall, in 1959 schedules are still largely controlled by the ad execs, as companies buy ad time from the network and then fill it with programs best thought to promote their products. The Quiz Show Scandals, and the involvement of said sponsors, went a long way toward eliminating that kind of business, as the networks asserted themselves in controlling what appeared on their airwaves. TV  


  1. Shatner as Archie Goodwin? Now THAT's a show I'd like to see!

    1. To boldly finger suspects no detective has fingered before!

    2. You and the rest of the world, Jack ...

      Over at Mystery*File, a few years back, a bunch of us had a back-and-forth on this "lost pilot", about which there seems to be no surviving information whatsoever.

      No one knows who else was in it, aside from Kasznar and the Shat.

      We also don't know whether the pilot was filmed or taped - and if you think that doesn't make a difference, I'll tell you that a filmed show from that period is far more likely to have survived that a videotape, which might have been recorded over, to save money.

      Why has this pilot disappeared?
      Possible reasons/excuses abound; Consensus seems to be that Rex Stout (who hated television and film) personally killed the project at the pilot stage and ordered suppression of the finished product. (It is a fact that no Nero Wolfe project got off the ground until well after Stout's death.)

      All that remains is that photo of Kasznar and Shatner reproduced above - and from all indications, that's all that ever will remain.

      So there too.

  2. I happened to get a copy of this same issue, St. Louis Edition, just this past week off EBay. There was also an interview with Mary Martin at her home in Connecticut, just before she and her husband, producer Richard Halliday, were about to leave for New Haven, where she was going to give a performance of her show, "Music with Mary Martin". Her husband engaged in some name-dropping on a call to someone in NYC: "All right, Leland. I know we have Dick and Oscar. All we need to do now is work out our plans." These were references to his co-producer Leland Hayward and Rodgers & Hammerstein. They were probably discussing their production of "The Sound of Music", which was about to premiere on Broadway that November. The article was titled "If You're Peter Pan, Crow!", which is something a little girl in an airport told her when her mother told her this "lady" was Peter Pan.

  3. Regarding the Dallas and Fort Worth market designation; from what I've run across so far, though Arbitron had for a time considered Dallas and Fort Worth as separate markets; by about the early 1950s the Metroplex was already being considered a single market.

  4. I suspect that since videotape had come into usage in 1959 that at least one, probably both, of Mary Martin's 1959 NBC Easter specials were taped.

    If only color tapes of both those shows could be found and restored. What a great DVD they would make!


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!