February 16, 2019

This week in TV Guide: February 18, 1961

Every year it seems there's yet another meaningless awards show on TV. And yet, very view of them seem to go away. (Personally, I don't think they'll stop until everyone's won at least one. I'm still waiting for mine.)

A variety of sources suggest that the "TV Guide Awards" began in 1999, but if the magazine says that then they're ignoring their own history - as this week's issue proves. The TV Guide Awards started in 1960, and by the next year AP's Cynthia Lowry refers to the "three important awards-presenting shows—Oscar, Emmy and TV Guide." The young medium hadn't been around that long, and there are already two awards shows devoted to it.

What makes this different from other awards shows of the time is that, in kind of an early People's Choice Awards, the winners of the TV Guide Awards are chosen entirely by viewer votes. The ballot we see here  for the 1961 Awards (which was scheduled to be on NBC April 11, but in fact didn't air until June 13) allows readers to cast their vote for Favorite Series, Favorite New Series, Best Single Musical or Variety Show, Best Single Dramatic Program, Best Single News or Information Program, Favorite Male Performer, and Favorite Female Performer.  Not many categories compared to today, hmm?


The awards show had a moderately successful run, lasting from 1960 until 1964. It didn't always have a dedicated program built around it; for example, the 1963 awards were presented during the last segment of the Bob Hope Show. According to the contemporary reports, the 1961 show had its pluses-and-minuses—the pluses included the entertainment portions, which were done on videotape; the minuses, which occurred during the live awards presentation, included technical glitches, speeches ending before they were done, and confused winners not knowing which way to exit the stage. Despite all that, it sounds as if a good time was had by all.

Interested in knowing who won the '61 trophies? You're going to have to wait until you get to the end of the column to find out.

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I don't think it won any awards, but on Saturday (8:30 p.m., CBS), one of the prestige shows of the time, David Susskind's Dupont Show of the Month, features a live 90-minute presentation of "The Lincoln Murder Case," starring Luther Adler, House Jameson and Roger Evan Boxill as John Wilkes Booth.* I don't have a clip of that show, but for what it's worth, here's an episode of I've Got a Secret from 1956 featuring a gentleman whose secret was that he was an eyewitness to Lincoln's assassination. Think of that for a minute—he lived during the Civil War, while Lincoln was President, and appeared on television. That is something to marvel at.

*Meaning no disrespect to Roger Evan Boxill, I'd like to think he was cast as John Wilkes Booth because of the three names.

We don't have any "Sullivan vs." matchups this week, but I will mention that Ed's guests on Sunday (7:00 p.m., CBS) are Lucille Ball; comedian Jack Carter; instrumental group the Bill Black Combo; the comedy team of Rowan and Martin; folk singer Leon Bibb; and tap dancer Timmie Rogers. Lucy's on the show to sing "Hey, Look Me Over" with Paula Stewart; it's from the musical Wildcat, Lucy's only appearance on Broadway.

One of those shows that winds up being nominated for a TV Guide Award is Astaire Time, Fred Astaire's third television special, rerun "by popular demand" Monday night at 7:30 p.m. on NBC. (And in these pre-VCR days, I have no doubt that it was in fact by popular demand.) Fred's guests include his current dancing partner Barrie Chase, the Count Basie band with singer Joe Williams, the Hermes Pan Dancers (Pan being Astaire's long-time choreographer) featuring Ruth and Jane Earl, and the David Rose Orchestra. I've seen all the Astaire specials on DVD and this one, like the others, is terrific.

I have, in the past, mentioned my alma mater, Hamline University in St. Paul, and on Tuesday night The Hamline College Hour (8:30 p.m., KTCA, and it's actually only a half-hour) presents a discussion of Milowan Djilas's book The New Class, hosted by Dr. Wesley St. John, who happened to be my adviser in the Political Science department twenty years later. One of my rare brushes with fame, I guess; Dr. St. John was indeed a scholar and a gentleman.

A show that didn't win any awards but led to a movie that did is Wednesday night's U.S. Steel Hour presentation of "The Two Worlds of Charlie Gordon" (9:00 p.m., CBS), based on Daniel Keyes' Hugo Award-winning short story "Flowers for Algernon" and starring Cliff Robertson, which will be made into the big-screen movie Charley, for which Robertson wins the Best Actor Oscar in 1968.

It was a couple of years ago that the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus shut down for good (it's mentioned at the end of this piece) but Ringling Bros. seldom came to the Twin Cities when I was growing up. Instead, it was the Zuhrah Shrine Circus, which played the Minneapolis Auditorium (and for which we got an afternoon off from school, which tells you just how long ago that was). On Thursday night, WCCO personality Randy Merriman, who used to be a ringmaster before turning to radio and television, hosts a live half-hour broadcast of opening night (8:00 p.m., WCCO), including the opening prade and some animal acts. Yes, good luck with that nowadays.

On Friday it's another of the shows that competes in the TV Guide Awards, Sing Along with Mitch (8:00 p.m., NBC), with Guy Mitchell as the guest star. Mitchell had a very successful career as a singer, but I remember him better as George Romack, Audie Murphy's sidekick on the Western police drama Whispering Smith.

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Care for some sports?

Let's start with Saturday, and you'll see that things are a little different than they are now. For example, Wide World of Sports hasn't premiered yet, and college basketball hasn't become a national obsession, with only two games on tap: SMU vs. Texas (1:00 p.m., WTCN), and the Big Ten Game of the Week between Purdue and Michigan (3:30 p.m., WCCO). The NHL isn't on network TV and there isn't a team in Minnesota yet, so the hockey coverage is a taped replay of last night's game between the St. Paul Saints and Omaha Knights (2:00 p.m., WCCO). The NBA isn't the cool game yet, so there's only one game—NBC has the Lakers and "Knickerbockers" in New York (1:00 p.m., NBC). The PGA isn't a weekly happening, so the duffer out there has to settle for All-Star Golf, with Sam Snead taking on Bob Rosberg (5:00 p.m., WTCN). Even the Pro Bowlers Tour hasn't hit the big time yet (it'll be on ABC next year), so we've got a potpourri of bowling shows: Bowling Stars at 3:30 p,m, and Championship Bowling at 5:00 p.m., both on KSTP. There is football, though, at least sort of: WCCO has a one-hour replay of the Packers-Lions Thanksgiving Day football game* from three months ago.

But there's still boxing, and it's still a prime-time sport in 1961. Saturday's Fight of the Week (9:00 p.m., ABC) features future middleweight champion Dick Tiger taking on Gene Armstrong from Madison Square Garden, which has apparently been turned around from the Lakers-Knicks game earlier in the day. (Tiger wins in a 9th round TKO.) Fight of the Week was the last regularly scheduled prime-time boxing show, running on Saturday nights through September 1963 before spending another year on Friday nights. When it ended its run on September 11, 1964, it was the end of an era that at one time had seen as many as six televised boxing shows a week.

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Jackie Gleason's profiled in an article sans byline. He's described as "the star of a new CBS panel show called You're in the Picture, which went on the air Jan. 20 and which was pre-empted on Jan. 27 by Jackie himself, who spent a half hour apologizing to viewers for perpetuating 'that bomb' on them."

You're in the Picture was, in fact, one of the most infamous bombs in TV history. Although the article professes confidence that the show would return, in fact it did not. Of that initial episode, UPI's Vernon Scott wrote "Jackie Gleason is a big guy who does everything in a big way. Friday night he laid a big egg." Gleason's apology on January 27, delivered with real panache, won raves from critics, including Scott, who this time called it "the most delightful show on television in the last few weeks"


As detailed by Television Obscurities, there was great confusion as to what was going to happen after the January 27 apology show—as late as the day before the next broadcast (February 3), the network didn't know what they were going to get. Kellogg's, the sponsor, apparently wanted (for some unfathomable reason) to continue with You're in the Picture, but Gleason did not. What went out that night was Gleason again, continuing his apology, combined with some sketch comedy. Kellogg's dropped its sponsorship, and the remainder of the show's run (seven weeks) was in talk-show format, entitled The Jackie Gleason Show, with The Great One interviewing various celebrities.

Such a debacle might have brought down a lesser star, but not Gleason. He would be back on CBS in 1962 with his big-budget variety show, which he would move to Miami Beach and would run for four successful years.

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Maharis (left) with Milner and the famed 'vette
There's also a profile of George Maharis (again without byline), co-star of the CBS series Route 66. Maharis, much like Buz Murdock, the character he portrayed, comes across as loud, brash, a fighter, a man who "not only looks like a hood but might well have become one." The article opens with the story of Maharis, while on location, walking into a bank and shouting, "All right, folks—this is a stick-up" before breaking into a big grin. Everyone agrees that he was lucky he wasn't killed. No question, he's a stark contrast to his Route 66 co-star, Martin Milner, a veteran actor who brings his family along during the location shoots whenever possible (virtually all of the show was shot on location).

Maharis is being prepped for stardom—"the hottest thing to come along in TV since the invention of the hot plate," according to one executive. But Maharis will miss several episodes in 1962, near the end of the second season, reportedly due to infectious hepatitis. He returns for the start of the third season but there are rumors that he is difficult to work with, that he wants a movie career, that his illness persists. Eventually he breaks his contract in the middle of the third season and leaves the series, and although he has steady work, he never does quite become the star that everyone thought he would be, back in 1961.

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A few notes from the yellow Teletype section, where "It looks definite now for The Rifleman to switch from ABC to CBS in the fall." For some reason the switch never happened though, and The Rifleman would end its days on ABC after two more seasons.

Producer Hubbell Robinson has four shows on tap for the 1961-62 season. ABC is interested in Stage 61, although what they eventually got was Stage 67, and The Lawyer, which apparently nobody got. NBC was luckier, though—it got not only the police series 87th Precinct, but the Boris Karloff-hosted Thriller.

There's also excitement about a TV version of the hit movie Some Like It Hot, with Vic Damone and Tina Louise. Despite getting Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis to cameo at the start of the pilot, there were no takers.

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Finally, we shouldn't ignore another program from Wednesday night, Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall (8:00 p.m., NBC). Perry's guests are Anne Bancroft and Jimmy Durante. As our faithful reader Mike Doran notes, "The main guest was Anne Bancroft, who at the time was one of Broadway's most notable bachelorettes; the premise of the show was to show her the joys of married life. The historical significance is that this show was where Anne Bancroft first met Mel Brooks, who was on Como's writing staff at the time. The two married a few years later, and the rest is history.

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Wait a minute, I did promise you the winners of the TV Guide Awards, didn't I? Very well, here they are: see how your favorites did:

Favorite Show: Perry Mason
Favorite New Show: Andy Griffith
Favorite Variety Show: Sing Along With Mitch
Male Performer: Raymond Burr
Female Performer: Carol Burnett
Best News Program: The Huntley-Brinkley Report
Dramatic Program: Macbeth, Hallmark Hall of Fame  TV  

2 comments:

  1. I've been aware of YOU'RE IN THE PICTURE since it was included in the book "The Worst TV Shows of All Time" back in 1980. I guess it could've been funny at a different time, but that's unlikely.

    BTW, Jackie Gleason's show ran 8 years, not 4, starting fall 1962. It did change its name though from THE AMERICAN SCENE MAGAZINE to THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW. The later named show was in color and seemed to consist mostly of musical Honeymooners episodes, which are on DVD & syndicated now as "The Color Honeymooners".

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  2. Kellogg's co-sponsored the program with Liggett & Myers [L&M cigarettes]. During the "apology" telecast on January 27th, Jackie hinted that the cup of coffee he was sipping from wasn't really "coffee"; in fact, he referred to it as "Chock Full O'Booze", getting a laugh from the audience. The Kellogg's executives weren't laughing. They protested to CBS that Jackie's inference that he was consuming alcohol ON THE AIR went against their ideas of conducting a "family-friendly" program, and abruptly cancelled their sponsorship [officially, they claimed, "This isn't the show we bought"]. L&M continued as his alternate sponsor (they liked the way Jackie smoked on camera) through his "one-on-one" interview format, which ended on March 24th. However, CBS was never able to find another co-sponsor for the other weeks, mostly presenting network promos, PSA's, and an occasional "participating advertiser" spot on those weeks.

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