April 4, 2020

This week in TV Guide: April 2, 1954

This week we get a brief glimpse into how the TV Guide empire was assembled, way back when. We're in Philadelphia, and just before the programming section, there's a preface called "Happy Birthday To Us!"

One year ago this week, TV Digest, Philladelphia's leading television magazine, was officially adopted by Triangle Publications and became the Philadelphia edition of TV GUIDE, a national television publication.

We've suffered "growing pains" . . . we've changed our size, undergone a face-lifting, enhanced our appearance with color . . . we've played "put and take" with ideas, always guided by the preferences of our readers.

We've grown! We've added many branches to our family tree until today we boast 19 sister books throughout the nation.

In this first year of our TV GUIDE life we've learned, time and time again, one must crawl before endeavoring to walk. But today we are confidently standing on a steady foundation and preparing not only to walk but to take giant steps in the months to come.

So, as we light the single candle on our Birthday No. 1, we immodestly point to our list of accomplishments in the past 12 months and lustily shout, "Happy Birthday to Us!".

The celebration continues on the
back cover.
The prose is so purple it would make the Minnesota Vikings proud. In there, though, is an unmistakable sense of pride in what's been accomplished over that last year. Twenty issues nationwide! This is how TV Guide came together, through a combination of new issues being created and current publications being acquired, until by the mid-90s there were nearly 150 regional issues.

After one year, you can see the magazine still evolving into its familiar format. Channel numbers, for instance, are shown in circles and squares, and the television week begins on Friday rather than Saturday. For every show with a familiar name (I Love Lucy, Dragnet, Studio One, The Jack Benny Show, Arthur Godfrey Time), you'll see twice as many (Meet. Mr. McNutley, with Ray Milland; James Daly in Foreign Intrigue; Rocky King, the DuMont staple, with Roscoe Karns) known only to God and classic TV buffs. There's still the New York and Hollywood Teletypes, recipes to enjoy while you're watching your favorites, and plenty of ads, local and national. Let's see what's up.

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On March 9, Edward R. Murrow's See It Now presented what is often considered one of the most important programs in television history; the episode in which Murrow takes on Senator Joseph McCarthy. The McCarthy era was in its fifth year as Murrow's show aired; it was, for the most part, McCarthy in his own words, punctuated by Murrow's righteous indignation. A couple of days later, McCarthy countered with an accusation that Murrow, before the war, had been involved with exchange student programs that had helped spread the Soviet message on an international level.

Following the broadcast, CBS offered McCarthy equal time to respond, and that's what we see Tuesday (10:30 p.m., CBS). Tonight's See It Now listing includes both McCarthy's telegram accepting the network's equal-time offer, and Murrow's response to it. "If I am correct in my position that you have consciously served the Communist cause," McCarthy says, alluding to his charge against Murrow, "it is very important for your listeners to have the clear-cut, documented facts so that they can decide whether or not you are truthful, as you attempt to make out, or are deliberately misrepresenting the facts." Murrow replied, "Regarding your statement that I have consciously served the Communist cause, I deny it utterly."

Here are clips from both Murrow's original show and McCarthy's response, as well as a subsequent program with Murrow's final word on the subject.

It's difficult to say just how much Murrow's broadcast had to do with McCarthy's downfall; some suggest that McCarthy's star had already started to dim, or that lawyer Joseph Welch, who famously asked the senator during the Army-McCarthy hearings if he had “no sense of decency,” were more important in McCarthy’s downfall. Regardless, two things are certain: first, that by all accounts Murrow came out ahead in the confrontation between the two; and second, that it was a milestone moment in the history of the young medium. If you were around when this TV Guide came out, you could see it all.

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You remember how a couple of weeks ago I mentioned how popular boxing used to be on television? Well, here's the proof:

  • Boxing (Friday, 10:00 p.m., NBC) The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports
  • Boxing (Saturday, 9:00 p.m., ABC) The Saturday Night Fights
  • Boxing (Monday, 10:00 p.m., DuMont) General Tire Bouts
  • Boxing (Wednesday, 10:00 p.m., CBS) Pabst Blue Ribbon Bouts

Of the four nights of boxing, the one fight that stands out is Friday's bout for the world middleweight title, pitting middleweight champ Bobo Olson against welterweight title holder Kid Gavilan, from Chicago, Illinois. Writing for TV Guide, NBC's announcer Jimmy Powers calls this "One of the biggest matches of all time," and for once this isn't hype. It's only the fifth time the welterweight champ has moved up in weight to take on the middleweight title holder, and you have to remember this was a time when boxing had only eight weight classes, and only one champion in each of them, so you're seeing 25% of the world's champs tonight. In a tough, brilliant fight, Olson wins a majority decision to retain the middleweight title.

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One more thing about this issue that makes it challenging to find out what the TV week is all about: the program descriptions don't always give much of a description of what you can actually expect to see on the show. For instance, check out this one from Tuesday night's Red Skelton Show: "Comic antics and characterizations made famous by the popular comedian." Yeah, that helps a lot. Seriously, I suspect that with a show like Skelton's, which is live, the list of guests might still have been up in the air as the issue went to press, so we'll give this a pass. Besides, there are plenty of highlights we can still look at.

On Friday, Dave Garroway takes a break from Today to look back on the "good old days" in Chicago, where he learned his trade. (8:00 p.m. ET, NBC) Among the guests are other Windy City alums: Burr Tillstrom with Kukla and Ollie; actor and radio announcer Cliff Norton, the announcer on Dave's radio program (you might recall him as Boss on It's About Time); dancers Ken Spaulding and Diane Sinclair; and singers Jill Corey and Jack Haskell. The history of Chicago television, and its contributions to television history overall, is a fascinating one.

NBC continues on Saturday with a pair of shows that any classic TV fan will recognize: Your Show of Shows (9:00 p.m.), the 90-minute extravaganza with Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner and Howard Morris, which a lot of people will consider one of the funniest shows ever done; and Your Hit Parade (10:30 p.m.), sponsored by Lucky Strike, counting down "the top tunes all over America, as determined by your hit parade survey." This week features yet another appearance from Kukla, Ollie and Tillstrom, along with regulars Dorothy Collins, Gisele MacKenzie, Snooky Lanson, Russell Ames, and conductor Raymond Scott.

Sunday sees Toast of the Town (8:00 p.m., CBS), which next year will change its name to The Ed Sullivan Show. An interesting theme for the show, one I wager you wouldn't see today, is that the show is celebrating its fifth year with its current sponsor; the listing doesn't actually tell you who that sponsor is, but since it's just you and me, I'll whisper in your ear the name "the Lincoln-Mercury Division of the Ford Motor Company." But I digress; the gimmick is that all of tonight's guests made their first television appearances on that initial Lincoln-Mercury-sponsored show, including Sophie Tucker, Ben Hogan, Eartha Kitt, Billy De Wolfe, Teresa Brewer, and Metropolitan Opera stars Roberta Peters, Cesare Valletti, Cesare Siepi and Fernando Corena. Opposite that on NBC is The Colgate Comedy Hour, hosted this week by Eddie Cantor, with singer Connie Rusmean sell and a "surprise mystery guest." And at 10:00 p.m., it's Loretta Young and her swirling dresses, in her eponymous anthology series, tonight co-starring John Hoyt and Aunt Bee herself, Frances Bavier.

Monday is I Love Lucy night (9:00 p.m., CBS); tonight Lucy "creates havoc in the Ricardo household" (since when is that new?) when she decides to write a novel. Lucy's far from the only familiar name tonight; Burns and Allen is on CBS at 8:00 p.m., 8:30 sees the long-running Voice of Firestone (ABC; it's listed only as "Concert," but I know what it is), followed at 9:00 p.m. by one of Jack Benny's old foils, The Dennis Day Show, with Charley Weaver (Cliff Arquette).* And at 10:00 p.m., t's it's the CBS anthology series Studio One with the drama "Stirmugs," a play that doesn't particularly mean anything except that one of the stars is the young Joanne Woodward.

*Something else you wouldn't see in later years: the show's description concludes with "Sponsored by RCA Victor." Lincoln-Mercury must not have greased the palm of someone at TV Guide.

And if you want even more stars? You'll have them on Tuesday, with Uncle Miltie (8:00 p.m., NBC); it's not Texaco Star Theater anymore, but The Buick-Berle Show. By either name, though, it has to be beat Jackpot Bowling. His guests this week are the great British actors Judith Anderson and Cyril Ritchard (and I can guarantee you wouldn't see them on Jackpot Bowling). Bishop Fulton J. Sheen's Life is Worth Living (8:00 p.m., DuMont) discusses "Three Times in the Nation's History," a warning about the challenges facing America, "Sponsored by The Admiral Corporation." (Yes, they bought ad space in the issue.) Make Room for Daddy, starring Danny Thomas, airs at 8:30 p.m. on ABC; meanwhile, on CBS, it's the aforementioned Red Skelton (I'm afraid that's about all I can tell you about it), followed at 9:00 p.m. by Roddy McDowell and Patricia Breslin* starring in another of the era's great anthologies, Armstrong Circle Theater. 

*Married, until her death, to Art Modell, owner of the Baltimore Ravens and the most hated man in Cleveland.

It's another of Arthur Godfrey's programs on Wednesday; Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts airs on Monday, and tonight it's Arthur Godfrey and His Friends (Wednesday, 8:00 p.m., CBS), with the McGuire Sisters numbering among the guests. At 9:00 p.m. it's Kraft Theatre (NBC) with Carlos Montalban, brother of Ricardo; Kraft Theatre runs from 1947 to 1958, and it leaves the air as the longest-running anthology series in history to that time. The panel show I've Got a Secret is on at 9:30 p.m. (CBS) with special guest Billie Burke trying to stump the panel, and at 10:00 p.m. it's This Is Your Life (NBC); you won't read who the honoree is in TV Guide because the show's live, but it's former Olympian and WWII hero Louis Zamperini, the subject of Laura Hillenbrand's 2010 book (and subsequent Coen Brothers movie) Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.

Let's start Thursday with a look at some weekday afternoon programming that has nothing to do with soap. Since Philadelphia is the home of American Bandstand, we'll start over at WFIL, where at 3:00 p.m. Bandstand (it doesn't become American until the show is picked up by ABC in 1957), hosted by Bob Horn. In 1956 Horn loses his job after a drunk-driving bust;* he's replaced by Dick Clark, who hosts American Bandstand until 1989. If you're not a teen, you might opt for The Kate Smith Hour, also at 3:00, on NBC. Later in the afternoon, NBC has a double-bill of kids' shows, with The Pinky Lee Show at 5:00, followed by Howdy Doody (before it moved to Saturday monings) at 5:30. You've also got a pair of Westerns with strong kid appeal: Hopalong Cassidy at 5:00 (WFIL) and Gene Autry at 5:30 (WCAU). The prime time highlight is our old favorite favorite Dragnet (9:00 p.m., NBC); this week, Friday and Smith investigate a dead body in a hotel. It doesn't sound good. More on them next week.

*The Philadelphia Inquirer was doing a series on drunken driving at the time, and the arrest embarrassed the owner of both the Inquirer and WFIL: Walter Annenberg, also the publisher of TV Guide. Amazing how incestuous this all is, isn't it? 

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Finally, here’s something that—I suppose—we should be proud of, at least as a TV milestone: the first color commercial. It’s for Pall Mall cigarettes (see photo on left), and the plan is to show it on the first Pall Mall-sponsored show to be broadcast in color. (It was also filmed in black-and-white so it could be used right away.) Filming this milestone commercial was no easy task; it took 15 hours to film the 60-second ad, plus weeks of set construction, costume design, rehearsal, and so forth. The mastermind of the commercial is Peter Elgar, who made his trade through educational and religious films in Europe; he’d never done a commercial until 1951. “It is like making any other motion picture,” he says, “except that the finished film is 60 seconds long.”

Which gets me to thinking: you can find collections of classic commercials all over YouTube (not to mention on DVD); I enjoy them myself. Their appeal, you have to think, is based on nostalgia: either for the product itself ("I played with that when I was a kid!") or for the actors who wound up being big stars. You have to remember, though, that with few exceptions, the people who saw those commercials at the time found them every bit as annoying as we find ours today. TV Guides of the era are filled with complaints about how much louder the commercials are than the programs they constantly interrupt. And don't forget that commercials back then were a lot longer; many of them, as we read, were one minute long, and some of them were even longer. The commercials that were integrated into the shows themselves, or were done by the stars themselves, could be more interesting, but that didn't hide the irritation they caused. And this from a time when there were fewer commercials interrupting our favorite shows than today (unless you're on premium cable).

And so I wonder, as Peter Elgar compares his commercials to 60-second movies, I wonder if he had any idea how much people would be cursing him and his progeny, from now to eternity? TV  


  1. Prime cut with this Guide, Mitchell. I, like the Guide itself, turned 1 in 1954. On Monday, i hope you give us a peek of what the actual listings look liked physically.

    1. Great idea, JD - in addition to the regular thumbnail header, I've included a couple of pages, along with the link to the Internet Archives, with the whole issue.

  2. Huzzah! Huzzah! I've GOT this one!
    And it's the Chicago Edition!

    In its earliest days, TV Guide's local editions had a lot to be local about, especially in a TV hub city like Chicago.

    The local pages this week include a profile of Austin Kiplinger, who in '54 was the anchorman of Channel 7's daily newscasts, such as they were: five minutes a night at 6, followed by five minutes of sports with Jack Drees, then five minutes of weather with Wayne Griffin, then John Daly's fifteen minutes of network news.
    Mind you, the other stations in town didn't have a hell of a lot more, but you probably can see that in your Philly edition.

    By the bye, Austin Kiplinger is from the family that runs all those financial magazines; in fact, he left the broadcasting business to take charge of the family company in '61, continuing in that capacity until his own retirement in the late '80s.

    In the same issue, there's a feature about John Ott, who has a Sunday afternoon show called How Does Your Garden Grow?.
    Ott was a pioneer in the field of time-lapse photography; he'd had some success with films of flowers and plants, which he'd filmed in color.
    Channel 5, the NBC station, was about to go in big with color -they were the first station in Chicago to do that.
    John Ott's color time-lapse films came to be a big selling point for Channel 5 - and RCA's new color sets.
    If your family didn't have a color set, maybe you had a friend or neighbor who did; or in the alternative, you could take the family to the Museum of Science and Industry, which had a big exhibit devoted to color TV for many years (or at least until color TV became far more widespread than it was in the '50s - I guess you had to be there …).

    Most of the ads here are for local programs and personalities.
    As I looked through the magazine, one of the first ads I saw was for a string of five-minute newscasts that Channel 2 (CBS) was running in the early mornings :
    7:25 and 7:55, with Frank Reynolds;
    8:25, with John Harrington;
    8:55, with Jim Conway.
    These were strung throughout The Morning Show, a CBS network offering with Walter Cronkite and Bil and Cora Baird's Marionettes (it was, as they say, A Different Time).

    Waiting until tomorrow, to see which day you're going to do.
    'Til then …

  3. Repost this post, and include:
    the cover story and close-up article about Eve Arden and her then-popular and successful TV Series, “Our Miss Brooks!”

    1. Ah, there are weeks when I wish I could write about everything in an issue! I love Eve Arden too, but I just ran out of time and space to say anything. But the next time she pops up, I'll write something - I promise!


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!