August 8, 2020

This week in TV Guide: August 7, 1953

I've remarked in the past that live television is a breed apart from recorded programming, enough so that it's a genre of its own, just like Westerns and crime dramas. Part of this is because of the limitations imposed on live television; it's obviously difficult to capture the grandeur of a John Ford Western in a TV studio. But not only does live TV tell particular types of stories, it does so in a particular way; it requires a different type of storytelling, a different type of acting, and it forms a different relationship with the viewer, one with more immediacy, more intimacy. We see the difference between live and recorded television this week in this week's "Great Debate," with Fred Coe, Executive Producer of TV Playhouse, affirming that live broadcasts are best for "timely programs and creative drama," while John L. Sinn, President of Ziv Television Programs, favors filmed shows for "greater scope, better acting, fewer mistakes."

Now, it shouldn't be a surprise that the executive producer of a live anthology and the president of one of the most prominent producers of syndicated programs should take their respective positions. Both men agree on the need for both methods, and assume a continuing need for both. As Coe points out, "it would be absurd to choose a film pickup (even for a few hours) of the World Series," and includes elections and conventions, along with regularly scheduled news broadcasts (excluding unscheduled news events, where film is required "to record events for delayed broadcasts"). Coe concedes that it would be pointless for a show such as Dragnet to be broadcast live, when the writers, actors, and directors work with the same premise each week. It is in the area of "an honest theatrical production" of thirty minutes or an hour, where live television shines. "Except for a few isolated cases, there are no drama series on film that as yet compare week in and week out to. . .live programmng." Think of it as an event, a Broadway opening, a play that focuses the audience on the actors and the script, rather than its surroundings. There is an energy in the live performance that film cannot capture.

I wish I had one of these in our house.
But Sinn foresees a day when as much as 80% of programming will be on film. As he points out, all of Ziv's programs (Boston Blackie and I Led Three Lives are two of Ziv's better-known programs, and the future will bring popular shows such as Sea Hunt, Highway Patrol, Bat Masterson and Science Fiction Theatre), but that's not why he speaks in defense of filmed shows. He feels that the "first night" feeling of spontaneity that occurs with live programming is "vastly overrated," and even if it weren't, that wouldn't be a good reason for trapping television shows within the narrow confines of a studio. Film also allows for a more finished product, giving the viewer the best possible entertainment experience. Most important, though, film is also important to preserve such programs for future posterity, although, as Coe mentions, videotape and kinescopes will make such preservation possible. Whereas live programs leave nothing behind "but the script and the memories of those who saw them," film is forever; it "can go into the files as a living history book."

In the end, it's hard to say. I know; a classic copout, right? But Coe is right in that most of what television carries can be accomplished on film (or, later, tape). It is the anthology, the theatrical presentation, the concert, that thrives from an audience witnessing it simultaneously with the performance. And, of course, that's precisely the type of program that's no longer seen with any regularity on television. Coe may win the battle with his argument that live TV is necessary, but he loses the war when the survey of contemporary fare is conducted. More's the pity.

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As I've mentioned, there's not a lot of differentation in the week-to-week offerings of these early TV Guides, which encourages us to look at some of the things that add a local flavor to the proceedings, if you will. Advertising, for instance: when I last read TV Guide, while it was still in the distinctive smaller size, the non-television advertising in the programming section was pretty much non-existant. (Now, of course, it's the programming section itself that has almost disappeared.) But look at some of these ads from Chicagoland, 1953-style:

And while there's plenty of advertising teasing upcoming shows, most of it is either for local programming or supplied by local stations:

Is this just a way for me to take up more space? Sure it is, but it's more than that. It's a testimonial to how TV Guide in the 1950s and much of the 1960s was a local publication more than a national one., one that had formed something of a community bond, if you will, with the readers. The ads themselves are not as slick, more innocent, less assaulting than those that would follow. You'll even see small reminders for readers to remember their civic duties. It doesn't mean that the 1950s themselves were more innocent; after all, the threat of the bomb was hovering overhead wherever you looked. It's just different, and it gives you as much of a flavor of the times as the shows and the stars that each week's issue is promoting.

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So what is on TV this week? One way to tell is with these handy highlights, found for each day's listings:

One of the interesting things about these pictorial guides is how the captions alternate between actor and character. For instance, Gertrude Berg is the star of The Goldbergs (7:00 p.m. CT, NBC), and Jay Jackson is the host of Twenty Questions (Friday, 9:00 p.m. CT, WGN), but Pam and Jerry are Mr. and Mrs. North (9:00 p.m., CBS), played by Barbara Britton and Richard Denning, respectively. It's your snapshot of what's on.

There's a movie on Friday night at 11:45 p.m. on WGN called Dragnet, not to be confused with the series of the same name. Rather than Jack Webb, it stars Rod LaRouque, and here's the description: "Conflict arises between the district attorney's office and a circle of crooks." I thought that pretty much describes the normal roles that the two parties play in everyday life, but I suspect there's more of a story to it than that.

Did you know that Larry Storch had a regular television series prior to F Troop? I'll bet you did, since it seems as if almost everyone hosted a variety show in the early days of the tube, and the title of his show is, appropriately, The Larry Storch Show (Saturday, 7:00 p.m., CBS). This week, Larry's guest is singer Monica Lewis, and among the sketches, Larry impersonates a Frenchman giving a New York travelogue. That I'd like to see. Not from the show, but here's how Larry plays a Frenchman:

Hoagy Carmichael is the host of Saturday Nite Revue, the 90-minute program filling in for Your Show of Shows (8:00 p.m., NBC), but will it get knocked out by Phillies Saturday Night Fights from Chicago (8:00 p.m., ABC), featuring unranked welterweights Alan Moody and Irvin Steen, or Wrestling from Marigold (8:30 p.m, DuMont)? Who knows?

On Sunday, Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town (7:00 p.m., CBS) welcomes guests Jay Lawrence and Burt Lancaster. and the 1953 version of the What's My Line? panel—Arlene Francis, Bennett Cerf, Dorothy Kilgallen and Steve Allen—join John Daly live (9:30 p.m., CBS). Monday means Burns & Allen on CBS (7:00 p.m.), and if you're familiar with the show from either radio or television, you'll easily understand this week's episode, in which "George and Gracie get locked out of their house [and] the locksmith called in the emergency almost loses his wife because of complications brought on by Gracie." If you're not sure how this could happen, don't ask. John Newland, Vaughn Taylor and Elizabeth Montgomery are among the stars on Robert Montgomery Presents (8:30 p.m., NBC), and on Abbott & Costello (9:30 p.m., ABC), "Lou rescues a gorilla from a trap and they become inseparable friends." Tuesday is filled with music on Summertime U.S.A. (6:45 p.m., CBS) with Teresa Brewer, Mel Tormé, and the Honeydreamers; that's followed by adventure on The Gene Autry Show (7:00 p.m, CBS) when "gene rescues a little boy from his outlaw captors." Those who forget that Mike Douglas was a bandsinger before becoming a talk show host could be reminded on Music Show (7:30 p.m., DuMont), and Bob and Ray are among the guests on Eddie Albert's variety show Nothing But the Best (8:00 p.m., ABC).

There's more music Wednesday on TV's Top Tunes (6:45 p.m., CBS) with Bob Eberly and Helen O'Connell, and more wrestling on Wrestling From Rainbo Arena on Chicago's North Side (8:30 p.m., ABC). On a summer repeat of This Is Your Life (9:00 p.m,. NBC), the honoree is Rock Hudson. And how about a pleasant way to end the evening, with The Liberace Show (9:30 p.m., WGN) as "Liberace plays your favorite piano melodies." Thursday brings us one of the most reliable anthologies of the era, Four Star Playhouse (7:30 p.m., CBS). The four stars, who generally rotated in appearances, are Charles Boyer, Ida Lupino, David Niven and Dick Powell (they also comprised Four Star Television), although tonight's star is Merle Oberon, a woman who "Swallows her pride, obtains the hearing aid she needs, and thus learns of her husband's infidelity." Barbara Billingsley is one of the guest stars; let's hope Mrs. Cleaver isn't up to something funny.

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Apparently, more and more movie stars are looking to television for their next dollar. Why? Well, for one thing, the studio system is in its long descent to obsolecense. Studios are cutting back on their contract lists, and those actors and actresses still under contract find they're not necessarily being paid regardless of whether or not they work, as was once the case. For the entertainer looking for a steady income, what could be better than a sitcom? A successful series can earn the star as much as $5,000 per week, not including profits, and they'll still have a chance to do a movie during the off-season. Is it any wonder, then, that stars from Loretta Young and Adolph Menjou to Ray Milland and Joan Caulfield are headed for the small screen? Not everyone succeeds, but ask Eve Arden (Our Miss Brooks), Gale Storm (My Little Margie), and Lucy and Desi how well it's worked. Ca-ching!

Speaking of Gale Storm, she started out life in Houston as Josephine Owaisca. Then, in short order, she won a Gateway to Hollywood talent contest, married, got a new name, and launched "a dazzling career" that has brought her to My Little Margie, and stardom. It's not surprising that this self-styled "realist" would be among the stars trading movies for television and security. She's always tried to keep her values in order. "Many people in show business focus their attentions entirely on themselves—how they look, how their clothes are arranged, and so on. I consider that unhealthy because it's too self-centered. The basic happiness for any woman is a happy home life, with the career secondary." With her success in TV have come—once again—movie offers, but for now, it's the demanding television life, a succesful nightclub stint in Vegas, and her husband and four kids. She'll go on to be widowed twice and will fight a successful battle with alcoholism; as she wrote in her autobiography prior to her death in 2009, "Life has been good and I thank God for His many blessings and the happy life He has given to me."

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That's it for this week—and don't forget what TV Guide says:



  1. Just dug out my copy of this issue, from when I was almost three years old (so my memories aren't quite direct).
    Here's a little local color (compatible with black-and-white):

    - Page A-7: A feature by Elmer the Elephant, likely ghosted by his foil John Conrad, with many jibes at the latter's expense.
    Back in '99 (that long ago), I got to meet John Conrad (long since retired) at the Museum Of Broadcasting, at that big show they had to celebrate local Chicago kids TV; he was kind enough to autograph the page for me (one of a number I was able to get that day; I think I told you about that in a comment some years back).

    - Monday, 10:00 pm, Channel 7: Studs And Chet in a variety show, a survivor of Studs' Place.
    Studs Terkel and Chet Roble were targets of the Blacklist at the time; Red Quinlan, who was running Channel 7 at the time, kept a number of targeted performers on the air in defiance of this practice (another was Angel Casey, who's been mentioned here in the past).
    Tonight, Studs and Chet have as a guest Chuck Comiskey, who was in a court fight with his sister Grace over control of the Chicago White Sox (Studs was a devout Sox fan), plus the Fine Arts Quartet, who likely jammed a bit with jazzman Chet Roble.
    All live, of course.

    - TV didn't really have "guest stars" in those days; every was basically at the starting gate.
    Nobody remembers this, but before she got the part of Mrs. Cleaver, Barbara Billingsley often played "bad girls" in B movies and early TV (I've got a few such shows in my Old DVD Wall); in fact, she had to sell herself as a mom to Beaver's producers in order to get the part (Hugh Beaumont had a similar task, given his previous resume as B-movie tough guys).
    Such is life.

    - I think I'll stand down for now until I see what day you've chosen for Monday.
    But 'til then …

    - Off-topic:
    Yesterday, I took delivery of Eliot Ness And The Mad Butcher, the latest book by my friend Max Allan Collins, in collaboration with A. Brad Schwartz.
    This is a followup to their previous book Scarface And The Untouchable, which covered the Ness-Capone battles in Prohibition Chicago.
    The new book takes up Ness's story after Repeal, when he moved to Cleveland to become that city's Director Of Public Safety.
    The Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run was one of America's first recorded serial killers, who plagued Ness throughout his tenure in Cleveland; he was never apprehended, but Ness was certain that he knew his identity.
    That last put Ness's Cleveland years under a cloud, in spite of his having instituted many positive changes in that city's police department.
    Anyway, it's all in the book; if you ever get the chance, check it out (it'd make a sensational movie …).

    1. I recently read that BEAVER's producers came to Billingsley and invited her to audition...something to pick up her spirits after the sudden, untimely death of her husband.


    2. The husband in question was Roy Kellino, who was a producer-director on Four Star Playhouse, op cit.
      Coincidence? You decide …

      And while we're talking about coincidence:
      One of Ed Sullivan's guests, comedian Jay Lawrence, was Larry Storch's brother (see Jay - who closely resembles Larry - in Stalag 17, next chance you get).

      Something I didn't notice last time:
      Garry Moore is taking the week off (allowed in that bygone day).
      Holding Garry's place is bandleader Meredith Willson - and this is some years before he created The Music Man.
      Willson was best-known for his work on radio, serving as musical director and comedy foil for Tallulah Bankhead and Frank Morgan, among others.
      Also, Willson had composed musical scores for films (he was nominated for an Oscar for Charles Chaplin's The Great Dictator).
      Just so you know …

  2. I noticed the other day that Larry Storch is still on the right side of the grass (as an old gentleman of my acquaintance liked to say), at age 98.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!