February 6, 2021

This week in TV Guide: February 5, 1955

Remember a few weeks ago when I referred to the week's programming as "putting the classic in classic TV"? Well, we've got another example of that this week, and so why don't we start things off with NBC's Kraft Theater and its encore showing of Rod Serling's Patterns. (Wednesday, 8:00 p.m. CT) 

I think everyone would agree that Patterns made Rod Serling famous overnight, or at least close to it. It's spellbinding drama, an intense, forceful story about the cutthroat world of business, and three men caught in it: the ruthless corporate boss, the aging executive being phased out, and the junior executive unwittingly brought in to replace him. When it was first broadcast. live on January 12, it won nearly universal praise for its writing, production (directed by Fielder Cook), and especially the acting of the three leads: Everett Sloane, Ed Begley and Richard Kiley. Jack Gould, the New York Times television critic (perhaps the most influential in the country) called Patterns "one of the high points in the TV medium's evolution," comparing it favorably to the movie Executive Suite (Executive Suite "might be Babes in Toyland without a score."), and urging a repeat performance of the live broadcast "at an early date." 

Of course, in these days before videotape, you can't just pop a cassette in the machine and show it again. There's only one way to repeat a live broadcast, and so this week, in an unprecedented move, NBC takes up Gould's suggestion and stages Patterns a second time, live and with the original leads. This performance is recorded on kinescope, and it's the one you can watch for yourself today.

The fact that network repeats the broadcast less than a month after the original is testimony to the impact that Patterns makes. Serling wins the first of his six Emmys for his writing, and to this day Patterns is considered one of the great television dramas ever aired, often mentioned with Serling's next big TV triumph, Requiem for a Heavyweight, which would air the following year. (Serling could really write, couldn't he?) The live performance crackles with energy, creating a dynamic atmosphere that, Gould says, "underscore[s] how little the TV artistic horizons really have been explored." There was a tangible excitement within the industry at the suggestion that a new form of drama, combining the environment of live theater with the intimacy of live television, had been born. The prospects were unlimited! 

And then, of course, videotape came along and film became a way of life; the intensity of live television took a backseat to the ability to tweak and perfect a performance, doing a scene over and over until it was just right (not to mention the economy of being able to repeat a show an unlimited number of times), and before anyone knew it, the new era of television was over. But what a time it was! 

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Speaking of classics, that's Edward R. Murrow on the cover, "whose slow, pedantic voice is as familiar to Americans as that of the President of the United States." It was only last year that Murrow took on Senator Joseph McCarthy, and the resulting brouhaha left Murrow both tarred as a communist and hailed as "the greatest champion of freedom since Patrick Henry." 

Murrow is neither, but he is a believer in freedom. However, with freedom comes responsibility, and one thing he's adamant about is his belief that "TV is [not] a pulpit from which to preach his own 'prejudices'." "If we snuck our own ideas in," he says, "it would be an abuse of a monopolized opportunity." (I wonder what he'd have to say about today's newspeople?) Not that you have to be completely void of opinions, though; "Everyone is a prisoner of his own experiences. No one can eliminate prejudices—just recognize them." 

Murrow has no time to waste on trivial things like ratings; "If I got involved in ratings I might be tempted to 'hot up' the copy. And I never want to do that." Neither does he have time for those in the press who are free with their opinions. "The basic obligation of anybody of the press is not to say, 'This is what I think,' but 'These are the basic facts which led me to this conclusion.'" Crucially, though, he doesn't think you should take what he and his colleagues say as the last word. "If their conclusion is different from yours, that's okay, too."

Although Murrow's greatest achievements are in the newsroom, his most popular program is his Friday night show Person to Person, where he gets to visit "the homes of the great, the near-great or the well-known." Murrow attributes the show's success to people's natural curiosity, the urge to "look into open windows." Says Murrow, "we decided to show unordinary people doing ordinary things. The show is dramatic only because people are dramatic." And while there are some who complain that Murrow's interviews on P to P are softball, he replies, "I always act like a guest in the house. I wouldn't dream of throwing anyone a curved question." He loves the contrasts he's able to present by matching unlikely interview subjects on a particular show; in the past he's had comedienne Martha Raye and Pakistani President Mohammad Ali, Washington hostess Perle Mesta and Cowardly Lion Bert Lahr, and Archbishop Richard Cushing and fashion designer Lilly Dache.

For all of his professional accomplishments and personal hobbies (he considers himself an outdoorsman), he thinks of himself first and foremost as a reporter. It is, he believes, a fleeting fame. "A reporter is always concerned with tomorrow. There's nothing tangible of yesterday. All I can say I've done is agitate the air 10 or 15 minutes and then boom!—it's gone."

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Don't change that dial; we've got more classics in store this week, starting on Saturday with The Jackie Gleason Show, tonight featuring The Honeymooners! (7:00 p.m., CBS) Remember, this is prior to The Honeymooners airing as a weekly series, so the listing is particularly descriptive. "Jackie plays the burly bus driver, Art Carney plays his upstairs neighbor and Audrey Meadows and Joyce Randolph portray the long-suffering wives." That's about it in a nutshell, isn't it? No word on what tonight's story was about.

At 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, CBS's Omnibus show a feature film culled from the various Abraham Lincoln segments presented on the show over the years. Royal Dano stars as Lincoln, with Joanne Woodward as Ann Rutledge and Joanna Roos as Mary Todd Lincoln. The Lincoln stories were written by James Agee, and were inseperable from the political climate of the times; a few years ago, I took a closer look at them here. Later, on Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town (7:00 p.m., CBS), it's a salute to the history of Columbia Pictures, with an Oscar-worthy montage of clips, and stars including Eddie Fisher, Teresa Brewer, Marge and Gower Champion, Tyrone Power, Maureen O'Hara, Kim Novak, Jack Lemmon, and others.

In 1945, Ray Milland won an Academy Award for his magnificent performance as an alcoholic writer in the movie The Lost Weekend, which also won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director (Billy Wilder) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Wilder and Charles Brackett). On Monday night's Robert Montgomery Presents (8:30 p.m., NBC), the story comes to the small screen, with Montgomery himself portraying Don Birnam, the man who'd do "anything for a drink." The cast includes Leora Dana, Edward Andrews, and, in one of his early television apperances. Walter Matthau. The hour-long production caps off a quality night on the Peacock Network, one which started with Producers' Showcase (7:00 p.m.), featuring a production of Clare Booth Luce's biting comedy "The Women," with an all-female cast headed by Shelley Winters, Paulette Goddard, Ruth Hussey and Mary Astor. If your tastes run more to music, then check out the great American mezzo-soprano Rise Stevens, star of the Metropolitan Opera and one of the most popular singers of the day (that's her playing the opera star in Going My Way) on Voice of Firestone (7:30 p.m., ABC).  

A show we haven't talked about here is the anthology series Fireside Theater (not to be confused with Firesign Theatre, which is a horse of a different color), which ran on NBC from 1949 to 1958 and, according to the always-reliable Wikipedia, was the first successful filmed series on American television, debuting two years before I Love Lucy. It's also known as The Jane Wyman Show, probably because the longest-running host of the show was Jane Wyman. It doesn't have the prestige (or the critical acclaim) of other, better-remembered anthologies, but it did well enough for NBC; it was never out of the top 25 during the six seasons it ran. The point of all this is Tuesday's story, "Mr. Onion" (8:00 p.m.), starring William Bendix and Dorothy Malone, and you certainly can't complain about that cast. It's one of a number of similar anthologies tonight, including Ford Theater, Armstrong Circle Theater, The Elgin Hour and Danger.

Rocky with the man who portrayed him onscreen,
Paul Newman
Wednesday's feature is CBS's Pabst Blue Ribbon Bouts (9:00 p.m.), tonight featuring a middleweight showdown between #1 ranked Joey Giardello and Al Andrews. This is a rematch of a fight that took place, believe it or not, just two weeks ago. (No wonder so many of these guys wound up punch-drunk.) Boxing happens to be the subject of an article by Frank De Bois, who laments the effect television is having on the sport. Part of the problem, De Bois says, is that today's fighters don't stand in there and slug it out; instead, they "mug, posture, strut, telegraph their punches and dance before the camera." (Cassius Clay, call your manager.) Some old-timers even complain that today's fighters "don't even want to be fighters. They want to be TV actors—like Rocky Graziano." On the other hand, there's agreement that "bleeders" aren't popular now, what with the "millions of women converted to fight fans by TV." And flamboyant fighters have always been big with the public—so maybe this is just a case of "back in my day" syndrome, something you never see at this website.

There are some nice guest star turns in Thursday's programming; Ross Bagdasarian, minus his Chipmunks, appears on an episode of The Ray Milland Show (7:00 p.m., CBS), Robert Young stars as a Navy skipper in the mystery anthology Climax (7:30 p.m., CBS), Gary Merrill is the guest in the legal drama Justice (7:30 p.m., NBC), character actor Charles Coburn features in Ford Theater (8:30 p.m., NBC), and a very young Dennis Hopper appears in the Public Defender episode "Mama's Boy." (9:00 p.m, CBS) I wonder if David Lynch saw that episode. . .

We should stop in at Ed Murrow's Person to Person on Friday, since we talked about it earlier; Ed's guests tonight (9:30 p.m., CBS) are actress/swimmer Esther Williams (complete with tax-deductible pool) and New York restaurateur Toots Shor. Meanwhile, Steve Allen and the Tonight gang—Steve Lawrence, Eydie Gorme, Andy Williams, Pat Marshall, Skitch Henderson and Gene Rayburn, along with their guests Lulu Belle and Scotty from the Grand Ole Opry—are taking the show on the road, to National Cash Register Theater in Dayton, Ohio. (11:00 p.m., NBC)

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I don't know if these were a thing back in the day, but it's a great idea nonetheless: a TV Guide theme party, sponsored by WMT, the CBS affiliate in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where you dress up as your favorite character from the magazine. The pictures and text might not be too clear, but my point in including this is to show how pervasive television—and TV Guide—have become in a very short time.

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Finally, talking as we have been about anthologies, there's this note from New York in the Teletype: "Alfred Hitchcock, ace director of suspense-type movies, close to a deal to produce a half-hour telefilm mystery series. It would take over the Sunday night CBS period now occupied by Stage 7."

Alfred Hitchcock Presents does indeed premiere on October 2, 1955. By the time the last first-run episode of airs on NBC on June 26, 1965, ten seasons and 361 episodes later, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and its successor, the hour-long Alfred Hitchcock Hour, will be tied as the third-longest running dramatic anthology series in the history of American television. I'd say that deal worked out pretty well for everyone concerned, especially the viewers. Wouldn't you? TV  


  1. The first performer to speak in PATTERNS was...Elizabeth Montgomery, as a secretary.


  2. When you go into weekly 1954-1958 dives, note the shows that are in color, living (NBC) or not (CBS) ... or if you're in an affiliate area that has local color capability...

    1. Actually, CBS produced 6 to 8 hours a week of colorcasts from their studio in New York and Las at Television City. They rotated many of their live variety shows including Toast of the Town and Red Skelton. They cut back on their color programming by late 1950s because they felt they were encouraging sales of RCA TVs which owned NBC.


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