March 27, 2021

This week in TV Guide: March 29, 1958

You know that feeling you get when you're watching a movie or TV show and the hero or heroine is just standing there, enjoying life, when a monster or masher or thug approaches them from behind? And you can see the terror coming, but our hero can't, and you want to just shout at the screen, "Look out!" "Turn around!" Sometimes they do, but most of the time you're left saying to yourself, "They never saw it coming."

I was reminded of this sensation while looking through this week's issue, which features several big-money quiz shows—Twenty-One, Name That Tune, Tic-Tac-Dough, The $64,000 Question and The $64,000 Challenge—and the premieres of two new ones: Top Dollar, based on the kids' game "Ghost" and boasting a top prize of $5,000, debuts Saturday night on CBS, while Wingo, with a first prize of $250,000, takes its bow on the same network Tuesday night. NBC, meanwhile, has announced that Rosemary Clooney's variety show will be replaced for the summer by, you guessed it—a quiz show.* And our lead story profiles that master emcee of the quizzes, Jack Barry. Yep, despite all the whispers circulating since last year, they just don't see it coming, do they?

*Actually, they wound up just moving The Price is Right into the time spot. In retrospect, that worked out pretty well.

Barry praises the star of his greatest creation, Twenty-One. "[Charles Van Doren] was the greatest personality we've had," Barry says. Before Van Doren, Barry and his partner, Dan Enright, had to "comb the sidewalks in front of their studio" to find people to fill the audience; now, they turn fans away. When asked if he thinks his quiz shows have served any purpose other than "mere entertainment," Barry bristles. "Mere entertainment? Well, there's nothing wrong wiith mere entertainment. Entertainment's the heart of TV."

It's five months from now, on August 15, that the quiz show Dotto is cancelled after accusations of match fixing. From there, the dominoes fall, one by one: The $64,000 Challenge (cancelled September 7), Twenty-One (October 16), The $64,000 Question (November 2), Tic-Tac-Dough (December 29). In October 1959, the quiz show hero Charles Van Doren appears before a Congressional committee and loses his job. CBS then cancels their remaining quiz shows, including Name That Tune and Top Dollar. Barry and Enright would be blacklisted from television; it would be 1972 before Barry finally returned to national television prominence, with one of his biggest hits, The Joker's Wild.* 

*Debuting on the same day as the revival of The Price Is Right.  

All this is in the future, of course, but there's one quote from the profile of Barry that stands out. Defending the quiz show, he says, "I do think all our shows have stimulated the desire to become better informed. If I didn't think that—. Well, I wouldn't want to think that we didn't do something useful." Unfortunately, it was when the wrong people became better informed that Barry's problems began.

Yes, it's a terrible time to be premiering a new quiz show, isn't it?
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Starting in 1954, Steve Allen helmed his own NBC variety show which, at the beginning, aired opposite that of Ed Sullivan. It didn't run as long as Ed's, of course, but then Allen said his goal was never to conquer Ed, just to coexist with him, which he did for several seasons. Let's see who gets the best of the contest this week. 

Sullivan: Ed's guests tonight are comedian Sam Levenson; singers Jane Morgan, Georges Guetray, Della Reese and Frankie Vaughan; Anton Dolin and his London Festival Ballet; pianists George Shearing, Roger Williams and Dorothy Donegan; the O'Brady Puppets; and The Three Bragazzis, a comedy act.

Allen: Joining Steve tonight are Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy; movie actress Marie McDonald; boxer Carmen Basilio; the Step Brothers, dance team; and All-American high school and college basketball stars. Regulars: Don Knotts, Joyce Jameson, Tom Poston.

We have stars on both sides of the divide this week, but ultimately one show is destined to win out. And while Ed's got a solid lineup, it's hard to overestimate what big stars Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy were during the OTR era. I mean, you have to be special to pull off a ventriloquist act on the radio, right? And Carmen Basilio, in addition to being a boxing champion, helped blow the whistle on the mob's control of the boxing business. With that one-two punch, it's no surprise that Allen takes the honors this week.

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There's a different kind of March Madness afoot this week—no, not the NCAA basketball tournament; that finished up last weekend. This Saturday, it's the first game* of the NBA finals, pitting the defending champion Boston Celtics against the team they vanquished last year, the St. Louis Hawks. (2:30 p.m., NBC) The Hawks, led by all-star Bob Pettit, take the title in six games, and it will be the last time anyone not named the Boston Celtics wins the NBA championship until 1966, one of the greatest runs of dominance in the history of professional sports.

*In case you were wondering, the 2019 NBA finalsthe last one to be played in the pre-virus era, started on May 3061 days later than the start of the 1958 finals.

And speaking of the NCAA basketball championship, it wasn't on national television—we've talked about that before. But Saturday afternoon on CBS, the NCAA swimming and diving championships are. Go figure.

Speaking of sports, you might be forgiven for looking twice at ABC's Wednesday Night Fights (10:00 p.m.), this week featuring light heavyweight Yolande Pompey against middleweight Rory Calhoun, and asking yourself if that's the Rory Calhoun, who, prior to his acting career, was, among other things, a mechanic, a logger in California's redwoods, a hard-rock miner in Nevada, a cowboy in Arizona, a fisherman, a truck driver, a crane operator, and a forest firefighter. One thing he was not, however, was a professional boxer (though he did go to jail once for slugging a cop). That honor goes to Herman "Rory" Calhoun, who at one time was the #3 ranked middleweight contender in the world, and whose manager changed his name to Rory because of the actor. Rory the boxer wins tonight's fight in a sixth-round TKO; Rory the actor will star in the series The Texan, debuting in the fall. I wonder if the two of them were ever on TV opposite each other?

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Ever have that feeling that your TV viewing choices are horrible? For many local movie fans, that's a good thing, as horror movie shows—and their hosts—have become television's latest craze. It was three years ago that long-haired, sharp-nailed Vampira (the "Ghoul of the Golden West") became a sensation on KABC in Los Angeles, and it ramped up last fall when Shock Theater, a syndicated package of Universal classic monster flicks premiered. With titles like Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man and The Wolf Man, Shock Theater became a veritable Garden of Eden for a "spooktacular collection of leering, smirking, black-clad other-world characters" that often wound up garnering more fans than the movies themselves. 

Philadelphia has Roland, a "monster of ceremonies" who's proved so popular that an event held at the station blocked traffic for hours. Miss Tarantula Ghoul and her sidekick, Heathcliff the rattlesnake, do the honors at KPTV in Portland, Oregon. Terry Bennett, Marvin the Near-Sighted Madman, livens things up at WBKB in Chicago, ripping the fingernails off of women to light his cigarettes. WBAL in Baltimore has Dr. Lucifer, while Youngstown, Ohio has David Allen, whose head floats in the mist while he serves up his lines. And the list goes on and on. I'm sure most of you out there have examples of favorite hosts you watched while you were growing up. 

(l-r) Roland, Marvin, Miss Tarantula

The tradition has continued to the present day: think Elvira and Svengoolie as more colorful examples, while Joe Bob Briggs does the honors on the Shudder channel; there's MST3K if you're looking for a more interactive version. Joe Bob points out why movie hosts are important, particularly in these days when society has become so atomized. “There’s something in our DNA that says you need to watch a movie with other people," he said last year. "It’s a social thing. If you watch a movie on your phone, on your laptop, by yourself and it’s a great movie what happens when it’s over? You feel extremely lonely,” 

I've said before that I miss the days of movies on local television (even though they were often edited and had commercials), and the absense of local movies means the absense of local movie hosts. As Cassandra "Elvira" Peterson says, "Unless you’re on a network that has a lot of money and access to a lot of films, you can’t get the films yourself." Even though hosts like Briggs and the cast of MST3K make movie watching a more social occasion, the local movie host created a sense of community that just isn't the same on a larger scale. Technology may have made the world smaller, but in some ways it's larger than ever.

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One of the most entertaining half-hours of the week is Saturday night, when Mike Wallace sits down to interview actor, playwright, director, and all-around raconteur Peter Ustinov. (10:00 p.m., ABC) Ustinov, currently starring in Romanoff and Juliet on Broadway, talks to Wallace about, among other things, "why he believes that humorists should be prepared to go to jail for their convictions, and why he contents that the best kind of humor is 'subversive.'" Fortunately for all of us, that episode exists thanks to Wallace himself, who donated The Mike Wallace Interview Collection to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and you can watch it here.

Sunday afternoon offers a preview of things to come; first, Senator John F. Kennedy is the guest on Face the Nation (4:30 p.m., CBS). That's followed at 5:00 by a special 90-minute edition of See It Now, as Edward R. Murrow investigates the possible dangers of radioactive fallout from atomic tests. And at 6:30, Walter Cronkite's Twentieth Century gives us a look at what it's like to live in a comminist satellite state in "Riot in East Berlin." Better get used to it while we have time.

Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday, and Monday Voice of Firestone (9:00 p.m,. ABC) presents its annual Easter program, with soprano Nadine Connor singing the music of Faure, Adam and Grainier, telling the dramatic story leading up to the events of Good Friday and the Crucifixion. The idea that commercial television would even notice Holy Week, let alone commemorate it, is something I actually find rather moving, especially nowadays.

Tuesday, Ed Sullivan makes a cameo appearance as himself on the Howard Duff-Ida Lupino sitcom Mr. Adams and Eve (8:00 p.m., CBS), hiring the Adams's to write a guest column for his newspaper syndicate. And on Telephone Time (9:30 p.m., ABC), the actor version of Rory Calhoun appears in "Trail Blazer," a tale of post-Civil War cattlemen.* And at 10:30 p.m. on Providence's WPRO, the Peloquin Choral Group continues a series of Holy Week music 

*Just think, one more night and he could have been the lead-in to his namesake's fight.

On Wednesday, NBC's Matinee Theater (3:00 p.m.) presents a colorcast remake of Danny Kaye's classic The Inspector General, with Wally Cox essaying Kaye's role. Disneyland (7:30 p.m., ABC) looks at the history of flight in "Man in Flight," a combination of cartoons and historical footage. And Kraft Theatre, the oldest program still on television (it debuted in 1947, and will leave the air at the end of this year), tells the story of "The Man in Authority," a Scotland Yard inspector investigating a murder that he committed.

Thursday, bridge authority Charles Goren, who literally wrote the book on the game, is one of Groucho Marx's guests on You Bet Your Life (8:00 p.m., NBC), after which Friday and Smith hunt down someone passing bad checks on Dragnet (8:30 p.m., NBC). and George Gobel visits Tennessee Ernie Ford on The Ford Show. (9:30 p.m, NBC) 

Holy Week reaches its passion on Good Friday, first with Providence Bishop Russell McVinney leading the devotion known as the Stations of the Cross (8:00 p.m., Channel 10) and concluding with Providence radio voice Leo R. LaPorte narrating the story of The Passion (10:00 p.m., WPRO). Elsewhere, Frank Sinatra welcomes Spike Jones and his band, with Spike's wife and vocalist Helen Grayco (9:00 p.m., ABC), and Lee Marvin is on the trail of a Lonelyhearts killer who meets and then murders his female victims in M Squad. (9:00 p.m., NBC) And at 11:15 p.m. on Channel 7, it's that all-time Easter favorite It's a Wonderful Life. Yes, it's the same one you're thinking of, and I'm not entirely sure when it became a Christmas tradition (maybe when it fell into the public domain?), but I remember the first time I saw it was in the summer. For the second time, go figure.

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Finally, here's something you don't see very often: not an apology, per se, but an explanation, from Remington Rand, sponsor of Leave It to Beaver, regarding the show's recent time change from 7:30 Eastern to 8:00—a change instigated by the sponsor. 

To put this in some context, you have to remember that we're still in a time when sponsors, not networks, exercise control over program scheduling. In other words, Remington Rand purchases the timeslot, and then fills that slot with a program they sponsor. Networks hate this, becuase a low-rated show can ruin an entire night's schedule; the aforementioned Voice of Firestone the centerpiece of a massive controversy when NBC (which aired the program at the time) and Firestone battled over the show's timeslot. And to tie this into our lede, it was sponsor pressure that played a central role in the Quiz Show Scandals. (Who says there isn't synergy in television history?) Eventually, networks will exert more control over series production; that, combined with diversifying show sponsorship, effectively ends the domination of sponsors.

Returning to the present, this ad from Remington Rand is a fascinating example of sponsor sensitivity to viewing habits, trying to turn a perceived minus into a plus. Yes, they say, they understand that some of the program's "good friends" might be unhappy (and it's an interesting choice of words, "friends" rather than the more sterile "viewers," underlying once again the intimate nature of television). However, in the view of the sponsor (and here the copy slips into advertising mode), Beaver "is not so much a children's program as it is a family program suitable for young children to watch," and it deserves to be seen by a wider audience, one that includes older children and parents. "Believe it or not, only about half the people turn on their television sets as early as 7:30 Friday—while just a half hour later, but earlier in the week, two out of three homes have turned their sets on." This means that a later timeslot on Wednesday means "hundreds of thousands of extra families" have the chance to watch Beaver—and, not coincidentally, the commercials that "demonstrate the values of owning a Remington© Portable Typewriter." In short, while some friends will have to make difficult choices, "we hope that at your house the young in age and the young in heart will somehow find a way to keep on watching 'the best new program of the year.'" It's signed "Hopefully yours."
Things work out pretty well for Beaver; it lasts five more seasons, finally leaving the air for rerun immortality in 1963. But after this inaugural season on NBC, it moves to ABC for the 1958-59 season—back at 7:30 p.m. TV  


  1. Love this column! Beaver’s first year was on CBS.

  2. RE: those local horror hosts: here in DFW it was Gorgon, played by local legend Bill Camfield who was better known as Slam Bang Theatre host Icky Twerp from 1959 to 1972. Camfield's notoriety in the latter role got him cast in the Three Stooges' feature THE OUTLAWS IS COMING!

  3. Barry/Enright had 1 more game show premiere before their scandal. NBC premiered CONCENTRATION on Aug. 25, bought the show from Barry/Enright, and kept it on weekday mornings until Mar. 23, 1973, a record for a daytime game show until THE PRICE IS RIGHT passed its record in 1988.

    Another possible benefit for RR moving LItB to another night was a consideration of the Central & Mountain Time Zones, where 7:30 PM ET shows would be seen at 6:30 PM CT and (sometimes) 5:30 PM MT. If families in CTZ & MTZ ate supper at 6 PM, the way my family did, that could mean a lot of people not watching primetime tv until about 7 PM. IMO, Friday night would be best for LItB, but it stayed there for just about 6 months on CBS before being moved to Wednesday night. ABC ran the show on Thursday night in Seasons 2 & 6 and Saturday night in Seasons 3-5.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!