July 24, 2021

This week in TV Guide: July 26, 1958




Xhe Millionaire is a terrific idea for a TV series, don't you think? It has a simple, straightforward concept and a tantalizing, provocative premise with which virtually anyone can identify. It’s also a prime candidate for a look at, in the immortal words of Paul Harvey, "the rest of the story."

The Millionaire, which has a five-season run between 1955 and 1960, stars Marvin Miller as Michael Anthony, executive secretary to the mysterious multimillionaire John Beresford Tipton, Jr. Tipton remains an unseen presence throughout the series, his voice provided by veteran voice artist Paul Frees —the only part of him we ever see is his left arm, when he hands Anthony another cashier’s check for one million dollars, along with instructions as to whom the money should be given. The rest of each episode plays out as an anthology, as we follow the story of the beneficiaries and how the sudden wealth affects their lives.

It’s really kind of a cool idea, almost an existential one, not unlike Fantasy Island, I suppose: people are given the chance to experience a dramatic change in life, and in the process discover the kind of stuff of which they’re made—sometimes it’s good, sometimes not so good. And, like the enigmatic Mr. Roarke, it makes you want to know more about this John Beresford Tipton character.

Tipton gets ready to hand Anthony yet another million
We never know how he chooses his beneficiaries—maybe Paul Drake helps select them—or what motivates him, save a comment in the opening episode that his goal was to set up a kind of chess game, using human beings as the pieces. So apparently Tipton has something of a God complex about him, or perhaps it’s more as if he were a scientist conducting experiments on human lab rats. Either way, there’s something somewhat disturbing about the whole idea of people being playthings of the rich (Brewster's Millions, anyone?), and one thinks that Tipton’s backstory might have made for interesting viewing itself. In these days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you hear the phrase "origin story" a lot, and this is one I'd like to see.

I wonder, though, if The Millionaire is so much a product of its time that it couldn’t be made today. (A pilot for a revival was made in 2015, but didn't go anywhere.) For example, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? notwithstanding, a million dollars doesn’t really go all that far anymore* (as Dr. Evil found out), which makes the show’s premise a charming artifact. To put in perspective, one million dollars in 1955 would, factored for inflation, have the buying power of $9,301,508 today. And then there’s the question of where the money comes from: I don’t know about you, but I might be slightly paranoid about accepting almost nine million dollars from a total stranger. Suppose I’m being sucked into some kind of money-laundering scheme? And wouldn’t that kind of sudden wealth attract the attention of the government, regardless of the tax consequences? Frankly, I’d probably suspect the whole thing of being like one of those African bank email scams.

*Even though Tipton had already taken care of the taxes for each beneficiary, which would have been quite a chunk of change itself.

Probably the best chance for a revival would be to base the whole thing around winning a lottery, which has been done several times (Lottery, Sweepstakes, Windfall) without any great success. I think the problem here, though, is that with the lottery, we know where the money comes from: the government, in the form of ticket-buying suckers like you and me. With The Millionaire, on the other hand, the questions of “who” and “why” loom large over the series, even though the beneficiaries are prohibited from ever attempting to discover the identity of their benefactor.

Regardless, as Marvin Miller and producer Don Fedderson attest in this TV Guide article, The Millionaire is an irresistible premise. Each week Federson gets “scores” of letters from people convinced that Tipton is somehow real, who want to get a piece of the action. And Miller can’t really go anywhere anymore without people jokingly coming up to him and asking where the check is. Which just goes to show that, no matter how, the dream of instant wealth is alive and well.

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In the category of “unfortunate use of words,” the top of this week’s cover bears the teaser, “How ‘Twenty One’ Rehearses Its Show.” It’s unfortunate because, in less than one month, the Quiz Show Scandal is about to burst into full view of the public, with Twenty One being at the center of the storm.

The article itself is pretty innocuous, telling of how host Jack Barry and the evening’s contestants run through their marks, testing microphone settings and camera angles, making sure the participants are comfortable with the setup. It’s an interesting behind-the-scenes look at a television show, which must have seemed quite the exotic thing back in 1958. Of course, looking back on it in context, the headline itself is the payoff—I mean, I bought this issue for that alone, without even caring about the rest of the contents. It’s the kind of thing you just can’t make up.

The all-time biggest winner on Twenty One is Elfrida Von Nardoff (pictured, at left, with Barry), who is in the process of amassing $220,500, apparently honestly, as this article is being written. The most famous winner, however, is Charles Van Doren, who parlayed his death struggle with Herb Stempel back in 1955 into a lot of money and a co-hosting gig on the Today show. I was hoping, in fact, that one of Today’s listings for the week would have included Van Doren’s name—but then, that would have been just too perfect, wouldn’t it? Sort of like winning a million dollars.

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And now the odds and ends from the week, some of which might be thought of as a preview of coming attractions. 

Monday, it's the debut of a new game show: Concentration (10:30 a.m. CT, NBC). It does pretty well for itself, running until March, 1973. Hugh Downs hosts, while he's still doing double-duty as Jack Paar's sidekick. After the Tonight gig, he'll move to the morning as host of the Today show. Without Charles Van Doren.

Speaking of Paar, Monday's show (10:45, 11:00, or 11:30 p.m., depending on where you're watching it) is on location in Havanna, Cuba. Less than six months later, the country will have fallen to the Communists, and later Paar will try to arrange a swap of tractors for prisoners of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. I wonder if this is the only case of a network talk show originating from a country in the middle of a violent revolution? And on Tuesday, Jack celebrates his first anniversary as host of Tonight. He'll be the host for five years, moving to prime time in 1962 and ceding the seat to Johnny Carson.

Perhaps thinking that King
Arthur's no Doctor
Tuesday afternoon at 5:00 p.m. on WTCN, it's Sir Lancelot, starring William Russell, who would go on to great and lasting fame as Ian Chesterton, part of the original TARDIS crew of Doctor Who. Later that night, on a highlights edition of Name That Tune (6:30 p.m., CBS), the young Eddie Hodges is shown with his partner—Marine Colonel John Glenn—as they team up to win $25,000. (This is often mentioned in stories after Glenn's selection as an astronaut.) Later (7:30 p.m., to be precise), ABC carries The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, starring Hugh O'Brian. A note after the listing teases an article in next week's TV Guide on O'Brian's efforts to get out of his Earp contract. Must not have worked; the show continues to run successfully until 1961.

Walt Disney's show Disneyland hasn't yet moved from ABC to NBC, and it isn't yet broadcast in color. (Hence, it's called Disneyland instead of The Wonderful World of Color.) Wednesday night's episode, "Magic Highway, U.S.A.," (6:30 p.m.) explores the roadways of the past, present and future*, but what's interesting about this is not the episode itself, but the ad appearing at the bottom of the page for the latest Disney theatrical presentation, "The Light in the Forest," opening August 1 at the State Theater in Minneapolis. Disney always did know how to use television, and he was the first of the major studio heads to understand how TV, far from being a threat, could be used to further the business. Ads for movies, especially ones starring TV actors, weren't unusual in TV Guide, but I thought this was a nice example of complimentary product placement. I wonder how much Disney had to pay for that?

*Among the predictions for the future: concrete tires on rubber roads, and separate routes for female drivers.

Jim McKay - spanning
the courtroom
At 7:30 p.m. on Thursday evening, CBS presents The Verdict is Yours, a series of courtroom reenactments with actors portraying the actual participants. The court reporter in the series: a young Jim McKay, still a few years from the Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat. Tonight, in a case ripped from the headlines, or at least the scriptwriters at Perry Mason, a young woman challenges the codicil to her father's will disinheriting her—she claims it's skulduggery on the part of her brother.

Back in the 1950s and '60s, the "Efficiency Expert" was all the rage: people who would come in to a business and spend a few days walking around, watching how people do their jobs, taking notes and making everyone extremely nervous, because the efficiency expert would invariably suggest eliminating a few "non-essential" employees. (They almost never recommended that the boss take a pay cut.) In Friday's Personal Appearance story "The Uninhibited Female" (9:30 p.m., CBS), Barry Nelson is the efficiency expert, and Marilyn Erskine is the boss' pretty—and distracting—secretary.  

On Saturday's Have GunWill Travel (8:30 p.m., CBS), Paladin comes to the aid of a woman who's husband is attacked by an assassin while the couple are Paladin's guests at the opera. I'm not absolutely positive about this, but I don't think that the couple's names are Mary and Abraham. I could be mistaken in that, though.

Of course, when Sunday rolls around, we have to pause and take a look at what Ed Sullivan has to offer. This week (7:00 p.m., CBS), Ed's coming to us tonight from Hollywood, with Ernie Kovacs, Gisele MacKenzie, Gordon MacRae, Mickey Rooney, Bobby Van, and the All-Grandmother Orchestra, among a plethora of acts. Up against Ed is The Chevy Show, the summer replacement for Dinah Shore (7:00 p.m., NBC), and guests Eddie Foy, Jr. and Micky Shaughnessy hang out with regulars Janet Blair, John Raitt, and Edie Adams, who just happens to be Mrs. Ernie Kovacs. Wonder how many times the two of them were up against each other like that?

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There are, as always, some scattered items that have to make an appearance somewhere along the line.

Here's the kind of thing you don't see anymore: Lawrence Welk, star of the hit ABC series, will be in the Twin Cities August 5, and will be greeted by a parade from the airport to the Channel 11 studios at the Calhoun Beach Hotel. A parade!

While we're on the subject of color TV as we were a moment ago, we've mentioned in the past that there are few enough shows broadcast in color that TV Guide actually has a special section devoted to listing them, in the same way that they list specials and time changes (and, later on, sports). Not surprisingly, given RCA's role in the whole thing, all the shows this week are on NBC, including a couple of daytime programs (It Could Be You and Haggis Baggis), a trio of prime-time game shows (Tic Tac Dough, The Big Game and The Price Is Right), a few dramas (Noah's Ark, The Investigator and  Kraft Mystery Theatre), and some variety shows (Steve Lawrence and Edie Gorme, The Chevy Show, and Bob Crosby's Saturday night turn). Interesting, isn't it, the kinds of shows the network chose to colorcast?

It’s always interesting to see how different things were in the 1950s compared to even five or six years later. For example, programming is all over the map. Yes, most of the affiliates in this issue adhere to network scheduling, but not all, and not all the time. And with the proliferation of syndicated shows such as Sea Hunt and Highway Patrol, not to mention the increasing availability of reruns due to the advent of tape, the local TV station has more options than ever.

For example: What’s My Line? has been a mainstay of the CBS Sunday night schedule since 1950. It’s broadcast live, every week, at 9:30 p.m., and will continue to do so for the next nine years. And yet of the three CBS affiliates in this issue—WCCO in Minneapolis-St. Paul, KDAL in Duluth, and KXJB in Fargo—only WCCO carries the show in its live timeslot. (KDAL opts for the syndicated Mike Hammer, while KXJB offers a rerun of The Honeymooners.) My mother-in-law, back in the day, refused to watch What's My Line?, believing that it was too upper class and monied.* I wonder if that has anything to do with it, that it appealed to the wrong demographic? Or perhaps it's the right demographic, but the wrong time or day of the week.

*"Hoity-toity" was, I believe, the word she used for it.

I'm also amused by the future-tense grammar that TV Guide uses when writing about live events. For instance, Channel 4 presents a program of auto racing from a local race track. Per TV Guide, "Stock car races from Raceway Park in Shakopee, Minn., will be shown. Stew Reamer will report." Viewers, presumably, will be watching.

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Finally, because it's still the summer and there isn't that much else new to report, I thought we'd take a look at a few of the local ads appearing in this week's issue.


You don't see local music shows anymore, except maybe on public access. This was a late-night show, airing live from 11:00 p.m. to midnight—probably after some of these musicians had finished their gigs, or perhaps between shows. Doesn't it look as if they've changed the start time of the show, that they laid that "11:00" over whatever it used to be? 


I do have a fondness for the kids shows that used to be a staple of afternoon local programming; it's the kind of thing I grew up with. Nonetheless, there is something pretty hokey about this ad, isn't there?Captain Q was played by Jack McKenna, who, like so many kids show hosts, was also the weatherman. Here's a picture of him doing a weathercast—want to guess the era? That collar of his could have doubled as a cold front milllibar, don't you think?


I dare say that KDAL wouldn't be able to use this ad today. I don't know enough to figure out the smoke-signal tie-in, unless it was just indicative of the culture of the time, what with Westerns being so popular. And it's also interesting to think of Monty Hall hosting something other than Let's Make a Deal, isn't it?


The wonderful thing about these ads is that they take us back to an era when local stations had some kind of personality, an identity of their own. They had an ad department to create their own ads rather than depending on a generic network ad with a fill-in-the-blank for the station logo, and in fact they also created a lot of their own programming, some of which was especially good. There are no local kids shows, few local variety shows, little in the way of public affairs programming other than what you might find in on Sunday mornings, and rarely are there things like hosts of local movies. (For that matter, many stations don't even show movies anymore.) KCMT, the infamous Channel 7 which I was subjected to while living in the World's Worst Town™, tdoesn't even exist anymore, and in its last few years it had no local identity at all, simply simulcasting the programming from its parent station, WCCO.

This may or may not give us better programming—a lot of those local shows could be pretty awful—but it's deprived us of much more. Ernie Kovacs, Ed McMahon, Jim McKay, Dave Garroway, Kukla and Ollie: all of them started out in local television, and that just scratches the tip of the iceberg. We're now a "national" nation rather than a local one, as regional characteristics fade into a kind of bland homogenized culture, and in the long run we're a poorer nation for it. TV  

1 comment:

  1. Belatedly:
    I finally found my copy of this issue (Chicago edition), which confirms the following:

    - Ed Sullivan's NBC competition at 7 PM (Central Daylight Time) was Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, who were summer-subbing for Steve Allen that year.

    - The Chevy Show, Edie Adams's summer workplace, came on NBC at 8 PM (on CBS at that time were G.E. Theater and Alfred Hitchcock).

    This means that Ernie Kovacs and his Mrs. were not competing with each other that evening.
    ... Unless, of course, your notorious Minnesota stations were employing their usual three-card-monte approach to timeslotting ...

    ReplyDelete

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