September 24, 2022

This week in TV Guide: September 25, 1954

Well, here we are—the second annual TV Guide Fall Preview! But if you're expecting this special issue to look like the Fall Previews from more recent years, you might be in for a surprise. Intrigued? Let's hope so, or I've completely lost my touch.

For one thing, we won't be reading separate profiles of each new show (my favorite part of the issue); instead, we're treated to previews by genre: variety, drama, comedy, culture, and so forth. I guess that makes sense, considering the sheer number of programs that were on—if you think the rise of streaming services has produced a surplus of shows today, you should see what it was like in the mid-fifties. The syndicated market is boffo, and with schedules made up of so many half-hour shows, we're literally talking about hundreds of programs. (Example: variety shows may be dead today, but in 1954-55 you have more than 40 to choose from.) And that doesn't even include the many "spectaculars" that air on a monthly basis—from Best of Broadway and Shower of Stars on CBS, to NBC's Max Liebman Presents

Just to make sure you can keep track of what the editors are calling "TV's biggest season ever," TV Guide provides you with a handy alphabetical listing of all the season's shows (running to six pages in this Philadelphia metro edition), giving you the date, time, and channel. There's no doubt we're talking about a keepsake edition here, one that you'll want to keep by your side all season long—or at least until the winter schedule changes everything.

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In general, here's what the writers think you should be looking for during the new season. Remember, the following isn't meant to be comprehensive; if it was, it would be as long as, well, an issue of TV Guide.

Variety: As I mentioned earlier, there are more than 40 variety shows on tap this season, featuring new shows with new stars, new shows with old stars, and old shows with new formats. (As an example of the latter, CBS's Morning Show has replaced Walter Cronkite as host with Jack Paar. You'll forgive me if I take a few moments to process this.) Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca are both flying solo after the success of Your Show of Shows, and while Caesar (along with his long-time sidekicks Carl Reiner and Howard Morris) does well, neither of them will ever achieve separately the fame they had together.

How many of them do you recognize?

Perhaps the biggest debut of the season is the new spectacular by Walt Disney. Disneyland isn't what I'd consider a variety show, but it's true that it does present a variety of subjects. Several stars are time-sharing their weekly spots; for instance, Red Buttons will be on three Fridays out of four with Jack Carson slated for the fourth, while Martha Raye, Milton Berle, and Bob Hope will share a Tuesday night spot, and Jimmy Durante and Donald O'Connor split Saturdays. Don't worry, though; your favorites are still around, led by Arthur Godfrey, Jackie Gleason, Jack Benny, Red Skelton, and Ed Sullivan. And the busiest man on TV may be Steve Allen, doing two-and-a-half hours each night on Tonight.

Game shows are as popular as ever, but there's not much new, with the usual suspects hosting the usual shows: Garry Moore, Bud Collyer, Bill Cullen, Bert Parks, John Daly, Win Elliot, Jan Murray, Herb Shriner, and, of course, Groucho. We'll have something new and different shortly, though, as the parlor games give way to big money shows like The $64,000 Question (next summer!) and Twenty-One. What could possibly go wrong?

: There are at least eight live hour-long dramas on the schedule for each week, while Hallmark Hall of Fame, currently seen weekly as a half-hour program, will expand to an hour once a month, with the kind of grand productions (Macbeth, with Maurice Evans and Judith Anderson) that will become the show's trademark. With the increase in drama, we'll also see an increase in star power, with many of those stars making their TV debuts: Climax (which airs three weeks out of four) premieres on October 7 with Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye, starring Dick Powell*, Teresa Wright and Cesar Romero. The big names aren't restricted to those in front of the camera, either: writers include Paddy Chayefsky, Horton Foote, Robert Alan Aurthur, and (although he isn't mentioned here) Rod Serling.

*Powell, who portrayed Philip Marlowe in the movies, on television, and twice on radio, was the first actor to play Marlowe on screen, and the first to play him more than once.

The best new series is thought to be Medic, starring Richard Boone, which promises to do for doctor shows what Dragnet does for police shows. Meanwhile, you'll see some new faces hosting old shows, with James Mason assuming the duties on Lux Video Theater, and Ronald Reagan as your host on GE Theater. And then there's one of my favorite anthologies: Studio 57, sponsored by and named after Heinz, naturally.

Daytime: I'm old enough to feel a wisp of nostalgia for what daytime television used to be. Not just the soaps, obviously, since I never was into them. But there used to be variety shows, talk shows, game shows; a real kaleidoscope of programming, as opposed to—well, I was going to say something disparaging about today's shows, but that would be too easy. Besides, I want to keep the focus on the past, not the present. 

So all we need to know is that 1954 will have Arthur Godfrey and Garry Moore, Robert Q. Lewis and Arlene Francis, Buffalo Bob Smith and Bing's brother Bob (Crosby, that is). And "For viewers who enjoy exercising the tear ducts, there's many a two-handkerchief soap saga or detergent drama." I was hoping to find some classics included in that list of newcomers, but I'm afraid the best we can do is a batch of soaps like Golden Windows, First Love, A Time to Live, and The Seeking Heart. Perhaps it's that we don't need more tear-jerkers; The Brighter Day and The Secret Storm share a total of eight motherless children between them.

: There should be around 50 sitcoms on television at some point during the year (not including the unintentional comedies); it's true that "the situation comedy seems to have become a basic TV staple." The experts seem to like The Mickey Rooney Show (also known as Hey, Mulligan), created by Blake Edwards, which runs a grand total of 32 episodes, followed by Honestly, Celeste, starring Celeste Holm, which lasts less than three months. It's nice to know that the experts weren't any more accurate back then than they are today. 

Rather than betting on the favorites, you'd be better off investing in some of the shows transitioning from radio to television, chief among which is Father Knows Best, which manages to hang around for six seasons and more than 200 episodes. You might also like December Bride (five seasons, 156 episodes, plus the spinoff Pete and Gladys), or wait for one of the shows debuting in the winter, like The Bob Cummings Show (aka Love That Bob!, five seasons, 173 episodes). But remember, no matter what you think of the new shows, there'll always be I Love Lucy and Burns & Allen.

: The term "adventure" encompasses a slightly broader spectrum than you or I might think, seeing as how it includes Westerns, police dramas, and—well, I don't want to say TV is going to the dogs, but there are a pair of dog shows making their debuts this season: Lassie and Rin Tin Tin. You're also going to see The Lineup, San Francisco's version of Dragnet (and a pretty good show at that), and the syndicated Sherlock Holmes, starring Ronald Howard (which doesn't compare to Jeremy Brett, but it's good fun). 

Leading the way West is Death Valley Days; there will be 24 Westerns on network and syndicated television this season. Hugh Marlowe, one of those actors whose face you'll quickly recognize, stars as Ellery Queen, and suave Cesar Romero is a diplomatic courier in Passport to Adventure. All in all, shows comprising this amorphous "adventure" category will top 70, most of them appearing in syndication. 

For the Kids: Here's one I haven't heard of before—Youngsters, Edward R. Murrow's new juvenile show, which is like Person to Person except the interviewees are kids. I wonder if its unknown-to-me status is good news or bad? Did it even air? The rest of the lineup is dominated by returning favorites, from Superman to Ramar of the Jungle, Captain Video to Flash Gordon, Howdy Doody to Winky Dink and You. And there are some more thoughtful shows as well: Marlin Perkins and his Zoo Parade, and Watch Mr. Wizard.

: Or is it? This category includes shows like Person to Person, See It Now, Today, and the evening news shows. I'd rather see something like Now and Then, the new Sunday afternoon literary series with Dr. Frank Baxter, or Omnibus, hosted by Alistair Cooke. On the religious front, there's Life Is Worth Living with Bishop Sheen, and new series from Father James Keller, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, and Billy Graham. And as far as music goes, there are weekly concerts by the Chicago Symphony, the long-running series Voice of Firestone, and NBC Opera Theatre

Sports; Then as now, there's plenty of football on the tube. Du Mont has 57 NFL games on tap Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons, and ABC brings us Saturday afternoon college football plus the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day; NBC counters with the Grandaddy of them all, the Rose Bowl, as well as Canadian Football on Saturdays. Boxing remains the prime-time king, with fights on four nights a week; if the bout of the night doesn't interest you, there's also wrestling to choose from. We can't forget baseball, though, especially the crown jewel of the National Pastime, the World Series, on NBC.

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So, after all that, is there anything left to talk about? Is there anything on TV this week, or is everything in the future? 

Saturday night is kind of a wasteland now, admit it; about all you ever see is sports and reruns of shows from earlier in the week. Saturday used to be a glamor night, though, when you'd invite your friends over and watch something special. At 9:00 p.m. ET on NBC, it is something special—movie star Ann Sothern in the first of the monthly Max Liebman Presents, "Lady in the Dark," an adaptation of the musical by Moss Hart with music by Kurt Weill and lyrics by Ira Gershwin. 

Hurry, before the Series is over!   
On Sunday, Ed Sullivan takes Toast of the Town to Cleveland to salute the Indians on the eve of the World Series, where they'll be taking on the New York Giants. (8:00 p.m., CBS) The Series starts in NYC on Wednesday; by this time next week (with Dizzy Dean writing in TV Guide on what to watch for in the Series) it's all over, the Giants sweeping the Tribe in four games, memorialized by "The Catch" in Game 1. Harry Belafonte is the special guest, in a remote from Obernkirchen, Germany.

Monday night sees the debut of Steve Allen's Tonight (11:45 p.m., NBC), more accurately described as a variety show than a talk show, with a cast of regulars including second-banana Gene Rayburn (who also does news and sports updates), singers Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, and Skitch Henderson and his orchestra; "And to add just a little more spice, [Allen] will interview guests from the music and theatrical world." I'm not sure that it ever ran for more than two hours, as mentioned above, but it did go an hour and 40 minutes. 

Tuesday gets us ready for the Series with "Baseball Blues," the story of a pitcher (Frank Lovejoy) reaching the end of his career, on The U.S. Steel Hour. (9:30 p.m., ABC) The World Series itself takes center stage for the rest of the week, with games in New York on Wednesday and Thursday, and Cleveland on Friday (all at 12:45 p.m. on NBC). Also on Thursday, Shower of Stars, one of those once-a-month color specials, debuts with a musical starring Betty Grable, Harry James, and Mario Lanza. (8:30 p.m., CBS)

Finally, Friday sees the return of shows headlined by Red Buttons (8:00 p.m., NBC) and Jan Murray (the quiz show Dollar a Second, 9:00 p.m., ABC), and the debuts of The Vise (9:30 p.m., ABC), a series of "tense plays," made in England, "that show human beings caught in the vise of fate"; and the aforementioned The Lineup (10:00 p.m., CBS), with Warner Anderson and Tom Tully fighting crime in the City by the Bay. They sure could use them there now. 

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Do we know anything more about television in the mid-50s than we did before? Well, we know there are a lot of shows out there, that movie stars are making the trip to the small screen, and that this is television's biggest season ever. 

There's an implication in all this, that as television grows up and continues to get bigger, it will continue to get better: more color shows, more big-name stars, more writers penning more creative programs. There's an optimistic tone that, as the lead editorial says, "In your dial-twisting fingers lie the hopes, the plans and the efforts of the industry's finest minds." TV is the future, and with the best stars and writers on the job, "Money apparently is no object. The networks have decided that nothing but the best will satisfy them—or you." 

However, unless I'm mistaken, there is also, a subtle, cynical note to the observation of all the Westerns and game shows and children's shows that come out of the same old playbook, of the soaps and their tearjerkers, how the more things change the more they stay the same.

Does that seem contradictory? Of course. That's TV in a nutshell. Then and now. TV  

1 comment:

  1. Belatedly (just a bit):
    Your passing mention of the 1954 syndicated Ellery Queen series sent me to my shelves to locate some correspondence between Manny Lee, Fred Dannay, and occasionally Anthony Boucher, in regard to Hugh Marlowe, the EQ of this film series.
    Marlowe was the first radio EQ, back in the late '30s; at that point, Dannay and Lee were in control of the radio show, with Dannay doing the plotting and Lee the playwriting (the MO carriying over from their books and short stories).
    Fred Dannay didn't much care for Marlowe's acting as EQ, or for that matter his off-mike personality; Fred considered Marlowe somewhat pompous and off-putting.
    Manny Lee, on the other hand, simply couldn't stand Marlowe; recently, correspondence between Manny, Fred, and Tony Boucher (who created many stories for the EQ radio show when Fred wasn't able to contribute) has been made public, which is wildly hostile to Marlowe's portrayal, with Manny's contributions the most vitriolic.
    It was at this time that Hugh Marlowe started opening charge accounts in Ellery Queen's name, making personal purchases (clothes and such), until Fred and Manny found out about it and had to stop him (I told you this story a while back, didn't I?).
    All this was yers before this TV film series, which Fred and Manny had nothing to do with; as the saying goes, they "took the cash and let the credit go."

    Side story:
    In mentionig Tony Boucher, I ought to mention that his EQ contributions were part of a significant radio career, which included a Sherlock Holmes radio series with Tom Conway (aka The Falcon), and a series of his own about a San Francisco art and curio dealer with a sideline in mystery solving, which had an off-and-on network radio run during this same period.
    Sometimes, I had a bit of a fantasy about a possiblr TV version of this show; they went through several casts here, and I'm not sure if these two actors worked together here, but I'd have liked to see and hear this announcement on CBS-TV at least once:
    Starring GALE GORDON as Gregory Hood!
    Also Starring HOWARD McNEAR as Sanderson Taylor!
    Brought To You by GENERAL FOODS!

    Alas, it never happened; Hood never made it to TV.
    But I can dream, can't I?

    (By the bye, did you ever get around to reading Rocket To The Morgue?
    Just askin' ...)


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!