February 17, 2024

This week in TV Guide: February 15, 1958

Xt was something of a tradition for TV Guide, back in the 1950s and '60s, to come out with these issues that I like to call "What a Week!" issues. (This one happens to say "A Great Week," but you get my point.) The What a Week! issues usually came out during Sweeps, and the ones I most remember were from the week after Thanksgiving. We're a little early for that here, but the effect is the same; the networks have some blockbuster shows scheduled to keep us entertained. We'll get to them all, but let's start with the four biggest ones, those that appear on the cover.

The week kicks off with NBC Opera Theatre's production of Verdi's tragic "Rigoletto" (Sunday, 2:00 p.m. ET), the first major American production of the opera to be staged in English. It comes to us live and in color from NBC's studios in Brooklyn, and stars Igon Gorin, Dorothy Coulter, and Kirk Oreste, with Jean-Paul Morel conducting the Symphony of the Air. You can see the broadcast, which unfortunately survives only in black and white, here. And in case you wonder about the commercial viability of opera, and its place as a "big event" on television, a contemporary newspaper article headlined "TV Opera Succeeds in Tagging Popular Audience" says that "Opera is fast becoming a popular mass entertainment in the U. S." The broadcasts on NBC averaged about 15 million viewers; by contrast, last year's most-watched non-sports program, Yellowstone, averaged 11.6 million. I know; different times.

Next up, Victor Borge presents the third of his Comedy in Music specials (Wednesday, 9:00 p.m., CBS), for which, we're told, he'll be picking up a handsome $250,000. Brooks Atkinson, the famous theater critic of The New York Times, describes Borge as "the funniest entertainer in the world," but despite his hugely successful specials, he has no desire to do a weekly broadcast. "I tried one, years ago, with some breakfast-food people," he says. "But although their cereal was delicious, their suggestions were a trifle hard to swallow." We'll have more on how advertising agencies develop TV series later on.

   Check out the art work by Hirschfeld!
On Thursday, Playhouse 90 presents "Point of No Return" (9:30 p.m., CBS), based on the novel by past Pulitzer Prize-winner John P Marquand, and adapted for television by future Pulitzer winner Frank Gilroy. Franklin Schaffner, a veteran director of live television (who will later win an Oscar for directing Patton) helms the production, which stars Charlton Heston as an executive who realizes during a trip to his old home town that there's more to life than business success. Heston got his start on live TV, and even though he's now a major movie star, he's never forgotten how important television was to his success. Later this year, he'll be heading off to Italy to film Ben-Hur, for which he'll win his own Oscar.

The final blockbuster of the week comes on Friday, with DuPont Show of the Month's live (and in color!) musical adaptation of "Aladdin" (7:30 p.m., CBS), with music and lyrics by Cole Porter (his final work for the theater), and humorist S.J. Perelman responsible for the book. Sal Mineo plays Aladdin, and he's joined by an all-star cast including Anna Maria Alberghetti, Cyril Ritchard, Dennis King, Basil Rathbone, and Howard Morris. Perhaps the only thing bigger than the cast is the budget; NBC's expenses for "Rigoletto" were $125,000, but they're dwarfed by the half-million dollar cost for "Aladdin." Was it worth it? See what you think in this black and white kinescope.

As far as truth in advertising goes, I think the cover has it right: it is a "Great Week," and there's still more to come. 

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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 include singers Vic Damone and Toni Dalli, popular vocalist from Italy; the Little Gaelic Singers from Ireland; the Four Esquires, vocal quartet; the comic team of Davis and Reese; vaudeville comedians Willie, West, and McGinty, with their classic "House-building" sketch; Spanish illusionist Richiardi; and pantomime artist George Cahl.

Allen: Tonight's show originates for the second week from Hollywood. Steve's guests are actor Dale Robertson, star of the TV series Wells Fargo; the Hi-Lo's, vocal group; songstress Peggy King; and comedian Don Adams. Dale Robertson joins Steve and the regulars in a comedy sketch, "How a Movie Star Is Born."

It's been over a year since we've looked at a matchup between Sullivan and Allen, but that doesn't mean it's been forgotten. Tonight's lineups have a little of everything; Ed leans heavily into vaudeville's roots, with the team of Willie, West, and McGinty, plus a quartet, an illusionist and a pantomimist. Steverino's cast strikes me as being more representative of the direction entertainment is going: a TV series star (Robertson), a stand-up comedian headed for his own series stardom (Adams), and a pop singer (King). Perhaps it's my own bias showing, and maybe I'd have a different opinion if I'd seen both shows, but this week the future sounds more to my liking, and Allen takes the prize.

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I mentioned earlier that those four blockbusters on the cover weren't the only big shows to air this week, and as you know, I'm nothing if not a man of my word, so let's count the stars.

Saturday evening sees the premiere of The Dick Clark Show (7:30 p.m., ABC). This is in addition to, rather than instead of, his Monday through Friday afternoon duties on American Bandstand, making Dick one of the busier men on television. It runs for two years, later known as The Dick Clark Saturday Night Beech-Nut Show. Later, Lawrence Welk's Dodge Dancing Party (9:00 p.m., ABC) observes the 60th anniversary of the battleship Maine, the event that triggered the Spanish-American War, with songs dedicated to Spanish War veterans. 

On Sunday night, Claudette Colbert stars in "The Last Town Car" on "TV's Most Popular Dramatic Show," General Electric Theater, hosted by Ronald Reagan. (9:00 p.m., CBS) Monday night, American tenor Richard Tucker is the featured star on Voice of Firestone (9:00 p.m., ABC). Tuesday, Jerry Lewis presents "60 Madcap Minutes" on The Jerry Lewis Show (8:00 p.m.), one in his series of occasional NBC specials, from the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. He's joined by Betty Grable and Sophie Tucker; according to the Teletype, Jerry also wanted Elvis Presley as a guest on the show—but not at a $100,000 price tag.

, it's a special Shirley Temple's Storybook (7:30 p.m., NBC), as Shirley narrates the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale "The Nightingale," with Thomas Mitchell starring as the Chinese Emperor who brings the beautiful bird to his palace. The story is the basis for Stravinsky's opera Le Rossignol. The music for tonight's production, however, comes from Mack David* and Jerry Livingston, the pair responsible for the theme to 77 Sunset Strip and so many other Warner Bros. television series. Also on Wednesday, Milton Berle plays a straight dramatic role in the Kraft Theatre presentation "Material Witness" (9:00 p.m., NBC); Berle was, in fact, a very good dramatic actor, as he would show in this and other performances over the years.

*His brother, the lyricist Hal David, was the long-time collaborator on so many hit songs with Burt Bacharach. 

It's been a busy week for Don Adams; not only does he appear on Steve Allen's show Sunday, he's also Rosemary Clooney's guest on The Rosemary Clooney Show (Thursday, 10:00 p.m., NBC). And rounding out the week is a dramatic story on The Frank Sinatra Show (Friday, 9:00 p.m., ABC). In an unorthodox format, the Sinatra show features a combination of musical variety programs, dramas starring Sinatra, and dramas starring other actors that are introduced by Sinatra. Tonight's show falls into the third category: "A Time to Cry," starring Anne Bancroft, Lloyd Bridges, and John Archer. It's generally conceded that this format was doomed to failure, and indeed the series lasts only one season; Sinatra's future television specials will be musical hours.

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This week's review is The Big Record, the CBS musical variety show hosted by singer Patti Page, and though the show has struggled in the ratings, it's an unpretentious, entertaining show. The credit for that goes mainly to Page, who sings in "a pleasing, unaffected way," and exhibits a natural warmth and energy as host. 

The show has put on display a strong lineup of guests throughout the season, including Hoagy Carmichael, Sammy Davis Jr., Johnnie Ray, Eydie Gorme, Gale Storm, and Benny Goodman. And they don't just show up and do their thing; they're integrated into duets and production numbers with Patti and her team of dancers (choreographed by June Taylor, longtime choreographer for The Jackie Gleason Show), and exhibit other talents as well—Gale Storm, for instance, not only sang her own current hit and then did a duet with Patti, she also turns out to be a gifted vocal mimic. "The entire bit could have been successfully presented in any of the more expensive night clubs."

True, the show is not highbrow—it's just entertainment, pure and simple. Unfortunately, the clock is running on The Big Record; in the Teletype, it's noted that one of the alternate-week sponsors has already given notice, and in March it's cut from an hour to thirty minutes. It leaves the air entirely in June, but fear not: Patti Page will be back next season with The Patti Page Oldsmobile Show—I'm betting that Olds was not the sponsor that cancelled out. And speaking of sponsors, that leads us to this week's final segment.

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I've mentioned numerous times over the years how advertising agencies used to be responsible for creating and producing the majority of television shows. It was one of the factors in the Quiz Show Scandal, which was in turn one of the many reasons why networks eventually assumed control over the creative process. This week, we're going to take a look behind the scenes with two of the preeminent figures involved in devising, planning, producing, and sponsoring the shows we watch.

First is C. Terence Clyne, vice president and chairman of the plans review board of the TV and radio department at the McCann-Erickson advertising agency in New York. Clyne's clients sponsor such shows as Studio One, Climax!, Disneyland, and The Frank Sinatra Show. He tells TV Guide that the most important aspect is instinct. "In this business," he says, "you have to know h ow to guess. If the guess is a good one, you're a genius." 

One of Clyne's shows is the time-share arrangement between comedian George Gobel and singer Eddie Fisher, who alternate as hosts of an hour-long variety show seen Tuesday nights on NBC. "First the word went out from one of our sponsors that they were interested in live personalities," Clyne says. Although Gobel's last show suffered a steep decline in ratings, and Fisher's was cancelled, Clyne felt that each of them had "sufficient friends" to make their show palatable to the sponsor. Each star has his own writers, director and producer, so Clyne had to coordinate the two staffs so they would work together. When the sponsor decided he only wanted to cover the weeks when Fisher was host, Clyne worked with another agency to get a sponsor for Gobel. The final step involved "sparring" with NBC to get the timeslot for the program. 

Nicholas E. Keesely, senior vice president in charge of radio and television at the Lennen and Newell agency, also in New York, says the first thing he looks for a show is "heart." Among the shows he's bought are Queen for a Day, Stop the Music, Ted Mack's Amateur Hour, and The Court of Last Resort. He says the key is to "put something in a show that makes people want to come back and look at it next week and the week after." Keesely prefers tear-jerkers and human-interest stories; "We find the public sympathizes with an advertiser it associates with a good cause." 

He points to The Court of Last Resort, a drama based on a real-life organization assembled by Perry Mason author Erle Stanley Gardner to investigate legal cases featuring people who may have been wrongfully convicted of crimes. The original idea came from the sponsor; "Somebody up there had been reading [Gardner's] stories in Argosy. He thought they had pictorial value. I agreed. I thought they had heart."

To set up a show for success, a crucial aspect is finding the right time slot; it helps to follow a show with good ratings. "And, of course, we want to buy the time that best reaches the market our client wants to hit." Food sponsors, for example, prefer early evening hours, while tobacco companies, such as the one that sponsors Last Resort, look for later times. In this case, "we aimed at a later time period than the one we got—8 P.M. on Fridays—but we had to settle for what we could get."

Both men agree that while ratings are important, they aren't everything. "The factors governing the life or death of a TV show also include the personalities involved and the sale of the sponsor's product," Clyne says. "There have been shows with terrific ratings which nevertheless were dropped by their sponsors because the products weren't moving." Adds Keesely, "If a weak show has an ideal time slot, it may have a better rating than it deserves. On the other hand, I've known good shows to struggle along on poor ratings because of bad time slots." 

One question that stumped both men was, perhaps, the most important: "What are the ingredients for a perfect TV show?" For that, the author defers to another ad man, Hal Davis, VP in charge of radio and television at the Grey Advertising Agency, who said that "The perfect TV show (at this moment) would feature a cowboy sitting on a stool in an isolation booth." If you ask me, they still haven't found the secret. TV  

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