Thursday, April 19, 2018

Do You Remember When? (Classic TV Edition)

OK, classic TV fans, do you remember when...

Festus and Marshal Dillon on Gunsmoke.
1. A full season for a TV series like Gunsmoke was comprised of 32 episodes...or more! Today, a show is lucky to get a season order for 24 episodes.

2. Saturday night was filled with quality television series. In 1972, for example, you could watch the following on Saturday evening: Bewitched, All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Mission: Impossible.

3. The broadcast networks rolled out their new shows all at the same time as part of "Premiere Week."

The Cardinals--my team--win it all!
4. The World Series was broadcast only during the day. (I had to hide a transistor radio earplug up my sleeve to listen to the '67 series while attending fifth grade.)

5. The Hallmark Hall of Fame was a prestigious TV event that aired 4-5 times a season and starred A-list stars such as George C. Scott, Joanne Woodward, Richard Harris, Peter Ustinov, and Charlton Heston.

6. The CBS Late Movie ran films--most of them never shown before on television--every weekday night at 11:30. To my delight, Friday evolved into "horror movie night" with Hammer classics such as Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968) and Curse of Frankenstein (1957).

Host Tom Jones and guest Cher.
7. Variety shows were all the rage! In the 1968-69 TV season, you could watch variety TV series hosted by (take a deep breath): Ed Sullivan, Carol Burnett, the Smothers Brothers, Rowan & Martin, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Red Skelton, the King Family, Jonathan Winters, John Davidson, Tom Jones, Johnny Cash, and Jackie Gleason. That's not even counting The Hollywood Palace, which featured guest hosts (Bing Crosby was the most frequent one with 31 appearances in seven seasons).

Patrick McGoohan in The Prisoner.
8. British TV shows were "imported" as summer replacement series--and some of them became hits! Examples include The Avengers, Secret Agent, Man in a Suitcase, The Champions, and The Prisoner.

9.  The only way to see a movie you missed at a theater was to wait for it to come on broadcast television. If you were lucky, one of the networks would buy the rights and show it as a "World Television Premiere" about two years after the film's theatrical run.

10. Real (as opposed to animated) animals starred in their own television series or had flashy supporting roles. There were dogs (Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, the Littlest Hobo), horses (Mister Ed, Fury, My Friend Flicka), a dolphin (Flipper), a lion (Clarence in Daktari), chimps (Bear, Lancelot), bears (Gentle Ben), birds (Fred on Baretta), an alligator (Elvis on Miami Vice), and a pig (Arnold on Green Acres). And that's just naming a few of the furry famous!


  1. The cutest of them all was "Dog" on Petticoat Junction. Maybe you were only looking at the Bradley girls!

    I remember those days. I go all codger complaining/telling my kids about them. Especially the number of episodes deal. I know it is probably all related to finances, and most shows today, I wouldn't be interested in longer seasons, but I can't help but pine for the old days.

  2. Caveat:
    I'm fairly certain that I'm at least ten years older than you are; my memories are skewed thusly.

    (1) The original standard for a season series order was 39 episodes: three cycles of 13 shows each. Figuring in a 13-week rerun cycle, this makes a calendar year.
    When network programmers started to try and get "scientific" about it all (circa 1960), that's when the orders stated decreasing - to 36, then to 32, then to 26 , then to about 17 (half a season), then to 13, after which the hair-trigger style became SOP.
    Reasons: the advent of "spectaculars" (what specials were called in the early going), combined with whatever reasons were used for preemptions at any given time - it's all way more complicated than you might think.

    (2) and (7) can be considered a parlay:
    Weekends were considered the natural habitat of musical/variety/sketch comedy in the early days - especially Saturday night (Gleason, Caesar, Como, Welk, Dick Clark, and various other shows that faded away as the '60s came along).
    Also Sundays (Sullivan, Allen, Dinah Shore, a bunch of others), but you get the idea.

    (3) Actually, "Premiere Week" didn't come into being until the early '60s. Before that, the networks took their own sweet time rolling out the fall schedules; there was some mid-September clustering, but I can recall how certain shows didn't get on until mid- to late October and occasionally later than that.

    (4) The powers-that-were in pro sports generally had a long-standing aversion to playing their games at night (with occasional exceptions at the local level).
    In the case of the World's Serious (as Ring Lardner always called it), the owners of that time seemed to believe that daytime play was part of the appeal of the event; staging at night would somehow dilute that appeal.
    Whether they were right - your call.

    (8) British summer replacement shows tended to be variety shows, and those were mainly Sir Lew Grade's attempts to sell British star performers to the American audience.
    The adventure shows you mentioned were almost never "hits" in the accepted sense; most of them acquired "cult" status long after the fact, which isn't really the same thing.

    The other things you mention, I don't really know much about (by choice), but I would like to say some thing about (11), which you didn't mention:

    (11) Game and panel shows used to be a staple of prime time, as late as the '60s.
    In fact, the genre didn't become confined to daytime until almost the '70s.
    The recent misfiring attempts to revive the games ... really, the least said about those the better.

    I think I've hit my cranky limit for today, and so I'll stand down.

    1. I loved Premiere Week and looked forward to the TV Guide fall preview issue. The British shows mentioned were hits in that THE AVENGERS and SECRET AGENT were popular enough in the summer to earn time slots during regular broadcast season. I wouldn't classify THE AVENGERS as a cult show; it was always a mainstream pop-culture show--at least starting with the Diana Rigg seasons in the U.S.

  3. I was surprised to learn the TV shows that would air on SATURDAY NIGHT! "Bewitched"?! "Mary Tyler Moore"?! Wow, that was a different TV-watching world.

    Regarding the World Series only broadcast during the day, I recently read a book that described all the changes that were made to Major League Baseball in the 1970s, including astroturf, covered domes – and nighttime broadcasts of playoff games. It's hard to believe that was a "gutsy" move!