Thursday, October 23, 2008

Short Lived ‘60s Shows

I saw the following video over on Mark Evanier's site the other day and it was extremely evocative for me. Mark mentions that he remembers watching all of the shows mentioned except for the one starring Bob Goulet. Well, I don't remember as many but I do remember Blue Light, the show which starred Robert Goulet.

I'll go into detail about a lot of the shows after the video, but first a general observation. All of the series mentioned here are from ABC and CBS – nothing from NBC. To me, it seems slightly surprising that a lot of the shows I remember from my childhood come from ABC. You have to understand that in the 1960s ABC was the weakest of the "Big Three" networks by a long shot. To be sure they weren't as weak as they had been in the 1950s, thanks at least in part to being the home of most of the Quinn Martin series like The Untouchables and 12 O'Clock High but they weren't the powerhouse that they would become in the 1970s under Fred Silverman. It's easy to understand why Mark Evanier, growing up in Santa Monica would remember shows from all three of the networks including ABC, but I was growing up in a one channel city that wouldn't get a second channel for about five years, and that channel was, by law, the CBC. So why was I seeing what seems now to be an inordinate number of ABC series?

I don't know, maybe it's because I was in a one channel market that I saw these shows. When CFQC (the local channel) was licensed in 1954 it was a CBC affiliate, meaning it carried CBC shows but was privately owned – in this case by A.A. Murphy who also owned what until 1951 had been the only local radio station. As I understand it, while there were requirements for affiliates to carry most of the shows that the CBC ran they had a considerable amount of leeway over some of their own line-up. This was particularly true in the afternoon, where local stations often programmed their own kids shows in preference to what the CBC was offering, but I expect that there were evening slots that the local stations also programmed. In Saskatoon, for example, the Friday 9-11 p.m. time slot was always available for movies programmed locally. Probably other time slots were treated in the same way.

Of course it couldn't have been easy for a local station owner or manager, particularly in a place like Saskatoon, to buy programming for the local market. Rights would after all be held nationally, and besides the CBC there were two big rights holders. One was the CTV network – the one that we didn't get in Saskatoon until 1971. The other was a station called CHCH out of Hamilton which had dropped its CBC affiliation in 1961 because the CBC's Toronto station (owned and operated by the network) covered the Hamilton market. They didn't join CTV for exactly the same reason – that network's Toronto station covered Hamilton. What this meant of course was that CHCH would buy rights to American shows and own those rights for all of Canada, even though those shows would only be seen on those parts of Southern Ontario covered by CHCH. I guess that the only thing more frustrating than being a local station manager trying to get fresh American programming and having to deal with CTV, CHCH and the Americans was being a kid in a one station town buying the fall preview issue of TV Guide which in the 1960s only showed the new US Network shows, and thinking of these marvellous shows we couldn't see, like this space show call Star Trek. The station manager may have had a lot of headaches but he also had a lot of power in those stations. These days, with Canadian station ownership laws the way they are, the local station manager is probably supremely lucky if he can choose what colour his office is painted, but that's a story for another day.

Good Morning World. CBS Never saw it. Ronnie Schell is probably better known for playing Gomer Pyle's best friend PFC (and later Corporal) Duke Slater on Gomer Pyle USMC. His time on Good Morning World and earlier on That Girl fit between his two stints on Gomer Pyle. The show ran for a single 26 episode season.

I do remember ABC's O.K. Crackerby! with far more fondness than its meagre run really deserves. The great Burl Ives played O.K. Crackerby, an Oklahoma oil millionaire (because Texans were overdone even before Dallas) who is trying to break his kids into high society. A running gag on the show was Crackerby and his family – with new tutor St. John (pronounce – inevitably – "Sinjin") Quincy in tow – arriving at a swanky hotel and being denied service because they're too plebeian. At that point O.K. would call his head office (represented by one guy sitting near a computer) and within a few minutes Crackerby would own the hotel. If the place had been "The Sands" it would become "The Sands Crackerby." I suspect he made far more out of hotels that slighted him and his kids than he did out of oil. Ives, who had already won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1958's The Big Country would go on to be one of the stars of the anthology series The Bold Ones (with Joseph Campanella and James Farentino) but is probably best known (on TV at least) for being the voice of Sam the Snowman in the perennial Christmas special Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. The series was the first major role for actress Brooke Adams as Crackerby's daughter Cyntia.

CBS's version of Blondie is a show that I just barely remember. This was the second attempt to bring the comic strip to TV after it had had a significant run as a movie series. Although the show featured Will Hutchins from Sugarfoot and Patricia Harty from (the much than this) Occassional Wife, it is also the first series that Jim Backus did after Gilligan's Island and the only series that Backus did with his wife Henny Backus – she played Cora Dithers to his Julius Dithers.

I only have very vague memories of CBS's The Good Guys as well. If what I understand of the series is correct, this promo would seem to be from the second season – where Bob Denver's character stops working as a taxi driver and goes to work for Herb Edelman's character in the diner that he owns – but the intro (where the announcer says "Bob Denver looks like a winner") suggests that this is from the first season of the show. At least some of the episodes featured Alan Hale Jr. and Jim Backus although I'm unable to determine if they ever appeared on the show together (but it's probably a good bet that they did at least once).

I have no recollection of CBS's He & She so it probably didn't show up around here. The show sounds terrific. It not only featured Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss as newlyweds, but also featured Jack Cassidy, Kenneth Mars (best known for his roles in Mel Brooks films, notably as Franz Leibkind, the writer of "Springtime For Hitler" in The Producers) and actor-singer Hamilton Camp (one of two actors to play H.G. Wells on Lois & Clark, but who is probably best remembered as Del Murdoch from a single episode of WKRP In Cincinnati – "Speed kills Del."). The show earned five Emmy nominations including one each for Prentiss, Benjamin and Cassidy and won the award for Outstanding Writing in Comedy...but by that time it had already been cancelled.

I liked to watch Major League Baseball, but the games I saw were on NBC and featured Curt Gowdy and Pee Wee Reese not on ABC. I don't think I ever saw "The King Family" on anything except someone else's show.

Off To See The Wizard seems to have been an umbrella title for family theatrical movies from MGM with 30 second introductory bits from the Wizard of Oz characters introducing the movie. Except of course that the movies were either cut to fit a one hour time slot, or cut in half and serialized. No wonder the series only lasted 20 episodes. Oh, and none of them were the original Wizard Of Oz. Thank goodness.

The Travels Of Jamie McPheeters is another ABC show I never saw. It did have a surprisingly strong cast including Dan Oherlihy, Charles Bronson and a young Kurt Russell. Also present for some episodes were four brothers named Osmond (Alan, Jay, Wayne & Merrill – no Donny).

I didn't see The Time Tunnel in its first run but I did see it later in syndication on CBC (that's where I also saw Star Trek the first time). The show was pure Irwin Allen cheese that could probably be done much better today if anyone had the mind to (which apparently someone did, though the pilot for a revival never did air). The big star was singer/actor James Darren (I always liked him though singers seem to think he should stick to acting and actors think he's a better singer) but it also starred Robert Colbert as the older more cautious man lost in time. Finally the show featured Lee Merriweather (who played Catwoman in the theatrical movie for the 1966 Batman series) and stupidly only showed her in a shapeless lab coat.

I never saw ABC's Honey West – probably much to my regret given the sexy nature of this trailer. Hey even at 9 I liked Diana Rigg, and at this age Anne Francis was almost as hot.

The Patty Duke promo is pretty generic. Besides mentioning her own show, which of course was a staple around here, she also mentions the debut of Batman. I did watch Batman and indeed was swept up in "Batmania" but around here the movie came before the TV series rather than being made during the show's run to capitalize on the success. The series showed up here in the Fall not as a mid-season replacement. The person who put this together was probably more interested in the Robert Goulet series Blue Light though. The show featured Goulet as an American who had renounced his citizenship and was working for the German Propaganda Ministry as a sort of American Lord Haw-Haw. In truth he was using his broadcasts to send intellignece to the Allies as well doing sabotage when necessary. Unfortunately seventeen members of the Blue Light operation had been killed, leaving only Goulet's character David March and his partner Suzanne Duchard (Christine Carère) alive. And because only his handlers actually know that he's working for the allies he's in danger not just from the Germans but also from the Resistance and his own side. Like O.K. Crackeby, another show that I really liked – when I was 10.

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