Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Weekend Videos – Top Rated Shows 1965-1969

After too many weeks of not being on a regular schedule with this stuff I'm finally back with clips from the top shows of each year (okay so this is a couple of days late for the weekend – I got caught up with a couple of things that kept delaying this). This is the fourth of these articles. In the first I covered the 1950-51 to 1954-55 seasons; in the second I did the 1955-56 to 1959-60 seasons and in the third I took on the 1960-61-1964-65 seasons. This time around I cover the 1965-66 to 1969-70 seasons.

Just to remind you of the rules I have imposed on myself are these: I will list the top three shows for each season along with the percentage of the nation's televisions that were tuned to that show during the season. These figures are drawn from the Complete Directory To Prime Time Network And Cable TV Shows 1946-Present. If the season's top rated show has already been featured either in this post or in the previous post in this series I'll find a clip from the second highest rated show, provided that it also hasn't been featured before, or the third highest rated show if the first and second place shows have been featured, and so on. The same procedure holds true if there are no clips of the show available online. I will be including the overall rating for the show. Previously I've expressed these in percentages however in 1960 the way that A.C. Nielsen calculated ratings changed and I'm not sure that percentages is a precisely accurate manner in which to describe these numbers. Finally I will be including my own comments about the shows.


1. Bonanza 31.8, 2. Gomer Pyle USMC 27.8, 3. The Lucy Show 27.7

I have very fond memories of Gomer Pyle. While it was a spin-off of The Andy Griffith Show, taking one of the most popular supporting characters off of the original series and making him the biggest "fish out of water" by putting him in the Marine Corps, I didn't know that at the time. I don't recall seeing The Andy Griffith Show during the period when Jim Nabors – or even Don Knotts – were regulars on the show. As a result the misadventures of the naive country boy in the Marines (the Marine Corps that didn't go to Vietnam) were totally stand-alone for me, and it works quite well as a stand-alone. Nabors is great as Gomer, who isn't book smart but has a native goodness and way to come out on top despite all of the objects strewn in his way. However the best part of the show was always watching Frank Sutton as Sergeant Carter. Sutton, a character actor who had been an Army sergeant during World War II (ironically he failed the physical for the Marine Corps), was ideal as the gruff, cynical and easily exasperated Sergeant Carter, Sutton, who graduated cum laude from Columbia University's Dramatic Arts program, had one of the best slow-burns in the business. As the year's passed Carter became increasingly friendly and even protective of his naive charge. The episode that I have here is one of my favourite first season episodes in which Carter is teamed with Gomer on a survival test... and finds himself the fish out of water in Gomer's world. Be sure to try to watch the second half of this one.


1. Bonanza 29.1, 2. The Red Skelton Hour 28.2, 3. The Andy Griffith Show 27.4

I'm going to take the name of my good friend Ivan Shreve in vain a couple of times in this piece and here is the first. I know that Ivan has stated in the past that he prefers Red Skelton's radio work to his TV series, and having heard some – but not nearly enough – of the great man's radio work, I can see the point. On the radio Skelton could integrate his characters more smoothly than he could on the TV show. He could switch from Junior the Mean Little Kid to Willie Lumplump in seconds. That meant that the radio show could flow far more than any TV show ever could. And of course it was easier to believe Harriet Hilliard (later Harriet Nelson of course) as Junior's exasperated mother if you couldn't see that the two had only a four year age difference. For my part, I am a huge fan of Skelton's TV work. It lacked the flow of the radio show. Skelton was reduced to the typical comedian hosted variety show, with a monologues, dancers, and sketches, but he made it work. More to the point it allowed him to do things that were impossible for him to do on the radio. On the hour-long show there were long sketches that would span commercials, and of course there were Skelton's pantomime bits that were separate, silent sketches. Most importantly for me is that Television allowed you to see an extra dimension to Skelton's performance, his facial reactions; very visible and inevitably funny but totally lost on a radio audience. Growing up in the 1960s Skelton was my second favourite comedian on TV (the other was, of course, the immortal Jack Benny).


1. The Andy Griffith Show 27.6, 2. The Lucy Show 27.0, 3. Gomer Pyle USMC 25.6

The Lucy Show was a favourite of mine growing up, but I don't think it holds up nearly as well as that show she did in the 1950s. Created, interestingly enough, by Lucy's ex Desi Arnaz (he seems to have wanted to "get the band back together" to the point where he was angry reported to have been angry at Bill Frawley for taking the role of Bub on My Three Sons) and forced on CBS by pressure from Desilu Productions, it became a hit. People were used to watching Lucy and it didn't seem to matter if there was no Desi (CBS feared that Lucy couldn't carry a show without Desi as her co-star) and with Vivian Vance taking her leave. Lucy surrounded herself with friends. Gale Gordon came on in the second season after he completed his contractual obligations on Dennis The Menace. Their relationship went back to the late 1930s when they were both on a variety show with Jack Haley. Mary Jane Croft took on Vance's role as Lucy's best friend. Croft had been a regular on the last season of I Love Lucy (and was married to Elliott Lewis, who had been the Executive Producer of The Lucy Show for two years after Desi left), but their friendship went back to Lucy's radio show My Favorite Husband where she was a frequent guest star. The 1967-68 season was the last for The Lucy Show, mostly because the sale of Desilu Studios to Paramount was completed in that year, and Lucy was not interested in appearing on a show that she did not own. Instead she formed her own production company, Lucille Ball Productions, and created Here's Lucy, which featured much of the same cast (Gordon, Croft, and occasionally Vance) with the addition of Lucy's teenaged children Lucie and Desi Arnaz Jr. This clip features the notorious episode with Joan Crawford. Joan said of Lucy, "Lucy can out-bitch me ANY day of the week!" while Lucy complained that Joan was constantly drunk and unable to remember her lines, and repeatedly asked if she could be replaced with Gloria Swanson.


1. Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In 31.8, 2. Gomer Pyle USMC 27.2, 3. Bonanza 26.6

It always seemed to me that Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In flashed across the TV firmament like a comet that was gone too soon. In fact, the show lasted six seasons, which surprises me. Of course only about half of those seasons were actually good, and the show suffered from cast defections which were part of what killed it. The show was little more than a series of blackout sketches that normally didn't last more than a couple of minutes at that. This was surrounded by various extended bits, like "Laugh-In Looks At the News," but the pace was like a machine gun so that even if a bit failed you might not really notice. Every episode of the show was star studded in a very real way; in the clip that I'm using here we have Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, Guy Lombardo and this guy with a fiddle – and I haven't even watched the full clip. In fact I'm using this clip rather than the "first" clip in this episode (which really wasn't the first part of the show) because of that guy with the fiddle. There are a couple of problems with this show. It was extremely topical, more so than the obviously political Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. It's rooted in the culture of the late 1960s and is probably only watchable today as an historical relic. Nevertheless in its time it was brilliant and, as various producers who tried to replicate its success discovered, unique. We'll never see its like again.


1. Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In 26.3, 2. Gunsmoke 25.9, 3. Bonanza 24.8, 4. Mayberry RFD 24.4

This is my other nod to my friend Ivan. Because the first three shows in the 1969-70 Top Ten have already been done, I have to work with the fourth place show, which is Mayberry RFD. That's a big problem for me because I have never (EVER) seen the show! The one local station here in Saskatoon didn't take the show, and I don't think it has ever rerun on a station that I've had access to. So I can't tell you a damned thing about this show. Fortunately I don't have to. Ivan, over at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear has been running his continuing Mayberry Mondays articles in which he, in his own inimitably sarcastic fashion, examines the goings on of Sam the poor dirt farmer and city council head, the Maybery Brain Trust Goober the town idiot (but forgets to remind people that he's the cousin of Gomer), Howard and Emmett, and of course Mike the idiot boy (who was played by Jodie Foster's brother... and after the book he wrote about her a few years ago I'm betting "Idiot Boy" is one of the nicer things she has to say about him). If you want to find out more about the show I encourage you to read Ivan's take on the show. The clip I have for this is quite obviously a copy digitized from a video tape, but it's the best that I can find online.

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