Friday, November 24, 2017

The Quiz Show Scandals: "The $64,000 Question"

We end our podcast's first season with a two-part look at the quiz show scandals of the 1950s. Part two drops next week.

During the summer of 1955, a new TV show kept people in front of their sets on hot Tuesday nights. “The $64,000 Question” was a big-money quiz show that made its contestants instant celebrities and the show even displaced “I Love Lucy” as the nation’s top TV program. What nobody realized at the time was that the show was planned, paced and cast like a drama, and a contestant’s success depended not on the questions he or she answered correctly, but on a sponsor who would drop you when you ceased to be useful.



Sources:
TV Game Shows, by Maxine Fabe
“The Cop and the $64,000 Question,” TV Guide, July 9, 1955
“A Summer Show Hits the Jackpot: $64,000 Prize, Carefully Picked Contestants Keep Nation Glued to Its Television Sets,” TV Guide, August 20, 1955
“Come and Get It: TV Giveaway Shows Lure Viewers with Bigger and Bigger Jackpots,” TV Guide, December 31, 1955
“The Quiz Show Scandals: An Editorial,” TV Guide, October 24, 1959
“Letters,” TV Guide, November 21, 1959

Friday, October 13, 2017

In Godfrey We Trust

In the late 1940s and early '50s the biggest moneymaker on CBS radio and television was Arthur Godfrey -- at one point he reportedly brought in 12 percent of the network's income. He had an unpretentious style of communicating with his audience, and a smooth manner of selling products that sponsors loved. But in 1953, at the height of his popularity, Godfrey suffered a huge, self-inflicted blow to his stature when he fired one of his regulars, known as "the little Godfreys," live on the air. The incident haunted the rest of his career.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Rise and Fall of "Dragnet"

In the summer of 1949, "Dragnet" premiered on NBC radio. It was a show that sounded like no other thanks to creator-star Jack Webb's obsession with authenticity. "Dragnet" then moved to TV and ran for most of the 1950s. Its theme song and opening disclaimer -- "The story you are about to see is true; the names have been changed to protect the innocent" -- became part of pop culture history. During the turbulent late 1960s, "Dragnet" was revived, and it hadn't changed -- but the world had, and authority was something to be questioned rather than celebrated. We look at the influence of "Dragnet" and Webb's evolution into an outspoken advocate of police officers.

Friday, September 29, 2017

When Maude Findlay Had an Abortion

In the fall of 1972, the first spinoff from "All in the Family" premiered. It was "Maude," with Beatrice Arthur as Edith Bunker's liberal cousin. And right out of the gate, "Maude" took on controversial topics like psychotherapy, black militancy and modern morality. Then on November 14, in the ninth episode of the series, Maude found out she was pregnant at age 47. She considered her options, including abortion, which at the time was legal in New York state, where the show was set. (The U.S. Supreme Court wouldn't legalize abortion nationwide until 1973.) Maude's decision to get an abortion would go largely unnoticed during the episode's original run, but when summer reruns came along the show received a firestorm of criticism, driving the idea of abortion -- and even the mention of the word itself -- off of network television for the next fifteen years.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Ed Sullivan, American Gatekeeper

In 1948, Ed Sullivan began hosting a weekly variety series on CBS-TV. His background as a newspaper columnist served him well — he had an unerring instinct for what people wanted to see, and he used his unique power to become an influential American gatekeeper for most of the 1950s and ’60s. We take a look a Sullivan’s influence, including “blessing” Elvis Presley and the Beatles by praising them on the air and reassuring anxious parents of teenagers. We also review his feuds with the likes of Steve Allen, Jackie Mason and Buddy Holly.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Big Stars + Small Screen = Tiny Audiences

This week on the Incredible Inman's Pop Culture Potluck: The big TV story in the fall of 1971 was that movie stars were coming to the tube, including James Stewart, Henry Fonda, Shirley MacLaine, Glenn Ford, Anthony Quinn, Rock Hudson and Tony Curtis, among others. Many of them turned to TV because movie roles were growing scarce, and for lucrative paychecks. But the vehicles they chose were garden variety TV — family sitcoms and cop shows — and viewers tuned out. We look at the highest-profile failures — “The Jimmy Stewart Show,” Shirley MacLaine’s “Shirley’s World” and Henry Fonda’s “The Smith Family.”
 

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Keefe Brasselle Story, or Godfather Knows Best

Keefe Brasselle’s show business career includes a few movies, some TV work, probable arson, extortion, kickbacks, assault with a deadly weapon and lots of threats of bodily harm. His unholy alliance with a CBS executive led to the executive’s downfall, and his repeated boasting about his mafia connections, along with his lack of any real talent, made him a bitter has-been reduced to writing and acting in a 1970s drive-in quickie. In this episode we examine Brasselle’s career and his unsavory associations.