Broadcast Log: NBC Saturday Night at the Movies, Season One

NBC Saturday Night at the Movies was the first regularly scheduled network movie night. Scheduled from 9-11PM each and every Saturday, the series was first announced in February of 1961. Val Adams reported on February 12th, 1961 that the network was approaching Hollywood studios and hoped to purchase 39 films produced since 1948 that had never been televised. The more films in color the better. All would be broadcast uncut. This was, in Adams words, “the first prospective deal of its kind between Hollywood studios and a TV network,” one that promised to be lucrative for whichever studio agreed to supply the network [1].

According to Adams, there were two reasons NBC wanted a Saturday movie night. First, the network’s researchers had determined that viewers would welcome one. Second, high profile feature films could potentially counter-program the more successful line-up offered by CBS on Saturdays. Four days later, on February 16th, Adams revealed that NBC had signed a deal with Twentieth Century-Fox and would be able to chose from some 150 films produced by the studio [2]. Adams wondered how the network could fulfill its pledge to air the movies in their original “full-length, uncut, feature version” given that some ran two hours without commercials [3]. NBC’s answer? Occasionally, a movie could run past 11PM if necessary. The October 28th broadcast of There’s No Business Like Show Business, for example, ran until 11:15PM.

Here’s what an NBC advertisement in The New York Times had to say about the premiere of The NBC Saturday Night at the Movies:

M-M-M-M-M-M-M-M-Marilyn! This, along with a few appropriate and approving whistles, just about sums up our reaction to Miss Monroe. it is very likely these corporate feelings of open admiration were the deciding factor in our selection of “How To Marry a Millionaire” to launch “Saturday Night Movies” — NBC’s fresh new series which will present a star-spangled, post-1950 Hollywood film, uncut and in prime time, every Saturday night during the new season. This is the kind of innovation which is characteristic of the programming service developed over the years by NBC — the network which has opened up the morning hours with the alert, informative “Today,” pioneered late night live television with “The Jack Paar Show,” introduced the conception of the Special program, and developed new forms of presenting news and information programming such as the “Instant News Special” and “NBC White Paper.” In fact, NBC’s entire week-long schedule is designed to serve all significant viewing tastes and interests — with a variety of entertainment, sports, comedy, drama — as well as with television’s greatest number of programs which reach beyond entertainment into enrichment. [4]

A total of 30 films were broadcast during the first season of NBC Saturday Night at the Movies, 22 of which were later rebroadcast during the summer repeat season. Here is a log of those broadcasts, taken from television listings in The New York Times.

Season One: 1961-1962
Ep. # Movie Title Airdate Format
1. How to Marry a Millionaire 09/23/1961 Color
2. The Snows of Kilimanjaro 09/30/1961 Color
3. Titanic 10/07/1961 B&W
4. The Garden of Evil 10/14/1961 Color
5. The Desert Fox 10/21/1961 B&W
6. There’s No Business Like Show Business 10/28/1961 Color
7. Soldier of Fortune 11/04/1961 Color
8. Halls of Montezuma 11/11/1961 Color
9. Demetrius and the Gladiators 11/18/1961 Color
10. Dreamboat 11/25/1961 B&W
11. Broken Arrow 12/02/1961 Color
12. Man on a Tightrope 12/09/1961 B&W
13. Destination Gobi 12/16/1961 Color
14. O. Henry’s Full House 12/23/1961 B&W
15. On the Riviera 12/30/1961 Color
16. What Price Glory 01/06/1962 Color
17. People Will Talk 01/13/1962 B&W
18. Five Fingers 01/20/1962 B&W
19. Cheaper By the Dozen 01/27/1962 Color
20. The Frogmen 02/03/1962 B&W
21. With a Song in My Heart 02/10/1962 Color
22. Monkey Business 02/17/1962 B&W
23. Stars and Stripes Forever 02/24/1962 Color
24. The Day the Earth Stood Still 03/03/1962 B&W
25. The Black Rose 03/10/1962 B&W
26. Where the Sidewalk Ends 03/17/1962 B&W
27. No Highways in the Sky 03/24/1962 B&W
28. Bird of Paradise 03/31/1962 Color
29. It Happens Every Spring 04/07/1962 BW
30. Diplomatic Courier 04/14/1962 B&W
*Summer Repeats Begin*
REP Soldier of Fortune 04/21/1962 Color
REP How to Marry a Millionaire 04/28/1962 Color
REP The Snows of Kilimanjaro 05/05/1962 Color
REP Titanic 05/12/1962 B&W
REP The Garden of Evil 05/19/1962 Color
REP The Desert Fox 05/26/1962 B&W
REP Halls of Montezuma 06/02/1962 Color
REP Demetrius and the Gladiators 06/09/1962 Color
REP Broken Arrow 06/23/1962 Color
REP With a Song in My Heart 06/23/1962 Color
REP People Will Talk 06/30/1962 B&W
REP The Frogmen 07/07/1962 B&W
REP Destination Gobi 07/14/1962 Color
REP Monkey Business 07/21/1962 B&W
REP Stars and Stripes Forever 07/28/1962 Color
REP The Day the Earth Stood Still 08/04/1962 B&W
REP The Black Rose 08/11/1962 B&W
REP Where the Sidewalk Ends 08/18/1962 B&W
REP No Highways in the Sky 08/25/1962 B&W
REP Bird of Paradise 09/01/1962 Color
REP It Happens Every Spring 09/08/1962 B&W
REP Diplomatic Courier 09/15/1962 B&W

Works Cited:

1 Adams, Val. “News of Television and Radio: Late Movies.” New York Times. 12 Feb. 1961: X13.
2 Adams, Val. “Miss Shore Going Off Sunday Show.” New York Times. 16 Feb. 1961: 62.
3 Ibid.
4 [Advertisement]. The New York Times. 22 Sep. 1961: 66.


  • pBOB says:

    I’m curious does anybody know what was the first movie to be edited for broadcast if these first 30 movies aired “uncut”?

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    The THIRD (and most important) reason NBC wanted “SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES” is because their Saturday night schedule [especially after 9pm(et)] was losing ground to CBS {“HAVE GUN-WILL TRAVEL”, “GUNSMOKE”} and ABC {“THE LAWRENCE WELK SHOW”}. Leasing a “block” of “recent” movies from one (or more) studios was actually cheaper than buying two or three weekly “scripted” programs to fill a two-hour time period- and depending on the movie, could “bump” the network’s ratings on any given Saturday. However, there were “limitations”: 20th Century-Fox’s “CinemaScope” movies could not be seen in a “widescreen” format [there wasn't even talk about "letterboxing" the picture back then], so there were plenty of “pan and scan” repositioning in those pictures where, say, Marilyn Monroe would appear to be talking to herself rather than Lauren Bacall and/or Betty Grable {they’re over THERE, out of “standard frame” range}. And, if a movie’s original running time was over 100-110 minutes, SOMETHING would have to be “sliced out” to make room for titles, transitions, station breaks, and 12 minutes of commercials. And for color TV enthusiasts, only half of the scheduled films were in color.

    Viewers didn’t mind. The lure of seeing a feature film they hadn’t seen at the local movie theater (or wanted to see again) was irresistible, and NBC got very good ratings for its first season {IF, however, the experiment had failed, the network had a “bug out” clause in their contract with Fox to cancel their agreement, and “SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES”, after 16 weeks}. So much, in fact, that ABC tried to patch the “leaky hole” [8-10pm] in their Sunday night schedule in April 1962 (after their “dependable” lineup of Westerns and action/adventure series, including the notorious “BUS STOP”, had faltered} with their own “package” of recent movies, “HOLLYWOOD SPECIAL” [which became "THE SUNDAY NIGHT MOVIE" in 1964].

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    To answer your question, ‘pBob’, it had to have been “Irving Berlin’s There’s No Business Like Show Business” (1954), which had a theatrical running time of 117 minutes. For its October 28th “world television premiere”, SOMETHING had to be cut to make it fit a two-hour time slot with commercials {a “minor” musical number or two, perhaps? Some of Johnnie Ray dialogue?}.

  • RGJ says:

    I just checked and it turns out that the October 28th broadcast ran until 11:15PM, meaning it likely was not edited for time. And I doubt any of these films had to be edited for content.

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    I wasn’t old enough to stay up to see it, ‘RGJ’, so I wasn’t aware NBC extended the length of that evening’s movie to 2 AND 1/4 hours. In those days, apparently the network DIDN’T edit any of those films for “time constraints” [as is done these days], so “extended” editions, like sporting events, were not uncommon. As for “content”…certainly not! There was no swearing, bad language or any “indecency” in those 1949-’55 features {they were all filmed under the Hollywood “Production Code”, which was somewhat relaxed by the late ’50s}.

  • OM says:

    …And what makes you feel *really* old is remembering when you and/or your parents made plans to catch a particular movie on TV rather than go out on that night.

    O, for the days when TV was still new and unique territory to explore…

  • James Brooks says:

    I was a young kid when NBC aired this great show. I particularly recall the anouncers voice & what an impression that had on me. NBC truly set the standard for movies on TV & they did it with such style.

  • W.B. says:

    NBC’s launch of “Saturday Night at the Movies” had an effect of the direction of the late weekend evening editions of its New York flagship WNBC-TV’s “Movie 4″ franchise (kind of a poor man’s version of WCBS-TV’s “The Late Show” in those days, before its weekday afternoon editions, in its final years on the air [up to 1974], became an even poorer man’s equivalent of WABC-TV’s “The 4:30 Movie”). As a result of “SNATM’s” debut, WNBC shifted “New York television premiere” nights for “Movie 4″ from Sunday to Saturday nights, and acquired 41 post-1950 Warner Bros. titles that at the time were syndicated by Seven Arts Associated (which went on to acquire Warners’ in 1967). The very night “SNATM” showed “How to Marry a Millionaire” on Sept. 23, 1961, WNBC’s “Movie 4″ presented the New York TV debut of the 1955 James Dean flick “East of Eden” which was one of a handful of notable times their movie showcase beat WCBS’s late-night institution in the ratings. (Other such titles premiered by WNBC during that season after the late news that followed “SNATM” included Paul Newman’s infamous film debut “The Silver Chalice,” “Storm Warning,” “Trouble Along the Way,” “Captain Horatio Hornblower,” and “Young at Heart.”)

  • W.B. says:

    The announcers for “Saturday Night at the Movies,” from the outset, would have been from within the network’s Burbank studios, and also worked at what was then called KRCA (Channel 4) in Los Angeles (the calls changed to KNBC on Nov. 11 or 12, 1962) – as it would be the case as evidenced in the late 1960′s and into the ’80′s. The West Coast announcing staff at the time of “SNATM’s” debut and throughout its early years would have consisted of such voices as Don Stanley, Donald Rickles (no relation whatsoever to the “hockey puck” comic), Arch Presby, Frank Barton, Eddie King, Vincent Pelletier, John Storm, and possibly Hal Gibney. King was heard on the network’s movie shows well into 1975; Presby retired in 1972, Barton in 1974, Storm left NBC in 1969, and Gibney died in 1973. Rickles remained one of the announcers up to his death in 1985. By the mid-1970′s the core announcers on NBC’s movie shows had become Stanley, Rickles, Peggy Taylor and Victor Bozeman.

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