CBS and Psycho


CBS planned to broadcast Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 movie Psycho in September 1966. Following the tragic murder of Valerie Jeanne Percy just days before the movie was set to air, the network postponed the broadcast due to concerned Midwestern affiliates. Although the network insisted it would eventually show the movie — which it had already edited for content — it never did.

Hitchcock’s Terrifying Tale

When Psycho first opened in theaters in June 1960, moviegoers were warned to show up on time because no one would be let in after the movie began. One newspaper advertisement in the New York Times quoted director Alfred Hitchcock: “The managers of the De Mille and Baronet Theaters have been instructed, at the risk of their lives, not to admit to the theatre any persons after the picture starts. Any spurious attempts to enter by side doors, fire escapes, or ventilating shafts will be met by force” [1].

According to the Chicago Daily Tribune, “Pinkerton guards at the [Woods] theater maintain a vigil so that late comers are not permitted to be seated” [2]. Hitchcock also requested that moviegoers not tell anyone about the movie after seeing it. Promotional efforts on behalf of Psycho kept the plot of the movie a secret; seeing it in the theater would be the general public’s first experience with the thrills and chills of Hitchcock’s latest masterpiece.

Today, even those who haven’t seen Psycho are familiar with its famous shower scenes. After all, it’s been parodied countless times in movies and on television. Hitchcock is a household name and many of his movies, including Psycho, are considered classics. Less well-known is the fact that Psycho was supposed to have its television premiere in September 1966 but never did.

Psycho To Air As CBS Friday Night Movie

Val Adams of The New York Times reported on July 17th, 1966 that CBS would be broadcast by CBS during the 1966-1967 season, calling it “the type of a movie that results in tedious toil for network censors” [3]. However, he stated that an executive at the network felt “the shower scene could be suitably sheared a bit here and there without destroying the dramatic impact” [4].

In a preview of the new fall season in The Chicago Tribune, Clay Gowran revealed that Psycho would be one of the movies broadcast as part of The CBS Friday Night Movies, a new movie block the network was premiering in the fall [5]. The CBS Thursday Movies had debuted the previous season. Both movie blocks ran from 9-11PM and both would open the season during the week of September 12th when CBS aired The Music Man in two parts (on Thursday, September 15th and Friday, September 16th).

Advertisement for Psycho on CBS
Advertisement for Psycho on CBS – September 18th, 1966
Copyright © The Los Angeles Times, 1966 [1]

The following week, on September 23rd, The CBS Friday Night Movies would present Psycho. At least, that was the plan.

CBS Postpones Pyscho Broadcast

On Monday, September 19th, CBS announced it was postponing its broadcast of Psycho due to concerns raised by some of its affiliates in the Midwest regarding the appropriateness of airing the movie following the murder of 21-year-old Valerie Jeanne Percy in Chicago the day before [6]. She was killed at her family’s Chicago home in Kenilworth, Illinois on Sunday, September 18th. Her father, Charles H. Percy, was in the middle of a campaign as Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate (he would go on to win).

The murder, which remains unsolved, made front page news across the country and led CBS affiliates in the Midwest to suggest “the film would be unsuitable in that area” [7]. In place of Psycho, the network announced it would show Kings Go Forth, a 1958 drama set in World War II starring Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood. CBS initially considered showing Psycho outside the Midwest but eventually decided to cancel it outright.

(Unrelated to the CBS announcement, two television stations owned by the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company — KDKA-TV in Pittsburg and KPIX in San Francisco — announced on September 19th that they wouldn’t be showing Psycho. After viewing the edited version of the movie the previous week, which cut about nine minutes of footage, “company officials and station representatives [...] found it ‘unsuitable for family viewing'” [8]. Obviously, the point became point once CBS cancelled the broadcast.)

According to a September 21st United Press International article, “CBS executives began to have misgivings” about airing Psycho immediately after hearing about Valerie Percy’s murder [9]. Broadcasting reported in its September 26th issue that the network had screened the first half of its edited version of the movie to affiliates via closed circuit television on September 19th, after which the decision was made to postpone (the second half was scheduled to be screened on September 20th but in light of the decision having already been made, that screening may have been cancelled) [10].

Broadcasting identified WBBM-TV in Chicago, a CBS owned-and operated-station, as one of the Midwest affiliates worried about showing the movie and noted that several possible compromises were considered, including the network showing one movie in the Midwest and Psycho everywhere else or Midwest stations airing local programming [11].

Furthermore, Broadcasting noted that Psycho had been considered by CBS to be “a potential audience builder” and that “the decision to postpone the film’s showing was made as quickly as possible [...] to permit the network and particularly affiliates maximum time to change their promotion” [12]. But listings in TV Guide and newspapers had already been printed and on-air promotion had begun.

TV Guide Close-Up
TV Guide Close-Up – September 17th, 1966
Copyright © TV Guide/Triangle Publications, Inc., 1966 [1]

In its listings, published September 18th, The New York Times described Psycho in the following manner: “Alfred Hitchcock comes at you with a club in this frankly intended bloodcurdler” [13]. The Chicago Tribune, in its movie guide published September 17th, noted that Psycho was “not for the squeamish” [14]. A full page advertisement for The CBS Thursday Movies and The CBS Friday Night Movies, run in newspapers on September 15th, included a list of movies to be shown on both nights, one of which was Psycho [15].

To Broadcast Or Not To Broadcast

In his “Tower Ticker” column on October 6th, Herb Lyon noted that “CBS-TV, which shelled out a mint, will have another go at putting A. Hitchcock’s canceled, brutal ‘Psycho’ flicker on the full network” [16]. A few days later Val Adams of The New York Times reported that the network had announced the previous week that it would eventually air Psycho but didn’t give a date. He also revealed that because the network had spent $800,000 for the rights to show the movie twice, it was likely CBS would eventually get around to airing it two times [17].

By December, CBS had reportedly decided to start looking for a new slot on its schedule for Psycho, perhaps during the spring months [18]. Peggy Hudson, writing in The New York Times, revealed that the movie had been offered to NBC but turned down. She also gave details about the editing of the movie by CBS, which cut out nine minutes and one second, specifically the famous shower scene:

At a special screening, this viewer timed both versions of the scene in which Janet Leigh is murdered in the shower. The TV version of this grisly scene was cut by 45 seconds. The murder is still shown, but the repeated stabbings have been cut. Viewers are left with a sense of shock–but perhaps not with the sense of stark horror felt by movie audiences. [19]

Hudson also quoted William H. Tankersley, vice president of CBS, discussing the content of the movie: “To rule it out the way we’ve edited it would be to rule out any good murder mystery” [20]. According to Broadcasting, when CBS purchased the broadcast rights to Psycho, it also purchased the right to edit the movie. And from the very start there were concerns about “whether it could be edited suitably for family viewing” [21]. Editing the movie “became a major project” that was continued until all involved were satisfied; according to a CBS spokesman, “we took out the horror but kept the suspense” [22].

Despite all the money and time invested into getting Psycho ready for broadcast, by late December CBS had given up on ever airing it. Val Adams, using information from an anonymous source, reported on December 18th that the decision not to broadcast Psycho “was based on the network view that the movie was quite acceptable for theatrical use but was not all right to send to homes that tune in CBS” [23].

According to Adams, the network would try to arrange a swap so that it could exchange its rights to Psycho for a less controversial movie but might be stuck swallowing its entire $800,000 investment [24]. On January 2nd, 1967, Paul Molloy confirmed that CBS would not be showing Psycho and, based on the $800,000 price tag, wrote that “it seems in order to commend the network for its decision” [25].

Psycho On WABC-TV

Psycho eventually premiered on television in June 1967 but not on CBS. Station WABC-TV in New York City broadcast Psycho on Saturday, June 24th, 1967 as part of its “The Best of Broadway” series. It aired from 11:30-1:45PM. According to The New York Times, the famous shower scene was cut from 12 stabs to three [26].

Works Cited:

1 Advertisement. New York Times. 12 Jun. 1960: Page 120.
2 “‘Psycho’ Later Comers Are Barred by Guards.” Chicago Daily Tribune. 10 Jul. 1960: J1A.
3 Adams, Val. “Friday’s Friend On the Felony Squad.” New York Times. 17 Jul. 1966: 85.
4 Ibid.
5 Gowran, Clay. “What’s New This Fall on TV.” Chicago Tribune. 10 Sep. 1966: C3.
6 Gent, George. “C.B.S. Postpones ‘Psycho’ Showing.” New York Times. 20 Sep. 1966: 95.
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid.
9 “Network Delays Slated Showing of ‘Psycho’.” Tonawanda News [North Tonawanda, NY]. United Press International. 21 Sep. 1966: 2.
10 “‘Psycho’ Put on the Shelf.” Broadcasting. 26 Sep. 1966: 68-69.
11 Ibid.
12 Ibid.
13 “Television This Week.” New York Times. 18 Sep. 1966: D30.
14 Nangle, Anne. Reviewer. “TV Movies.” Chicago Tribune. 17 Sep. 1966: C23.
15 Advertisement. Chicago Tribune. 15 Sep. 1966: D19.
16 Lyon, Herb. “Tower Ticker.” Chicago Tribune. 7 Oct. 1966: 18.
17 Adams, Val. “Watts Writers Move Ahead.” New York Times. 9 Oct. 1966: X21.
18 Hudson, Peggy. “Movies: Boudoir Battle Shifts from Wide to Home Screen.” New York Times. 4 Dec. 1966: X13.
19 Ibid.
20 Ibid.
21 “‘Psycho’ Put on the Shelf.” Broadcasting.
22 Ibid.
23 Adams, Val. “‘Psycho’ Gets the Axe.” New York Times. 18 Dec. 1966: X21.
24 Ibid.
25 Molloy, Paul. “CBS Bans ‘Psycho’ From Network Outlets.” Los Angeles Times. 2 Jan. 1967: C27.
26 “WABC To Tone Down ‘Psycho’ For June 24.” New York Times. 1 Jun. 1967: 87.

Image Credits:

1 From The Los Angeles Times‘s TV Times, September 18th, 1966, Page 44.
2 From TV Guide, Iowa Edition, September 17th, 1966, Page A-109.

Originally April 29th, 2009
Last Updated February 28th, 2013

8 Comments

  • Mike Smith says:

    Great article on it!

    BTW, Universal Pictures (Which still own the rights to this day) reissued it to theatres in 1969, with the tagline which meant that you must see it uncut-the way TV don’t want you to see! The trailer for the reissue (As well as the 1960 original release trailer) is on DVD, if you like to check it out. And, as for the way the shower scene is shown on TV-it’s have been shown in its entirely ever since on various shows.

  • RGJ says:

    I was aware that the movie was re-released in 1969 but I hadn’t heard of the tagline. Given the sort of violence that shows up in movies these days, it’s pretty hard to believe there was such concern over Psycho. Even before the tragic murder of Valerie Jeanne Percy CBS was quite worried about the content.

  • Mark says:

    In celebration of the 42nd anniversary of my first viewing of Psycho on ABC TV – this year I watched the two-disc Special Legacy edition, which is an absolute requirement – I figured I would add my musty, fruit-cellar 2 cents:

    First, I must congratulate and applaud whoever is responsible for posting this information online. Previously it took an awful lot of searching in order to reconstruct most of these details. Great job, thanks a lot! I should mention, for the sake of OCD completeness, that the dollar amount CBS spent is in dispute – also mentioned as $450k. Poor Tiffany network. I do think their cancellation decision was the ethical thing to do, however.

    In any case, I vividly recall looking forward to the fall ’66 broadcast of this movie which had such a weird shadowy aura about it but which I knew so little about – even stranger for a kid who thrived on all sorts of imaginative and bizarre entertainment.
    If memory serves, there was also that summer’s Speck murder of 8 nurses as well as the TU massacre by Whitman – not pleasant vacation news.
    So naturally the Percy murder – which I pray that someone someday solves and brings some form of retribution for – was for a while the stake in this cinematic vampire’s heart. Hitch must have been…bemused?

    So I suppose, for the sake of the national culture’s health, broadcasting even a diluted version of Psycho did not seem like such a terrific idea after all. Disappointed the hell out of me, however, after waiting so long to finally see what all the clamor had been about. What WAS that with the rocking chair in all the adds? Friends of mine who claimed to know kept getting the story confused with the subsequent Castle knockoff Homicidal. Jerks. And when I heard from older women how afraid they claimed to be to take a shower after seeing it …well! SOLD!

    So, by the Summer of Love this kid was revved up for a dose of reality. Comes midnight and the little b&w Zenith up on the backporch was fired up and ready. Yeah, even though all the shower scene edit seams were showing, it was still effective. But the one scene that stuck in my head the most and kept me unsettled enough not to go to sleep that night without checking my bedroom doorway repeatedly was the overhead shot down the stairway when Arbogast gets greeted by Mom in that queerly mechanical entrance she makes (A scene, by the way, which is coped quite effectively in the third Exorcist movie, second sequel with George C. Scott, where the “nurse” appears with that huge pair of surgical shears in the hallway. Nice “Boo!” shot). Hitch chose a dwarf for that scene? Can’t really tell, but it would have added to the creepiness.

    Anyway, it took several months for ABC to get up the nerve to broadcast Bates again. But times change and within a couple of years it became a Halloween evening staple, albeit still in somewhat less watered-down mode. The rest is history. Hope my longwinded reminiscence has contributed a tiny bit to it.

  • W.B. says:

    I.I.N.M., when WABC acquired “Psycho,” it was initially syndicated as part of a package offered by Paramount (its original releasor) called “Portfolio I.” At the point the film’s rights shifted to Universal in 1969, WABC lost the rights to “Psycho” and it was summarily snapped up by WOR-TV (Channel 9) where it occasionally ran well into the 1980’s, by the middle of that decade running frequently on their afternoon movie showcases (“Movie 9″ and “The 4 O’Clock Movie”).

    B.T.W., competing against WABC’s first run of “Psycho” on June 24, 1967 were “Dimka” (a foreign film from 1964) on WNBC’s “Saturday Film Festival” (which started at 11:45) and the 1960 Lana Turner film “Portrait in Black” on WCBS’s “The Late Show.” I’m a bit curious as to how WABC fared in the ratings that night vs. WCBS and WNBC.

  • W.B. says:

    In addition, it appears WABC aired “Psycho” only twice, both times on “The Best of Broadway”; after its rights transferred from Paramount to Universal in 1968, WABC lost the rights to the film as it had to be taken out of the Paramount “Portfolio I” package (in short, it didn’t have as much to do with any squeamishness on WABC’s part). “Psycho” didn’t appear on TV again until Universal’s then-parent MCA put it in a film package which, during the 1969-70 season, was snapped up by WOR-TV in New York (which aired it for the first time on “The Late Movie” on Feb. 13, 1970); it ran there on the station’s numerous film umbrellas well into the mid-1980’s.

    “Psycho,” in its original syndicated form, also aired at least once on sister-station KABC in Los Angeles, having its local TV premiere there on Nov. 18, 1967. Evidently because of the Percy murder, the ABC station in Chicago, WBKB-TV (now WLS-TV), never ran it.

  • i personally never even heard of a murder that resulted as a result of psycho…i assume that by cancelling the tv airing on 9-23-66 the big wig’s of tv assume valerie percy’s murder was related–they did not give a reason…………so…also robert albert bloch’s mom being a stella loeb..no one mentioned a relationship..(possible) to teh bobbie frank’s kidnapping and subsequent murder by one loewe..(sp.?)…220 iq? and the loeb boy who dropped his glasses and spoiled the brainy one’s hope’s of committing the perfect murder……….the loeb family flubbed ..well rope –never mentioned—(i guess it is all in the family “like’..esque)…………so…you know how that goes–if mom’s fly tree is full of fruit’s and nuts—-you have to go that route!

    • here ..cst it is january 15th 2014…..that weird day when betty bersinger supposedly going to get her shoes revamped———————finds bete short..oh yeah betty –likely story!…the odds of miss betty bersinger accidentally…………that weird little story about how she found the body–is just too macabre@.i find it highly unlikely………………and uh she should of been watched for at least ten years after————-to eliminate her and her associates as a suspect…………

  • and no one mentioned vanity fair’s cover june 1916–that everett shinn fly me to the moon and let me live among the stars—pre-cursor to disney’s rodent cartoon’s……………….mickey and minnie!———schism’s pop up everywhere every day……that fine art being denigrated by walter and roy disney————shame on you two hick’s————

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