Twice during the 1960s viewers in the United States and around the world were glued to their television sets as historic events unfolded live on the small screen. First in November 1963 when President Kennedy was assassinated and again in July 1969 when the Apollo 11 mission landed men on the Moon. Today marks the 45th anniversary of the Moon landing. An estimated 600 million people watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin bounce across the lunar surface on Sunday, July 20th, 1969 and I doubt any of them will ever forget the experience.
I thought I’d mark the anniversary with some interesting tidbits about television coverage of the Apollo 11 mission overall and specifically the lunar landing and moonwalk. If you were watching 45 years ago, hit the comments with your recollections. Was your TV tuned to ABC, CBS or NBC? Did you take pictures of the television screen or 8mm home movies?
Moonwalk Originally Planned for 2AM
NASA’s original mission plan for Apollo 11 involved a lengthy rest period for Armstrong and Aldrin after they landed on the Moon. The landing was scheduled for 4:19PM EDT on Sunday, July 20th and Armstrong wouldn’t set foot on the Moon until 2:12AM on Monday, July 21st. According to a July 14th, 1969 article in Broadcasting, an estimated 70 million viewers would be watching at 2AM .
Fortunately, NASA and the astronauts decided to move up the timetable by close to three hours and Armstrong made his historic first step at 10:56PM, allowing tens of millions of people who wouldn’t have watched at 2AM to do so hours earlier. In all, an estimated 125 million viewers tuned in.
Live Color Telecasts from Space
While the moonwalk, broadcast in black and white, is understandably the best remembered part of the Apollo 11 mission, viewers in July 1969 were also treated to multiple live color telecasts from space, not including the launch and splashdown. Here’s a look at the original live broadcast schedule, from the July 14th, 1969 issue of Broadcasting :
Planned Apollo 11 Live Broadcasts
Thursday, July 17th, 1969
Friday, July 18th, 1969
Saturday, July 19th, 1969
Sunday, July 20th, 1969
Monday, July 21st, 1969
Tuesday, July 22, 1969
Wednesday, July 23rd, 1969
The timing of the moonwalk wasn’t the only change to the schedule. The Friday, July 18th live broadcast, for example, actually started at 5:18PM rather than 7:32PM. The Sunday, July 20th live broadcast was scrapped entirely. It was supposed to feature the Lunar Module disengaging from the Command Module but the failure of the Intelsat 3 satellite earlier in the month forced NASA to cancel the broadcast.
No Missing TV Coverage
As was the case with coverage of Kennedy’s assassination, its aftermath and his funeral, no network TV coverage of the Moon landing is believed to be missing. Update July 23rd, 2014: According to Eric in the comments, the bulk of the NBC coverage of the Apollo 11 mission is indeed missing. With that said, and like the Kennedy coverage, I am not aware of a comprehensive analysis of Moon landing coverage. Both CBS and NBC aired 31 hours of coverage, starting at 11AM on Sunday, July 20th while ABC broadcast 30 hours, starting at noon. All three networks remained on the air until 6PM on Monday, July 21st when their regular nightly news programs began (which included, of course, some additional reporting on Apollo 11). In addition, the networks aired hours of special reports in the days before and after the moonwalk.
What are missing are the raw telemetry data tapes of the slow-scan television (SSTV) footage from the Armstrong/Aldrin moonwalk. The footage had to be converted before it could be shown on television and the conversion process degraded the quality of the video. The raw data tapes, if recovered, could result in much higher quality video. Here‘s a July 2006 NPR article explaining how the footage made its way to TV sets around the world and describing the initial search. NASA’s final report on the missing data tapes, published in November 2009, can be found here.
(The vast majority of television coverage of the Apollo 11 mission broadcast in the United Kingdom in July 1969 — on BBC, BBC2 and ITV — is actually missing. The original video tapes were either erased, discarded or misplaced.)
Canadians Prefer Star Trek
According to the Associated Press, 15 Canadian viewers called station CJOH-TV in Ottawa, Ontario on Sunday, July 20th to complain that coverage of Apollo 11 had pre-empted Star Trek .
Bookshelf is a monthly column examining printed matter relating to television. While I love watching TV, I also love reading about it, from tie-in novels to TV Guides, from vintage television magazines to old newspaper articles. Bookshelf is published on the second Thursday of each month.
Bridget Loves Bernie
By Paul Fairman
First Published 1972
Published by Lancer Books
Over the years I’ve reviewed a number of TV tie-in novels for shows I’ve either only seen one or two episodes of. Examples include tie-in novels for The Young Rebels, Nancy and The Americans. I’ve also reviewed a handful of tie-ins for TV shows I’ve never seen at all, like Land of the Giants, Mannix and The Mod Squad. Obviously, if I’m not very familiar with the television series I can’t really say whether a tie-in novel does a good job capturing the tone of the show or the characters.
(That didn’t stop me from truly enjoying two of the three tie-in novels for Land of the Giants written by Murray Leinster, which I reviewed back in May 2009 and July 2009, respectively. I still hope to eventually get my hands on the third and final novel.)
I wish I was more familiar with Bridget Loves Bernie because Paul Fairman’s tie-in novel is so ludicrous that I can’t believe it accurately reflects the series. The 1972-1973 CBS sitcom was cancelled after one season despite terrific ratings, reportedly due to controversy relating to the interfaith marriage of the title characters.
Front cover to Bridget Loves Bernie – Copyright 1972 Lancer Books
Bridget Fitzgerald (played by Meredith Baxter) was from a wealthy Irish Catholic family while cab driver Bernie Steinberg (played by David Birney) was Jewish and his parents ran a deli.
I honestly can’t recall if I’ve ever seen an episode of the series. I think I’ve seen one episode but if I have, I don’t remember anything about it. From what I’ve read, episodes of the series were a little quirky, maybe a little too cutesy for some viewers. The plot of the tie-in novel involves a United Nations protest, multiple kidnappings (but only one for ransom), and a bizarre subplot having to do with a pigeon.
Bridget, as portrayed in the novel, is kind, inquisitive and incredibly naive. Most of the action centers on her, Bernie’s Uncle Moe and his friend and fellow cabbie Otis. Bernie doesn’t have much to do other than drive his cab and work on writing a play. Both sets of parents are relegated to background characters, particularly Bridget’s mother.
At one point, after Bridget has disappeared without anyone really noticing, both Otis and Uncle Moe manage to get themselves kidnapped alongside her. The kidnapper, a college student named Cliff, is deceptively strong but also a nice guy who keeps taking trips to the deli to buy sandwiches for Bridget and the others. He’s eventually convinced to let them go for a paltry sum, leaving Uncle Moe and Otis to try to track down the mastermind behind the kidnappings.
Back cover to Bridget Loves Bernie – Copyright 1972 Lancer Books
I’m assuming that Paul Fairman didn’t have much to work with while writing the novel. Although there’s no specific publication date I would guess it was on sale around the time the series premiered in September 1972. He was probably using scripts and other production material rather than completed episodes. That doesn’t really explain why the character of Father Michael Fitzgerald, Bridget’s brother, doesn’t appear in the novel at all. Fairman wrote a number of other TV tie-in novels for shows like That Girl, Love, American Style and The Partridge Family, none of which I’ve read.
For anyone interested, Bridget Loves Bernie was released on DVD in December 2012 by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
Here’s a look at what was on television in prime time 40, 55 and 68 years ago. You’ll notice that with the exception of a 1974 hour-long NBC special, there were no programs dedicated to celebrating the 4th of July. It’s certainly possible that some of the ABC musical-variety programs (The Dick Clark Show, Jubilee U.S.A. and The Lawrence Welk Show) featured patriotic music.
The Library of Congress has in its collection an audio recording of the July 4th, 1946 episode of WNBT’s Hour Glass, which may also have mentioned the 4th of July holiday.
40 Years Ago – Thursday, July 4th, 1974ABC
8:00PM Chopper One (repeat)
8:30PM Firehouse (repeat)
9:00PM Kung Fu (repeat)
10:00PM The Streets of San Francisco (repeat) CBS
8:00PM The Waltons (repeat)
9:00PM Telefilm: Applause (repeat) NBC
8:00PM The Dean Martin Comedy World
9:00PM Ironside (repeat)
10:00PM The Stars and Stripes Show
55 Years Ago – Saturday, July 4th, 1959ABC
7:30PM The Dick Clark Show
8:00PM Jubilee U.S.A.
9:00PM The Lawrence Welk Show
10:00PM Local Programming* CBS
7:30PM Perry Mason (repeat)
8:30PM Wanted: Dead or Alive (repeat)
9:30PM Have Gun, Will Travel (repeat)
10:00PM Gunsmoke (repeat)
7:30PM People Are Funny (repeat)
8:00PM Perry Como Presents (color)
9:00PM Black Saddle (repeat)
9:30PM Cimarron City (repeat)
10:30PM The D.A.’s Man
68 Years Ago – Thursday, July 4th, 1946(Schedules for stations in New York City)
8:15PM Milo Boulton, News
8:30PM Cartoon Show
8:45PM Operations Crossroad
9:00PM Prudence Indeed
7:50PM Television Reporter
8:00PM Hour Glass
9:00PM American Business–Film
9:20PM Famous Fights–Film
8:00PM Tell Me Doctor
8:15PM Here’s Morgan
9:00PM Cash and Carry, Quiz
*ABC aired Music from Manhattan (formerly The Sammy Kaye Show) from 10-10:30PM until June 13th, 1959. When that show went off the air, the network appears to have returned that half-hour to its affiliates.
The Month in Home Media is a monthly column highlighting short-lived or rare television series, specials, miniseries or made-for-TV movies released on DVD or Blu-ray during the previous month, as well as recent additions to streaming services like Warner Archive Instant. The releases discussed in this column are encoded for Region 1 use in the United States and Canada. The Month in Home Media is published on the first Thursday of each month.
June 2014 was a relatively light DVD month, with only two one-season wonders being released. There were a number of TV series and other programming added to streaming services, including The Lieutenant (NBC, 1963-1964) and Harts of the West (CBS, 1993-1994).
Barbary Coast (TV Series, Acorn Media, DVD)
This ABC spy series was William Shatner’s first post-Star Trek TV series. Co-starring Doug McClure, it ran on ABC for 13 episodes during the 1975-1976. Acorn’s 4-disc set also includes the original pilot telefilm that aired in May 1975. A review can be found at DVDtalk.
The Chisholms: The Complete TV Series (TV Series, Timeless Media Group, DVD)
This 3-disc set includes both the original 4-part CBS miniseries from 1979 and the weekly series that ran for nine episodes from January to March 1980, also on CBS. Both the miniseries and the weekly series starred Robert Preston as the patriarch of a family making their way westward during the mid-1800s.
For the first time since I started this column I’m not aware of any announcements or updates about upcoming releases relating to short-lived or rare television on DVD or Blu-ray.
Warner Archive Instant has added The Lieutenant to its streaming offerings. The
police drama peacetime military drama created by Gene Roddenberry and starring Gary Lockwood ran for 29 episodes on NBC during the 1963-1964 season. It was released on DVD in two half-seasons sets in August 2012. Also available through Warner Archive Instant is The Amazing Captain Nemo, the theatrical version of a 1978 three-part CBS miniseries called The Return of Captain Nemo, produced by Irwin Allen. The theatrical version was released on DVD in July 2010; the original TV version has never been officially released.
Hulu has added “The Jazz Singer” to its streaming service. The October 1959 episode of Startime (NBC, 1959-1960) starred Jerry Lewis in a remake of the 1927 film The Jazz Singer. It was released on DVD in February 2012. Also available on Hulu are Harts of the West (CBS, 1993-1994), which was released on DVD in October 2005; and all 21 episodes of Here’s Edie, the variety show starring Edie Adams that ran on ABC between April 1962 and March 1964, which was released on DVD in November 2013.
Hit the comments with any news about upcoming DVD/Blu-ray releases or additions to streaming services.
Less than a month after revealing it had scrapped plans to burn off the seven completed episodes of sitcom Us & Them, FOX has announced that another of its shows has been cancelled before it could hit the air, although in this case only one episode is in the can with an unknown number of additional scripts written. Hieroglyph, an action/adventure series set in ancient Egypt, was supposed to debut as a mid-season replacement during the upcoming 2014-2015 season.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Hieroglpyh was given a straight-to-series order for 13 episodes without filming a pilot. Variety reports that the first episode was completed in May, with production on the remaining 12 episodes was scheduled to begin this fall. That makes it sound like the first episode was viewed as a pilot of sorts.
Here’s a trailer for the series:
The official FOX website still has a page for Hieroglyph at the moment. It will probably be removed before long.
It may not be something television fans really want to celebrate but today marks the 73rd anniversary of commercial television in the United States. The very first FCC-sanctioned commercial broadcasts were aired more than seven decades ago on the only station in the country ready for sponsors: WNBT in New York City (formerly W2XBS).
The Library of Congress has audio recordings from that day, although unfortunately not for the afternoon baseball game that included the very first official television commercial.
Last year, I tried to piece together an accurate schedule of that historic day’s programming. Here’s what I came up with:
WNBT Schedule for Tuesday, July 1st, 1941
1:30PM – Test Pattern
2:30PM – Baseball: Dodgers vs. Phillies, at Ebbets Field
6:45PM – Lowell Thomas
8:00PM – Test Pattern
9:00PM – USO Program
9:30PM – Uncle Jim’s Question Bee
10:00PM – Bottlenecks of 1941
10:30PM – Truth or Consequences
If anyone has information about WNBT’s first day of commercial broadcasting, I’d love to hear it.
In the late 1940s, stage actress and singer Kyle MacDonnell became one of television’s very first stars, earning the nickname Miss Television and wide praise from critics. Between 1948 and 1951 she hosted a number of shows and made guest appearances on many others. She took a break from show business in 1951 to have a baby and her television career never recovered. When she died in 2004, her role as a television pioneer had been all but forgotten.
The second part of this article chronicles Kyle’s second NBC television series, Girl About Town, which was sponsored by Bates Fabrics and on the air from September 1948 to June 1949. Part 1 can be found here.
Girl About Town I: A Sponsor Comes Calling
The success of For Your Pleasure and Kyle MacDonnell’s popularity did not go unnoticed by the advertising community. In mid-August 1948, The New York Times reported that Kyle would soon be appearing in a new television series produced for and airing on the NBC television network. Unlike For Your Pleasure, which was broadcast on a sustaining basis, the new show would have a sponsor: Bates Fabrics, Inc. . Bates signed a 52-week contract with NBC for the series, through advertising agency James P. Sawyer, Inc. .
The new show would be called Girl About Town. Rather than give viewers the impression that Kyle was performing at a nightclub, as For Your Pleasure had done, Girl About Town would utilize film footage shot around New York City to suggest Kyle was visiting, chatting and singing all over the city. Film actor Johnny Downs would play Kyle’s press agent in charge of booking her appearances.
Newspaper advertisement for the premiere of Girl About Town (September 1948)
The series would mark the television debut for Downs . As a child, he co-starred in more than 20 of Hal Roach’s “Our Gang” shorts between 1925 and 1927 before transitioning to adult roles in the mid-1930s, primarily in movie musicals. Like For Your Pleasure, Girl About Town would also feature the Norman Paris Trio.
Did For Your Pleasure transition to Girl About Town in September 1948? Was there an announcement during the final episode of For Your Pleasure, informing viewers that a new series would debut the following week? Or was the change ignored entirely? In any event, the first episode of Girl About Town aired on Wednesday, September 8th and ran from 8-8:20PM, five minutes longer than For Your Pleasure the previous week. Perhaps the extra five minutes was used to fit in commercials for Bates products.
Kyle was on the cover of the November 1948 issue of Bates Magazine, the employee publication for Bates Manufacturing Co. Included was a two-page feature about the show and the use of Bates products on television:
Bates new television program, “Girl About Town,” features the event of the week in Manhattan, has itself become the event of the week over the entire NBC television network! Bates fine made-in-Maine products are an integral pat of the show; each week television audiences see Bates fashion fabrics, bedspreads and matching draperies, and Comb-Percale sheets and pillowcases presented in sparkling settings. Leading stores in seven cities are tying in their own advertising with “Girl About Town”…are making television an even more powerful medium for selling Bates! .
The magazine also claimed that Bates was the first company from Maine and the “first important textile concern” to advertise on television .
According to Ira Skutch, who served as WNBT’s producer-director on Girl About Town, the advertising manager for Bates made production of the show difficult. “Fancying himself a great impresario,” Skutch recalled, “he involved himself in every detail of the production, insisting on themes for the show that were impossible to produce. Dissension developed between us which I confess I handled in a less than felicitous manner” . Skutch was fired from the show after about ten weeks when he misread the clock and the closing commercial wasn’t aired.
Guests Girl About Town during the fall of 1948 included bandleader Tommy Dorsey, Russell Swan, Randall Weeks, Ellsworth and Fairchild (dancers), Rosario and Antonio (dancers) and Pancho and Diane (dancers). Johnny Downs left the show at some point in October or November 1948, replaced by singer Earl Wrightson . Exactly when or why is unknown.
Kyle rehearses with the Norman Paris Trio (Circa November 1948)
As she had with For Your Pleasure, Kyle juggled Girl About Town with her commitment to Make That Manhattan on Broadway. Radio and Television Mirror published an overview of her hectic schedule during the fall of 1948: she started every Wednesday with a fitting for Girl About Town, followed by three hours of rehearsals at WNBT and a quick lunch; then she left for a Make Mine Manhattan matinee at the Broadhurst Theatre before returning to WNBT prepare for Girl About Town live broadcast at 8PM; afterwards, she went back to the Broadhurst for the evening Make Mine Manhattan show .Make Mine Manhattan closed in January 1949, making Kyle’s life — or at least her Wednesdays — a little easier.
Girl About Town II: A Murky End
1948 was both television’s year and Kyle’s. As it came to a close, Jack Gould issued his annual Honor Roll in The New York Times, recognizing top performers and programs on radio and television. Milton Berle was declared Outstanding Personality: Male for his television work on NBC’s Texaco Star Theatre. Television had yet to develop a female equivalent to Berle, said Gould, “though for friendliness and informality on the screen Kyle MacDonnell, with both voice and looks, easily headed the list of contenders” . Instead, she had to settle for simply Personality: Female.
Kyle, Johnny Downs and Louis Laun (Circa November 1948)
The new year brought with it big changes for television. On Tuesday, January 11th, 1949 the separate Eastern and Midwest networks were linked by AT&T coaxial cable. Initially limited to one circuit in each direction, time on the connected networks was shared by the four networks. Girl About Town was not immediately impacted by the expansion of network television. According to Broadcasting, the show would continue to air live on NBC’s Eastern network with repeats via kinescope broadcast from Chicago over Midwest network two weeks later .
(It is unclear whether Girl About Town was seen on NBC’s Midwest network via kinescope prior to January 1949. Certainly, it could not have aired live in that part of the country. But even before the two regional networks were linked, kinescopes of NBC programming aired live on its Eastern network were shipped nationwide for rebroadcast. It’s possible that Girl About Town, and before it For Your Pleasure, were broadcast on a delayed basis via kinescope in the Midwest and perhaps even the West Coast.)
On February 19th, The New York Times reported that Girl About Town would move to Sundays at 10:10PM beginning February 27th. This would allow the show to be aired live on both the Eastern and Midwest networks . The first Sunday episode featured the Bates 1949 College Board, a group of college students who worked with Bates to promote its fabrics on college campuses .
Four months later, The New York Times reported that Girl About Town would move again, this time to Thursdays at 9PM starting July 7th. It would run for 15 minutes and be called Kyle MacDonnell Sings . The final Sunday broadcast of Girl About Town took place on June 26th. But the move to Thursday never materialized, for reasons unknown.
What is very clear is that Girl About Town was cancelled, either by NBC or by Bates, before its 52-week run was completed. The cancellation likely happened abruptly, leaving NBC scrambling to figure out what do with Kyle. The network either wanted or needed to keep her on the air, perhaps due to contractual obligations or simply because it supported her.
Plans for the Thursday Kyle MacDonnell Sings show were firm enough that the July 7th debut was included in the weekly television listings published in The New York Times on July 3rd (although referred to as The Kyle MacDonnell Show) . The daily listings for July 7th, however, had Candid Camera airing Thursdays at 9PM . Billboard also included The Kyle MacDonnell Show in a chart of network programming for August published on July 25th .
Kyle did eventually return to NBC, under a familiar title, but not until late July. A total of 43 episodes of Girl About Town aired between September 1948 and June 1949. Some sources indicate that the name of the show was changed to Around the Town during the last months it was on the air .
For Your Pleasure (Again)
On July 28th, some five weeks after Girl About Town went off the air, The New York Times reported that Kyle would debut a new NBC show on Saturday, July 30th . It would replace Television Screen Magazine, an early NBC series that had premiered in November 1946. The show would be called For Your Pleasure, reusing the name of her first NBC show.
The new For Your Pleasure would run a full half-hour from 8:30-9PM, unlike the first which was only 15 minutes long. Like the original incarnation and Girl About Town, it would feature the Norman Paris Trio. Additional music would be provided by the Earl Shelton Orchestra. Richard Goode served as director.
It is not clear if the second incarnation of For Your Pleasure was sponsored. It may have been sustaining, like the first. It definitely was not sponsored by Bates. Each week Kyle would entertain guests. In the first episode, she hosted Mata and Hari, a dance team. Burl Ives was the guest for the August 20th episode.
Just seven episodes of the second version For Your Pleasure were aired, the last of which was broadcast on September 10th, almost exactly a year after Girl About Town premiered. The series was also referred to as Kyle MacDonnell Sings or The Kyle MacDonnell Show, perhaps due to the leftover confusion stemming from the cancellation of Girl About Town.
It would be more than eight months after For Your Pleasure left the air before Kyle returned to weekly television.
Check back soon for Part 3, which will cover Kyle’s involvement in Celebrity Time (CBS) and Hold That Camera (DuMont) as well as some of her other television work.
This week TVNewsCheck published a three-part special report on the expansion of diginets (also known as multicast networks) like Me-TV, Bounce TV, Antenna TV and Ion Life that are carried primarily on the digital subchannels of TV stations across the country. You can find the report here, here and here. The first part includes a list of the top 25 digital broadcast networks ranked by TV households, which can also be found here.
There’s a lot of discussion of the success of classic TV and movie diginets in the report, in part because there are so many of those networks. Perhaps most interesting was the following tidbit from part one of the report:
Owned by Weigel Broadcasting, Me-TV in April ranked 19th among all national cable networks in adults 25-54, outperforming brands like CNN, TLC, Bravo and 79 other outlets, per Nielsen data.
That’s an impressive performance for Me-TV, which launched nationally in December 2010. The second part of the report suggests that CBS might be planning its own digital specialty network focusing on classic movies and/or TV. Some analysts are apparently concerned that there won’t be enough “quality reruns” to go around.
A similar three-part report was published by TVNewsCheck in July of last year, which makes it possible to compare the coverage of our favorite classic television digital specialty networks:
|July 2013*||June 2014|
*2013 figures rounded to the nearest whole number
As you can see, all of the networks have seen growth since July 2013, particularly Cozi TV and Retro TV.
My hope has always been that at some point, these networks are going to have to expand their schedules and start airing less popular shows. Not necessarily true obscurities. Think Our Miss Brooks rather than My Living Doll. Me-TV already airs Mr. Lucky and The Rebel while Cozi TV airs Life with Elizabeth, Mr. and Mrs. North and The Bold Ones. Not obscure shows by any stretch but not quite as well-known as Bonanza, The Bionic Woman and The Dick Van Dyke Show.