Retro Review: Karen (1964) – “Who’s Seymour?”

Retro Review is a monthly column that examines episodes of short-lived or obscure television shows. Each column includes both a summary and a review. Retro Review is published on the fourth Thursday of every month.

90 Bristol Court: Karen – “Who’s Seymour?”
Aired Monday, February 8th, 1965 on NBC
Directed by David Alexander
Written by Dorothy Cooper Foote

Black-and-white still from the opening credits of Karen

Karen Title Card
Copyright © 1965 by Kayro-Vue Productions

Background

Karen aired as part of 90 Bristol Court, a sitcom block on NBC during the 1964-1965 season. It and two other sitcoms (Harris Against the World and Tom, Dick, and Mary) were set at the same apartment complex. Karen starred newcomer Debbie Watson as 16-year-old Karen Scott. The theme song, performed by the Beach Boys, describes her as “alarming but disarming and a really very charming modern girl.”

The Cast

Main Cast
Richard Denning as her father (Steve Scott)
Mary LaRoche as her mother (Barbara Scott)
Gina Gillespie as her sister (Mimi Scott)
Introducing Debbie Watson as Karen

Guest Stars
Miguel Landa as Seymour Dumont
Steven Geray as The Male Clerk
Jan Arvan as Martino
Trudi Ames as Candy
Gil Lamb as The Mailman
Jackie Russell as The Lady Clerk
Freddy Raye as Andre

Summary

Karen receives an expensive charm bracelet in the mail but has no idea who sent it to her. She doesn’t know her parents bought it for her as a reward for a B+ average. Karen’s friend Candy assumes it came from an adult because of the sloppy inscription (“To Karen, A Very Sweet Girl”). She becomes obsessed with figuring out who Karen’s secret admirer is.

Candy: “Who sent you the bracelet?”
Karen: “I don’t know. I’ve been busy with tests.”
Candy: “Karen, the biggest thing in your life happens and you let schoolwork get in your way.”
Karen: “I don’t know any secret admirers and I don’t know any older men. Except for friends of my parents but they’re all married.”
Candy: “Married? Boy, this is getting better all the time.”

Candy soon becomes convinced the bracelet came from their French teacher. She starts fantasizing about Karen marrying him and becoming Mrs. Seymour Dumont. But Karen isn’t so sure. The two realize they can go to the jewelry store where the bracelet was purchased and ask who bought it.

Black-and-white still from an episode of Karen featuring Debbie Watson.

Debbie Watson as Karen
Copyright © 1965 by Kayro-Vue Productions

The jeweler recognizes the bracelet but insists he can’t tell them because it was supposed to be a surprise. He inadvertently confirms their suspicions about Mr. Dumont with his hints about the identify of the mystery buyer.

Karen grows increasingly worried about Mr. Dumont and decides to return the bracelet. He’s too old for her and a teacher.

Karen: “Besides, I’m too young to get serious about anybody. I have to finish high school and then college. I want to have the fun of dating a lot of boys and going to parties and wearing pretty dresses. I don’t want to miss all those things, Candy.”
Candy: “Gee, Karen. Ingrid Bergman made that same speech in an old movie on TV. And the next thing she became a nun.”

Karen wants to call Mr. Dumont and tell him but Candy says she has to do it in person. It’s wrong to break a man’s heart over the telephone, after all. Candy suggests Karen meet Mr. Dumont at a fancy restaurant called the Blue Robin. Seeing her at such a sophisticated place will make him realize Karen is too young for him.

Black-and-white still from an episode of Karen featuring Miguel Landa.

Miguel Landa as Mr. Dumont
Copyright © 1965 by Kayro-Vue Productions

Meanwhile, Mr. Scott stops by the jewelry store to pick up Karen’s bracelet, only to learn was sent out that morning. The jeweler tells him about Karen’s visit. Mr. Scott assumes his daughter knows he bought her the bracelet.

Mr. Dumont agrees to meet Karen at the Blue Robin. The maitre d’ isn’t happy to see an older man meeting with a young girl and makes several sarcastic remarks. Karen stumbles her way through letting Mr. Dumont down easy before he tells her he didn’t send her the bracelet.

Karen returns home in tears, confusing her parents. They rush upstairs to talk to their daughter. Karen tells them about what happened with Mr. Dumont. They assure her everything will be okay. Karen finally learns the truth about the bracelet and is happy that her father bought it for her.

Her joy turns to anger, however, when she realizes Candy is the blame for her emotional turmoil over the bracelet. She vows never to talk to Candy again.

Black-and-white still from an episode of Karen featuring Richard Denning and Mary LaRoche

Richard Denning and Mary LaRoche as Mr. and Mrs. Scott
Copyright © 1965 by Kayro-Vue Productions

Black-and-white still from an episode of Karen featuring Gina Gillespie

Gina Gillespie as Mimi
Copyright © 1965 by Kayro-Vue Productions

There’s a minor subplot involving Mimi that has nothing to do with the bracelet. One of her friends, spoken about but never seen, had to ride to school in her father’s bakery truck and found the whole thing so embarrassing she refused to get out. Mimi also finds out about the bracelet.

Mimi: “Did Karen get her bracelet yet?”
Barbara: “How do you know about that bracelet?”
Mimi: “Well, since Dad took the TV out of our room, I do a lot of snooping.”
Barbara: “Karen’s bracelet is supposed to be a surprise.”
Mimi: “Oh, I didn’t tell Karen. I only tell her the bad stuff. I never tell her anything she’s going to be happy about later.”

Mimi later insists that as a member of the family, she’s entitled to know what’s going on. That’s why she listens to phone conversations. The threat of her father finding out about her habit gets her to promise to stop.

Review

As someone who grew up watching television in the 1990s and early 2000s, it was hard to watch “Who’s Seymour?” without rolling my eyes a little at how corny it is. I’ve used the word harmless several times before to describe sitcoms from the 1950s and 1960s. It certainly fits Karen, which from the two episodes I’ve seen was an inoffensive, light family comedy.

Candy’s enthusiasm for a potential relationship between Karen and Mr. Dumont teacher might be unsettling if the whole thing wasn’t so silly. Karen apparently doesn’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with dating her teacher; she just doesn’t want to give up dating other boys to settle down with Mr. Dumont.

Black-and-white still from an episode of Karen featuring Trudi Ames.

Trudi Ames as Candy
Copyright © 1965 by Kayro-Vue Productions

At least the maitre d’ is disturbed that Mr. Dumont is meeting Karen for dinner. He goes to great lengths to point out how young Karen is and how old Mr. Dumont is. Twice, the maitre d’ pointedly refers to her as “little girl” and offers to bring her a children’s menu.

Mr. Dumont’s reaction after learning that Karen thought he as her secret admirer is subdued. He apologizes for the misunderstanding, tells her if he ever has a daughter he hopes she’ll be just like Karen (only less imaginative), then reveals he’s engaged.

Debbie Watson spends most of the episode either shocked or worried. I think she smiles exactly once. Karen often has her head tilted to one side, pondering the complexities of her teenage life. Candy, on the other hand, is far too excitable to ponder anything.

Odds ‘n’ Ends

By the time this episode aired, NBC had cancelled the other two-thirds of 90 Bristol Court. Only Karen lasted the entire 1964-1965 season.

When Karen bursts into tears and runs to her bedroom, her father wryly wonders if her charge account at the malt shop was cut off. Did malt shops really offer charge accounts to teenagers in the 1960s?

Candy makes a reference to Mr. Novak.

Where to Watch

Unfortunately, Karen has never been officially released on home video, so “Who’s Seymour?” isn’t available to watch anywhere.


Were you a fan of 90 Bristol Court and/or Karen? Do you remember watching this episode back in 1965? Hit the comments with your thoughts.

Audio Vault: The Jackie Gleason Show Closing (10/21/1967)

Here’s audio from the closing credits to the October 21st, 1967 episode of The Jackie Gleason Show on CBS:

A voiceover during the closing credits promotes two programs, one local and the other network. The first is a syndicated documentary called “A Nation of Immigrants.” Produced by David Wolper Productions and sponsored by Xerox, the documentary was based on President John F. Kennedy’s book of the same name. It aired on stations across the country throughout October 1967.

The second program is a repeat of the 1966 animated special “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” CBS rebroadcast the special on Saturday Thursday, October 26th, 1967.

Here’s a transcript:

Witness the hope and courage that built a nation of immigrants tonight at nine. This story of the American melting pot, narrated by Richard Basehart, with a prologue by Senator Robert Kennedy. Join them tonight for “A Nation of Immigrants,” tonight at 9 here on TV2.

Hark, what true light breaks? Is it the sun? is it the moon? No, it looks more like jack-o-lantern. But actually “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” In a happy Halloween special. See it, Thursday night, in color.

About This Recording

Source: Reel-to-reel audio tape
Date: Saturday, October 21st, 1967
Network: CBS
Station: WJBK-TV (Channel 2, Detroit)

NBC’s Disappointing 90th Anniversary Special

If you sat through “The Paley Centers Salutes NBC’s 90th Anniversary” in its entirety on Sunday, I salute you. I planned on only watching just the first hour of the three-hour special, which ran on NBC from 8-11PM ET. Am I the only person who assumed it would present nine decades of NBC history chronologically? Watching the first hour, I hoped, would get me through the first few decades.

Instead, the special started with a segment about various 1990s sitcoms (Friends and Seinfeld, among others) before jumping from genre to genre. Segments focused on sitcoms, family dramas, sci-fi, sports, news, etc. I ended up watching all three hours of the disjointed special and live-tweeted the entire broadcast.

For someone like me, obsessed with television history, NBC’s 90th anniversary special was a disappointment. For a number of reasons, it was more frustrating than entertaining or informative. If you didn’t watch it live, it’s available at NBC’s website. You may also be able to find it On Demand.

Keep reading for my thoughts.

All About the 1980s and 1990s

I understand why NBC and The Paley Center focused much of their attentions on Must See TV from the 1980s and 1990s, despite this supposedly being a 90th anniversary special. I really do. But that doesn’t excuse all but ignoring the 1940s and 1950s, not to mention the 1920s and 1930s. The National Broadcasting Company was founded in 1926 and for decades was known for its radio network(s) and not television.

If I recall correctly, radio came up only once or twice during the entire three-hour broadcast. True, a handful of segments highlighted some early NBC TV stars and shows, like the news segment and the variety segment. There was some black-and-white footage–all cropped, of course–mixed in.

Even the 1960s and 1970s were barely covered. Star Trek popped up two or three times. At least a dozen or so sitcoms, variety shows, and dramas from those decades were discussed, like Chico and the Man, Police Woman, and Little House on the Prairie.

But the intent was clearly to highlight the last 30 years of NBC television, not the last 90 years.

Cropped Footage

From the very start, it was obvious NBC has very little respect for its past. All of the footage from the 1940s through the 1990s was cropped to fit widescreen TV sets. This is typical for retrospectives and documentaries and news reports. It’s not surprising that NBC opted to crop everything. But it is frustrating.

It’s bad enough that NBC offered up cropped scenes from sitcoms and dramas. Time and time again, characters had their heads cut off or quality suffered due to 4:3 aspect ratio video being cropped and blown up to 16:9 aspect ratio. When it comes to news footage, cropping is just plain wrong. From a historical and archival perspective, cropping news footage is inexcusable and inaccurate.

I hesitate to call cropping news footage deceptive but at the very least it is potentially misleading.

Poor Quality Footage

On multiple occasions, NBC utilized poor quality footage. There’s no way to know for sure, but to me some of this footage looked like it came from YouTube. I’m not talking about scratchy film or jittery video. No, these clips looked heavily compressed and blocky. I recall a particularly low-quality clip from Bonanza. And all of the scenes from Julia were in rough shape.

The closing montage included a clip of NBC President Robert Sarnoff speaking during the dedication of NBC’s new TV station in Washington, D.C. in May 1958. It starts in black and white then, after Sarnoff presses a button, switches to color. For the record, this dedication program happens to be the earliest surviving color quad videotape recording. The clip used last night was all but unwatchable.

Final Thoughts

I did not have high hopes for NBC’s 90th anniversary special. “The Paley Centers Salutes NBC’s 90th Anniversary” failed to meet even my low expectations. The focus on recent, familiar sitcoms I can forgive, grudgingly. Refusing to even acknowledge the early years of NBC is unforgivable. Cropping footage is a major frustration and disrespectful yet also how the TV industry almost always treats pre-widescreen footage. They’ll continue to do it and I’ll continue to gripe about. I’m afraid that ship has sailed.

The poor quality footage likewise reveals a complete lack of respect for TV history. I’m sure it’s cheaper to use readily available footage (perhaps directly from YouTube) even if it looks terrible. It’s a mystery to me why nobody seems to care.

Did I really think NBC was going to spend half an hour on 1940s television? No, I did not. Did I really think obscure and short-lived shows like It’s a Man’s World, Camp Runamuck, or Supertrain would get mentioned? No, I did not.

I wrongly assumed Kraft Television Theatre would come up at some point, however. Rod Serling, anyone? “Patterns” is one of the most famous programs from the Golden Age of Television. I also thought NBC’s role in pushing color television would be worth a few minutes.

Whoever NBC expected to watch its 90th anniversary special, it wasn’t people like me who appreciate and care about the history of television.


Did you watch “The Paley Centers Salutes NBC’s 90th Anniversary” on Sunday? Were you as disappointed as I was? Hit the comments with your thoughts.

WNBT Schedule, Week of February 16th, 1947

Here’s the schedule for WNBT, the NBC station in New York City, for the week starting Sunday, February 16th, 1947. The New York Times published daily listings for television stations in the city, including WNBT, alongside its comprehensive radio listings.

On Sunday, February 16th, WNBT aired “Miracle in the Rain,” adapted from Ben Hecht’s novella of the same name. It starred John Forsythe (yes, that John Forsythe), Nydia Westman, and Phyllis Ryder. Apparently, WNBT’s transmitter failed during the broadcast, forcing the station to restage it the following week. In a 1958 newspaper article about his sitcom Bachelor Father, Forsythe recalled director Fred Coe walking onto the stage to inform the cast the broadcast had been cancelled. He also remembered Coe saying they’d try again the next night, which did not happen.

Books on Trial aired its second episode on February 17th. WNBT was off the air again on Tuesday and Wednesday, or at least The New York Times printed “No Programs Scheduled” on those days.

Saturday, February 22nd saw WNBT present a full evening schedule rather than just a feature film. The 1936 movie Mill on the Floss, staring James Mason, kicked things off at 8PM. A special installment of Tele-varieties followed at 8:20PM, then a film short, and finally a birthday program for George Washington aired at 8:40PM.

Sunday, February 16th, 1947
 8:00PM Dancing on Air
 8:20PM Tele-varieties
 8:35PM Play: Miracle in the Rain, with John Forsythe, Nydia Westman, Phyllis Ryder

Monday, February 17th, 1947
 8:00PM Books on Trial from Barbizon-Plaza Auditorium
 8:30PM Film Short
 9:00PM Television Reporter
 9:10PM Boxing, St. Nicholas Arena

Tuesday, February 18th, 1947
No Programs Scheduled

Wednesday, February 19th, 1947
No Programs Scheduled

Thursday, February 20th, 1947
 7:50PM Television Newsreel
 8:00PM Hour Glass: Variety
 8:45PM Ski News
 9:00PM You Are an Artist-Jon Gnagy
 9:15PM Film Short

Friday, February 21st, 1947
 8:00PM Campus Show [Campus Hoopla] with Clair Bee
 8:20PM Ski News and Films
 8:30PM I Love to Eat
 8:45PM World in Your Home–Film
 9:00PM Boxing, Madison Square Garden

Saturday, February 22nd, 1947
 8:00PM Feature Film: Mill on the Floss, with James Mason
 8:20PM Tele-varieties
 8:35PM Film Short
 8:40PM Washington’s Birthday Program

Note: Television listings published in newspapers were based on information provided by stations and were subject to change at the last minute. They may not be an accurate representation of what actually aired.

What’s the Oldest TV Show Still in Local Syndication?

This is a question I’ve been mulling over for a few weeks. I don’t know that I’m ever going to get an actual answer. Is there a definitive list of TV shows currently airing in local syndication? If so, I haven’t found it. However, I believe I Love Lucy may be the oldest TV show still in local syndication. It premiered on CBS more than six decades ago in 1951. Depending on where you live, you can still watch it on a local TV station.

Local Syndication

What’s local syndication, you ask? Also referred to as off-network or broadcast syndication, it’s when episodes of a network TV show (think I Love Lucy or Seinfeld or The Big Bang Theory) are sold to local TV stations. If you watch The Big Bang Theory at 5PM on your ABC affiliate, that’s an example of local syndication.

(If you watch The Big Bang Theory on TBS, that’s an example of cable syndication.)

There are different ways to schedule shows in local syndication. Some only air on weekends while others air every weekday in the same time slot (the latter is referred to as daily or strip syndication). Certain popular shows may have two syndicated packages: one airing daily on weekdays and the other on weekends.

Over the past decade, it’s become less and less common to see network dramas sold into local syndication. Why? Serialized dramas are a tough sell. I seem to recall Desperate Housewives and Lost flopping hard in off-network syndication. Procedurals tend to perform better.

Blue Bloods and The Good Wife may be the most recent network dramas to enter local syndication. Both premiered on CBS in 2010 and began airing their off-network weekend runs in September 2014.

Sitcoms are far more popular off-network. I believe the most recent network sitcom to enter local syndication is ABC’s Last Man Standing. It premiered on the network in 2011 and made a delayed debut in syndication last September.

Most Popular Off-Network TV Shows

Syndication ratings take an extra week or two for Nielsen to process. The most recent ratings available, via TV By The Numbers, are for the week of January 30th through February 5th. The chart lists the Top 25 syndicated shows. Only seven are off-network shows. Here they are, listed by year they premiered on network TV:

  • Family Guy (1999)
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999)
  • Two and a Half Men (2003)
  • The Big Bang Theory (2007)
  • Modern Family (2009)
  • Bob’s Burgers (2011)
  • Last Man Standing (2011)

Family Guy, The Big Bang Theory, and Modern Family all air daily and on weekends. As TV By the Numbers points out, The Simpsons also airs in local syndication (and has been since 1993, I believe). It doesn’t show up in weekly ratings because there is no national advertising.

Broadcasting & Cable also covers syndication ratings. Its report for the week of January 30th through February 5th includes ratings for several additional sitcoms. Once again, I’ve listed them by the year they premiered on network TV:

  • Seinfeld (1990)
  • King of the Hill (1997)
  • Family Guy (1999)
  • Two and a Half Men (2003)
  • How I Met Your Mother (2005)
  • The Big Bang Theory (2007)
  • Modern Family (2009)
  • The Cleveland Show (2009)
  • Mike & Molly (2010)
  • Last Man Standing (2011)
  • 2 Broke Girls (2011)

Clearly, and not surprisingly, the majority of the most popular off-network TV shows are from the 2000s and 2010s.

Distributor Websites

Most of the big names in local syndication–like Disney/ABC Home Entertainment and Television Distribution and Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution–have websites. Many of them are for station use only and aren’t accessible to the general public.

The website for Twentieth Television (which syndicates The Simpsons and King of the Hill, among other shows) reveals that M*A*S*H is apparently still being offered in local syndication.

However, it’s the website for CBS Television Distribution that offers the most information. The list of more than 50 available shows ranges from I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, and Bonanza to Cheers, Everybody Loves Raymond, and Ghost Whisperer.

Classic TV shows from the 1950s and 1960s available from CBS Television Distribution include the following:

  • I Love Lucy (1951)
  • Gunsmoke (1955)
  • The Honeymooners (1955)
  • Perry Mason (1957)
  • Rawhide (1959)
  • Bonanza (1959)
  • The Andy Griffith Show (1960)
  • The Beverly Hillbillies (1962)
  • Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. (1964)
  • The Wild Wild West (1965)
  • Mission: Impossible (1966)
  • Star Trek (1966)
  • The Brady Bunch (1969

There are also several from the 1970s, including Happy Days (1974) and Laverne & Shirley (1976).

Through the website, you can find out if any of these shows are airing in your state. For example, I Love Lucy can be seen on seven stations in Alabama, 11 in California, three in Kentucky, two in Massachusetts, one in North Dakota, seven in Texas, and six in Wisconsin. Plus many other stations in many other states.

Check Your Local Listings

A quick check of my local television listings reveals The Simpsons and Seinfeld to be the oldest TV shows airing in local syndication. Both sitcoms premiered in either 1989 or 1990, depending on your point of view. Other sitcoms include Friends, The King of Queens, The Big Bang Theory, Raising Hope, Rules of Engagement, Modern Family, 2 Broke Girls, and How I Met Your Mother.

The oldest off-network drama in my area appears to be CSI: Miami. It debuted in 2002. Other dramas include Person of Interest, Rookie Blue, Blue Bloods, Elementary, and Bones.


Do you still enjoy watching TV shows in off-network syndication? What’s the oldest TV show in local syndication where you live? Hit the comments with your thoughts.

NBC’s 90th Anniversary Special Airs Tonight

“The Paley Center Salutes NBC’s 90th Anniversary” airs tonight from 8-11PM ET (on NBC, of course). Kelsey Grammer hosts the three-hour special. It celebrates nine decades of the National Broadcasting Company. Founded in 1926 as a radio network by the Radio Corporation of America, NBC began experimenting with television two years later.

I doubt tonight’s special will even mention NBC’s earliest forays into TV. In fact, I’ll be very surprised if it spends much time on pre-1960s television.

From NBC’s webpage for the special:

Newly recorded interviews will feature many of NBC’s biggest names and most popular personalities, including Ted Danson, Tina Fey, Debra Messing, Amy Poehler, Noah Wyle, Rob Lowe, Blake Shelton, William Shatner, Jennifer Lopez, Bob Costas, Al Michaels and superproducer Dick Wolf.

Iconic shows to be showcased include Emmy-winning dramas such as “Hill Street Blues,” “The West Wing,” “L.A. Law” and “ER,” as well as Emmy-winning comedies “The Monkees,” “Get Smart,” “Cheers,” “The Cosby Show,” “The Golden Girls,” “Seinfeld,” “Frasier,” “Will & Grace,” “Friends,” “The Office” and “30 Rock.”

Among the show’s additional highlights will be memorable moments from “The Tonight Show,” “America’s Got Talent,” “Today,” “Meet the Press,” “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” and “The Wiz Live!,” among many others.

Based on the above, expect tonight to focus heavily on the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s.

By my count, this is NBC’s sixth anniversary special:

  • “The First Fifty Years” (Sunday, November 21st, 1976)
  • “The First Fifty Years-A Closer Look” (Sunday, October 23rd, 1977)
  • “The First Fifty Years-A Closer Look (Part II)” (Tuesday, January 31st, 1978)
  • “NBC 60th Anniversary Celebration” (Monday, May 12th, 1986)
  • “NBC 75th Anniversary Special” (Sunday, May 5th, 2002)
  • “The Paley Center Salutes NBC’s 90th Anniversary” (Sunday, February 19th, 2017)

You can find a complete list of network anniversary specials here.


Will you be watching “The Paley Center Salutes NBC’s 90th Anniversary” tonight? What shows do you hope to see included? Hit the comments with your hopes and expectations–and your reactions.

Tales of Lost TV: The Last War (1946)

Tales of Lost TV is a monthly column in which I examine a particular TV program or TV series either known or believed to be lost forever. The amount of lost TV is truly staggering–aside from a handful of exceptions everything broadcast prior to 1948 no longer exists. That doesn’t mean it all has to be forgotten.

An Allegorical Fantasy

WNBT aired this fantasy program in New York City on Sunday, November 10th, 1946 as a pre-Armistice Day special. Adapted from Neil Grant’s 1934 one-act play of the same name, it depicted a future world devastated by war. Only animals survive. The cast wore luminescent wire masks and costumes. Among the animals seen were a horse, a snake, a dog, a panther, a lion, a bat, and a monkey.

Black and white image depicting several of the animals from The Last War.

Behind-the-scenes photograph from WNBT’s “The Last War” fantasy program. (Courtesy of Television Magazine)
Copyright 1946 NBC/Frederick Kugel Company

The wire masks, Radio Daily explained, allowed viewers to see the faces as well as the animals. NBC makeup artist Dick Smith designed the masks, working with the costume designer known only as Elwell.

The cast included Eva Marie Saint, Fay Marlowe, William Post, Jr., Evelyn Peterson, Philip Tonge, Kendall Clark, Mary Wilsey, Ann Irish, John McQuade, Vaughn Taylor, Arthur Hunnicutt, and Walter Coy. According to some sources, Fred Coe directed and produced “The Last War.” Other sources indicate Warren Wade served as director and executive producer.

The American Radio Archives has a copy of the script for “The Last War” in its Broadcasting Collection. According to a catalog, writing credit (“adaptation”) for the script is given to Howard Cordery.

Not Quite Anti-War

According to a review in Television magazine, “The Last War” opened with mankind being crossed off the evolutionary tree. An angel desceneds to Earth to retrieve the last surviving man. Film footage of war and destruction then played, revealing the fate of humanity.

The review continued:

Through allegory, and philosophical discussion the play established its final point which was that man had failed in his mortal life. Final studio scene faded into a filmed quotation from Charles Darwin as the narrator read the words.

It seemed that the play was really not an anti-war play after all … but a one-acter proving that life was really unimportant, if one believed in the soul’s immortality. Despite these philosophical conclusions with which we will not argue, the presentation with its well-timed usage of excellent film clips and unique costuming, background, stirring music, and fine acting provided televiewers with a highly diverting and stimulating drama.

Variety also published a review but I don’t have access to it.

“The Last War” started at either 8:30PM or 8:45PM ET and lasted 45 minutes. It may have aired as an installment of NBC Television Theatre. The irregularly-scheduled series of live dramas ran from 1945 to 1947, first on WNBT and later on the nascent NBC network.

Surviving Material

“The Last War” aired live prior to the introduction of the kinescope recording process, so it is considered lost. However, some material relating to the program does survive. In addition to a script held by the American Radio Archives, at least four behind-the-scenes photographs of the cast in their masks and costumes exist. The New York Times published two photographs in its November 10th, 1946 edition.

Dick Smith briefly talks about “The Last War” in his 1996 interview with the Archive of American Television. He identifies people in three photographs, including the two published in The New York Times. A third is a close-up of Eva Marie Saint in her panther costume, a full version of which can be found at Dick Smith’s Special FX Makeup Training website.

A fourth photograph, which I’ve reproduced above, appeared in the December 1946 issue of Television magazine.

References:

“Anti-War Script Set For NBC Tele Program.” Radio Daily. 31 Oct. 1946: 3.
Berard, Jeanette M. and Klaudia Englund. Television Series and Specials Scripts, 1946-1992: A Catalog of the American Radio Archives Collection. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2009: Page 379.
“‘The Last War’ on Television.” New York Times. 10 Nov. 1946: X9.
“Painting a Moral. Billboard. 16 Nov. 1946: 10.
“Programming.” Television. Dec. 1946: 35; 39.
Terrace, Vincent. Television Specials: 5,336 Entertainment Programs, 1936-2012. 2nd ed., Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2009: Page 226.


Does “The Last War” intrigue you? It sure intrigues me. Hit the comments with your thoughts.

Adventures in TV Audio: Home Recordings, 1967-1972

Television is a visual medium. It’s got the word “vision” right there in the name. Television without video is basically radio. Try listening to an episode of your favorite TV show without watching the action on the screen and there’s a good chance you’ll be confused. Nevertheless, audio plays an important role in preserving television history. Over next three weeks I’ll be examining some of the TV audio in my collection.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about a reel-to-reel audio tape containing over 100 TV theme songs recorded by a relative of mine in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Last week, I examined reel-to-reel tapes used in the production of The New People (ABC, 1969-1970). Today’s installment of Adventures in TV Audio explores a collection of reel-to-reel tapes used to record network and local TV programs between 1967 to 1972.

One Man’s Home Recordings

I acquired this collection five years ago. The seller told me the recordings were made by a blind man. The man apparently enjoyed listening to television programs and also liked to record them. I didn’t get the whole collection. The seller split it up and sold off various tapes piecemeal. I managed to buy nine reel-to-reel tapes but only eight contain TV audio.

These are 7″ reels of Scotch 203 magnetic recording tape. Additional tape has been spliced onto at least three of the reels. There is nothing written on the reels themselves. The man who did the recording wrote on the box spines. He also wrote on the back of five of the boxes. TV Guide clippings are glued to the backs of the last three boxes, some with handwritten dates.

Image of reel-to-reel audio tape box spines.

Notes written on the spines of the eight reel-to-reel audio tape boxes.
Copyright 2017 Television Obscurities

Picture of the back of a reel-to-reel audio tape box.

Extensive notes written on the back of the first box.
Copyright 2017 Television Obscurities

Audio is recorded on both sides of all eight tapes. The first five feature full track mono recordings. The other three contain half track, two channel mono recordings. The full track recordings offer higher quality; the half track recordings give more recording time. Digitizing the half track reels was frustrating. Programs started on one channel on one side of the reel and ended on another channel on the other side.

The recordings were made between 1967 and 1972. The earliest recording is the September 23rd, 1967 episode of The Jackie Gleason Show on CBS. The latest recording is a December 27th, 1972 repeat of The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, also on CBS. Most of the recordings are network shows but there are some syndicated reruns and even a few local news shows.

TV from Michigan and Indiana

Exactly where these recordings were made is a bit of a mystery. The programs on the first four tapes aired either on WJBK-TV (CBS, Channel 2) or WWJ-TV (NBC, Channel 4), two stations located in Detroit, Michigan. There’s also a radio program from Detroit station WJR on one of the tapes. All of these recordings date from between 1967 and 1969.

None of the recordings on the fifth tape contain station identifications. These date from 1971.

As far as I can tell, all of programs on the final three tapes aired on TV stations in Indianapolis, Indiana. The stations include WTTV (Independent, Channel 4), WFBM-TV/WRTV (NBC, Channel 6), WISH-TV (CBS, Channel 8), and WLWI (ABC, Channel 13).

Here’s audio from a WTTV station identification:

This ID and all of the recordings on the last three tapes are from 1972.

More Than 50 TV Programs

Altogether, there are almost 50 partial or complete television programs on these reels. Here’s a list:

  • The Jackie Gleason Show
  • The WJBK-TV Movie (local)
  • Special: Jack Benny’s Bag
  • The Carol Burnett Show
  • Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In
  • Special: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Jack Benny But Were Afraid to Ask
  • Special: The Nashville Sound of Boots Randolph (syndicated)
  • NBC Monday Night at the Movies
  • WISH-TV Big News at 10 (local)
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show (syndicated rerun)
  • Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. (syndicated rerun)
  • ABC Tuesday Movie of the Week
  • NBC Reports
  • Gunsmoke
  • WISH-TV 30 Minutes [News] (local)
  • The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite
  • Bridget Loves Bernie
  • NBC Saturday Night at the Movies
  • The Channel 4 (WTTV) Sunday Big Movie (local)
  • The Wacky World of Jonathan Winters (syndicated)
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show
  • Cannon
  • All in the Family
  • NBC Nightly News
  • Half The George Kirby Comedy Hour (syndicated)
  • Doctor in the House (syndicated)
  • The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour
  • Medical Center
  • The New Bill Cosby Show
  • The Andy Griffith Show (syndicated rerun)

The man who made the recordings clearly loved The Jackie Gleason Show. He recorded 11 different episodes of the variety series between September 1967 and June 1969. There are six episodes of Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. (syndicated repeats) and three episodes of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.

Also, there are five different movies on the tapes:

  • WJBK-TV Movie: Duck Soup (December 1967)
  • NBC Monday Night at the Movies: See No Evil (September 1972)
  • ABC Tuesday Movie of the Week: No Place to Run (September 1972)
  • NBC Saturday Night at the Movies: Marooned (October 1972)
  • The Channel 4 (WTTV) Sunday Big Movie: I’ll Cry Tomorrow (October 1972)
  • NBC Monday Night at the Movies: The Railway Children (December 1972)

Almost all of the programs are complete. The only exceptions are the news broadcasts.

Promotional Spots

Personally, I’m most interested in promotional spots. Luckily, there are a good number of promos for network and local programs. When I purchased the tapes, I hoped to find audio from CBS network promotional spots for M*A*S*H. Sadly, there wasn’t any. However, I did find audio from standalone network promos for All in the Family, Kraft Music Hall, The NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie, SEARCH, NBC Monday Night at the Movies, and The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.

Here’s audio from a dual promotional spot for the premiere of Madigan on The NBC Mystery Movie and an episode of SEARCH:

This particular spot aired on Tuesday, September 19th, 1972 during NBC Reports.

Most of recordings include complete or partial closing credits. Many of them include voiceover promotional spots. These are a mix of network and local promos. There are three CBS network promos for The Ed Sullivan Show, all heard during the closing credits to The Jackie Gleason Show. There’s also an NBC network promo for The Tonight Show with guest host Joey Bishop and the crew of Apollo 14, from the closing credits to Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.

Commercials, Commercials, Commercials

When I started listening to the reel-to-reel tapes, I listened closely hoping to find commercial breaks. Not all of the programs include commercials. Some do. Some don’t. Apparently, the man doing the recording initially stopped recording during commercials, editing them out on the fly. Only two the 11 episodes of The Jackie Gleason Show contain any commercial breaks. The vast majority of the 1972 recordings include commercials. Not the movies. Those were edited.

Here’s a look at some of the commercials heard on these tapes:

  • Miller High Life Beer
  • Super King Size Winstons
  • Mobil International Flag Game
  • Gatorade
  • Suprema Spaghetti Sauce
  • Car X
  • O’Brien Chrysler Plymouth
  • Wheaties
  • Easy Off Window Cleaner
  • Final Touch Fabric Softener
  • Harvey American Car Dealership
  • Hostess Fruit Pies
  • Employer’s Insurance of Wausau
  • Thrifty Mart
  • Viva Swiss Style Yogurt
  • Silly String
  • Wilco
  • Victor Furniture Farewell Sale
  • Burger Chef
  • White Cloud Toilet Paper
  • Kellog’s Cornflakes
  • Life Boy Deodorant
  • Libby Land
  • Jerry Alderman Ford
  • McDonald’s
  • First Federal Savings of Indianapolis
  • Goodman Jewelers
  • Hispano-American Center
  • St. Joseph Children’s Decongestant
  • West Bend Humidifier
  • One-a-Day Plus Iron for Women
  • Pontiac Grand Prix
  • Dristan
  • Protein 21 Hair Spray
  • Maytag
  • Jockey Brand Fashion Underwear

It’s difficult with just the audio to determine whether commercials are national or local. There are some exceptions, like the First Federal Savings of Indianapolis commercial or the O’Brien Chrysler Plymouth commercial.

Here’s audio from a June 1969 commercial for Suprema Spaghetti Sauce:

This commercial aired on WJBK-TV (Channel 2) in Detroit during a repeat episode of The Jackie Gleason Show on CBS.

Any Lost Television?

Finally, it’s time to talk about the possibility that these reel-to-reel tapes may contain audio from missing or lost television programs. Was it something I thought about when I decided to buy the reel? Honestly, I can’t recall but I’m sure it was in the back of my mind.

Because of the time period involved and the content on the tapes, the odds that any of these programs are lost is almost nonexistent. Network comedies, dramas, and variety shows from the late 1960s and early 1970s are not generally an area of concern. Now, if these tapes contained audio from daytime game shows or soap operas, that would be a different story.

Picture of the back of a reel-to-reel audio tape box with TV Guide clippings.

Helpful TV Guide clippings glued to the back of one of the boxes.
Copyright 2017 Television Obscurities

The Vanderbilt Television News Archive began recording network nightly news in August 1968. The two incomplete nightly news broadcasts (CBS and NBC) on these reels can be found at Vanderbilt. If NBC doesn’t have NBC Reports (“Guilty by Reason of Race”) in its archives, The Paley Center for Media does. There are two incomplete WISH-TV local news broadcasts on these tapes, both from September 26th, 1972. If WISH-TV doesn’t have copies of those broadcasts, this audio may be unique.

What about audio from commercials? There are numerous collections of television commercials in existence, not to mention YouTube. Finding definitive proof that an individual commercial no longer survives is going to be difficult. That said, it’s not entirely out of the question that audio from some of the local commercials on the tapes may be unique.

If anything on these reels is otherwise lost, it may well be the promotional voiceovers heard over the ending credits of various programs.

Introducing the Audio Vault

Truth be told, I bought these tapes primarily out of sheer curiosity. I started digitizing the audio reels in 2013 but took a lengthy break and didn’t finish until late last year. I now have more than 37 hours of television audio. Have I listened to all of it? Of course not. What I have done is find as many commercial breaks as possible plus all of the closing credits.

There’s not much I can do with this audio. I may pick a few of the commercials and try to confirm whether they still exist. Otherwise, my only goal is to share bits and pieces here at Television Obscurities. So that’s what I’m going to do.

Starting next week, I’ll be posting selections from my collection of TV audio every Wednesday. My initial set of Audio Vault posts will run for 13 weeks and include closing credits, promotional spots, and more. Be sure to check back every Wednesday.