Q & A: The Spirit of ’76; Singin’ in the Rain on Network TV

I get a lot of e-mails from people asking me about television shows, made-for-TV movies or miniseries they remember from years or even decades past. I try to answer each question as best I can. Every now and then I like to pull out a few e-mails to answer here at Television Obscurities for everyone to enjoy. Keep reading for today’s questions and answers.

Back in 1975 or 76, NBC used to run a show called “The Spirit of 76.” It was a 30 minute show dedicated to the American Revolution and the Bicentennial. I can’t find any info on it through Google. Any way of finding this old Saturday afternoon show?

In an earlier Q & A column a few weeks back, I answered a question about a TV show called The Rebels that aired in 1976 to commemorate the United States Bicentennial. I couldn’t much information about it and the same goes for The Spirit of ’76. The half-hour series was hosted by folk singer and composer Oscar Brand and debuted in October or November 1975. It may have been a mix of animation and live-action segments or entirely animated.

Like The Rebels, a number of sources indicate The Spirit of ’76 had a connection to NBC. The official Oscar Brand website states it was syndicated by NBC. I do believe it was syndicated and it’s possible that NBC was somehow involved in producing or distributing the series. It aired on WNBC-TV in New York City, the network’s East Coast flagship station. Episode titles include “Smuggling,” “Women at War,” “Redcoats,” “War in the South,” “Foreigners,” and “Washington in Battle.”

Confusingly, I also found evidence suggesting The Spirit of ’76 was not a half-hour weekly series but instead a set of 104 four-and-a-half-minute animated segments aimed at children and syndicated in markets across the country. These segments were distributed by Grey Advertising, Inc. and produced by MG Films, Inc. Television listings in several newspapers confirm that a half-hour series called The Spirit of ’76 did air during 1975 and 1976. It’s possible that the 104 segments were later combined into 22 or 26 half-hour installments. Or perhaps the half-hour series and the animated segments were unrelated.

I have diligently and digitally been trying to figure out the date “Singin’ in the Rain” originally aired on network television. It’s in part a means of testing my memory from what I believe took place 48 years ago this past January. To be more precise, I thought it aired on “NBC Saturday Night at the Movies” on Jan. 11, 1964. But one web site detailing the third season of “NSNATM” movie titles did not show “Singin’ in the Rain” as one of the season’s offerings.

The 1952 musical comedy Singin’ in the Rain–which starred Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds–was scheduled to make its television debut on Monday, November 25th, 1963 as an installment of of NBC Monday Night at the Movies. However, President Kennedy’s assassination a few days earlier meant the broadcast had to be postponed. Instead, NBC aired coverage of Kennedy’s funeral on November 25th. Singin’ in the Rain ultimately aired on Monday, January 13th, 1964.

3 Replies to “Q & A: The Spirit of ’76; Singin’ in the Rain on Network TV”

  1. Spirit of 76 sounds vaguely familiar. If I recall correctly it was done in very limited animation, practically just still images shown one after another. As such they were painful to watch so most would have just ignored them. But I’m just working from traces of memory so I can’t say for certain.

    104 episodes sounds like a lot but if they aired 2 a week at different times then it could fit into a year of Saturdays. They may also have aired 4 a week throughout the course of the morning, say one every hour. But since they likely aired them after a regular show they wouldn’t appear on the TV schedule and they wouldn’t have been seen if you didn’t watch the show.

  2. “…many of times, we wound up in a fix.
    But what kept us goin’?
    What kept us growin’?
    The Spirit of Seventy-Six!”

    R.I.P. Oscar Brand

  3. I remember this series very well; I eagerly watched it on WNBC TV in New York. Brand hosted the show, dressed in period costume and never without his guitar, opening by singing, “You know the high road to freedom was a hard road to travel, many a time we wound up in a fix, etc.” He would then proceed to talk about some aspect of colonial life, often sharing popular or folk songs of the time while doing so. (Once he demonstrated a glass-bottom tankard that he said would be useful for patriots to see whether redcoat enemies were entering the tavern while they drank!)

    He would also start to discuss a specific event from the American Revolution; two that I remember well are Lt. Dudingston/The Gaspee Incident and Anthony Wayne’s capture of Stony Point. This is where the “animated” segments kicked in — which indeed were nothing but a series of still drawings whose art was very much like news courtroom sketches, with voice-over narration by Brand. (From the research here, my guess is that they all lasted 4.5 minutes and were later culled and packaged separately for other TV markets.)

    Every episode ended with Brand singing the theme song while walking away from the viewer, his image fading out like the “Spirit” of ’76.

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