Sgt. Carter: Gomer’s Rejoining You; Remembering Jim Nabors

Jim Obit 2Ask me to rank my top 10 favorite characters in TV history.  Gomer Pyle will be in the Final Four playoff, along with Andy Taylor, Barney Fife and Beaver Cleaver.

Ask me who delivered the definitive version of “The Impossible Dream” with a voice as powerful as a riptide and I will not hesitate to answer Jim Nabors.

I was spending a recent Thursday morning doing as I was told in helping to set up and decorate our church for our daughter’s Saturday wedding.  The news came over Twitter and Facebook that Jim had left us at the age of 87.

This one was like a punch in the gut.  The news was another reminder that while characters that strike a chord in our lives through television are immortal, the people who play them are not.

I actually saw Jim Nabors perform for the first time in 1961.  My family had just moved to Waycross, Ga., then the home of what one national magazine described as one of the 15 worst cities in America for television reception.  Unless one had a prohibitively expensive high-gain antenna, the choice was WJXT in Jacksonville or nothing.  Jacksonville had two affiliates but one of those spring thin air nights to pick up the NBC station, WFGA.  Both channels cherrypicked ABC programs.

WJXT opted on Wednesday nights to snag The New Steve Allen Show, a comeback bid for The Tonight Show originator.  Steve’s show was up against television’s number one show, Wagon Train, and failed to last.  However, a young singer named Jim Nabors appeared on several shows.  He could belt out a tune with a powerful baritone.  My parents enjoyed him.  However, with the short life of Steve’s variety hour, Jim faded into the woodwork as did scores of other performers who tried to break into early sixties television.

A little more than a year later, the Christmas Eve episode of The Andy Griffith Show was entitled “The Bank Job.”  Barney Fife set out to prove that The Mayberry Bank was a crime pushover.  A local mechanic who had never been introduced, Gomer Pyle, appeared.  Gomer had a voice that sounded as if he had done a dozen lube jobs in a Jim Gomer 1day.  Bit characters came and went in Mayberry, most never again to be seen.  Somehow, Gomer grabbed our attention.  I remember my father laughing uproariously at the few lines Gomer delivered.  We thought little more about it the next day—but Andy Griffith and his producers did.

Jim had no idea the 23 episodes in which he appeared on The Andy Griffith Show would propel him into major stardom.  This is a guy who just 10 years earlier had been a camera operator, film editor and morning show host at WJBF in Augusta.

The episode of December 16, 1963, was arguably the major turning point in the 33-year-old Nabors’ career.  Directed by actor Richard Crenna, “Citizen’s Arrest” became a signature episode of The Griffith Show‘s middle years.  Frustrated after Barney wrote him a ticket for making a U-turn in the middle of the town square, Gomer catches Barney doing the same thing.  The Mayberry mechanic begins yelling, “Citizen’s array-ust!  Citizen’s array-ust!”  The next three minutes of confrontation between Gomer and Barney were sheer comic genius.  Crenna never received the full credit he deserved for staging that scene.

I knew that episode hit home.  For the next two weeks during my school’s Christmas holidays, I encountered people everywhere—-including myself—-shouting “citizen’s array-ust!”  Along with “nip it in the bud,” Floyd’s “oooooh, Annnnndy” and Barney’s classic “Juanita?  Barn….cock-a-doodle-doooooo,” Gomer’s revenge became one of the ten charismatic catchphrases in the history of the series.

Spinoffs were still fledgling elements of television in the mid-sixties.  Harry Morgan’s character of Pete Porter was spun off into Pete and Gladys, a CBS sitcom derived from fifties favorite December Bride.  The characters of Bronco Layne and Sugarfoot were introduced on ABC’s Cheyenne but not expanded into their own rotating series until Clint Walker engaged in a contract dispute with Warner Brothers over merchandising and salary from Cheyenne.  In 1956, The $64,000 Challenge was a spinoff from the megahit The $64,000 Question to exploit the popularity of winners on Question.  Andy Griffith’s own series was introduced as a one-shot pilot on The Danny Thomas Show but the ensemble characterizations had not been developed.

The evening of May 18, 1964, was the moment of truth for the character of Gomer Pyle.  Gomer enters the sheriff’s office and does a choreographed version of The Marine’s Hymn.Jim Marine  Andy watches and says, “That’s real good, Gomer.”  Quickly, Gomer tells his friend, “Andy….I’m in.”  “In” was his enlistment papers in the United States Marine Corps.

In the following 27 minutes, we had a preview of what would take over sitcom television the following season.  Gomer as a bumbling Marine only embellished his personality as the bumbling mechanic from Mayberry.  We also saw how the chemistry would build between Nabors and one of the most underrated supporting actors in sitcom history, Frank Sutton.  Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. could not have been possible without Jim’s talent but the series would also not have worked without the counterpoint of Sutton as the beleaguered Sergeant Vince Carter.  When the two stood nose-to-nose after Gomer’s initial faux pas, you knew a winner was on the way.

Contrary to information in some of Nabors’ obituary tributes, CBS had already decided to pick up Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. as a series well before the pilot aired.  In those days, the network fall lineups were locked in as early as Washington’s birthday.  Network executives screened producer-writer Aaron Ruben’s pilot and immediately gave it the green light.  CBS intentionally saved its airing until the final Griffith episode of the 1963-64 season.

Ironically, TV Guide—in its fall forecasts—did not see great hope for Pyle.  The prediction was for a middle-of-the-pack rating.  Indeed, the time slot would be a challenge.  CBS had not experienced exceptional success with sitcoms on Friday nights through the years.  Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. would go in Fridays at 9:30.  The lead-in was a new but highly-touted ensemble variety hour The Entertainers starring Carol Burnett, Bob Newhart and a cast of up and coming singers and comics.  The lead-out, Slattery’s People, was a high-concept drama starring Richard Crenna in his first serious role as a state legislator.

The biggest battle for Gomer would be the series’ competition.  After CBS network president Jim Aubrey abruptly canceled The Jack Benny Program after 14 years (the book CBS:  Reflections in a Bloodshot Eye quotes sources as saying Aubrey cruelly told the legend, “You’re through.”), NBC picked up Benny for the Friday at 9:30 half-hour.  Benny promised to feature younger guests (The Smothers Brothers, The Lettermen, Peter, Paul and Mary, Jack Jones) as well as TV heavyweights Lucille Ball, Bob Hope and George Burns.  ABC countered with 12 O’Clock High, an hour-long war drama based on the movie of the same title.  The betting line was the Benny would be tough sledding for Gomer if his audience followed him to NBC.

Until the 1975-76 season, Nielsen ratings were based on two-week averages.  The first Gomer Pyle episode featured a solid premiere as Gomer was inept trying to navigate the obstacle course but worked extra time at night until he succeeded.  Week two fleshed out some of Gomer’s fellow recruits as a platoon member’s girlfriend managed to sneak into the barracks.  The verdict was a stunner for the handicappers.  Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. was immediately CBS’s number one show, finishing third for the two-week period behind NBC’s Bonanza and ABC’s Bewitched.  Twelve O’Clock High was 59th but the shocker was the result for The Jack Benny Program.  Out of 100 network series, the legend from Waukegan was in 97th place.  CBS indeed appeared to be right in canceling him.

Jim Nabors TTTTin case the early ratings were a fluke, CBS sent Nabors on a promotional swing as he appeared on Art Linkletter’s House Party and the prime time version of To Tell the Truth.  Regular panelist Orson Bean was given the week off from Truth in order to bring Nabors to the popular game show’s panel October 26, 1964.  For a week in a blitz of heavy daytime promos, voiceover announcers touted the star of Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. as joining the panel of stars (Tom Poston, Peggy Cass and Kitty Carlisle).  Jim was a bit nervous.  He never before had played on a game show.  Onstage with heavyweight veterans Poston, Cass and Carlisle, the Alabama native struggled to ask pertinent questions of the contestants.  Only two games were played rather than the usual three because the episode was cut to 25 minutes to accommodate a five-minute political talk for the upcoming Presidential election.

Jim Nabors TTTT3As a testament to CBS’ promotional machine and Nabors’ increasing popularity resulted in the highest rating of the 11 years of nighttime To Tell the Truth.  The episode scored a 26.4 rating and 42 percent share of audience, crushing the NBC and ABC competition.

The numbers for Gomer Pyle were no fluke.  They not only held up but increased week-to-week.  For the full 1964-65 campaign, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. averaged a 30.7 rating, finishing in a virtual tie with Bewitched (at 31.0).  For the final 14 weeks of the season, Gomer overtook Bewitched  to become number two overall.

Jim Nabors was no longer a solid supporting actor.  He was morphing into a major network television star.  His musical talents were incorporated into two episodes of the first season.  He recorded his first album for Columbia Records, Shazam!, based on the Captain America yell he comedically incorporated in Mayberry and on the Marine base.  The first recording was in Gomer’s country voice.  That was followed up with By Request, which featured Nabors doing a number of Broadway and movie standards in his operatic style.  A third LP, Jim Nabors Sings:  Cuando Calienta el Sol, went gold.

During the five years of Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., more elements of Gomer’s family were expanded.  He frequently quoted from Grandma Pyle (“Sergeant Carter, Grandma Pyle says you should chew your food 12 times before you swaller it.”).  We met his cousin Bridey and his grandfather.  He dated a colonel’s daughter and two Hollywood stars (one of them Ruta Lee).  He gained a steady girlfriend in off key nightclub singer Lou Ann Poovie (played by the incomparable Elizabeth MacRae).  He gave Vince constant nightmares, including one literally in a hilarious episode during which a meal of Welsh rarebit made Gomer and Vince both dream they had switched personalities.

A favorite Gomer Pyle episode was one in which Gomer was entrusted with Vince’s car while the sergeant was dispatched to collect an AWOL Marine.  The vehicle was stolen.  Eventually, it lands on a construction site where the car is destroyed.  The outstanding character actor Ken Lynch, whose TV career went back to the days of DuMont as The Plainclothesman, played the police sergeant who felt a sense of empathy for Private Pyle.  My daughter, watching the episode in rerun as a small child, went around the house for days chanting Gomer’s lament, “Sergeant Carter’s goin’ to kill me.  He’s gonna kill me dead!”  The construction company owner agrees to replace Carter’s car.  A classic line toward the end comes when Gomer explains to Vince:  “This big ball fell on it and smashed your car to Smithereens!”  Every time I saw a similar device when my university’s library was built three years ago, I kept thinking, “This big ball’s going to fall down and smash somebody’s car to Smithereens!”

The writers looked for more openings to incorporate Jim’s vocal talents into the series.  The most memorable musical moment came in episode nine of the fourth season.  During the November rating sweeps, Gomer won a singing contest.  The prize:  a trip to sing before an elite audience at a Washington, D.C., concert.  Nabors had already sung “The Impossible Dream” from “Man of LaMancha” on The Danny Kaye Show and the premiere episode of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1967.  The arrangement in which Jim was accompanied by the U.S. Marine Corps Band was unmatched.  People have been tweeting and spreading that version on Facebook in the hours after we learned of Nabors’ death.  I don’t care how many times I hear it, Jim’s powerful delivery still gives me chills.

During its five seasons, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., never finished lower than tenth in the Nielsens (and that was in year three when CBS moved the show to Wednesday nights).  The series was invincible.  Back on Friday nights at 8:30, Gomer finished the first month of the 1968-69 season as the number two show in the Nielsens, runner-up only to NBC’s juggernaut Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.  At that point, TV Guide reported that Jim was thinking out loud about doing a weekly variety hour in 1969-70.  CBS was still non-committal.  With the numbers Gomer was still pulling, the network was willing to offer a Brinks truck for Nabors to do two more years of the sitcom.

Jim had other numbers on his side.  In November 1965, The Andy Griffith Don Knotts Jim Nabors Show, a variety special, went through the roof in the Nielsens.  In 1967, American Motors sponsored Friends and Nabors, Jim’s first solo special, with guests Griffith, Tennessee Ernie Ford, opera star Marilyn Horne and Shirley Jones.  The following year in what would be a fortuitous Thursday at 8 slot, Jim hosted Girl Friends and Nabors.  As a finale, Nabors sang an old Ernest Tubb song rearranged with a big band sound, “Tomorrow Never Comes,” which drew a huge audience reaction.

Gomer Pyle, USMC, had been a far bigger success than even the best of network prophets could have forecast.  Yet, Jim was tired.  Because of the interaction required, he was in virtually every scene.  Back home at night, he had to learn an additional 14 pages of dialogue.  Five years of the grind was taking a toll.

With his nightclub and recording career taking off, Nabors conferred with his manager Dick Linke.  As reported in TV Guide, Linke advised:  “Jim, with your talents, better to gamble now.”

Jim Nabors Hour 1When the fall 1969 CBS lineup was released in April, Gomer Pyle was not on the schedule.  The Jim Nabors Hour was.  The original plan was to go Fridays from 8 to 9 on the same night that Gomer had been such a huge success.  The popular Hogan’s Heroes would return for a fifth season by moving to 7:30.  However, CBS opted late in the scheduling game to go pick up the declining Get Smart from NBC for a sixth season and give a reluctant pickup to The Good Guys, a Bob Denver-Herb Edelman comedy that limped in the Nielsens in its first season.  Those comedies were penciled in at 7:30 and 8.  Hogan remained at 8:30.

CBS looked at the success of two Nabors specials on Thursdays at 8.  Further, after two CBS affiliates experienced success with Family Affair on a delayed broadcast Thursdays at 7:30 in 1968-69, the network opted to move the Brian Keith-Sebastian Cabot hit into that time slot as a lead-in for The Jim Nabors Hour.  The decision was inspired.

In a future blogpost, we will explore the detailed two-year history of Jim’s variety hour.  With a premiere episode that featured Andy Griffith and up-and-coming singer Julie Budd (along with a cameo by Don Knotts), the first week results were impressive.  The Sept. 25, 1969, debut scored a 26.0 rating and finished fourth for the week.  Family Affair drew higher ratings than its traditional Monday night slot.Jim Nabors 3

Some guests were better draws than others.  However, The Jim Nabors Hour finished 11th for the season in the 1969-70 Nielsens.  The following season, tougher competition from NBC’s new The Flip Wilson Show weakened the ratings.  Nonetheless, the Nabors show was still 28th in 1970-71 and was primed for a third season renewal.

What has unofficially been labeled The Great Rural Purge led to what many observers believed was a premature end for The Jim Nabors Hour.  Madison Avenue advertising agencies were pressuring the networks to end a decade of rural appeal shows launched by The Beverly Hillbillies in 1962.  Ad executives wanted more dramas, more shows with urban appeal in the large population centers and more programs appealing to the 18-49 age bracket that was viewing song-and-dance hours in fewer numbers.  The Nabors show was one of the final casualties on the CBS lineup for 1971-72.

Ironically, Jim was still in demand as a guest star on the remaining CBS variety shows during the seventies.  He continued his “good luck charm” appearances on every season premiere of The Carol Burnett Show until its end in 1977-78.  He showed up on Tony Orlando and Dawn, The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour and the final season of The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.  A syndicated Nashville-based Music Hall America welcomed Jim as a host.

In 1977, Jim subbed for Dinah Shore on her daytime 90-minute talk/variety series.  So impressed were Dinah’s producers that they developed a similar one-hour format for Nabors.  In January 1978, The Jim Nabors Show premiered on 140 stations, including WCBS in New York.  Many of those stations slotted Nabors opposite the fast-rising Phil Donahue in an early morning time period.  After a strong first two weeks, Jim’s ratings began to sag.  By the end of the 14th week, his distributor announced The Jim Nabors Show would end after 26 weeks.

Jim never did another series.  In 1981, he frontlined a Christmas Jim Nabors 2special, Jim Nabors’ Christmas in Hawaii, which included him singing Silent Night at Pearl Harbor.  His most frequent annual appearances, which started in 1969, were at the Indianapolis 500 where he offered the emotional state song “Back Home in Indiana” for 36 years until a farewell in 2014.

The fact that a native of middle Alabama could be propelled into near-overnight success as a small town mechanic-turned-Marine private is one of the genuine folklore tales of television.  The day of his death, Jim Nabors’ version of “Impossible Dream” from Gomer Pyle, USMC, went viral online.  More than one person reacted in the sixties with the phrase, “That voice just doesn’t go with that face.”  Indeed, it did.

I enjoyed Gomer because I knew people like him in my hometown.  I was an unabashed fan of Jim’s music because our vocal range was similar and his versions of Broadway showstoppers and contemporary middle-of-the-road favorites of the era connected with me.  His variety hour was a weekly appointment for me because Jim was himself, not a craft of handlers or managers who wanted him to fit into a pattern.

Most of us never met him but never heard a cross word about him from those who did.  For most of the sixties when Jim Nabors appeared either in character of singing a powerful showcloser, we watched—and we wanted more.







“Nature Boy”: Compelling Storytelling at Its Best, A Tragic Tale of the Price of Fame

I have been a non-fan of pro wrestling for nearly 20 years. However, ESPN’s ’30 for 30′ “Nature Boy,” a brilliant and honest portrayal of wrestling megastar Ric Flair, was one of the most compelling documentaries of its kind because of its storytelling.

I first saw Flair in 1974 during my first weekend at the University of Georgia.  I flipped on “Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling” on WFBC in Greenville, S.C.  The veteran Rip Hawk and Flair had just won the Mid-Atlantic tag team championship.  At the time, I didn’t see anything special about the young upper Midwesterner.  During interviews, Hawk—a veteran heel (as villains are termed inside the wrestling industry)—did most of the talking.  Flair was a couple of years away from developing the persona that propelled him to the top of his profession in the early 1980s.

Ric FlairWhen he based his ring character on the flamboyance of earlier star “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers, Flair struck gold.  His work ethic was unsurpassed in his field.  Ed Capral, one of the great announcers of the era between 1955 and 1975, told me Flair was “the greatest showman I’ve ever seen in wrestling.”  Capral had seen the original Gorgeous George, the legendary Haystacks Calhoun and Andre the Giant.  In his field, Capral knew of which he spoke.

In the microcosm world of pro wrestling, Ric Flair was regarded by people who grew up well before the Hulk Hogan transformation of 1984 as the greatest performer in the genre’s history.  However, as the documentary indicated, Flair sacrificed wives, children, his health and relationships to experience the love from entertainment he obviously never found from his adoptive parents.  In the early moments of “Nature Boy,” we learned that the Fleiers were major patrons of the arts.  Their son Richard was far more interested in the theater of sport.  Behavioral conflicts resulted in him being sent away to a boarding school as an older teen.  People who only knew of Ric Flair as a master of a figure-four leglock may not have been aware of the juxtapositions of his childhood.  He had parents; yet, he conveyed his own emotions that he felt they were never “there” for him.

Flair talked of the difficult year of recovery after suffering a broken back in a plane crash on the way to a Sunday afternoon card in Wilmington, N.C., October 4, 1975.  He experienced days rethinking his presentation in the ring if, against the odds, he could physically return to wrestling.

By 1981, he was the consummate star in his profession.  He won the NWA world heavyweight championship from his consistent foe of the eighties, Dusty Rhodes.  As several of his colleagues related in “Nature Boy,” Richard Morgan Fleier began living the character of Ric Flair.  His first wife Leslie detailed how he would come home for a day, say how bored he was, and leave.  A world of women, sex, expensive clothes and alcohol to a degree few could fathom became Flair’s environment.  He detailed a period of nearly three years in which “I was never at home.” At the end of the documentary, he admitted to being anything but a model husband and father.  I was taken back to an interview with one of the late Jack Webb’s associates on “The Stu Shostak Show” a few years back.  Webb became a television legend with two successful incarnations of the police series “Dragnet” and developed a television empire.  With all that success, Webb had multiple marriages and could not escape his true marriage to television.  “Jack was a bad father,” said one of his long-time colleagues to Shostak.

“Nature Boy” revealed the heartbreak of Flair’s son Reid’s death from a drug overdose.  Ric obviously had a relationship with Reid that he never had with his own father or his older son David.  Reid emulated his father’s alter ego, only the issues with alcohol expanded into drugs.  

The documentary portrayed a man who could not leave the stage.  In sports, I remember the sadness of seeing Johnny Unitas in a San Diego Chargers uniform.  One of the all-time greats of the NFL simply did not know when to quit.  In his last year with the New York Yankees, Mickey Mantle could only muster a .236 batting average and took three feeble swings in a final All-Star game in which he should never have been included.  Ric Flair in his 60s is far more of a nostalgic figure that in some respects is sad to watch.

The two key lines I took away from “Nature Boy” were from one of his younger colleagues and his son David.  Said Michaels:  “Ric doesn’t know Richard Fleier. I don’t think he’s ever taken the time to get to know who he is.”  From David Fleier,  his son from his first marriage: “I don’t want my children to have the kind of life I had.”  David was referring to his perpetually absentee father.

Many of Flair’s long-time fans are probably dissecting the documentary for its omissions of some of pro wrestling history they hoped would be included. Those who are miss the point of “Nature Boy” or any other documentary.

I teach a news documentary class at Union University every spring.  For five years, students are assigned a semester-long project to develop a half-hour examination of an issue of significant community interest.  Some of them have difficulty grasping that documentaries that hit the spot are not just facts and figures, nor are they solely historical.  They are stories.  Storytelling at its most compelling is what sells a documentary to viewers.

The production of “Nature Boy” was a deep and penetrating character study that showed adulation, fame and so-called perks that go with stardom and the contradiction of the selfishness of a man who never should have married or had children. The emotional pain we saw from his first wife Leslie in her interview and from Ric’s oldest son were clearly evident.

While watching, I was reminded how we all are guilty of putting entertainment stars on pedestals because we love or obsess over how they entertain us.  Yet, life away from the stage is often a dichotomy.  Many of us paid to watch Ric Flair deliver a textbook performance in sports entertainment on multiple occasions. He always gave us our money’s worth.  His life away from the ring and the bright lights was another story. 

Ric Flair almost died three months ago.  Years of alcohol to the excess finally took a toll doctors and friends had warned him of for years.  In an interview on SiriusXM radio three weeks ago, Flair said, “It’s a miracle that I’m even here talking to you.  I’m never going to have a drop of alcohol again.”  I hope he sticks to that.  He may not have another comeback remaining.

“Nature Boy” held my interest because of its depth in a fashion that a puff piece on Flair’s career would not have.   Many of those who have showered him with adulation through the decades probably do not see the story through the same glasses as did I.  As the tale unfolded, I was reminded of the closing days of Mickey Mantle when he learned cancer was about to take him after years of alcohol abuse.  The Mick was one of my childhood heroes.  Yet, in the last interview he gave before he died, he said, “Don’t be like me.” Flair did not have to say that in “Nature Boy.” The 90-minute story did.

Monty Hall: Indeed a Big Deal

stevemontyjacktom           Saturday afternoon, I was watching the 41-0 thrashing of Tennessee by Georgia on CBS and waiting for the barrage of callers to talk shows who want to fire the Vol coaches.

            Just before the game ended, I received a message that I knew would be coming at any time.  Monty Hall, the legendary co-creator and original host of Let’s Make a Deal, had died at 96.

            Eighteen months ago, Monty’s agent Fred Wostbrock told me the game show icon’s health was declining.  “He’s on dialysis three times a week and he’s lost about 60 pounds,” Fred said.  Little did we know that Monty would outlive his agent, who died late last year of cancer.

 Monty Village 1      Like many of you, I grew up watching Monty preside over the world’s biggest daily costume party on the show he co-created with his partner Steve Hatos, Let’s Make a Deal.  I went even further back with him to the living board game he hosted from 1960 to 1962, Video Village on CBS.  To this day, baby boomers my age remember fondly Village but can’t remember the show’s title.

            As a kid from South Georgia who looked on Monty and several of the other classic game show hosts as TV icons, I never dreamed I would meet the man, much less emcee a testimonial event at which he was honored.   More on that later.

            I was privileged to know the man for 17 years.  Another game show legend, Tom Kennedy, put me together with Monty in 2000 at the height of the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire craze.

            He was straightforward with me to every question about his career and the game show business.  He was totally candid about why he moved Let’s Make a Deal  from NBC to ABC after five successful years in 1968 (an NBC executive refused to give Deal a nighttime slot; ABC was glad to offer it).

            Before that interview ended, Monty said:  “I could talk to you for two hours.  You know a lot about our business.  This is one of the few interviews I’ve ever given where someone hasn’t used the word ‘mindless’ several times.”  I figured that would probably be my one-and-done session with TV’s Big Dealer.

 Monty Deal 63a           Over the next couple of years as game shows came and went in prime time in the wake of the huge success of Millionaire, I would periodically hear the voice of Carol Andrews, Monty’s administrative assistant, on the other end of my phone.  “Monty wants to talk to you about something,” she would say.

            Monty was a daily reader of my online page.  The something he would want to discuss was usually either a new game show or what I thought about a new emcee.

            “Other than having a personality that people like, what do you think is the most important characteristic of a game show host?” he asked me one day.  My response was:  “He needs to be a good listener.  If he doesn’t listen to what the contestant says, he’ll never be engaged with the contestant and miss some choice moments.”

  Monty Deal 63          Monty answered right back, “That is exactly right.”  The new emcee he was asking about was one he was considering for a revival of Let’s Make a Deal in 2005.  “I thought he had all the right tools we were looking for,” Monty said, “but I watched him three days in a row.  He doesn’t listen to a thing anybody says.”

            He and Hatos came up with Let’s Make a Deal in 1962 but the networks weren’t interested.  Monty took the concept to civic clubs.  Instead of boxes and doors to hide prizes which couldn’t be brought into a hotel ballroom, Monty used envelopes that either contained a card with a nice prize or a “zonk,” one of the gag prizes.        

“We knew we had the right concept because these businessmen were having a blast playing the game,” he told me.  “It was all based on gambling, taking a risk on a sure thing or going all or nothing.”

            The production partners finally convinced an NBC executive to go along to one of their Rotary extravaganzas.  That was enough to earn them development money to flesh out the concept in a large rehearsal hall.

            “The ratings weren’t terribly good in the first nine months,” Monty said.  “We were on opposite Password, which was the biggest hit game show on daytime TV at the time.  So, NBC moved us to 1:30.  We started gaining audience and eventually became the first show to pass As the World Turns in the ratings.”

Monty Audience             He had to cope with some unexpected occurrences during the first 18 months of the show.  Let’s Make a Deal was television’s first show in which winning female contestants grabbed the host for what, at times, were physically-threatening hugs.  One woman accidentally pushed Monty down the stairs of the NBC Burbank studio.  He suffered torn cartilage from the joy and merriment.

He missed three weeks of the show because of injuries suffered in an auto accident.  Bill Leyden, who hosted Hall’s Your First Impression, subbed.

Monty did not like one insertion NBC placed in the show near the end of the first 39 weeks.  With early ratings stagnant, the network opted to do a week of shows with celebrities playing for studio audience members and home viewers.  The segments fell flat.  “Let’s Make a Deal is not a show about celebrities.  It’s a show about average people from all over the country,” he said.

Until Let’s Make a Deal, NBC had not aired a 1:30 p.m. show since the Chicago-based Club 60 in the mid-1950s.  The ratings gradually climbed and Monty as America’s top trader presided over the linchpin show in the NBC daytime lineup.

 A nighttime version of Let’s Make a Deal in the spring and summer of 1967 rose to number four in the ratings, beating both The FBI and The Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday nights.  Monty thought it was a sure thing to return in January as a midseason replacement at night.

            “You know what I was told?  I was told by an NBC executive, ‘Oh, we don’t schedule a show like yours during the regular season.  You may have done well in the summer but we think a show like that is beneath us to put on in the fall and winter.’  That was the first shot that led to us going to ABC,” Monty said.

            In 1968, the show switched networks.  The time slot was the same.  One of the few changes was a reduction in the number of traders on the floor from 42 to 31.  Otherwise, everything stayed the same.  

NBC clearly miscalculated the power of Deal.  Within six months, the entire ABC daytime lineup—especially afternoons—enjoyed ratings increases while NBC’s schedule declined.  Opposite Deal on ABC, NBC tried everything from soap opera Hidden FacesWords and Music, Joe Garagiola’s Memory Game, Life with Linkletter, and Leyden’s final game show before his death, You’re Putting Me On.  Nothing worked.

Monty CBS         Let’s Make a Deal received the coveted nighttime slot, which continued for three years.  Its most successful slot was during two years on Saturdays at 7:30, where it formed a one-hour block with The Newlywed Game leading into The Lawrence Welk Show.  When ABC dropped the evening version in 1971, Monty went into nighttime syndication with a twice weekly Deal.

            After 14 years of big deals and boxes of Creamettes, the original Let’s Make a Deal finally came to an end.  The show returned in syndicated versions in 1980-81 and 1984-86.  Remakes in 1990 and 2002 on NBC failed in no small part because Monty felt he was too old to host the show.  Younger emcees bombed.

In the process, the Hatos-Hall company became a game show factory.   As packagers, their most successful entry was one of television’s fastest-moving quiz shows, Split Second, which ran from 1972 to 1975 on ABC and should have lasted much longer.  Cancellation was a huge disappointment for Monty.

“It broke my heart when ABC canceled that show,” Monty said.  “Our lead-in show had been doing poorly for more than a year.  We always picked up audience and stations wanted Split Second for a nighttime version.  ABC wouldn’t give us the right to do it and then they let us go.  I always felt like they threw the baby out with the bath water because they had a new executive who came in and wanted to remake daytime.”

Monty Wayne            Monty could erupt over what he felt was unfair reporting.  When Cleveland Amory reviewed the nighttime version of Let’s Make a Deal in TV Guide in 1970, Amory largely lampooned and trashed the show.  Monty saw Amory at a Los Angeles Kings hockey game and went through the review point by point.

The first time I interviewed Monty, he told me the story of his beef with the debut issue of People magazine.  A writer profiled him and the long success of Let’s Make a Deal.  Two words in the story ruined the piece for Monty.

“The writer was detailing how I was picked to substitute for Jack Barry on Twenty-One in 1958, just a few months before the quiz scandals broke,” Monty said.  “He wrote this:  ‘Hall had no knowledge of the rigging of the show, he claims.’  When I saw those words ‘he claims,’ I saw red.  I called my lawyer and I wanted to sue them.  He told me to forget it.  He said, ‘All of your fans know you didn’t have anything to do with it.  Besides, you’d spend more money taking them to court than you’d get out of them.’  So, I let it go….but it still irritated me for months.”

One subject he never wanted to revisit was the 2003 NBC revival of Let’s Make a Deal in prime time.   He licensed the format to the network on which the game originally aired.  A decision was made to periodically bring Monty back to do a classic deal with contestants from the ’60s and ’70s version of the show.  

The first 10 minutes of the show convinced Monty he had made a big mistake.  Billy Bush, who was an up and coming NBC personality, was given the keys to the car as host but appeared to be hopelessly miscast.  The producers from the syndicated show Blind Date were brought in to run the show.  Obviously, they had a mindset to turn Let’s Make a Deal into the same kind of vulgarity they dished out on late night syndication.  The opening deal—which was an outright copy of a segment from a cable game Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush—was as close to an X-rated segment as possible on network television.  People who gathered with their children to watch the show at 7:00 in the Central and Mountain time zones were horrified.  Nielsen bore out that reaction.  Between the first 15 minutes and the final quarter hour, the audience tuned out by more than half.  This was not the Let’s Make a Deal they were expecting, nor the one Monty thought he had licensed.  As one reviewer wrote, “You could hear the sounds all over the country of people saying, ‘There’s another one gone bad.'”

Monty Talk 2                I called Monty the day after the premiere.  He did not want to talk about it.  Finally, a couple of years later, he told me:  “I hope we can bring back Let’s Make a Deal eventually—-but I’m never going to let anyone else do to my baby what those guys did at NBC.”

After the original Deal ran its course, Monty emceed a few unsuccessful shows:  It’s Anybody’s Guess, The All-New Beat the Clock and a revival of one of the best quizzes ever, Split Second.  Yet, he was one of the best businessmen in television and he knew how to close a deal with a network, not to coin a pun.

One of Monty’s favorite stories came unexpectedly in 1972.  “I’m in the office and the phone rings.  The voice said, ‘Please hold the line for Jack Benny.'” Monty said.  “I nearly fell off my chair.  I’m thinking Jack Benny!  He was one of my idols.  Why would he be calling me?  I’d never met Jack Benny.”

Benny told Monty he was a regular watcher of Let’s Make a Deal and an admirer of the emcee’s work.  “Of course, that made me feel great,” he said.   Jack then told Monty of something he detected during Deal episodes. 

“Monty, I notice you never take a closeup, unless you’re pitching to a commercial,” Benny said.  “The closeups are always on the contestants.  If you’re on camera, it’s a two-shot.  That’s the same way we’ve always done my show.  Except during the monologue, we save the closeups for the guests or the other characters because they’re the ones who need to be spotlighted.”

Said Monty:  “I can’t believe Jack Benny was actually noticing something that technical about our show.  We always put the closeups on the contestants because they’re the stars of the show and it also milks the drama when they’re trying to decide whether to risk everything.”

Jack invited Monty to lunch the following week.  Monty said, as would be the case for any of us, the day was one he would never forget.

               In 2005, I had the joy of emceeing the Game Show Congress Legends Luncheon in Glendale, Cal., at which Monty, Jack Narz and Tom Kennedy were honored.  That remains one of the greatest thrills and most surreal experiences ever for a South Georgia boy.  You never see yourself standing alongside a TV hero.  

            When CBS called in 2009 to seek a replacement for the aging Guiding Light, Stefan Hatos had long since passed away.  Monty told the network the key was finding the right emcee who understood the contestants were the stars of the show.

            After several hopefuls were auditioned and ruled out, Wayne Brady came into the picture.  Monty had seen him on Whose Line Is It Anyway?  Before the debut, Monty called me in my Union University office.

            “I had Wayne come out to my house,” Monty said.  “I told him we have three important questions to answer.  First is:  do you want to do Let’s Make a Deal?  The second is:  do you think you can do Let’s Make a Deal?  The last question is:  do I think you can do Let’s Make a Deal?”

Monty CBS 2            Brady was hired.  Eight years later, the show is still having a healthy afternoon run.  Until her death, Monty split every royalty check from CBS right down the middle with Stefan Hatos’ widow.

            Monty lost his wife Marilyn in June.  Most people who knew him did not think he would last much longer.

            I talked to him a couple of years ago and he was a bit wistful.  “Steve, the bad thing about getting old is that all my friends are dying,” he said.  I had never pondered that until I began to lose some of my long-time friends.

            He was proud of the success of his children.  Daughter Joanna is a Tony-winner for the play Into the Woods.  His other daughter Sharon was executive producer of The Good Wife on CBS and now has her own production company.  Son Richard is a long-time co-producer of The Amazing Race.

            Monty did two hour-long telephone sessions with my media students at Union.  I will never forget his key words of wisdom to them:  “Whatever you do in television, radio, or any media, always give back to your community.  Whatever success you have will be partially from your talent but also because people watch you.  Always give back.”

            He told them why giving back was important. 

“I couldn’t afford to go to college,” he said.  “One day, one of my father’s customers came into his store.  He told me, ‘Young man, you need to go to college.  I’m going to pay for your education.  I just want you to do three things in return:  one, to pay me back when you can afford to; two, keep up your grades; three, whatever you do, always remember to give back to others in your community.’  I never forgot those words.”

Monty Obit            The son of a Canadian butcher gave back to us over and over again.  He left us with a television classic that has appeared in six consecutive decades.  He gave millions of dollars to charities and raised millions more for children’s hospitals across the world.

            I had a chance to know Monty Hall, the man, and not just the game show host.  He was one of the nicest people I ever met and you would have liked him.  That is the simplest and highest tribute I can pay.  I think I’ll go see what’s behind Door Number 3.

And So It Is Done: An Exhausting, Emotional Murder Trial Ends

Zach Adams SentencingA young man walked out of a West Tennessee courtroom on the morning of September 23, 2017.  In a matter of three minutes, Zach Adams learned that, barring a legal reprieve, he will never again walk a step as a free man.

For a family, friends and community acquaintances, six and a half years of waiting are over.  Twelve days of draining testimony, deliberation and sentencing are at an end.

For reporters, videographers, digital still photographers, producers and assorted support personnel, the job was not altogether over but—-after two weeks of grueling and exhausting activity—-the finish line was near.

Many of the journalists reporting for television stations across Tennessee were under the age of 30.  For some, this was their first experience covering a high-profile murder trial with regional and even some national interest.  In that group were some who had never reported on a case in which a defendant’s life was on the line.

The abduction of Holly Bobo, a 20-year-old nursing student at University of Holly BoboTennessee-Martin, in April 2011 did not suggest a good ending.  Within days, more than a thousand people gathered in the small Decatur County, Tn., town of Parsons as an impromptu search party.  They combed woods, garages, back roads and even church yards in the hopes of finding her alive.  Their hopes were not realized.

Reporters in Memphis, Nashville, Jackson and even hosts of some of the national cable crime shows did their own investigations.  Most of the stories were speculations, what-ifs, or maybes.  For nearly three and a half years, the Holly Bobo case appeared to be a mystery that may never be solved.

Mark Guin

I was in my Union University Jackson 24-7 control room on a Monday night in September 2014 awaiting the appearance of Tennessee Bureau of Investigation director Mark Guin.  Three minutes after he assumed the podium, Guin delivered the news everyone feared.  The remains of Holly Bobo had been found.  A distinctively audible gasp was heard in the media room.

Zach Adams 3Eventually, six men were arrested in connection with the Bobo tragedy.  Four—-Zach Adams, his brother Dylan, Shayne Austin and Jason Autry—were all charged with multiple counts of kidnapping, rape and/or murder.  Austin took his own life in a hotel room in Florida before facing a jury.

For the Bobo family, the discovery of remains was only the first step toward closure.  Three and a half years of grief and hoping against hope for a miracle were over.  The next step would be to endure the testimony of a painful and emotional trial.  

I knew that for reporters and videographers and their associates, that trial may well be the biggest story of their young careers.  Those days in court would not be the biggest in the respect of career-altering stories, but in the demands to be right and maintain balance—-because more people would probably be watching their reports with intense interest than any they had previously delivered.

Some viewers who have a lemon juice view of journalists frequently go to the attack during a trial.  I know.  I covered 16 murder or violent crime trials during my years in the newsroom.  Sensational, melodramatic, or biased are among the kindest words I heard from critics.  One newspaper columnist in a city where I was a broadcast reporter chose to rip me about my use of the word “landmark” in stories on a 1977 that was the first of its kind in our state.  He perceived my use of the word as part of my “trademark sensationalism.”  

Part of the reason I used the word “landmark” was simple.  The case was the first in which cameras were allowed in the courtroom in Georgia.  Judge John Land, once profiled in a national magazine as “The Hanging Judge,” also enjoyed the limelight.  He was more than pleased to receive the publicity for being a pioneer in allowing broadcast journalists to use the tools of their trade.  Shortly before the final day of that trial, the judge stepped back to ask reporters how everything was going.  Said Judge Land:  “I guess I better get ready to go into the studio.”

Fast forward 40 years.  Reporters from throughout the state of Tennessee and some from neighboring areas watched and told stories over 12 days of testimony that was often nauseating to hear.  Virtually every station and Law Newz Network were streaming the trial live.  None of those reporters had a frame of reference to the transformation of 1977 when a Sony TK-76 camera manned by Lee Davis provided pool coverage to a group of reporters taking VTR meter times outside a courtroom for the first time.  Their tools of today are commonplace.

Chirs ConteI watched outstanding work from some brilliant young journalists who faced the pressures of delivering Facebook and Twitter updates as well as their own live or streaming reports.  Chris Conte of WTVF in Nashville offered an easy-to-understand description of what the options were for sentencing after Adams’ conviction.  The day after the sentencing, Conte was right back in the air reporting on the tragic mass shooting at a Church of Christ in Antioch, Tn.  Bridget ChapmanBridget Chapman of WREG in Memphis provided straightforward reports without unnecessarily charged or melodramatic words.  Our own crime reporter from The Jackson Sun, Maranda FarisMaranda Faris, and her colleague Kenny Cummings were on their A-game.  Maranda was clicking Twitter snippets seemingly every 40 seconds.  Kenny’s still photography captured the essence of emotion in the exhausting dozen days.

In every trial, you have selected moments of testimony that provide choice soundbites.  None measured up to sentencing day when Karen Bobo, mother of the young victim, looked Adams squarely in the eye and said, “I know my daughter begged for her life, because she loved and enjoyed life….but you took it from her….and you have shown absolutely no remorse for anything you’ve done.”  Without a doubt, I knew that would be the signature moment that would stand out from 12 days in a small Mid-South county.  Indeed, those words were repeated over and over Saturday evening and Sunday on the state’s television newscasts.

An intangible to covering trials is they are often physically and mentally draining.  Hour after hour of testimony, some technical in nature and others emotional, can wear down even the most youthful reporter’s stamina.  In the Adams trial, listening to repeated graphic descriptions of individual perceptions of what happened the day of her death can take a toll of absorption.  Without doubt, some of the media needed a second and third wind to revive their concentration skills.

In my days as a news director, I recognized three types of stories that would make me vulnerable to losing personnel.  One is a major weather disaster.  In 1984, I lost five reporters in four months to bigger outlets than Wilmington, N.C., because their work was seen during Hurricane Diana.  Another is a man-made disaster.  I lost two more top-level journalists in 1986 after their coverage of a 78,000-acre fire over a period of 10 days.  The third type of story is a high-profile trial.  The skill required to summarize hours of testimony into digestible reports and communicate that information in non-legalese to viewers is not everyone’s talent.  I saw several examples of quality work during the Adams case that would be attractive to news directors in larger markets.

My students and I followed this case for its entirety for our Jackson 24-7 daily cable newscast.  At times, millennials can be indifferent to complex stories.  In the case of the Adams trial, I watched as my student reporters and anchors were captivated by specific moments of testimony.  Equally, I was heartened by the numbers of questions they asked to better understand the legal process.  They even learned a lesson that is not in a textbook.  When Thursday’s closing arguments, which we were carrying live, ran over into our regular noon news time, we did not go on but stayed with the trial.  We even had to cancel two second-half interview segments.  As I told them, “When you are following a live continuing story that you know will irritate viewers if you step away from it, you stay with that story.”

One of the other lessons I tried to impart in my role as The Old TV News Coach was one of heart and restraint.  I told more than one of my students that in a trial, a defendant may be more obviously guilty than knowing algae is in pond water turned green.  Yet, one has to keep emotions or language from in any way becoming a reporter-determined verdict rather than a jury-determined decision.  Likewise, I told them you always need to remember that the family of a victim is likely having hearts broken again over hearing painful stories dredged up of what caused their loved one’s death.  I added this:  if they are kind enough to consent to an interview after a trial, be sensitive with how you ask questions.  If they do not want to talk because to do so would be too difficult, respect that.

The Adams trial took me back in more ways than one to those four days in Muscogee County Superior Court 40 years ago.  In that case, a lovely and much-beloved church choir director who had what was describe as perfect pitch, was senselessly kidnapped from her home while doing laundry in her parents’ utility room.  She was in her twenties.  She was engaged.  The future of life was promising.  Jeannine Galloway was raped and murdered.  The community who knew her reacted in much the same way as the disbelief over Holly Bobo’s fate.  A young man named William Anthony Brooks was convicted and sentenced to die.

Nine years later, the judicial landscape changed in West Georgia.  In a new trial, Brooks was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole.  One of my closest friends in journalism, columnist Richard Hyatt, has written multiple times of the dissatisfaction with the new verdict, particularly when details emerged of what happened in the original trial:

It came at a time the innocence of a community was being destroyed.

Brooks was sentenced to die and no one winced. He was not a good person. Like the members of that jury, most people believed he deserved execution.

Brooks, a man in his sixties, is still in jail in North Georgia.  He comes up for parole every few years but so far has been denied.  

Zach Adams could have faced the death penalty last weekend.  Saturday morning, Judge Creed McGinley announced an agreement between the prosecution and defense, the Bobo family and Adams.  He would be sentenced to life without parole plus 50 years for the rape and kidnapping charges.  

When that decision was made, my mind drifted back to Jeannine Galloway and her parents Earl and Hettie, both of whom I personally knew and who have passed away.  I wondered if some legal technicality will someday lead to a new trial for Adams and all of the old testimony will be smoked out yet again.

Zach Adams 4Just as we did 40 years ago, reporters covering the Zach Adams trial were blazing new ground.  They were using technological tools we never even dreamed of in 1977.  They can report instantaneously as testimony merits.  They can let the audience into the courtroom because of a little development called streaming.  

They covered a murder trial that was in many ways larger than life.  I just hope they all recognize this:  that trial and any other they cover in the future will never be larger than death.



A So-Called Viewer of WALB Who Should Be Shamed and Ashamed, Whether He Realizes It

My long-time friend Al Fleming, a multiple Emmy-winner, won one of his statuettes with a commentary which began:  “In the news business, it’s been said to never, ever, ever answer your critics.”

Al explained he was inclined to let the issue pass but that he was about to take on the United States Army.  He did.  In one of the most powerful perspective pieces in any city in America, Al took off the gloves as if he were in a rematch with Ali vs. Frazier.

I am about to take on a single television viewer.  However, this one individual is a reflection of one of the sickest elements in social media since its invention.  Trust me, plenty more are out there like him.

Emileigh 5Emileigh Forrester is a young weekend anchor and reporter at WALB in Albany, Ga.  I have a fondness for that station.  WALB is located about halfway between the two hometowns in which I grew up in the fifties through the seventies.  At one point, before all of the nutsy battles over compensation from cable companies, WALB was seen in almost every city in deep South Georgia.

WALB is one of those markets that for more than 60 years has been the lifeblood of local news for many rural areas of lower Georgia.  People in cities such as Sylvester, Tifton, Hahira, Valdosta, Ashburn, Nashville, Enigma, Fitzgerald and Hazlehurst have looked to Channel 10, the long-time NBC affiliate, for news and information.  No doubt, that has been exceptionally true during the past weekend with the threat of Hurricane Irma to WALB’s coverage area.

Emileigh is like hundreds of young men and women in television newsrooms across America.  Except during a couple of weeks of vacation during the year, her weekends are spent in a place that is far quieter than it is during an average weekday.  She has to fill two half-hours of news on Saturday and Sunday.  Emileigh has what has historically been known as a “skeleton staff” to help find enough local, regional and national news to deliver those newscasts to viewers who expect it, even if the content is largely softer than the Monday-through-Friday output.

If she is like many weekend anchors in small markets, she is reporter, videographer, producer, and editor.  Emileigh is in that professional period in which jobs like hers are part of the pay your dues years.  One with a solid work ethic agrees to such a role in the hope one can vault someday to a better-paying and more prestigious role either in the same station or one in another city.

Since my purchase of two Roku smart TVs more than a year ago, the NewsON app—one of the greatest inventions for a former news director—has allowed me to reacquaint myself with WALB, as well as a number of other stations across the country.  I watch the station’s newscasts a few times each month in order to reconnect with what is happening in the region of my roots.  Jim Wallace, an old college classmate from the unofficially labeled Bill Martin School of Broadcast Journalism at the University of Georgia, is WALB’s senior news anchor.

Emileigh 9Occasionally on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon after football season ends, I click NewsOn over to WALB to catch one of Emileigh’s weekend newscasts.  I have always found her pleasant, engaging, personable and authoritative in her presentation.  One afternoon, I sent her a thumbs up message on Twitter as I periodically do with a number of young reporters and anchors across the country.  As a former professional in the field, I feel a calling to offer encouragement to the next generation of reporters and anchors.  I did so several times Sunday afternoon with reporters from WINK in Fort Myers, Fla., who were exemplary during their coverage of Irma.

The weekend just past was a rare one for the WALB newsroom and staff members such as Emileigh.  Hurricanes, or threats of them, rarely reach as far as Southwest Georgia.  Remnants, tropical depressions, maybe even the leftover tropical storm may show up.  This time, the path of a powerful storm had people who live in those many rural communities surrounding Albany on pins and needles and depending on the long-reliable news staff of WALB to provide accurate, frequent and consistent weather and safety information.

As I write this, I am watching WALB News 10‘s late Sunday evening newscast after the Cowboys-Giants NFL game on NBC.  In the first 12 minutes, I counted crucial emergency information for 11 different counties in the WALB coverage area.  That is exactly what viewers expect and deserve in a weather crisis.  Emileigh, as usual, carried the ball solo until she handed off to weekend meteorologist Andrew Gorton.

Emileigh 2So, you ask, why all of this about one young woman among many in newsrooms in hundreds of cities toiling with a limited number of colleagues in order to keep people informed on Saturday and Sunday evenings?  A few times a week one of the jackal pack of dunderheads (I borrowed that term from Al Fleming’s award-winning commentary in 1979) demonstrates utter ignorance as well as abuse of the privilege of social media use.  Just read what was posted on Twitter by someone calling himself @Tblake762:

Emileigh Tweet 2

Well, well, well, Mr. @TBlake762, your brilliance and articulation are overwhelming.  If we had a Mount Rushmore for insolence and cruelty, you would be carved on it.

People like this have been out there well before social media was created.  They used to use an item called a landline telephone.  Just as on Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr, they would either often lie about their names or refuse to reveal their identity.

This guy, who claims to be a Marine, has exhibited enough mental skills to make Gomer Pyle appear to be a Rhodes Scholar.  What he did only energized the troops.  Look at some of the responses:

Emileigh Tweet 4

I am equally heartened by the WALB web producer.  Most of the time, difficult as it is, colleagues will just turn the other cheek.  In most instances, that is the right thing to do.  However, in this situation, I appreciated the retaliation:

Emileigh Tweet 3

As for Emileigh, she took the high road.  Trust me, even if you have been raised with the Biblical principle of turning the other cheek—as have I, the toughest thing to do when you are hit with a cruel slap in the face is to respond with salt and light.  Here is how Emileigh handled it—-and her web producer chimed in with another appropriate salvo:

Emileigh Tweet 1

I have never forgotten what happened shortly after I hired a young woman named Natasha as a reporter in 1991.  This was her first job out of college.  She had a great education and interviewed well.  I was glad to get her.

Admittedly, Natasha struggled in her first few weeks.  She had difficulty with speed and with editing skills.  I saw huge potential in her, so even though her early work was not up to snuff, I decided patience was the appropriate posture.

At the end of the third week, a call came after the 6:00 newscast from a viewer.  He called himself Charlie, though I doubt seriously if that was his name.  Twenty-six years later, I am paraphrasing this conversation but Charlie said something to the effect of:  “How come you can’t do any better than that new girl you have on there?”  In the next five minutes, Charlie proceeded to provide every generic reason why he did not like Natasha.  Then came the payoff.  Charlie had to throw in the firebomb that he didn’t understand why we had to have so many people who had the color of skin as Natasha.

I paused for a moment to collect my thoughts before I responded.  Again, paraphrasing, I said:  “That, sir, is something to which you and I could never agree.  You have just demonstrated the fallacy and insolence of your entire argument.  Since this is the direction you have taken it, this conversation is now over.”

I wonder what he thought over the next year when Natasha blossomed into an outstanding reporter with more and more confidence.  She overcame the speed issues and the editing deficiencies.  She broke some significant political stories, some of which had statewide impact.  She went on to a larger market and stayed in touch with me for several years.

Emileigh 7I equally ponder what the @TBlake762s of the world will think when Emileigh’s career blossoms even more than the way it already is at WALB.  Then, again, he had his one evening in the Twitter moonlight.  That is probably all he cared about at the time.  Next time you look in the dictionary, see if he isn’t listed as one of the definitions of the word “cruel.”

What this guy does not realize—probably among many things—is that a large fraternity and sorority of journalists, both active and retired, will not sit back and allow a colleague be unfairly and unreasonably assailed.  The troops are on the warpath and we have Emileigh’s back.  

I retired from being an active news director 25 years ago and went into broadcast journalism education.  Yet, for the last nine years I have been a quasi-news director because I supervise a daily cable newscast on local television produced, reported and anchored by my students.  I will unequivocally say that I would have been proud to have had Emileigh Forrester as a student or on any of my news staffs when I was still in the daily TV news profession.  Further, I will at any time be equally pleased to useEmleigh 3 Emileigh’s work as a role model for my graduates who want to follow her into the field.

Emileigh, hold your head high, just as high as the road you took with @TBlake762.  What is gross?  Anyone who would take to Twitter to invoke such a despicable post fits the description.

As for people like him, remember the famous words of my good friend and homespun humorist Don Hudlow, who said:  “There are a lot of naysayers in this world…..and they’ve all been vaccinated with lemon juice.”


A Story in Courage and Perseverance: Dave Jordan Returns to Work at WITN

Only two weeks earlier on Tuesday, August 22, Dave’s boss suddenly died.  She was not only his boss, she was his wife.  Stephanie Shoop, at the tender age of 46, was news director of WITN where Dave Jordan is the prime time co-anchor.  One day, she was wife, mother of two, and a respected leader of a television newsroom.  The next day, with no warning, Stephanie slipped away.


Dave’s co-anchor Lynnette Taylor told viewers of the loss in an emotional moment at the end of the August 22 early evening newscast.

In a previous blogpost, I wrote of how sadness can pervade a newsroom in a fashion that critics of journalism can never believe. It happens in moments when the unthinkable happens. The constant buzz that is usually the hallmark of a television news operation suddenly becomes as quiet as a public library.  What brings on the uncommon calm typically is in that rare instance when someone whose face and personality are as familiar as a member of one’s family is suddenly gone.  The stark reality strikes that the someone in question will never return.

My father was a minister for 65 of his 87 years.  Often, he told me that the most difficult times were when he had to reach out to a family who just experienced a sudden and unexpected loss.  

Stephanie Ann Shoop was a native Pennsylvanian.  In 1995, she married a man named David Giordano who grew up in the small Pennsylvania town of Sheffield.  Dave made his way to Eastern North Carolina 20 years ago after a brief stop in a small West Virginia market.  In 1998, Stephanie joined WITN as a newscast producer—a job that is frequently rewarding because the producer shapes a half-hour of news much as a sculptor does a bust.  Three years later, she became news director; in reality, her promotion made Stephanie her husband’s professional superior.

Husband-wife pairs can be an emotional boon or a periodic headache for management.  Some corporations have specific policies against spouses working for the same television station, or at least in the same department with the same boss.

In the mid-1980’s in Wilmington, N.C., I had two couples who worked for me at WWAY.  They could not have been more pleasant or more professional.  One husband was my chief photographer.  His wife was in production.  The other couple were my 11 o’clock anchors.  Richard and Jill Rogers were an immediate hit when I hired them away from WSAV in Savannah, Ga.  Richard also did the 6:00 news.  They were equally gracious off the air.  Jill did not stay in news over the long haul.  Richard is still active as the lead anchor at WRDW in Augusta, Ga.

On the other hand, I had another spouse combo in another city which I will not name.  They were not difficult people.  Yet, I often came away with a stomach ache in dealing with them.  They never grasped that their performance evaluations were as individuals, not as a couple.  One of the twosome was a reasonably good journalist.  The other spouse should have either been on PM Magazine or in an allied field.  I will leave my comments at that.  Regardless, had I cause to call the weaker performer of the two in for a conference, I knew the other would be appearing at my office door shortly after.  At least a half-dozen times, I had to issue the reminder, “I can’t talk to you about this at all.  You are two individuals on the corporate payroll.  I like you both personally, but I cannot discuss anything about a conversation with an employee with another employee even if you are married.”

ShoopsFrom all accounts, that was never a problem with the Jordans.  In her obituary, this was one description of Stephanie:  “She treated each and every employee and co-worker like her own and made them family.”

To stay in a city such as Washington, N.C., for nearly 20 years, one has to love it.  Dave and Stephanie apparently made a real home there.  Here’s what you may not realize:  Washington is part of Greenville-Washington-New Bern, one of those challenging animals of television known as the hyphenated market.  Each city’s viewers are typically jealous of their own local news and are not crazy about seeing many stories about the other two cities on their station’s newscast.  Here is something else you may not know:  the estimated population of Washington, N.C., as of 2016, was 9,801.  That may be the smallest city in America to have its own television station.  

What may not be an understatement is to say Washington may be the Mayberry of television cities.  In a town of fewer than 10,000 people, everybody tends to know everybody—or at least that is the way it seems.  If I lived there, I would probably see people who would light up if they saw their anchorman in a local restaurant.  “There’s Dave,” I’m sure they would say.  When you are in a viewer’s living room or den every night, you become a member of the family, especially in a small town.

Stephanie was not a household name in the community except to her close friends.  News directors, unless you are like this old guy was when I held that job and did commentaries three nights a week, are typically unseen and unfamiliar to the general public.  Yet, she found her fulfillment as the guiding hand of WITN News.  Over the years, she no doubt saw dozens of young journalists come and go.  At 46, her news staff was likely like an extension of her own two children.  Sometimes, a news director has to make unpopular decisions.  At times, you have to hand out discipline.  On occasion, you have to let people go—-truly never a pleasant decision even if the person being axed was not one who would be missed.  When you are in a leadership position for 16 years, you no doubt will have some people who decide they don’t like you.  However, my perception is those were few and far between in Stephanie Shoop’s world.

Even if you have occasional dysfunction—and every newsroom does at some point—a TV news operation becomes a family.  The morning of August 22, the head of the family at WITN News was snatched away in the twinkling of an eye.

I found a couple of tributes on Stephanie’s Facebook page that are worth sharing.  Here is one from a retired colleague, Steve Crabtree:

Prayers from here that our Heavenly Father wraps family, friends, news staff and other co-workers in His warm embrace giving each His comfort, peace and understanding. Stephanie was the consummate news professional and a gracious, compassionate, passionate and empathetic human being. She was dedicated to excellence in all she did and loved her family as well as her TV family with all of her heart. I respected few news directors in the U.S. more than her and feel blessed God allowed our paths to cross. My heart goes out to each of you! With love, Steve Crabtree; WVLT-TV VP/News, Retired; Knoxville TN

This one from Bill DiNicola tugged at me because I had the same emotions about a couple of the people for whom I have worked over the years:

It’s really hard to find the words… and fight back the tears long enough to write this. She was an amazing news director — but an even better mom, we all knew her as both. I am where I am now and more importantly I am who I am because of Stephanie Shoop — She was my News Mom, she was our News mom – she raised us right, she took in kids often for their first job, and turned us into well-rounded compassionate hardworking journalists, and she did it with love. You were the best possible example of a leader I could have hoped for. You let me get on the anchor desk when I weighed 500 lbs — who does that!?!? Like everyone in the WITN family, we were not ready for this. But because you were in our lives we will find the strength together. Dave, David and Grace — we’re here for you.

I can think of no finer tribute than for Stephanie to be called one’s News Mom.  That says to me—and should to many others—that she was much more than a news director.  One is not handed a label as Bill presented to Stephanie without being one who truly cares about people.

Shoop JordanWithout question, I hope Bill’s words were among many to help sustain Dave and the Jordans’ two children David and Grace.  A family, whether in television news or in any aspect of life, is a rallying center in times of sadness and deep tragedy.

Labor Day morning, I scanned TV Spy and saw that Dave Jordan—a man I have never met—was returning to work Tuesday.  He told reporter Stephanie Siegel:  “I’ve gone back to the station to visit as part of the healing process.”

In the same e-mail, here is how he reflected on his wife of 22 years:

“Stephanie was simply the most amazing person I have ever known and is deeply missed. Stephanie was also a very strong and determined person, and we are all drawing our strength from that. We all plan to do our best to pickup and carry on, as we know she would be telling us to do just that.”

Emotions are not one size fits all.  A sudden loss can send some people into an extended tailspin that requires a longer period of adjustment and grief before returning into the workplace.  Another family I knew lost their son on a Sunday afternoon in a skiing accident at a lake in South Georgia.  The next Sunday, three days after the teen’s funeral, the family was back at the lake.  “If we didn’t do this now, it would take us a lot longer to get on with life,” Bewick Murray, the father, said.  Everyone is emotionally different.

When I read that Dave was returning to the air Tuesday night, I had to log on to  I was not watching out of a viewer’s curiosity but as a member of the broadcast journalism fraternity.  I have not experienced the specific type of loss as has Dave Jordan, his children and the WITN family; yet, on the same day as Stephanie’s death, I received a call informing me of the death of my last living uncle, only six days after the passing of my oldest uncle.

Lynnette and DaveDave did his job with the same professionalism as he has for more than two decades in Eastern North Carolina.  At a designated moment in the six o’clock newscast, co-anchor Lynnette Taylor turned to Dave to share what was on his heart.  Here is an excerpt:


“I’m not going to pretend this is easy.  But I’ve reached a new reality in my life and it’s going to be that way for me and for our two children.

Family, friends, all of the viewers that have reached out with comments and cards….it’s amazing at a time like this how comments can lift you up.  I am grateful to all of you who have reached out to us. I want you to know that I’ll continue to need those because it’s going to be a journey.”
Dignity in a time of deep difficulty—that was the personification of Dave Jordan Tuesday night.
No doubt, many of those comments of encouragement and condolences have come from people Dave has never met.  I will add one of my own:  Dave, I’ve done the job you do and the job Stephanie did.  You don’t know me…..but if you need me, The Old TV News Coach is here.  May God continue to bless and comfort you and your family.

The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour Story

On occasion, I detour away from the pure broadcast journalism focus of The Old TV News Coach when we lose someone who touched our lives, especially those of us who are baby boomers.  This blogpost is taken from my years as a television historian.  I reflect on the rise of a young singer into a popular weekly television performer, as well as the slow beginning of the end of the genre of which he was a significant part from 1968 to 1972.

The death of Glen Campbell August 8 after a six-year battle with Alzheimer’s Disease was not unexpected.  We simply did not know when he would leave us.

The tributes and plaudits have come in from all over the music industry.  As for me, I want to journey back to a special four-year span of Glen’s life that cemented his name in the entertainment world.

Glen 2In 1967, he scored with major musical hits “Gentle on My Mind” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.”  He was in demand for guest appearances on television variety shows, particularly with The Smothers Brothers and on Joey Bishop’s late night ABC talk show.  The segment on Bishop’s program was instrumental in Campbell winning the summer slot.

The Smotherses’ contract gave them the right of first refusal to produce their own summer replacement.  CBS was none too crazy about allowing the Smotherses that opportunity in 1968.  During the second half of the 1967-68 season, Tom Smothers began injecting political satire and protest songs into the Sunday at 9 hour that gave the network serious headaches and even pressure from the Johnson Administration.  A glance at one of the old Smothers tapes today, nearly 50 years later, reveals a brand of protest humor and music that was milquetoast compared to the relentlessly blistering and often vitriolic attack humor of Stephen Colbert and the roster of late-night comedians targeting President Trump.

CBS had a dilemma.  To go forward with a Smothers-produced summer series would risk the same type of anti-war content as their regular season hour.  To pass on that replacement would force the network into an expensive, contractually-bound buyout.

In an interview with Deadline, Ken Fritz—a co-executive producer of the Smothers show—recalled how CBS came to accept Glen Campbell.  Fritz was one of the major creative people suggesting to go after Chevrolet as a sponsor and pitched the idea of Campbell as a modern-day version of Dinah Shore for the automaker:

Network executives and Chevrolet’s advertising agency brass were shown a tape of Campbell’s relaxed appearance with Joey Bishop on ABC.  Chevrolet agreed with the Dinah Shore analogy (ironically, Dinah’s popular NBC variety hour aired in the same Sunday night slot from 1957-61) and came on board as Campbell’s primary sponsor.

A lot was on the line.  The previous summer, a rushed up fill-in called Our Place with the comedy team of Jack Burns and Avery Schreiber and The New Doodletown Pipers (who were indistinguishably different from The Old Doodletown Pipers) drew hardly a whiff of attention from viewers.  If Glen Campbell was a success, a big advertising contract from Chevrolet could be waiting for a midseason replacement series.

The Summer Brothers Smothers Show:  1968

With the unorthodox title, The Summer Brothers Smothers Show, the premiere was promoted almost as heavily as a regular season series.  Glen listed his cast in the first promo and ended with:  “….and my special guest stars, The Summer Brothers.  Sunday night here on CBS.”

The supporting cast after the premiere edition in June 1968 resembled a typical Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour without Tommy and Dick.  Leigh French, Mason Williams and Pat Paulsen worked the summer show with some of the same routines they performed on the regular Smothers hour.  In some instances, French’s flower child sketches and Paulsen’s satire seemed in conflict with Campbell’s All-American boy image.  Yet, the music always overcame any dissonance with the comedy.

Summer replacement shows that failed filled five dumpsters in television’s first 20 years.  Vic Damone had five shots at variety hours.  John Davidson took four swings.  Jimmie Rodgers tried twice.  Tony Bennett gave two cracks at them.

Here is an additional scroll of performers who tried to vault to a more lucrative regular season slot from a summer:  Julius LaRosa, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Steve and Eydie, Spike Jones, Keefe Brasselle, John Gary, Frank Sinatra Jr., The Golddiggers, Liberace, Buddy Greco, Al Hirt, Dom DeLuise, Rick Nelson, Bert Convy, The Starland Vocal Band, Joey Heatherton, Ken Berry, Jerry Reed, Burns and Schreiber, Bobbie Gentry, Helen Reddy, Jaye P. Morgan, Snooky Lanson, Des O’Connor, Val Doonican, Rich Little, Jim Stafford and the singing couple Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr.

Until 1968, the only summer variety series—other than a couple of CBS talent scout hours—to ascend to a fall berth was The Lawrence Welk Show.  In 1955, the Champagne Music Makers were the second biggest hit of the summer (next to a small juggernaut called The $64,000 Question).  With a serious absence of hits on the network, Welk became a permanent Saturday night fixture for the next 16 years on ABC.

Glen 4The Summer Brothers Smothers Show had something different.  For one thing, the writers were smart enough not to make Glen Campbell into a comedy performer which he was not.  While he appeared in sketches, he was usually a straight man to help get over the humor of the supporting cast and comic guests.  Second, Glen had the ability to look into the camera and be himself.  While he had stage presence from earlier TV appearances, he demonstrated a rare ability to make the viewers feel he was communicating one-on-one with them.

The opening of the hour, which was eventually parodied by comedians, was typical.  After a few banjo notes and the first few bars of “Gentle on My Mind,” the line would become familiar as the host stood in the audience and said, “Good evenin’ ladies and gentlemen, I’m Glen Campbell.”  A few more notes passed and that Arkansas twang continued with, “The people we have with us tonight are…..Leigh French, Pat Paulsen, Mason Williams, Nelson Riddle and his orchestra….and my special guest star Mr. Ray Charles.”

The obligatory comedy which networks required in a variety hour was far overshadowed on The Summer Brothers Smothers Show by the music.  By 1968, Glen only had three genuine hits—“Hey, Little One” and the blockbusters “Gentle” and “Phoenix.”  A trio of chart-toppers could hardly carry the average singer beyond a few weeks of a summer series without repeating material.

What worked to Campbell’s advantage was timing.  His style of music would eventually be branded as “country pop.”  His ability to gain a crossover following for both genres made him far more than a traditional rural performer.  The country in his music was performed without steel guitars and fiddles.  Yet, his early hits gained air play on a slowly burgeoning transition in radio—the all-country station.  Afternoons, “Phoenix” and “Gentle on My Mind” were favorites of the teen set on Top 40 frequencies.

Glen perfected what became “the concert spot” on television variety.  After the half-hour station break, he was joined in the round amid the studio audience with John Hartford, the composer of “Gentle on My Mind,” and Riddle’s orchestra offering middle-of-the-road accompaniment.  Campbell had the rare ability to cover other singers’ hits and not draw the ire of the original artist’s fans.  He could easily segue from Jerry Reed’s mellow “Today Is Mine” to The Beatles’ “Yesterday” to Andy Williams’ “Moon River.”  We, as a home audience, were willing to wait a full thirty minutes to be part of a free mini-concert.

The producers of Glen’s summer show were shrewd enough to surround him largely with musical guests.  Bobbie Gentry, Charles, Nancy Sinatra, Judy Collins and the country music comic Geezinslaw Brothers were solid compliments to Campbell’s easygoing demeanor.

In the era, church youth groups frequently had fellowship hours in private homes after a Sunday evening worship service, especially in the South.  In the small town where I lived in South Georgia, our post-church gathering was called Destination: Unknown.  We all made certain the unknown became known quickly after the benediction so we could gather around a set to watch Glen Campbell from 9 to 10 while we had our Cokes and junk food.

By the end of the summer, The Summer Brothers Smothers Show not only passed Bonanza—usually a toughie even in summer repeats—but became the number one show on television.  CBS even opted to repeat the Bobbie Gentry episode in early September before the fall season officially started.  Ten weeks of prime time exposure for Glen Campbell was making the 32-year-old Arkansan water cooler conversation at offices on Monday mornings.

Virtually no one doubted Campbell would return in either December or January of the 1968-69 season.  The only question was in what time slot.  Chevrolet was already on board to return as a sponsor for a regular season Campbell show.  CBS valued another strong variety hour on its lineup.  While a successful star could command a hefty salary, overall production costs were less than for the typical filmed hour-long drama.

The problem would be to find a weak spot on the CBS lineup.  The Smothers Brothers were locked into that Sunday at 9 slot where they had neutralized Bonanza for the previous year and a half.  Jonathan Winters was a shaky entry on Wednesdays at 10, the old Danny Kaye slot.  However, CBS was committed to sticking with Winters because of an expensive contract.  A decision was made to swap the comedian’s hour with Hawaii Five-O, which was not thriving as a rookie 8 o’clock show on Thursday nights.

The one hole CBS needed to fill turned up earlier Wednesday nights.  The fourth season of the family adventure hour Daktari was sinking fast in its 7:30 slot, a move from its more successful Tuesdays.  Yet, canceling Daktari and inserting Glen Campbell was not without its risks.

Since the premiere of NBC’s The Virginian, a lavishly-produced 90-minute western, in 1962, CBS had a litter bin full of failures in its attempt to challenge James Drury and company.  CBS Reports (the network’s prestige news documentary series), Glynis (Desilu’s attempt to bring Glynis Johns to an American sitcom), the veteran Dobie Gillis, gimmick comedy My Living Doll, and an attempt to revive radio classic Suspense all failed.  Even the blockbuster Beverly Hillbillies fell from number one to 12th place when CBS opted to schedule the Clampetts against the final half-hour of The Virginian.  Comic science fiction series Lost in Space lasted three years in the 7:30-8:30 hour but was never more than a cult favorite.

For Campbell to succeed, he would have to shave off some of the Southern rural and older audience and cultivate urban viewers who migrated to his middle of the road sound.  CBS programming chief Mike Dann was also suspect of Tommy Smothers and several of his key staffers overseeing production of Campbell’s show.  He could not afford a second political stomach ache.  Campbell’s All-American image was expected to neutralize attempts to include edgier material but the singing star did not have creative control.  The Smothers production company did.

Glen 1TV Guide reported in November 1968 that Campbell would return under the title The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.  The title had a ring that complimented Campbell’s easygoing on camera demeanor.

The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour:  January 1969

The premiere date was set for January 29, 1969.  Chevrolet signed as primary sponsor.  CBS came through with a big boost in budget, allowing for an increase in bigger-name guest stars and livelier sets.  The most significant requirement for success was to allow Glen to be Glen, not a pawn of network executives or the Smothers production team.

The return was pushed by CBS as if it were an opening night on Broadway.  In every daypart, Glen popped up to tout his guest stars.  Over the credits of virtually every prime time show, CBS announcers interrupted to tell viewers Bobbie Gentry and The Smothers Brothers would appear on “the premiere of The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour Wednesday night at 7:30……on CBS.”  One booth announcer committed a spoonerism when he said “on The Clen Gambell Goodtime Hour.”

That opener had to grab the nation with a tighter grip than did the summer series.  Campbell launched the new series with the lively Stevie Wonder arrangement of “For Once in My Life,” a genuine audience pleaser.  He and Gentry teamed for O.C. Smith’s “Little Green Apples.”  In the concert spot, Glen did his newest hit, “Wichita Lineman,” “Homeward Bound” and a duet with John Hartford on the classic bluegrass favorite “Salty Dog Blues.”

Primary sponsor Chevrolet received a boost with an original song during the show’s final commercial break.  Campbell sang, “Hang On Baby, I’m Comin’ Home,” a slower ballad that told the story of a man who was “clickin’ miles in my Chevrolet” to return home to his love.  One score of the lyrics, augmented by Campbell’s exaggerated accent, continued:  “People see me in my Chivvvvy know I’m comin’ home.”  Ironically, the minute-long spot was never repeated nor converted into a conventional song for Campbell.

Pat PaulsenThe humor was up and down.  Pat Paulsen was fair on a finale series of blackouts on the history of folk music.  The Smotherses tried hard but could not get over a sketch in which Glen and Dick on horseback attempt to talk Tommy into riding a hippo.  Somehow, the skit came off high schoolish.  A number of reviewers suggested the uneven comedy was the effort to inject Smothers Brothers style comedy into a show that did not need it.  Still, Campbell was the hired help.  With Tom Smothers as co-executive producer and much of the Smothers writing staff as well as creative consultant Mason Williams on board, compromises had to be made.

Music was what would carry The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour if it were to succeed in the rough and tumble world of a television regular season.  Based on the premiere, the viewers voted yes.  Goodtime ranked ninth for its first rating period (in that era, Nielsen reported a two-week average for network shows).  The critics were largely favorable.  Yet, many series over the years began with a blockbuster debut, then tailed off if content could not be sustained.

In the next five weeks, Campbell was surrounded by performers who were strong on the Billboard charts with plenty of youth appeal in the pop and country music world.  The Monkees, Jeannie C. Riley (of “Harper Valley PTA” fame), Jose Feliciano, The Clinger Sisters, Roger Miller, Stevie Wonder, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, Bobby Goldsboro and Joe (“Games People Play”) South gave Glen strong support in the crucial February rating sweep for local stations across the country.

The March 5, 1969, episode was an example of where the Campbell-Smothers philosophy reached a point of crosshairs, as detailed later that summer in TV Guide.  Glen introduced his newest hit, “Galveston,” that climbed to number four on the Billboard charts.  Williams, who gained fame when he introduced his legendary “Classical Gas” on The Summer Brothers Smothers Show to a kaleidoscopic music video, had his own idea of how “Galveston” should be accompanied.  The lyrics, “I am so afraid of dyin’….before I dry the tears she’s cryin’…..before I watch your seabirds flyin’ in the sun….at Galveston,” struck Williams as ideal to overlay film of American soldiers in Vietnam.

The prospect troubled Campbell, who viewed the proposal as an attempt to inject Smothers-style protest material into what was designed as an apolitical music-variety hour.  “Mason is an artist, you know,” Campbell said in the TV Guide story.  “I told him, ‘You’re going to upset a portion of the audience if you push that on them.’  I wanted to show seabirds over the ocean.  I told Mason it may seem hokey, but they’ll get it.”  The segment was done with seabirds.

That first season survived the scrap over “Galveston” with top-flight solos and duets.  Glen offered outstanding Marty Paich arrangements of Rod McKuen’s “The World I Used to Know,” Stevie Wonder’s “A Place in the Sun,” his popular medley of “More” and “Somewhere,” and his hits “Dreams of the Everyday Housewife” and “Turn Around, Look at Me.”  Campbell teamed with Feliciano for “Less of Me,” Miller for the hit “King of the Road,” Leslie Uggams for Judy Collins’ “Both Sides Now” and Jim Nabors for Buck Owens’ favorite “Act Naturally.”

Two standout episodes of the first season were on March 19 and April 23.  The mid-March edition featured Nabors and Gentry on a small town set.  Glen dubbed the hour his “front porch” show.  The relaxed format offered Gentry singing Helen Reddy’s “Peaceful” and Nabors bouncing from Paliacci’s “Vesta la Guibba” to “There’s a Kind of Hush” from his “Kiss Me Goodbye” album.  When Campbell capped the evening with “A Place in the Sun” that was closer to a Frankie Laine arrangement than Stevie Wonder, the viewer came away with a feeling of having spent an hour on the Mayberry of variety shows.

The April 23 show brought together a mixture of country and classic variety hour singers and comedy.  Johnny and June Carter Cash, Vikki Carr and Bob Newhart were the guests.  Cash did his megahit “Folsom Prison Blues” and teamed with his wife for their country blockbuster “Jackson.”  Carr offered her tearjerker “With Pen in Hand.”  Newhart served up one of his hilarious telephone routines.  Campbell and his entire cast wound up the hour with the lively “This Train.”

The season finale was a shade off from the quality of previous episodes.  Bill Medley, the former Righteous Brother, had a voice that simply did not blend well with Campbell.  Merilee Rush, whose hit “Angel of the Morning” failed to propel her into major stardom, combined with Campbell for “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” which came across as an obligatory commitment for the star to duet with a singing guest.  George “Goober” Lindsey, brought aboard for comedy, actually offered the strongest guest number of the night with the unfamiliar “96 Miles to Bakersfield.”  This was an episode that Glen carried himself with Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual” as the show opener, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” in the concert spot and a stirring solo on “The Lord’s Prayer” to conclude the hour.

The season Nielsen verdict was a good one.  The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour averaged a 22.5 rating, enough for 15th place overall for the season.  Goodtime edged The Virginian 22.5 to 21.8, the first CBS series to eclipse the veteran western.  Aside from Mayberry R.F.D., which was basically a sequel to The Andy Griffith Show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour was the top new show on CBS for 1968-69.  Renewal was an easy decision for a second year in the same Wednesday at 7:30 slot.

Still, Campbell was restless with what he felt should be the overall texture of the show.  “It should just be a good time,” he told TV Guide, “but we’ve had a darned hard time making it one.”  Glen and his manager Nick Sevano made a critical decision.  Glenco Productions bought out the Smothers Brothers’ interest in the show for $1 million.  The investment was expensive for the era but Campbell would be far more in control of his own destiny and the content of his show.  The Smotherses had just been canceled by CBS after their ratings fell to 53rd place, heightened by a battle with CBS chief programmer Mike Dann over delivering advance tapes of their show for screening.  Tom Smothers had developed an ulcer as a result of the constant war with CBS.

The buyout also meant significant cast changes.  Gone were Pat Paulsen, John Hartford and Mason Williams (as a creative guru).  In came young banjo prodigy Larry McNeeley to replace Hartford.  Paulsen was not replaced as a rotation of comedy guest stars became the policy.  Hartford’s “Natural to Be Gone” was dropped as the series’ closing song in favor of McNeeley’s inspirational “Pave Your Way into Tomorrow” (which, sung in the same key as “Natural,” sounded amazingly similar to the Hartford tune).

Season 2:  1969-70

Year two opened on the same solid note as midseason 1969.  Singers Barbara McNair and John Stewart joined Tom and Dick Smothers as the opening show guests.  In a routine where Glen played straight man, Tommy parodied the fact that their post-cancellation summer replacement show had become TV’s most popular hour, an unexpected number called Hee Haw.  Glen launched the season with his new hit “Try a Little Kindness,” written as a tribute to Joey Bishop’s closing line on his talk show.  In the concert spot was Oliver’s “Jean” and the country classic “White Lightning.”  The finale was a royal court spoof that ended with Glen singing an upbeat version of “Scarborough Fair.”

At midseason, CBS faced yet another scheduling dilemma.  Network executives ran through a cornucopia of choices to fill the Sunday at 9 slot in the fall of 1969 after the cancellation of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.  Variety hours starring Robert Goulet, Wayne Newton and Jim Nabors (who ended up on Thursday nights) were considered.  The new hospital drama Medical Center was given a passing glance (before launching on Wednesdays).  Moving Mission: Impossible an hour earlier as a lead-in to a new 10 o’clock drama had some support.

Instead, CBS went with a younger performer who had extensive exposure as a supporting cast member on variety shows and on Broadway.  With television under pressure to diversify its casts, the network cast its lot with Leslie Uggams as Ed Sullivan’s lead-out.  Ms. Uggams connected with viewers first as a teenage contestant on the CBS version of the game show Name That Tune.  From 1961-65, she was a regular member of the musical cast of NBC’s Sing Along with Mitch.  She earned high marks in her role as Georgina in the 1967 Broadway musical Hallelujah, Baby!

Ms. Uggams appeared to have all the tools in her corner.  Her producers, Saul Ilson and Ernest Chambers handled the Smothers show before the political turmoil erupted.  Her writers included David Davis and Lorenzo Music, who went on to success with Mary Tyler Moore and Bob Newhart.  She was surrounded with an ensemble cast of comedy performers including newcomer Johnny Brown, Lillian Hayman, Lincoln Kilpatrick and Dennis Allen.  Nelson Riddle, her orchestra leader, was one of the music industry’s top arrangers.

The guest stars on The Leslie Uggams Show were of the traditional and unconventional variety pack.  Dick Van Dyke, Don Knotts, Nabors, Ken Berry, Kaye Ballard, Ruth Buzzi, Raymond Burr, Bobby Goldsboro, Bob Denver, Sammy Davis Jr., Sly and the Family Stone, Mike Connors, Stevie Wonder and even her former mentor Mitch Miller took turns at giving a boost to the young star.  One bizarre episode even featured Leslie with Bob Crane, Werner Klemperer, John Banner and Larry Hovis spend half the show in a parody of their own series Hogan’s Heroes, itself already a parody of a World War II POW camp.  Nothing seemed to work.

Ratings sank to pre-1967 levels in the Sunday at 9 slot.  The critics’ theories as to why ran the gamut.  Variety suggested CBS should never have stuck Uggams opposite the rebounding Bonanza, though the network gave the Smotherses that slot only four months after the brothers’ sitcom failed miserably.  Another analysis was that Uggams was a talented guest star on variety shows but not strong enough to be the headliner (though NBC succeeded handsomely the following year with Flip Wilson, who may have been less well-known than Uggams at the time).  A third opinion was that the pressure was too heavy on Uggams’ shoulders to be the first African American woman to host a weekly variety hour.  Nat King Cole had the first crack at prime time musical variety in 1957 but did not succeed at opening the gates for minorities.

Seven weeks in, CBS pulled the plug on The Leslie Uggams Show.  The final episode would air December 14, 1969.  CBS virtually conceded the lucrative time slot opposite Bonanza and ABC’s movies for the critical November rating sweeps.  The next question:  what would replace her?

This was not a conventional programming decision.  The first, almost no-brainer, consideration was to replace Uggams immediately with Hee Haw, which drew blockbuster numbers in the same slot opposite Bonanza during the summer.  Had the canceled hour been a run-of-the mill variety show not topped by a groundbreaking minority, Hee Haw would have quickly been the choice.  However, CBS programming chief Mike Dann was sensitive to potential backlash of replacing a black performer in less than three months with a show that was exclusively Southern cornpone humor with no African American in the cast.

Dann had an ace in the hole.  The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour originally took the measure of Bonanza as a summer show.  His crossover musical ability made him the strongest of the new breed of variety shows of the late 1960s.  The decision:  Campbell would return to Sundays at 9 on December 21.  Hee Haw would take Campbell’s Wednesday at 7:30 slot on December 17.

Glen 6The opening episode back on Sundays was Glen’s first Christmas show.  TV favorite Andy Griffith was the special guest star.  Cher, Paul Lynde and Glen’s wife and three children appeared.  The new time slot was instituted with the feel of a Christmas special.  Campbell opened with his lively arrangement of “Gotta Travel On.”  Cher did O.C. Smith’s “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay.”  The finale was a Christmas medley with the entire cast.  The concert spot, nonetheless, was saved for three of Glen’s biggest:  “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston” and his version of Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas.”

Viewers followed Glen back to Sunday nights.  The 24.1 rating was good enough for number seven for the week in the Nielsens and topped both Bonanza and the ABC movie.

Over the next few weeks, name guests continued to populate The Goodtime Hour.  Walter Brennan, Ray Charles, George Gobel, Bobbie Gentry, Neil Diamond and Ella Fitzgerald were big favorites.  An early February hour offered two rare variety show guests, Gunsmoke’s Milburn Stone and Ken Curtis.  The venerable Doc and Festus joined Glen in a medley of old western movie classics, including “Tumblin’ Tumbleweed” and “Cool Water,” hits of the Sons of the Pioneers (with whom Curtis once sang).

A signature hour on February 22, 1970, had major significance for the network.  CBS had won the yearly ratings race for 13 consecutive years.  With a weaker lineup of movie titles and some dying sitcoms (Get Smart, brought over from NBC for a final season, The Good Guys, The Tim Conway Show and Petticoat Junction), CBS was losing the 1969-70 seasonal race by nearly three points per week.  Dann, whose undefeated streak was an obsession, could not bear losing to his brash NBC opponent Paul Klein.

An imperative titled Operation 100 was originated by Dann.  The plan was to tear up the entire CBS lineup if necessary.  Pre-emptions of weak shows for better-performing specials were one part of the blueprint.  Buying movie titles not currently in CBS’s library (Peyton Place, Born Free, The African Queen) that had heavy promotional potential was a second step.  Third, Dann wanted his variety show hosts and producers to beef up their guest lineups in February to make their episodes appear more along the lines of network spectaculars.  Operation 100 may have smacked of desperation but Dann felt CBS could bring home the bacon for a 14th straight year.

A key to the programming blitz was The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.  In the hour before, The Ed Sullivan Show was suffering from an aging and declining audience.  CBS was not as reluctant to pre-empt Sullivan’s vaudeville showcase as it would have in past years.  Dann managed to get the film Born Free (which had already aired on NBC) at a bargain price.  He scheduled the family movie from 7 to 9 on Sunday, February 22.  Dick Van Dyke agreed to host wraparounds during Born Free in the same fashion as he had once done previously for a CBS airing of The Wizard of Oz.

West Coast programming executive Perry Lafferty called Campbell and asked if he could schedule a blockbuster show.  CBS was willing to foot the bill for added talent costs.  As detailed in Les Brown’s book Television: the Business Behind the Box, Lafferty telegraphed a memo to New York which read:  “Campbell promises to book a huge show coming out of Born Free, big acts.  This could get him the highest rating he’s ever had.”  Van Dyke consented to plug Campbell’s hour and talent lineup at the end of Born Free.

The February 22 episode went down as one of the most memorable of The Goodtime Hour efforts.  John Byner and Laugh-In’s Ruth Buzzi came aboard for comedy.  The cement was booking Dionne Warwick and The Fifth Dimension, two of the hottest musical acts in the recording industry.  A decision was made for orchestra leader Marty Paich to arrange a medley of 13 of the biggest hits for Campbell, Warwick and The Fifth Dimension.  The songfest would comprise the final 11 minutes of The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.  Warwick’s “Alfie” and “Didn’t We?” and “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” were among the classics.  The Dimension offered “Up, Up and Away,” “Sweet Blindness” and “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” (on which the entire cast joined).  Glen served up “Wichita Lineman,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Hey, Little One” and “Where’s the Playground, Susie?”  Paich’s creative arrangement allowed the artists to sing bits of the others’ hits as a virtual echo sound.

Glen DionneOne could sense a shared desire at the end of the medley for the entire home audience to rise as one in a standing ovation in an era before such a reaction became a cliché.  When Glen left his guests to perform his closing “Pave Your Way into Tomorrow,” his facial expression indicated, “We nailed it!”  Even the Paich orchestra’s closing credits theme of “Gentle on My Mind” seemed livelier.

The Operation 100 ploy was working.  The February 22 episode scored a 26.0 rating, the top number ever for a Campbell hour (as Lafferty predicted).  CBS went on, with the chaotic programming strategy, to win the season for the 14th year in a row by two-tenths of a point over NBC.  The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour ended its second year with a 21.0 rating, good enough for 20th place for the season.  Bonanza ranked third with a 24.8.  However, much of the Ponderosa rating was built during its head-to-head matchup with Uggams.  With Campbell back in as the opponent, the race was neck-and-neck on Sunday at 9 with each show inching ahead of the other an equal number of times, often depending on the strength of Glen’s guest roster.

Campbell’s summer replacement was a completely different format called Comedy Tonight with Robert Klein as the headliner among a group of young comics.  The ratings were indifferent.  Comedy Tonight did not continue in the tradition of the previous two summers of launching hits for the regular season in The Summer Brothers Smothers Show and Hee Haw.

At the same time The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour established its star as a major television name, his records began to cool on the Billboard charts—both in rank and weeks on the list.  This followed a pattern for many singers who found TV success with variety shows dating back to Perry Como.  “Where’s the Playground, Susie?,” another Jim Webb composition, stalled at number 26.  The tune simply did not have the same singalong melody as Glen’s previous hits.  Campbell himself acknowledged as much.  “I’d had a string of monster hits,” he said on The Merv Griffin Show on CBS, “but ‘Where’s the Playground, Susie?’ was just nothing.”  His recording of the theme from the film True Grit, in which he played a supporting role to John Wayne (in The Duke’s only Oscar-winning performance), topped out at number 35.

The 1970-71 season began with major changes on the horizon in the entire television industry.  First, a Justice Department inquiry into domination of television networks over their affiliates, led to an FCC rulemaking limiting CBS, ABC and NBC to three hours per night of prime time programming effective October 1, 1971.  Most evenings, the 7:30-8 p.m. half-hour would go back to the affiliates.  Second, the key advertising agencies in New York quietly began emphasizing demographic ratings over total numbers of eyeballs watching network programs.  For the 1970 fall season, CBS shocked many observers by canceling veteran mainstays Jackie Gleason and Red Skelton.  In the aftermath, Skelton was so angry (his variety series was still the number 8 show in the Nielsens) that he vowed never to release tapes of his eight years of one-hour CBS shows for syndication.  Petticoat Junction, one of the triumvirate of hit rural-based comedies developed by Paul Henning, was canceled after seven years.  The venerable Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres were moved to unfamiliar Tuesday night slots opposite ABC’s breakout younger-skewing hit The Mod Squad.

Season 3:  1970-71

CBS kept The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour as its anchor on Sundays at 9 but the shows surrounding Campbell were potential problems.  The Ed Sullivan Show, which began as Toast of the Town in 1948, had a median viewer age of 61.  The network made a puzzling decision to move Mission: Impossible back to Saturday nights and inserted The Tim Conway Comedy Hour Sundays at 10.  Conway, a popular supporting actor in the sixties on McHale’s Navy and a favorite guest star on variety shows, was a question mark as a show topliner.  His one try at a starring comedy role in the ABC western spoof Rango was a ratings disaster.  In the spring of 1970, Conway was given a CBS one-hour special opposite television’s new number one hit, ABC’s Marcus Welby, M.D.  The ratings for the Conway special were terrible (72nd place) but CBS programmers rejected a new medical drama starring Carl Betz and went with Conway.

The third season opener for The Goodtime Hour featured variety show favorites and an unconventional guest.  Ruth Buzzi and Norm Crosby returned for comedy bits.  The Fifth Dimension, who scored hugely with their February appearance, returned to do “Spinning Wheel” and the Oscar-winning “Windmills of Your Mind.”  The group joined Glen and Jerry Reed for a medley of “In the Summertime,” “Save the Country” and “Everything Is Beautiful.”  The surprise addition, billed as special guest star, was Brian Keith of CBS’ Family Affair.  Keith had never appeared on a variety hour and some of his sketches were a bit stiff, though he connected with a segment in which he “narrated” the lyrics to current pop songs.  Yet, CBS wanted added exposure for Keith because Family Affair faced formidable Thursday night competition this season with NBC’s new Flip Wilson Show.  Glen ended the evening with his version of The Beatles’ Let It Be.  Musically, the hour was solid.  The comedy was the typical variety show sketch fare.

Two other changes to format for 1970-71 were tweaks.  Instead of Glen opening the show with “Gentle on My Mind” and disclosing his guest list, Larry McNeeley and the musicians struck up with “Gentle” but a different guest star each week would rise from the audience and mock the host’s traditional, “Good evening ladies and gentlemen, I’m Glen Campbell.”  The closing theme after Glen singing “Pave Your Way into Tomorrow” was an upbeat Marty Paich arrangement of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.”

The first two-week reporting period for Nielsen brought some disappointing but not insurmountable results.  The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour was in 29th place for the period (his second show was headlined by singers Nancy Wilson and Buck Owens and comedian Shecky Greene), its weakest start to a season.  Part of the explanation came in the performance of Campbell’s lead-in and lead-out.  The Ed Sullivan Show, which barely survived cancellation the previous year, opened in 51st place.  The Tim Conway Comedy Hour (which featured an opening theme of comedian Art Metrano doing “Fine and Dandy” without orchestral accompaniment) was a quick disaster in 72nd place.

Glen 5Between October and Christmas week, Glen’s guest list reflected a balance between standard variety show singers and newcomers to the charts.  Veterans The Osmond Brothers, The Supremes, Dionne Warwick, Johnny Cash, Jackie DeShannon, Anne Murray (who became a semi-regular), Thelma Houston, Sunday’s Child, Karen Wyman and Kenny Rogers and the First Edition.  For comedy, familiar faces Wally Cox, George Gobel, Walter Brennan, Norm Crosby, Ruth Buzzi and Paul Lynde carried the load.  For some unexplained reason, Shecky Greene made four appearances between October and December.  Three times he was billed as “special guest star” above other performers who appeared more deserving of that designation.

Highlights of the fall were the November 8 and 15 shows.  Tom Jones, in Hollywood to tape eight episodes of his ABC variety hour This Is Tom Jones, headlined the November 8 Goodtime Hour.  Dean Martin, Campbell’s golfing buddy, was special guest star November 15.  Both weeks, the shows ended with Glen joining with his guests in medleys of their hits.  Jones and Campbell opened their medley with the old standard “Let the Good Times Roll” before seguing into Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual,” “Help Yourself,” “Green, Green Grass of Home” and “I’m Never Gonna Fall in Love Again.”  The two ended the show over the credits with Jones’ closing TV theme “I Thank You.”  Martin did little except for a quick sketch appearance until the end.  The entire hour was worth waiting for Campbell and Dino to team for six of his country/western favorites, including “Let the Good Times In,” “Things” and “Old Yellow Line.”  Both shows bumped the ratings upward back into the top 25.

Glen Dean 2The Christmas show on December 20 was another family experience, along with George Gobel, Anne Murray and—for the fourth time in 11 weeks—Shecky Greene.  Glen’s parents, Wes and Carrie Campbell, returned for their annual appearance.  This time, Glen’s sisters joined the party, singing “Till There Was You” while their brother offered Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song” and “There’s No Place Like Home” from “The Glen Campbell Christmas Album.”

In the new year, music again drove the train.  January 10, Glen, Linda Ronstadt and Neil Diamond presented a show-ending medley of Diamond’s hits.  Tennessee Ernie Ford, Sonny and Cher, Liberace, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Sunday’s Child and Jimmy Dean rounded out the month.  On January 31, Glen’s finale was “Cold December in Your Heart,” an encore from the first season.

In the all-important February rating sweeps for local stations, The Goodtime Hour aired only three of the four weeks, pre-empted on Valentine’s night.  Musical stars included a return of Dionne Warwick, Anne Murray and The Osmonds, Mac Davis (who would later have a major falling out with Campbell), country singer Susan Raye and Bobby Vinton.  Andy Griffith returned and Shecky Greene made his fifth appearance of the season.  The best of the lot was February 28 when Glen and Vinton teamed for a medley of Bobby’s hits.

Interestingly, the final four episodes of the 26-show season ended on April 4.  Repeats began the following week and aired through the May rating sweeps.  Today’s network schedulers often slot reruns in the mid-March to April period and save May for new episodes.  The final month included Joey Bishop—-who gave Glen a big boost toward the variety show by booking Campbell frequently on the comedian’s ABC talk show, Bobby Goldsboro, Seals and Crofts, Vikki Carr, Don Rickles, two more appearances by Anne Murray and Shecky Greene for the sixth time.  The highlight episode was March 21 when Burl Ives showed up to do a powerful solo with “Time” and teamed with Glen for a medley of Ives’ folk hits, including “The Blue Tail Fly.”

The third season did not end on what any viewer would call a high note.  Campbell made no mention of the April 4 show as the final one, probably in no small part because episodes sometimes aired out of the order of their taping.  The final four appeared to be routine hours with guests who turned up on most of the other network variety shows.

Of more significant note were the season-long Nielsen results.  The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour fell to 35th place for the 1970-71 campaign.  The good news was the show’s performance compared to its lead-in and lead-out.  Ed Sullivan’s 23rd season dropped his tradition of singers, dancers, comedians and plate spinners to 56th place.  Most weeks, Sullivan ran third in the time slot behind ABC’s The FBI and NBC’s combination of The Wonderful World of Disney and The Bill Cosby Show.  Tim Conway’s misplayed comedy hour was gone by December and replaced by repeats of Jackie Gleason’s musical editions of The Honeymooners.

Additionally, word began filtering of major shifts in all the networks’ programming philosophies, especially CBS.  With the ad agencies pushing series that would attract younger urban audiences, focusing on the 18-to-49 age bracket, many of the veteran CBS programs—including some still drawing Top 30 ratings—could be vulnerable.  With The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour featuring a Southern star, Variety listed the three-year-old series as “on the bubble” for 1971-72.  In fact, concerns were that the entire variety show genre was in deep trouble.

The verdict came the first week in May.  The network lineups for fall revealed the variety hour was headed in the same direction as the western.  Of 16 music/comedy hours on ABC, CBS and NBC, all but five were gone.  ABC parted company with Lawrence Welk after 16 years.  Johnny Cash’s much-anticipated Nashville-based hour was dead after two seasons.  Pearl Bailey’s first shot at a variety show ended after half a season.  ABC stripped its entire schedule of variety in favor of younger-skewing comedies and dramas.  NBC disposed of longtime Peacock mainstay Andy Williams, Don Knotts and Red Skelton’s renovated half-hour.  Only Dean Martin and Flip Wilson, its new big hit, survived.  CBS, as expected, ended the Ed Sullivan era and gave pink slips to the Honeymooners reruns and—-to the shock of many—-The Jim Nabors Hour.  Nabors, arguably the most ascending star on the network through the 1960s, gambled on doing a variety hour in 1969 when CBS wanted him to go two more years with his invincible Gomer Pyle, USMC.  The Nabors show was still in the top 30 after finishing 11th in its first season.  The Alabamian’s music/comedy effort was significantly increasing the audience from the fading Family Affair.

Glen 3

Still up in the air was the fate of The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, a decision that came down to the last two scheduling moves.  New CBS President Bob Wood and young programming chief Fred Silverman were both intent on remaking the network for a new decade.  Their anchor was a controversial new comedy introduced in February 1971 that challenged television taboos in language and topical content.  All in the Family, based on a British series Till Death Us Do Part, premiered in 56th place but the new CBS executive team was intent on patience with what they felt would be a groundbreaking show for American television.

The boldness of Wood and Silverman was evident in more than their surprise move to drop Jim Nabors.  Missing for 1971-72 was Lassie (17 years), Hogan’s Heroes (6 years), The Beverly Hillbillies (9 years), Green Acres (6 years), The CBS News Hour (11 years), Family Affair (6 years), and To Rome with Love (2 years).  However, that was not all.  Andy Griffith’s new sitcom bit the dust after a half-season.  Newcomers Storefront Lawyers and The Interns, both designed with an edgier tone for young adults, failed.  The big shock came when CBS sliced two top 20 shows, much as it had the year before with the cancellation of Red Skelton.  Mayberry R.F.D., the sequel to the original Andy Griffith Show, which finished 15th for its third season despite formidable competition in the fall from ABC’s new Monday Night Football, was gone.  Hee Haw, the surprise megahit of the summer of 1969, was 16th for the year in the old Red Skelton slot—the highest-rated CBS Tuesday night hour.  When Silverman scanned the low ratings in New York, Philadelphia and other urban markets, Hee Haw was considered expendable (though its producers quickly syndicated the hayseed hour for the next 23 years).

With CBS shedding itself of any semblance of rural-appeal entertainment, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour appeared to be a sure bet to go.  Plus, CBS opted to go with a third night of movies in the Sunday 7:30-9:30 slot.  The Goodtime Hour could have gone 9:30 to 10:30 but CBS was high on a new crime drama, Cade’s County, featuring Glenn Ford—one of a corps of film stars making the transition to television series in 1971.

Ultimately, The Goodtime Hour would survive but in the toughest time slot for the fall season.  Campbell would move to Tuesday at 7:30, head-on against ABC’s powerhouse and 11th-ranked The Mod Squad and NBC’s fourth-ranked Ironside—a risky move out of its solid Thursday night slot of the previous four years.  One shining light was a feature in Look magazine, in which Silverman was quoted as saying a key reason Campbell continued for a fourth year was because “he actually draws more urban viewers than Carol Burnett.”  That could not have been a note of optimism for Burnett, who was moving out of her traditional Monday night slot (to Wednesdays) for the first time since her 1967 premiere.

For Campbell to succeed in the new time period, he would need to focus on the 35-54 age demographic.  The Mod Squad was strong in the 18-34 crowd.  Ironside’s core audience was over 40 but was predominantly male.  Glen would need to keep a grasp on the middle age bracket that solidified The Goodtime Hour in its first three seasons.

Season 4:  1971-72

Four subtle changes marked season four.  Rather than the “good evening, I’m Glen Campbell” parody, each week began with a cold open of Glen singing.  The Mike Curb Congregation, a kid-and-teen skewing choral group, was added as regulars.  The closing theme of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” was played without audience applause over clips of the following week’s episode.  Finally, as if this move would make any difference with the audience, the series title was quietly altered to The Glen Campbell Show.  Some network executive—-probably Fred Silverman—-likely decided The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour sounded too rural.

The decision was made, probably in no small part by CBS, to frontload the hour with bigger name show business veterans which often served to make The Glen Campbell Show appear the same as all the traditional variety series.

Opening night on September 14 featured John Wayne, Carol Burnett, Tim Conway and Three Dog Night.  Glen opened with the pop hit “Sooner or Later” and closed with “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.”  He joined Three Dog Night for their million-seller “Joy to the World.”  The hour had plenty of pizazz.  The ratings did not.  Campbell was a distant third to the crime show opposition.

CBS continued to beef up the guest list with heavyweights.  Bob Hope, Debbie Reynolds, Shirley Jones, Lucille Ball, Jack Benny, Jack Lord and Andy Griffith were among the name stars to appear in the next seven weeks.  The November rating sweeps were highlighted with musical guests Petula Clark, Sonny and Cher (who would return in their own midseason replacement variety hour in January), Lynn Anderson, Paul Anka and Jerry Lee Lewis.  One entire episode was devoted to the Photoplay Awards, a popularity contest in the fast-fading fan magazine.  The highlight of the hour was Shirley Jones and Glen doing a medley of tunes from Oklahoma! and Glen winding up with “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Shirley’s film Carousel.

As Christmas approached, The Glen Campbell Show was clearly in trouble.  United Press International’s Rick DuBrow quoted an unnamed source as saying “CBS would like to cancel but paying off the contract with Campbell would be too expensive, especially with the networks struggling to replace lost revenue from the ban on cigarette advertising.”  Despite the lavish production values, The Campbell Show fell to 63rd place in its monster three-way confrontation. 

The annual Campbell Christmas show aired three days late because of a pre-emption December 21.  Glen’s family made its annual appearance, joined by Pat Boone and his family and Dom DeLuise—who had replaced Shecky Greene as a semiregular—-and his family.  In addition to holiday tunes, a highlight was a spoof of classic singing groups from the Mills Brothers to the Beach Boys.

The January 4 show held the distinction of being the shortest episode of the Glen Campbell series.  DeLuise, Totie Fields and The Osmonds were guests for a 50-minute edition.  At 8:20 p.m., Senator Edmund Muskie announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for President in a paid announcement.

Glen Spectacular 2With the entertainment media circling the wagons of impending cancellation, Glen was determined to go out with at least one show of his choosing.  Quarter-page ads were bought by Chevrolet in key newspapers promoting The Glen Campbell Country Music Spectacular.  In the opening moments after singing “I Was Born a Country Boy,” Campbell told the audience:  “This is my dream show.”  Johnny and June Carter Cash, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Mel Tillis, newcomer Freddie Hart, Jerry Reed and Minnie Pearl put on a tour de force of the genre CBS tried desperately to rid itself of in the previous season.  A closer look at the episode, available now on, demonstrates how Campbell threw the episode to his guests.  His only solos were “Born to Lose” and, in the finale, “For the Good Times.”  The highlight was a nine-minute medley in the penultimate segment featuring everything from “A Boy Named Sue,” Haggard’s “I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am,” Owens’ “I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail,” Tillis with “Detroit City” and Reed’s “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot.”  The closer brought the whole cast together for Don Gibson’s classic “Oh, Lonesome Me.”

The Country Music Spectacular may have been the best-produced network hour ever of television showcasing country music performers.   The gig may have been up for Campbell’s variety show but the blockbuster hour bumped The Glen Campbell Show to 39th place, its final appearance in the Nielsen top 40.  Had the episode been the last show of the series, Campbell would have finished with an exclamation point.

Nine episodes remained but no one could accuse Campbell of coasting.  Shirley Jones (in a second guest shot), Robert Goulet, Freda Payne, Jim Nabors, Helen Reddy and Barbara Eden gave him strong musical support.  Even Milton Berle headlined a salute to the Golden Age of Television on the March 7 episode.

The series finale on March 21 was not one that shot any fireworks but was the way Glen wanted to finish.  Anne Murray, Jerry Reed, Larry McNeeley, Dom DeLuise and his parents surrounded him.  CBS would not make the cancellation official for another four weeks but Campbell knew this was it.  He opened with an up tempo version of the Broadway favorite “Hello, Young Lovers” and offered “Help Me Make It Through the Night” in his concert spot.  He joined Wes and Carrie Campbell for “In the Shadow of the Pines.”  Reflecting the climax of many of his live concerts, Glen brought down the curtain on four years of goodtime television with “The Lord’s Prayer.”

After nine weeks of repeats, The Glen Campbell Show was history.  His production company supervised the two four-week summer replacement shows, The Jerry Reed When You’re Hot, You’re Hot Hour and The John Byner Comedy Hour.  Neither hour could build any momentum for consideration as a midseason replacement.  Including the nine weeks of The Summer Brothers Smothers Show in the summer of 1968, the series ran for 100 episodes.

The Goodtime Hour:  Epilog

Glen took a year off from television except as an occasional guest star.  In 1973, he signed a two-year contract with NBC and Chevrolet to do two specials a year.  The big-budget shows performed respectably in the ratings, though never at the levels of his first two seasons with The Goodtime Hour.

In 1981, Campbell returned to weekly television in syndication.  The Glen Campbell Music Show, a half-hour targeted for weekend slots on local stations, was a joint venture of his Glenco Productions and producer Pierre Cossette, who had overseen a number of Andy Williams specials.  In fact, The Glen Campbell Music Show was structured similarly to Williams’ attempt at half-hour syndication in 1976-77 that only lasted one season.  Williams taped all 26 shows in Canada in 19 days.

The Glen Campbell Music Show was purely as the name implied.  No comedians or sketches were included.  No lavish sets or designer costumes were in the budget.  Most weeks, the show had only one guest who typically sang one song and did a single duet with Glen.  The rest of the half-hour was Glen and his music.  The show did not even have a permanent theme song.  Glen opened with a different one of his hits every week.

Unfortunately, the syndicated series did not click.  Part of the problem was its scheduling.  Many stations across the country scheduled The Glen Campbell Music Show in late night on Saturdays or Sundays.  In the cities where he aired early Saturday evenings, Glen was usually directly opposite two syndication toughies—Hee Haw and The Lawrence Welk Show—or Merv Griffin Productions’ younger-skewing Dance Fever.  Glen’s half-hour also had a cookie-cutter look to each episode that resembled assembly line production.

Glen 8Television historians have long debated what brought an end to the variety show era.  Sonny and Cher, along with Donny and Marie, were the last gasps of music/comedy success in prime time.  All the other attempts, mostly in summer replacements, bit the dust.  Carol Burnett ended an 11-year run in 1978.  Dean Martin faded away on NBC in 1973-74 in a final season as The Dean Martin Comedy Hour.  The Bonos were a top 10 show when their variety hour ended in 1974 because of their divorce.  Each one tried a solo series that failed.   Their attempt to reunite in January 1976 only lasted a year and a half.  Donny and Marie managed four years on ABC, though they limped along in a final half-season in 1979 as The Osmond Family Hour.

An objective examination centers on four keys to the end of successful television variety series.  One, younger people in the early-to-mid 1970s were raised on concerts and edgier pop music that did not play well on television except on weekend shows such as The Midnight Special or Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert.  Two, oversaturation was a huge problem.  When the networks had a peak of 16 variety hours in 1971, the shows began to look alike.  The hosts began to swap appearances on each other’s shows, the guest lists seemed to be carbon copies and the formats were too similar.  Three, many of the singers or comedians hired to front the hours by the mid-‘70s were reasonably good guest performers but did not have the comfort zone or talent to be an emcee who wore well with a weekly audience.  Finally, the shift toward demographic focus in television ratings pushed the variety show out the door.  Just as westerns virtually died after the cancellation of Gunsmoke in 1975, variety hours skewed older—an audience ad agency executives believed was set in its ways, consisting of people who would not buy new products.  In other words, if you were over 50, advertising executives considered you as much as dead.

In his autobiography, Glen Campbell detailed honestly the wear and tear his career took on his personal life:  multiple marriages, addictions to pills, bouts with depression and strained relationships.  He faced a perpetual challenge living up to the image of an All-American boy who became every mother’s son when The Summer Brothers Smothers Show launched his television career in 1968.  An intense concert schedule and a four-year struggle to find a new hit song until “Rhinestone Cowboy” clicked in 1975 took its toll.

Yet, for that four year-period between 1968 and 1972, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour was appointment television for viewers—-especially the loyalists who hung with him in the low-rated final season.  When CBS allowed Glen to be Glen, the hour was as enjoyable as any of the Golden Age music-comedyfests.  He had an ability to connect with his audience by being himself.  He gave the network its first successful young male emcee in the genre in more than a decade.  Likewise, he was one of the last of a dying television breed.  Pauline Kael wrote, “We may be reaching the end of an era in which individual movies meant something to people.  In the new era, movies may mean just a barrage of images.” So too is the end of the television variety show.  For those viewers who gathered mostly on Sundays at 9 for The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, the memories still mean something.


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