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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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 ShoutFactoryTV.com, 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.