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“The Incredible Inman’s Pop Culture Potluck” deals with movie and TV history. To make a suggestion about a subject or topic, please visit our Incredible Inman page on Facebook.

Music: Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Opening voice work: Marianne Zickuhr

 

Episode 10: The Quiz Show Scandals — “Twenty-One”

 

We end our two-part look at the quiz show scandals with the most infamous example of all — the NBC program “Twenty-One.” Contestants on the show were deliberately given answers to questions, directed to lose games and were even coached on how, for maximum dramatic effect, to hesitate when answering a question. The show’s most popular contestant, Charles Van Doren, was celebrated for his intellect and humility and rewarded with a job on NBC-TV. But he ended up revealing his role in the hoax during a dramatic congressional hearing, and his reputation was forever tarnished.

Sources:

The Box: A Oral History of Television, 1920-61, by Jeff Kisseloff

Prime Time and Misdemeanors: Investigating the 1950s TV Quiz Scandal — A D.A.’s Account, by Joseph Stone and Tim Yohn

TV Game Shows, by Maxine Fabe

Remembering America: A Voice from the Sixties, by Richard Goodwin

“The Answer Men: ‘Quiz Show’ Evokes Haunting Memories for Three Figures from the ’50s TV Scandal,” People, October 3, 1994

“To Be ‘Twenty-One’ Again,” The Hollywood Reporter, October 6, 1994

“The American Experience: The Quiz Show Scandal,” aired on PBS January 6, 1992

“Television: Fun and Games,” aired on PBS in 1988

 

Episode 9: The Quiz Show Scandals — “The $64,000 Question”

During the summer of 1955, a new TV show kept people in front of their sets on hot Tuesday nights. “The $64,000 Question” was a big-money quiz show that made its contestants instant celebrities and the show even displaced “I Love Lucy” as the nation’s top TV program. What nobody realized at the time was that the show was planned, paced and cast like a drama, and a contestant’s success depended not on the questions he or she answered correctly, but on a sponsor who would drop you when you ceased to be useful.

Sources:

The Box: A Oral History of Television, 1920-61, by Jeff Kisseloff

Prime Time and Misdemeanors: Investigating the 1950s TV Quiz Scandal — A D.A.’s Account, by Joseph Stone and Tim Yohn

TV Game Shows, by Maxine Fabe

Remembering America: A Voice from the Sixties, by Richard Goodwin

Fire and Ice: The Story of Charles Revson, the Man Who Built the Revlon Empire, by Andrew Tobias

Tube of Plenty: The Evolution of American Television, by Erik Barnouw

“The Cop and the $64,000 Question,” TV Guide, July 9, 1955

“A Summer Show Hits the Jackpot: $64,000 Prize, Carefully Picked Contestants Keep Nation Glued to Its Television Sets,” TV Guide, August 20, 1955

“Come and Get It: TV Giveaway Shows Lure Viewers with Bigger and Bigger Jackpots,” TV Guide, December 31, 1955

“The Quiz Show Scandals: An Editorial,” TV Guide, October 24, 1959

“Letters,” TV Guide, November 21, 1959

 

Episode 8: In Godfrey We Trust

In the late 1940s and early ’50s the biggest moneymaker on CBS radio and television was Arthur Godfrey — at one point he reportedly brought in 12 percent of the network’s income. He had an unpretentious style of communicating with his audience, and a smooth manner of selling products that sponsors loved. But in 1953, at the height of his popularity, Godfrey suffered a huge, self-inflicted blow to his stature when he fired one of his regulars, known as “the little Godfreys,” live on the air. The incident haunted the rest of his career.

Sources:

Arthur Godfrey: The Adventures of an American Broadcaster, by Arthur J. Singer

On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old Time Radio, by John Dunning

“How Ah Ya, How Ah Ya?,” Jim Ramsburg’s Gold Time Radio

What Women Watched: Daytime Television in the 1950s, by Marsha F. Cassidy

“A. Godfrey: A Man for a Long, Long Season,” Dick Cavett, The New York Times, June 25, 2010

“Arthur Godfrey an Unlikely American Idol,” All Things Considered, January 2, 2008

“Arthur Godfrey’s Operation,” TV Guide, May 8, 1953

“Why Godfrey Fired LaRosa and Bleyer,” Bob Stahl, TV Guide, November 6, 1953

 

Episode 7: The Rise and Fall of “Dragnet”

In the summer of 1949, “Dragnet” premiered on NBC radio. It was a show that sounded like no other thanks to creator-star Jack Webb’s obsession with authenticity. “Dragnet” then moved to TV and ran for most of the 1950s. Its theme song and opening disclaimer — “The story you are about to see is true; the names have been changed to protect the innocent” — became part of pop culture history. During the turbulent late 1960s, “Dragnet” was revived, and it hadn’t changed — but the world had, and authority was something to be questioned rather than celebrated. We look at the influence of “Dragnet” and Webb’s evolution into an outspoken advocate of police officers.

Sources:

“Webb’s Days Before Friday,” Jim Ramsburg’s Gold Time Radio

My Name’s Friday: The Unauthorized But True Story of Dragnet and the Films of Jack Webb, by Michael J. Hayde

Icons of Mystery and Crime Detection: From Sleuths to Superheroes, by Mitzi M. Brunsdale

“Jack Webb, TV’s Most Misunderstood Man,” TV Guide, March 23, 1957

“Jack Webb Returns to the Good Old Days,” Richard Warren Lewis, TV Guide, October 19, 1968

 

Episode 6: When Maude Findlay Had an Abortion

In the fall of 1972, the first spinoff from “All in the Family” premiered. It was “Maude,” with Beatrice Arthur as Edith Bunker’s liberal cousin. And right out of the gate, “Maude” took on controversial topics like psychotherapy, black militancy and modern morality. Then on November 14, in the ninth episode of the series, Maude found out she was pregnant at age 47. She considered her options, including abortion, which at the time was legal in New York state, where the show was set. (The U.S. Supreme Court wouldn’t legalize abortion nationwide until 1973.) Maude’s decision to get an abortion would go largely unnoticed during the episode’s original run, but when summer reruns came along the show received a firestorm of criticism, driving the idea of abortion — and even the mention of the word itself — off of network television for the next fifteen years.

Sources:

“Maude’s Abortion Fades Into History,” Lewis Beale, The Chicago Tribune, November 13, 1992

” ‘We Ran Out of Controversy’: Bea Arthur Says Farewell to ‘Maude,’ “ Kirk Honeycutt, The New York Times, April 16, 1978

“Classic Hollywood: Bea Arthur Took ‘Maude’ Out of ‘Family’s’ Shadow,” Susan King, Los Angeles Times, March 14, 2015

“The 11 Most Honest Portrayals of Abortion on TV,” Kate Halliwell, IndieWire, June 28, 2016

” ‘Maude’s’ Bea Arthur,” Guy Flatley, TV Guide, November 18, 1972

” ‘We Regret “Maude” Will Not Be Seen Tonight,’ ” David Nicholas, TV Guide, March 3, 1973

“The Doan Report: Russians Charge ‘Sesame Street’ Is Imperialist Plot (column includes news item about “Maude” pre-emptions),” Richard Doan, TV Guide, September 1, 1973

 

Episode 5: Ed Sullivan, American Gatekeeper

In 1948, Ed Sullivan began hosting a weekly variety series on CBS-TV. His background as a newspaper columnist served him well — he had an unerring instinct for what people wanted to see, and he used his unique power to become an influential American gatekeeper for most of the 1950s and ’60s. We take a look a Sullivan’s influence, including “blessing” Elvis Presley and the Beatles by praising them on the air and reassuring anxious parents of teenagers. We also review his feuds with the likes of Steve Allen, Jackie Mason and Buddy Holly.

Sources:

Television Variety Shows, by David Inman

“The End of ‘The Ed Sullivan Show,’ ” N. Ashby, TV Guide, September 4, 1971

“An Interview with Monica Lewis — Part Two,” Classic Television Showbiz

The Box: A Oral History of Television, 1920-61, by Jeff Kisseloff

“The God of Sunday Night: Reconsidering ‘The Ed Sullivan Show,’ “ Nick Tosches, Vanity Fair, July 1997

 

Episode 4: Big Stars + Small Screen = Tiny Audiences

The big TV story in the fall of 1971 was that movie stars were coming to the tube, including James Stewart, Henry Fonda, Shirley MacLaine, Glenn Ford, Anthony Quinn, Rock Hudson and Tony Curtis, among others. Many of them turned to TV because movie roles were growing scarce, and for lucrative paychecks. But the vehicles they chose were garden variety TV — family sitcoms and cop shows — and viewers tuned out. We look at the highest-profile failures — “The Jimmy Stewart Show,” Shirley MacLaine’s “Shirley’s World” and Henry Fonda’s “The Smith Family.”

Sources:

“MacLaine Talks About ‘Shirley’s World’: ‘I Knew It Wouldn’t Work’,” Norma Lee Browning, The Chicago Tribune, November 15, 1971

Review: “The Smith Family,” Cleveland Amory, TV Guide, March 20, 1971

“Henry Fonda Returns to TV,” Arnold Hano, TV Guide, May 8, 1971

“Ron Howard Has News About ‘Arrested Development’ Season 5, But He’s Not Talking,” Vanity Fair, April 2017

Review: “The Jimmy Stewart Show,” Cleveland Amory, TV Guide, October 23, 1971

“The Doan Report: NBC Is Not Boasting About Its Standing in the Early Ratings,” TV Guide, October 23, 1971

Jimmy Stewart: A Biography, by Marc Eliot

Jimmy Stewart: The Truth Behind the Legend, by Michael Munn

James Stewart, by Donald Dewey

“Why Jimmy Stewart Is in TV,” Bill Davidson, TV Guide, October 2, 1971

“Pre-Mortems,” Cleveland Amory, TV Guide, December 25, 1971

You Can Get There From Here, by Shirley MacLaine

 

Episode 3: The Keefe Brasselle Story, or Godfather Knows Best

Keefe Brasselle’s show business career includes a few movies, some TV work, probable arson, extortion, kickbacks, assault with a deadly weapon and lots of threats of bodily harm. His unholy alliance with a CBS executive led to the executive’s downfall, and his repeated boasting about his mafia connections, along with his lack of any real talent, made him a bitter has-been reduced to writing and acting in a 1970s drive-in quicky. In this episode we examine Brasselle’s career and his unsavory associations.

Sources:

The Box: A Oral History of Television, 1920-61, by Jeff Kisseloff

“Keefe Brasselle: The Last Story,” Jim Trombetta, The (Elyria, Ohio) Chronicle Telegram, December 13-16, 1981

 

Episode 2: A Short History of Ridiculous Sponsor Interference

For almost as long as there has been broadcasting, there has been commercial sponsorship. But from the 1930s through the 1960s sponsors had an unusual amount of power because, through advertising agencies, they owned entire blocks of time on the program schedule and produced their own shows. In this episode we look at a few examples of sponsor power run amok, resulting in complications that were sometimes dangerous, sometimes just silly. Along the way we will sample clips from “The Jack Benny Program,” “The Flintstones,” “I Love Lucy,” “Playhouse 90,” “The $64,000 Question” and “30 Rock,” among others.

Sources:

On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old Time Radio, by John Dunning

The “I Love Lucy” Book, by Bart Andrews

While America Watches: Televising the Holocaust, by Jeffrey Shandler

Prime Time and Misdemeanors: Investigating the 1950s TV Quiz Scandal — A D.A.’s Account, by Joseph Stone and Tim Yohn

TV Game Shows, by Maxine Fabe

 

Episode 1: “Who Shot J.R.?”: The Plot Heard Round the World

As “Game of Thrones” ends its season with the traditional cliffhanger, it follows in the tradition of a family saga that started it all — “Dallas.” Like “Game of Thrones,” “Dallas” told stories in a season-long arc, and J.R. Ewing was arguably the precursor of anti-heroes like Don Draper, Tony Soprano or Tywin Lannister. And “Dallas” had the mac daddy of all season-ending cliffhangers: “Who Shot J.R.?,” which swept the world during the summer of 1980. In this podcast we look at the similarities between “Dallas” and “Game of Thrones” as well as that fateful summer.

Sources:

“How I Kept J.R. Alive,” Larry Hagman, TV Guide, November 15, 1980

“The ‘Dallas’ Shot That Was Heard Round the World,” Richard Corliss, Los Angeles Times, November 23, 1990

“When J.R. Was Shot, the Cliffhanger Was Born,” Andy Meisler, The New York Times, May 7, 1995

 

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