1964 - 65
After years of trial and error, the networks finally became somewhat adept at creating entertainment that appealed to the masses.
Look at all of the familiar, iconic shows in the top 25 (at left) in 1964 and judge for yourself. But keep in mind, former FCC chairman Newton Minow famously referred to this era as a "vast wasteland."
The following is a rundown of notable primetime shows from 1964-65. While color TV was rapidly catching on, most of these programs were broadcast in black-and-white.
Ed Sullivan was in his 17th year, What's My Line in its 16th season, Red Skelton in year 14, I've Got A Secret, Ozzie and Harriet in year 13, Jack Benny in season 14, Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color in an 11th year. They all got renewed except Jack Benny and he had been on radio and/or TV for 32 straight seasons.
Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theater brought to the small screen new and established stars like Peter Falk, Don Knotts, Robert Wagner, Shelly Winters, John Cassevettes, and Lauren Bacall in dramatic presentations. Bob Hope was seen as the announcer for these dramas three weeks a month and as the host of his own musical-comedy shows the remaining week, under the title Chrysler Presents a Bob Hope Special. (Occasionally, Bob was cast in one of the dramatic productions during the off weeks.)
The longest-running Irwin Allen produced series; 'Voyage' started out as a serious adventure series with cold-war overtones and fantastic special effects - but as the years went on it degenerated into unbelievable silliness.
During the last two seasons, it seemed that every week a crewman would swear he saw a monster onboard the Seaview and every week they'd treat him like he was crazy - even though the week before there was a werewolf onboard, and the Mummy was running around loose the week before that!
On their first tour of duty, Commander Crane (David Hedison), Admiral Nelson (Richard Basehart) and crew discover an underground prehistoric world, a giant squid, an aggressive plankton monster, Soviet spies and space aliens bent on depleting Earth's resources (a favorite Irwin Allen plot device).
The special effects were far and away better than any previous series (many of which were shot for the 'Voyage' motion picture the year before) with groundbreaking underwater scenarios by L. B. Abbott.
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That Was The
Week That Was
Monday nights at 9:30
NBC / 1964-1965
A midseason replacement show from January 1964 that brought political and social satire to the home screens - a first for American primetime television.
Nancy Ames sang the headlines to begin each show before handing it over to a panel of satirists featuring Elliot Reid (the first season host), David Frost, Alan Alda, Henry Morgan, Buck Henry and other notable comics.
Tom Lehrer wrote many of the clever songs on the series and released an album of the show's best tunes to great success, but the show was canned midseason for 'Cloak of Mystery,' a moldy collection of old anthology shows, unsold pilots and Alfred Hitchcock programs.
The Man from
Tuesday nights at 8:30
NBC / 1964-1968
This clever spy drama just missed hitting the top 25 in 1964; that first season was filmed in black and white and is by far the best of the four-year run.
Series star Robert Vaughn (Napoleon Solo) was one of the very few TV stars who got a cut of the merchandising and still gets paid when the show is rerun.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was a offshoot of the James Bond films, sort of. Napoleon Solo was a villain in the Bond book 'Goldfinger' but NBC (with Ian Fleming's permission) turned him into a smooth super-secret agent for TV.
The first U.N.C.L.E. car, only used in a few episodes, was custom made by the AMT model company. Originally the U.N.C.L.E. agents got out of jams by employing 'McGyver'-like solutions, but eventually came to rely on more far out, Bond-ian gadgets.
Ratings went up in 1965 as the show developed a cult following among teenagers. The popularity of 'Batman' in 1966 caused NBC to shift the show's focus from drama to humor. The result: ratings went south as the scripts got dumber and dumber.
A spinoff - 'The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.' - ran for one season in 1966.
Petticoat Junction was a big hit in 1964, a spin-off from The Beverly Hillbillies (beginning its third year).
Game shows in primetime: To Tell the Truth, I've Got A Secret and Password. 'Password' ended a four year run on CBS in primetime in 1965, but resurfaced briefly in early-1967. There was also a daytime version that ran from 1961-1967.
The Joey Bishop Show lasted three years on NBC before being dropped, only to be picked up by CBS in 1964 for one last season. This funny sitcom cast the acerbic comedian as a big city family man hosting a late-nite talk show, a Johnny Carson-type.
Life imitates art - before long, Bishop really was hosting a talk show competing with the 'Tonight Show.'
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One season wonders:
Karen, starring Debbie Watson, was one spoke of a rotating trio of shows under the umbrella of 90 Bristol Court. Midseason, the '90 Bristol Court' concept was gone as 'Karen' flew solo until the end of the term. Considered one of the better shows of the season, the 'Karen' theme song was recorded by The Beach Boys. Debbie Watson returned the next season as Tammy, another one-season wonder.
Dennis Weaver left the hit show 'Gunsmoke' to star in his own series. Kentucky Jones cast Dennis as a down home veterinarian who takes in an orphaned Chinese boy. It failed, but Weaver finally landed a hit show of his own in the seventies with 'McCloud.'
It was lights out after only a four month run for Mr. Broadway, an acclaimed hour-long drama starring Craig Stevens ('Peter Gunn').
The Bailey's of Balboa was a flop with a well-known cast, a sort of 'Beverly Hillbillies' set in a Marina - starring Paul Ford, Clint Howard, Sterling Holloway, Judy Carne and John Dehner. This show was produced as a result of some shady kickback deal that got a very powerful CBS executive fired.
Many Happy Returns was a lightweight sitcom about the return window of a department store and the unrelenting management toady who runs it. John McGiver ('Mr. Terrific') starred, the supporting cast featured Elinor Donahue ('Father Knows Best') and Mark Goddard ('Lost In Space') as a young married couple.
Publisher's Clearing House: Valentine's Day with Tony Franciosa as a hip New York magazine publisher and The Reporter, a drama set in a newspaper office with Harry Guardino and Gary Merrill both failed to click.
The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo ran for one season on NBC with the voice of Jim Backus, this time portraying his cartoon alter-ego as various historical figures - boring! This show aired Saturday nights at 8:00, following Flipper.
And Jonny Quest had a one year run, extended to decades thanks to Saturday morning reruns.
Both Carol and Bob had hit CBS shows eventually, Burnett three years later and Newhart eight years later.
This was Bob Newhart's second variety show bomb, his first came in 1961. The comedian was rarely seen on TV for the remainder of the decade.
Shindig started out life as a half-hour show, got spectacular ratings and, in January of 1965, was expanded to a full hour.
In the Fall of 1965, the show was split into two half-hour shows, broadcasting on Thursday and Saturday nights.
On the Fall 1965 opener, broadcast from London (this would continue periodically), guests included The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, The Byrds and The Everly Brothers. The Who and every other British invasion band performed on 'Shindig', and the show spawned a plethora of imitators, including a hoard of local music shows.
On January of 1966, a year and a half after the series debuted, 'Shindig' was canceled to make room on ABC's schedule for 'Batman', which was also scheduled to run two nights a week.
Hullabaloo was a lot like 'Shindig' and also debuted in January of 1965.
Like 'Shindig,' 'Hullabaloo' started out as a half hour series, then expanded to an hour in the spring before switching back to a half hour again in the fall of 1965
This color series continued until the fall of 1966 and featured the Hullabaloo Dancers, The Peter Matz Orchestra, and for a time, Brian Epstein (the Beatles' manager) introducing new British acts. Different guest-hosts appeared each week.
Burke's Law began a second of three years with a new timeslot, Wednesdays at 9:30.
In the third season, the show changed format to Amos Burke, Secret Agent, hoping to cash in on the spy craze sweeping TV and movies. It didn't work.
The US 8th Air Force in action was the basis for 12 O'Clock High, debuting in '64 for a three year run; based on a hit 1949 movie.
Robert Lansing starred as Brigadier General Savage, leader of a crack team of bombers. Savage was killed off at the start of season two in 1965 when Paul Burke moved up to lead actor.
Combat covered the war on the ground for the third year of five.
Broadside (from the creator of 'McHales Navy') was a sitcom that centered around a curvaceous group of Navy WAVES who find themselves transferred to an island in the South Pacific to run the motor pool in an otherwise all-male environment. 'Broadside' had a stellar cast - Kathy Nolan ('Real McCoys'), Dick Sergeant (the second Darin on 'Bewitched'), and the wonderful Sheila James (Zelda on 'Dobie Gillis') with Arnold Stang playing the ship's manic chef Stanley Stubbs. Lasted only one year.
McHale's Navy was in the third of a four year run.
The format was changed a bit in 1965 as the gang moved from their South Pacific island to the Italian coast.
First season for Gilligan's Island's three-year tour.
Second (and last) year for Mr. Novak, about a young high school English teacher. The show starred James Franciscus; Burgess Meredith joined the cast in 1964.
The Outer Limits was a critical hit but ratings were shallow in 1963 so a new producer was recruited for year two. The results were tragic and the show vanished in January, 1965, replaced by The King Family (seen right), a TV show as it would have been done by your high school pep squad!
A format change for Lassie in 1964 - the collie's family Timmie (Jon Provost) and his mom (June Lockhart) were gone, having moved to Australia. It was explained that the family didn't want to leave their very special Collie in quarantine for six months so Lassie was left behind to live with a kindly old man - who promptly has a heart attack so Lassie goes to live with forest ranger Corey Stuart who remains Lassie's owner for the next five years.
was seen Sunday
'Bonanza' stayed in the number one spot for three years. It took Pernell Roberts 15 years to land another regular series, 'Trapper John, MD.'
Secret Agent was a midseason (spring) replacement for 'The Entertainers.' Starring Patrick McGoohan, this production was a superior British import that spawned a hit song by Johnny Rivers, "Secret Agent Man." In Britain, the series was known as 'Danger Man.'
Reruns of The Donna Reed Show began a four year run on ABC daytime. Her primetime run ended in 1966.
Dennis Weaver left Gunsmoke after nine years at the end of the 1963-64 season and Ken Curtis joined the cast as Festus.
Buddy Ebsen (Jed Clampett on 'The Beverly Hillbillies') hosted the CBS 1964-1965 fall season preview show.
Back in the day, networks would preview their fall offerings in one hour specials consisting of three minute (or so) encapsulations of the first episodes. Here is a clip highlighting the CBS Sunday Night shows which was kicked off by Mr. Ed at 6:30.
Here's a preview of ABC's great lineup on Thursday nights, in 1964 - their version of "Must See TV": The Flintstones (season 5), Donna Reed (season 7), My Three Sons (season 5), Bewitched (season 1), Peyton Place (season 1) and The Jimmy Dean Show (season 2).
No Time For Sergeants was a TV series based on the hit movie that indirectly spawned The Andy Griffith Show (Andy was the breakout star of the film). The success of Andy's series begat Gomer Pyle, USMC in 1964, the story of a bumbling private in the Marines. It, too, was a ratings smash.
The 1964 TV series version of No Time For Sergeants was basically the same premise as Gomer Pyle - ABC even programmed it against 'The Andy Griffith Show,' but it didn't make a dent in Griffith's huge ratings.
At year's end, Gomer Pyle, USMC hit the top ten and No Time For Sergeants hit the bricks.
Five years later as the top rated show in the nation, Jim Nabors told CBS he wouldn't continue playing the buffoonish Gomer any longer and graduated to a one-hour variety series.
Nabors cast his 'Gomer Pyle, USMC' costars Frank Sutton and Ronnie Schell in his new show (The Jim Nabors Hour, 1969-1971) because he enjoyed working with them and didn't want to see them lose their jobs.
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The Addams Family and The Munsters both debuted in 1964, both shows centering around a family of freaks - and fans have debated which was the better series ever since.
Both shows lasted two years, got medium ratings and both were highly enjoyable television. They are more popular than ever in reruns today, and there were reunion TV-movies for both series as well, but none were as good as the original episodes.
The Munsters, seen Sunday nights on CBS, featured two cast members (Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis) from a Sunday night comedy that had just left the air on NBC - Car 54 Where Are You (1961-1963).
Year two for the identical cousins, both played by Patty.
Vivian Vance left The Lucy Show at the end of this season.
Forties' box office champ Mickey Rooney flopped in his 1964 nautical sitcom effort Mickey - despite the fact it was not a bad show. Sammee Tong ('Bachelor Father') costarred. Tong had a severe gambling habit - when 'Mickey' was dry docked midseason, he deliberately overdosed on drugs because he couldn't possibly pay his massive debts without the income from a weekly network TV series.
Bing Crosby Show cast
Bing as a family man, he was anything but in real life. After Bing remarried
in 1957, he dumped the family members he had been celebrating Christmas
with on TV for years and replaced them with his new family. Johnny Mercer
said of Bing, "He's an unphoney man. He's so distant, but he's
a very genuine man."
The Tycoon, a sitcom on ABC starring Walter Brennan as a rich, Donald Trump-style businessman, failed against The Man From Uncle and The Red Skelton Show on Tuesday nights. This TV character was totally against type for Brennan. His earlier hit series, The Real McCoys (where he played a sly, old country coot) had just ended a six year run in 1963.
Brennan's next series after 'The Tycoon' The Guns of Will Sonnett (a 1967 western) was more to his audience's liking, lasting two years.
ABC replaced The Tycoon with a similar concept, O.K. Crackerby, starring Burl Ives as the richest man in the world. It failed too.
George Burns flopped (again) in another sitcom without Gracie Allen - Wendy and Me. Here George played a meddling old man who lived downstairs from a young newlywed couple. Breaking the fourth wall, Burns directed most of his comments into the camera like a commentator on the 'action' taking place upstairs. Not as kinky as it sounds.
The Rogues had an all-star, international cast but not enough viewers. Charles Boyer, David Niven and Gig Young played well-dressed, sophisticated con artists who used their skills for good - mostly.
This oddball sitcom was the story of two single guys - one younger, one an older 'uncle,' who live together in a small apartment. Together they go to great lengths to keep their landlord, the cop and the rest of the town from discovering their terrible secret.
This silly comedy starred Bill Bixby as Tim O'Hara and Ray Walston as 'Uncle' Martin O'Hara, a humanoid alien from Mars forced to hide out until he can repair his disabled spaceship.
Typical plot: 'Uncle' Martin can't get his antennae back down, so he and Tim frantically try to conceal his protrusions from their landlord, Mrs. Brown - who is growing suspicious that the boys upstairs are hiding something.
Apparently, this was TV's first gay sitcom?
My Favorite Uncle landed in the top ten the first season but dropped to 24th in 1964-65.
'My Living Doll', starring Bob Cummings ('Love That Bob'), was one of the craziest premises ever - bizarre even for a sitcom of the sixties.
Cummings was seen as Dr. Bob McDonald, a psychiatrist programming a live-in robot/patient played by sexy Julie Newmar (the original Catwoman on 'Batman').
Of course, she initially arrives at the doctor's penthouse apartment wearing nothing but a sheet.
Robot AF 709 was paired with Dr. Bob specifically to learn how to become the perfect woman. In 1964, this meant learning to cook, clean and be enticingly obedient.
Behind the scenes, the two costars hated each other and fought often - leading to Cummings walking off the set and leaving the show with five episodes left to film. He was scarcely seen on TV afterwards.
Sunday nights at 8:30pm
This Chuck Connors ('The Rifleman') western debuted midseason a ratings winner; a rare show that had several episodes broadcast in color this season, with the rest airing in black & white.
Jason McCord (Connors), Civil War officer in the Union Army and the sole white survivor of the massacre at Bitter Creek was branded a coward, court-martialed and cast out of the military in public disgrace. (Just to remind viewers, the opening of the show each week showed McCord being stripped of his rank and having his sword broken in half.)
But McCord was keeping a secret - he had acted in bravery when the General went insane as the battle got underway. McCord was so virtuous and devoted that he refused to testify against his beloved commander.
Weekly, McCord inevitably ran into someone who was kin or friends with one of the dead at Bitter Creek and they invariably hold McCord responsible. The shamed soldier struggles to earn his opponent's respect - for whatever reason - then moves on down the road. 'Kung-Fu' without the fortune cookie philosophy.
Chuck Connors was a big guy, prompting critic Cleveland Amory to quip, "...despite his 6-foot 5 height, he is regularly being beaten up by men who don't come up to his elbows."
Guest stars over the two seasons included Iron Eyes Cody, Jay Silverheels (Tonto), Jim Davis ('Dallas'), and Johnny Crawford, Connor's young co-star from 'The Rifleman.'
Near the end of the second season, a format change was instituted to set up a third season. The Bitter Creek plotline was dropped to make McCord more of a family man - with a steady girlfriend, adopted daughter and joining a surveying firm run by his dad.
It was not to be. In spite OK ratings, 'Branded' was discharged at the end of year two.
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