Thursday, 17 April 2014

The 50th Anniversary of Them's 1st Public Perfromance

It was fifty years ago today Them made their debut at the Maritime Hotel in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Them was founded by native Belfastite singer and multi-instrumentalist Van Morrison. In the early Sixties Mr. Morrision had performed with various bands in Northern Ireland, including The Monarchs and The Golden Eagles. It was in April 1964 Van Morrison founded a R&B club at the Maritime Hotel with Jimmy Conlon, Jerry McKernan and Gerry McKervey. In need of a band to play at the club he recruited members of the Belfast rock group The Gamblers (Alan Henderson, Billy Harrison, and Ronnie Millings) and keyboardist Eric Wrixon. The new band was named Them, after the 1954 sci-fi horror film Them! (1954).

It was not long before Them was signed to Decca and they made their first recording on 5 July 1964. It was during this session that what may be their best known song, "Gloria", was recorded. They would have a top ten hit in the United Kingdom with their cover of Big Joe Williams' "Baby, Please Don't Go", the flip side of which was "Gloria". It would be followed by the single "Here Comes the Night", which went to #2 in the United Kingdom and #24 in the United States. Unfortunately, while Them met some success, tensions in the band would drive Them apart. The tensions between band members reached the point where there were two competing bands named Them, one led by Billy Harrison and Pat McAuley and another by Van Morrison and Alan Henderson. As might be expected there was a lawsuit, the ultimate result of which was that Van Morrison and Alan Henderson won the right for their band to be called "Them" in the UK. Van Morrison left Them not long afterwards and the band, led by Alan Henderson, persisted in some form until 1971. Them has regrouped since then, although without Van Morrison.

Regardless, Them would have a lasting impact on garage rock and rock 'n' roll in general. The band would have an impact on such diverse artists as The Doors, MC5, Thin Lizzy, The Saints, Elvis Costello,  Nick Cave, and The Hives.

Here is a clip from 1965 of Them performing their signature song, "Gloria".

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

A Hard Day's Night Airs on TCM on June 2!

If you have never seen the classic Beatles film A Hard Day's Night, there may be no better time than this year to do so. On 2 June Turner Classic Movies will air A Hard Day's Night at 7 PM Central as part of a whole night of British Invasion movies. Among the other films TCM is showing that night is the classic Dave Clark Five film Catch Us If You Can (also known by its American title, Having a Wild Weekend). Catch Us If You Can will be particular of interest to film buffs as director John Boorman's feature film debut. Turner Classic movie is also airing the British music review film Pop Gear (also known by its American title Go Go Mania), which features performances by The Beatles, The Animals, Herman's Hermits, Peter and Gordon, Billy J. Kramer and The Dakotas, The Nashivlle Teens, and others. TCM is also showing the Herman's Hermits films Hold On! and Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter, as well as Get Yourself a College Girl (it is an American beach movie, but it features appearances by The Dave Clark Five and The Animals).

Not only will TCM will be showing A Hard Day's Night this year, but Criterion is coming out with a DVD/Blu-Ray set on  24 June as well. In addition to a restoration of the film approved by director Richard Lester himself, the DVD/Blu-Ray set will include such features as audio commentary from the cast and crew, interviews with The Beatles from 1964, the 1994 documentary You Can't Do That: The Making of A Hard Day's Night, the 2002 documentary Things They Said, Richard Lester's short "The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film" (1959), and much more.

Of course, the best news may be that A Hard Day's Night will be returning to theatres on 4 July. It was already among the many films shown at the TCM Classic Film Festival this past weekend. It would seem that if one is a Beatles fan and has not yet seen A Hard Day's Night, there will be no excuse after this year!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Bessie Smith & Dave Edmunds' Birthdays

It was 120 years ago today that jazz legend Bessie Smith was born. She was one of the most influential singers of the Twenties and Thirties. From 1923 to 1929 she had a string of hits, starting with the #1 song "Downhearted Blues". Among the musicians with whom she performed were Louis Armstrong, Charlie Green, and Fletcher Henderson.

Here is her first hit, "Downhearted Blues"

Today is also the 70th birthday of singer and guitarist Dave Edmunds. He played with various bands in the Sixties before launching a successful solo career in 1970 with his cover of Smiley Lewis' "I Hear You Knocking", which went to #1 in the United Kingdom and and #4 in the United States. He would have such hits as "Baby I Love You", "Born to Be With You", "I Knew the Bride", "Teacher, Teacher (with Rockpile--Nick Lowe provided the lead vocal)",  "Girls Talk", and "Singing the Blues".

Here is his song "I Knew the Bride".

Monday, 14 April 2014

Turner Classic Movies Turns 20

It was 20 years ago today, on 14 April 1994, that Turner Classic Movies was launched at a ceremony in New York City's Times Square. The ceremony was attended by such classic movie stars as Arlene Dahl, Jane Powell, Celeste Holm, and Van Johnson, as well as the channel's host Robert Osborne.It was at this ceremony that Ted Turner, then head of Turner Broadcasting, flipped a switch and Turner Classic Movies (now commonly referred to by its initials, TCM) went live. The first film it showed was the 1939 classic (and still highest grossing film of all time when adjusted for inflation) Gone with the Wind. Since then Turner Classic Movies has become the preeminent classic film cable channel in the United States and perhaps the world.

As might be expected, the origins of TCM are tied to the history of Turner Broadcasting. It was in 1970 that Ted Turner bought  WJRJ, a small independent television station in Atlanta, Georgia. It was from this small station, which would later become WTBS and still later TBS, that Turner Broadcasting evolved. By 1985 Turner Broadcasting was large enough and powerful enough that Ted Turner was able to buy MGM/UA. Mr. Turner was almost immediately forced to sell both Untied Artists and MGM, but he retained ownership of the vast MGM/UA library, which included all MGM films made before 1986, a good number of United Artists films, most of Warner Bros. films and animated shorts made before 1949, and the majority of RKO's films. Many of these films would be shown regularly, albeit with commercial interruptions, on Turner Broadcasting's new cable channel TNT, which launched in 1988. Indeed, the first movie ever shown on TNT was (you guessed it) Gone with the Wind. The classic films aired on TNT proved popular, popular enough that the idea for a channel devoted entirely to classic films seemed like a very good one. Unlike TNT, however, TCM has always shown classic films without commercial interruptions.

Of course, here it must be pointed out that Turner Classic Movies was not the first cable channel devoted to classic films. At the time that TCM was launched, American Movie Classics (often called by its initials AMC) was already nine and a half years old. AMC only showed films made prior to the 1950s and aired them without commercial interruption. American Movie Classics proved rather successful. Starting in 1993 AMC held annual  Film Preservation Festivals. Unfortunately in 2002 AMC began airing commercials and changed its format so that it showed more recent movies as well as classic films. Eventually the channel would drift away from showing classic films almost entirely, to the point that it became simply "AMC" instead of "American Movie Classics". There were multiple reasons for AMC's changes in format, although much of it may have had to do with fierce competition from Turner Classic Movies.

Indeed, it was in 1996 that Turner Broadcasting merged with the conglomerate Time Warner. As a result Turner Classic Movies now had access to Warner Bros. films made after 1949, as well as the Saul Zaentz and National General Pictures film libraries. Since then TCM has made deals with other studios (Universal, Paramount, and so on) to show their films. In the end, then, Turner Classic Movies has an absolutely vast library of films that they can show (around 10,000 films at any given time). This would make it hard for any other cable channel devoted to classic films to compete with them.

Even without its absolutely vast library of films Turner Classic Films would be a formidable opponent. Quite simply, its success does not simply rest with the fact that they could feasibly show more vintage films than any other channel in the world. There can be little doubt that much of its success rests with its programming.  Starting in May 1994 TCM has featured a Star of the Month, showing films of that particular star one night a week for the month (the first was Greta Garbo). It was in March 1995 that Turner Classic Movies began their annual 31 Days of Oscar, a month long event during which they air films that either won an Academy Award or were nominated for one. In 2006 31 Days of Oscar moved from March to February, as the Oscar ceremony had changed its annual date. It was in August 2003 that TCM began Summer Under the Stars, a month long event during which marathons of stars' films are shown each day.

It was in December 1998 that Turner Classic Movies produced their first "TCM Remembers" as a tribute to those film personalities who had died during the year. In addition to the long tribute including nearly every single film personality who died in a year, TCM also produces tributes to individual film personalties shortly after their deaths.

In addition to its special programming Turner Classic Movies has had several regular programmes through the years. Among the most popular regular programmes to air on TCM is The Essentials. During The Essentials a film considered essential for film buffs to view is shown, complete with a special introduction from the hosts and a discussion about the film afterwards. The Essentials debuted in 2001 and was originally hosted by director Rob Reiner. Eventually Robert Osborne took over hosting duties for The Essentials beginning in 2006. His original co-host was film critic Molly Haskell. Since then he has had a succession of co-hosts, the current one being actress Drew Barrymore. In 2008 a spin off of The Essentials, The Essentials Jr., was launched. The Essentials Jr. has the same format as the original series, although it shows classic films that will appeal to both children and adults.

In addition to The Essentials and The Essentials Jr., Turner Classic Movies also airs Private Screenings, a programme on which Robert Osborne interviews a figure from classic films. The show debuted under the name Reel to Reel on 8 June 1995. Mr. Osborne's first guest was Jane Powell. Turner Classic Movies also airs Silent Sunday Nights, a block usually of two films aired every Sunday night. In October 2006 TCM Underground debuted. TCM Underground airs late Friday night and is devoted to cult films. From 2004 to 2007 Turner Classic Movies aired Cartoon Alley on Saturday mornings. Hosted by Ben Ben Mankiewicz, three classic animated shorts were shown during each episode of  the show. Friday Night Spotlight is a regular series that airs on Friday nights and features films devoted to a particular theme over the course of a month. Past themes have included "Science in the Movies", "The Hollywood Costume", "Noir Writers", and "Second Looks (hosted by Illeana Douglas)".

Over the years Turner Classic Movies has aired several documentaries devoted to various aspects of classic film, some of which the channel also had a hand in producing. TCM has aired an entire series of documentaries under the heading Race and Hollywood, which has included such instalments as "Black Images on Film",  "Asian Images on Film", "Latino Images on Film", and "Native American Images on Film". As might be expected, TCM has aired documentaries devoted to specific movie stars, including Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Movie Star, Rita (about Rita Hayworth), Stardust: The Bette Davis Story, GarboForever - Garbo, and so on. More recently Turner Classic Movies aired the documentary series The Story of Film: An Odyssey. Later this month it will air 1939, a documentary devoted to what many believe to be film's greatest year. 

Based on its programming alone Turner Classic Movies would be loved by classic film buffs, but its reach long ago went beyond the television screen. In January 1997 the first issue of Now Playing, TCM's programming guide and magazine devoted to classic film, was published. Turner Classic Movies would also begin issuing box sets of  DVDs under the heading of the TCM Vault Collection. The box sets consist of rare films and are usually devoted to a specific actor, director, studio, or film genre. The TCM web site, launched not long after the channel itself, has proven to be a valuable resource for classic film fans. Not only does it contain programming information, but a database filled with information and articles on thousands of films. Turner Classic Movies has also supported film preservation and restoration, often partnering with the Film Foundation (a non-profit organization devoted to film preservation). In 2000 TCM began the annual Young Composers Film Competition, in which young composers compete in scoring a restored, silent feature film.

Of course, among Turner Classic Movies' greatest accomplishments may be the annual TCM Classic Film Festival held every April. First held in 2010, it is a four day long festival hosted by Robert Osborne and featuring screenings of classic films, discussions, and other events.

Central to TCM's success has been its host for the past twenty years, Robert Osborne. The former reporter for The Hollywood Reporter has proven to be the perfect host for the channel, not only charming but possessing a seemingly endless knowledge of classic film. Over the years Mr. Osborne would become as loved by classic film fans as much as many classic movies stars. In 2003 Ben Mankiewicz joined Turner Classic Movies as a regular host. Since then he has also become a favourite with classic film buffs.

If Turner Classic Movies has grown into something more than a cable channel devoted to classic film, it is perhaps with good reason. At one time classic films were regularly shown on local television stations, generally late at night or on weekend afternoons. Unfortunately as networks expanded their programming on late nights and sports overtook weekend afternoons, classic films began to disappear from local television schedules. By 1994 there were only a few avenues through which a classic film fan could see vintage movies. He or she could watch them on AMC, their local PBS station (if he or she was lucky), or TNT (although there they would have commercial interruptions). If he or she couldn't watch them one of those ways, he or she could only hope that his or  her local video rental store had copies of classic films on VHS. Turner Classic Movies gave classic movie fans another avenue through which they could see classic films. This would not only be through the channel itself, but eventually TCM would make available many films on DVD that had not been widely available before. Today there is the TCM Streaming App, with which one can watch classic movies on one's mobile device or one's computer. Quite simply, Turner Classic Movies made classic films more readily available.

In making classic films more readily available Turner Classic Movies also provided another service to classic film buffs. Quite simply it has created a whole new generation of classic film fans. Many young classic film buffs first discovered classic movies on TCM. What is more, there seem to be a good number of young people who discovered classic films on TCM. At one time classic film fans tended to be a little bit older, either those who saw the films when they first came out or Baby Boomers and Generation Xers who had the opportunity to see them on local television. Now it is not unusual to find twenty year olds who are fans of classic films. Turner Classic Movies created a whole new generation of classic film buffs and in doing so saved classic films from being forgotten.

Of course, Turner Classic Movies has also done a great service to classic film buffs in exposing them to films that even the most experienced classic film fans might not have seen before. This is particularly true of Silent and Pre-Code films. Rarely shown on television, even in the days when local television stations did show vintage films, TCM would provide man classic film buffs their first opportunity to see films from the Silent and Pre-Code Eras.

Turner Classic Movies has proven invaluable to classic film buffs in the past twenty years. It became much more than a cable channel that shows classic films long ago. In fact, it has become much more than a resource for information on classic film long ago. Quite simply, it has become a focal point for classic film fandom. It is through TCM that classic film fans often meet and as a result share and discuss their love of classic movies. More than anything else, this could be TCM's greatest contribution to classic film fans.

Friday, 11 April 2014

The Ten Highest Rated Television Shows Ever Cancelled Part Two

It is a common assumption that doing well in the Nielsen ratings assures the survival of a television show on the American broadcast networks. It is certainly true that this is usually the case. After all, along with several other factors how well a show performs in the ratings has a direct impact on the advertising rate a network can charge for the show. Put more simply, high ratings can often mean big money.

Unfortunately, while high ratings usually insure the survival of a show, it is not always the case. A number of considerations go into the broadcast networks' decisions when to cancel shows and sometimes even high ratings may not be enough to save a particular show. In fact, throughout television history there have been some very high rated shows that have been cancelled. This is part two of a list of some of the highest rated shows ever cancelled.

Here I must thank my brother +Berry Canote who helped compile much of this list, going season by season to do so. I believe this list to be accurate, but given the Nielsen Company has been doing television ratings since 1950, it is possible that a show may have been left out.

6. The Bionic Woman (Ranked #14 in the Ratings for the Season): On 7 March 1973 ABC aired a television movie entitled The Six Million Dollar Man, very loosely based on the 1972 novel Cyborg by Martin Caidin. Like the novel, the television movie centred on astronaut Steve Austin who, after a catastrophic crash that left him seriously injured, had his legs, his left arm, and his right eye replaced by mechanical prosthetics ("bionic limbs") that were more powerful than the originals. The television movie The Six Million Dollar Movie did so well in the ratings that it was followed by two more television movies: The Six Million Dollar Man: Wine, Women and War on 20 April 1973 and The Six Million Dollar Man: Solid Gold Kidnapping  on 17 November 1973.  The success of these television movies led to a regular series entitled The Six Million Dollar Man, which debuted on 18 January 1974.

The Six Million Dollar Man did very well in the ratings. By its second season (the 1975-1976 television season) it ranked #9 out of all the shows on the air in the Nielsen ratings. During the show's second season, a two part episode aired entitled "The Bionic Woman". In the episode one of Steve Austin's old flames, tennis pro Jamie Summers (played by Lindsay Summers), has an accident while skydiving that results in her being seriously injured. Her right arm, right ear, and both legs were then replaced with bionic parts. Unfortunately, Jamie's body rejected the bionic parts and she died at the end of the episode. The character of Jamie Summers proved popular, however, so that ABC asked the producers to bring her back. It was then revealed in the debut of episode of The Six Million Dollar Man's third season that Jamie Summers did not actually die and had been saved by being put into suspended animation. The continued popularity of the character Jamie Summers resulted in her being given her own spin-off series. The Bionic Woman debuted on 14 January 1976.

The Bionic Woman proved to be as successful as The Six Million Dollar Man. In fact, for the 1975-1976 season it actually did better than The Six Million Dollar Man in the ratings--it ranked #5 for the season, while The Six Million Dollar Man ranked #7. The Bionic Woman continued to have sterling ratings in its second season (its first full season) as well. It ranked #14 for the 1976-1977 season. Because of its high ratings, it then came as a rather big surprise when ABC abruptly cancelled The Bionic Woman in April 1977.

In newspaper articles at the time, according to Fred Silverman, then President of ABC Entertainment, The Bionic Woman had done well in the ratings until the beginning of 1977 when its ratings started to go into a downward spiral. Mr. Silverman elaborated by saying that its ratings had been marginal--that is, it was receiving between 29 and 31 percent of the audience. He explained in instances like that one has to make a projection and figure out how well the show will perform in the ratings in the coming year. Thinking that the superhero cycle (which had included such shows as The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, and Wonder Woman) was coming to an end, he said that ABC thought "there was no long term potential" in The Bionic Woman. In other words, ABC did not cancel The Bionic Woman for its current ratings, but for the ratings they thought the show would have in the near future. Here it must be noted that ABC also cancelled Wonder Woman at the same time. Wonder Woman was picked up by CBS and went onto run another two seasons. As to The Six Million Dollar Man, it ran only one more season.

ABC's cancellation of The Bionic Woman did not mean the end for the show. NBC picked up The Bionic Woman for the 1977-1978 season. Unfortunately this would only be a temporary reprieve for the show. The ratings for The Bionic Woman on NBC were hardly spectacular and the show was cancelled for a second time. The characters of Jamie Summers and Steve Austin would return in reunion movies, the first of which was The Return of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman in 1987. This was followed by Bionic Showdown in 1989 and Bionic Ever After? in 1994. In the 2007-2008 season re-imagining of the original show, simply titled Bionic Woman, debuted on NBC. The show proved to be a failure in the ratings and was cancelled after only 8 episodes.

7. Mayberry R.F.D. (Ranked #15 in the Ratings for the Season When Cancelled): The Andy Griffith Show was one of the most successful shows of the Sixties. Indeed, it is one of the most successful shows of all time. The lowest that The Andy Griffith Show ever ranked in the Nielsen ratings was #7 for the season. In its final season it was the #1 show on the air, a feat only accomplished by two other shows: I Love Lucy and Seinfeld.  Quite naturally when Andy Griffith decided to leave the show to resume his film career, both CBS and the show's producers wanted to continue it in some way. The character of farmer Sam Jones (played by Ken Berry, recently of F Troop) and his son Mike (Buddy Foster) were introduced in the final season of The Andy Griffith Show and increasingly played a larger role in its episodes as the season progressed. It was then on 23 September 1968 that Mayberry R.F.D. debuted on CBS. The show was essentially The Andy Griffith Show without Andy Griffith. While the show centred on Sam Jones and his son, the supporting cast was almost exactly the same.

As essentially a continuation of The Andy Griffith Show, Mayberry R.F.D. proved fairly successful. For both its first and second seasons it ranked #4 in the ratings. It was still doing respectably well in the ratings when it was unexpectedly cancelled in its third season. Mayberry R.F.D. would be the highest rated victim of what was even then being called "the Rural Purge", CBS' mass cancellation of shows that appealed to either older audiences, audiences living in rural areas, or both.

Although at the time it might have seemed that the Rural Purge was a spur of the moment decision on the part of CBS, it had actually been coming for some time. As early as 1967 CBS had expressed concern over its ageing audience. In an article in a March 1967 issue of Variety it was even reported that CBS was planning to redo its schedule to better compete with NBC for younger viewers. It was that year that CBS cancelled its long running game shows I've Got a Secret and What's My Line because their audiences were simply too old. In May 1969 at the CBS affiliates' meeting the network's president Robert Wood announced "...a young, fresh, new approach to programming" for the network. CBS may have been making plans for what would become known as "the Rural Purge" as early as October 1969. As mentioned earlier, it seems quite likely that part of the reason CBS cancelled The Red Skelton Hour during the 1969-1970 season was that its audience was older and living in rural areas.

Regardless, it was during the 1970-1971 season that CBS cancelled an inordinately large number of shows whose audiences were either too old, too rural, or both. Among the shows cancelled were The Beverly Hillbillies, Green AcresFamily Affair, Hogan's Heroes, To Rome with Love, and The Ed Sullivan Show. While some of these shows had fallen dramatically in the ratings, others were doing relatively well. Mayberry R.F.D. may be the best example of this. While its ratings had fallen from what they had been in its third season, the show still ranked #15 in the ratings for the season. Even as the Rural Purge was taking place there were those who thought Mayberry R.F.D. would be renewed for another season.  As it turned it wasn't and as a result it became the 3rd highest rated show (after The Red Skelton Hour and Gang Busters) to have been cancelled at the time.

8. Hee Haw (Ranked #16 in the Ratings for the Season When Cancelled): Hee Haw was a country music variety show that combined country music with comedy sketches. In many respects, it could be considered similar to Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, but with country music and without the topical humour. It was hosted by two major country music stars, Roy Clark and Buck Owens. Hee Haw debuted as a summer replacement series on CBS on 15 June 1969 and proved successful enough to be picked up for the 1969-1970 season. The show's ratings were very good. For the 1969-1970 season it ranked #20 in the ratings for the year. It performed even better during the 1970-1971 season, ranking #16 for the year.

Unfortunately for Hee Haw, the 1970-1971 season was the season of the Rural Purge. Like Mayberry R.F.D. Hee Haw was then cancelled despite the high ratings it received. And like Mayberry R.F.D. it was cancelled because its audience was simply too rural. Fans of Hee Haw mounted a letter writing campaign in an attempt to save the show to no avail. While CBS had cancelled Hee Haw and had no intention of returning it to the air, this did not mean the show was dead. Its producers put Hee Haw into syndication where it would run for another twenty one years. It was in 1992, over two decades after it had been cancelled by CBS, that Hee-Haw finally went off the air.

9. Inside Schwartz (Ranked #18 in the Ratings for the Season When Cancelled), tied with The Men from Shiloh: Inside Schwartz starred Breckin Meyer as Adam Schwartz, a sportscaster whose life was portrayed in sports metaphors. Figures from the world of sports regularly appeared on the show in its short run. Inside Schwartz debuted on 27 September 2001 on NBC. It had what could be considered the best possible time slot at the time, in between #1 show Friends and Will & Grace (which was #9 for the season). Not surprisingly, then, Inside Schwartz did very well in the ratings. In fact, it ranked #18 for the 2001-2002 season.

Unfortunately, even great ratings would not be enough to save Inside Schwartz. NBC felt that the show was not retaining enough of the audience of Friends and cancelled it after only airing 9 episodes with four episodes left unaired. It probably did not help that Inside Schwartz received largely negative reviews, with The Los Angeles Times describing it as "a dumb guy show". Its successor in the time slot, Leap of Faith (which I discussed in Part One) would do even better in the time slot, ranking #12 for the season. All the same it was also cancelled.

9. The Men from Shiloh (Ranked #18 in the Ratings for the Season When Cancelled), tied with Inside SchwartzThe Men from Shiloh was not exactly a new show when it aired during the 1970-1971 season.  The show had started out life in 1962 on NBC as The Virginian, the first 90 minute Western television series. The Virginian was loosely based on Owen Wister's 1902 novel of the same name. The show starred James Drury as the title character, the foreman at the Shiloh Ranch in Wyoming in the 1890's. Doug McClure played Trampas. A villain in the novel, on the TV show he was rough and ready, yet congenial cowhand. The Virginian and Trampas remained constants in what would be an ever-changing cast in the following seasons.

 The Virginian proved to be a hit from the very beginning, spending seven of its nine seasons in the top twenty five shows. Unfortunately, with season eight the show's ratings dropped. The Virginian was then retooled to make it more appealing to young viewers. A new theme was composed for the show, complete with a new credit sequence. The entire look of the show as changed as well. New characters were added, while some old ones were dropped. Finally, the title of the show was changed from The Virginian to The Men from Shiloh to reflect the changes to the show.

The transformation of The Virginian into The Men from Shiloh certainly helped the show in the ratings. For the 1969-1970 season the show wasn't even in the top thirty for the year. For the 1970-1971 season The Men from Shiloh had risen to #18 in the ratings for the year. Unfortunately, it was not enough to save the show. As mentioned earlier, the 1970-1971 season was the season of the Rural Purge. While CBS cancelled the bulk of shows appealing to rural audiences, older audiences, or both, NBC also cancelled a few shows because of demographics. Among them was The Men from Shiloh. Like Mayberry R.F.D. and Hee Haw, then, The Men from Shiloh fell victim to the network's obsession with the 18-49 demographic.

10. Vegas (Ranked #19 in the Ratings for the Season When Cancelled): Vegas was a period piece loosely based on real life Las Vegas Sheriff Roy Lamb, who held the office from 1961 to 1979. The show was set in the early Sixties and centred on Sheriff Lamb (Dennis Quaid) as he deals with mobster Vincent Savino (Michael Chiklis) and other criminals in Las Vegas. It debuted on 25 September 2012 on CBS. Vegas  had a very good timeslot. It originally aired on Tuesday night at 9:00 PM Central, following the #1 show NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles (which ranked #4 for the season).

While Vegas did not receive the ratings of either of those shows, it still did very well in the over all ratings. In fact, it ranked #19 for the season. Unfortunately, while Vegas performed very well in the over all ratings, it did very poorly in the ratings for adults aged 18-49, the demographic that television networks desire the most. It was because of this that in March CBS replaced Vegas on Tuesday night with Golden Boy, a show that did even worse in the ratings for the 18-49 demographic (and the over all ratings, for that matter) and was ultimately cancelled as a result. As to Vegas, it was moved to Friday nights where its ratings fell dramatically. CBS cancelled Vegas on 10 May 2013. In many ways the cancellation of Vegas could be considered the modern day equivalent of the cancellations of many shows during the Rural Purge. Quite simply, it was cancelled because its audience was too old.

Looking at the top ten highest rated shows ever cancelled, it seems clear that it takes more than high ratings to remain on the air. As important as how many people are watching a given show is precisely who is watching a given show. Out of the top ten highest rated shows ever cancelled, The Red Skelton Show, Mayberry R.F.D., Hee Haw, The Men from Shiloh, and Vegas were all cancelled because their audiences were too old, too rural, or both. It is not enough for a show to have high ratings, it must also have high ratings within the 18-49 demographic and high ratings in urban areas at that.

From looking at the top ten highest rated shows ever cancelled it also seems clear that following the #1 show on the air can be something of a curse. While a show is guaranteed high ratings if it follows the #1 show, it can also find itself cancelled if it does not retain enough of the #1 show's audience. Inside Schwartz was cancelled for that reason, and Leap of Faith probably was as well. While other reasons seemed to have played roles in the cancellations of Bridget Loves Bernie and Chicken Soup, following the #1 show on television certainly did not help them.

Finally, it would seem that controversy will kill a show even if it has high ratings. Bridget Loves Bernie was a ratings smash, yet it seems likely that protests from Jewish groups played a large role in the show getting the axe. Chicken Soup did very well in the ratings, but it seems clear that the controversy over Jackie Mason's remarks during the New York City mayoral race insured its demise. More recently CBS cancelled Rob despite the fact that it ranked #25 for the season (according to our list that makes it the 15th highest show ever cancelled). It seems likely that it was cancelled  because many believed it portrayed outright Mexican stereotypes. Quite simply, the fact is that controversy will often kill a show no matter how high its ratings are.

As I said earlier, in the end it would seem that simply having high ratings will not guarantee the survival of a show. Many factors go into the American broadcast networks decisions on whether to renew or cancel a particular show. Sometimes those factors are enough to kill a show no matter how high its ratings are.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

The Ten Highest Rated Television Shows Ever Cancelled Part One

Nothing lasts forever. This is particularly true of television shows, all of which at some time or another will come to an end. In the case of a few shows their producers (or sometimes their star) will decide that it has run its course and elect to end its production. This was the way in which such shows as Perry Mason, M*A*S*H, Cheers, and Seinfeld ended. Unfortunately, the vast majority of shows end when they are cancelled by the network on which they aired. And more often than not cancellation is the result of low ratings.  Indeed, not a few classic shows were cancelled by networks because their ratings were poor.

While most cancellations of television shows have been due to low ratings, it is by no means the only reason television shows are cancelled. In fact, there have been a few cases in which shows were receiving perfectly respectable ratings when they were cancelled. What is more, there have been a few cases in which shows were cancelled that were receiving simply incredible ratings. The simple fact is that even great ratings are sometimes not enough to save a show.

Following is a list of some of the highest rated shows ever cancelled by the American broadcast networks. While I believe this list includes nearly all of the high rated programmes cancelled over the years, I am not going to say that it is necessarily definitive. The Nielsen Company has provided ratings for the American broadcast networks since 1950. With that many years to cover, it is possible that a few programmes may have been missed. Here I must thank my brother +Berry Canote, who went through television schedules year by year and complied much of the list. His help was invaluable.

1. Bridget Loves Bernie (Ranked #5 for the Season When Cancelled): Bridget Loves Bernie starred Meredith Baxter as a wealthy Irish American school teacher who falls in love with and marries a poor Jewish taxi driver named Bernie (played by David Birney). Bridget Loves Bernie was created by Bernard Slade, who had also developed The Flying Nun and The Partridge Family. It debuted on 16 September 1972 in a choice timeslot, scheduled between All in the Family (then the #1 show on television) and The Mary Tyler Moore Show (then the #10 show on television).  It should then come as no surprise that Bridget Loves Bernie was one of the smash hits of the year. It would rank #5 in the Nielsen ratings for the season.

Unfortunately the phenomenal ratings of Bridget Loves Bernie would not be enough to save it. Centred on the marriage between a Catholic woman and a Jewish man, the show proved very controversial upon its debut. The show came under fire from conservative and orthodox Jewish organisations, who felt it ridiculed the teachings of Judaism, showed intermarriage between Jews and Christians as something favourable, and presented negative Jewish stereotypes. Among the Jewish groups who objected to Bridget Loves Bernie were the Synagogue Council of America, the Commission on Interfaith Activities of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Rabbinical Assembly of America, and the Union of Orthodox Congregations of America. In response to the controversy in a New York Times article from February 1973 then President of CBS Robert Wood pointed out that they had both Jewish and Catholic advisors on the show to insure the show was not offensive and that while the network realised the people who objected to the show were "sincere, concerned people", CBS felt "..if we respond to pressure to cancel the show, we do a disservice to the millions who obviously like it."

In the end CBS cancelled Bridget Loves Bernie in April 1973. Its cancellation came as a surprise to many observers, who assumed it would be renewed given its extremely high ratings. In a Copley News Service article at the time CBS President Robert Wood claimed the cancellation of Bridget Loves Bernie was "absolutely removed" from various Jewish groups' objections to it. Given the fact that the show ranked #5 for the season in the Nielsen ratings, one might have good reason to doubt Robert Wood's statement on the show's cancellation. While CBS may have considered other factors in the show's cancellation, it seems likely that the controversy over Bridget Loves Bernie played a large role in its demise.

2. The Red Skelton Hour (Ranked #7 for the Season When Cancelled):  Red Skelton made his first appearance on radio as a guest on The Rudy Vallee Show in 1937. By 1938 he had replaced Red Foley as the host of the NBC radio show Avalon Time. By 1941 he had his very own show, The Raleigh Cigarettes Program. Red Skelton would remain a constant on radio afterwards and he would remain consistently popular as well.  In fact, the only reason Mr. Skelton did not appear on television prior to the 30 September 1951 debut of The Red Skelton Show on NBC is that his contract with MGM forbade him from appearing on television before then.

Red Skelton proved to be as successful on television as he had on radio. In its first season on NBC The Red Skelton Show was the #4 show for the year in the Nielsen ratings. After two seasons on NBC The Red Skelton Show moved to CBS where it really took off. The show spent 14 of its seasons on CBS in the top 20 shows according to the Nielsen ratings, eight of those seasons in the top ten. It was in 1962 that The Red Skelton Show expanded to an hour and was renamed The Red Skelton Hour. If anything else, it was even more successful in an hour long format. After nineteen years on the air Red Skelton was still very successful on television. The Red Skelton Hour ranked #7 for the 1969-1970 season.

It is for that reason people were surprised when in the spring of 1970 CBS cancelled The Red Skelton Hour. Although few realised it at the time, the network's cancellation of The Red Skelton Hour was a precursor of  the Rural Purge they would undertake the following season. Starting in 1967 CBS grew increasingly concerned that their audience was too old and too rural. The network wanted to attract the young, urban demographic that Madison Avenue found most desirable. In fact, it was during the 1966-1967 season that CBS cancelled its long running game shows I've Got a Secret and What's My Line because their audiences skewed too old. Sadly, while The Red Skelton Hour received phenomenal ratings, its audience was largely older and living in rural areas.

Of course, it seems likely that the largely rural, older audience of The Red Skelton Hour was not the only reason the show was cancelled. Much of it may have simply come down to Red Skelton's salary. Mr. Skelton's contract stipulated that he was to receive a raise in salary every year. By 1970, then, Red Skelton was a very expensive star, and one who was not attracting the demographic that the network wanted. The Red Skelton Hour then became what was at the time the highest rated show ever cancelled.

While CBS had cancelled The Red Skelton Hour, it did not remain off the air for long. NBC picked the show up for the 1970-1971 season, but not without changes. NBC cut the show from an hour to a half hour in length. The network also cut its budget, so that the show did not have the elaborate sets that it had on CBS. The Red Skelton Show did not remain long on NBC its second time around. NBC cancelled it at the end of the 1970-1971 season, although with much lower ratings than it ever had on CBS.

3. Gang Busters (Ranked #8 for the Season When Cancelled): Like Red Skelton, Gang Busters was an import from radio. The show was created by Phillips Lord and debuted under the title G-Men on NBC on 20 July 1935. The show moved to CBS on 15 January 1936, which was also when its name was changed to Gang Busters. Both as G-Men and Gang Busters, the show was an anthology series that adapted real life FBI cases through a deal Phillips Lord had with FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.

Gang Busters proved to be enormously popular, inspiring a 1942 film serial entitled Gang Busters as well as a series of comic books published by National Periodical Publications starting in 1948. Strangely enough given its success, Gang Busters came to television because of another, younger radio show. Dragnet had debuted on NBC Radio  in 1949 and proved very popular. When Dragnet first came to television, however, its creator and producer Jack Webb had difficulty producing a half hour episode each week.  NBC needed a show to air during the weeks that they did not have episodes of Dragnet. As a result Gang Busters came to television as a temporary show that would alternate weeks with Dragnet until Jack Webb could begin producing weekly episodes.

 The television version of Gang Busters debuted on NBC on 20 March 1952. Its format was almost the same as the radio show. It was an anthology show that adapted real life FBI cases. There was only one major difference between the radio version of Gang Busters and its counterpart on television. On radio Gang Busters had a regular host  (among them Lewis Valentine, former New York City police commissioner, and Col.Norman Schwarzkopf Sr., former superintendent of the New Jersey State Police). On the other hand, episodes of the television version of Gang Buster were hosted by an actor from that particular episode in the role of the law enforcement official he had played.

Regardless, Gang Busters proved very successful on television. In fact, for the 1951-1952 season it ranked #14 out of the all the shows on the air. Its ratings actually improved for the 1952-1953 season, rising to #8 in the Nielsen ratings for the season. As to the show with which it rotated weeks, Dragnet ranked #4. Unfortunately for the producers of Gang Busters, by 1952 Jack Webb was able to provide NBC with a new episode of Dragnet every week. NBC then cancelled Gang Busters despite the fact that it was the #8 show for the season. Of course, today the sort of ratings that Gang Busters had received would have guaranteed it a spot on the television schedule, even if it had initially been meant as a pinch hitter for Dragnet.

4. Leap of Faith (Ranked #12 for the Season When Cancelled): Leap of Faith was a short lived show that debuted on NBC on 28 February 2002. The show was created by Jenny Bicks, then a writer and producer on HBO's Sex and the City. It starred Sarah Paulson as Faith Wardwell, a young advertising executive who cancels her wedding at the last minute. Lisa Edelstein (who went on to appear on House) played Faith's best friend, while Jill Clayburgh played her mother.

Leap of Faith had an ideal time slot, airing in between Friends (then the #1 show) and Will & Grace (then the #9 show). Not surprisingly, then, Leap of Faith did very well in the ratings. In fact, it ranked #12 for the 2001-2002 season. Despite this, Leap of Faith was cancelled after only six episodes.  It is difficult to say why Leap of Faith was cancelled. Scouring newspaper articles from the time uncovered none of the reasons that NBC might have had  for cancelling a show that was performing very well in the ratings. If I were to offer a guess, it might be that NBC thought Leap of Faith was not holding on to enough the audience of Friends. This was the reason given for the cancellation of another show that aired between Friends and Will & Grace that same season (more on that in Part Two). Of course, given that Leap of Faith ranked #12 for the season, one has to wonder just how much of the audience of Friends NBC expected any show to retain.

5. Chicken Soup (Ranked #13 for the Season When Cancelled): Chicken Soup starred Jackie Mason as a middle aged Jewish man named Jackie Fisher who becomes romantically involved with an Irish Catholic woman Maddie Pierce (played by Lynn Redgrave). The show debuted on 12 September 1989 on ABC.  Chicken Soup had a plum time slot following Roseanne (which was then the #1 show). As might be expected, it did very well in the ratings. For the season it ranked #13. In the end, however, it was cancelled after only 8 episodes had aired (even though twelve episodes had been made).

Given its premise was very similar to that of Bridget Loves Bernie, one might conclude that Chicken Soup was also cancelled due to a controversy over a romantic relationship between a Jew and a Christian. Unlike Bridget Loves Bernie, however, there was apparently no controversy over the premise of Chicken Soup. Looking back it should come as no surprise that Chicken Soup did not go through the same controversy that Bridget Loves Bernie had. It was only three years later that Love & War debuted on CBS. The show starred Jay Thomas as a Jewish man involved with a Christian woman (initially Susan Dey and later Annie Potts). There was no real controversy over the show and it ran for three seasons.

As to why Chicken Soup was cancelled, in an article from Knight-Ridder newspapers at the time, Jane Gretemeyer of ABC said that the show had been cancelled because it could not hold onto enough of the 7 million viewers who watched Roseanne. Despite ABC's official statements on the cancellation of Chicken Soup, it does seem possible that its cancellation was due to a controversy in which comedian Jackie Mason found himself embroiled at the time. Jackie Mason (who was at the time campaigning for Republican New York City mayoral candidate Rudy Giuliani) made comments in an interview with the Village Voice regarding Democratic New York City mayoral candidate David Dinkins, as well as race relations between Jews and African Americans. These comments were widely construed as racist, with the ultimate result being that Jackie Mason no longer campaigned for Rudy Giuliani. It then seems possible, even likely, then that ABC cancelled Chicken Soup more due to Jackie Mason's comments than the fact that Chicken Soup did not retain a lot of the audience for Roseanne. Indeed, it must be pointed out that its replacement, Coach, retained even less of the audience for Roseanne (it ranked 18th for the season), yet it was renewed for another year (in fact, Coach would run for another eight seasons).

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Mickey Rooney as Baby Face Nelson

I feel a bit under the weather tonight and not up to writing a full blog entry. Because of that I thought I would leave you with one of the late Mickey Rooney's best (and most unexpected) performances. This is the complete film Baby Face Nelson (1957), in which Mr. Rooney plays the title character. Don't expect Andy Hardy!