Friday, 13 August 2010
The CBS Late Movie
The CBS Late Movie would survive for nearly twenty years, although over those years its format would undergo various changes. While best known for showing various B-movies, it did show many box office hits for awhile and also saw the network television debuts of various movies that would not be seen anywhere else on broadcast network television. In the end it would be better remembered than some of the late night hosts who would eventually supplant it.
The origins of The CBS Late Movie go back to CBS's efforts to compete against NBC's monolithic The Tonight Show, which had dominated late night viewing since its debut in 1954. In 1969 CBS offered Merv Griffin his own late night show. At the time it perhaps made perfect sense, as Mr. Griffin had hosted his own highly successful talk show in syndication since 1965. Unfortunately, the deal between CBS and Mr. Griffin would turn out to be a marriage made in Hell. The Merv Griffin Show had only been on six weeks when CBS complained to Mr. Griffin that he had only one guest who had spoken on the air in favour of the Vietnam War, John Wayne, and many more who had spoken against it. Mr. Griffin told them that when they found another celebrity as famous as Mr. Wayne who supported the war, he would book him on the show. This would not be the end of CBS's meddling, as they would continue to do so for the rest of the shows run. Worse yet, the ratings for The Merv Griffin Show never matched that of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and had begun to seriously fall in 1971. Merv Griffin secretly negotiated a deal with Metromedia for his own, syndicated daily show (like the one he had before). As for CBS, they cancelled The Merv Griffin Show.
It was around December 6, 1971 that CBS announced that they would replace The Merv Griffin Show with old movies. In many respects it was a very wise move on CBS's part. By late 1971 it must have seemed obvious that NBC could not be beaten at its own game. ABC had tried with The Joey Bishop Show, which ran only from 1967 to 1969. The Merv Griffin Show on CBS had been a failure. While The Dick Cavett Show currently on ABC had its following, its ratings were still much lower than that of The Tonight Show. Rather than attempt to compete with NBC with a late night talk show of its own, CBS then took the step of programming something entirely different against Johnny Carson and The Tonight Show. As it was, many CBS affiliates already aired late night movies on their own.
Starting in March 1973 The CBS Late Movie would start showing horror and, less often, fantasy and sci-fi movies on Friday nights on a semi-regular basis. The horror movies aired on The CBS Late Movie were not the old, classic Universal horror films from the Thirties or Forties, or even the cheesy sci-fi horror movies made in the Fifties, but films of a more recent vintage made in the Sixties and early Seventies. Among the horror movies aired on Friday nights on The CBS Late Movie were classics by American International Pictures, including The House of Usher (1960), The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1970), Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972), The Haunted Palace (1963), Cry of the Banshee (1970), and the not so classic The Dunwich Horror (1970). The CBS Late Movie aired several movies from Hammer Films, including Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971), The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960), Dracula Prince of Darkness (1966), Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968), The Mummy (1959), and many others. The CBS Late Movie also showed a variety of other horror movies, including The Creeping Flesh (1973), The Blood Beast Terror (1968), The House That Dripped Blood (1970), The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967), Count Yorga, Vampire (1970), Night of the Lepus (1972), and even the classic The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939). As mentioned above, The CBS Late Movie would sometimes air fantasy and sci-fi movies as well, including the aforementioned The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao, Valley of the Gwangi (1969), Battle Beneath the Earth (1967), the failed television pilot Genesis II, THX 1138 (1971), Moon Zero Two (1968), and Captain Nemo and the Underwater City (1969).
While most movies aired on The CBS Late Movie had aired elsewhere first, a few movies did made their network debuts on the movie anthology series. For the most part these were films whose content (whether due to violence or other controversial content) would make them unsuitable for airing in prime time. Among the movies which made their broadcast network debuts on The CBS Late Movie were The Fearless Vampire Killers, Richard Burton's Doctor Faustus (1967), Frankenstien Must Be Destroyed (1969), and Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975).
Sadly, The CBS Late Movie would not remain purely a movie anthology series. In September 1976 The CBS Late Movie began airing reruns of Kojak on some nights. In the next few subsequent seasons other primetime series would be rerun on The CBS Late Movie: M*A*S*H, Harry-O, The Rockford Files, Hawaii Five-O, and various reruns from The NBC Mystery Movie (Columbo, McMillan and Wife, Hec Ramsey, and so on). During this period The CBS Late Movie would still show movies. The Planet of the Apes series aired, as did the films Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1972), The Wrecking Crew (1968), Alfred the Great (1969), and The Man Who Would Be King (1975).
The CBS Late Movie would continue airing its mixture of reruns and movies for the next few years, with shows such as Quincy M.E., Newhart, Hart To Hart, and others joining the mix. It was in 1985 that the show Night Heat joined the line up of The CBS Late Movie, thereby becoming the first Canadian series to air on any American network. It would prove to be popular, so much so that CBS would import more Canadian series. Adderly debuted on The CBS Late Movie in September 1986. It too proved successful. Night Heat would continue to be a part of The CBS Late Movie until 1989. Adderly continued until 1987. Subsequent Canadian series which aired on The CBS Late Movie, such as Hot Shots and Diamonds would not prove nearly as successful.
Just as it had before, CBS Late Night continued to air reruns of older programmes. The Prisoner joined the line up in February 1990. Kolchak: The Night Stalker, which had aired on CBS Late Night starting in 1987, returned to the line up. Reruns of Night Heat and old series such as Wiseguy also aired on CBS Late Night. Unfortunately, CBS Late Night was living on borrowed time. It seems that in 1976 when the network decided to air Kojak reruns on The CBS Late Movie, they had let the genie out of the bottle. Over the years various crime series had proven very popular on The CBS Late Movie. In the end it would be those crime series that would kill it. After a run of nearly twenty years, CBS Late Night ended its run on March 28, 1991.
It was replaced by a new programming block called Crimetime After Primetime. Crimetime After Primetime consisted mostly of Canadian imports, such as Tropical Heat, Forever Knight, and Dark Justice. Scene of the Crime (a mystery anthology series) and Silk Stalkings were the only American series in the line up. Unfortunately, Crimetime After Primetime would fall victim to the late night wars the same way that Merv Griffin had nearly twenty years before. It was replaced on August 30, 1993 by The Late Show with Dave Letterman, who has occupied the time slot ever since. Silk Stalkings would survive, running on the USA Network with original episodes until 1999.
Although The CBS Late Movie has been off the air for nearly twenty years now, it is still fondly remembered by many. For its first several years it was utterly unique, the only movie anthology series on the networks to air five nights a week. In those first several years it saw the network debut of several movies, one of which would be the first movie rated "X" to ever air on a network. For some time it was the only place one could see many of the classic Hammer horror movies. Even after it began airing reruns of primetime series it would still be fondly remembered, as it showed such cult favourites as The Avengers and The Saint alongside reruns of more recent American shows. Later it would be fondly remembered for bringing the first Canadian shows to American network television, Night Heat and Adderly. Even in 1990 and 1991, a mere shadow of its once glorious self, CBS Late Night aired such classics as The Prisoner and cult favourites such as Kolchak: The Night Stalker. While I like David Letterman and I love Craig Ferguson, I must admit there are those nights when I wish I could once more tune into CBS and see The CBS Late Movie.