Saturday, October 9, 2004

Whatever Happened to Saturday Night?

I am beginning to wonder if the two oldest television networks (CBS and NBC) are ever going to show anything new on Saturday night prime time again. Tonight, on CBS, there was a repeat of this week's Survivor, a rerun of Without a Trace, and 48 Hours. On NBC, there was a repeat of this week's The Apprentice, a rerun of the pilot for Medical Investigations, and a rerun of Law and Order: SVU. UPN and the WB don't air anything on Saturday night. It seems that only two networks air new programming on Saturday night. ABC has The Wonderful World of Disney scheduled for Saturday nights and Fox still shows Cops and America's Most Wanted.

I first noticed this trend towards reruns on Saturday night a few seasons ago. NBC had been showing movies under the classic heading NBC Saturday Night at the Movies, then, for whatever reason, they started showing reruns of Law and Order and its spinoffs. It seems that this season CBS has followed NBC's lead. In some ways, I find this disappointiing, given the history of great televison on Saturday night.

In the Fifties, CBS aired such shows as Perry Mason, Have Gun Will Travel, and Gunsmoke on Saturday night. NBC aired Your Show of Shows. In the Sixties, CBS showed The Defenders and The Jackie Gleason Show. On NBC the night was home to NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies. The Golden Age for Saturday night television was perhaps the Seventies (ironic, considering how bad television could be in that decade). CBS aired such classic series as All in the Family, M*A*S*H, The Bob Newhart Show, and The Carol Burnett Show on Saturday night. Indeed, I have fond memories of watching that line up as a child. NBC still showed Saturday Night at the Movies. Now, where these classic shows once aired, there are reruns.

In some ways I can understand why CBS and NBC would choose to air reruns on Saturday night. Despite the number of classic shows that have aired on Saturday night, I have never thought that it probably gave the networks very high ratings. After all, it is the height of the weekend. I would imagine a large number of Americans elect to go to the movies, to bars, to restaurants, or engage in other activities on Saturday night rather than watching television. In fact, I would imagine this was the case even when televison viewing was at its height in the Fifties and Sixties. I can see why networks would choose to air something as cheap as reruns rather than spend money on new programming on Saturday night.

Still, the fact is that many of those classic shows that aired on Saturday night got very good ratings. In the Fifites, both Have Gun Will Travel and Gunsmoke were among the highest rated shows on television. In the Seventies, All in the Family was the number one show on television for several seasons. Its fellow shows on CBS that night did quite well, too. There may actually be fewer television viewers available on Saturday night than other nights, but those viewers who are available are willing to tune into quality programming. Instead of reruns, then, perhaps CBS and NBC need to look for the next All in the Family, Carol Burnett Show, or M*A*S*H.

Wednesday, October 6, 2004

The Late Rodney Dangerfield

They say that celebrities always die in threes. I never have really believed that, although this week has seen two celebrity deaths. Actress Janet Leigh died Sunday. Comedian Rodney Dangerfield died yesterday at age 82. He had undergone heart surgery in August. He'd developed complications after the surgery.

Dangerfield was born Jacob Cohen in 1921 in New York City. He started in stand up comedy at age 19 with the stage name of Jack Roy, but found very little success. He married at age 27. He sold paint and siding. At age 42 he took up stand up comedy again, this time using his now familiar stage name of Rodney Dangerfield. It was at this point that he came up with his famous "I don't get no respect" line. That line built his career. He appeared on The Merv Griffin Show, The Ed Sulivan Show, Tonight, and The Dean Martin Show. He made his first apearance in a feature film in The Projectionist in 1971. In the Eighties, Dangerfield would have a small career in feature films, beginning with Caddyshack.

I can't say that I was a huge fan of Rodney Dangerfield's films, although I always liked his stand up comedy. I remember him from his appearances on The Dean Martin Show, particularly on Martin's Celebrity Roasts. For me the appeal of Dangerfield can be summed up in his line, "I can't get no respect." Through his routine about how he wasn't respected, Dangerfield served for an outlet for anyone who has ever felt inadequate, inferior, or underappreciated. It was very easy to identify with Dangerfield in his quest for respect. Ironically, even though his routine was built on the line "I can't get no respect,"I dare say that Dangerfield was one of the more respected comics of his time.

Monday, October 4, 2004

Janet Leigh 1927-2004

Janet Leigh died yesterday at age 77. She had fought vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels) for a year. She is perhaps best known as the victim Norman Bates murdered in the shower in the classic Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho (1960); however, Leigh made many more movies than Psycho.

Janet Leigh was born in Merced, California as Jeanette Helen Morrison, an only child. Her film career began in 1946 when actress Norma Shearer saw a picture of then teenage Leigh at the ski resort at which her mother was working. Shearer directed Leigh to the talent agency MCA. MCA got her a contract at MGM for a mere $50 a week. She made her film debut in The Romance of Rosy Ridge, opposite Van Johnson, in 1947. Soon she was one of the actresses in the most demand at MGM.

Leigh would go on to make a number of classic films. Besides Psycho, she appeared in Little Women, Holiday Affair, Scaramouche, Touch of Evil, The Vikings, and The Manchurian Candidate. Her last appearance in a feature film was in A Fate Totally Worse than Death in 2000. She also made numerous appearances on television, guest starring in such series as Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Laugh In, and the Eighties version of The Twilight Zone. She last appeared on televison in
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes & Villains in 2003 and in an A&E Biography of herself that same year.

I always did like Janet Leigh as an actress. Of course, as a child the first thing I noticed about her was that she was breathtakingly beautiful. It was hard not to notice her in such roles as Aline in Scaramouche and Morgana in The Vikings. As I grew older, I also realised that she was a very talented actress. She was quite convincing as the wife of police officer Vargas (Charlton Heston) in Touch of Evil and as Marion Crane in Psycho. She could play roles that required her to be vulnerable, strong willed, and often both. I must say that I am truly saddened by her death. In fact, she may well be my favourite actress of all time. I doubt that there will ever be another actress quite like her.

Sunday, October 3, 2004

The Old Time Drug Store

There are times when I wish Huntsville still had a drugstore. Early last month I had a severe cold. I had to go all the way to the grocery store (which is on the edge of town) just to get any kind of medication at all. It would have been a lot easier if we still had a drugstore downtown.

Huntsville did have a drugstore when I was very, very young. It was an old time drug store, complete with a soda fountain against one wall and the pharmacists' counter in back. The soda fountain served soda (naturally), ice cream, ice cream floats, and other such treats. And like most old time drug stores, it didn't just sell drugs. They sold candy, bubble gum and assorted other things. I seem to remember there being a comic book rack as well. Unfortunately, the drugstore burned either when I was in first or second grade. They moved to another building downtown shortly after that. At the new location they didn't have a soda fountain. I also seem to recall that they didn't stay open long at the new location, although I don't know if the abscence of the fountain had any effect on that...

Soda fountains were a fixture of drug stores before the Seventies. In fact, for those of you too young to remember soda fountains in drug stores, Gower's Drugstore in It's a Wonderful Life looked pretty typical for a drug store before the Seventies. In fact, there was a time when a drugstore would look positively empty without a soda fountain. And while many drug stores did away with the fountains in the Sixties and Seventies, Burton's in Moberly maintained their soda fountain well into the Nineties. In fact, they served sandwiches and hamburgers in addition to ice cream and soda. Burton's is still open, although I don't know if they still have fountains.

In the United States, the soda fountain has been around in some form since 1819, when a patent for one was granted to Samuel Fahnestock. Since soda was once thought to be healthy for people to drink, it was perhaps natural that drugstores should eventually be equipped with soda fountains. It was in 1903 that both the drugstore and the soda fountain was revolutionised. That year the front-service soda fountain was invented. The front-service soda fountain is the sort that could be seen in drugstores across the country for much of the 20th century. They are still used in fast food restaurants, concession stands, and most any other place that serves over the counter soda. With the invention of the front-service soda fountain, almost no drugstore would be without one.

Unfortunately, times do change and so did the drugstore. Drugstore soda fountains slowly saw their business decline as they lost sales to bottled soda, packaged ice cream (such as one buys in the store), and fast food restaurants. I rather suspect that even if Huntsville's drugstore had not burned, that it would have done away with the soda fountain eventually. I find this sad, as the old drugstores served as gathering places for townsfolk in a way that convenience stores, fast food restaurants, WalMart, and chain drugstores never have. It was a place where one could not just get pharmacy goods, but a place where one could get ice cream, soda, and even the latest comic books.