Saturday, August 17, 2013

Why NBC Should Bring Back Saturday Night at the Movies

It was on 23 September 1961 that NBC Saturday Night at the Movies debuted. It was a historic moment for American television. Prior to NBC Saturday Night at the Movies, the only films one would see on television were older films before 1950 or slightly more recent B movies. Even then, these films were aired almost exclusively on local stations. It was in 1961 that NBC bought the rights to broadcast 31 films made after 1950 from 20th Century Fox. The first of these to air was How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), starring Betty Grable, Lauren Bacall, and Marilyn Monroe. While the film was 8 years old, it was far newer than most films shown on television up to that time.

NBC Saturday Night at the Movies proved to be a hit. In fact, it proved so successful that it was not long before ABC and CBS would have their own movie anthology series. The ABC Sunday Night Movie debuted in April 1962. Top rated CBS waited a bit longer before debuting their first movie anthology series--The CBS Thursday Night Movie debuted in September 1965. Regardless, the movie anthology series proved so popular that by 1968 there was one on every night of the week.

Of course, now movie anthology series are nearly unknown on American broadcast television. Indeed, among the first to go was the original NBC Saturday Night at the Movies. The Seventies saw the rise of such premium channels as HBO and Showtime, making it possible for people to watch films on television without having to sit through commercials. Between this and the sheer number of movie anthology series on the networks in the late Sixties and into the Seventies, the ratings for NBC Saturday Night at the Movies dropped over time. NBC cancelled the original movie anthology series in 1978. The other movie anthology series would suffer similar fates, with the advent of the VCR and later DVDs hammering the final nails in their coffins. NBC would attempt to bring back NBC Saturday Night at the Movies during the 2000-2001 season, but it only lasted about a year.

Regardless, it is easy to see why the idea of a movie anthology series on Saturday night appealed to NBC in 1961. Quite simply, relatively recent theatrical films could draw more viewers than standard television shows of the time could have. Traditionally television audiences have been at their lowest on Friday and Saturday nights. To make matters worse, the television audience for Friday and Saturday nights have traditionally been composed of children and the elderly, hardly the 18-49 demographic the networks have wanted since the Seventies. While several hit shows have aired on Saturday night (Gunsmoke, Have Gun--Will Travel, pretty much the entire CBS line up for much of the Seventies, The Golden Girls, and so on), Saturday night has generally been a bit of a problem for the networks. Indeed, in the Naughts the networks simply surrendered the night by airing reruns for the most part, the documentary magazine 48 Hours on CBS being a notable exception.

Looking  at the way that the American broadcast networks currently schedule Saturday nights, I must say that this seems wrong headed to me. In scheduling reruns on Saturday night, not only do the networks lose any chance of winning the desired 18-49 demographic, but any other television viewers as well. In fact, the last time I remember watching network programming on Saturday night was when NBC aired It's a Wonderful Life last December. And that was probably the first time I'd watched network programming since NBC had aired It's a Wonderful Life the December before that!  On those Saturday nights when I am home I will generally watch something on cable (this is always the case when Doctor Who is on BBC America) or on DVD. Quite simply, then, in airing reruns, the networks are surrendering Saturday night to the various cable channels or to DVD and Blu-Ray players. I rather have to doubt that they are winning the night, and especially not in the 18-49 demographic.

Instead of simply programming reruns on Saturday night, I think the networks would do better if they scheduled something else. In the case of NBC, I think they could schedule a movie anthology series, one with an already established brand name: NBC Saturday Night at the Movies. Of course, given the fact that movies are a dime a dozen on various cable channels (they form a good part of the programming for both USA and TNT), NBC would want to make NBC Saturday Night at the Movies different from earlier movie anthologies. I figure this could be done in two ways. The first is that they could borrow a page from Turner Classic Movies and have a host. The host would introduce the film being aired that night and provide trivia about the film in bumpers right before and after commercial breaks. Ideally, the host should be pleasant, congenial, and preferably a film expert (think Robert Osborne on TCM). Second, I do not think they would want to limit themselves to recent films, but instead to show movies from the Thirties to the Teens. One week one might see The Dark Knight, next week he or she might see Dark Victory. The presence of a host would set the new NBC Saturday Night at the Movies apart from movies shown on cable, while showing older films would give viewers something not usually seen on American television outside of Turner Classic Movies.

Now I realise that NBC attempted to revive NBC Saturday Night at the Movies in 2000. And I realise that particular version of Saturday Night at the Movies had a host. That having been said, I think it failed because it was showing recent films that had already been shown over and over on cable channels and the host was Ryan Seacrest. Now I have nothing in particular against Mr. Seacrest, but he is hardly Robert Osborne or Ben Mankiewicz, and the few times I watched the 2000-2001 Saturday Night at the Movies I don't remember much film trivia. If NBC had aired a variety of films, both old and new, on Saturday Night at the Movies, and had a host who could provide real movie trivia, I think might actually have done better than it did in the 2000-2001 season.

Of course, I also realise that another objection could be that they would not get enough of the 18-49 demographic to make a new NBC Saturday Night at the Movies worth their while. First, as anyone who has read this blog knows, I think the networks and Madison Avenue's obsession with the 18-49 demographic is misguided in the extreme. I won't go into all of the reasons I believe this (I've outline those elsewhere), but I will point out the simple fact that college students and people starting out in life don't have money. If Madison Avenue wants a demographic with some extra spending cash and a willingness to buy things beyond the necessities, it seems to me that they should be looking at the 30-64 demographic!

Even if the networks and Madison Avenue were right about their pursuit of the 18-49 demographic, I rather suspect that a movie anthology series, especially one done differently than others before it, would draw a greater share of that demographic than reruns of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit or Chicago Fire. Indeed, it would probably draw a greater share of other demographics as well. I rather suspect that even Madison Avenue would have to agree that an audience of sixty year olds is better than no audience at all, which I have to wonder isn't where the networks are at right now.

NBC Saturday Night at the Movies revolutionised American television when it debuted in 1961. For over a decade it proved extremely successful. It certainly would not be quite so revolutionary now and I certainly don't think it would receive the ratings that it did in the Sixties. That having been said, NBC Saturday Night at the Movies could draw more viewers to NBC on Saturday nights, certainly more than the reruns they currently air now. At any rate, it seems to me that instead of simply surrendering Saturday night to the cable channels, it is time for the broadcast networks to fight back.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Just a Few Pictures of Hedy Lamarr

It is August, which for me means that my allergies are back. It also means I feel slightly under the weather and not up to a full fledged blog entry tonight. For that reason, then, I will leave you with something that should cheer all of us up, some pictures of the Most Beautiful Woman in the World and, with composer George Antheil, inventor of a " a secret communication system" that is the basis for modern day spread spectrum technology found in everything from mobile phones to GPS: the legendary Hedy Lamarr.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Eydie Gorme Passes On

Eydie Gorme, the singer who both performed solo and with her husband Steve Lawrence, died 10 August 2013 at the age of 84.

Eydie Gorme was born Edith Gormezano in The Bronx on 16 August 1928. She attended William Howard Taft High School, where future director Stanley Kubrick numbered among her classmates. After graduating high school, she took night classes at City College while working during the day as a translator at the United Nations.  On the weekends she sang with Ken Greenglass and his band. Ken Greenglass would become her manager and she sang on tour with Tommy Tucker and His Orchestra. It was with Tommy Tucker and his band that she made her recording debut in 1950. She went onto perform with the bands of both Tex Beneke and Ray Eberle.

It was in 1952 that Eydie Gorme struck out on her own and recorded her first solo work. That same year she was the star of the Voice of America radio show Cita Con Eydie ("An Appointment with Eydie"), broadcast in Latin America. Her big break would come in 1953 when she appeared on Tonight, then hosted by Steve Allen. Also booked on the show was another singer, the man would one day become her husband, Steve Lawrence.

 It was in 1954 that Miss Gorme had her first hit single. The song "Fini" went to #19 on the American singles chart. In the late Fifties she would have three more top forty hits: "Too Close For Comfort"(which went to #39 in 1956), "Mama, Teach Me To Dance" (which went to #34 in 1956), "Love Me Forever" (which went to #24 in 1957), and "You Need Hands" (which went to #11 in 1958). Eydie Gorme appeared regularly on television in the Fifties. In addition to Tonight, she appeared on Look Up and Live, The Denny Vaughan Show, Frankie Laine Time, The Big Record, The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom, Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall, Person to Person, The Milton Berle Show, The Patti Page Oldsmobile Show, and The Steve Allen Plymouth Show. In 1958 she  and Steve Lawrence hosted their own summer replacement show, The Steve Lawrence-Eydie Gorme Show.  Miss Gorme and Mr. Lawrence were married in 1957.

In the Sixties Eydie Gorme would have her biggest hit. In 1963 "Blame It on the Bossa Nova" went to #7 on the Billboard singles chart. Miss Gorme would have only two more top forty hits during the decade on the Billboard Hot 100, both duets with her husband Steve Lawrence: "I Want To Stay Here" and I Can't Stop Talking About You". Her songs regularly hit the Billboard Easy Listening chart, among them the singles "Can't Get Over (the Bossa Nova)", "Just Dance On By", "Don't Go To Strangers",      "What Did I Have That I Don't Have?", "Tonight I'll Say a Prayer", and so on. She also continued to appear frequently on television. Eydie Gorme and Steve Lawrence were frequent guests on The Garry Moore Show. Both with and without her husband, Miss Gorme appeared on such shows as Juke Box Jury, The Jimmy Dean Show, What's My Line, The Jack Paar Programme, I've Got a Secret, The Hollywood Palace, The Ed Sullivan Show, and The Kraft Music Hall.

Eydie Gorme continued to regularly hit the Billboard Easy Listening chart in the Seventies with such songs as "Love is Blue/Autumn Leaves" (with her husband Steve Lawrence), "It Was a Good Time", and "What I Did For Love".  She appeared on such TV shows as Here's Lucy, The Merv Griffin Show, Sammy and Company, Sanford and Son, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and The Carol Burnett Show. She and Steve Lawrence appeared in their own television specials, Steve and Eydie: Our Love Is Here to Stay, Steve & Eydie: From This Moment On...Cole Porter, and Steve & Eydie Celebrate Irving Berlin.

After the Seventies Steve & Eydie focused more on performing American standards. Eydie Gorme released no more singles, although they continued to tour and released several more albums. She continued to make occasional appearances on television, on such shows as Empty Nest, The Nanny, The Tonight Show, Fraiser, and The Rosie O'Donnell Show. She had a cameo in Ocean's Eleven (2001). Miss Gorme retired in 2009.

Eydie Gorme was one of the most remarkable singers of the 20th Century. She had an incredible range, much greater than other female vocalists of her era. She was also very versatile as a singer. In her career she performed everything from swing to American pop standards to jazz. Often overlooked here in the United States is that Miss Gorme was a pop star in multiple languages. Fluent in both Ladino (the spoken by Sephardic Jews) and Spanish, she produced hit singles in Spanish, including "Sabor a Mí".

Of course, it is impossible to separate Eydie Gorme from her husband Steve Lawrence. While they both had hits of their own, one always heard more about "Steve & Eydie" than simply one or the other. Together they were consummate performers, with an easy going presence on stage. In many respects they were a throwback to another time in the era of rock 'n' roll, a happily married couple who behaved as such on stage. It made for good entertainment even after the advent of rock music, and allowed for the two of them to not only have a marriage that lasted over 50 years, but a music act that did so as well. Both as a solo performer and one half of the team of Steve &  Eydie, Eydie Gorme was a singular performer.