GREAT GRAPHICS: ICONIC OPENING, ABC’s Wide World of Sports

Written By: Greg Howell - Feb• 19•18

The iconic opening to ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Ironically, the famous skier from March of 1970, Vinko Bogataj, was completely unaware that he had become an American icon and labeled the “agony of defeat” man. When ABC tracked him down to attend the 20th Anniversary of “Wide World of Sports,” ten years later, he was stunned when he received the loudest ovation of all the athletes at the event. When Muhammad Ali asked him for HIS autograph, he couldn’t believe it! He was one of the most well-known athletes in the world!

ICON RESTORATION: Gorgeous George, TV’s First Superstar!

Written By: Greg Howell - Feb• 17•18

By his first TV appearance on a local, live broadcast out of Los Angeles in 1947, Gorgeous George (Wagner) was already a national superstar. Filling arenas across the country, often to SRO crowds of over 15,000 people, the “Gorgeous One” commanded 50% of the box office at every venue. Papers across the country announced his arrival and every move. Entire essays were printed on “Gee Gee,” both in positive and negative light. The “UP” out of New York declared, “He should have been accompanied … by a chef instead of a valet: his ‘smellodrama’ reeked of ham.” The NEA New York bellowed, “Gorgeous George Sets Wrestling Back 12 Years.”

Hollywood news correspondent Erskine Johnson decided, “Georgie already is one of the country’s leading actors!”
His gigantic personality and magnetism created a national lighting rod, sparking sales of TV sets across the nation. It would take a couple years for the mania on TV to truly take hold, as the earliest TV wrestling broadcasts were poorly produced kinescopes of older bouts hastily filling blanks in local TV stations’ schedules. With the completion of the Mid-west co-axial cable in 1948, however, live bouts broadcast over half of continental United States began to favor professional wrestling as TV’s greatest sport. And most of that excitement was due to the allure of Gorgeous George.

As reported by The Albuquerque Journal (or nearly any paper in America), Gorgeous George would arrive by limousine in the morning, with his valet, and delivered to the most luxurious hotel in town. Throngs of people would arrive to peer into the windows of a local beauty salon to see George have his bleach blonde curls tidied up for the evening event. Later in the afternoon, he would briefly stop by a local TV station for an elegant talk with the station and viewers about the finer things in life.

By showtime the local crowds were wound tight into a Gorgeous George frenzy as the last remaining tickets were being sold, and the last unclaimed reservations being snapped up.

Wrestling tours had become a popular traveling attraction for over a decade, and several popular but lesser bouts would kick off the evening’s event. Finally, it was time for the arrival of Gorgeous George. Wearing gowns befitting Elizabethan royalty, George would enter while “Pomp and Circumstance” played over the loud speakers. The crowds erupted into boos and jeers that were nearly deafening. Gorgeous George’s valet would first take the stage, spraying perfume, identified as Chanel No. 5, over the entire stage with an elegant version of the vintage DDT aerosol pump sprayers. George, deciding the stage was fit for him to stand on, would cross over the ropes, and slowly disrobe from his frilly satin and lace robe, carefully folding it over and over and over before handing it off carefully to his valet. The crowds would again erupt into a scornful melee!

Gorgeous George, pridefully effeminate and arrogant, was ready made as a TV star! His ringside theatrics followed him into the ring, where George would pull out all the stops, even cheating, to win the match. By late 1948, bars and saloons were purchasing televisions and filling up with wrestling fan patrons that loved to hate Gorgeous George. Wrestling mania for television exploded when ABC and DuMont put the first, national broadcast of the sport on their weekly schedules in 1949.

Gorgeous George is credited as one of the most important early TV stars to push TV sales into American homes. Some dealers believed Gorgeous George was selling as many TV’s as Milton Berle, Howdy Doody, and Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, and is often cited as the “First American TV Superstar.”

THE NIGHT STALKER, Dan Curtis Breaks TV Ratings Record, January 11, 1972

Written By: Greg Howell - Feb• 14•18

This influential television film followed washed-up reporter Carl Kolchak, played by Darren McGavin, as he investigates a Las Vegas serial killer. Based on an unpublished novel by Jeff Rice and a screenplay by Richard Matheson, “The Night Stalker” added just the right amount of sarcastic humor with a vampire horror tale for a fresh, winning combination.

The telefilm was the #1 show of the week, and its 33.2 rating and 54 share made it the highest rated movie on television up to that time. 3rd place ABC wasted no time requesting a sequel, “The Night Strangler.”

These highly rated movies, of course, led to the “Kolchak: The Night Stalker,” the one season cult classic that had mediocre ratings during its original run, 1974-1975, but performed as well as other ABC shows such as “Barney Miller,” “The Six Million Dollar Man,” and “Baretta.” However, a lawsuit by creator Jeff Rice, coupled with Darren McGavin’s disappointment with the series’ “monster of the week” approach, led to certain cancellation in late spring of 1975.

The Dan Curtis productions of “Dark Shadows” and “The Night Stalker” influenced television and popular culture for the next 50 years. Both Stephen King and Ann Rice name these shows as major influences, and TV series such as “Salem’s Lot,” “Supernatural,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” “True Blood,” “American Horror Story” and the “X-Files” all borrowed heavily from these Curtis classics.
The Night Stalker

Great TV Iconography, Dennis The Menace, 1966

Written By: Greg Howell - Feb• 07•18

Dennis the Menace, syndicationIn the 1950’s and 1960’s, much ado was made about the correlation between the ratings a politician attained on TV and there chances of winning the election, which is the background for this Dennis the Menace advertisement placed in trade papers about the arrival and success of this show in the national syndication market.

However, the irony, considering today’s political climate, is undeniable. “Dennis the Menace” ran from 1959 – 1963 and 146 episodes. This was a replacement series on CBS for “Leave It To Beaver,” which had jumped ship to ABC from CBS after the 1957-1958 season.

AN AMERICAN FAMILY, January 11 – March 29, 1973

Written By: Greg Howell - Jan• 30•18

reality-television-8-638Filmed over a 6 month period, this documentary is hailed by many as the very first true reality series. The 12 episode program, edited from 300 hours of footage, was planned as a document of an average American family, the Louds of Santa Barbara, California. According to a 2016 NYT’s interview with matriarch Pat Loud, the original concept was a documentary of four average American families in different parts of the country, examining the differences and similarities of families from different geographic areas. The producers could not find even one family, much less four! As desperation set in, the crew stumbled upon the Loud family.

However, the series immediately took a dramatic turn when wife Pat, in episode 2, asked for a separation (and a divorce in the final segment) from husband Bill. Even more surprising, son Lance, an admirer of Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground, developed into the star of the show when he came out openly as gay to his family! In a bold move, Lance moved to New York and into the Chelsea Hotel, seeking to discover himself and explore his gay identity – again, a remarkable twist, and with subject matter that was not only controversial, but taboo! For the first time, Americans were viewing one man’s process of coming out as gay.

Lance_Loud_1973

There was controversy on both sides of the issue. Lance was brash, outspoken, and flamboyant. Many in the gay community expressed concern about Lance becoming the stereotype of the entire community, not just one particular case study. Nonetheless, Lance’s prideful, honest approach ultimately created TV’s first gay icon.

Kevin Loud;William Loud [& Family];Lance Loud;Michele Loud;Delilah Loud;Grant LoudIf the two main developing story threads became the heart and catalyst for the series’ drama, the remainder of the family offered insight to the state of a modern (and dysfunctional) American family. Watching an emotionally detached father, and, all the while, witnessing children with excessive idle time, were the more relatable attributes of the series. The sheer normality of the Loud family certainly gave average American viewers pause and reflection of their own family lives.

Jeffrey Roush, reporting for Fortune Magazine, wrote, “Fueled by fascination with Lance’s homosexuality and an unwinding marriage between his parents Pat and Bill, a whopping 10 million viewers tuned in weekly. Time magazine, in its May 2015 survey of the “25 Most Influential Marriages of All Time,” listed the Louds as 12th.”

So, is “An American Family” the first reality series? It was the combination of americanfamily_newsweek_20110622203559many things. It was film making without a script. It was journalism without a news story, unfolding as if to create news, not just document it. And while undeniably a documentary, it is also something new for the genre. It was “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” with a story arc and continuing character development, without the wild animals and hosts. It contained the manipulation of “Candid Camera” without the pre-established punchlines. At times, it was “Queen for a Day,” without the prizes.

Ultimately, the series was the fusion of many elements that created something distinct and new in television. It would be several decades before anything resembling “An American Family” would premiere, most notably MTV’s “Real World” in 1992. Several pseudo reality-based programs were aired in the 1970’s and 1980’s, such as “In Search Of,” Leonard Nimoy’s long-running program, as well as “Real People,” and the popular, indefatigable “Unsolved Mysteries.” However, these programs were missing the weekly continuing relationships that are the hallmark of true reality programming.