Holes in the commercial TV schedule

cricket

How_to_Marry_a_MillionaireWith all the cable and streaming services out there, I’m nevertheless still fascinated by the programming choices on the three commercial TV networks I grew up with, ABC, CBS, and NBC. Most recently I noticed that Raiders of the Lost Ark was one of five movies filling the CBS Sunday night lineup in the month of May 2020.

Once upon a time, showing movies on prime time commercial television was de rigeur. According to my TV bible, How To Marry a Millionaire, starring Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall, and Betty Grable, was the first, airing on NBC on September 23, 1961. Gone With The Wind aired in two parts in early November 1976 and received at least a 47 rating/66 share of the market, comparable with Super Bowl broadcasts, percentage-wise.

Of course, the Wizard of Oz was shown on CBS for years. I watched it several times. But it wasn’t until I finally saw it in color in 1970 that I finally GOT it. The 1964 and 1965 airings were in the top 20 of the most viewed films on television. It’s why so much of the dialogue pops into my conversation: “What have you LEARNED, Dorothy?”

Now, I’m talking about theatrical releases. there were also a ton of made-for-TV movies, such as The Day After (1983), Helter Skelter (1976), and The Burning Bed (1984), all of which I watched at the time. There was also Little Ladies of the Night (1977), which I never even heard of, but was #2 on the list, at least as of 2009.

Play-by-play

The schedule for CBS seems to have been most impacted by the coronavirus because their schedule has been most dependent on sports. Instead of showing the March Madness of college basketball, they’ve shown reruns of previous games. The Masters golf tournament in April provides the opportunity to see last year’s final round AGAIN, but with Tiger Woods doing the commentary. Nah.

As John Green pointed out, a lot of the thrill of watching a sporting event is NOT knowing the outcome. Back in the day – i.e., last year – I would DVR the World Series games and watch them in the early morning, being sure not to look at my email, the Internet generally, or live TV.

John Green found himself watching the 2012 Italian rugby finals because who knows who won the 2012 Italian rugby finals? I’ll admit I viewed the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series recently. Instead of that, maybe I should watch cricket, which I haven’t seen since my honeymoon in 1999. Or Australian rules football. Hey, they’re playing baseball in Taiwan; I’d watch that!

WNBF-TV: one channel, four networks

I seem to recall the ABC show Lawrence Welk on Saturday night at 6 or 6:30; it nationally aired at 9 pm that night.

When I went to college in New Paltz in 1971, most of my classmates were from New York City or Long Island. They were shocked that we in upstate Binghamton did not have the array of television stations they had.

In fact, when WNBF-TV, channel 12, signed-on December 1, 1949 it “carried programs from all four American television networks at the time -CBS, DuMont, NBC, and ABC.

DuMont collapsed in 1956. The first new UHF station arrived in Binghamton on November 1, 1957 with WINR-TV, channel 40, an NBC affiliate. So when I was a kid, Channel 12 had both CBS and ABC shows.

Here are TV listings from Wednesday, Nov. 11, 1959. Left-hand column is WNBF-TV 12, right-hand is WINR-TV 40. The listings start at 6:00 pm and every line usually represents 15 minutes.

WNBF WINR TV Listings

Bourbon Street Beat was an ABC show, airing most places on Monday, 8:30-9:30. GE Theater was a CBS show, airing in NYC Sunday a 9 pm. Tightrope was pegged by CBS for Tuesday at 9 pm. At least I’ve Got a Secret was a CBS show on at the right time.

Similar listings of the next day, Thursday, Nov. 12, 1959. (Ch. 12 on left, Ch. 40 on right).

WNBF WINR TV 1959

The Donna Reed Show, The Real McCoys, and Pat Boone were Thursday night ABC shows in 1959 at the same time slots as indicated; the Real McCoys became a CBS show near the end of its run. I wonder if The Betty Hutton Show, Johnny Ringo, and Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theater showed up in another time slot.

While the Wikipedia said Channel 40 also carried ABC shows, these listings were consistent with the national NBC lineup. Except one: The Lawless Years was bumped for a syndicated show called Colonel Flack.

I seem to recall the ABC show Lawrence Welk on Saturday night at 6 or 6:30; it nationally aired at 9 pm that night. Did Channel 12 record to broadcast a week later? How did this work?

I remember that other ABC shows, Maverick, The Rifleman, Ozzie and Harriet, and 77 Sunset Strip were on when I was a kid. Did they preempt the CBS shows? Were they on in time slots before prime time, or on Saturday or Sunday afternoons? Sports didn’t dominate the schedule then. Or maybe even at 11:30 pm.

Here’s a video of the Thursday night lineup in the fall of 1959.

I realize this sounds pretty obsessive, and it is. Next time I’m in Binghamton, I want to look at some microfilm showing the rosters of shows on Channel 12 in September 1962, then in November 1962, when WBJA, Channel 34, became the official ABC affiliate. Not incidentally, all of the call letters have changed, some more than once.

I’d be just as curious about the same phenomenon in Albany/Schenectady if I had grown up there. In fact, one of the very first blog posts I wrote was about the Plattsburgh, NY/Burlington, VT television market in 2005.

I used for the season’s daily charts The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows by Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh (2007).

Thanks to folks on a couple Facebook lists, especially Keith Nelson, who provided the graphics. I also greatly appreciated the kind words people said about McKinley Green, my grandfather, who was a custodian at WNBF for many years.

Television as a cultural anthropological prism

Recently, I referred to my wife as Ramsey Gordon, which was that she was the total opposite of Gordon Ramsey, that mean chef on whatever that cooking show he’s on that I have actually never seen five minutes of.

Ike and Mamie watching TV
I think I keep reading about, and therefore writing about television, despite the fact that I watch it in decreasing amounts, because I find it a fascinating cultural phenomenon. I was at our choir party this month, and we were talking about how networks, particularly ABC, will start broadcasting a serialized show and either never show the ending (The Nine, which I watched) or truncate it badly (this season’s Last Resort, which I wouldn’t watch for that reason) Continue reading “Television as a cultural anthropological prism”

Who starred with whom, and where?

The IMDB has an advanced search function.

There is this list of the five best television series of all-time, compiled by ABC News and People Magazine, and conveniently broadcast on ABC in the past couple weeks. Interestingly, all were comedies, none of them were broadcast on ABC, and the latter four would probably be canceled quickly these days because the early ratings were not particularly good. The list included:
I LOVE LUCY (CBS)
SEINFELD (NBC)
MASH (CBS)
ALL IN THE FAMILY (CBS)
CHEERS (NBC)

I read about it on Ken Levine’s blog. He (pictured) mentioned this because he was a writer for two of the shows, MASH and Cheers, which I suppose I’d consider for my list as well. I’d also pick Lucy, if only Continue reading “Who starred with whom, and where?”

What TV Shows Are You Looking Forward To This Fall?

Are there any shows YOU are looking forward to?


I’ve been rereading the extensive list of shows that will be on ABC and CBS and NBC and FOX and the CW. I came to the conclusion that there probably isn’t a single new show that I’ll start watching. I’ve ODed on police procedurals, the comedies don’t sound particularly funny, and the few shows I might have given a chance to Continue reading “What TV Shows Are You Looking Forward To This Fall?”