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The Golden Age of Television

by David Westheimer


Back in the Sixties people were calling the Fifties "The Golden Age of Television." Particularly TV dramas. In the Fifties they were telecast live from New York, usually hour shows in three acts with about two minutes of commercials between acts. When a promo for another program was added to the commercial mix it was called "hitchhiking," and generally frowned upon. There were dramas like JP Millers "Days of Wine and Roses," Paddy Chayevskys "Marty" and Rod Serlings "Requiem For A Heavyweight."

I recently ran across a TV Guide Magazine for the Los Angeles area from June, 1966, and to me it looks like the Sixties were almost as golden as the Fifties, in music and variety if not drama, compared with television today. The 1966 TV Guide is 122 pages long and the cover price is 15 cents. In 1966 there were only 11 channels, three of them the national networks, ABC, CBS and NBC, and three UHF.

Todays TV Guide for the Los Angeles area lists 253 stations (our digital cable service lists hundreds more), many of them pay channels with vintage and made-for -TV movies. The commercial channels are as infested with commercials as a rotten log might be with termites. There are 381 pages in the magazine and the cover price is $1.99. Yet, although digital cable offers more than 40 audio music channels (no video), there is not one regular variety or music program among the hundreds of video channels except two music channels that offer rock and rap almost exclusively, though Today and Oprah Winfrey have a musical guest regularly. There is one public series, Classic Arts Showcase, that presents clips of opera, ballet, vintage films and the like all night, starting at midnight on weeknights and as early as 10 PM on weekends. Most music programs are relegated to pledge week on public service networks.

But in 1966, TV was more tuneful, with music, dancing and variety:

SaturdayRepertoire Workshop, jazz group; Talent Search; Dial M For Music, Odetta guest; Discotheque a Go Go; Smothers Brothers, guests; Shivaree, Nancy Sinatra, Glenn Yarborough guests; Continental Showcase, international singers, Jim Backus host; Melody Ranch, Boots Randolph, guest; Lawrence Welk; Merve Griffin, Keely Smith, guests; Hollywood Palace, Bing Crosby, host; California Symphony; The Beat; Regis Philbin, variety.

Sunday Amateur Hour (remember Ted Mack?), Polka Parade, Mantovani, with Vic Damone as guest.

Monday Mike Douglas (every weekday), Shebang (every weekday), Ray Conif, Folk Festival, Hullabaloo (Nancy Sinatra was a guest), Merv Griffin (every weekday), John Davidson, Talent Scouts.

Tuesday Red Skelton (the Supremes were among the guests).

Wednesday John Gary (Danny Kaye and Leslie Uggams, guests).

Thursday Where the Action Is (Bobby Goldsboro guest), Rowan and Martin's Laugh- In.

Friday Sing Along With Mitch.

You will noticed the big days for music and variety were weekends but every day had its variety and talk shows and at least one show featuring music. And every day of the week had at least one Spanish language music program but I havent listed any of those. Most of us dumb mono-lingual types didnt watch them.

But you could have if you wanted to.


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