Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Thanksgiving Day, 1952: TV’s First Reality Show?
By ROGER M. GRACE
Today I turn over my column to Lloyd Thaxton. If your instinctive response is, “So what!” you either 1.) really don’t care who writes this column, or 2.) remember the daily greeting Thaxton received on his music/dance TV show. “The Lloyd Thaxton Show” started as a local program on KCOP in 1961 and went into national syndication in 1964. This article first appeared on Thaxton’s website at http://lloydthaxton.blogspot.com and is pilfered with his consent.
By LLOYD THAXTON
The proof is in the picture, and it’s worth a thousand words. The first TV reality show was done on Thanksgiving Day, 1952. How do I know that? I was there.
In 1952, I had my own TV show, “Leave It To Lloyd.” It was on every afternoon on hometown WSPD-TV in Toledo, Ohio. This was of course before videotape, so the show was live. As the first Thanksgiving Day since I had been doing the show was approaching, I realized that the TV audience would be eating their Thanksgiving dinner at home, while I had to be at the studio. Who would want to stop eating and watch television?
Besides, why should I have to tap dance while others were stuffing their faces? Since I was a little kid I had never missed Thanksgiving with my family. I came home from college to do this. And when I was in the Navy, I was lucky enough to be stationed close enough to make the trip. Why should I make an exception just because I had a little thing like my own TV show to do?
Then I thought … WAIT! This is my show. I can do anything I want. Why not be a little daring and try something never done before. I could have my TV cake and eat it too. I decided to have my Thanksgiving dinner on television and call it, “Leave It To Lloyd To Do Thanksgiving Dinner on TV.”
A dining room table with all the trimmings was set up in the middle of the studio. My Dad sat where he always sat, at the head of the table. My Mom sat at the other end. My first wife, Jackie, and my two boys, Lee and Robin, sat with me on one side. My daughter Jennifer was also there. You can’t see her in the picture because she had not yet been born.
Almost, but not quite.
The idea was to leave the other side of the table empty so that the audience at home could pull their chairs up to their TVs and join us. Who would think of such a thing?
We said grace; my dad cut the turkey and served. The rest of us ate. Lee and Robin ate nothing but buttered biscuits (This was the only bit of non-reality. If they were not on TV, they would never have gotten away with THAT). We included the audience in our conversation as if they were sitting right there (I found out later, they were actually doing this).
I had no idea how this was going to be received or if anyone would even watch such a weird show. It had never been done. But, as it turned out, I got more reaction to that show than to anything I had ever done before or since. People loved it. They wrote that it gave them a chance to meet and be a part of my real family.
Because of the audience response, I did the same thing for three more Thanksgivings. I would most likely have continued, but by the late ’50s, we were off and running toward Hollywood.
Think of it. This was the harbinger of things to come like, “Survivor,” “The Apprentice,” “The Amazing Race,” and the hundreds of the other highly popular reality based television shows of today.
I want my commission.
Lloyd Thaxton: Local Personality
Lloyd Thaxton Goes National