Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, August 1, 2002


Page 18



News Was Shorter, ‘Tonight’ Longer




...The “Tonight Show,” hosted by Jack Paar (starting in 1957), comprised an hour and 45 minutes. From 11:15-11:30 p.m., there was sort of a warm-up, viewed only on a few stations across the nation that aired a 15-minute newscast ahead of it. That included Channel 4 in Los Angeles, then bearing the call letters KRCA (changed from KNBH in 1954). Paar was preceded by “Jack Latham and the News.”

At 12:30, Paar and his sidekick, Hugh Downs, bade adieu to viewers in the various cities that switched to local programming at that juncture—which at first included KRCA.

Johnny Carson became the host in 1962, the same year KRCA became KNBC. It was in September 1980 that the program shrank to an hour. By then, the 15-minute lead-in was long gone, with 15-minute newscasts having become an anachronism.

...Fifteen minutes was all that was needed for news back in the days when a newscaster was but an announcer reading wire service stories off a teleprompter. NBC’s John Cameron Swayze, whose NBC newscasts started in 1949, read the news with an ashtray in front of him, and a sign plugging the sponsor, Camel cigarettes. The show was the “Camel News Caravan.” It came on in Los Angeles at 7:45 p.m. At one point, it followed 15 minutes of Pinky Lee.

Swayze would end his newscasts with a hearty signoff: “Glad we could get together.” He was replaced on Oct. 29, 1956, by Chet Huntley and David Brinkley (“Good night, Chet; good night, David”), both of whom had news backgrounds.

...Swayze became the spielsman for Timex watches—not really a comedown from the role of a TV “newsman” since that role was essentially a non-journalistic one. (That can probably be said of the cutesy boy-girl teams of giggling wisecrackers who pose as news anchors on some of our local stations.) The Timex commercials were memorable. On live television, a watch would be dunked or pounded, or dragged by a speedboat, and Swayze would then hold up the battered timepiece and trumpet the slogan that a Timex watch could “take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’.”  I recall seeing the now legendary spot (I think it was on the “Steve Allen Show”) where a watch was bashed—and broke—and Swayze calmly assured the audience that, well, next week, all would go well.

...There was the time, so the story goes, that Betty Furness was doing a live commercial for Westinghouse and the door of the refrigerator she was touting wouldn’t open. The yarn is off in one detail. Furness wasn’t present at that week’s “Studio One” broadcast; it was another spielswoman who was tugging at the door. The slogan Furness recited in each commercial was: “You can be sure...if it’s Westinghouse.”

...There were other memorable advertising slogans then, as much associated with the personality who delivered the commercials as they were with the product. President-to-Be Ronald Reagan each Sunday told viewers of “General Electric Theater”: “At General Electric, progress is our most important product.” Later that night, Dinah Shore would warble, “See the USA in a Chevrolet.” And Harry von Zell, on “Burns and Allen,” would tout Carnation Milk as having come “from contented cows.” Another personality closely associated with his sponsor was Arthur Godfrey, who, on “Talent Scouts,” extolled virtues of Lipton’s tea, while poking fun at the company’s vice presidents and ad libbing most of the pitch.

...Godfrey came across as a relaxed and affable fellow. But there was the time, in 1953, when he fired singer Julius La Rosa—while on the air. It happened on Godfrey’s other CBS show, “Arthur Godfrey and His Friends.” Godfrey feuded with columnist Dorothy Kilgallen (a regular on “What’s My Line?”), and a friendly, put-on feud like the one between Jack Benny and Fred Allen it was not. In 1960, while co-host with Allen Funt on “Candid Camera,” he frequently spatted with Funt, the show’s creator—with one pre-taping squabble causing Funt to stalk off the set, absenting himself from that week’s offering. The next season, Godfrey was gone; Funt remained for the balance of the series’ seven-year run.

...“Candid Camera” started on ABC-TV in 1948. Now on PAX, it’s on its fifth network. It’s appeared on NBC, CBS and the Playboy Channel (as well as there having been two syndicated versions).

...In the black and white days at least five shows found a home at each of the four networks. Appearing on CBS, NBC, ABC and Du Mont were (not always under the same name) “Mike Stokey’s Pantomime Quiz,” “Arthur Murray’s Dance Party,” “Ted Mack and the Original Amateur Hour,” “Down You Go,” and “Tom Corbett, Space Cadet.” In 1951, “Tom Corbett” appeared on two networks on different days, being beamed three weeknights on NBC, and on Saturdays on ABC.

Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company

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