Right On Schedule is a series looking at a network’s primetime schedule for one night during one TV season. It aims to examine the shows in relation to one another, TV as a whole, and sometimes even the culture as a whole.
NBC Sundays (1960-1961)
7:00 The Shirley Temple Show
8:00 National Velvet
8:30 The Tab Hunter Show
9:00 The Dinah Shore Chevy Show
10:00 The Loretta Young Show
10:30 This is Your Life
In our previous analysis, we delved into the Sunday night schedules of ABC and CBS for the 1960-1961 season.
As I mentioned in those articles, ABC was dedicated to celebrating America’s rich historical past, while CBS boasted a lineup filled with long-running shows. So, what was NBC’s strategy to compete?
Their answer? Celebrities!
Certainly, NBC wasn’t the only network capitalizing on star power. Other networks had Sunday shows bearing names like Walt Disney, Jack Benny, and Ed Sullivan. However, for NBC, this was the night’s central theme.
Among the network’s six Sunday night shows, four were named after the headlining stars. What’s even more remarkable is that all four of these headliners had achieved fame in music or movies prior to making their mark on television.
The remaining two shows also had strong connections to other forms of media. One was adapted from a successful film, and the other frequently featured popular radio and screen performers.
Looking at the lineup, it’s apparent that NBC aimed to leave the audience impressed by how distinct it was from traditional television—a concept that a very different network would embrace years later.
The evening’s kickoff belonged to The Shirley Temple Show. This series was tailored for children, catering to the same audience that adored Shirley Temple’s films in the 1930s.
Initially titled Shirley Temple’s Storybook, the show delivered precisely what it promised – live-action adaptations of beloved fairy tales and stories for youngsters.
Among the offerings during its second and final season were tales like The Little Mermaid, King Midas, Madeline, and Winnie-the-Pooh, featuring the puppetry skills of Bil and Cora Baird, alongside numerous others.
Despite a significant promotional push, Shirley Temple’s show failed to leave a lasting impression on audiences.
It received criticism for its cheap-looking sets and makeup, and many of the stories were deemed ill-suited for a live-action adaptation. However, the most significant hurdle was Shirley Temple herself, who, by this time, was 32 years old.
She had remained eternally youthful in the collective consciousness, and viewers had limited interest in seeing her in an adult role.
This sentiment endures today, as exemplified by the cover of the DVD release of the series.
Following The Shirley Temple Show, the television lineup continued with National Velvet, a series centered around a genuine young girl.
Much like the 1944 movie starring Elizabeth Taylor, this show revolved around the life of a 12-year-old girl named Velvet, portrayed by Lori Martin. She resided on a farm, her daily life entwined with the care of her prized stallion.
While the series enjoyed a two-season run, its most notable characteristic was the abundance of guest appearances by virtually every Western character actor of that era.
Recognizable names such as Parley Baer, Hal Smith, Jack Elam, Edgar Buchanan, Denver Pyle, and more graced the screen.
Despite its connection to a beloved film, National Velvet was unable to leave the same indelible mark on pop culture as its cinematic counterpart.
Also Read: Right On Schedule: FOX Sundays (1988-1989)
While the first two shows sought to capitalize on nostalgia, the third show starred someone who was still in the prime of his career or very close to it.
When The Tab Hunter Show premiered, its eponymous star was just two years removed from his major success in Damn Yankees.
The decision to transition to television largely stemmed from his inability to secure the role of Tony in West Side Story, making it a significant move at the time.
The series featured Hunter as a cartoonist whose comic strip was based on his own adventures as a charming ladies’ man in Florida. Additionally, it included Richard Erdman (known as Greendale’s Leonard) as Hunter’s best friend.
However, the show’s debut was marred by controversy when Hunter faced arrest in July 1960 for allegedly mistreating his dog. The charges were eventually dropped as they were proven to be the false accusations of a vindictive neighbor.
Nevertheless, this incident further tarnished Hunter’s movie star image. The Tab Hunter Show struggled in the face of the Ed Sullivan juggernaut and managed only a single season before fading into obscurity.
While television didn’t do much to prolong Tab Hunter’s career, it had a transformative effect on Dinah Shore’s trajectory.
Shore had been a popular big band singer since the 1940s, but her fame experienced a significant surge when she took on hosting duties for a 15-minute live series sponsored by Chevrolet in 1951.
Her charm and appeal were so evident that by 1956, she was granted a coveted hour-long time slot.
The show adhered to the typical variety format of its era, offering a blend of musical performances in various pre-rock-‘n’-roll styles and comedic acts.
For instance, the second episode of the season featured guest appearances by the likes of Nat King Cole, Red Skelton, and Tuesday Weld, alongside the regular house act, Harry Zimmerman and his Orchestra.
With her relaxed Southern charisma, Dinah Shore became a welcoming and beloved presence for viewers, amassing a dedicated following.
Although this show concluded after a successful seven-year run, Shore remained a constant presence on TV throughout the 1970s. She hosted two daytime talk shows: the 30-minute Dinah’s Place (1970-1974) on NBC and later the 90-minute syndicated Dinah! (1974-1980).
As we’ve discussed previously, NBC took chances on several aging stars in its lineup, but it was Dinah Shore who reaped substantial rewards. Her natural television prowess was evident, and she spent decades demonstrating it.
Loretta Young’s foray into television proved to be less electrifying as a TV personality, despite NBC’s initial high hopes.
Young, who had clinched a Best Actress Oscar for her role in the 1947 film The Farmer’s Daughter (which later inspired its own TV series), garnered significant attention when she ventured into television in 1953.
Originally, the plan was for her to headline every episode of her self-titled anthology series, but health issues led her to scale back her involvement starting from the second season.
She still took the lead in approximately half of the episodes and served as the host for all of them.
However, the majority of the show’s promotion shifted toward its guest stars. During its peak, the series managed to attract former movie luminaries such as Barbara Stanwyck, Rosalind Russell, and Merle Oberon.
In its eighth and final season, it had transitioned to a point where it was no longer drawing such notable names.
Nevertheless, it did showcase emerging talents, including Cloris Leachman, Ricardo Montalban, Charles Bronson, and Ellen Burstyn.
Similar to The Loretta Young Show, the 1960-1961 season marked the final run for This is Your Life. Among all the shows that evening, This is Your Life placed the most emphasis on showcasing marquee talent.
Each week, the host, Ralph Edwards, would spring a delightful surprise on a renowned individual, assembling their family and friends to share anecdotes and celebrate the guest of honor.
The show’s appeal primarily rested on witnessing famous personalities react to various events from their own lives, providing a glimpse of stars behaving like ordinary individuals, at least in theory.
However, by 1960, this concept had lost some of its initial allure, which was at its peak when the show debuted in 1952. In general, NBC’s strategy of proclaiming, “We’ve got celebrities!” was losing its effectiveness.
None of these shows managed to secure a spot in the top 30 for the year. Audiences were no longer captivated by merely observing people bask in their fame, especially when alternatives like The Ed Sullivan Show, Candid Camera, and a slew of Westerns were readily available for their viewing pleasure.