Monday, June 01, 2020

TV and Movies

Movies and TV.  For years, the two were enemies who battled for the same audiences.  Film companies warned their actors under contract not to do TV.  This had not been the case with radio.  Film was the visual entertainment medium.  Films had morphed from silent to 'talking pictures' and from black and white to color.  Even the Great Depression hadn't stopped people from buying tickets to the movies.


 Joan Crawford summed up the film community's attitude towards TV when, in 1952, she declared, "Anyone who appears on TV is a traitor."  She issued that declaration as Bette Davis made her TV debut guesting on ALL STAR REVUE's "Putting on the Ritz" episode with Jimmy Durante. March 19, 1953, the Academy Awards were aired live on TV for the first time.  Bette Davis was to host the New York portion but dropped out.  Joan Crawford refused to host or present.  She would only appear on TV if she was announced Best Actress (she was nominated for SUDDEN FEAR, she did not win).  (She wouldn't appear -- other than audience shots -- on an Academy Award telecast until April 9, 1962 when she presented the award for Best Actor.)

By 1957, Joan had changed her attitude toward TV and used her position on the Pepsi board and her marriage to Pepsi Cola president Al Steel to bump Mary Martin out of the holiday greeting spot at the end of the Pepsi sponsored broadcast of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN.  Also 1959, Joan starred in the TV film WOMAN ON THE RUN -- ignored by most TV historians when covering TV movies.  The 101 minute film was supposed to lead to THE JOAN CRAWFORD SHOW but that never happened.  Joan also starred in the eighty-minute TV movie THE FOXES which aired on NBC September 21, 1961 (it was also a pilot).

The wall between the two was falling away by that point.  The sixties saw UNIVERSAL STUDIOS begin producing more episodes of TV shows than they did films.  And Joan?  All over TV.  She was doing THE TONIGHT SHOW (including October 1, 1962 -- Johnny Carson's debut as host of the prorgram ), THE MERV GRIFFIN SHOW, Virginia Graham's talk show GIRL TALK and THE MIKE DOUGLAS SHOW.  Joan was also doing games show (WHAT'S MY LINE? -- first on December 30, 1960; I'VE GOT A SECRET, PASSWORD; TO TELL THE TRUTH) She was also doing frequent guest spots on TV including CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU?; THE LUCY SHOW, NIGHT GALLERY, THE VIRGINIAN, THE SIXTH SENSE and, most infamously, filling in for her sick daughter on the daytime soap opera THE SECRET STORM.  Joan was also part of another TV and film product -- the TV show that becomes a film.  In 1967, her two parter on THE MAN FROM UNCLE (parts one and two of "The Five Daughters Affair") was turned into the film THE KARATE KILLERS and 1964's ROYAL BAY pilot became the 1965 film DELLA with an additional ten or so minutes tacked on.

 From "Anyone who appears on TV is a traitor" in 1952 to "I wish to hell someone would ask me! I was dying to do a DAKTARI or an I SPY.  I was desperate to act with Judy or with Gentle Ben.  I'm dying to do an FBI or a MISSION IMPOSSIBLE. I just wish someone would ask me" (Joan in TV GUIDE's AUGUST 16, 1969 issue).

What changed?

 Television took off and it did so quickly -- 0.5% of American families had TV sets in 1946 but the figure had leaped to 55.7% in 1954 and then to 90% by 1962.  During the same time period, film attendance went from 90 million ticket buyers in 1946 to 40 million in 1960.

It was during this time period that film studios realized they could make money off TV.  For example, the first theatrical film to be aired on television?  1939's THE WIZARD OF OZ which aired on CBS November 3, 1956.  Three years later, CBS aired it again -- and to high ratings which prompted CBS to then air it annually until 1968 (except for 1963).  In 1968, NBC picked it up for annual airings until CBS picked the film back up and began broadcasting it in 1976.

TV had already realized that they could make money off film.  They'd grabbed film stars and made them TV stars with their own series: Loretta Young, Lucille Ball,  Anna Mae Wong, Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray, Donna Reed, Hattie McDaniel, Bob Hope, Judy Garland, Peter Lawford, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Abbott & Costello, Phil Silvers, Martin & Lewis, etc.

In addition, long before MGM sold airing rights to CBS for THE WIZARD OF OZ, TV was airing B-movies from MONARCH and REPUBLIC STUDIOS.


 As Propellerheads and Shirley Bassey note, "It's all just a case of history repeating."

 Movies on TV never went away.  LIFETIME continues to air new TV movies.  HBO, SHOWTIME and others air theatrical films.  In fact, every Saturday night, HBO debuts a new film -- new to cable, one released in theaters.

Yesterday, it was Natalie Portman's LUCY IN THE SKY which came out (in the US) last October and promptly bombed.  In fact, the only thing harsher than the box office was the critical response.  The film was savaged.

We missed it at the theaters and ended up watching it by chance Saturday night.  We were many minutes in when we realized this was based on the true events of astronau Lisa Nowak's infamous 2007 stalking of an ex-boyfriend.

Maybe that's why we weren't disappointed?

It's actually a strong film.  The cast also includes John Hamm, Ellen Burstyn, Tig Notaro, Jeffrey Donovan, Nick Offerman and Zazie Beetz. All give praise worthy performances.  The script tells the story in a less than obvious manner for a 'based on a true story' film.  It's inventive as is the direction by Noah Hawley.

Natalie's Lucy is a complex character, someone who's achieved something amazing (flight in space) and who is brought down by her own desires.  You never feel you're watching Natalie give a performance, you always feel you're watching Lucy Cola (the character she plays).

Maybe cable will give LUCY IN THE SKY new life?

Maybe not.

But there's no life in THE CBS SUNDAY NIGHT MOVIE.  Not even the announcing by Morgan Freeman seems of this century.  Certainly the choices don't.  FORREST GUMP and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK?  People own those movies if they like them.  

RAIDERS provided "decent" ratings, reported DEADLINE.  FORREST GUMP saw the ratings improve "slightly" -- TV INSIDER noted.  By week three, the project was a bust but no one was supposed to notice.

This was supposed to be CBS' answer to sweeps month.  They might have been better off airing blocks of MAN OF THE HOUSE.  The ratings were dismal.

They might have been better off making the airings a party -- the way TNT used to.  Get a lively host (Sandra Bernhard did a great job, for example, hosting the cable network's broadcast of FUNNY GIRL) and let them provide commentary, turn it into an event.

But that would require better movies as well as actual effort -- too much for CBS these days, apparently.  Much easier to just toss out a series of films over 20 years old onto TV with nothing to make the airings unique or special and then just pretend to be surprised when the viewers don't tune in.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Poll1 { display:none; }