ABC

November 2, 1957 – Asian Flu Documentary Airs on ABC

Asian Flu patients in Sweden. Photo: WNYC, NYPR Archives

Asian Flu patients in Sweden. Photo: WNYC, NYPR Archives

On November 2, 1957, the ABC television show Johns Hopkins File 7 aired a documentary on the deadly influenza pandemic striking millions around the globe.  In the episode titled “Asian Flu”, host Lynn Poole and expert epidemiologist Dr. Charlotte Silverman traced the origins and spread of the H2N2 virus, first discovered in 1933.  Dr Silverman, chief of the Division of Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases for the Maryland Department of Health, advised viewers how to avoid contracting the virus.  Actors demonstrated the debilitating symptoms of the grippe, as it was called then, and animation sequences depicted the effect of vaccines and antibodies (the “good guys”) against viruses (the “bad guys”).  Dr. Silverman made reference to antibiotics, “the new miracle or wonder drugs”, but explained that they were ineffective against influenza (and all other viruses).

Johns Hopkins University created more than 700 educational television films from 1948 to 1960, which aired on the ABC, CBS, and the former Dumont television networks.  They are currently collected in the university’s Sheridan Libraries.  The Johns Hopkins Science Review, one of the programs to air the films, was the first university-based series to appear on a national network and also be broadcast overseas.

The Asian flu pandemic of 1957 was a serious public health menace.  By the time it had circled the globe, roughly 70,000 Americans had died, among over 2 million victims world-wide.

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October 18, 1957 – The Frank Sinatra Show Debuts on ABC

On October 18, 1957 (“It Was a Very Good Year“!), the first episode of The Frank Sinatra Show was aired on ABC.  Viewers could be excused a slight feeling of deja vu (“A Foggy Day“?), however.  An earlier television show starring Sinatra had appeared on CBS between 1950 and 1952 – also called The Frank Sinatra Show (“They Can’t Take That Away From Me“).  ABC’s sequel (“The Second Time Around“) was to include thirteen variety shows (“Let’s Face the Music and Dance“), thirteen dramas starring Frank, and ten dramas hosted by Frank, all taped in advance at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood (Not “My Kind of Town“?) and lasting a half-hour (“Come Rain or Come Shine“).  Sinatra would have total artistic control (“I Did It My Way“) and receive $3 million (“Nice Work if You Can Get It“) for the series.

Frank’s guests were a stellar bunch.  Bob Hope (“I’ve Got You Under My Skin“), Kim Novak (“The Girl Next Door“), and Peggy Lee helped Sinatra kick off the series opener, one of the variety offerings.  Other big names during the season included Dean Martin (“I Get a Kick Out of You“), Bing Crosby, Robert Mitchum, Sammy Davis, Jr., Eddie Fisher (“Love and Marriage“), Ethel Merman, Ella Fitzgerald, Natalie Wood, Van Johnson, Eydie Gorme, Dinah Shore, Shirley Jones, the McGuire Sisters (“Young At Heart“), Ann Bancroft, Lloyd Bridges, and his daughter, Nancy Sinatra (“Nancy“!).

Low ratings for the drama offerings led to schedule adjustments (“In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning“?).  ABC switched to more variety shows, and a majority of them ended up being live broadcasts (“The Way You Look Tonight“).  By the time the series ended in June of 1958, fourteen live variety shows had been broadcast, eight filmed varieties, four dramas starring Sinatra, and six dramas which Frank hosted.  Critics weren’t generous to Ol’ Blue Eyes (“Please Be Kind“!)- and Frank doesn’t seem to have put his all into making the show a success (“Fly Me to the Moon“!).  Reports were he hated to rehearse (“Don’cha Go ‘Way Mad“).  As a result, filming for eleven shows was shoehorned into fifteen days (“Luck Be a Lady“), with an understandable but unfortunate loss of quality (“The Best is Yet to Come“?).

Despite the series’ cancellation, Sinatra’s successful career would continue for decades (“Pocketful of Miracles“).  Frank always remained a great favorite with the American public (“Let’s Fall in Love“!)(“All the  Way“!)

September 22, 1957 – “Maverick” Blazes a New Trail

Bret and Bart Maverick. Photo: Warner Brothers Television

On September 22, 1957, ABC aired the first episode of a new-fangled Western series, Maverick, starring James Garner as card-playing, bullet-dodging, but good-with-his-fists Bret Maverick, and Jack Kelly as his more conservative brother, Bart Maverick.  Dressed up in fancy black attire, avoiding trouble whenever possible, Bret and Bart represented a new type of hero (some called them anti-heroes) who preferred to outsmart the bad guys rather than risk life and limb.  Venturing into harm’s way also usually required a good chance of financial gain, according to Bret and Bart.  Their consciences, however, led them to virtuous, courageous action and their scrupulous honesty clearly marked them as morally right.

Roy Huggins created the highly popular series which ran from 1957 to 1962, adding two more Maverick brothers along the way.  Smooth Scot Sean Connery was offered and turned down a role; it was Brit Roger Moore, pre-Bond days, who joined the show in 1960 after Garner left due to a contract dispute.  Moore starred as previously disgraced brother Beau, who had been banished to England for accepting a Civil War service medal.  Fourth brother Brent, played by Garner-esque Robert Colbert, was also added to offset declining ratings after James’/Bret’s departure.  Objecting to being cast as purely a Bret clone, Colbert reportedly pleaded with production company Warner Brothers to “put me in a dress and call me Brenda but don’t do this to me!”

Maverick developed such a following that the Kaiser (“quilted” foil) Aluminum-sponsored show often drew a larger audience than time-slot competition behemoths The Ed Sullivan Show and The Steve Allen Show.  A large part of the show’s popularity depended on its quirky humor, its strong slate of supporting actors and actresses, and cameo appearances by other well-known stars.  The comedic aspect of the show was eventually expanded with storylines created to lampoon other prime-time television programming from Gunsmoke to Dragnet.  Big names appearing on the series included Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., Joel Grey, Robert Redford, Stacy Keach, Sr., Slim Pickens, John Carradine, Buddy Ebsen (The Beverly Hillbillies), Adam West (Batman), Jim Backus (Gilligan’s Island), Ellen Burstyn, Louise Fletcher, and Connie Stevens.

September 2, 1957 – The Final Rally of Billy Graham’s New York City Summer Crusade

On September 2, 1957, the Reverend Billy Graham concluded his summer crusade in New York City with a massive rally in Times Square.  Crowds in excess of one hundred thousand jammed the streets to hear Graham on the final night of an outreach for Christ that began in Madison Square Garden on May 15th.  Hundreds of thousands of people heard Billy at the Garden through the summer.  He packed Yankee Stadium on July 20th with an overflow crowd of one hundred thousand-plus which included Vice President Richard Nixon, who brought greetings from President Eisenhower.  Graham also invited Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to join him on stage the night of July 18th, acknowledging Dr. King as a leader of the “great social revolution going on in the United States today”.

Newspapers in New York City gave the crusade a lot of coverage.  ABC decided to sell air time to broadcast crusade services, inaugurating a new approach to evangelism.  More people were able to hear and watch Graham’s appeal over the airwaves than in person.  Letters and money from viewers across the nation poured in supporting Graham’s cause.  Support also came from local Protestant churches and prayer teams formed by Billy’s organization, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.  The association claimed at its conclusion that the revival had drawn over 2 million attendees and received over 1.5 million letters.