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Old April 2nd, 2012, 12:00 AM
Brainbin Brainbin is offline
Kingpin of the Cultural Cartel
Join Date: Jul 2009
Location: The British Empire
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Night and Day

"A fortune in fabulous prizes may go to these people today if they know when The Price is Right!"

- Johnny Olson, Announcer for The New Price is Right

For all the care and attention devoted to those few precious hours of primetime, all three networks were an all-day operation. Though most of those other hours were reserved for the personal use and discretion of the various affiliates, the networks did produce additional programming for these off hours – in a wide range of formats and styles – which most affiliates chose to broadcast, in lieu of having to spend their own money to produce original programming, or to purchase syndicated shows.

Three genres of programming predominated during the standard workday of 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, during the week: Game shows, which allowed contestants to compete for prizes; talk shows, which consisted of a host interviewing various guests; and soap operas, which were serialized melodramas. All three of these tended to appeal to the older, female audiences who were expected to be watching television during these hours; the Women's Liberation Movement was driving younger women out of the house to seek employment and equality, and housewives were becoming a slowly dying breed. But this was a demographic collapse that would become a problem in the medium-to-long-term; in the early 1970s, these daytime audiences remained plentiful, and highly lucrative.

The early 1970s were seeing game shows – infamously hobbled by the Quiz Show Scandals of the 1950s – reach new heights of popularity. New shows were being developed that involved increasingly elaborate sets and lavish gameplay concepts. It was this new philosophy that prompted the idea for a frenetic and boisterous reincarnation of a previously staid and refined series
… Veteran game show producer Mark Goodson sought to bring a revival of his bidding game show, The Price is Right, to network television. The enactment of the Prime Time Access Rule provided a golden opportunity, as it created the new "access hour" of 7:00 to 8:00 PM Eastern in which to air a nighttime version of the show, which would be syndicated, airing once weekly. [1] However, an accompanying daytime version would require the resources of one of the three networks. CBS, which had been reorganizing their daytime schedule on a fairly consistent basis ever since Fred Silverman had taken over as VP Programming, was naturally the first network to come calling.

The content of the original game show was based almost entirely on auction-style bidding for various household goods; the revival would be re-oriented to focus on fun and exciting pricing games, all of which demanded audience participation, and many of which would require considerable physical exertion on the part of the contestant – or the host. It was for this reason that the original version's moderator, prolific game show host Bill Cullen, was ultimately not chosen to resurrect The Price is Right, for he had been crippled by polio and would not be able to meet such strenuous demands. Goodson chose another experienced moderator, Dennis James, for the role, and had him set to host the nighttime version. CBS brass, on the other hand, preferred "Truth or Consequences" host Bob Barker for the daytime version, and were insistent on his casting; however, in the end, Goodson won out, and James would host both versions. [2]

One of the already established game shows popular in the era was "The Hollywood Squares", a tic-tac-toe trivia game in which celebrities would provide answers to questions, and contestants would then have to decide whether or not to agree with them. Most of the celebrity guests were chosen for their wit (or at least their ability to seem witty, as their responses were rehearsed), but none were more notorious than the Center Square, Paul Lynde. Known for his catty spontaneity, Lynde would rarely let an opportunity pass without unleashing his arsenal of double entendres; many of these referenced his homosexuality, an open secret in Hollywood. To the extent that a person's fame could be judged by how often he was parodied, Lynde was one of the most famous people in America. [3] Like The Price is Right, "Hollywood Squares" aired as the daytime version (on NBC), and as a weekly syndicated version; both were hosted by Peter Marshall.

One of the few shows to continue to fully embrace the old Quiz Show tradition was Jeopardy!, which aired at 12:00 Noon on NBC. Devised, created, and produced by Merv Griffin, the show took the established question-and-answer paradigm, and turned it on its head: answers would be given, and the contestant would then have to match them with the appropriate questions. The program, hosted by Art Fleming, was the rare daytime show to be popular with college students and professionals, partly due to its plum noon timeslot, allowing it to be watched after morning courses or during a lunch break. Money would accumulate with correct answers, and be lost for incorrect answers, for the first two rounds of play (the second of which was naturally called Double Jeopardy, wherein clues were worth twice the amount from the first round); this was followed by a final round, in which contestants would wager their winnings on one last clue.

Merv Griffin was something of a Renaissance Man within the entertainment industry. Having started out as a big band singer, he became an actor in movie musicals for Warner Bros. in the 1950s, before finally turning to television in 1958. It was his stint hosting game shows that eventually resulted in his ultimate destiny: producing game shows, with his major success being Jeopardy! in 1964; and, more personally, hosting his own talk show. A warm and genial presence, he followed in the footsteps of other musical performers such as Mike Douglas and Dinah Shore in transitioning to interviewing. Griffin was one of three people to occupy a late night berth (90 minutes, from 11:30 PM to 1:00 AM) on weekday nights: he on CBS, the more cerebral and highbrow Dick Cavett on ABC, and, of course, Johnny Carson on NBC.

When primetime ended at 11:00 PM, so too did the network feed; the airwaves were returned to affiliates for the local nightly news, which lasted for half an hour. Then late night programming would commence, and carry on until the end of the broadcast day. The Tonight Show had aired on NBC since 1954, originally hosted by Steve Allen. Jack Paar had taken over in 1957, and after five tumultuous years at the helm, he finally departed for good, replaced by Johnny Carson in 1962. It was during Carson's tenure that the show fully matured into its iconic form: half-talk show, half-variety show. Carson would open the show with a lengthy, rapid-fire monologue. Interviews with guests, usually celebrities working in the entertainment industry, would predominate the body of the show. Sometimes these guests would perform (usually if they were musicians or comedians), and comedic sketches would often serve as interstitial material in between interviews.

Nobody could beat Johnny Carson, though no small number of people had tried: Griffin and Cavett were only the most recent of these. Cavett had replaced Rat Packer Joey Bishop, an old friend of Carson's, who had guest-hosted the Tonight Show more times than any other. Carson, who was thoroughly professional, and never one to let his work interfere with his personal life, was on very good terms with both of his rivals. [4] The crime rate in New York City, which was rampant, and continued to rise without any signs of slowing, was dissuading potential guests from visiting The Tonight Show, based at Rockefeller Center. The program, which had occasionally broadcast from "Beautiful Downtown" Burbank, California, in the past, finally made the official move for good in 1972.

1:00 AM, following the conclusion of late night programming, marked the end of the broadcast day, at which time most stations would sign off with any special announcements, a religious sermonette, station identification, and finally the national anthem, before going off the air, to sign on again later in the morning. [5] The precise timing of the sign-on would vary depending on the affiliate and the market served; core urban markets and rural ones tended to come back on the earliest, given the hours kept by their respective viewers, and usually had local news programming starting at approximately 5:00, following the sign-on process (which was essentially the sign-off, done in reverse). The hours in between, naturally, marked the least-watched period of the day: those who were at home were usually asleep; those who were awake were usually out working the "graveyard shift". Every station was on the air again by 7:00.

Just as the Tonight Show dominated late-night, the Today Show, also on NBC, ever since 1952, dominated weekday mornings, with little substantial competition from the other two networks. In the early 1970s, Today was primarily known for Baba Wawa, a panelist who had long sought greater recognition. Her desperation to be judged as a serious news anchor was matched only by her utter fixation on both the trivial and the frivolous. She was also adamant that co-anchor Frank McGee was thwarting her at every turn, which was technically true; [6] it never occurred to her, however, that there were entirely valid reasons that people were unable to take her seriously. People tended to tread lightly around Wawa, mindful of her sterling reputation; though certainly, if there were anyone ripe for parody, it was her. Perhaps someday, someone might have the opportunity… As to the content of the show itself, it was, like the Tonight Show, a blend of styles. It was partly hard national news, delivered by established anchors at the network's news division; but this shared space with light-hearted, coffee table-style conversations about the minutiae of daily life. It ran for two hours each weekday morning: 7:00 to 9:00.

Last, but certainly not least, were soap operas, which typically aired from 12:30 to 3:00 PM on weekday afternoons, after the local News at Noon; a few soaps aired in late morning timeslots, however. Soap operas were a legacy dating back to the Golden Age of Radio: melodramatic presentations generally dramatizing the lives of wealthy families, consisting of professionals and socialites, and their tawdry escapades. They appealed to an overwhelmingly female audience, and advertisers responded accordingly, with most shows sponsored by household products, especially all kinds of soap. This, coupled with their melodramatic themes, resulted in the familiar term of "soap opera".

Seventeen were on the air during the 1972-73 season; two of these were cancelled, and a third saw its debut. Some soap operas had been on television for many years: Search for Tomorrow, the longest-running television soap, had premiered in September, 1951, with Love of Life first airing just a few weeks later. The Guiding Light, though it had started running on television in June, 1952, had been a radio serial for 15 years beforehand, making it the longest-running dramatic series of any kind. [7] In terms of plot, soaps would often dramatize controversial events of the day, though always in a highly sensationalistic and scandalous fashion. But in terms of presentation, they were hopelessly behind the times. They had been the last to switch to colour; many still continued to film live-on-the-air, a technique that had largely been abandoned elsewhere after the 1950s; and the use of maudlin organ-based soundtracks – though these were gradually being phased out by this time – would not be out of place in programming from the 1930s.

Many programs aired during the day or late at night naturally appealed to adults, given that children were expected to be at school, or asleep, depending on the timeslot. Primetime shows, though certainly more accessible to children, rarely went out of their way to accommodate them. On weekday afternoons, when kids were coming home from school, they were usually able to find programming that they found appealing; as stations presumably believed that breadwinners were still at work, and homemakers were now obliged to start preparing dinner or perform other household chores. The 1972-73 season marked the debut of the Afterschool Special, an educational anthology series. [8] Befitting the atmosphere of the era, the initial batch of specials covered the topic of environmentalism. But even during this time of day, children's shows had to share space with talk shows, game shows, and syndicated reruns.

The one time of the week that was indisputably their province was Saturday Morning, which since the 1960s had been largely occupied by cartoon shows; indeed, in the minds of most children, the two were inextricably linked. Limited animation techniques – pioneered by Hanna-Barbera Productions, perfected by Filmation Associates, and practiced by virtually all of the other studios – enabled companies to produce cartoons inexpensively, often at just a few frames per second. This was certainly a steep decline from the lavish feature animation of Disney and Warner Bros., which was also seen on Saturday mornings, but children were deemed unable to notice the difference – or, indeed, even able to appreciate the need for quality control.
[9] This, combined with their shorter attention spans, resulted in cheaply-made, poorly-written shows with very brief runs, churned out in assembly line fashion by most of the animation studios of the era. Curiously popular were adaptations, or continuations, of primetime series, past and present. [10]

The highest aspiration of those in television industry, something to measure against their lust for fame and fortune, was the desire to always have something worth watching on the air. And though their resources were disproportionately concentrated on those precious few primetime hours, many of them tried their best to liven up the rest of their programming schedules, and the resulting track record was replete with just as many highs and lows as there were between 8:00 and 11:00 PM


[1] The "Access Hour", of course, is home to reruns of Star Trek, which utterly dominated the timeslot in 1971-72. Given the arrangement with Desilu, the show is usually seen on NBC affiliates; therefore, the nighttime Price is Right is most often seen on CBS affiliates.

[2] CBS is in a worse position relative to OTL, and thus producers are more confident in not backing down from their demands (and executives are, perhaps, a little less sure of themselves, not that they would never actually admit that). This means, of course, that Barker will not be hosting The Price is Right ITTL. James hosting the syndicated version is per OTL; Barker took over from him in 1977 (which he will also not be doing here) before that version was cancelled entirely in 1980.

[3] Animators and voice actors, in particular, seem very fond of Lynde; many cartoons made even to the present day IOTL will usually feature at least one character whose voice and mannerisms strongly resemble his own. (Lynde himself had a fruitful voice acting career.)

[4] Carson was known for inviting all of those who challenged his late-night supremacy onto the Tonight Show and wishing them luck; later, after their shows inevitably failed, he would then invite them back to commiserate. He was a firm believer in fair play.

[5] The sermonette – usually a benign, fairly uncontroversial message – would be pre-recorded, and delivered by a religious authority figure (invariably Christian, reflecting the demographic realities of the era). The national anthem would usually come at the very end, immediately followed by the test card. The same process holds true for Canadian stations, which usually played two anthems, in alternating order: "God Save the Queen" and "O Canada" (not the official national anthem until 1980, IOTL).

[6] Among other things, McGee insisted that he, and not Wawa, ask the first three questions of any guest if they were conducting a joint interview; presumably he wanted to minimize the risk of Wawa asking what kind of tree the guest would be.

[7] A record that it would continue to extend IOTL until its cancellation in 2009, when it ended after 72 years and more than 18,000 episodes on the air. (It was renamed simply Guiding Light in 1975, just over halfway through its run.)

[8] As it did IOTL. The specials aired irregularly on ABC, usually several times a season. One effect of Moonshot Lunacy that's otherwise little-mentioned ITTL is that environmentalism is even stronger here than it is IOTL in this era; hence the coverage.

[9] This era, sadly, is primarily responsible for the Animation Age Ghetto; children are indeed more willing to tolerate lower quality, though obviously they don't deserve it any more than people who know better. However, people were rallying against this stigma even this early on: 1972, remember, marks the release of the first X-rated animated film, Fritz the Cat.

[10] IOTL, Star Trek returned to television in animated form on Saturday morning, starting in 1973, for a 22-episode, two-season run, under the auspices of Filmation. D.C. Fontana served as showrunner for the first season, which produced many scripts that were instead used (in modified form) for the series proper ITTL. There is no interest or desire on the part of anyone involved in the show's production to produce an animated spinoff, nor do the fans particularly hunger for any sort of continuation.


And now you have a more comprehensive picture of all that was available to American (and Canadian) television audiences in the early 1970s! This was definitely more of an informational update, because I felt the need to compensate for my narrow, laser-like focus on primetime, to the exclusion of the rest of the schedule. There have been very few changes from OTL, the two major exceptions being the absence of the animated Star Trek series, and the casting of someone other than Bob Barker as host of The (New) Price is Right.

I thought that this would be the perfect time to take stock of the daytime and late night shows on the air because of the introduction of several landmark programs in this era, many of which have had incredible staying power. The daytime version of The Price is Right, IOTL, remains on the air, 40 years later. Also, the 1972-73 season marks the premiere of The Young and the Restless, one of only four surviving soap operas IOTL. Only two other soaps from this era (Days of our Lives and General Hospital) survive.

A few production notes to prevent confusion: the original "Hollywood Squares" ended in 1980; there were several revivals, the most recent of which aired from 1998 to 2004. The version of Jeopardy! with which we are all familiar started airing in syndication in 1984, with Alex Trebek as the host and Johnny Gilbert as the announcer from the outset; the original Jeopardy! was cancelled by NBC in 1975, and was replaced by another Merv Griffin production called Wheel of Fortune, which may be familiar to some of you.

Also, we finally see the return of Baba Wawa! Whether we like it or not, we'll be following her escapades throughout this timeline
The Turtledove Award-Winning That Wacky Redhead: Big Dreams Have Big Consequences!

Find out more on the Alternate History Wiki or TV Tropes

Last edited by Brainbin; April 3rd, 2012 at 12:30 AM..
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