Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Late Night TV With ... Who?

You know about all the late-night talk/variety hosts who graced the TV airwaves in the 1950s. Jack Paar. Steve Allen. Jimmy Blaine. Jerry....

Wait a minute. Jimmy Blaine?

Blaine was a singer who may be best known for hosting a Saturday morning kids show starting in late 1957 on NBC that played Ruff and Reddy cartoons (along with ‘Columbia Favorites’ like “Lo the Poor Buffal”). You can be forgiven if you didn’t know he hosted a late-night show. For one thing, it aired for a few months in 1953. And it may have aired on only one station (further research is needed). The show was called “The Talk of the Town,” and not because that was indicative of the show’s popularity. It’s because “The Talk of the Town” was the motto of the Knickerbocker Beer Company which sponsored it. “Town” aired on WABC-TV opposite news broadcasts on the other New York stations. It debuted April 27, 1953, the same day NBC first aired “Bob and Ray” and DuMont brought the world “Jimmy Hughes, Rookie Cop” for the first time.

The Long Island City Star Journal covered opening night in its April 30th edition.

Radio and Television
‘Talk of the Town’ Debuts on ABC-TV

TV station and network executives are tossing in their sleep these night—and have been for some nights past—over the perplexing problem of late hour programing.
Feature films are one of the very best answers, of course, but the quality of these has dropped alarmingly in recent months due to the fact that everything has been shown 15 or 20 times over. There are still plenty of good films in the movie studio vaults that haven't been seen on TV yet but Hollywood is unloading them second and third (and worse) stuff first, and at its own prices, maintaining a strong sellers’ market.
This is no doubt good business but it’s sure tough on the viewer.
Meanwhile, producers are wondering what kind of entertainment to slow in the late hours that will interest wide audiences and still stay within a reasonable budget.
ABC-TV tried its luck Monday night, 11 to midnight, by borrowing a page from the now-defunct “Broadway Open House,” the NBC-TV series starring Jerry Lester, Dagmar, Ray Malone and Milton Delugg and his band, and premiered a similar show titled “Talk of the Town.”
An incredibly cheap show money-wise, "Talk" stars Jimmy Blaine, as the emcee-singer, dancer Ray Malone, songstress Elise Rhodes, the Buddy Weed band, comic Louis Nye and announcer Bill Williams, in addition to weekly guests.
The latter include, for this week, singer Donald Richards and dance-team Diane Sinclair and Ken Spaulding, who will appear with the cast the rest of this week.
As a show, Monday's premiere of "Talk" was halting, loose-jointed and badly in need of some strong, suitable cohesive.
On the other hand, it displayed good possibilities and promised to give television some new stars, no less than one and the probability of two or three.
RAY MALONE is no newcomer to television, of course, having hit the viewers hard on "Broadway Open House" and other shows. Given some latitude and good treatment on this new series, there is no telling what this lad might do. The chances are he will one day be the greatest dancing star in America, anyhow, and this might just as well come sooner as later. Handling will hurry or delay it.
Malone, a veteran of Eddie Cantor's Broadway period for all his youth, has incredible talent—everything, in fact, the perfect dancer must have.
His sense of timing and rhythm is literally breath-taking. He apparently is skilled in several dancing styles and has a "feel" for all. He's an attractive looking little guy with a gay quality that especially lends itself to eccentric numbers, mood studies and certain types of characterizations as interpreted in the modern dance metier, and, as if that weren't enough for six or seven people his size, he is an instant choreographer of real inventiveness and imagination.
MALONE was a star when he hit "Talk," but he can become much bigger with it.
Comic Louis Nye, on the other hand, is no TV star at the moment, but he'll be the comedy discovery of the summer season, provided he can continue the pace set Monday night when he appeared as the broccoli grower and the sanitation department worker.
The broccoli grower was a fine characterization coupled with some really good material that had the studio audience the show-band in good-sized stitches much of the time. The sanitation worker skit was a notch lower—purely a matter of personal preference—but it like-wise put Nye across as strong potential for the comedy big-time. And how badly we need more top comics.
The dance team of Sinclair and Spaulding has been around from time to time, but nothing can build stature and a following like regular appearances on this powerful medium.
DIANE SINCLAIR, the girl, is gorgeous, dances like a dream and the boy, Ken Spaulding, seems to be her technical equal. Together, they make an exciting, handsome team that could also be headed for top stardom.
Singer Elise Rhodes, an attractive girl, did well on the premiere but didn’t impress as strongly as Malone, Nye, and Sinclair and Spaulding.
Buddy Weed and his band have long ago found their niche, a very high one in the opinions of followers of the jazz sound, and Buddy played some piano Monday night that probably had a lot of these followers hanging on the ropes, gasping.
If "Talk of the Town" can be tightened slightly, production-wise, and be made to run a bit smoother, it might soon be the talk of the town. If not the show, then certainly certain of its elements.
That’s for sure.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle’s TV columnist took notice of the show. Here’s how he described it on May 3rd.

Channel 7's 'Talk of Town' Nice Fate for Stay-Up-Lates

PREMIER PREMIERE—“Talk of the Town,” the new five-times-a-week, full hour show for stay-up-lates, was launched on Channel 7 at 11 p.m., Monday, and has been sailing merrily along ever since.
Emceed by Jimmy Blaine, and with a cast that includes tap dancer Ray Malone, Buddy Weed's orchestra, pop singer Elise Rhodes, comedian Louis Nye, and Bill Williams, these variety shows offer a little bit of practically everything, but not much of anything that hasn't been seen on TV many times before.
Whoa, thar, I'm not kickin', stranger! For people who are mighty tired of looking at movies that were never filmed with TV in mind and suffer (along with the televiewer) by being reproduced, this show is ideal. It is also a welcome relief from self-styled news analysts, and weather reports that would be amusing if they weren't so darned confusing.
“Talk of the Town” is a “live” show in every sense of the word. It moves right along, and no “dead” spots were in evidence last week. It's a pleasant show and, as you watch it, you soon feel everyone connected with these nightly presentations is going all-out in his attempts to please you.
Producer Milton Douglas, consciously or unconsciously, accomplished a very desirable end in a show of this type, when he refused to engage one "big name" star who would outshine all other members of the company. His guest stars last week included Diane Sinclair and Ken Spaulding and vocalist Donald Richards. Big names? Not too. Talented? Very. But they fitted snugly into the evening's festivities and seemed more like an integral part of the shows than guests. I hope Douglas' guests this week as just as well chosen.
There is absolutely nothing in these “Talk of the Town” presentations that will cause the top ten shows in TV any cause for alarm concerning their ratings. They're not supposed to. If the “Talk” shows stick to what was on exhibition last week, i.e., a sincere striving to please with no attempt at being smart alecky, I'm sure the customers who are not sack-happy will have no cause to complain.

Lanigan revisited the show in his June 22, 1953 column.

'Talk of Town' on TV Seen Living Up to Its Name

EXCLUSIVE? "Talk of the Town," the WABC-TV 11 p.m.-to-midnight program, is getting to be just that.
When this show premiered it fulfilled a long-awaited need for a late-hour program that would take the place of coffee in keeping televiewers awake. The format has remained more or less static, but it has taken on a patina that no one had any right to expect.
Milton Douglas, the producer of these five-time-weekly shows, refused to go along with the thought that people who stayed up late didn't have sense enough to go to bed, and therefore would accept anything. He and others planned and produced this show with all the care and attention given to the biggest network shows, which are usually seen at a much earlier hour. Integrity paid off.
Last week host Jimmy Blaine had as his guest Brooklynite Henny Youngman. Henny, as usual, proceeded to fracture the people. Henny is being held over this week and starting tonight "Talk of the Town" will be enhanced by another Brooklynite, Alan Dale. But wait . . .
Next Monday Alan Dale and Henny Youngman will join Jimmy Blaine and Buddy Weed's 15-piece orchestra as permanent members of the cast. In addition, Marilyn Ross, a singer possessing a great voice and figure to match; Betty George, ditto; Bunny Briggs, a tap dancer, frequently compared to the late Bill Robinson, and the dance team of Nelle Fisher and Jerry Ross will round out the all-star cast.
As you will see, if you look, I use the term "round out" advisedly. Tune in this one any night and have a real time of it.

Sounds like the show was on its way, right? Afraid not. Sponsor Knickerbocker decided to go elsewhere. Blaine, who Variety said was nervous, self-conscious and stiff, was replaced with Dale on June 29th in a complete overhaul. Nye, Williams and Rhodes were out. Youngman took Nye’s comedy spot but soon replaced Dale as emcee (Variety, July 1). Still not good enough. The new vice-president of WABC, John Mitchell, checked the expense charts and his first decision was to cancel “Talk of the Town” (Variety, July 8). The show died on July 24th. Youngman went to Vegas the following week and WABC went back to old movies. Lanigan of the Eagle laid the show to rest in his July 29th column.

INSIDE TV: "Talk of the Town," the 11-to-midnight five times weekly program on Channel 7, which folded while my back was turned, was a victim of over-production.
When this show opened, it did so with a pleasantly diverting format and a very engaging personnel. Producer Milton Douglas utilized the talents of Jimmie Blaine, Ray Malone, Billy Weed and his orchestra, Bill Williams and Louis Nye, and others, and showed them to good advantage against cleverly-devised backgrounds.
Then, after a few gratifying weeks, the "Big Brass" decided to get into the act. It was the old story of too many cooks spoiling this TV broth. Boom!

Too many cooks, all right. But not necessarily management. Many years later, one viewer would sum up the problem with “Talk.” One act would be on for ten minutes, then another would take over the show for ten minutes, then another and another. Too many people. But there was someone that one viewer really liked, comedian Louis Nye. That viewer was about to launch his own late-night endeavour locally on WNBT New York on July 27th and suggested that Nye could join him some day. And Nye did, launching himself into national stardom. That viewer was Steve Allen. His sponsor was Knickerbocker Beer. More next week.


  1. Thanks for this article on Jimmy Blaine, Yowp. My clearest memory of the old RUFF N' REDDY show that Jimmy hosted was a puppet resembling a giant ear of corn, dubbed Cornelius. He was the pitchpuppet for Post Toasties, one of the show's sponsors. Jimmy or the Toucan bird puppet (Jose) would often banter with Cornelius, and called him "Corny" for short. This infuriated Cornelius, and he would admonish: "And don't call me CORNY, or I'll send you to the MOON with my magic SPOON!" Cornelius talked in sort of a W.C. Fields type voice. This was a moment of surrealism that has haunted me ever since. Mark

    1. Cornelius the Rooster was Kellogg's Corn Flakes...