Sunday, 9 May 2021

Benny to the Rescue

The star of a prime-time TV show didn’t know he was on the air. That’s because he was dead.

In August 1977, CBS decided to haul out and run old black-and-white episodes of The Jack Benny Show. The show left the network in 1964 and Benny had died in 1974.

For the record, the episodes involved Jack’s Maxwell going missing, the night he refereed a wrestling match, a visit to his vault with Treasury agents and the last show to feature his violin teacher, Prof. LeBlanc.

Why did CBS try such an unusual programming move? A syndication service decided to find out. This story appeared in papers starting August 30, 1977.

Jack’s old TV show continues to pop up, making the rounds of nostalgia cable channels whenever a new one is invented where he can fit their programming.

Pulled up CBS Ratings
Jack Benny Show' scores


Gannett News Service
CBS' recent four-part retrospective of "The Jack Benny Show," which the network aired Tuesday nights this summer, was a real treat for TV viewers.
For old Jack Benny fans, it was a chance to once more watch the comedian go through some of his most memorable routines. For younger viewers, it was perhaps their first and only opportunity to see for themselves why Benny had become a legend in his own time.
We were grateful for the chance to again see some of his wonderful old shows, but we were more then a bit curious about what prompted CBS to put him back on the air.
For an answer, we sought out CBS programming vice president Harvey Shephard.
He explained that the 8 to 9 p.m. Tuesday slot had been a problem for CBS all season, with "Tony Orlando" and "Who's Who" failing to draw an audience. "They were against the strongest combination in television: ABC's 'Happy Days" and 'Laverne and Shirley,' " he said.
When "Who's Who" went down the drain in May, CBS revived the old "Family Holvak" series, which had bombed when it first appeared a couple of seasons back.
Shephard defended this selection. "When 'Holvak' originally aired, it had a mid-20s share (usually a show needs a 30 share to survive), but it was against formidable competition and had nice press notices," he said. "Also, there seemed to be a change in public tastes—family shows like 'Eight is Enough' and 'The Waltons' have been doing very well, so we thought there might be a market now for 'Holvak.' "
"Holvak," which debuted May 31, disappeared at the end of July, leaving CBS programmers wondering what to put on for the next several weeks.
Since retrospectives like NBC's 50th anniversary show and CBS' "When TV was Young" special had received high ratings, Shephard said: "We concluded there seemed to be some sort of desire, maybe nostalgia, for TV shows from the '50s and '60s."
CBS thus decided to bring back an old show, "a classic," to run during August. "We did not want to go with a youth-oriented show," he said, "We wanted something to appeal to adults. So we started exploring ideas about what we could schedule."
"You mean you were all sitting around a conference room and somebody said, 'Hey. How about Jack Benny?' " we asked.
"That's about right," Shephard replied.
In its first week on the air in August, "The Jack Benny Show" drew a 26 share. That's not great, but it was one of the best performances of anything CBS had had on in that time period. In subsequent weeks, though, the show slipped to a 20 share, which was the same as the network had been doing with 'Who's Who,' 'Holvak,' and 'Orlando.'
We asked if the success of the first Benny re-airing meant CBS might revive other old series for one-night shots.
"Perhaps we'll do it again," he said. "We're looking into it. We might run an episode of a series as a special broadcast." We hope that CBS does battle to bring back some of the best shows from days gone by.
There are a number of truly fine comedies and dramas lying in storage vaults that could, if dusted off, provide contemporary viewers with 30 or 60 minutes of excellent entertainment. CBS has recognized this. Perhaps the other networks will, too.

1 comment:

  1. i remember seeing those Benny episodes in '77. The wrestling episode had Jack being flung about the ring like a ragdoll... I read somewhere that stuntman Eddie Parker died while working on a Jack Benny episode - was it that one?
    The next year, CBS tried "The Paper Chase" in that time slot - and despite critical raves, it too died against The Fonz and Laverne & Shirley. (It would take NBC's "The A-Team" to dethrone the ABC sitcoms.)