Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Moore Goes Big Time

Nestled amongst the serials and game shows on daytime TV in the ‘50s were low-key variety shows. Besides a name star, there were a singer or two, and a comedian, a sketch perhaps, and maybe a guest if the budget allowed for it.

Bob Crosby hosted one, as he did on radio. So did Robert Q. Lewis, Arthur Godfrey, Jack Paar, Tennessee Ernie Ford and a few others.

Another was Garry Moore.

Moore was picked in 1943 to fill a hole in what was pretty much an emergency move by NBC and it was agreed to toss in Jimmy Durante as well. Moore was a comedian who wrote his own off-beat and, at times, silly material. Durante was Durante. But the two meshed instantly and the show was a hit. It moved to CBS and continued only until Moore decided he wanted to go it alone in 1947.

Eventually Moore got a daytime radio, then a daytime TV, show and was hired in 1952 to emcee I’ve Got a Secret on Sunday nights on top of that. But he wanted more. And, evidently, CBS saw enough potential income in him to give him an hour of prime time.

The big time meant big changes. So long, Denise Lor and Ken Carson, we wish you well on your future endeavours. Only announcer Durwood Kirby made the jump from daytime (Nelson Case and Barbara Britton also handled commercials). Jack Benny’s old director Ralph Levy was brought in to produce. Writers included Vinny Bogert, Herb Finn (later at Hanna-Barbera) and ex-Benny jokester John Tackaberry. There was Howard Smith’s orchestra. There were dancers. There was befuddled Marion Lorne.

Here’s Levy’s take on the coming show, from a column of September 7th. Levy was gone in a month. He quit over how the show was done; he was under exclusive contract with CBS, so it would appear he wasn’t disagreeing with the network.

Garry to Join the Titans of TV

Associated Press Writer
NEW YORK—Garry Moore, the cheerful sailor with the crewcut who for lo these years has given the American housewife her best excuse for a morning coffee break, moves into television's big leagues Sept. 30.
The Garry Moore Show, complete with $100,000 weekly budget, singing, dancing, comedy sketches and guest stars, will place him in the company of the TV titans—Como, Allen, Sullivan, Shore—as star of a nighttime variety program.
Moore, of course, is no stranger to the big after-dark audience. But there is a lot of difference between moderating a half-hour panel show like "I've Got a Secret" and being the heart of an hour-long revue, an area in which the competition is keen.
"The trick," says Ralph Levy, the producer who holds Moore's fate in his hands, "Is not to be different, but to be better. Let's face it, there are probably 25 top girl singers in the business, about 10 top comedians and maybe four top dancers. Before one season is over, the audience is going to see just about all of them on all the variety shows. It is how they are used which is going to be important.
Moore's show, which already has been sold to two sponsors, will have four or five high-priced writers on a permanent basis, but Levy also has budgeted a large amount for free lance material.
"A lot of good comedy writers are busy on other things, but can be called on to tailor special material for visiting stars," explained Levy. "And we'll use special writers to integrate the commercials and make sure that the show itself gets a change of pace which is not always possible if the regular writing staff is used all the time."
Moore's peers in the variety show business are performers with special talents. Perry Como and Dinah Shore are singers; Steve Allen plays the piano; Bob Hope is a comedian. Moore's gift is quite another thing.
"Garry brings to the show sincerity, honesty, great enthusiasm and warmth," says Levy. "His appeal to sponsors—and he is a truly great salesman—is that sincerity and honesty. So when Moore says that he wants to introduce a singer he thinks is great, the audience believes him. Moore is what I'd call a television personality, and one who reflects a high level of popular taste.
"On the other hand, he can do a little of everything. He can dance along a little with a dancing star, sing along with a singer and he can play straight man to comedians. But basically we are going to be building his show around his enthusiasm and his sincerity."
Moore's new show should be off to a running autumn start with a ready-made audience of devoted housewives who will sorely miss his old morning show.
Levy, while he appreciates the interest of the ladies, doesn't want the evening audience to get the idea that the only thing which is happening to Moore is a transfer of his old weekday morning show to a once-a-week night show. That is one reason that the fact Moore will bring along with him two or three of his regulars, including Durwood Kirby, is not being emphasized.
"But we'll definitely carry over the old feeling of informality," Levy insists, "with Moore stepping over the footlights to sit on the stage steps and thus enter the living room.
Levy, a veteran producer, has definite ideas about the use of the camera on different types of shows.
"You'll never see great camera work on a good comedy show," he insists. "In a dramatic show, the camera can embellish the action—move in to catch an expression, swing around to catch some action while an actor speaks his lines. But if a comedian is telling a joke when the camera is moved an iota, the joke is ruined.
"I like to think of the camera in this kind of a show as just another person sitting in the audience. I plan to put the camera with long lenses in the back of the theater and keep them there. "And of course we'll work with live audiences. Performers aren't necessarily actors, and all the great performers need the chemistry of an audience. Without one, their performance suffers and the home audience knows that something is wrong."

The show debuted September 30th. Here’s a syndicated column from that day which gives you an idea of the difference between daytime and prime time when it comes to fame.

Garry Moore Show Bows Tonight

George Gobel made about 30 appearances on Garry Moore's daily daytime variety show, but nobody ever heard him except housewives. When Garry did his seventh anniversary show in the morning slot, he asked a group of CBS executives to catch the show. Their first comments were. "Seven years! I didn't know he'd been on for seven years. Did anyone send the guy flowers?" In a way that's why Garry Moore is happy to be crawling cut of his shell with a night-time variety show that debuts this evening over CBS.
I spoke to the gentleman whose youthful appearance made the crew cut toupee outsell the old-fashioned mop at his CBS office last week. The guardian of America's most unimportant secrets has thrown a mysterious cloud around the format of his new frolic.
Won't Waste Stars
"It's not that I don't know what I'm going to do myself, but "some of the little surprises we're planning would be bombs if we publicized them." He cited a couple of "off the record" samples and Garry's show really worries me—it may actually be clever and different.
"One thing I don't intend to do is waste guest stars. I bought a terrific sketch for an October showing which called for a cowboy hero who can really act. I wanted Richard Boone (Have Gun Will Travel) to do the sketch, so we contacted him. He's not available until March, so we've put the routine on the shelf until Boone is our guest. I'm not going to waste material on the wrong performers. After I get the sketch—then I'll cast it," Moore explained.
For seven years Garry showcased new talent on his morning show. As people like Gobel went through their paces, Garry practically got on his knees and begged the TV people to give the newcomers a break. But while Moore was pleading, the people he was appealing to were, having coffee in their offices and trying to think of fresh new talent to put into night-time shows. Now, a Garry Moore booking will be a break for a comic and Garry is looking forward to using some of the youngsters he tried last season.
With "I've Got a Secret" still riding high on Wednesday and his own show on Tuesday, Garry's routine has become a bit hectic. Although he had to come up with a variety format five days a week last year, the preparation became a routine task and featured regular, although long, hours.
Marion Lorne on Show
"Now that I have to be in town at least two evenings, the wife and I are going to take a place in New York City and spend three nights a week here. It's easier without children." The Moores are practically newlyweds this year as both their sons are away at school, and they're just getting used to their new-found freedom and the accompanying loneliness.
The regulars on the Moore show will be Marion Lorne, whose performance in "Harvey" was the first big smash of the young TV season, and Durward Kirby. Kirby was with Garry in the morning and millions of housewives have seen the man do comedy for years. "But I have to break him in like a newcomer, because most of the people have never heard of him. That's daytime television," commented Garry. Marion will appear as the producer's assistant and will wander in and out of scenes merely being Marion Lorne which should please everybody.
When Garry was doing the daytime stint there were 94 people in his entire crew. For the one evening program there are 94 people engaged in behind-the-scenes work alone. After Moore called the morning show quits, he was forced to let many of his staff members go, but they're all back at their desks again hoping to give the boss a winner.

Moore had his problems on opening night. Johnny Mathis walked out because he wasn’t allowed to plug his new record. Levy quickly brought in Gordon MacRae. Critics were mixed about the show. But it did carry on through 1964, showing Moore had some staying power. He also had problems with (surprise!) CBS president Jim Aubrey, but that’s for another column.

You’ll notice one name is absent through all this—Carol Burnett. She appeared on several of the first season shows but didn’t become a regular until the following year. Burnett learned well from Moore but while his variety show is obscure today, Burnett’s effort in the ‘60s and ‘70s is being marketed to new fans and shows how entertaining variety could be when done well.

1 comment:

  1. Carol Burnett had said that Gary was a very under rated showman. She was called to fill in and do a sketch for an ailing Martha Raye, and the rest was history. Burnett said that Gary knew the strengths and weaknesses of Lorne, Kirby, and Carol. Sometimes they would switch lines because it may be funnier if Kirby said this instead of Burnett, or Lorne take Kirby's line, Burnett do this, etc. She went on to say that she took that method to her show and it worked. All that, she attributes to Gary Moore.