Tuesday, October 2, 2012

1975: The new season (Saturdays)


This idea now seems so nuts--like some kind of SCTV skit. But Roone Arledge and Howard Cosell were right about a lot of things with regard to Americans and TV, and they--both at the zenith of their powers--obviously would've had zero interest in creating basically a parody of themselves. They bet big that this big show would be a big hit. 

And Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell just wasn't, and I would like to know more about why things turned out the way they did. There had to be something about a misread trend in relation to variety television (or it might've been that this flop basically started the trend away from variety television). Or it might've had to do with the genius of NBC's fledgling Saturday Night, which also would be debuting just three weeks after ABC's show, and the demographics of people who would stay up to watch that show versus the people who would tune in at 7 Central to watch this one. Or it might've been some problem with guest rebellion against Cosell or Arledge. Or it might've been an impossible time slot. Or it might've been that the mighty Cosell simply struck out.

But what does not seem to be sufficient explanation to me is to simply laugh off this show as nuts, something that would never work in a million years. Because in 1975, it must not have been so crazy at all.

Neither of Saturday's other two new shows grab me. 

Other than giving Cosell and the occasional NBC movie (excellent, excellent, 5-star, highly recommended Sugarland Express, for example) a whirl, I'm rolling with CBS's rock-solid lineup.

Previous dispatches:

-- Mondays


  1. Here are some thoughts on Cosell:

    1. A lot of people thought that Monday Night Football would fail. These people were wrong, because there was simply a lot more interest in televised sports than they realized. In fact, I would argue that up until just a few years ago, television executives consistently under-estimated the demand for televised sports.

    2. So MNF was successful, and this meant that the folks who had predicted it would fail were wrong. They needed to find an explanation for its success, and Cosell was a popular explanation.

    3. Cosell was also enormously popular in New York, and especially with the New York press. History shows that people often overestimate how well popularity in New York will translate into popularity in the rest of the country. Just as Thomas Dewey and Rudy Giuliani.

    4. And Cosell didn't think of himself as just a sports guy. He wanted to comment on the culture.

    5. So it made sense to give Cosell an entertainment-type show to see how it would go. (It certainly made at least as much sense as the notion that Rudy Giuliani could win the GOP presidential nomination in 2008).

    6. Then ABC learned that people were tuning in to watch football, not Cosell.

    But those are just guesses. Someone did a big biography of Cosell a few years ago. It would be interesting to see what they said about this show.

  2. Incidentally, I went to a Concord Elementary School chili supper not longer after either the debut broadcast of the Cosell show or the pre-Super Bowl broadcast of the Cosell show--both of which featured the Bay City Rollers--and some sixth-graders were doing a lip sync of "Saturday Night." I remember being just totally juiced by the whole scene. So I would say note that the Cosell show had at least some cultural influence on the western outskirts of Paducah.

  3. On Jan. 16, 1975, ABC aired an Odd Couple in which Oscar Madison works a Bengals-Jets preseason game in Cincinnati with Howard Cosell while Alex Karras is occupied with a movie role. (I don't believe there was an explanation of why Frank Gifford was not in the booth.)

    Howard Cosell: "And I must say, (Horst) Muhlmann has quite an interesting story behind him, doesn't he, Oscar?"

    Oscar Madison: "That's right, Howard. That's right. Muhlmann is just one of the many fine soccer-style kickers we've gotten from Europe."

    Cosell: "Didn't you once write in a column that the soccer-style kickers would never make it to the NFL, Madison?"

    Madison: "Well, that was about five years ago. …"

    Cosell: "Of course ... 20/20 hindsight."

    Later, after the two reconcile, Oscar Madison writes the following in his newspaper column: "His insults and barbs are just a small part of a big man, a man whose style is totally unique. Howard Cosell has the attention of 40 million Americans every Monday night."

    The best parts of this episode were the NFL Films clips of Riverfront Stadium, Joe Namath, Paul Brown, Ken Riley and Lyle Blackwood. The show also featured Roone Arledge and Martina Arroyo.