TFTP Flow: MTV (Music Television) from Nov. 1983

Posted to YouTube by user 'phxlefty'

A few weeks ago, TFTP featured its first post of a clip from a cable TV network (some promos from Showtime); here we have another clip of early cable TV--the legendary early MTV. MTV Music Television was one of the proto-cable networks that helped establish cable television as a medium after it launched in August of 1981. Early MTV, of course, featured mainly music videos, with a number of different kinds of segments as interstitials between the videos.

This extended (25 minute) clip is of those interstitial elements (the music videos themselves have been excised). Included in the clip are: VJ (video jockey) segments with original MTV VJ Mark Goodman; promotion of concert dates by The Police and Black Sabbath (and a taped intro to a Police concert by VJ Martha Quinn); classic MTV network IDs with the shifting-colors MTV logo and the iconic spaceman; promotion of the network's "Friday Night Music Fights", in which two music videos were pitted against one another; a spot for one of the network's famous giveaway promotions (here for Neil Young's pink Cadillac); and a "World Premiere" video announcement for Bob Dylan's latest music video.

The clip includes several commercials as well, and there is no mistaking the channel's adolescent target demographic based on the commercials featured here: compilation record albums, the Atari video game system, Panasonic boom boxes, and Compound W wart remover (!).


TFTP Will Be Back After These Messages: TVs from the Past -- Early Television Set commercials (1950/1954)

Posted to YouTube by user 'MattTheSaiyan'

In watching old TV commercials, it's always interesting to see what the sellers of products thought buyers were interested in, interests that then became the selling points in the ads themselves. Based on these two commercials for television sets, one from 1950 and the other from 1954, potential TV set buyers were really worried about how well a TV set could show close-ups.

The first ad, for a 1950 Westinghouse TV, has something called an "electronic magnifier" that you could somehow overlay on the screen to take a TV image and magnify it. The fact that they don't actually show this feature in operation and that the images they show of wrestlers are clearly not authentic images off of a TV screen should have made potential buyers of this set a little wary. The peculiar shape of the screen on this set is a good example of just how different early TV sets were from the ones that viewers became used to just a few years later.

The second TV set ad is from 1954, and by this time apparently there were already some people who were ready to replace their first TV set with an upgraded model. So the RCA television set being advertised is shown to have a much better ability to show close-ups than earlier TVs with smaller screens. A 21" inch set was a large screen in those days, and you can see why compared to the older 10" set! The price comparison between the 1950 set and the 1954 set in these ads is interesting, too, and shows the way in which technology improves and becomes cheaper at the same time; the 1950 Westinghouse model has a retail price of $259.95, while the much bigger and better 1954 RCA set is only $199.95.


TFTP Comedy: "Kovacs on the Corner" (1952)

Posted to Internet Archive

Ernie Kovacs was one of the great geniuses of early television comedy. He had a relatively brief but wide-ranging career--as a talk-show host, game-show panelist and host, morning-show host, and comedian--before dying prematurely in a car accident in 1962. This clip is a complete episode of a very short-lived Kovacs series called "Kovacs on the Corner", which was on NBC on weekday mornings for just three months in early-1952.

"Kovacs on the Corner" featured Kovacs in a slightly more laid-back style than that for which he is best known. Kovacs' pioneered a style of visual comedy on television that was not seen before or much since, utilizing sight gags, technical tricks unique to TV, and absurdism to create comedy. Here, in "Kovacs on the Corner", he is much more subtle and situational in his comedy. The "corner" of the title is a city neighborhood corner that comprises the show's sole set and on which Kovacs--assisted by singer and future wife Edie Adams--encounters different characters of the type one might meet on a street corner (policemen, street sweepers). Several musical numbers are featured, showing the easy facility with which early TV comedy shows crossed over into musical variety and back again.

Kovacs does show glimpses of his legendary humor here. A segment called "Swap Time" in which two ordinary people swap odd items (a torn bowler hat for an eight-pound block of ice) offers Kovacs the opportunity for some clever ad-libbing. An advertisement spoof in which Kovacs and Adams pitch "food" (holding a brown sack with the word "food" written on it) is a trenchant critique of TV commercials that foreshadows his later comedy. Although this episode is not typical of Kovacs' later comedy, it is both a good peek into his early career and a good example of a particular type of early musical/comedy variety show.


TFTP Kids: "The Adventures of Letterman" from "The Electric Company" (Feb. 28, 1973; Apr. 6, 1976)

Posted to YouTube by user 'NantoVision1'

In this first TFTP Kids post, we have a pair of segments of "The Adventures of Letterman" from the legendary 1970s PBS kids show "The Electric Company." "The Electric Company" was the 1971 follow-up show from the Children's Television Workshop, after CTW--and the fledgling PBS's--smash success with "Sesame Street" which premiered in 1969. This second CTW program was focused on alphabet and phonics skills in youngsters (as opposed to the more broad-based concerns of "Sesame Street"). Although the two shows shared many characteristics (much animation, recurring segments, an ensemble of actors, an emphasis on teaching basic skills), "Electric Company" was less precious, more ironic and wry, and way more wacky in its comedy and perspective.

"The Adventures of Letterman" debuted on "The Electric Company" at the beginning of the show's second season (in Fall 1972) and was featured until the original run of the show ended in 1977. Letterman, a parodic superhero (and one that would not have been mistaken for David Letterman, whose fame was yet to come in the early- to mid-1970s), saved the day from the malicious spelling changes wrought by the Spell Binder (the villain which was, for today's tastes, a little too much of a parody of an Arab figure).  Like many of the segments in CTW's shows, this one featured a cast of celebrities: Joan Rivers as the narrator, Gene Wilder as Letterman, and Zero Mostel as Spell Binder.

The two segments here are "Hands Full", which appeared on the Feb. 28, 1973, episode of "Electric Company"; and "Small Talk", which appeared on the Apr. 6, 1976, episode.


TFTP Will Be Back After These Messages: Commercial Block (ABC) (Nov. 7 & 14, 1981)

Posted to YouTube by user '80sCommercialVault'

This is another block of commercials, this time from ABC on Saturday mornings, November 7 and 14, 1981. There's a lot of great stuff here, including some toy commercials (Nerf basketball, Tonka trucks, couple Barbie products), junk food (Reese's peanut butter cups, SpaghettiO's, Burger King), public service announcements (including one starring Brooke Shields and another starring Ed Asner), and the piece-de-resistance, Underoos. There are also several bumpers (the brief, usually 5-second, bits leading into and out of the commercial breaks for Saturday morning shows) and the complete end credits for an episode of "Thundarr the Barbarian.


TFTP Flow: Public TV Pledge Breaks during "Summerfest '79" on WTTW (Chicago) (Aug. 25, 1979)

Posted to YouTube by user 'The Museum of Classic Chicago Television'

Here at TFTP we work in public television, and we just finished the latest pledge drive, so here's a set of vintage public TV pledge breaks from 1979. These are from Chicago's WTTW Channel 11 and they feature as the on-air personalities Cherie Mason and Paul Brian. Compared to today's pledge breaks, which can often be a little staid and stuffy, Mason and Brian are refreshingly loose and improvisational in their banter and pitching. Other elements are likewise offbeat and clever, such as a brief filmed segment in the first pledge break (featuring a pre-fame and pre-"Cheers" Shelley Long).

One striking thing about the names of the programs above the ranks of phone volunteers in the background is how many of the shows are still on the air 35 years later. "Masterpiece Theatre", "NOVA", "Sesame Street"--these are public TV mainstays even today (and some of them, such as "Sesame Street", had already been on the air for a decade in 1979). Public television in the U.S. television system is a unique creature that remains dependent on viewers becoming members (or to use the terminology here, "subscribers") in order to survive. Here we see a relatively early example of the ways in which public television sought to acquire those memberships.


TFTP News: KGO News (San Francisco) (Feb. 8, 1965)

Here's a news clip from San Francisco's ABC affiliate KGO-TV from February 8, 1965. Black-and-white video (as opposed to film) clips from the '60s are always interesting because they give us a great glimpse of what TV actually looked like in terms of its visual texture in this period. Watch closely and you can see the switchovers between video sources as the image shifts between newscaster Bob Dunn in the studio and videotaped/filmed story segments (look for the horizontal rolling interference).

The content here is especially interesting, as it includes a lot of reporting and updates on the evolving situation in Vietnam, a conflict that was very much still escalating and still entering the American conscience and consciousness in early-1965. Other reports concern the space program and racial integration (the latter reported from Atlanta by a young Peter Jennings, later the longtime ABC Nightly News anchor). The local commercial for a car dealership that appears midway through is fascinating as well, as it shows the relative simplicity and primitiveness of local ad spots in this period. A straight-ahead pitch delivered by a salesman who is simply sitting at a desk in the studio, followed by a slide with the business name and address, the spot seems ridiculously simple-minded to us now (even for a local commercial).


TFTP Late Night: "The Tonight Show" (Sep. 27, 1970) w/ Mel Brooks

Posted to YouTube by user 'Johnny Carson'

Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" is a TFTP favorite (as is Carson's pre-"Tonight Show" career), so here is our first post from "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson". This September 1970 clip features Mel Brooks doing an impression of an Indian ichthyologist (which is a scientist who studies fish, in case you didn't know). Brooks was known for his characters using a wide variety of different kinds of accents, although this one is not one of his better ones.

More interesting is the overall ambiance and look of the "Tonight Show" in this era. This is from the pre-1972 New York period of Carson's "Tonight Show"--before the show moved to LA and a period for which surviving episodes and clips are rare compared to later years--so it's a nice glimpse of the show's early years. The multi-hued background and orange chairs set the tone for what was at the time still the early years of color television. This clip is from the official YouTube account for Johnny Carson's estate, which has posted quite a few more clips and many full episodes of "The Tonight Show".


TFTP Comedy: "The Ed Wynn Show" (Oct. 20, 1949)

Posted to Internet Archive by user 'Emperor'

Ed Wynn was one of the early variety show comedians on television, and his show was the capper to a long career as a stage comedian (about 47 years long, as he explains in this episode). Wynn was a comedian of a type we don't see anymore: clownish in the best possible sense, with a Borscht-Belt-y broad comedic sense (he was Jewish with a birth name of Isaiah Edwin Leopold, his stage name derived from his middle name), and with a highly developed eye for visual touches (as he keeps reminding us in this episode, as he tells Victor Moore, that to be on TV you have to have a crazy costume).

Wynn was also a great link between the much older vaudeville traditions and the newly emerging (at this time) televisual traditions. His tutelage of the even older Moore on how to break into television (which features some incisive barbs about sponsors) includes a comment to Moore about to be on TV all you have to do is decide whether or not you want to be a "cowboy, puppet, or wrestler", showing a perceptive understanding of late-1940s television and its prevalent genres. This episode of Wynn's show features a series of comic and musical segments linked by Wynn's schooling of guest star Moore and including a couple of singing performances by the Merry Macs.

"The Ed Wynn Show" is a great example of early TV comedy: strongly vaudeville-based, a little rough at the edges, attempting to take advantage of the visual properties of TV while remaining largely verbal in nature due to its roots in radio.


TFTP Promo: NBC Network Promo for Fall 1967 Morning Shows

This minute-long NBC promo highlights the network's fall 1967 weekday programming.  These, of course, were the now long-lost days when networks programmed this time period themselves (rather than allowing affiliates to run syndicated fare, as happens now), and for the most part the networks filled the mornings with game shows and occasional light variety. 

Featured in this promo are "Snap Judgment" with host Ed McMahon (in this period working the morning and late-night shifts for NBC); "Concentration" with host Hugh Downs (ballyhooed as the network's longest running game show); "The Pat Boone Show," a rather obscure and presumably short-lived variety half-hour starring the pop singer; "The Hollywood Squares," the long-running (and oft-revived) celebrity-centered game show that was near the beginning of its TV life; "Jeopardy" (in its original Art Fleming-hosted incarnation); and "Eye Guess," another fairly obscure show, one of the many game shows hosted by Bill Cullen.

This promo is a delight to watch, partially because its difficult to imagine any network running such a clip now (at least without intended irony).  Multiple images--some stylized drawings, some stylized photos of the hosts of the various shows--cascade in kaleidoscopic fashion across a 3x3 grid of squares that resembles the playing board for the aforementioned "Hollywood Squares."  Accompanying the images is an appropriately jaunty and lighthearted musical score that would be right at home in any of the shows from NBC's fall 1967 morning schedule.