In the early days of television, local stations were responsible for most of their
programming. In Detroit, WWJ televised an astounding 118 hours of live
television per week. Much of their early programming was exciting and
innovative. WWJ aired Detroit Tigers games and concerts from the Detroit
Symphony Orchestra. WXYZ had the World Adventure Series
with George Pierrot and household hints with the Lady of Charm.
WJBK featured Bob Murphy, tall boy- third row, with songs and variety.
so much airtime to fill, there were bound to be more than a few misses among the
TV hits. Submitted for your approval, and in no particular order, are ten wild,
wacky and just plain strange local TV shows from the first ten years of Detroit
Live, from Willow Run Airport, it’s tired travelers arriving
and departing from Detroit. This albatross took off every weekday from 7:00 to
8:55 AM. The TV listing reads, “Cameras are located strategically throughout
the terminal, showing take-offs and landings, plus visits with all important
celebrities at the airport.” Thank God this show was grounded soon after
NIGHT COURT QUIZ (WXYZ- 1947)
Court programs were a staple of television, almost from day
one. In the 1940s, Detroit had the distinction of holding the only nighttime
traffic court in the country. Why not exploit that fact for television and turn
it into a game show? Four real traffic court defendants were chosen from the
docket for a chance to earn a cash prize to help defray their fines. Questions
were based on traffic laws.
4 (WWJ- 1954)
It started out as your typical early Saturday morning farm program. Interviews with county agents, current wheat prices and reports relevant to area farmers, until that fateful day in June of 1954 when Glen Young made his first appearance on the show. Glen was a local animal trainer who taught barnyard critters bizarre tricks, like chickens lighting and smoking cigarettes and rabbits playing baseball. Glen’s segments received so much mail that he was asked back on a regular basis. Soon home viewers were mailing in postcards by the thousands, requesting tricks that they wanted to see performed on the show. The farm reports quickly took a back seat to chickens pulling rabbits out of top hats and tap dancing ducks. Give the people what they want.
WAGON ON THE WAY (WWJ-1948)
Taking the phrase “You can’t look away from a bad
accident” to the next level, WWJ presents Wagon On The Way. The worst
traffic accidents of the week were profiled, complete with photographs of the
accidents and their victims. Fran Harris was the host, with the Detroit Police
Department supplying weekly talks on traffic safety.
WALKIN’ ON WOODWARD
George Hunter was the “Man on the Street,” stationed in
front of the Maccabees Building, interviewing passers-by about anything and
everything. “Walkin’“ referred to the people on the street, as Hunter
could only walk as far as his microphone cable could reach. And with the Alcove
Bar just a few feet away, I wonder how long it was before Hunter crossed paths
with an inebriated bar patron taking his invisible pet elephant for a walk.
Detroit’s first regularly scheduled TV program was WWJ-TV’s
Hudson’s Storybook, a half hour program featuring merchandise from
Detroit’s finest department store, the J.L. Hudson Company. Three years later,
WXYZ countered with Television Shoppers, a Hudson’s Storybook
clone, featuring merchandise from the bargain basement Federal Department Store
chain. Cheap appliances, shoddy furniture and flimsy housedresses galore were
featured on each episode. Nearly thirty years later, a series of mysterious
fires destroyed many of the stores in the chain, forcing Federals to close their
RAGMOP (WXYZ- 1949)
Ragmop isn’t the name of an early TV program; it’s the
name of a Peruvian Guinea Pig, one of the stars of WXYZ-TV’s first big hit, Pat
‘n’ Johnny. Hosts Pat Tobin and Johnny Slagle played records, talked
about the weather and basically ad-libbed for five hours a day, six days a week.
When Tobin and Slagle ran out of ideas, which happened quite often, Slagle would
blow on a bosun’s pipe while pointing at the TV camera.
“Don’t stop whatever you’re doing. When we think we have something
interesting I’ll blow this whistle or Pat will ring her bell. Pat, ring the
bell.” Cameraman Jim Burgin would then aim his lens on Ragmop, while the pair
figured out their next move. When the guinea pig gimmick became old hat, the TV
camera focused on a fish tank or out the window at the traffic travelling up and
down Woodward Avenue.
SAUSAGE SINEMA (WJBK- 1950)
Sausage Sinema sounds like a typical late night block
of soft-core porn on Cinemax, but believe it or not, it was an early morning
offering of animated cartoons for the kiddies. “Sausage” refers to the
show’s sponsor, Kowalski Sausage. The show gained a host in 1955 when WJBK
hired cowboy ventriloquist Sagebrush Shorty to emcee the daily sausage fest.
S. ELIOT Ph. C. (WWJ- 1956).
Speaking of cartoons, here’s an oddity from Sonny Eliot.
Airing for only a couple of months in early 1956, it appears that WWJ thought so
little of this 15 minute program that they didn’t even give it a title. The TV
listings just read “Sonny Eliot.” And
if you click here, you can see that the show’s titles just read “S. Eliot,
Ph. C., Philosopher of Cartoonery.” So what is it? 15 minutes of Sonny
ad-libbing ancient jokes over the soundtrack of equally ancient cartoons. The
second half of the show had Sonny standing in front of what can be best
described as an early version of Captain Kangaroo’s Magic Drawing Board. Sonny
would inform viewers as to what programs were coming up on Channel 4, while the
“Magic Drawing Board” drew a simple cartoon illustrating what Sonny was
talking about. The show was replaced with a weather program hosted by, who else?
STAG PARTY (WXYZ- 1951)
Each episode opened with host Don Wattrick instructing the female audience to turn to their knitting, because the next half hour belonged to the man of the house. What followed was an evening of testosterone charged entertainment full of comely lasses and risqué humor- the kind men like. Songs were provided by gorgeous blonde singer Merri Leone, backed by the Leonard Stanley Trio. The closing credits for the show were superimposed over Merri Leone’s derriere. How cheeky!