4 March: Miss Brooks’s measured climb

Eve Arden (center) rehearses with Richard Crenna (left) and Gale Gordon (right). (Photo: CBS.)

Eve Arden (center) rehearses with Richard Crenna (left) and Gale Gordon (right). (Photo: CBS.)

It’s not that anyone is going to complain, mind you. But maybe, just maybe, network radio’s most beloved high school English teacher might be even more of a hit—even allowing that television is now cutting radio ratings severely—with a slightly more advantageous scheduling.

Since luring Amos ‘n’ Andy and Jack Benny from NBC, CBS has built a formidable Sunday night lineup. Putting Eve Arden’s cheerfully sardonic but hopelessly romantic English teacher on Sunday night at 6:30 p.m. after Our Miss Brooks spent 1948 rounding into shape didn’t exactly get her suspended from school—she finished 1949-50 with an 11.0 Hooper, enough to secure her seventh place on Sunday night—but CBS could have provided her a powerful choice of lead-ins.

She was born at 9:30 on Sunday nights in 1948-49 but Helen Hayes’s anthology, The Electric Theater, wasn’t any kind of lead-in. Making her Benny’s lead-in once Jack made the jump boosted her into the night’s top ten in the first place, but could CBS have done her even better?

CBS had Benny at 7, Amos ‘n’ Andy at 7:30, The Charlie McCarthy Show at 8, and Red Skelton at 8:30. These were merely four out of the top five 1949-50 shows on Sunday night. Walter Winchell’s commentaries at 9 were the number two listen on the night—and he shared the half-hour with fellow gossip Louella Parsons at 9:15. They were also the only two ABC shows to crack the night’s top ten.

Wouldn’t you expect that Our Miss Brooks—a clever comedy in its own right, with a solid enough following in its own, but with such lead-in power as CBS’s four NBC defectors could provide—could knock both Wild Walter and Lolly down a few pegs if not out of the Sunday box entirely?

Come 1950-51, CBS kept Connie Brooks, her weekly battle of wits with the unarmed pompous principal Osgood Conklin (Gale Gordon), and her weekly battle of romantic nerves with indifferent biology teacher Philip Boynton (Jeff Chandler), at 6:30 p.m. Considering television is now pushing radio’s ratings down further, Our Miss Brooks‘ 9.8 for the season can be seen as holding even with her previous season’s 11.0, considering she stayed number six on the night.

Arden with Jeff Chandler. (Photo: CBS.)

Arden with Jeff Chandler. (Photo: CBS.)

But she helped clobber NBC’s grand last-licks bid to restore classic radio variety, The Big Show: Our Miss Brooks and Jack Benny murdered The Big Show‘s first hour. And one year later, Our Miss Brooks will sneak into the overall seasonal Top Twenty the hard way. Television will continue shoving radio’s ratings downward—the average for 1951-52 will be 8.0—but Miss Brooks and company’s 8.6 will beat the overall average for a 16th place overall finish.

And, in 1952-53—by which time Madison High’s brainily sexy English teacher migrates with the entire cast to a concurrent television slot—Our Miss Brooks will be number four in a CBS top five evening sweep.

Which bodes very well, when all is said and done, for the show whose originally intended lead blew it: Shirley Booth—Tony-winning stage star, and radio’s erstwhile Miss Duffy (Duffy’s Tavern), who got first crack at taking Connie Brooks for a spin—believed to her soul that there wasn’t anything funny about a just-shy-of-impoverished schoolteacher, a profession she respected, leaving open the door through which Eve Arden has walked from supporting player to full-blown stardom.

 

TUNE IN TONIGHT

Our Miss Brooks: Overseas Job (CBS, 1951)

Connie (Eve Arden) perks up when she learns a French education official is looking for American teachers at double their incumbent salaries—but only somewhat. She might have encouragement from Mrs. Davis (Jane Morgan) and Walter (Richard Crenna), who’ve read the same article announcing it.

But she’ll have to deal with stubborn Conklin (Gale Gordon), who’s slightly torn between stopping any such inspired faculty—and his own possible lust to join them, knowing principals are sought as well.

Harriet: Gloria McMillan. Boynton: Jeff Chandler. Announcer: Bob LaMond. Music: Wilbur Hatch. Director: Al Lewis. Writers: Al Lewis, Joe Quillan.

 

Further Channel Surfing . . .

Comedy

The Jack Benny Program: Jack Goes to the Dentist (CBS, 1951)—Jack Benny, the Beaver Boys, Joseph Kearns, Elvia Allman, Mel Blanc, Eddie Anderson, Mary Jane Croft, Sara Berner, Dennis Day, Don Wilson. Jack has to take one of the Beavers to the dentist each of them fears.

Mystery/Thriller

Suspense: The Doom Machine (CBS, 1962)—Leon Janney, Cliff Carpenter, Elaine Roth, Bernard Grant, Eugene Francis. A scientist in the 26th Century develops a method to harness solar power and needs a helpmate—so he creates a robot which proves even more distracting than his normal life events are. If this is network radio as we’ve known it’s last calendar year, this show’s doing its damnedest—B-movie lapses to the contrary—to see it out in a quiet flame of aesthetic glory.

Variety

The Big Show: Arts and Bitchcraft (NBC, 1951)—Tallulah Bankhead, Fred Allen, Clive Brooks, Portland Hoffa, Frankie Laine, Ethel Merman, Margaret Phillips, Hugh Reilly, Herb Shriner, Margaret Truman. First Daughter Truman is pleasantly unintimidated by Dame Tallulah; Allen presents an endurance award; Brooks, Phillips, and Reilly act segments from Philip Barrie’s Present Threshold; and Bankhead and Merman continue their cheerful bitchcraft.

Western

Fort Laramie: Shavetail (CBS, 1956)—Raymond Burr, Harry Bartell, Joseph Cranston, Vic Perrin, Jack Moyles, John Dehner. When Siebert’s mission is ambushed by Cheyenne renegades, Quince is forced to determine how to throttle the renegades without starting a war against the Cheyenne chief with whom he keeps a sometimes uneasy peace. Here’s proof this show’s postumous reputation for stern intelligence is earned to the last penny.

Gunsmoke: The Hunter (CBS, 1956)—William Conrad, Nestor Briva, Harry Bartell, Georgia Ellis, Parley Baer, Sam Edwards. Dillon has his hands full with old adversary Murdoch, who’s pining for his old freelancing buffalo hunting years, bullying a younger man, and planning to poach Indian buffalo—unnerving a Dillon who remembers him attacking Indians wantonly in the past. Solid.

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