25 February: Ugga-ugga-doom

The Man of a Thousand Voices (and probably half as many classic  support roles on radio) came up short at the head of his own show. (Photo: NBC/KGO)

The Man of a Thousand Voices (and probably half as many classic support roles on radio) came up short at the head of his own show. (Photo: NBC/KGO)

Maybe one of old-time radio’s great mysteries is how and why Mel Blanc—whose vocal genius was almost as prolific on the air as on Warner Brothers’ already-immortal cartoons—proved unable to cut muster when he landed his own comedy show for the 1946-47 season.

It should have been a natural. Blanc was a master at voicing the paradoxes in characters. Was there ever a man so perpetually on the brink of a nervous breakdown as the Happy Postman? (The Burns & Allen Show.) Was there ever a man less likely to inspire travel than the stationmaster working himself into a state—and coming thisclose to shanghai-ing people at gunpoint—to board the train for Anaheim, Azusa, and Cuc—amonga? And could anyone but Blanc have vocalised a classic car devoled to a perpetual wreck-waiting-to-happen the way he did to Jack Benny’s infamous Maxwell?

Casting Blanc as an appliance repair shopman who should have been in any profession but the fixit business should have been as no-brainer as Bugs Bunny chomping his carrot in the pregnant pause before the signature, “Eh, what’s up, Doc?” Surrounding him with Mary Jane Croft as his love interest, Joe Kearns as her obstructive father, Hans Conreid as Blanc’s Zebra lodge president, and the pick of Hollywood’s Radio Row litter, The Mel Blanc Show should have been bank.

Mel Blanc Show adThe bank was robbed. The show proved passable at best, and Blanc—for all his talents—proved unable to carry a half-hour comedy by himself. Colgate-Palmolive-Peet, which sponsored the show for Colgate toothpaste (er, dental cream, as the product was called at the time), probably figured not even root canal would be enough to save the hodgepodge. CBS, which put the show on the air, would have to wait a little longer for positive answers to its prayers for a comedy presence equal to its dramatic and news presence, on Tuesday night or otherwise.

The Mel Blanc Show never proved even a tiny ratings factor in its Tuesday night time slot at 8:30, where Blanc and company couldn’t even take advantage of a decent lead-in from Big Town at 8:00 p.m. with its 13.7 Hooper rating on the season. NBC’s A Date with Judy (13.1) dominated the 8:30 time slot; Blanc and his friends couldn’t even sneak past Mutual’s The Adventures of the Falcon‘s 8.6 rating.

Quite likely, the show’s inconsistent writing was its most immediate downfall, but Blanc really was out of his element to a considerable degree. It’s no disgrace to say he wasn’t half as deft carrying his own show as he was providing all those remarkable supporting radio characters and those immortal cartoon characters in shorter-range performances.

The Mel Blanc Show proved a blink that couldn’t get anywhere near destroying Blanc’s proper legacy, but now and then future listeners might listen to the surviving full-season run and mourn because, now and then, there was something there.

 

TUNE IN TONIGHT:
The Mel Blanc Show: The Comedy Team (CBS, 1947)

That’s what Mel (Blanc) thinks will entertain a visiting Zebra Lodge grand caliph, well enough to impress Betty’s (Mary Jane Croft) father (Joseph Kearns)—and enough, perhaps, that the old man will let Mel take Betty to the upcoming big dance. This is, indeed, one of the show’s installments that does make you think something was there that deserved a better fate.

Additional cast: Hans Conreid, Alan Reed, Joe Walker. Music: Victor Miller Orchestra, the Sports Men Quartet. Director: Joe Rines. Writer: Mac Benoff.

Further Channel Surfing . . .

Fibber McGee & Molly: Fibber’s Bottle Collection (comedy; NBC, 1941)
The Charlie McCarthy Show: Guest—Gene Tierney (comedy; NBC, 1945)
Lux Radio Theater: Thunderhead (dramatic anthology; CBS, 1946)
Boston Blackie: Joe Delivers the Goods (crime drama; Mutual, 1947)
Fibber McGee & Molly: Fibber Fixes a Window (comedy; NBC, 1947)
The Jimmy Durante Show: Jimmy and Victor Go to a Racetrack (comedy; NBC, 1948)
Bold Venture: The Man from Sumatra (adventure; syndicated, 1952)
Fibber McGee & Molly: The Eight-Year-Old Newspaper (comedy; NBC, 1954)
Philco Radio Time: Your Flop Parade, Revisited (music/variety; NBC, 1954)

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