Music on TV

IN CONCERTMidnight Special and Rock Concert will herald mutations, they’ll create new music concepts after they themselves are long retired. Dick Clark foresees pop musicians in a latter-day Carol Burnett Show format with twenty million viewers. Denny Cordell, President of Shelter Records and Leon Russell’s producer, goes even further in forecasting the eventual formation of a rock and roll television network. Whatever the future holds, you’ve only to watch and listen to what’s already a reality, to realize these predictions are merely a sign of the times. Rock and roll music will not self-destruct in the Seventies. On the contrary, pop music’s future will bring with it no restrictions and be limited only to the unlimited.

The History

ROCK HAS always been TV’s prodigal son. From the beginning it was ignored whenever possible. In the early fifties all the established media were wary of rock & roll; TV no less than radio, old against young in the most basic terms, and also white against black, conservatism against change, the whole number. Early rock ‘n’ roll was a threat to all standards of propriety and had no place on television where the only showcase for popular music, outside of variety shows, was The Lucky Strike Hit Parade, where Al “Snooky” Lanson and the other regulars performed their interpretations of the top ten songs each week. It was the song not the singer, but when the charts began to fill up with rude sounds and screaming rhythm & blues records, it was more than the format could cope with.

Reluctantly, rock ‘n’ roll was allowed on television in something approximating its actual form. And right away the name Dick Clark comes up, as it has ever since whenever the subject of rock on TV is raised. As early as 1956 he was presenting authentic rock ‘n’ roll music on his afternoon record hops in Philadelphia. Hit records and clean-cut dancing teenagers proved to be a winning formula, and Clark moved on and up in the world, first to Saturday afternoons on the ABC network, then Saturday nights.

As the show became more successful it began featuring homegrown Philadelphia singers in whom the local record moguls had a vested interest Frankie Avalon, Fabian, etc. But Clark never ignored the originators; he gave America its first view of Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, the Cadillacs, the Orioles, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, in fact just about everybody who was making records in those days.

Dick Clark took what was then a controversial position in maintaining that rock & roll was completely innocent and harmless, that teenagers should be encouraged in their desire for independence. His own respectability and the wholesome image of his show were instrumental in making rock & roll acceptable, for whatever good or bad that represented.

One undeniably positive effect of Clark’s success was the proliferation of local dance shows it inspired. Once the format of kids dancing to records and mimed performances was an established rating-puller, all manner of experiments with the format were allowed. Things took place on local shows that would never have been tolerated on Bandstand, local groups and scenes were strengthened, new dance styles were able to develop and spread as never before. With their first introduction to the medium of television, teenagers had immediately turned it to their own purposes.

Saturday afternoon dance shows survived, as did Clark, through the early sixties. Having weathered the payola scandals of 1960 relatively unscathed, Clark emerged as undisputed king of rock presentation, while others like Alan Freed weren’t so lucky. If Dick Clark was responsible for bringing rock & roll to television, Freed deserves the credit for getting it on the radio, way back in the earliest ’50s. Freed’s gut-felt commitment to the music was probably greater than Clark’s, but Clark, with his degree in business administration, had the know-how to put it across in a truly big way and to sidestep whatever obstacles were placed in his path. So he survived and prospered while America danced the Twist and the Beatles were backing Tony Sheridan at the Star Club in Hamburg.

As a general rule, television has been pierced only by the peaks of rock’s ascendancy. The greater the stir in the rock cosmos, the larger its proportionate influence on the tube. Just as everyone was getting very sick of the Twist, the Beatles came along and catalyzed everything. Suddenly tangible dollars could be seen accruing to anyone connected with this new phenomenon, and television opened its arms. Ed Sullivan, who had been among the first to present Elvis, gave the Beatles repeated exposure, along with the Dave Clark Five and selected others. Ratings leaped so prodigiously that it was obvious some means had to be found to get more of this stuff on the screen.

Shindig debuted in 1965. The brainchild of British impresario Jack Good, who had pioneered rock TV in England and truly loved the music, it was sold to ABC and was an instant success. The format borrowed much from Dick Clark: a well-groomed, genial host named Jimmy O’Neill who could ask musicians their names and demonstrate Stridex Medicated Pads with equal facility, and a regular cast of dancers who developed loyal followings in their own right. Beyond that, the show was a fast-paced cavalcade of music, jumping from one group to another, one song to the next, constantly abetted by a well-used scream machine. In its time, Shindig presented an incredible array of talent, esoteric as well as popular, in addition to launching the careers of Leon Russell, the Righteous Brothers, Sonny & Cher, Glen Campbell, Bobby Sherman, Delaney Bramlett and Donna Loren. And all on prime time-Wednesday evening television.

The show became so popular it was expanded to two nights a week, by which time competition had raised its head. NBC had launched Hullabaloo, which in many respects was the Midnight Special of its time. It emphasized the trappings of rock excitement, in a more controlled and family-oriented setting, hosted by a different celebrity each week — often someone bearing no relevance to the world of rock & roll.

Inevitably, the camel’s back was broken. One prime-time, all rock show on television was unprecedented enough; there wasn’t room for three every week. So they cancelled them both. Meanwhile, rock was flourishing on Saturday mornings, where once again local dance shows were the rage. The years 1964-67 saw an astonishing profusion of regional music scenes, thousands of groups who put out and sold records successfully in their own tristate areas without causing a ripple in the national scene. So a show like Upbeat in Cleveland could present local sensations like the Choir, the Human Beinz, and the Fenways, while Shivaree or Hollywood A-Go-Go showcased the Lollipop Shoppe, the Spats, or Cannibal & the Headhunters. Shows of this sort came out of New York, Seattle, Dallas, Chicago, Philadelphia — everywhere. And the strangest thing of all was that they were all syndicated and shown around the country, so that you could sit in front of the TV on Saturday and spend a whole day watching groups from the other side of the country perform hits you never heard of.

This in turn died when the regional scenes dried up in ’67 and the remaining groups became too self-consciously hip to lip-sync on dance shows. Only Dick Clark remained, as always, and as always he was doing great. He even started a second show, which ran for years, called Where The Action Is. This show took in a number of groups such as Paul Revere & the Raiders, Don & the Goodtimes, Keith Allison and The Robbs, and attempted to make them into successful stars by repeated exposure. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t.

At the same time, another guy named Don Kirshner was trying a similar idea with a group called the Monkees. Kirshner had made his mark in the early ’60s using songwriters like Carole King and Neil Sedaka to pen hits for the teens of the time. Now, using many of the same writers and new ones including Neil Diamond and Boyce & Hart, along with the best studio musicians, he contrived to create a group with the ideal teen-appeal image on screen and faultless hit records, even if none of it was real. And it worked, creating in turn the Archies, Lancelot Link and endless variations on the theme.

Meanwhile rock had grown up, and with the San Francisco sound had become very chic. So you saw groups like the Jefferson Airplane and the Strawberry Alarm Clock on The Andy Williams Show, The Smothers Bros. Show, and other prime time variety shows, even if only for one song performed over the studio PA and sounding terrible.

Progressive rock was making a big splash in the late ’60s, and a lot of people felt it deserved more than guest shot appearances on TV. So ABC, always the first network to try something new, initiated a show called Music Scene, in which groups appeared in an informal studio setting, along with comedy bits by the Committee and monologues from comedian David Steinberg. But many people found the format too rigid; and Music Scene was quickly cancelled.

So the ’70s were here, and rock was bigger than ever in terms of sales and the number of groups around, but television was taking no notice, perhaps because the music had become too diffuse and reached a creative plateau where there was little of the media excitement that had been generated by England and San Francisco in their times.

The networks were approached from time to time by individuals with plans for rock shows, but they weren’t buying, not even when Dick Clark presented his proposal for a show to be called In Concert. Several months later, however, a man named Bob Shanks was given the job of beefing up ABC’s late night programming. In place of The Dick Cavett Show he initiated a rotating series of specials called “Wide World of Entertainment,” which included a rock show entitled — In Concert.

IN CONCERT

“Dick was a little uptight when I got the show.”
— Don Kirshner

In Concert gets points as the forerunner. The first to present live music in a concert setting with regularly scheduled network programs. Considering what the show has opened the door to, we’ll be in ABC’s debt for a long time to come.

But the concept of In Concert was proposed long before ABC-TV was in the market for it. As Bill Lee of Dick Clark Productions tells it, his firm presented a format for a live music show over two years ago. “We even suggested the title In Concert,” continues Lee, who was very surprised when, several months after the Dick Clark proposal was shelved, ABC accepted a similar package with another production team. “Dick was a little uptight when I got the show,” admits Don Kirshner, who guided the production of the early In Concert programs.

The confusion and problems surrounding In Concert‘s birth seem more attributable to coincidence than conspiracy. Bob Shanks, ABC’s Vice President in charge of late night programming, was the man who made the decision. He admits, “the idea for an In Concert show preceded my coming here. I know there were several presentations made.” Shanks notes that a contemporary music show as part of the ABC “Wide World of Entertainment” series was “decided on pretty early within the programming department.” But when the final decision was made, it was Kirshner, not Clark, who got the nod. Shanks hired Kirshner as executive producer, David Yarnell as live producer and a previous co-worker, Don Mischer, as initial director (Mischer had worked before with Shanks on the award-winning NET series The Great American Dream Machine).

Don Kirshner came to his position at ABC with impressive credentials from the music business. A fifteen year leader in the record industry, Kirshner was no idle choice. But then Dick Clark was hardly a novice in pop music society either, and certainly no schoolboy when it came to the presentation of music on television. And his more than twenty-year association with the ABC network is a tradition to be reckoned with, surviving four television lifetimes and bucking for a fifth. It wasn’t two shows into In Concert before Kirshner was feeling the Clark clout.

“The first calls from the network went ‘let Dick do a show,’ then ‘let Dick do another show,’ and so on. When I started, In Concert was supposed to be my gig,” Kirshner recalls with great regard for the circumstances surrounding his eventual ousting. “Dick Clark was a friend of mine.”

David Yarnell, Kirshner’s producer, says the key element he and Don were looking to capture with In Concert was the total environment of a concert, complete with all the loose and informal elements that make for spontaneous audience response and interplay. The television taboo which dictates monitors be offstage and mike wires hidden was done away with. “Why hide them?” asks Yarnell. Kirshner’s intention, like Clark’s subsequently, was to create total realism in a concert setting, with no lip-syncing, edits or overdubbing.

After the first In Concert shows, taped at Hofstra University in New York, Kirshner and his people did two from Madison Square Garden. These were to be the last for which he would have total creative control. Kirshner is particularly fond of pointing to one of these shows, featuring artists who were “four virtual unknowns nationally at that time,” that he cites as a prime example of network blindness.

“That show is a focal point for one issue which made the ABC situation one of great frustration,” says Kirshner. “The network executives used to call and say, ‘Edgar Winter, the Doobie Bros., War and Jim Croce — there’s no star there to draw the crowds!’ ” Kirshner submits that the network had very little understanding or sensitivity for music, or for his position that “you’ve gotta go with the new people.” After the two Madison Square Garden shows, Don Kirshner served as “creative consultant” for another eight In Concert shows, but never regained total creative control. ABC was at the wheel now.

One of the shows that materialized during this transitional period was Dick Clark’s 20 Years of Rock & Roll. That particular show, which was an amalgam of more than 40 American Bandstand segments spanning two decades, turned out to be the highest ranking ABC “Wide World” show up to that point, and it remains among the top contenders for all-time high ratings. It was rerun three months later, over New Year’s, and again fared well in the rating battle.

The handwriting was on the wall; Kirshner knew his days at ABC were numbered. Since he had no exclusive contract with ABC, except for an executive producer or creative consultant title, his fate was assured. Kirshner was phased from In Concert, although to this day he retains a credit line at the end of each show. Kirshner says, with an almost-greedy tone, “I probably have more hours on TV now than anyone, since I am in fact still creative consultant for In Concert, with screen credit and payment, and Rock Concert is ours, which gives me three hours a week.” Bill Lee, In Concert‘s current producer under Dick Clark, clarifies Kirshner’s involvement, calling his contribution “absolutely nil” — his title is merely a title, bringing dollars but no responsibility.

It was roughly October 10, 1973 that arrangements for Dick Clark to take over In Concert as executive producer were concluded. ABC’s Bob Shanks felt involvement would give the network what he termed “continuity to all the shows,” as henceforth half of them were to be created by Clark, the others produced exclusively by ABC in the East. Kirshner attributes ABC’s desire to have total control the major factor in his termination. Co-producer Yarnell calls the whole affair “an internal situation. They demanded ownership of the show. They wanted to make it an in-house thing instead of an outside package.” Yarnell left ABC with Kirshner.

After the appointment of Dick Clark, the duties of direction and live producer were assumed by Bill Lee, who had worked with Clark for several years, on Where The Action Is and other projects. Contradicting both Yarnell and Kirshner, Lee says that network interference is not a factor; it seems that while ABC has ultimate approval of the booking and other programming matters, there has never been a direct confrontation. Bob Shanks, to whom both Lee and Clark are answerable where ABC is concerned, is described by Lee as “a very fair and sensitive man who is cognizant of what goes on.” Lee further refutes Kirshner’s assessment, stating that ABC and Shanks in particular are “aware of acts, who is right and who is not right.”

In fact, says Lee, ABC does not interfere in the way In Concert is executed. If there are disagreements, they are discussed amicably and put aside until a mutual settlement can be made. Furthermore, while on paper ABC produced 50% of the shows, Lee states that “we actually function as producers on all the shows.” Shanks, however, is quite explicit. “Half the shows originate from him (Clark) and the others from ABC. Usually the ABC shows are back to back, then Clark’s appear back to back.” The question appears to be one of semantics, stemming from whose logo appears on the credits. However the distribution of responsibilities actually lies, it’s clear that Dick Clark is totally involved, and if Shanks is any barometer, he’s likely to stay that way as long as there is an In Concert.

Apparently ABC has scored well with their “Wide World of Entertainment” potpourri, and these were points desperately needed as ABC’s ratings in that particular late night time period have traditionally been the worst. ABC’s third position is understandable when you consider they’re up against CBS’s “Movie of the Week” and NBC’s Tonight Show. Shanks claims that WWE has “doubled our audience,” and goes on to credit In Concert as “an enormous factor” in the rating increase. Citing still additional news, ABC’s late-night white knight claims, “we didn’t necessarily steal any numbers from NBC or CBS, but rather attracted new viewers.” Shanks’ philosophy suggests a very large percentage of In Concert viewers, most of them very young, were not previously late night viewers.

It’s a show business fact of life, these ratings. And ratings are a very subjective and controversial subject matter, whose interpretation varies from one source to the next. There’s one fact which remains constant no matter who’s doing the speculating though, and Dick Clark echoes the immortal postulate with a time worn authoritative tone:

“We live and die by our numbers, buddy.”

Blindly accepting this premise, you must further realize that very often the numbers have nothing to do with the entertainment value or lack of it in a given show, in any fair proportion, and are affected by matters as wide-ranging as the weather (you get significantly more viewers on a Friday night if it’s raining, for instance). We’ll investigate those magical ratings later. Meanwhile, In Concert and the others are still above water, for the present at least.

DON KIRSHNER’S ROCK CONCERT

“So I decided to set out and do a show of my own…”
— Don Kirshner

WHEN DON Kirshner was shown the door by ABC, he had every intention of maintaining his foothold in the national rock TV marketplace. “Mike Douglas told me of the power of syndication and the financial rewards involved,” says Kirshner. On Douglas’ advice, Kirshner contacted the Viacom Corporation, a former subsidiary of CBS, now the independent giant of syndication. Viacom books such evergreen local hits as Hee Haw and The Lawrence Welk Show, which like The Mike Douglas Show are enjoying even greater success in some parts of the country than during their network days.

This time there was no mincing positions: the show would be called Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. The initial weeks were slow, with Viacom clearing just 20, then 30 and 40 local station affiliates, but all that changed drastically following the first three shows. These initial airings featured the Rolling Stones, the Allman Brothers, and Van Morrison. “Overnight we enlisted an incredible line-up, acquiring over 122 local stations,” Kirshner proudly recalls. When Rock Concert started just over a year ago, it was a bi-weekly presentation, but “because of the show’s incredible success,” boasts Kirshner, “we went weekly.”

Unlike either In Concert or Midnight Special, Rock Concert is what’s known in the trade as a “barter show.” This means the stations who air it locally don’t pay any production, recording or union broadcast fees. “It’s a freebie,” says one of Kirshner’s critics. And, unlike the other shows, there is no network budget, to dip into; all expenses come out of Kirshner’s pocket. The local stations provide Kirshner with a specified number of commercial minutes in each show, and it’s up to him to recoup all the costs and realize whatever profit he can by selling this time to national accounts. On the average, he has about six minutes per show to sell.

Don Kirshner functions as executive producer of Rock Concert, operating from New York where he also maintains a record company, music publishing and other interests. David Yarnell, who moved with Kirshner from ABC, produces and directs the show out of Metromedia Studios in Hollywood. According to him, sales are “better than ever,” with such accounts as Bristol Myers and Dodge as “solid sponsors” who retain youth-oriented concepts in marketing.

Yarnell feels the localization of Rock Concert, in terms of the number of affiliates who broadcast the show, is one of their biggest plus factors. “A hot show like Hollywood Squares is in something like 90 markets,” he points out. “We have over 100, that’ll give you some idea of Rock Concert‘s acceptance.”

But these local affiliates can be a mixed blessing, and are nearly impossible to keep track of city to city. In Los Angeles, Rock Concert is aired over Metromedia’s KTTV-TV on Saturday nights at ten; in Dallas it’s on Sunday evenings at seven through KTVT. Rock Concert is allied with many network affiliates as well, like Westinghouse’s KYW-TV in Philadelphia. It’s shown on Saturday nights there, on the same station that had Midnight Special the night before.

“When they aired that first Kirshner show with the Rolling Stones,” says Ed Sciaky of WMMR, Philadelphia’s leading FM station, “they ran it at 2:30 in the morning; evidently they didn’t realize what they had!” Rock Concert is normally on at 11:30 Saturday nights now, part of an alternative potpourri called Saturday Night At The Groovies, a three or four hour program featuring films by W.C. Fields, the Marx Bros, and other standbys of surefire hip acceptance.

But in Pittsburgh it’s another story altogether. Rock Concert is broadcast from Stubenville, Ohio, just over the state line, some forty miles from downtown Pittsburgh. While generally accepted as a Pittsburgh station, its signal doesn’t totally penetrate the market and only a fraction of the local population can receive the show. This is a prime example of how syndication ends up in markets smaller than Los Angeles, New York or Chicago; cities that don’t have the luxury of six or seven local stations as alternatives. Hence, Rock Concert must settle for third best as the network affiliates will give priority to the other shows.

In Chicago, Rock Concert has the good fortune to be affiliated with the CBS-owned and operated station and has the further advantage of an 11:30 time slot on Friday nights, the same night as both ABC’s In Concert and NBC’s Midnight Special. The AM button pushers of 1963 never had it this good. New York is also prime territory for Rock Concert. For all the show’s shortcomings in other markets, a prime time early evening slot (8:30) on Saturday nights over Metromedia’s WNEW-TV-in this city which accounts for 10% of the nation’s population-is a very large asset.

The real disadvantage presented by Rock Concert‘s syndication is the lack of uniformity among the many independent stations, that carry the show. It’s not uncommon for a station to pre-empt Rock Concert without notice, and a shifting of airtime periods combined with constant reruns and poor station promotion has led to increasing audience indifference. One viewer in Houston said, “Rock Concert started off as the best and most creative of the lot, though lately there’s been some real turkeys…”

But then Rock Concert neither suffers nor benefits from the public’s traditionally fickle taste buds, as normally reflected in rating or opinion polls like those of the ARB or Pulse. While the network broadcasts live or die by the number of viewers these charts say are out there, Rock Concert can’t really be judged accurately by these rating methods, as it’s impossible to get a true fix on the show with its fluctuation in programming from market to market. Also, there are different Rock Concert segments shown in different cities each week. So no one really knows to what extent Rock Concert is or is not effective on a national scale. However, according to a six week survey conducted by Phonograph Record in even major cities, of those who watch the three music shows, only 10% said they tune in Rock Concert regularly.

Whatever success the show has realized in its short time on the air can be directly traced, at least in part, to the first shows with the Rolling Stones and the Allman Brothers. Like its competitors. Rock Concert‘s budget allows for only union scale payment to the artists who appear, so money was not the reason an act like the Allmans agreed to perform. Besides the fact that Phil Walden (President of Capricorn Records) was doing Kirshner a favor by allowing the Allmans to appear, there were certain conditions Rock Concert agreed to fulfill that, according to Walden, “pretty much allowed us to produce the show we wanted.”

The second Rock Concert show, which aired last September, featured an all-Capricorn line-up including the Marshall Tucker Band, Wet Willie and Martin Mull, in addition to the Allman Bros. It was unique in that not only were all the artists part of one label, but the show was also taped live, on location in Atlanta.

“What the people saw on that show in the end result was a very honest representation of a live performance by these artists,” said Walden. He then amended that, saying the product was “as honest as this medium’s limited technology currently allows the transmission of sound.” While the Allman show was totally in line with what the group and producers involved wanted, and Walden reflects back on the show as successful, he says “we’re not going to do another one until someone can come up with another idea or concept for the presentation of live music on television. What we have available to us now is just not imaginative enough and leaves so much to be desired, and this is true of all three of these shows.” Walden admits that he has no solution to the problem at this time, but concludes that “television simply hasn’t grown up with rock and roll.”

Rock Concert‘s format, down to the show’s title, is patterned to a great extent after In Concert. It’s only natural that Kirshner would adopt a format he claims credit for pioneering. Since leaving In Concert, he feels the show has changed slightly or gotten away from what he initially saw as the proper orientation. “For example,” says Kirshner, “Clark has brought himself and several disc jockeys in as host from time to time. We prefer to do it in the raw concert form. He brought in a dance group, he’s having a comedy act. These are things I didn’t do, nor wanted to do.”

Kirshner believes he made the marketplace a reality by creating the In Concert show for ABC in the first place (“I proved I could bring in the ratings”), which is why he felt justified in demanding the freedom to “do my own thing creatively,” as he puts it. Kirshner feels that what Rock Concert is now and what it will be by next season is only the beginning. “I have things in the works, and I’m sure Dick and Bert (Sugarman, Midnight Special) do as well.”

One of those “things” he refers to must be simulcasting. Yarnell says Viacom will be responsible for setting up a chain of FM stations over the next few months to carry the audio portion of Rock Concert in stereo locally. “It will probably all happen around September,” predicted Yarnell, who also mentioned the possibility that some of the same stations who now simulcast ABC’s In Concert may also carry Rock Concert. Presumably they won’t include Boston’s WBCN-FM, whose program director Norm Winer stated unequivocally, “Kirshner’s show sucks.”

THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL

“I was probably the first person to put rock and roll on television.
— Stan Harris

STAN HARRIS is both director and producer of NBC’s Midnight Special, and he sets most of the show’s policies, although final decisions belong to executive producer Bert Sugarman, who also produces a variety of daytime game shows. Harris’ involvement with pop music dates back to 1954 when he hosted a Canadian pop show called Hit Parade.

He also directed the highly acclaimed Smothers Brothers Show on which, says Harris, “we were determined to feature contemporary rock and roll.” The early Smothers shows awakened the television industry to the power and potential of contemporary music programming, and the music industry to the power of television. “One example I can recall was a group Tommy had seen called the Turtles,” said Harris. “They came on the show with ‘Happy Together’ and the following week the record went to No.1.” Peter, Paul & Mary went top ten with ‘Day Is Done’, a song actually recorded live on one of the Smothers Brothers shows. When they performed a previously unknown, two-year-old album track called ‘Leaving On a Jet Plane’ on the show, public demand caused it to be released as a single that went gold and gave John Denver one of his first major writing credits.

After CBS’s controversial cancellation of the Smothers Brothers Show, Harris decided to pursue the music aspect further and went over to ABC where he initiated the now-infamous Music Scene. “I learned a lot of what not to do on Midnight Special from that show,” Harris admits, noting that the show’s greatest mistake was misplaced programming for the time period. “It should have been a teenybopper show in a Monday night 7:30 time slot. We should never have presented the strange music-comedy juxtaposition we did.” The original concept for Music Scene, incidentally, came from Tommy Smothers.

Music Scene was endowed with many gifts, though they were hard to recognize at the time. The first show featured Janis Joplin and Crosby Stills & Nash, which was all right for openers. But that first show also featured the Archies, Buck Owens, Tom Jones and Tony Bennett! The teenyboppers weren’t going for it, and the parents didn’t buy the concept either. Music Scene was doomed from its first bang-shang-a-lang to its last doobie doobie doo.

A CBS programming expert advised Harris that if everyone interested in pop music were to watch a given music program, the show could pull a 20% share of the market, at prime time. “And he was right, Music Scene did pull 20%, but you need at least a 30 share to justify the prime time period.” So when Stan Harris had the opportunity to put together Midnight Special for NBC, he knew what he was up against with the inevitable battle for ratings.

In the record industry a million record sales is considered exceptionally good. If a record sells four million (and few have) it’s considered phenomenal. Carole King sold seven million copies of Tapestry, an all-time record. But, in the words of Stan Harris, seven million television viewers is nothing. “You’ll die with those numbers.” So he had to find another way of reaching a television mass with an entertainment form known to be “special interest” by definition. And there was a solution. “One a.m. was a brilliant concept for Midnight Special,” Harris says in view of the show’s recent success. “Even if I were offered the 11:30 time slot I wouldn’t take it,” he states emphatically. “Go to any of the movies on Friday or Saturday night at that time, go to the Roxy, go anywhere and you’ll see hordes of people out on the town. No, I wanted a time slot that would get them when they were home.”

At 1:00, only a test pattern threatens Midnight Special on ABC, and the show is in fact reaching a maximum share of the viewing audience at that time. Furthermore, since it is so late at night, Midnight Special is in an extremely low-priced commercial time period. “So now everybody’s happy,” enthuses Harris, “the network is making money, we’re making money, the sponsors are saving money. And it’s found money, like finding something that wasn’t there before.”

On the surface, Midnight Special would seem to be the big winner of the three national music shows; even in the enemies’ camp it’s a recognized fact. “Midnight Special is very inexpensive television, delivering an audience of broad scope, of young and old people,” says Dick Clark. “Even if only five people watched it would be a good buy, the time is so reasonable. But a lot of people watch. It’s a very successful format,” Clark ruefully acknowledges. “It was a stroke of genius for Bert to schedule his show in class Z time when there ain’t nobody out there to compete with you.”

Midnight Special clearly has the edge with their time slot. And it’s the alternative TV music show, since it differs greatly from Rock Concert and In Concert, which both attempt to reproduce an actual concert situation. Unlike them. Midnight Special advocates refined staging techniques. Even the unsophisticated viewer notices the props, sets, lights and production applications which are virtually absent from In Concert and Rock Concert.

There is undeniably a greater sense of theater on Midnight Special. Bill Lee, producer/director of In Concert, dubs Harris’ theatric approach “the A-Go-Go of the seventies.” Don Kirshner says Midnight Special is “a variety show” which, in contrast to Rock Concert, is competing in “a completely different ball park.” David Yarnell sees it as being “more dressed up,” which he admits is effective in certain instances. “I would love to have done that David Bowie show,” he says with a tone of unmistakable jealousy.

What You See and Hear

THE PRODUCERS of In Concert, Rock Concert and Midnight Special agree on one point: they need big names, the stars get the mass viewers they must have to stay on the air. Some are more successful than others in luring the stars, but none are able to book the best on every show.

Each show has its own booking policy and a philosophy to support it. On the question of booking new talent, you’ll find In Concert and Rock Concert far less liberal than Midnight Special. “We rarely use new artists,” says Dick Clark, “only if an act offers something very unique musically or visually, or of novelty value.” Some viewers and many people in the record industry are unhappy with the In Concert approach, but Clark reminds these people that “contemporary music is always fighting for its life on television. If you book unknowns or an act that appeals to just one level of interest, you’ll lose the masses and eventually go off the air.”

But In Concert has gone out on the limb a few times, more so in recent weeks. Some examples: Bobby Sandler (2/1/74), Isis (2/22/74), and Kiss (3/25/74). Those watching the latter show most likely had their first exposure to Kiss. An ABC press release read, “Kiss, a new group which performs in heavy, stylized make-up under a blazing neon ‘Kiss’ sign, rocks through the numbers ‘Nothin’ To Lose’, ‘Firehouse’ and ‘Black Diamond’.” Bill Lee: “We put Kiss on the show even before they had any kind of record play, based on the fact they were great sounding, wore makeup and were wild looking. With things like a levitating drum platform, they’re very appealing visually, and you must remember this is a visual medium. Any time we can find an act like Kiss that are appealing visually on top of sounding great, it’s gonna help the show.”

While Rock Concert is almost as strict about not scheduling unknown artists, and basically in agreement with the In Concert booking philosophy, when they do present a new act it’s not necessarily because of visual appeal. Producer David Yarnell shuns Lee’s emphasis on theatrics, saying that Rock Concert “never books artists based just on frills and gimmicks. The music is what most people care about and it’s the music that will continue to be important.” He doesn’t discount the value of “gimmicks” or “visuals” per se, though: “The Beatles had long hair and that got them attention, but in the end it was the music that made them what they were.”

Rock Concert books more new artists than In Concert, but they do so based on an educated anticipation of what artists and recordings will be high in the charts by the time a given show eventually airs (the shows are taped six weeks in advance). So by the time Rock Concert (or either of the others for that matter) is seen by the public, what was an unheard-of act at the time of taping may well be a star if Don Kirshner’s predictions prove accurate. “Booking name talent is easy, you don’t have to be a genius — you look at the top of the charts. But I like to book artists I think are on the verge of breaking big. I check airplay reports for new additions, follow the lower chart listings, and then make a calculated judgment.”

Glancing back over some of his “calculations,” Kirshner has been right more times than he’s been wrong, and in fact he’s anticipated a great deal. “When I booked Earth Wind & Fire I thought they were going to have a gold album. And you know, a couple of months afterward they broke through and got that gold album.”

But following the lower chart regions is not always a safe method of predicting hits; even early airplay doesn’t necessarily reveal what is or is not going to sell. “It’s touch and go,” explains Kirshner, “a record can come on the charts at 80 the first week and get no higher than 60; if you went with that act, you’ve blown it.” So Kirshner relies on additional booking aids and the opinions of certain music industry leaders whose observations he respects. “With me it’s not a single person’s effort,” he reveals. “People like Frank Barcelona and Shep Gordon, who let me have Alice Cooper for the show, have been invaluable. I give these people credit as music and record coordinators where nobody else has.”

If it’s new artists you’re looking for, you’ll want to avoid In Concert and Rock Concert. Midnight Special is what you need. Susan Richards, who is talent coordinator for the show, makes the preliminary booking decisions, and Harris relies on her judgment to a great extent. According to him, she applies many of the same concepts as Kirshner and Yarnell, in attempting to anticipate tomorrow’s hits. He recalls with pride the case of Stories:

“‘Brother Louie’ wasn’t even on the charts when she booked the group. After listening to the record and consulting several radio tip sheets and taking into account other factors, she reached a conclusion,” says Harris. “We book the show three weeks ahead of taping, which proceeds the air date by another three weeks. When the show with Stories aired they were in the top thirty with the single en route to number one.” But looking over some of Midnight Special‘s past shows, it’s been a rare occasion when Susan’s prognostications have followed a similar course.

Midnight Special has programmed some very unlikely talent, to put it mildly. And it’s easy to see that many booking decisions have been subjective and personal. For example. Midnight Special‘s first and 14th shows featured Kenny Rankin, a folkie holdover from Smothers days who has never been a successful recording act. The fourth Midnight Special, which aired on Feb. 23 of last year, lists a Karrie Biddell, show 7 has a Bobby Numm, Jim Weatherly and Frank Walker on No. 10, David Brenner on No. 11, Andrew Johnson on No. 14, Kenny Colman on No. 15, and Sydney Jordon on No. 18. Shows 19, 20, 21, and 28 had Lakshmi Shankar, Tufano-Giammarese, Barbara Fairchild, Jimmie Spheeris, Maxine Weldon, Bud Brisbois, and Alan Vursky — a collection of artists who have never been high on any chart, and whose gold records following their appearance on Midnight Special have not been forthcoming. And if you investigate the programming line-up more closely, you find a couple of dozen other virtual nonentities. And, believe it or not, many of them have been asked back a second time, following their initial failure!

In reality, the booking philosophy of Midnight Special seems to come down to a matter of personal bias to a far greater extent than on Rock Concert or In Concert. Those familiar with The Smothers Brothers Show and Music Scene will recognize certain non-commercial acts and stand-up comedians that Stan Harris has been supporting for years, in an attempt to promote his own ideal of a musi-comedy variety show. In fact, one can easily see his visions of a Stan Harris Mega-Pop Variety Extravaganza coming through in Midnight Special. It’s a good thing he’s got that 1:00 time slot, with its guaranteed audience, although how they manage to keep that audience awake with some of these shows remains a mystery. If, as rumored, Dick Clark ever moves into that period, Midnight Special is going to have to find a new philosophy fast, or go the way of Music Scene and Hit Parade. As for now, to quote Stan Harris, “our main competitor is sleep.”

The producers of all three music shows demonstrate a consistent belief in the validity of combining different musical styles on the same program. Progressive artists with R&B, country and pop, R&B and MOR, jazz and pop; there are limitless variations. Some combinations can be very effective in exposing certain forms of music to new audiences.

“It’s a great thing,” says Andy Meyer, head of publicity at A&M Records. “These shows reach millions, so now the record buying masses are being made aware of heretofore underexposed forms such as jazz and country.” Meyer concludes that, despite the technical and production problems that still persist, “these shows are doing a phenomenal job.”

“It’s a healthy atmosphere for new talent in particular,” says Ralph Ebler of Elektra/Asylum Records. Having worked closely with the label’s artists for several years in Chicago and now located in New York, Ebler is acutely aware that bridging musical tastes can often be a rough task. “But when done properly,” he adds, “creative programming in this medium can be a magic thing.” The people booking the artists on these shows must be sensitive to the potential dangers that combining non-compatible artists will produce. Such miscalculation results in what Ebler terms “a mass tune-out pilgrimage.” He qualifies that however, saying “Up to now they’ve done a pretty fair job.”

One example of a show whose mixed talent roster worked to positive effect was the March 15th Midnight Special, featuring such diverse artists as the Pointer Sisters, Dan Hicks, the Butts Band, the Crusaders, the Strawbs and Waylon Jennings — all artists of a very specific but highly dissimilar nature. But on a creative level, these artists are all potentially salable to the same audience.

From Blue Thumb’s viewpoint, the show proved more than potentially valuable, since four of the six acts record for the label. “It was a great opportunity for us,” says Sal Licata, president of Blue Thumb. So when the booking of a Midnight Special featuring four Blue Thumb artists was confirmed, the company was ready with a clear-cut sales, merchandising and promotion campaign.

“Our merchandising emphasis is very simple,” says Licata, who admits to being a realist. “The more people who see Blue Thumb artists perform live, the more records we’re going to sell.” Hence all local station spots, TV Guide ad supplements and instore displays were designed to attract as many viewers as possible for that particular Midnight Special program. The announcements told what station to watch and what time, in each different market. Plus, information pertaining to recent recordings by the artists was included, along with reminders of local outlets where the latest Pointer Sisters, Butts Band, Dan Hicks and Crusaders albums could be obtained.

“The only reason shows like Midnight Special don’t sell records by certain valid recording artists is because of a particular product’s limited or nil availability,” Licata states with an educated tone. “And the success of this past Midnight Special only reinforces that belief.”

The reasoning behind a policy of booking disparate styles on a given show is obvious: to reach as wide a range of viewers as possible. Says In Concert‘s Bill Lee: “Even a diehard R&B fan will watch an acoustic artist in order to see an act of his preference, and vice versa.” Without listing every possible musical combination, Lee points out record buyers or concert-goers are by and large a more fickle group than the average television viewer. “Most people aren’t turned off but are rather encouraged by this mixed programming.”

Denny Cordell, president of Shelter Records and producer of Leon Russell, disagrees. “I think if a person doesn’t care for what he’s seeing, he’ll simply flip the channel to the other music show if there’s one opposite. Some people turn the sound down, play a record, do anything but pay attention, until another artist more to their taste comes on.”

In a case like the March 1st In Concert, which featured Peter Yarrow, Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne and Commander Cody (all acts of acoustic, traditional or folk appeal) along with James Brown, you have a textbook example of either very poor or imaginative-but-unrealistic programming, depending on your perspective. “Ain’t no black man I know gonna sit through something like that for long,” says Mario Medious, who runs Manticore Records out of New York. “Not even for soul brother number one.”

More often than not, the mixed tastes represented by In Concert and Rock Concert neither attract nor deter any great percentage of viewers. Of the three, Midnight Special is in the position of being most affected in this area.

As many critics have charged, the superstars almost universally avoid these shows. Appearances by such artists as Led Zeppelin, Carole King, Elton John and Marvin Gaye almost never happen, and you can count on one hand the number of acts in this category who’ve done even one of the shows. Naturally, the shows’ producers are unhappy with this style of affairs. “What we usually run into is a lack of sophistication or sheer unadulterated fear on the part of the artists.” Producer Bill Lee agrees: “With these kind of preconceived notions, it’s not easy to change a person’s mind.”

Carly Simon, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan have never done one of the late-night programs. Stan Harris of Midnight Special cites these acts, and more precisely Elektra/Asylum’s 30-year old president David Geffen, as prime offenders. “He just won’t allow them to appear on television,” complains Harris, concluding that Geffen “has hurt the artists’ record sales, and their careers will suffer as a result.”

To what extent Carly, Joni and Dylan’s careers will be set back by avoiding Midnight Special is hard to say. But it’s impossible if not ridiculous to assume they’ve lost record sales, since all three are enjoying the greatest LP sales in their recording history, each having held down the highest positions on the national chart for several months now.

But Harris is quite adamant on the subject, and feels that he speaks for the other shows when it comes to the dilemma of superstar non-participation. “In a way they cheat the public by not doing our shows,” he says. Further, Harris suggests the viewers are endowed with a kind of musical birthright, arguing that “they buy millions of their records, don’t they? I think they have a right to see these artists live, which they can’t do outside of LA or New York unless it’s on TV.

“Stars like Ringo, for instance; no matter how big he is, how much money he makes or spends, he doesn’t care about performing on television.” But because he continues to make records, which Harris is quick to point out are now exceeding the $250,000 figure in production cost, “I’m sure he still wants them to sell. If he were to do Midnight Special his album would sell very well,” Harris sighs confidently. Ringo, meanwhile, just received a platinum record award for a million units sold.

But some of these superstars are in fact quite interested in performing on network or national television. In all likelihood, a couple of Beatles and a few blue-jeaned pop heroes are contemplating their first steps in that direction this very moment.

“I know they’re sniffing around for the possibility of a network special, and the big dollars they think it could bring them. Many won’t do a show like Midnight Special or the others because they’re afraid they’ll blow a chance at getting $400,000 with an independent deal of their own,” states Harris, although he warns that when these musicians and their agents go knock, knock, knocking on television’s door they may be in for a few surprises. “Paul McCartney did a prime time special, which few recall no doubt, and it greatly reduced both his stock and the networks’ interest in rock music specials of this kind.”

The McCartney special, which aired last summer, was extremely expensive to produce and drew a very disappointing viewer response. “They blew $400,000 on that show and it turned up with a 16 rating, a failure of disastrous proportions.” Before the McCartney special, Harris had been actively putting together plans for a prime-time Carole King special, hoping to secure a budget somewhere in the same astronomical league. But following the McCartney fiasco, the networks suddenly turned very cool. “Nobody wanted it,” shrugs Harris.

But television specials featuring the world’s top talent don’t have to carry prohibitive price tags, and many producers as well as artists insist that it’s unfair to condemn pop music on the basis of that show, and that a McCartney incident needn’t happen again. The David Bowie Midnight Special was the first, and to date the only, example of this. It may be no coincidence that David Bowie had complete creative control of the entire production, albeit under the direction and approval of Stan Harris. In other words, the artists and TV management came to terms with one another. “We sat down and talked about it up front and that’s how it came out.”

In conclusion, it appears there are two primary reasons why the superstars are waiting to present themselves on television: dollars, and creative control. They want access to the vast budgets television has to offer, and they also want the creative freedom to present their music to a mass audience on their own terms. In Concert‘s Bill Lee claims the artists simply aren’t capable or knowledgeable enough to put themselves in such a position, and declares “they’ll never have control of the production to any such degree.”

Certainly, it must be recognized that the demands of many such “superstars” in terms of sound and staging techniques are highly unrealistic. Without any comprehension of the medium, they’ll walk in and, with a wave of the hand, order special sets, lighting equipment, and other technical details, not to mention outlandish amounts of studio and rehearsal time, without understanding the enormous funds these things require, even in terms of prime time budgets, nor the sheer impossibility of the time factor, in a medium that is anything but laid-back. Furthermore, their idealistic vision of how each minute detail should be handled may not in the end add up to what would be considered good television.

But if some of the artists don’t understand what they’re asking, it can be countered that the networks are equally unaware of what they’re missing, of the real importance of rock music, and of how many millions of viewers it has the proven potential to bring in. “If Leon Russell went to a CBS, the first thing one of those programming guys would ask would be something like ‘Is he Jane Russell’s son or grandson?’… that’s how aware most of them are,” laments Phil Walden of Capricorn Records, whose Allman Brothers recently drew over half a million people at their famed Watkins Glen show. It appears the upper levels of television management are truly unaware of who the Elton Johns of this world are and how broad-reaching their audience is. And artists are naive to think these networks are going to be thrilled at the opportunity to put them on the air. “They do have a tendency to assume a lot,” admits Walden.

The dominant factor in any program’s appeal is the existing awareness of the viewer; failure to take proper account of this is one of the most serious mistakes any producer or programmer can make, if his aim is entertainment. In view of the American audience’s already established interest in artists like Bob Dylan and George Harrison and Elton John, it would seem to be high time for the various factions involved to get busy coming to terms, so that contemporary popular music and the public can be brought together through television. As one critic pointed out, “they can’t keep doing Steve & Eydie specials forever!”

The artists who perform on late night music shows currently are not, as a rule, pleased with them or the television medium in general. They point to problems with the sound and sync, difficult taping schedules, too little rehearsal time, and lack of imagination on the part of the producers, as but a few of the shortcomings with the present situation.

“The artists are ripped off,” says Johnny Rivers, who agreed to rerecord his 1965 hit version of ‘Midnight Special’ at the request of the show’s producer. Rivers wasn’t paid for the recording, not even expenses, and receives only a nominal fee for the tune’s usage on the show each week. A perfect example of why artists are disgruntled, Rivers says angrily, “they won’t even give me credit for doing the damn thing on the roll-up at the end of the show!” When asked why Rivers’ name did not appear on the credits, Harris remarked, “funny you should ask that. We’ve been meaning to correct the situation, there should be a credit line starting next week.”

When Bachman Turner Overdrive were asked to do Rock Concert at the last minute, they agreed. Since they were playing in the East at the time, they had to catch a plane immediately in order to meet the required shooting time. They did, and were on the sound stage the following morning at 9AM. After waiting ten hours to tape their segment, they were informed there would be no time for them after all, and assured that they could be squeezed in at a later date. The group then had to rush back to the airport and get another plane on minutes’ notice so as not to miss a concert date back East. You can imagine what they have to say about it!

“Most artists I’ve talked with have an ‘I hope we get through this okay’ or ‘Oh Christ not another TV show’ attitude about the whole thing,” says Bill McEuen, producer and manager of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. McEuen says, in contradiction to the producers, “the artists really have little control over the way in which they’re presented.” He goes on to relate that, in order to persuade an artist to appear, “they’ll tell you anything over the phone.”

But In Concert‘s Bill Lee thinks artists who are unhappy are in the minority now. “If you’d asked me a year ago, I’d have told you it was 60-40 against. Now I’d say just the opposite.” Dick Clark concurs. “Most of them are more than anxious to do television.” But he suggests that the few who complain about the broadcasts are for one reason or another afraid of it, “or so wealthy they don’t need it.”

Another reason some artists don’t perform their music on television is the fear that it could overexpose them and potentially harm the sale of concert tickets. “Sure it can,” says Dick Clark bluntly, “if the act stinks.”

Continues Clark, “I think any rock and roll act could learn a lot from Liberace. His repeated television exposure never did him any harm. He’s probably one of the greatest performers of all time. Letting people know that he’s a master showman can never hurt.” Clark sighs impatiently, as though he’s had to argue the point all too often. “If you’re lousy, you’re only an aural act, and you know it, you’d better stay off television,” warns Clark.

Artists list promotion and exposure at the top of their list of reasons for doing the shows. The record companies encourage their participation for the same reason. “It’s but one of many sacrifices an artist must tolerate to get to the point where they’re successful enough not to need it anymore,” explains Bill McEuen. And you don’t have to think too hard to come up with a lot of names common in your record collection that are consistently absent from your TV guide.

The Media

AS A MASS medium, network television must observe greater restrictions than radio, whose audience is much more select, in terms of age and interests. In other words, there aren’t too many grannies in Detroit tuning in Mark Parento on WABX-FM.

As music programmers and taste makers, those in radio have very definite opinions about these weekly music shows on TV. A representative sample of some of those comments follows:

Norm Winer, Program Director, WBCN-FM, Boston (Simulcasts In Concert)
When we started broadcasting In Concert there were vast problems with sound synchronization and such, but they seem to have worked out most of the bugs. Now the only problem is the artists they’ve been booking; it’s gotten worse since Kirshner left. I think they could all use more intelligent production, and the people involved in this area don’t seem too aware of the music. They should cut the number of artists on each show down to two, so they could present a more thorough and healthy image of the act and their music. The Cat Stevens and David Bowie shows were successful because of this artistic consistency. It might take some pressure off the rock-star shortage they’re experiencing, too.

Tom Ballantyne, Music Director, KSJO-FM, San Jose, California
They could all do with more sensitivity toward the music they’re programming. Midnight Special comes off as a late-late Johnny Carson Show with their variety, three-ring circus approach. As for the sound, it’s not Dick Clark’s fault that Motorola’s board of directors are deaf.

Dennis Willen, Music Director, WMMR-FM, Philadelphia
Television is suffering from the same cancer that buried Life Magazine and is now strangling radio; they aren’t giving the people what they want. Television will have to become more imaginative. VHF television stations may find themselves in a battle against UHF stations who deal more in terms of satisfying special interests and more sophisticated people. And these music shows are only satisfying a fraction of the population who would watch them religiously if done properly.

Ken Karpinski, Program Director, WDVE-FM, Pittsburgh
Not getting the top talent to perform on these shows regularly is a big problem, if not now then soon. There are too many similar music shows on the air, and I think one will emerge above the others as the heavy and the rest will be cancelled. Since they don’t really promote the shows in Pittsburgh, and In Concert isn’t simulcast here, this is not the best area to judge their success or failure, however.

Joe Costello, General Manager, WRNO-FM, New Orleans
On the whole, the music shows are all right and give people an opportunity to see acts they wouldn’t otherwise. I’d like to see them experiment a little more though, and maybe have the artists more involved. Maybe additional dialog or an interview situation from time to time would provide the viewers with some of the variety which is now lacking.

The Public

TO DETERMINE the relative popularity and specific opinions of rock music on television, among the actual viewers who watch the shows, Phonograph Record conducted a public opinion survey by means of questionnaires filled out at retail record store locations selected at random in seven U.S. cities. The poll, taken in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Houston, Austin, Memphis and Chicago, while not intended to serve as a definitive or official sampling, does represent more than 200 observations from people who actually watch the shows, ranging in age from 16 to 32.

The average of those polled was 22. 66% were male and 34% female. Of those who watch any or all of the three late night shows, the average viewer sees nearly three out of ten possible shows monthly. More than half (54%) said they always watch the artists they prefer, and 68% approve of the combining of musical styles as frequently presented on each show.

More than three out of ten (37%) have bought a record recently as a result of seeing the artist on one of the shows, and more than half (58%) have been moved to see an act in concert on the basis of a TV appearance.

As for the popularity of each show, In Concert seems to be the show most favored with 50% of the people who watch claiming they tune that particular show in regularly. Midnight Special followed with a 40% share and Rock Concert came in a distant last with just 10% viewing regularly.

The production techniques displayed on In Concert appeal to the vast majority of viewers (70%), while fewer than half (45%) agree with Midnight Special‘s execution and just 35% approve of Rock Concert in this respect.

Almost a third (30.5%) of those polled agreed that the artists presented on Midnight Special, In Concert and Rock Concert could be presented better, with a higher regard for the audio and visual representation of the acts, although 40.5% feel these shows do an adequate if not excellent job. On the other hand, nearly 30% say they must improve or else.

Close to half (46%) are growing tired or have already of all three shows’ formats and 89% say they’d like to see something new or different introduced. The most amazing statistic reached in our survey is the fact that 85% of those who watch say there’s too much of the same kind of music on television. More than most have time for.

Almost unanimously, there was a desire expressed for more big name talent on the shows — the very problem all the producers involved are struggling so hard to overcome. If one overall conclusion can be drawn from the Phonograph Record poll, it would be that most people are willing to accept music on television in its present state, for the time being at least, but that something must change soon.

Following are some of the more relevant comments made by the viewers polled in our survey. We feel they fairly well represent the range of opinion on late night rock TV as it currently exists.

There’s not enough violence on any of them. If they want it to resemble a true live gig there should be much more flesh.
— Laura White, 16 Cheyenne, Wyoming

I like the Kirshner show best and it’s always improving. I’d like to see even more music on TV, the whole concept is wonderful and long overdue. I’d like to see them drop in some exclusive interviews of the artists too.
— Tom Clark, 22 Houston, Texas

These shows are real good weekend entertainment, and a definite step in the right direction.
— Teresa Smith, 25 Van Nuys, Calif.

The visuals are the worst part of the show. They appear very unsophisticated in general; it’s like Dr. Pepper bringing you the counterculture hour.
— Mark Rosenbaum, 25 Los Angeles

I would like to see the quality of In Concert‘s simulcasting upgraded and a lot less commercials and longer performances please.
— Marshal Jiffus, 25 Austin, Texas

Usually I like the visual transmission and since my tastes are perhaps more diverse than others, I appreciate most all the artists on the show. Although I’d like to see more English bands like Yes, Jethro Tull and ELP.
— Bruce Naylor, 19 Austin, Texas

I like Kirshner’sRock Concert the best but I hate the commercials. I don’t remember what show they were on, but when I saw Dr. Hook perform, it persuaded me to never ever buy a ticket to one of their shows or purchase their records. I’m grateful for that.
— Curtis Craft, Fayetteville, Ark.

The visuals are okay, but occasionally too much flash attempted and the cameramen oftentimes don’t know who’s playing. I watch all three shows regularly,In Concert‘s my favorite, andRock Concertmy least favorite. Rock music shows on television are put together much better than C&W shows which are unbelievably bad in contrast.
— Chet Flippo, 27 Austin, Texas

The Bowie Special was spectacular. So was Mott the Hoople. I think there should be more jazz included and please don’t get Waylon Jennings on there!
— Richard Dorsett, 18 Austin, Texas

I’m really tired of Wolfman Jack.
— Mike Coop, 23 Memphis, Tenn.

They should have more new acts, Helen Reddy and Three Dog Night can take a flying jump...
— Ron Olson, 21 Memphis, Tenn.

I think what we see on these shows sucks, and I don’t watch any of them regularly. I buy records that I hear about from friends more often than from seeing artists on television.
— Ellen Elchtepp, 23 Memphis, Tenn.

Frequently the camera work is too clever, and there’s gross editing problems. SinceRock Concertis playing to a studio audience rather than a TV audience they therefore fail. The artists we’re seeing on these shows must have good connections because based on talent they should never have appeared.
— Steve Rhea, 24 Memphis, Tenn.

I think the artists they’re showing represent a very good cross-section of the country’s talent.
— Larry Doyler, 19Minneapolis, Minn.

From all the shows I have seen, I have never ever seen one cannabis or joint on the boob tube.
— C. Zander, 18 Victoria, Texas

I watch Midnight Special all thetime, and think In Concert is lousy. I would like to see better hosts. Leo Sayer and Jobriath’s shows were good and caused me to buy their LPs. Should have more artists of their caliber on the shows.
— Wayne Formola, 21 New York

Black Oak Arkansas was terrible and convinced me to never buy their records. I’d like to see more artists performing on each of these shows with less time devoted to each.
— Freda Goldberg, 22 New York

We’re seeing too much audience and not enough group. I listen to the In Concert simulcasts and enjoy them very much. I wish they would allow groups an entire hour to perform though.
— Howard Katz, 21 New Rochelle, N.Y.

This is a grand opportunity for some great things to happen visually on television and I hope they take advantage of it.
— Delores French, 21 Atlanta, Ga.

The Future

WE’VE ESTABLISHED that the late night music shows, as they exist now, are an effective means of exposing unfamiliar artists to the large mass of music fans. All the shows’ producers, particularly Midnight Special‘s Stan Harris, point with pride to their ability to aid record sales. Harris, in fact, is in the process of assembling a 3-record Midnight Special album, containing the show’s theme and highlights of a wide variety of groups who have appeared, to be sold only on his show. That’s how much faith he has.

That belief seems to be vindicated, according to several of the country’s leading retail outlets we spoke to. Colony Records on Broadway in New York is open till 3AM on Friday and Saturday, and night manager Jerry Joseph can recall many cases where hastily-bundled up music fanatics rushed into the store after the conclusion of one of the shows, demanding recordings by an act that has appeared. Dave Byan, assistant manager of a New England Music store in Boston, agrees. “The customers are always talking about this or that artist appearance on one or another of these shows.” Wayne Kelly, night manager of Tower Records in Los Angeles, cites the shows as one of the single most important elements in the store’s record sales.

There’s no denying their success in this area, but all the same nearly everybody seems to feel a change is necessary. The same store managers uniformly asked why the shows didn’t feature more folk, jazz, and even classical music. Kelly said, “classical music is selling heavily to the young people today and if a show like Midnight Special were to get Leonard Bernstein to conduct, they would be very successful in reaching even more people.”

What it boils down to is that most people would like to see less rigidity in the formats of all three shows. Yet the producers of the shows, with the exception of Dick Clark, aren’t saying much about future plans to evolve their shows. Clark is hardly secretive about the changes that will be occurring on In Concert soon. There’ll be a regular host, Elliott Mintz, interviews with the artists before they go on stage and as they come off, special film clips, quadraphonic sound, and other diversionary tactics. He’s not guarding these facts, but he’s not excited about them either. He firmly believes that all three shows are unlikely to last much longer. “The artform itself is beginning to get tired,” he says. “When the shows first went on, it was a novelty. Now it’s reached a saturation point, and the formats are simply wearing out. They are not durable the way, say, that of American Bandstand has proven to be.” While the shows will last awhile longer, particularly Midnight Special which Clark sees as the most durable of all, it will take a totally new approach to the problem, a new type of format that will provide more of what the people want on a lasting basis. And Clark is confident that something of this nature will come about.

“I think it’s all eventually going to evolve into prime time exposure for contemporary music, since late night TV is pretty much confined to the present format. These three shows will go to the great boneyard in the sky, and there’ll be another form, a latter-day Carol Burnett, variety type show, only it’ll be angled toward younger people.”

Prime time does seem to be the answer. Meanwhile a lot of people are worrying lately about getting name acts on television, prime time or otherwise, without encountering the problems already discussed. And several solutions are in the wind. One involves allowing certain acts to produce their own film or video segments, to be aired in the course of a regular late night show such as Midnight Special. This has been successful before, as with the Beatles’ ‘Hey Jude’ film that was shown so many times on the old Smothers Brothers series. Independent of the television situation, many important groups have begun preparing these kind of films for their own purposes, and when the network people are convinced of their technical quality, there should be no impediment to showing them.

Even that is a compromise, though. People want to see these acts live to as great an extent as possible. The most brilliant innovation in the realm of bridging the gap between superstar demands and late-night budgets has come from Bob Shanks, the man who originated ABC’s “Wide World of Entertainment” and In Concert. On behalf of ABC Entertainment, he came up with the idea of co-sponsoring (together with Pacific Presentations, Los Angeles’ leading concert promoters) a super-concert at Ontario Motor Speedway near Los Angeles. The April show is set to feature Deep Purple, Emerson Lake & Palmer, and several other gigantic acts that have never appeared on In Concert, and never would under ordinary circumstances.

The 12-hour concert, expected to produce the biggest turnout of any California gathering since Altamont, will not be televised, but Shanks plans to edit out material for three In Concert segments. What the exact financial arrangements are, nobody’s saying, but the ploy of using ticket sales to pay the superstars’ fees was inevitable, and can only foretoken greater network involvement in concert promotion, for as long as they are competing in the late-night arena. Significantly, this is the first In Concert production since he took over that Clark is not involved with.

It’s likely to be awhile before a youth-oriented prime time variety show comes along. It can work, given the right formula, as the Smothers Brothers undeniably proved. But it will take something new, and bold and exciting. Meanwhile the present situation will continue, as will rock music on television, for the foreseeable future.

Everybody agrees it can only get better, even if the current shows die. In terms of hardware, we’re approaching the day of stereo TV, and of quad simulcasts. And while the predicted rock & roll TV network may be a ways off yet, the Allman Brothers’ New Year’s broadcast proved that a nationwide FM radio network could be a viable reality. Syndication among progressive FM stations is an increasingly widespread trend, and we may see the day that local TV stations are offered video simulcasts to a national FM broadcast.

With all these developments and more on the horizon, the future of music on television, and of rock music itself in ever more sophisticated forms of presentation, is something for us all to look forward to. And for that, whatever their individual shortcomings, we have the pioneers — In Concert, Midnight Special and Rock Concert — to thank.

© Marty CerfPhonograph Record, April 1974

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