REVEAL SHOT

A SOPHISTICATED LOOK AT FILM AND TELEVISION

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Re-post: A look back at the 1981 NFC Championship Game and other top-rated conference title games

(Reveal Shot presents a re-post of one of our first entries: a look back at the 1981 NFC title game and why it remains the highest-rated conference championship match-up.)

(Originally published Jan. 21, 2013)

 

Now that the San Francisco 49ers have made it to a sixth Super Bowl, there will be memories of the victory that set up its chance at that first ring, the 1981 NFC Championship Game.

That 28-27 win over the Dallas Cowboys, played on Jan. 10, 1982, set the gold standard for television viewership for a semifinal-round playoff game, generating a 42.9 rating and a 62 share, according to Nielsen data. It was seen by an average of 68.7 million viewers, at a time when there were roughly 77 million TV households in the U.S.

The game was followed two weeks later by Super Bowl XVI, which still ranks as the highest-rated Super Bowl in television history with a 49.1 rating and 73 share. (A ratings point equals 1% of the total TV households in the country; share is the percentage of sets in use tuned to a specific program.)

As great a game as the ’81 NFC Championship was, it is unclear at first glance just how it galvanized a larger portion of the audience than had ever watched before. After all, there were many great teams — the Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers, the Cowboys, the Minnesota Vikings, etc., who played compelling postseason games.

I went back and looked at ratings and shares for every conference title game from the time the NFL-AFL merger was consummated in 1970 through the 1980-81 season.

CBS graphic 1-3-71NFCThe title games on Jan. 3, 1971 weren’t bad; NBC’s AFC battle between the Baltimore Colts and Oakland Raiders was a three-point game in the fourth quarter before the Colts pulled away to the 27-17 final, and CBS had a 49ers-Cowboys game that went to Dallas 17-10. That NFC game, airing from San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium at 4:00 Eastern, got the better rating that day, with a very solid 31.0 and 52 share, while NBC earned a 29.7 and 62 share.

1972’s AFC Championship game featured the 15-0 Dolphins against the upstart Steelers, who had finally won their first playoff game after nearly 40 years of existence — the “Immaculate Reception” game. Now, a week later against the Dolphins, the Steelers cut a 21-10 deficit to 21-17 with plenty of time left, but Terry Bradshaw threw two interceptions to put the game away for Miami. A fascinating storyline and matchup produced a 27.1/64, but that was down from the previous year’s far less interesting Dolphins-Colts game.

Two years later, Minnesota held on for a 14-10 win against a Los Angeles Rams team that always seemed snake-bitten in the postseason. Two controversial calls seemed to turn the tide against them this time, and enough viewers tuned in to give CBS a 31.0/66.

Before the ’81 game, the best rating for an NFC Championship came in 1979, on the road to Super Bowl XIII. CBS got a 36.7 and 57 share. However, this was no thriller; Dallas crushed the Rams 28-0.

What, then, shall we make of the surge in viewership for the ’81 postseason? (The AFC championship, a 27-7 win for the Cincinnati Bengals over the San Diego Chargers, also did very well, grabbing a 35.0 rating and 61 share, setting a pleateau for an AFC title game hasn’t been topped.)

One factor, as Saint Xavier University communication professor James Walker pointed out in an October interview, was that this was “the absolute height” of network television, a point at which the Big Three universe had their greatest number of viewers, with not even a huge number of independent stations to contend with, let alone the kind of juggernaut cable would become.

Several other TV ratings records were set around this time, across sports and other genres, though they have been surpassed in terms of total viewers because there are so many more TV households than there were 30 years ago (now more than 112 million).

The highest-rated World Series telecast occurred less than two years earlier — Game 6 of the 1980 Fall Classic between the Philadelphia Phillies and Kansas City Royals (40.0, 60 share). “Dallas’s” “Who Shot J.R.?” cliffhanger, which ended the series’ third season, hit the airwaves in 1980 (53.3, 76). The final episode of “M*A*S*H*,” still the top-rated U.S. program of all time, aired in 1983 (60.2, 77 share).

Secondly, the ’81 game probably is the best pure game of any conference matchup from 1970-81.

And finally, though the NFL surpassed Major League Baseball as the national pastime in the late ’60s, and the Super Bowl became the ultimate hype machine, there was a lull period during the mid-1970s that had to be overcome.1974 NFC

A New York Times article dated July 23, 1974 suggested that so many sports on television were leading to a kind of saturation, and ratings were starting to decline as a result. “Viewer interest … has dropped significantly, according to the Nielsen numbers, in such prestige sports as professional football, college football, pro basketball and hockey.”

CBS’s NFL telecasts had declined from an average rating of 16.4 in 1971, Nielsen said, to 15.0 in 1972, to 14.2 in 1973. Over the same span, NBC’s games had slipped from 13.9 to 13.3.

The only explanation that makes any sense is the ascendancy of the Dolphins, who relied on a grind-it-out running attack keyed by Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick. Friends of mine who were in their teens at the time say games throughout the league became boring, as teams tried to imitate the champions.

The rise of the Steelers, Cowboys and Raiders, all of whom had formidable passing games, brought back excitement for many fans, a perception that was reflected in late ’70s ratings and helped lead to the euphoric reaction of the early ’80s.

— David B. Wilkerson

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The original Ironside (Part VII): Cy Chermak remembers (conclusion)

Cy Chermak.

Reveal Shot presents the conclusion of a multi-part interview with Cy Chermak, the executive producer of “Ironside” from 1968-1974. Here, he discusses his final years with the series, and offers his views on the upcoming NBC remake starring Blair Underwood, debuting Oct. 2.

Read the first installment here.
Read the second installment here.
Read the third installment here.

Ironside” sailed through Season 3 (1969-70) as the No. 15-ranked show of the year according to the Nielsen ratings, finally topping time-period nemesis “Bewitched,” before jumping all the way to No. 4 in its fourth season (1970-71), with a 25.7 rating and 39 share, bolstered by its new lead-in, “The Flip Wilson Show,” the second-most watched program on the air (trailing only ABC’s “Marcus Welby, M.D.“)

Barbara Anderson decided to leave the show after Season 4. In Season 5 (1971-72), NBC moved “Ironside” to Tuesday nights at 7:30 p.m. Eastern against ABC’s “The Mod Squad” and “The Glen Campbell Show” on CBS. In “Ironside’s” fifth new episode, “The Gambling Game,” which aired Oct. 5,  Elizabeth Baur was introduced  as Officer Fran Belding, who helped Ironside’s team to nail the gamblers who murdered her father — a cop accused of having worked with the gang. Baur would remain with the series for its remaining three seasons.

The main cast of “Ironside” from Seasons 5-8 (clockwise from left): Don Galloway, Raymond Burr, Don Mitchell, Elizabeth Baur.

Chermak recalls:  I loved Elizabeth, but Ironside used to beat her up a little on the screen. I finally had to take her aside and coach her on how she should react to his sarcasm and intimidation. I did it in two sentences. What I said remains between the two of us. You might ask her. 1

During this period, Chermak was also the executive producer of “The New Doctors” segment of “The Bold Ones,” starring E.G. Marshall, John Saxon and David Hartman. To begin Season 6 of “Ironside,” he produced a two-part crossover episode called “Five Days In the Death of Sergeant Brown.” In Part 1 (aired Sept. 14, 1972), Ed Brown (Don Galloway) is shot in the back by a sniper, naturally triggering painful memories and special concerns for Ironside. Part 2 aired Sept. 19 as a “Bold Ones” episode, with the doctors debating the merits of a dangerous operation that could either save or kill Ed. (For some reason, although Hulu generally only makes the first three seasons of “Ironside” available, it offers both parts of “Five Days In the Death Of Sergeant Brown” — but it calls them “Ironside Pilot, Parts 1 and 2.” Since Seasons 5-8 are not available on DVD in North America (at least as Region 1 releases), it’s a nice, if odd, video opportunity for fans of the show, at least until someone at Hulu realizes the error.)2

Chermak’s schedule became even more hectic when he took on the development of a third show, “Amy Prentiss,” a spin-off from “Ironside” created by his wife, Francine Carroll, who had written scripts for a number of shows including “Ironside.”

The unsold two-hour pilot, “Amy Prentiss, AKA The Chief,” from a story by Carroll and teleplay writers William Gordon and James Doherty, aired during “Ironside’s” seventh season, on May 23, 1974. Jessica Walter guest starred as Prentiss, a police investigator who becomes chief of detectives in the San Francisco police department by having the highest score on a test. Boris Sagal directed. The episode got a very positive review in Variety, which said Walter was “ideally cast,” and that the script provided a “fine showcase” for her talents. It also generated a solid 22.3 rating and 39 share, encouraging NBC to add it to the “NBC Mystery Movie” wheel for the 1974-75 season.

Season 7 would be Chermak’s last on “Ironside.” 3

He recalls: By then Raymond and I had pretty much burned out our relationship, and Frank [Price, head of Universal Television] had a wildfire burning on another stage by the name of “Kolchak, The Night Stalker.” The turmoil on that show has been pretty well documented.4

Joel Rogosin returned to the series as executive producer for the eighth and final season (1974-75).

I had forgotten this when I asked Chermak for his reaction when the show was canceled, abruptly, by NBC in November 1974. The last episode aired on Jan. 16, 1975. Three additional episodes were completed but did not air until the show entered syndication.

Chermak: I was off the show at the time, and this is the first I heard that there were three unaired episodes. I wouldn’t have known because I never saw even one of the episodes [in that final season]. All I ever heard about them was that they didn’t have “my touch.” Which gives me an opportunity to allow my narcissism and egotism to get in a little pitch. On several occasions in my career, I had such a well-oiled machinery going that some untrained executives thought the man at the top didn’t matter. They thought if the machinery is that well-oiled, and running that smoothly, that anyone could do it. Especially someone who thought they knew me well. Surprise!

Reveal Shot: What are your thoughts on the upcoming remake of “Ironside?”
Chermak: I have no problems with them re-making the show, or the star [Blair Underwood]. Based on what I have seen recently, I think it will be more of a shoot-em-up than a cerebral family hour. Remember that the role has [essentially] been played at least once in a feature with Denzel [Washington, who played quadriplegic police forensics expert Lincoln Rhyme in Universal’s “The Bone Collector” in 1999] . Now it will be coming back to TV.

I will leave you with the story that Borden Chase’s son Frank used to love to tell.

Borden’s fame came as the writer of “Red River,” and he freely acknowledged that it was a rip-off of “Mutiny On The Bounty.” The fun started when some people tried to rip-off “Red River” and to get as far away from the cattle drive as possible they set the scene at sea! Then, even though the people doing the second generation rip-off were copying “Red River,” they were sued by the people who controlled “Mutiny on The Bounty.”

 — David B. Wilkerson   

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TV’s 10 highest-rated Grammy Awards telecasts

Art Garfunkel (left) and Paul Simon (right) dominated the 1970 Grammy Awards, which were broadcast live for the first time on ABC in March 1971.

ABC’s broadcast of the first live Grammy ceremony in 1971 remains the highest-rated, according to Nielsen data and archival reports from the trade magazine Variety.

CBS has carried the Grammys every year since 1973, so it may not be remembered that ABC had shown the ceremony during the previous two years.

Here are the 10 top-rated Grammy telecasts, according to Nielsen data:

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The first Grammy Award ceremony was held in 1959. For several years after that, the show was filmed or taped, and highlights were aired during a one-hour NBC special called “The Best on Record.”  In November 1970, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS)  announced that the awards would be held as a live event for the first time.

ABC swooped in to nab the broadcast rights from NBC, in the same year it also outbid the Peacock network for the Tony Awards. After spending the 1950s and ’60s in the Nielsen ratings cellar, ABC felt like it was in position to reach for the top spot, thanks to the success of shows like “Marcus Welby M.D.” and its “Movie Of The Week,” and spent aggressively.

Viewers who flocked to the Grammy broadcast saw a ceremony dominated by Simon & Garfunkel, whose “Bridge Over Troubled Water” won Album of the Year and Record Of the Year. Simon alone won Song of the Year and Best Contemporary Song for writing the title cut.

The show’s’ 31.3 rating and 47 share made it the No. 1 show for the seven days ended March 21, securing an ABC win for that  week. However, at the end of the 1970-71 season, CBS and NBC  were tied for first, and ABC was third yet again.

The second-highest rated Grammy telecast is well remembered as a celebration of Michael Jackson and “Thriller.” Jackson took home eight Grammys, including Album of the Year and Record of the Year. CBS garnered a 30.8 rating and 45 share of the audience, as 51.67 million viewers watched the ceremony.  

— David B. Wilkerson

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Why 49ers’ 1981 NFC Title win set Nielsen record

Now that the San Francisco 49ers have made it to a sixth Super Bowl, there will be memories of the victory that set up its chance at that first ring, the 1981 NFC Championship Game.

That 28-27 win over the Dallas Cowboys, played on Jan. 10, 1982, set the gold standard for television viewership for a semifinal-round playoff game, generating a 42.9 rating and a 62 share, according to Nielsen data. It was seen by an average of 68.7 million viewers, at a time when there were roughly 77 million TV households in the U.S.

CBS Logo Light

The game was followed two weeks later by Super Bowl XVI, which still ranks as the highest-rated Super Bowl in television history with a 49.1 rating and 73 share. (A ratings point equals 1% of the total TV households in the country; share is the percentage of sets in use tuned to a specific program.)

As great a game as the ’81 NFC Championship was, it is unclear at first glance just how it galvanized a larger portion of the audience than had ever watched before. After all, there were many great teams — the Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers, the Cowboys, the Minnesota Vikings, etc., who played compelling postseason games.

I went back and looked at ratings and shares for every conference title game from the time the NFL-AFL merger was consummated in 1970 through the 1980-81 season.

CBS graphic 1-3-71NFCThe title games on Jan. 3, 1971 weren’t bad; NBC’s AFC battle between the Baltimore Colts and Oakland Raiders was a three-point game in the fourth quarter before the Colts pulled away to the 27-17 final, and CBS had a 49ers-Cowboys game that went to Dallas 17-10. That NFC game, airing from San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium at 4:00 Eastern, got the better rating that day, with a very solid 31.0 and 52 share, while NBC earned a 29.7 and 62 share.

1972’s AFC Championship game featured the 15-0 Dolphins against the upstart Steelers, who had finally won their first playoff game after nearly 40 years of existence — the “Immaculate Reception” game. Now, a week later against the Dolphins, the Steelers cut a 21-10 deficit to 21-17 with plenty of time left, but Terry Bradshaw threw two interceptions to put the game away for Miami. A fascinating storyline and matchup produced a 27.1/64, but that was down from the previous year’s far less interesting Dolphins-Colts game.

1974 NFCTwo years later, Minnesota held on for a 14-10 win against a Los Angeles Rams team that always seemed snake-bitten in the postseason. Two controversial calls seemed to turn the tide against them this time, and enough viewers tuned in to give CBS a 31.0/66.

Before the ’81 game, the best rating for an NFC Championship came in 1979, on the road to Super Bowl XIII. CBS got a 36.7 and 57 share. However, this was no thriller; Dallas crushed the Rams 28-0.

What, then, shall we make of the surge in viewership for the ’81 postseason? (The AFC championship, a 27-7 win for the Cincinnati Bengals over the San Diego Chargers, also did very well, grabbing a 35.0 rating and 61 share, setting a pleateau for an AFC title game hasn’t been topped.)

One factor, as Saint Xavier University communication professor James Walker pointed out in an October interview, was that this was “the absolute height” of network television, a point at which the Big Three universe had their greatest number of viewers, with not even a huge number of independent stations to contend with, let alone the kind of juggernaut cable would become.

Several other TV ratings records were set around this time, across sports and other genres, though they have been surpassed in terms of total viewers because there are so many more TV households than there were 30 years ago (now more than 112 million).

The highest-rated World Series telecast occurred less than two years earlier — Game 6 of the 1980 Fall Classic between the Philadelphia Phillies and Kansas City Royals (40.0, 60 share). “Dallas’s” “Who Shot J.R.?” cliffhanger, which ended the series’ third season, hit the airwaves in 1980 (53.3, 76). The final episode of “M*A*S*H*,” still the top-rated U.S. program of all time, aired in 1983 (60.2, 77 share).

Secondly, the ’81 game probably is the best pure game of any conference matchup from 1970-81.

And finally, though the NFL surpassed Major League Baseball as the national pastime in the late ’60s, and the Super Bowl became the ultimate hype machine, there was a lull period during the mid-1970s that had to be overcome.

A New York Times article dated July 23, 1974 suggested that so many sports on television were leading to a kind of saturation, and ratings were starting to decline as a result. “Viewer interest … has dropped significantly, according to the Nielsen numbers, in such prestige sports as professional football, college football, pro basketball and hockey.”

CBS’s NFL telecasts had declined from an average rating of 16.4 in 1971, Nielsen said, to 15.0 in 1972, to 14.2 in 1973. Over the same span, NBC’s games had slipped from 13.9 to 13.3.

The only explanation that makes any sense is the ascendancy of the Dolphins, who relied on a grind-it-out running attack keyed by Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick. Friends of mine who were in their teens at the time say games throughout the league became boring, as teams tried to imitate the champions.

The rise of the Steelers, Cowboys and Raiders, all of whom had formidable passing games, brought back excitement for many fans, a perception that was reflected in late ’70s ratings and helped lead to the euphoric reaction of the early ’80s.

— David B. Wilkerson