1963-64 in Television: CBS expands evening newscast to 30 minutes

Reveal Shot begins an examination of the 1963-64 television season, which of course began 50 years ago this month. It was a year that saw the medium make great strides in news and entertainment, and one in which several long-running programs distinguished themselves. 

Walter Cronkite.

As mentioned in our posts on network television coverage of the March On Washington For Jobs and Freedom, which had taken place days earlier (Read Parts I and II [now updated]), TV news was beginning to have real confidence in itself as a medium for news. On a nightly basis, it couldn’t offer depth, the way newspapers and magazines could, but the power of televised pictures coming into people’s living rooms — especially with the uniquely immediate look of live or videotaped footage, — had an impact nothing else could match, a kind of urgency that, in the right hands, could be a stunning force.

In his Feb. 6, 1963 column, UPI television critic Rick DuBrow lamented that several weekly documentary shows and other news and public affairs programs were either leaving the airwaves or being reduced to monthly broadcasts. He noted that CBS was canceling  “Eyewitness,” a round-up of the previous week’s events and a look ahead to items of note in coming days, while NBC was going to curtail “Chet Huntley Reporting” and “David Brinkley’s Journal” to once a month in the 1963-64 season.

Both moves were being made, DuBrow reported, because CBS, and then NBC, intended to expand their  nightly newscasts to 30 minutes from 15 minutes. “The expansion of the key daily news reports certainly is a fine thing,” the critic said, but he added: “Daily news reports, even expanded, are still pretty much outlines of top stories … When top informational programs are chopped, when programs like ‘Discovery ’63’ and ‘Calendar’ have a tough time staying on, something is wrong. Except for news and public affairs presentations, there is really very little to even justify the existence of television.”1

Undaunted by such a pessimistic view, the networks moved forward with their plans. Here we’ll see how CBS News President Dick Salant, network president Frank Stanton and founder William S. Paley were able to convince CBS stations around the country to go along with the decision to expand the 15-minute evening newscast to 30 minutes, starting on Sept. 2.

In this clip from the Archive of American Television’s 1999 interview with Walter Cronkite (1916-2009), the “most trusted man in America” explains why the “CBS Evening News” moved to a half hour (6:30-7 p.m. Eastern time), and the peeved reaction of CBS affiliates, which were accustomed to having that time for themselves. He also discusses the scoop he ended up with when he interviewed President John F. Kennedy on that Sept. 2 premiere.

There are two videos here:


Cronkite continues to explain the significance of President Kennedy’s remarks on the early days of U.S. involvement in Vietnam.


Current “CBS Evening News” anchor Scott Pelley ended his own newscast Monday night with this look back at the first 30-minute newscast, offering further insight into the logistics, and consequences, of that evening.


NBC’s “Huntley-Brinkley Report” followed one week later, which Reveal Shot hopes to explore in more detail Sept. 9.

New York Times television critic Jack Gould, writing for that newspaper’s Sept. 22 edition, was cautious in his early assessments of the new half-hour news programs.

“What remains to be seen,” Gould said, “is whether the added time will be used fruitfully in explaining complex issues that require elucidation or will be given over only to light feature material.

“Random sampling of the programs thus far invites only inconclusive nitpicking and personal preference in the handling of individual stories; the balance sheet is extremely even.”2


— David B. Wilkerson


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The Original ‘Ironside’ — Quincy Jones, Steven Bochco and others remember (Part III of Reveal Shot’s Ironside series)

[UPDATE: Videos now fixed to start when the subject begins to discuss “Ironside,” as intended.]

If you’re a fan of television shows of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, you really should acquaint yourself with the Archive of American Television, a truly remarkable collection of more than 700 video interviews with actors, directors, writers and others who were active in the medium throughout its history.

In these excerpts, various people recall their experiences on “Ironside.” Oddly, none of the series regulars are included among the archived interviews, which began in 1997; Raymond Burr died in 1993, and Gene Lyons (Commissioner Randall) died in 1974. But everyone else could have been interviewed for the archive, including Don Galloway (Ed Brown), who died in 2009.

The pioneering African-American composer Quincy Jones discusses his work on the show’s theme song:



Steven Bochco, later the producer of “Hill Street Blues” and “L.A. Law,” discusses one of his early writing credits, a brief stint on “Ironside” in the 1967-68 season.



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The implications of streaming for cinephiles: two experts discuss

To digress briefly from the 1930s gangster series, I wanted to point out a very interesting discussion about online video streaming, and what it means for true aficionados of cinema.

TV historian Stephen Bowie, who runs The Classic TV History Blog: Dispatches From The Vast Wasteland and works as a curatorial assistant at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, and Stuart Galbraith IV, film historian, critic for DVD Talk and author of Cineblogarama, have posted an absorbing instant message discussion on their respective blogs about the ways in which streaming represents a step backward for cinephiles.

Among their main concerns are:

1. Inferior picture quality of the streamed image when compared to Blu-ray, in some cases reverting all the way back to VHS-level PQ.

2. Movies that are interrupted several times because of network problems, with no solution available to the consumer.

3. Streaming presentations — including movies, at Hulu Plus — that are interrupted for ads.

4. The lack of bonus materials — commentaries, documentaries, newsreels, et cetera — on streamed video.

5. The fact that a very good plasma TV and Blu-ray player can be obtained for less than $1500 in today’s marketplace, and still people prioritize convenience over this superior experience, often opting to watch movies and TV shows on tiny screens.

6. Cinephiles have largely taken this state of affairs lying down, with nothing like the hue and cry that led the studios to release films in their proper aspect ratios for home video, rather than the old “pan-and-scan” paradigm.3

There is a lot of nuance to the conversation, enough so that Bowie and Galbraith make it clear that they are not Luddites by any means, and they have carefully considered all the reasons for the studios to pursue this path.

Complaint No. 6 is the most disturbing, in my view. I have friends — parents, primarily, who have opted to get rid of their entire CD collections in favor of hooking up the iPod to the stereo. They say they can’t tell the difference between music files compressed to 256k or less and a CD, and they just don’t have room or the time to maintain a physical music library.  I sort of get this if one lives in a tiny apartment, but some of these individuals have houses, with plenty of room. Either sound quality matters, or it doesn’t.

I think it is much the same with video.

What a shame.

In my Links section in the lower right hand corner of this blog, you’ll find a permanent link to Bowie’s Classic TV History Blog, and a link to DVD Talk’s TV reviews, which include many by Galbraith. Among these are examinations of several seasons of “Gunsmoke,” including the recent issues of the first hour-long season (1961-62). Vol. 1 Vol. 2

I did an email interview with Galbraith (and a phoner with Digital Bits founder Bill Hunt) at MarketWatch three years ago, on Best Picture Academy Award winners on DVD and/or Blu-ray.

Aside from lots of fascinating interviews and other material at his blog, Bowie also conducted many video interviews with television actors, directors, producers and writers of TV’s halcyon period for The Archive of American Television.

Here, he talks to director Walter Grauman about working on the classic ABC crime drama “The Untouchables.”

— David B. Wilkerson

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