Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Late Show - WCBS-TV Channel 2

Though I was too young to remember the famous "Syncopated Clock" opening for THE LATE SHOW on New York's WCBS-TV Channel 2, the opening posted above is the one I remember and that resonates most with me. So, to that end, let's kick off what this blog is really about by remembering the first of many vintage movie showcase programs from the NY Metro Area, THE LATE SHOW.

WCBS-TV's LATE SHOW was a long running, very popular movie showcase program. Though it's exact start date is unknown to me, I would assume it started sometime back in the early-to-mid 1950's as Gleason and Carney talk about it on an episode of THE HONEYMOONERS. By the mid-70's it was one of the country's longest running movie showcase programs. Though I don't have access to exact numbers, from what I have read and heard, it was a ratings winner for Channel 2 and more than held it's own against Johnny Carson. That being said, in August of 1969, CBS had it's affiliates shelve their late night programming, ie, channel 2 it's LATE SHOW, in order to air The Merv Griffin Show which CBS hoped could compete with Carson and steal some of his late night thunder. That didn't work out so well. Griffin was dumped in early 1972 and WCBS went back to it's old reliable LATE SHOW movies. The fact was, those late night movies did quite well in the ratings, better then Griffin did so it has to be looked on as a failed experiement.

As a matter of fact, ratings for those late night films did so well for WCBS, as well as other stations, that many theatrical films were purchased with the sole intention of debuting them on THE LATE SHOW. Now, think about that for just a minute. Normally one would think that if a TV station is going to plunk down big bucks to acquire a major theatrical film for TV broadcast that they would debut it when the audience and advertising dollars were generally at it's peak, ie, prime time. But ratings were so good for late night movies that WCBS-TV, and others, would shell out the big money for theatrical films and debut them on THE LATE SHOW at 11:30PM!! That fact continues to blow my mind to this day. Not only are you debuting the film at 11:30PM but also up against Carson!! And, it worked!! Plus, stations spared no expense at advertising the films in TV Guide, many times taking out full page ads and making it known that such and such film was making it's "NY TV Debut" or "World TV Debut". I'll post such a full page ad later.

Personally speaking, I loved THE LATE SHOW. The opening, as posted here, was very well done I thought. Pretty cool animation for the time with a breezey opening theme that really set the tone. One of the things that really made THE LATE SHOW worth staying up for was it's unrivaled variety. Comedies, dramas, westerns, horrors, science fiction, you name it and it played on THE LATE SHOW. As the later 70's came upon us, sometimes you would get a theme week. For example, I clearly remember a full week of Jerry Lewis films. When all is said and done, THE LATE SHOW may be the finest movie showcase program in history. It is remembered and it is revered and it worked hard to obtain that status. Some films I clearly remember seeing on THE LATE SHOW include: 23 PACES TO BAKER STREET, WALK EAST ON BEACON, DR. TERRORS HOUSE OF HORRORS, APPOINTMENT WITH DANGER, THE WORLD IN HIS ARMS, SATURDAY'S HERO, BATTLE HYMM and many more. It has given me a huge, wonderful vault of memories and I hope it has for you also. Let me know what your memories are of THE LATE SHOW because I'd love to read about them.


  1. "The Late Show" actually began on Feb. 26, 1951 - its history went WAY back. "The Late Late Show" followed not long after, as did "The Early Show." As its run accumulated, WCBS would commemorate its anniversary the week of Feb. 26 in different ways. On Feb. 26, 1963, for example, Ch. 2 celebrated "TLS's" 12th anniversary by inaugurating an extended broadcast day that ended after 5 A.M. (Until August 1969, "The Late Late Show" was followed by "The Late Late Show II" and, on some weekends, "...III" and "...IV"; after CBS signed Merv Griffin in 1969, weeknight "Late Shows" were moved to 1 A.M. - and after the 11:30 weekend "Late Show" was "The Late Show II," followed by "The Late Late Show.")

    Yet Channel 2, per CBS's pre-1965 lukewarm attitude towards color, didn't run color films in color on its movie shows until the summer of 1965. Even WABC (whose parent network ABC, from what I recall, was perpetually cash-strapped in those years) beat WCBS to the punch in showing color movies in color, in 1964 (WNBC-TV was first, followed in 1960 by WOR-TV).

  2. Thank you for all the great information. Stop by anytime!

  3. I should add that, for me, the beauty of THE LATE SHOW or THE LATE, LATE SHOW or any movie program that ran late at night was that there was no set running times. During the morning, the afternoon and in prime time, movies had set running times for the most part. Either 90 minutes or 2 hours. Late at night, that wasn't the case. You would see films with running times like 1 hour, 50 minutes or 2 hours, 15 minutes and such. Generally speaking, the reason for this was that those films could be shown in their entirety and not have to be edited to squeeze in commercials and such. What stations would do is just tack on 20 minutes of commercial time to the films complete run time. For example, a film that had a 90 minute running time would have 20 minutes tacked on for commercials and the result would be a 1 hour, 50 minute running time. The only showcase I remember that consistently employed this practice in prime time was NBC SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES and then later on, ABC would do the same with it's SUNDAY NIGHT MOVIE.

  4. One thing some folks don't remember is that WCBS-TV's THE LATE SHOW had various starting times which I'm sure had to do with the length and importance of the 11 O'clock News at a given time. Some ads from the early 60's show an 11:15PM start time while ads from the middle to late 60's show an 11:20PM start time. I would assume it was around the late 60's when it settled into it's famous 11:30PM time slot. By the late 70's, the start time was pushed back to 11:40PM I believe.

  5. When "The Late Show" debuted in 1951 (with a package of 51 films released between 1946 and 1949 by Eagle-Lion studios), its usual start time was 11:10 P.M. So how important the news was considered really did change over the years.

  6. Absolutely. One of my favorite LATE SHOW ads, which I unfortunately do not have anymore, was for a mid-60's airing of SATURDAY'S HERO. It was a full page ad with an 11:20 start time and for whatever reason, it always evoked the "feel" of THE LATE SHOW.

  7. glioio@schmidtswholesale.comAugust 9, 2009 at 12:07 PM

    i am old enough to remember the late show and the late late show, the syncopated clock theme has haunted me forever. the name eluded me until i read your post. now i am seaching for the theme. it brings back memories as does the million dollar movie theme. thanks for the site...n.y. old time tv buff.

  8. I am also old enough to remember my favorite nightly movie channel. However, there were at least two more musical theme pieces that changed over the years. I absolutely loved every one of them. The earliest one I remember was the Syncopated clock, the next one I believe was a children's chior while the last was an orchestra. All were just beautiful. Does anyone have any information as to the names of the others?

  9. I do recall they used to cut the films to
    a lesser degree than during prime time. So
    films like "The Illustrated Man" kept some of
    the brief nudity intact.

    Richard W. Haines

  10. Just got done working on the "Syncopated Clock" opening of the LATE SHOW it isn't exactly as it was but check it out

    MickeyRushton on YouTube

  11. Each year The Early Show would show 'Young Tom Edison' on February 11 (Edison's birhday) and 'Young Mr. Lincoln' on February 12 Lincoln's). Hithcock's 'Saboteur'
    would be cut for The Early Show. but shown intact on The Late Show. On Sundays the theme music was Vaughan William's 'Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis.' "Best in View - Channel Two"

  12. I watched the first Late Show.The movie I recall was "The Matterhorn"

  13. WCBS varied over the decades in its commitment to movies overnight. June 19, 1971: a line-up of FOUR films kicked off with a Sirk churner (Written On The Wind), continued with a Francis The Talking Mule entry, followed by a gangster shoot-out (Miami Story) and a western shoot-out (Texas Rangers) at 5:05.

    This was a Saturday night, so there were choices to be had in the wee hours from nearly all of the NY stations. WOR had a double feature with House Of Horrors and Horror Island, PIX had Attack Of The Puppet People, WNEW after David Frost put on Dirk Bogarde's Victim, and WABC offered two global 60s flicks-- the Irish Quare Fellow then the German Murder Party. Oddly, WNBC didn't run their international film showcase on Saturdays in those years, airing talk shows instead.

    After this orgy of films, the following Sunday didn't have any movies until afternoon, not even a morning PIX flick. Just a few years later, the WCBS late slate would be far less movie-filled. A Rockford Files followed by a McMillan And Wife, then a film before a Jeanne Parr or Stanley Siegel talker.

    I cannot for the life of me place the CBS Late Movie logo with the Lite-Brite animation that included Cowboys, a shipwreck, Chaplin etc. Was it run for the late late movies during the Merv Griffin era? Or for the movies that followed the Mort Stevens Late Movie with the star animation?

    1. The "Lite-Brite" animation - used for all of WCBS's movie skeins of the time ("The Late Show," "The Late Late Show," "The Early Show" and "Picture For A Sunday Afternoon), would have premiered in or about the 1973-74 season. Before that, they had another animated opening of an assortment of stars (of the five-pointed variety) assembling inside the TV screen before filling it all up, and the title set in Kabel Medium.

  14. Please, does anyone remember that at Christmas, there was another piece of music for the Christmas movies? It started out with sleigh bells. It was such a lovely tune -- does anyone know the name? I heard it once in its entirety in a KMart store as part of their Christmas music (1983) but have never heard it since. It was used for the Christmas movies during the decade of the 1970s in Long Island, NY, but then I moved away. Please, does anyone know the name?

    1. Was it this one?


      Santa's Got A Brand New Bag by the Hollyridge Strings?

  15. I doubt CBS used that. Santa's Got a Brand New Bag was WPIX's signature tune for their Holiday Movie Specials

  16. I doubt CBS used that. Santa's Got a Brand New Bag was WPIX's signature tune for their Holiday Movie Specials

  17. was too young to remember the famous "Syncopated Clock" opening for THE LATE SHOW on New York's WCBS-TV Channel 2, the opening posted above is the one I remember and that resonates most with me.
    Please, does anyone remember that at Christmas, there was another piece of music for the Christmas movies?

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