Thursday, June 18, 2009

NBC Saturday Night At The Movies - WNBC-TV Channel 4

I've always felt that NBC Saturday Night At The Movies was the best example of "appointment Television" that I could think of. Quite frankly, I've always thought that TV as a whole back in the day was "appointment television" but that this famous movie showcase was the standard bearer in that regard. More on that in a moment.

Briefly, Saturday Night At The Movies got it's start in 1961 and lasted until the conclusion of the 1978-79 season if what I have read is correct. The goal was to bring fairly recent theatrical films into the home and broadcast them in their entirety. No splitting into multiple parts. It was probably the first movie showcase to do that and was still one of the few doing it until it's end in 1979. For one night at least, the local news took a back seat to entertainment. Sure, some films would end at 11PM but many times, the local news got pushed back 10 minutes, 25 minutes, 40 minutes, whatever it took. The idea was to turn the living room into a theater and it worked. Saturday Night At The Movies was consistent enough in the ratings to warrant an 18 year run. An 18 year run that has given folks multiple memories and multiple good times. The fact that the idea was a good one and that it worked for so long speaks volumes about it's loyal audience considering the competition the movie showcase had from other networks. It wasn't easy going up against the powerhouse CBS line-up from the early-to-mid 70's. It held it's own against programs like ALL IN THE FAMILY, MASH, MARY TYLER MOORE, BOB NEWHART and CAROL BURNETT. It didn't get much easier later on towards the end of it's run when it had to go up against ABC's one-two punch of THE LOVE BOAT and FANTASY ISLAND. When all is said and done, it turned out to be a remarkable idea and one that ranks among NBC's finest ever.

Why was it "appointment television"? Well, because it just was. Saturday Night At The Movies was a weekly event. It was something to look forward to every week at 9PM. It was something the family could do together. It was, after all, Saturday night so the kids could stay up late. Mom, Dad and the kids could slip into their PJ's, pop some corn, pour some soft drinks and have a fun family night. But, it wasn't just for parents and kids. Adults could also partake. Friends gathering together at someones house on a Saturday night, pouring some cocktails, heating up the hors d'oeuvre's and enjoying a film. Pretty much something for everyone. As I mentioned in an earlier entry, the very first movie I remember seeing on Saturday Night At The Movies was THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING, THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING. It aired on Saturday, June 24, 1972 and I'll never forget it. I'm sure many others have fond memories of this classic movie showcase. If so, please post them because I'd love to hear about them. BTW, I'll post some TV Guide ads a bit later on.


  1. The announcers on "NBC Saturday Night at the Movies" were generally from NBC's Burbank studios (and also served as staff announcers for sister station KNBC in Los Angeles). The main announcer was Don Stanley, whose stint with the network dated to after World War II. Also heard in rotation with Mr. Stanley, from the 1970's onwards, were Donald Rickles (not the "hockey puck" comic, but an announcer whose tenure with the network dated back to 1950; his voice is the one heard on this clip, for the Nov. 20, 1976 airing of "Billy Jack"); Peggy Taylor (a former nightclub singer who was a regular on Stan Freberg's 1957 CBS Radio show, and in 1973 became the first major female staff announcer on either coast when she joined NBC/KNBC); and Victor Bozeman (one of only two known African-American staff announcers, after New York-based Fred Facey, to be hired by the network). By the 1978-79 season, however, opening trailers began to be announced out of New York. Howard Reig did the opening trailer for "Rollercoaster," Fred Collins for "Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park," and so on. Still, the ad and closing bumpers continued to be handled out of Burbank. For years, until recently, these West Coast names were semi-obscured in relation to the great New York NBC announcers (not only Reig and Collins, but also Don Pardo, Mel "Living Color" Brandt, Wayne Howell, Vic Roby, Bill Wendell, Bill "Voice of NBC News" Hanrahan, Bill McCord, Bill "Another World" Wolff and many others).

    It's also a measure of "Saturday Night at the Movies'" status that in "Saturday Night Live's" early years, that program often had a later starting time from its designated 11:30 P.M.

  2. Excellent point on Saturday Night Live and it's starting times.

  3. It's funny that you mention Kiss Meets the Phantom in this blog.I have a copy of it that my dad recorded for me on our Curtis Mathis vcr the night it aired October 28th 1978 .I have had the tape for 31 years and it is still in very good condition and quility.It is fun to watch takes you back to that night and with all those old commercials it's great.It has the intro they used and the movie. It is a captured time capsule.Saturday Night at the Movies was great!

  4. I remember ... I think, because I was 6 or7 ?? ... The Time Machine... on Saturday Night at the Movies. Watching with my mother. Any database of what films were shown on which days over the years? Would LOVE to know exactly when that date was. Dan

  5. "Destination Gobi" with Richard Widmark was magnificent. It appeared in movie theatres in 1953. It was shown on NBC's "Saturday Night at the Movies" sometime during the years 1961-1963.

    Saturday afternoon, 26 December 2009.

  6. It wasn't just weekly appointment TV, it was annual appointment TV. In the early 1960s, every weekend before Christmas, NBC Saturday Night at the Movies would run "White Christmas". It was one of the few things my mother would let me stay up late and watch, so I looked forward to it every year.