Q: What is the oldest TV show in syndication? Could it be “The Lone Ranger”?
A: Close, but no silver bullet for you, kemosabe. As best as I can tell, that honor goes to “The Goldbergs” — but only by a few months.
If you look in “The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows,” you’ll see that 1949 was a watershed year for network television. It marked the first season that all four networks — ABC, CBS, NBC and DuMont — had regularly scheduled programming every night. Moreover, it was the first year that featured programs that are still relatively recognizable today (other than “Meet the Press” (1947) and “Toast of the Town” (1948), which became known as “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1955).
One of those 1949 shows was “The Goldbergs.” Like “The Lone Ranger,” it had started on radio (in 1929) and soon became a huge hit, changing from a weekly to a daily show in 1931. The brainchild of writer-costar Gertrude Berg, it allowed listeners to follow the daily life of Molly Goldberg, a big-hearted (and somewhat stereotypical) yenta, and her Jewish family.
“(It) differed from most of the other ‘soaps’ in that its leading characters lived through relatively normal situations,” historians Frank Buxton and Bill Owen write in their book “The Big Broadcast 1920-1950.” “Even though it was the story of a poor Jewish family in the Bronx, it had identification for a wide segment of listeners.”
Other than “Amos & Andy,” it would be radio’s longest-running serial comedy. But with TV starting to make a splash in the late ’40s, the whip-smart Berg was ready to expand her horizons. At first, CBS, where the radio show had moved in 1936, had its doubts whether it could do as well on the boob tube. But Berg won over the network when she landed Sanka/General Foods as the major sponsor.
She wrote every episode, insisted that no studio audience be used and continued to base scripts on everyday events, steering away from anything controversial. Her determination paid off in spades when she won TV’s first best-actress Emmy Award in 1950 — and the category at that time included both drama and comedy.
Her one professional defeat, however, came the same year when she balked at continuing the show without co-star Philip Loeb, who had been blacklisted for allegedly being a Communist. When she refused, CBS dropped the show, but eight months later she gave in when NBC offered to pick it up without Loeb as her husband, Jake. Depressed over the apparently false allegations, Loeb, 64, eventually committed suicide in 1955, the year before “The Goldbergs” ended its eight-year TV run.
It was a run that had started Jan. 10, 1949, just before Clayton Moore would bring his fiery horse with the speed of light to TV. Even so, “The Lone Ranger” is probably now technically the third oldest show in syndication. On June 24, 1949, NBC added William Boyd’s “Hopalong Cassidy” to its prime-time lineup. However, the earliest shows were edited versions of Boyd’s 66 theatrical films. It was only later that Boyd would team up with future “Petticoat Junction” star Edgar Buchanan to film his TV series.
So whether you want to count those early episodes as a TV show is up to you, but “The Lone Ranger” did not debut until Sept. 15, 1949. Three weeks later, “The Life of Riley” debuted on NBC. “The Goldbergs,” by the way, is still being shown at 8 p.m. Central on Thursday on the Jewish Life Television Network (jltv.tv). “The Lone Ranger” can be found on COZI-TV from 6-8 a.m. Monday through Friday and 8-9 a.m. on weekends as well as 10-11 a.m. Saturdays.
Q: When I was growing up in the 1950s in Michigan City, Ind., the local paper, The News-Dispatch, had a columnist named Al Spiers. He wrote stories on his fishing trips to Canada and his dealings with “Capt. Eddie” — World War I flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker. Is there any relationship between Al and BND columnist Wally Spiers?
John Bohnstadt, of Maryville
A: Not that our Wally’s aware of, but he sounds as if he hasn’t shaken his family tree too hard, so who knows who might drop out in the future.
Q: At gas stations, why does the sign on gas pumps always tell us to remove our credit cards “quickly”?
Wally Spiers, of Belleville
A: It does seem counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? You’d think to read all that information on the card’s magnetic strip, it would need to have the card removed slowly, wouldn’t you?
Well, turns out it doesn’t work that way. If you aren’t a physics major, you probably are unaware that you are engaging in the principle of magnetic induction when you pull a card out of that reader. I’m told that your action creates a tiny electric current as you move your card’s strip across the magnetic head reader in the machine. If you pull too slowly, the current generated will be insufficient for the reader to do its job, thus preventing you from enjoying your pay-at-the-pump convenience.
Who originally starred as Chester Riley on TV’s “The Life of Riley”?
Answer to Friday’s trivia: In office just 31 days before he died of pneumonia in 1841, William Henry Harrison probably didn’t have time to issue an executive order, thus becoming the only president in history never to do so.