Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Saturday Night TV

I decided this week to take a break from Missouri and cover a topic of a more general nature. Growing up, Saturday night television was something to watch. You had shows like All in the Family, M*A*S*H, and Emergency. When I grew into an adult there were shows like Golden Girls and Empty Nest. While the years that followed those shows going off the air did not provide the same quality of TV viewing there were still shows like Doctor Quinn: Medicine Woman and  Walker Texas Ranger. Not many years after Golden Girls went off the air something happened. They stopped showing sitcoms on the Big Three networks (for you youngsters that was NBC, CBS, and ABC) on Saturday night and turned to hour long dramas. As a result the viewing was not as good, and many folks like me stopped watching network television on Saturday nights. By 1992, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times broadcast network viewing on Saturday night was at 49% of the total TV viewing audience. That was down from 75% ten years before ( At the time this was blamed on people tuning into cable networks, watching video tapes, and watching syndicated programming on local stations. The thing is, why were people watching other things on TV than the three old networks? It is easy to blame this or that, but in my opinion had the networks been giving us quality programming folks never would have turned their television sets to something other than NBC, CBS, or ABC.

After all, the networks had always retired old shows and brought in new ones on Saturday night having to rebuild viewership each time. From 1973 to 1975 CBS held Saturday night with a series of hit shows. Depending on the year these ranked from being the number one show on television (All in the Family  in the 1973-1974 and 1974-1975 seasons) to number twenty nine. Saturday night was a big night for CBS. At the end of the 1974-1975 season,  All in the Family went off the air, and CBS lost some ground on Saturday night. It remained a descent night for them until 1978 when they ran only two sitcoms and a movie starting in November of that year. By that time ABC had The Love Boat  and Fantasy Island both ranking in the top 25 shows in viewership while NBC had CHiPs at number 25. The Love Boat continued to get good ratings until 1984 when it dipped in viewership. The 1984-1985 there were no shows on Saturday night in the top 30. Yet, the next season NBC took the night with four sitcoms among the top 30 shows in viewership. From then until 1990 NBC had at least three shows in the top 30 shows in viewership each season. Even in 1991, a year before the Los Angeles Times article was written NBC had three shows that were on Saturday night in the top 40 shows in viewership for the season, But in the 1992-1993 there were no shows on Saturday night that were in the top 40 shows for the season, The closest was Empty Nest  at number 45. What happened? For one thing The Golden Girls which had been the highest rated show on Saturday night from 1985 until then had went off the air, and NBC had not premiered anything that could replace it, and Empty Nest  had outlived its time. After the 1991-1992 season, there would never be more than two shows a season in the top 40 shows. Most years there were only one, and some years not a one. The problem I believe was that the networks were not programming quality shows that viewers wanted to watch. The only exceptions were Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman,  Touched by an Angel,  and Walker Texas Ranger (though some folks might debate its quality it was popular). After the 1998-1999 season, no show on Saturday night would rank in the top 20 shows for viewership for the season. After the 2004-2005 season, the three old networks had stopped airing original shows unless they were shows they had given up on and were merely allowing to complete their runs.

It has been argued that the three old networks stopped airing original shows on Saturday night due to a loss in viewers. The viewers according to many were lost to the cable networks and DVDs. The thing is, why were these viewers lost? The viewing audience on Saturday night is admittedly older. It is perhaps the lowest night of viewership for the coveted 18-34 audience. This was confirmed by a study done in 1955 by NBC. However, that study also found that there were many folks at home that would watch TV if the right programming were provided. On April 29, 2012 Saturday night shows totaled approximately 20 million viewers for the broadcast networks. By comparison, on April 22, 2012, a Sunday night. shows total viewership was about 28 million viewers for the networks. Sunday night is considered the night with the largest number of viewers while Saturday night is considered the lowest. The difference is considerable, but considering three of the shows were reruns on that Saturday night while only one for that Sunday may make all the difference. The average number of viewers for that Sunday night per show was about 6.8 million. This number may sound considerable, but consider the premiere episode of Doctor Who September 1, 2012 on the BBC was 6.4 million viewers on a Saturday night and this in a nation with a much smaller population than the United States. The difference is that the British networks have not given up on Saturday night.  The British networks still air shows on Saturday night that will attract viewers such as their version of  X-Factor. Imagine if American Idol were on Saturday.The American networks ceased airing quality shows in the 1990s on Saturday night. Where we once got shows like All in the Family and The Golden Girls, we began getting shows like The Mommies and Café Americain. When those failed, the broadcast networks went to hour long dramas which historically had performed worse than sitcoms on Saturday night. And the hour longs were not particularly appealing to an older audience. Shows like Freaks and Geeks, Dark Skies, and Pretender definitely did not suit an older audience's tastes. And when the majority of the hour longs failed they ceased original programming on Saturday night altogether blaming not their own bad programming mistakes, but a shrinking viewing audience.

The truth is there are still plenty of viewers to make a show successful on Saturday night. Twenty million viewers is nothing to sneeze at. But the networks would have to do a few things. First off, use the formula of four sitcoms and one hour long. This is what worked for CBS in the 1973-1974 season and it worked again for NBC in the 1985-1986 season. Second, the shows must be tailored for an older audience. All in the Family  and The Golden Girls got good ratings because they appealed to older audiences. So did all the other shows that did well on Saturday night. Finally, to get advertisers the networks would have to make a point that they could reach viewers they may not reach another night. Older adults are more likely to buy big ticket items like cars, and the networks could work to gain auto manufacturers to advertise on Saturday night. There is no reason why Saturday night cannot again be a viable night for the broadcast networks. While they may never get the ratings they once did, they can perhaps get good enough ratings to warrant airing original programming. The sad fact is though, they will probably never take the chance.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Marlin Perkins

Marlin Perkins is perhaps one of the most famous zoologists in the world. What is amazing is he did not have a college degree. He was born March 25, 1905 in Carthage, Missouri to Joseph Dudley Perkins and Mynta Mae (née Miller) Perkins. He was the youngest of three sons. From an early age Perkins showed a fascination with wildlife. He attending public school in Carthage until eight grade when he entered Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington, Missouri. There he got in trouble for keeping snakes in his room. Perkins after graduating Wentworth attended the University of Missouri. He dropped out to take a job at Saint Louis Zoological Park (the Saint Louis Zoo). There he helped maintain the zoo grounds, and gradually worked his way up to curator of reptiles in 1928. He then took a job at the Buffalo Zoological Park in Buffalo, New York where he became director in 1938. From there he went to the Lincoln Zoological Park in Chicago, Illinois where he served as director from 1944 to 1962. He then returned to the Saint Louis Zoo where he served as director until 1970 when he became director emeritus. Most folks know him from Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom which aired from 1963 to 1988 in its original run. Perkins was involved with it from its start until 1985 when he retired for health reasons. Wild Kingdom was not his first TV show however. From 1950 to 1957 he hosted Zoo Parade which ran on WNBQ (now WMAQ) in Chicago. The show featured animals from the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. Perkins would show the animals and tell a little about them. After returning to the Saint Louis Zoo, Perkins worked with producer Don Meier on a new show. That show was Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom which premiered January 6, 1963.  Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom was one of the first series to show animals in their natural habitat. The show would build a story around the activities of the show's crew's attempts to document animals in the wild. It would then show the animals as they went about their activities leaving out any violence. The show won four Emmys during its run. Perkins due to his fame was able to work on efforts to save endangered species. In 1971 he established the Wild Canid Survival and Research Center which has helped restore wolves to the wild. In 1985, he developed cancer forcing his retirement. He died June 14, 1986 at the age of 81.His body was cremated. A statue of him stands in his home town.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

History of Randolph County Missouri Until the Civil War

This is a piece I wrote for a webpage about thirteen years ago:

The topography of Randolph County began to take its present shape soon after the withdrawal of the glaciers of the last ice age. On the northern edge of the rolling hills north of the Missouri River, what would become Randolph County was covered by hardwood forests and plains grasslands. Large granite boulders left by the glaciers spoted the hillsides here and there. Sometime around 10,000 to 7,000 years ago, the first humans arrived. They hunted the wooly mammoth, mastodon, and other now extinct creatures. The area was rich in elk, wild turkeys, bear, buffalo, and deer. Around 800 CE and again around 1400 CE some of these early inhabitants carved the thunderbird on the entrance of a cave in what is now Camp Thunderbird near Cairo. Later the Missouri Indians used Randolph Co. as their hunting grounds. When white settlers first arrived in Randolph Co., they found the Iowa, Sac, and Fox tribes. Each of these tribes had settled here themselves only shortly before the arrival of the first Randolph Co. pioneers. The first known settler in what is now Randolph County was William Holman along with his father, James Dysart, and brother Joseph Holman. They settled in 1818 near what is now Mount Airy. He was soon followed by Allen Mayo, who settled not far away. James Dysart opened the first school in the settlement that would one day be known as Huntsville in 1822.

Huntsville, the oldest settlement in the county was settled around 1821, and Milton about the same time. At that time, Randolph County was a part of Howard County which extended north to the Iowa border. What is now Randolph County was then made a part of Chariton County to the west. Randolph County was organized out of Chariton County, January 22, 1829, and named in honor of John Randolph, of Roanoke, Virginia. At the time it extended to the Iowa Border. The county seat was located at Huntsville on December 4, 1830. And on the 5th of January 1831, four land owners, William Goggin, Gideon Wright, Daniel Hunt (grandfather of Arizona's first governor George Hunt), and Henry Winburn donated land where the courthouse sits today. As Hunt was the first to settle on the hills of Huntsville, the town was named for him. Previous to that, it had also be known as Gogginsville, as Goggin was the first store owner. General Robert Wilson was the first lawyer in the county and the first circuit clerk (later he would become a United States Senator). Randolph County's first sheriff was Hancock Jackson (later governor of Missouri and cousin of Confederate governor Clairborne Jackson). Its first doctor was William Fort, who also served on the first county court. The other Commissioners on the county court were James Head, and Joseph M. Baker. The first courthouse was completed in the Fall of 1831. It was a two story brick building with one room on the firrst floor used as a courtroom and three above for jury rooms.

The first lot sale took place in April of that year. Huntsville and the county soon prospered with the manufacture of salt, coal mines, hemp rope factories, and tobacco factories. At one time, Huntsville was the second largest leaf tobacco market in the state. By 1857, it was the home to Mount Pleasant College which produced Doctor Victor Clarence Vaughan, one of the finest medical minds of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The college closed in July,1882 after its main building was destroyed by fire. In 1829, Randolph County saw military action with some Iowa Indians. "Cabins of White Folks" was a very small settlement near what is now Kirksville settled by James Myers, Isaac Gross, Stephen Gross, Nathan Richardson, Reuben Myrtle and Jacob Cupp, all formerly of Howard Co. They had been there about a year when a large body of Iowa Indians lead by Chief Big Neck showed up. One of the Indians' dogs killed a pig, and they threatened the women. Alarmed, they sent messengers south to Randolph County. The messenger reached the home of William Blackwell the night of July 24, 1829. A Captain. William Trammell with a group of men went north to help them, engaged the Indians, and were forced to retreat. Routed, they returned to the cabins, got the women, and headed for Huntsville. John Myers, James Winn, Powell Owensby, and Capt. Trammell were killed in the fight. Later, a force of militia under Gen. John B.Clark lead and two other companies under against Captain Abraham Gooddring and Captain Scounce went after Big Neck. Big Neck and his braves, Big Snake, Young Knight, and One-that-Don't-Care were apprehended March 11, 1830, and put on trial by a grand jury of Randolph County. The jury found on March 31, 1830 that: "After examining all the witnesses, and maturely considering the charges for which these Iowa Indians are now in confement, we find them not guilty, and they are at once discharged." Other than this incident, Huntsville did not see much activity during or prior to the Black Hawk War of 1831 - 1832. Two forts built north of what is now Kirksville, Mo., Ft. Matson and Ft. Clark never saw action. In 1833, in her father's home in Silver Creek, Marsha Head, daughter of Dr. Walker Head was married to Sterling Price. Price, of course would go on to be a commander in the Mexican War, governor of Missouri, and General of the Confederate armies in Missouri during the Civil War.

In 1838, the Potawatomi Indians passed near Huntsville on the Trail of Death. They were being relocated from homes in Michigan and Indiana to Oklahoma. During the Mexican War, Captain Hancock Jackson formed a company of about 100 men and went to what is now Santa Fe, New Mexico. The first country fair was held in the Fall of 1854 at Huntsville. In the winter of 1858, the first courthouse was condemned and tore down. A new one, designed by Henry Austin was built in the Spring of 1860. It was a two story brick building with two towers with a balcony and clock. Lincoln County's current courthouse in Troy is very similar. Other early settlements besides Huntsville included Dark's Prarie in 1829 near what is now Darksville and Eldad Church, and Mount Airy in 1837.

Huntsville and Randolph County were not unaffected by the war. It was the site of one "raid" by its son, "Bloody Bill" Anderson, the execution of Confederates, Charles King, Charles Tillotson, and D. S. Washburn, and the first daylight robbery of a train. On the 28th of August, 1861, Confederate Col. Poindexter held up a train at Old Allen (what is now northern Moberly). There he siezed $100,000 in coin being smuggled out of the state from the Missouri State Bank in Fayette. The money was apparently being stolen by Unionist employees of the bank. The money was then reportedly returned to the bank in Fayette by Poindexter.

While no major battles were faught in the county, there were several skirmishes fought in the county. The most significant was Roan's Tan Yard faught near Silver Creek. The battle took place the 8th of January, 1862 withMaj. W.M.G. Torrence in command of the Union forces and Col. J.A. Poindexter, the Confederate. There were only 91 casualties total (11 Union, 80 Confederate), but the battle ended Confederate usage of Randolph County as a base for recruiting and raiding, A small skirmish was also fought near Renick the 1st of November, 1861 with 14 Union soldiers killed. Another small skirmish took place near Roanoke on the 6th September, 1862, and at Huntsville the 9th of November, 1862. Other skirmishes in the area were: Allen on the 23th of July, 1864, Huntsville on the 14th of July and the 7th of August, and Roanoke on the 10th of September.

Most of these skirmishes were between the guerrilla service of the Confederacy and Union regulars in the area. "Bloody Bill" Anderson returned home on the 14th of July, 1864. His "raid" did not amount to much. Having camped near Ft. Henry Church the day before, Anderson road into town and his men robbed the bank of $45,000. A salesman was killed by Anderson's men for trying to run. The money was returned at Anderson's command, and Huntsville escaped harm for the most part. He then burned the depot at Renick and attacked a Union detachment near Allen. Six Union troops and two horses were killed. On July 23 a squad from the 17th Illinois Cavalry was attacked. After this, he moved north into Shelby County where he burned the bridge over the Salt River, and turned south again. He and his guerillas then moved south again, not to return to Randolph County. It was not long after this he and his men committed the Centralia Massacre in what is thought revenge for the illegal executions of CSA regulars at Huntsville, and Palmyra, Missouri. The same day of the massacre, Anderson engaged the 38th Missouri Infantry, USA under the command of Major A.V.E. Johnson between Centralia and Sturgeon, killing 124 of the 147 troops with barely a loss to his own units.

It should be pointed out, the Confederate "guerrillas" were often local partisans. Reports of Anderson's activities in Randolph County show his attacks to be on railroad facilities and Union troops, rarely the farms of those living here. The Union forces were often from Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, and Illinois. They would burn farms, seize horses, and conscript Southern Sympathizers. Renick and Allen were targets for the Confederate partisans as they laid on the North Missouri Railroad, and the CSA troops had orders to disrupt use of the railroads. Roanoke was in a key position near the Plank Road from Glasgow to Huntsville, and was a convient road for both armies to travel. Huntsville, of course, was the county seat, and home to several Confederate units making it a Union objective (much like the former county seat of Macon County, Bloomington, which was burned to the ground by Union forces for its southern sympathies).