Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Weekend (TV)

(1974-1979)
Executive Producer
Reuven Frank
Presented by Lloyd Dobyns (later joined by Linda Ellerbee).

Back in the 70s, believe it or not, no one in television thought TV news shows had any chance of being more than just a prestige loss leader.  News was reserved for the 6:00 hour, and the idea of a prime time news show was tried and never seemed to work.  60 Minutes struggled along, helped by its Sunday time slot, until it started to gain momentum in the late 70s. 

But it did well enough for NBC to think about emulating it.  Their first attempt, First Tuesday, struggled.  So Reuven Frank decided that the best way to go was to try a time slot where they had little to lose -- late night on Saturday.  Thus, Weekend was born.

The show was hosted by Lloyd Dobyns, who also wrote a lot of the pieces. It was different from 60 Minutes.  There were no interviews, for one thing.  For another, it was willing not only to handle serious subject, but also lighter fare, all held together by Lloyd Dobyns's wry commentary.

Dobyns has worked his way up NBC news to doing documentaries, and he was a major change from the 60 Minutes crew.  He was willing to add a little humor to the news, often at his own expense.  For instance, after a news report about africanized "killer bees," he ended it with a story about how while filming the natives expressed one wish:  that the TV crews would go home and not rile up the bees.  Dobyns was able to make these comments using his dry sense of humor.

The show premiered in the fall of 1974, and gained acclaim, eventually winning a Peabody Award for its writing (Dobyns wrote his own commentary).  And the ratings weren't bad, considering that the network never had anything in that time slot before.  But there was a problem.

Weekend was not the only show NBC premiered in that time slot that season.  The other was Saturday Night Live.  In the beginning, they played nicely -- Weekend was on once a month, while SNL appeared the other three weeks.  This gave SNL a break, while allowing Weekend time to develop stories.  But SNL became a breakout hit, and executives decided it was best not to skip a week.  And while Weekend was not up to SNL's ratings, it won awards and had enough of a following that NBC decided to move it to prime time.

They made a brilliant move of adding Linda Ellerby to co-host with Dobyns.  The two were very much alike in attitude and wit; they made a perfect team.

But they made an stupid move that ruined all that:  it was scheduled opposite 60 Minutes*.  And in the time that Weekend ran, 60 Minutes had become a ratings powerhouse, moving into the top ten of all TV shows.  Weekend just couldn't compete.  It was canceled in 1979.

Ellerby and Dobyns moved on to the acclaimed NBC Overnight** and both continued as successful if underappreciated news figures. 

________________________________________________

*They were faced with the problem of the name of the show.  They didn't want to change it due to the good will it had, but it had to be put into a weekend slot.  (Once, they did run it on Tuesday, and Dobyns said that the weekend was a state of mind, but I doubt many would get the joke).

**Which probably deserves a Great but Forgotten entry of its own, but I never saw the show and thus cannot comment on it.

No comments: