Sunday, March 13, 2016

Classic TV: Jackpot Bowling (1959)

In the early days of television, networks were looking for some sort of sports programming to fill time in the evening hours. Bowling, it turned out, was one option.

Jackpot Bowling aired on NBC between 1959 and 1961, ending in March of '61 as ratings declined. The game play was different from the usual 10 frames in that each bowler threw one ball per frame, as strikes were key to success. Nine frames per game, kind of like baseball, in order to fit two games into a half-hour broadcast.

Where NBC ran into trouble was finding a host for the show. Baseball Hall of Famer Leo Durocher was the first one, but lasted two weeks. Venerable Mel Allen was out of his millieu, but was given two tours of duty as host. The same went for Bud Palmer, who would later serve as a fill-in for ABC's Pro Bowlers Tour whenever Chris Schenkel was unavailable due to scheduling conflicts (i.e. Olympics, golf, etc.). Finally, comedy legend Milton Berle took over as host in the fall of 1960, with long time Lakers announcer Chick Hearn describing the action. Unfortunately, the Berle-Hearn team lasted six months before the network pulled the plug.

Let's take a look at an episode from January 1, 1961, broadcast live a few hours after Hearn worked the Rose Bowl that afternoon in Pasadena, which is mentioned in passing (Washington defeated Minnesota that day).

The show originally was based in New Jersey before moving to LA. Berle brought some energy with a short monologue, but he was no longer the box office draw he had been before with Texaco Star Theatre, also for NBC. Five and a half years later, he'd return to primetime with a self-titled comedy-variety show (previously reviewed), which would be his last headlining gig.

Rating: A.

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