Beat the Clock (1950-1961)

Everyone has a couple of TV shows they can’t stand. Among mine are the various versions of Beat the Clock, a program built on the principle that there’s always someone who’ll humiliate themselves for a free blender. Bud Collyer was the genial host of the original version which started on radio in 1949, moved to CBS television in 1950, then shifted to ABC from 1958 to 1961. Even though Mr. Collyer had supplied the voice of Superman on radio and for animation, I was never able to warm to him as a TV host. On Beat the Clock, he got contestants to perform silly stunts while a big clock ticked off their deadlines…and there was something very condescending about the way he instructed the people in their assignments and giggled at their failures.

The Ritz Theater was an appropriate place to do Beat the Clock, as it was built on a deadline in 1921. The Shubert organization gave the contractor a mere sixty days to erect the place and his crew managed to do it. A week later, its first attraction (two short plays by John Drinkwater) went into rehearsal. It housed now-forgotten plays until 1943 when it was converted to a radio studio and later, a television facility. It closed down in 1965 and remained dark until it was purchased, renovated and reopened in 1971. In 1990, it was renamed the Walter Kerr Theater, honoring the famed Broadway critic. Over the years, dozens of theatrical productions played there, every single one of which was more entertaining than Beat the Clock.