That Was the Week That Was

That Was the Week That Was was an acclaimed but short-lived satiric show in England then again in America.  The British version went on the air in November of 1962 and went off at the end of ’63.  One of its last episodes was among its most memorable: A shortened episode that paid tribute to John F. Kennedy shortly after his assassination.  The audio from it was released as a record album and it remains one of the few relics of that live show.  Other weeks, it was songs and sketches about what was happening in the world with David Frost as its host.

The pilot for an Americanized version aired in this country on November 10, 1963.  Ratings were soft but critics raved about the show which was also headed up by David Frost and which started his rise to fame in the U.S.  A weekly version commenced on January 10, 1964.  Frost, commuting from the U.K., continued to host or at least dominate the proceedings.  Nancy Ames was the “TW3 Girl,” singing the title and closing song which each week featured new and topical lyrics.  The rest of the cast changed from week to week but at times included Henry Morgan, Alan Alda, Mike Nichols & Elaine May, Elliot Reid, Buck Henry and many more.  For a half hour, they’d talk about items in the news and parody whatever there was to parody.

There were two other notable contributors though you didn’t see much of either on screen.  Comedy songwriter Tom Lehrer wrote tunes, many of which he later recorded and put out as an album entitled That Was the Year That Was.  And puppeteer Burr Tillstrom, best known for the kids show Kukla, Fran & Ollie invented a new art form with what he called “Hand Ballets.”  They were little vignettes set to music in which Tillstrom used his bare hands as puppets and would mime some in-the-news situation.  The most memorable one was an interpretation of the Berlin Wall.  One of Tillstrom’s hands played the wall; the other represented a person who lived in East Berlin and who was in agony about being separated from his family on the other side of the wall/hand.

TW3 was a modest success in America and NBC kept it on the air expecting that it would draw extra attention during the ’64 Presidential Campaign.  What they hadn’t reckoned with was this: It was then relatively easy and not all that expensive for a political candidate to buy a half-hour or even an hour of prime-time TV time.  Most of the candidates did that, often pre-empting regular programming with little advance notice.  You’d tune in to see your favorite show and discover it was not on and a political ad was in its place.  The Republican National Committee took to buying the time slot for That Was the Week That Was, over and over just to keep it off the air and stifle its somewhat-liberal viewpoints.  This was a special problem for TW3 as it was done live, and material written for one week was often out-of-date and unusable a few weeks later.  Often, they would write and rehearse for several days and then find out that the show would not be airing; that a special touting Barry Goldwater for President would air instead.  By the time TW3 did air again, it had lost its mojo and whatever steady viewers it had.  It ended in May of ’65.

The ticket above is to a live broadcast that probably did air since it was one week after the election.  Leland Hayward, who got billing over the title on tickets and some other places, was a show business entrepreneur who bounced back and forth between being an agent and a producer.  His most notable work was on Broadway where he “produced” (i.e., put together the deals for) shows like Mister Roberts, Gypsy and The Sound of Music.  His main contribution to That Was the Week That Was was probably just getting it on the air.