WHY LLOYD THAXTON DISAPPEARED - AGAIN?
I LET THEM ADD THE BRASS
In 1959 I was hosting The Lloyd Thaxton Record Shop on channel 13, Los Angeles. I sat all by myself behind a desk in front of a stage flat painted to look like record shop album shelves.
Like a radio disk jockey, I played records. This, however, was TV and the audience had to watch something while the records were playing. So, among a host of others gimmicks, I lip-synced, faked musical instruments and created finger people to perform this task. Even though it was a morning show with a low rating, I did manage to get some great musical artists as guest.
By 1961, just before the debut of The Lloyd Thaxton Show, which added teen-agers to the mix, the Record Shop had built up quite a sizable audience.
One morning I had country singer Jimmy Dean as a guest. Most people today know Jimmy Dean as the frozen sausage king.
But in the late 50’s, Jimmy not only made hit records, he was also the star of a highly rated country music TV show in New York City. That is, until, according to Jimmy; “I let them add the brass.”
Though The Jimmy Dean Show was already a hit in the New York suburbs, no one expected the show to make it in the Big City itself. But, according to the ratings, the show was, in fact, becoming a big city hit. Because of this, the wise men at the New York station came to Jimmy and said he would have to make some major changes in the show. “Why?” asked Jimmy. “The show is a hit.”
According to these wise men, THAT was the very reason for the changes. They told Jimmy the viewers in the city are too sophisticated to watch a country music show. The show now has to be more sophisticated. “But the show is already a hit with the big city slickers. They like it as it is,” complained Jimmy.
The wise men won out and added all kinds of changes. Out went the country humor and all those fiddles. In their place they put a big band with lots of trombones and trumpets (they added the brass). The format was totally changed from “A Little Bit of Country” to “Big Brassy New York City.”
You guessed it. The ratings went in the toilet and the show was canceled. Jimmy was telling me this story as a friendly warning. He said that I should not change anything in my show just because the ratings showed that more and more Los Angeles people were starting to watch it.
When Jimmy left the studio, his parting words were, “Remember, Lloyd, don’t let them add the brass.”
In 1966, I forgot.
The Lloyd Thaxton Show was designed from the beginning as a low budget local show. It had one host (me), an average of 30 teens dancing to records in a small TV studio in front of an inexpensive set. There were several innovative elements that separated it from other dance shows at the time. Everyone (myself and the kids) lip-synced records and performed other wild and crazy production numbers in order to make the music visual and more entertaining to watch. Some have referred to these bits as “the beginning of the Music Video.” The show held on to its classic local show look.
In just 10 months, The Lloyd Thaxton Show zoomed to the top in Los Angeles. Not only was it a hit with teens, it was number one with 18-39 year-old viewers. This is the audience demographic most coveted by advertisers and in 1964 the show went into national syndication. And, guess what. The wise men showed up.
I was advised that because the show would now be seen in cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco, we had to make changes. At the time, I remembered Jimmy Dean’s advice and refused to change or “add the brass.” The show continued its rating success in every city it played, big and small. It looked so local that many people thought that it was telecast live from their own city’s station.
Reality Fact #1: The only reason the show was in syndication was because it was rated number one in the 18-39 demographics. Advertisers drool over this coveted bracket and the Lloyd Thaxton show was getting the winning numbers.
Reality Fact #2: Very few corporate executives, the ones who make the ad buying decisions, really watch the shows they advertise in on a regular basis, if at all. They make their ad buy decisions based on the rating books.
Then one day it all changed.
One of the Lloyd Thaxton Show’s biggest advertisers was Colgate-Palmolive. Colgate placed a lot of ads in the show. One afternoon the president of Colgate just happened to tune in and watched for about five minutes. What did he see? According to him, he saw nothing but teen-agers DANCING! He immediately called his ad department and asked, “Why are we advertising in that show? It’s a teen show! They don’t buy toothpaste!” The advertising department could not convince the president of the company that the rating books , not only showed teens were watching, but, adults 18-39, were also watching, so Colgate pulled their ads. On some TV stations this represented about 50% of their advertising and they panicked.
In marched the wise men again. “Change the show. Make it look older,” they said. This time I didn’t listen to Jimmy Dean. I could have held on. There were enough other advertisers aboard to get us through this short-term emergency. But, I gave in and agreed to make changes.
I made what I now consider to be my biggest mistake. I changed the age limit for the kids on the show. They now had to be over 18. Instead of always using high school groups, I intermingled them with college students. “Ok,” I said, “If any of the wise men tune in now, they will see 18 to 23 year-olds on the show.
Was this a fantastically shrewd move or not? NOT! I had broken the Jimmy Dean rule. I had “added the brass.”
Though it was still a very entertaining show, I slowly started to lose some of my faithful teen audience. This was the show’s core. The overall ratings dropped. I could have still held on (and sometimes I wish I had) but I had been doing the Record Shop, plus The Lloyd Thaxton Show five days a week, 52 weeks a year for over nine years and felt I should move on. The final straw, of course, was the 60s itself. The Vietnam War, the teen-age draft, the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, his brother Robert, plus Martin Luther King, Civil Rights Demonstrations, riots, Rock & Roll’s morphing into “Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll,” was taking a heavy toll on teen-agers. This was the beginning of the end of the fabulous 60s.
I cancelled the show.
I sometimes wonder that if I hadn’t given in to the wise men (There were definitely more than three), some version of The Lloyd Thaxton Show would still be around today.
We’ve all heard the saying, “What works, works. What doesn't work, doesn't work. Working hard at what doesn't work will never make it work” (Stuff Happens)
Adding the brass doesn't work.