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The Today Show in the 1960s
- PART TWO - TODAY SHOW - PART ONE -
SIXTY YEARS OF NBC'S TODAY SHOW
by Billy 'Last Nite' Ingram


J. Fred MuggsTemperamental stars are no stranger to television (or to the Today show for that matter); eventually J. Fred Muggs began throwing legendary tantrums on the set.

After all, he was a major television superstar with his own line of books, comics, games and other assorted merchandise.

Being a reasonably intelligent creature, Muggs noticed that, as long as the red light was lit on the camera, he couldn't be punished for acting up. He took to striking out at co-star Dave Garroway and his guests, then would run for cover when the camera's light went dark.

As J. Fred got older, he got even meaner, as chimps and TV stars often do. The anthropoid was finally dropped from the cast in 1957 after he went berserk one too many times and viciously bit comedienne Martha Raye ("The Big Mouth!") on the arm.

J Fred Muggs was a guest on a game show called Make The Connection.

Today Show  1958Muggs was replaced briefly by an adorable younger, more agreeable chimp named 'Kokomo, Jr' but by 1958 the primates were gone completely and Today began its evolution into a more serious program.

That same year, NBC began videotaping and time delaying their broadcasts for different time zones. The show no longer featured a window on the street, and for a few months, they even taped the program in the afternoons before the air date.

Today Show  historyDave Garroway left in 1961, replaced briefly by John Chancellor and then by Hugh Downs, who remained at the helm from 1962 until 1971.

After Garroway left Today, he suffered the ultimate insult - he was sued by J. Fred Muggs (or more accurately by his handlers) who complained that Garroway ruined Muggs' career by making public accusations about being bitten by the big ape.

Garroway countered that, in fact, Muggs had lashed out at a number of people at NBC and that he had been bitten - on the face - while they were live on the air.

During this period women, who were mostly used for window dressing on the show, began to be taken more seriously and given a larger role.

TVparty-er Josh tells us more, "After Hugh Downs quit in 1971, he was replaced by Frank McGee, who took Today even more seriously into news and less humor.

"Oklahoma native McGee covered the JFK assassination for NBC for 40 hours with everything ad libbed. Though McGee was popular with viewers, he was difficult to work with. He and Barbara Walters didn't get along. According to the book Total Television, McGee insisted opening and closing the show by himself and any time Walters did an interview on the show, McGee had the option of asking the first question.

"By 1974, it was really bad behind the scenes, however McGee took time off in April of 1974 and died less than two weeks later of bone cancer which he wasn't even aware that he had. He was 53. McGee's replacement was 33 year old Jim Hartz, also from Oklahoma, who became the new host with Walters' blessing.

"At this point, Walters officially became co-host, instead of just being a Today girl. Though Walters and Hartz got along, the ratings went down, due it part to ABC debuting Good Morning America, which was less formal and had more of a homelike feel.

"Hartz left in 1976 as did Walters, who went to ABC. Today had substitute hosts for a couple of months and then Jane Pauley came aboard, later joined by Tom Brokaw. Today got more of a down home set to compete with Good Morning America and that brought the program, though still in 2nd place, up in the ratings."


NEXT - PART THREE - Beyond the 1970s

...and whatever happened to the original hosts and J. Fred Muggs?


THE TODAY SHOW : EARLY YEARS
TODAY SHOW : 1960s & 1970s
THE TODAY SHOW : 1970s & Beyond


Classic TV!
 

THE TODAY SHOW : EARLY YEARS
TODAY SHOW : 1960s & 1970s
THE TODAY SHOW : 1970s & Beyond

 

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