Monday, May 30, 2011

RBBB Specials #1 (From Jerry Digney)

Circus1, originally uploaded by bucklesw1.

Circus TV Specials
when i was the pr guy on RBBB during the 70s, we did a national TV special every year with a celebrity host. These were 60 minutes and aired on either CBS or NBC. In those days, there were still only three networks so the the viewing audience was pretty big. Actually, RBBB annual circus TV specials started in the late 50s and continued into the 80s, so there were roughly 30 years of TV specials. In addition to the circus specials, Irvin Feld produced two, I believe, separate specials featuring Gunther. The annual TV specials were shot over 2-3 days at the Bayfront Center in St. Pete following the week long engagement there. The L.A. TV guys actually started shooting material in Venice but special TV lights and a TV audience were brought in for the final St. Pete tapings. Of course, these were highlight shows so not every act was included and the schtick and banter between celebrity host and circus performers was generally predictable and corny. But in the end they were a great promo for the circus dates.
A change in programming trends saw the circus specials fade away and they've been absent from network TV for almost 25 years. However, my sense is that the TV market is hungry once again for family entertainment like this. Here are some of the ads and stars who appeared over the years on these TV outings which generally aired around Valentine's Day. Of the half-dozen or so I worked on, I remember Johnny Cash being gracious and us working together earlier in the year on TV ads for Lionel Trains, which was that year's sponsor--a less pleasant character was Danny Kaye who hosted in 1979.


Eric said...

Other Ringling TV Special hosts over the years included John Ringling North (1955), Bob Cummings (1956), Arthur Godfrey (1961) and Ed Wynn (1965). The Feld-produced “Circus Super Heroes” TV Special was hosted by Olympic gold medal winner Bruce Jenner, and was partially taped in San Diego in 1978. (All of the “Circus Super Heroes” music was recorded in San Diego, including the music for Ursula Bottcher’s polar bears, which were then appearing at Circus World. (Band leader Ronnie Drumm conducted the music for Ursula’s act while watching a video tape of it that had been made in Florida.) When the band members got paid at the end of the engagement, they received two checks, one for the circus engagement and one for a 3-hour recording session that was held to pre-record the original "Circus Super Heroes" theme music, the polar bear music, etc. (The recording session check was the bigger of the two!)

Eric said...

Arthur Godfrey also hosted the 1960 TV Special. Roy Rogers and Dale Evans hosted the 1966 and 1967 TV specials.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff Jerry, thanks so much. As a longtime Johnny Cash Fan am gratified to read your comment.
Danny Kaye is high on another list, but apparently he worked better with children.

Paul Gutheil

William C.Shoop said...

Sure beats most of whats on tv today.Remember when their were specials of the week that really were special.Now tv has become a cultural wasteland.Far too much "paid programming for my liking."
I think George Carlin was right when he said something to the effect "For a once promising nation we have sold out for a pair of tennis shoes that have a light that blinks off and on!!
"Reality TV Bah Humbug!!

Eric said...

The 1972 TV Special was hosted by Dick Shawn.

Harry Kingston said...

I had a news director boss tell me about his experience with Danny Kaye at an event.
He asked for his autograph and he signed something and threw it back at him.
My boss tore it up in front of him.
Danny Kaye is not on my favorite watch list on TCM.
Harry in Texas

Jim A said...

In my youth I had Danny Kaye records and even saw him perform at the Chicago Theater when they had stage shows and movies. For me, his name has pleasant memories. The comments about him brought back another. Jack Carney was a popular St. Louis radio personality. Discussing a big entertainer appearing in town, Carney said he passed on a chance to go back stage to meet him. His reason was he liked the person as an entertainer and didn't want to possibly have the illusion spoiled by reality.

Larry Louree said...

What was the TV special we made at CW Florida in 1977? I know Bruce Jenner was there for it, but I'm not sure who else came in for it. The production ran at least a day or two. I don't remember when the finished product aired, so I'm not even sure if it was just to promote the park, or to promote RBBB & the park. I'm sure that Anna May and her great trainers were in it. Maybe Gary or John or the Captain will be able to remember more of what we did.

Chic Silber said...

The "Super Heroes" special that

Eric mentioned was patially done

in San Diego included having

Elvin's trapeze rigged from a

yard arm of the "Star Of India"

the fully rigged "Windjammer"

that hung out over the water

to provide a spectacular sight

for his aerial routine

Anonymous said...

Does everyone remember "International Showtime" with Don Ameche, and "Circus!" with Bert Parks hosting back in the '60's? I sure do!

Jeff said...

did Roy Rogers film a special in Greensboro, NC?