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What’s on TV: Sunday Night (1965)

Hey, hey, hey! Kim here. Well, here we are. The end of the week. It has been a long week and we’re finally to Sunday. We’ve seen some truly gigantic shows to come through the line-up in 1965. Some of the biggest shows of the 1950s were coming to an end while those shows that are the ‘epitome’ of the middle and late 1960s were starting to hit the airwaves. 

However, there is still a bit left to go, even with one day left. So, without further ado, here are the picks for Sunday night in 1965. 


As the night opens up, the general pattern of the season as we’ve seen it continues… a battle between ABC and CBS with NBC off in their own little corner with The Bell Telephone Hour. The show was a staple to radio going back to the 1940s, spotlighting classic and Broadway music. This was still the era of the great American Songbook after all. 

Meanwhile, CBS started the night with the main family offering with the long-running half hour series Lassie. Coming smack dab in the middle of its super-sized run, 1965 saw Lassie just one season removed from a substantial narrative shift. The show remained largely unchanged since 1958 featuring Lassie and Timmy– played by Jon Provost– along with his parents– played by June Lockhart and Hugh Reily. We talked about June Lockhart earlier this week thanks to her supporting role in the family adventure drama Lost in Space. The family had relocated the previous season and Lassie was taken in by a forest service ranger — played by Robert Bray). The show would continue to run in various forms until 1973. 

Meanwhile, ABC ran with the fictional adventure series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. The series starred Richard Basehart and David Hedison. The show was based on the 1961 film of the same name and came from legendary creator Irwin Allen. The series followed the crew of a nuclear submarine in the near future and bringing together an interesting mixture of science fiction and espionage plot lines popular to this era in television. 1965 saw the series entering its second of our seasons. It would run on the network until 1968. 


While ABC finished their hourlong programming, that left NBC and CBS going head to head and these are both shows you’ve likely heard of.  

First of all, CBS started with the third and final season of My Favorite Martian. The series starred Bill Bixby and Ray Walston. The series was a half-hour, sci fi comedy following Bixby a newspaper man who takes in a space alien played by Walston. The show had been running on the network since 1963. 

Meanwhile, NBC went with the anthology series Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. The series was a super-long running performer on the network– it was Disney after all– running on various networks and with various names until modern day. Many might remember the series under the name The Wonderful World of Disney


While Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color finished on NBC, CBS and ABC went head to head with a pair of titans. I don’t need to give the first one an introduction.

The Ed Sullivan Show is The Ed Sullivan Show. The variety series was the a cultural staple of a genteration running for more than twenty years between 1948 until 1971. We all know it was Ed Sullivan who had the pleasure of introducing the United States to The Beatles in 1964; however, this is only one of the entertainment milestones which defined the series. Very few could keep up with Sullivan and it is he who defined Hollywood expectations of the variety show.  

Meanwhile, ABC threw a new show in against the dominance of Ed Sullivan with The FBI. The show starred Efrem Zimbalist Jr in his follow up to the long-running series 77 Sunset Strip which had ended the previous season. The FBI was an action procedural, but the show wasn’t much of a gamble. While many shows faltered in the face of Ed Sullivan, this one stayed the course. The show ran for 9 seasons before its cancellation in 1974. 


With Ed Sullivan and The FBI finishing up on their respective networks, NBC dropped another western. As we’ve discussed in previous videos, westerns were working their way out the door by 1965– unless you were NBC. They had quite the selection. In the autum of 1965, Branded was enterings its second season after it took over for the cancelled Bill Dana Show in early 1965. The show starred Chuck Connors, fresh off his long-running success in The Rifleman. This time out, he starred as a former Cavalry captain who had been branded a coward… unjustly of course… I mean, he was Chuck Connors after all. 


As the clock chimed the next half hour each network had new television offerings. ABC transitioned into the Sunday Night movie to close out their night. Meanwhile, CBS and NBC saw two of their titans going head to head. 

Perry Mason is a show that needs no introductions, especially for classic film fans. The series had been a staple on the network since its 1957 debut and starred Raymond Burr as the titular attorney, Barbara Hale and William Hopper. The series was a mainstay in popular culture having originated as a series of mystery novels by Erle Stanley Gardner before becoming a film series in the 1930s starring Warren William. By this point, the television series was entering its 9th and final season. 

Meanwhile, this behemouth of a show as airing across the dial…

Even if you don’t know Bonanza, you know that theme song. The show starred Lorne Greene as Ben Cartwright, the patriarch of the Cartwright clan on their ranch the Pondersoa in post-Civil War Nevada. The show co-starred Dan Blocker and Michael Landon as the other members of the legendary family. The season would be a transitional one for the show. Co-star Pernell Roberts— who played eldest son Adam– walked away from the show at the end of the last season. Never fear for Bonanza though, the series was only midway through its run to become one of the longest running westerns on television. The series premiered in 1959 and would go on to run until 1973.


As the ABC Sunday night movie continued, CBS and NBC went head to head with some drastically diverse programming. And no, NBC wasn’t showing a western this time around. As they brought their night to a close, NBC aired the first and only season of The Wackiest Ship in the Army. The show was based on the 1960 feature of the same name, starring Jack Lemmon and Ricky Nelson. This time around, the show starred Mark Slade, Jack Warden and Gary Collins as sailors on a ship in the Pacific Theater during War II. The show was an unconventional hour long comedy… And we know what happens to unconventional shows… it was cancelled after its first season.

Meanwhile, CBS shifted the ton1e of the night to non-fiction programming with Candid Camera. The series is one of those go-to, non-fiction offerings which are trotted out by the networks every few years featuring people getting caught in humorous situations by hidden cameras. The form has episodes dating as far back as 1948 until as recently as 2014. During this incarnation the show was hosted by I’ve Got a Secret staple and former Miss. America Bess Myerson. 


With The Wackiest Ship in the Army and the Sunday Night Movie finishing on their respective networks, CBS had the night all to themselves with What’s My Line. The legendary gameshow had started on the network in 1950 and ran in– largely– the same form ever since. The panelists changed a little, but this was mostly the same show that had pioneered gameshows the decade before. John Charles Daly presented the show with panelists Bennett Cerf, Arlene Francis and Dorothy Killgallen– until her November 1965 passing– were still very active during this season. The show would continue on the network until 1967.    

Well, that’s the week! That’s a wrap. So, with this little bit of analysis, there isn’t much of a change here. Lassie plus My Favorite Martian plus Ed Sullivan+ Perry Mason + Candid Camera + What’s My Line… that’s the night for CBS. More than likely, you’ve heard about all of these shows.

Granted, there are high performers on every channel over the course of the night, most notably Bonanza, Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color and The FBI. However, none of the networks can equal the block of shows on CBS.

Stay tuned! I’m wrapping the year of 1965 the next time we talk with a look at the full year of television at the Emmy Awards. Who was nominated? Who won? What does that mean in the context of what we’ve talked about in these last seven videos? Stay tuned! 

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Kimberly Pierce View All

Podcaster at Hollywood and Wine, historian and filmmaker studying contributions of women in Classic TV. Film critic for Geek Girl Authority. Classic film lover for Ticklish Business.

You can find me on Twitter @kpierce624!

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