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Entries in Judy by the Numbers (48)

Wednesday
Oct262016

Judy by the Numbers: "Vaudeville Medley"

Anne Marie has been chronicling Judy Garland's career chronologically through musical numbers...

On September 29th, 1963, The Judy Garland Show finally premiered. With a backlog of several episodes already in the can, CBS chose to start the show with the seventh filmed episode, which guest-starred Donald O'Connor. Reviews of Judy were favorable, though reviewers were less enamored of Jerry Van Dyke and the variety show format. But unfortunately the network's fears about Bonanza were realized: The Judy Garland Show garnered a miserable (for the time) 18 rating, compared to Bonanza's juggernaut 35 rating. As always, the network and the production team was left scrambling to make new changes.

The Show: The Judy Garland Show Episode 7
The Songwriters: Various, arranged by Mel Torme
The Cast: Judy Garland, Jerry Van Dyke, Donald O'Connor, directed by Bill Hobin

The Story: Despite some dismal Nielson ratings, the Donald O'Connor episode would prove to be a sweet walk down memory lane for Judy Garland. Though they had never starred in a movie together, O'Connor and Garland knew each other from their days on Vaudeville, when O'Connor was a child dancer and Garland was still one of the Gumm Sisters. Garland and O'Connor reminisce, sing, and dance together, inadvertantly proving something Norman Jewison hadn't quite figured out yet: Judy Garland's power on television came from her long history on stage and screen. While Jewison would continue to make segments poking fun at Garland's legend, fans were tuning in precisely for that legend, and they were very protective of how their star was shown. As Saturday Evening Post reviewer Richard Sherman Lewis lamented,

"The absurd notion of debasing Judy's reputation as a legendary figure and molding her show into an imitation of other prosaic variety shows has been a disaster where it hurts most, in the audience polls."

Despite these protestations, Judy Garland - and by extension her show - would garner a devoted television fanbase that tuned in every Sunday night at 6pm.


previously on Judy by the Numbers

Wednesday
Oct192016

Judy by the Numbers: "Just Imagine"

Anne Marie has been chronicling Judy Garland's career chronologically through musical numbers...

By episode 6, The Judy Garland Show was in trouble and it hadn’t even aired yet. CBS, still spooked by the Bonanza’s killer ratings, wanted The Judy Garland Show to be more, well, everything: More Hollywood glamour, more slapstick, more music, more ratings. With that in mind, after Tony Bennett fizzled and a planned episode with Nat King Cole fell through, the network fired most of the writers and producers by Episode 6. TV wunderkind Norman Jewison – who’d directed the original special – was brought on to save the show before it even got a chance to fail. Jewison’s first directives: More guests, more duets, and let’s knock Judy off that Hollywood high horse...

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Oct122016

Judy by the Numbers: "Lena Horne Medley"

Anne Marie has been chronicling Judy Garland's career chronologically through musical numbers...

If you watch the full Judy Garland Show from start to finish in the order in which it was filmed rather than the order in which it was broadcast - which is what we're doing in miniature - a few patterns emerge early on. First, there is the legendary talent that crowds the first episodes: besides Judy herself, we've seen Garland reunited with Mickey Rooney, swinging with Count Basie, introducing her daughter Liza, and now she's belting Lena Horne numbers to Lena Horne herself. For any midcentury music geek, this show is the gift that keeps on giving. However, if you push past the fabulous talent to watch the format itself, you'll notice something else: for a variety programme, The Judy Garland Show doesn't have much variety.

The Show: The Judy Garland Show Episode 4
The Songwriters: Various, arranged by Mel Torme
The Cast: Judy Garland, Lena Horne, Terry-Thomas, directed by Bill Hobin

The Story: Only four episodes in, The Judy Garland Show had already fallen into something of a rut. The basic format never wavered - Judy sang first and introduced the guest(s), the guest(s) performed, star and guest(s) chatted, star and guest(s) performed, then Judy wrapped everything up with "Born in a Trunk." CBS execs had noticed - as had Judy Garland. By episode 4 her bad behavior had resurfaced, causing Lena Horne to reportedly lose her cool after Judy missed every rehearsal day.

Despite that conflict - or maybe because of it - Lena performs sparklingly on the show. In variety and expression, she even outperforms Judy. (Lena's references to Louis Armstrong during "Meet Me In St Louis" especially charm.) Nonetheless, missed rehearsals or no Judy Garland can carry a number, and the overall musical montage works well, even when a beat or two is missed. Unfortunately, the next week's show would not be so kind.

previously on Judy by the Numbers

Wednesday
Oct052016

Judy by the Numbers: "Together Wherever We Go"

Anne Marie has been chronicling Judy Garland's career chronologically through musical numbers...

Episode 3 of The Judy Garland Show (which would eventually air in its eighth week) was an episode of personal importance for Judy. Her oldest daughter, Liza Minnelli, was joining her for a family-themed show. Liza was only 16 at the time, but she'd already begun building an entertainment resume. While in high school (or rather, while skipping high school) Liza appeared on a Gene Kelly TV special, The Jack Paar Program, Talent Scouts, her mother's London Palladium concert, and was in rehearsals for her Off-Broadway debut in Best Foot Forward. However, young Liza somehow found time in her every-busier schedule to put on a family act.

The Show: The Judy Garland Show Episode 3
The Songwriters: Jule Styne (music) and Stephen Sondheim (lyrics)
The Cast: Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, directed by Bill Hobin

The Story: Two observations stand out watching this clip: 1) These are two talented women who love to perform and 2) These are two talented women who love to perform together. There's something delightfully meta-textual about their decision to sing a song from Broadway's most dysfunctionally overbearing stage mom. As Judy watches Liza, Garland exudes nothing but pride and excitement to share the stage with her daughter. Likewise, teenage Liza - not yet fully confident in her own overwhelming talent - takes her cue from her mother.

Though they're both polished and skilled performers, this song does not come off as a professional production number. Every improvised forehead touch, handhold, or giggle renders a public performance into a personal mother/daughter moment, exposing that vein of reckless vulnerability that made both women incomparable performers. Anyone who grew up in a musical household will recognize this kind of musical intimacy. This is a mother and a daughter goofing off around the piano at home, or belting showtunes in the car on the way to school. Liza and Judy sing together with real affection and private joy. It just happens a TV camera caught it on tape.

Wednesday
Sep282016

Judy by the Numbers: "I Hear Music"

Anne Marie has been chronicling Judy Garland's career chronologically through musical numbers...

Sometimes, something just flat out cool and unexpected pops up. Something like, say, a titan of jazz music popping up for the second episode of a TV show starring a titan of movie musicals. Though it wasn't reflected in ratings at the time (how good was Bonanza really?), this is one of those moments of pop culture kismet. Though it wouldn't be aired for almost seven weeks, in just the second episode of this small Sunday night variety program, Count Basie guest starred on an episode of The Judy Garland Show.

The Show: The Judy Garland Show Episode #2
The Songwriter: Irving Berlin
The Cast: Judy Garland, Count Basie, Mel Torme

The Story: As TV intros go, it's pretty basic, but this gives audience and artists the chance to build momentum. What makes this clip so very great is that it caters to both its' stars talents, and in the process stretches both past what audiences were used to hearing from them. The opening number (arranged by Torme) is a quietly jazzy version of Roger's and Hammerstein's "The Sweetest Sounds" that builds to a big climax. Starting with just Judy and a drummer and a bassist, Garland gets to show her dynamic range by singing sweetly to herself. Meanwhile, Count Basie's band enters behind her, gradually building the sound until it matches her intensity, leading to the revelation of Basie himself and a crackling version of "Strike Up The Band." As one of the more music-heavy episodes, this one stands out.

Wednesday
Sep212016

Judy by the Numbers: "You're So Right For Me"

Anne Marie has been chronicling Judy Garland's career chronologically through musical numbers...

The terribly tricky thing about early TV (or really any TV) history is that episodes are often filmed and aired in different orders. Because of the discrepancies in airing schedules, we will be following in the order in which they were shot. After the CBS lawsuit was settled with the agreement that Judy Garland should make a show for CBS, the question became what kind of show to do. It took two years for the usual contract negotiations, delays, and upheavals to settle enough for that question to be decided. On June 24, 1963, Judy Garland recorded the first episode of a variety show titled (unsurprisingly) The Judy Garland Show

The Show: The Judy Garland Show Episode #1
The Songwriter: Mel Torme (uncredited)
The Cast: Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Jerry Van Dyke

The Story: A musical variety show seemed to be the perfect format for Judy: it was a popular genre that took advantage of its star's talents in not only singing, but also dancing and sketch comedy. Just two problems: 1) by 1964 the variety show was considered "old hat" and 2) CBS decided to air this new/old variety show against Sunday night behomoth Bonanza.

With the pressures of broadcast television, a new creative team (including Mel Torme), and her disintegrating relationship with Sidney Luft, Judy Garland requested that her first guest be someone she could trust: Mickey Rooney. The company line was that she was doing an old pal a favor, though it's clear from watching the clip that he's doing her a favor as well. Judy begins the clip full of nervous energy - she even mouths some of Mickey's lyrics - but eventually two decades of partnership and four decades of friendship put her at ease. By the time they get to the reprise, Judy Garland is genuinely, truly having a good time just being herself. The question was whether Judy Garland herself was something TV audiences would tune in for.