The 12th Emmys Evaluated (1960)

Tristan Ettleman
12 min readApr 12, 2021
Robert Stack and Fred Astaire at the 12th Emmy Awards in 1960

Welcome to “Emmys Evaluated,” a series that looks at the nominations and wins in the television industry’s foremost awards ceremony and performs some revisionist history to retroactively pick the winners from the categories and nominees the The Television Academy selected.

After years of steady growth, both in terms of categories, nominees, and influence, The Television Academy turned to a pared down affair for its 12th Emmy Awards and the closure of the decade that contained The Golden Age of Television: the 1950s. From the previous year’s 29 major categories, the 12th Emmys celebrated the best television of 1959 across just 15, slightly more than half (this omitting the technical categories, also reduced in number and breadth, that would be spun out into their own separate “Creative Arts” ceremonies within the past decade-and-a-half). In addition, most of the categories’ number of nominees was brought down from five or six to just three. On top of this, many of the nominees are lost or are simply not accessible online. Together, these factors make the 12th Emmys feel like an abridged affair, not helped further by the fact that an extant broadcast of the ceremony itself is not around.

That ceremony was hosted on June 20, 1960 at NBC Studios in Burbank, California by Fred Astaire, who was coming off the heels of his hugely successful special AN EVENING WITH FRED ASTAIRE, from 1958, and 1959’s ANOTHER EVENING WITH FRED ASTAIRE (the former nominated at the 11th Emmys, the latter nominated below). Although STARTIME (a color anthology show that, at least within the bounds of 1959, does not survive) received the most nominations with five, no show received more than two awards, echoing the small scope of the earliest Emmys ceremonies. But the “big” winners in this “small” pond were THE JACK BENNY PROGRAM and THE MOON AND SIXPENCE. The latter, a color TV movie starring Laurence Olivier in much lauded, transformative makeup, is unfortunately nowhere to be found, as far as I can tell.

I’ve typically addressed the big snubs as shows that did not show up in the major categories at the Emmys at all, but I must take issue with THE TWILIGHT ZONE’s omission from the Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Drama category (it cut down the number of categories, but The Television Academy doubled down on the length of their names), although it was nominated for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama. But after showing up in significant ways at a couple of the previous ceremonies, ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS was also ignored, as was LEAVE IT TO BEAVER. This trio stands out to me as notably missing from the 12th Emmy Awards.

Now, though, I’ll mark with an * the actual winner, bold my pick at the top of the list, and rank in order of my enjoyment from there. I’ve denoted shows or episodes that I couldn’t really track down online (specifically for the year for which they were eligible for this ceremony) with a ~.

Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Humor


The comedy nominees at the 12th Emmys were still going strong after years of nominations. Newcomer ART CARNEY SPECIAL was a series of comedy/variety specials that aired over the course of 1959…as far as I can tell. That’s because there isn’t much information out there about the show, and only a short sketch seems to be around (costarring Dick Van Dyke, soon to headline his own sitcom). It’s hard to judge from that alone, but it resonates a bit more than the underwhelming RED SKELTON SHOW. At the top of the list, though, THE JACK BENNY PROGRAM continued to deliver the laughs on the strength of its titular comedy legend. Jack Benny was a great comedian with a sly, self-effacing delivery that makes his monologues essentially the best part of his show (as opposed to the sketches with his guest stars). It’s an easy win ahead of THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW, which relies too much on the “angry patriarch” trope for my tastes. But its gags are stronger than the softer FATHER KNOWS BEST, which relies too much on the “gentle but still ruling patriarch” trope. I must admit that some episodes of the latter, however, contain some emotional moments that do it credit. But its 1959–60 season, its sixth, would be FATHER KNOWS BEST’s last.

Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Drama


PLAYHOUSE 90 was the place where Rod Serling wrote some of the best teleplays of The Golden Age of Television, and with his new focus on THE TWILIGHT ZONE (again, notably missing here), his absence on the 90-minute anthology show is felt. Nevertheless, strong episodes were delivered in 1959; “Judgment at Nuremberg” is especially compelling as a fictionalized account of the Nuremberg Trials. It’s fortified by documentary footage woven into the narrative. PLAYHOUSE 90 is a weightier, loftier program than THE UNTOUCHABLES, which follows a highly fictionalized version of Prohibition agent Eliot Ness. Its noir-ish, gritty encounters with bootleggers and other criminals of the late 1920s and early ’30s are good, especially for the era, but PLAYHOUSE 90 edges it out by evading a formula, which THE UNTOUCHABLES quickly fell into.

Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Variety


I feel like the potentially strongest nominees (ANOTHER EVENING WITH FRED ASTAIRE, THE FABULOUS FIFTIES) are unfortunately missing, but the two remaining aren’t bad. THE GARRY MOORE SHOW stars the comedian with the crewcut, and his show’s sketches and musical numbers are fun. But it’s most interesting to me as an early example of Carol Burnett’s talent, which would end up overshadowing the man who give Burnett her break. THE DINAH SHORE CHEVY SHOW, on the other hand, is a bit more music-focused, but I was impressed by a number of comedy sketches as well. Shore and her cast simply aren’t as good of comedy performers as Moore and his players, however.

Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Children’s Programming


Early Hanna-Barbera cartoons showed up at the Emmys this year, to my delight. THE HUCKLEBERRY HOUND SHOW is good fun in the limited animation field that Hanna-Barbera helped promote, but its titular character isn’t the only reason why. It featured two other segments, one starring Pixie and Dixie and Mr. Jinks (a Tom and Jerry emulation) and another starring Yogi Bear; of course, the latter would overshadow HH. But together, they form a good half-hour cartoon show. THE QUICK DRAW MCGRAW SHOW is of similar quality, but all three of its segments are just a bit weaker than HUCKLEBERRY HOUND’s. Quick Draw McGraw is a funny western cartoon, but Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy is not remarkable with its father-son dynamic, and detective parody Snooper and Blabber is relatively forgettable. These two cartoons, however, are good, cheesy entertainment today, while LASSIE is just a bit too bland in the tropey, 1950s mold.

Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Public Affairs and Education


This category was meant to distinguish in-depth news magazine style shows from typical news programs (listed just below), for the most part. For example, CBS REPORTS takes one topic and balloons it out into the 30-minute format; one 1959 episode deals with Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev’s visit to Los Angeles. It’s an interesting look at contemporary issues, but history docuseries THE TWENTIETH CENTURY has a longer tail. One 1959 episode of the Walter Cronkite-hosted show (he also led CBS REPORTS) documents the rise of Hitler, and while I was already familiar with its information, the retrospective that came only 14 years after the end of World War II is of a different flavor.

Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of News


THE HUNTLEY-BRINKLEY REPORT was NBC’s answer to CBS’ dominance of excellence in news, and it competed with it effectively. Chet Huntley and David Brinkley hosted the 15-minute program from New York and Washington, D.C., respectively, and while it is mildly interesting as a historical artifact today, it doesn’t offer the same value that the news magazine shows referenced above offered, 62 years later.

Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Series (Lead or Support)

  • Robert Stack — THE UNTOUCHABLES*
  • Raymond Burr — PERRY MASON
  • Richard Boone — HAVE GUN — WILL TRAVEL

Robert Stack as Elliot Ness gives a classic tough leading man role on THE UNTOUCHABLES, and his interactions with the criminals of the period piece are convincingly tense. Raymond Burr’s role as the titular Perry Mason was entering its third season in 1959, and he was still doing admirably within the archetype of “principled attorney.” They are more memorable than Richard Boone as a gentleman mercenary on HAVE GUN — WILL TRAVEL, but he’s OK too.

Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Series (Lead or Support)

  • Loretta Young — THE LORETTA YOUNG SHOW
  • Jane Wyatt — FATHER KNOWS BEST*
  • Donna Reed — THE DONNA REED SHOW

Jane Wyatt and Donna Reed have very similar roles on their family sitcoms as amiable matriarchs. While I have written that Donna Reed had a bit more to do than Wyatt because the show revolved around her, and Wyatt operated within the patriarch-focused FATHER KNOWS BEST, some of the last season episodes of the latter give Wyatt some good emotional moments. However, Loretta Young is truly given more to do on her anthology show, as she takes on a number of compelling parts in comparison to her fellow nominees.

Outstanding Single Performance by an Actor (Lead or Support)

  • Laurence Olivier — THE MOON AND SIXPENCE*~
  • Lee J. Cobb — “Project Immortality” (PLAYHOUSE 90)~
  • Alec Guinness — “The Wicked Scheme of Jebal Deeks” (STARTIME)~

I’ll take the alignment here. Pictures of Laurence Olivier in his makeup look pretty crazy.

Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress (Lead or Support)

  • Ingrid Bergman — “The Turn of the Screw” (STARTIME)*~
  • Julie Harris — “Ethan Frome” (THE DUPONT SHOW OF THE MONTH)~
  • Teresa Wright — “The Margaret Bourke-White Story” (SUNDAY SHOWCASE)~

STARTIME was in color, so I wish I could have seen that (early TV color has a unique quality to it), as well as the great Ingrid Bergman’s performance in “The Turn of the Screw.”

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy

  • Ralph Levy, Bud York — THE JACK BENNY PROGRAM*
  • Sheldon Leonard — THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW
  • Seymour Berns — THE RED SKELTON SHOW

Directorial efforts in sitcoms of the day were the equivalent of the “invisible” Hollywood style in film. So it is difficult to ascribe what is so great about the direction of THE JACK BENNY PROGRAM, THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW, or THE RED SKELTON SHOW, but if it is overseeing all of the elements of the show, then the direction has to be credited for some general quality. So, this ranking also just represents how good each of these shows are in relation to each other.

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Drama

  • Phil Karlson — “The Untouchables” (WESTINGHOUSE DESILU PLAYHOUSE)
  • Robert Mulligan — THE MOON AND SIXPENCE*~
  • John Frankenheimer — “The Turn of the Screw” (STARTIME)~

THE UNTOUCHABLES series was actually jumpstarted by a two-part special of the anthology show WESTINGHOUSE DESILU PLAYHOUSE, and is certainly the best episode of the former. In it, Robert Stack is joined by a great supporting cast that would mostly not carry over into the full series, as Elliot Ness takes on Al Capone. Phil Karlson did a good job giving it a cinematic quality, and in fact, the whole pilot does feel like a good little, self-contained movie.

Outstanding Writing Achievement in Comedy

  • George Balzer, Hal Goldman, Sam Perrin, Al Gordon — THE JACK BENNY PROGRAM*
  • Dorothy Cooper, Roswell Rogers — FATHER KNOWS BEST

THE JACK BENNY PROGRAM is tremendously more funny than FATHER KNOWS BEST (which also acts as a moralizing vehicle, unlike TJBP), but it is just a bit stronger than the TV movie THE BALLAD OF LOUIE THE LOUSE. After the end of THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW, the titular star reteamed with creator Nat Hiken to play a different scoundrel, a bit more bloodthirsty of a character than Bilko, a loan shark named Louie. From a relatively brief excerpt, I can ascertain that the movie is pretty funny, but my ability to take a more holistic approach to THE JACK BENNY PROGRAM has to give it the edge.

Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama

  • Rod Serling — THE TWILIGHT ZONE*
  • Loring Mandel — “Project Immortality” (PLAYHOUSE 90)~
  • James Costigan — “The Turn of the Screw” (STARTIME)~

I think a testament to THE TWILIGHT ZONE’s greatness is how many episodes many people can remember just by uttering a high-concept premise. But not only did the show have great ideas, it executed on them, making it one of the best TV shows of all time and one of my favorites personally. Its first season wasn’t its strongest, but then no one season of the show is less than great (even the hour-long season!). I don’t know how good the fellow nominees would have been, but it’s hard to imagine they could match the ingenuity and humanity of THE TWILIGHT ZONE.

Outstanding Writing Achievement in the Documentary Field

  • Richard Hanser — “Life in the Thirties” (PROJECT XX)
  • James Benjamin — “From Kaiser to Fuehrer” (THE TWENTIETH CENTURY)
  • Howard K. Smith, Av Westin — “The Population Explosion” (CBS REPORTS)*~

I’ve mentioned THE TWENTIETH CENTURY’s Hitler episode, “From Kaiser to Fuehrer,” which may be more accurately described as a general sketch of the history of Germany from the end of World War I to the rise of the Nazi party. It’s good, but the wide approach in docuseries PROJECT XX’s “Life in the Thirties” episode illustrates the American character in a turbulent time, good and bad. I am personally so interested in the progressive movement of the 1930s, and while I am also interested in the world-shaking developments in Germany around the same time, I found more value in the specifics of PROJECT XX’s production (which also benefitted from an hour-long format as opposed to THE TWENTIETH CENTURY’s half-hour).

I’ve written in the past few entries of “Emmys Evaluated” that each successive ceremony felt like the end of an era, which probably cannot be true every time. Nevertheless, the 12th Emmy Awards literally ended the 1950s, and while the shape of TV would look much the same from 1959 to 1960 or even until ’61 or ’62, the anthology shows that had especially dominated The Golden Age of Television were waning in favor of dramatic serials. In terms of this final year of the decade, however, I agreed with The Television Academy’s choices ten times out of 15 (and yeah, I’m taking the W on categories with all nominees missing), a 67 percent alignment. THE JACK BENNY PROGRAM was my biggest winner, taking three awards over reality’s two. But I must make clear, THE TWILIGHT ZONE was certainly the actual best show of the year, making a claim, even with only its first season, for the best program the television medium had yet produced.