The 6th Emmys Evaluated (1954)
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.
I wrote about the 5th Emmy Awards that the awards ceremony was starting to get into the swing of things. That is partly because, by the middle of the 1950s, television itself was rapidly taking on the form we now recognize. The 6th Emmy Awards, held on February 11, 1954 at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles, was also taking on the form of the awards show we now recognize. In honoring the best in television from 1953, The Television Academy expanded the categories from 12 to 14, bringing Supporting Acting categories into the mix and actually specifying for what programs the actors were being nominated.
As another mark of the Emmys’ growing importance, broadcast of the ceremony was sold nationally for the first time, thanks to the efforts of then-president of The Television Academy, actor Don DeFore. DeFore was best known for his role on THE ADVENTURES OF OZZIE AND HARRIET, and he indeed hosted the 6th Emmy Awards as well.
As with the previous year, I’m surprised to not see THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN in the nomination mix, specifically for the Best Children’s Program category. Another “snub,” after early success, could be THE GOLDBERGS. But for the most part, the majority of the crop of worthy television was represented at the 6th Emmys. There was a four-way tie for most nominated show (with four) at the 1954 ceremony: I LOVE LUCY, THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW, MISTER PEEPERS, and YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS. There was a good ol’ two-way tie for big winners, as I LOVE LUCY and THE UNITED STATES STEEL HOUR both took home two awards each.
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 ~.
Best Situation Comedy
- I LOVE LUCY*
- THE GEORGE BURNS AND GRACIE ALLEN SHOW
- MISTER PEEPERS
- OUR MISS BROOKS~
As ever, I LOVE LUCY deserved its top spot for Best Situation Comedy. Not much else in TV from this era, in comedy, drama, variety, or otherwise, quite holds up to Lucille Ball’s timeless performance. THE GEORGE BURNS AND GRACIE ALLEN SHOW, in this context, comes close, as a metafictional look at the lives of two showbiz veterans. Indeed, THE GEORGE BURNS AND GRACIE ALLEN SHOW, I LOVE LUCY, and many other shows nominated at the 6th Emmys represent the incestuous, self-commenting world of TV that has been prevalent throughout its lifetime. On the other hand, though, TOPPER and MISTER PEEPERS are set outside the world of entertainment. The former is a bizarre fantasy comedy in the vein of sitcoms to come about a decade later, following a couple that not-so-tragically die in an avalanche, and come to “haunt” an old guy, who has to hide this knowledge from his wife and others. It’s kind of morbid, but it serves up pretty mild jokes. It is 1953 after all. On the other hand, my distaste for MISTER PEEPERS grew. Again, Wally Cox is good in other stuff, but the show is just too puerile to enjoy for any length of time. OUR MISS BROOKS, in its television form, is still inexplicably absent from the internet (as far as I can tell).
Best Dramatic Program
- PHILCO-GOODYEAR TELEVISION PLAYHOUSE
- STUDIO ONE
- THE UNITED STATES STEEL HOUR*
- KRAFT TELEVISION THEATRE
- ROBERT MONTGOMERY PRESENTS
For once, I could find all of the nominees for Best Dramatic Program! Not that doing so totally served me incredible television. As in previous years, all the dramatic nominees are anthology shows, so they can be hit or miss. PHILCO-GOODYEAR TELEVISION PLAYHOUSE handily earned my favor with its production of Paddy Chayefksy’s “Marty,” which was turned into the Best Picture-winning movie of the same name two years later. Rod Steiger’s performance as the title character is delightful and compelling, indicating the growing prowess of TV actors, writers, directors, and producers. Runner-up STUDIO ONE deserves notice for its version of “1984;” I feel that no adaptation of George Orwell’s novel is able to capture the visuals in my head, to their detriment, even more so than other adaptations of other great books. Nevertheless, STUDIO ONE’s attempt is heavy, and still embodies the paranoia, fear, and tyranny of the book. Winner THE UNITED STATES STEEL HOUR, which had just debuted in 1953, delivered a decent premiere episode with “P.O.W.,” a tale of PTSD rendered with a welcome amount of sympathy, but also a large heaping of overacting. KRAFT TELEVISION THEATRE and ROBERT MONTGOMERY PRESENTS both showcased the early talents of James Dean. While his role in the former is smaller, the story of a whole college class of cheaters is marginally better than the latter’s “Harvest,” but both are pretty schmaltzy.
Best Variety Program
- YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS
- THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW
- THE COLGATE COMEDY HOUR
- TOAST OF THE TOWN
OMNIBUS nearly curried my favor with this category. Its promotion of “culturally minded” television is respectable, even though it was financed by the Ford Foundation (co-founded as it was by noted anti-Semite Henry Ford). Indeed, it resulted in a well-known production of KING LEAR with Orson Welles in the title role, aired in 1953. Assorted other looks at the arts are appreciated, but I just cannot deny the continuing pleasure of YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS and the quartet of Caesar, Coca, Reiner, and Morris. The sketches on YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS were the most consistently funny of the year, although “The Honeymooners” segments of THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW (the only part of the variety show I could find from this year) are of course legendary. And for (some good) reason: I love Jackie Gleason and Art Carney, and although the show still grates with the active misogyny of Ralph Kramden, ultimately, he’s the butt of the joke. It’s a better written and acted segment than much of THE COLGATE COMEDY HOUR, which still appeals with its appearances from Martin and Lewis and Donald O’Connor. TOAST OF THE TOWN was the predecessor to THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW, and its array of acts are interesting, but the program as a whole doesn’t match the relative consistency of its fellow nominees.
Best Audience Participation, Quiz or Panel Program
- YOU BET YOUR LIFE
- WHAT’S MY LINE?*
- I’VE GOT A SECRET
- THIS IS YOUR LIFE*
- TWO FOR THE MONEY
That is indeed not a typo, those two asterisks are meant to be there; this category ended up having a tie, with both WHAT’S MY LINE? and THIS IS YOUR LIFE taking home an award. However, neither match the wit of Groucho Marx, host of the ostensible quiz show YOU BET YOUR LIFE, which was essentially just a vehicle for him to banter with everyday people. It’s an awkward delight, and a funnier one than WHAT’S MY LINE?, which sees a celebrity panel try to guess the line of work of everyday citizens. But there’s a twist: a celebrity stops by every episode, and the blindfolded panel tries to guess who it is. It’s a funny relic, as is its sister show I’VE GOT A SECRET; in this program, the panel instead tries to guess a contestants’, well, secret. And of course, a celebrity still stops by. THIS IS YOUR LIFE was a noted chronicler of celebrities’ lives, but at this time, it still felt like a propagandistic promotion; perhaps it was still be so, to some extent. It’s more interesting by far, however, than TWO FOR THE MONEY, a quiz show hosted by humorist Herb Shriner in the model of YOU BET YOUR LIFE. Shriner seems pretty witty, but his dry style doesn’t fully match the energy of a game show, in a flipside of Marx’s ability to subvert the format.
Best Mystery, Action or Adventure Program
- FOREIGN INTRIGUE
- I LED 3 LIVES
- THE WEB~
This category has probably aged the least gracefully than most of them, with sensationalist plots for 1953 now playing somewhat naive. However, SUSPENSE is still a decent anthology show; its episodes are more hit-and-miss than something like DRAGNET, a known quantity week over week, but then, it is also more imaginative. FOREIGN INTRIGUE is a pretty obscure espionage drama that sees an American reporter in Europe, foiling former Nazis and current communists. It’s pretty silly, but less out-and-out ridiculous than the Red Scare propaganda that is I LED 3 LIVES. “The communists are out to get you!” is the thesis of the show. Finally, I simply couldn’t find much information about THE WEB.
Best Children’s Program
- DING DONG SCHOOL
- KUKLA, FRAN AND OLLIE*~
- BIG TOP~
- SUPER CIRCUS~
- ZOO PARADE~
Of course, the shows nominated for this category are not meant for me in the first place, and certainly not for the time; children’s programming was not, shall we say, universal. The sole surviving nominee, for example, is DING DONG SCHOOL, which is literally for babies. It wins by default. 1953 episodes of puppet show KUKLA, FRAN AND OLLIE, circus programs BIG TOP and SUPER CIRCUS, and documentary series ZOO PARADE are missing.
Best Public Affairs Program
- VICTORY AT SEA*
- PERSON TO PERSON
- MEET THE PRESS
- LIFE IS WORTH LIVING
The Best Public Affairs Program category is mostly made up of shows meant to comment on contemporary events, which means that they could very easily age to their detriment. But for the most part, they’re all interesting. World War II docuseries VICTORY AT SEA stands as the very clear winner here, as a very in-depth, 26-episode exploration of, especially, naval combat during the big conflict. PERSON TO PERSON was broadcasting legend Edward R. Murrow’s celebrity interview show, pioneering the format for TV and giving insight into the lives of then-Senator John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie Kennedy, for example. MEET THE PRESS is still around, of course, but in this earliest incarnation, the stiffness of the on-camera “talent” is harder to watch, although an episode interrogating Joseph McCarthy is of great interest to me. ADVENTURE was another docuseries that focused on different developments in science and the like with each episode, and pretty dry. And I really cannot get behind LIFE IS WORTH LIVING, fronted by the vociferously anti-communist Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of New York Fulton J. Sheen. Hey, you know, I’m starting to get the feeling much of American media was really scared of those communists.
Best Program of News or Sports
- SEE IT NOW*
- GILLETTE CAVALCADE OF SPORTS
- CAMEL NEWS CARAVAN~
- NCAA FOOTBALL GAMES~
- PABST BLUE RIBBON BOUTS~
- PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL~
This category is among the most disposable of the 6th Emmys, made up of straightforward reporting and sports coverage as it is. In fact, only one representative of each survive. SEE IT NOW was Edward R. Murrow’s news magazine-style show, and there’s some value to be gained there; as for GILLETTE CAVALCADE OF SPORTS…I don’t know, I don’t care about sports in the present.
Best New Program
- MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY*
- THE UNITED STATES STEEL HOUR*
- THE LORETTA YOUNG SHOW
- PERSON TO PERSON
- DING DONG SCHOOL
As with the game show category, Best New Program also had two winners. Man, The Television Academy of 1954 were an indecisive bunch, huh!? In any event, both winners are indeed at the top of the list here, although MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY, to be known as THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW, is the best. I don’t even think it’s an incredible sitcom, but I like Thomas alright, and it’s more digestible in a junk food way than THE UNITED STATES STEEL HOUR’s dramatic anthology. THE LORETTA YOUNG was also an anthology show, but often centered around the titular star and host, at least at the start of its run. PERSON TO PERSON, ADVENTURE, and DING DONG SCHOOL aren’t exactly amazing debuts either, so the back half of this list lapses pretty quickly.
Best Male Star of a Regular Series
- Jackie Gleason — THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW
- Sid Caesar — YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS
- Donald O’Connor — THE COLGATE COMEDY HOUR*
- Jack Webb — DRAGNET
- Wally Cox — MISTER PEEPERS
It’s interesting that more than half of the nominees here, for “Regular” Series, took on a number of roles for their shows. Jackie Gleason was specifically nominated for his role as Ralph Kramden in “The Honeymooners” sketches, and in that case, I think he deserves the win for his performance as a bumbling buffoon. Sid Caesar’s “various characters” make it hard to chalk him up above Gleason, but he of course consistently turned in great caricatures of human beings. Donald O’Connor’s nomination and win is interesting, in regards to being “regular;” he regularly hosted THE COLGATE COMEDY HOUR, I suppose, but he wasn’t the star, as others hosted, especially Martin and Lewis. Still, O’Connor is a charismatic song and dance man, fresh off his zenith in the form of SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (1952). Jack Webb is a decent, straight-ahead detective on DRAGNET, and we’ve covered Wally Cox and MISTER PEEPERS. Gleason’s Kramden has staying power, and in fact I think Gleason is one of the greatest comedians of the era.
Best Female Star of a Regular Series
- Lucille Ball — I LOVE LUCY
- Imogene Coca — YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS
- Loretta Young — THE LORETTA YOUNG SHOW
- Dinah Shore — THE DINAH SHORE SHOW
- Eve Arden — OUR MISS BROOKS*~
I want to know what was so appealing about Eve Arden in OUR MISS BROOKS, as I’ve still been unable to track it down (from its earliest TV years). Still, I have to doubt that I would still put her above Lucille Ball as Lucy Ricardo. Her indelible character on I LOVE LUCY displays a comic warmth that not even Imogene Coca was able to match, a masterful jack-of-all-trades though she was. Loretta Young was a celebrated actress, but I don’t think the material on her own show could match her film work, and Dinah Shore wasn’t exactly given the same quality of work as her fellow nominees, as her show was only 15 minutes long. It’s not that you can’t find success in 15 minutes, it’s just that THE DINAH SHORE SHOW was forgettable because of it.
Best Series Supporting Actor
- Art Carney — THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW*
- William Frawley — I LOVE LUCY
- Carl Reiner — YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS
- Ben Alexander — DRAGNET
- Tony Randall — MISTER PEEPERS
As much as I love Jackie Gleason, Art Carney was the secret weapon on “The Honeymooners,” and by extension, THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW. His role as Ed Norton is pitch perfect, and more endearing than Ralph Kramden besides. William Frawley delivers a lovable scrooge on I LOVE LUCY, playing well into the combat Vivian Vance offers. Carl Reiner is a great support on YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS, but like Caesar and Coca, it’s hard to compare his work, strewn as it across many characters and sketches, to consistent, more developed performances. Nevertheless, his hilarity supersedes Ben Alexander’s sidekick role on DRAGNET, and Tony Randall’s friendship on MISTER PEEPERS.
Best Series Supporting Actress
- Audrey Meadows — THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW
- Vivian Vance — I LOVE LUCY*
- Bea Benaderet — THE GEORGE BURNS AND GRACIE ALLEN SHOW
- Ruth Gilbert — THE MILTON BERLE SHOW
- Marion Lorne — MISTER PEEPERS
You know, I think I appreciated Audrey Meadows more as Alice Kramden in “The Honeymooners” sketches when revisiting THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW for this piece. She’s essentially the straight man to Gleason’s Ralph, but she’s not static. Her deadpan delivery and pushback to the idiocy of Ralph is as crucial a part of the success of the bits as Gleason or Carney. So she is the deserved winner, although much in the same way, Vivian Vance deserves notice as the long-suffering wife of Fred Mertz, Ethel. She is a great support to Lucy and her schemes, and after Meadows and Vance, the nominees pale in comparison. Bea Benaderet actually delivers great sarcasm on THE GEORGE BURNS AND GRACIE ALLEN SHOW, but Ruth Gilbert was part of a fading institution on THE MILTON BERLE SHOW and…Marion Lorne…MISTER PEEPERS…
Most Outstanding Personality
- Edward R. Murrow*
- Jack Webb
- Arthur Godfrey
- Fulton J. Sheen
- Martha Raye~
I nearly placed Jack Webb as the winner for Most Outstanding Personality, as I feel his portrayal of a police officer in a fictional show is, I mean, technically more extraordinary. However, I attended journalism school, so I must respect Edward R. Murrow, and indeed he was a phenomenally important and great reporter and interviewer. This pair easily trumps Arthur Godfrey (although isn’t it pretty outstanding that this is the year that he fired someone on-air) and my Emmys nemesis Fulton J. Sheen, while Martha Raye’s presence on FOUR STAR REVUE couldn’t be tracked down.
And so, another Emmys is evaluated. It continued as an ever-improving awards show, just as TV was. I aligned with The Television Academy of 1953 six times out of 14. Not the only time I would be 43 percent out of step with people from 67 years ago! And by estimation, THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW was the big winner at three awards, removing the tie breaker by one win with I LOVE LUCY. But hey, they were both great shows!