Via the primary few a long time of tv, the final piece of music late-night viewers heard was “The Star-Spangled Banner” earlier than a station signed off.
That modified thanks largely to Burt Sugarman, an unbiased producer of recreation exhibits, music specials and finally films, who believed folks would keep up after Johnny Carson’s “Tonight” present if there have been one thing to truly watch. He proved it 50 years in the past when he launched NBC’s Friday evening music sequence “The Midnight Particular” that featured dozens of main rock, pop, nation and soul acts of the Seventies.
Sugarman — now 84 and sometimes seen seated behind the plate at Dodger Stadium subsequent to his spouse Mary Hart of “Leisure Tonight” fame — knew his weekly program was price preserving (together with the contracts that gave him management of the rights). After making the performances obtainable on cable community VH-1 and on DVDs over the a long time, he’s lastly introduced them on-line, to a devoted YouTube channel he launched final month.
“Lots of the artists we featured on ‘The Midnight Particular’ again within the ’70s are touring once more — each domestically and internationally, taking part in all forms of venues, together with arenas and stadiums,” Sugarman mentioned in a current interview. “It felt like the suitable time to introduce new audiences to the present.”
Sugarman’s vault provides a bounty of tolerating artists, together with Fleetwood Mac on the top of the band’s powers, Dolly Parton throughout her breakthrough crossover from nation to pop, and Linda Ronstadt earlier than and after “Coronary heart Like a Wheel” propelled her to tremendous stardom. Elton John, Tina Turner, Led Zeppelin, Aretha Franklin, KISS, Johnny Money, Sly and the Household Stone, Roxy Music, Todd Rundgren, Electrical Mild Orchestra, the Spinners, Coronary heart and Donna Summer season all carried out dwell on the present all through the years, together with prime comedians reminiscent of Steve Martin and Richard Pryor.
“Midnight Particular” additionally featured TV rarities reminiscent of progressive rockers King Crimson (“Larks’ Tongues in Aspic” followers rejoice!), a dwell efficiency from Steely Dan, and unlikely mixtures such because the Bee Gees and R&B legend Wilson Pickett teaming up on “Hey Jude.” Clips of David Bowie’s last efficiency of his 1980 present on the Marquee Membership in London are supplied, together with his duet with Marianne Faithfull on “I Acquired You Babe.”
Sugarman is including clips every week to the YouTube channel and guarantees whole 90-minute exhibits as effectively, which haven’t been seen in full since they first aired on NBC.
“The Midnight Particular” was a part of a mini-wave of late-night rock-music TV exhibits within the early Seventies that additionally included ABC’s “In Live performance” and the syndicated “Don Kirshner’s Rock Live performance.” Whereas community TV executives have been cautious of the music and the drug tradition surrounding it on the time, they might nonetheless rely: They noticed the drawing energy of rock festivals and concert events that proliferated after Woodstock.
The exhibits got here alongside within the three-network period previous the emergence of cable and MTV, when decisions for watching music on TV have been slim. Followers needed to accept Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” on ABC and the syndicated “Soul Practice,” which each featured artists lip-syncing their hit data.
The opposite choices have been community TV selection exhibits reminiscent of “The Crimson Skelton Hour,” on which the Rolling Stones made their first U.S. TV look in 1964. Many artists dreaded taking part in them within the Seventies, when credibility with the youth viewers grew to become a should.
“They have been so controlling of your picture,” Ronstadt mentioned in a telephone interview. “If you happen to did the Glen Campbell present, they gave you clothes to put on. It didn’t go down so effectively with me. On some exhibits you would need to comply with plate twirlers or an act with an orangutan.”
However Ronstadt’s greatest criticism about TV was how the music sounded. “The exhibits made their very own preparations and cargo it up with lard,” she mentioned. “Your audio and video have been completely out of your management.”
Sugarman addressed that concern by making a present on which acts performed dwell with their very own devices and preparations in a concert-like setting. He was satisfied younger folks coming dwelling from a Friday evening out would watch for it. In 1972, he introduced the thought to executives at NBC, who scoffed at first.
“They mentioned, ‘You already know these rock ’n’ roll folks, they’re full of medicine. They’re not going to point out up and it’ll simply be it’ll be a waste of cash,’” Sugarman recalled. “So I mentioned, ‘Properly what if I pay for it?’”
Together with selecting up the tab for the manufacturing, Sugarman additionally promised the artists on this system would promote voter registration, because the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 earlier than the 1972 presidential election. With no monetary danger concerned and a public service rationale connected, NBC gave the producer a inexperienced gentle.
Sugarman purchased the time from NBC and wrangled this system’s advertisers himself. He pitched a Normal Motors govt named John DeLorean, who cherished the thought of reaching younger viewers who may affect their dad and mom’ shopping for choices and signed the corporate on.
When Sugarman was purchasing for acts, his buddy, impresario Jerry Weintraub, offered him on John Denver, then a healthful folkie kind who had but to develop into a multi-platinum star. Sugarman had by no means heard of Denver, however sensed the singer would allay NBC’s issues about druggie rock stars and made him the host of the pilot.
“He appeared like a clean-cut man who would present up,” Sugarman recalled.
As soon as “The Midnight Particular” was on observe, Sugarman obtained the assist of Carson, who was his neighbor and common tennis associate in Beverly Hills. The “Tonight” host wasn’t a fan of rock music, however appreciated the thought of getting a program to comply with him at 1 a.m., as it might maintain viewers tuned in by the tip of his present, which ran 90 minutes on the time. Carson plugged “The Midnight Particular” on the air earlier than its launch.
The pilot episode aired on Aug. 19, 1972, with Denver presenting a lineup that included Ronstadt, Mama Cass, the Everly Brothers, David Clayton-Thomas, Argent, Conflict and the Isley Brothers. Sugarman used a number of soundstages concurrently on NBC’s Burbank lot, so one act may begin after one other completed with out a time-consuming setup.
The producer’s hunch that folks would watch was right. Round 6 million viewers tuned in to the pilot and NBC picked up “The Midnight Particular” as a 90-minute weekly sequence, launching on Feb. 2, 1973, within the 1 a.m. time slot.
By the point “The Midnight Particular” went to sequence, it already had competitors from ABC, which debuted “In Live performance” as a part of its late-night lineup in September 1972. Its first producer was Don Kirshner, the music publishing govt and producer accountable for made-for-TV teams the Monkees and the Archies.
The launch of “In Live performance” was fraught, in response to Joshua White, who produced and directed lots of the episodes. ABC’s Cincinnati affiliate, outraged over a efficiency by shock rocker Alice Cooper, pulled “In Live performance” off the air mid-show. One station delayed the 11:30 p.m. broadcast to 1:30 a.m.
Even Kirshner, by no means a cutting-edge determine within the music business, grew annoyed with anxious ABC executives who interfered with this system. He went out on his personal to launch his syndicated “Rock Live performance” sequence that ran for eight years.
Identified within the music enterprise for his Joshua Mild Present shows, White went to work at “In Live performance” in his inexperienced and yellow usher jersey from the Fillmore East, the well-known New York rock palace, simply to create a degree of consolation for the performers who distrusted the medium.
“They have been hostile to tv,” White mentioned. “They thought folks weren’t going to come back to concert events anymore.”
However as soon as “The Midnight Particular” established itself, Sugarman mentioned he had no drawback reserving stars to seem. File corporations would see a gross sales carry the weekend after their acts appeared on this system. Not solely did the labels say sure, they all the time made positive the artists made it to the studio on time.
Beginning in this system’s second season, NBC lined up FM stations throughout the nation to simulcast “The Midnight Particular,” so viewers may pay attention on their stereo techniques slightly than a small mono speaker on a TV set.
White mentioned he envied Sugarman’s effectivity in making “The Midnight Particular” and the way in which the producer was capable of stability middle-of-the-road hosts reminiscent of Helen Reddy with announcer Wolfman Jack, the gravelly-voiced border radio disc jockey whose standing as a popular culture icon rose after his look within the George Lucas movie “American Graffiti.”
“They used Wolfman Jack, who was genuine,” White mentioned. “He helped floor it. These soundstages have been fantastic. They usually did good mixes.”
Sugarman produced 48 weekly episodes a yr, making repeats scant on the community. “The Midnight Particular” resulted in 1981, however the producer, who went on to earn an Oscar nomination for making “Youngsters of a Lesser God,” stored the rights to the present, even turning down a hefty monetary supply from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.
Sugarman transferred the 2-inch tape masters to 1-inch tape because the know-how modified and later transformed them to digital recordsdata, retaining them in pristine situation over the a long time. (White mentioned ABC was nonetheless reusing video tape within the Seventies and erased a lot of the “In Live performance” performances.)
Sugarman has beforehand made clips obtainable to artists who requested them for his or her Rock & Roll Corridor of Fame inductions and pirated copies have lengthy proven up on-line.
However his YouTube channel is the primary approved on-line presentation of the exhibits that may attain a era of viewers who grew up with on-demand streaming. They’ll by no means know what it was like to remain up late to get a glimpse of their favourite artists acting on TV.
“My 31-year-old son nonetheless doesn’t get it,” mentioned Sugarman.