Back when I was a youngster there was only three networks, PBS, and if you lived in a town large enough, you might have one or two independent TV stations. Back then there were no informercials, and all TV stations had hours of programming to devise and broadcast outside of whatever programming the networks provided to them. Having to provide programming for these off hours were what made the syndication universe so much larger than it is today, even if there were fewer channels on your TV dial. Back then you would see a lot of old Hollywood movies, locally produced TV shows, pro wrestling, pro bowling, demolition derby events and roller derby.
A lot of that is gone now. If you want to see old Hollywood movies, you pretty much have to have cable with a lineup that includes AMC and TCM. Most local broadcast stations have turned their programming over to infomercials, and outside of local news broadcasts they produce very little local stuff.
Here are a couple of small, locally produced shows that I remember from growing up, when this sort of thing seemed to be much more common than it is now.
I used to watch Beyond Our Control on WNDU (in South Bend, IN) every Saturday afternoon. I can’t remember if I stumbled on the show by accident, or if I tuned into it because a classmate of mine was a writer on it, but it quickly became Must See TeeVee for me. The show was a comedy sketch show, not unlike Saturday Night Live, or Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and was every bit as funny as them (including the occasional not funny sketches), except that it began its life far earlier than either of those two shows did. It was produced almost entirely by students from the vicinity of South Bend, who were advised in their efforts by some employees of the TV station. Lest you think my memories of the show’s quality is tinged by warm fuzzy nostalgia, check out the comments on IMDB. (Mine is the first comment, but others have been added, mostly all echoing my praise for it.)
Another fixture on television in them days was the afternoon movie show. Every media market had at least one station that would spend a weekday or weekend afternoon showing old Hollywood movies — usually old black and whites. The best that I ever saw was one that was broadcast on WKBD in Detroit, a station that was part of the Kaiser Broadcasting family. The host of the show was Bill Kennedy, who at one time had done a lot of work in Hollywood B movies. In his introductions and his station break comments for the movie that was showing on his Sunday afternoon show he seemed to use actual personal recollections, which added some glamour and fascination to our viewing pleasure.
I did not grow up watching his show as scores of Detroit (and Windsor, Ontario) residents did, but found him when I went off to college. He was getting old by then, and his delivery would sometimes meander, but he would occasionally show flashes of wit. Whether or not he personally had a hand in the movie selections I don’t know, but they were usually a cut above the very low end B movies that one frequently saw on smaller market stations. In my college digs, our entire household would wake up after a Saturday night bacchanalia, and spend the afternoon lounging on the sofa watching Bill Kennedy At The Movies.
AMC frequently has a movie host that introduces movies in way that is similar to what Bill Kennedy used to do. However, none of their hosts speak from any personal experience in Hollywood show biz, and they’re much stiffer and lack Bill’s humor. None of them have that debonair, man-about-town air that Bill bought to his show.