With a wealth of publicity and pedigree, “Under the Dome” has captured the “No. 1 series” designation for summer even as the season has more than a month to go.
Many are hailing the Steven Spielberg-Stephen King collaboration as an indication that networks are once again going to be competitive with cable during the summer months.
I’m not so sure.
“Under the Dome” is undeniably a quality show; it certainly would upstage similarly quirky dramas such as “Revolution” during the regular season. But it’s just one show. NBC’s two summer drama entries – “Crossing the Lines” and “Camp” – have largely failed and CBS’s other summer offering, “Unforgettable,” has proved to be quite the opposite for fans of the series, who either don’t realize it’s on the summer schedule or believe the episodes are reruns from the first season.
Through early August, “Dome” is the lone drama racking up decent ratings. Its primary competition continues to be “America’s Got Talent,” “Bachelorette,” “Big Brother” and repeats of “60 Minutes,” “Big Bang Theory” and “NCIS.” Meanwhile, cable continues to fire back with series such as “Rizzoli & Isles” and stunt programming (“Shark Week” had its highest-rated debut in 26 years).
Those sharks notwithstanding, nothing has taken a big bite of summer TV ratings. Will TV viewers watch quality shows such as “Under the Dome” if they are offered? Sure. But, in equal numbers, they’re just as likely to watch “America’s Got Talent” (which cost a lot less to produce) or NFL practice games such as Dallas vs. Miami (two weeks into training camp, it’s way too early to call it a preseason game).
Were I a network executive, I’d be content with the current summer mix of reality and variety shows, repeats and a couple new dramas. After all, the real summer competition for networks isn’t cable, it’s summer. It’s baseball, vacations, picnics and the back porch. That’s as it should be, frankly, and it works to the networks’ advantage. A 12-month TV season is as ineffective as a 12-month school season. Without an opportunity for a fresh start, networks would become mired in mediocrity. NBC would never have the opportunity to rise from the ratings ashes, as it hopes to do this fall with its new Thursday sitcom lineup.
June, July and August let students re-invent themselves and their goals; summer also permits the networks to work on their image and their product.
Death of a disc jockey
One of Western Pennsylvania’s legendary disc jockeys died last month. Terry Lee, whose “Music for Young Lovers” was a staple of Pittsburgh radio and the title of numerous Lee compilation albums during the 1960s, died July 30.
One of his final interviews was with the Observer-Reporter in 2010 as Lee was attempting to re-launch a career that began in Finleyville.
“My band was playing at the Finleyville Community Center and the disc jockey that played between our sets didn’t show,” Lee said, “so some friends got me a turntable and records, and I filled in. I liked it so much that I rented the center for the following week, not as a band, but as a disc jockey.”
Always the entrepreneur, Lee was soon making music tapes for the Associated Theaters movie chain. In between the music, he promoted the concession stands, and the company let him promote his dances. His first on-air jobs, at age 16, were at WESA in Charleroi and WZUM in Carnegie. He joined WARO in Canonsburg in April 1963.
“I was out selling advertising for my Canonsburg show, while Pete Stanton was doing the same for WJPA. When he went to WMCK in McKeesport in May of 1964, he took me along. He said, ‘I’d rather have you working for me than against me.‘ I was 21 at the time, and I stayed at the station 10 years. It was the peak of my career, the best time of my life. I had more fun than anybody should be allowed to have,” he said.
Lee’s stint at WMCK/WIXZ was so popular that in 1967 he was tagged to host an afternoon dance party on WIIC (now WPXI) called “Come Alive.”
He was so influential that he also helped launch dozens of songs locally and nationwide, chief among them “Hanky Panky” by Tommy James and “Nobody but Me” by the Human Beinz. He was especially proud of forcing the much-larger Pittsburgh stations to play songs such as “High on a Hill,” “69” and “Because of You” after he made those iconic songs popular on his show.
During his four years on “Come Alive,” he’d round up his guest singers and take them to clubs such as the Red Rooster, Blue Fox, White Elephant and Lebanon Lodge on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and dreamed up several stunt appearances, including broadcasting from a Ferris wheel, the high dive at Cabana Beach and a rowboat in the middle of Canonsburg Lake. And he continued to do club disc jockey work as well, attracting more than 1,000 fans in an era when bands were becoming a big draw.
If that wasn’t enough, Lee also became a producer of such locally successful acts as the Fenways and the Arondies.
Sadly, the second time around for Lee was not as memorable. His 2010 appearance at the Pennsylvania Bavarian Oktoberfest in Canonsburg was a bust, as were short-lived shows on WJAS and a few other stations. A heralded return to the Palisades in McKeesport early in 2010 packed in 600 people, but subsequent dances – where Lee continued to play 45s – were less successful. Although he told the Observer-Reporter he was planning to move back to the area from Ohio, it never happened.
Said Lee at the time, “What’s amusing is that when I returned to WJAS, some of the feedback from callers was that they were thrilled to be listening to real radio again. I didn’t know what they meant. I didn’t realize how much radio had changed because I wasn’t listening to it.”
Evidently, radio wasn’t ready for the return of Lee’s eclectic playlist, either.
Perhaps fans preferred Terry Lee as a wonderful memory, as the man who alone created dozens of hits that persist – at least at Pittsburgh dance halls – to this day.
While it may be somewhat of a stretch to say Lee revolutionized radio, he certainly epitomized the power of the disc jockey in the early years of rock and roll. More than most, Lee was able to turn those daily four hours of radio time into a highly successful career.