When the first AC Nielsen Co ratings for the fall TV season came out last week, a wave of shock and panic rippled through an industry suddenly turned upside down.
Old favorites like Jack Benny and Perry Mason went plummeting. Even the Beverly Hillbillies, undisputed champ for the past two years, dropped from No. 1 to No. 22.
The new No. 1, unlikely to be uprooted this year, is NBC’s Bonanza, which, the Nielsen figures estimate, has 48 million Americans watching Ben Cartwright and his three sons ride the Ponderosa every Sunday night. So powerful is Bonanza’s pull that the rival Joey Bishop show on CBS fell to 96th.
Newcomers to the sanctified top 10 included Bewitched, a comedy about a comely housewife who uses witchcraft to clean up the kitchen; Gomer Pyle, about a nincompoop in the Marines, and The Addams Family, which is a horror show. A rival for the ghoul trade, The Munsters, was rated No. 13, a figure the cast thought was an extremely lucky draw.
Serious drama dropped out of sight. Of the top 20 programs only three — The Fugitive, Combat and Bonanza — deal with anything more urgent than getting a date for the prom, and all three are holdovers.
The biggest smile on network row was worn by usually third-place ABC, which has five of the top 10 shows and edges out the other networks in average ratings. ABC has an over-all nightly rating of 20, CBS has 19 and NBC has 17.7. But, since Nielsen reaches its figures by monitoring only 1,200 sets of 63 million sets in use every night, it is considered fair game to scalp the ratings if they appear to scalp you.
Already CBS is saying that this Nielsen report doesn’t mean anything; wait until December. NBC says ABC’s programs are “designed for an age group from about 6 to 11.” ABC suggested that NBC was merely spouting “smoke in the wind, sometimes called sour grapes.”
Lucky 13. This appropriate rating was won by The Munsters, with Fred Gwynne, Yvonne DeCarlo and a batty uncle who hangs from the rafters.