Down the Road

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Vintage TV: The CBS Late Movie

71

Starting in the late ’70s, my brother and I got sent to Camp Grandma in southwestern Michigan for a couple weeks every summer. The rules were extremely relaxed at Camp Grandma. Pepsi and Vernors and my brother’s beloved root beer flowed freely, and Grandma always bought Pringles and Lucky Charms and Slim Jims and all sorts of other junk food we got very little of at home. We’d sit up late with our grandparents every night, playing penny-ante poker or Kismet and listening to their stories of the Depression and the fabulous 50s until Grandma’s Gallo (from the gallon jug with the screw cap) and Grandpa’s Pabst Blue Ribbon got the better of them. Then we’d roll out our sleeping bags in front of the TV and watch until all the stations had signed off. Those were great days.

Me at Camp Grandma, 1977

Me at Camp Grandma, 1977

The late-night-TV pickings were slim in those days when there were few choices beyond CBS, NBC, and ABC. The networks gave it up at 12:30 or 1 a.m. and most of their stations just signed off. WKZO, Channel 3 in Kalamazoo, sometimes ran a late-late show, if I remember right. Independent WUHQ, Channel 41 from Battle Creek, always did, if memory serves, but we couldn’t pull it in unless the sky was clear and Grandpa’s antenna rotator was working. Weather and antenna usually determined our bedtime, actually! A few times, we were still up when Grandpa made his way to the coffee pot at 5:30.

We always looked forward to the CBS Late Movie, which started right after the news. It ran lots of B and made-for-TV movies in the mid 70s, including monster movies on Friday nights. But by the late 70s, the CBS Late Movie showed more and more crime-drama reruns, which were sped up by 10 percent and crammed so full of commercials that the shows ran 70 minutes instead of 60. We preferred the movies, but could be happy with good action and suspense in Hawaii Five-O, Quincy, M.E., or Kolchak: the Night Stalker.

What made the CBS Late Movie so cool was its open and bumpers. The opening theme’s vigorous horns triggered anticipation of gritty drama to come. The colors in the star and spinning wheel popped against the black background, and there was nothing like it in prime time. Here’s how the program opened one night late in August, 1982.

Because this bumper was transferred from the 35 mm masters, you can see how colorful these elements were. This particular bumper was used in and out of commercials, and the announcer would say either “We will return to” or “We now return to” followed by the movie name and its stars. The music sounded lonesome, which seemed appropriate for watching in the dark in the middle of nowhere.

The CBS Late Movie theme is called So Old, So Young, composed by Morton Stevens, who wrote lots of television music in his time. Here it is, from my collection.

In the summer of 1985, the CBS Late Movie ditched these elements for CBS’s then-current prime-time movie look and theme. The program was also renamed to CBS Late Night. David Letterman, filled with mock indignation over the slight to his program, then on NBC and also named Late Night, called CBS during his program one night, demanding to know why they were infringing on his territory. I saw that bit back then, and it made me laugh. That almost made up for losing that classic theme and graphics. At least until YouTube brought them back.

71 thoughts on “Vintage TV: The CBS Late Movie

  1. Frederick

    Hey,
    I stumbled upon your blog looking for info on the CBS Late Movie theme. I love that colorful star and lonesome far off music. I remember sitting up late with my twin brother. We’d watch “The Night Stalker” and “The Avengers” and the “Saint” along with a lot of obscure TV and theatrical movies. I recall a TV movie called Harpy and there was Welcome to Arrow Beach and The Vanishing Point. Oh, and I still drink Vernors, great stuff.

  2. Jim Post author

    Frederick, thanks for stopping by. I remember seeing some William Shatner movie about spiders or bees or something, and the various Planet of the Apes movies.

  3. Julie

    I have never forgotten this movie theme. It has haunted me for years, as is the ABC Movie of The Week theme. They were part of my childhood, of staying up late to watch a highly anticipated movie of the week. TV was so different then – our choices were certainly very limited to all the cable stuff nowadays, but I wouldn’t trade those days for anything.

  4. Lone Primate

    Man, that sounds like heaven. :) I only wish I’d had a brother to share stuff like that with.

    When I was just getting old enough to stay up later than my folks in the very early 80s, there was a show on an independent station in Toronto called “The All-Night Show” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wT18Giv_uoI), hosted by “Chuck the Security Guard” and his heard-but-never-seen buddy Ryerson behind the camera. They used to run just about anything they could get their hands on… weird animation (first place I ever saw Bambi vs. Godzilla), corny old commercials, B movies, 1960s TV series… it was the first place I saw The Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, The Andy Griffith Show, McHale’s Navy, all that stuff. It was just a treasure box of odds and ends; a smorgasbord of 20th century pop culture, and my introduction to much of it. Those summer nights, it was like only I, the TV, and those guys far away in another city were the entire world. I only wish the show were available on DVD. From what I understand, when the station tried to screw the cast out of residuals or something, the cast trashed most of the tapes. Sure, they can see it on Tau Ceti, but not on Earth anymore… :)

        1. Doobie

          Holy Motorola!
          Did anyone else need a bottle of Gatorade to replenish fluids after seeing Rhonda Shear? Now that she is pitching everything sexy, silky, and feminine on QVC, we know she meant every twist, turn, and titillation she performed on UP! All night.

  5. doug

    hey great i remember this too, but i was looking for the late show theme that preceded the late movie … or maybe it was on another network but i remember it being on cbs … it had lyrics .. “the late show, relax enjoy a snack and watch the late show, the greatest od stars, here on the late great show” or something like that. it’s in my heart but i’d like to hear it in my ears one more time. I am 48. any clues?

    1. Laura

      I, too, am looking for the old 60’s-70’s Late Show theme. It was on CBS. I watched it on WBBM Chicago Channel 2 back in the mid-70’s. It came on before the All Electric Magic Lantern Moving Picture Show.
      I had taped the Late Show theme off of the tv with a cassette player, but the tape broke and I doubt if I still have it.
      I hope this theme shows up somewhere soon!

      1. Robert Stephens

        Not sure if you ever found what your looking for. According to fuzzymemories.tv, it’s “So Old, So Young” written by Morton Stevens. Fuzzy has clips from the show, as well as the opening of Magik Lantern. It’s a few years later, but I hope it helps.

        1. Robert Stephens

          Sorry, I just read the whole thread. I thought you were looking for the Late Movie theme. I only found your message while looking for more information about the Magik Lantern show. As Gilda Radner used to say…”Nevermind.”

  6. Robert

    Yes, Doug. I grew up in LA and that was the 60’s theme to the local late show at (then) KNXT (now KCBS). Most likely changed and syndicated to work with any channel number, but I remember the lyrics to be:

    The Late Show
    Relax, enjoy a snack and watch the Late Show
    Channel 2 is proud to bring the greatest of stars
    Here on the great Late Show.

  7. Pat

    I’ve been searching unsuccessfully for what I remember as the closing of the CBS Late Movie, probably circa mid-70s. I swear the music was the piano solo at the end of Derek and the Dominos’ (Eric Clapton’s) “Layla”. Seems I remember swirling animated movie projectors. This was always right before the station signed off. Does this ring any bells with anyone?

  8. Henry

    Doug and Robert, thanks. I remembered the 1st second and fourth lines but was a loss for the third. Was trying to email a story about watching TV in my youth and couldn’t leave those lyrics out. Los Angeles, KCBS. Also, wrote about the Ben Hunter Show, KTTV channel 11.

  9. Charles McPartland

    Can you please tell me the name of the music that opened The Fabulous 52? It aired each Saturday night (11:30) on KNXT’s Channel 2 (Los Angeles)?

    1. Alma Lopez

      You know what I would love to see again is the opening(with those great graphics!)for The Fabulous 52. Have searched high and low online but no luck:( It’s a favorite childhood memory of mine growing up in L.A. and I’d love to see it again these many years later!

        1. Alma Lopez

          Charles, no luck so far, but looks like Mike has found out who composed theme and name of it(see other comment on here). I tried every site I could think of that had music samples on it so I could try to hear at least a snippet of it, but no luck. Guess will have to wait till someone(maybe from this site?)finds something and will kindly put it up on YouTube for us!

  10. Charles McPartland

    Can you please tell me the name and composer of the opening music to The Fabulous 52? It aired a late night movie each Saturday night on KNXT Channel 2 in Los Angeles.

  11. Mike

    Here’s a link to “The Television Production Music Museum” website page featuring the intro from CBS’s “The Late Show”. It has the video and music. It appears to be an extended version of what I remember seeing on the local CBS Los Angeles affiliate, KNXT. Go to: http://www.tvpmm.com/documents/364.html and click on the second one. The first one is the clip from New York’s CBS affiliate version which features Leroy Anderson’s “Ticking Clock” tune. I looked a long time to find this and yes I got a lump in my throat when I heard it for the first time in some 40 years.

    1. mike

      Well folks, I did a little more searching and found the name of the composer and title of the music of KNXT’s “The Early Show” which aired during the afternoon on Saturdays and Sundays (same music as “The Fabulous 52″).

      The tune was written by Johnny Pearson. He is the same composer that wrote the now famous “ABC’s Monday Night Football” theme song.

      The title of the tune, as best as I can gather, is “Power Drive”. Good luck finding an audio clip of it.

      If you can, you’re better than I am.

      1. Alma Lopez

        This helps a lot!! At least now we know who wrote the music and the title, now all we have to do is find it. This is a good start, however! Oh, to have the audio AND visuals for the Fabulous 52 promo though!

        1. Mike

          O.k. folks, buckle your seat belts. If you go to Youtube type in “Division 4″ in the search.

          Click on “theme from Division 4″, you’ll hear the elusive “Power Drive” by Johnny Pearson in it’s entirety.

          Unfortunately, the video sequence is a montage of stills of the stars of the ’60’s Australian crime drama not the montage from “The Fabulous 52″ or even “The Early Show”. I’m still working on those.

          From one of the posts I read on Youtube, the entire intro. to “The Early Show” existed on that site at one time but, has since been disappeared.

          So, for now, click on the Youtube post, close you eyes, sit back and listen. It’s up to you to imagine the montage (for either the Fab.52 or Early Show) then at the end of the tune, you can almost hear the late Charlie Dugdale (station break announcer at KNXT and later KCBS) tell you about the movie that’s about to start.

          Enjoy.

      2. Jim Post author

        Well, guys, by virtue of discussing the Fabulous 52 here, it is now the number one hit for the phrase on Google. I guess that means there’s precious little about it on the Internet!

        1. Alma Lopez

          Hope this means that in the near future SOMEONE out there will have a clip of the Fabulous 52 opening and post it on YouTube! There are so many things online that I never thought I’d see again that I’m confident somebody out there has such a clip that they will put up.

  12. Jill

    I, too, used to watch the CBS Late movie out of channel 3 (Kalamazoo) when I was a young teenager. I have bits and parts of some movies in my head, but have no idea what the names of the movies are, so I have been trying to find a list of the movies that they played, since I would like to watch them again. Any idea where I could find such a thing?

  13. Derrick Barrett

    Hey there,

    I was just surfing and I saw your site. I’ve been trying to find a CBS late movie promo that had “Planet of the Apes” or any of the sequels that played late at night. I’ve been trying to find it for the longest time. I found one, but I was unable to download it, and when I could, it was pulled off of You Tube. If you can find one or any of the POTA movies of the CBS Late movie promo, I’d gladly appreciate it. I’ll give you a credit in my short film, based on my childhood watching late night films.

    Anyway, great site.

    Derrick

    1. Jim Post author

      Derrick, the Planet of the Apes promos/opens are kind of the holy grail of CBS Late Moviedom. I’d love to find them, too. I have no insider secrets, though; I’m searching YouTube just like everybody else!

  14. Alma Lopez

    Thanks, Mike(re: “Power Drive”)! Since you posted the name of the theme, I have gone to YouTube a few times to hear it, and I immediately recognized it! Although, now I realize that this music(as you said)was not just for “The Fabulous 52!”, but also the “Early Show”. Too bad NEITHER of those visuals online though, but know you are working on it:)

    Though I hadn’t heard that theme since childhood, I actually recalled flashes of a little of the opening montages of “The Fabulous 52!”(or “The Early Show”)as I listened to the music. It just came to me like that, that childhood memory, just from listening to the theme…the weirdest thing!

    Thanx also for posting the name of the station break announcer at KNXT. Now we know his name! I can hear his voice in my mind right now too, just like it was yesterday.

  15. Mike Jackson

    Wow, it’s great to see those old Late Movie titles again. In the spirit of Halloween I was talking with a friend about all the horror stuff from the old CBS Late Show and thought I would ask if you recall a movie which I’m sure ran more than once we both thought was named “Jenny” or had a song where that name was sung. IMDB hasn’t helped us dig up any reference to it. I’m sure it was shot in either the very late 60’s or 70’s and seemed to be about a ghostly girl who haunted this fellow by the ocean. It’s the only other movie I really remember as superscary from that era other than the old CBS Late Movie gem “The Other” which was a little cheesier than I remember when I got it on DVD a few years ago.

  16. Brad

    Your site is amazing! I predate you by many years in the southwestern MI scheme of things. When I was a child in Kalamazoo we received two channels: WKZO and WOOD. During certain weather condition we could also receive WZZM and WJIM. I doubt that you remember “Channel 3 Clubhouse” or “Buck Barry’s Rodeo” but they were two live kids’ shows that I wanted to be on in the worst way.

    Anyway, I’m always looking for footage from these four stations, and would appreciate you letting me know if you run across any.

    Thanks!

    1. Jim Post author

      You may be amused to know that I do remember Channel 3 Clubhouse, and can hear the theme music in my head right now and can see all the kids waving at the camera. Perhaps I caught it in its waning years. You may further be amused to know that I’ve been a subscriber to your YouTube channel for some time! I do have a link to a 1977 WKZO clip that robatsea2009 uploaded to YouTube; I wrote about it on another “Vintage TV” blog entry here.

    2. Terri

      We must be around the same age as my sister and I were both on Channel 3 Clubhouse and remember watching Buck Barry. Those were the days!

  17. Alma

    Hi again to those of you out there who were fans of KNXT’s “The Fabulous 52!” & “The Early Show”…remember we are still on the lookout for that cool montage with “Power Drive” by Johnny Pearson playing over it. HAS to be out there somewhere! If somebody knows where it is at, please let the rest of us know or please post on YouTube!

  18. Doobie

    Thanks for the extremely informative, and interesting article. I really like that CBS Late Movie bumper for the commercials. And the title, who knew?
    Excellent. Thank you.

  19. D. Mercado

    I remember at the start of the “Fabulous 52″, a voice-over announcer would say something like, “Week in and week out, the best movies from Hollywood!”

    1. Alma

      Yay! More memories about the “Fabulous 52″(and “The Early Show” since both had the same theme)!! Keep the memories coming! Still waiting(seems like forever) for the cool montage for “The Fabulous 52″/”The Early Show”. Know it has to be out there SOMEWHERE, and hoping that someday soon it will be posted on YouTube.

      1. W.B.

        You’re in luck. The full, unedited “Power Drive” which was the theme for both “The Early Show” and “The Fabulous 52″ on KNXT can now be heard on:

  20. W.B.

    The main announcer for “The CBS Late Movie” – and V/O for almost all their promos – was Norm Stevens. Other times when he was off, bumpers were V/O’d by other CBS New York staff announcers such as Bill Martin, Hal Simms and Wally King. (All these announcers, besides handling network V/O duties, also did local booth work at the network’s New York flagship WCBS-TV/2.)

    As for “So Old, So Young,” the version as heard on the open for “The Medusa Touch” was first unveiled in 1977 on their prime time movie shows, and by 1978 or so trickled down to “The CBS Late Movie.” Before then, the version used (as on that audio file linked here) was the 1971 recording.

    Another thing, in its early years, was running moldy oldy films whose prime time was passed by (i.e. pre-1948 Hollywood flicks, many in B&W, that used to run on many local “Late Shows”), or films that were deemed unsuitable to run in prime time.

  21. X-Evolutionist

    I found this post searching for a video of the KNXT Los Angeles Late Show movies on Channel 2. It was a song, and all I can remember is the last line:

    “Channel 2 is bringing you the greatest of stars here on the late great show.”

    It was on in the late 1960s.

    X

    1. Jim Post author

      I think that was from a promo. It used to be available at the TV Production Music Museum online, but the site owner has moved all of his content behind a pay wall.

      1. Alma

        The intro for the KNXT Late Show movie that X found is awesome. Have seen it many times, and yes, Jim…there is a pay wall now at the TV Production Music Museum(as I discovered when I went there about three weeks ago for the first time in a few months), BUT…somehow I was still able to bring up that short video and not have to go through a pay wall. It WAS a little tricky to navigate the site and try to find it, but through sheer stubbornness, I finally was able to locate for free still.

  22. Lucia

    Hi, I’m looking for a movie maybe late 70s early 80s. I thought CBS, made for tv. About a boy who I think is abused by an alcholc father, runs away to play with a little girl behind a fence. At end of movie, gets hit by a car, as he is runnig away. Little girl who turns out was actually dead herself,was waiting to bring little boy to heaven. After reading your story about Camp Grandmas, I figured you would be only person who might know. Please help!

    1. Jim Post author

      Hi Lucia – Unfortunately, I don’t recall a film like you describe. Perhaps one of the many people following this comment thread can help.

  23. Rick

    Do you have a recording of the original version of CBS’s Friday Night Movies from the late 1960’s? It is the same composition by Morton Stevens, but it is orchestral, and in my opinion superior to CBS’s 1970’s late night movie version. Where did you get your high quality video of the CBS movie opening? Thank you!

    1. Jim Post author

      The video is all on YouTube; other people uploaded them. The recording of the theme that I posted is from my collection but unfortunately it’s the only one I have.

      1. Rick

        Thanks, Jim. I can’t find the recording of the theme from the 60’s. The only ones on YouTube are the recorded, jazzed up version for the 70’s.

  24. Todd Pack

    My kids are 12 and 6 and will never see a late movie. They’ll see talk shows and infomercials, but they’ll never know the pleasure of staying up late watching some random movie.

    1. Jim Post author

      And to think, back in the 70s the cynical view anyway of overnight TV was that it was only a dumping ground for B movies and washed-up sitcoms. And now we wish it were that good.

  25. Pingback: 17 things the Class of 2016 has never done, will never do or can’t remember | Todd Pack's Messy Desk

  26. Richard Keith Taylor

    The Fabulous 52 was a great anthology show that each week premiered (on TV) a movie from the 30s, 40s and 50s. Hollywood wasn’t friendly with TV then and it was a big deal to see good movies on TV. I saw Rebecca, Prince of Foxes, The Uninvited, and over the years hundreds of other great titles no one remembers today, to their detriment. When the show could no longer premier films it became The Late Show.

    1. Alma

      Weren’t the movies shown the rest of the week known as the Late Show & the Fabulous 52! solely on Saturday nights? I understood they were two separate programs.

    2. 14corps

      Yes, I remember as a kid with everyone else gone to bed, watching such great Fab 52 movies as Prince of Foxes with Tyrone Power and Cecil B. De Mille’sThe Crusades with Loretta Young and Henry Wilcoxon. I had thought of Loretta as ‘an old TV mom’ until I saw that movie. Wow she was gorgeous.

  27. Alma

    Hi all! Still looking to see if anybody knows if the montage for the “Fabulous 52/Early Show” for KNXT(now KCBS)is online somewhere, anywhere!! I keep looking for it on YouTube, but no luck:( Also, I can no longer hear the theme for “The Late Show”(also on KNXT)online anymore because there is a pay wall up at the TV Production Music museum. I was able to get around it once or twice & hear it for free, but can’t anymore:( If anybody knows where that great intro for the “Fabulous 52/The Early Show” with the Johnny Pearson theme(“Power Drive”)is online, please let us know!! Same for the “Late Show” intro.

  28. Margot

    When I was a child in the Chicago area in the 1950’s, my family watched a late night movie program. In the opening, footsteps could be heard walking down a long hallway. Then the camera would zoom in on the name of the feature movie engraved on a plaque on the wall. I thought it was called The Best of CBS. Does anyone else remember this?

  29. Jeremy Morales

    Ooooh YEAH!! You brought it all back, bubba! staying up late here in sunny orange county, california to catch a scifi flick like The Green Slime, Change of Mind, or Moon Zero Two and even corn ball like Where The Boys Are…by the eighties I think they cut down on the movies and started showing reruns of The Name Of The Game.And now I’ve got that theme music stuck in my head, AGAIN!!

  30. clare

    let’s start a petition to bring back the late show’s bring back all those wonderful old b movies oh how i miss those days 70’s cartoons too.

  31. JC

    I’ve been looking for the name of a movie I saw on The King’s Movie, which I think was on CBS. If memory serves correct, it’s about a woman researching the murder of another woman in a library, she get’s locked in the library, some how travels back in time to the time of the murder and realizes she’s actually researching her own demise. Anybody remember anything that sounds like this?

  32. CJ

    God man, Thank you for this! This takes me back to the days of my youth! I appreciate you giving me this spot of nostalgia. Thank you, very much.

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