My brief TV career (6)
Our TV pilot was back in business. This was our last chance, so I tried to make sure that it would be reviewed well and that the sponsor would get the kind of attention sponsors want. I had friends at the Archdiocese of Chicago who were folk fans. I suggested to them that if they liked the show, they should write Sara Lee.
The priests came through with interest, and between the real excitement and the rigged excitement, Sara Lee was overwhelmed. The numbers were medium — not great, but good enough to feel enthusiastic about. Kaplan told us the company was getting all sorts of praise for being on the cutting edge.
Soon Sara Lee told us they were picking up their option for the network. ABC even ran a little teaser that the show was going to be on in May, as a pilot for a future series. Once again contracts were being drawn up.
Then, in a completely unrelated part of the television world, Jack Paar took a vacation from the Tonight Show. Sam Levinson, another big Weaver fan, was tagged to fill in. Levinson decided he wanted to put his old friends the Weavers on the Tonight Show.
Maybe it was hubris, or maybe Levinson was really telling the world it was time to put the blacklist to rest. Either way, the shit hit the fan. The Weavers never went on the show, and the dominoes began to fall. Suddenly, nobody from Sara Lee or the network would talk to us. Our show was never picked up. And that was the end of my television career.
A year or so later, ABC began to air a remarkably similar show called “Hootenanny.” By then the time was ripe, and it was a modest success, with a three-year run on the network.
Pete Seeger was the only singer the show’s backers would not contemplate. Pete decided that at this point getting people on the show would do more damage to the blacklist than a boycott would, and many artists deferred to his judgment and took the gig.
There was a big fight in the folk community over what to do about this. I had my doubts about the wisdom of Pete’s position, but I said nothing. I felt it was not for me to make that judgment. In the end, of course, he was right.