August 16, 2013

Shock Theater, Part Two
The Ratings Are In

There’s nothing to it: Find a tall employee, or stand some skinny guy up on a box, slap on a joke-shop Frankenstein facemask, throw in a rubber shrunken head — scary enough for ya? — and snap a photo with TV station execs. It’s a simple gag, and it gets you a spot in the October 12, 1957, issue of Sponsor, a trade magazine for Radio and TV advertisers.

The first real taste of horror business on TV harked back to the week of March 5, 1956, when WOR of New York booked King Kong on its Million Dollar Movie program, drawing what Sponsor called “the almost unbelievable rating of 79.7.” Could the Shock! collection pull those kinds of numbers? WABC pumped up the promotion. On October 5, 1957, Sponsor reported, “three ‘monsters’ are parading about the city, with a special one assigned to visit advertising agencies. There’s also a menu contest based on what viewers think is tasty monster fare.

Frankenstein hit the air on October 13, inaugurating the Shock! series. The impact was measured in the October 19 issue of Sponsor: “First Trendex ratings on Screen Gems ‘Shock’ package were as startling as the film itself — they were enormous.” Focusing on premiere markets in New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, San Antonio and Los Angeles, “the thrillers 1) Boosted ratings anywhere from 38% to several hundred percent, and 2) Increased sets in use by 24% to 150%.” Citing “astronomical statistics”, Sponsor suggested that “The shocker may be the key to opening the advertising door in the late evening”, and noted “the current Screen Gems sponsors are no penny-whistle lot. It’s a pretty impressive list with such representation as American Chicle, Hit Parade cigarettes, P&G, Whitehall Pharmaceuticals, and Block Drug,

The floodgates opened and new stations eagerly signed up. Reporting on December 14, Sponsor noted the addition of Cleveland, and WKBK Chicago’s first showing at 10PM on a Saturday night scoring, “a 24.7 rating and a 46.4 audience share, topping all competition in that time period.” Stations in Phoenix and Fort Worth tested earlier time slots, late afternoon or early evening, to determine “whether stations and sponsors would be content to confine this tempting fare to ‘fringe’ time.” One announcer reported tons of phone call from excited kids “who wanted to know when the next installment was coming.

The Shock! package, and a follow-up Son of Shock offering 20 more titles, would be a syndication sensation and a ratings phenomenon for years to come, with new stations joining in well into the Sixties.

For all its corny simplicity, the October ’57 WABC photo stunt, masked Monster, shrunken head and all, shot on the eve of the first broadcast, marked a momentous occasion. It was the signal, true and clear, that the Monster Kid era was kicking into high gear.

Coming up next: Horror Hosts, Famous Monsters and The Shock Theater Frankenstein.

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