This Program Brought To You By | Part 3

This Program Brought To You By:
Armstrong Cork Company & The Programs and Personalities of Classic Television

Written by James McMahon, Ph.D.
Posted by Emily Miller

My name is James McMahon and for the past year I have been working as a project archivist for LancasterHistory. My responsibilities include cataloguing and digitizing a vast collection of archival materials that document the significant role of the cork industry in the local economy. Parts I and II of this series explored the role original radio and television programming played in advertising and promoting the Armstrong Cork Company (now Armstrong World Industries, Inc.). Part III takes a look at how Armstrong used network affiliated television shows, television movies, and familiar television personalities during the 1960s to reach consumers and to introduce the viewing public to various Armstrong do-it-yourself home improvement projects in the 1970s.

Comedic talents Fred Gwynne and Imogene Coca served as spokespersons for commercials featuring the Armstrong Ceiling Watcher Society's "Look Up" campaign. Photo: LancasterHistory, Armstrong Archive
Comedic talents Fred Gwynne and Imogene Coca served as spokespersons for commercials featuring the Armstrong Ceiling Watcher Society’s “Look Up” campaign. Photo: LancasterHistory, Armstrong Archive

From 1928 through 1963, Armstrong’s use of original radio and television programming proved to be an effective and economical means for reaching consumers. When the company made the decision to focus on television rather than radio in the 1950s, television was clearly a medium of tremendous potential. However, as viewers multiplied so did costs as consumers began to expect more elaborate production values and episodes to be filmed in color rather than in black and white. Increasing competition between networks and between the television and film industries also allowed stars to demand more money for their services. Coupled with increasing regulatory oversight by the federal government, Armstrong made the decision to abandon original programming in favor of sponsoring a number of network affiliated shows, a series of television movies based on adaptations of classic Broadway shows, and commercials targeted to specific market segments.

Imogene Coca, Ceiling Watcher. "The Danny Kaye Show." Photo: LancasterHistory, Armstrong Archive
Imogene Coca, Ceiling Watcher. “The Danny Kaye Show.” Photo: LancasterHistory, Armstrong Archive

With the final broadcast of Armstrong Circle Theatre on the CBS television network on August 28, 1963, the company became the major sponsor of The Danny Kaye Show, a new variety show starring the multi-talented Danny Kaye singing and dancing his way through comedy skits and monologues with the assistance of various semi-regular guests, singers, dancers, and orchestras. Premiering on Wednesday, September 23, 1963, the program aired on CBS for four years—Armstrong serving as sponsor for the first two years. In addition to airing commercials on the Danny Kaye Show, Armstrong consumer products were advertised on several daytime television programs. The commercials featured a number of different advertising strategies coordinated with retail point of purchase displays, including the popular Ceiling Watcher campaign featuring Imogene Coca and the tagline, “as seen on the Danny Kaye Show CBS-TV.”

When The Danny Kaye Show switched from black and white to color broadcasts in the fall of 1965, Armstrong decided to end its sponsorship of the show and instead enter the era of color television by sponsoring two different programs simultaneously: Gidget, a situation comedy about a young Californian girl who loves to surf and The Big Valley, a western chronicling the adventures of the Barkley family in California’s San Joaquin Valley.

Gidget, starring Sally Field as Gidget and Don Porter as her father premiered on ABC on Wednesday evening September 15, 1965 at 8:30. The half-hour program was immediately followed by The Big Valley, an hour long action drama starring Barbara Stanwyck and introducing Lee Majors. Armstrong discontinued its affiliation with Gidget in January 1966 to sponsor a new adventure drama called Code: Blue Light starring Robert Goulet. Both Gidget and Blue Light would only last one season.

The Big Valley remained on the air for four seasons. In 1966, Stanwyck won an Emmy for her starring role as Victoria Barkley, the Barkley family matriarch. An interesting notation on a script for the pilot found in the Armstrong Archive and dated September 9, 1964 notes, “Family name changed from Butler to Barkley.”

Advertising placard, "Code Blue Light." December 1965. Photo: LancasterHistory, Armstrong Archive
Advertising placard, “Code Blue Light.” December 1965. Photo: LancasterHistory, Armstrong Archive

Blue Light premiered on Wednesday, January 12, 1966 at 8:30 on ABC. In this half hour espionage series Goulet, in his first dramatic role, plays David March, an American journalist who pretends to defect to Nazi Germany during World War II. In reality, March is a double agent working for the United States government. The last of seventeen episodes aired on May 18. Goulet then returned to his Broadway musical and recording star roots, even starring in a series of network television movies sponsored by Armstrong.

The 1966-1967 television season was a busy one for Armstrong as the company advertised its products on three weekly in color shows—The Big Valley, That Girl, and The Monroes, a one hour western that lasted only one season—as well as the first of four television musicals, all adaptations of classic Broadway shows. The first of these programs was Brigadoon, a story about a magical Scottish village that appears only for one day once every 100 years. Starring Robert Goulet, the 90-minute television special was first broadcast on ABC October 15, 1966 and rebroadcast on March 6, 1967. Armstrong quickly followed up on the success of Brigadoon with Carousel, first broadcast on May 7, 1967 and also starring Robert Goulet; Kismet, first broadcast on October 24, 1967 and starring José Ferrer in his only televised appearance in a Broadway musical; and Kiss Me Kate, first broadcast on March 25, 1968 and again starring Robert Goulet. Featured songs in Kiss Me Kate, a play within a play, include “Another Op’nin’, Another Show” and the lyric “It’s Curtain Time and Away We Go!” Original cast recordings from these shows helped to attract retail traffic to stores selling Armstrong floors and ceilings. Brigadoon, for example, sold over a half million records at $1 per copy!

Beginning with the 1969-1970 television season, Armstrong sponsored several one hour film documentaries included in The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. In February 1970, Armstrong ended its sponsorship of the program (although the program would continue for several more years), deciding instead to focus their advertising dollars on magazine advertising campaigns as well as television commercial messages targeted to specific audiences. One such television campaign featured veteran actor Paul Ford as the “Ceiling Doctor” in the role of a “physician” who prescribes remedies for sick ceilings.

In 1973, Armstrong introduced a consumer do-it-yourself television campaign for installing ceilings and carpets once again featuring Fred Gwynne. In these 30-second commercials, Gwynne would snap his fingers to show how an “average” family could install Armstrong Carpet Tile on a rainy afternoon or an Armstrong ceiling over a weekend. Each “I did it myself” commercial spot allowed a local Armstrong dealer to add their name at the end of the commercial.

Radio and television (along with traditional print media) helped to shape consumer tastes for most of the twentieth century. However, unlike traditional print media, radio programs, television shows, and even commercial messages had the added benefit of not only informing, but of entertaining as well. Armstrong’s leadership role in producing and sponsoring top-rated radio and television programming is unsurpassed. I hope you have enjoyed this brief three-part foray into the world of radio and television entertainment and will agree with me that through the years, Armstrong has presented some of radio and television’s finest quality programming featuring its brightest stars!

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