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That Was The Week That Was

1 9 6 4 – 1 9 6 5 (USA)
21 x 30 minute episodes

This Americanised version of the hit British TV show from NBC retained David Frost from the British cast and brought satire to US network TV for the first time.

Elliot Reid was the host during its first season. David Frost, who had hosted the British version of That Was The Week That Was – or TW3 as it was affectionately known – and been a contributor to the American series from the start, took over as host in the fall of 1964.

Regulars included Henry Morgan, Phyllis Newman, Pat Englund, Buck Henry, Bob Dishy, Doro Merande, Alan Alda, Sandy Baron, Tom Bosley, Jerry Damon, Stanley Grover, Burr Tillstrom’s Puppets and The Norman Paris Orchestra.

Singer Nancy Ames was the ‘TW3 girl’ and sang the opening and closing numbers in addition to participating in the body of the show.

The setting and atmosphere resembled that of a cabaret, and the live broadcast (from New York) allowed the program to be highly topical. The emphasis of the show was on poking fun at people in high places. Included in the format were comedy sketches, blackouts, musical production numbers, and news reports.

The satire could be very brutal. In one scene two good friends, a Catholic and a Jew, were discussing the fact that the Vatican had just exonerated the Jews from responsibility for Jesus’ death. Well, they were off the hook for that one, after 2,000 years, but no, the Jew still couldn’t join the Catholic’s country club – that one hadn’t been worked out yet!

Then there was the news report from Jackson, Mississippi, where UN paratroopers had just been dropped by Guatemalan Air Force planes, to rescue black ministers, missionaries, and civil rights workers.

The musical numbers were no less offensive. One telecast had The Dance of the Liberal Republicans and other such songs by writer-composer Tom Lehrer (who later recorded them on an album) as National Brotherhood Week, The Folk Song Army, Whatever Became of Hubert? (referring to Vice President Humphrey), and The Vatican Rag.

TW3 attracted considerable attention and large audiences during its first few months on the air and was easily renewed for the 1964-1965 season. But 1964 was an election year, and politicians – including Republican Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater – were among the show’s favourite targets.

Perhaps by chance, perhaps by design, TW3 was repeatedly preempted during the fall and replaced with low-rated political speeches and documentaries paid for by the Republicans. By the time the show reappeared after the election, its momentum was gone, and audiences had switched to the competition (Peyton Place on ABC and Petticoat Junction on CBS).

TW3 – and with it topical television – was gone by the end of the season, but the example had been set. Political satire would appear in later years in The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, NBC’s Saturday Night Live and many other programs.