We continue to have a blast here as we cull through the archives in preparation for our 50th Anniversary this year. So many photos. So many ads. So many press releases on actual paper!
NPT and PBS both have a histioy of fascinating and groundbreaking shows. It’s also full of really gutsy shows not afraid to tackle tough subjects. One of the most notable in the gutsy-department was 1972′s VD Blues, a one-hour PBS special-of-the-week intended to raise awareness about venereal disease. Aimed at younger viewers, PBS stations across the nation, included here at NPT (then WDCN) answered over 225,000 telephone calls from viewers seeking VD info. It won an Emmy for “Special Classification of Outstanding Program Achievements.” Time Magazine called it the “most venturesome single show” of 1972. Newsweek said it was “one of the most daring experiments yet in broadcasting,” and Saturday Review declared it as “one of the most significant events in the history of television as a medium for education, enlightenment and raised consciousness.”
The show was aimed to confront the reality of VD — its tagline was “time for a show down” — in an entertaining way. The show included, according to the release (pasted below), “original dramatic sketches, an unpublished Woody Guthrie song, sung by son Arlo; and a documentary segment filmed in Harlem.”
Dick Cavett hosted, and brought the humor. “The English called it the French disease; the Germans called it the Polish disease; the French called it the Spanish disease,” Cavett said in the show. “Now let’s look at what I call “Johnny Carson’s disease.”
Stations throughout the nation held their own phone bank shows before and after the program. Ours was titled VD Blues: Nashville Sound, which sounds really bad in hindsight, and probably didn’t sound any better back then. But what can you really do with a title like that? VD Blues: Woke up this Morning, maybe? The follow-up shows were staffed by local doctors and professionals and hosted by local celebrities . For WDCN, we chose then-Miss Black Tennessee Oprah Winfrey. Though as the scanned press release below indicates, we incorrectly spelled her name “Opra Winfree.” We hope she’s forgiven us for that. If you think about it, it’s really a prescient moment in her career. As a staffer here pointed out, it’s the kind of show Oprah would have no problem hosting again today, as she’s made a career out of talking honestly about tough topics.
The show was so important to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), that it held a “CPB Special Venereal Disease Program Competition.” We entered, but lost.
Check out the press release below, and an incorrect newspaper ad with the day crossed out. The show was on a Thursday, not a Monday. With no delete button back then, you just crossed it out, I guess.