The previous season had been excoriated by FCC chairman Newton Minow in May 1961. Minow had criticized poor programs and weak network schedules, calling television a "vast wasteland" and calling on television executives to try harder to develop innovative and interesting television programs.
Television historians Castleman and Podrazik (1982) believe the 1961-1962 season marked a comeback for television, as the networks rearranged their schedules to accommodate the critics. They point out CBS's high-quality legal drama The Defenders, NBC's medical drama Dr. Kildare, CBS's The Dick Van Dyke Show, and ABC's medical drama Ben Casey as bright spots in the new TV schedule. Despite the praise for these four series, the authors also highlight several less worthy series which debuted during the 1961-1962 season: Room for One More, Window on Main Street, Hazel ("possibly the dumbest family in TV history"), and the truly terrible The Hathaways ("possibly the worst series ever to air on network TV").
NBC lured Disney's popular anthology series from ABC; Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color premiered on September 24, 1961. The color programs were a change from the previous ABC programs, which had been seen in black and white.
NBC also added a movie night to its schedule; the network paid $25 million for the rights to broadcast 50 20th-Century Fox films on Saturday nights. In April 1962, ABC followed suit when it added its own Sunday night movie to its schedule.
All times are Eastern and Pacific. New fall series are highlighted in bold. The highest-rated show for the year is colored in gold. The second highest-rated show is colored in silver. The third highest-rated show is colored in bronze. Each of the 30 highest-rated shows is listed with its (rank/rating) as determined by Nielsen Media Research.
|ABC||6:30 Maverick (partial repeats)||Follow the Sun||Lawman||Bus Stop||Adventures in Paradise|
|CBS||Lassie (15T/24.0)||Dennis the Menace (17/23.8)||The Ed Sullivan Show (19/23.5)||General Electric Theater||The Jack Benny Program||Candid Camera (10/25.5)||What's My Line?|
|NBC||The Bullwinkle Show||Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color* (23/22.7)||Car 54, Where Are You? (20/23.2)||Bonanza (2/30.0)||The Du Pont Show of the Week|
- formerly Walt Disney Presents
Note: Mister Ed, previously syndicated, aired on CBS, 6:30-7 p.m.
|ABC||Expedition!||Cheyenne||The Rifleman (27T/22.3)||Surfside 6||Ben Casey (18/23.7)|
|CBS||7:00 Local / 7:15 Douglas Edwards with the News||To Tell the Truth||Pete and Gladys||Window on Main Street||The Danny Thomas Show (8/26.1)||The Andy Griffith Show (7/27.0)||Hennesey||I've Got a Secret|
|NBC||7:00 Local / 7:15 The Huntley-Brinkley Report*||Local||National Velvet||The Price Is Right (27T/22.3)||87th Precinct||Thriller|
- In some areas, Douglas Edwards with the News and The Huntley-Brinkley Report aired at 6:45 p.m.(ET).
|ABC||Local||The Bugs Bunny Show||Bachelor Father||Calvin and the Colonel||The New Breed||Alcoa Premiere|
|CBS||7:00 Local / 7:15 Douglas Edwards with the News||Marshal Dillon (Gunsmoke repeats)||The Dick Van Dyke Show||The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (21T/22.9)||The Red Skelton Show (6/27.1)||Ichabod and Me||The Garry Moore Show (12/24.6)|
|NBC||7:00 Local / 7:15 The Huntley-Brinkley Report||Laramie||Alfred Hitchcock Presents||The Dick Powell Show||Cain's Hundred|
|ABC||Local||The Steve Allen Show||Top Cat||Hawaiian Eye||Naked City|
|CBS||7:00 Local / 7:15 Douglas Edwards with the News||The Alvin Show||Father Knows Best (repeats)||Checkmate||Mrs. G. Goes to College||Armstrong Circle Theatre / The United States Steel Hour|
|NBC||7:00 Local / 7:15 The Huntley-Brinkley Report||Wagon Train (1/32.1)||The Joey Bishop Show (24/22.6)||Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall (25/22.5)||The Bob Newhart Show||David Brinkley’s Journal|
Note: Mrs. G. Goes to College moved to Thursday nights in January as The Gertrude Berg Show.
|ABC||Local||The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet||The Donna Reed Show (30/21.9)||The Real McCoys (14/24.2)||My Three Sons (11/24.7)||Margie /starting April 19 The Law and Mr. Jones||The Untouchables|
|CBS||7:00 Local / 7:15 Douglas Edwards with the News||Frontier Circus||The (New) Bob Cummings Show||The Investigators||CBS Reports|
|NBC||7:00 Local / 7:15 The Huntley-Brinkley Report||Outlaws||Dr. Kildare (9/25.6)||Hazel (4/27.7)||Sing Along with Mitch (15T/24.0)|
|ABC||Local||Straightaway||The Hathaways||The Flintstones (21T/22.9)||77 Sunset Strip||Target: The Corruptors!|
|CBS||7:00 Local / 7:15 Douglas Edwards with the News||Rawhide (13/24.5)||Route 66||Father of the Bride||The Twilight Zone||Eyewitness*|
|NBC||7:00 Local / 7:15 The Huntley-Brinkley Report||International Showtime||The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor||The Bell Telephone Hour / The Dinah Shore Show||Here and Now|
* formerly Eyewitness To History
|ABC||Matty's Funday Funnies||The Roaring 20s||Leave It to Beaver||The Lawrence Welk Show||10:00 The Fight of the Week / 10:45 Make That Spare|
|CBS||Local||Perry Mason (5/27.3)||The Defenders (26/22.4)||Have Gun – Will Travel (29/22.2)||Gunsmoke (3/28.3)|
|NBC||Local||Tales of Wells Fargo||The Tall Man||NBC Saturday Night at the Movies|
Room for One More aired on ABC from January to July 1962, 8-8:30 p.m.
Beginning January 6, Matty's Funday Funnies became Matty's Funnies With Beany & Cecil.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Castleman, Harry; Walter J. Podrazik (1982). Watching TV: Four Decades of American Television. New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 147–153. ISBN 0-07-010269-4.
- ↑ Highest-rated series is based on the annual top-rated programs list compiled by Nielsen Media Research and reported in: Brooks, Tim & Marsh, Earle (2007). The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows (9th ed.). New York: Ballantine. ISBN 978-0-345-49773-4.
- ↑ http://www.classictvhits.com/tvratings/1961.htm
- Castleman, H. & Podrazik, W. (1982). Watching TV: Four Decades of American Television. New York: McGraw-Hill. 314 pp.
- McNeil, Alex. Total Television. Fourth edition. New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-024916-8.
- Brooks, Tim & Marsh, Earle (1984). The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows (3rd ed.). New York: Ballantine. ISBN 0-345-31864-1.