One CBS executive had a simple explanation for this sudden (though short-lived) good fortune: "People just like to watch movies." The CBS Late Movie/Night block, however, was not always cleared by every affiliate of the network; in several markets, the block was either delayed by one hour from its regularly-scheduled time (most notably in the Central and Mountain time zones), picked up by a local independent station (including those that later affiliated with the Fox television network), or not seen at all in certain cities.

And thus, in pulling the plug on Griffin in early 1972, CBS committed its late-night programming to classic feature films as well as the debut of more recent theatrical fare.

This move proved an effective ploy because two months after The CBS Late Movie premiered, the Nielsen ratings recorded that it had drawn a larger audience than The Tonight Show.

But CBS spokespersons admitted they "did not know whether its show would be similar to others, but it [was] hopeful of devising something different" from the usual talk format exemplified by Johnny Carson's Tonight Show on NBC or Joey Bishop, who was about to bring his own brand of chat to ABC audiences.

In 1967, at its annual convention, CBS met with 750 affiliate executives and told them the network could provide a Carson-style late-night program by the following spring—but only if 85% of station-owners would commit to airing it.

A large factor in the programming decisions of many CBS affiliates electing not to clear CBS Late Night (or delaying it) was due to head-to-head competition with NBC's The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and starting in 1980, ABC News' Nightline.

ABC themselves went with a similar format to CBS Late Night, with Wide World of Entertainment, which later gave way to ABC Late Night, which consisted of reruns of that network's prime-time series and original movies.

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Yet in 1969, this is just what was offered to them—in the person of Merv Griffin.

But despite his success as a syndicated TV phenomenon, Griffin's CBS ratings could never compete with Johnny Carson's consistently high audience numbers.

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