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Made possible by the John H. Mitchell Television Programming Endowment. Co-sponsored by the UCLA Music Library.

Psychedelic TV: Musical Variety in the Age of Aquarius

A group in a hot air balloon.
October 1, 2022 - 7:30 pm
Q&A with Billy Davis Jr., Florence LaRue and Marilyn McCoo of The 5th Dimension; Professor Cheryl L. Keyes.

The psychedelic craze of the latter half of the 1960s influenced all aspects of popular culture, with television being no exception, not even the inherently square musical-variety show format. In a time of rapid social change, as disaffected youth rallied against materialistic values and the immoral war in Vietnam, the medium of television could either embrace the hallucinogenic-tinged stylings of the peace and love movement or risk irrelevance to a wide audience demographic (while losing accompanying ad revenue). Debuting in 1967, NBC’s groundbreaking Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In helped set the stage for main street-oriented TV to co-opt the Carnaby Street fashion and lava lamp aesthetics favored by young America while only gently propagating select counterculture ideals so as not to alienate unhip viewers.

Join us for a flashback-inducing screening of two rare musical-variety programs that are mind-altering examples of psychedelia-inspired primetime network television beyond Laugh-In. Our first offering stars the chart-topping group The 5th Dimension (featured in Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s Summer of Soul) as they traverse a far-out “Land of Lost Things” with flower power sets and costumes designed by iconic ’60s pop artist Peter Max. Screening next is the 1968 special H. Andrew Williams’ Kaleidoscope Company which features wholesome, platinum-selling crooner Andy Williams in a groovy Nehru pantsuit tripping through a room full of mirrors worthy of Jimi Hendrix.

Through the purple haze, both programs feature a cosmic universe of musical interludes and superstar guests, including Ray Charles, Simon and Garfunkel, Glen Campbell, Flip Wilson and “Mama” Cass Elliot. Viewed today, the genre-bending specials represent a sensory time machine portal to a short-lived era when the mantra “turn on, tune in, and drop out” was on the lips of both consciousness-raising hippies and ratings-focused network executives.

The screening will be followed by a conversation with The 5th Dimension original members Billy Davis Jr., Florence LaRue and Marilyn McCoo; and Cheryl L. Keyes, chair of the UCLA Department of African American Studies and professor of Ethnomusicology, Global Jazz Studies & African American Studies.

Program notes by Mark Quigley, John H. Mitchell Television Curator.

Note: These programs are presented unedited as originally aired and contain racial and gender depictions that are offensive.

Preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Presented with original commercials!

The 5th Dimension Special: An Odyssey in the Cosmic Universe by Peter Max

U.S., 5/21/1970

Chart-topping pop and soul group The 5th Dimension take a light-hearted psychedelic trip through a colorful “Land of Lost Things'' designed by iconic ’60s pop artist Peter Max.

DCP, color, 60 min. CBS. Production: Sullivan Productions in association with the 5th Dimension Corporation. Producer: Bob Precht. Director: John Moffitt. Writers: Phil Hahn, Jack Hanrahan. With: The 5th Dimension, Peter Max, Glen Campbell, Flip Wilson, Joey Heatherton. Special thanks to Margo Precht Speciale and Retro Video, Inc.

Preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Presented with original commercials!

H. Andrew Williams' Kaleidoscope Company

U.S., 4/28/1968

Popular crooner Andy Williams dons a Nehru pantsuit and explores the edges of psychedelia against a backdrop of trippy mirrors and far-out effects.

DCP, color, 60 min. Production: Barnaby Productions. Producers: Andy Williams, Bob Henry. Director: Bob Henry. Writers, Mason Williams, Allan Blye. With: Ray Charles, Burt Bacharach, Simon and Garfunkel, "Mama" Cass Elliot. Special thanks to Barnaby Productions, Bobby Williams and Retro Video, Inc.