Rita Bell’s Prize Movie, 1960-1977: Here’s Why She Was Taken Off the Air
One of the wisest choices anyone ever made for Detroit TV was the hiring of Rita Bell, hostess of the wildly popular “Rita Bell’s Prize Movie.” One of the stupidest choices anyone ever made for Detroit TV was to cancel her show after 27 years of high ratings and dependability.
It wasn’t necessarily the movies that brought viewers, but Rita herself. She was loved, adored and admired by men, women, and children. She definitely had that certain magnetism.
In the 1950s she was a popular speaker for the Women’s Advertising Club; it was at one of these gigs where an executive from WXYZ was impressed with her stage presence and extreme good looks. He approached her and asked if she would be interested in being on local TV. To Rita, it sounded like a come-on from some sleazebag who just wanted to get her in bed; but she discovered that the offer was real and accepted.
In April 1957, she made her debut at 12:15am doing weather and fashion reports; this exposure made her Detroit’s first female weatherperson. In 1958 she graduated to 7:10pm doing complete weather reports…and the fan mail began pouring in. The women loved her charm and poise, while the men just could not keep their eyes off her.
The momentum continued. In 1960 she hosted a show titled Prize Playhouse from 8:30 am to 10:00 am. With ratings growing ever higher, the name was changed to Rita Bell's Prize Movie. So what was the prize? Why was it called “Prize” movie? She would play a clip from a song and if someone could name it, they would win seven dollars. Why such a chincy amount? Because the show was on Channel 7, that’s why. Marketing, marketing…If the song wasn't guessed, another seven dollars would be added to the pot.
For the theme song of the show, she chose Cotton Candy, which was a 1964 instrumental hit for Al Hirt.
So why would such a popular local program be cancelled? Thanks to pressure and scheduling hassles, in 1977 it was decided to drop Rita and replace her with Good Morning, America in order to compete with NBC’s Today Show.
Finding something for Rita to do, WXYZ had her do movie reviews and celebrity interviews here and there until they refused to renew her contract in 1978. Another local program popped up at 10am after Good Morning America titled Kelly & Company, hosted by John Kelly and his wife Marilyn Turner. It became a very popular show, but in my opinion, it should have been offered to Rita Bell first. What a slap in the face! Pretty crummy way to treat someone who helped build ratings.
Afterward, she and her husband moved to California. She remains one of Detroit television’s most beloved and admired personalities.
Rita Bell passed away from colon cancer on December 3, 2003 at age 78. She is buried in California.
Rita Bell's Prize Movie: 1960-1977
MORE MICHIGAN TV:
Soupy Sales' House in Detroit: 1953-1960
Mort Neff and 'Michigan Outdoors' TV