June 24, 2017

This week in TV Guide: June 24, 1961

It's time once again for a look at pay-TV. It seems as if every few months we read another article about how pay-TV - or, as we'd call it today, pay-per-view - is an inevitability, and for years we'll be hearing about how it's "just around the corner." I'll admit, though, this is one of the earliest articles we've run across, and it sets the tone for much of the discussion to come.

For example: Former Florida Governor LeRoy Collins, president of the National Association of Broadcasters, says that "if pay-TV seriously takes hold int his country, it can mean the elimination of free TV as we know it," with the American people as the "real losers." Theater owners, alarmed by the prospect of box office revenue shifting from the theater to the living room, vows to fight pay-TV, in court if necessary. Ad agencies are against it because they have nothing to gain from commercial-free programming. On the other hand, sports promoters see the prospect of pay-per-view as a potential monetary windfall, and people hoping to see drama, opera, ballet, and symphony concerts look forward to the possibility of more cultural programming being provided through pay-TV.

Some pay progrtamming has already been tested out - viewers living in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke have had a chance to purchase hockey games, Gian Carlo Menotti's opera The Consul (a broadcast which was released on DVD a few years ago), a Bob Newhart performance, and Carol Channing's musical "Show Girl," the first Broadway play ever broadcast live directly from a theater - all for $1.50 each. Experiments in three U.S. cities - Little Rock, somewhere near New York City, and a site in the far West - will be rolled out sometime during the year. Another system will be tried out in Hartford, broadcast over a UHF station via a scrambled signal.

There's speculation over which system will prove the most effective, which broadcaster will be the big winner, how quickly this might spread to other areas. As we know, pay-per-view never really does take off for the long term, except for special sporting events (mostly boxing and MMA) - it's another kind of pay-TV, cable/satellite, which emerges as the big winner. However, there's a point made which I think bears repeating, because it's a pretty fair description of just how things have panned out. "Although broadcasters fear that pay-TV might kill free TV, there are those who believe successful pay-TV will merely change free TV into a source of standard entertainment and information programs. Pay-TV then would take over top sports events and other outstanding programs of general appeal and might also offer cultural programs that would have minority appeal, such as opera, symphony and ballet."

In fact, I think there is a widespread perception that "quality" TV has migrated to cable, with network programming appealing to more of a mass audience (or, as some critics might put it, pandering to the lowest common denominator). Many, though not all, of the major sporting events referenced in the quote (the college football and basketball championships, and selected playoff games in all of the major sports) have settled on cable, with the major one-off events winding up on PPV. Though cultural programming has mostly disappeared from home television (both broadcast and cable), the Metropolitan Opera has succeeded in putting live broadcasts into movie theaters, and other events - from ballet and symphony to art exhibits - have followed suit. So while the prognosticators get some of the details wrong, I'd say their predictions are more hit than miss.

◊ ◊ ◊

If you've been reading this site for any length of time, you'll remember the TV Guide Awards, which we've mentioned from time to time. This year's edition, the second annual, was held on June 13, and this week we have the write-up on the winners. NBC and CBS each win four; the Peacock Network wins for Sing Along with Mitch (Best Musical or Variety Show), Election Night Coverage (Best News or Information Program), The Huntley-Brinkley Report (Best News or Information Series), and Hallmark Hall of Fame's "Macbeth" (Best Dramatic Program). CBS counters with The Andy Griffith Show (Best New Series), Perry Mason (Favorite Series), Raymond Burr (Favorite Male), and Carol Burnett (Favorite Female). The winners rejoiced, like Burnett, who "sobbed joyfully for at least five minutes," while the losers all said the right things. (The Untouchables' Robert Stack: "[I]t's still a great honor to be voted among the five most popular performers on the air.")

Here's the program as broadcast; even though I just told you the winners, it's well worth taking a few minutes out to view this rare footage - proof that this awards show really existed!

◊ ◊ ◊

This week's starlet is Natalie Trundy, who may only be 19 but "speaks four languages and has played in 125 television shows." She's also appeared in three Broadway plays, done two movies, and been married and divorced. (No wonder; when would she have had time for her husband?) Great story about how young Natalie got the acting bug: when she was 11 and going to school in Rome (!), she met a Mrs. Rossellini, who made an impression on her. Several months later while at the movies, she gaped: there was Mrs. Rossellini right there on the big screen! The movie was Casablanca, and of course Mrs. Rossellini was Ingrid Bergman. "It was at that instant," she says, "that I knew I was going to be an actress."

While taking dancing lessons, she was discovered by a man whose name she can't remember, but the next thing she knew she was doing Fred Waring's television show, then found herself on the Hallmark Hall of Fame, and since then she's done just about every live television show in New York. She's also become one of the top teenage models in the business. She's acted with Shelley Winters, Dean Stockwell, and Marlene Dietrich. And, taking the advice of a family friend, she's stayed away from drama classes - the best experience is working with all kinds of actors, good and bad. The name of that friend? Helen Hayes.

Natalie Trundy's acting career takes a slight detour in 1963 as the result of an auto accident, but once recovered she continues to act in a wide variety of roles in both television and movies. She never becomes a big star, but works steadily through the '70s. Her second husband is movie producer Arthur Jacobs, responsible for Doctor Doolittle and Planet of the Apes, among others; after his death she takes over his production company. Later on she works for several years in Calcutta with Mother Teresa. There's even an official website about her.

◊ ◊ ◊

We have yet another reminder, as if we needed one, of the star appear of Lawrence Welk, in Robert de Roos' profile of the business side of the Champagne Music Maker. He has a weekly television audience of 30,000,000, a world-wide radio audience of 90,000,000. He's a shrewd judge of music, moreso than most people think; last year he produced a record with a new, different beat from what most people expect from him - that record, "Calcutta," has sold over a million copies. He's also been a long-time champion of a form of Dixieland, something that critics rarely stop to remember. The bread-and-butter remains Champagne music, though, and that brought in a gross of $3.5 million last year (although the frugal Welk points out that "there were lots of expenses").

This isn't any particular surprise to anyone who's read these Welk pieces over the years, and I might have skipped over the story completely were it not for this (perhaps) unintentionally amusing description of Welk's fans. He has many, as you might imagine, who write to Welk and tell him they won't come to his shows unless they can dance with him. "A third of the dancers at the Aragon [ballroom] did not dance at all. They stood in front of the bandstand, breathing deeply and gazing at their idol. 'Oh I wonder if we can get close enough to touch him,' and elderly lady murmured, her eyes fixed on Welk's smiling face. 'Oh, if he would just dance with me.'"

We laugh, but how many celebrities would give anything to provoke that kind of reaction from their fans.

◊ ◊ ◊

Let's get to this week's programs and see what - make that who - looks interesting.

Saturday has a little something for everyone. Nina Foch is the client on Checkmate (7:30 p.m. CT, CBS), a detective series that suffers from too much Anthony George and Doug McClure, and way too little Sebastian Cabot. Claude Akins is among the guest stars on the Henry Fonda Western The Deputy (8:00 p.m., NBC), which really doesn't stand much of a chance up against that Champagne Music Man on ABC. And on Critic's Award Theater (10:30 p.m., WCCO), Peter Finch and Kay Kendall are "Simon and Laura," a popular TV couple who "are all sweetness and light while on the air, but never stop bickering in private."

On Sunday, Ronald Reagan makes one of his occasional starring appearances on G.E. Theater (8:00 p.m., CBS) as a man whose marriage is in jeopardy due to his inability to forget his late first wife. Meanwhile, it's the final episode of The Dinah Shore Chevy Show (8:00 p.m., NBC), and her guest on this last show is Nanette Fabray. Dinah presents clips of her ten-year run, and sings "It's De-Lovely," her first song on television. The two also do a series of skits about "Telephone TV" of the future. Now that I'd like to see. If you don't touch that dial, you'll also be able to catch Darryl Hickman and the delightful character actor Vito Scotti, who pops up in so many episodes of Columbo as everything from a tailor to a maitre d', on The Loretta Young Show at 9:00 p.m. After that, it's a rerun of This Is Your Life, with Jayne Mansfield among those honoring radio personality Johnny Grant.

A couple of programs on latenight, if you're a night owl. At 11:45 p.m., WTCN presents the syndicated Oscar Levant Show, with the irascible hypochondriac welcoming Sammy Davis Jr. and Hans Conreid as his guests. And at midnight on KMSP, the program whose innocuous title hides the monstrous story behind it: Eichmann on Trial. You can see what I mean here.

Monday's programs are filled with both stars and character actors. The star is Jack Lord, who guests in NBC's The Americans at 6:30 p.m. That's up against Cheyenne on ABC, and one of the members of the cast is the aforementioned Vito Scotti. A few years later Scotti would play the Italian Major Bonacelli on Hogan's Heroes, but he wasn't the first actor to play the role. That honor would go to - you guessed it - Hans Conreid, who coincidentally plays Uncle Tonoose on The Danny Thomas Show (8:00 p.m., CBS).  And if you can stay up long enough, Orson Bean begins a week as guest host on The Jack Paar Program. (10:30 p.m., NBC).

Tuesday's Thriller (8:00 p.m., NBC), "The Ordeal of Dr. Cordell," is one of those episodes that highlights the challenge this series faced. The story, of a young doctor trying to find a cure for nerve gas only to become a victim of his own experiment - sounds as if it could be The Outer Limits, or Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and I don't think Thriller ever did figure out whether it wanted to be a horror show, a mystery, science fiction, or something in-between. This episode stars Robert Vaughn as the doctor, Kathleen Crowley as his fiancee, and in a small role, Marlo Thomas. The cast is more interesting than the episode, according to the Thriller a Day website. You're probably better off catching the always-catchable Ruta Lee in Stagecoach West (8:00 p.m., ABC), or Dick Haymes, his wife Fran Jeffries, and Alan King on The Garry Moore Show (9:00 p.m., CBS).

If you're intellectually minded, however (or just curious), you might want to tune to NBC at 9:00, for the documentary Doctor B., which presents a day in the life of a family doctor, described as "more than a medical man - he's a community adviser, confidante and friend." And he makes house calls! Burgess Meredith is the narrator.

Wednesday gives us some interesting programs indeed, starting at 6:30 p.m. on NBC's Wagon Train, "The Jeremy Dow Story," starring Leslie Nielsen. Today we're so accustomed to seeing Nielsen as a comedian that we forget for most of his career he was a straight dramatic actor, and a pretty good one at that.* At 8:00 p.m., NBC's Kraft Mystery Theater presents "Account Rendered," with a cast that includes Honor Blackman, who next year will become far-better known (at least in England) as Mrs. Cathy Gale in The Avengers. At 8:30 p.m., it's I've Got a Secret on CBS, and one of the people with a secret tonight is none other than Jerry Lewis. And at 9:00 p.m. it's CBS's prestige drama The U.S. Steel Hour, tonight with Oscar-winner Shirley Booth in a rare TV appearance (i.e. pre-Hazel), starring in Pulitzer-winner Tad Mosel's play "The Haven."

*Although it turns out his heart was always with comedy.

CBS Sports Spectacular is normally a weekend show, but during the summer it moves into primetime as Summer Sports Spectacular, and Thursday presents an intriguing sports matchup. Dow Finsterwald, one of the top golfers of the time, teams up with Arnold Palmer to take on two of the best women golfers, Mickey Wright and Barbara Romack, in "a no-handicap match" on a special par-3 course at the Desert Inn Country Club in Las Vegas. It took a little while to track down the results of this "Golfing Battle of the Sexes," but it does say here that Wright and Romack came out the winners, and that Palmer "threatened not to go to the following week’s Tour event, the Colonial, for fear of being laughed out of Fort Worth."

On Friday, Anne Francis guests on Route 66 (7:30 p.m., CBS) , and David Wayne stars as a thoroughly unlikable character on The Twilight Zone (9:00 p.m., CBS). Charles Collingwood interviews two "rising young stars" on Person to Person (9:30 p.m., CBS). Horst Buchholz, "the German James Dean," is coming off his performance in The Magnificent Seven and will feature in many other movies over a long career, but you probably recognize the other have of the duo a little better - it's Carol Burnett, whom as we know, won a TV Guide Award earlier this month. At this point, she's already succeeded on Broadway in "Once Upon a Mattress" and currently appears on The Garry Moore Show, but for her the best is yet to come. Yes, I'd say their careers panned out pretty well.

Later that night, on KSTP, Channel 9, Hugh Hefner's guests on  Playboy's Penthouse are singers Mae Barnes and Della Reese, guitarist Will Holt, comedian Dick Gautier (later Hymie the Robot in Get Smart), jazz critic and lecturer Dr. Marshall Stearns, who discusses the history of jazz, the dance team of Al Minns and Leon James, and former royal chef Art Carter. It's easy to have contempt for Hefner, as I do, but the man does know his jazz, and offers a more serious program than you're apt to see on most TV shows.

June 23, 2017

Around the dial

No time to waste; it's a big week, so let's get right to it!

At British TV Detectives, it's a review of the 2017 mystery Loch Ness. If you liked Broadchurch, says Rick (and I did, at least the first series of the British incarnation), then this will be right up your alley.

Also from Rick, this time at Classic Film and TV Café, it's a reminder of NBC's aborted 1970 reboot of Charlie Chan, starring Ross Martin as the famed detective. It's too bad this didn't come off, although I can understand why it might not have; Martin, an excellent actor (not just The Wild Wild West but Mr. Lucky, as well as many guest spots) would have made a very interesting Chan.

At Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, Ivan takes a look at the recently issued complete series DVD set of Laugh-In. Now, I never was much of a fan of that show, although I can remember seeing some of it when I was a lad. Maybe it was a little too much for an eight-year-old to comprehend, or perhaps I'd already formed enough of my political philosophy (don't laugh; my mother raised me to be a political animal) that I had an instinctive resistance to what I saw as a countercultural show. But as Ivan points out, Laugh-In wasn't really all that countercultural. He quotes Kliph Nesteroff, who had some very intriguing commentary about the, shall we say, authenticity of the show:

"Laugh-In is commonly considered a reflection of the late sixties youth sensibility, but closer examination reveals a much different picture," Kliph writes.  “It was, in essence, an establishment show, profiting from the anti-establishment sentiment running through America.  Moderated by the comedy team of Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, Laugh-In was old in style, but draped in the popular fashion of the day.  It effectively garnered a genuine hippie aesthetic, but any actual connection to the counterculture was mostly smoke and mirrors.  The bulk of Laugh-In consisted of eye-catching vaudeville bits that mostly ignored the war, the riots and the protest.  It embraced the look and sound of the hippies and had no problem making references to getting high, but generally glossed over political issues.”

I love that money quote: "draped in the popular fashion of the day." Is there a better description of TV when it reminds you of your parents trying, and failing, to act hip?

Time for a little sports - Classic TV Sports reports in with the shot chart from Fox's coverage of the U.S. Open golf championship. I'm usually a big fan of the Open, but this year I had absolutely no interest whatsoever. Part of it is because I haven't warmed to Fox's golf style, but I also had a bad feeling about a relatively new course with an easy setup and no defenses other than depending on the weather. Predictably, the players scorched the course; -16 should never win a tournament not called the Pensacola Open.

Continuing on the sports scene, this report from Sports Business Journal is not about classic TV per se, but it does deal with how we consume media, and who is most wed to that crazy thing we call "television." As a demographic (as well as philosophical) issue, this shift into watching video on smartphones and other means of streaming media does bear on classic TV, in that the age group most likely to watch it is the same age group that continues to watch sports on television - in other words, "old." Me, I just don't understand why people wouldn't want to watch sports on as big a picture as they can. Isn't that part of what HD was all about, the ability to see everything? I don't get my kicks from watching soccer on an eight-inch screen.

Television's New Frontier: the 1960s is on to one of the iconic programs of the '50s, The Twilight Zone. It's not quite that series anymore, as we're reminded of how Rod Serling was now at a point where "I've never felt quite so drained of ideas as I do at this moment," and it shows - but even with the recycled ideas that had done better in the past, the series still had the ability to toss in a shocker from time-to-time, with good effect. Be sure to read the marvelous rundown on the familiar guest stars that appeared during the season - can any series today make that kind of claim?

This week's Hitchcock recap at bare-bones e-zine is of a James Bridges-penned episode I've yet to see: the 1965 thriller "An Unlocked Window," starring Dana Wynter. I'm never quite sure what to do in a case like this - do I read the review through to the conclusion and find out the shock end, or do I stop when my curiosity has been raised and wait until I can see it for myself? What would you do?

David apparently recovered from his Buzzr possession; he's got a story at Comfort TV this week on the well-known TV character actor Roy Roberts. However, now Ivan has the Buzzr fever, as you can discover at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.

This should keep you busy until tomorrow, when you can return here and start things all over again.

June 19, 2017

What's on TV? Thursday, June 18, 1959

After a nice stretch of issues from Minneapolis-St. Paul, we take a break this week in Philadelphia, a city with, as I've noted before, a rich television history. With plenty of familiar names to choose from, let's get right to it.

June 17, 2017

This week in TV Guide: June 13, 1959

Do you remember what you were doing when you were 25? Besides watching TV, that is? I was three years out of college, working a job that didn't provide me with anything more than an income, making plans that never came true for a life that turned out far more gratifying than I could have imagined. I suspect most of you have lived some variation on that theme.

Now imagine you're Pat Boone, and you're 25. You're the host of one of the most successful television programs on ABC. You've sold nearly 21 million records, and you have long-term contracts for both TV and movies. You wrote a book, Twixt Twelve and Twenty, which has had a run of 350,000 copies. You own a company that not only handles your music business, it also has a branch that deals in merchandising your brand. You work 10 hours a day, five or six days a week, but by all accounts you love what you do. And on Sundays you teach Sunday School  Your income in 1958 was nearly $1,000,000. Did I mention that you're only 25? This is where the rest of us deal with our inferiority complexes.

I've always admired the poise with which Pat Boone has handled his career; watching him on that ABC series, when he was the youngest individual ever to host his own variety show, he had every appearance of being an old pro, interacting with established stars not as a starry-eyed youngster, but as an equal. And yet it wasn't always this way, according to Pat himself. He'd dealt with stardom before, singing on the Arthur Godfrey show, but fronting a show of his own was different. "I felt I was responsible for a lot of people - people working for me and people looking at me. That made me nervous. And that made me stiff and awkward." The result was a show that "looked better in rehearsal than it did on the air," and he hated it. "Well, I decided this wouldn't do at all. It wasn't fun any more. I had to stop getting nervous. I'd force myself to spend 10 minutes before every show calming myself down. And gradually it began to work."

It surprises me not at all that Boone could will himself to change this way. "Maybe that's why I don't worry much. I take my work seriously and I work hard at it - but I don't worry about it." I wish I could do that. But while he's not exactly worried about his future, he does know that when he moves West, to Hollywood, that things could go South as well, and the success that now seems preordained could dry up overnight. "I used to think that it would be foolish to plan a long career in show business," he says. "But now I don't know. They say that if you've been successful for four or five years you can look forward to being successful for a good many more."

He does say that there are days that he could imagine a "20- or 30-year career in entertainment," and other times that he can envision himself teaching English in a high school in 25 years. Well, at last count, that career has lasted for 63 years. He's produced hit records, he's made hit movies. He's owned a professional basketball team. His daughter has made hit records. He's been a friend of presidents. He's outlived most of the people who appear in the pages of this TV Guide.

When asked about the future - entertainer or high school teacher - he says "Either way would suit me just fine." One can imagine that his long and successful career has, indeed, suited him just fine.

◊ ◊ ◊

In sports, twin events compete for this week's honors. On Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET, CBS covers the last of the Triple Crown races, the Belmont Stakes, live from New York. Sword Dancer, ridden by the great Willie Shoemaker, but the win is overshadowed by a spectacular accident in the far turn at the head of the stretch involving Eddie Arcaro, another of the sport's greatest jockeys; Arcaro spends the night in the hospital but escapes serious injury, while the horse on which is riding, Black Hills, suffers a fractured shinbone and is destroyed.

The other major event is the U.S. Open golf championship (or as it was frequently known, including in TV Guide, the National Open) from Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, suburban New York City.* According to the tradition of the time, the tournament culminated in "Open Saturday," in which 36 holes were played, 18 in the morning and 18 in the afternoon. However, this year tradition was to be upset; heavy rain in the morning (the same rain that created the sloppy track that claimed Black Hills) forced the final round to Sunday for the first time in the tournament's history. NBC was scheduled to carry the final three holes of the final round on Saturday at 4:30 p.m.; I suspect they were back on Sunday to see Billy Casper defeat Bob Rosburg by a single stroke.

*Big week in the Big Apple, wouldn't you say?

◊ ◊ ◊

On Monday, ABC has a special 90 minute tour of Disneyland on its 4th anniversary, hosted by Walt himself with Art Linkletter. Among the attractions of the show are looks at the park's three new attractions: a 14-story-high replica of the Matterhorn, a fleet of eight submarines, each over 50 feet long, and the iconic monorail. Must have been an amazing thing for people to see then, when the future was able to amaze us. This is not from that show (it's in color, for one thing), but it gives you an idea of those new attractions, and what the park was like almost 60 years ago.

Also on Monday, there's this terrific ad for Ed McMahon's half-hour variety/interview show, McMahon & Co. which follows Jack Paar's Tonight on WRCV, the NBC affiliate in Philadelphia. One tends to forget that before Ed became Johnny Carson's sidekick, he was a local TV host in Philadelphia, and in fact he had a pretty high profile himself. This ad celebrates Ed's show expanding to a full 30 minutes, and reminds us that his lovely co-stars, Moona and Yelty, "help Ed make staying up that late worth-while."


◊ ◊ ◊

Maurice Evans is billed in this week's issue as "one of the world's most brilliant stars," and that's not an exaggeration. He's one of television's true pioneers; his six Shakespearean performances on Hallmark Hall of Fame are the first full-length productions of the plays ever seen on American television.*

*He was also a Shakespearean star on Broadway; 

There's more to Evans than Shakespeare, though, as we see this week in his starring turn on The U.S. Steel Hour's "No Leave for the Captain" (10:00 p.m. Wednesday, CBS), in which he plays a perpetually drunk commander of a World War II British mine-disposal unit - a really bad combination, if you ask me. His co-star, playing his son and fellow officer, is Nicolas Coster*, whom I'll always remember from one of my mother's favorite soaps, Another World. (He also did a very funny turn on the late, lamented Police Squad.) Geraldine Brooks also stars in what looks to be a pretty strong story - not of war, but of men in a war.

*Fun fact: Nicolas Coster's first wife was Candace Hilligoss, star of the cult classic Carnival of Souls.

I don't want to leave the impression that Maurice Evans is little more than a highbrow actor, though. He'll go on to appear as Samantha's father in Bewitched, and as Dr. Zaius in the original movie version of Planet of the Apes.

◊ ◊ ◊

Dr. Joyce Brothers, who legitimately won $134,000 on The $64,000 Question and The $64,000 Challenge by displaying her knowledge of boxing, is back on television as host of her own daily advice show on New York's WRCA, with prospects that the show might be syndicated nationally next fall. The psychologist receives hundreds of letters each week; here's a representative sampling of what people are concerned about in 1959:

"If a girl has a good figure, should she hide it?"

Says Dr. Brothers: "If a girl has a good figure it's almost impossible to hide it. My advice is this; A girl should wear her clothes just tight enough to show that she is a woman, and just loose enough to show that she is a lady." Pretty good advice, if you ask me.

"My parents carp about the way I'm raising my grandchildren."

"Grandparents are accustomed to exercising their authority over their child (you) through criticism. It gives them a sense of superiority, a chance to blow off steam. But you should use your own judgment in raising your children."

"I suspect the woman next door is after my husband. She wears such scanty costumes."

"What your neighbor wears is her business, not yours. Take a look at yourself and make sure you haven't slipped a little since your marriage. Have you gained weight or become careless in your appearance? Have you stopped trying to be alluring? Don't put on a neighbor the blame that may be yours."

"Does a woman drive a man to drink?"

"A study made some years ago determined that there are definite types of women who are found to be the wives of alcoholics. [Women who choose weak husbands, women who need to be miserable, aggressive women with the need to punish herself.] But don't be a wife who is going to punish herself by making a drinker of her husband. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a couple of fifths of cure."

◊ ◊ ◊

By the way, if any of you happened to be in Philadelphia on Thursday, June 18, the great Fred Astaire will be at Gimbels to autograph copies of his new autobiography Steps in Time. We have that book - not autographed, alas.

◊ ◊ ◊

Finally, this week's starlet is Arlene Howell, Miss U.S.A. 1958, who was "discovered" by Roy Huggins' daughter Kathy, who'd overheard her father complaining about how hard it was to get an actress with a real Southern accent. She'd seen and heard Arlene at the Miss Universe contest (where she was third runner-up), and the rest is history - so let this be a lesson to you that you never know what doors will be opened to you once you've appeared on TV. She guested on Huggins' Maverick, as well as 77 Sunset Strip and Cheyenne, and this fall, at the age of 19, she'll be a regular on ABC's Bourbon Street Beat (Warner Brothers series all).

Bourbon Street Beat ran for only one series, 1959-60, and beyond that Arlene Howell's record goes dry. IMDb gives her last credit as a 1966 appearance on Gomer Pyle, but other than a few guest gigs following the end of her series, nothing. Oh well. The article does mention that she's to be married to building contractor Paul LaCava Jr., so perhaps they lived happily ever after. There is more to life, after all, than television.

June 16, 2017

Around the dial

I like Robert Taylor, and I've enjoyed the few episodes I've seen of his police series The Detectives, so I got a kick out of Secret Sanctum of Captain Video's look at the comic book version of the series. (Hey - it's even got Adam West in it!) Is it just me, or in that first panel did Taylor's detective look a lot like Dick Tracy?

Uh oh - David Hofstede's just discovered Buzzr, the improved version of what GSN used to be. This may be the last we see of Comfort TV for awhile, so be prepared to call out search parties if necessary...

This piece from The Ringer on the massive amount of "prestige" series on TV this spring shows how dramatically things have changed from the classic era, when - save the occasional breakout hit - spring and summer were hardly the time for game-changing series. "Failed Pilot Playhouse," anyone? There's also this take on series-ending episodes sparked by the 10th anniversary of The Sopranos' final episode, about which I may have more to say at a later date.

This week on The Twilight Zone Vortex, it's "Person or Persons Unknown," the disturbing Charles Beaumont story about a man finding out things definitely aren't what they seem to be. I thought this description from Richard Matheson, describing the stories that both he and Beaumont tended to tell as being about "an individual isolated in a threatening world, attempting to survive," to be a timely one. Isn't that the problem that so many of us face in today's spiraling culture?

The tale told by Television Obscurities this week is an obscure one indeed, and perhaps the farthest back I've ever looked: The Television Ghost, aired on experimental television station W2XAB in - yes - 1931.

The Land of Whatever journeys back as well, though not quite as far - to 1967, and Jerry Van Dyke's latest attempt to "emerge from the shadow cast by brother Dick": Accidental Family, co-starring Lois Nettleton. Its replacement, for it lasted only 16 episodes, is better known - the nighttime version of The Hollywood Squares.

Speaking of which, Television.au has this article on Network Ten going into administration, and how this has sparked an outpouring of memories by viewers. Chief among them: a picture calling back the network's own version of Squares, named Personality Squares. Makes sense; hard to see why Australia would celebrate Hollywood...

Hopefully that gives you enough until tomorrow, but if not, be sure to take a look at the rest of the blogs on the sidebar - I promise you'll get your fill.

June 14, 2017

Adam West, R.I.P.

It isn't in our nature to think of superheroes dying. It's true that when we're small, we often watch with our eyes covered, peeking between the fingers, and we've been known to shout to our heroes on the big screen, warning them about the bad guy who's coming up behind him.

But by-and-large, we know that Superman will survive that Kryptonite, we know that Spider-Man will escape the clutches of the Green Goblin, we know that the Incredible Hulk will avoid capture by the police even as he manages to apprehend the criminal. Unless it's the last movie in the series, we know our hero will live to fight another day, and even when an arc of movies wraps up, it's not likely that anything will befall him (or her); after all, how do you reboot the concept otherwise?

Things are different in real life - almost the opposite, in fact - and I suppose the best way to think about it is to look at the superhero as a surrogate parent. To a child, the parent is larger than life, indestructible, always stronger than the dad down the street, or smarter than a friend's mother. It's not until we grow older, when the child who was taken care of becomes the adult to takes care of, that we begin to understand and appreciate the fleeting nature of life. If the superhero is indestructible, a superhuman, we find one day that our parents are all-too human. It is, I suppose, part of becoming an adult.

Though an outsider might look at the superhero as a phenomenon of the child, it actually appeals to the child in all of us. How else to explain the skimpy wardrobe or the brooding intensity? As we mature, the superhero evolves, from comic book to Saturday serial to TV star to big-screen phenomenon. There is, however, still a portion of that original hero that lingers in us long after we grow older, an image that evokes warmth and comfort, a recognition of better, or at least simpler, times.

And so it was when Adam West, TV's original Batman, died on Saturday at the age of 88. There was, unsurprisingly, a great outpouring of affection from people who had grown up with his version of the Caped Crusader, which we all know to be the best version, but there was something about West that allowed his image, at least to me, to evolve as we evolved. Even when he donned the cape and mask, there was a knowing wink in his performance, one that went beyond the camp that the series represented. I noticed it a couple of years ago in a profile that TV Guide's Dwight Whitney did of him, when we had a chance to see the self-deprecation, the twinkle in the eye.

The chant "We want Batman!" rises in shrill crescendo.  "Ah, the adulation!" he continues, undulating like a Girl Scout in a tight girdle.  "Oh, I love it, basking in the sincere warm smiles of the little children.   What!  You say Chief O'Hara isn't working today?  Oh, I miss the Chief.  The family's disintegrating - Robin off to college, Aunt Harriet drafted and being shipped to Vietnam. Oh, the heartbreak of it all.  Here, give me that!"

You couldn't help but like him for that.

It must have been frustrating for anyone trying to be a serious actor to be pigeonholed in such a role; it had to have taken time to come to terms with it. But he did, and in the years to come it was as if he'd discovered a new role to take on, one that only he could do: not Adam West, but "Adam West." I'm thinking now of his performance in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day marathon from twenty-odd years ago, when he hosted the between-commercial segments with the same mock-seriousness (tinged with a certain dignity) that he had displayed as Batman. It's hard to put a finger on it, but it was as if we had the chance to see him without the costume, without the trappings of playing the superhero, only to find (to our delight, certainly) that he was the same person. It was as if we'd discovered somehow that Batman's alter ego was not Bruce Wayne but was in fact Adam West, and always had been; and that Bruce Wayne was nothing more than a creation of West's, to keep the rest of us guessing.

And so, even as we continued to enjoy Batman when we saw it on television or DVD, we were able to enjoy West at the same time, as the man who both was and was not Batman. You couldn't say that about Michael Keaton, or Val Kilmer, or George Clooney (especially not George Clooney), or Christian Bale - good as he was, for his Batman they even had to use a different name, The Dark Knight. When all is said and done, what we're left with is this - that Adam West was the superhero who allowed us to grow old with him, rather than being stuck in time, the one who combined the immortality of the cartoon character with the finite reach of the man. It's why, when he died, it felt as if a piece of each of us did as well, when we realized that we were growing old as well.

June 12, 2017

What's (not) on TV? Saturday, June 8, 1968

It's a very odd day today; virtually all network programming is preempted for coverage of Robert F. Kennedy's funeral. It wasn't supposed to be that way; as I mentioned on Saturday, programming was supposed to resume at 6:30 p.m. CT (the start of prime time), but because the Kennedy funeral train was so far behind schedule, the networks wound up staying with the story until it was time for the late local news.

Therefore, what you're about to see is a broadcast schedule that was never aired, at least not in the same way in which it's presented here. I'm sure all of these episodes wound up being telecast eventually, but not in the same order, not with the same vibe, so to speak; the waves being transmitted from the antennas were, like snowflakes, similar but different. You didn't have this specific episode of Lawrence Welk on at the same time as that specific episode of Get Smart, for example, and the scheduled baseball Game of the Week on NBC (Cleveland vs. Detroit) was never aired at all.*

*Nor was the Minnesota Twins game vs. the Washington Senators, which was to be played at Washington's D.C. Stadium. By this same time next year, the Senators were playing in Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.

Enjoy what follows, courtesy of the Minnesota State Edition; back then, they never saw the likes of it.