August 30, 2014

This week in TV Guide: August 30, 1980

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So just how smart are these televisions of 1981, anyway?  Well, for starters, they've got computers!  And keypads have replaced dials!   Now you can use your TV's remote to tune your cable stations!  And some models even offer stereo sound!  Is there no end to this technology?

Most of the technological advances discussed in this issue have to do with refining color and adding inputs in the rear of the television for the discerning technophile's VCR or laserdisk.  I shouldn't really make fun of this; I was around in these days, and I remember being as impressed as anyone by these advances.  But what interests me most about this article is that there's no attempt at forecasting the future, envisioning television screens as large as walls, or anything like that.  It would have been fun, as always, to see just how close they came to predicting the future.

In the end, though, it's true that all of these advances have been incorporated into today's televisions as a fundamental part what makes TV work, and without them we probably wouldn't have what we enjoy today.

***

Herminio Traviesas tells us what it's like to be a network censor, or as the headline puts it, "the thankless task of cleaning up everyone else's act."  Traviesas is the former vice president of Broadcast Standards for NBC, which means one of the shows under his purview is Saturday Night Live, enough to give anyone a headache.

It's interesting getting a look at the SNL skits that Traviesas vetoed - for example, the one that made fun of the plight of the Iran hostages, proposed shortly after the militants seized the U.S. Embassy.  Or the skit in the wake of the Jim Jones massacre in Guyana, when the show wanted to use it as imagery to represent the large number of shows NBC had just cancelled.  That one might make it through today, but I think the hostage bit probably would never have a chance - it's fine to use the historical event in a movie such as Argo, but for humor?  Likely not.

Traviesas also tells of a line that he vetoed from the old Laugh-In show, belonging to Henry Gibson's meek pastor, who would have said, "I don't understand members of my flock who on Saturday sow their wild oats and on Sunday pray for crop failure."  That one definitely would make it today; in fact, even if Gibson's pastor was a Catholic priest, they'd probably let it go.

Lest you think Traviesas' job was limited to the series that one might expect to be pushing the envelope of good taste, he throws this one in, from The Dean Martin Show.  Seems that one year Dean's producer, Greg Garrison, wanted to open every show in a bar.  Traviesas explained to him why this couldn't be done - "community standards, the feminist movement, the plight of alcoholics," and so on.  That probably wouldn't be an issue today; you'd likely have to glamorize it in a setting other than that of a successful variety show headed by a man known for having a fondness for drink.  At any rate, Garrison wasn't having any of it, either.  "Last year," he told Traviesas, his voice rising, "you took away the braods.  Now you want to take away the booze.  What have I got left?"

The show that gave Traviesas the most problems?  None other than Johnny Carson's Tonight Show.  Johnny would, on occasion, throw out a word that he knew wouldn't make it past the censor, but he used it to get a rise out of the studio audience.  He was cool with it being bleeped out of the show.  His guests, however, weren't as understanding, as in the case of one who used a word which, interpolating the context of the story Traviesas relates, I would guess was "ass."  You hear a lot worse today on family shows, but this one got the boot.  (Kind of nice, when you think about it.)  Says Traviesas, tongue-in-cheek, "I just made another momentous policy decision for NBC."

***

That really bad artist's depiction on the cover (the colors are all wrong) can mean only one thing: time for Melvin Durslag to pick this year's NFL winners.  If I have the issue from a few weeks hence, we'll probably run across several letters critiquing Durslag's picks, using the most colorful imagery available to a family magazine.  However, we'll just have to make due with comparing his predictions to what really happens.

For instance, Durslag has as his three AFC division winners New England, Pittsburgh and San Diego.  That actually sounds as if it would be a good bet today as well, doesn't it?  In fact, however, of the three only the Chargers made it to the playoffs; both the Patriots and Steelers had winning records that would probably have gotten them into the playoffs nowadays, but back then there were only three divisions and two wild cards, so New England's 10-6 and Pittsburgh's 9-7 were just not good enough.

Over in the NFC, Durslag faired no better.  Of his division winners - Philadelphia, Chicago and New Orleans - only the Eagles came out on top (and they'll go all the way to the Super Bowl, before falling to the Oakland Raiders, whom Durslag had finishing third in the AFC West).  The Saints, who Durslag saw as a team possibly on the rise, finished with a record of 1-15 - the absolute worst in football.  They didn't call them the 'Aints for nothing.

Of interest is Durslag's commentary on ABC's Monday Night Football.  The franchise is still going strong, with Fran Tarkenton filling in for Don Meredith in nearly half the games.  But there are possible cracks in the foundation, mostly pointing back to Howard Cosell.  It's true that ad rates for MNF have risen from $65,000 a minute to $230,000 a minute today.*  But for the first time the ratings have slipped a little, and CBS Radio, also carrying the games, reported a record audience.  Stories are that people watch the picture on ABC but turn down the sound to favor CBS.  No such long-term worries, though - MNF (now seen on ESPN) and its progeny,  NBC's Sunday Night Football, continue to rule the ratings roost for their networks.

*The prorated figure today is nearly $1.2 million, by contrast.


***

It's Labor Day Weekend, which back in the day meant only one thing: the Jerry Lewis Telethon.  If I can digress for a moment and give a personal opinion, I'm still offended by the way in which the Muscular Dystrophy Association gave Lewis the heave-ho after so many decades of service, making a heretofore unknown disease into one of America's Charities (if that isn't too crass a way of putting it; it isn't meant to be).  The MDA Telethon was an institution, and now it's little more than an infomercial.  The failure of MDA to disclose the reasons for the change don't say much for the organization's definition of transparency either, enough so that we've stopped giving to them.  For all the criticism Jerry Lewis took over the years, there was never a shred of evidence of any financial impropriety, a rarity for any charity nowadays, and given MDA's tight-lipped response, it would cause one to wonder how reputable the agency is in handling its donations with Lewis gone.  The sad part of this is that it's the kids, as always, that suffer.  I know they're still taking in a lot of money (although I've heard that the conversation rates on pledges is much lower than previously; whether that's an urban myth or not I don't know), but they're not getting any of ours.

Be that as it may, there's no doubt that the show's quality declined over the years, which isn't surprising given the shift in entertainment, away from variety shows and toward Vegas entertainers that no longer carry the cache in mainstream America that they once did.  The 1980 lineup features some big names, including Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Liza Minnelli, John and Patty Duke Astin, Johnny and June Carter Cash, Tony Bennett, Paul McCartney, and more.  Now, there was an actors strike that year, so it's possible not everyone appeared, but it's still a pretty good lineup.  I'm fairly sure I watched the Telethon that year - it might have been one of the last times I decided to make a go of it and watch the whole 21+ hours without sleep.  I could do that back in my younger days, you know.  The haul that year was $31,103,787

Here's a clip of Patty Duke Astin and her then-husband John hosting the New York segment of the show, along with their sons Mackenzie and Sean, who've done all right for themselves.  Plenty of other stars appear with them as well.


***

I realize I've gotten this far, and I really haven't talked a bit about what's on television.  Hmm.

Saturday:  Not a program, but one of those "Vital Statistics" that TV Guide used to insert into the programming guide to fill space.  According to the Screen Actor's Guild, "Although they are a full one-third of this Nation's population, people under the age of 19 make up only one-tenth of television's fictional population."  I wonder if that's still true today - it sure seems as if there are more youngsters, or adults playing teens, than there used to be.  At least as far as the IQ of today's shows, we can rest assured that teens are well-represented.

Sunday:  For a minute I thought I was in PBS Pledge Week territory, but no - this program appears on WEAU, the NBC affiliate in Eau Claire.  It's called The Neal Sedaka Touch, a special starring the early '60s pop singer whose career underwent a renaissance in the '70s, but who's now on the downslide of that comeback.  He's joined by Andy GIbb and the Captain and Tennille, and Neil's daughter Dara, with whom he recorded one of his big comeback hits, "Should've Never Let You Go."  I was never a big fan of Sedaka, but never had anything against him, either.  WEAU aired this essentially as a warm-up for the Telethon.

Also on Sunday, an episode of William F. Buckley Jr.'s Firing Line on PBS features Buckley's tribute to liberal activist Allard Lowenstein, who'd been murdered five months earlier.  I include this because it shows how much politics has changed since the '80s; Lowenstein and Buckley were about as far apart politically as could be.  Buckley was the author of the nation's conservative movement, while Lowenstein was a former congressman and head of Americans for Democratic Action.  Yet he was also a frequent guest on Firing Line, and the two men maintained a mutual respect despite their political differences.  According to Buckley, Lowenstein "spent a praiseworthy and highly unusual amount of time listening to his constituents' complaints and trying to redress their grievances and injustices one-to-one, face-to-face."  That, Buckley said, was a reason why he endorsed Lowenstein's reelection effort.  Buckley was one of the eulogists at Lowenstein's funeral; here's a clip from the episode of Firing Line in question.


I wonder how many on either the right or left are like Buckley and Lowenstein today?

Monday:  It's Labor Day, which means regular programming is subject to change.  The Telethon continues on many channels, both independent and network affiliate.  The CBS stations are covering the start of the second week of the U.S. Open tennis championship, with the broadcast starting at 11:30am CT and continuing through to 5:30, although WCCO bails out at 3pm to present The Joker's Wild followed by The John Davidson Show.  Until I started rereading the early '80s issues, I'd completely forgotten that John Davidson had taken over for Mike Douglas on the Group W stations.  He had the whole format down, from the 90-minute timespot to the celebrity co-host.  John didn't have Mike's easy charm or appeal, though, and the show ended after two seasons.  I never really liked John Davidson, by the way; nothing against him personally, but something about him always rubbed me the wrong way.

Labor Day sports include a matinee between the Cubs and Braves, tying up both WGN and WTBS for the afternoon, and a live broadcast of the All American Futurity quarter horse race from Ruidoso Downs, New Mexico.  It was billed as the richest event in horse racing, and was broadcast at 7pm on KMSP, Channel 9.  I always coupled the Futurity with the Telethon back in the day; I didn't consider my marathon TV watching complete unless I was able to make it through the race as well.*

*I was so disappointed the first time I saw the race; it was the first time I'd ever seen a quarter horse race, and I wasn't expecting the even shorter-than-usual event.  All this for a million bucks? I thought.

Tuesday:  It occurs to me that I've neglected to give you the biggest television story of the week, the continuing actors strike, which has indefinitely postponed the start of the new television season.  As such, we're stuck with reruns, bad television movies, and reruns of bad television movies.  Tonight we get part 1 of the massive war epic Midway on NBC, the disease-of-the-week drama "Echoes of a Summer Night" on CBS (salvaged by a cast including Richard Harris, Lois Nettleton and Jodie Foster), and reruns of staples like Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley and The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo.  And you wonder why I don't spend much time on television of the '80s?

Wednesday:  An NBC White Paper looks at the influence of Fidel Castro, "the spiritual godfather of every leftist revolution in Latin America."  Back then, the U.S. still fought against Communist insurgents, particularly in this hemisphere.  On the flip side, a coterie of stations present night two of telecasts from Billy Graham's crusade in Edmonton.

Thursday:  PBS' afternoon talk-show lineup features a couple of episodes worth watching; Hugh Downs' interview with Peter Pan herself, Mary Martin, and her son, Dallas' own Larry Hagman.  Following that, Dick Cavett's show talks with the great opera baritone Sherrill Milnes, and there were few better than him.

Friday:  The action's all on late-night this time: Bob Hope is Johnny's guest on The Tonight Show, while CBS' late night features a classic Steed-Mrs. Peel episode of The Avengers, followed by part 1 of the Charlton Heston-Sophia Loren epic El Cid.  And if that isn't enough for you, the classic sci-fi movie The Incredible Shrinking Man airs on WGN.  In a week of reruns, it proves that the classics can still be the best thing on TV.

August 28, 2014

Summer reruns: What's in a name?

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When people find out I write about television, especially from the era of the 50s and 60s, I’m inevitably asked whether or not I’ve ever seen Mad Men. The truth of it is: I haven’t. I’m not really sure why; I did see an episode early on, but for whatever reason I decided I wasn’t going to make it appointment television, the way I have, say, Top Gear.

There was another reason as well; I've always been apprehensive about programs (or books or movies) that attempt to recreate a period from the past while applying the conventions or mores of the present.  From what I've read, this does happen from time to time, which may or may not affect your enjoyment of the program, depending on your perspective.

I've always thought that if you wanted to see how things were in the '50s, the best way to do it was from the media of that time.  A television show, or magazine article, or newspaper advertisement, from that era, is as likely to tell you something significant about the time as anything we can contribute now.  That doesn't mean there isn't room for historical analysis, as it were - often, we can't gain perspective on a given period until we've had a certain passage of time.  But, and I think this is crucial, we need to apply our modern sensibilities to our understanding of it, not our portrayal.

In other words, we know that society's treatment of women and minorities was often lacking in this time period.  We know this because of a certain enlightenment, a deeper understanding of human rights, the examples set by others.  But if the screenwriter is to accurately portray these events, he cannot allow that knowledge to inhabit the minds of his characters.  Otherwise, he runs the risk of allowing the portrayal to become not insightful, but ironic.  And you often wind up not with a snapshot of a moment in time, but an allegory.  Nevertheless, I can appreciate what I've heard and read about the quality of Mad Men, and I've kept up with the talk about it enough to have a somewhat good idea of what it's about and where the various storylines go, so I'll probably rent it at some point and watch it from the start.

But I have to admit that my appetite has been whetted a bit by this wonderful post from the always-interesting Stephen Bowie, who speculates on how one would have cast Mad Men if it were being made in the same time period in which it takes place.  It's great fun looking at the names Stephen and his readers come up with (be sure and read the combox!) - some of them major stars, others character actors who pop up in small but crucial roles in so many of the series of that time - and by imagining how they'd play the role, it gives us a pretty good idea of what these Mad Men characters are like, even if we haven't seen the show.

We can, and should, do this with other shows as well, but in reverse: imagine who would play Lucy and Desi, or Colonel Hogan, or The FBI's Lew Erskine, or Mike Nelson in Sea Hunt.  The list, and the fun, is endless.  Be sure and check Stephen out, and then be prepared to check out Mad Men as well - maybe you, too, will find yourself doing it earlier than you'd planned.

August 26, 2014

The day in TV: Monday, August 25, 1958

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We haven't done this for awhile, looked at a specific broadcasting day from this week's TV Guide, and since I'm actually on vacation as you read this, it seems like a sensible time to revisit the practice.

Actually, this week is a special week; most of the time, I just give you the Twin Cities listings for a given day (when I do this at the Radio Discussions and Radio Insights message boards and I have the Minnesota State Edition, I generally show a cross-section of stations).  However, this being 1958, there are few enough stations in the listing, and some of them only broadcasting a half-day, that I'm going to give you everything in the guide, with assorted notes to follow!

KTCA, Channel 2 (Educ.)
Afternoon
02:30p    Frontiers to Health
03:00p    Tea at Three
03:30p    Tempest in a Test Tube
Evening  
06:45p    Sing Hi, Sing Lo
07:00p    Open Door
07:30p    UN Review
07:45p    Transatlantic Televiews
08:00p    Great Plains Trilogy
08:30p    Heritage XI
09:00p    Making Music
09:30p    Athletic Department
10:00p    Great Ideas
10:30p    Graphic Arts

There is no NET yet, or if there is, KTCA isn't part of it yet.  I've said this before, but this is a perfect example of the educational concept that Channel 2 always strove to fill, and why they were one of the last big-market public stations to resist becoming fully a part of PBS.

KGLO, Channel 3 (Mason City IA) (CBS)
Morning  
09:00a    For Love or Money
09:30a    Play Your Hunch
10:00a    Arthur Godfrey (guest host Tony Randall)
10:30a    Dotto
11:00a    Love of Life
11:30a    Search For Tomorrow
11:45a    The Guiding Light
Afternoon             
12:00p    News (local)
12:30p    As the World Turns
01:00p    Beat The Clock
01:30p    House Party (artist Gordon Currie)
02:00p    The Big Payoff
02:30p    The Verdict is Yours
03:00p    A Brighter Day
03:15p    The Secret Storm
03:30p    The Edge of Night
04:00p    Bob Cavanaugh
05:00p    Little Rascals
05:30p    Time Out for Tots
05:45p    CBS Evening News with Douglas Edwards
Evening  
06:00p    Farm Reporter
06:05p    Sports, News, Weather
06:30p    Robin Hood
07:00p    Whirlybirds
07:30p    Masquerade Party
08:00p    I Love Lucy
08:30p    Frontier Justice
09:00p    Highway Patrol
09:30p    Sheriff of Cochise
10:00p    News, Sports (local)
10:30p    Science Fiction Theater

Channel 3, along with Channel 8, does not carry Studio One at 9pm, preferring the (presumably) more profitable syndicated shows.  This was common practice back then; nonetheless, as I remark later about Jack Paar, one wonders if they thought their viewers would be uncomfortable with the New York-style dramas that often aired on Studio One.

WCCO, Channel 4 (CBS)
Morning
07:00a    Movie – “Southward Ho”
08:00a    Siegfried and His Flying Saucer
08:55a    News (local)
09:00a    For Love or Money
09:30a    Play Your Hunch
10:00a    Arthur Godfrey (guest host Tony Randall)
10:30a    Dotto
11:00a    Love of Life
11:30a    Search For Tomorrow
11:45a    The Guiding Light
Afternoon             
12:00p    News (local)
12:15p    Take Five
12:20p    Weather (local)
12:30p    As the World Turns
01:00p    Beat The Clock
01:30p    House Party (artist Gordon Currie)
02:00p    The Big Payoff
02:30p    The Verdict is Yours
03:00p    A Brighter Day
03:15p    The Secret Storm
03:30p    The Edge of Night
04:00p    Around the Town
04:30p    Bugs Bunny
05:00p    Axel and His Dog
05:30p    Popeye Clubhouse
05:55p    Weather, News, Sports (local)
Evening  
06:15p    CBS Evening News with Douglas Edwards
06:30p    Robin Hood
07:00p    Burns and Allen
07:30p    Masquerade Party
08:00p    I Love Lucy
08:30p    Frontier Justice
09:00p    Studio One
10:00p    News, Sports (local)
10:30p    The Lone Wolf
11:00p    Movie  “Quiet Please, Murder”

Nowadays, it's hard to imagine one of the over-the-air stations showing a movie at 7:00 in the morning - they're already on their third hour of local news at that point.  As you can see further down, CBS is still a big believer in 15-minute soap operas, their original form when they came over from radio.

KSTP, Channel 5 (NBC)
Morning  
06:30a    David Stone
07:00a    Today (guest host Charles Van Doren)
09:00a    Dough Re Mi
09:30a    Treasure Hunt
10:00a    The Price is Right
10:30a    Concentration (debut)
11:00a    Tic Tac Dough
11:30a    It Could Be You (color)
Afternoon             
12:00p    News (local) 
12:20p    Treasure Chest
01:00p    Truth or Consequences
01:30p    Haggis Baggis (color)
02:00p    Today is Ours
02:30p    From These Roots
03:00p    Queen for a Day
03:45p    Modern Romances
04:00p    My Little Margie
04:30p    Side Show
04:45p    Captain Daryl
05:00p    Hi Fi-Ve Time
05:45p    Huntley-Brinkley Report
Evening  
06:00p    News, Weather (local)
06:20p    You Should Know
06:30p    Haggis Baggis (color)
07:00p    The Restless Gun
07:30p    Tales of Wells Fargo
08:00p    Twenty-One
08:30p    Alcoa Theatre
09:00p    Suspicion
10:00p    News, Sports (local)
10:30p    Federal Men
11:00p    Jack Paar (Richard Hayes, Genevieve)
12:00a    News, Weather, Sports (local)

Look at 10:30am - the debut of Concentration! Channel 5 was one of the oldest NBC affiliates at the time that they switched to ABC in the late '70s.  For Minnesotans of a certain age (namely, mine), Channel 5 will always feel like an NBC affiliate, just as Channel 9 is the ABC affiliate, and Channel 11 is the independent.  And never the twain shall meet.  

KMMT, Channel 6 (Austin) (ABC)
Afternoon              
03:00p    American Bandstand (Tommy Edwards, Jim Gallant)
03:30p    Who Do You Trust?
04:00p    American Bandstand
05:00p    Matinee with Marge
05:30p    Mickey Mouse Club
Evening  
06:00p    News, Weather (local)
06:15p    John Daly and the News
06:30p    Woody Woodpecker
07:00p    Cowtown Rodeo
07:30p    Bold Journey
08:00p    Stars of Jazz (Oscar Peterson Trio, Buddy Rich, Pat Healy)
08:30p    To Be Announced
09:30p    Dick Powell
10:00p    News, Sports (local)
10:30p    Dateline Europe

I'm surprised that an affiliated station would come on this late in the afternoon.  I just checked; they don't come on any earlier on the weekends, either.  Note that John Daly is still the anchor of ABC's evening news.  He's currently the man in charge of ABC News - at the same time that he's hosting What's My Line? on CBS.  Classic television fans know this, but I'm still amused by it.

KWWL, Channel 7 (Waterloo, IA) (NBC)
Morning  
07:00a    Today (guest host Charles Van Doren)
09:00a    Dough Re Mi
09:30a    Treasure Hunt
10:00a    The Price is Right
10:30a    Concentration (debut)
11:00a    Tic Tac Dough
11:30a    It Could Be You (color)
Afternoon             
12:00p    Movie – “They Were So Young”
01:00p    Truth or Consequences
01:30p    Haggis Baggis (color)
02:00p    Today is Ours
02:30p    From These Roots
03:00p    Queen for a Day
03:45p    Modern Romances
04:00p    Movie – “A Race for Life”
05:45p    News, Weather, Sports (local)
Evening  
06:15p    Huntley-Brinkley Report
06:30p    Haggis Baggis (color)
07:00p    The Restless Gun
07:30p    Tales of Wells Fargo
08:00p    Twenty-One
08:30p    Alcoa Theatre
09:00p    Suspicion
10:00p    News, Sports (local)
10:30p    Jack Paar (Richard Hayes, Genevieve)
12:00a    News, Weather, Sports (local)

Pretty good lineup, standard NBC.  Unlike so many stations in these old TV Guides, Channel 7 is still called KWWL, and it's still an NBC affiliate.  And did you see who was hosting Today?  And that Twenty One is still on the air?  Most of the big-money prime-time game shows are; the other shoe just hasn't fallen yet.

WKBT, Channel 8 (LaCrosse) (CBS)
Morning  
10:00a    Arthur Godfrey (guest host Tony Randall)
10:30a    Dotto
11:00a    Love of Life
11:30a    Search For Tomorrow
11:45a    The Guiding Light
Afternoon             
12:00p    News (local)
12:30p    Top Plays
01:00p    Beat The Clock
01:30p    House Party (artist Gordon Currie)
02:00p    The Big Payoff
02:30p    The Verdict is Yours
03:00p    A Brighter Day
03:15p    The Secret Storm
03:30p    The Edge of Night
04:00p    Frontier
04:30p    Film Feature
04:55p    Crusader Rabbit
05:00p    Superman
05:30p    Living Storybook
Evening  
06:00p    Farm Digest
06:05p    Sports, News, Weather
06:30p    Robin Hood
07:00p    Broken Arrow
07:30p    All-Star Theater
08:00p    I Love Lucy
08:30p    Frontier Justice
09:00p    Buckskin
09:30p    The People’s Choice
10:00p    News, Sports (local)
10:20p    San Francisco Beat
10:50p    Pendulum

Another derivation from the CBS prime-time schedule, as Channel 8 skips Burns and Allen and Masquerade Party in favor of Broken Arrow and All-Star Theater.  Some classic TV fans might consider me a heretic, but I don't think that trade is all bad; try as I might, I never could get into Burns and Allen.

KMSP, Channel 9 (Ind.)
Afternoon              
02:25p    Chapel of the Air
02:30p    Mr. and Mrs. North
03:00p    Play of the Week
03:30p    Movie – “Front Page Story”
05:30p    Our Miss Brooks
Evening  
06:00p    Looney Tunes
06:30p    Joe Palooka
07:00p    Movie – “Boston Blackie Goes Hollywood”
08:00p    Man Behind the Badge
08:30p    San Francisco Beat
09:00p    Movie – “Bachelor Mother”
10:30p    News (local)
10:45p    Sports (local)
10:50p    Movie – “Small Town Deb”
11:55p    News (local)

Granted that Channel 9 is the independent station in the Twin Cities; still, signing on for the day at 2:25pm?  I suppose if you haven't got anything to say, better to just keep quiet.  

KTTC, Channel 10 (Rochester) (NBC)
Morning  
07:00a    Today (guest host Charles Van Doren)
09:00a    Dough Re Mi
09:30a    Treasure Hunt
10:00a    The Price is Right
10:30a    Concentration (debut)
11:00a    Tic Tac Dough
11:30a    It Could Be You (color)
Afternoon             
12:00p    News (local)
12:30p    Film Feature
01:00p    Truth or Consequences
01:30p    Haggis Baggis (color)
02:00p    Today is Ours
02:30p    From These Roots
03:00p    Queen for a Day
03:45p    Modern Romances
04:00p    What’s New?
04:30p    Compass
05:00p    Movie – “Homicide Bureau”
Evening  
06:00p    News, Weather (local)
06:15p    Huntley-Brinkley Report
06:30p    Superman
07:00p    Mr. and Mrs. North
07:30p    Tales of Wells Fargo
08:00p    Twenty-One
08:30p    Alcoa Theatre
09:00p    Suspicion
10:00p    News, Sports (local)
10:30p    Movie – “The Secret of the Blue Room”

Channel 10 does a very good job of sticking to the NBC national schedule, except when it comes to late-night.  Did they think Jack Paar was too sophisticated for their audience?  Or was it simply a case of preferring that the advertising revenue stay in-house by running a local movie?

WTCN, Channel 11 (ABC)
Morning  
11:30a    Film Short
11:45a    Farm News
Afternoon             
12:00p    Lunch Club
01:00p    Movie – “Family Affair”
02:30p    Playhouse
03:30p    Who Do You Trust?
04:00p    American Bandstand
05:00p    Superman
05:30p    Mickey Mouse Club
Evening  
06:00p    News, Weather
06:30p    Jeff’s Collie
07:00p    Cowtown Rodeo
07:30p    Bold Journey
08:00p    Stars of Jazz (Oscar Peterson Trio, Buddy Rich, Pat Healy)
08:30p    To Be Announced
09:30p    News (local)
09:45p    Movie – “High Sierra”
11:15p    Top Plays

As with Channel 6, Channel 11 has a very late start time.  When they became an independent station in 1961, they started somewhat earlier in the morning - maybe an hour or so. Stars of Jazz was hosted by Bobby Troup, future star of Emergency, and lucky husband of Julie London.  

WEAU, Channel 13 (Eau Claire) (NBC)
Morning  
07:00a    Today (guest host Charles Van Doren)
09:00a    Dough Re Mi
09:30a    Treasure Hunt
10:00a    The Price is Right
10:30a    Concentration (debut)
11:00a    Tic Tac Dough
11:30a    It Could Be You (color)
Afternoon             
12:00p    Film Short
12:20p    News, Markets (local)
12:30p    Tombstone Territory
01:00p    Truth or Consequences
01:30p    Haggis Baggis (color)
02:00p    Today is Ours
02:30p    From These Roots
03:00p    Queen for a Day
03:45p    Modern Romances
04:00p    Film Feature
04:30p    Movie – “Idaho”
05:30p    Film Feature
05:55p    Crusader Rabbit
Evening  
06:00p    Florian Zabach
06:30p    Cartoons
06:40p    Weather, News (local)
07:00p    Navy Log
07:30p    Tales of Wells Fargo
08:00p    Twenty-One
08:30p    Alcoa Theatre
09:00p    Suspicion
10:00p    News, Sports (local)
10:30p    Movie – “Blind Date”
11:30p    Times Square Playhouse

I've always found it interesting when local stations skip the national news.  Perhaps they presented some of the news headlines in their local program at 6:40.  Or maybe they figured if you really want to hear what's going on in the rest of the world, you can read a newspaper.  Notice also that they carry Navy Log at 7pm instead of John Payne's Western The Restless Gun.  I haven't checked to see if they aired that program later in the week; otherwise, they already have so many Westerns, what's wrong with showing one more?

August 23, 2014

This week in TV Guide: August 23, 1958

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It's one last look back at the '50s before we plunge ahead into the '70s and '80s over the next few weeks, so let's enjoy the ride while we can.

I've mentioned in the past how different television was in this era.  Fewer stations, of course, but more divided affiliates (particularly ABC, who was lucky to fit programming where they could), and far less uniformity in the times that shows were aired.  It's fun, though, at least for this week, because of the number of programs spotlighted in the as-yet unnamed "Close Up."

Mr. Waverly - don't!  For those of us that are a certain age, Leo G. Carroll is best-known as Mr. (Alexander) Waverly on The Man From U.N.C.L.E.  Other classic TV fans will remember him as Cosmo Topper in the series of the same name, spun off from the movie.  But in Monday's Studio One presentation "Bellingham" on CBS, he plays a quite different role - that of a killer.  "You wouldn't suspect that Bellingham is anything but what he appears to be - a conscientious and sensitive master in an English boarding school.  Actually he also leads another life entirely.  He hates evil political leaders, and belongs to a group determined to eliminate them by assassination."  As far as I know, that group isn't called T.H.R.U.S.H.  This actually sounds like a pretty interesting episode - unfortunately, we probably have to travel to the UCLA Film and Television Archive to see it.

SOURCE ON ALL: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION

Here's your hat, what's your hurry?  On Wednesday, CBS' U.S. Steel Hour, which is always labeled "Drama," presents what is clearly a comedy, "Be My Guest."  Starring Larry Blyden, the plot concerns Harvey and Jeannie Kent, who invite a couple to stay in their Connecticut estate guest house while they look for a new place to live.  Hijinks naturally ensue when that couple, Stewart and Mary Potter, take over the Kent's guest house, car, telephone and friends.  Ominously, the description concludes with Kent leaving home "to develop a suitable scheme" to get rid of them.  Comedy or not, I could easily see this on Alfred Hitchcock, taking a much darker turn than it likely took here.  Again, your guess is as good as mine as to whether or not it all ends in tears.


Elliot Ness was right!  On Friday, NBC presents a documentary on the Mafia entitled "Paper Saints."  Frank McGee narrates the half-hour program, which looks at the roots of the Mafia in Italy, follows their establishment in the United States, and explores the connection between the mob and organized crime.  Despite my joke there at the beginning, the show actually predates The Untouchables by over a year, although many of the mobsters mentioned in this documentary will find themselves later "portrayed" in the series.


As I say, they aren't called Close Ups yet, but TV Guide clearly wants to call attention to them as among the best shows of the week.  They may well have been right.

***

Besides the Close Ups, there are some fun ads for shows on the air this week.  Let's take a look at some of them.

This first one is a reminder to parents that nothing prepares a youngster for success more than an after-school job delivering TV Guides.  I remember paper boys, milkmen, even the Fuller Brush man - but I don't recall anyone ever delivering our TV Guide except the mailman.  Has anyone ever met one?


This ad for next week's issue promises tips on how to write Westerns for television.  It's probably supposed to be funny (and may or may not have been successful).  But on the other hand, who knows?  TV's filled with them right now.  Maybe they're really begging for more writers to help them out?


For example: even this Listerine ad references a Western, The Restless Gun, starring John Payne - who eventually found life on the range unsatisfying, went to law school, and eventually defended Kris Kringle.  (Good  for a mouthwash company to sponsor a Western, though - after kissing your horse, how would your breath smell?


Cedric Adams was a legend in the Twin Cities - a newscaster for WCCO radio and television, newspaper columnist for the Minneapolis Star, friend of Arthur Godfrey, guest of Edward R. Murrow.  As you can see by this ad, he hosted other shows besides the news, though.  Another thing we've lost from television today - the local movie host. I suspect that this half-hour drama was probably a refugee from an anthology series of the past.  Hah!  Just checked, and I was right - a syndicated ZIV series called Target.


***

One of the shows we run across frequently in the daytime listings of this era is House Party.  Actually, it's Art Linkletter's House Party.  The show ran on radio from 1945 to 1967, and on television from 1952 to 1969.

I've written in the past on my admiration for Art Linkletter - a good man, vital until nearly the end, one of the true pioneers of television.  House Party is probably his best-known program, and the feature "Kids Say the Darndest Things" was probably the best-known part of the program.  That feature lead to two book collections of the quotable children, both of which were illustrated by Charles M. Schulz.

I didn't know that tidbit about Schulz, which makes all the more interesting the Friday episode of the show, in which Schulz is Art's guest.  At that point in time I think Schulz is the well-known author and artist of "Peanuts," but the strip itself is not yet the American institution, nor Schulz the icon he will become.  In 1958 Peanuts is only eight years old, and Schulz has yet to pass into cultural immortality.

Incidentally, if you want a flavor of Art Linkletter, check out this very funny parody of Linkletter's popular "People Are Funny" routine, courtesy of Bugs Bunny.

  

***

Some notes from the teletype:  NBC touts its new detective series Peter Gunn as an adult mystery.  Is it because it airs after 7pm?  I don't think so; besides being somewhat violent, as I mentioned in my story about Gunn a few months ago Pete and his girl Edie enjoy a refreshingly grown up relationship between two adults who love each other without resorting to sappiness.

A sign of how television was in the '50s: Bob Cummings' show has been saved because its sponsor has re-uped for another year.  Back in the day, it was sponsorship dollars - and not ratings - that drove the renewal of series.  Many a series with decent ratings failed to return because they couldn't secure sponsorship.

One more Western note - Patricia Medina has been cast as the "love interest" for Richard Boone's Paladin in Have Gun, Will Travel, "appearing every third or fourth week."  Frankly, this sounds like an awful idea - Paladin is a smooth, suave and cultured man, but he's also a gunman who's on the road a lot.  He's good with the ladies and has a soft spot for them, but he's also got a certain cold-bloodedness to him, and there's a big difference between being cultured and being housebroken.  Evidently others agreed, because this didn't take - the series runs until 1963, but after this season there's no further word of Patricia.  She still had a successful career, though - and besides, she was married to Joseph Cotton.

And a few quick notes from programming - Monday marks the debut of a new NBC game show, Concentration.  It stars Hugh Downs, sidekick to Jack Paar and Arlene Francis, future host of the Today show, and still alive and kicking.  The show will run, with Ed McMahon and Bob Clayton later serving as hosts, until 1973.   Speaking of Today, Dave Garroway is on vacation this week, his place taken by a man soon to pass from television fame to infamy: Charles Van Doren.  And Monday night's Frontier Justice on CBS co-stars Dean Jagger and John Derek.  Jagger, of course, won an Oscar for Twelve O'Clock High and was memorable in White Christmas.  John Derek didn't have nearly as big a career, but his taste in wives was impeccable.

***

Finally, in this week's installment of the Next Big Thing, we get introduced to Judi Meredith.  According to Wikipedia, she started out as a professional figure skater and survived a broken back before being permanently sidelined due to a broken kneecap.
the always-reliable

This article touts her recurring appearances in Burns and Allen, which in turn has led to shots on Studio One, M Squad, Have Gun, Will Travel, The Restless Gun and Cimarron City.  (Those Westerns again!)  Aside from that, it appears that she did TV work through the '60s and early '70s, but was pretty much out of the business by 1973.  She just died earlier this year, at the still-young age of 77.

It's a nice picture, don't you think?   I'm surprised she didn't have a bigger career.  She cuts an attractive figure - not as attractive, though, as my friend Judi, the only other person I've ever met who spells her first name that way.  I know she reads the blog - I wonder if that statement will get a response from her?  At least we'll find out how carefully she reads this.

August 21, 2014

Predicting the Emmys

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I've written about the Emmys here from time to time (here, here and here, for example). They're a very strange fish; not quite like most awards shows, where you have different movies and nominees each year; it doesn't always the same number of nominees in each category, and it's gone through more dramatic changes in categories themselves than in most award shows.  They're set up for individuals and shows to dominate a given category in a way that no other awards show can do. They're not quite as prestigious as the Oscars, not as devil-may-care as the Grammys, not as much debauched fun as the Golden Globes.  Hell, they even changed from being a show that came at the end of the television season to one that preceded the new season, although that wasn't entirely voluntary on their part.  Not that there's anything wrong with this, mind you.

The show's coming up at the end of this month (August 25 on NBC, as a matter of fact), and since I'll be on vacation when it airs, I'll drop these tidbits your way.  The first is a fascinating infographic that came my way from Ben Clifford, who's done some cool infographics for the Hollywood entertainment website TheWrap.  This one gives us an insight into predicting who's going to walk away with the hardware on the big night.*  As always, you can click on the image to get a better look.

*Just to tell you something of my age, whenever it comes to Maggie Smith I still think of her winning an Oscar for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.


In the second piece, our friend Lisl Magboo steers us to some interviews with this year's nominees (many of whom are familiar to us classic TV fans) at the Archive of American Television site.  I won't do the usual screen captures as there are so many, but each of these interviews is well-worth checking out - as are all the videos at the Archive.  I can't tell you how many times they've come in handy for me!  Like any good restaurant menu, pick and choose from the following categories.

Comedy
Julia Louis-Dreyfus for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (Veep)
Christopher Lloyd and Steve Levitan for Outstanding Comedy Series (Modern Family)

Drama
Julilan Fellowes for Outstanding Drama Series (Downtown Abbey)

Vince Gilligan for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series (Breaking Bad), Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series (Breaking Bad)

Matthew Weiner for Outstanding Drama Series (Mad Men)

Design
Janie Bryant for Outstanding Costumes for a Series (Mad Men)

Robert A. Dickinson for Outstanding Lighting Design/Lighting Direction for a Variety Special (The Oscars, the Tonys)

Children
Linda Ellerbee for Outstanding Children's Program (Nick News with Linda Ellerbee)

Variety Special
Louis Horvitz, Outstanding Director for a Variety Special (The Kennedy Center Honors)

Documentary
Susan Lacy for Outstanding Documentary of Nonfiction Series (American Masters)

George Schlatter for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special (Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley)

My thanks again to Ben and Lisl for making my job a lot easier, and more enjoyable.

August 19, 2014

Don Pardo, R.I.P.

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Was there a better voice for television than Don Pardo's?  At the same time, he was able to project warmth, authority, credibility.  He could announce a game show like the original Jeopardy!, while he could also break the news of JFK's shooting, and be absolutely the right voice for both.

Many of us, of course, know him best as the announcer and occasional foil on Saturday Night Live, and there was more than one time when his introduction of the cast was the best thing about the show.  It was then that his voice called not for authority, but humor - and the little tremor he put into it was just right.

Was he the most famous television personality that nobody would have recognized?  He did appear on-camera occasionally on SNL, but most of what he did was behind the scenes.  Nonetheless, he was elected to the Television Hall of Fame, and rightfully so.  The fine obit in The New York Times mentions that new SNL cast members "couldn’t wait to hear their name said by him,” according to Lorne Michaels.  It must have been like a kid growing up dreaming of playing baseball in Yankee Stadium and having his name announced by Bob Sheppard.

That Times bit also tells us something of what early radio and television was like.  Pardo, of course, got his start on radio, as a staff announcer.  But if you think that was a simple job, waiting around to give the time and station ID, you're wrong.  "As a staff announcer, he did more than introduce shows and read commercials. The announcer also played the role of engineer, getting the radio programs going and cuing up the right bits at the right time. If you could not do those chores, he said, you would not last as a radio announcer."  I wonder how many of our radio and television personalities could do that today?

His voice will continue in reruns of SNL, but many of his other work is lost, either literally in the sense that the shows (like Jeopardy!) no longer exist, or lost because his voice can't be used again - there's no occasion to play a pre-recorded Pardo introducing a show like SNL, because the cast names are all different.  I haven't watched SNL for years - in fact, though I think of myself as having a pretty good memory, I literally can't recall the last time I saw it.  Probably when Dennis Miller was doing Weekend Update.  But Michaels says the show will present a tribute to him this fall, and I'll probably tune in for that.  For SNL is one of TV's longest-running shows, and Don Pardo was its longest-running cast member.

Here's a wonderful appearance he made on Weird Al's video I Lost on Jeopardy (along with original host Art Fleming), which gives you a pretty good feel for the original show.  I love his line, "You don't even get a lousy copy of the home game!"  As is always the case with parody, it's the little details that make the difference.


Here is his voiceover on NBC television bringing the first news bulletin on JFK:


And here he is talking about getting the SNL gig:


Don Pardo died at the ripe old age of 96, one of only two people (the other being Bob Hope) to have a lifetime contract with NBC.  He had a great career, working right through the end of this season's SNL.  And best of all, he sounds like he was a good man.  R.I.P., Don Pardio - we'll miss your voice, and we'll miss you.