September 26, 2016

What's on TV: Thursday, October 3, 1968

It's always nice to be back in the Twin Cities, even though there isn't a lot of remarkable programming this week. The World Series, still an all-daytime affair in 1968, is of course the big show of the week, but I'm sure you can find some other interesting tidbits here.

September 24, 2016

This week in TV Guide: September 28, 1968

Dean Martin is, in 1968, the highest paid entertainer in show business - anywhere. His eponymously-named variety show has just been renewed by NBC for not one but three years, at a cost (to the network) of $34 million. Added to the $5 million that Dean's already making*, the man they call the “King of Cool” is sitting pretty, on a very big pile of cold, hard cash.

*$750,000 each for three movies (not including his share of the profits), $825,000 for his records, $150,000 for three weeks at the Sands Hotel, and $2 million for the past season of the show.

It hasn't always been this way. After the tumultuous breakup of Martin and Lewis, Dean had watched as Jerry made it big with a string of solo movies. Martin’s movie career, by contrast, laid an egg - a bomb called Ten Thousand Bedrooms. He’d received $250,000 for that movie, but that wouldn’t do him much good if he wasn’t able to turn things around. That turning point came with a dramatic role in the movie The Young Lions, which Martin eagerly accepted even though it paid him almost $200,000 less than he’d received for Ten Thousand Bedrooms. He then followed up with his own string of hits – Rio Bravo and Some Came Running – and all of a sudden Dean Martin was hot stuff again.

When NBC approached Martin for a weekly series, he exhibited the same lack of interest he has about most things. His answer was no. Still, they pressed, so he gave them his terms.  He knew they'd never accept them - he wanted a lot of money, and only wanted to show up for the actual taping - no rehearsal.  They said yes anyway.  He told his family, "They went for it. So now I have to do it."

It's that laid-back, devil-may-care attitude, the attitude that Frank Sinatra so admired and wished he had, that keeps Dean Martin cool. It's reflected in the way Martin answers questions from writer Dick Hobson - a few examples:

TVG: Tell me, Mr. Martin, is this your third or fourth [television] season?
DINO: You know, I don't know! Boy, that's a tough question!

TVG: I understand you're building a big Spanish home out on your ranch in Hidden Valley, with stables, corrals and a heliport?
DINO: It's a place to live.

TVG: Why so far out? To get away from your admiring public?
DINO: Actually, it's the air. Gettin' away from the smog.

TVG: For a man whose public image is Mr. Devil-May-Care, don't you find those magazine articles about "The Illness Dean Martin is Too Ashamed to Admit" an embarrassment?
DINO: What illness?

TVG: That illness sometimes associated with nervous tension. To be blunt, Mr. Martin, is it true about your ulcer?
DINO: Oh, that. Well, you can say I'm eatin' my spaghetti with butter sauce now.

TVG: [Addressing Martin's lack of rehearsal] What happens when a problem comes up?
DINO: Problems aren't necessary. We don't put up with problems.

TVG: I suppose you have plenty of people to deal with any problem that might come along?
DINO: People who like problems aren't there any more.

TVG: Do you mean to say that you never have problems?
DINO: I have a very peaceful life. [Ironic, given that he pays $2,400 a month in alimony.]

TVG: Can you tell us your philosophy of life in 10 words or less?
DINO: I can do it in less.

TVG: Go ahead.
DINO: Everybody should have fun.

Well, it's hard to argue with that, isn't it? That's cool.

◊ ◊ ◊

During the 60s, the Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace were the premiere variety shows on television. Whenever they appear in TV Guide together, we'll match them up and see who has the best lineup..

Sullivan: Ed launches his 21st season with tentatively scheduled guests Red Skelton, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Jefferson Airplane and the winners of the Harvest Moon Ball dance contest. Also: a scene from the movie "The Secret of Santa Vittoria," in which Ed appears as an Italian peasant.

Palace: The Palace's sixth season opens in traditional fashion - with Bing Crosby as host. Bing's guests: Sid Caesar; singers Bobby Goldsboro, Abbey Lincoln and Jeannie C. Riley, and the rock group from off-Broadway's hippie musical "Your Own Thing." Also: the acrobatic Iriston Horsemen from the Moscow State Circus, the tumbling Four Robertes and St. Louis Cardinal pitcher Bob Gibson.

Ed has Red Skelton and Steve & Edie, the Palace has Sid Caesar, Jeannie C. Riley (singing "Harper Valley PTA," natch) and Bob Gibson, promoting Wednesday's start of the World Series. I can't bring myself to go any further: The Verdict: Push.

◊ ◊ ◊

Throughout the 60s and early 70s, TV Guide's reviews were written by the witty and acerbic Cleveland Amory. Whenever we get the chance, we'll look at Cleve's latest take on the series of the era. 

This week, Cleveland Amory takes on Dick Cavett's morning talk show on ABC, a precursor to his nighttime program. We'll get the suspense over with in a hurry, as Amory does: he likes Cavett and his show; in praising Cavett's low-key approach, he calls it "the least of the many virtues of this fine show."

After analyzing Cavett in relationship to TV's other talkers (he hasn't "the mugging, jack-in-a-box quality of a Johnny Carson, the deep-down goodness as well as on-top funniness of a Joey Bishop, the earnest naughtiness of a Merv Griffin or the nice-nelliness of a Mike Douglas"), he tries to put his finger on the source of Cavett's appeal: "a not-too-cute cuteness which somehow manages to make every woman over the age of discontent want to mother him and yet which somehow also manages not to make every man over the same age want to drown him." Interesting take on the other hosts, no?

Among Cavett's other plusses is an ability to tell jokes without having to get into joke-telling contests, a modesty about his status that adds to his charm, and a sly, often self-deprecating opening monologue that he describes as "a kind of high comedy of low errors." Best of all, though, are his guests: especially "the remarkable comedy team" of Bob and Ray, with their patented satires of everything, including the political scene. (Sample interview question of a possible Vice Presidential candidate: "What would you say if I said you were a backwoods booby?" "I'd say you have a right to your opinion.") Says Amory in conclusion, "Every single one of these satires was head and shoulders over the best of the elaborate kind of sketch on the Carol Burnett or Jerry Lewis shows, and Mr. Cavett deserves high marks for putting them- and us with them - on."

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It's football season, with college and pro games galore: Purdue vs. Notre Dame on ABC Saturday, the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers in the NFL Game of the Week on CBS Sunday, and an AFL doubleheader on NBC, with the New York Jets taking on the Buffalo Bills, followed by the Oakland Raiders and Houston Oilers.

Despite all this, the big story of the week is the World Series between the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers, commencing with Game 1 Wednesday afternoon in St. Louis. The 1968 World Series is a milestone for many reasons, foremost being the last to be held before the start of divisional play the following season. For the last time, the American and National League champions would face off without having to go through a playoff series first - it would be good enough merely to finish with the best record in the league. This presents a unique, never-again-to-be-repeated World Series preview on Saturday's Game of the Week, with cameras shuttling between the Astros-Cardinals and Senators-Tigers games. There's nothing left to settle, with the pennant races long over and the two teams just waiting for Wednesday, and if you think that sounds boring, then you've put your finger on the reason why both leagues introduced playoffs the following year.

The 1968 Series is one of the last to be played entirely in daytime (the first night game is introduced in 1971), and in this "Year of the Pitcher" it is the last to take place before the pitching mound is lowered and the strike zone redefined. As befits this year of superior pitching, two other accomplishments which haven't been duplicated since: in Game One, Bob Gibson strikes out 17 Tigers to set a World Series record, and in Game Seven Mickey Lolich becomes the last pitcher (to date) to start a Series game on two days' rest. Today's pitchers require four, and sometimes five, days' rest between starts; Lolich pitches three games in eight days, going the distance all three times, winning all three games. These guys today are such wimps!

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When last we met Lee Marvin, it was on the set of M Squad, his early-60s Chicago cop show. At that time, he gave what can only be called a remarkable interview with TV Guide, in which his interviewer had barely any chance to say anything. Now Marvin's a big star; an Oscar winner for Cat Ballou, with the highly-anticipated (!) musical Paint Your Wagon coming up. This week he's in TV Guide for the network television premiere of Cat Ballou, and we asked ourselves: could this interview possibly be anything like the other one?

"What has TV Guide ever done for me?" it starts out. "I never had a cover in TV Guide; all the crocodiles and dancing bears and honeysuckle farm boys got the covers. All those big stars of TV< and where are they now, baby? Where are they now?

"I don't make any deals with TV any more, " he continued. "What for? The reason to do a TV series is to get accredited, to establish yourself so you can go into features. You hit 35 million people a week for three years and they start to know who you are. I did that with M Squad, so I don't have to do it any more. Now I can burn my union card. Or maybe I'll dip it in the blood of Ronnie Reagan."

All right, it's not the M Squad interview, but it's not bad.

◊ ◊ ◊

A brief political note - this is an election year, after all. According to The Doan Report, there's a general consensus in Congress on suspending the Equal Access provision of the FCC regulations in order to allow presidential debates - but only if they include George Wallace, the American Independent candidate. Wallace is all for it, of course, as is Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey. Against it, however, is Republican candidate Richard Nixon, to nobody's surprise - after all, not only is he the front-runner, with everything to lose in a series of debates, he has bad memories from the last time something like this happened. You'll still be seeing plenty of Nixon in the last few weeks, though - he has a huge monetary advantage over Humphrey, who winds up holding telethons to raise the funds for his final push.

It's no wonder Humphrey finds himself in the hole, after that disastrous convention in Chicago. The TV coverage of that riot-filled week hasn't escaped the notice of Congress, which is threatening an investigation of the networks after the FCC was flooded with complaints from viewers upset about the images being beamed into their homes - most of them accusing the networks of bias in favor of the protesters and against Mayor Daley and Chicago police.

It's a sentiment shared by Mrs. Eugene Robinson of Schriever, Louisiana, whose Letter to the Editor complains about the reference to "Stalag Daley" "Mayor Daley is one leader in this country today who is trying to live up to his responsibilities," she writes. As Godfrey Hodgson would point out in his book America In Our Time, the media had, to a man, been shocked and appalled by the brutality they'd witnessed on the streets of Chicago, and they'd brought what they felt was the truth to the viewers. They were even more shocked to find that those viewers, by a wide margin, rejected their editorializing, speaking out in favor of Daley and the police and against the media. It is, in retrospect, a turning point in the way Americans saw the American media, one which Spiro Agnew would build upon in the next year, and which continues to play itself out today.

◊ ◊ ◊

Even though it's the end of September, it's still the honeymoon period for the shows of the new fall season.  It's great to see so many ads for ABC's new series, since so many of them will be around for so little a time. The Don Rickles ShowJourney to the UnknownThe Ugliest Girl in TownThat's LifeThe Outcasts? Easy come, easy go. They're not all flops, naturally - The Mod Squad has a nice run, and Here Come the Brides runs for two seasons.

Besides, ABC doesn't have a corner on the market for unsuccessful series: Lancer, The Good Guys and Blondie fail to crack the top of the charts for CBS, while NBC's sole disappointment is The Outsider. On the other hand, Hawaii Five-0 starts its long run for CBS, with Here's Lucy, Mayberry R.F.D. and The Doris Day Show among CBS's other successes; NBC, meanwhile, will be able to celebrate the debut of the very solid Adam-12, with Julia, The Name of the Game and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir as, at the very least, minor successes.

Returning series undergo changes of their own; Peyton Place, one of ABC's worthies, is going through some growing pains of its own, as Carolyn See points out, with the show attempting to assimilate a more realistic demographic - "the population has become younger and blacker." June Lockhart signs on to Petticoat Junction, where she'll become the female lead following the death of the beloved Bea Benaderet. And Roy Rogers and Dale Evans will host the Country Music Association awards on an upcoming episode of NBC's Kraft Music Hall. Now's, it's got a show of it's own.

It's not only the new season for TV series, but for movies as well, and two of Hollywood's bigger hits make their TV debuts this week. ABC's offering is Cat Ballou which, as we pointed out, won a Best Actor Oscar for Lee Marvin in a duel role as "Kid Shelleen, the lushest gun in the West, and Tim Strawn, the villainous silver-nosed gunfighter." Judith Crist calls it a classic comedy, and adds that it's "a family film in the finest sense, with good rousing fun for all." It's followed on CBS Thursday night by a completely different movie, Tennessee Williams' The Night of the Iguana, which Crist calls "a penetrating and affectingly compassionate exploration of the human agony." Richard Burton, Deborah Kerr, Ava Gardner and Grayson Hall headline the cast.

And finally, one more look at Letters to the Editor. I don't know anything about the 1968 Miss America Pageant other than that Judith Ford, Miss Illinois, comes away with the crown. It must not have been a very impresive show, though; according to Mickey Falton of Carle Place, NY, "After seeing the girls on this year's 'Miss America Pageant,' I cast my vote for Bert Parks." As Jack Benny would say, "Well!"

September 23, 2016

Around the dial

It's time for our first post-Nostalgia Convention trip around the dial, and since it's the first one for a couple of weeks, I know there's a lot of good material out there. Let's take a look.

We weren't the only bloggers at MANC - our intrepid reporter for Lincoln X-ray Ida was there as well. Catch her review, with special attention to Kent McCord, who was a terrific guest and was wonderful in the panel discussion.

When I read about the Darlin' Dallasers' Blogathon, I naturally was interested, since I live in Dallas! Turns out it's about the show, and not a chance to meet other classic TV bloggers from Dallas. But, as Realweegiemidget shows, it's well worth checking out one of the most iconic TV shows of all time, one which certainly helped shape the image of our fair city.

Cult TV Blog is celebrating his liberation from a bad job, and I'm drinking a toast to him right now (careful not to spill anything on the keyboard, of course). As a celebratory gift to us, he has a write-up on the BBC and BBC America series The Game,which echoes several other British series, and - "because it is all about intrigue and lies," it also describes many workplaces I've been stuck in.

"Five Characters in Search of an Exit" is not only a brilliant title for an episode of The Twilight Zone, it's a perfect absurdist, expressionistic play. Would we ever see anything like this on TV nowadays? I doubt it, so thanks to The Twilight Zone Vortex for bringing it to our attention.

A new book by Joanna Wilson of Christmas TV History is always a cause for celebration, and this one will be a doozy - The Triple Dog Dare: Watching--& Surviving--the 24-Hour Marathon of A Christmas Story. Need I say more? Check her out here for more details.

The Last Drive-In points us to Once Upon a Screen and a wonderful remembrance of Peter Falk and his most famous creation, Lieutenant Columbo; Falk would have celebrated a birthday on September 16. Fortunately, he left behind a terrific body of work.

At The AV Club, a look at the history of the Star Trek movies, which touches on how they fit in with the original (and subsequent) television versions.

Comfort TV looks at the career of the '70s actress Laurette Spang, who graced many a television screen in that decade. It's a good thing David is a TV historian; some people might not have looked at her body of work, just her body...

...and if you haven't had enough of blonds, there's Some Polish American Guy, who links to a TV Guide interview with B.J. and the Bear's Judy Landers.

That should give you enough to go on until I'm back tomorrow, don't you think?

September 21, 2016

Adventures in Nostalgialand

A few random notes on our first time attending the Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention last week in Hunt Valley, Maryland:

I enjoyed seeing celebrities (more on that below) - who doesn't? - but for me, the highlight was getting to meet two of my friends for the first time in person. I knew Carol Ford was going to be there; we'd talked about it several times, and she was one of the first people I hunted out. You remember Carol from my interview with her about her Bob Crane biography and through that and some subsequent email conversations I'd gotten to know her well enough to know that I liked her. She was smart, funny, and incredibly knowledgeable about her subject.

As it happens, Carol was even smarter, funnier and more knowledgeable than I'd expected, and also something I hadn't expected - tall! I'm six-foot-four, and you can see she was almost a match for me. We had two or three chances to talk during the weekend, and I can tell you that in addition to everything else she's an incredibly nice person who interacted with everyone who came by her booth (and there were many, I can tell you). Bob Crane and his family are very fortunate to have an advocate like her. I've mentioned before that the highlight of getting into the classic TV scene as much as I have is that I've had the good fortune to meet, in person and through email, some very, very nice and smart people who've enriched my life immeasurably.

As I said, I knew Carol would be there - but on the way to find her, I ran into someone I hadn't known was going to attend. Adam-Michael James, author of the wonderful Bewitched Continuum, who I interviewed last year, and another friend whom I had not previously met. He was delightful as well, and cut quite the figure with a very dashing top hat and cape. A few minutes chatting, and (as it was with Carol) it felt as if we'd been friends for much longer. It was great to see the number of people stopping at the booth to talk Bewitched, and I hope I didn't come across too heavy-handed in telling people they had to buy this book!.

I don't think I can stress enough how much fun it was to finally meet Carol and Adam-Michael personally.* Don't think I'm prejudiced, though, when I tell you that Bob Crane: The Definitive Biography and The Bewitched Continuum were two of the books on my "Best of the Year" list. For anyone interested in classic television, pop culture, or just looking for a good read, these books should be on your shelf at home.

*And neither of them ran away when I introduced myself, which was a real plus!

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I guarantee this is not how we got home.
One of the best things about being at MANC was the feeling that you were among like-thinkers, that for once you didn't have to explain yourself to others. I told several people about this website, and about the TV book I'm currently working on (note to self: bring business cards next year!), and not once did I feel like a nut. (At least, any more than I usually do.) Most of the participants were around our age, and if we didn't all have the same favorites, we all spoke the same language.

Next year, when I'm hoping to return as a speaker and author, I'd like to cover this not as a fellow fan, but as more of a journalist. I know many writers have written about the convention scene in the past, and we probably don't need yet another article, but I think it's a very interesting, literate group of people. We're all nerds in a sense, of course, and most of us know way too much about certain shows, but it still intrigues me as to why we all gravitate toward this subject. Sure, nostalgia is a big part of it, especially since the world has changed so much from that in which we came of age, but that can't be all there is to it. I try to answer some of that in my upcoming book, and I think it's an endlessly fascinating topic. But then, I would.

The Brig and Captain Jack in front of the TARDIS
I had Carol and Adam-Michael's books,but that still leaves a lot of vendors to visit. There were more books, of course, but also magazines, toys, comic books, action figures, DVDs, records, movie posters, and any kind of vintage paraphernalia you could hope for. There was a particular emphasis on items associated with the weekend's celebrities, which meant 2001 posters, all kinds of Laramie and Wagon Train pictures, James Bond posters (two of our female guests were, after all, Bond Girls), and - no surprise - TV Guides. I'd planned on that, bringing my list with me to make sure I didn't wind up with any duplicates, and I managed to score a pretty good haul, for which you, dear readers, will be the beneficiaries. You can look forward to a couple dozen issues popping up over the next year or so, for which you can thank me later.

Side by side: two of the additions to the Hadley library
There wasn't possibly enough money in the world to buy all the things one might have wanted, even if you happened to win the lottery. Nor - more important - would there be enough room to store it all, or wall space to hang it all. That's all right; it's just one of the decisions one has to make in life.

The fact is, these items stand out because of the memories that are triggered by their appearance. And those memories, pray God, we'll always have.

◊ ◊ ◊

I was incredibly impressed with Robert Fuller. He was clearly the star of the show; many members of the Robert Fuller Fan Club were on hand (recognizable in their cowboy hats), and he was forever posing with them, and with just about anyone else interested in a picture, all the while behaving as if he was having even more fun than his fans. There was a special event on Thursday night which was reserved for him and the fan club members. I didn't see anyone leave the room looking unhappy. What a mensch.

We had two encounters with him. The first was on Thursday prior to his meeting with the fan club. We were heading out to grab something to eat, and as it turned out he was walking next to us. He asked my wife if she knew where the bar was, and she pointed the way. Don't mean that in a negative way at all; after a big day of meeting fans, a drink before dinner was probably a necessity.

The other encounter was quite remarkable, and very moving. At the Saturday night gala, we shared a table with a large family of three generations. Among them was a young man in a wheelchair, suffering clearly from both physical and mental challenges; a layman like me would have described him, in the pre-PC days, as being severely handicapped, quite possibly from some kind of accident. At any rate, his sister, perhaps not quite 10, had met Robert Fuller at a convention some years before, and for some reason the two of them had hit it off, and he had met with the family several times since, posing for pictures with this girl and her brother. Seeing Fuller at one of the front tables prior to the start of the dinner, she ran over to get him, and Fuller came over, put his hand on the young man, and whispered into his ear that "Bobby Fuller" was there (calling him by name), that he loved him and hoped everything was well. I was already really impressed with Robert Fuller by then, but that made me even more so. As I said, what a mensch.

And a word about Robert Conrad, who was a late addition. We'd been told he had been in poor health, that last year at this time he couldn't walk by himself, not without assistance. He looked old, and frail. But he was determined to meet everyone who wanted an autograph or a picture or a handshake, staying past the end of the autograph sessions if there were still people in line. He was happy to meet with and accommodate his fans. He stayed through the weekend, insisting on standing at the Saturday night dinner when he was introduced, even though he didn't have to and nobody expected him to, even though it was a struggle and he couldn't do it without help. He wanted to acknowledge the applause, the people who had come to see him. As he said, "I'm not an antique."

Two of the female stars - Kathy Garver and Luciana Paluzzi
Fuller was in rare form, as were Bernie Kopell and Kent McCord when they appeared at the men's panel discussion Friday. Who knew Bernie Kopell had such a bawdy sense of humor? They entertained the crowd, and each other, for an hour, and the personal friendship between the three (especially Fuller and Kopell, and Fuller and McCord) was obvious.

In fact, everyone seemed to be having a great time at the convention. My wife mentioned that celebrities probably don't go to them if they don't enjoy such events, unless money talks louder than anything, and that's probably true. Nonetheless, the chemistry between all the guests was perfect; the women's panel, featuring Kathy Garver, Luciana Paluzzi, and Britt Ekland was just as funny and almost as bawdy, particularly Ekland. (Her feelings regarding her ex-husband Peter Sellers were not hard to read.) Paluzzi in particular seemed to be having a ball, often the first one to stand and applaud performers, other celebrities, and the staff. I didn't get a chance to ask anyone, but she must have been a blast to work with.

The Thursday night panel was Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood, the stars of 2001. They, too, were old friends, and their teamwork ran like clockwork. I got to talk with Lockwood for a couple of minutes when he was on his way from the bathroom back to the celebrity area, and he was a pleasure. It was interesting to hear them discussing the movie; they both knew that starring in a film directed by Stanley Kubrick was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and they were both apparently quite aware of the significance of the film as they were making it. Dullea, however, thought the impact would be of the moment; it was Lockwood who, as they filmed it, told Dullea that the movie would be a landmark that would be remembered for decades.

◊ ◊ ◊

For me personally, in addition to meeting my friends and the rest of the vendors, the portion of the convention that was of the most practical interest was in the seminar room. Joe Bevilacqua's presentation on voice artist Daws Butler was entertaining and informative (particularly when Bevilacqua, a talented voice artist in his own right and protege of Butler, started flitting from one cartoon voice to another, often demonstrating the real personages upon whom the voices had been based.

David Krell had perhaps the most informative talk, at least in regards to what I do. He spoke on the year 1962, describing how an original idea to write about that year's baseball season had evolved to discuss the many notable things that had happened that year in politics, pop culture, and history. (The Cuban Missile Crisis, Marilyn Monroe's birthday song to JFK, and John Glenn's flight were only three of that year's events). Krell's talk helped me solidify the structure of my own upcoming book on the relationship between television and pop culture, and to understand why it takes decades to understand the impact of a particular era.

The talks were all good, all informative, but perhaps the most valuable information I gleaned from them was that I can do this. I can stand up and talk about these things. Not that I had any real doubts, but this confirmed my feelings. And this isn't meant as a criticism of these presenters, either. It's more a mark of the confidence I have in my own abilities, in my knowledge of the subject and the development of my theories.

◊ ◊ ◊

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times - wait, I got sidetracked there for a moment. What I meant was that it was the best kind of vacation - while it was going on you didn't want it to end, but when it was over, you were ready to go home.

And so, as the sun rose over BWI at 6:30 on Sunday morning, waiting to board a plane that wanted to go on time but had to wait an hour for a spare part, we say farewell to the Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention, and farewell to summer, at least for another year. I want to go back as a fan - not only was it fun, but I've found, in a sense, "my people" - the shared interests, the common language, the bonds that seem so difficult to form in this day and age. (Hats off, by the way, to Martin Grams, who does the incredible job of putting this together, year after year.) My intention, however, is to return next year as a participant, trying out my thoughts on the relationship between classic television and American culture. Can I pull it off? Stay tuned and find out.

September 19, 2016

What's on TV? Wednesday, September 19, 1979

This week we're back in the Twin Cities, in an issue from my own personal collection. At first glance, it looks to be to be as thick as the Minnesota State Editions I used to get when I lived in The World's Worst Town™, even though we only have listings for six stations. The reason? Ads. You can't turn a page without seeing one, two, perhaps three ads for various shows. They're bold, with lots of wide black striping and white lettering. In isolation, it perhaps looks crisp and easy to read, but when you see them bunched one after another, the effect is cluttered and cramped, hard on the eyes, and the busyness of the page makes it difficult to find and focus on the listings. But that's progress.

September 17, 2016

This week in TV Guide: September 15, 1979

It's always nice when an issue serves up a softball you can hit out of the park; it saves the effort of trying to figure out what to write about. This is such an issue.

Any article that presupposes to predict the top 15 shows for the coming season, as predicted by Michael Dann - television consultant and former programming head for both CBS and NBC - falls into that category. Keep in mind he's not predicting the most successful new shows of the season, although some rookies might make their way into the list. Nor is he necessarily saying the shows will finish in the order listed, just that these will be the top-15 at the end of 1979*.

*The cutoff date of December is to allow for hit mid-season replacements that Dann would not have been aware of at the time of this writing.

With that proviso, let's see what Dann's list looks like. At the end of this article, we'll look at the actual list and see where he went wrong (and right).
  1. Three's Company (ABC)
  2. Happy Days (ABC)
  3. Laverne & Shirley (ABC)
  4. Mork & Mindy (ABC)
  5. Taxi (ABC)
  6. Eight is Enough (ABC)
  7. 60 Minutes (CBS)
  8. The Associates (ABC)
  9. Barney Miller (ABC)
  10. ABC Sunday Night Movie
  11. Benson (ABC)
  12. M*A*S*H (CBS)
  13. Little House on the Prairie (NBC)
  14. Angie (ABC)
  15. The Love Boat (ABC)
You'll notice one thing straight away; ABC dominates the predicted list, with an even dozen of the 15 shows. CBS has two, while lowly NBC can only offer one. Will that hold true in real life? Stay tuned.

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Cleveland Amory, our regular TV critic, has moved on from his TV Guide gig by 1979, replaced by Robert MacKenzie, and it is to him that the duty falls to review one of ABC's new series, The Ropers, a spin-off from the above-mentioned Three's Company. If you remember Three's Company, do you also remember The Ropers? I do, not because I ever watched it, but because it's my business to remember obscure programs. Then again, maybe it's not obscure; maybe everyone remembers it. That's why I ask.

Anyway, both of these shows are similar in that the perception is that they're all about sex, even though you never see any and, as MacKenzie notes, nobody ever seems to have any. "But viewers seem to love it, for whatever that means about the national psyche." He's ambivalent about the series' two leads, Norman Fell and Audra Lindley; they "can be funny together," but now that they're the focus of the show rather than playing supporting characters to the two girls and a guy, "sometimes there is a twist of cruelty in their exchanges that sets me to wincing when I'm supposed to be chuckling," an observation which I find perceptive.

The Ropers, MacKenzie writes, "is one of numerous comedies now exploring the rather bleak frontiers of innuendo," and adds that "Small kids who watch these shows may be getting their first impressions of sex: as something that makes adults nervous and giggly, that involves underwear in some way; is seldom done and never talked about seriously, but that figures somehow in the reproduction of jokes." Not quite up to vintage Amory perhaps, but not bad at all. And I think this tells us a lot, not only about the state of television in 1979, but today as well. Back then many series chose to deal with fairly serious issues, such as sex, with an adolescent sense of humor that did kids no favors. Today, the same issues are presented with absolutely no holds barred, in all their graphic glory, which does no one any favors. Mackenzie's conclusion about The Ropers: "I know it's cute, but don't ask me to get excited about it."

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Speaking of cute, there's a feature this week on one of the stars of The Dukes of Hazard, Catharine Bach, who seems utterly sanguine about the possibility that "many viewers of The Dukes of Hazard appear to be as interested in her abbreviated outfits as they are in her dramatic status." (No!) "I wouldn't mind that at all," she says. "I'd think it was cute, but people wouldn't turn on the show just because Cathy Bach is wearing a pair of shorts." I'm not sure whether or not she expects us to believe that...

PBS is still in the culture business in 1979, and they're proving it on Sunday afternoon with a live telecast of Ponchielli's opera La Gioconda, starring Renata Scotto, Luciano Pavarotti, and Ferruccio Furlanetto, and performed by the San Francisco Opera. (Trust me, this is a very big-time cast.) You don't have to be an opera buff to recognize some of the music from La Gioconda; all you have to be is a fan of Allan Sherman's "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah" or remember the dancing hippos in Disney's Fantasia. But just in case you've forgotten, here is "Dance of the Hours" in the context of the opera.

See, I knew it would ring a bell.

Sunday night also presents three potential blockbusters, all going up against each other. On NBC, it's a three-hour Bob Hope special from China, which would have been a big deal, the country not having been opened up that long ago. That's countered on ABC by the network television premiere of Woody Allen's Oscar-winning Annie Hall, which according to Judith Crist presents in its full glory "the humor and compassion that are peculiarly [Allen's] own, an adult view of the human comedy." To complicate things, CBS gives us Carol Burnett in a rare dramatic role, starring with Keith Michell in The Tenth Month, the story of a divorcee who finds herself pregnant by a married man. Or maybe this doesn't complicate matters; Crist calls it "pat predictability" with Burnett unconvincing in the role, and a host of preposterous plot twists; she adds that "after an hour of this overblown opus you will, in your wisdom, switch to Annie Hall." I'll have more later on the dilemma of having too many good shows on at the same time.

Annie Hall's not the only big-screen smash to make it to television this week, as NBC gives us Coming Home on Monday night, with Oscar-winning turns from Jane Fonda and John Voight, and the same network presenting Semi-Tough the following night; Dan Jenkins' sardonic football satire stars Burt Reynolds, Kris Kristofferson and Jill Clayburgh. I think I might have watched The Eiger Sanction on Saturday night, which is good fun if you like Clint Eastwood tossing people off mountains, which I do.

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The sports season is in full swing, with the baseball pennant races winding down, and both the NFL and college football underway.

The battle for first place is tight in the National League West, and that's where NBC is focusing its Game of the Week cameras, with the Cincinnati Reds taking on the Dodgers in Los Angeles in the prime game, with the Houston Astros visiting the San Francisco Giants in the rain game. At this point, the Reds hold but a half-game lead over the Astros; with the Reds win and Astros loss today, that lead jumps to 1.5 games, which is where it will end when the season concludes on September 30.

Those games are up against ABC's college football, which gives us a classic matchup: Notre Dame vs. Michigan from Ann Arbor. At the time, Notre Dame is ranked #9 in the country, Michigan #6. It's a defensive struggle; the Fighting Irish manage four field goals and upset Michigan, 12-10. Both teams have a down season in 1979, each losing four games, although Michigan's comes in the Gator Bowl, while the 7-4 Irish decline a bowl invite.

On Sunday, the NFL offers a light schedule for fans in the Twin Cities. At 1:00 p.m. (CT) the Minnesota Vikings host the Miami Dolphins on NBC; due to the television rules of the time, that meant no other game could be broadcast in that time slot. Since NBC has the doubleheader this week, we're aced out of the second game, and have to rely on CBS's offering of the Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys at 3:00 p.m., played in Texas Stadium, not all that far from where I live today in Irving. For Monday night's extravaganza, the New York Giants play the Redskins in Washington.

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Once again, the As We See It editorial takes the side of the viewers, with a problem that would seem almost incomprehensible to anyone in the last couple of generations. It has to do with what happens when two of your favorite shows are on at the same time.

As TV Guide points out, "The comparatively few people who own videocassette recorders for catching one show while watching another may be sanguine about the dilemma of which show to tune in," and I can understand that; we didn't own a VCR at the time, and as I recall they were damn expensive back then. "Audiences have grumbled about this problem for years," that being the habit networks have of scheduling blockbuster specials up against each other, or using a popular show to try and knock down the ratings of a competitor. The networks argue it's nothing more than free enterprise in action, "and may the better show win."

The solution offered by Merrill Panitt (who likely wrote the editorial) sounds like a pipe dream at best: somehow, convince the networks that it's not in the viewers' interest to continue such programming decisions. Panitt cites the example of cooperation between the BBC and Thames TV in England when it was discovered the Beeb was scheduling Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy against Themes' Quatermass miniseries - the two networks got together and agreed to juggle the scheduling so neither show appeared against the other.

The networks, of course, claim this would be seen by the government as collusion, which would violate antitrust laws. The government, naturally, is powerless to force networks to do anything. And so the viewers, as seems always to be the case, are left stuck in the middle, "What ever happened," Panitt concludes, "to 'public interest, convenience and necessity'," all of which broadcasters are supposed to take into consideration.

The ultimate solution, not surprisingly, is also the most American one. If a problem is big enough, and inconveniences enough people, and if finding a solution is profitable enough, someone will figure out a way to find it. In this case, VCRs became more practical and the prices went down. When that wasn't enough - whether they were too hard to program or whatever the reason - TiVO came along. And then it was the cable and satellite providers who developed their own DVRs that could be included in the conversion boxes. Then it was on-demand programming. Now, just about anyone can watch just about anything just about any time they want, whether on a TV, computer, laptop, iPad or phone. It's truly remarkable how far this technology has come in a relatively short time. And I'm left wondering if it would have come this far, or this fast, had the networks found a way to avoid scheduling conflicts, whether or their own or through government intervention of some sort.

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And now let's return to those top 15 shows that Michael Dann had predicted at the beginning of this article. How did he do? Well, it's complicated somewhat by the fact that a couple of the

They are, in order:
  1. 60 Minutes (CBS)
  2. Three's Company (ABC)
  3. That's Incredible (ABC)
  4. Alice (CBS)
  5. M*A*S*H (CBS)
  6. Dallas (CBS)
  7. Flo (CBS)
  8. The Jeffersons (CBS)
  9. The Dukes of Hazzard (CBS)
  10. One Day at a Time (CBS)
  11. Archie Bunker's Place (CBS)
  12. Eight is Enough (ABC)
  13. Taxi (ABC)
  14. House Calls (CBS)
  15. Real People (NBC)
It should be noted right off the top that several of these shows shouldn't count, since they were in fact mid-season replacements and weren't available for Dann's predictions. That's Incredible, Flo, and House Calls were brought up during the season but had the staying power to land in the top 15 and remain there. If we were to discount those three series, we could add Little House on the Prairie (NBC) and Happy Days (ABC) to the list. (The third, NBC's CHiPs, had not made Dunn's cut.)

Having said that, Dann's predictions turn out to have been something of a mixed bag. He was outright correct on five shows - seven, if you add in the two I mentioned above. Five more were good enough to finish in the top 30. But what about the three that missed altogether?

The most notable is probably Laverne & Shirley. Dann saw that as a success "in Mork's old time period against the tired Waltons and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century," and called it "an easy big winner." In fact, however, the show was all over ABC's schedule, bounding from its original Thursday timeslot to Mondays at 7:00 p.m. (CT), and then Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m. It was the only season that the show did not finish in the top 25, and perhaps that was one reason the format was changed the following season, with the show's locale shifted from Milwaukee to Burbank.

As for Angie and The Associates? Critically, The Associates was praised, but Martin Short's first starring turn in a sitcom was pummeled by CBS's One Day at a Time, and even with Mork & Mindy (in its new timeslot) as a lead-in, it lasted for only nine episodes. Mork, which was buried by Archie Bunker's Place, moved back to its old spot (thus pushing out Laverne & Shirley), and The Associates became yet another example of a critical darling that failed to catch on with the audience.

Angie should have done better; it was co-created by Garry Marshall and was sandwiched between Happy Days and The Love Boat. As Dunn says, "everybody knows why" it makes the list. But the show, which was a hit in its first half-season, suffers from the move to the new time slot, and with both Happy Days and The Love Boat down in the ratings (Dann had thought The Love Boat would be "more popular than ever," but its two lead-ins, The Ropers and Detective School were both flops), and with the show losing some of its pizzazz after its romantic conflicts were solved by marriage*, the series was cancelled at the end of the season.

*Gee, who could have imagined that?

All-in-all, I suppose we'd have to give Dann a C+ on his predictions. He was right on about half of them, and just missed on a few more. His outright failures were only three, and one of those suffered from a down season. Only two were outright swings-and-misses, and considering the nature of television, I suppose that's to be expected. In other words, his performance was fitting for the season as a whole - average.