October 23, 2014

Brit TV, stars when they were young, old sports announcers, holiday specials, and prunes!

Lots to cover today, so let's get to it, shall we?

Oh, my. The Broadcasting Archives at the University of Maryland offers a picture of Kevin Whately and John Thaw, Lewis and Morse respectively, from the start of the series Inspector Morse.  Were we really that young once?

Cult TV is back with allegory in the epic Prisoner episode "Once Upon a Time."  These have been stimulating, enthralling discussions, and I've certainly done poorly at describing how much I get out of them, at least in terms of leaving comments.  Boy, they're interesting!

I've taken shots from time to time at The Love Boat when I do my TV Guide writeups, but there's no denying it was a big show, and a lot of fun for a lot of people.  See what I mean when Joanna takes a look at the 1977 Christmas episode at Christmas TV History.

In the past, I've identified Pat Summerall as one of the "big game" voices of televised sports.  It seemed as if he could do it all - not only the NFL, but golf, tennis, the NBA - even baseball from time to time.  But until I read it at Classic TV Sports, I didn't know that he and his sidekick Tom Brookshier once called a boxing match.

You'll read a brief mention of it in Saturday's TV Guide piece, but this week The Last Drive-In tells us about the great Chuck Jones and his Raggedy Ann and Andy Halloween adventure "The Pumpkin Who Couldn't Smile."*

*I almost wrote "The Pumpkin Without a Smile."  Could it be because I'm currently listening to Richard Strauss' Die Frau ohne Schatten, "The Woman Without a Face"?

Heh.  I was just reading a book that had a mention of prunes (I'll tell you about it sometime), and here Michael's TV Tray has something about October 17 having been "Four Prunes Day"!  Plus there's a dandy commercial for prunes featuring Ray Bradbury!

There's nothing particularly English about prunes, although I suppose they like them as much as anyone, but that doesn't stop me from linking to Embarrassing Treasures' latest Family Affair Friday, "Oh To Be in England."

Since I'm doing this on time this week (Wednesday night, to be exact), no update on the latest TV Guide recap at Television Obscurities, but be sure to go there and read the latest on Friday!

And speaking of TV Guides as we are, I don't link there often enough, but the TV Guide Historian gives us a daily fix of classic TVG.  Today - a Close-Up on PBS' Smithsonian World.  Does PBS even show many programs like this anymore?

Another site I don't tell you about often enough is the terrific site Television.AU, all about the history of television in Australia.  Here, Andrew talks about the 50th anniversary of the premiere of the long-running police drama Homicide. I really ought to become familiar with more things than Aussie Rules Football.

Finally, a word of sympathy to anyone who might be reading this in Canada.  Horrific images from Ottawa; thoughts and prayers to everyone in our neighbor to the north.

That's it for today - see you back here on Saturday, right?

October 21, 2014

Additions to the Top Ten: Naked City

PAUL BURKE IN A SCENE FROM NAKED CITY
Most people of a certain age are familiar with the saying, "There are eight million stories in the Naked City," though I'm not sure that it means anything to people today.  But back in the early '60s, the Naked City was New York, and there were indeed eight million stories to be told - many of them on the television series of the same name.

The Naked City was one of the great noir films of the '40s, directed by Jules Dassan in 1948.  It was notable for its gritty, documentary-like style, aided by its extensive use of location shooting in New York City.  (It won an Academy Award for cinematography.)   It followed two police detectives, veteran Detective Lieutenant. Dan Muldoon (Going My Way's Barry Fitzgerald) and his young associate Detective Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor) as they investigate a murder.

In 1958, the story made the transition to television as a weekly half-hour drama on ABC, with John McIntyre taking on the role of Muldoon and James Franciscus portraying Halloran, joined by Harry Bellaver as Sergeant Frank Arcaro.  It didn't take long for things to change, though; halfway through the season, McIntyre left the show (his character was killed off in a spectacular car crash), replaced by Horace McMahon as Lieutenant Mike Parker.  The series won critical acclaim but didn't fare so well in the ratings, and was cancelled after that first season.

A year later, though, after lobbying by the show's sponsor and producer, the series returned to ABC with a new title (dropping the article The; it would now simply be called Naked City), a new running time (expanded to one hour), and a new star to join the returning McMahon and Bellaver - Paul Burke, as Detective Adam Flint, replacing Franciscus' Halloran.  This version of the series lasted an additional three seasons before going off the air for good in 1963.

Naked City the series was created by Sterling Silliphant and produced by Herbert B. Leonard, and it shared the movie's trademark location shooting, which means that, like Silliphant and Leonard's other series, Route 66, it serves today as an almost documentary look at the city of New York, much of which no longer exists.  It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that New York City, it all its glory and grime, is as much a star of the show as any of the actors. It's a highly atmospheric show, and it wouldn't be possible with a studio-bound production.

Although I'd read about Naked City for years, it wasn't until a couple of years ago that I actually got to see an episode of it, courtesy of MeTV.  The first few episodes took a while to grow on me, but once I got hooked it became one of my favorites.  The chemistry between the three leads - with Burke as the young, intellectual, sensitive Flint, McMahon as the grizzled, gruffy veteran with the astute eye, and Bellaver as a solid, hard-working cop who also provides much of the show's humor - is perfect.  Like another of my favorite series, Burke's Law, the viewer can't help but be impressed by the competency of the cops.  They don't get a lot of screen time (more on that in a moment), but they so fully inhabit their characters that you can see the wheels turn every time they're confronted by another tough case.  Best of all (to my thinking) is that the series rarely strays into the characters' personal lives.  Oh, there's Flint's girlfriend Libby (Nancy Malone), but she's not in every episode, and often she's shown helping Flint think through a difficult part of the case, or dealing with the stress of police work.  No quirkbots here, no soap opera stories.

One reason why the series stays out of the personal lives of the leads is because most stories focus on the guest stars - the victims of crime, or the perpetrators.  It's their stories that make up the bulk of Naked City, and unlike procedurals of today, they're fully fleshed-out characters, with backstories and motivations that make the cases far more complex and less black-and-white than the normal police show.  I think, for example, of Jack Klugman as a henpecked husband talked by his domineering wife into a kidnapping.  He's a disappointment to his ambitious wife, he knows, and a disappointment to himself as well.  But he loves his wife so much that in order to keep her, he'll do anything to make himself a "big man" - and when she suggests kidnapping a young girl in order to bankroll a more luxurious life, he has no choice but to go along with the scheme.  Klugman, an actor with a limited range but a marvelous expressiveness within that range, wonderfully portrays a man who wants nothing more than to be a father (to the chagrin of his wife), and his genuine affection for and worry about their victim makes him a lousy kidnapper, but a good man.  It's that kind of depth that typifies the stories on Naked City.

Another thing that distinguishes the series is the absence of cynicism that clouds so much of television today.*  Not every case turns out the way Naked City's detectives would like - sometimes they don't get the breaks, sometimes it's just the way the system's made up.  But through this, the detectives always keep in mind that they're public servants, hired to protect the people of the city.  They don't view the public as their adversary, they don't assume that everyone they run into is either guilty or hiding a secret, and they don't greet every accused suspect with a sneer and a smirk.  Flint, the most sensitive of the three, is the most likely to shoot from the heart rather than the hip, but he's always able to back it up with solid police logic; his boss Parker, in turn, emphasizes that if he feels that strongly about his hunch, he has to be willing to do the hard legwork required to see it through to the end.  And although Flint sometimes feels the stress of not being able to change the whole world, he never falls victim to a cynical view of the job, never stops trying to make a difference in the cases that come his way.  It's a refreshing change from today's shows.

*Which I intend to write about at length one of these days.

One of the things I worried about when I started watching Naked City is Silliphant's penchant for writing preachy, achingly earnest scripts, filled with dialogue that's about as far from how real people talk as you can get.  But once Route 66 started, Silliphant devoted most of his time and energy to that series, and it's to Naked City's benefit.  The show never shies away from offering social criticism or taking on the issues of the day, but in so doing it remembers that it's a first and foremost a police drama, and never fails to deliver an intricate investigation, highlighting the hard work and frustration that make up the unglamorous lives of detectives.

Naked City is terrific drama and terrific storytelling, backed up by a terrific cast.  It's gritty, grimy, and original.  (And would have been a disaster in color.)  It's free of the cliche and crassness of today's television, and its protagonists are actually likable.  Best of all, with its movie parent, it shares the closing narration: "There are eight million stories in the Naked City.  This has been one of them."  Truth in advertising, to be sure.  Maybe it didn't tell eight million stories, but the 138 it did tell were pretty damn good.

October 18, 2014

This week in TV Guide: October 17, 1981

The cover story for this week's issue is the World Series, which kicks off Tuesday night on ABC.  It's difficult to work up much enthusiasm for the 1981 baseball season; a players' strike cancels nearly 40% of the games and splits the season into two halves, resulting in a second layer of playoffs that somehow manages to exclude the two teams that finished with the best winning percentages in the National League (Cincinnati and St. Louis).  TV Guide refers to it as "baseball's longest - and shortest - season," and no wonder - this year's Series, should it go the full seven, won't end until October 28.  Just imagine!

In the event, the Series pits the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers for the eleventh time.  The Yanks are favored and win the first two games before the Dodgers come storming back to win the last four, taking the Series right there at Yankee Stadium.  What I remember most about this game (back in the day when I actually watched baseball) is that, with the Dodgers holding a decisive 9-2 lead, Yankee Stadium had emptied to probably half-capacity by the final out.  So much for those games where the home fans stick around until the bitter end to offer their congratulations to their guys for a good effort.

***

Eleven days before the publication date of this issue, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was assassinated, putting the little-known Vice President Hosni Mubarak in charge.  TV Update details the difficulties television news had in covering the story.   It was early morning in the United States when the fatal attack took place, and the first reports were sketchy - for some time, it was said that Sadat had been unhurt, then only that he had been shot, before the truth of the situation was finally learned.  Adding to the difficulties for the networks, the Egyptian government immediately shut down all television transmissions, meaning that U.S. correspondents couldn't transmit their footage back to New York.

SOURCE: NBC
In these pre-cable news days, the networks stayed with their coverage for most of the day, finally being able to air pictures around 2pm Eastern - vivid pictures that left the anchors grasping for words,  and showing the viewers the full horror of the event. Up until then, the networks filled the time with speculation on what had happened (the presumption that Sadat was dead, but no official word for several hours) and interviews with Middle East experts.

We look back at history and identify black periods - 1968, for example, when Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated within two months or so.  That was bad - but so was 1981.  In the span of seven months, from March 30 to October 6, the news had been dominated by three major shootings - assassination attempts against President Reagan and Pope John Paul II, and the successful attempt against Sadat.  As someone who watched all three of them on television, I can attest that those days were madness indeed.

***

Jeff Prugh's lead article talks about yet another bleak news story of 1981, the culmination of the search for the Atlanta child killer and the question as to whether television news paid too much attention to the case - or too little.  The cases dated back to 1979, when the first of 28 murders of young blacks, all but two of them male and all but five minors, took place.  In 1981 Wayne Williams was arrested for the murders, and subsequently convicted of two of them.

*The case continues to generate controversy.  Note that the facts and figures cited are from the article itself; I haven't presumed to add additional information from more recent sources.

On the one hand, much of the coverage was sensational.  ABC, more aggressive than the other two networks, at first reports that Williams will be charged with as many as 18 of the murders; not long after that, Williams is released from custody.  And both networks and local affiliates go overboard covering the funerals, for example; one cameraman actually jumped on top of a coffin.  One observer likened the coverage to a circus, with psychics offering help, Guardian Angels patrolling the streets, well-meaning people wearing green ribbons, and even a benefit concert by Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. At the same time, there is (at least at first) a distinct lack of desire to closely scrutinize the competence of the police investigation, and Prugh notes that until 1981, much of white Atlanta wasn't even aware that anything unusual was going on at all.  As one reporter notes, it's difficult to know how to cover such a story, whether to keep the public informed on all details, or to keep certain aspects of the case secret at the request of the police: "You want to be a responsible journalist and tell people what is going on.  But then again, you want to do what a good citizen would do."

It's the eternal dilemma that plagues television news to this day, the combination of sensationalism and shallowness.  Most people would probably think that, in this day of 24/7 news, television has become even more sensational and shallow, and I wouldn't disagree with that.  Prugh points out that not all television coverage falls into this category; in-depth reporting on CBS' Sunday Morning and 60 Minutes, ABC's Nightline and PBS' MacNeil/Lehrer Report is of a high quality.  But at the end of the day, there have been four additional murders committed since Williams' arrest.  Nobody seems to notice, but in Atlanta there are many who suspect the story isn't really over after all.

***

Enough of the historical analysis - let's take a look at what's on TV this week, shall we?

Saturday:  ABC's Wide World of Sports presents a replay of the Sugar Ray Leonard-Thomas Hearns welterweight title fight, which had been shown in theaters September 16.  Leonard wins the showdown via 14th round TKO.  I wouldn't have watched this: I admit that I never liked Sugar Ray Leonard, but saw him as a showboat and a phony.

I wouldn't have watched ABC's prime-time schedule either.  Back then the networks had actual series on, rather than the mix of sports and reruns that dominate Saturday nights.  But ABC's schedule would have made me look for something else in a hurry, probably the North Stars - Penguins game on Channel 9.  It stars with a special 90-minute Love Boat trip to "the starlit Caribbean," followed by a special 90-minute Fantasy Island as "the Devil battles for Mr. Roarke's soul."  Each show is loaded with B-level stars and ABC featured players.

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION

Sunday:  Sunday Night Football wasn't a regular feature in 1981, but this week there's a special Sunday night edition of Monday Night Football (got all that?) featuring the Los Angeles Rams and the Dallas Cowboys, from Irving - just a few miles from where I now live, in fact.  It goes up against CBS' all-star Sunday lineup: 60 Minutes, Archie Bunker's Place, One Day at a Time, Alice, The Jeffersons, and Trapper John, M.D.  Considering that ABC's experiment with Sunday night football didn't last long, I'm willing to bet CBS won the night.

Monday:  Oh boy, dueling Monday night movies!  On CBS it's Valley of the Dolls 1981 (Part I),* starring Catherine Hicks, Jean Simmons and Veronica Hamel.  Our Judith Crist calls it "just another trash-wallow - second-hand and fifth-rate."  On the other hand, NBC has More American Grafitti, with much of the original cast but little of the original charm; Crist calls it "exploitative rather than nostalgic."

*Not to be confused with 1970's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, which starred Dolly Read - who, as our commentators Mike and Ray pointed out last week, was the second wife of comedian Dick Martin.  I love all these tangential connections, don't you?

Tuesday:  As I mentioned at the top, it's the first game of the World Series on ABC.  CBS has part two of the aforementioned Valley of the Dolls 1981.  NBC has a "comedy" called The Day the Women Got Even, which Crist says is "feeble" and "wastes women and men alike."

Wednesday:  If Game 2 of the Fall Classic isn't to your liking, the best program is probably PBS' The Hunter and the Hunted, which profiles Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal and his search for the infamous Josef Mengele.

Thursday:  It's back to ABC, where Mork & Mindy are on their honeymoon, with the teaser of "next week's astonishing news: Mork's pregnant!"  On NBC, Bob Hope hosts a gala entertainment show to celebrate the opening of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Joining Hope and the Fords are political satirist Mark Russell, "drunk" comic Foster Brooks, Danny Thomas, Glen Campbell and Sammy Davis Jr.  Oh, and the current First Family, President and Mrs. Reagan.

Friday:  Tonight's best bet comes courtesy of Channel 11, the NBC affiliate.  On NBC's schedule for tonight is the movie Revenge of the Stepford Wives, but Channel 11 has the good taste to preempt this for Francis Ford Coppola's acclaimed thriller The Conversation, starring Gene Hackman as a wiretapper who learns a little too much about the people he's investigating.  The Conversation came out the same year as Coppola's The Godfather Part II, and both movies were nominated for Best Picture Oscars.  I'm not sure but that this is the only time one director has had two movies up for Best Picture at the same time.  Coppola himself was nominated for Best Director only once, for Godfather II.  Quite an accomplishment, wouldn't you say?

October 17, 2014

Around the dial

The fact that this is appearing on Friday rather than Thursday should be a tip-off that I've had my hands full this week. Now, that doesn't mean I'm going to ignore you loyal readers - Heaven forbid! - but I'll probably go in even more of a bullet format that I usually do. Herewith, for your reading enjoyment:

Paul Temple!  Why didn't I know about this series before?  And it even has a theme by Ron Grainer!  Thanks, Cult TV Blog - another series to add to my ever-growing list.

Classic Film and TV Cafe tells us why the '50s is classic cinema's most important decade.  Very true, and I think many of these points could be made about television in the '50s as well.

Speaking of decades, Comfort TV continues to look at TV themes, this time of the '80s.  Yay Twin Peaks!

Another classic interview at Classic Television Showbiz - this time, part two of an interview with Frankie Ray.

Finally got to do a same-day link to Television Obscurities' latest TV Guide piece, instead of being a week behind!

Sorry for the brevity - but I promise I'll more than make up for it tomorrow!

October 14, 2014

Golden Oldie: The looking glass looks back

It seems inconceivable that a blog dedicated in large part to culture can let the end of The Sopranos go by without comment. Indeed, though I’ve never seen an episode of the series, I’m certainly well aware of it, particularly the fireworks surrounding last Sunday’s final episode. (Obligatory warning on spoilers, etc.)

With this, I want to call your attention to this fine article by Joshua Treviño at NRO, because I think Treviño illustrates the kind of in-depth analysis of the content of pop culture in a way that I find very appealing.

Treviño follows the course of events in the final episode and traces the connection between The Sopranos, the classic Western, and the iconic meaning of America itself:

Chase titled the final episode “Made in America,” and the easy inference is that the milieu of The Sopranos is just that. This is untrue, of course: Organized crime as such exists in nearly all cultures. On a deeper level, the idea of a society run by kinship ties and otherwise anarchic violence is deeply pre-democratic, and hence fundamentally anti-American. Some, including John Marini, a professor of philosophy at the University of Nevada-Reno, have said that the Western film genre is essentially a retelling of the story of America itself: the bringing of order into the wilderness, and the concurrent decline of the rough code of vengeance and force as law and true justice emerge. From this comes democracy, and America. If the Western genre is the making of America, then the mob genre is its unmaking: the subversion of law and justice, and the replacement of order with the family and tribe. Indeed, in an unconscious bit of irony, the tribe — the mob, this thing of ours — is itself called family.

And what does famly mean? With the following passage, Treviño gets to the heart of the philosophical difference that shows itself so many times in the creations of our pop culture.

What, then, is “Made in America” in Chase’s telling? Tony Soprano’s children give the answer. The classic Jeffersonian concern, beyond the rule of the people, is for the new generation, lest it be chained by the dead to things past. It is a concept born of Rousseau and his “state of nature,” an Enlightenment trope that holds that the young are inherently uncorrupted. This is not, surely, a belief shared by any orthodox Christian who believes in Original Sin; nor is it shared by the conservative who thinks man needs institutions to guide his course. When children are corrupted, the Jeffersonian/Rousseauian view holds that family has done it, and the Christian/conservative view holds that it was intrinsic from the start. Neither is the more American, we being a Whitmanesque container of multitudes, but David Chase’s fictional world comes down on the Jeffersonian side. What is made in America is the unmaking of America: not merely the regression from democracy, but the children of the generation who rule, who themselves are unfit to sustain the existing order.

The young are inherently uncorrupted…when children are corrupted, the Jeffersonian/Rousseauian view holds that the family has done it.” Now, that’s a very provocative argument, because of what it may tell us about ourselves. The desire of parents to provide for their children, to see to it that the children don’t have to suffer as the parents did – this is very much seen in the post-World War II era. Do we then view the “Greatest Generation” as primarily a product of the Enlightenment? And would that in some way not be quintessentially American, the Founders having been men of the Enlightenment as well?

And the constant pampering and protecting of children nowadays, to the point that many exist in a quasi-permanent state of adolescence – is this an outgrowth of the idea that the family causes the corruption of the child? That parents so fear being thought of as the cause of a child’s failure as to render them incapable of denying that child anything?

(Provide for them in all ways, lest something possibly be lacking that could come back to haunt you. It’s almost a paranoid, fear of the unknown that, in many ways, is the anthesis of what America stands for – or used to stand for, at any rate.)

It then could be said that pop culture affects our way of thinking in deep ways – molding some ideas, affirming others, shaping our self image and the ways in which we view such things as family, friends, loyalty, duty. Whereas television might in the past have mirrored who we are, could it be that we now mirror what television says we are?

Trevino doesn’t make this argument, or at least not directly. But he says about all that needs to be said concerning his topic, which means that I have to have something original to offer. But the conclusions are similar, and stark:

Moral ruin comes to the Soprano children, and continued infamy to the Soprano line, because of their father’s chosen course and his other “family”; but the terror beneath it lies in the recognition that countless American youths suffer the same ruin under the tutelage of perfectly ordinary parents with respectable jobs, and without fictionalized mob ties. Here the genius of David Chase shines through, not in cinematic tricks or narrative twists, but in the stark exposition of cause and effect. At first glance, the downfall of Meadow and A.J. is the result of an upbringing tinged with extraordinary violence and theft. But when we turn off the television and look around us, we see that we have their like among us without the mobster parentage. Instead, they grow up in utterly ordinary homes in utterly ordinary neighborhoods. If daughter and son on television can emerge as recognizable inheritors of their father’s worst traits, then what does it say of us when we produce the same without that father? The inescapable conclusion is that the fall is intrinsic to us. If David Chase’s fictional world is Jeffersonian or Rousseauian, then his real world is Christian or conservative. Watching Tony Soprano cut to black is a sobering and tremendous reminder not only of why this show was great — but also of why it is a warning.

I wonder – does Treviño suggest here that television has, in effect, become the father, passing down the values to the children, who – infused by the values of their foster father – become the sons and daughters of television and what it portrays?

At any rate, we ask: does the warning inherent in The Sopranos come too late for us? We’ll have to see. But we’ll return to this idea of the effect of television and its popular culture on us – how we mirror it, how it mirrors us.

[Note: and so we did - in fact, I created this entire blog to do just that.]


Originally published at In Other Words on June 12, 2007

October 11, 2014

This week in TV Guide: October 15, 1960

I had two issues to choose from this week, and up until I selected the image you see on the left I fully intended to write about the other one, the issue you don't see.  At the last minute, however, I changed my mind and chose this issue instead.  You'll probably find out the rest of the story next year around this time; after all, they'll all get written about sooner or later.

But why wonder about what we don't have?  Instead, let's focus on what we do have!  It occurred to me that while the majority of these articles will always be about issues from Minneapolis-St. Paul, the area in which I grew up and lived for most of my life, it might be time for me to learn more about television in my new home.  Eddie Barker's autobiography was the first step in that direction, and this is the second: the inaugural recap of a TV Guide from DFW.

***

Although I selected this issue for several reasons, it turns out to give us a wonderfully multifaceted look at American culture in ways we don't always get to see.  Reading a few pages here and there easily supports my contention that the pages of TV Guide can tell us a lot more about America than what was on TV that night.

We start with the Letters section, filled this week with discussion regarding television's coverage of the Kennedy-Nixon "Great Debates." The third debated between the two has just occurred (October 13), but this issue would have gone to press prior to that; the tenor of the letters seems to suggest that most responses have been to the initial debate, which was held on September 26 in Chicago.  It's been considered a landmark in American politics, as well as a turning point in the race between the two candidates, but TV Guide readers have mixed opinions on the whole thing.  Mrs. R. H. Damon of Alton, Illinois offers the networks congratulations for their sponsorship of the debates, writing that "It was the most stimulating hour our family has ever spent before the television set," and Dawn Merek of Modesto, California adds that "This was one of the finest, most informative, public services presentations the networks have ever given their viewers."*

*Hard imagining anyone writing this about one of today's debates.

Not everyone agrees with that assessment, however.  Wetherby Boorman of San Bruno, California suggests that "the 'great debate' was more a great bore.  It needed a theme song: 'Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better'," and R. M. Hooper of Boston (echoing comments many might make about today's debate formats) "did not care for a combination of so-called debate and panel show.  Let's have one or the other."

It's difficult to appreciate what a sensation the four presidential debates of 1960 were at the time.  About 70 million watched that first debate, at the time the most-watched television program ever. It was made possible only because Congress had agreed to suspend the equal-time provision that would otherwise have required the networks to include all fringe candidates in the debates.  And, given the closeness of the final outcome, it's not hard to imagine the debates (especially the first one) playing a part in Kennedy's victory.*  Though the 1960 debates were widely applauded, a combination of uncompetitive races (1964 and 1972) and Nixon's own reticence (1968) meant it would be 1976 before candidates would face off again, when a desperate incumbent (Gerald Ford) and an ambitious challenger (Jimmy Carter) agreed to reengage what has since become a ritual of American politics.

*Although it might just as likely have been the way votes were counted in Illinois and Texas.


Most people today know about the polls showing that people who listened to that first debate on the radio tabbed Nixon as the winner while those watching on TV thought Kennedy had the advantage, and the potential of television to affect the outcome of an election bothered some observers even in 1960.  As early as 1962, Edward Rogers' novel Face to Face explored the potential for backstage machinations to influence the outcome of a debate, and today's campaigns argue about everything from the moderator to the height of the rostrum.  Regardless, the televised presidential debate - for better or worse - appears to be with us to stay.

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
The last word on the subject, at least for this year, comes on the last night of the week - the final debate between Nixon and Kennedy is scheduled for 9:00 pm (CT) Friday night in New York, with the two candidates scheduled to square off on foreign policy.  If you look closely at the ad on the right, you'll notice Nixon wearing a bow tie; by the look of it, Kennedy has one as well.  They're probably wearing tuxedos, which means this drawing was quite likely based off of a picture from the Al Smith dinner held in New York earlier that month.  Just a little detail for your reading pleasure.

***

There's some additional material in the Letters section, and it too sheds light on the state of the American mind in 1960.

The final three letters are all concerning an ABC documentary entitled Cast the First Stone, which apparently dealt with the issue of race in America, particularly when it came to school desegregation.  A letter writer from Baton Rouge, Louisiana who wishes to remain anonymous demonstrates the skepticism and defensiveness with which the South views both the North and Federal authority.  Says the writer, "If Chicago has more segregated schools than Little Rock [a point that must have been made in the program], why don't our powerful Supreme Courts take action?  Does the so-called law of the land apply only to the dear Southland?"

George Compton, of Brooklyn, New York, echos a point many made at the time, suggesting that the civil rights movement has been infiltrated and taken over by the Communists.  Mr. Compton singles out ABC news chief John Charles Daly and his associates for "practically confirming the statements of the past week of Khrushchev-Castro. . . He couldn't have picked a better time nor a better subject (discrimination here in America) . . . I am sure Khrushchev thanks him, Castro thanks him, and most of all, the Party thanks him!"

Another anonymous writer, from Toms River, New Jersey, looks at the Red angle differently, praising ABC for presenting "A real eye-opener.  We should start acting like real Americans toward one another instead of giving Mr. K and his friend the bearded windbag additional reason to criticize."

It's a fascinating snapshot of how strong emotions ran at the time, and how layered it really was.  The final two letters both look at the impact of discrimination in terms of how the rest of the world views America, but while the Compton letter accuses ABC of playing into the Communists' propaganda, the writer in Toms River suggests just the opposite, that it's America's willingness to take an honest look at itself that will disarm the Soviet message.

The letter from Baton Rouge, suggesting that the North take a look at itself before getting too self-righteous, will be brought home in the next decade, when the North first felt the full brunt of violence over school busing.  The rioting and demonstrations in Boston gave many Americans a real look at behavior usually associated with the South, and demonstrated that race isn't always a geographical issue.  I wonder if this wasn't one of the points of the documentary in the first place?

***

For the first time in the television era, viewers have dueling football leagues to choose from.  It's the first season for the American Football League, the league that goes toe-to-toe with the NFL until the two leagues eventually merge in 1970 (although the actual arrangements occurred much earlier).

It's a jumbled television arrangement for the leagues in 1960; while the AFL has an exclusive league-wide contract with ABC, the NFL hasn't yet leveraged its collective selling power to sign a similar agreement.  Most teams are contracted with CBS, but the Baltimore Colts remain one of the teams to broadcast home games on NBC.  And to complicate things further, Dallas-Ft. Worth is blacked out from the NFL entirely on those Sundays when the brand-new Dallas Cowboys play at home.

In the early days of the NFL-AFL war, the leagues
were often referred to as "American League" or
" National League," just like the baseball leagues
Therefore, if you live in Dallas on October 16, 1960, the only game you're getting is the AFL matchup between the Dallas Texans and their cross-state rivals, the Houston Oilers.  If you want the Cowboys, you'd best head for Wichita Falls, where the CBS affiliate has their game against the Cleveland Browns.  And Wichita Falls fans are in luck; along with viewers in Sherman, their NBC affiliate carries the Colts game against the Los Angeles Rams,

You probably figured there'd be some kind of "rest of the story" for such a convoluted situation, and if you did you'd be right.  The Dallas Texans, uncertain that they'd be able to compete with the Cowboys, wind up moving to Kansas City and becoming the Chiefs.  The Oilers, unable to get a new stadium in the 90s, move to Nashville, Tennessee.  The Baltimore Colts and Los Angeles Rams, whose owners traded teams in the '70s, wind up on the move as well; when the new owner of the Rams, Carroll Rosenbloom, dies in a swimming accident, his widow inherits the team, and eventually moves it to St. Louis.  The Colts, with their new owner, move to Indianapolis under cover of darkness.  And the Browns (who actually took the place of the Cleveland Rams when they moved to Los Angeles) head to Baltimore, to replace the Colts. Houston and Cleveland do get expansion teams in time, but the Houston Texans (not to be confused with the Dallas Texans) come about only because a franchise granted to another city is forfeited when that city can't put together an ownership team in time.  That city?  Los Angeles.  Of the six teams playing on television that day, only the Cowboys remain in the same place today.

Lest you think this movement is limited to football, however, there's an NBA basketball game for us to analyze as well, NBC's Saturday matinee between the St. Louis Hawks and Cincinnati Royals, a preseason game played in Indianapolis.  The Royals, who started out in Rochester before moving to Cincinnati, will eventually head from Cincy to Kansas City (where, the name Royals having already been taken, became the Kansas City Kings*), before making their way west to become the Sacramento Kings, and in the last couple of years coming thisclose to being the new Seattle SuperSonics.  The Hawks, recently of Milwaukee, have some glory years in St. Louis, but at press time make their home in Atlanta.

*For a few years there the Kings split their time between Kansas City and Omaha, being known as the Kansas City-Omaha Kings.

What does all this tell us, other than that professional sports is a fickle business?  Well, it tells us a lot about the importance of demographics and television markets, as well as the leverage that sports franchises hold when it comes to public funding of stadiums and arenas.  Franchise moves into the Sun Belt (Atlanta, Nashville) show us the shift in population out of the Rust Belt, making these new markets increasingly valuable when negotiating television contracts.  Teams such as the original Browns and Oilers headed for greener pastures, where new stadiums were forthcoming.  The expansion Browns, as well as the Texans and the Baltimore Ravens, came into being because cities that had been burned by having previous teams leave were more willing to shell out public financing.  And the NBA, which has always been willing to head for smaller markets, remains a league where gate receipts play a big role in a team's financial success.

Another brief lesson in economics courtesy of TV Guide.

***

Peggy Connelly
A quick spin through the features section this week gives us an article previewing television's latest toy: for anywhere between $40 and $100, you can get yourself one of those new-fangled remote controls that let you change the channel on your TV from your chair.  Imagine that!


"The creators of Huckleberry Hound have come up with a cartoon series for grownups."  TV Guide takes an inside look at the development and background of that show: The Flintstones.

Boris Karloff, host of NBC's new series Thriller, reflects on his many years of acting, and how he's been able to - for the most part - get away from the reputation as king of horror films.  Of his Thriller gig, he says "Unfortunately, I appear as myself, which is a frightful thing to do to an audience."

The week's most attractive starlet award goes to Peggy Connelly (left), who's very funny as one of the featured players in Ernie Kovacs' specials.  She's much more talented, though; the wife of comedian Dick Martin also sings and acts, and doesn't really consider herself a comedienne.  Kovacs loves her work, although he adds that "In a water tank she tends to get a little claustrophobic."

***

And a look at what else is on television this week.

Saturday marks the debut of ABC's The Roaring 20's, the latest from the Warner Brothers' stable.  It runs for two seasons, with Rex Reason and Donald May as the male leads, and Dorothy Provine stealing the show as flapper Pinky Pinkham.

Sunday sees Ed Sullivan take his show on the road for the first in a series of monthly "See America with Ed Sullivan" specials, which feature stars from the cit in question.  This month, Ed visits San Francisco, with guests Johnny Mathis, Peggy Lee, the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Mort Sahl and Dorothy Kirsten.

On Monday CBS presents the third episode of the new Andy Griffith Show.  The show follows Danny Thomas' program, which makes sense since a) Thomas produces the Griffith show, and b) Andy made his first appearance in the role in a Thomas episode the previous season.  This week, "Guitar player Jim Lindsey (James Best) is thrown in the clink.  And who should be in the adjoining cell but a full dance band that's been arrested for illegal parking."

Tuesday has a collection of programs, including the aforementioned Thriller and one of the few local programs broadcast in color, WBAP's Popeye Color Theatre.  Not surprising, since WBAP (now KXAS) is an NBC affiliate, and NBC's always been out in front when it comes to color programming.

Wednesday: There really is something magic in American culture about the car, isn't there?  This week CBS' U.S. Steel Hour celebrates that magic with a musical salute entitled "Step on the Gas," starring Jackie Cooper, Shirley Jones, Hans Conried, Pat Carroll, Share Lewis, and the dance team of Rod Alexander and Carmen G.  It's produced by Max Liebman, who also brought us gems such as Your Show of Shows.

Thursday: At the end of this week's listing for The Untouchables, we're told that that "A psychiatrist discusses this series in next week's TV Guide."  I wish I could have read that!  Raymond Burr is one of the guests on Person to Person, the CBS series that was started by Edward R. Murrow and is now hosted by Charles Collingwood.  And a genre you don't often see: Russian comedy!  It's "A Month in the Country," starring Uta Hagen and Luther Adler, on the syndicated Play of the Week.

Friday:  I mentioned the Nixon-Kennedy debate earlier, which is probably the biggest show of the night, but there's also an intriguing drama about a moment in history that I've never heard of before.  It's "Not Without Honor," an episode of NBC's Our American Heritage, starring Ralph Bellamy and Arthur Kennedy (right).  The story: "Some months before the Presidential election of 1800, Alexander Hamilton pays George Washington a visit.  His purpose: to persuade Washington to run on the Federalist ticket - against Thomas Jefferson."  The ad accompanying the listing shows two men with pistols standing back-to-back, and since Aaron Burr appears in the cast, I can only guess that this is where this story may end up.  Fortunately, by 1960 our political opponents only debate each other.