May 4, 2015

What's on TV? Thursday, May 9, 1968

This week we're in the Twin Cities to take a look at the listings from 1968.  This is a good issue to look at; while there's nothing particularly remarkable about it, we're not yet into the summer rerun season, so our old dependables are still with us.  This includes The Hollywood Palace, which ABC foolishly moved from its regular Saturday night timeslot to this one on Thursday.  Fortunately, they would recognize their mistake and move it back to Saturday, although Channel 9, the ABC affiliate, would still preempt it for local movies (and the additional ad revenue they brought in) while moving Palace to Sunday afternoons.  Oh well.

May 2, 2015

This week in TV Guide: May 4, 1968

Did I have this TV Guide while growing up?  Of course, although it may not be the very copy that I hold in my hands this minute.  I could have gotten this at an antique store, but on the other hand it doesn't have a mailing label on it (we didn't have a subscription at that time, just bought it at the store), and it is the Twin Cities edition as opposed to the Minnesota State version. So perhaps this one did belong to me all along.  I can usually tell, but not with this one.  I doubt it was mine then, but it's mine now!

As longtime readers know, I don't like to get too personal; unlike some bloggers, I don't view this as an online diary.  Nevertheless, when it suits the storyline, I do drop some details here and there, and this will be one of those times.  For some reason, when I was a kid the idea of a Golden Birthday was a big deal.  My childhood friend Scott Gunner (if you're reading this Scott, hi!  Missed you these 40 or so years) and I had birthdays within two days of each other, and so both of them would have fallen in the week covered by this issue.  I had the trump card though, for while he turned 10 on May 10, I not only turned 8 on May 8*, it was also the year 1968.  That must be some kind of Royal Flush of Golden Birthdays.

*Which ends any chance I ever had of keeping both my birthday and my age secrets.  Why do we do these things to ourselves?

We might have had a party that year, or it might have been transferred to a Saturday in order to make a bigger day of it.  I remember having had both kinds of parties, so for all I know I might have had two that year.  But in looking at the listings for May 8, I can tell that I wouldn't have missed much by doing a party instead of watching the tube.  Oh, there are shows that I would watch now - The Avengers on ABC at 6:30pm CT*, and syndicated reruns of Burke's Law, Perry Mason and Alfred Hitchcock Presents on Channel 11, but what about the rest?  Best on Record, hosted by Andy Williams on NBC, is on at 8:00 - it's a concert presented by the season's Grammy winners, in the days before the Grammys were actually broadcast live on television.  He & She, the one-season sitcom on CBS now appreciated as a before-its-time sophisticated comedy, would have been too sophisticated for us.  No, just going by my memories of watching television at the house in which we then lived, if we were watching it at all we might have had The Virginian and Run For Your Life on NBC, or possibly The Beverly Hillbillies on CBS.  There was a late movie on Channel 11 that might have been watched if it had been on a weekend or if school had been out for summer, A Song to Remember, the "biography" of Frederic Chopin.  I wouldn't have been interested in it, but considering I was once dragged to the theater to see Song of Norway, one of the worst movies I've ever been subjected to, I can't rule it out either.

*At eight, would I have been old enough to appreciate Diana Rigg in a leather catsuit?

At any rate, it's something I haven't thought about for years, and now I have - thanks to this issue.


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: The show expands to 90 minutes for an 80th-birthday salute to Irving Berlin.  Joining Irving and Ed are Bing Crosby, Ethel Merman, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Robert Goulet, Fred Waring and his Glee Club, the Harry James Orchestra, the Peter Gennaro dancers, and the comedy team of Morecambe and Wise.

Palace:  In the first rerun of the season, host Sammy Davis Jr. welcomes Diana Ross and the Supremes, comedians Jack Burns and Avery Schreiber, actress Raquel Welch, jazz dancer Baby Lawrence, and Joey Bishop, who makes an unscheduled walk-on.

Well, we haven't had one of these in awhile!  It's good to be back, and what a week. Talk about living legends - Irving Berlin!  Crosby!  Merman!  Goulet!  Now, it's true that Ed also has the insufferable Diana Ross and the Supremes, making one of their sixteen appearances on the show.  (What they have to do with Irving Berlin is beyond me.)  But then, they're on Palace as well, so there's no relief! The rest of Ed's lineup, especially Fred Waring and the Harry James Orchestra, are top talent but don't, I think, speak to later generations in a significant way.  Morecambe and Wise are very funny, but an acquired taste.

On the other hand, I was never a big fan of Burns and Schreiber, and as for "actress" Raquel Welch*, remember - I was only eight.  And the Palace has the Supremes too.  What are the odds?

*Best Raquel Welch story:  she was a co-presenter with Dean Martin on an Academy Awards show, and they were due to give the award for special effects.  "There are two of them," Deano said.  The audience roared.  They knew what he meant.

The one difference this week might be Sammy Davis Jr.  The only problem is that there isn't enough of Sammy - if it was just him for the whole hour, singing and dancing, there wouldn't be much doubt - even though he's singing "Talk to the Animals."  (On the other hand, speaking with the years of experience, I'm not sure you can ever say there isn't enough of Raquel Welch.)

But for all that, it's hard to beat Ed and Irving Berlin, and when you throw in Crosby singing "White Christmas," I think that pretty much seals the deal.  It's a week for legends, and Ed takes first place.


The Kentucky Derby is this week, still one of the major events in the sports world, and herein lies yet another story that winds up being even more interesting than the event itself.  The race is broadcast at 3:00pm Saturday on CBS in a one-hour show that cuts away much of the fat that is present in today's coverage, and the race is won by Dancer's Image, a length-and-a-half ahead of Forward Pass.

Or at least Dancer's Image appears to have won the Derby.

Two days later, Dancer's Image was disqualified - the first and only winner in the long history of the Derby to be DQ'ed - because traces of Butazolidin showed up in the post-race urine test.  Bute, as it was know, was an anti-inflammatory that the horse had been given because of lameness in his right front ankle.  It was a common drug, legal in many states and at many tracks.  But in Kentucky, at Churchill Downs, it could only be administered "as long as it was no longer present in the horse’s urine at the time of a race."  Although it appears as if the drug was given to Dancer's Image on the Sunday prior to the race, it was still in the system; thus, the horse was disqualified and Forward Pass awarded the win.

It was a controversial decision at the time, and remains so today, for those in the game and others who remember it.  Rumors and conspiracy theories abound, the most common of which being that the horse's owner, Peter Fuller, was being blamed for his outspoken support of the civil rights movement; he'd donated the purse from a previous race to Coretta Scott King following the assassination of her husband.  It's a theory that Fuller himself believed; he fought the disqualification, and possession of the Kentucky Derby trophy, into the early '70s before exhausting the appeals process.

As for Forward Pass - well, he went on to win the Preakness as well and headed to New York trying to become the first horse since 1948 to win the holy grail of the sport, the Triple Crown.  Then as now, it was an almost mythic quest, sure to galvanize the attention even of those who scarcely paid attention to horse racing.  He didn't win that day; Stage Door Johnny came in first and Forward Pass second.  I wonder, though, how people would have reacted if he had?  It would have been a hollow victory, for sure, not unlike the home run records held by Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.  Most of all, it would have obscured what would have been a laudable accomplishment by the horse, winning two of the three legs of the Triple Crown.  Fortunately, perhaps, we'll never know.

The story of the '68 Derby is full of the intrigue that continues, in both sports and culture, to this day.  Was the test a false positive?  Were there irregularities in the process?  Was Fuller being punished by the track in the Southern state for his political leanings?  We'll probably never know this for sure either, but it's a controversy that couldn't have been predicted when the listing appeared in the TV Guide that week. another rude intrusion of the real world into the world of sports.


On the cover this week is the cast of Mission: Impossible.  It's currently part of Hadleyvision's Saturday night lineup, and it's been a pleasure to revisit.  Or visit, as the case may be; though I know all the favorite punchlines from M:I ("Good morning, Mr. Phelps...This tape will self-destruct in five seconds."), and I remember the actors vividly, I can't actually remember any of the episodes, so it's been a win-win.  I love the intricacy of the plots, and the way they diminish the personal lives of the stars - I mean, except for the interior of Jim's apartment at the beginning of each episode, you don't know much of anything about these people, which means the soap opera elements are virtually non-existent.

Indeed, if you want soapy stuff, you have to go behind the scenes with two of its stars, interviewed this week by Dick Hobson: the husband-and-wife team of Martin Landau and Barbara Bain.  Oh, the soap doesn't come from the article, which is dryly humorous and shows how talented the two are; no, it's the role they play in the history of the show that dishes the good stuff.  Not only was Landau not intended to be a regular when the show started, he wasn't even listed in the opening credits.  But as difficulties continued to mount with Steven Hill*, Landau was called on to fill more and more of the vacuum.  He was always listed as a "Special Guest Star" that first season, and for the remaining seasons he got a "Starring" tag in the opening credits, as well as listing the name of his character.

*Hill, an Orthodox Jew, refused to work on the Sabbath, which meant his hours on set could be severely limited.  This had been agreed to at the beginning, but to be charitable, I don't think either he or the producers realized how difficult this would be in practice.  He only lasts the first season before being replaced by Peter Graves.

However, all good things have to come to an end, and after the third season Landau and Bain both leave the series after a joint contract dispute.  It, more than the departure of Hill, kind of shatters the illusion of a closely-knit team, one so tight that members were willing to risk their lives in non-sanctioned missions when asked to by the leader or when one of them was in trouble.  Their roles are replaced by other actors (most notably Leonard Nimoy in place of Landau), but it does serve to remind us that in this show it's the plot, not the characters, that is most important.

Right now, though, everything's hunky-dory. Landau talks about the challenges of being a Method actor, and shares a humorous story about working with James Arness.  "Landau:  "All I need is 30 seconds for the germ, the impulse to come through.  Then I'm ready to go."  Hobson: "How do other actors do it?  Jim Arness, for instance?"  Landau:  "I must say I don't think Jim needs 30 seconds.  In terms of the gamut of emotions he goes from A to D at best.")  Bain compliments him perfectly, both personally and professionally, and makes some intriguing observations of her own.  (Asked about M:I's social significance, she replies, "There are some interesting points made.  The use of appearance, for instance.  The willingness to accept externals.  The way people react without question to a person simply because he wears a uniform. . . I might say 'I have here the papers.' You don't know what papers.  But you're going to take them just because they're 'the papers.'  You accept the external fact without question.")  I was always sorry when the two split, because I thought they were so good together.

M:I will continue as one of the most entertaining series of the era, but it's during the second and third seasons, the glory years that began with the arrival of Peter Graves and ended with the departures of Landau and Bain, that make the show so much fun.  Bain is never anything less than alluring, and Landau, who's played so many heavies during the course of his career, is both brilliant and menacing - and often both at the same time.  It's great to see his commercials on MeTV.


Notes from the TV Teletype:

NET is preparing a monthly television journal "to be produced by and for Negroes."  We learn in The Doan Report that the show is Black Magazine of the Air, beginning in mid-June.  It winds up being called Black Journal, and under the title Tony Brown's Journal continues to this day.

CBS plans to replace Jackie Gleason for the summer with an ambitious British series starring Patrick McGoohan, called The Prisoner.  James MacArthur has been cast as a regular in Jack Lord's new CBS series Hawaii Five-O (Hadleyvision, Thursday night), where he'll play a member of the Hawaiian State Police.  American Indian folksinger Buffy Sainte-Marie will be costarring with Jay (Tonto) Silverheels in an upcoming episode of NBC's The Virginian.  Julie Andrews is preparing an hour-long documentary on the making of her latest movie, Darling Lili, a musical written by William Peter Blatty (!), co-starring Rock Hudson and Jeremy Kemp  with music by Henry Mancini.  Despite that, the movie is a titanic bomb that almost does in Julie's movie career.

And back at The Doan Report, there's a story that the political satirist Art Buchwald is going to be used as a "guest columnist" on "an hour-long news-magazine of the air" that CBS is planning to air on alternate Tuesday nights in the fall.  But who knows whether or not 60 Minutes will be a success?


And now, the rest of the week in brief:

One of the big movie events of the week is Sunday night's rerun of Ship of Fools on ABC, based on Pulitzer winner Katherine Anne Porter's only novel.  Judith Crist calls it a "pretentious grand-hotel-at-sea saga" that oversimplifies Porter's allegorical story, but with an all-star cast including Oskar Werner, Simone Signoret, Lee Marvin, Vivien Leigh and Jose Ferrer, a screenplay by Abby Mann, and direction by Stanley Kramer, the movie is good enough to have garnered eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Actress (Werner and Signoret), and Supporting Actor (the great Michael Dunn, whom you'd probably recognize as Dr. Loveless in The Wild Wild West).  The movie runs 165 minutes, which means the local news is going to be pushed back to 10:45.

Also on Sunday night, CBS' The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour has a pretty good cast, with Ricardo Montalban, Diahann Carroll and the First Edition.  Bonanza features an episode that is Michael Landon's directorial debut - the first of many television episodes he'll helm.  And Bishop Fulton Sheen's syndicated show appears on Channel 11 - the good Bishop has the same birthday as mine.

Here's something you wouldn't have seen a few years ago, and the fact that it's popping up on a sitcom underlines how much it's in the cultural consciousness at the moment.  It's on Monday night's episode of The Andy Griffith Show on CBS: "Opie and Arnold secretly tape-record a bank robber's admission of guilt, then look for a way to help Andy get legal evidence."  I don't recall which Supreme Court decision in particular references the admissibility of evidence, but certainly in the late '60s, with assassinations and riots and civil rights decisions and legal precedents and Miranda and all, it's hardly surprising that the network might insist, even in Mayberry, on the fine points of the law.  I suppose kudos are due to the writer who could see in the current environment the potential for a good story.

I started looking through the listings for the week, and I was taken aback by the number of series that are now available on DVD - on Monday night alone, you've got Gunsmoke, The Monkees, Here's Lucy, The Rat Patrol, Andy Griffith, Family Affair, The Big Valley and I Spy, plus series with partial releases such as Peyton Place and Carol Burnett.  Then you've got daytime reruns like Dick Van Dyke and Bewitched, not to mention the syndicated reruns on Channels 9 and 11, such as The Patty Duke Show, Gilligan's Island, McHale's Navy, The Twilight Zone, Burke's Law, Perry Mason, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Have Gun - Will Travel and Naked City.  You could virtually duplicate entire nights of broadcasting - not just the shows themselves, but the specific episodes. It's this way all through the issue - I won't belabor the point with long lists, I just note once again that nobody could possibly have predicted this back in 1968.  As a matter of fact, not even ten years ago I could have looked through this issue, seen the listing for Naked City at midnight, and thought to myself that this was a series lost in the dust of time, one that I've heard about but will never see.  How times have changed.

1968, lest we forget, is an election year, and Tuesday marks the Indiana primary.  The networks will bring special reports throughout the evening; NBC and CBS will preempt a part of their schedule, while ABC offers five-minute updates between programs.  Robert F. Kennedy wins in Indiana, a big victory for him; in a couple of weeks, he'll lose to Eugene McCarthy in Oregon (the first electoral defeat ever for a Kennedy), which makes June's California primary that much more important...

We've already covered Wednesday, but on Thursday Dragnet supplies the corollary to Sheriff Andy Taylor's dilemma: "Frustrated because a judge threw his case out of court, Sgt. Carl Maxwell heads fo rthe bottle and oblivion."  Can't see that happening to Andy, not with Opie to take care of - right?  Also on Thursday, a good show by Dean Martin, with guests Petula Clark, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and comics Don Rickles and Flip Wilson.

And to wind up the week on Friday, Gomer Pyle, USMC heads to Washington to say "hey" to the President, Kirk battles a Greek god on Star Trek, Judd for the Defense defends a football player (Dan Travanty, who will change the spelling of his last name to "Travanti" and join the right side of the law) charged with murdering his wife, and Bob Hope and Lucille Ball play a drama critic and his playwright-wife in the movie Critic's Choice, from the play by Ira Levin.  He wrote that one before Rosemary's Baby, The Stepford Wives and The Boys From Brazil, none of which would have been very good vehicles for Bob and Lucy.

In my opinion, anyway.

May 1, 2015

It's time to go Around the Dial!

Before I get to this week's highlights, I have an email from a reader asking for information.  Since I'm stumped, I pass this along to my enlightened readers to see if they can help.  Mr. D. Witt (I presume it's Mr.) asks,

I have a very dim childhood memory of a 70's TV skit that nobody else I've asked can remember.  Since you seem extremely knowledgeable on this subject I'm hoping you'll have the answer.  Here's the basic info...

- American prime time comedy (and probably variety) show on sometime between 1970 -1972.

- Sketch about a couple living in a underwater house. ( I'm sure it was a reoccurring sketch)

-The set looked like a normal suburban home living room, but there was real water outside the large picture window. The audience would see the husband swim past the window dressed in a business suit.  When entering, he would open and close the front door real fast so not to let the water rush in.

- I think his wife would complain about living in a house that was underwater, but he bought the home because it was such a great deal. Although being about 5 years old when I watched this, I simply like to see the rush of water when the front door was opened.

Thank you for your time.

What about it - ring any bells with anyone?  The premise sounds to me like something Ernie Kovacs would do, but the timeframe is wrong (unless this was presented as a retrospective or something).  If you've got any ideas, let me know!

Ever since I correctly identified Beulah in a Trivial Pursuit game as the first sitcom to star a black actress, I've been saddled with the reputation as someone who knows about the most obscure of television shows.  To a certain extent that's true*, and so I always enjoy reading about someone who shares this, er, hobby.  At Classic Film and TV Cafe, Rick gives us a list of seven obscure shows that, for some reason, he's heard of.  Got to admit that I'd forgotten about Q.E.D., but I did remember the other six.

*This does beg the question as to how much important information I've misplaced because of all the useless trivia I remember.

Some great episode recaps available: bare-bones e-zine continues an ongoing look at Hitchcock adaptations of Roald Dahl works with the sixth-season episode "Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat", while at The Horn Section, Hal looks at the 1958 episode of Love That Bob! entitled "Bob Gives S.R.O. Performance."  I love these reviews where I feel as if I've seen the episode, especially if it's from a series I haven't seen before.  Meanwhile, Television's New Frontier: the 1960s takes a closer look at the series Checkmate; I had high hopes for this series when I had the opportunity to watch a few episodes, but I found it falling short too many times for my liking.

Not a television piece per se, but ImagineMDD has a thoughtful reflection on actors who were able to humanize even the most unlikable characters, particularly Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney.  In my ongoing attack on modern police prodecurals, I've found that shows from the classic era - the ones that didn't spend so much time with the personal lives of their quirkbots - often gave far deeper portrayals of their perps, and these actors are able to do the same thing with the great depth of their performances.

At Classic Television Showbiz, Kliph has another of his excellent interviews, this one with George Schlatter, executive producer of Laugh-In among his many contributions to television.  I was really impressed with Schlatter reading his responses to Kliph (despite his politics!), and asking some great questions himself.  I envy Kliph, a man who's heard more and will likely forget more than I'll ever know!

A typically nice piece by Andrew at The Lucky Strike Papers takes a fond look back at "the other Ray Charles," the conductor whose name pops up a lot in my old TV Guides.  In addition to the death of Ray Charles, Andrew also notes the passing of Milton DeLugg, which really feels like the end of an era to me.  I'll take this time to repeat what I've often said: the people who make an impression won't be around forever, so if you're so inclined, don't be afraid to let them know how you feel.

Catching up from last week (since my piece here will probably be posted before his new one goes up), Television Obscurities continues a year in TV Guide with a look at April 24, 1965.  One of the articles is "Why Cable TV is Mushrooming"; I love reading these stories where you can see how far back the roots of our current situation go, and compare the predictions with the reality.

That's it for now - see ya back here tomorrow!

April 29, 2015

Television and the Id

It's quiz time once again boys and girls.  The quote below is a bit lengthy, but I'd hope you agree it's worth it.  I've removed a couple of words that would help you to identify the writer and the context of the quote because I think that's one of the most interesting things about this excerpt.  As you read it, consider what it says not only about our culture today, but also the world of entertainment, television in particular.  As usual, I'll identify the speaker and the context at the end.

We live today in a world that is as deeply devoted to material things as was [theirs].  For example, [they] were obsessed by health, diet, and exercise.  They spent more time in baths and health clubs than in churches, temples, libraries, and law courts.  They were devoted to consumption.  A man could make a reputation by spending more than his neighbor, even if he had to borrow the money to do it.  And if he never paid back his creditors, he was honored for having made a noble attempt to cut a fine figure in the world.

They were excited by travel, news, and entertainment.  The most important cultural productions [...], from books to extravaganzas in the theaters and circuses that occupied a central place in every [...] city or town, dealt with amusing fictions about faraway peoples and with a fantasy peace and happiness that did not exist in their real lives.  They were fascinated by fame and did  not care how it was acquired.  If you were famous enough, the fact that you might be a rascal or worse was ignored or forgiven.

[They] cared most about success, which they interpreted as being ahead for today, and let tomorrow take care of itself.  They were proud, greedy, and vain.  In short, they were much like ourselves.

A pretty good description of the world today, don't you think?

The only difference is that it was written in 1991, and it was written about a people living in the fourth century - the Romans, near the end of the empire.  The late Roman world, indeed, was quite like ours.

And the author?  If you're a classic television fan, you'll probably recognize the name of Charles Van Doren.  Yes, the same Charles Van Doren of the quiz show scandals in the late 1950s.  Following his disgrace, Van Doren went into a self-imposed public exile, eventually returning to a life of writing (at first under a pseudonym) and becoming an editor at Encyclopaedia Britannica.  He authored a number of philosophical and scholastic books (some with his friend Mortimer Adler), the best known of which is probably the one from which this excerpt came, A History of Knowledge.

The relationship of this to television?  Well, I can't imagine a better description of the celebrity-infused culture of TMZ, the world of "reality" programming that has little relation to reality, knows almost no bounds, and seems to consist primarily of people who've become famous for being famous.  Can you say "Kardashians"?  "Paris Hilton"?  And if Van Doren's description of reality stars and viewers hits the mark, he's no less accurate in describing the world of consumption in which television dwells, not only in how advertising dominates the medium, but in how so much of the programming - not only reality but scripted - glorifies such consumption.

If there's anything optimistic to be taken from this, it's in how it shows that there is truly nothing new under the sun.  Van Doren obviously felt that this series of paragraphs were fairly descriptive of the cultural world of the 1980s and '90s, even as it was written about a society that existed some 1500 years before that, and could doubtlessly be used similarly to describe countless societies and cultures in between.

On the other hand, we have to recall that the Roman Empire crumbled - not at the hands of a military enemy, but from internal decay.  The historian Arnold Toynbee, himself a writer in the pages of TV Guide, posited that "the Roman Empire itself was a rotten system from its inception, and that the entire Imperial era was one of steady decay of institutions founded in Republican times." I'm afraid that if you're looking for reassuring sentiments in that statement, you're going to have to look elsewhere.

The id of Sigmund Freud has been described as the devil on the shoulder of the super-ego, an inflated sense of self-worth, "a mass of instinctive drives and impulses [that] needs immediate satisfaction." It is to the id that television thus appeals, in its ability to satisfy the insatiable desire for fame that consumes so many of its participants, and its ability to transmit that to viewers who consume it voraciously and live it vicariously.  Something, in fact, that Charles Van Doren himself fell victim to at the pivotal moment in his life.

All this is not to lay the blame solely at the feet of television.  As regular readers know, I persist in my defense of TV as a medium which is morally neutral - it's how you use the technology that counts.  My fear is that the technology is not being used very well, nor has it been for some time, but even there one can suggest that it is at least as much of a reflection of out culture as it is the source of our dilemmas.  And while it's true that television does satisfy that voracious appetite for what Van Doren called "amusing fictions about faraway peoples," but the people and the appetite had to exist in the first place - television merely exploited it and expanded it, but it has been a part of the human condition since Original Sin.  Sic semper erat, et sic semper erit: Thus has it always been, thus shall it ever be.

April 27, 2015

What's on TV? Saturday, April 27, 1963

I like to visit the weekend listings occasionally; besides Saturday being my favorite day of the week, it gives us a chance to read something other than the regular Monday through Friday listings.  Since we've looked at several issues from this era lately, I thought it would be nice to drop in on Saturday and see what's up.  This is from the Twin Cities, so I know just a little about this.  I'm too young to remember, but I probably watched some of these shows myself.  As is customary in this era, the educational station, Channel 2, does not broadcast on weekends.

April 25, 2015

This week in TV Guide: April 27, 1963

Not every issue of TV Guide is a blockbuster; not every issue has a hidden gem buried somewhere, or a historical tidbit that calls for greater exploration.  After the last two weeks, we return to an issue that is pleasantly enjoyable for being thoroughly unremarkable.  I think you'll enjoy the listings that go up on Monday; be sure and check them out.  In the meantime, let's take a closer look at the comings and goings of the week.


Seeing as how Perry Mason is one of my ten favorite shows, it's not surprising that I'm taking a moment to focus on the cover story, that of Perry's perpetual foil, Hamilton (don't call me Ham) Burger, played to perfection by William Talman.

Richard Gehman's article is informative and pleasingly free of snark.  Perhaps it's because he spends so much time with Talman, who comes across as humorous, charming, and benignly resigned to his current fate.  He and his wife and four children have to live on the 13% of his $65,000 annual salary that he takes home after alimony payments for two ex-wives (24% to his first ex), 10% to his agent, 5% to his business manager, and 40% to the government.  Throw in the five unions to which Talman has to pay dues, and that doesn't leave much.  He's sanguine about it, though, asking Gehman "Could you urge your readers to send money?"

Then there's the suspension he underwent at CBS as the result of a morals charge (baseless, as it turns out) because of a party he attended which wound up being raided by the police.  He was forced to miss several months of the show, eventually reinstated due to the considerable efforts of Erle Stanley Gardner, executive producer Gail Patrick Jackson, and particularly Raymond Burr, whom I've read exerted some serious pressure.  Even here, Gehman notes, there's no visible bitterness on Talman's part.  He comes across as a professional, a good actor, a good sport, and a happy man - who's particularly delighted that his wife is expecting another new addition to the family.

Finally, of course, there's the role of D.A. Burger, who never defeats Mason - one wonders how he's able to keep his job.  We should appreciate Talman in this role; reading the books, Burger is far more unlikable - smug, arrogant, often accusing Mason of misconduct and, it's implied, caring more about winning the case than seeing justice be done.  It's clear there's no love lost between the two men, though Perry reacts more with bemused patience than anything else. Talman's portrayal softens some of the edges, presenting Burger as someone who really does care about convicting the right person, even if it takes cooperating with Mason (with whom he has a much less adversarial relationship) to do it.  Eventually, Talman's identification with the role causes Gardner to alter his written portrayal of Burger, allowing him to share friendly words with Perry on occasion, and in general making it easier to imagine Talman when reading the books.*

*As time went on, all of Gardner's characters came to resemble their TV counterparts more and more.

I became a fan of Perry Mason through reruns on Channel 11; what I remember most about William Talman is the shocking anti-smoking commercial he made before his death in 1968.  The commercial, part of a longer film he did for American Cancer Society volunteers, was filmed six weeks before his death and was aired posthumously.  (Note that the picture of Talman and Burr is the same as that used on this week's cover.) It's a stunning thing to watch, a dying man urging people not to make the same mistake he did.  Although he says he's involved in a battle he doesn't want to lose, you can read the truth in his eyes.  Most remarkable of all, according to this article: he did it all, even while pumped up on morphine and barely able to make it through the filming, without a script.  It was perhaps his greatest acting role.  Yes, a pro to the very end.


A couple of interesting points about NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies presentation of "Three Coins in the Fountain" - interesting to me, at least.  The theme song, which was a big hit for Frank Sinatra, marks the only time Frank ever sang the theme for a movie in which he didn't appear.  And the novel on which the movie was based, "Coins in the Fountain," was written by none other than John Secondari, whose name you may well recognize from the number of times I've mentioned the ABC documentaries he's produced and hosted.

Here's a recording of Frank's rendition - bet you'll recognize it.

Another mildly intriguing tidbit from NBC movieland: Monday Night at the Movies presents "The Hunters," a Korean war melodrama starring Robert Mitchum as a hot-shot Air Force pilot who becomes involved with the wife of another office.  The actress playing the wife is May Britt, at the time married to Sammy Davis, Jr. - who is guest-starring in ABC's The Rifleman, on the same time as the movie.  I wonder who won the ratings battle?


That movie, "The Hunters," was directed by the late Dick Powell, who'd died just a little over three months ago, in January 1963.  His show, Dick Powell Theater, remains on the air, however, with guest hosts filling in.  This week's episode, a parody of hard-boiled detective stories called "Last of the Private Eyes," is seen on NBC Tuesday night, hosted by Ronald Reagan and featuring an all-star cast.  Bob Cummings stars as the private eye, with Jeanne Crain (the movie State Fair), Macdonald Carey (Days of Our Lives), Arnold Stang (Top Cat), Janis Page (the Broadway version of The Pajama Game), William Bendix (The Life of Riley) and William Lundigan (Men Into Space), and featuring cameos from Keenan Wynn, Sebastian Cabot, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson and Jay C. Flippen.  You'd think that with a cast like that, it would have been pretty good - I wonder if it was?

It was up against The Jack Benny Program, with Jack's guest Ann-Margaret, so we may never know if anyone saw "Last of the Private Eyes."


One of the great episodes of the hour-long version of Twilight Zone is on this week: "On Thursday We Leave For Home," shown (appropriately) Thursday evening on CBS.  James Whitmore stars as Captain Benteen, a man who has spent 30 years holding together a group of survivors after their spaceship crashes on a remote asteroid.  During that time, children have been born into the community, and their only knowledge of what Earth is like comes from Benteen's evocative memories.

Then, one day, a rescue ship.  Salvation!  Benteen assumes that the group will continue to stay together after they return to Earth, with him serving as their leader, and is stunned to find that everyone has their own lives to live, their own paths they want to follow.  I won't spoil the ending for you, but it includes one of the most striking camera shots, and one of the most touching endings, to any of the stories authored by Rod Serling.  By this point, four years into TZ, Serling was suffering from burnout, and too many of his teleplays were static and heavy-handed, filled with moralizing talking heads.  Not so with this one - it's sensitively done, and serves as a reminder of just how good a writer Rod Serling was.


Did I hear someone mention sports?

There's not a whole lot to report on this week.  As I've mentioned, we're currently in an era when network baseball coverage is blacked out in major league cities, so the only action we get from the ballpark is Sunday afternoon's game between the Twins and the Detroit Tigers on Channel 11, and Friday night's Twins contest with the New York Yankees.

However, there are five - count 'em, five - bowling shows during the week, including ABC's Pro Bowlers Tour, which precedes Saturday's Wide World of Sports.  Wide World has been on for exactly two years now, and this week's show, which would seem pedestrian by today's standards, is actually a throwback to the series' premiere - coverage of the Penn, Drake and Mount San Antonio Relays.  The Penn and Drake Relays were on that inaugural program in April 1961, and all three track meets are filled with world and American record holders, including the future "fastest man in the world," Bob Hayes, who will parlay that speed into a Hall of Fame football career with the Dallas Cowboys.  He is, according to the always-reliable Wikipedia, the first man to win both an Olympic gold medal and a Super Bowl ring.

Oh, by the way - there's a note in Saturday's listing that if a seventh game is required in the NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, it will be televised on Channel 11 beginning at 7pm.  As it happens, the seventh game was not necessary; Boston won the sixth game, and the title, Wednesday night in Los Angeles (112-109).  But it reminds me of the time before saturation sports coverage, when an ad hoc syndicated network of stations would be put together to provide weeknight coverage of sports such as the NBA and NHL.  I remember this happening in 1971, when Channel 11 was part of the group of stations showing the Stanley Cup finals between Chicago and Montreal, and they showed the four games that were not played on Sunday and were not shown on CBS.  I'll always associate those games with springtime in Minneapolis, when school was nearly out, when the weather was warming, when you might even watch a hockey game with the windows open and the mild springtime air coming in.  How strong memories can be.


Finally, a droll letter from Mr. Ralph Cokain of New York City, who points out a trait common to television shows of the era - "titles which have nothing whatsoever to with the action that follows."  He cites a recent episode of a show - he doesn't name it, but it could easily have been The Eleventh Hour or Ben Casey, entitled "Beauty Playing a Mandolin Under a Willow Tree," the plot for which concerns "a psychiatrist confronted again with the girl he almost married."

Although many series episodes still have titles, I don't know if they make such a big deal out of them.  Back in this day, though, the titles were often included in the program listing, along with the writer of the episode (if there was room).  And pompous titles such as the one which so aggravated Mr. Cokain are not that unusual.  A prime perpetrator of this habit is Sterling Silliphant, the prolific screenwriter, whose entry this week is the Route 66 episode "But What Do You Do in March?" which concerns Tod's run-in with the gorgeous drive of a high-powered speedboat.  And then there's this week's episode of Dr. Kildare, "The Balance and the Crucible," concerning a medical missionary (Peter Falk) suffering a crisis of faith after his wife is murdered by "South American savages." (Ooh!)  One longs for the simple titles of the Westerns - "Outcast of Cripple Creek" on Cheyenne, and "Incident of White Eyes" on Rawhide.  At least there, you have a fighting chance of knowing what the story's about.  Me, I'd still be wondering what someone's doing in March, and why they're worried about that in April.