January 19, 2018

Around the dial

F Troop Fridays are always a great way to wind down the week, and last Friday Hal at The Horn Section offers up "She's Only a Build in a Girdled Cage," a wonderful title (which not so many people would get today), starring Patrice Wymore as said build in said girdle. Alas, the story appears not to be quite as good as the title...

At The Twilight Zone Vortex, Jordan reviews "Cavender is Coming," the 1962 episode featuring Carol Burnett that demonstrates once again that Rod Serling, for all his talents, was not good a comedic writing; this episode, like his other comic efforts, falls flat. Jesse White co-stars as her guardian angel; perhaps it would have been better if she'd needed her Maytag repaired.

Ooh, "Incense for the Damned" - isn't that a great title for a movie? Add in Patrick Macnee, Edward Woodward, Peter Cushing, and Patrick Mower, and that makes it even better, don't you think? Read about this movie at Cult TV Blog, where John says that "if you're not a horror fan, but instead a lover of the TV of the sixties and seventies, this show may be right up your street."

The Hitchcock Project continues at bare-bones e-zine, with Jack's focus this week being the second season episode "The West Warlock Time Capsule," Marion Cockrell's droll story of what happens when an unwanted relative stays too long. . .

January 14 was the 66th anniversary of the first Today show, and at Garroway at Large, Jodie presents the product of years of research: a reconstruction of exactly what happened on that first show. Fascinating details!

Television's New Frontier: the 1960's turns its focus on the 1960 season of Dale Robertson's Western series Tales of Wells Fargo. Meanwhile, Television Obscurities reminds us of why some shows become obscure, with this rundown of the Nielsen Bottom Ten for January 15-21, 1973.

And coming up next month, The Classic TV Blog Association presents The Classic TV Villain Blogathon. Here's a preview of what to expect:

That's all next month, but in the meantime we've still got tomorrow, and you're welcome back then for a look at another TV Guide.  TV  

January 17, 2018

Keith Jackson, R.I.P.

H e was one of the very last of the Big Game Announcers, that genre I occasionally talk about (usually in obituaries, unfortunately). I know, many people might include Al Michaels, but to tell the truth I've never warmed to him; he's competent enough, probably more than competent, but the key word is "warmth," and I never felt it coming from him. Others might call Joe Buck a Big Game Announcer, but while I think he's better than his critics say, I don't include him in the list, either. Certainly Mike Emrick and Martin Tyler, probably Brent Musburger, perhaps Marv Albert, but after that the pickings are, as they say, slim.

Besides, this isn't about them. It's about Keith Jackson, who died last Friday after 89 (hopefully) good years, many of them spent creating memories for the millions of people who listened to him on baseball games, football games, basketball games, auto racing, golf, even boxing matches. It seemed as if he worked with everyone during his time on television; he called the first season of Monday Night Football and if anyone could have controlled Dandy Don and Cosell, it would have been him. ABC didn't want that, though - they were looking for a show. He also worked with Cosell on Monday Night Baseball, and though I really liked him on that, there's no doubt his home was with college football.

It was college football in which his greatness was made manifest. He sounded as if he was made for college football, with that down-home delivery and enthusiasm that nonetheless never went over the top. It's also true, though, that college football sounds as if were made for him; fumble, touchdown, Rodney Allison of Texas Tech - for other announcers those might simply have been functional words, but for Keith Jackson they became the paint and the brushes that artists use to craft their work on the electronic canvas.

For all of the palpable excitement in Jackson's voice, the love of the game, the Whoa Nellies and Fum-BLEs and Hold the Phonnnnnes for which he became so famous, he always remembered the golden rule of the golden age of sportscasters - you are never bigger than the event you cover. That shone most clearly in his decision to retire in 2006, despite ABC wanting him to continue, because he was disturbed over the increasing number of mistakes he was making during broadcasts. It's easy to see why he'd do that, even though Jackson at 85% was probably better than most other announcers at 110%.

He wasn't out to score points with a crack at the expense of someone down there on the field, just as he wasn't acting as if he were trying to win an audition during open mic night at the Improv. He called a game for the benefit of the viewers, and it was to them that he spoke, enveloping them all in his color and humor. He was authoritative and insightful, with a grace and elegance that merged smoothly with his passion to produce a perfect background to the unforgettable events he covered.

Yep, there weren't many like Keith Jackson, but then that's how it is with all the greats. He was a one-of-a-kind, and we were the beneficiaries.  TV  

January 15, 2018

What's on TV? Wednesday, January 14, 1970

Back in the day, when schedules had room for the odd 10- or 15-minute program (usually around lunchtime or in the afternoon), you might well have run across Lucille Rivers. She wrote for Better Homes and Gardens and McCall, lectured around the country, appeared regularly on Arlene Francis' show Home, and eventually got her own program, Fashions in Sewing.

That ad is from Los Angeles, but it didn't matter where you lived - you probably had the chance to see Fashions in Sewing. You've seen the show in the TV listings throughout the '60s and into the  70s; in the listings below, you'll find her show in both the Duluth and Minneapolis-St. Paul markets.

January 13, 2018

This week in TV Guide: January 10, 1970

This week Super Bowl IV takes top honors on television. Nowhere in this issue is it called that, by the way; it's only referred to as the "Super Bowl" even though the Roman numerals had already been implemented by then. Of course, we all know how much the Super Bowl has changed since its earliest days --

-- But wait. Maybe we don't all know that. After all, if you're under, say, 40, you've probably never known any other Super Bowl than what we have today. And if that's the case, then this one TV Guide is going to tell you everything about what the Super Bowl is by showing you what it was, and what it wasn't.

What it wasn't, first of all, was a ratings monster. How do we know that? Easy: the game started at 2:30 p.m. CT on CBS, with only a half-hour pregame show. It's true that nothing was scheduled against it*; local movies and syndicated series (The Rifleman, 77 Sunset Strip, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), but in the days before saturation sports on TV, that wasn't all that unusual in the first place.

*In 1970 CBS broacast the NHL as well as the NFL, and the Rangers-Canadiens game began at 11:30 a.m. - it was about the only time CBS could televise it. In 1971, when NBC carries the Super Bowl, CBS schedules its NHL game directly opposite it.

It was about the game, not the commercials. It was the final matchup between the American and National Football Leagues, a rivalry as bitter as anything in sports. With the victory by the Kansas City Chiefs over the Minnesota Vikings, the final Super Bowl tally between the two leagues was 2-2. People watched it for what happened on the field, not during the commercial breaks. Besides, the game's only allocated three-and-a-half hours of airtime, and you have to figure that last half hour is reserved for the trophy presentation. When the commercials* are the most important thing about the broadcast, I can promise the game and the trophy presentation aren't going to get done in that amount of time.

*And the halftime "concert." In perhaps the first example of a Super Bowl halftime extravaganza, Al Hirt was the headliner of a Marti Gras celebration.

And about the two teams - there was no week off after the league championship games to allow the Super Hype to build up; therefore, at press time TV Guide didn't even know who the teams were. The best they could do was to give the rosters for the four teams playing to get into the game: the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders in the AFL, and the Minnesota Vikings and Cleveland Browns in the NFL. Two of these teams will compete for the trophy; tune in Sunday to see who they are.

There's no special section in TV Guide, by the way, dealing with the game. No sidebar on "memorable moments" (such as last year's shocking upset win by the New York Jets over the Baltimore Colts), no "gameday recipes" for your Super Bowl party. Just a two-page article by TV Guide's resident sports expert Melvin Durslag, writing about the general surprise that this year's game was being played in New Orleans instead of making Miami the permanent home (as many had expected), and wondering about how long football would continue to remain America's top sport (looks like he was ahead of his time, doesn't it?).

There's no question that in January 1970 the Super Bowl is a big game. It's one of the biggest sporting events of the year. But that's all it was, and sometimes it helps to have a reminder of when, unlike today, that was the case.

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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: Tiny Tim and his bride Miss Vicki are the headliners, offering a medly of love songs through the ages. Scheduled guests: Flip Wilson, Peter Gennaro, Stiller and Meara, country singer Sonny James and songstress Karen Wyman

Palace: Bacharach tunes predominate as hosts Burt Bacharach and his wife Angie Dickinson present jockey Bill Shoemaker (singing and dancing in his show business debut), comie Scoey Mitchell, and singers Dusty Springfield and Sam and Dave.

This is a strange week, isn't it? I know that Tiny Tim was big stuff back then; I even remember watching his marriage to Miss Vicki on Carson's show. But if they're headlining Sullivan, it doesn't speak well for the rest of the show, does it? I'd love to know what Ed thought of Tim personally - he was a shrewd judge of talent, but I can't help thinking that he looked at this as being something he had to do to keep the show on the air. Burt Bacharach is scheduled to do several of his own songs tonight, with the Ray Charles singers (not that Ray Charles), and while he's not a very good singer, he's written some wonderful songs that should make for a very good show, especially when someone else like Dusty Springfield is singing those songs. Angie could probably just stand there and look good, and it wouldn't hurt the show one bit. Tonight, Palace sits at the top of the heap.

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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. 

Jim Nabors is one of those rarities in show business. He left a hit series, Gomer Pyle, USMC, at the height of its popularity, in order to star in his own variety show. According to Cleveland Amory, Nabors prefers his new series because (1) he likes to sing, and (2) the hours on this show are better. There's only one problem with this, says Amory: "a lot of us are learning, the hard way, the rigors of listening to Mr. Nabors sing. It's not that he's a bad singer - he's not. But he's just not a singer. He's a comedian." And what that means, for viewers of The Jim Nabors Hour, is that "every time he sings a serious song we (1) can't get out of our head that album of the New York Mets singing and (2) have an almost uncontrollable urge to grab Mr. Nabors, say 'Terrific game, Jim,' pour champagne on his head and push him into the showers."

Singing is one component of the three-legged variety show formula. The second leg is dancing, and Nabors is no dancer either. That leaves only the third leg, comedy. "And here let us say it does pass muster. Not only is Mr. Nabors a fairly funny fellow to begin with, he has a very funny way of making even unfunny stories come off funny." It helps that his former Pyle sidekick Frank Sutton is a regular on the show, and also that his guest stars, such as Carol Burnett, have been given very funny sketches to work in.

But then it comes back to singing, such as the duet he did with Kate Smith in which "Mr. Nabors deferred to Miss Smith so much that it was hardly a duet at all." Fortunately, this too was saved by what Amory refers to as "one of their typical unfunny funnies," to which Amory confesses, "well - OK. We laughed." A lot of people did when they were watching Jim Nabors, and plenty of people did like his singing, even if Cleve wasn't one of them. The Jim Nabors Hour survived on CBS for two seasons, and with its good ratings would probably have lasted longer were it not for the network's rural purge. Jim Nabors popularity, however, never waned.

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The Jim Nabors Hour airs Thursday night at 7:00 on CBS, and this week's guest is singer Barbara McNair, which I guess means that the travel medley that Jim and Barbara are doing is going to be only so-so, while the comedy bits will be pretty good. Guess we don't need to watch now, do we?

In fact, there are quite a few variety shows on this week. On Saturday (6:30 p.m., NBC), Andy Williams welcomes Cass Elliott, Arte Johnson, and Ray Stevens, with cameos by Lorne Greene and Sam Jaffe (who's playing his Ben Casey character of Dr. Zorba in a sketch).  At the same time on CBS, Jackie Gleason's guests are Milton Berle, Jackie Gayle, Irwin C. Watson, and Allan Drake. Meanwhile, Sunday at 8:00 p.m. on CBS, Glen Campbell has Roger Miller, Caterina Valente, and Henry Gibson.

Monday ABC's failed 45-minute experiment Music Scene (6:30 p.m.), with host David Steinberg, departs the scene with appearances from Bo Diddley, John Sebastian, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Randy Marr.* Carol Burnett is nowhere near failing, though, and her guests tonight are Nancy Wilson and Nanette Fabray. (CBS, 9:00 p.m.) Tuesday evening belongs to Red Skelton (7:30, CBS) with an excellent lineup featuring Duke Ellington and his orchestera, and comedianne Pat Carroll.

*ABC's other 45-minute series, The New People, also says farewell on Monday. The shows are replaced by It Takes a Thief and the Monday Night Movie.

I'm no country fan, but even I know that Hee Haw is famous for its big-name guest stars, and this Wednesday (6:30 p.m., CBS) is no exception, with Lynn Anderson, Hank Thompson, and Buck Owens' son Buddy Allen. NBC counters with a variety special at 7:00 p.m., "The Wonderful World of Girls," hosted by Gene Kelly, with Barbara Feldon, Ruth Buzzi, Kay Medford, Barbara Heller, Chanin Hale and Diane Davis, along with members of the Las Vegas Folles Bergere (right). At 9:00, Rowan and Martin are back - not as part of Laugh-In, but as hosts of a "satirical swipe at TV" with Carol Burnett, the Smothers Brothers, Sammy Davis Jr., and cameos by suprise stars.

Thursday also sees the final Christmas special of the year, 90 minutes of highlights from Bob Hope's 15-day tour of Vietnam, Germany, Italy, Turkey, Thailand, Taiwan and Guam. (NBC, 7:30 p.m.) He's brought along Connie Stevens, Suzanne Charney, Miss World Eva Reubar-Staier, the Golddiggers, Romy Schneider (in Germany only), comic jugglers the Pieros, and Teresa Graves. Following Bob, Dean Martin takes his turn (9:00 p.m., NBC), with Sammy Davis Jr., Andy Griffith, Paul Lynde, and comic-singer Glenn Ash. Meantime, over at ABC, Tom Jones is the man at 8:00 p.m., with George Gobel, Shani Wallis, Spanish singer Rafael, and the Rascals.

Finally, Friday rounds out the week with the final episode of Jimmy Durante Presents the Lennon Sisters, and their guests Ed Ames, David Frye, and Ferrante and Teicher. Jimmy and the Lennons sing "Try to Remember," and I wonder if that's the epitaph on their show?

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Buried in The Doan Report this week is a very interesting quote, another of those that convinces us there's nothing new under the sun. The debate is whether or not network commentary should be labeled as "editorial opinion." It's an issue that's been raised by Vice President Agnew, who cites unlabeled commentaries as evidence of a liberal network bias. One major station-ownership group, Storer Broadcasting, is threating to put their own superimpositions on screen, even if NBC and CBS refuse to do so. (ABC is currently the only network to clearly label commentary as such.)

Richard S. Salant, president of CBS News, is uncomfortable with the whole thing. "What a can of worms that opens up!" he says of the Storer threat. "The trouble these days is, everything somebody agrees with is fact, and anything they don't agree with is opinion. I wish I knew how they're going to define what is 'editorial'." Now, substitute "news" and "fake news" for "fact" and "opinion", and try that one on for size. With the proliferation of the internet and social media, I'd argue that things are worse today than they were in Salant's time - but it hardly began with Trump and Clinton.

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Finally, names.

There are plenty of them this week. On Sunday, ABC's movie is The House on Green Apple Road, which was the pilot for the Dan August series. Burt Reynolds plays police lieutenant Dan August when the series debuts in September 1970, but in this movie the role is played by Christopher George. The guest cast is Janet Leigh, Julie Harris, Tim O'Connor, Walter Pidgeon, Barry Sullivan, Keenan Wynn, Mark Richman, William Windom, Joanne Linville, Burr DeBenning, and Lynda Day. (She and Christopher George would be married in May 1970.)

The Friday night movie on CBS is Robin and the 7 Hoods, which has if anything an even better cast: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Bing Crosby, Edward G. Robinson, Peter Falk, Barbara Rush, VIctor Buono, Hank Henry, and Allan Jenkins. It makes the rest of the night - Lee Meriwether, Yvonne DeCarlo, and cameos by Rudy Vallee, Edward Everett Horton, and Estelle Winwood on The Name of the Game (NBC, 7:30 p.m.), Bill Mumy, Harold Gould, and Larry Linville on Here Come the Brides (ABC, 8:00 p.m.) and Don Rickles on a rerun of Run For Your Life (WTCN, 8:30 p.m.) look shallow by comparison.

And then there's this ad touting Rosemary Prinz's debut on ABC's All My Children. The ad runs every day this week, giving you an idea of what a big deal this is. Prinz was famous for playing Penny Hughes on As the World Turns from 1956-68. She and her on-screen husband Jeff Baker were, according to the always-reliable Wikipedia, daytime television's first supercouple, although I might have suggested Mike and Sara Karr from The Edge of Night, but I digress.

Prinz was part of All My Children for six months, during which her name ran above the title, and she was the only cast member to have her picture in the opening credits. It was the first month for All My Children - not a bad way to make a splash, hmm? TV  

January 12, 2018

Around the dial

Television Obscurities offers a remembrance of the "other" Van Dyke, Jerry, who died last week at age 86. Perhaps he was overshadowed by his brother Dick, but if any of us had had the career Jerry did, I suspect we would all be well-pleased with it.

And while we're on the subject of Van Dykes, we shouldn't overlook the death of Rose Marie just prior to the end of the year. She was 94, and had a fabulous career that ran the gamut from child star to a member of one of the great ensemble casts in the history of television. They're all gone now, save Carl Reiner.

Catching up on a loose end, Bob Sassone at Vulture writes about 10 great Christmas movies that aren't really about Christmas. I understand exactly what he means by that; We're No Angels, although it takes place on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and involves a little Christmas party, isn't really about Christmas (unless you count the deaths of two people who could make your life miserable as being Santa's gift to you). I do like the idea of someone naming Three Days of the Condor as their favorite Christmas movie!

Thrilling Days of Yesteryear looks back on a series getTV is currently showing (although you can get it on DVD as well), The Restless Gun, with John Payne. I mentioned an episode from this series here; it's a good series, not a great or even very good one, but it isn't bad either. Payne is, as always, engaging, though  I never saw in him (or in Jimmy Stewart, who originally played a similar role in the radio series The Six Shooter) the kind of world-weariness that ought to be present in a former gunfighter.

British TV Detectives gets around to one of my favorite of the genre, Inspector Morse, which ran for 12 seasons between 1987 and 2000. I always admired the dark, moody atmosphere found in many of the episodes, which often touched on more existential matters than found in today's proceedurals.

At Comfort TV, David takes a charming look at some of the things that populate television shows from 50 or so years ago, things we might not be familiar with today - like charm schools. David offers an elegant line, one I feel more and more: "every New Year takes us further away from the time when shows from the Comfort TV era were made – shows that reflected what life in America was like at that time." As I wrote once in another context, it's another country, not my own.

Come back to that country tomorrow; you'll find a new TV Guide waiting for you. TV  

January 8, 2018

What's on TV? Friday, January 14, 1966

We've reached the point now where color programming isn't unusual anymore, and the '60s wouldn't be the '60s without color, would they? Most of NBC's programs are in color, and both ABC and CBS have started to make inroads into color. There are still B&W shows, though, plenty of them - especially during the day. Most of these shows will change in the next couple of years, though. If they're still around, that is.

As you might gather, this week's listings are from the Minnesota State Edition, so see what the state is watching.

January 6, 2018

This week in TV Guide: January 8, 1966

This week ABC kicks off its second season (it even calls it that in its ads) with a number of new shows to replace the old shows that had failed during the fall. So farewell, O.K. Crackerby!, au revoir Shindig, auf wiedersehen The King Family, adiós Amos Burke, Secret Agent. In their place, welcome Blue Light, Robert Goulet's attempt to become a dramatic TV star; The Double Life of Henry Phyfe with Red Buttons; and The Baron, the British series starring the American actor Steve Forrest.* But it's the fourth series, premiering on Wednesday, that I want to talk about here.

*The Baron was the first ITC show without marionettes to be produced entirely in color, a singular distinction. Bonus tidbit: Steve Forrest was the younger brother of Dana Andrews.

"Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot, so my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts. I must be a creature of the night." It shouldn't be too difficult to imagine Adam West speaking those lines, though I'm not sure they ever appeared anywhere other than the issue of Detective Comics that introduced Batman to the world. And though the show ran only for a little over two years, until March 14, 1968, it became, for a short time, the most influential program on television. Not only did it make camp a high art form on American television, it turned West and Burt Ward into household names, made the role of "Guest Villain" into one of the most coveted on television, spawned a second series based on a comic book hero (The Green Hornet), and influenced a change in direction for such existing shows as The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

This week's inaugural episode, "Hey Diddle Diddle*," introduces us to Frank Gorshin in the memorable role of the Riddler, with Jill St. John as his sidekick Molly, out to steal the priceless pachyderm statue The Mammoth of Moldavia from the Gotham City World's Fair. It concludes the following night with "Smack in the Middle," in which the evil fiends receive their comeuppance.

*Yes, I know the title was actually "Hi Diddle Diddle," but it's "Hey" in the TV Guide. This strikes another blow to accuracy in the media.

Interesting notes in the listing - Lorenzo Semple Jr., who wrote the script for the original version of Casino Royale, wrote this script; Neal Hefti, who wrote the theme for The Odd Couple and worked with Woody Herman, Count Basie, and Frank Sinatra, did the theme; and the incidental music was by Nelson Riddle, who most famously did the arrangements for Sinatra's comeback. (With two connections like those, it's interesting that Sinatra never did one of the window appearances.)

Open question: was there ever a series with a shorter run that had a more significant cultural influence on its time than Batman?

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No "Sullivan vs. The Palace" this week, and when that happens it's usually because of a pre-emption on ABC's part. This week, however, CBS pre-empts not only Ed, but Lassie and My Favorite Martian, for the annual presentation of The Wizard of Oz, with wraparound segments hosted by Danny Kaye.

From the first broadcast in 1956
In this age when even classic movies are played over and over on various channels (not that I'm complaining, mind you), it's hard to understand what an event The Wizard of Oz was. It was always presented as a special, rather than in one of CBS's regular movie timeslots, with a host from one of CBS's prime-time programs. It was also always broadcast in color (except for 1961), even when color televisions were a rarety in homes.* For the first few years, it was shown in December, as part of CBS's holiday programming, and it was invariably one of the highest rated programs of the year. When it was eventually joined on TV by its MGM stablemate Gone with the Wind, the two became the most highly anticipated movies shown on television. (The always-reliable Wikipedia, in this article, has more on the Wizard's television history.)

*In this issue, a note along with the description advises views that "The first 22 minutes of this movie are in black and white."

The Wizard of Oz was the true definition of a "special," a show that families made plans to watch and incorporated as part of their annual seasonal traditions. I appreciate how you can now see the movie just about any time you want, and how you can see it without commercial interruption (both on TCM and in its home video incarnations), but at the same time that very familarity has made it somehow less special, if you know what I mean. I suppose it's one of the tradeoffs that we always seem to be making.

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One program this week that definitely is not an event is the NFL Playoff Bowl (Sunday, 12:30 p.m., CBS), an absolutely awful excuse for a football game. The game pitted the second-place teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences in what amounted to a game for third place, and was a benefit for the NFL players' pension fund.* It was played in Miami, started in the years before the Dolphins were created, and was another way for the NFL to increase its visibility. This year's combatants are the Baltimore Colts and Dallas Cowboys, and probably because Miami was part of the Colts' TV territory in the pre-Dolphin years, this year's game will draw a record crowd of 65,569. The Colts reward that crowd with a 35-3 victory. The game disappears after the NFL-AFL merger.

*Nobody wanted to play in this game; Packers coach Vince Lombardi, whose teams won five championships during the ten years the game existed, derisively referred to it as the "Shit Bowl."

In other sports, the final college football game of the season is played: the Senior Bowl all-star game (Saturday, 1:00 p.m., NBC). The Pro Bowlers Tour returns to ABC on the same date (2:30 p.m.), as does Shell's Wonderful World of Golf  (NBC, 4:00 p.m.). It's also a return to TV for college basketball; in these unenlightened days when there weren't 50 games a week on television, most nonconference games are seen primarily as tuneups for the far more important conference schedule beginning in January; when the important games start, they're back on TV.

And the NBA isn't exactly big-time yet, either. Yes, now that we're in January ABC has its Game of the Week Sunday afternoons (it's New York vs. Baltimore this week, by the way), but when it comes to the league's All-Star Game, it's being shown via syndication on Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m., live from Cincinnati Gardens. Harry Carey (Holy Cow!) and Jack Buck report the action.

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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. 

After all these years of reviewing Cleveland Amory's reviews, we have finally arrived at vintage Amory, the perfect Amory, the review that combines his puns and acerbic wit to produce a sparkling prose that leaves no doubt as to where he stands on the program in question.

Juliet Prowse and Denny Miller
That program is Mona McCluskey, starring singer-dancer Juliet Prowse, and somehow - it being January 1966 - it has managed to survive its premiere, which was September 16, 1965. Our first indication as to Mona's difficulties comes with Amory's initial paragraph: "There are five principle troubles with this show - the idea, the writing, the acting, the directing and the producing." Other than that... The premise of Mona McCluskey is that of an Air Force sergeant married to a movie star; the sergeant, being the breadwinner of the family, insists that they live off of his $500 monthly salary, rather than her $5,000 weekly earnings, and if this idea sounds not just thin but also more than a little stupid, then you're not alone. "It is," writes Amory "quite a problem all right - and a Happy New Year to you too."

As for the writing, all one has to do is look at episode titles such as "Mail Against Female," "the touching saga of the little woman who can't resist opening her male's mail," or "My Husband the Wife Beater," based on the classic misunderstanding when a couple of maiden aunts overhear a "marital pillow fight" and assume the worst. The head writer and show's creator, Don McGuire, has done better - he wrote the screenplay for the classic Bad Day at Black Rock, but, says Cleve, "we asure you, however bad things were at the Ol' Rock, the day he first thought of this show was worse."

The acting is "led" by Denny Miller as the sergeant; his credits say he was "first choice to become Hollywood's 12th Tarzan in the film 'Tarzan, the Ape Man.' For this show, however, he would be our 13th choice - and the only reason he would be that high is that he overacts less tha the rest of the cast." Included in that assessment is star Juliet Prowse, "who is one of our favorites as a dancer, [but] as an actress she is one of our least favorites." Says Cleve, "The best that can be said for her is that - particularly in the cutesy-cutesy love scenes, of which there are about six each half hour, not including the commercials - she is actually fascinating; unfortunately, in much the same way that a school play is fascinating when your child isn't in it."

There can be no question that "When so many actors are so bad, the directors have to be at fault." George Burns, who really ought to know better, is the producer of all this, along with United Artists Television, "which obviously does not." In any case, writes Amory, there can be only one conclusion: "Together they have managed to produce a show whose premise would be irritating enough in real life. On TV it is positively excruciating."

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Richard Warren Lewis has an interesting article on Lola Albright, the former Peter Gunn flame who pinch-hit for the ill Dorothy Malone on Peyton Place, and while it's certainly enlightening reading about Lola's stormy third marriage (and her troubled second marriage as well), her battles with insomnia, her seeing a psychiatrist and the like, what I find most intriguing about it all is the very fact of one actress temporarily replacing another on a series.

Malone had suffered a life-threating pulmonary embolism and was in the hospital after a seven-and-a-half-hour emergency operation, leaving Peyton Place producer Paul Monash with a dilemma. His two choices were to either write Malone's character, Constance Mackenzie Carson, out of the series, or bring on someone who could essay the role until Malone was able to return. Considering how vital Constance was to the storyline, there wasn't really any choice, and the call went out to Albright. It happens all the time in daytime soap operas.

Would this happen today? You'll recall that when Raymond Burr was incapacitated during the run of Perry Mason, several actors were brought in to play surrogate lawyers, including Hugh O'Brien, Walter Pidgeon, Bette Davis, and Mike Connors. Something like this could be done, and had to be done, because shows produced a lot more episodes back in the day. Variety show hosts like Red Skelton had guest hosts when they were sick, and this made sense because of the short leadtime between the show's taping and airing. Albright was brought in because a surrogate could never work in the complicated world of the soap.

The point is, I'd imagine that if something similar happened today the show would fill in with reruns until the star was able to return. If it looked like it was really going to be protracted, they might bring in someone in a similar role for awhile. One of the reasons why Monash had to bring in Albright was because you couldn't stop a soap opera in the middle of a story. I wonder - considering how serialized television has become, if the star of one of today's shows fell ill during a crucial point in middle of the storyline, one in which his or her character was absolutely essential to what was going on, what would the producers do? I tend to watch so little new television nowadays, I don't know but what this has already happened.

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Speaking of guest hosts and the like, Johnny Carson is subbing for Sammy Davis Jr. on Davis' variety show. (Friday, 7:30 p.m., NBC) Back in the early days of this blog, I wrote about Davis's show, and the puzzling contractual obligation with ABC that required Davis to sit out the second, third and fourth episodes of his own show. Carson's guests on Sammy's show are Mickey Rooney, Diahann Carroll, Joan Rivers, Bobby Van, Tony Mattola and Don Allan.

Elsewhere this week, Don Knotts returns to Mayberry for a class reunion on The Andy Griffith Show (Monday, CBS, 8:00 p.m.), while the aforementioned Dorothy Malone returns to Peyton Place on Tuesday night (8:30 p.m., ABC). CBS Reports is pre-empted for a documentary on "The Search for Ulysses," attempting to prove that the hero of Homer's "Odyssey" was a real man (Tuesday, 9:00 p.m.). Academy Award winner Simone Signoret makes a rare television appearance, appearing with George Maharis in the drama "A Small Rebellion" on Bob Hope's Chrysler Theatre (Wednesday, 8:00 p.m., NBC), and Eve Arden makes a post-Our Miss Brooks appearance Thursday on Bewitched (7:30 p.m., ABC). Also on Thursday, Mona McCluskey gives ample demonstration of why it only lasted one season: "Mike, who's broke, refuses to let Mona buy a color TV set - so Mona decides to plant a coin worth hundreds of dollars in his pocket."

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And now for some bonus Amory this week, although Amory himself is not the author. It comes from a very funny Letter to the Editor - the sole letter in this week's issue - by J. Harvey Howells of Brunswick, Maine, who was inspired to write in after reading about Amory's experience with his series O.K. Crackerby!, which ran a couple of weeks ago. In 1956, Howells won a Writers Guild award for Best TV Comedy of the Year for a script called "Goodbye, Grey Flannel," an episode of the anthology series Robert Montgomery Presents. It's the story of a Madison Avenue ad executive who escapes to a New England orchard only to find out that, as Howells puts it, "advertising is a state of mind, not geography." Soon, the exec, played by Lee Bowman, has organized the local farmers and has set up a new agency in his home.

Howells went on to work on other projects, and he's almost forgotten about this one when he's approached by George Chandler, who played Ichabod Lewis, the ringleader of the locals, who wondered if Howells owned the story. "I agreed to George becoming my 50-50 partner if he could sell it as a series, a possibility I thought remote." Before he knows it, though, a pilot is filmed, it tests high, and now it's on to financing the series itself. "Somewhere along the line," Howells writes, "I acquired six more partners, and my ownership fell to five percent. I didn't object; five percent of something was better than 100 percent of nothing. But when the title was amended to Ichabod and Me, I knew my baby was in for more than a change of diapers."

The series would focus not on Ichabod, but on "Me," played by Bob Sterling. ("See the parallel, Cleve?") The ad exec's ex-model wife was replaced by "a fat, jolly housekeeper such as never was in New England." The exec's bulldog, which had scored high in the pilot, was replaced by a "adenoidal boy-child" playing Me's orphaned son. "Retired ad me being old hat (sic), Me became a small-town newspaper editor, and if that wasn't a deep reach into the cliché closet, then Bob's your uncle." Howells won but one battle, and that was to keep the locale in New England, rather than moving it to Kansas "for more national empathy."

Needless to say, Ichabod and Me was no hit show, although unlike O.K. Crackerby! it did survive for an entire season, and Howells points out that he did make some good friends along the way, like George. "But I still can't understand why they bought my idea in the first place. Can you, Cleve?" TV