April 18, 2014

Good Friday with Bishop Sheen

I often make the point on these pages of how much things have changed over the years, not only in television but culture in general.

Bishop Fulton J. Sheen's Life Is Worth Living ran on DuMont, ABC and in syndication from the early 1950s through the late 1960s.  Blessed with a sharp mind, a whimsical sense of humor and a gift of gab, Bishop Sheen brought his ecumenical message to millions of viewers each week; as Brooks and Marsh put it in their Complete Guide to Prime Time Programming, the word "homily" would be strong for the friendly, accessible talks from the good Bishop.

A half-hour of religious programming in prime time on a national broadcast network would be unthinkable today - that pretty much goes without saying.  And while that is one measure of the change in television between then and now, it's actually another point that I'm thinking of: the idea of a "talking head" as entertainment programming.

There were no fancy graphics, no special effects, on Life is Worth Living; the closest thing being the invisible "angel" (actually a stagehand) responsible for erasing the blackboard Sheen used to illustrate his points.  People watched and enjoyed that, week after week.  As someone wrote not long ago about the Dick Cavett shows, it hearkens back to a day when conversation was actually considered entertainment - and by that I mean actual, you know, talking, rather than shouting, interrupting, declaiming, insulting, offending, and what have you. Of all the changes we've seen in television over the years, I think this is one of the most underrated and underappreciated.

What we have here is either from Good Friday 1965 or 1956; I'm inclined to go with the earlier date, based on other episodes I've seen.  It was sponsored (as I recall from the version I have) by Progresso, and presented without commercial interruption (as was the norm with religious programming back then, even on network television.*)

*Even series like Studio One, when broadcasting religious-themed episodes such as "Pontius Pilate" and "The Nativity", would show them without interruption, instead grouping the commercials before and after the presentation.

Back tomorrow with another TV Guide blast from the past.

April 16, 2014

Odds and ends

Back in the day, TV networks used to fill their summer schedules with anthologies bearing such names as Summer Playhouse.  What they were was not a return to the days of Golden Age dramas; instead, they were a clearinghouse for networks to air unsold pilots.  Few of the episodes provided anything more than light entertainment, and most provided ample evidence of why they hadn't been picked up by anyone.

Today's column is a bit of a thrown-together collection of odds and ends, but that's where its similarity to Summer Playhouse ends - after all, we're talking about quality here!

First off, reader John, who asked a question about The Untouchables a few weeks ago, adds this wonderful footnote:
Gotta tell ya this story. In  Utica N. Y. in the early 70's there were two TV stations, WKTV 2  (NBC) & WUTR 20 (ABC). WKTV totally dominated the market, you know, a V vs a U. WUTR bought the Untouchables for $20 an episode - as opposed to nowdays 5 -8  Thousand $ an episode for Wheel of Fortune or Jepordy. For the first time WUTR beat WKTV in the ratings but only for the first half hour.  Still # 1 in the 2nd  half hour but took a sizable drop. Utica had a  heavily Italian population at the time. One of the local radio talk show host said it was because in the first half hour the Italians were winning!
Love that story!

And now a question from reader Erika, who writes:
I have a recording of my father-in-law Brian Reade talking about Aubrey Beardsley  on NBC TV. It's date is 1967 and it also features Vyvyan Holland, son of Oscar Wilde. It was given to Brian Reade by Tony Janak.

I am proposing to make an illustrated recording of this with some family and collected images.  Since you seem to know 'all about TV' I wonder if you foresee any legal problems with circulating this?
My first thought was that as long as it was being shared privately and not being produced for public sale, she was probably OK.  However, aside from a pre-law minor, I’m no expert in this area – anyone with some better ideas?  Please let me know either in the comments or via email.

And now for some quick hits:

Be sure and check out Comfort TV's article on "The Subversive Genius of Rocky and Bullwinkle," one of my favorite cartoons.  David is always well worth reading, and this is no exception.

Cult TV Blog has an interesting look at another of those 60s British series, Police Surgeon.  No, not the awful 70s syndicated version from Canada that was the plague of many a local station - this is the one that is widely seen as precursor to the fabulous Avengers.

Gotta run for now - back later this week!

April 12, 2014

This week in TV Guide: April 12, 1969

What's with the talk about the Academy Awards, you're thinking.  Wasn't that last month?  Why are you bringing it up now, in the middle of April?

Well, that's the way it used to be, back in the days when the only significant movie awards show besides the Oscars was the Golden Globes, and those were confined to an hour-long broadcast on the Andy Williams Show.  Back then, the Oscarcast was held in early April or late March, usually on a Monday night, and it was the only awards show for most people.  Now, it's just one of many.

TV Guide's take on the Oscars concerns the revamping of the show, under the direction of famed Broadway choreographer Gower Champion.  Bob Hope has been banished as host, to be replaced by ten "Friends of Oscar" who will share the emcee duties.  The venue has changed, from the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.  The dress code is relaxed, with black tie replacing white tie and tales.  He even proposed getting rid of the bleachers outside the auditorium, where the fans gather to watch the stars walk down the red carpet, but that was going too far in the eyes of many, and Champion eventually relents.

Dwight Whitney, writing the article, expresses an appropriate level of skepticism regarding Champion's plans.  After all the Academy Awards are now "an electronic monster which no one seems able to control on any level."  But, in the end, the broadcast comes off pretty well.  It's one of the longer broadcasts in recent years, checking in at what now would be considered a svelte two hours and 33 minutes, but it brings in good ratings, along with some surprise winners, and Champion is accorded a standing ovation when he arrives at the after-broadcast party.  As stagnant and dull as recent broadcasts have been, it's a pity we don't have another Gower Champion waiting somewhere in the wings.


No "Sullivan vs. The Palace" this week, even though we're in the right era for it.  Ed's preempted this week in favor of a variety special starring Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore, together again after the success of their famed sitcom.  There's still plenty to look at this week, though.  Lawrence Welk has a tribute to the Academy Awards*, consisting mostly of Oscar winners of the past.  Dinah Shore features in a special on NBC, with guests Lucille Ball, Rowan and Martin, and Diana Ross.  Opposite her, the Smothers Brothers welcome Mason Williams, Pat Paulsen, Biff Rose, Ike and Tina Turner, and Ralph Story.  Later in the week, Bob Hope and Dean Martin appear on NBC, the great Duke Ellington is on NET, and there's one of the ill-advised Thursday night showings of The Hollywood Palace.  (Diahann Carroll as hostess, with Mort Sahl, Richard Harris, the Checkmates Ltd., and her Julia co-stars Marc Copage and Michael Link.)

*Welk and the Oscars shared the same network, ABC.  Conicidence?

And on Monday night, The Monkees return to the airwaves in "a superpsychedelic hour" with guests including Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard.  The special isn't named, but it's the infamous "33⅓ Revolutions Per Monkee," which the always-reliable Wikipedia describes as "chaotic, both on-screen and off-screen,."  and was described by Peter Tork as being the television version of their equally infamous movie Head.  The network was said to have been so disappointed by the result that it scheduled the West Coast telecast opposite ABC's live broadcast of the Oscars.  (It was seen two hours before the Oscars in most areas.) But why talk more about it when you can see for yourself? The commentary track on this video is by Mickey Dolenz.


Sports:  NBC kicks off its Saturday afternoon Game of the Week with the San Francisco Giants taking on the San Diego Padres.  It's the first weekend for the new era of Major League Baseball - 12 teams in each league, two divisions, and playoffs.  Some would argue the game hasn't been the same since.

Both the NHL and the NBA are in their playoffs, so Sunday's matchups have yet to be determined.  The final two rounds of The Masters run on Saturday and Sunday, and there's a local telecast of the Twins playing the California Angels in Anaheim.  Otherwise, a pretty quiet week on the sports scene.

In honor of the opening of baseball season, Sunday night brings a rerun of one of the oldest, and least well-known, of the Peanuts specials.  Charlie Brown's All-Stars, which premiered in 1966, is an annual feature on CBS until 1972, and makes its last appearance on the network in 1982.  There was a big promo effort for the cartoon when it first came out; I remember the baseball caps with the "Charlie Brown's All-Stars" logo on the front, and there was a book version of the special (differing slightly from the televised version).  In the story, a company offers to sponsor Charlie Brown's team and provide them with real uniforms, but there's a catch: no girls and no dogs allowed on the team.  Charlie Brown refuses the offer, and then tells the team about it (without telling them why he turned the sponsor down).  Predictably, they heap abuse on him, until Linus and Schroeder step up to defend Charlie Brown, berating the girls for attacking him.  The idea of making females the heavies, along with the dated concept of girls not playing baseball, probably accounts for its disappearance from the rotation.

Some other quick hits: speaking as we were about pilots, there's a repeat of the TV-movie Prescription: Murder on Tuesday night.  Gene Barry, whom we loved in Burke's Law and is now appearing in The Name of the Game, stars as a doctor who's killed his wife.  The police are after him, of course, particularly one dogged detective who won't give up.  He's played by Peter Falk and his name is Columbo - might have heard of a series he later appeared in.

Barbara Bel Geddes makes a rare TV appearance on NBC's Daniel Boone Thursday night.  Her TV exposure will become considerably less rare in a few years, when she takes on a starring role in a series called Dallas.  Also Thursday is a CBS TV-movie entitled U.M.C., which stands for University Medical Center and is the pilot for a new fall series.  The movie stars Richard Bradford as Dr. Joe Gannon, with James Daly as his colleague Dr. Paul Lochner.  Daly, father of future TV-star Tyne Daly, stays with the project but Bradford, whom us classic TV fans will recognize from Man With a Suitcase, is replaced by Chad Everett when the series, now called Medical Center, makes its debut in September of 1969

By the way, do you find yourselves wondering if any of those shows would have been worth watching?  Well, if it were up to Dr. Frank Stanton, you'd have a little more information to go by when making your viewing decisions.  Stanton, the president of CBS, is advocating giving TV critics a chance to review shows before they're broadcast, ostensibly to warn of content that might seem "too risque or violent for younger audiences."  The other networks, NBC and ABC, are aghast at the idea; one says "What are sponsors and their agencies going to say the first time the critics blast a CBS show before anybody else has seen it?"

Many think Stanton is overreacting to the latest Congressional push against TV violence, and with talk of a ratings system continuing to grow, it may be that Stanton is proposing advance screenings as an alternative.  But when a CBS spokesman is asked when the previewing will start, he says not before next fall.  And as for NBC and ABC, "the betting was it'll never happen."

In this case, I think we can say "never" didn't last quite as long as those networks thought."  With a few exceptions, most shows are made available for preview nowadays; hence, all the TV critics who get a chance to sharpen their knives before airtime.  After all, how else would we know what to watch?


I wrote about Garry Moore a while back, in which the television star talked about wanting to do something "new and different."  Three years later, we get a closer look at the fall of Moore's career.  He's bored, to be blunt about it.  He's still under contact to CBS, and although he makes about $200,000 a year, CBS doesn't have (or doesn't want to have) anything for him to do.  Although he insists there are joys in his life (even though he doesn't name them), he laments that "I don't want a leftover life to lead."  But the fan mail has disappeared, he's seldom recognized anymore when he walks down the street, and the man who once had a radio show and two television series now has more time on his hands than he can count.

It's really a rather sad article.  Although he's only 54, he's aged dramatically in the two-plus years since his last CBS show went off the air; one executive says he looks closer to 70.  Moore wants to work, but nobody's interested in him - they tell him he appeals to the wrong demographic.  He'd like to do something substantial, "like CBS Reports," but the network doesn't mingle its news and entertainment divisions, and while he's under contract to CBS he's prohibited from appearing on other networks without their permission.  He's about to start a stint as host of the syndicated To Tell the Truth, which he'll stay with until 1977, and he's making guest appearances on shows like The Carol Burnett Show, but it's just not the same thing.  He says he's not bitter, just that "I'd like to be used somehow."

Garry Moore was a unique figure in television - he wasn't a singer (although he could sing) and wasn't an actor (although he could act).  Mostly, he played himself, on his variety show as well as his long run hosting I've Got a Secret.  In 1963 he was the highest paid entertainer on television, making $43,000 a week.  He was friendly and avuncular, and he put viewers at ease when they watched him, making them feel like his friends.  But as we know, the times are changing; CBS isn't far away from the "Rural Purge," and the people who have grown old with television are now seen as being too old for television.  As the song at the end of Paul Wilkes' article puts it, "oh, how the years have flown."


An interesting editorial on the front page, which makes a humorous point about how those years have flown: the editors declaim the state of modern language, and the new catch phrases that dominate: "hang-up," "blow your mind," "generation gap," "tell it like it is," and more.  "Are you up-tight about thel anguage orf the acid heads, the teeny-boppers and the flower children?" they ask.  "Would you, in short, think it groovy if the English language were discovered to be alive and well and living int he United States - its old turf?"

Humorous, as I say, but making a point.  "We are brought to a state of nausea whenever we hear or read one of these banal or crude or cloddish substitutes for thinking that are so horribly ubiquitous these days in broadcasting and in print."  I wonder if you couldn't make the same sort of statement today?  We don't write or even think in words so much anymore - it's more likely abbreviations, concepts, half-thoughts.  Such is the life of a post-literate society, though.  And it has consequences, which we see play out today with ever-increasing frequency: "people talking about commitment and value judgments" which they use as weapons against those who have the temerity to disagree with them.

Although this blog is about television, it's also about language, especially the written word.  I find there's a great deal of eloquence in writing about TV, even though I may only capture a fraction of its potential.  Television, and its history, has painted a vast panoply of imagery over the years, which words are uniquely suited to describe.  It's ironic, in that television is mostly a visual medium, one that's been blamed by many for leading to the death of the written word.  And yet millions of words have been, and continue to be, written about it, words oftentimes more powerful than those images they describe.  And as long as I'm writing It's About TV, I intend to keep looking for the beauty in those words, as well as the pictures which accompany them.

April 11, 2014

Race to Riches - 1967

This ring a bell with anyone?  It's from a late-60s series called Race to Riches.  This ad appeared in the Fayetteville, NY Bulletin, but Race to Riches was syndicated throughout the country, and I've found mention of it in many grocery store newspaper ads, not to mention the TV Guide.  In Minneapolis, the show appeared weekly on the independent station, WTCN, Channel 11.

I watched this show faithfully, because at six years of age I was already a racing buff.  The format of the show was simple, kind of like auto racing bingo: Over a 30-minute broadcast, highlights of a race would be shown.  At four points in the race, the standings would be shown, and you'd circle the number of the cars in the first four positions.  At the end of the broadcast, if you had four-in-a-row, either up and down, sideways or diagonally, you were a winner! Your prize: none other than S&H Green Stamps.

I realize I've seriously dated myself in several ways here, not only by giving you a good idea of how old I am (although I've always been pretty up-front with that for those of you who read between the lines), and by talking about Green Stamps.  It does not, however, mean that I'm ready for Social Security (not that there's anything wrong with that).

This show really does seem to come from a different era, as an example of the early interactivity of local television when Dialing for Dollars was a big deal and stores looked for ways to work with television to bring in customers.  It's somewhat odd, I think, that you can't find out much about it on the Web; there's no footage on YouTube, and the only mentions of it outside of the ads themselves (at least that I could find) have been in a handful of auto racing message boards.  Were it not for the ads, I might doubt my own memory and wonder if the show had ever existed.  Anyone out there with anything to add?

April 9, 2014

The magic of the past - what classic television tells us about ourselves

We all like classic television around here; that goes without saying.*  Besides the entertainment value, which is considerable, the shows of the past tell us something about ourselves and the times in which we watched them.  For example, it's often said of fans of Doctor Who that your favorite Doctor depends in large part on who was playing the role when you were growing up.

*If you don't, there are better places to hang around .  Trust me.

In a perceptive article at the AV Club, Brandon Nowalk writes about discovering a brand new world, one he scarcely knew existed:*
Late one night a couple of years ago, I stumbled upon an exciting new channel out in the back alleys of my cable package. That’s when I first laid eyes on Peter Gunn, which was exotic even apart from its shadowy look and circus-murder hook. I was bewitched from the moment the carnival barker interrupts the mystery of a stranger draping a reticulated python around a woman in the shadows. And that was just the beginning. Practically the entire programming schedule was new to me—a shaggy case-of-the-week PI show, a small-town drama in the middle of its 13th season, a horror anthology grasping at Val Lewton.
*The articles to which Nowalk links are well worth reading as well.

In addition to Peter Gunn, the shows Nowalk was watching were The Rockford FilesGunsmoke, and Thriller - all shows new to Nowalk.  I know that may be hard for us to believe, steeped as we are in the minutiae of old television, but Nowalk was enchanted by the revelation, which is something that should make all of us happy.  Describing MeTV, the station on which all these shows appeared, Nowalk writes that "its lineup of reruns manages to rival the best slates of the 21st century."

Nowalk refers to this lack of familiarity with the shows of the past "television's cultural amnesia."
When television fans lose their familiarity with classic television, every little formal discrepancy—from black-and-white to a multi-camera format to more obviously stylized performance—leads to perceptions that older TV is dated. And that, in turn, leads to blanket dismissals.
Which brings me back to my initial paragraph.  It's reasonable to assume that we all have a bias toward the television of our own time, which is why today's viewers call Breaking Bad "the best drama television has ever had to offer" - which it might well be, but it's pretty hard to make that claim stick by ignoring the first sixty or so years of television's history. "Don’t we lose more than we gain by constantly promoting the new and hip at the expense of the old and unfamiliar?"

In addition to losing our knowledge of television's past, though, we run the risk of losing touch of our own cultural past.  I often point out how the shows of yesterday offer us a window to the world of yesterday - one which is only approximated in period shows such as Mad Men.  I suppose this isn't a real surprise, given that these kids nowadays think history started about ten minutes ago.  But looking at the shows from the 50s and 60s introduces us to a world of wonder, in which walking on the moon was a fantastic dream; a world of apprehension, in which the threat of nuclear annihilation was a real and present danger; a world of comfort, in which the two-parent family was the norm, and neighbors looked out for each other.  We look at the stereotypes of women and minorities and see how things have changed, we see cars and fashions and marvel how technology has evolved.  We see the small towns and byways of America in the 60s, and wonder at how completely different the country has become.  We see travelogues of distant lands, and dream of travel beyond our own homes.

This is our world - the world that has been shaped by generations past.  When we lose touch of it, we lose touch of ourselves.  It's part of the magic of classic television - the magic of memory.  It's like looking through a family scrapbook, where we can watch ourselves grow, and grow old.  When we suffer from amnesia, when we lose touch with our roots, we are the poorer for it, for as Nowalk writes in conclusion, "To the untraveled viewer, the horizon is endless. I highly recommend exploring."

April 5, 2014

This week in TV Guide: April 9, 1966

We're a hard lot to please, aren't we?  First we wonder when TV's going to give us new movies, and now we complain about the ones they won't let us see!  It sounds a lot more sinister (or provocative) than it really is.

For the most part, we're talking about movies that don't appear on TV because of rights problems of one kind or another, something we've gotten all too used to when it comes to the release of DVDs. The Cat and the Canary, a 1939 flick with Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard, 1947's Life With Father with William Powell, Irene Dunne and Elizabeth Taylor, and Irving Berlin's This Is the Army are among dozens of movies that have fallen victim to the inability to reach an agreement with the rights owners, usually the widows or estates of the authors.

Other movies are no-shows for various reasons: Anna and the King of Siam was kept from television so it wouldn't compete with its musical version, The King and I.  The Buccaneer, The Desert Song, and So Big are among films that the studios themselves have withheld in order to protect remakes.  And when movies are remade - Show Boat, Cimarron, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, for example - the originals are often shelved to avoid confusion, or have their names changed - the original State Fair, starring Dana Andrews and Jeanne Crain, became It Happened One Summer to differentiate it from the newer version, with Pat Boone.  Blockbusters from years past - Gone with the Wind, the Disney movies like Pinocchio, Bambi, Snow White - are re-released periodically, and as long as they continue to make money for their studios, they'll be MIA on TV.

Have no fear, though; there's confidence that many, if not all, of these movies will eventually make it to the small screen - one way or another.  For example, a note elsewhere in this issue tells us that ABC has just paid a reported $2 million for the rights to the Oscar-winning Bridge on the River Kwai.  I just checked: you can get it today at Amazon for $8.48 and watch it as often as you want.


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: Scheduled guests: comic Alan King; Count Basie and his band; dancer José Greco; actor Eddie Albert, who reads James Weldon Johnson's dramatic narrative "The Creation"; English comedian Richard Pryor; Brusini, a magician; and Anden's Poodles.

Palace: Host Gene Barry presents comedian Wally Cox; the singing McGuire Sisters; Dodger pitching stars Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, who join Milton Berle in a comedy sketch; Tim Conway, who portrays the inventor of a matchmaking machine; the Mamas and Papas; the Lenz Chimps; and the Hildalys, French high-wire motorcyclists.

Good lineups this week.  Most of you know I'm a Gene Barry fan, and Tim Conway is presumably is usually funny self.  Koufax and Drysdale are appearing during their joint holdout against the Los Angeles Dodgers, when they were trying to demonstrate to management that they had other options.  They didn't, and while Drysdale had a so-so year, Koufax went on to win 27 games with only a week's spring training.

But I'm going with Ed this week.  Alan King, whom I also like, Count Basie, who's always a must-see, José Greco, one of the great dancers of his time, and Eddie Albert - whom I'm not particularly a fan of, but Johnson's "The Creation" is an appropriate choice for Easter.  (And probably would have been better read by Tennessee Ernie Ford.)  I don't know about that "English" comedian Richard Pryor, though.  Can they be talking about him?  The verdict:  Sullivan.


Speaking of Easter - as was the case with last week's issue, this Sunday is Easter.  But whereas Easter Sunday 1958 was chock full of religious programming, it's a different story in 1966.  There's a morning concert of Easter music by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on CBS, a an afternoon music program on NBC, a presentation of the drama "The Easter Angel" on ABC, and "The Triumphant Hour," the story of the Resurrection (featuring Raymond Burr as Peter) on Family Theater.  Locally, the Gustavus Adolphus choir sings Easter music on Channel 4, as does the Spooner High School choir on Channel 10 in Duluth.  And that's about it.  There are a couple of local church services, but those are on every Sunday, Easter or not. Interesting, don't you think?

So what else is on Sunday?  Well, the Stanley Cup playoffs on NBC (joined in progress, as was the practice with Hockey Night in Canada until 1968), the NBA playoffs on ABC, and The Masters are on CBS (as they were last week).  And at 3pm CT on ABC, it's a repeat of Lady Bird Johnson's tour of Washington, DC, spotlighting her beautification campaign for the nation's capital.


I like to think of 1966 as a bit of a cultural watershed, at least on television, a time when the realities of the 60s and the remants of the 50s coexisted on our screens.  It's the final season for ABC's The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (which debuted on the network in 1952, and has made the transition to color for its final season) and The Donna Reed Show (which started on ABC in 1958), but it's clear that the traditional family sitcom is living on borrowed time.  At the same time, and on the same network, ABC Scope reports on "the war's effects on the Vietnamese peasant."  Although the war still has support from a majority of the American population, protest is in the air; later in the year Muhammad Ali will refuse military induction, and the next year Martin Luther King will come out against the war.  A series on NET called Radical Americans examines "the positions of campus leftists and the traditional members of the Communist Party and the Progressive Labor Party."  And those kids who are part of the post-Korea boom, the age portrayed on Ozzie and Harriet and Donna Reed, will be part of the revolution.

Children's programming still populates the after-school hours; Bozo, Popeye, Captain Atom, Casey and Roundhouse, Bart's Clubhouse among them.  Barbara Eden still can't show her naval in I Dream of Jeannie, and Lawrence Welk and his Music Makers still entertain on Saturday nights.  Cowboys, doctors and cops take up significant space on the nightly grid, along with ABC's pair of "adult" dramas, Peyton Place and The Long Hot Summer, starring this week's cover star, Roy Thinnes.  Combat and Twelve O'Clock High tell the story of World War II, while Gomer Pyle portrays life in the stateside camp, with nary a hint of Vietnam in the air, and Gunsmoke's stalwart Matt Dillon shares the network with the James Bondian stars of The Wild, Wild West.

The phrase "ln Living Color" is no longer uncommon, as all three networks have liberally integrated their lineups with colorcasts - and yet prime time has yet to fully convert from black and white, with shows from Secret Agent and I Dream of Jeannie to The Fugitive and F Troop yet to make the transition.  Individual stations face the same difficulties - joint NBC/ABC affiliate KCMT in Alexandria broadcasts color programs such as The FBI and Run For Your Life in black and white, and KSTP is the only Twin Cities station to air its local newscasts in color.  Of course, there are countless B&W programs in syndication from years past, shows like The Untouchables and Wanted - Dead or Alive that are part of the classic TV lexicon today, but remain a staple of local programming until the color era renders many of them obsolete.

An interesting time, don't you think?


A short note on sports - the Minnesota Twins have released their television schedule for the 1966 season. The team, coming off their 1965 American League pennant and heartbreaking World Series loss to the Koufax-led Los Angeles Dodgers, will be television a total of 50 games this season, four at home and 46 on the road.  By contrast, how many of the Twins games will be on TV this year?  I believe, including games that might be carried on national and regional telecasts, that number would be 162 - in other words, all of them.  Whereas Channel 11 was the flagship Twins broadcaster in 1966 (and for many years afterward), today's games are carried on OTA stations, cable networks, and more.

And the start date of the 1966 Twins season?  Opening Day, against the Kansas City Athletics, is April 19 - in contrast to this year's Twins opener, which was played on March 31.


Sometimes we run into those "where are they now" moments, when we read about someone who was supposed to become the Next Big Thing, someone that we've never heard of and has an IMDb listing of one or two lines.  An example would be heavyweight boxer Jim Beattie, featured in Friday night's ABC documentary "The Big Guy".  The show covers Beattie's preparation for an upcoming fight against journeyman Dick Wipperman.  Beattie, who weighs in at 6' 9" and 240, is touted as a future contender for the heavyweight crown, but his career never really fulfills that early promise - he retires in 1979 with a record of 40-10, with his closest whiff of the crown coming in the 1970 James Earl Jones movie The Great White Hope, where Beattie plays "the Kid."

By contrast, later that night NET features a concert by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Zubin Mehta.  Mehta is only 29 and is viewed as a rising star, and that view more than comes to fruition.  Over the course of a long and successful career, Mehta becomes the Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, holding the position for longer than anyone else, and wins additional fame for his appearances conducting the Three Tenors.  For his work with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and others, he receives a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  And to top it off, he's married to TV and film star Nancy Kovack.


The ratings system has been a bone of contention almost from the beginning of television.  Throughout these TV Guides, one reads of complaints from creative artists, producers, viewers and critics about the pernicious influence of ratings, particularly the tendency of networks to dumb down programming in order to attract the lowest common denominator.  One look at 1966's programs would tend to reinforce this thought, from the cornpone humor of The Beverly Hillbillies to the escapism of Jeannie and Batman.  Some of the shows are more intelligent, more literate, than others, but nobody's calling 1966 a new Golden Age of Television. I can only imagine that this next story must add some fuel to the fire.

Seems that a man named Rex Sparger is admitting - boasting, if you want to be honest - about how he rigged television's ratings four separate times.  Sparger, who's currently the object of a $1,500,000 lawsuit by A.C. Nielsen as well as a subject of interest to the FCC and various members of Congress, allegedly mailed questionnaires to 58 Nielsen families, accompanied by $3 and a request to watch Carol Channing's recent ABC variety special, with the promise of an additional $5 if they complete and return the questionnaire.  In addition to the Channing show, he lays claim to rigging the ratings of Bob Hope's Vietnam show and two other programs he won't name - "I want to see if Nielsen can find out which ones they were."

Sparger says he did it "to expose the ratings and to obtain material for a book he's writing, 'How to Rig TV Ratings for Fun and Profit."  Eventually, as Hugh Beville's book Audience Ratings documents, Sparger admitted everything "and was enjoined from writing or publishing books or articles referring directly or indirectly to Nielsen without referring them to [the accounting firm] Ernst & Ernst" which would check said writing for "false and libelous" statements about the company.  In return, Nielsen dropped the claim for punitive damages.

Which, I suppose, explains why How to Rig TV Ratings for Fun and Profit doesn't show up at Amazon.