May 26, 2018

This week in TV Guide: May 27, 1967

I'm baaack!

Now this may be good news or bad news, depending on how you look at things - but admit it, you're glad to see new material, aren't you?

This week we're looking at the many faces of America, starting with Edith Efron's provocative profile of Diahann Carroll, "who has been torn since childhood by the magnetic pull of two worlds - the world of Black and of White." It's a somewhat predictable struggle in 1960s America - you might remember reading about Lloyd Haines, among other black celebrities, offering his feelings on the subject - but Carroll's approach is a different one. "The conflict first took the form of music," she tells Efron. "The music we all listened and danced to, rhythm and blues. . . . I never sang that kind of music. I never had a jazz feeling, a blues feeling, and I still don't. I had a very strong resistance to that kind of music because it was racial. I saw the other kind, my kind, as a move to assimilate. I sang popular music, songs like 'Over the Rainbow.' But I kept it secret. It didn't belong."

The struggle became one in which she tried to hold on to her racial and cultural roots while looking to succeed in the world in which she was more comfortable, that of "the white world of show business." It's not that she hasn't experienced discrimination, which she calls a "horror" that's "enough to drive you up the wall." However, she believes racism is a street that runs two ways. "Someone said, at a party recently, that Leontyne Price was hampered by her racial background, that she had no racial contact with European music. A Negro said that - can you imagine! I felt the whole idea was wrong. I went home and played a group of records, women whose voices were unfamiliar to me, to see if I could tell that Leontyne Price was Negro. Of course I couldn't tell the difference!"

Her interests now have turned to the heritage of Western Civilization, to understand classical music. She puts her work first, where she can be "Diahann first and Negro second." It's a difficult battle, she says. "It's so terrible to have fears you don't dare to examine, it's a source of real peace for me to say the unsaid.

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And then there's the face of America being presented to the British, as discussed by Robert Musel, an American corresponded for UPI based in Europe,* who says it's "more a caricature than a portrait." Thinking of the anti-American sentiment in Britain and other European countries, Musel observes that "As an American based in Britain, I find it just as hard to identify with the America and the Americans I see endlessly examined on British television."

*Musel was a lyricist as well as reporter, and is also credited with coining the Elvis Presley nickname "Elvis the Pelvis."

The America seen by Britons, thanks to the documentaries they're fed by the BBC's two stations, portray us as "brash, vulgar, aggressive, crude, warlike, nonintellectual, money-mad, sex-crazy, rat-racing, ulcerous," which, when you think of it, sounds a lot like the way we're portrayed today. The programs aired in Britain have an almost obsessive focus on race relations, for example (and, according to Musel, their coverage of the problems is very good) - but they ignore the fact that more blacks get higher education in America than whites do in England. They report on the high cost of living here, while skipping over how in relation to salaries earned the U.S. is generally cheaper than England. And of course, the BBC is extremely hard on America over the Vietnam War, consistently taking the side of the Vietcong and taking for granted the truth of any anti-American comment than any expert has to offer. Says one American official, "We don't want the British to like us necessarily. But we'd like them to understand us."

Paul Fox, head of public affairs for the BBC, replies, again, with a comment that wouldn't be out of place in today's discussions. "Balanced television is nontelevision. We've really gone out of that age. That's Stone-Age television." In response to American criticism of the accuracy of such shows, he notes that this is what one would expect an American to do." I find these comments quite interesting considering the reputation the Beeb has gotten over the past few years, the accusations of an extreme left-wing bias in their news-reporting departments. To be fair, Fox is one of the most respected figures in television, even by Americans. He grants that the country is far more open in allowing criticism of it than most countries. And he's one of a number of British television figures offering that fictional American series often do more harm than good; Peyton Place, says one commentator, is probably regarded as normal American life by many people, and the more violent crime dramas do their part in giving a distorted picture of most American cities.

What to do? Peregrine Worsthorne - what a great name! - from the Telegraph newspapers says that television is still a young medium, one that has yet to develop elder statesmen to curb its "impetuous youth." He views British reporting on Vietnam as "straight anti-American propaganda. To some extent this is attributable to fellow-traveling bias; but much more, in my view, to sheer ignorance on the part of the juvenile producers whose attitude to war is untempered by experience or knowledge."

Musel himself thinks a main ingredient may well be envy; this kind of coverage is "the natural penalty we pay for being the richest and most powerful nation on earth," and the British once received this same coverage themselves. He doesn't ask for puff-pieces; just credit for good intentions.

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While The Hollywood Palace is on summer break, ABC filled the Saturday night time slog with Piccadilly Palace, a London-based variety show starring the iconic British comedy duo of Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, We'll stop in from time to time during the summer months to see who has the best lineup..

Sullivan: Scheduled guests are singers Robert Goulet and Jane Morgan, the rock 'n' rolling Temptations, English musical-comedy star Tessie O'Shea, the singing Doodletown Pipers, comedians Jack De Leon, Lee Tully and The Pickle Brothers, and puppet Topo Gigio.

Palace: Morecambe and Wise welcome England's rock 'n' rolling Hollies and singer Tom Jones, plus regular Millicent Martin.

I don't know how many times we'll run across this during the summer, with Piccadilly substituting for the regular Palace, but we might as well go with it whenever we have the chance. And this week it's short and sweet; despite the presence of Robert Goulet (remember those great "Mr. G" commercials he did for ESPN late in his life?), it's going to be tough to beat Tom Jones and the Hollies. As a matter of fact, this week it's impossible, even with Jack De Leon and Lee Tully. The trophy goes across the pond: it's the Palace, and that's not unusual.

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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. 

The Hollywood Palace isn't the only thing taking the summer off. Cleveland Amory, about to wrap up another television season, entertains us this week with some choice Letters to the Editor written about him intended to point out his various shortcomings as a critic and, in some cases, a human being. Our Critic is nothing if not serene in the confidence of his own correctness, however, so he never fears contrary opinions.

Take this missive from Dennis Colella of Little Falls, N.J.: "Dear Sir: Why don't you get rid of Cleveland Amory? He had better go back to college and learn to write an expository theme. I have never seen anyone twist facts and use minor ideas to criticize a TV show like Mr. Amory . . . I was always in the opinion that a review was supposed to be very general with no side comments unless backed by facts, or with no definite opinions formulated by the critics." [Welcome to the real world, Dennis.] A similar sentiment is expressed by Lydia Harvey of North Edwards, California, who asks "Dear Sir: What is it? That is the question I put before you. What is a Cleveland Amory? He never has anything good to say to anyone at any time, and that includes the article on Felony Squad. So, Mr. Amory, I say to you it will be your tough luck that Felony Squad will return next season." [Yes, but how many seasons did it run, and how many seasons did Cleve write about?]

Mrs. Mark A. Williams of Medford, Oregon is a little less personal in her comments: "TV Guide's review of Family Affair makes my blood boil. In my book this review is on a par with an attack on motherhood." Perhaps the most incomprehensible letter is addressed to Amory himself: "You must think you are some article writer. What you are is a 5 year old Baby! Just becuase a GOOD show comes on TV, you have to knock it. You think you are a expert of judging shows. You are T.H.E. WORST!!! Rango is one of the BEST shows on TV. The trouble is that you are JEALOUS of Rango!" It's signed "YEA! RANGO! YEA! RANGO!" Rango, I should note, was a western comedy starring Tim Conway, and ran on ABC from January 13 to September 1, 1967. I do hope this letter writer wasn't too destroyed when it was cancelled.

Not all is lost, though. Karen Tucker of Fulton, N.Y., tells Cleve "I have just finished reading the review of The Time Tunnel. Anyone who can be very enjoyable, even while degrading one's favorite program, should continue to have the column as long as TV Guide exists. Mr. Amory, you're the greatest." Says Amory, "keep that letter coming."

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This is history?
We're also looking at the latest depiction of the wild west, in a humorous essay by Ronald Searle, the great satirical cartoonist whose illustrations appear on the cover and accompanying his story. (British TV fans might recognize him as the author of those brilliant cartoons during the opening and closing credits of Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister.)

His topic: how "the excessively romanticized misrepresentation of historical events" found in popular culture - until, that is, the debut of F Troop. "For with the generous cooperation of both the Hekawi and the Shug tribes, we can see, week by week, a virtual on-the-spot portrait of frontier life as it was lived in everyday terms."

"Honesty is the byword," writes Searle with a fine excess of drama - "if one can honestly get away with inefficiency, blackmail, embezzlement, bare-faced robbery, lying, cheating, seduction, procrastination and ducking out of a fight, one has got through the day graciously. In other words, this series has heart." In other words, I'd add, absolutely nothing has changed since then.

In calling F Troop "the funniest ideas to have hit television in years," Searle is, I think, lampooning not only the excess of John Ford-type westerns of the past, he's poking fun at the way in which we present history in popular entertainment. In its own way, F Troop is about as realistic as other historical dramas - just in the opposite direction. If you're going to do it, you might has well have fun!

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The Indianapolis 500 is this week, although you won't see it live on TV Memorial Day. No, the 500 mile race hasn't even made it to same-day broadcasting on ABC, let alone a live telecast. There are only two ways to keep track of this year's race: buy a ticket and watch the live closed-circuit broadcast in a local movie theater, or listen to Sid Collins call the race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway radio network. That's what I, along with millions worldwide, used to do back in the day; I still watch the broadcast with the sound turned down to listen to the superior radio coverage.

No, the only way you'd know about the race is because of the 500 Festival Parade, telecast live from Indianapolis on Sunday afternoon at 4:00 p.m.CT and hosted by James Garner, a actor with impeccable racing credentials going back to the movie Grand Prix. Minneapolis didn't get to see the live syndicated coverage; WCCO, Channel 4, shows it at 9:00 a.m. on Memorial Day - which, you'll remember, was May 30 until 1971 - and I think showing it on Tuesday is just fine by me.

Let's see, some other things on this week: At 5:00 p.m. Sunday, CBS's The 21st Century presents "The Communications Explosion," showing the changes in store due to satellites, laser beams, and computers - including one that sings "On a Bicycle Built for Two." And no, it's not a coincidence. Another milestone on CBS Monday: the debut of Coronet Blue - as the listing says, "This series was originally intended for the 1965-66 season, but CBS shelved it, and the 11 episodes are being telecast for the first time this summer." I wonder if they had any idea it would become a cult hit.

A while back I mentioned the premiere of The Las Vegas Show, Bill Dana's two-hour late night variety show. It shows up here on a couple of CBS affiliates; KDAL in Duluth carries it at 10:30 p.m., head-on against Carson and Bishop, while WCCO shows it at 12:40 a.m., after a rerun of Marshal Dillon and a movie.

Tuesday is Memorial Day, but WTCN, Channel 11, seems to have their wires crossed - at 10:30 a.m. they're showing Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker," the same version they usually show at Christmastime. They have a nice recovery, though, showing the Twins-Yankees game from Yankee Stadium along with the rest of the Twins television network, starting at noon, while at 4:30 p.m., KSTP has live coverage of the Jersey Derby horse race from Garden State Park in New Jersey. Tuesday evening, CBS carries a 90-minute drama special, Sir John Gielgud starring as Ivanov in Chekhov's famed play of the same name.

Finally, Friday night  at 7:30 p.m. NBC airs what amounts to an hour-long infomercial for the latest James Bond movie, You Only Live Twice. This isn't the first time NBC's done this - they had a similar special, The Incredible World of James Bond, back in November 1965, promoting Thunderball. That special was the highest rated show of the week, and I wouldn't be surprised if this one does the same thing. Would you bet against Sean Connery? TV  

May 25, 2018

Around the dial

See that picture up there? Now that's the house I would have liked to have grown up in! Anyway, on to this week's highlights.

At Thrilling Days of Yesterday, Ivan has a truly captivating review of the latest 3-disc set of the 1960s Jackie Gleason Show, put out by Time-Life. I'm old enough to remember this iteration of the Gleason show, though I was young enough at the time that not much of it stuck in my memory. Ivan captures the spirit of the show in his review, though - go read it and see if it makes you want to buy the set.

Inner Toob has the latest on the remake of Magnum, P.I., with Jay Hernandez in the Sellick role. Now, I know what you're thinking - I'm going to rag on another remake of a classic series because I live in the past and can't stand updating the old shows. Well, that's partly right, I'll grant you that. But this typifies the laziness that I see infiltrating television everywhere (and that's nothing new, either) - I mean, what is the point? For those with fond memories of the old show (and I wasn't really a fan, by the way, although I didn't dislike it), why ruin them? And if you're changing enough that you're not going to attract the old fans, then why remake it in the first place? Aren't there enough places in the world to set a private detective drama? Or doesn't the new Hawaii Five-0 pay for the studio?

In a similar vein, Comfort TV asks the question: can new episodes of classic television shows work? Most often they don't (remember the remake of Family Affair? I didn't think so), but on occasion, as with the new Will & Grace and Roseanne, they can strike paydirt. I think it helps to have members of the original cast, but as I said above, I'm leery about something like this unless it can give you something the original couldn't, or didn't, have. The key, as David says, is that "the new episodes [stay] true to what made the source material successful, with no self-awareness, no casting or scripts based on 21st century sensibilities, and no winking at the audience."

"The Day of the Bullet." an atmospheric Stanley Ellin story of two young friends and the divergent paths their lives take, is the latest episode of The Hitchcock Project at bare-bones e-zine. As usual, Jack does a terrific job of taking us through the original short story and how it was adapted into one of the classics of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. 

The Twilight Zone Vortex is back with a a look at another issue of the old Twilight Zone Magazine. This time it's the 1981 Halloween edition, with book reviews by Theodore Sturgeon, Gahan Wilson's review of the movie Dragonslayer, the continuing episode guide by Marc Scott Zicree, a classic TZ screenplay from Rod Serling, and more!

Cult TV Blog takes a rare, but not unprecedented, look across the pond at American TV - this time, it's "Miracle Man," an episode from The X-Files. As was the case with Ivan's Gleason review, John really captures the essential nature of this episode - I think any great review is one that makes you want to see the episode, or read the book, or go out and watch the movie, and that's what this does. It's also nice to see a non-American's perspective of this episode and some of its provocative themes.

The great Clint Walker, star of Cheyenne, died earlier this week at the age of 90. He was a towering presence on television - tall, handsome, with a rich, deep voice. I read somewhere a comment from a man who remembered his girlfriend thinking that Walker was the most handsome man ever; the man didn't resent it because Walker was his hero, too. That's the kind of guy Clint Walker was. A Shroud of Thought has a fine appreciation of his life and career.

Although Roger Moore is The Saint, at least for my money, you can't not like the radio version of Leslie Charteris' famous character, played by the always suave Vincent Price. The Saint on the Radio is one of two new books by Ian Dickerson reviewed this week by Martin Grams; the other is Who Is The Falcoln?, referring to the movie series about Michael Arlen's "gentleman detective" played by George Sanders.

At the always-interesting Garroway at Large, Jodie reports progress on her biography of Dave Garroway, and gives us a fascinating look at the "what-ifs" - books that were never written, people who have since died, programs that no longer exist - that would have given us even more insight into the always interesting, often enigmatic Garroway. Another reason we should all be pack rats. TV  

May 23, 2018

The defense that never rests

Stick with me here - it may be slow going at first, but I think you'll agree the payoff is worth it.

Last week the Church celebrated Pentecost, the day in which the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles. There are many titles given to the Holy Spirit, depending on the religion, the region, and the language; one of the most common is Paraclete, which comes from the Greek word παράκλητος, or Parakletos, and roughly translates as, among other things, "Advocate," "Intercessor," or "called to one's aid in a court of justice." (The literal translation is "at one's side.") As the priest teaching our Bible study class said, "Think of the Paraclete as being like a defense attorney." And, of course, that got me to thinking.

The most famous defense attorney in the history of television, of course, is Perry Mason. Perry - Paraclete. Paraclete Mason. Similar, or at least uncanny. I'm not suggesting in any way that Erle Stanley Gardner had this in mind when he named his beloved literary creation; in fact, the name comes from the Perry Mason Company, publisher of Youth's Companion, one of Gardner's favorite magazines as a child.*

*I have to admit that when I had this thought, which came to me instantly, I had to stifle the urge to laugh out loud - which would have been very unbecoming in a Bible study class.

Still, as I've written before, we oftentimes play the role of inadvertent prophets, speaking the truth without even being aware of it. In this case, I can't think of a better name for the greatest defender of them all, I'd like to think that, somewhere in Greece, someone who knows about the show could hear the name "Paraclete Mason" and smile. Or even laugh out loud. TV  

May 21, 2018

What's on TV? Wednesday, May 25, 1966

As was the case with last week's "encore presentation," I was not doing a "What's on TV?" feature back when Saturday's TV Guide story was first run, so this is brand-new. We're looking once again at the Minnesota State Edition, and you'll notice a few things that call out for attention. WTCN, Channel 11, has yet to incorporate colorcasts of Minnesota Twins baseball on a regular basis. (I'm sure there's someone out there who could tell us when that started.)

At 3:25 p.m., ABC has Arlene Dahl's Beauty Spot, a five-minute segment featuring the actress giving beauty tips. Although the program ran in color, the existing copy is in black-and-white.

And one of the guests on Today is famed architect Philip Johnson, who coordinated the design of Lincoln Center, Rev. Robert Schuller's Crystal Cathedral (now the Christ Cathedral) in Garden Grove, California, and the iconic IDS Center in my hometown of Minneapolis. The IDS was by far the tallest building in Minneapolis when it went up in the early 70s; we're so passive-aggressive about these things that for years no other building would attempt to top its height, but would always wind up a foot or two shorter than IDS. That's Minnesota for you.

May 19, 2018

This week in TV Guide: May 21, 1966

Here's another encore presentation, which is a fancy way of describing how I've simply repeated a piece from five years ago. Fear not; we'll return with something new next week, just in time for the long Memorial Day weekend!

Lately I've been checking out Mr. Lucky, a show I'd never seen before, which has been running on MeTV.  Mr. Lucky, produced by Blake Edwards and starring John Vivyan, ran for only one season in 1959 on CBS; it's a charming-enough piece of fluff, the story of an honest professional gambler running a floating casino, but the storylines are often flimsy and the tone a little too silly for my taste.  Had it gone in the direction of Edwards' other hit of the era, Peter Gunn, it might have had more staying power.

However, one of the pleasures of Mr. Lucky is Ross Martin as Lucky's partner Andamo, whose slightly cynical sense of humor often redeems questionable scenes.  And it's that same Ross Martin who shares the cover of this week's TV Guide with his Wild Wild West co-star Robert Conrad.  

Although Conrad was the focal point of the CBS series, it was Martin's performance as Artemus Gordon, master of disguise, that I always appreciated.  After many years in the business, Martin, an exceptionally talented actor, has resigned himself to the fact that he'll never be the star, the heroic romantic lead.  "I can't say I'm happy being a second banana," he says, although he concedes that the role of Gordon, in which he eventually plays over 100 different characters, is "a show-off's showcase!"  He has a friendly but somewhat guarded relationship with Conrad, as he did with Vivyan on Mr. Lucky, but has the admiration of his colleagues.

Although The Wild Wild West was Martin's best-known role, he remained working in television (including two subsequent West movie sequels) until his death from a heart attack in 1981.

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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..

Ed Sullivan: Scheduled guests: singers Maria Cole and Nancy Sinatra; Metropolitan Opera baritone Robert Merrill; the comedy teams of Allen and Rossi, and Stiller and Meara; Elva Miller, a housewife-turned-singer; and the West Point Glee Club.

Hollywood Palace:  Host Bing Crosby introduces comedian Shelly Berman; singer Leslie Uggams; lyricist Johnny Mercer; the singing King Family; the Three Mecners, Polish acrobats; Mac Ronay, French comic magician; and British vaudevillians Pat Daly and Bill Wayne.

On the one hand you have the great Robert Merrill, the occasionally funny Stiller and Meara, the funny-then-but-not-so-much-now Allen and Rossi; on the other you have Bing Crosby, Shelly Berman and Johnny Mercer.  Almost a push, but not quite, so we'll Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive. The verdict: Palace.

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Seagram's ads were a staple of sports coverage in the 60s
Some fascinating similarities in the sports coverage from this week, compared to the 1958 TV Guide we looked at a couple of weeks ago.  Let's take a look at them.

This week, as was the case two weeks ago, horse racing was a big event.  Then it was the Kentucky Derby; this week it's the Preakness Stakes, second jewel of the Triple Crown.  And just as Tim Tam would win the Derby and Preakness in 1958 before falling short in the Belmont, Kauai King would win the Derby and Preakness in 1966, only to have his Triple Crown hopes dashed with a fourth place finish in the Belmont three weeks hence.

That TV Guide from two weeks ago featured a championship boxing match on ABC; so does this one. Then, it was the lightweight title bout between Joe Brown and Ralph Dupas; this week, ABC's Wide World of Sports brings us an even bigger fight - Cassius Clay, defending his world heavyweight title against England's champ Henry Cooper, live via satellite from Arsenal Stadium in London.  As I'd mentioned a couple of months ago, boxing was an irregular prime-time performer on network TV by the 60s, but it maintained a steady presence on Wide World - as did its favorite boxer, the soon-to-be-known-as Muhammad Ali.  Ali was good to Wide World, and the show was good to him.

Cooper was thought to have a real chance - he'd knocked Clay down in their previous fight in 1963 before Clay rallied to win.  This time, though, the champ would open up a cut above Cooper's left eye (which would later require 12 stitches to close), and the referee would stop the bout in the sixth round, with Clay retaining his title.

And, now as then, there were a pair of baseball games on Saturday afternoon; now, as then, the Yankees and Indians were involved, though not playing each other.  NBC's Game of the Week has Cleveland taking on the Chicago White Sox, while the Minnesota Twins play the Yankees in Channel 11's Twins broadcast.

There's even bowling on Sunday, as the CBS Bowling Classic kicks off its season on Sports Spectacular.  However, since 1958 we've learned that Sunday afternoons are meant to be filled with sports, so the keglers have to share the limelight with another Twins game, pocket billiards (!), and the final round of the Colonial Invitational golf tournament from Fort Worth (won by Bruce Devlin, in case you're interested).

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Speaking of sports, there's another article of interest in this issue, notable as much for what it doesn't say as for what it does.  It's Neil Hickey's "Is There An Athletic Gap?", a look at Sunday night's NBC documentary The Russian Sports Revolution.  The question on everyone's mind is why the Soviets have become such a athletic superpower.  The reasons given are the standard ones: special training for promising athletes identified at a young age to be groomed for success, governed and subsidized by a government organization called the All-Union Committee for Physical Culture and Sport.  "It's a sports-crazy country," sportscaster Jim Simpson says, and international success by Soviet teams and individuals has become a prime weapon in the ongoing Cold War.

Accepting the idea that the Soviet system has its advantages, how can the Americans hope to compete?  The ongoing rivalry between the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and the NCAA is blamed for much of the nation's problems.  "We have such a hit-and-miss, shoddy athletic system here it's unbelievable," Simpson says.  A special Senate committee investigation produces such a gloomy prognosis that Vice President Humphrey appoints a special arbitration committee in hopes of resolving the intra-organizational dispute.

Doubtless all of this was true, but we now know much more, including the preponderance of performance-enhancing drugs that were used by Eastern bloc countries, especially East Germany.  Hormones, steroids, blood doping, and the like were thought responsible for as many as 10,000 athletes, many of whom had no idea they were being turned into addicts by their trainers and coaches.

There had always been rumors about what the Eastern Europeans were doing; I wonder if any of them made their way into NBC's broadcast?

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Scattered notes from the Teletype: Batman, after just one week, has hit the top 10 in Japan.  Johnny Carson begins a five-week vacation in July; Joey Bishop will guest host.  And Martin Landau has a recurring guest-star role in the new Mission: Impossible, playing a makeup artist who's a master of disguise.*

*Possibly a descendant of Artemus Gordon?

The thing is, if you watch the first season of M:I, you'll notice that Landau is in every episode, albeit listed as "Special Appearance by" - but how special can it be if he's there every week?  In fact, one of the reasons for Landau's expanded presence on the series was that star Steven Hill, an Orthodox Jew, refused to work after 4pm Friday until after sundown Saturday, and Landau's character, who in fact was only supposed to appear as one of several rotating guest stars, took up much of the slack.  (Indeed, in several episodes Landau's assignment has little to do with disguise.)  Landau himself refused to sign the typical contract in order to maintain availability for feature film work, and didn't become an actual "regular" until the second season - by which time Hill had been replaced by Peter Graves.

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In the fall of 1965 the Politz Media Service surveyed 4,020 viewers on their television preferences. Nothing particularly unusual about that; Nielsen's been doing it for quite a while.  What Politz did, however, was break down the results by various demographic characteristics*, and the results produced a number of surprises.

*I'm assuming, based on the amount of ink used on this article, that such extensive demographic profiling was fairly uncommon for the time.

For one thing, it appears that education level is not a defining characteristic when it comes to the most popular television programs.  Shows that might ordinarily be thought of as "low-brow" -  Red Skelton, Gomer Pyle, Lawrence Welk, Ed Sullivan and The Beverly Hillbillies were among the shows cited - were among the most popular programs for college graduates.

In search of an explanation for these seemingly counter-intuitive results, Herbert Kay Research, Inc. came up with some "tentative" conclusions, including: "People of high intelligence tend to like the same programs that people of lower intelligence like."  That sounds obvious considering the findings of the Politz poll, but it's interesting nonetheless; we've long heard about how television viewers don't really want intelligent programming.  Is this evidence of that, or do intelligent people watch "non-intelligent" shows because that's all that's on?

Ah, you might say, but intelligent shows don't get high ratings because there aren't enough smart people to watch them.  Everyone knows smart people have better things to do with their time than watch the boob tube!  But you'd be wrong - according to Kay Research, "proportionately more people of high intelligence than low were found among those who habitually watch a great deal of television."

I suppose you could argue that TV had already succeeded in dumbing down even the smartest audience.  But it's probably a question we'll never be able to answer.  TV  

May 16, 2018

G-Men vs. Commies

Efrem Zimbalist Jr., left, receives an award for "patriotic civilian service" from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, center, and Gen. William C. Westmoreland, Army chief of staff, in Washington, Dec. 4, 1968. (AP)
I've mentioned in the past that our Sunday night routine includes watching The FBI, starring the great Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. and a succession of partners, fighting criminals and making the country safe from Communism. Although J. Edgar Hoover never appeared in the show, his fingerprints - so to speak - are all over it, and it must break not only his heart but that of Zimbalist and everyone else who worked on the series to see the mess the Bureau has become. Therefore, let us think of happier times, when the FBI was seen as the shining light of American law enforcement. The following, a kind of compendium of past mentions of the show, is one of the essays included in my forthcoming book. 

Although J. Edgar Hoover first came to prominence with the FBI’s 1936 capture of gangster Alvin Karpis, “Public Enemy #1,” I think it’s safe to say that his real passion in life (at least from a law enforcement perspective) was protecting the nation from the threat of Communism. Hoover not only viewed Communism as the greatest danger to the stability of the American government, he also saw other groups (anti-war radicals, civil rights protesters) as working in tandem with the Reds, either intentionally or inadvertently, to undermine American democracy.

This was evident at the very start of The FBI. Right there in the show’s original opening credits, viewers were informed of the Bureau's mission: to “protect the innocent and identify the enemies of the United States Government.” That opening title scene was perfect, really; perhaps only the start of Perry Mason did a better job of summarizing what the show was all about. After a cold opening that gave us a look at the episode’s criminal, along with the case number and why he or she was wanted by the FBI, the scene dissolved into shots of Washington icons: the Capitol, the Washington Monument, and the Supreme Court, ending with a zoom-in on the Justice Department, home of the Bureau. Between that and the majestic theme, written by Bronislaw Kaper, it was enough to make you run right out there and sign up. I’m sure Hoover must have loved it.

Hoover and the FBI had had a brilliant public relations machine for years, dating back to radio programs such as I Was a Communist for the FBI, and favorable articles in the nation’s publications and periodicals. By the mid-60s, though, the Bureau was going through some tough times, what with the twin barrages brought by Vietnam and civil rights (and Hoover’s surveillance against leaders of both movements), and though the Bureau’s reputation was probably far above where it is today, a little good publicity couldn’t hurt. "We finally decided to clarify for the public what the FBI does," Cartha DeLoach, Hoover's #2, said. "We're simply an investigative agency. We can't protect people - like civil rights workers, for instance. There's some confusion about what we do and I hope this program will show people how we really work." Nicely played.

Over the years, Hoover had received many requests from television people interested in doing a weekly FBI series, and it’s been said that he personally wanted producer Quinn Martin, he of The Untouchables and The Fugitive, to be the one who did it. Martin had resisted the idea at first; he was, he said, "much more politically left of the FBI," but he eventually too up the challenge, and despite their political differences the two men liked each other and got along well.

A cynic might be tempted to dismiss The FBI as an entertaining piece of propaganda designed to show the Bureau in the best light possible, and in fact it does come across as a paragon of law enforcement, more interested in getting the guilty party than simply making a quick arrest (although ideally doing both); one of the highlights of each episode is when the fugitives realize the Feds are on their trail. “It’s one thing to have the cops after us,” one of them will always say to the other, “but now we’ve got the FBI out there.” It’s a sobering moment - from then on, no matter how much they may try, they know in their heart of hearts that the jig is up.

The perfect man to embody that philosophy was the show’s star, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. Hoover may not have hand-picked the cast on each week’s show, but the Bureau did have approval rights, and supposedly screened the background of every potential actor and actress who appeared in order to make sure they upheld the image that Hoover wanted projected. Over the years Zimbalist and Hoover became lifelong friends; every year, when the show’s production team would come out to the Capital to shoot some exterior shots establishing location, Hoover would have him come to his offices where they'd chat a bit, and then Zimbalist would address the agents, who cheered him as their hero. (At Hoover’s funeral in 1972, Zimbalist was seated in the FBI section.) For years afterward, Zimbalist recounted, men and women would come up to him, current or former FBI agents, and they would tell him of how watching him on the series had inspired their own career choice. It was humbling, he said, and how could it not be?

Give credit to Efrem, though, because his portrayal of special agent Lewis Erskine was an iconic one, the very definition of the hard-working, incorruptible FBI man. So identified was Zimbalist with the role that for the political satirist Art Buchwald he was the FBI; in a hilarious column about the first known wiretap (President Grant tells a Hooveresque surrogate “I want you to go to Boston and find out what Alexander Graham Bell is up to”) the agent registers in the hotel under the name of “Zimbalist”; another of his columns features an agent named “Efrem Zumgard.”

The FBI didn’t spend all its time fighting Communist agents; there was a fair share of bank robbers, kidnappers, corrupt union officials, organized crime bosses, and other lawbreakers whose nefarious activities took them across state lines (and therefore into the jurisdiction of the FBI); and Quinn Martin tended to shy away from hot-button issues such as civil rights (he was as sensitive to audience and sponsor reaction as anyone). It’s probably true, though, that the most frequent heavies were those who spoke with eastern European accents and preyed on the weaknesses of those who could be blackmailed into helping them – particularly if those people worked with Department of Defense contractors. Occasionally, you’d even meet a true believer, someone who of their own free will was involved in providing aid and comfort to the enemy, in the form of top secret information on a new missile guidance system which they hoped would lead to the victory of the peace-loving Soviets or Red Chinese.

No matter. The FBI always got their Commies.

As was the case with Mission: Impossible, The FBI had to adapt as the public began to adopt a more cynical attitude toward government, and in lieu of Communist agents, La Cosa Nostra became a favorite target. I wonder, though, if The FBI wasn’t one of the last dramas of the ‘70s to actually portray the war against Communism in a favorable light. Although several of the Red agents were given very complex treatments, with some of them even emerging as sympathetic characters, there was never the slightest suggestion that what they were doing could be ignored or excused. They were involved in espionage, and if they were Americans, they were also betraying their country. Neither the FBI nor The FBI thought much of that.

There was, in that day, great dignity – even nobility – in the idea of being a part of the world's greatest police organization, which brings us back once again to those opening credits. As much as anything, they showed us how the FBI was, even if it was never how it was. TV  

May 14, 2018

What's on TV: Thursday, May 18, 1961

I promised the TV listings would be new this week, and so they are. It is, I think, a pretty average day TV-wise, but as always what strikes me most from this time period is the local flavor of the programming. With national educational programming in its infancy, many of the shows on KTCA are locally produced, and, in particular, WCCO's daytime schedule is heavily local. That's not to say we don't have local programming today as well, but much of it has the feel of an infomercial, especially the features presented on what passes for local morning "news." Oh well. I think on the whole, you'll find these Minneapolis-St. Paul listings, as always, worth a read.