December 10, 2016

This week in TV Guide: December 10, 1977

Steady now, everyone. Before you get too excited, this week's cover story does not go into explicit detail on lewd and salacious scenes being trimmed for home consumption. There's no discussion about how much bare skin is appropriate, or whether or not a thrust under the sheets is acceptable. In observing the actions of CBS's Office of Program Practices, Eric Levin finds that the actual job of network censor is far more dry, and far less fascinating, than we at home might think.

What do we know about network censors? Well, if the team at CBS is any indication, they wear beards, they don't wear ties, they're relaxed, and they laugh a lot. They also spend a lot of time reviewing banal lines such as the following:

In the first script, a convict being taken to jail in leg irons tells his captor to go get a good meal and afterward pick him up, waiting at the roadside. "You can't miss me," he says. "I'll be the one with the dangling cuff." "And that ain't all," the cop quips. This, the group agreed, was a lewd reference to the convict's sexual organ. Not much had to be said. Here is the sum of it:

"Page five. Is it just my dirty mind?"

"No, we couldn't figure anything else that would be dangling."

"OK, that's going, going, gone."

Next, they looked at a scene in which several characters are discussing the remote possibility of an earthquake when suddenly the ground begins to shake. When the tremor passes, one man says to another, who has frozen in his tracks, "I thought you had to go to the bathroom." He responds, "I just did."

There was one sentence spoken about this line. "That's a little more bathroom than we want to go."

Other lines involve jokes about rape and prostitution, which they deem "not a valid source of humor." Adds one team member, "You make the jokes, you diminish the seriousness of the issue."

One problem, department director Jim Revard points out, is that "A lot of the producers seem to think their show is the only one on the air." It's true; "the department is responsible for the integrity of everything that appears on CBS, except news. Everything else, down to and including commercials." While one show might be able to get away with one joke about a hooker, say, if you multiply that joke by the number of shows on the network, all of a sudden CBS would be literally swimming in hooker jokes. It's also true that not all shows are judged the same; take the aforementioned hooker joke. If multiple shows do come up with similar angles, "we will often decide to give it to the show where we think it is most appropriate or natural, or where we have the most faith that the writers and directors will handle it well."

Violence is the other prime area of concern for Program Practices, and here it's typical to see a lot of give-and-take. A producer submitting a script with four acts of violence might be asked to "lose" one of them; if the plot makes that impossible, then they might have the next episode go lighter on violence. Even this counting system is going the way of the passenger pigeon, being retained only for the network's established action/adventure series, according to VP Van Gordon Sauter (future head of CBS News*). "It's misleading. It equates a pie in the face with a slap in the face with a bullet in the face. It's too inflexible." What's important, he says, is not the count, but the "overall tone of the program."

*And, in the small world that it is, brother-in-law of California Governor Jerry Brown.

When asked what the ideal qualifications for a censor are, director Paul Bogrow says the most important is intelligence. Zealous, supercharged prudes are rejected immediately,. "We don't want anyone who is eager to go out swinging a club on behalf of some personal, absolute moral standard," he says.

I'm sure there must still be network censors around today, and while I suspect their jobs are just as dry as they were back in 1977, it's a good bet that there are some dramatic differences as well. The allowable degree of permissiveness is far greater now than it was then, and they're probably being asked to make judgments that would have been unthinkable 40 years ago. Still, although it may be a dirty job (no pun intended), someone still has to do it.

***

This week's editorial, "As We See It," consists of a guest column written by the late Bing Crosby for his friend, columnist James Bacon, shortly before his death. It seems to tie in nicely with the week's cover story, in that Crosby writes about the state of television today.

"I was laid up for five or six weeks lately - hospitalized - and, of course, I saw lots and lots of TV. It became apparent to me that very slowly and very subtly writers and producers are working in nudity, permissiveness, irresponsibility, profanity, scenes of semiexplicit sex, provocative dialogue, smutty innuendos and situations into their shows. Moral responsibility is almost indiscernible."

The First Amendment doesn't apply in cases like this, Crosby says. "A citizen can say or do anything he wants out on the street unless he breaks the law, but he shouldn't be allowed to come into a man's house and fill his TV set with prurient material." Crosby's fear is for the effect such programming will have on children, who are susceptible to "anything they see in a film done by attractive, famous people."

He then makes a point that I bring up here, a political point. Crosby, as you may know, was politically a liberal, a supporter of FDR, a fervent proponent of equality. As a Catholic, he was educated by the Jesuits, not the most conservative of Catholic orders.* And yet what follows would undeniably be classified as right-wing in today's culture wars, perhaps even categorized as hate speech. "I happen to believe that the family is the basis for a strong society," Crosby writes. "A good strong society makes for a good strong community, and you get enough good strong communities and you've got a strong nation."

*As we see with the current pope.

Many people, when they find out I write about television and its relationship to culture, ask me about what I see as the eternal chicken-egg question: does culture influence what we see on TV, or does TV shape what we see in culture? Crosby's conclusion is as good an answer to that as anything. When he raised all of these concerns with a TV executive, the man replied, "We're only depicting life as it is." Says Crosby, "I fear that they are depicting life as it is going to be if they are not diverted."

***

There are only 15 days until Christmas as the week begins, which means the holiday programming season is in full swing - in fact, it's probably starting to wind down by the end of the week. What good is a Christmas program, after all, if it's too late to purchase the products being advertised on it?

Ah, that was cynical, wasn't it?

On Saturday, CBS hauls out two of it's venerable traditions, the animated specials How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Frosty the Snowman, beginning at 8:00 p.m. ET. It simply would not be December without them, even though I'm not exactly sure who broadcasts them nowadays.

Saturday's highlight is ABC's broadcast of Rudolph's Shiny New Year, which strictly speaking isn't a Christmas program at all, even if Billie Richards is back to reprise her role as the voice of Rudolph. In fact, it's all about Rudolph's search for Happy, the Baby New Year - and if this sounds a little lame to you, keep in mind that it's the best ABC can do, seeing as how CBS has the rights to the original Rudolph, which was broadcast last week. That's followed by the made-for-TV premiere of It Happened One Christmas, a retelling of the It's a Wonderful Life story with the sexes flipped. Marlo Thomas stars in the Jimmy Stewart role, with Cloris Leachman as her guardian angel, and since the original movie isn't a favorite of mine to begin with, it sounds perfectly dreadful to me. The only exception is the casting of Orson Welles as Potter - inspired, to say the least, as long as Welles brings as much enthusiasm to the role as he does when he's hawking Paul Masson wine.

Perhaps the quintessential Christmas cartoon, A Charlie Brown Christmas, takes center stage on Monday. (8:00 p.m., CBS) My ardor for Charles Schulz and the Peanuts gang has faded somewhat over the years, but no matter how many times I see this cartoon, I never get tired of it. It's followed by 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, a cartoon narrated by Joel Grey, featuring the mice who weren't stirring in Clement Moore's poem. Meanwhile, the independent WDCA runs one of the more underrated Christmas movies, The Bishop's Wife, with Cary Grant oozing charm as an angel sent to help out the harrassed bishop David Nivel (who's almost as thick-headed as George Bailey, truth be told), and the bishop's wife, Loretta Young. Watch for a scene-stealing performance by Monty Woolley. NBC counters with Sunshine Christmas, a TV-move based on the 1975 series of the same name, starring Cliff DeYoung.

WDCA is back at 9:00 p.m. on Tuesday with my favorite Christmas movie, Miracle on 34th Street. You can read why I feel this way here; be sure to also read this, where I show what happens when the movies intersect with real life. And Wednesday's highlight is Perry Como's annual Christmas show (10:00 p.m., ABC); this year, the globe-trotting star does an "Olde English Christmas" with Petula Clark, Leo Sayer, Olympic figure skater John Curry, and the Boys Choir of St. Paul's Cathedral. However, in order to get to Perry, you'll first have to sit through the Bradford clan in the two-hour Eight is Enough Christmas special. You might be all right with that, though.

On Thursday, The Waltons, Welcome Back Kotter, and Jackie Gleason (on WBAL) all have Christmas-themed episodes, and Friday rounds out the week with Mikhail Baryshnokov's staging of The Nutcracker at 8:00 p.m. on PBS, going head-to-head with the Hallmark Hall of Fame's annual Christmas appearance - this time, "Have I Got a Christmas for You," the story of how members of a synagogue volunteer to fill in at jobs for Christians who would otherwise have to work on Christmas Eve. It stars Milton Berle, Harold Gould, Jim Backus, Adrienne Barbeau, Sheree North, and Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows, and compared to some of their more recent showings it sounds rather charming. CBS responds with a movie of its own, House Without a Christmas Tree, starring Jason Robards and Mildred Natwick, and sounds a bit too precious for my taste.

***

I mentioned a few movies above, but I really have to share with you Judith Crist's take on the week's major features, and she's in rare form this week. Take, for example, her review of W.C. Fields and Me (Saturday, NBC), the 1976 movie based on the book by Fields' mistress Carlotta Monti, and starring Rod Steiger as Fields, with Valerie Perrine as Carlotta. "The result," says Crist, "is a silly fiction," in which "Steiger emerges as 10th-rate Rich Little, with makeup - of the death-mask-and-Pan-Cake variety - that makes him look like an aged Van Johnson with a clown nose. Not only is the real Fields available to us on film, but also the facts of his life are better than any fiction the exploitation boys might concoct. The one they've come up with is a stupid and pointless slander."

Up next: "Stupidity is the hallmark of 1976's The Next Man (Wednesday, CBS), a Sean Connery thriller in which the erstwhile James Bond plays a Saudi Arabian (with a Scottish brogue!) who's signed a mutual assistance pact with Israel. The powers-that-be want him dead because of this, and dispatch an international hit woman, "a Bryn Mawr grad, a ruthless killer and a sexpot. Corneila Sharpe is the last, all right, though her nude scenes, alas, will be cut. Everything else in this mindless mess should have been." Ouch.

Then, there's The Golden Voyage of Sinbad from 1974 (Friday, ABC), a movie "that should be run on Saturday mornings for the little ones." Morning, because if you run it in the evening, not even Ray Harryhausen's special effects will keep them awake. "And the wisdom of the sages, including 'Trust in Allah but tie up your camel,' is highly missable."

The good news is that she had nothing bad to say about either It Happened One Christmas or Sunshine Christmas. Possible reason: they were unavailable for preview.

***

Edith Efron has a News Watch feature this week that was probably controversial then, and in light of this year's presidential campaign, would surely be so now. Her target: "the liberal feminist fiction of the Helpless Wife," and how nobody on television is challenging this absurd claptrap.

What Efron notes is the epidemic of abused women striking back at the men abusing them, in most cases their husbands. She draws a distinction between the Helpless Wife and the other favorite of news, talk shows and dramas: the rape victim. "Women assaulted by rapists are helpless and unwilling victims of male abuse," she says. "But wives of brutal husbands are not helpless and unwilling victims - they are voluntary victims."

All of them live in houses with front doors. They can walk out those doors at any moment. If they lack friends, family and funds, if they have children, and if, to boot, they are total incompetents, they can go to charities or welfare agencies, any one of which is preferable to being routinely beaten to a bloody pulp. But such women have not walked out their front doors. They've clung to the male brutes like limpets, often for years, consenting to bestial abuse, concealing it, lying about it. They've covered up appalling cruelty to children. They complicity of such women in their own victimization, their genuine guilt, is enormous. But on the "reality" shows I've seen, that point is not made.

That's a very stern indictment. Efron goes on to discuss the psychology of women in this situation, many of whom suffer from a fear of independence, of standing on their own two feet. Anything, including brutal assault, is preferable to that. The problem, she writes, is that only once has she seen this portrayed on television - in the drama Family. It never comes up in any of those "serious" programs, and there's a good reason why. "The liberal feminists want us to believe that the land is burstling with oppressed females who cannot help themselves and need huge new social programs and bureaucracies that the feminists, of course, will run. Whenever such a campaign is on, TV becomes the megaphone."

Efron recalls a recent Phil Donahue show in which a woman who had been abused by her husband for years - had even left him, only to return - had finally had enough, whereupon she burned her husband to death. At this revelation, "the audience of middle-class Philadelphia ladies gave her an explosive hand of applause." Even Donahue seemed taken aback by this, reminding that audience that they were applauding murder, at which a second ovation resulted. "Not only did they applaud murder, but they were hostile to the very notion that the woman had ever had any conscious choice or responsibility in the matter."

This idea, she stresses, is incredibly offensive and derogatory to women, suggesting that they are incapable of independent thought, unable to take any form of proactive action, save when they're pushed beyond the point of no return, and Efron wonders if they're being programmed, in a sense, to behave that way. "However wretched 'battered wives' may be, that has not been an act of compassion but an act of corruption. And signs of that corruption are now showing up in the culture."

It is time, Efron concludes, for TV to "make immaculately clear the difference between an authentic feminine victim of male oppression and a woman who has cooperated every step of the way in her own victimization." To deny that there is such a thing as female responsibility, she says, "is to dehumanize women."

I'm sure that today Edith Efron would be pilloried on college campuses as a self-loathing woman guilty of hate speech. That's only one reason I doubt we'd ever read anything like this in TV Guide today.

***

I realize, friends, that you might be tired of politics. It seems as if that's all we've lived with these last few months, and with Christmas almost upon us, you probably think it's time to give it a rest. As you know, I try not to dip into politics too much here, and when I do I usually give you forewarning.

I thought this issue was different, because in Crosby's editorial, Levin's article about censorship, and Efron's essay, we see a kind of issue-wide theme being developed, one that's more important than the weekly programming. In addition, all three of these articles touch on issues that remain part of the political dialogue today. In looking at them, we see how things change, and how they stay the same; I sometimes use this phrase in jest, but not here. This is a time capsule issue in a way, because it shows us with specificity what the issues of the time were, and how people thought about them back then. With our perspective, we can see how things have evolved - or devolved - since then.

December 9, 2016

Around the dial

And away we go with another week of classic TV blogging!

At Comfort TV, David kicks off the week with his continuing series of "best of" sitcom episodes, focusing this week on the 1960s. Some wonderful stuff there!

David's not the only one with a continuing series - Joanna at Christmas TV History has another in her contest on Christmas screen shots taken from TV episodes, specials and movies. How many can you get?

Let's stay with Joanna's page for a moment, because it's where you're going to find Some Polish American Guy's review of the Christmas episode "Silent Night, Unholy Night" on B.J. and the Bear.

The Richard Matheson novel Ride the Nightmare was adapted into a Season Eight episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. How well did it go? Check out bare-bones e zine for all the details.

There's also an episode review from The Twilight Zone Vortex, this one of the sinister Season Three episode "One More Pallbearer," with Joseph Wiseman.

If it's Christmastime, then it's time for Lileks to take his annual pop at Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, with which I heartily agree, having done my own a few years ago. (Bonus: check out Lileks' article on Rudolph from National Review a couple of years ago.)

If you're looking for some post-Christmas gift ideas, Carol at Vote for Bob Crane has a holiday contest, where you can win a copy (signed!) of her terrific biography of Crane.

We all know that Saturday night television is a graveyard today; we also know that at one time Saturday night had some of the best programs on the air. At The Ringer, Alison Herman writes how Sunday nights - and all other nights, for that matter - might be headed the same way, thanks to your computer's browser.

I'm glad to hear John's (of Cult TV Blog) new job is going better than his old job - pray that it will be the same in my case. And while you're at it, read his take on John Thaw (Inspector Morse) and his early '60s series Redcap.

More links than usual? Perhaps, but more than enough for you to chew on until I'm back tomorrow, right?

December 7, 2016

The Lone Ranger, as seen on SCTV

Here's one of the more absurd concepts you're likely to see anytime soon: the Lone Ranger as host of his own late-night talk show, with Tonto as Ed McMahon. Only SCTV could have come up with something so utterly ridiculous, and funny. It's a nice reminder that it's good to laugh sometimes. (And yes, that's the Lone Ranger himself doing Carnac.)


A lot better than the Johnny Depp movie, don't you think? One of the commenters on this video remarks how, having grown up on this kind of show, he's now "substandard" for anything on contemporary television. I think it shows how uncreative so many of today's thinkers are, when "thinking outside the box" usually means stepping out of the cat litter - what's left behind is the same. Anyway, enjoy this short piece while I think of something more substantial (though probably less entertaining) to write about.

December 5, 2016

What's on TV? Monday, December 2, 1968

This week we turn to the Bay Area for our TV festival. It's December 2, but as we saw on Saturday, the televised holiday season isn't fully in swing yet. No matter; people still have to watch TV, and the networks oblige.

I don't have a lot of comments about our shows, although I will note the KPIX morning news programs, which feature Ron Magers. Magers was a legend in Minneapolis-St. Paul television, leading KSTP in battle against WCCO for local news supremacy. Eventually he headed on to Chicago, and was replaced in the hearts and minds of Twin Cities viewers by his brother Paul, who during his long local run made KARE the number one news station in the market, before he headed off to Southern California.

Also, did you notice the KPIX afternoon lineup? Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin back-to-back. Now that's talk-show television.


December 3, 2016

This week in TV Guide: November 30, 1968

According to the cover, this is "A Week of Big Specials," but as far as posterity is concerned, there's only one special this week, and it's spelled E-L-V-I-S.

The " '68 Comeback Special," as it's since come to be known, airs Tuesday at 9:00 p.m. PT on NBC, and as one of the full-page ads proclaims, it's "his first TV special. . . his first personal performance on TV in nearly 10 years!" It's not that The King had been idle all those years, of course; he made a lot of movies during that time, and then there was that stint in the Army. But the idea of Elvis the performer, rather than Elvis the actor or Elvis the personality, has been in remission; and with the music scene having changed so dramatically over those ten years - with the once-radical Presley now being seen as somewhat square - you can imagine the pressure that's riding on the outcome of this special. In anticipation, RCA has already released an album of music from the show (proclaimed in yet another full-page ad), so you get the point: this better be good.

In his feature article on the program, Dwight Whitney goes behind the scenes, writing of the promotional efforts made by Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker: holding a mass press conference involving 50 TV editors from around the country, asking Presley the same old questions (at one point, he's overheard muttering "Not that one again," under his breath in response to a query about whether small towns were still the backbone of his popularity); pressuring Whitney for "a signed statement guaranteeing Elvis the cover" (it was not, Whitney notes, forthcoming); working frantically to ensure that the audience for the "live" segment of the concert didn't include "too many oldish people," and all the time playing the role of the carnival huckster to perfection. And no wonder - this would be Presley's first live performance since 1961 - would he be up to it?

Was there ever a doubt? If so, Presley smashes it with a performance that shows that The King, indeed, is back. It's while Elvis, just feet away from where Whitney sits, is singing a song whose lyrics include I"m king of the jungle,/they call me Tiger Man./You cross my path/You take your own life in your ha-aaa-nds!!/You better believe it! that, he writes, "suddenly it dawns on me."

This is the real Elvis story. This is the language - the only language- he speaks, and he speaks it loud and clear. Old hat? Upstaged by the Beatles? Movie grosses slipping? Well, sure, but this man is a performer, one of half a dozen in America today who can step out on a stage and make it his. Nothing eclectic about him. He transcends any era. And he instinctively knows what's right for him.

And that, ultimately, is what it's all about, this '68 Comeback Special. Take away all the baubles and fancy suits and expensive cars, even take away Tom Parker, and what you're left with is - Elvis, "an American original." As one of his concert movies is entitled, "That's the way it is."

◊ ◊ ◊

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: Tentatively scheduled: Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass; comedians Jack Carter and Scoey Mitchell; and dancer Peter Gennaro.

Palace: Host Milton Berle presents comics Martha Raye, Joey Forman and Joe Besser; singer-dancer Barrie Chase; former gridiron star Roosevelt Grier; and the Third Wave, a teen-age quintet from the Phillippines.

That Sullivan lineup just doesn't sound complete, does it? And in fact, there is more to it than that. A quick internet search reveals that in addition to the listed guests, Ed also had Engelbert Humperdinck, Tiny Tim (singing "Great Balls of Fire" and "I'm Glad I'm a Boy"!), Gloria Loring, and actor David Hemmings, reciting Dylan Thomas poems. We have to give points to Herb and the gang doing seasonal music - "The Christmas Song" and "My Favorite Things." On the other hand, the Palace strikes me as exceedingly tired; Berle had bombed in his comeback effort last year, and aside from Barrie Chase and, probably, Third Wave (who are, after all, teens), there just isn't much energy here. Sullivan may not have his best lineup, but this week it's good enough.

◊ ◊ ◊

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. 

Every once in a while, one runs across a series of which there simply is no memory. This week, Cleveland Amory reviews one of those series: The Outcasts, what we would probably refer to today as a revisionist Western. It stars Don Murray and Otis Young as, respectively, a former slaveowner and a former slave, each of whom in the post-Civil War finds himself as an outcast. Thrown together by chance, the two wind up forming a team as bounty hunters. As I say, no memory of this whatsoever, and this is from someone who remembers It's About Time.

Obscure and short-lived (26 episodes) doesn't necessarily indicate a lack of quality though, and Amory was mightily impressed with the pilot, of which he said "There was good writing, both Young and Murray proved themselves star-quality series actors and there was  not only a fine performance by Slim Pickens but also a host of lovely little touches" that helped provide both grit and realism. He notes that future episodes have not lived up to that pilot, but "a couple have been almost as good." Even when the plots seem to stretch credulity, the show continually delivers those quality scripts and fine performances, and that's not nothing.

The series, notes the always-reliable Wikipedia, was not only the first Western to feature a black co-star*, it was cancelled after complaints of excessive violence - which we probably wouldn't think anything of today. At an easily-packaged 26 episodes, I'm a bit surprised this never made it to DVD.

*Perhaps a forerunner of Brisco County, Jr.?

◊ ◊ ◊

I mentioned earlier that the Tijuana Brass had a couple of holiday songs on the Sulivan show, but are there any other Christmas goodies for us as November turns to December?

Well, there's a big one: Friday at 7:30 p.m., NBC trots out the perennial favorite Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer. It seems that by 1968, Rudy has taken his place as the unofficial television kickoff to Christmas, so I'd expect more programs in store next week. Of course, it's anybody's guess as to whether or not we'l still be in 1968 next week.*

*I lie, of course. Actually, I've already written next week's piece, and I can authoritatively tell you that it may or may not be from December 7, 1968.

But, you sputter, what about the "Week of Big Specials"? The thing is (and there's always a thing), while the week between Thanksgiving and Christmas is often marked by blockbusters, they don't have to be holiday-themed to be of the time. Take Perry Como, for example. On Sunday night (10:00 p.m., NBC), Mr. C. makes his "only TV outing of the season," and there's nary a Yuletide tune to be found between Perry, Don Adams, Carol Burnett, and the Young Americans. There's also a note that the show would not be seen if the technicians' strike continued, so it's anyone's guess.

There are other things on which similarly lack the Christmas spirit, but which we've come to see as a staple of the season. On Saturday, ABC presents a college football doubleheader - two games that scream "end of the season." First up is the traditional Army-Navy game from Philadelphia, a game that by this time exists so far outside the regular college football scope that it isn't even listed in TV Guide as "College Football," but as "Army-Navy Game," as if it were somehow apart from regular football, or regular sports for that matter. That's followed by a game that's never been mistaken for anything other than big-time, Notre Dame vs. USC from Los Angeles.

Moving from the secular to the sacred, if not directly related to Christmas, at 9:30 p.m. on Thursday night, ABC presents an hour-long documentary on Michelangelo's frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, "one of the world's towering art treasures," narrated by Christopher Plummer and Zoe Caldwell. Great tagline in the ad for the show - "Michelangelo put his heart into the Sistine ceiling. Will you spend an hour looking at it?" Imagine how spectacular this would have been if they'd already restored the ceiling, as they have since. I think this fits the season pretty well.

What makes this a really special weekend, in addition to Elvis, are a couple of variety specials with rookies as hosts. On Sunday at 9:00 p.m., it's the vivacious Ann-Margaret, one of Elvis' old flames, with guest star Bob Hope and special appearances by Jack Benny and Danny Thomas. It's hard to believe this is her first special, but so it is. At the time, and for some time afterward, she was one of the most exciting performers anywhere, and if the cover is any indication, the show packs a wallop. I don't know why, but for some vague reason I feel as if I might have watched this. At eight years old, the obvious reasons would hardly have applied to me.

Nor would they have applied to Brigitte Bardot, the most unlikely host of a "French-produced, bilingual hour of song and travel" appearing on NBC immediately following Elvis. Miss Bardot's guests are singer-actor Sacha Distel, actor Serge Gainsbourg, and flamenco guitarist Manitas de Plata. Frankly, I've never thought of BB as a musical variety star - and I doubt those who saw that picture on the right thought so either. (The European censors had no problem with that shot appearing in the show; not so for NBC.) Her line in the promotions - "How would you like to spend an evening with me?" is undoubtedly considered a leading question.

◊ ◊ ◊

I ought to note one more of the specials mentioned on the cover - an edition of CBS Playhouse entitled "Saturday Adoption," airing Wednesday night at 9:00. I'm not so concerned with the story itself as with the folderol enwrapping it. It's yet another example of a network striving for the "youth" movement.

They trumpet, for example, that the story "puts the accent on youth, the leading players [Rick Gates and Eric Laneuville] are young unknowns, and the playwright, 23-year-old Ron Cowen, is the youngest writer to be commissioned by CBS." The plot itself revolves around race relations, what would be called white privileged today, and the hopelessness of the ghetto. I don't know whether or not the play's any good; Cowen's had what looks to be a fairly successful career, Rick Gates has had a serviceable career, and Eric Laneuville has done a lot of directing for television. The show was directed by Delbert Mann, who won an Oscar for Marty, so there's every possibility that it was good, but the publicity doesn't tell me it's good - it just uses the key words young, young young!

But for all the claims that "TV is waiting breathlessly for new, young, talented writers!" George Bamber isn't so sure. Looking back on his career, he remembers when he was relatively young (35), and relatively talented, even if he does say so himself, but he was caught in the eternal conundrum. You can't get writing credits without work, you can't get work if you don't have a recognized agent, and you can't get a recognized agent . . .unless you have credits!

The thing is (and there's that thing again), Bamber doesn't even blame them. "Today television is firmly entrenched, and doesn't want untried people. It is, after all, a business, and as such must justify its profits and losses." They are in the business of making a profit, and "[o]ne way of doing this is to deal with established writers." "Recently," Bamber writes, "a network announced that it would start an hour-long dramatic anthology that would feature the works of new writers. Later, they announced the names of the writers: Reginald Rose, Tad Mosel . . .I think Rod Serling was unavailable." Combine that with a note in the Teletype that "CBS is talking to Tad Mosel about a 'major dramatic production' to follow his CBS Playhouse entry" from last spring, and I think we know which network program Bamber is talking about.

So maybe CBS felt it had to trumpet a young playwrights' script about young people. Maybe it had to convince everyone that they really were interested in new and promising young talent. Maybe they even had to convince themselves.

◊ ◊ ◊

Finally, a look at this week's letters, which often provide pretty good insight into the minds of America's viewers.

First, Mrs. R.G. Moore of Jackson, Tennessee, writes about the recent presidential election in which Richard Nixon won a narrow victory over Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace. Says Mrs. Moore, "Was it my imagination or did seven out of 10 network commentators have a Democratic Party bias during the election coverage?" At least I think she was writing about Nixon and Humphrey, and not Trump and Clinton.

Howard Wachter of Brooklyn decries those who don't vote on Election Day. "If the American citizen can so degrade the sacred right to vote by letting others decide for him, this country is truly in trouble." Not at all like this year's election, as we haven't heard any stories of people not voting. Right?

John Caswell of Burlington, Vermont, speaks for voters everywhere at all times when he says, "Thank goodness the elections are over. Now the regularly scheduled comics can return to television."

And Edmond H. Davis Jr., writing from Piedmont, Alabama, says that on "Sunday, Oct. 27, I watched the Smothers Brothers for the last time. I enjoy comedy, but when a mockery is made of the Bible and religion such as on this program, then I will watch it no more." An editorial note below the letter says, "Many wrote us in this vein." So many people want to think of the Smothers Brothers as cuddly comedians who simply wanted to shake things up - this is a reminder that a lot of people thought of them as a pretty malignant cultural force as well.

December 2, 2016

Around the dial

Well, December is finally here, but in the hubbub of the holiday season, don't forget to keep in touch with the classic television blogosphere. Let's get started!

British TV Detectives brings us The Brokenwood Mysteries, featuring as its protagonist a detective who's not "quirky for the sake of quirkiness." What a refreshing idea - would that American television would do that more often.

Staying across the pond, Cult TV Blog has a look at two very different kinds of children's shows: The Owl Service and The Flockton Flyer. Read on for a fascinating review.

How well do you know your Christmas entertainment? Be prepared to be tested, as Christmas TV History quizzes you on Christmas screen shots.

You'll remember a while ago I was on an interview show about the American sitcom - David Hofstede of Comfort TV should have been with us, witness his great article on the ten funniest sitcoms, by decade, starting with the 1950s.

"Hunters and the Hunted." My life sometimes feels like that, with me playing the hunted, but in this case it's actually an episode of The Green Hornet, as reviewed by the Secret Sanctum of Captain Video.

Ah, Hal's back at The Horn Section with another F Troop Friday. This time, it's the 1965 episode "O'Rourke vs. O'Reilly," with Lee Meriwether up to the task as Forrest Tucker's nemesis.

The Twilight Zone, like most well-written series, works just as well when transferred to radio. The Twilight Zone Vortex reviews its appearance on Public Radio's Selected Shorts.

Not long ago Bob Crane's murder was in the headlines yet again. I wondered at the time what my friend and Crane biographer Carol Ford thought of it; she and her co-authors have a brief statement here at Vote for Bob Crane.

The Boris Karloff-hosted series Thriller is the latest feature in Television's New Frontier - the 1960s, where the show's uneven second season is reviewed.

And speaking of shining a spotlight, this week Television Obscurities takes on a show that certainly is obscure, if you don't keep up with your TV history books - The Second Hundred Years, starring Monte Markham in a most unusual dual role.

That's it for today, but I'm assuming you'll be back tomorrow for another TV Guide review.