December 16, 2017

This week in TV Guide: December 18, 1965

Jim Nabors is on the cover this week, and it gives me the opportunity to say a word or two about the star, who died last month. The news of his death prompted an outpouring of affection, which shouldn't really surprise anyone since Jim Nabors was one of those stars whose stardom far exceeded the sell-by date of most celebrities. His two biggest hits, Gomer Pyle and The Jim Nabors Hour, were both from the 1960s, but he never really disappeared from the public eye: he made frequent guest appearances on TV (he was Carol Burnett's good-luck charm on every season opener). did a handful of movies, toured the country with his nightclub act, released records, and sang "Back Home Again in Indiana" every year at the Indianapolis 500. Gomer Pyle is always on television somewhere, entertaining a new generation with the stories of the dimwitted but kind-hearted and lovable Marine, and making more fans for Jim Nabors. He was, by all accounts, a good and decent man, as I think is indicated by the lack of any scandal after he married his longtime partner Stan Cadwallader. As I've said before, being good to your fans is one way to ensure you always remain in the spotlight (even if the brightness is slightly less at the edges), and you bank an entire reservoir of good will at the same time.

Anyway, this week's cover story revolves around Jim's trip to Waseca, Minnesota, this year's site of the National Plow Matches (an event that appears to continue to this day). Up to 100,000 people have been known to crowd into Plowville, U.S.A., as the host site is renamed for the week, to witness what is called the "World Series of Plowing," and during election years it's a prime attraction for politicians looking to court the important rural-farm vote. This year's an off-election year, so to pump up attendence organizers latched onto the idea of "a show-biz draw," which turned out to be Nabors.

However the event might have turned out is not how it did turn out.  First Jim makes a quick tour of Minneapolis, where he appears on the radio (and is misidentified as a tenor rather than a baritone), meets with Governor Karl Rolvaag, who is supposed to give him the key to the state (except nobody can find it), and eventually heads for Waseca, which is about an hour and a quarter from Minneapolis. Torrential rains have turned Plowville into a muddy quagmire, and now the fog is moving in. The expected huge crowds do not materialize, the governor never makes it down, and immediately a debate ensues as to what exactly Nabors is supposed to do. Says his manager, "Jim is not going to entertain. That's for his night-club act. He's just to appear." Replies Nabors, "Those people are waiting in the rain; I've got to do something for them." He winds up telling jokes, singing a few songs, dancing with Miss Minnesota, and signing countless autographs. He then appears at a reception at the Waseca Country Club, being staged by his sponsor, Birds Eye, which has a huge plant in Waseca. He glad-hands the crowd with a polish formed by years of experience, and by that night he's back in Minneapolis; the next day he's on a plane for California, and Monday he's back in front of the cameras as lovable Gomer. Such is the life of a television star.

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Christmas is one week away, so show 'em if you've got 'em.

There are two versions of Tschaikowski's Nutcracker for you to choose from: Sunday at 8:00 p.m. CT with the San Francisco Ballet on Channel 11, and Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. with stars from the New York City Ballet, and narrated by Eddie Albert, on CBS. Both are in color, both are good, both are abridged for time. There are also two versions of Handel's "Messiah": KTCA, the educational station in the Twin Cities, broadcasts a version by the Minnetonka Philharmonic Society on Thursday (repeated Friday), while KMSP's version is at 12:15 a.m. Christmas morning by the First Baptist Church of Dallas.

Variety shows are all-in for the occasion: the King Family show kicks off Saturday on ABC, followed by Lawrence Welk and his annual Christmas show - it includes "Holly Jolly Christmas," which had only been introduced the previous year on Rudolph. Martha Scott hosts the annual Christmas show on a live broadcast of The Bell Telephone Hour (Sunday, 5:30 p.m., NBC), Jerry Lewis and a host of children take over Hullabaloo on Monday (NBC, 6:30 p.m.), and Perry Como (NBC, Monday), Red Skelton (CBS, Tuesday), Danny Kaye (CBS, Wednesday) and Mitch Miller (NBC, Friday) round out the week.

Dramas and sitcoms don't want to be left out, either - on Branded (NBC, Sunday), an orphans home is threatened - but not of Chuck Connors has anything to say about it. The Dick Van Dyke Show presents a rerun of its Alan Brady Christmas Show episode (CBS, Wednesday), Stingray has time for an orphan (Thursday), and Daniel Boone presents a story of an Indian brave and his pregnant wife looking for a place to stay (Thursday). And of course the week wouldn't be complete without Holiday Inn, with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. It's on Monday night at 10:00 p.m. on WTCN.

What would Christmas be without choirs? KTCA, the educational station in the Twin Cities, has choral concerts on Holiday Festival Monday through Friday, presenting music from local churches and schools, and the local stations have plenty of local choral groups throughout the week, including the University of Minnesota Glee Club, the Minneapolis Apollo Club, the boychoir from the Church of the Holy Childhood, and choirs from Bloomington Kennedy and Southwest high schools.

On Christmas Eve, Carmen Dragon (father of Daryl, the Captain half of Captain & Tennille), conducts the Glendale Symphony in a half-hour of Christmas music on WTCN, while KSTP has a concert by the Naval Academy Choir. Later, at 10:30 p.m. Skitch Henderson hosts The Heart of Christmas, the traditional half-hour that fills the first third of The Tonight Show timeslot before the Midnight Mass, broadcast life from St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. Channel 4 has a concert by the Bloomington Kennedy High School choir before CBS's midnight (ET) Baptist church service. After that, it's a program that has "The Sixties" written all over it: "Tell It on the Mountain," with Judy Collins, Ossie Davis and Chad Mitchell doing folk music, poems and prose readings to celebrate Christmas.

That should keep you in the spirit.

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No Sullivan vs. The Palace this week due to a preemption - ABC presents a look at Montana's Big Sky Country, hosted by Robert Preston. My wife asked why it wasn't Chet Huntley hosting, since he actually owned a ranch in Montana. "Huntley's on NBC," I said. "This program's on ABC." "Oh," she replied. Politics.

No review by Cleveland Amory this week either, but that's because Cleve's writing about his disasterous experience with the series O.K. Crackerby!, which will run for a scant 17 episodes before leaving the air in January (an editor's note at the end of his article says the final episode is scheduled for January 6).

Two years ago, Amory came up with the concept for a series called My Man St. John, the story of  "a lovable old millionaire from Oklahoma named O.K. Crackerby, a man with a fortune in, in more ways than one, natural gas. He is a widower, one with three children, an older girl and two younger boys, a man who has come East to ply the Eastern resort circuit, since he promised his 'missus,' before she passed on, that someday he would stop just making money and do right by the kids. To do this, he has acquired the services of something he has learned the Eastern resort families have - a 'tutor companion.'" St. John (pronounced Sinjin) Quincy, the tutor, would be the star of the show, which would satirize mores and manners of East Coast society. ABC loved it, and the show went into development - although Amory was given pause when ABC executive Leonard Goldberg asked him "what the heck is a two-door companion?" which, in hindsight should have given him an idea of what was to follow.


The article is lengthy even for TV Guide, so we'll just give you the basics: the idea of St. John being the focus of the show evaporated about the time Burl Ives was cast as Crackerby; suddenly, the show was being called O.K. Crackerby!, and Ives, as the focal point, would attempt to simply buy his way into high society. Abe Burrows was employed as what we would today call the showrunner, and the next thing Cleve knew, the series was being billed as "Created by Abe Burrows and Cleveland Amory." Burrows was also listed as writer, story consultant, co-director, and co-writer of the show's theme.

Burrows also changed the tone of the show - rather than being a live-in tutor, St. John was now Crackerby's "agent," to help him " bust" into society. The show went through at least two producers; Amory thought there might have been a third somewhere there, but he wasn't sure. By the time the show was on the air, any resemblance between the original idea and the series was virtually invisible. Amory complained to the production company, United Artists; he complained to the network, all to no avail. When a screening of the show for network and studio honchos and sponsors goes poorly - Amory said the script was literally about nothing - the show is described as "awful, a crime against not only the industry but humanity." And eyes turn to Amory - what do you have to say about it? And he pitches them an idea for a new show - it's about "a lovable old millionaire from Oklahoma named O.K. Crackerby, a man with a fortune in, in more ways than one, natural gas. He is a widower, one with three children, an older girl and two younger boys, a man who has come East to ply the Eastern resort circuit, since he promised his 'missus,' before she passed on, that someday he would stop just making money and do right by the kids. To do this, he has acquired the services of something he has learned the Eastern resort families have - a 'tutor companion.'"

"And you know what?" Amory concludes. "They loved it."

◊ ◊ ◊

This week's starlet is Laraine Stephens, who for a few more weeks will be part of the cast of the aforementioned O.K. Crackerby!, and she's here to model some fashions for the holidays.



Don't worry - the red mohair tweed with the pink chifon overblouse only runs you $150.

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Finally, the end of the Gemini VII mission. Astronauts Frank Borman and Jim Lovell splash down early Saturday morning after a successful two-week flight, and television cameras are located on the aircraft carrier Wasp to provide live coverage via Early Bird satellite.

The mission started on Saturday, December 4, and as For the Record reports, it was quite the adventure for NBC. The network had to go to split coverage to cover the launch alongsite coverage of the Penn State-Maryland football game, and on occasion play-by-play man Lindsey Nelson and spacecaster Merrill Mueller were "fighting for attention." David Brinkley, of course, is the man to put this all in perspective. Said Brinkley, "This will be the first time a rocket takes off on the 50-yard line or that football is played on pad 19."  TV  

December 15, 2017

Around the dial

First, this seasonal note: at the other blog, In Other Words, we're doing the "25 Days of Ad-Vent" again this year - a look at some fun (and occasionally strange) Christmas ads from the past. If you're in the mood for some seasonal cheer, take a moment and take a look. And now to the TV stuff.

We'll begin with a question from reader Brian Stevens who asks if we recall the kids' game "Booby Trap"?

Basically a spring loaded rectangle wooden box with round pieces of varying size. You pulled out a piece -- piece by piece -- until the spring triggered and the rest of the pieces came flying out of the box. Simple game. Cheap to make. Parker Brothers, I believe.

Well...here's how it pertains to you. The game came with its very own kids TV game show of the same name. Life-sized version of the game board, host and kids who played the game for prizes. Thinking about it, it had to be locally hosted. I know it aired in Indianapolis sometime in the mid 1960s I'd guess. But I can't imagine Indpls being its only market.

Went looking for it online and can't seem to find a thing about it. Came across your website and thought perhaps you'll know a little more about it. One of those things you forget until something brings it to mind 50 years later.

Hoping you can help.

Can anyone out there shed any light on this?

Meanwhile, it's a hail and farewell at Vote 4 Bob Crane. The bad news: they're calling it a day at the blog. The good news: the website continues on as a repository for information on Bob's life and legacy, and the continued campaign to elect him to the Radio Hall of Fame. As a personal friend of Carol Ford, I can testify as to how much and how hard everyone worked on that blog, not to mention telling the truth on Bob Crane's story, and I think we owe everyone there a great thanks for all the time and effort that went into it.

At The Twilight Zone Vortex, a look at a disturbing (and not wholly satisfying) episode from the show's third season, "Young Man's Fancy," written by Richard Matheson. I know someone in a situation similar to that of the young female protagonist in the story - it has all the makings of a great creep-fest, but unfortunately this version falls somewhat short.

The Broadcasting Archives at the University of Maryland links to this story that shows, if we needed further proof, that Mel Blanc was a genius.

Cult TV is spending a little time surveying this side of the pond, as indicated by this review of the Get Smart episode "Casablanca," which not only points out the series' strengths, but delights in its penchant for parody.

At Comfort TV, David has another of those posts that make TV fans think, as he discusses ten forgotten TV shows he'd like to watch. In this he's basically talking about my entire life; looking over and over at the TV Guides from my early years of life created something of an aura about the era; every one of those shows became one that I wanted to watch, at least until I found out more about them. That hobby, though, did lead to the creation of this website!

A wonderful tale at Garroway at Large, as Jodie tells the story of the life and times of a particular television camera. Think of all the history it must have seen through that lens. Bonus points if you can link this story to a particular Christmas cartoon.

Television's New Frontier: the 1960s returns with a look at one of the more enduring sitcoms of the late '50s and early '60s: The Real McCoys, starring three-time Oscar winner Walter Brennan. Did you know, by the way, that Walter Brennan is the only three-time Oscar winner to star in a television series? And he did it multiple times!

Something you should do multiple times - return here for more TV fun. Why not do it tomorrow?  TV  

December 13, 2017

Yuletide Greetings, Part 1

For the next couple of Wednesdays, I thought I'd focus on some Christmas-type programming that doesn't often get seen anywhere. I think it's important for television to recognize that this time of the year is an important cultural milestone, and not just in a commercial sense.

This first one is one that ought to please our own Mike Doran, because it's about as long-form as you can get: an entire Christmas week's worth of episodes from NBC's daytime drama The Doctors. This was broadcast December 25-29, 1969.


This second clip is from CBS's Search for Tomorrow. It aired on December 26, 1966. The quality may be a bit rocky, but you'll still get the point.


I'll be back next week with a couple more rare shows!  TV  

December 11, 2017

What's on TV? Wednesday, December 18, 1996

I neglected to mention on Saturday that this issue comes to us courtesy of Steve Harris, who graciously gifted me the three TV Guides that make up the "Greatest" series (greatest shows, greatest stars, greatest moments).

If you're wondering why Bill Cosby was on that list on Saturday, you have no further to look than today's listings. Count the number of sitcoms on today - both original prime-time runs, and reruns during the daytime, and then remember that when The Cosby Show hit the airwaves in 1984, experts were proclaiming them dead. Everything's cyclical, of course, but it was Cosby's success that triggered the resurgence we see here.

The listings today are from the Los Angeles edition, and I could have included a lot more if I'd wanted to. I didn't want to - I think this is enough.

December 9, 2017

This week in TV Guide: December 14, 1996

We're back with another of the special, themed issues that TV Guide occasionally dabbled in. Having looked in the past at greatest shows and greatest moments, we're now on to greatest stars. This isn't about the suspense of who's on the list; you can read it right here, without ever looking at the issue. But as I page through the list, my question is whether the list is meant as a historical record or a sign of the times. It is, after all, over 20 years old. If someone falls off the list, is it because they're less important, or less remembered? Are lists made by historians or fans?

Number One is Lucy, and I don't think that would surprise anyone - I actually wrote that sentence before looking at the list, it was that predictable. I mean this as no criticism of Miss Ball, but sometimes I think people who've never even seen her just vote her in as if the position were hers by some kind of divine decree; that's riduculous, of course, because what it proves is that her kind of humor is timeless. Does Roseanne Barr, who comes in at #28, share that trait? I don't think so; her comedy may have been cutting edge at one time, and she might have been a trailblazer in terms of how women are portrayed in sitcoms, but I'm not sure that translates to timelessness. I see her more as a product of her time, not someone a television historian would choose if limited to only 50 picks.

Johnny Carson is #2, and though Terry Teachout described him a while back as virtually unknown by the present generation, any television historian is going to include him on the list. Maybe you've got him at #2, maybe #8, but either way it's a pick you can defend. Less defensible, however, is the omission of Steve Allen, who invented late night television - if Carson refined it, someone still had to come up with it in the first place. Allen was a certifiable legend, not only with Tonight but What's My Line?, Meeting of Minds, and a score or more appearances through the decades. I understand you may not want to load up on talk show hosts, but I don't see how Steve Allen does not make the list, especialy when Phil Donahue is #42.

And then there's David Letterman at #45. TV Guide calls him the natural successor to Ernie Kovacs, and that may have been true back when Dave was doing Stupid Pet Tricks and the like, but by the time he got around to sexually harrassing his staff and espousing liberal politics, he'd lost a lot of his creativity. And yet - if this list were made today, would Letterman be ahead of Carson? He's not only more recent in people's minds, he's still revered by many viewers, and unlike Carson's time, it's now fashionable to get political on late night television. If the list is based on trendiness rather than historical significance, I think Letterman would get the edge. Speaking of Kovacs, he's nowhere to be seen on the list, and I think that's criminal. His greatest sin as an entertainer may have been that he was too far ahead of his time, but he was the first to realize and exploit the potential of television. I would have had him in the top ten. At least they remembered Sid Caesar, at #29.

See how easy it is to demonstrate he should be higher?
Raymond Burr is far too low on the list, at #41. Maybe realism is valued more in courtroom dramas than it was in the days of Perry Mason, but Burr created an iconic character, the symbol of TV lawyers for a generation, and that ought to count for something, don't you think? And while we're on the topic of crime, Jack Webb is another one missing from the list; while Webb might not be considered a great actor, Dragnet revolutionized the way police drama was portrayed on television; his "just the facts" persona and use of detailed realism really changed how the game was played. He was to cop shows what James Arness was to the Western, and Arness makes the list at #20. Fred Rogers is on the list at #35, but is there a Fred Rogers without Bob Keeshen? I don't think you can overlook Captain Kangaroo - but then, Mr. Rogers was on PBS. Why not include them both? And I like the choice of Don Knotts at #27, proving that second bananas have a place - but what about Art Carney? Jackie Gleason is #3, but would he be that high without Carney?

Bill Cosby is #9, and while I was never a great fan of Cosby, I'll certainly defend his place on the list, even though I suspect he wouldn't make the list today. Carroll O'Connor is #38, and rightfully so; starring on a show that redefined the sitcom, he was Archie Bunker. Michael J. Fox is #39, but I question his being on the list. It's not that he's not good, but in sports terms this should be the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Very Good. Bob Newhart, on the other hand, is probably underrated at #17, having starred in two of the great sitcoms of the era.

Patty Duke is on the list at #40, and I'm not sure why - her signature series, The Patty Duke Show, only ran for three seasons, and while she appeared in 30 TV movies and miniseries, Jane Seymour has probably done the same, and she isn't on the list. My complaint about Patty, as it is with Telly Savalas (#33), is that her fame comes from movies as well as television; you might as well include Sally Field or Denzel Washington or George Clooney or Johnny Depp; they all featured on TV as well. Dinah Shore is #16 - if the list were being made today, would historians recognize her place in TV history? Same with George Burns and Gracie Allen at #13; a list made today probably wouldnot include them.

I do like the picks of Milton Berle (how could you leave out Mr. Television?), Michael Landon, Carol Burnett, and James Garner. I think Rocky and Bullwinkle was an inspired choice, but I'm not sure Bart Simpson falls in the same category; it wasn't long before he was eclipsed by Homer. I think Dick Van Dyke should be rated higher than Mary Tyler Moore, but they both belong there. I think Oprah's done more cultural damage than perhaps any other television personality, but for that very reason she has to be on the list.

Like any list, this one has its good points and bad. We're not quite done with it yet, though - stick around until the end.

◊ ◊ ◊

There are only 11 days until Christmas as the week begins, which means we should be able to find some seasonal tidbits to highlight.

What's striking about the mid-'90s, after having spent so much time looking at the '50s and '60s (and '70s), is how Christmas programming was dominated by variety shows. There was at least one on almost every night, and every one of them had a Christmas episode just before December 25. (And that doesn't include the one-off specials by stars like Bob Hope and Perry Como.)

By now, most of your Christmas TV consists of "holiday" episodes of sitcoms with vague, Hallmark-like storylines, such as Ellen (Wednesday, 9:30 p.m. PT, ABC), in which "Christmas goes to the dogs for Ellen, who adopts a stray and ends up not going on a Mexican vacation with Paige because of her new canine attachment." Now, there's nothing wrong with this, although I'd suggest that many of the episodes from years past tend to have at least some kind of more overtly Christmas message in them, such as the Yuletide variety show episode of The Dick Van Dyke show, which coincidentelly appears on Nick at Nite Sunday night as part of their 17-episode classic TV Christmas Party, which includes the Bewitched episode in which Samantha is determined to prove to a skeptical orphan that Santa Claus exists. Shows also love to do variations on It's a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Carol, and we have an example of the latter with Martin (Thursday, 8:00 p.m., Fox) as "Martin has a Dickens of a time scaring up some Yuletide sentiment in this takeoff on "A Christmas Carol" that finds him playing host to some unexpected ghosts.

There are, however, specials this week, and not surprisingly there's a good share of music to be found. For example, there's Opryland's Country Christmas (Saturday, 9:00 p.m., CBS), which features Patty Loveless, Clint Black and LeAnn Rimes. On Wednesday, it's the 15th annual Christmas in Washington (NBC, 10:00 p.m.), in which the cast of 3rd Rock from the Sun and others serenade President and Mrs. Clinton.* And a syndicated special at midnight on Saturday, This is Christmas (KCAL), stars Luther Vandross, with guests Mariah Carey Boyz II Men, U2, Melissa Ehtridge, and Gloria Estefan.

*Do they even do that show anymore? No - it turns out the 2014 edition was the last. They probably couldn't have found anyone to do it this year anyway.

There are also cartoons; ABC has an animated version of Lilly Tomlin's Edith Ann character on An Edith Ann Christmas (Saturday, 8:30 p.m.), while CBS offers a triple-header on Thursday night, beginning at 8:00 p.m. with A Charlie Brown Christmas, followed by A Garfield Christmas, and concluding with Mickey's Christmas Carol. (Not a bad lineup there.) And of course, it wouldn't be Christmas without movies, would it? On Tuesday, KTLA airs A Christmas Story (8:00 p.m.) long before it becomes a Christmas marathon staple; an hour later, Dolly Parton starsas an angel unlike any I've seen in Unlikely Angel (9:00 p.m., NBC). On Wednesday, The Angel of Pennsylvania Avenue (Wednesday, 8:00 p.m., Family) has Robert Urich as a falsely imprisoned mfsadan whose children appeal for help to President Hoover. There are also airings of White Christmas and A Christmas Carol on various stations through the week.

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This week's highlight in sports is on Tuesday night, as Shaquille O'Neal and the Los Angeles Lakers take on Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls on TNT. Good game, as the Bulls - en route to their historic 72-10 season - pull out an overtime win, 129-123. Shaq has 27 points and 13 rebounds, while Jordan scores 30, and his sidekick Scottie Pippen puts in 35. You'd want to point to a game like this for the historical record, for a number of reasons. Besides featuring two all-time greats (and a third, Kobe Bryant, coming off the bench for the Lakers), it gives us a chance to look at another way in which the context of sports has changed in society.

You may recall that Michael Jordan took a fair amount of heat from black political leaders for not being more outspoken on civil rights and other issues, to which Jordan made the famous reply that "Republicans buy shoes, too." Of course, social media didn't really exist back in 1996, unless you count talk radio, newspapers, and face-to-face communication; still, despite the flippant sound of the answer, Jordan made a point that many athletes seem to have forgotten today: athletes are salesmen, and fans are consumers. That doesn't mean an athlete, or anyone else, has to give up their individuality, or their rights of speech, just because they've become famous.

No, the larger point - and I'm not trying to take sides here or get political myself - is that the successful businessperson knows that it's never a good idea to antagonize the customer. The NFL is finding this out now. Granted, we can't know what Jordan may have done had social media been in existence in 1996, nor are today's athletes the first to become politically active - see John Carlos and Tommie Smith in the 1968 Summer Olympics. Nonetheless, in an age when Taylor Swift is criticized for not being political, one can see how different the entertainment landscape has become. The Michael Jordan of 1998 is a reminder of that.

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Let's take a look at what else the week has to offer.

On Saturday, it's a first-ever prime-time episode of General Hospital (9:00 p.m, ABC), as the shocking story from Friday is continued. Boy, that's classic soap opera jargon, isn't it?  Sunday's highlights include the Yuletide classic Christmas in Connecticut (WGN, 2:00 p.m.), and a Louis & Clark episode that features Howie Mandel as an alien intruder. Meanwhile, A&E's Holiday at Pops (9:00 p.m.) features Tony Bennett with John Williams and the Boston Pops Orchestra. 

Monday night is something of a remembrance of series past: Melrose Place on Fox (8:00 p.m.), The Jeff Foxworthy Show on NBC (also 8:00 p.m.), Murphy Brown and Cybil (9:00 and 9:30 p.m., CBS). Oh, the Bills play the Dolphins on Monday Night Football (ABC, 6:00 p.m.)

Tuesday, Dan comes home to Roseanne to spend the holidays with the family (8:00 p.m., ABC), Fox tries (and fails) to recapture the magic with The Munsters Scary Little Christmas (8:00 p.m.) featuring none of the original cast, and in the night's winner, PBS plays a pair of Wallace and Gromit shorts, "A Grand Day Out" and "A Close Shave" (8:00 p.m.)

On Wednesday Nick at Nite takes home the prize, with Season's Greetings from the Honeymooners (9:00 p.m.), two hours of bits first shown on The Jackie Gleason Show. If you don't like that, there are holiday-themed episodes of NewsRadio (NBC) and Drew Carey (ABC). Thursday brings the first college bowl game of the year, the don't-miss Las Vegas Bowl between Ball State and Nevada (ESPN, 6:00 p.m.) Seriously, these are two pretty good teams, with combined records of 16-6. Many of this year's games should do so well. And Friday has highlights at the beginning and end of the day; Sandi Patti: O Holy Night brings us Christmas music (9:00 a.m., Family), while the prime-time spectacular is NBC's airing of The Sound of Music (8:00 p.m.), or as co-star Christopher Plummer allegedly called it, "The Sound of Mucus." 

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Since this was kind of a short entry this week, that leaves us time for a little self-indulgence. You may be thinking, after reading my comments on the 50 Greatest Stars list, what my choices would have been. (Or maybe not; just play along here.) Do I think I could do any better?

Well, sure. After all, why do anything if you don't think it can be just as good as, if not better than, anyone else's? That doesn't mean it is better, but it does mean it's out there for others to pick on for a change. The list is updated to include stars who appeared after 1996, as well as to rectify oversights from the first one. And as a historian, I tend to take a long view of things; I'm hesitant to include stars who are too recent, whose stardom hasn't yet had a chance to ferment. Real stars have staying power, so it doesn't hurt to be a little cautious.

And so, for what it's worth, here's how I would have done it.


1.       Lucille Ball
26.   Andy Griffith

2.       Johnny Carson
27.   Art Carney

3.       Ernie Kovacs
28.   Edward R. Murrow

4.       Steve Allen
29.   Robert Young

5.       Raymond Burr
30.   David Janssen

6.       Carol Burnett
31.   Bob Keeshan

7.       Jack Webb
32.   James Arness

8.       Regis Philbin
33.   Betty White

9.       Oprah Winfrey
34.   Don Knotts

10.   Michael Landon
35.   Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca

11.   Dick Van Dyke
36.   Fred Rogers

12.   James Garner
37.   Phil Silvers

13.   Mary Tyler Moore
38.   Jerry Seinfeld

14.   Jon Stewart
39.   Rocky & Bullwinkle

15.   William Shatner
40.   Bob Hope

16.   Jackie Gleason
41.   Carroll O’Connor

17.   Ellen DeGeneres
42.   Jim McKay

18.   Bob Newhart
43.   Lawrence Welk

19.   Bill Cosby
44.   Julia Child

20.   Milton Berle
45.   Howard Cosell

21.   Walter Cronkite
46.   Barbara Walters

22.   Ted Danson
47.   Ed Sullivan

23.   Peter Falk
48.   Chris Berman

24.   Tom Sellick
49.   Jane Seymour

25.   Julia Louis-Dreyfus
50.   Chet Huntley and David Brinkley

There - the floor is now yours.  TV  

December 8, 2017

Around the dial

It's been a couple of weeks since we visited the classic TV blogosphere, what with my book review from last week, but we're back to normal today, with some great things for you to gander at.

The Hitchcock Project continues at bare-bones e-zine, with Jack giving us a rundown on the Francis and Marian Cockrell teleplay "The Gentleman From America," based on the short story by Michael Arlan. I keep pointing out these features because I really like what Jack does; not only does he give us a synopsis of the episode, he goes into detail on the original story, showing how the teleplay changes it in order to convert it to something appropriate for television, as well as giving us more fun facts. It's very well done, and quite different from what we generally read elsewhere.

I don't usually do sneak previews of upcoming stories, but tomorrow's TV Guide review names the top 40 TV stars of all time, and one of them appears in the Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour episode "Lucy Wins a Racehorse," the subject of Aurora's review at Once Upon a Screen. 

The Avengers episode "The Positive-Negative Man" is one of John's favorites over at Cult TV Blog, and one of mine as well. (With some great comments from our own Mike Doran.) The Avengers rotated out of our Friday night spot a couple of years ago when we watched the final Steed-Tara episode, but reading these recaps makes me want to go back and start over again. Maybe in 2018...

I reviewed Adam-Michael James' "final episode" Bewitched novel last week; this week David at Comfort TV has a similar review. (The fact that we both liked it should settle the question for anyone thinking about purchasing it, don't you think?) And I really like the link back to David's first blog piece, “Does how a television show ends have any impact on its legacy?" That's something worth considering by itself.

At Christmas TV History, Joanna relates her experience in the 2017 Christmas Story Run- who knew? I'm no runner, but it sounds like a fun time - where else are you going to see all those pink rabbits running a distance race? And for good measure, check out this spot on Joanna's Christmas podcast appearances.

The Broadcasting Archives at the University of Maryland has an interesting bit on "the Hitchcock of the [radio] airwaves," William Spier - the longtime producer-director of the legendary radio series Suspense.

Speaking of radio, here's something from a couple months back that I just noticed, courtesy Faded Signals - a picture of Miami radio station WIOD, with the motto "Wonderful Isle of Dreams." That describes classic radio to a T, and what television is capable - though too frequently falling short - of doing.

Can you take one more radio story? You'd better, because The Chairman, Frank Sinatra himself, is in it. Martin Grams shares with us the time in 1949 when Sinatra appeared in the Christmas story "The Enchanted Ghost" on Inner Sanctum.

A moment of whimsy indeed (and who amongst us couldn't use a bit of it nowadays?) - Jodie at Garroway at Large gives us a clip of Dave with Kukla, Fran and Ollie. If you don't smile after watching that, you have no heart.

Did you know that, in the off-season, the legendary baseball star Jackie Robinson sold television sets? I didn't either, until I read it in Andrew's piece at The Lucky Strike Papers. That's right - in the olden days, athletes used to work in the off-season, oftentimes as car or insurance salesmen, in order to make ends meet. Now, instead of selling TVs, they can buy a television station.

TV Obscurities returns with another obscure sitcom, this one from the 1964-65 season. It's The Baileys of Balboa, starring Paul Ford, whom you ought to remember as Bilko's nemesis. I've certainly heard of the show, but didn't know all that much about it until this terrific article.

Hopefully, you'll now stay out of trouble until the next time we meet - tomorrow!  TV  

December 4, 2017

What's on TV? Friday, December 8, 1961

It's the first week of December; I think I've mentioned this before, but although there were many more seasonal programs on television in the late '50s and '60s, they tended to air later in the month than they do now. Cartoons were always something of an exception, since their basic purpose has always been to sell toys. But Rudolph and Charlie Brown and the Grinch are all still a little ways away, and since the variety shows usually air their Christmas episodes right before December 25, things are pretty much as normal this week. The listings are from the Twin Cities, and although there's nothing too spectacular, I think you'll enjoy some of the familiar names and programs.