September 22, 2017

Around the dial

No plugs for the Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention this week, unless you want to start thinking about attending next year. If you're on the fence, you can read about our experience here, and Jodie Peeler of Garoway at Large shares her great adventure here. And now on to the rest of the week.

At The Bob Crane Show Reloaded, Eric and Carol have a powerful podcast on Bob Crane's mistrial in the court of public opinion, focusing (no pun intended) on the movie Auto Focus and the inaccuracies it's helped to perpetuate. I run into this so often myself when talking about Hogan's Heroes or Crane, and people only know what they've heard from the tabloid press. Talk about fake news.

I enjoyed this writeup at Fire-Breathing Dimetrodon Time on the Avengers episode "The Hour That Never Was." Besides being a sucker for titles like that, it's a tense hour of suspense and mystery - a little different for the series. It's nice to see that their son appreciated the story as well; I think kids love this kind of edge-of-your-seat suspense.

Once Upon a Screen has an affectionate shout-out to The Adventures of Superman, starring George Reeves - and really, isn't he the one and only Superman? (With the possible exception of radio and cartoon voice Bud Collyer.) Yes, that opening sequence and the narration - I always enjoyed that as well.

The Twilight Zone Vortex has an interview with William F. Nolan, the famed author of Logan's Run and other sci-fi classics, who had a tight friendship with many of the legendary Southern California authors who made up the core group of Twilight Zone writers. Very neat stuff - and, again, how important it is to talk with these people while they're still around.

You may remember my fondness for Burke's Law, the early '60s cop show with Gene Barry (which helps explain my pleasure at seeing Gary Conway at MANC last week), but did you know that the original Amos Burke was none other than Dick Powell? The Land of Whatever has a look at the episode of The Dick Powell Show that introduced the suave detective.

Having lived in Dallas for four years, and studied the JFK assassination for years before that, I'm well-familiar with WFAA, so I enjoy seeing this old ad at the Broadcasting Archives at the University of Maryland announcing that the station is now the "most powerful TV station in all Texas," which in Texas talk means the most powerful station in the world. We're spoiled with cable and satellite TV; back then, a large transmitter tower and improved coverage was really a big deal.

At The Federalist (I told you once, I find interesting stories in unusual places), David Breitenbeck writes about how watching What's My Line? tells us something about how people back then thought of their world. And, incidentelly, it tells us about how we view our own world as well. I love these kinds of articles.

Finally, not a link to a blog, but our friend Mark Rathaus, whom I interviewed last year about the '70s series Movin' On. Says Mark, "DVDs are finally available. Fans may now buy remastered, high quality Season 1 and Season 2 sets for $39.95 each. Sorry, no telemovie, pilot, In Tandem yet. But the new DVDs are approved by the shows original Producers, Barry Weitz and Philip D’Antoni, and Restoration Producer, Mark Rathaus." Allied Vaughn is manufacturing the MOD DVDs and the Peter Rodgers Organization is the distributor. You can purchase Season 1 and Season 2 by clicking on the links.

Thanks for the update, Mark - and on that note, we'll see you tomorrow with another TV Guide.

September 20, 2017

MId Atlantic, 2017

In his shareholder report for this year's program notes, Martin Grams, Jr. referred to the Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention as "an annual family reunion where no one is blood-related." People who haven't seen each other in a year great one another like long-lost relatives, conversations pick up where they left off, hobbyists catch up on what's new, new friendships are formed. It's everything a family reunion should be, without the skeletons in the closet.

There's a phrase that I've quickly grown tired of, and I hope you'll shoot me if you ever see me using it - that of someone referring to "my tribe." To me, the Shawnee, the Sioux, the Apache - those are tribes, and it's a little bit of cultural appropriation to use the term. In the same vein, I don't like referring to "my people" - it's just a little hoary, if you ask me. But if I ever were tempted to resort to one of those terms, it would be now, because spending three days at Mid Atlantic is like finding out you've finally discovered where you belong.

This was our second year at the bash in Hunt Valley, Maryland - our second year to arrive at the hotel after 11:00 p.m. on a Wednesday night, of getting up early and staying up late and figuring we can sleep when we get home, of getting up on Sunday morning at 5:00 a.m. to catch a flight that gets us home before noon. It's an exhausting 80 hours or so of sore backs, tired feet, irregular eating schedules, and ultimately smaller wallets. And every single bit was worth it.

I got to meet a new friend, Jodie Peeler. You remember here; I interviewed her last month regarding her Dave Garroway biography project. We talked for two hours about Garroway and JFK and classic television, and then found out we also shared a passion for auto racing. Who knew? I can't wait to read that Garroway book, Jodie!

We had dinner on Friday with Jack Seabrook and his wife Lorraine; you know Jack from his terrific "Hitchcock Project" write-ups at bare-bones e-zine. Although we'd corresponded via email and the website, we'd never met before, and it was such a pleasant time talking television and other things over a pizza at California Pizza Kitchen.*

*And by the way, the manager could not have been nicer; he stopped at our table, as he did several, to make sure everything was all right. When he found out we were out-of-towners at a convention, he returned with certificates that could be used by other MANC attendees. And then he sent over a free dessert. Friends, if you've not been to California Pizza Kitchen before, treat yourselves.

A couple of years ago I interviewed Carol Ford for her biography of Bob Crane, and that begat a warm friendship; Judie and I had dinner with her on Thursday, and it wasn't until they started turning off the lights in the restaurant that we figured it was time to get back to the hotel. And her parents are equally nice people; I don't know how things like this happen, but we've now been adopted into the family, which takes care of our vacation plans for next year.

Then there were the various vendors we talked with (who left with a good amount of our money), the presentations we heard (particularly those on the space program, OTR and the Great American Songbook, Rod Serling, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), the panel discussions with celebrities. Short version: Dawn Wells (Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island) is still very popular, as are Eric Estrada and Larry Wilcox, who had a CHiPs reunion on Friday; Aileen Quinn, who played Annie in the movie, is cute and charming; Shirley Jones is elegant and gracious; Cindy Williams is very funny; Tammy Locke (The Monroes) is very loud; Larry Storch is a real (F-) trooper; and Gary Conway sounds older but just like he did in Burke's Law. And that's not even mentioning the movie room, which ran for 24 hours the entire convention, with old TV shows and movies (mostly featuring the celebrities from the convention) and horror flicks all night.

Here are some additional photos from the 2017 scrapbook. Remember, a lot of these celebrities aren't going to be with us that much longer. If you're a fan of classic television, movies, and old time radio, treat yourself to coming out here one of these days. Martin does such a good job putting this together - it's fun, and more important it's a good place to be, if you know what I mean - it just radiates throughout the event. It feels - well, to me, it feels like home. And if you get the chance, try to make it next year, when I hope to be one of the speakers.

September 18, 2017

What's on TV? Tuesday, September 19, 1972

As you can tell, I've survived the weekend at the Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention, which I'll be writing more about later this week, and I'm back just in time to take you through this week's listings, from New York City.

On of the things that always puzzled me about TV Guide is how they determined which programs would receive the little category label following the title. You know - "Joker's Wild - Game." It's much more prevalent in the issues of the late '50s and '60s than it is here in the early '70s - look, for example, at the CBS prime time lineup. Nothing after I've Got a Secret, Maude, or Hawaii Five-O. Why not? Is it assumed that we know what kinds of shows they are? A new series like ABC's Temperatures Rising has one, and that makes sense because it's a new show, whereas Marcus Welby, M.D., an old favorite, doesn't need one. Look at the soaps - excuse me, "serials" - during the day. No labels there, either. None of the game shows in NBC's morning schedule have them, but the ones in the afternoon do. I know sometimes it depends on how much room there is after the title; don't add a label if it means adding a line. But it does seem arbitrary at the same time. Maybe there's a more elaborate pattern I couldn't see when I was a kid and can't now, or maybe I think about these things too much.

September 16, 2017

This week in TV Guide: September 16, 1972

The start to the new television season, as I've often said, used to be an exciting time, with both new and familiar vieing for attention. This week is a perfect example, as the NFL returns, big movies make their TV debuts, and new shows are popping up everywhere. One of the shows you'd think would have done well is Anna and the King, with Yul Brynner returning to the role for which he won an Oscar on the big screen, but no, it's 13 episodes and out. Maybe Walt Disney was too much competition? At any rate there's plenty more to see here, starting with those movie blockbusters.

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It may seem odd that one of the big attractions of the new TV season is the theatrical movie, but this is the way it is before cable, before streaming, when Hollywood's biggest hits used to take years to make it to your living room set. The action starts right away, with NBC rolling out In the Heat of the Night, winner of five Academy Awards including Best Picture, on Saturday night (9:00 p.m. ET) Sterling Silliphant won an Oscar for his screenplay adaptation, and in doing so demonstrates something he must have learned from Naked City: if you're going to do a genre story, no matter what kind of message you want to send, you're still going to have to respect the demands of the genre at the same time. Indeed, although In the Heat of the Night is about race relations, ignorance and prejudice, and the old south coming to terms with a new world, Judith Crist reminds us that it still succeeds as a top-notch whodunit. Of course, having Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger in the cast doesn't hurt.

Neither does it hurt Richard Brooks to have a superior cast for his 1966 The Professionals, led by Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, Jack Palance, and Claudia Cardinale. CBS brings it to the small screen on Thursday night at 9:00 p.m., so that everyone can appreciate what Crist calls a "supurbly entertaining adventure-suspence Western" that garnered two Oscar nominations for Brooks, for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. It runs twenty minutes over the normal two hour timeslot, but that includes a Republican political announcement that we're told follows the movie.

Crist's also going to give a good reivew to Tuesday's late movie, Roger Corman's House of Usher (11:30 p.m., CBS), in which Vincent Price "established himself as the nonpareil in the portrayl of intellectual and sophisticated madmen." She isn't as big a fan of Sunday night's big premiere, ABC's Goldfinger, which she writes "isn't up to the standards set by 'Dr. No' and 'From Russia with Love'," as the franchise begins to change focus "from emphatic action and vicarious heroism to sex and sadism, which outweigh the good dirty fun that initially gave Bond his adult comicstrip status with grown-ups." I understand what she means by that, though I'm not quite sure I agree; nevertheless, as she points out, "compared with all the imitations that have come along in the past eight years - good old 007 still holds his own."*

*Oh, the things I could say but won't. 

However mild that criticism may be, it's nothing compared to what she thinks of CBS's offering on Friday night, Valley of the Dolls (9:00 p.m., followed by a Democratic political announcement). Quoting in full, "It's a bowdlerized version of the Jacqueline Susann book which provided a mawkish, trite, cheap story and smut; the movie lacks the smut but compensates by being badly acted, badly photographed and sleazily made, with a cheapjack production underlining the near-idiot literacy level of the script. Patty Duke, who scores high in the repulsive bracket, and Susan Hayward, who can count this as her horror movie (all middle-aged stars have to do one, it seems) fortunately survive their appearances herein." Well, I didn't want to watch that one anyway.

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September's the time when football returns as well, and in these days of the 14-game schedule, the NFL kicks off its new season on September 17, when for at least three hours every fan in America can dream of their team reaching the Super Bowl - and then the whistle blows, and for most of those fans the dream will be shattered beyond repair. For our gameday experience, CBS has the half-hour NFL Today, followed at 2:00 p.m. by the New York Giants and Detroit Lions, from Tiger Stadium in Detroit. The season is pretty good for both the Giants and Lions, as each will win eight games, though neither makes the playoffs. Over at NBC, there is no pregame show (unless you consider Meet the Press a proper warmup for gladiatorial combat), so we'll go right to the action, starting at 1:00 p.m., as the New York Jets travel to Buffalo to take on the Bills. The main men in the game: Joe Namath for the Jets, O.J. Simpson for the Bills. Neither makes it to the playoffs. That's followed by the Miami Dolphins and the Kansas City Chiefs, from K.C. The last time these two teams met, it was Christmas Day 1971, with the Dolphins defeating the Chiefs in a double-overtime thriller. The Dolphins will defeat the Chiefs on this day as well, along with every other team they face, on their way to becoming the NFL's only undefeated, untied Super Bowl champion. And lest we forget, the Monday night game on ABC (9:00 p.m.) pits the Washington Redskins - the team that the Dolphins will defeat in Super Bowl VII - against the Minnesota Vikings.

Baseball's still going on, in case anyone's interested. Since this is a New York area TV Guide, there's plenty of local coverage, with WOR following the Mets to Chicago to play the Cubs over the weekend, before catching them at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night. The Yankees, on WPIX, have a weekend series at home against the Baltimore Orioles. NBC's Saturday Game of the Week has the Detroit Tigers, who at this point are battling the Boston Red Sox for first place in the East, playing the division's last-place team, the Milwaukee Brewers. As you recall, 1972 was a strike season, and I don't recall how much of a lasting impact that had on fans' interest, but when football kicks off, baseball usually knows enough to take a back seat.

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ABC's rolling out their new Saturday morning lineup this week, apparently making it the "place to be." Compared to cartoons of the past, some of which can still be seen Saturdays on other networks, this lineup strikes me as - what? Trendy, taking advantage of headlining music groups? (The Jackson 5ive, The Osmonds.) Cynical, spinning off from the network's own primetime shows? (The Brady Girls, with magic myna bird and pandas thrown in for good measure.) Unimaginative, regurgitating some of those old, favorite characters in an hour-long story with a social message? ("Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, Top Cat, Magilla Gorilla and his other animal friends sail away from Jellystone National Park to escape pollution.") Perhaps all three? It strikes me that this would have been about the time I stopped watching Saturday morning cartoons, which is a shame because I still enjoy the best of them (Rocky and Bullwinkle, Alvin, Felix the Cat, Bugs Bunny), but I'm afraid most intelligent children will see right through some of this claptrap.

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Let's see what else we can find this week.

A couple of notable series make their debuts on Saturday night; at 9:00 p.m., ABC introduces The Streets of San Francisco, with Karl Malden and Michael Douglas co-starring with The City itself. It's up against CBS's Mary Tyler Moore, which begins its third season as Ted Baxter is chosen to front WJM's new "Happy Talk" news format. If you're watching Minneapolis' favorite girl, chances are you might stick around for the night's second notable debut, The Bob Newhart Show (9:30 p.m.), the story of "A psychologist who can't handle his own hangups." Throw in In the Heat of the Night, and this really is the kind of night for which the VCR was invented.

"The Movie Fractured You. The Series Will Have You in Stitches." That's the way CBS advertised the debut of M*A*S*H on Sunday night (8:00 p.m.). If I didn't know any better, I'd think it was going to be something like Hogan's Heroes. Of course, the tenor of the program evolved somewhat over the years. If family fare is more your thing, Walt Disney begins its 19th season with "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes," staring Kurt Russell. Turning to crime, it's the second-season premiere of Columbo (NBC, 9:00 p.m.), and it's "Etude in Black," the episode Once Upon a Screen wrote about a couple of weeks ago, with John Cassavetes as the killer conductor. Elsewhere in the crime racket, Eddie Egan, the real-life former NYC detective who was the basis for Gene Hackman's character in The French Connection, is "a cop out to nab a killer" in the sixth-season opener of Mannix at 9:30 p.m. on CBS. The bad guy, I think, is played by Rip Torn; I haven't gotten to the sixth season in my DVD set yet.

We've already talked about Monday Night Football, the night's biggest program, but right before that ABC features one of its new series, The Rookies, starring Georg Stanford Brown, Michael Ontkean, and Sam Melville. And do you remember Bill Cosby's variety show? I didn't either, until I was reminded of it here; his big-name guest lineup includes Peter Sellers and Lily Tomlin. (10:00 p.m., CBS)

On Tuesday, WCBS presents the season premieres of two old favorites in new skins (syndicated, that is). First, at 1:00 p.m., it's Larry Blyden as the host of the all-new What's My Line? Then, at 7:30 p.m., it's Steve Allen hosting I've Got a Secret. Both harmless entertainment; neither come close to the sophistication and star power of the originals. Later in the evening (9:00 p.m.) NBC's The Bold Ones has one of those crossover episodes that used to be so popular back when diferent series shared the same television universe. This time, it's part two of an episode that began last week on Ironside; seems a surgeon's daughter has been kidnapped, and only Raymond Burr and his gang can get to the bottom of it.

Wednesday gives us several new shows, including The Paul Lynde Show (8:00 p.m., ABC) with Lynde woefully miscast as a family man. NBC has a hard-hitting lineup, led by Adam-12 at 8:00 p.m., which has a terrific guest cast: Christina Sinatra, Gary Crosby, and Frank Sinatra Jr. It's followed by Richard Widmark, reprising his movie role of the tough New York cop Madigan, as part of the network's new Wednesday Mystery Movie (8:30 p.m.); then, it's Tony Francoisa as one of the three wheels that keep Search rolling (10:00 p.m.), along with Hugh O'Brian and Doug McClure on alternating weeks. (Well, it rolls for a season, anyway) But the show that catches my eye is Medical Center at 10:00 p.m. on CBS, because something tells me that Chad Everett's Dr. Gannon is going to have a very tough day: "Mrs. Slade has a happy secret: after many years of marriage, she is finally pregnant. Mr. Slade has a secret, too, and the implication isn't as happy - three years ago he had a vasectomy." I read that description to my wife, who wondered if, back then, hospitals didn't have the policy that exists today where the wife has to give written permission first. Yes, I think Dr. Gannon will need some aspirin before this hour is over. And a stiff drink.

Bobby Sherman is the guest star on Thursday's episode of The Mod Squad (8:00 p.m., ABC), while at the same time on NBC, Tim Conway is Flip Wilson's foil (or is it the other way around?) The Dean Martin Show (10:00 p.m., NBC) has opera soprano Anna Moffo, Lloyd Bridges, and Barbara Feldon as guests, along with Nipsey Russell, Rodney Dangerfield, and Dom DeLuise. ABC's legal drama Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law* has Julie Sommars as the guest star; she plays a professor who has an affair with one of her students, and winds up being accused of his murder.

*Which, by the way, shares the same television universe with Marcus Welby, M.D.

Friday gives us a prime example of another staple of the new television season: a multi-episode spectacular. Tonight: The Brady Bunch goes to Hawaii on vacation. (Part one of three.) Frankly, I recommend Howard Cosell's guest spot on The Odd Couple (9:30 p.m., ABC). If you're staying up late, I also suggest going over to WNEW at 1:30 a.m. to catch a terrific suspense movie: The Stranger, with Orson Welles directing and starring in the story of a United Nations agent (Edward G. Robinson) hunting a Nazi war criminal (Welles). Oh, by the way, Loretta Young is also in it, as Welles' fiancee.

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There's so much else to look at in this issue - the former cast of Laugh-In, a fashion layout with Susan Clark, and all kinds of syndicated reruns that today we look at as classic television. But one has to draw the line somewhere, so let's close out with some cultural touchstones.

The Doan Report has a few items that caught my eye; first, a recap of the Munich Olympic Massacre, which had only happened the past week. ABC's coverage of the Games, which started out in color and pagentry, ended in a "spectacle of horror," but the network acquitted itself magnificently, with Jim McKay and Howard Cosell "suddenly cast in the role of headline-news reporters." NBC and CBS scrambled as best they could to provide coverage, but were limited in the amount of satellite time they were able to access, although CBS was able to get an hour, using coverage from the German police TV camera that ABC also had. Hard to imagine now, that one network could have virtually exclusive live coverage of a breaking news story like that, but in 1972 it wasn't all that easy to get satellite time under the best of circumstances; as I recall, ABC faced the same challenges in staying on the air.

Doan also notes that NBC is engaged in a "nation-wide search" for someone to host their proposed new late-late show, Tomorrow. While entertainment is forseen as being part of the new program, the emphasis will be on talk, often on "very important subjects of a nature that might not get discussed on TV at an hour before 1 A.M." No speculation as to the host will be, although it might be someone from "outside show business." (As indeed it is.) ABC and CBS are said to be "taking a wait-and-see attitide" toward NBC's new venture.

As for the new season, experts don't see any new trends coming from the new series; All in the Family, Marcus Welby, M.D., and Flip (Wilson) are expected to once again lead the pack. The heavy favorite among the new series is CBS's Bridget Loves Bernie, which lasts only a single season. The real interest lies with public reaction to the so-called "New Permissiveness." "Titillations with the gay life, abortion, unmarried sex and such will abound on TV in the weeks ahead. It's going to induce either drooling or damnation, or both."

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Two months later. . .
And From the Teletype: Here's a program I remember, from the day after Thanksgiving, 1972. They don't have a name for it yet, but it will be called "The Jerry Lucas Super Kids Day Magic Jamboree," filling three hours for ABC on the morning after Turkey Day, and it will feature the New York Knicks star performing magic tricks, passing along basketball tips, and "display[ing] his freakish memory (which allows him to memorize hundreds of pages of telephone directories.)" As I recall, Lucas would go on talk shows and memorize the names of everyone in the audience, and one of his greatest feats was the ability to take any word, at the instant it was spoken, and alphabatize it. He was a very good player, but disarming and fascinating in all these other ways. Sports Illustrated had two interesting articles on him; this one at the height of his memory fame, and this one from 30 years later telling of the interesting turns his life has taken since.

Also: Neil Diamond's received offers from all three networks to do music specials for them. He's mulling them over, but as I recall, he winds up going with NBC, doing a special called "Neil Diamond at the Greek Theatre."  Jerry Lewis plans an appearance on Sonny & Cher on CBS, including a skit in which he and Sonny play chess. (It happens to be the episode that airs this Friday.) And finally, Robert Young plans to star in a TV movie for ABC, entitled "All My Darling Daughters." Now TV Guide doesn't mention this, but I've heard they were going to call it "All My Darjeeling Daughters," but Young said it wasn't his cup of tea. . .

September 15, 2017

Around the dial

This is the culmination of a short week for me; if you're reading this on the date of publication, I'm at the Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention, but I didn't leave you without something to read in the meantime.

Speaking of satire, as we were on Wednesday, the Broadcast Archives at the University of Maryland links to this article at Smithsonian about Bullwinkle taught kids sophisticated political satire. I think "sophisticated" is one of the key words at play, not in the same sense as dressing up in a tuxedo, but in the way the show managed it without being crude, loud, or beating viewers over the head with it. (Even if Boris and Natasha were beating the moose and squirrel over the head.)

I've alluded to this in the TV Guide articles, but there was a time, once, when September was a little bit like Christmas, a special time when everything was new and fresh (even the returning TV series). At Comfort TV, David knows what I'm talking about, as he too remembers the days when Septembers were special.

Television Obscurities remembers the 50th anniversary of The Second Hundred Years, the 1967-68 ABC sitcom one where Monte Markham gets to play a man and his grandson, with Arthur O'Connell caught in the middle. I've read that O'Connell was put out that Markham was the star; that he was promised he would be the focal point of the episodes. Considering Markham plays twice as many characters in the series, I'm not quite sure how he figured that out.

Classic Film and TV CafĂ© has seven things we might not have known about Barbara Stanwick. What's interesting, and this I did know, is that although we think of her as a movie star, she had much more success with awards in television, winning Emmys for The Barbara Stanwyck Show, The Big Valley, and The Thorn Birds. The other thing I know is that she was a class act all the way - and by far the toughest of all the Barclays.

At Classic TV History, Joanna makes a stop in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania (just south of Pittsburgh) to see the statue of one of their favorite sons, Mr. Christmas himself, Perry Como, with a bonus - Bobby Vinton! - thrown in.

The Twilight Zone Vortex takes a closer look at the 1962 episode "Hocus Pocus and Frisby," which is not a story about someone making a misspelled flying object disappear, but a story of tall tales, starring Andy Devine. I think Brian's analysis of the episode's strengths and flaws is pretty much spot-on.

The very fun Eventually Supertrain podcast (from the man who brings you Some Polish American Guy) does some quick time travelling, with looks at Manimal, The Immortal, and Voyagers! Boy, some memories there.

Hopefully, that will hold you until I get back!

September 13, 2017

No laughing matter

The following contains information which some readers may interpret in a political sense. That isn't the case; as you'll see, there's really nothing political about what follows, but if your name is Ray G., or if you just don't want to take the chance, come on back Friday for our ideology-free look around the dial - I won't be offended. I promise. Not much, that is.

Anyway, what you've just read is an example - perhaps not a very good one, but an example nonetheless - of satire. The dictionary (or one of them, anyway) defines satire as "the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues." That sounds about right. However, nowhere in this definition does it say anything about the ultimate goal of satire, whether or not it has any purpose, anything its purveyor hopes to accomplish, other than the aforementioned exposure or criticism. We'll get to that in a moment, since it's the heart of the discussion.

For just about as long as television has been around, so has satire. In fact, as this brilliant radio bit by Stan Freberg shows, the first satirist came on the scene not long after the first event worth satirizing. And not long after the first satirist came the first nervous network executive, worried about the effect the satire would have on the show's advertisers. Sic semper erat, et sic semper erit. Throughout the years television has provided a fertile opportunity for satirists to ply their trade, as guests on variety and talk shows, in comedy sketches, and on sitcoms.

This isn't intended to be a history of satire, though, and you probably could get a better one from the always-reliable Wikipedia; what got me thinking in this direction was an episode of Malcolm Gladwell's podcast called "The Satire Paradox." I'm not going to describe it at any length - you can and should check it out for yourself. But if you know anything about Gladwell, then you know he often goes about poking holes in popularly-held beliefs, so it should come as no surprise that there is indeed a paradox when it comes to satire, that is: satire has no effect on the things it satirizes.

The focus of Gladwell's study is on the British comedian Harry Enfield, who during the Margaret Thatcher years became enormously popular for a satiric character he called Loadsamoney. It was a vicious attack on Thatcher's England, symbolizing everything that liberals felt was wrong with conservative policies. And yet, when all was said and done, and Gladwell asked Enfield what the character had accomplished, how it had changed things, he was surprised by the answer: nothing. And, Gladwell continues, this shouldn't be a surprise, because all down the line, that has been the answer with satire: it has changed nothing. I've written about All in the Family before; a goodly number of the show's fans actually agreed with Archie Bunker's opinions, and Gladwell mentions that the show's ultimate effect was to reinforce the prejudices of its viewers.

Taking a look at a more recent program, Comedy Central's Colbert Report, a similar study showed that both liberals and conservatives felt Stephen Colbert's fake conservative news character was telling it like it was: liberals naturally saw in his O'Reilly spoof an obvious satire on conservative politics; conservatives, on the other hand, didn't actually believe Colbert's character was genuine, but what they did believe was that buried in his broad humor was, as is so often the case, a kernel of truth. Heather Lamarre, co-author of a study on Cobert's humor, was I think, somewhat surprised by this, but she shouldn't have been, for I think we've always known that buried somewhere in the funniest situations is the truth, whether it's intentional or not.*

*This was part of Colbert's genius - the ability to appeal to liberals and conservatives alike - which is what ultimately made his selection to succeed Letterman such a bad choice by CBS. Unless they could have bought the "Colbert character" from Comedy Central, Colbert would be forced to play himself, and eventually he'd be forced to alienate half of his audience, as indeed I think he has, by clearly becoming a partisan. Of course, your mileage may vary, and there's nothing wrong with this if it makes money for the network.

In discussing Tina Fey's portrayal of Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live, Gladwell attempts to get to the heart of the matter: Fey's satire was too funny, too good at drawing laughs, to be truly effective satire, and this "toothless satire" tends to be emblematic of what appears on American television. Now, I'm not sure I agree with this rationale, but after thinking about it for awhile I think I understand what Gladwell's point is. Does the satirist simply hope to gain laughs from the audience, or does that person actually hope to use satire to point out the awfulness of something in an attempt to get people to think seriously about it?

One of Gladwell's sources referred to satire as, and I'm paraphrasing here, the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down - or, in this case, the harsh reality that people are too reluctant to face head-on otherwise. And it's true that humor can be a great way of facing uncomfortable truths. But that's assuming that facing the truth is what you want to accomplish, and not just getting a cheap laugh at someone else's expense.

I think the problem with effective satire today is that too much of it is preaching to the choir. Think about it for a moment: how many politically conservative people do you know who watch Saturday Night Live? A few, maybe, but probably not a lot. I myself haven't watched it in probably 30 years. And because Gladwell finds both Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert funny in a way that I don't, he might not agree with, or even think of, where I'm going with this. But it seems a reasonable assumption that most of the people who do watch SNL already agree with the show's political agenda (in a way that might not have been true with The Colbert Report), and therefore the savage humor that the show produces week after week is largely falling on deaf ears. It's not meant to illuminate or educate people, to get them to change their minds or even consider another point of view. No, in reality what it does is serve to reinforce the opinions already held by its core audience. And there's nothing wrong with that - my purpose isn't to criticize SNL for left-of-center humor, just to suggest that if you really want to get people to think about something, to take your satire seriously, perhaps you might try being less antagonistic, less obvious, more subtle.

There's another problem with satire, something that Jonathan Coe suggests in another article to which Gladwell refers, and that is that satire can cause people to cease to take anything or anyone seriously, a particularly dangerous attitude in this day and time. Rather than being moved to take action, satire eventually overwhelms a listener to the point that they become a cynic, seeing any type of reaction as useless. Or, what could be even worse, it allows for a kind of "plausible deniability," an opportunity for the viewer to, as Michael Frayn put it, "disclaim with laughter any responsibility for this situation, and so relieve their consciences without actually voting for anything which might have reduced their privileges." In other words, satire provides an audience already predisposed to agreeing with the point of view of the satirist with the opportunity to signal their approval through laughter. It is, in a way, a kind of "virtue signaling," to use an in-vogue term. Referring to a sketch by the famed British comedian Peter Cook on the show Beyond the Fringe, Coe concludes that "The sketch makes it clear that laughter is not just ineffectual as a form of protest, but that it actually replaces protest."

That single line, I think, is what unites these two theories that I have, a unity that Gladwell may hint at but doesn't necessarily voice himself. Today's satire is ineffective because it is, on the one hand, not really interested in creating a dialogue or raising someone's consciousness, the way really effective satire can. On the other hand, because it performs to people who already "get" its truth, it eventually becomes a surrogate, a substitute, for doing anything useful. No matter which way you take it, the satirist fails if his hope was to generate any kind of real awareness or change. At best, he (or she) has to be satisfied with laughs and boatloads of money. If that's all you're after, then that's fine.

Ultimately, I don't know what all this proves. As long as ratings and sponsor dollars are important, satire on television is always going to pull its punches one way or another. Either it will become toothless in an attempt not to offend, or it substitutes approval for a call to action. It's been that way since television started, and those who've tried to practice it have complained about it ever since. As it turns out, though, perhaps it was much ado about nothing, because it seems as if that skit that got everyone so worked up, or that series that gave people fits, or those jokes that outraged one side or the other - well, in the end, none of it mattered at all.

Someone ought to write a bit about that. It would have to be satire, of course.

September 11, 2017

What's on TV? Friday, September 19, 1975

An interesting Friday night to look at; one of the reasons I was drawn to this date was that there are lots of programs here that you don't ordinarily associate with Fridays. M*A*S*H? Only for three months, but this date fell in that range. Hawaii Five-O? I always think of it on Wednesday or Thursdays, but here it is on Friday, for those same three months, as was Barnaby Jones. Five-O, Barnaby, Rockford, and Police Woman make up four hours of crime dramas on Fridays, and a crime drama (The Kansas City Massacre) for a movie. Quite a way to end the week, isn't it? Let's get started; we're looking at the Minnesota State Edition.

September 9, 2017

This week in TV Guide: September 13, 1975

It's time once again for everyone's favorite game, "Pick the Winners," where you get the chance to go head-to-head against the television experts to choose the year's most successful series! Last year, you may recall, the panel assembled by TV Guide unanimously - unanimously - chose Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers as the sure-thing, can't-miss, "best chance for ratings glory" program of the year. Fifteen weeks later, it was gone. As Neil Hickey says, keep this in mind when you look at their picks

First things first. The experts are eleven of the top advertising agency executives, men paid big bucks to predict where the bigger bucks ought to go. And among these eleven, there is a consensus, three series that show up on more of their lists than any others. Those three: Phyllis, on CBS; Joe Forrester, on NBC, and Switch, on CBS. Phyllis, the second spinoff from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, starring Cloris Leachman, is described as "the enviable filly," sandwiched between Rhoda and All in the Family, with Maude and Medical Center to follow. Joe Forrester, starring Lloyd Bridges in a spinoff from a Police Story episode, is up against the "big gamble of the year," CBS's Masterpiece Theatre-clone Beacon Hill, and ABC's fading Marcus Welby, M.D. Switch, which stars Robert Wagner and Eddie Albert in a "first cousin" to the Oscar-winning The Sting, is strengthened by the likeability of its stars, but handicapped by its tough position going up against Police Story and The Rookies. 

How did they do? Let's go to the judges' cards for the decision. Phyllis lasted two seasons, fewer than Rhoda, although their ratings were comperable. Joe Forrister was clearly a disappointment, lasting only a single season. Switch, however, survived for three seasons before being replaced by The Incredible Hulk.. So as far as that goes, we'll give the experts one out of three, which would give them a pretty good batting average in the major leagues. They do much better when it comes to picking the bombs (it's always embarrassing when you look back and find out that one of their "sure fire flops" turns out to be something like Little House on the Prairie) - the three most likely to fail are On the Rocks ("mostly because nobody could find out why it was conceived at all, much less sent out to compete"). Mobile One (similar reasons, plus it's on up against Sanford and Son, Chico and the Man, and M*A*S*H), and Saturday Night Life with Howard Cosell, which is only remembered today because it's the show that forced SNL to use the title NBC's Saturday Night for the first few weeks.

Were there any shows they really missed? Well, the cop show Starsky and Hutch garnered a fair amount of support, and a sitcom called Welcome Back, Kotter got a vote. On the flip side, there were several votes for Doctors Hospital, starring George Peppard, one of the first "realistic" medical dramas, which probably got less than it deserved.

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Let's stay on the prediction binge a little longer here, and turn to Melvin Durslag's prognostications for the new NFL season. Profits are on the downside - each team makes but $2 million from television, the average team shows a profit of a measly $512,000, and eight teams lost money last season. Contrast this with the most recent figures, which show that the average profit margin per team is over $225 million (from the league's revenue pool), and the teams evenly divide about $2.5 billion or so from their television contract. Eh, inflation.

But it's true that Durslag paints something of a grim picture for the NFL in 1975, and at first glance that would seem to be anything but true nowadays. And yet - ratings were down last year for the first time in a while, and we'll see if it was just the election, or if it did have something to do with players kneeling for the national anthem, for sexual assaults and violence and concussions and other off-field happenings, and there's still the threat of labor strife in the future. So when you think about it, for all that's changed, a lot is still the same.

Durslag's predictions for the AFC are straightforward: Miami in the East, Pittsburgh in the Central, Oakland in the West, while in the NFC the division winners are St. Louis in the East, Minnesota in the Central, and Los Angeles in the West. And how did this expert do? Well, in fact, Durslag aces the NFC, with one proviso. He mentions that we are warned that it is "dangerous to pick against Dallas in the division, but the judgment here is that the Cowboys have busted their last bronc for a spell. They must rebuild." He does not pick the Cowboys to win the East, and he is correct. However, they do win the Wild Card (he has them finishing fourth), and then go on to upset both Minnesota and Los Angeles to wind up in the Super Bowl, where they take on: Pittsburgh. While Durslag gets the Steelers and Raiders right, he really blows it in the East, where he picks Baltimore to finish fifth, and for awhile he looks smart; the Colts get out to a 1-4 start before running off seven straight wins, then defeat Miami 10-7 in an overtime thriller in Baltimore, before defeating New England in the final game of the season to finish atop the division. The Steelers win the AFC anyhow, then top Dallas in Super Bowl X.

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I don't often get the chance to do a head-to-head between Don Kirshner's Rock Concert and The Midnight Special, primarily because there aren't often listings for the guests on Kirshner's show. This week is an exception though, and I'm going to take advantage of it.

Kirshner: Yes, David Essex, Brian Cadd, Rush, and the Fania All-Stars are the performers. Also: clips of Jimi Hendrix.

Special: Helen Reddy (hostess), Paul Williams, Phoebe Snow, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and comedian Alan Mandell are the guests. On film: David Bowie.

OK, let's think about this for a minute. On film, you've got David Bowie. On stage, you have Yes and Rush, plus film clips of Hendrix. This week it's a big Yes for Don Kirschner.

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They're not starlets anymore, they're just the "Stars of the Future," and they come in both sexes. Let's see who some of Hollywood's most successful talent scouts have labeled for upcoming stardom.

(L-R) Grant, Conaway, Pringle, Potts, Sublette
Ethel Winant, formerly of CBS and now of Children's Television Workshop, likes Linda Sublette, who's been in Gunsmoke and Mary Tyler Moore, as well as a ton of commercials. "She's very American," says Winant, back when that was an asset. "Cute. Bright. Perky." Al Trescony of NBC, who dates back to MGM and Clary Gable, favors Cliff Potts, whom, he says, "could be another Steve McQueen." Potts has been on "the TV guest-star circuit" and was Gene Barry's assistant in The Name of the Game.

Gail Melnick, of ABC, rather likes Barra Grant, "the most versatile actress I've ever seen." Adds Melnick, "She's right for almost every female part I have." Grant, in addition to doing series guest parts and TV movies, is the daughter of Bess Myerson. Meanwhile, Monique James of Universal City Studios casts her vote for Joan Pringle. "What an actress!" she says of Pringle, who was in the last season of Ironside, had roles in Emergency!, Toma, and Banacek, and is headed for That's My Mama. Eddie Foy III, part of the famous Foy family, is reminded of a young Dick Van Dyke when he thinks of Jeff Conaway. "He's got that marvelous looseness that you don't see in a lot of people today." He played in Grease on stage for a couple of years, and also did an episode of Movin' On.

So how did these predictions go? Well, Jeff Conaway, who died in 2011, had successes in both Taxi and Babylon 5, as well as the movie version of Grease. Joan Pringle did a lot of TV; her best-known role was probably in The White Shadow. Barra Grant appeared in the second series of the BBCseries Take Three Girls, as well as numerous TV shows and movies, but has gone on to do more work as a TV writer and director. Cliff Potts has done a number of movies and TV series, including Silent Running, and acted with Steve McQueen, though he never approached his talent or his magnetism. And Linda Sublette has a few credits to her name, but probably made far more money off of commercials than I'll ever see in my lifetime.

Which just goes to show that predicting success isn't easy, but even a little success is as accomplishment. It's a tough business, as Eddie Foy III says: "Television makes it come too fast, too soon. And it ends quicker than it starts."

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Muhammad Ali, the Heavyweight Champion of the World, hosts his own variety special at 7:00 p.m. CT on ABC Saturday night; his guests are Howard Cosell (natch), Flip Wilson, Aretha Franklin, Gabe Kaplan, The Captain and Tennille, and Barry White. (I swear, this sounds like some kind of SCTV parody, doesn't it?) I remember the host of Welcome Inn, the local "variety" show on Channel 7, talking about the Ali special later in the week and marvelling and how smooth and funny Ali was as a host; even at 15, I was thinking to myself, "Hey lady, have you ever heard of, you know, writers?" The unnamed critic of The Screening Room begs to differ with our Channel 7 hostess, saying that Ali is "out of his element when he's out of the ring. His opening monologue falls flat, his guests praise him fawningly, and his verbal sparring with Howard Cosell is predictable." On the other hand, Aretha Franklin's pretty good.

You can tell we're at the start of a new season just by looking at the heavy guns being brought out on Sunday. At 7:00 p.m., ABC's The Six Million Dollar Man begins its third season with a two-part episode bringing back Steve Austin's flame, Jaime Sommers. Steve saw her die in the previous season after undergoing an operation similar to his, but she's back this season and bionically better than ever, on the way to a series of her own the following year. At 8:00 p.m., it's CBS's turn to welcome a third-season favorite, as Telly Savalas' Kojak investigates a loan shark also under investigation by the Feds, with a guest cast including Eli Wallach, Michael Gazzo, Jerry Orbach, Jennifer Warren, F. Murray Abraham, and Charles Kimbrough. He'll need all that star power, because ABC's coming back with the network premiere of Cabaret, winner of eight Academy Awards, including Best Director (Bob Fosse), Best Supporting Actor (Joel Grey), and Best Actress (Liza Minnelli). Says Judith Crist, "this work is more than a film 'version' of the musical. It is a vivid drama wth music, a compassionate story of people trapped by their own indifference and slowly contaminated by their lack of involvement."

ABC kicks off the college football season Monday night at 8:00 p.m. with an all-Catholic showdown, as Notre Dame, under new head coach Dan Devine, travels to Boston to take on Boston College.* More accurately, they're in Foxboro, home of the New England Patriots, where a crowd of over 61,000 sees the Irish emerge triumphant, 17-3. Remember, we're still in the days when the number of games is limited, so this is it for the weekend, even though the season actually started on Saturday with a big matchup between Michigan State and Ohio State, which ABC shares with highlights during Wide World of Sports. Yup, times have changed.*

*In case you're wondering where Monday Night Football is, remember that in the days of the 14-game NFL season, opening day isn't until next week.

Tuesday morning starts on Today (NBC, 7:00 a.m.) with an interview of Margaret Thatcher, leader of Britain's Conservative Party. I remember when she was elected, the first woman in a Western nation to lead a major political party. People wondered if conservatives would have a problem with that. They didn't. That evening, on what has to be a wonderful rerun of Jean Shepherd's America, "Jean recalls the time his father's huge homemade kite blew away. Jean also tells about his father's first plane ride. . . before the invention of airsickness bags." You know, I can hear Jean Shepherd narrating that, and I can hear Darren McGavin shouting, can't you?

On Wednesday it's Mel Brooks' Robin Hood parody, When Things Were Rotten (7:00 p.m., ABC, with guest star Phil Silvers). I think I've mentioned before that there was a great mystique about programs like this that aired on CBS and, especiallyt, ABC while I lived in The World's Worst Town™. We could get CBS programming on the KELOland station when the weather was good, and on occasion (such as with the Muhammad Ali special above) Channel 7 would telecast ABC programming, since it was a dual affiliation. Rarely the good stuff, though. From what I'd read, I though When Things Were Rotten had to be a hilarious show; I knew Brooks from The Producers, and I thought spoofing Robin Hood was a slam dunk. It wasn't, but such is the aura of a show like that. The man who wrote that "'tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all" never got to watch a TV show he'd always wanted to see only to find out it wasn't any good.

Thursday starts off at 6:30 p.m. on KROC, the NBC affiliate in Rochester, with Space: 1999, the science fiction series starring the late Martin Landeau and Barbara Bain. As I recall, people had high hopes for this series, one of the first really serious sci-fi series since Star Trek, and at the time I remember hearing it was something of a disappointment (we couldn't see it up there, you know), although its reputation may have been burnished in the years since then. Hard to see how it couldn't be good, with that cast, plus Ian McShane (right) as a guest star. Later on (7:30 p.m., NBC), it's Lee Grant's 10-episode sitcom Fay, followed at 8:00 p.m. by the too-short Ellery Queen Mysteries, with Jim Hutton and David Wayne terrific as Queens son and father, Tom Reese dependable as Velle, John Hillerman wonderfully smug as Simon Brimmer, and a knockout guest cast this week: Susan Strasberg, Anne Francis, Don Ameche, Craig Stevens, Jack Kelly, and Ida Lupino. As my wife would say, it's too bad they couldn't get anyone big. Continuing on the crime beat, David Janssen's gritty P.I. drama Harry O (9:00 p.m., ABC) has a hit-and-run story with a desperate client (Carol Rossen, whose father Robert directed the classic All the King's Men, and who herself survived an incredible murder attempt), and a supporting cast including Larry Hagman and Robert Loggia).

It's a rite of passage on M*A*S*H Friday (7:30 p.m., CBS), as "Change of Command" provides an apt title for the episode that introduces the 4077th's new CO: Colonel Sherman Potter, played by the redoubtable Harry Morgan. Elsewhere, Jim Backus, Sherry Jackson, Julie Adams, and Patty McCormack are among the guests on ABC's soon-to-be short-lived series Mobile One (7:00 p.m.), Sgt. Becker - a veteran of the bunco squad - has to ask Rockford to bail him out after he's the victim of a fraud (and don't think Rockford will ever let him hear the end of it) on The Rockford Files (8:00 p.m., NBC), and Paul Picerni, a veteran of Quinn Martin's The Untouchables, returns to the QM stables as he guests on Barnaby Jones (9:00 p.m., CBS) along with Barry Sullivan, Sharon Acker, Charles Durning, and Hayden Rorke.

As I said, Septembers are great if you're looking for big-name guest stars!

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Tidbits collected from the rest of the issue:

ABC, on the heels of hiring Fred Silverman from CBS to run its programming, tried to go to that well again, offering Don Hewitt, producer of 60 Minutes, the job running the network's failing morning show, AM America. Hewitt tells ABC he's under a long-term contract to CBS and has no desire to try and get out of it, but that if he did, the only thing that would interest him would be if "I owned AM America." I know not whether he speaks in jest, but that thought is a very interesting one. Would the program, which features Bill Beutel, Stephanie Edwards, and Peter Jennings, have looked like its successor, Good Morning America, or would it have been something entirely different? I wonder what Hewitt would have had in mind. Like the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop, the world will never know.

George Carlin is set to host the inaugural episode of NBC's live Saturday Night sketch comedy show (it does sound better after Cosell is cancelled, doesn't it?), and more cast signings have been announced: Albert Brooks "will contribute a short film - featuring himself as writer and star - to each of the first seven programs," and Jim Henson has some new Muppet creations set to appear. Producer Lorne Michaels confesses that the hardest part of live television "is making it come out to the right lenght," but that anxiety is what drives good comedy.

This season features the introduction of the "Family Prime Time Period," a nightly two-hour commitment to family-friendly programming agreed to by stations that subscribe to the Television Code fo the National Association of Broadcasters. Note that this is voluntary; there's no government intervention or censorship involved in this, although one could certainly intuit that the threat of government involvement often drives this kind of intervention. Stockton Helfrich, the Director of Code Authority for NAB, takes a moment to explain to TV Guide just what the phrase "family programming" means, and what he'll be looking for. The short answer: bear with us. It's going to take time to implement this, and it's going to be done on a case-by-case basis, rather than one-size-fits-all. Helfrich believes there's already a consensus between networks and broadcasters that "extraneous violence and explicit sexual subject material" is "out of bounds" in the Family Prime Time Period. He has confidence, though, that programmers can exercise their "usual business finesse in selecting broadcast entities that draw and hold audiences." However, he acknowledges that there will be times, such as when a viewer says, "it's all right to show that people fight, but it shouldn't get out of hand" - well, how do you define that? Or when someone speaks of sex and says, "no indecent stuff" - it's not going to be easy.

And it's funny you should mention that, because Monday night's episode of Medical Center (9:00 p.m., CBS) features a storyline in which Robert Reed plays a surgeon seeking a sex change, and his hostile wife and son refuse to intervene on his behalf. "CBS plans an announcement warning that the episode may not be suitable for all family members." Indeed.