July 27, 2016

The negative campaign

There's a section in The Image Empire, volume three of Erik Barnouw’s seminal History of Broadcasting in the United States, that should be of interest to anyone with an opinion on negative advertising in politics.

The negative ad, of course, is nothing new. During the election of 1884, to give just one example, Grover Cleveland was rumored to have been the father an illegitimate child. Hence the campaign chant, “Ma, Ma, where's my Pa?” (See above)  Multiply this by a thousand, and you get the idea of an American political scene that has always been rough and tumble.*

*I've mentioned this before, but one of the great lines from the play (and movie) 1776 comes when Stephen Hopkins says to his friend Ben Franklin, "I want y'to see some cards I've gon 'n' had printed up that ought t'save everybody here a whole lot of time 'n' effort, considering the epidemic of bad disposition that's been going around lately. "Dear sir: You are without any doubt a rogue, a rascal, a villain, a thief, a scoundrel, and a mean, dirty, stinking, sniveling, sneaking, pimping, pocket-picking, thrice double-damned, no good son-of-a-bitch" - and y'sign y'r name. What do y'think?" To which Franklin replies, "I'll take a dozen right now!"

Early campaign commercials were, I think, little more than an extension of product advertising, i.e. selling a candidate instead of a new brand of detergent.  The commercials themselves were fairly straightforward: candidates presenting themselves and their positions to the voters.

The televised debates of 1960 would demonstrate the power of TV to shape the campaign, as would JFK's accessibility to the camera through TV appearances and documentaries.  His assassination in 1963 further showed television as the new backyard fence, the gathering spot for American conversation.  It was inevitable that political advertising would evolve from the simple candidate-facing-the-camera commercials of the past. Here's an example of the former, a 1952 commercial by Dwight Eisenhower.

The 1964 campaign, according to Barnouw, represented the turning point in that development. Whereas these prior television commercials

had been built around the candidate[, t]he principal Doyle Dane Bernbach [the ad agency for the Democratic Party] spots were not. This may have been partly a matter of necessity; the nomination of Johnson, though a foregone conclusion, did not take place until the end of August, more than a month after the Goldwater nomination. Meanwhile the Doyle Dane Bernbach spots dealt – without mentioning him – with Goldwater.

Barnouw mentions two LBJ commercials in particular. The best known – perhaps the most famous ever made – was the “Daisy” commercial that showed a little girl picking the petals off a daisy, which morphed into a countdown to a nuclear blast.

The implication was obvious: that Goldwater was a mad bomber intent on nuking North Vietnam, China, Russia – any Communist country that happened to get in the way – accompanied, doubtlessly, by the deaths of millions of small children like the little girl with her daisy.

There was a second LBJ commercial, however, which I hadn’t previously heard of, which also packed a punch:

In another spot a girl was seen eating an ice-cream cone. There was the ticking of a Geiger counter. A motherly voice was meanwhile explaining about Strontium 90, a radioactive fallout product found to concentrate itself in milk. Again a viewer was reminded of Goldwater’s apparently casual attitude toward nuclear “devices” and perhaps his opposition to the test-ban treaty. 

Each of these commercials aired only once – the “Daisy” commercial, in particular, received so much free publicity through the news media that there seemed no reason to pay to have them shown again. They had made their point.*

*A third commercial, which was never shown, “subtly” connects Goldwater with the KKK. I think the Democrats were right to not air this one; it might even be considered over the top today, although I can't be positive. Watch it and see what you think.

It’s perhaps an indication of how naïve we were then, or how cynical we are now, that these commercials were considered unusual, even dirty play, by many. Goldwater himself protested that “[t]he homes of America are horrified and the intelligence of Americans is insulted by weird television advertising by which this administration threatens the end of the world unless all-wise Lyndon is given the nation for his very own.” In retrospect we might suggest that Goldwater, who as a candidate was often his worst enemy, was horrified primarily by the effectiveness of the spots.

There were other examples, less dramatic but no less effective: after a negative Goldwater reference to Social Security during the New Hampshire primary, Doyle Dane produced “a spot in which two hands were seen tearing up a Social Security card.” One can surely see the genesis of the Paul Ryan-pushing-granny’s-wheelchair-off-the-cliff commercial in this kind of advertising.

I don’t want to suggest that this kind of campaigning was limited to the Democrats. The Republicans countered with a long-form spot that attempted to suggest that Democrats, and LBJ in particular, were responsible for a “moral decay” enveloping the country. “The decay was depicted through glimpses of topless dancers, pornographic magazines, marquees of nudist films – and rioting.” The film, Barnouw claimed, “associated sexual emancipation and the rise of nudism with Negro protest movements; all were considered aspects of the breakdown of ‘law and order.’” Barnouw’s suggestion that this phrase, “law and order,’ was intended as a coded appeal to segregationists, is one that I don’t particularly agree with; nevertheless, there could be no question that the Republicans were responding to the Democrats in kind. The chairman of the Democratic Party, John Bailey, called it “the ‘sickest’ program in the history of television campaigning,” which I find a bit dubious,* but there’s no doubt that a new form of tele-campaigning was born. You can see that one below. (Goldwater didn't ban it as much as disown it; it's true that he prevented it from being shown again, but that was after it already aired.)

*Pot calling kettle…

I’m not taking sides here on the issue of negative campaigning. Certainly there are a lot of people who are sick to death of it; by the same token, most polls clearly show its effectiveness. When people stop responding positively to them, presumably, candidates will stop showing them.

What I’m really after here is a bit of historical perspective. What we see and hear today in the last days of this election campaign is nothing new and should hardly be surprising, for it represents a most natural evolution, for better or worse, of a political discourse that has been around since the beginning of the Republic, oftentimes in a form that was particularly nasty and personal. There is no question that negative ads have come to dominate the airwaves in a way which might have been unthinkable back in 1964 – and yet anyone looking at the effectiveness of the LBJ ads would have said that such a trend was inevitable. In fact, if we define the television era for campaign purposes as having starting in 1948, one could suggest that TV advertising had a relatively long period (12 years, to 1964) in which negative ads were not the dominant forms.

We may not much like it, but then we don’t much like poverty either – and yet, as Jesus reminds us, “the poor you will always have.” Negative campaigning would appear to be the same.

Portions of this were originally published October 10, 2012.

July 25, 2016

What's on TV? Monday, July 23, 1956

If you hadn't already noticed by reading Saturday's piece, the stations this week have some very interesting call letters. There's WLW-D in Dayton, WLW-C in Columbus, and WLW-T in Cincinnati, for example. I think it's safe to assume all three are owned by the same company, which in fact was the case. They were owned by the Crosley Broadcasting Company, the same Crosley that made the radios, and the same Crosley after whom Cincinnati's Crosley Field was named. In fact, two of the three still have the same call letters, except for having dropped the hyphen. The only one to change is WLWC, which is now known as WCMH, although WLWD is now Channel 20 instead of Channel 2.

If you haven't figured out by now that we're in Southern Ohio, we are. So let's get started.

July 23, 2016

This week in TV Guide: July 21, 1956

On the cover this week are Bill Lundigan and Mary Costa, the commercial spokespersons for the Chrysler Corporation, currently sponsors of the shows Climax! and Shower of Stars. Remember, this is a time when the sponsor, not the network, wields the most clout; many times, the sponsor buys the airtime and then puts a show in that spot. This would change following the Quiz Show Scandal, but for now sponsors loom large, and there are few gigs better-paying or offering more visibility than serving as the face of the product on its commercials.

In less than two years, Bill Lundigan - ex-Marine, ex-radio announcer, ex-movie star - has logged over 100,000 miles traveling on behalf of Chrysler, and has met more than a half-million people. He and Costa, who often travel as a team, have appeared at "auto shows, dealer conventions, company dances, board meetings and other institutions designed to move the merchandise." All this has made him so well-known, so familiar to viewers, that when he goes on vacation, Chrysler has to explain to the public that he'd be back soon.

Before you start thinking this is a step down for Lundigan and Costa, keep in mind this is essentially the same job that Ronald Reagan performed for General Electric, touring the country for the company, speaking to employees and appearing at civic events. That wound up working out pretty well for him, didn't it? Interestingly, this article notes that although Lundigan's price for a starring role has tripled since he started working for Chrysler, he's only done one movie - a training film for auto salesmen, natch - in the last two years. "So far," he says, "I haven't been in Hollywood long enough ot make a picture."

Later, Bill Lundigan goes on to star in the single-season science-fiction show Men into Space, one of the first shows to take a fairly realistic look at space travel. Mary Costa would sing at the Metropolitan Opera and appear on countless variety shows over the years, but might be best known as the voice of Princess Aurora in Disney's Sleeping Beauty. And we know what happened to Ronald Reagan.

◊ ◊ ◊

This week, on the aforementioned Climax, a story of danger in the Orient - "The Man Who Lost His Head," with a very strong cast: Debra Paget* (The Ten Commandments), John Ericson (Honey West), Sir Cedric Hardwicke, and Peter Lorre. That's followed, on NBC, by Ford Theatre, with Edward G. Robinson in "A Set of Values." And on CBS, it's Four Star Playhouse, this week featuring Dick Powell in "Success Story." A very big lineup of stars, indeed.

*Who will be appearing at the Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention in September. I'll be there; will you?

◊ ◊ ◊

On Sunday, CBS's You Are There presents "The Fight at the O.K. Corral," reported by Walter Cronkite and staff. You Are There was a great way of introducing people, especially young viewers, into historical events by covering them as if they were occurring today, with analysis, interviews, and the like.

The cast includes Robert Bray, John Larch, and John Anderson as the Earps, DeForest Kelley as Ike Clanton, and Arthur Rease and Ernest Baldwin as the McLowrys. When I read this to my wife, she immediately commented, "So 'Spectre of the Gun' wasn't DeForest Kelley's first trip to the OK Corral!" No, it wasn't - but talk about missed opportunities! In that classic Star Trek episode, Bones plays not Ike Clanton, but Tom McLowry. Kirk has to play Ike, leader of the Clantons, I suppose - but still, wouldn't it have been great for Kelley to revisit the same role in a different show twelve years later? Quick quiz: how many actors have played the same historical character in multiple series?

◊ ◊ ◊

I think we did this once before, but for those late to the party, one of Ed Sullivan's first great on-air challenges came from Steve Allen, who left Tonight to take over an NBC variety show opposite Ed.* Steve was able to assemble a pretty good lineup week-in and week-out, which he combined with his stock cast and regular bits to produce an entertaining series. It didn't run as long as Ed's, of course, but then Allen said his goal was never to conquer Ed, but to coexist with him, which he did for three seasons. Let's see who gets the best of the contest this week.

*Replacing the Colgate Comedy Hour.

Sullivan: Ed's guests include: the Ames Brothers, singing quartet; veteran song-and-dance man Ted Lewis; T.C. Jones, impersonator now performing in the Broadway musical "New Faces"; operatic soprano Elaine Malbin; comedian Larry Daniels; and the Fredonis, acrobatic team.

Allen: Comedienne Judy Holliday, comic Buddy Hackett and the singing Four Lads are Steve's guests tonight. In a special remote from Birdland, a jazz spot in New York City, we see Count Basie and his band perform.

Well. Ted Lewis was very well-known in his day; after all, you don't get the moniker "Mr. Entertainment" for nothing. And of course the best-known of the Ames brothers was Ed, who went on to great fame as a solo singing act and as an actor in Daniel Boone, and even greater fame as a tomahawk thrower on The Tonight Show. But let's get real: Judy Holliday was an Academy Award winner, Buddy Hackett had a great stand-up career, and Count Basie! I think that's more than enough to give Allen the edge this week.

◊ ◊ ◊

In sports, this week's programming consists mostly of baseball and boxing (nothing earth-shattering), so the real action is off the field. ABC will be covering the College All-Star football game, pitting the NFL champion Cleveland Browns against a team of the year's best college all-stars, on August 10. Meanwhile, NBC has locked up the television rights to both the World Series and the baseball All-Star Game for another five years, with Gillette paying $3.25 million per year for radio and TV rights.* Next year, NBC adds its Saturday Game of the Week to its TV coverage. Finally, CBS will introduce the National Hockey League to network television for the first time, televising 10 Saturday afternoon games from January through March of next season.

*With most proceeds going to the Baseball Players Pension Fund. Times have changed, as we say so often.

We also learn from the TV Teletype that "TV has arrived." Proof is that Budd Schulberg is doing a "TV exposé story" for the big screen, starring Andy Griffith. The name of that movie? A Face in the Crowd, of course.

◊ ◊ ◊

In other news, I've long lamented the disappearance of cultural programming from television, and another case in point is this week's Producers' Showcase, in color at 7:00 pm on NBC. It's "Rosalinda," an adaptation of Johann Strauss's operetta Die Fledermaus, starring the great Cyril Ritchard, Jean Fenn, and Lois Hunt. Now, I admit that Fledermaus isn't particularly my cup of tea, especially when it's done at the Metropolitan Opera, but I think it's great in a light opera setting, as it is here. And, of course, anything with Ritchard (Captain Hook in Peter Pan) is worth watching.

Another worthy show is Fred Waring's 40th anniversary show, at 10:00 pm on NBC. Unless you're into the Time-Life type of Christmas albums, you probably don't know much, if anything, about Fred Waring*, but in the years before and after World War II, Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians was one of the most popular singing groups in America, in the fashion (though not the style) of Mitch Miller and Ray Coniff. Here's a sample:

*Fun fact: Fred Warning was also the George Foreman of his time, investing in and promoting a very popular kitchen gadget: the Waring Blender.

Again, I'm not sure I'd say this was my style, and I don't know that anyone would go for this kind of music today, but that's not the point - the point is that television today is poorer for not having musical programs such as this. Unless you count the screaming divas on shows like The Voice. Whih I don't.

◊ ◊ ◊

Finally, every once in a while we'll run across an issue that gives us more information about movie programs that have an overall title - you know, like NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies. Some of these may have been local programs, while others were syndicated packages, but whatever the reason, many of these programs have wonderful titles - as we see this week.

For example, there's Family Playhouse, which airs on both WLW-T (Cincinnati) and WLW-D (Dayton). I'll admit this one is kind of confusing, seeing as how they air at 11:15 pm and 11:30 pm respectively, a time when most of the family tends to be in bed. A more neutral title, not to mention one that just makes you feel happy, is Bluebird Theater, on WLW-C in Columbus at 11:15 pm. Armchair Theater, at 10:45 pm on WBNS in Columbus, is pretty descriptive: unless you're already in bed, that's probably where you're watching the movie. But then you should be watching Home Theater, at 11:20 pm.

Some titles are more descriptive: on weekdays at 4:30 pm, WKRC in Cincinnati has Ladies' Home Theater - try getting a title like that on the air today. WTVN in Columbus has Midday Movie at 12:30 pm - very descriptive, even if midday is technically noon - which is when WCPO in Cincinnati has Movie Matinee. Seems things would have worked better if they'd just switched titles. WTVN has Early Home Theater at 9:30 pm, which really isn't all that early, unless you compare it to Evening Theater on WHIO in Dayton at 11:50 pm - more like night than evening.

Then there are the programs that have a number in them, such as Theater Five, but you never know if the number in the title refers to the channel number or the time of day. Thus, we're understandably thrown for a brief loop when WLW-C, Channel 4, has Theater Five on at five. At least WBNS, also known as Channel 10, covers its bases with Channel Ten Theater, Saturday night at 10:30 pm. If only they could have moved the start time up by a half hour, there wouldn't be any confusion at all.

Finally, there's truth in advertising. Hollywood Theater, on WCPO, isn't from Hollywood at all, or at least not on Tuesday night: the feature is Genghis Khan, made in the Philippines. And Million Dollar Theater, which appears in one form or another in many markets but here happens to be on WKRC, begs the question as to whether these movies are really worth a million.

Great titles, huh? Do you remember any from your area?

July 22, 2016

Around the dial

Another Friday, another tour of the classic TV blogosphere. Let's see what we can come up with this week!

Ever think of worms as being dangerous? After you read The Last Drive-In's life lesson from Barney Fife, you won't be able to stop thinking about it.

Another episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents on tap at bare-bones e-zine - this time it's the ironic "Touché," from the show's fourth season, with a twist ending you'll appreciate. 

Ah, Truffaut. I've only seen his films on television, which is why it's appropriate to include this panel discussion on the famed director, courtesy of Classic Film and TV Cafe.

I remember "The Midnight Sun," a classic Twilight Zone episode, from the first time I saw it in syndication. The title, the sense of foreboding - it all worked, as recapped by The Twilight Zone Vortex.

Speaking of the sun as we were, Heat of the Sun is a 1998 Brit detective series that's the latest to undergo the microscope at British TV Detectives.

And speaking of British TV, Cult TV Blog has been silent for a bit, but this post explains it all, and I can't blame him a bit - doesn't that look more fun than blogging?

The DVD release of the seminal 1960s legal drama The Defenders has been hailed by many, and Classic TV History Blog has a very good description of the acclaimed series. I have my copy of course, but I call this a "keep the package" moment - will the show's liberal slant obscure its excellent writing and acting? Time will tell.

I've missed Classic Television Showbiz' long form interviews, many of which were (I suspect) part of his research for his book on comedy, but he's back with a continuation of his interview with the comic Jack Carter.

What do you think? Should I invest in the DVD of The Time Tunnel someday? And would this review of a tie-in novel based on the series, found at Television Obscurities, help me make up my mind?

July 18, 2016

What's on TV? Thursday, July 22, 1965

As I mentioned on Saturday, the last time we looked at this TV Guide, I hadn't yet started this feature, so now we have a chance to see what shows were on air. Ironically, this is the issue that immediately followed last week's, but because we're looking at the Minnesota state edition rather than upstate New York, it seems a totally different environment.