August 29, 2015

This week in TV Guide: August 26, 1972

Well, what do you know - a brand-new, never-before seen TV Guide!  Yes, our brief summer rerun series is finished, and we're back to first-run issues.  And at the center of the return, we'll take a look at preparations for the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany - one of the most highly anticipated, and most tragic, sporting events of the century.


Final bidding for the 1972 Summer Games was held in Rome in 1966, after years of preparation by the cities competing to host.  The finalists were Madrid, Montreal, Munich and, if you can believe it, Detroit.

The selection of Munich was a significant decision for several reasons; it was the first major international sporting event held in Germany since the end of World War II just 21 years before, and gave the West Germans an opportunity to present the "New Germany" to the world.  It was a chance for Munich to overcome its reputation as one of the centers of Nazi Germany, and to instead focus on the beauty of the Bavarian countryside.  It was also, at least in the eyes of the East Germans, an act of supreme provocation.  The two Germanys didn't require prodding from the United States and the Soviet Union; there was real antagonism between them, and one of the concessions made by the West Germans in order to ensure participation by the Eastern bloc was to allow the East Germans to march in the Opening Ceremonies under their own name, national flag and national anthem, rather than a generic Olympic flag.

The shadow of the 1936 Berlin Olympics hung heavily over preparations for the Games, and organizers took pains to avoid any hint of the nationalism that had dominated Berlin.  As Bill Marsano's preview article puts it,

The atmosphere surrounding the Games should be thick with Bavarian Gemutlichkeit. A German Olympic official has promised, "We know only too well that crimes have been committed in the German name, and how many people have suffered . . . These Olympics will be what they are supposed to be: the great meeting of the youth of the world; of the new, hopefully enlightened generation; and thus a small contribution to world peace."  Amen!

To that end, the color scheme for the Games was dominated by pastels, and the logo for what were billed as "The Happy Games" was an abstract with no hint of German culture.  The centerpiece of the Olympic Village was a stunning stadium built partially into a hill, covered by a futuristic glass, tent-like canopy that extended into the Village itself.  Most significantly, it was decided that security for the Village should be as unobtrusive as possible, and the officers, dressed in leisure suit-like uniforms, would not be armed.  (For more on the history of the Munich Olympics, dating back before the city's choice as host, David Clay Large's Munich 1972 is an excellent place to start.)

I imagine in the chaos that followed - the hostage taking and standoff in the Village, the shootout at the airport that resulted in the massacre of the Israeli athletes, Jim McKay's memorable marathon coverage of the tragedy - not very many people recalled that paragraph from TV Guide, and thus its impact is greater to us today, knowing as we do what will be happening in the days to come. Its words, as an original cultural document, have a timelessness, a sense of context, that is often missing in the dry words of a history book written long after the fact.


ABC's coverage of the Olympics begins with the opening ceremonies, telecast live at 9:00 a.m. Central time on Saturday morning (imagine TV doing that nowadays). The network is promising an unprecedented 61.5 hours of coverage, including three prime-time hours each night.

That doesn't leave us a whole lot of room for other sports - the NFL regular season is still a couple of weeks away, so there's a scattering of practice games - but for those of you interested in obscure sports that aren't shown on TV every four years, there's the weekly series covering the Bobby Fischer-Boris Spassky world chess championship (on PBS, of course). Hard to remember now just what a sensation this was at the time - the Cold War transported to a chess board. It offers us a glimpse of the eccentric Fischer, perhaps the Howard Hughes of the sports world, a brilliant champion whose life since seeded to have devolved into one erratic, oddball encounter after another until his death in 2008 - a most unlikely American surrogate for the Cold War.


And then there's Dick Adler's article called "Hitchhiking on the Road to Success," about a "young would-be director" named "Steve Spielberg." That's right, the Steven Spielberg, with long hair and minus the beard. He's an experience TV director, coming off the fame from his TV movie Duel, but at this point hasn't even made a big-screen movie. The question raised in the article: "Why does every television director, with access to 50 or 60 million people, still yearn for a movie feature that might reach five million if it's a smash hit?" I guess "Steve" answered that question, didn't he?  Many years later, Steven Spielberg would direct Munich, a somewhat unsuccessful attempt to tell the aftermath of the Munich massacre.


Speaking of old favorites (as we were, in a sense), a note on Friday morning's listings that the 9am Lucy Show reruns will be going off, replaced by a new game show called The Joker's Wild with Jack Barry.  That would stay on the air in network and syndicated runs until 1991 - not too bad at that.

Following Lucy, CBS has been running reruns of The Beverly Hillbillies - this had been a morning combo since the mid '60s - but the Hillbillies, too, will be leaving the daytime schedule, their place to be taken by a game show that's had an even longer run than The Joker's Wild.  It starts out with the designation "new" in order to differentiate it from the late '50s-early 60s' version hosted by Bill Cullen, but soon drops that designation and will be known simply as The Price is Right, which continues to this day, hosted by only two men: Bob Barker and Drew Carey.*

*Not counting Dennis James, who did the nighttime syndicated version.

The third new game show to debut on Monday, taking the place of Family Affair reruns (as Family Affair moves to the afternoon) is Gambit, hosted by Wink Martindale.  Gambit runs for four seasons, defeating - among others - NBC's Wizard of Odds, hosted by Alex Trebek, and has an additional run as Las Vegas Gambit for a season on NBC.

Sticking with morning television for a bit, The Hollywood Squares remains a stalwart of NBC's lineup, with its colorful cast of characters turning the morning schedule upside down.  Filling one of the squares this week is Sandra Dee, the ex-wife of singer Bobby Darin, profiled by Leslie Raddatz, whose Bobby Darin Amusement Company subbed for Dean Martin during the summer.  I don't know how many of you saw Beyond the Sea a few years back, the Darin biopic starring Kevin Spacey.  It was a pretty good movie as these things go, but if you'd seen it, you would have been under the impression that Darin and Dee had stayed together until Darin's death in December 1973, whereas they'd actually divorced in 1967, and Darin had married his longtime girlfriend Andrea Yaeger earlier in 1973.

Raddatz gets this part of it right, and does a pretty good job of describing the arc of Darin's career, from the fame of his early years to his personal collapse following the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, his unsuccessful turn as a protest folk singer, his return to his singing roots, and the success of his current replacement show ("Jack Benny always let the people around him get the laughs.")  There's talk as well of Darin's heart condition; he was born with rheumatic fever, and always assumed a short life, which lead to his reputation as a young man in a hurry.  Indeed, for Bobby Darin the clock is about to run out; his series will return as The Bobby Darin Show in January of 1973, running for 13 weeks, but those heart problems will finally catch up with him and cause his death in December of that year, at the age of only 37.


In other highlights of the week, Saturday features one other sporting event, the final game of the Little League World Series on ABC's Wide World of Sports, with Mickey Mantle joining Bud Palmer for the broadcast.  And while the sitcom Maude won't start for a couple of weeks yet, we see the roots of the series tonight as Bea Arthur's character appears in a rerun of CBS' All in the Family.

On Sunday it's a blast from the past, as Dave Garroway returns to television to host the National Automotive Trouble Quiz, an afternoon broadcast on Channel 5 that might have been syndicated.  Garroway is joined by professional racer Peter Revson, along with Peggy Cass and Louis Nye, which suggests it might be played for laughs more than seriousness.

One of my favorite composers, Gian Carlo Menotti, is back on PBS Monday night, with his 1939 opera The Old Maid and the Thief, the first opera ever written for radio - in this case, NBC, which also commissioned the first opera ever written for television, Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors in 1951.

On Tuesday, Ted Knight does his Ted Baxter routine from the Mary Tyler Moore show, spoofing a Lowell Thomas travelogue on the final episode of the CBS summer replacement series The John Byner Comedy Hour.  Also going off on Tuesday is Ponderosa, a summer replacement for Bonanza, consisting of old reruns of - Bonanza.  

Wednesday's episode of Night Gallery on NBC features Laurence Harvey starring "in a gruesome assassination plot aimed at his rival in love"; you'll recall a movie in which Harvey was also involved in an assassination plot - The Manchurian Candidate.  Not a great type of role to get typecast in, huh?

Thursday features a repeat showing of Horton Hears a Who, the delightful Dr. Seuss story involving the elephant Horton trying to protect the residents of Whoville, the home of Seuss' other CBS television cartoon, How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Finally, on Friday, a number of interconnected shows, including Channel 11's late night movie Tammy and the Bachelor, with Debbie Reynolds playing the role originated by none other than - Sandra Dee.  It's on against NBC's Tonight Show, with Joey Bishop guest hosting for Johnny Carson.  Bishop is up against himself, appearing as well on Channel 9's late night move, Ocean's 11, starring Frank Sinatra and set in Las Vegas, home of Bobby Darin's most successful years as an entertainer.  And then there's CBS' Friday Night Movie, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, which isn't up against anything similar and doesn't star anyone appearing on anything else that night.  It's just proof that sometimes, the TV spinoff is actually better than the movie.

August 26, 2015

For your consideration

This video keeps popping up as a suggestion based on my viewing habits, so I decided to finally give in and go with it.  You all know of my affinity for Perry Mason, and if I hadn't already writing about it as one of my ten favorites, I'd be doing something on it today as part of my personal Saturday TV lineup.

The video is introduced by Mason's Della Street, Barbara Hale, and features screen tests for the various Mason roles.  The photo above is from a test given to William Hopper*, who auditioned for Mason but wound up playing his loyal detective Paul Drake instead.  Tell me if you think any of these would have worked.

*Barbara Hale is the mother of William Katt, who played Paul Drake Jr. in the early Mason made-for-TV movies.  Not to be outdone, William Hopper, the original Drake, was the son of the legendary gossip columnist Hedda Hopper.

August 24, 2015

What's on TV: Monday, August 27, 1979

The new television season should be starting in just a couple of weeks, so if you can hang in there a little longer, you'll be rewarded with new, fresh shows, right?  Right?

At any rate, we're back to the Twin Cities this week, so let's look at how things have changed since last week's look, and how they remain the same.

August 22, 2015

This week in TV Guide: August 25, 1979

I've always been pleased by the "This Week in TV Guide" feature, but in preparing this summer second look series, I've started to wonder.  For the second wee in a row, I bring you a TV Guide that was virtually untouched when I first looked at it three years ago.  What was I thinking?  More to the point, dear readers, what were you thinking that you allowed me to get away with such shoddy work?  Seriously, here's a question for you all, for which I seek to solicit a serious answer: do you like the longer pieces I've been doing the past couple of years, or do you prefer the short, stick-to-one-issue articles with which I was apparently so enamored back at the start?  I only write - you decide.


Morton Kondracke, the longtime panelist on PBS' The McLaughlin Group (at the time of this writing) and future mainstay of Fox News pundit shows, has a provocative Cold War-era article this week on television's obligation to provide in-depth coverage of the Pentagon.  The trigger is the SALT arms limitation treaty with the Soviet Union, which went through a bruising time in the Senate, and while Kondracke approves of the amount of coverage the networks have given the important topic (including NBC's coverage of a 90-minute live debate from the Kennedy Center), he mourns that "television doesn't devote itself to national-defense coverage consistently."  According to most D.C.-based defense experts, television's usual coverage of defense issues is "lousy" - and TV is routinely being scooped by newspapers on the most important defense issues.

CBS does well in their coverage, at least better than the other two, but that's primarily because Cronkite himself has an interest in it.  The other national defense correspondents complain that the message they get from their headquarters is a short one: not interested.  The reasons for the lack of coverage are varied: fallout from Vietnam, causing some producers to shy away from anything military; complete disinterest by other producers; and a feeling that defense spending isn't "visual" enough, doesn't make for good television.  One ABC official complains that the current Defense Secretary, Harold Brown, is too dull, not like Henry Kissinger or Robert McNamara, and that most of the real defense-related news comes from either the State Department or the White House itself.  He agrees, though, that the issues are too complex, too abstract and jargon-filled,  to be covered properly in a brief television spot.

Carter and Brezhnev sign the SALT II treaty.
Kondracke does see signs of progress: PBS, with its MacNeil/Lehrer Report devoting several shows to significant segments on defense problems; ABC, with an 11-part series on World News Tonight anchored by its diplomatic correspondent Ted Koppel, and CBS, with a five-part series on the Cronkite report using a simulated war to ask serious questions about nuclear capabilities and the ultimate cost of war.  Perhaps the SALT debate has jump-started the networks into getting past their post-Vietnam lethargy.  Even so, Kondracke concludes, "television hasn't begun to tell the public all it needs to know about America's ability to defend itself."

Over 35 years later, one has to ask the same question: with all of our 24-hour news channels, do we get any better coverage of what's going on?  One issue Kondracke doesn't address is the question of media bias in its reporting of the SALT debate, something we would pretty much take for granted today.  In these days when the media reports frequently on the media, and we can see detailed breakdowns on the number of hours each news program spends on given topics, I wonder if our news coverage today is not only worse, but more controversial, than it was even then?


The new fall season is less than a month away, and NBC has gotten off to a head-start on programming for the September start.  It plans a repeat of its blockbuster miniseries Holocaust for four nights starting September 10, and has moved two of its big Hollywood movie premieres - Coming Home and Semi-Tough from November to run on consecutive nights September 17 and 18.

The other networks have been forced to respond by juggling their own schedules:  ABC is moving the debut of 240-Robert to August 28, and will be starting The Lazarus Syndrome on September 4.  They've also made moves with program schedules for series such as Out of the Blue, Nobody's Perfect, Angie and Detective School.  I didn't provide links to these series, because I wanted to see first of all how many of them you remember.  Hint: there wasn't a big hit in the batch.  CBS is doing the same thing, juggling the start dates for four of its sitcoms: The Last Resort, Struck by Lightning, Working Stiffs and The Bad News Bears.  Again, not exactly setting the world on fire, are they?  The biggest attraction for the new season: the season premiere of Charlie's Angels and the introduction of the newest Angel, Shelley Hack.  Remember her?


It's a light sports week, due primarily to the absence of ESPN.  Let me explain.

The U.S. Open Tennis Championship kicks off this week, and CBS provides 15-minute nightly recaps after the late local news*.  Today, ESPN covers the tournament's morning, afternoon and evening sessions, giving viewers a complete look at the grand slam classic.  I'd estimate the increase in coverage from then to now would be about, let's say, 50 to 1 on a weekly basis.  That could be conservative, though.

*In Minneapolis-St. Paul, where the CBS affiliate WCCO did not carry the network's late-night programming, the updates were shown on the independent KMSP.  For many years, as I mention in next week's piece, Channel 9 was also the home of the CBS Morning News.  Very confusing for a kid.

In baseball, the pennant races are down to the last month, and we're treated to two national games: the Red Sox and Royals on NBC's Saturday Game of the Week, and a TBD matchup on ABC's Monday Night Baseball.  Today we'd probably have five or six games; a Saturday game (or two) on Fox, a Sunday afternoon game on TBS, a Sunday night game on ESPN, and perhaps two or three additional games during the week.  In addition, for those living in a baseball market, you'd have your local games.  In Minneapolis there are two Twins games; living here in Texas, where all the Rangers games are on TV, we'd probably see six.

There's one football game on this week, a pre-season clash between the Steelers and Cowboys on NBC Saturday night.  For the last week in August, we still wouldn't have much pro football today, since the NFL insists on starting its regular season the Thursday following Labor Day, but we more than make up for it with a deluge of college football.  If we were looking at the same week this year, we'd probably have at least six games, perhaps as many as a dozen, between ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2, the Big 10 Network, the Pac 12 Network, the Longhorn Network, and various regional broadcasts.  Maybe a dozen is selling it too short?

And then there's a special on NBC Sunday afternoon profiling golf's new stars.  There's no program description though, which is a pity.  I would have liked to have seen who they were predicting for future stardom, and whether or not they were on the mark.


On Saturday late night, Channel 5 has the conclusion of the miniseries Evening in Byzantium, based on the bestseller by Irwin Shaw, starring Glenn Ford,  This was one of the projects from Operation Prime Time, the so-called "occasional network" that existed in the late '70s and early '80s.  There were a lot of movies such as this on OPT, including the John Jakes stories (The Bastard, The Rebels, etc.) and programs like Solid Gold and, if I'm not mistaken, Entertainment Tonight.  I remember when this started, and there was a lot of discussion about whether or not OPT would coalesce into a legitimate fourth network - a Fox network before its time.  It never did, and I'm not sure it was ever intended thus, but it was interesting nonetheless to see original programming on independent television stations*, even if it was just an occasional event.  Could anything like this work today?  I don't think so; in addition to Fox, there's the CW, MyNetwork, and micro-networks such as MeTV, Antenna, Cozi and the rest, and that doesn't even begin to get into cable.

*Although in the Twin Cities, OPT programs were shown on Channel 5, the ABC affiliate.

In fact - and I just thought of this - if there's any analogy to OPT today, it might be in the area of streaming video.  I mean, Amazon, Netflix, they're all producing their own programs, and while it's not the same as a network in that they don't have to program 24/7, they are the closest we're coming to being an occasional network.  The only difference is that instead of providing the programming to an independent station, they're providing it directly to you, the viewer.  So maybe OPT's legacy lives on, after all.

August 21, 2015

Around the dial

I'd been hoping for more from the new Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie, although I don't know why; very few of the TV-to-movie translations have done justice to their small-screen brethren.  Based on the commercials and the early reviews, I'd already decided to give it a pass, and my opinion was confirmed based on this insightful AV Club piece by Sarah Kurchak, which not only explains what the movie gets wrong, but also gives us some perspective on why David McCallum will always be Illya Kuryakin, no matter how many years NCIS runs.  For U.N.C.L.E. fans, it's a reminder of (or a lesson on) just how provocative, how groundbreaking, Kuryakin's character really was.

Cult TV Blog has another typically good article, this one returning to a favorite stomping grounds (for us both), The Prisoner, and how various episodes - in this case, A, B and C - give us echos of South African apartheid.  There's a particularly good line here - "it seems that it is possible to see almost anything referred to in The Prisoner is you try hard enough" - that, for me, sums up both the greatness of The Prisoner, and the pleasure I get in writing about television and culture.  Because things like cultural indicators do show up when you look for them, and the excitement is often in seeing how the thread plays out.

David Hofstede has a wonderfully wry piece at Comfort TV on The Lawrence Welk Show, both echoing my own memories of the show ("I grew up with the series, but like many in my generation it was against my will."), and providing an intriguing explanation for why the show has always been popular, and why, no matter when it was on, it always seemed to be old-fashioned.  The money quote:

From my current perspective the 1970s seem like a kinder, gentler time. But many seniors back then were convinced the world was going to hell. The popular music of the day was like a foreign language to them, and the nightly news brought stories of Vietnam War protests and Watergate and gas shortages and American hostages held in Iran, while a feckless government had no answer for what Ted Koppel called “terrorism in the Middle East.”

That's the definition of Comfort TV.  What series from today would you choose to fit that bill?

Classic television fans will remember Will Jordan from his many variety show appearances.  He was a terrific impressionist, especially of Ed Sullivan, and he's also a very interesting interview subject.  Kliph Nesteroff has been giving us excerpts of his interviews with Jordan for some time over at Classic Television Showbiz, and the latest installment is no exception.  I particularly enjoyed reading Jordan's perceptive perspectives (try saying that five times fast!) on other stars from the era.  I hope you'll read this one, and then go back to look at previous segments.

This week's Classic TV Guide at Television Obscurities is from August 21, 1965, and I'll really miss this series when it's concluded.  It's been a great way to follow an entire television season, and it does such a good job of demonstrating TV Guide's look and feel.  I love the story about Volkswagen executives listening to a pitch to advertise on the WWII drama Twelve O'Clock High, just at the moment when our heroes bomb a German factory.

Perhaps shorter than usual, but the long-form articles should give you more than enough to read until tomorrow, when I'll be back when a TV Guide of my own.