October 21, 2017

This week in TV Guide: October 19, 1963

I wasn't planning on doing this issue when I opened the laptop today, to be honest. I have a list showing what issue is scheduled for each week, of course; it runs through the end of 2018 (with a few weeks in 2019 already spoken for as well), and because I've taken care of it well in advance, the revelation of each week's issue always comes as something of a surprise to me. This morning I consulted the list, ready to open the box and dig out the appropriate issue: October 25, 1986. And it's been a long week and I'm tired, and suddenly the thought of plowing through an issue from the late '80s had no appeal to me, no matter what might have been inside it. (And with Kim Novak on the cover, I'm sure it would have been quite satisfactory.) Quickly I scanned down to the lineup for 2018, wondering if that issue would be any easier to get into - this is the result. Did I choose wisely? I think so, but ultimately you're the judge. It'll make next year that much more interesting, anyway.

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I like that cover portrait of Judy Garland by René Bouché; it manages to cut through the wear and tear that has left her looking at least 20 years older than her actual age of 41, and offers a glimpse of the frightened little girl inside that woman, the one who thrilled us skipping down the Yellow Brick Road and putting on a show with Mickey and meeting us in St. Louis. The sketch doesn't pretend that those ensuing years haven't happened; it's like being caught just right by the rays of the the setting sun on an autumn afternoon that reveal the promise and the hope and the vulnerability of a woman who's lived a train wreck of a life. You've heard how artists can capture details that a photograph can't? This right here is an example.

There's no question about Garland's talent, never has been. The idea of a Judy Garland television series is an irrestible one, particularly for the admirers that refer to her as "a living legend." A special on G.E. Theater last year was a smash, leading to her new Sunday night series, one in which CBS is investing at leats $140,000 a week - for the priviledge of going up against television's number-one show, Bonanza. This for a woman who, as Dwight Whitney writes, is "in an almost constant state of emotional turmoil; that, as a result, her career as a movie superstar had been cut short because the studios deemed her undependable (which she denies); and that she had suffered several breakdowns." In typical Garland fashion, however, she wins over the skeptical affiliates at their annual meeting, poking fun at her own reputation by singing Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen's lyrics, "Call me unreliable,/Call me irresponsible,/Call me unpredictable, toooooo. . ."

We know how the Garland story ends, and it's not a happy one, and though that ending is still six years away at the time of this article, I don't know that anyone back then would have been surprised by it; the chaos surrounding the show mirrors, in a way, the turmoil of Garland's life. The idea of taking the chance on Garland originates with James Aubrey, the mercurial president of CBS. He chooses a production crew headed up by George Schlatter, who will wind up as executive producer of Laugh-In, and employs a talented group of writers. Together the team works effectively with Garland, producing "big, brassy, weekly specials" with big songs, big numbers - shows designed to take advantage of Superstar Judy. "Everyone, including the sponsors, was delighted. Most remarkable of all, Judy had put a saddle on her jumping nervs and seemed relaxed and happy."

And then Aubrey intervenes. After five successful shows, he dismisses Schlatter and the rest of the crew, hiring Norman Jewison as the new producer and telling him that he wanted a show similar to Garry Moore's, "as folksy and old-shoeish as the Cartwrights - or maybe Ed Sullivan - so much so that he was willing to rock the boat to achieve it." Says John Bradford, one of the writers who was dismissed, "Judy is not the girl next door. She is explosive, dynamic, electric, one of the few superstars left. To try to patter her appeal after a Western is absurd." One cynic looks at the confusion wrought by the network and comments, "They are just thankful to get her there to do a show every week. They don't care what else happens"

A look at a rehearsal underlines the change in atmosphere. Judy stands by the piano, on which sits "a brown bottle of Liebfraumilch, the light white wine which is a favorite of hers. Beside the bottle is a tumbler with three ice cubes." She stars singing a song, gets a fit of the giggles. Starts again, giggles. "Jewison looks anxious. Judy tells a funny story. More laughter - nervous laughter - from co-workers."

"One comes away," writes Whitney, "with a deep feeling of sadness. Which si strange bedcause chances are Judy Garland will run true to her old form, score a dramatic last-ditch triumph over adversity - doesn't she always? - and once again be inundated in superlatives and love." How many people loved Judy Garland - or did they just use her? Her series ends after a single season, a failure that's said to be crushing to her. Six years later, not yet 50 years old, she's dead. Just like that, and yet it is a long time coming.

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Throughout the 60s and early 70s, TV Guide's reviews were written by the witty and acerbic Cleveland Amory. Whenever we get the chance, we'll look at Cleve's latest take on the series of the era. 

Arrest and Trial has been considered in many respects the precusor to Law & Order, but with a crucial difference. The first half of the 90 minute series deals with the investigation and arrest, led by detective Ben Gazarra. However, we see the trial from the point of view not of the prosecutor, but of defense attorney Chuck Connors, who's determined to win an acquittal, or at least a fair shake, for his client. "Unfortunately," as Cleveland Amory writes this week, "the series has been more trying than arresting."

One of the challenges in a series set up in the manner of Arrest and Trial is that every week, one of our heroes is bound to be wrong; either the police have arrested the wrong person, or the attorney is defending a guilty person. The way in which the program tries to deal with this inherent contradition, says Amory, is the problem: the bad guys are "by no means all bad." In one typical instance, man charged with vehicular homicide in the death of a motorcycle policeman undergoes heavy psychiatric treatment, after which he is sentenced to 18 months in what we'd refer to today as a tennis prison. Says his girlfriend, in a demonstration of how there are no "bad" people, just people who need help, "he always boasted to me that he never said 'thanks' to any man. Not once in all his life. . . Today he actually said it. That's a good sign, isn't it?" Replies Amory, "Actually, it was an excellent sign, becaue, among other things, it was the last line of the show."

You get the picture. Amory singles out Connors in particular for praise, but his final verdict? "As in so many series this season, the acting is so far above the scripts that it hardly seemed worth it."

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In his book Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam uses the sport (and it is a sport) as a symbol of the significant social changes America has undergone over the past six or so decades; whereas we once bowled together in leagues, we now bowl alone.* I think it says a lot about these times that the most prevalent sport on television this week is bowling; there are three bowling programs just on Sunday. WCCO's venerable Bowlerama airs at 12:15; the program, featuring local bowlers, visits a different location each week, with today's broadcast coming from Maplewood Bowl in St. Paul (which, sadly, closed in 2013). At 4:30 p.m. it's the long-running Championship Bowling on WTCN (don't know what episode it is, but you can see an example of a show from 1963 here), and at 10:30 p.m, following the late local news, WCCO is back with All Star Bowling, live from Minnehaha Lanes in St. Paul.

*I suppose nowadays there's an app you can use to bowl in a league without ever having to, you know, come in actual contact with anyone.

Minnehana Lanes closes in 2008, which is a shame. I know that neighborhood well; used to drive by all the time on the way to church. More of that shopping area is scheduled to be torn down to make way for a redevelopment that includes the new soccer stadium for Minnesota United FC. If you'd told someone back in 1963 that bowling would be a niche sport but that soccer would be big time, that person would probably have looked at you as if you were crazy. Next thing you know, they'll be talking about phones with pictures in them so you can see who you're talking to.

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Robert Drew is considered one of the pioneers - perhaps the father - of the American cinéma vérité (or Direct Cinema) movement. He famously said that his type of documentary would be "a theater without actors; it would be plays without playwrights; it would be reporting without summary and opinion; it would be the ability to look in on people’s lives at crucial times from which you could deduce certain things and see a kind of truth that can only be gotten from personal experience."

Drew's mainstream breakthrough came in 1960 with the documentary Primary, an in-depth look at the Wisconsin primary contest between John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey, in which he was allowed extraordinary access to the candidates and their campaigns. The success of Primary led to a close working relationship between Drew and Kennedy, as evidenced in Drew's follow-up, the 1961 ABC Close-Up! episode "Adventures on the New Frontier," taking his cameras and microphones into the Oval Office to show us the day-by-day life of Kennedy's White House. Kennedy had been concerned about his ability to conduct business while cameras and microphones hovered over his shoulder, but, as with Primary, he became inured to their presence, to the point that his advisors frequently had to remind him to be careful what he said while they were around.

Drew considered this a warm-up for an even more extensive documentary, one that depicted the the presidential decision-making process as a crisis unfolds. The result, Crisis - Behind a Presidential Commitment. airs on Monday at 6:30 p.m. It's the story of the showdown between Kennedy and George Wallace over the integration of the University of Alabama. Drew's cameras are not only in the White House, where Kennedy discusses the situation with his brother Robert and other advisors, but in Tuscaloosa, where the Alabama governor vows to fulfill his pledge to block any attempt to integrate the university.

Crisis is a masterpiece of the Direct Cinema movement, a dramatic demonstration for anyone who thinks The War Room invented the genre. There is one final collaboration to come between Drew and Kennedy, though the latter's participation is hauntingly tangental. It is the 1964 film Faces of November; its 11 minutes, without dialogue or narrative, cover the three days of JFK's funeral.

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Not exactly a starlet this week, but a fashion layout with actress Susan Strasberg, daughter of the legendary Method teacher Lee Strasberg. (I wonder what her motivation was?) It's a very sleek, elegant look by Anne Klein, with the casual outfit by Jax - both names that you've probably seen in the closing credits, as in "Miss Albright's wardrobe by Jax." A timeless style, don't you think?


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What else is on this week? Well, Hallmark Hall of Fame has a Sunday afternoon spot (5:00 p.m. CT, NBC), airing a repeat of 1960's "The Tempest" with what's literally an all-star cast: Maurice Evans, Richard Burton, Lee Remick, Roddy McDowall and Tom Poston. Brilliant. Also on Sunday, the debut on WTCN of a program called Tele-Bingo. Here's the write-up: "To become eligible to play, viewers must get a free Tele-Bingo card from a local supermarket. If a viewer scores a bingo, he must take his card to the store, which will then give him a prize and add his card to those of other home winners. From this group, 300 cards are drawn and those persons are invited to join the studio audience to compete for bigger prizes." I remember those shows - not that one specificaly, but shows like it. Interactive TV at its best!

On Monday at 9:00 p.m., ABC's psychiatrist drama Breaking Point airs the episode "The Bull Roarer," directed by Ralph Senensky. The story concerns a construction worker (Lou Antonio) who watches his brother (Ralph Meeker) savagely beat up a man who'd been hassling them. He's so shocked by the violence - the outpouring of testosterone, so to speak - that, as the listing puts it, "he begins to have doubts about his own virility." In fact, as Dr. Thompson (Paul Richards) intuits, the young man worries that his lack of machismo might mean he's gay. Writes Senensky, "I am 99 and 44/100 percent sure that was the first time the word 'homosexual' was uttered in a drama in an American television show."

Johnny Carson is the special guest on Tuesday's episode of The Jack Benny Program (CBS, 8:30 p.m.) - "Jack says that Johnny should become more versatile, so Johnny struts his stuff, performing cards tricks, ventriloquism, a drum solo and a song-and-dance." I'll bet acting with Benny was a thrill for Johnny. On Wednesday's episode of NBC's psychiatric drama, The Eleventh Hour (9:00 p.m.), Robert Wagner plays man who "always got by handsomely on his exceptional looks" - until half of his face is destroyed by a fire. Diahann Carroll, Shirley Knight and Michael Constantine co-star.

Thursday features the aforementioned Susan Strasberg as Dr. Kildare's patient (NBC, 7:30 p.m.), and Andrew Prine as her husband, an ambitious and irresponsible intern. Kraft Suspense Theatre (NBC, 9:00 p.m.) has a terrific cast - Gig Young, Nina Foch, Katherine Crawford and Peter Lorre - in "The End of the World, Baby," which doesn't deal with nuclear war at all but a shady sculptor (Young) who may be trying to bilk an older woman (Foch). And if you're not inclined to change channels, The Tonight Show has a pretty fair show, with Robert Preston, Benny Goodman and Abbe Lane.

Friday, the best night of the week, starts with Bob Hope's latest special (NBC, 7:30 p.m.) - his guests are Andy Griffith, Martha Raye, Jane Russell, Connie Haines, Beryl Davis, and L.A. Dodgers Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Tommy Davis. The night ends with an interesting movie on KMSP's 10:30 p.m. "Masterpiece Theatre" (not to be confused with the future PBS series): Mr. Roberts, with Henry Fonda, James Cagney, Jack Lemmon and William Powell. It's one of the few times I've seen a locally broadcast movie get the full close-up treatment - almost makes me wonder if it had originally been shown on ABC but pre-empted by KMSP for something else.

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On Friday night ABC airs a documentary with the deceptive title The World's Girls. While it might sound like one of Frankie and Annette's beach party movies, it is in fact a penetrating glimpse into the future: the women behind the new feminist movement.

The question on the table is simple: what is the role of the modern woman in today's fast-changing world? Answers come from all over - from actresses and housewives, intellectuals in the colleges and beauties in their salons. The names that jump out, though, are ones that point in one direction. There's Betty Friedan, for example, who earlier in the year published The Feminine Mystique, and Simone de Beauvoir, author of The Second Sex, considered the foundation of feminist theory. French actress Simone Signoret, who rejected the feminist label but fought alongside radical feminist groups for the rights to abortion and birth control.

I don't know how seriously these women and their theories are taken at the time of the broadcast, nor what its overall tone is; after all, Playboy bunnies and expectant brides are among those being interviewed, so viewers are likely to get all kinds of viewpoints. Nonetheless, this strikes me as a chance for a profound look into the future - a brave new world, perhaps? In one month John F. Kennedy will be asassinated, and, so we are told, everything will change going forward. All the accepted truths, the universal values, the traditional definitions upon which the structures of society have been built, will be up for grabs. I cannot imagine a more perfect time for this show (produced and directed by Arthur Holch and narrated by John Secondari) to have aired; I doubt it could have been done in the late '50s, and by the late '60s it would have been old hat. But those who watch it in 1963 are looking through a glass darkly, and then they will see the future face to face. TV  

October 20, 2017

Around the dial

Some interesting food for thought this week - at least I thought it was interesting, but as always YMMV.

In his article about the current series Mozart in the Jungle, Brian Phillips at The Ringer makes the comment that "TV shows at this moment are so often interested in participating in a larger cultural discourse," something that has frustrated me no end. Yes, it's true that my interest in classic television extends to what it says about the culture at the time it was made, but that is as often due to its inadvertent role as a time capsule, and our retroactive analysis of what it all meant. Phillips looks at a specific episode of Girls, for example, "the way it plugged into an existing conversation about male power and the nature of consent."

This is a good segue to David's recent piece at Comfort TV, in which he looks back at the Brady Bunch episode in which Marcia tries to join an organization that's a thinly-disguised version of the Boy Scouts. You might be reminded of that episode in light of the news (old news, now - must be at least a couple of weeks ago) that the Boy Scouts will now accept girls. David's point - one which he's made in the past, and quite well - is that "classic TV – even those series that are deemed the most simplistic by our ‘sophisticated’ modern standards, can do more than just provide 30 or 60 minutes of entertaining diversion. They teach us something about the times in which they were made – and might even teach us something about the times we live in now." The Brady Bunch does that in this episode; Marcia isn't trying to make some sort of grand political statement, not really. She just wants to prove that "women should have the same opportunities if they have the requisite skills." Nowadays, says David, the same episode might be interpreted to mean "that everyone should be allowed to do everything on their terms, regardless of any preexisting criterion." A bit of a difference there, don't you think? The point is that sometimes (most times?) you can make your point without turning your program into some kind of grand political manifesto. Just let the action develop organically - it will do the rest.

Elsewhere, at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear Ivan reviews Where's My Fortune Cookie?, Phil Proctor's autobiography, in which we learn what it was like being a part of the great Firesign Theatre group. Having mentioned Bob Cummings a time or two, I was particularly amused by Phil's recollection of working with Cummings in the theater. I won't spoil that for you - go over there and read the whole thing.

At Made for TV Mayhem, Amanda interviews Lisa Holmes from Music Box Films/Doppleganger Releasing, regarding the release of made-for-TV movies on Blu-Ray, including Summer of Fear, with Lee Purcell and Linda Blair. Amanda's so right - the telefilm is a genre that continues to be interesting; for the many bad ones that may have come along, it's clear that the filmmakers were really trying to do something with this type of movie.

If you like The Twilight Zone, you're in luck, as The Twilight Zone Vortex's Jordan gives us a list of the best TZ podcasts. It can be hard knowing where to start with all the casts out there; getting a roadmap from someone who knows what he's talking about helps.

Speaking of both Amanda and podcasts, you won't want to miss this week's Eventually Supertrain, in which she and Dan discuss two late-'80s slasher movies, Iced and Moonstalker. (Nice segue, don't you think? I'm full of them this week.)

At Cult TV Blog, John brings up the British children's show The Feathered Serpent as a jumping-off point for a discussion of children's TV in general, and how it works (or doesn't work) as a means of imparting knowledge on its young viewers.

I really like Jodie's entry at Garroway at Large this week, not just because of its discussion of Dave's Wide Wide World program, but because it reminds us of what a wonder television was in the beginning, and how we could still be wowed by this big, wonderful world and the technology that brought it to us.

Terry Teachout taps into the wonderful Archive of American Television for this interview with composer Fred Steiner, who talks about composing the immortal theme to Perry Mason.

If you have any others we should know about, let me know. Otherwise, back tomorrow with some more fun. Right? Right!   TV  

October 18, 2017

The "It's About TV!" Interview: Eric Senich, host of "The Bob Crane Show: Reloaded"

If you read the classic TV blogosphere links every Friday on "Around the dial," you’ve probably noticed mention of The Bob Crane Show: Reloaded, a wonderful podcast hosted by Eric Senich, whose father was Bob Crane’s first cousin, with Carol Ford, the author of Bob Crane: The Definitive Biography, which is, well, the definitive biography. I had the great pleasure of interviewing Carol early last year, and now it’s time to welcome Eric Senich to the infamous It’s About TV Interview, which we conducted a couple of weeks ago.

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It's About TV: Eric, let's start off by telling me about what you do, how you got interested in it, and how that ties in to Bob Crane.

Eric Senich: I’m a disc jockey for a classic radio station in Connecticut (WRKI FM, www.i95rock.com). I started working in radio back in the early 90s when I joined my college radio station in New Haven at Southern Connecticut State University. From there I eventually got my first paying gig with the great WCCC in Hartford, CT as a weekend jock named Fletch! I went on to work with a few other Connecticut stations before landing a full-time weeknight gig at WRKI in the late 90s and have been there ever since.

All of this began because of my Dad. I used to hang out with him at the radio stations he was on the air for when I was a kid and got the radio bug from him. As it turns out, Bob Crane was a huge reason why my Dad got into radio, so without Bob’s radio career there wouldn’t be my Dad’s radio career. Without my Dad’s radio career, I wouldn’t be in radio today and for that I am truly grateful to both Bob and my Dad.

What are your first memories of Bob? Did you ever meet him in person, or was it from what your father told you about him? Was this while Bob was still alive, or after his death?

Although I was around when Bob was alive I never got to meet him and that is something I wish was different. I would have loved to have met him and talked radio with him. I was just six when he died. I’m sure I would have if things turned out differently.

My first memory of Bob was as a kid of around maybe 9 or 10 years old watching Hogan’s Heroes after school one day and hearing my Dad say, “You see that guy there? You’re related to him!”  I remember it starting to click that this Colonel Hogan did look very similar to my Dad! It really is crazy how much they look alike. It’s as if they were brothers instead of cousins.

As time went on my Dad would tell me more and more about Bob. I remember we had a pair of drumsticks that Bob gave to my Dad, which was pretty darn cool! It wasn’t until I got into radio that my Dad started to tell me all about Bob’s radio career. He eventually lent me Bob’s KNX promo album and some of his other tapes. That’s when I really became a fan of Bob.

Eric Senich
Tell me about your father's relationship with Bob. What kind of impact did Bob have on his life, and vice versa? And how did your father hand this down to you?

They were very close during the years Bob lived in Connecticut before heading out to Los Angeles. My Dad is almost ten years younger than Bob so he really looked up to Bob while Bob really seemed to have a “big brother” type of feeling towards my Dad. My Dad said Bob made sure to never leave him out of conversations and activities and would let him bang away on Bob’s drum kit too! My grandparents would take my Dad and his brother Dick to the Crane’s on many weekends for family get togethers thanks to my grampa Demetrius Senich – they called him “Mitsy” - who really worked towards keeping the family together as a unit. My Dad thought the world of Bob’s parents particularly his mom Rose who was a great cook, had a great laugh and was always smiling. Fans can get a great summary of those times in episode 7 of The Bob Crane Show: Reloaded Podcast called “Connecticut’s Drummer Boy: Bob Crane’s Early Years”. There are some great audio clips from my Dad too. He really captures the feeling of those times.

As the years went on and Bob moved out to the West Coast, he would keep in touch with my Dad through phone calls and audio letters. Bob would go into the KNX production studio and record a message to my Dad; one of them I put up on YouTube and it really gives people an idea of their relationship.

That’s one of the things that really struck me about the podcast, and your YouTube channel, that although we’ve read some of these letters in Carol’s book, now we can actually hear them. It not only makes it more immediate, there’s a level of intimacy in hearing Bob’s voice talking to your Dad. It’s really very powerful.

Yes, you can hear how much Bob cared about my Dad, how encouraging he was and how important it was to give him the support he needed to continue with his radio career. It’s been the same and then some when it comes to my Dad with my career. There is no better Dad around, I can guarantee you that. My Dad is like Bob was – extremely talented, smart, very sensitive to other’s feelings, very caring and thinks the world of all his children.

We know about Bob's troubled personal life - more than we should have known about it, had he not died when and in the way he did. Did that ever bother you - was your image of him tainted by that, or was that not a factor based on what your father had told you about him?

It’s funny I can’t recall when I first found out about all of that stuff. I don’t recall knowing about it until maybe my late teens or early 20s. I know my Mom and Dad didn’t want me to know about it as a kid and they did a good job of protecting me from that. The pre-internet era certainly helped protect from it too. Honestly, it never bothered me nor did it change my image of him. I just remember thinking that the only error in judgment he made was getting involved with women while he was married. He was a good-looking famous guy with a charming personality so the temptations came often I’m sure. As far as the videos he made I just didn’t see it the way others did. I’ve read and heard that Bob hid the cameras from some of the women he was with and there is nothing to substantiate that. It was all consensual. Carol researched Bob’s life from top to bottom and there was no indication of that. That really gets to me, ya know?

And so many people have their minds made up – you can tell them the truth until they’re blue in the face, but they know what they know. 

The worst part of it, though, is how Bob’s life ended. I remember when the E! True Hollywood Story episode on Bob aired in the early 2000s. I set my VCR ahead of time and recorded it so I could watch it with my Dad later. I went to my Dad’s and put in the tape and we watched. They got to the part of Bob’s murder and showed the images of Bob in that bed and it was horrendous. I remember looking over to my Dad and he just put his head in his hands and couldn’t bear to watch. I turned it off immediately. For him and his other family members it was personal, for millions of other people watching it was a famous celebrity, not a person. That’s the hardest part. To this day I’ll tell people that I’m related to Bob and it just doesn’t seem to connect with some as it should. They make comments like, “Was he gay?” or “Who do you think killed him?”. Thankfully I get just as many positive comments; comments about how much joy he brought them with Hogan’s Heroes and they still watch the show religiously. I have a co-worker who has a son around 10 years old and knows every episode by heart. That is something I know Bob would be so happy to hear.

At what point did you decide you wanted to become more involved in telling Bob's story? How did you meet Carol and put the podcast together?

It was after meeting Carol that the idea came up. She had seen one of the videos of Bob I posted on YouTube so we connected through that. Later on I met up with her when she had a book signing in Waterbury, CT. That was in the summer of 2016. I wanted to personally thank her for including my Dad in her book Bob Crane: The Definitive Biography and tell her what a great job she did. Over time we stayed in touch and I had expressed how much I’d like to do a podcast. She didn’t forget that and eventually approached me about doing a podcast version of her book. I jumped at the chance. I know if my Dad was up to doing it he would. These days he’s in a nursing home so, since he couldn’t do the podcast, I felt like it was my chance to carry out his mission – to speak the good word of his cousin Bob. To celebrate his life and career and clear up the misconceptions. I remember playing the first episode to my Dad. That was a wonderful moment for sure. What I love is that Carol kept the audio recordings she did with my Dad about 9 years ago and uses them in the podcast so, really, my Dad is in the podcast and that really makes me happy.

When you talk about Bob Crane and his work, most people probably think about Hogan’s Heroes, but you and Carol have turned the spotlight on his work in radio, which I think is an area that’s been neglected. Tell me about that legacy, and some of the material you've shared on your YouTube channel. What would you like to educate people on regarding his radio career? 

Oh boy. His legacy is hard to put in words. He used soundbites and sound effects long before it was the norm and in his day he didn’t have them easily accessible on computers like they are now. He had all of them on records behind him. Bob would pluck the album down from the wall behind him, pull the vinyl out of the sleeve, drop it on the turntable, cue it up and run with it on the fly live. He used them for live commercial reads, which had never been done before. He took a huge risk but it paid off. Radio stations were making a lot of money off Bob through the creative way he advertised the clients’ commercials. Just his whole style was and is timeless. Donald Freed directed Bob in his first play and listened to Bob on the radio every day. Audio of him commenting on Bob’s radio talents are in a recent episode of our podcast. He said it best by saying Bob had a rhythm to his restlessness. He was constantly moving but it was all played out like a great song. That speaks to his drumming skills. He had an internal rhythm that just came across so well on the radio.

On my YouTube videos I’ve got some good ones for sure. They all came from reel-to-reel tapes my Dad handed over to me around 2005 or so. He hoped I could transfer them digitally before they were too old to save and I thankfully was able to. Among them are an interview actor Del Moore did with Bob in 1960, another one where Bob spoke to students at L.A. City College around ’62 or ’63. My favorite of them all, though, is Bob’s audio letter to my Dad in 1963. This one is special. My Dad was just starting out in radio and was getting frustrated with where his career was going. He thought about quitting. Bob tells my Dad not to give up, tells him he listened to my Dad’s air-check and really liked what he heard and, at the very end, he congratulates my Dad on his upcoming marriage to my Mom. I never tire of listening to it and I think all of Bob’s fans will enjoy hearing this. It’s Bob Crane the person not Bob Crane the celebrity.

Crane at WLEA, Hornell, NY, 1950
Being in radio yourself, I'm sure must have had some influence on your on-air work.
I do something on my radio show that I got from him. I like to call it “Forecast Funnies”. I thought of how boring it is for the listener to just hear the DJ read the forecast so I decided to use soundbites and sound effects to spice it up. That’s Bob right there. That’s something he would do.

What's the biggest misconception you feel people have about Bob? Conversely, what do you think was Bob's greatest contribution, your favorite work of his? Was it Hogan's Heroes, or do you think his radio work was even more influential? What would you like people to know about him that they don't know?

The biggest misconception is of who he was as a person. If you go just on the salacious stories you’ll think this was a guy who didn’t care about anyone but himself, who was out to get whoever and whatever he wanted. He wasn’t like that. He was a great father, he cared about people, he didn’t want to make waves or hurt anyone, he wanted to make people laugh and smile. He developed an addiction that threw darkness over a lot of that light. How many times have you heard about an alcoholic or drug addict where they say he/she was the best person to be around when they were sober but when they had a drink or did drugs it was a whole different story? It’s kinda like that with Bob.

So many people know and love Bob through Hogan’s Heroes but, honestly, I am a huge fan of his radio career. Listening to the tapes of his shows I really connected with his style. I got some of his genes for sure.

Why was Bob so good in Hogan's Heroes? And why does the show remain so popular, after so many years? 

Great question. Carol just got me the whole series on DVD so I was able to watch them all again. I think that character really fit him perfectly. From reading Carol’s book and hearing the stories from my Dad, Bob was always the guy you would want to lead the charge. Even going back to his childhood years that seemed to be the case. He was the guy you would do anything for because he’d be there for you when you needed him and, let’s be honest, he was a charming dude! I mean, how could you not feel good seeing Bob with that cap tipped up ever so slightly upwards, arms folded, body swaying back and forth as he’s thinking up another brilliant scheme to get one over on Colonel Klink!

I always like to ask people questions like this - do you have a pet theory on how Hogan's Heroes would have ended if they'd done a final episode?

Hmmm. Well, I would like to think that the war has ended, the boys get to go home and Colonel Robert E. Hogan goes on to open a famous restaurant chain. He hires all the guys like Newkirk, Carter and Kinch to help out. His most popular item on the menu - The Hogan’s Hero Sandwich. Of course his master chef will be none other than Corporal Louis LeBeau. As for Colonel Klink and Sergeant Schultz whereabouts? I know nothing! NOTHING!

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My thanks to Eric Senich for generously allowing me to tap into his busy time. (As well as being a great guy who's a lot of fun to talk to!) Again, make a point of checking out Eric and Carol’s The Bob Crane Show: Reloaded podcast. It doesn’t take the place of the book, nor is it simply a rehash of it – think of it as a companion that enriches your knowledge. No matter what you think you know about Bob Crane, you won’t be sorry.  TV  

October 16, 2017

What's on TV: Tuesday, October 15, 1968

We're back in New York City this week, and if you can make it there you can make it anywhere, right? It's a good enough day of television, including the Olympics. Let's just cut to the chase and get to it.

October 14, 2017

This week in TV Guide: October 12, 1968

The Summer Olympics begin in Mexico City this week, the first time the Summer Games have been held in North America in the television era, and while it's still a big sports story, it hardly dominates the landscape the way it does today. ABC has the Summer Games for the first time; with the lack of a significant time difference, the network is showing a record 43¾ of coverage (for which they paid a tidy $4,500,000). And yet, a contemporary observer might be forgiven for looking over the first week's schedule and wondering what all the fuss is about.

In 1968 the Opening Ceremonies were still held on Saturday afternoon (rather than Friday night, as is the case today), and ABC has live coverage from 1:00-3:00 p.m. ET. That's it for Saturday, though - ABC follows the ceremonies with a truncated edition of Wide World of Sports showing highlights from last month's 24 Hours of LeMans, followed by the college football game of the week between Penn State and UCLA. Sunday is even quieter, with the sole broadcast coming between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m.

There's no set schedule during the week except for an hour each afternoon between 1:00 and 2:00 p.m. Monday's prime time coverage is split between a half hour from 7:00-7:30 p.m and an hour from 10:00 to 11:00 p.m. Tuesday the evening broadcast is 7:00 - 8:30 p.m., Wednesday's consists of two separate half hours (7:00-7:30 p.m. and 8:30-9:00 p.m.), Thursday is 7:00-7:30 p.m. and 9:30-11:00 p.m., and Friday rounds out the week with 7:00-8:30 p.m. and an additional half hour from 11:30 to midnight. That adds up to 16 hours for the week. In case you're wondering, for last year's Summer Olympics, NBC - between the network, multiple cable stations, and streaming platforms - provided 6,755 hours of coverage, for which priviledge they paid $1.23 billion. For that, one wonders if the coverage is that much better today.

In his article previewing the games, former Olympic great Jesse Owens (or his ghostwriter) makes some prescient comments about the potential for political disruption, "which all sports fans who love the Olympics and its traditions are sure will be dissolved by the good sense and loyalty of many of the athletes themselves." He's referring to "the expressions of discontent which some black American athletes have voiced over representing in international competition a nation they claim has failed to give them equal opportunity - in education, housing and jobs - with their whilte colleagues." Owens, who has been Uncle Tommed by many of the younger black athletes for his lack of public involvement in the civil rights struggle, points to the many accomplishments by black American athletes amid the racial strife engulfing the country, and says, "I'm not in favor of cutting off the one area of understanding we have." Concludes Owens, "I don't think the pride which our black athletes have in themselves and their country will allow them to do anything to embarrass the United Staes in so conspicuous a world arena."

Owens may have done well in assessing American changes elsewhere in the article, but here he's dead wrong; few who saw it will forget the black power salute given by Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the podium following the 200 meter finals. It remains one of the most controversial non-athletic moments in Olympic history; as a result of their actions Smith and Carlos are expelled from the U.S. Olympic team, their actions labeled "a deliberate and violent breach of the fundamental principles of the Olympic spirit." Memorably, Time commented that while "Faster, Higher, Stronger" was the motto of the Olympics, "'Angrier, nastier, uglier' better describes the scene in Mexico City last week." Had Twitter existed in 1968, one can only imagine how this issue might have exploded, how the recriminations might have flown.

History has been kinder to the two, though; among other things, statues have been erected, awards have been presented, and perhaps most of all, precidence has been established. It is impossible to look back at it now and not think of what's going on today, how sports has again been turned into a political vehicle. The Olympics always have been that way, of course, but up until 1968 it seems as if the controversy surrounded the actions of nations, not individuals. Jesse Owens himself was seen as defusing Hitler's attempts to politicize the Games; now, as the television era expands the power and importance of the individual, it is the athlete who has the platform.

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During the 60s, the Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace were the premiere variety shows on television. Whenever they appear in TV Guide together, we'll match them up and see who has the best lineup..

Sullivan: Tentatively scheduled are Pearl Bailey; comedians Bill Dana and Richard Pryor; singers Gilbert Becaud and the Beach Boys; St. Louis Cardinals pitching star Bob Gibson, who plays the ukulele; Detroit Tigers pitcher Denny McLain, who plays the organ; and the Muppets. Ed also visits the set of the upcoming musical My Fair Lady, starring Peter O'Toole and Petula Clark.

Palace: Host Milton Berle welcomes Leonard Nimoy; singer Shani Wallis; the rocking Checkmates, Ltd.; Johnny Puelo's comic Harmonica Gang; Milton's comedy foil Sidney Shpritzer (Irving Benson); and the Bottoms-Up Revue from Las Vegas.

I've remarked in the past that whenever Berle hosts Palace, the show seems even more oriented toward a vaudeville style that's a generation out of date. It doesn't necessarily mean the show isn't good, just that it can produce a feeling of déjà vu. Ed doesn't have the greatest cast this week; Bob Gibson and Denny McLain owe their apperances to their teams having been in the World Series, which ended last week (I wonder how awkward this bit was?), and to paraphrase Bette Midler, I never miss a Peter O'Toole musical. Nevertheless, Pearl Bailey, Bill Dana, and the Beach Boys are easily enough to give Ed the victory.

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Throughout the 60s and early 70s, TV Guide's reviews were written by the witty and acerbic Cleveland Amory. Whenever we get the chance, we'll look at Cleve's latest take on the series of the era. 

When last we visited with Cleveland Amory, he was giving a rather lukewarm review to the single-parent series The Courtship of Eddie's Father. This week we visit another single-parent family, with an even bigger gimmick than Eddie's Father had. The show is Julia, starring Diahann Carroll, and if you liked what Cleve had to say about Eddie's Father, you'll love his review of Julia.

It's true that Julia does break the color barrier, offering us one of the first female leads playing something other than a maid. However, writes Amory, "it is so self-conscious about doing so that a good part of the time Julia will give you a fast pain. And without providing fast, fast relief - the pace is so slow that there are times when you are going to be convinced that the show has stopped entirely." Carroll, as a registered nurse looking for work after her husband is killed in Vietnam, "is amazingly convincing even when she's wearing $5000 worth of clothes and hasn't yet got a job." Lloyd Nolan, as the doctor who employers her and becomes her staunch ally and friend, makes the series come to life and delivers its most famous line: "Have you always been a Negro - or are you just trying to be fashionable?"

So where does Julia fall short? Some of it has to do with Marc Copage, who as Julia's six-year-old son Corey, is, as Amory puts it, "a curious combination of Machiavellian schemer, elder statesman and pain in the neck, and is forced down your throat in great sirupy gobs." Says Amory, he "could be a large charmer in small doses." The show itself is "strictly soap opera," with the smallest actions - "the cooking of a breakfast, the burping of a baby, the fixing of a television set, the coming of a baby sitter" becoming big events. Amory still has "high hopes" for the show; the relationship between Cannon and Nolan is delightful, and the supporting cast excellent (including Michael Link, Corey's six-year-old friend, who is "goes easier on the sirup"). If only something would happen - "like, for example, the pro0ducer hiring a brand new black writer who would have the courage to tell him to stop telling it like it isn't."

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Aside from the Olympics, we've entered a quiet period in the sports world. The World Series, as I mentioned earlier, ended last week, while network coverage of the NBA and NHL doesn't begin until January. That leaves football, which - as its fans would say - is as it should be. We covered the single college game of the week, Penn State and UCLA, in the lede. (We do get highlights of the Notre Dame-Northwestern, Yale-Brown, and Purdue-Ohio State games on Sunday, though.) The NFL game on CBS features the New York Giants playing the Atlanta Falcons (1:30 p.m.), while NBC's AFL game is between the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders. Not the most memorable weekend.

It is an election year though, which I suppose qualifies as a type of sport. The convulsive tumult of spring and summer has given way to what looks like a close election, and the networks are all over it. On CBS's Face the Nation (12:30 p.m.), the guest is Republican Vice Presidential candidate Spiro Agnew (or as he's still known, though not for long, Spiro Who?). Meanwhile, at 1:00 p.m. NBC's Meet the Press features George Wallace's running mate, General Curtis LeMay, and on ABC Issues and Answers interviews two top Eastern Republicans, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller and Massachusetts Senator Edwards Brooke. New York and Connecticut candidates feature in several debates, and numerous programs throughout the week run five minutes short, allowing time for a Republican or Democratic "political message."

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For some reason, there's a surfeit of big-name entertainment specials on this week. First up is The Lainie Kazan Special at 7:00 p.m. Sunday on WPIX. Lainie Kazan is, shall we say, a healthy looking young woman, a Broadway and nightclub singer who next year will graduate to a Playboy spread (or so I've heard). The show is a half-hour just of Lainie and her combo doing her hits. She's still active today, singing and acting and lending her time to various causes. Later Sunday (9:00 p.m., WNEW), it's Trini Lopez's turn, with a full-blown hour-long variety show from London, with guests Frank Gorshin (impersonating Richard Burton, Boris Karloff, and Krik Douglas), and musical-comedy star Georgia Brown. Then on NBC Monday night, Bob Hope returns (NBC, 9:00 p.m.) with John Davidson, Gwen Verdon, and Jeannie C Riley. That's followed at 10:00 by the dynamic Mitzi Gaynor, who sings, dances, and clowns her way through an hour* with her special guest star George Hamilton. Finally, NBC's back on Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. with a pilot called Soul Special, by Laugh-In producers George Schlatter and Ed Friendly, featuring Lou Rawls, Martha and the Vandelias, Hines, Hines & Dad, Redd Foxx, George Kirby, Nipsey Russell, and Slappy White, among others.

*Fun fact: the special is written by Larry Hovis, better known as Sergeant Carter on Hogan's Heroes.

There are plenty of regularly scheduled variety shows on tap as well; Sunday (CBS, 9:00 p.m.) the Smothers Brothers host the Beatles (on tape), Barbara Feldon, and Bill Medley. Monday it's Carol Burnett (CBS, 10:00 p.m.), who welcomes Bobbie Gentry and George Gobel. Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. on NBC, Jerry Lewis' guests are Flip Wilson, Nancy Ames, and the Osmond Brothers, while at 8:30 on CBS Red Skelton has Martha Raye and the First Edition. Wednesday's Kraft Music Hall (9:00 p.m., NBC) has Eddy Arnold as host, with Al Hirt, Jimmie Rodgers, Dana Valery, and Pat Henry. Finally, Thursday's Dean Martin hour has Cyd Charisse, Ben Blue, Don Cherry (the singer, not the hockey commentator), and Stanley Myron Handelman.

And then there are the talk shows. and if you're not satisfied with the choices out there I don't want to hear it. It seems as if everyone out there has a talk show; I'm going to spotlight Wednesday just as an example.

At 9:30 a.m. on WNEW, Joan Rivers has Sheila MacRae and author Daniel Takton, and at 10:00 Virginia Graham follows on WABC with Angela Martin, comedienne Betty Walker, and magician Velma. These shows are only 30 minutes (at least in these iterations), which make them exceptions to what follows, all of which run 90 minutes.

At 10:00 on WOR, Joe Franklin's guests include improvisation star Steve DePass. At 10:30 it's Dick Cavett's morning talk show for ABC, with comic actor Jack Gilford. At 2:00 p.m., WNEW is back with former Tonight bandleader Skitch Henderson, whose guests are Ed Ames, Dr. Joyce Brothers, and puppeteers Paul and Mary Ritts. At 4:30, it's the redoutable Mike Douglas on WCBS, with singers Trini Lopez (again!) and Astrud Gilberto, Broadway columnist Earl Wilson, actress Joanna Shimkus, and alligator wrestler Kaye Reid. At 8:00, Steve Allen's show features Art Linkletter, actress Joyce Jillson, comedian Pat Harrington, and singer Wilson Pickett. Then, at 8:30 p.m. WNEW goes up against the Olympics with Merv Grifin, whose guests include Patricia Neal, Trevor Howard, and Chet Huntley.

Johnny and Ed, together again.
We now move into the late night schedule, starting at 11:00 p.m. on WNEW with Donald O'Connor, whose guests include William Shatner, actors Cesare Danova and Genvieve Bujold, comedians Lew Parker and Betty Kane, and singer Brian Foley. Tony Curtis is one of Johnny Carson's guests on The Tonight Show at 11:30 on NBC, opposite which ABC and Joey Bishop welcome Dick Smothers (without Tommy!), singers Georgia Gibbs and D'Aldo Romano, and the all-time great racing driver Sterling Moss.

There are other interview shows - Alan Burke on WNEW, for example, and the syndicated programs often appear on different channels in different markets - but this gives you a pretty good idea of what the landscape looks like. With the shows at 90 minutes rather than 60, and with the convention being for guests to hang around after they've been interviewed, these were truly "talk" shows, not what passes for them today. Interesting schedule, no?

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This week's starlet is 21-year-old singer Gloria Loring, who's not only headlining nightclubs, she's made multiple appearances with Merv Griffin and Carol Burnett, done Kraft Music Hall and The Dean Martin Show on NBC and Operation: Entertainment on ABC, and has an appearance with Ed Sullivan coming up. She's attractive and fresh-faced, sings upbeat tunes (and sings all the words to them), and as a result the audiences respond. "I won't sing about despair," she says. "Who wants to be unhappy?" (And what a refreshing attitude that must be in 1969.)

Gloria Loring is one of those starlets whose career comes good; in addition to a singing career that continues to this day, she acts in the theater and on television (including five years on Days of Our Lives), writes books, makes the rounds as a motivational speaker, is a spokesperson for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and is the mother of singer Robin Thicke (whose last name comes from Loring's marriage in the '70s and '80s to Alan Thicke). All in all, you'd have to say she's had a very successful career.

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Finally, there's a note in the Teletype that Orson Welles, of all people, may star in his own musical-variety series. He's said to be working with Greg Garrison, who produes Dean Martin's show, and they're making a pilot for NBC. I don't know what ever became of that, but if it was anything like this version, which Scott Beggs describes as "Welles riffing on Howard Beale, complete with his twist on Sybil the Soothsayer and a gun being aimed at Welles by the end," then we really missed something.  TV  

October 13, 2017

Around the dial

I've never had anything in particular against Friday the 13th. I'm not superstitious, so in a way I suppose it's as good a day as any other. One thing's for sure - it's your lucky day if you're looking for the best in the classic TV blogs.

Jack continues the Hitchcock Project look at Francis and Marion Cockrell at bare-bones e-zine with the first season story "The Case of Mr. Pelham." (I almost added "123" afterwards out of habit.) It's an episode directed by Hitch himself, with the wonderful Tom Ewell in a typical Tom Ewell role.

At The Horn Section, Hal is back with his continuing look at the Jack Warden series Crazy Like a Fox, and this week it's the 1986 episode "Fox and the Wolf," with Gene Barry over the top as a preoccupied Hollywood type, and it sounds wonderful!

Next, The Twilight Zone Vortex reviews the Richard Matheson short-story collection The Best of Richard Matheson, and although there are some glaring omissions, it still looks to be the best one-volume introduction to the works of the writer who penned so many of the greatest TZ episodes.

The Broadcasting Archives at the University of Maryland recalls the anniversary of the 1975 debut of Saturday Night Live (or NBC's Saturday Night, as it was first known; Howard Cosell already had the Saturday Night Live tag as part of his show) with a look at the first TV Guide cover for the Not Ready for Prime Time Players.

Some Polish American Guy has a bevy of podcasts for your listening pleasure - I suggest you check them out. Never know when I might be on one of them!

Even after the Golden Age of Christmas variety specials had passed, Perry Como's themed specials were still around, and at Christmas TV History, Joanna watches the 1978 edition, Perry Como's Early American Christmas. Having been to Colonial Williamsburg myself, this is one that I'd really like to go back and watch.

Classic Television Showbiz is back after a break with a video look back at ABC Comedy News from 1973, featuring Fannie Flagg, Andrew Duncan, Kenneth Mars, Mort Sahl, Bob & Ray, Dick Gregory, Peter Schickele, and Joan Rivers. Quite a cast, but what do you think of the show? Of course, anything with Peter "PDQ Bach" Schickele is usually worth watching.

At The Lucky Strike Papers, Andrew notes the anniversary of the 1950 debut of Your Hit Parade, which later on featured Sue Bennett, Andrew's mother, as one of the singers. You may recall I reviewed his excellent book about those times here.

Television's New Frontier: The 1960s has now moved on to one of the most venerable television western, Death Valley Days; it was the second-longest TV western of all time, and its run covered pretty much the entire length of television western era. Always remembered the sponsor, 20 Mule Team Borax, and those covered wagon toy sets they sold.

And at Garroway at Large, Jodie shows us a copy of Fleur Cowles' book Bloody Precedent, the story of Juan Peron's regime in Argentina. Important, why? It was the first author interview ever on Dave Garroway's Today.

Assuming triskaidekaphobia doesn't get the best of you, see you back here tomorrow for a look at another TV Guide.

October 9, 2017

What's on TV? Sunday, October 5, 1969

Well, let's see what this week's listings have that we didn't already discuss on Saturday. We're in Minnesota again, and the Twin Cities are left out of the Vikings game on CBS - the blackout rules of the time mean you have to go to Duluth or some such place if you want to see the game. Believe it or not, a lot of people did that back then; this would be the season that the Vikings went to their first of four Super Bowls. It's also the season the Vikings lost their first of four Super Bowls. You'll notice a large cast on Ed Sullivan's show; Seaver, Koosman, Jones, Agee, and Hodges are all members of the Miracle Mets, who went up 2-0 on the Braves in that afternoon's game. Reruns of Tightrope are airing on WTCN, Channel 11; you usually see this series in TV Guides of the early '60s, but I suspect it's showing now to piggyback on star Mike Connors' current success in Mannix. And NET is debuting a couple of their more noteworthy shows of the era; The Forsyte Saga, one of the great British imports, begat Masterpiece Theatre, while The Advocates covered the topics of the day, and often was ahead of its time in the issues of the future. Enjoy the rest!