May 25, 2015

What's on TV? Monday, May 26, 1980

We're making a return trip to the Phoenix area this week.  I don't have a lot of local insight, but there's more that one interesting sidebar to the week's programming.  The programs du jour are from Monday, May 26, and let's see what the stations have to offer.

May 23, 2015

This week in TV Guide: May 24, 1980

In the mid-60s, when I was but a wee lad, there were few sporting events that were quite as mysterious as the Indianapolis 500.  For one thing, it was always held on Memorial Day, which back then meant May 30, so it was one of the few events to take place in the middle of the week.  Because of the length of the race, it started in the morning for those of us in the Central time zone and points west.  And there was no live home television, which meant that if you were curious about the race, there were two ways to follow it: listen to the live radio broadcast, or go to a movie theater and pay a few bucks to watch the closed circuit telecast.  Otherwise, your best bet was to catch about 40 minutes of highlights the next week on Wide World of Sports.

The difficulties would be worth it though, because the Indianapolis 500 was the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.  Many drivers and car owners would work the entire year in hopes of making the pilgrimage to Indianapolis for a shot at qualifying for the race.  On race day itself, over 200,000 fans would cram into the old Speedway to spend about four hours or so watching the cars whiz around the oval at increasingly faster speeds, driven by men who freely risked their lives for a chance at the first-prize trophy.  More often than not, at least one driver wouldn't make it to try again the next day.

By 1980, things had changed. Memorial Day was now the fourth Monday in May, and the race itself, which in the past had been held every day of the week but Sunday*, was now scheduled specifically on Sunday, with Monday as a backup in case of rain.  There was still no live TV coverage (although the radio broadcast remained, as it does to this day) but instead of having to wait until the following Saturday for Wide World, race fans could see a same-day telecast that night on ABC.  Not everything had changed, though, for the Indianapolis 500 was still the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, not to mention the biggest sporting event of the week, and fans and drivers alike still circled the entire month of May on their calendars, for there was no greater prize in racing than Indianapolis.

*The race was treated much the same way as the New Year's Day bowl games; when Memorial Day fell on a Sunday, the race was moved to Monday.  When Memorial Day was transferred to a Monday, the 500 was moved first to Saturday, then Memorial Day Monday itself, before settling in with the current Sunday/Monday schedule.

The 1980 broadcast of the 500 was held on Sunday, May 25, with Jim McKay and former world champion Jackie Stewart in the broadcast booth.  For the first time, ABC's same-day coverage had been expanded to three hours, all the better to present complete coverage of what was sure to be a battle for the ages.  No less than seven former champions were in the field, including A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Al and Bobby Unser, Gordon Johncock, defending champion Rick Mears, and two-time winner and pole sitter Johnny Rutherford.  Twenty-nine other drivers would try and fail to qualify.  A crowd estimated at 300,000 filled the Brickyard to watch Rutherford turn in a dominant performance, beating future champion Tom Sneva by nearly a half-minute to become the sixth three-time Indy 500 champion.

I mention all this detail for a couple of reasons.  First, I've always been a racing fan, and as I pointed out in this article last year, Indianapolis always held a special place in my heart.  I was one of those who would sit for four hours listening to the radio broadcast, imagining the action taking place hundreds of miles away, then spending two or three hours watching the highlights even though I already knew who'd won.

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
The second reason is that anyone under the age of, say, 30, might have a hard time appreciating just how big Indy once was.  With the exception of the 500, Indycar racing has all but disappeared from the American consciousness, and empty seats at the 500 itself, once unthinkable, are now commonplace.  NASCAR is the king of the American racing hill, and drivers such as Jimmy Johnson and Jeff Gordon, who would have been natural Indy drivers at one time, typify the talent which has been lost.  Whereas 100 drivers would battle for the 33 prize spots in the 500 back in the day, race organizers now struggle to even attract 33.  They're somehow able to do it every year (this year there were 34 trying to make the field) but one of these days they're bound to fall short.

It's true that things are constantly changing; nothing lasts forever, after all, but the changes can sometimes be cruel.  The mystery of the Indianapolis 500 has long since disappeared, along with much of the glamour and excitement, and almost all of what made it unique.  Today it's just one more sporting event on a Sunday that's crammed with sports from early morning until late at night.  It's not even the biggest race of the day, let alone the year; Formula 1 fans point to the glamorous Grand Prix of Monaco, which NBC covers at 6:30 am, while NASCAR fans wait for their longest race of the year, the Coke 600, on Fox later in the afternoon.  The Indianapolis 500 is nothing more than the centerpiece of a racing series that hardly anyone cares about anymore; I don't even bother watching it anymore, live or on tape.  There's just too much to do, too much life to live, to spend four hours you'll never get back watching a race that no longer makes the heart beat faster.  That's life, and maybe it's progress as well, but that doesn't mean it's anything to celebrate.

***

It's possible that another reason for the length of the preceding is TV Guide fatigue, but I think the most likely reason is that I'm not getting much inspiration from this issue.  I've complained about the '80s before, although I think it's good to dip into the decade once in a while and see what's going on, but there doesn't seem to be a lot attracting me here.  As an example of what we have to work with, witness the four shows NBC has just cancelled, and the five that are being introduced as replacements.

Going from the schedule are United States, the Larry Gelbart dramedy starring Beau Bridges and Helen Shaver that probably would have done much better a decade later; Hello, Larry, the latest bomb in the television career of McLean Stevenson; and The Best of Saturday Night Live, which has "filler" written all over it.  As for the new shows, four of them probably won't ring many more bells: Harper Valley, P.T.A., starring Barbara Eden, which somehow managed to last for 30 episodes; Flamingo Road, a Dallas wannabee with Howard Duff, Stella Stevens, Morgan Fairchild and Mark Harmon which outdid Harper Valley by eight episodes; Thursday Games, a reality-based sports series that eventually made it to the schedule as Games People Play and survived barely a season; and Speak Up, America, a Real World spinoff that featured Marjoe Gortner as one of the stars, which was also was a one-and-done series.

Oh, the fifth series that I mentioned?  That one might be more familiar to you.  It's a gritty police comedy-drama called Hill Street Blues.

***

Two shows on this week provide a stark look at the times - in fact, although they're not very good, they wouldn't make any sense at all without understanding the political strife boiling away in the background.

The two are The Golden Moment: An Olympic Love Story, a two-part (Sunday and Monday) TV movie on NBC, and Phyl & Mikhy, a sitcom premiering on CBS Monday night.  What they both have in common (other than being pretty bad) is that they're staged against the backdrop of the Moscow Olympics and they involve romances between American and Russian athletes.  The problem (other than that they're pretty bad) is that the United States isn't going to be taking part in the Moscow Olympics, and therein lies the story.

As has so often been the case in the last four decades or so, this one happens as a result of military action in Afghanistan.  The Soviet incursion into Afghanistan, which began in December 1979 and lasted over nine years, was met with widespread international condemnation, peaking with President Carter's call for a boycott of the Moscow Olympics*, ultimately joined by numerous countries.

*There were many who protested the U.S.S.R. being awarded the Olympics in the first place, given the country's miserable human rights record; nowadays, it seems as if only totalitarian countries have the political clout to put the Games together.

The international ramifications of the boycott can be debated, but one thing beyond debate is the effect it had on movies and series such as the two I mentioned above.  To be blunt, they were gimmicky concept shows whose gimmick was now shot all to hell, leaving their messages of universal understanding and love trumping political differences ringing somewhat hollow.  Of course, if you're like me, with little tolerance for corn like that, you were probably cackling all the way at the irony of it all.  Ain't I a stinker?

***

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
Finally, a quick look at some odds and ends.

On Wednesday night NBC celebrates Bob Hope's 77th birthday.  You're probably thinking the same thing I am: 77 isn't a milestone number*, so why is NBC doing this?  I don't know; it might have been an annual tradition by that point, or NBC might not have wanted to take the chance of waiting three years longer.  At any rate, it's another example of a star-studded special filled with the stars of the late '70s; big names for the time to be sure, but not exactly the names one typically associates with Bob Hope - unless you're willing to role play a bit, in which case the show makes perfect sense.  For example, there's Loni Anderson as Dorothy Lamour, Andy Gibb as Bing Crosby, Barbara Mandrell as one of the Andrews Sisters (take your pick), Diana Ross as jazz singer Nancy Wilson, Alan Shepard as Dwight D. Eisenhower and the figure skating team of Babilonia and Gardner as two of the Seven Little Foys.  At least that's the only way I can make sense of it.

*Unless it's followed by the words "Sunset Strip."

Best of the new movies this week, according to Judith Crist, is The Henderson Monster by Ernest Kinoy, starring Jason Miller, Christine Lahti and David Spielberg in a later-day Frankenstein movie dealing with DNA research.  Crist finds it "wonderfully credible" and praises Kinoy's script, "marked with wit, irony and a sophistication rare in TV 'social' drama."  The movie airs Tuesday on CBS.

There is sports other than Indy; NBC carries the U.S. Olympic Trials which, as the network notes, are now all that American athletes have to shoot for.  CBS has live coverage of portions of NASCAR's Coke 600 - then known as the World 600 - on Sports Spectacular; the network isn't quite there as far as showing all 600 miles, the way Fox does today.  And a possible baseball strike is averted at the last minute, making possible the Saturday Game of the Week between the Dodgers and Cubs.

Oh, that cover story about whether or not sitcoms are getting better?  The gist is that they're able to deal with more adult topics than they used to, and that gravitas can tend to increase the number of storylines.  So I guess they're better.

And to round things up, you'll recall that a couple of weeks ago I mentioned TV Guide's defense of the number of hours which Americans spend watching TV.  The idea that the average viewer watches over six hours a day, the editorial remarked, was ridiculous - that may be the number of hours the television is on, but the average individual viewer only watches about two and a half hours.  A year later, with a new survey out by Nielsen, the magazine makes the same argument.  Now, the TV is on for nearly six and a half hours a day, but the amount of time the average individual spends watching it is still lower - although it's risen to over four hours.  Hmm.  I don't know if that's good or bad.  One thing I do know, and agree with, is TV Guide's conclusion that "We don't think the total amount of time spent watching TV is as important as what we choose to watch."  And the what, after all, is what this blog is all about.

May 22, 2015

Around the dial - coming attractions and more!

Just a note to remind everyone that next week is the Classic TV Blog Association's annual Summer of Me-TV Blogathon.  Yours truly along with some of the finest classic TV bloggers around will be writing about some of the shows that make Me-TV one of the few networks worth watching.  You can read all about it here, but that's no substitute for reading about them all next week.

Outspoken and Freckled says goodbye to Mad Men, and I'll take this opportunity to admit once again that I've never seen a full episode of the series.  That doesn't mean I'm unaware of it though; I've read many a review at the A.V. Club, and I've got to admit that last week's last scene sounds pretty clever.  Now that I know how it ends, will that ruin it for me if I ever watch it?

Cult TV Blog introduces us to the world of Charley Says, and though I don't understand much about it, I really enjoyed reading it, as usual.  I think there are some very perceptive comments about the '70s as well; I, too, find it too easy to forget how fatalistic the 1970s were.  That doesn't mean things aren't bad today, but it seems as if we're always convinced that the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train.

Sorry to read that The Old Movie House is closing down, at least temporarily.  Get well soon, Tom!

Comfort TV introduces us to yet another exhibit in the Museum of Comfort TV: the Hoyt-Clagwell Tractor that Oliver and Lisa Douglas rode on Green Acres.  I know the Museum is all in the mind, but when it becomes a physical reality call me, David - I'll be glad to work there!

Television's New Frontier: the 1960s takes us back to one of the iconic shows of the '60s: My Three Sons.  I remember watching that show in my youth, though my memories are more of the show's later years, when I was too young to realize that Beverly Garland really was quite a babe at one time.

Television Obscurities will have another great TV Guide review up on Friday, but as of the time I'm writing this (late Thursday night) it isn't up yet.  So when you go over there, don't forget to read this piece on the wonderfully-named "new obscurities" of this television season.

Every single site on the sidebar has something worth reading, so just because I only gave you a handful here, take some time to look at the rest of these sites as well.  But make sure you remember to come back here tomorrow for another trip into the past of TV Guide.

May 20, 2015

G.E. College Bowl and the changing of the times

Continuing our little May video series, let's look at a couple of episodes from the long-running G.E. College Bowl.  As usual, following the clips we'll have a few observations.

The first is from March 29, 1959, when the series ran on CBS and was hosted by Allen Ludden.  The contest pits Barnard College of New York City versus the University of Southern California.  Enjoy the commercials!


The second match is later, from March 9, 1966.  The show has moved from CBS to NBC, from black and white to color, and from Alan Ludden as host to Robert Earle.  Our competitors this time are Princeton University and tiny Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia.  The show is divided into three parts; parts two and three can be seen here and here.


As one might expect, there's more to see here than a simple nostalgia for old television.  From the purely technical side, the later show is, as you would expect, a more polished and compelling production.*  The addition of color makes the graphics pop, and the repeated focus on the clock, with the sweep second hand approaching zero, enhances the sense of urgency and drama in the cliffhanger ending.

*Understandable, since the 1959 game was only the show's tenth telecast.

Robert Earle was a far more compelling choice as host than the somewhat smarmy Ludden, who just can't resist calling attention to himself in the best tradition of game show hosts.*  Earle never lets his role detract from that of the students, and unlike Ludden seems far more at ease with the academic nature of the questions.  One gets the idea that Earle might have been able to answer a few of the questions himself, whereas Ludden comes across as more condescending, reminding you that he's the host, whether he knows the answers or not.

*Rather like the difference between Bill Cullen and, say, Richard Dawson.

The questions themselves are challenging enough on their own, let alone having to answer them quickly, on live television and in front of a studio audience, before someone on the other side buzzes in.  I personally feel fortunate when I can answer one or two of them.  One can argue that the knowledge required to win is too specific, not as relevant to modern life, but that makes sense only when you look at college as a vocational tool rather than what it originally was, a place where the individual's knowledge is burnished and the student himself comes out as a more well-rounded person.*

*In fact, this spawns an entirely new question: the role of a college education in modern society.  In an era when college degrees seem to be a requirement for all but the most menial jobs, with advanced degrees often preferred, have we gotten away from the original intent of higher education?  Should we revisit the difference between a vocational college and one specializing in liberal arts?  Do we put too much of a premium on college degrees, with the result a milieu of entitlement, debt and political indoctrination?  Interesting questions all, ones that can easily be considered in the context of television's portrayal through the years, from a program like College Bowl to series such as Halls of Ivy, Hank and The Paper Chase.

Furthermore, the eternal struggle over college has always been a staple of family dramas and sitcoms, particularly in the mid-part of the century, when so many first generation Americans were under pressure to become the first in their family to attend college.  At that point it was a mark not only of achievement but assimilation into the American way.  Even then the tension existed between parents who wanted their children to do better than they did, to get that degree and then become a professional, a doctor or a lawyer, and children who wanted to follow their hearts and be a mechanic, a singer or an actress; in later years, we'd see those same children rebel against the system and become dropouts, peace activists, or non-profit advocates, much to the consternation of their parents.  And except in the most frothy comedies, college is often portrayed as a struggle of pressure to achieve, measured against either the expectations of others or the student's own expectation.

In the end, do we perhaps see in television's portrayal of higher education an evolution in the depiction of college life, as the quest for knowledge becomes, instead, the quest for a better, higher-paying and more prestigious job?

Alas, probably a topic for another day.

And look at the students on College Bowl; my wife commented on how mature and poised they were, particularly the girls of Barnard.  Cherry White*, for example, has a lot more moxie than people I've seen in the business world.  Nerdish overtones, of course, but still very polished for college students.  Even in 1966, when knowledge was becoming a weapon that students would use against the establishment, there's still something clean-cut and adult about the players.  I remember my wife commenting, as we watched the episode, on whether or not any of them wound up involved in campus riots or antiwar protests.  The point is, would young people today be as poised, as adult, in a culture that seems to adore perpetual adolescence?  Would they look as if they were headed for success, a cocktail party, or back to their parents' basements?

*Whose actual first name, by the way, was "Heritage."  I wonder what ever happened to her?

According to one source, General Electric dropped their sponsorship of College Bowl due to that very college unrest, after which the show disappeared from weekly airwaves.  If that's true then it's a sure a sign as any of the cultural upheavals enveloping the country, and a reminder of how that manifests itself on television.

May 18, 2015

What's on TV? Wednesday, May 19, 1965

A few years ago I had the chance to pick up a number of old TV Guides at an antique store, for prices that were probably better than they are online.  (No offense intended; saving on shipping is a big part of this equation.)  I passed, because the issues were not from the Twin Cities, and therefore I had no memories against which to measure them.  Most of them were from Wisconsin, as I recall, which would have been a good enough reason in and of itself to skip them.*  Big mistake.  Had I known I'd be doing this blog I would have snapped them up; even though my first choices continue to be Minneapolis/St. Paul and my new home, Dallas/Fort Worth, I find looking at new areas to be fun.  Educational, even.  As long as we don't overdo it.

*This joke only works if you're living in a state that borders Wisconsin.  Now that I live in Texas, I actually have fairly kind thoughts about the Cheese State.

This week we make a trip to the Big Apple, with a couple of stops in Connecticut for good measure.  Of all the places we could choose, New York is probably one of the more interesting; notice how many of their local newscasters go on to success at the network level.  You also see staples of TV cliches such as The Late Show.  But enough talking; let's get on with it.

May 16, 2015

This week in TV Guide: May 15, 1965

I told you it was a big day today, didn't I?  For the second half of today's doubleheader*, we'll start with a look at Robert Lansing, currently - but not for long - the star of ABC's 12 O'Clock High.  I've read various accounts of why Lansing was sacked from the show after one season;  Quinn Martin, the legendary producer of 12 O'Clock High and many other shows, offers one of the strangest reasons I've ever read: Lansing's an actor who plays best with the audience at a late hour, say 10:00 pm (ET), which is the time that 12 O'Clock High airs.

*See here for today's curtain-riser.

Problem is, next season the show's moving to 7:30 pm, and Martin claims that ABC asked him to "find another series for him" that ran at 10 pm.  "Had we remained at 10 P.M., Bob would have continued."  Now, quite frankly that sounds ridiculous to me, but Lansing, who's being replaced by former Naked City star Paul Burke, is sanguine about it.  "My contract was with Quinn Martin, and he's the only one I've talked to.  I can't be mad at Quinn, either.  He says it was the network's decision, and I have no evidence to make me doubt him."  To show that he's a team player, Lansing adds that he feels the show's quality will suffer from being moved to an earlier time with, presumably, a younger audience.  "12 hours a day is too long to work at something you don't like."

I don't know about all this.  I've always liked Robert Lansing; he projects a tough, masculine image but has a softer side that still resonates with the audience.  For instance, as Detective Carella in 87th Precinct, he was able to portray a no-nonsense cop who still had a sense of humor, not to mention a dedication to protecting the public.  As the character Gary Seven, he's one of the few guest stars to hold his own with Mr. Spock and the rest of the Star Trek crew, outwitting them at almost every turn.  He did a better job on the short-lived series The Man Who Never Was than the series deserved, and he had a memorable guest role in The Equalizer many years later. Cleveland Amory, a hard man to please, describes Lansing's work in 12 O'Clock High:  "Make no mistake about it.  Robert Lansing is magnificent."  The idea that he has to have a "10 pm" timeslot is just - odd.

 A second theory about Lansing's departure is that it was hard for the audience to accept that his character, General Frank Savage, would be out there in the middle of the war himself rather than directing things from behind a desk.*  The series was based on the Academy Award-winning movie of the same name, which starred Gregory Peck as Savage and Dean Jagger as Colonel Harvey Stovall, played in the series by Frank Overton. and if memory serves there were a couple other characters from the movie who show up in the series (played by different actors, of course.)

*Paul Burke's character, by contrast, is a Colonel.

This leads to today's trivia question, which might make for some fun comments below.  The second season of 12 O'Clock High begins with Savage's plane being shot down and the General being killed. Paul Burke's previous series, Naked City, was also based on a movie, the stars of which were Barry Fitzgerald as Detective Lt. Dan Muldoon and Don Taylor as his partner, Jimmy Halloran.  When the series transitioned to television, John McIntire assumed the Muldoon role (right down to Fitzgerald's Irish brogue; it's a wonderful portrayal), while James Franciscus played Halloran.  McIntire soon tired of the weekly grind of a series, however, and was killed off late in the first season, to be replaced by Horace McMahon as Mike Parker.*

*I'll bet you thought I was going to say he was replaced by Paul Burke, right?  No, his character replaces Halloran, who disappears for no apparent reason.

Having given you those examples, can you name any other television series adapted from a movie that then proceeded to kill off one of that movie's star characters?  I can't, but then I don't want to think too hard about it.
***

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: Ed's special guests are Rudolf Nureyev and Dame Margot Fonteyn, stars of London's Royal Ballet Company.  Also on the bill are Welsh recording star Petula Clark; comedian Alan King, who tells about the New York World's Fair; the West Point Glee Club; the rock 'n' rolling Beach Boys; comedienne Sue Carson and pop singer Frankie Randall.

Palace: Host George Burns introduces operatic soprano Mary Costa; singer Jack Jones; comics Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks in an interview sketch on dating; the Young Americans, vocal group; pantomimists Cully Richards and Company; the Flying Zacchinis, trapeze artists; and the Almiros, jugglers.

The Palace really starts strong this week, both musically (Costa and Jones) and comedically (Burns, Reiner and Brooks), but just when I was starting to get excited - the Young Americans, mimes (I hate mimes), jugglers, trapeze artists...

On the other hand, your affection for Ed will depend largely on what you think of ballet; since Nureyev and Dame Margot are two of the very biggest names in the business, you can bet they're getting a lot of airtime, with three excerpts from Nureyev's version of Swan Lake.  I happen to like ballet, and since this is my blog, and since I also like Petula Clark and Alan King and think the Beach Boys are probably the best American rock act of the time (which may not be saying much, granted), I'm giving this week to Ed as he dances rings around Palace.

***

As much as I love the hometown TV Guides from my youth, it's always fun to see other markets from time to time.  A couple of this month's offerings are from Phoenix, and this week's issue is from New York City.  Let's see how things are done in the Big Apple.

One thing to notice: lots of movies.  But that doesn't necessarily mean more movies, just more times that movies are on.  For example, WNEW, Channel 5 (now WNYW, the Fox affiliate, but an independent in 1965) has a movie which they show daily at 10:00 am and 1:30 pm*, presumably for those housewives who either go shopping or have to pick up the kids from kindergarten or, I don't know, entertain the milkman in the morning.  Whatever the case, when a movie's shown twice during the day, you don't really have any excuse for missing it unless you work outside the office, in which case it wouldn't matter how many times it's on.

*Just so there's no confusion, they show the same movie at 10am and 1:30pm.  Not part 2 of the movie, the same movie.  The same exact movie.

Next, there's Million Dollar Movie on WOR, Channel 9.  Million Dollar Movie, which began in 1955, was really a quite clever way of exploiting the showing of a big-time movie - which, due to the continuing antagonism between movie studios and television, weren't always that commonplace.  Million Dollar Movie's hook was twofold: the movies would have never before been seen on television, and they would be shown multiple times a day for the entire week - as many as sixteen times a week, according to some.  By 1965, the number was down to seven times a week: 11:00 am and 11:00 pm on Sunday, and then 11:25 pm Monday through Friday.  This week's feature: The Lost Missile, starring Robert Loggia and Ellen Parker.  "New Yorkers have little more than an hour left to live, as a radioactive missile circles the earth, destroying everything in a 10-mile-wide swath." *

*In other words, they only have a hour to live - until the next showing.  And you should not confuse this with Channel 3's Satellite in the Sky airing Monday at 11:20pm, in which "a rocket ship heads for outer space to explode an experimental bomb," or Channel 2's Abandon Ship, where 27 passengers of a luxury liner that sank try to fit into a lifeboat that can only hold 12 .



And then there are the two movie shows that have the most iconic names of all: The Late Show and The Late Late Show, both of which air on WCBS, Channel 2. Here's the famous opening to The Late Show:


Channel 2's couplet of The Late Show and The Late Late Show were billed as "post-midnight entertainment for 'television's other audience'," back in a time when it was somewhat sophisticated and grown up to stay up late during the week.  The Late Show stars at 11:20 pm, and The Late Late Show at about 1:25 am, which brings us up to about 3 am most times, when Channel 2 airs a couple more movies to take the viewing audience up to Summer Semester that morning.

***

Of course, there's a lot more to local television than movies.  There's news, for example, and it's probably no surprise that many of the local news anchors in New York are also tied in to network broadcasts.  WNBC's (Channel 4) early evening newscast, for example, was anchored variously by NBC correspondents Gabe Pressman, Robert MacNeil and Bill Ryan, while Frank McGee appears as the anchor of a 10-minute news update at 11pm, with Jim Hartz (like McGee, a future host of The Today Show) presents 15 minutes of local news at 11:15.  Robert Trout augmented his correspondent's work for CBS by anchoring the 6:30 pm news on WCBS,

On the left: Roger Grimsby and Bill Beutel
Some local personalities, while not graduating to the network level, became local legends.  Tex Antoine, who gives the 11:10 weather on Channel 4, was a fixture on local television for three decades.*  Bill Beutel did time with ABC as a reporter and, later, as co-host of the morning show A.M. America, but he's probably best known for his years with Roger Grimsby as co-anchor of WABC's Eyewitness News, and in 1965 he hosts the station's 11:00 news.  Incidentally, WABC would boast of one of the epic local lineups of all time in the late '60s, with Beutel and Grimsby doing the news, Antoine (who'd moved over from WNBC) with the weather, and sports commentary being provided by a guy named Howard Cosell.  Beat that, huh?

*If you want to find out how his career came to an end, check his Wikipedia page.

Of course, not being from New York, I'm sure I'm missing a lot of names and data here, so if any of you want to chime in with more details, you're always welcome!

***

Here's a quick look at the rest of the TV week:

Sports:  The Preakness, live from Pimlico in Baltimore.  The favorite is Lucky Debonair, winner of the Kentucky Derby, but Dapper Dan winds up in the winner's circle with the Black-Eyed Susans.  If horse racing's not your game, there's plenty of baseball, with both the Yankees and Mets appearing numerous times throughout the week, and the final round of the New Orleans Open golf tournament airs on Sunday.

Comedy:  I'll be talking about Gilligan's Island in a moment, but on Saturday we have that delightful situation that finds Jim Backus competing against himself, as Gilligan airs on CBS at 8:30 pm, up against NBC's Mr. Magoo.  Only time in TV history that an actor has competed against himself with two shows on different networks at the same time.

Game Shows:  Paul Anka is the guest panelist on What's My Line? Sunday night.  Roger Smith and singer Carmel Quinn are on What's This Song? on CBS daytime, while Hermoine Gingold is the week's celebrity guest on ABC's The Price is Right.  Selma Diamond and Les Crane appear on Call My Bluff on NBC, followed by singer Gogi Grant and her husband Bob Rifkind taking on Alan and Virginia Young on I'll Bet.  George Grizzard and Joan Fontaine are on CBS' Password, singers Mel Torme and Sally Ann Howes are on NBC's You Don't Say!, and Henry Morgan and Lauren Bacall (!) follow on The Match Game.  Not a bad week of celebrity sightings.

Drama  A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the wonderful Twilight Zone episode "On Thursday We Leave for Home."  Well, it's the first of 17 reruns to debut in the show's Sunday night slot.  A sea monster terrorizes a Norwegian village on ABC's Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea Monday night.  And on Thursday, Perry Mason gets involved in the case of an actor taking part in one of Shakespeare's sword-dueling scenes - and winds up dead.

Culture:  On Monday, Channel 9 presents the movie version of Gian-Carlo Menotti's sinister opera The Medium, starring Marie Powers, Leo Coleman and Anna Maria Alberghetti.  Channel 2 has a documentary Tuesday about a place that'll get plenty of culture: the newly constructed Lincoln Center.  And what could possibly be more cultural than the New York State finals of the Miss Universe pageant, shown live Thursday night on Channel 11? The winner is Gloria Jon; I was hoping it might be someone who went on to great fame and stardom, but being Miss New York isn't bad at all.

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Finally, Sherwood Schwartz tells Richards Warren Lewis about the difficulties he's had in getting Gilligan's Island from the drawing board to the screen.

For one thing, everyone in the executive suite at CBS loved it - except for Jim Aubrey.  And the problem there was that Jim Aubrey was the president of CBS.  United Artists, co-producers with Schwartz, hated the idea of a theme song that told the backstory.  He submitted the pilot to CBS, sans music, and it was rejected without comment.

At this point, Schwartz takes matters into his own hands.  He reedits the pilot the way he wants it done; "Is everybody through with the film now?  Can I do it my way?"  He writes the theme song himself, assembled a new version, and shipped it to New York, with a note that read, "This is the pilot I had in mind."

The results were a smash.  The test audience loved it so much that CBS made another audience sit through it, unable to believe the show had scored so high.  When the second audience seconded its approval, the show finally got on the schedule.  But even then, Schwartz's problems weren't done.  The suits didn't like the Hollywood actress character: "Who can identify?"  They didn't like the billionaire: "Who's going to understand a billionaire?"  They didn't like the science teacher: "What kind of flair does that have to it?"  Schwartz fought their suggestions, and won.  Then the network fired three of the seven actors who appeared in the pilot, which required further filming and editing.

The episode that winds up debuting on television is actually a combination of three separate shows, including about half of that pilot.  "It was an outlandish beginning," Schwartz says of that first episode.  "If you're telling a story about people who get shipwrecked, the only honest way is if the first show is about how they got wrecked.  Instead, it was about how they were trying to get off the island.  It's like starting on chapter two.  You didn't know who they were."  He thinks that has something to do with the bad initial reviews from some critics.

Even now, having spent the entire season in the top 40, not everyone at CBS is happy, but it doesn't matter to Schwartz.  He's proud of the way audiences have identified with the characters and the situation; "Whether you like my show or not, you turn into Gilligan's Island and in one second you know what show you're looking at."

Reading this, I'm struck by the thought that, for all the accusations that Gilligan was part of the dumbing-down of television, the objections from the suits at CBS suggest they didn't have much confidence in their audience's ability to identify with characters and figure things out.  Indeed, one can assume that if the network had had their way, Gilligan's Island would have been far, far dumber than even the harshest critics suggested.  And it wouldn't be as loved today.