July 21, 2014

James Garner, R.I.P.

About James Garner, who died over the weekend, plenty of thoughts:

      1.  Terry Teachout put it so well in his obituary this morning, that Garner had died at “the magnificent age of 86.”  I’m not privy to insider information, but I’d bet that Garner lived those 86 years as well as anyone.  He worked steadily for most of his career, combining successful television series with a big screen career that was modest in terms of quantity but oversize when it came to quality, with Grand Prix, The Great Escape, Support Your Local Sheriff, and an Oscar-nominated turn in Murphy’s Romance more than enough to qualify him as a movie star.x

2.   As an adjunct to #1, he was married to the same woman since 1956.  Put that in your pipe and smoke it!
    3.   He was a rebel.  In the waning days of the studio system, he took on Warner Brothers, producers of his hit series Maverick.  Now, he wasn’t the only actor to do that – Clint Walker walked off Cheyenne in a similar dispute – but Garner made it stick.  He won his legal battle with WB, and never returned to the original series.  (He had a number of legal disputes with Universal, producers of The Rockford Files, as well.)
    4.   Speaking of The Rockford Files, I watched the show regularly when it was on in first-run, primarily because, living in the world’s worst town, NBC was the only network we could get.  I always had fond memories of it, but when I watched it years later, I found it dated.  I couldn’t get past the big cars, bad clothes, overteased women, and constant smoking.  A couple of months ago, I revisited Rockford while I had the flu – I was a captive audience, so to speak.  And I came to the conclusion that it was Garner who kept Rockford from being dated.  His acting style – well, was it really a style?  He was so natural, so effortless, the way he played not only Garner, but most roles.  He had an easy self-confidence that was probably the result of a lot of hard work, but still.  The ability to project yourself that way can only be called a gift.
    5.  I’d also compare him to Paul Newman in the sense that Garner was an actor who could give gravitas even to projects that didn’t deserve it.  Excepting Space Cowboys, of course.
    6.  And, as Teachout notes, didn’t Garner steal the show from Newman, et. al in Twilight? You probably didn’t see that – it was one of those rare movies, a drama for grown-ups that didn’t rely on special effects, comic book tie-ins, loud music, car chases, and the like.
    7.  Garner was really something behind the wheel, wasn’t he?  I mean, he, Newman, and Steve McQueen could have started their own race team.  They would have won a few, too.  Don’t know about the clash of egos, though.  Not to mention team orders.
    8.  He wasn’t perfect, though.  I recall years ago when he starred as a U.S. Senator in Space, the disappointing miniseries of James Michener’s equally disappointing novel.  In the book, Garner’s character had been a Republican, but Garner insisted on changing him to a Democrat for the series.  The character wasn’t that political, but Garner was a big-time Democrat, and perhaps he just didn’t have the acting chops to put himself into the role of a Republican.  That’s one thing I’ve always admired about Martin Sheen, by the way – I’ve seen him play a Republican before, and he did it with as much conviction and acting integrity as he did later on in The West Wing.
    9.  A last word about Maverick – it wasn’t originally intended to be a light-hearted Western spoof, but according to Brooks and Marsh in their Complete Directory, the change happened early in the series’ run, when a bored scriptwriter (later ID’d as Marion Hargrove) added a stage direction referring to Maverick looking at someone “with his beady little eyes.”  Garner thought the direction hilarious, and played the scene for laughs.  The rest is history.
    10. We shouldn’t mourn James Garner too much.  His life was full, his days as an actor were principally behind him, and he left a great body of work that will continue to please audiences for a long time.  We may miss the fact that we won’t be able to turn on the TV and see an interview with him, or read another volume of memoirs, or see him in a cameo appearance – but he’s given us more than enough pleasure to make up for it.
    11. If you want to read more, The Guardian – typical of Brit newspapers – has a wonderful write-up here.

    July 19, 2014

    This week in TV Guide: July 15, 1961

    The brooding visage on the cover of this week's TV Guide is not that of Dave Garroway, although it would appear to be a perfect match for the sidebar teaser on the left.  No, on the cover you see Gardner McKay, star of Adventures in Paradise.  More about him later.  First, here's Garroway.

    David Cunningham Garroway, the subject of Richard Gehman's multi-part profile, is one of the pioneers of television, a man of immeasurable influence insofar as on-camera persona is concerned.  He is a very complex man as well, a troubled man, and for once the psychoanalytical angle that Gehman so likes to use comes in handy.

    Garroway is the star of NBC's Today Show, or to be more precise, The Dave Garroway Today Show, as it is currently known.  His friendly demeanor, inquisitive mind and engaging personality all combine to make him one of the first big stars in the new medium.  Today reflects that personality perfectly.  Would that today's Today (a cumbersome handle, to be sure) had as much variety and innovation as Garroway's did.

    And yet the Dave Garroway that millions see every weekday morning is a far cry from the offscreen Garroway.  It's sometimes said that when TV viewers see a personality on their sets often enough, they come to feel as if they actually know that person.  In Garroway's case, those viewers probably know as much about him as his friends and coworkers do.  Garroway is almost painfully shy, far preferring the company of his cars and telescopes to human interaction.  He used to disguise himself before leaving the house, and he has a bomb shelter in his Manhattan townhouse, along with a bottle of Secanol in case of nuclear war.  He tells Gehman that his anxieties actually make him better on TV, where "he can be himself" in the unblinking eye of the camera lens.

    I described Garroway above as the host of Today; actually, that will be true onlyh for another two days.  Come Monday morning, John Chancellor will take over as host of the new, hard-news version of Today.  Garroway had made the announcement in May, a month after his wife had committed suicide by swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills, that he would be leaving the show in October, or earlier if possible.  He cites the need to recharge his batteries, to get away from the entertainment business for awhile.  The article promises that part two will tell why Garroway really left Today; unfortunately, I don't have that issue.  (But if you think I should have it, in order to finish the story, I'll gladly give you my PayPal address.)

    I've harped on Richard Gehman's writing style for some time.  I've often felt he was unnecessarily sarcastic; a snarky writer who makes his own cleverness too much a part of the story.  And yet perhaps this time, as I suggested earlier, the subject is a perfect match for the writer.  His opening paragraph is certainly as good as anything you'll read in classic TV Guide.*

    *When I mentioned this to my wife, she asked if today's TV Guide even has any writing; she thought maybe all they did was compose captions to pictures.

    In these troubled and abandoned days, some of the more troubled and abandoned among us celebrate the birth of Christ by behaving much like the very Romans who crucified Him.  A bacchanalian Christmas party given three years ago by the staff of the Today show would have delighted a contemporary Edward Gibbon.

    Gehman goes on to discuss Garroway's obvious boredom and discomfort in these surroundings, taking it for as long as he could before getting up and disappearing.  He continues,

    In "The Day of the Locust," the late Nathaneal West said of his protagonist, "He was really a very complicated young man with a whole set of personalities, one inside the other like a nest of Chinese boxes."  The phrase might have been written for Garroway, who is a very complicated 48.  Nobody knows it better than he.  For 14 years, off and on, he has been seeing a psychiatrist in an effort to learn what is inside those boxes.  And what the has learned is that there are more boxes.

    What I particularly like about those paragraphs is that Gehman assumes his readers will recognize the name Edward Gibbon, that they will know who Nathaneal West was and perhaps might even have read his writing.  It doesn't strike me that he's forcing these references; he's simply respecting his audience.  TV Guide always prided itself on being more than a fan magazine, with readers who were a far cry from those who read the other rags; writing such as this tends to confirm that assumption.

    Dave Garroway's story is a sad one, and it's not just because one of the pioneers of television is virtually unknown today.  He appeared on various media off and on through the years, hosting a science show on NET, several radio programs on both coasts, and occasional guest appearances in various series, including on Today show anniversaries.  He was married three times; the first ended in divorce, the second (as we saw above) with the suicide of his wife in 1961; his third to an astronomer, not surprising given his interest in that field.  He underwent heart surgery in 1982 and, suffering from complications as well as his continuing battle with depression, killed himself with a single blast from a shotgun later that year.  He was only 69 years old.

    Here's a clip from the beginning of Today in January, 1952.

    And here is a clip from Today's 30th anniversary, Garroway's last television appearance, where Garroway is reunited with the classic Today cast, his old partners Jack Lescoulie and Frank Blair.


    And now on to Gardner McKay.  He was discovered by Dominick Dunne, who was at the time a producer at 20th Century Fox, and hired to star in a new series Dunne was co-producing, Adventures in Paradise.  Standing an imposing 6'5", he cuts a figure that leads Life magazine, in a cover story, to dub him "the new Apollo."  McKay considers himself to still be a rookie when it comes to acting - "I'm no real actor," he tells the unnammed interviewer, "Show me a two-page speech from 'Antigone' and I'd get sick." - but Dunne, who first spotted McKay reading a book of poetry in a coffee shop, says that though he was a nobody in Hollywood terms, "his attitude declared that he was somebody." Despite the criticism of his acting, McKay is unquestionably a star, receiving up to 3,000 pieces of fan mail a week, and is well-liked by the crew that services his series.

    Adventures in Paradise is now in its third and final season, but McKay remains untouched by his celebrity; he still drives the same 1958 Chevy convertible he had before Paradise, and he has no press agent, no business manager.  On his weekly salary of over $1,500, he has "a few blue chip stocks and a bank account."  In 1961, "the future burns brightly" for Gardner McKay.

    You can see the episode that played on ABC that Monday night, July 17, 1961, right here.  It's a rerun of "The Big Surf," in the first of five parts.  Feel free to check them all out:

    Like Dave Garroway after Today, Gardner McKay's life will travel a different route after Adventures in Paradise ends, but unlike Garroway it has a happy ending.  After the series ends, McKay declines to renew his contract with Fox and turns down a chance to co-star in a movie with Marilyn Monroe, who personally lobbied him to take the part.  Giving up acting completely, McKay works in the Amazon for two years and spends time in France and Egypt before returning to Hawaii, where he finds new success as a writer*, publishing several novels, an autobiography, and numerous short stories, as well as writing plays (winning a Drama Critics Circle Award for "Sea Marks").  In addition, he serves for five years as the drama critic for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and teaches a writing class at UCLA.

    *I remember once seeing an interview with him, perhaps on Today; he was plugging his latest book, possibly The Kinsmanand mentioned how at first people didn't believe he'd written it himself, until they realized the depth of detail with which he wrote about sailing.

    A friend said that he always considered himself a writer rather than an actor, and added that "He hated the fact that he was known for that television series.  It was not the professional or private path he wanted to take."  Gardner McKay was 69, the same age as Dave Garroway, when he died of cancer, a man who by all appearances was able to write himself a happy ending.


    And now, a word about Julie London, actress and singer.  The word is **sigh**.  If you're of an age where you only remember Julie London as nurse McCall in Emergency, you don't know what you've been missing.

    London, who's already had a successful career as a singer, complains of her lack of roles in Hollywood: "Sometimes I think they tend to measure an actress's talents by her - uh - measurements.  If the measurements go beyond a certain point, they figure she can't possibly act."  London's measurements, the unnamed writer helpfully points out, are 5'3", 37-23-36.

    London was formerly married to Jack Webb*; the marriage was a good one until the success of Dragnet, with which he became obsessed.  They divorced in 1953, and in 1959 she marries jazz musician Bobby Troup, who also starred in Emergency but is probably best known (as he should be) for writing the song "Route 66," which made a lot of money for both him and Nat King Cole, among others.

    *Of course, the irony here is that Webb, who remained on good terms with London, would hire both her and Troup for Emergency.  When it came to television, Webb apparently only cared about getting the right people.

    Today, though she continues singing, she still waits for the right role.  "All I really want," she says, "is what every other girl in this town wants - a really good script."


    There's seldom a great deal of interesting programming in the summer months; most of what we encounter consists of reruns and forgettable summer replacements.  In addition, this issue comes from Southern Ohio, which means I'm not too familiar with the local terrain.  I think, therefore, I'll wrap up with a look at a couple of programs that serve as perfect examples of why TV Guide offered such a window to the cultural world.

    The first comes to us on Tuesday night.  I think I've mentioned this before (pauses, enters words in the search engine, reads) - ah, yes, it's right here - the NBC Special For Women series that originally ran on the daytime schedule.  They're now appearing on NBC's summer prime-time schedule over the next six weeks.  "Each taped drama," TV Guide says, "deals with a problem faced by women in America," and concludes with a brief discussion led by NBC news reporter Pauline Frederick.

    This week's episode, entitled "The Single Woman," presents the dilemma of Elisabeth Greenway (Barbara Baxley), who "has reached an age where she knows she ought to get married."  She has a beau ready and willing to tie the knot, but "Elisabeth just can't see her way clear to committing herself to him - or any man - for life."  Following the play, Frederick interviews psychiatrist Louis English.

    Now, I would love to see how this drama played out.  It gives us a valuable glimpse into the culture of the early '60s, when marriage and a family is still considered the norm for women, and the stigma that's attached to being an unmarried woman - even the idea that she's not quite respectable.  After all, how many times have we heard the phrase "old maid" applied to a woman whom we might think is just coming into her own today?  I'd be curious as to what decision Elisabeth makes, and exactly what role the psychiatrist plays in the discussion.  Is he there to reassure women that the desire to remain single is not abnormal - or does he encourage them to confront their fear of commitment?  Again, talk about a time capsule!


    Did you say time capsule?  Here's a presentation of CBS' Sunday morning religious series Look Up and Live that, with few adaptations, could be presented today.  "The Police," based on the play by Polish writer Slawomir Mrozek, tells the story of a prison rapidly losing its reason for being.  "All the other prisoners, convinced that they were living under 'the best system in the world,' have confessed their crimes against the state, received their pardons and gone home.  Now there's only one prisoner left, and he too wants to confess.  The Commissioner receives this news with a certain amount of regret."

    Mrozek, often compared to the Absurdist playwright Eugène Ionesco, is a fascinating character himself.  He was once an ardent Communist, praising Polish authorities for their persecution of religious leaders, and took part in demonstrations defaming Catholic priests.  Following his defection from Poland in 1963, he became a harsh critic of Communism.  The always-reliable Wikipedia offers this quote from him, explaining the change:  "Being twenty years old, I was ready to accept any ideological proposition without looking a gift-horse in the mouth – as long as it was revolutionary. [...] I was lucky not to be born German say in 1913. I would have been a Hitlerite because the recruitment method was the same."  "The Police" was published in 1958 and, I suspect, bears the marks of his growing skepticism of totalitarianism.

    He died, just last year, at his home in Nice, France.  Though he was never a religious man, he received a Catholic funeral presided over by  Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, the former personal secretary to Pope John Paul II.

    July 17, 2014

    Around the dial

    This week David at Comfort TV says what I've believed for a long time:  Mission: Impossible is TV for smart people.  Not only does it not refuse to pander to the audience by providing them with emotional soap opera ("the focus is always on the mission, not the operatives who carried it out."), it forces you to try and keep up with its frenetic pace and intricate plots.  The producers assumed their audience was smart enough to do so; if you couldn't, too bad for you.  Spot on, David.

    And spot on to Cult TV as well, for another incisive look at the use of allegory in The Prisoner.  This week it's the episode "Free For All," which is rich in allegory and symbolism.  Pretty soon it's going to be time for me to start through the cycle again, beginning with Danger Man and proceeding through to The Prisoner - I'll be reading through these again as I watch.  And I can't wait to read your theories on The Butler as Number 1!

    There can be no doubt that Made for TV Mayhem is dealing in mayhem of the highest order today: a look at small screen scream queens (say that five times fast).  Let's see, do I recognize any of these names?  Diane Baker, who always cut a lovely figure on television; Anne Francis, who didn't do much screaming in Honey West but changed her tune in the '70; Vera Miles, who always looks great.  Yeah, I recognize them.

    I touch on old-time radio (OTR) from time to time, and since we've gotten Sirius I've gained an even greater appreciation for some of the shows that really forced the imagination to work; How Sweet It Was takes us through a collection of shows celebrating the 4th of July.  When you have some time, really check these out; they're a delight to listen to.  And yes, I'd buy war bonds from Cyd Charisse, or anything else she cares to sell.

    Not a TV piece per se, but Terry Teachout writes this week about the limits of nostalgia, and there's no doubt that nostalgia plays a major role for many of us in gravitating toward classic television.  I really should devote a piece of its own to this article, but since you'll probably get sick of waiting for it, I'd urge you to read the whole thing now.  I particularly appreciate this quote, cribbed from Faulkner: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

    And finally, yours truly appeared this week at Christmas TV History's Christmas in July feature.  There's a new post up every day, with some absolutely wonderful memories and recommendations from writers all over the blogosphere, so you should make it part of your daily routine.

    As a side note, one of Joanna's questions was "Name one Christmas program/movie you enjoy watching all year round."  I didn't think of it at the time (you'll have to read it to find out what I did say), but it struck me on the way home: it has to be Bing Crosby's 1977 Christmas show - you know, the one with the Bing/Bowie duet?  There's another segment to that program, though, a truly awful attempt to interject David Bowie into a second appearance without him actually being there.  While Bing and one of the kids are going through a box of memories in the attic, they get on the subject of heroes, which leads to a cut of Bowie's video for his song "Heroes".  Now, Bowie is a great performer and "Heroes" is one of his great songs - but it has nothing to do with Christmas, and it's absolutely painful to see it wedged into this show just to make it relevant.  Having said that, though, I'll listen to "Heroes" at any time of the year - like now.

    By the way, another of the questions was to "Send us to three places on the Internet."  I chose my three, but in reality I'd readily recommend any of the blogs I've featured in this piece today or on the sideboard.  Your blogs are the best at keeping classic TV alive, and the pleasure you give me in reading your pieces is equal to the pleasure I get in writing about them.  You guys are the greatest!

    July 15, 2014

    Hamlet ala Gilligan

    The bulk of this piece first appeared in July 2011 following the death of legendary television producer Sherwood Schwartz, and it's a piece I've always been fond of, because you wouldn't think that looking back at Gilligan's Island would provide you with great cultural insight; in fact, however, this is right up my alley.  What I really like about this episode is that it tells us so much - not only about the culture of the times, but the assumed sensibility of the viewer. Now, most people would scoff at the idea of Gilligan's Island being highbrow entertainment - but, in fact, here is a series that one could argue was amongst the most learned on television. Why, they were able to present not only Shakespearian tragedy, but dramaticopera - and all in the same episode!

    It was October 3, 1966 - the third and final season of Gilligan. This episode, entitled "The Producer," involved famed Broadway producer Harold Hecuba (Phil Silvers, wonderfully over the top), who finds himself, like so many before him, stranded on the island. (Is it just me, or does it seem as if the only people who weren't able to find that island worked for the Coast Guard?) After Hecuba insults Ginger, the castaways decide to show him how talented she really is, by (in the words of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland) "putting on a show."

    "Hamlet: the Musical" is perhaps one of the most creative bits of musical theater ever to find its way into an American sitcom. The lyrics are clever and witty, and yet faithful to the Bard's text.  The musical accompaniment is inspired, running the gamut from Bizet to Offenbach.  Here, for example, is Hamlet's (Gilligan) aria "To Be or Not to Be," from the "Habenera" of Bizet's Carmen.  For contrast, following is the original as it appears in Carmen.

    Not to be outdone, here is Ophelia (Ginger) in her duet with Hamlet, urging him to lighten up, to Offenbach's "Barcarolle" from The Tales of Hoffman, along with the same piece as it sounds in the opera.

    Finally, there's the showstopper, as the entire cast lampoons Bizet's "Torreador Song" (again from Carmen).  Not quite the same impact as in the original, perhaps, but not bad.  (And I much prefer Mary Ann as Laertes!)

    What is brilliant about this is not only the creativity of the lyrics, but the use of music that, in the days when classical music was actually part of mainstream American culture, would be instantly recognizible to most viewers, even if they didn't know where it came from.  And I can't help but wonder if the writers were aware of the appropriateness of using music from French opera, given that the most famous operatic version of Hamlet is by the French composer Ambroise Thomas.

    We may ridicule a show like Gilligan's Island, which was critically scorned but was a massive hit with viewers - but I doubt you'll see anything short of Looney Tunes that makes such good use of classical music. And that is nothing less than a shame.

    July 12, 2014

    This week in TV Guide: July 9, 1966

    Longtime readers of the blog may recognize the story stripped across the top of this week's cover: the disaster that was The Sammy Davis Jr. Show, which I wrote about here.  It's a pretty good piece that goes a bit beyond the article, so it's well worth your while checking it out.  Go ahead, I'll wait.


    A humorous note appears in the "On the Record" section that leads off this issue's programming section.  Seems as if the magazine has a writer, Richard Warren Lewis, whose assignment was to go undercover, as it were, as a contestant on ABC's The Dating Game, then come back and write an article about his experiences.  The article's now a week overdue, but Mr. Lewis presumably has a good excuse: Joan Patrick, the young woman whom Lewis selected during his turn in the bachelor's seat.  Miss Patrick, apparently, has quite the recipe for rock cornish game hen stuffed with wild rice and cooked in white wine.  Well, as they say, the way to a man's heart is through his stomach.  Next month the two are set to be married, and presumably the article will have to wait a while longer.


    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..

    Palace:  We're playing a little fast and loose with the listings this week; the Coaches All-America football game, which I discussed a couple of issues ago, preempts Palace this week, which means we're dependent on KCMT's delayed broadcast of last week's show.  In that one, host Ray Bolger presents singer Kay Starr; jazz vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, accompanied by 7-year-old drummer Jim Bradley; impressionist Rich Little; comedian Norm Crosby; escape artist Michael De La Vega; and the Five Amandis, teeterboard act.

    Sullivan:  Ed's guests this week are Ethel Merman; the rockin' Rolling Stones; singer Wayne Newton; actor Hal Holbrook; comics Sandy Baron and Eddie Schaeffer; and the Rumanian Folk Ballet.

    James Bradley Jr., Lionel Hampton's accompanist, was already known to television viewers, having appeared on Jack Benny's program when he was five, and he'd later appear in a small role in Paul Newman's Cool Hand Luke, and continues in the business today.  Combined with Hampton, the wonderful song-and-dance man Ray Bolger, and the very funny Norm Crosby, the Palace would normally have this week hands-down.  But then Ed comes back with the Merm, the Stones, and Hal Holbrook.  There can be only one verdict for this high-quality week: push.

    Here's a clip from the Stones' appearance on Sullivan, which had originally been broadcast in February 1966:


    Random notes for the week:

    A letter to the editor lauding a recent article on NBC newsman Frank McGee and reminding readers of his yeoman in the hours and days following the assassination of John Kennedy is signed "Leslie Nielsen, Universal City, Cal."  I wonder - there can't be that many Leslie Nielsens, can there?

    Saturday is the final round of the British Open, live* via satellite from Muirfield, Scotland.  It's the first Saturday finish for the Open; in previous years 36 holes had been played on Friday, with Saturday reserved in case of a playoff.  Jack Nicklaus wins the first of his three Opens, edging Doug Sanders and Dave Thomas by a stroke.  Nicklaus loved Muirfield so much that when he built his own course in Dublin, Ohio, he named in Muirfield Village.

    *Interesting that in years to come, the Open would revert to same-day coverage on Wide World of Sports before attaining the massive television coverage it enjoys to this day.

    A prescient NBC special on Sunday afternoon, "Who Shall Live?" takes a look at the crisis facing medicine.  As producer Lucy Jarvis puts it, "One hundred thousand people die of [uremic poisoning] every year, and only 150 are being saved.  Why is that - in a country as rich as ours?"  The answer: a rigorous treatment for those suffering from the disease, which costs $10,000 a year and lasts for the rest of their lives.  Applicants for the treatment must go through a battery of tests and then await the judgment of a committee that decides "who shall live."

    Monday night Joey Bishop begins the first night of his three-week stint for the vacationing Johnny Carson.  I know Johnny liked his time off, but three weeks?  On the other hand, I've got a TV Guide somewhere talking about then-Today host Dave Garroway beginning the first of a five week vacation.  Must be nice.

    Tuesday is Major League Baseball's All Star Game, broadcast at 12:30 pm (CT) on NBC from St. Louis.  It's the last All Star Game to be scheduled in the afternoon; the following year's game in Anaheim has a late-afternoon start in order to capitalize on prime time in the East.  The National League wins an excruciating 2-1 victory in ten innings, played in 105° heat.  Imagine if Busch Stadium had had artificial turf back then.

    On Wednesday at 9pm, Channel 11 has a syndicated broadcast of the world middleweight boxing championship, as champion Emile Griffith takes on challenger Joey Archer live from Madison Square Garden.  Griffith wins a hard-fought 15-round decision.

    Thursday NET's At Issue presents a discussion on Congressional ethics - stop it, I know you're laughing out there - moderated by Robert Novak, long before he became famous on The McLaughlin Group.  If you're not watching that, you might have on the final episode of ABC's British-import series The Baron, starring Steve Forrest, and featuring an appearance by Lois Maxwell, whom we'd all come to know and love as the original Moneypenny of the James Bond films.  Replacing The Baron next week: The Avengers.

    An interesting program on Friday, another of those that it would be hard to imagine today: Pablo Casals conducting his religious oratorio "El Pessebre" (The Manager) taped at the United Nations in 1963, with an all-star cast and Robert Shaw conducting the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus.  I thought there might be a clip of that online somewhere, but no such luck.  However, if you're interested, here's a clip from a more recent performance.


    Has this been a duller issue than normal?  It's true there's not much to choose from during rerun season, and as usual the week's programming is studded with replacement series: Continental Showcase, hosted by Jim Backus, takes Jackie Gleason's place on CBS Saturday night.  Monday sees CBS' Vacation Playhouse, one of those collections of failed plots from over the years, while on NBC John Davidson takes over Kraft Music Hall for the summer.  Tuesday sees Hippodrome fill in on CBS for Red Skelton, and before there was Laugh-In, Rowan and Martin filled in for Dean Martin on NBC Thursday nights.

    Even the TV Teletype is pretty ordinary, but there is one thing that caught my eye: a plan to turn literary classics into soap operas.  It says here that NBC plans a soap - excuse me, "daytime series" based on Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights this fall, and that Jane Eyre and Rebecca could follow suit.  I don't know that the Heights idea ever took off; NBC only had a handful of soaps in the coming season, and all of them - Days of Our Lives, The Doctors, Another World - were pretty well established by that time.  A pity, I suppose; so many of these books were built-in soaps, just waiting for their stories to reach a daytime audience.  On the other hand, though, it might have been difficult to figure out how the network could have stretched Heathcliff and Catherine's tortured romance out for thirty years or so.  Even if they'd filmed it in real time they couldn't have made it last that long.

    July 10, 2014

    Around the Dial

    I've always been a fan of Raymond Chandler, arguably the greatest of American detective novelists, so it's no surprise that I like Rick's piece at Classic Film and TV Cafe giving us the "Seven Things to Know About Raymond Chandler (in his own words)."   I find his comments about The Big Sleep particularly interesting; I enjoy the movie a lot, but not nearly as much as the book, nor Bogart's other great detective movie, The Maltese Falcon.

    David at Comfort TV links to a piece I did last week, touting MeTV's growth among national cable networks, and offers three compelling reasons why this is so.  I like them all, and absolutely agree with #3 - the window to a long-past culture is something I've always valued in classic television.  Route 66 and Naked City, thanks to their location shooting, are the best of numerous examples of how America has evolved over the years.  There's no better - nor more entertaining - travelogue around.

    Cult TV Blog continues with his series on the use of allegory in The Prisoner.  There's some really good stuff in this analysis, and I suspect it will make both fans and first-timers of The Prisoner want to check the episodes out.  It should also make you ask why today's television, in its supposed Golden Age, can't do something like this.

    Stephen Bowie, who blogs at Classic TV History Blog, has a very good piece at The Onion's AV Club on The Andy Griffith Show, and why it developed into, along with The Dick Van Dyke Show, "the essential sitcom of the early ’60s."  I have to confess that though I watched this show faithfully as a kid, it hasn't worn well with me, and I don't see it much today.  I know a lot of people who still love it, though, and its place in TV history is undeniable.

    I mention in the upcoming TV Guide review that there wasn't a whole lot on television that was specifically connected to the 4th of July, and Television Obscurities' review of TV schedules on the Fourth generally reinforces that.  I'd agree that your best bet for holiday-themed entertainment back then probably came from the variety shows of the day, such as Lawrence Welk, but for a few years NBC carried the Stars and Stripes show from Oklahoma City.  Nowadays, since the Boston Pops are no longer regulars on the tube, you're pretty much left with PBS' A Capital Fourth.

    I referenced Naked City earlier, and Television's New Frontier: the 1960s has a very good review of that series, including its history and a look at the stars that made it one of the best serious cop shows of the time.  It took a few episodes for Naked City to grow on me (Sterling Sillilphant can have that effect on anyone), but I've come to greatly appreciate the show's portrayal of secondary characters and guest stars, without overlooking the police work that always brings the story together.

    Finally, "Christmas in July" continues at Christmas TV History.  I won't link to any specific entry, but they're all wonderful, presenting a real cross-section of Christmas TV memories that have made the time very special for a lot of people.

    That's all for today - see you back for another trip to the TV Guide archives on Saturday!