July 14, 2012

This week in TV Guide: July 12, 1975

After the Apollo moon landings, the U.S. space program fell into something of a slump.  Actually, it had started during Apollo - the launch of the ill-fated Apollo 13, which was to have been the third manned flight to the moon, wasn't even covered live by the networks, such was the ho-hum status of space flight by that time.  There was a brief blip after Apollo, when the Skylab space station was launched, but by 1975 there just wasn't much to get worked up about if you were a space buff, except to wait for the space shuttle - whenever that would be.

So Apollo-Soyuz was a big deal.  A very big deal.

The Cold War was alive and well in 1975, even though things had thawed out somewhat after Nixon's overtures to the Soviets, and now we were about to see the ultimate in detente, as the former space rivals teamed up for a joint mission in space.  There's been some thought that the Soviets picked up a great deal of information about the technologically-advanced American space program, while the United States picked up some good P.R.*

* Which reminds me of a story about one of the many tours of North America by Soviet hockey teams in the 70s.  You might remember that the United States sold a massive amount of grain to the USSR in the 1970s - known in some circles as "The Great Grain Robbery."  At any rate, this USSR touring team was playing a minor league team in a city like Peoria, and the crowd chanted, "We gave them the wheat, they gave us the chaff."  Apollo-Soyuz might have been something like that.

TV coverage of the mission dominated the week, which otherwise would have been given over to reruns, a few summer replacement shows, and the British Open.  Both launches occurred on Tuesday, July 15 (the same day as the baseball All-Star Game), the Soyuz launch early in the morning and the Apollo following in mid-afternoon.  This was the first time a Soviet launch had been broadcast live on American television, and it was a must-see for me; summer vacation was on, and I remember setting the alarm to get up at 6 a.m. for the start of the television coverage.  The small hick town in which we lived at the time only got one TV channel (NBC), but I remember choosing to watch the launch on a grainy picture coming from a CBS affiliate in South Dakota.  The docking itself occurred on Thursday, and the spaceships would each return to Earth the next week, again covered live on TV.  Russian spacecraft, you probably know, did not splash down in water, but with the help of parachutes and small rockets, landed on dry ground.  The helicopter shots of the capsule kicking dirt up as it landed was quite a sight.

There was other television that week, perhaps not as exciting but notable nonetheless.  On Monday night Channel 2, the public broadcasting station in Minneapolis, broadcast a repeat of the Minnesota Orchestra's inaugural concert in spanking-new (and revolutionary) Orchestra Hall,* which they had originally shown live the previous fall.  On the program: Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, Stravinsky's "Firebird" suite, and Beethoven's Fifth.  Not a bad program, by any means.

* After almost 40 years, the Minnesota Orchestra moves out of Orchestra Hall this season while the Hall undergoes a substantial renovation.  They'll be back next season, but I doubt the first concert will be on TV.

Also on Channel 2 was live coverage of the installation of John Roach as the sixth Catholic Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis (always remember to get the order right), at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday night.  I have to wonder abou tthe timing of that; I know that when the most recent Archbishop was installed, it was during the day, as is most often the case.  According to the listings, the liturgy was expected to be "joyful," which I take probably meant, "cheesy and with bad music."

Back in the day, the British Open ended on Saturday (as was the case with Wimbledon until the 80s, British sporting events traditionally weren't held on Sunday), and Wide World of Sports provided tape-delay coverage of the final round.  Only it wasn't really the final round, for Tom Watson and Jack Newton wound up in a tie, necessitating an 18-hole playoff the next day, which was won by Watson for his first major championship.  He went on to great fame, of course, while Jack Newton subsequently suffered a horrible accident, losing his right arm and eye when he walked into a spinning airplane propeller, before going on to a second, and far more successful, career as a golf announcer on Australian television.

I mentioned the All-Star Game, which was a lot of fun to watch back then, before interleague play pretty much messed up baseball for good.  The game was played in Milwaukee, and the National League won - again (they always won back then), 6-3.  People watched it on TV back then as well, unlike today.

There's an interesting profile of musical act about to get their own television show: Gladys Knight and the Pips.  There's an article about Chris Schenkel, one of my favorite announcers, but who took a lot of heat from the critics at the time.  Curt Gowdy did as well, near the end of his career, but I liked him too, and I suspect a lot of the critics who had at both of them back then would welcome them with open arms today, compared to the failed stand-up comedians we have in the booth nowadays.

And there's one more space tie-in: ABC's Sunday Night Movie, entitled Strange New World, which apparently bore the fingerprints of Gene Roddenberry at one time or another.  It's the story of astronauts who return to Earth after 180 years in suspended animation, and was a pilot for a weekly series that, needless to say, never materialized.  Moral of the story: Gene Roddenberry should have stuck to Star Trek, and ABC should have stuck to covering real space flights.

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