July 7, 2012

This week in TV Guide: July 8, 1972

As was the case with last week's TV Guide, the July 8, 1972 issue was dominated by politics. And once again, we're going to see how things have changed.  This week, we're looking at the Democratic Convention, held in Miami Beach (as would the Republican Convention the next month).  The cover boasts "Complete Details," yet I'm sure nobody was prepared for what happened. 

The Democrats were understandably apprehensive about this convention, considering what they had gone through four years before in Chicago.  It couldn't possibly get worse than that, could it?  Well, the first session on Monday night ran until 6:00 a.m. Tuesday morning.  It pretty much went downhill from there.  Establishment Dems, such as Chicago Mayor Richard Daily, were rejected in favor of reform-minded (and far more liberal) delegations, slights which would come back to haunt the ticket in November.  Credentials and rules fights would continue to drag into the early morning hours, and though there wasn't a repeat of the violence in the streets (and on the convention floor) that had plagued them in Chicago, things were every bit as chaotic.  George McGovern, the favorite coming into the convention, won the nomination on Wednesday night, but his disasterous choice of Missouri Senator Tom Eagleton as his running mate, made after a half-dozen others (including Ted Kennedy) had turned the offer down, infuriated labor and feminist leaders, and resulted in a protracted nomination and roll-call process.  The resulting image - McGovern accepting the nomination and delivering his speech at something like 2:30 Friday morning* - provided reinforcement, if it was needed, of a campaign and party that didn't know what the hell they were doing.

*I remember this convention well - we were on vacation that week, and I stayed up until the bitter end - not out of any love of the Democrats, but because Dick Cavett was supposed to have Roger Kahn, author of the Boys of Summer, and several of the old Brooklyn Dodgers featured in the book.  Needless to say, by the time the convention ended, there was no chance the network would run the Cavett show.  Hours of my life I'd never get back.

But that wasn't the only political highlight of the week.  Starting Saturday night at 9pm Central and running for the next 18½ hours, the Democratic Party took over ABC with a national telethon to raise money to retire their massive debt.  Can you believe this?  In this day of big-money PACs and massive infusions of cash at every level of politics, one of the two major parties in the United States actually had to beg for money - and when George McGovern is your poster child, you have to know you're in trouble.  I actually watched this as well, again not because I liked the Democrats (I didn't then, and don't now), but because I'd gotten hooked on the idea of telethons by watching Jerry Lewis for the first time the previous year.  As far as entertainment goes, it wasn't much.  Every time the tote board hit a milestone number they'd stage a mock-demonstration as if it were a political convention, with signs and balloons and bands.  (One of the signs, as I recall, made reference to Watergate, which wasn't much of a deal at the time.)

An ad for the 1974 Democratic Telethon, telecast on CBS.  For
the four years or so the telethon ran, it rotated among the
networks.  I think ABC was the only one to show it twice.
Many of the celebrities appearing were the names you'd expect: Robert Vaughan, a close friend of the late Bobby Kennedy, looking smug as ever; Warren Beatty, who TV Guide noted had already raised over a million dollars for the McGovern campaign; E.G. Marshall, who never met a cause he didn't like; Shirley MacLaine; Henry Fonda; Jackie Cooper; and a host of others.  Many of them, I recall, made a point of saying they weren't necessarily taking sides, but were appearing because they believed in the two-party system and didn't think it was in the nation's interest to have one of those parties approaching bankruptcy.  (I'll give them points for at least trying to appear non-partisan, even though most of them were known liberals; nowadays, they don't even bother to lie.)  One other thing, which seems odd to me now: every three hours or so, TV Guide would put an update in the listings, including the stars they expected to appear in the next segment.  Apparently, they didn't think people would hang on for hour after hour unless they knew when their favorite celeb would be appearing.

Politics of a different sort: you probably noticed Merv Griffith on the cover, and the inside story tells of the acrimonious break-up between him and CBS, as Merv prepared to return his show to syndicated TV.  CBS claimed he couldn't attract ratings; Merv countered that the network never let him do his own thing.  There was sporting politics as well, in the men's final at Wimbledon, which NBC showed on tape delay Saturday afternoon, in that most of the top male players of the era (Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, John Newcombe) were prohibited from playing in the Grand Slam events due to their contracts with World Championship Tennis, Lamar Hunt's pro tennis circuit.  And on Friday night, CBS closed out the politica week with Ada, a movie starring Dean Martin as a corrupt governor and Susan Hayward as his wife, trying to free him from the grasp of his manipulators.

Oh, one last note.  On Thursday night, with the Democrats committing political hari-kiri by pushing their nominee's acceptance speech out of prime time, Minneapolis' Channel 11 was running the absurdist Fellini film 8½. I'll leave it to you to decide which of the two was really the more absurd.

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