September 29, 2012

This week in TV Guide: September 30, 1967

The 1967 major league baseball season was the penultimate season to be played the way seasons had been played for the whole of the 20th Century.  In 1967 there were no divisions, no wild cards, no way to make it to the World Series without finishing in first place.  Oftentimes the League champions clinched a week or ten days in advance, and even before they clinched the average fan had a pretty good idea who would be facing off in the Fall Classic.  In 1967, however, that was not the case.

It was called "The Great Race," perhaps inspired by the 1965 movie of the same name, and baseball had never seen anything quite like it.  With a week to go in the season, four teams battled for the American League pennant - the Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins, Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox.  They had clung to each other for weeks, taking turns at the top, none able to break free from the others.  The ambiguity about the season's end was reflected in the listing for NBC's Saturday Game of the Week, with three games to choose from: Minnesota at Boston, California at Detroit or Washington at Chicago.  If all three games were important to the race, the listing noted, there would be simultaneous coverage.  It was the last scheduled telecast of the regular season, but maybe not: if things were still up in the air there was the possibility of Sunday coverage as well (preempting the Chargers-Bills AFL game).  And should there be a tie involving two, three or even all four teams, NBC would cover the play-off(s).  No wonder TV Guide cautioned viewers that the tiebreaker games "would begin on Monday - and could continue through the week."  The Series was scheduled to start on Wednesday, but with two days to go in the regular season, nobody could even be sure if it would start on time.

As it was, by Saturday the White Sox had fallen out, evenutally winding up three games behind.  But it was still too close to call, with the Twins holding a one-game lead over the Red Sox and Tigers.  My memory could be deceived by having lived in Minneapolis during that time, but as I recall NBC chose the Twins-Red Sox game.  A win by Minnesota would eliminate Boston and put the heat on Detroit, forced by rainouts to play back-to-back doubleheaders with Washington.  And into the fifth inning things were headed that way, before the Red Sox rallied for a 6-4 win, dropping the two teams into a tie for first, with the Tigers just a half-game back.

I don't know if NBC showed the game the next day; Channel 11, the Twins station in Minneapolis, did.  And the Red Sox, behind Cy Young winner Jim Lonborg, topped the Twins again, taking the lead for the first time in the 6th en route to a 5-3 win.  With the Tigers splitting their twin bill against California, the Red Sox were the last team standing.  There would be no play-off, and the Series would start on time.  In Boston they'd called it "The Impossible Dream" (after the musical Man of La Mancha*), and the Sox, who had last played in the Series in 1946, would take the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals to seven games before losing.  It would only be another 37 years before they'd finally win.

*The Great Race.  The Impossible Dream.  Who says sports isn't affected by the rest of society?

The drama of that pennant race, and the final weekend, is only hinted at in the pages of the TV Guide, but it's there.  And for someone who saw it as it happened, those hints bring back a flood of memories, and once again the realization that baseball will never be the way it was back then.  Here's a brief glimpse of the drama.

***

Speaking of sports and hints, there's a big one in the Hollywood TV Teletype section: "Jean Simmons, Sir Michael Redgrave and Academy-Award-winner Maximillian Schell co-star in NBC's version of the classic "Heidi," which will be shown next season.  Oh, yes, it was indeed - but that's another story.

***

Color TV is a bit more than a novelty in 1967; by 1966 all three networks were broadcasting their primetime lineups (except for older movies*) in color (although local schedules continued to be dominated by reruns of B&W series). 

*For example, NBC's broadcast of the 1960 movie Never on Sunday which, not surprisingly, was not shown on Sunday, but on Saturday Night at the Movies.  Really, what choice did they have?

But while color televisions were more common than ever before, the art of getting a perfectly balanced color picture was still mystifying to many, as David Lachenbruch points out in his very funny article "The Hows and Whys of Purple-Faced Cronkitis."  The first step in getting a good picture, Lachenbruch explains, is to understand the machine: 

All color sets are roughly rectangular in shape and have six basic parts.  These are called: (a) front, (b) back, (c) top, (d) bottom, (e) left, (f) right.  (Sides e and f are sometimes known as f and e; i.e., when one is addressing the set from the rear.)
You'll never go wrong if you remember that a color set is very similar to a black-and-white set, except that it has colors instead of blacks and whites.  (This is very important, and you are advised to red the sentence again, and memorize it if possible.)

Yes, things have changed, haven't they?

***
 
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. 
T
This week Sullivan comes out of the box on Sunday night with scheduled* guests: "singers Peggy Lee, Nancy Sinatra** and Sergio Franch; comedians George Carlin and London Lee; the Bob Crewe Generation, instrumentalists; the dancing Birds of Britain; and magician Richardi."

*Sullivan, unlike Palace, was generally broadcast live; thus the guest lineup was always subject to change.

**Or should that be "singer"?

The Palace, in one of its rare periods when it was being shown on Tuesday evenings rather than Saturdays, counters with Victor Borge hosting "an internationally flavored salute to Expo '67.  Joining Denmark's famous clown prince: Adam "Batman" West, French songstress Mireille Mathieu, Hawaiian singer Don Ho, British comedians Hendra and Ullett, Australian vocalists Chris and Peter Allen*, the Lado Dancers from Yugoslavia, a Tahitian dance troupe and the U.N. Childrens Choir."

*Peter Allen, also known as Mr. Liza Minelli.

The verdict: push.

***

Lots of specials and documentaries on this week.  NET, the forerunner to PBS, has an interview with Svetlana Alliluyeva, also known as Stalin's daughter, who had defected to the West the year before.  Also on NET, choreographer John Butler (of Amahl fame) presents an hour of original ballet.  Meanwhile, CBS Reports features a Harry Reasoner report on the painter Andrew Wyeth.  On Monday (in his regular time slot), Johnny Carson celebrates his fifth anniversary as host of The Tonight Show, longer than any previous host.  He'd only be on the scene another 25 years.  And, of course, Wednesday and Thursday it was the World Series, with the glorious starting time of 12:00 noon CT. 

Finally, there's a brief story about continuing efforts to develop a sound meter that will measure and control the volume of loud commercials.  Seems like people don't like loud commercials very much, and they've made their opinions well-known to the FCC.

I guess some things don't change after all, do they?  

2 comments:

  1. Should be listed as a "comedian"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The above comment refers to London Lee. I shouldn't when I'm sleepy.

      Delete

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