October 27, 2012

This week in TV Guide: October 23, 1965

The picture at the left is that of Chuck Connors, former major league baseball player and pro basketball player, best known for his 1958-63 ABC western series The Rifleman, later co-star of ABC's 90-minute crime series Arrest and Trial, and currently star of NBC's Branded.

Later on you'll see a picture of Chuck Conners in 1973, with General Secretary of the Soviet Union Leonid Brezhnev.

The story behind that picture, as well as the rest of the week of October 23, 1965, is next.

***

We're in the thick of the football season, and NBC, in their final year of covering Saturday afternoon college games (the contract would return to ABC in 1966), had one of the most storied of all rivalries, as the #4 USC Trojans travelled to South Bend to take on the #7 Notre Dame Fighting Irish.  USC running back Mike Garrett would win the Heisman the next month, but this would not be his day, as the Irish routed the Trojans 28-7. 

The next day, pro football took center stage, and because this is the Minnesota State Edition of TV Guide, we've got an interesting assortment of games to look at from the two leagues.  The NFL's coverage began at 11:45 with Dallas vs. Green Bay at Milwaukee (Packers winning 13-3), in a game seen on the CBS affiliates in Mankato, MN and Mason City, IA, and for some reason the NBC affiliate in Alexandria.*  This game would be joined in progress at 12:45 on the CBS stations in Duluth, MN and La Crosse, WI (who had been showing Stoney Burke and Know the Truth, respectively. 

*The infamous Channel 7; see here for more details.

At 1:00, the AFL on NBC's station in Eau Claire, WI had Denver at Buffalo (the Bills, who would go on to win the AFL title that year, bested the Broncos 31-13), while at 1:30 the Channel 5 in Minneapolis and Channel 10 in Rochester, MN brought us Kansas City at Houston (the Oilers won, 38-36; must have been a pretty good game.  I undoubtedly watched it.), a game that would be joined in progress by Channel 6 in Duluth at 2:30 (they had a "Film Feature" at 1:30) and the aforementioned Channel 7 at 3:15 (following the end of the Cowboys-Packers contest).

The final game of the day was Channel 4's coverage of the home team, as the Vikings played the 49ers in Kezar Stadium in San Francisco, a thriller won by the Vikings 42-41.*  When I visited San Francisco a few years ago, I took the opportunity to travel to Golden Gate Park to visit the ruins of old Kezar.  It was in the heart of the park (imagine a football stadium in the middle of Central Park), and one of the reasons the Niners vacated it in favor of Candlestick Park was that the parking there was atrocious.  Kezar was featured in the first Dirty Harry movie; it was where Harry shot the Scorpio Killer in the knee and got in trouble for it.

*And only Channel 4.  Interesting the rest of the region's channels took the Packers game.  Or maybe not so interesting - after all, the Vikings were still a pretty mediocre team, while the Packers were headed for their third championship in five years.  The Packers were the team in the area back then, and still have a lot of fans in Minnesota today.

So let's recap the weekend: on Saturday, one college football game.  On Sunday, one NFL and one AFL game (in most markets).  Total number of games the average viewer could see: three.

Total number of games (college and pro) on TV last weekend: 36, from where we live.  Like I keep saying, times have changed.

But I find the relationship between television and sports to be fascinating.  I really need to write more 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..

Ed Sullivan: Ed's in Hollywood again, with scheduled guests Helen Hayes; Duke Ellington and his band; comic Myron Cohen; Herman's Hermits, rock 'n' rollers; singer-pianist Ginny Tiu; comedian Richard Pryor; and the Manuela Vargas Ballet Troupe.

Hollywood Palace: host Milton Berle introduces Jose Jiminez (Bill Dana), who discusses his book on jujitsu; Los Angeles Dodger captain Maury Wills, who sings and plays the banjo; singer Abbe Lane; folk rock 'n' rollers Sonny and Cher; quick-change actor Mike McGivney, who offers an abbreviated version of "Oliver Twist"; and the Rudas, Australian dancers.

A strong week for both programs.  Bill Dana's Jose Jiminez character, which he created in 1959, was often hilarious, his most famous routine being an astronaut.  Abbe Lane, who preceded Charo as Xavier Cugat's wife, was - very nice.  As a banjo player, Maury Wills was a fantastic base-stealer.  And Sonny and Cher didn't do too badly for themselves, did they?

But though this would win many weeks, the Palace didn't really stand a chance.  Helen Hayes was already a living legend in 1965, as was the great Duke Ellington; Richard Pryor was on his way to becoming one; Myron Cohen was one of the funniest of the ethnic comedians (he was a favorite of Carson's); and Herman's Hermits, with Peter Noone*, was one of the biggest of the 60s Brit-Pop groups.  The verdict: Sullivan, decisively.

*I was always impressed with Peter Noone, who never succumbed to the drugs & booze scene (he was only 15 when he became Herman).  When he hosted My Generation on VH-1 in the late 80s, he talked of the 60s with a kind of detached bemusement; like Tom Wolfe, he was more of an observer than participant.

***

Before we take complete leave of The Hollywood Palace for this week, one footnote.  As I've mentioned, one of the benefits of a statewide TV Guide edition is that you get to see what the stations outside your own market were showing.  Much of the time it's the same thing you were watching, but when it comes to split-affiliation stations - stations (like Channel 7) that were primary affiliates of one network but also showed programming from another - there's almost always something interesting.  And so it was with WKBT, Channel 8 in LaCrosse, which on Tuesday night showed the Hollywood Palace episode from the previous week, October 16.  Would that it had been the one to go up against Sullivan: Host Frank Sinatra introduces Count Basie and his band; comic Jack E. Leonard; dancer Peter Gennaro; West German singer-dancers Alice and Ellen Kessler; and Colombian high-wire acrobat Murillo.

Sinatra and Basie - a man and his music.  Now that was a show.

***

There are several notations throughout this issue concerning the planned launch of Gemini VI (with future CBS space analyst Wally Schirra and Tom Stafford), which was scheduled to go up on Monday morning, a little over 90 minutes after the launch of the Atlas-Agena target vehicle with which it was going to maneuver and dock.  It would then return to Earth on Wednesday, in what was planned to be the first live televised coverage of a splashdown and recovery. 

But six minutes after launch, the Agena exploded, postponing the Gemini VI mission until December, when it would rendezvous with Gemini VII.

***

I love the little dichotomies like the two programs we have competing on Friday night.  At 9:00pm, ABC has a David Wolper documentary entitled "Teenage Revolution," while CBS counters with the Miss Teenage America pageant.  The big production number in the pageant was called "Teenage America, Here We Come!" - which, I think, was the point of the ABC documentary in the first place.

Interesting article about the prospect of television networks running out of movies to show.  The studios are producing fewer top-grade movies that are suitable for TV.  Many of the movies are too long, too sexy, too violent, too campy, too black & white, or just too bad.  The networks are well on the way to having movies seven nights a week (although not yet at the stage of having movies compete against movies), and they need more material.  The obvious solution - which is, in fact, what happened - is the made-for-TV movie, of which NBC had made three.  The first, The Killers (with Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, and Ronald Reagan) famously turned out to be too violent for TV and was released to the theaters instead.  The other two, The Hanged Man and See How They Run,  were over budget, over schedule, and under expectations (a deadly trio).  Fear not, movie fans - things will get better.

And then there was the Letter to the Editor complaining about the extensive network coverage of Pope Paul VI's trip to America (the first ever by a pontiff).  Sez the lady, "I wonder if the networks realize that all of their viewers are not Catholic?"  She meant, of course, that not all of the viewers were Catholic, which is true* - but then, all of TV Guide's readers are not literate.

*Although, sadly, in the post-Vatican II era it's probably accurate to say that not all of the Catholics are Catholic.

***

And now the story of Chuck Connors and Leonid Brezhnev.

The photograph above, of Connors and Brezhnev, was taken in June 1973. Connors, a staunch supporter of President Nixon, was Nixon’s guest at a reception for Brezhnev in San Clemente.

As it happened, Brezhnev was a big fan of The Rifleman, one of the few American series to be shown in the Soviet Union. Upon being introduced to the General Secretary, Connors presented him with a pair of matching Colt .45 revolvers that he’d used in Branded, and later showed him how to twirl them. Brezhnev was thrilled with the gift, and the two became fast friends.

Later, as Brezhnev prepared to leave California, he saw Connors standing on the tarmac, “went over to him and vigorously shook his hand, and then jumped off the ground into the startled arms of his western hero.” Connors would visit the Soviet Union later that year as Brezhnev’s guest, filming a documentary called Peace and Friendship and making friends all the while. When Brezhnev died in 1982, Connors asked the State Department to be included in the American delegation to Brezhnev’s funeral, but was turned down.

Connors died exactly ten years after Brezhnev, on November 10, 1992.

And now, as Paul Harvey would say, you know the rest of the story.

2 comments:

  1. I recently read that Connors may have deliberately sabotaged BRANDED, after its creator told him that he considered the story of the unfairly disgraced soldier and his search for redemption an allegory for the blacklisting of the McCarthy era--something Connors supported.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Regarding the mention of the Vikings-49ers game airing only on WCCO (versus the other CBS affiliates in Minnesota showing the Packer game); that brought up an interesting paradox about how - until the 1990s - the Packers and Vikings were never good teams at the same time (during the Lombardi glory years of Green Bay; Minnesota was still very much in expansion mode. Shortly after the Vikings began to rise to prominence soon after that, the Packers were starting their post-Lombardi/pre-Mike Holmgren/Brett Favre nosedive).

    ReplyDelete

And now for something completely different.