November 24, 2012

This week in TV Guide: November 27, 1965

There was, once upon a time, an era in which the biggest college football game of the year was played on the last weekend in November.  It was the game between Army and Navy, played at Philadephia Stadium, attracting well over 100,000 people each season.  The teams were perennially among the best in the nation; Army won the national championship in 1944 and 1945, while Navy finished the 1963 season ranked #2, and in the twenty years between 1945 and 1965 the two schools combined to produce five Heisman Trophy winners.

By 1965, however, things had changed.  For one thing the venue in which the game was played, although it was the same stadium, was now called John F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.  For another, the two teams had started their long decline into football irrelevance.  The symtoms weren't readily apparent; the 1965 teams were said to have had "disappointing" seasons (4-5 for Army; 4-4-1 for Navy, who'd lost Roger Staubach to graduation the previous year), and a crowd of 102,000 was expected, including President Lyndon B. Johnson.  The teams played to a 7-7 tie.

It seems as if we're always talking about how dramatically televised sports has changed over the years, and here's another example.  Later that Saturday afternoon, CBS's NFL Countdown features live reports on the "NFL college-player draft," being held at the Summit Hotel in New York.  You'll note first of all that the draft is being held in November, rather than April of the following year.  It's not only before the end of the college season, it's also before the NFL season ends. 

Today, of course, the draft is a TV spectacle, with two nights of prime-time coverage on two separate networks (ESPN and NFL Network).  Draft parties are held in cities throughout the country, and TV draft experts are a cottage industry.

But that's not to say that the pro football draft in the 1960s was without drama.*  For one thing, the NFL had competition from the AFL.  Each league held their own draft, with the result that most of the top players were drafted by a team from each league.  The battle to sign the top draft picks was fierce, and stories abounded of scouts from one league hiding players in hotel rooms under fake names, spiriting them away in the trunks of cars, and doing anything they could to keep them away from their rivals in the other league.  Many college players made a ceremony of coming to terms with a professional team, often signing the contract under the goal posts after their final college game.  (Some others, of course, signed before their final game, but that's another story for another time).  With the increased competition came, naturally, increased salaries, which went through the roof.  This ended in 1967, when as a precursor to the NFL-AFL merger the two leagues for the first time held a common draft, in which all teams took part, alternating picks.  It was an end to the bidding war between the leagues, although the era of big-money contracts was here to stay.

*Not to be confused with the military draft, drama of a different kind altogether.
 
***

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 scheduled guests are Victor Borge, songstress Petula Clark, musical-comedy star Sally Ann Howes, singer Glen Yarbrough, comedian Jackie Vernon, band leader Sammy Kaye, the 1965 Look Magazine :All-America football team, juggler Rudi  Schweitzer and the Little Angels of Korea, children's choir.

Hollywood Palace:  Hostess Janet Leigh welcomes song parodist Allan Sherman; "F-Troop's" Forrest Tucker, Ken Berry and Larry Storch; the comedy team of Rowan and Martin; singer Andy Russell; table-tennis champion Bob Ashley; and magician Michael de la Vega.

This is an interesting week for both shows.  Victor Borge was always a delight on any show in which he appeared; Sally Ann Howes was a Broadway star, at the time appearing in What Makes Sammy Run?  Jackie Vernon  - well, we all know him from this.  And Petula Clark was a very big star at the time.  (This clip may very well be from this broadcast.)


On the other hand, Janet Leigh was a big (and very attractive) star in her own right, and Allan Sherman was Weird Al before Weird Al was.


The F-Troop gang is funny (especially Larry Storch), and Rowan and Martin (in their pre-Laugh-In) days were all right, but ultimately I think Ed has the edge.  The verdict:  Sullivan, by a nose.

***

There's a distinct military theme to this week's issue; in addition to Army-Navy, there's a feature on how newsmen are covering the growing conflict in Vietnam, and the cover story - Bob Crane, aka Colonel Hogan, and Cynthia Lynn, Colonel Klink's secretary Helga, as well as Hogan's on-screen romantic interest (and off-screen as well, according to several accounts).  It's the first season for Hogan's Heroes, and you can tell there's still some uncertainty about staging a sitcom in a POW camp, although several cast members make the point (with which I agree) that there's a big difference between a POW camp and a concentration camp, which would have been strictly off-limits.

Hogan bears more than a passing resemblence to Phil Silvers' character Bilko; Crane himself describes the show as "halfway between Combat! and McHale's Navy - with a little bit of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. thrown in."  He bristles, however, at comparisons between the characters of Hogan and McHale; "I'm not Joe Buffoon," he says, and I've always thought that was one of the secrets to the show's success.  Quinton McHale was a good Navy captain, but it's impossible to imagine him going any higher.  Robert Hogan, however, is a different sort of character altogether.  He's already a colonel, conducting an audatious undercover operation about as far behind enemy lines as one can get, and the decision of the producers to let the humor flow naturally makes Hogan that much more believeable.  Not only can you believe that this man will do whatever it takes to carry out a mission (including killing, if necessary), it would come as no surprise to see Hogan rise to the rank of general, at the very least.  (But then, we've discussed that before.)

***

Last week of November, Christmas is on the way, right?   We're always complaining about how Christmas seems to come earlier and earlier - and it does.  But we have to remember that as far as television goes, the purpose of a Christmas special is to move merchandise.  And with Thanksgiving now a full three days in the past, it's now open season, and ABC is on tap with the first special of the year, a wonderfully strange musical called The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood, with the 19-year old, pre-Cabaret Liza Minnelli (focus of an accompanying story by David Newman and Robert Benton) as Red, Cyril Ritchard as Lone T. Wolf, and Vic Damone as the Woodsman (and Red's romantic interest).  But in some of the strangest casting ever seen on a TV special, The Animals (better known for this) appear as the Wolf Pack, a group of Lone's hangers-on.  You have to think they're wondering what in the world they're doing on this show*, but they play it with a kind of insouciant charm that suggests they finally decided to just have fun with it.  (By the way, the show's listed as a "children's" Christmas story, but there are a few adult double-ententes that make me question that.)

*Not to mention what their agent was thinking of.

Liza's mom, Judy Garland, is still alive at this point, and Liza has a boyfriend,* soon-to-be-husband Peter Allen.  As for Liza herself, she says movies hold no excitement for her, that performing before a live audience is where it's all at.  Interesting, since some of her greatest fame has come from movies: The Sterile Cuckoo, Cabaret, and Arthur.  Oh, well - times change.


*Or should that be "boyfriend"?

It's not a Christmas special per se, but Julie Andrews does have a Christmas album coming out, and there's no better way to promote it than to appear on television, even if you're not going to sing anything from it. (The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas has always been a fertile period for specials, seasonal and non-seasonal alike.) It's billed as "The Program All America Has Been Waiting For," although I don't recall having been in a fevered rush to see it.  Anyway, her NBC special was probably quite good, with her special guest Gene Kelly.  (And, in smaller print, The New Christy Minstrels.)   I could've included a picture of the close-up from TVG, but this album cover is so colorful I decided to use that instead.

***

Other interesting odds and ends for the week: the Saturday matinee movie, Hellcats of the Navy, featuring the future President of the United States and his wife, Nancy, in her next-to-last role.  The King Family has their Thansgiving show, which thanks to the vagueries of local stations that show programs from multiple networks, is shown the week after Thanksgiving.  A Sunday afternoon NBC news special entitled "Who Shall Live"* explores the process of determining which patients on the waiting list will get available organ transplants.  Andy Williams' special guest on Monday night is Richard Chamberlain, star of Dr. Kildare, which conveniently airs in the slot immediately before Andy.  Liza Minnelli's back on Wednesday night in another special, CBS's Ice Capades of 1966, hosted by Arthur Godfrey and featuring Roger Miller - I think it's safe to say none of the three do their performing on ice.  There's an ad for the "John F. Kennedy" 1964 coin sets, featuring the brand-new Kennedy half-dollar, a great Christmas gift for a member of your family.  Three months after retiring as manager of the New York Mets, Casey Stengel is Hugh Downs' guest on Today.  And there's a brief obituary of Allen B. DuMont, one of television's unsung pioneers, who'd died two weeks before.

*Perhaps anticipating Obamacare?

Finally, one of those little things that amuse me, if no one else. NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies features 1954's The Long, Long Trailer.  The stars of the movie are Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez,but The Long, Long Trailer is listed as the second movie appearance, although her scenes were deleted, of the eight-year-old - Liza Minnelli!  Of course, it might have helped that the director was her father, Vincente Minnelli.


As always, you can check out a day's worth of programming  by going to my RadioDiscussions piece.


We'll be right back, this Tuesday and Thursday, with more on classic TV.

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