December 1, 2012

This week in TV Guide: November 30,1963


Things were incredibly unsettled, eight days after the assassination of President Kennedy.  The news coverage was, for the most part, done; there might be specials and updates here and there, but there really was very little more to be said.

Schedules would be in a jumble for weeks to come, as shows which had been pre-empted during the Four Days and their aftermath were rescheduled.  Some episodes were simply pushed back a week, while others would pop up here and there over the next month, always with the simple note "Postponed from an earlier date."  The Liberty Bowl football game, originally scheduled for December 21, was pushed back to December 28, but then returned to its original date when NBC was unable to clear the date due to a "sponsor conflict."

Some programs took on a secondary meaning, such as the syndicated documentary "Day of Infamy," which was scheduled to run on multiple stations over the course of a couple of weeks.  The show, of course, refers to Pearl Harbor and the beginning of American involvement in World War II, but in the shadow of November 22, I'm sure more than one person felt they'd already lived through their own day of infamy. And some programs would never air, such as the Route 66 episode "I'm Here to Kill a King," which had originally been scheduled to run on November 29.  That episode dealt with a plot to assassinate a visiting foreign potentate by shooting him through the head with a rifle from a long distance.*  Understandably, CBS thought this might be a little too close to home, and good taste prevailed.  The episode did show up in the syndicated package, but was never aired on the network.

*Among the other features of this episode: a character who's father's name is Lee, the targeted king traveling in a motorcade, and mention that the king will be having a meeting in Dallas to discuss oil deals.  Incidentally, the episode scheduled for November 22 ("Kiss the Monster, Make Him Sleep") eventually ran on January 24 of the following year.  Link.

***

The changes aren't long in coming, starting on Saturday with the Army-Navy showdown in Philadelphia, which would be postponed to the following Saturday, December 7 (possibly the first time the game had ever been played on Pearl Harbor Day?). Comparing the verbiage in this week's listing to that appearing next week provides a subtle but stark visual reminder of how things had changed over the last few days, without actually saying what happened.  

Issue of November 29, 1963

The following week, December 7, 1963.  The description is slightly longer - see why?

This game's fame rests on a lot more than that, however.  On the way to the stadium that morning, TV director Tony Verna told announcer Lindsey Nelson about a brand-new piece of technology he was hoping to use during the game, if the appropriate occasion came up.  The invention would allow Verna to provide an immediate video replay of a play that had just happened.  It would be up to a stunned Nelson to explain to the audience that what they were seeing was not new, but a replay of something that had just happened.

During the second quarter of that game, Army quarterback Rollie Stichweh scored on a fake handoff, and Verna decided it was time to pull the trigger.  Nelson, his excited voice rising to almost a shout, told the audience that "what you are seeing is a tape of Army's touchdown.  This is not live, but is something new."  With that, the instant replay was born and televised sports would never be the same.  Shots of the huddle were now replaced with endless repetitions of each play from multiple angles, perspectives, and directions, accompanied by commentary ad nauseum from a host of experts.  Was this innovation for the better?  I'll let you be the judge.  Incidentally, Navy - which would finish the season as the #2 ranked team in the country - would defeat Army, 21-15.

One game that did come off as scheduled was the Canadian Football League's Grey Cup championship between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the British Columbia Lions, broadcast live on an expanded edition of ABC's Wide World of Sports.  The Grey Cup was a regular feature on Wide World in the early years, and the TV Guide listing provides a handy guide to differences in Canadian Football rules: a 110 yard field, 12 players, three downs on offense, and a single point scored when a punt isn't run out of the end zone.  The game itself lived up to the billing, with Hamilton prevailing 21-10 against the hometown Lions, playing in their first-ever Grey Cup.  The two teams would meet again the following year in Toronto; this time, the Lions would come out on top.

Speaking of sports, there's an article on the 1963 College All-America football team, led by Back of the Year (and Heisman Trophy winner) Roger Staubach of the aforementioned Navy team.  The article was allegedly written by one W.W. (Woody) Hayes, the legendary Ohio State coach, and I will give you a cookie - nay, an entire box - if he wrote one word of that article. I guarantee you that a coach getting his team ready to play their most hated archrival, Michigan, is not going to take time to write an article about the All-America team for a television magazine.  

Some pretty good players on that team, though - Staubach, Dick Butkus, Carl Eller, Gale Sayers - those guys did all right.

***

George C. Scott is one angry man.  He's the star of the angry series East Side/West Side, one of executive producer David Susskind's most cherished programs, and the show just seethes with anger and righteous indignation - just like the actor himself.  He's already been nominated for two Academy Awards (supporting actor noms for Anatomy of a Murder and The Hustler; he declined the later nomination, just as he would his nomination for Patton seven years later), and he's about to make his first foray into comedy, as a general in an upcoming movie you might since have heard of, called Dr. Strangelove.

Scott led a life at least as interesting as some of the characters he played on stage and screen, and battled demons of one kind or another for years. He's said to have finally found happiness in his third marriage, to actress Colleen Dewhurst, but the two would divorce two years later; they remarried in 1967, but split again for good in 1972.

His current venture, East Side/West Side, is doomed to failure.  It might be one of the most hopeless, depressing programs ever on regular television.  It was also quality drama, brilliantly acted, often thought-provoking, not willing to go for easy answers over realistic outcomes.  "As far as trivial, meaningless dramatic series are concerned, we've had it.  We have got to come to grips with controversial themes.  We've got to try to say something about the way we live.  I've been just as obnoxious as humanly possible to make my associates see this."  It's clear the show means everything to Scott.  "Sometimes, since I started doing this series, I've waked up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, thinking I'm ruined.  But I'm not going to be ruined."  Even to Richard Schickel, author of the profile, the success of East Side/West Side seems like a long shot, but one that must be tried.  It will last only the one season.

***

Oh, the Christmas ads are coming in earnest, now.  In the center section of TV Guide - you know, the part where they usually have the ads for the Book of the Month Club or the Columbia Record Club - there's an ad for Gilbert toys, makers of slot car racing sets, erector sets, and other science toys.  Looks like fun, doesn't it?  Especially car #21, flying through the air!


***

No "Sullivan vs. The Palace," this week; we're not quite there yet.  But it's coming; as the two-hour Jerry Lewis Show approaches the end of its disastrous run - "the most spectacular flop in the history of the medium," we're told - we see a note on the show that'll be filling one of Lewis' two hours - a variety show called Saturday Night at the Hollywood Palace.  It would drop the first part of the title before it hit the airwaves, with Bing Crosby as the first host on January 4, 1964, and would run, mostly on Saturday nights, for six more years.

Speaking of future events, there's a notation in the TV Teletype that Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York have been cast in an upcoming ABC sitcom about a young housewife-witch and her ad-exec husband.  Bewitched, of course.  We see so many blurbs about shows that never hit it big, or come off at all; it's always fun to find one we've all heard of.

As in, for example, this: "The pilot episode of the first two-hour long film series is in production.  It is Johnny North, adapted from Ernest Hemingway's 'The Killers,' and it is being produced by Revue for NBC."  Well, the movie wound up being called The Killers after all, which is what it should have been in the first place; it went directly to theaters instead of TV, having been deemed too violent for the home; and it was the final movie made by - future President Ronald Reagan.
***

It must have been a rough week altogether, for a nation still reeling from Kennedy's assassination two weeks before.  The holiday season, according to many, was more somber than usual.

This ad, for Old Taylor 86 bourbon, was on the inside back cover.  It's a happy scene, with snow gracing the trees, the stores festively decorated with wreaths and boughs, the smoke from the chimney rising lazily into a mild winter evening; a family loads their newly-cut Christmas tree into the back of the station wagon while someone - a friend, son, other relative perhaps - brings along a little Christmas cheer to help take the chill off while the tree's being decorated.  There is a peacefulness to it all, a tranquility in the midst of the holiday rush.  As a tableau, it is a nearly perfect evocation of the season.

Underneath the surface, emotions churn as a nation heads into the unknown.  And as the week comes to an end, more than one person probably turned to a bottle of Old Taylor with a sense of gratitude.


Read the listings for Monday, December 2, 1963 - now available here.

Don't forget to check in Tuesdays and Thursdays for more classic material!

4 comments:

  1. I seriously loved the team rosters that accompanied the football "Close Ups" well into the 1970s. Now I'm going off to YouTube to see if I can find any clips of Lindsey Nelson calling a game, for he was one of the greats.

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    1. I loved those as well, jb. Somewhere there still exists a scrapbook from when I was a kid, full of nothing but those Close Ups that I'd cut out of the TV Guide. If only I'd known then how much I was defacing those valuable issues! :)

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  2. The Grey Cup was story in our local newspaper recently; a player from the region (Hilda, about 50km west) is a starting linebacker on the winning Toronto Argonauts team (B. Isaac, #28). Wonder if that trophy gets a short stay in the area. And in those days, the NFL goal posts were on the goal line (until the mid-1970's), for those of us who born just after the change, the term "post pattern" refers to a play where the goal post is in play. The end zone is 25 yards deep and missed field goals must be run back too or the point is scored. Imagine if a tie game is determined by a missed field goal that isn't run back?

    Yet the use of replay began to become standard, accountability of officials became crucial. Who would have thought officials would become the subject of accountability the way they are now?

    The slot car toys have changed over the years. Wonder what's next now!

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    1. Saw some slot car sets this weekend - they really have changed. Boy, it was a thrill when I found one under the tree one Christmas - or, rather, set up in the basement. Not by Gilbert, but by Eldon.

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