August 27, 2012

Neil Armstrong, R.I.P.

Neil Armstrong, first man to walk on the moon, died over the weekend. My obituary of Armstrong appears over at the mother ship, but since we're all about TV over here, let's look at some video.

Here's the famous appearance by Armstrong's parents on I've Got a Secret, when host Garry Moore asks them how they'd feel if their son was someday to be the first man on the moon.

 
Here is NBC's coverage of the Apollo 11 launch.  It was a dominant event on television - I was on summer vacation, so I didn't have to worry about missing the excitement because I was stuck in school.  I made sure I set the alarm to get up early that morning and watch the pre-launch coverage.  So many times nowadays we see specialized coverage by "science reporters," so it's interesting to watch Huntley and Brinkley reporting from the Cape.


These are highlights of the restored footage of Armstrong's first steps on the moon.  Remarkable - as I mentioned at Our Word, it was just about impossible to believe that they were going to show live television from the moon.  Surely they were just going to have the sound against some animation, weren't they?
 
 
 Remember how emotional Walter Cronkite got when Armstrong first stepped on the moon? Cronkite and Wally Schirra, such genuine awe. Is this really happening? "It still seems like a dream." 
 
 
Not TV footage, but I remember sitting at home watching the astronauts, after they came out of their quarantine, flying from city to city to take part in parades.  New York, of course, but here are home movies of their parade in Chicago.  I think there was one in Philadelphia as well, and there must have been one in California.  They were all on TV, and I remember some of them were held on the same day.
  
 
Happy memories.  Godspeed, Neil Armstrong.

August 25, 2012

This week in TV Guide: August 25, 1979

Ah, the dog days of summer.  So are you ready for some football?  There's something really cartoonish, and savage, about this cover illustration, promoting the NFL Season Preview.  Reminds me of the vikings on the Capital One commercials.  I do like the infinite regression, though.

But don't you find this almost a bit disturbing?  I half expect to see a little drool out the corner of this guy's mouth.  He looks more like a character from Star Trek than an athlete.  I wonder how much does this really tell us about the way in which football was perceived in 1979? 

Speaking of which, Melvin Durslag, who was a longtime columnist for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner as well as TV Guide's resident sportswriter, sees Miami, Pittsburgh, Detroit and Dallas as the teams to beat in '79.  He didn't see Tampa Bay coming, however, as the Bucs ended a nearly unprecedented streak of futility by winning the NFC Central before sucumbing to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship, 9-0.  The Rams went on to lose to Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl, 31-19.  Well, Melvin thought Pittsburgh would be tough, and he was right.  Interestingly, the NFL season started on September 2, which is why the Super Bowl could be played in January.  A few years later the league would make the decision not to start the season until after Labor Day, which they have continued to do ever since.

In the other kind of football, Jim McKay and Verne Lundquist are two of the recognizible names calling ABC's coverage of the North American Soccer League playoffs on Saturday morning.  The teams were TBA, but I'm prepared to say it was probably Philadelphia vs. Tampa Bay, as these highlights would attest:



The original cast is still on Saturday Night Live, or as John Mariani calls it, "Saturday Night Moribund," in an article that describes "egos clashing, material running thin and its stars defecting."  Mariani's portrayal is not complimentary, suggesting that the show's uncooperative stars have a much higher opinion of themselves than their talent might warrant.  At the end of the article, he mentions that next year "all their contracts are up, and it'll be time to renegotiate.  Or maybe just move to something new and fresh."  It turned out to be the later, the first of several major cast overhauls.  One can't help but think, however, that this might have been the best chance to kill this series for once and for all; now, it's probably too entrenched to ever go away.

The movies are mostly reruns this week, although there are two notable made-for-TV flicks: a rerun of To Kill a Cop, which was the pilot for Joe Don Baker's police series Eischied, and a pilot starring Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers called Hart to Hart, which as I recall hung around for a little while.  Speaking of which, look at the other shows that were still in first-run: CHiPS, Mork & Mindy, Little House on the Prairie, Fantasy Island, The Facts of Life, Charlie's Angels, Lou Grant.  Even Lawrence Welk, in syndication, was still pumping out shows.  It really brings it all back, doesn't it?  Just like acid reflux.

And believe it or not, there are also a couple of operas on tap for the week, both on PBS.  First it's Aaron Copland's The Tender Land, with the composer himself conducting the Michigan Opera Theater.  The next night it's part one of Mozart's masterpiece The Marriage of Figaro, with Karl Boehm conducting the Vienna Philharmonic and an all-star cast including Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Mirella Freni, Hermann Prey, Kiri Te Kanawa and Maria Ewing.  Trust me, they were all big names.  PBS showed it over two nights, but if you're so inclined you can see the whole broadcast right here.

August 21, 2012

The fugitive kind

Roy Huggins always denied it, but the myth persists to this day: the hit show he created, The Fugitive, was based, at least in part, on the real-life murder trial of Dr. Sam Sheppard.

It’s impossible to say whether or not any aspect of the Sheppard case influenced Huggins’ creative process. It’s true that in 1960, when Huggins says he came up with the idea for The Fugitive, the Sheppard case had been dormant for six years. Nonetheless, considering that Sheppard’s 1954 trial for the murder of his wife was called the “Trial of the Century” and garnered international coverage (think Casey Anthony minus the Internet and 24-hour news), it’s certainly plausible that Huggins, like most Americans, would have heard about the trial and that it might have lodged somewhere in his subconscious.*

*Sheppard certainly thought so, as he threatened to sue ABC after he was acquitted in his 1966 retrial. 

At any rate, while there are obvious links between the two (both were doctors accused of murdering their wife, both claimed they saw someone else fleeing the scene of the crime, although David Janssen was better looking than Sam Sheppard), the greatest link of them is also the least obvious and the most incredible.*

*Although I’ve long had a strong interest in the Sheppard case and long been a fan of the TV show, I didn’t know about this until reading it in James Neff’s book The Wrong Man.

Hayes at the Sheppard trial.
You see, in the 1954 trial the prosecution claimed Sheppard’s motive for murdering his wife was an affair he’d had with a nurse named Susan Hayes. Sheppard originally denied the affair, and depending on who you ask he either did or didn’t consider divorcing his wife and marrying Hayes. Throughout the buildup to the trial, Hayes’ name and picture were plastered on newspapers throughout the country, columnists breathlessly discussing “The Other Woman.” Sheppard insisted that the affair was purely physical and had ended months before the murder. Regardless, Hayes – who’d moved to Los Angeles in the meantime – returned to Cleveland and appeared as a star witness for the prosecution.

After the trial, in which Sheppard was convicted of second-degree murder, Hayes returned to Los Angeles, where she eventually married Ken Wilhoit, who worked in Hollywood as a music editor and supervisor for various television series, including several for producer Quinn Martin: 12 O’Clock High, The FBI, Cannon, Barnaby Jones, and – you guessed it – The Fugitive. Paul Harvey couldn’t have made this up.

The relationship between The Fugitive and the Sheppard case was often commented on during the show’s run, and I have to wonder, assuming they were still married in 1963 when the series started, just what went through Susan Hayes’ mind when she found out what show her husband was working on. If, indeed, he ever shared the news with her.

August 18, 2012

This week in TV Guide: August 19, 1972

The Minnesota State Fair adds a day while the Republican National Convention subtracts one, the NFL exhibition season is in full swing on the eve of the Munich “Peaceful Olympics,” and the late Chad Everett turns back the cultural clock. These stories and more, in This Week in TV Guide.

As you're reading this, we're days from being back in Minnesota for the first time since moving to Raleigh, at the State Fair.  Minnesota has one of the nation's great state fairs, and for decades it ran for ten days, with the traditional finish on Labor Day.  In 1972, for the first time, the fair expanded to 11 days, beginning on Friday instead of Saturday.  A few short years later it would add another day, extending the run to 12 days, where it has stayed ever since.  If I had next week's TV Guide in front of me, we'd see that the local TV stations will be out in force for the Fair, spending an hour or so a day covering the events. 

There's a tendency, a comforting one, to think that nothing ever changes at the fair, but as this great ad shows, a lot has changed in 40 years.  For one thing, there aren't any more auto races at the Grandstand - they took the track out a few years ago, converting it to a dedicated concert venue.  Bad move, in my opinion.  The Hippodrome, where the horse shows are held, is now called the Colliseum, the Mexican Village is now the International Bazar, and you can't buy reserved tickets at Dayton's anymore - Dayton's isn't even around.

Admittedly, the State Fair can be a zoo, but for a real zoo nobody does it better than politicians.  After the fiasco that was the Democratic convention, it was the Republicans' turn, and Monday would mark the opening day of their three-day convention in Miami Beach (and it is beyond me why in the name of all that is good and holy parties don't do this three-day schedule today).  The Republicans had planned to have their convention in San Diego, but moved it at the last minute because of fears over possible demonstrations.  Since Miami Beach had just hosted the Dems a few weeks earlier, they were only too happy to accommodate the GOP as well.

I don't know whether or not the change of venue had anything to do with the shortened schedule - after all, Nixon and Agnew faced no opposition, there were no major platform controversies; there was, in short, no real reason to use up any more time.  The temporary convention chairman, Ronald Reagan*, kicked things off on Monday night, along with a speech by GOP Chairman Bob Dole (who was old even then), and another of Nixon's old adversaries, Nelson Rockefeller, nominated him on Tuesday night.  Wednesday Agnew gave his acceptance speech, leading into Nixon's own speech, which was delivered from what I think was the tallest and largest rostrum I've ever seen at a political convention.  It not only had the presidential seal on it, it also had the state logos of every state in the country. There were some pre-convention shows leading up to Monday, but not many; there just wasn't that much to talk about.

* Many probably thought Reagan was making his last hurrah at a national convention; the joke was on them.

The NFL season was only 14 games long in 1972, and didn't start until the middle of September.  However, if you were ready for some football, no fear: the six-game pre-season schedule was in full swing.  These games, such as NBC's Raiders-Rams* game on Saturday and CBS's Redskins-Lions tilt on Friday, were billed as big events, and for once this kind of hype actually had some merit to it.  Back then, in the days before football players spent their entire off-seasons working out or getting into bar fights, coaches generally used their starters for substantial parts of the pre-season. In the late 60s, prior to the formal merger of the NFL and AFL, the leagues would play pre-season games against each other, and since there was no inter-league play except for the Super Bowl, there were some real bragging rights at stake.  That rivalry had died down somewhat by 1972, the second year of the merged leagues, but pre-season games were still watchable.

* An interesting game, between a team that would move from Oakland to Los Angeles and then back to Oakland again, and a team that had moved to Los Angeles from Cleveland and would eventually move to St. Louis.  As of this writing, LA still doesn't have an NFL team.  They do have the Stanley Cup, though.

Opposite the Redskins-Lions, ABC countered with a two-hour preview of the Summer Olympics, which were to begin the following day in Munich.  (The opening ceremonies used to be like that; held in the morning or early afternoon of the first day, followed by actual athletic competition.)  Although it isn't mentioned in this issue (it would be in the following week's Olympic issue), the Munich Olympics were supposed to be peaceful, an opportunity to erase the bad memories of Hitler and the 1936 Berlin games.  Here's how the next week's TV Guide puts it:
The atmosphere surrounding the Games should be thick with Bavarian Gemutlichkeit. A German Olympic official has promised, "We know only too well that crimes have been committed in the German name, and how many people have suffered . . . These Olympics will be what they are supposed to be: the great meeting of the youth of the world; of the new, hopefully enlightened generation; and thus a small contribution to world peace."
Ironic, isn't it?

There's not a whole lot more to write about in this issue; the convention takes out most of the week's programming, and the rest tends to be reruns.  In one of those reruns, William F. Buckley Jr's Firing Line features an appearance by the controversial psychologist B.F. Skinner, who might fit right in with today's ultra-liberals: "In his book Beyond Freedom and Dignity, Skinner proposes that man be controlled and conditioned to serve group interests."

The last word in this heavily political issue, though, belongs to the late Chad Everett, who died just a couple of weeks ago.  Everett was riding high on the success of Medical Center in 1972, and Jeanie Kasindorf's profile highlights some of Everett's, shall we say, controversial viewpoints, such as referring to his wife as "the most beautiful animal I own."  That remark, on the Dick Cavett show, caused guest Lily Tomlin to walk off, and for that reason alone we probably ought to thank Everett for performing a public service.

Everett was something of a chauvinist, albeit a benign one, who professed that he'd never heard of Gloria Steinem.  But his comments suggest something more: an insight into the the very nature of gender roles, and the cultural controversy that exists today about the definition of masculinity and what it means to be a man in the 21st Century: "Please, women, don't take all of my roles as a protector away.  Let me open doors and take care of you.  If you want to come out and compete in the business world, I'm still gonna give you my seat on the bus."

Everett is a political conservative, who sees Communism trying to "destroy morals and break down the family unit." And also makes what I find a curious comment, and I find myself wondering if it had anything to do with him being involved in a medical show, since I don't think this was something on the radar of the average American in 1972: "For us, day care centers and text tube babies are things that are unthinkable. I know I would rather not have children if the only type of woman who was available to me was one who wanted to get pregnant, transfer her embryo to another woman's body, then receive the baby back from the hospital and stick it in a child care center." 

You might wonder how his wife, the actress Shelby Grant, felt about all this.  Well, she differed from him on some points, but when she died in 2011, she and Chad had been married for 45 years.  Not bad for a piece of property. 

August 16, 2012

The revolution that was televised

A couple of weeks ago SI.com's Andy Staples wrote a very interesting article about "How television changed college football."  The story focuses on the early 1980s, after the Supreme Court had ruled against the NCAA's television package.  Suddenly college football - which had been heavily restricted under the NCAA's contract with various networks - was literally all over the dial. And, as is often the case when supply soars, demand dropped - in this case, ratings.  Even worse, for the colleges, was the drop in the rights fees paid by the networks.  Now this was serious.

How the coin flipped - as conferences replaced the NCAA as the unit under which television rights were negotiated, and old-line independent schools such as Penn State and Miami scrambled to join these conferences - is the subject of Staples' piece, and it's well worth reading for anyone interested in finding out how a rich and corrupt sport became even more rich and even more corrupt in the span of thirty or so years.

Good as it was, though, I think Staples missed the first piece of the puzzle, for in reality the change in the relationship between television and college football started not in 1984, but almost twenty years earler - November 19, 1966 to be exact - when the biggest game in the history of college football to date was played: Notre Dame vs. Michigan State.

I've written about this game before over at the mother site, but I think it bears repeating in the context of Staples' story.  The game, pitting the undefeated and top-ranked Fighting Irish (then, as now, the glamour school of college football) against the undefeated and second-ranked Spartans (the brutes of the pre-Ohio State-Michigan Big 10), was the latest in the season that numbers one and two had ever faced off.  The teams were not only undefeated, but totally so.  The hype in the weeks leading up to the game guaranteed it would be the most watched game of the year.  Tickets valued at $5 went for more than ten times that on the resale market, as the game itself was long sold out.  For those without, their only hope was TV.  And therein lies the rub.

As Mike Celizic recounts in The Biggest Game of Them All, the matchup left ABC (who you would think would be thrilled at this matchup) somewhat behind the 8-ball.  You see, back then colleges were limited as to the number of times they could appear on national television.  Notre Dame, the biggest draw of them all, had exhausted their allotment.  That meant the the game could only be shown on regional television; the South and Pacific Northwest would get another game, even while Hawaii, Vietnam and the U.S. Armed Forces in Europe would be seeing the game that everyone was talking about.*

*Including the Wall Street Journal, which did a front-page story on the buildup to the game, and dispatched writers to the two campuses.  The Wall Street Journal, back then, never wrote about sports, let alone put it on the front page.

ABC was flooded with letters - 50,000 in all - asking that the game be shown nationally.  A man went to court to try and force national coverage.  He claimed he had a Constitutional right to see it.  He lost.*  A petition bearing 20,000 signatures arrived in New York, begging ABC to reconsider.  And while people made plans to travel to where the game would be shown, ABC finally offered a compromise: they would show the game on tape-delay in those areas which didn't get it live.  It wasn't perfect, but it was something.  Except, that is, for the man who couldn't wait even two hours for the replay, and instead flew to New York - at a cost of over $150 - to see the broadcast live.

*John Roberts wasn't yet on the Supreme Court.

The hysteria continued; over 700 sportswriters converged on East Lansing for the game - a figure it would take the Super Bowl several years to reach.  Catholic churches changed Confession times so the priests could see their beloved Fighting Irish.  High schools and colleges changed their kickoff times to later in the day, convinced that otherwise they'd be playing in front of empty stands.  The eventual numbers: a Nielsen rating of 22.5, or 33 million viewer, the largest audience ever to see a college football game on TV.

The game itself was inconclusive: a 10-10 tie that, combined with Notre Dame's 51-0 victory over USC the next week (Michigan State's season ended with the Notre Dame game) enabled the Irish to claim the national championship.  But the aftereffects of the game, mostly due to television, were immense.

Alabama, the nation's only undefeated, untied team, finished third in the standings, convincing Bear Bryant that the Tide needed more national exposure, which meant playing teams from outside the South - and recruiting the black players that Northern teams such as Michigan State had been recruiting for years.  Bowls would gain in importance, as the AP decided something as important as the national championship deserved to be settled after the best teams had played each other on New Year's Day.  Notre Dame, not wanting to be left out in the cold, rescinded its no-bowl policy.  The Big 10, which up to that point had a "no-repeat" policy that prohibited teams from making consecutive trips to the Rose Bowl, even if they were conference champs, would change that as well, to make sure they didn't miss their slice of the pie.

Television saw the ratings appeal of college football - and the dollars it would bring.  As for the role of television itself, remember that this was only three years after the JFK assassination, and people were just beginning to understand the power that television had.  Not just people, but the networks themselves.  ABC found out first-hand what kind of a winner it had with ND-MSU, and understood how that could bode well in the future.  It wasn't long before TV realized it could start calling the shots*, and for the right price the colleges would play along.

*A little-known sidelight to the ND-MSU game is that it was followed on ABC by USC-UCLA - the first time a college doubleheader had ever been televised.  And that wasn't all - Michigan State's Spartan Stadium lacked lights, meaning that even had it wanted to, ABC couldn't move the game to prime-time, where perhaps even more viewers awaited. 

Major changes never happen all at once - as with the frog in the boiling water, these things often take time.  But there can be no question that the seismic changes in 1984 were wrought in the furnace that was Spartan Stadium on that late November afternoon in 1966, when the most heralded game to that time was played.  And you can't underestimate the impact that television had in that game, and how that impact would continue to grow in the years to follow.

* * *

And for those of you interested, or curious, here's the controversial finish to the game, as seen live on ABC with Chris Schenkel and Bud Wilkinson calling the action.

August 11, 2012

This week in TV Guide: August 12, 1967

There are times when a cultural archaeologist can only shake his head, wondering just where to begin.  Such is the case with the opening article from this week's TV Guide: the inside story of a weekend with a Dating Game* couple.

*If you're too young to remember The Dating Game, stop right here and read about it, or the rest of this story will make no sense.

Do you start with the celebrity batchelor of the week?  He was a guy named Mike Reagan.  You know, as in Michael Reagan, columnist, talk show host and son of the former president, who was governor of California at the time of Mike's appearance on the show.  He was the choice* of that week's batchelorette, "starlet" Sheryl Ullman, who starred in a bunch of Elvis Presley movies and wound up as one of Dean Martin's Golddiggers. Or maybe we just go straight to the creator of The Dating Game, Chuck Barris, who claimed that the whole thing was just a ruse, and that he used the occasion of chaperoning the lucky couple to exotic international locations as a cover for his other job, as a CIA assassin. Unfortunately, Barris didn't chaperone Mike and Sheryl's date, in Victoria, B.C., unless he somehow convinced Michael Fessier Jr., the writer, to change the facts to protect the innocent.  There was to be no storybook ending, though. Of Sheryl, Mike would say, "I dig her and I don't dig her," while Sheryl vowed the first thing she would do when she returned home was "call my agent."

*Instead of Mike Reagan, Sheryl could have chosen Sal Mineo instead.  It just keeps getting better, doesn't it?

There's a feature on George Carlin, who's hosting the summer replacement show for Jackie Gleason.  Carlin as the host of a mainstream variety show - who'd figure?  Burt Prelutsky, who went on to write for Breitbart, reviews the cult favorite Coronet Blue (his verdict: it "may not be the deadliest hour on TV," but it's "definitely in the running." 

The cover story is on the daytime talk show host Mike Douglas, of whom TV Guide says, "Talk is [his] stock in trade - and millions of housewives are eager to buy."  Nowadays we think of daytime talk as consisting of self-help, celebrity puff pieces, armchair psychoanalysis, or cooking tips, but Mike Douglas was a real talk show host whose show ran in syndication from 1961 to 1982.  Unlike other daytime hosts (Merv Griffin, Dick Cavett), Mike never made the move to prime time, being content to provide easy-going, middle of the road entertainment to an older, mostly female audience.  And that's what's most interesting about this article, the emphasis on "housewives" and "grannies" who can't get enough of Douglas' "wholesome as whole-wheat soda bread" show.  How the culture has changed since then.

The best-known feature of the Douglas show was the celebrity co-host who would appear with Mike for the entire week, not quite Ed McMahon but not quite an ordinary guest either.  I'd guess these two were probably Mike's most famous co-hosts:

 
There are some other programs on during the week, shows you wouldn't likely see on network TV anymore: NBC has a live classical music concert from Tangelwood, outside of Boston, featuring the young violinist Itzhak Perlman; ABC has Jimmy Stewart hosting the Boy Scout Jamboree, and The Fugitive runs its last rerun before the two-part series finale* that results in the exoneration of Dr. Richard Kimball and the apprehension of the One-Armed Man.

*What made The Fugitive different from later series that would present "final episodes" is that this literally came at the end of the series' run, after the entire summer rerun season, on the final two Tuesdays the series would air. As far as I know, except for shows that went off the air immediately after their finale, no other series has done this, and I don't know why.

Finally, it's still a year until the national conventions, but on Thursday night ABC's "Summer Focus" took a look at the presidential contenders for 1968. It's easy to look at these shows in retrospect and make fun of them, but if the show was anything like the write-up for it, it proved to be remarkably prescient. For the Democrats, "the man is President Johnson. If he bows out, look for a bitter fight on the convention floor." As I say, you couldn't get more right than that, although I'm not sure they wanted the Democrats to take the word "fight" literally. As for the Republicans, the close-up quite accurately identifies Nixon as the front-runner and Mike Reagan's father as a "fast-rising GOP star." They speculate on Nelson Rockefeller as a candidate who could win a deadlocked convention. (He would, in fact, finish second to Nixon, and just ahead of Reagan.) Oh yeah, speaking of sons of famous fathers, there's some mention of the governor of Michigan - wonder if his kid ever made anything of himself?

August 8, 2012

Judith Crist, R.I.P.

When I was a kid, I could never understand Judith Crist's last name.  At first I figured it was misspelled - there had to be an "h" somewhere in that last name.  There wasn't, but it still took me awhile before I learned how to pronounce it.  (It rhymes with "wrist," in case you're wondering.)

Judith Crist was the longtime movie critic for TV Guide and the Today show in the 60s and 70s, and she would take them all on: Oscar winners, B flicks, made-for-TV schlock.  Her reviews were perceptive, and entertaining; although she liked and disliked particular movies as much as any critic, it was her savage stilletto thrusts - one obit called her the "queen of put-downs" - that most people remembered, and were entertained by.  

For example, she pronounced What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? as a "demonstration of bad taste in war movies, [with] a lot of pleasing actors . . . caught in a vulgar attempt at making war a barrel of fun filled with idiots."  She famously ripped Otto Preminger's Hurry Sundown when it first came out in 1967, calling it the "worst film" of the year; when ABC reran it in 1973, she revised her earlier opinion, saying it now "ranks with the worst films of all time."  A 1968 western, 5 Card Stud with Dean Martin and Robert Mitchum, wasn't so bad - it "is so mediocre you can't get mad at it."  She once called Elizabeth Taylor "an entirely physical creature, no depth of emotion apparent in her kohl-laden eyes, no modulation in her voice, which too often rises to fishwife levels."  She wrote that The Sound of Music was "for the 5-to-7 [year-old] set and their mommies who think the kids aren’t up to the stinging sophistication and biting wit of Mary Poppins." I read them and cackled with delight.

But Crist could praise as well; when the classic western Shane debuted on network TV in the 60s, she reminded viewers that the movie was "[t]he original source for many of the cliches of subsequent Westerns - cliches that in the original are matters of inspiration, of genius, and of art."  She despised George Patton as a war-lover, but praised George C. Scott's performance as one of the greatest "of all time."  She loved Mel Brooks, Stanley Kubrick and James Bond.

TV Guide used to have real writers, regulars like Crist and Edith Efron, and guests like Malcolm Muggeridge and Newton Minow. That was before it became a schlock fan magazine, a TV knock-off of People and Us and the rest of the supermarket checkout types. But if TV isn't the same, neither are the people who write about it.

Judith Crist was a movie critic, period; she wasn't going to write down to you just because you happened to be reading TV Guide instead of the The New York Times.  She wasn't going to pull her punches just because someone was a "movie star," and it didn't matter to her whether a movie was hyped by the network or stuck in the late, late show.  She was honest, and she gave you what she was paid to give: her opinion, with substance and style. 



August 4, 2012

This week in TV Guide: August 10, 1963

Ive Got a Secret was on the cover of a lot of TV Guides. The game show was on the air for fifteen seasons, from 1952 to 1967, and with five strongly identifiable personalities on the show, there was plenty of material to fill the six issues that featured the show.

In this issue, the focus is on Henry Morgan, who ws with the show for virtually its entire run.  Not many people remember him anymore, but from the 40s through the 60s, Henry Morgan was the L'enfant terrible of radio and TV. He was a witty and intelligent satirist, a stylish presence on television, the host of several several programs of his own and guest on many more.  He was also a cantankerous presence, a misogynist ("Women should be very attractive and never taught to read.  The trouble with the average woman is that she's a little below average."), an egomaniac, a man with a cruel streak who found it impossible not to wind up in clashes with sponsors, costars, and anyone else who crossed his path.  There were those who praised him while others lined up to bury him.  Someday maybe we'll spend more time talking about him, but suffice it to say that in 1963 he was big enough to merit a cover story in TV Guide.

In the "Things Aren't What They Used to Be" category, Shirl Conway, one of the stars of the CBS series The Nurses, must have said something in her profile a couple of weeks past, judging by the letter to the editor from Myrt Ober of Caldwell, NJ: "As a 'psychologically miserable' housewife, Miss Conway may I say I create more in one day of being a wife, mother and homemaker than you probably create in a whole month of acting. If loving and caring for one man and his children, decorating and running a home, not minding grime and dirt of hard work, yet keeping as attractive as possible, is losing her identity, there are many nameless women in this wonderful country of ours."  After a season, The Nurses became The Doctors and the Nurses, and storylines began to be carried by the male castmembers.  The Nurses wound up as a daytime soap opera, with the same characters but played by different actresses.

Over at The A.V. Club, Todd VanDerWerff has a very good article on CBS' 60s lawyer show The Defenders (H/T Stephen Bowie), starring E.G. Marshall and Robert Reed as father-son lawyers.  I intend to write about this at a later date, but VanDerWerff mentions an episode entitled "Madman" as an example of the series' defiance of the "wrap-it-up-neatly-in-50-minutes" method of so many programs, then and now, calling it "the kind of episode that would have a hard time making it through network notes sessions in the present, but the combination of CBS head William Paley’s largesse, [producer Herbert] Brodkin’s clout, and [writer Reginald] Rose’s creative genius resulted in the heart-rending episode making it on the air in 1962, right in the middle of the period when television grew most ashamed of itself." It had already won two Emmys when it was repeated in two parts, starting on Saturday, August 10.  (Note the drawing of Don Gordon in the Close Up, rather than a picture.  TV Guide did arty things like this from time to time.)

Bing Crosby appeared in one of his non-holiday specials on Wednesday night on NBC, with guests Bob Hope, Edie Adams, the Smothers Brothers, Pete Fountain, and Bing's son Gary.  "Leisure Time" is the theme, and I can't think of anyone who'd epitomize it better than Bing.  For the best in female forms, there's the "International Beauty Spectacular" from Long Beach, CA, hosted by Lorne Greene.  (I was going to check and see what network was showing it, but there's no way the star of NBC's Bonanza was about to appear on any other network.)  I'd never heard of this pageant which "departs from the usual pose-and-interview contest by showcasing the contestants from 46 countries in the trappings of a theatrical production," including two brand-new songs by Meredith Wilson, composer of The Music Man.  Couldn't find out much about this pageant, or if it's still around in some form, but this was the 12th spectacular, and I found a listing for it as late as 1966, so make of that what you will.

Edith Efron, who was a serious journalist and wrote many articles for TV Guide, asked "Why the Timid Giant [television, in this case] Treads Softly," and speculates that television shies away from controversial subject matter and investigative reporting because of "anxiety and fear of the Government's latent power over the industry [inhibiting[ broadcasters from digging more deelpy into public-affairs subjects."  The FCC, the industry's federal investigative agency, is accused of "throwing its weight around inexcusably," and broadcasters are said to fear having their licenses yanked if they stir up too much trouble.  Since then, networks seem to have gotten a lot more comfortable tackling controversy and pointing investigative fingers - at least against one side of the political aisle.

Finally, I got a kick out of this ad for an appearance by "The Stars of TV's Rawhide!" Clint Eastwood and Paul Brinegar, at a rodeo at St. Paul's Midway Stadium.


As the character "Wishbone," Brinegar was with Rawhide for the show's entire seven-season run, as part of a long and successful Hollywood career as a character actor.  I'm not sure what happened to the other guy, though.