February 23, 2013

This week in TV Guide: February 25, 1961

James Hagerty, prior to becoming head of ABC News, was President Eisenhower's press secretary - so it is with this dual authority that he offers, in this week's edition, a "Creed for Television Newsmen."    There are six points to this creed:

1. TV news reporting must be "factual, impartial, free and fearless. It cannot permit itself to be dominated or even remotely to be associated with any group or faction of special interest, any political party or any government."

2.  While analyzing and explaining news developments, "it must not confuse news reporting with personal opinion of a commentator who, after all, is expressing only his own thoughts and analysis."

3. Local, regional and national news "must never be neglected or overlooked."

4. News must be reported from "all sections" of the world, regarding a larger staff of trained reporters with expertise in foreign languages.

5. TV news cameras "must have the right to cover news wherever it happens, here at home or overseas."

6. "A good reporter does not seek to fake or exaggerate his story.  He gets the news as it happens, and reports the truth, the whole truth.  That is his job."

Politics is part of the cultural history not only of this country but of television, and so I've spent a fair amount of time on it.  I've tried, however, to keep my distance when it comes to ideological interjections, although I've got a fair number of opinions (as anyone who knows me can attest).  Having said this, I find it interesting that fully three of Hagerty's six points deal with the importance of neutral and objective reporting.  Now, without injecting any partisanship, I think we can all agree on the importance of this, and I hope we can also acknowledge that, no matter which side of the political fence you stand on, television news falls woefully short not only in this area but on all of Hagerty's points.

Hagerty served as head of
ABC News from 61-63
Obviously, this isn't a new problem; Hagerty wouldn't have made such an issue of it otherwise.  But one of the more unfortunate aspects of the fragmentation of American society over the decades is that the discerning viewer can pretty much watch whichever news program slants towards his or her point of view.  Just as music doesn't need to appeal to the masses any longer, and thus shatters into a million different niche networks, there is no incentive for any news program to offer objective, unbiased coverage.  Liberal?  Watch MSNBC or CNN.  Conservative?  Fox News.  Human interest stories?  There's always the networks, who seem to have pretty much given up on hard stuff.  And so on.

This isn't the place to debate solutions to the situation, of course, but one further point before we move on: Hagerty's first point, that the news must be kept separate from special interests, is one reason why Reuven Frank, as producer of NBC's Huntley-Brinkley Report, kept it commercial-free in its early years.  Frank understood that a news program had to avoid even the hint of a conflict of interest.  Considering the amount of influence sponsors exercised over programs in the early days of TV, it's no wonder Frank wanted to keep the news free of such entanglements.  Of course, today the bottom line in TV news is not journalism so much as the network's profit-loss statement.  So I guess none of us should be surprised.

***

CBS's Sunday documentary series The Twentieth Century casts a spotlight on French turmoil, and one can't help but see this as a forerunner of the chaos waiting around the corner in the United States.  The show promises to tell us about the "turbulent youth of France.  LEARN why they condemn conscription, defy [President] deGaulle, rebel against the Algerian war.  SEE if they are the sinners or the saviors of France."  We learn that amidst this tumult, "one dominant theme always recurs - Algeria."

Substitute "Vietnam" for "Algeria" and you've got almost a perfect match, don't you think?  Resist conscription, i.e. the draft?  Check.  Defy the President?  Check.  Sinners or saviors?  That's the question people would be asking here in a few years.  Certainly this country had problems in 1961; the civil rights movement was in full swing, and there was nothing tranquil about that.  And yet, Americans watching this show might well have thought that the French were going mad, the Republic was teetering on the brink, and the children were lunatics running the asylum.  Thank God it couldn't happen here.

***

Life magazine celebrates its 25th anniversary on Thursday night with a 90-minute star-studded extravaganza on NBC, hosted by Bob Hope.  It's truly a moment in time; for two decades the famed weekly picture magazine had chronicled our times, portraying life in all its various shapes, sizes and (eventually) colors.  And here it is being feted by the very medium that is inexorably taking its place.  Exotic images of foreign lands, the pomp and pageantry of coronations, the breathtaking drama of sporting events - all of this had made Life a staple of American households.  But now you can see all that on television, except for the color (and that's coming soon enough), and these pictures move!

Soon enough Life would be gone.  It folded in 1972, came back as a monthly in 1978, folded again in 2000, tried one further comeback as a Sunday newspaper supplement in 2004, and finally folded for good in 2007.  And the medium that took its place, television, now finds itself in the same position in relation to the internet.  Am I the only one who finds this moment ironic?

***

On the cover this week are the stars of CBS's Candid Camera.  If the smiles in the picture look somewhat forced, there's a good reason for it.

Candid Camera premiered on radio in 1947, where it was known as Candid Microphone.  It made the transition to television the next year where it remained, off and on, until 2004.  Candid Camera was an early form of reality television, but rather than the celebrity horror shows of today, I think you could describe it as being more like America's Funniest Home Videos.  For those of you unfamiliar with it, the premise was simple: an ordinary person walks into a seemingly normal situation, which rapidly becomes completely abnormal.  For example, a gas station attendant* fills the tank of a car, but no matter how long he's at it the tank never fills up.  The car is found to have a fake tank in it, but not before the surprised attendant is told, "Smile - you're on Candid Camera!"

The picture on the cover is taken from Camera's 1960-67 run on CBS.  The balding man in the background, looking as if he desperately wants to be seen, is Candid Camera creator Allen Funt.  He's being blocked by the legendary Arthur Godfrey, who at this time is co-host of the program.  The woman to the left is the singer-actress Dorothy Collins, who often appeared as the person who introduces the unsuspecting victim into the extraordinary situation (for example, she drove the car to the gas station in the prank listed above).

Candid Camera was Funt's baby through and through, but Godfrey was a known commodity to CBS and sponsors, and it might well be that the network thought he would be more likely to attract viewers than Funt alone. It was a relationship doomed from the start; Godfrey's ego demanded a large role, and he saw the program as a vehicle for his folksy humor and commentary, and yet at heart the show was nothing more than a collection of videos requiring basic introductions.

Funt, no shrinking violet himself, resisted Godfrey's efforts to put himself at the center of the show. He told a San Francisco interviewer "that Candid Camera would be much better if Godfrey didn't talk too much" and added that "if the Godfrey problem can't be solved, the Candid Camera company has another similar show in the works and ready to put on the air."  In one instance, Funt was said to have become so fed up with Godfrey that he stormed off the set during rehearsal, refusing to take part in the show's taping.  In the end, Funt won out.  Godfrey disappeared after the first season, replaced by Garry Moore's sidekick Durward Kirby (Camera had for several years been a regular feature of Moore's variety show).

Here's a clip from the Godfrey-Funt season of Candid Camera:


***

Isn't this a terrible cartoon rendition of The Flintstones?  Fred and Wilma aren't bad, but Barney is terrible.  And who's that kid supposed to be?  It's not Bamm-Bamm.

I don't know where this came from; it's clearly not a network advertisement, although The Flintstones were in first-run on ABC.  I can only think that the ad came from WTCN, and despite what I've said about it, local ads like this are one of the charms of TV Guides of this era.  It's the opposite of the slick, packaged material we're so used to seeing in publication nowadays.  Considering ABC's status as the number-three network of the time (by a wide margin), I wouldn't be surprised if most of its affiliates were on their own when it came to this kind of advertising.

Speaking of advertising, let's close with this note, a very clever, very funny TV Guide parody by Checkboard Square, makers of Chex cereals. (Click on each image to enlarge.)



It's not only an ingenious way to advertise Chex, but a brilliant, meticulously done spoof of television and TV Guide itself. The shows themselves are great (My Three Chex, starring Claude Grains; movies including A Star is Corn and King Corn), but best of all is the care with which the TV Guide layout was duplicated.  Had to have been done with the magazine's cooperation, don't you think?   I wonder how many people, gradually flipping through the pages, actually thought this was legit?  

3 comments

  1. I've got this one in my collection, and I brought it to the office for ready reference.

    The Chicago edition in 1960 carried listings for all five Chicago stations :
    Channel 2 - CBS
    Channel 5 - NBC
    Channel 7 - ABC
    Channel 9 - Independent
    Channel 11 - Educational
    Also, for two stations in Rockford, halfway to Milwaukee:
    Channel 13 - CBS and ABC
    Channel 39 - NBC
    Also, network-only listings for South Bend, Indiana:
    Channel 16 - NBC
    Channel 22 - CBS
    Channel 28 - ABC
    Many ads for local programming for all of these stations, even the South Bend ones, for shows not mentioned in the listings.
    I was 10 years old when this issue came out, and the station setups fascinated me; particularly how ch13 would mix-and-match two networks's worth of shows into one schedule - and how some of the CBS and ABC spillovers would find their way on to NBC-ch39.
    They're chasing us out of the office because of the crappy weather, so I have to cut this short.
    But do take a look at the TELETYPE from Hollywood on page 27, fourth paragraph from the bottom; that show aired three weeks later, with the referenced decision already having been made.

    More later ../

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mike, interesting as always. I'm looking forward to checking out your Teletype reference when I get home. Always great to hear from you!

      Delete
  2. Comes the dawn (barely) ...

    Back at the box, with a slightly more detailed update of yesterday's comment.

    - The Flintstones ad:

    Hanna-Barbera had had The Flintstones in the works for several years prior to its sale to ABC. The artwork in that ad looks to be rough sketches from the show's development stage, sent out as pre-publicity and held on to for whatever reasons by stations with space to fill.
    This sort of thing happened quite often in early TV, when the time lag between announcement and actual airing was considerable longer.
    By 1960, it was tightening up a little, but early broadcasters tended not to throw things out.

    The Chex-Mates ad:

    This isn't so unusual for TV Guide to go along with; there was a stretch a several years when they would do an April Fool section, with spoof listings and stories. One year, they engaged Jay Ward and Bill Scott (of Bullwinkle fame) to produce a six-page spoof.

    I was looking at some past entries in this series, and noted that they kicked off a fall season forecast with a spoof of the Daily Racing Form.
    This was no coincidence; TV Guide and the Racing Form were both published by Walter Annenberg's Triangle Publications. When I saw that issue when it first came out, I sort of hoped that TV Guide would do it annually; alas, no.

    - As was going over the listings and noted that this week's Twilight Zone was "Mr. Dingle the Strong", starring Burgess Meredith and Don Rickles.
    And then - in an Incrdible Coincidence - what should come up on MeTV but ...
    ... "Mr. Dingle the Strong" on Twilight Zone! Just as I first saw it as a 10-year-old on March 3rd 1961!
    Believe It Or Don't!
    (This ever happen to you?)

    - Last night I was looking throgh the pile for things of possible interest, when I remembered that my collection - mostly of old Chicago editions - had some scattered issues from other places, which I bougt for comparison purposes.
    So it is that I have several old issues from Minneapolis-St. Paul.
    And one of them is the Minn-StP TV Guide Fall Preview issue for 1953-54.
    The first one they ever did.
    I know that this is a bit before your time, but looking at local TV take form in that time is something I find fascinating.
    Unfortunately, scanning and faxing are technologies that are beyond me here, so I guess you're just going to have to take my word for it ...
    ... but I do wish I could find a way of showing you this (unless you've got a way of finding it yourself).

    That's all I have for now (and isn't it enough?). Any questions, I'll be here.

    ReplyDelete

And now for something completely different.