April 6, 2013

This week in TV Guide: April 4, 1970

It's 1970, and both the variety and talk show formats are alive and well! And that's the focus of this week's review.

We're so used to living in an era without variety shows, and so accustomed to thinking of them as a relic of TV's Golden Age, that it can be somewhat jarring to see how prevalent they remained as recently as 1970*, even though The Hollywood Palace met its demise three months previously.  And so since we don't have a "Sullivan vs. The Palace" matchup this week, let's take a look at what the survivors have to offer.

*Keep in mind that for someone of my age, "recently" is a relative term.  Sometimes 1970 feels as if it was just yesterday.  I never thought of it as Golden, though.

Jackie Gleason was a staple of Saturday nights on CBS; this week's rerun at 6:30pm is a Honeymooners musical revue that fills the entire hour.  Up against Jackie is Andy Williams on NBC - Andy's guests are Judy Collins, the Smothers Brothers, and Gary Puckett and the Union Gap.  ABC counters at 7:30 with  Lawrence Welk, doing a tribute to the Academy Awards (more about that later).  And speaking of the Champagne Music Maker, his former stars, the Lennon Sisters, appear with Jimmy Durante on - appropriately - their Jimmy Durante Presents the Lennon Sisters show, with guests Jimmy Dean, Jo Ann Castle, and Rich Little.*

*Channel 9, the then-ABC affiliate in Minneapolis, loved to preempt low-rated network programming on Saturday night, and they stuck this show into a 4pm Sunday afternoon timeslot.

Sunday was anchored, as usual, by Ed Sullivan, whose guests tonight at 7pm are George Hamilton, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, the Temptations, Buddy Rich and his Orchestra, John Byner, Marilyn Maye and Gene Baylos.  It's up against a variety show on PBS forerunner NET entitled (once again appropriately) The Show, with author Ellen Peck, the Ace Trucking Company, and Martha and the Vandellas.  Back to CBS, where Ed is followed at 8pm by Glen Campbell, whose guests are Bob Newhart, Cher, and Neil Diamond.

Monday belongs to Carol Burnett, and this rerun has the biggest hitters of the week: Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, and Rowan and Martin.  Combined with Carol's regular bag of loonies, this show is hard to beat.  On CBS at 9pm.

Tuesday leads off with another television institution, Red Skelton, in its penultimate season on CBS.  Cesar Romero joins Red for the fun, along with the young co-star of Gentle Ben, Clint (brother of Ron) Howard.  Tuesday is also Oscar night on ABC, which means they've got a special preceding the broadcast - but long before Barbara Walters made a second career of Oscar night shows, this year's star is Robert Goulet in the whimsically-titled The Bob Goulet Show Starring Robert Goulet.  Robert - or Bob, if you will - has Bob Hope, Diahann Carrol, Bob Denver, Jo Anne Worley and the Clara Ward Gospel Singers, with cameos from Joey Bishop, Godfrey Cambridge, Jimmy Durante and Carol Lawrence.  It's produced by Marty Pasetta, who two years later would begin a long run as director of the aforementioned Oscars.

There's definitely a Country flavor to Wednesday, starting at 6:30pm with Hee-Haw, still in its CBS incarnation, with the superstar C&W power couple Tammy Wynette and George Jones as guests.  We've got dueling shows at 8pm - on NBC, the longstanding Kraft Music Hall has Eddy Arnold hosting, with John Davidson, Jackie DeShannon, and Charlie Callas.  It's up against The Johnny Cash Show on ABC, with Patti Page, Tony Joe White and Sonny James.  And, of course, Johnny and June Carter Cash.  If you're like me, though, and you're not into Country, there's Englebert Humperdinck at 9pm, also on ABC, with Jack Jones, Connie Stevens, Louis Nye, and Brit comic Harry Secombe.

Thursday has the soon-to-be cancelled Pat Paulson Half-a-Comedy Hour on ABC at 6:30 - no guests tonight, just Pat.  Jim Nabors is also going sans guests on his CBS show at 7, spotlighting regulars Frank Sutton and Ronnie Schell.  Ah, and then there's Tom Jones, whose voice is so big he doesn't need any guests, but he has them anyway - Liza Minnelli, Frankie Vaughan and Pat Cooper join him in a rerun at 8pm on ABC.  The night's topped off with - who else? - Dino, whose guests are Phil Harris, Arte (Laugh-in) Johnson, Lou Rawls and Nancy Kwan.

And then we come to Friday, the only night of the week without a regular variety show.  There is one of sorts, I suppose - the Muppets appear in an ABC special, Tales from Muppetland, with Canadian actors Belinda Montgomery, Robin Ward, Joyce Gordon and Pat Galloway.

So, to recap: there were 17 variety shows for the week.  CBS led the way, devoting seven hours to seven variety shows, with ABC close behind (six shows, five-and-a-half hours), and NBC (three hour-long shows).  NET brings up the rear with its lone variety hour, which (considering our tax dollars were supporting it) was quite enough.  ABC gets the overall nod, however, if you want to throw in the two specials - and the Smothers Brothers are slated for a summer tryout on ABC (which, ultimately, proves a failure) starting in July.

***

The talk show circuit is less cluttered in terms of individual shows, but more than makes up for it in quantity, as big names go head-to-head throughout the week.

Carson is the biggest, of course, in his eighth year on the Tonight show, but he's now facing competition not only from Dick Cavett at ABC, but also from Merv Griffin, who's moved his syndicated show to CBS for a disastrous run, and - in some areas - David Frost, whose show is seen variously in the daytime, against Carson, and later at night.  (In Minneapolis he's on the NBC affiliate, Channel 5, following Carson at midnight.)

Then, of course, there's the perennial daytime favorite, Mike Douglas, who does 90 minutes daily at 4pm on Channel 4.  Mike's not the only daytime host, though - Joan Rivers' little-known 70s syndicated chat show is on Channel 11 at 10:30am, followed by Virginia Graham's long-running Girl Talk at 11.  Art Linkletter's Life With Linkletter is on at 12:30pm on Channel 5, and the pioneer of talk shows, Steve Allen, is back on, with an hour-long show at 4pm on Channel 9*.

*Like Frost's show, I believe the Allen show was seen at various times depending on the market, including late nights in some areas.

***

While we're on the topic of talk shows, one of Mike Douglas' guests on his Thursday show is U.S. Senator Charles Goodell (R-NY). Goodell had been appointed by Governor Nelson Rockefeller to fill the unexpired term of Robert Kennedy after RFK's assassination, and in 1970 is running for a full term of his own.  Two interesting things about Goodell - if the name sounds familiar, it's probably because his son is Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL. And as for Goodell's reelection bid, the liberal Republican was defeated by Conservative Party candidate James Buckley, the brother of famed conservative pundit William F. Buckley, Jr.  The hard-fought campaign spawned one of my favorite political slogans of all time: "To Hell with Goodell - Vote Buckley."

And you know how Mike Douglas used to have co-hosts with him for the entire week?  One of his most famous, of course, was the duo of John Lennon and Yoko Ono (thankfully, I never saw that), but for this week his co-host was the volatile George C. Scott.  I wonder how Scott was with the small talk?

***

At 2:30 Saturday afternoon, ABC's Pro Bowlers Tour has live coverage of perhaps the most famous bowling match ever televised, as Don Johnson goes head-to-head against Dick Ritger in the finals of the Firestone Tournament of Champions, the richest and most prestigious PBA tournament of the year, with a first prize of $25,000 (to contrast, the winner of that year's U.S. Open golf tournament only got $5,000 more).  Entering the final frames, Johnson has a perfect 300 game going, which would earn him a $10,000 bonus and a new car.  I remember this vividly - Johnson was my favorite bowler, and as he went for the last strike, I couldn't bear to watch.  Neither could he.  Here are the final minutes, including what both of us missed:


***

Politics provides a continuing source of debate in TV Guides of the era, and this week's Letters to the Editor section is turned over in its entirety to commentary on an article written in the March 14 issue by liberal CBS commentator Eric Sevareid.  Sevareid's article, "In Defense of TV News," dealt with an issue that's hardly news today: the question of bias.  We've seen this question raised one way or another in several TV Guides through the years; undoubtedly, this particular article was triggered by Vice President Spiro Agnew's attacks on the news media, quite possibly in particular his speech in Des Moines on November 13, 1969 in which Agnew skewered the media's analysis of a recent speech by President Nixon. "The audience of 70 million Americans gathered to hear the President of the United States was inherited by a small band of network commentators and self-appointed analysts, the majority of whom expressed in one way or another their hostility to what he had to say.”

This seems to be borne out by the letters to TV Guide, which repeatedly reference commentary and analysis.  Dan Burgenger, of Sedalia, MO defends Sevareid, writing that "disagreement does not equal bias, and objectivity is not the same as neutrality." Robert James, of Chevy Chase, MD counters that "Sevareid's smug defense of news coverage reminds me of earlier autocratic examples of privilege refusing to recognize the validity of popular criticism," and Saul David, of Beverly Hills, suggests that Sevareid's defense sets up a straw dog: "The suggestion is not that the networks are filled with liars but rather with liberals, not that they conspire to slant news but that they all share a point of view, and consequently cannot help but bias their presentations by their very honesty."  In response to a question from another letter-writer, the editor notes that "At press time the mail was 37% pro Sevareid, 63% con."

***

The Brady Bunch is on the cover this week, and the accompanying story is on Robert Reed, the Brady patriarch and another man who apparently nurtured a secret life.  (See Raymond Burr, for example.)  His homosexuality was apparently known to those who worked with him, although he did not talk about it, and one always looks for some retroactively ironic line, some indication, fraught with meaning but only for those who already knew, and amongst the various comments from co-workers about his reticence and reserve is this remark from Reed himself, referring to his years-ago divorce, that "I'm not a family man."

Reed, it appears, was never really comfortable with The Brady Bunch.  He'd been a classically-trained actor who'd made his TV mark in the legal drama The Defenders with E.G. Marshall, and it sounds as if he'd been expecting something different from Brady, "that it was going to be more realistic, that we were going to be real humans."  Brady's creator, Sherwood Schwartz, has the appearance of being one of the men responsible for the dumbing-down of television, but it was his show, and ultimately it goes the way he wants it to go.

***

"The Shape of Things to Come" Department: this note from The Doan Report.

Like to see a prime-time movie of your own choosing, without commercials?  It will be possible next fall.  Motorola and CBS last week unveiled a color EVR (for Electronic Video Recording) "teleplayer" which feeds a 25-minute color film into the home TV receiver.  At the same time, Darryl F. Zanuck, head of 20th Century-Fox, disclosed he expects to make his studio's backlog of movies over five years old (some 1500 in number) available for recording on EVR cartridges.  Zanuck declined to predict the rental charge, but insisted it will be "within range of the average family."  The player unit, however, is not a dime-store item.  Priced: $795.

I wonder if they could possibly have imagined?

***

As I mentioned before, the Academy Awards are on Tuesday night*.   It's one of those years where there is no host; instead, the "Friends of Oscar" more or less take turns introducing each other.  The cover story asks if it's possible to "buy" an Oscar - of course, we know today that the answer is yes, but at the time campaigning for an Oscar was considered gauche.  It was essential, though, and the Hollywood trade papers did very well indeed on the advertisements they ran in the weeks leading up to the show.

*At the time, Monday was the traditional night for the Oscarcast, but in 1970 ABC tried something new by having it on Tuesday.

It was an interesting year, award-wise - for the last time for 26 years, none of the acting award winners came from Best Picture-nominated movies.  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was nominated for Picture and Director, but neither Paul Newman nor Robert Redford got acting nods.  Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight did score nominations for Midnight Cowboy, but both lost out to John Wayne in True Grit.  The only picture to receive nominations for both Best Actor and Best Actress was Anne of the Thousand Days (Richard Burton and Genevieve Bujold, respectively), and two of the five Best Picture nominees (including Anne, a movie widely considered to have "bought" its 10 nominations) didn't even receive Best Director nods.  One of those non-nominated pictures, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, produced a Best Actress nominee in Jane Fonda and a Supporting Actor winner in Gig Young.  As for Best Picture, it went to Midnight Cowboy, the first (and sofar only) X-rated movie to win the award.

This would be the last time ABC would broadcast the awards until 1974, as NBC would carry the next three shows.  It was, to date, the highest rated broadcast, with a 43.4 rating.  And, although TV Guide referred to the shows as "marathons," the broadcast clocked in at a tidy 2:25 - an hour and ten minutes shorter than this year's.  And if that isn't enough to convince you that things were better in the good old days, I don't know what will.

6 comments:

  1. Great post as always, Mitchell! It's hard to believe variety shows were once that dominant on the network schedule. Also, the guest star lineup of your chosen week is pretty amazing. The demise of the variety and the Western still make me sad. I suppose the reality talent competitions have taken the place of the variety shows--though now there's very little variety and no established stars (except occasionally the judges). Interesting to read about Carson, Cavett, and Merv in light of the current "Tonight Show" PR fiasco.

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    1. Thanks, Rick. You're right - when the talent show judges are more talented than the stars, you're in trouble!

      The thing about talk shows of the era is that they were adult shows - by that, I mean that kids didn't stay up to watch them unless it was Friday, or summer. That doesn't mean the shows couldn't be silly, but they definitely catered to an adult audience. They were, as Terry Teachout would say, "middlebrow" rather than the "lowbrow" of today.

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  2. Mainly from memory, and more or less in order:

    - This was the period when the variety/music/comedy was beginning to be seen as "running out of gas" (possibly because there were still so many of the longer-running ones around).
    The Bob Goulet Show was a pilot aimed at the 1970 fall schedule; for a while, it was either/or with This Is Tom Jones, with the latter getting through because renewing an existing show is less costly then lauunching a new one (Jones's British origination helped).
    This was the year that Robert Wood took over as president of CBS. Wood was one of the first advocates of demographics, which proved to be the death-knell for the variety format, since it was seen by ad-men (which Wood was before joining CBS management) as being "bi-modal" - adspeak for appealing mainly to kids and old people, the least desirable demos.

    Of the 17 shows you mentioned, only seven returned that fall; this was the beginning of the Great Demo Purge that saw CBS cancel Skelton and Gleason at the peak of their ratings, along with many of the rural sitcoms.
    Three new varieties were added for '70: Don Knotts, Tim Conway (both fast flops), and Flip Wilson (the sole survivor).
    By the following season ('71-'72) only five out of those ten remained (joined briefly by a very short-lived NBC show called The Funny Side, which didn't make it to midseason).
    Make of that what you will ...

    - Late-night talk:
    Nobody seems to remember (nobody but me, anyway) that there was a long period when Johnny Carson couldn't buy a favorable review from TV critics.
    This period began in the mid-'60s, when Carson's main "competition" was (were?) the syndicated shows of Steve Allen and Merv Griffin, which had looser formats and (in Griffin's case, anyway) more controversial guests.
    When ABC brought on Joey Bishop in '67, Johnny Carson started having his contract bouts with NBC, which largely turned the press against him.
    Bishop, in turn, called in as many chits from his RatPack pals as possible, and was (briefly) somewhat competitive, but that didn't last long.
    Griffin's move to CBS had a similar history.
    Dick Cavett was a critical darling from his ABC morning show; when he took over the late shift at the turn of '70, he immediately became the club that critics wielded against Carson, which did him no good at all with viewers.
    Carson didn't get the critics back until Watergate happened, by which time his network competition consisted almost entirely of prime-time reruns.
    If you'd like to look for parallels in that situation and the current one, you're welcome to do so.

    I don't recall if it was that particular week, but I do remember seeing George C. Scott on Mike Douglas's show as co-host.
    During the week Scott would do dramatic recitations fron a center-stage podium; at week's end he delivered his masterpiece: Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head.
    There was George C., at the podium, reading the Raindrops lyrics with Shakespearean gravitas, as water started to trickle down on him from overhead.
    As Scott went on, his delivery became ferocious, and the trickle built into a downpour.
    By the time Scott roared "Because I'm FREE!!! NOTHING'S WORRYING ME!!!!!", he was drenched, and the audience was howling.
    I had read somewhere that Scott loved to play comedy on stage, the broader the better. I saw him subsequently with Johnny Carson, doing skits like the old burlesque Courtroom sketch. You've not lived until you've seen Johnny walloping George C. with a pig bladder (I wonder if this skit is on any of the available Carson DVDs).

    - The EVR:

    Nothing I can add, other than how I've grown to love my DVD player at home, and wished it had been around back when I was a kid and could really use it.


    I think I'll take a rest here.
    If I recall anything else of value, I'll be back.


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    1. Great as usual, Mike! I would have loved to see Scott doing that reading on the Douglas show.

      Really interesting about the talk shows. I know that, contrary to what a lot of people think, Bishop was serious competition for Carson at the outset, even beating him on selected nights and weeks. It was when Carson insisted "if you appear on his show, you won't be on mine" that Bishop lost the stars, and thus the ratings.

      I prefer early Carson to later Carson, but I prefer Paar even to that.

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  3. The "Brady Bunch" cover of the April 4th, 1970 TV Guide is probably one of the five most famous covers in that magazine's six-decade history.

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    1. Easy to see why, isn't it? It's a terrific cover.

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