August 3, 2013

This week in TV Guide: August 5, 1967

On the cover this week is the long-running duo of NBC’s Today show (and later ABC’s 20/20), Hugh Downs and Barbara Walters. I’ve never been a fan of Walters, either professionally or personally, and as the years go by she seems more like the wacky aunt of the family. Still, there’s much of interest in Edith Efron’s feature story on Walters, bearing the provocative title, “How to Manufacture a Celebrity.”

In truth, Today’s always had something of a split identity. Is it a news show or a variety program? Entertainment or information? Hugh Downs, the show’s third host (following Dave Garroway, an all-around personality, and John Chancellor, a hard newsman) came to the program after years as Jack Paar’s Tonight sidekick, and after Today concludes he’s off to another studio to host the game show Concentration. When Downs is on vacation, his replacements are most often entertainment types such as James Daly (later of Medical Center) and Burgess Meredith (soon to be Batman’s Penguin). The show’s arguably most famous personality has been a monkey.

The show’s female component – the “Today Girl” – has likewise sent mixed messages, featuring the likes of Lee Meriwether (former Miss America, future Catwoman), Helen O’Connell (former bandsinger), Florence Henderson (future Mrs. Brady), Betsy Palmer (later of I’ve Got a Secret), Pat Fontaine (former weather girl), and Maureen O’Sullivan (Tarzan’s Jane, and mother of Mia Farrow). It was into this role that Barbara Walters stepped, and by 1967 she’s become the show’s longest-running female member.

As a television “personality,” Walters wasn’t exactly created out of thin air –she did have some journalistic chops, certainly more than her predecessors, and viewers like that she acts like a reporter instead of “a feather-headed hostess.” And yet there’s also no question that NBC’s publicists are out to build Barbara Walters into a star. There’s a profile in TV Guide, a photoshoot for Life, and Vogue asks for her beauty secrets. She writes regular articles for the Ladies’ Home Journal and appears daily on NBC’s popular radio program “Monitor.” She’s more visible doing live commercials on Today and appears in ads for the program. She’s out on the lecture circuit, receiving awards from various groups, appearing on talk shows, and getting invitations to fashionable parties, including one at the White House. Her hair and makeup have changed, her wardrobe is more glamorous.

But for all that, says Efron, Walters is still “only about a third of the way through the assembly line,” nowhere near “the big leagues, inhabited by women like Zsa Zsa or even by Arlene Francis.” Walters herself remarks that “if somebody recognizes me in New York I’m thrilled to death.” And her colleagues say she remains unpretentious and easy to work with. Barbara Walters hasn’t yet become the icon she is today, but life as a star isn’t bad. “It’s chic to say these things don’t matter,” she says, “but it’s terribly nice to have the recognition.”

***

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..

We’ve got a “Sullivan vs. The Palace” matchup all right, but this week the “Palace” isn’t in Hollywood – it’s in London. The Piccadilly Palace is Hollywood’s summer replacement, hosted by the famed British comedy team of Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, familiar faces on American television programs (such as, for example, Ed Sullivan), and featuring singer Millicent Martin. This week Morecambe and Wise welcome Eric Burdon and the Animals and singer Gene Pitney.

Meanwhile, on a rerun of Sullivan, Ed’s guests are comedian Corbett Monica; singers Lou Rawls, Nancy Ames* and the Kim Sisters; the U.S. Air Force Academy Chorale; puppet Topo Gigio; the Rudas Dancers; acrobat Arthur Haynes; and the Pollack Brothers’ Circus Elephants.

*Fun fact: Millicent Martin was best-known for her turn singing the topical songs on the BBC’s That Was The Week That Was – a role filled on the American version by none other than Nancy Ames.

Well, I don’t think this requires much thought. Gene Pitney’s no slouch, singing “Town Without Pity,” and while The Animals – or, as they were also known during this time, Eric Burdon and the New Animals – might not be the group that rocked the scene with "House of the Rising Sun," they can still bring it with hits like "When I Was Young."  I don’t know if this clip is from that broadcast, but it’s from American TV, and it’s 1967, so that’s good enough for me.


Compared to that, even an animal like Topo Gigio can’t compete. The verdict: no matter the country, it’s the Palace this week.

***

We haven’t had much to talk about in the sporting world lately, so it’s good that we’ve got a few big events this week.

On Saturday afternoon, ABC’s Wide World of Sports expands to two hours to present a heavyweight boxing doubleheader from the Astrodome in Houston, part of the elimination tournament to select a new champ after Muhammad Ali was stripped of the title earlier in the year for refusing military induction. On the card, the 8th ranked Jimmy Ellis defeated #9 Leotis Martin in a 9th round TKO, while Thad Spencer, #5 in the world, won an easy 12-round decision over #4 Ernie Terrell, who’d lost to Ali in a previous title bout. Eventually, Ellis will go on to win the vacant title, defeating Jerry Quarry in a 15-round decision in April 1968, but he’ll only hold the title until early 1970, when he’s knocked out by a fighter who’d declined to take part in the tournament – Joe Frazier, who becomes undisputed heavyweight champion.

Sunday features one of those things that goes a long way toward explaining why it took soccer so long to become a big sport in this country. American fans with long memories will recall how, until relatively recent history, they had to suffer through broadcasts that included commercial interruptions during the match - but don’t worry; if we miss a goal they’ll bring it to us on instant replay after the break. In fact, referees were even known to call fake “injury” delays and questionable fouls in order to work those commercials in without missing any of the action. Bad as that was, this story might go one better.

CBS’ Game of the Week features the Toronto Falcons taking on the Oakland Clippers. The game starts at 2:30pm Sunday afternoon, and is scheduled for a two-hour timeslot. A soccer match lasts 90 minutes, plus a 15-minute halftime. Now, supposing CBS had a five-minute pregame, and allowing for any additional stoppage time, that’s going take us pretty much up to the two-hour limit. And yet, at the end of the listing for Sunday’s game, we get the following: “Channel 3D [KDAL, Duluth] will leave the game at 4 P.M. in order to join the Western Open.”

By my measure, this would mean that anyone watching on KDAL would probably have missed the last 20 minutes of the match. Given that Oakland won 2-0, it’s quite possible that the outcome would still have been in doubt when the station made the switch. It’s soccer’s own version of the Heidi Game, one year before the Raiders and Jets.* Adding to the confusion, three of the four stations carrying the syndicated coverage of the Western Open golf tournament were, like KDAL, CBS affiliates also showing the soccer – but the other two channels, KGLO in Mason City, Iowa and KEYC in Mankato, Minnesota, chose to stay with the soccer and join the golf in progress. Given that the golf coverage was for only 90 minutes, that means those viewers probably got to see only the last two or three holes of Jack Nicklaus’ victory. If you were a fan of soccer and golf, it was a tough day no matter how you look at it.

*Appropriately, the match was even played in the same stadium – the Oakland Coliseum. Coincidence? I think not.

There’s one other thing I noticed in this issue, that I’ve commented on in the past, and that’s how late in the evening sporting events take place. The routine start time for a major league baseball game is 8:00pm local time, as was the case in Friday night’s broadcast of the Twins-Chicago White Sox game. Today, most weeknight games begin at 7pm, with 6pm Saturday starts not uncommon; anything later than that is usually due to television scheduling. Now, some of this is undoubtedly because of the increased length of baseball games – the average game today is almost 30 minutes longer than it was in 1960. Then, too, it could be that people just want to get home earlier, or that an earlier start time means it’s more likely fans will be buying their food in the ballpark instead of eating at home or stopping at a restaurant on the way. But I wonder how much of it is because of the increasing crime rate in the inner city? That had to be an issue as the 60s turned to the 70s. I mean, would you want to be walking to a parking lot at 11pm in Detroit?

Finally, there’s a very interesting article on NBC sportscaster Curt Gowdy, the cowboy from Wyoming turned sportscaster. Longtime readers will recognize Gowdy as one of my “big-game” announcers, and in 1967 he’s also one of the busiest. He’s just left his 15-year gig as play-by-play man for the Boston Red Sox to take over the Game of the Week for NBC. He’s also NBC’s main broadcaster for the American Football League, and hosts NBC’s Sportsman’s Holiday and ABC’s American Sportsman outdoor shows.

Something I didn’t know about Gowdy is that for years he’d suffered from back troubles that caused stabbing pain so severe he once missed an entire season for the Red Sox, and often had required him to remain standing throughout his broadcasts. Today, the pain has subsided somewhat; Gowdy can at least sit through a game without awful pain, but “I still can’t do anything so strenuous as play golf. Fishing and walking are about my limit.”

Gowdy has some interesting thoughts on the games he announces; he thinks football should move kickoffs from the 40 to 30 yard line to encourage more returns (as indeed they would, before eventually moving the kickoff back to the 35), and that baseball needs to do something about that “slow-motion pace” I discussed earlier. “The fans deserve a little more action,” he says. Quite an announcer, and quite a guy.

***

Believe it or not, there’s actually a suspicion that the Soviet Union is trying to influence how TV documentaries portray the country. They might even be censoring coverage! There have been a raft of news programs in the early 60s about this mysterious and foreboding land (including this one I discussed a few months ago); the question, as Neil Hickey and Susan Ludel put it, is just how accurate these programs are. “Can a documentarian- given the rather severe restrictions placed on his actions by the soviet government – convey a valid picture of what really is going on in the Soviet Union?” The networks deny any interference, probably to protect their news bureaus inside Russia, but privately many in the business agree that because of Soviet interference, “American TV documentaries are not presenting a true picture of the Soviet Union.”

Few newsmen are as outspoken as CBS’ Marvin Kalb, who in 1960 presented “The Volga,” a program detailing life along the famed 2300-mile river. The documentary portrayed Russia as a country locked into “a vast and impersonal bureaucracy,” spending heavily on its space program at the expense of its “backward” countryside, its young people resigned to “dull and faceless elements” in the machine. It was not the picture of Russia that the Soviets wanted people to see, and they demanded that CBS delay the program until they could issue a response. CBS refused, and in the wake of the broadcast CBS’ Moscow bureau was closed for eight months, while the Soviets withdrew permission for other network programs, including NBC’s coverage of the Tchaikovsky International music competition..

That backlash worries some American journalists, who think Kalb’s criticism may be ruining it for everyone. Says an unnamed NBC newsman, “I completely agree with the Russians about ‘The Volga.’ Kalb was spiteful, nasty and biased; the Russians were very upset about it. I talked to some CBS people about this, and they agree with me.” One who did go on the record, ABC VP Thomas Wolf, defends his network’s documentary, “Ivan Ivanovitch,” said to portray a typical Soviet family. “Isn’t it a fact that many Russians are living closer to American standards of physical comfort?” he asks. “I think that what we photographed is an accurate picture.”

An anonymous documentary producer isn’t having any of that, though. “[I]t’s preposterous that the family in ‘Ivan’ is average,” he says in reply. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the Soviet Union put the family in that apartment, painted it before the TV crew arrived, then sent the family back where they came from when the filming was over.” The producer can’t talk about this publicly; if he did, “my network could be closed off forever from doing documentaries in Russia.” For those who want to play the Soviet game, though, “Spoonfeeding is the order of the day.”

That the Soviet Union may be attempting to control media portrayals of its country is, in Captain Renault’s words, shocking.* (Insert sarcasm icon here.) That there are American journalists agreeing with the Soviets is no less so.

1 comment:

  1. The clip of Eric Burdon and the Animals doing "When I Was Young" was definitely a live performance and not a lip-synch.

    ReplyDelete

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