In what I’m sure will come as no revelation to any of you, the polls come in for their share of criticism. Just three months ago, in July, the polls diverged dramatically in their measurement of the presidential race, with Gallup finding Nixon in the lead while Harris had Humphrey on top. Though both Harris and Gallup cited the margin of error as explanation for the differences, Burns Roper, from rival Roper Research Associates, speaks words that could well be written today, and might well be remembered by aspiring politicians and their staffs: “The main thing wrong with the polls is that they have been overinterpreted, overrepresented, and overrelied on as measuring public opinion with micrometer accuracy.” Seems as if you could say that about last year’s election, doesn’t it?
No predictions from the pollsters on who’s going to win, but they both agree it’s going to be close. Gallup plans interviews on Saturday and Sunday, with the final reveal on Monday morning, the day before the election, and Harris says the schedule’s about the same for them. Their biggest worry is the last-minute event that throws everything into flux, as was the case with the Hungarian revolt 10 days before the 1956 election, which Gallup says resulted in a jump of as many as three million votes for Eisenhower. “If we hadn’t taken a new poll in the last 10 days, we might have been as wrong as we were in 1948.” And, it seems to me, that’s the problem with early voting as well. What happens when things change? They don’t give you a do-over, you know.
The Sunday shows are filled with election drama as well. General Curtis LeMay, independent candidate George Wallace’s running mate, is the guest on CBS’ Face the Nation,, while Vice President Humphrey appears on NBC’s Meet the Press, and Texas Senator John Tower, a Nixon ally and strategist, joins former Pennsylvania Governor William Scranton (rumored to be a possible choice for Secretary of State if Nixon wins) on a special hour-long edition of ABC’s Issues and Answers. Each network, as well as NET, also features previews of, as NET puts it, “the candidates and the issues.”
We’re still in the age of the five-minute political talk, and the airwaves are full of them, cutting short your favorite programs. It’s kind of interesting to see how the shows and candidates are paired up: no surprise that the Republicans follow Lawrence Welk , Red Skelton and Ed Sullivan, as well as the law-and-order Hawaii Five-O and Gunsmoke, but I did raise an eyebrow that they’re also on after the Smothers Brothers – makes sense if you want to take your message to the opposition. George Wallace doesn’t mess around with a measly five minutes; he’s bought a whole half-hour on NBC Monday night, preempting I Dream of Jeannie, although he does take five (so to speak) following The Big Valley. (That’s nothing compared to the one hour for Nixon and Agnew on ABC Halloween night.) The Democrats book time following Hollywood Palace and the movies Quick Before It Melts, The Nanny and part two of Exodus*
*With, presumably, Hubert Humphrey as Moses, trying to lead the Democratic Party out of the LBJ wilderness.
And then there’s a show on Channel 2, the local educational station, that I mention for personal reasons. It’s called Books and Ideas, and the guest is Dr. Scott Johnston, chair of Political Science at Hamline University, and my advisor when I attended Hamline. He was a good and fair man, with a specialty in the Middle East and Turkey, and I’d love to know what he would think of the situation there today.
The World Series is over and the Super Bowl is still a little over two months away, which means it’s time to
*Although we might find that out in a few years, if indeed it comes to pass that the world’s biggest sporting event, the soccer World Cup, is moved to winter 2022 to avoid the heat of Qatar.
As in years past, we can see that ABC’s emphasis on the games is not quite up to the level of today’s around-the-clock coverage. Saturday afternoon’s broadcast runs for exactly thirty minutes, squeezed in between the Notre Dame-Michigan State college football game, and Wide World of Sports (the NASCAR National 500 race, taped the previous Sunday, plus the World Invitational Table Tennis Championships, from May). Saturday prime-time coverage begins at 5:30CT, with highlights of the diving and soccer finals. Sunday’s live coverage of the closing ceremonies, paired up with the finals (on tape) of the horse jumping, also begins at 5:30, running for an Olympic-like three hours, at the conclusion of which the Olympic flame will be doused until the next summer games, in Munich in 1972. We all know how well that worked out.
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..
Sullivan: Tentatively scheduled: Helen Hayes recites a passage from her autobiography; singers Ed Ames, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, the Doodletown Pipers, and Mary Hopkin; comedians George Carlin and Pigmeat Markham; and the Kuban Cossacks, dancers.
Palace: Don Adams of Get Smart plays host to Barbara Eden of Jeannie; Arte Johnson (doing his Laugh-In routine as Rozmenko the singing Russian); Janis Joplin, Big Brother and the Holding Company; the singing Brothers Castro from Mexico; and the Dovyeko Company, acrobats on stilts from the Moscow State Circus.
Now, picking a winner from a lineup like this is where I make the big bucks. Even though it’s on ABC, Hollywood Palace reads more like an NBC prime-time lineup, with the stars of three of its bigger hits topping the bill. But it’s the appearance of Joplin, as much as anything, that shows us how much the times have changed during the decade. For all the vaudeville acts the show continues to feature, it’s clear we’ve crossed a line and we’re not going back.
Sullivan also gives us a bit of the past, present and future; a dramatic reading by Hayes, the great lady of the American theater, indicates there’s still something to the power of the spoken word (as well as a precursor to books on tape?), while Carlin perhaps gives us a hint of the direction stand-up comedy is going. As for the present, is there anything that says “The Sixties” more than the Doodletown Pipers singing “MacArthur Park”? Excuse me for a moment…
There, I’m back, in time to give a half-hearted nod to Sullivan as this week’s winner. Perhaps best again to look elsewhere – Dean Martin’s Thursday lineup features Tony Bennett, Elke Sommer, impressionist David Frye, and comedians Skiles and Henderson.
Or you could look to Wednesday night, also on NBC. It seems like only a couple of weeks ago I was making jokes about there being a Country music awards show on every time you turn around. Well, here we are again, and as it was previously, this year the ceremony is being presented as part of a regularly scheduled variety program. This time it’s the Kraft Music Hall, hosted (appropriately enough) by Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, in a taped broadcast from the Grand Ole Opry stage at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. It’s a star-studded lineup, with performances from Johnny Cash (“Folsom Prison Blues’), Tammy Wynette (“D-I-V-O-R-C-E”), Bobby Goldsboro (“Honey”), and Jeannie C. Riley (“Harper Valley PTA”), plus appearances by Pat Boone, Tex Ritter, Jimmy Dean, Chet Atkins, Roger Miller and Roy Acuff. Did I say star-studded? Make that Hall-of-Fame worthy. I’m not a fan of Country music, but even I’ll admit this is the cream of the crop of the industry, a lineup you’re not apt to top any time soon.
Some highlights from the week:
Monday Night Football! Well kinda, but not really… On Monday the Packers and Cowboys face off in Dallas in a Monday night special, starting at 8:30CT.* This was one of a handful of Monday night games that the AFL and NFL did in the late 60s, likely as a trial for a regular series. Classic TV Sports Media can probably confirm this, but as I recall NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle offered CBS rights to the Monday night games, and the network declined (probably due to the strength of their Monday night lineup), whereupon ABC became the lucky winner.
*Pre-empting Family Affair and Carol Burnett. Once again we see how late in the evening this game was airing, to create as little disruption in the regular CBS schedule as possible. It may have helped that CBS did not at the time have a late-night talk show in their lineup.
You Don’t Say! Not the game show, but the Tuesday matinee movie on Channel 11, which would have passed through theaters without much notice, but must have raised an eyebrow or two with this showing. It’s called The Tall Target, made in 1951, and I’m going to repeat the listing in its entirety.
In 1861, New York policeman John Kennedy uncovers a plot to assassinate President Lincoln.
Obviously, Kennedy (played by Dick Powell) succeeds in saving the President’s life – this time. But how weird is this? I know there’s a list out there of coincidences between presidents Lincoln and Kennedy (Lincoln’s secretary was named Kennedy, JFK’s was named Lincoln; both had VPs named Johnson, etc.) but this has to be one of the strangest. I really do wonder how this kind of movie went down in this era, five years after Kennedy’s assassination. Did anyone even notice the coincidence?
The People’s Choice. I’m thinking back to a couple of weeks ago, and that writers’ roundtable on the future of television drama. CBS Playhouse recently presented a production of J.P. Miller’s original drama “The People Next Door,” which, according to The New York Times, “socked the facts of life to its audience with a bluntness of language and a vividness of depiction that mark a definite turning point in the evolution of the medium.” I’m sure Gene Roddenberry and Sterling Silliphant approve, but what did the viewers think? Says CBS: “more than four-to-one ‘not just favorable, but terribly enthusiastic… Little feeling that TV had overstepped the bounds.” The audience: 25 million, which would knock ‘em dead today.
Letters, we get letters… Letters to the Editor almost always tell us something about the culture, by giving us an insight into the minds of the viewers out there in greater TV land. Margaret Gist of Visalia, California, complains at the recent butcherings of the National Anthem – first at the Democratic Convention, and more recently by Jose Feliciano at the World Series. I’m not quite sure who the butcher was at the DNC, but I remember the stir that Feliciano created with his rendition. Today, it wouldn’t even attract a ripple of attention – that boat sailed long ago with Marvin Gaye’s version at the NBA All Star Game many years ago, and with today’s diva hysterics, you could make a compelling argument that Feliciano’s treatment of the Anthem was actually quite dignified.
Bruce Stephenson from Portland, Indiana, complains about the content of today’s soap operas. “All one gets is an immense feeling of depression. No wonder we have such a high rate of divorces, illegitimacies and family problems.” What I find interesting about his letter is that it comes from a time when “divorces, illegitimacies and family problems” were actually acknowledged as being bad for society. There’s no stigma involved with them today (depending on exactly what the “family problem” is), but reminds us of when many people believed there were certain decencies (for lack of a better word) to observe. They weren’t always done correctly, but at least they existed.
Some things never change – Debbi Krueger, writing from Fremont, California, comments that NBC’s recent showing of Cat Ballou “should have been entitled “Wednesday Night at the Commercials – with Bits and Pieces of ‘Cat Ballou’.” And that’s why we have movie channels like TCM today, Debbi.
(As an aside, sportswriter John Steadman echoes Debbi’s complaints in an article spotlighting how disruptive television, with its endless commercial breaks and even more frequent plugs for upcoming network shows, is driving him crazy as well as ruining the flow of the game for those in attendance. And that was in 1968 – since then, the average time of a football game as probably increased by a half-hour.)
Finally, Bill deRaac, from north of the border in Victoria, British Columbia, asks a quite sensible question: “If Mr. Spock is so darned smart, why isn’t he captain of Enterprise?” S. Harris, the TV Jibe cartoonist, has a similar thought:
On occasion we’ve taken a look at some of the ads the networks have for their upcoming shows. Each network tends to have its own style template, which I think works with varying degrees of success. Take this CBS ad for the Thursday Night Movie:
Kind of minimal, don’t you think? It reminds me of the kind of notice you’d have for the late-late show. Definitely looks cheap, not to mention easy to miss, but maybe the Tiffany Network figured they didn’t need to oversell, and that all the whitespace would make the ad look dignified.
This one is for NBC’s Monday Night at the Movies. It probably helps that Exodus has an explosive logo that can be included, but the overall presentation remains clean and attention-grabbing, and leaves the impression that this is not just a movie, but an event.
ABC’s approach is something of a combination. With Is Paris Burning?, ABC tries to impress you with the sheer number of stars in the movie, expecting you to be duly overwhelmed, but the arial font just isn’t that special, and although the repetition of the movie’s logo in the simulated film frames is clever, the whole thing just doesn’t draw the eye toward it. It’s better than CBS’ plain Times New Roman, I think, but in all other ways both networks come up short when measured against NBC.
Let’s end the week with a look at the TV Teletype, see if we can find anything that augers well (or ill) for the future. Like this! “ROBERT REED, long-time Defender, has a lead in Paramount’s pilot The Brady Brood, a half-hour comedy for producer SHERWOOD SCHWARTZ (Gilligan’s Island). FLORENCE HENDERSON plays REED’s wife in the series about a widow with three daughters who marries a widower with three sons. ANN B. DAVIS, Schultzy on the old Bob Cummings Show, is the housekeeper.” Also reported: JOHN FORSYTHE heads to Copenhagen to work on the new Hitchcock movie, Topaz. But not everyone is so lucky – RICH LITTLE is lined up for a sitcom called Pioneer Spirit, from the makers of Green Acres and Petticoat Junction, and RICARDO MONTALBAN heads up a two-hour TV flick called Joaquin Murietta, which 20th Century Fox hopes to make into a weekly show. I guess they were destined to be LOST IN SPACE.