November 16, 2013

This week in TV Guide: November 16, 1963

On Friday night's episode of Route 66, "After he stops Nola Neilsen from committing suicide, Linc becomes romantically involved with her - which disturbs the girl's possessive brother."  Meanwhile, on 77 Sunset Strip, "Chuck Gates has been sentenced to death for murder, but his father, big-time politician 'Boss' Gates, employs Stu to prove his son was framed."  And Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre presents John O'Hara's "It's Mental Work," adapted by Rod Serling: "Too long a bar owner, Ernie Wigman wants to sell out, preferably to his bartender Rich.  Rich has a yen for the bar; he just hasn't got the cash."

In sports, the Los Angeles Lakers take on the San Francisco Warriors from the Cow Palace, and at Madison Square Garden Mauro Mina and Allen Thomas face off in a light-heavyweight bout.  On Jack Paar's prime-time show, Liberace plays the piano while Cassius Clay recites poetry.  Cliff Arquette and dancer Gil Lamb are Steve Allen's guests on Los Angeles' KTLA, while on San Diego's KFMB, the Allen show features jazz pianist George Shearing and singers Howard Keel and Vikki Carr.

Friday morning and afternoon are filled with game shows, soap operas, matinee movies and sitcom reruns - Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Lena Horne wind up a week as the celebrity guests on Password, on Father Knows Best, "Bud dates a beauty-contest winner," and on The Doctors, "Laura breaks her engagement."  Among the late night movies, KTLA is showing Berlin Correspondent, in which "A daring correspondent (Dana Andrews) attempts to sneak out secret information," and KNXT's Late Show is The Big Lift, "The story of the American airlift in 1958 when the Russians blocked off Berlin," starring Montgomery Clift and Paul Douglas.

In other words, it's a day pretty much like any other day.  Except, of course, it wasn't.


The first television bulletins interrupted regular programming around 1:25 pm Eastern time - most famously breaking into As the World Turns on CBS and the aforementioned rerun of Father Knows Best on many ABC affiliates.


If you were watching television in Dallas, as I do right now, you might have seen this bulletin on WFAA, the ABC affiliate in DFW:


In Southern California, where this TV Guide hails from, the news would have hit just after mid-morning, which means they lived with the shock waves for most of that day.  While Air Force One landed at Andrews Air Force Base at 6 pm, in a shroud of comforting darkness; it was only 3 in the afternoon in Los Angeles, where they had to do without the protection of nightfall - exposed, if you will, to the sun, where only the shadows offer any type of cover, any hope of escape.*

*As was the case in the entire country on 9/11, where West Coast viewers woke up to the news.  People everywhere were denied even the slight comfort of November 22, 1963, an early nightfall.

Most of these programs would air later, perhaps the following Friday or a few weeks hence.  There was nothing particularly remarkable about any of them, nothing that would stand out in the days or weeks to come.  Compared to the live drama that was actually playing out on television, there was nothing important about them at all. In the days and weeks to come, their escapism would come as a relief to a nation that had been scourged by what had happened.

But even for those shows that were delayed by only a week, the world in which they had been made and that in which they would be shown were two completely different worlds, and the medium on which they were broadcast had changed irrevocably.

***

On the cover this week are James Franciscus* and Dean Jagger, stars of the relevant school drama Mr. Novak.  Franciscus is still smarting somewhat from having lost out to Richard Chamberlain for the title role in NBC's hit medical series Dr. Kildare.  "I loved the Kildare story," says Franciscus, "and the script was one of the finest ever written," but Franciscus - who'd previously starred in Naked City and was the producers' first choice to play Kildare - is stymied by a previous contract to appear in Band of Gold, a series that never makes it to a network slot.  "I'm one of those people who believe things have a way of working out for the best," he says, perhaps trying to make the best of the situation.

*Fun fact: James Franciscus will go on to play John F. Kennedy to Jaclyn Smith's Jackie Kennedy in the 1981 made-for-TV flick Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy.  As Time Magazine notes, he also plays a thinly-disguised version of JFK in the "no, it's not about Aristotle Onassis" movie The Greek Tycoon, neither of which would probably have been made had the events of November 22 not happened.

Novak is praised by some educators for dealing with real-life situations, but panned by others for portraying a teacher "too good to be true."  In fact, although he's fondly remembered for Mr. Novak, it only runs for two seasons as opposed to the five for Kildare, and though he'll go on to play the blind private investigator Longstreet in 1971, he'll never quite reach the heights that Chamberlain held during the heyday of Kildare.

***

Now, does anything quite capture the tenor of 60s television like the name Paul Henning?

In case the name doesn't ring a bell, Henning is the king of country comedy: creator of one of the most successful television series of all time, The Beverly Hillbillies and its companion program, the first-season hit Petticoat Junction.  And, though we don't know it, he'll have yet another success in 1965 with Green Acres.  Right now he's making a ton of money for his masters at CBS, who gave him the green light for Petticoat without even requiring a pilot.

Henning started out life as a singer in Kansas City, before becoming a disc jockey, announcer and writer.  A neighbor who heard him sing suggested he go into politics, but he passed on that one, opting instead for the studying law.  (That neighbor, by the  way, was Harry S Truman.  But what did he know, right?)  He finally had success in radio, writing scripts for Fibber McGee and Molly and Burns and Allen, before making the transition to television, and the rest is history.

His wife says she can take or leave Hillbillies; "I prefer something a little more sophisticated."  But for Henning, there's nothing like "The country boy who outslicks the city slicker."  And as for his most famous creation, he's not surprised by the success.  "Underneath, Jed Clampett has a certain dignity.  You might even say all the virtues.  I'd be proud to have him in my house."

***

I’ve often wondered how people get used to watching sporting events early in the morning, or late at night. When I lived in the Eastern time zone, for example, it wasn’t uncommon for a big game to begin after 9 pm, and finish close to midnight, if not after.  This week we see the opposite problem, as Saturday’s college game of the week between Notre Dame and Michigan State kicks off at 10:45 am.  The teams are three years from their 1966 "Game of the Century," and right now they're headed in opposite directions.  Notre Dame is suffering through one of their worst seasons ever; they'll finish 2-7, and are only spared further embarrassment because their November 23 game against Iowa is cancelled due to the Kennedy assassination.  Michigan State, on the other hand, is in the thick of the battle for the Big Ten championship. On this day they defeat Notre Dame 12-7; they'll lose on November 28 to Illinois, a defeat that costs them a trip to the Rose Bowl, but they're in the process of building a team that will win the mythical national championship in 1965.

As for the hapless Irish, they'll fire head coach Hugh Devore at the end of the season, replacing him with Northwestern coach Ara Parseghian.  Under Parseghian's leadership, the "Era of Ara" begins; the team misses the 1964 title only by losing to USC in the last name of the season, and they capture national championships of their own in 1966 and 1973.

We see the same situation of early kickoff times on Sunday, where both NFL and AFL games start early. And since we haven't yet reached the days of automatic doubleheaders, the football action is pretty much wrapped up by early afternoon.  The Rams (who are still in LA at this point) and Lions face off at 10:30, while the Chargers take on the Bills at 11:00. As someone who used to plan an entire weekend around Sunday afternoon's games, this would have taken an extreme amount of getting used to.

It all goes to show why, in my opinion, the Central time zone is the most conducive to television entertainment.  Prime time runs from 7 to 10 pm, and if you're a local news fan you can easily catch the late report.  Saturday's football begins at 11 and Sunday's at noon, and you can usually see a midweek game starting at 6 or 6:30, meaning you don't have to feel as if you're sitting around waiting for time to fly by.

***

This being my first crack at a SoCal TV Guide, there are all kinds of odds and ends you don't see in the typical Minnesota edition.  For example, there's the Jack Barry Show Saturdays at 7 pm on KTLA.  Barry has turned to local television after being frozen out of network TV in the wake of the quiz show scandal, and his popular talk/variety show is a step on the road back to the national spotlight.  KTLA's news team features a couple of faces that would become recognizable in the future: Joe Benti, later the host of the CBS Morning News, and Tom Snyder, who carves out a niche for himself as host of NBC's Tomorrow show, as well as anchoring the first prime-time newsbrief.  Chick Hearn, the legendary play-by-play man for the Los Angeles Lakers, does the sports on KNBC.  Clete Roberts, who bears a passing resemblance to Ron Burgandy (and who you might remember from an episode of M*A*S*H in which he plays himself), helms the news on KHJ, and Ralph Story, another former game-show host, presents "The Human Predicament" on KNXT's The Big News.

There are four independent stations in Los Angeles, three more than existed in Minneapolis at the time, which provides a nice mix of local and syndicated programming.  There's plenty of local sports - in addition to the Lakers game I mentioned earlier, the minor league Los Angeles Blades hockey team plays the San Francisco Seals earlier in the week.  News is big in LA, and competitive - most of the local stations have full-page ads for their coverage, and the Big News is one of the very first hour-long newscasts.

In other news, ABC News Reports has the first television appearance of the Fischer Quintuplets, the first surviving quints to be born in the United States.  Bob Young, a future anchor of the ABC evening news, is the host.  There's a well-done feature on Discovery, the educational ABC program for kids, hosted by Frank Buxton and Virginia Gibson.  And there's a profile of Meredith MacRae, daughter of singing star Gordon and actress Sheila, currently appearing on My Three Sons, later to become the third Billie Jo in the aforementioned Petticoat Junction.  But I think it's all just an excuse for a very nice photo op.



***

Oh, and that episode of Jack Paar with Liberace and Clay, which had been taped in advance, would air the following week (preceded by a new intro from Paar referencing what had happened the previous week).  In case you've ever wondered how Liberace and Muhammad Ali would get along together, here's your chance. All things considered, not a bad way to end a bad week.



2 comments

  1. Just discovered your website. First thing I saw was this TV Guide post which referenced a TV Guide from Southern California. It is hard to find things online having anything to do with early L.A. television. I've been trying for years, for example, to find the themes/movie intros from KNXT's(now KCBS Ch. 2)"The Fabulous 52!" & "The Early Show/The Late Show", all of which hail from the '60's & '70's. So, as you see, any little tidbit from classic L.A. television is greatly appreciated! Please feature more TV Guides from L.A. & keep up the good work:)

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    1. Thanks, Alma. This is the first TV Guide I've reviewed from SoCal, the only one in my collection in fact. However, that doesn't mean it will be the last one - I'll keep my eyes out for future issues, and gladly share them when I get them. Thanks for the kind words - welcome aboard!

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