November 2, 2013

This week in TV Guide: November 4, 1967

Back in the day – “the day” in this case being before DVDs, before VHS, before even TCM – there were only two ways to catch classic movies. One was to see them in a revival or art house theater, the other came courtesy of The Late Late Show on local TV.

My personal guide to the classic movie was the Academy Awards program listing that appeared each year in TV Guide. As a studious lad in college, I’d spend the last half-hour or so of each day in the periodicals stacks of the library, going through bound issues of TV Guide from the past dozen or so years, developing the pop culture interests that have stayed with me to this day. The Oscar Close-Up would feature pictures of the nominees for Best Actor and Best Actress, plus a list of the nominees in Picture, Supporting Actor and Actress, Director, and Song, and as a top-line guide to movies, it wasn’t bad. I’d make mental lists of the movies I hadn’t heard of, less well-known movies that struck me as interesting or at least intriguing, and I’d keep an eye out for them when they ran on local TV. I saw a lot of good movies that way – This Sporting Life (with nominees Richard Harris and Rachel Roberts), Séance on a Wet Afternoon (Kim Stanley), Tom Jones (the movie, not the singer – Best Picture of 1963), Becket (Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole), among others. Many of them were not what I expected at all, which increased my personal pleasure.

One of those little-known movies was a British film called The Mark, a bleak story of a man trying to rebuild his life after being released from prison for child molestation. It starred Stuart Whitman, an B-actor better known for television, who’d somehow copped a nomination for Best Actor. He didn't win – Maximilian Schell did, for Judgment at Nuremberg*), but The Mark was an obscure movie that was well worth watching.

*Fun fact: Maximilian Schell’s sister, Maria, was Whitman’s co-star in The Mark.

Stuart Whitman’s on the cover of TV Guide this week for what is probably his best-known role: Marshal Jim Crown in Cimarron Strip, CBS’ 90-minute answer to the mega-Westerns Wagon Train and The Virginian. Actually, Cimarron Strip bears more resemblance to another CBS oater, Gunsmoke – no surprise, since the series is helmed by that show’s former executive producer, Philip Leacock. Whitman hopes Cimarron Strip will be the start of a new stage in his career, which to date has consisted mostly of roles that had originally been intended for others: Darby’s Rangers (Charlton Heston), The Story of Ruth (Stephen Boyd), The Sound and the Fury (Robert Wagner), An American Dream (David Janssen). Even The Mark was inherited from Richard Burton, and despite the nomination, Whitman concedes, “I wasn’t sure I was in the right profession.” He feels that this role “is definitely going to hit me with an image. It’s the image that makes the star. I’m on the brink of the stardom that I’ve always sought and wanted. I wasn’t ready for it before.”

Whitman’s confidence in Cimarron Strip is misplaced – the show, perennially over-budget, will only run for one season – but his career will continue, never as the star he’d hoped to be, with a few more movie roles and plenty of guest appearances in series, not to mention a turn as Superman’s Earthly father in The Adventures of Superboy.

***

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: Tony Bennett; jazz clarinetist Woody Herman and his Swinging Herd; singer Shirley Bassey; comedians Marty Allen and Steve Rossi, Rodney Dangerfield and Totie Fields; accordionist Dick Contino; and the Jovers, comedy-acrobatic team.

Palace: Host Sid Caesar, with Marlo “That Girl” Thomas; singers Sergio Franchi and Fran Jeffries; and the pop-rocking Checkmates.

Am I excited about this matchup? No, but there’s more than enough here to work with. ABC, in its infinite wisdom, has moved Palace to Tuesdays to make room for Dale Robertson’s Western The Iron Horse. (That move doesn’t last long.) The show has a mensch with Caesar, a miss with Marlo, and “meh” with the rest. By contrast, Sullivan packs more star power – and in a rarity for these old TV Guides, several of them are still going strong, including Bennett and Bassey*. I never cared much for Allen and Rossi, but they were big stuff in 1968, and Dangerfield was getting plenty of respect as well. And Woody Herman? Well, he was the halftime entertainment at Super Bowl VII. I assume there was no wardrobe malfunction involved. The verdict: Sullivan.

*Not sure who Shirley Bassey is? Listen to the theme to Goldfinger.

***

This week’s cover promises something different, and that something is PBL.

The Public Broadcast Laboratory, premiering Sunday, November 5, is a first for the nation's fledgling public television system: the first time a show will be broadcast nationwide on the same day at the same time.  It's intent, according to Richard K. Doan, is to "try just about everything its producers can think of that will demonstrate what Public Television ought to be."

The major domo of PBL is Fred Friendly, former head of CBS News, now the TV consultant to the Ford Foundation, which will be underwriting the venture.  Bossing the project for him is Av Westin, formerly executive producer of CBS' election coverage.  The host is Edward P. Morgan, ABC news anchorman, who is taking a two-year sabbatical from the network to helm the program.

Note the lit candle used as the "I" in the word
"Television" - possibly alluding to the flame in
the NET logo shown here.
The challenge to PBL is the challenge that PBS has faced ever since, in microcosm: "They do not want to appear to strive for broad mass appeal, a la commercial TV, and must perforce adopt the stance that since they are not interested in ratings they can afford, if they so choose, sometimes to devote their attention to a subject palpably interesting to 50,000 people" rather than the audience of millions that tune into commercial broadcasts.  At the same time, "it would be helpful to the cause of Public Television if they could create excitement at the very outset."  Failing that, the program "could be quickly dismissed as a dud."  It's this lack of identity, not to mention mission, that's plagued the network ever since.

Fish or fowl?  Experimental programs or Britcoms?  Classical opera or seniors-tour pop stars?  PBS has never really made up its mind, with the result that increasingly the network doesn't seem capable of doing anything exactly right.  It's hard enough when you try to be all things to all people, but as Doan points out, PBL has to "come on like Gangbusters and seem nonchalant about it."

Nowhere is this more evident than in the very structure of a typical PBL episode, which could include news, drama, satire, music, and discussion - all within one two-hour slot.  Originally, according to Ford Foundation president McGeorge Bundy, the show's objective was to "pull together the intellectual and cultural resources of this country to speak directly, once a week, to the great issues of the day in every field of action."  Westin, referring to the popular magazines of the day, vowed to present "everything from Harper's to Playboy - without the latter's centerfold."  At the same time, Westin talked of live drama with a regular repertory company, commentary ranging from political pundit Walter Lippmann to Groucho Marx, an "in depth" examination of vital issues such as Vietnam and race relations, and even "consumer reports done with the slickness of TV commercials."  The show might even go on the road from time to time, broadcasting from locations other than its New York studio.

PBL will run for two years, eventually giving way on Sunday nights to the British drama The Forsythe Saga, forerunner to Masterpiece Theatre.  The show receives many critical plaudits and more than a few brickbats.  It retrospect, it seems impossible that any program could hope to capture the ambitious variety of PBL, and in truth the network probably would have been better served to figure out what PBL could do best and stick to it.  As it is, PBL remains at the same time both a tantalizing hint as to what Public Broadcasting could have been, and a reminder of how in so many ways it has failed totally.

Television Obscurities has a very good overview of PBL here.

***
Anything interesting on the tube this week?  Let's take a look.

Chet Huntley and David Brinkley make a rare joint prime-time appearance on Friday night with a first look at the upcoming Presidential race.  The issues, it appears, have already been brought to a head: Vietnam and the inner cities.  (Of course, 1968 has even more horrors in store.)  What's particularly interesting is the cast of candidates whose strengths and weaknesses are surveyed: President Johnson, at this point the presumptive Democratic nominee, is the lone Democrat profiled; on the Republican side are the four men who do, in fact, dominate much of the pre-election speculation: George Romney, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Nelson Rockefeller.*  And then there's the wildcard - Alabama Governor George Wallace, who will run on a third-party ticket in an effort to throw the electoral vote into the House of Representatives.

*Between the two parties, a veritable Murderer's Row of heavy-hitting politicians.  Perhaps it's just me, but the larger-than-life persona of national figures seems to have shrunk dramatically over the decades.

While LBJ might seem the sure thing for the Democrats, I find it interesting that his first major rival, Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy, is a guest on the Mike Douglas show on Channel 4 Thursday afternoon.  McCarthy has been hinting for some time that he might challenge the President, and he's less than a month from making the formal announcement of his candidacy.  Clean Gene's fellow guests include Anne Baxter and Booker T. and the MGs.  Must have been an interesting show.

Bob Hope appears in an NBC special Wednesday night, a kind of meta-concept show that nicely summarizes the state of television in the late 1960s.  The variety show concept as presented by Hope is itself kind of hoary, increasingly out of touch with contemporary culture, and the premise of this one - a star-studded battle between Westerns and sitcoms* for control of NBC's schedule - illustrates the changing tides.  "Cowboys have taken over TV, leaving the comedians up in arms and out of work.  Hope's mission is to don a disguise, sneak into the Westerners' secret meeting - and arrange a shootin' showdown between the cowpunchers and the punch liners."  As TV Guide points out, the irony is that all season long the sitcoms have dominated the Westerns in the ratings race (ask Stuart Whitman how well that worked out), meaning the show's premise - like the variety show itself - is already approaching obsolescence.  Within a few years, Westerns will have virtually disappeared from the screen, and variety isn't far behind.

*Virtually all of the stars on both "sides" are featured in various NBC properties.  Imagine that.

How about some prime-time golf?  It's possible when your tournament is being played in Oahu.  Syndicated coverage of the Hawaiian Open, which nowadays is called the Sony Open and is played in January, airs at 6:30ET on Saturday, 6:00ET on Sunday.  Actually, given the time difference, it could have been televised a lot later in the evening than that; tournaments from California had occasionally veered into prime time in the past, and more recently NBC's U.S. Open coverage from San Francisco ran until 10pm ET.

More conventional Sunday sports: football!  Again, having the Minnesota Vikings playing at home, not to mention including Wisconsin and Iowa channels in the Guide, means our TV games are all over the place. KGLO in Mason City, IA, has the Bears-Lions game from Detroit, while the rest of the CBS affiliates in Minnesota and Wisconsin carry the Packers-Colts showdown in Baltimore.  But it's doubleheader Sunday, which means that the affiliates outside the blackout area will carry the Giants-Vikings game, joined in progress, after the conclusion of the first game.  Sorry Twin Cities, but you're study with Gadabout Gaddis and Almanac Newsreel.  Over on the NBC affiliates, it's the Jets vs. the Chiefs from Kansas City, and given that NBC's top crew of Curt Gowdy and Paul Christman are on the scene, I'm guessing this is probably the feature game of the day.

***

November is soup season, and what TV Guide would be complete without a recipe for something you can enjoy while seated in front of the tube.  So let's close with this recipe for minestrone - serves 10-12, and goes great with a crusty piece of Italian bread!


Sauté onion, carrot, celery and garlic in olive oil until golden.  Add chicken broth, water and tomato sauce. When soup begins to boil, add vegetables and macaroni.  Cook until macaroni is tender.  Add remaining ingredients and stir until well blended.  Reheat.  It may be necessary to add salt and pepper to taste.

- Helen Feingold, food consultant

If any of you out there try it, let us know how it turned out!

3 comments:

  1. Perhaps the biggest TV event of that week was on Thursday morning, November 9th: The first test launch of the massive Saturn 5 rocket, which would later send men to the Moon.

    All three networks aired the launch live; CBS's Walter Cronkite excitedly described the rocket's ascent of the launch pad while shock waves from the rocket were causing part of his anchor trailer to cave-in (you can watch this on You Tube).

    For later launches, CBS and the other networks built stronger anchor studio buildings at Cape Canaveral.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes! I remember that launch, and how excited Cronkite got.

      At least I think I remember it; I was an avid follower of the space program as a kid, so I'm pretty sure I'm not remembering it from YouTube. On the other hand, it was a school day - but they might have brought a TV into the classroom to show us the launch.

      At any rate, you're right - it's a great clip.

      Delete
  2. I wonder...did ABC decide to move IRON HORSE when CBS announced it was cancelling GUNSMOKE, in the hope of attracting Western fans--or when the network reversed itself and put Marshall Dillon back, in the Monday at 7:30 ET slot, where IRON HORSE was airing?

    ReplyDelete

And now for something completely different.