June 30, 2013

This week in TV Guide: June 28, 1975

We've been spending some time lately in the dark years of the late 60s, and frankly I'm a little tired of it, so let's jump ahead a decade to the beginning of the Bicentennial year.  True, when we think of the American Revolution Bicentennial the date that comes to mind is July 4, 1976 - but it was a year-long celebration, which actually ended on that date.*  And we needed to celebrate - we were coming off from Watergate, "Whip Inflation Now" Buttons were in vogue - come to think of it, maybe the times weren't that much better than 1968 at that.

*It doesn't quite explain why the Rose Bowl chose to adorn the gridiron with an American shield and eagles on January 1, 1975 - I guess they really wanted to get a head start.

***

I realize that 1975 is almost 40 years ago, but when viewed from the perspective of 50s and 60s TV, it most definitely was the future. The Western was dead, and the variety show was dying, and the era of live broadcasting was pretty much confined to sports and news. The networks had long since gone to an all-color schedule, so much so that TV Guide had stopped indicating which shows were colorcast, and now saved that distinction for old movies and occasional reruns in black and white. TV Guide itself had introduced a new, more modern typeset that was supposed to be sleeker, even as it lost something in character. And yet for all that, there’s still something familiar about this week’s listings, the past casting a shadow over the present.  In fact, they read something like the schedule for Me-TV, Antenna or Cozi.

This 1968 ad for WTCN shows that what's old is new again.
And that's the interesting thing - we consider those shows classics, we cheer their arrivals on DVD, and we debate the status of the ones that have yet to be released.  But in 1975, so many of them were still on TV, years after they'd disappeared from network schedules, and for old farts like me, we probably didn't think twice about them.

Channel 11 was the independent channel in the Twin Cities in 1975, so you'd expect they'd have a host of old reruns on their schedule, and they do.  Just look at their regular Monday through Friday lineup: (I've put an asterisk next to the shows that were in color; everything else was in B&W.)

10:00am - Father Knows Best
10:30am - The Andy Griffith Show
11:00am - The Lucy Show
12:30pm - That Girl
3:00pm - Petticoat Junction*
3:30pm - Bewitched
5:00pm - The Mickey Mouse Club
5:30pm - Star Trek*
6:30pm - The Andy Griffith Show
7:00pm - Ironside*
10:00pm - The F.B.I.*
11:00pm - Perry Mason
12:00am - Alfred Hitchcock Presents
12:30am - Alfred Hitchcock Presents

And that doesn't even count the weekends, which included shows like Gentle Ben, It Takes a Thief, Bracken's World and The Virginian.  Granted, several of these series were only a few years old, and they probably still would have been considered part of the TV landscape in the same way as we might look at Friends, Cheers or Seinfeld.  Still, it's entertaining to think about this, especially if you're a classic TV buff.  Think of what we could have done with a VCR back then!

The network affiliates have less room for old reruns, but they have their share as well, especially on the weekends.  Channel 4 (CBS) has The Saint, Channel 5 (NBC) offers a weekday afternoon block of Dick Van Dyke, The Mod Squad and Hogan's Heroes, and Channel 9 (ABC) runs The Name of the Game and The Untouchables.*

*The most interesting program in this lineup.  It's already been off the air over a decade, and during its original run it was considered one of the most violent programs on television; more about that in a minute.

Again, not to put too fine a point on this, but its quite interesting how many of these shows were on without any particular fanfare.  A decade later there was Nick at Night, and locally Channel 41, KXLI, would offer "TV Heaven," with nothing but old programs.  Today we love our classic TV networks; back then, they were just part of the programming day.

***

Another thing we loved in the day was the local movie.  They're all over the place on this week in 1975 - Channel 4 with one in the afternoon (following CBS' game show block) and another following the 10pm news (CBS doesn't have a late night show at this point), Channel 9 with a late movie following ABC's Wide World of Entertainment, and Channel 11 with a 1pm matinee.  Only Channel 5, with Johnny Carson and Tom Snyder established in the late night hours, lacked a weekday local movie slot.

The weekends, though - that's where the movie payoff is.  All four stations have movies on Saturday night following the local news - Channel 4 has Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Channel 5 follows the Carson rerun* with a double feature - The Giant Claw and The Monolith Monsters, Channel 9 has the movie version of McHale's Navy, a 93 minute movie which they've managed to stretch into a 2½ hour timeslot, and Channel 11 has Guns at Batasi and Horrors of the Black Museum.  Channel 4 also has morning and late-night movies on Sunday, and they're joined in the overnight hours with movies on both Channel 9 and Channel 2, the PBS station.

*NBC showed "Best of" episodes of Carson prior to the introduction of Saturday Night Live.

Are there many local stations that show movies nowadays?  A few, here and there, but even though all of them broadcast 24 hours, they seem to have less and less time for movies.  Not that there aren't movies on television, of course - there are entire networks devoted to them, and film aficionados have gotten used to seeing their movies uninterrupted and uncut, which they seldom ever were on local television.  But in the timeslots that used to be devoted to movies, we now have sports, daytime talk shows, and infomercials.  Especially infomercials.  What else can I say about infomercials, except that they're a pox on the viewing landscape.

***

The big show on TV this week, one that I remember vividly, is Tom Snyder's six-hour Tomorrow marathon ringing in the Bicentennial year.  Snyder had his share of freak guests, but Tomorrow was often a literate, intriguing program, which I was only able to watch during the summer since it wasn't on Fridays.  (The Midnight Special was.)  Beginning at midnight and running until 6am Friday morning, it's a wonderful glimpse at Americana - cities preparing for parades, a reenactment of the writing of "The Star-Spangled Banner," and experts offering their thoughts on America's future.  Snyder also gets very loopy without enough sleep.*

*Remind me to tell you sometime about his recreation of the sinking of the Titanic.

NBC has another 4th of July show on Thursday night, the Stars and Stripes Show from Oklahoma City, which they broadcast annually from 1972 to 1976.  This year's show features Bob Hope, Charley Pride, Anita Bryant, John Davidson and Juliet Prowse.  It likely wasn't much different from any musical comedy show of the day, and probably was yet another aging reminder of TV's past, with increasingly less and less relevance to today's viewer.

***

There are some other interesting articles on TV's future, which I might get into at a later date.  But before we leave, one final note dealing with local movies.  Channel 9's Friday night feature is the 1964 version of The Killers, starring Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson and Ronald Reagan, which you might recall was intended to be the first-ever made-for-TV movie before it was deemed too violent and was released to theaters instead. It follows Channel 9's showing of The Untouchables.  Fascinating, isn't it? For all that talk we had last week about violence on TV, here we have the one-time most violent show on television, and a movie that was judged too violent for TV.

So what happened to all that hand-wringing over TV violence?  Did it just fade away?  Did our society become so much more violent that these programs actually paled in comparison?  Did people not care, since these were on late at night?  I wonder, of those people who wrote and campaigned against gratuitous TV violence, if any of them would have been surprised to see these on a local station, just seven years later?

June 26, 2013

No laughing matter

Last week’s TV Guide offered an interesting glimpse into the state of children’s programming circa 1968, one that deserves a closer look. By 1968, most children’s shows were confined to Saturday mornings, with the exception of local kids’ shows, which were to continue in their morning and late afternoon slots for a few more years, and Captain Kangaroo, the only remaining weekday network children’s program from a genre that had once included Howdy Doody and The Mickey Mouse Club.*

*Sesame Street wouldn’t premiere for over a year, and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood had yet to move into the Minneapolis-St. Paul market, where it would eventually bump such shows as Managers in Action.

But as we look at this Saturday morning, Mickey Mouse – as well as Bugs Bunny, Donald Duck, Alvin, Popeye and other classic cartoon characters are nowhere to be seen. What do we see?

CBS: Frankenstein, Jr., Herculoids, Shazzan!, Space Ghost, Moby Dick, Superman/Aquaman, Jonny Quest

NBC: Super 6, Super President, Young Samson, Birdman, Atom Ant/Secret Squirrel, Cool McCool

ABC: Milton the Monster, Casper, The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Journey to the Center of the Earth, King Kong

With the exception of a few standards, such as The Flintstones, we are left with, in the words, of Robert Higgins, the “Weirdo Superheroes.” As Higgins notes in an article from the March 23, 1968 TV Guide, “three-quarters of the cartoons being aired on all three networks fall into the Weirdo Superhero category.” And it’s successful business for the networks: Higgins notes that they expect to make over $50,000,000 from these cartoons in 1968 alone.

I’d describe this lineup of cartons as “creative poverty.” The animation is often bad, the stories lame, the voice dubbing atrocious. Most of all, though, they’re all alike. Even for a medium like television, which has often found itself on the wrong end of arguments regarding originality, the children’s programming genre as we see it here is creatively bankrupt.

To understand the development of children’s programming in this era will take more time and space than I have today, which is why I’ll be coming back to the subject next week. But the roots can probably be seen as far back as the late 1940’s and the advent of Howdy Doody. With this show, according to Steven Stark, came "a vast expansion of marketing to children" that had the byproduct of creating "the explosion of products designed to fuel the demand the ads created."  The strategy was wildly successful, as the sales figures indicated. By 1968 sponsors were paying nearly $10,000 a minute to advertise to an estimated audience of 14,000,000 kids.

Cartoons were profitable; that, we get. But where did the “Weirdo Superhero” come from? To a great extent, from where you’d expect it to come: comic books in general, and Marvel in particular. Said Stan Lee, who helped create (among others) Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and Iron Man), “Superheroes had been around for a million years. We revitalized them.” The “revitalized” superhero included character traits that kids could identify with - “hang-ups,” as Lee called them, such as acne, sinus trouble, and dating girls, problems that even their superpowers couldn’t overcome. Within the superhero genre was a sub-category – the “ugly hero,” such as The Thing. “People can identify with someone who’s not beautiful,” Lee said by way of explanation. “You say, ‘That guy could be me.’ But you still feel superior to him.”*

*It’s interesting, isn't it, how much this parallels the product in movie theaters today? I wonder how much of that is coincidence?

The angst-ridden superhero was designed to appeal to the growing awareness and sophistication of modern kids, who were growing up as the space program was reaching its cultural zenith. “Children today are highly sophisticated,” said Ed Vane, head of ABC’s daytime programming. “They don’t suspend that sophistication on Saturday morning.” The superhero was then grafted onto a format that had been a staple of children’s programming since the days of the Saturday matinee serial – the action-adventure genre. The result - well, you saw the result above.

It’s safe to say there was a fair amount of controversy about these cartoons, much of it centering on their violent content. Dr. Wilbur Schramm defended the content, saying that the true question revolved around “the kind of child we send to television, rather than television itself.” In other words, TV content can’t cause a problem that doesn’t already exist within the child. On the other hand, Dr. Fredric Wertham counters that “Television – and its display of violence – comes to the child with adult approval,” and that it’s foolish to think this doesn’t have an impact on the child. As I mentioned last week,* this is television’s eternal conundrum, with what might be TV’s version of Schrödinger's Cat: is it plausible to posit that viewers can be influenced by commercial content and not by the content of the program itself?

*Note that Higgins’ article comes before King, before RFK, before Chicago – would the reaction have been different if it had been written that fall, rather than that spring?

I’d interject here that there’s violence, and there’s violence. Violence has always been relative – NBC’s Larry White points out that “when we were kids, our parents had no idea what we were seeing in the movies on Saturdays.” I would strongly resist the idea that watching Bugs Bunny or the Road Runner or Tom and Jerry makes children more violent. That is, literally, “cartoon” violence, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to agree with Dr. Schramm here that any child who’d look to drop an anvil on his playmate because he saw it happen to Wile E. Coyote probably has a screw loose somewhere anyway.*

*I would include The Three Stooges in the category of “cartoon” violence even though it was live action, for a reason I get to below.

But if the “Weirdo Superhero” is supposed to relate to children in a different, more relevant, more realistic (or “sophisticated,” if you prefer) way, does it then stand to reason that the child sees this violence in a different, perhaps more malignant light? And isn’t it interesting to note how much this argument parallels the current argument about video games? Does the violence in the stunning realism of today’s video games somehow influence the effect it has on children, inuring them to the impact of the violence?

For all this, there’s only a brief mention of what struck me from the very outset when I looked at that Saturday schedule. I dubbed it “creative poverty,” and Higgins gives a specific description of what’s lacking: comedy. There’s no comedy in these cartoons. The Flintstones, which continued to run on ABC, is of course based on a sitcom, and Bullwinkle creator Jay Ward’s George of the Jungle (also on ABC) probably comes the closest to a new cartoon that’s simply funny. The Three Stooges, violent though it may be, was slapstick comedy. Take away the comedy, and you’re left with The Sopranos. Ward acknowledges the dearth of comical cartoons but acknowledges that “They’re [Weirdo Superheroes] getting the ratings and that’s all the networks care about.”

The burning question, I think, is this: why is children’s television so awful? Programs from Captain Kangaroo to Bugs Bunny to Mickey Mouse have demonstrated that it doesn’t have to be that way. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, there’s a very interesting answer to that, as we’ll find out next week.

June 22, 2013

This week in TV Guide: June 22, 1968

The nation's still reeling from the assassination of RFK a little over two weeks ago, and television is no exception.

Periodically throughout its history, the medium's majordomos have engaged in bouts of soul-searching, and as television increased in cultural importance, it displayed something of a schizophrenic attitude regarding its responsibility to society.  In the aftermath of RFK, all eyes turned toward the effect that TV might have had on creating a climate of violence.*

*We're not here to debate Sirhan Sirhan's guilt, but it does bear saying that if he was guilty, then his motivation was not violence on TV, but a hatred of RFK for his support of Israel.  The rest of this discussion would seem, to me at least, to be a moot point: Sirhan would have committed the deed even if the most violent thing on TV was a fluffy white kitten.


The Doan Report asks the question: "Had television's violence-prone "action-adventure" drama contributed substantially to today's climate of solution-by-murder?"  People from all walks debate the issue, from historian (and Kennedy camp follower) Arthur Schlessinger to playwrite Arthur Miller to the President of the United States himself, who asked "whether 'the seeds of violence' had been nurtured by TV, movies and news media."  The Louisville Times refers to "America the Brutal," and points the finger at TV as "a root" of the evil, using a picture of Richard Boone as Paladin in Have Gun - Will Travel as evidence.*

*I know it's hard to believe, considering what one sees on TV nowadays, but at one time HGWT was considered one of the most violent programs on television.

New York Representative John Murphy condemns the networks, saying that "[n]ight after night one program after the other shows violence in great detail and in living color."  Miller, the playwright, says that the country was now at the stage where "any half-educated man in a good suit can make his fortune by concocting a television show whose brutality is photographed in sufficiently monstrous detail."

It's not just politicians and pundits raising cain, though, as a perusal of the Letters to the Editor section will show.  Casey Willis of Tucson complains that although there have been hundreds of gun killings in the U.S., "many of the most popular shows on TV have been based on firearms and violence," and suggests that TV "should search its own soul."  Mary Hendrickson of Hudson, NY adds that "I can censor my own children's programs, but what of the children whose parents don't know or care what is pounded into their impressionable little heads?"  TV has done a good job covering the recent tragedies; now, "do something to prevent them."  And P. Corcoran of the Bronx says that "TV is one of the worst offenders in this crime" of violence flooding the country, citing Mission: Impossible as one of the shows "warping our youngsters."*

*See my comments on HGWT above.

One of the ways the networks have responded to this outcry of public opinion has been to pull its series' most violent episodes off the air - at least for the short term,as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago.  NBC released a statement assuring the public that they "have established policies and procedures to guard against the depiction of violence fore its own sake," and CBS president Frank Stanton promised that the network  "would seek to 'de-emphasize' violence" on their programs.

And so the landscape changes, for a time, and kinder, gentler programming is now the fashion.  But for how long?  I suppose there's any number of studies that could isolate when the trend toward more violent fare resumed.  No matter how noble the intent might be, ultimately ratings (and the concurrent advertising dollars) rule, and the viewers cast the deciding votes.  The level of violence on television today is astounding; I can't imagine what the people, who were so aghast at 60s violence, would think of it.  One could argue that, having grown up in a so-called culture of violence, people are more inured to it, and less likely to be influenced by it.  And yet, things seldom change much: every time there's a school shooting or bombing or other act of violence, the cry arises once again.  Lately, it's been over the violence in video games.

For a long time, television has attempted to have it both ways, downplaying the influence its programs have on viewers' behavior while at the same time accepting ads designed to - influence viewers' behavior.  That's always seemed a bit disingenuous to me.  Of course the content of television programming affects viewers. Likewise, though, there can't be much doubt that the audience is receptive and willing.  It's a chicken-and-egg situation - does the problem lie with the programming, or the people watching it?

***

One testimony to the effect of the assassination on television is the slew of shows bearing the legend "Postponed from an earlier date,"  the heaviest concentration of which appear on Saturday.  Although network coverage of the assassination and aftermath were nowhere near the 1963 levels, all three networks preempted virtually all of their Saturday programming for Kennedy's funeral and burial.  The intent was to return to regular programming at the start of prime time, but the funeral train was four-and-a-half hours late, and the entire slate wound up being wiped out.  The Prisoner, Hogan's Heroes, The Dating Game, Petticoat Junction, an ABC profile of land speed-record holder Craig Breedlove - all are victims of the accordion effect of postponements and rescheduling.

The Sunday chat shows reflect the political dynamic as well: Face the Nation features a showdown between Connecticut Senator Thomas Dodd (father of Chris) and NRA president Harold Glassen over the burning issue of gun control.  Presidential candidates Eugene McCarthy (Issues and Answers) and Nelson Rockefeller (Meet the Press) round out the day's guests, and I'm sure each of them touched on guns as well.

***

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..

Ed Sullivan: On this first in a series of reruns, CBS renames its Broadway theater in honor of Ed.  Guests: New York City mayor John Lindsay, Pearl Bailey, Alan King, Met baritone Robert Merrill, actress-dancer Gwen Verdon, comedians Wayne and Schuster, the Argentine singing group Los Nimos Cantores de Murialdo, and the Emerald Society pipe bands of New York's police and fire departments.

Hollywood Palace:  Guest host Sid Caesar dominates this hour of comedy and music.  Guests: Marlo Thomas, singers Sergio Franchi and Fran Jeffries, and the rocking Checkmates, Ltd.

It's rerun season, and interestingly enough, this particular show of Ed's has already appeared on our TV Guide review, back in December of 1967.  That time, I went with the Palace, partly because of John Lindsay's grandstanding appearance.  As I mentioned, CBS could just as well have had William Paley make the presentation instead of a hack politician.  This time, however, the decision goes the other way - no matter how good Sid Caesar might be, Marlo Thomas and the Checkmates are not going to edge out Pearl Bailey, Alan Kind and Robert Merrill.  Verdict:  Sullivan, the second time around.


***

The summer months mean not only reruns, but summer replacement series.  For those of you not familiar with that concept, back in the day many programs, particularly variety shows, took the summer off and were replaced with short-run series, also often variety shows.  So for example, on CBS the Smothers Brothers' summer replacement is the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, which does well enough in the ratings to merit a return engagement the following January, where it would remain until January 1972.  Red Skelton's off as well, replaced by Showtime, a variety show with a different host each week; this week, it's country singer Eddy Arnold, who also hosts NBC's Kraft Music Hall on NBC the next night.

Speaking of NBC, Dean Martin never worked summers, and the fill-in was invariably called Dean Martin Presents... For the summer of '68 he presents the Golddiggers, with Frank Sinatra, Jr. and Joey Heatherton.  Jerry Lewis' replacement is Showcase '68, with Lloyd Thaxton.

Another trend in summer replacements for all three networks is the British import, though few of them are as radical a change as Jackie Gleason's fill-in - the mind-bending British series The Prisoner.  ABC pops in another British adventure series, Man in a Suitcase, in place of its Disney-wannabee Off to See the Wizard.  And Laugh-In's spot is taken by yet another spy/adventure series, The Champions.  All three of them are products of Lew Grade's ITC Entertainment, a mainstay of 60s TV.

***

Here's a personal conundrum - Friday night features the first football game of the season, the late and unlamented Coaches' All-America Game, played in Atlanta.  It's actually the last game of the 1967 college season, since both teams are staffed by seniors about to join NFL training camps.*  Recognizable names?  Larry Csonka, who knocked 'em dead at Miami, and Ron Yary, an all-timer for Minnesota.

*This game, like the much-loved College All-Star Game that pitted college stars against the defending NFL champions, was a victim of increased concerns over injuries, and pro teams' desires to get their players in camp earlier.  It lasted, believe it or not, until 1976.

Ordinarily I would have been glued to the tube for this game (at that age, 8, I would watch anything that featured a scoreboard), but this year was different, for opposite ABC's coverage of the game was CBS' Friday night movie, A Night to Remember.  Longtime readers will recall that the story of the Titanic has been one of my lifelong passions, and so there's no question that this movie, a brilliant adaptation of Walter Lord's bestseller and the definitive Titanic movie, captured the evening in my book.  But then again, this kind of scheduling is why the DVR was invented.

***

On the cover this week is Toni Helfer, who along with her husband Ralph train animals for Ivar Tors' series Daktari.  But we're going to wrap up this week's review with a look at another feature from the shiny section of the magazine.  It's a profile of William Shatner, who's hit it big with Star Trek, but he's still not happy.  He's a classically trained actor, a veteran of Shakespearean productions and high-class TV dramas, but as he said, "A plaque on the wall doesn't by baby food."  The man who wowed audiences as Henry V when he was 22 has found that success doesn't necessarily translate to happiness, nor does flying around the universe lead to professional satisfaction.  He's struggling in other ways as well.  His father died a year ago, he's now separated from his wife of 10 years, and he sees his life as "an empty pit."  He hungers for friends, but finds only fans.

He leaves us with a classic Shatner moment though, one that you can almost hear as you read it on the page. Addressing the National Conference of Christians and Jews, he tells the audience that "I'm a Jew, but I do not believe in your God...I do know we are all afraid of dying...we are all afraid of loneliness.  Those are universal truths.  Are you scared?  I'm scared...I love you...I need you."

The words of a transformed man, don't you think?

June 20, 2013

Around the Dial

We haven't visited the classic TV blogosphere for a while - hell, I've been having trouble visiting my own site - so let's catch up on some of the superior writing out there.

I had a very nice email the other day from Cary O'Dell, who writes occasionally for TVParty (as do I, full disclosure) and has written the kind of book I like to read - June Cleaver Was a Feminist.  It's gone on my wish list, and I'll have a full review of it after the fact.  And in that light, David at Comfort TV* has a terrific piece on how Father Knows Best could be much deeper than the classic sitcom is given credit for.  It does what the best articles do for me - makes me want to watch the episodes he discusses.

*I love that name.  I've always thought of television as comfort food for the weary.

If you're a sports fan, I don't need to tell you how frustrating following your favorite teams and athletes can be, and one of my most frustrating pursuits has been rooting for Phil Mickelson to win the U.S. Open.  We're not going to talk about that right now (or ever, probably), but at Classic TV Sports Media Jeff has an excellent recap on the history of TV coverage of the Open.  There are some great memories embedded in that timeline, and some revelations as well - for example, did you know Ed Sullivan was part of the announcing crew at the 1959 Open?  Read Jeff to find out why.

My backlog of topics for midweek essays continues to pile up, including some I've already promised, and one of these days I'm going to use a couple of them to go over my personal all-time top-10 shows.  But I can tell you one of them right now: What's My Line?, the ultimate in urbane television, which even today boasts of a following that includes Wall Street Journal drama critic and blogger Terry Teachout and How Sweet It Was guest blogger Alan Hait, who pens this great reminiscence of the long-running (17½ seasons) program.

No specific article, but Kliph at Classic Television Showbiz has been posting a score of great old TV clips, featuring forgotten sitcoms, surprising variety shows, and provocative talk shows.  When you've got a few hours to kill (i.e. not at work), do yourself a favor and check them out.  You'll be glad you did.

That's it for this week - see you back here on Saturday (or Sunday, if real life once again intervenes).

June 19, 2013

Watch your language

I've remarked before about how Mad Men is one of those shows many people assume I watch, and are invariably surprised when I tell them I've never seen it.  Like any good blogger, though, this doesn't stop me from having opinions about it.

One of the reasons I don't feel compelled to watch Mad Men is that, no matter how well it's done, it's always difficult to look at the past from the present.  When you look at a time period out of context, you're bound to view it through the filter of your own personal experience, applying the mores and customs of your time.  There's nothing wrong in admitting that - rare is the individual who can so inhabit that they don't let these prejudices show through.*

*Although, of course, it can be distorted and exaggerated for effect - usually due to an ideological bias.

In the case of Mad Men, I'd say offhand that if you want to see what the early 60s were really like, you'd probably be better off watching an episode of Route 66.  There you get the past unvarnished - as it happened, so to speak.  And that's always been my take on the matter: if I really wanted to revisit the 60s, I'd do it by watching a program made in the 60s.  Not only do you get the past in its original context, but even when you get a less-than-accurate portrayal, you get the benefit of seeing the contemporary-to-the-time  prejudices and stereotypes that tell you as much about the era as the program itself.

I bring this up because of an article I recently ran across.  I may be late to the party - this Atlantic piece was written over a year ago - but I think it speaks, far better than I could put it, to this very issue.  In "The Foreign Language of Mad Men," Benjamin Schmidt points out that the one area in which the show falls most short of the mark is in its use of language.  Specifically, the writers cannot completely bridge the cultural language gaps between the 60s and today, and in doing so they alter (subtly, to be sure) the internal structures, if you will, of these characters.  A sample:

As a historian, though, I'm particularly interested in the show's language. In my research, I've been struck again and again at just how profoundly language changes from decade to decade. New expressions, phrases, and meanings are constantly entering into English. How true to the jet age could Mad Men's dialogue really be? 

Schmidt puts it to the test through a computer program designed to analyze the use of particular words and phrases from books, TV programs and movies of the 60s, and compare them to Mad Men. As one might expect, there are certain words and phrases that pop up here and there that just don't belong, but these are relatively minor. What stands out, though, is that subtle aspect I mentioned. (By the way, you really need to read the whole article because it's quite provocative, but suffer me these few minutes to make a particular point.)

Schmidt mentions several phrases that don't fit the time period, either because they're presented in the wrong context or because they didn't enter the popular lexicon until a few years later.  But one thing he does deal with goes to the heart of what I wrote about at the beginning - the need to view a time period in context. Specifically, it concerns the difference between the words "need" and "have."

That raises an interesting question: can even the most common phrases disturb the environment if the vocabulary is too heavily weighted towards the modern? What seems to be the most ubiquitous mistake in Mad Men is so frequent as to be invisible: the phrase "I need to." Modern scripts set in 1960s, including Mad Men, use it constantly: it's about as frequent as everyday words like "good," "between," or "most." But to say "I need to" so much is a surprisingly modern practice: books, television shows, and movies from the 1960s use it at least ten times less often, and many never use it all. Sixties dialogue written back then used "ought to" far more often than modern imitators do. I checked several movies and TV seasons from 1960 to 1965, and all use "ought to" more often than "need to"; every modern show I could find set in the '60s does the reverse.

As Schmidt points out, this is more than just a question of getting the idiom right.  It strikes at the heart of our Oprahified culture, one in which "feeling" and "needing" are the norm.  Earlier, Schmidt mentioned that a review of over 100 Twlight Zone scripts shows that the phrase "feel good about" is never used even once.  Now, picking up on the use of "need to," he makes the point of how this distorts, ever so subtly, the actual cultural dynamic underlying the use of specific words and phrases:

Even more than anachronism, a core theme of Mad Men is the lost art of personal reserve, self-effacement, and mystery. When Don Draper says, "Tell Jimmy I need to talk to him" in season 2 instead of "I have to talk to him," it hits a slightly more narcissistic, self-revealing note than it should. A baby boomer might set up a business meeting by invoking his personal needs; but a member of the "silent generation"—particularly one living a double life like Draper—doesn't talk about himself quite so readily. If Mad Men used "need to" at the 60s rate, all those characteristics would be stronger.

Perhaps I'm letting my inner nerd show through, but I find this kind of detail endlessly fascinating, for in the use of "need to" rather than "have to," we once again filter the past through our own particular perspective.  We can't help it.  True, a little more research might have taken care of this particular detail, but one can never fully rid themselves of the present, which demonstrates the usefulness of going back to the original source documents - or, in the case of television, original era programming - to find the rhythm, the tenor of the times.

In conclusion, Schmidt reminds us that "The language of the past is fundamentally a foreign one. Scriptwriters and novelists can try to mimic it, but can never speak it like a true native."  However, even in this case there's a felix culpa, a happy fault that rewards the cultural archaeologist.  For, says Schmidt, "In the end, the show's departures from the past may let us see just how much everything has changed even more than its successes."

So the next time you watch Mad Men, keep in mind that the show is not a documentary, that what you're seeing is a fusion of two eras.  And then see if you can find an episode of Route 66.

June 16, 2013

This week in TV Guide: June 16, 1962

A few years ago the concept of "six degrees of separation"* was coined, the idea being that everyone in the world could be connected to everyone else by no more than six degrees.  The same could be said, I suppose, for articles in TV Guide.  To test this theory, let's take a look at this week's issue, and see if we can bring it all the way from 1962 to today in six steps or less.

*Or "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," if you prefer.

***

1.  Right doctor, wrong role:  Westinghouse Presents was an occasional series of dramas sponsored by the electronics giant, previous sponsor of Studio One.  On Wednesday evening Westinghouse Presents  features Margaret Leighton in "The First Day," the story of a woman returning to her former life after having been hospitalized for a nervous breakdown.  Leighton's husband in the play is played by Ralph Bellamy, who the next year would star as Dr. Richard Starke in NBC's psychiatric drama  The Eleventh Hour.  I would presume that everything turns out all right for Leighton but, if not, perhaps she could make an appointment with Dr. Starke.

***

2. Speaking of which:  The Eleventh Hour was a spin-off from NBC's enormously successful doctor show Dr. Kildare,* starring Richard Chamberlain as the young intern James Kildare, with Raymond Massey as his mentor, the veteran Dr. Leonard Gillespie.  The two men share the cover of this week's issue, with the feature article focusing on Massey, whose signature role prior to Kildare was Abraham Lincoln, whom he portrayed several times on stage, screen and television.  (There's a wonderful story from Wikipedia of how a fellow actor joked that Massey wouldn't be satisfied with his Lincoln impersonation until someone assassinated him.)

*The Eleventh Hour ran for only two seasons, but was still more successful than ABC's similar drama Breaking Point, which itself was a spin-off from the Kildare clone Ben Casey.

Massey won plaudits for his portrayal of Gillespie, a much more nuanced and less caricaturish performance than those rendered in the movies by Lionel Barrymore.  He was a distinguished actor, with two stars on Hollywood's Walk of Fame - one for movies, one for television, and Dwight Whitney's article highlights some colorful aspects of his life: an uncle was a bishop, his older brother was Governor General of Canada, and the Massey family owned the Massey-Harris Harvester Company, which we would recognize today as the manufacturing giant Massey Ferguson.  His first Broadway role came courtesy of Noel Coward and Norman Bel Geddes (mid-century design icon and father of Dallas' Barbara Bel Geddes), and his movie career started with an offer from Sir Gerald du Maurier, father of the famed novelist Daphne.*

*Who, as far as I could tell, never wrote a work adapted into a movie in which Massey appeared.

Massey was a dignified actor - sadly, not too many of those around anymore.

***

3. Since you mentioned it:  In addition to his several portrayals of Lincoln, Raymond Massey also played the abolitionist John Brown in a pair of movies - Santa Fe Trail and Seven Angry Men - and onstage in a dramatic reading of Stephen Vincent Benét's Pulitizer Prize-winning poem John Brown's Body.  And it's that very story - John Brown's Body that CBS has on Thursday night at 7:30, preempting the police drama Brenner.  This one doesn't have Massey, but it does feature Richard Boone as the Narrator, with Douglas Campbell as John Brown.  In a couple of seasons, Boone will star on NBC in The Richard Boone Show, an anthology series with a rotating repertory cast.  Despite critical praise, it will only run one season before being canceled, replaced by The Man From U.N.C.L.E.   Boone finds out about it not from the network, but from the trade papers.

***

4. Her stock is rising:  Actress Diana Millay, as it happens, appeared in both The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Eleventh Hour.  But that is in the future - today, in addition to being one of the hardest-working actresses in New York (nearly 100 live shows to her credit), the 23-year-old is also making her mark as a day trader in the stock market.  While most actresses are concerned with their reviews, Millay can be seen pouring over Forbes and The Wall Street Journal between takes.  Later she'll find more success in commercial real estate and fine art.

This article is typical of so many that have run in TV Guide over the years, and you might wonder if anything ever happened with Millay or if she faded to obscurity like many a starlet from previous profiles.  But in this case, Diana Millay did all right for herself, assuring lasting fame as Laura Collins in Dark Shadows.  No word on how much of a killing she made in the market.

***

Paul Anka and Friend
5. Did someone say "young star"?  Any discussion of talented young performers has to include Paul Anka. At the time of this writing Anka is still 20 - three years younger than Diana Millay, but in that time he's accomplished - well, let the statistics speak for themselves.  At 15 he signed a contract with Don Costa at ABC/Paramount, and had his first hit: "Diana," which sold 8,500,000 copies.  He followed that up with "Lonely Boy" and "Puppy Love," each of which were million-sellers.  He's appeared as an actor in movies, most recently in the war drama The Longest Day, for which he also wrote the theme.  According to the famed musical writing team of Comden and Green, "it is not too early to mention Paul Anka in the same breath with musical immortals."  He's accessible, appearing constantly on variety shows: Sullivan, Como, Shore. He's a mean Password player.  He makes well over a million dollars a year.

And he isn't even old enough to vote or drink.

The unbylined article portrays Anka as a driven businessman.  He has little time for personal relationships, other than those that are part of the business.  He has little time for girls, even though the broken romance is a staple of his songs.  He's insecure - "I care about being liked.  I want everybody to like me," he tells his interviewer.  He's angered by those who resent his early success, and those who ridicule rock music in general.

What's particularly interesting about this article is that although Anka is already established as a major star in records, television and movies, his biggest hits are still ahead of him: "My Way," the Sinatra hit for which he wrote the English lyrics; "She's a Lady," the Tom Jones hit, and "Johnny's Theme," the Johnny in question being Johnny Carson.  And the guy's still only 71 - not bad, huh?

***

6. What's old is new again:  Paul Anka was payed a royalty every time the theme for The Tonight Show was played - over 1,400,000 times by one estimate.  Every night Johnny's monologue began with that theme, and ended with Johnny's golf swing.  And that brings us to the present day, and the highlight of the sporting week.

The U.S. Open golf championship, or the National Open as it was frequently called back in the day, is - then as now - this weekend's Big Event.  Then, as now, it's being shown on NBC; then, as now, it's being played in Pennsylvania, but whereas this year's tournament is at Merion, just outside Philadelphia, in 1962 its across the state, at Oakmont, outside of Pittsburgh.  There's another difference in 1962: the tournament is scheduled for three days, concluding on "Open Saturday" with a 36-hole marathon.

Golf's reigning superstar, Arnold Palmer, is the hometown hero (from nearby Latrobe), and having shared the lead after the second and third rounds, everything seems to point to his second Open championship.  However, at the end of 72 holes Palmer finds himself tied with a rising star: the 22-year-old Jack Nicklaus, who had been the low amateur at the last two Opens.  The two meet in a playoff on Sunday, in front of a raucously pro-Palmer crowd.  Jack leads Arnold by four shots after six holes and goes on to a three-shot victory.  It's the start of the Nicklaus dynasty: his first professional win, and the first of his 18 major professional championships.  Palmer, who had won the Masters earlier in the year and will add the British Open in July, takes his third Masters in 1964, but after that never wins another major title.

***

And there you have it: from Margaret Leighton in "The First Day" to the U.S. Open in the present day, all in six steps.  Not bad, hmm?

***

Notes from the Teletype and more:  In the works for the coming season: The Patty Duke Show, Lee Marvin's Lawbreakers, and Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol.  All of them made it to the small screen, and all of them are available on DVD. . . Future Oscar winner Marvin stars this week in The Richest Man in Bogota, based on the sci-fi story by H.G. Wells . . . NBC announces that 68% of its prime-time programs for 62-63 will be in color, compared with 57% this season and 41% a year ago.  NBC remains the dominant player in the color television market . . .I wrote about the TV Guide Awards here; the 1962 version will air next week, headlined by Judy Holliday, Art Carney and Dave Garroway. . .Premiering this week on CBS daytime: To Tell The Truth, which adds the daytime component to its long-running nighttime run, now in its sixth season.  The prime-time version will run until 1967, daytime ends a year later.  Longtime soap The Secret Storm expands from 15 minutes to a half-hour, leaving only The Guiding Light and Search For Tomorrow in the old radio-era length.  Both will finally go to 30 minutes in 1968, bumping - To Tell The Truth.

***

By the way, if you really do want to play this game with Kevin Bacon, then step 6 is as follows: Paul Anka was in Mad Dog Time with Diane Lane, who was in My Dog Skip with Kevin Bacon.  See how easy?

June 12, 2013

The kitchen of the future

We spend a lot of time looking back at the past in an effort to understand it, but it can be just as enlightening to consider how the past viewed the future.  Does our present look anything like the future that was imagined in the past?

For example, the computers in Star Trek look laughably primitive when compared to the technology of today (which is probably one reason why the remastered versions of the series have upgraded special effects).  In fact, today's technology has far surpassed what Gene Roddenberry & company imagined - there's probably more power in an iPhone than there was running the Enterprise.  Sometimes it seems as if we're afraid to let our imaginations truly run wild and imagine the possibilities.  On the other hand, we still don't have the flying cars from The Jetsons.

Before pro football completely took over Sunday afternoons, CBS had a long-running documentary series called The 20th Century, which took a look back at the major historical events of the century.  In January 1967 the show changed both its title and focus; renamed The 21st Century, the program now looked forward to what the future might have in store.

In that light, I'm reminded of David Gelenter's book 1939: The Lost World of the Fairin which Gelenter reminds us that much of the scientific progress on display at the 1939 World's Fair was designed for one purpose: to make our lives easier.  Not that there weren't world-altering inventions on display, but we shouldn't underestimate the importance attached to such technological marvels as the washer and dryer or the refrigerator.  We may take them for granted now, but these were major accomplishments.

With that in mind, let's take a look at this episode of The 21st Century from March 1967, in which Walter Cronkite hosted this preview of the kitchen in the year 2001.  How much do you think they got right?

June 8, 2013

This week in TV: five days in June

Today, rather than my regular "This Week in TV Guide" feature, I'm going to focus on a specific series of days: June 4-8, 1968.  And I'll be dealing not only with television, but with radio as well.

It was the middle of the night when Robert F. Kennedy was shot following his victory in the California primary - arguably the biggest American news event ever to occur during the overnight hours.  Kennedy gave his victory speech at a quarter past midnight PDT - after 3am on the East Coast - and in those wee hours of the early morning, many people would get their first news of the shooting not from television, but from radio.*  In the days before 24/7 television, it's not hard to imagine people lying in bed with the radio on, unable to sleep, listening to a late-night music program when the news broke, and thereafter continuing to lay their in the stillness of the dark, listening to disembodied voices describing what had happened in far-away Los Angeles, unwilling or perhaps even afraid to turn on the lights, preferring the shelter of the night.  I wonder how many were able to go back to sleep?  I would have found it somewhat frightening to do so, myself.

*According to a contemporary poll, 56% first received the news on radio.  And most people didn't even find out until they'd gotten up that morning - less than 20% had heard the news by 5am EDT.

Frozen in time: the last image of Kennedy alive.  (KTLA)
In Minneapolis, Franklin Hobbs was hosting his popular overnight music program "Hobbs House" on clear channel WCCO-AM, and he presented wire-service reports until CBS came on the air with network coverage.*  One thing that stands out from these contemporary bulletins is how fresh in the memory the assassination of JFK still was - RFK is often referred to as "the brother of the assassinated President John Kennedy."  One report talked of Kennedy's eyes being "open but unseeing," and Hobbes - perhaps trying to keep things under control - cautions that this might be an "overly-dramatic" report.

*Those early reports had Kennedy being shot in the hip - I've never been sure if someone originally misunderstood "head" as "hip," or if they confused the wounds with those of one of the other bystanders who'd been shot.

As the primary results were close, television networks had stayed on the air far past their regular cutoff time, not calling the race for Kennedy until shortly before the senator's victory speech.  According to various sources, CBS had already ended their coverage at the time of the shooting; at NBC, Frank McGee, having received rumors, vamped for a few minutes, keeping the studio coverage live until the report could be confirmed.  ABC was in the process of signing off on their report in favor of Joey Bishop's show, when Howard K. Smith interrupted the closing credits to update people with the news.

WPIX in New York broadcast the single word "Shame"
for over two hours Wednesday morning while  RFK
underwent surgery.  
(WPIX/Corbis Images)
Kennedy underwent surgery early that Wednesday morning; expected to last less than an hour, it instead ran for almost four hours.  The networks maintained continuous coverage throughout the morning; in ABC's case, devoting Dick Cavett's morning talk show to commercial-free discussion of the breaking story.

It's a temptation to analyze coverage of RFK's assassination in light of that of his brother's five years ago, but there were significant differences.  Whereas John's death followed shortly after his shooting, Robert clung to life for over 24 hours, and his passing, like the shooting itself, came in the middle of the night.  Therefore, throughout Wednesday afternoon and evening, networks provided periodic medical bulletins and special reports, but not the saturation coverage that had accompanied the assassination of JFK.  Networks maintained a semblance of their regular programming, albeit with subtle changes: ABC cancelled a planned repeat of the murder mystery Laura, and on Thursday substituted episodes of The Avengers and The Flying Nun* that were deemed "too violent" with less controversial stories.  The Joey Bishop Show, like that morning's Cavett show, was devoted to commercial-free coverage of the story.

*The Flying Nun too violent?  Perhaps - in the episode in question, "A secret meeting of mobsters blows sky high when Sr. Bertrille is forced down in their midst."

Author Joe McGinniss claimed Ted Kennedy didn't write
his memorable eulogy for Bobby, but it was obviously
heartfelt nonetheless.  
(ABC)
Once Robert's death was announced, coverage again ramped up.  Kennedy's body was flown to New York later Thursday, where it lay in state throughout Friday in St. Patrick's Cathedral.  The funeral mass was held there on Saturday, and then the body was taken by funeral train to Washington, D.C. where he was buried next to John on Saturday night.

***

I mentioned earlier that I'd be focusing on radio coverage as much as that of television.  Although plenty of coverage exists on YouTube, an amazing treasure trove of radio coverage exists from CBS through their Minneapolis affiliate WCCO, and listening to hour after hour of this was something of a revelation to me.

I'm no stranger to the charms of radio, although the medium was certainly on the decline by the time of my birth.  Still, for someone who was raised on television, this CBS radio coverage is fascinating, and to my thinking strangely appropriate.  While television is a communal experience, radio tends to be much more personal, more one-on-one.  Television reporters talk at you, their words providing a backdrop to the dominant pictures, while radio reporters talk to you, and the effect can be far more intimate.*  And so, lacking the images that television could provide, radio reporters were forced to paint word pictures for their listeners, and these disembodied voices, speaking in that lonely darkness of Wednesday morning, create an unreal, almost surrealistic atmosphere.  Again, imagine listening to the reports as you lay in bed during those small hours, your bedside alarm clock silently glowing.  Perhaps you were agitated, you had to get up and walk around, slipping on your robe, trying to comprehend this latest horror in a year of horrors - as you looked out your window was the neighborhood shrouded in blackness, with only the radio voices breaking the dead night? Or did lights begin to snap on in houses up and down the block, as the news spread?  Did you share your agitation with others, or was your agony a silent and solitary one?

*As any baseball fan can tell you.

Leonard Bernstein conducts the Agagietto from Mahler's
Fifth Symphony
(Look Magazine/Paul Fusco)
This amazing collection of radio broadcasts continues throughout the early morning hours on Wednesday, to the announcement of Kennedy's death early Thursday morning, and the funeral and burial on Saturday.  Particularly interesting to me is an excerpt from Arthur Godfrey's CBS morning show on Thursday.  Then, as now in the wake of every tragedy, there were calls for tighter laws, for elimination of guns, for restrictions of freedom - and people will say that "there ought to be a law." But, Godfrey continues, "We can only hope and pray that reason will continue to prevail...the danger at hand, it seems to me, is that men of questionable purpose will find an excuse in what's happened to alter our system, to use our emotional state as a cover for rushing through some repressive laws that purport to cure the ills of society.  In my view it's not a time for hysterical action or pejorative oratory."  Godfrey was a master of communication, it's true, but even so it's difficult to imagine that a television commentator (other than, perhaps, Ronald Reagan), could make the same connection to an audience.

In much the same way, radio coverage of Saturday's funeral and burial provides a dimension different from that of television.  Without the fillers that TV pictures provide, the announcers were forced to describe the unfolding events, and during the many times when nothing at all was happening, their commentary provided nothing so much as an insight into their own hearts. During the funeral, covered on CBS radio by Douglas Edwards and Maury Robinson, the men struggle with the unfamiliar "new" liturgy of the Catholic Church (a hybrid between the old Latin Tridentine rite and the soon-to-be-revealed Vatican II Novus Ordo), all the while explaining the significance of the words and gestures occurring in front of them.

Cameras on the funeral train capture a passenger train
coming from the opposite direction, killing two people
lining the tracks in Elizabeth, NJ.  
(CBS/AP)
Without the pictures, the listener is forced to remember not the sights, but the sounds, of those events: the quivering voice of Edward Kennedy eulogizing his brother; the mournful strains of Mahler's Adagietto accompanying the procession of Kennedy youngsters as they brought the Communion offerings to the altar, the smooth, sad voice of Andy Williams singing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" as the pallbearers prepare to remove the casket from the Cathedral.  Amazingly, near the end of Kennedy's funeral, a news update informs us that James Earl Ray, accused of assassinating Martin Luther King a mere two months before, had been apprehended in London.

The funeral train taking Kennedy's body from New York to Washington was both a tribute and, in some respects, a fiasco.  Two people were killed in Elizabeth, NJ by an express train travelling in the opposite direction.  The train itself was almost five hours late, travelling slowly to afford the crowds, estimated at perhaps one million people, a better chance to view it.  It had been expected that the burial would occur early Saturday evening, and Major League Baseball had rescheduled the day's games to the evening, to start after the ceremony.  Instead, the first pitches were thrown as the train continued its slow progress; the actual burial didn't occur until after 10pm EDT.  On television the black-and-white remote images showed the train pulling into Washington's Union Station; on radio, one hears only the lonely ringing of the train's bell.  As the motorcade processes down Constitution Avenue to Arlington, a radio reporter apologizes for not being able to provide better coverage, but the darkness combined with the leafy canopy formed by the trees lining the street served to obscure her view.  George Herman, anchoring CBS' radio coverage, mentions the Kennedy people asking CBS to pass along a request to those lining the funeral route and listening to transistor radios that they light a match as the cortege passes by.

***

Hopelessly behind schedule and in near-total darkness,
the casket is brought to the gravesite next to JFK at
Arlington.  
(ABC)
I was eight years old in 1968, and I have more of a personal memory of Robert Kennedy's death than that of John's.  I watched the coverage the day through, not really understanding or appreciating what I was saying.  I was upset that the baseball game had been preempted, and as the day and night wore on I hung in there, waiting for the Bedtime Nooz, Channel 4's late-Saturday night satiric comedy news show.  When it did air, as the hour approached midnight, it was done straight, without humor.  Again, I was disappointed.

Watching and listening to the events from that week (covered in fascinating detail in this issue of Broadcasting magazine) has provided an opportunity to reflect on everything that happened, and how it was broadcast.  1968 had already been an eventful, grim year: the Tet Offensive, Eugene McCarthy's challenge to President Johnson and LBJ's subsequent decision not to seek reelection, the assassination of Martin Luther King, race riots, war protests, and now this.  Still to come was the tumultuous Democratic convention in Chicago and the election; one of the few bright spots was Apollo 8's memorable Christmas Eve trip around the moon.

As such, I think the American people were a more cynical lot, numbed somewhat to the events that seemed to cascade, one after another, throughout the year.  Whereas JFK's assassination was truly shocking, if not incomprehensible, by June of 1968 the assassination of Robert Kennedy was all-too believable.  And perhaps that's what made it such a deeply sad event for so many, for without the anesthesia of shock to cushion the blow, the emotions that had been rubbed raw were there for the taking.  It was so stunning, so unexpected, so quick.  I freely admit that I am not now and never have been a fan of the Kennedys; politically we're about as far apart as we could be.  But the events of that week in June worked on so many levels - the political, the personal, the familial.  And as the day drew to an end, and the country worried about what might come next, ABC's summary of the day - one of "stunning tragedy" and "unique, painful events" - combined the best of the elements we've discussed, picture and sound.  It was, indeed, a painful week.

June 5, 2013

Home is where the heart is

It's good to be back to live blogging, as opposed to the pre-recorded (so to speak) pieces you've been reading for the last few weeks.  It's still going to take awhile for everything to find its place, but I think we've found ours.

The picture at the left is from the iconic opening to Dallas.  I have to admit I was never much of a fan of that show (although Victoria Principal always provided a couple of good reasons to tune in).  There's no question, though, that Dallas was one of the landmark shows in TV history - it brought back the successful prime-time serial circa Peyton Place, created one of the most memorable television characters ever (J.R.), and with his shooting provided us with one of the great cliffhanger endings of all time, against which all future cliffhangers would be measured.  Not only in its greatness but in its campiness (Bobby in the shower), Dallas left its fingerprints all over the television landscape.  Judith Crist once wrote of the movie Shane that it was "the original source for many of the cliches of subsequent Westerns," and the same could be said of Dallas; anyone viewing the series for the first time (through DVD or reruns) might find it littered with TV cliches, but they should remember these weren't cliches back then - they were new.

One thing I can tell you is that the city of Dallas has changed somewhat since those opening credits.  For one thing, there's a lot more concrete - the freeway overpasses form an almost beautiful tapestry of concrete ribbon.  The skyline has filled in, Texas Stadium (in Irving, not far from where we now live) has long since been replaced by Jerryworld in Arlington, and fashions have changed with the times.  But a lot of it remains pertinent, none more so than the overwhelming sense of the vastness of Texas, a place unlike any other part of the United States.  Texas is many things, but to me it feels like home.

There's a lot to be said for home - Rod Dreher, in his new book The Little Way of Ruthie Learning, speaks of home as a place and a people, someplace to which you're inevitably drawn.  Television is the same way - to me it represents both a chronological and a metaphorical time and place, one that reminds me of a time and place in my own history.  Some people might take issue with that description, their eyebrows may be raised by my putting fictional people on celluloid on a par with real communities full of real people, but there's no denying the fact that television (or movies) can create that sense of place, and I oftentimes find myself far more at home in that world than in the world of today.  The past is never what we remember it to be; nevertheless, the essays you read on this blog are often my attempts to return to a past that I lived in but was not old enough to be a part of.  In that sense, it could be said that these journeys are my attempt to return to my own past, much as people might attempt a return to an old love, applying what they know now to what they wish they'd known then.  In a way, television provides us all with that sense of comfort, of home cooking.

And just as television draws us to our past, Texas has drawn us to our future.  It should, in fact, be an interesting experience.

June 1, 2013

This week in TV Guide: June 5, 1965

By the time you read this, I may - emphasize may - be unpacked.  I might have at least found the box with the TV Guides in them.  Of course, there's no assurance of that, as indeed is the case when talking about life in general.  But as I write this, weeks in advance, all that is in the future.  And I've taken care to make sure my readers aren't left out in the cold - aren't I a thoughtful blogger?

***

When political satirist Art Buchwald was funny, there were few writers who could touch him.  And his droll article on The Fugitive in this week's TV Guide is Buchwald at his best.

The Fugitive has just finished its second season, the most successful (ratings-wise) of the show's four seasons, and its success spelled the end of CBS' The Doctors and the Nurses, which I wrote about here.  Buchwald relates a story about how The Doctors and the Nurses could have won back the Fugitive audience:

In the first show of the season, a man [is] wheeled into the emergency room of the hospital, and as one of the doctors took the sheet off him, the audience would discover he had one arm.  Just before he dies on the operating table he would gasp, "I am the one-armed man the Fugitive is looking for.  Richard Kimble is innocent and I killed his wife."

The network didn't take the suggestion, however, and so the show was doomed.

Buchwald is a faithful Fugitive viewer, but he has some hilarious problems with the show.  For one thing, he thinks Kimble is guilty, and each week he bets his wife $20 that Kimble's going to be caught.  He now figures he owes his wife $480, "which only adds to my determination to see Richard Kimble put behind bars."  Kimble's nemesis, Lieutenant Gerard, is a bungler who ought to be taken off the case.  "One of the things that makes me livid is that every time Gerard is close on the trail of Kimble, he never bothers to look in the kitchen," where the doctor is invariably hiding behind the door.  "Sometimes I get so infuriated at Gerard I start screaming at him, 'Dope, why didn't you have the back door covered?'  This gets the neighbors pretty mad."

Buchwald has a simple solution for catching Kimble.  For one thing, Kimble is a do-gooder, always stopping to help people in need.  Therefore, the first thing he'd do is find the 100 neediest cases in every city he thought Kimble might be in, and have them staked out.  The dramatic necessities of the show demand that he has to stop at one of these house, or the ratings will drop to zero.  He'd then have NBC and CBS each put up $50,000 rewards for the capture of Kimble dead or alive.  "It would be worth it to them to get The Fugitive out of circulation."

Most of all, he's mad at ABC.  "It's obvious to anyone who watches the show that neither the producers nor [ABC] is making any effort to see that Richard Kimble is brought to justice.  If they were sincere in their efforts, they wouldn't have a dummox like Gerard on the case."  And Buchwald wouldn't be out $480 to his wife.

Funny, funny stuff.  You can read the whole thing here.

***

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..

Ed Sullivan: Scheduled: musical-comedy star Tommy Steele, doing numbers from his Broadway show "Half a Sixpence"; Metropolitan Opera soprano Roberta Peters; singer Trini Lopez; Herman's Hermits, rock 'n' rollers; comics John Byner and George Kaye; Mr. Cox, magician; and the Malmo Girls, gymanists.

Hollywood Palace: In a repeat, host Victor Borge introduces former motion picture star Alice Faye; pop singer Nancy Wilson; the Swingle Singers, French vocal group; Japanese comic Pat Morita; the tap-dancing Nicholas Brothers; bicyclist Rih Aruso; and De Mille, a 15-year-old high-wire performer.

Interesting week.  The Swingle Singers, who are still around, are an incredibly talented a capella  group, as you can see here; and the jazz great Nancy Wilson just retired from club dates a couple of years ago.  You'll remember Pat Morita* from Happy Days and his Oscar-nominated role in The Karate Kid.  The Nicholas Brothers were without peer - "tap-dancing" doesn't seem nearly adequate enough.  And of course, Victor Borge was one of the funniest comics around.

*I love the description - "Japanese comic Pat Morita" - presumably so the audience won't be shocked by his appearance. Seems very odd, doesn't it?

On the other hand, Ed has Roberta Peters, one of the greatest opera singers America ever produced - and his most frequent guest, appearing on his show 65 times.*  She made her debut at the Met when she was 20 years old, which is just another little something to make you feel inferior, and if I'm not mistaken she might still do recitals.  John Byner remains active and funny; Trini Lopez just did an album with Andre Rieu.  Herman's Hermits was a very big deal at the time, and they too remain active, albeit in two versions: one featuring lead singer Peter Noone, ("Herman's Hermits starring Peter Noone") and the other led by longtime member Barry Whitwam ("Herman's Hermits starring Barry Whitwam").

*You'll win a few bets with that information.

I'm calling this one a push, but for those of you who don't like ties, I'll give you an alternative winner: Thursday night's Jimmy Dean Show on ABC, which featured the Mills Brothers, Norm Crosby, and Buck Owens.  And of course there's Rowlf the Muppet.  The star wattage on this week's programs is immense.

***

Gemini IV was the second manned Gemini spaceflight and the first American spacewalk, and was a crucial step in the American race for the moon.  As each phase of the space program became more successful, the public became more blase about it, but the early flights were filled with excitement and drama.  The networks have extensive coverage throughout the mission, which began with the liftoff the previous Thursday and is scheduled to end with live non-stop coverage of the splashdown Monday morning.  ABC planns 60-second updates on the hour; CBS counters with five-minute reports throughout the day; and NBC has a one-minute report prior to the start of each prime time program.  In addition, all three plan half-hour daily progress reports.  I would have watched as much of this as I possibly could.

Here's some of ABC's coverage, anchored by Peter Jennings, and including animated simulation of Ed White's spacewalk.


***

Teletype highlights: The new CBS series originally entitled Country Cousins is now The Eddie Albert Show.  But you probably know it by its final title - Green Acres.

Screen Gems is working on a pilot for a Western called Lazarus, which would be the first dramatic series to star a Negro.  Some additional research turns up a quote from actor Jackie Cooper, who's a Screen Gems executive, that "The Old West had lots of Negro gunslingers," and that this series would be based on the real-life Negro gunfighter Lazarus Benjamin.  However, if the pilot ever made it to air, I've yet to find it.

And ABC has big plans for the new Early Bird satellite, including live coverage of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which would be won by Masten Gregory and Jochen Rindt.  More important, the 1965 race marks the beginning of Ford's challenge to Ferrari, and although the GT40s would fail in 65, they would be back the next year, and would finish 1-2-3.  For all you racing fans, here's some vintage footage of the live broadcast from French television.  I would have watched this as well - that footage brings back vivid memories for me.


***

We're No Angels, starring Humphrey Bogart, Aldo Ray, Peter Ustinov and Basil Rathbone,  is NBC's Wednesday Night movie, and I find that strange, since it takes place at Christmas and, just a couple of years ago, was run during Christmas pre-week by NBC.  it's a Christmas movie.  It's kind of like watching It's a Wonderful Life on the 4th of July - which, come to think of it, is just about the time of year when I first watched it.

***

We've talked about both game shows and soaps in the past.  Many of them are legendary: General Hospital, As the World Turns, Another World, Password, Jeopardy, Match Game.  But what about the rest - the ones that don't stick in the memory, that aren't readily available on YouTube, that produce not fond memories but puzzled looks?

In the midst of their legendary game shows Truth or Consequences, Jeopardy, You Don't Say! and Concentration, NBC has three games that don't mean much to me: What's This Song? which ran for one year and was the first game show hosted by Wink Martindale (known then as Win); Call My Bluff, hosted by Bill Leyden, which was in the middle of its six-month run; and I'll Bet, hosted by Jack Narz, which started and was cancelled on the same dates as Call My Bluff.  As for "daytime dramas," NBC had some heavyweight soaps like Another World and The Doctors, but they also had lesser-knowns like Moment of Truth, a Canadian soap that ran on NBC for most of 1965*.  Of the three networks, only NBC stayed away from airing reruns of their prime-time shows.

*Sample listing: "Lila embarrasses her daughter."  With plotlines like that, it's no wonder it only ran a year.

Bill Cullen, who had polio as a child,
was seldom seen from the waist down



ABC, which was not much of a daytime presence in the mid-60s and filled much of their time with reruns of Father Knows Best, Donna Reed, and Wagon Train (aka Trailmaster), had a pair of soaps you might not have heard of: A Flame in the Wind, which actually ran for two seasons; and The Young Marrieds, also a two-year runner.  They had an interview show hosted by newswoman Lois Leppart, a Concentration-wannabee hosted by Art Linkletter's son Jack called Rebus, and a game show with a very familiar name, but a much different format: The Price Is Right, hosted by Bill Cullen, which in its ABC incarnation included a celebrity player.

Only CBS has a thoroughly familiar look, but even there you can see differences if you know where to look.  Their soap schedule is a heavyweight one: Love of Life, Search for Tomorrow, The Guiding Light, As the World Turns, The Edge of Night and The Secret Storm, but Search and Guiding Light run for only 15 minutes each, a carryover from their radio days. CBS rounds out its daytime schedule with more familiar faces: I Love Lucy, Andy Griffith, and The Real McCoys (renamed The McCoys for daytime) in the morning, and Password, To Tell the Truth and Art Linkletter's House Party in the afternoon. 

***

Finally, here's another of those "news quizzes" that double as ads for KSTP, Channel 5.   It's another fascinating look at how times have changed - at least in the case of Question #1, literally.


Question #3, regarding the 1965 tornado, hits home on a number of levels.  I remember that storm vividly, one of the most famous ever to hit the Twin Cities, although the tornado didn't touch down in our part of Minneapolis.  It did hit Fridley, a Minneapolis suburb, where my best friend lived.  She remains somewhat traumatized to this day, remembering how she and her family huddled in the basement while the tornado mowed through their neighborhood.  This is how it sounded, and it looked like this:


As for the other two questions - yes, it's true that in 1965 Minneapolis and St. Paul didn't observe the same rules on Daylight Saving Time.  I've written about how in the 1950s Minnesota was considering allowing the Twin Cities and Duluth to go on DST while the rest of the state remained on Standard Time.  In 1965 St. Paul started "early," with the rest of the country, while Minneapolis started "late," per state law.  This meant that, at least for a time, it could take you an hour to cross the street.

And it's also true that there was no sales tax in Minnesota in 1965.  It started in 1967, at 3%.  It's now the sixth-highest in the country, at nearly 7%.  Ironic also that Governor Rolvaag, a Democrat, vowed to veto the tax; it was Republican Harold LeVander who pushed it through.  I guess some things actually do change.