November 30, 2013

This week in TV Guide - December 3, 1960

The holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year has always been a big time for television, with all kinds of specials and events making the rounds.

This week the big production is the TV revival of Peter Pan, with Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard reprising their famed roles from the last TV airing five years ago. (It was also done in 1955.) Those previous shows were live, but this one is not only on tape, but in color, and it’s this version that has been broadcast ever since. I recorded it off TV some time in 1989 or 90, the last time it was on broadcast TV (in a somewhat edited version, to make more room for commercials, don’t you know)* and it’s that version you see below.

*This version is available on DVD as well. The 1955 and 56 productions have not been commercially released, but are available on the grey market. Far be it from me to say where you can find it **cough-cough-iOffer-cough** but take my word for it, it’s out there.


A companion article discusses how for the last four weeks Mary Martin has been commuting between Broadway, where she does eight performances a week of The Sound of Music, the Helen Hayes Theater, which NBC has rented for Peter Pan rehearsals, and the NBC studios in Brooklyn, where most of the program is taped. The network is hoping to make an annual Christmas presentation of Peter Pan, which Martin enthusiastically endorses. She was reluctant at first to take on yet another televised staging – “Not while playing ‘The Sound of Music,’ which by itself is a full-time job.” But the public demand has been so great – “So many children have grown up since we did it last” – that Martin was unable to resist. “When NBC came along and said it had a sponsor and a time and everything else all set, I just couldn’t say no. Now I’m glad I didn’t,” she says. “I seem to get more energy from it than I had when I was just doing eight ‘Sound of Music’ performances a week.”

***

Sports shorts: NBC’s Saturday afternoon NBA game features the New York Knickerbockers and the Syracuse Nationals from Syracuse*. The Knicks are in the second of a seven-season playoff drought, which isn’t easy when three of the four teams in each conference make the playoffs. The Nats, who make the playoffs despite finishing three games under .500 (but still 17 games ahead of the Knicks), are in their third-from-last season in Syracuse, after which they flee the small-market city for Philadelphia, where they become the 76ers.

*I was going to add that I was sure it was a fine game, but now I check the records and see that the Nats won, 130-113. Not sure how exciting that turned out to be.

On ABC, it’s the final regular-season college football game, as Duke (still on the fumes of being a significant factor in college football) travels to Los Angeles to take on UCLA. It is in fact a good season for the Blue Devils; although they drop this game to the Bruins 27-6, they finish at 7-3, good enough for a Cotton Bowl invitation (a 7-6 victory over Arkansas) and a #10 national ranking. UCLA’s also pretty good, as they wind up with a 7-2-1 record, though thanks to the conference’s Rose Bowl-only policy, they stay home for the post season. It’s all academic anyway, as Minnesota wins the national championship in a vote conducted (as was the custom then) prior to the bowl games.

Saturday night, ABC also has Gene Fullmer defending his middleweight crown against Sugar Ray Robinson from Los Angeles. Fullmer, who is fighting Robinson for the third time (out of four), retains the title in a 15-round draw.

I haven’t forgotten about pro football! There’s a real hodge-podge on Sunday; as the NFL has yet to sing an exclusive national television agreement, teams have made their own deals with the networks. Therefore, CBS presents the Packers and Bears from Chicago, while NBC has the Lions and Colts in Baltimore. Meanwhile, the AFL continues its inaugural season with a match between the Houston Oilers and Dallas Texans (the future Kansas City Chiefs) from the Cotton Bowl. The Oilers lose to their rivals 24-0, but they’ll go on to become the AFL’s first champions, defeating the Los Angeles (nee San Diego) Chargers 24-16 on New Year’s Day.

***

TV Teletype notes that Rod Serling is putting the finishing touches on a new Western called The Loner, starring Bob Cummings. The Loner does in fact make the schedule as a series, but it’s with Lloyd Bridges in the title role. It is not a success.

It’s also rumored that the Academy Awards may be vacating its longtime home at Hollywood’s Pantages Theater in favor of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. While the news leaves “the industry’s sentimentalists up in arms,” the move takes place anyway. Within the decade it moves again, to the more glamorous Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.

And in New York, ABC announces plans for a January 29 debut of its new Sunday afternoon series, The American Professor, “designed to improve the public’s understanding of the teacher’s role in our society.” Notwithstanding how televised sports have come to dominate weekends since then, it’s still hard to imagine a national network making a weekly series out of that kind of concept, no?

***

Cindy Adams has another article this week, this time on the life of the television gag writer. It’s centered in the office of Goodman Ace, one of the best of TV’s early humor writers, who’d made his name (and much of his success) in radio. He’s joined by his cohorts, Selma Diamond (the best-known female writer, who many of you might recognize from being in front of the camera on Night Court), Jay Burton, who’s written jokes for many of Hollywood’s best, and a couple of Canadian comics, Frank Peppiatt and John Aylesworth. Their output will be seen on camera in an upcoming Perry Como show.

The scene, as presented by Adams, doesn’t look all that different from what one sees later on the Dick Van Dyke show: Ace working from behind the desk, Diamond sprawled in a chair, and the other three in various stages of repose on the couch. They’re in the midst of trying to come up with something for Perry and his guest star, Jack Paar. The jokes are, put mildly, terrible. (“Tomorrow Shirley Temple’s doing ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ but because she’s running a little late it’ll only be ‘Snow White and the Five Dwarfs.’”)

The group plows through scenario after scenario, none of them catching fire. Finally, there’s a gag about Paar interviewing a woman with a Southern accent who’s making her first trip to New York. She’s seen Grant’s Tomb, the Battery, the Statue of Liberty. Paar asks her where she’s from. “Brooklyn,” she says. From a distance of over 50 years, I have to admit that the joke doesn’t do much for me, but it sets them off, and they come up with a series of jokes featuring Brooklyn as the punch line.

The article seems to me pointless, although perhaps we’ve become too sophisticated for this kind of schlock. What’s perhaps more interesting is, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story. John Aylesworth and Frank Peppiatt had many credits, including Andy Williams and Frank Sinatra, but it was as producers that they achieved their biggest fame. The show they created? Hee Haw.

***

From time to time I like to look at these mini-profiles of young actors, mostly female, invariably suggested as The Next Big Thing, and see if they ever caught on. This week there’s a two-page spread on a very attractive actress named June Blair. The magazine says she’s 24, although the always-reliable Wikipedia would put her age at 27. She’s got a number of TV credits under her slim-wasted belt so far, including Sea Hunt, Bat Masterson, M Squad, and Lock Up, as well as a credit the article doesn’t mention – Playboy’s Playmate of the Month for January 1957. Her career seems to have tailed off after the 60s, with her biggest role – in real-life as well as show business – being David Nelson’s on- and off-screen wife in The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.

***

Christmas always seems to bring out the best in food, and My-T-Fine pudding reminds us that it’s never too early to start preparing for those holiday parties with the little touch that makes things extra-special. Sadly, the term “go gay for the holiday” would have a completely different meaning nowadays.



Watches make excellent gifts - would you argue with Tab Hunter?


How about another recipe? With the holidays upon us, it’s never too early to start preparing the menu for those parties with your friends, and what could be better than some Festive Glazed Ham?

Heat a canned, cooked, boneless ham of appropriate size according to directions. When almost completely heated, pour over it one jar of melted cherry preserves – or cherry jelly – blended with ¼ cup of brandy. Baste several times. Serve hot or chilled with smooth curried mustard cream.
Curried Mustard Cream ½ tsp. curry powder 1 tsp. prepared mustard 1 cup whipped cream Salt and pepper
Mix mustard, curry powder, salt and pepper. Add to whipped cream, stirring until well-blended. Hollowed-out lemons make attractive serving cups.

It’s About TV – your one-stop Christmas entertainment address!

November 27, 2013

Classic Playback: Happy Thanksgiving!

I've offered a few bonus pieces over the last week, so I think I'm entitled to an easy week. Below is a Thanksgiving piece from two years ago, in the first year of the blog. It's a nice cross-section of Thanksgiving programming from the 60s, and it's as good a way as I know to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving. Back on Saturday with a brand-new TV Guide review!

Thanksgiving often seems like an underappreciated holiday, serving as little more than a warmup act for Christmas, and people seem eagar to get it out of the way so they can invade the stores in the dawn hours of Black Friday.  (Those stores that aren't actually open on Thanksgiving, that is.) . Back in the day, however, Turkey Day used to get a little more love.  And so this seemed to be a good reason (or at least a good excuse) to dip into the TV Guide archives for a look at Thanksgiving through the early 60s, as seen on TV.

This first picture below above is from Thanksgiving 1962.  Then, as now, the Thanksgiving Day Parade was a mainstay of both CBS and NBC.  As now, NBC was the network of the Macy's Parade, with longtime hosts Betty White and Lorne Greene.  CBS had the Macy's Parade too, but they also specialized in parades from around the country - the Gimbels' parade in Philadelphia (wonder why TVG gives this big press?  It's because their headquarters were in Pennsylvania) and the Hudson's parade in Detroit.  The department stores aren't around anymore, but both Philly and Detroit continue to celebrate the day with big parades. 


I always preferred the CBS coverage - Macy's was OK, but getting to see Detroit and Philadelphia (and later on Toronto's Santa Claus parade) made the day even bigger.  Back in the 60s Captain Kangaroo hosted the overall coverage from New York (William "Cannon" Conrad would perform the same function through much of the 70s), with CBS newsmen and celebrities alternating as hosts in the various cities.  Besides, seeing the Detroit parade would be an early tipoff to the weather for that morning's football game.


The next picture, also from 1962, is for the Pat Boone Thansgiving special.  Pretty good cast, although Peter, Paul & Mary seem a bit out of place.  Or perhaps Pat wasn't as much of a square as people thought. Notice the start time: 4:30 pm (Central time).  Doesn't seem likely any more that a network show would come on at that hour, not with the news saturation that local stations have today.


Here's another late afternoon special from 1961, with Al Hirt and a cast of thousands, or at least the popular singer Gordon MacRae, the opera star Patrice Munsel, and dancer Carol Haney.  "Home for the Holidays" - then, as now, Thanksgiving was the start of the Christmas season.  Notice that these ads prominently boast that the specials are "In Color!"


The holidays are always a time to bring back stars who haven't had regular series for several years.  Bonne was one, and the Old Redhead, Arthur Godfrey was another.  His 1963 Thanksgiving night special promises "a post-turkey pot of tea."  I imagine things were a bit muted that year, since JFK had been buried just three days previous.



Perry Como no longer had a weekly series in 1962, but his Kraft Music Hall appeared several times a year.  Since the show was always on Wednesday nights, his November special was always on Thanksgiving Eve.  (And that's exactly how it was described - putting Thanksgiving Eve on a par with Christmas Eve.)


Of course, you can't have Thanksgiving without football.  Look at how CBS advertises its game between the Colts and Lions in 1965:


I actually remember watching that game (I won't say how old I am now, but I was five back then).  The Colts and Lions battled to a 24-24 tie that pleased nobody.  Nowadays, I imagine the Lions would be pretty happy with that result.  And remember those Seagram's ads that used to appear with every major sporting event?  There were three games played that day; in addition to the Colts and Lions, the AFL game on NBC featured the Buffalo Bills and the San Diego Chargers, and ABC's college action was the traditional battle between Oklahoma and Nebraska.


It wasn't just television shows that advertised for Thansgiving - take a look at this ad for General Electric. I wonder how many families took advantage of the free heat 'n' serve baby dish for every baby born on November 28, 1963.  (Just think - that baby would be 50 today.)


Thanksgiving wasn't only a day, though - traditionally, it was one of the biggest television weeks of the season.  Check out the sidebar on the 1965 cover - from football to the Hallmark Hall of Fame, tributes to recently deceased Stan Laurel and Cole Porter, specials starring Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., a White House tour with Mrs. LBJ, and a James Bond documentary.  And this was before VCRs.
 
 
And this is just scratching the surface - for example, in 1962 the Bell Telephone Hour had special guest Carl Sandburg, the American poet and Lincoln biographer.  It seems to me that there truly was a sense that Thanksgiving was a time for the family to get together, and with a little of something for everyone there was no better way for quality family time than to sit in front of the television.

November 23, 2013

This week in TV Guide: November 23, 1963

This week begins as last week ended, with all programming being cancelled in the wake of John Kennedy's assassination.

Minnesota was scheduled to take on Wisconsin on CBS' college football game of the week on Saturday; instead, TV viewers saw dignitaries arriving at the White House to view the President's body laying in repose in the East Room.  As they arrived, their shoes splashed in the water from the torrential downpour that soaked Washington that day.  The game was postponed to Thanksgiving Day, though it was not televised.

Instead of Glenn Ford and Red Buttons starring in Imitation General on NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies, NBC broadcast the latest news from Washington and Dallas, including reports that a receipt had been found for the mail order rifle used to kill Kennedy.  In the meantime, future Vice President Hubert Humphrey talked of Kennedy's legacy and Johnson's challenges, and replays of Johnson's work day were shown late into the night.

On Sunday, the American Football League cancelled its entire slate of games, while the National Football League carried on as scheduled, without TV coverage.  KMBC, the ABC affiliate, was supposed to show the game between the home town Chiefs and the New York Jets from the Polo Grounds, while just a few miles away the New York Giants were hosting the St. Louis Cardinals at Yankee Stadium, a game that would have been on CBS' affiliate.  NBC, without sports on Sunday afternoon, had scheduled a repeat of Gian Carlo Menotti's opera Labrynth, the story of a bride and groom searching for the key to life, on NBC Opera Theatre.  Nothing could have compared to what viewers actually saw: the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald in the Dallas City Jail, the solemn procession of the President's body from the White House to the U.S. Capitol, where it would lay in state in the Rotunda, the images of people filing past the casket while funereal music played in the background.  On CBS, rather than seeing a Grammy salute to "The Best on Record" with Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, Henry Mancini and Bing Crosby*, viewers listened to Dan Rather, in Dallas, talking about the man who killed the man who killed Kennedy, Jack Ruby.

*And Vaughn Meader, whose JFK impression made the album The First Family an award-winning smash.  His career evaporated after that.  I don't know if "The Best on Record" was ever broadcast, but if so I would assume Meader's section was cut out.

On ABC, Edward P. Morgan is heard to comment to Howard K. Smith, "You keep thinking, Howard, that this is a dream from which you will awake - but you won't."  NBC aired a commemorative episode of the British satire program That Was The Week That Was, a tribute to Kennedy.


NBC continued to broadcast throughout the night, carrying the ghostly images to a nation unable to sleep. The pictures spoke for themselves; Hollis Wright, providing the overnight coverage, interrupted perhaps a dozen times in seven hours.

Monday there were no soaps; viewers of As the World Turns were left hanging from Friday's inadvertent cliffhanger.  The news was the funeral, the procession to Arlington National Cemetery, the burial, the diplomatic reception.  A memorial concert and recap of the weekend replaced Singin' in the Rain on NBC.  When it was all over, Walter Cronkite tried to sum up how "the way it was" would be different from here on.

"It is said that the human mind has a greater capacity for remembering the pleasant than the unpleasant. But today was a day that will live in memory and in grief. Only history can write the importance of this day: Were these dark days the harbingers of even blacker ones to come, or like the black before the dawn shall they lead to some still as yet indiscernible sunrise of understanding among men, that violent words, no matter what their origin or motivation, can lead only to violent deeds? This is the larger question that will be answered, in part, in the manner that a shaken civilization seeks the answers to the immediate question: Who, and most importantly what, was Lee Harvey Oswald? The world’s doubts must be put to rest. Tonight there will be few Americans who will go to bed without carrying with them the sense that somehow they have failed. If in the search of our conscience we find a new dedication to the American concepts that brook no political, sectional, religious or racial divisions, then maybe it may yet be possible to say that John Fitzgerald Kennedy did not die in vain. That’s the way it is, Monday, November 25, 1963."

I dare say that there are few who lived through those times, and the times that followed, who would not suggest that those four days were harbingers of blacker ones to come indeed.

***

After almost three years, Gene Barry is back on weekly television as Amos Burke, the millionaire captain of detectives in ABC's charming Burke's Law.  (Which I wrote about here.)  "I badly wanted to do comedy," Barry tells TV Guide's Arnold Hano.  "Drama is easy.  Heavy emotion is easy...I searched the scripts for the inherent comedy that can be found in almost any drama.  I searched for the twinkle. I knew that a look, a take, an ad lib, the lift of an eyebrow could change the tone of a serious sentence.  I read Burke's Law.  I envisioned the twinkle in it."

It's a great look at Barry*, but Hano's article also typifies the worst of a certain kind of passive-aggressive hatchet job that pops up in TV Guide during this period.  Hano describes Barry as a man with ego problems, one who worries about what people say and what they write.  Hano cites a scene where, while talking with Burke co-star Gary Conway, Barry "poked his head into the room and said: 'What is he saying about me?'" In another instance, while talking about the night club act he pursued while on hiatus from series television, Hano quotes Barry as saying, "I hate night clubs," followed by, "Maybe I shouldn't say that.  I work in night clubs."  And he has his detractors, such as an unnamed magazine writer who calls him "a supreme egotist," and an unnamed musician who describes him as an "egomaniac."

Gene Barry and Eileen O'Neill
*Unfortunately, the article doesn't mention Eileen O'Neill, who played Sgt. Gloria Ames, the most attractive desk sergeant in the Los Angeles police force - or any police force anywhere, I'd wager. Burke's Law was known for its "bevy of beauties," the big-name guest stars who appeared in each episode.  Eileen O'Neill doesn't have to take a backseat to any of them.  We'll rectify such an egregious oversight with this gratuitous picture of her with Gene Barry.

And that's the point: with the exception of writer Joan Crosby, none of the people speaking ill of Barry apparently have names.  They remind me of the anonymous actors who appear at the end of a long roll of movie credits, identified as "Tough Guy #2" or "Housewife."  While I can understand that people may sometimes want to speak off the record for various professional or personal reasons, the idea of smearing someone through anonymous innuendo has a smell about it, and it isn't good.

The same thing appears in Richard Gehman's attack piece on David Susskind, although at least Gehman is up front enough to admit that he's crossed paths, and swords, with Susskind in the past.  And Gehman, more than Hano, does name names, at least once in a while: Fred Coe, for example, talks with Gehman about Philco Playhouse.  According to "one man" - apparently, another of those nameless people who populate Hollywood and New York - "If you don't listen to David carefully, you get the idea he created Philco Playhouse.  But on the other hand, it's tough to listen to David carefully because he talks so much." However, Coe - who actually created the show - said that in fact he had suggested Susskind produce the show because Coe wanted to take some time off, and adds that he does not feel Susskind appropriated creative credit.

And so it goes.  A "lady who knows him" says he's sensitive about his height.  "Some that know him" think of him as a clown.  "Others" speak of his wordiness; "says one," Susskind "elongates" the language.  Someone whom Gehman describes as an "enemy" remarks about Susskind's comments that he is a voracious reader with the quote "I never saw him open a book."

Gehman describes his experience (as "a regretful participant") on Susskind's Open End program as perhaps among "the five worst panel shows ever seen."  He labels Susskind's interview with Nikita Khrushchev as "triumph of egotism."  And, to be sure, some of - perhaps most of - these criticisms are valid.  But if Gehman wants to do a hit piece on Susskind, or if Hano was turned off by Gene Barry, have the guts to say so up front.  I would expect this quality of writing from the present TV Guide, which has degenerated into little more than a glossy fan mag; from the TV Guide of the 1960s, which featured such incisive writers as Edith Efron, Malcolm Muggerage and Richard Doan, I would hope for better.

***

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
It is, hard to believe, Thanksgiving week.  Despite all that had happened during the long, bleak week, the day came off pretty much as planned.  The parades went on, motivated in part by the desire to provide children with some fun and a sense of normalcy.  The Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers played to a 13-13 tie in their last annual Turkey Day contest.*  In the AFL, the Oakland Raiders defeated the Denver Broncos 26-10, while Texas, on their way to the national championship, edged Texas A&M 15-13.  Arthur Godfrey rounded out the Thanksgiving night with a special featuring Tony Bennett, Carol Lawrence, Shari Lewis and Liza Minelli.

*Though the two teams still play each other frequently on Thanksgiving, as they will this year.  It was said that after the previous year's game, in which the Lions had routed the previously undefeated Packers 26-14, Vince Lombardi was determined to end the Thanksgiving tradition, which dated back to 1951.

***

This issue is from Kansas City, and as was the case with last week's Southern California issue, we get to see some different things (besides channel numbers that don't quite match up to what a Minnesotan would expect) and unique images we don't ordinarily run across in Twin Cities editions

There's this ad for Blue Valley Federal Savings and Loan, for example, promising free snowman salt and pepper shakers for joining their Christmas Club.  Sadly, Blue Valley closed up shop in the 1990s, although I'll bet you might be able to find a pair of these shakers in an antique store somewhere.

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION

The Kansas City Chiefs are the home team, one of the strongest in the fledgling AFL, and in their first season in KC after relocating from Dallas (where they'd won the championship the previous year, before finding out that the city wasn't big enough for both them and the Cowboys), and KCMO proudly carries the Hank Stram show every Saturday, with highlights from last week's game and a preview of the upcoming matchup.

KFEQ, in St. Joseph, MO has this ad for Operation Santa Claus, in which Santa appears in "live remotes" from the North Pole.  They were scheduled for November 25-27; I wonder if they were shown?

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION

And then there are these great ads for RCA Victor color TVs.  ("RCA Victor IS color TV!")  In this era before big box stores, you could pick up a nice color TV at Sam's Bargain Town on Truman Road in Kansas City; there's an identical ad later in the issue for Tri-County Appliance in North Kansas City.  I don't think either one of them is around any more, although Sam's memory lives on - again, at an antique store.

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION

***

A couple of incidental notes: among the many shows that were rescheduled was Friday's Route 66 episode entitled "I'm Here to Kill a King,"   Stephen Bowie ably covers how the assassination wreaked havoc on schedules, and explains why that particular episode of Route 66 was perhaps not the best one to air.  (Hint: it has to do with an assassination.)  There are other things about this issue, items that don't have any particular significance but just seem to stand out a little in retrospect, such as a documentary on the plot to kill Hitler on The Twentieth Century (Sunday afternoon, not shown), or a Pearl Harbor special entitled "Day of Infamy," coming on the heels of a brand new day of infamy.  A movie called The Last Woman on Earth appears with an ad picturing the mushroom cloud explosion of an atomic bomb.

It was a strange week indeed, which makes it a challenging one to write about.  So many things changed in those few days.

November 22, 2013

TV listings: November 22, 1963

As listed in the Dallas Morning News on the morning of November 22, 1963. (With a H/T to BD Sullivan at the Radio Discussions message board. I do in fact have the paper, but he was the one who took the time to type in the listings.)

KRLD, Channel 4 (CBS)
6:20 School
7:00 News/Markets
7:15 Garden
7:30 Officer Friendly
8:00 Captain Kangaroo
9:00 JFK Breakfast Speech from Ft. Worth
9:30 I Love Lucy
10:00 The Real McCoys
10:30 Pete and Gladys
11:00 Love of Life
11:15 News
11:30 Search for Tomorrow
11:45 Guiding Light
12:00 News/Weather
12:15 Fashions in Faces
12:30 As the World Turns (First CBS bulletin at 12:40pm)
1:00 JFK Address from Dallas Trade Mart
2:00 To Tell the Truth (News at 2:25)
2:30 Edge of Night
3:00 Secret Storm
3:30 Leave it to Beaver
4:00 December Bride
4:30 Our Miss Brooks
5:00 The Lone Ranger
5:30 CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite
6:00 News/Weather
6:30 The Great Adventure: “Wild Bill Hickok—the Legend and the Man” (rescheduled for January 3, 1964)
7:30 Route 66: “A Cage in Search of a Bird” (rescheduled for the following week)
8:30 Twilight Zone: “Night Call” (rescheduled for February 7, 1964)
9:00 The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: “Body in the Barn” (rescheduled for July 3, 1964)
10:00 News/Weather/Sportsreel
10:30 The Steve Allen Show: Guests—Cliff Arquette, Don Sherman, Jennie Smith, Barbara Perkins
12:00 News, Sign Off

WBAP, Channel 5 (NBC)
6:55 Milestone
7:00 The Today Show
9:00 JFK Breakfast Speech from Ft. Worth
9:30 Word for Word
10:00 Concentration
10:30 Missing Links
11:00 Your First Impression
11:30 Truth or Consequences
12:00 Noon News
12:30 Dateline (First NBC bulletin at 12:45pm)
1:00 People Will Talk (News at 1:25)
1:30 The Doctors
2:00 The Loretta Young Show
2:30 You Don’t Say
3:00 The Match Game (News at 3:25)
3:30 Make Room for Daddy
4:00 The Mickey Mouse Club
4:30 Action 5
5:30 The Huntley-Brinkley Report
6:00 News/Weather
6:30 International Showtime—Copenhagen Circus (no info on rescheduled date)
7:30 Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theater—“It’s Mental Work” starring Lee J. Cobb, Gena Rowlands and Harry Guardino (and written by Rod Serling) (rescheduled for December 20)
8:30 Harry’s Girls—“Bet it All” (rescheduled for January 3, 1964 as last episode of series)
9:00 The Jack Paar Program—Guests: Liberace, Cassius Clay, Milt Kamen
10:00 Texas News/Weather/Sports
10:45 The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson—Guests: Kirk Douglas, Henny Youngman, Dave King, The Willis Sisters
12:00 News, Movie “Milestone”

WFAA, Channel 8 (ABC)
6:10 En France
7:00 Mr. Peppermint with Jerry Haynes
8:15 King and Odie
8:30 Johnny Midnight
9:00 JFK Breakfast Speech from Ft. Worth
9:30 The Life of Riley
10:00 The Price is Right
10:30 Seven Keys
11:00 JFK Arrival in Dallas
11:30 Father Knows Best
12:00 General Hospital
12:30 The Julie Benell Show (Local bulletin at 12:45pm)
1:00 JFK Address from Dallas Trade Mart
1:30 Day in Court (News at 1:55)
2:00 Queen for a Day
2:30 Who Do You Trust?
3:00 Trailmaster (aka Wagon Train)
4:00 Movie “The Black Sleep” (1956)
5:45 ABC News—Ron Cochran
6:00 Channel 8 News Report
6:30 77 Sunset Strip—“Lovers Lane” (rescheduled for January 3, 1964)
7:30 Movie “Duel in the Sun” (1946)
10:00 Newsreel; News/Weather/Sports
10:40 Murphy Martin
11:00 Movie “The Helen Morgan Story” (1957)
1:00 Late Movie

KTVT, Channel 11 (Ind.)
8:00 Reveille
8:30 Romper Room
9:00 JFK Breakfast Speech from Ft. Worth
9:30 The Ed Allen Show
10:00 Movie “Ringside Maisie” (1941)
11:30 Girl Talk
12:00 News/Weather
12:15 Farm Show
12:30 Cartoons
1:00 My Little Margie
1:30 Movie “Down Three Dark Streets” (1954) (News at 2:55)
3:00 Jim Bowie
3:30 Popeye
4:00 Funny Company
4:30 The Adventures of Superman
5:00 The Three Stooges
5:45 News/Weather
6:00 Supercar
6:30 Cheyenne
7:30 Movie “Hercules Unchained” (1959)
9:00 Movie “Jeanne Eagels” (1957)
11:15 Movie “Cass Timberlane” (1947)
(After WBAP's remote unit broke down they were offered the use of KTVT's, in return for KTVT being allowed to use the NBC feed from WBAP.)

Around the dial - JFK edition

I think I may finally have started to understand this fascination I have with the JFK assassination.  It occurs to me that a great deal of it has to do with viewing how people deal with the unexpected.  The attraction of the original network broadcast footage, for example, lies with technicians struggling to achieve connections between New York, Washington and Dallas; newscasters struggling not only with a lack of information but with their own emotions as they report the news they badly want to not believe; the scenes of chaos - "controlled panic," NBC's Bill Ryan called it, unfolding before the cameras.  On CBS you can see staffers yanking sheets of paper off the teletype and handing it to Walter Cronkite as quickly as possible, while on ABC stagehands frantically try to assemble a makeshift studio for Ron Cochran to broadcast from.

And then there's the attraction of seeing news "as it happens," and not subject to retrospective filtering. Regardless of your thoughts on who killed Kennedy, it's fascinating to see the story unfold on live television, as pieces are assembled, incorrect information is passed along, and the larger story takes shape.  Someone wrote that the event was a conversion of the past, present and future of journalism: the past being the radio-like way in which the dearth of remote coverage forced television networks to resemble the old days of radio*; the present, in that much of the early information came courtesy of wire services and newspapermen; and the future, that being the emergence of television as the dominant form of news delivery. The widespread instant reaction that Kennedy's death was due to right-wing extremists, and the confusion when it's discovered that the prime suspect was actually a Communist who hated America, is a most interesting experience, and it's that combination of retrospective (knowing what comes next) and living "in the moment" (thinking of the fear and uncertainty everyone was experiencing) that makes it all uniquely interactive.

*Listening to radio broadcasts of the assassinations of both JFK and RFK are a particularly interesting experience, as these disembodied voices paint an image of events occurring in some distant place, leaving the listener to imagine what must be going on.  It's both engrossing and frightening, as the imagination often is.

There are a number of links this week that emphasize different aspects of this.  This excellent article in The Atlantic provides the newcomer with tips on how to watch the original coverage.  (Although you can get this and a lot more in Marc Ryan's book.)  The LA Times website has some interesting photographs of how TV reacted to the news.  The Downhold Project provides wire service copy of the story as it unfolded (and try to imagine you're in a newsroom reading it for the first time, and what your reaction might be).  Pacific Standard magazine provides a look at what the news coverage meant to viewers, and how they formed a personal bond with the newscasters bringing it to them.  And from my old home state, this story presents Todd Kosovich and his vast collection of assassination coverage.

There's plenty of it to be had out there, including CBS News' streaming video this weekend.  It leaves an impression that won't soon go away.

Image above: From left, Frank McGee, Chet Huntley and Bill Ryan report the news on NBC. (( NBC NewsWire via Getty Images )

November 21, 2013

Happy Birthday, Doctor!

Bet you thought this would be another JFK post, right? Don't worry; that comes tomorrow.

But I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the extraordinary fact that Doctor Who celebrates its fiftieth anniversary tomorrow.  Now, most of you probably know that, and furthermore I wrote at some length about Doctor Who a while back in my Top Ten list.  Still...

When you think about it, 50 years is a long time for a television series to be going.  Meet the Press is there, along with Face the Nation and some other news shows, but I don't really consider that to be part of the same comparison.  The Simpsons has been going for awhile now, but that's animated.  There are the soaps, to be sure - at least a few of them, although they seem to be dying off pretty steadily - I guess Days Of Our Lives and General Hospital would be the winners there.  I always marveled at What's My Line?, which not only ran for over 17 seasons, but spent all but a few months of that time in the same time slot.  There's a pretty good list here, though who knows for sure if the always-reliable Wikipedia is absolutely right on this. Coronation Street dates back to 1960, which makes it one of the longest continuously-running scripted shows of all time, and a contemporary of Doctor Who.

Now, it's true that Doctor Who took a few years off there between 1989 and 2005, so in terms of total seasons we're actually at 33, which is still a hell of a long run for a show.  And one of the things I've really appreciated about the new incarnation is that it is not a re-boot, but a continuation.  In fact, due in great part to Russell T. Davies, the show has done a remarkable job of integrating the past with the present.  It's strange enough that a show can survive 11* (soon to be 12) actors playing the same lead role, but to convince us that Matt Smith, the current Doctor, inhabits the same essence as William Hartnell, the First Doctor - well, that's no mean feat.

*And by the way, isn't that a stunning montage of them up there as the lede picture?  That's courtesy of AP/BBC.

Doctor Who originally premiered on November 23, 1963, the day after JFK's assassination.  There was some controversy as to whether or not it should be aired at all that day, and in fact the inaugural episode was rerun the next Saturday prior to the scheduled second episode*.  The rest, as they say, is history.  And to have reached the staggering point in time where we're celebrating the 50th anniversary of the show's debut is something, isn't it?  The anniversary's getting worldwide attention - the show's arguably never been more popular than it is now, and it's certainly transitioned in this country from a cult favorite to a mainstream hit - and I probably would have written about it at greater length had I not done that so recently.  There's a lot of attention being paid to the JFK anniversary, but for all that I don't think there was really any danger that the good Doctor would be overlooked.

*Not so much as an encore, but because a lot of people either missed it or were distracted from it by the goings-on in America.

So this is no scholarly treatise, nothing really but a birthday card from a fan, to 50 years of Doctor Who - and may there be 50 more!

November 19, 2013

Interview: Marc Ryan, author of Three Shots Were Fired: JFK's Assassination and TV's First Global Story

As the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy approaches, we continue with posts centering on television’s coverage of the drama as it unfolded.  Today I’m pleased to present an interview with Marc Ryan, author of Three Shots Were Fired, a new book that takes an in-depth look at what Americans saw on their screens during those tumultuous days in November 1963.

It’s About TV:  In the subtitle of your book you call JFK’s assassination “TV’s first global story.” Just how dramatic a change was this from any previous news story in the television era, and what kind of challenges did it create for this young medium of television?
Marc Ryan:  It’s long been said most folks heard the news on the radio and went to the nearest TV, whether that was at home, at work, a barbershop, or department store. The figure I often see is that 175 million Americans watched at least some of the coverage – and that’s at a time when the U.S. population was less than 200 million. Transmitting TV by satellite slowly but surely became more common. It was coming anyway, but the JFK coverage showed a need, gave things a nudge. As I say in the book, the Relay satellite sent coverage around the world.

As the President was in Dallas, members of the Cabinet (including Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Secretary of Commerce Luther Hodges) were on their way to Tokyo for meetings.  I’ve never heard but I am convinced an item on the agenda was the need for coverage of the Tokyo Olympics. Sure enough, Syncom 3 (synchronous communication) was launched in August of 1964.

By the way, Winston Churchill’s funeral in 1965 was via satellite. Interestingly, a picture was available for only 15 minutes at a time; the satellite used was in orbit, not stationary.

Why do we still care about the assassination? And why does the “as it happened” television coverage still interest so many people?
MR: For the baby boomers, it is OUR first historical tragedy/news event. It’s not from history books; you felt a connection via TV.  A large part of that is due to JFK’s appeal. He was so good on TV, he engaged young people (with the Peace Corps and more) in a way Truman or Eisenhower did, even if they couldn’t vote. (I should copyright this phrase:) JFK and Jackie were the first President and First Lady who didn’t look like Grandma and Grandpa.

When I was teaching, I saw how it was 9/11 for my students. Pearl Harbor was for my parents; Lincoln was from the history books.  And it’s something that scared the WWII generation (how many people on feared this was the first episode of an attack?).

Ron Cochran, ABC's lead anchor:
"Government sources" report JFK dead
For four days, there was nothing else on television.  All programming had been cancelled, as well as all commercials.  What were some of the things the networks did to fill the time? I’m afraid that today we’d be subjected to all kinds of talking heads and very little conversation of substance.
MR: There were some discussion panels and such. WFAA ran a panel with Bill Lord, Bob Clark Jay Watson. I think it was ABC who ran an eight-month old video of three reporters that ran about thirty minutes; it was three reporters interviewing LBJ in Spring, 1963 in kind of a Meet the Press or This Week setting, though I think it was recorded at the White House.  You could see it was a “Well, it’s Friday night, LBJ’s in the White House so we have to kill time.”

ABC, CBS and NBC did run bios of JFK and later, Oswald. There were discussions of what kind of President LBJ would be. But you are right. These discussions were informed (most saying he’d pursue JFK’s agenda and maybe more successfully given his Capitol Hill background), and to the point. All three networks did sign off Friday night and resume sevenish Saturday.  Sunday night, they had the overhead shot of the casket or the Capitol Dome shot I spoke about. For long stretches, they just stayed with either shot and didn’t talk unless a government person or celebrity had been in line.

Friday, they certainly reviewed film after it was developed, that was important and time consuming. Saturday and Sunday, a lot of coverage was who was coming to the White House or Sunday, flying into Dulles, dignitaries such as de Gaulle, Queen Frederika…

Thank goodness screen graphics were unsophisticated. Can you imagine the BREAKING NEWS icon, hours after the story broke and the theme music?   “Kent Brockman here reporting on a crisis so serious it has its own name and theme music.”

Did the networks overdo it with their coverage?  Former President Eisenhower, for example, thought that continuing with regular programming – minus commercials – and providing regular hourly updates might have been sufficient.
MR: There’s an unspoken reality when a big story breaks, it’s “all hands on deck” and you stay with it.  There was no other way for TV to do the story. To have an hour network special and cut away for Twilight Zone or Burke’s Law would have been awful. Keep in mind, on that Friday night for instance, each network had symphony orchestras play to honor JFK and, to give newscasters a rest and ready more coverage. When any of them went to music, people changed the channel. They wanted information.

NBC stayed on the air all Sunday night into Monday morning, just showing people passing the bier in the Capitol Rotunda. Would any network other than C-SPAN allow the pictures to tell the story like that?
MR: No. Sadly, no.

Give us a bit of background on your television experience, your teaching, and your thoughts on television news today.
MR: My first job in TV news was with CNN in 1980, hired two weeks before we went on the air! The all hands on deck I spoke of earlier? The Democratic Convention in NYC, the hostages return from Iran in 1981, the attempt on President Reagan in March of 1981. I was in NY but as a production assistant, I was busy with researching Wall Street’s behavior at other assassination attempts on Presidents, things like that. I was at ESPN in the mid-eighties. One of my main duties was making sure of what games were on which satellites for our highlight needs. I had a nomadic TV career, which is the norm now, SportsChannel America in the late eighties, early 90’s and West Virginia Public TV in 1992, this time on the air, covering the state legislature.

I went into teaching to influence future newscasters. I had an epiphany to teach about mass communication. The way we use our media is fascinating. I always stressed it’s not “The Media” we are the media. We text, we blog, we tweet, we Facebook. For goodness sakes, twitter is used as a news source!

To say there is a “liberal media” gets my goat. AM radio is full of conservative politics; cable news tailors programs to reach an audience. We the audience decides what thrives on the airwaves. The 60 Minutes Benghazi disaster wasn’t a function of being anything but sloppy.
And mass media and culture? I always had fun showing my students for every Lady Gaga, there’s Madonna or Elton John or Liberace, for every Kate Upton, there’s Twiggy or Suzy Parker, for every Kardashian, there’s Dagmar (though Dagmar was in on the joke). It helps explain why Dancing with the Stars and amateur singing always get more viewers than American Masters on an opera.

Local TV news has its relevance but overall, it is superficial and follows the same formula. Like Mad Libs, change the names and it is the same. However, in times of crisis, local TV news can be excellent. I live in New England and coverage that I saw of the Boston Marathon bombing (mostly by WBZ-TV, the CBS affiliate) was excellent.

How did you research the book? You’ve got a remarkable amount of information on what each network was doing, as well as the local coverage from the Dallas stations.
MR: I started reading books more than a year ago - Death of a President by William Manchester, Four Days in November: the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy by Vincent Bugliosi, President Kennedy Has Been Shot, by the Newseum, When the News Went Live by Bob Huffaker and others. I cannot say how often I have read the Newseum and Huffaker books.  I bought newsweeklies of December, 1963 on e-bay, looked at TV encyclopedias at the library, my own video collection from NBC coverage, DVDs of ABC and NBC coverage on Amazon, and David Von Pein’s YouTube page and “As it Happened” blog are truly a public service.  There is lengthy video of the Oswald shooting on an NBC archive. It is amazing.

For NBC: Frank McGee (left), Bill Ryan
(right) hold up newspaper late editions
Now, although you only briefly allude to it in the book, you have a very personal connection to the coverage of the assassination. Tell us about that.
MR: Well, my father, Bill Ryan, was half the anchor team for WNBC’s Pressman-Ryan Report, the 6pm news on channel 4, New York. He also did on the hour updates for NBC Radio News; he had done some network stories as a reporter, the Freedom Rides in 1961, for instance.

On that Friday, he was in writing copy for the hourly radio news update when the story came over the wires.  Some people were at lunch; it was a slow Friday. A colleague shouted for a reporter, so he stood up and asked “What do you need?” "Get back to TV right away!” the newshand said. “The president has been shot!"  Chet Huntley and Frank McGee joined my father in studio 5 HN, a little wood panel room they called a “Flash” studio, getting its name from the wire service word for a HUGE breaking news story. Huntley was on set for maybe an hour. My father and Frank McGee, except for instances where coverage was from Washington (and later Dallas), were on the set until after midnight.

Was the assassination something that you talked about in the house afterward?  It isn’t every day that a reporter has the chance to cover the biggest news event ever to hit television.
MR: I’ll tell you something: we didn’t talk about it around the house. It wasn’t ever declared off limits or anything like that, but we had all been watching.

He did get a call in 1983 from an NBC archivist who offered to make a VHS copy for him. Aside from a clip at the Smithsonian for a ten-year anniversary exhibit, he had not seen any video. For whatever reason, he never got the VHS. So the 1988 A&E [As It Happened] special was his first chance.

(Now, when he did NASA stuff, it was all I would ever talk about! Good thing he loved talking about that.)

How old were you when this all happened?  And was it your father’s involvement that made you decide to write about it?
MR: I was five and watching with my brothers and sisters and mother. A colleague at Keene State College, a former newspaper investigative reporter, started to urge me to write a book on my father’s career. I said I would think of something for the fiftieth. It wasn’t until Labor Day I got it through my thick skull that the focus should be on the medium, not one man, that this was indeed the first global TV news story.

We’re 50 years from when this actually happened, and there are fewer and fewer people around who were actually there as it happened. Are there any myths about the television coverage, things people might think they saw or heard that you found out didn’t happen?
MR: Anyone who reads this blog knows to this day, there are people who think the JFK assassination was on LIVE television. The moment that endures is of Cronkite announcing JFK’s death. In more than one place, I have seen a Don Hewitt quote on viewers’ need for Cronkite: “Father Cronkite, help us.” Wow, that is overstated. Hewitt did a million great things in TV but that was WAY over the top. Cronkite was fantastic but he was later rotated with people like Charles Collingwood, Eric Sevareid and others.  The Cronkite announcement endures because he was so good, so professional and it is a tidy forty seconds. But there is a long list of reporters and anchors that did fantastic work that weekend.

I’m glad you brought up Walter Cronkite - one thing that’s always interested me is that NBC, with Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, were number one in news at the time, and in fact NBC’s ratings for the weekend were higher than CBS and ABC combined, and yet there’s this kind of mythology that’s grown up, which actually is reinforced by a PBS documentary this week, that the entire nation’s eyes were glued to Cronkite the whole time. As you point out, Cronkite was indeed very good, but so were the men behind the desk at NBC (ABC – well, we’ll leave that for the moment), so how did this Cronkite phenomenon take place?
MR: That clip of Cronkite [making the announcement] is a great example of answering who what when where but not why, and it is 40 seconds. You know what is interesting? Eddie Barker [news director of Dallas station KRLD] reported from the Trade Mart that JFK was dead, saying “this, we cannot confirm,” a number of times thirty minutes earlier. Cronkite reported that JFK’s death was “only a rumor”.

Even with all those rumors, and the story of the two priests saying Kennedy was dead, all three of the networks seemed reluctant to actually give this as fact. There must have been some real tension behind the scenes, between wanting to be first with the story and wanting to make sure you didn’t botch it.
MR: The most I can honestly say here is that my father’s overriding instinct (and not fear, but conviction) was to be correct. He told himself (on the set) not to speculate.

Walter Cronkite of CBS: reporting
the unthinkable.
I was going to say, knowing that everyone was listening to them, that they had just a huge audience hanging on to what they were saying, must have put a tremendous responsibility on the shoulders of everyone involved in providing the coverage, both in front of and behind the cameras. How well did they handle that responsibility?
MR: This sounds artificial, maybe you have a better phrase, but they were in the moment. Just about everything I’ve read, broadcasters just focused on the story and thought of their own feeling off the set.

The coverage was only beginning, of course, with the President’s assassination.  On Sunday there was, arguably, an even more shocking story, with the murder of Lee Oswald.  The three networks, despite having more time to get ready, all handled the shooting in different ways. 
MR: ABC sent one WFAA crew to a church service to interview folks after services. ABC had Roger Sharp at the county facility for Oswald’s arrival, smart thinking that Jack Ruby spoiled. CBS had Roger Mudd live at the Capitol to explain what would happen Sunday and stayed with that too long. CBS had Nelson Benton and KRLD’s Bob Huffaker on the scene and just plain blew it. Huffaker recovered quickly and was fantastic. Tom Pettit for NBC was incredibly steady as a man was killed in front of him.

How did the story influence the way TV would cover future news stories? And conversely, how do you think the coverage would be different if today’s technology and style of news gathering existed back then?
MR: Those four days set the template for coverage of the likes of the murders of MLK, RFK, Apollo 11, the hostages return in 1981, and 9/11. A lot of the changes are Marshall McLuhan’s Technological Determinism. We higher education types love theory. Videotape replaced film, memory cards replace tape and a live shot is so much easier to arrange.

A modern day attempt on the President’s life would be live on the cable networks, picked up by ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX. But the follow up? You’d have the likes of the E! Channel and TMZ. In 1964, Dorothy Kilgallen and her ilk were in print. Today, we have Nancy Grace.

What, for you, is the most memorable moment of the coverage?
MR: There was a static shot Sunday night of the Capitol Dome. It’s beautiful and that night, and to use a word not in my vocabulary then, it was a poignant sight. That visual and the feelings I had inside, I’ve never forgotten. The drums and sound of the hooves Monday.

Conversely, is there one thing that maybe people aren’t aware of, some little moment that you’d really like to point out for viewers to watch for?
MR: The beauty of how television can communicate when no one speaks.

Was there anything you had to leave out because you didn’t have enough information? Where you wanted to say, “What were you thinking?” or “Why did you do this instead of that?”
MR: I would have loved to revisit the Library of Congress or visit the Sixth Floor Museum. I cannot be the only person over the last fifty years who wishes he could go back in time and tell the Dallas PD to not invite the media to cover the Oswald transfer.

Was there one “ah-ha” moment for you, something that really surprised you either in the information you learned, or the way it was presented on TV?
MR: Mistakes were made; the type of rifle used took a while to get right. It was thought that Officer Tippit was killed at the Texas Theatre and for a short while, it was thought LBJ was hurt because he was holding his arm when walking into Parkland. Turned out he was achy because Secret Service Agent Rufus Youngblood jumped atop him in the motorcade.

Two “ah-ha” thoughts: The Dallas PD wanted to cooperate with “the press”. They didn’t want to give the impression Oswald was being roughed up, they didn’t want anyone to get the idea law enforcement in Dallas was anything like what people who had never been south had seen the Birmingham PD six months earlier.

Also, TV didn’t bring in former FBI profilers to do a character sketch of what might/maybe/possibly/”could be”. They didn’t have e medical reporter explain what the President’s injuries might be/maybe/could mean. ABC, CBS and NBC were careful not to get ahead of themselves.

Oh, one more: as I report in the book, on Monday morning, there were still people in line at the Capitol Rotunda. Jack Lescoulie did no interviews, he thought it “would not be proper” to intrude. Never happen nowadays.

There are some clips on YouTube from 25th anniversary specials, ginned up with ominous music. Some stories speak for themselves and need no enhancements.

Last question - did CBS ever show people the rest of that “As the World Turns” storyline?
MR: What a good question! For all I know, Dr. Cassen and Bob Hughes are still at that restaurant!


Check out Marc's Three Shots Were Fired blog here.

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.



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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.



November 14, 2013

Classic Playback: interview with JFK archivist David Von Pein

The 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy is a week from tomorrow, and for the next few days I'll be featuring posts centering on television’s coverage of the drama as it unfolded. Today we'll take a look back an an interview I did two years ago, in the early days of the blog, with David Von Pein, the acknowledged YouTube master of all things JFK.  In this interview we talk about how television covered the assassination and its aftermath, the charms of classic television, and whether our families think we're nuts for doing all this.




It is often said that television truly came of age with its coverage of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I think that can be a bit overstated, but there's no question that, almost 50 years later, the "As It Happened" coverage, coming as it did like a lightning bolt out of the blue of an ordinary Friday afternoon in November, remains absolutely riveting.

Until the advent of YouTube, access to this video coverage, which tells you the story in a way totally unlike the history book or the newspaper, was relatively hard to come by, limited mostly to video traders and online dealers. Today, however, anyone can call up hours of footage, not only from the three networks but also from local television and radio.

Of the various sites devoted to the JFK assassination, few come with the video treasure that can be found on the sites run by David Von Pein. An outspoken believer (as am I) that Lee Harvey Oswald was the one and only assassin of Kennedy, Von Pein has amassed an incredible amount of video history on JFK - not just the assassination, but various tributes, documentaries and movies, not to mention rarely seen clips from Kennedy's 1960 presidential campaign. As someone who has spent more than a few hours with my own JFK collection, I thought David would be an outstanding choice for the inaugural It's About TV interview.

Q: David, thanks first of all for your time. We're going to be talking about collecting old television shows on DVD, because you have an amazing collection, not just of the JFK assassination, but all kinds of TV series and movies. Do your friends and family think you’re kind of, uh, nuts for doing this? Because I know some of the looks I get, I have to go into this long academic discussion about how this is all historical research, in order to justify what is probably really a guilty pleasure.

A: No, I don't think my family thinks I'm TOTALLY crazy. Just a LITTLE bit. ~wink~ My brother, in fact, runs a fairly popular TV website himself. You can find it here. He was kind enough to link to some of my sites from his "Showcase" TV website (even a page for my JFK stuff).

Q: So tell me - how did you first get interested in the Kennedy assassination? Was this a contemporary event for you, something you'd always been interested in, or is this a case of a young man looking back at a particular point in time?

A: I was born in 1961 (when JFK was in the White House, coincidentally), so I don't remember the assassination (or JFK as a President) at all. I just know that (for me) there's something about Mr. Kennedy, his Presidency, his family, and his assassination that are endlessly fascinating.

I first got deeply interested in President Kennedy's assassination in 1981, when I read David Lifton's book, Best Evidence [book review here].

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Read the rest here.

Still to come: TV Guide from November 16, 1963; "As It Happened" film clips, and an interview with Three Shots Were Fired author Marc Ryan.  Stay tuned.