January 11, 2014

This week in TV Guide: January 10, 1976

Thought we'd stay with the 70s for another week, see what happens.  Will I live to regret it, or be pleasantly surprised?  Stay tuned.

This is another TV Guide from my own personal subscription, meaning it has my name on the mailing label and serves as a constant reminder of the programs I wasn't able to see while living in the world's worst town.  Shows like Happy Days, starring our cover boys, Ron Howard and Henry Winkler.  Oh sure, I'd heard of Happy Days, was aware that it was a hit, but the only time I might be able to see it was when we traveled back to the Twin Cities on vacation.  It seemed a lot more exotic then than it does now.

Last week I wrote about ABC's penchant for "prestige" dramas, and mentioned the acclaimed Eleanor and Franklin.  Well, that's the ABC Theatre two-part presentation on Sunday and Monday nights. The movie, which stars Jane Alexander and Edward Herrmann, will go on to win nine Emmys, a Golden Globe, and a Peabody, and spawn a sequel - The White House Years - that will air the following year. However, ABC doesn't have the Prestigious Presidential Biography category all to itself; NBC counters on Monday night with part five of Sandburg's Lincoln, starring Hal Holbrook in the title role.  That series, part of the ongoing Bicentennial celebration, was aired in six episodes over a year and a half, beginning in September 1974 and concluding in April 1976.  I won't spill the beans on the surprise ending...

Continuing our political theme, first lady Betty Ford appears on Saturday's episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, playing herself.  Probably just as well that I missed that one.  I didn't miss the replay of John Wayne's Swing Out, Sweet Land though.  The star-studded 90-minute special, which had originally been broadcast in 1970* and was being repeated as "A Bicentennial Salute," featured Lorne Greene and Jack Benny as George Washington and friend, Rowan and Martin as the Wright Brothers, Bing Crosby as Mark Twain, Bob Hope and Ann-Margaret as entertainers at Valley Forge - well, you get the idea.  Surprisingly, it's available on DVD (under the title John Wayne's Tribute to America), and it's actually not bad.  Mind you, it's not great, either.  But who am I to judge - see for yourself and make up your own mind:


*Come to think of it, that's probably the airing I remember.

Speaking of Happy Days as we were, the cover story is a profile of Winkler, emerging as the breakout star of the series.  The article may be timed to coincide with the show's second anniversary, which includes a clip-filled retrospective on Monday night.  As I mentioned, Happy Days seemed like an exotically successful program to me back then, mostly because I couldn't see it.  When I could, after the move back to the Twin Cities, I thought it was harmless enough.  I probably even enjoyed it for awhile, living off the fumes of its mystery.  Today, I probably don't have many feelings about it at all.  Although I never did warm up to Winkler; when he appears on TV nowadays, in an informercial for some senior product, I delight in pointing out to my wife that he probably appeals to seniors because they're the only ones who remember he used to be a star.


***

Occasionally in these 70s-era TV Guides, I'll have the opportunity to do a matchup between NBC's Midnight Special and ABC's In Concert, a la my "Sullivan vs. The Palace" feature for 60s Guides. Well, In Concert has left the airwaves - but fear not, we still have a matchup we can look at.  Midnight Special is still running strong, and up against it (in the same time spot, even!) is the other major music series of the 70s, Don Kirshner's Rock Concert.  In fact, because this is the Minnesota state edition of TV Guide, with over 20 stations to choose from, we actually have two episodes of Kirschner we can look at.  How exciting is this?

Midnight Special:  (Helen Reddy, hostess) Olivia Newton-John, Kenny Rankin, the Staple Singers, and country-rock group Poco are the guests.  This week's spotlighted hit is Carole King's "I Feel the Earth Move," and the salute is to B.B. King.

Kirschner (as seen on WTCN, Channel 11):  The Staple Singers, Sparks, and the Flying Burrito Bros. do songs that include "Let's Do It Again," "I'll Take You There," "Without Using Hands," "Hospitality on Parade," "Looks, Looks, Looks."

Kirschner (as seen on WXOW, Channel 19, LaCrosse, WI):  Harry Chapin, Tom Chapin and Louden Wainwright III perform songs that include "Dreams Go By," "Love Story," "Plane, Too," "Cat's in the Cradle," "New York City," "Down Drinking at the Bar."

I would have watched Midnight Special, seeing as how it was on Channel 7, the only commercial station I could get.  And in truth that's probably the best of a weak group.  Now, I know there may be some of you who think these artists are terrific - you've got every Olivia Newton-John CD and workout tape, and you're a faithful fan of the Flying Burrito Bros.  I'm happy for you, but I can't go there. I'd never heard of the Flying Burrito Brothers until just now, by the way. For those of you who are like me, here's a clip just to prove I'm not making this up.


As an alternative, perhaps look at Soundstage, PBS' Saturday night music program.  Once again we have two versions, representing the various PBS stations in the market, so you get your choice of John Sebastian and David Bromberg on one hand, and Don McLean and The Persuasions on the other.  I'd probably opt for the latter.  At the time, though, I was probably watching KTCA's presentation of Monty Python's Flying Circus - a high school friend of mine was nuts about the show and kept trying to get me into it.  It didn't do anything for me at the time - it would be years before I'd come to appreciate the bizarre humor of the series.  But hey, you've got to start somewhere.

***
Some random notes:

How the mighty have fallen.  One of my favorite pieces of all time was the one I did last year as part of the Classic TV Blog Association, a remembrance of The Dean Martin Show.  Martin's classic original series ended in 1974, but he's back this week with a special in which he plays "the owner-host of Dean's Place, a plush nightspot showcasing new talent."  The cast included Jack Cassidy as the maitre d', Vincent Gardenia as the chef, Guy Marks as a bartender, and Foster Brooks as the obligatory drunk customer. Unlike Deano's original show, this one is not cool.  Not cool at all.

And now the sports.  Not a whole lot to report this week.  The Hula Bowl makes its annual appearance on Wide World of Sports Saturday; I'd guess the biggest stars in the game were Steve Owens, Joe Washington and Chuck Muncie for the West, and two-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin for the East.

The Satanic spawn of the Bobby Riggs-Billie Jean King "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match is Challenge of the Sexes, one of CBS' entrants in a 70s genre known as "trashsport."  This week's debut episode features Evonne Goolagong taking on Ille Nastase in a one-set tennis match, and a race through an obstacle course between gold medal sprinter Wyomia Tyus and gold medal pole vaulter Bob Seagren.  If you think this doesn't make any sense whatsoever, you're absolutely correct.

Sunday's version of Wide World features the TV premiere of the epic October 1975 "Thrilla in Manilla" between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, which Ali won on a 14th round TKO.  Never having been a fan (or admirer) of Ali, I think the less said about this, the better.  And spanning the two days is NBC's coverage of the Tucson Open, the start of the professional golf season.

Oddity of the week: Tuesday night's World Hockey Association All Star Game, broadcast on a tape-delay from Cleveland, can be seen on WDSE, Channel 8 - the PBS station in Duluth.  I could make a joke here, but sports actually has a modest but distinguished history on PBS, whether as original productions (such as summer tennis tournaments, which PBS broadcast for several years, or the documentary series The Way It Was), or specials picked up by individual affiliates (the Stanley Cup playoffs on KTCA in 1978, a WHA game featuring the Minnesota Fighting Saints in the early 70s).  There are some who might suggest that PBS was providing a far greater public service with their sports coverage than they do with their regular programming.

New program:  Guess what's coming to TV?  That's right - Wednesday sees the debut of an "exciting new series" - The Bionic Woman, with special guest star Lee Majors.  Bionic Woman was a spin-off of Majors' Six Million Dollar Man, and in fact Sunday night's episode of the latter series served to introduce the concept of the bionic woman, as Lindsay Wagner's character struggles with the aftereffects of the brain surgery that transforms her life.

By any other name...:  We're still in the period when currently-running series that had also gone into syndication would sport a different name for its syndicated run.  Dragnet, for example, was also known as Badge 714 (Joe Friday's badge number*), Wagon Train became Wagonmaster, and Gunsmoke was known as Marshal Dillon.  Weekdays at 4pm, the aformentioned XWOW has a program called Robert Young, Family Doctor.  Now I wonder what that series could be?

*Also the number of home runs Babe Ruth hit during his career.  Coincidence?

***

Every once in a while - OK, probably more often than that - we'll run across something that could easily be written today, with nary a change to dot or comma.  This week's version comes from the News Watch column by Edith Efron entitled "Biased 'Science' Reporting Scares TV Viewers."  Her specific target is CBS, which she says "seems to be specializing in" news presented by "scientifically untrained reporters" who are "scaring the population to death with the idea that incalculable numbers of products are on the market which are inducing cancer and other dread diseases."

Now, I'll say upfront, as I usually do, that I'm not trying to take sides here.  This is a TV blog, not a political commentary site.  Nonetheless, one can't help but get the idea that this could have been written about Al Gore's Global Warming, Meryl Streep's Alar scare, Jenny McCarthy's anti-vaccination campaign, and so on.  Doesn't mean that any of them are right or wrong, just that this kind of thing has been going on for a long time,* and that then, as now, a good many people view this as a case of biased reporting.

*Witness Harry Reasoner's comment from 1967 that "The idea of trying to outguess life, to avoid everything that might conceivably injure your life, is a peculiarly dangerous one. Pretty soon you are existing in a morass of fear."

My favorite quote from the article is her telling of a magazine story from a few years back:

About 20 years ago, a magazine carried an article which I remember vividly.  In fact, I thought it so clever, I clipped it, and used it for several years as required reading in a journalism course I gave, to illustrate originality in the use of research.  The reporter involved was struck, one day, by the realization that almost everything on earth was dangerous to somebody.  So he reviewed all the medical literature he could get his hands on, and came up with the most incredible list of dangerous products anyone had ever seen.  It turned out that practically everything touched, breathed, tasted or swallowed caused disease and death in somebody, somewhere.  The reporter's straight-faced moral was this: If you want to stay alive, don't touch, breathe, taste, or swallow anything.  The magazine's editors, at the time, thought it was hilarious, readers thought it was hilarious, and it was hilarious.  Twenty years ago, semi-literate hysterics had not acquired a dominant voice in the culture, and did not see an apocalyptic threat to existence under every bush.  What's more, all sane human beings knew that the very act of daily living involved risk.

Efron goes on to say, and I would absolutely agree with this, that this doesn't mean that serious dangers and risks don't exist, nor does it mean that constant scientific assessment of dangerous drugs isn't necessary.  "And I don't mean that the public should not receive valid medical information; it should."  Her point is that "the networks should stop this scandalous process of allowing the scientifically untrained to air ill-informed, unbalanced, and terrifying opinions to a scientifically untrained public."  I think reporters such as John Stossel would agree with this.

***

We seem to have a lot of politics in this issue, seriously discussed, which is something that distinguishes the old TV Guide from today's fan-mag rag.  Witness this week's "As We See It" editorial taking U.S. Senator Frank Church to task for his televised hearings on the Central Intelligence Agency.  This ties in to an article written by former CIA chief John McCone, on television's role in coverage of CIA activities.  McCone's assertion is that the United States desperately needs the intelligence information gathered and evaluated by the CIA, and that television's recent coverage - much of it, in McCone's opinion, inaccurate - has damaged the Agency's credibility and functionality.

In "As We See It," the editors acknowledge "clear examples of wrongdoing" by the Agency in years past, uncovered in the Church committee's hearings.  The magazine argues, however, that the obviously ambitious Church (who would unsuccessfully run for president in 1976) is using the hearings for political gain, and that any Congressional legislation required to provide more effective oversight of the CIA "might have been drafted and passed by Congress without publicizing our secrets, exposing America to ridicule and discrediting our intelligence organization."

There's no question that the public has the right and the necessity to know how the government operates - but, "must we know everything about everything?"  The editorial concludes with this assessment: "A hundred KGB agents working overtime for the Kremlin could hardly have undermined the CIA as effectively as Senator Church's committee did.  It was a shocking and immeasurably harmful blow to our national security."

A couple of thoughts: first, there's no question that TV Guide at this point is a right-leaning publication; no surprise, perhaps, since publisher Walter Annenberg was a political ally of Richard Nixon and had served as Nixon's ambassador to the Court of St. James.  In addition to Edith Efron, Pat Buchanan serves as a regular columnist for TV Guide in this era.  Which leads to the second observation, that TV Guide does not shy away from literate discussions of serious issues.  In the past I've pointed out articles by Arnold Toynbee and Malcolm Muggeridge, and last week's issue included an article by James Michener.  TV Guide used to be a publication that did not talk down to its readership, that thought it was important to think as well as watch TV, and more importantly to think about what we watched on TV.

Annenberg sold TV Guide to Rupert Murdoch in the late 80s.  Now, Murdoch may be a political conservative but he's not a cultural conservative, and under his leadership TV Guide morphed into a much glossier, more sensational, more superficial, less informative magazine.  Now, of course, it's little better than the National Enquirer, and probably doesn't even have that paper's journalistic chops.

It's one more example, as if we needed it, as to how much things have changed.-

2 comments:

  1. I wonder when, exactly, we lost the assumption that the "general public" would actually be interested in thoughtful, intelligent articles about important issues, and the relationships between media and politics, science, etc. Clearly we've lost something along the way. Today we all have 300 channels and are arguably less informed than ever.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Continuing our political theme, first lady Betty Ford appears on Saturday's episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, playing herself. Probably just as well that I missed that one.

    You shouldn't have seen it lately!!!

    ReplyDelete

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