January 4, 2014

This week in TV Guide: January 5, 1974

After spending a few weeks in 1963, we're skipping ahead by 10 years, taking a look at what's happening in January 1974.

In general, issues from the 70s aren't my favorites; this might be strange considering I subscribed to TV Guide throughout the 70s and therefore should have more of them than I do for any other decade. In addition, I was alive and watching television for the entire decade, which means in theory I could have seen any or all of the episodes in any of these issues.

But in truth, as I've mentioned before, the 70s issues leave me unimpressed.  The typeset is minimal and unappealing; the ads are cluttered and lack the simplistic charm of earlier editions, the programs themselves have moved on from the days of live drama and experimental programming.  In short, TV Guide - like television itself - is older, more mature, more polished - and, as is so often the case, less interesting.

There's another, more personal, reason for my dislike of the decade, however, and that's because I spent so much of it in the worst place on earth, where life with only one television station (NBC) meant I was constantly being taunted and mocked with listings for programs I would never see, shows that in the pre-cable, pre-VCR days remained mere rumors to those living out in the hinterlands.  It may be true that small-town life has its advantages, but watching television in those days was definitely not one of them, especially for someone who'd already begun to mainline programming like a milder version of Mike Teavee.

The 70s aren't without their charms, though.  Some of the things in these issues attain mythic status precisely because they were unavailable to me, while others display a genuine quality and feel that seem (to me, at least) unique to that era.  Let's see if we can find some examples, shall we?

Networks have pretty much given up on Saturday night broadcasting nowadays, but that was not the case in the 70s, and CBS' famed Murderers' Row lineup is in full bloom this week: All in the Family at 7pm (CT), followed by M*A*S*H at 7:30, Mary Tyler Moore at 8:00, Bob Newhart at 8:30, and Carol Burnett at 9:00.  Talk about must-see TV; not all of these are personal favorites, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a stronger, more impressive top-to-bottom lineup on any other network at any other time.  And while CBS may own the night, it's not as if NBC's gone completely off the air; the popular Emergency! airs at 7:00, followed at 8:00 by the still-strong Saturday Night at the Movies*, where big-screen blockbusters still carry some cache.  Only ABC is a no-show this week, as is indicated by their choice to air an ABC News Closeup on "The Right to Die," which likely bombed in the ratings but probably was the most significant and telling show of the entire night, far more relevant today than any of the sitcoms and adventure shows that aired opposite it.  (For example, a doctor says that "while families have a right to opt for a death for the ill members of the family, they do not have a right to commit me to carry out their death wishes.")

*This Saturday night's movie was the Charlton Heston football drama Number One, which puzzled me no end when it was broadcast - I just couldn't figure out how the New Orleans Saints could possibly be presented as a championship team.  Just goes to show you what you can accomplish by aiding the filmmakers.

No pro football this week; unbelievably, the conference finals have already taken place (December 30; things were much simpler then), and this is the bye week before next week's Super Bowl.  What fills the gap?  Some defunct college all-star games (the Hula Bowl from Honolulu on ABC, a syndicated broadcast of the American Bowl from Tampa), the return of some old favorites (ABC's Pro Bowlers Tour, NBC's NHL Game of the Week, and the first golf tournament of the year, the Bing Crosby Pro-Am from Pebble Beach) and local movies.  My favorite from the the movie bunch - Channel 5 has Chapter 11 of the Saturday serial The Phantom Creeps (last seen on MST3K), followed by a pre-Peter Gunn Craig Stevens and a pre-Perry Mason William Hopper in The Deadly Mantis.  ("A defrosted monster makes for New York skyscrapers.")

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SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
At this point, WTCN, Channel 11, remains the Twin Cities' sole independent station, and it's always interesting to see what kind of programming they have, usually a mix of sports, syndicated original programming, and reruns of recent series.  As 1974 kicks off, you can see a nice variety of Westerns (The Virginian, High Chapparal), adventure (Mission: Inpossible), classics (Perry Mason), sitcoms (I Dream of Jeannie, Mister Ed, The Lucy Show), talk shows (Merv Griffin, seven nights a week), and Minnesota North Stars hockey (the Stars take on Philadelphia Thursday).  You know, that's not a bad lineup.

We haven't entered the strip programming era yet, so the 6:30pm timeslot has far more variety (if not quality) than what we see today.  For example, WCCO, Channel 4, features Let's Make a Deal on Monday, Wild, Wild World of Animals on Tuesday, Laurel and Hardy on Wednesday, Bobby Goldsboro on Thursday (is that his hair, or a helmet he's wearing?), and The Dating Game on Friday.  KSTP, Channel 5, counters with a week of The Bud Grant Show (Vikings football), The New Price Is Right (with Dennis James, not Bob Barker), Hollywood Squares, and two nights of Bowling For Dollars.  Only KMSP, Channel 9, has anything different - four nights of Truth or Consequences, broken up by one night of To Tell The Truth.

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James Michener's best-seller Hawaii makes its TV debut on CBS Friday night - sort of.  The reason I say that is that you're probably not seeing much of the movie, let alone the story in the book.  Michener's original book ran to nearly a thousand pages; the movie in its theater version had a running time of three hours and nine minutes; but what you're seeing Saturday night has been edited down to two hours (plus thirty minutes for commercials.  At that rate you have to ask "why bother?" although TV Guide's movie critic, Judith Crist (no fan of the theatrical release) says the editing is all for the best. Had this been a few years later, in the post-Rich Man, Poor Man-Roots period, Hawaii likely would have been made as a multi-part miniseries. But for now, enjoy what you can of it.

On the other hand...
I mentioned earlier that there were programs that were uniquely of the era, and one of them is the "prestige" made-for-TV movie, which ABC puts to good use on Monday night with ABC Theatre's presentation of "F. Scott Fitzgerald and 'The Last of the Belles'," starring Richard Chamberlain and Blythe Danner*.  ABC ran several movies of this kind, ones which I only read about but seemed to be quality programs - "Eleanor and Franklin," starring Jane Alexander and Edward Heremann as the Roosevelts, would air a couple of years later, and there would be other movies, such as The Man Without a Country with Cliff Robertson, The Missiles of October with William Devane, and Raymond Burr's turn as John XXIII in A Man Whose Name Was John.  As the miniseries came into its own, ABC would continue with QBVII, Rich Man, Poor Man and Roots.  Since I couldn't see most of these, I have no idea whether or not they were any good, but there was a mystique about them that suggested they might be.  Going back to the mid 60s, ABC - the perennial last-place network - was wont to take dramatic chances, and was more likely to present the kind of creative programming that I remember.  Of course, once they became a player, with hits from Charlie's Angels to The Love Boat to Happy Days, that would change.  But in their own way, these dramas were as inaccessible to me as the shows from the Golden Age that aired before I was born.

*It was a different era for TV Guide as well.  Not only does it feature an article by James Michener about the writing of Hawaii, it also has a piece by Budd Schulberg on F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Back then, TV Guide apparently felt that their readers could actually read.
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TV's "Second Season" is about to begin, and this means we're bidding a fond (or not-so-fond) farewell to some series that failed to capture the public's imagination.  So it's goodbye to ABC's Griff, Lorne Greene's private detective series, and so long toNBC's Diana, the sitcom that bombed in spite of the presence of Diana Rigg. Temperatures Rising, ABC's medical comedy, has its last show of its present incarnation - it will return later in the year as The New Temperatures Rising, but faces the same old ratings problems.  Farewell to NBC's Faraday and Company, another PI series that failed to make the grade.  And it's the final bell for ABC's long-running school drama Room 222 and its gentle sex comedy, Love, American Style.

But wherever there's a goodbye, there's also a hello, and on Sunday night Masterpiece Theatre debuts a new 13-part comedy-drama called "Upstairs, Downstairs."  60 Minutes returns for another season, although it's in the unappealing time slot of 5pm Sunday afternoons.  Jeanette Nolan's series Dirty Sally, which was introduced on an episode of Gunsmoke, makes its debut on Friday, but you'll have to look quickly - it'll be rubbed out by ABC's The Odd Couple.

***

One of the features of the year's first issue is a look back at the past year as seen on TV, and it's a helpful reminder of just how much happened in 1973.  The Vietnam War ended, for example - like the Gulf War, it must have seemed as if it would never be over.  The POWs came home, and the reunions were all over television.  There was another war between Israel and the Arabs, and this one let to the oil embargo, the start of higher gas prices in the United States, and the beginning of the end of the American auto industry. Nixon and Agnew were sworn in for second terms - but by the end of the year Agnew had resigned, and the Watergate hearings made for regular viewing.

As for the year in television - An American Family was a landmark PBS series, which I wrote about back here. ABC scored with its docudrama production of Pueblo, starring Hal Holbrook, and a presentation of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie with Katharine Hepburn in her television debut.  William Holden starred in NBC's four-night miniseries The Blue Knight, which was later made into an inferior weekly series with George Kennedy.  The Miami Dolphins completed their undefeated season with a 14-7 victory over the Washington Redskins in the aptly-named "Stupor Bowl," Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in tennis' "Battle of the Sexes" (which may or may not have been rigged by the mafia), and Secretariat became the first (and perhaps greatest) Triple Crown winner in a quarter-century.

Quite a year, wasn't it?  And come to think of it, this wasn't a bad issue, either.

2 comments:

  1. Well, in your mention of the recap of 1973; you referred to that Super Bowl as the "Stupor Bowl". I had seen that name used for game 5 two years earlier; as the only thing that had any "Stupor" was Miami Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian's sad attempt to pass the ball after his field goal attempt was blocked late in the game.

    As for Number One; Charlton Heston was actually tutored on passing by Billy Kilmer (the Saints quarterback at the time the film was made; though he had moved to the Washington Redskins by this point). Also, three members of the 1968 Saints played Dallas Cowboy defensive linemen in the scene where Heston's character suffers a career-ending injury toward the end. Also, according to an NFL Films piece on Kilmer from around 1997; Heston stayed around to provide halftime entertainment during that 1968 season.

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    1. You bring up a good point, Jacob. It's quite interesting, looking back at the history of the Super Bowl, how many people held the game in disdain. The early games tended to be conservative, lacking in drama and action (even the Jets' famous upset of the Colts in 1969), and seldom competitive. The two descriptions I've most frequently run across are "Stupor Bowl" and "Super Bore." (Or, in the case of Super Bowl V, the "Blunder Bowl.")

      In a way, the game has come full circle; now that the spectacle overwhelms the game itself, the real football fan may be just as frustrated as he was back when it was only the game, and the game was often lacking.

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