March 15, 2014

This week in TV Guide: March 23, 1968

We are, in a sense, revisiting this week's issue, having used it once before in last year's discussion on the content of Saturday morning children's programming.*  And that was an interesting topic, but by no means does it exhaust the material at hand.

*I just love it when I link to myself.  Because, as they say, if you won't do it, nobody else will.

***

One of the great controversies of the 1950s surrounded Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth's sister, and her romance with the divorced Group Captain Peter Townsend.  A marriage between the two was vetoed by the Church of England, which at the time forbade divorce and remarriage (head of the church: Queen Elizabeth), and in 1960 she married the photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones, who upon marriage became Earl of Snowdon.  Tonight, CBS Reports presents "Don't Count the Candles," a photographic essay by Lord Snowdon on aging.  In addition to pictures depicting ordinary people dealing with various aspects of getting older, there are interviews with people at both ends of the aging spectrum, from Twiggy to Noel Coward to Field Marshal Montgomery.

For her part, Margaret turned out to be the black sheep of the royal family, having scandalous love affairs, saying outrageous things, and in general embarrassing the rest of the family at every opportunity.  My mother always thought Margaret did those things on purpose, and while I don't know whether or not there's any empirical data proving this, it doesn't require an advanced degree in psychology to suggest that Maggie was getting back at Liz for what happened with Townsend.  The only thing that could have made this story better was if the stymied Group Captain went on to become a rebellious rock musician, but such was not the case.

Eventually, Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon divorce (a delightful line from the always-reliable Wikipedia notes that their marriage was "accompanied by drugs, alcohol, and bizarre behaviour by both parties such as Snowdon's leaving lists between the pages of books the princess read for her to find, of 'things I hate about you'"); Snowden goes on to marry (and divorce) the former wife of film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, while Margaret never remarries, but carries on a, shall we say, colorful life.

As was the case with the Ingrid Bergman story last week, what we see here (albeit in a far more tangential way, since Margaret is mentioned nowhere in the listing*) is more evidence of how perspectives on marriage have changed over the years.  It was one thing for Margaret, not even the heir to the throne, to scandalize Church and Country by marrying a divorced man; it is, apparently, something else that the current heir is, in fact, married to a divorced woman with whom he apparently conducted an affair while married to his former wife.  Again, no judgement here, merely observation.

*But if you insist on a television link, the subject of Margaret's later relationship with Roddy Llewellyn was once brief fodder for an episode of We Interrupt This Week, a show I looked at a couple of days ago.

***

During the 60s, the Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace were the premiere variety shows on television. Whenever they appear in TV Guide together, we'll match them up and see who has the best lineup..

Sullivan: Scheduled guests: singers Jimmy Dean, Nancy Sinatra, Diana Ross and the Supremes, and Spanky and Our Gang; comedians George Carlin, and Lewis and Christy; magician Dominique; and Charlie Cairoli, clown act.

Palace:  Host Phil Harris introduces Bill Dana as Olympic skier José Jiménez; England's Hendra and Ullett; Sid Miller and Rose Marie; comic magician Jacques Ary; singers Abby Lane, Philip Crosby, and the rocking Hollies.

This is from the short-lived, ill-advised period when ABC moved Hollywood Palace from Saturday to Thursday night.  In the new timeslot, it found itself up against Dean Martin, which is probably why it didn't last there very long.  Regardless of what night it's on, though, I don't think there's a lot to choose from this week.  I like Jimmy Dean, and George Carlin could be very funny at this stage of his career; I always liked Dana's José Jiménez character, but I have my doubts about the rest of the lineup for what was billed as "Comedy at the Palace."  Sometimes you just have weeks like this.  Verdict:  Push.

***

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
Last week I mentioned that in the 60s the National Invitational Tournament was still a big deal in college basketball, and you need look no further than this Saturday to see the evidence.  At 1pm CT, CBS presents the championship game, with the Dayton Flyers defeating the Kansas Jayhawks 61-48.  Later that night, Channel 11 presents the finals of the Minnesota State High School basketball tournament.  And somewhere in there, unseen on television in the Twin Cities, UCLA defeats North Carolina 78-55 to win the NCAA basketball national championship.

The UCLA-Carolina game, played in Los Angeles, tips off at 7pm Pacific time, which means it probably ends sometime around midnight in the East, and is syndicated nationally by SNI.  Channel 11 would usually have picked up syndicated specials like that; it's probably fair to assume that in this case Channel 11 wasn't an option because of the high school tournament.  What's particularly interesting about this is that the title game comes only two months after college basketball explodes on the television scene with TVS' syndicated coverage of the Houston-UCLA "Game of the Century."  Despite the fact that those two teams meet again in the national semifinals (with UCLA gaining revenge convincingly, 101-69), it will still be one more year before the tournament graduates to network television.

It will be the next year that NBC begins national coverage of the NCAA finals, which it will continue to do until 1982 when CBS takes over the contract, and gradually coverage of the tournament will expand until every game is broadcast on national television.  (Classic TV Sports has a great summary of the coverage here.)  As one of the great sporting events in America, it has indeed come a long way from the days when it played second fiddle to the second-tier college tournament, and couldn't even get its championship game on national television.

Other sports: TV coverage of the NBA playoffs begins on Sunday - yes, the playoffs that, in 2014 won't begin until April 19, begin on March 22, and continue on March 24 with a matinee game on ABC between the Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons (Celts win 123-116).  Later that Sunday, the ABA playoffs get underway, and Channel 11 provides coverage of the inaugural postseason appearance of the Minnesota Muskies, who defeat the Kentucky Colonels 115-102.  It's the only season for the Muskies, who move to Miami the following year and become the Floridians.  No fear, Minnesota ABA fans - you'll get a new team, as the defending champion Pittsburgh Pipers, unable to make a go of it in the Steel City, relocate to Minnesota.  That only last a year as well, though, after which the Pipers return to Pittsburgh, rechristened as the Condors.  Got all that?

***

Here's a quick look at the highlights of the week:

Saturday:  I've alluded to this before, I'm sure, but we're in a period of time now when there's plenty of golf on TV, only not in the way we're used to seeing it.  Rather than PGA tournament golf that dominates today's TV, networks rely on made-for-TV competitions featuring either familiar, marketable faces (Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, et al) or knockout-style competitions between teams of two golfers, where the losers go home and the winners advance to the next round.  Makes perfect sense; the match is edited down to an hour rather than the two or three that a regular telecast would demand, it finishes up in a single day instead of four, and viewers are assured of seeing golfers they recognize and like.  We saw the former a few weeks ago in Big Three Golf, and today's CBS Golf Classic is a prime example of the later. The pairings, George Archer and Doug Sanders vs. Bobby Nichols and Raymond Floyd, face off at the famed Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.

Also on Saturday: the San Francisco Bay Bombers vs. the Detroit Devils in Roller Derby!

Sunday:  For many years NBC has featured a variety special built around one of the big touring ice shows, the Ice Follies.  Not only does it give Shipstads & Johnson the opportunity to induce us to marvel at large spectaculars staged on ice*, it also gives the network a chance to show off some of its own talent in the role of host.  Last year, for example, Ed Ames, costar of NBC's Daniel Boone, hosted and sang two of his hit songs, "My Cup Runneth Over" and "Try to Remember."  This year, it's the turn of Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, taking time off from their new hit show Laugh-In.  I'd imagine their banter to consist of the usual, with Dan playing the straight man to Dick's dump, befuddled comic; it's that shtick that Cleveland Amory thinks is the weak link in his otherwise glowing review of Laugh-In later in this issue.

*I always thought the ultimate would have been to stage an actual opera on ice.  My favorite idea, borrowing a theme from John Adams, was The Retirement of Gretzky.

Monday:  Armstrong Circle Theatre is a staple of television history.  Alternating with the U.S. Steel Hour, Circle Theatre lasted well into the early 60s, producing docudrama stories of historical events; tonight it reappears more as an advertising tag than as representative of that rich past, but although tonight's presentation is far from the docudrama format, it promises to be a delightful evening nonetheless. It's Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate, the musical version of Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew," starring the real-life husband-and-wife team of Robert Goulet and Carol Lawrence as the battling lovers Fred and Lilli.  Notwithstanding last year's Sound of Music broadcast, musical comedy is yet another genre that's all but disappeared from television.

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
Tuesday:  If Lord Snowden's "Don't Count the Candles" is a meditation on the twilight of life, ABC's documentary "How Life Begins" earlier on Tuesday takes viewers back to the very beginning.  Executive Producer Jules Power predicts that his program will be controversial: "I expect some people to severely criticize this program."  The show focuses on the science of human reproduction, from "the fertilization of the egg, cell division, embryonic development and the delivery of a child."  I'd imagine there was some controversy about the show, complaints that television was dealing graphically with a subject matter best left to parents, and so on.  I also suspect, as Power goes on to say, that there will be many "approving letters from parents, teachers and community leaders who will say it's about time TV dealt candidly with this subject."

Wednesday:  The Avengers presents the new companion to John Steed, Tara King, played by the shapely Linda Thorson.  In tonight's story, Steed and King investigate the Alpha Academy, "where a fanatical headmaster is training youths for the domination of space."  But to do so, they're going to have to deal with the hero of Friday night's Channel 11 movie - see more below.

Thursday: It's the premiere of the 1958 big-screen A Night to Remember, the definitive telling of the sinking of the Titanic, on CBS' Thursday night movie.  Based on the best-seller by Walter Lord, the movie stars Kenneth More as Second Officer Lightoller, one of the officers who performed nobly that night.  I absolutely know that I watched this movie that night - one of the few times I can be that sure about something I watched that long ago.

Friday:  At 8:30pm, NBC's Hallmark Hall of Fame presents James Daly and Kim Hunter in Henry Denker's acclaimed 1961 drama "Give Us Barabbas."  Good luck seeing anything like that today.  And that Channel 11 movie I referred to earlier?  It's I Am at the Stars, the biography of German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun (played by Curt Jurgens), the mastermind of Germany's V-2 rocket who later became one of the brains behind the American space program.  According to Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff, the bitter joke in England was that the movie should have been called, I Am at the Stars but Sometimes Hit London.


***

Finally, a word or two about variety shows, since there are still a lot of them on the air in 1968.  In addition to Sullivan and the Palace, Jerry Lewis, Red Skelton, Jonathan Winters, Dean Martin and Carol Burnett still headline their own shows, and a program like the Kraft Music Hall features rotating hosts (this week: Eddy Arnold hosting "Country Fair").

One of the things about variety shows is that it often forces the most unlikely celebrity pairings, much as they pair odd couples as presenters for Oscar broadcasts.  Case in point is Sunday's Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, with guest star Greer Garson.  That's right, the Greer Garson who won the 1942 Best Actress Academy Award for Mrs. Miniver, and was nominated six other times.  The Greer Garson who narrated the Rankin-Bass animated special The Little Drummer Boy.  The Greer Garson who would have been 63 at the time of this broadcast.  That Greer Garson.

This seemed so bizarre, you might think it had all been made up, but no - here's the evidence:


And here's the second bit:


What makes this even better is the story told by the Brothers at the beginning of the second clip, where they relate how Greer Garson was actually a substitute for the planned guest, Joan Crawford.  It's also quite interesting to hear how happy Garson was to do the show, insisting to an obviously awe-struck Dick Smothers that he call her "Greer."  I suppose this really shouldn't be a surprise; after all, Bette Davis had guested with the Brothers, who - for all the political drama we remember - still ran a fairly conventional variety show.  Besides which, celebrities get to be celebrities by appearing on things like variety shows.

I think in the end it points out just how strange the 60s were.  It was a time when the old and new guards existed simultaneously, a very combustible combination of two distinct cultures.  Think Richard Nixon appearing on Laugh-In.  You've got Presidents Clinton and Obama doing late-night talk shows, but somehow by this time an appearance like that seems almost natural. Ultimately, there's really no good explanation except that it was the 60s, a decade in which anything could happen - and usually did.

4 comments:

  1. I am pretty sure that I, too, was watching "A Night to Remember" in '68, or maybe it was during a repeat in later years, but whenever it was, the movie made a big impression on me. I can still see those shots of the ship rearing up in the ocean, and hear my mother remarking on how terrible it would be to see it go down. I don't believe I've seen it since.

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  2. Wasn't "Don't Count The Candles" actually produced by the BBC but aired by CBS thanks to an agreement between the two to swap news film?

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  3. I've been looking over some of "the lost episodes".
    Hard to know where to start, but there's one here that I can't resist:

    In the fall of '67, ABC moved Hollywood Palace to Tuesdays at 10 (9 Central).
    Thursday at 10/9c, ABC had Good Company, an interview show with F. Lee Bailey in the first half-hour; the second half was turned back to local stations.
    Bailey was the first flop of this season; ABC gave the whole hour back to the locals in January.
    Meanwhile, ABC also moved Hollywood Palace back to Saturdays in its old slot, in place of Iron Horse.
    Apparently, the ABC station where you were living put Palace on Thursday; did they do this in the fall or in January?
    ABC was having more problems than usual getting its affiliates to carry shows; this was a .factor in the early cancellations of Good Company and Iron Horse.
    I'll make the guess that your local station ran a movie on Saturdays . When did they start?

    Still probing the past.
    Where will I strike next?

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  4. With regards to 11 and the MN Basketball Tourney that was the last of the Three consecutive championships won by Edina High School and Channel 11 was pretty much the only station that bid on those tournaments.

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