July 5, 2014

This week in TV Guide: July 3, 1965

I loved watching The Jimmy Dean Show when I was a kid.  I didn't know anything about country music, or the demographics that would doom shows from Hee Haw and Green Acres to The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction.  If Jimmy Dean's sausage had been available back then, I wouldn't even have known about that.  All I knew was that I liked Jimmy Dean, and I liked his sidekick, Rowlf.

Rowlf was the first Muppet I remember seeing; I don't think I'd ever seen Kermit at that point.  There was something about this dopey puppet that I thought was hilarious, and as I write this I suspect that maybe I liked Rowlf even more than I did Jimmy.  The banter between the two was easy; Jimmy always called Rowlf "my old buddy," and Rowlf in turn displayed the typical Muppet humor that would endear them to so many people over the years.

In fact, according to Richard Gehman's profile of Dean in this week's issue, Rowlf's popularity has at times threatened to overshadow that of the boss.  During a location shoot, delighted crowds swarmed over Jim Henson to the point that Dean was overheard muttering, not entirely approvingly, "Next thing you know, they'll be calling the dog the star of this here ol' show."  If it happens, though, it will only be through Dean's sufferage, because Jimmy Dean is in fact the boss of his show.  He knows his audience, he knows himself, he knows what the viewers would buy.  In the show's first season, when the network had tried to pass him off as urbane and sophisticated, the show teetered on the edge of cancellation until Dean put his foot down.  "Lemme do it mah way," he told the suits, and the ratings took off.

Though he is undeniably in charge, there is an easy camaraderie between Dean and the crew, and his producer acknowledges that nine times out of ten Dean's suggestions for changes wind up improving the finished product.  Unlike, say, Andy Griffith's character in A Face in the Crowd, the Dean you see in front of the camera is in essence the same as the one off-camera.  Sure, the accent is maybe a bit put on (his wife acknowledges that in real life he "really doesn't have much of an accent."  And for all the down-home cornpone humor, he's quite a bit more sophisticated than that.  If you have any doubts, check out this clip from his just-cancelled daytime series that aired in 1959:


Believe me, behind that aw-shucks country boy was a shrewd businessman who know exactly what he was doing.  The Dean show ends in 1966, and three years later Jimmy Dean sausage hits the shelves.  The old country boy didn't do too badly, did he?

Here's a clip of Jimmy and Rowlf doing a typical bit, the only part of each week's show that would be precisely scripted - everything else was pretty much seat-of-Jimmy's-pants.


***

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..

Palace:  Bette Davis hosts this rerun from February, with guests Bert Lahr; singer Julius LaRosa; comedian Jan Murray; dancer Barrie Chase; the Nerveless Nocks, acrobats; Australian comic juggler Rob Murray; and Les Cinci, a Parisian couple.

Sullivan:  In this first rerun of the season, Ed welcomes singer-dancer Juliet Prowse, singer Connie Francis, comics Allen and Rossi, French pop singer Jean Paul Vignon, the Harlem Globetrotters, comedianne Jean Carroll, Country and Western singer Roy Orbison, and the Youngs, a teeterboard act.

Off the top of my head, I don't think I've reviewed either of these shows before, which saves me the possible embarrassment of recommending a show that I'd trashed earlier.  So what do we have here?  A couple of pretty strong lineups, but in the end I think the Palace earns the nod.  Bette Davis is a legend, Bert Lahr a talented man, Barrie Chase both talented and a babe, Jan Murray a very funny comedian, and Julius LaRosa a pretty fair singer.  Ed has Juliet Prowse, who's not quite in the same league as Chase, Jean Carroll, who's not nearly as funny as Murray, and Connie Francis, who's not quite as good a singer as Julius LaRosa.  Only the legendary Roy Orbison could elevate Ed, but it's too much for just one man.  The Palace earns the decision this week.

***

Throughout the '60s TV Guide prided itself on its serious coverage of the business of television.  This week, Edith Efron chats with FCC commissioner Lee Loevinger, author of the choice words that appear on the cover.  Loevinger, a former justice on the Minnesota State Supreme Court, is something of a libertarian when it comes to Federal control over the airwaves, setting him apart from his colleagues on the Commission.  For instance, Loevinger believes that the separation of church and state (which, we know, never appears in the Constitution) would seem to render moot the FCC's authority to mandate religious programming on local broadcasters.

Lee Loevinger
For that matter, Loevinger seems skeptical that the FCC has much of any authority over broadcasters, saying that the Commission's charter requiring stations to operate "in the public interest," combined with the FCC's authority to determine just what that public interest is, amounts to an infringement on the First Amendment rights of broadcasters.  Loevinger cites the relevant section of the Communications Act, which explicitly states that "nothing in the statues 'shall be understood or construed to give the Commission the power of censorship over broadcasting.'"  According to Loevinger's reading of the First Amendment, "The plain truth is that we have no damn business getting involved in programming at all."  His strongly-held beliefs lead him to oppose the Fairness Doctrine that requires equal time be offered to any controversial issue, and extends as far as the realm of dramatic programming, about which he says that "You can't constitutionally compel people to read good books, or watch good plays, even on the assumption that you know what good art is, and that is a perilous assumption."  Of former chairman Newton "Vast Wasteland" Minow, he says, "The Minow view, that it is the FCC's duty to elevate the level and quality of broadcasting, is legally and morally wrong," and uses words such as "ill-considered ... illogical ... silliness ... nopnsense ... contradictions ... essential error" to describe Minow's famous speech.

One wonders what exactly Loevinger thinks the FCC ought to be doing.  Mostly, he says, granting broadcast licenses, which is what the Commission was created to do in the first place.  But it was that license-granting authority which originally gave the FCC the foothold into regulation of programming, and the problem of how to separate the two - how the FCC can still grant licenses without making subjective judgments regarding the merits of the applicants and their proposed programming.  There are no standards for judging, Loevinger complains, which makes the separation between licensure and regulation almost impossible to maintain.

It's no surprise that Loevinger has few friends on the Commission, and most experts remain puzzled as to why the late President Kennedy appointed him to take Minow's place on the Commission.  He remains at the FCC until 1968, fighting the lonely fight, his most lasting accomplishment being to encourage AT&T to establish a uniform emergency phone number - 911.

***

Seeing as how we're only a couple of weeks removed from Michelle Wie's victory at the U.S. Women's Open golf championship, it's probably appropriate to mention that Sunday, July 4 marks the first time the Women's Open has ever been telecast on network television.  NBC's cameras are present at the Atlantic City Country Club to cover the challenging last three holes of the tournament's final round, as future Hall of Famer Carol Mann shoots an even par 72 to win by two strokes over Kathy Cornelius.

Across the aisle at CBS, it's the final round of the Western Open from Tam O'Shanter Country Club in Chicago.  The Western Open the third oldest tournament on the PGA tour, trailing only the U.S. and British Opens, and in 1965 it's still one of the most prestigious, tournaments on the tour, dating back to 1899.  Billy Casper wins the first of two consecutive Western Opens, joining a list of winners that includes Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson and Walter Hagen.   It's now called the BMW Championship, it's no longer played every year in Chicago, and it's played in the fall rather than the summer, a victim to the World Golf Championship tournaments that have mostly served to make golfers richer and more selective in the tournaments they play.

In baseball, the Twins are on over the weekend (versus the Kansas City Athletics)  and Friday (against the New York Yankees in a rare home broadcast, one of three or so that Channel 11 would do each season).  The Twins, of course, will take the American League pennant in 1965.  Saturday's ABC Game of the Week gives us the Yankees and Red Sox in Boston, which goes to show that even back then, the networks never passed up an opportunity to show the Yanks and Sox, and the network also presents a rare Monday matinee between the Yankees and Tigers from Detroit, which makes perfect sense when you figure that most people would have had the day off - after all, the 4th of July was on a Sunday.

And if you're interested in the cinematic treatment of sports, NBC's Wednesday Night at the Movies presents Fear Strikes Out, the (mostly) true story of baseball player Jimmy Piersall (Anthony Perkins, right) and his struggle with mental illness, while the Thursday matinee on Channel 4 is The All American, the story of a college football player (Tony Curtis) who gives up the game after his parents are killed in an accident while travelling to see him play.  Sounds a little soapy to me.

***

Random notes to round out the week:

Fourth of July!  There's not much in the way of special programming (aside from the baseball game tomorrow), but two fairly interesting programs airing against each other Sunday afternoon at 12:30pm.  First, on Duluth's KDAL, Ronald Reagan narriates a documentary studying the effects of Communist brain-washing on American POW's.  I sense a patriotic motive here.  Opposite it, ABC's Issues and Answers, displaying something of a sadistic humor, presents an interview with Great Britain's ambassador to the United States, on the 189th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

Pretentious alert: On CBS' Look Up and Live that same morning, William Stringfellow documents his four years living in Harlem and working for the civil rights movement, and through the use of photographs telling the story of a white attorney defending the black ghetto.  "To illustrate the dehumanizing experience of ghetto life, members of the Open Theatre Workshop read excerpts from the poetry of Bertolt Brecht, Federica Garcia Lorca and Richard Wright.  I should add here that Look Up and Live was part of the network's block of religious and cultural programming on Sundays (seldom ever seen on Channel 4 in Minneapolis, where the accent was on Bowery Boys movies), and as such it was probably of a pretty high quality.  Which means it still could have been pretentious.

Celebrity watch:  This week's game shows are chock full of celebrities: Buddy Greco and Molly Bee on NBC's What's This Song?; Rita Moreno and Les Crane on the same network's Call My Bluff; Ann Jeffries and Alan Young on CBS' Password, followed by Peggy Cass, Orson Bean, Tom Poston and Kitty Carlisle on To Tell the Truth; and a pair of NBC shows rounding out the day, Dwayne Hickman and Emmaline Henry on You Don't Say!, and Gisele MacKenzie and Bobby Vinton* on The Match Game.  And don't forget Steve Lawrence on Sunday night's What's My Line?, joining the stage with regulars Arlene Francis, Bennett Cerf and Dorothy Kilgallen.

*Bobby Vinton was a well-known and loved Polish-American singer, perhaps the most famous Polish-American of the time, and I remember Johnny Carson joking about the election of Pope John Paul II, saying that everyone knew something was up when the smoke coming out of the Sistine Chapel spelled out "Bobby Vinton."  Polish jokes really died out not long after JPII became pope.

Perhaps more interesting, or at least unique: on the nighttime version of Password Thursday night, the guests are Woody Allen and Nancy Sinatra.  The following year Nancy's father, Frank, would marry Mia Farrow.  That marriage wouldn't last, but eventually Farrow would hook up with - Woody Allen.  Apparently the connection between Frank and Mia wasn't entirely dead though, based on her suggestion that son Ronan might belong to Frank.  It's enough to make the head spin.

And that kind of tidbit is why I keep reading old TV Guides.

4 comments:

  1. You've been putting out your new entries fast and furious lately.
    Meanwhile, I've been having "connectivity issues" with my confuser.
    Thus, this first of many attempts to catch up.

    - Your roll call of game show celebrity guests leaves out what may be the most potentially interesting one of all:
    This week on The Price Is Right: comic actor Mischa Auer, who was doing a Broadway show that year, and was making the Goodson-Todman rounds.
    If I saw these shows, I've forgotten them; I'll always wonder if Auer commented to Bill Cullen about whatever prize he was bidding on: "Confidentially, eet steenks!"

    - NBC's summer schedule included Moment Of Fear, a half-hour, and Cloak Of Mystery, an hour, on Tuesday nights.
    These two shows were fillers, consisting of anthology episodes from other series, usually several years old.
    The Moment show was from Studio 57, starring Vincent Price; it first aired in (appropriately) in 1957. That was a coincidence; Studio 57 derived its title from its original sponsor, the Heinz Soup Company (57 Varieties).
    Cloak was a bit more recent: "Mr. Lucifer", from Fred Astaire's Alcoa Premiere in 1962.
    This was the one in which Astaire played the Devil as a MadMan, donning many disguises to tempt his target, abetted by Elizabeth Montgomery as temptress-in-chief. Pretty funny show, as I recall.

    - Writers getting more credit then then they do now:
    As a lifelong credit reader, I always took note of who was writing what, where, and when.
    Some time in the '70s, TV Guide ran a feature about "The Mannix Writers", spotlighting six scriptwriters who were the most frequent contibutors to the Mannix saga:
    Ed Adamson
    John Meredyth Lucas
    Stephen Kandel
    Cliff Gould
    Harold Medford
    ... and I'm going nuts trying to remember the sixth one (I want to say Jackson Gillis, who wrote for everyone at one point or another, but I'm not sure).
    All the above names are ones I remember from many series, before and after Mannix; spotting them was my way of insuring my enjoyment of what I was going to watch.
    Even in the current staff-written era, I can still do this, on a limited degree; now I have to sort through the various "producers" who are really staff writers.

    The above are the kind of tidbits that are why I keep reading old TV Guides

    - Digression:
    Peter S. Fischer, who contributed to many favorite series like Columbo and Murder She Wrote, was "retired" from the TV business a few years back (he made the critical mistake of getting old). Lately he's gotten into the business of writing his own mystery novels - and I do mean business.
    The Grove Point Press, family owned and operated (Fischer's family), puts out the Hollywood Murder Mysteries, with Joe Bernardi solving crimes connected the making of classic movies of the past. There are ten to date, with more on the way.
    Also, Fischer has out a memoir, Me And Murder She Wrote, with many stories about how TV gets made (and sometimes unmade), very much worth your time.

    The Grove Point Press
    PO Box 873
    Pacific Grove CA 93950
    (or go to the website)
    *The preceding was an unsolicited plug from a fan.

    Now I gotta go back and check out some of those other ones I missed out on the last few weeks ...

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  3. TV Guide listed Roy Orbison as a country and western singer??

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  4. I decided to reread this review in anticipation of a review of this same issue from Robert of TV Obscurities in the morning. I've seen a few of Jimmy Dean's appearances in a recurring role on Daniel Boon on Me-TV lately, and I remember seeing him in a Fantasy Island episode in the early 80s, so he still acted on occasion even with his sausage company.
    The tragedy that you described as the plot for The All-American actually happened to Baylor U's current head football coach, Art Briles. He was playing for U of Houston in Dallas against SMU back in 1976, and his parents & aunt were travelling from W Texas to watch him play when they were all killed in a traffic accident. At least he found a way to make a good life for himself & his family after such a tragic occurrence.
    I love reading about all the celebrities who were on the daytime game shows at the time. I wish I could've seen them. I was born the end of the week following this one, and I hope you get to review the issue from my birth week eventually, but in the meantime I'm looking forward to Robert's review of that issue next Friday.

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