October 11, 2014

This week in TV Guide: October 15, 1960

I had two issues to choose from this week, and up until I selected the image you see on the left I fully intended to write about the other one, the issue you don't see.  At the last minute, however, I changed my mind and chose this issue instead.  You'll probably find out the rest of the story next year around this time; after all, they'll all get written about sooner or later.

But why wonder about what we don't have?  Instead, let's focus on what we do have!  It occurred to me that while the majority of these articles will always be about issues from Minneapolis-St. Paul, the area in which I grew up and lived for most of my life, it might be time for me to learn more about television in my new home.  Eddie Barker's autobiography was the first step in that direction, and this is the second: the inaugural recap of a TV Guide from DFW.

***

Although I selected this issue for several reasons, it turns out to give us a wonderfully multifaceted look at American culture in ways we don't always get to see.  Reading a few pages here and there easily supports my contention that the pages of TV Guide can tell us a lot more about America than what was on TV that night.

We start with the Letters section, filled this week with discussion regarding television's coverage of the Kennedy-Nixon "Great Debates." The third debated between the two has just occurred (October 13), but this issue would have gone to press prior to that; the tenor of the letters seems to suggest that most responses have been to the initial debate, which was held on September 26 in Chicago.  It's been considered a landmark in American politics, as well as a turning point in the race between the two candidates, but TV Guide readers have mixed opinions on the whole thing.  Mrs. R. H. Damon of Alton, Illinois offers the networks congratulations for their sponsorship of the debates, writing that "It was the most stimulating hour our family has ever spent before the television set," and Dawn Merek of Modesto, California adds that "This was one of the finest, most informative, public services presentations the networks have ever given their viewers."*

*Hard imagining anyone writing this about one of today's debates.

Not everyone agrees with that assessment, however.  Wetherby Boorman of San Bruno, California suggests that "the 'great debate' was more a great bore.  It needed a theme song: 'Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better'," and R. M. Hooper of Boston (echoing comments many might make about today's debate formats) "did not care for a combination of so-called debate and panel show.  Let's have one or the other."

It's difficult to appreciate what a sensation the four presidential debates of 1960 were at the time.  About 70 million watched that first debate, at the time the most-watched television program ever. It was made possible only because Congress had agreed to suspend the equal-time provision that would otherwise have required the networks to include all fringe candidates in the debates.  And, given the closeness of the final outcome, it's not hard to imagine the debates (especially the first one) playing a part in Kennedy's victory.*  Though the 1960 debates were widely applauded, a combination of uncompetitive races (1964 and 1972) and Nixon's own reticence (1968) meant it would be 1976 before candidates would face off again, when a desperate incumbent (Gerald Ford) and an ambitious challenger (Jimmy Carter) agreed to reengage what has since become a ritual of American politics.

*Although it might just as likely have been the way votes were counted in Illinois and Texas.


Most people today know about the polls showing that people who listened to that first debate on the radio tabbed Nixon as the winner while those watching on TV thought Kennedy had the advantage, and the potential of television to affect the outcome of an election bothered some observers even in 1960.  As early as 1962, Edward Rogers' novel Face to Face explored the potential for backstage machinations to influence the outcome of a debate, and today's campaigns argue about everything from the moderator to the height of the rostrum.  Regardless, the televised presidential debate - for better or worse - appears to be with us to stay.

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
The last word on the subject, at least for this year, comes on the last night of the week - the final debate between Nixon and Kennedy is scheduled for 9:00 pm (CT) Friday night in New York, with the two candidates scheduled to square off on foreign policy.  If you look closely at the ad on the right, you'll notice Nixon wearing a bow tie; by the look of it, Kennedy has one as well.  They're probably wearing tuxedos, which means this drawing was quite likely based off of a picture from the Al Smith dinner held in New York earlier that month.  Just a little detail for your reading pleasure.

***

There's some additional material in the Letters section, and it too sheds light on the state of the American mind in 1960.

The final three letters are all concerning an ABC documentary entitled Cast the First Stone, which apparently dealt with the issue of race in America, particularly when it came to school desegregation.  A letter writer from Baton Rouge, Louisiana who wishes to remain anonymous demonstrates the skepticism and defensiveness with which the South views both the North and Federal authority.  Says the writer, "If Chicago has more segregated schools than Little Rock [a point that must have been made in the program], why don't our powerful Supreme Courts take action?  Does the so-called law of the land apply only to the dear Southland?"

George Compton, of Brooklyn, New York, echos a point many made at the time, suggesting that the civil rights movement has been infiltrated and taken over by the Communists.  Mr. Compton singles out ABC news chief John Charles Daly and his associates for "practically confirming the statements of the past week of Khrushchev-Castro. . . He couldn't have picked a better time nor a better subject (discrimination here in America) . . . I am sure Khrushchev thanks him, Castro thanks him, and most of all, the Party thanks him!"

Another anonymous writer, from Toms River, New Jersey, looks at the Red angle differently, praising ABC for presenting "A real eye-opener.  We should start acting like real Americans toward one another instead of giving Mr. K and his friend the bearded windbag additional reason to criticize."

It's a fascinating snapshot of how strong emotions ran at the time, and how layered it really was.  The final two letters both look at the impact of discrimination in terms of how the rest of the world views America, but while the Compton letter accuses ABC of playing into the Communists' propaganda, the writer in Toms River suggests just the opposite, that it's America's willingness to take an honest look at itself that will disarm the Soviet message.

The letter from Baton Rouge, suggesting that the North take a look at itself before getting too self-righteous, will be brought home in the next decade, when the North first felt the full brunt of violence over school busing.  The rioting and demonstrations in Boston gave many Americans a real look at behavior usually associated with the South, and demonstrated that race isn't always a geographical issue.  I wonder if this wasn't one of the points of the documentary in the first place?

***

For the first time in the television era, viewers have dueling football leagues to choose from.  It's the first season for the American Football League, the league that goes toe-to-toe with the NFL until the two leagues eventually merge in 1970 (although the actual arrangements occurred much earlier).

It's a jumbled television arrangement for the leagues in 1960; while the AFL has an exclusive league-wide contract with ABC, the NFL hasn't yet leveraged its collective selling power to sign a similar agreement.  Most teams are contracted with CBS, but the Baltimore Colts remain one of the teams to broadcast home games on NBC.  And to complicate things further, Dallas-Ft. Worth is blacked out from the NFL entirely on those Sundays when the brand-new Dallas Cowboys play at home.

In the early days of the NFL-AFL war, the leagues
were often referred to as "American League" or
" National League," just like the baseball leagues
Therefore, if you live in Dallas on October 16, 1960, the only game you're getting is the AFL matchup between the Dallas Texans and their cross-state rivals, the Houston Oilers.  If you want the Cowboys, you'd best head for Wichita Falls, where the CBS affiliate has their game against the Cleveland Browns.  And Wichita Falls fans are in luck; along with viewers in Sherman, their NBC affiliate carries the Colts game against the Los Angeles Rams,

You probably figured there'd be some kind of "rest of the story" for such a convoluted situation, and if you did you'd be right.  The Dallas Texans, uncertain that they'd be able to compete with the Cowboys, wind up moving to Kansas City and becoming the Chiefs.  The Oilers, unable to get a new stadium in the 90s, move to Nashville, Tennessee.  The Baltimore Colts and Los Angeles Rams, whose owners traded teams in the '70s, wind up on the move as well; when the new owner of the Rams, Carroll Rosenbloom, dies in a swimming accident, his widow inherits the team, and eventually moves it to St. Louis.  The Colts, with their new owner, move to Indianapolis under cover of darkness.  And the Browns (who actually took the place of the Cleveland Rams when they moved to Los Angeles) head to Baltimore, to replace the Colts. Houston and Cleveland do get expansion teams in time, but the Houston Texans (not to be confused with the Dallas Texans) come about only because a franchise granted to another city is forfeited when that city can't put together an ownership team in time.  That city?  Los Angeles.  Of the six teams playing on television that day, only the Cowboys remain in the same place today.

Lest you think this movement is limited to football, however, there's an NBA basketball game for us to analyze as well, NBC's Saturday matinee between the St. Louis Hawks and Cincinnati Royals, a preseason game played in Indianapolis.  The Royals, who started out in Rochester before moving to Cincinnati, will eventually head from Cincy to Kansas City (where, the name Royals having already been taken, became the Kansas City Kings*), before making their way west to become the Sacramento Kings, and in the last couple of years coming thisclose to being the new Seattle SuperSonics.  The Hawks, recently of Milwaukee, have some glory years in St. Louis, but at press time make their home in Atlanta.

*For a few years there the Kings split their time between Kansas City and Omaha, being known as the Kansas City-Omaha Kings.

What does all this tell us, other than that professional sports is a fickle business?  Well, it tells us a lot about the importance of demographics and television markets, as well as the leverage that sports franchises hold when it comes to public funding of stadiums and arenas.  Franchise moves into the Sun Belt (Atlanta, Nashville) show us the shift in population out of the Rust Belt, making these new markets increasingly valuable when negotiating television contracts.  Teams such as the original Browns and Oilers headed for greener pastures, where new stadiums were forthcoming.  The expansion Browns, as well as the Texans and the Baltimore Ravens, came into being because cities that had been burned by having previous teams leave were more willing to shell out public financing.  And the NBA, which has always been willing to head for smaller markets, remains a league where gate receipts play a big role in a team's financial success.

Another brief lesson in economics courtesy of TV Guide.

***

Peggy Connelly
A quick spin through the features section this week gives us an article previewing television's latest toy: for anywhere between $40 and $100, you can get yourself one of those new-fangled remote controls that let you change the channel on your TV from your chair.  Imagine that!


"The creators of Huckleberry Hound have come up with a cartoon series for grownups."  TV Guide takes an inside look at the development and background of that show: The Flintstones.

Boris Karloff, host of NBC's new series Thriller, reflects on his many years of acting, and how he's been able to - for the most part - get away from the reputation as king of horror films.  Of his Thriller gig, he says "Unfortunately, I appear as myself, which is a frightful thing to do to an audience."

The week's most attractive starlet award goes to Peggy Connelly (left), who's very funny as one of the featured players in Ernie Kovacs' specials.  She's much more talented, though; the wife of comedian Dick Martin also sings and acts, and doesn't really consider herself a comedienne.  Kovacs loves her work, although he adds that "In a water tank she tends to get a little claustrophobic."

***

And a look at what else is on television this week.

Saturday marks the debut of ABC's The Roaring 20's, the latest from the Warner Brothers' stable.  It runs for two seasons, with Rex Reason and Donald May as the male leads, and Dorothy Provine stealing the show as flapper Pinky Pinkham.

Sunday sees Ed Sullivan take his show on the road for the first in a series of monthly "See America with Ed Sullivan" specials, which feature stars from the cit in question.  This month, Ed visits San Francisco, with guests Johnny Mathis, Peggy Lee, the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Mort Sahl and Dorothy Kirsten.

On Monday CBS presents the third episode of the new Andy Griffith Show.  The show follows Danny Thomas' program, which makes sense since a) Thomas produces the Griffith show, and b) Andy made his first appearance in the role in a Thomas episode the previous season.  This week, "Guitar player Jim Lindsey (James Best) is thrown in the clink.  And who should be in the adjoining cell but a full dance band that's been arrested for illegal parking."

Tuesday has a collection of programs, including the aforementioned Thriller and one of the few local programs broadcast in color, WBAP's Popeye Color Theatre.  Not surprising, since WBAP (now KXAS) is an NBC affiliate, and NBC's always been out in front when it comes to color programming.

Wednesday: There really is something magic in American culture about the car, isn't there?  This week CBS' U.S. Steel Hour celebrates that magic with a musical salute entitled "Step on the Gas," starring Jackie Cooper, Shirley Jones, Hans Conried, Pat Carroll, Share Lewis, and the dance team of Rod Alexander and Carmen G.  It's produced by Max Liebman, who also brought us gems such as Your Show of Shows.

Thursday: At the end of this week's listing for The Untouchables, we're told that that "A psychiatrist discusses this series in next week's TV Guide."  I wish I could have read that!  Raymond Burr is one of the guests on Person to Person, the CBS series that was started by Edward R. Murrow and is now hosted by Charles Collingwood.  And a genre you don't often see: Russian comedy!  It's "A Month in the Country," starring Uta Hagen and Luther Adler, on the syndicated Play of the Week.

Friday:  I mentioned the Nixon-Kennedy debate earlier, which is probably the biggest show of the night, but there's also an intriguing drama about a moment in history that I've never heard of before.  It's "Not Without Honor," an episode of NBC's Our American Heritage, starring Ralph Bellamy and Arthur Kennedy (right).  The story: "Some months before the Presidential election of 1800, Alexander Hamilton pays George Washington a visit.  His purpose: to persuade Washington to run on the Federalist ticket - against Thomas Jefferson."  The ad accompanying the listing shows two men with pistols standing back-to-back, and since Aaron Burr appears in the cast, I can only guess that this is where this story may end up.  Fortunately, by 1960 our political opponents only debate each other.

8 comments:

  1. Fasincating as always. I agree that the debates these days are lacking in substance, to put it as kindly as I can.

    I have a number of TV Guides myself, not so many from the 50's but dozens from the following decade, and the letters to the editor are consistently informative. regardless of topic.

    I just had to do a little research on the NFL's blackout rules and television history myself for the next review at the section. Small spoiler, Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch is the special guest star. :)

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    1. Crazylegs Hirsch! I remember reading about him when I was just a kid, starting to read "adult" books. One of them was, I think, "Heroes of the NFL," and there was a chapter about him, recovering from a fractured skull. Interesting guy - played in the AAFL, AD at Wisconsin.

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  2. Lotsa problems with the old confuser, which are now (hopefully) in the past.

    -Belated reply from last week:
    Everything I read at the time said that Lou Grant was always intended as a direct MTM spinoff. You'll recall that the last MTM episode had everybody getting fired in Minn-StP, thus setting up Lou's migration to LA and hour-long dramedy. All other decisions were part of the natural evolution of any series over time.
    Not a lot of intrigue there ... sorry.

    - In this week's color section:
    It should be noted that Peggy Connelly was Dick Martin's wife at that time. The marriage ended not long afterward; Years later Martin married Dolly Read, who most watchers of Goodson-Todman games would remember in that role.

    Also, an article by Peter Lind Hayes about his marriage to Mary Healy, written in his ultra-dry style.
    Nobody remembers the Hayeses these days (unless they're my age), but they were all over TV in the '50s and early '60s. How - and why - they went out of fashion has always mystified me.
    If you skipped this article, you really ought to go back and read it - especially Hayes's tips on happy marriage.

    - In For The Record, there's an interesting account of Ralph Edwards and This Is Your Life getting sued by the subject of a recent show. I won't spoil it for you - read it yourself and see.

    - I happen to have that next issue with the "psychiatrist's view of The Untouchables"
    That psychiatrist was none other than Dr. Frederic Wertham, famed in song and story as The Man Who Killed The Comic Book Business (for a while, anyway).
    Dr. Wertham was just getting around to TV Violence as a new target; his article is about what you might expect.

    I can't really add much to the political stuff - bad for my acid reflux. Maybe next time ...

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    1. Not surprised about the Dr. Wertham article. You're right; that's what I would have expected. I did see the For the Record on Ralph Edwards - I should have put that in the article. Don't know why I overlooked it. There was also an interesting one on the effect the debates were having on movie attendance - if anything, I'd think theaters would go UP nowadays if there was a debate now!

      Peter Lind Hayes and Mary Healy - many many years ago, I bought the first edition of the Complete Directory to Prime Time Television by Brooks and Marsh. I don't think I read it from cover to cover, but awfully close. It was the first time I'd run across the names, and I didn't think much of them until I saw them a few years ago on an old episode of Password. You're quite right - I loved his dry, and yet somewhat subversive, sense of humor. It was a pleasure when I started to see people like they Hayeses, names I'd only read about in the past, actually getting the chance to see them. I think I've seen them on What's My Line? as well. I might have to go back and write about them sometime; another case of people we've forgotten about (or never known) that we should watch.

      Good to have you back - thanks for the info on Lou Grant!

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  3. Dolly Read was also, it might be noted, a Playboy Playmate.

    The NBA Hawks are actually in their fourth city - or maybe seventh, if you consider that they started out as the Tri-Cities Blackhawks. (Nowadays, they're the Quad Cities.)

    And the last sentence of today's post makes me wonder if we shouldn't bring back duelling, at least for politicians. Wonder if today's mudslinging left and right wingnuts we call public officials would say those stupid things if they had to face a duelling pistol from the person they insulted.

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    1. Yes - Tri-Cities. For some reason, that fascinated me when I was a kid reading old basketball magazines. Don't know why. And then, of course, there's the Quad Cities Open golf tournament - remember that?

      Good point on Dolly Read - I may, in the interests of my audience, mind you, have to check that out and report back to everyone...

      And I like your suggestion on how public officials might settle their disputes nowadays - I think we'd all be better off!

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    2. The Quad Cities Open, still there today, it's now the tournament just before The Open Championship, and sponsored by a local firm (John Deere Classic), though it once had Ed McMahon's name on the tournament -- that was a time. There are no more celebrity-named tournaments on the FedEx Cup trail, and the Clinton Global Foundation may leave the Humana Challenge as Humana will not return after this season's tournament (which sadly, thanks to the Clintons, has lots its charm thanks to not having 90 holes as it did when the Bob Hope family controlled the Palm Desert Classic). The tournament is best known in recent years for Jordan Spieth's sand shot to force a playoff and then

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  4. And now the St. Louis Rams are moving back to Los Angeles.

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Thanks for writing! Drive safely!