We've previously looked at the controversies and difficulties surrounding the 1980 debates, and it wasn't until late in October (apparently too late to change this issue) that the one and only debate between the principal candidates, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, was agreed to.
The debate took place in Cleveland on October 28, one week to the day before Election Day, and it's said to have been the turning point in a close race becoming a landslide.* Three things stand out from the confrontation: the President remarking on his conversation with his twelve-year-old daughter about nuclear proliferation, Reagan's response to Carter's accusations with the line, "There you go again," and the closing peroration in Reagan's final statement, in which he asked the voters "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?"
*Which is another good reason not to have early voting - but that's another discussion for another day and, probably, a different blog.
The debate was one of the highest-rated television programs of the last decade, and the last time that the candidates of the two major parties would engage in, essentially, single-warrior combat. I'm not exactly certain what it did to that night's broadcast schedule; a quick look at the listings suggests the biggest program that night was Bob Hope's two-hour election special, which may well have been interrupted for the debate and continued afterward. In any event, it's likely that those high ratings were much better for the networks than anything they wound up preempting.
I've written before about the complex relationship between boxing and television. Over the years, we've seen boxing go from a thrice-weekly staple of prime-time television to a closed-circuit event in theaters and then, behind Howard Cosell, return to prime-time for big events. This week's fight falls somewhere in-between: the network premier of the Larry Holmes-Muhammad Ali heavyweight title fight, which had been broadcast in theaters earlier in the month. Broadcasts such as this still got big ratings, even though everyone knew the outcome, because relatively few had seen the fight in the theater, and only still photographs had been published prior to the telecast.
Ali, the man responsible for boxing's renaissance, was coming back from a two-year retirement after having won back the championship from Leon Spinks in 1978. Holmes was considered the best heavyweight in the world, undefeated champion* since June of 1978; despite this, Ali appeared to have worked himself into good shape and a surprising number of experts gave him a good chance of regaining his crown. In the event, the fight was a total mismatch, with Holmes dominating from the outset. Ali's trainer, Angelo Dundee, tried to throw in the towel after the ninth round, and the fight was stopped after ten rounds, with Holmes far ahead on all scorecards.
*Of the World Boxing Council, which had stripped Spinks of the title for giving Ali a rematch rather than fulfilling his contractual obligation to defend his title against the number one contender, Ken Norton. The champion of the World Boxing Association (the unbroken title line which passed from Spinks to Ali to John Tate) is currently Mike Weaver. More about him in a minute.
I'm not quite sure why the ABC advertisement talks about "The Controversy"; certainly there's no doubt that Holmes was winning the fight easily. It could be the thyroid medication that Ali blamed in part for the loss (it supposedly helped him lose weight), or it could be the inability of the obviously dominant Holmes to knockout his idol - was he taking it easy on Ali in order not to hurt him*, or was Holmes perhaps not quite the big puncher everyone thought he was?
*Holmes appeared at the post-fight press conference with tears in his eyes over the battering he gave the former champion.
There's been some speculation that Ali was already suffering from Parkinson's disease at the time of the fight, based on Ali's reactions during the pre-fight neurological examination at the Mayo Clinic. If this is true, as the author suggests, his ability to stand up to the beating he received from Holmes is particularly remarkable. Here's the fight as broadcast; see what you think.
What's also interesting about this two-hour Friday night broadcast is that the lead-in to the Holmes-Ali replay is a live fight, the lightweight championship fight between James Watt and Sean O'Grady live from Glasgow, Scotland (where it was after 2:00 Saturday morning). Watt takes a fairly controversial victory, and here's the broadcast of that fight:
That fight was telecast on Halloween, and there's plenty of seasonal programming in store during the week.
On Tuesday night, CBS kicks things off with a three-hour condensed version of the original two-part Salem's Lot, starring David Soul. NBC counters with a horror double-header, with The Omen on Wednesday night and it's sequel, Damien - Omen II on Thursday night. The former stars Gregory Peck and Lee Remick, the latter William Holden and Lee Grant. Judith Crist called them "dopey and pretentious."
|SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION|
Finally, on Friday night, if the Holmes-Ali fight isn't creepy enough for you, NBC has a made-for-TV flick, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" starring Jeff Goldblum, not to be confused with the Fox series Sleepy Hollow, which doesn't star Jeff Goldblum. The one show that's missing is the one I would have expected to see, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Must have been on the previous week.
Some interesting Saturday matinee choices on local channels. Superstation WTBS, dipping into the United Artists inventory, presents Stanley Kramer's apocalyptic On the Beach, based on Nevil Shute's brilliant novel, about which one of my colleagues has written here. I have to admit never having seen the movie; something about the tone of it, I think; I was never able to get beyond "Waltzing Matilda" being used for the theme. I've no doubt it's far better than the remake, though.
Meanwhile, KDLH, Channel 3 in Duluth, has the Oscar-winning foreign film Investigation of a Citizen About Suspicion, one of the great crime dramas of the '70s, with a touch of existentialism thrown in. It's a grim story about a top Italian police inspector who murders his mistress and then plants clues to implicate himself, wanting to see how far he can get, confident that despite the evidence his fellow detectives will never dare to suspect him. I saw this movie on television in the early '70s (a daytime matinee no less!), and even though I've only seen it once since then, both the title and the story have stuck with me since. In a day when most of the Saturday afternoon movies are still either Westerns, schlock horror, adventure or comedy, these are two very unusual choices.
Also on Saturday, some more evidence that sports coverage in 1980 isn't quite the same as today. WEAU, Channel 13 in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, presents taped highlights of the Formula 1 Grand Prix of the United States, which had been run on October 5. This is followed by NBC Sportsworld's presentation of taped coverage of NASCAR's Charlotte 500, held on October 5 as well. Both of these events would be shown live today, but back then they were not only on tape, they were merely highlights.
Speaking of which, we have yet another tape-delay presentation of yet another heavyweight championship boxing match on tap as well, CBS's same-day coverage of the WBA title bout between champ Mike Weaver and challenger Gerrie Coetzee, (I did warn you we'd get back to title fights, didn't I?) The fight was held earlier in the day in Bophuthatswana, South Africa* and recorded so it could be presented at a more suitable hour. Weaver retains the title with a tough 13th round KO, and just to be fair here's the fateful moment as seen on Sports Spectacular.
*Try saying that five times fast.
Last but not least, a few tidbits from the rest of the television week.
The actors' strike has finally ended, which means some series are getting belated premieres. Among the new shows to come in the next couple of months: Hill Street Blues and Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters on NBC, Magnum, P.I. on NBC, and Too Close For Comfort, Bosom Buddies and It's a Living on ABC. The networks can't agree on when the new season starts, though.
Roger Mudd, the longtime CBS newsman who lost the replace-Walter Cronkite-sweepstakes to Dan Rather, has made the move to NBC, where he's expected to eventually take over for John Chancellor on the evening news. He doesn't though, not really; after serving as co-anchor for awhile with Tom Brokaw, he winds up working on Meet the Press and assorted NBC newsmagazines until heading over to PBS and, later, The History Channel.
|SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION|
As a side note, I've always had an affection for WCCO, the CBS affiliate in the Twin Cities, the only one of the four main channels to remain stable in network affiliation over the years, and the last to get rid of its local kids' shows. I've also complained, however, about their long-standing habit of preempting CBS' Sunday morning religion/culture block (Camera Three, Lamp Unto My Feet and Look Up and Live) in favor of Bowery Boys movies, not to mention how they frequently refused to air the weekday CBS morning news (which often wound up onChannel 9, the ABC affiliate). Now, in this issue, I'm finding that WCCO doesn't carry Captain Kangaroo in the mornings, either. Too busy airing Phil Donahue. Remind me again what it was I liked about WCCO?
You might have noticed that this week's cover is another work of art by Al Hirschfeld, whom I wrote about here. One of Hirschfeld's endearing traits was working the name of his daughter, Nina, into each of his portraits. Can you find it this week's cover?
And about that cover: it's for an article on James Gregory, who plays Inspector Lugar on Barney Miller. I know several people who absolutely love that show, but I was never really a fan. The cast and stories were good, for the most part, but I think the weakest link in the show was Hal Linden himself, which can be a problem when you're talking about the star of the series. Never really cared for Linden as an actor, and in Barney Miller I thought he played the role too broadly at times, as if he were still on the stage rather than in the intimacy of television, but since I'm likely in the minority on this I'm probably wrong (except to me). It finally got to the point where I couldn't really appreciate the program because of his presence. The other characters were great, especially the late Steve Landesberg as Dietrich, and I'd probably accept the viewpoints of many former policemen that Barney Miller was the most realistic cop show on TV. As for who should have played the sane voice in a squad room full of loonies, I don't know. Any ideas?