November 22, 2014

This week in TV Guide: November 20, 1971

It was called the "Game of the Century," the showdown on Thanksgiving Day 1971 between undefeated, #1 ranked Nebraska and undefeated, #2 ranked Oklahoma.  There had been similar amounts of hype for other games in days past, most recently the 1969 end-of-the-season clash between #1 Texas and #2 Arkansas that President Nixon himself flew down to attend, and the 1966 Notre Dame-Michigan State game that changed college football forever.  But as sporting spectacles go, few college football games have ever lived up to their billing the way this game does, served up to an ultimately exhausted national television audience somewhere between the mashed potatoes and gravy and the pumpkin pie.

Nebraska and Oklahoma were not only undefeated coming into the game, but totally undefeated.  The Sooners led the nation in scoring, averaging 45 points a game, while the Cornhuskers had won their ten games by an average of 27 points, allowing only 50 points in the process.  With the nation's leading offense facing the nation's leading defense, something had to give.  ABC's cameras were there to cover it as part of their Thanksgiving doubleheader with their number one announce crew of Chris Schenkel and Bud Wilkinson, and there's no question, even before the kickoff, that the game overshadows anything the NFL has to offer that day.

And what a game it is, everything it was expected to be and more, see-sawing back and forth and leaving everyone involved emotionally drained.  Nebraska, behind a spectacular punt return from future Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers, leads 28-17 going into the fourth quarter before the magnificent wishbone quarterback Jack Mildren rallies Oklahoma to take a 31-28 lead with barely seven minutes to play.  Alas for Oklahoma fans (including me), it won't be enough, as Nebraska grinds out a late drive and scores with 98 seconds to play, outlasting the Sooners 35-31.  Nebraska will go on to demolish the new #2 team, Alabama, 38-6 in the Orange Bowl, winning their second consecutive national championship.  Oklahoma, defeating Auburn in the Sugar Bowl 40-22, finishes second.  Colorado, losers only to Nebraska and Oklahoma, finishes third - the only time three teams from the same conference (the Big 8) finish 1-2-3 in the final polls.

To this day, Nebraska-Oklahoma 1971 is considered one of the greatest games ever, and maintains a special place in the memories of fans.  Certainly the high quality and nonstop thrills of the game itself has something to do with, but perhaps in addition it's the Thanksgiving day scheduling, with many families watching the game together.  Whatever the case, it's drama that's seldom been equaled, and rarely surpassed.

I have this game on DVD, and sometimes watch it on 
Thanksgiving if the live games are too boring.

***

One of the swell things about Thanksgiving, from my TV Guide-reviewing perspective, is that because it falls at different times of the month I can write about it more than once a year.  And this is a great Thanksgiving to write about.  It starts, as always, with parades.  CBS, as is its wont back in the day, presents a kaleidoscope of festivities from Detroit, Philadelphia, Toronto and New York, with Bill Baird and his marionettes hosting the overall broadcast, and CBS stars (Bob Crane, Greg Morris, Beverly Garland, June Lockhart and Herschel Bernardi among them) covering the parades themselves.  Meanwhile, NBC has its traditional broadcast of the Macy's parade, with Joe Garagiola and Jack Paar's daughter Randy hosting the pre-parade show, and Lorne Greene and Betty White assuming their traditional roles identifying the balloons, floats and bands.

There's more football as well.  In addition to the Game of the Century, ABC has a prime-time nightcap between Georgia and Georgia Tech at 7 p.m. CT.  Meanwhile, the NFL's covered by NBC, presenting Kansas City and Detroit at 11 a.m., and CBS following with Los Angeles and Dallas at 2:30.

And what would the day be without cartoons?  At 11 a.m., CBS has A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, sponsored by General Mills*, with Orson Bean as the voice of the Yankee in Mark Twain's beloved classic.  Following the football, NBC's back with a double-header of its own: The Cricket on the Hearth, an adaptation of the Dickens story, starts it off at 2 p.m., with an all-star voice lineup including Danny and Marlo Thomas, Roddy McDowell, Hans Conried, Ed Ames and Paul Frees.  That's followed at 3 p.m. by The Mouse on the Mayflower, presented by McDonalds, with Tennessee Ernie Ford, Eddie Albert, Joanie Sommers and John Gary as the celebrity voices.

*It would be nice to report that General Mills owns King Arthur Flour, as it would make such a perfect tie-in.  Alas, such is not the case.

Aside from ABC's football, there's nothing extraordinary about Thursday night, sadly.  CBS has a double feature of news programs, beginning with 60 Minutes and followed by a special on the American Dream.  NBC has Ironside, now occupying a new date and time, followed by Dean Martin, with guest stars Carol Channing and Dan Blocker.  Interestingly enough, none of these programs are reruns; the networks must have figured there'd be an audience out there for their regular programs.

One more note about holiday programming - it doesn't quite end on Thursday.  ABC has a great Friday planned for those kids out there on break, presenting their regular Saturday morning lineup in a cartoon festival from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.  (Included: The Reluctant Dragon and Mr. Toad, Jerry Lewis, The Road Runner, The Funky Phantom, Lidsville, The Jackson 5ive and Bullwinkle.)  That's followed by a special presentation of ABC's NBA game of the week, with the Baltimore Bullets playing Pete Maravich and the Atlanta Hawks.

***

I was hoping that the cover blurb, "TV Newsmen's Favorite Patsies Fight Back," named some names, but the "favorite patsies" are businessmen undergoing training and coaching from public relations agencies used to preparing people to meet the media.  Oh well.

In other news, NBC is worried about its ratings.  The Doan Report covers how the Peacock Network has just cancelled Sarge, The D.A., The Funny Side, The Partners and The Good Life.  I have a vague recollection of some of these; if you don't remember them any better than I do, that's a good explanation for why they're no longer on the air.  Doan notes that the most unusual aspect to the announcement is that it's made so early; the shows won't be going off the air until the end of the year.  As for replacements, there's a Jack Webb number that's slated to premiere in January; it doesn't even have a cast yet, but it does have a title - Emergency!  And then there's the British import that NBC is hoping will be its answer to All in the Family.  It's an adaptation of Steptoe and Son called Sanford and Son.  I'd say those two turned out pretty well.

***

As far as movies this week, there are only two that Judith Crist has any time for - South Pacific on Born Free, Sunday on CBS, with a lot of lions.
ABC Wednesday night, with Mitzi Gaynor and Rossano Brazzi, making its network TV debut, and

And seeing how dominant football is over Thanksgiving week, it's perhaps only appropriate that George Plimpton's series of ABC specials debuts on Friday night.  Plimpton, who's best known for his seminal book Paper Lion, in which he details his adventures as a journalist going through training camp with the Detroit Lions, is at it again, this time with the Baltimore Colts.  It's a fun special on its own, but at the same time kind of proof that you can't go back home again.  When it comes to football and Plimpton, Paper Lion will be what everyone remembers.

***

I've had many things to say about living in the World's Worst Town™, but it does provide one with a different perspective when it comes to television, particularly shows that weren't available in our market, and we'll see an example of that this week.

All in the Family is on the cover, supporting a feature piece on star Carroll O'Connor.  It debuted in January of 1971, and already it has become a national sensation, dealing with sensitive topics in a most unsensitive way, using frank language, and giving America a portrait of the family that is decidedly not that of Donna Reed and Father Knows Best.  I was not yet 11 when the show premiered, but I remember liking it for the 18 or so months that it was on before we moved out of the Twin Cities in August of 1972 - as was the case with many viewers at that point in time, I failed to see that Archie Bunker was a character being satirized, and actually agreed with most of what he said.  Because there was no CBS affiliate in that God-forsaken town, I would not see an actual episode again until returning to the Cities in 1978.

During that time, the Norman Lear-helmed sitcom solidifies its place as the nation's top-rated, and most talked-about, television show.  But even though the show wasn't available to us, I was able to keep track of what was going on (thanks to TV Guide and the newspapers), so I had a very good idea of what was what.  I learned more about the world, about politics, about how television shows had their own agenda.  By the time we returned to civilization, I wouldn't have had anything to do with the show, and haven't to this day.  I think it's a show that doesn't age well - it's not only dated, but polemic in a most unsubtle way, and it did the family unit no favors with its crassness.  But, you see, I picked up most of that by reading about the show, rather than watching it.  My opinion of the show, and my fervent hopes that another series would knock it off its #1 perch, were formed from a distance, yet it's as vivid to me as if I'd had the opportunity to watch every episode.

Those six years I spent in exile shaped my outlook on many shows of that era.  Sometimes I mention it specifically in these articles, and other times it simply informs my writing.  My image of ABC in the mid-70s, the years the network truly came to prominence, have been affected by not being able to watch them, sometimes creating a mystique about a certain series, other times causing me to somewhat underestimate a show's cultural impact.  I missed many of the years in which CBS had its Saturday-night Murderers Row of sitcoms (including All in the Family, but also Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, and M*A*S*H, followed by Carol Burnett, but reading about them in the TV Guide each week lent Saturday nights an air of urbane, adult sophistication.  Who wouldn't have wanted to live in the Newharts' apartment in Chicago, or next door to Mary's home near the lakes?  Some of the shows had already premiered by the time we moved to the boondocks, but they reached their pinnacle while I was gone, and except for the times when we might be back in Minneapolis on vacation, they were lost memories.

I bring this up because I think the same thing can happen reading through the TV Guides from my youth, before I could appreciate what was actually on.  I particularly like that word mystique, because it's easy to feel that way about shows one never saw.  I've been able to track down a fair number of them through the years, the ones that particularly attracted my attention when I read about them, or that I had had a vague memory of having seen, and while many of them are quite good, a good number of them are less than that.  Which proves that the Golden Age wasn't all golden, that the memory can play tricks on you, and that older isn't necessarily better.  But you know what?  I don't think I would have had it any other way.

1 comment:

  1. From the Chicago edition, more or less in order:

    - Channel 2, the CBS station, is showing the two daily soaps, Love Is A Many Splendored Thing and Guiding Light, in the 11 and 11:30 time slots.
    The Connecticut Yankee animated special was syndicated; independent channel 9 ran it at 1 PM, in Mike Douglas's regular slot. You might want to check if your CBS local regularly carried the soaps, or if they ran that day's episodes in late-night as a make-good (the standard practice for local pre-emptions).

    - In moving to Thursday, Ironside was taking back its old, long-standing time slot, from which it was moved to make room for Nichols, the new James Garner show.
    What happened was this: NBC's Thursday lineup was mostly unbeatable the year before - Flip Wilson, Raymond Burr, and Dean Martin. There was a gap between Burr and Dino, which was eliminated by the Prime Time Access Rule.
    In the fall of '71, NBC sought to protect the new Garner show by "hammocking" it - slotting it between Flip and Dino; they (and just about every columnist) were certain they had an all-hit night.
    They also thought that Ironside and Sarge (that was George Kennedy as a cop-turned Catholic priest) would beat the ABC hold on Tuesday (Mod Squad and Movie Of The Week).
    Both ideas flopped. Tuesday was kind of foredoomed anyway.
    On Thursday, after Flip ended, audiences switched over to Longstreet on ABC, then back to Dino. Nichols was being deliberately avoided for whatever reason.
    Once the time change was effected, Ironside immediately reclaimed the hour, and there went Longstreet.
    Meanwhile, James Garner As Nichols (NBC actually thought that this title change would work) was moved to Tuesday, where it actually did worse than it did on Thursday (Marcus Welby and Cannon hit it from both sides).
    To the end of his days, James Garner was convinced that Nichols was the best thing he ever did for TV. He never accepted that he was the only one who thought this way.

    - Those other NBC cancellations:
    Sarge began the season with a two-hour crossover TV-movie with Ironside, in order to beat Mod Squad; I already told that story.
    The Funny Side was a musical-comedy revue focusing on five man-woman couples:
    Upper-class couple: Dick Clair and Jenna McMahon (popular comedy team that went on to write for Carol Burnett).
    Working-class couple: Warren Berlinger and Pat Finley (working character actors; you'd know their faces).
    Young couple: Michael Lembeck and Cindy Williams (he became a sitcom director; her, I think you know about ...).
    Black couple (the term then in use): John Amos and Teresa Graves (both became better known for other things later).
    Old couple: Burt Mustin and Queenie Smith (both past 80 when this show ran).
    The host/mc was Gene Kelly, who seemed to enjoy not being the lead.
    As you might infer, I kinda liked this one, and was sorry to see it end so soon.

    - The Partners was what they call a "troubled production".
    Initially, the stars were to be Don Adams and Godfrey Cambridge, playing inept police detectives.
    But the two strong comedians clashed, and Cambridge quit early in the production.
    His replacement was Rupert Crosse, who was fresh off an Oscar nomination (I can't recall the movie; Steve McQueen was the star).
    The story goes that Fred Silverman, who'd just taken over as CBS's programming boss, was so certain that The Partners was going to be the biggest hit of that season (and he wasn't alone - every "critic" in the country felt the same) that - in a "desperation move" - he switched All In The Family to that Saturday slot.
    ... And as they say, the rest is history

    - ... and I guess that brings us to All In the Family ...
    ... but I think I may be running out of characters ...
    ... so I'll stand down for now.

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for writing! Drive safely!