December 20, 2014

This week in TV Guide: December 20, 1958

The big day is finally here, and it's not about to escape the notice of TV Guide.  In fact, it would almost be easier to talk about the shows that don't have special Christmas themes than it is to point out the ones that do.

There's a special section devoted to Christmas programming - everything from Christmas stories of regular series to variety and drama specials.  Among those series with holiday-flavored episodes are The Lone Ranger, G.E. Theater, The Loretta Young Show, The George Burns Show, Ozzie and Harriet and The Donna Reed Show.  Christmas episodes appear in the unlikeliest places, on  series such as Naked City, Steve Canyon and Dragnet.  Even Westerns aren't immune to the trend, with The Texan, The Restless Gun, Tales of Wells Fargo, Wanted: Dead or Alive and Wagon Train all joining in the Yuletide spirit.  Syndicated reruns provide even more holiday episodes.

Variety shows, of which there are many, are made for times like this, and Perry Como, Dick Clark, Lawrence Welk, Arthur Godfrey, Red Skelton, Eddie Fisher, Arthur Murray, Milton Berle, Ernie Ford, Pat Boone and Garry Moore are making the most of it.  The Voice of Firestone and Armstrong Circle Theater present Christmas music, and Playhouse 90 shows the Nutcracker ballet, performed by the New York City Ballet Company.  Their absence today leaves a giant hole in Christmas on television.

But as far as cultural significance goes, probably the biggest difference between Christmas then and now.  All three networks will be carrying special religious services on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, including live broadcasts from New York, Washington D.C. and Chicago, and Bishop Fulton Sheen hosts a one-hour ABC special on Christmas Eve.  In fact, there are so many of them this week - 39, by my count, on the local and national scene - there's a column dedicated to listing them, just like the sports and specials sections. Even given that the majority of them are on Sunday, that's still a lot of programming.

The Christmas broadcasting season had begun early in 1958, on December 9, with a musical version of The Gift of the Magi, and had continued with Amahl and the Night Visitors, a Hallmark Hall of Fame Christmas mosaic, and specials on Walt Disney and Dupont Show of the Month.  All in all, some great programming, don't you think?

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In addition to the national programs above, there are some nice little local shows airing this week.  For instance, Saturday morning on KDAL in Duluth, Chef Hans Freischle shows how to prepare a complete Christmas dinner, and later that day KMMT's (Austin, Minnesota) Uncle Al features a puppet show telling the story of Rudolph.  At 10:30pm (CT) Monday night, KGLO in Mason City, Iowa presents a concert by the men's choir of the Mason City Chamber of Commerce.  On Christmas Eve afternoon, KTCA, the educational channel in Minneapolis, presents a unique science fiction story on how the Nativity might have appeared if it occurred on another planet, and follows up that evening with various Christmas programs.  And on Christmas night itself, KSTP shows a Christmas night skating show featuring the Figure Skating Club of Minneapolis, an annual program that runs through the '60s on KSTP and later on WTCN.

There are some great local movies on as well.  The Saturday matinee on KROC in Rochester is The Bells of St. Mary's, Bing Crosby's sequel to Going My Way.  WCCO and KDAL both have my favorite, Miracle on 34th Street*, on Saturday and Tuesday nights respectively, while Wednesday night WTCN has the appropriately named Christmas Eve, which I hadn't heard of before.

*Not to be confused with The House on 92nd Street, airing Monday night on KDAL, about Nazi spies in the United States during World War II.

The great thing about all this is that there are other Christmas programs on this week that I haven't even touched on yet.

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The NFL is supposed to have a week off between the end of the regular season and the championship game, scheduled for December 28.  But then there's this note in Sunday's programming section:

If there is a National Football League play-off game today, it will be televised beginning at 1 p.m. and will pre-empt the programs scheduled for this time period on Chs. 3, 3M, 4, 8.  It will emanate from New York City, where the Cleveland Browns and New York Giants will play for the Eastern Conference championship.  At press time, it was not certain whether such a game would be required.

A word or two of explanation: in these pre-playoff days when only the two conference champions faced off in the championship, the NFL (like Major League Baseball) used a playoff tiebreaker - not head-to-head record - to settle ties for the conference crown.  And entering the last day of the 1958 regular season, the Cleveland Browns lead the New York Giants by one game.  Adding to the drama, that final game pitted the Browns and Giants in Yankee Stadium.  If the Browns won, the East, and a championship matchup against the Baltimore Colts, would be theirs.  A Giants victory, however, would send the two into that playoff game on the 21st.

Summerall's kick is straight and true.
At the time, it might have seemed like a long shot, given the unlikelihood that the Giants would be able to stop Cleveland's great running back Jim Brown.  Brown, then in his second season in the NFL, was in the process of shattering the league's single-season rushing record (eventually winding up with over 1500 yards in just twelve games), and the Browns were heavily favored going into the final game.

Things looked even better for Cleveland when Brown lumbered 65 yards for a touchdown on the game's first play from scrimmage.  However, on a cold Sunday afternoon with snow drifting down from the grey sky, the Giants would rally in one of the most famous games in NFL history, and Pat Summerall's 49-yard field goal on the game's final play gave New York a 13-10 win, forcing this Sunday's playoff game.

That game, which preempts a variety of local programs, is something of an anticlimax, as the Giants shut down the Browns thoroughly, winning 10-0 and sending them to next week's title clash with the Colts.  That game will become known to many as The Greatest Game Ever Played, the first sudden-death game in pro football history, the game that put the NFL on the television map to stay.  But that's a story for another week.

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In other news, an unbylined article covers the upcoming British invasion - no, not The Beatles, but British TV. So far, of the 19 series that have been shipped to America, the only truly successful one has been Robin Hood, but that's not stopping the Brits from working on more.  They have some obstacles to overcome, chief among them that the British film industry doesn't yet take television seriously.  They "just don't believe it when we demand the best there is to be had," says Donald Hyde, executive producer for Gross-Krasne, Ltd.  He's currently working on a series called The Flying Doctor, starring American actor Richard Denning.  Thirty-nine episodes of the series will wind up being produced and aired during the 1959-60 television season, but I don't see that it made much of a dent over here.  Perhaps Cult TV will know more about it.

It does point out one thing though, and that's the growing trend toward casting Americans as the leads in British shows to be exported.  In the future we'll see this more often; off the top of my head I can think of Steve Forrest in The Baron, Man in a Suitcase with Richard Bradford, and The Protectors with Robert Vaughn, but I know there are more examples out there.  As for British actors donning the American accent, Hyde's partner Phil Krasne points out, "We must watch actors constantly over here to keep them understandable to Americans."

None of the upcoming series in production were huge hits in America, although there was Ivanhoe, the first starring vehicle for Roger Moore, but the outlook for Brit imports is promising.  For one thing, "more and more" American companies are financing and producing shows in Britain, due to favorable financial conditions and exotic British locales.  So don't give up hope - Doctor Who, The Saint and The Avengers are just around the corner!

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Did I mention Ed Sullivan yet?  I often overlook him in the weeks when there's no Hollywood Palace, but Ed's here with Jose Ferrer and Lois Smith, who are doing a scene from the current Broadway play Edwin Booth, plus opera star Rise Stevens (Going My Way), Canadian comedians Wayne and Shuster (who never did hit it as big here, despite all the times Ed had them on), Olympic figure skating champion Dick Button (who was on Hallmark Hall of Fame last week if you remember)*, jouranlist Bob Considine, singers Betty Johnson, David Seville (the creator behind Alvin and the Chipmunks) and Luis Mariano, and Vic Julian and his French poodles.

*Skating on the Rockefeller Plaza rink - in the shadow of NBC, no less.


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Omnibus was a variety show of a different color.  Bankrolled by the Ford Foundation, it was television's attempt to bring a weekly cultural magazine to Sunday afternoons.  It was hosted by the wonderful Alistar Cooke, and offered a truly staggering blend of subjects - everything from classical music to jazz, comedic and dramatic performances, plays, musicals, interviews with public figures, profiles, and serious discussions of how to understand and appreciate the arts.  It's one of the rare series that appeared on all three networks at one time or another during its run from 1952 to 1961; in this case, it's on NBC.

This week's show, entitled "Dancing is a Man's Game," stars Gene Kelly, who explores the athletic as well as artistic side of dancing, and how many of the movements involved are similar to those used by athletes.  Up until the last 100 years, Kelly asserts, dancing was dominated by men, and it was considered a masculine form of art.

This particular episode is one of the rare ones available on DVD - here's a look at it:


I've said it before and I'll say it again - see what kinds of shows you can have when Sunday afternoons aren't dominated by sports?  But if that is what you're looking for, NBC also has an NBA game at 1:30 featuring the Syracuse Nationals and the New York Knickerbockers from Madison Square Garden, announced by Curt Gowdy.  In case Syracuse doesn't ring a bell with you, they're now the Philadelphia 76ers.

And a final sports note - did you notice I haven't mentioned college football?  This year, we'll have had ten bowl games played by Christmas Day, but in 1958 there were only eight scheduled, and only one - the Bluegrass Bowl - has been played.  Three more games are scheduled between December 27 and 31, with the Big Four (Rose, Orange, Sugar, Cotton) on New Year's Day.  There is a small-college game on Saturday, Northeastern State vs. Arizona State-Flagstaff in the Holiday Bowl for the NAIA championship, but don't confuse this one with the current Holiday Bowl - this is played in St. Petersburg, Florida.  In case you're curious, Northeastern State wins, 19-13.

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And with that, we'll bid a fond farewell to this Christmas issue of TV Guide.  Except - we'll be back on Tuesday for a "What's on TV?" look at the listings for Christmas Eve, 1958.  See you then!


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