April 29, 2014

The day in TV - April 30, 1974

We haven't done this in awhile, and it's about time - so let's take a look at a day in the week of Saturday's TV Guide.  In this case, the date is Tuesday, April 30, 1974.  The stations are from the Minneapolis-St. Paul viewing area, with appropriate annotations where useful.

KTCA, Channel 2 (PBS)
Morning
10:00a The Electric Company
Afternoon
12:00p Sesame Street
03:00p Efficient Reading
03:30p Film
04:00p Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood
04:30p Sesame Street
05:30p The Electric Company
Evening
06:00p Teaching Role
06:30p This is the Life
07:00p Bill Moyers’ Journal
07:30p Should the Lady Take a Chance? (special)
08:00p Parents Are Responsible
08:30p Washington Straight Talk (guest Vice President Gerald Ford)
09:00p College Concert
09:30p Urban Life

KTCA still broadcasts a less-than-complete schedule, leaving much of its daytime programming to the schools.  According to KTCA's own website, the station was one of the last holdouts in joining PBS, and until the 70s remained committed to educational rather than entertainment programming.  The morning broadcasts of The Electric Company and Sesame Street are repeats from the previous day.

One thing I noticed right away - 8:30's Washington Straight Talk features an appearance from Vice President Gerald Ford.  That's a combination you don't see often; Ford wasn't VP for that long.

WCCO, Channel 4 (CBS)
Morning
06:30a Sunrise Semester – “The Media in America”
07:00a Carmen
07:30a Clancy and Willie
08:00a Captain Kangaroo
09:00a The Joker’s Wild
09:30a Gambit
10:00a Now You See It
10:30a Love of Life
10:55a Live Today
11:00a The Young and the Restless
11:30a Search for Tomorrow
Afternoon
12:00p Midday
12:30p As the World Turns
01:00p The Guiding Light
01:30p The Edge of Night
02:00p The Price is Right
02:30p Match Game ’74 (celebrities Jo Ann Pflug, Fannie Flagg, Ron Masak, Brett Somers)
03:00p Tattletales (celebrities Jackie Joseph and Ken Barry, Roxanne and Jack Carter, Elaine Joyce and Bobby Van)
03:30p Movie – “Swordsman of Siena”
05:30p CBS Evening News (Walter Cronkite)
Evening
06:00p News (local)
06:30p Wild, Wild World of Animals
07:00p Maude
07:30p Hawaii Five-O
08:30p Burt Bacharach (guests Dusty Springfield, Juliet Prowse, Mireille Mathieu)
09:30p One Man’s China
10:00p News (local)
10:50p Movie – “The 39 Steps” (B&W)

Channel 4 was one of the last local stations to continue a block of children's programming.  Carmen, the 7:00am program, features the character "Carmen the Nurse," played by Mary Davies, who originally was part of Axel's Treehouse in the late 50s, and took over in 1966 when Clellan Card, who played Axel, died.  Mary herself died earlier this year; I'm fortunate enough to have her autograph from a book that was written about Axel a half dozen years ago.  Neat lady.

Carmen was followed by Clancy and Willie, with John Gallos as Clancy the Cop and Allan Lotsberg as his sidekick Willie Ketchem.  I was on that show in the late 60s, as part of the peanut gallery.  Fun experience.

Live Today, the five-minute religious show at 10:55am, is the formal title of the Dr. Reuben K. Youngdahl program that so many of you might recognize from listings throughout the 60s.

KSTP, Channel 5 (NBC)
Morning
06:00a Minnesota Today
06:30a Not For Women Only 
07:00a Today (guest Sammy Cahn)
09:00a Dinah Shore (guest Larry Csonka)
09:30a Jeopardy!
10:00a The Wizard of Odds
10:30a The Hollywood Squares (celebrities Amanda Blake, Art Linkletter, Charo, Paul Williams, Jan Murray, Karen Valentine, John Davidson, Paul Lynde)
11:00a Jackpot!
11:30a Celebrity Sweepstakes (celebrities Joey Bishop, John Saxon, Betty White, Greg Morris, Patti Deutsch)
11:30a NBC News (Edwin Newman)
Afternoon
12:00p News (local)
12:15p Dial 5 (guests Cab Calloway, Just Two)
01:00p Days of our Lives
01:30p The Doctors
02:00p Another World
02:30p How to Survive a Marriage
03:00p Somerset
03:30p Dick Van Dyke (B&W)
04:00p The Mod Squad
05:00p Hogan’s Heroes
05:30p NBC Nightly News (John Chancellor)
Evening
06:00p News (local)
06:30p The Price is Right
07:00p Adam-12
07:30p The Last American (special)
09:00p Love from A to Z (special)
10:00p News (local)
10:30p Johnny Carson (guests Florence Henderson, Euell Gibbons)
12:00a Tomorrow

Not For Women Only was a chatfest hosted by Barbara Walters, who was also on Today at this time.  I'd probably have forgotten all about this show were it not for TV Guide.  Walters is one of the most durable of TV celebrities though, isn't she?  On the air for over 50 years; of course, with The View, I think she's sacrificed any journalistic credibility she might have ever had.

The previous show, Minnesota Today, was hosted by David Stone, who was on KSTP for literally decades, hosting local music programs as well as farm news.  You'd have seen his Organ Notes program in some of the 60s listings, as well as other morning shows.

Speaking of local variety - how on earth did Dial 5 ever get a guest like Cab Calloway?  He must have been appearing locally.  Hi De Hi De Hi De Ho.

KMSP, Channel 9 (ABC)
Morning
07:00a CBS Morning News (Hughes Rudd)
08:00a News and Views
08:30a Romper Room
09:00a Hazel
09:30a Green Acres
10:00a Beat the Clock (guest Robert Horton)
10:30a The Brady Bunch
11:00a Password (celebrities Anita Gillette, Joel Grey)
11:30a Split Second
Afternoon
12:00p All My Children
12:30p Let’s Make a Deal
01:00p The Newlywed Game
01:30p The Girl in My Life
02:00p General Hospital
02:30p One Life to Live
03:00p Love, American Style
03:30p Mike Douglas (guests Sen. James Buckley, Richard Thomas, Godfrey Cambridge, Earl Wrightson and Lois Hunt)
05:00p News (local)
05:30p ABC Evening News (Smith/Reasoner)
Evening
06:00p To Tell the Truth (Bill Cullen, Peggy Cass, Alan Alda, Kitty Carlisle)
06:30p Truth or Consequences
07:00p Happy Days
07:30p Movie – “QBVII” (part 2) (special)
10:45p News (local)
11:15p The Big Valley
12:15a The Rat Patrol
12:45a News (local)

As was the case for much of the 60s and 70s, WCCO chose not to carry the CBS Morning News, opting instead for its local kids programming.  It instead found a home on KMSP, as ABC had no morning news of its own.  Anything to cause confusion among the viewers.  The Girl in My Life was a game/reality show that didn't make much of an impression, but for some reason I remember its host, Fred Holliday, whom I rather liked.

One of Mike Douglas' guests, U.S. Senator James Buckley, ran as a Conservative, defeating the Republican incumbent, Charles Goodell, who had been appointed by Nelson Rockefeller to fill the seat following the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.  Buckley is the brother of the famed columnist William F. Buckley Jr.; Goodell is the father of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.  Small world, isn't it?

I wrote about QBVII on Saturday; you can see how much of a dent it made in the night's prime-time schedule.

WTCN, Channel 11 (Ind.)
Morning
06:30a Random Access
07:00a New Zoo Revue
07:30a Popeye and Porky
08:30a The Munsters (B&W)
09:00a The Flintstones
09:30a I Dream of Jeannie (B&W)
10:00a Father Knows Best (B&W)
10:30a Andy Griffith (B&W)
11:00a That Girl
11:30a What’s New?
Afternoon
01:00p Movie – “The Private Lives of Adam and Eve”
03:00p Gomer Pyle, USMC
03:30p Petticoat Junction
04:00p The Flintstones
04:30p Gilligan’s Island (B&W)
05:00p Bewitched
05:30p Mission: Impossible
Evening
06:30p The Lucy Show (B&W)
07:00p Dealer’s Choice
07:30p Father Knows Best (B&W)
08:00p Merv Griffin
09:30p News (local)
10:00p Perry Mason (B&W)
11:00p Movie – “This Earth Is Mine”

WTCN's programming was always a little thin when it wasn't showing sports - at the time, they were the local station for the Minnesota Twins, North Stars and (occasionally) Fighting Saints, as well as the carrier of syndicated sporting events.  We're in playoff season, which means this prime time schedule might have been preempted.  Otherwise, it's a pretty solid schedule, don't you think?  And, thanks to DVDs, you can probably replicate almost all of it in your own home.

April 26, 2014

This week in TV Guide: April 27, 1974

I'm not quite sure why QBVII isn't better-remembered. Perhaps it's because it was so quickly overshadowed by the epic miniseries craze, Rich Man, Poor Man, Roots, Holocaust and the others that came afterward.  It has the right pedigree, for sure: based on the best-selling novel by Leon Uris, featuring an all-star cast including Ben Gazzara, Lee Remick, Anthony Hopkins, Leslie Caron and Anthony Quayle*, with a huge budget ($2.5 million), an international flavor (filmed in four countries) an epic story (spanning 25 years, taking three years to produce), a script from a big-name author (two-time Oscar winner Edward Anhalt), and the largest cast (167 speaking roles) ever assembled for a television production.

*Ben Gazarra, fresh off Run For Your Life, was actually a bigger star in America at that point than Anthony Hopkins, who was known mostly to viewers of Masterpiece Theater and had yet to make it big in movies.

QBVII - QB for "Queen's Bench," and VII for "seven," the number of the courtroom in which the climactic trial occurs - is, to this point, the longest TV movie ever made - an "unprecedented" event, over six hours long.  In fact, Peter Greenberg's background article sheds an interesting light on the entire process surrounding the making of QBVII.  Uris' agent initially turned down the proposal from John Mitchell and Art Frankel, the Screen Gems executives who pushed for the project.  "We looked for a book that was interesting, generic, popular and that couldn't possibly be made into a movie," says Mitchell.  They pointed out to Uris' agent that nobody would be able to make the movie in less than six hours, and that no company would ever try doing a two-part movie in the local theater.  The only answer, Frankel argued, was TV.  Still, the agent was skeptical about having QBVII "relegated" to television, until Frankel finally asked for the bottom line: how much will it cost to buy the rights?  The agent said $250,000; three hours later Mitchell and Frankel had gotten a commitment from ABC, and the deal was done.

Unlike its miniseries offspring, QBVII is broadcast over only two nights (three hours on Monday, three-and-a-quarter on Tuesday) rather than a week or more.  I find that interesting, because it suggests that television hasn't quite yet formulated the unique art form that the miniseries would become - instead, perhaps illustrating the attitude that Uris' agent had had, ABC chooses to imitate the "event" feel of major motion pictures finally being shown on television - movies so big* that they have to be spread out over consecutive nights. Nowadays television is comfortable enough in its own skin that it doesn't have to do that, but clearly ABC's going for a vibe that could be summed up as "an event so big, you'll think it was made for the movie theater - but TV can produce that kind of quality, too!"

*Gone with the Wind or Ben-Hur, for example, or another of Uris' huge best-sellers, Exodus.

In the event, the movie is a hit, nominated for 13 Emmys and winning six.  It makes a big impression at the time, and you could truthfully argue that it makes the future miniseries possible.  But if you want to see it, be forewarned - according to Amazon it'll put you out almost a hundred bucks.  It's on YouTube, though, which is a much better - and more affordable - alternative.

***

I didn't see QBVII when it was on - I was, at the time, living in the world's worst town, which of course didn't carry such exotic fare on its one commercial broadcast station.  Our fare consisted of Limbo, a Monday night movie "about three women adjusting to the uncertain fates of their husbands" in the Vietnam War, and a Liza Minelli special on Tuesday (which, to be fair, looks pretty good, with co-star Charles Aznavour).

I do, however, remember quite clearly what I was watching on NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies.  It was my introduction to one of the most memorable movies I've seen - The Manchurian Candidate, appearing on television for the first time since 1966.  I cannot overstate the impression this movie had on me; it was, possibly, the most powerful thing I'd ever seen on TV.*  When I found out it was also a novel, I ran out and bought it - that is, I asked my aunt, who lived in Minneapolis, if she would buy it for me, since that book was just a little too sophisticated for small-town stores back in the pre-Amazon.com days.  In retrospect, I find it interesting that TV Guide listed The Manchurian Candidate as "drama"; today, I think it would obviously be labeled as a "thriller."

It was the first of a quarted of movies/books that have stayed with me to this day, the other three being Seven Days in May, Fail-Safe and The Best Man. (You might be able to tell that this was during my political junkie days.)  They were all grim stories dealing with the weaknesses of powerful men and the fragility of order, a far cry from the conspiracy-laden mush and soap opera stylings that pass for political fiction nowadays.

*Obviously I've seen a lot more TV since then; I hadn't seen 2001 yet, for example, but The Manchurian Candidate is still near the top.

***

Enough reminiscing.  Let's get down to brass tacks, as they say in the carpentry industry.*

*Fun fact: according to the always-reliable Wikipedia, the phrase "get down to brass tacks" originated in Texas, likely coming "from the brass tacks in the counter of a hardware store or draper’s shop used to measure cloth in precise units (rather than holding one end to the nose and stretching out the arm to approximately one yard."  Doesn't have much to do with television, but aren't you glad you know this now?

The playoff season is in full swing, at least on the weekends, when CBS has coverage of the NBA finals and NBC counters with the NHL semifinals.  During the week, the independent WTCN will pick up the rest of the games, as well as anything involving the WHA's Minnesota Fighting Saints.  Those were the days, weren't they?

Speaking of sports, a couple of weeks prior, sportswriter Melvin Durslag had penned his predictions for the upcoming baseball season, which appears to have provoked a number of protests from readers.  I don't have Durslag's predictions in front of me, but based on the Letters to the Editor, I think we can get a good idea of what he thought, particularly of the National League East.  Peter Cole of Scarsdale, NY takes Durslag to task for picking the St. Louis Cardinals to take the division: "Durslag must not have watched any games last year, or he would know that the Reds, Dodgers, Giants, Pirates and Mets are the greatest teams," a sentiment echoed by Alan Fogel of Brooklyn, who says "it's more likely Durslag's first-rated St. Louis Cardinals will be in fifth, and the mets in first."  Russel Baker of Towaco, NJ also puts the Mets at the top of the division, followed by the Pirates, Cardinals and Expos.  In the meantime, "the San Diego Padres will be able to ship Melvin Durslag a bushel of lemons," according to Betty Smick of (not surprisingly) San Diego, in response to Durslag's apparent diss of the Pads.

In the event, let's take a look at the final standings, and how well Durslag's - and the fans' - predictions turned out.  There must have been great disappointment in store for Mets fans; with a record of 71-91, the team finished ahead of only the hapless Chicago Cubs in the East, and Betty Smick's Padres in the West.  The much-derided Cardinals did not win the division but they came close, finishing a mere 1.5 games behind the eventual pennant-winners, the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Peter Cole's placing of the Giants as among the greatest teams was something of a pipe dream, the Jints finishing only one game better than the Mets at 71-90.  He was, however, rather perceptive in his inclusion of the Dodgers in that group; with a record of 102-60, they bested the Reds by four games, then went on to defeat the Pirates in the NLCS 3-1 before succumbing 4-1 to the Oakland A's in the World Series, the third consecutive Series win for Oakland.

PBS poses the question "Should the Lady Take a Chance?"  Now, this could mean any of a number of things, some of them inappropriate for family reading, but in this case the producers are talking about the possibility of legalized casino gambling in Atlantic City, NJ.  Gambling did in fact come to pass along the Boardwalk but, as is so often the case, the results have been decidedly mixed; fin fact, a recent article suggests that Atlantic City may be on the verge of bankruptcy, partly because of the property tax on casinos.  That doesn't even begin to get into the drugs, prostitution and crime that have come along for the ride.  Way to rejuvenate the area, guys.*

*Legalized gambling is so prevalent nowadays, especially in states with casinos on Native American reservations, that one has to laugh at the idea, expressed in a 60s episode of Run For Your Life, that other states might ostracize Nevada because of its gambling and attendant problems.  No, it's more likely they'd copy Nevada instead.


***

While I was researching the National League standings above, the missus was flipping at random through the pages of this week's issue, pointing out that we were hardly in what anyone could think of as a Golden Age of Television.  There's Chopper One and Firehouse on ABC Thursday night; together, the two series combined to produce 26 episodes before going off the air.  At that, they were only able to best Dom DeLuise's 22-episode Lotsa Luck!, which ran on NBC Friday night, by four.  Lotsa Luck! was paired with the Sally Field-John Davidson romcom The Girl with Something Extra, that extra something apparently not including ratings: it was 22 and done for the gimmicky NBC show.  And then there's NBC's Chase*, starring Mitchell Ryan as an undercover cop, which made it through 24 episodes, and its competition on ABC, the 13-and-out The Cowboys.  In fact, the most successful of these flops was probably CBS' Apple's Way, by Waltons creator Earl Hamner Jr., which managed to crank out 28 episodes.

*The first show from Stephen J. Cannell, who would do just a little better with The A-Team.

You'll notice that I linked to descriptions of all those series, on the grounds that many of you may never have heard of them.  On the other hand, there were still plenty of series on the air that are well-remembered today: there's the shows you might be just a bit embarrassed today to admit you watched back then, like The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family on ABC, Sonny and Cher on CBS.  You've got the leftovers from the 60s, the shows that had a long and successful run but seem to belong to an earlier time: The FBI on ABC, Mannix, Gunsmoke and Hawaii Five-O on CBS, Dean Martin and Adam-12 on NBC.  There are the stalwart hits of the 70s, such as CBS' Kojak, Barnaby Jones and Cannon, and The Six Million Dollar Man and Happy Days on ABC, and Ironside on NBC, all of which were pretty successful.

And then there's the Murderers' Row on CBS Saturday night, perhaps the most successful night of television we've seen in a long time: All in the Family, M*A*S*H, Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, and Carol Burnett.  I suspect any network would give its eye teeth to have a lineup like that today.

***

The News Watch feature at the beginning of the programming section, where we usually get tidbits about what's going on in the industry, is instead devoted this week to Gene Farinet's moving tribute to NBC newsman Frank McGee, who had died earlier in April from bone cancer.  Farinet had been a longtime colleague of McGee at NBC, and shares many of the details on what made McGee such a good journalist and anchorman, as well as consummate professional.

It's hard to imagine today, given the celebrity gabfest that the Today show has become, but McGee hosted Today at the time of his death, and brought to it a hard news sensibility that is sorely lacking today.  His best-remembered work, I think, was probably his coverage of the space program, where he had, as Farinet notes, the ability to make "the complex . . . simple.  He translated space jargon into understandable terms" and presented it with a steely calm that sought to inform without sensationalizing.

Farinet describes McGee as "a calm voice when it was not popular or fashionable," and nowhere is this more apparent than in his work on November 22, 1963, when he was one of NBC's main anchors during the breaking news of JFK's assassination.  His was very much a "just the facts" presentation, with the viewer's needs foremost in mind; like most people watching at home, he'd come in to the story after it had already started, and he figured that both he and them would like to be brought up to speed on exactly what had happened.  Inside he, like his colleagues, was in tumult, but his calm exterior wavered only once, after midnight, as NBC's coverage drew to a close on that most tumultuous day.


In reading about the current dispute between former CBS reporter Sharyl Atkisson and CBS management, one of Farinet's comments rings true, that "McGee was a man whose deep inner convictions could never be skaken.  He could never be intimidated, cajoled or misled."  That seems to be a quality in short supply in today's television journalism - or anywhere, for that matter.  There's a final anecdote that Farinet tells that, I think, is emblematic of Frank McGee's class and ability, particularly when one thinks of how so many on-screen newscasters today are simply readers with little knowledge of what they report on.

"On one occasion McGee was hustled into a studio and told that NBC News was about to take to the air.  But McGee was not told why.  The red light was on - and McGee started talking.  Fortunately, he says, they put up a picture of the United Nations on the monitor - so he figured that that's what it was all about.  He ad-libbed 90 seconds on the UN, assuming that this was to be a promo for coverage later in the day.  As he was most of the time, McGee was right."

I like that story - just as I liked Frank McGee.  He was a professional in a time of professionals, and we could use a little more of that nowadays.

April 24, 2014

Around the Dial

As usual, there are some very good classic TV pieces out there; let's take a look at some of them, shall we?

At Embarrassing Treasures, Family Affair Friday presents what today would be called a "very special episode," as Uncle Bill and the kids deal with a classmate of Buffy's who's dying.  I watched Family Affair a bit when I was a kid, but don't remember the episode.  Based on Amy's comments, it sounds as if the show handled the subject matter with a surprising amount of subtlety.  Also a good point from Amy in the comments section, where she and a commenter discuss whether or not TV shows reflect "how it was" at the time of the episode.

Comfort TV has a great idea: The Comfort TV Trivia Quiz.  I think this ties in nicely with the "cultural amnesia" article I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.  Surely many of these names should be familiar to people who consider themselves fans of classic TV, and some of them have transcended television, I think, to enter the popular culture.  I mean, "Roy Hinkley" is someone everyone should know.

'Tis the week for lists, as Classic Film and TV Cafe takes a look at British TV from A to Z.  I've seen and like a lot of these shows, so I've very few quarrels with the choices.  One nit to pick, perhaps: in British TV, D should really stand for Doctor Who, not Danger Man.  But Danger Man, the precursor to The Prisoner, has to be in the list as well - let's move it to S, in honor of the name under which it ran in America, Secret Agent.

Speaking of British TV, Cult TV Blog is back with a show I've never heard of - The Corridor People. What a great name - we'll find out if it's a great series or not.  But based on these initial impressions, I probably ought to try and check it out.

And I don't know when this happened, but the Radio Discussions Classic TV message board is back!  I always found the threads on this board to be of interest, and started more than a few of them myself.  I'll be back on there, but in the meantime don't forget the Radio Insight board, which came to the rescue for classic TV fans when Radio Discussions abruptly ceased publication a few months ago.

Short but sweet, right?  Be back here Saturday for another TV Guide review that's sweet, but not so short!

April 22, 2014

Read the fine print

Sunday night I was watching one of my favorite police shows of the 60s, The F.B.I.  (Call me nostalgic; I enjoy remembering the days when federal officers were the good guys.)  Now, when I'm watching a DVD, I generally don't like to use the rewind button if I can help it; even though most of the shows don't include the original commercials, I still like to see them in some approximation of how they were originally broadcast.*  But in this last episode of The F.B.I, I saw something so intriguing that I had to pause and rewind, just to make sure I'd seen what I thought I saw.

*That, and if I pause it for too long, I have trouble remembering what was happening when I start it up again.

The episode in question, "Hostage," was originally broadcast on February 19, 1967.  As we join the story, the FBI has just put out a wanted poster on Dr. Marie-Luise Karn (Diana Hyland), part of a Communist team sent to kidnap an anti-Communist leader to try and force an exchange for a leading Red general being held in an American prison.  Fortunately for the FBI, a man working in the harbor, where the Commies are planning to rent a boat to facilitate their escape, sees the poster:


A few things become immediately apparent.  First of all, the Eastern-bloc doctor is not six feet tall (earlier in the episode, a photo supposedly from the magazine Der Spiegel suggests she's probably about 5'8"), is not an American (she's likely supposed to be East German), and therefore was not born in Stafford, Indiana.  But you know who was born in Stafford?


That's right - Dr. Richard Kimble.  Interestingly enough, he and Dr. Karn not only share the same birthplace, they were also born on the same date*, and are the same height and weight!  And they both became doctors!

*David Janssen was also born on March 27, albeit in 1931.  Coincidence?

Obviously what happened is that someone in the prop department pulled out one of the old Kimble posters, pasted Karn's picture over it, and used it in the episode.  Both The Fugitive and The F.B.I. were Quinn Martin productions, so it makes sense.  And in the days before high-def, big screen televisions with pause buttons on the DVD player, it's unlikely that anyone anticipated viewers would be able to even see the fine print, let alone notice the discrepancy.

It's all good fun, of course.  One of the treats of watching old television shows on large-screen HD televisions is seeing things that were invisible when the show was originally aired; a Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea fan noted that the remastered discs now allowed him to see the wires that pulled models along the floor.  As the Wizard said, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.  Little details like this just add to my enjoyment of the shows, and affection for the simplicity of the era.

April 19, 2014

This week in TV Guide: April 23, 1966

A mostly interesting "compilation of opinions about Andy Williams" is Dwight Whitney's cover story, which leads off this week's clip-filled TV Guide review.

I'm usually suspicious of articles like this, which consist of no original writing whatsoever, just a collection of quotes that could have been dug up (and probably was) by a research assistant.  However, it's a refreshing change from the celebrity hit pieces we read so often in this era of TV Guide, filled with snarky quotes from anonymous sources.  This one reads more like an authorized biography, as we get quotes from friends, family, and past and present co-workers, telling the story of Andy's rise to his current celebrity.  There's the odd sour quote, but the image that comes through is of a pretty good guy, one who's certainly ambitious and wants to succeed, but doesn't seem inclined to run over people in order to get there.

The most interesting thing to come from the story is how difficult it was for TV people to figure out what to do with Williams.  Is he an urbane sophisticate, dating back to the time when he and his brothers performed with singer Kay Thompson?*  Or is he the farm boy from Iowa, the kid in a tuxedo on a tractor, as he once put it?  Is he hip, simple, down-home, what?

*Fun fact: Although she had a successful singing career and was a mentor to Andy, she's best-known today as the author of the Eloise kids' stories, supposedly based on her goddaughter, Liza Minnelli.

The producer of his first television special, Bud Yorkin, puts it best when he says that "all he has to do is be himself."  He can control the audience now, Yorkin says, because "At last he is in charge."  And you know what?  Simply being Andy Williams led to a pretty good career for Andy Williams, didn't it?

***

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..

Sullivan: Scheduled guests: comic Shelly Berman, satirist Allan Sherman, Metropolitan Opera soprano Roberta Peters, dancer José Greco, the rock 'n' rolling Dave Clark Five, the singing Kessler Twins, gospel singer Steve Sanders, magician John Moehring, comics Hendra and Ullett, and dancers Brascia and Tybee.

Palace:  Host Victor Borge introduces singer Jane Powell, choreographer-dancer Peter Gennaro, comedian Irwin Corey, the singing Kim Sisters, and the Brothers Kim, instrumentalists, and Irish trapeze artist Gala Shawn.


This is from one of Victor Borge's funniest routines, phonetic punctuation.  Although the clip's not from the Palace, this is one of the bits he would have done on the show.  I think Borge is terrific - always liked him, always thought he was funny.  However, I'm not sure even he would have been enough to propel this week's Palace past Ed.

Quick quiz: who was the most frequent guest on the Ed Sullivan show?  If you answered Roberta Peters, you'd be right.  She appeared with Ed 65 times, more than anyone else.  It's a testimony not only to the lost era of what Terry Teachout calls "middlebrow culture," but to the charm of Roberta Peters, who made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera when he was only twenty years old. Here's a sampler of her work:


Besides Peters, Ed has a very strong lineup, what with Shelly Berman (who actually impressed me more as a dramatic actor than a standup), the wonderful Allan Sherman, and the great dancer José Greco (whom we read about on this site just a week ago).  I think we've got a winner here: Sullivan takes it this week.

***

Can you believe it?  ABC's Wide World of Sports celebrates its fifth anniversary this week.  What's fascinating about the clips shown in this special is how vividly it brings to life what kind of sports people paid attention to in 1966.  There's Valery Brumel setting the world high-jump record, Bob Hayes with the 100-yard dash world record, and Jim Beattie becoming the first man ever to run a sub-four-minute mile indoors - all track and field events, none occurring during the Olympics, which is about the only time America pays attention to these events nowadays.  Peggy Fleming, who's yet to win the Olympic gold, is featured in her recent victory at the U.S. Championships, and Scotsman Jim Clark wins the 1965 Indianapolis 500, while Arnold Palmer takes the crown in the 1962 British Open, before American stars routinely made the trip overseas to compete in the tournament.

These events - track, golf, figure skating, auto racing - were, along with boxing, staples of Wide World for many years, and they're part of the reason I was such an avid fan of the show growing up.  I got to see sports that weren't normally on television, often from exotic locales, sometimes live, almost always with a sense of drama and importance.  There was, indeed, a feeling that these were on TV because they were special, as were the people competing in them.

Today, you can get most of these events pretty much any time you want, on any one of the all-sports networks out there.  We've become used to them, or (as is the case with track) we've ignored them.  In other words, seeing them on TV isn't special any more.  And that's unfortunate. Here's a clip from a typical 1966 edition of Wide World:


As I write this, on April 16, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are getting ready to start.  As this issue of TV Guide goes to press, they're getting ready to end.  At 1:30pm CT on NBC, it's Game 1 of the Final, between the Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens.  Detroit's trying to win its first cup since the 50s, while Montreal looks to make it seven out of the last eleven years.*  The Wings take the opener in Montreal, 3-2; they'll also win Game 2 two nights later by the score of 5-2.  Heading back home for two games, and only two wins away from the Cup, they'll lose the next four, and won't appear in the finals again until 1995.

*How times have changed, part 1,458: the Canadiens, winners of more Stanley Cups than any other team in history, last won the Cup in 1993 - their longest drought in team history.  The Wings, on the other hand, have won four during that span, the most recent coming in 2008.  Neither club is favored this year, but who knows?
***

And now, another episode of "Random Notes."

Our latest installment of "when television used to show classy dramas," presented without comment: Wednesday night's Hallmark Hall of Fame on NBC is "Lamp at Midnight," the story of the epic conflict between Galileo and the Catholic Church.  The 90-minute drama, based on the play by Barrie Stavis, stars Oscar winner Melvin Douglas as Galileo, with David Wayne, Michael Hordern, Hurd Hatfield and Kim Hunter.  There's a nice color feature on the production in the shiny-page section.

Remember that passing mention I made a couple of weeks ago about Lady Bird Johnson's program on ABC, spotlighting her campaign to beautify the nation's capital?  According to the Teletype, MGM has released the soundtrack to that special on an LP, as part of its "Sound of History" series.  And by golly, thanks to eBay, you too can enjoy a copy of it.  Hasn't come out in CD yet, though.

On Monday night at 9:00, Duluth's WDSM, Channel 6, is the only station carrying what must be a syndicated telecast of the world middleweight boxing championship fight from Madison Square Garden, pitting champion Dick Tiger against welterweight champ Emile Griffith.  In an unpopular decision booed by the fans in the Garden, Griffith takes the title with a unanimous 15-round decision.  Here's the first part of the fight (you can see the rest at YouTube); decide for yourself.


Maybe it's just me, and the memory playing tricks, but I always thought the summer rerun season came later in the year, in May or (in some cases) even June.  And yet here we are, in virtually the last week of April, and the reruns are starting.  Flipper, The Farmer's Daughter, The John Forsythe Show, The Addams Family, McHale's Navy and Daniel Boone are among those "beginning a series of reruns," while Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall airs its last show of the season, and Sing Along With Mitch returns "for a series of warm-weather reruns."  Keep in mind that there were more episodes per series back then, oftentimes over 30*, and this suggests there weren't that many reruns shown outside of the summer season.

*Of course, as a series progressed through several seasons and accumulated inventory, the annual number of episodes produced would generally go down, the gaps being filled in with episodes from years past.  Not quite as easy to do today, with so many shows serialized.

The variety series is often a clue as to when summer actually arrives.  Jackie Gleason, Red Skelton, Dean Martin and others would usually take the summer off, with their slots being taken by those Summer Playhouse anthologies I mentioned a couple of days ago, or a variety series hosted by a new young comic or singing star.  (Glen Campbell!  Vic Damone!  George Carlin!)  Jackie, Red and Dean are all on this week (albeit with a few reruns sprinkled in), so don't make those summer vacation plans quite yet.

***

A couple of weeks ago I had an email from a reader asking about cheesy sci-fi movies that aired on television in the early sixties.  Too bad we weren't looking at this issue, because there are a number of candidates for MST3K this week.

Saturday night alone features Attack of the 50-Foot Woman on KMMT, The Electronic Monster (WCCO), Blood of Dracula on KSTP, and the legendary I Was a Teen-Age Werewolf starring Michael Landon) on WDIO*, which also carries Horrors of the Black Museum on Sunday night.  By the time we get around to Friday we've got another batch, including The Soul of a Monster (KSTP) and The Tingler (KEYC).

*Giving new meaning, one supposes, to chewing up the scenery.

I don't ever remember watching these movies when I was a kid; maybe I was too timid, or perhaps I just wasn't that interested.  I never watched Star Trek or The Twilight Zone on their original runs, either.  I don't know how many of these stations had movie hosts, ala Swengoolie on MeTV.  And I suspect many of them were of about the same quality as this:


Nevertheless, it's one of the things I miss about television today - the local aspect of it.  Let's face it - there's very little local about local television; it's mostly impersonal, corporate.  We've talked before about local kids' shows, and local movie hosts are part of that heritage.  Not every station had them; perhaps most of them didn't.  The local variety show is a thing of the past, most stations don't even show movies nowadays.  Out of the hundred or so channels we get, most of them are national networks, leaving us with, for our local content: news and commercials.  Not exactly the way we'd want to be remembered to future generations, I suspect.

April 18, 2014

Good Friday with Bishop Sheen

I often make the point on these pages of how much things have changed over the years, not only in television but culture in general.

Bishop Fulton J. Sheen's Life Is Worth Living ran on DuMont, ABC and in syndication from the early 1950s through the late 1960s.  Blessed with a sharp mind, a whimsical sense of humor and a gift of gab, Bishop Sheen brought his ecumenical message to millions of viewers each week; as Brooks and Marsh put it in their Complete Guide to Prime Time Programming, the word "homily" would be strong for the friendly, accessible talks from the good Bishop.

A half-hour of religious programming in prime time on a national broadcast network would be unthinkable today - that pretty much goes without saying.  And while that is one measure of the change in television between then and now, it's actually another point that I'm thinking of: the idea of a "talking head" as entertainment programming.

There were no fancy graphics, no special effects, on Life is Worth Living; the closest thing being the invisible "angel" (actually a stagehand) responsible for erasing the blackboard Sheen used to illustrate his points.  People watched and enjoyed that, week after week.  As someone wrote not long ago about the Dick Cavett shows, it hearkens back to a day when conversation was actually considered entertainment - and by that I mean actual, you know, talking, rather than shouting, interrupting, declaiming, insulting, offending, and what have you. Of all the changes we've seen in television over the years, I think this is one of the most underrated and underappreciated.

What we have here is either from Good Friday 1965 or 1956; I'm inclined to go with the earlier date, based on other episodes I've seen.  It was sponsored (as I recall from the version I have) by Progresso, and presented without commercial interruption (as was the norm with religious programming back then, even on network television.*)

*Even series like Studio One, when broadcasting religious-themed episodes such as "Pontius Pilate" and "The Nativity", would show them without interruption, instead grouping the commercials before and after the presentation.


Back tomorrow with another TV Guide blast from the past.

April 16, 2014

Odds and ends

Back in the day, TV networks used to fill their summer schedules with anthologies bearing such names as Summer Playhouse.  What they were was not a return to the days of Golden Age dramas; instead, they were a clearinghouse for networks to air unsold pilots.  Few of the episodes provided anything more than light entertainment, and most provided ample evidence of why they hadn't been picked up by anyone.

Today's column is a bit of a thrown-together collection of odds and ends, but that's where its similarity to Summer Playhouse ends - after all, we're talking about quality here!

First off, reader John, who asked a question about The Untouchables a few weeks ago, adds this wonderful footnote:
Gotta tell ya this story. In  Utica N. Y. in the early 70's there were two TV stations, WKTV 2  (NBC) & WUTR 20 (ABC). WKTV totally dominated the market, you know, a V vs a U. WUTR bought the Untouchables for $20 an episode - as opposed to nowdays 5 -8  Thousand $ an episode for Wheel of Fortune or Jepordy. For the first time WUTR beat WKTV in the ratings but only for the first half hour.  Still # 1 in the 2nd  half hour but took a sizable drop. Utica had a  heavily Italian population at the time. One of the local radio talk show host said it was because in the first half hour the Italians were winning!
Love that story!

And now a question from reader Erika, who writes:
I have a recording of my father-in-law Brian Reade talking about Aubrey Beardsley  on NBC TV. It's date is 1967 and it also features Vyvyan Holland, son of Oscar Wilde. It was given to Brian Reade by Tony Janak.

I am proposing to make an illustrated recording of this with some family and collected images.  Since you seem to know 'all about TV' I wonder if you foresee any legal problems with circulating this?
My first thought was that as long as it was being shared privately and not being produced for public sale, she was probably OK.  However, aside from a pre-law minor, I’m no expert in this area – anyone with some better ideas?  Please let me know either in the comments or via email.

And now for some quick hits:

Be sure and check out Comfort TV's article on "The Subversive Genius of Rocky and Bullwinkle," one of my favorite cartoons.  David is always well worth reading, and this is no exception.

Cult TV Blog has an interesting look at another of those 60s British series, Police Surgeon.  No, not the awful 70s syndicated version from Canada that was the plague of many a local station - this is the one that is widely seen as precursor to the fabulous Avengers.

Gotta run for now - back later this week!

April 12, 2014

This week in TV Guide: April 12, 1969

What's with the talk about the Academy Awards, you're thinking.  Wasn't that last month?  Why are you bringing it up now, in the middle of April?

Well, that's the way it used to be, back in the days when the only significant movie awards show besides the Oscars was the Golden Globes, and those were confined to an hour-long broadcast on the Andy Williams Show.  Back then, the Oscarcast was held in early April or late March, usually on a Monday night, and it was the only awards show for most people.  Now, it's just one of many.

TV Guide's take on the Oscars concerns the revamping of the show, under the direction of famed Broadway choreographer Gower Champion.  Bob Hope has been banished as host, to be replaced by ten "Friends of Oscar" who will share the emcee duties.  The venue has changed, from the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.  The dress code is relaxed, with black tie replacing white tie and tales.  He even proposed getting rid of the bleachers outside the auditorium, where the fans gather to watch the stars walk down the red carpet, but that was going too far in the eyes of many, and Champion eventually relents.

Dwight Whitney, writing the article, expresses an appropriate level of skepticism regarding Champion's plans.  After all the Academy Awards are now "an electronic monster which no one seems able to control on any level."  But, in the end, the broadcast comes off pretty well.  It's one of the longer broadcasts in recent years, checking in at what now would be considered a svelte two hours and 33 minutes, but it brings in good ratings, along with some surprise winners, and Champion is accorded a standing ovation when he arrives at the after-broadcast party.  As stagnant and dull as recent broadcasts have been, it's a pity we don't have another Gower Champion waiting somewhere in the wings.

***

No "Sullivan vs. The Palace" this week, even though we're in the right era for it.  Ed's preempted this week in favor of a variety special starring Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore, together again after the success of their famed sitcom.  There's still plenty to look at this week, though.  Lawrence Welk has a tribute to the Academy Awards*, consisting mostly of Oscar winners of the past.  Dinah Shore features in a special on NBC, with guests Lucille Ball, Rowan and Martin, and Diana Ross.  Opposite her, the Smothers Brothers welcome Mason Williams, Pat Paulsen, Biff Rose, Ike and Tina Turner, and Ralph Story.  Later in the week, Bob Hope and Dean Martin appear on NBC, the great Duke Ellington is on NET, and there's one of the ill-advised Thursday night showings of The Hollywood Palace.  (Diahann Carroll as hostess, with Mort Sahl, Richard Harris, the Checkmates Ltd., and her Julia co-stars Marc Copage and Michael Link.)

*Welk and the Oscars shared the same network, ABC.  Conicidence?

And on Monday night, The Monkees return to the airwaves in "a superpsychedelic hour" with guests including Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard.  The special isn't named, but it's the infamous "33⅓ Revolutions Per Monkee," which the always-reliable Wikipedia describes as "chaotic, both on-screen and off-screen,."  and was described by Peter Tork as being the television version of their equally infamous movie Head.  The network was said to have been so disappointed by the result that it scheduled the West Coast telecast opposite ABC's live broadcast of the Oscars.  (It was seen two hours before the Oscars in most areas.) But why talk more about it when you can see for yourself? The commentary track on this video is by Mickey Dolenz.


***

Sports:  NBC kicks off its Saturday afternoon Game of the Week with the San Francisco Giants taking on the San Diego Padres.  It's the first weekend for the new era of Major League Baseball - 12 teams in each league, two divisions, and playoffs.  Some would argue the game hasn't been the same since.

Both the NHL and the NBA are in their playoffs, so Sunday's matchups have yet to be determined.  The final two rounds of The Masters run on Saturday and Sunday, and there's a local telecast of the Twins playing the California Angels in Anaheim.  Otherwise, a pretty quiet week on the sports scene.

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
In honor of the opening of baseball season, Sunday night brings a rerun of one of the oldest, and least well-known, of the Peanuts specials.  Charlie Brown's All-Stars, which premiered in 1966, is an annual feature on CBS until 1972, and makes its last appearance on the network in 1982.  There was a big promo effort for the cartoon when it first came out; I remember the baseball caps with the "Charlie Brown's All-Stars" logo on the front, and there was a book version of the special (differing slightly from the televised version).  In the story, a company offers to sponsor Charlie Brown's team and provide them with real uniforms, but there's a catch: no girls and no dogs allowed on the team.  Charlie Brown refuses the offer, and then tells the team about it (without telling them why he turned the sponsor down).  Predictably, they heap abuse on him, until Linus and Schroeder step up to defend Charlie Brown, berating the girls for attacking him.  The idea of making females the heavies, along with the dated concept of girls not playing baseball, probably accounts for its disappearance from the rotation.

Some other quick hits: speaking as we were about pilots, there's a repeat of the TV-movie Prescription: Murder on Tuesday night.  Gene Barry, whom we loved in Burke's Law and is now appearing in The Name of the Game, stars as a doctor who's killed his wife.  The police are after him, of course, particularly one dogged detective who won't give up.  He's played by Peter Falk and his name is Columbo - might have heard of a series he later appeared in.

Barbara Bel Geddes makes a rare TV appearance on NBC's Daniel Boone Thursday night.  Her TV exposure will become considerably less rare in a few years, when she takes on a starring role in a series called Dallas.  Also Thursday is a CBS TV-movie entitled U.M.C., which stands for University Medical Center and is the pilot for a new fall series.  The movie stars Richard Bradford as Dr. Joe Gannon, with James Daly as his colleague Dr. Paul Lochner.  Daly, father of future TV-star Tyne Daly, stays with the project but Bradford, whom us classic TV fans will recognize from Man With a Suitcase, is replaced by Chad Everett when the series, now called Medical Center, makes its debut in September of 1969

By the way, do you find yourselves wondering if any of those shows would have been worth watching?  Well, if it were up to Dr. Frank Stanton, you'd have a little more information to go by when making your viewing decisions.  Stanton, the president of CBS, is advocating giving TV critics a chance to review shows before they're broadcast, ostensibly to warn of content that might seem "too risque or violent for younger audiences."  The other networks, NBC and ABC, are aghast at the idea; one says "What are sponsors and their agencies going to say the first time the critics blast a CBS show before anybody else has seen it?"

Many think Stanton is overreacting to the latest Congressional push against TV violence, and with talk of a ratings system continuing to grow, it may be that Stanton is proposing advance screenings as an alternative.  But when a CBS spokesman is asked when the previewing will start, he says not before next fall.  And as for NBC and ABC, "the betting was it'll never happen."

In this case, I think we can say "never" didn't last quite as long as those networks thought."  With a few exceptions, most shows are made available for preview nowadays; hence, all the TV critics who get a chance to sharpen their knives before airtime.  After all, how else would we know what to watch?

***

HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
I wrote about Garry Moore a while back, in which the television star talked about wanting to do something "new and different."  Three years later, we get a closer look at the fall of Moore's career.  He's bored, to be blunt about it.  He's still under contact to CBS, and although he makes about $200,000 a year, CBS doesn't have (or doesn't want to have) anything for him to do.  Although he insists there are joys in his life (even though he doesn't name them), he laments that "I don't want a leftover life to lead."  But the fan mail has disappeared, he's seldom recognized anymore when he walks down the street, and the man who once had a radio show and two television series now has more time on his hands than he can count.

It's really a rather sad article.  Although he's only 54, he's aged dramatically in the two-plus years since his last CBS show went off the air; one executive says he looks closer to 70.  Moore wants to work, but nobody's interested in him - they tell him he appeals to the wrong demographic.  He'd like to do something substantial, "like CBS Reports," but the network doesn't mingle its news and entertainment divisions, and while he's under contract to CBS he's prohibited from appearing on other networks without their permission.  He's about to start a stint as host of the syndicated To Tell the Truth, which he'll stay with until 1977, and he's making guest appearances on shows like The Carol Burnett Show, but it's just not the same thing.  He says he's not bitter, just that "I'd like to be used somehow."

Garry Moore was a unique figure in television - he wasn't a singer (although he could sing) and wasn't an actor (although he could act).  Mostly, he played himself, on his variety show as well as his long run hosting I've Got a Secret.  In 1963 he was the highest paid entertainer on television, making $43,000 a week.  He was friendly and avuncular, and he put viewers at ease when they watched him, making them feel like his friends.  But as we know, the times are changing; CBS isn't far away from the "Rural Purge," and the people who have grown old with television are now seen as being too old for television.  As the song at the end of Paul Wilkes' article puts it, "oh, how the years have flown."

***

An interesting editorial on the front page, which makes a humorous point about how those years have flown: the editors declaim the state of modern language, and the new catch phrases that dominate: "hang-up," "blow your mind," "generation gap," "tell it like it is," and more.  "Are you up-tight about thel anguage orf the acid heads, the teeny-boppers and the flower children?" they ask.  "Would you, in short, think it groovy if the English language were discovered to be alive and well and living int he United States - its old turf?"

Humorous, as I say, but making a point.  "We are brought to a state of nausea whenever we hear or read one of these banal or crude or cloddish substitutes for thinking that are so horribly ubiquitous these days in broadcasting and in print."  I wonder if you couldn't make the same sort of statement today?  We don't write or even think in words so much anymore - it's more likely abbreviations, concepts, half-thoughts.  Such is the life of a post-literate society, though.  And it has consequences, which we see play out today with ever-increasing frequency: "people talking about commitment and value judgments" which they use as weapons against those who have the temerity to disagree with them.

Although this blog is about television, it's also about language, especially the written word.  I find there's a great deal of eloquence in writing about TV, even though I may only capture a fraction of its potential.  Television, and its history, has painted a vast panoply of imagery over the years, which words are uniquely suited to describe.  It's ironic, in that television is mostly a visual medium, one that's been blamed by many for leading to the death of the written word.  And yet millions of words have been, and continue to be, written about it, words oftentimes more powerful than those images they describe.  And as long as I'm writing It's About TV, I intend to keep looking for the beauty in those words, as well as the pictures which accompany them.

April 11, 2014

Race to Riches - 1967

This ring a bell with anyone?  It's from a late-60s series called Race to Riches.  This ad appeared in the Fayetteville, NY Bulletin, but Race to Riches was syndicated throughout the country, and I've found mention of it in many grocery store newspaper ads, not to mention the TV Guide.  In Minneapolis, the show appeared weekly on the independent station, WTCN, Channel 11.

I watched this show faithfully, because at six years of age I was already a racing buff.  The format of the show was simple, kind of like auto racing bingo: Over a 30-minute broadcast, highlights of a race would be shown.  At four points in the race, the standings would be shown, and you'd circle the number of the cars in the first four positions.  At the end of the broadcast, if you had four-in-a-row, either up and down, sideways or diagonally, you were a winner! Your prize: none other than S&H Green Stamps.

I realize I've seriously dated myself in several ways here, not only by giving you a good idea of how old I am (although I've always been pretty up-front with that for those of you who read between the lines), and by talking about Green Stamps.  It does not, however, mean that I'm ready for Social Security (not that there's anything wrong with that).

This show really does seem to come from a different era, as an example of the early interactivity of local television when Dialing for Dollars was a big deal and stores looked for ways to work with television to bring in customers.  It's somewhat odd, I think, that you can't find out much about it on the Web; there's no footage on YouTube, and the only mentions of it outside of the ads themselves (at least that I could find) have been in a handful of auto racing message boards.  Were it not for the ads, I might doubt my own memory and wonder if the show had ever existed.  Anyone out there with anything to add?

April 9, 2014

The magic of the past - what classic television tells us about ourselves

We all like classic television around here; that goes without saying.*  Besides the entertainment value, which is considerable, the shows of the past tell us something about ourselves and the times in which we watched them.  For example, it's often said of fans of Doctor Who that your favorite Doctor depends in large part on who was playing the role when you were growing up.

*If you don't, there are better places to hang around .  Trust me.

In a perceptive article at the AV Club, Brandon Nowalk writes about discovering a brand new world, one he scarcely knew existed:*
Late one night a couple of years ago, I stumbled upon an exciting new channel out in the back alleys of my cable package. That’s when I first laid eyes on Peter Gunn, which was exotic even apart from its shadowy look and circus-murder hook. I was bewitched from the moment the carnival barker interrupts the mystery of a stranger draping a reticulated python around a woman in the shadows. And that was just the beginning. Practically the entire programming schedule was new to me—a shaggy case-of-the-week PI show, a small-town drama in the middle of its 13th season, a horror anthology grasping at Val Lewton.
*The articles to which Nowalk links are well worth reading as well.

In addition to Peter Gunn, the shows Nowalk was watching were The Rockford FilesGunsmoke, and Thriller - all shows new to Nowalk.  I know that may be hard for us to believe, steeped as we are in the minutiae of old television, but Nowalk was enchanted by the revelation, which is something that should make all of us happy.  Describing MeTV, the station on which all these shows appeared, Nowalk writes that "its lineup of reruns manages to rival the best slates of the 21st century."

Nowalk refers to this lack of familiarity with the shows of the past "television's cultural amnesia."
When television fans lose their familiarity with classic television, every little formal discrepancy—from black-and-white to a multi-camera format to more obviously stylized performance—leads to perceptions that older TV is dated. And that, in turn, leads to blanket dismissals.
Which brings me back to my initial paragraph.  It's reasonable to assume that we all have a bias toward the television of our own time, which is why today's viewers call Breaking Bad "the best drama television has ever had to offer" - which it might well be, but it's pretty hard to make that claim stick by ignoring the first sixty or so years of television's history. "Don’t we lose more than we gain by constantly promoting the new and hip at the expense of the old and unfamiliar?"

In addition to losing our knowledge of television's past, though, we run the risk of losing touch of our own cultural past.  I often point out how the shows of yesterday offer us a window to the world of yesterday - one which is only approximated in period shows such as Mad Men.  I suppose this isn't a real surprise, given that these kids nowadays think history started about ten minutes ago.  But looking at the shows from the 50s and 60s introduces us to a world of wonder, in which walking on the moon was a fantastic dream; a world of apprehension, in which the threat of nuclear annihilation was a real and present danger; a world of comfort, in which the two-parent family was the norm, and neighbors looked out for each other.  We look at the stereotypes of women and minorities and see how things have changed, we see cars and fashions and marvel how technology has evolved.  We see the small towns and byways of America in the 60s, and wonder at how completely different the country has become.  We see travelogues of distant lands, and dream of travel beyond our own homes.

This is our world - the world that has been shaped by generations past.  When we lose touch of it, we lose touch of ourselves.  It's part of the magic of classic television - the magic of memory.  It's like looking through a family scrapbook, where we can watch ourselves grow, and grow old.  When we suffer from amnesia, when we lose touch with our roots, we are the poorer for it, for as Nowalk writes in conclusion, "To the untraveled viewer, the horizon is endless. I highly recommend exploring."

April 5, 2014

This week in TV Guide: April 9, 1966

We're a hard lot to please, aren't we?  First we wonder when TV's going to give us new movies, and now we complain about the ones they won't let us see!  It sounds a lot more sinister (or provocative) than it really is.

For the most part, we're talking about movies that don't appear on TV because of rights problems of one kind or another, something we've gotten all too used to when it comes to the release of DVDs. The Cat and the Canary, a 1939 flick with Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard, 1947's Life With Father with William Powell, Irene Dunne and Elizabeth Taylor, and Irving Berlin's This Is the Army are among dozens of movies that have fallen victim to the inability to reach an agreement with the rights owners, usually the widows or estates of the authors.

Other movies are no-shows for various reasons: Anna and the King of Siam was kept from television so it wouldn't compete with its musical version, The King and I.  The Buccaneer, The Desert Song, and So Big are among films that the studios themselves have withheld in order to protect remakes.  And when movies are remade - Show Boat, Cimarron, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, for example - the originals are often shelved to avoid confusion, or have their names changed - the original State Fair, starring Dana Andrews and Jeanne Crain, became It Happened One Summer to differentiate it from the newer version, with Pat Boone.  Blockbusters from years past - Gone with the Wind, the Disney movies like Pinocchio, Bambi, Snow White - are re-released periodically, and as long as they continue to make money for their studios, they'll be MIA on TV.

Have no fear, though; there's confidence that many, if not all, of these movies will eventually make it to the small screen - one way or another.  For example, a note elsewhere in this issue tells us that ABC has just paid a reported $2 million for the rights to the Oscar-winning Bridge on the River Kwai.  I just checked: you can get it today at Amazon for $8.48 and watch it as often as you want.

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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..

Sullivan: Scheduled guests: comic Alan King; Count Basie and his band; dancer José Greco; actor Eddie Albert, who reads James Weldon Johnson's dramatic narrative "The Creation"; English comedian Richard Pryor; Brusini, a magician; and Anden's Poodles.

Palace: Host Gene Barry presents comedian Wally Cox; the singing McGuire Sisters; Dodger pitching stars Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, who join Milton Berle in a comedy sketch; Tim Conway, who portrays the inventor of a matchmaking machine; the Mamas and Papas; the Lenz Chimps; and the Hildalys, French high-wire motorcyclists.

Good lineups this week.  Most of you know I'm a Gene Barry fan, and Tim Conway is presumably is usually funny self.  Koufax and Drysdale are appearing during their joint holdout against the Los Angeles Dodgers, when they were trying to demonstrate to management that they had other options.  They didn't, and while Drysdale had a so-so year, Koufax went on to win 27 games with only a week's spring training.

But I'm going with Ed this week.  Alan King, whom I also like, Count Basie, who's always a must-see, José Greco, one of the great dancers of his time, and Eddie Albert - whom I'm not particularly a fan of, but Johnson's "The Creation" is an appropriate choice for Easter.  (And probably would have been better read by Tennessee Ernie Ford.)  I don't know about that "English" comedian Richard Pryor, though.  Can they be talking about him?  The verdict:  Sullivan.

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Speaking of Easter - as was the case with last week's issue, this Sunday is Easter.  But whereas Easter Sunday 1958 was chock full of religious programming, it's a different story in 1966.  There's a morning concert of Easter music by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on CBS, a an afternoon music program on NBC, a presentation of the drama "The Easter Angel" on ABC, and "The Triumphant Hour," the story of the Resurrection (featuring Raymond Burr as Peter) on Family Theater.  Locally, the Gustavus Adolphus choir sings Easter music on Channel 4, as does the Spooner High School choir on Channel 10 in Duluth.  And that's about it.  There are a couple of local church services, but those are on every Sunday, Easter or not. Interesting, don't you think?

So what else is on Sunday?  Well, the Stanley Cup playoffs on NBC (joined in progress, as was the practice with Hockey Night in Canada until 1968), the NBA playoffs on ABC, and The Masters are on CBS (as they were last week).  And at 3pm CT on ABC, it's a repeat of Lady Bird Johnson's tour of Washington, DC, spotlighting her beautification campaign for the nation's capital.

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I like to think of 1966 as a bit of a cultural watershed, at least on television, a time when the realities of the 60s and the remants of the 50s coexisted on our screens.  It's the final season for ABC's The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (which debuted on the network in 1952, and has made the transition to color for its final season) and The Donna Reed Show (which started on ABC in 1958), but it's clear that the traditional family sitcom is living on borrowed time.  At the same time, and on the same network, ABC Scope reports on "the war's effects on the Vietnamese peasant."  Although the war still has support from a majority of the American population, protest is in the air; later in the year Muhammad Ali will refuse military induction, and the next year Martin Luther King will come out against the war.  A series on NET called Radical Americans examines "the positions of campus leftists and the traditional members of the Communist Party and the Progressive Labor Party."  And those kids who are part of the post-Korea boom, the age portrayed on Ozzie and Harriet and Donna Reed, will be part of the revolution.

Children's programming still populates the after-school hours; Bozo, Popeye, Captain Atom, Casey and Roundhouse, Bart's Clubhouse among them.  Barbara Eden still can't show her naval in I Dream of Jeannie, and Lawrence Welk and his Music Makers still entertain on Saturday nights.  Cowboys, doctors and cops take up significant space on the nightly grid, along with ABC's pair of "adult" dramas, Peyton Place and The Long Hot Summer, starring this week's cover star, Roy Thinnes.  Combat and Twelve O'Clock High tell the story of World War II, while Gomer Pyle portrays life in the stateside camp, with nary a hint of Vietnam in the air, and Gunsmoke's stalwart Matt Dillon shares the network with the James Bondian stars of The Wild, Wild West.

The phrase "ln Living Color" is no longer uncommon, as all three networks have liberally integrated their lineups with colorcasts - and yet prime time has yet to fully convert from black and white, with shows from Secret Agent and I Dream of Jeannie to The Fugitive and F Troop yet to make the transition.  Individual stations face the same difficulties - joint NBC/ABC affiliate KCMT in Alexandria broadcasts color programs such as The FBI and Run For Your Life in black and white, and KSTP is the only Twin Cities station to air its local newscasts in color.  Of course, there are countless B&W programs in syndication from years past, shows like The Untouchables and Wanted - Dead or Alive that are part of the classic TV lexicon today, but remain a staple of local programming until the color era renders many of them obsolete.

An interesting time, don't you think?

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A short note on sports - the Minnesota Twins have released their television schedule for the 1966 season. The team, coming off their 1965 American League pennant and heartbreaking World Series loss to the Koufax-led Los Angeles Dodgers, will be television a total of 50 games this season, four at home and 46 on the road.  By contrast, how many of the Twins games will be on TV this year?  I believe, including games that might be carried on national and regional telecasts, that number would be 162 - in other words, all of them.  Whereas Channel 11 was the flagship Twins broadcaster in 1966 (and for many years afterward), today's games are carried on OTA stations, cable networks, and more.

And the start date of the 1966 Twins season?  Opening Day, against the Kansas City Athletics, is April 19 - in contrast to this year's Twins opener, which was played on March 31.

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SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
Sometimes we run into those "where are they now" moments, when we read about someone who was supposed to become the Next Big Thing, someone that we've never heard of and has an IMDb listing of one or two lines.  An example would be heavyweight boxer Jim Beattie, featured in Friday night's ABC documentary "The Big Guy".  The show covers Beattie's preparation for an upcoming fight against journeyman Dick Wipperman.  Beattie, who weighs in at 6' 9" and 240, is touted as a future contender for the heavyweight crown, but his career never really fulfills that early promise - he retires in 1979 with a record of 40-10, with his closest whiff of the crown coming in the 1970 James Earl Jones movie The Great White Hope, where Beattie plays "the Kid."

By contrast, later that night NET features a concert by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Zubin Mehta.  Mehta is only 29 and is viewed as a rising star, and that view more than comes to fruition.  Over the course of a long and successful career, Mehta becomes the Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, holding the position for longer than anyone else, and wins additional fame for his appearances conducting the Three Tenors.  For his work with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and others, he receives a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  And to top it off, he's married to TV and film star Nancy Kovack.

***

The ratings system has been a bone of contention almost from the beginning of television.  Throughout these TV Guides, one reads of complaints from creative artists, producers, viewers and critics about the pernicious influence of ratings, particularly the tendency of networks to dumb down programming in order to attract the lowest common denominator.  One look at 1966's programs would tend to reinforce this thought, from the cornpone humor of The Beverly Hillbillies to the escapism of Jeannie and Batman.  Some of the shows are more intelligent, more literate, than others, but nobody's calling 1966 a new Golden Age of Television. I can only imagine that this next story must add some fuel to the fire.

Seems that a man named Rex Sparger is admitting - boasting, if you want to be honest - about how he rigged television's ratings four separate times.  Sparger, who's currently the object of a $1,500,000 lawsuit by A.C. Nielsen as well as a subject of interest to the FCC and various members of Congress, allegedly mailed questionnaires to 58 Nielsen families, accompanied by $3 and a request to watch Carol Channing's recent ABC variety special, with the promise of an additional $5 if they complete and return the questionnaire.  In addition to the Channing show, he lays claim to rigging the ratings of Bob Hope's Vietnam show and two other programs he won't name - "I want to see if Nielsen can find out which ones they were."

Sparger says he did it "to expose the ratings and to obtain material for a book he's writing, 'How to Rig TV Ratings for Fun and Profit."  Eventually, as Hugh Beville's book Audience Ratings documents, Sparger admitted everything "and was enjoined from writing or publishing books or articles referring directly or indirectly to Nielsen without referring them to [the accounting firm] Ernst & Ernst" which would check said writing for "false and libelous" statements about the company.  In return, Nielsen dropped the claim for punitive damages.

Which, I suppose, explains why How to Rig TV Ratings for Fun and Profit doesn't show up at Amazon.