October 30, 2014

The Love Boat, Maverick, The Prisoner and more!

Yours truly has, from time to time, poked fun at ABC's '70s-'80s hit The Love Boat, and will probably continue to do so when given the opportunity.  And yet, as Comfort TV reminds us, it was an enormous hit that's still fondly remembered by many - and maybe it's the perfect kind of show to watch when the real world gets a little too hard to handle.

The Broadcasting Archives at the University of Maryland has this very cool picture of Portland, Oregon television station KGWs futuristic broadcasting studio.  Does this scream midcentury, futuristic design or what?  What a great link between early television and the styles of American culture.

Be sure to read the conclusion of Cult TV's write-up on allegory in The Prisoner - this week, it's the infamous final episode, "Fall Out."  Some very interesting conclusions here, with which I'm inclined to agree - that The Prisoner "may be better interpreted in psychological terms" than as an allegory, though I don't think there's any doubt there are allegorical images contained.

Nice picture at The Lucky Strike Papers of author Andrew Lee Fielding's mother, Sue Bennett (a member of the cast of Your Hit Parade) along with fellow singer Russell Arms.  We're really geared to think of moving images when studying television, and yet I think that still photographs, with an unlimited time to study them, can be even more forceful in bringing back memories.*  And by the way, read the book!

*Did you know that every time you remember a memory of the past, you're actually remembering the last time you remembered it, rather than the original memory?  I didn't know that until recently.  But of course I'm not recalling that conversation - merely the last time I thought about it.

All Things Kevyn has nothing to do this week with television, but everything to do with the wonderful Calvin and Hobbes.  Anyone who's ever looked at the sidebar knows that strip is held in high esteem around here, and this cartoon helps explain why.

Television's New Frontier: the 1960s takes a look at what it is that makes Maverick one of the most unique, clever and fondly remembered Westerns of the late '50s, and how Warner Brothers' foolish decisions brought the show down.  It's always the suits in the end, isn't it?

You should always read Television Obscurities for the weekly TV Guide review, but also for the looks at the obscure shows of the past (hence the title, right?) such as Thrills and Chills, a New York show from 1941.  Always interesting to remember that television started much earlier than we think, isn't it?

Coming up this Saturday - a look at Election Day 1980 in the pages of TV Guide!

October 28, 2014

Reagan's "Time For Choosing" - when people watched politics on television

Just so we're clear from the outset, it's not my intent here to make an ideological point.  As always, what matters most is our analysis of the influence that television has on the American culture.  If you'd still rather skip the politics, come on back Thursday - I'll see what I can do for you.

For the rest of you: yesterday was the 50th anniversary of what has been called the "Time For Choosing" speech delivered by Ronald Reagan on behalf of Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater.  Contrary to what you might read from some on the Internet, this speech was not given at the Republican Convention (which was held in July), nor was it coverage of a speech that Reagan was giving out on the stump.  It was, in fact, a made-for-television program, with a live audience to give it some atmosphere.

The speech was given during the final days of the campaign (Election Day was, as it is this year, November 3), and as far as influencing the outcome of the race, its impact was negligible - the incumbent, Lyndon Johnson, pounded Goldwater 61%-39%, the sixth-most lopsided presidential race in history.  In other ways, though, the speech was a sensation.  It raised over $8 million for the cash-strapped Goldwater, which as this columnist points out would be about $60 million in today's money.  Washington Post writer David Broder compared its impact to William Jennings Bryan's famed "Cross of Gold" speech in 1896.  Most important, it catapulted Reagan, who two years before had been a Democrat and was hitherto best known as a movie star and the host of GE Theater, to national political prominence.  Two years later he would be elected Governor of California, and he would seek the Republican presidential nomination in 1968 and 1976 before winning the presidency in 1980.*

*And you can read more about that in this coming Saturday's TV Guide.

Again, the point here is not to look at Reagan's political legacy - what fascinates me is the impact this televised speech had.  It's rather difficult today to imagine a televised political appearance being this influential, given the disdain most of us have for politicians, and the lengths to which many of us will go to avoid seeing them on TV.*  But this speech, a variation on a speech he'd been giving to groups throughout California, defined Ronald Reagan politically and made him a force to be reckoned with for the remainder of his political life.

*I suppose then-state Senator Barack Obama's speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention is the closest we've come since.

We've seen how the advent of television has changed politics, for better or worse.  Keep in mind that four years before Reagan's speech, the inaugural televised debate between Kennedy and Nixon had been the highest-rated broadcast of all time, and that eight years before that, Nixon's "Checkers Speech" (likewise the largest television audience at the time) had saved his spot on the ticket with Dwight Eisenhower, with telegrams of support overwhelming Republican headquarters.  In the sense that today's political campaigns are geared for the mass audience as opposed to the more intimate style that personified previous generations, the effects of television apply equally to all candidates.  Some, like the Kennedys, Reagan and (arguably) Obama, use it to better use than others, but they all play under the same rules.*

*Witness the number of times you hear it said of a candidate that "if he (or she) could personally meet every voter, he'd win in a landslide."  Some people just do better in person than on the tube.

Nowadays we live in cynical times; virtually every source of authority has been discredited and is looked upon with deep distrust, so it's unlikely that a single television appearance nowadays - as part of a paid political advertisement, no less - could have the effect of Reagan's speech.  And that's what makes it so extraordinary; that on that night in October 1964, a great many people sat around their television sets and watched Ronald Reagan give a political speech.  They liked what they saw and heard, and they remembered it.  It may be one of the last example of its kind, the use of television to capture the political imagination of the public, and thereby to shape the nation's political future.

Here, in its entirety, is the "Time For Choosing" speech from October 27, 1964.  See what you think.

October 25, 2014

This week in TV Guide: October 25, 1980

It's one week until the Presidential election, and things are really heating up, with the biggest television event being a no-show in the pages of TV Guide.

We've previously looked at the controversies and difficulties surrounding the 1980 debates, and it wasn't until late in October (apparently too late to change this issue) that the one and only debate between the principal candidates, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, was agreed to.

The debate took place in Cleveland on October 28, one week to the day before Election Day, and it's said to have been the turning point in a close race becoming a landslide.*  Three things stand out from the confrontation: the President remarking on his conversation with his twelve-year-old daughter about nuclear proliferation, Reagan's response to Carter's accusations with the line, "There you go again," and the closing peroration in Reagan's final statement, in which he asked the voters "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?"

*Which is another good reason not to have early voting - but that's another discussion for another day and, probably, a different blog.

The debate was one of the highest-rated television programs of the last decade, and the last time that the candidates of the two major parties would engage in, essentially, single-warrior combat.  I'm not exactly certain what it did to that night's broadcast schedule; a quick look at the listings suggests the biggest program that night was Bob Hope's two-hour election special, which may well have been interrupted for the debate and continued afterward.  In any event, it's likely that those high ratings were much better for the networks than anything they wound up preempting.

One other election note: there's a fairly extensive article with the three candidates (Reagan, Carter and Anderson) answering questions about television put to them by TV Guide.  The answers are about what you'd expect: Reagan and Anderson both think their campaigns have been, for the most part, covered fairly by the media, while Carter complains that the the press holds the incumbent's record to a higher standard than that of his challengers.  In response to a question about the predicted low voter turnout, Anderson makes a very interesting observation, that the more voters learn about candidates and officeholders the lower the turnout tends to become, though he thinks it more likely the fault of the candidates themselves than the coverage they receive.  When asked about their favorite shows, Reagan identifies news, sports, family programs and miniseries, Anderson watches news and public affairs shows, and Carter has very little time to watch anything.

***

I've written before about the complex relationship between boxing and television.  Over the years, we've seen boxing go from a thrice-weekly staple of prime-time television to a closed-circuit event in theaters and then, behind Howard Cosell, return to prime-time for big events.  This week's fight falls somewhere in-between: the network premier of the Larry Holmes-Muhammad Ali heavyweight title fight, which had been broadcast in theaters earlier in the month.  Broadcasts such as this still got big ratings, even though everyone knew the outcome, because relatively few had seen the fight in the theater, and only still photographs had been published prior to the telecast.

Ali, the man responsible for boxing's renaissance, was coming back from a two-year retirement after having won back the championship from Leon Spinks in 1978.  Holmes was considered the best heavyweight in the world, undefeated champion* since June of 1978; despite this, Ali appeared to have worked himself into good shape and a surprising number of experts gave him a good chance of regaining his crown.  In the event, the fight was a total mismatch, with Holmes dominating from the outset.  Ali's trainer, Angelo Dundee, tried to throw in the towel after the ninth round, and the fight was stopped after ten rounds, with Holmes far ahead on all scorecards.

*Of the World Boxing Council, which had stripped Spinks of the title for giving Ali a rematch rather than fulfilling his contractual obligation to defend his title against the number one contender, Ken Norton.  The champion of the World Boxing Association (the unbroken title line which passed from Spinks to Ali to John Tate) is currently Mike Weaver.  More about him in a minute. 

I'm not quite sure why the ABC advertisement talks about "The Controversy"; certainly there's no doubt that Holmes was winning the fight easily.  It could be the thyroid medication that Ali blamed in part for the loss (it supposedly helped him lose weight), or it could be the inability of the obviously dominant Holmes to knockout his idol - was he taking it easy on Ali in order not to hurt him*, or was Holmes perhaps not quite the big puncher everyone thought he was?

*Holmes appeared at the post-fight press conference with tears in his eyes over the battering he gave the former champion.

There's been some speculation that Ali was already suffering from Parkinson's disease at the time of the fight, based on Ali's reactions during the pre-fight neurological examination at the Mayo Clinic.  If this is true, as the author suggests, his ability to stand up to the beating he received from Holmes is particularly remarkable.  Here's the fight as broadcast; see what you think.


What's also interesting about this two-hour Friday night broadcast is that the lead-in to the Holmes-Ali replay is a live fight, the lightweight championship fight between James Watt and Sean O'Grady live from Glasgow, Scotland (where it was after 2:00 Saturday morning). Watt takes a fairly controversial victory, and here's the broadcast of that fight:


***

That fight was telecast on Halloween, and there's plenty of seasonal programming in store during the week.

On Tuesday night, CBS kicks things off with a three-hour condensed version of the original two-part Salem's Lot, starring David Soul.  NBC counters with a horror double-header, with The Omen on Wednesday night and it's sequel, Damien - Omen II on Thursday night.  The former stars Gregory Peck and Lee Remick, the latter William Holden and Lee Grant.  Judith Crist called them "dopey and pretentious."

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
If you want something perhaps a little less pretentious on Wednesday, CBS has its old standby, Bugs Bunny, in a "Howl-O-Ween Special," followed by Raggedy Ann and Andy in "The Pumpkin  Who Couldn't Smile."  What a sad story!  (Covered very nicely here by The Last Drive In.)  NBC's Real People follows suit with a ghost-flavored episode, including haunted houses and a medium trying to contact Elvis!  Thursday belongs to ABC, with "The Grinch That Stole Halloween," featuring Hans Conried taking the place of Boris Karloff, and "The Halloween That Almost Wasn't," with Judd Hirsch as Dracula.  Scary!

Finally, on Friday night, if the Holmes-Ali fight isn't creepy enough for you, NBC has a made-for-TV flick, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" starring Jeff Goldblum, not to be confused with the Fox series Sleepy Hollow, which doesn't star Jeff Goldblum.  The one show that's missing is the one I would have expected to see, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.  Must have been on the previous week.

***

Some interesting Saturday matinee choices on local channels.  Superstation WTBS, dipping into the United Artists inventory, presents Stanley Kramer's apocalyptic On the Beach, based on Nevil Shute's brilliant novel, about which one of my colleagues has written here.  I have to admit never having seen the movie; something about the tone of it, I think; I was never able to get beyond "Waltzing Matilda" being used for the theme.  I've no doubt it's far better than the remake, though.

Meanwhile, KDLH, Channel 3 in Duluth, has the Oscar-winning foreign film Investigation of a Citizen About Suspicion, one of the great crime dramas of the '70s, with a touch of existentialism thrown in.  It's a grim story about a top Italian police inspector who murders his mistress and then plants clues to implicate himself, wanting to see how far he can get, confident that despite the evidence his fellow detectives will never dare to suspect him.  I saw this movie on television in the early '70s (a daytime matinee no less!), and even though I've only seen it once since then, both the title and the story have stuck with me since.  In a day when most of the Saturday afternoon movies are still either Westerns, schlock horror, adventure or comedy, these are two very unusual choices.

Also on Saturday, some more evidence that sports coverage in 1980 isn't quite the same as today.  WEAU, Channel 13 in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, presents taped highlights of the Formula 1 Grand Prix of the United States, which had been run on October 5.  This is followed by NBC Sportsworld's presentation of taped coverage of NASCAR's Charlotte 500, held on October 5 as well.  Both of these events would be shown live today, but back then they were not only on tape, they were merely highlights.

Speaking of which, we have yet another tape-delay presentation of yet another heavyweight championship boxing match on tap as well, CBS's same-day coverage of the WBA title bout between champ Mike Weaver and challenger Gerrie Coetzee,  (I did warn you we'd get back to title fights, didn't I?) The fight was held earlier in the day in Bophuthatswana, South Africa* and recorded so it could be presented at a more suitable hour.  Weaver retains the title with a tough 13th round KO, and just to be fair here's the fateful moment as seen on Sports Spectacular.

*Try saying that five times fast.

a

***

Last but not least, a few tidbits from the rest of the television week.

The actors' strike has finally ended, which means some series are getting belated premieres.  Among the new shows to come in the next couple of months: Hill Street Blues and Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters on NBC, Magnum, P.I. on NBC, and Too Close For Comfort, Bosom Buddies and It's a Living on ABC.  The networks can't agree on when the new season starts, though.

Roger Mudd, the longtime CBS newsman who lost the replace-Walter Cronkite-sweepstakes to Dan Rather, has made the move to NBC, where he's expected to eventually take over for John Chancellor on the evening news.  He doesn't though, not really; after serving as co-anchor for awhile with Tom Brokaw, he winds up working on Meet the Press and assorted NBC newsmagazines until heading over to PBS and, later, The History Channel.

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
Charles Kuralt is taking over the weekday CBS Morning News as an expansion of his Sunday Morning program.  As I recall, the name changed each day: Monday Morning, Tuesday Morning, etc.  It lasted until 1982 (Kuralt was joined by Diane Sawyer in 1981), and it was probably the best of the morning news incarnations that CBS has tried over the last 35 years.

As a side note, I've always had an affection for WCCO, the CBS affiliate in the Twin Cities, the only one of the four main channels to remain stable in network affiliation over the years, and the last to get rid of its local kids' shows.  I've also complained, however, about their long-standing habit of preempting CBS' Sunday morning religion/culture block (Camera Three, Lamp Unto My Feet and Look Up and Live) in favor of Bowery Boys movies, not to mention how they frequently refused to air the weekday CBS morning news (which often wound up onChannel 9, the ABC affiliate).  Now, in this issue, I'm finding that WCCO doesn't carry Captain Kangaroo in the mornings, either.  Too busy airing Phil Donahue.  Remind me again what it was I liked about WCCO?

You might have noticed that this week's cover is another work of art by Al Hirschfeld, whom I wrote about here.  One of Hirschfeld's endearing traits was working the name of his daughter, Nina, into each of his portraits.  Can you find it this week's cover?

And about that cover: it's for an article on James Gregory, who plays Inspector Lugar on Barney Miller.  I know several people who absolutely love that show, but I was never really a fan.  The cast and stories were good, for the most part, but I think the weakest link in the show was Hal Linden himself, which can be a problem when you're talking about the star of the series.  Never really cared for Linden as an actor, and in Barney Miller I thought he played the role too broadly at times, as if he were still on the stage rather than in the intimacy of television, but since I'm likely in the minority on this I'm probably wrong (except to me).  It finally got to the point where I couldn't really appreciate the program because of his presence.  The other characters were great, especially the late Steve Landesberg as Dietrich, and I'd probably accept the viewpoints of many former policemen that Barney Miller was the most realistic cop show on TV.  As for who should have played the sane voice in a squad room full of loonies, I don't know.  Any ideas?

October 23, 2014

Brit TV, stars when they were young, old sports announcers, holiday specials, and prunes!

Lots to cover today, so let's get to it, shall we?

Oh, my. The Broadcasting Archives at the University of Maryland offers a picture of Kevin Whately and John Thaw, Lewis and Morse respectively, from the start of the series Inspector Morse.  Were we really that young once?

Cult TV is back with allegory in the epic Prisoner episode "Once Upon a Time."  These have been stimulating, enthralling discussions, and I've certainly done poorly at describing how much I get out of them, at least in terms of leaving comments.  Boy, they're interesting!

I've taken shots from time to time at The Love Boat when I do my TV Guide writeups, but there's no denying it was a big show, and a lot of fun for a lot of people.  See what I mean when Joanna takes a look at the 1977 Christmas episode at Christmas TV History.

In the past, I've identified Pat Summerall as one of the "big game" voices of televised sports.  It seemed as if he could do it all - not only the NFL, but golf, tennis, the NBA - even baseball from time to time.  But until I read it at Classic TV Sports, I didn't know that he and his sidekick Tom Brookshier once called a boxing match.

You'll read a brief mention of it in Saturday's TV Guide piece, but this week The Last Drive-In tells us about the great Chuck Jones and his Raggedy Ann and Andy Halloween adventure "The Pumpkin Who Couldn't Smile."*

*I almost wrote "The Pumpkin Without a Smile."  Could it be because I'm currently listening to Richard Strauss' Die Frau ohne Schatten, "The Woman Without a Face"?

Heh.  I was just reading a book that had a mention of prunes (I'll tell you about it sometime), and here Michael's TV Tray has something about October 17 having been "Four Prunes Day"!  Plus there's a dandy commercial for prunes featuring Ray Bradbury!

There's nothing particularly English about prunes, although I suppose they like them as much as anyone, but that doesn't stop me from linking to Embarrassing Treasures' latest Family Affair Friday, "Oh To Be in England."

Since I'm doing this on time this week (Wednesday night, to be exact), no update on the latest TV Guide recap at Television Obscurities, but be sure to go there and read the latest on Friday!

And speaking of TV Guides as we are, I don't link there often enough, but the TV Guide Historian gives us a daily fix of classic TVG.  Today - a Close-Up on PBS' Smithsonian World.  Does PBS even show many programs like this anymore?

Another site I don't tell you about often enough is the terrific site Television.AU, all about the history of television in Australia.  Here, Andrew talks about the 50th anniversary of the premiere of the long-running police drama Homicide. I really ought to become familiar with more things than Aussie Rules Football.

Finally, a word of sympathy to anyone who might be reading this in Canada.  Horrific images from Ottawa; thoughts and prayers to everyone in our neighbor to the north.

That's it for today - see you back here on Saturday, right?

October 21, 2014

Additions to the Top Ten: Naked City

PAUL BURKE IN A SCENE FROM NAKED CITY
Most people of a certain age are familiar with the saying, "There are eight million stories in the Naked City," though I'm not sure that it means anything to people today.  But back in the early '60s, the Naked City was New York, and there were indeed eight million stories to be told - many of them on the television series of the same name.

The Naked City was one of the great noir films of the '40s, directed by Jules Dassan in 1948.  It was notable for its gritty, documentary-like style, aided by its extensive use of location shooting in New York City.  (It won an Academy Award for cinematography.)   It followed two police detectives, veteran Detective Lieutenant. Dan Muldoon (Going My Way's Barry Fitzgerald) and his young associate Detective Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor) as they investigate a murder.

In 1958, the story made the transition to television as a weekly half-hour drama on ABC, with John McIntyre taking on the role of Muldoon and James Franciscus portraying Halloran, joined by Harry Bellaver as Sergeant Frank Arcaro.  It didn't take long for things to change, though; halfway through the season, McIntyre left the show (his character was killed off in a spectacular car crash), replaced by Horace McMahon as Lieutenant Mike Parker.  The series won critical acclaim but didn't fare so well in the ratings, and was cancelled after that first season.

A year later, though, after lobbying by the show's sponsor and producer, the series returned to ABC with a new title (dropping the article The; it would now simply be called Naked City), a new running time (expanded to one hour), and a new star to join the returning McMahon and Bellaver - Paul Burke, as Detective Adam Flint, replacing Franciscus' Halloran.  This version of the series lasted an additional three seasons before going off the air for good in 1963.

Naked City the series was created by Sterling Silliphant and produced by Herbert B. Leonard, and it shared the movie's trademark location shooting, which means that, like Silliphant and Leonard's other series, Route 66, it serves today as an almost documentary look at the city of New York, much of which no longer exists.  It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that New York City, it all its glory and grime, is as much a star of the show as any of the actors. It's a highly atmospheric show, and it wouldn't be possible with a studio-bound production.

Although I'd read about Naked City for years, it wasn't until a couple of years ago that I actually got to see an episode of it, courtesy of MeTV.  The first few episodes took a while to grow on me, but once I got hooked it became one of my favorites.  The chemistry between the three leads - with Burke as the young, intellectual, sensitive Flint, McMahon as the grizzled, gruffy veteran with the astute eye, and Bellaver as a solid, hard-working cop who also provides much of the show's humor - is perfect.  Like another of my favorite series, Burke's Law, the viewer can't help but be impressed by the competency of the cops.  They don't get a lot of screen time (more on that in a moment), but they so fully inhabit their characters that you can see the wheels turn every time they're confronted by another tough case.  Best of all (to my thinking) is that the series rarely strays into the characters' personal lives.  Oh, there's Flint's girlfriend Libby (Nancy Malone), but she's not in every episode, and often she's shown helping Flint think through a difficult part of the case, or dealing with the stress of police work.  No quirkbots here, no soap opera stories.

One reason why the series stays out of the personal lives of the leads is because most stories focus on the guest stars - the victims of crime, or the perpetrators.  It's their stories that make up the bulk of Naked City, and unlike procedurals of today, they're fully fleshed-out characters, with backstories and motivations that make the cases far more complex and less black-and-white than the normal police show.  I think, for example, of Jack Klugman as a henpecked husband talked by his domineering wife into a kidnapping.  He's a disappointment to his ambitious wife, he knows, and a disappointment to himself as well.  But he loves his wife so much that in order to keep her, he'll do anything to make himself a "big man" - and when she suggests kidnapping a young girl in order to bankroll a more luxurious life, he has no choice but to go along with the scheme.  Klugman, an actor with a limited range but a marvelous expressiveness within that range, wonderfully portrays a man who wants nothing more than to be a father (to the chagrin of his wife), and his genuine affection for and worry about their victim makes him a lousy kidnapper, but a good man.  It's that kind of depth that typifies the stories on Naked City.

Another thing that distinguishes the series is the absence of cynicism that clouds so much of television today.*  Not every case turns out the way Naked City's detectives would like - sometimes they don't get the breaks, sometimes it's just the way the system's made up.  But through this, the detectives always keep in mind that they're public servants, hired to protect the people of the city.  They don't view the public as their adversary, they don't assume that everyone they run into is either guilty or hiding a secret, and they don't greet every accused suspect with a sneer and a smirk.  Flint, the most sensitive of the three, is the most likely to shoot from the heart rather than the hip, but he's always able to back it up with solid police logic; his boss Parker, in turn, emphasizes that if he feels that strongly about his hunch, he has to be willing to do the hard legwork required to see it through to the end.  And although Flint sometimes feels the stress of not being able to change the whole world, he never falls victim to a cynical view of the job, never stops trying to make a difference in the cases that come his way.  It's a refreshing change from today's shows.

*Which I intend to write about at length one of these days.

One of the things I worried about when I started watching Naked City is Silliphant's penchant for writing preachy, achingly earnest scripts, filled with dialogue that's about as far from how real people talk as you can get.  But once Route 66 started, Silliphant devoted most of his time and energy to that series, and it's to Naked City's benefit.  The show never shies away from offering social criticism or taking on the issues of the day, but in so doing it remembers that it's first and foremost a police drama, and never fails to deliver an intricate investigation, highlighting the hard work and frustration that make up the unglamorous lives of detectives.

Naked City is terrific drama and terrific storytelling, backed up by a terrific cast.  It's gritty, grimy, and original.  (And would have been a disaster in color.)  It's free of the cliche and crassness of today's television, and its protagonists are actually likable.  Best of all, with its movie parent, it shares the closing narration: "There are eight million stories in the Naked City.  This has been one of them."  Truth in advertising, to be sure.  Maybe it didn't tell eight million stories, but the 138 it did tell were pretty damn good.

October 18, 2014

This week in TV Guide: October 17, 1981

The cover story for this week's issue is the World Series, which kicks off Tuesday night on ABC.  It's difficult to work up much enthusiasm for the 1981 baseball season; a players' strike cancels nearly 40% of the games and splits the season into two halves, resulting in a second layer of playoffs that somehow manages to exclude the two teams that finished with the best winning percentages in the National League (Cincinnati and St. Louis).  TV Guide refers to it as "baseball's longest - and shortest - season," and no wonder - this year's Series, should it go the full seven, won't end until October 28.  Just imagine!

In the event, the Series pits the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers for the eleventh time.  The Yanks are favored and win the first two games before the Dodgers come storming back to win the last four, taking the Series right there at Yankee Stadium.  What I remember most about this game (back in the day when I actually watched baseball) is that, with the Dodgers holding a decisive 9-2 lead, Yankee Stadium had emptied to probably half-capacity by the final out.  So much for those games where the home fans stick around until the bitter end to offer their congratulations to their guys for a good effort.

***

Eleven days before the publication date of this issue, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was assassinated, putting the little-known Vice President Hosni Mubarak in charge.  TV Update details the difficulties television news had in covering the story.   It was early morning in the United States when the fatal attack took place, and the first reports were sketchy - for some time, it was said that Sadat had been unhurt, then only that he had been shot, before the truth of the situation was finally learned.  Adding to the difficulties for the networks, the Egyptian government immediately shut down all television transmissions, meaning that U.S. correspondents couldn't transmit their footage back to New York.

SOURCE: NBC
In these pre-cable news days, the networks stayed with their coverage for most of the day, finally being able to air pictures around 2pm Eastern - vivid pictures that left the anchors grasping for words,  and showing the viewers the full horror of the event. Up until then, the networks filled the time with speculation on what had happened (the presumption that Sadat was dead, but no official word for several hours) and interviews with Middle East experts.

We look back at history and identify black periods - 1968, for example, when Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated within two months or so.  That was bad - but so was 1981.  In the span of seven months, from March 30 to October 6, the news had been dominated by three major shootings - assassination attempts against President Reagan and Pope John Paul II, and the successful attempt against Sadat.  As someone who watched all three of them on television, I can attest that those days were madness indeed.

***

Jeff Prugh's lead article talks about yet another bleak news story of 1981, the culmination of the search for the Atlanta child killer and the question as to whether television news paid too much attention to the case - or too little.  The cases dated back to 1979, when the first of 28 murders of young blacks, all but two of them male and all but five minors, took place.  In 1981 Wayne Williams was arrested for the murders, and subsequently convicted of two of them.

*The case continues to generate controversy.  Note that the facts and figures cited are from the article itself; I haven't presumed to add additional information from more recent sources.

On the one hand, much of the coverage was sensational.  ABC, more aggressive than the other two networks, at first reports that Williams will be charged with as many as 18 of the murders; not long after that, Williams is released from custody.  And both networks and local affiliates go overboard covering the funerals, for example; one cameraman actually jumped on top of a coffin.  One observer likened the coverage to a circus, with psychics offering help, Guardian Angels patrolling the streets, well-meaning people wearing green ribbons, and even a benefit concert by Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. At the same time, there is (at least at first) a distinct lack of desire to closely scrutinize the competence of the police investigation, and Prugh notes that until 1981, much of white Atlanta wasn't even aware that anything unusual was going on at all.  As one reporter notes, it's difficult to know how to cover such a story, whether to keep the public informed on all details, or to keep certain aspects of the case secret at the request of the police: "You want to be a responsible journalist and tell people what is going on.  But then again, you want to do what a good citizen would do."

It's the eternal dilemma that plagues television news to this day, the combination of sensationalism and shallowness.  Most people would probably think that, in this day of 24/7 news, television has become even more sensational and shallow, and I wouldn't disagree with that.  Prugh points out that not all television coverage falls into this category; in-depth reporting on CBS' Sunday Morning and 60 Minutes, ABC's Nightline and PBS' MacNeil/Lehrer Report is of a high quality.  But at the end of the day, there have been four additional murders committed since Williams' arrest.  Nobody seems to notice, but in Atlanta there are many who suspect the story isn't really over after all.

***

Enough of the historical analysis - let's take a look at what's on TV this week, shall we?

Saturday:  ABC's Wide World of Sports presents a replay of the Sugar Ray Leonard-Thomas Hearns welterweight title fight, which had been shown in theaters September 16.  Leonard wins the showdown via 14th round TKO.  I wouldn't have watched this: I admit that I never liked Sugar Ray Leonard, but saw him as a showboat and a phony.

I wouldn't have watched ABC's prime-time schedule either.  Back then the networks had actual series on, rather than the mix of sports and reruns that dominate Saturday nights.  But ABC's schedule would have made me look for something else in a hurry, probably the North Stars - Penguins game on Channel 9.  It stars with a special 90-minute Love Boat trip to "the starlit Caribbean," followed by a special 90-minute Fantasy Island as "the Devil battles for Mr. Roarke's soul."  Each show is loaded with B-level stars and ABC featured players.

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION

Sunday:  Sunday Night Football wasn't a regular feature in 1981, but this week there's a special Sunday night edition of Monday Night Football (got all that?) featuring the Los Angeles Rams and the Dallas Cowboys, from Irving - just a few miles from where I now live, in fact.  It goes up against CBS' all-star Sunday lineup: 60 Minutes, Archie Bunker's Place, One Day at a Time, Alice, The Jeffersons, and Trapper John, M.D.  Considering that ABC's experiment with Sunday night football didn't last long, I'm willing to bet CBS won the night.

Monday:  Oh boy, dueling Monday night movies!  On CBS it's Valley of the Dolls 1981 (Part I),* starring Catherine Hicks, Jean Simmons and Veronica Hamel.  Our Judith Crist calls it "just another trash-wallow - second-hand and fifth-rate."  On the other hand, NBC has More American Grafitti, with much of the original cast but little of the original charm; Crist calls it "exploitative rather than nostalgic."

*Not to be confused with 1970's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, which starred Dolly Read - who, as our commentators Mike and Ray pointed out last week, was the second wife of comedian Dick Martin.  I love all these tangential connections, don't you?

Tuesday:  As I mentioned at the top, it's the first game of the World Series on ABC.  CBS has part two of the aforementioned Valley of the Dolls 1981.  NBC has a "comedy" called The Day the Women Got Even, which Crist says is "feeble" and "wastes women and men alike."

Wednesday:  If Game 2 of the Fall Classic isn't to your liking, the best program is probably PBS' The Hunter and the Hunted, which profiles Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal and his search for the infamous Josef Mengele.

Thursday:  It's back to ABC, where Mork & Mindy are on their honeymoon, with the teaser of "next week's astonishing news: Mork's pregnant!"  On NBC, Bob Hope hosts a gala entertainment show to celebrate the opening of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Joining Hope and the Fords are political satirist Mark Russell, "drunk" comic Foster Brooks, Danny Thomas, Glen Campbell and Sammy Davis Jr.  Oh, and the current First Family, President and Mrs. Reagan.

Friday:  Tonight's best bet comes courtesy of Channel 11, the NBC affiliate.  On NBC's schedule for tonight is the movie Revenge of the Stepford Wives, but Channel 11 has the good taste to preempt this for Francis Ford Coppola's acclaimed thriller The Conversation, starring Gene Hackman as a wiretapper who learns a little too much about the people he's investigating.  The Conversation came out the same year as Coppola's The Godfather Part II, and both movies were nominated for Best Picture Oscars.  I'm not sure but that this is the only time one director has had two movies up for Best Picture at the same time.  Coppola himself was nominated for Best Director only once, for Godfather II.  Quite an accomplishment, wouldn't you say?

October 17, 2014

Around the dial

The fact that this is appearing on Friday rather than Thursday should be a tip-off that I've had my hands full this week. Now, that doesn't mean I'm going to ignore you loyal readers - Heaven forbid! - but I'll probably go in even more of a bullet format that I usually do. Herewith, for your reading enjoyment:

Paul Temple!  Why didn't I know about this series before?  And it even has a theme by Ron Grainer!  Thanks, Cult TV Blog - another series to add to my ever-growing list.

Classic Film and TV Cafe tells us why the '50s is classic cinema's most important decade.  Very true, and I think many of these points could be made about television in the '50s as well.

Speaking of decades, Comfort TV continues to look at TV themes, this time of the '80s.  Yay Twin Peaks!

Another classic interview at Classic Television Showbiz - this time, part two of an interview with Frankie Ray.

Finally got to do a same-day link to Television Obscurities' latest TV Guide piece, instead of being a week behind!

Sorry for the brevity - but I promise I'll more than make up for it tomorrow!

October 14, 2014

Golden Oldie: The looking glass looks back

It seems inconceivable that a blog dedicated in large part to culture can let the end of The Sopranos go by without comment. Indeed, though I’ve never seen an episode of the series, I’m certainly well aware of it, particularly the fireworks surrounding last Sunday’s final episode. (Obligatory warning on spoilers, etc.)

With this, I want to call your attention to this fine article by Joshua Treviño at NRO, because I think Treviño illustrates the kind of in-depth analysis of the content of pop culture in a way that I find very appealing.

Treviño follows the course of events in the final episode and traces the connection between The Sopranos, the classic Western, and the iconic meaning of America itself:

Chase titled the final episode “Made in America,” and the easy inference is that the milieu of The Sopranos is just that. This is untrue, of course: Organized crime as such exists in nearly all cultures. On a deeper level, the idea of a society run by kinship ties and otherwise anarchic violence is deeply pre-democratic, and hence fundamentally anti-American. Some, including John Marini, a professor of philosophy at the University of Nevada-Reno, have said that the Western film genre is essentially a retelling of the story of America itself: the bringing of order into the wilderness, and the concurrent decline of the rough code of vengeance and force as law and true justice emerge. From this comes democracy, and America. If the Western genre is the making of America, then the mob genre is its unmaking: the subversion of law and justice, and the replacement of order with the family and tribe. Indeed, in an unconscious bit of irony, the tribe — the mob, this thing of ours — is itself called family.

And what does famly mean? With the following passage, Treviño gets to the heart of the philosophical difference that shows itself so many times in the creations of our pop culture.

What, then, is “Made in America” in Chase’s telling? Tony Soprano’s children give the answer. The classic Jeffersonian concern, beyond the rule of the people, is for the new generation, lest it be chained by the dead to things past. It is a concept born of Rousseau and his “state of nature,” an Enlightenment trope that holds that the young are inherently uncorrupted. This is not, surely, a belief shared by any orthodox Christian who believes in Original Sin; nor is it shared by the conservative who thinks man needs institutions to guide his course. When children are corrupted, the Jeffersonian/Rousseauian view holds that family has done it, and the Christian/conservative view holds that it was intrinsic from the start. Neither is the more American, we being a Whitmanesque container of multitudes, but David Chase’s fictional world comes down on the Jeffersonian side. What is made in America is the unmaking of America: not merely the regression from democracy, but the children of the generation who rule, who themselves are unfit to sustain the existing order.

The young are inherently uncorrupted…when children are corrupted, the Jeffersonian/Rousseauian view holds that the family has done it.” Now, that’s a very provocative argument, because of what it may tell us about ourselves. The desire of parents to provide for their children, to see to it that the children don’t have to suffer as the parents did – this is very much seen in the post-World War II era. Do we then view the “Greatest Generation” as primarily a product of the Enlightenment? And would that in some way not be quintessentially American, the Founders having been men of the Enlightenment as well?

And the constant pampering and protecting of children nowadays, to the point that many exist in a quasi-permanent state of adolescence – is this an outgrowth of the idea that the family causes the corruption of the child? That parents so fear being thought of as the cause of a child’s failure as to render them incapable of denying that child anything?

(Provide for them in all ways, lest something possibly be lacking that could come back to haunt you. It’s almost a paranoid, fear of the unknown that, in many ways, is the anthesis of what America stands for – or used to stand for, at any rate.)

It then could be said that pop culture affects our way of thinking in deep ways – molding some ideas, affirming others, shaping our self image and the ways in which we view such things as family, friends, loyalty, duty. Whereas television might in the past have mirrored who we are, could it be that we now mirror what television says we are?

Trevino doesn’t make this argument, or at least not directly. But he says about all that needs to be said concerning his topic, which means that I have to have something original to offer. But the conclusions are similar, and stark:

Moral ruin comes to the Soprano children, and continued infamy to the Soprano line, because of their father’s chosen course and his other “family”; but the terror beneath it lies in the recognition that countless American youths suffer the same ruin under the tutelage of perfectly ordinary parents with respectable jobs, and without fictionalized mob ties. Here the genius of David Chase shines through, not in cinematic tricks or narrative twists, but in the stark exposition of cause and effect. At first glance, the downfall of Meadow and A.J. is the result of an upbringing tinged with extraordinary violence and theft. But when we turn off the television and look around us, we see that we have their like among us without the mobster parentage. Instead, they grow up in utterly ordinary homes in utterly ordinary neighborhoods. If daughter and son on television can emerge as recognizable inheritors of their father’s worst traits, then what does it say of us when we produce the same without that father? The inescapable conclusion is that the fall is intrinsic to us. If David Chase’s fictional world is Jeffersonian or Rousseauian, then his real world is Christian or conservative. Watching Tony Soprano cut to black is a sobering and tremendous reminder not only of why this show was great — but also of why it is a warning.

I wonder – does Treviño suggest here that television has, in effect, become the father, passing down the values to the children, who – infused by the values of their foster father – become the sons and daughters of television and what it portrays?

At any rate, we ask: does the warning inherent in The Sopranos come too late for us? We’ll have to see. But we’ll return to this idea of the effect of television and its popular culture on us – how we mirror it, how it mirrors us.

[Note: and so we did - in fact, I created this entire blog to do just that.]


Originally published at In Other Words on June 12, 2007

October 11, 2014

This week in TV Guide: October 15, 1960

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another brief lesson in economics courtesy of TV Guide.

***

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


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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 9, 2014

Around the dial

The series Ozzie and Harriet is often included with other sitcoms of the '50s and '60s as shows idealizing an America that never really was.  Television's New Frontier: the 1960s takes a closer look at the show and its stars, and explains why it doesn't exactly fit the mold of those other sitcoms.



At Classic TV History Blog, Stephen Bowie offers an interesting obituary of Jerry McNeely, one of the finest television writers of the early '60s.  It's a behind-the-scenes piece that tells us a lot about how exciting those early days were, and how large a role chance can play in a successful career (although talent helps).

All Thinks Kevyn gives us a fun list of the ten best unseen, or mostly unseen, TV characters.  It's an interesting idea, when you think of it, and Kevyn produces some classic examples of how an unseen character can add a great deal to a television show.

Of all the members of the Mills family, my favorite was Juliet, probably from her **sigh** inducing performance in Nanny and the Professor, but Classic Film and TV Cafe is all about her sister Hayley, no slouch herself, and her five best film performances.

And now, some brief highlights of continuing series:

Cult TV Blog continues to look at allegory in The Prisoner with the classic "Living in Harmony," and shows - in so doing, find how "the episodes lend themselves to different interpretations."  Terrific stuff.

Television Obscurities' TV Guide review is up to October 3, 1964.  Mia Farrow is on the cover, and there's plenty of interesting info between the covers.

The Secret Sanctum of Captain Video covers the '60s British weekly TV Tornado and it's latest Man From U.N.C.L.E. story.

Comfort TV continues with the top TV theme songs - this week, the '70s!

That's it for today - on Saturday, we open up a new TV Guide from a new part of the country!

October 7, 2014

You can be sure if it's Westinghouse



I saw a billboard for Westinghouse the other day, on my way home.  For a minute I was probably more distracted than they recommend if you're behind the wheel; it's just that I was surprised.  I didn't even know that Westinghouse still existed, let alone that they were still advertising.  It interested me because the name Westinghouse has had a long and rich relationship with television, dating back almost to the beginning, when the company was known for making household appliances of all kinds.

The logo you see above is from Westinghouse Studio One, the Golden Age anthology the company sponsored on CBS from 1948 to 1958.  During those years, the show was recognized as one of the greats of early television, with adaptations of classic books such as Wuthering Heights and Nineteen Eighty-Four, and original teleplays that became movie hits, like Twelve Angry Men (starring Bob Cummings, which I actually prefer to the cinematic version with Henry Fonda).  Studio One also made a household name of a lesser-known actress named Betty Furness, who parlayed her gig as the company's live commercial spokeswoman into a career as a consumer advocate, presidential assistant, and newswoman.  Her commercials are charming and warm, always ending with the heartfelt tagline, "You can be sure if it's Westinghouse."


(Yup, over two minutes for a commercial.  Well, I guess you can do that if you sponsor the whole show and your name's in the title.)

Westinghouse also had a successful sponsorship relationship with Dezi Arnez' production Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, which in its two seasons (1958-1960) gave us two pilots for long-running shows: The Twilight Zone and The Untouchables.


Although those might have been the best-known examples, that wasn't the limit of Westinghouse's involvement with television.  One of the company's many divisions was Westinghouse Broadcasting, better known as Group W.  It began as Westinghouse Radio Stations before making the transition to television, and in addition to owning seven television stations, it produced two pretty successful series of its own, The Mike Douglas Show and PM Magazine.  Later on it would add a couple of subsidiaries, TelePromTer and Filmation.


There's a long and complex history regarding Group W's sometimes contentious relationship with the FCC, which we'll skip over because it's kind of dull.  Suffice it to say that the biggest move in television came in 1995, when the company bought CBS lock, stock and barrel, in the process changing the company's name from Westinghouse to CBS.  (Though at least initially, nothing much changed.)  Eventually, the network was folded into Viacom, and the company divested itself of almost all of its non-media assets.

So where does the new Westinghouse name come from?  Well, in fact it's Westinghouse Electric Company, which is controlled by another company with links to television, Toshiba, and it's a nuclear power company.  (I think, but I'm not sure, that they've licensed the name from CBS - as I said, it's complicated.)   And I think I can be forgiven for thinking that Westinghouse was simply a name from the past, since it's gotten so far afield from its original appliance manufacturing roots.  If you know more about it than I do feel free to chip in, because I can be sure of only one thing - it's a Westinghouse.

October 4, 2014

This week in TV Guide: October 4, 1980

Ed Asner and Mason Adams, the stars of Lou Grant, are on the cover of this week's issue, and with a name like Lou Grant it has to be good, right?*

*Bonus points to anyone who gets that joke.  If you're not sure, here's a clue.

Seriously, I digress from this TV Guide for a moment to take a look at the issue of April 23, 1977.  In the TV Teletype, we read a story about how Asner's going to be doing a new CBS series this fall about the newspaper business.  Asner describes the show, to be set in Los Angeles, as a "modern epic," capturing "the ambiance of a newspaper." He admits he's a bit nervous, never having carried an hour-long series before: "I have yet to meet a happy hour-series star," but adds that the show will be about 30% comedy.  The writer of the blurb notes that it will have seven recurring characters.

What's interesting here is that nowhere is the name of the series mentioned, nor that it will be spinning off Asner's character from The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  Did they even know it would be at this point?  Was it something that was added later on, as if they decided the show needed an extra hook?  Or were they shying away from it, fearful that viewers would be leery of a sitcom character being spun off into a drama?  The always-reliable Wikipedia's no help here, although it does note that none of the main characters from MTM were ever seen or even referenced to in the series, and that the only crossover character to ever appear on both shows was Eileen Heckart as Mary's aunt Flo, a recurring bit in the former series who made a single appearance in the later.  So, what's the scoop* here?  Inquiring minds want to know.  Mike Doran, are you out there?

*A little newspaper lingo there.

The article itself is about Adams, and mentions his famous Smuckers commercial among the extensive radio and commercial work that has distinguished his career. Amongst Lisa See's review of that career and the details of his life (voracious reader, consummate professional, adeptness at playing different voices during rehearsals), one statement stands out that tells us a lot about the life of an actor.  Adams strikes me as being just about as well-adjusted as anyone in the business, and yet he's unable to escape that constant worry that unemployment is just around the corner: " I'm lucky.  I've always worked.  I've never had barren periods.  But there's nothing you can count on.  My reach has far exceeded my grasp.  I guess pessimism is just my nature."  Lest that sound like too much of a downer though, he adds, laughing, "Maybe it's just the fear of becoming smug."


***

In many of these early October issues, I've gotten the chance to write about coverage of the World Series.  But it's 1980 now, and we've got another layer of playoffs to deal with: the League Championship Series.  It's quite a contrast to 1963, with the division winners in each league facing off in a best 3-of-5 series to determine who goes to the Series, but it seems positively simple if you compare it to today's setup, with three division winners and two wild card teams from each league, and an LCS that's expanded to 4-of-7.  Next year the Series will probably end in November, which means it will likely be the month's first turkey.

At any rate, the regular season comes to an end on Sunday, with ABC's cameras there to cover the pivotal games in the pennant chase.  Actually, I should say the season is supposed to end on Sunday, and would have if the Houston Astros had been able to defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers in even one of the three games they play to end the season.  They don't, however, and the Dodgers' win on Sunday forces a one-game playoff which ABC covers on Monday afternoon.  I remember catching that game after coming home from class; pretty much everyone expects the Dodgers to keep rolling and take Houston, but the Astros score an upset win to take the division and go on to face the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLCS.

ABC has no trouble televising the League Championship Series games; the National League starts Tuesday night and continues Wednesday afternoon, while the American League starts on Wednesday night and follows up with a Thursday night game.  Friday, the National League plays in the afternoon, the American League in the evening.  Not so complicated, is it?  Ah, for those simpler days.  And the games weren't bad, either: see for yourself, with Game 3 of the NLCS on Friday, October 10, between the Phillies and Astros in Houston.



Oh yeah, the NFL is on as well.  In the Twin Cities the Vikings home game against Pittsburgh is blacked out; the rest of the state gets it on NBC, however.  The late game, on CBS, has the 49ers playing the Rams in Los Angeles (or Anaheim, to be precise).  The Monday night matchup on ABC has Tampa Bay taking on the Bears in Chicago.  And that's it - no Sunday night game, no Thursday night game.  As I said, simpler.

***

Big week for movies, not surprisingly since we're still early in the fall season.  On Monday, NBC features the Oscar-winning Julia, starring Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave and Jason Robards.  ABC's offering, on Sunday night, is a repeat of Jaws, which goes head-to-head with CBS's made-for-TV A Perfect Match, which draws its prestige from its teleplay, written by the great director/writer John Sayles.  Down one rung from that is the third Sunday night movie, NBC's repeat of Burt Reynolds in The End.  We won't discuss the Thursday night movie on NBC, The Castaways on Gilligan's Island, which Judith Crist describes as "tedious even with 24 of its 72 mediocre minutes cut."  At least it still has Dawn **sigh** Wells as Mary Ann.

The finest show of the week is probably part two of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, airing on Monday night as part of Great Performances on PBS.  If you're only familiar with the big-screen version that came out a couple of years ago, you really should see this; it's an exceptional six-part adaptation of John le Carré's spy thriller, starring the incomparable Alec Guinness as master spy George Smiley.  It's really one of the finest shows of its type to appear on television - well, here, see for yourself.


The prime complaint I've had through the years with le Carré's writing is the moral ambiguity of it all, as he attempts to draw some level of equivalency between the actions of the American and Soviet spies.  It fits in perfectly with the times, however - in 1980 (as, perhaps today), the United States was a country struggling to find out what it really stood for.

***

Speaking of the miniseries, in 1980 it remains a force to be reckoned with.  TV Update tells us of NBC's massive success with Shogun; the gamble to kick off the season with the 12-hour drama pays big dividends, the estimated 125 million viewers and 51% share making it the second-highest rated miniseries of all time, outdone only by the original Roots.

In other news from the update, a follow-up to our look a couple of weeks ago at the Reagan-Anderson presidential debate.  ABC indeed stuck with Midnight Express because of President Carter's absence, but even with one major and one minor candidate and only two networks, the debate scored 42% of all viewers in New York, 44% in Chicago, and 44% in Los Angeles.  Express, meanwhile, drew 42% and 39% in New York and Chicago; Priscilla Presley's Thos Amazing Animals, which aired against the debate on the West Coast, scored a mere 24% in Los Angeles.

Finally, "ABC has agreed to grant Kaiser Aluminum air time to reply to a report on 20/20 that asserted that aluminum wiring for homes is unsafe."  All the two sides have to do now is decide how much time Kaiser will get, and when it will be broadcast.

***

The cross-section of decades represented by these TV Guides gives testimony not only to the role of television within culture, but to the shape of the culture itself, as we can see from some of this week's articles.

In the 1950s, Howdy Doody stirred controversy by asking whether or not children should be watching the same kinds of shows as adults.  Back then, it meant the manic comedy of a Milton Berle.  This week, Marlo Thomas writes about the role television plays in presenting "the facts of life."  It's a companion piece to Thomas' controversial Body Human special "The Facts for Girls," running Tuesday afternoon on CBS.  Says Thomas, "Using television to bring accurate, straightforward information about sexual facts and feelings into the home can provide a starting point of shared feelings and information."  Almost seems quaintly naive today, doesn't it?  It's a far cry from the '50s and '60s, when dramatists had so much trouble writing about adult themes, but it's also light years away from today's television, when even broadcast networks present decidedly adult topics with a frankness that might have made people in the '80s blush.  Or maybe not; I don't know.

Speaking of which, there's also a very interesting article by Richard D. Heffner on what the movie ratings system really means.  Heffner, who produces David Susskind's Open End* program and teaches communications and public policy at Rutgers, is also the chairman of the Classification and Rating Administration, which helps determine what a movie's rating is.

*Also known, by Susskind's detractors, as Open Mouth.

Among other things, Heffner points out that nothing is actually prohibited in today's movies - "Nothing is banned by our system, or refused a rating."  And in answer to the question (posed by himself; Heffner the college professor interviews Heffner the CARA chairman) "Don't you ever want to refuse even your ultimate X rating to some of the awful things you see?" he replies, "Don't you think I share your sensibilities, your outrage, your disgust at some of what appears on the screen?  Believe me, I do. . . But as an erstwhile American historian, I'm convinced that the price of film censorship in this country would be too great."  The Production Code, which held sway until 1968, had gradually given way in the face of competition from television, and the movie audiences' increasing willingness to make box office smashes out of movies that didn't receive the code.  (Some Like It Hot, for one.)  Again, this article tells us much about how the times have changed, particularly in regards to sex and violence, and how they'll continue to morph.

***

Last but not least, there's a full-page ad at the beginning of the programming section touting a new and revolutionary network that will change the way you consume news.  Ta-da!

ALL: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION

Take a look at that programming guide.  Gotta say, it looks a hell of a lot better than what CNN has on today.  Back when they had, you know, actual news.