January 31, 2015

This week in TV Guide: February 3, 1968

This week the big TV event is the opening of the 10th Winter Olympics from Grenoble, France, and ABC is all over it.  The network promises “a 27-hour Olympic orgy” with at least one prime-hour a night, a 15-minute nightly wrapup, and daytime weekend coverage.  Included will be unprecedented live coverage, via Early Bird satellite, of the Opening Ceremonies at 7:45am CT on Tuesday morning.

The U.S. is hoping to make a better showing in this Games than in 1964, when speed-skater Terry McDermott was the lone American gold medalist  (with the U.S. taking home a paltry six medals in total), but the only American with a real chance for the gold is figure skater Peggy Fleming.  Nonetheless, ABC plans to cover all the angles, with a 250-man staff using 40 color cameras to bring the pictures back home.  Roone Arledge wants the games to be more than just a technical marvel, though: “Figuring out where the drama will be and shooting it – that’s more important than technical wizardry.”  In other words, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat – or, as Jim McKay would say many times over the years, “up close and personal” – that’s the ABC way.

ALL: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
Twenty-seven hours doesn't seem much of a broadcast “orgy,” does it?  By the time of the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, the TV schedule had expanded dramatically, to take advantage of the favorable time-zone (and to help pay for the enormous amount ABC was shelling out to win the rights).  This kind of saturation coverage has remained the rule since, to the point that new sports are added, it would seem, simply to give the broadcasters more to show. Now, when you add up all the different platforms used to broadcast the Olympics, you've got more than 27 hours of coverage a day.


And so, when one looks at the Close-Up that accompanied ABC’s coverage of the first week of the Games, it’s kind of nice to see how simple things are, how na├»ve.  The 1968 Winter Olympics were not free from controversy, but they were still a sporting event to be covered, not a made-for-TV spectacle that saturates everything in sight.  What a concept.

***

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..

Palace: Host Phil Silvers introduces singers Connie Stevens, Jack Jones and Polly Bergen; comedian Henny Youngman; the Waraku Trio, Japanese pantomimists; and the rocking James Brown Revue.

Sullivan:  Scheduled guests: singer-actress Michele Lee; comedians Jackie Vernon, Stiller and Meara, Morecambe and Wise, and Stu Gilliam; dancer Peter Gennaro; and acrobats Gill and Freddie Lavedo.

Neither show overwhelms this week, and that's why I'm giving the slight nod to the Palace.  Phil Silvers is very funny, Jack Jones is very smooth, and Henny Youngman can be very funny, particularly in small doses.  On the other hand, while I love Jackie Vernon as the voice of Frosty the Snowman it's almost impossible to watch his stand-up without thinking of it, and I've never been a big fan of Stiller and Meara.  Maybe next week will be better.

***

Well.  It seems as if just a couple of weeks ago I was writing about Ben Gazzara, noting that the article in question was a pretty snark-free one.  I also mentioned that there was one from a year later that portrayed him "in a slightly less flattering light."  That would be this issue, and the article is by Edith Efron, who follows Gazzara around for the day on his press junket through New York.  And the one question that confronts Gazzara no matter where he goes, no matter who he speaks to: when are you going to die?

It's not as serious as it sounds, nor is it as existential as all that.  It refers to Paul Bryan, the character Gazzara plays in Run For Your Life, who at the outset of the series is given no more than eighteen months to live.  The series is now in its third season; hence the questions.  At first Gazzara is all bonhomme and laughter, reminding the interviewer that "Little Orphan Annie never grows up," lauding the writers for keeping the series' quality high, the usual dog-and-pony act.  But as the day wears on, Gazzara's defenses begin to drop.  A one-minute plug on Hugh Downs' Concentration is followed by a radio interview with Ed Joyce, then an appearance on NBC with Lee Leonard, a talk with Art Fleming on NBC Radio's Monitor, an interview with Bob Stewart, a pre-Tonight show prep with Carson's staffers.  And, bit by bit, the weariness and frustration that Gazzara has with series television begins to show.

To Joyce, who quotes the well-known director Elia Kazan as calling Gazzara "one of the three most brilliant actors working in the English language," he admits that "This kind of work doesn't tap all the muscles," and that an actor's career doesn't always go the way they'd want.  "The plays don't keep coming, the films are fewer and farther between.  An actor has to work."  This will be his last series, he promises, but "I'm coming out of this one with loot."  As the day progresses the bonhomme dries up, the answers become rote and mechanical, the eyes deaden.  By the time he gets to Stewart's, all his defenses are down.  Asked to complete the sentence "Doing a regular series is like ______," Gazzara replies, "Being in purgatory."  Between interviews, he will tell Efron that the problem is "that there's so little opportunity for complex acting" in Run For Your Life.  "It's scripts, it's directors.  I'm becoming interested in movies.  Something is happening in European films.  They're nonobjective, bu they're personal.   They're not the creation of a bunch of bureaucracies."

The process of selling yourself is often a distasteful one for celebrities.  It's the very thing that Sammy Davis Jr. found so difficult to stomach when his variety show started, and his failure to do it at the beginning, when it most mattered, was one of the many reasons for its downfall.  Gazzara understands the necessity of turning himself into a "zoological creature" putting himself on display for tourists.  When he sits down with Efron for the last time, after the Carson pre-interview, she says of the drained Gazzara that "It would be an act of cruelty to conduct an interview."  All she can ask him, with a wry sympathy, is "When are you going to die?" to which he says, with an exhausted smile, "You know, Little Orphan Annie . . . she never grows up," after which he finishes the last of his drink with a gulp.

***

Care for a quick look through the week?

On Saturday, ABC's Wide World of Sports presents a heavyweight semifinal bout, with Jerry Quarry taking on Thad Spencer in Oakland.  The winner will face Jimmy Ellis for the title vacated after Muhammad Ali was stripped of it for refusing military induction.  Quarry will win the fight, Ellis will later take the title, and he in turn will lose to Joe Frazier down the line.  But all that is another story.

Sunday afternoon features another of Leonard Bernstein's "Young People's Concerts" on CBS, this time an all-Beethoven program.  It's up against NBC's coverage of the final round of the Bob Hope Desert Classic from Palm Springs, California, which will be won by the great Arnold Palmer.  ABC has a preview of the coming Winter Olympics.

Monday, singer/actor/activist Harry Belafonte starts a one-week stint as guest host on the Tonight Show, with a star-studded lineup featuring Senator Robert Kennedy and his wife Ethel, Bill Cosby, Lena Horne, and actress Melina Mercouri and her husband, movie producer Jules Dassinn.  A great lineup, but wait until we get until Thursday.

In addition to the opening of the Olympics Tuesday morning, Mike Douglas' show, which airs at 4pm CT on Channel 4, has a star guest of its own in former Vice President and current presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon.  And NBC's I Dream of Jeannie gives us a thorny problem:  Jeannie's locked in a safe, which has an explosive mechanism that will go off unless a demolitions expert can disarm it.  Making things more difficult, the man who opens the safe will become Jeannie's new master.  How does it end?  Tune in next week and see if Larry Hagman's still in the credits.

On Wednesday, it's another of Fred Astaire's acclaimed specials, with his partner Barrie Chase and a bevy of artists promoting "today's sound" - Simon and Garfunkel, Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66, the Young-Holt Trio and the Gordian Knot.  I think I'll stick to Fred's specials from the early '60s - that is, unless "The Sounds of Silence" describe the noise Simon and Garfunkel make.  This isn't a train wreck, it's more like one of those 500-car pileups.

You remember I mentioned Thursday night's Tonight Show lineup?  Tonight Belafonte's guests are Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Paul Newman and comedian Nipsey Russell.  And herein lies a difference between late-night talk shows of the past and present.  Belafonte had an incredible guest lineup that week - I haven't even mentioned Sidney Poitier, Robert Goulet, Aretha Franklin or Dionne Warwick.  One of Belafonte's guests is a Nobel Prize winner, the other is a candidate for president of the Unite States.  Can you imagine Kimmel or Fallon with that kind of a lineup?   Or that two of the biggest headliners would be dead less than five months later?

NET has another of its unusual dramas on Friday.  Entitled "The Successor," the British play "focuses on the deliberations of a convention [in other words, conclave] of Catholic cardinals as they elect a new pope.  The cast contains characters such as the Cardinals of Palermo, Boston and Paris, plus some generically named prelates.  I wish I could find something more about it, but I cant.  This is the year Pope Paul VI releases his encyclical Humanae Vitae, after which many in the media probably wished the Church was meeting to select a new pope.

There are other things on this week - come back on Monday and see which day I chose.

***

Finally, this week's TV Teletype gives us a preview of coming attractions.  Sheldon Leonard, the producer of I Spy, has acquired rights to James Thurber's works with the intent of making an hour-long series for the 1968-69 season.  That turns out to be My World and Welcome to It, which stars William Windom.  It actually premieres on NBC in 1969 and runs only 30 minutes, but though it's cancelled after a single season it's still fondly remembered by many classic TV fans.

ABC has plans for a new daytime chat-and-info show called This Morning, a 90-minute daily show that premieres next month.  It's hosted by Dick Cavett, and will run in daytime for less than a year before shifting to prime time, and then to the late-night slot to replace Joey Bishop.

And then there's the one that got away, the one we would have liked to see.  It's a pilot called City Beneath the Sea, and if all goes well for producer Irwin Allen, it will become part of the prime time schedule.  "It's about a futuristic city under the ocean," writes Joseph Finnigan, who ads that "Maybe [Allen'll] cast Lloyd Bridges as mayor."  Sadly, the movie never turns into a regular series, and we're forced to conclude that Finnigan is right.  Imagine Lloyd Bridges as mayor, with Richard Basehart and David Hedison as head of the city's defense system?  It's a sure-fire idea, that is.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great capsule, Mitchell.
    There's more depth to this Ben Gazzara summary then lots of magazine profiles, then or now.
    And your bit on the Olympics was great.

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for writing! Drive safely!