January 3, 2015

This week in TV Guide: January 1, 1972

If you want a quick but trenchant history of politics in the later half of the twentieth century, you could do worse than to look at two pictures in TV Guide's review of the year 1971.

The first picture, from August 15, shows President Richard M. Nixon delivering his speech in which he announces a 90-day freeze on wages and prices.  The second, from one month earlier, is of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's secret groundwork preparing Nixon's historic trip to China.  The story told by these two seemingly unrelated events could fill a book, but even a brief overview can go a long way to explain the evolution of the conservative political movement and the eventual election of Ronald Reagan.

As always, the purpose here is not to take sides, nor to express strong opinions on ideological issues, though I certainly have those.  But these two issues play a central role in the events that follow, and it's critical to understand them in order to make sense of what will follow.

Nixon had been a bane of the liberal establishment ever since his role in the investigation of Alger Hiss while in the House in the 1950s, and in his role as Vice President, many conservatives had more confidence in him than they did in the President, Dwight Eisenhower.  That confidence was never extremely deep though, and it began to erode when Nixon engaged in detente, if you will, with the liberal governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller, at the 1960 GOP Convention.  By 1968 Reagan, the governor of California, had inherited the conservative mantle from Barry Goldwater, but Nixon had enough establishment support to win the Republican presidential nomination, and the election. In 1971, however, some conservatives were already in rebellion against Nixon, discussing the possibility of running Vice President Spiro Agnew against him.*

*Agnew, you'll recall from last week, had made big headlines with his accusations of liberal bias against the media.

Which brings us to the issues at the top of the page.  Nixon's detente with Red China is anathema to Cold War conservatives who are outraged at the abandonment of America's long-time allies on Taiwan.  The wage-and-price freeze strike a similar discord with economic conservatives, who see Nixon's adoption of centralized economic policy as an alarming concession to Keynesian interventionist policy.*  In fact, this discontent is visible in a special edition of PBS' Firing Line on Friday night, as host William F. Buckley Jr. welcomes his brother, U.S. Senator James Buckley, conservative economist Milton Friedman, Ohio Representative John Ashbrook, former congresswoman Clare Boothe Luce, and Reagan, to discuss the topic "American Conservatives Confront 1972."  "Conservative reaction to Administration policies" is a focal point of the program - interesting since the guests and the Administration are, more or less, members of the same party.

*"We are all Keynesians now."

In the end,  Ashbrook will challenge Nixon in the Republican primaries, and though his run doesn't gather a lot of traction, it shows the toll that Nixon's policies are taking on his conservative support.  And while Nixon wins a landslide victory in 1972*, Watergate percolates in the background.

*Footnote: on Tuesday at 7:40 p.m. CT, Senator Ed Muskie, the Democratic candidate for Vice President in 1968, purchases 10 minutes of airtime on CBS, where it is expected that he will formally announce his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination.  The early front-runner, he is damaged by smaller-than-expected victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, and never recovers.

Politically speaking, many liberals will privately express the opinion that it's necessary to get rid of Agnew before going after Nixon, lest he become president if Nixon were to be impeached, and the revelation of corruption charges against Agnew while he was governor of Maryland will take care of that.  And as the net begins to close around Nixon, his conservative support was less than unanimous - first Ashbrook, then the brothers Buckley, and finally Barry Goldwater himself, call for Nixon's resignation, which becomes inevitable.  The ascension to the presidency of moderate Gerald Ford prompts the challenge by Ronald Reagan in 1976, and Reagan's eventual victory in 1980.

(Left) Nixon announces wage/price controls; (Right) Kissinger after his secret trip to Mainland China
Again, I'm not trying to take sides here, but to suggest that these pictures tell a lot of the story of what was, and what would be.  Whatever Nixon's crimes may have been, there's no doubt that the long-standing liberal hatred - dating back to the Hiss affair - propelled many liberals, while conservative passion for backing Nixon was far less charged.  And so it could be said that the year 1971 and the two issues pictured in TV Guide - wage and price controls and detente with China - personifies the transition of conservatism from Nixon in 1948 to Reagan in 1980.  It's likely that few people looking at this issue would have been able to predict how it all would turn out.

***

As this might suggest, we're looking at another New Year's edition of TV Guide.  (And it seems as if it were only last week that we were going from 1969 to 1970.  I guess it's true that the older you get, the faster time seems to fly.)  We probably don't have to rehash all the New Year's programming available to viewers - you know the drill,  Parades, football, repeat.

The Orange Bowl, on New Year's night, does pose an interesting matchup - the second #1 vs. #2 game in a little over a month.  It's not the Game of the Century, as was the Thanksgiving game between Nebraska and Oklahoma, but this showdown for the national championship between undefeateds Nebraska and Alabama promises to be epic.  Unlike that Thanksgiving game, however, this one fails to live up to its billing, as Nebraska takes its second consecutive championship, beating Alabama 38-6.  The Sugar, Cotton and Rose Bowls fill out the day.


On Sunday, the NFC and AFC championship games are held (on CBS and NBC, respectively), with the winners to meet in the Super Bowl.  In the second year of the post-merger NFL, the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins defeat, respectively, the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Colts.  Two weeks hence, the Cowboys will win their first Super Bowl, defeating the Dolphins 24-3.  ABC presents a prime-time NBA game on Monday, while Channel 11 has a Minnesota North Stars hockey game on Wednesday.  And that's all the sports for the week in this pre-ESPN era.

***

I've mentioned Virginia Graham before.  As the host of women-oriented talk shows (Girl Talk, The Virginia Graham Show), she's a fixture on television.  But she hits the trifecta on Friday, appearing all over the place.  On her own syndicated show (3:30 p.m, Channel 5) she welcomes George Burns and singer Jane Harvey as her guests, in a tribute to singer-songwriter Johnny Mercer.  She's also a guest on the syndicated daytime talk show Mantrap* at 9:30 a.m. on Channel 9, discussing Peter Marin's book Understanding Drug Use, and she winds up the evening appearing on the syndicated show Juvenile Jury (6:30 p.m., Channel 4), defending the right of grandmothers to wear miniskirts.

*Hosted by Canadian television personality Alan Hamel, the future husband of Suzanne Somers.

Three different shows on three different channels, all in one day.  Quite an accomplishment.

***

And now, the cultural portion of the week, with a couple of common themes. - PBS and Russian writers.

First, on Monday night, PBS presents a rerun of NET Opera Theatre, Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame (The Queen of Spades), with a cast that - I'll be honest - I don't recognize.  I would have enjoyed seeing this harrowing opera, though.

Then on Thursday, live television drama returns, at least for one night, on PBS' Hollywood Television Theater, as husband-and-wife Rip Torn and Geraldine Page star in a pair of short dramas by Chekov.  Live dramas seem to come back every few years as a novelty, but with the exception of NBC's live musicals from the past two years, they haven't made a lot of traction.  More's the pity.

Finally, the Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein musical Show Boat has begun to pop up in opera theaters over the last few years, but it took until 1972 for this 1951 movie classic to make it to the small screen.  It debuts on NBC's Monday Night at the Movies, starring Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel and Ava Gardner, and featuring Gower and Marge Champion's dance routines, which TV Guide critic Judith Crist says "have a brilliance of their own."

It certainly doesn't take 20 years for theatrical movies to premiere on television nowadays; sometimes they appear on TV so quickly, it's hard to remember whether they were ever in the theater or not.  But there's no question that PBS has fallen down on the job when it comes to providing cultural programming.  I think I've covered this before, but let's be honest - PBS isn't any different from the commercial networks nowadays, and if they have to choose between serving the public and bringing in the ratings, we know which way they'll go.  I've got a book about that somewhere on my shelf, and I'll get to it one of these days.

***

Some random notes to close out the week.

A classic segment of Rod Serling's Night Gallery on NBC Wednesday night: Elsa Lanchester in "Green Fingers," one of the better stories in the series, with a great payoff.

Also on Wednesday, the last episode of Anthony Quinn's only television series, The Man and the City, in which he plays a big-city mayor.  It never stood a chance, going up against Night Gallery and CBS' Mannix.

Henry Fonda's final television series, The Smith Family, is also going off, at least for the fall season, though it will come back in the spring.  That was a show that never really was able to figure out what it wanted to be - family comedy, police drama, family drama, police comedy.  Then again, it only had 39 episodes with which to work.

Channel 11 has a surprisingly gritty movie in its late-night slot on Monday- the 1962 British kitchen-sink drama The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, starring Tom Courtenay and directed by Oscar-winner Tony Richardson.

Opposite the movie is David Frost's late-night chat show, and one of his guests - long before the fame of the movie A Christmas Story - is humorist Jean Shepherd, who was funny a long time before that movie came out.

And last but not least, a letter to the editor from Margaret Marshall of Monroe, Michigan (try saying that five times fast), who wants to know "why on most topical series seen weekly in street scenes there is usually an abundance of gorgeously clad girls on hand."  It seems, according to Margaret, that "there are no ordinary-looking folks in TV land."  To which the editor replies, "You mean it's not that way in Monroe?"

Great answer.  Of course, living in Dallas, we're used to seeing sights like that every day.

2 comments:

  1. I've never seen "The Smith Family", but I understand your point about how it didn't know what it wanted to be just from its multiple opening sequences on You Tube. One sequence used a bouncy version of "Primrose Lane" as the opening theme, and another had a screeching instrumental theme accompanied by Smith pointing his gun in uniform.
    "The Smith Family" was one of a few Don Fedderson productions, so Henry Fonda probably had the same production deal as the likes of Fred MacMurray and Brian Keith, where the star had to spend minimal time filming, while the rest of the cast had to film around the star. I think John Forsythe had the same setup for "To Rome with Love".

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  2. A couple of things that caught my attention regarding the Firing Line special featuring John Ashbrook and James Buckley.

    For 1972; in addition to Rep. Ashbrook; President Nixon was also facing a primary challenge from his left in California Congressman Pete McCloskey (whose main focus was suggesting Nixon wasn't doing enough to pull American troops out of Vietnam). With his eventual success, Nixon became the only sitting President to face a significant primary challenge (since the primaries became the main source of delegates as opposed to state conventions); survive that and win re-election (four years earlier LBJ faced Eugene McCarthy and {after McCarthy nearly upset him in New Hampshire} Bobby Kennedy before deciding to bail out; later Gerald Ford would barely survive Ronald Reagan's challenge in '76 {winning the nomination by just over 100 votes on the convention floor} only to lose to Jimmy Carter. Carter then faced a major challenge in 1980 from Ted Kennedy and eventually lost to Reagan, and finally George H.W. Bush was politically bruised in the primaries by the challenge of Pat Buchanan in 1992 before eventually losing to Bill Clinton.

    As for James Buckley, in addition to being William F. Buckley's brother and (though caucusing with the Republicans) the last member of a non-major party to win election to the Senate; an interesting bit of trivia involves who he beat out: Charles Goodell (who had been appointed to finish the term vacated by the assassination of Bobby Kennedy by Nelson Rockefeller and the father of current NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell).

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