March 21, 2015

This week in TV Guide: March 21, 1959

This week we take our first look at the Pacific Northwest, with this TV Guide from the Western Washington area.  But you know what?  TV is the same no matter where TV Guide comes from - the only difference is in the details.

And one of the items that has remained consistent in TV Guide throughout the '50s and '60s is the question of television's effect on children.  As you recall, a couple of weeks ago we read an article that suggested television might have a positive role in encouraging children to read.  Weighing in on the topic this week is the acclaimed anthropologist Margaret Mead*, who ponders the effect of television violence on children.

*Another example of how inconceivable it is that today's TV Guide would have an article by someone of her stature.

Mead raises good points from the very beginning of the article - that not all violence is the same, that the very radio programs now being lauded as alternatives to violent TV were themselves condemned not that long ago as being violent - before drawing some clear differences between "good" and "bad" violence.  Take fairy tales, for example.  Children already have developed within them some idea of good and evil, of the weak and the strong.  "Children even feel better, more like good children, their anger and hate drained safely out of them, after watching stories in which the weak encounter, battle and defeat the strong."  "[T]hose who would denature fairy tales," she adds, "[taking] the chase, the shooting and the victory out of Westerns are actually constructing a world with escape without catharsis, without safe fantasy for childish aggression."

However, she cautions, this remains true "only when the story on the screen is palpably fiction, fantasy and unreal."  Even if they're angry with their parents, even if they see them (in the form of grownups in general) taken down in a television story, they still know that "they cannot do without them, even for a night."  Introduce a situation in which "someone who might really be themselves now or in the future, actually kills real human beings who might be their parents or their teachers or their older brothers and sisters [and this] is quite a different matter."  She also worries about the effect of such violence on the lonely child, or the child influenced by a too-real depiction of violence that has no guidelines, that doesn't say to the viewer "This is fiction, this isn't and couldn't really be you."

Part of the answer is parental supervision and involvement with what their children watch, in which they can "interject a running commentary, in which the words 'story,' 'just a story,' 'not real' are introduced, and so they can provide what the television program should itself provide."  What they need to be protected from are stories in which children are either the victims or the perpetrators of violence.  With the lonely child, loneliness can turn into hatred, and the violent show becomes "an incentive and program for possible crime."  It seems as if many of these comments - parental involvement, not leaving children alone - are still with us today.

Mead's conclusion is that television has a unique responsibility to protect small children from "the horror and violence of real crime."  If it can meet this responsibility, it will continue to provide the exciting stories that children need to experience, and "voluntarily refuse to tempt children's minds over the brink of crime."

***

Looking at the TV Teletype, we see some previews of coming attractions for the new season.

For example, an upcoming 77 Sunset Strip will serve as the pilot for a proposed detective series called Bourbon Street Beat, which does indeed premiere that fall, with Richard Long, Andrew Duggan, Van Williams and Arlene Howe.  It lasts just the one season.  More successful is James Michener's Adventures in Paradise, which runs for three seasons with Gardner McKay at the helm.  There's also a pilot being prepared for ABC, Lincoln Jones, starring James Whitmore.  This one has to wait a year, premiering in 1960 as The Law and Mr. Jones, and runs for two seasons.

***

By the way, before I forget:


Hope you have a great week!

***

It's Holy Week, which accounts for the religious programming on the 27th, which happens to be Good Friday.  On KOMO, Channel 4 (NBC), there's a special half-hour program at 12:30pm PT featuring two rural French churches conducting the Holy Week liturgy as revised by Pope Pius XII. Later, at 1:30, KING, Channel 5 (ABC) presents a half-hour documentary on the Shroud of Turin.  It's being broadcast for the sixth straight year, and is hosted by Loyola (Chicago) professor Francis L. Filas, an expert on and believer in the Shroud.

Later that afternoon the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) has a thirty-minute documentary on the Crusades, and they follow that up with a Good Friday service of music at 8pm and a second program of religious music at 9pm.  They also present an adaptation of a T.S. Eliot play, "The Family Reunion," at 9:30.  Though it isn't explicitly an Easter program, it does concern the redemption of the play's hero, and Eliot himself had once vetoed the casting of Sir John Gielgud for one of the roles because he felt  Gielgud was "not religious enough to understand the character's motivation."

Earlier in the week, on Monday night ABC's Voice of Firestone has Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians with their own program of Easter music.  But perhaps the most interesting program of the week airs earlier that evening on NBC - the first-ever repeat on the Hallmark Hall of Fame.  It's Marc Connelly's play "The Green Pastures," the story of a Sunday-school teacher presenting her class with stories from the Bible, and features an all-black cast that includes William Warfield as De Lawd and Eddie Anderson, whom most people recognize as Rochester on Jack Benny's program, as Noah.  The show was originally presented to great acclaim in October of 1957, and the producer of Hall of Fame felt a repeat showing would be appropriate at Easter.  The play had won the Pulitzer Prize in 1930, and the TV production won the Peabody in 1958.  For this showing, virtually the entire cast is back from the original showing, and it will once again win great acclaim.  Perhaps it's time for this to make another appearance on TV.

***

Once again there's little to report on the sports scene - a couple of hockey games on Saturday (including the famed Hockey Night in Canada on CBC Saturday evening), and a game in the NBA's Western Division playoffs between the St. Louis Hawks and Minneapolis Lakers for the right to lose to the Boston Celtics in the finals.  Sure enough, the Lakers win this game 106-98, and the series, before being swept by Boston.  For the Lakers, it's the last gasp of success before the franchise moves to Los Angeles, where their rivalry with the Celtics will take on epic proportions.  For the Celtics, on the other hand, it's their second title in three years, and the first of eight consecutive championships they'll win during a reign of terror that will ultimately result in 11 titles over a 13 year span.

One last basketball note; on Saturday afternoon, NBC presents the finals of the National Invitation Tournament, from Madison Square Garden in New York.  It's won by St. John's, 76-71 over Bradley, but the curiosity is that the NIT has a national television contract - and the NCAA tournament does not.  In fact it would be well into the '60s before the Final Four would become a television staple, while the NIT remained a viable and popular tournament for a number of years more.

***

One sign of the changing times is that colleges are now offering classes for students seeking careers in television.  To date, about 30% of colleges and universities offer majors in TV, but grads have yet to gain traction in the industry.  "Many network and advertising-agency executives are graduates of Ivy League schools, few of which offered extensive training in television."

According to this article, though, that may be about to change.  At Penn, the Annenberg School of Communications* is about to offer television courses as part of its curriculum.  And there's more - New York University is offering a noncredit workshop for students to stage "a typical day in TV," while Northwestern has a six-week symposium on color TV, and the University of Denver's BA in Television includes classes in stage lighting, creative writing, production and direction, and camera work.

* Not coincidentally, Walter Annenberg is the owner of TV Guide.

For those looking to make a move into television, Professor Garnet Garrison, director of broadcasting at Michigan, has these tips when looking for a school.  First, make sure the school is strong in liberal arts, as television requires a broad cultural background.  Take courses in fields that will help you in television, such as psychology, literature and the arts, sociology, journalism, marketing and advertising.  Look for colleges that give you a chance to "learn by doing" through educational or commercial stations which might be allied with the school.  Ask if the instructors have had meaningful experience in television.  And finally, does the school itself have access to facilities that are comparable to those at television stations.

I don't know how this compares to today's education.  I know that growing up, Brown Institute in Minneapolis was a renowned broadcasting school - one that I seriously considered attending myself.  A look at their wall of fame shows a lot of people who went on to successful careers in local and national television.  But if I had gone there, would I be writing this for you today?  Who knows?

***

Finally, you'll recall that a while ago we shared an article about Bob Hope being "largely forgotten," although he was an enormous star in his time.  This week, the cover story is on another largely forgotten TV star: Ann Sothern.

Though she was never a mega-star, Ann Sothern had a more than successful career, starring in two series (Private Secretary and The Ann Sothern Show) which combined ran for eight seasons and earned her three Emmy nominations.  She also played the voice of the car in My Mother the Car, which would have been reason enough to love her (for retaining her dignity, if nothing else), and was a frequent guest on shows throughout the '50s and '60s.

At this point in time, Sothern is president of five corporations, spanning everything from television production to sewing to music cataloging, and she continues to juggle these successful businesses with her own acting career.  It's a tough job, and leaves her with little time for anything approaching a social life.  Says Sothern, "I would like to live elegantly.  Instead, I have to run five businesses."

Her last television role was in 1985; her final movie role in 1987.  She has two stars on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, one for each medium.  If that's the kind of career that winds up largely forgotten, I don't think I'd mind being lost to the mists of time myself.

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