May 30, 2015

This week in TV Guide: June 1, 1968

There is a tendency to assume that those of a certain age - my age, for example - will immediately get the significance of this week, and that they expect to see something about it.  And in fact it is difficult to avoid, this being one of those weeks when everything was turned upside down and very little of what was scheduled to be shown for much of the week would up being seen, at least not right away.

A couple of years ago I devoted an entire edition of "This Week in TV Guide" to this single event, and while it would be redundant to rehash it all again, it does demand a certain amount of attention.  You can't, for example, avoid seeing the programming note on Tuesday evening, in that innocuous language that absolutely nobody notices unless, like us today, they know what's coming up.  By Wednesday morning the story of Tuesday's presidential primaries had been completely overshadowed by what had happened overnight in California - not the victory by Robert F. Kennedy in the state's Democratic primary, but his shooting by Sirhan Sirhan and subsequent, lingering death early Thursday morning.  Two weeks ago I linked to a remarkable program by Fred Rogers dealing with how adults should explain the assassination to children; you're not going to find that program listed in this issue, and indeed you shouldn't have expected, or hoped, to ever see something like that.

One can argue whether or not Kennedy would have won the Democratic nomination had he lived.  Based on the contemporary evidence prior to the shooting, which you can see in videos here and here (including footage from earlier that very night), I tend to think that he would not have won, which means that the results of November's election might well have been the same, though the road to it might have been considerably less painful.  On the other hand, politics is a strange animal; as our frequent commenter Mike Doran reminds us, who knows what Chicago's Mayor Daley, for example, might have been capable of?  But as the philosopher once said, if ifs and buts were candy and nuts,...

Therefore this is an unusual issue, in that half of it is exactly what it seems, while the other half is nothing like that.  According to Broadcasting magazine, the three networks combined to broadcast over 200 hours of coverage between Wednesday morning and the burial Saturday night.When regular programming did resume the next week, it would be with what turned out to be a temporary deemphasis on violent programming.  Some thought the change might be permanent, and should be; I wonder what they'd think of programming today?

It is said that nothing on TV is ever what it seems; for much of this week, we don't even get the chance.

***

During the 60s, the Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace were the premiere variety shows on television. Whenever they appear in TV Guide together, we'll match them up and see who has the best lineup..

Sullivan:  The first of two parts commemorating Ed's 20th anniversary celebration, with guests Alan King, singers Jerry Vale and Lana Cantrell, comedienne Sue Carson, magician Norm Neilson and Mr. Jiggs, a performing monkey.  In the anniversary segment, King delves into the photo album for a lighthearted tracing of Ed's life.

Palace*:  Donald O'Connor plays host to comedians Sid Caesar and Bob Melvin; singer-puppeteer Shari Lewis and Lambchop; singers Don Ho, Ted Lewis and Marilyn Maye; and juggler Rudy Cardenas.

*As is their wont, KMSP, the Twin Cities' ABC affiliate, has moved Palace from its Saturday night slot to Thursday, preferring a local movie on Saturday.  Considering that Kennedy dies early Thursday morning, I don't know if this is broadcast or not.

I don't think either show has its best lineup this week.  I like Alan King and Sid Casesar, Donald O'Connor is a classic, and Jerry Vale has a very smooth voice.  The rest, though?  Too many vaudeville acts, not enough quality.  Next week Ed really brings the stars for part two of his anniversary special, but this week is strictly a warm-up.  The verdict: Push.

***

Perhaps we should have had an idea of the shape of things to come with the premiere, Saturday night on CBS, of one of the most disturbing, unsettling programs ever seen on television, the British drama The Prisoner.  The brilliant, enigmatic, often maddening series is the brainchild of the brilliant, enigmatic, often maddening Patrick McGoohan, and if you ever had the slightest paranoia about government and Big Brother, this series about a former secret agent who may or may not be a prisoner of the government he once served will be right up your alley.

I've written about The Prisoner before; it's #4 on my all-time top ten list, so I won't go into great detail here.  But in the more than 40 years since its debut, it's puzzled, infuriated and captivated generations of television viewers; one can only imagine the effect it had on viewers back in 1968 who, accustomed to seeing McGoohan's character on Danger Man, tuned in to see this new series that was the summer replacement for The Jackie Gleason Show.  Can you possibly imagine two more different series?

Now that you mention it, we're in something of a golden age for British shows on American television.  Up against The Prisoner on Saturday is NBC's The Saint with Roger Moore, while ABC counters with The Avengers on Wednesday night and Man in a Suitcase on Friday.  Then there are the other Brit imports of the late '60s and early '70, everything from the aforementioned Secret Agent to The Baron, The Protectors, The Persuaders! and Thunderbirds.  Many of these series come from ITC, which first moved into the American market with The Adventures of Robin Hood, and had a big Saturday morning hit on NBC with Fury, with future Misison: Impossible star Peter Graves.  I've always had a fond spot in my heart for these shows, which is why so many of them have wound up in my DVD library.*  They are such products of the hip '60s, with brilliantly saturated color, swinging themes from Ron Grainer and Edwin Astley, and a mixture of adventure and bizarre fantasy.  It's a wonderful time in television.

*Not The Thunderbirds, though.  One has to draw the line somewhere.

***

The Belmont Stakes is the featured sporting event of the week, and as is the case this year, one horse has the chance to win the fabled Triple Crown.  The atmosphere in 1968 is subdued, though; as we read last month Dancer's Image, the Derby winner, was subsequently disqualified, with the result that many people think Forward Pass, who was handed the Derby win and took the Preakness on his own, would have an asterisk next to his name if he were to win the Belmont as well.  Don't deny it, though: you tuned in to CBS on Saturday at 4pm (CT) to watch the 45-minute broadcast and see if Forward Pass can do it.  Fortunately for those who feared that the mythical quest for the Triple Crown would be tainted, Stage Door Johnny brings home the bread with a length-and-a-half victory.

Otherwise, it's a quiet week in sports.  The Atlanta Classic is the featured golf tournament, with a syndicated broadcast Saturday and Sunday.  ABC's Wide World of Sports gives us the Champions Track Meet from San Diego, featuring world mile-record holder Jim Ryun, CBS has Sunday afternoon soccer between the St. Louis Stars and Oakland Clippers, and NBC's Major League Baseball Game of the Week on Saturday is the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals, plus a Monday night special pitting the Detroit Tigers against the Boston Red Sox.  The Minnesota Twins are on the road with a weekend series against the Chicago White Sox, a midweek series against the Yankees, and - irony of ironies - a Friday night game against the Washington Senators.  That game will be played in Washington's D.C. Stadium, which by next year will be known as Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.

***

Let's see, what else might we be interested in?

How about some culture?  On Sunday afternoon, Leonard Bernstein conducts the New York Philharmonic in an all-Beethoven Young People's Concert on CBS, including the first movement from the Symphony Number 5.  Six days later, on Saturday, Bernstein will be conducting members of the Phil in the Adagietto from Mahler's Symphony Number 5 at Kennedy's funeral.

Wish I had this issue!
Meanwhile, ABC presents a repeat broadcast* of their documentary The Actor, narrated by Alec Guinness from a script by Kenneth Tynan, with appearances by Harold Pinter, Nicol Williamson, Harold Pinter and Joan Plowright.  Plowright is back on Friday night, with her husband Sir Laurence Olivier and Sir Michael Redgrave in Chekov's "Uncle Vanya" on NET Playhouse.  Also on NET, NET Festival on Tuesday night has the great jazz saxophonist Stan Getz along with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops from the Pops' summer home at Tanglewood.

*Knowing KMSP, the ABC affiliate, it was probably recorded from a broadcast on a previous weeknight, when Channel 9 would have showed a local movie instead.

How about a preview of coming attractions?  TV Teletype tells us that "One Life to Live, ABC's new daytime serial, bows on July 15."  It will stay on ABC for over 43 years, finally leaving the network in 2012.  "NBC has signed comedian Flip Wilson to an exclusive contract; as part of the deal he'll get his own fall special, which may develop into a series."  Indeed it does, from 1970 through 1974.  And Gale Fisher will take over as Mike Connors' secretary when Mannix returns for its second season in September.  She'll stay with the series for the remainder of its run, until 1975.

How about some movies?  Well, maybe not - according to Judith Crist, "If some Swiftian satirist decided to epitomize the worst of commercial movie-making, he'd probably wind up with a network-movie week like this one."  But isn't this just hype?  I mean, how bad can it be?  "The week also boasts a rerun of the TV version of Laura, as cruel a travesty of one of Hollywood's better films as ever fell into the hands of a pretentious rewriter (Truman Capote), an obviously embarrassed supporting case of pros and a thoroughly inept would-be star (Lee Bouvier)."  That bad, I guess.

***

The later part of the week is unremarkable, made up largely of reruns.  Once the Kennedy story has taken shape and the schedule mapped out, regular programs will be preempted and rescheduled at will.  In the weeks to come there will be a lot of talk about toning down violence on television, and certain episodes of certain series will be pulled from the schedule until things have died down.  In the end the changes are anything but permanent; The Untouchables, perennially cited as one of the most violent shows on the air, is almost tame when viewed today.

It's always the little things that make the biggest impact. There's ABC's Issues and Answers with Robert F. Kennedy on Sunday afternoon, the last network program on which he'd appear. His rival, Senator Eugene McCarthy, is on CBS' Face the Nation.  The topic, of course, is the California primary on Tuesday.  There's the blurb I repeated at the top of the page, outlining the network coverage of the primary, coverage that went on far longer than anyone could have predicted.  There's the stadium in Washington D.C., the one that will be known by a very different set of initials next year at this time.

As I said, the little things.

5 comments:

  1. I'm amazed that Richard Nixon, the man who would be elected that fall, wasn't even on the ballot of his home-state primary that week. Maybe he already had the nomination wrapped up by early June. I am amazed, however, at how much more impact political conventions used to have. I viewed some tapes from network news coverage at Vanderbilt's tape library, and I was surprised to see footage of George McGovern announcing that in August he was starting a run for President at the Democratic Convention that year by talking to delegates there. Of course he won the nomination the next time around.

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  2. I have a lovely set of comments for your next post, but the comment mechanism isn't working for some reason.

    I'd put it here, but because of your format, going back and forth is not possible.

    And frankly, the six tries I've made so far have made me somewhat miffed.

    Now I'm going back and trying again (number SEVEN).

    Count three and pray ...

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  3. To answer Jon H's comment about Richard Nixon not being on the ballot for the Republicans in his home state of California; by the time Nixon ran in 1968 his voter registration (and thus the state he was listed as being from) had been changed to New York (Nixon having moved to that state after losing the 1962 California gubernatorial election). By the time Nixon was re-elected in 1972, his state of residence was listed as California again.

    Had Nixon's state of residence been listed as California in 1968; this might have caused a bit of a hiccup regarding his original preference for a running mate (California Lt. Gov. Robert Finch; who eventually turned Nixon down) because, while the Constitution doesn't technically prohibit a Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidate being from the same state; an elector in the Electoral College cannot cast both electoral votes (President/Vice-President) for someone from their own states, effectively forcing one half of the ticket to forfeit their electoral votes. An attempt to prevent something similar with the GOP ticket of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney was the reason that when Cheney was picked, he changed his voter registration from Texas (his residence for a decade) to Wyoming (where he was from and had represented in Congress).

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    Replies
    1. That and the fact that Governor Ronald Reagan was also on the ballot for the Republicans in California had something to with it. And to show how things were different then,Reagan didn't formally declare himself an official candidate for the nomination until right b efore the convention started.

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  4. I didn't know FURY was an ITC production...

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