May 16, 2015

This week in TV Guide: May 15, 1965

I told you it was a big day today, didn't I?  For the second half of today's doubleheader*, we'll start with a look at Robert Lansing, currently - but not for long - the star of ABC's 12 O'Clock High.  I've read various accounts of why Lansing was sacked from the show after one season;  Quinn Martin, the legendary producer of 12 O'Clock High and many other shows, offers one of the strangest reasons I've ever read: Lansing's an actor who plays best with the audience at a late hour, say 10:00 pm (ET), which is the time that 12 O'Clock High airs.

*See here for today's curtain-riser.

Problem is, next season the show's moving to 7:30 pm, and Martin claims that ABC asked him to "find another series for him" that ran at 10 pm.  "Had we remained at 10 P.M., Bob would have continued."  Now, quite frankly that sounds ridiculous to me, but Lansing, who's being replaced by former Naked City star Paul Burke, is sanguine about it.  "My contract was with Quinn Martin, and he's the only one I've talked to.  I can't be mad at Quinn, either.  He says it was the network's decision, and I have no evidence to make me doubt him."  To show that he's a team player, Lansing adds that he feels the show's quality will suffer from being moved to an earlier time with, presumably, a younger audience.  "12 hours a day is too long to work at something you don't like."

I don't know about all this.  I've always liked Robert Lansing; he projects a tough, masculine image but has a softer side that still resonates with the audience.  For instance, as Detective Carella in 87th Precinct, he was able to portray a no-nonsense cop who still had a sense of humor, not to mention a dedication to protecting the public.  As the character Gary Seven, he's one of the few guest stars to hold his own with Mr. Spock and the rest of the Star Trek crew, outwitting them at almost every turn.  He did a better job on the short-lived series The Man Who Never Was than the series deserved, and he had a memorable guest role in The Equalizer many years later. Cleveland Amory, a hard man to please, describes Lansing's work in 12 O'Clock High:  "Make no mistake about it.  Robert Lansing is magnificent."  The idea that he has to have a "10 pm" timeslot is just - odd.

 A second theory about Lansing's departure is that it was hard for the audience to accept that his character, General Frank Savage, would be out there in the middle of the war himself rather than directing things from behind a desk.*  The series was based on the Academy Award-winning movie of the same name, which starred Gregory Peck as Savage and Dean Jagger as Colonel Harvey Stovall, played in the series by Frank Overton. and if memory serves there were a couple other characters from the movie who show up in the series (played by different actors, of course.)

*Paul Burke's character, by contrast, is a Colonel.

This leads to today's trivia question, which might make for some fun comments below.  The second season of 12 O'Clock High begins with Savage's plane being shot down and the General being killed. Paul Burke's previous series, Naked City, was also based on a movie, the stars of which were Barry Fitzgerald as Detective Lt. Dan Muldoon and Don Taylor as his partner, Jimmy Halloran.  When the series transitioned to television, John McIntire assumed the Muldoon role (right down to Fitzgerald's Irish brogue; it's a wonderful portrayal), while James Franciscus played Halloran.  McIntire soon tired of the weekly grind of a series, however, and was killed off late in the first season, to be replaced by Horace McMahon as Mike Parker.*

*I'll bet you thought I was going to say he was replaced by Paul Burke, right?  No, his character replaces Halloran, who disappears for no apparent reason.

Having given you those examples, can you name any other television series adapted from a movie that then proceeded to kill off one of that movie's star characters?  I can't, but then I don't want to think too hard about it.
***

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: Ed's special guests are Rudolf Nureyev and Dame Margot Fonteyn, stars of London's Royal Ballet Company.  Also on the bill are Welsh recording star Petula Clark; comedian Alan King, who tells about the New York World's Fair; the West Point Glee Club; the rock 'n' rolling Beach Boys; comedienne Sue Carson and pop singer Frankie Randall.

Palace: Host George Burns introduces operatic soprano Mary Costa; singer Jack Jones; comics Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks in an interview sketch on dating; the Young Americans, vocal group; pantomimists Cully Richards and Company; the Flying Zacchinis, trapeze artists; and the Almiros, jugglers.

The Palace really starts strong this week, both musically (Costa and Jones) and comedically (Burns, Reiner and Brooks), but just when I was starting to get excited - the Young Americans, mimes (I hate mimes), jugglers, trapeze artists...

On the other hand, your affection for Ed will depend largely on what you think of ballet; since Nureyev and Dame Margot are two of the very biggest names in the business, you can bet they're getting a lot of airtime, with three excerpts from Nureyev's version of Swan Lake.  I happen to like ballet, and since this is my blog, and since I also like Petula Clark and Alan King and think the Beach Boys are probably the best American rock act of the time (which may not be saying much, granted), I'm giving this week to Ed as he dances rings around Palace.

***

As much as I love the hometown TV Guides from my youth, it's always fun to see other markets from time to time.  A couple of this month's offerings are from Phoenix, and this week's issue is from New York City.  Let's see how things are done in the Big Apple.

One thing to notice: lots of movies.  But that doesn't necessarily mean more movies, just more times that movies are on.  For example, WNEW, Channel 5 (now WNYW, the Fox affiliate, but an independent in 1965) has a movie which they show daily at 10:00 am and 1:30 pm*, presumably for those housewives who either go shopping or have to pick up the kids from kindergarten or, I don't know, entertain the milkman in the morning.  Whatever the case, when a movie's shown twice during the day, you don't really have any excuse for missing it unless you work outside the office, in which case it wouldn't matter how many times it's on.

*Just so there's no confusion, they show the same movie at 10am and 1:30pm.  Not part 2 of the movie, the same movie.  The same exact movie.

Next, there's Million Dollar Movie on WOR, Channel 9.  Million Dollar Movie, which began in 1955, was really a quite clever way of exploiting the showing of a big-time movie - which, due to the continuing antagonism between movie studios and television, weren't always that commonplace.  Million Dollar Movie's hook was twofold: the movies would have never before been seen on television, and they would be shown multiple times a day for the entire week - as many as sixteen times a week, according to some.  By 1965, the number was down to seven times a week: 11:00 am and 11:00 pm on Sunday, and then 11:25 pm Monday through Friday.  This week's feature: The Lost Missile, starring Robert Loggia and Ellen Parker.  "New Yorkers have little more than an hour left to live, as a radioactive missile circles the earth, destroying everything in a 10-mile-wide swath." *

*In other words, they only have a hour to live - until the next showing.  And you should not confuse this with Channel 3's Satellite in the Sky airing Monday at 11:20pm, in which "a rocket ship heads for outer space to explode an experimental bomb," or Channel 2's Abandon Ship, where 27 passengers of a luxury liner that sank try to fit into a lifeboat that can only hold 12 .



And then there are the two movie shows that have the most iconic names of all: The Late Show and The Late Late Show, both of which air on WCBS, Channel 2. Here's the famous opening to The Late Show:


Channel 2's couplet of The Late Show and The Late Late Show were billed as "post-midnight entertainment for 'television's other audience'," back in a time when it was somewhat sophisticated and grown up to stay up late during the week.  The Late Show stars at 11:20 pm, and The Late Late Show at about 1:25 am, which brings us up to about 3 am most times, when Channel 2 airs a couple more movies to take the viewing audience up to Summer Semester that morning.

***

Of course, there's a lot more to local television than movies.  There's news, for example, and it's probably no surprise that many of the local news anchors in New York are also tied in to network broadcasts.  WNBC's (Channel 4) early evening newscast, for example, was anchored variously by NBC correspondents Gabe Pressman, Robert MacNeil and Bill Ryan, while Frank McGee appears as the anchor of a 10-minute news update at 11pm, with Jim Hartz (like McGee, a future host of The Today Show) presents 15 minutes of local news at 11:15.  Robert Trout augmented his correspondent's work for CBS by anchoring the 6:30 pm news on WCBS,

On the left: Roger Grimsby and Bill Beutel
Some local personalities, while not graduating to the network level, became local legends.  Tex Antoine, who gives the 11:10 weather on Channel 4, was a fixture on local television for three decades.*  Bill Beutel did time with ABC as a reporter and, later, as co-host of the morning show A.M. America, but he's probably best known for his years with Roger Grimsby as co-anchor of WABC's Eyewitness News, and in 1965 he hosts the station's 11:00 news.  Incidentally, WABC would boast of one of the epic local lineups of all time in the late '60s, with Beutel and Grimsby doing the news, Antoine (who'd moved over from WNBC) with the weather, and sports commentary being provided by a guy named Howard Cosell.  Beat that, huh?

*If you want to find out how his career came to an end, check his Wikipedia page.

Of course, not being from New York, I'm sure I'm missing a lot of names and data here, so if any of you want to chime in with more details, you're always welcome!

***

Here's a quick look at the rest of the TV week:

Sports:  The Preakness, live from Pimlico in Baltimore.  The favorite is Lucky Debonair, winner of the Kentucky Derby, but Dapper Dan winds up in the winner's circle with the Black-Eyed Susans.  If horse racing's not your game, there's plenty of baseball, with both the Yankees and Mets appearing numerous times throughout the week, and the final round of the New Orleans Open golf tournament airs on Sunday.

Comedy:  I'll be talking about Gilligan's Island in a moment, but on Saturday we have that delightful situation that finds Jim Backus competing against himself, as Gilligan airs on CBS at 8:30 pm, up against NBC's Mr. Magoo.  Only time in TV history that an actor has competed against himself with two shows on different networks at the same time.

Game Shows:  Paul Anka is the guest panelist on What's My Line? Sunday night.  Roger Smith and singer Carmel Quinn are on What's This Song? on CBS daytime, while Hermoine Gingold is the week's celebrity guest on ABC's The Price is Right.  Selma Diamond and Les Crane appear on Call My Bluff on NBC, followed by singer Gogi Grant and her husband Bob Rifkind taking on Alan and Virginia Young on I'll Bet.  George Grizzard and Joan Fontaine are on CBS' Password, singers Mel Torme and Sally Ann Howes are on NBC's You Don't Say!, and Henry Morgan and Lauren Bacall (!) follow on The Match Game.  Not a bad week of celebrity sightings.

Drama  A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the wonderful Twilight Zone episode "On Thursday We Leave for Home."  Well, it's the first of 17 reruns to debut in the show's Sunday night slot.  A sea monster terrorizes a Norwegian village on ABC's Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea Monday night.  And on Thursday, Perry Mason gets involved in the case of an actor taking part in one of Shakespeare's sword-dueling scenes - and winds up dead.

Culture:  On Monday, Channel 9 presents the movie version of Gian-Carlo Menotti's sinister opera The Medium, starring Marie Powers, Leo Coleman and Anna Maria Alberghetti.  Channel 2 has a documentary Tuesday about a place that'll get plenty of culture: the newly constructed Lincoln Center.  And what could possibly be more cultural than the New York State finals of the Miss Universe pageant, shown live Thursday night on Channel 11? The winner is Gloria Jon; I was hoping it might be someone who went on to great fame and stardom, but being Miss New York isn't bad at all.

***

Finally, Sherwood Schwartz tells Richards Warren Lewis about the difficulties he's had in getting Gilligan's Island from the drawing board to the screen.

For one thing, everyone in the executive suite at CBS loved it - except for Jim Aubrey.  And the problem there was that Jim Aubrey was the president of CBS.  United Artists, co-producers with Schwartz, hated the idea of a theme song that told the backstory.  He submitted the pilot to CBS, sans music, and it was rejected without comment.

At this point, Schwartz takes matters into his own hands.  He reedits the pilot the way he wants it done; "Is everybody through with the film now?  Can I do it my way?"  He writes the theme song himself, assembled a new version, and shipped it to New York, with a note that read, "This is the pilot I had in mind."

The results were a smash.  The test audience loved it so much that CBS made another audience sit through it, unable to believe the show had scored so high.  When the second audience seconded its approval, the show finally got on the schedule.  But even then, Schwartz's problems weren't done.  The suits didn't like the Hollywood actress character: "Who can identify?"  They didn't like the billionaire: "Who's going to understand a billionaire?"  They didn't like the science teacher: "What kind of flair does that have to it?"  Schwartz fought their suggestions, and won.  Then the network fired three of the seven actors who appeared in the pilot, which required further filming and editing.

The episode that winds up debuting on television is actually a combination of three separate shows, including about half of that pilot.  "It was an outlandish beginning," Schwartz says of that first episode.  "If you're telling a story about people who get shipwrecked, the only honest way is if the first show is about how they got wrecked.  Instead, it was about how they were trying to get off the island.  It's like starting on chapter two.  You didn't know who they were."  He thinks that has something to do with the bad initial reviews from some critics.

Even now, having spent the entire season in the top 40, not everyone at CBS is happy, but it doesn't matter to Schwartz.  He's proud of the way audiences have identified with the characters and the situation; "Whether you like my show or not, you turn into Gilligan's Island and in one second you know what show you're looking at."

Reading this, I'm struck by the thought that, for all the accusations that Gilligan was part of the dumbing-down of television, the objections from the suits at CBS suggest they didn't have much confidence in their audience's ability to identify with characters and figure things out.  Indeed, one can assume that if the network had had their way, Gilligan's Island would have been far, far dumber than even the harshest critics suggested.  And it wouldn't be as loved today.

14 comments:

  1. "Having given you those examples, can you name any other television series adapted from a movie that then proceeded to kill off one of that movie's star characters?"

    While reading this, one famous example jumps to my mind: Col. Henry Blake on "M*A*S*H."

    Thanks for putting this blog together. I've been enjoying it for sometime but this is only my second response.

    Rick

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, Rick. Great catch on Col. Blake - that one had completely escaped me!

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  2. I think this is the first time you've covered a 1964-65 issue since Robert has been doing that weekly on TV Obscurities. His take on the same issue (though his local edition was Iowa) is here:
    http://www.tvobscurities.com/2015/05/a-year-in-tv-guide-may-15th-1965

    Jim Backus may have been the first but he isn't the only actor to appear against himself on network tv in the same timeslot. I remember that Geoff Pierson was playing Jack Malloy on WB's "Unhappily Ever After" at the same time he was playing Grace's ex-husband, Jimmy, on ABC's "Grace Under Fire", and I remember these shows having the same timeslot back around 1995.

    WNBC-TV also had a nice animated opening to its late night movie, and you can see it here, preceded by 1 of those nice animated WNBC-TV bumpers:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZjYB6KDa5E

    "What's This Song?" was on NBC, not CBS. It was the first game show hosted by Wink (then Win) Martindale. It reminds me a bit of "You Don't Say" in its high caliber of celebrity guests but low payoffs for its contestants. You can see the opening of a post-Christmas show, in living color and preceded by the famous NBC Peacock, here:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvOz-E_qOq0

    Thanks for all your weekly work on this great blog!

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    1. Thanks, Jon! Yes, I think you're right on that - I've tried to stay out of Robert's way on those because I think he does such a great job, but this was the only issue I had that fit into the right timeslot. Guess it's time to go out and get some more!

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  3. Not exactly the most auspicious way to end your career in broadcasting (Tex Antoine). The most cringe worthy moment I recall actually watching was the 'Nightline' broadcast where Dodger's GM, Al Campanis, put both feet in his mouth, up to his knees, when he began to talk about black baseball players and their alleged shortcomings. Thinking about this, I also recall Jimmy 'The Greek' Snyder and his comments about blacks during the period of slavery being bred to become the best athletes.

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    1. And I remember both of those. I can't recall for sure, but I think I might have seen the Campanis interview live. Ah, we all need to learn to keep our mouths shut more often, don't we?

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  4. Where you write about Perry Mason, it looks as though you're saying that Perry Mason, and not the actor, winds up dead. :)

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    1. By golly, you're right! That's terrible writing - whoever is responsible ought to be fired! Oh wait...

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  5. Twelve O'clock High redux:

    You might be interested to learn that in the years since '65, both Robert Lansing and Quinn Martin admitted that their relationship on the series was anything but amicable.
    Lansing (according to Martin) was overly intense on the set, unlike David Janssen or Leslie Nielsen or the like. Lansing was given to complaining about scripts, casting, and such; QM preferred good-humored types who went with the flow (most QM leads were like this, such as the above-named, as well as Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Paul Burke, Bill Conrad, Burt Reynolds, et al.
    For his part, Lansing, in interviews given late in his life, took to blasting Quinn Martin on a personal level, getting a little mean-spirited about it (one odd sore point was that QM was "a self-hating Jew"
    (he'd changed his name from Irwin Cohn) - odd in that Lansing himself wasn't Jewish, though I think his then-incumbent wife was).
    That whole "10 O'clock" business may have been the first ever manifestation of the junk science called "demographics", though it wasn't yet called that.

    Lauren Bacall was on Broadway during most of the '60s, and that was where Goodson-Todman did much of their guest recruiting back then.
    I think it was on the Goodson-Todman games that I first heard Bacall addressed as Betty - her real name, which all her friends used. She was among friends.

    Cully Richards & Co. wasn't a pantomime act as such.
    What the act was: there'd be somebody out front doing something "serious" like an aria or a recitation, and Cully Richards & Co. would be in the background doing slapstick sight gags and such, in order to break the "serious" act up.
    Richards and his cohorts had been doing this act for years in vaudeville, occasional movies, and on early TV. Later in '65, ABC gave its late night Nightlife show back to Les Crane, who in his turn used Richards and his troupe frequently for comic bits.
    In the fall of '66, Milton Berle engaged Cully Richards as a writer and performer on his short-lived comeback variety series on ABC. On the last show, Berle made a point of singling out Richards for his comedy contributions to the project (and that was something Uncle Miltie rarely did).
    What I'm saying here is that Cully Richards & Co. weren't "mimes" of the type you hate.

    Something I forgot to mention earlier:
    John McIntire (that's the correct spelling) left Naked City because he hated living in New York City - it was too much of a commute from his ranch in a remote part of Idaho called the Yaak. When he joined Wagon Train a couple of years later, he knew that the larger cast and looser format would give him time to get back to the Yaak as often as he wanted to.

    Questions?


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    1. Good feedback! I'm not surprised about Lansing-Martin, but I'm glad to have some confirmation on it. And thanks for reassuring me on Cully Richards & Co! :)

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    2. " odd in that Lansing himself wasn't Jewish, though I think his then-incumbent wife was)." You are wrong he was a Jew, he lived as a Jew and was buried a Jew.
      Although a convert to the faith, does not make him less so, in fact, it makes him more so. I suspect he had QM's number correct.
      QM made magic on the screen, but Lansing was a mench, I miss him.

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  6. The WOR/WWOR "Million Dollar Movie" opening you posted was actually from the mid 1980's, after it had become a superstation available (at that time) on most of the nation's cable TV systems.

    By that time, the original idea had long since been replaced by partway-decent-or-better films, usually not in prime-time (since in the mid 1980's, WOR/WWOR has the Mets, Rangers, Islanders, Devils, Knicks, and Nets, which between them resulted in at least 210 live sports telecasts a year (more if the hockey and basketball teams went to the playoffs), of which about 160 were in prime-time, where "Million Dollar Movies" were once broadcast.

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  7. Aubrey so hated "Gilligan's Island" as it was being developed, that he called on one of his own "little buddies" - mobbed-up nightclub entertainer, failed movie actor and wannabe-producer Keefe Brasselle - to create and produce a show more to his conceptual liking along those lines, called "The Baileys of Balboa," about a widower who runs a charter boat service based in Balboa, CA. Paul Ford was the widower, Sam Bailey - and his casting may have been another "Gilligan"-related 'F-U', as one of "Gilligan's" investors was Phil Silvers, a.k.a. Sergeant Bilko - and Ford had played Bilko's nemesis, Col. John T. Hall, on that show. The rest of the cast included Sterling Holloway as his first and only mate, Buck Singleton; Les Brown Jr. as Bailey's son Jim; John Dehner as Bailey's rival, Commodore Cecil Wyntoon; Judy Carne (years before becoming the "Sock It To Me!" girl on "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In") as Wyntoon's daughter Barbara (though she only lasted half the season); and Clint Howard (Ronny's brother) rounding out the cast. If one wanted to imagine what "Gilligan" would have been like had the network prevailed, one need only see whatever survives of "The Baileys of Balboa" - which, along with two other shows Brasselle's company, Richelieu Productions, offered ("The Cara Williams Show" and "The Reporter") were all approved with no pilots whatsoever - and led in later years to conflict-of-interest lawsuits against the parties involved - not to mention ultimately contributing to the firing of Aubrey himself as President of CBS Television in February 1965. "Baileys" itself only lasted all of 26 episodes, finishing #91 for the season - unlike "Gilligan" which ran two more seasons after this.

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Thanks for writing! Drive safely!