May 9, 2015

This week in TV Guide: May 5, 1979

There's nothing particularly outstanding to focus on in this week's issue (which comes to us from the Phoenix metropolitan area), so we'll just do a little of this and a little of that.  Think of it as a night with friends where, instead of having a formal dinner with a main course, you decide to nosh on appetizers and finger food.  After all, as long as you have desert, it's all good, right?

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We're just about to the end of the variety show era; in fact, there are only two on this week, both on Sunday night.  First is ABC's Osmond Family Show features Cathy Rigby and Johnny Dark, with a spotlight on "talented kids," including Adam Rich and Andrea McArdle.  Later that night, it's an episode of CBS' Mary Tyler Moore Hour, a kind of quasi variety hour-sitcom, with Nancy Walker as this week's guest.

If you're in the mood for such, I'm recommending two specials that should cover the bases.  First up is The Johnny Cash Spring Special on CBS Wednesday night, as Johnny and his wife June Carter Cash welcome the Carter Family, Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Earl Scruggs, Hank Williams Jr., and The Tennessee Three, among others.

On Friday night, NBC offers what is probably the best hour of the week, a two-hour retrospective on The Dean Martin Show, with highlights from the show's nine-season run.  It's hosted by Jimmy Stewart, Gene Kelly, Don Rickles, Orson Welles and Bob Newhart, and the clipfest includes appearances by Frank Sinatra, Red Skelton, Jack Benny, Johnny Carson, Gina Lollobrigida, Phil Silvers, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Victor Borge, Ella Fitzgerald, Gordon MacRae, Louis Armstrong and Lena Horne.  That's just a few of the names, but I think it's enough to give you a pretty good idea of what a great show Dean's series was, as well as how good this special must be.

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I've mentioned before that Judith Crist's movie reviews are often more entertaining than the movies themselves, and this week is no exception.  She has good words for the blockbuster movie of the week, 1977's Rollercoaster, calling it "good unqueasy fun."  It doesn't hurt that the screenplay was by Levinson and Link, who created Columbo, among others.

Such is not the case for Irwin Allen's two-part disaster flick Hanging by a Thread, which she describes as "about three hours of endlessly attenuated movie in two two-hour slots."  Her conclusion: "The total and unspecial effect is of excruciating boredom."

She also has harsh words for Anatomy of a Seduction, the story of a 40-year old divorcee (Susan Flannery, "though it could be Lee Remick or Elizabeth Montgomery") having an affair with the 20-year old friend of her son (Jameson Parker).  Crist calls the movie "another in the series of recent dramatic defamations of mature women through lip service to the 'new' morality," and offers a comment that might well serve today as the epitaph of the feminist movement, noting that the moral of the story is that women have the "ability to be as irresponsible and lecherous as the next guy."

Her best comment, however, is on the 1975 Western Take a Hard Ride, starring former football players Jim Brown and Fred Williamson, and spaghetti Western icon Lee Van Cleef.  Says Crist, the movie "is written as if for a fifth-grade remedial reader and performed to match."  In her non-recommendation, she warns us that "You've been there before."  Presumably, we won't want to go back.

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One movie that Crist does spare is CBS' The Wild Wild West Revisited, a 10-year reunion of Robert Conrad and Ross Martin reprising their roles as James West and Artemus Gordon from the classic '60s Western/fantasy series.

I always thought The Wild Wild West was a fun show, though I was far more impressed with Martin, the master of disguise, than Conrad, the show's "star."  However, the real gem of the series was Michael Dunn, the Oscar-nominated actor who stole the show in his recurring role as Dr. Miguelito Loveless, the megalomaniacal dwarf-villain bent on world domination.  Unfortunately, by the time of the movie, Dunn has died, and in his place we have Paul Williams as his son, determined to seek revenge on agents West and Gordon.  Without Dunn, the movie can't possibly match up to the series, but as Crist says, it's "good to look at and very much for those who liked the series."

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Care for a little sports?

As was the case last week, this week's sports highlight is the 105th running of the Kentucky Derby.  Since that TV Guide last week, coverage of the race has morphed from CBS to ABC, and now Jim McKay is host of the show instead of Jack Whittaker.  The favorite going into the race is Spectacular Bid, and the Bid does in fact come through with a big win.  He goes one to win the Preakness as well, but his attempt to become the third successive Triple Crown winner will fall short when he finishes third to Coastal in the Belmont Stakes.

The NBA is in the midst of the playoffs, and CBS has double-header coverage on Sunday afternoon, as well as a game on Friday night - and therein lies another story, that of the status (or lack thereof) of the NBA on national television.  The Friday night game, between teams to be determined, will be shown at 10:30 MT on tape delay.  That's right, no live coverage - wouldn't want to preempt CBS' triumvirate of The Incredible Hulk, The Dukes of Hazzard and Dallas.  That would be hard to believe a few years later, when the NBA's moved to NBC and stars such as Magic Johnson and Larry Bird have made professional basketball the "it" sport on TV.  Nowadays, if you're talking about prime-time sports on TV you won't see it much on the networks, but that's because most sports have made the transition to cable, with the result that - if you have the right package - you can now see every single game of the NBA playoffs live on one channel or another.  What a difference.

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This week's starlet report is on JoAnna Cameron, who has a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for having appeared in 105 TV commercials.  Advertisers, according to Ellen Torgerson's article, "have spent more than $100 million using JoAnna as the beauteous centerpiece of their commercials for cosmetics, shampoo, wine, beer, panty hose and breath freshener, among other things."

Yes, looking at the picture, I can understand that; she certainly has a face that can sell a product.  She's branched out into directing as well, and hopes someday to direct a feature film, in which she'd also star.

She has appeared in movies, albeit in small roles.  She was in How to Commit Marriage with Bob Hope, and did a TV movie called It Couldn't Happen to a Nicer Guy, as well as appearing in an episode of Columbo that same year, and as of this writing she's doing spots for the US Navy that run on ships.  She adds that she's turned down prime-time series that weren't "quite right," but her major claim to fame, to this day, remains her gig as Isis in the Saturday morning kids' program of the same name.  "It was only a minute part of my career," she says in the article, noting that "We shot it in two and a half months," but there's nothing in her CV that tops it.  According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, her career continued until 1980, at which time she transitioned to the home health care industry and then marketing for several hotels.  Not a hint of that upcoming change in this article.

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Do any of you remember Scared Straight?  In the late '70s, it was quite the thing, winning the 1978 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.  Narrated by Peter Falk, the film gives a group of juvenile delinquents a look at their possible future by putting them in a three-hour conversation with convicts at Rahway State Prison in New Jersey.  The convicts attempt to scare the kids straight by stripping away the glamour and mystique of crime, and it's a brutal movie.

Scared Straight is airing on Thursday night at 9pm on KTAR, the NBC affiliate in Phoenix, with a viewer discretion advisory in the print ad, warning that "explicit and crude street language and graphic descriptions" will be present.   The aforementioned always-reliable Wikipedia notes that it was the first time words such as "fuck" and "shit" were broadcast on non-cable television.

I've always associated Scared Straight with the "tough love" method of crimefighting. I've wondered how effective it actually was.  I've no doubt that the students involved in the movie may well have been moved to change their behavior, but I think adults often think that these kinds of programs have a bigger impact than they do.  A 2013 study concluded that "programs like ‘Scared Straight’ are likely to have a harmful effect and increase delinquency relative to doing nothing at all to the same youths. Given these results, we cannot recommend this program as a crime prevention strategy. Agencies that permit such programs, however, must rigorously evaluate them not only to ensure that they are doing what they purport to do (prevent crime) – but at the very least they do not cause more harm than good to the very citizens they pledge to protect."

That sounds about right to me, unfortunately.  So Thursday's airing of Scared Straight is very much a product of late '70s thinking.  Very earnest, but perhaps not very effective.

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This week's TV Teletype gives us a hint of things to come, with a note that producer Dan Curtis is starting work on ABC's adaptation of Herman Wouk's The Winds of War.  Curtis promises the miniseries will run for at least 12 hours, and will be an epic "played against the backdrop of the beginning of World War II."  No names are mentioned, but the finished product (running nearly 15 hours) was indeed an epic, starring Robert Mitchum, Ali McGraw, Polly Bergin, John Houseman, Topol, Ralph Bellamy, Peter Graves and many others, and spawning an even more massive sequel, War and Remembrance (also based on Wouk's book) that runs in 1988.

In TV Update, we learn that ABC has axed six series, including some with familiar names: Battlestar Galactica, Welcome Back, Kotter, What's Happening!!, Delta House, Makin' It and Starsky & Hutch.  Replacing these series are hoped-for hits The Associates, 240-Robert, Hart in San Francisco [which wound up with the title Nobody's Perfect], The Lazarus Syndrome, and a couple of series that did pay off as hits, Benson and Hart to Hart.  Well, I suppose a 33% success ration is nothing to complain about.

And this week's editorial notes that it's a fallacy that Americans watch TV for more than six hours a day."  In fact, the household television is on for more than six hours a day, but members of the household aren't all watching it at the same time.  Toddlers watch Captain Kangaroo, moms are glued to Phil Donahue, teens coming home from school hit the soaps and game shows, and then most of the family watches the news and prime-time programming.  (This also includes periods of time when the set is on and nobody's watching.)  The actual amount of television an individual watches per day: about two and a half hours.  Now that everyone has their own viewing device, and including the internet and video games, I wonder how many hours a day the average person spends in front of a glowing rectangle?

7 comments:

  1. I attended the taping of the Johnny Cash special from this week in April 1979 with my parents at the Grand Ole Opry House. All I remember from it was Johnny being "interviewed" by comedian Martin Mull, who had recently been on "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" and "Forever Fernwood". I saw Mr. Mull again in person 24 years later at a 2003 taping of "Hollywood Squares".

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    1. Really - that's something! Thanks for sharing - how many other readers out there have the TV Guide listing for a show they attended in person?

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  2. Still love 'Isis' and JoAnna Cameron. Around the time of this TV Guide article she appeared on Merv Griffin's talk show with Clint Eastwood, and Clint couldn't stop staring at her legs. Totally understandable.

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  3. Those particular 4-letter words were uttered on Australian TV well before 1979 though it could be said they were not intentional and just happened to occur on live TV. One of those instances was from Michael Cole, visiting Australia for the 1973 Logie Awards (national TV awards). He accepted Mod Squad's award for Most Popular Overseas Show. He was a bit overcome by it and so ended his acceptance speech with 'Oh, shit!'.

    The TV station got inundated with complaint phone calls but rumour has it that when the Awards were replayed over the weekend with the offending word edited out, they got MORE complaints about that!

    The next year there had been an instance where Mary Hardy, a popular prime time variety show host was to emulate a karate chop but it didn't go to plan and she smashed her wrist on the block. She let the f word fly and was soon banned from appearing on TV. The broadcasting authorities later accepted her apology and she was soon back on but a lot more careful about her choice of words!

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  4. It's funny how one's memory works....
    I was surprised to see this cover from 1979 showing an illustration of the TV show "The Paper Chase".
    My memory thought that the show began a couple years after the film, like most TV adaptions of films do, and since the film came out in '73 I could have sworn that the show was a mid-decade series. Though if my memory does serve, I think the show was picked up by another network (PBS? HBO?) to air new episodes after it was canceled by CBS.

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    1. It did run for three years on Showtime in the mid 80s, two years longer than the original run on CBS. It was also on PBS in the intervening years, but all those episodes were just reruns of the CBS episodes.

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