June 27, 2015

This week in TV Guide: July 2, 1960

One could draw a good many existential conclusions about the significance of Independence Day as acknowledged on television.  Even in TV's early years there were concerns about viewers becoming dependent on television.  Additionally, there have always been questions about how independent programming content can possibly be given the influence of advertisers and the importance of ratings.  And speaking of advertising, how about freedom from the corrosive effect of commercials?

As I say, these are all existential questions, which means they're probably unsuitable to be answered by leafing through the pages of a single issue of TV Guide.  However, the first Monday in this first year of the '60s is the Fourth of July, so let's see what the programming gods have to say about it.  Given that it's never been as big a day for television as Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year's, there's still a good amount for us to look at.  But then, we're in New England this week, the cradle of American independence, so we shouldn't be too surprised at that.

What would the Fourth of July be without a parade?  At 11am, Channel 10 (WJAR, Providence) starts things off with live coverage of the nation's oldest Fourth of July parade, from Bristol, Rhode Island.  The parade dates back 148 years from this TV Guide and lives on today, as part of a huge celebration.  Sounds like a lot of fun.

What would the Fourth be without food?  At 1pm, Louise Morgan's "women's show" offers holiday food ideas, and TV Guide includes a note that pages 20-22 of this issue include recipes for "ho;liday dishes that mere males can prepare."  We'll come back to that later.

Thankfully they don't use these - yet.
What would the Fourth be without baseball, the game that's as American as hot dogs and apple pie?  Thankfully we don't have to find out; the Red Sox host the Baltimore Orioles in a 1:30pm holiday matinee broadcast throughout the area on the Red Sox television network, with the great Curt Gowdy at the mic.

What would the Fourth be without - horse racing?  Well, OK.  At 4:30 WBZ, the NBC affiliate, presents the Suburban Handicap from Aqueduct in New York, with 1959 Belmont Stakes champion and Horse of the Year, Sword Dancer, coming out on top.

What would the Fourth be without patriotism?  At 9:30, Channel 7 (WNAC, Boston), presents a special entitle Patriotism, 1960 with representatives from the All-American Conference to Combat Communism and the Council Against Communistic Aggression, and Channel 7's "Americanism Director."  I wonder how many stations have that job title today?

Finally, what would the Fourth be without politics?  At 10pm, NBC repeats a January episode of Sunday Showcase entitled "One Loud, Clear Voice," the story of three candidates battling for their party's nomination for governor: a Congressmen who represents the corrupt party machine, the undistinguished incumbent, and a millionaire mayor, riding a groundswell, who refuses to get involved in the political infighting.*  No word on who wins, but since the only one of the three candidates mentioned in the cast is Cogshill, I wouldn't bet against him.

*Sounds like a Monty Python sketch, doesn't it?  "Congressment Griffen, Corrupt Party, 683 votes.  Governor Sweeter, Ineffectual Party, 721 votes.  Mayor Cogshill, Groundswell Party, 839 votes."  As to which one is the Silly Party, I'll let you be the judge.

I'm only surprised none of the local stations had a movie like Yankee Doodle Dandy, but it's not a bad day of programming.

***

On the cover this week is none other than that Champagne Music Maker himself, Lawrence Welk.  Throughout the years, people invariably refer to Lawrence Welk as a "grandparents" show, and that only old people watch it.  That certainly was the case in our household, but the thing of it is that the old people of today - the people who watch the show on PBS stations throughout the country - are the just a bit older than I was when the show was in its heyday.  In other words, today's fans are the very ones who ridiculed it when it was on network TV.  Could it be something in the water?

Bob Johnson's article calls Welk "an unchanging leader in a fast-changing musical world," and I think that's as good an explanation as any for his enduring popularity.  Even in 1960 Welk was ridiculed by many ("The type of music seems to antagonize the young people," according to an employee at the Aragon Ballroom in Venice, California, where Welk and his orchestra regularly play, "sometimes to the point where we have to ask them to leave."  Welk's on-air demeanor can be even stiffer than Ed Sullivan's, but, like Sullivan, it's part of his charm.  When Welk told his TV consultant Don Fedderson (The Millionaire, My Three Sons, Family Affair) that he'd rather have someone else read the announcements, fellow South Dakotan Fedderson told him that his announcements "were what people were what people watched the show for."

Welk, who once had two hour-long shows on ABC certainly doesn't need the money from TV.  His weekly performances at the Aragon, where he drew 225,000 paying customers in 1959, earn him a minimum of $5,000 a weekend (New Year's Eve can pull in as much as $12,000), far more than the $55,000 he gets for the TV show.  No, it seems as if the primary motivation for Welk is the audience itself.  During rehearsals he spends his time not in front of the camera but in the front row, hobnobbing with his fans.  "He laughs, jokes and dances with an ease he admits he can't achieve on TV," Johnson writes.  "Without close personal contact with my audience," Welk says, "I just wouldn't be anything."

Lawrence Welk was something, for more years than almost any television host.  His network program ran from 1955 to 1971 (he started on local TV in Los Angeles in 1951), and in first-run syndication until 1982.  Reruns of the show continue on PBS.  It is quite a story - an American story, one might say.  And on Independence Day week, why not?

***

We've taken a good look at Monday; let's see some of the highlights from the rest of the week.

On Saturday, we have another episode of Ernie Kovacs' ill-advised game show, Take a Good Look.  I'm not saying the show was bad; no show with Kovacs can be completely without merit.  It's just that a game show is so wrong for Kovacs' brand of bizarre humor.  Unfortunately, Ernie's bizarre methods of finance led to a large lien from the IRS, which resulted in his being forced to take on programs like this.  Tonight's panel includes wife Edie, Hans Conried, and Cesar Romero, which is pretty promising.  Couldn't find that particular episode on YouTube, but here's the show from a couple of weeks later for you to judge for yourself.  OK, maybe it's just an excuse to show Kovacs, but still  - Kovacs!


You know how sometimes TV Guide, especially in this time period, uses some very generic titles for programs?  Well, on Sunday we have one of the most generic: Mystery Show, which I have to think must have had a sponsor's name or something attached to it.  It's a mystery anthology, and tonight's episode is "Murder Me Nicely," with Everett Sloane as a jealous teacher plotting to wreck a successful young student's life.

*Yes, I just checked: it was The Chevy Mystery Show.  Still pretty generic if you ask me.  It was made in color; I wonder if the opening titles were black and yellow?

On Tuesday, it's the precursor of today's CSI shows: Diagnosis: Unknown*, starring Patrick O'Neal as Dr. Daniel Coffee, a a big-city pathologist who solves mysteries with "an eye peering through a microscope."  He's joined by Chester Morris, who came to fame as crime-fighter Boston Blackie, playing helpful police lieutenant Ritter, and the always-cute Phyllis Newman as his "pretty lab technician" Doris.  It's the summer replacement for The Garry Moore Show.

*Like CSI, a product of CBS.  Again: coincidence?

Also on Tuesday but on ABC, an episode of One Step Beyond (or as the listing here has it, Alcoa Presents) entitled "The Day the World Wept," which I just happened to see the other day myself.  It's a very interesting dramatization of the premonitions people around the nation had of Lincoln's assassination - including, famously, Lincoln himself.

Friday's episode of The Twilight Zone is one of the series' most iconic: "Time Enough at Last," starring Burgess Meredith as the bookworm who survives a nuclear war only to break his glasses, leaving him unable to read his beloved books.

Earlier that evening, CBS has another episode of a series that I'll admit I've never heard of, Hotel de Paree, with Earl Holliman as a reformed gunfighter turned hotel owner.  An article elsewhere in this issue discusses Holliman's own dissatisfaction with the show - or perhaps puzzlement would be more appropriate.  He's turned down offers of other series that aren't as good, aren't as highly rated, but wind up with a longer shelf life than Paree.  The first few shows, he admits, were terrible; the quality subsequently improved, but not enough to save the show from the chopping block.  It'll run repeats throughout the summer, then disappear into the ether, like so many other failed series.

***

And now, since we still have a few days until the Fourth, here are those recipes that even men can make.  On our holiday menu: Chicken Casserole and Vegetable Compote, courtesy of Sue Lawler:


And here's the final product.  As Ernie Kovacs would say, take a good look.  If anybody tries this out, let us know!

5 comments:

  1. Funny thing is I just got a 1961 issue of TV Guide that features a Kovacs profile. As the article put it: "The trouble is he tried to pull his punches, to kid himself and his audience into thinking they actually were watching a panel show. 'What we we really doing was satirizing a panel' he insists. 'Trouble was nobody knew it' ".

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  2. Lawrence Welk invested his money wisely. There are office buildings, resorts, and theatres (though the family has sold its pop standards catalogue recently) that he built with his revenue from performances, along with his surviving band members' vingettes they frequentily film today from Welk properties.

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  3. Perhaps Lawrence Welk did "antagonize the young people" in 1960, but it's worth noting that in February 1961 he'd have the #1 single on the Hot 100 with "Calcutta," nosing out the Shirelles and the Miracles. Some of the kids must have liked it, if only because it's got a bit of a backbeat in one spot. On the other hand, Bert Kaempfert and Ferrante and Teicher also had big hits at the same time, so Mom and Dad's music was doing pretty well yet.

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    1. To me, "Calcutta" repeated a pattern from Les Baxter's "Poor People of Paris" (1956), and then The Tornadoes repeated it in "Telstar" (1962): a simple repeated number of bars of music, done each time with a different group of instruments, and then redone the last time with vocal humming. I can tell that The Tornadoes are Brits by their humming in their last verse. These songs are appealing to me in their simplicity, and always worth a listen.

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  4. OK, I just sneaked back here after having put one up at the next post, but I just had a thought ...

    It was in 1965, fifty years ago, that I bought my first ever copy of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine - the June 1965 issue, cover price 50 cents.
    This became a regular monthly purchase for me from that time forward - and remains so to the present day.
    It was several months in that I bought a copy that billboarded on its cover, the latest "Dr. Coffee novelet" by Lawrence G. Blochman - several years after the CBS summer series had its short run.
    I recalled at that time that CBS had been impressed by the fact that Diagnosis: Unknown had maintained much of CBS's audience that summer, and the network was "seriously considering" bringing it back ... but of course, they didn't ...
    Lawrence Blochman continued to write about Dr. Coffee for EQMM until his own death in 1975.
    TV isn't everything, I guess ...

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