June 6, 2015

This week in TV Guide: June 6, 1970

This week's review is dominated by legal and political issues that go a long way toward describing the transition of the turmoil of the '60s into the '70, and how America's cultural atmosphere has evolved since then to the point that it becomes difficult nowadays to imagine that it was ever any other way.  But don't worry; there's plenty of fun stuff in store as well!

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I've always remembered something my 10th grade social studies teacher said.  It was before class, on a day when us students were talking about what we wanted to do with our lives - what colleges we hoped to be attending, what jobs we wanted to have.  "You know," he said, "a few years ago you wouldn't have been having this conversation.  You'd have been wondering when you'd be drafted, and whether or not you'd wind up in Vietnam."

He was right; the military draft had ended less than four years ago, and although we'd wind up having to sign up for selective service before we were out of college, by 1976 the idea of being drafted to fight in a foreign war was the furthest thing from our own plans. But in June 1970 the draft was a very real thing and, as the TV Guide listing for the June 6 ABC News Special "The Draft: Who Serves?" notes, men of draft age have four choices: "consent to induction, hope for deferments, refuse to report (and risk imprisonment) or leave the country."

The military draft was one of the stormiest parts of the antiwar movement, and I think the main reason protests over the Gulf Wars have never reached a critical level is that there is no draft to spread the threat around, to make the prospects of fighting more immediate for every young man and woman of a particular age.  That's what having an all-volunteer army has done for us, and as early as 1970 the prospects of such an army were under discussion in this special, as well as various inequities already existing in the draft, and the possibilities of increased future deferments.  Roger Peterson, the veteran ABC correspondent who was a native of the Twin Cities and started his television career at KSTP, is the primary reporter for a special that, as much as anything, shows us how much American culture has changed in the intervening 45 years.

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Another program that highlights how times have changed is The Today Show from Thursday, as baseball writer Leonard Koppett discusses one of the most controversial aspects of the game: the reserve clause.

The reserve clause was a standard part of the player contract, and its very simplicity belied its contentiousness.  It stated that once a player's contract with his team expired, the team continued to retain the rights to that player.  Although he could not play for them unless he was under an active contract, the team could still trade him, send him to the minor leagues, sell him to another team, or release him.  Only in the last case, if he was released, would he be free to sign with the team of his choice.  In all other aspects his ability to earn a livelihood was entirely at the whim of the team holding his contract.

The clause was always controversial; for owners, it was the principal means by which salaries were held under control and teams held together.  For players, it meant being locked into service with a club until and unless they decided otherwise.  If the player did change clubs, he had little if any say in where he would wind up unless he'd been given his unconditional release.  If that were to happen, he would become what was known as a "free agent," and it didn't happen very often.  The reserve clause was often the target of reformers; when the Branch Rickey and the Continental League made noises about challenging the two existing major leagues, the abolition of the reserve clause was a fundamental part of their plan.

Flood v. Kuhn reaches the Supreme Court in 1972
Koppett's appearance on Today is likely tied to the ongoing court case of Flood v. Kuhn.  Following the 1969 season, Curt Flood, a star center fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals, was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, one of the worst teams in baseball.  Flood refused to report to the Phillies, and sat out the entire 1970 season.  In addition, he brought suit against Major League Baseball and its Commissioner, Bowie Kuhn, challenging the constitutionality of the clause.  The case, supported by the newly empowered Major League Baseball Players Association and its dynamic leader Martin Miller, went to trial in May 1970, and it continued through June and the time of this issue.  Flood lost at the trial level, and the case eventually made it all the way to the United States Supreme Court, where the reserve clause was upheld in 1972 by a 5-3 vote, with an incomprehensible opinion authored by Justice Harry Blackmun, based on baseball's exemption from federal antitrust laws.*

*Blackmun also authored the equally incomprehensible opinion in Roe v. Wade, for what it's worth.

It would not be until 1975 that the reserve clause was essentially abolished, when an arbitrator ruled that any player who played without a contract for one season became a free agent.  The players and owners would later agree to the terms of free agency in a future collective bargaining agreement.

***

This week's letters section is dominated by responses to an article in the May 16 issue written by Vice President Spiro Agnew*.  The article, entitled "Another Challenge to the Television Industry," continues Agnew's attack on the objectivity of television news, which he describes as "manufactured news: revolutionary theater brought into millions of living rooms by the networks." "How much disorder, how many of these illegal demonstrations which pockmark the country would ever take place if the ever-present television camera were not there?"  Agnew holds out hope that the networks will eventually understand their implicit obligations to the welfare of American society, that "most of the leaders of this great industry are willing to accept the responsibility of citizenship along with its benefits.

*It's the cover story, with the cover illustration painted by Norman Rockwell, no less.

Surveys throughout the period show a constant level of support for Agnew's media attacks, as in this letter from S. Richmond of Manitowoc, Wisconsin: "It's about time people realize that violence and depressing news is contagious and spreads (especially in young minds).  It's about time the networks stop trying for the largest audiences and start thinking about improving the outlook of our great country before it's too late!"  Rheba Wellborn of Decatur, Georgia agrees, saying "I hope television will do something soon to help reverse the situation of deterioration and corruption that has evolved within our Nation as a result of ill-directed program planning."  On the other hand, B.J. Butler of Los Angeles, while acknowledging that "TV has room for improvement just as Mr. Agnew has room for improvement," adds that TV shouldn't get all the blame.  "TV is not God, TV is not Congress, TV is not a substitute parent or teacher.  TV can only reflect human nature.  It has yet to make it."*

*An argument similar to some of mine, in which I've cautioned that television is neither good nor bad, but morally neutral.  However, I diverge from Butler, who writes that TV "has yet to make" human nature.  True, but it has an immense power to shape it.

William H. Race of Palo Alto, California (home of Stanford University) takes issue with Agnew's accusation that television encourages demonstrations: "How then does he account for the past two decades of demonstrations in Latin America and Europe, where TV played little or no role?  With that reasoning, one might as well blame television for the war it is covering in every news broadcast." Michael Woodhouse of Ewa Beach, Hawaii agrees, writing that Agnew ignores "the real cause for demonstrations: an immoral war or a polluted environment."  Sally Ann Yater of Easton, Maryland counters that her family is living proof of Agnew's argument. "I wholeheartedly agree with the Vice President", she says, and adds that "my family goes for days, sometimes weeks, without finding anything worth-while on TV."

The letters section is usually a representative sampling of the correspondence TV Guide receives, which indicates how divided the country is on the issue and, by extension, illustrates the social turmoil enveloping the nation.  Not unlike what we're going through today, perhaps, although the letter writers were a lot more civil about it back then.

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Enough with all this!  Let's find something a little less controversial - the Emmy Awards, maybe.  It continues our theme of the '60s transitioning to the '70s, albeit not quite as contentiously.

As we know, the Emmys used to be presented at the conclusion of the first-run television season, rather than prior to the beginning of the new season.  Therefore, we're not surprised to find the 1969-70 awards scheduled for Sunday, June 7 on ABC.  For the last time, the show is bi-coastal, with awards presented both in Hollywood (hosted by Bill Cosby) and New York (Dick Cavett), and it's a most intriguing lineup of nominations.  Once again, the categories are Drama, Comedy and Variety series, joined by Best New Series, Best Single Dramatic Program and Best Single Music/Variety Program (the later two comprised of special programs and regular episodes of a series).

Here are the nominees in various categories; as is usually the case here, I'll give you the winners at the end.

Best New Series:
The Bill Cosby Show (NBC)
The Forsyte Saga (NET)
Marcus Welby, M.D. (ABC)
Room 222 (ABC)
Sesame Street (NET)

Best Drama Series:
The Forsyte Saga (NET)
Ironside (NBC)
Marcus Welby, M.D. (ABC)
The Mod Squad (ABC)
The Name of the Game (NBC)
NET Playhouse (NET)

Best Comedy Series:
The Bill Cosby Show (NBC)
The Courtship of Eddie's Father (ABC)
Love, American Style (ABC)
My World and Welcome to It (NBC)
Room 222 (ABC)

Best Dramatic Actor:
Raymond Burr, Ironside (NBC)
Mike Connors, Mannix (CBS)
Robert Wagner, It Takes a Thief (ABC)
Robert Young, Marcus Welby, M.D. (ABC)

Best Dramatic Actress:
Joan Blondell, Here Come the Brides (ABC)
Susan Hampshire, The Forsyte Saga (NET)
Peggy Lipton, The Mod Squad (ABC)

Best Comedy Actor:
Bill Cosby, The Bill Cosby Show (NBC)
Lloyd Haynes, Room 222 (ABC)
William Windom, My World and Welcome to It (NBC)

Best Comedy Actress:
Hope Lange, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (NBC)
Elizabeth Montgomery, Bewitched (ABC)
Marlo Thomas, That Girl (ABC)

***

It doesn't seem as if we've discussed much actual TV this week, does it?  In addition to the heavy issues we're looking at, it's because we've entered rerun season; almost every series has started showing repeats, while the summer replacement series haven't yet made their debut.  Nonetheless, there are still some things to look at with our quick hits.

One carryover from the '60s is the variety show, and the airwaves are still full of them, from the long-running Jackie Gleason, Ed Sullivan, Andy Williams, Dean Martin and Red Skelton shows to the relative newcomers: Jim Nabors, Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck, Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell.  If you're a celebrity looking to make a TV appearance and you can't find one this week, you've got no excuses.

There are also specials: NET presents a "relevant" version of Hamlet on Friday night, one that mixes the ancient and the contemporary, while CBS presents a repeat showing of the latest "Peanuts" special, You're in Love, Charlie Brown, and ABC gives us the latest in their series of specials on The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.

As for sports, for the second week in a row we see the finale of horse racing's Triple Crown with the 101st running of the Belmont Stakes.  There's no Triple Crown at stake this year, as High Echelon gallops through the slop to an upset victory.  On Sunday afternoon, CBS' NFL Action presents films of the final American Football League game ever played - the 1969 Championship Game between the Raiders and Chiefs, which the Chiefs win on the way to victory in Super Bowl IV.  Now that the NFL and AFL are officially merged, it's OK for NFL Action to admit the AFL exists, I guess.

Of course, we rely on the sitcoms to deal with the issues of the day: The Brady Bunch debates what to do with 94 books of trading stamps, The Governor and J.J. investigates dirty books, That Girl wants to get to the bottom of Don's Las Vegas marriage, and Tom tries to master the art of finger sandwiches on The Courtship of Eddie's Father.  Not to be outdone, dramas get their moment in the sun: Ed gets blamed for a fatal beating on Ironside, Welby deals with a young leukemia patient on Marcus Welby, M.D., Vietnamese war victims are treated by Gannon on Medical Center, and the primetime soap Harold Robbins' The Survivors returns for summer reruns, giving us all a chance to see if it's as big a bomb as it was in first-run.

***

And now the answers to our Emmy quiz.  If you're reading this on a laptop or tablet, just turn it upside down.  If it's a desktop, turn yourself upside down.


2 comments:

  1. Me-TV reran that Brady Bunch episode ("54-40 or Fight") earlier today, and it had a rerun scene from another episode (Tiger the dog covered in trading stamps) within it.
    I'd love to have a chance to see My World and Welcome to It. It won Best Comedy Series & Best Actor (for William Windom) despite being cancelled by NBC.
    The Robert Young profile looks interesting, maybe getting a bit into the mental illness he faced through so much of his life. He still seemed to keep himself together on tv & in movies pretty well.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The repeat scene was Tiger being bathed by Alice, from the episode where it looked like Jan was allergic to him. It was put in to explain how he ended up with a batch of trading stamps stuck to him.

    ReplyDelete

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