We don't talk as much today about political correctness as we used to, back when we were a little more naive, primarily because in so many ways it's evolved into a malignant form of fascism. But in truth, the fear of offense has always been present in television: offending the sponsor, offending the network, even offending the viewer.
I wrote plenty last time about Henry Morgan, but I'm going to borrow a line from the interview with him, in which he says that mass audiences can't "stomach" strong opinions. "That is why aired humor is bland and foolish." It's a pity, because the Founders had strong, even violent, opinions. But "after opinion goes, the nation must." That's a good lead-in to Edith Efron's cover story, in which the offending language is literally political, as she examines why there is so little political criticism of the current Administration. I mentioned this briefly last time, but this time we'll examine it a little more closely.
The answer is an easy one, at least according to the stations themselves: fear of the federal government. The former head of the National Council of Broadcasters, LeRoy Collins, says "The broadcasters are more deeply worried about the FCC than has been the case for many years." Newton Minow, back when he was head of the FCC, acknowledged that "there is fear of Government in the broadcasting industry, particularly in radio." Current commissioner Kenneth Cox says "My lawyer friends who practice before the Commission say: '[The networks] tremble in their boots. They're terrified!'" And the new FCC Chairman, E. William Henry, says it most bluntly: "They're afraid of reprisals and lost profits."
The FCC looks to push public affairs programming into prime time, but such shows are often thwarted by the deadly combination of low ratings and the avoidance of anything that might offend someone. And that someone is, according to critics, the government. Cox, who believes that the broadcasters' fears that his lawyer friends tell him about is exaggerated, counters that this is not the government causing the "due to taking the line of least resistance." Networks know the shows are ratings killers and that sponsors aren't interested, so "let's not get into a hassle over anything."
There are no easy answers to the situation. Some say the answer is to get the government out of the communications business altogether. Newton Minow comes up with the most interesting proposal: abolish the FCC. His argument is that you can't both make policy and judge cases. Better that you have an administrator to lay down the policy, and an administrative court judge how it's implemented.
Are things any different today, 50+ years later? Well, yes and no. Networks certainly don't have any trouble criticizing politicians nowadays, as long as they belong to a particular political party. Try criticizing the other party, though, and the fear of reprisal is strong. I think everyone would agree that political coverage itself remains woefully weak and unchallenging.
Sports is always a favorite here at the blog, and I was going to give it some quality space here - but there's not much to talk about. The Twins must be at home this Saturday, which would explain the lack of baseball on Saturday afternoon; in fact, aside from Championship Bowling, the only sports to be found is on ABC's Wide World of Sports, which offers coverage of the AAU National Swimming Championships and the Formula 1 Grand Prix of Germany. Saturday night offers ABC's prime time boxing, as welterweight champion Emile Griffith takes on Holly Mims in a middleweight non-title bout. Griffith takes a 10-round decision. As for Sunday, CBS' Top Star Bowling is all you're going to get. I've said it before and I'll say it again - what a difference from today.
Last week we took a look at some ads for local TV news; let's see some of the other ads you might find in this Twin Cities edition.
Critics Award Theater - yes, I have fond memories of this. Not so much for the movies, although some of them were pretty good, but for the format. As you can see, the program was sponsored by the Iron Mining Industry of Minnesota and hosted by Earl Henton, who would present a short film at the beginning of the program extolling the virtues of taconite mining. In return for sitting through the extended commercial, you'd be treated to a movie run without commercial interruption. That was a big deal back then. Check out that link to Henton; it's a great look at the TV of the era.
I wondered last week where the ad was for the Channel 4 news, and here it is! Dave Moore was, and still is for those who remember him, a legend in Twin Cities news. Trained as an actor, he was able not only to deliver the news in a straight, no-nonsense way, he also could do the outrageous Bedtime Nooz, as well as his thoughtful Andy Rooneyesque essays. He helped establish Channel 4 as the news leader in the Cities, a role it has seldom relinquished since.
One Step Beyond. It was known as Alcoa Presents when it was a first-run network program, but it's best known by its subtitle, which is how it was billed in syndication. It's the kind of show that indy stations such as WTCN were made of, along with -
At this point Death Valley Days is on Channel 9, the ABC affiliate, but for most of my youth it too appeared on WTCN. If I'm not mistaken, Death Valley Days is one of the longest running syndicated shows ever made - it was never a network program. Ah, for the days of 20 Mule Team Borax.
This would have been when Wagon Train was still on its network run on ABC. Later on, it would be seen afternoons under the title Major Adams, Trailmaster. Of course, that was when Ward Bond, as Major Adams, was in the series. By this time it's John McIntire, whom I like so much in the first season of The Naked City, playing the trail boss.
I wrote about this the last time we visited this issue, but this is a great ad for the International Beauty Spectacular, featuring NBC's go-to guy, Lorne Greene. What impresses me is how they made Long Beach into a glamour spot.
Speaking of two scoops, as we may well have been, puts me in mind of the most popular ice cream of my youth, made by Bridgeman. You could buy it in the stores, but most of the time you got it in one of the many Bridgeman restaurants scattered around the Twin Cities.
I used to love going to Bridgeman's for dinner on Saturday nights. They'd have the menu printed on the paper placemats, each choice numbered and accompanied with a drawing of the entree and the sundae that accompanied it. Just as vividly, I remember not feeling well one Saturday and having my grandma bring a chocolate malt home for me to eat while watching USC play UCLA. UCLA won the game, but didn't go to the Rose Bowl, which leads me to think that the time I'm thinking of must have been in 1970. Don't ask me how I remember these things, I just do. I'll bet a lot of people used to eat Bridgeman's ice cream while watching television - someday I'll show you the ad for their "Shamus Sundae."
The ad below has nothing to do with television, although I suspect you might have been able to purchase one at W.T. Grant. I don't particularly remember the store, but I know exactly where it was located in downtown Minneapolis. This was the kind of ad you used to see all the time in TV Guide, although you think of it more as being in the newspaper.
There are other ads in this issue for reupholstery stores and glue. They give the magazine a real slice of local flavor, aside from the programs themselves. It is, again, a look into the time capsule of TV Guide.