October 31, 2015

This week in TV Guide: November 3, 1962

What could be more frightening on Halloween than talking about politics?

Yes, there was once a time when the midterm elections were considered a big deal, and the networks would preempt their entire prime-time lineup to present the returns as they came in. There were experts for House and Senate races, experts for each region of the country, key contests that would help determine the direction the country would take over the next couple of years, and the decade beyond.

Now? A yawn, and well-deserved. The networks present, I don't, know, perhaps an hour of coverage. Midterms are, for the most part, of local interest only, and your broadcast stations may update viewers more often through breakaways and scrolling returns. Cable is where the action is, but there you're confronted by yelling and shouting, pundits pontificating and bloviating, spin doctors from each party urging us to believe them and not our own lying eyes. That's not to say that such things didn't exist in 1962; they did. If you go to YouTube and catch any election coverage from the '60s, you're going to find a fair share of most of these things, except for the shouting (well, they were more civilized back then). One of the key differences, I think, is that back in 1962 the average American was expected to be interested in politics - it was our future they were talking about, after all. Today, politics is a niche interest, like home improvement television or those men who watch My Little Pony. And my suspicion is that we're worse off for it. But then, to have favored a presidential debate the other night instead of watching the World Series? Why, that's absolutely un-American.

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This is the kind of issue I love to run into. There was no compelling reason to purchase it save I needed one for this particular week in order to continue the series; were I just collecting them for my own edification and amusement, I might not ever have purchased it. But the fun starts off right away, with the editorial (likely written, as most of them were, by Merrill Pannit) empathizing with those viewers who complain when two quality shows are being broadcast at the same time. "Some would like to see Perry Mason and Dr. Kildare and The Nurses. But the last half of Perry Mason is on at the same time as the firs thalf of Dr. Kildare, and the last half of Dr. Kildare is on a the same time as the first half of The Nurses."

The plea from viewers, as always, is for the networks to stop doing this. But legally they can't collude over their schedules, and anyway what good would that do? It's like admitting to the public, "You love Perry Mason, so we're going to schedule this crap program on opposite it so you don't have to choose." Tell me, do you really think you're going to hear this anytime soon? TV Guide reminds viewers that they can always catch up on what they've missed during the summer rerun season, They only urge networks not to intentionally attempt to schedule successful shows against each other as a weapon, to try and drag down the ratings of a popular program - what today we call "counterprogramming."

Don't you think, somewhere out there, someone reads this and thinks to themselves, "That videotape technology that we know is coming down the pike - wouldn't it be something if we could miniaturize it, perhaps to the point where it would fit on top of someone's home television? Then if two of their favorite shows were on at the same time they could record one of them, and watch it later. We could even put a little clock on the front of the machine, so they could always tell what time it is. It shouldn't be too hard - if they can only set a clock, they'll be able to program the machine easily."

Nah - It'll never work.

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The "For the Record" section, in a piece entitled "Fateful Days," praises the networks' effort regarding their coverage of events on "the night of Oct. 22." Says Henry Harding, "Television has served [the public] well - or, at least, as well as it could considering the fact that so much secrecy and mystery has shrouded the intentions of the cold war adversaries."

Though it's not referred to even once by name, what Harding is writing about is the Cuban Missile Crisis*, and President Kennedy's dramatic speech announcing the quarantine of Cuba. It was, quite possibly, the most intense, anxious event covered by television to that time, the questions of the highest stake: "What was the reaction in Moscow? In Havana? At the United Nations? Would the Caribbean become a battlefield? Would thermonuclear war be provoked?" I remember my mother once telling me how she'd watched the speech holding my two-year-old self on her lap, wondering if this was going to be the end and, if so, determined that the two of us would go through it together. That's the kind of tension that was in the air that month.

*Which begs the question: how long did it take before it become known by that name? So far I haven't been able to find out, though admittedly I haven't done that much research on it.

There's a general consensus that the new medium covered this story pretty well, although "the information supplied by TV could never be adequate to satisfy the public's appetite and need to be informed. But it is some comfort to know that, as news breaks, a twist of the television dial can make it available to every American." Little did anyone know that just over a year later, television would cover a story that dwarfed this one and, in the process, reach its full maturity in terms of how it could serve the public.

Here's the complete speech. I haven't been able to track down the original televised version, although bits and pieces of it appear in other contexts, particularly the network coverage following JFK's assassination. However, if you look carefully during this one you can still see some of the artifacts from how television addresses of the time were done: there's a riser in front of Kennedy to make it easier for him to look at the written speech, since the TelePrompTer hasn't yet come into use. And there's a backdrop behind him, blocking the Oval Office windows, allowing for a better television background. Far different from how things are done today.


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On Sunday night's G.E. True (9:30 ET, CBS), host Jack Webb introduces "The Handmade Private," starring Jerry Van Dyke. The ad asks us to "watch what happens when two GI's invent a soldier...who soon becomes so "alive" that he not only turns an entire army camp upside down, but triggers a manhunt that reaches 'round the world...proves that truth can be funnier than fiction."

Gee, that sounds like a great idea for a story - I wonder how the writer thought it up?

Perhaps better-known than the story is the music it inspired, by Prokofiev. And if you doubt you know anything about it, I'll bet it's more familiar than you think.

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SOURCE ALL: HADLEY TV GUIDES
It can't be a coincidence that WBZ, Channel 4 in Boston, is running the political drama The Last Hurrah this week (Saturday, 11:15pm); it has to be in honor of this week's elections, which marks the first time I can recall a station treating election season as a time for seasonal programming. Imagine if we did political movies in October and early November, the same way we do Christmas movies in December. It might look something like this. I wonder why it never caught on, said nobody ever.

Nonetheless, The Last Hurrah, based on the novel by Edwin O'Connor is a worthy movie, with Spencer Tracy wonderful as an old-time party boss conducting his last campaign for reelection as mayor of a New England city (never named, but assumed to be Boston). One of the themes running through the story is Tracy's character, Frank Skeffington, inviting his nephew to observe not just his last hurrah, but perhaps the last hurrah of urban politics as we know it, the politics of glad-handing and neighborhood wakes, rallys and speeches, before this world is changed forever by radio and television. And although the movie was made in 1958 (and the book written in 1956), it is in fact true that Skeffington's world will very soon be a thing of the past, due in no small part to a politician from New England who effectively utilizes mass media in his election as president in 1960.

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One of the casualties of the Missile Crisis I mentioned above is a NBC news documentary entitled "The Tunnel," which tells the story of East Germans escaping through a tunnel dug under the Berlin Wall. It was controversial to begin with, as NBC helps "finance the tunnel by buying the right film its construction and the escape of refugees." Apparently that makes the State Department a little uncomfortable, and although they didn't ask NBC to shelve the program, the network does make the decision to delay its original broadcast date of October 31 because of the Cuban crisis.  When it does eventually air, on December 10, it is to critical acclaim. The documentary will go on to win three Emmy awards, including "Program of the Year."

On balance, I think postponing the program was probably a wise move, which makes me wonder how NBC felt about Thursday's docudrama on CBS' Armstrong Circle Theatre.  It's called "Tunnel to Freedom," and documents "the story of a group of elderly East Berliners who, no longer able to tolerate Communist oppression, planned a 100-foot tunnel under the Berlin Wall."  Sounds a little familiar, don't you think?

By the way, "The Tunnel" is well worth your time, an engrossing documentary.  You can check it out here if you so desire:



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Airing opposite Armstrong Circle Theatre at 10:00 is NBC's psychiatry drama The Eleventh Hour. Like its ABC counterpart Breaking Point, The Eleventh Hour was a spinoff from a successful medical drama (Dr. Kildare, as Breaking Point came from Ben Casey), and it dealt with the relevant issues of the day. Among those issues were some that you just did not talk about in public, and I think this ad below epitomizes that perfectly:


No need to explain, in 1962, what it meant when your teenage daughter was "in trouble."

***

Not much in the sporting world, but I'll make mention of Saturday's college football game of the week between Notre Dame and Navy, played at Navy's occasional port-of-call, Philadelphia. The Fighting Irish are in the midst of a slump that won't end for a couple more years, while the Middies, led by future Heisman winner Roger Staubach, is one season away from challenging for the national championship. Both teams will finish this season with records of 5-5, and Notre Dame will come out on top in this week's clash, 20-12.

On Sunday the NFL game on CBS pairs the St. Louis football Cardinals and the New York football Giants at Yankee Stadium, while ABC's AFL clash is an interstate showdown between the Houston Oilers and Dallas Texans at the Cotton Bowl. Later in the year, the two teams will meet again in the AFL championship game, the oldest extant AFL television broadcast, and at the time the longest professional football game ever played; Dallas defeats Houston 20-17 in double overtime, and then moves to Kansas City and becomes the Chiefs.

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Finally, this week's starlet is Roberta Shore, who currently appears as a regular on The Virginian. One of the most interesting things about Roberta, according to the article, is her middle name: Jymme. (Gee, I'd have thought they could find something more interesting than that.) She'd had a pretty robust career to this point, with numerous appearances on television and co-starring roles in several Disney productions, but The Virginian is probably her high point. She is a regular for the first three seasons and then is married off to Glenn Corbett in the fourth season.

After that, according to the always-reliable Wikipedia, her career pretty much tails off. She does a pilot and makes a few more appearances here and there, but with the exception of a radio gig in the early '80s, that's about it. She's still alive though, at the age of 72, which is more than can be said for many of the people in this issue.

8 comments:

  1. Great point that midterm elections were a big deal in the past; heck, even the odd-year elections got specials on local TV stations. When did the all night network coverage of the midterms end, and did any local stations (whether affiliates or indys) just have their own midterm election coverage?

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    1. I know that as of a few years ago, Minneapolis-St. Paul stations would perhaps block out an hour from 9-10 for election returns, and do frequent updates through the evening, but this was after the networks had phased out their own all-evening coverage. Good question as to when that happened; I'm guessing perhaps sometime in the '80s, but I'm not positive. Sometimes you used to have to wait forever for returns from the West Coast!

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  2. I interviewed Roberta Shore for an article on the 50th anniversary of "The Virginian." Nice lady. But for me her career highlight was in the "Annette" serial on The Mickey Mouse Club. She was so wonderfully bitchy, but of course our virtuous Annette eventually helped her see the error of her ways.

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    1. I had never seen "Annette" before, but bought it on a whim when it first came to DVD based on my general love of that era in television, and I'm so glad I did. I started watching it while my wife was sitting in the TV room working on her laptop, and when the first episode was over she cursed me for getting her sucked into the series. So it still holds up today and not just for nostalgia buffs (as she isn't one). I couldn't touch it now, it's going for over $80 and according to canistreamit, it's not available to stream anywhere.

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  3. Remember a few weeks back, when you wrote about a Defenders episode that seemed to be "inspired" by The Fugitive - and I had to tell you that the Defenders episode aired long before The Fugitive was even on the ABC schedule?

    The word we're talking about here is coincidence.

    G.E. True was sold to CBS by Jack Webb as being "all-true" stories from the magazine of the same name.
    Apparently, this particular show was about a scam that two GIs perpetrated on their superior during WWII. Now, it may well be that two dogfaces would be familiar enough with Russian literature to lift the cited work for their own purposes - but, I mean, really?

    I created a "word" for my own use a while back: pheph (pronounced "feff").
    It's an acronym: Post hoc, ergo propter hoc = after me, therefore because of me.
    I think of it whenever I see or read someone try to make a connection between events that have no real relation beyond a few common elements.
    It's a sound principle; legally, it's the reason that so few plagiarism lawsuits get past the filing stage.
    Anyway, I haven't trademarked the word (wouldn't know how, anyway), so here it is:
    PHEPH
    Use it in good health.

    About The Last Hurrah:
    Next time you see it, take a good look at the handsome young Monsignor who's the Cardinal's assistant.
    No spoiler - see for yourself.

    So Roberta Shore is now 72 years old.
    You pick the darnedest things to single out in these TV Guides.
    You mean that you missed the cover story about Stanley Holloway, who came to Hollywood to star in a sitcom - at 72 years old?
    Sometimes, I wonder ...

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    1. You know, I really hesitated over Stanley Holloway, whom I remember fondly; there was a wonderful cartoon-type ad for his show in one of my other issues. But you know how it is; so many things, so little time.

      I haven't watched "The Last Hurrah" for some time, so I'll have to go back and check the Monsignor - I won't look it up on IMDB, I promise! One thing I do remember is that Spencer Tracy's version was miles better than Carroll O'Connor's.

      Thanks for PHEPH!

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  4. Personally, what I think ABC, CBS, and NBC should do for the 2018 midterm election night is to only feed twenty minutes of programming (all of which would be election coverage) each hour (ten minutes at the top and ten minutes at the bottom of each hour), and turn over the rest of the evening to local affiliates, and encourage them to produce forty minutes an hour of local election coverage.

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Thanks for writing! Drive safely!