November 14, 2015

This week in TV Guide: November 16, 1968

It's Sunday, November 17. A perfect fall day, perhaps a slight chill in the air, but not quite close enough to December for snow. Thanksgiving's coming up a week from this Thursday, and the wife wants to make sure everything's in shape for when the family comes over. So after church, you might have spent some time outside, raking the last of the leaves, or freshening up the trim around the windows, finishing up the Honey-Do list.

Afterwards, you're ready for a little time to yourself, so while the wife is doing some shopping and the kids are playing outside, you settle in to your barcalounger with a cold drink and a snack and turn on the TV to catch the late football game. You have your choice, but instead of the NFL's Rams-49ers on CBS, you decide to go with the AFL game on NBC, pitting the New York Jets against the Oakland Raiders, a showdown between the two best teams in the league.

And what a game it is; with Joe Namath of the Jets and Daryle Lamonica of the Raiders trading touchdown passes, the two teams trade the lead throughout the game. The Raiders lead 14-12 at the half, but early in the 4th quarter Namath launches a 50-year touchdown pass to his favorite receiver, Don Maynard, and the Jets take a 26-22 lead. By now the wife is home and dinner's cooking; the kids have finished their homework and everyone's ready to eat, but it's been a long game, what with scoring and penalties and incomplete passes, it's already dragged well past the time you would have expected it to be done. After a Jets field goal, the Raiders drive down the field and Lamonica tosses a 22-yard touchdown to the great Fred Biletnikoff with four minutes left to tie the game 29-29. Then, with a little over a minute to play, another field goal puts the Jets back in the lead, 32-29. "Can you keep it down?" you yell to your impatient wife, "I'm watching the game!"

Indeed it is, although you don't know it at the time. Not until after the Jets kick off, and suddenly you find yourself watching not the end of the game, but the beginning of - a movie? "What the hell is this?" you shout, jumping out of your chair, spilling your drink, your face as red as a beet. Your wife comes in, hushing you - "not around the children." You don't care. "What the hell is this," you repeat, "this, movie? The game's not over! What happened to the game?  The game!" You have a few more choice things to say, things that can't be repeated on a family site. Then you pick up the phone and call the local station. It's no use; the game won't be back. Outraged, you call the sports department of the local newspaper; it takes several attempts, because the line is constantly busy (from others complaining, you assume), but finely you get through to someone, and if anything you become even angrier: it turns out that Lamonica isn't quite done yet, and with 42 seconds left he throws a 43-yard touchdown pass to put the Raiders back in front 36-32. On the ensuing kickoff, the Jets fumble; it's run back by the Raiders for another touchdown, making the score 43-32, which is how it ends. You don't know it right now, and you probably wouldn't care if you did, but you've just been a witness to one of the most famous football games ever played, one that even would up with its own name: the Heidi Game.

A number of sources, including this article and Jeff Miller's history of the AFL, Going Long, provide the rich details that prove Talleyrand's saying, "It is worse than a crime; it is a blunder."A succession of increaingly abusrd events guaranteed the game's place in infamy. Network executives tried to reach Dick Cline, NBC's broadcast supervisor, to tell him to keep the game on the air; they weren't able to get through to him because the lines were jammed by concerned viewers themselves worried that the end of the game wouldn't be shown. After the switch was made, the network president, Julian Goodman, himself called to demand that they go back to the game, but it was impossible to reach a technician who could throw the switch. Once NBC became aware of the furor erupting, they ran a crawl on the bottom of the screen telling people the final score; the crawl ran during one of the most dramatic moments in the movie, infuriating those who actually preferred Heidi to football.

Cline's dry recitation of the facts in subsequent interviews, including his response to Goodman's demand to resume the game ("Well, I'll try."), and the equally dry coverage of the events by David Brinkley on the Huntley-Brinkley Report the next night, make anniversary recaps of the game a hoot. One of the funniest occurred in 2003, when the NFL Network commemorated the game's 35th anniversary by preempting their regular schedule to broadcast the movie Heidi (the first non-sports related programming the network had ever shown), only to interrupt the movie at the climactic moment to replay the final minute of the game and the two Raiders touchdowns that most of the nation had missed back in 1968.

The Heidi Game becomes far more than a great football game; it makes the front page of the New York Times, is featured on evening news broadcasts, and proves to television executives the appeal of pro football. Never again will a football game take second fiddle to anything. But to get to that point, it has to start somewhere, and November 17, 1968 is that day.


***

Cleveland Amory's target in this week's review is The Doris Day Show, which ran on CBS for five seasons, this being the inaugural one. And I use the word "target" without reservation, given Amory's opening lines. Referring to the show's main title, with Dodo singing her best-known hit "Que Sera, Sera," (translated, "Whatever will be, will be," Amory remarks, "In this show, whatever will be, will be, all right, but it won't be good." This, he stresses, is not to be taken as an attack on Miss Day, although "she is photographed through so many filters that you feel she is not on TV but on your radio - but never mind. If she's too far away to think of as the girl next door, think of her as the girl next to the girl next door."

With that out of the way, he continues, "Unfortunately, it is now necessary to discuss - and now you can get mad - the rest of the show." Take the idea behind the show, for example, but "don't lose it, because the producers of this show sure did - if indeed they ever had one." Two of the regulars, played by Denver Pyle and Fran Ryan, number among the the two most irritating people on television. The kids aren't any better, but "don't blame them. Presumably they don't write the lines, although we wouldn't bet on it." Of supporting player James Hampton, he says, "Even when he's not on, he's a threat - there is always the chance that he will appear."

There are plots in the episodes, although Amory realizes most people won't believe that statement, but "they are buried under so many layers of cotton-candy writing, not to mention the thunderous laugh track, that they deserve better." And that's one of the nicer things he has to say. But there's hope - if you get up and butter some bread, you've got action. Ask Grandpa (Pyle) if he wants some, and if he says no, then you know something's wrong. And with that, you've got a plot.  Nowhere to go but up.

***

November is a sweeps month, so it's not surprising we see a lot of specials and the like on the schedule this week.

NBC gives us two on Saturday night: Tennessee Ernie Ford, with special guests Lucille Ball, Andy Griffith and the Golddiggers, followed by Jack Benny, with Phyllis Diller (spoofing the movie The Graduate; ugh) and Dick Clark, and cameos from Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau and Rowan and Martin. On the slightly more serious side, WMT, Channel 2 in Cedar Rapids, IA, presents one of the darkest movies of the '60s, On the Beach, with Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner and Fred Astaire in the story of a world slowly dying following a nuclear war.

Sunday gives us, in addition to the infamous Heidi, the broadcast premiere of The Sons of Katie Elder on ABC, starring John Wayne and Dean Martin. Judith Crist calls it "pleasant and lighthearted," and I'd say that's about right. The more esoteric choice would be Knife on the Water, director Roman Polanski's first feature film, on NET Playhouse.  Monday and Tuesday nights, NBC unleashes an epic blockbuster, El Cid, with Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren. El Cid has a running time of three hours and four minutes, although I suspect some of that was edited out for television. By the way, remember when longish movies were split into two parts? Sometimes, as in this case, they'd air on consecutive evenings, but I can remember when you might have to wait several days, if not an entire week, for the conclusion.

Wednesday night is the season premiere of NBC's Hallmark Hall of Fame, which makes sense since the company's got greeting cards to sell, and Christmas is right around the corner. (There will be another episode next month, just in case anyone's missed the chance to buy their cards.) This episode is, alas, not one of the series' more distinguished efforts: "A Punt, a Pass and a Prayer," starring Hugh O'Brien. I actually remember seeing this on its original broadcast; it's always difficult when actors are asked to play athletes, and while the storyline has potential (an aging football star tries to come back from a serious injury), it falls short of what one might have expected from Hall of Fame.  Up next, also on NBC, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans host the Country Music Association Awards on a special edition of Kraft Music Hall.

Thursday is dominated by friendly, familiar names. The episodes aren't themselves particularly special, but the titles are comforting to see: Daniel Boone, Ironside and The Dean Martin Show on NBC, Hawaii Five-O and The Thursday Night Movie (Cheyenne Autumn, with Richard Widmark and Carroll Baker) on CBS, and The Flying Nun, Bewitched and That Girl among the offerings on ABC. Friday has a strange piece of casting (or two or three), with CBS presenting Ensign Pulver, the sequel to Henry Fonda's classic Mister Roberts. For this effort, Jack Lemmon is replaced in the role of Pulver by Robert Walker, better known for playing young, unhinged psychotics; Burl Ives essays the role of the captain originated by James Cagney, and Walter Matthau takes over from William Powell as the ship's doctor. That casting fails me on many levels.

***

Some interesting things on the Teletype this week. We often read news of possible new series, and they often never get out of development limbo, but this time we've lucked into a batch that actually made it to the 1969 fall schedule. Michael Parks' And Then Came Bronson winds up as Then Came Bronsonafter debuting as a pilot in March of that year. It joins Bracken's World, a movie-studio drama that NBC had been considering, and ABC's Bill Bixby vehicle The Courtship of Eddie's Father, for which that network had just ordered a pilot. The only clunker in the list is a proposed CBS sitcom starring Minnie Pearl.

No starlet of the week, but Richard Martin pens a short article about a young actor named David Barton, who is said to have quite a bit of potential, as well as being an incredibly gifted student. David is 12 years old and although the odds of moving from child actor to adult star may be remote, Martin reminds us that "if it eventually happens to David Barton, just remember - you read it here first." This, of course, piqued my curiosity, and I'd love to be able to report that young Barton did in fact go on to a long and successful career. I could report that, but if I did, I would be lying to you. According to IMDB, Barton appeared in several television series between 1969 and 1974, but with the exception of the role of "Delivery Man" in the 2000 movie Endsville, he hasn't been seen since he played "Boy in Chains" in To Wong Foo Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar. the 1995 cult movie. Oh well, these things don't always work out. David, if you're out there and you read this, let us know what you've been up to.

***

Finally, I mentioned that Christmas is just around the corner, and proof of that is a string of ads for Mattel's new toy line, which they have helpfully pointed out to parents by letting them know when their commercials can be seen on TV.

For example, there's this reminder that on Tuesday night, you can catch commercials for Strange Change, "the toy that turns time capsules into monsters over and over again!" on I Dream of Jeannie at 6:30, while Skediddle Kiddles and Disneyland See 'n' Say can be seen on The Avengers, also at 6:30. Incidentally, if you want to see how Strange Change works, or if you had it when you were little and just want to relive the memories, here's a clip of it in action.


I loved the Matt Mason toys when they came out. I was already a long-term space buff at that point, and I collected all the different astronauts, along with the moonwalker, the space station, the play set, and other things, I'm sure. This could well be the very commercial - I'm surprised they couldn't find a science fiction series to put this on.


Since Barbie was born, has there ever been a time when she wasn't a best seller? Parents who saw her on Get Smart! and made a mental note were the smart ones.


Finally, a more somber sign of the times - here's an ad you wouldn't have dreamed of seeing six months ago. How quickly things change.


5 comments:

  1. Here's a great article about the Heidi Game that I found from the Wiki link:
    http://www.birminghamrewound.com/features/heidi.htm

    It questions what happened in Birmingham on that day, since the NBC affiliation at the time there was split, and one station was carrying the game and another was carrying "Heidi".
    I discovered the great Birmingham Rewound site as a result of this link, and although I was neither born nor raised there, I love taking a monthly look at Birmingham, AL in different eras through this webpage.

    You didn't state which TV Guide edition you have for this issue, but by the channel numbers I see, I'm guessing it's the Iowa edition, or one nearby, as I know there are (or were at the time) NBC affiliates on channels 13 (Des Moines) and 21 (Ft. Dodge, I think). Am I right?

    I have 2 copies of this edition myself, Kentucky (which I bought at Nashville's Great Escape bookstore in the mid-80s) and NY Metro (which I got in a lot with other TV Guides from a winning EBay bid). I've been a fan of Herb Edelman (the subject of the cover profile) since he starred in NBC's 1976-77 kids' sitcom "Big John Little John". I bought the DVD of the series and found that I didn't like it as much now as I did almost 40 years ago.

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  2. Some odds and ends (and very odd ends they are):

    - The Heidi Bowl:
    My family wasn't watching the game (the Bears weren't playing).
    On that particular Sunday night, ABC got our business: Land Of the Giants, The FBI, and John Wayne.
    I do recall that particular FBI as being as close to a comic episode as they ever did: Mark Richman was a mobster on the run from the Outfit who found himself hiding out with a ditzy landlady, played by the delightful Dorothy Provine. These two had a sort of "romantic" fling, which provided the comedy relief.
    Much later, I learned the true significance of this episode:
    That week's director was British-born Robert Day, who'd just come to the USA after years of Brit features and TV (especially The Avengers during the Diana Rigg period).
    The significance of that is that here's where Day met Dorothy Provine, whom he married not long after; they remained married for 40+ years, until Provine's death a few years ago.

    As to Heidi:
    Jennifer Edwards, who played the title role, went on to a career of sorts in the movies and TV of her father, Blake Edwards (usually playing kooks and weirdos).
    For a time, Ms. Edwards liked to call herself "the most hated child in Hollywood".
    She's now 57, and has in recent years made Julie Andrews a step-great-grandmother (it happens).

    - Ensign Pulver was Joshua Logan's own sequel to Mister Roberts, which was his production in the first place; he "hand-picked" the cast (or so he said at the time).
    That cast, by the way, included a bunch of unknowns like Larry Hagman, Gerald S. O'Loughlin, Peter Marshall, James Coco, Al Freeman Jr., Diana Sands, and a real newbie named Jack Nicholson ...

    - About local movies:
    On Saturday night, Channel 2 had the first Chicago telecast of The Great Impostor, starring Tony Curtis as the real-life Fred Demara, who'd posed as a Benedictine friar, a college professor, a prison warden, a Canadian Navy surgeon, among other things.
    As it happens, I'd read Robert Crichton's biography of Demara not long before the telecast, and I was surprised at how closely the movie stuck to Demara's "real" story, as Crichton had written it up.
    Some time after this, I got a look at The Hypnotic Eye, a cheapie thriller in which the real Fred Demara had scored a brief acting role as a doctor.
    Put it this way: Demara didn't look anything like Tony Curtis.
    Actually, he looked a lot like the guy who played 'Newman' on Seinfeld ... you know, the fat guy ...

    More tomorrow, maybe ... depending on which day you pick (which probably won't be the right one, but ...)

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  3. One thing I wonder about the "Heidi" game. It's often said it's the reason NFL games are broadcast to the finish no matter the schedule. But before then, how common was it for broadcasters to end coverage before the game was over? Would they be kept on if the game was close?

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  4. I was 7 years old that Christmas and got "Strange Change" it was probably my favorite toy as a kid. Loved it!

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  5. The story I heard about Heidi was that NBC tried to call the master-control room at 30 Rock to tell the man on duty to stick with the football game and "slide" the entire Sunday schedule back several minutes.

    As I was once told, the phone in master control was busy because the man on duty was on the phone to his girlfriend!

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