December 26, 2015

This week in TV Guide: December 26, 1964

As I write this it's still two days before Christmas, and yet I'm already covering New Year's. I've never been one to get ahead of myself, especially as I've gotten older (after all, there aren't that many days ahead of today for me!*), so I don't want to start acting as if Christmas is already over. Monday's listing will cover New Year's Day itself, so let's see what else there is to talk about this week.

*Another 25 years or so worth of dates, according to the actuarial tables.

***

A few years ago I wrote an article for TVParty! on a series of films made by the United Nations, the first of which was Carol For Another Christmas, written by Rod Serling and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. This Monday, December 28, that movie airs, accompanied by a feature article by Neil Hickey, telling of how the U.N.-produced series came to be. Since I've already written at this site about the show (a setup here, a review of the TCM airing here), I won't rehash the details now. Do take a moment to go to these links and read about it, though; I don't think you'll be disappointed.  Go ahead - I'll wait.

SOURCE ALL: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
Ah, you're back, so we'll pick up where we left off. Two nights prior to Carol, on Saturday, Jackie Gleason offers his annual show as part of his series (6:30 pm CT, CBS). In it, Jackie talks about his own childhood memories of Christmas and gives a reading of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," while his sidekick Frank Fontaine offers his version of "A Christmas Carol." Then, on Sunday at 6:30 pm CT ABC presents the hour-long Winterland on Ice, hosted by Gordon and Sheila MacRae, supported by members of the Ice Follies. It's in black-and-white, but CBS has an all-color special at 8:00 pm, a telecast of the Royal Ballet doing "Les Sylphides" by Chopin, followed by the third act of "The Sleeping Beauty" by Tchaikovsky. The program features two of the all-time great dancers, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev, along with star David Blair. There's nothing specifically festive about these ballets, but the nature of the special itself, along with the skating show on ABC, point to this still being a time of "event" programming, specials the whole family might gather around and watch.

I'll only mention how interesting it is that Christmas programs continue to be shown after Christmas Day itself. I've made this point before, but the 12 Days of Christmas don't start until Christmas, and it's quite apparent from past TV Guides that even in the '60s, the period of time between Christmas and New Year's was considered an extension of the holiday. Schools were out, parties were held, many people were taking time off if there office wasn't already closed. Heck, Channel 4 even has the Mora High School choir singing Christmas music Saturday afternoon. Today things seem different; a couple of years ago we actually saw store employees taking down decorations on Christmas Eve. By the time December 26 rolls around we're already on to something else, stripped trees already sit on the curbside waiting to be picked up by the trashman. By December 28, the day Carol For Another Christmas comes on, it can often be as if Christmas had never happened. As I said, we're in too much of a damn hurry.

By the way, on the subject of Carol For Another Christmas, a letter to the editor criticizes the letter-writing campaign to get Xerox to stop sponsorship of the U.N. programs.  The Letters to the Editor section in the issue we're looking at in a couple of weeks will have viewer feedback to the show. Should be interesting.

***

During the 60s, the Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace were the premiere variety shows on television. Whenever they appear in TV Guide together, we'll match them up and see who has the best lineup..

Sullivan: Scheduled guests are singer Leslie Uggams, impressionist Frank Gorshin, comedian Rip Taylor, the Serendipity Spingers, comedienne Jean Carroll, the Czechoslovakian State Folk Dance ensemble and Burger's animals. On tape: juggler Gil Dova and the comedy team of Davis and Reese.

Palace: Host Van Johnson introduces actress-singer Betty Grable; tenor Sergio Franchi; comedian Jackie Mason; French trapeze artist Mimi Zerbini; comic Paul Gilbert; the Jambaz balancing act; the dancing Bal Caron Trio; and the Zeros, knife throwing act.

My own personal assessment (and it is my blog, after all) is that this is a pretty weak week for both shows. I'm inclined to give it to the Palace on the basis of Betty Grable's past, er, body of work alone. More interesting to me is a little thing to which nobody else probably pays any attention. As I've mentioned at least once before, I usually type these program descriptions verbatim, including punctuation. (On occasion I'll make an edit to avoid stating the obvious, but usually what you see is what they wrote.) I'm always fascinated by TV Guide's use of a comma as opposed to a semi-colon. For the longest time, I've noticed that when descriptions of the two shows differ in punctuation, it's the Sullivan show that almost always use semi-colons to separate the acts, while Palace rarely does. At some point in the late '60s, listings for both shows consistently use semi-colons. Here, however, for some reason they're missing for Sullivan while they're present for Palace. You have no idea how flustered a change like this makes me; it brings my typing to a near halt.

It also may say something about this week's shows that punctuation is the most interesting thing I can find to write about.

***

When this week's series first premiered in 1962 it was called, simply, The Nurses. Now, by the time Cleveland Amory has gotten to it, it's become The Doctors and the Nurses.

What's it all about? Says Cleve, "There are four kinds of opera - grand opera, soap opera, horse opera and, last and least, hospital opera. We have our own thoughts as to why so many people have, for so many years, found the hospital shows so fascinating - including every last gory operation-room detail - but up to now we have spared you this theory."

As I said, the show started out as The Nurses, starring Shirl Conway and Zina Bethune, but after a couple of seasons doctors Michael Tolan and Joseph Campanella were brought in to add some bulk to the dramatis personae - as one of the producers put it, there's only so much drama you can squeeze out of a storyline that deals with nurses, because there's only so much nurses can do on their own. At some point, you have to bring doctors into the mix. According to Amory, the additions have done little good: "CBS, not content to do the gentlemanly thing and let the old show, The Nurses, go - a decision by which they could have won the undying gratitude of millions yet unborn -have, instead, in their infinite obstinacy, seen fit not only to keep The Nurses on, but, horror of horrors, to add to it."

Storylines are almost uniformly grim - "some of the heaviest fare this side of the Black Hole of Calcutta - and we hesitate to mention that for fear they'll shoot that, too." Stories include examinations (no pun intended) of menopause, the concerns a black patient has about having a black doctor, and a two-parter about abortion. That one, in which a woman apparently died as the result of a botched abortion, climaxes with "about as silly a chase as we can recall, with the abortionist engaging in a high school debate with his chaser (Tolan), who had been accused of performing the operation." The innocent Tolan, says Amory, "behaved like such a heel that to this day we don't believe the script got it right. We believe he was guilty. As to the Mata Hari girl who helped him (Katherine Crawford), if ever we saw a nurses's aide who needed aid, she was it."

To be fair, there have been some good episodes, marked by good writing and acting, but these seem to be the exception rather than the rule, as the very next episode will invariably be another turkey. He did like one, which featured an interesting guest-star turn by Barbara Harris, but "As for the writing, the kindest thing on could say about it was that there wasn't any. Maybe Miss Harris ad-libbed it from an old movie."

***

After months of struggle, the college and pro football seasons both come to conclusions this week. (Yes, I know it's hard to believe the NFL season once ended before February, but it's true.)

The two pro leagues have coordinated their championship game schedules to avoid conflict, and so the AFL leads off on Saturday with the defending champion San Diego Chargers* taking on the Buffalo Bills at 1:00 pm on ABC. It's one of the most memorable games in AFL history, as the Bills, riding the arm of Jack Kemp and a ferocious defense, dismantle the Chargers 20-7. Most remembered of all is Bills linebacker Mike Stratton's tremendous hit on Chargers star Keith Lincoln, which knocked the MVP of last year's title game out for the rest of this one. As a side note, NBC's new contract with the AFL, one tha provides the upstart league with financial security, begins in 1965; until the start of Monday Night Football in 1970, this will be the final AFL telecast by ABC.

*Who, as of this writing, are still located in San Diego.

The following day at 12:30 pm, CBS gives us the NFL championship between the heavily favored Baltimore Colts and the Cleveland Browns. After a scoreless first half, which one sportswriter will describe by writing, "Never have so many paid so much to see so little," the Browns come alive in the second half, and dominate the Colts, winning 27-0. It's the first time CBS has broadcast the championship game, under a unified new contract; even though the network carried most of the league's regular season games, previous title contests had been carried by NBC. It's also, to this day, the last championship won by a team from Cleveland.

As for college football, believe it or not, the title - rather, the mythical national championship - has already been decided. It's the last year in which both the Associated Press and United Press International polls choose the champion at the end of the regular season, before the bowls. There are only nine bowl games in 1964, and some conferences - the Big Ten and Pacific 10, for example - put limitations on how many teams can go to bowls, and where they can go. And so the Alabama Crimson Tide, with a record of 10-0-0, have already been proclaimed national champions when they travel to Miami to play the #3 Texas Longhorns.

It's been a year of firsts - you'll recall that last week we read about the Liberty Bowl in Atlantic City, the first national telecast of an indoor football game. On Saturday ABC broadcast their final AFL game, and on Sunday CBS broadcast their first NFL Championship. And as 1965 begins, the trend continues - the NBC telecast of the Orange Bowl at 6:45 pm marks the first-ever nighttime Orange Bowl. It's also the conclusion to NBC's "Football Widows" triple-header, beginning at 12:45 pm with the Sugar Bowl, continuing at 3:45 pm with the Rose Bowl, and concluding with the Orange Bowl.

So back to the Orange Bowl - despite their undefeated national championship, Alabama loses to Texas  21-17. Arkansas, ranked #2 and also undefeated, beats #6 Nebraska 10-7 in the Cotton Bowl, and is chosen national champion by the Football Writers Association and the Helms Foundation. Thankfully, this year there will be no such confusion.

***

Let's see what else we've got this week.

Last weekend, the latest Star Wars movie opened to a record-breaking box office. And if you've been anywhere near a store the last few weeks (months?), you know Star Wars toys are everywhere - you can't spit without hitting one. But this week's article about Fess Parker, written by Arnold Hano, reminds us that merchandising has always been a part of hit entertainment.

Parker became a huge star in the '50s by playing Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier, on Walt Disney's show. Everywhere you heard "The Ballad of Davy Crockett," you saw kids wearing coonskin caps, and Parker drew thousands to his every appearance. When Disney declined to revive the series, Parker and producer Aaron Rosenberg sat down to see what other kind of Crockett-like character they might be able to adapt into a series. They settled on Daniel Boone, and today the Boone publicity machine is going non-stop.  "A comic-strip syndicate ordered an artist-writer team to rough up two weeks of panels for a daily Boone strip. A soft-drink TV commercial featured a cartoon figure of Daniel Boone. And - bless their hammer pin heads - the kiddies began singing: "Daniel Boone was a man . . . a big man . . ." Adds Parker, "We are ready to meet the demand for a merchandising program. NBC is even ready to create the demand, if it has to." As I often say, the more things change, . . .

Daniel Boone ran for six seasons. Parker, already a millionaire from the Crockett series and owner of 30% of Boone, became even more wealthy, turned down the lead role of McCloud, and retired from acting to oversee various real estate developments and operate a successful winery. Not a bad career.

***

At 9:00 am Sunday morning, CBS presents another in their series of Sunday cultural specials, with a broadcast of a 1959 staging of "Noye's Fludde," a 15th Century miracle play set to music by Benjamin Britten*. A nice color feature article accompanies the broadcast, taking a look at the nature of miracle plays and background behind the production. Of course, shows like this have always been stuck somewhere harmless in the broadcasting schedule, where they can't do much ratings damage. Filling in for the regular programming - shows like Camera Three - meant it probably did pretty well.

*Whom In Other Words readers will recognize as a favorite of mine.

I'm surprised there's no New Year's Eve programming on the networks, at least here in Minneapolis-St. Paul. I'd assumed that CBS might have been showing Guy Lombardo, but a quick check at the Chicago Tribune archives tells me WBBM was showing, of all things, a Betty Grable movie. Johnny Carson probably has a cutaway to Times Square for the ball drop, and ABC has The Les Crane Show (carried in Minneapolis on WCCO, the CBS affiliate), and maybe he has something, I don't know. In fact, the only New Year's Eve show is a local one, from KSTP, Channel 9. It's called Nightwatch, a three-hour live music program from Souls Harbor ministries in downtown Minneapolis. I never watched this, but I remember this program running on New Year's Eve for years. You can hear an example of their music here.

One of the things I find interesting is that the networks were still showing first-run episodes throughout Christmas and New Year's, in addition to specials like this. For example, there's a full-page ad for The Lucy Show on Monday night with Danny Kaye (another CBS star, natch) as special guest star, and all three networks devote time to year-end news reviews. Why isn't this the case today? Well, I suppose it could be because fewer people in general are watching television. Families don't get together to watch TV anymore (a lot of families don't get together at all), and series themselves consist of fewer and fewer episodes than they did in the '60s. I'm sure many of you have your own theories as to why this is. I know NBC does their live musical every year, and for all I know there are more specials out there that I don't know about, since I spend most of my time watching old stuff. (A surprise to you, I know.)

Still, there's something exciting about these episodes, with guest stars and holiday themes and all, that I miss. I haven't gone into much detail about the rest of the shows on this week; I think I've gone on long enough already. It was a time of regularity and change, of favorite shows continuing while others went off the air, of shows like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. preparing to move to new timeslots. Above all, it was a time of hope combined with apprehension, of the status quo fighting against revolution. In other words, a time like all others, like ours today. Yet in the midst of it all, there was time for everyone to stop and wish each other a Happy New Year.

As I do to you all right now!

1 comment:

  1. I am a lifelong fan of Rod Serling's work and watched Carol for Another Christmas last year. I thought the first part was excellent but then it went downhill. The last part, with Peter Sellers, was almost unwatchable. It's a very strange period piece.

    ReplyDelete

And now for something completely different.