July 31, 2015

TV you can hold in your hand!

This Sony ad says their is the television of the '70s, and we have no reason to doubt it.  Thinking back to the huge consoles that were typical in the early days, followed by the sensation of the "portable" television,the idea that you could hold a TV in your hand must have been unthinkable.

Imagine now that you had been told you would have a device that you could literally hold in the palm of your hand, not much bigger than a wallet.  You could watch TV on it, but you could also use it as a calendar or a map.  You could control things like the lights in your house, even if you were miles away.  You could look up things on it, as if it were a very small "computer."  You could even use it as a telephone!

How much farther can the future go?  There's the Apple Watch.  There's Google Glass.   What's next?

In the '60s, seeing the technology of the '70s was to behold the awe and wonder of technology.  The technology of the early 21st Century was something for cartoons like The Jetsons.  Considering how exponentially we've advanced since then - what will make us look back at the inventions of today and laugh?

July 29, 2015

Sitcoms with a message

The Sitcom Class Wars: The 20th Century, by Ray Starman, The Troy Book Makers, 208 pages, $15.95

In the long history of television, the preferred method of communicating social change is and always has been the sitcom.  From the Cold War era, when shows from The Honeymooners to The Goldbergs were used to demonstrate how America was indeed the land of opportunity, to All in the Family and The Jeffersons, programs that conveyed messages of racial and social equality, to contemporary series that deal with issues ranging from homosexuality to divorce, from death to disabilities, from the strength of the American household to the disintegration of the nuclear family, and spanning the economic divide from the wealthiest professionals to the earthiest blue-collar couples, it is the situation comedy that has best dealt with those most serious topics.

This is one constant.  The second is that the sitcom thrives on conflict, allowing these opposing viewpoints (whether taken seriously or not) to be aired out, often loudly and with great emotion, but also subtly and with regret.  The conflict is often generational, occurring within a family, but it can also be within an office, in a neighborhood, or in the middle of a WWII prisoner-of-war camp.  The venue of conflict adds an extra dimension, one of strata, pitting the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the employer and the employee, the conformist and the rebel.  It is, one way or another, a class war.

The format of the sitcom is perfect for such discussion: non-threatening, short enough (at 22 minutes) to keep an individual story from becoming too complicated, with a likable individual or family at the center, and leavened with humor to keep from becoming overly proselytizing.  This is not to say that dramas have ignored social issues or conflict.  The risk inherent,  however, was obvious - dramas too easily can wind up as depressing, sanctimonious, prone to very low ratings and very strong pressure from advertisers, or some combination of all four.  Is it any wonder, then, that the sitcom has become the lens through which America's class wars are observed?

Which is why a book such as Ray Starman's latest, The Sitcom Class Wars: The 20th Century is such a valuable asset to anyone interested in following the evolution of such discussions.  Taking an brief, objective look at sitcoms from the earliest post-World War II era to the present day, The Sitcom Class Wars explains how each of these shows captured the feel of a particular part of American social culture, portraying various aspects of the American experience, and how the class wars of the day played out within the show itself.  For example, in The Goldbergs, one of the earliest ethnic sitcoms, we see the glories of assimilation, as a Jewish family struggles (in a gentle, humorous way) with children casting off the old customs in favor of a new, uniquely American way of life.  We  also see firsthand how life in the city shapes the family (Starman points out that this was one of the first shows to specifically feature an urban, rather than suburban or rural, lifestyle), and how they deal with the new and unique challenges of the post-war era.  This gives us a vital understanding of post-war culture, and shows us the blueprint for family sitcoms of the future.

Starman makes some very astute observations as he surveys the sitcom landscape, often giving an additional level of gravitas to shows that today are taken more for nostalgic or sentimental value.  He calls Leave It to Beaver "smarter than it looked" in the way it took the two children, Wally and the Beaver, through the maze of adolescence and into the minefield of adult expectations, knowing what was expected of them but not quite understanding why.  Lost in the criticism of the show as corny or cute is that the dialogue was often witty and clever.  In The Dick Van Dyke Show, Starman illustrates the double-edged sword that was upper-middle class Rob Petrie's life.  Rob's next-door neighbor Jerry, a dentist, can afford to lose a patient or two without seriously endangering his practice; Rob, on the other hand, risks being out of work for a week or a year if The Alan Brady Show goes off the air.  While the Petries live the upper-middle-class lifestyle, complete with ranch house and mid-furnishings in the suburbs, his position - and their status in that class - is far more vulnerable than some.

By the time we get to The Jeffersons, we see the various American class wars played out in all their messy, glorious  variety.  There is the racial divide, obviously, with George Jefferson still trying to prove himself after all these years; though he has become a successful businessman, with a home filled with expensive objects meant to send the message that "I've made it," he still carries a chip on his shoulder, still with something to prove to others or himself, without any real ability to appreciate the very objects he's accumulated.  He has a son with a completely different outlook on life, a maid who shows him no respect whatsoever, a wife taller (and more level-headed than he is), and for all his success remains, as Starman says, "a stranger in a strange land."

The last entry in Starman's book is The King of Queens, and by that time we've had a full survey of the sitcom landscape, with the various inner conflicts from each show representing America in a microcosm.  The good and the bad, the rich and the poor, the successes and the failures; they're all here to see, each one of them telling multiple stories from their own little worlds that unite to present the larger story of the nation as a whole.

This book can be read either from cover to cover, allowing the reader to look at the evolution over time of the class wars and their place in the national discussion, or as a reference guide that can be used to check out your favorite shows or eras.  There will be different ways in which one can interpret Starman's examples and theses as well; should you read this book, you might look at it in an entirely different way than I have, and challenge my assertions as to what Starman is trying to say.  But however you choose to do it, The Sitcom Class Wars is a book that belongs in your library if you're interested in how the sitcom serves as the mirror that America holds up to itself.

July 27, 2015

What's on TV? Sunday, July 29, 1962

Back home again in Indiana this week, with stops in Champaign, Fort Wayne, Terre Haute, Muncie and Lafayette augmenting the main listings from Indianapolis.  One thing I noticed is that many of the programs that pop up on public TV in Minneapolis-St. Paul during these days are seen on commercial TV in this issue, since at this point there aren't any public stations in the viewing area.  You'll see more of what I mean as we get into it.

July 25, 2015

This week in TV Guide: July 28, 1962

I't an interesting issue this week, as good as any at showing how some things have changed over time, and how hard it might be for us to appreciate what those things were like, back then.  And, as is frequently the case, we turn to sports to demonstrate some of those changes.

For example, two baseball All-Star Games?  Yes indeed; as sportswriter Melvin Durslag explains, for the last four years Major League Baseball has put its stars on display twice a year.  Although the fans enjoy seeing baseball's best face-off to determine league supremacy, the reason behind the game has always been to fund the players' pension fund, and starting in 1959, a second game was added to boost the fund.  This year's first game was played on July 10 in Washington, D.C., and the second game is scheduled for this Monday at Wrigley Field in Chicago.  The managers remain the same, and with the exception of a few additional players, so are the rosters.

The twice-a-year format has gotten mixed reviews at best; while the revenue is appreciated, players are concerned about the increased possibility of injury.  Fans seem to be tiring of it as well: 1960's second game, at Yankee Stadium, drew less than 40,000.*  As for the future, the National League favors playing two, while the American has reservations.  There seems to be a sense, though, that the days of two All-Star Games may be numbered.

*Remember that the games were still played in daytime back then.  Additionally, with the departure of the Dodgers and Giants, New York really wasn't all that great a baseball town.  

In fact, the doubters are right.  After Monday's game, televised by NBC at 12:45pm ET and won by the Americans 9-4, the Midsummer Classic will return to one game, where it remains to this day.  And with the explosion of televised baseball and the advent of interleague play, the game seems to carry less fan interest than ever.

***

The All-Star Game was created by Chicago Tribune sportswriter Arch Ward, as part of the 1933 Chicago "Century of Progress" World's Fair.  Ward was the brainchild behind another all star format, one designed to benefit the Tribune charities: an annual game matching the NFL champions and a collection of all-stars from the last season's college football seniors.

Thus was born the College All-Star football game, which kicked off for the first time in 1934 and will be played for the 29th time Friday night at 9pm ET on ABC, live from Soldier Field in Chicago.  The concept probably sounds absurd today: pitting a team of professional champions against college seniors, no matter how good those rookies may be, gives every indication of a mismatch.  And yet such was not the case for the first few years, when pro football was not yet the giant it is today, and the college game was still the more glamorous and popular of the two.  The Stars more than held their own for those first years, winning six of the first 17 contests (with two ties) and often keeping the score close in the years in which they lost.

This year's game pits an all-star team led by future pro stars Roman Gabriel, John Hadl, Lance Alworth, Merlin Olson, and Heisman winner Ernie Davis against the Green Bay Packers, coming off a 37-0 destruction of the New York Giants in the 1961 NFL Championship and featuring a roster with an astounding 10 future Hall of Famers, including Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, Forrest Gregg, Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderley, Willie Davis, Jim Ringo, Willie Wood and Henry Jordan.  With that kind of talent, it's no surprise that the Packers easily best the All-Stars, winning 42-20.

It's a microcosm of the game's future.  The All-Stars will win only one more game, upsetting the same Packers the following year 20-17.  Although the Stars put up surprisingly spirited games against the New York Jets in 1969 (losing 26-24), the undefeated Miami Dolphins in 1973 (a tough 14-3 struggle) and the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1975 (leading in the fourth quarter before losing 21-14), too many of the games are mismatches.  The NFL has increased worries about their star rookies being injured before the beginning of the season and the players themselves voice concerns about money.  After a 24-0 route of the Stars by the Steelers in 1976, in a game called in the 3rd quarter due to heavy rain, the annual matchup disappears, never to be played again.

It's too bad.  As a kid I always looked forward to this game, one of the few night games on television, and on a Friday night to boot.  With the exception of the years when the Packers played, I loved rooting for the underdog college stars, always hoping for that one year when they would shake up the pros.  It was, between the years when the old Chicago Cardinals departed for St. Louis and when the Bears vacated Wrigley Field, the only game played at Soldier Field.  It was an event, a game with its own charm and atmosphere, and its departure, like the watering down of baseball's All-Star Game, leaves something of a void in at least one sports fan's life.

***

One more sports note before we go on to another farewell.  Or actually, I guess this could fall into that category as well.  It's CBS' Saturday afternoon Game of the Week between the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees, from Yankee Stadium.  It's preceded by a 90-minute broadcast of one of the Yankees' great traditions: Old Timers' Day.  They still do this in New York, and it's still a great tradition though it's not carried on national television anymore, which is a pity.

Looking at the lineup for the three-inning game is like flipping through the record books: Joe DiMaggio, Lefty Grove, Hank Greenberg, Bob Feller, Jackie Robinson, Dizzy Dean.  Many of these players were relatively recently retired, and so they were still able to actively participate in the game.  What a treat that was, back when baseball was still the national pastime and giants still roamed the earth.

***

In an issue from last year, we read a profile of Gardner McKay, star of Adventures in Paradise.  At the time, McKay freely admitted "I'm no real actor," and the discussion continues this week, now that his series has been cancelled.  "I read a lot about my so-called 'quality,' he says.  'Let me tell you, in Hollywood when an actor is needed but not understood, it is suddenly discovered he has "quality."  The minute he is no longer needed he is dismissed as a nut.'"

Although McKay sounds bitter, confused would probably be a better word for it.  About the tendency of people to refer to him as an "enigma," he replies "That means perplexing, baffling, a person who talks in riddles.  It's true I don't have a disciplined mind, my thoughts do tend to wander, but I have always said what I think as best I could.  You know, for three years I have been castigated by the press for not saying what they want me to say.  I am sick of it."

In fact, McKay - who frankly has more going for him than acting; he is also a writer, a sculptor and a photographer - is fed up with the whole Hollywood scene:  "I hate television series, uniforms of any kind, agents, business, the practice of law, career women and Hollywood - which isn't really a place but a state of mind that has to be corrected if any measure of contentment is to be achieved."  So why is he still around?  His reply is honest and frank: "Because I don't have the guts to get out and because nobody has offered me $150,000 a year to go and search my soul elsewhere."

The Gardner McKay story has always revolved around his handsome features rather than his acting chops; Life magazine once called him "A New Apollo."  Actor Herbert Marshall said "His rare quality is being attractive to both men and women.  And compared with other TV actors, his ability to act is about average."  Regarding his ability, McKay complains, "Maybe I'm not the greatest actor in the world, but nobody has given me much help to improve.  I had a long line of directors who were more concerned with keeping the front office happy than working with the actors.  When I suggested acting lessons, I was told to forget it because it would make me even more introspective."  No wonder he felt the way he did.

Soon McKay will be gone from the acting ranks completely, by his own choice.  As we know from last year's piece, his second life as a novelist and playwright will be far more satisfying.

***

So what about this week's cover?  It actually tells not one, but two stories.  The first tells how being a game show host can mean big bucks for those who have the knack of "fast talk, good looks and some secret ingredients."  In fact, the best in the business can pull down as much as $150,000 a year, "which seems rather high pay for simply being pleasant."  But as Mark Goodson, one of the major domos of Goodson-Todman, remarks, the game show host - or emcee, as they prefer to be known - has to have specific qualities: they must be talkers, men who can "keep right on talking for as long as he has to - and enjoy it."  He has to be able to listen, rather than simply think about what they're going to do next; Goodson sites the story of an emcee who asked a woman what her husband did, was told that he was dead, and responded with a hearty "Fine!"  He also has to be friendly, and be able to communicate it genuinely to both contestants and viewers at home.  Then there are the secondary qualities such as timing, thinking quickly on his feet, and being a good "traffic cop."

The second article tells the story of Barbara Benner, who as a contestant on Bill Cullen's The Price Is Right won nearly $14,000 in prizes.  And at first it was pretty thrilling, until reality set in.  Her haul included a 21-foot Century Coronado worth $7,624, but that was the first to go: "We couldn't afford the insurance and we couldn't even get down to the shore often enough to use it."  Next to go was a dining room breakfront valued at $1,500; "it's Early American.  I have Danish modern."  She won 23 pieces of garden furniture, but only has room for a few pieces; she also scored with 1500 cartons of Sealtest lemonade and 100 4-pound bolognas and a giant barbecue ($1,380) - her comment on that was "who on earth needs to roast 40 chickens at a time?"  She had to sell that as well.

What is the result of Barbara Benner's big win on Price?  So far, she's sold the boat, barbecue, lawn furniture and a set of Royal Worcester china; the breakfront hasn't had any takers yet.  Sealtest gave her a $100 credit on her milk bill and paid her $200 for the lemonade, and her sister helped sell the bologna for $180.  All in all, she's made $7,130 from her winnings, a little over half of their worth.  But that's actually good news; "Out of the boat money, we got enough to pay all the taxes" on the prizes, and she and her husband were able to purchase a couple of modest cars, an electric dryer, some clothes, and some nice dinners.  They'll wind up with about $1,000 in the bank, and hope some day to take a cruise.

The lesson then, as now, is that not all is what it seems on game shows.  Paying tax on your prizes means many people have to sell some or all of their winnings, and unless you've got a cooperative prize supplier (which many are, nowadays), you might find all that glitters is not gold.

***

There are some very good movies on the tube this week; let's take a look at some of them, along with the rest of the week's highlights.

On Saturday, Indianapolis' WLW-i, Channel 13, has The Thin Man, the classic comedy-mystery starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles.  It's the first of six in the series, and in many ways the best.  Incidentally, for those of you who haven't seen it, the Thin Man is not William Powell's Nick, but the victim of the movie's central murder.  It's a wonderfully fun movie, and it will make you jealous that you can't come up with quips as quickly as these characters can.

Sunday, ABC's Hollywood Special movie is the Agatha Christie mystery Witness for the Prosecution, with a magnificent cast including Charles Laughton (who received his final Oscar nomination for the role), Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich and Elsa Lanchester.  Perry Mason notwithstanding, this is the courtroom drama against which all others are measured.

We're in that period of limbo between the time Jack Paar left The Tonight Show and Johnny Carson took over, so the show's featured guest hosts until Carson's October 1 start date.  On Monday, Merv Griffin is back for the week, his second stint as host; I've heard that NBC brass, aware of the critical praise for Griffin's shows and nervous about Carson's ability to keep the audience, seriously debated going with Merv before sticking with Johnny.  Don't know whether or not that's true, but in any event I don't think they had anything to worry about.  He's going head-to-head against Steve Allen's syndicated talker, positioned to take advantage of any stumble Carson might make as host of Tonight.

On Tuesday, CBS presents a repeat of "Carnegie Hall Salutes Jack Benny," a special from last year.  Benny's violin playing was a running joke, but he could actually play - not spectacularly, but certainly better than I can.  It's a salute because of the money Benny has raised in benefit concerts for musicians, and also because of the work he and friend Isaac Stern did to save Carnegie from Robert Moses' wrecking ball.  Fittingly, Stern is one of the guests on the show, along with Benny Goodman and his sextet, pianist Van Cliburn, opera star Roberta Peters, and conductor Eugene Ormandy leading the Philadelphia Orchestra.  What a lineup!  Here's an excerpt:


Armstrong Circle Theater was different from other dramatic anthology series of the time in that it tended to focus on docudramas and other stories having to do with current events.  This Wednesday's show is no exception, as Arthur Hill and Lydia Bruce star in "Battle of Hearts," a story of how marriage counselors work to save marriages from ending in divorce.  The series is hosted by Ron Cochran, who later in the year will find himself the anchor of the ABC Evening News.

It's movie time again on Thursday, with Indianapolis' WTTV showing the John Wayne classic She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.  Up against that, CBS presents a unique news special - a one hour discussion between two of the great writers of the era, Pulitzer Prize winners and old friends Archibald MacLeish and Mark Van Doren.*  What a discussion that must have been.

*Fun facts: MacLeish, according to the always-reliable Wikipedia, is the great-uncle of Bruce Dern, which makes him great-great-uncle to Laura Dern.  Van Doren's son, Charles Van Doren, achieved a sizable amount of television fame for reasons we all know.

Finally, the end of the week, and Friday's best, other than the All-Star Game, might well be the CBS western Rawhide, which at this point still stars Eric Fleming as trail boss Gil Favor, but the real star of the show is Rowdy Yates, best-known for bringing to prominence one Clint Eastwood.  You probably knew that, though.  The theme song was also pretty well-known, but then you probably knew that too.

July 22, 2015

The brilliantly clever, ethically dubious world of Mission: Impossible

A couple of years ago I took on the task of listing my ten favorite shows of all time.  It proved a popular feature, so I've decided that this summer's project should be a look at the shows that make up my weekly viewing habits.  It's not exactly like it's the full broadcast schedule of the Hadley Television Network, but it's a pretty fair representation of what our household watches.  Note that not all of the Top Ten shows are represented in the current schedule, and many of the shows that are didn't appear in the Top Ten.  It just goes to show there are a lot of fun programs out there; not every night has to be filled with Golden Age programming.  

As each issue of TV Guide opened with Saturday, so we'll also start our night-by-night look with the best night of the week, and one of the best shows of its era. 

Has there ever been a show cleverer, with more intricate moving parts, than Mission: Impossible?  I don’t see much current television so I can’t say if any of the newer shows top it, but I certainly can’t think of anything since its debut that can compare to it.  Each week the IMF team would, on short notice, assemble a plan that required split-second timing, perfect execution, quick thinking in case something went wrong, and a willingness to put one’s life on the line for the success of the mission.  Oh, and it also depended on people reacting in the way it was anticipated they’d react, which meant an incredible amount of background information on the main participants in the mission.

All this was done with a team that put the mission before all else.  There were no soap opera elements to Mission: Impossible, no secondary stories to compete with the main thread.  The nearest you got to a glimpse of anyone’s personal life was the obligatory shot of Jim Phelps’ apartment* at the beginning of each episode, when the team got together to go over details of the mission.  Oh, there were hints that Jim and Rollin were personal friends, for example, but if the storyline didn’t advance the plot, forget about it.  No quirkbots needed, no room for padded stories.  Even the stars were replicable; only two of them made it through the entire series, and none of them were in every single episode.  No wonder I’m a fan.

*Or Dan Briggs, in the first season.

In the years since, the “sting” element of M:I has often been copied, but never matched.  Think of Leverage, for example.  It shared many elements of the intricate M:I plot, but there were significant differences as well, most notably the intrusive personal angle that would have been more at home in a serialized daytime drama.  As well, there were always little elements of the plot that were held back from viewers until they were sprung at an appropriate time, making them seem more like Saturday cliffhangers where you’re left thinking to yourself, “Hey, where did Commando Cody get that parachute from?  I didn’t see that when the plane crashed last week!”*  There were also similarities to be found in shows such as The A-Team, but they (rightfully) didn’t take themselves seriously enough to be real competition.

*Speaking of cliffhangers, Leverage had the annoying habit, which so many shows have nowadays, of ending the season with a faux cliffhanger, one that tries to convince us is full of suspense while we know damn well that Timothy Hutton isn’t going to be killed off when he just signed a contract for another year.  M:I handles this much better; we aren't supposed to believe the cliffhanger before the commercial is a “will they escape or not” moment – in fact, what appears to be a threat often turns out to be a critical part of the plan.

No, when it comes to developing a story that was all but unbelievable – except for the fact that someone actually had thought it up – , nothing can compare to Mission: Impossible.  It’s too bad that so many people know the title now through those awful Tom Cruise movies.  Well, actually, maybe they aren’t that bad, as long as you don’t try to pretend that it’s really Mission: Impossible.  Just leave that name off and go by the subtitle, and you’re probably all right.

Watching them on DVD over the last couple of years, I’ve come to an even greater appreciation of the acting and writing talent involved in the series*, which is why it will always remain one of my favorites.  There’s something else though, something I hadn’t noticed during the initial viewing.  Had it not been for my reading of Steven Stark’s Glued to the Set, I might not have thought about it at all.  On the other hand, given how American foreign policy has gone the last few years, I might have been all over it right away.

*In particular, Martin Landeau as Rollin Hand.  He has a ruthless edge to him that makes him the man I'd least want to run into in a dark alley - somewhat surprising, given his "regular" occupation as an illusionist.  When he and his then-wife Barbara Bain (Cinnamon Carter) left M:I, something vital left with them.

Often, IMF missions are concerned with events of great importance to national security.  Just this last weekend, I saw an episode where the team has 48 hours to find out the location of nuclear missiles aimed at the United States.  Otherwise, boom. If that’s not acting in the national interest, I don’t know what is.  But then there’s the first season episode in which they're charged with preventing the leader of a hostile government from rigging an election to stay in power.  And it’s this kind of episode that troubles me, because there is no overriding national security interest evident here.  Oh, I suppose the continued existence of this hostile government could result in one, but that’s hardly justification for a preemptive act against a sovereign foreign country, a direct intervention in their internal affairs in order to influence the outcome of an election – a rigged one, yes, but nevertheless one that is clearly a domestic issue.  In other words, something the United States has no business getting involved in.

That’s one example, but there are others, where the IMF is clearly overstepping what I would consider the appropriate bounds of American foreign policy.  A terrific episode from a few weeks ago involved making sure that the right man was chosen as security chief of another hostile government.  This involved discrediting his two opponents through means that were, at the very least, deceptive: everything from playing mind games to temporarily drugging one of them.  It makes for terrific television, but the morality of such action is dubious at best.

At times such as these, I tend to revert to the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas on patriotism.  Aquinas felt that patriotism, i.e. love of one’s country, when rightly ordered, was one of the cardinal virtues.  It’s why treason is such an act of treachery.  It’s also, though, why no citizen is bound to obey the unjust dictates of an unjust government – because love of homeland implies love of a particular code that represents the nation, one that an unjust law is betraying.*  However, paramount in Aquinas’ teaching is that the love which others have for their country must be respected as well.  That means a couple of things; for example, in expecting an immigrant to conform to the cultural norms of their new country, one shouldn’t seek to have them disregard everything from their own cultural heritage.  Second, it gives us guidelines as to how we should look at intervention in foreign affairs.  To meddle in such sovereign domestic situations, there ought to be an overriding national security question involved.  That isn’t always the case in Mission: Impossible, and it’s something to which I’ve become increasingly sensitive over the years.

*Not to mention God’s laws, to which, as Aquinas points out, every nation is bound as well.

This blog will not self-destruct in five seconds.
As always, we have to put M:I in context when we talk about something like this.  The show was created and came of age during the Vietnam War, a time of very muscular American foreign policy, with the Cold War demanding an active American involvement in the internal affairs of other nations, usually nations hostile to the United States.  The ends of that foreign policy often justified the means, which meant the IMF frequently was involved in setting up foreign officials to appear as if they were betraying their own country, involved in some nefarious act, or otherwise untrustworthy – even if they were simply doing their job, even if their suspicions were correct.  I think it’s that which bothers me the most, the idea that the ruthless security chief might be absolutely correct in his diagnosis of the situation, but will be set up by the team in such a way that he gets shot for his troubles even though he’s an “innocent” party, so to speak.  (Fortunately, none of the enemy agents are “innocent” enough to warrant our feeling sorry for them; they deserve whatever happens to them, just because they’re on the wrong side.)  And while they never applied the kind of torture that we’ve seen in real life over the past few years, the mind games they’ve inflicted on some people can certainly push the envelope.

As the war became more and more problematic at home, the muscular foreign policy became more of a liability, so it’s no surprise that later M:I plots would turn inward, toward such domestic fare as the fight against organized crime.  Whether or not such stories were as exciting, they were less controversial, which made all the difference.*

*One other type of plot I haven’t discussed much here is the one involving an tyrannical dictator, one who wasn’t freely elected and spends much of his time looting the national treasury and oppressing his people.  I’m a little more lenient in these cases; it’s much harder to claim the involvement of a sovereign national government, and often the mission itself involves something like tricking the despot out of the loot he was earmarking for the purchase of weapons which would then be used to crush the legal opposition.  It’s one thing to manipulate an entire country; scamming a tinhorn bully seems just a little more justified.

I’ve written before about my concerns regarding the ability of television series to influence public opinion through the actions of the regular cast.  When viewers see the stars of shows such as NCIS breaching an individual’s privacy with impunity, they learn to accept it as long as the suspect is guilty.  After all, we’re assured, the government only does this to guilty people, so if you’re innocent you have nothing to worry about.  Even today, I think there’s that tendency with Mission: Impossible, to want to excuse some of the more dubious missions because those are the East Germans or the Soviets or the Cubans we’re dealing with, and the Commies deserve whatever they get.  It doesn’t get in the way of my immense pleasure watching the show, but it does make me think, and sometimes the subsequent discussions with my wife about whether or not a mission is justified can be as entertaining as the program itself.

So when it comes to judging those iffy moments in Mission: Impossible, it’s best to remember that the show is a product of the Cold War, and to let that become food for thought.   Under no circumstances should it be allowed to interfere with the enjoyment of one of the best shows of its type – for that matter, one of the most enjoyable shows that TV had to offer in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.  Its presence on my Saturday night lineup should come as no surprise.

Next time:  a show that proved talking back to the television could be not only fun but profitable!

July 20, 2015

What's on TV? Tuesday, July 21, 1959

This week signals a return to New England, and a return to the late '50s, so familiar and yet so different from the early '60s.  Or maybe that's just me; looking at all these listings, 1958 always seems to be so much older than, say, 1963.  But television is still an evolving medium in the late '50s, barely ten years old, and things change fast.

Yet, for all that, there are so many familiar names, whether on their own shows or guesting on others.  The two Andys, Williams and Griffith, Huntley and Brinkley, Captain Kangaroo, Jim Backus.  Jack Paar hosts Tonight, as he will until 1962; his successor, Johnny Carson, hosts Who Do You Trust? with his sidekick, Ed McMahon.  Similar, but different.

Well, let's get to it, anyway.  No commentary this week, just shows.

July 18, 2015

This week in TV Guide: July 18, 1959

Nothing that stands out this issue, so we'll start in with a look at the shows of the week, and go from there.

***

Saturday night at 9:00pm ET CBS has an episode of the police drama Brenner, starring Edward Binns and James Broderick as father-and-son cops.  I picked this series up a few years ago at Half Price Books*, more out of curiosity than anything else.  I'd never heard of it, and wasn't even a particular fan of Binns, who usually plays the heavies in the movies and shows in which I've seen him.  To my surprise, I found this a terrific show - Binns is very, very good as a policeman working in Internal Affairs, while the young Broderick, better known from Family, is interesting to see as a first-year policeman.  The music, which is probably by Frank Lewin, adds a lot to the atmosphere, as does the black-and-white cinematography, and the stories themselves are not all of the standard cops-and-robbers variety.  The box set I purchased has 15 of the 26 episodes that were produced; I wish the others were available.  I'd have liked to see a lot more of this underrated series.

*Truth in advertising department: you can buy more than just books at Half Price Books.  Just yesterday I bought a sonic screwdriver.

There's a big spread for Sunday's Ed Sullivan show, which comes to us from the Spoleto Festival in Spoleto, Italy.  It was founded last year by composer and blog favorite Gian Carlo Menotti (Amahl and the Night Visitors, among other NBC Opera productions), and features performers from around the world and around the entertainment spectrum.  Tonight, Ed's guests include Sir John Gielgud, opera star Eileen Farrell, the Jerome Robbins dance corps, Louis Armstrong's jazz band (without Armstrong, who was ill), and an orchestra conducted by Menotti favorite Thomas Schippers.  That's quite a lineup, and it's only part of the guest list!

On Monday night the Boston Red Sox take on the Milwaukee Braves at Fenway Park in a rare in-season exhibition game to benefit the Jimmy Fund.*  It's a simple explanation; the Braves played in Boston until they moved to Milwaukee after the 1953 season, and had a connection to the Jimmy Fund themselves.  Logical that the two teams would come together at Fenway to benefit the fund.

*For many years, until sports owners decided there was no such thing as too much money, an ad for the Jimmy Fund was the only in-stadium advertising allowed at Fenway Park.

Later that night on Desilu Playhouse  (10pm, CBS), John Drew Barrymore and Earl Holliman star in the Western "Silent Thunder."  At the time, John Drew Barrymore was best-known as the son of the famed John Barrymore; his aunt and uncle were Lionel and Ethel Barrymore.  Today, his claim to fame is as the father of Drew Barrymore.  The man just can't win.

Going through the listings from the first couple of decades of television, you often see the same names popping up - Rod Serling and Paddy Chayefsky, for example.  Another is Don Mankiewicz, part of the famed Mankiewicz family that we've talked about from time to time here.  His name first appears on Monday night as co-writer (with Larry Marcus) of "U.S. vs. Alexander Holmes" on CBS' Joseph Cotten Show, and on Tuesday we see him again, as writer of "The Navagator" on Alcoa Presents, which most of us probably know better as One Step Beyond.  Now there's a show that deserves a proper DVD release.

If you're not watching that, you might be taking in The Andy Williams Show on CBS.  This isn't Andy's regular series yet, but a summer replacement series for Garry Moore's variety show.  It won't be until 1962 that Andy settles in to the NBC schedule on a permanent basis.  One of tonight's guests is "comedian Andy Griffith"; his show won't begin until the fall of 1960, and at this point he's best known for his wonderful stage, screen and TV turn in No Time For Sergeants, and his brilliant dramatic portrayal of the megalomaniac in A Face in the Crowd.  I've written about that one before; it really is a shame Griffith didn't get more dramatic roles.

Wednesday features another summer replacement show we might not have heard of before; it's the game show Keep Talking, on CBS at 8pm.  It sounds to me like a pretty lame idea; from the always-reliable Wikipedia: "Six celebrity panelists, divided into two teams, would try to guess a secret word given to one player on each team. These two players would then proceed to tell a story to their team involving that word, yet not using that word. Narration of the story would jump from team-mate to team-mate, often leaving the new narrator at a loss as to how to continue the story. Little attention was paid to scoring and points—the point was for the panelists to build their ad-lib story seamlessly and entertainingly."  On tonight's show, Vincent Price is the guest host, and Caesar Romero fills in for regular panelist Joey Bishop.

Also, I'd assume that most of you know The Price Is Right did exist before Bob Barker and Drew Carey.  If you're a faithful reader of the Monday TV listings feature, you've probably seen it quite a few times.  The host is the incomparable Bill Cullen, and it actually has quite a different format than the one we're familiar with, including celebrity guests.  Here, take a look at it:


We've been looking at our fair share of obscure shows this week, and two of them appear in Thursday's daytime listings.  The first is the sitcom Beulah, at 11am on Channel 5.  Everyone always thinks of Amos 'n' Andy when discussing leading black characters in early television, but Beulah was in fact the first series to feature a black actor or actress in the lead role.  Like so much of early television, it was a crossover from radio, where it had started in 1945 before migrating to television, running on ABC from 1950 to 1952.  I'm not sure who's playing Beulah at this point, since there were two actresses known for the role.  My guess is that it's Ethel Waters, the great gospel singer who toured for so many years with Billy Graham on his crusades.  It could, though, be Louise Beavers, who was known for "maid" roles in a long career that dated back to the '20s.

In the afternoon, we have a discussion show that sounds as if it belongs on PBS but in fact is an NBC program: The Court of Human Relations.  This too started out on radio before going on to a brief run on television.  Not much more to offer for this one, but this was the first time I'd noticed it in the listings.

Every so often, TCM will run the movie Pete Kelly's Blues, which starred Jack Webb in one of his non-Dragnet roles.  The movie - yes, it was based on a radio series as well - came out in 1955, and featured Webb as a bandleader and musician.  Four years later it's a TV series on NBC Fridays at 7:30pm, with future FBI agent William Reynolds taking over the lead.  I've never seen an episode of the series (nor, for that matter, have I seen the movie, although I think I caught the end of it a few months ago), but it seems as if I catch an ad for the movie in a TV Guide every few months.

TV fans with good memories probably recall NBC's Ellery Queen series from the mid '70s (written up nicely here), a fun show that starred Jim Hutton and David Wayne as Ellery and his inspector father.  However, that's far from being the first time Queen made it to TV; at 8pm with George Nader as Ellery and Lee Phillips as the inspector.  And on Channel 5 it's Markham, a short-lived private detective series starring Oscar winner Ray Milland.

Otherwise, it's familiar faces this Friday, sometimes because of moves for the summer schedule.  ABC has Disneyland, which eventually winds up on NBC Sundays; NBC has M Squad, the great Lee Marvin police show, and CBS is running I Love Lucy and The Phil Silvers Show, with Silvers as the marvelous Sgt. Ernie Bilko.

***

Ad of the week:


Really, who can resist that?  Makes you want to get a cat just so you can buy their cat food.

***

Starlet of the week:  It's Audrey Gellen, who's actually not an actress at all, but "TV's best-paid writer . . . pound for pound."  She's 25, 112 pounds*, and has scribbled scripts for five DuPont Show of the Month specials: "The Member of the Wedding," "The Browning Version" and "Billy Budd" among them.  She went on to be script editor for Dupont producer David Susskind's East Side/West Side, and adapted the classic Harvey for a 1972 telefilm.  Despite this, I think her greatest success may well have come as a producer; she continue to work with Susskind for many years, winning an Emmy as co-producer of the 1970s TV movie Eleanor and Franklin, and receiving a nomination that same year for Moon for the Misbegotten.  She also was one of the producers of Martin Scorsese's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, before dying in a car crash in 1975 at the unthinkable age of only 38.

***

Fashion show of the week comes from our cover story on Janet Blair.  Blair is a big-band singer turned successful actress, but that isn't the talent that TV Guide's interested in this week.  It's all about what the fashionable housewife wears around the house.  After all, whether you're vacuuming, dusting, making the bed or doing the dishes, it's important for you to look your best.


I often lament how TV Guide changed from these classic years, but this is one area I'm not really sorry to see go.

July 17, 2015

Around the dial

A few minutes to offer some links for the week, along with apologies that it's not longer (and earlier in the day).

At Comfort TV, David Hofstede has one of his typically insightful pieces, in which he asks if if Bill Cosby's shows should still be on television, given what we know about his personal life?  Ultimately, I think they should be, but it's a thoughtful question.

At Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, Ivan borrows a line from the famous theme song to Green Acres to describe the joys of moving.  Having moved five times in the last five years myself (only cross-country twice, thankfully) I sympathize with anyone going through it.  However - better you than me!

Cult TV Blog revisits the classic Avengers episode "You Have Just Been Murdered," and if you don't recognize it by the title, you probably will by the fact that it's the kinky one where Mrs. Peel wears the leather.  There's more to it than that, though.

Another one of Rick's great quizzes at Classic Film and TV Cafe - this time, it's the movie-TV connection game!  If you can answer, for example, what John Garfield and Ryan O'Neal have in common entertainment-wise, then this is definitely for you!

James Lileks has lately been publishing pictures of old advertisements for radio stations, which have been very enjoyable.  I always like to find a good local ad, and Faded Signals has this one from Florida, back when stations were more community-oriented rather than the corporate entities they now are.

Television.au has his weekly recap of Australia's version of TV Guide, and even though I'm not familiar with that much of it, I always find it fascinating to read about the differences and similarities between television here and there.

And speaking of TV Guide, if it's Friday that means there's another TV Guide review from Television Obscurities, this week looking at, among other things, Peter Bogdanovich on why McHale's Navy is relocating from the Pacific to Italy.  I remember that - thought it was stupid then, as now.

Wish I had more time, because there's some very interesting writing going on out there, but with all the projects I'm currently working on (including one big one that has nothing to do with television), I'm lucky to have this much time.  I'll always have time for you, though - see you tomorrow.

July 15, 2015

Summer rerun: How The Beverly Hillbillies explains your salvation

A while back I’d made an offhand comment that 1965 might well be the year that defined the decade of the 60s; prior to that, much of the 60s still depended on the 50s for its definition; after that, the 60s devolved into the disintegration of everything familiar, an era that continued well into the 70s.

And so perhaps it’s appropriate that we take a closer look at the Malcom Muggeridge article I mentioned at the end of this week’s TV Guide review (March 6, 1965), because I think there’s more to this piece than we can get into in the regular “This Week” format.

Muggeridge, although he once claimed to have no sense of humor, was widely known as a wicked satirist; the New York Times referred to him as a “caustic social critic.” He’d been the editor of the British humor magazine Punch, and he was rarely at a loss for words – or targets of that caustic criticism. He wasn’t afraid of being outrageous; witness his 1957 Saturday Evening Post article “Does England Really Need a Queen?” which, needless to say, created something of a stir back home.

However, there was always a serious subtext behind Muggeridge’s humor, and this side became more pronounced as the 1960s evolved. He became an outspoken critic of the counterculture, especially the drug and sexual revolutions. By the time of his 1966 book Tread Softly for You Tread on My Jokes this more serious side was much in evidence, so despite the TV Guide cover’s promotion of Muggeridge’s article as “a renowned critic’s witty report on the British passion for American TV” (and in fact the dry Muggeridge wit is certainly visible), I think it fair to assume that Muggeridge was really talking about something much more profound, especially regarding the spiritual evolution (or devolution) of British and American society.

The premise of this article is an analysis of why The Beverly Hillbillies has become the most popular program on British television. This is due in large part, according to Muggeridge, “precisely because they are so tremendously American.

The fact is that we Europeans, whatever we may say to the contrary, are crazy about everything American. Indeed, I sometimes think that the more anti-American we purport to be in attitude, the more Americanized we tend to become in our tastes, our speech and our attire.

OK, so that’s easy enough to follow. There’s long been a school of thought that anti-American attitudes are born of jealous as much as anything. (Whether this is still the case, or that in the intervening 50 years American culture has earned that antipathy on its own is another question.) But just what is it about the Hillbillies’ American-ness that makes such an impression on Brits – or fellow Americans, for that matter?

Muggeridge suggests that there is an innocence about the Hillbillies that appeals to a cynical populace. “We, too, yearn after wealth which does not corrupt; after an innocence which triumphantly survives the possession of riches.” Jed may have hit the jackpot with that oil strike, but it hasn’t fundamentally changed either he or his family, “constantly on the edge of succumbing to the lures of luxurious living, but always at the last moment pulling back and resuming their old, virtuous ways.” There is an irony to this, though, in that our cynical selves would rather admire the virtuous than emulate them: “In accordance with the principles of an Affluent Society as laid down by Professor Galbraith, we have rejected the outmoded Christian notion that the poor are blessed, but we should still like to be convinced that it is possible to be rich and blessed.”* By watching the success of the Hillbillies each week, we are reassured that we can have our cake and eat it too.

*Muggeridge was in large part responsible for bringing Mother Teresa to popular light through his book Something Beautiful for God. I suspect therefore that the phrase “outmoded Christian notion” is meant as brittle sarcasm.

And this success bodes well not only for the here and now, but for the hereafter as well. “Week by week [the Hilbillies] demonstrate that, though possessed of great wealth, they can still just get through the needle’s eye into the kingdom of heaven.” Muggeridge expands on this spiritual aspect, for it is one that is crucial to understanding the role of television in modern culture – it “is largely dedicated to providing reassurance on precisely this score.”

The early Christians, in order to secure themselves against indulgence in sensuality and cupidity, persuaded themselves that their fleshly appetites were vicious and great possessions a handicap to virtuous living. The writings of the fathers and the saints are full of denunciations of sex and riches. Now, when we have created a way of life in which sex is our chief relaxation and riches our main pursuit, traditional Christian teaching in this respect would seem to require revision. We cannot accept the drastic notion of ourselves as sinners. Nor can we in decency just repudiate the fathers and the saints.*

*Almost 50 years hence, has anything really changed?

The answer, therefore, is to demonstrate that the two can coexist, “that, like the Hillbillies, we can be rich and still successfully repel the assaults of the Evil One.”

It is not only tempting to draw parallels between the 60s that Muggeridge describes and our own time, it is virtually impossible not to do so. Many of us dream of what we would do with sudden wealth, should our Powerball number finally come up. We may quit our jobs, buy homes for our loved ones, establish scholarships, fund charities, buy a fancy sports car. One thing is for sure, though: our sudden wealth will not change who we are. We not only say this, we not only believe it will be so, we have a desperate need to believe it.

The role of television in all this cannot be minimized. As I’ve so often suggested, television does not create so much as it reflects, and the truth reflected by the success of the Hillbillies is one that dates back to the Victorians. “[O]bsessed as they were with the lusts of the flesh, [the Victorians] were always trying to demonstrate in their popular art that chastity could survive in the poor and the simple despite all the lures and stratagems of accomplished seducers. We, obsessed with money, seek in our popular art to reinforce the conclusion that the poor remain blessed even when they become rich.” Television, therefore, simply takes its place in a long line of visual media as reinforcing this belief.

What saddens me and, I think, would sadden (though perhaps not surprise) Muggeridge as well, is how we’ve seen this attitude change in the last few years. You hear much talk about the utility of morality, especially in terms of religion, and especially in terms of the American Founding Fathers. It is said, and it is a debatable point, that most of the Founders were Deists. However, it is undeniable that most of them understood the need for a civic religion, even if they themselves didn’t believe in its truths. Franklin, for instance, felt that organized religion was necessary to keep men good to their fellow men, writing Thomas Paine that members of society “have need of the motives of religion to restrain them from vice, to support their virtue, and retain them in the practice of it till it becomes habitual, which is the great point for its security.”

This attitude is mostly a given in Muggeridge’s article. Even if we strive to make wealth coexist with virtue, we do not deny the merits of virtue. We know that being blessed is a desirable state to be in, and we understand, even if only subconsciously, that the desire for wealth and power and sex somehow diminishes that state of virtue – else why should we attempt to reconcile it all?

Today, however, I don’t think anyone would be sure of that. Rather than aspiring to a virtue that, though it may be unattainable, is still recognized as being worthy, we now deride virtual altogether. Not only are there fewer and fewer standards which a majority can agree on, there is disagreement as to whether or not standards are even necessary. Viewers in the 60s may have looked at the Hillbillies as quaint, but they felt good about the idea that they could be both “rich and blessed.” Today, the blessed part isn’t important – we’d rather be rich and sated.

Not the Beverly Hillbillies
As evidence of the universality of the fairy tale epitomized by the Hillbillies, Muggeridge had cited, interestingly enough, The Beatles – a group he loathes, calling them “four moronic and unpleasing youths with long hair and little talent.” Nonetheless, a great deal of their appeal in 1965 came from the perception that they remained “unspoilt” by their wealth and fame. “[T]hey are still the same simplehearted, inarticulate Liverpudlians that they always were.” The Beatles are, in essence, Britain’s own Hillbillies.

Now, by the end of the 60s, I’m not sure anyone would have considered The Beatles “unspoilt”- by this time they’d encountered drugs, experimental music, and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. In a way this exposes the fallacy of the fairy tale that so many longed to believe in. There’s an old saying that “when you lie down with dogs, you get fleas.” Likewise, wealth, power and sex create their own burdens, and by separating these from virtue, we soon succumb to their collective weight.

Muggeridge concludes his article with the observation that, thanks to television, “more people in the world today know The Beverly Hillbillies, it is safe to assert, than know President Johnson or even the Pope. Backward or undeveloped nations are shown by means of television the way of life toward which they so ardently aspire.” The global reach of television leads us into uncharted waters; “Such a thing has never happened before. No need to take on trust the rewards of toil and struggle; it is there, visible, on the television screen.” No matter who he is, no matter where he is, a citizen of the world “sees with his own eyes all he may enjoy and become”.

It’s quite interesting that an article with so many layers would be published in a “popular” publication like TV Guide, but the times were different, and serious content often landed in the magazine’s pages. By the way, if this all sounds a little dry and scholarly to you, it’s not meant to. Muggeridge’s article is in fact quite readable, and frequently slyly humorous. On the face of it Muggeridge is being his outrageous old self, satirizing the desire television has to be seen as Important. But behind his mock seriousness lies a true appraisal of the culture of the 60s and where it was leading, and I’ve no doubt that Muggeridge was deadly serious in his appraisal of what the popularity of The Beverly Hillbillies says about ourselves and our time. As Muggeridge might have said, “I’m surprised that you’re taking this seriously. But I’m even more surprised that you aren’t.”

Originally published March 2, 2013

July 13, 2015

What's on TV? Saturday, July 13, 1963

As you know from Saturday's entry, we're in the Wash-Balt market this week, And since I gave the area such a thorough once-over on Saturday we'll just skip right to the programming, if that's all right with you.  Or even if it isn't.

The TV Guide notes that the listings for WBOC, Channel 13, and WSBA, Channel 43, are the national listings only, not local.  I've occasionally seen two separate stations that carried exactly the same programming (for example, KNMT, Channel 13 in Walker, Minnesota, was identical to KCMT, Channel 7 in Alexandria), but I've not seen something like this before.  But then, there's a first time for everything.

July 11, 2015

This week in TV Guide: July 13, 1963

I'll be honest with you, as you know I always have been. It's beyond me to find anything of real interest in this week's issue.  We're full bore in the rerun season; the articles have been less than compelling; there's nothing secret, profound or mysterious in the shows.  Where does that leave us, then?  Fear not, for this week we'll take a look at the visual side of TV Guide.

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First off is our starlet of the week - or should we say starlets? We begin with the serious-looking Valora Noland (top; real name Valor Baum), who owes her presence in TV Guide to a number of bit parts in series such as
The Rifleman and Dupont Show of the Week, and was a finalist to play one of the Bradley sister in the upcoming Petticoat Junction.  There's a strange sort of beauty in this picture that draws you in, a questioning look that's equal parts come-hither and keep your distance.  She was out of Hollywood by 1967, voluntarily from what I can see.  I'm guessing her best-known role, which came after this issue, was as Daras in the Star Trek episode "Patterns of Force," where she appeared as a very fetching Nazi.

On the other hand, we have Michele Lee (below), star of Broadway and television, looking both lovely and painfully young.  She appears here in a two-page layout, modeling the latest in both fashion and hairstyle.  She's described in the article as a singer-actress, but her greatest triumph and most memorable role will indeed be as an actress; her long-running role as Karen MacKenzie in CBS' Knots Landing.  Two fun facts: she was once married to actor James Farentino, and she was the only cast member to appear in all 344 episodes of Knots Landing over the show's 14 seasons.

If that isn't enough for you, sandwiched between the two is an article on the "rapid ascendancy" of Paul Lynde.  In the days before he became immortalized as the center square of The Hollywood Squares, he was known as the "Nervous Nellie of the Networks."  He doesn't really have any reason to be nervous; he's already appeared this year with Jackie Gleason, Ed Sullivan and Andy Williams, and he's got three movies on tap: Son of Flubber, Bye Bye Birdie and Under the Yum-Yum Tree.  And yet, according to his own press release, "after two years of psychotherapy, he says, 'If I ever completely lost my nervousness I would be frightened half to death.' "  He's already had one unsuccessful pilot and has another on the way, and he was on and off TV after the Squares, but it is his legacy as the center square for which he'll always be known and loved.  I always thought he would have made a right proper voice for the animated Garfield the Cat.
***

I've written about this before, but here's one of those ads for the ubiquitous TV Guide delivery boys.  I've never met one person who received TV Guide via home delivery; have you?


One of the charms of these old TV Guide ads: it's not my scan that's crooked - it's the picture itself.  You'll note that the text is properly aligned, so it's got to be the picture that's askew.  This is the Washington-Baltimore edition by the way, which accounts for the address in Frederick, Maryland.  Interestingly enough, the local address for TV Guide is in Washington, D.C.

I mentioned to you at the outset that the week was dominated by reruns - so much so that one of the special listings in the front of the program section is a guide to first-run shows.  I have never seen a listing like this before; I've seen guides to shows in color, the week's movies, sports and specials, even a guide to religious programming during the Christmas season.  I've even seen listings of reruns, but never a list of shows that weren't reruns.  I do know that some of these issues from different parts of the country seem to have their own quirks (the Metropolitan New York edition, for example, listed the week's movies long before it was done in the Twin Cities), so perhaps this was a local thing.  Anyone else have experience with them?  By the way, most of the first-run shows are summer replacements, news program,s and documentaries.

And speaking of movies, here's a look at the best of the week's offerings, courtesy of that very movie guide I was speaking about.  Imagine that.



Don't think they're all this good, though.

Here's an ad for WBOC in Salisbury, Maryland.  They're one of the rare affiliates of all three networks.  They've just upgraded the strength of their schedule, I think - at this point, only their network listings are carried in the Guide, not local ones.


They're still around, with the same call letters and channel number.  They're strictly a CBS affiliate these days.  I love the mid-century look of this ad; the antennas on top of the house, the TV tube-shaped boxes around the call letters, the random stars with the hand-drawn look.  So different from the slick graphics we see nowadays.

Likewise, WRC is still the same, both channel number and affiliation.  There's no truth to the rumor that the Cousin Cupcake the clown was played by members of Congress; it was DC legend Bob Porter, who's still fondly remembered in the Capital.  And it's in color!  That's because it's an NBC affiliate; because of their tie-in with RCA, most NBC affiliates were out in front on that score.


Speaking of legends, here's a familiar face for you - it's the legendary ABC White House Correspondent Sam Donaldson before he was a network star.  What I want to know is - what about the sideburns?   WTOP is still with CBS, but this time it's the call letters that have changed - it's now WUSA.  (Gauche.)  When they changed their call letters in the '80s after their purchase by Gannett, it affected one of Gannett's other stations - Channel 11, the former WTCN in Minneapolis.  Gannett figured WUSA, which Channel 11 was using, was more appropriate for the Nation's Capital, so Channel 11 became KARE. (Double gauche.)


This week's edition of the Dupont Show presents a existential look at warfare, entitled "The Outpost."  It's got a very strong cast, and sounds pretty intriguing.  I wonder, though, if it's as good as it sounds.  Well, there's one way to find out.



On the other hand, this episode of Dr. Kildare sounds like a killjoy, doesn't it?  But how bad can it be with Suzanne Pleshette?  She was an attractive young woman, but became even more so throughout the years.  She aged very, very well.


Here's an ad for the Westinghouse-owned WJZ, which was an ABC affiliate in 1963 but now belongs to CBS.  Presumably this is a list of all the stars appearing on the station's programs throughout the week - how many of them can you identify?


Finally, it's never too early to start thinking about next week, as TV Guide knows.  As I recall, the new issue went on sale Tuesday or Wednesday, so it gave you a good head start on the week to come.  Unless, that is, you subscribed (as I did starting in the '70s), in which case it came to you in the mail the previous Friday, which means that even before this week's programs started, you already knew what was going to be on next week.  Good thing programs weren't serialized the way they are nowadays.

The star of next week's issue is Dennis Weaver, who's finished up his run (or limp) as Chester in Gunsmoke, is headed for a brief, unsuccessful stop in a series called Kentucky Jones, will make a memorable movie called Duel, and goes on to a signature role as that cowboy lawman in the big city, McCloud.


***

And that's it for the week.  Sure, I could go on scanning pages for some time, but I think this has given you a pretty good idea of what the issue was like. It wasn't so bad, was it?  Maybe I should try this again some time - what do you think?

July 10, 2015

Around the dial: Sinatra, Steed, Benny, Hitch & more!

I was going to lead off things today with Television's New Frontier: the 1960s' very good article on 87th Precinct, a show I think perhaps I liked a little more than he did, but then along came today's piece on The Jack Benny Program, and I've had to change my mind.  Both articles provide a wealth of information on their respective shows, with bits of detail and episode descriptions that give a real flavor for them.  If I didn't have them already, this would make me want to go out and get them - that's how good they are.

Speaking of research, Cult TV Blog has a terrific piece on the books in John Steed's library.  It's the kind of detail that I go for; as I mentioned to him, little bits like this can either confirm what you already know about a character or give you a totally new appreciation of his depth.  In this case, would anyone be surprised that Steed would have these books around?

The series Hondo came from the last years of the TV Western, so I don't have a memory of it - my interest in the genre, such as it is, has come mostly from watching them in reruns rather than at the time they aired - so The Horn Section's Hal's write-up on the episode "Hondo and the Singing Wire" is valuable for anyone considering whether or not to invest in the series on DVD.

I enjoy the Hitchcock Project pieces at bare-bones e-zine, and this week's look at "The Black Curtain," another from the output of author Cornell Woolrich.  Again, I haven't seen nearly as much of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour as I have the series' half-hour episodes, but I really like Jack's opening line, which sets the tone for the rest of the article: "Cornell Woolrich's 1941 novel, The Black Curtain, is two-thirds of a great thriller. The version aired in 1962 on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour is half of a good television show."  I always find it particularly interesting when a series attempts to adapt a novel into a one-hour episode.

The Flaming Nose has a great review of the HBO documentary Sinatra: All or Nothing at All, made to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Sinatra's birth.  Watching Sinatra's TV specials from the mid-60s is always a treat, particularly the "A Man and His Music" series: no skits, only top-quality guest stars, and - best of all - the Chairman himself singing his best.  By the end of the '60s, the drop in quality of popular music makes some of the attempts by singers such as Sinatra a bit painful to watch, but still - it's Frank!  If you've got HBO, watch this, and record it for anyone who doesn't have it.

At Made for TV Mayhem, Amanda reviews the 1984 TV pic Invitation to Hell.  Do I really need to say anything more?

David at Comfort TV has another entry in his "Museum of Comfort TV": Freddie the Flute from H.R. Pufnstuf.  I confess that Pufnstuf was not a favorite of mine, although I did watch it, but I have absolutely no recollection of Freddie.  Did I just space out, or have I somehow blocked the horrid memory from my mind forever?

Television Obscurities has another great TV Guide review, from July 10, 1965.  Fred Gwynne (as Herman Munster) is on the cover, with an article inside on Sports Network Incorporated (SNI, which probably merits a piece on its own here), and one by the superb John Gregory Dunne, whose house was used as a location for an episode of Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theater.  Dunne mentions the effect it had on neighbors and wife - his wife, of course, was the prolific writer Joan Didion.

A great week, was it not?  Be back here tomorrow, and I'll see if I can live up to it all.


July 6, 2015

What's on TV? Tuesday, July 7, 1964

As I mentioned on Saturday, this is the second look at this TV Guide, but the first time we've done an in-depth on the listings. The date is Tuesday, July 7, the place is the Twin Cities, and here's your programming for the day.