December 30, 2015
Just a reminder that if you'd like to see the listings from a particular date, or if you'd like me to write up a specific TV Guide, or if you'd just like to let me know what you're interested in, please send me an email or contact me via Facebook, and I'll make every effort to comply. One reader has asked me do write about the NBC series Smithsonian, and I'm assembling information on that for an article early next year. If, like Jeremy, you've read about an issue I've done and want to know about the listings from a certain date, it only takes me a few minutes to whip one out.
So let's get to it, shall we?
December 28, 2015
Saturday), there are plenty of festivities to go around today. Let's get right to it; the listings continue to be from the Twin Cities.
December 26, 2015
*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|
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."
*Who, as of this writing, are still located in San Diego.
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.
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.
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!
December 25, 2015
Since then, I've managed to accumulate a pretty fair number of Christmas issues. Some of them are inevitably disappointing, given the direction television - and popular culture at large - had taken, even by the mid-70s. I don't believe I've written about this one yet, for example, even though I have two copies of it, from different markets. It's partly because I never warmed to the typography and layout of the '70s issues (this one being from 1974), partly because my own perception of Christmas changed as I grew out of being a kid, but there's no doubt that we see the day changing in the way it's covered by TV Guide. Certainly the picture on the cover says "Christmas," but even here it's not the fun, colorful iconography that one sees on earlier issues. Would I get rid of it, though? Not on your life!
Saturday (I hope), so I won't rehash the details, but this is such a happy cover - growing up in Minnesota, where there was rarely anything other than a White Christmas, it says everything about December and Christmas, the sparkle and brightness. I wish they made issues like this today, but I think it's a futile wish.
But today's not a day for fussing; it's for celebrating the most wonderful day of the year, and I couldn't think of a better way than this to wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas. See you tomorrow to start looking forward to the New Year!
December 24, 2015
|A LITERATURE TEACHER (DONALD PLEASENCE) FINDS HE IS NOW AN OBSOLETE MAN IN "THE CHANGING OF THE GUARD" |
A description of the episode is straightforward enough, so much so that the single-paragraph summary from the always-reliable Wikipedia will suffice:
Professor Ellis Fowler [brilliantly portrayed by Donald Pleasence] is an elderly English literature teacher at a boys' prep school in Vermont, who is forced into retirement after teaching for more than 50 years at the school. Looking through his old yearbooks and reminiscing about his former students, he becomes convinced that all of his lessons have been in vain and that he has accomplished nothing with his life. Deeply depressed, he prepares to kill himself on the night of Christmas Eve next to a statue of the famous educator Horace Mann. Before he can commit suicide, however, he is called back to his classroom by a phantom bell, where he is visited by ghosts of several boys who were his students, all of whom are dead, some of whom died heroically. The boys each tell him that he inspired them to become better men. Deeply moved, Fowler accepts his retirement, content that his life is fuller for having enriched the lives of the boys.
There’s a temptation to play a story such as this as a sentimental tear-jerker, something that would fit in perfectly on The Hallmark Channel, and I’m sure there are many who’ve indeed shed a tear or two during the episode’s undeniably emotional close, in which Fowler realizes just how much he’s mattered to his students over the years. He is the best kind of hero (taking the word in its loosest definition) – an unassuming one, totally unaware of his impact, increasing his heroism in much the same way as a woman unaware of her natural beauty becomes even more beautiful, in a way that can’t be faked.
Read in this way, “The Changing of the Guard” certainly could be seen as Christmas fodder for today, seeing as how so many contemporary seasonal programs substitute sentiment for any real gravitas. (All that’s missing is a love interest, but then we’d be talking about Goodbye, Mr. Chips, wouldn’t we?) And yet, in the more sober world of The Twilight Zone, this is little more than a ruse, a façade for the true meaning of the story, lying just under the surface. For The Twilight Zone was one of the few television series that could do existentialism reasonably well, and the real impact from the story is an existential one, dealing with one of the most central questions of all: the meaning of life. And it is only within this context that one understands why we're watching it early on Christmas morning.
Existentialism and religion are anything but incompatible. In fact, the old Baltimore Catechism makes this one of its first, and most essential, questions. Why did God create you? It’s an existential question of the first order, one at the heart of us all, never far from the surface, and consciously or subconsciously we use it as a measuring stick when looking back on our accomplishments, from any point in our lives. As I mentioned in an earlier post, life is essentially a drama, not the concocted drama of a soap opera but the very real drama of man’s constant struggle for meaning in life, for the differentiation between good and evil, and the fulfillment of a destiny that is at once both human and supernatural. Certainly this is the case with Professor Fowler, who has looked at his lifetime balance sheet and found the deposits to be woefully low.
But Fowler is a melancholy figure, typical of so many of Serling’s protagonists, and while the Christmas season tends to exacerbate those kinds of thoughts, it’s reasonable to infer that Fowler is merely bringing to the surface a suspicion which has dwelt within him for years. He is, therefore, the individual representation of the “weary world” with its “sad and lonely plains” described in the lyrics to the carol “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear.” With this consideration, we’re now getting somewhere, closer to the reason why the setting of the episode is significant. Look at the third stanza of the carol, and see if you don’t agree that the words can be applied to Fowler:
O ye beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.
The message is clear: it is the song of the angels that will pull man from the “crushing load” of life. And is this not in fact what happens with Fowler, in the form of the visitation by the spirits of his former students? Each one of them comes bearing a message, one implicit in the lines of the Angel who greets the shepherds in the fields: “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” And what are the good tidings which the Angel brings? “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)
|A visit from the spirits of the dead?|
Should this be dismissed as a mere science-fiction trope, the introduction of the fantastic which doesn't even attempt a rational explanation? I don’t see why – as someone once said in response to the question of whether or not a mysterious appearance might have been that of an angel, “Why not? Angels can do anything.” Well, perhaps not anything, but they’ve been known to assume various human guises, and since God desires nothing less than the salvation of all men*, it is wholly reasonable to assume this might have been some type of angelic intervention, meant to save the despairing Fowler from the mortal sin of suicide. At any rate, I’m content with that explanation, whether or not anyone else is.
*Again, from the Baltimore Catechism, the answer to the question of why God made us: “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven.
Christmas is, though many seem to have forgotten or chosen not to remember, a Christian holiday, one denoting the birth of a Savior Who was destined to die and rise again in order to redeem mankind from its sins.* Theologically, “The Changing of the Guard” fits perfectly into this, with its supernatural concept - God humbling Himself to become man, one of the most existential aspects of the Bible - that drives the context, which is why the episode more than justifies its appearance in our Christmas blogathon.
*If you think that a bit too grim to impinge on what is essentially The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, take a quick listen to the "Et incarnatus est" from Bach’s B Minor Mass. Translated from the Latin, "Et incarnatus est" comprises the first three words of the passage in the Creed which states, "and [Jesus] was incarnate by the Holy Ghost, of the Virgin Mary, and was made man,” It is, of course, a joyous statement - but Bach chooses to present this music from the point of view not of those who would be saved, but of their Savior, the newly-born Christ, Who even then knew He had been born not just to die, but to suffer a horrific death – over which He would ultimately triumph. It is a remarkable bit of theology which Bach has incorporated into this short section, demonstrating that the Cross hangs heavy even over the Manger.
There are, I know, many who will this an inappropriate piece to offer in this blogathon. They'll suggest that I’m reading too much into this story, that Serling intended nothing more than a message of hope when the world seems to be getting you down. And, of course, you’re entitled to that opinion. But as I’ve often stated, at this blog and elsewhere, there are layers upon layers of meaning contained in every act and work of art, oftentimes without the awareness of the person responsible for it. I have no way of knowing what Rod Serling intended with “The Changing of the Guard,” nor does it ultimately matter. That Serling was intellectually capable of desiring such a meaning we do know, though ultimately that does not matter either. What does matter is that it is possible to derive such a meaning, one that neatly explains the story and renders it plausible above and beyond its existence as a fantasy, and explains exactly why the story had to occur at Christmas as opposed to any other time of the year. Amazing how that all tends to work out, isn’t it?
So let’s just leave it at that, and call it good. As in, Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.
MeTV will air "The Changing of the Guard" at 3:00am ET on Friday, December 25. This post is part of Me-TV's Very Merry Blogathon, hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. You can see the entire blog lineup here, and you can see MeTV's line-up of classic TV Christmas shows at its website.
December 21, 2015
*I was not spoiled; I was simply the only child of the only child in the family to have children, and thus was the object of much gift-giving from family members who enjoyed giving presents to a small child. (These were the family presents, not the Santa presents I'd get the next morning.) Who was I to ruin their fun? I was actually being thoughtful and gracious.
Yes, Christmas Eve was a special day, and the anticipation itself would often make me so excited that I'd be unable to sleep the night before; once I even worked myself into being sick to my stomach. But in much the same way that certain combinations automatically exude a meaning - December 7, for example, or November 22, or your own birthday - December 24 produced an almost Pavlovian response in me. Therefore, it should be no surprise that this is the day I've turned to for this week's listings. And while the number of specifically Christmas-related shows is down from even a couple of years before, it's still a treasure house of lore and tradition. Our listings are, once again, from the Twin Cities edition.
December 19, 2015
In the meantime, we'll see the full range of Christmas episodes and specials playing out: so many of them, we'll spend the entire second half of today's piece looking at them all. But first, a quick rundown on the rest of this week's features.
Edith Efron profiles Nancy Ames, the "TW3 Girl" from NBC's lame attempt to copy the success of the British series That Was the Week That Was. Now, I know some of you will probably write in and tell me how the American TW3 actually had cutting edge satire but was neutered by the network, things like that. There's some truth to that; Ames herself complains that the network prevents the cast from doing "more biting things,"a claim that producer Leland Hayward denies. Ames herself sounds like she might be more trouble than she's worth; an unnamed colleague (Henry Morgan, perhaps, or Buck Henry?) calls her "emotionally erratic," and even a friend remarks that whereas some people have a particular outstanding quality to them, "Nancy doesn't have a high specificness." She nurses a grudge against the Catholic Church for its stand on divorce (she'd been married twice at the time of this writing, and has since married at least twice more), had a split with her family, and - well, you get the point. That Was the Week That Was is from a time when satire was just starting to make its mark on television, and in the media in general, when there was something still considered a little gauche, a little radical, about criticizing our national institutions. This kind of discussion must seem terribly naive nowadays.
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 Jack Jones; the comedy team of Allen and Rossi; Sandu Scott and the Scotties, vocal-instrumental group; comic Charlie Manna; the Woodstock (MD) Jesuit Singers; and the Kossmayer trick mule. On tape: Topo Gigio, the Italian mouse; John the Danish Wonder, balancer; and Victor Julian's dog act.
Palace: Dancer Donald O'Conner introduces actress-singer Jane Powell; jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong; the Vienna Boys Choir; Cliff "Charley Weaver" Arquette; comedian Norman Crosby; and the Hanneford Family's trained horse act.
The Palace has been on quite a roll lately, and this week is no exception. Short and sweet: Louis Armstrong. Do you really need anything more? But if you want it, there's Jane Powell, Charley Weaver, Norm Crosby, and for a Yuletide touch, the Vienna Choir Boys (which is what they're really called). Where's Bing, you ask? Over on Monday, on his own series, with his TV family. It's three in three weeks for the Palace.
It's not easy reviewing a series based on a book written by a late President of the United States, but that's Cleveland Amory's task this week, as he reviews Profiles in Courage, the anthology series taken from the book by John F. Kennedy. Amory has no difficulty pronouncing his verdict though: Profiles in Courage "is a magnificent series, and if you haven't been seeing it, you are missing some of the finest thinking and feeling available on your screen this year."
The series consists of biographies, or profiles, of men and women whose acts, large and small, demonstrated heroic displays of courage in the face of popular opposition or seemingly insurmountable odds. Several profiles have been added to those which appeared in Kennedy's Pulitzer-winning book, all of which were added with the late President's approval. Each episode, Amory notes, concludes with a voiceover of Kennedy's own words, "The stories of past courage can . . . teach, they can offer hope, they can provide inspiration. But they cannot supply courage itself. For this each man must look into his own soul." Wise words indeed.
What distinguishes this series from others of an inspirational bent, according to Amory, is that the stories are underplayed, almost documentary in nature - in "powerful contrast to so many other overblown, skinny-dip sagas." In particular, Amory praises the episode "Mary S. McDowell," the anitwar Quaker schoolteacher in World War I. McDowell is played by Rosemary Harris, in a performance which Amory describes as quietly brilliant, almost matched by supporting actors Albert Salmi, Ralph Williams and Frances Sternhagen. He also likes "Richard T. Ely," the story of a professor accused in 1894 of teaching socialism. As the story plays out, Amory wonders "Was it 1894 or 1964?"
The acting and writing in Profiles is uniformly excellent, and Amory has but one question remaining: will the networks get the message, "which is that there is room in television for dramas - and documentaries too - about ideas that are not necessarily popular. We don't always have to agree with what's being said and done on the screen to enjoy and perhaps learn from it."
The college football bowl seasons begins on Saturday with the Liberty Bowl, broadcast from Atlantic City, New Jersey at 11:30am (CT) on ABC. The game, between West Virginia and Utah, is a historic first, "the first network telecast of an indoor football game," played in the Atlantic City Convention Center, better known as the home of the Miss America pageant. Here's a look at how this unusual arrangement played out:
The week ends with a Christmas Day all-star game, the 19th annual North-South Shrine Game from the Orange Bowl in Miami. I remember this game - well, not this particular game, but the Shrine Game itself. It was never a big game; after all, all the best teams were playing in bowl games around New Year's Day. It was something to watch, though, if you wanted football on Christmas Day, while you were playing with your new toys, some of them having to do with football.
I've made this point before, that whereas there are 40 bowl games this year, there were only nine in 1964, and so besides the Liberty Bowl, there's only one game this week, the Bluebonnet Bowl from Houston, pitting Mississippi and Tulsa, and following the Liberty Bowl Saturday afternoon on ABC.
Saturday: On NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies, it's the Irving Berlin classic White Christmas, starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. Have I ever mentioned to you my theory of how the match between Bing and Rosey is doomed to ultimate failure because of her issues regarding trust and communication? My wife hates it when I start in on that, although she agrees with me on it, because I usually do it while the movie is on. What does that say about me? That I'd love to see this movie on Mystery Science Theater 3000.
The movie overlaps with the last half hour of Lawrence Welk's family Christmas show on ABC. The Maestro was never afraid of mixing the sacred with the popular, as "O Holy Night" and "Ave Maria" show. They also perform "White Christmas," and if I were ABC, I would have stressed to them not to do it until the end of the show, so as not to remind the audience of what was on the opposite channel.
Gilligan's Island has a holiday episode as well, which I wouldn't have expected. It takes place on Christmas Eve, when a radio broadcast gives the castaways hope they might be rescued, and they take the opportunity to look back on how they came to be marooned on this deserted isle.
Sunday: It starts early, when at 9:00am CT CBS presents a performance of Hector Belioz's famed Christmas oratorio "L'Enfance du Christ," with an all-star cast including the Camarata singers, soloists from the Metropolitan Opera, and the John Butler Dance Theatre. No clip from the broadcast, but I always believe in letting you know what you missed, so here's clip from a 1966 version that, I would like to think, might give you an idea of what this performance was like.
Continuing the classical Christmas motif, at 3:00pm the NBC Opera Theatre presents the annual broadcast of Amahl and the Night Visitors, the one-act opera by Gian Carlo Menotti. This is something of a landmark broadcast itself; it is the first time a taped repeat of a previous broadcast has ever been used. Although it's been some time since the opera was telecast live, it was always done as a new broadcast, using the same cast from the initial showing in 1951 (except for the boy soprano playing Amahl). The new cast and production so outraged Menotti that, as soon as the broadcast rights reverted back to him, he forbade NBC from showing it.
Music plays a big part of today's broadcast schedule, as there are also local telecasts of choral programs from the Concordia (MN) College choir and the Great Lakes Naval Training choir (repeated on Christmas Eve). The syndicated Mantovani, at 11:30am on Channel 9, also gives us a half-hour of seasonal fare, beautiful-music style.
Monday starts off on the local educational channel, KTCA, with music from the St. Olaf College Choir, one of the nation's greatest college music programs. The school's annual Christmas concert has become internationally renown, and while this half-hour isn't from that concert, it promise to be extremely well-performed.
At 6:30pm, NBC repeats last year's The Story of Christmas, an uninterrupted hour of music with Tennessee Ernie Ford and the Roger Wagner Chorale, highlighted by Eyvind Earle extraordinary animated telling of the Nativity, a clip of which you can see below.
That's followed by the NBC documentary series Project 20 (sometimes known as Project XX), telling the story of "The Coming of Christ" through the use of paintings from the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, combined with the narration of Alexander Scourby. From what I've read, the technique used in the program is reminiscent of that later used by Ken Burns, but that's just an educated guess. Regardless, with Scourby's magnificent voice, you can't go wrong. In turn, that's followed by the annual Andy Williams Christmas Show, featuring the Williams Brothers, the Osmond Brothers, and an appearance by the ventriloquist Senor Wences. What a great, great night of television.
Over on ABC, the final hour of Andy clashes with the Christmas episode of The Bing Crosby Show. In this strange hybrid, Bing's fictional character Bing Collins combines with his TV family and The Wellingtons to offer a half hour of the season in song. And at 9:00pm, CBS takes a look at the serious side of the holiday, as Charles Kuralt's documentary Christmas in Appalachia tours the poverty-stricken coal country of Kentucky.
Tuesday gives us WCCO's local broadcast The Sounds of Christmas, preempting Joey Bishop for music and Bible readings from Mt. Olivet Lutheran Church, whose pastor, Dr. Reuben K. Youngdahl, appears on the station every weekday morning at 9:25. Following that is Red Skelton's annual Christmas show, with Greer Garson guest-starring in a Freddie the Freeloader story, part one of which you can see here (and click on the links at YouTube to see the rest).
At 9:00pm, NBC is back with another music special, as Maureen O'Hara hosts The Bell Telephone Hour's annual Christmas show, with Howard Keel, Phyllis Curtin, Martha Wright, ballet dancers Violette Verdy and Edmund Novak, and the famed Columbus Boychoir. Maureen reads the story of the Nativity, which probably would get the show yanked today.
At 10:00pm, Channel 11 broadcasts Miracle on 34th Street, which as I've noted before ranks as the best Christmas movie ever. TV Guide's description is woefully inadequate: "One Kris Kringle, a department-store Santa Claus, causes quite a commotion when he suggests that customers go to a rival store." Technically true, but it misses the whole point.
|SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION|
On Wednesday we get Christmas episodes of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (from 1956), Shindig (with the Beach Boys singing "Little Saint Nick," among other highlights), and The Dick Van Dyke Show (as the regulars and staff writers of "The Alan Brady Show" do a Christmas show). Additionally there's a syndicated variety show by singer Jo Stafford on Channel 4, and Jo later shows up on The Danny Kaye Show, which includes a "Christmas Fantasy" spot with Danny and dancer Gwen Verdon.
I'm skipping over Christmas Eve for the moment, as it's highlighted in Monday's TV listings, so let's take a look at Friday, Christmas Day. The McCoys, at 10:30am on CBS, and Father Knows Best, at 11:00am on ABC, both feature Christmas episodes, as does Ernie Ford's variety show on ABC at 11:30am, and Channel 11 broadcasts "The Joyful Hour," a Family Theater dramatization of the Nativity (part 1 here) with Pat O'Brien and family, and starring Ruth Hussey, Nelson Leigh, and Raymond Burr, followed by "Christmas Around the World," celebrating "music from many lands."
Speaking of music, at 11:30am NBC presents the Christmas Day service of Lessons and Carols from the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. I always enjoyed watching this Christmas morning; I'm sorry that the network no longer carries it, although I believe you can catch it online. I mentioned the football game earlier, and that dominates ABC's afternoon programming. Meanwhile, Jo Stafford (again!) hosts the Blackpool circus on Channel 4, and Channel 11's Bachelor Father has another story about the season. I haven't mentioned the local choral programs, which are scattered around the dial.
By prime time, things start to wind down; Channel 5 preempts Jack Benny's show for the annual Christmas Skating Show from the Minneapolis Arena, and Channel 2 airs a rerun of Christmas in Tyrol, a program of Tyrolian Christmas carols performed by students at the College of St. Thomas, hosted by Fr. Richard Schuler, my old pastor from St. Agnes in St. Paul, and one of the titans of Catholic music in the second half of the 20th Century. Channel 2, in fact, has Christmas music programs for the rest of the evening, with choirs from various colleges around the country. And the evening comes to an end with a lesser-known Christmas movie, Dondi, starring David Janssen and Patti Page, inspired by the comic strip of the same name.
If you couldn't find anything Christmas-sy to watch this week, you weren't looking very hard.
Finally, the humorist Allan Sherman ("Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh," which I loved as a kid) is back with his annual Christmas poem celebrating television. I suspect it might have been funnier at the time that it is today - see sample below:
Hail Lassie and Mister Ed, animal stars;
And My Favorite Walston, the man from Mars.
May the stars of Bewitched and Burke's Law rejoice
(The first rides a broom, the last a Rolls-Royce).
Long may the weird Addams Family cavort!
Hang up the mistletoe in Bristol Court!
Hail I've Got a Secret with no Garry Moorage.
Hail NBC's new show, Profiles in Courage.
- but there's one stanza near the end that sums it all up, not only for the 1964 season but for every viewer who's ever watched television since the beginning:
But most of all, dear viewer, greetings to You,
And thanks for the patience with which you sat through
The previous season and gazed at the box
Without going crazy, without throwing rocks.
May this year be better, May each show you see
Be laden with gifts like a bright Christmas Tree.
However, this wasn't Allan Sherman's only brush with Christmas, as this parody shows:
On that note I'd wish you a Merry Christmas, but I'll be back long before then, starting with Monday's look at programming on Christmas Eve!
December 18, 2015
reminder that this year's Classic TV Blog Association here, and while yours truly will not show up until Christmas Eve, there are some exceptional entries already, warm and nostalgic and reminding you of Christmases past. The Christmas blogathon continues up through the big day itself, and you can see the entire lineup here.
For example, The Last Drive-In reviews The Andy Griffith Show's 1960 Yule episode, Meanwhile, Made For TV Mayhem writes up the Kojak Christmas entry. I agree that Kojak isn't the first show I think of at Christmastime, but this makes me want to see that episode. Two very different takes on the season from two very different police shows.
Some Polish American Guy provides a Q&A on the 1976 NBC series Gemini Man. I remember this series, vaguely; living in The World's Worst Town™, NBC was our only choice. Would I have seen it otherwise? Fortunately, it's a question I don't have to answer.
At The Horn Section, Hal takes a page out of my book (with some very kind and generous words besides) and looks at the TV Guide from December 11, 1965, which featured the cast of F Troop on the cover. I love reading writeups like this; even though I do them myself, people seldom choose the same things to zero in on, and it always gives me a fresh perspective on things I looked over. (And often causes me to say, "Why didn't I notice that?")
I've never thought to compare Batman and The Avengers, for example, but that's just what Cult TV Blog is up to, and there are in fact some very interesting similarities, starting with the villains themselves. That blog never ceases to spur my own creative juices.
You may have noticed that many of the seasonal programs of the era revolved around music, and that seems an appropriate segue to Comfort TV's meditation on 10 favorite classic TV Christmas songs. What a great list! You'll have your own favorites, of course, but if you give me these as part of the proverbial desert island stay, I wouldn't complain.
Kliph Nesteroff has a new book out - The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels and the History of American Comedy, and for those of you who haven't yet decided whether or not you want to find this under your tree, his Classic Television Showbiz has a handy guide to reviews, profiles, interviews, and other items that should help you make up your mind.
Over the last year or so, I've really become a fan of the OTR program Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. Given how many of the old radio shows made the transition to television, I've always wondered why Johnny Dollar never did, but Television Obscurities sheds some light on it all with a look at two pilots that were made in an attempt to sell the show to TV.
As always, my sidebar has these sites and more, and when I've got the time (an increasingly problematic situation), I like nothing better than leisurely browsing through them, and invariably learning something I didn't already know. Sometimes that comes from other than a regular source, such as this article that describes something I've never noticed, no matter how many times I've watched A Charlie Brown Christmas: the moment Linus drops his blanket. If you run across anything like that, or other sites that you think should be shared, just drop me an email and let me know. And in the meantime, I'll let you know that I'll be back tomorrow with our special Christmas edition!
December 16, 2015
|FROSTY THE SNOWMAN LEADING HIS SMALL BAND OF DISCIPLES DOWN MAIN STREET|
*Or at least the Christmas-card look that Rankin-Bass used, unlike their other stop-motion animated shows.
Peter is a pretty bright guy, so when he told me that contrary to my opinion, the story of Frosty could be taken as an allegory for the life of Christ, I was more than a little intrigued.
“What?” I think I said.
“Sure,” he replied, and proceeded to document the ways:
- His birth occurs in the dead of winter, much as Christ's birth is symbolized with the evergreen in winter (and obviously suggests miraculous life from a dead or virginal womb).
- Frosty always says, "Happy Birthday!" when he comes to life...strongly suggesting a birth... and the tradition of birthdays probably comes from the celebration of Christ's birth.
- Frosty’s self-sacrifice, going into the greenhouse to save Karen’s life even though he risks melting in the heat, much as Christ the Savior suffers and dies on the Cross.
- The resurrection – Santa opens the door to the greenhouse and the winter winds sweep into the room, bringing Frosty to life, in the same way that the Holy Spirit (often portrayed in the Bible as a wind) enters the Tomb.
- Frosty goes to the North Pole with Santa in his sleigh, as Christ Ascends into Heaven.
- Frosty returns every year with Santa (“I’ll be back again some day,” he sings in the song.) Christ, having been seated at the right hand of the Father, will come again in glory.
All of a sudden, the story starts to make sense, and what until then had been a fairly one-dimensional cartoon (literally, given that the rest of the Rankin-Bass cartoons were done in that three-dimensional animation) has become, in fact, a much deeper and more complex parable. Now, maybe this is like Pink Floyd and The Wizard of Oz in that everyone in the world already knew about this and I’m just finding out. I’d be interested to hear if anyone out there has noticed a similar religious vein to the story. And I’d have liked to be able to ask Arthur Rankin, Jr., the producer, if either he or Romeo Muller, the writer of the story, had any intentions of this. If not, of course, it’s just another example of the existential interpretation of a television show, not to mention how the Lord works through even the most common and ordinary means.
December 14, 2015
December 12, 2015
"Why am I doing this series?" he tells Raddatz. "I have to do something. I wanted to stay in the business, and there didn't seem to be any feature pictures available." His production company, which continues to produce television series*, has employees who need to be paid. "What are you going to do - say, 'Go to hell?' I still have time to play golf, hunt and fish. But there are certain things I have to do."
*Ben Casey and Slattery's People at present, and Hogan's Heroes in the future.
He takes immense pride in his family, especially the children from his second marriage, and worries about his older boys from the first, all of whom have had personal troubles of one kind or another. He recently shot an episode of the show with one of those sons, Gary, who will pen a tell-all book after Crosby's death that, at least temporarily, shatters the Crosby myth with charges of abuse and bad parenting.
A few years ago I attended a talk by Gary Giddins, the jazz expert who at the time was promoting the first volume of his Crosby biography, and someone asked him his opinion of Gary's accusations. He was inclined to disbelieve him; Gary was a particularly troubled individual, and Giddins said there was absolutely no evidence to corroborate the accusations he'd made. Not only that, the story didn't match up to the known facts about Bing, nor did it find favor in what others said about him. That's not to say that Crosby was perfect; he himself admitted that he'd made mistakes with his first family, and friend and songwriter Jimmy Van Heusen remarked that "There must be something in him that no one has fathomed yet." He could indeed be difficult, distant, enigmatic - but for a generation his personality, whether real or not, was soothing and charming, and it just didn't seem like Christmas without a Bing Crosby show. This year, his Yuletide Clambake takes place on his sitcom, after which it will become a fixture on The Hollywood Palace, before moving to NBC, and then CBS. His place in the Christmas landscape has yet to be replaced.
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: Guests are comedian Alan King, singer Anita Bryant, Italian tenor Daniele Barioni, the Marquis Chimps, the comedy team of Stiller and Meara, British ventriloquist Arthur Worsley, the Fabulous Echos vocal-instrumental group and Con Conwally's balancing act.
Palace: Folk singer Burl Ives introduces Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy and Edgar's 18-year-old daughter Candy; operatic soprano Anna Moffo; singer-dancer Ann Miller; comic Pat Henry; Rih Aruso, bicycle-balancer; and Liana Stanek, Vienese trapeze artist.
I'm going to go with the Palace this week for a number of reasons, none of which might have been evident at the time this issue went to press. First, Burl Ives is less than a week from having introduced one of his biggest hits, "Holly Jolly Christmas" on last week's Rudolph. He's not doing that this week, of course, more to the chagrin of the MCA, the label that put out the Rudolph soundtrack, but he is doing perhaps his biggest hit, "Big Rock Candy Mountain." Second, we get to meet Edgar Bergen's daughter "Candy," or Candice Bergen, as we would know her today. He and Charlie are always a big hit. Add Anna Moffo and Ann Miller, and you've got more than enough to overcome Alan King and Anita Bryant. For the second week in a row, give the nod to the Palace.
This week, Cleveland Amory takes on Wendy and Me, the successor to The Burns and Allen Show. It's produced by George Burns and features Burns in a supporting role as the owner of an apartment building in which lives Wendy (Connie Stevens) and her husband Jeff (Ron Harper). Wendy assumes the Gracie Allen function, even though she's married to Ron instead of George, and Connie is nowhere near as talented as Gracie. Other than that, the show should be a smash, right?
Burns, says Amory, is an actor "out of it," a commentator on the action rather than a participant in it. Burns was one of the foremost proponents of breaking the fourth wall and addressing the viewer directly, and he uses that shtick to make fun of the show, the cast, the entire production, and himself. Amory's not a big fan of it, nor does he have much good to say about the commercials, which are introduced by Burns. One particular commercial gets to him - a car ad narrated by Col. John "Shorty" Powers, who came to fame as the Mission Control communicator for the Mercury space missions. The commercials tout "inexcusably fast driving," according to Amory, who finds them "taxing, to say the least, to the average taxpayer." Fortunately, he says, "The program itself, we are happy to say, is better. It's not our favorite, but neither is it a complete miss - actually, it's one of those near Mrs."
The Mrs. is Stevens, who is not the greatest actress ever - "She also has a way of delivering her lines as if they were beeps on a beeper phone," and giving her "the benefit of a couple of long doubts," she "comes close to making up for the fact that almost every plot we've seen is an obvious and often wearing blend of mistaken identity and missed connections."
The rest of the cast, particularly J. Pat O'Malley as the handyman, is fine, or at least adequate. But I get the impression that Amory will hardly be surprised that Wendy and Me makes it for only the one season.
Monday night on NBC, Jonathan Winters returns for a holiday-themed special, with guests Eileen Farrell, Peter Nero and Louis Nye. Winters plays one of his famous characters, Maude Frickert, hawking her Christmas cards, and Nye and Williams team up for a sketch about Santa's Madison Avenue marketers.
And the late-night movie on WTCN Wednesday is that old favorite, Holiday Inn, with Crosby and Fred Astaire as two song-and-dance men fighting over the same woman. Bing wins in the end, as we knew he would, but personally I've always wondered about the longevity of the match with the fickle Linda Mason, who threw Bing over for Fred and then throws Fred back over for Bing. Maybe I'll write more about that someday.
Thursday night it's Perry Como's Christmas special on Kraft Music Hall (NBC), which sees Perry making the trip over to Rome, where he welcomes opera star Roberta Peters, Burr Tillstrom and his famous puppets Kukla and Ollie, the Boys Town of Italy Choir, and the Sistine Chapel Choir, which has come to be known in recent years as the "Sistine Screamers." Let's just say their musicology, which had shown a slight improvement in recent years, remains suspect. Nonetheless, I suspect it was a very nice program.
There are some local programs that deserve mention as well; Sunday afternoon, independent WTCN has a half-hour program on behalf of the Salvation Army, with appropriate music from the Salvation Army band and the North High School chorus. And throughout the week, WCCO's Around the Town program presents Christmas concerts from local choirs.
However, there's a drawback to this larger, clearer picture tube, and that's the price. "The least expensive Motorola* set with a 23-inch color picture is list-priced at $625, while Zenith's first 25-inch sets are quoted at $795 and $895, and RCA's have a suggested retail price of $850." On the other hand, the 21-inch sets now run for less than $400, so there is that.
*Motorola, Zenith and RCA, for you youngsters out there, used to make television sets.
And there's the first stirrings of Japanese sets coming on the market, 16-inchers, but they're not portable, and they're only a little less expensive than the cheapest 21-inch sets. There are rumors that Sony is coming out with a new "Chromatron" tube, though American manufacturers doubt it can be mass-produced at low-enough cost, and the initial tests were disappointing.
About 2.5 million color sets have been sold since the introduction of the color set in 1954, but manufacturers are betting that more than 2,000,000 additional families will make the plunge in 1965. Color television, it appears, is here to stay.
|SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION|
Sherry was up for what would have been her biggest role, that of the title character in Lolita, but then something went wrong: her mother read the book. "Why, no one in our neighborhood would have spoken to us," her mother says in explanation for why she didn't allow Sherry to go after the role. Sherry herself says she'll give up acting if ever there comes a time when "I'm miserable because I didn't get some part." As a backup against that time, she's attending Santa Monica Community College, taking courses in theater arts and typing.
Sherry Alberoni's greatest future fame will come as the voice of "nasty rich-girl Alexandra Cabot" in the cartoon Josie and the Pussycats, as well as other voice work, a recurring role in Family Affair, and periodic Mickey Mouse Club reunions. Did she need those typing classes? I don't know about that, but it sounds as if she's written a pretty successful life for herself.
Finally, from the Teletype: "Currently in production at Desilu is the pilot for a 60-minute, science-fiction, color series called Star Trek, with Jeffrey Hunter as a spaceship captain." Also, NBC has signed comedian Don Adams for a pilot, "and the network has in mind a comedy property called Get Smart, about a non-too-competent secret agent." Wonder if anything ever came of them?