There will also be some new bits, and anyone expecting to see the same skits and characters as in the old shows will be mistaken. "We looked at some of the old Caesar-Coca kinnies [kinescopes] a couple of weeks ago," says producer Hal Janis, "and it was like looking at museum pieces. Sid and Imogene both have grown as comedians in the past seven years."
It would be nice to say that the new show was a smash, making time stand still and all that, but it would also be untrue. Someone once said it's difficult to catch lightning in a bottle twice, and whatever magic it was that made Caesar and Coca a smash in the early '50s no longer exists in 1958. Sid Caesar Invites You lasted but four months, and though both stayed in show business for many, many years, neither ever reached the heights that they once had, back when television was young.
No single dominant moment this week, so let's spend our time doing something we don't do often enough: just see what's on TV.
On Saturday it's one of those this-happens-to-me-all-the-time instances, Perry Mason's "The Case of the Haunted Husband." "After Mason arranges bail for a woman charged with auto theft, a man's body is found in her hotel room." The woman, quite sensibly, is now charged with murder, despite the fact, as Mason's defense will show, that the police barely investigated the case at all before lighting on the most obvious suspect. There will be no bets taken on the outcome of the case.
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Something else on Sunday night, G.E. Theater. In this episode, Alan Ladd makes a rare television appearance as a frontier sheriff running for reelection, who discovers he's losing his hearing. Because he's afraid the town's criminals would take advantage of his disability if they knew, he decides to keep it a secret. It's an interesting question, whether or not the voters deserve to know about the health of their sheriff, who's also a candidate. It's understandable why he might not want to reveal his growing deafness, but things like that have a way of becoming a slippery slope, and once you use one excuse, it's easier to use another, and another. Should he resign and let his deputies take over? Not having seen the episode, I'm not sure how I feel about the ethics involved - what about you?
For Monday we'll take a look at a show from north of the border, on CKWS, which offers the type of program we're only too familiar with in this country: a political talk. This one is from John Wintermeyer, a member of the Ontario Liberal Party. I'd love to be able to report that Wintermeyer went on to become Prime Minister or something like that, but he never rose higher in the political world than leader of the party in Ontario, a position he held until 1963. The talk runs for 30 minutes and is followed by a rerun of The Millionaire, which Wintermeyer might have been envious of since he was also Shadow Finance Minister.
Tuesday's Schlitz Playhouse of Stars (10:30pm, CBS) gives us an example of the interesting relationship between theatrical movies and television. It's "The Lonely Wizard," starring Rod Steiger. Steiger is far from an unknown quantity; in 1954 he'd copped a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for On the Waterfront, and he's acted in many big screen movies before and since. In the early '60s Steiger's talent really comes to the forefront: a nomination for Best Actor for The Pawnbroker in 1964, an evil politician in Doctor Zhivago in 1965, an Oscar for Best Actor for In the Heat of the Night in 1967. At this point in time television was thought to be a medium for young actors on their way up (Charlton Heston, Clint Eastwood), or veterans on their way down. Steiger doesn't really fall into either category; although he's certainly a star on the big screen, his best days in movies are still ahead of him and he's not too big a name to appear on the small screen. Above all, Steiger is a working actor, one who always wants to be active, and for him a role is a role is a role, whether in movie theaters, Broadway stages, or television studios.
On Wednesday it's Date With the Angels, a sitcom that had been pretty much forgotten until star Betty White staged her career comeback a few years ago. With White suddenly a hot commodity, it didn't take long before this series, as well as White's Life With Elizabeth, found their way onto DVD and into stores. It's actually the last show of the series; the show wasn't a great experience for White, who called the show "run-of-the-mill" and said that it "was the only time I have ever wanted to get out of a show.Next week White will resuscitate her old variety series, which will fill out the rest of the season.
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Speaking of murder, on Friday, ABC's The Court of Last Resort (8:00pm) presents us with one of those real-life moments. The cases in the series are based on the real-life Court of Last Resort, founded by Perry Mason creator Erle Stanley Gardner to investigate crimes for which the wrong person might have been convicted. The most famous case which the Court investigated was that of Dr. Sam Sheppard, the Cleveland osteopath who'd been convicted in 1954 of murdering his wife, but the Court of Last Resort investigated many such cases, the findings of which were often written up in Argosy magazine, and Gardner remained committed to the Court until his death in 1970.
This week's episode is "The Phillip Huston Case," in which the Court takes on the case of a man convicted of a shotgun killing. Eager to keep the Court from digging too deeply, the authorities offer Philip Huston parole in order to fend off the investigation. A parole, like a pardon, implies a certain degree of guilt; a similar situation actually occurred in the Sheppard case, when Sheppard's new attorney, F. Lee Bailey, began to find out things that made state officials too uncomfortable and they likewise began to float the idea of such an offer. Under Bailey's prodding, Sheppard made it clear he was going for broke - guilty or innocent. He was eventually acquitted in a retrial in 1966.
Care for some sports? On Saturday afternoon at 2:00pm, dueling telecasts of what would have been seen as minor sports back in the day: CBS presents an "ice hockey" matchup between the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins from Boston Garden, while NBC counters with pro basketball, pitting the Minneapolis Lakers and New York Knickerbockers from Madison Square Garden. At 9:00pm CKWS, the Canadian station, has CBC's Hockey Night in Canada with the Chicago Black Hawks and Montreal Canadians from the Montreal Forum.
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At 4:30pm, NBC covers what's still considered a major sport - horse racing - with the Royal Palm Handicap from famed Hialeah Park in Florida. It's very rare today to see significant coverage of any horse racing aside from the Triple Crown races and the Breeders Cup at the end of the season, but in the late '50s a race such as this, which must have been considered a big race, is a pretty common sight on Saturday afternoon television.
There's still prime-time boxing to look forward to as well. ABC's turn comes on Wednesday, when Wayne Bethea fights Young Jack Johnson in a heavyweight bout, while on Friday NBC has light heavyweights Yvon Durelle and Tony Anthony. I wish I could tell you these fighters went on to become big names in the business, but - no.
What about culture? It's here this week as well, starting on Sunday with what sounds like an intriguing episode of CBS' morning show Camera Three. It's a play entitled "Mark Twain's Nightmares," and notes that for most of his life, Twain suffered from nightmares. (I did not know that.) In this scenario, one of Twain's dreams yields a meeting with some of his own characters, critics and biographers. Interesting idea.
In fact, the number of music programs on TV this week is almost, though not quite, staggering. Lawrence Welk has two programs, his eponymously-named one on Saturday and the Top Tunes version on Monday. Arthur Godfrey has a couple as well; besides his regular variety show, there's Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts. We've also got regular series by Perry Como (NBC), Red Foley's Country Music Jubilee (ABC), Polly Bergen and Your Hit Parade alum Gisele MacKenzie as well as the aforementioned Your Hit Parade (all NBC), Dinah Shore (NBC), Patti Page (The Big Record, CBS), Pat Boone (ABC), Tennessee Ernie Ford (NBC), Rosemary Clooney (NBC), Frank Sinatra (ABC), Patrice Munsel (ABC) and Country Hoedown (CBC), and I'm sure I'm missing some. That's in addition to variety shows hosted by Steve Allen, Ed Sullivan and Red Skelton. It's almost impossible today to think of what kind of talent you'd need to fill all those shows, let alone who they'd be.
Finally, a brief mention of what might otherwise have appeared as little more than a footnote. It's the 7:00pm sports on WTRI, Channel 35, an ABC affiliate in Menands, a suburb of Albany. As you know if you read the Monday TV listing, I generally include the name of the local newscaster, sportscaster, etc. when it's included. And at 7:00pm on WTRI, we begin a 15 minute sports update hosted by Howard Cosell. Now, it's not unusual for a local anchor to step up to the big time, and Cosell had a relationship with ABC since the mid-50s. In fact, I'm not suggesting Cosell was broadcasting from WTRI; if anything, the show was probably emanating from WABC in New York. Still, could anyone in 1958 have looked in on this show and imagined Howard Cosell would have become the sensation he did? I'm not making it up - I'm just telling it like it is.