January 30, 2016

This week in TV Guide: January 27, 1962

On of the all-time favorite TV tropes is the wedding. It can be used to write someone out of a series, to introduce someone into a series, or to bolster fading ratings. It's almost always an event, and sometimes the "very special episode" will even be advertised with fake "invitations" asking you, the dear viewer, to take part in the blessed event.

This week, the latest show to fall back on the wedding is CBS' Father of the Bride, at 8:30pm CT on Friday night, based on the 1950 movie of the same name starring Spencer Tracy, Joan Bennett and Elizabeth Taylor. Granted, any series with the word "bride" in the title would lead one to expect a wedding at some point or other, but when the first seventeen episodes are dedicated to setting up the premise, it's a little hard to know where the series hoped to go afterward. Sure, there are all kinds of traditional newlywed storylines to choose from, but even that will take you only so far. Eventually, the series would have had to go far afield from its original scenario. We'll never know for sure, though, because the series only lasted one season, its contract with the network being annulled with the last original episode on June 1, 1962.

At any rate, it's not the series that's the point this week, but its star, Myrna Fahey, who takes on the Elizabeth Taylor role. In this week's issue, we have a seven-page layout of Fahey modeling various fashions and accessories, including a smart pink suit with matching pillbox hat that looks eerily similar to that worn by Jacqueline Kennedy on November 22. Close enough, at least, to startle anyone seeing it after the fact.




Myrna Fahey was very busy on TV in the late '50s and '60s, and made a memorable appearance opposite Vincent Price in Roger Corman's 1960 movie House of Usher, but Father of the Bride was her only major television role. She died of cancer in 1973 at the young age of 40.

***

One of the more enjoyable aspects to trolling through the TV Guide archives is running across mention of a series that's destined to become a classic but for the moment is still in its embryonic state. Thus is the case in this week's issue.

We don't have Cleveland Amory for a critic yet; he won't come on the scene for another year. But in his stead we have an equally illustrious name: Gilbert Seldes, film critic for The New Republic; first Director of Programming for CBS, host of various cultural and educational programs on both radio and television, and head of the Annenberg School for Communications - that's as in Walter Annenberg, President of Triangle Publications, publisher of TV Guide.

This week Seldes takes a look at The Dick Van Dyke Show. The rookie series premiered in October 1961, which gives Seldes three months worth of episodes to check out. And - surprise - he doesn't particularly like it. Well, that might be an exaggeration; he does allow that "it's all in fun and some of it is fun." But his main criticism of the program is that creator Carl Reiner seems to have based this show on the idea that you "take an event that has happened to nearly everybody and that nearly everybody has told to everybody else. Then make it funnier than it ever was. And throw in a surprise ending." Instead, though, he concludes that it's more "like having someone tell you what happened to him and you know the story isn't any better than what happened to you." In other words, the plots are routine and predictable, the situations generally call for some degree of misunderstanding, and a couple of twists are thrown in to ensure a surprise ending that nevertheless means everyone lives happily ever after.


Now, I'll admit that the Van Dyke show has never been one of my favorites; I enjoy the scenes with Rob, Buddy and Sally at the office, but I've never understood the appeal of Mary Tyler Moore. (I'm a heretic? So sue me.) But a couple of things about Seldes' review rub me the wrong way. For one thing, he never mentions the names of any of the actors in the series. You might be able to figure out Dick Van Dyke is in the series because his name is in the title, but it might as well be called The Carl Reiner Show, because almost all of the review is devoted to discussing Reiner's part in the program, and the success (or failure) of his scripts. But the point is you don't see anything about Moore, nor Morey Amsterdam, nor Rose Marie, nor even Richard Deacon. Now, I might be able to understand Seldes' fascination with the writing, given that he's a writer himself, but still. Second, in the review's final paragraph Seldes mentions fleetingly that Rob Petrie's job is as a TV writer, but he completely ignores the dynamic of the characters making up the office staff. As I recall, one of the Van Dyke show's special touches is that it was one of the rare sitcoms to spotlight not only the star's home life, but his work life as well. To shrug off that office, so integral to the success of the sow, as merely his occupation is to do it a gross disservice.

Perhaps the show wasn't literary enough for Seldes. Maybe it didn't hit upon social issues, or have redeeming educational value. Perhaps The Dick Van Dyke Show was just 30 minutes of harmless entertainment that everyone could identify with, acted out by a superior cast. Is there anything wrong with that?

***

As you know, on Mondays we focus on a single day's worth of listings. Sometimes I add local color to the story, especially when I'm reporting on the Minneapolis-St. Paul channels. Rarely, though, do I get a chance to go in-depth on some of the programs on that day. I thought I'd rectify that this week; it won't replace Monday's story (you'll have to tune in to see what day I'm doing), but since Sunday afternoon programming has, arguably, changed more than any other day of the week, let's take a closer look at some of the shows people were watching on January 28.

The reason Sundays are so different, of course, is that the early '60s didn't see wall-to-wall sports or infomercials on during the day - there was time for something else. Much of that programming falls into the category of "public affairs" - hey, I didn't promise it would be exciting, just different. For example, at 4:00pm CT NBC has The Nation's Future, in which two public figures debate one of the leading issues of the day, following by questioning from a studio audience. This week: Democratic Senator Clifton Anderson (New Mexico) and Republican Senator John Tower (Texas) take up the question "Should medical care for the aged be linked to Social Security?" The show runs for an hour. It's up against Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour on CBS and Wide World of Sports on ABC. Later on, NBC has the venerable "press conference of the air" Meet the Press, which wasn't always shown on Sunday mornings. TV Guide doesn't provide any details, but a little Internet research tells us the guest is Representative Chet Holifield (D - California), Chairman of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy. What with all the talk about the Test Ban Treaty, it's not surprising that atomic energy gets a lot of play.

Meanwhile, WFAA, the ABC affiliate in DFW, has a program called Meet the Professor, which this week has Arthur Mizener, a professor of English at Cornell. Later on, WFAA features Young America Speaks, with students from Texas and Midwestern Universities debating the question "Should the Federal Government subsidize cultural and artistic programs?" while Wichita Falls' KSWO brings us ABC's Issues and Answers, an interview with Chester Bowles, special representative to the President on Asian, African and Latin American Affairs. And after that, NBC carries "the first of three half-hour programs presenting taped highlights from the Federal Communications Commission's hearing on network television programming." You might wonder if anyone was ever interested enough to watch it, but again, let's put it in context: the Quiz Show Scandals (see more below) had changed the way TV programming was sponsored, and questions about (for example) whether or not the networks relied on ratings to the exclusion of quality were, indeed, very controversial.

Besides public affairs programming, Sunday was known as a graveyard for cultural programs that might not find a large audience in prime-time. At 1:30pm, NBC Opera Theatre reruns 1960's production of Mozart's Don Giovanni, featuring two of the greatest opera singers of the 20th Century, soprano Leontyne Price and bass Cesare Siepi.  The show expands to two hours and thirty minutes for the opera. Meanwhile, at 2:00pm, WFAA's Great Music from Chicago is an hour of classical music from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Also at 2:00pm, Directions '62 has "Singer Among the Nations," a profile of the wonderful tenor Jan PeerceAt 4:30pm, it's one of the most loved quiz shows of the '60s, G-E College Bowl, which pits DePauw University against BYU. Oh, and on Amateur Hour, "Ted Mack's guests include a barbershop chorus, a guitarist and a dancer."

Local movies? At noon it's One Way to Love on WBAP and We Who Are Young on KSYD. At 4:30pm on KTVT, it's Flaxy Martin. Religious programming? Everything from Gospel Lighthouse Church on KTVT to Davey and Goliath on KXII. Oh, and there is some sports: CBS Sports Spectacular spotlights the always-enjoyable Harlem Globetrotters, once again taking on the Washington Generals. Former PGA champion Bob Rosburg competes against Japanese champion Pete Nakamura on Shell's Wonderful World of Golf on NBC. The aforementioned Wide World of Sports has highlights of yesterday's Oregon Invitational Indoor Track Meet. And in the most exciting show of the day, KTVT has Championship Bridge, hosted by the renowned Charles Goren.

See how much we've lost?

***

The sports schedule is a little light this week, with football finished for the year and baseball still three months off.

Not the Green Bay Packers
NBC's Saturday afternoon NBA Game of the Week might confuse you if you aren't up-to-date on the early history of the NBA. The game pits the Syracuse Nationals and Chicago Packers from the Chicago Amphitheatre. Now, the Packers aren't some early version of the Chicago Bulls - the league's first expansion team is actually the predecessor to today's Washington Wizards, having been known during the intervening years as the Chicago Zephyrs, Baltimore Bullets, Capital Bullets and Washington Bullets before settling on their present moniker.* The history of the Syracuse Nationals, by contrast, is much simpler - they moved to Philadelphia at the end of the 1962-63 season and became the 76ers.  (Replace the Warriors, who had moved the previous year to San Francisco. Think Philly would like to have that trade back?)

*The present-day Bulls actually began in 1966.

As for the Amphitheatre, which was demolished in 1999, it's probably best known as the home of that infamous 1968 Democratic National Convention. But that's another kind of sport, for another time.

***

In last week's TV Guide, which was from 1958, we saw that the big-name quiz shows still maintained an active presence on the airwaves. with entrants like Dotto, The $64,000 Question, The $64,000 Challenge and Twenty One among otheres. Later in 1958 the Quiz Show Scandals will become public, taking down most of these shows. In 1959 the sins of the industry were put on public display during Congressional hearings, and this past week the story finally comes to an end when a Manhattan district court judge gave suspended sentences to the guilty parties, the most famous of which being Charles Van Doren.

In another note, we read a brief mention of the death of Ernie Kovacs on January 13 in a traffic accident. It's just one sentence, commenting that the saddest faces on television were those seen at Kovacs' funeral. Now it's true I don't have the issues just after this, so there's no way of telling if a bigger tribute to Kovacs was offered later on, but for one of the greatest pioneers television has ever known, a man described in the sentence as the "beloved comedian," there would have been more about him. Nowadays there would be special editions of People all over the newsstands, but perhaps things were more sedate back then. It is true that Kovacs, in his lifetime, was always something of a cult figure with a niche audience, and it's also true that greatness is seldom recognized in one's lifetime. There's no question, though, that it was a sad day, for Kovacs' family, friends and admirers, and a sad day for television itself. (I wrote about Kovacs' death here.)

And finally, we have a selection of quotes from Jackie Gleason, who earlier this month appeared as a guest on David Susskind's infamous Open End program. Among the gems from The Great One:

On Money: "Well, I think the best way to waste money is to keep it."

On Drinking: "I have some rules about drinking. I never drink when I'm angry. I never drink when I have a problem. I never drink to ward off a cold or to get a good night's sleep. I drink with the honorable intention of getting bagged."

On Fallout Shelters: "I don't go around picking wild mushrooms. I go to a store and buy some food. That store isn't going to be there, Pal."

On TV: "I think it's doing a pretty good job now - with the exception of a program like this."

10 comments:

  1. Re Father Of The Bride:

    " ... it's a little hard to know where the series would have gone (after the wedding)..."

    I guess you weren't aware that the original movie had a sequel: Father's Little Dividend, which came out about a year later, with the whole original cast returning. The story was about the birth of the young couple's first child; most likely, season two of the series would have gone the same route.
    After that, who knows?

    Back later after I have a chance to look over my Chicago edition a little closer.

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    1. Oh no, I not only knew about the sequel but I've seen it. Not as funny as the original, but much better (I'm sure) than what the remake and its sequel would have been. What I really mean to ask is what the tenor of the second season would have been like - "The Mothers-In-Law," perhaps?

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  2. Myrna Fahey was one of the most beautiful TV starlets of her day, which is saying something. She turned up a lot on series from Warner Brothers before landing the lead in Father of the Bride.

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  3. "I've never understood the appeal of Mary Tyler Moore." This post is possibly the first time that sentence has ever been formed on English. :-)>

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    1. I know it's not a popular opinion! But then, I think Hal Linden was miscast in "Barney Miller," too. It's just tough being a maverick! :)

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  4. A very odd end that I had to get in:

    The '61-62 season was the first one for Beany And Cecil, which at that time was known as Matty's Funnies (after the Mattel Toy Company, which owned the timeslot at ABC).

    On page A-9 of the program section, there's a half-page ad taken out by WSJV-channel 28, the ABC affiliate in South Bend, Indiana.
    In the upper-left corner there's a picture of Beany, Cecil, and Uncle Captain; below and to the right, there's a photo of a man standing at a mike, holding a script.

    Here's the copy:
    "MAKE A SOUND LIKE A SEA SERPENT!"
    ... when the director says that, it's easy work for WSJV's own Erv Shoemaker, creator of D.D. Donovan, and the voice of Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent and Dishonest John ... just two of the many characters he does for the new series, MATTY'S FUNNIES WITH BEANY AND CECIL. Saturdays 6:00 CST at WSJV 28.


    Lotsa other stuff, but I think I'll wait to see which day you're doing Monday.
    (Subject to change ...)

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    1. Ah, Beany and Cecil! Tear-a-long the Dotted Lion. Used to love that.

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  5. I thought Walker Edminston was "Dishonest John's" voice in the cartoon series.

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    1. That TV GUIDE ad appears exactly as I described in the Chicago edition of January 27-February 3.
      Additionally, at least two reference books I have - one about animation, the other about daytime TV - credit 'Irv' Shoemaker as the voices of Cecil and DJ ('You dirty guy!').
      I believe that when Stan Freberg and Daws Butler left the original Time For Beany puppet show back in the '50s, Walker Edmiston (note spelling) was one of the replacement voices engaged; he may have also worked on the later cartoon series, alongside Erv Shoemaker and Jim MacGeorge (I'm guessing here; correction welcomed).

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  6. You have to remember that "THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW" evolved during its first season.....and thank God Sheldon Leonard went to Procter & Gamble to convince them to continue sponsoring the series, after James T. Aubrey "officially" cancelled it at the end of season one. There were some things Aubrey could get away with while he was CBS' president from 1959 through '65 (including deliberately placing Dick in a "bad" time period during the first half of the season)----but going against P&G's wishes wasn't one of them. They told him that the time period for "THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW" was "off limits" for any plans HE had for it, because they "owned" it.....and that IF the show wasn't on his fall 1962 schedule, they'd move most of their advertising---and their daytime "soaps"---to the other networks. Now, Procter & Gamble was CBS' biggest advertiser {and they still are}......and even Jim Aubrey couldn't say "NO" to them. He backed down, and "uncancelled" the show. Yet, he still insisted on making his own "deals" (he loathed dealing with advertisers like P&G, as well as talent agencies, program packagers and "stars" HE couldn't "manipulate")- and that eventually cost him his job in February 1965.

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Thanks for writing! Drive safely!