April 2, 2016

This week in TV Guide: April 1, 1972

An interesting article this week on the spade of new series featuring big-name movie stars, and why so many of them have been failures. Today, with the proliferation of high-quality cable dramas, expanded time in which to tell a story, and opportunities to produce and/or direct*, it's no surprise to see an actor or actress make the transition from the big screen to television. However, in the first few decades of the medium the trend was just the opposite: after having "served time" (as Lee Marvin once put it) doing a series or succession of guest spots on various anthology series, the next step on the career ladder was movie stardom. In addition to Marvin, Charlton Heston and Clint Eastwood are just some of the many who made the leap from small to big screen success.

*Not to mention, especially for women, the chance to act in juicy, quality roles long after you've been portrayed as "too old" to carry a motion picture.

The 1971-72 television season is filled with such crossovers from movies to television: Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis, Shirley MacLaine, Anthony Quinn, James Stewart, George Kennedy, James Garner, Glenn Ford and Henry Fonda are some of the stars who've headed new series, and with the exceptions of Hudson and Ford, all of them have failed. These are all very, very big stars, with a long line of movie hits to prove it - how can this be?

It seems as if everyone you ask has a different explanation. According to Freddie Fields, president of the mega-agency CMA, it comes down to "prostitution." "Too many peole were concerned about the deal rather than the show," he says. "Their failure has to do with that." Martin Starger, head of programming at ABC, offers a different hypothesis: the reason for such spectacular (and expensive) failure "has simply been a matter of the concept not being good enough." No matter how good the money is, he thinks, no star sells out just for the money - "it's an incalculable blow to their prestige." No matter how big the star, nobody - even John Wayne - can last week after week with bad material.

Les Brown, author of Televi$ion: The Business Behind the Box thinks the networks are to blame for signing the wrong stars. Networks and their advertisers, then as now, are most interested in the young demographic, and to that end "they should have been trying to sign Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight, Robert Redford and Jack Nicholson." Shirley MacLaine, whose series Shirley's World was cancelled after 17 episodes, accuses Hollywood executives of being "out of touch with the culture," while others who worked on the show say MacLaine had "a major say" in the stories and directors, proving she might be as out of touch as anyone.

Indeed, Anthony Quinn's political drama The Man and the City tried to be so "in touch," it lost touch with what the viewers might have been interested in. As one critic said, "They were so busy making social points that they forgot to make television stories."  Aaron Spelling, who knows a hit when he sees one, thinks that there has to be a connection between the star and the story; "The right star in the right series can take off, but a good star in a bad series can be a disaster."

There's likely an element of truth in all of these theories, but the one that may come closest to the truth is the importance of putting the right star in the right role. Glenn Ford, whose Western police series Cade's County has been a moderate success for CBS, points out that his type of character has been refined through 128 movies, to the point where audiences know what to expect from him. "I would never have gone in without at least a general concept that appealed to me." (A separate article on Ford focuses on how CBS President Robert Wood and Fred Silverman, director of programming, "meticulously tailored" the role of Sam Cade to "conform to Ford's Western image." That, plus Ford's easygoing reputation on the set, has helped Cade's County to succeed where others have failed.) The same could be said of Rock Hudson, star of McMillian & Wife on NBC; Hudson's flirtatious banter with TV-wife Susan Saint James gains much from the credit Hudson built up with all those Doris Day movies.

The networks say they aren't going to make this mistake again, and they mean it! but only time will tell. CBS is asking Yul Brynner to reprise his role as the king in a weekly version of The King and I, but that series, which will debut in September 1972, will only run for 13 weeks. Julie Andrews will star in her own variety series on ABC, which should be right up her alley, but that show only makes it to 24 episodes before disappearing. Richard Boone has Heck coming up, which winds up being called Hec Ramsey; it will run for two seasons as part of NBC's Sunday Mystery Movie. Likewise, George Peppard's Banacek  is on the network's Wednesday Mystery Movie rotation for two years and does well, playing off Peppard's established smooth-character persona.

Television has a way of making minor characters into major stars - take Denzel Washington in St. Elsewhere, for example - and can humble big stars, as in just about every example above. As more than one so-called expert puts it, who knows why some shows succeed and others bomb?

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Speaking of bombs - well, you can't really say that Emergency!was as a bomb. It did, after all, run for six seasons, and even after it left the regular schedule it returned for a half-dozen TV-movies. You wouldn't be able to prove that by Cleveland Amory's review, though; while he acknowledges that real-life paramedics do very good work, he adds that "To say Emergency! is a good show about the, though - well, for that you should try a paracritic."

The show's exceptional at outdoor shots: from tops of buildings, bottoms of mine shafts, mountain ledges, etc., but the dialogue is pedestrian to say the least - every single medical situation, no matter what, seems to involve Dr. Brackett barking out, "I want an i.v. and an EKG. Start the i.v. with the Ringers' lactate. Wide open." - and the situations are awfully contrived. There are so many rescues in each hour-long show that "there's never time to get interested in the victims," who exist mainly as human props for the rescue attempts. There are signs of desperation in the way the producers try to build the "human" angle with the regulars, particularly Kevin Tighe and Randolph Mantooth as Roy DeSoto and John Gage. Shows such as NCIS and CSI have come to perfect this kind of formula (emphasizing human interaction between the regulars at the expense of guest stars), but I guess writers and directors have learned a lot more about how to do this than they did at the time. It's possible that a couple of today's quirkbots - a Goth firefighter, for example - might have meant Emergency! would still be running today, to which we can only ask: WWAW. What Would Amory Write? I think we all know the answer to that one.

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In the feature story above, you got a glimpse of some of next season's new shows, and there's more to come in other parts of the issue. The Doan Report mentions Cousin Maude, which we all know simply as Maude, and the question Richard Doan asks is "Can funny bigots pay off for CBS the way funny hillbillies did?" I hadn't thought of it that way actually, but that's about right. And the answer appears to be, "Yes." Other possibilities for CBS: "a new Bob Newhart show and a TV adaptation of the hit movie 'M*A*S*H'." Right on both counts, I'd say.

TV Teletype notes that Karl Malden will be making his TV series debut this fall, co-starring with Kirk Douglas' son Michael in The Streets of San Francisco. The Teletype also mentions that George Schlatter has signed on to produce Bill Cosby's new comedy-variety show on CBS, and that Gene Rayburn is the host of CBS' new daytime game show The Amateur's Guide to Love. I actually remember this show, which must be saying something since it only ran for three months. Primarily I remembered Gene Rayburn as the guy who used to host The Match Game. Hang in there, Gene - better times are just around the corner.

We know that the ever-present threat of government regulation of television is always hanging over the decisions coming from the networks. This time, as is usually the case, the focus is on violence, with powerful Rhode Island Senator John Pastore, head of the Communications Subcommittee, sending out hints that the government may be ready to step in, with ideas such as confining action shows into late-evening timeslots and instituting a ratings guide for parents, similar to the movie ratings system.

Those network concerns are reflected in the new fall schedules as well, with NBC talking about a medical comedy called The Little People with Brian Keith and Shelley Fabares (which produced 48 episodes, many of them under the name The Brian Keith Show, during a run of just under two seasons) and a '30s private eye series called Banyon, starring Robert Forster (15 episodes). The true test of the threat from Washington, Richard Doan writes, will come from how many Hawaii Five-O/Mission: Impossible-type genre shows are cancelled. Not to worry, though: although Mission: Impossible is on its penultimate season, Hawaii Five-O still has eight seasons to go.

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I know it's hard to believe, but come April 1 the pro basketball playoffs are here, and ABC and CBS are tipping off coverage with a weekend doubleheader.

On CBS, which covers the American Basketball Association, the matchup features the Virginia Squires taking on The (Miami) Floridians, a series the Squires will sweep in four games. In case you're wondering why neither of these teams sound familiar (except to us hard-core fans), that's because the Squires* folded one month before the rest of the ABA, thus losing out on the merger. The Floridians, on the other hand, would go under two months after this issue of TV Guide went to press. The ABA playoffs are set for the next six Saturdays on CBS.

*Fun fact: the Virginia Squires started out life as the Oakland Oaks, where one of their co-owners was Pat Boone.

The next day, the NBA takes center stage with the Los Angeles Lakers facing off against the Chicago Bulls. Chicago, a very tough team in the early '70s (their record for 71-72 was 57-25) are no match for the Lakers, who earlier in the season had a 33-game winning streak and finished up with a then-record 69 regular season victories; the Lakers sweep the Bulls en route to the NBA title. NBA games are set for Sunday afternoons on ABC, along with prime-time coverage of the finals if they go beyond four games.

Baseball predictions from Melvin Durslag, with the new season just around the corner: American League division winners will be Baltimore and Oakland, while the National League pennants go to St. Louis and Cincinnati. The really big news coming out of spring training is the advent of the Designated Hitter as one of the experimental features being tried out in the Class A and Rookie Leagues; it's being tested along with ideas that didn't catch on, such as designated and temporary runners, and allowing a pinch hitter to hit more than once in a game. As such, this is seen as the last season of baseball as it has been.

However, it's the first season of baseball as it's going to be - for the first time, games are cancelled as the result of a player strike, with the first ten or so days wiped out, not to be made up later in the season. That's a bummer for the Boston Red Sox, who lose out to the Detroit Tigers in the American League East because they wind up playing one fewer game than the Tigers. That's one pick that Durslag misses (Baltimore finishes third, five games back), and his St.Louis Cardinals wind up in fourth, nearly 22 games behind the NL East-winning New York Mets, but he's right on with his picks of Oakland and Cincinnati, with the A's winning a thrilling seven-game World Series.

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How about the rest of the week?

If you like Sherlock Holmes, Saturday is the night for you on local Bay Area television, with Sacramento's KCRA showing Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon at 12:45 am, starring the unforgettable combo of Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as his Watson. Those two also star in the double-feature on San Jose's KNTV at 1:00 am, with Sherlock Holmes and the House of Fear followed by Terror at Night. If you're not a Holmes fan, your choice is elementary: the fiery IRA terrorist Bernadette Devlin is William F. Buckley Jr.'s guest on Firing Line - that should have been an interesting matchup. 

Easter Sunday features the network television debut of the 1968 Hollywood spectacular The Shoes of the Fisherman on CBS, and one of Judith Crist's very best reviews, suggesting that the film was "apparently designed to do for the papacy what "The Sound of Music" did for family chorales," and summarizes the movie as a "disjointed, dull, dismally attenuated, pretentious and preposterous piece of pop-piety" that "puts a veneer of banality" on the essential sincerity of the story. I take it she didn't like it, then?

SOURCE ALL: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
On Monday, PBS' Hollywood Television Theatre presents the acclaimed Civil War drama "The Andersonville Trial," directed by George C. Scott, with William Shatner in one of his best, and best-known, dramatic roles as the prosecutor in a Confederate war-crimes trial. Richard Basehart, Jack Cassidy, Buddy Ebsen, Albert Salmi, Cameron Mitchell and Martin Sheen are among the other members of a star-studded cast.

Tuesday brings PBS' distinguished series The Advocates, debating an issue that still remains unsettled over 40 years later: should prostitution be considered a moral threat to society or a victimless crime? That's followed by the first of a two-part Black Journal commemorating the fourth anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. It must have been hard to imagine, in 1972, that it had already been four years. There's also an episode of The Outer Limits on the Bay Area's KBHK, Channel 44 that I just saw on DVD a couple of weeks ago - Henry Silva, very good as a condemned prisoner given a chance for freedom by volunteering for an interplanetary inhabitant exchange.

Taking a look at Wednesday, San Francisco's ABC affiliate KGO has a moving documentary tribute to MLK, King: A Filmed Record. . . Montgomery to Memphis. Meaning no disrespect, I wonder why the flurry of four-year anniversary tributes, when it would have made more sense to wait until 1973, the fifth anniversary. Perhaps because 1972 is an election year? For something a little more lighthearted, let's go with KNTV's Ocean's 11; the original has an unbeatable cast, what with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop, not to mention Henry Silva, Richard Conte and Caesar Romero (who steals the movie) thrown in as part of the bargain.

Bill Bixby hosts KGO's 11th annual spring musicale on Thursday, entitled "The Young Sound of Spring," with various Bay Area schools participating in the hour-long show, broadcast without commercial interruption. It preempts the regular ABC fare, Alias Smith and Jones, which guest-stars the great Walter Brennan and includes a cameo by Dick Cavett (!) as the sheriff. Hmm.

To round out the week, a movie that my friend Peter and I talked about over lunch many years ago, remembering the plot vividly but trying to recall the movie's title. I can tell you that now - it's Colossus: The Forbin Project, starring Eric Braeden, which shows on NBC and tells the story of computers linking together in an attempt to take over the world. Purely science fiction, though - right?

8 comments:

  1. I believe the Pittsburgh Pirates won the NL East in 1972, not the New York Mets, who would win it the following year (1973).

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  2. I'm surprised at Amory's pan of "Emergency" - always liked that show, which was basically Dragnet with paramedics. That type of procedural that Jack Webb preferred - showing trained professionals at work, with an emphasis on authenticity and the minute details of the job and not on the personalities of the characters - cut against the grain of what audiences expect from television. But when it's done well, as it was here, they embraced it.

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  3. Does the "C" on the Close Up piece on The Andersonville Trial indicate color program? I wouldn't have thought US TV Guide would still be identifying color (colour!) programs as late as 1972??

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    1. Yes, but later that year, TV Guide ended designating programs in color and instead began using "BW" to indicate black-and-white programs. By that time, black-and-white programming was the exception.

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    2. What programs were still being shown in B&W by 1972, though?

      Mind you, as an Aussie I shouldn't judge. We didn't get colour until 1975.

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    3. Some PBS & local programs still had shows in B&W. As was mentioned in another post here, TV Guide switched from designating C for color programs to BW for B&W programs with the issue of Aug. 26, 1972.

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  4. Was "Colossus: The Forbin Project" a made-for-TV movie?

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    1. Colossus was a theatrical release, from Universal.

      It was a hard sell to theaters, due to having no "star names" in the cast: this is where Hans Gudegast was persuaded to change his professional name to Eric Braeden, in order to break his villain typecasting.
      We can all see how successful that turned out to be, in Braeden's 30+ years on Young & Restless, nastier every year.
      As memory serves, Universal was pushing Susan Clark in both movies and TV, never quite making it all the way; after she married Alex Karras, Clark pulled away from her career, essentially retiring after Karras's death.

      Universal retitled Colossus as The Forbin Project, ultimately combining the two titles when they sold it to TV.

      *Sorry you asked?*

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