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From television's first days, there have been those expressing concerns about the medium's effect on children. And from those first days, TV Guide has stuck up for television, contending that television has tremendous potential while allowing (in often sharply-worded articles by Edith Efron) that it hasn't always lived up to it.
This week, we learn about that upside for television, from Sam Levenson. He's probably not well-remembered, but in the '50s and '60s he made a name for himself as a former schoolteacher turned comedian/author, and his gentle humor was a regular feature on talk shows and game shows.
He begins with a recitation of all the bad things he's heard about television: that it's producing bad study habits, that youngsters no longer read books, they don't take music lessons seriously, and they're becoming "a generation of passive recipients of network-tailored entertainment which is best appreciated in the dark." Actually, except for the reference to "network-tailored," it sounds a lot like what you're apt to hear people say about television today. Ah, plus ça change, as Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr would say.
In fact, Levenson doesn't see that much wrong with television, except perhaps that schools don't know how to use it.* He doesn't blame kids for watching "the most colorful and exciting medium of entertainment that the world has produced," and challenges those who criticize television inherently by looking back on his own, TV-less childhood. "How many ballet companies did I see when I was a kid? How many good dramatic performances? How many good acrobats, singers, magicians?"
*Now there's a revelation.
These are noble words, of course, but if you look at what your 200+ channels bring you today, the sad answer is not much. No ballet, staged drama, acrobats or magicians. This is what many feared would happen, and Levenson worries about it as well, as his closing words indicate:
Ed Sullivan offered the public a series of Metropolitan Opera performances on his show. What happened? Mostly indifference, plus complaints.
If parents and teachers want culture for themselves and for their children, let them vote for it by tuning in on it. Both the sponsors and the performers will be grateful.
And, the suggestion goes, so will the children - if not now, then when they're older.
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Sullivan: Canadian comics Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster are hosts tonight while Ed is at the Brussels World's Fair. Guests include French ballet stars Jeanmarie and Rolan Petit: singer-comedienne Edie Adams; the Amin Brothers, Egyptian novelty act; and singers Jimmie Rodgers, Doretta Morrow, Sallie Blair, Johnny Ray and Mario Del Monaco. Ed returns next week.
Allen: Steve's guests are actor Henry Fonda, comedienne Martha Raye, singer Mel Torme, New York City TV-personality Shari Lewis, clarinetist Gus Bivona and vibraharpist Terry Gibbs. Also included are Steve's regulars Martha Raye, Tom Posten, Louis Nye and Don Knotts.
For some reason, Ed loved the Canadian comedy team of Wayne and Shuster, and had them on all the time. Many other people didn't find them that funny. I don't know how I feel about them myself, but they do have an interesting lineup, with Edie Adams (aka Mrs. Ernie Kovacs), Johnnie Ray (at least I think that's who they're referring to), Mario Del Monaco from the Metropolitan Opera, and Jimmie Rodgers and his yodeling. But to tell you the truth, I think Steverino has a much stronger show this week - Henry Fonda! Mel Torme! Shari Lewis (and Lambchop?), before she replaced Howdy Doody on Saturday mornings! Martha Raye! Sorry, Ed - this week Allen has it all over you, and even you aren't on your show.
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Here's a program that probably has some relevancy today. It's a Sunday afternoon public-affairs program on NBC, moderated by Meet the Press host Lawrence Spivak, called The Big Issue, and this week it examines the topic "Religion and the Presidency." The question posed by Spivak: "Do religious factors still influence the choice of a President?" Among the guests are Dr. John Mackay, president of Princeton Theological Seminary, Rep. Eugene McCarthy (D-MN), Rev. Francis Sayre Jr., dean of Washington Cathedral, and Glenn Archer, director of the National Commission on Church and State. After the four discuss the topic, they're questioned by a panel of newspapermen.
I'd be interested to see how this show played out. In 1958 the question isn't really whether or not religion had a place in the public square; the overwhelming consensus is that it does. There's still prayer in public schools, most Americans go to church on Sundays, profanity is frowned upon in polite company, and content of movies and television programs is closely examined to ensure it maintains certain standards.
|SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION|
*Kennedy really skirted the issue, laying the groundwork for the type of Catholic candidate that downplays his own Catholicism, but that's a discussion for another day.
I wonder what this discussion would be like today? You've got one candidate with multiple marriages and a spotty religious record taking on another candidate whose husband was reportedly a serial adulterer, both of them vying to replace a president whose religion (or lack thereof) has been a perpetual point of discussion. All this while the very topic of religious freedom remains up in the air. Yes, I can see where this would be a very interesting show.
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John Forsythe, star of Bachelor Father, worries that he's overlooked on the show, or as the author of this unbylined article puts it, he "gets about as much attention as the father of the bride at a wedding." He's surrounded by scene steelers: children, dogs, a dialect comedian (Sammee Tang), and a femme fatale (Judy Bamber). With that crew, what chance does Forsythe have? Fortunately, he owns one-third of the show, so he's not going to suffer from it.
John Forsythe had a long and illustrious career, and if he really was worried about being upstaged by his co-stars, I'm sure he made up his mind that this would never, ever happen to him again. Not in Charlie's Angels, where even though he didn't appear in person, there was no chance that people would be more interested in three very attractive, extremely shapely young women bouncing around as they fought crime, right? Or that successful run in Dynasty; remember how, whenever he appeared on camera, nobody even looked at Linda Evans and Joan Collins? No, I didn't think so. John Forsythe was successful (and rich) because he was nobody's fool.
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In sports, we've another look at remnants of the Red Scare, even though Joe McCarthy died last year, when the Philadelphia Phillies take on the Cincinnati Redlegs in the season's first Saturday afternoon Game of the Week. If you know anything about baseball, you know that the team in question is the once and future Cincinnati Reds. But what's the history of the "Redlegs" name?
According to this website, the term "Redlegs" originally referred to "a specific group of poor white people living on various islands in the Caribbean (generally originally from Ireland and Scotland). They were also commonly known as 'white slaves'." One can only imagine the kind of outcry that would occur today were it known that a team's nickname had such an origin. If you think the dispute over the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Indians is bad...
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A quick spin through the rest of this issue:
The venerable Saturday night institution Your Hit Parade (NBC) will have left the airwaves by this time next year, but it's still on this week, with the #1 hit song "All I Have to Do Is Dream" by the Everly Brothers. You won't see them performing the song on the show, though - it will be one of the show's famous stable of singers, which perhaps plays a part in why the show eventually goes off the air. Rock songs of the era, when they're not done by the original performers, can often fall flat. Have you ever heard Snooky Lanson sing "Hound Dog"? Hey, it may not be true, but it makes the point, doesn't it?
On Sunday's Jack Benny Program (CBS), "Jack tells Rochester that he wants to get a good night's sleep and is not to be disturbed. But Jack's sleep is interrupted when a burglar gets into the house." Is this one of the episodes where the crook says, "Your money or your life" and Jack replies, "I'm thinking, I'm thinking!" I've seen it, but I can't remember. Let's find out.
Monday night's episode of Richard Diamond, Private Detective (KTVO, delayed from last week) has Diamond promising a dying gangster he'll look after his moll, but "He doesn't realize that the promise will endanger his own life." Why not? He ought to know his life's in danger every week - doesn't he watch his own show? Seriously, David Janssen's Diamond TV series is, I think, quite different from Dick Powell's more breezy radio version. Janssen isn't a singing private eye (for which we can all be grateful, I'm sure), and the show has a harder, more noir-like quality about it. I like them both.
The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp (Tuesday, ABC) features that trope about someone trying to frame Wyatt by filling his saddlebags with money, leading the townspeople to believe he's been taking bribes. Come on, people. It's the third season of this show - don't you know your lawman by now? This kind of plot line is a staple of just about any series that runs long enough - perhaps it's a sign that the writers have run out of ideas. I can't believe people turn that quickly, but then maybe it's a commentary on how fickle the public really is. Look at High Noon if you need further evidence.
On The Millionaire (CBS, Wednesday), "A policewoman sets out to prove the innocence of her policeman fiance, who is accused of robbery and murder." (Sounds a bit like Wyatt Earp's predicament, doesn't it?) The million dollars "enables her to post bail for her fiance and to buy information from a notorious criminal." Let me get this straight - bail and a lead from a snitch costs one million dollars? I'd hate to think what that would be with inflation.
The regular run of Richard Diamond is on Thursday (except for KTVO), and this week "A young woman asks Diamond to help clear her fiance of a hit-and-run charge. In his attempt to prove the young man's innocence, Diamond finds himself up against a powerful crime syndicate." Wait a minute - did the writers for all of the week's shows get together and coordinate their scripts? There are more frame jobs here than a Michaels store.
Friday night ends with Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans (syndicated, KRNT), and Hawkeye is out to prove that Chief Black Wolf and his tribe are being framed by a military scout who accuses them of attacking white settlers. I really thought I'd have to look hard to keep this joke going, but it was right there in front of me. But if you're interested in something else, Jimmy Powers announces the fight for the vacant world welterweight championship live from the St. Louis Arena, as top-rated Virgil Akins takes on the number two contender, Vince Martinez. Akins, the hometown hero, knocks Martinez down four times in the first round en route to a fourth-round victory, and the welterweight championship.