July 30, 2016

This week in TV Guide: July 26, 1975

We're back this week with another in our summer series of second looks, this time at the issue of July 26, 1975. As always when we do this, all the material you're reading is brand new - no duplication from last time. (You can read the first look here.)

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Periodically, we read about the specter of cable television looming over the network horizon. It goes by many names, depending on when the article's written; it's referred to as "Pay-TV," "CATV," and "pay-cable" in this article alone, but it all amounts to the same thing, and just about every time we read about it, we're assured that it's the next big thing, that it is - as the cover says - "ready to take off."

In this case, the phrase "take-off" can be taken literally, as the big game-changer may well be "a satellite-fed national pay-TV network," primarily financed by Time Inc., which just happens to be the owner of a fledgling cable channel named Home Box Office. Until recently HBO had a national audience of about 115,000 subscribers, gathered in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, where the signal is transmitted via microwave and land lines. However, once Teleprompter Corp., the nation's largest cable system, joined Time in the satellite investment, nearly 200,000 more homes were added. And once HBO starts beaming the signal via an RCA-leased satellite to dishes in Florida - well, you can see where this is headed. Time is nothing if not ambitious - they plan 24 of these earth stations, which will enable HBO to be delivered to over 80 systems in 21 states, comprising some 870,000 homes. Although TeleMation and Paramount are also talking about getting into the satellite and microwave networking business, "most cable experts see no HBO competition in sight."

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
There's some discussion in this article (written by Richard K. Doan, whose Doan Report is a reliable TV Guide look at what's new in the industry) as to why the growth in cable hasn't happened earlier; the recession is cited as a factor, drying up venture capital, but even so there are already 10 million homes hooked up to cable. It's also interesting that, at least in the beginning, a sort of ala carte delivery method exists, with many customers paying a basic service fee of $5 or $6 per month, and anywhere from $5 to $9 for the pay channel. In a few years, however, this is expected to be replaced by a pay-per-view system (they got that wrong, at least when it comes to day-to-day watching). Everyone agrees that uncut movies are the big attraction for cable; pornography, interestingly enough, isn't seen as much of a factor, and HBO doesn't air R-rated movies until after 9:00 p.m. "It's the convenience of watching at home" that makes the difference, according to Bob Weisberg of TeleMation, who adds that the key audience is between 30 and 50 and rarely goes out to movies, but will pay to watch one at home.

Don't overlook the obstacles to growth, however. The FCC has ruled that cable can't "siphon" off movies between three and ten years old, and networks are pushing studios into even more restrictive exclusivity deals. There are also network fears that a prime sporting event, such as the World Series or Super Bowl, might eventually wind up on cable. For all that, though, one expert forecasts as many as two million homes might have cable by 1980*, a "haunting possibility" that pay-TV could grow into a "massive box office."

*In fact the number was actually closer to 16 million; by 1990 the number was 51,700,000. I wonder if any of the experts saw that coming?

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I remember how much of a treat Monday Night Baseball was, back in the summer of 1975. It wasn't really called "Monday Night Baseball" back then; Monday Night Football wasn't yet as iconic a brand as it is today. But in the days before the aforementioned cable networks started to bring us 15 or so games a week, before teams started to broadcast virtually all of their games on their local cable affiliates, you were lucky to see three or four games a week. There was the Saturday Game of the Week, of course, and if you had a team to call your own (as we did in Minnesota, though in the mid-'70s few of us would admit it), you might get two or tree more games if your team was on a road trip. But glimpses of teams from the other league (the National, in our case) were few and far between, which made an additional national TV game a treat.

The Monday night broadcast started in 1967, when NBC broadcast three specials a year, but by 1973 that number had swelled to 15. This 1975 season marks the last year of NBC's Monday night telecasts; next year the games would move to ABC, as part of the new TV deal that included alternate-year broadcasts of the All-Star Game, League Championship Series and World Series. This may have been good news for ABC, but it was bad news for me, because our single channel in The World's Worst Town™ chose to carry The John Davidson Show and Monday Night at the Movies instead. It wasn't a very good trade.

This season, the game is preceded by the 15-minute Baseball World of Joe Garagiola, a show that was both insightful and witty. Tonight, Joe talks about the minor league Portland Mavericks, a team that features Ball Four author Jim Bouton in the midst of his comeback after five years in retirement. The main game, following at 7:15 p.m. (CT) pits the Milwaukee Brewers and Boston Red Sox, back when Milwaukee was in the American League (where they belong). The secondary game, in case of rain (it was also broadcast in the cities of the two teams playing in the main game) has the San Francisco Giants and Cincinnati Reds. Those were the days - I can't remember the last time baseball was a feature prime-time program for me.

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This year we're seeing various limited-run summer series popping up on the networks. For example, on Wednesday night ABC premieres a six-week variety series hosted by Jim Stafford. Meanwhile, Gladys Knight & the Pips wind up a four-week stint on NBC Thursday nights; next week it will be Ben Vereen's turn to fill the time slot for another four weeks.

However, perhaps the oddest show of the summer debuts its five-week run on ABC Thursday night (up against Gladys Knight). It's Almost Anything Goes, I mentioned this briefly back when I did this issue the first time, but I think it bears a little more extrapolation.

Almost Anything Goes comes to television during what might be thought of as the British invasion of American TV (All in the Family, Sanford and Son, Lotsa Luck and Beacon Hill, among others); the British version was called It's a Knockout which was, itself, a takeoff on the French series Intervilles.* As I wrote back in 2012, it can be seen as a forerunner to shows such as Wipeout, but that alone sells the show short. As the synopsis from "The Screening Room" says, "shooting greased beach balls through a hoop while balancing on a tilted, greased platform" is "Silly? Definitely - but also old-fashioned slapstick fun."

*Fun fact, and one of the reasons you come to this site week after week: Both the American and British versions were part of the overall franchise umbrella, called "Jeux Sans Frontières," or "Games Without Frontiers." It's the inspiration for Peter Gabriel's hit song of the same name, which not only contains the words "Jeux Sans Frontières" in the chorus, but also contains the line "It's a knockout." You can thank the always-reliable Wikipedia for this.

The show pits six-member teams from small towns across America; this week's participants are the Burrillville (RI) Indians, the Webster (MA) Broncos, and the Putnam (CT) Clippers. The following three weeks will feature additional three-way battles, with the four champions meeting in the final episode to decide the championship. In that contest, Putnam - tonight's winner - takes on Boulder City (NV), Canton (IL), and Marianna (FL). (Boulder City wins the title, in case you've ever wondered about that.) The announcers for this wild concept are Charlie Jones - whose other work includes AFL football, the World Track & Field Championships, the Olympics, and the college football National Championship Game - and Lynn Shackleford, who for several years announces Lakers games with Chick Hearn. Dick Whittington (not this one, but this one) is what today we would refer to as the sideline reporter.

Almost Anything Goes is actually successful enough that it will be back for a second season; Jones and Shackleford return as well, but Whittington will be replaced by this guy.

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Another program we looked at last time out was Catholics, which airs as the Friday night movie on CBS. It's up against the College All-Star Game on ABC, but I remarked back then that "I'd love to see that program today." Well. . .


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Saturdays nowadays are a television wasteland, as I've mentioned more than once. In 1975, CBS didn't feel the same way. The prime time lineup is their killer sitcom schedule, with All in the Family, The Jeffersons, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and The Bob Newhart Show. In the 9:00 p.m. slot, however, the network has chosen to show a prestige property, the six-hour miniseries Moses the Lawgiver (appropriately enough, given our earlier mention of the British invasion, an import from the British distributor ITC), starring Burt Lancaster in his television debut.* As I recall, this was something of a big deal back then; unimaginable, now, that a network would show it on a Saturday night. Cable, though - maybe.

*Fun fact: Just as Charlton Heston's son Fraser played the infant Moses in The Ten Commandments, Burt Lancaster's son Bill plays the infant Moses in Moses the Lawgiver.

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Finally, let's spend a few minutes with Andy Rooney.

Rooney's in this week's issue twice; on Monday night, CBS replays his whimsical look at the vagaries of the Federal bureaucracy, "Mr. Rooney Goes to Washington." If you want to know what's wrong with the government, look no further than this statistic: "every week [the Government Printing Office] covers a forest of paper with an ocean of ink," while at the same time the Pentagon Disposal Office destroys secret papers at the rate of 10 to 14 tons of pulp a day. What man giveth, man taketh away, I guess.

More interesting, though, is Rooney's appearance in this week's Letters to the Editor section. It's not that Rooney has written a letter to TV Guide; his contribution was an article from June 28th's issue commemorating the beginning of the Bicentennial year. Apparently, in that article, Rooney wrote that there had been no women heroes in American history. Let's just say a number of readers took issue with his contention.

Linda Bilodeau of Windsor Locks, CT, suggests the names of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Eleanor Roosevelt as candidates, while Rose Joyner of Celina, OH offered Harriet Tubman, Amelia Earhart, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Sybil Ludington. Mrs. J.R. Rogers of Massilion, OH nominated Revolutionary War figures Deborah Sampson and Molly Pitcher, and Betty Zane, whose exploits were chronicled by her great-grandnephew, Zane Grey. Lenora Brennan of Brooklyn mentions Sojourner Truth, Mary Cassatt and Jane Addams, and says that "Rooney's attitude, in writing off 200 years of American women, is offensive." And out of date, I say; 200 years out of date.

5 comments:

  1. I first saw HBO in '78 - it introduced me to the R-rated movie (I didn't see an R film in a theater until a few years later). Pay-per-view (non-porn) movies actually date back to the early 90's, and were generally a failure. First, because of licensing deals, they were delayed from 1-4 weeks after their video release. Second, the cost was $5-6 per viewing - you could rent the video for $1-3 by the time it was available on PPV.
    I doubt the Super Bowl will ever transition to PPV, a good chunk of what the networks pay for the NFL is to get that Super Bowl every third year and I'm sure you've seen how much advertisers are willing to pay for a 30 second spot during the game ($5 million this time, goes up by 1/2 mil a year).
    Eventually (maybe 5-10 years) what the game will move to is online streaming (if it becomes PPV is anyone's guess, but I'd say probably not) ''unofficial'' streams were being done since 2010 (putting a local TV station feed online) and in 2012 NBC became the first to do an 'official' online stream of the game. What will happen to baseball is anyone's guess, ratings (even for the World Series) have been steadily declining for years - making it PPV would likely be as disastrous as the 1994 strike.

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    1. I think you're right about the Super Bowl specifically, that the wave of the future is streaming rather than PPV.

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  2. That Reasoner-Smith cover came a few weeks before ABC tweaked it's Evening News format, moving Reasoner to a new, bigger newsroom-type set and relegating Smith strictly to commentary from Washington: Another big change, an actual theme song, which would later become the end theme to This Week In Baseball. One year later, Barbara Walters arrived...

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    1. By golly, you're right about the theme! I'd completely forgotten that, but once you mentioned TWIB and I could hear the music in my mind, it all came back. Personally, I think ABC made a mistake in replacing Smith with Walters, even though it wasn't a straight-up trade. Walters, regardless of what one thought of her personally, did not have the gravitas to be an anchor; someone like Marlene Sanders would have been much better.

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    2. I understand that music was originally the theme to the NBC game show JACKPOT!

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