August 13, 2016

This week in TV Guide: August 17, 1968

For once, the big story isn't what's on this week, but next: notations appear after several programs airing in the early part of the week, reminding viewers that their show will be preempted next week for coverage of the Democratic National Convention.

And the networks are nervous about that coverage. The lead in The Doan Report spells it out: "Are President Johnson and Chicago's Mayor Daley really trying to ward off TV coverage of possible anti-Administration unpleasantries which may erupt outside the International Amphitheater during the Democratic Convention that opens Aug. 26?" The implication is that Johnson and Daley could, if they wanted to, end the labor dispute that's prevented the networks from wiring up spots for television coverage - places such as key hotels and rooftops, not to mention O'Hare Airport. The meaning of all this, NBC says, is that they'll likely have to film or tape things that they would normally show live - a two to three hour delay in some cases. ABC says they've heard word that pay phones have been jammed with uncollected coins, or are out of order completely. "We might have trouble getting any kind of word from our people on the street." Only CBS stays away from the conspiracy idea, and says that live coverage from outside the arena might even be possible.

Of course, the networks are absolutely right to be concerned about their ability to cover what goes on in the streets, as the events of the next week will amply demonstrate. They did manage to get it on the air, though, to the eternal regret of the Democratic Party, which had to spend the rest of the campaign knowing that viewers had those images burned in their minds.


From this small article, it's clear the networks, the White House, and the mayor all have an inkling something's going to happen next week. but could any of them possibly imagine just how bad it's going to be? Perhaps not - but in this horrible year of 1968, they also might well figure that anything that can happen will happen. And they'll pretty much be right.

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During the 60s, the Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace were the premiere variety shows on television. Whenever they appear in TV Guide together, we'll match them up and see who has the best lineup..

Sullivan: Guests: Rex Harrison in a scene from the movie "Dr. Dolittle"; singers Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Temptations, and the Kessler Twins; comedians Flip Wilson, and Lewis and Christy; trumpeter Fernando Pasqualone; and apache dancers Ivan and Astor.

Palace: On the Palace marquee: host Don Knotts and guests Douglas Fairbanks Jr., singer Nancy Ames, Met soprano Mary Costa, country guitarist Glenn Ash, the rocking Merry-Go-Round and magician Ralph Adams.

Both shows are reruns this week; if I were more motivated, I might look back and see if I reviewed them previously, and if so what I thought. But, hey! this is all new, so we should look at them as if we're doing so for the first time, right? Still - as you probably know, I'm not a fan of Diana Ross and the Supremes, so that alone guarantees a predisposition toward the Palace. I'll admit Don Knotts might be a bit weak as host, but Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Mary Costa make up for it, so even if this isn't the best Palace ever, it's enough for me to give it the edge. As always, though, this is just a personal opinion; your mileage may vary.

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Richard K. Doan has another article this week, separate from his Doan Report, on "How Television Is Waging a Summer Campaign for Racial Understanding." For our concern, there's one paragraph here that jumps out: "By next month's end, at least 17½ hours - most of them in prime time - will have been devoted by three networks to a concentrated TV campaign to root out U.S. racism. ABC's Time for Americans, CBS's Of Black America and NET's Black Journal may, of course, add up to a drop in the bucket as far as the massive job of unprejudicing a whole nation is concerned.Yet, who's to say that the impact of such a TV effort, measurable though it might not be, must be inconsequential?"

Another episode of Of Black America, "In Search of a Past," airs this Tuesday, as part of what Doan refers to as "the summer cool-it campaign," and if ever a summer needed it, this one is it. (And, as pointed out above, there's more to come.) NBC hasn't participated yet, but they're planning four specials over the next year, with the first to appear in September.

Here's the thing, though. We're talking about events that happened almost 50 years ago, and yet it seems as if we're still having "conversations," as the president and the media put it, about race. To listen to the news nowadays, things are as bad as they've ever been, and this is presented as a revelation, as if we're being encouraged to confront something we've never confronted before. However, one of the purposes of these 1968 programs is said to be "that white America might come away acutely conscious of prejudices it wasn't aware of." Isn't that what we continue to be told? Are we to conclude, therefore, that this campaign "to root out U.S. racism" changed nothing in the last half-century? And if that is the case, then why do we think anything that's being done now should change things today or in the next 50 years? Is this another Sisyphean fight that we're doomed to engage in over and over and over again?

It's a pity so few people are interested in history, television or otherwise. You can learn a lot from it.

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Believe it or not, it's only been six years this month since the death of Marilyn Monroe - to put that in perspective, do you remember how recent 2010 seems? (For some of us, it was just like yesterday.) At any rate, this week ABC airs her most famous film, Bus Stop, on the Wednesday night move. In her review, Judith Crist says that "Miss Monroe is at her funniest and her most heart-touching" in the role of "the night-club singer, the frightened kid from the Ozarks with ambitions to be a "chantoosie," who is courted by a naive cowboy."

The other movie highlight of the week, also on ABC, is Sunday night's presentation of The Greatest Show on Earth, the epic1952 Best Picture winner, with Charlton Heston, Betty Hutton, Cornel Wilde, and James Stewart, memorably in clown makeup for the entire movie, and virtually invisible. Cecil B. DeMille received his only Best Director nomination for this spectacular portrayal of "the wonderful sawdust world of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey organization," and while the movie was much derided at the time as being one of the most unworthy of Best Picture winners, it was a great crowd pleaser, and perhaps a reminder of what movies are supposed to be all about.

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Guess who's coming to television? None other than Frank Gifford, and while he'll go on to become a broadcasting icon over the next three decades, at this point he's still remembered fondly for his Hall of Fame career with the New York Giants. As it turns out, though, Frank always had one foot outside the gridiron, even during his playing days.

"I was more series about acting than anything I've ever done in my life, and I worked hard at it for five years," he confides to Stanley Frank. "Football opened a lot of doors for me in Hollywood and TV. I was cast as the lead in two TV pilots and played bit parts in a dozen movies, but I blew my chances. I didn't have the talent to capitalize on them. It still is my biggest disappointment."

It's an interesting admission from a man of great athletic ability, perhaps the first time he realized there was something he couldn't do. It's understandable why he was drawn to Hollywood - he was, after all, a graduate of USC, so he'd lived very close to the movie capital. In addition, there's that little thing about money; He was making $25,000 a season with the Giants, which was top dollar at the time, but had he succeeded in acting he would have had the potential to make much, much more.

His introduction to television was almost an accident - he'd been knocked out of the game in 1960 with a severe concussion, and was forced to sit out the 1961 season, during which he had a daily CBS radio program, and a TV show that aired prior to Giants games. When he decided to make a comeback in 1962, another injury could have disabled him permanently; an unsuccessful comeback could have dimmed his lights as far as the network was concerned. Happily, neither happened; Gifford finally retired for good in 1965, and in 1968 his "low-key, urbane commentary," along with his ability to explain the complexities of the game in a way easy to understand, has been a hit with viewers and network executives alike. His commitment to researching teams and players before games has earned him even more admiration. And, best of all perhaps, between the network and the local station, between TV and radio, and with some commercials thrown in on the side, he's bring in over $150,000 a year - not bad, not bad at all.

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How about a quick spin around the dial?

Monday gives us an early version of Monday Night Football, as the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers face off in a preseason game from Milwaukee (an 8:30 p.m. CT start time!). As for late-night, Johnny Carson's on vacation*, and sitting behind the desk for the week is Jerry Lewis - no stranger to the host's chair. He's got a great lineup of guests, too - Monday, it's Cliff Robertson, the Smothers Brothers and Billy Daniels; and the rest of the week includes Frank Gorshin, Connie Stevens, Mel Torme, Duke Ellington, and Robert Goulet. Not bad, huh?

*The Doan Report suggests Johnny might be looking at retirement soon, while NBC insists he'll be around at least until 1970. By the way, there's a good article on Merv Griffin (written by Joe McGinniss!), who joins the network late-night fray next year, which we may look at someday.

On Tuesday, Ed Ames hosts the ABC special Sounds of '68, a teenage talent contest. Dick Clark, Quincy Jones, Mason Williams and radio personality Bill Gavin are the judges, and Aretha Franklin is the special guest. The first half of the special airs opposite NBC's talent show Showcase '68, hosted by Lloyd Thaxton and joined by comedian London Lee. And at 8:30 p.m., CBS joins in the fun with College Talent, hosted by Dennis James with guest Art Linkletter and judges William Shatner, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Frankie Avalon. To the best of my knowledge, none of those appearing on these three shows ever went on to any stardom of note. Also, something we should point out - TV Guide's own Cleveland Amory is a guest on Dick Cavett's morning program on ABC.

Wednesday kicks off with Alan Alda on Today, promoting his upcoming Paper Lion, the movie based on the memorable book by George Plimpton. On Art Linkletter's House Party (CBS, 1:30 p.m.), Pat Paulson discusses his presidential campaign. (Wonder if Nixon and Humphrey asked for equal time?) And do you remember when the Kraft Music Hall was hosted by Milton Berle and Perry Como? Tonight, the guests include Sly and the Family Stone, the Four Tops, and Joan Rivers. How times have changed.

Meanwhile, in Thursday's episode of Peyton Place, "Rodney gets a glimmer of hope from Dr. Miles; Marsha and her daughter discuss love and sex; Jill has a confrontation with the welfare worker." Gosh, I wonder what happened - do any of you out there know? It's on up against NBC's Dragnet revival; this week "Friday tackles the problem of marijuana-smoking in a well-educated, middle-income family." I'm not part of the legalization movement, but why do I think this is going to remind me of Reefer Madness? As an antidote, stay tuned to NBC for the Golddiggers, pinch-hitting for Dean Martin, and their guests Avery Schreiber, Barbara Heller, and Skiles and Henderson. Their regular cast, including Frank Sinatra Jr., Joey Heatherton, and Stu Gilliam, is probably much better.

Friday night ABC has a "Mexico Special," in which "Cameras record vivid cultural contrasts as they follow the Mexican itinerary of a newlywed couple." They see all the sites, including the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadelupe, the National Museum of Anthropology, Acapulco, Guanajuato, and other places. Question for the room - since ABC is televising the Summer Olympics from Mexico starting in October, do you think this just might possibly be tied-in?

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Finally, a story that's the cat's meow - literally.


The answer is not a cat that can do 11 tricks, of course. It's to get 11 different cats that can each do one trick. And to make sure they all look alike, which shouldn't be too hard since they're orange tabbies and most orange tabbies look alike, at least when you only see them for a few seconds at a time.

The story's about a Mission: Impossible episode in which one of the agents is a cat that can crawl through a small space, walk across a thin pole to retrieve a valuable artifact, return across the pole carrying the antique in his mouth, give it to IMF agent Barney, and take a replacement antique to put in the place of the real one.

That's how you wind up with Nugent, who is good at climbing things; Pie-O, who snarls well; Garcia, who doesn't mind going in the water; Steve-O, who sits on shoulders; Zorro, who is great at jumping; and more. Just like the rest of the IMF team, they all have their own specialty; just like their human counterparts, they all do their job well.

5 comments:

  1. Ironically, this was the first year a network abandoned full coverage of the conventions; perenially low budgeted ABC decided to cut back to 90 minutes a night. Wonder if they regretted this after Chicago, or were secretly pleased.
    Showcase 68 did pick a big name act but it was a ringer: Sly and the Family Stone, who'd already had hits before they went on the show. Has any talent show not named Star Search launched multiple artists?
    And I gotta ask Mitchell what's with the Supremes hate?

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    1. Yes, and as I recall, when ABC finally decided to go back to gave-to-gavel coverage, it was right around the time when the conventions stopped having any relevance, and before long all the networks were doing the one-hour or 90 minute nightly wrap-ups. Good question on whether or not they were sorry about it the way Chicago went - does anyone recall whether or not they presented news specials on the violence? Probably not, but I don't personally recall.

      As far as the Supremes? Well, Diana Ross just robbed me the wrong way (as she did so many people, I guess) - she struck me as a phony, both with the Supremes and in her solo career. I don't particularly care for their music, but I could probably have at least tolerated it were it not for Ross. I don't say they weren't talented; in this case, it's just a matter of personal preference.

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    2. I thought ABC went back to "gavel-to-gavel" convention coverage just once, in 1980, after Roone Arledge took over ABC News (with the Alphabet Network doing the abbreviated late=-evening coverage in 1968, 1972, and 1976).

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  2. That Dragnet episode they described might be a repeat of "The Big High", one of the best second-season episodes ever. That moment when they forgot their baby is in the overflowing bathtub still give me a chill every time!!!

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  3. I think the difference between 1968 and now is that some people enjoy Trump (and the Tea Party movement largely behind him) because he "allows" them to voice their racism, which is less acceptable to a larger majority of people than it used to be...in far more stressful economic times than we saw in 1968, a lot of people are looking for scapegoats (since they feel they are being blamed for manipulation of the economy beyond their control), and Trump as the new George Wallace, some police around the country still willing to act like they work for Daley or Frank Rizzo in 1968...it doesn't have quite the audience and support it had in 1968, but it still exists.

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Thanks for writing! Drive safely!