September 24, 2016

This week in TV Guide: September 28, 1968

Dean Martin is, in 1968, the highest paid entertainer in show business - anywhere. His eponymously-named variety show has just been renewed by NBC for not one but three years, at a cost (to the network) of $34 million. Added to the $5 million that Dean's already making*, the man they call the “King of Cool” is sitting pretty, on a very big pile of cold, hard cash.

*$750,000 each for three movies (not including his share of the profits), $825,000 for his records, $150,000 for three weeks at the Sands Hotel, and $2 million for the past season of the show.

It hasn't always been this way. After the tumultuous breakup of Martin and Lewis, Dean had watched as Jerry made it big with a string of solo movies. Martin’s movie career, by contrast, laid an egg - a bomb called Ten Thousand Bedrooms. He’d received $250,000 for that movie, but that wouldn’t do him much good if he wasn’t able to turn things around. That turning point came with a dramatic role in the movie The Young Lions, which Martin eagerly accepted even though it paid him almost $200,000 less than he’d received for Ten Thousand Bedrooms. He then followed up with his own string of hits – Rio Bravo and Some Came Running – and all of a sudden Dean Martin was hot stuff again.

When NBC approached Martin for a weekly series, he exhibited the same lack of interest he has about most things. His answer was no. Still, they pressed, so he gave them his terms.  He knew they'd never accept them - he wanted a lot of money, and only wanted to show up for the actual taping - no rehearsal.  They said yes anyway.  He told his family, "They went for it. So now I have to do it."

It's that laid-back, devil-may-care attitude, the attitude that Frank Sinatra so admired and wished he had, that keeps Dean Martin cool. It's reflected in the way Martin answers questions from writer Dick Hobson - a few examples:

TVG: Tell me, Mr. Martin, is this your third or fourth [television] season?
DINO: You know, I don't know! Boy, that's a tough question!

TVG: I understand you're building a big Spanish home out on your ranch in Hidden Valley, with stables, corrals and a heliport?
DINO: It's a place to live.

TVG: Why so far out? To get away from your admiring public?
DINO: Actually, it's the air. Gettin' away from the smog.

TVG: For a man whose public image is Mr. Devil-May-Care, don't you find those magazine articles about "The Illness Dean Martin is Too Ashamed to Admit" an embarrassment?
DINO: What illness?

TVG: That illness sometimes associated with nervous tension. To be blunt, Mr. Martin, is it true about your ulcer?
DINO: Oh, that. Well, you can say I'm eatin' my spaghetti with butter sauce now.

TVG: [Addressing Martin's lack of rehearsal] What happens when a problem comes up?
DINO: Problems aren't necessary. We don't put up with problems.

TVG: I suppose you have plenty of people to deal with any problem that might come along?
DINO: People who like problems aren't there any more.

TVG: Do you mean to say that you never have problems?
DINO: I have a very peaceful life. [Ironic, given that he pays $2,400 a month in alimony.]

TVG: Can you tell us your philosophy of life in 10 words or less?
DINO: I can do it in less.

TVG: Go ahead.
DINO: Everybody should have fun.

Well, it's hard to argue with that, isn't it? That's cool.

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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: Ed launches his 21st season with tentatively scheduled guests Red Skelton, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Jefferson Airplane and the winners of the Harvest Moon Ball dance contest. Also: a scene from the movie "The Secret of Santa Vittoria," in which Ed appears as an Italian peasant.

Palace: The Palace's sixth season opens in traditional fashion - with Bing Crosby as host. Bing's guests: Sid Caesar; singers Bobby Goldsboro, Abbey Lincoln and Jeannie C. Riley, and the rock group from off-Broadway's hippie musical "Your Own Thing." Also: the acrobatic Iriston Horsemen from the Moscow State Circus, the tumbling Four Robertes and St. Louis Cardinal pitcher Bob Gibson.

Ed has Red Skelton and Steve & Edie, the Palace has Sid Caesar, Jeannie C. Riley (singing "Harper Valley PTA," natch) and Bob Gibson, promoting Wednesday's start of the World Series. I can't bring myself to go any further: The Verdict: Push.


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Throughout the 60s and early 70s, TV Guide's reviews were written by the witty and acerbic Cleveland Amory. Whenever we get the chance, we'll look at Cleve's latest take on the series of the era. 

This week, Cleveland Amory takes on Dick Cavett's morning talk show on ABC, a precursor to his nighttime program. We'll get the suspense over with in a hurry, as Amory does: he likes Cavett and his show; in praising Cavett's low-key approach, he calls it "the least of the many virtues of this fine show."

After analyzing Cavett in relationship to TV's other talkers (he hasn't "the mugging, jack-in-a-box quality of a Johnny Carson, the deep-down goodness as well as on-top funniness of a Joey Bishop, the earnest naughtiness of a Merv Griffin or the nice-nelliness of a Mike Douglas"), he tries to put his finger on the source of Cavett's appeal: "a not-too-cute cuteness which somehow manages to make every woman over the age of discontent want to mother him and yet which somehow also manages not to make every man over the same age want to drown him." Interesting take on the other hosts, no?

Among Cavett's other plusses is an ability to tell jokes without having to get into joke-telling contests, a modesty about his status that adds to his charm, and a sly, often self-deprecating opening monologue that he describes as "a kind of high comedy of low errors." Best of all, though, are his guests: especially "the remarkable comedy team" of Bob and Ray, with their patented satires of everything, including the political scene. (Sample interview question of a possible Vice Presidential candidate: "What would you say if I said you were a backwoods booby?" "I'd say you have a right to your opinion.") Says Amory in conclusion, "Every single one of these satires was head and shoulders over the best of the elaborate kind of sketch on the Carol Burnett or Jerry Lewis shows, and Mr. Cavett deserves high marks for putting them- and us with them - on."

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It's football season, with college and pro games galore: Purdue vs. Notre Dame on ABC Saturday, the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers in the NFL Game of the Week on CBS Sunday, and an AFL doubleheader on NBC, with the New York Jets taking on the Buffalo Bills, followed by the Oakland Raiders and Houston Oilers.

Despite all this, the big story of the week is the World Series between the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers, commencing with Game 1 Wednesday afternoon in St. Louis. The 1968 World Series is a milestone for many reasons, foremost being the last to be held before the start of divisional play the following season. For the last time, the American and National League champions would face off without having to go through a playoff series first - it would be good enough merely to finish with the best record in the league. This presents a unique, never-again-to-be-repeated World Series preview on Saturday's Game of the Week, with cameras shuttling between the Astros-Cardinals and Senators-Tigers games. There's nothing left to settle, with the pennant races long over and the two teams just waiting for Wednesday, and if you think that sounds boring, then you've put your finger on the reason why both leagues introduced playoffs the following year.

The 1968 Series is one of the last to be played entirely in daytime (the first night game is introduced in 1971), and in this "Year of the Pitcher" it is the last to take place before the pitching mound is lowered and the strike zone redefined. As befits this year of superior pitching, two other accomplishments which haven't been duplicated since: in Game One, Bob Gibson strikes out 17 Tigers to set a World Series record, and in Game Seven Mickey Lolich becomes the last pitcher (to date) to start a Series game on two days' rest. Today's pitchers require four, and sometimes five, days' rest between starts; Lolich pitches three games in eight days, going the distance all three times, winning all three games. These guys today are such wimps!

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When last we met Lee Marvin, it was on the set of M Squad, his early-60s Chicago cop show. At that time, he gave what can only be called a remarkable interview with TV Guide, in which his interviewer had barely any chance to say anything. Now Marvin's a big star; an Oscar winner for Cat Ballou, with the highly-anticipated (!) musical Paint Your Wagon coming up. This week he's in TV Guide for the network television premiere of Cat Ballou, and we asked ourselves: could this interview possibly be anything like the other one?

"What has TV Guide ever done for me?" it starts out. "I never had a cover in TV Guide; all the crocodiles and dancing bears and honeysuckle farm boys got the covers. All those big stars of TV< and where are they now, baby? Where are they now?

"I don't make any deals with TV any more, " he continued. "What for? The reason to do a TV series is to get accredited, to establish yourself so you can go into features. You hit 35 million people a week for three years and they start to know who you are. I did that with M Squad, so I don't have to do it any more. Now I can burn my union card. Or maybe I'll dip it in the blood of Ronnie Reagan."

All right, it's not the M Squad interview, but it's not bad.

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A brief political note - this is an election year, after all. According to The Doan Report, there's a general consensus in Congress on suspending the Equal Access provision of the FCC regulations in order to allow presidential debates - but only if they include George Wallace, the American Independent candidate. Wallace is all for it, of course, as is Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey. Against it, however, is Republican candidate Richard Nixon, to nobody's surprise - after all, not only is he the front-runner, with everything to lose in a series of debates, he has bad memories from the last time something like this happened. You'll still be seeing plenty of Nixon in the last few weeks, though - he has a huge monetary advantage over Humphrey, who winds up holding telethons to raise the funds for his final push.

It's no wonder Humphrey finds himself in the hole, after that disastrous convention in Chicago. The TV coverage of that riot-filled week hasn't escaped the notice of Congress, which is threatening an investigation of the networks after the FCC was flooded with complaints from viewers upset about the images being beamed into their homes - most of them accusing the networks of bias in favor of the protesters and against Mayor Daley and Chicago police.

It's a sentiment shared by Mrs. Eugene Robinson of Schriever, Louisiana, whose Letter to the Editor complains about the reference to "Stalag Daley" "Mayor Daley is one leader in this country today who is trying to live up to his responsibilities," she writes. As Godfrey Hodgson would point out in his book America In Our Time, the media had, to a man, been shocked and appalled by the brutality they'd witnessed on the streets of Chicago, and they'd brought what they felt was the truth to the viewers. They were even more shocked to find that those viewers, by a wide margin, rejected their editorializing, speaking out in favor of Daley and the police and against the media. It is, in retrospect, a turning point in the way Americans saw the American media, one which Spiro Agnew would build upon in the next year, and which continues to play itself out today.

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Even though it's the end of September, it's still the honeymoon period for the shows of the new fall season.  It's great to see so many ads for ABC's new series, since so many of them will be around for so little a time. The Don Rickles ShowJourney to the UnknownThe Ugliest Girl in TownThat's LifeThe Outcasts? Easy come, easy go. They're not all flops, naturally - The Mod Squad has a nice run, and Here Come the Brides runs for two seasons.

Besides, ABC doesn't have a corner on the market for unsuccessful series: Lancer, The Good Guys and Blondie fail to crack the top of the charts for CBS, while NBC's sole disappointment is The Outsider. On the other hand, Hawaii Five-0 starts its long run for CBS, with Here's Lucy, Mayberry R.F.D. and The Doris Day Show among CBS's other successes; NBC, meanwhile, will be able to celebrate the debut of the very solid Adam-12, with Julia, The Name of the Game and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir as, at the very least, minor successes.

Returning series undergo changes of their own; Peyton Place, one of ABC's worthies, is going through some growing pains of its own, as Carolyn See points out, with the show attempting to assimilate a more realistic demographic - "the population has become younger and blacker." June Lockhart signs on to Petticoat Junction, where she'll become the female lead following the death of the beloved Bea Benaderet. And Roy Rogers and Dale Evans will host the Country Music Association awards on an upcoming episode of NBC's Kraft Music Hall. Now's, it's got a show of it's own.

It's not only the new season for TV series, but for movies as well, and two of Hollywood's bigger hits make their TV debuts this week. ABC's offering is Cat Ballou which, as we pointed out, won a Best Actor Oscar for Lee Marvin in a duel role as "Kid Shelleen, the lushest gun in the West, and Tim Strawn, the villainous silver-nosed gunfighter." Judith Crist calls it a classic comedy, and adds that it's "a family film in the finest sense, with good rousing fun for all." It's followed on CBS Thursday night by a completely different movie, Tennessee Williams' The Night of the Iguana, which Crist calls "a penetrating and affectingly compassionate exploration of the human agony." Richard Burton, Deborah Kerr, Ava Gardner and Grayson Hall headline the cast.

And finally, one more look at Letters to the Editor. I don't know anything about the 1968 Miss America Pageant other than that Judith Ford, Miss Illinois, comes away with the crown. It must not have been a very impresive show, though; according to Mickey Falton of Carle Place, NY, "After seeing the girls on this year's 'Miss America Pageant,' I cast my vote for Bert Parks." As Jack Benny would say, "Well!"

3 comments:

  1. The major reason 1968 in baseball history is referred to as "The Year Of The Pitcher" is that the average of all the batting averages of all Major League Baseball players hit an all-time low.

    Individually, Boston's Carl Yastremski (who defended his 1967 American League batting title) was the only MLB player that season to hit .300 or better (he ended the season at .301; the sport came that close to not having a .300 hitter that year).

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    1. Yes, it was a very, very strange year. As I recall, Gaylord Perry and, who - Ray Washburn? - threw back-to-back no-hitters in the same series. I always thought Pete Rose, who somehow managed to hit .335 that season, ought to have been the MVP for that achievement alone.

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  2. "Julia" was solid? Come on now. Have you looked at that show recently? It was an embarrassment for all of the really talented people involved in it.

    I liked "Ugliest Girl" but even back then I knew the premise was too thin to support a long running show. It was just another attempt at cross dressing humor which works in a movie, but not in an extend show.

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