The focus of this week's issue is the genial John Astin, who with his maniacal grin and wild eyes makes a perfect Gomez. He has it made now, with a home in Westwood (having upgraded from Beverly Hills; in Westwood he gets more home for the money, and, let's face it, he doesn't make that much money in The Addams Family). It's been a long journey to this point, one which took him to theater major at Johns Hopkins, early success in acting at the University of Minnesota, and eventually to television, where he co-stars in I'm Dickens...He's Fenster. Having demonstrated his comedic chops, he was more than ready to take on Gomez.
Charles Addams, creator of the cartoon characters on which the show is based, says that Astin and Carolyn Jones, who plays Morticia, "are beyond my reproach." He loves the series. The executive producer, David Levy, hopes the series will run five seasons. Astin acknowledges that television is "no great art form, but it's no disgrace either."
In fact, The Addams Family runs but two seasons, but it's lived on forever in syndication, often as part of an afterschool block that children of my age saw. By now it's firmly entrenched in the cultural landscape, along with The Munsters and Gilligan's Island and other shows from that era - fondly remembered long after shows with longer runs have been forgotten. And John Astin, who moves from Gomez to a spell as The Riddler on Batman to decades of guest appearances on TV series, who was once married to Patty Duke, raised one successful actor and fathered another - well, he hasn't done too badly either.
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.
It's always nice to see Amory's eye cocked toward a series that becomes a genuine piece of television history, as opposed to some of the programs that fade out after their 13 weeks have come and gone. Such is the case, this week, with Get Smart.
At the outset, Amory makes what I think is a prescient point: speaking of spy semispoofs, he observes that often "you have the feeling the producers are waiting to see whether the public really believes it and wants it played for keeps, or whether they don't believe it, and therefore want it played for laughs." With Get Smart, he credits creators Mel Brooks and Buck Henry for "getting down to the serious business of being funny right from the start." It starts with the sparkling opening scene of the first episode, in which Smart (Don Adams) is called on his shoe phone, and subsequently, in his exchanges with Barbara Feldon's Agent 99, displays his unique blend of overconfidence, earnestness, and ineptness. From there, the viewer is treated to some of the show's winning adaptations of old jokes, and the emergence of Smart's catchphrases, particularly "Would you believe..."
Amory delights that "there are at least three of these gem-funny scenes in almost every episode," which he describes as "har-har for the course." He praises Don Adams, "excellent" in his role as Smart, though "Barbara Feldon is still a little coy for our tastes." He also likes Fang, the spy dog who plays Agent K-13, whom he finds "more than makes up" for Feldon. Most of all, he likes how producers Leonard Stern and Jay Sandrich "somehow manage to pull off the toughest job of all, a funny ending", as when Smart laments the end of the evil dwarf Mr. Big. "If only he could have turned his evil genius to . . . niceness." If only is a combination of words that sadly describes too many shows and their efforts to kill an ending (Saturday Night Live, anyone?), but when Get Smart can start out funny and end the same way - well, that's more than Cleveland Amory can ask for.
As this week's cover tells us, Johnny Carson is now facing some competition for the late night audience - a double-barreled challenge, in fact. In one corner, we have Les Crane, host of ABC's Nightlife; in the other, it's Merv Griffin and his syndicated show. It is, says author Stanley Frank, the first real choice viewers have had since Jack Paar vacated the Tonight Show timeslot, leaving most viewers with "a choice between Carson's urbane, low-pressure humor, Steve Allen in some areas, and old movies that turn up as regularly as mortgage installments."
We know how this all winds up; Johnny remains triumphant, Merv flirts with a network show (on CBS) for a time before returning to a long and successful run in syndication, and as for Les Crane - well, there's always that shotgun microphone of his. I seem to recall one of our commentators - perhaps Mike Doran - offering some tidbits on Les, and in any event I suspect there are those of you out there who can fill in the blanks - the rest of the story, as it were. However, I do find some of the comparisons between the three hosts - a kind of talk show tale of the tape - to be quite revelatory.
Take, for instance, the way each of the three describes himself. Carson is "primarily a comedian, an ad-lib artist," Crane says, "I'm a communicator. Discussion is my forte," while Griffin sees himself as "a glamorous traffic cop and a good listener to guests who have something to say." As for the guests, Carson goes for show business types, Griffin prefers intellectuals, and Crane likes "kooks who run off at the mouth." How they treat those guests is the subject of a more animated discussion.
"The secret of a late-night show is instant humor," says Carson. "I don't want to sound like an egotistical jerk*, but could Crane or Griffin do a 50-minute act at Las Vegas as I did?" Counters Griffin, "Comedians always are thinking ahead to the next gag to protect their image. I think it's wrong for the host to rise above his guests. Besides, viewers at midnight are older and more sophisticated than the usual audience. They want to be entertained of course, but they really want to hear well-informed people express opinions on controversial issues." Carson rejects the idea he's stayed completely away from controversy, but states, "By and large, though, I feel that justice can't be done to a controversial topic in the time allowed. I like controversy if it's honest. Too often it's a phony device used for shock effect and the audience knows it."
*Sure, you don't.
If there's anyone who knows his way around controversy, it has to be Crane. In his first months on Nightlife, he's hosted discussions on topics including homosexuality and adultery, and criticism was so harsh (and ratings were so low) that ABC sacked him after four months, bringing him back only after they couldn't find a suitable substitute. He's more subdued and conventional now, a "truer reflection of my personality than the other thing," but in reality his biggest crime might have been that he was ahead of his time. True, the content of his show is more daytime than late night, but you can't tell me Les Crane wouldn't fit in perfectly with the debris that litters daytime television today.
The battle for second place between Griffin and Crane continues apace; it's a battle from which we know Merv will emerge triumphant, but there's no stopping Carson. Crane's days clearly appear to be numbered though, and there's speculation that ABC could replace him with a soap opera. (In a way they do, with Joey Bishop succeeding Crane only to be replaced by Dick Cavett, who then makes way for an aborted comeback by Paar, followed by late-night reruns, made-for-TV movies, and Nightline, before finally settling on Jimmy Kimmel.) There's one thing for sure though, and that's that the battle for late-night has dramatically increased the number of insomniacs, encouraged by their increasing viewing options.
It's always nice to take a moment and see what's on the sports scene.
Sunday means pro football, and this week it's championship football: CBS, with the defending NFL champion Cleveland Browns (yes, you read correctly; the Browns were a powerhouse in the NFL up through the merger, and had several very good teams prior to moving to Baltimore) hosting the Minnesota Vikings; and NBC, in the first year of its AFL contract, with the defending champion Buffalo Bills taking on the Houston Oilers. Buffalo will be the more successful of the two titleholders, taking its second consecutive AFL championship by beating the San Diego Chargers, while the Browns fall to the Green Bay Packers in the NFL title game. Oh, and on Thursday night, the syndicated Canadian Football Game of the Week continues the championship trend, in a game taped on October 17, with the current Grey Cup champion BC Lions playing the soon-to-be champion Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Three games, six teams, four champions. Not bad, huh?
The Sunday news scene tells us a lot about the state of the world in 1965. It starts with NBC's Meet the Press, featuring Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, charismatic wife of the leader of Nationalist China. At the time, Red China - which defeated Chiang and his forces in 1949, forcing their retreat to the island of Formosa - is an outlaw nation: not recognized by the United States, not a member of the United Nations. It is Chiang's government recognized by the Americans, Chiang's government which holds the seat on the UN's Security Council, Chiang's country that competes in the Olympics under the banner of China.
Even as early as 1965, Madame Chiang may well have been was urging American steadfastness in Vietnam, and the reason why she would have felt it necessary becomes apparent by looking at ABC's Issues and Answers, in which host Frank Reynolds moderates a debate on "draft-card burning, protest marches, and U.S. involvement in Vietnam." It's coming, my friends, oh yes, it's coming.
ABC Scope, which follows, will in time devote itself entirely to coverage of the war, but for now it's still examining various issues from around the world. This week, it's an up-close look at Jomo Kenyatta, President of Kenya. Kenyatta has led the country since independence, maintaining what he calls "Harambee," a form of socialism which emphasizes brotherhood rather than communal ownership. Kenyatta leads the pro-Western government until his death in 1978, keeping Kenya from turning Communist.
No Sullivan vs. The Palace this week; Hollywood Palace has been preempted by a Jimmy Durante special, the first in four years for The Schnoz, and it's a show you wouldn't expect. It's called Jimmy Durante Meets the Lively Arts, and Jimmy's guests include Metropolitan Opera star Roberta Peters, ballet dancers Rudolf Nureyev and Lynn Seymour, pop art painter "Sandy Warlock"*, Robert Vaughn (reading from Hamlet), and the singing group The Shindogs. An accompanying article captures the great Durante in all his glory; "I hate doin' ballet," he says of his bit with Nkureyev. "I wanted to show the legs. I'm not proud of 'em, I just like to show 'em off once in a while." Ah, I'll bet that was a show.
*Warlock is played by actor Max Showalter, who played Ward Cleaver in the original pilot for Leave it to Beaver.
Finally, here's something you don't see very often: a blank TV screen in a TV Guide Close-Up.
The CBS affiliates in this issue from Southern Ohio are Channels 7 (WHIO, Dayton), 9 (WCPO, Cincinnati), and 10 (WBNS, Columbus). Obviously, when the printing press was being set, the assumption was that all three affiliates would be carrying Trials of O'Brien. However, as it turns out, Channel 9 chooses instead to present Teen-Age Revolution, a David L. Wolper documentary (hosted by Van Heflin) on America's teenagers. It's too late to reset the design of the ad - what to do, what to do? Easy - just color out the number 9! I'm sure this must have happened before, but I can't remember ever seeing it.