*There was also a mention or two of cover girl Anne Francis; I'll leave it to you as to whether or not you'd care to revisit that yourself.
There's no one big feature this week, so let's start off with something we usually use to wind up the day - Letters to the Editor. What makes these so interesting this week is that they represent such a cross-section of television programming, and so many of them tell so much about the climate of the times.
For example, the first two letters have to do with a recent CBS Reports documentary on the Ku Klux Klan, entitled "KKK - The Invisible Empire." The Klan, in 1965, is still a major presence in American culture, and Jim Vickrey of Auburn University writes to praise CBS for the documentary, with the wise words that "Exposure to light is still an effective way to destroy a destructive - albeit 'invisible' virus." Ann Carlson of Devon, Connecticut wants to remind CBS, however, that two wrongs don't make a right, asking the pertinent question "Now how about a report on the Black Muslims?"
Television has, of course, always contained shows that have an element (or two) of implausibility, and Lamont Dixon of Coronado, California, thinks there are just too many to contend with in Juliet Prowse's sitcom Mona McCluskey. "I can't believe a childless couple, living on a sergeant's pay of $500 a month, has to exist on peanut butter and crackers for breakfast and dinner. I can't believe that the sergeant is a buddy of his commanding general. This is more fantastic than a magical Martian, a witch with a twitching nose, an instant genie from a bottle, a car that talks, or a Smothers Brother from heaven."* Meanwhile, Kevin Burford of Iowa City, Iowa, has had it with Hogan's Heroes - "There's nothing funny about prisoner-of-war camps." Considering the widespread approval the show met with from veterans, one wonders if Mr. Burford is, like so many people, confusing a POW camp with a concentration camp? Or perhaps he just doesn't believe humans can continue to be human even in inhuman conditions?
*Bonus points if you're the first in the comments section to identify each of the series to which Mr. Dixon refers.
Advise, solicited or not, is always something generous viewers are free to give the networks, and a trio of letters closes out the section, offering executives ideas that they think will improve their programming dramatically. In response to NBC changing Dr. Kildare from an hourly drama seen once a week to a half-hour, two-nights-a-week program (a la Peyton Place), Betty Norris of Jacksonville, NC, begs the network to "Please stitch Dr. Kildare together again!"* Dave Sepulveda of Santa Rosa, California, advises NBC to "Get smart!, and turn off the laugh machine." (A common complaint of the era.) And Diana Werner of Park Ridge, New Jersey, has perhaps the harshest verdict of all. After watching Robert Lansing get written out of ABC's Twelve O'Clock High by having his plane shot down in the opening moments of the new season, she says that "That finished us (our family) too, as far as this show is concerned." A good point; though Paul Burke is a fine actor (see Naked City, for example), this WWII drama was never the same after Lansing's General Savage left the scene. It lasted only another season-and-a-half.
*Hint to letter-writers who want to see their missives in print: humor always helps, as does cleverness.
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's critical eye focuses on I Spy, "a kind of spin-off, or perhaps we should begin to call them spy-offs, of The Man from U.N.C.L.E." - which itself was, he points out, something of a spin-off of the James Bond style of movie. Amory doesn't take long to get to the point, describing I Spy as "the best of the new shows we've reviewed so far."
As might be expected, Amory makes note of Cosby's status as the first black ("Negro") co-star in a regular dramatic series, but he also mentions that in the series' first show, Ivan Dixon was a guest star - "a truly memorable performance" as an athlete who defects to Red China. He likes Cosby, who "plays it all pretty straight but with just enough hint of glint to fill the bill," and favors Culp as well; the actor is "excellent, all the way from karate to kissing, and, like Cosby, can turn on rare humor when the situation warrants." Indeed, Culp and Cosby make a formidable team, not only as spies, but as co-stars, as they "carry on through the series their own offbeat series of remarkable shaggy spy sorties which along are worth the price of admission." Culp even does double-duty on the series, having written the script for that first episode.
All in all, Amory sees I Spy as a winner: strong acting, not only from the regulars but an admirable roster of guest stars; exotic scenery, with episodes shot on location in Hong Kong, Japan and Mexico, and good, solid writing. Provided the series doesn't forgot what makes it successful in the first place, it should be one of the can't-miss shows of the season.
And now, a spin around the dial.
Game 3 of the World Series between the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Dodgers is the centerpiece of Saturday's broadcasting day, but I was also drawn to the night's episode of Gunsmoke (9:00 p.m. CT, CBS) in which "After killing a young gunman on the road, Matt finds three more gunfighters waiting for him in Dodge." Those three, unless I miss my guess, are played by Nehemiah Persoff, Warren Oates and Bruce Dern. Talk about an all-star lineup of character actors, and two of them pretty well-known in the Western field, too.
On Sunday, there are two episodes of CBS's morning religious programs that tell much about the apparently prosperous America of the early 1960s. The first, on Lamp Unto My Feet, is entitled "The Pit," a play by Jan Hartman. "The pit is a huge garbage dump* where 'people live in the refuse, building their houses out of the city wastes.' A doctor who has left his comfortable practice to minister to the outcast inhabitants learns the true meaning of charity when he is placed in a position where he cannot save the life of a man." Look for performances from future TV figures Clarence Williams III and Billy Dee Williams.
*Sounds very much like John Lindsay's New York, doesn't it?
That's followed by an episode of Look Up and Live that could have been aired today: It's called "Reformation: Chicago," the first of a three-part report "on the problems facing Chicago clergymen in their attempt to make Christianity a working force in urban society." Judging by the statistics on murders and shootings this year in Chicago - far higher than they were in 1965 - I'd have to guess the clergy may have failed in their attempt.
With the warning that Monday's programming may be preempted by the papal visit, the highlights include an episode of the aforementioned Twelve O'Clock High (ABC, 6:30 p.m.) in which Jack Lord stops in England on his way to Hawaii to play the brother of new series star Paul Burke. Lord also appears earlier in the week on a syndicated telecast of Stoney Burke, which proves there is life before Five-0. Andy Williams hosts what sounds like a pleasant hour of variety (NBC, 8:00 p.m.), with guests Bob Hope, Mary Tyler Moore, and Roger Miller.
|SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDES|
Wednesday features something that ties in vaguely to what I'll be mentioning below: the debut of a syndicated color program (WTCN, 7:30 p.m.) called Wanderlust, in which host Bill Burrud "narrates films of foreign lands and their heritage." I'm sure it must have looked quite exotic at the time. At 8:00 p.m. on NBC, it's an episode of one of the more underrated anthology series of the time, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theater, with a petty good cast of familiar faces - Mickey Rooney, Don Gordon, Jack Weston, Harold J. Stone and Joey Foreman, and Melodie Johnson in her first major TV appearance - in the gambling drama "Kicks." I also see ABC's Amos Burke, Secret Agent on at 9:00 p.m., which reminds me of what Cleveland Amory was writing about Man from U.N.C.L.E. spin-offs - when Burke's Law became Amos Burke, it was definitely not for the best.
Thursday's best programming is during the daytime; CBS's Captain Kangaroo celebrates former President Dwight Eisenhower's 75th birthday with a look back at an amazing career that took Ike from West Point to the battlefields of Europe to the White House. I doubt we'll ever again see a president with a resume like that - nor a kids program that wouldn't take the opportunity to become a fawning partisan broadcast. And at 12:30 p.m., NBC presents the seventh and final game of the World Series, as Sandy Koufax - pitching on just two days' rest and without his best stuff - breaks the hearts of all Minnesotans, pitching the Dodgers to a 2-0 victory over the Twins, and their third world championship since moving from Brooklyn.
The end of the week begins with Channel 9's syndicated broadcast of The Eleventh Hour (Friday, 11:00 a.m.), an intriguing story starring Harry Guardino as the author of a book on capital punishment whose own story is rapidly coming to an end - in the death house. On Art Linkletter's House Party (1:30 p.m., CBS) Rod Serling, president of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, discusses the Emmy Awards, to be telecast in September (rather than the end of the television season) for the first time. It won't do that again until 1977, when it settles into the slot it maintains to this day.
Finally, it will probably come as no surprise to you that I think television, on balance, has been a good thing. (Granted, I could still get a lot of mileage out of it even if I didn't think so, but it's not much fun writing about things you don't like.) I'm not blind to its faults though; ironically, one of them comes about because it does its job too well. I'll get to that in a minute.
*Which provides a great punchline to the joke: "Who's the only Cardinal with a monument in Yankee Stadium?"
That, you might think, sounds great, so why am I complaining? Well, near as I can tell, it's because television can do this kind of big event so well, it kind of removes the wonder from it all. And that's the nub, and one way television has impacted culture in unexpected ways. Thanks to various technological advances over the decades, we're now accustomed to getting live pictures from pretty much anywhere on Earth, and if we ever go back to the Moon, I expect the coverage from there will be astonishing - for the first couple of flights, that is. Then, as was the case during the initial Moon landings, it will all become ho-hum, we'll get tired of it, and move on to something else.
That television can reduce if not eliminate the sense of the world's true auwe, that it make the ordinary out of the extraordinary is much like the baseball player who never gets the acclaim he deserves because he makes things look so easy. Edward R. Murrow once marveled at the ability of live television cameras to show both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, live and simultaneously, on a split screen. Today I don't think that would merit much of a second look.
It isn't just television, of course; technology itself has a way of doing this, so that we don't think anything of carrying around a computer/television/telephone in our pockets. We just take it for granted. But, if I can venture a thought, I think television's impact has in some ways been more unexpectedly far-reaching. Let's take that satellite coverage I was talking about a couple of paragraphs ago. One of the main attractions of the early James Bond movies was the exotic locale that featured in them, the ability to see these lands of intrigue and beauty in color on the big screen. In other words, the movies could take you places you couldn't go to see things you couldn't see.
It isn't just television responsible for all this, of course. The ability of a pope, or any other world leader, to take advantage of this same ease of travel that we do, means a papal trip itself isn't the phenomenon it once was. John Paul II, for example, visited America several times, and while the networks went all-out for his first visit here in 1979, it was never quite the same sensation again. Additionally, the explosion of cable news networks has not only freed the networks up from covering many of the news events that once dominated our screens, it's made it far more difficult to tell what news events actually are important and what's just filler for a 24/7 news cycle.
Perhaps this is a simplified, even naive, answer. Perhaps I'm asking a question that doesn't even need to be asked, or one that doesn't merit an answer any more complicated than "Duh." It is, nonetheless, striking to see the extremes to which the trip of Paul VI dominated our news in 1965, and why it might seem so foreign to us today.