November 12, 2016

This week in TV Guide: November 15, 1969

A funny thing happened on the way to television's coverage of the second manned lunar landing. The funny thing involved an astronaut, Pete Conrad; a camera lens; and the sun. We can all laugh about it now if we choose, but back then nobody was laughing at the funny thing that wasn't really funny.

The lunar module Intrepid touched down early Wednesday morning, and the moon walk was scheduled for about 5:00 a.m. Minneapolis time. I'd gotten up much earlier than I usual, just to see the beginning of the walk, even though I'd have to leave for school before it was over. What I got to see that morning - what anybody got to see - was Conrad, the mission commander, walk down the ladder to the surface of the moon. Unlike Apollo 11, this broadcast was in color (from the moon!), and it promised to be spectacular. Conrad went to set up the camera, and as he did so it accidentally pointed at the sun. There was a flash, a brief flicker of an image, and then about two-thirds of the picture went black. It was still that way by the time I had to head for school, and despite all their efforts, it appeared it was going to be hard to get that camera to work.

As it was, NASA never was able to do anything about the lens - it was destroyed, and that was all anyone got to see of the famed second moon walk. There's no reason not to replay those memorable moments, though, so here's a look at Conrad descending to the moon's surface, followed by the unfortunate incident with Conrad, the camera, and the sun.



I had completely forgotten how absolutely stunning the color video of Conrad was, in comparison to the relatively ghostly images we'd seen of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldren. Of course, the mind boggles at what it would be like today, with HD video of astronauts walking on the moon. But it's all relative.

That little glimpse of the moon's surface was the last we'd see for awhile; Apollo 13, of course, never got to the moon, but had to loop around and head back to earth after the explosion. It wasn't until Apollo 14, in February 1971, before we'd see men walk again on the moon. By December 1972, the moon landings were over, and they have yet to resume. Ah, it was something while it lasted, though.

I feel sorry for those of you too young to have been around when the Apollo program was riding high. You take it all for granted nowadays - back then, we lived through it. What a time it was!

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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. 

If Doris Day can have her own show, you may wonder, why not Debbie Reynolds? Well, Cleveland Amory can tell you why not Debbie Reynolds.

It's not that Debs is bad at what she does - she's very good at it, in fact, displaying "a tremendous amount of drive and spirit and bounce and effervescence and just about any other quality you can name." But, he points out, "these are not necessarily the qualities you want to see coming at you - especially so soon after dinner." Especially not in a sitcom - The Debbie Reynolds Show - that has such a derivative sit to it. Debbie plays the wife of a sportswriter; they live next door to her sister, who's married to his best friend. Debbie's 11-year-old nephew edits the neighborhood gossip rag. "Can you bear it? Please do. Because if you can, you can also bear with the plots," which, Amory writes, appear to be "thought up on the basis of how many different costumes they permit Miss Reynolds to wear."

The maddening thing, he says, is that there's a funny show somewhere here, and Debbie has what it takes to pull off the satire of the housewife who wants to be more. "But it's all so overdone, so overproduced and overacted, that it's a crashing overbore." He has kind words for most of the cast, especially Tom Bosley as Debbie's brother-in-law, but Patricia Smith, playing her sister, is far too broad, as are most of the guest stars. However, the best part of each show comes at the end, when "Miss Reynolds comes out dressed to the nines to say goodnight. We always look forward to that."

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Yet another week without "Sullivan vs. The Palace." Ed's holding up his end of the deal, with a spectacular guest list including Carol Lawrence, Douglas Fairbanks, ballet dancers Edward Villella and Patricia McBride, Jack Carter, Moms Mabley, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Karen Wyman. I'll say in advance that if The Hollywood Palace had been able to top that, it would have been a hell of a show.

However, ABC has chosen to preempt Palace for a rare prime-time college football matchup (kickoff at 9:30 p.m.!), as Notre Dame travels to Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech. The Fighting Irish, led by star quarterback Joe Theismann, come into the game ranked #9 in the country, and don't disappoint, defeating Tech 38-20. It's a historic season for Notre Dame, the year they finally abandon their decades-long policy of not going to bowl games. Come January 1, they'll play #1 Texas in the Cotton Bowl, their first time bowling since the 1925 Rose Bowl. They lose that game 21-17, but beat Texas in a rematch the next year, and have seldom been out of the bowl picture since.

Tonight's game is on opposite the second of two time capsule episodes on CBS, both out of the Henning factory. First, on Green Acres (9:00 p.m. ET), "Hooterville's alarming population drop (from 68 to 46 in one year) has Oliver crusading to make the farm community more appealing to young people." That's followed by Petticoat Junction at 9:30, in which "Janet and deputy nurses Bobbie, Billie and Betty plan to inoculate everyone in the valley against flu. Then they encounter hard-nosed Jasper Tweedy, patriarch of a large un-inoculated brood." Either of these stories could easily be told today, with only updates to reflect the change in era. Small rural areas still struggle with dwindling populations, still fight to find ways of keeping young people from moving away; and vaccinations have become increasingly controversial over the past few years, although I suspect that as far as opponents go, Jasper Tweedy doesn't cut nearly as fine a figure as Jenny McCarthy.

CBS wraps up the night with the Miss Teenage America contest live from Fort Worth. It's won by Miss Odessa, Texas, Debbie Paton. What's interesting is that the television personalities and judges are probably better known than the winner; the hosts are Dick Clark and former Miss America Marilyn Van Derbur, and the judges include former contestant and current Model of the Year Cybill Shepherd. You might think that Miss Teenage America sounds familiar, but it isn't around anymore, having crowned its final queen in 1997. In that case, you're probably thinking of Miss Teen USA, even though that one hasn't been on TV for years.

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The Doan Report tells us about ABC's massive shakeup in its schedule, cancelling five series and moving others around. The five facing the ax are mostly unforgettable; Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, a failed attempt by Monte Markham to revive the classic Gary Cooper movie; The New People, a 45-minute version of Lost without the metaphysical existentialism, which was coupled in a 90-minute time slot with The Music Scene, a successor to Hullabaloo that failed despite a plethora of big-name acts; and two long-running series - The Hollywood Palace and The Dating Game. Nanny and the Professor, The Johnny Cash Show, The Englebert Humperdinck Show, and The Pat Paulson Half-a-Comedy Hour are among the newbies, and every night except Sunday and Tuesday will see schedule changes.

Also, there's speculation that David Brinkley might become a solo when Chet Huntley retires from The Huntley-Brinkley Report next year. And indeed, the network does turn to a solo anchor system upon Huntley's adieu, sort of: NBC Nightly News presents a rotating system with Brinkley, John Chancellor, and Frank McGee taking their turns a week at a time. Eventually, Chancellor takes the top spot, with McGee becoming host of Today, and Brinkley doing commentaries until the network calls him back to team with Chancellor. None of it works, and CBS's Walter Cronkite remains on the top spot.

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What does the rest of the week have to offer?

On Saturday, NBC has some fun at CBS's expense on Saturday Night at the Movies, with the network television premiere of the 1965 movie The Fortune Cookie, starring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. Lemmon plays a cameraman for CBS, who's injured while covering an NFL game, and is talked by his shyster brother-in-law Matthau into suing CBS, the Cleveland Browns, and Municipal Stadium. Throw in a greedy wife, suspicious insurance company, and devious private investigator, and you're in for what Judith Crist calls "vicious fun," for which Matthau wins an Academy Award.

Current events rear its ugly head on Sunday's Issues and Answers on ABC, with Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott (R-PA) facing the inevitable questions on Vietnam and the latest calls for a cease fire, and President Nixon's recent nomination of Clement Haynesworth to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, CBS's Look Up and Live asks the question "What's Happened to the Catholic Mass?", a question people still ask today, as the pews grow more and more empty. "[A] change from Latin to English, and the experimental [!] use of jazz and rock" might have something to do with that. Cleanse your palate by watching ABC's broadcast of the movie The Flight of the Phoenix later that night. It stars Jimmy Stewart in a role that's anything but the bumbling, sly charmer you're used to seeing from him.

Here's something you don't seen in Minnesota: the programming notice beginning Monday and running for the rest of the week, that independent station WNYC will have coverage of the United Nations General Assembly if it's in session. It's kind of like watching C-SPAN with an international accent, and without taking Novocaine beforehand.

On Tuesday, we see both sides of the coin that is modern America, going head-to-head at 8:30 ET. On CBS, it's Red Skelton, a stalwart on the network since 1951, who welcomes guests Lou Rawls and George Gobel. On ABC, it's the world television premiere* of The Ballad of Andy Crocker, starring Lee Majors, Agnes Moorhead, Joey Heatherton, and Pat Hingle, in what has to be one of the first movies to tell the story of the difficulties facing returning Vietnam veterans. For Majors' character Crocker, "no brass bands welcome him to his Texas home town. His girl friend has been forced into a marriage by her shrewish mother, the small business he left behind has been ruined by mismanagement and friends capable of more than sympathy are in short supply. It's written by Stuart Margolin, whom we probably know better as Angel in The Rockford Files.

*In other words, a made-for-TV movie.

Songwriter Burt Bacharach, whose music is "appealing to both sides of the generation gap," hosts Wednesday's Kraft Music Hall on NBC. (9:00 p.m.) Burt's guests, Lena Horne and Tony Bennett, sing some of his many hits ("I'll Never Fall in Love Again," "The Look of Love," "Alfie," and "San Jose," and ballet dancer Edward Villella dances to a couple more, "Promises, Promises," and "This Guy's in Love with You."

On Thursday, Tom Jones (9:00 p.m., ABC) looks as if he's taken a wrong turn somewhere and wound up in Nashville instead of Hollywood; his guests are Johnny and June Carter Cash, Minnie Pearl, and Jeannie C. Riley. I really dig the picture of Tom and Johnny wearing paisley neckerchiefs. If country ain't your thaing, I'd go with Dean Martin (10:00 p.m., NBC), who has Gordon MacRae, Dom DeLuise, Stanley Myron Handelman, Tommy Tune, and Dean's daughter Gail. If you want to stay up later, catch Johnny Carson during one of his sojurns in Hollywood before he moved The Tonight Show there permanently; he welcomes Charlton Heston, Goldie Hawn, Jane Powell, Fernando Lamas and George Chakiris.

Friday ends the week with an intriguing Hallmark Hall of Fame: "The File on Devlin," (NBC, 8:30 p.m.) a suspense drama with Dame Judith Anderson, Elizabeth Ashley, and David McCallum as, respectively, the wife, daughter, and biographer of Laurence Devlin, an author, journalist, and Nobel Prize winner. He also happened to be an occasional spy for the British government, and now he's disappeared. Has he defected, has he been kidnapped, or has something else happened? NBC follows up on that with George C. Scott in a rare comedic appearance as the star of "Mirror, Mirror, Off the Wall," on the occasional anthology series On Stage. Scott plays a failing author named Max Maxwell who becomes a sensation when he writes a dirty book under the pseudonym N.Y. Rome. The trouble begins when Rome's personality lets it be known he's tired of being kept in the background, and attempts to take over Max completely.

A pretty good way to end the week - you might say we're over the moon about it. Literally.

3 comments:

  1. I can remember when the camera failed (well, we can see it anytime) and feeling so cheated!

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    Replies
    1. They should have had a lens cap!

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  2. I thought that when Chet Huntley retired, David Brinkley, John Chancellor, and Frank McGee rotated on "NBC nightly News" in such a way that at least one, usually two, and occasionally all three of them would be on during any given night.

    By the Fall of 1971, NBC dismantled this system and made Chancellor sole weeknight anchor with Brinkley doing news analysis.

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