March 30, 2016

Mother Mary Angelica, R.I.P.

SOURCE: EWTN
From David Sarnoff to William S. Paley, network executives have been known as a tough lot. Whether they're present at the founding or are called in to save the network, they have to be determined, resistant to pressure, unafraid of taking big risks, unfazed by criticism, willing to say what's on their mind regardless of the consequences. They must have nerves of steel, and spines to match. Mother Angelica was all that, and more.

It's remarkable, when you think about it: a nun, living in rural Alabama, taking advantage of the burgeoning cable TV revolution to create a media empire. The odds against such an enterprise even getting off the ground, let alone succeeding, might lead one to believe that Mother had just a little help here and there from an Executive who carried a little more clout that the average network suit.

Her legacy within the Church is a substantial one: of her often acrimonious run-ins with liberal Church hierarchy, Catholic reporter John Allen Jr. wrote at Crux that she "showed that a woman can stand toe-to-toe with powerful clerics in the Church and give every bit as good as she got." She was a leading advocate of orthodox Catholicism in the United States at a time when such orthodoxy seemed as passe as social conservatism does in the Republican Party today. She gave voice to ideas that were not fashionable and found, not to her surprise, that many people agreed with her. She gave leading Catholic intellectuals an opportunity to communicate to a wider audience than they could have hoped for, and helped start a revolution. She was unafraid to take on bishops, cardinals, and even the pope, and as a result she won the worldwide admiration of many bishops, cardinals, and popes. She undoubtedly took pride in her enemies, on the grounds that a person can be judged based on those who oppose them.

This, however, is not a religious blog - it's all about TV. (Where have I heard that before?) And in this context we remember a woman who became the Fulton Sheen of her time, a magnetic presence who captivated her audience with wit and wisdom, with a solid conviction of her beliefs and an innate ability to communicate them to a wide-ranging audience for extended periods of time. Without her television presence, it's unlikely there would have been an EWTN.

The story of the network she created is surely an extraordinary one. According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, "After she gave an interview on then-Christian station WCFC (Channel 38) in Chicago, she decided she wanted her own network. 'I walked in, and it was just a little studio, and I remember standing in the doorway and thinking, "It doesn't take much to reach the masses". I just stood there and said to the Lord, "Lord, I've got to have one of these."" Back then, in 1981, the network programmed four hours a day. By 1988 it was a 24-hour cable channel; in the early '90s, a radio network followed.

As a network executive, she proved to be a crafty strategist, able to fend off hostile takeover attempts by enraged Church establishment figures. By having her network cover the national bishops' conference, she demonstrated how the medium can bring transparency to an institution badly in need of it. As Allen writes, "She and EWTN relativized the power of the hierarchy in America, not by attacking it, but simply by showing they didn’t need it to succeed," and if that isn't in the great tradition of media moguls, not only the Sarnoffs and Paleys but the Hearsts and Sulzbergers as well, then I don't know what is. By taking risks, by scoffing at the scoffers and putting her trust instead in that Network Executive in the sky, she built a global network that reached 250 million homes in 140 countries and territories. Not bad for a nun who probably never aspired to such a role.

When I went through my conversion to Catholicism many years ago, EWTN provided a vital component, and Mother Angelica's enthusiasm soon became my own. Through the network, I was introduced to a world that I likely would not have found had I stuck to more conventional sources of information.

Ultimately, one of the tests of a great person's legacy is how well the institution he or she built withstands that person's absence. I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that EWTN has lost much of its potency over the last two decades, first in a struggle over control of the network, then because of Mother Angelica's debilitating series of strokes. Today's programming fails to live to to the intellectual standard of the past, no longer providing the challenging, thought-provoking arguments it once did. Its news programming lacks gravitas, and its entertainment programs often lack quality. I, who once watched it daily, haven't watched it in many years. This article at the Catholic blog OnePeterFive accurately points out the many, many shortcomings of the network today, and how it has essentially been swallowed up by the establishment. One wonders what Mother Angelica herself thought of the present-day version of her network, of what her vision had become.

In the end, though, that may be the difference between a visionary and one who simply accomplishes great things, for the latter is often someone who sees an opportunity that others fail to appreciate and acts on it, perhaps better than someone else might have, perhaps not. A visionary, on the other hand, frequently has a singular gift for seeing things that other people can't, and to the extent that their legacy suffers, it's because their successors are unable to see that vision. As in athletics, some things can be taught, but other things are simply gifts with which one is born.

The legacies of television's pioneers often suffer because their successors lacked that vision, a vision so great, so personal perhaps, that nobody else was capable of sharing in it. I doubt that anyone else could fully have appreciated the calling that Mother Angelica had, that vision that she received and had the courage - and faith - to act upon. She died this past Sunday, Easter Sunday, at the age of 92, a date that most people thought appropriate. John Allen ended his obituary paraphrasing from Hamlet, "Take her for all in all, we shall not look upon her like again." I think that about says it.

March 28, 2016

What's on TV? Thursday, April 2, 1959

A happy Easter Monday to you all! We're back in DFW this week for an exciting Thursday of television. No station-by-station commentary this time, but I do want to say a word about Continental Classroom, NBC's answer to Sunrise Semester. The topic for today's program is "Nuclear Spin and Hyperfine Structure," and bless those students who got up and went through this class. I don't think I could have done it. Here's a clip from a typical edition of Continental Classroom, and then we'll get to the rest of the listings.



March 26, 2016

This week in TV Guide: March 28, 1959

This week, a different way to decide what shows we look at - by looking at what other people looked at.

One of the sidebars in this week's issue includes the top 10 programs in the Fort Worth* metropolitan area for February, 1959 as measured by Telepulse research, a forerunner to (or competitor of, I'm not sure which is more accurate) of the Nielsen system. As you know, I put a lot of emphasis on looking at things in context, so let's put ourselves in context by looking at what each of these series is showing this week. Afterword, we'll discuss.

*I'm not sure if this includes Dallas, or if Fort Worth was measured as its own metropolitan area. I could probably find out, but would it really be worth it to you?

1. Gunsmoke (CBS) 
Saturday, 9:00pm CT
39.2 percent of all televisions tuned in 
Preempted this week for DuPont Show of the Month.

2. Maverick (ABC)  
Sunday, 6:30pm 
32.8
Peggy King sings and acts in "Strange Journey of Jenny Hill." Singer Jenny Hill combines a concert tour with a search for her outlaw husband. Bret Maverick, too, is looking for Jenny's husband, but he finds it hard to concentrate on his mission when he falls in love with the songstress. Miss King sings "Sweet and Low," "Some Sunday Morning," "Too Much Love," and Comin' Through the Rye."

3. Death Valley Days (Syndicated, shown locally on Channel 4) 
Saturday, 9:30pm
32.3  
Also preempted this week for DuPont Show of the Month. 

4. The Real McCoys (ABC)  
Thursday, 7:30pm
31.3
"Batter Up." Grampa talks Luke into coaching a Little League baseball team and then proceeds to coach Luke.

5. The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp (ABC)  
Tuesday, 7:30pm
30.3
"The Judas Goat." A deputy United States marshal from Kansas City contrives a scheme aimed at netting him a large reward.

6. Have Gun - Will Travel (CBS) 
Saturday, 8:30pm
28.5 
Preempted for - yes - that DuPont Show of the Month. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all.

7. (Tie) The Lawman (ABC)  
Sunday, 7:30pm
27.8
"The Gang." A cowboy travels a great distance to tell Marshal Dan Troop that the Hayes gang are headed for Laramie to exact revenge.

7. (Tie) The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok (Syndicated, shown locally on Channel 11) 
Wednesday, 6:00pm
27.8 
"Dr. Pardner Rides Again." Wild Bill tries to stop a one-man crusade against an old horse. 

8. (Tie) The Rifleman (ABC) 
Tuesday, 8:00pm
26.8 
"The Wrong Way." Jay Jefferson, a gun-slinging lawman, arrives in North Fork in search of an outlaw. Marshal Torrance and Lucas McCain will have little to do with Jefferson, but Mark decides to help him find his man.

8. (Tie) Wagon Train (NBC) 
Wednesday, 6:30pm
26.8 
"The Matthew Lowry Story." Matthew Lowry, a Quaker who has only one arm, is constantly ridiculed by Jed Otis. Because of Matthew's pacifist beliefs, he is suspected of cowardice by his young brother.

9. The Perry Como Show (NBC)  
Saturday, 7:00pm
26.5
Perry welcomes songstress Dorothy Collins and young pianist Lorin Hollander. Dancing Waters, a fountain display which changes shape and color as music is played, is spotlighted.

10. The Restless Gun (NBC)  
Monday, 7:00pm
26.3
"Incident at Bluefield." Vint Bonner rides into the town of Bluefield and finds that his best friend has been shot to death.

Interesting, no? One of the things you probably noticed right away is how Westerns dominate the ratings. Comparing this list to the national top ten indicates that while Westerns are extremely popular nationally, (eight of the top ten are either outright oaters or rural comedies), there is a predisposition down here in Western country to like them. Neither The Lawman or The Restless Gun make the top twenty nationally, but they're both at the top of the local ratings. Additionally, we have two syndicated Westerns that make the top ten locally: Death Valley Days and Wild Bill Hickok. I think this speaks not just to the popularity of Westerns in general, but to the strength of local stations. No wonder they preempt network programming on such a frequent basis.

The program descriptions tend to be more comprehensive as well. Most of them include the episode title (with some of the more prestigious dramas, the author's name is given as well). A source of minor irritation: the complete name of the main character is also given, i.e. The Restless Gun's "Vint Bonner," Maverick's "Bret Maverick." This just sounds awkward - if you care enough about the show to watch it, don't you think you know who you're watching?

As far as the subject matter, most of the Westerns deal with either outlaws or the pursuit of justice (which can be two different things). It's not surprising, considering that most Westerns are essentially morality plays, and this leads to another interesting note about the rise and fall of the Western. In his book Glued to the Set, Steven A. Stark notes that the coming of "relevant" television led to the erosion and eventual end of the Western era; when "law and order" shows made a comeback during the tumult of the late '60s and early '70s, one might have expected the Western to return as well, but they'd been out of sight just long enough for the police drama (often led by a lone wolf cop) to take their place.

You probably wouldn't be surprised to learn that Gunsmoke, the top show in Fort Worth, was the leading national program as well, Altogether, seven of the programs in the Fort Worth list made the top ten nationally as well. It would appear that Texas was well in step with the rest of America.

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Sunday is Easter, and in addition to the plethora of religious programming throughout the day, there's an interesting article on the importance of such programs to the television schedule. It carries the un-ironic subhead, "Easter season emphasizes the contribution of religious programs," and talks with the directors of religious programming* for NBC and CBS.

*I wonder if any network today has executives with these titles.

At CBS, the long-running Sunday morning programs are Lamp unto My Feet and Look Up and Live. Both are interdenominational; Look Up and Live is, according to director Pamela Ilott, "not necessarily a religious show." "'It's just the best show we can produce utilizing the arts to project a religious idea. Call it God-centered thinking, or preparation for religious ideas. We're basically evangelistic." Lamp unto My Feet divides its programs between those produced in coordination with the National Council of Churches (Protestant), the National Council of Catholic Men, and the New York Board of Rabbis (Jewish), and aims, in the case of the Protestant shows, "at what the program's youthful producer Jack Kuney calls 'the unchurched youth,' featuring jazz artists such as Lionel Hampton and Dave Brubeck.


NBC's programming is ecumenical as well, one program split between Protestants (Frontiers of Faith), Catholics (The Catholic Hour), and Jews (The Eternal Light), and boasts scripts written by Rod Serling, readings by Carl Sandburg, W.H. Auden, Robert Frost and Mark Van Doren, and performances from stars such as Richard Kiley, Maureen Stapleton, Sal Mineo and E.G. Marshall.

Nobody from ABC was interviewed, leading me to think that they don't have a special department devoted to religious programming, but the network boasts of series by Bishop Fulton J. Sheen (Life Is Worth Living) and Episcopal Bishop James A. Pike (Dean Pike)*. In addition, there are syndicated programs far and wide, the most famous of which perhaps being This Is the Life and Insight, and local programs of all kinds.

*James Pike led a life far more colorful than that portrayed by characters in most of the network's series, going from Catholic to agnostic to Episcopalian, defending liberal causes such as birth control and abortion, and involving himself in political battles over homosexuality and civil rights. He was both a chain-smoker and alcoholic, and was married three times, and died in the desert while researching Jesus' 40 days.

Today, any kind of network programming about religion is limited to appearances in series television (where it's usually held up to ridicule), the news (most often either either being misrepresented or presented as a source of scandal), or the odd interview with a religious figure. Any religious service is probably around Christmas. To be sure, there are at least three or four networks devoted completely to religious programming, and many televangelists (a term unheard of in 1959) continue to have successful syndicated shows. Still, there's the sense from this article that religion is not only a vital part of society (it refers to Easter as "the most joyous day in Christendom"), but something that strengthens the overall television schedule. In other words, it's important as part of well-rounded programming.

It's perhaps one of the most distinct differences between then and now that we've seen in this feature.

◊ ◊ ◊


Mary Martin, the star of Peter Pan, has not one, but two programs on NBC Easter Sunday. The first, an afternoon program starting at 3:00pm CT, is entitled Magic with Mary Martin, in an hour-long program of "songs and fun for children," while Music with Mary Martin, at 7:00pm, allows viewers to sample hits from her movie and broadway careers. I don't recall anything like this on TV before; do you?

In the "news" section, we're told that Bat Masterson will be stretched to a full hour on Monday nights, but unless they show back-to-back half-hour episodes, it never happens. It remains at 30 minutes until it goes off the air in 1961.

William Shatner has been signed to play Archie Goodwin to Kurt Kasznar's Nero Wolfe in the show of the same name, scheduled to premiere next fall on CBS. There's no evidence that the idea ever got beyond the pilot stage, but the photo at the right gives you an idea of what it would have looked like.

However, that doesn't make it particularly unique. According to the Hollywood TV Teletype, "There are now some 230 new series in pilot-film form being peered at by ad-agency executives looking toward next season's schedules." As you may recall, in 1959 schedules are still largely controlled by the ad execs, as companies buy ad time from the network and then fill it with programs best thought to promote their products. The Quiz Show Scandals, and the involvement of said sponsors, went a long way toward eliminating that kind of business, as the networks asserted themselves in controlling what appeared on their airwaves.

March 25, 2016

"Give Us Barabbas!" on Hallmark Hall of Fame, 1961

FROM THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, PILATE PRESENTS JESUS AND BARABBAS TO THE MASSES
From Palm Sunday, March 27, 1961, NBC's Hallmark Hall of Fame presents James Daly and Kim Hunter in "Give Us Barabbas," written by Henry Denker and directed by George Schaefer. It appears here under the banner of George Schaefer's Showcase Theatre, a syndicated package of Schaefer's Hall of Fame presentations, but aside from the opening credits, everything you see is as it was on Hall of Fame.

It's actually surprisingly good, and I say that not to damn with faint praise. As many of you know, religious drama is difficult to get right - too often it's either artless hagiography or a succession of greatest hits scenes from the Bible, but this gives us a rather interesting twist to the psychological makeup of Barabbas, of whom little is known. It also contains some good performances; Daly is always an interesting, literate actor, and his occasional forays into over-the-top histrionics is, I think, more a representation of the anger and wildness that would have driven a man such as Barabbas. In that sense it reminds me of Harry Guardino's take on Barabbas in King of Kings, although Guardino seems to be to be capable of far less subtlety as an actor than Daly. "Give Us Barabbas!" also reminds me of the Anthony Quinn movie Barabbas which attempts to accomplish the same thing, rather unsuccessfully, I think, even though it's based on a novel written by a Nobel prizewinner.

Tell me, in all honesty - can you imagine anything like this being presented on network television today? Not as a rerun of a beloved special, I mean, or a revisionist version that casts devils as angels or angels as incredibly un-angelike, or a musical version that tries to update the setting to modern times, but as original, orthodox programming?

March 23, 2016

Additions to the Top Ten: Breaking Point

EDUARD FRANZ (LEFT) AND PAUL RICHARDS: THE DOCTORS OF BREAKING POINT

I've written a couple of times these last few months about Breaking Point, the Ben Casey spinoff that ran in the 1963-64 season on ABC. As was the case with so many series from that era, I first became acquainted with it through TV Guide, where I would see it in the listings each week, reading the description of an episode that sounded intriguing or provocative.

Like Casey, the show followed the tried-and-true formula: Paul Richards plays Dr. McKinley Thompson, the young chief resident in psychiatry; Eduard Franz, as psychiatric clinic director Dr. Edward Raymer, is the older mentor. Although each story tends to focus on one doctor*, both men appear in most episodes. And, as is the case in so many dramas of the era, plots revolve around the guest stars more than the doctors themselves.

*The emphasis, as was the case in most medical dramas, was on the younger of the two men; Franz, noting this and pointing out to the producers that his contract stipulated co-star status, calmly mentioned he'd be asking to be released from his contract unless the imbalance was corrected. Fortunately, it was.

In one particularly fine episode, "And If Thy Hand Offend Thee," James Daly (Medical Center) portrays Mitchell Farnum, a veteran of the Pacific theater in World War II, who appears to be dealing with what today we'd call PTSD, spending nights in an Asian bar, raving about his experiences with the Japanese. Just when it looks as if a fight might break out, though, he finds his right hand cramping and breaking out in a rash. Since his regular doctor can't find anything physically wrong, he sends Farnum to see Dr. Thompson.

Slowly, through Thompson's questions, Farnum's story begins to unfold in unexpected directions. First, we find that Farnum has had this problem with his hand for several years. We are told that Farnum has been separated from his wife for over a decade, and then discover that his wife is Japanese, that he met her during the occupation, that she lived in Hiroshima but was not caught in the blast. We learn that they spent several happy years in Japan, but that the problems began once they relocated to the United States. We see a flashback in which Farnum's unit has a hatred of Japanese drillled into them - that they lack emotions, that they will kill without scruples, that they are not even human. Fine, we think - this confirms our initial theory that Farnum has a bitter hatred of the Japanese based on what he saw in the Pacific.

James Daly (left) with Paul Richards
But then the story begins to shift, as Farnum tells Thompson that he was involved in testing of the atomic bomb. that he played the key role in testing the trigger mechanism. As he describes the horror that unfolded at Hiroshima (in a stunning, documentary-like look at the damage), Dr. Thompson begins to understand the situation. Farnum's hatred of the Japanese is merely a defense mechanism to mask his true problem - an intense hatred of himself, fueled by guilt over his role in the bombing. Having unlocked the key to understanding the situation, Thompson stresses, does not mean Farnum's illness will go away magically. It will take work, it will take desire on Farnum's part to get better, but Thompson will be there to help him get there.

And in truth, one of the best parts about Breaking Point is that it usually avoids the easy answer. It is clear that Farnum and his wife still love each other after all these years, but Farnum tells her it will take time for him to accept all this. When he checks out of the hospital, to continue his therapy as an outpatient, he tells Dr. Thompson that he's not ready to return to his wife yet. He wants to, but it isn't going to happen overnight. The episode ends, on a note of hope, but with no certainty that Farnum and his wife will live happily ever after.

This is far from an unusual episode of Breaking Point, however. Another standout, "My Hands Are Clean," involves Telly Savalas as Vincenzo Gracchi, a loan shark who may be experiencing the Stigmata, bleeding that mimics Christ's wounds on the Cross. His priest, played by Henry Silva, refuses to believe that this is a miracle - Gracchi is an unrepentant loan shark, after all* - and convinces Cracchi to see his old friend Dr. Thompson, who through patient but persistent questioning determines that Gracchi's problems have something to do with his father. Sounds Freudian, right? Gracchi says his father was the best man he's ever known, and that he'd wanted Gracchi to become a priest, but the young Gracchi was too consumed with succeeding, with rising above his station in life, the area where Gracchi feels his father was a failure.

*In doing so, the priest's comments echo those of G.K. Chesterton, who said that it was only because he believed in the existence of miracles that he could discount those that were not real.

What does this have to do with the Stigmata? Thompson confesses his frustration to Dr. Raymer, who shrewdly reminds the younger doctor that there was more than one man on the hill at Calvary. And with that, Thompson gets to the bottom of Gracchi's problem - his guilt is about the kind of lifestyle he has chosen, the way he has unscrupulously taken advantage of so many people, and in doing so he is identifying not with Christ, but with the Good Thief. It's more of a happy ending than most episodes, with Gracchi vowing to give up loan sharking and become an honest businessman, but both he and the viewers know that he'll need continued therapy to get over what has plagued him for so long.

In many respects, "My Hands Are Clean" illustrates why Breaking Point is so good. We see the patient struggling (and initially rejecting) the idea of psychiatric help. The doctors ask questions, probe, but are never intrusive. They stress the reasons the patient needs help, but don't force the issue. Eventually, we see the patients hit bottom, and in desperation return to the hospital - where Drs. McKinley or Raymer are there, waiting for them. They are never dismissive of the problems faced by their patients, nor do they scoff at things like religious belief, which they give great respect.

Most of all, a couple of things I mentioned earlier: first, that there are no easy answers. In an episode featuring Bradford Dillman as a doctor blinded in an accident, the episode ends with Dillman finally adjusting to a future without sight, and returning home with his new guide dog - only to find his wife, unable to provide him with the support he needs, has left him. Dillman starts the process of learning how to function as a sightless doctor, but we have no idea whether or not he and his wife will reconcile. A similar situation occurs in an episode I wrote about earlier, with Dr. Raymer treating Gena Rowlands, a woman with a drinking problem. At the conclusion of the episode her husband, fed up with her repeated promises to stop drinking, has left her. She's determined, with Dr. Raymer's help, to overcome her problems and win her husband back - and on that hopeful note, but with no guarantee that the couple will get back together, the episode ends. Some people might complain that the story isn't tied up in a nice bow, as would be the case with so many other shows of the era - I simply call it real life.

In writing about that episode, I also mention the other thing that I like so much about Breaking Point - there is no personal drama concerning the doctors. Are they married, do they have girlfriends, are their lives like those on, say, Gray's Anatomy? As Dr. Raymer says, "Does it matter?" Breaking Point is a medical drama, not a soap opera, with the story concentrating on the lives of the patients, people at the very breaking point. See that picture above of Daly with Paul Richards? It's a key point in the episode, played with Richards' back to the camera, and that's symbolic of how the show lets those lives take center stage. It never becomes melodramatic, and only rarely does it even try to pull strings or manipulate viewers. The cast is first-rate, the writing is quality, the episodes demonstrate the intense drama of the human condition, and remind us that this drama doesn't need to be tarted up to be compelling. Breaking Point is compelling, consistently, and it's unfortunate that the show lasted only the one season, competing with East Side/West Side on CBS and Sing Along With Mitch on NBC.

Breaking Point reminds us that television has always been capable of delivering quality drama, and that the human mind is perhaps the most fertile ground for such drama. My question is simple: where is this kind of drama today?

March 21, 2016

What's on TV? Tuesday, March 23, 1965

This week's listings come to you live from Boston, and although it's Tuesday, these have something of the feel of a weekend about them. The Gemini coverage wipes out almost all of the morning programming and a good share of the afternoon shows, leaving us with, in most cases, abbreviated programming listings. And while that's bad because it doesn't give you everything that's normally on, it's good for me because it means less work.

What I meant was: it's good because it puts today in context as far as the space race and way a single news event can dominate programming. Would this happen nowadays? Would the coverage be this extensive, or would the networks cover the launch and return for the splashdown? It's hard to tell because there hasn't really been anything new with the space program for a long time, but my suspicion is that they'd opt for the lesser coverage, and allow the cable news networks to show the rest.

No commentary today, as I don't have a lot to add in the way of local color. While we do have listings for stations in Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Hampshire, the bulk of what you see comes from Massachusetts. There are a lot of stations in that mix, so let's get to it.

March 19, 2016

This week in TV Guide: March 20, 1965

I've written previously about Dorothy Malone (pictured on this week's cover with her two children), and though I liked her before, I'm even more inclined to like her now after reading her interview with Marian Dern. For it seems as if there's a spot of trouble in Paradise, or at least in Peyton Place, the show in which she ostensibly stars each week on ABC. (Click here to read Classic Film and TV Café's review of Peyton Place.)

See, the problem is that - according to the rumor mills - Malone is complaining to producer Paul Monash about the screen time she's getting, or isn't getting, as the case may be. She's "demanding more to do and threatening to quit unless they begin to concentrate on her rather than co-stars Mia Farrow and Barbara Parkins." When asked about it, she's very guarded, pleasantly but cautiously talking about everything but the show, saying that "I have loved everything in my life." She'd "loved" the part of Constance MacKenzie, calling her "a full-blown woman," and talking about how everything in her life, in fact, has been "fun, fun, fun." But then perhaps she tips her hand with the comment that "I can put a lot into" Constance, a hint that she isn't being allowed to do so.

And then she surprises Dern with her answer to how Malone feels about the critics who say Peyton Place is in bad taste. "I think it's done tastefully," she replies, "though I must admit if I had youngsters 11 and 12, I wouldn't let them watch it." With that, Dern asks about the stories of her being unhappy. She denies she's spoken specifically with Monash about it, but allows that "there's a germ of truth to it." It's hard to blame Malone, who won a Supporting Actress Oscar in 1956 for Written on the Wind, for complaining that "the Anderson family has had most of the scripts - everything happens to them," and that "All I seem to do is wear dowdy clothes and sell books in my bookstore. Book of the Month Club, that's me. I'd rather they'd kept me owning a dress shop, as first suggested. At least I'd get to wear exciting clothes."

That isn't all, she says, getting on something of a roll: "You know the thing that makes me sickest? I'm always saying to Allison [Farrow], 'I don't know, dear.' Don't know? Who's to know if a mother doesn't? In this show the kids are all smarter than the grownups. And people write me, wanting to know why I don't know the answers!" The words, writes Dern, come in a "torrent." And then, from somewhere in the house, the words "I'm hungry, Mommy!" With that, it's time to go.

At the door, Malone "had regained her composure," and reverts to cautious words. "Oh, it'll work out," she says, adding that "if I had a bigger part, I'd have to work longer hours, and I wouldn't have time for the children, or any other things, now would I?" In fact, she'll be written out of Peyton Place in 1968 "after complaining that she was given little to do," and goes on to file a breach of contract suit for $1.6 million against 20th Century-Fox, a suit which is eventually settled out-of-court. It's fitting then for a woman who, even after she'd made a name for herself in Hollywood, would take jobs in public relations for an airline and an insurance firm, that she tells Dern if things don't work out, "well, who knows what the future might bring?"

◊ ◊ ◊

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: Singers Tony Bennett and Connie Francis, rock 'n' rollers Gary and the Playboys, singer Melinda Marx, comedienne Jean Carol, unicyclist Claus Beckers, comedian Pat Buttram and the Texas Boy's Choir.

Palace: Host Robert Goulet introduces his wife, songstress Carol Lawrence; comedian Bill Dana; comic Bill Cosby; Les Surfs, singing group from Madagascar; the Three Akeffs' balancing act; juggler Eva Vidos; and Kay and her pets.

I was going to say that it seems a long time since we've done one of these, and as it turns out, I was right - this is the first matchup between Ed Sullivan and The Hollywood Palace since our beginning of the year entry. And, you might be tempted to say, I waited all this time for this?

As I read through the lineup for Sullivan, I kept thinking the Palace had a low bar to jump over. I mean, Tony Bennett is quality, and Connie Stevens is more cute than talented, but that's okay. Gary and the Playboys are of their time, but the rest of the cast earns a meh from me, including Pat Buttram* The rest of the cast can be taken or left.

*On a completely unrelated note, the question came up a couple of weeks ago from my wife as to whether or not Gene Autry had a "comic sidekick" as did the rest of the movie cowboys, and a quick internet search revealed: Pat Buttram. Who was also a raconteur, radio celebrity, voiceover artist, frequent participant in the Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremonies, and constant presence at testimonials and other events. He was much loved in the business, and it's probably quite wrong of me to judge him solely on Mr. Haney in Green Acres.

But then we come to Palace. Strong start, with the then-husband-and-wife duo of Robert Goulet and Carol Lawrence, and Bill Dana is, as I've frequently said, always funny. But, regardless of your current thoughts on Cosby, I was never a fan of his, and the Noah's Ark bit he does here has, I think, too much of that Cosby mugging. Yes, I know it's famous, but that doesn't mean everyone has to like it. From there, we go into pure vaudeville.

So in short it's a week that's not terrible, not great, which earns a verdict of Push.

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Amory (second from left) with Prince Rainier
(far right)
At this point we'd usually segue into a review from Cleveland Amory, but this week he's reporting to us from Monte Carlo, where he's one of the judges in Prince Rainier's International Television Festival. Alas, Princess Grace wasn't there - she was busy giving birth to Princess StĂ©phanie - but it's a glittering assemblage nonetheless, and "a good time was had by all," what with "lunch at the Palace*, a dinner at Government House, a play at the Opera House, a gala at the Sporting Club," and more - usually followed by gambling at the famed Casino.

It's not all fun and games, though, as there's actually a Festival of television programs to judge. The grand prize winner, the program which "best contributes to international understanding," comes from Yugoslavia - "Skopje, Sixty-Tree," a documentary about a Yugoslavian city destroyed by an earthquake and "rebuilt by international cooperation." There's also the typical assortment of anti-American programming, including a French entry that depicts the reaction of Red China to American bombing of North Vietnam, replete with "mass anti-American rallies, posters showing Americans with not hands but claws, one dripping dollar bills and the other dripping blood, and finally a pageant in a huge stadium in which actors, simulating American bombers, bombed innocent Chinese women and children."

In fact, the only thing missing from this year's Festival was, oddly enough, American television programming. CBS sent no programs, ABC sent theirs to the wrong address, and NBC not only sent theirs late, they made the inexplicable decision to withdraw the acclaimed documentary "The Louvre," a show "which might have won," for the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation of "The Fantasticks," "which was, all the judges agreed, the poorest entry in the entire competition." Only Shelley Winters, who won best actress for an episode of Chrysler Theatre, and Walt Disney's "The Hound That Thought He Was a Raccoon," take home awards.

Amory thinks we missed an opportunity with our lack of participation. The Festival, while little-known here, is a major event with the foreign press corps, and offers networks a great opportunity to sell their programs abroad. Amory also discusses the appalling amount of government control exerted over television programs in most countries, and says America misses the boat in not using the Festival to demonstrate the relative lack of same in our programs, which are not only free to criticize the government, but also the networks themselves - "as long as you don't make the mistake of criticizing the networks you happen to be working for."

There is, however, no way to answer the many questions about the sheer amount of violence on American television, which all the judges were familiar with. Asks a Hungarian judge, "Your shootings, your beatings, your cruelty - is it not le sadisme?" Says Amory, "It was not easy to answer in any language."

◊ ◊ ◊

SOURCE ALL: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
Man's next odyssey on the voyage to the moon begins Tuesday morning with the launch of Gemini III, the inaugural manned flight of the nation's two-man spacecraft. It's been nearly two years since Gordon Cooper flew the final Mercury mission, and great excitement surrounds the event, with all three networks offering coverage beginning at 7:00am ET and concluding with the mid-afternoon splashdown. The newsmen who will become synonymous with spaceflight throughout the '60s are there: Walter Cronkite* on CBS, Frank McGee on NBC and Jules Bergman on ABC.

*Cronkite's companion for coverage of the moon landings, Wallly Schirra, is actually the backup pilot for this flight.

Considering the early space program's proclivity for weather-related delays, I was mildly surprised, in checking my books, to find that the launch did in fact come off on Tuesday, with Mercury hero Gus Grissom and future shuttle astronaut John Young taking off in the capsule which Grissom had named "Molly Brown," a defiant nod to the sinking of his own "Liberty Bell 7" Mercury capsule.* In any event, the flight is a tremendous success, covering three orbits in just under five hours. Soon, Gemini flights are launching at regular intervals, and even as the program winds down preparations are made for the launch of Apollo 1, scheduled for January 1967, with Grissom again commanding the flight - a flight that never occurs due to the catastrophic fire during final tests that claims the lives of Grissom and his two colleagues, Ed White and Roger Chaffee.

*NASA objected to the flippancy of the name Molly Brown, and acceded to it only when Grissom suggested "Titanic" as an alternative.

◊ ◊ ◊

Last week, in looking at the NCAA basketball tournament, I mentioned how different the tournament was in 1972. Well, it's even more different this year, if Saturday's coverage of the championship game from Portland, Oregon is to be considered.

Saturday night UCLA meets Michigan in the final, which is carried not on a network broadcast, but is shown live on the syndicated Sports Network Incorporated, with Bill Flemming calling the action. Because we're not yet at the point where television dictates the starting time of coverage, the broadcast begins at 10:00pm ET, far more appropriate for Portland than, say, New York City - home of the lesser NIT, comprised of teams that didn't make the NCAA, which has had a contract with CBS for years. In fact, they're showing the NIT championship, between St. John's and Villanova, that very Saturday afternoon.*

*Ironic but perhaps not too odd, considering that with only 23 teams in the NCAA tournament, and only one allowed per conference, the NIT often has very good fields. It also doesn't hurt that the title game is played at Madison Square Garden in New York.

In the end, UCLA defeats Michigan 91-80 to win their second consecutive title, the beginning of a dynasty that results in ten championships over twelve seasons. The tournament finally makes it onto a network, NBC, in 1969.

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Finally this week, a reminder of how big movies remain for local stations. In an era before 24/7 television, the late movie is a staple of most stations. At first, I thought for sure this must be an ad for a movie show sponsored by Esso but, no, it's just WBZ using a tiger to encourage you to watch their movies. Hey, if I see that coming out of my television set, I'm not going to argue!


In that ad, WBZ boasts of a movie starring John Wayne, but WJAR in Providence has a whole week of them.


On the other hand, WPRO, also in Providence, counters with Don Murray's movie Hoodlum Priest, the true story of Fr. Charles Dismas Clark, who founded Dismas House in St. Louis, a halfway house for ex-convicts.


You classic TV fans out there may remember that, back when TV Land actually showed classic programs, they made quite a deal out of broadcasting the newly-discovered Rat Pack concert starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. and hosted by Johnny Carson. Well, that concert, which had been broadcast originally on closed circuit television, was held in 1965, and the charity which it benefited was none other than Dismas House. That explains why Carson introduced Sinatra as "our hoodlum singer."

March 18, 2016

Around the dial

Bare-bones e-zine has another of its Hitchcock writeups, this one on the witty (and not terribly scary) episode "The Diplomatic Corpse," which should be watched if for no other reason than the delightful performance by Peter Lorre as a detective who, sadly, would seem quite at-home in today's typical mass of bureaucratic red tape.

Lincoln X-ray Ida follows suit with a review of the third season Adam-12 episode "Blackmail." When I lived in The World's Worst Town™, Adam-12 was shown at 6:30 CT on Saturdays, in the local access period, because KCMT would regularly preempt it in its normal time period. I can't remember at the moment, but they were probably showing either Lawrence Welk or Marcus Welby, M.D., and so they would bump Adam-12 to another date and time. Oh well.

Silver Screens reminds me of a show I didn't know anything about, the 1964 British series Robinson Crusoe, starring Robert Hoffman. It did air in syndication in the United States in 1964, but I don't remember it, nor do I recall having run across it in my TV listings, although one of you eagle-eyed readers out there will probably remind me that I'm wrong about that. I am almost, but not quite, ashamed to admit I've never read Robinson Crusoe; it was never assigned reading during the years I was in school, and I've not looked it up on my own. I don't know if I've missed anything or not.

Recap Retro (love that name!) has a review of "The Wind from the South," a 1955 episode of The United States Steel Hour, one of the great dramatic anthology series I wrote about not that long ago. It stars Julie Harris, who frequently appeared on Golden Age-era TV in prestigious dramas and, as the piece says, had sterling careers both on TV and in the legitimate theater. Bonus mention to the little-known Merv Griffin, who sings the title song! As I mention in the comments section there, we really do need the unique genre called live television - it's a completely different type of performance.

Whenever we're tempted to forget that TV did not start in the 1950s, let alone emerge fully-grown in color and on cable, it's good to find something such as what TV Obscurities offers this week: the television listings for WCBW for the the week of September 7, 1941. Yes, before Pearl Harbor. They were listed in The New York Times, which means this wasn't exactly something that had escaped public notice. I forget this too often myself; I wonder what the evolution of television - and TV programming - would have been had not World War II intervened?

From a couple of weeks ago, Bob Sassone has a brief piece on the levels to which today's television coverage of the presidential race have sunk. I suppose it's a kind of chicken-and-egg scenario; does television simply present to us the candidates as they are, crude, superficial and all - or have the candidates learned what sells, and simply groomed their message in such a way guaranteed to get the most exposure? If you'll pardon the in-context pun. I can indeed imagine Cronkite spinning in his grave.

Again from a few days back, The AV Club lists for us the 19 essential books about television. Now, I consider myself fairly well-read as far as TV goes, and yet I only own three of these books, although I have read one or two of them from the library. For the most part these books either focus on shows I'm not interested in, or concentrate on a period of time outside my areas of interest. It's also an incomplete list as far as I'm concerned; for example, I agree with the books by Kisseloff, Zicree and Brooks & Marsh, and I think Barnouw is essential, if occasionally dated, but I would also include Steven A. Stark's excellent Glued to the Set (as you know, since I refer to it often) and Stephen Battaglio's superior biography of David Susskind, just for starters. Any suggestions out there?

That skims the surface for this week; you'll have to check the sidebar for more fun. And check back here tomorrow - it's TV Guide day, you know.

March 16, 2016

When Western heroes don't shoot straight

GENE BARRY AS BAT MASTERSON
I was watching an episode of Bat Masterson the other night, it being one of the bedtime half-hour dramas we watch during the week. Masterson, played by Gene Barry as a slightly younger version of Amos Burke, occupies an unusual place in the television Western; it's not exactly one of the kids' shows that were prevalent in the early days of TV - Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy and the like - and yet it's not quite one of the "adult" Westerns of the late '50s onward - shows like Wyatt Earp, Bonanza, Gunsmoke et al. Masterson, unlike the earlier cowboys, didn't have comic relief, and had a fine eye for the trim ankle, but the show stays clear of the psychological morality play that typifies the later series. And it's this fish/fowl dichotomy that sets up today's question. A trite one, perhaps, but I'm going to indulge it anyway.

It's a typical Masterson episode in that it involves gambling, beautiful women, ornery-looking criminals, and Bat himself. As we look in on the scene, we see Bat raking in the dollars from a successful card game, which he takes to deposit in the town's bank. Unbeknownst to Masterson, however, two shady characters see him leaving the saloon with his hatfull of money and heading for the bank, and as soon as he's left, they enter the bank, hold up the banker and his assistant, and abscond with the cash, but not before fatally shooting the two employees.

Bat's given a chance to recoup his losses when an old-timer offers to stake him in another card game in return for Masterson agreeing to help deliver a valuable cargo for him. Bat agrees to the deal, whereupon he wins big again, this time (although he doesn't realize it) defeating one of the bank robbers, the hot-headed one, from whom he wins back all of his previously stolen money. The hot-head wants to fill Masterson full of head right then and there, but his partner, a much more level-headed criminal, prevents him from taking such action, telling him that he overheard the conversation between Masterson and the old-timer, and if they simply rob the wagon Masterson has been hired to help deliver, they'll be able to get not only the money but the valuable cargo as well. What they don't know, though, is that the cargo turns out to be not lucre, but instead three beautiful women, mail-order brides who are on the way to meet their prospector-husbands. With me so far?

The robbers, accompanied by two Indian mercenaries, ambush the wagon, shooting and killing the old-timer. Bat returns the fire, killing the two Indian braves, bringing the cumulative death toll to five. The robbers attempt to kidnap one of the brides and hold her for ransom, but when the hot-head attempts to have his way with her, the level-head objects. The two men fight, and the level-headed man is killed. By my count, that makes six dead so far. Bat confronts the hot-head, who asks Bat, "You aimin' to take me in?" He draws on Bat, but Bat is quicker, and from about five feet out, he shoots him. In the arm, disarming him. He does in fact take him in, while also delivering the brides, and everyone (except the six dead men and the survivor) lives happily ever after.

Now my questions start, the most important of which is this: Why did Bat take the risk of disarming the robber instead of simply killing him? G. Gordon Liddy once said you never take out your gun unless you intend to use it, and the purpose of using the gun should only be to eliminate the threat. Any law enforcement official will tell you that shooting to disarm is one of the most dangerous things anyone can do. It's a high-risk shot in the best of times, and the odds of success are low enough that you leave yourself wide open. In other words, you're not giving yourself the best odds of eliminating the threat.

I could understand Bat shooting to disarm if he was Roy Rogers or Hopalong Cassidy, but he isn't, and besides, six people had already been killed. It's not that Bat would have been killing an innocent man; the outlaw draws first. It's not that Bat's a bad shot - we've seen evidence that he's an excellent one, and from that short distance there's no way he could have missed, so he deliberately shot to disarm. It's not that Bat has some code that he doesn't kill; it's true that he often whacks the bad guys with his cane (hence the nickname "Bat"), but remember he's already killed two men in this episode.* I could even understand if the object was to show justice being meted out by the courts, but the last we see is Bat, the brides and the bad guy heading off into the sunset. The actor playing the outlaw doesn't even have any lines after he's shot - he just sits there on a horse, all tied up.

*Unless, and I hesitate to mention this, but the two men he killed were Indians. Are we to think they didn't count, that killing an Indian warrior wasn't quite the same thing as killing a white man? Considering the stereotypes of the era, I'm not putting that above the realm of suspicion.

Worst of all is the opportunity that was missed. To fully appreciate it, imagine that Bat Masterson is being played not by Gene Barry, but Clint Eastwood. The bad guy, looking as menacing as all get-out, has one hand on his gun and the other arm wrapped around the woman. It almost writes itself.

Bad Guy: "You aimin' to bring me in, Masterson?"
Bat: "Nope. Just aimin'."

Whereupon Masterson puts a slug right through the bad guy's chest. He flings himself backwards, eyes flying, in a death scene any cowboy can appreciate. The End. It's not only more satisfying, it's probably a lot more realistic.

Westerns both adult and kids versions, were always considered violent. Even if people aren't being shot and killed, plenty of them are having the snot beaten out of them. If this show had been made in, let's say, August of 1968 there would have been a motive to avoid needless violence, and therefore the criminal was merely disarmed. If you were making this show for kids, you would want Bat to apprehend him without firing a shot. But this episode was made in 1960, and it wasn't made for kids.

Lacking anything to the contrary, therefore, I can only conclude that there's one word to describe the ending of this episode of Bat Masterson, and that word is "stupid." Anyone care to take the other side?

March 14, 2016

What's on TV? Monday, March 13, 1972

One of these days I'm going to enlist some help from you all out there. I know some of you are far more familiar with these markets than I am, so if you'll email or comment here and volunteer for the task, I'll share these listings with you prior to posting them, so you can provide the local details and color I probably don't have. While my areas of interest remain Minneapolis-St. Paul (my old home) and Dallas-Fort Worth (my new home), I've got issues from all kinds of markets throughout the country, and your input would make these weekly features even more enjoyable than they (presumably) are now. So if you have the courage, let me know - you too can be a star!

This week, we come to you from Pittsburgh.


March 12, 2016

This week in TV Guide: March 11, 1972

Believe it or not, there actually was a time when James Brolin was known as something other than Mr. Barbra Streisand. In the early 1970s, he was Dr. Steven Kiley, the young assistant to Robert Young's Dr. Marcus Welby, and as we look in on the young actor, we find a 31-year old who already feels as if he's at something of a crossroads in his career.

It's not that he isn't grateful; the TV series provides steady work and an income "better than that of a G.P." and Young has given him some valuable assistance with his acting, "a field in which Brolin had considerable room for improvement." But is he content to remain the junior partner, or is there the allure of something bigger out there? "I would like to do feature pictures," he admits to author Melvin Durslag, and if that fails "I would like to develop and sell features."

Welby is in its third season, and Durslag poses an interesting question to Brolin: why are medical series so popular? He's often wondered the same thing, Brolin says, and has concluded that the appeal of medical drama is much the same as that of horror movies. "Grownups, like children, like to be frightened. Kids go for monsters and horror creatures. Adults go for cancer and brain tumors. You would guess that people would want to turn away from life's ugliness, but a human is funny. He is the only animal that likes to scare himself." Welby's producer, David Victor, thinks it's because medical dramas deal with "the most basic format. All of us are aware of our mortality." He also feels the cause-and-effect inherent in medicine works to the genre's advantage: "A doctor in a medical story can bring a matter to a logical conclusion" by prescribing medicine or operating on someone, which in turn makes something happen. It's an ideal format for a weekly television series.

Whatever the reason, it's a successful enough format for Welby; the show runs for seven seasons, becoming the first ABC series to ever rank #1. James Brolin never does hit the big time as a star in feature films, but with a resume that includes the successful TV series Hotel and a number of high-profile guest spots on other series (as well as a role in the current Life in Pieces), he's had a TV career that's been pretty successful. Hopefully, that - along with being Mr. Barbra Streisand - has been satisfying enough.

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It's been a while since we've had the chance to find out what Cleveland Amory has to say about the state of television, but have no fear: Cleve is here. This week's focus is on NBC's Saturday morning live-action Take a Giant Step. It's a "bold and original idea," featuring three nonprofessional kids hosting a show geared at 7-14 year-olds. Bold and original ideas, Amory says, "are hard to come by, and when you get one, it deserves at least the credit of being recognized as such."

It is, therefore, a "capital" idea. "But the execution, alas, is capital punishment." The various kids appearing on the show are often terrible, mumbling and rambling and "you know-ing" until you can't stand it anymore, and because they generally don't get to choose what they're going to talk about on the show, they're put in a position that doesn't really allow them to be themselves - which, when you're making a point of hiring nonprofessionals, kind of defeats the purpose. "In between the pauses, the repetitions, the platitudes and the nothings, your chances of hearing anything either (a) bright, (b) funny, (c) pithy or even (d) different seem to be far less than if you were to spend the hour listening to any group of kids anywhere." Many of the film features on the show are "incredibly poor and incredibly pointless," even given the ages of the kids involved in them. "It is bad enough when you have to watch such a film.. It is too much when you also have to hear an explanation attempted by a monosyllabic grunter."

Don't turn them into professional actors, Amory says, but at the same time work with them, help them to do a better job, teach them about discipline. Freedom to do your own thing without the accompanying coaching will invariably result in a show like this. As one neighborhood youngster puts it to Amory, the kids talked "so 'obviously' about things, and yet 'they don't look like they'd be talking about things that way.'" Or as Amory himself puts it, quoting the younger of the two kids whose opinions he'd solicited, "When will this be over?"

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A quick look at the rest of the week:

Before there was March Madness™, there was still an NCAA basketball tournament, although it looked a lot different than it does today. For one thing, there are only 25 teams in the 1972 tournament, and each team is limited to one representative. There are few conference tournaments - the ACC being the main exception - and the champions from the top conferences - the Big 10, Big 8 and Pac 10, for example - were seeded directly into the second weekend's Round of 16. Because of this, we're left this Saturday with the absurd situation of having the tournament's first round take place before everyone's done with the regular season. Case in point: on NBC, Marquette takes on the MAC champion (yet to be determined at press time) and Long Beach State meets BYU in the first round, while Michigan plays Iowa in the final Big 10 game of the season and Oklahoma plays Missouri in the Big 8 finale. How times have changed. Besides, it's a moot point anyway - UCLA wins the championship for the sixth consecutive season, and eighth in the last nine seasons.

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION 
Both Tonight Show stars, Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon, appear in specials this week on NBC. Ed's Sunday show comes from Cypress Gardens in Florida, with Bob Newhart, waterskiing champion Liz Allen, daredevil speedboard drives The Stingers, and the Burgundy Street Singers. Johnny's Monday special is a variety revue with stars recreating some of their past glories from film and vaudeville, and features Bette Davis, Ethel Waters, Eddie Foy, Jr. and others. It's preceded by Bob Hope's special spoofing the Oscar-nominated films, co-starring Elke Sommer, Dyan Cannon, Connie Stevens and Eva Gabor. In other words, a typical Hope lineup.

Nowadays we take it for granted that we can see the biggest box office movie hits just months after they open in the theaters, but it wasn't always the case. As an example, this week we have the network premieres of two major movies not months but years after they played in theaters. The first, an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim from 1965, is shown in two parts on ABC Sunday and Monday. An all-star cast, including Peter O'Toole, Eli Wallach and James Mason, produce what Judith Crist calls "an eye-filling frequently rousing Saturday-afternoon-serial kind of romantic adventure - and a super-deluxe one at that."

Meanwhile, West Side Story, winner of 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture of 1961, debuts on NBC Tuesday and Wednesday. Crist calls the movie a landmark in movie musicals, "both in its social context and in its cinematic techniques," and has particular praise for the Oscar-winning performances of Rita Moreno and George Chakiris, the dazzling choreography by Jerome Robbins (who shared the Best Director Oscar with Robert Wise), and the powerhouse music by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim.That name sounds familiar: James MacArthur, who we looked at on Monday in the TV Sidekick Blogathon, appears in Sunday's Wonderful World of Disney on NBC. It's the conclusion of "Banner in the Sky," and Danno - that is, James - plays a young mountain climber trying to conquer the peak that killed his father. I'll bet you one thing - MacArthur probably enjoyed shooting in Hawaii a lot more than in the Alps, where this movie was filmed.

The Grammys are on ABC Tuesday night, with Andy Williams in his second of seven consecutive years as host. It's being broadcast not from Staples Center in Los Angeles, as it is today, but from the Felt Forum theater at Madison Square Garden in New York, and it's the last time any network other than CBS carries it. As our mission here is to illustrate popular culture through TV Guide, let us take a moment to share some of the nominees for Grammys, in order to remind you of what the music scene was like in 1972. For our edification, the winners are indicated by (W)

Record of the Year
"It's Too Late," Carole King (W)
"Joy to the World," Three Dog Night
"My Sweet Lord," George Harrison
"Theme from Shaft," Isaac Hayes
"You've Got a Friend," James Taylor

New Artist
Chase
Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Hamilton, Joe, Frank & Reynolds
Carly Simon (W)
Bill Withers

Pop, Rock and Folk Female Vocalist
Joan Baez
Cher
Janis Joplin
Carole King (W)
Carly Simon

Pop, Rock and Folk Male Vocalist
Perry Como
Neil Diamond
Gordon Lightfoot
James Taylor (W)
Bill Withers

Pop, Rock and Folk Vocal Group
Bee Gees
Carpenters (W)
"Jesus Christ, Superstar" original cast
Sonny and Cher
Three Dog Night

Don't you just love how the Academy groups these acts together?

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Headlines:

Running on empty? The networks haven't announced fall schedules yet, but speculation runs rampant, as always, on which of the incumbent favorites will fail to return next season. Among the well-known shows facing the possibility of the ax: The Persuaders, Bewitched and The Courtship of Eddie's Father on ABC, My Three Sons and Don Rickles on CBS, and Jimmy Stewart, Emergency! and Nichols on NBC.

Show I'd like to have seen: Kurt Vonnegut's Between Time and Timbuktu, a bizarre futuristic story featuring Bob & Ray. Well, here it is:


How about a touch of class? Masterpiece Theater, also on Sunday on PBS, presents part one of yet another acclaimed BBC miniseries, "Elizabeth R," starring Oscar winner Glenda Jackson as Elizabeth I.

The week's most provocative program: ABC's Saturday Movie of the Week, a made-for-TV drama entitled "The Last Child." Set in 1994, it depicts a United States with population control laws that limit families to one child (China, anyone?) and forbid medical care to those over 65, and stars the late Van Heflin in his final performance, that of a retired U.S. senator helping a young couple (Michael Cole, Janet Margolin) escape to Canada before government authorities can capture them and murder their unborn child. It's badly midguided in many ways - the whole concept of overpopulation, particularly in the United States, has always been overblown - but in other ways the idea of an increasingly totalitarian American government is one that chills the bones, perhaps now more than ever. Here's a clip from the film.


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Finally, we'd be remiss if we didn't talk a look at the most famous figure from this week's edition. He's arguably the most successful salesman on TV, and his commercials have become among the most famous on the tube. Because of his success, directors are willing to put up with his difficulty and temper tantrums, not to mention being ready to use "a lot of patience - and a lot of film." His adoptive name is Lucky, but you know him better as Morris the Cat.

Lucky is indeed Lucky; the orange cat was less than a half-hour from being put away when his handler, who was looking for a cat to use in a commercial, found him at an animal shelter. "He was walking around as if he owned the place," Bob Martwick says. He wound up being taken to a 9-Lives audition, and the producer said "We knew instantly he was the one the minute he walked in. He was the Clark Gable of cats."

Today he's at work doing his 14th commercial for 9-Lives, in which he's to type a testimonial letter extolling the virtues of the cat food, whose box he appears on. First the camera (running continuously) captures a few seconds of Morris sniffing at and appearing to read the box. In order to simulate the typing, food is placed between the keys of the typewriter, and the camera runs again until the cat paws at the keys. At last, after a few hours and 4,000 feet of film, the 30 seconds necessary for the commercial are captured, and Morris is loaded back into his travel cage, to make the 20-mile journey from downtown Chicago to the 4-by-3 foot cement kennel where he lives. It's a reminder that for the thousands of fan letters he receives, for all the articles written about him (like this one) and pictures taken (like the one at the left), a cat is still just a cat - even if he's top cat in the advertising business.

March 9, 2016

What's on TV? Saturday, March 9, 1957

Have you heard the one about the man who never missed a day of work until one day when he fell into a routine? I'm here all week, folks!

Seriously, I am a creature of habit. Even when it comes to watching classic television; we never binge-watch, but stick to one episode a week, if possible on the night of the week when the program generally aired. This might explain why this week's TV listing is running on Wednesday, rather than Monday, for if you looked in at the start of the week (and if you didn't, why not?), you know that was the day of my entry in the TV Sidekick Blogathon. Now, I could have simply posted this later in the day, or on Tuesday, but holding to that Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule is important. It's a routine I've become comfortable with over the years, and I try to keep to it whenever possible. This week it was possible, and so you're getting Monday's edition today. Think of it as a special Wednesday version.

March 7, 2016

"Book 'em, Danno!" Why Hawaii Five-O 's Danny Williams is the perfect sidekick for Steve McGarrett

McGARRETT (JACK LORD) AND WILLIAMS (JAMES MacARTHUR): THE LEADERSHIP OF HAWAII FIVE-O




First things first. We're not talking about the new Hawaii Five-0 here, the one with the younger, hotter, more "reckless" cast. No, this is New Coke vs. Classic, Clear Beer vs. Miller, Edra furniture vs. Ikea.  Back when real men didn't eat quiche, cops were indestructible, and every suspect had the right to be shot while evading capture. In other words, the good old days. From here on in, don't even think about the new show.

I've long argued that Steve McGarrett should not be viewed as a "realistic" character. Yes, it's true that when he's shot he (usually) bleeds, and I've even seen a couple of instances when his hair moves. But, all joking aside, Hawaii's top cop is best appreciated when you think of him as an archetype, a metaphor for law enforcement, rather than a flesh-and-blood cop. I first came to this conclusion while watching an episode in which some fool criminal trying to evade the long arm of the law splashed McGarrett in the face with gasoline as he raced past as gas pump. McGarrett was slowed, but only for a minute, continuing his hot pursuit as he wiped his face. There was no burning skin, no long-term eye damage; McGarrett barely missed a beat as he closed in and eventually captured the killer.

Rather than rendering this scene laughable, however, I chose to look at it differently. If you accept the idea of the metaphorical McGarrett, then you see him as the indestructible, incorruptible lawman, one who takes even the thought of crime on the islands as a personal affront. It's symbolic not only of blind justice in that McGarrett is just as determined to right wrongs as he is to apprehend suspects, but also the inexorable beat of the law, which criminals may be able to evade for a time but from which they can never escape. It doesn't really make McGarrett that much different from other lawmen of the time - think of Matt Dillon, for example - but as we seem to demand more and more "realism" in television*, it makes watching a series like Five-O easier if you manage your expectations. Besides, why let those kinds of small details get in the way of what are usually pretty good stories?

*That is, assuming combat-scale shootouts and exploding vehicles are part of daily life in Honolulu, or any other city outside of Baghdad.

And that brings me to the real focus of this piece - McGarrett's number-two man, Danny Williams. Danno for short. Played by James MacArthur - in real life, son of playwright Charles MacArthur (The Front Page), adopted son of Oscar winner Helen Hayes, godson of legendary actress Lillian Gish, It is a testament to Danno's effectiveness as a sidekick that it's taken me four full paragraphs to get around to mentioning him. Even in the "TV Sidekick Blogathon," a blogathon dedicated to role players like him, he's overshadowed by his boss.

That, however, is what makes him a good sidekick. He has all the necessary qualities:

  • He doesn't overshadow his boss. You won't see him making any mistakes because he's dreaming of his name in the headlines.
  • He's dependable and reliable; Five-O isn't going to fall apart on those days when Steve's out of the office.
  • And yet, he's no threat to Steve. McGarrett can go about his business knowing he's not about to star in a remake of All About Eve, or see the point of a knife sticking out of his chest - the knife that Danny plunged in his back when he wasn't looking.
  • Best of all, he's motivated and highly competent, but not so ambitious that he has a lean and hungry look about him. 
  • He doesn't eat much and doesn't take up much room. By that, I mean his life is largely void of drama. Oh sure, there are a couple of times when he's falsely accused of murder, and then there's the time when he becomes obsessed with revenging the death of his girlfriend, but that's to be expected. No, Steve doesn't have to worry about him showing up late after an all-night bender, or sneaking out of the office to meet his pusher, or dealing with a half-dozen accusations that he failed to read someone their rights before booking him.

All these things mean that Danny is not just good, but the perfect sidekick. Perhaps he'd like a number one job himself, but he has no illusions about being as good as McGarrett, and for eleven seasons he was perfectly content to be the number two man in one of the best police forces anywhere.

There's another role he plays, however, and that's where I come back to the foundation I laid at the start. Because, in my opinion, if Steve McGarrett is the archetype, Danny Williams is the human face that allows the viewer to identify with the series. It is Danny who has the perspective that Steve sometimes lacks, not only in the crimefighting world, but as a connection to the larger world around them. 

Filer (Hume Cronyn) and his infamous phone
An example: "Odd Man In," a season four episode featuring Hume Cronyn reprising his season three role as bank robber Lewis Avery Filer. Filer has just broken out of prison utilizing a number of ingenious tricks including rewiring the phone system. McGarrett notes that there was enough phone equipment missing for Filer to start his own phone company, to which Danny drolly replies, "He probably will." Later, when McGarrett lists the various disguises Filer might be employing, Danny notes, "Wouldn't it be simpler to put an APB out on anybody?" In a story filled with gently humorous moments, it's Danny who, with those two lines, demonstrates his sense of the absurd, his ability to put even crime in perspective. Of course Filer will start his own phone company, Danny is thinking - and it'll probably be successful, too! Even in the most stressful of situations, life provides its own glimpses of humor, and Danny is the one who will see them. If McGarrett is the face of the relentless pursuit of justice, Williams is a reminder that policemen are men, not machines.

For all of his competence though, the viewer is never tempted to see Williams as a replacement for McGarrett. Every once in a while star Jack Lord will be virtually missing from an episode - usually this means McGarrett is "in Washington" attending hearings or meeting with top Justice Department leaders. At times such as this, it's up to Williams to take charge of the week's case. He doesn't always solve it himself, though - Steve might be just as apt to fly back for the episode's conclusion, taking the investigation Danny has headed and seeing it through to a successful end. Danny's work has been perfectly good, at times even brilliant, but we're never tempted to forget McGarrett's importance to Five-O. Just as Star Trek's Spock could never undermine Kirk's authority, Danny Williams will never suggest to us that Steve McGarrett is replaceable. 

Storywise, he also takes the burden off of McGarrett. As is the case with most sidekicks, Danno gets his own episode every once in awhile, one that allows the plotline to be about him. He may face allegations about his honesty, or he may be struggling with having possibly shot an innocent young man. It might be that he's lost his true love (see: Cartwrights, sons of Ben, for further examples), or it could be the aforementioned holding down the fort while McGarrett is away. On these occasions, Danny's more that up to the task, even if it's Steve who often solves the case. In real life, when James MacArthur leaves Hawaii Five-O after eleven seasons, it's not because he wanted more money, top billing in his own show, or even a movie career: it was because he felt the show had lost its edge, had become boring. Right to the end, he was the perfect second banana.

Is Danny Williams a conventional sidekick, in the same mold as many of the others we're reading about in this entertaining blogathon? I suppose not, but as we saw, when one lists the qualities needed to be a good sidekick, he ticks them all off. It's unusual in that Danny is just one of three "sidekicks" for McGarrett, but clearly he's first among equals. That means that in the world of sidekicks, he bears an extra burden, one that Chin, or Kono, or Al or Duke don't have. He has to be the not-quite star, the one who remains almost, but not quite. It's not everyone who can successfully manage that obstacle course, but Danny Williams, aka James MacArthur, does it quite well, thank you very much.


The TV Sidekick Blogathon is hosted by the Classic Film & TV Cafe. Please check out the rest of wonderful entries by clicking here.