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Periodically, we read about the specter of cable television looming over the network horizon. It goes by many names, depending on when the article's written; it's referred to as "Pay-TV," "CATV," and "pay-cable" in this article alone, but it all amounts to the same thing, and just about every time we read about it, we're assured that it's the next big thing, that it is - as the cover says - "ready to take off."
In this case, the phrase "take-off" can be taken literally, as the big game-changer may well be "a satellite-fed national pay-TV network," primarily financed by Time Inc., which just happens to be the owner of a fledgling cable channel named Home Box Office. Until recently HBO had a national audience of about 115,000 subscribers, gathered in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, where the signal is transmitted via microwave and land lines. However, once Teleprompter Corp., the nation's largest cable system, joined Time in the satellite investment, nearly 200,000 more homes were added. And once HBO starts beaming the signal via an RCA-leased satellite to dishes in Florida - well, you can see where this is headed. Time is nothing if not ambitious - they plan 24 of these earth stations, which will enable HBO to be delivered to over 80 systems in 21 states, comprising some 870,000 homes. Although TeleMation and Paramount are also talking about getting into the satellite and microwave networking business, "most cable experts see no HBO competition in sight."
|SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION|
Don't overlook the obstacles to growth, however. The FCC has ruled that cable can't "siphon" off movies between three and ten years old, and networks are pushing studios into even more restrictive exclusivity deals. There are also network fears that a prime sporting event, such as the World Series or Super Bowl, might eventually wind up on cable. For all that, though, one expert forecasts as many as two million homes might have cable by 1980*, a "haunting possibility" that pay-TV could grow into a "massive box office."
*In fact the number was actually closer to 16 million; by 1990 the number was 51,700,000. I wonder if any of the experts saw that coming?
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I remember how much of a treat Monday Night Baseball was, back in the summer of 1975. It wasn't really called "Monday Night Baseball" back then; Monday Night Football wasn't yet as iconic a brand as it is today. But in the days before the aforementioned cable networks started to bring us 15 or so games a week, before teams started to broadcast virtually all of their games on their local cable affiliates, you were lucky to see three or four games a week. There was the Saturday Game of the Week, of course, and if you had a team to call your own (as we did in Minnesota, though in the mid-'70s few of us would admit it), you might get two or tree more games if your team was on a road trip. But glimpses of teams from the other league (the National, in our case) were few and far between, which made an additional national TV game a treat.
The Monday night broadcast started in 1967, when NBC broadcast three specials a year, but by 1973 that number had swelled to 15. This 1975 season marks the last year of NBC's Monday night telecasts; next year the games would move to ABC, as part of the new TV deal that included alternate-year broadcasts of the All-Star Game, League Championship Series and World Series. This may have been good news for ABC, but it was bad news for me, because our single channel in The World's Worst Town™ chose to carry The John Davidson Show and Monday Night at the Movies instead. It wasn't a very good trade.
Jim Bouton in the midst of his comeback after five years in retirement. The main game, following at 7:15 p.m. (CT) pits the Milwaukee Brewers and Boston Red Sox, back when Milwaukee was in the American League (where they belong). The secondary game, in case of rain (it was also broadcast in the cities of the two teams playing in the main game) has the San Francisco Giants and Cincinnati Reds. Those were the days - I can't remember the last time baseball was a feature prime-time program for me.
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This year we're seeing various limited-run summer series popping up on the networks. For example, on Wednesday night ABC premieres a six-week variety series hosted by Jim Stafford. Meanwhile, Gladys Knight & the Pips wind up a four-week stint on NBC Thursday nights; next week it will be Ben Vereen's turn to fill the time slot for another four weeks.
However, perhaps the oddest show of the summer debuts its five-week run on ABC Thursday night (up against Gladys Knight). It's Almost Anything Goes, I mentioned this briefly back when I did this issue the first time, but I think it bears a little more extrapolation.
It's a Knockout which was, itself, a takeoff on the French series Intervilles.* As I wrote back in 2012, it can be seen as a forerunner to shows such as Wipeout, but that alone sells the show short. As the synopsis from "The Screening Room" says, "shooting greased beach balls through a hoop while balancing on a tilted, greased platform" is "Silly? Definitely - but also old-fashioned slapstick fun."
*Fun fact, and one of the reasons you come to this site week after week: Both the American and British versions were part of the overall franchise umbrella, called "Jeux Sans Frontières," or "Games Without Frontiers." It's the inspiration for Peter Gabriel's hit song of the same name, which not only contains the words "Jeux Sans Frontières" in the chorus, but also contains the line "It's a knockout." You can thank the always-reliable Wikipedia for this.
The show pits six-member teams from small towns across America; this week's participants are the Burrillville (RI) Indians, the Webster (MA) Broncos, and the Putnam (CT) Clippers. The following three weeks will feature additional three-way battles, with the four champions meeting in the final episode to decide the championship. In that contest, Putnam - tonight's winner - takes on Boulder City (NV), Canton (IL), and Marianna (FL). (Boulder City wins the title, in case you've ever wondered about that.) The announcers for this wild concept are Charlie Jones - whose other work includes AFL football, the World Track & Field Championships, the Olympics, and the college football National Championship Game - and Lynn Shackleford, who for several years announces Lakers games with Chick Hearn. Dick Whittington (not this one, but this one) is what today we would refer to as the sideline reporter.
Almost Anything Goes is actually successful enough that it will be back for a second season; Jones and Shackleford return as well, but Whittington will be replaced by this guy.
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Another program we looked at last time out was Catholics, which airs as the Friday night movie on CBS. It's up against the College All-Star Game on ABC, but I remarked back then that "I'd love to see that program today." Well. . .
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Saturdays nowadays are a television wasteland, as I've mentioned more than once. In 1975, CBS didn't feel the same way. The prime time lineup is their killer sitcom schedule, with All in the Family, The Jeffersons, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and The Bob Newhart Show. In the 9:00 p.m. slot, however, the network has chosen to show a prestige property, the six-hour miniseries Moses the Lawgiver (appropriately enough, given our earlier mention of the British invasion, an import from the British distributor ITC), starring Burt Lancaster in his television debut.* As I recall, this was something of a big deal back then; unimaginable, now, that a network would show it on a Saturday night. Cable, though - maybe.
*Fun fact: Just as Charlton Heston's son Fraser played the infant Moses in The Ten Commandments, Burt Lancaster's son Bill plays the infant Moses in Moses the Lawgiver.
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Finally, let's spend a few minutes with Andy Rooney.
Rooney's in this week's issue twice; on Monday night, CBS replays his whimsical look at the vagaries of the Federal bureaucracy, "Mr. Rooney Goes to Washington." If you want to know what's wrong with the government, look no further than this statistic: "every week [the Government Printing Office] covers a forest of paper with an ocean of ink," while at the same time the Pentagon Disposal Office destroys secret papers at the rate of 10 to 14 tons of pulp a day. What man giveth, man taketh away, I guess.
More interesting, though, is Rooney's appearance in this week's Letters to the Editor section. It's not that Rooney has written a letter to TV Guide; his contribution was an article from June 28th's issue commemorating the beginning of the Bicentennial year. Apparently, in that article, Rooney wrote that there had been no women heroes in American history. Let's just say a number of readers took issue with his contention.
Linda Bilodeau of Windsor Locks, CT, suggests the names of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Eleanor Roosevelt as candidates, while Rose Joyner of Celina, OH offered Harriet Tubman, Amelia Earhart, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Sybil Ludington. Mrs. J.R. Rogers of Massilion, OH nominated Revolutionary War figures Deborah Sampson and Molly Pitcher, and Betty Zane, whose exploits were chronicled by her great-grandnephew, Zane Grey. Lenora Brennan of Brooklyn mentions Sojourner Truth, Mary Cassatt and Jane Addams, and says that "Rooney's attitude, in writing off 200 years of American women, is offensive." And out of date, I say; 200 years out of date.