August 31, 2016

Remember when

I know, that isn't much of a title, but they can't all be gems, so bear with me. You've probably noticed on occasion a reference in the Monday TV listings to "Debbie Drake," and perhaps you've wondered from time to time who she was. After all, there were enough local personalities on television, especially back in the '50s and '60s, that you can't keep track of everyone.

In fact, and this was news to me when I first started going through these issues a decade or so ago (before the blog even existed!), Debbie Drake was host of her own syndicated exercise program, similar to that of the more famous Jack LaLanne (with some obvious differences, of course). For those of you who, like me, were ignorant of the finer points of early interactive television, it's nice to know we weren't the only ones in the dark, as you can see in this clip from What's My Line?


In the interests of historical reference. here's an excerpt from one of her shows.


All kidding aside, it's always nice to see the appearance of a familiar name before that person becomes well-known. It happens more often in the early days of TV than you might think (such as in the famous case of astronaut Neil Armstrong), and it's fun when it does.

On the other hand, it's also fun to see a famous name from the past appear on television as a sort of living history. On this episode of To Tell the Truth, for instance*, the first guest is John Thomas Scopes, and if that name sounds familiar to you, it should - he was the defendant in the landmark Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925, in which he was defended by Clarernce Darrow.

*Coincidentally or not, this episode also features Debbie Drake.


And then there's this episode, which I think I might have shared before, in which this man's secret is that he was an eyewitness to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. (No, Debbie Drake is not in this clip.)


What's most remarkable about these pieces, I think, is that figures from what must have seemed even then like ancient history actually appeared on television. Had they lived long enough, I imagine the Wright Brothers might have done the same. Now that would have been something.

August 29, 2016

What's on TV? Wednesday, August 31, 1966

As I mentioned on Saturday, we're looking at another part of this vast state this week, but in the long run television is television no matter where you're at. Oddly enough, though, I think the regional differences between stations were far more pronounced back then as opposed to today. They all get the same syndicated shows nowadays, their news people all went to the same school where they all learned to talk the same way, their local shows all come from the same media people, the graphics are identical from one market to another. Odd, isn't it, that we can be so homogenized in that way, yet so divided in every other way.

August 27, 2016

This week in TV Guide: August 27, 1966

Several times we've looked at my adopted hometown of Dallas, but this is our first visit to the Southeastern part of Texas, the largest city in our state: Houston. It's the first in a series of several TV Guides from areas around the country, courtesy of Friend of the Blog Jon Hobden. Although Dallas and Houston are part of the same state, only four hours apart, they couldn't be more different as cities. Let's see if the differences extend to their television as well.

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On Wednesday I told you about my appearance on the Dan Schneider show, where I was part of a discussion on sitcoms. As I was prattling on, I became aware that I must have sounded awfully negative about people; I wasn't a fan of Hal Linden (Barney Miller), I wasn't a fan of Mary Tyler Moore (The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show), I wasn't a fan of the casts of M*A*S*H and Friends. I probably would have been in the "Get off my lawn!" phase if the show had run any longer. I don't mean to sound negative, you know - it just happens.

And yet here I go again, about to tell you all that I'm not a fan of Barbara Feldon, the shimmering Agent 99 of Get Smart. I watched the show as a kid, and I can remember not being enthused by her character even then, at an age when I shouldn't have been able to be that discerning. But I always thought of Get Smart as stupid humor (not meaning that in a dismissive fashion, but more in the Stooges type of vein; it was far too clever to be literally dumb), and nobody does stupid humor better than guys. Get Smart suffered from the inevitable marriage that seemingly has to occur every time you put unmarried men and women characters as co-stars in the same series over a protracted period, and while some (many?) would disagree with me, I didn't think the show ever recovered.

Having said all that, Dick Hobson writes a flattering portrait of her in this week's issue, from her successful marriage to Lucien Verdoux Feldon, of which she says, "in eight years I've never criticized him for anything, nor he I." (they'll divorce the following year), to her reputation as "a girl totally without guile" (she insists she's not a sex symbol, and she remains oblivious to the attention that surrounds her, partly because of her myopia), to her intelligence (as a Shakespearean scholar, she won the jackpot on The $64,000 Question, without help from the sponsors), to her successful run as a model and commercial actress. Even Don Adams' Maxwell Smart treats her as one of the guys, albeit a statuesque one.

So I can't exactly put my finger on what it is about her that didn't appeal to me. Perhaps it's the story I read about, many years after the fact, about how her husband had pitched her to What's My Line? producer Mark Goodman to replace the late Dorothy Kilgallen on the panel - the day after Kilgallen died. Of course, maybe that was one of the complaints she had against him as well, even though she'd "never" criticized him. Perhaps I wouldn't have liked anyone in that role on Get Smart. Most likely, it's just me. As usual.

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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: Ed is the ringmaster at the Krone Circus Arena in Munich, Germany, for performances by some of the world's great stars of the big top. Acts include the Golojews, a Cossack riding troupe; the Four Gaonas, a trapeze act; the Schickler Sisters, a riding trio; Sam and Samy, father-and-son foot jugglers; sword balancer Rogana; and two of Europe's leading clown acts, the Gentos and Pio Nock. Also highlighting the bill are Gert Siemoneit's lions, panthers and tigers; the Sembach Elephants; Kroplins' Chimps; Rupert's Bears; Miss Mara, high-trapeze artist; and Katharina, a high-wire ballerina.

Palace: Hostess Janet Leigh welcomes comedian Allan Sherman; F Troop's Forrest tucker, Ken Berry and Larry Storch; the comedy team of Rowan and Martin; singer Andy Russell; table-tennis experts Bob Ashley and Erwin Klein; and magician Michel de la Vega.

Well, could this be any harder to compare? Unless you're a European circus aficionado, it's very difficult to know how good any of these acts are. Let's assume, however, that their description as "some of the world's great stars of the big top" is accurate. In that case, what this really amounts to is a classic Sullivan show - vaudeville acts left and right. On the other hand, at least we know what we're getting with Palace - Janet Leigh teaming with Allan Sherman on the very funny song parody "Sarah Jackman," Rowan and Martin before their Laugh-In days, and F-Troop's absurd comic trio. Ultimately, your preference depends on how much you like circuses. I'm calling this a push.

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It's that time of the year, when summer winds down and networks start making room for their new fall offerings. As such, we're treated this week to a number of series making their network swan songs, although many of them will find second life in syndication and, later, video.

On Monday, the pop music show Hullabaloo exits NBC (6:30 CT), to be replaced by "a comedy series" called The Monkees. Definitely a trade-up for NBC. In fact, much of the network's Monday schedule is changing; The John Forsythe Show, the unsuccessful follow-up to Bachelor Father (7:00 p.m.), disappears after this week, with I Dream of Jeannie beginning its new season in this time slot. That's followed by the last Monday episode of Dr. Kildare at 7:30 p.m., the fall replacement for which is the short-lived Roger Miller Show, and at 8:00 p.m. John Davidson's summer replacement show goes away, its spot to be taken by the single-season Western drama The Road West (which will be bumped once a month for Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall specials). Only Run For Your Life remains in place, and it has a couple more seasons to run.

Tuesday kicks off with more changes for NBC, as Please Don't Eat the Daisies and My Mother the Car are replaced at 6:30 and 7:00 by the hour-long The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. At least Daisies has a second season ahead, moving to Saturday night; My Mother the Car has only sitcom infamy to look forward to. Incidentally, both Daisies and Mother are preempted tonight tonight in favor of an Up With People musical special hosted by Pat Boone. Dr. Kildare's final Tuesday night episode is also tonight; next time a series appears in this timeslot, it will be Occasional Wife.

ABC's also shaking up their Tuesday night schedule. The much-loved McHale's Navy sails into port for the last time, replaced at 7:30 by The Rounders, a sitcom that lasts but 17 episodes. At 8:00, F Troop makes its Tuesday night swan song, moving to Thursday next week; it makes way for the ill-fated Pruitts of Southhampton, aka The Phyllis Diller Show, At least it runs a full season. And at 8:30, Peyton Place closes its Tuesday run; the second of its twice-weekly episodes will be on Wednesday next season.

Wednesday's changes begin with the end of ABC's The Patty Duke Show at 7:00 and Robert Goulet's spy drama Blue Light at 7:30; taking their place will be the hour-long Western The Monroes. ABC's Wednesday Night Movie is the next to go; the two-hour timeslot will be filled by The Man Who Never Was at 8:00, Peyton Place at 8:30, and the variety/drama anthology Stage '67 at 9:00.

It isn't until Thursday that CBS gets in the act (at least for this week), with The Munsters going off the air and Gilligan's Island moving to Mondays, to be replaced by the adventure series Jericho. ABC makes wholesale changes, ditching Gidget at 7:00 (F Troop moves here) and The Double Life of Henry Phyfe at 7:30 (replaced by The Tammy Grimes Show*). At 8:30 it's the last Thursday episode of Peyton Place; the new place will be filled by That Girl, one of the true hits in this group of new series. And at 9:00 The Avengers breathes its last, with Burt Reynolds' police series Hawk taking its place.

*One of the shortest-lived shows ever, lasting only four episodes before being replaced by the nighttime version of The Dating Game. I'll leave it to you as to how well that trade-off worked.

NBC's changes are fewer, but no less notable. Laredo vacates the Thursday night scene, moving to Fridays to make room for the network's new science-fiction drama, Star Trek, while the summer replacement Mickie Finn's makes way next week for the absurd The Hero.

Friday sees ABC continue its purge of well-known programs; in fact, I'd argue that on the whole, the shows leaving the air are better known and more loved than those replacing them, although there are a couple of exceptions. For example, at 6:30 p.m. The Flintstones leaves, The Green Hornet will arrive. At 7:00 Summer Fun, one of those anthologies where failed pilots go to die, disappears forever, with The Time Tunnel traveling to take its place. The last half of the hour-long Tunnel takes the place of another iconic series, The Addams Family. At 8:00, the network says goodbye to two more well-known shows, Honey West and The Farmer's Daughter, with the disastrous revival of The Milton Berle Show taking their place - briefly. At at 9:00, completing the makeover, Court-Martial airs its last episode, its slot being filled by 12 O'Clock High.
Finally,

Nobody else can really compare to that, but NBC does sack Camp Runamuck and Hank* in favor of Ron Ely's Tarzan. while Sing Along With Mitch and Mister Roberts bid adieu, replaced by The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (in a new timespot) and T.H.E. Cat, respectively.

All in all, quite a week - and I expect more will come next week. I hope you caught your favorites while you could!

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Any interest in sports? It's a quiet week, but not without some drama. In baseball, the Baltimore Orioles have the American League pennant wrapped up, but in the National League a three-way battle continues between the Dodgers, the Giants, and the Pirates, with two of those teams - Los Angeles and San Francisco - facing off in NBC's Game of the Week at 2:00 p.m. Saturday afternoon. The Dodgers wind up on top (one of the few times they best the Giants in a pennant race), only to be swept by the Orioles in the World Series. On Sunday, KHOU in Houston presents syndicated coverage of the final round of the Philadelphia Classic golf tournament, won by Don January. And of course there's always wrestling.

But this is Texas, which means football is never far away, and as the NFL and AFL continue their six-game exhibition schedules, the games start popping up. On Saturday night (8:00) the hometown Houston Oilers take on the Chiefs in Kansas City in a local broadcast, while NBC chimes in Sunday afternoon (2:30) with the Oakland Raiders meeting the Broncos in Denver. Not to be undone, CBS has an NFL game between the Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys, from the Cotton Bowl.*

*That same night, though not on television, the AFL begins its regular season with the brand-new Miami Dolphins (co-owned by Danny Thomas, with TV's Flipper the dolphin as mascot) playing the Raiders. The NFL starts its regular season the following week.


Elsewhere, Melvin Durslag - displaying a fascinating, if unintentional, amount of foresight - discusses how "what's good for college football is not necessarily good for television." What he's referring to is the NCAA's practice of limiting the number of times a given school can appear on ABC's Saturday afternoon game during the season. It's done not only to keep certain schools (i.e., Notre Dame) from gaining an unfair recruiting advantage through repeated appearances, but to protect local games from losing fans (and gate receipts), something that would assuredly happen if the top game was shown each week, inducing said fans to stay home and watch it on television.

Which is precisely the situation the NCAA finds itself in late in November, when the top two teams in the nation, undefeated Notre Dame and undefeated Michigan State, meet in the "Game of the Century." I wrote about that game here, including the near-hysteria that was created when it appeared parts of the country would be prevented from seeing the broadcast. Durslag concludes his article by mentioning that on November 26 (the week after the Game of the Century), Notre Dame would be playing USC, while ABC would be telecasting the Army-Navy game, meaningless except to the military academies. Durslag confessed, at the risk of being called a Communist, that he'd rather see the Fighting Irish battle the Trojans any day, a game that turned out to be more meaningful than he could have known: while Army was defeating Navy 20-7, Notre Dame - on the heels of its controversial 10-10 tie with Michigan State - rebounded to crush USC 51-0, thereby clinching the 1966 national championship.


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Before we get to the end, a quick note about the banner at the top of this week's issue. Richard Warren Lewis, a writer for TV Guide along with many other magazines, documents his appearance as one of the three bachelors on The Dating Game, and his failure to win a date with Lainie Kazan. The failure was particularly disappointing to his mother, who has persistently asked why he isn't already married and given her grandchildren.

In an editor's note, we're told that two weeks following this show, Lewis was asked back on The Dating Game, this time as the bachelor asking questions of three attractive bachelorettes. One of them was actress Luciana Paluzzi*, another a Playboy Club bunny. He chose the third, who turned out to be actress and former Miss Canada Joan Patrick. Twelve days later he proposed, and the rest is . . . history?

*Who will be appearing at next month's Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention. Maybe I'l ask her about this.

But what kind of history? A Google search of Richard Warren Lewis yields his obituary, which after a little cross-referencing establishes beyond doubt his identity as our subject. Among other things, we learn that he was survived by his wife, Glenda Edwards Lewis. So what happened? There's a good amount of information regarding their engagement, which was widely reported, but nothing more. Were they married? If so, it appears to have ended some time before Lewis' death. Which is too bad, because every fairy tale deserves a happy ending.

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Finally, speaking of that sitcom show as I was, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Judith Crist, TV Guide's regular movie critic acting here as a TV critic, and her review of The Beverly Hillbillies. After all, we all know how she can carve up her subjects, right?

Surprise! She's a fan of Hillbillies. Now in its fifth season, the show is past its lightening-rod status: is it a "social satire" that gives viewers a "vicarious fulfillment of the great American dream," or does it "[prove] beyond doubt the 12-year-old mentality of the wanderers in the wasteland," i.e. the viewers in what we'd today call flyover country. And as a television veteran, Hillbillies provides comfort food for its viewers. There are no surprises in store: "Banker Drystale's schemes will go agley and his apoplexy will gets its exercise; Granny is going to be the enfant terrible that we love to think all elderly folk are at heart; the wicket and the worldly will get their comeuppance; and the canned laughter - above all, the canned laughter - will tell us where the jokes are."

That may not sound like much, but Crist points to "what makes the show both durable and endurable," which is its "utter lack of pretension." And I think this is an aspect of the show that many critics tend to overlook. Crist compares it to that old, familiar song - "sweet and simple," with likable personalities, good musical support, and comedy that "may be low, but so is the pitch; the irritation, therefore, is minuscule."

In other words, The Beverly Hillbillies is a sitcom that has found the vein of humor in the situation it's mining, and it mines that humor for all it's worth, providing simple (as opposed to simplistic) entertainment to its fans. For a nation that's riding the express lane to a collective nervous breakdown in the next couple of years, that's probably pretty welcome.

August 26, 2016

Around the dial

This is what I've been telling people for years - why I created this blog, in fact: a historian talks about why historians should watch more television, and what it can teach us about our history. It's a job I'm already doing; now, if I could only find a way to get paid for it...

Terry Teachout links to his Wall Street Journal column, in which he reminds all of us why Perry Como mattered. As he points out, Como was one of the most popular singers on television from the late '40s through the '60s, with annual Christmas specials after that. Any chance to catch some of his old shows, and the great (and varied) musical talent that appeared with him, is worth it.

Classic television aficionados are often accused of excessive nostalgia, but it turns out we're not the only one. The New York Times looks at MTV's attempt to appeal to nostalgia for millennials by hearkening back to the Golden Age of music video with MTV Classic - but will it work? Why or why not? Discuss.

At Made for TV Mayhem, Amanda explains why she's been absent for awhile, and what kinds of projects she's currently working on. More power to you - I know how hard that can be. Your absense has been noted, and your presence missed!

Meanwhile, at Comfort TV David offers his opinions on The Defenders following the DVD release of the classic legal drama's first season. I'm still on the fence as to whether or not the show's liberal advocacy will be too much for my conservative senses, but I agree wholeheartedly that it shows how discussing serious issues is not only possible on television, but it can hold people's attention as well.

"The Jungle" isn't one of the great Twilight Zone episodes, but it's far from the worst, either. The Twilight Zone Vortex gives us a comprehensive look at the episode and the Charles Beaumont short story upon which it was based, and shows us how it gives us something to chew on (a pun that won't become clear until after you've read the piece...)

I remember the show Car 54, Where Are You? from my youth, and I must have watched it at some point, but to tell the truth my memories are more of the title than the series itself. Seeing it on MeTV a few years ago didn't slay me with its humor, but as Television's New Frontier: the 1960s reminds us, any series created by Nat "Sergeant Bilko" Hiken has to have a subversive streak in it.

I'm not a big Olympics fan anymore, but I followed the story of NBC's coverage enough to know it left quite a big to be desired, especially when it came to presenting events on tape-delay. Such was not always the case though, as Television Obscurities reminds us with this ad for NBC's coverage of the 1964 Tokyo games. Imagine live coverage of the Opening Ceremonies at 1:00 a.m.

August 24, 2016

Sitcoms: no laughing matter!

Last week I was fortunate enough to be invited back on Dan Schneider's YouTube interview program, along with Daniel Budnik, the greatest Polish-American television blogger ever, and Stephen Winzenburg, Communication Professor at Grand View College in Des Moines* and author of TV's Greatest Sitcoms, to sit around the virtual table and discuss the history of the American sitcom.

*Hopefully he didn't read this piece before the show.

It was great fun spending a Saturday morning talking about TV with two experts, and I don't mind telling you I really had to scramble to keep up with them. Fortunately, once someone thinks you know what you're talking about, you're able to fake it with a couple of smart-sounding lines; the show didn't run long enough for me to be uncovered.


You know, a lot of people think it's intimidating appearing on television, but it really isn't that big a deal, and it helps when you're able to appear from home. For example, although you can't tell from the video, I'm not wearing any pants. It gets hot in Texas in August even with air conditioning, and wearing a sportcoat while sitting under the lights for three hours is enough to make anyone break out in a sweat. Under those circumstances, one takes any little edge he can get. Remember well those words of wisdom from the 1980s, which probably appeared on several of these very sitcoms.


Anyway, be gentle with your comments!

August 22, 2016

What's on TV? Thursday, August 26, 1971

Although we've been in Ohio before (namely, Cincinnati), this is, I believe, the first time we've made a trip to the state's other two population centers: Cleveland and Columbus. I'm still not quite sure I chose the right day and stations to spotlight; there's some quirkiness that I'll point out in due course, but otherwise it's a pretty normal day. Not that normal isn't good. Not at all.

One final note: TV Guide is still indicating what shows are being broadcast in color, despite the fact almost all of them are. This will soon change, and they will simply identify the shows that are in B&W. For my own convenience, I've chosen to accelerate the schedule a bit, so I'm only indicating the B&W shows as well. But then I always ahead of my time.    

August 20, 2016

This week in TV Guide: August 21, 1971

It's easy to exaggerate the differences in television over the last ten years, but after having navigated the cultural disaster zone that was the '60s, I think it's safe to say there are a few programs on this week that you wouldn't have seen in August, 1961.

"Heroes and Heroin" is an ABC News Special on Saturday at 8:30 p.m., hosted by Frank Reynolds. The special is a frank, "chilling" account of the drug addiction problem sweeping the U.S. military. As soldiers return from Vietnam as addicts, both they and the country struggle to cope with the problem, which President Nixon calls "Public Enemy No. 1." Here we are 45 years later, and the drug epidemic seems to be going as strong as ever. At least we treat our returning servicemen and women better than we did when they came back from Vietnam.

Also on Saturday, NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies airs a rerun of the brutal Tennessee Williams story "The Night of the Iguana," with a cast that includes Richard Burton, Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr, and direction by John Huston. It's a frank, adult story that was probably edited to appear on television in the first place, when it made its network debut in 1968. I can't imagine it airing on TV much earlier than that.

On Thursday night, NET Playhouse presents a group of five short films that purport to depict the world of the future, "where violence, suppression and irrationality reign." Introduced by novelist Kurt Vonnegut Jr., here is the lineup: "1. 'The Scream.' A '1984'-like tape tracks down a nonconformist. 2. 'The Other Side.' An eerie, omnipotent force terrorizes a town. 3. 'Silo.' Two men, trapped in a missile silo, are at odds over starting a nuclear war. 4. 'The Fall of Varema.' Bleak panorama of a city in ruins. 5. 'Faster, Faster!' Aimless activity is dramatized in witty, fast-paced animation." No matter what your tastes, this had to have made for 90 bleak minutes of television. I probably would have liked it.

There are other series appearing throughout the schedule, new and returning, that remind us we're in a new era; The Storefront Lawyers, which by this time has been renamed Men at Law, deals with youth activism in a way you wouldn't have seen back in the days of Father Knows Best. On The Brady Bunch, "Marcia launches a fem-lib campaign," and Dragnet devotes an episode to community-police relations (something which any traditional police drama would probably be dealing with today).

Like, groovy, man.
And yet, we find reminders that this is one of those odd transition years, when the new and the old coexist on the same schedule. On Tuesday night ABC's The Mod Squad, a series that epitomizes the efforts of the networks to capture the youth demographic with "with-it" programming, goes head-to-head with CBS's The Beverly Hillbillies, a show that dates back to 1962 and always offered a subtle spoof of the trendy and absurd. Room 222, the comedy-drama depicting the struggle in urban schools (more on that later), co-exists with the long-running Western The Virginian, even though the latter is now known as The Men From Shiloh; and iconic shows like Gunsmoke to Bonanza remain popular with viewers.

In a way, television was far more egalitarian back then, with a little something for everyone. It had to be, because there was no cable television, no channels devoted to sports or comedy or animals. The VCR was still years away, which meant not only could you not watch your favorite movies and TV shows from years past, you had to be home when your favorite program was shown or try to catch it in reruns, because there was no way to record it.

Of course, such was the case in 1961 as well; it's just that some times bring this home more than others.

Oh, and that extra point about Room 222?: On Wednesday's episode, a 95-pound weakling becomes the new school bully after a few karate lessons. "The episode features karate expert Chuck Norris." Which reminds me - have you heard the one about how there used to be a street named after Chuck Norris? It had to be changed, because nobody crosses Chuck Norris and lives. I wonder if, in 1971, anyone could have imagined...

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By now both Ed Sullivan and The Hollywood Palace are gone; Palace went off the air last year, while Sullivan aired his final broadcast a couple of months ago, although CBS assures us Ed will be back for several specials each year. This doesn't mean, however, that the variety show is completely dead, as we see Sunday night - in some of the most stark images of the difference between "then" and "now."

At 8:30 it's the venerable Red Skelton Show, having moved from CBS to NBC for its final season after running on the Tiffany Network since 1951, and having returned to its original half-hour format. This week, Red's guest is Martha Raye, who joins Red in a trademark sketch, after which he does one of his famed "Silent Spots."

Meanwhile, CBS features the type of variety program that replaced Skelton - The Sonny & Cher Show. Their guest is talk-show host and former band singer Merv Griffin, who teams up with Sonny to spoof the Hollywood lifestyle, and sings a couple of numbers. I've made this comment about The Smothers Brothers Show, and I'll say it about Sonny & Cher as well: for all the countercultural vibe that these stars represent, their shows are strikingly conventional, in style and construction, if not in substance.

On NBC, British singer/comedian Des O'Connor hosts the summer replacement for the Kraft Music Hall, along with co-host Connie Stevens. Their guests are singer Buddy Greco and British comic Jack Douglas. The Peacock Network also has Dean Martin's summer replacement, The Golddiggers*, with Tommy Tune, Marty Feldman, and Charles Nelson Reilly. And pinch-hitting for Carol Burnett, CBS Newcomers features flamenco guitarist Ronald Radford and a cast of regulars including the Good Humor Company and singers Cynthia Clawson , Gay Perkins and Raul Perez. It's hosted by Dave Garroway, who must have spent most of his time thinking to himself, "remember, I had ten years of The Today Show," over and over

*Like Des O'Connor, the Golddiggers broadcast from London. Other than that, any resemblance is purely coincidental.

It's not a variety show per se, but PBS's Evening at Pops has a charming program, with conservative pundit William F. Buckley, Jr. providing the narration (written by Ogden Nash) to Saint-Saëns' classic The Carnival of the Animals.

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Yes, I know this is actually "This Week in
the NFL," but it's the closest I could come.
One of the favorite shows of my youth was NFL Action, the football highlights show produced by NFL Films. It was a summer standard for many years, filling the gap during the summer break between the end of one season and the beginning of another. I remember it most from the late '60s (not quire sure which year), when it ran at 10:30 p.m. on Channel 4 in the Twin Cities, and I was able to watch it because school was out and I could stay up late.*

*I also remember the one year it had a network run, which was preempted on our local station for a game show or something like that. I don't have any clearer memories of it; probably the bitterness created a memory block.

With the new season only a month away, NFL Action is running full steam ahead, with different episodes appearing on different stations depending on where that station happens to be in the course of the syndicated run. WTVN, Channel 6 in Columbus, has a look at "a young team building for the future" - the Pittsburgh Steelers. The perennial losers have some promising players in the lineup for 1971, including quarterback Terry Bradshaw, defensive tackle "Mean" Joe Greene and running back Rocky Bleier. In 1972, they'll add running back Franco Harris; a couple of years after that it's wide receiver Lynn Swann. The rest, as they say, is history.

Meanwhile, WEWS, Channel 5 in Cleveland, has a look back at the "Sensational Sixties," and there's a lot of it - the Green Bay Packers, winners of five championships in the decade; Johnny Unitas, one of the game's greatest quarterbacks; Jim Brown and Gale Sayers, two of its greatest running backs; and the advent of the Super Bowl, America's greatest religious experience. And WSTV, Channel 9 in Steubenville, looks at the 1970 NFC Champion Minnesota Vikings, whose great claim to fame is that of being the last NFL champion prior to the merger - and, since they lost the Super Bowl to the AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs, the last NFL champion who wasn't really the champion.

In the days before constant coverage of the NFL on every network, before the NFL started its own network, NFL Action was one of the few chances to see many of the teams other than your own home team. In many times, it was a better, less saturated time. Good memories.

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Since it's the cover story, I suppose we should ask the same question: is, in fact, anyone watching PBS? One survey finds that most viewers see PBS "not as a medium for 'the people' but rather as a segregated vehicle for the higher-educated segment of the population, and a little left of center." Probably the same could be said of PBS today, except much of the "higher-educated" content has been replaced by pledge breaks dominated by nostalgic boomer-music groups.

PBS's most popular program, by a long shot, is Sesame Street, which attracts as much as 40% of the viewing audience in some markets. Why the awards and critical acclaim can't translate to more viewers is a mystery, though, not only to PBS but to other networks as well. "I don't know, I just don't know," one top programmer says. One reason could be that many public television stations have been consigned to hard-to-find UHF channels (even FCC Chairman Dean Burch can't pick up Sesame Street on his home television).

The network has also struggled to develop traditional "series" television, relying mostly on "anthologies" such as Masterpiece Theatre and documentaries like Civilisation. Without regular stars to tune in to every week, viewers may feel less attachment to the network's shows. Speaking of which, there's a sheer lack of programming, at least when compared to other networks; while each of the big three provide 21 hours of prime-time programming per week, PBS can only manage 13, plus its daytime feed.

Whatever the cause, PBS officials say they're not about to fall into the ratings-game trap. Says David Davis, a representative of the Ford Foundation (one of PBS's major funders), "You might destroy public broadcasting if you tried." He adds, though, that he wouldn't mind finding out how PBS might at least attract a few more viewers - a sentiment echoed by many at the network.

It doesn't explain, though, why one of the most British series possible, the miniseries The Six Wives of Henry VIII, has become such an unexpected hit - on CBS. The unedited version appears next season on Masterpiece Theatre.

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Care for a little comic relief? There's the story of Dora Hall, the woman whose husband literally bought her a television show. I can't bear to recoup the details; you can read a fine article about her here.

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Finally, the weekly ad from the back cover. I'm not sure what would be considered the greater crime today: the smoking, or the Chinese stereotype.


As much as the difference between 1961 and 1971, that's the difference between 1971 and today.

August 19, 2016

Around the dial

bare-bones e-zine has another installment of "The Hitchcock Project," this one on the seventh-season drama "The Woman Who Wanted to Live," which for some reason sounds to me like it should be the title of an Outer Limits episode. This is another one I've yet to see, and they don't make it any easier by not having released this season in DVD, but - they have in England, and since I have a region-free DVD player...

I tend to think of the 1972 Munic Summer Olympics primarily in terms of the massacre of the Israeli athletes, but there were other things that happened - as Classic TV Sports Blog reminds us with this clip of Howard Cosell interviewing American track coach Stan Wright about the controversial disqualification of U.S. runners. My, but that was a troubled Olympics on so many levels.

A nice piece from Carol at Vote For Bob Crane on how the Hogan's Heroes actor got along with his fans. Among other things, he almost always answered his own fan mail, and was unfailingly nice to fans when they came up to him. I think one of the reasons why the circumstances surrounding his death carried such shock value was that he'd projected this image so thoroughly, but as Carol points out in her book, both sides of Bob Crane happened to be true.

Reviews of two British series I'm not familiar with: British TV Detectives writes about New Tricks, which ran for 12 seasons on the other side of the pond, while Cult TV Blog focuses on the gritty early '70s drama Man at the Top.

The Twilight Zone Vortex looks back at an episode I well-remember, Still Valley, a Civil War story first broadcast in 1961. It's an uneven but still compelling story of black magic and the horror of war, done the Rod Serling way.

At Comfort TV, David takes a look back at an actor I always liked, William Windom. His long run on Murder She Wrote leads one to overlook the wide variety of roles in which he appeared over a very successful career, going from heroes to villains to the downtrodden with ease. His presence could have improved a lot of shows that are on today.

And finally, I think this headline from The Broadcasting Archives at the University of Maryland speaks for itself. The future - can you possibly imagine it?

As far as our short-term future is concerned, I'll be back tomorrow - will you?

August 17, 2016

Restoring the classics

Perhaps this is just my inner nerd showing, but I find this tremendously interesting and hopefully you will as well. There's a YouTube channel called NBNTelevision which features restored versions of classic live broadcasts originally captured by kinescope.

We all know that kinescopes, which we love because they give us recordings of classic programs that would otherwise be lost, still leave something to be desired when it comes to reproducing the "night of broadcast" look and sound.  The process, which quite literally consists of a movie camera recording the picture right off the tube, turns a live telecast into a film, taking away the immediacy of what it would have felt like when seeing the original broadcast as it happened.

The technique used by NBN, called "motion interpolation," is intended to restore the videotape look and sound, allowing us to imagine what it would have been like seeing that live broadcast. It also cleans up and sharpens both the audio and video quality, allowing us to see and hear details that may well have been hidden since the original production. So far, NBN has uploaded four restorations, and while the Studio One broadcasts of "Wuthering Heights" and "Sentence of Death" are very good, you'll get the biggest impact from the other two broadcasts.

The first is Playhouse 90's landmark "Requiem for a Heavyweight," with a brilliant script by Rod Serling and terrific performances from Jack Palance, Keenan Wynn, and his father Ed. Watch this video from the beginning to get an idea of what a difference this restoration makes.


The second is 1957's Cinderella, by Rodgers and Hammerstein, starting the young and luminous Julie Andrews in the title role. The original broadcast of Cinderella was, to that point, the most-watched program in the history of television - over 100 million saw that live telecast.


Watching these programs was a real eye-opener for me - although we're certainly able to ascertain the quality of these broadcasts based on the kinescopes, we're now able to actually replicate the feel of seeing them as they happened - to see them the way they were meant to be seen, to appreciate them the way the original audiences did, to feel the drama of actors performing live for a national television audience. It's a powerful, as well as delightful, way for classic television to come alive - and I dare you to convince yourself as you watch them that they aren't live.

August 15, 2016

What's on TV? Wednesday, August 21, 1968

It's always nice being back in the Twin Cities, at least when it comes to TV listings; I always know what I'm talking about. The great majority of my back issues are still from Minneapolis-St. Paul, but it's been some time since I've been able to acquire any; the ones that are out there are going for outrageous prices. I thought all those socialists back there were against making big profits!

Just kidding, folks. Mostly.

August 13, 2016

This week in TV Guide: August 17, 1968

For once, the big story isn't what's on this week, but next: notations appear after several programs airing in the early part of the week, reminding viewers that their show will be preempted next week for coverage of the Democratic National Convention.

And the networks are nervous about that coverage. The lead in The Doan Report spells it out: "Are President Johnson and Chicago's Mayor Daley really trying to ward off TV coverage of possible anti-Administration unpleasantries which may erupt outside the International Amphitheater during the Democratic Convention that opens Aug. 26?" The implication is that Johnson and Daley could, if they wanted to, end the labor dispute that's prevented the networks from wiring up spots for television coverage - places such as key hotels and rooftops, not to mention O'Hare Airport. The meaning of all this, NBC says, is that they'll likely have to film or tape things that they would normally show live - a two to three hour delay in some cases. ABC says they've heard word that pay phones have been jammed with uncollected coins, or are out of order completely. "We might have trouble getting any kind of word from our people on the street." Only CBS stays away from the conspiracy idea, and says that live coverage from outside the arena might even be possible.

Of course, the networks are absolutely right to be concerned about their ability to cover what goes on in the streets, as the events of the next week will amply demonstrate. They did manage to get it on the air, though, to the eternal regret of the Democratic Party, which had to spend the rest of the campaign knowing that viewers had those images burned in their minds.


From this small article, it's clear the networks, the White House, and the mayor all have an inkling something's going to happen next week. but could any of them possibly imagine just how bad it's going to be? Perhaps not - but in this horrible year of 1968, they also might well figure that anything that can happen will happen. And they'll pretty much be right.

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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: Guests: Rex Harrison in a scene from the movie "Dr. Dolittle"; singers Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Temptations, and the Kessler Twins; comedians Flip Wilson, and Lewis and Christy; trumpeter Fernando Pasqualone; and apache dancers Ivan and Astor.

Palace: On the Palace marquee: host Don Knotts and guests Douglas Fairbanks Jr., singer Nancy Ames, Met soprano Mary Costa, country guitarist Glenn Ash, the rocking Merry-Go-Round and magician Ralph Adams.

Both shows are reruns this week; if I were more motivated, I might look back and see if I reviewed them previously, and if so what I thought. But, hey! this is all new, so we should look at them as if we're doing so for the first time, right? Still - as you probably know, I'm not a fan of Diana Ross and the Supremes, so that alone guarantees a predisposition toward the Palace. I'll admit Don Knotts might be a bit weak as host, but Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Mary Costa make up for it, so even if this isn't the best Palace ever, it's enough for me to give it the edge. As always, though, this is just a personal opinion; your mileage may vary.

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Richard K. Doan has another article this week, separate from his Doan Report, on "How Television Is Waging a Summer Campaign for Racial Understanding." For our concern, there's one paragraph here that jumps out: "By next month's end, at least 17½ hours - most of them in prime time - will have been devoted by three networks to a concentrated TV campaign to root out U.S. racism. ABC's Time for Americans, CBS's Of Black America and NET's Black Journal may, of course, add up to a drop in the bucket as far as the massive job of unprejudicing a whole nation is concerned.Yet, who's to say that the impact of such a TV effort, measurable though it might not be, must be inconsequential?"

Another episode of Of Black America, "In Search of a Past," airs this Tuesday, as part of what Doan refers to as "the summer cool-it campaign," and if ever a summer needed it, this one is it. (And, as pointed out above, there's more to come.) NBC hasn't participated yet, but they're planning four specials over the next year, with the first to appear in September.

Here's the thing, though. We're talking about events that happened almost 50 years ago, and yet it seems as if we're still having "conversations," as the president and the media put it, about race. To listen to the news nowadays, things are as bad as they've ever been, and this is presented as a revelation, as if we're being encouraged to confront something we've never confronted before. However, one of the purposes of these 1968 programs is said to be "that white America might come away acutely conscious of prejudices it wasn't aware of." Isn't that what we continue to be told? Are we to conclude, therefore, that this campaign "to root out U.S. racism" changed nothing in the last half-century? And if that is the case, then why do we think anything that's being done now should change things today or in the next 50 years? Is this another Sisyphean fight that we're doomed to engage in over and over and over again?

It's a pity so few people are interested in history, television or otherwise. You can learn a lot from it.

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Believe it or not, it's only been six years this month since the death of Marilyn Monroe - to put that in perspective, do you remember how recent 2010 seems? (For some of us, it was just like yesterday.) At any rate, this week ABC airs her most famous film, Bus Stop, on the Wednesday night move. In her review, Judith Crist says that "Miss Monroe is at her funniest and her most heart-touching" in the role of "the night-club singer, the frightened kid from the Ozarks with ambitions to be a "chantoosie," who is courted by a naive cowboy."

The other movie highlight of the week, also on ABC, is Sunday night's presentation of The Greatest Show on Earth, the epic1952 Best Picture winner, with Charlton Heston, Betty Hutton, Cornel Wilde, and James Stewart, memorably in clown makeup for the entire movie, and virtually invisible. Cecil B. DeMille received his only Best Director nomination for this spectacular portrayal of "the wonderful sawdust world of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey organization," and while the movie was much derided at the time as being one of the most unworthy of Best Picture winners, it was a great crowd pleaser, and perhaps a reminder of what movies are supposed to be all about.

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Guess who's coming to television? None other than Frank Gifford, and while he'll go on to become a broadcasting icon over the next three decades, at this point he's still remembered fondly for his Hall of Fame career with the New York Giants. As it turns out, though, Frank always had one foot outside the gridiron, even during his playing days.

"I was more series about acting than anything I've ever done in my life, and I worked hard at it for five years," he confides to Stanley Frank. "Football opened a lot of doors for me in Hollywood and TV. I was cast as the lead in two TV pilots and played bit parts in a dozen movies, but I blew my chances. I didn't have the talent to capitalize on them. It still is my biggest disappointment."

It's an interesting admission from a man of great athletic ability, perhaps the first time he realized there was something he couldn't do. It's understandable why he was drawn to Hollywood - he was, after all, a graduate of USC, so he'd lived very close to the movie capital. In addition, there's that little thing about money; He was making $25,000 a season with the Giants, which was top dollar at the time, but had he succeeded in acting he would have had the potential to make much, much more.

His introduction to television was almost an accident - he'd been knocked out of the game in 1960 with a severe concussion, and was forced to sit out the 1961 season, during which he had a daily CBS radio program, and a TV show that aired prior to Giants games. When he decided to make a comeback in 1962, another injury could have disabled him permanently; an unsuccessful comeback could have dimmed his lights as far as the network was concerned. Happily, neither happened; Gifford finally retired for good in 1965, and in 1968 his "low-key, urbane commentary," along with his ability to explain the complexities of the game in a way easy to understand, has been a hit with viewers and network executives alike. His commitment to researching teams and players before games has earned him even more admiration. And, best of all perhaps, between the network and the local station, between TV and radio, and with some commercials thrown in on the side, he's bring in over $150,000 a year - not bad, not bad at all.

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How about a quick spin around the dial?

Monday gives us an early version of Monday Night Football, as the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers face off in a preseason game from Milwaukee (an 8:30 p.m. CT start time!). As for late-night, Johnny Carson's on vacation*, and sitting behind the desk for the week is Jerry Lewis - no stranger to the host's chair. He's got a great lineup of guests, too - Monday, it's Cliff Robertson, the Smothers Brothers and Billy Daniels; and the rest of the week includes Frank Gorshin, Connie Stevens, Mel Torme, Duke Ellington, and Robert Goulet. Not bad, huh?

*The Doan Report suggests Johnny might be looking at retirement soon, while NBC insists he'll be around at least until 1970. By the way, there's a good article on Merv Griffin (written by Joe McGinniss!), who joins the network late-night fray next year, which we may look at someday.

On Tuesday, Ed Ames hosts the ABC special Sounds of '68, a teenage talent contest. Dick Clark, Quincy Jones, Mason Williams and radio personality Bill Gavin are the judges, and Aretha Franklin is the special guest. The first half of the special airs opposite NBC's talent show Showcase '68, hosted by Lloyd Thaxton and joined by comedian London Lee. And at 8:30 p.m., CBS joins in the fun with College Talent, hosted by Dennis James with guest Art Linkletter and judges William Shatner, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Frankie Avalon. To the best of my knowledge, none of those appearing on these three shows ever went on to any stardom of note. Also, something we should point out - TV Guide's own Cleveland Amory is a guest on Dick Cavett's morning program on ABC.

Wednesday kicks off with Alan Alda on Today, promoting his upcoming Paper Lion, the movie based on the memorable book by George Plimpton. On Art Linkletter's House Party (CBS, 1:30 p.m.), Pat Paulson discusses his presidential campaign. (Wonder if Nixon and Humphrey asked for equal time?) And do you remember when the Kraft Music Hall was hosted by Milton Berle and Perry Como? Tonight, the guests include Sly and the Family Stone, the Four Tops, and Joan Rivers. How times have changed.

Meanwhile, in Thursday's episode of Peyton Place, "Rodney gets a glimmer of hope from Dr. Miles; Marsha and her daughter discuss love and sex; Jill has a confrontation with the welfare worker." Gosh, I wonder what happened - do any of you out there know? It's on up against NBC's Dragnet revival; this week "Friday tackles the problem of marijuana-smoking in a well-educated, middle-income family." I'm not part of the legalization movement, but why do I think this is going to remind me of Reefer Madness? As an antidote, stay tuned to NBC for the Golddiggers, pinch-hitting for Dean Martin, and their guests Avery Schreiber, Barbara Heller, and Skiles and Henderson. Their regular cast, including Frank Sinatra Jr., Joey Heatherton, and Stu Gilliam, is probably much better.

Friday night ABC has a "Mexico Special," in which "Cameras record vivid cultural contrasts as they follow the Mexican itinerary of a newlywed couple." They see all the sites, including the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadelupe, the National Museum of Anthropology, Acapulco, Guanajuato, and other places. Question for the room - since ABC is televising the Summer Olympics from Mexico starting in October, do you think this just might possibly be tied-in?

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Finally, a story that's the cat's meow - literally.


The answer is not a cat that can do 11 tricks, of course. It's to get 11 different cats that can each do one trick. And to make sure they all look alike, which shouldn't be too hard since they're orange tabbies and most orange tabbies look alike, at least when you only see them for a few seconds at a time.

The story's about a Mission: Impossible episode in which one of the agents is a cat that can crawl through a small space, walk across a thin pole to retrieve a valuable artifact, return across the pole carrying the antique in his mouth, give it to IMF agent Barney, and take a replacement antique to put in the place of the real one.

That's how you wind up with Nugent, who is good at climbing things; Pie-O, who snarls well; Garcia, who doesn't mind going in the water; Steve-O, who sits on shoulders; Zorro, who is great at jumping; and more. Just like the rest of the IMF team, they all have their own specialty; just like their human counterparts, they all do their job well.

August 12, 2016

John Saunders, R.I.P.

SOURCE: ABC
This isn't really the time nor the place to complain about ESPN; there will be plenty of opportunity to do that later. But it is worth noting that one of the reasons ESPN arouses such animosity among so many sports fans is because of how far away they've gotten from their glory days, when if you were a sports fan there was only ESPN, and it was as dependable as MTV was when all it did was show music videos.

The group of announcers who epitomize that golden age has been small for years, and it got even smaller this week, with the death of John Saunders at the much-to-young age of 61. Most of you have probably seen the stunning video of Hannah Storm announcing the breaking news live on Wednesday, so there's no point in replaying it again. What it does do, however, is serve to show the regard with which Saunders was held by his colleagues, and the tweets and statements that poured in during the subsequent hours show the respect and affection with which he was viewed by his contemporaries, others in the sports world, athletes, and just plain fans.

There was a good reason why people who never knew anything more about John Saunders other than what they saw on television reacted the way they did. The interwebs were flooded with shocked messages from people who were unanimous in their description of him as a nice man, a family man, a friend, colleague, and mentor. Most of us will never have known him that way, of course. We know him from how we saw him on television. Chris Berman, one of the true dinosaurs of ESPN, said that "John was old school, even Old World," and I think that describes well a man who never made himself bigger than the events he covered, who always remembered that the point of it all was to tell those people watching him on TV what was going on, and why. One colleague remarked that the true measure of a pro was that absolute chaos could be going on in his earpiece, and the viewer would never know it. There's a lot to be said for that - again, a reminder that it's not about you, it's about the game. I suppose only Bob Ley still epitomizes that approach at ESPN, where, as I've so often remarked, most of their on-air talent sounds as if they're trying out for open mic night at The Improv.

Perhaps ESPN boss John Skipper said it better than anyone, when he described Saunders' "friendly, informative style" that made him "a warm welcome to sports fans for decades." Friendly; warm. That's exactly what he projected, what the best announcers do, and it's why people are comfortable inviting such personalities into their homes. Mike Lupica, one of my favorite sportswriters and a frequent companion of Saunders' on The Sports Reporters, remarked how people were always stopping Saunders in the airport, telling him how they felt as if he was speaking to them. "Somehow he had the gift that the very best broadcasters have, in that the people who watched him felt as if he were their friend, too. He made them feel like they were part of our conversation." So many announcers from my childhood had those qualities, which is why they made enough of an impression on me that I wrote about them at their passing.

So does mourning the death of someone who didn't really become known to most of us until the '90s qualify as classic television? Well, of course, as I commented on the Facebook page the day of his death. How could John Saunders not represent classic TV? The word "classic" describes something timeless, something that hearkens back to a better day, perhaps, and makes us remember our better selves, if only for a moment. Especially in this day and age, surrounded by the "look at me" screamers who troll the public and believe there's no such thing as bad publicity, anyone who epitomizes style and grace is bound to stand out.

But make no mistake about it. John Saunders was a classic in any era. And that never goes out of style.

August 10, 2016

What the past tells us about ourselves, and about our own past

Lately we've been talking about the past: do we live there, do we resent the future, do we idealize a time that never was? It's that last part - the idealization of the past - that's on my mind today, and as usual it was sparked by something written by someone who generally writes better than I do, in this case Lileks:

I am halfway through a site about . . . TV and Radio station advertising logos in the 40s and 50s. Why? Well, why not. I found some industry magazines that have ads for the stations, and each one is a window into a local institution that was part of people's aural collective memory for a while. The jingles, the voices, the news sounder at the top of the hour. It's important to remember these things. Maybe it's just because I was in the business once, and felt pride at saying the call letters. This was a long and honorable tradition, connected to a place, a time, an invisible audience gathered in the dark. [,,,] Googling one station revealed a lost history - it had been bought by a big city station and turned into a repeater, and YouTube had a video of the last news broadcast from the local crew.

At this point I did the transition from reading to thinking. That description of the station that had been bought by a big city station and no longer did any local broadcasting - it sounded a lot like Channel 7, KCMT, the bane of my teen years spend in The World's Worst Town™. Not necessarily, though - there had to be lots of stations around the country that fall into that category. Still...

To my surprise the weatherman was a guy who did the weather in Fargo when I was growing up. I went to school with his daughter (who had long brown hair.) (If you remember such things it's possible you had a crush.) He did the kiddie show: Captain Jim. When you were a kid and it was your birthday you got to go on Captain Jim's show in Fargo, and my mother took me. I remember nothing except the moment I walked from the bleachers to the set: I was supposed to walk around the cameras, but I walked straight from the seats to the set, stepping across the cables, and Captain Jim said "Whoa, you're walking through the ocean there."

Now it gets more interesting. If the weatherman was from Fargo (where Lileks had been from) and had moved to another station, there was a good chance we were talking about the same station. That weatherman, though - what the hell was his name? Captain Jim, he says - that's got to be Googleable. I'm wondering if I know who he's talking about. If I do, it could only be one of two people. Remember, I'm not reading ahead, so as far as I'm concerned the answer will remain a mystery unless I do something about it. After all, no reason to depend on someone else's research if you can spend the time doing it yourself, right?

I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised that there was more than one Captain Jim kids show; James isn't exactly an unusual name, and most of these local kids show hosts used their real first names in such cases. Yes, here it is.

Jim Rohn. I did remember him; he was one of the two people I thought it might have been. Boy, I disliked watching him when I was in my teens. I didn't hate him personally, but I disliked him in that impersonal way we have when we're talking about someone we feel we kind-of know from having seen them in our living rooms every night. Imagine my surprise, then, to read this description of him as "a consummate professional, Aamodt added. 'He could read the copy cold and not make a mistake, and he was so versatile.'" The obituary goes on to call him "a revered figure to many." Not to me, I thought. Could I be wrong?

Lileks goes on to identify Rohn by quoting from the same article I'd just read; makes sense since it's the first thing to pop up on Google. He just died in January of 2015, which isn't that long ago, at the age of 88. They had a picture of him dressed in lederhosen, hosting Polka Party. Yep, I thought, that's him.

Lileks speaks of him with some fondness, but then he'd met him on the television show, whereas I'd only seen him on TV, and that was on a channel I was predisposed to dislike because it was the only commercial station available in an area I hated living in. I thought of KCMT as amateur hour on a continuous loop, but chances are I would have felt that way anyway, since I was a snobbish city boy who was bound and determined to feel that way about anything and everything around there.*

*I still am a snob, by the way, and I still feel that way about The World's Worst Town™. Obviously.

Now I find myself asking an essential question: have I been unfair in the way I've thought about KCMT, and Jim Rohn, all these years? (Even if I hadn't thought of Rohn since the day after we moved back to the Twin Cities, he was still part of my collective memory of the area.) If I could go back and watch Channel 7 again today, would I find it charming, full of the trappings from the late '60s and '70s, having all the things I'm constantly railing about not having nowadays?

My conclusion: it depends. If I could view it again today through those same teen-age eyes, I'd probably still feel the same way. However, if I were to go back today, almost 40 years after the fact, knowing what I do now and having something to compare it to, would I now see it with that faded hue of nostalgia, part of the yellowed treasure from my old TV Guides, or would I hate it as I did then? It's an excellent question, for which I don't have an answer. Even if I could find some old footage from the KCMT of my youth, it wouldn't be the same as having to live with it seven days a week for nearly six years, ample time for familiarity to breed contempt. I might view it with disgust, and then wonder if all these old shows I've come to revere because they were old and thus unable to view any longer - maybe I'd hate them too.* Maybe this whole nostalgia thing really is living in the past, creating a romanticized view of something that never was. I've written about how TV shows used to do that in relation to the age in which they were made; was I doing the same thing with television itself?

*Living in that town, I wouldn't wonder. Granted, the early '70s are not a favorite time period of mine anyway, I can think of very few TV shows I enjoyed watching at the time.

What I do know is that this is, if nothing else, part of the tapestry that explains why I watch classic TV. It's good to test your own memory, to see if things really were better (or worse) back then. It's good to be able to use this as an excuse to examine your own development and maturity through the years, to see how your tastes, your likes and dislikes, have evolved. Maybe it will put you back in touch with something that you've sadly forgotten; on the other hand, it could cause you to open your eyes and stop idealizing the past. (Romanticizing the past without also being objective - that, to me, is not nostalgia but sentimentality, and while I can wallow in nostalgia, I find sentimentality rank.)

I've watching plenty of television from the old days, and it's not all good. Some of it is bad, in fact. Now, it happens that I think there are more shows that are not only good, but are superior to what we see on TV today. That raises questions about the content and evolution of television, of course, and while that's a separate issue for another day it's also something that can be profitable to consider. To test these memories, though; to look at how things were with clear eyes open to revising a long-held way of thinking - that's good. It can change the way you think about things today. it can cause you to reassess what you thought you knew.

It is, I think, an essential reason why we revisit the past, while we can. Lileks describes this as so: "When I started [doing this, 20 years ago] there was a slender piece of connective tissue between the present and the past, and now it feels as if I am reporting from a foreign country that disbanded its government." Let's see if we can keep the tissue connective for just a little longer, shall we?

August 8, 2016

What's on TV? Saturday, August 8, 1959

Back we are in Dallas-Fort Worth, and since we've seen so many regular weekdays in the late '50s, I thought it might be nice to take a look at the weekend. Hence, here's the first day of the week, according to TV Guide, and the best day of the week, according to me!

August 6, 2016

This week in TV Guide: August 8, 1959

This week Donna Reed graces the cover of TV Guide. The former Academy Award winner has, over the course of the last few months, helped steer her eponymous ABC sitcom from a "sort of Mother Knows Best" up against some rough competition (The Millionaire on CBS, Milton Berle's Kraft Music Hall on NBC), through the early days of dismal ratings (15.1 on Nielsen, which would qualify it as a smash hit today), to where it is today: an established hit (ratings up to 21.2) in a family-friendly time (Thursdays at 8:00 p.m. ET), all without changing writers, cast or format. How did she do it?

"We just stood firm," she says - the "we" referring to she and her husband/business partner Tony Owen. "The only think I can say is that we were a little late about persuading the sponsor (Campbell's Soup) to let us lose our tempers on the show." What does that mean? Making it more true to life, for one thing - showing her and her TV husband Carl Betz disciplining the children ("They need the security of knowing you mean what you say."). "There is no such thing as a family where arguments don't occur. Keep it goody-goody and you lose the effectiveness."

Her talk about showing how things are - or should be - in real life is interesting, given how by the time The Donna Reed Show came to the end of its eight-season run, it had become ridiculed as the epitome of "the 1950s nuclear family structure and idyllic suburban setting." Is that a fair criticism? Certainly the show's look can seem dated today, although I'd add that the values espoused in the program are still sound, if mostly ignored in today's day and age. Imagine families eating together! Having discussions! Mother staying at home to keep the household running! Expecting good grades and behavior from the kids! (The subject of this week's show, by the way.) As Marlon Brando would say, "The horror, the horror."

Seriously, this makes a point I've mentioned frequently - that while many programs of the '50s and '60s presented an idealized world, it was also a world with which viewers were familiar, and to which they could aspire even if they never succeeded in duplicating it. It's easy to see how, with race riots, the Vietnam War, and campus demonstrations all raging through the land, The Donna Reed Show might seem out of touch in 1966 America. I can't say whether or not it was in any way an accurate reflection of what times were like then - my own home life was hardly what you'd call "normal" - but the larger question remains whether or not it exemplified values which ought to have been admired. Children respecting their parents and teachers, parents remaining faithful to each other and their families, working to give their kids what they need to face the world - I don't really think those are grounds for ridicule, do you? You may think of this as living in the past, but if history teaches us anything at all, it demonstrates that some very good things are unchangeable now and always, and we ought to strive to hold on to them.

Yes, there were far darker problems to worry about in 1966 than those that typically affected the Stone family. But were those problems , and the situations which caused them, actually better? Given where we are today, were sex, drugs and rock 'n roll really an improvement?

No, I didn't think so.

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In sports, CBS has a special treat this week: as a prelude to the Saturday afternoon Game of the Week between the Kansas City Athletics and New York Yankees, viewers who tune in at 11:00 a.m. (CT) will get to see the fabled Yankees' Old Timers Game, the greatest of all such games played in any sport. But then, what else would you expect, with the Yanks bringing out the pennants from championship seasons past, and hosting names such as Joe DiMaggio, Dizzy Dean, Rogers Hornsby, Lefty Gomez, Carl Erskine and the like. This was a highlight any time it was carried as part of the Game of the Week.

Meanwhile, at 11:45 a.m., NBC has its own version of the Game of the Week, when the Detroit Tigers meet the Red Sox at Boston. Now, you may be asking why there were two games, shown at the same time on two different networks. Back then, there was no single contract covering national telecasts of Major League Baseball; both CBS and NBC (through their various sponsors) were free to make arrangements with individual teams - or, more specifically, with individual stadiums. For example, in 1959 CBS had the rights to broadcast games only from Philadelphia, New York, Washington, Baltimore, Chicago (both Cubs and White Sox), Cleveland, and Cincinnati. I agree that this is no way to run a railroad, but that's how it was.

Unlike today, Texas is without Major League Baseball in 1959, but Channel 11 still has plenty of local coverage of the state's minor league teams: Fort Worth plays St. Paul on Wednesday, while Dallas takes on Denver Thursday. Next week, Fort Worth plays Houston in a pair, followed by their game against Omaha.

August seems a bit early for football, but the annual kickoff to the season, the College All-Star Game, is Friday night from Chicago, with the defending NFL champion Baltimore Colts taking on an all-star team featuring the best college seniors from 1958. The Colts will win 29-0 before a crowd of 75,000, so if you had Baltimore plus the points you did pretty well.

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Now here's a picture to treasure: two of the most iconic Western stars ever, in the same shot.

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDES
Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, the quintessential singing cowboys, may not be the flavor of the month in this era of the "adult Western," but neither one of them seems to be too worried about it. Roy, in particular, says "I'm getting tired of these cracks about singing cowboys. I'll challenge the whole bunch in an all-around competition for horsemanship, roping, pistol and shotgun. And I'll challenge any of 'em at the box-office draw, too."

Things aren't really that different today; "They're a little more psychological, maybe. I see some pretty rugged things on TV. Sometimes the hero gets it in the belly - we always stayed away from that. Dress is more realistic . . . [and] there's more killing. But the stories are similar. It's still the cattlemen versus the sodbusters."

Fact is, Roy Rogers hasn't done too poorly - a millionaire with extensive real estate holdings, part owner of 24,000 acres between Phoenix and Tucson, a boat business, a golf course, an auto agency, and those appearance fees that he and his wife Dale Evans get from the state fair circuit. Oh, and there's also the $1.5 million he got from Nestlé for selling them the rights to his show. His specials trounce the opposition in the ratings, and Chevrolet has signed him up for six to run next season. No wonder Dwight Whitney describes him as "probably one of the happiest and least-resentful deposed cowboys (if you can call him deposed) in the world."

Gene Autry "is, if anything, even happier and even richer." His production company currently has five shows on the air, he has a 90-acre ranch which he rents out to Gunsmoke and Wyatt Earp (among others), he co-owns five radio and two TV stations, collects yearly royalties from merchandising, does state fairs and rodeos, etc., etc. Oh, and then there's the baseball team he'll own in a couple of years, the California Angels. Gene Autry may be the only Western star to have his number retired instead of a ten-gallon hat.

He, too, is skeptical that the adult Western is all that different - while "I miss the action. TV Westerns drive me nuts! Too slow!", he also says that the emphasis in today's shows on acting "means you've got to have a good story. And there're not that many stories kicking around these days. I admire a good actor - but the fact he's got boots on doesn't make him a cowboy." He's not interested in challenging today's shows to see who's the quickest gun. "What Roy and I have got is box-office draw - and showmanship." And as for the "singing cowboy" bit, he's quick to remind everyone that a record of his called "Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine" sold six million copies. And then there was a ditty called "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" - you might have heard of it. Sold five million copies.

"If that's funny, then that's the kind o' joke I like," Gene says. Like Roy Rogers, he's laughing all the way to the bank.

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Scattered headlines from the week:

On Sunday afternoon, NBC's Meet the Press welcomes former President Herbert Hoover, who's just about to turn 85. Hoover has since been surpassed as having had the longest retirement after leaving office, but still - when he departed the White House in 1933, it had been less than 30 years since the Wright Brothers made their flight, there had been only one World War, and we pretty much lived in a black-and-white world. Now, this same man is appearing on television, the man who defeated him for president has long since died, and before Hoover himself dies in 1964, he'll have seen man orbit the earth in a spacecraft. It's true that many people were able to claim that distinction - but that doesn't prevent one from being taken aback to think of Hoover on TV.

In Washington, the House Legislative Oversight Subcommittee announces it wants to look at the Grand Jury minutes from the New York investigation into the quiz shows. Says Rep. Oren Harris says, "We now have information leading us to suspect that contestants on some shows were coached."

In New York, the producers of CBS' Person to Person, John Aaron and Jesse Zousmer, announce that Charles Collingwood will take the place of Edward R. Murrow when the later goes on sabbatical from the network.

NBC takes an option on Michael Shayne, an hour-long pilot (or "test film" for a detective series. The pilot's going to be shot this fall; this is one of those pilots that actually does make it to the network schedule, premiering in the fall of 1960 with Richard Denning in the title role, and running for one year. I mentioned Shayne here a few years ago.

Did you know there used to be a Miss America Parade? Neither did I, but it's true - in fact, it still exists. CBS plans to show it on September 8, prior to the September 12 pageant, which it will also cover. Douglas Edwards and 1958 Miss America Marilyn Van Derbur will host.

Many of the shows this week are reruns, but we have the usual assortment of summer anthology series burning off pilots that didn't make the cut. Andy Williams continues his summer replacement series, with guests Diahann Carroll, Buddy Hackett, the Mello-Larks vocal group, and danger Joan Holloway. Merv Griffin, guest-hosting for the vacationing Bill Cullen, announces the winner of the Gift Showcase on NBC's The Price is Right. Tony Bennett, Jaye P. Morgan and the Modernaires appear on NBC's Perry Presents, a replacement series for - guess who? And Ed Sullivan welcomes movie star Jane Russell and her brother Kevin, singers Toni and Jan Arden, actor Keefe Brassille, comedian Shecky Green, dance team Helene and Howard, jugglers the Martin Brothers, guitarist Sabicas, trampolinists the Schaller Brothers, flying trapeze artist Miss Mara, and Sid Kroft's Marionettes.

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Finally, I don't know if this will help people figure out what classic TV fans are made of, but for what it's worth, here is the television guide to the Human Anatomy. I never was all that good at studying the human body - at least, not this way.