It actually begins on Sunday night, New Year's Eve, when - in the days before Dick Clark's New Year's Rocking Eve - your television entertainment options were slightly more limited. CBS presents the only network fare, the traditional ringing in of the new year with Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians playing the sweetest music this side of Heaven, live from the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. Guy's guests are Margaret Whiting, Jean-Paul Vignon and the Kane Triplets: definitely a program for a very specific age demographic. WTCN, the independent station, offers a pleasant alternative at 10:0 p.m. CT: an hour of songs by Lena Horne, taped in London. And KMSP, the ABC affiliate, broadcasts a Twin Cities tradition, a three-hour musical New Year's Eve service from Soul's Harbor mission in downtown Minneapolis. Here's a sample of what it sounded like.
New Year's Day opens with parades galore: the Cotton Bowl Parade from Dallas, starting at 9:30 a.m. on CBS and hosted by Jack Linkletter and Marilyn Van Derbur. Meanwhile, at the same time NBC shows highlights of Saturday* night's King Orange Jamboree Parade in Miami, with Raymond Burr and Anita Bryant. At 10:30 a.m., it's the granddaddy of all parades, the Tournament of Roses; this year's theme is "The Wonderful World of Adventure," and the Grand Marshal is none other than Illinois Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen, a great statesman currently basking in the unexpected fame from his hit spoken-word recordings.
*Not surprisingly, the parade - like the Rose Parade was moved when the holiday fell on Sunday.
Following the parade, at 12:45 p.m., it's something for everyone - as long as you like football. On CBS, it's the Cotton Bowl, with unranked Texas A&M, the Southwest Conference champion (despite an overall record of 6-4-0) upsetting #8 Alabama 20-16. Meanwhile, NBC has its "football widowmaker" tripleheader, starting with the Sugar Bowl, pitting #6 Wyoming, the nation's only major undefeated team, going on hostile turf against LSU (a team that had finished sixth in the SEC) and suffering their first loss, 20-13. That's followed at 3:45 p.m. by the Rose Bowl, pitting national champion* USC against the country's Cinderella team, #4 Indiana, a tough game won by USC 14-3. The highlight of the day, however, was the Orange Bowl at 6:45 p.m., as #2 Tennessee took on #3 Oklahoma, a thrilling game that saw Oklahoma race out to a big lead before holding off a furious Tennessee comeback. The Volunteers missed a last-second field goal, and the Sooners held on to win, 24-22.
*The next year, the writers would begin choosing the champion after the bowl games.
If you weren't in the mood for pigskin, ABC did have some alternatives for you. For example, there's the debut of The Baby Game at 1:30 p.m., in which "Couples test their knowledge of child behavior," predicting how their children will react in certain situations. If you don't believe me (it was, after all, created by Chuck Barris), here's proof, including commercials:
The show only runs 25 minutes; at 1:55 it's the five-minute Children's Doctor, with Dr. Lendon Smith. Nice tie-in.
Nowadays, the networks probably opt for reruns on New Year's Day, as they do throughout the holiday season, but almost all of the series episodes airing opposite football are first-run, another interesting difference between now and then. I know series generally had more episodes back then as opposed to now, which means they didn't have to run as many repeats, but I have another theory, which is that back in the late '60s, television was still enough of an "event" that when families and friends got together during the holidays, they still viewed sitting around the television set as group entertainment.
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 include singers Miriam Makeba, Vikki Carr, Gianna d'Angelo, and Jay and the Techniques; impressionist George Kirby; drummer Buddy Rich and his orchestra; accordionist Dick Contino; comedian Rodney Dangerfield; juggler Montego; and puppet Topo Gigio.
Palace: Hostess Phyllis Diller presents singer Johnnie Ray, Robert Vaughn, singer-ventriloquist Shari Lewis (and Lambchop), comic Charlie Manna, and the singing Sandpipers.
This strikes me at first glance as kind of a meh week. Not terrible, but not great either. In cases like this, it's likely the supporting players who'll make the difference, and in this case you have to look at Ed's - Buddy Rich, whom I always liked, George Kirby, who's always good, and Rodney Dangerfield, who's frequently very funny. Against them, I don't think the Man from U.N.C.L.E., the crying singer, and Fang's worst nightmare can compete. It's not a landslide victory, but Sullivan takes the win nonetheless.
This week Cleveland Amory gives us a bit of a twist, reviewing NET's Omnibus-like show PBL, which stands for Public Broadcasting Laboratory.
We'll note right away that Amory thinks the show's terrific, primarily because there's nothing quite like it anywhere else. Billed as public broadcasting's first live network news program, the show offers a little bit of everything, from interviews with political leaders to comedy spoofs of TV commercials to debates on the issues of the day to excerpts of dramatic plays. (I wonder if adding this cross of Saturday Night Life and Great Performances would do anything for Scott Pelley's ratings?) Particularly interesting is a segment that appeared on the third program, which Amory calls "the greatest single interview we have ever seen," that being between veteran Washington columnist Walter Lippmann and young people. The highlight came when one of them asked Lippman if these were the worst times he'd seen. "Yes," Lippman replied, "but not in the sense I fear the bomb. It's because of the disintegration of hope and morality." Sounds familiar, don't you think?
If you haven't heard of PBL before now, and I suspect you might not have (I'm only familiar with it from having seen it in TV Guide; I don't recall ever having watched an episode), one of the reasons might have to do with Amory's closing paragraph, in which he sounds a warning about the future. Seems as if PBL's "board" wants to "exert more control" over the program, produced by Av Westin and hosted by Edward P. Morgan (both formerly of ABC). "We can think of no worse news!" Amory sighs. "Imagine 'control' exerted by a board of 12 - four of whom are Columbia professors and one a contributing editor of Harper's magazine. And none of them, we'll wager, has seen a full two hours of television since the Army-McCarthy hearings [in 1954 - MH]. To this board we say leave this fine program alone. Hands off PBL." Whether for that or other reasons, PBL managed but a two-year run, ending in 1969.
Meanwhile, the temperature's nearly 60 degrees higher in Oakland, where at 3:30 p.m. on NBC the Raiders play the Houston Oilers for the AFL title and a trip to the second Super Bowl against the Packers. This game has none of the high drama that accompanied the NFL game, as Oakland storms to a 40-7 victory over Houston. Two weeks later, on January 14, the Packers dominate the Raiders 33-14 to win that second Super Bowl.
With the new year comes television's second season, when the 13-week wonders of the fall give way to new hopefuls, most of which will meet similar fates. Even though the month just started, we can already see some of the changes the networks have in mind - for example, next week ABC moves The Invaders from it's current time spot of Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. to make way for the debut of It Takes a Thief, starring Robert Wagner. The Invaders will now be seen at 9:00 p.m. Tuesday, allowing The Hollywood Palace to return to its old 8:30 p.m. Saturday spot. The loser in all of this: The Iron Horse, starring Dale Robertson, which airs for the last time next Saturday.
ABC's Wednesday night lineup is facing changes as well. Custer, which has previously occupied the 6:30 p.m. time spot, has already, as TV Guide puts it, "gone off the air." This week's replacement is a special, Mr. Dickens of London, with the acclaimed British actor Sir Michael Redgrave, and directed by former Fugitive co-star Barry Morse. It's being repeated, even though it was just run on December 12 - that airing was partially pre-empted because of a speech by President Johnson. (Probably on Vietnam.) Next week, The Avengers fills the time spot.
Friday night also has changes in store. NBC gets into the act; after January 5 Accidental Family disappears (and that's no accident), its place taken by a nighttime version of The Hollywood Squares. And this week's one new show debuts: it's Operation: Entertainment, a kind of domestic Bob Hope tour, in which entertainers travel to various military bases throughout the United States. Maybe they wanted to reach the troops before Vietnam made them too cynical, I don't know. Anyway, this airs on ABC from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., having replaced the Western series Hondo.
Speaking of new programs, I think it's fair to suggest that the As We See It editorial might strike a few nerves, even today. The topic is television series based on feature films, and it's a trend that doesn't appear to be going away any time soon despite, as Merrill Panitt points out, the failure of Mister Roberts, Shane, The Rounders, The Man Who Never Was, Flipper, 12 O'Clock High, The Wackiest Ship in the Army, Please Don't Eat the Daisies, and The Long, Hot, Summer, not to mention the cancellation of formerly successful series such as Dr. Kildare and The Farmer's Daughter. Did the network programmers give up after this track record? "They did not," Panitt says. "Not the ingenious, farsighted, dedicated thinkers who decide what viewers will see. Undaunted by their bombs and near-misses, they keep coming like - as Hank Grant of The Hollywood Reporter puts it - "kamikaze pilots avenging their fallen comrades."
The result, as soon as next year, could be series based on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Seven Faces of Dr. Lao, The Courtship of Eddie's Father, The Little Kidnappers, Anatomy of a Murder, "and - a real stroke of genius - Blondie." At least three of those concepts did indeed come to fruition, though none of them were huge hits. It's a trend that hasn't gone away, though nowadays it's just as often movies that are being adapted from television shows. If they're not adapting comic books, that is.
What to say about such creativity? "Only in television are they resourceful enough to take a situation barely heavy enough to sustain an 80- or 90-minute movie and stretch it into several dozen 30- or 60-minute episodes. It takes experience. It takes know-how. It takes inspiration. . . .The new ideas flow like glue. In Alaska."
We could just assume that the entire article revolves around this, and chuckle about how they had no idea, but there's more to this review of television across the pond, and we might be surprised by some of the other series they're showing over there. For example, Rainbow City, a drama about a young lawyer practicing in Birmingham, England, his wife, and their small son. The lawyer happens to be black, his wife is white. It would have been impossible to air a program like that in the United States; it was tough enough getting Southern theaters to show Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. Speaking of which, the BBC uses Rainbow City as protection against attacks because of their variety show, the award-winning Black and White Minstrel Show. Throw in the commercial broadcaster ITV and Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width, a comedy about an Irish-Catholic trouser-maker and a Jewish jacket-maker, and you get the picture.
There's also a program that I think would do quite well over here, Talkback, in which viewers are given a chance "to voice their criticisms and complaints in face-to-face confrontation with performers, writers, producers." Throw in newscasters, and I think you've got a deal. Interestingly enough, the article doesn't reference two of the best-known British series of the time, the soap opera Coronation Street and the time-traveling science fiction series Doctor Who. Coronation Street had already been on the air for seven years at the time, and still goes strong today. Doctor Who had been on for four years, and had already survived the extraordinary act of replacing the lead actor, not by killing him off or recasting with a lookalike, but by something they called "regeneration." Doctor Who is still on as well, having regenerated itself after a hiatus, and is now on Doctor Number 12 (or 13 if you're a true Whovian, but who's counting?).
As for those other stories we didn't get to? Maybe we'll revisit them next year or something. Speaking of which, this is in fact the last blog post of 2016, and I hope you enjoyed the year as much as I did. I hope also to see you back here in a couple of days, by which time it will already be 2017!
And unlike our fictional friend we referred to at the beginning of this piece, let's hope that 2017 is, in fact, a better year for all of us. Happy New Year!