June 24, 2017

This week in TV Guide: June 24, 1961

It's time once again for a look at pay-TV. It seems as if every few months we read another article about how pay-TV - or, as we'd call it today, pay-per-view - is an inevitability, and for years we'll be hearing about how it's "just around the corner." I'll admit, though, this is one of the earliest articles we've run across, and it sets the tone for much of the discussion to come.

For example: Former Florida Governor LeRoy Collins, president of the National Association of Broadcasters, says that "if pay-TV seriously takes hold int his country, it can mean the elimination of free TV as we know it," with the American people as the "real losers." Theater owners, alarmed by the prospect of box office revenue shifting from the theater to the living room, vows to fight pay-TV, in court if necessary. Ad agencies are against it because they have nothing to gain from commercial-free programming. On the other hand, sports promoters see the prospect of pay-per-view as a potential monetary windfall, and people hoping to see drama, opera, ballet, and symphony concerts look forward to the possibility of more cultural programming being provided through pay-TV.

Some pay progrtamming has already been tested out - viewers living in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke have had a chance to purchase hockey games, Gian Carlo Menotti's opera The Consul (a broadcast which was released on DVD a few years ago), a Bob Newhart performance, and Carol Channing's musical "Show Girl," the first Broadway play ever broadcast live directly from a theater - all for $1.50 each. Experiments in three U.S. cities - Little Rock, somewhere near New York City, and a site in the far West - will be rolled out sometime during the year. Another system will be tried out in Hartford, broadcast over a UHF station via a scrambled signal.

There's speculation over which system will prove the most effective, which broadcaster will be the big winner, how quickly this might spread to other areas. As we know, pay-per-view never really does take off for the long term, except for special sporting events (mostly boxing and MMA) - it's another kind of pay-TV, cable/satellite, which emerges as the big winner. However, there's a point made which I think bears repeating, because it's a pretty fair description of just how things have panned out. "Although broadcasters fear that pay-TV might kill free TV, there are those who believe successful pay-TV will merely change free TV into a source of standard entertainment and information programs. Pay-TV then would take over top sports events and other outstanding programs of general appeal and might also offer cultural programs that would have minority appeal, such as opera, symphony and ballet."

In fact, I think there is a widespread perception that "quality" TV has migrated to cable, with network programming appealing to more of a mass audience (or, as some critics might put it, pandering to the lowest common denominator). Many, though not all, of the major sporting events referenced in the quote (the college football and basketball championships, and selected playoff games in all of the major sports) have settled on cable, with the major one-off events winding up on PPV. Though cultural programming has mostly disappeared from home television (both broadcast and cable), the Metropolitan Opera has succeeded in putting live broadcasts into movie theaters, and other events - from ballet and symphony to art exhibits - have followed suit. So while the prognosticators get some of the details wrong, I'd say their predictions are more hit than miss.

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If you've been reading this site for any length of time, you'll remember the TV Guide Awards, which we've mentioned from time to time. This year's edition, the second annual, was held on June 13, and this week we have the write-up on the winners. NBC and CBS each win four; the Peacock Network wins for Sing Along with Mitch (Best Musical or Variety Show), Election Night Coverage (Best News or Information Program), The Huntley-Brinkley Report (Best News or Information Series), and Hallmark Hall of Fame's "Macbeth" (Best Dramatic Program). CBS counters with The Andy Griffith Show (Best New Series), Perry Mason (Favorite Series), Raymond Burr (Favorite Male), and Carol Burnett (Favorite Female). The winners rejoiced, like Burnett, who "sobbed joyfully for at least five minutes," while the losers all said the right things. (The Untouchables' Robert Stack: "[I]t's still a great honor to be voted among the five most popular performers on the air.")

Here's the program as broadcast; even though I just told you the winners, it's well worth taking a few minutes out to view this rare footage - proof that this awards show really existed!

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This week's starlet is Natalie Trundy, who may only be 19 but "speaks four languages and has played in 125 television shows." She's also appeared in three Broadway plays, done two movies, and been married and divorced. (No wonder; when would she have had time for her husband?) Great story about how young Natalie got the acting bug: when she was 11 and going to school in Rome (!), she met a Mrs. Rossellini, who made an impression on her. Several months later while at the movies, she gaped: there was Mrs. Rossellini right there on the big screen! The movie was Casablanca, and of course Mrs. Rossellini was Ingrid Bergman. "It was at that instant," she says, "that I knew I was going to be an actress."

While taking dancing lessons, she was discovered by a man whose name she can't remember, but the next thing she knew she was doing Fred Waring's television show, then found herself on the Hallmark Hall of Fame, and since then she's done just about every live television show in New York. She's also become one of the top teenage models in the business. She's acted with Shelley Winters, Dean Stockwell, and Marlene Dietrich. And, taking the advice of a family friend, she's stayed away from drama classes - the best experience is working with all kinds of actors, good and bad. The name of that friend? Helen Hayes.

Natalie Trundy's acting career takes a slight detour in 1963 as the result of an auto accident, but once recovered she continues to act in a wide variety of roles in both television and movies. She never becomes a big star, but works steadily through the '70s. Her second husband is movie producer Arthur Jacobs, responsible for Doctor Doolittle and Planet of the Apes, among others; after his death she takes over his production company. Later on she works for several years in Calcutta with Mother Teresa. There's even an official website about her.

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We have yet another reminder, as if we needed one, of the star appear of Lawrence Welk, in Robert de Roos' profile of the business side of the Champagne Music Maker. He has a weekly television audience of 30,000,000, a world-wide radio audience of 90,000,000. He's a shrewd judge of music, moreso than most people think; last year he produced a record with a new, different beat from what most people expect from him - that record, "Calcutta," has sold over a million copies. He's also been a long-time champion of a form of Dixieland, something that critics rarely stop to remember. The bread-and-butter remains Champagne music, though, and that brought in a gross of $3.5 million last year (although the frugal Welk points out that "there were lots of expenses").

This isn't any particular surprise to anyone who's read these Welk pieces over the years, and I might have skipped over the story completely were it not for this (perhaps) unintentionally amusing description of Welk's fans. He has many, as you might imagine, who write to Welk and tell him they won't come to his shows unless they can dance with him. "A third of the dancers at the Aragon [ballroom] did not dance at all. They stood in front of the bandstand, breathing deeply and gazing at their idol. 'Oh I wonder if we can get close enough to touch him,' and elderly lady murmured, her eyes fixed on Welk's smiling face. 'Oh, if he would just dance with me.'"

We laugh, but how many celebrities would give anything to provoke that kind of reaction from their fans.

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Let's get to this week's programs and see what - make that who - looks interesting.

Saturday has a little something for everyone. Nina Foch is the client on Checkmate (7:30 p.m. CT, CBS), a detective series that suffers from too much Anthony George and Doug McClure, and way too little Sebastian Cabot. Claude Akins is among the guest stars on the Henry Fonda Western The Deputy (8:00 p.m., NBC), which really doesn't stand much of a chance up against that Champagne Music Man on ABC. And on Critic's Award Theater (10:30 p.m., WCCO), Peter Finch and Kay Kendall are "Simon and Laura," a popular TV couple who "are all sweetness and light while on the air, but never stop bickering in private."

On Sunday, Ronald Reagan makes one of his occasional starring appearances on G.E. Theater (8:00 p.m., CBS) as a man whose marriage is in jeopardy due to his inability to forget his late first wife. Meanwhile, it's the final episode of The Dinah Shore Chevy Show (8:00 p.m., NBC), and her guest on this last show is Nanette Fabray. Dinah presents clips of her ten-year run, and sings "It's De-Lovely," her first song on television. The two also do a series of skits about "Telephone TV" of the future. Now that I'd like to see. If you don't touch that dial, you'll also be able to catch Darryl Hickman and the delightful character actor Vito Scotti, who pops up in so many episodes of Columbo as everything from a tailor to a maitre d', on The Loretta Young Show at 9:00 p.m. After that, it's a rerun of This Is Your Life, with Jayne Mansfield among those honoring radio personality Johnny Grant.

A couple of programs on latenight, if you're a night owl. At 11:45 p.m., WTCN presents the syndicated Oscar Levant Show, with the irascible hypochondriac welcoming Sammy Davis Jr. and Hans Conreid as his guests. And at midnight on KMSP, the program whose innocuous title hides the monstrous story behind it: Eichmann on Trial. You can see what I mean here.

Monday's programs are filled with both stars and character actors. The star is Jack Lord, who guests in NBC's The Americans at 6:30 p.m. That's up against Cheyenne on ABC, and one of the members of the cast is the aforementioned Vito Scotti. A few years later Scotti would play the Italian Major Bonacelli on Hogan's Heroes, but he wasn't the first actor to play the role. That honor would go to - you guessed it - Hans Conreid, who coincidentally plays Uncle Tonoose on The Danny Thomas Show (8:00 p.m., CBS).  And if you can stay up long enough, Orson Bean begins a week as guest host on The Jack Paar Program. (10:30 p.m., NBC).

Tuesday's Thriller (8:00 p.m., NBC), "The Ordeal of Dr. Cordell," is one of those episodes that highlights the challenge this series faced. The story, of a young doctor trying to find a cure for nerve gas only to become a victim of his own experiment - sounds as if it could be The Outer Limits, or Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and I don't think Thriller ever did figure out whether it wanted to be a horror show, a mystery, science fiction, or something in-between. This episode stars Robert Vaughn as the doctor, Kathleen Crowley as his fiancee, and in a small role, Marlo Thomas. The cast is more interesting than the episode, according to the Thriller a Day website. You're probably better off catching the always-catchable Ruta Lee in Stagecoach West (8:00 p.m., ABC), or Dick Haymes, his wife Fran Jeffries, and Alan King on The Garry Moore Show (9:00 p.m., CBS).

If you're intellectually minded, however (or just curious), you might want to tune to NBC at 9:00, for the documentary Doctor B., which presents a day in the life of a family doctor, described as "more than a medical man - he's a community adviser, confidante and friend." And he makes house calls! Burgess Meredith is the narrator.

Wednesday gives us some interesting programs indeed, starting at 6:30 p.m. on NBC's Wagon Train, "The Jeremy Dow Story," starring Leslie Nielsen. Today we're so accustomed to seeing Nielsen as a comedian that we forget for most of his career he was a straight dramatic actor, and a pretty good one at that.* At 8:00 p.m., NBC's Kraft Mystery Theater presents "Account Rendered," with a cast that includes Honor Blackman, who next year will become far-better known (at least in England) as Mrs. Cathy Gale in The Avengers. At 8:30 p.m., it's I've Got a Secret on CBS, and one of the people with a secret tonight is none other than Jerry Lewis. And at 9:00 p.m. it's CBS's prestige drama The U.S. Steel Hour, tonight with Oscar-winner Shirley Booth in a rare TV appearance (i.e. pre-Hazel), starring in Pulitzer-winner Tad Mosel's play "The Haven."

*Although it turns out his heart was always with comedy.

CBS Sports Spectacular is normally a weekend show, but during the summer it moves into primetime as Summer Sports Spectacular, and Thursday presents an intriguing sports matchup. Dow Finsterwald, one of the top golfers of the time, teams up with Arnold Palmer to take on two of the best women golfers, Mickey Wright and Barbara Romack, in "a no-handicap match" on a special par-3 course at the Desert Inn Country Club in Las Vegas. It took a little while to track down the results of this "Golfing Battle of the Sexes," but it does say here that Wright and Romack came out the winners, and that Palmer "threatened not to go to the following week’s Tour event, the Colonial, for fear of being laughed out of Fort Worth."

On Friday, Anne Francis guests on Route 66 (7:30 p.m., CBS) , and David Wayne stars as a thoroughly unlikable character on The Twilight Zone (9:00 p.m., CBS). Charles Collingwood interviews two "rising young stars" on Person to Person (9:30 p.m., CBS). Horst Buchholz, "the German James Dean," is coming off his performance in The Magnificent Seven and will feature in many other movies over a long career, but you probably recognize the other have of the duo a little better - it's Carol Burnett, whom as we know, won a TV Guide Award earlier this month. At this point, she's already succeeded on Broadway in "Once Upon a Mattress" and currently appears on The Garry Moore Show, but for her the best is yet to come. Yes, I'd say their careers panned out pretty well.

Later that night, on KSTP, Channel 9, Hugh Hefner's guests on  Playboy's Penthouse are singers Mae Barnes and Della Reese, guitarist Will Holt, comedian Dick Gautier (later Hymie the Robot in Get Smart), jazz critic and lecturer Dr. Marshall Stearns, who discusses the history of jazz, the dance team of Al Minns and Leon James, and former royal chef Art Carter. It's easy to have contempt for Hefner, as I do, but the man does know his jazz, and offers a more serious program than you're apt to see on most TV shows.

June 23, 2017

Around the dial

No time to waste; it's a big week, so let's get right to it!

At British TV Detectives, it's a review of the 2017 mystery Loch Ness. If you liked Broadchurch, says Rick (and I did, at least the first series of the British incarnation), then this will be right up your alley.

Also from Rick, this time at Classic Film and TV Café, it's a reminder of NBC's aborted 1970 reboot of Charlie Chan, starring Ross Martin as the famed detective. It's too bad this didn't come off, although I can understand why it might not have; Martin, an excellent actor (not just The Wild Wild West but Mr. Lucky, as well as many guest spots) would have made a very interesting Chan.

At Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, Ivan takes a look at the recently issued complete series DVD set of Laugh-In. Now, I never was much of a fan of that show, although I can remember seeing some of it when I was a lad. Maybe it was a little too much for an eight-year-old to comprehend, or perhaps I'd already formed enough of my political philosophy (don't laugh; my mother raised me to be a political animal) that I had an instinctive resistance to what I saw as a countercultural show. But as Ivan points out, Laugh-In wasn't really all that countercultural. He quotes Kliph Nesteroff, who had some very intriguing commentary about the, shall we say, authenticity of the show:

"Laugh-In is commonly considered a reflection of the late sixties youth sensibility, but closer examination reveals a much different picture," Kliph writes.  “It was, in essence, an establishment show, profiting from the anti-establishment sentiment running through America.  Moderated by the comedy team of Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, Laugh-In was old in style, but draped in the popular fashion of the day.  It effectively garnered a genuine hippie aesthetic, but any actual connection to the counterculture was mostly smoke and mirrors.  The bulk of Laugh-In consisted of eye-catching vaudeville bits that mostly ignored the war, the riots and the protest.  It embraced the look and sound of the hippies and had no problem making references to getting high, but generally glossed over political issues.”

I love that money quote: "draped in the popular fashion of the day." Is there a better description of TV when it reminds you of your parents trying, and failing, to act hip?

Time for a little sports - Classic TV Sports reports in with the shot chart from Fox's coverage of the U.S. Open golf championship. I'm usually a big fan of the Open, but this year I had absolutely no interest whatsoever. Part of it is because I haven't warmed to Fox's golf style, but I also had a bad feeling about a relatively new course with an easy setup and no defenses other than depending on the weather. Predictably, the players scorched the course; -16 should never win a tournament not called the Pensacola Open.

Continuing on the sports scene, this report from Sports Business Journal is not about classic TV per se, but it does deal with how we consume media, and who is most wed to that crazy thing we call "television." As a demographic (as well as philosophical) issue, this shift into watching video on smartphones and other means of streaming media does bear on classic TV, in that the age group most likely to watch it is the same age group that continues to watch sports on television - in other words, "old." Me, I just don't understand why people wouldn't want to watch sports on as big a picture as they can. Isn't that part of what HD was all about, the ability to see everything? I don't get my kicks from watching soccer on an eight-inch screen.

Television's New Frontier: the 1960s is on to one of the iconic programs of the '50s, The Twilight Zone. It's not quite that series anymore, as we're reminded of how Rod Serling was now at a point where "I've never felt quite so drained of ideas as I do at this moment," and it shows - but even with the recycled ideas that had done better in the past, the series still had the ability to toss in a shocker from time-to-time, with good effect. Be sure to read the marvelous rundown on the familiar guest stars that appeared during the season - can any series today make that kind of claim?

This week's Hitchcock recap at bare-bones e-zine is of a James Bridges-penned episode I've yet to see: the 1965 thriller "An Unlocked Window," starring Dana Wynter. I'm never quite sure what to do in a case like this - do I read the review through to the conclusion and find out the shock end, or do I stop when my curiosity has been raised and wait until I can see it for myself? What would you do?

David apparently recovered from his Buzzr possession; he's got a story at Comfort TV this week on the well-known TV character actor Roy Roberts. However, now Ivan has the Buzzr fever, as you can discover at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.

This should keep you busy until tomorrow, when you can return here and start things all over again.

June 19, 2017

What's on TV? Thursday, June 18, 1959

After a nice stretch of issues from Minneapolis-St. Paul, we take a break this week in Philadelphia, a city with, as I've noted before, a rich television history. With plenty of familiar names to choose from, let's get right to it.

June 17, 2017

This week in TV Guide: June 13, 1959

Do you remember what you were doing when you were 25? Besides watching TV, that is? I was three years out of college, working a job that didn't provide me with anything more than an income, making plans that never came true for a life that turned out far more gratifying than I could have imagined. I suspect most of you have lived some variation on that theme.

Now imagine you're Pat Boone, and you're 25. You're the host of one of the most successful television programs on ABC. You've sold nearly 21 million records, and you have long-term contracts for both TV and movies. You wrote a book, Twixt Twelve and Twenty, which has had a run of 350,000 copies. You own a company that not only handles your music business, it also has a branch that deals in merchandising your brand. You work 10 hours a day, five or six days a week, but by all accounts you love what you do. And on Sundays you teach Sunday School  Your income in 1958 was nearly $1,000,000. Did I mention that you're only 25? This is where the rest of us deal with our inferiority complexes.

I've always admired the poise with which Pat Boone has handled his career; watching him on that ABC series, when he was the youngest individual ever to host his own variety show, he had every appearance of being an old pro, interacting with established stars not as a starry-eyed youngster, but as an equal. And yet it wasn't always this way, according to Pat himself. He'd dealt with stardom before, singing on the Arthur Godfrey show, but fronting a show of his own was different. "I felt I was responsible for a lot of people - people working for me and people looking at me. That made me nervous. And that made me stiff and awkward." The result was a show that "looked better in rehearsal than it did on the air," and he hated it. "Well, I decided this wouldn't do at all. It wasn't fun any more. I had to stop getting nervous. I'd force myself to spend 10 minutes before every show calming myself down. And gradually it began to work."

It surprises me not at all that Boone could will himself to change this way. "Maybe that's why I don't worry much. I take my work seriously and I work hard at it - but I don't worry about it." I wish I could do that. But while he's not exactly worried about his future, he does know that when he moves West, to Hollywood, that things could go South as well, and the success that now seems preordained could dry up overnight. "I used to think that it would be foolish to plan a long career in show business," he says. "But now I don't know. They say that if you've been successful for four or five years you can look forward to being successful for a good many more."

He does say that there are days that he could imagine a "20- or 30-year career in entertainment," and other times that he can envision himself teaching English in a high school in 25 years. Well, at last count, that career has lasted for 63 years. He's produced hit records, he's made hit movies. He's owned a professional basketball team. His daughter has made hit records. He's been a friend of presidents. He's outlived most of the people who appear in the pages of this TV Guide.

When asked about the future - entertainer or high school teacher - he says "Either way would suit me just fine." One can imagine that his long and successful career has, indeed, suited him just fine.

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In sports, twin events compete for this week's honors. On Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET, CBS covers the last of the Triple Crown races, the Belmont Stakes, live from New York. Sword Dancer, ridden by the great Willie Shoemaker, but the win is overshadowed by a spectacular accident in the far turn at the head of the stretch involving Eddie Arcaro, another of the sport's greatest jockeys; Arcaro spends the night in the hospital but escapes serious injury, while the horse on which is riding, Black Hills, suffers a fractured shinbone and is destroyed.

The other major event is the U.S. Open golf championship (or as it was frequently known, including in TV Guide, the National Open) from Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, suburban New York City.* According to the tradition of the time, the tournament culminated in "Open Saturday," in which 36 holes were played, 18 in the morning and 18 in the afternoon. However, this year tradition was to be upset; heavy rain in the morning (the same rain that created the sloppy track that claimed Black Hills) forced the final round to Sunday for the first time in the tournament's history. NBC was scheduled to carry the final three holes of the final round on Saturday at 4:30 p.m.; I suspect they were back on Sunday to see Billy Casper defeat Bob Rosburg by a single stroke.

*Big week in the Big Apple, wouldn't you say?

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On Monday, ABC has a special 90 minute tour of Disneyland on its 4th anniversary, hosted by Walt himself with Art Linkletter. Among the attractions of the show are looks at the park's three new attractions: a 14-story-high replica of the Matterhorn, a fleet of eight submarines, each over 50 feet long, and the iconic monorail. Must have been an amazing thing for people to see then, when the future was able to amaze us. This is not from that show (it's in color, for one thing), but it gives you an idea of those new attractions, and what the park was like almost 60 years ago.

Also on Monday, there's this terrific ad for Ed McMahon's half-hour variety/interview show, McMahon & Co. which follows Jack Paar's Tonight on WRCV, the NBC affiliate in Philadelphia. One tends to forget that before Ed became Johnny Carson's sidekick, he was a local TV host in Philadelphia, and in fact he had a pretty high profile himself. This ad celebrates Ed's show expanding to a full 30 minutes, and reminds us that his lovely co-stars, Moona and Yelty, "help Ed make staying up that late worth-while."


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Maurice Evans is billed in this week's issue as "one of the world's most brilliant stars," and that's not an exaggeration. He's one of television's true pioneers; his six Shakespearean performances on Hallmark Hall of Fame are the first full-length productions of the plays ever seen on American television.*

*He was also a Shakespearean star on Broadway; 

There's more to Evans than Shakespeare, though, as we see this week in his starring turn on The U.S. Steel Hour's "No Leave for the Captain" (10:00 p.m. Wednesday, CBS), in which he plays a perpetually drunk commander of a World War II British mine-disposal unit - a really bad combination, if you ask me. His co-star, playing his son and fellow officer, is Nicolas Coster*, whom I'll always remember from one of my mother's favorite soaps, Another World. (He also did a very funny turn on the late, lamented Police Squad.) Geraldine Brooks also stars in what looks to be a pretty strong story - not of war, but of men in a war.

*Fun fact: Nicolas Coster's first wife was Candace Hilligoss, star of the cult classic Carnival of Souls.

I don't want to leave the impression that Maurice Evans is little more than a highbrow actor, though. He'll go on to appear as Samantha's father in Bewitched, and as Dr. Zaius in the original movie version of Planet of the Apes.

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Dr. Joyce Brothers, who legitimately won $134,000 on The $64,000 Question and The $64,000 Challenge by displaying her knowledge of boxing, is back on television as host of her own daily advice show on New York's WRCA, with prospects that the show might be syndicated nationally next fall. The psychologist receives hundreds of letters each week; here's a representative sampling of what people are concerned about in 1959:

"If a girl has a good figure, should she hide it?"

Says Dr. Brothers: "If a girl has a good figure it's almost impossible to hide it. My advice is this; A girl should wear her clothes just tight enough to show that she is a woman, and just loose enough to show that she is a lady." Pretty good advice, if you ask me.

"My parents carp about the way I'm raising my grandchildren."

"Grandparents are accustomed to exercising their authority over their child (you) through criticism. It gives them a sense of superiority, a chance to blow off steam. But you should use your own judgment in raising your children."

"I suspect the woman next door is after my husband. She wears such scanty costumes."

"What your neighbor wears is her business, not yours. Take a look at yourself and make sure you haven't slipped a little since your marriage. Have you gained weight or become careless in your appearance? Have you stopped trying to be alluring? Don't put on a neighbor the blame that may be yours."

"Does a woman drive a man to drink?"

"A study made some years ago determined that there are definite types of women who are found to be the wives of alcoholics. [Women who choose weak husbands, women who need to be miserable, aggressive women with the need to punish herself.] But don't be a wife who is going to punish herself by making a drinker of her husband. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a couple of fifths of cure."

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By the way, if any of you happened to be in Philadelphia on Thursday, June 18, the great Fred Astaire will be at Gimbels to autograph copies of his new autobiography Steps in Time. We have that book - not autographed, alas.

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Finally, this week's starlet is Arlene Howell, Miss U.S.A. 1958, who was "discovered" by Roy Huggins' daughter Kathy, who'd overheard her father complaining about how hard it was to get an actress with a real Southern accent. She'd seen and heard Arlene at the Miss Universe contest (where she was third runner-up), and the rest is history - so let this be a lesson to you that you never know what doors will be opened to you once you've appeared on TV. She guested on Huggins' Maverick, as well as 77 Sunset Strip and Cheyenne, and this fall, at the age of 19, she'll be a regular on ABC's Bourbon Street Beat (Warner Brothers series all).

Bourbon Street Beat ran for only one series, 1959-60, and beyond that Arlene Howell's record goes dry. IMDb gives her last credit as a 1966 appearance on Gomer Pyle, but other than a few guest gigs following the end of her series, nothing. Oh well. The article does mention that she's to be married to building contractor Paul LaCava Jr., so perhaps they lived happily ever after. There is more to life, after all, than television.

June 16, 2017

Around the dial

I like Robert Taylor, and I've enjoyed the few episodes I've seen of his police series The Detectives, so I got a kick out of Secret Sanctum of Captain Video's look at the comic book version of the series. (Hey - it's even got Adam West in it!) Is it just me, or in that first panel did Taylor's detective look a lot like Dick Tracy?

Uh oh - David Hofstede's just discovered Buzzr, the improved version of what GSN used to be. This may be the last we see of Comfort TV for awhile, so be prepared to call out search parties if necessary...

This piece from The Ringer on the massive amount of "prestige" series on TV this spring shows how dramatically things have changed from the classic era, when - save the occasional breakout hit - spring and summer were hardly the time for game-changing series. "Failed Pilot Playhouse," anyone? There's also this take on series-ending episodes sparked by the 10th anniversary of The Sopranos' final episode, about which I may have more to say at a later date.

This week on The Twilight Zone Vortex, it's "Person or Persons Unknown," the disturbing Charles Beaumont story about a man finding out things definitely aren't what they seem to be. I thought this description from Richard Matheson, describing the stories that both he and Beaumont tended to tell as being about "an individual isolated in a threatening world, attempting to survive," to be a timely one. Isn't that the problem that so many of us face in today's spiraling culture?

The tale told by Television Obscurities this week is an obscure one indeed, and perhaps the farthest back I've ever looked: The Television Ghost, aired on experimental television station W2XAB in - yes - 1931.

The Land of Whatever journeys back as well, though not quite as far - to 1967, and Jerry Van Dyke's latest attempt to "emerge from the shadow cast by brother Dick": Accidental Family, co-starring Lois Nettleton. Its replacement, for it lasted only 16 episodes, is better known - the nighttime version of The Hollywood Squares.

Speaking of which, Television.au has this article on Network Ten going into administration, and how this has sparked an outpouring of memories by viewers. Chief among them: a picture calling back the network's own version of Squares, named Personality Squares. Makes sense; hard to see why Australia would celebrate Hollywood...

Hopefully that gives you enough until tomorrow, but if not, be sure to take a look at the rest of the blogs on the sidebar - I promise you'll get your fill.

June 14, 2017

Adam West, R.I.P.

It isn't in our nature to think of superheroes dying. It's true that when we're small, we often watch with our eyes covered, peeking between the fingers, and we've been known to shout to our heroes on the big screen, warning them about the bad guy who's coming up behind him.

But by-and-large, we know that Superman will survive that Kryptonite, we know that Spider-Man will escape the clutches of the Green Goblin, we know that the Incredible Hulk will avoid capture by the police even as he manages to apprehend the criminal. Unless it's the last movie in the series, we know our hero will live to fight another day, and even when an arc of movies wraps up, it's not likely that anything will befall him (or her); after all, how do you reboot the concept otherwise?

Things are different in real life - almost the opposite, in fact - and I suppose the best way to think about it is to look at the superhero as a surrogate parent. To a child, the parent is larger than life, indestructible, always stronger than the dad down the street, or smarter than a friend's mother. It's not until we grow older, when the child who was taken care of becomes the adult to takes care of, that we begin to understand and appreciate the fleeting nature of life. If the superhero is indestructible, a superhuman, we find one day that our parents are all-too human. It is, I suppose, part of becoming an adult.

Though an outsider might look at the superhero as a phenomenon of the child, it actually appeals to the child in all of us. How else to explain the skimpy wardrobe or the brooding intensity? As we mature, the superhero evolves, from comic book to Saturday serial to TV star to big-screen phenomenon. There is, however, still a portion of that original hero that lingers in us long after we grow older, an image that evokes warmth and comfort, a recognition of better, or at least simpler, times.

And so it was when Adam West, TV's original Batman, died on Saturday at the age of 88. There was, unsurprisingly, a great outpouring of affection from people who had grown up with his version of the Caped Crusader, which we all know to be the best version, but there was something about West that allowed his image, at least to me, to evolve as we evolved. Even when he donned the cape and mask, there was a knowing wink in his performance, one that went beyond the camp that the series represented. I noticed it a couple of years ago in a profile that TV Guide's Dwight Whitney did of him, when we had a chance to see the self-deprecation, the twinkle in the eye.

The chant "We want Batman!" rises in shrill crescendo.  "Ah, the adulation!" he continues, undulating like a Girl Scout in a tight girdle.  "Oh, I love it, basking in the sincere warm smiles of the little children.   What!  You say Chief O'Hara isn't working today?  Oh, I miss the Chief.  The family's disintegrating - Robin off to college, Aunt Harriet drafted and being shipped to Vietnam. Oh, the heartbreak of it all.  Here, give me that!"

You couldn't help but like him for that.

It must have been frustrating for anyone trying to be a serious actor to be pigeonholed in such a role; it had to have taken time to come to terms with it. But he did, and in the years to come it was as if he'd discovered a new role to take on, one that only he could do: not Adam West, but "Adam West." I'm thinking now of his performance in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day marathon from twenty-odd years ago, when he hosted the between-commercial segments with the same mock-seriousness (tinged with a certain dignity) that he had displayed as Batman. It's hard to put a finger on it, but it was as if we had the chance to see him without the costume, without the trappings of playing the superhero, only to find (to our delight, certainly) that he was the same person. It was as if we'd discovered somehow that Batman's alter ego was not Bruce Wayne but was in fact Adam West, and always had been; and that Bruce Wayne was nothing more than a creation of West's, to keep the rest of us guessing.

And so, even as we continued to enjoy Batman when we saw it on television or DVD, we were able to enjoy West at the same time, as the man who both was and was not Batman. You couldn't say that about Michael Keaton, or Val Kilmer, or George Clooney (especially not George Clooney), or Christian Bale - good as he was, for his Batman they even had to use a different name, The Dark Knight. When all is said and done, what we're left with is this - that Adam West was the superhero who allowed us to grow old with him, rather than being stuck in time, the one who combined the immortality of the cartoon character with the finite reach of the man. It's why, when he died, it felt as if a piece of each of us did as well, when we realized that we were growing old as well.

June 12, 2017

What's (not) on TV? Saturday, June 8, 1968

It's a very odd day today; virtually all network programming is preempted for coverage of Robert F. Kennedy's funeral. It wasn't supposed to be that way; as I mentioned on Saturday, programming was supposed to resume at 6:30 p.m. CT (the start of prime time), but because the Kennedy funeral train was so far behind schedule, the networks wound up staying with the story until it was time for the late local news.

Therefore, what you're about to see is a broadcast schedule that was never aired, at least not in the same way in which it's presented here. I'm sure all of these episodes wound up being telecast eventually, but not in the same order, not with the same vibe, so to speak; the waves being transmitted from the antennas were, like snowflakes, similar but different. You didn't have this specific episode of Lawrence Welk on at the same time as that specific episode of Get Smart, for example, and the scheduled baseball Game of the Week on NBC (Cleveland vs. Detroit) was never aired at all.*

*Nor was the Minnesota Twins game vs. the Washington Senators, which was to be played at Washington's D.C. Stadium. By this same time next year, the Senators were playing in Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.

Enjoy what follows, courtesy of the Minnesota State Edition; back then, they never saw the likes of it.

June 10, 2017

This week in TV Guide: June 8, 1968

Salvador Dali's view of television is decidedly surrealistic, and yet after the events of the past week, it must have seemed normal by comparison.

The week before, Robert F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Los Angeles after claiming victory in the California primary. Saturday, June 8, is the day of Kennedy's funeral, and after a Requiem Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, his casket is loaded onto a train for the journey to Washington, D.C. and burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

Were the circumstances less serious, the journey of the funeral train could be called a fiasco. Massive crowds turn out throughout the route; two people were killed and five injured in New Jersey when they were hit by a train travelling in the opposite direction, and another man was electrocuted (but survived) when he came in contact with the electrical wires running overhead. The train pulled into Washington more than four hours behind schedule, and Kennedy was laid to rest after a candlelight motorcade through the darkened city.

For television, the day was one of incredible stress. Following the Saturday morning funeral (itself a massive undertaking which could only happen with pool coverage), ABC's Frank Reynolds broke the "utterly fantastic development" that James Earl Ray, the accused assassin of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., had been apprehended in London. Sadness builds upon sadness; such was the madness of the moment that Ray's arrest occurred while the widow of the man he was accused of murdering, Coretta Scott King, was in St. Patrick's attending Kennedy's funeral. The networks had planned to return to regular programming at about 7:30 p.m. ET, but complications in getting Kennedy's casket into the observation car meant the train got off to a late start, the accident in New Jersey held things up further, and the crowds (estimated at perhaps a million) forced the train to travel much slower than anticipated. Back in the studio, commentators were left struggling to find things to talk about; David Brinkley memorably threw in the towel around 7:00 p.m., saying, "We're simply waiting here. There is nothing new to report."

When the cameras did find something to show, however, the scenes were often memorable. Crowds in Baltimore spontaneously sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," Boy Scouts along the route held flags and saluted, gospel choirs sang, people stood with their hands over their hearts while tears ran down their cheeks,others silently held up signs thanking Kennedy. It was a memorable scene, and served to sanctify the chaos from earlier in the day. The train finally rolled into Union Station in Washington a little after 9:00 p.m., and the burial occurred at a gravesite illuminated by TV lights.

According to Broadcasting magazine, "ABC, which started Saturday coverage at 9 a.m., continued to 11 p.m.; CBS-TV, which started at 8 a.m., also signed off at 11 p.m.; NBC-TV began coverage at 8 a.m. Saturday, continued until 1 a.m. on Sunday." Coverage throughout the week was extensive, though (naturally) not continuous as had been the case with his brother, President Kennedy); TV and radio stations devoted about 285 hours to the event, compared with 456 hours for JFK. Broadcasting estimated that television's total loss in revenue due to the coverage topped $20 million, with $9 million to $10 million coming from the networks alone. As I wrote last year, the ramifications of the assassination would affect coverage for weeks to come.

◊ ◊ ◊

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 celebrates the 20th anniversary of his show with Pearl Bailey; comedians Jackie Mason, Soupy Sales, and Charlie Manna; and singers Earl Wilson, Jr. and the Kane Triplets. Also: taped congratulatory messages from a host of stars.

Palace: Host George Burns presents the King Family, operatic tenor Enzo Stuarti, singer Lainie Kazan, English music-hall comics Desmond and Marks, and Baby Sabu, performing elephant.

We haven't had a situation quite like this before. As we saw above, Palace would wind up being preempted on Saturday night (along with the rest of network prime time programming), so Ed's up against something of a straw man this week. (And I wonder how festive his show was, considering that Sunday was the National Day of Mourning as designated by President Johnson.) Nonetheless, here we are, so we might as well compare them.

As I see it, neither show's lineup is all that special, but the celebrities congratulating Ed probably give his show the most star power. Combined with Pearlie Mae and Jackie Mason, it's enough to give Sullivan the edge in a lackluster week.

◊ ◊ ◊

A couple of weeks ago we looked at the May 18 issue, and now the readers are weighing in - through the Letters to the Editor.

Regarding the article on Dr. Karl Menninger about television as "the comforting presence," Michael Cohen of Tucson, Arizona wasn't too impressed. Says Mr. Cohen, "has it really come to the point where we must praise the medium for its 'comforting presence' and soothing blue light?" True; the idea of television as effective "white noise" must have been discouraging to TV's inventors.

Speaking of discouraging, the members of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences must have felt that way after reading the reviews of May 19th's Emmy show. Mary S. Fox of Des Moines, IA has this shaggy dog tale to tell: "My little dog Missy and I watch TV together. When the program isn't very interesting, I usually play solitaire while we watch. Last night, after 15 minutes of the Emmys, Missy brought me a deck of cards." Meanwhile, Ken Kimball of San Diego thinks he knows what the problem was: "I hear the Emmy Awards show was planned by KAOS." To Frances Amen of Wyckoff, N.J., it was the "Dud of the Year," while George L. Smith of Seaside, Oregon calls it "the yearly comedy of errors," and Nicholas J. Nerangis of Peoria, Illinois says it's a case of "the best shows of the year [being honored] by the worst show of the decade." I guess we know the answer to the question "Will it play in Peoria?" Barbara Berry of Danbury, Connecticut thanks her television for breaking down during the show, and Doug Schueler of Stamford, Connecticut asks the pertinent question: "There's certainly nothing like a tight, well-organized, well-staged and well-presented Emmy Awards show. When are we going to get one?" Finally, Renee LeWinter of Brooklyn has something good to say, I think. She thinks she should get an award "For conspicuous bravery in having survived the Oscar, Emmy, Tony, Golden Globe and Grammy awards shows." Ah, everyone's a critic.

◊ ◊ ◊

Let's take a look at the week, in no particular order.

Monday features an interesting episode of Danny Thomas' anthology show The Danny Thomas Hour. (8:00 p.m., NBC) "The Demon Under the Bed" is the story of Charlie Castle, an actor at a crossroads: "He may lose his voice - and his career. Fascinated by Castle's predicament, photographer Phil Pearson tags along as Charlie visits his daughter, his ex-wife and the stages where he once played starring roles." Bing Crosby stars as the actor, Mary Francis Crosby is his daughter, Joan Collins his ex-wife, and George Maharis the photographer. It's the last show of the series though, so catch it while you can.

There's a Hitchcock double-header highlighting this week's movies, albeit on different channels and different nights. Mediocre doesn't begin to describe Marnie, the Tuesday night offering on NBC; it's an "old-fashioned and naive" story that Hitch seems to take much too seriously, the "psychiatric cliche of the frigid kleptomaniac." Crist sums it up thus: "Disappointing as Hitchcock, run-of-the-mill as television trivia." Last, but best, is To Catch a Thief, Wednesday on ABC, with the unbeatable combination of Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, and Monaco as a stunning backdrop. Judith Crist, in her review, reminds us that though it's fluffy diversion, "Mediocre Hitchcock is, we keep saying, better than none." On Thursday, WCCO preempts the CBS programming (Cimarron Strip, 6:30 p.m.) for the Peter Sellers movie The Mouse That Roared, the "tale of a small, bankrupt country that declared war on the U.S. - in order to lose and then receive financial aid from the victorious Americans." Sounds like there's a lesson in there somewhere.

Signs of the times: on Wednesday NET introduces the premiere episode of one of it's longest-running public affairs programs. Black Journal, which as Tony Brown's Journal will be on PBS, on and off, until 2008. The show is "designed to provide Negroes and whites with a continuing view of what's going on in black America." That's on top of Tuesday's WCCO report "White Progress - Black Reaction," and Wednesday's Black Voices on KTCA. These and other shows like them are a reminder of how big the racial issue is in 1968 America. Kind of like 2017 America, isn't it?

Following "White Progress," a CBS News Special entitled "Youth in Politics" examines the growing political activism of "the kids who rejected alienation" to become "a dynamic force in politics," according to producer Gene Deporis. Nowhere is that dynamic force more apparent than in the insurgent campaigns of the two Democratic senators, Eugene McCarthy and, of course, Bobby Kennedy. I wonder if they changed it?

◊ ◊ ◊

More of the week's variety shows:

Carol Burnett has come to the end of her first season, so she's in reruns Monday night (9:00 p.m., CBS). Her guests are Nanette Fabray and Art Carney, and one of the skits has Harvey Korman bringing a mermaid (Nanette) home to meet the folks (Art and Carol).  Showcase '68 is the summer replacement for The Jerry Lewis Show on NBC (7:00 p.m.), and it's billed as a cross-country talent show hosted by Lloyd Thaxton, whose list of previous discoveries includes Roger Miller, Trini Lopez, and Sonny and Cher. Meanwhile, Showtime, the summer replacement for The Red Skelton Hour (Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., CBS), stars Shelly Berman as this week's host, with his guests Shirley Bassey, Matt Monro*, Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band, comics Hope and Keen, German juggler Berg Garden, and Parguayan musical group Los Paraguayos. Maybe we should have put this show up against Sullivan. CBS has another talent/variety show debuting at 8:30 p.m., College Talent, hosted by Dennis James, with Bob Hope as this week's guest.

*Two singers with a little experience doing James Bond themes.

John Davidson hosts the first of his three turns on Kraft Music Hall (Wednesday, 8:00 p.m., NBC), with Estelle Parsons, Pete Barbutti, and soft-rock group Harpers Bizarre. In an embarrassing attempt to be relevant, there are also interviews with students at NYU, USC, Notre Dame, SMU, Cal-Berkeley, and Northwestern, and there's a segment where the studio audience gets to control the action on stage via push-button voting. If you'll allow me an editorial comment, it shows how far Music Hall has fallen that a hack like John Davidson is trying to fill the role played by Bing Crosby (on radio), Milton Berle, and Perry Como. Dom DeLuise has his summer replacement show an hour later on CBS, with Kaye Hart, and the Three Degrees. Best that you stick with To Catch a Thief.

Dean Martin presents his last show of the season Thursday at 9:00 p.m. on NBC, before handing the hosting reins over to Joey Heatherton, Frank Sinatra Jr., and the Golddiggers. For the season finale, Deano welcomes Jimmy Stewart, George Gobel, Shecky Greene, and singer-dancer Wisa D'Orso. And over at ABC on Friday night (6:30 p.m.), Dick Cavett presents highlights from his daytime series, including Groucho Marx and Dionne Warwick.

◊ ◊ ◊

Finally, those giant thumbs on this week's cover, courtesy of Salvador Dali.

"Why thumbs?" our interviewer, Edith Efron, asks him.

"Thumbs?" Dali responds. "Very adequatt for looking at TV. Shape. Thumbnail. Like TV."

"Why just thumbs? Why not other fingers?"

"One feenger sufficient," Dali replies.

He then goes on to discus television in general.

"Mysalf, never watch televeesion. Don't like TV. Only one very leetle minute."

"You never watch it at all?"

"Watch it upside down! Through moiré filter."

"Through taffeta?" replies the increasingly puzzled Efron.

"Taffeta filter. Changes completely. Is possible to see whatever my own brain creates."

"What does your brain create?"

"Liquid television! My last invention. Put liquid on hands. TV appear! DNA proves that origin of life . . . TV will one day becoming correlated with DNA. Everything mechanical will collapse except cybernetic machines!"*

*Don't let anyone at Apple read this, or it might give them ideas.

He then explains what it's like watching television upside down. "Everything in my brain. Project my brain on the screen. Vary aggreable! My brain is very superior of every other medium." Dali goes on to describe what's wrong with today's television programming. "TV for masses. Don't like masses. Only like minority. Masses never cultivé, never good taste. TV should be for to shock them. Force them theenk. But nevair to please them. TV is for aristocrats to show them what they don't understand."

"Why make them watch what they wouldn't like?" says Efron, struggling to hold on to the interview.

"Masses need enigmas. Like religion. Must give them enigmas."

"Do you consider yourself a priest?"

"Not a priest. Am Dali. That ees sufficient. TV not need humans to run it. Need brains that are not human. Cybernetics. Very superior to human brains."*

*Undoubtedly the next step in streaming video.

"What's wrong with the present programmers?"

"Afraid to lose job. Full of bureaucracy. No private initiative. All initiative completely lost. Too much pleasing the masses."

There's more, although I confess my fingers are having as much trouble typing Dali's idiosyncratic vernacular as Efron has holding him to the topic. And anyway, can you honestly say that you could possibly add anymore to the topic? How could you - after all, he is Dali.

June 9, 2017

Around the dial

We've come to the end of another week, which means we've come to the beginning of another look at the classic TV blogosphere. Let's get started.

Cult TV Blog turns an eye across the pond this week, to Angela Lansbury's classic Murder, She Wrote - prompted by a comment from none other than our own favorite, Mike Doran. Very interesting to get John's perspective on a show my wife enjoyed very much.

I haven't stopped in at Some Polish American Guy Reviews Things, which is too bad because I really like Daniel and the blog, but I'm making up for it today by referring you to episode 24 of his podcast "Eventually Supertrain" which includes a discussion of the final episode of one of my favorite shows, Police Squad!

No question that Sid Caesar is one of the great comic minds of all time, and Once Upon a Screen offers some persuasive evidence that his Your Show of Shows was the best TV has ever offered.

I've mentioned that Don Rickles was a fine dramatic actor, but of course he was terrific as a comic actor as well, as The Horn Section reminds us in this review of Don's guest shot in the F Troop episode "The Return of Bald Eagle."

It's another strong James Bridges-written episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour at bare-bones e-zine; this time it's the eerie 10th season story "Where the Woodbine Twineth."

There are times over the last few years when I've looked at the possibility of health-care rationing and "death panels," of the emphasis on the young and the attempted mainstreaming of assisted suicide, and thought that we were running (pardon the expression) headlong toward Logan's Run. With that in mind, take a look at Fire-Breathing Dimetrodon Time's review of the pilot episode for the Logan TV edition.

Finally, a very interesting analysis at The Ringer of the future of television in the cord-cutting, skinny-bundle era. What does it mean for classic TV fans? Well, the article sees "niche" networks as losers in all this, but as we saw some time ago, those boutique networks lost their way long, long ago. I'd like to think that our classic TV survives, because of the devotion of their fans, and their subchannel status.

June 7, 2017

Captain Kangaroo and the Love Generation

Rush Limbaugh had a line he used to trot out whenever people used a statistic in support of a particular cause-and-effect argument. He would cite the undeniable fact that 100% of people who eat carrots will die. Rush did this not to suggest that carrots had some type of carcinogen that caused cancer or some other life-threatening condition; it was his way of pointing out the folly of taking statistics at face value without putting them in some sort of context.

This thought occurred to me while I was pondering a question for which I really don't have an answer, and perhaps some of you out there can help shed some light on it. Now, I know that it can be pointless for someone to build an entire opinion piece out of such a proposition; at the very least, it comes off as looking like the author had nothing else to write about that day, and judging by the number of words I've already typed, I'd be doing pretty good at it if that was my purpose. But it isn't; what I'm really after is to get you to think a little, as I've been forced to, to ruminate on the significance of something and see if there actually is some conclusion to which we can come, some observational truth that can be intuited. It is, after all, what cultural archaeologists do.

By the time I'd reached the age at which I could consume television with some appreciation of what was going on, Captain Kangaroo was already a national institution. The show had launched in October of 1955, and would run until 1984. I watched it when I was growing up, as I'm sure many of you did in the years before Sesame Street and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, and I loved the Captain, especially in the original years before the show got a makeover and jettisoned its famous Puffin' Billy theme. But in the years since - and this is where the question comes in - there's been something that's troubled me, and I'm not quite sure what to make of it.

The question is this: why did so many of the kids who grew up with the Captain turn out to be so rotten?

(At this point you might find the discussion turning political, so if you'd like to avoid that kind of thing, Don't worry - I won't be offended. You can come back on Friday, all will be forgiven.)

Let me explain. I'm thinking here particularly of the mid '60s through the mid '70s, when sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll were prevalent, when protests overwhelmed college campuses and riots engulfed the nation, and you had an entire generation trying to assert itself - often loudly, violently, and with an unmistakable air of self-righteous supremacy. If the show's audience was comprised primarily of preschoolers, then anyone born after 1950 would have been a potential viewer. And if you were a five-year-old viewer in 1955, you would have been about 17 in 1967 - a perfect age to be a participant in the psychedelic scene over the next few years. In fact, almost every student on a college campus in 1968 - the year of the protests at Columbia University - would have been in the demographic range to be a follower of the Captain.

Does this mean anything? Bob Keeshan himself was a political liberal, as were many of the people associated with the program, but I never got the impression, then or now, that there was a subliminally subversive message involved. Keeshan obviously loved and cared for children, so I don't think he would have been setting out to create a generation of radicals. And he was known for eschewing violence - he wouldn't even allow the cartoon character Lariat Sam* carry a gun, so he couldn't have approved of what he saw going on in the streets.

*Did you know that one of the producers of Lariat Sam was future game-show host Gene Wood? He sang the theme song as well. No, I didn't know that either.

Perhaps he created in these children a heightened sensitivity to injustice, a conviction that everyone had been created equal and should be treated the same way. Since many of the protests, such as those at Columbia, centered around civil rights, that could be one explanation. On the other hand, there wouldn't be anything in that to suggest the kids had been encouraged to join the sex-and-drugs movement. (The Captain always taught kids about responsibilities as well as rights, and that they should always be polite to their parents.) That could only be explained if you took the Captain's message to include one against materialism, one of the other things against which the young rebelled. But Captain Kangaroo was no different than any other program; it had plenty of sponsors and commercials, including the one I remember best, where the train pulls up to the station and one of the cars gets filled up with Kellogg's Corn Flakes. That wouldn't seem to be a recipe for anti-materialism.

Keeshan once said that the impetus for Captain Kangaroo was to replicate the warm relationship between children and grandparents, and as we all know, grandparents have a propensity for spoiling their grandchildren. Was that it? Were they made to feel too special, as if they were somehow privileged or pampered? I remember times in school when we all had to sit in a circle and the teacher asked each of us who the most important person in the room was. The obvious answer was "You are," since were it not for the teacher, we wouldn't be trying to answer this stupid question. But it was obvious what we were supposed to say. Each one of us said "I am," because all of us are special, or something can't happen without each member of the group being involved, or something like that. (Hopefully, you get the point.) There's no question, though, that most of the kids of the Love Generation were extraordinarily self-centered, even as they professed to be all about loving their fellow man and/or woman.

Add to that the historically awful parenting job done by the members of the Greatest Generation.* Look, I get that they wanted their kids to have everything they couldn't have, so they indulged them, spoiled them, etc., and perhaps they got caught up in the materialism of the time, which just happened to provide the target for the youthful rebellion that every generation goes through. Could that, combined with the gentle message of the Captain to his "special" friends, have had something to do with it?

*Which is not to diminish the major contributions that generation made, especially during World War II and Korea. They were indeed great in many ways - but not all.

Now, before we get to the end, I want to make sure I'm not painting with too broad a brush here. There were many, many young people of that era who never indulged in the excesses of the Love Generation, never got into sex and drugs, never took over one of their campus buildings. (Maybe they were the ones who watched Captain Kangaroo?) Likewise, there's the 'Greed is Good" generation, some of whom came from the Love Generation, while others learned the materialistic message while they were in college. Many of them would have grown up with the Captain as well, although they also had other televised influences. What about them?

What remains, after all is said and done, is the undeniable fact that here we have a show which millions of children watched over the course of nearly 30 years, one of the most famous children's shows ever, and a good many of the children in the target audience turned out to behave in a matter completely antithetical to the values and manner displayed by its beloved host. And before anyone scoffs at the idea of preschoolers being expected to retain the lessons of a television show they might not have seen in years, I'd remind you that we've always worried about the influence television has on its viewers, including children. Programs from Captain Kangaroo to Sesame Street have sought to be more than just babysitting entertainment; they try to teach children, to leave them with something that stays with them, that helps in their future development. If we're concerned that certain types of television can make children violent or hyperactive or antisocial, it means we're automatically accepting the idea that they can be - indeed, are - influenced by these shows from a very early age.

It is, therefore, foolish to look at this seeming dichotomy and dismiss out of hand the simple question as to why all of this should be. Remember I don't say that there is a relationship - I just wonder about it. It is, as the King of Siam put it, a puzzlement. It seems, however, that this is one of those questions for which there may never be an answer, at least not for simple minds like mine.

I wonder, though, if Bob Keeshan saw the irony in it, that a generation for which he cared so much, for which he worked so hard, exploded the way it did. Or was there something more he - and everyone else - could have done?

June 5, 2017

What's on TV? Tuesday, June 6, 1961

Ah, it's almost summer, and while there aren't a lot of blockbusters on television this week, there are still a few things to draw the eye. As we get deeper into the season, shows split into two different types: reruns of your favorites, and limited-run summer series, some of which get picked up for the fall, while others disappear into the ether, never to be heard from again. Today, it's just a regular day in TV land. The listings come to us courtesy of the Minnesota State Edition.     

June 3, 2017

This week in TV Guide: June 3, 1961

This is one of those issues that I find interesting on a number of levels, particularly since one of the main items this week is not only a reflection of the past, but a foretaste of the future.

It's the Vienna Summit between President Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, and television coverage reflects the importance of the summit, with all three networks covering the President's arrival in Vienna on Saturday and continuing (through specials and regular news programs) with Sunday's final communique, and a wrap up of the weekend's events on Monday.

It's not the first presidential trip covered by the networks - there was extensive coverage of President Eisenhower's goodwill world tour in 1959, for example, as well as the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway that same year, and Vice President Nixon's "Kitchen Debate" with Khrushchev in Moscow - so what makes this one different besides being Kennedy's first European trip as President*? Well, it takes place in the shadow of the Bay of Pigs fiasco just six weeks earlier, and Kennedy's performance in the meeting with Khrushchev led not only to the Berlin Wall, but the Cuban Missile Crisis. Khrushchev sized up the young American President as a lightweight - JFK called it "the worst thing in my life," and told New York Times correspondent James Reston that Khrushchev “thought that anyone who was so young and inexperienced as to get into that mess could be taken. And anyone who got into it and didn’t see it through had no guts. So he just beat the hell out of me…I’ve got a real problem.”

*The trip started in Paris where Kennedy met with French President Charles de Gaulle, and concluded with a post-Vienna visit to England, and meetings with the Queen and British PM Harold Macmillan.

The emboldened Khrushchev did indeed try to "take" Kennedy, first with the August construction of the Berlin Wall, which the Russian Premier (correctly) calculated the United States would not oppose militarily, and then by moving missiles into Cuba in 1962. It's true that the Soviet action in Cuba was done surreptitiously (it's hard to build a wall without anyone noticing), but Khrushchev likely counted on Kennedy backing down again once the location of the missiles became known. This was precisely what Kennedy had feared in the wake of Vienna: "that Khrushchev, assuming that he was weak and indecisive, might engage in the sort of 'miscalculation' that could lead to the threat of nuclear war." It didn't, but as it unfolded, nobody knew that for sure. In the end, popular history holds that the result was a diplomatic triumph for Kennedy, although a minority opinion suggests that Khrushchev pulled a fast one by getting the U.S. to not only withdraw missiles in Turkey and Italy, but also promise not to invade Cuba in the future.* Ultimately, historians can hash this out.

*The U.S. didn't promise not to try and assassinate Castro, however, which means we might be able to add JFK's assassination to the fallout from Vienna as well.

All of this was in the future as viewers watched television coverage of the summit in June 1961, and as the networks poured forth their analysis, I wonder what their consensus was. Did they sense the danger Kennedy felt in the wake of his abysmal performance, or did they maintain positive coverage of the new president? It would be interesting to know, but that's for another issue.

Here's television's view of the Cuban Missile Crisis through the acclaimed ABC docudrama The Missiles of October, which includes the role in the negotiations played by ABC correspondent John Scali, who would go on to host the network's Issues and Answers.

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Martin Scott has an interesting piece on Raymond Burr's threat to leave Perry Mason after four seasons. The article admits to friction between Burr and the show's producer, Gail Patrick Jackson, and while it doesn't cite any specific area in which the two have crossed swords, Scott does provide this quote from Burr, which tells us more about what he doesn't want than what he does: "I've informed them that I will not do the show next season. I don't want more money. I don't want part ownership. I don't want to produce or direct. All I want is what I've been asking for since the first six months of the show. Mrs. Jackson knows that. CBS has been trying to see Mrs. Jackson and has not been able to."

As to what it is exactly that Burr does want, "He wants some of the enormous burden of carrying the show all but singlehandedly taken off his broad shoulders. He wants better-written and more intelligent scripts. He wants some control over stories in which he must appear." Burr would seem to be negotiating from a position of strength, as Scott points out: he's won "innumerable" awards, including two Emmys and last year's TV Guide Award, and "has become perhaps the most popular actor in any dramatic series on television." Nobody really seems to think the impasse can continue; Scott concedes that the issue may be settled "by the time this magazine is in its readers' hands." But one thing seems certain: although replacing the lead actor is not unknown on television, "It is hard to think of another actor filling his shoes as Perry Mason." If you don't believe him, just ask Monte Markham.

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There's talk of a fourth television network, and while this was fairly common (until Fox came along), the end result of this discussion is a network that's not a network.

It's National Educational Television, and with 51 such stations throughout the United States in cities such as Boston, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Chicago, Denver, and Pittsburgh (but not New York City), there would seem to be good reason to expect success. We're talking about a potential audience of 26 million people here. The typical educational channel carries local classroom programming throughout the school day, followed by NET children's programs, shows of local interest, and then NET network programming, of which NET currently provides ten hours a week. According to John White, NET's president, NET shows are intended "to provide for the special interests of the public in the arts, sciences, humanities and public affairs" but not to compete with the big three networks. All of the programs are, of course, aired without commercial interruption.

As an example, the article cites the schedule of Boston's famed WGBH. "Wednesday night viewers this season could have watched a concert-lecture by Pablo Casals or a two-hour classical drama produced in England and televised without interruptions for commercials. The next Wednesday it might have been a ballet program featuring outstanding dancers and comments by distinguished critics."

Now, let's fast-forward to today, and see how that mission statement of White is going. I'd say you could sum it up in one word: poorly. There are no regularly scheduled programs on dance or classical music, and classical drama has for the most part been replaced by British soap operas. Pledge-week broadcasts, made up in great part by concerts from aging pop and folk singers*, show that the network is indeed in competition with commercial - and cable - broadcasters. Perhaps we should have known when the word "educational" was removed from the network's name, as NET morphed into PBS.

*And shown over and over and over - and over - again.

You could make the argument that the lack of government funding has forced PBS into this position of competition; when you depend on contributions by Viewers Like You, the first thing you need are Viewers. On the other hand, others might respond, if the network had remained true to its mission in the first place instead of veering into programming that advocated liberal political viewpoints and avant-garde "art," taxpayers might have been more willing to cough up their dollars via the government. Whatever the answer, it's brutal to look at what NET (and the first few years of PBS) aspired to, and compare it to what it has become.

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I've written several times about my enjoyment of the series Naked City, so naturally I'm going to touch on Richard Gehman's discussion of the series. You may recall a few weeks ago I mentioned a review of the series that was critical of the show's emphasis on New York City as the main character, but as Gehman points out, this is the very point - "A great metropolis, despite its seamy face, emerges as the star of an exciting TV series." For if you take the real New York out of Naked City, you're left with - well, I'm not quite sure what you're left with. A studio-bound series, for certain. Perhaps even a good series. But not Naked City.

Lileks calls shows like this "inadvertent documentaries" - in other words, those who watch these period pieces today are treated to a story within a story, that of the city or country in which the action takes place. You get to see it unadorned, without the retrospective consideration that mars shows such as Mad Men. As even the greatest documentarians have discovered, you can never completely replicate the past; no matter how hard you try, you're never able to divorce yourself from what you already know. Route 66 is a prime example of this on a large scale, as though the course of four seasons we're treated to an intimate look at an American that no longer exists. That's not a political statement, just a fact; nearly 60 years on, great swaths of this country are virtually unrecognizable compared to what they are now. And if Route 66 provided a macro look at America, Naked City did the same on a micro scale, looking at one city among hundreds of thousands.* That it was the nation's biggest city didn't hurt, for as the closing narration reminds us each week, there are eight million stories in the Naked City.

Gehman details the various ways that producers and directors make their way around the city, and the different faces that it's captured, and that's very interesting, if not almost poetic. What I find most interesting in Gehman's article, though, is his stunning description of New York: "It sits dying of urban cancer, wracked by the violence that festers and explodes inside it. In the eyes of some there are elements of interest, even of beauty, in extreme ugliness." What this means for Naked City is simple: "if [New York] fails as a city, it succeeds spectacularly as a television personality."

If you're of a certain age, you can remember when New York nearly went bankrupt, when garbage piled up on street corners for what seemed like weeks at a time, when Times Square was one of the most depraved areas that anyone could find in the entire country. This condition reached its peak (or valley) during the hapless administration of John Lindsay, mayor and wannabe-president. But Lindsay didn't become mayor until 1966, nearly five years after this article was written. What we're seeing and reading, therefore, is a contemporaneous view of the city in the midst of a nervous breakdown, no longer great but not nearly as bad as it will become. Granted, we're looking backward at this, with that hindsight of which I wrote earlier, and so we're no more immune to contextual distortion than those who attempt to recreate the past with the knowledge of the present.

In a way, though, it is the knowledge of what is to come that makes the images of New York as seen in Naked City that much more powerful; we look for the buildings that fell victim to Robert Moses and his wrecking ball, we search for what we think of as a simpler time, even though the people of that time might look at us today and scoff.

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As we move into the summer months, it always becomes a little harder to go through the programming section and find anything new and different; the reruns are already upon us. But let's see what's on anyway.

Once again, the sports story of the week is horse racing, this time Saturday's running of the third and final jewel of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes. (3:30 p.m. CT, CBS) Carry Back,winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, is a "strong favorite" to become the first Triple Crown winner since Citation in 1948, and a huge crowd (including former President Eisenhower) turns out to see history made. However, following the Preakness there were reports that Carry Back had suffered an injury; although these reports were denied by the New York Racing Association, it turns out that the horse is in fact dealing with a left front ankle injury, and he is never a factor in the Belmont, which is won by long shot Sherluck.

Interesting episode of Camera Three on Sunday morning (10:30 a.m., CBS) - Patricia Neway stars in the one-act, one-woman opera "The Accused," about the Salem witch trials. I'd never heard of this opera*, but its composer, John Strauss, did go on to some degree of success - he wrote the music for the movie Amadeus. Meanwhile, Channel 4's matinee movie is The Lady-Killers, the delightful Alec Guinness comedy; the Tom Hanks remake just reminds one of how good the original is.

*When I Googled the opera, I discovered that most websites mistakenly claimed it was broadcast on NBC Opera Theatre. Other than getting the network and the title of the program wrong, that pretty much covers it. It goes to show that this TV expert business isn't as easy as it looks. Don't try it at home.

Monday, between updates on President Kennedy's trip, KDAL runs an episode of The Twilight Zone (10:15 p.m.) that I've always liked - "The Obsolete Man," starring Burgess Meredith as a librarian in a world in which books have been banned, who goes on trial before chancellor Fritz Weaver. Some might see it as a bit heavy-handed, but Meredith makes it work (as always), and the message remains a powerful one.* I like to think of this as the flip-side of Meredith's most famous TZ episode, that of the bookworm in "Time Enough At Last" who survives a nuclear blast and can now read all the books he wants, only to have his glasses break. Seems that books and Burgess don't mix very well, do they?

*Sounds like today's college campuses, doesn't it?

An episode of Amos 'n' Andy caught my eye on Tuesday afternoon (3:30 p.m., WTCN), just because of the description: "The Kingfish tries to raise money by palming off a pair of cheap rabbits as rare chinchillas." Now, I know how controversial this series is, and while I'm not going to go down that rabbit hole (no pun intended) right now, I'll just say that this could have been an episode of any old-time radio show or TV sitcom. I can see Phil Harris and Remley doing this, or Duffy of Duffy's Tavern, or even Bob and Bing if they were desperate enough for money. What's funny is funny, no matter who does it.
Wednesday evening continues the trend of looking at local shows - in this case it's the 7:00 p.m. movie on WTCN, one of the greatest film noirs of all time: Out of the Past, starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, and Kirk Douglas. It hadn't even been out for 15 years when it airs tonight; I wonder if it was as heralded then as it is today? Otherwise, check out Naked City at 9:00 p.m. on ABC, as the detectives investigate the theft of industrial diamonds from a factory not long after a man vows revenge against the company for firing him.

Looking at Thursday's listings, it's fun to see shows that we get all excited about today because they've come out on DVD - and yet they were just syndicated reruns back then, filling up space. There's State Trooper on WEAU at 9:00 p.m. and Coronado 9 on KDAL at 10:15 p.m., both of which star Rod Cameron. There's Manhunt, starring Victor Jory, on WKBT at 9:00 p.m. and KSTP at 9:30 p.m. ("17 Rare Episodes!" on DVD, says one website, none of which are "The Gopher," which KSTP airs. And then there's The Third Man on KGLO at 11:00 p.m. - that stars Michael Rennie in the Orson Welles role of Harry Lime, only this time Lime's gone legit. Have I written about this before? If not, remind me to do that sometime.

And finally, here's a story I don't even want to think about: On Way Out (Friday, 8:30 p.m., CBS), Charlotte "The Facts of Life" Rae stars in "Death Wish." "Hazel Atterbury lives and breathes TV. She watches and talks about it all the time. When she asks her husband George what his favorite show was, he tells her it's the one on which the man murdered his wife because she talked too much."

At least he didn't say she talked too much about TV.