October 20, 2017

Around the dial

Some interesting food for thought this week - at least I thought it was interesting, but as always YMMV.

In his article about the current series Mozart in the Jungle, Brian Phillips at The Ringer makes the comment that "TV shows at this moment are so often interested in participating in a larger cultural discourse," something that has frustrated me no end. Yes, it's true that my interest in classic television extends to what it says about the culture at the time it was made, but that is as often due to its inadvertent role as a time capsule, and our retroactive analysis of what it all meant. Phillips looks at a specific episode of Girls, for example, "the way it plugged into an existing conversation about male power and the nature of consent."

This is a good segue to David's recent piece at Comfort TV, in which he looks back at the Brady Bunch episode in which Marcia tries to join an organization that's a thinly-disguised version of the Boy Scouts. You might be reminded of that episode in light of the news (old news, now - must be at least a couple of weeks ago) that the Boy Scouts will now accept girls. David's point - one which he's made in the past, and quite well - is that "classic TV – even those series that are deemed the most simplistic by our ‘sophisticated’ modern standards, can do more than just provide 30 or 60 minutes of entertaining diversion. They teach us something about the times in which they were made – and might even teach us something about the times we live in now." The Brady Bunch does that in this episode; Marcia isn't trying to make some sort of grand political statement, not really. She just wants to prove that "women should have the same opportunities if they have the requisite skills." Nowadays, says David, the same episode might be interpreted to mean "that everyone should be allowed to do everything on their terms, regardless of any preexisting criterion." A bit of a difference there, don't you think? The point is that sometimes (most times?) you can make your point without turning your program into some kind of grand political manifesto. Just let the action develop organically - it will do the rest.

Elsewhere, at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear Ivan reviews Where's My Fortune Cookie?, Phil Proctor's autobiography, in which we learn what it was like being a part of the great Firesign Theatre group. Having mentioned Bob Cummings a time or two, I was particularly amused by Phil's recollection of working with Cummings in the theater. I won't spoil that for you - go over there and read the whole thing.

At Made for TV Mayhem, Amanda interviews Lisa Holmes from Music Box Films/Doppleganger Releasing, regarding the release of made-for-TV movies on Blu-Ray, including Summer of Fear, with Lee Purcell and Linda Blair. Amanda's so right - the telefilm is a genre that continues to be interesting; for the many bad ones that may have come along, it's clear that the filmmakers were really trying to do something with this type of movie.

If you like The Twilight Zone, you're in luck, as The Twilight Zone Vortex's Jordan gives us a list of the best TZ podcasts. It can be hard knowing where to start with all the casts out there; getting a roadmap from someone who knows what he's talking about helps.

Speaking of both Amanda and podcasts, you won't want to miss this week's Eventually Supertrain, in which she and Dan discuss two late-'80s slasher movies, Iced and Moonstalker. (Nice segue, don't you think? I'm full of them this week.)

At Cult TV Blog, John brings up the British children's show The Feathered Serpent as a jumping-off point for a discussion of children's TV in general, and how it works (or doesn't work) as a means of imparting knowledge on its young viewers.

I really like Jodie's entry at Garroway at Large this week, not just because of its discussion of Dave's Wide Wide World program, but because it reminds us of what a wonder television was in the beginning, and how we could still be wowed by this big, wonderful world and the technology that brought it to us.

Terry Teachout taps into the wonderful Archive of American Television for this interview with composer Fred Steiner, who talks about composing the immortal theme to Perry Mason.

If you have any others we should know about, let me know. Otherwise, back tomorrow with some more fun. Right? Right!   TV  

October 18, 2017

The "It's About TV!" Interview: Eric Senich, host of "The Bob Crane Show: Reloaded"

If you read the classic TV blogosphere links every Friday on "Around the dial," you’ve probably noticed mention of The Bob Crane Show: Reloaded, a wonderful podcast hosted by Eric Senich, whose father was Bob Crane’s first cousin, with Carol Ford, the author of Bob Crane: The Definitive Biography, which is, well, the definitive biography. I had the great pleasure of interviewing Carol early last year, and now it’s time to welcome Eric Senich to the infamous It’s About TV Interview, which we conducted a couple of weeks ago.

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It's About TV: Eric, let's start off by telling me about what you do, how you got interested in it, and how that ties in to Bob Crane.

Eric Senich: I’m a disc jockey for a classic radio station in Connecticut (WRKI FM, www.i95rock.com). I started working in radio back in the early 90s when I joined my college radio station in New Haven at Southern Connecticut State University. From there I eventually got my first paying gig with the great WCCC in Hartford, CT as a weekend jock named Fletch! I went on to work with a few other Connecticut stations before landing a full-time weeknight gig at WRKI in the late 90s and have been there ever since.

All of this began because of my Dad. I used to hang out with him at the radio stations he was on the air for when I was a kid and got the radio bug from him. As it turns out, Bob Crane was a huge reason why my Dad got into radio, so without Bob’s radio career there wouldn’t be my Dad’s radio career. Without my Dad’s radio career, I wouldn’t be in radio today and for that I am truly grateful to both Bob and my Dad.

What are your first memories of Bob? Did you ever meet him in person, or was it from what your father told you about him? Was this while Bob was still alive, or after his death?

Although I was around when Bob was alive I never got to meet him and that is something I wish was different. I would have loved to have met him and talked radio with him. I was just six when he died. I’m sure I would have if things turned out differently.

My first memory of Bob was as a kid of around maybe 9 or 10 years old watching Hogan’s Heroes after school one day and hearing my Dad say, “You see that guy there? You’re related to him!”  I remember it starting to click that this Colonel Hogan did look very similar to my Dad! It really is crazy how much they look alike. It’s as if they were brothers instead of cousins.

As time went on my Dad would tell me more and more about Bob. I remember we had a pair of drumsticks that Bob gave to my Dad, which was pretty darn cool! It wasn’t until I got into radio that my Dad started to tell me all about Bob’s radio career. He eventually lent me Bob’s KNX promo album and some of his other tapes. That’s when I really became a fan of Bob.

Eric Senich
Tell me about your father's relationship with Bob. What kind of impact did Bob have on his life, and vice versa? And how did your father hand this down to you?

They were very close during the years Bob lived in Connecticut before heading out to Los Angeles. My Dad is almost ten years younger than Bob so he really looked up to Bob while Bob really seemed to have a “big brother” type of feeling towards my Dad. My Dad said Bob made sure to never leave him out of conversations and activities and would let him bang away on Bob’s drum kit too! My grandparents would take my Dad and his brother Dick to the Crane’s on many weekends for family get togethers thanks to my grampa Demetrius Senich – they called him “Mitsy” - who really worked towards keeping the family together as a unit. My Dad thought the world of Bob’s parents particularly his mom Rose who was a great cook, had a great laugh and was always smiling. Fans can get a great summary of those times in episode 7 of The Bob Crane Show: Reloaded Podcast called “Connecticut’s Drummer Boy: Bob Crane’s Early Years”. There are some great audio clips from my Dad too. He really captures the feeling of those times.

As the years went on and Bob moved out to the West Coast, he would keep in touch with my Dad through phone calls and audio letters. Bob would go into the KNX production studio and record a message to my Dad; one of them I put up on YouTube and it really gives people an idea of their relationship.

That’s one of the things that really struck me about the podcast, and your YouTube channel, that although we’ve read some of these letters in Carol’s book, now we can actually hear them. It not only makes it more immediate, there’s a level of intimacy in hearing Bob’s voice talking to your Dad. It’s really very powerful.

Yes, you can hear how much Bob cared about my Dad, how encouraging he was and how important it was to give him the support he needed to continue with his radio career. It’s been the same and then some when it comes to my Dad with my career. There is no better Dad around, I can guarantee you that. My Dad is like Bob was – extremely talented, smart, very sensitive to other’s feelings, very caring and thinks the world of all his children.

We know about Bob's troubled personal life - more than we should have known about it, had he not died when and in the way he did. Did that ever bother you - was your image of him tainted by that, or was that not a factor based on what your father had told you about him?

It’s funny I can’t recall when I first found out about all of that stuff. I don’t recall knowing about it until maybe my late teens or early 20s. I know my Mom and Dad didn’t want me to know about it as a kid and they did a good job of protecting me from that. The pre-internet era certainly helped protect from it too. Honestly, it never bothered me nor did it change my image of him. I just remember thinking that the only error in judgment he made was getting involved with women while he was married. He was a good-looking famous guy with a charming personality so the temptations came often I’m sure. As far as the videos he made I just didn’t see it the way others did. I’ve read and heard that Bob hid the cameras from some of the women he was with and there is nothing to substantiate that. It was all consensual. Carol researched Bob’s life from top to bottom and there was no indication of that. That really gets to me, ya know?

And so many people have their minds made up – you can tell them the truth until they’re blue in the face, but they know what they know. 

The worst part of it, though, is how Bob’s life ended. I remember when the E! True Hollywood Story episode on Bob aired in the early 2000s. I set my VCR ahead of time and recorded it so I could watch it with my Dad later. I went to my Dad’s and put in the tape and we watched. They got to the part of Bob’s murder and showed the images of Bob in that bed and it was horrendous. I remember looking over to my Dad and he just put his head in his hands and couldn’t bear to watch. I turned it off immediately. For him and his other family members it was personal, for millions of other people watching it was a famous celebrity, not a person. That’s the hardest part. To this day I’ll tell people that I’m related to Bob and it just doesn’t seem to connect with some as it should. They make comments like, “Was he gay?” or “Who do you think killed him?”. Thankfully I get just as many positive comments; comments about how much joy he brought them with Hogan’s Heroes and they still watch the show religiously. I have a co-worker who has a son around 10 years old and knows every episode by heart. That is something I know Bob would be so happy to hear.

At what point did you decide you wanted to become more involved in telling Bob's story? How did you meet Carol and put the podcast together?

It was after meeting Carol that the idea came up. She had seen one of the videos of Bob I posted on YouTube so we connected through that. Later on I met up with her when she had a book signing in Waterbury, CT. That was in the summer of 2016. I wanted to personally thank her for including my Dad in her book Bob Crane: The Definitive Biography and tell her what a great job she did. Over time we stayed in touch and I had expressed how much I’d like to do a podcast. She didn’t forget that and eventually approached me about doing a podcast version of her book. I jumped at the chance. I know if my Dad was up to doing it he would. These days he’s in a nursing home so, since he couldn’t do the podcast, I felt like it was my chance to carry out his mission – to speak the good word of his cousin Bob. To celebrate his life and career and clear up the misconceptions. I remember playing the first episode to my Dad. That was a wonderful moment for sure. What I love is that Carol kept the audio recordings she did with my Dad about 9 years ago and uses them in the podcast so, really, my Dad is in the podcast and that really makes me happy.

When you talk about Bob Crane and his work, most people probably think about Hogan’s Heroes, but you and Carol have turned the spotlight on his work in radio, which I think is an area that’s been neglected. Tell me about that legacy, and some of the material you've shared on your YouTube channel. What would you like to educate people on regarding his radio career? 

Oh boy. His legacy is hard to put in words. He used soundbites and sound effects long before it was the norm and in his day he didn’t have them easily accessible on computers like they are now. He had all of them on records behind him. Bob would pluck the album down from the wall behind him, pull the vinyl out of the sleeve, drop it on the turntable, cue it up and run with it on the fly live. He used them for live commercial reads, which had never been done before. He took a huge risk but it paid off. Radio stations were making a lot of money off Bob through the creative way he advertised the clients’ commercials. Just his whole style was and is timeless. Donald Freed directed Bob in his first play and listened to Bob on the radio every day. Audio of him commenting on Bob’s radio talents are in a recent episode of our podcast. He said it best by saying Bob had a rhythm to his restlessness. He was constantly moving but it was all played out like a great song. That speaks to his drumming skills. He had an internal rhythm that just came across so well on the radio.

On my YouTube videos I’ve got some good ones for sure. They all came from reel-to-reel tapes my Dad handed over to me around 2005 or so. He hoped I could transfer them digitally before they were too old to save and I thankfully was able to. Among them are an interview actor Del Moore did with Bob in 1960, another one where Bob spoke to students at L.A. City College around ’62 or ’63. My favorite of them all, though, is Bob’s audio letter to my Dad in 1963. This one is special. My Dad was just starting out in radio and was getting frustrated with where his career was going. He thought about quitting. Bob tells my Dad not to give up, tells him he listened to my Dad’s air-check and really liked what he heard and, at the very end, he congratulates my Dad on his upcoming marriage to my Mom. I never tire of listening to it and I think all of Bob’s fans will enjoy hearing this. It’s Bob Crane the person not Bob Crane the celebrity.

Crane at WLEA, Hornell, NY, 1950
Being in radio yourself, I'm sure must have had some influence on your on-air work.
I do something on my radio show that I got from him. I like to call it “Forecast Funnies”. I thought of how boring it is for the listener to just hear the DJ read the forecast so I decided to use soundbites and sound effects to spice it up. That’s Bob right there. That’s something he would do.

What's the biggest misconception you feel people have about Bob? Conversely, what do you think was Bob's greatest contribution, your favorite work of his? Was it Hogan's Heroes, or do you think his radio work was even more influential? What would you like people to know about him that they don't know?

The biggest misconception is of who he was as a person. If you go just on the salacious stories you’ll think this was a guy who didn’t care about anyone but himself, who was out to get whoever and whatever he wanted. He wasn’t like that. He was a great father, he cared about people, he didn’t want to make waves or hurt anyone, he wanted to make people laugh and smile. He developed an addiction that threw darkness over a lot of that light. How many times have you heard about an alcoholic or drug addict where they say he/she was the best person to be around when they were sober but when they had a drink or did drugs it was a whole different story? It’s kinda like that with Bob.

So many people know and love Bob through Hogan’s Heroes but, honestly, I am a huge fan of his radio career. Listening to the tapes of his shows I really connected with his style. I got some of his genes for sure.

Why was Bob so good in Hogan's Heroes? And why does the show remain so popular, after so many years? 

Great question. Carol just got me the whole series on DVD so I was able to watch them all again. I think that character really fit him perfectly. From reading Carol’s book and hearing the stories from my Dad, Bob was always the guy you would want to lead the charge. Even going back to his childhood years that seemed to be the case. He was the guy you would do anything for because he’d be there for you when you needed him and, let’s be honest, he was a charming dude! I mean, how could you not feel good seeing Bob with that cap tipped up ever so slightly upwards, arms folded, body swaying back and forth as he’s thinking up another brilliant scheme to get one over on Colonel Klink!

I always like to ask people questions like this - do you have a pet theory on how Hogan's Heroes would have ended if they'd done a final episode?

Hmmm. Well, I would like to think that the war has ended, the boys get to go home and Colonel Robert E. Hogan goes on to open a famous restaurant chain. He hires all the guys like Newkirk, Carter and Kinch to help out. His most popular item on the menu - The Hogan’s Hero Sandwich. Of course his master chef will be none other than Corporal Louis LeBeau. As for Colonel Klink and Sergeant Schultz whereabouts? I know nothing! NOTHING!

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My thanks to Eric Senich for generously allowing me to tap into his busy time. (As well as being a great guy who's a lot of fun to talk to!) Again, make a point of checking out Eric and Carol’s The Bob Crane Show: Reloaded podcast. It doesn’t take the place of the book, nor is it simply a rehash of it – think of it as a companion that enriches your knowledge. No matter what you think you know about Bob Crane, you won’t be sorry.  TV  

October 16, 2017

What's on TV: Tuesday, October 15, 1968

We're back in New York City this week, and if you can make it there you can make it anywhere, right? It's a good enough day of television, including the Olympics. Let's just cut to the chase and get to it.

October 14, 2017

This week in TV Guide: October 12, 1968

The Summer Olympics begin in Mexico City this week, the first time the Summer Games have been held in North America in the television era, and while it's still a big sports story, it hardly dominates the landscape the way it does today. ABC has the Summer Games for the first time; with the lack of a significant time difference, the network is showing a record 43¾ of coverage (for which they paid a tidy $4,500,000). And yet, a contemporary observer might be forgiven for looking over the first week's schedule and wondering what all the fuss is about.

In 1968 the Opening Ceremonies were still held on Saturday afternoon (rather than Friday night, as is the case today), and ABC has live coverage from 1:00-3:00 p.m. ET. That's it for Saturday, though - ABC follows the ceremonies with a truncated edition of Wide World of Sports showing highlights from last month's 24 Hours of LeMans, followed by the college football game of the week between Penn State and UCLA. Sunday is even quieter, with the sole broadcast coming between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m.

There's no set schedule during the week except for an hour each afternoon between 1:00 and 2:00 p.m. Monday's prime time coverage is split between a half hour from 7:00-7:30 p.m and an hour from 10:00 to 11:00 p.m. Tuesday the evening broadcast is 7:00 - 8:30 p.m., Wednesday's consists of two separate half hours (7:00-7:30 p.m. and 8:30-9:00 p.m.), Thursday is 7:00-7:30 p.m. and 9:30-11:00 p.m., and Friday rounds out the week with 7:00-8:30 p.m. and an additional half hour from 11:30 to midnight. That adds up to 16 hours for the week. In case you're wondering, for last year's Summer Olympics, NBC - between the network, multiple cable stations, and streaming platforms - provided 6,755 hours of coverage, for which priviledge they paid $1.23 billion. For that, one wonders if the coverage is that much better today.

In his article previewing the games, former Olympic great Jesse Owens (or his ghostwriter) makes some prescient comments about the potential for political disruption, "which all sports fans who love the Olympics and its traditions are sure will be dissolved by the good sense and loyalty of many of the athletes themselves." He's referring to "the expressions of discontent which some black American athletes have voiced over representing in international competition a nation they claim has failed to give them equal opportunity - in education, housing and jobs - with their whilte colleagues." Owens, who has been Uncle Tommed by many of the younger black athletes for his lack of public involvement in the civil rights struggle, points to the many accomplishments by black American athletes amid the racial strife engulfing the country, and says, "I'm not in favor of cutting off the one area of understanding we have." Concludes Owens, "I don't think the pride which our black athletes have in themselves and their country will allow them to do anything to embarrass the United Staes in so conspicuous a world arena."

Owens may have done well in assessing American changes elsewhere in the article, but here he's dead wrong; few who saw it will forget the black power salute given by Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the podium following the 200 meter finals. It remains one of the most controversial non-athletic moments in Olympic history; as a result of their actions Smith and Carlos are expelled from the U.S. Olympic team, their actions labeled "a deliberate and violent breach of the fundamental principles of the Olympic spirit." Memorably, Time commented that while "Faster, Higher, Stronger" was the motto of the Olympics, "'Angrier, nastier, uglier' better describes the scene in Mexico City last week." Had Twitter existed in 1968, one can only imagine how this issue might have exploded, how the recriminations might have flown.

History has been kinder to the two, though; among other things, statues have been erected, awards have been presented, and perhaps most of all, precidence has been established. It is impossible to look back at it now and not think of what's going on today, how sports has again been turned into a political vehicle. The Olympics always have been that way, of course, but up until 1968 it seems as if the controversy surrounded the actions of nations, not individuals. Jesse Owens himself was seen as defusing Hitler's attempts to politicize the Games; now, as the television era expands the power and importance of the individual, it is the athlete who has the platform.

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During the 60s, the Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace were the premiere variety shows on television. Whenever they appear in TV Guide together, we'll match them up and see who has the best lineup..

Sullivan: Tentatively scheduled are Pearl Bailey; comedians Bill Dana and Richard Pryor; singers Gilbert Becaud and the Beach Boys; St. Louis Cardinals pitching star Bob Gibson, who plays the ukulele; Detroit Tigers pitcher Denny McLain, who plays the organ; and the Muppets. Ed also visits the set of the upcoming musical My Fair Lady, starring Peter O'Toole and Petula Clark.

Palace: Host Milton Berle welcomes Leonard Nimoy; singer Shani Wallis; the rocking Checkmates, Ltd.; Johnny Puelo's comic Harmonica Gang; Milton's comedy foil Sidney Shpritzer (Irving Benson); and the Bottoms-Up Revue from Las Vegas.

I've remarked in the past that whenever Berle hosts Palace, the show seems even more oriented toward a vaudeville style that's a generation out of date. It doesn't necessarily mean the show isn't good, just that it can produce a feeling of déjà vu. Ed doesn't have the greatest cast this week; Bob Gibson and Denny McLain owe their apperances to their teams having been in the World Series, which ended last week (I wonder how awkward this bit was?), and to paraphrase Bette Midler, I never miss a Peter O'Toole musical. Nevertheless, Pearl Bailey, Bill Dana, and the Beach Boys are easily enough to give Ed the victory.

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Throughout the 60s and early 70s, TV Guide's reviews were written by the witty and acerbic Cleveland Amory. Whenever we get the chance, we'll look at Cleve's latest take on the series of the era. 

When last we visited with Cleveland Amory, he was giving a rather lukewarm review to the single-parent series The Courtship of Eddie's Father. This week we visit another single-parent family, with an even bigger gimmick than Eddie's Father had. The show is Julia, starring Diahann Carroll, and if you liked what Cleve had to say about Eddie's Father, you'll love his review of Julia.

It's true that Julia does break the color barrier, offering us one of the first female leads playing something other than a maid. However, writes Amory, "it is so self-conscious about doing so that a good part of the time Julia will give you a fast pain. And without providing fast, fast relief - the pace is so slow that there are times when you are going to be convinced that the show has stopped entirely." Carroll, as a registered nurse looking for work after her husband is killed in Vietnam, "is amazingly convincing even when she's wearing $5000 worth of clothes and hasn't yet got a job." Lloyd Nolan, as the doctor who employers her and becomes her staunch ally and friend, makes the series come to life and delivers its most famous line: "Have you always been a Negro - or are you just trying to be fashionable?"

So where does Julia fall short? Some of it has to do with Marc Copage, who as Julia's six-year-old son Corey, is, as Amory puts it, "a curious combination of Machiavellian schemer, elder statesman and pain in the neck, and is forced down your throat in great sirupy gobs." Says Amory, he "could be a large charmer in small doses." The show itself is "strictly soap opera," with the smallest actions - "the cooking of a breakfast, the burping of a baby, the fixing of a television set, the coming of a baby sitter" becoming big events. Amory still has "high hopes" for the show; the relationship between Cannon and Nolan is delightful, and the supporting cast excellent (including Michael Link, Corey's six-year-old friend, who is "goes easier on the sirup"). If only something would happen - "like, for example, the pro0ducer hiring a brand new black writer who would have the courage to tell him to stop telling it like it isn't."

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Aside from the Olympics, we've entered a quiet period in the sports world. The World Series, as I mentioned earlier, ended last week, while network coverage of the NBA and NHL doesn't begin until January. That leaves football, which - as its fans would say - is as it should be. We covered the single college game of the week, Penn State and UCLA, in the lede. (We do get highlights of the Notre Dame-Northwestern, Yale-Brown, and Purdue-Ohio State games on Sunday, though.) The NFL game on CBS features the New York Giants playing the Atlanta Falcons (1:30 p.m.), while NBC's AFL game is between the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders. Not the most memorable weekend.

It is an election year though, which I suppose qualifies as a type of sport. The convulsive tumult of spring and summer has given way to what looks like a close election, and the networks are all over it. On CBS's Face the Nation (12:30 p.m.), the guest is Republican Vice Presidential candidate Spiro Agnew (or as he's still known, though not for long, Spiro Who?). Meanwhile, at 1:00 p.m. NBC's Meet the Press features George Wallace's running mate, General Curtis LeMay, and on ABC Issues and Answers interviews two top Eastern Republicans, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller and Massachusetts Senator Edwards Brooke. New York and Connecticut candidates feature in several debates, and numerous programs throughout the week run five minutes short, allowing time for a Republican or Democratic "political message."

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For some reason, there's a surfeit of big-name entertainment specials on this week. First up is The Lainie Kazan Special at 7:00 p.m. Sunday on WPIX. Lainie Kazan is, shall we say, a healthy looking young woman, a Broadway and nightclub singer who next year will graduate to a Playboy spread (or so I've heard). The show is a half-hour just of Lainie and her combo doing her hits. She's still active today, singing and acting and lending her time to various causes. Later Sunday (9:00 p.m., WNEW), it's Trini Lopez's turn, with a full-blown hour-long variety show from London, with guests Frank Gorshin (impersonating Richard Burton, Boris Karloff, and Krik Douglas), and musical-comedy star Georgia Brown. Then on NBC Monday night, Bob Hope returns (NBC, 9:00 p.m.) with John Davidson, Gwen Verdon, and Jeannie C Riley. That's followed at 10:00 by the dynamic Mitzi Gaynor, who sings, dances, and clowns her way through an hour* with her special guest star George Hamilton. Finally, NBC's back on Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. with a pilot called Soul Special, by Laugh-In producers George Schlatter and Ed Friendly, featuring Lou Rawls, Martha and the Vandelias, Hines, Hines & Dad, Redd Foxx, George Kirby, Nipsey Russell, and Slappy White, among others.

*Fun fact: the special is written by Larry Hovis, better known as Sergeant Carter on Hogan's Heroes.

There are plenty of regularly scheduled variety shows on tap as well; Sunday (CBS, 9:00 p.m.) the Smothers Brothers host the Beatles (on tape), Barbara Feldon, and Bill Medley. Monday it's Carol Burnett (CBS, 10:00 p.m.), who welcomes Bobbie Gentry and George Gobel. Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. on NBC, Jerry Lewis' guests are Flip Wilson, Nancy Ames, and the Osmond Brothers, while at 8:30 on CBS Red Skelton has Martha Raye and the First Edition. Wednesday's Kraft Music Hall (9:00 p.m., NBC) has Eddy Arnold as host, with Al Hirt, Jimmie Rodgers, Dana Valery, and Pat Henry. Finally, Thursday's Dean Martin hour has Cyd Charisse, Ben Blue, Don Cherry (the singer, not the hockey commentator), and Stanley Myron Handelman.

And then there are the talk shows. and if you're not satisfied with the choices out there I don't want to hear it. It seems as if everyone out there has a talk show; I'm going to spotlight Wednesday just as an example.

At 9:30 a.m. on WNEW, Joan Rivers has Sheila MacRae and author Daniel Takton, and at 10:00 Virginia Graham follows on WABC with Angela Martin, comedienne Betty Walker, and magician Velma. These shows are only 30 minutes (at least in these iterations), which make them exceptions to what follows, all of which run 90 minutes.

At 10:00 on WOR, Joe Franklin's guests include improvisation star Steve DePass. At 10:30 it's Dick Cavett's morning talk show for ABC, with comic actor Jack Gilford. At 2:00 p.m., WNEW is back with former Tonight bandleader Skitch Henderson, whose guests are Ed Ames, Dr. Joyce Brothers, and puppeteers Paul and Mary Ritts. At 4:30, it's the redoutable Mike Douglas on WCBS, with singers Trini Lopez (again!) and Astrud Gilberto, Broadway columnist Earl Wilson, actress Joanna Shimkus, and alligator wrestler Kaye Reid. At 8:00, Steve Allen's show features Art Linkletter, actress Joyce Jillson, comedian Pat Harrington, and singer Wilson Pickett. Then, at 8:30 p.m. WNEW goes up against the Olympics with Merv Grifin, whose guests include Patricia Neal, Trevor Howard, and Chet Huntley.

Johnny and Ed, together again.
We now move into the late night schedule, starting at 11:00 p.m. on WNEW with Donald O'Connor, whose guests include William Shatner, actors Cesare Danova and Genvieve Bujold, comedians Lew Parker and Betty Kane, and singer Brian Foley. Tony Curtis is one of Johnny Carson's guests on The Tonight Show at 11:30 on NBC, opposite which ABC and Joey Bishop welcome Dick Smothers (without Tommy!), singers Georgia Gibbs and D'Aldo Romano, and the all-time great racing driver Sterling Moss.

There are other interview shows - Alan Burke on WNEW, for example, and the syndicated programs often appear on different channels in different markets - but this gives you a pretty good idea of what the landscape looks like. With the shows at 90 minutes rather than 60, and with the convention being for guests to hang around after they've been interviewed, these were truly "talk" shows, not what passes for them today. Interesting schedule, no?

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This week's starlet is 21-year-old singer Gloria Loring, who's not only headlining nightclubs, she's made multiple appearances with Merv Griffin and Carol Burnett, done Kraft Music Hall and The Dean Martin Show on NBC and Operation: Entertainment on ABC, and has an appearance with Ed Sullivan coming up. She's attractive and fresh-faced, sings upbeat tunes (and sings all the words to them), and as a result the audiences respond. "I won't sing about despair," she says. "Who wants to be unhappy?" (And what a refreshing attitude that must be in 1969.)

Gloria Loring is one of those starlets whose career comes good; in addition to a singing career that continues to this day, she acts in the theater and on television (including five years on Days of Our Lives), writes books, makes the rounds as a motivational speaker, is a spokesperson for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and is the mother of singer Robin Thicke (whose last name comes from Loring's marriage in the '70s and '80s to Alan Thicke). All in all, you'd have to say she's had a very successful career.

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Finally, there's a note in the Teletype that Orson Welles, of all people, may star in his own musical-variety series. He's said to be working with Greg Garrison, who produes Dean Martin's show, and they're making a pilot for NBC. I don't know what ever became of that, but if it was anything like this version, which Scott Beggs describes as "Welles riffing on Howard Beale, complete with his twist on Sybil the Soothsayer and a gun being aimed at Welles by the end," then we really missed something.  TV  

October 13, 2017

Around the dial

I've never had anything in particular against Friday the 13th. I'm not superstitious, so in a way I suppose it's as good a day as any other. One thing's for sure - it's your lucky day if you're looking for the best in the classic TV blogs.

Jack continues the Hitchcock Project look at Francis and Marion Cockrell at bare-bones e-zine with the first season story "The Case of Mr. Pelham." (I almost added "123" afterwards out of habit.) It's an episode directed by Hitch himself, with the wonderful Tom Ewell in a typical Tom Ewell role.

At The Horn Section, Hal is back with his continuing look at the Jack Warden series Crazy Like a Fox, and this week it's the 1986 episode "Fox and the Wolf," with Gene Barry over the top as a preoccupied Hollywood type, and it sounds wonderful!

Next, The Twilight Zone Vortex reviews the Richard Matheson short-story collection The Best of Richard Matheson, and although there are some glaring omissions, it still looks to be the best one-volume introduction to the works of the writer who penned so many of the greatest TZ episodes.

The Broadcasting Archives at the University of Maryland recalls the anniversary of the 1975 debut of Saturday Night Live (or NBC's Saturday Night, as it was first known; Howard Cosell already had the Saturday Night Live tag as part of his show) with a look at the first TV Guide cover for the Not Ready for Prime Time Players.

Some Polish American Guy has a bevy of podcasts for your listening pleasure - I suggest you check them out. Never know when I might be on one of them!

Even after the Golden Age of Christmas variety specials had passed, Perry Como's themed specials were still around, and at Christmas TV History, Joanna watches the 1978 edition, Perry Como's Early American Christmas. Having been to Colonial Williamsburg myself, this is one that I'd really like to go back and watch.

Classic Television Showbiz is back after a break with a video look back at ABC Comedy News from 1973, featuring Fannie Flagg, Andrew Duncan, Kenneth Mars, Mort Sahl, Bob & Ray, Dick Gregory, Peter Schickele, and Joan Rivers. Quite a cast, but what do you think of the show? Of course, anything with Peter "PDQ Bach" Schickele is usually worth watching.

At The Lucky Strike Papers, Andrew notes the anniversary of the 1950 debut of Your Hit Parade, which later on featured Sue Bennett, Andrew's mother, as one of the singers. You may recall I reviewed his excellent book about those times here.

Television's New Frontier: The 1960s has now moved on to one of the most venerable television western, Death Valley Days; it was the second-longest TV western of all time, and its run covered pretty much the entire length of television western era. Always remembered the sponsor, 20 Mule Team Borax, and those covered wagon toy sets they sold.

And at Garroway at Large, Jodie shows us a copy of Fleur Cowles' book Bloody Precedent, the story of Juan Peron's regime in Argentina. Important, why? It was the first author interview ever on Dave Garroway's Today.

Assuming triskaidekaphobia doesn't get the best of you, see you back here tomorrow for a look at another TV Guide.

October 9, 2017

What's on TV? Sunday, October 5, 1969

Well, let's see what this week's listings have that we didn't already discuss on Saturday. We're in Minnesota again, and the Twin Cities are left out of the Vikings game on CBS - the blackout rules of the time mean you have to go to Duluth or some such place if you want to see the game. Believe it or not, a lot of people did that back then; this would be the season that the Vikings went to their first of four Super Bowls. It's also the season the Vikings lost their first of four Super Bowls. You'll notice a large cast on Ed Sullivan's show; Seaver, Koosman, Jones, Agee, and Hodges are all members of the Miracle Mets, who went up 2-0 on the Braves in that afternoon's game. Reruns of Tightrope are airing on WTCN, Channel 11; you usually see this series in TV Guides of the early '60s, but I suspect it's showing now to piggyback on star Mike Connors' current success in Mannix. And NET is debuting a couple of their more noteworthy shows of the era; The Forsyte Saga, one of the great British imports, begat Masterpiece Theatre, while The Advocates covered the topics of the day, and often was ahead of its time in the issues of the future. Enjoy the rest!

October 7, 2017

This week in TV Guide: October 4, 1969

Bill Cosby's television career could be said to have been bookended by two landmark series: I Spy, in which he became the first black actor to star in a series, and The Cosby Show, which revived the sitcom and became one of the most loved series of its time, in the proces elevating its star to stratospheric heights. Of course, as many people can tell you from sad firsthand experience, heights such as those reached by Cosby don't last forever, but that's another story. (See also: Weinstein, Harvey.)

In between, Cosby appeared in several series*, and one of them - The Bill Cosby Show, in which Cosby plays high school phys ed teacher Chet Kincaid - helps land him on the cover of this week's issue. Things have turned out well for Cosby since I Spy; he lives in a $500,000 home on 1.7 acres, owns seven cars (including three Mercedes and a Ford designed by Carroll Shelby), earns $50,000 a week playing Vegas, and has a guaranteed two-year run for his show, thanks to the $15,000,000 contract he signed with NBC. The deal includes specials starring Cosby and others featuring Fat Albert. A $12,000 oriental rug adorns the living room. Yes, life is pretty good for Bill Cosby.

*Plus the four-season Cosby, which ran from 1996-2000.

He and the network have consciously taken an interesting approach to the show, in which it is the black characters who appear normal, while the white characters are outrageous stereotypes. This, Cosby says, is to help the television audience understand "that changes have come about in what we [the black race] are doing [in contemporary society]." Perhaps it's a byproduct of his success, but Cosby now finds it necessary to become more public in the civil rights struggle; he's been a target of criticism in the past for his failure to take a stand. He doesn't believe in violent resistance, he tells writer Richard Warren Lewis, because it's a fight blacks will never be able to win. Yes, the struggle is important, but "there's no need to go out screaming and hassling and punching out people."

He doesn't count the number of black actors in a given series, he says; "The thing I'm interested in is how groovy that show is." He wants his own show to have a diverse cast, to resemble the face of America itself. "The important thing in life is not how many black people work where or how many yellow people are on the screen, but how many qualified Americans join in to get the job done." He also doesn't believe television should be used as a weapon in that struggle. "I don't say that television is not the place to raise these issues, but not just now. If we do stories like that now, we may lose whatever viewing nmbers we have. For the first year, at least, I'm concentrating on comedy."

Although Bill Cosby is the first black man to star in his own sitcom, he stresses the need for the show to have widespread appeal - even Keaton-like slapstick. "I"m aware that the show will have a negative meaning for people who are really millitant about any story with a black person in it - black viewers included. But you can still pick a guy's pocket while he's laughing, and that's what I hope to do." Interesting, that - a lesson, one might observe, that those in today's industry might take note of.

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No "Sullivan vs. The Palace" this week, which is unfortunate; I was looking forward to that after a few weeks away. However, this Saturday we have one of ABC's rare (for the time) forays into prime-time college football, with Mississippi taking on Alabama from the Crimson Tide's home away from home, Birmingham. In this centennial season of the college game, Alabama's having a rare down year; they finish the regular season 6-4 and wind up not in one of the big bowl games, but in the Liberty Bowl, where they're defeated by Colorado. For Ole Miss, it's a different story, as the Rebels wind up 7-3, the #8 team in the nation, and beat Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl. Tonight, though, the result is as you might expect: Alabama comes out on top, defeating Mississippi 33-32. Great game, much better than the 2017 version, played last Saturday - Alabama won that one, 66-3.

This week's other major event on the sports scene is the inaugural American and National League Championship Series. For the first time, the leagues have been split into East and West Divisions, with the division winners facing off in a three-out-of-five playoff to determin the league representatives in the World Series. In the American League, the Minnesota Twins and Baltimore Orioles are the division champs, while in the National League the Atlanta Braves take on the Cinderella team of all time, the New York Mets. What's interesting from a television viewpoint is that the coverage is nothing like what you'd see today. First, NBC is the sole network provider; second, with postseason night baseball still two seasons away (the first World Series night game takes place in 1971), all the games are daytime affairs. It isn't a problem on Saturday, when NBC carries the historic games at noon and 3:00 p.m., CT, but on Sunday AFL football takes precedence at noon; the network follows at 3:00 p.m. with the Braves-Mets game. If you want the Twins-Orioles game, you're plum out of luck unless you live in Minnesota; WTCN, home station of the Twins, carries the game at 1:00.) It's not much better on Monday; the NL Game 3 starts at noon and is the network feature, while the AL game begins at 1:30 and will be joined in progress. Both series end in the minimum three games, but had they continued to Tuesday and Wednesday, the same staggered starts would have taken place. Remarkable difference between then and today, don't you think?

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Throughout the 60s and early 70s, TV Guide's reviews were written by the witty and acerbic Cleveland Amory. Whenever we get the chance, we'll look at Cleve's latest take on the series of the era. 

Do you remember The Courtship of Eddie's Father? It was one of the many series of the era featuring single male parents (see also: My Three Sons, Batchelor Father, Family Affair, Kentucky Jones, etc.) If you have fond memories of Eddie's Father, you might want to pass up Cleveland Amory's review this week.

It's very much of a formula thing, the single father sitcom. There's the dad, of course, who is loving but slightly befuddled about the whole thing, but still well-meaning. There's the child (or children, depending on the series), who's mature beyond his or her years, has a vocabulary to match, and spends a lot of time trying to find a prospective mate for the dad. And you've got a housekeeper, who is all wise and has the ability to hold everything together. In the case of Eddie's Father, "Bill Bixby, whom you will remember from My Favorite Martian, does a good job in a role which, since it makes a hero out of a magazine editor, is a contradiction in terms." The housekeeper, Mrs. Livingston, is the new gimmick; "not an all-knowing battle ax, nor an all-thumbs cutie pie, nor even a wise-girl comedienne, nor perish the thought, just a plain menial." Miyoshi Umeki, Amory explains, is the Japanese housekeeper, "but please don't presume that she's completely inscrutable. She's also part all-knowing and part cutie pie and part comedienne."

Now, if you're a Brandon Cruz fan, this is the part where you might want to skip ahead to the next section rather than read Amory writing about this "little matchmaking monster" who spends half his time trying to find a wife for dad and the other half looking for "someone" for Mrs. Livingston. I think he finds it all rather tiresome, although I can't quite tell whether it's this particular matchmaker that wearies him, or the trope as a whole. He does find some aspects of it charming - or, as he puts it, "a small riot" - but he takes issue with a quote in which Eddie (Cruz) proclaims "I think I've got more than most kids. Most kids just have a father father. I have a father who's my best friend." Replies Amory, "Father fathers, we've always said, not best-friend fathers, know best best." It reminds me of a friend who told his children, "I'm not your friend, I'm your father. Maybe after you grow up we can be friends." Certainly not when you're a kid, though, and particularly when you're trying to find your dad's new wife. Or as Amory puts it after running through the rest of the cast, "That only leaves Eddie, and we wish we could."

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Sunday at 6:00 p.m. WTCN, Channel 11, presents Jim Klobuchar's weekly series. Klobuchar is, at the time, a columnist and former sportswriter for the Minneapolis Star, one of the best-known newspapermen in the city. He's also known for his love of the outdoors, and biking in particular; his annual "Jaunt With Jim," a bike tour of several hundred miles throughout Minnesota, starts in 1974 and will become a favorite not only of the many who join Klobuchar on his jaunt, but the readers who join vicariously in the trip through his columns. His weekly series is built on that outdoorsy spirit, the biking and hunting and fishing that Minnesota has been so proud of over the years.

When his daughter Amy ran for Hennepin County Attorney in 1998, a lot of people accused her of trading in on her famous father's name. Now, of course, it's Senator Amy Klobuchar, a potential future presidential candidate, who has the famous name, and Jim Klobuchar , now known as Amy's father, likely loves every minute of it.

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When I've written in the past about The Honeymooners, it's usually been in reference to the "classic 39" episodes that aired first in 1955-56 and then perennially thereafter. That wasn't the end of The Honeymooners, of course; the characters were frequently featured on Gleason's various early variety shows, so in fact we wound up with far more than just 39 episodes. And what's always been striking about the series (besides Ralph's empty threats to strike his wife) has been what it says about the American dream; the show proved quite useful in American propaganda during the Cold War, as a demonstration of how in America even working class people could have their own places, could aspire to modern conveniences such as the latest appliances, could have a standard of living that those living behind the Iron Curtain couldn't possibly compete with. It's not only one of the charms of the series, it's one of the central features.

Which is why I'm always a little uncomfortable with some of these big musical Honeymooners extravaganzas that are a regular feature of the new Jackie Gleason Show Saturday nights on CBS. (6:30 p.m.) Take this week's episode for example: "Bing Crosby, Maureen O'Hara and Bert Parks are the guests as the Honeymooners head for Hollywood to claim their songwriting prize. Hi jinks include a stay at Maureen's mansion, expense-account living and Ralph's plan to throw a party for Bing." True, there's always an entertainment quotient to these fish-out-of-water stories, and the idea of winning a songwriting prize isn't that far off from the contests that the Old Man is always entering in A Christmas Story. But they so often involve scenarios like this, European adventures or round-the-world cruises with big-name guest casts that are so completely different from the simplicity of the old storylines - not to mention the incongruity of the musical-comedy format. Is it authentic to the original concept? An American success story? They were entertaining, fanciful stories. CBS supposedly cancelled the Gleason show because they wanted the Honeymooners every week whereas Gleason wanted to keep it an occasional feature, so they were certainly popular. Maybe all it means is that a good storyline will succeed no matter what format it's in.

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While the Fall Season's new shows are still getting their footing, we're already reading the Teletype's scoops on the next round of new programs. Danny Thomas, for example - he says, "I've got a couple of sponsors in my back pocket" for a return to the sitcom world. It'll be a sequel to Make Room for Daddy but a few years older, which is why it'll be called, Make Room for Granddaddy. ABC, one season, 24 episodes.

Tim Conway also has something in the works, which is why he's cutting back on his variety show guest appearances. His new series is slated for CBS, and could begin as soon as January 1970. The Tim Conway Show does indeed premiere in January - it's a sitcom reuniting Conway with Joe Flynn, Captain Binghamton in McHale's Navy, as the owners of a struggling charter airline. One season, 12 episodes.

And then there's Dennis Weaver, veteran of Gunsmoke, Kentucky Jones, and Gentle Ben, is ready for another go. He's starring in a pilot for NBC, McCloud, in which he plays a Western sheriff who encounters "trials and adventures" in New York. The pilot airs in February 1970, and McCloud premieres that fall as part of Four in One before settling into the Mystery Movie slot. Seven seasons, 45 episodes. Well, one out of three ain't bad.

The Doan Report adds that Andy Griffith and Mary Tyler Moore are also back next season in new series for CBS. (Mary: 7 seasons, 168 shows; Andy - well, he has the distinction of going through two failed series in the same season.) And now there's a possibility that Mary's old co-star, Dick Van Dyke, might be headed for a new series of his own. He is - called, ingeniously, The New Dick Van Dyke Show. (Three seasons, 72 episodes.)

Dick Cavett, however, is another story. His summer series has come to an end, and while the network likes him, they're not sure just what to do with him next. Specualation - another shot next January. In fact, opportunity comes in unexpected ways, for when Joey Bishop parts ways with ABC over a new contract for his late night show, his replacement (on a week's notice) is none other than Dick Cavett. Five seasons, on and off, and multiple reincarnations.

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Finally, a quick word on the Hollywood fad for astrology. I don't suppose we should be surprised by this; many people depend on what the stars say (celestial bodies as well as the Hollywood type), and celebrities are people just like any others. Jackie Gleason won't fly because of what an astrologer told him, Hope Lange and Edward Mulhare believe their successful partnership in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir can be attributed in part to the fact that he's an Aries and she's a Sagitarius. Bob Cummings, Sheila MacRae, Flip Wilson, and Barbara Eden all trace important career or life events to reading the stars. In fact, one survey suggests 75% of all television people are hooked on it.

Not everyone's taken in by the fad, and some look for explanations in the insecurity that many entertainers suffer from. Says Dr. Lewis Wolberg of New York's Postgraduate Center for Mental Health, "In the absence of a strong father figure, people need an authoritative image to guide them." That person, for many, is the astrologer, who "helps quell their tensions, gives them confidence to face their problems, and thus performs a useful function." Like a placebo, perhaps?

Joan Rivers who scorns astrology, deserves the last word here. When she was asked at one party what sign she was born under, she replied, "THIS WAY TO THE MATERNITY WARD."

October 6, 2017

Around the dial

This week saw the passing of yet another television legend, as Monty Hall died, aged 96. At our partner website, In Other Words, my colleague Bobby has a very nice tribute to the long and illustrious career of America's biggest dealer.

At Comfort TV, David offers a fine apologia for Here's Lucy, the 1968-74 successor to The Lucy Show and, before that, I Love Lucy. It doesn't get either the notoriety nor the credit that its predecessors do, but David offers ten episodes that suggest why you shouldn't underrate it.

Now that we're in October, Christmas technically is the month after next (even though it's actually more like three months away, so don't panic if you don't have your shopping done yet). That means we're in the mood for Joanna at Christmas TV History as she looks back at the '83 Loretta Swit telemovie The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.

Eric Senich, the cohost of the podcast The Bob Crane Show: Reloaded, is bringing back the spirit of Crane's landmark radio work with his Saturday Forecast Funnies on WRKI in Brookfield, CT. You can check out his show online every Saturday, and now's as good a time as any to let you know that I'll be interviewing Eric at this space later this month!

It's been awhile since we've visited British TV Detectives, so let's take the opportunity to check in on this review of the 2009-2012 series Above Suspicion, the story of a rookie detective and the cases she deals with. The first two series can be viewed on Acorn.

Let's continue with the British theme - Cult TV Blog returns with a look at Steptoe and Son, the forerunner to the American series Sanford and Son. John has some very insightful comments, the kind I love to read, on the offbeat episode "Porn Yesterday."

If you follow the weekly TV listings here, you know that from time to time we visit the Philadelphia TV market; this week, The Broadcasting Archives at the University of Maryland visits one of those stations, WFIL, with a look at the WFIL Studio Schoolhouse Teacher’s Manual, 1955-56. WFIL-AM, WFIL-TV, and School District of Philadelphia. PA Board of Public Education. Fascinating look at how television used to be utilized.

I always enjoy the "Retro Review" feature at Television Obscurities, and this one is obscure even to me: It's a Man's World, a 1962-63 NBC drama starring Glenn Corbett as a college student raising his 14-year-old brother. The series never went into syndication - no wonder it's so obscure.

What's not obscure is The Twlight Zone, and in this week's edition of The Twilight Zone Vortex, Jordan dips back into the archives with Volume 1, Number 4 of the Twilight Zone Magazine.

As I often think, if you can't find something interesting in this list, you aren't trying very hard. See you back here tomorrow, or whenever you show up.

October 4, 2017

The news, and nothing but the news

Back a couple of years ago, I shared video of a full-length broadcast of The Scene Tonight, the 10:00 p.m. news program on Minneapolis-St. Paul's WCCO, Channel 4. The broadcast was from January 1968, and was a very early example of a unified news program - that is, news, weather and sports taking place on one set, offering opportunities interaction between the on-air personalities. It was innovations like this that made "happy news" possible, but for the most part The Scene Tonight offered hard news, with the byplay between Dave Moore and Bud Kraehling, for example, informal but not forced. Ah, for those days...

Anyway, here's an example of the opposite - a broadcast where the news, weather, and sports are three separate programs, each with their own sponsors, with each segment separated by commercials. Since the principals never appear on-camera together, there's no chatter, nothing but the news. It's from WCCO's archrival: KSTP, Channel 5, the NBC affiliate. Featured are John MacDougall with the news, Johnny Morris and the weather, and Al Tighe on sports. I realize you might see this as something of primarily local interest, but I think the broadcast offers more than that, even if you aren't from the Twin Cities. It's a time capsule in more ways than one - not only do we see the stories that were making news back then, we get a chance to see how the local newscast has evolved.

This video, as well as that of the WCCO newscast, comes to us from the YouTube channel for TC Media Now, a tremendous repository of clips from Twin Cities radio and television. The broadcast is from late 1968, when the Christmas season is starting - as you'll be able to tell from one of the stories. Though the copy we have is in black-and-white, the original would have been in color - befitting KSTP, "The Northwest's Total Color Television Station." Happily, the commercials are included!

October 2, 2017

What's on TV? Tuesday, October 2, 1962

You'll never know the troubles to which I go for you, dear readers, in pursuit of the full story. Oh, there are typos and misstatements that I occasionally make, and I'm grateful to you for pointing them out to me, because accuracy is important. But by and large, I like to give you the full picture of what's happening in these TV listings, and it was with that in mind that I found myself at the website of the Society of American Baseball Research and the Media Research Committee.

As I mentioned on Saturday, the 1962 World Series was delayed because of the best-of-three tiebreaker playoff between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants for the National League pennant. With no disclaimer in TV Guide as to how the schedules would change in the event the pennant race ended in a tie (that's how unlikely it was, the Dodgers leading by four with a week to go) a disclaimer as to what the TV contingency plans were in the event of a playoff, it was a challenge finding out how the playoff, which ran Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, would have affected the broadcast schedule. Finding out the start time of the games was relatively easy, but the network? NBC had the rights to the World Series and All Star Games, but CBS also broadcast weekly games. Which one would have carried the playoff? You'd think in this day and age that kind of information would have been close at hand, but it took more time than I'd care to have spent to come up with the data that NBC, indeed, televised the three games. I could have guessed that, but it wouldn't have been fair to you (not to mention someone would have pointed it out in the comments section). I could have simply gone with the schedule as printed in TV Guide, but that wouldn't have been the full picture. Therefore, I take it upon myself to change today's printed listings to accommodate Game 2 of the Giants-Dodgers series.

Before we get to it, one more thing. Game 2, won by the Dodgers 8-7, was - at four hours and 18 minutes - the longest nine-inning game ever played to that point. Am I going to block out all four over hours? No; I'll block out three, which is what TV Guide would have done (and should have done, if they'd included the playoff disclaimer), and you can keep in mind live sporting events sometimes run over. And now, if you're still with me, here's the day in review. The listings are from Minneapolis-St. Paul.

September 30, 2017

This week in TV Guide: September 29, 1962

The World Series begins on NBC Wednesday in Los Angeles, with a resurrection of the old "Subway Series" between the Dodgers and their old sparring partners the New York Yankees, their first meeting since the Dodgers abandonded Brooklyn for Los Angeles.

Except it didn't start on Wednesday, and when it did, it wasn't the Dodgers who took on the Yankess, but another transplant: the San Francisco Giants. It's also a lesson in what can happen when you're a publication working under a deadline.

In defense of the magazine, the close-up notes that it "looks like" the Dodgers will be playing the Yankees, and at press time it must seem a pretty good bet; the Dodgers lead the Giants by four games with just over a week to go in the season. It's such a good bet, in fact, that TV Guide doesn't even include their routine disclaimer about schedule changes in the event of a playoff. But a playoff is indeed what we're in store for; in a finish eerily reminiscent of 1951, the Dodgers collapse down the stretch and are tied on the last day of the season by the surging Giants. The teams split the first two games in the best-of-three playoff and then, just like in 1951, the Dodgers lose a 9th inning lead as the Giants' four-run rally gives them the pennant with a 6-4 win.

It's only going to get worse for TV Guide in the days ahead; the playoff forces the Series to start on Thursday rather than Wednesday, making Saturday the travel day. The teams play Sunday and Monday in New York, but Tuesday's scheduled Game 5 is rained out, causing the game to be played on Wednesday. The teams return to San Francisco and the middle of a West Coast monsoon; Game 6, originally scheduled for October 11, isn't played until October 15. By Tuesday, October 16, the longest World Series to date is threatening to become an anti-climatic, but a Willie McCovey line drive caught by Bobby Richardson gives the Yankees a thrilling 1-0 victory and their 20th World Series championship.

Here's the famous pair of Peanuts comic strips by baseball fan Charles Schulz, describing the anguish that Giants fans everywhere felt in the months after the game.

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Even though we cross into October this week, the new series continue to roll out. Jackie Gleason begins his new variety show, The American Scene Magazine, Saturday at 6:30 p.m (CT) on CBS, a timeslot he'll occupy for several seasons. His new cast includes Sue Ann Langdon, Patricia Wilson, and Frank Fontaine, whose Crazy Guggenheim portrayal is one of the most memorable aspects of the new series. He also has an old friend as guest star for the premiere: Art Carney as Ed Norton. ABC has a pair of new series; Roy Rogers and Dale Evans go up against Gleason at 6:30 with their new variety show; that's followed by Fess Parker's return to television in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (7:30), which runs for 25 episodes and proves that audiences are more interested in Parker as frontiermen than an earnest United States Senator. His next series, Daniel Boone, will return him to a familiar format, and familiar success.

On Sunday Jack Webb hosts GE True, the replacement for General Electric's long-running General Electric Theater. The shows are taken from the pages of True magazine, presumably with just the facts, ma'am. The Lucy Show (Monday at 7:30 on CBS) is Lucille Ball's follow-up to I Love Lucy and her first series without Desi Arnez. This time she's playing a widow with two children; Vivian Vance is back as her sidekick, divorcee Vivian Bagley;* the next year Gale Gordon will sign on as her perpetual foil, Theodore J. Mooney. At 8:00 the same evening, ABC premieres Jack Lord's new series Stoney Burke, in which Lord appears as a modern-day rodeo star.

*According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, Vance's character is the first divorced woman on primetime television.

On Tuesday, it's the first episode of the venerable World War II drama Combat! (6:30, ABC) with Vic Morrow and Rick Jason alternating as leads. The series runs for five seasons and is probably the best-known and most critically acclaimed of the WWII dramas. Wednesday sees the debuts of several more series: Going My Way (7:30, ABC), based on the Oscar-winning movie, stars Gene Kelly in the Bing Crosby role of Fr. Chuck O'Malley. It's followed by Our Man Higgins, based on the radio comedy It's Higgins, Sir, with Stanley Holloway as the British buttler Higgins. Neither of these shows will see a second season, but the night's third premiere, NBC's psychiatrist drama The Eleventh Hour (10:00), will, although Wendell Corey will be replaced as the lead doctor by Ralph Bellamy. Friday's lone new series is The Gallant Men (ABC, 6:30), another World War II drama starring William Reynolds that is considerably less successful than Combat!, lasting a single season. Reynolds, however does pretty well for himself later on, moving to ABC's The FBI.

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One of the more interesting episodes of the week comes not from a new series, but the second season opener of the ABC anthology series Alcoa Premiere, hosted by Fred Astaire (9:00 p.m.). In "Flashing Spikes," James Stewart (!) plays a former major leaguer thrown out of baseball for taking a bribe to throw a game. Now, he's suspected of bribing his friend, young Bill Riley, whose error cost his team the World Series.*

*No doubt the episode was scheduled to coincide with the start of this year's World Series, as opposed to commemorating the 43rd anniversary of the Black Sox Scandal.

What makes this interesting is not just the presence of Stewart as a morally compromised man, but the rest of the cast. His young friend Riley is played by Patrick Wayne, whose father John makes a cameo appearance. Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale plays one of Riley's teammates, Vin Scully is the announcer, Jack Warden plays the commissioner of baseball, and Tige Andrews and Edgar Buchanan appear in supporting roles. And did I mention the whole thing is directed by the legendary Oscar winner John Ford? It isn't the only time Ford, Stewart, and The Duke have worked together this year; they also made a movie called The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Here's a clip from the program:

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Something that our friend Mike Doran does so well is spot the special guest stars populating various series each week, and since I find this week's feature articles something less than captivating, let's go back to the program listings and see what else we can find.

Well, here's one right off the bat: Saturday night's episode of The Defenders features Dennis Hopper as a young man accused of murdering a synoguge caretaker and then painting a swastika on the building. It reminds me of the Twilight Zone episode "He's Alive," in which Hopper plays a neo-Nazi - that's coming up in January of next year. Later on Saturday Burt Reynolds makes his first appearance as Quint Asper on Gunsmoke (9:00); he'll remain in Dodge as a blacksmith until 1965.

On Sunday night William Conrad, the original Matt Dillon on the radio version of Gunsmoke, plays a doctor who has to remove an unexploded shell embedded in the stomach of a Marine, in that debut episode of GE True. Robert Culp wrote the script for the season premiere of The Rifleman on Monday night (7:30 p.m., ABC), and Patty Duke suffers from a brain tumor in the season opener of Ben Casey (9:00, ABC)

Troy Donahue (left) joins the cast of Hawaiian Eye on Tuesday (7:30 p.m., ABC); he'll later move on (as a different character) to another of the WB detective shows, Surfside 6. Frank Sinatra, Jr. makes his network television debut at 8:30 on The Jack Benny Program (CBS). Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player appear in a sketch with Perry Como to open the eighth season of his Kraft Music Hall (Wednesday, 8:00 p.m. on NBC), and Vera Miles is a possible murderess in The Eleventh Hour (9:00, NBC).

In addition to that Alcoa Premiere episode we just talked about, Thursday night features Bruce Dern on The Law and Mr. Jones (8:30 p.m, ABC), Brian Keith on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (9:00, CBS), and Rita Moreno and Paul Lynde on The Andy Williams Show (9:00, NBC). And don't overlook late night; one of Johnny's guests on The Tonight Show is "musical-comedy star Barbra Streisand" (never thought of her that way), and the pre-Voyage David Hedison stars in the syndicated rerun of Five Fingers (10:30, KMSP). Friday ends the week with John Ireland as guest star on Rawhide (6:30 p.m., CBS), and Mort Sahl takes a dramatic turn on the rerun of Thriller (10:30, KMSP).

See, that was fun, wasn't it?

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There's one appearance this week that I haven't mentioned - not because it isn't listed in the issue, but because there's so little made of it. It happens Monday night, October 1, and if you didn't already know about it, you wouldn't have realized its significance at all. Under the listing for The Tonight Show, we read that Johnny Carson's guests tonight include Joan Crawford, Rudy Valley, Tony Bennett and Mel Brooks.

All well and good. A couple of things are missing, though. One is that Groucho Marx is also a guest - the first guest, as a matter of fact. And Groucho's there to introduce the new host of Tonight - yes, this is Johnny's first Tonight Show. I'm a bit surprised that TV Guide doesn't make more of it, even just a mention in the listing that "Tonight, Johnny Carson takes over as permanent host." You know, something like that. Now, it could be that there was something in the previous week's edition; I don't have it to compare. Still, one knows how different things would be today: a full-page ad, a clever blurb in the listing itself. You wouldn't be able to help but know it. Even though Carson was, by this time, well-known (if not famous) to the average television viewer, they still might have at least acknowledged the moment.

Oh well. Sometimes the retrospective impact can be made by what isn't said, as well as what is.

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There were reviewers in TV Guide prior to Cleveland Amory, and this week's review is provided by Gilbert Seldes, perhaps the most erudite writer the magazine has ever employed. Would there be room for Seldes in today's TV Guide? Are you kidding?

He was a friend of F. Scott Fitzgerald, even though The Great Gatsby was the only one of Fitzgerald's books that he liked, and knew Ernest Hemingway, though the two were not friends. He was editor of the hugely influential literary magazine The Dial, where he championed the works of James Joyce and T.S. Eliot, wrote regularly for magazines such as The New Yorker and The Saturday Evening Post (he started as movie critic for The New Republic in 1927), and in 1924 authored the landmark book The Seven Lively Arts. He was also the first Dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at Penn, served as Director of Television for CBS News (where he butted heads with Murrow over the latter's criticism of Joseph McCarthy; Seldes thought Murrow had crossed the line and become partisan, rather than impartial, in his attacks on McCarthy), and hosted the series The Subject is Jazz for NBC.

By the way, see if you can recognize the trumpet player in Billy Taylor's combo.

According to his biographer, Michael Kammen, The Seven Lively Arts "was the very first to insist that popular culture deserved serious attention from cultural critics." He felt that that "vaudeville, musical revues, movies, jazz, and comics should be taken as seriously as the ballet or the opera."

Seldes' thoughts on television were complex; yes, it was capable of greatness, and it had the ability to bring entertainment to a mass audience. On the other hand, he believed that television dramas and soap operas were "corrupting influences," and that networks pandered to the "lowest common denominator" in their efforts to maximize profits. Instead of broadcasting a wide range of cultural activities, TV tended, in Seldes' opinion, to narrow the interests of viewers by controlling the types of programs to which they had access. Seldes' ultimate worry was, as Arthur Schlesinger pointed out in his review of Kammen's biography, a mass culture of mediocrity and tastlessnes. "Do the mass media tend to reduce all people to the same level of intelligence and to the same zone of emotional maturity?"

I think you see a lot of these concerns reflected in Seldes' articles for TV Guide, whether reviewing a program or writing about other topics. Nonetheless, he remained able to assess a program on its own merits, even though it may also be a participant in a far broader malaise of creativity. In this week's issue, he reviews The Untouchables, then in its first season, and it's a favorable review. There are plots that he finds unbelieveable, though he frankly adds that he also expects to be told that "these things really happened." Besides, "the usual TV crime show doesn't particularly care whether you believe it in detail." What it requires is credibility, something altogether different.

The Untouchables, he writes, "has three items working for credibility: the voice of [narrator] Walter Winchell, which is absolutely right - it comes at you in bursts like a machine gun; the manner of Robert Stack as Ness - the organization man as a crime-fighter, efficient and without heroics; and the underlying fact tha twhile the show deals with a crime or a series of crimes in each episode, it is really about the organization of crime - the corporate structure that plans and executes crime, the wholesaler for whom the gunman does the dirty work." The details of this fascinate him.

Ultimately, Seldes concludes that The Untouchables belongs in the same league as gangster movies such as Scarface and Public Enemy (again, an example of Seldes taking television seriously as a form of cultural communication). These classic movies were "probably no more true to life than The Untouchables and no more exciting." The only problem, he says, is that he keeps looking for Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney to turn up - "and, except for Robert Stack, all I get is George Raft by the dozen."

In 1966 Seldes wrote that  "In my own lifetime I have witnessed more changes in the modes of communication than occurred in all recorded history before." And that was before cable and satellite television, the internet, and cell phones. What would he have thought about today?