January 7, 2017

This week in TV Guide: January 9, 1971

It's long been a contention of mine that the early years of the 1960s are really an extension of the '50s, and that the '60s as cultural phenomenon reach into the early '70s. However, as is the case with most theories, there are exceptions, and one of the clearest examples of how the decades differ is Andy Griffith. Had Matlock existed back then, it might have been called "The Case of the $3,500,000 Misunderstanding."

Bill Davidson's cover story does indeed tell a story, that of the beloved television star finding out you can't go home again, but if we're honest about it, that story really dates back to 1957, when Andy Griffith made a great motion called A Face in the Crowd, after which nothing would ever be the same. The movie made Griffith a star, but it left a deep scar in him as well; critics began to refer to him as "another Jimmy Stewart," and whether you agree with that assessment or not the fact remains that Jimmy Stewart never was sheriff of Mayberry, and while The Andy Griffith Show made Griffith a millionaire and the undisputed star of CBS, it also left him craving another bite of that dramatic apple - a bite it seems he'll never get.

This would seem to explain his decision in 1968 to abandon Mayberry in favor of a five-year contract to star in at least ten movies for Paramount, where they assured him he'd "be another Jimmy Stewart or Hank Fonda." The deal lasted but one year, and produced one movie (Angel in My Pocket), and when the studio asked him to do a comedy with Don Knotts, "That cut it," Griffith says. "I love Don, but teaming up with him again would be like going backwards."

And so his next step was, if not backwards, at least lateral - back to television, thanks to his longtime agent Dick Linke, in a dramedy called Headmaster. CBS was so excited at the prospect of getting their star back that they signed on to a series without a script, or even a scenario, for $3.5 million. Headmaster called for him to play "a stern but just high school principal," with the comedy left to others, but the Andy that audiences knew and loved clashed with the new Andy, the one "pompously moralizing with minsermons on such maxitopics as drug addiction and freedom of academic expression." The show was a bomb, and though Griffith's stature alone could probably have gotten the series a second season, both he and the network agreed to scrap it in favor of The New Andy Griffith Show, in which he returned to his rural roots as mayor of a small Southern town. There are hopes for the series as this issue goes to press, but alas, the new new Griffith show does even worse than the old new Griffith show, and before the year is out CBS is back to running reruns of Headmaster in the timeslot.

It's just one of several setbacks which will come Griffith's way:  Adams of Eagle Lake, Salvage 1, and The Yeagers are all short-run series, and he'll make at least as many failed pilots. He remains popular and in the public eye due to his numerous TV-movie appearances, including some of those darker roles he craved. Finally, in 1986, he hits the jackpot again with Matlock, where he plays the down-home Southern lawyer, but with a sharp edge that had been missing with Sheriff Andy Taylor. The series runs for nine seasons, even longer than the original Andy Griffith Show.

But while it's always nice to go out on top, one can't help but think of his words when describing A Face in the Crowd. "I wish I could get a role like that again," he says in this article. "It'll come along." Success may return to Andy Griffith, but that one role he craves, that second bite of the apple, never does.

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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. 

It may only be January, but Cleveland Amory's already looking toward August - Dan August, that is, Burt Reynolds' new police drama that premiered on ABC just last September. And although the show seems to be of two minds about just about everything, Amory is single-minded in his verdict: no matter what the producers try, this series falls short. It is, in many ways, a prime example of television cynicism at its worst.

The problem plaguing August, according to Amory, is that "they want it both ways. A tough, hard-hitting, violent, beat-'em-up - but, of course, mustn't have too much violence, so, in at least two episodes so far, they give you, in the station house, a kind of second-degree third degree." Anti-establishment enough to attract "the kids," but not so anti that it turns the elders off. Stories that invariably feature two sides. And so on. Even the setting - large enough for big-city crime, small-enough that cases still involve August's friends.

Lest you think the producers are merely covering all the bases, Amory notes, "like every other show that ever set out to have it both ways, Dan August hasn't got it either way." The result is an unreal mishmash that usually leaves you with nobody to root for, or even identify with. As for Reynolds, "[t]hey are so careful to make him not one thing or another - not too superhero, for example, nor too bumbly - that they end up not making him anything. He is all wood and a yard wide." His co-stars "just trail around after Dan, trying to pick up the pieces of the plots and expositions." That is, those who aren't either invisible or irritating.

In fairness, Amory does find the good in Dan August, in that the show takes on, as we noted, difficult themes, ones that present both sides of an issue. "It does not do them particularly well, mind you, but it does undertake them." Alas, the old adage that the person who walks in the middle of the road winds up getting hit from both directions holds true for TV series as well: Dan August never sees August, going off in April 1971. It reappears in reruns only after Burt Reynolds' career takes off later in the '70s. Proving, I suppose, that no good deed goes unpunished.

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On Sunday, the NBA and NHL seasons get underway on ABC and CBS. Now, if you're a sports fan, you might have thought the seasons actually began in October. But, you see, those games don't count - like the internet today, nothing happens unless it's seen on television. Back in the days before sports saturated the tube, the networks didn't pick up on hockey and basketball until after the football season had ended, and so with football all but over, it's time to move on to other sports. On Saturday, ABC kicks off the tenth season of the Professional Bowlers Tour with the St. Paul Open, televised live from my once and future home of St. Paul, Minnesota, while the PGA tees off on CBS with coverage of the Glen Campbell Los Angeles Open.

The Juice and Jill St. John
I said that football was all but over - there is, in fact, one game yet to be played, but that one game is the Super Bowl, to be played on January 17 in Miami. It will be a game of firsts: the first Super Bowl since the AFL-NFL merger, and the first to be played on artificial turf. But that's next Sunday; this Sunday evening at 8:00 p.m. ET CBS warms us up for the big game with something called The Super Comedy Bowl, a one-hour variety special featuring an odd combination of celebrities and sports figures, including Lucille Ball, Jack Lemmon, John Wayne, Charlton Heston, Jill St. John, and Charles Nelson Reilly from the Hollywood side, and Ben Davidson, O.J. Simpson, Joe Namath, Roman Gabriel, Deacon Jones, and Dick Butkus on the jock side. This is the first in a series of Super Bowl tie-in variety specials over the next few years, most of which would be broadcast the night before the game with titles such as Super Night at the Super Bowl, as networks began to appreciate the capitalize on the growing hype value of the game and the consequent opportunities for cross-promotion.

This provides us with a nice segue to some of the week's variety shows. We're past the era of The Hollywood Palace, and Ed Sullivan is preempted tonight by the Super Bowl show, but that doesn't mean we're without variety. Glen Campbell is enjoying Sunday evening success with his Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour on CBS (9:00 p.m.), and tonight his guests include Liberace, Neil Diamond, Larry Storch, Linda Ronstadt, and the winner of the aforementioned Glen Campbell Los Angeles Open. That's followed by Jackie Gleason's show, which airs at 10:00 p.m. on CBS; tonight's rerun stars Bing Crosby, Maureen O'Hara and Bert Parks in a Honeymooners-goes-to-Hollywood musical.

On Monday night Rowan and Martin (8:00 p.m, NBC) welcome Johnny Carson, Gore Vidal, and Los Angeles mayor Sam Yorty (an odd collection if ever there was one), and on Carol Burnett (10:00 p.m., CBS) the guests are Jerry Lewis and Leslie Uggams. Tuesday features The Don Knotts Show (7:30 p.m., NBC) with Lloyd Bridges, his sons Jeff and Beau, Nancy Wilson, and Tommy Roe. The second half of the Knotts show overlaps with Hee Haw, still on its CBS run, with Roger Miller, Peggy Little, and New York Yankees outfielder Bobby Murcer (?) leading the way. And we've got dueling shows on Wednesday, with NBC's Kraft Music Hall going up against ABC's Johnny Cash Show. On the former, "Alan King Plays the Games People Play" with James Coco, Anne Meara, and Mary Ann Mobely; the latter features Jane Morgan, Homer and Jethro, Bill Anderson, Gordon Lightfoot, and Jan Howard.

Thursday night features Flip Wilson's* ground-breaking show (NBC, 7:30 p.m.), with an eclectic guest cast of Zero Mostel, Steve Lawrence and Roberta Flack. Meanwhile, do you remember that Jim Nabors left Gomer Pyle to host his own variety series? (Probably, except for some of you youngsters out there.) It ran for a couple of seasons and did very well, but it was included in the rural purge that claimed so many of CBS's other successful series. Anyway, Jim's special guest this week is Robert Goulet, along with Jim's regulars Ronnie Schell and Frank Sutton. Of course, the crown jewel of Thursday's shows is always Dean Martin's, and this week Deano has something for everyone, with Orson Welles reading from the Bible (I'll bet you thought he only did roasts), and Charles Nelson Reilly and Don Rice for comic relief. Finally, on Friday, ABC's This Is Tom Jones ends its two-year run, with Petula Clark as Tom's sole guest.

*You'll be reading more about Flip in TV Guide two weeks from now.

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It's interesting that even in 1970 people within the medium were predicting the eventual end of the networks, and it's a theme that will continue through this year of 1971. Some thought they'd be gone before the turn of the century; nearly all of them felt they'd have disappeared by now. The reasons are fairly simple: the dreck polluting the airwaves today, combined with the coming growth of cable television, something that nearly everyone knows is coming. In the first of a two-part analysis by Richard K. Doan, we learn the details of the gloom descending on network boardrooms.

There are a host of reasons for pessimism, to be sure: loss of revenue, due at least partially to the ban on cigarette advertising ($200 million annually); loss of a half-hour of prime time per night starting next year ($170 million in lost billing); a movement to ban commercials on Saturday morning cartoons (the biggest profit center other than soap operas and The Tonight Show); a prohibition of networks syndicating their old series to local stations ("lucrative"); increasing attacks from politicians, particularly Vice President Spiro Agnew; and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Says one insider at NBC, "Let's face it, we're as big as we're ever going to get. From now on it's a defensive action."

Mike Dann, the former head of programming for CBS, is blunt: "I believe there is no chance the network structure as we know it can or will survive." Paul Klein, the former head of audience research for NBC, agrees that there is no future for the networks, and adds that most viewers "settle for the least objectionable programs, rather than watching anything they really care about," which in turn results in the networks offering what he refers to as "future schlock" - "a slow deterioration of network fare toward 'cheap' shows such as games and more and more reruns." And then there's the growing trend of affiliates pre-empting network programs to run old movies and syndicated series - Jack Harris, president of KPRC in Houston, says "Such pre-emptions are made for only reason. It is spelled M-O-N-E-Y and pronounced money." When the most profitable affiliates do it, "then the pronunciation is GREED."

Donald McGannon, president of Group W, said the programming put out by networks is "not relevant to our times," and was a major backer of the FCC move to give a half-hour per night of prime time back to local stations. He felt the result would be "socially relevant, innovative and instructional or cultural" programs every night on all stations. The result, of course, has been syndicated game and talk shows and other such pablum. And there we have it, for just about every plan to reform television has failed. Greater network control of television programs, started as a response to the Quiz Show Scandals, has resulted in an increased emphasis on ratings, which in turn has caused programmers to dumb down their shows in search of that "lowest common denominator" programming. The salad days of the past, when the networks were rolling in money, have resulted in unrealistic profit expectations. As one executive points out, "what other business expects to return 45 [cents] out of every dollar to profit? And that's the return right now."

We don't know what the second half of this article says about what all this means for the future of broadcasting and the effect on viewers, but we can make a few observations based on what we know today. Network television did survive the dismal predictions, at least for a little while. The growth of cable television reduced network ratings, true, but for awhile the networks seemed poised to survive. The attraction of cable in those days was mainly uncut movies, female nudity, sports, and news. Networks bought into cable networks, and those stations even became prime buyers of network syndicated programming. Once cable started producing its own original programming, however, the tide indeed began to turn. Before long the Emmys were dominated by cable series, and cable became a byword for quality. Then streaming video entered the picture, first through services like Netflix and Hulu, and then these services started producing original programming as well. The "cut the cord" movement became a real thing, though its long-term trend is still up in the air.

And so we have returned once again to the future of network broadcasting. Whereas the concerns of the '70s were based in part on fear of the future, today's worries seem more grounded in fact, in an analysis of what's happening right now. It's not just concern about network survival, either - it's the entire concept of television as we know it, for the cable networks stand to lose the most. Some even predict the networks could come out of this in better shape, at least in the short term.

One thing's for certain, however: the future of television has always been a matter of great speculation. Only now, we find ourselves asking if that future has finally arrived.

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This week's starlet is Angel Tompkins, the typical ambitious actress, and Leslie Raddatz says don't bet against her when she talks about how she hates losing and likes beating the system. The hook Raddatz is using in his story is that Tompkins lives on the same street as Bob Hope, but it's not the neighborhood with the mansions - rather, she lives with her son in one of a row of tiny cottages for which she pays rent of $145 a month. It's every bit the rags-to-sort-of-richest story, coming from a broken home, with a childhood full of insecurities, an failed early marriage, a number of television credits to her name, and the determination to "work and improve."

Her credits continue into the '80s, and include a Playboy spread a year after this article appears. She becomes heavily involved in SAG politics, and probably leaves a greater mark there than from her acting career. She never becomes that big star, but she's done better than most.

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Finally, a woman who's a star by any and every definition of the word: Sophia Loren. There's no particularly good reason to include this, either in TV Guide or here, other than, well, Sophia Loren. She's not appearing on any program in the near future (although she's always been a hit on television), nor is she publicizing an upcoming movie. No, the reason we're here in Rome is simply to find out "what 'movie stars' look like these days, an era defined by "faded blue jeans and tie-dyed sweat shirts." The good news is that Miss Loren does not go in for this kind of clothing, at least not in public. "You must feel like a queen at that moment," she says. We'll leave you with these as parting shots.


6 comments:

  1. That line, about Andy Griffith, referring to him as "another Jimmy Stewart" made me laugh. Because Stewart would star in a 1973 series called "Hawkins" where he played a down-home southern lawyer, that would only last a season, while Griffith would play a similar character the next decade for a much longer run.

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  2. Some observations:

    - In Face In The Crowd, Andy Griffith was the villain - the bad guy.
    No way would he have been called "another Jimmy Stewart/Henry Fonda".
    That didn't happen until about a year later, when Andy filmed No Time For Sergeants, which was more in his folksy wheelhouse.
    Even then, the Griffith Show had to evolve into its eventual form, with Andy playing straight man to Don Knotts and the other Mayberryites.
    By '71, he'd done Mayberry for a decade, which made a change of some sort attractive (his Universal feature was really more of the same as the sitcom); that it didn't catch on was really more of a sign of the change in the moviegoing audience than anything else - 1968 was when families stopped going out to movies (or at least when that trend started).
    1970 was the onset of the "relevancy" fad in programming, combined with the weed-growth of the junk science of demographics - and Andy Griffith was drowing older ...

    - Side note:
    Jimmy Stewart's Hawkins series, which was part of a CBS 'wheel', would have had a longer run had Stewart not decided that he didn't care for the faster production pace pf TV (even the limited wheel series kind).
    Stewart was scaling back on active performing anyway by that time; he'd made it clear that he'd only work when he really wanted to.
    Andy Griffith, on the other hand, thrived on being busy; he kept going clear to the end of his days.

    - Donald McGannon, the president of Group W, was given most credit for forcing the FCC to adopt the Prime Time Access Rule, giving the rationale about "more locally originated programming".
    Much of the press bought that spiel at face value.
    Once the PTAR was adopted, came the big convention in Las Vegas (it had a name that I unfortunately can't call to mind) where syndicators sold their wares to local stations - and lo and behold, who should show up but Group W, with no less than seven (7) new weekly half-hour series, one for each of the newly-opening local slots ... who'd'a thunk it?

    The thing to remember about these articles about "the future of broadcasting" is that they're nearly always wrong - or, if they get something right, it's usually for the wrong reasons.
    I've been reading this nonsense for fifty-some-odd years, and trust me - the pattern holds.

    - I was going to throw in a defense of Dan August, which was a better-than-average police whodunit, and would have been even better if someone had noticed that Burt Reynolds had a sense of humor.
    A DVD release would, I think, prove my point (I've got some bootlegs in my DVD wall here), but it's all in the eye of the beholder, I guess ...

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    1. I think that the convention that you couldn't name was NATPE's annual convention. I was in Houston for a job interview back in Feb. 1988 and remember receiving some industry magazine at my hotel room where various syndicators were promoting the new shows they were selling for the fall. I'm pretty sure the NATPE convention was there at that time.

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    2. Jon H:

      Got it in one - National Association of Television Programming Executives.
      Thanx and a Hat Tip.

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    3. In Group W's defense, it should be noted that in 1976, they launched "Evening Magazine" in San Francisco, then launched other versions in their other four cities the next year.

      For the late 1970's and much of the 1980's, about two-thirds of each city's edition of "Evening" was locally-produced fare (one of the two feature segments and short tip segments presided over by "tipsters"), while about one-third of each show was a feature segment produced by one of the other stations in the "Evening Magazine/P.M. Magazine" (Group W franchised "Evening" to non-Westinghouse stations starting in 1978, but it was known as "P.M. Magazine" in non-Group W cities) cooperative. Stations were required to submit material they thought could "play in Peoria" to Group W for possible inclusion in other cities.

      Most non-Group W stations' versions of "P.M." had far fewer local segments than the "Evening" shows on Group W stations.

      "Evening Magazine" ended around the start of the 1990's.

      One reason "Evening" didn't begin until 1976 in San Francisco, 1977 in the other Westinghouse cities, and 1978 as a national cooperative was that until then, production would have been unwieldy with cumbersome film equipment. The same kind of portable video equipment TV stations were starting to use in the late 1970's to cover news could also be used to tape soft feature segments in the field (indeed, "Evening"/"P.M. Magazine"'s hosts didn't host the show from a studio, but instead tape their introductions on-location in the station's local area).

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  3. I remember those old Super Bowl specials. CBS had them in the years they had the Super Bowl (Super Night at the Super Bowl came before Super Bowls X and XII). The stars do still come out on Super Bowl Saturday, but it's for the NFL Honors awards show.

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Thanks for writing! Drive safely!