February 4, 2017

This week in TV Guide: February 4, 1984

It is difficult to look back at the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics with anything other than a sense of tragedy. It's not the same sense one gets from the horror of the Munich Olympics in 1972; nothing even remotely approaching that happened at the Sarajevo games. No, the tragedy of these games occurred years after the fact, when Sarajevo was stained with rivers of blood, and the Yugoslav nation itself ceased to exist.

The future doesn't yet exist in 1984, however, and so there's nothing but excitement and anticipation leading up to Wednesday's Opening Ceremonies, which ABC televises on tape-delay beginning at 8:00 p.m. (CT).  Even before the Olympic flame has been lighted, though, the fun and Games have started, with the hockey competition opening on Tuesday night, with Team U.S.A., defending gold medal champions, taking on Canada. The hockey team was the story of the 1980 Games, especially if you lived in the United States, and people are wondering if Miracles can strike twice, like lightning. In a word, no - the U.S. wins but one of five games in the preliminary round, and winds up in seventh place after defeating Poland 7-4. Instead of hockey, it's ice dancing that captures the imagination of the public in 1984 - Torvill and Dean and Bolero - and the U.S.'s triumphs belong to downhill skier Bill Johnson, the first American ever to take gold in the downhill, the Mahre brothers, who get gold and silver in the slalom, Debbie Armstrong, winner of the gold in the giant slalom, and the great Scott Hamilton, who wins the gold in figure skating.

Not surprisingly, TV Guide's preview centers on Jim McKay, the voice of ABC's coverage, and as William Marsano's article shows, you can't write about McKay and the Olympics without flashing back to Munich in 1972 and McKay's masterful coverage of the terrorist attack and subsequent butchering of the Israeli athletes. McKay's friends at ABC - a true gentleman, he seems to have no foes - say that while he could certainly do play-by-play of college football, for example, nobody can handle the ad-lib situation, such as the Olympics, better than he can. It's coming close to the end of the line for McKay and ABC at the Olympics - 1984's Los Angeles games will be the last of the summer variety for the network before NBC establishes a monopoly, and after 1988's Winter games in Calgary, CBS and NBC become the network of record. I think NBC completely overdoes it; for my money, even though ABC came up with the "up close and personal" way of covering the Olympics, I still prefer their broadcasts. Perhaps I'd feel different without McKay, though.

It's a wonderful two weeks of coverage; ABC's offering a record 63½ hours, and KSTP, the ABC affiliate in the Twin Cities, has two of its reporters in Yugoslavia to cover the Minnesota angle, especially on the hockey team. It's Yugoslavia's chance to shine on the international stage, and for Sarajevo, known primarily as the location for the spark that ignited World War I, it's a chance to create a new image.

Here's a picture of Kosovo Stadium and those Opening Ceremonies, on February 8, 1984, a field of dreams:


After the war, a family picnics near the bobsled run. They're photographed through a hole in the concrete track, used as a Serbian sniper's nest.


Had they but known then.

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Even if you hadn't known this was sweeps week, you might have been able to figure it out from the movies on the schedule. We get a slightly different glimpse of the Olympic idea on CBS Sunday night, with the network television premiere of 1981's Best Picture winner Chariots of Fire, the true story of two British athletes competing against prejudice and the establishment. "Exquisitely produced, brililantly executed," writes Judith Crist, TV Guide's movie critic, "Chariots is exhilarating and inspiring."

In another reminder of why the VCR was invented, Chariots goes up against NBC's Sunday night offering (also from 1981), On Golden Pond, which won Oscars for Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn. Says Crist, "It is a film aglow with tender appreciation of human frailty, of physical change in man and nature, and of the weakness and strengths of age."

In ABC's last free evening before their Olympic coverage, they offer their own 1981 Oscar winner on Monday, Arthur, which garnered a Best Actor nomination for Dudley Moore and a Supporting Actor win for Sir John Gielgud. Crist says it's a "re-creation of a '30s 'madcap' comedy, given heart and substance by endearing performances" from Moore, Gielgud, and Liza Minnelli.

And because it is sweeps week, there's also My Mother's Secret Life on ABC Sunday, with Loni Anderson as a model mother when she's at home, and "the most expensive woman in town" when she's not. It's "unavailable for preview" according to Crist, which is usually all you need to know.

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Is there anything besides the Olympics on TV this week? Well, let's see.

USA used to have a Saturday night program called Night Flight, which started at 10:00 p.m. and ran through the night, to 6:00 Sunday morning. It included "a mix of mainstream and alternative music videos, artist interviews, B movies, documentaries, short films, stand up comedy, cartoons, and more" according to the always-reliable Wikipedia. I remember this show, though I don't think I ever stayed up all night* watching it. You'd think USA could come up with something like this today, wouldn't you? I mean, it would be better than those endless NCIS reruns.

*Another USA program, with a totally different appeal.

Sunday features what at the time was one of the bigger golf tournaments of the year, the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am, from Pebble Beach, California. Even though Bing had died back in 1977, the tournament carried his name for many years thereafter, and that helped produce some of the best fields of the season. CBS provides coverage of the final round starting at 2:00 p.m., with Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Ben Crenshaw, and defending champion Tom Kite among the pros; the amateurs aren't bad either, with former President Gerald Ford, Glen Campbell, Clint Eastwood, and Jack Lemmon leading the celebs.

On Monday, following Arthur, Barbara Walters returns with another of her celebrity interview specials (9:00 p.m.), featuring Mr. T, former swimming actress Esther Williams, and Howard Cosell. It's a nice snapshot of what was in back then. I think I'd have opted for Psycho, the 8:00 p.m. movie on TV Heaven 41.

Interesting program on Showtime Tuesday at noon, called A Talent for Murder, in which Angela Lansbury plays "a celebrated mystery writer with a huge estate - and a houseful of greedy relatives." It's an adaptation of Jerome Chodorov and Norman Panama's 1981 Broadway play*, but it sure sounds a lot like Murder, She Wrote, doesn't it? I'm sure the series must have been in the planning stage long before this time, but still...

*Which featured Claudette Colbert as Jessica Fletcher, er, Anne Royce McClain.

On Wednesday, probably the week's show with the most fun - The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie on CBS. (7:00 p.m.) I defy anyone to watch even one Road Runner cartoon without laughing out loud at least twice. Opposite that is Daffy Duck's Movie: Fantastic Island on HBO (ironic timing, that) and another Oscar-winning epic, The Bridge on the River Kwai, on Showtime. Might want that multiple-programming VCR if you're tickled by that sort of thing, as I am.

Hill Street Blues is NBC's crown jewel on Thursday night, and in the news update section, Steven Bochco tells us that he's being pushed by the network to make changes in order to keep its female audience, which seems to be drifting away to CBS's Knots Landing. They want romance, a neighborhood association made up of housewives, and a sex scandal, perhaps involving tapes. Bochco says he doesn't mind the suggestions, "I'll take them from anybody, even a network president" but he disputes the idea that Hill Street is losing audience: "I don't give a ---- about network research."

Finally, Friday brings the week to a close with an NBC "World Premiere" movies (i.e. made-for-TV), starring the network's most bankable star, Gary Coleman, in The Fantastic World of D.C. Collins; Crist calls it "a very pleasant after-school special misplaced in prime time." I didn't see the movie, although I remember the ads for it. What I do remember, although I didn't know it at the time, is the premiere of a show that would become one of my favorites: the wickedly funny British political satire Yes Minister, which airs at 10:00 p.m. on A&E. I mentioned it in my "16 for 2016" piece back here; it is as hilarious as it is brutal.

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It's been 20 years since the Beatles made their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, after which nothing would be the same again. Bob Greene tries to explain it to those who weren't yet born, or who were too young to remember what it was like. As part of it, he recalls a conversation he'd had with Ringo Starr, before John Lennon's death, about all those people who'd wanted to see the band get back together. "They say, 'I never saw them, and I want to see them just once'," Starr says with a smile. "Well, I never saw the Beatles either. I really wish I could have, but unfortunately I was on stage. I would have loved to have been out in the audience and have seen the Beatles. I would have liked to see what all the excitement was about." Reflecting on it, Greene was struck that Starr really was one of the few people of his generation not to have seen the show on television, and asks him what it was like, all those years ago, appearing on his side of the camera rather than the other side.

"I can never make you understand," he told Greene. "There's only four of us who will ever understand exactly how it was, and that's John, Paul, George and myself . . . Just the four of us." Interesting, isn't it, that Ringo lists the members of the band in the same order that Ed did. Almost anyone who's asked to name the Beatles will do it - John, Paul, George, Ringo - and it's because they heard Sullivan do it that way. The power of television.

There's something else that Greene says in his article, at very end, that speaks to that power, and in its own way it underlines what this blog is about. "We are a generation that is not particularly good at remembering history," he writes. "But perhaps it's worth taking the time - if only the blinking of a moment - to look back on a night when we all gathered in front of television sets and thought that anything was possible in a world that was an inherently joyous place. They really made us feel that way. I guess you had to be there.

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My apologies if this seems shorter than usual this week. True, the issue was a little thin, or at least it seemed so to me on January 28, when I wrote this. If you're reading this on the day it was published, then you have an advantage over me, because you know where you are - and I don't. All I can tell you for sure is that we're somewhere between Texas and Minnesota, hopefully closer to the latter than the former. Anything is possible, though, and since we'll be two or three days on the road, with all our worldly possessions on a truck due to show up sometime, I thought it prudent to get this done before we go. There's one box left to pack, and as soon as I'm done typing this sentence, this issue goes in that box, so forgive me if I'm in a hurry. Next week we may be looking at a new issue, or it may be a rerun, depending. So tune in again next week, same time, same website. Until then, I'll bet the suspense will be killing you - I know it will be me.

3 comments:

  1. Hope you can get settled soon, Mitchell. Kudos to you for giving us great weekly reads in the middle of this major upheaval.

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  2. ..and I just received the TV Guide from you in the mail, nicely packaged. Thanks! I hope it was helpful. Looking for more for you.

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  3. I think that was the last year it was called the Bing Crosby. (It is now the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and they've changed the third course again in recent years.) It was not held in 1996 because of weather, and legend now says it was fitting because the previous year, a few major markets were unable to watch the tournament thanks to television realignment that had relegated CBS to minor network status, and the firing of Ben Wright. (Some parts of Detroit and Milwaukee's markets were unable to receive CBS because the new low-power affiliates were not available in the suburbs.)

    The Bosnian national soccer (Olympic Stadium), basketball, and hockey (Zetra Ice Hall, now Juan Antonio Samaranch Hall) use the Olympic venues today. Zetra Ice Hall was rebuilt after the war and renamed for the IOC executive after his death.

    Read ABC did a revival of Newlywed Game as daytime programming for a week between the daytime and the evening sessions at the Olympics in Sarajevo; Jim Lange hosted that special, and the set later was used for a permanent syndicated version that started two years later, but this time with Bob Eubanks. (Eubanks was doing NBC's Dream House at the time.)

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