March 11, 2017

This week in TV Guide: March 11, 1967

We've done the "good news, bad news" shtick before, so I'll just say this: next week we have a brand-new TV Guide to look at, but in the meantime we have one more issue deserving of a second look (to go along with this first look, which we took almost five years ago).

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I've written a few times about how March Madness seems to be missing from TV Guides of this decade, but in fact there is a sort of March Madness this week. It only lasts three days, including next Saturday, and it may pale compared to the glitz of today, but it's here nonetheless, and it's called the Minnesota State High School Basketball Tournament.

The NBA's not yet hip in 1967, and besides, there are only ten teams. College basketball is big, but mostly regional – the NCAA tournament isn't even shown on national television, although the NIT is (see Saturday, CBS). In Minnesota, there are only two professional teams, the Vikings and the Twins. High school basketball, on the other hand, is played in every city and town in Minnesota, and the dream of most of those high school players is to play at Williams Arena, home of the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. They get that chance, once a year, at the state high school tournament. Only eight teams qualify, and it doesn't matter how large or how small your school is; David vs. Goliath is alive and well, and at the end of three frantic days one school will be crowned as champion, and memories will be created and kept forever. Crowds for Saturday’s championship game come as close to 20,000 as the fire marshals will allow, and a picture from my youth shows two players on the elevated court*, with row upon row of faces behind them, stretching up into the smoky haze of the rafters, fading from view. The tournament is more than a sporting event; it's a happening, a rite of passage. One historian describes it as “among Minnesota’s most significant cultural events this side of the State Fair", and that sounds about right.

*So those sitting in the front row wouldn’t block the views of spectators behind them.

It isn’t just Minnesota, either. Perusing this week's issue, we see stations in Iowa carrying the finals of the state girls' basketball tournament on Saturday, and on Friday night the semifinals of the Iowa boys tournament can be seen, as well as the semifinals of the Wisconsin state tournament. But our focus is on Minnesota, and the coverage that dominates statewide TV. The host station is the Twin Cities independent Channel 11, sharing the broadcast with stations in Duluth, Austin, Alexandria, Rochester, and Mankato. Whether or not their school is in it, there's sure to be at least one town in the viewing area that has their team represented in the tourney.

In 1967, there is no Cinderella story in Minnesota, as the affluent suburb of Edina - we always referred to them as the "cake-eaters" - continues their reign of terror, winning the middle of their three consecutive championships. (They also won consecutive hockey titles during that time.) It was that string by the Hornets that finally convinced state officials that small schools were no longer able to compete with larger ones on a consistent basis, leading to the class structure that exists today.

And so things are different now, as they usually are. There’s more professional sports in Minnesota, and those pro teams have become bigger and bigger. The college game has far more bling than it did back then, with literally thousands of games on television. The tournament itself has been split into four classes*, which means that a small school such as Edgerton (1960 champions, and possibly the most storied winner of all time) would never be adopted as a Cinderella darling, taking on the bigger schools, Hoosiers-style as the crowd cheered them on. Girls’ basketball has come into its own, and rightly so, but its evolution has by necessity diluted the impact of the single tournament. The tournament no longer calls Williams Arena home; it’s now played in the glitzy Target Center, home of the NBA Timberwolves. In short, it ain’t what it used to be, but then what is?

*The World's Worst Town™ even manages to win under this format, in 1997. 

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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: Ed's scheduled guests are singers Lou Rawls, Nancy Ames and the Kessler Twins; the comedy teams of Smith and Dale, and Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara; the Emerson Society Pipe Band, composed of members from New York City's Fire Departments; Irish singer-harpist Grainne Yeats; and the Feller Brothers and Dodo, a comedy wire-act.

Palace: Hostess Kate Smith presents Country and Western singer Jimmy Dean; Tim "Rango" Conway as Boy, son of Tarzan; Britain's New Vaudeville Band; singer-dance Ann Miller; the Hardly-Worthit Players; Rene and his musical puppets; comedienne Donna Jean Young; and Hugh Forgie and Shirley Marie's comedy badminton act.

The Hardly-Worthit Players satirize Senator Robert Kennedy, not only another example of topical satire (remember a couple of weeks ago?), but something that would be unthinkable in a little over a year. I've always associated political satire of the time with countercultural humor - interesting that it would be pointed at RFK, but back then the Kennedys were always fair game. But that isn't what puts Palace on top this week; while Sullivan starts out fairly strong, the bench isn't enough to overcome Kate Smith, Jimmy Dean, Tim Conway, and Ann Miller. It's not a runaway, but Palace takes first place.

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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. 

The news that ABC was preparing a Phyllis Diller vehicle called The Pruitts of Southampton was cause for another of Cleveland Amory's Laws: "if there is one sure disaster area on your screen, it is television brass faced with what they regard as class." On the one hand, they like the people who in real life show class, the people of Society. They like them so much, they wish they were part of them. On the other hand, in their fictional world of television, they believe "that everyone in Society is rich, mean and rotten to the core, and that sometime before the final commercial they will get their just deserts."

And therein lies the rub with this series, now called The Phyllis Diller Show. The premise is that the Pruitts of Southampton are a once-wealthy family now fallen on hard times, and an obviously-fictional IRS takes pity on them because news of their bankruptcy would throw the financial markets into a panic. It's not the worst premise in the world, Amory remarks, but "[t]he trouble came 'twixt the idea and execution." In "episode after episode," the Pruitts try to earn back their money, while Phyllis "womanfully slapsticked her way through everything from being a secretary to baking pies." You can see how ABC hoped Diller would morph into a latter-day Lucille Ball. How successful was this? According to Amory, by the end of the year "it had all worn so thin that you couldn't help being on the Government's side." Ouch.

Despite a reasonably good supporting cast including Reginald Gardiner, Grady Sutton and Gypsy Rose Lee, the show failed to take off, and a new supporting cast including John Astin and Marty Ingels is subsequently introduced. "And, it must be admitted, since the appearance of these the show has been better, but whether this is a compliment or the law of averages, it's hard to say." But Diller's left on her own too often, and her broad comedy is a bad fit for the format. Not to worry, though; in 30 months, the show leaves the airwaves. Perhaps the IRS just got tired of waiting and brought the whole bunch of them in.

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Let's take an expansive look around at the rest of the week and see what catches our eye.

Saturday night features a trio of late-night movie classics on local television: Anatomy of a Murder on KCMT, Channel 7 starring Jimmy Stewart in his last Oscar-nominated role; Porgy and Bess, Gershwin's folk opera with Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge, on LaCrosse's WKBT, Channel 8, and the original Ocean's 11, starring the Rat Pack and others, on KMSP, Channel 9. Those are the kinds of movies that made Saturday night worth staying up.

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
On Sunday, it's the Class show of the week, as NBC's Bell Telephone Hour (5:30 p.m.) celebrates the hundredth anniversary of legendary conductor Arturo Toscanini, former head of the NBC Symphony Orchestra. It's hard to imagine a symphony conductor engendering such popular acclaim nowadays, but in the middlebrow culture of mid-century America, conductors were indeed towering, much-admired music-makers, the height of creativity in the lively arts. There was something intriguing, almost God-like, about them, witness the number of movies in the '30s and '40s that featured them as main characters, often mysterious and occasionally mad. In this case there's none of that, just a straightforward biography that features clips of the maestro in action with fellow legends Gian Carlo Menotti, Samuel Barber, and Rudolf Serkin, and comments from conductors George Szell and Erich Leinsdorf, and an appearance by NBC's major-domo himself, David Sarnoff.

Monday's shows give us both the hokiness and the charm that makes series from this era so beloved by so many. On Gilligan's Island (6:30, CBS), "The castaways piece together an ancient hieroglyphic tablet that may reveal an escape route," while NBC's The Monkees counters with an episode where "Peter's fondness for fortune cookies leads the boys to a run-in with Chinese agents led by the sinister Dragonman. Pandemonium breaks loose when Davy and Mike don the guise of super heroes." If that isn't enough for you, Captain Nice (7:30 p.m., NBC) has the evil Mrs. Nash attempting to steal the fabulous Selma diamond, an obvious pun on the famed comedienne/writer of the same name. It reminds me of the time Rocky and Bullwinkle encountered the equally fabulous Kerward Derby, a play on Garry Moore's sidekick Durward Kirby. I don't know how Selma Diamond felt about the Captain Nice episode, but we know that Kirby was offended enough by the Bullwinkle cartoon that he threatened to sue, until Jay Ward counter-threatened to use the lawsuit as even more publicity for the show. I guess some people just don't have a sense of humor when it comes to themselves.

CBS News features a special on "Saigon: The City Behind the Headlines" on Tuesday night at 9:00 p.m., including the problem of improving the images of American soldiers within the city. And if you can stay up late enough, WCCO, Channel 4, has the classic science fiction movie The Fly, starring Al Hedison, who as David Hedison goes on to more fame on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

The plotline of Ben Casey on Wednesday afternoon (ABC) has a 10-year-old patient who may die without a transfusion of rare blood. It's probably a race against time to track down the blood, whereas today the hospital would just punch a few numbers into a computer and come up with the location of the blood right away, which could then be airlifted if necessary to the hospital. Not as dramatic, perhaps, but I'm sure the patient doesn't much care about that. Elsewhere, Tallulah Bankhead stars as "the sinister Mrs. Max Black" (right) on Batman (6:30 p.m, ABC), the Clampetts buy a hippopotamus on The Beverly Hillbillies (7:30 p.m., CBS), and Eb's sighting of a flying saucer turns him into a celebrity on Green Acres (8:00 p.m., CBS). And an NET profile of director/actor John Huston (8:30 p.m.) wears me out just to read about it: directing Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor in Rome, acting in "Casino Royale" in London, directing his first opera at LaScala in Milan, taking part in a fox hunt in Ireland - and still having time to talk about his father, actor Walter Huston, and his feelings about creativity. What a life. And if you enjoyed that Jimmy Stewart movie on Saturday, WDIO, Channel 10 in Duluth, gives you another opportunity, as Jimmy plays Charles Lindbergh in The Spirit of St. Louis (10:25 p.m.)

Thursday's the start of the high schol basketball tournament, but it also features James Gregory as Big Jim Parker, threatening to evict Camp Courage from the town he just bought, in F Troop (7:00 p.m., ABC). Star Trek is preempted on NBC for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus taped in Greensboro and hosted by Roy Rogers and Dale Evans (7:30 p.m.). Dean Martin's guests on a very fine lineup (9:00 p.m., NBC) are Ella Fitzgerald, Edie Adams, Red Buttons, and Dom DeLuise. Opposite it on ABC Stage '67 are Anne Bancroft and Dick Shawn in the musical-comedy "I'm Getting Married," with music by Jule Styne and lyrics and book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. That's some real talent there.

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
Finally, Friday is St. Patrick's Day, a fact not overlooked by WCCO, which broadcasts taped highlights of St. Paul's parade (the first in 55 years) at 3:30 p.m.while KSTP shows film of personality Jane Johnston's trip to Ireland in 1965 in A Bit o' Ireland at 6:30 p.m., preempting Tarzan. And NBC's Hallmark Hall of Fame (8:30 p.m.) presents another classic, "Anastasia," starring "two great ladies of the theatre" (and indeed they were), Lynn Fontanne and Julie Harris. The story of Anastasia is probably better known from the Oscar-winning movie starring Ingrid Bergman, but this would sound like a worthy adaptation.

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Finally, NBC's announced their new fall schedule, which includes a big-scope Western (High Chaparrel), Raymond Burr sleuthing around in a wheelchair (Ironside), and Perry Como and Jerry Lewis returning to host weekly variety shows (in Perry's case, a revived Kraft Music Hall). To make room for these and other new shows, the network is axing Andy Williams (who will continue to do occasional specials throughout the year), The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., Flipper, Please Don't Eat the Daisies, T.H.E. Cat, and Bob Hope's Chrysler Theater. Was this addition-and-subtraction a good thing overall? You be the judge.

9 comments:

  1. From the bottom:

    - Read that Kraft Music Hall item a little more closely.
    Perry Como is not the weekly host, nor (as it turned out) even an occasional one.
    The reconstituted KMH was an anthology of variety - essentially a special a week.
    There were many shows here that I'd love to see again, with all kinds of unlikely people doing comedy and music.

    - Also, look a little closer at those Friday listings.
    That night's episode of Tarzan is Part 2 of "The Perils Of Charity Jones", featuring Special Guest Star - Julie Harris.
    That's right: a Julie Harris double-header (with The Man From UNCLE in between).
    Tarzan and Hallmark, almost back-to-back - such things were fairly frequent back then.
    I've read that Julie Harris got an initial kick out of doing things like Tarzan as a break from prestige - and to see how the snootier "critics" would react to it.
    - Not long after this, Julie Harris appeared on Kraft Music Hall, playing sketches with Steve Allen, and even singing "Lost In The Stars".
    Rex Reed, who was Women's Wear Daily's TV critic at the time, practically had a stroke when he saw this; he compared Harris's singing to Florence Foster Jenkins (the first time I ever heard of that estimable lady, at least in print).

    - You obviously don't remember Captain Nice: Mrs. Nash (Alice Ghostley), the hero's mother, wasn't evil - just a nag. She stole the Selma Diamond in order to get her son's police department job back.
    By the way, Selma Diamond was friends with Leonard Stern, Buck Henry, and most of the Nice team, so no problem there.
    A half-hour earlier, Mr. Terrific had to rescue a defecting Soviet ballerina, played by Barrie Chase (if you want to make comparisons there ...).

    - On Sunday night, WGN-ch9 in Chicago had an interesting late movie at 10 pm:
    Anastasia, starring Ingrid Bergman, Yul Brynner, and Helen Hayes.
    Probably just a coincidence ...

    - The color section has a funny story about the Hollywood Hackers, who play sort-of golf tournaments for charities.
    Many familiar names get mentioned here, in humorous context.
    I don't know if the Hackers are still in existence; I hope they are - or at least something like them.

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    1. Call this a follow-up:

      - The Pruitts Of Southampton had its origins in an early novel by the writer who became famous as 'Patrick Dennis', creator of Auntie Mame.
      The novel had been sitting on the shelf for some years; at one point the producers almost had Beatrice Lillie talked into playing the lead (it was supposedly her idea to cast Reginald Gardiner), but that went south, and so back to the shelf, until someone thought of Phyllis Diller.

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  2. Funny you should mention high-school state tournaments, as I type the Nebraska Boys' Basketball State Tournament has just concluded. KOLN, the CBS affiliate in Lincoln, began as KLIN-TV channel 12. The station decided to change to KOLN channel 10, giving channel 12 to the University of Nebraska for an educational channel. Today that is KUON, the flagship of the Nebraska Educational Television Network (NET/PBS affiliation). For years both KOLN (and its satellite, KGIN Grand Island) and the Nebraska Educational Television Network both carried the Nebraska State Tournament (Girls' too after 1975). A few years ago, KOLN dropped the state tournaments, leaving NET (as NETV is now branded) as the sole provider of the tournament.

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  3. "The Saucer Season", that was a classic Green Acres episode during the second half of Season 2 when the series was dabbling into the bizarre an absurd. Towards the end of the episode, whenever Eb or anyone else would try to describe the UFO they were forcibly bleeped. The humor on that show still holds up some 50 years later.

    As for "Anastasia", as I write this, TCM just aired the film a few hours ago, so the nightly and late night movies of the 60's are just about anytime on TCM in the 21st Century.

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  4. I thought that in Minnesota, the state high-school hockey tournament was much bigger than it's basketball counterpart.

    Or did that happen only after the Twin Cities got an NHL franchise?

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    1. Well, the hockey tournament was a big deal as well - but it was constrained by having to be played in the St. Paul Auditorium, which at the time seated maybe 9,000, as opposed to Williams Arena. The hockey tournament was also dominated at the time by the Iron Range schools - that might have had made its appeal more regional than statewide, I'm not sure. No question, though, that by the mid-70s the hockey tournament was on top - I think it was sometime during that decade that it outdrew the basketball tournament for the first time, even with the latter having been expanded.

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    2. Edina had been in the Hockey tourney 6 times before this(including 1967) and would make it again in 1968 but they didn't actually win the title until 1969. They were the 1st Twin Cities Suburban school to win the title(St. Paul Johnson had won 4 titles before this) Since this time,it is usually(but not always)a Suburban school winning the title. FWIW a Suburban school DID NOT win the AA(old 1 class tourney) this year. An old Northern Minnesota powerhouse,Grand Rapids did, and it was their 1st title since 1980

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    3. It wasn't just the smaller schools that wanted a 2 class system. The larger schools opposed the one class system because under the region map used the the Twin Cities Metro area only had two teams in the tourney despite having over half of the states population. And in a bit of irony the last one class champion(when all schools played in one class,not the Sweet 16 we had in 1995 and 96) came from a small school.

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  5. I just read an article discussing how PORGY AND BESS hasn't been seen anywhere for years, and there may not even be a decent print to show.

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Thanks for writing! Drive safely!