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.
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.
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.
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.
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|
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.
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, 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.