May 31, 2017

What television is all about

The turning point in Preston Sturges’ wonderful 1941 satire Sullivan’s Travels comes as our hero, a director of light comedies who wants to make a searing, socially relevant drama about the human condition, heads out on the road, pretending to be a tramp in order to research first-hand the plight of the average man. Through a complicated misunderstanding best left alone for now, he winds up on a prison chain gang, mistaken for a murderer. One night, the inmates are treated to a showing of the Disney cartoon Playful Pluto, and as he observes these men reacting with childlike joy to the movie’s antics, he comes to understand that the simple pleasure derived from this cartoon comedy outweighs any so-called enlightenment they might have gotten from his social drama.* Thus enlightened, he comes to see his comedies, which he’d disparaged as superficial, are in fact just what audiences want – entertainment.

*Proposed title: O Brother, Where Art Thou? And yes, that's where the Cohens got the title.

It's perhaps not a surprise that I'd be drawn to this a week or two after having written that piece about Dr. Karl Menninger and his theory on "comforting TV." As has been pointed out many times, television is a medium in which the entertainers are invited as guests into our living rooms (or at least that's how it seemed when it first started). One thing that guests don't generally do is harangue their hosts on how they should think, feel, or act. Well, some of them do, but they don't usually get invited back for a second chance. Just as we look forward to a pleasant, relaxing evening when we invite friends over for dinner, we should expect the same from the television we invite into our consciousness.

I think it's important, as we dig deeply into the meaning and consequences of television vis-à-vis the social welfare, that we not lose sight of this. Television is, first and foremost, entertainment, and while not every program provides us with the sheer joy that John Sullivan saw on the faces of his fellow inmates, we should at least aspire to have a good time. That doesn't mean every program you watch has to be mindless drivel, lulling you into a drooling coma; and television programs should provide something that is, if not uplifting and inspiring, at least not a near occasion of some sort of sin. But you get the point. Certainly, as Lileks put it a while back, watching a television series should never become a chore, a burden to be endured each week rather than a pleasure to be relished. Yes, I watch many classic television programs in hopes of learning something to further my writing here, but that's almost incidental to my main purpose, which is an hour or so of enjoyment and relaxation. You'd have a hard time convincing me to watch a series that I found boring, irritating, or mindless, just because there was something instructional about it.

This isn't the place for a discussion of politics, and so I'm not going to get into one except to say that if I ware a fan of the NBA (which I'm not), I wouldn't be watching a game in order to get a political lecture from Gregg Popovich. I'd be watching it because I liked basketball and wanted to see who won. And that's all. It doesn't matter if he's bashing Trump or praising William F. Buckley, Jr. - I just want a little entertainment. It's the same with TV series that start mistaking proselytizing for plot development; at the end of the day, does this show scold you or keep you engaged? Are you exhausted but exhilarated, or weary from being harangued? Has your blood pressure stabilized, or is the cuff about to burst in two? And do you find yourself entertained, or does the show just make you as mad as hell and not going to take this anymore?

You remember that episode of The Twilight Zone that I wrote about a couple of years ago, the one which allowed me to expand on the existential nature of Christmas? That was secondary to the primary reason I watched it in the first place: because it was an episode of a show I liked. The vast majority of programs in my collection, the shows that we watch each week, are there because we like watching them. I'm not ashamed to admit that I like television; it's enriched my life, given me hundreds of hours of enjoyment. And so, no matter what we talk about here, no matter how deep it gets, never lose sight of the big picture: television must provide entertainment. And when that stops, that's when television stops as well.

May 29, 2017

What's on TV? Thursday, June 4, 1964

This was a fine issue of TV Guide, and while there aren't any blockbusters in store on Thursday, June 4, it strikes me as the kind of day that made for pleasant television viewing. I've seen the episode of Password featured in this issue, as I have the Kraft Suspense Theatre story with Ronald Reagan. I've got the complete sets of Yogi Bear, Danger Man, Peter Gunn, The Untouchables, and Perry Mason, so I would have seen those episodes as well. Other people have sets of Rawhide, Dr. Kildare, The Flintstones, and Donna Reed, and they'd have tonight's episodes as well. Son of Belle Starr and The Vengeance of Ursus, two of the movies shown locally, are available on DVD as well. In fact, today you can see quite a lot of what was on TV this particular day, and as this was 53 years ago, I think that's quite a remarkable thing.

May 27, 2017

This week in TV Guide: May 30, 1964

The question is this: can Ernest Borgnine, the Academy Award-winning actor adjust to the world of television sitcoms? He says he can; "The reason I got into TV was that people didn't recognize me," he tells the unnamed author of this week's piece on Borgnine's hit comedy McHale's Navy. After the show's first season, he says, "I was away up in Bend, Oregon, and stuck my head into a lodge, [and] the people all hollered 'McHale!'" In the same breath, though, he adds, "I'd love to do some serious acting again."

I'll bet he would. Few who see him as the wily PT boat captain Quinton McHale would recognize him as the sensitive, working-class star of Marty, his Oscar-winning role. (Interesting, in that the McHale pilot "Seven Against the Sea," was a drama, or at least more dramatic than McHale.) He'll get some meaty roles in the future: The Dirty Dozen, Ice Station Zebra, The Wild Bunch, The Poseidon Adventure; although many of them were not of the above-the-title kind, they were memorable.

It's easy to see why he might feel the way he does, in a cast comprised of standout comedians like Joe Flynn, Tim Conway, Gavin MacLeod, and Carl Ballantine. While the others clown around on set, Borgnine is often seen off to the sides, studying his lines (he rarely fluffs one). Many wondered how long Borgnine would be able to keep his Italian temper under control amid being constantly upstaged by his comedic co-stars. By the last episode, after a long and hot filming schedule, it's not just Borgnine's temper that's short, and he and Flynn almost come to blows after having to do repeated takes of a staged fight scene.

McHale's Navy runs for four successful seasons, a favorite of many of the World War II veterans comprising the television viewing audience. McHale was never my cup of tea; I remember Bob Crane talking about how he could never play Hogan the way Borgnine played McHale - not if he wanted to remain credible as a leader - and that strikes me as about right, one reason why I always preferred Hogan's Heroes. But you can't argue with success. No matter what happens to Ernest Borgnine from now on, to a particular generation he'll always be affectionately remembered as the crafty McHale. Another generation, of course, will remember him for a completely different part, but that's another story.

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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 guests include Helen Hayes, in scenes from the Broadway play "The White House": singer Abbe Lane; Peter Lind Hayes and Mary Healy; comics Davis and Reese; the Dave Clark Five, British instrumental and vocal quintet; comics Morty Gundy and Bill Cosby; comedienne Tessie O'Shea; and the dance team of Elsa and Waldo.

Palace: Phil Harris is the host, and he introduces Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong; soprano Mary Costa; comedians Louis Nye and Pete Barbuti; dancer-choreographer Peter Gennaro; the Jubilee Four, instrumental group; the Peiro Brothers, juggling act; and the Robert Baudy leopard and panther act.

Ed's lineup may be a bit deeper this week, and in most other weeks it probably would wind up on top, but not this week. Not with Phil Harris, whom I've really learned to appreciate from the OTR program he did with his wife, Alice Faye; not with Louis Armstrong, one of the great musicians of the era; not with the very funny Louis Nye, or the talented Peter Gennaro, or Pete Barbuti, who wore a green blazer on The Tonight Show once and had Johnny congratulate him for winning the Masters. It's an easy call this week: Palace for the win.

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Saturday on NBC Sports Special, it's highlights of the NASCAR's World 600 (or, as TV Guide calls it, the "Charlotte Motor Speedway Marathon"), filmed the previous Sunday. One of the drivers touted in the listing is the great Fireball Roberts, NASCAR's first real superstar*, who supposedly plans to make this his last race before retiring to work as a commercial spokesman for Falstaff. On lap seven, Roberts is caught up in a crash with two other drivers; his car bursts into flames and Roberts would have been burned alive were it not for fellow driver Ned Jarrett, who risks his own life to pull Roberts from the fiery wreck. The badly burned Roberts spends 39 days in the hospital in critical condition before dying from pneumonia.

*In addition to winning 33 races, he finished in the top-5 in 45% of the races he ran. Not bad.

Ironies abound. Saturday is Memorial Day, May 30, the traditional date for the Indianapolis 500*. Radio announcer Sid Collins tells us that Fireball Roberts will be listening to the race from his hospital bed, and whether he actually does or not, we know several of his NASCAR colleagues are there with him, listening on the radio. A little more than five hours before the World 600 highlights air on NBC, the 500 sees one of the worst accidents in the history of the race - indeed, one of the worst ever seen in American auto racing - as rookie Dave MacDonald loses control of his car coming out of the fourth turn at the end of the second lap. His car slams into the inner wall and explodes, then swerves back onto the straightaway, where he collides with veteran Eddie Sachs. There is a second explosion, other cars are involved, a massive black cloud envelopes the track, and when everything clears the crash claims the lives of both Sachs and MacDonald. I wrote about that at the other blog back in 2014, on the 50th anniversary. Let's hope we don't see anything like that tomorrow.

*Back when Memorial Day was celebrated on May 30, rather than on the last Monday of the month. Beginning in 1974, the World 600 - now known as the Coca-Cola 600 - has been run on the same day as the 500.

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On Sunday at 12:30 p.m. (CT), Connecticut Senator Thomas J. Dodd is the guest on ABC's Issues and Answers, discussing his support of the Cuban rebels fighting against Castro. I don't know if we've discussed Thomas Dodd on here before, but if not, we should spend a moment discussing his significance to television. As chairman of the Senate Subcommittee On Juvenile Delinquency, Dodd had become the bane of television networks in the early and mid '60s with his crusades against violence on television - in particular, ABC's The Untouchables, which he saw as exhibit #1. Longtime TV Guide writer Neil Hickey would later recount, “In 1961, Sen. Thomas Dodd heard testimony that TV's utilization of violence had remained (as one observer put it) "both rampant and opportunistic." (One independent producer told of being asked to "inject an 'adequate' diet of violence into scripts." A network official* told another program supplier: "I like the idea of sadism.")

*The "network official" in question was actually the show's producer Quinn Martin, whom I don't believe was employed by the network; the complete quote, written in response to a script that featured yet another hapless victim being run over by a car, read, "I like the idea of sadism [which might have been sardonic, i.e. "I like sadism as much as the next guy" - MH], but I hope we can come up with another approach to it."

Looking today at the level of violence in The Untouchables, in which, as the AV Club put it, "People don’t stagger around with half their faces blown off or stalk through bloody gun battles naked with belts tied around their neck, the way they do now on cable shows," one is tempted to see the controversy behind it as the "violence on television" equivalent of Reefer Madness. In context, it was very violent, and I suppose you can legitimately ask the question as to whether or not this was but one step on the slippery slope toward the graphic violence we see today. It's hard for me to answer that question, because I'm a fan of the show, and I didn't see it in context.

Dodd mounted his campaign with hearings in 1961 and 1964, and was probably at least a part of the inspiration for the satiric spoofs of violence that appeared on Rocky and Bullwinkle, including one in which the characters discussed whether or not mayhem committed against a moose and squirrel counted. My favorite: one in which Bullwinkle, having made the statement to an official-looking gent that he "liked violence," whereupon the incredulous official had subjected him to just about every violent act that could be committed on TV and ended by asking him how he could like violence, replied that it was "because they smell so pretty." Hopefully my telling of the joke translates well from the screen to the page; if it doesn't, let me know in the comments. Dodd was scandaled out of the Senate in 1970; his son, Chris, was elected ten years later.

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Speaking of politics, the political showdown of the year is Tuesday, as Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller square off in the California Republican Presidential Primary. Had Rocky won the primary, the Republican nomination could very well have gone in another direction, perhaps toward Richard Nixon as a compromise candidate. That's just speculation on my part, though. What the well-oiled Goldwater campaign demonstrated in California was the importance of working at the grassroots level, and Theodore White's The Making of the President 1964 describes how, in the land of transplants that California has always been, the little connections can make all the difference - Goldwater wins, 51.6% to 48.4%, and with it the GOP nomination is all but his.

One of the other winners in California is the song-and-dance man George Murphy, who scores an upset victory over Lee Kaiser to win the Republican nomination; he'll go on to defeat Pierre Salinger in November. I'm sure one of the interested observers of this election is Ronald Reagan, one of Murphy's successors as president of the Screen Actors Guild. Murphy's victory, along with Reagan's spectacular late-campaign speech in support of Goldwater, makes the actor's entry into politics far more plausible, as we'll see two years later.

For now, however, Reagan is still a working actor, and we'll get to see some of that on Thursday night's Kraft Suspense Theatre (9:00 p.m., NBC), in which he plays a judge kidnapped by an escaped convict (Scott Marlowe) whom the judge had sentenced to death. It's an interesting piece, with the con's primary goal being to show the judge just what it's like to be on death row.

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So far it seems as if we've spent more time on background than we have actually sitting in front of the television; let's see if we can rectify that.

On Saturday, Channel 9's late movie is My Gun is Quick, one of the all-time great titles, based on the Mike Hammer novel by Mickey Spillane and starring Robert Bray as the two-fisted detective with Hazel's Whitney Blake as a comely widow.  Sunday, a day completely and utterly devoid of sports programming except for an excursion into bowling and gymnastics, features syndicated fare such as Amos 'n' Andy and Highway Patrol (Channel 11); G-E College Bowl, pitting Lewis and Clark against Whittier College (NBC, 4:30 p.m.); Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour (CBS, 4:30 p.m.); and movies just about everywhere.

NBC's Monday Night at the Movies (6:30 p.m.) airs the network premiere of the classic musical Singin' in the Rain, starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and a show-stealing Donald O'Connor. That's followed at 8:30 p.m. by Hollywood and the Stars, this week featuring a profile of Bing Crosby, narrated by Joseph Cotten. And that's followed at 9:00 p.m. by Sing Along with Mitch, which salutes the music of London, circa World War II.

If coverage of the California Primary isn't your Tuesday cup of tea (and it's late at night anyway), you might prefer NBC's Bell Telephone Hour (9:00 p.m.), with Robert Goulet hosting an hour of pleasant music sung by his wife, Carol Lawrence, Florence Henderson, Rosalind Elias, and Janet Blair. I might prefer CBS's Garry Moore Show at 9:30 p.m. - it's the final new show of the series, and the cast takes a moment to tell viewers - and each other - goodbye.

Wednesday features one of the Moore show's alums, Carol Burnett, in a TV version of the off-Broadway musical that made her a star, Once Upon a Mattress (8:30 p.m., CBS). Future soap opera star Bill Hayes is part of the supporting cast. Earlier in the night, at 6:30 p.m., the Tiffany Network presents a program you'd hardly see today, as part of the Roots of Freedom series: "In Defense of Freedom" features Eric Sevareid discussing Roman history with classics professor Moses Hadas, while actors James Mason and Bill Travers read excerpts from the writings of Roman authors. It sounds like a very interesting program to me, but to most people nowadays it's just a lot of fuss about dead white guys - what's so special about that?

Here's a plot line you can see a mile - nay, a thousand miles - away, on Thursday's episode of The Flintstones (6:30 p.m., ABC): "Fred says a housewife's job is easy, and he's willing to do wilma's chores for a day to prove his point." We all know how that will turn out, don't we? Better, perhaps, to watch NBC's Dr. Kildare (7:30 p.m.), in which Jack Lord, who Thursday night as star of Hawaii Five-O, plays a former professional football player whose rheumatoid arthritis, which ended his football career, now threatens his career as a surgeon.

Friday. Julius Caesar is on Channel 2's Drama Festival at 6:30 p.m. At 7:30 p.m. it's "Eisenhower Returns to Normandy," a CBS Reports documentary on the 20th anniversary of D-Day, at a time when many (most?) of the participants were still around to discuss it. Ike does his discussing with Walter Cronkite, who tours the battle scenes with the General. And the future Morticia, Carolyn Jones plays four roles in the Burke's Law episode "Who Killed Sweet Betsy?", airing opposite Ike on ABC.

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I mentioned Garry Moore's final new show earlier, so I suppose I should also put in a word that Danny Thomas' long-running sitcom, which started out as Make Room for Daddy before becoming The Danny Thomas Show, is coming to an end as well. It's run for 11 seasons and 343 episodes, and brought its star and producer, Thomas, great fame and wealth. But who, today, remembers him? Oh, you might associate his name with St. Jude, or with his daughter Marlo (if you even remember her), but considering the fame that the man had during his lifetime - well, we've discussed this before, with Bob Hope, for example. Nobody remembers Garry Moore, either, even though at one time he had three programs on television. In fact, I'm not entirely sure if young people recognize any of the names in this week's issue, and that includes the former Presidents Eisenhower and Reagan. Wait, I take that back. They will remember Ernest Borgnine. After all, he voiced Mermaid Man on SpongeBob. They do remember that, don't they? Gads, I have a headache.

Oh, and before I forget - the answers to Wednesday's puzzle! No peeking if you haven't done it yet!


May 26, 2017

The name is Moore - Roger Moore

There are some actors out there who, no matter how good they are, you'd never cast as James Bond. Robert DeNiro, for example, although I suppose that would be interesting. (Bond to M after being told he was no longer on the assignment: "You talkin' to me?") I don't know whether or not Roger Moore was the best James Bond, but after the first minute of Live and Let Die, you couldn't doubt that here was an actor made to play Bond. In fact, in the 1964 British TV show Mainly Millicent, he was actually cast as Bond; but that was a comedy, and it wasn't until 1972 that he was formally offered and accepted the role, and the rest is history –

Well, actually there was history before Bond as well, lots of it, for Roger Moore was far from being an unknown before becoming the world's most famous secret agent. There was Ivanhoe and The Alaskans, and then there was his turn as Beau Maverick, another of the stand-ins for James Garner, and whether or not you accepted him as the British Cousin, his charm was a perfect fit for the show.

Ah, and then there was The Saint, such a magnificent proving ground for playing 007, and I'm not just talking about wearing a tux. (Although he did look great in one, didn't he?) I've listened to Vincent Price's radio version of Simon Templar, and I've seen other actors attempt the role, and I've read some of the books - but there was never any doubt that Roger Moore was Simon Templar, period. He played The Saint as an interesting mixture of suave playboy and not-quite-retired cat burglar, with a hint of the ruthless killer that could appear as needed.* It was that edge, lurking just under the surface, that made his Templar so watchable. The bad guys never seemed to get the drop on him, the femme fatales never seemed to fool him, and even after he'd beaten the heavy to a pulp (an even fight until Simon eventually decided he'd had enough), he'd take a moment to smooth his hair and straighten his coat and tie before moving on.

*As the always-reliable Wikipedia reminds us, "The Saint has a dark side, as he is willing to ruin the lives of the 'ungodly', and even kill them, if he feels that more innocent lives can be saved. In the early books, Templar refers to this as murder, although he considers his actions justified and righteous, a view usually shared by partners and colleagues."

And then, just before Bond, there was The Persuaders!, a comedy-adventure series which he shared with Tony Curtis. It's said that the two of them didn't get along, but you'd never have known it from what you saw on the screen. That easy charm again, don't you know.

I mentioned Live and Let Die earlier, and was there ever a Bond theme that more perfectly described Bond, and the actor playing him? When Paul McCartney wrote, "What does it matter to you/When you got a job to do/You gotta do it well,/You gotta give the other fellow Hell" - well, that was Roger Moore's James Bond right there. When the snake comes after him, he turns an aerosol can into a blowtorch. When the voodoo witch doctor rises from the ground, he shoots him. He literally blows up Yaphet Koto, and when Koto's one-armed henchman tries to kill him, he "disarms" him as only James Bond can. All this, and he gets Jane Seymour too. What a guy.

Not every Bond film that Roger Moore made was a classic, but that easy charm pulled him through, even when the scripts threatened to cross the line into camp. Personally, I think he stayed one film too long, but if we don't begrudge the hall-of-fame ballplayer that last season, why should we with Moore?

Moore didn't work all that much after retiring as Bond, but really he didn't have to. He would, after all, always be James Bond just as he would always be Simon Templar. Actors have built great careers out of less. And speaking of which, he was always self-effacing about his acting ability; in this TV Guide from 1967, in referring to Hollywood, he said, "My luck held out, too, until the studios found out I couldn't act very well."  I wrote that "His humility about his talent extends even to being humble about being humble; while a friend says he truly lacks vanity, he says it's more a case of lacking confidence." It's that refusal to take it all seriously, I concluded, that played a big part in his rise to stardom.

He was married four times and divorced three times, and that kind of thing doesn't happen without leaving hard feelings and bruised lives, according to the tabloids. But, as this story demonstrates, he always had time for his fans, and the impressions he left were uniformly warm ones, and that counts for something. There was, indeed, something about Roger Moore that made you feel the man you saw on the screen and the man you met in real life were one and the same, and that's a very rare talent, one that few actors possess.

Perhaps that's why there was such an outpouring of affection when he died this week, at the surprising age of 89. ("I thought he was maybe 79," you heard more than once this week.) Even though I'll always think of him as The Saint, it will probably be as Bond that most will remember him, and there's nothing wrong with that. He's the first James Bond to die, after all, and whether he was the best Bond or not, you can't deny that this truly is the end of an era. Ah, but what an era it was.

May 24, 2017

Crosswords!

Here's something we haven't done for awhile - the TV Guide Crossword. I usually reserve this for times when I know I've got the following week's issue; got to make sure we have the answers, you know.*

*If you've got that issue - no cheating.

As usual, feel free to suggest answers via the comments section; I'll provide the answers at the end of next Saturday's TV Guide review. Have fun!



May 22, 2017

What's on TV? Wednesday, May 22, 1968

Although I don't have any particular personal attachment to New York City, it's always fun looking at the listings from the Big Apple. The local personalities are bigger names, the local movies have bigger stars. You're less likely to see local preemptions of network programs when the local affiliates are owned by the network. It gives you an honest look at what was on TV that week. Of course, that doesn't always mean you can believe what you see; WPIX shows both The Little Rascals and The Three Stooges as being in color, which I've dutifully included, but unless they're referring to wraparound studio shows or cartoons, I don't think so. WNHC shows Mike Douglas twice, but the first one was not originally listed in color - I used my initiative to make that change. Otherwise, all the mistakes are my own.

WNYE, the educational channel, broadcast classroom programming during the day and nothing else.

May 20, 2017

This week in TV Guide: May 18, 1968

You're going to have to trust me on this: you would not see an article by someone like Dr. Karl Menninger in today's version of TV Guide. Back in 1968, however, TV Guide was more than open to great intellects engaging in serious discussions about television and its role in popular culture.

Dr. Karl Menninger was one of the most prominent American psychiatrists of the 20th Century, co-founder of the famed Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. His book The Human Mind, written in 1930, did much to introduce psychiatry to the American public, and he sought to educate Americans on the true nature of mental illness and other behavioral disorders. He was a harsh critic of the way the justice system dealt with mental illness; he once famously said that courts wasted their time with questions such as whether or not the accused knew the difference between right and wrong, when instead they should be asking, "What went wrong in this man's life that he is here instead of out on the road? How is it that he is in trouble with his people, his city, and his government? What is different about him from the rest of us? What do we do about his present predicament-and ours?" And yet he wasn't a mere apologist, either, as he pointed out in his book Whatever Became of Sin?, in which he discussed the role of sin when it came to guilt and responsibility. "The word 'sin' has almost disappeared from our vocabulary, but the sense of guilt remains in our hearts and minds," and while it would do no good for someone to try and repent of an illness, it is a different thing altogether to repent of a sin. I think you could probably make a good case that TV series such as Breaking Point and The Eleventh Hour wouldn't have been around were it not for Menninger and his ability to argue that psychiatry was a true science, and mental disorder.  a true illness.

So, you're probably asking yourselves about now, what is Karl Menninger doing writing for TV Guide?

It's the fourth installment of a series entitled "In Defense of Television," the purpose of which is "to analyze the beneficial effects television has had on our world and its citizens." Prominent figures in public and private life have been invited to share such positive aspects, "even though they may also have some negative attitudes about television and its performance." Menninger's essay is entitled "Television - The Comforting Presence," and he begins, as he does so often, with a story, or rather, a couple of anecdotes. The first tells of a man who detested air conditioning, but nevertheless had just had a unit installed in his office "because it helped to drown out the noises of the city." The second involves a young college girl who'd been given "a turtle-shaped electric appliance which had no other function than to make a whirring sound, halfway between the sound of an electric razor and an electric fan. The sound, described as extremely soothing and reassuring, was said to be a great aid to studying in a college dormitory."

From this, Menninger postulates something that I've long felt and, to the eternal frustration of my wife, practiced - "[S]ilence is not only unattainable but not necessarily desired. Sounds - and lots of them - are an inescapable part of life in the city. Peace (for people) seems to lie not in escaping from sound but in making it acceptable, comfortable, reassuring, even noncommunicative. The sound must not have a pronounced, foot-tapping rhythm nor an arresting loudness, but should produce a feeling of intimacy and companionship. No rhythm, no melody, no racket - just a presence." In other words - the sound of a television set.

For Menninger, this was the answer to an observation he had often made, that of "homes where the television was turned on while every member of the family was engaged in some activity - playing cards, reading, sewing, studying, writing, cooking, or even using the vacuum cleaner." When queried about this, people gave him similar answers: "It helps me concentrate," "It gives me a feeling of life around me," "It's sort of scary without it." And think about it - television is, as we have observed time and time again, the most intimate of media, in which we invite total strangers into our homes, to the point that we come to see them not just as invited guests, but friends. And, as my wife as observed while I'm sitting here typing on the laptop, it's not important that we may not be conversing, or engaged in the same project. It's just enough to know that I'm here, in the same room as she is. Is that not similar to what Menninger writes?

In 1967, Richard Schickel, in an article for The Urban Review, had described television "less a means of communication ('the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, and information by speech, writing or signs') than it is a form of communication ('act of sharing, or holding in common; participation, association; fellowship')." Studies that indicate the average household has the TV on for five-and-a-half hours a day fail to take into consideration that the set is not necessarily being watched for all of those five-and-a-half hours. It is a presence, waiting for a time when it is needed - for a show that someone particularly wants to watch, true, but also for a space flight, an assassination, an international crisis. "These are the hours when the television set becomes a tie that unites us with people all over the Nation, even the world. For a time we are experiencing the same scenes and sounds as thousands or millions of other concerned persons."

Beyond this, Menninger takes a look at the effect television has on people, particularly children. "One current research concludes that TV appears to have little effect, either positive or negative, upon school grades; that a child's use of TV depends upon his intelligence and his relationship with his parents; that there may be a connection between viewing violence and enacting aggressive behavior; and, perhaps most important, that TV does tend to teach beliefs about the nature of the world and the motives of people around us, and set up stereotypes and 'heroes' - often of the wrong kind."

This is something I've been increasingly convinced of over the last few years, thanks to those of you who've asked the simple question: does television cause behavior or reflect it? Over this time, I've come to view television as reactive, rather than proactive; anyone who's seen the medium's painful attempts to be "hip" and "with it" in the '60s can understand how TV was far behind the curve, and the same could be said regarding every social issue from crime to abortion to divorce to homosexuality. What television is very adept at, however, is becoming an advocate once it decides on which side of the fence it stands. Recall the issue from a few weeks ago in which Edith Efron took a look at how television portrays the drug crisis. Episodes of Dragnet and Adam-12 are laughable in the way that drugs are portrayed; that's television being reactive. However, once the bit is between the teeth - well, as Efron noted, "'networks [pandered] to the leftist young, who are the primary drug consumers in white middle-class society,' by 'loading the moral decks' in the drug takers' favor." Virtually every television series today presents as normal some type of behavior which not that many years ago would have been considered unacceptable, if not immoral. But when the viewer keeps seeing the same behavior drilled into them as normal, night after night, week after week - well, what is one to think?

Menninger's conclusion as to the quality of current television is less positive; what is needed, he writes, is that "the child (and the adult, too, for that matter) should see the world and its people as clearly as possible; and that there should be less vulgarity, less soap opera and less falsification, as well as less enjoyment of other people's crimes. Television is only one of a host of influences in our society that we encourage in such vulgarization."

The role of television is complex. "For so many of the lonely it glorifies existence; for the inhibited it can enrich the imagination." Television needs to show people what goes on in the world, and how bad some parts of it are, and it can guarantee that "we can never be the same after having seen them." Ultimately, Menninger thinks television can live up to that task. The question is: has it?

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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 include Joel Grey, star of Broadway's musical biography of George M. Cohan; the 5th Dimension; singer Jane Morgan; comedians Morey Amsterdam, London Lee and Joan Rivers; and the West Point Glee Club.

Palace: "Comedy Tonight," sung by host Milton Berle, sets the theme for guests Nanette Fabray, singer-pianist Buddy Greco, Jack Burns and Avery Schreiber, and the singing King Family. Also on hand: the Los Angeles Rams' Fearsome Foursome (Roger Brown, Deacon Jones, Lamar Lundy and Merlin Olsen) and their teammate Roosevelt Grier.

The Hollywood Palace is a rerun tonight, and I'm fairly sure I covered it the first time it was on. I don't think I was all that impressed by it back then, and I'm not much impressed by it this time, either, although it is free of the lesser-known vaudevillians that so often populate the show. Problem for The Palace is that Ed's lineup doesn't feature vaudevillians, either. Joel Grey would cop a Best Actor Tony nomination for George M!, the Broadway musical based on Cohen's life, and would recreate the role two years later for an NBC special. Morey Amsterdam, "The Human Joke Machine," is in my opinion the funniest part of The Dick Van Dyke Show. The 5th Dimension and the Glee Club provide the music, and Joan Rivers is, well, Joan Rivers. It's not decisive, but Sullivan wins the clear-cut decision.

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One of the things I enjoy about these TV Guides are the occasional glimpses, intentional or unintentional, they give us into our future. Such is the case this week, beginning on Monday night when WNEW (New York) and WNHC (New Haven) preempt their entire prime-time lineup for a three-hour documentary on America's racial crisis, called "One Nation, Indivisible." It's a product of the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company and airs nationally on many Group W stations, combining national segments with local panel discussions and phone-in segments. The question, according to host Rod MacLeish, is "Whether it's possible to bridge the dreadful chasm between the American races or whether ... our days as one nation indivisible are numbered." Nearly 50 years later, we're stil asking the same question.

Also on Monday night at 10:00 ET, ABC's latest installment in its Saga of Western Man casts an ominous and, frankly, depressing look at what we now recognize as the future of the church. "In the Name of God" investigates modern missionaries, "whose goals are secular as well as spiritual. They are not out to win converts, but to help people create a better standard of living - 'and let the people determine their own lives.'" What could possibly go wrong with that? Judging by the plummeting numbers of Christians throughout the world*, if these "forward-looking" missionaries were looking forward to a future bereft of faith, I'd say they did a damn good job of it.

*Not to mention the pronouncements of a Pope who bears a striking resemblance to a character from a certain book.

On Thursday night at 8:30, WNDT (New York's NET station) portrays the plight of teenagers in the ghetto in "School's Not Enough." Efforts to increase hope for these ghetto youth include job-training programs and educational opportunities. It sounds a lot like the kinds of programs my place of employment works with. Again - what's changed? The problems are still the same, the demographics are still the same, the arguments are still the same. Meanwhile, Friday at 9:00 p.m., independent station WNYC looks at another social issue, asking the question: "Can a Mother and a Housewife Also Be a Career Woman?" The guests - a marriage counselor, a psychiatrist, and a housewife and career woman - look for answers to a question we're still debating today.

Frank McGee hosts Tomorrow's World, on Friday as well (10:00 p.m.) looking at "A New Era in Medicine." Included are studies in genetics to overcome nerve problems and mental retardation; fetal treatment that would enable surgeons to operate on unborn children; mapping individual brain cells to look at various disorders; and exploration of techniques and tools that might enable doctors to treat tumors before they form. It's part Brave New World, part Watch Mr. Wizard - and, today, mostly true.

In political news, the networks look back to the aftermath of the Indiana presidential primary, and wonder if Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy might debate prior to the May 14 Nebraska primary, which would not yet have taken place as this issue went to press. In the end, there is no debate in Nebraska - but there will be one in California prior to the pivotal June 4 primary, a little over two weeks from now. And then?

◊ ◊ ◊

And now a brief look at the rest of the week.

On Saturday night, NBC's Tonight Show rerun looks to have been a fascinating one, as Johnny's guests are Florence Henderson, the Temptations, and Ayn Rand. What a combination. The Emmys are Sunday night at 10:00 p.m. on NBC, hosted by Frank Sinatra in New York and Dick Van Dyke in Hollywood; among the big winners are Mission: Impossible for Best Drama, Get Smart for Best Comedy, Laugh-In for Best Variety or Musical Show, and the Hallmark Hall of Fame's "Elizabeth the Queen" for Best Dramatic Special. Wednesday's NET Festival presents highlights from the Monterey Jazz Festival, with Dizzy Gillespie, Earl "Fatha" Hines, B.B. King, Richie Havens, and the Modern Jazz Quartet among the headliners. Oh, and a note at the beginning of the program section warns us that due to the Vietnam peace talks, all shows are subject to preemption.

The sports highlight is the Preakness Stakes, live from Baltimore on Saturday afternoon. (CBS, 5:00 p.m.) Forward Pass, who was handed the Kentucky Derby when Dancer's Image was disqualified for illegal drug use, defeats Out of the Way to take the second jewel of the Triple Crown; in three weeks he'll be defeated at the Belmont by Stage Door Johnny, saving everyone from a slightly tainted Triple Crown champion.

And finally, an explanation of Mike Connors' presence on the cover. The inside story isn't really about him at all - it's just an article by the owner of a large detective agency saying how real-life detective work isn't nearly as exciting as what we see every week on Mannix, how he doesn't meet all the beautiful women and doesn't get beaten up or shot at every week like Mannix does, how when a client fires him he doesn't go on investigating the case anyway, and so on. It reminds me of a story told by the novelist D. Keith Mano, who was teaching a creative writing class and slogging through some dreadful efforts by earnest would-be writers. When one, complaining about his low grade, protested, "But this is how it was," Mano replied, "Yes, and make sure it doesn't happen again." And that's why Joe Mannix's life is more interesting than yours, Mister Private Detective.

May 19, 2017

Around the dial

As is usually the case, we have a great assortment of pieces on classic television this week; some dealing with specific shows, others looking at the cultural implications thereof. They're all worth looking at, so let's get started.

A pair of interesting pieces from Terry Teachout, both of which hearken back to a time which both he and I are well-familiar. First, the deceptively-titled "In Praise of Drabness" looks back at the original Dragnet, why it was so revolutionary back then, and why it still holds up today. In "Putting Regional Theater on Television," he laments the absence of drama on television, and wonders if regional theaters could band together and tape various productions for TV, gaining more exposure for the legitimate theater. A very good idea, and it reminds me once again that this is what public broadcasting was supposed to do, before it sold out to the bottom line of ratings and became just another network.

Another Twilight Zone best-of list, this one from Phantom Empires, who's chosen some of the more thoughtful, meditative episodes as well as over-the-top classics. I always enjoy reading lists like these (compiled by people who know what they're writing about, as opposed to some of those lists), comparing them to choices I might make myself. And there is something about TZ that keeps people coming back to it all the time, isn't there?

The Land of Whatever offers something new: a pilot for a 1962 drama called Emergency Hospital. You might recognize it more by the name it eventually adopted, and under which it continues to this day: General Hospital. Looks a bit different from the finished product, or so I've been told.

Television's New Frontier: the 1960s takes an in-depth look at a series I've seen a few times, but just hasn't impressed me: Henry Fonda's western The Deputy, co-starring Allen Case (who was the title character and actually appeared more in the series than Fonda). The article makes the case that I probably should pay more attention to this series than I have, but I don't know if that's going to be enough to sway me. Maybe it would be different if I watched it from the beginning. Anyone else out there have an opinion?

A week or two ago, on one of the compilation videos posted at FredFlix, we saw a glimpse of a very young Annette Funicello, which reminded me of the great warmth and affection that people had for her right up to the time of her death, and how even today people feel a fondness toward her that quite surpasses most stars of that era. At Comfort TV, David reflects on his own affection for her, and why she seemed to strike that chord in so many people.

My lasting memory of Powers Boothe came during the 1980 Emmy Awards. The Screen Actors Guild was on strike at the time, and Boothe, the only actor to cross the picket lines, was one of the only winners to actually claim his award. When his name was announced, for his portrayal of the cult leader Jim Jones in Guyana Tragedy, everyone simply took it for granted that this would be yet another no-show, and it took a moment to register that this towering figure climbing the steps to the stage was, in fact, Boothe in person. It may not sound like much now, but it was actually quite a dramatic moment. Powers Boothe died this week at the age of 68; you can read about his career at Those Were the Days.

As befits a website called Television Obscurities, this week a look at Bill Dana's variety-talk show The Las Vegas Show, the one and only program ever aired on the ill-fated United Network, which lasted all of one month.

I don't want to overload you, so that should keep you until tomorrow. Stay tuned!

May 17, 2017

I'll take "Potpourri" for $1,000, Alex

Not a lot to talk about today, which means it's time to empty out the drawer of half-thought out ideas, and see if we can come up with enough to fill up the page. Ready?

  • Once again, a big thank you to those who wished me a Happy Birthday last week. It was happy, and your many wishes were part of what made it so.
  • A thoughtful gift card also helped make the day happy, and because of that I've been able to make considerable inroads into the TV Guide stash. While I'm already filling in spots for 2018 (!), I still have three openings for this year, so if any of you have TV Guides from your area for the periods around July 29, August 12, or September 23 that have something interesting in them, or that you'd just like to share temporarily, just let me know via email, or by commenting here. As always, I promise to treat your issue like my own (you need only ask my wife to find out how fanatical I am about that); I'll write it up as soon as I get it (posting it at the appropriate time) and mail it right back. You can always check the complete list of dates on the "This Week in TV Guide" page to see if it's one that hasn't been done before.
  • Speaking of which, this Saturday's issue features an article by the famed psychiatrist Dr. Karl Menninger. Can you imagine today's TV Guide doing that? I mean, they couldn't tell you the difference between Menninger and meningitis, and if you told them the latter was a disease, they'd probably figure it was named after the former. So what is the good doctor writing about? You'll just have to come back on Saturday and find out. (But don't skip Friday!)
  • The increasingly indispensable YouTube channel Fred Flix has a collection of TV news clips from the '60s through the '80s, and in watching them I'm struck by how different news broadcasts are, and how similar the stories are that they're reporting. We still hear about conflicts in the Middle East, conflicts between Republicans and Democrats, crime, the economy; honestly, you'd think nothing had changed at all during that time.

  • What has changed, though, is the way it's reported. There's an emphasis on seriousness and hard news which just doesn't come across nowadays; for example, look at the NBC News Update with Tom Snyder that airs about 90 seconds into the montage. In less than a minute, Snyder is able to get off seven stories, giving you what you need to know in a sentence or two, without smirking, editorializing, or cracking jokes. (And if anyone could smirk, it was Tom Snyder.) Kids, the news used to be like this all the time.

    One thing I found particularly interesting was the way CBS advertised the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, emphasizing the expertise of the CBS correspondents who back up Cronkite, and ending with the tagline "Cronkite & Co." Remember, at this point Uncle Walter was America's most trusted man, yet the network wants you to know that you can trust those reporters to give you the straight dope as well. Later on, ABC has a commercial which draws attention to their correspondents and bureau chiefs as well. Back before news divisions became profit centers for the networks, those news departments were huge. They were often very good, too.
  • The other night, we watched an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents called "Cheap is Cheap," starring Dennis Day as a skinflint who decides to murder his wife when she starts spending "too much" money, but is stymied because so many of these murderous options cost money. The producers must have taken a great deal of pleasure in casing Day, who for so many years was one of the supporting players on Jack Benny's radio and television programs. The audience must have enjoyed the irony as well - this time the tables are turned, and it's Dennis who's the cheapskate! A wonderful touch
  • Reader Sheila Terrando has a question about the 1960s-'70s PBS program What's New, which pops up from time to time in the program listings. "It aired at 6:30 PM where I live in Edwardsville, Illinois. What was What's New about? As I remember on a What's New program, there was an episode from the TV program called: The Smithsonian, which I enjoyed very much. Do you have any details on this PBS program?"
  • And finally, a reminder for those of you with Showtime: the revival of Twin Peaks premieres this Sunday evening. I'll be catching it one of these days, but as much as I'd like to see it now, it isn't enough to get me to shell out my hard-earned dollars to subscribe to yet another cable channel I won't watch that much. But if you are watching it, IndieWire tells you why you need to rewatch the (brilliant) pilot beforehand.

May 15, 2017

What's on TV? Sunday, May 17, 1959

This week we get a chance to look at the rich history of Philadelphia's childrens' shows; three of today's shows are hosted by hosted by members of the city's "Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame." Back then, local stations actually were television pioneers; Chicago and Philadelphia were as important to the early history of television as New York and Hollywood. As I recall, Ernie Kovacs started out in Philadelphia (where he once wrestled a jaguar on live television); Dick Clark and American Bandstand started in Philly; and of course who can forget NFL Films' "Voice of God," John Facenda, the longtime news anchorman. I'm leaving out many more, but you're more interested in getting to the listings than listening to me blather.

May 13, 2017

This week in TV Guide: May 16, 1959

No, I'm not going to say anything about the fashion sense displayed on the front cover of this week's edition. It's just too easy, there's no percentage in it. Besides, it violates the number one rule around here, which is: Don't discuss things out of their cultural context. I'm sure 58 years ago people would have seen this through an entirely different lens. It is distracting, though...

◊ ◊ ◊

I'm in the mood for something different this week. Rather than focusing on individual nights or programs, let's just hop through the issue and see what we can find.

Here Isn't Lucy: Dwight Whitney reports that "When Lucy Ball showed up for a benefit in Oklahoma City's 12,000-seat Taft Stadium, she took one look at the sparse crowd (variously estimated at from 800 to 2400) and blew her stack. Somebody goofed, she wailed, by failing to publicize the thing. But that didn't stop Lucy from goofing herself. She refused to go on, thereby garnering some of the worst press a major TV star has yet to achieve, and leaving herself open, with good reason, to the charge that she didn't love her fans half as much as they loved Lucy."

A Song in His Heart: Ernie Kovacs returns to television in an NBC special Friday night (8:00 p.m. ET) called "Kovacs on Music." It's included in the first volume of the Ernie Kovacs Collection put out by Shout a few years ago. (And if you don't have it yet, why not?) The show is every bit as surrealistic as you'd expect from Kovacs, including an extremely abridged version of Swan Lake performed by dancers in gorilla suits, a truly weird bit about a singing commercial with Louis Jourdan as one of the singers and Andre Previn as the conductor, and a very funny skit with Edie Adams as part of an American troupe putting on a televised operetta on Italian television. But Adams, who had a beautiful voice, also sings a lovely number by Heitor Villa-Lobos, and Kovacs displays his serious knowledge of classical music. It's a good thing the show's available, though; the TV Guide listing gets several descriptions wrong, including putting the Nairobi Trio in the operetta skit. Oh well.

There are eight million stories down there.
The Naked Truth: Bob Johnson's review of The Naked City calls the police drama "a disappointing piece of theater for many reasons," chief among them the show's insistence on seeing the host city as the star of the series. "Dragnet learned how to deliver sociology as interpreted by Lt. Joe Friday and nobody else. Unless Naked City abandons its premise of featuring New York City as its star, and settles down to telling every story from [star Horace] McMahon's viewpoint, the show may swallow him up as did its former star, [John] McIntire." Of course, today's television historians view that very trait - the show's use of New York City as a living, breathing character every bit as much as its actors - as one of the main reasons Naked City is considered one of the finest police dramas of its kind. And starting in season two it's Paul Burke, not Horace McMahon, as the human star of the show.

And They're Off! Sports highlight of the week is the Preakness Stakes, second jewel in horse racing's Triple Crown, telecast live from Pimlico in Baltimore. As opposed to the marathon coverage given the races this year on NBC and NBCSN, CBS's telecast is a mere half hour (5:30 p.m. ET), with Fred Capossela calling the race, Bryan Field on color, and Chris Schenkel doing interviews from the winner's circle. Tomy Lee, the Kentucky Derby winner two weeks ago, is passing up the Preakness and the final race, the Belmont Stakes (his British handlers thought the racers were run too close together), leaving Royal Orbit, a "fast-closing fourth" in the Derby, to take the run for the Black-Eyed Susans.

Who Are You Two Again? There's a game show on NBC called Laugh Line (9:00 p.m., Thursday), its primary claim to fame being that it's hosted by Dick Van Dyke. A brief description of the show: "the panelists sit around ad-libbing captions for living cartoons pantomimed by stock-company actors. Then each panel member moves the actors around into new positions to fit his own laugh line." (It sounds like something that was done much, much better by Who's Line is it, Anyway?) The show might well have amounted to more, however, had it stuck to its original plan, which was to have, as two of the regular panelists, the comedy team of Mike Nichols and Elaine May. There's an article telling us a little more about the duo, who hit it big a year or so ago with their appearance on Omnibus, and they're looking forward to plying their trade on television. But by the time the programming section is printed up, the lineup has already changed; with Nichols and May signed for Broadway in the fall, the producers have decided to replace them with Roger Price and Pat Harrington, Jr. (as Guido Panzini) in order to create a permanent cast. Laugh Line isn't picked up for the fall, while in the meantime Mike Nichols and Elaine May, both together and separately, go on to legendary careers.

Allen vs. Sullivan: We even have a rare appearance this week of our Steve Allen vs. Ed Sullivan matchup. Both shows air Sunday nights; Steverino starts things off at 7:30 p.m. on NBC with his guests, comedian George Gobel, singers Diahann Carroll and Vaughn Monroe, the Pensacola Naval Air Training Center Cadet Choir, and the Nicholas Dancers. Ed counters at 8:00 p.m. on CBS with Louis Prima and Keeley Smith; comedians Shelley Berman, Jack Carter and Frank Libuse; singer Al Hibbler; dancer Conrad "Little Buck" Buckner; trick violinist Baron Bulka; and the United States Military Academy Cadet Choir. Both shows have good lineups tonight (aside from the probability that the country has now been left undefended due to the Army and Navy being on television), but in this case I think I'm going to have to give the edge to Sullivan due to Berman's comedy, and the talent of Louis Prima and his then-wife, Keely Smith. In case you haven't ever had the opportunity to see them, here's a clip - could well be from this very show.


So Who Did Discharge Bilko? Since the question's on the cover, we'd better try and provide the answer. The Phil Silvers Show, originally known as You'll Never Get Rich but known colloquially as Bilko after Silvers' character, scheming Master Sergeant Ernie Bilko, has long been regarded as one of the great sitcoms of the Golden Age, and so it may come as something of a surprise to learn that the series ran only for four seasons, and 1959 marks the end of the road. What happened? According to Silvers, who perhaps protests a bit too much, it's because Camel, his main sponsor, is so closely identified with the series, even tailoring the spots to fit the platoon, that secondary sponsors ("You can't do a weekly show like ours these days without two sponsors.") never felt they were getting as good a deal. When his most recent second sponsor, Schick, left the show, CBS wasn't able to find a new one. Of course, he adds, "I don't think CBS tried too hard to sell us. But as I said, I'm not sorry. I'm tired of the role and of the constant grind." Fortunately for the network, Westinghouse just happens to have wanted to move their show, Desilu Playhouse, to the Silvers timeslot all along. So all's well that ends well, I guess.

What Else Is Worth Watching? On Friday night, ABC's Walt Disney Presents (8:00 p.m.) features two delightful cartoons based on British author Kenneth Grahame's wonderful children's stories: "The Wind in the Willows" and "The Reluctant Dragon." Basil Rathbone is among the voices for the cartoons. The long arm of the law has yet to catch up with Charles Van Doren, so he's still one of the hosts on Today each weekday morning on NBC. Alan King, Dorothy Collins, and the Dukes of Dixieland are guests on The Garry Moore Show (CBS, Tuesday, 10:00 p.m.). Claudette Colbert hosts the premiere of Woman!, a series of occasional hour-long afternoon dramas airing on NBC. Tuesday's question: Do They Marry Too Young? A Monday spectacular airing on CBS at 8:00 p.m., "America Pauses for the Merry Month of May," is hosted by Burgess Meredith and takes viewers around the country to celebrate "Maytime," including Larry Blyden in Teaneck, New Jersey; Molly Bee in Mobile, Alabama; Art Carney in Douglaston, New York, and Marion Anderston at Yosemite National Park. Finally, on the aforementioned Desilu Playhouse (still on Mondays at this point, 10:00 p.m, CBS) the aforementioned Lucille Ball plays a dancing teacher who learns she's inherited a boxer from her late uncle. Imagine her surprise when the boxer turns out to be not a dog, but a prizefighter!

Loretta Young Without That Hat! In fairness, since we started with Miss Young, we should end with her as well. Her series, The Loretta Young Show, has just wrapped up season six, and during that time she's played no fewer than 129 different characters, from farm girls to gangster's molls. During her illustrious career, she's won an Oscar (and been nominated another time), two Emmys (plus four additional nominations), and 37 other awards. She's learned a lot during that time, and not just about acting, but business as well. It turns out that her company owns the films she's made for her series, and she's not about to part with them as so many other stars have. Rumor has it she's been offered $4 million for them, to no avail. "[I]f they can make money for somebody else - well, I'd figure they could do the same for me. I'd figure, why not retain ownership? I'm just supposing, remember."

She's also no-nonsense when it comes to making the show: for years she'd been bothered when shooting stopped in order to reset the lights and move the camera in for a close-up. "Get a boom," she'd tell the director, to which the answer was always the same - it's too expensive to rent. Finally, she'd had enough, and told them to buy a boom and rent it out when they weren't using it. "Let somebody pay us rent for it." It's now paid off and bringing in extra dollars. If the show's budget can't afford a particular guest star, she tells them to take the difference out of her own salary. She gets an allowance of $20 a week in cash, and that's good enough for her. Quite a gal, all in all. But maybe we could all chip in a little more to buy her a better hat?'

May 12, 2017

Around the dial

We've dealt with televised college sports here from time to time, particularly in articles like this, and so I was quite interested to read Jon Wertheim's article at SI.com on how cable TV's decline could change the landscape of college sports forever.

With a tip of the cap to the Broadcast Archives at the University of Maryland, here's a story from The Archive of American Television on the 50th anniversary of the debut of The Joey Bishop Show, ABC's challenge to Johnny Carson's late night supremacy. It also gives us a chance to be introduced to yet another blog that discusses classic TV, Bobby Ellerbee's Eyes of a Generation.

This week's Hitchcock Project at bare-bones e-zine focuses on the 1964 Alfred Hitchcock Hour presentation of "The Rose Garden," written by James Bridges and starring Patrick O'Neal. Not only does Jack demonstrate the classic Hitchcockian twist at the end of the episode, it also shows - as we have seen many times in this series - how an accomplished writer such as Bridges can take a good short story and turn it into a very good script.

At Christmas TV History, Joanna has, as she puts in, "had my head stuck in old TV Guide magazines" looking at old Christmas movies, episodes, and animated specials. She also ran across this Christmas TV quiz from 1996 - see how well you do on it. It may be 21 years old, but I can promise you the answers haven't been changed.

Television may have more sex in it today, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's sexier than it used to be, as Cult TV Blog points out when John looks at a Right Guard ad done by a mutual favorite, Patrick Macnee, which is surely as sexy as anything you'd see today. See, it doesn't have to show everything to tell everything.

Martin Grams pens a very nice obit on Don Gordon, the character actor (you'd know him if you saw him) who was in just about everything, frequently as a heavy but almost always giving a solid, occasionally excellent, performance. He died last month, but news is only getting out now; as Martin says, this kind of thing can happen with some frequency, which means we have to pay attention lest the news fly completely under the radar.

Inspired by the series Feud, telling of the conflict between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, our old friend Billy Ingram at TV Party! tells the wonderful story of an 11-year-old Greensboro lad's encounter with Crawford, the actress and soda pop magnate.

And finally, Faded Signals reprints this brief news article from many years ago, containing the reassuring news that "TV does not harm the eyes." I don't know about you, but I'll sleep better tonight.

May 8, 2017

What's on TV? Sunday, May 8, 1960

Today is my birthday, and Jon Hobden thoughtfully provided this issue from the day I was born: May 8, 1960. It's Mother's Day, and my own mother used to say that I was the best present she could have asked for. I often wish I'd lived up to that billing more that I have, but one could say the same about the programming for that day. There's nothing terribly special about what was on that day, but since I was too little to know any better (and, until 3:05 p.m. CT, I wasn't even around), it really didn't matter much to me - then or now! Let's take a look at it anyway, though.

As was the case the last time we looked at this area, the last four channels listed show only their network programs, so we really don't know much about the rest of their broadcast day. I don't have any details to add, but we'll see what network shows they carried anyway.

May 6, 2017

This week in TV Guide: May 7, 1960

This week's issue comes to us once again from loyal reader and friend of the blog Jon Hobden, who provided this issue via loan.

Those two images on the cover, though, say a lot, don't they? It's the past, present and future all rolled into one; Frank Sinatra, the once and future king, with Elvis Presley, The King himself, in the middle.

That's not to say that Sinatra wasn't popular during the heyday of Elvis, nor that Presley hasn't remained big; both statements are true. But the renaissance of the Rat Pack in the '90s demonstrated that Sinatra's appeal was timeless, that fads may come and fads may go but Frank goes on forever. He's not called The Chairman for nothing, after all.

Anyway, the hook for this week's cover is Presley's appearance on Sinatra's ABC special (the singer had a series of four specials for the network, all sponsored by Timex). It's a publicist's dream, Sinatra welcoming Elvis back for his first television appearance since being discharged by the Army, and it informally becomes known as the "Welcome Home Elvis" show. Elvis sings both sides of his first single since leaving the Army, and does a duet with Frank where he sings Sinatra's "Witchcraft" while Frank sings "Love Me Tender."

So special is this week's special (Thursday at 9:30 ET), there are two articles devoted to it. One, by Alan Levy (who wrote the recent book Operation Elvis), tries to explain the Presley phenomenon, reciting the by-now familiar litany of what makes The King's fans tick ("A simple and familiar combination of escapism and substitution, to be expected in times of high emotional stress."), and recaps the many different groups who were threatened by Presley ("Freudians,...sociologists, churchmen, criminologists, politicians, anthropologists and businessmen.") On-site at the taping of the special in Miami Beach, Herb Zucker reports on the massive crowd, replete with 400 screaming youngsters, that filled every inch of the Grand Ballroom of Miami's Fontainebleau Hotel.

What I find interesting about this show is that Frank's other guests are Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop, and Frank's daughter Nancy. It's almost as if Frank was reminding everyone that while Elvis might be a special guest star, it's still Frank's show. And I think that Frank Sinatra's enduring popularity, even while Elvis continues to be a legend, proves one thing: it's Frank's world, and we're just living in it.

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Let's see what's moving on the TV Teletype this week:

This goes a long way to explaining the state of big screen movies airing on television: the movie studios have announced plans to package a dozen or so of their movies to sell to the networks as specials, rather than simply flooding the market. The reason they have the inventory? "Recent settlement of the actors' strike gave the studios the right to release to TV movies made between 1948 and 1960 without residual payments to actors." Nowadays movies are sometimes available to home viewers the same day they hit the theater; we forget how big a deal it was to watch a movie on TV.

Speaking of movies, CBS will once again be airing The Wizard of Oz, this year on December 11. Curiously, however, the movie will air in black-and-white; the last two times, it was shown on color. I can think of a couple of series that actually moved from color to black-and-white during the course of their run, but it's strange that on a property as big as this, CBS would go this way.

Here's the kind of note we like to pick up on: "After publicizing Pat Buttram's Down Home series as its Thursday night replacement for Pat Boone next fall, ABC has quietly let the project die. Tentatively set for the Boone spot is Fred MacMurray's new series, My Three Sons." Good move, I'd say.

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There's a nice little note on Tuesday night that Jack Paar's Tonight will be delayed by 15 minutes so NBC can provide coverage of the West Virginia Primary. It's a lot of drama to be described in such an offhand way. For John F. Kennedy, West Virginia was a state that could make or break his candidacy; heavily Protestant, it would be a true test as to whether or not his Catholic faith would prove to be fatal to his chances.

The showdown in West Virginia revolved around two candidates: Kennedy, and Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey. The reporter David Broder recounts the colorful details of the campaign, which saw Humphrey spring ahead of Kennedy as voters learned of Kennedy's religion, which had remained largely in the background prior to Kennedy's victory in the Wisconsin primary.* Kennedy's secret weapon was Franklin Roosevelt Jr., son of FDR, who had been wildly popular in West Virginia.

*Famous JFK quote: "I refuse to believe that I was denied the right to be president on the day I was baptized."

In the end, Kennedy won the primary easily, defeating Humphrey 61%-39% and knocking the latter out of the race. Kennedy would only have to fend off the late challenge from Lyndon Johnson at the convention, and the nomination was his. In Houston, he would famously address a group of Protestant ministers and alleviate their concerns, essentially throwing Catholicism under the bus in the process. (Don't blame me for saying this; a number of historians, both religious and political, have said the same thing.) In November, he would defeat Richard Nixon to win the presidency. And nobody doubted that West Virginia played a pivotal role in the entire process.

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Some notable programs on this week; let's look at them.

First, there's a showdown between two of the great dancers of all time. On Monday, NBC presents a rerun of 1959's acclaimed Another Evening with Fred Astaire, in which the dancer appears with his latest partner, Barrie Chase, the Jonah Jones Quartet, Ken Nordine, and the Bill Thompson Singers. The color special is produced and directed by Bud Yorkin, who did a lot of television before teaming up with Norman Lear for several groundbreaking comedies of the 1970s.

Then, on Friday night, NBC repeats a 1959 special starring Gene Kelly, who dances to a poem recited by Carl Sandburg, who also plays the guitar. Gene also sings "For Me and My Gal" with 13-year-old Liza Minelli, whose mother, Judy Garland, sang the song with Kelly in the 1942 movie. Wonder if they knew how big a star Liza would wind up being. Maybe; her award-winning 1972 special Liza With a Z was shown on NBC, too.

Meanwhile, it's the first Saturday in May, and you know what that means: the Kentucky Derby. Chris Schenkel and Bud Palmer are on hand at Churchill Downs to present CBS's half-hour telecast of the race, which will be won by Venetian Way.

To celebrate Mother's Day on Sunday, Ethel Barrymore narrates "The World's Greatest Mother" (7 a.m., WRCV), a story of the life of Mary. Ruth Hussey appears as the Virgin, with Ann Blythe singing Marion hymns, and Loretta Young introducing Fr. Franklin Peyton, the famed "Rosary Priest," who coined the famous phrase, "The family that prays together stays together." Fr. Peyton is no stranger to the media; for many years on radio and television he hosts Family Theatre.

Also on Sunday, Ed Sullivan has a terrific lineup for his show; singers Gordon and Sheila MacRae; the comedy teams of Wayne and Shuster, Ford and Hines, and Noonan and Marshall;*, former Miss America Bess Myerson, playing the piano (her pageant talent); singer-pianist Nina Simone; the Browns, vocal group; and ventriloquist Arthur Worsley. Too bad there isn't another show to compare it to. And on G.E. Theater, current Academy Award winner Simone Signoret appears with future Academy Award winner Lee Marvin in the two-person play "Don't You Remember?"

*Peter Marshall, of The Hollywood Squares, in case you were wondering.

If your interests lay other than in politics, Tuesday's highlight may be NBC's Ford Startime presentation "Tennessee Ernie Meets King Arthur," starring Tennessee Ernie Ford and Vincent Price. What's it about? "A clause in his TV contract forces Ernie to become the guinea pig of research scientists demonstrating a time machine on television. They send him back to the England of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and Ernie is in trouble the moment he arrives." Price plays Sir Bors, Ernie's nemesis.

For more conventional viewing, there's One Step Beyond  (ABC, 10 p.m.) with another two-person play entitled "The Visitor," starring past Academy Award winner Joan Fontaine and future winner Warren Beatty. Too intense? Try The Garry More Show (CBS, 10 p.m.), where Garry's guests are singer Patti Page and comedian Ed Wynn.

On Wednesday's Perry Como Show, one of Perry's guests is comedian Johnny Carson, along with singers Genevieve and Toni Arden, and pianist Roger Williams. It's always nice to have a Carson sighting, two years before he takes over The Tonight Show on his way to television immortality.

I'd think Frank and Elvis would be enough for anyone on Thursday (67% of viewers thought it was), but there's also The Ford Show with Tennessee Ernie back for another night, a live broadcast starring Johnny Cash and Homer and Jethro.* Ernie Kovacs' panel show is also on - demonstrating mostly that he's much better served with his surrealistic comedy shows.

*Although the always-reliable Wikipedia says Groucho Marx was on with Ernie as well.

Finally, suppose you've already seen that Gene Kelly special on Friday, and you're in the mood for something else. One possibility is Person to Person, on at the same time on CBS, where the guest for the entire program is 85-year-old former president Herbert Hoover.

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Steve Allen, the renaissance man. I didn't always agree with him, especially when it came to politics and religion, but I always respected his opinion. In this unsigned article, Allen acknowledges it's sometimes controversial for a celebrity to express opinions on the issues of the day ("Well, I think all human beings should [be interested in controversial activities], and I presume it's safe to say that actors are human beings." He's for a sane nuclear policy, and doesn't apologize for it. ("If I'm a pinko for having supported the United States policy of a moratorium on nuclear tests, then so are the President, the Vice President and a lot of others.")

Having moved from What's My Line? to the nightly host of Tonight to the weekly Steve Allen Show, as well as having authored more than 2,000 songs, he would seem to be a man with his hands full, and yet to him it seems he's just doing what he's always done: "playing the piano, chatting with guests and making wry and often philosophic comments on the state of the Nation and the world." "When you're living in a time when a couple of bombs can pretty well wipe out the world, I feel I should do what little I can to help keep it from happening."

It's really no surprise that Allen will go on to transcend comedy, writing dozens of books and hosting the delightfully wide-ranging program Meeting of Minds. It's no surprise that a man of generally liberal political beliefs would also be against obscenity on television. And it's no surprise that he'll be a fixture on television until his death in 2000, because Steve Allen really is an interesting man. Maybe not the most interesting man in the world, but certainly on television.

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There's something else about this issue that makes it special - but you'll have to wait until Monday to find that out. Ain't I a stinker?