It's the Vienna Summit between President Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, and television coverage reflects the importance of the summit, with all three networks covering the President's arrival in Vienna on Saturday and continuing (through specials and regular news programs) with Sunday's final communique, and a wrap up of the weekend's events on Monday.
It's not the first presidential trip covered by the networks - there was extensive coverage of President Eisenhower's goodwill world tour in 1959, for example, as well as the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway that same year, and Vice President Nixon's "Kitchen Debate" with Khrushchev in Moscow - so what makes this one different besides being Kennedy's first European trip as President*? Well, it takes place in the shadow of the Bay of Pigs fiasco just six weeks earlier, and Kennedy's performance in the meeting with Khrushchev led not only to the Berlin Wall, but the Cuban Missile Crisis. Khrushchev sized up the young American President as a lightweight - JFK called it "the worst thing in my life," and told New York Times correspondent James Reston that Khrushchev “thought that anyone who was so young and inexperienced as to get into that mess could be taken. And anyone who got into it and didn’t see it through had no guts. So he just beat the hell out of me…I’ve got a real problem.”
*The trip started in Paris where Kennedy met with French President Charles de Gaulle, and concluded with a post-Vienna visit to England, and meetings with the Queen and British PM Harold Macmillan.
The emboldened Khrushchev did indeed try to "take" Kennedy, first with the August construction of the Berlin Wall, which the Russian Premier (correctly) calculated the United States would not oppose militarily, and then by moving missiles into Cuba in 1962. It's true that the Soviet action in Cuba was done surreptitiously (it's hard to build a wall without anyone noticing), but Khrushchev likely counted on Kennedy backing down again once the location of the missiles became known. This was precisely what Kennedy had feared in the wake of Vienna: "that Khrushchev, assuming that he was weak and indecisive, might engage in the sort of 'miscalculation' that could lead to the threat of nuclear war." It didn't, but as it unfolded, nobody knew that for sure. In the end, popular history holds that the result was a diplomatic triumph for Kennedy, although a minority opinion suggests that Khrushchev pulled a fast one by getting the U.S. to not only withdraw missiles in Turkey and Italy, but also promise not to invade Cuba in the future.* Ultimately, historians can hash this out.
*The U.S. didn't promise not to try and assassinate Castro, however, which means we might be able to add JFK's assassination to the fallout from Vienna as well.
All of this was in the future as viewers watched television coverage of the summit in June 1961, and as the networks poured forth their analysis, I wonder what their consensus was. Did they sense the danger Kennedy felt in the wake of his abysmal performance, or did they maintain positive coverage of the new president? It would be interesting to know, but that's for another issue.
Here's television's view of the Cuban Missile Crisis through the acclaimed ABC docudrama The Missiles of October, which includes the role in the negotiations played by ABC correspondent John Scali, who would go on to host the network's Issues and Answers.
Martin Scott has an interesting piece on Raymond Burr's threat to leave Perry Mason after four seasons. The article admits to friction between Burr and the show's producer, Gail Patrick Jackson, and while it doesn't cite any specific area in which the two have crossed swords, Scott does provide this quote from Burr, which tells us more about what he doesn't want than what he does: "I've informed them that I will not do the show next season. I don't want more money. I don't want part ownership. I don't want to produce or direct. All I want is what I've been asking for since the first six months of the show. Mrs. Jackson knows that. CBS has been trying to see Mrs. Jackson and has not been able to."
As to what it is exactly that Burr does want, "He wants some of the enormous burden of carrying the show all but singlehandedly taken off his broad shoulders. He wants better-written and more intelligent scripts. He wants some control over stories in which he must appear." Burr would seem to be negotiating from a position of strength, as Scott points out: he's won "innumerable" awards, including two Emmys and last year's TV Guide Award, and "has become perhaps the most popular actor in any dramatic series on television." Nobody really seems to think the impasse can continue; Scott concedes that the issue may be settled "by the time this magazine is in its readers' hands." But one thing seems certain: although replacing the lead actor is not unknown on television, "It is hard to think of another actor filling his shoes as Perry Mason." If you don't believe him, just ask Monte Markham.
There's talk of a fourth television network, and while this was fairly common (until Fox came along), the end result of this discussion is a network that's not a network.
As an example, the article cites the schedule of Boston's famed WGBH. "Wednesday night viewers this season could have watched a concert-lecture by Pablo Casals or a two-hour classical drama produced in England and televised without interruptions for commercials. The next Wednesday it might have been a ballet program featuring outstanding dancers and comments by distinguished critics."
Now, let's fast-forward to today, and see how that mission statement of White is going. I'd say you could sum it up in one word: poorly. There are no regularly scheduled programs on dance or classical music, and classical drama has for the most part been replaced by British soap operas. Pledge-week broadcasts, made up in great part by concerts from aging pop and folk singers*, show that the network is indeed in competition with commercial - and cable - broadcasters. Perhaps we should have known when the word "educational" was removed from the network's name, as NET morphed into PBS.
*And shown over and over and over - and over - again.
You could make the argument that the lack of government funding has forced PBS into this position of competition; when you depend on contributions by Viewers Like You, the first thing you need are Viewers. On the other hand, others might respond, if the network had remained true to its mission in the first place instead of veering into programming that advocated liberal political viewpoints and avant-garde "art," taxpayers might have been more willing to cough up their dollars via the government. Whatever the answer, it's brutal to look at what NET (and the first few years of PBS) aspired to, and compare it to what it has become.
I've written several times about my enjoyment of the series Naked City, so naturally I'm going to touch on Richard Gehman's discussion of the series. You may recall a few weeks ago I mentioned a review of the series that was critical of the show's emphasis on New York City as the main character, but as Gehman points out, this is the very point - "A great metropolis, despite its seamy face, emerges as the star of an exciting TV series." For if you take the real New York out of Naked City, you're left with - well, I'm not quite sure what you're left with. A studio-bound series, for certain. Perhaps even a good series. But not Naked City.
|SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION|
Gehman details the various ways that producers and directors make their way around the city, and the different faces that it's captured, and that's very interesting, if not almost poetic. What I find most interesting in Gehman's article, though, is his stunning description of New York: "It sits dying of urban cancer, wracked by the violence that festers and explodes inside it. In the eyes of some there are elements of interest, even of beauty, in extreme ugliness." What this means for Naked City is simple: "if [New York] fails as a city, it succeeds spectacularly as a television personality."
If you're of a certain age, you can remember when New York nearly went bankrupt, when garbage piled up on street corners for what seemed like weeks at a time, when Times Square was one of the most depraved areas that anyone could find in the entire country. This condition reached its peak (or valley) during the hapless administration of John Lindsay, mayor and wannabe-president. But Lindsay didn't become mayor until 1966, nearly five years after this article was written. What we're seeing and reading, therefore, is a contemporaneous view of the city in the midst of a nervous breakdown, no longer great but not nearly as bad as it will become. Granted, we're looking backward at this, with that hindsight of which I wrote earlier, and so we're no more immune to contextual distortion than those who attempt to recreate the past with the knowledge of the present.
In a way, though, it is the knowledge of what is to come that makes the images of New York as seen in Naked City that much more powerful; we look for the buildings that fell victim to Robert Moses and his wrecking ball, we search for what we think of as a simpler time, even though the people of that time might look at us today and scoff.
As we move into the summer months, it always becomes a little harder to go through the programming section and find anything new and different; the reruns are already upon us. But let's see what's on anyway.
Once again, the sports story of the week is horse racing, this time Saturday's running of the third and final jewel of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes. (3:30 p.m. CT, CBS) Carry Back,winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, is a "strong favorite" to become the first Triple Crown winner since Citation in 1948, and a huge crowd (including former President Eisenhower) turns out to see history made. However, following the Preakness there were reports that Carry Back had suffered an injury; although these reports were denied by the New York Racing Association, it turns out that the horse is in fact dealing with a left front ankle injury, and he is never a factor in the Belmont, which is won by long shot Sherluck.
Interesting episode of Camera Three on Sunday morning (10:30 a.m., CBS) - Patricia Neway stars in the one-act, one-woman opera "The Accused," about the Salem witch trials. I'd never heard of this opera*, but its composer, John Strauss, did go on to some degree of success - he wrote the music for the movie Amadeus. Meanwhile, Channel 4's matinee movie is The Lady-Killers, the delightful Alec Guinness comedy; the Tom Hanks remake just reminds one of how good the original is.
*When I Googled the opera, I discovered that most websites mistakenly claimed it was broadcast on NBC Opera Theatre. Other than getting the network and the title of the program wrong, that pretty much covers it. It goes to show that this TV expert business isn't as easy as it looks. Don't try it at home.
*Sounds like today's college campuses, doesn't it?
An episode of Amos 'n' Andy caught my eye on Tuesday afternoon (3:30 p.m., WTCN), just because of the description: "The Kingfish tries to raise money by palming off a pair of cheap rabbits as rare chinchillas." Now, I know how controversial this series is, and while I'm not going to go down that rabbit hole (no pun intended) right now, I'll just say that this could have been an episode of any old-time radio show or TV sitcom. I can see Phil Harris and Remley doing this, or Duffy of Duffy's Tavern, or even Bob and Bing if they were desperate enough for money. What's funny is funny, no matter who does it.
Wednesday evening continues the trend of looking at local shows - in this case it's the 7:00 p.m. movie on WTCN, one of the greatest film noirs of all time: Out of the Past, starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, and Kirk Douglas. It hadn't even been out for 15 years when it airs tonight; I wonder if it was as heralded then as it is today? Otherwise, check out Naked City at 9:00 p.m. on ABC, as the detectives investigate the theft of industrial diamonds from a factory not long after a man vows revenge against the company for firing him.
Looking at Thursday's listings, it's fun to see shows that we get all excited about today because they've come out on DVD - and yet they were just syndicated reruns back then, filling up space. There's State Trooper on WEAU at 9:00 p.m. and Coronado 9 on KDAL at 10:15 p.m., both of which star Rod Cameron. There's Manhunt, starring Victor Jory, on WKBT at 9:00 p.m. and KSTP at 9:30 p.m. ("17 Rare Episodes!" on DVD, says one website, none of which are "The Gopher," which KSTP airs. And then there's The Third Man on KGLO at 11:00 p.m. - that stars Michael Rennie in the Orson Welles role of Harry Lime, only this time Lime's gone legit. Have I written about this before? If not, remind me to do that sometime.
And finally, here's a story I don't even want to think about: On Way Out (Friday, 8:30 p.m., CBS), Charlotte "The Facts of Life" Rae stars in "Death Wish." "Hazel Atterbury lives and breathes TV. She watches and talks about it all the time. When she asks her husband George what his favorite show was, he tells her it's the one on which the man murdered his wife because she talked too much."
At least he didn't say she talked too much about TV.