July 29, 2017

This week in TV Guide: August 1, 1970

CBS is changing its image - out with Red Skelton and Jackie Gleason and farewell to the "rut of blandness" that network president Robert Wood thinks has plagued the Eye for the last few seasons. He's touting a new series, Those Were the Days, a spinoff of a BBC series called Till Death Do Us Part, a show "that was so outrageously bigoted many Britons didn't know whether to chuckle or scream at it." The show tells the story of "a testy hard-hat type and his left-wing son and daughter-in-law," and while Wood acknowledges that the show "rubs nerve endings," he adds that CBS is prepared for whatever may come its way.

Do they really know what awaits them, though? I wonder. You probably recognize the series they're talking about, even though the son and daughter-in-law were changed to a daughter and son-in-law, and the title changed to All in the Family. The show's every bit the controversy that the network had hoped fAllor and feared (including the unexpected by-product of many viewers cheering for the conservative father rather than the enlightened youngsters), and a bigger hit than anyone could have imagined. The show premieres, as predicted, in January 1971, and by the end of the season it's the number one show on television, a position it will continue to hold until it's displaced by Happy Days in the 1976-77 season. All in the Family changed the face of television, and I'm not sure it was for the better - a ruder, cruder, harsher type of comedy than we were used to. Yes, it's probably more realistic than Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver, and as the tumultuous '60s lead into the '70s, it's probably inevitable that this change would happen. But it's probably also no coincidence that the tone of the dominant sitcom of the '80s, The Cosby Show, is diametrically opposed to that of All in the Family. The pendulum continues to swing, this way and that.

One other note from CBS: the network plans to group its "bucolic humor" shows - The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and Hee Haw, on Tuesday nights come the fall. Mayberry R.F.D. remains on Monday nights. Wood hopes to phase them all out in the next few years. Hillbillies and Green Acres continue to remain popular in reruns for decades, while Hee Haw continues in first-run syndication until 1992 - long after the shows that replaced it have faded away.

In the meantime, speaking of the generation gap, TV Teletype notes that a number of familiar TV faces appear in the new big-screen movie Joe, detailing "unrest in the Silent Majority." The faces include Peter Boyle, veteran of many a TV commercial, in the title role, Dennis Patrick from Dark Shadows, Audrey Caire from The Virginian, K. Callan of As the World Turns, and, in her film debut, Susan Sarandon (her name mispelled "Serandon" in the story), from A World Apart. The always-reliable Wikipedia says that the movie "inspired the creation of other tough, working class characters in 70s films and TV shows, including the character of Archie Bunker," but we know that's where Archie really came from.

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CBS isn't the only network making changes; there's a major one at NBC as well, although this wasn't their choice. This Saturday, for the first time since October 29, 1956, the Peacock Network's evening news program will not be The Huntley-Brinkley Report: Chet Huntley has said good night for the last time.

For years the duo had dominated network news, so much so that Walter Cronkite was actually driven out of the main chair for CBS's coverage of the 1964 Democratic Convention. During the coverage of John F. Kennedy's death and funeral in 1963, NBC's news coverage outdrew that of CBS and ABC combined. There are theories as to why their ratings slipped late in the decade; some said it was because of the increasing relevance of the space program (Frank McGee was the network's go-to man), others that it was because of the 1967 AFTRA strike (Huntley, unlike Brinkley, crossed the picket lines and did the news, and the "split" may have puzzled viewers who'd grown so used to seeing them as a team). Whatever the reason, by 1970 Walter Cronkite is the man on top, and Chet Huntley is ready to ride into the sunset, heading for his ranch in Montana. Not, however, before sharing a few parting shots with readers.

One of the things that concerns Huntley is the growing perception of a liberal-conservative divide in how the news is presented.* Huntley, a registered Independent himself, decries the use of the terms, which he says "convey or communicate so little" in today's context. However, now that he's out of the news business, he is permitting himself "a few hundred words" on what he himself thinks. For example, when it comes to his "fellow human beings," he calls himself "a dedicated and unalterable liberal," dedicated to purging his mind of prejudice "to the end that I can advance to every other fellow person the assumption that he possesses sensitivity and human dignity." It's a quality, he believes, that is required if one is to be able to present the news in an unbiased manner.

*Gee, imagine that!

Huntley considers himself a conservative when it comes to the scope of government bureaucracy, and feels that labor unions are "one of the chief inflationary forces" in the nation. Economically he's a conservative, an unapologetic capitalist. The establishment, he says, does not need replacing - not when it's "so flexible and easy to enter." He is liberal when it comes to the military (he believes in strong civilian control), but equally firm in his believe that the Soviet Union, "with its incredible set of ambitions, has been and remains, a dangerous force." He's for freedom of all religions (liberal), for conservation ("The New Left will never succeed in making environmental control its exclusive property"), believes that Vietnam may be unwinnable (liberal) but that the United States was not necessarily wrong to aid the South Vietnamese (conservative). As far as the dominant political voice of the time, the so-called "Young Extremists," Huntley says - in words that could be applied to college campuses today - "I can find nothing of value in what they are saying. They are shockingly ill-equipped in history, philosophy, classic literature, political science, or economics. I find them to be arrogant, ill-mannered boors, each in such hot pursuit of his own inflated ego that there is no consensus. They have not affirmative program - only a tantrum." While there certainly are things that need fixing in this country, he's certain of on thing - "we don't turn society over to them."

Finally, and most important, freedom of the press. He does not agree with Vice President Agnew that the media is "inventing these signs of social, economic, political and racial unrest." "Journalists," he says, "were never intended to be the cheerleaders of a society, the conductrs of applause. Tragically, that is their function in authoritarian societies - but not in free countries," Freedom of speech is paramount - "I take comfort in the fact that the racists, the demagogues, the anarchists and the enemies of freedom, with whom I disagreed profoundly, were given their day and their time to promote their ideas in the market place." What he would have thought of the wave sweeping the country today, especially on college campuses, of quashing any speech with which the mob disagrees.

What comes through for me in this article is that Huntley is an impressive, dignified man, one whose opinions I can respect, whether or not I agree with them. I doubt he feared disagreement so much that he would have refused discussion. I always liked both Chet and David, but I think Brinkley has come to overshadow his partner, probably because of Huntley's early death in 1974. (I wonder if my friend Marc Ryan has some insight he can share from his father's time at NBC?) It's clear Huntley deserves his share of respect and appreciation.

I've always thought that Chet Huntley's final sign-off on Friday, July 31 was quite poignant, specifically for what lay between the lines of what he said. Near the end of his brief comments, he said, "At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I would say to all of you: be patient and have courage, for there will be better and happier news one day, if we work at it." I listen to that, and I think of what he and David Brinkley had seen over the course of the last seven years: three major assassinations, riots throughout the country, a war that seemed endless, a society on the verge of collapse. And in that farewell a somewhat plaintive plea, that there will be "better and happier" news - someday. Yes, someday. He must have been thinking of those things, perhaps especially the war; and it must have seemed to those weary viewers that "one day" was so far out in the future it might never come, and wondered what else, in the meantime, might happen.

I suppose we could say the same now; perhaps that day will come, one day.

Here's that final sign-off (the original was in color) from July 31, 1969.



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In the wake of Huntley's retirement, news programs are scrambling to fill the gap. It's steady as she goes for CBS, with Walter Cronkite at the helm; the network will remain in first place for years to come. For ABC and NBC, though, it's a different story. For the moment, David Brinkley stays on as one of three rotating anchors, along with Frank McGee and John Chancellor. Chancellor eventually takes over the top spot, with Brinkley moving to commentary (with a return to co-anchor between 1976 and 1979) and McGee taking over The Today Show until his death in 1974.

Meanwhile, ABC is hoping to exploit the vacuum with "a new approach to nighttime news." It's the ABC Evening News with Frank Reynolds and Howard K. Smith, and the new approach is to present the news in "segments consisting of related news events," one flowing into another without using the anchor desk as an intermediary. It's combined with outspoken (and "clearly marked") commentary from Reynolds and Smith, and a staff of experienced correspondents. It's the latest attempt by ABC to remain relevant in the ratings race, coming after turns by Peter Jennings, Bob Young, and Reynolds. The team of Reynolds and Smith has been at it since May of 1969, but in another four months Reynolds will be replaced by Harry Reasoner in yet another reorganization.

John Chancellor has a good run at NBC, but he never does reach the heights of Huntley-Brinkley, and NBC doesn't return to the top until Tom Brokaw takes over. ABC, meanwhile, finally asserts itself when sports honcho Roone Arledge takes over the news division and introduces World News Tonight, featuring Reynolds, Jennings, Max Robinson, and Barbara Walters. It's the evening news I always watched.

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The very pleasant visage to your right is this week's starlet, 6-foot-tall Inga Neilsen, a frequent figure (pun intended) on TV next to Dean Martin on his show, or yukking it up with Red Skelton and Henry Gibson, or being chased around by Dick Martin while "Hold That Tiger" plays in the background. She can sing and dance - "Music was like therapy to me," she says - but nowadays, even though her acting coach Jeff Corey says she has "unusual sensitivity," she's known mostly as "that big, funny sexy broad." If this frustrates her, though, she doesn't show it. She lives happily with her husband and son, and though a pilot of Holly Golightly* never panned out, she's constantly busy with commercials and guest shots, and she's even come to terms with the way men look at her.

Inga goes on to nurture that love of music by singing professionally, she appears in movies and television through 1985, and as far as I can see there are no tragic headlines out there online. For someone of whom Parade once asked "Is She Too Big For Hollywood?", perhaps she showed that you don't have to be a big star to have a big life.

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Quite frankly, we're in the dog days of summer, and there's not a lot on the tube to attract attention. The sporting event of the week is the PGA Westchester Classic from Rye, New York, featuring the second-largest purse of the year: $250,000, with $50,000 to the winner. (Bruce Crampton, in case you're interested.) On Saturday, New York's WOR presents, without commercial interruption, the Oscar-winning classic The Red Shoes, staring Moira Shearer and Anton Walbrook.

Sunday the 5th Dimension headlines a repeat showing of The Ed Sullivan Show, with Richard Tucker, Imogene Coca, Sandler and Young, and Ferrante and Teicher. All that's missing are Siegfried and Roy. There's also a very interesting movie on ABC's Sunday Night Movie: Seconds, the 1966 thriller directed by John Frankenheimer, with John Randolph as a man who wants a second chance at life, and enters into a Faustian bargain to get a new mind and a new body - and he walks out as Rock Hudson. That description doesn't really do the movie justice; it makes it sound like a campy horror movie, The Man With Two Heads or something like, that, when in reality it's a deadly serious nightmare.

Monday NET Journal comemmorates the upcoming 25th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with a documentary that, says producer William Weston, is neither a justification nor an apology. On Tuesday WNEW presents highlights of the Miss Wool of America Pageant, an event we've run across before, with Glenn Ford as one of the judges. Meanwhile, CBS presents an encore showing of its acclaimed Vietnam documentary "The World of Charlie Company."


On Wednesday noon, WNEW presents a rerun of Route 66 that finds Tod and Linc in Minneapolis (!), whith Tod working at a hotel which no longer stands. In fact, if you have the chance to watch this fourth-season episode, you'll find that very little of what you see is still around. That's urban renewal for you. The late Thursday movie on WTIC is the Hitchcock thriller I Confess, in which Montgomery Clift portrays a priest facing his worst nightmare - accused of murder, he knows who the real killer is, but can't reveal his identity because of the Seal of Confession. Finally, Friday brings the week to an end with an episode of He & She, the sophisticated CBS sitcom starring real-life husband and wife Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss, in which Benjamin's character finds he has to have his tonsils removed - by a doctor who's just had a fight with his wife.

There's undoubtedly more to the week, but if you'll permit me a personal indgulgence, I'm now into day fourteen of an off-and-on migrane, and as much as I love you all, I think it's now time to stop.

7 comments:

  1. That's it. When you let your rightist political views enter into your articles, I can't stand you. I will not be reading your blog, and will spread the word about it.

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    1. Ray, welcome back! I'm not sure if I can take you at your word, since you made a remarkably similar comment on June 6 about having had it with conservative comments and not coming back, so I'm not really sure whether this is it or not. However, I trust that your problem is not actually with me but with Chet Huntley since he's the one who said some of the things that I suspect you take issue with.

      But you see, Ray, we're dealing with an era in which television has become highly charged politically, and any attempt to reflect what the times were like back then is bound to contain political content. What's truly remarkable about it is that my reflection on how Huntley's comment on better days being ahead someday could be applicable to our own times could well be taken to refer to a war that was started by a Republican president, or a culture that some say has been debased by a Republican president, or an incompetentent Congress controlled by Republicans. You can, therefore, understand my continuing confusion over your comments, not to mention how you can quit reading the blog for the last time more than one time.

      Any blog is, of course, an expression of the beliefs of the person writing it, and as I choose the areas I write about, I'm no doubt influenced by my own personal opinions. I'm afraid, though, that your puzzling objections would cause me to have some negative personal opinions if I thought they were important enough to express. If you're really that bothered by it, Ray, just let it go. I don't recall anyone forcing you to read the site!

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    2. Oh, and by the way, since I gave you a copy of the home edition of the "It's About TV!" game when you quit reading the last time, I'm afraid I can't give you another one this time!

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  2. Ray apparently does not understand historical context, Mitchell. I teach US history, and one of my students complained that he did not like FDR because Roosevelt was "too liberal" according to the student's modern political views. I hastened to point out that FDR was considered moderate if one compared him to Huey Long, his most formidable rival in the Democratic party. To drive home the point, I played some YouTube clips of Long's speeches.

    Our modern conception of "left", "right", "liberal", and "conservative" do not apply to the past.

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  3. The Westchester is now known as The Northern Trust, and is no longer played there (it was in the initial years of the current format of the PGA Tour Playoffs but was stripped after Tiger Woods' refusal to play there in the first year of the playoff; Chicago's Western Open became the BMW, and lost its open status, now only for the top 70 players in points). It has since held both Seniors (PLAYERS, 2011, the Seniors version is a major) and Women's (PGA Championship, 2015, the first year with PGA of America sanction) majors.

    NBC's return comes as Walter Cronkite's retirement came, and Dan Rather was not liked. The real final straw for Rather, however, was the 1994 Realignment, and CBS admits to this day they were affected by minor-network status from 1994-98. In our city, the mayor got into this dispute during the Charleston Purge. (It was later learned the local market's CBS affiliate had plans to jump to United Paramount Network.)

    The only tragic headline of Inge was her husband's death in 2011.

    Huntley was right in ways we never saw then, and the "rural purge" coincided with the Reynolds case in 1964 that gave cities absolute power in some states. The current California crisis can be traced to Reynolds and the "rural purge" where legislators from rural areas were removed as those counties could not be represented under the court order. In fact, the National Popular Vote controversy now and the Rural Purge of the 1970's can both be attributed to the cities refusal to recognise rural America. The goal of the NPV is to ensure the election is decided only in the cities. Note how television executives holed up in New York and Los Angeles have a refusal to recognise the fields and valleys of rural America not the way they did 50 years ago. A recent example was FS1 bumping the NASCAR race in Darke County, Ohio to Fox Business while football matches in large urban metropolises (Copa Oro CONCACAF) were on that night. The same can be said in the post-Reynolds era where the "green energy" policy favouring tiny electric cars, inefficient appliances, and punishing tractors, trucks, and the like, were passed especially in the 1975 CAFE and 2007 Pelosi Energy Act, leading to Obama's seizures of the US auto industry of opponents. These policies were aimed at attacking what is popular in rural America, just like the Rural Purge of television at the time. Yet, to sports fans, pickup trucks in rural Ohio sell because they symbolise a different side of the country that Hollywood hates.
    Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hee Haw symbolised that American heartland, as did Westerns, that post-Reynolds Hollywood refused to recognise. Why does everything have to be done in the few cities?

    So think about the Rural Purge in television and Reynolds v Sims years earlier in the same plane of attacking rural America, which viewers embraced.

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  4. What many neglect to mention about the CBS Rural plunge is, the quality of the shows themselves. As a child in the mid to late 60's I grew up watching those shows probably more in syndication then their initial network run. Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies were, IMO, hilarious with GA's absurd self-referential and bizarre humor and TBH's fish out of water comedy.
    BUT
    By the 1970's those shows (along with Mayberry RFD & Petticoat Junction) were mere shadows of what they once were. If you can, try watching the last seasons of those shows.
    It's difficult and somewhat sad to do so. The premise, scripts and actors look tired and are merely going through the motions. Repeating and repeating old story lines. Sure, they were still getting good ratings, but as I'm sure we've all learned over the years, just because you get good ratings (or in movies. make a bundle at the box office) doesn't mean the entertainment/work is any good.

    IMO the Rural purge wasn't anything more than sweeping out shows that had long gone past their expiration date and to usher in fresh, new, highly creative shows like All In The Family, The Bob Newhart Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, MASH, etc...

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  5. For about a year, David Brinkley, John Chancellor, and Frank McGee rotated on "NBC Nightly News" seven nights a week.

    Every night, you'd see at least one of them, usually two, and very occasionally all three of them anchoring the news.

    This format drove viewers away because they never knew who of the three would pop-up on any given night.

    Let's suppose that one of them had been named solo anchor, working Monday-through-Friday. Might NBC have had better ratings luck in the early 'seventies?

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Thanks for writing! Drive safely!