In 1968 the Opening Ceremonies were still held on Saturday afternoon (rather than Friday night, as is the case today), and ABC has live coverage from 1:00-3:00 p.m. ET. That's it for Saturday, though - ABC follows the ceremonies with a truncated edition of Wide World of Sports showing highlights from last month's 24 Hours of LeMans, followed by the college football game of the week between Penn State and UCLA. Sunday is even quieter, with the sole broadcast coming between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m.
There's no set schedule during the week except for an hour each afternoon between 1:00 and 2:00 p.m. Monday's prime time coverage is split between a half hour from 7:00-7:30 p.m and an hour from 10:00 to 11:00 p.m. Tuesday the evening broadcast is 7:00 - 8:30 p.m., Wednesday's consists of two separate half hours (7:00-7:30 p.m. and 8:30-9:00 p.m.), Thursday is 7:00-7:30 p.m. and 9:30-11:00 p.m., and Friday rounds out the week with 7:00-8:30 p.m. and an additional half hour from 11:30 to midnight. That adds up to 16 hours for the week. In case you're wondering, for last year's Summer Olympics, NBC - between the network, multiple cable stations, and streaming platforms - provided 6,755 hours of coverage, for which priviledge they paid $1.23 billion. For that, one wonders if the coverage is that much better today.
In his article previewing the games, former Olympic great Jesse Owens (or his ghostwriter) makes some prescient comments about the potential for political disruption, "which all sports fans who love the Olympics and its traditions are sure will be dissolved by the good sense and loyalty of many of the athletes themselves." He's referring to "the expressions of discontent which some black American athletes have voiced over representing in international competition a nation they claim has failed to give them equal opportunity - in education, housing and jobs - with their whilte colleagues." Owens, who has been Uncle Tommed by many of the younger black athletes for his lack of public involvement in the civil rights struggle, points to the many accomplishments by black American athletes amid the racial strife engulfing the country, and says, "I'm not in favor of cutting off the one area of understanding we have." Concludes Owens, "I don't think the pride which our black athletes have in themselves and their country will allow them to do anything to embarrass the United Staes in so conspicuous a world arena."
History has been kinder to the two, though; among other things, statues have been erected, awards have been presented, and perhaps most of all, precidence has been established. It is impossible to look back at it now and not think of what's going on today, how sports has again been turned into a political vehicle. The Olympics always have been that way, of course, but up until 1968 it seems as if the controversy surrounded the actions of nations, not individuals. Jesse Owens himself was seen as defusing Hitler's attempts to politicize the Games; now, as the television era expands the power and importance of the individual, it is the athlete who has the platform.
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: Tentatively scheduled are Pearl Bailey; comedians Bill Dana and Richard Pryor; singers Gilbert Becaud and the Beach Boys; St. Louis Cardinals pitching star Bob Gibson, who plays the ukulele; Detroit Tigers pitcher Denny McLain, who plays the organ; and the Muppets. Ed also visits the set of the upcoming musical My Fair Lady, starring Peter O'Toole and Petula Clark.
Palace: Host Milton Berle welcomes Leonard Nimoy; singer Shani Wallis; the rocking Checkmates, Ltd.; Johnny Puelo's comic Harmonica Gang; Milton's comedy foil Sidney Shpritzer (Irving Benson); and the Bottoms-Up Revue from Las Vegas.
I've remarked in the past that whenever Berle hosts Palace, the show seems even more oriented toward a vaudeville style that's a generation out of date. It doesn't necessarily mean the show isn't good, just that it can produce a feeling of déjà vu. Ed doesn't have the greatest cast this week; Bob Gibson and Denny McLain owe their apperances to their teams having been in the World Series, which ended last week (I wonder how awkward this bit was?), and to paraphrase Bette Midler, I never miss a Peter O'Toole musical. Nevertheless, Pearl Bailey, Bill Dana, and the Beach Boys are easily enough to give Ed the victory.
Throughout the 60s and early 70s, TV Guide's reviews were written by the witty and acerbic Cleveland Amory. Whenever we get the chance, we'll look at Cleve's latest take on the series of the era.
When last we visited with Cleveland Amory, he was giving a rather lukewarm review to the single-parent series The Courtship of Eddie's Father. This week we visit another single-parent family, with an even bigger gimmick than Eddie's Father had. The show is Julia, starring Diahann Carroll, and if you liked what Cleve had to say about Eddie's Father, you'll love his review of Julia.
It's true that Julia does break the color barrier, offering us one of the first female leads playing something other than a maid. However, writes Amory, "it is so self-conscious about doing so that a good part of the time Julia will give you a fast pain. And without providing fast, fast relief - the pace is so slow that there are times when you are going to be convinced that the show has stopped entirely." Carroll, as a registered nurse looking for work after her husband is killed in Vietnam, "is amazingly convincing even when she's wearing $5000 worth of clothes and hasn't yet got a job." Lloyd Nolan, as the doctor who employers her and becomes her staunch ally and friend, makes the series come to life and delivers its most famous line: "Have you always been a Negro - or are you just trying to be fashionable?"
So where does Julia fall short? Some of it has to do with Marc Copage, who as Julia's six-year-old son Corey, is, as Amory puts it, "a curious combination of Machiavellian schemer, elder statesman and pain in the neck, and is forced down your throat in great sirupy gobs." Says Amory, he "could be a large charmer in small doses." The show itself is "strictly soap opera," with the smallest actions - "the cooking of a breakfast, the burping of a baby, the fixing of a television set, the coming of a baby sitter" becoming big events. Amory still has "high hopes" for the show; the relationship between Cannon and Nolan is delightful, and the supporting cast excellent (including Michael Link, Corey's six-year-old friend, who is "goes easier on the sirup"). If only something would happen - "like, for example, the pro0ducer hiring a brand new black writer who would have the courage to tell him to stop telling it like it isn't."
Aside from the Olympics, we've entered a quiet period in the sports world. The World Series, as I mentioned earlier, ended last week, while network coverage of the NBA and NHL doesn't begin until January. That leaves football, which - as its fans would say - is as it should be. We covered the single college game of the week, Penn State and UCLA, in the lede. (We do get highlights of the Notre Dame-Northwestern, Yale-Brown, and Purdue-Ohio State games on Sunday, though.) The NFL game on CBS features the New York Giants playing the Atlanta Falcons (1:30 p.m.), while NBC's AFL game is between the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders. Not the most memorable weekend.
It is an election year though, which I suppose qualifies as a type of sport. The convulsive tumult of spring and summer has given way to what looks like a close election, and the networks are all over it. On CBS's Face the Nation (12:30 p.m.), the guest is Republican Vice Presidential candidate Spiro Agnew (or as he's still known, though not for long, Spiro Who?). Meanwhile, at 1:00 p.m. NBC's Meet the Press features George Wallace's running mate, General Curtis LeMay, and on ABC Issues and Answers interviews two top Eastern Republicans, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller and Massachusetts Senator Edwards Brooke. New York and Connecticut candidates feature in several debates, and numerous programs throughout the week run five minutes short, allowing time for a Republican or Democratic "political message."
Lainie Kazan is, shall we say, a healthy looking young woman, a Broadway and nightclub singer who next year will graduate to a Playboy spread (or so I've heard). The show is a half-hour just of Lainie and her combo doing her hits. She's still active today, singing and acting and lending her time to various causes. Later Sunday (9:00 p.m., WNEW), it's Trini Lopez's turn, with a full-blown hour-long variety show from London, with guests Frank Gorshin (impersonating Richard Burton, Boris Karloff, and Krik Douglas), and musical-comedy star Georgia Brown. Then on NBC Monday night, Bob Hope returns (NBC, 9:00 p.m.) with John Davidson, Gwen Verdon, and Jeannie C Riley. That's followed at 10:00 by the dynamic Mitzi Gaynor, who sings, dances, and clowns her way through an hour* with her special guest star George Hamilton. Finally, NBC's back on Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. with a pilot called Soul Special, by Laugh-In producers George Schlatter and Ed Friendly, featuring Lou Rawls, Martha and the Vandelias, Hines, Hines & Dad, Redd Foxx, George Kirby, Nipsey Russell, and Slappy White, among others.
*Fun fact: the special is written by Larry Hovis, better known as Sergeant Carter on Hogan's Heroes.
There are plenty of regularly scheduled variety shows on tap as well; Sunday (CBS, 9:00 p.m.) the Smothers Brothers host the Beatles (on tape), Barbara Feldon, and Bill Medley. Monday it's Carol Burnett (CBS, 10:00 p.m.), who welcomes Bobbie Gentry and George Gobel. Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. on NBC, Jerry Lewis' guests are Flip Wilson, Nancy Ames, and the Osmond Brothers, while at 8:30 on CBS Red Skelton has Martha Raye and the First Edition. Wednesday's Kraft Music Hall (9:00 p.m., NBC) has Eddy Arnold as host, with Al Hirt, Jimmie Rodgers, Dana Valery, and Pat Henry. Finally, Thursday's Dean Martin hour has Cyd Charisse, Ben Blue, Don Cherry (the singer, not the hockey commentator), and Stanley Myron Handelman.
And then there are the talk shows. and if you're not satisfied with the choices out there I don't want to hear it. It seems as if everyone out there has a talk show; I'm going to spotlight Wednesday just as an example.
At 9:30 a.m. on WNEW, Joan Rivers has Sheila MacRae and author Daniel Takton, and at 10:00 Virginia Graham follows on WABC with Angela Martin, comedienne Betty Walker, and magician Velma. These shows are only 30 minutes (at least in these iterations), which make them exceptions to what follows, all of which run 90 minutes.
At 10:00 on WOR, Joe Franklin's guests include improvisation star Steve DePass. At 10:30 it's Dick Cavett's morning talk show for ABC, with comic actor Jack Gilford. At 2:00 p.m., WNEW is back with former Tonight bandleader Skitch Henderson, whose guests are Ed Ames, Dr. Joyce Brothers, and puppeteers Paul and Mary Ritts. At 4:30, it's the redoutable Mike Douglas on WCBS, with singers Trini Lopez (again!) and Astrud Gilberto, Broadway columnist Earl Wilson, actress Joanna Shimkus, and alligator wrestler Kaye Reid. At 8:00, Steve Allen's show features Art Linkletter, actress Joyce Jillson, comedian Pat Harrington, and singer Wilson Pickett. Then, at 8:30 p.m. WNEW goes up against the Olympics with Merv Grifin, whose guests include Patricia Neal, Trevor Howard, and Chet Huntley.
|Johnny and Ed, together again.|
There are other interview shows - Alan Burke on WNEW, for example, and the syndicated programs often appear on different channels in different markets - but this gives you a pretty good idea of what the landscape looks like. With the shows at 90 minutes rather than 60, and with the convention being for guests to hang around after they've been interviewed, these were truly "talk" shows, not what passes for them today. Interesting schedule, no?
Gloria Loring is one of those starlets whose career comes good; in addition to a singing career that continues to this day, she acts in the theater and on television (including five years on Days of Our Lives), writes books, makes the rounds as a motivational speaker, is a spokesperson for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and is the mother of singer Robin Thicke (whose last name comes from Loring's marriage in the '70s and '80s to Alan Thicke). All in all, you'd have to say she's had a very successful career.
Finally, there's a note in the Teletype that Orson Welles, of all people, may star in his own musical-variety series. He's said to be working with Greg Garrison, who produes Dean Martin's show, and they're making a pilot for NBC. I don't know what ever became of that, but if it was anything like this version, which Scott Beggs describes as "Welles riffing on Howard Beale, complete with his twist on Sybil the Soothsayer and a gun being aimed at Welles by the end," then we really missed something.