January 6, 2018

This week in TV Guide: January 8, 1966

This week ABC kicks off its second season (it even calls it that in its ads) with a number of new shows to replace the old shows that had failed during the fall. So farewell, O.K. Crackerby!, au revoir Shindig, auf wiedersehen The King Family, adiós Amos Burke, Secret Agent. In their place, welcome Blue Light, Robert Goulet's attempt to become a dramatic TV star; The Double Life of Henry Phyfe with Red Buttons; and The Baron, the British series starring the American actor Steve Forrest.* But it's the fourth series, premiering on Wednesday, that I want to talk about here.

*The Baron was the first ITC show without marionettes to be produced entirely in color, a singular distinction. Bonus tidbit: Steve Forrest was the younger brother of Dana Andrews.

"Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot, so my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts. I must be a creature of the night." It shouldn't be too difficult to imagine Adam West speaking those lines, though I'm not sure they ever appeared anywhere other than the issue of Detective Comics that introduced Batman to the world. And though the show ran only for a little over two years, until March 14, 1968, it became, for a short time, the most influential program on television. Not only did it make camp a high art form on American television, it turned West and Burt Ward into household names, made the role of "Guest Villain" into one of the most coveted on television, spawned a second series based on a comic book hero (The Green Hornet), and influenced a change in direction for such existing shows as The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

This week's inaugural episode, "Hey Diddle Diddle*," introduces us to Frank Gorshin in the memorable role of the Riddler, with Jill St. John as his sidekick Molly, out to steal the priceless pachyderm statue The Mammoth of Moldavia from the Gotham City World's Fair. It concludes the following night with "Smack in the Middle," in which the evil fiends receive their comeuppance.

*Yes, I know the title was actually "Hi Diddle Diddle," but it's "Hey" in the TV Guide. This strikes another blow to accuracy in the media.

Interesting notes in the listing - Lorenzo Semple Jr., who wrote the script for the original version of Casino Royale, wrote this script; Neal Hefti, who wrote the theme for The Odd Couple and worked with Woody Herman, Count Basie, and Frank Sinatra, did the theme; and the incidental music was by Nelson Riddle, who most famously did the arrangements for Sinatra's comeback. (With two connections like those, it's interesting that Sinatra never did one of the window appearances.)

Open question: was there ever a series with a shorter run that had a more significant cultural influence on its time than Batman?

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No "Sullivan vs. The Palace" this week, and when that happens it's usually because of a pre-emption on ABC's part. This week, however, CBS pre-empts not only Ed, but Lassie and My Favorite Martian, for the annual presentation of The Wizard of Oz, with wraparound segments hosted by Danny Kaye.

From the first broadcast in 1956
In this age when even classic movies are played over and over on various channels (not that I'm complaining, mind you), it's hard to understand what an event The Wizard of Oz was. It was always presented as a special, rather than in one of CBS's regular movie timeslots, with a host from one of CBS's prime-time programs. It was also always broadcast in color (except for 1961), even when color televisions were a rarety in homes.* For the first few years, it was shown in December, as part of CBS's holiday programming, and it was invariably one of the highest rated programs of the year. When it was eventually joined on TV by its MGM stablemate Gone with the Wind, the two became the most highly anticipated movies shown on television. (The always-reliable Wikipedia, in this article, has more on the Wizard's television history.)

*In this issue, a note along with the description advises views that "The first 22 minutes of this movie are in black and white."

The Wizard of Oz was the true definition of a "special," a show that families made plans to watch and incorporated as part of their annual seasonal traditions. I appreciate how you can now see the movie just about any time you want, and how you can see it without commercial interruption (both on TCM and in its home video incarnations), but at the same time that very familarity has made it somehow less special, if you know what I mean. I suppose it's one of the tradeoffs that we always seem to be making.

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One program this week that definitely is not an event is the NFL Playoff Bowl (Sunday, 12:30 p.m., CBS), an absolutely awful excuse for a football game. The game pitted the second-place teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences in what amounted to a game for third place, and was a benefit for the NFL players' pension fund.* It was played in Miami, started in the years before the Dolphins were created, and was another way for the NFL to increase its visibility. This year's combatants are the Baltimore Colts and Dallas Cowboys, and probably because Miami was part of the Colts' TV territory in the pre-Dolphin years, this year's game will draw a record crowd of 65,569. The Colts reward that crowd with a 35-3 victory. The game disappears after the NFL-AFL merger.

*Nobody wanted to play in this game; Packers coach Vince Lombardi, whose teams won five championships during the ten years the game existed, derisively referred to it as the "Shit Bowl."

In other sports, the final college football game of the season is played: the Senior Bowl all-star game (Saturday, 1:00 p.m., NBC). The Pro Bowlers Tour returns to ABC on the same date (2:30 p.m.), as does Shell's Wonderful World of Golf  (NBC, 4:00 p.m.). It's also a return to TV for college basketball; in these unenlightened days when there weren't 50 games a week on television, most nonconference games are seen primarily as tuneups for the far more important conference schedule beginning in January; when the important games start, they're back on TV.

And the NBA isn't exactly big-time yet, either. Yes, now that we're in January ABC has its Game of the Week Sunday afternoons (it's New York vs. Baltimore this week, by the way), but when it comes to the league's All-Star Game, it's being shown via syndication on Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m., live from Cincinnati Gardens. Harry Carey (Holy Cow!) and Jack Buck report the action.

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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. 

After all these years of reviewing Cleveland Amory's reviews, we have finally arrived at vintage Amory, the perfect Amory, the review that combines his puns and acerbic wit to produce a sparkling prose that leaves no doubt as to where he stands on the program in question.

Juliet Prowse and Denny Miller
That program is Mona McCluskey, starring singer-dancer Juliet Prowse, and somehow - it being January 1966 - it has managed to survive its premiere, which was September 16, 1965. Our first indication as to Mona's difficulties comes with Amory's initial paragraph: "There are five principle troubles with this show - the idea, the writing, the acting, the directing and the producing." Other than that... The premise of Mona McCluskey is that of an Air Force sergeant married to a movie star; the sergeant, being the breadwinner of the family, insists that they live off of his $500 monthly salary, rather than her $5,000 weekly earnings, and if this idea sounds not just thin but also more than a little stupid, then you're not alone. "It is," writes Amory "quite a problem all right - and a Happy New Year to you too."

As for the writing, all one has to do is look at episode titles such as "Mail Against Female," "the touching saga of the little woman who can't resist opening her male's mail," or "My Husband the Wife Beater," based on the classic misunderstanding when a couple of maiden aunts overhear a "marital pillow fight" and assume the worst. The head writer and show's creator, Don McGuire, has done better - he wrote the screenplay for the classic Bad Day at Black Rock, but, says Cleve, "we asure you, however bad things were at the Ol' Rock, the day he first thought of this show was worse."

The acting is "led" by Denny Miller as the sergeant; his credits say he was "first choice to become Hollywood's 12th Tarzan in the film 'Tarzan, the Ape Man.' For this show, however, he would be our 13th choice - and the only reason he would be that high is that he overacts less tha the rest of the cast." Included in that assessment is star Juliet Prowse, "who is one of our favorites as a dancer, [but] as an actress she is one of our least favorites." Says Cleve, "The best that can be said for her is that - particularly in the cutesy-cutesy love scenes, of which there are about six each half hour, not including the commercials - she is actually fascinating; unfortunately, in much the same way that a school play is fascinating when your child isn't in it."

There can be no question that "When so many actors are so bad, the directors have to be at fault." George Burns, who really ought to know better, is the producer of all this, along with United Artists Television, "which obviously does not." In any case, writes Amory, there can be only one conclusion: "Together they have managed to produce a show whose premise would be irritating enough in real life. On TV it is positively excruciating."

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Richard Warren Lewis has an interesting article on Lola Albright, the former Peter Gunn flame who pinch-hit for the ill Dorothy Malone on Peyton Place, and while it's certainly enlightening reading about Lola's stormy third marriage (and her troubled second marriage as well), her battles with insomnia, her seeing a psychiatrist and the like, what I find most intriguing about it all is the very fact of one actress temporarily replacing another on a series.

Malone had suffered a life-threating pulmonary embolism and was in the hospital after a seven-and-a-half-hour emergency operation, leaving Peyton Place producer Paul Monash with a dilemma. His two choices were to either write Malone's character, Constance Mackenzie Carson, out of the series, or bring on someone who could essay the role until Malone was able to return. Considering how vital Constance was to the storyline, there wasn't really any choice, and the call went out to Albright. It happens all the time in daytime soap operas.

Would this happen today? You'll recall that when Raymond Burr was incapacitated during the run of Perry Mason, several actors were brought in to play surrogate lawyers, including Hugh O'Brien, Walter Pidgeon, Bette Davis, and Mike Connors. Something like this could be done, and had to be done, because shows produced a lot more episodes back in the day. Variety show hosts like Red Skelton had guest hosts when they were sick, and this made sense because of the short leadtime between the show's taping and airing. Albright was brought in because a surrogate could never work in the complicated world of the soap.

The point is, I'd imagine that if something similar happened today the show would fill in with reruns until the star was able to return. If it looked like it was really going to be protracted, they might bring in someone in a similar role for awhile. One of the reasons why Monash had to bring in Albright was because you couldn't stop a soap opera in the middle of a story. I wonder - considering how serialized television has become, if the star of one of today's shows fell ill during a crucial point in middle of the storyline, one in which his or her character was absolutely essential to what was going on, what would the producers do? I tend to watch so little new television nowadays, I don't know but what this has already happened.

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Speaking of guest hosts and the like, Johnny Carson is subbing for Sammy Davis Jr. on Davis' variety show. (Friday, 7:30 p.m., NBC) Back in the early days of this blog, I wrote about Davis's show, and the puzzling contractual obligation with ABC that required Davis to sit out the second, third and fourth episodes of his own show. Carson's guests on Sammy's show are Mickey Rooney, Diahann Carroll, Joan Rivers, Bobby Van, Tony Mattola and Don Allan.

Elsewhere this week, Don Knotts returns to Mayberry for a class reunion on The Andy Griffith Show (Monday, CBS, 8:00 p.m.), while the aforementioned Dorothy Malone returns to Peyton Place on Tuesday night (8:30 p.m., ABC). CBS Reports is pre-empted for a documentary on "The Search for Ulysses," attempting to prove that the hero of Homer's "Odyssey" was a real man (Tuesday, 9:00 p.m.). Academy Award winner Simone Signoret makes a rare television appearance, appearing with George Maharis in the drama "A Small Rebellion" on Bob Hope's Chrysler Theatre (Wednesday, 8:00 p.m., NBC), and Eve Arden makes a post-Our Miss Brooks appearance Thursday on Bewitched (7:30 p.m., ABC). Also on Thursday, Mona McCluskey gives ample demonstration of why it only lasted one season: "Mike, who's broke, refuses to let Mona buy a color TV set - so Mona decides to plant a coin worth hundreds of dollars in his pocket."

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And now for some bonus Amory this week, although Amory himself is not the author. It comes from a very funny Letter to the Editor - the sole letter in this week's issue - by J. Harvey Howells of Brunswick, Maine, who was inspired to write in after reading about Amory's experience with his series O.K. Crackerby!, which ran a couple of weeks ago. In 1956, Howells won a Writers Guild award for Best TV Comedy of the Year for a script called "Goodbye, Grey Flannel," an episode of the anthology series Robert Montgomery Presents. It's the story of a Madison Avenue ad executive who escapes to a New England orchard only to find out that, as Howells puts it, "advertising is a state of mind, not geography." Soon, the exec, played by Lee Bowman, has organized the local farmers and has set up a new agency in his home.

Howells went on to work on other projects, and he's almost forgotten about this one when he's approached by George Chandler, who played Ichabod Lewis, the ringleader of the locals, who wondered if Howells owned the story. "I agreed to George becoming my 50-50 partner if he could sell it as a series, a possibility I thought remote." Before he knows it, though, a pilot is filmed, it tests high, and now it's on to financing the series itself. "Somewhere along the line," Howells writes, "I acquired six more partners, and my ownership fell to five percent. I didn't object; five percent of something was better than 100 percent of nothing. But when the title was amended to Ichabod and Me, I knew my baby was in for more than a change of diapers."

The series would focus not on Ichabod, but on "Me," played by Bob Sterling. ("See the parallel, Cleve?") The ad exec's ex-model wife was replaced by "a fat, jolly housekeeper such as never was in New England." The exec's bulldog, which had scored high in the pilot, was replaced by a "adenoidal boy-child" playing Me's orphaned son. "Retired ad me being old hat (sic), Me became a small-town newspaper editor, and if that wasn't a deep reach into the cliché closet, then Bob's your uncle." Howells won but one battle, and that was to keep the locale in New England, rather than moving it to Kansas "for more national empathy."

Needless to say, Ichabod and Me was no hit show, although unlike O.K. Crackerby! it did survive for an entire season, and Howells points out that he did make some good friends along the way, like George. "But I still can't understand why they bought my idea in the first place. Can you, Cleve?" TV  

10 comments:

  1. Great column as usual.
    On the "what short lived series had as big an impact as 'Batman', the only one in the running would be "Mary Hartman Mary Hartman" which lasted a mere 16 months in 1976-77. Of course if we included long term cultural impact the original Honeymooners would be the runaway winner.
    That brings up another question: What long running show had the least cultural impact?

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  2. My vote for least cultural impact from a long-running TV show would be Gunsmoke, on the air for 20 years and 635 boring episodes (my opinion--I am not a fan of that show).

    Dorothy Malone, for all her illness in 1966, is still alive at this writing, at age 92. Bless her heart, as we say in the South.

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  3. Bits, and a few Pieces:

    - The correct title of the Batman premiere was "Hi Diddle Riddle" (I checked the DVD to be certain).
    Of more interest would be that Close-Up, which I'm guessing is from one of your Minn-StP issues. I've got the Chicago edition, and it has the same Close-up - with one notable exception:
    In my issue, Lorenzo Semple Jr. is not identified as having done "the script for ... Casino Royale" - which in fact would have been in pre-production at the start of 1966 ... and which, at any rate, Lorenzo Semple received no credit when it was finally released nearly two years later (almost everybody else in the film business had a hand in the Royale film, one of the legendary disasters in movie history - but that's another story ...).
    And no, this can't be referring to the only earlier version of CR, which was a live broadcast (Climax!, I think) in the mid-'50s; Semple had nothing to do with that either.
    As it happens, Semple did write a James Bond screenplay, but that was Never Say Never Again - in 1983. (Prophecy, maybe?)

    - About Ichabod And Me:
    I remember this series in its first run.
    CBS had some confidence in this one: they slotted it on Tuesday night, in between Red Skelton and Garry Moore (in the business, it's called "hammocking"; much of the time it works, this time not so much).
    Of those six partners that J. Harvey Howells refers to, two of them were Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, who were rounding the clubhouse turn with Leave It To Beaver, then in its next-to-last season on ABC.
    By the way, that "adenoidal boy-child" was Jerry Mathers's kid brother Jimmy, who did not duplicate big bro's success in TV, so there too.
    Ichabod has since seemed to disappear, which is a shame; I'd really love to see the episode in which Rod Serling makes an acting appearance as a friend of Me's.

    - I was scouting the listings, trying to anticipate which day you're going to do on Monday.
    Should you choose Friday, I think you ought to take a close look at the listing for Camp Runamuck, a comedy which nobody can figure out how it got on in the first place.
    Just read the listing, and tell us all your reaction to it ...
    (No spoilers - this is a test.)

    - In the color sectio, I'd call your attention to the profile of a pre-Columbo Peter Falk - long before he adopted the persona that made his star status permanent.
    It still surprises some people when they see early Falk performances that are totally opposite from the Columbo style.

    - ... and so on and so forth ...

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  4. The major impact of BATMAN (and, to a lesser extent, CBS's DAKTARI) was a quick hook for underperforming series the next couple of seasons. In years before, few Fall shows were cancelled at mid-season. After BATMAN dramatically turned ABC's fortunes around in two time slots, there were many more mid-season replacements tried in 1966-67: 22 combined, to be exact.

    The only one to even so much as crack the top 50 was MR. TERRIFIC, a BATMAN spoof that sank quickly after debuting in the top 15 in its first Nielsen report in January 1967.

    In some cases trigger-happy ABC wasn't even waiting until mid-season: THE TAMMY GRIMES SHOW was cancelled before the end of September 1966, replaced by the low-budget DATING GAME.

    I'd say at least in the short-term that the impact on ABC was negative: ABC developed a quick hook with too many shows when patience might have been more prudent. BATMAN and DAKTARI ended up being anamolies: in the seasons to come CBS and NBC would be rewarded for being patient with slow starters like MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (# 65 at mid-season in 66-67) and THE HIGH CHAPARRAL (to name two).

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  5. It's seems that 22 minutes is a little long for the black-and-white opening of THE WIZARD OF OZ, concerning that we have DVD (And Blu-ray) players to timed the scenes correctly!!!

    BTW, the opening (And the ending) are in black-and-white, but, since video, DVD and Blu-Ray editions released in the early-to-mid-1990's (As does airing on TBS, TNT and TCM), have shown it in sepia-toned, since this is exactly the way that filmgoers in 1939 have seen it!!!

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    1. I've forgot that the Techincolor begins at the shot when Dorothy is reaching the door!!!

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  6. "THE WIZARD OF OZ" is one of the true masterpieces of cinema. Growing up in KC, I became acquainted with its' annual showings on NBC, usually around Easter Sunday (CBS regained the rights years later). Before there was such a thing as "Must-See TV", this was it. And in what must've been a film rights battle that could have gone to fisticuffs, NBC secured the rights to show GWTW in 1976 (the US Bicentennial-and their golden anniversary year as a TV and radio network). This was a real coup for the peacock net in a season that saw ABC knock CBS from its' lofty perch as the #1 net in primetime.
    At ABC, Fred Silverman had the golden touch, but when NBC hired him 2 years later, things seemed to have the opposite effect (remember The Waverly Wonders, Dick Clark's Live Wednesday, Who's Watching the Kids, Supertrain? HA! I didn't think so).

    That the Batman 1966 TV series scored so low with potential viewers yet soar so high with its' campiness was a testament to ABC for not giving up on a project-no matter how dull or mundane it was to some folks. As I now recall once having a pair of blue Batman slippers at the time, I enjoyed the adventures of the Dynamic Duo, mostly thru syndicated repeats on both KMBC and WDAF. He may be "The Dark Knight", but with Adam West's demise last June, the "Bright Knight" can now be a shining light for all to follow. I followed him-from broadcast to cable TV to the internet. And it's gratifying
    to see how well it still holds up. If only ABC had that same stick-to-itiveness with Tammy Grimes' sitcom, or O.K. Crackerby-or even Honey West, they all could have had longer lives.

    In pinch-hitting for Dorothy Malone, I think Lola Albright-much like Earl Morall on the '72 Dolphins-had the greatest fill-in role in television history. Cleve showed no mercy for Mona-he must have thought that show was a real stinkeroo! And BTW, I'm surprised that Daktari bested Batman by better than a year. Star Trek lasted three years, and look at the cultural impact it had! (not 2 mention the movie and series sequels it rought)

    Things were goin' great in '66-and with prime time's 1st color season on the horizon, they were only getting better.

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  7. What a fun an eventful issue of TV Guide this was!

    Batman: Bruce Wayne did reference the murder of his parents by criminals in that first episode - which, along with the death of Jill St. John's character (spoiler) made that first show a bit more serious than every episode that followed.

    I'm sure Amory was right about Mona McCluskey, but it's always a treat to see Denny Miller pop up in other classic TV shows, from The Fugitive to The Brady Bunch to Charlie's Angels.

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    1. I always get Denny Miller and Victor Lundin confused. Both big guys, had similar voices.

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  8. To add to the Playoff Bowl mention, that was the season Baltimore Colts running back Tom Matte had to take over for injured quarterbacks Johnny Unitas and Gary Cuozzo, and had just come off their Western Conference playoff tiebreaker loss to Green Bay, aided by a controversial game-tying field goal by Packers kicker Don Chandler.

    I have a book that I just drew a blank on the title, but it covered that tiebreaker game and ended by noting Matte threw 3 touchdown passes vs. the Cowboys in the Playoff Bowl.

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Thanks for writing! Drive safely!