This week's article is from Erwin D. Canham, editor of The Christian Science Monitor and current President of the United States Chamber of Commerce, and his message is simple and straightforward: "TV should toughen the mind of America, not put it to sleep."
One of the main threats Canham sees - a threat that we also see, over and over, in these essays - is that of depending too much on the ratings to determine which programs survive and which disappear without a trace. He compares the process to that of the print media: if newspapers and magazines used the same criteria to determine their contents, the dominant features would be comic strips, sports, and pictures - what he calls "a completely unbalanced and unacceptable newspaper." Television, writes Canham, must never become overwhelmingly entertainment-based, or else it will lose the tremendous potential it has of "lifting the minds and hearts of mankind into the age which modern technology makes possible." As he puts it, "A dinner composed nine-tenths of chocolate eclairs would be absurd. Popularity is not all."
Canham also warns of "grave challenges" that America faces, and the responsibility to which television must answer. He appeals to the medium to help build "new standards of life and citizenship," that "our minds must not be merely softened up under a salve of bland relaxation". The American people will have to think hard and work hard, and "the pervasive power of television must help them to do so. They need awakening, not tranquilizing. Television must not become the opium of the people. Like all great voices, it must cry out - not by mere editorializing, but by informing and challenging with the factual image it so vividly conveys."
When Canham writes of "the grave challenges we face," I think he's referring specifically to the threat posed by Communism, and the many ways in which Americans have to respond to that challenge. There's an educational one, of course; with talk of the missile gap and the need to match Soviet minds in the space race, it will be vital for America to put a priority on training brighter and better minds, and television must play a role in doing so.
Then there's the value of citizenship itself, and the importance of a free society. "Can we stand up against the earnest, fanatical focused challenge of totalitarian aggression? Will we weaken our society from within? Are our goals and standards the true values of a good society? Have we gone soft?" Here is where television can make the difference; "Nothing can help America to awaken and gird itself for internal and external battles for survival more effectively than television." No other medium can reach so many people or get into their minds. The print media can follow up with the in-depth story, but television must get their attention.
An audio recording of Canham appearing on NBC's Meet the Press in 1959
Like others, he sees the quiz show scandal of the past decade not only in terms of what it says about the industry, but about the public as well. To him, the scandal "reveals a national crisis of confidence. People are wondering not so much about television morals as national morals. They are asking whether our national standards and values are as sound and true as they should be, or whether too many of them have become shoddy and specious." And here I think we again turn to the Cold War, for the "national values" Canham refers to are those which we put on display for the rest of the world to see. What are those, in the winter of 1960? The civil rights movement, voting rights, growing racial unrest, poverty, lack of education. Even though more was to come throughout the '60s, these images are already being broadcast, and while they are assuredly bad enough in and of themselves, they also provide fuel for Communist propaganda.
The way in which television faces all these challenges will be just as important as the fact that they are facing them at all. They must be made "as humanly interesting, entertaining and penetrating as much of the trivia and passion of this world is without half trying." To have any effectiveness at all, to involve television in the coming world in the way it must, the programs must engage the viewer, else they won't be seen at all. Those responsible for this programming must, writes Canham, "work as hard to get truly important facts and ideas into the minds of viewers as they do to put over their commercial messages." It is only then that television will be able to play its role in helping to create "a nation of mature decision makers."
I wonder how Canham would view the evolution of television over the past 58 years? With pessimism, I would think. The warnings he penned about television becoming an entertainment medium have for the most part gone unheeded; while there has been much over these past years that has been very good, it has not, for the most part, strengthened the American character; in fact, were it not for the social media contrivances of today, I'd think that TV would bear the burden of being the single instrument most responsible for dumbing down the nation. Or perhaps social media merely took advantage of viewers already softened up by television? The argument was already raging when this article was written, and by the mid-'60s there were a lot of people who looked at programs such as The Beverly Hillbillies (the one it seems is most cited) and threw up their hands in resignation. As far as the education of the public into a "knowledgeable citizenry," collectively we're probably bigger fools than we've ever been. It's everybody's fault, but ofttimes the greatest responsibility goes hand-in-hand with the greatest potential, and the potential of television - well, how high is the sky?
Starting in 1954, Steve Allen helmed his own NBC variety show which, at the beginning, aired opposite that of Ed Sullivan. It didn't run as long as Ed's, of course, but then Allen said his goal was never to conquer Ed, but to coexist with him, which he did for four seasons. Let's see who gets the best of the contest this week.
Sullivan: To celebrate St. Patrick's Day, Ed hosts a collection of Irish talent, including song-and-dance man Pat Rooney; singers Eileen Brennan and Lee Sullivan; and from Dublin, playwright Seán O'Casey and veteran actor Barry Fitzgerald.
Allen: Steve's guests are comedian Mort Sahl, singer Tony Martin and dancer Juliet Prowse, along with Steve's regular cast of by Don Knotts, Louis Nye, and Bill Dana.
Back in the days when playwrights were actual celebrities, Seán O'Casey was one of the most prominent, having risen to fame primarily as the result of his 1907 play The Playboy of the Western World. I don't know just how entertaining he'd be though, even with Barry Fitzgerald (Going My Way). On the other hand, Tony Martin was always kind of a B-list singer, and I've never been the biggest fan of Juliet Prowse. Eileen Brennan and Mort Sahl offset each other; the verdict: Push.
Believe it or not, there was once a time when tennis was primarily an amateur sport, and professionals not only were not allowed into the Grand Slam tournaments (Wimbledon, Forest Hills, etc.), they were segregated into their own little touring company.
Nowadays we'd consider these exhibitions, since the players were generally under contract and guaranteed a set amount of money for the season. There was more than pride at stake, though; as the preeminent player in the world, Gonzales was playing for commercial endorsement money as well, and the more he won, the more his endorsement was worth. There were also tournaments from time to time, and while none of them were as prestigious as, say, Wimbledon, they helped pay the bills.
The idea that the amateur game was as pure as the driven snow was a farce - there were under-the-table payments galore, including appearance fees - and I'm not sure even people in 1960 were naive enough to believe it. Kramer finally won the battle for Open tennis in 1968, which is why the U.S. Championship is now called the U.S. Open. Seeing a listing like this is a real slice of life, though.
Kathryn and Arthur Murray are hosting a party for Bob Hope on their Tuesday night program. (8:30 p.m., NBC) No offense to Bob, but one of the things I've noticed in looking through these back issues is that whenever a series needs a ratings boost or seemingly has nothing better to offer, they bring in Bob Hope. Honestly, there's no particular reason for this program; Hope hasn't won any awards lately, he isn't celebrating some type of anniversary, and there's no connection I can see to anything else that he might be promoting - his 1960 movie, The Facts of Life (co-starring Lucille Ball) won't be released until November. Well, I'm sure someone had a good reason.
Hope's old sparring partner, Bing Crosby, is on twice this week, both times with Perry Como. At least he's on twice in this issue; his special on ABC, featuring Como and Bing's sons Philip, Dennis and Lindsay, was actually broadcast February 29, but it's being shown this Saturday night at 8:00 p.m. on NBC affiliate WDSM in Duluth. WDSM, along with the rest of the NBC network, will be airing the return broadcast Wednesday night at 8:00 p.m. on Como's Kraft Music Hall*, where they're joined by singer Genevieve and dancer Peter Gennaro.
*Fun fact: from 1936-46, the host of The Kraft Music Hall on radio was none other than Bing Crosby himself.
New York Philharmonic conductor Leonard Bernstein is also on twice this week; on Sunday afternoon (3:30 p.m.) his CBS special (last in an irregular series sponsored by the Ford Motor Company) illustrates the use of rhythm in the world of music, using the works of Shakespeare and Aaron Copland to illustrate his points. There's an interesting footnote to this; at the conclusion of the program, Joseph N. Welch, the nemesis of Joseph McCarthy, appears in a five-minute "Message for Americans," a feature which appeared in each of the programs in the series. Bernstein, sans Welch, is back on Wednesday night at 6:30 for his Young People's Concert, featuring young performers. Alas, as was the case with the Crosby special above, CBS affiliate WCCO is only now getting around to this broadcast, which was originally carried on March 6. Oh well, better late than never.
We also ought to look at what probably was the funniest program of the week, NBC's Star Parade (Friday, 7:30 p.m.), which this week features "The Victor Borge Show." His guests include Jane Powell, dancers Allegra Kent and Jacques d'Ambroise, and two of his children. I'm betting that if we're not careful, we might also see some of Borge's classic routines, such as Phonetic Punctuation.
We can't possibly pass up this appraisal by Chuck Connors of his hit series The Rifleman. For a Western whose titular hero does, indeed, carry around a rifle, Connors knows that the real backbone of the show, the element that brings the viewers back each week, is the relationship between his character, Lucas McCain, and McCain's son Mark, played by Johnny Crawford. "Everybody says, 'We like your show because it's a family show.' It's because of the emphasis we try to put on moral values." Killings occur in, Connors estimates, about half of the episodes. "But if you'll notice, the story always turns on the reasons for the violence, usually in the big scene toward the end between Lucas and his son."
And, Connors concedes, that sentimentality "does make the whole thing a little corny. In one script the boy says to me 'You don't like me,' or something like that. Well, instead of beating around the bush or using psychology or anything like that, I just look right at him and say: 'Look, son, I love you!' I love you! Brother, that's corn. That's as pure as they grow it, but that's what people want."
They do indeed, at least the fans of The Rifleman, and they like the corn they're being fed enough to keep the show going for five successful seasons.
Finally, it's time again for the TV Guide Awards! We've seen this in past years, sometimes with the nominees, sometimes with the winners. In this issue, we have the official final ballot, which you can clip and mail to TV Guide, Box 515, Philadelphia 5, Pa. And although we'll have to wait for another time to find out who came out on top, we do have a bonus: someone in the household of the subscriber to this issue, L.O. Olson of Chisholm, Minnesota, checked their choices for the awards. I don't know why they didn't mail in their ballot but I'm glad they didn't, because it gives us a "you were there" glimpse of what one American family was watching.
Herewith the nominees (the Olson family's choice is listed in CAPS);
Favorite half-hour series:
Father Knows Best
The Real McCoys
THE TWILIGHT ZONE
Favorite one-hour-or-longer series:
77 Sunset Strip
Best single dramatic program:
CALL ME BACK (Art Carney)
Jebal Deeks (Alec Guinness)
Moon and Sixpence (Laurence Olivier)
Our Town (Art Carney)
Turn of the Screw (Ingrid Bergman)
Best single musical or variety program:
Another Evening with Fred Astaire
Gene Kelly Show
Meet Cyd Charisse
Tonight with Belafonte
Best news or information program:
Douglas Edwards with the News
The Twentieth Century
Most popular male personality:
Most popular female personality:
The show can be seen on March 25 on NBC, hosted by Robert Young, Fred MacMurray and Nanette Fabray. How will your picks do? How did the Olson family's picks do? You'll just have to wait until next week, when as a bonus I'll present you with the answers. Until then...