October 20, 2018

This week in TV Guide: October 23, 1965

The picture at left is of Chuck Connors, former major league baseball player and pro basketball player, best known for his 1958-63 ABC western series The Rifleman, later co-star of ABC's 90-minute crime series Arrest and Trial, and currently star of NBC's Branded.

Later on you'll see a picture of Chuck Conners in 1973, with General Secretary of the Soviet Union Leonid Brezhnev.

The story behind that picture, as well as the rest of the week of October 23, 1965, is next.

◊ ◊ ◊

We're in the thick of the football season, and NBC, in their final year of covering Saturday afternoon college games (the contract would return to ABC in 1966), has one of the most storied of all rivalries on tap, as the #4 USC Trojans travel to South Bend to take on the #7 Notre Dame Fighting Irish. (Noon, CT) USC running back Mike Garrett will win the Heisman the next month, but this would not be his day, as the Irish rout the Trojans 28-7.

On Sunday, pro football takes center stage, and because this is the Minnesota State Edition of TV Guide, we've got an interesting assortment of games to look at from the two leagues. The NFL's coverage begins at 11:45 a.m. with Dallas vs. Green Bay at Milwaukee (Packers win 13-3), in a game seen on the CBS affiliates in Mankato (KEYC) and Mason City, IA (KGLO), and for some reason the NBC affiliate in Alexandria (KCMT). This game would be joined in progress at 12:45 p.m. on the CBS stations in Duluth (KDAL) and La Crosse (WKBT), which had been showing Stoney Burke and Know the Truth, respectively.*

*Joining the game an hour in progress sounds like the kind of stupid thing that KCMT would do. You know, the station we got in The World's Worst Town.™

At 1:00 p.m., WEAU, the NBC affiliate in Eau Claire, presents the AFL game of the week, Denver at Buffalo (the Bills, who will go on to win the AFL title in 1965, best the Broncos 31-13), while at 1:30 p.m. KSTP in the Twin Cities and KROC in Rochester bring us Kansas City at Houston (the Oilers win, 38-36), a game that'll be joined in progress by WDSM in Duluth at 2:30 p.m. (they had a "Film Feature" at 1:30) and the aforementioned Channel 7 at 3:15 p.m. (following the end of the Cowboys-Packers contest).

The final game of the day is Channel 4's coverage of the home team, as the Vikings played the 49ers in Kezar Stadium in San Francisco (1:45 p.m.), a thriller won by the Vikings 42-41.* When I visited San Francisco a few years ago, I took the opportunity to travel to Golden Gate Park to visit the ruins of old Kezar. It was in the heart of the park (imagine a football stadium in the middle of Central Park), and one of the reasons the Niners vacated it in favor of Candlestick Park was that the parking there was atrocious. Kezar was featured in the first Dirty Harry movie; it was where Harry shot the Scorpio Killer in the knee and got in trouble for it.

*And only Channel 4. Interesting the rest of the region's channels took the Packers game.  Or maybe not so interestingafter all, the Vikings were still a pretty mediocre team, while the Packers were headed for their third championship in five years. The Packers were the team in the area back then, and still have a lot of fans in Minnesota today.

So let's recap the weekend: on Saturday, one college football game. On Sunday, one NFL and one AFL game (in most markets). Total number of games the average viewer could see: three.

Total number of games (college and pro) on TV last weekend: 55, beginning on Thursday night and ending on Monday night. As I keep saying, times have changed.

But I find the relationship between television and sports to be fascinating. I love writing about it.

◊ ◊ ◊

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..

Ed Sullivan: Ed's in Hollywood again, with scheduled guests Helen Hayes; Duke Ellington and his band; comic Myron Cohen; Herman's Hermits, rock 'n' rollers; singer-pianist Ginny Tiu; comedian Richard Pryor; and the Manuela Vargas Ballet Troupe.

Hollywood Palace: host Milton Berle introduces Jose Jiminez (Bill Dana), who discusses his book on jujitsu; Los Angeles Dodger captain Maury Wills, who sings and plays the banjo; singer Abbe Lane; folk rock 'n' rollers Sonny and Cher; quick-change actor Mike McGivney, who offers an abbreviated version of "Oliver Twist"; and the Rudas, Australian dancers.

A strong week for both programs. Bill Dana's Jose Jiminez character, which he created in 1959, was often hilarious, his most famous routine being an astronaut. Abbe Lane, who preceded Charo as Xavier Cugat's wife, was—very nice. As a banjo player, Maury Wills was a fantastic base-stealer.  And Sonny and Cher didn't do too badly for themselves, did they?

But though this would win many weeks, the Palace didn't really stand a chance. Helen Hayes was already a living legend in 1965, as was the great Duke Ellington; Richard Pryor was on his way to becoming one; Myron Cohen was one of the funniest of the ethnic comedians (he was a favorite of Carson's); and Herman's Hermits, with Peter Noone*, was one of the biggest of the 60s Brit-Pop groups.  The verdict: Sullivan, decisively.

*I was always impressed with Peter Noone, who never succumbed to the drugs & booze scene (he was only 15 when he became Herman).  When he hosted My Generation on VH-1 in the late 80s, he talked of the 60s with a kind of detached bemusement; like Tom Wolfe, he was more observer than participant.

◊ ◊ ◊

Before we take complete leave of The Hollywood Palace for this week, one footnote. As I've mentioned, one of the benefits of a statewide TV Guide edition is that you get to see what the stations outside your own market were showing. Much of the time it's the same thing you were watching, but when it comes to split-affiliation stations—stations (like KCMT) that were primary affiliates of one network but also showed programming from another—there's almost always something interesting. And so it was with WKBT, Channel 8 in LaCrosse, which on Tuesday night showed the Hollywood Palace episode from the previous week, October 16. Would that it had been the one to go up against Sullivan: Host Frank Sinatra introduces Count Basie and his band; comic Jack E. Leonard; dancer Peter Gennaro; West German singer-dancers Alice and Ellen Kessler; and Colombian high-wire acrobat Murillo.

Sinatra and Basie—a man and his music.  Now that was a show.


◊ ◊ ◊

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. 

This indeed should be a honey of a review, because this week Cleveland Amory reviews Honey West, or, as he puts it, Jane Blond. (And if you don't like that, there's always the "Woman from A.U.N.T.) It's an idea that, according to Cleve, was "obviously bound to occur to one of the great brains of TV sooner or later." We had hoped it would be later rather than sooner, says Amory, but now that it's here, it's important to point out that if you have "so far managed to miss this miss—well, you haven't missed much."

It's true that Anne Francis, who makes a honey of a Honey, is comely indeed, not to say fetching. It is, however, "far-fetched" to suggest that she is properly cast in Honey West. If you have any doubts as to whether or not this show is supposed to be taken seriously, "Her unsuitability for the role is proof it's a spoof." And if you watch it that way, it might even be enjoyable. Alas—after some early indications that it might indeed be here to spoof a genre that deserves it, all hope evaporated by the second episode, which Amory calls "a carbon copy, and not a top one at that, of the movie Topkapi. The third episode was likable enough, particularly the performances of Irene Hervey as Honey's Aunt Meg, and Bruce, the ocelot that serves as Honey's pet. Says Amory, "He can etch a performance for us any time."

In the end analysis, Honey West can perhaps serve as an indictment of the television of this era—while it's not quite a honey of a show, Amory says, it's not exactly a lemon either. a show with "enough sweet spots to satisfy a not-too-discriminating palate, but for our taste, they're too few and far between." And isn't that exactly the point that Judith Crist was making a few weeks ago in her article about the purpose of a critic, that being to teach the viewers that they shouldn't be afraid to demand more, even from a medium they get for free. Based on the viewer apathy that failed to keep this series alive beyond its 30 episodes, one might say that ABC did indeed listen to their demands—for the show to go away.

◊ ◊ ◊

There are several notations throughout this issue concerning the planned launch of Gemini VI (with future CBS space analyst Wally Schirra and Tom Stafford), which was scheduled to go up on Monday morning, a little over 90 minutes after the launch of the Atlas-Agena target vehicle with which it was going to maneuver and dock.  It would then return to Earth on Wednesday, in what was planned to be the first live televised coverage of a splashdown and recovery. 

But six minutes after launch, the Agena exploded, postponing the Gemini VI mission until December, when it would rendezvous with Gemini VII. Gemini VII, incidentally, would be the longest American manned space flight until Skylab—its mission, with astronauts Jim Lovell and Frank Borman, lasted 14 days.

◊ ◊ ◊

I enjoy the little dichotomies like the two programs we have competing on Friday night.  At 9:00pm, ABC has a David Wolper documentary entitled "Teenage Revolution," while CBS counters with the Miss Teenage America pageant.  The big production number in the pageant was called "Teenage America, Here We Come!—which, I think, was the point of the ABC documentary in the first place.

There's also an interesting article by Neil Hickey about the prospect of television networks running out of movies to show.  The studios are producing fewer top-grade movies that are suitable for TV.  Many of the movies are too long, too sexy, too violent, too campy, too black & white, or just too bad.  The networks are well on the way to having movies seven nights a week (although not yet at the stage of having movies compete against movies), and they need more material.  The obvious solution - which is, in fact, what happened - is the made-for-TV movie, of which NBC had made three.  The first, The Killers (with Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, and Ronald Reagan) famously turned out to be too violent for TV and was released to the theaters instead.  The other two, The Hanged Man and See How They Run,  were over budget, over schedule, and under expectations (a deadly trio).  Fear not, movie fans - things will get better.

And then there was the Letter to the Editor complaining about the extensive network coverage of Pope Paul VI's trip to America (the first ever by a pontiff).  Sez Mrs. Lonnie Tarver, of Slidell, Louisiana, "I wonder if the networks realize that all of their viewers are not Catholic?"  She meant, of course, that not all of the viewers were Catholic, which is true* - but then, all of TV Guide's readers are not literate, either...

*Although, sadly, in the post-Vatican II era it's probably accurate to say that not all of the Catholics are Catholic.

◊ ◊ ◊

And now the story of Chuck Connors and Leonid Brezhnev.

The photograph to the right, of Connors and Brezhnev, was taken in June 1973. Connors, a staunch supporter of President Nixon, was Nixon’s guest at a reception for Brezhnev in San Clemente.

As it happened, Brezhnev was a big fan of The Rifleman, one of the few American series to be shown in the Soviet Union. Upon being introduced to the General Secretary, Connors presented him with a pair of matching Colt .45 revolvers that he’d used in Branded, and later showed him how to twirl them. Brezhnev was thrilled with the gift, and the two became fast friends.

Later, as Brezhnev prepared to leave California, he saw Connors standing on the tarmac, “went over to him and vigorously shook his hand, and then jumped off the ground into the startled arms of his western hero.” Connors would visit the Soviet Union later that year as Brezhnev’s guest, filming a documentary called Peace and Friendship and making friends all the while. When Brezhnev died in 1982, Connors asked the State Department to be included in the American delegation to Brezhnev’s funeral, but was turned down.

Connors died exactly ten years after Brezhnev, on November 10, 1992.

Detente, television-style. And now, as Paul Harvey would say, you know the rest of the story. TV  

October 19, 2018

Around the dial

They don't make them like Vincent Price anymore; smooth and debonair, yet often sinister and evil. As a mark of his versatility in roles, he starred in Roger Corman films, and portrayed The Saint on the radio. At Comfort TV, David turns to the small screen and shows us the top ten Vincent Price moments on television. How many of them do you remember?

Did you know that The Today Show has been the subject of not one, but two board games over its long lifetime? I didn't, and although I've seen a lot of TV tie-in games in antique stores over the years, I'd never heard of that before. But Jodie has, and at The Garroway Project she fills us in on these "fun and educational" games.

It snowed here in Minneapolis on Sunday, not enough to do any damage (and it was 70 yesterday anyway), which means it makes perfect sense to check in at Joanna's Christmas TV History and read about the wonderful 1969 Christmas episode of Bewitched.

My podcast partner Daniel is back at Some Polish American Guy, and back with him is BJ and the Bear, and the season three episode "S.T.U.N.T." Speaking of which, don't forget to check out our most recent episode here.

Television Obscurities is obscure yet again, with a dip into the archives producing the 1956 sitcom "Joe and Mabel," with Larry Blyden and Nita Talbot (a personal favorite for her memorable guest spots on Hogan's Heroes and Bourbon Street Beat), and a supporting cast including Norman Fell. TV  

October 17, 2018

Reliving the RFK assassination with CBS newsman Joseph Benti

Joseph Benti breaking the news of Robert F. Kennedy's shooting on June 5, 1968
If this was a perfect world, I would have published this in a more timely manner, perhaps in June or July. Of course, if this was a perfect world, I'd also be retired with something like a million dollars in the bank, so I wouldn't have to apologize for not publishing things in a more timely manner.

The topic is the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in June, 1968 (hence the wish for timeliness), and through the good fortunes of my friend Marc Ryan and the assistance of Jennifer Cooper at the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication*, I was able to get in touch with former CBS newsman Joseph Benti to chat with him about his involvement in television coverage of the RFK assassination. At the time, Joseph Benti was anchor of the CBS Morning News, as well as a correspondent covering the campaign for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination. He was the first CBS man on the air with the shocking news of Kennedy's shooting, and if you go on YouTube and watch the videos of that coverage, you'll see that Benti is the lead anchor for that early coverage, even after he's joined in the studio by Walter Cronkite and Mike Wallace.

*I've talked with so many nice people from Iowa during the course of my TV writing, I may have to take back all the things Minnesotans typically say about Iowans. 

Having watched Benti on YouTube, and having been very impressed with the work he did, I felt compelled to contact him, to be able to talk to someone who had not only lived through it, but was in the rare position to know what it was actually like—not what we read after the fact, not what people remembered seeing on TV, but someone who was there. I suppose we're all born with that desire, somewhere inside us, to not just know but to understand.*

*This isn't the first time I've written fairly extensively about television's coverage of RFK's assassination; see here for a look at ABC's extraordinary breaking-news coverage, and here for a general look at the time.

I would turn eight in May of that year, and I was, thanks to my mother, already a political junkie, so so, as was the case with the earlier assassination of Martin Luther King, I knew something significant had happened. Still, I was only eight, and no matter how interested one might be, there's only so much of the adult word that an eight-year-old is going to be able to really get. I suppose that's part of why I'm interested in the news of that era (as well as classic TV in general); it's this urge to stretch my arm out, to actually touch and feel what was happening during the early years of my life, at a time when their comprehension was just out of my reach.

Even 50 years after the fact, Benti still remembered the evening well. The vote count in California had been very, very slow, and it wasn't until after midnight in California—3:00 a,m. in New York, where Benti was located for the morning news—that Kennedy made his way to the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel to claim victory before his cheering supporters; by that time, CBS had already signed off. "The CBS Morning News [of which Benti was anchor at the time] started at 7:00, and there was this bar across the street from the studio where I was having a waker-upper. It was called The Slate, and a bunch of us were there, and I was nursing a drink, staying awake essentially, until it was time for the news. Then there was someone saying, "Bobby's been shot," and we ran back to the studio and said we had to get back on the air."

Once on the air, Benti kept viewers apprised of what was going on, along with CBS reporter Terry Drinkwater, who was at the Ambassador. "It wasn't like it is today with 24-hour news channels," he said. "We had to update the story, always refresh it." Being that it was the middle of the night, people could be tuning in at any time. "We were reading stories off the teletype as they came in." After about a half-hour, he was joined on-air by Walter Cronkite and Mike Wallace. "Wallace was trying to take over the story!" Benti remembered, remembering how Wallace at one point practically forced his way into the picture. (above) Cronkite—"we called him 'iron-cast bladder' Cronkite," Benti said with a laugh—was asked if he wanted to take over the main anchor duties, but he declined. saying, "Joe's doing just fine.".

The initial reports on Kennedy were mixed; some were even hopeful. Was this just a case of wishful thinking? "No," Benti said. "It wasn't until after the surgery, when  he didn't get any better, that things just kept getting worse. Then we knew." Kennedy died at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, where he'd been taken after initially being stabilized at Central Receiving Hospital, an emergency hospital where police gunshot wounds were often treated, and that fact led to another recollection. "For years I'd remembered it as St. Vincent's Hospital," Benti said. "And then I was talking recently to a reporter and he mentioned it was Good Samaritan, and here I'd remembered it wrong all these years."

Benti talking with John Hart from the hospital.
At the time we talked, Kennedy's son, Robert, Jr., had voiced his belief that Sirhan Sirhan was not his father's killer. Was that possible, I asked Benti. "No," he replied. "It's all acoustics." He could understand why someone like RFK Jr. might feel there had been more shots fired, or there had been a second gunman; nevertheless, "There's an echo, and people think they hear more shots than there were." It was the same, Benti felt, as what had happened in Dealey Plaza in Dallas when JFK had been assassinated. In each case, he asserted, there was only one gunman, and there was no conspiracy.

I asked Benti what the atmosphere in the country was like, with this coming only two months after Martin Luther King's assassination; did it make him wonder, if things were spiraling out of control, coming apart at the seams? Actually," Benti replied, "we were really amazed there wasn't more unrest than there was," he said. The King assassination was the bombshell, the act that rocked everyone. After that, it was as if everyone was waiting for the other shoe to drop.  "What happened to King took the edge off Bobby."

There was something else I was curious about; several times during the coverage, both he and Cronkite alluded to the principle of "innocent until proven guilty," and that even though a suspect was in custody, and they would continue to report on any developments regarding that suspect, such stories should not be construed as evidence of or a suggestion that said suspect was guilty. That had been a problem when Lee Harvey Oswald was charged with the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 (perhaps inciting Jack Ruby to murder Oswald; who knows?), and it seemed that this was the network's effort to prevent such problems this time around. It sounded, I thought, as if it had come from CBS's legal department. "No," Benti said, it was actually from CBS News president Richard Salant. "Salant was a lawyer, I think, before he came to CBS, and he was always around when there was a big story going on. I think, I'm pretty sure, that he was the one who wrote that and insisted we say it."

I was curious about other things. Over the years—perhaps starting even that night—there developed what I'd call a mythology that held as gospel the idea that Kennedy not been assassinated, he would have won the Democratic nomination and even the presidency. Things were different back then, though; in 1968, most national convention delegates were still chosen through a combination of state conventions, caucuses, and meetings controlled by party bosses; only fourteen states held primaries, of which California's winner-take-all on June 4 was by far the largest. (Humphrey didn't even enter the primaries, instead employing surrogate "favorite son" candidates in several states.) Even counting Kennedy's victory in California, CBS's delegate count gave Humphrey a significant lead; with 1,3,12 delegates needed for the nomination, Humphrey had 1,067½, compared to Kennedy's 622½, and McCarthy's 305. (The favorite sons had 492.) I asked Benti what the sense was back then among newsmen. Would Bobby have won the nomination had he lived? "No," he replied without hesitation. "Nixon and Hubert [Humphrey] were shoo-ins." At that point, the pollster Lou Harris had begun conducting vote profile analysis, in an effort to determine accurate data on voter activity. Bobby, Benti said, "generated excitement. He was a powerful force in our minds. But Humphrey had the party behind him."

We then went on to talk about other things, both past and current. For example, Benti talked about the 1965 Watts riots, which he had covered as a reporter and political editor at KCBS, Channel 2 in Los Angeles. "Pat Brown, the governor, was out of the country [in Athens, Greece*] when it started," Benti recalled. "I called the lieutenant governor's office, and I finally got through to his assistant, and I said 'look, this is a rebellion, not a riot.'" No wonder Kennedy's assassination seemed more like the other shoe dropping.

*Attending the World Congress of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association, an important ethnic constituency for Brown.

We talked a bit about television in general, and here I owe Joe Benti a great deal for helping me to follow up on that idea of television as an intimate medium, one that requires and forms a special connection with a viewer, and the influence it can thereby have. In talking about that influence, Benti referenced commercials of the late '60s and '70s, ones that incorporated males and females of different races and ethnicities.* Is it not true, he said, that these commercials helped shape the thoughts of viewers, to incline them to be more accepting, more comfortable, with an integrated landscape? "It was a commercial choice," he said, and a "commercial powerhouse" like a Coke commercial produces an image that "gives visibility" to ideas like integration. And if viewers see something on television long enough, they're likely to become more accepting of it.

*Although I don't believe it was mentioned by name, I'm thinking here of something like that "I'd like to teach the world to sing" commercial by Coke, but for that matter, it could have been any commercial that showed blacks and whites interacting as if it were the most normal thing in the world.

In talking about television news, Benti pointed out that television is "a personal medium," one that requires personalities that can make that personal connection with the viewer. He thought that there were some "young, excellent, intelligent" journalists out there, and he was particularly bullish on Brian Williams of MSNBC, whom he thought at the gravitas and ability to communicate the news clearly and effectively. "It's important that we have a strong Fourth Estate," he said, but he was very concerned that too many journalists had ceded editorial control over their work, that in major ways "the value system is corrupted" by pressures both external (political) and internal (budgets, ratings, profitability).

On that topic, he concluded with a story about Dan Rather that I found both illuminating and informative. He said that he always had the feeling Rather was "sizing me up," looking to move in on Benti's position. Rather called Benti an "invisible man," and by that he meant that Benti refused to make himself a part of the story. He related a story about the 1968 Democratic Convention, one in which both Rather and Mike Wallace had been almost confrontational in their aggressiveness in pursuing their stories, inserting themselves into the drama, as when Rather was roughed up by security forces, and police removed Wallace from the convention floor (above). "That was fine for them, that's the way they operated," he said. "I felt it was important to be in the background. I was not the story."

I thanked Joseph Benti; he'd been very generous, at his age and given that we were talking in the morning, spending time with someone who was not a professional reporter, sharing his memories of something that had happened long ago. "Have a happy life," he said, and I'll be doing my best to accomplish just that. TV  

October 15, 2018

What's on TV? Sunday, October 18, 1964

As you can perhaps tell, there's an election coming up in a couple of weeks, so regular programs are subject to preemption at a moment's notice. Kind of like a civil defense emergency, I suppose. You might also notice that there's no football on WCCO, Channel 4, even though as a CBS affiliate the usually carry NFL games. We've discussed the reason in the past; the NFL's old blackout rule prohibited any game from being shown if the market's home team was playing at home. A station like KDAL in Duluth, which was outside the blackout radius, had no such trouble showing the Vikings-Steelers game. And it's probably a good thing for The Hollywood Palace that it wasn't on this week; Ed Sullivan has such a star-packed show, the Palace never would have been able to compete. All in all, a good day of TV here in Minnesota.

October 13, 2018

This week in TV Guide: October 17, 1964

Hmm. The Hollywood Palace is preempted this week by a Dinah Shore special, and there's no Cleveland Amory review. I wonder if it's too late to change issues...

Just kidding! I know we've gotten used to those features in TV Guides from this era, but even without them, there's still plenty to look at this week. For instance, the Hollywood Teletype has a couple of interesting notes that I'd not heard of before. First, the story that "CBS executives are thinking of building a whole new series around Gilligan's Island co-star Tina Louise. I assume they're talking about her and not her character, but Gilligan stayed on the air until 1967, and most of the cast thought another season was on the way until Mrs. Paley convinced her husband to save Gunsmoke and ax the castaways instead. So how were they planning this? Replacing her on the island? Rescuing the castaways? Cancelling the show? Ah, sweet mystery of life.

And then there's Mel Allen, perhaps the most famous sports announcer in the country. Those of you born in the 1970s have probably heard of him, but you might have heard him only as the narrator on This Week in Baseball. But in his day, Mel Allen did every big sporting event, from the World Series to the All-Star Game to the Rose Bowl, and, as TV Guide puts it, he "is as much a fixture in the World Series broadcasting booth as his team, the New York Yankees, is on the field." As the longtime announcer for the Yanks, Allen has invariably been one of the four announcers (two from each team) chosen by NBC to announce the Series either on TV or radio. However, for the first time since 1947, Allen wasn't chosen, and most insiders think it was due to CBS, the new owner of the Yankees. Lest you think it's because the network doesn't want one of their employees appearing on NBC, there are also rumors that CBS is preparing to sack Allen from the broadcast team for next year, which they did.

Allen had already been dropped for the 1964 Rose Bowl broadcast in favor of Lindsey Nelson, and there's long been speculation that Allen's sudden drop in fortune is traceable back to the end of the 1963 World Series, when the Dodgers swept his beloved Yanks in four games. Near the end of that final game, Allen had lost his voice and been unable to continue; his partner in the booth, Vin Scully, took over for him. Immediately afterward, rumors began that Allen had choked up, that he had been unable to broadcast the Yankees' defeat to the hated Dodgers. (The legendary New York sportswriter Dick Young cracked that Allen suffered from a case of "psychosomatic laryngitis.") Whatever the reason, and no matter how much personal pain the sacking had caused Allen, he responded heroically in print. "What the devil," he said, referring to CBS and the 1964 Democratic Convention, "they took Cronkite off as anchor man, didn't they?" As to the true reason for his fall from grace (some said drugs or booze, others said he was too opinionated and too expensive, there were even whispers that the bachelor was gay), it's another mystery.

Regardless, the fact that TV Guide sees fit to cover it tells you what you need to know about Mel Allen's fame.

◊ ◊ ◊

One of things I mentioned in my talk at MANC, and which you've probably noticed over the years, is that talk of political bias on television is nothing new. Some of the letters which appeared in TV Guide over the years could have been written today, virtually word-for-word.

This from the Letters to the Editor section, and as is always the case, the letters TV Guide prints are representative of the many letters they receive on each topic. In this case, the focus is on NBC's That Was the Week That Was, and the opinions being expressed—well, let them speak for themselves. An anonymous writer from Stevenson, Alabama, says that "the idea crept into my head that at the end of the show, when the credits were shown, I would see the name of LBJ's campaign manager." George Morriss, of Cos Cob, Connecticut (nice alliteration there), has also had it. "It seems to me there should have been a notice at the end of the show saying: 'This was a paid political broadcast by the citizens for Johnson.' How about giving Barry a chance—we do have a two-party system." And Mrs. R. W. Hirst of Louisville, Ohio sums it up: "Enjoyed the new TW3 skits. What a relief—a program packed with bias and utterly lacking in humor!"

That probably goes some way toward explaining why the show didn't last that long. It's never a good idea to alienate almost half your viewers. Of course, as Jack Paar once suggested, it would have helped if it had been funny in the first place.

◊ ◊ ◊

As was the case last week, I don't want to emphasize sports, but I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that the Summer Olympics continue this week from Tokyo, and NBC has a 15-minute wrap-up show each night, plus two hours of coverage Saturday and an hour on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Although, as you'll see below, NBC's regular coverage was in black-and-white, their live telecast of the opening ceremonies last week was the first color broadcast televised live via satellite back to the United States (at 1:00 a.m. ET, following The Tonight Show).

Here's NBC's recap:


◊ ◊ ◊

This week's cover story is about the major change to the format of Lassie. After all these years, reports Richard Warren Lewis, The Martin family (June Lockhart, Hugh Reilly, and Jon Provost) has moved on, leaving Lassie in the hands of a new master. It's all due to the machinations of the Wrather Corporation*, the show's owner, which decided that the old format—farm, family—was too confining, too predictable, in need of refreshing. Try selling that to June Lockhart, though, who scoffs at the explanation. "There's also an old show-business axiom that you just don't mess around with a hit," she says. "The Wrather people wanted to protect themselves against any future lack of popularity. As far as this property is concerned, the humans are all expendable."

*And owner also of Muzak; make of that what you will.

I had this picture, although mine wasn't
personally autographed.
The story of how this was accomplished is fascinating, or at least interesting. In part one of a five-part story, Lassie is separated from her family by a boating accident; she's found and nursed back to health by forest ranger Corey Stuart (Robert Bray). At the conclusion of part five, the family returns to reclaim the dog. The storyline—Lewis calls it a "trial separation"—was indeed a trial, to see how viewers might react to a new scenario. The results were astounding; the ratings went through the roof, lifting the show to sixth place in the ratings for several weeks, and the decision was made to adopt the new format permanently. In a subsequent three-part adventure, the Martins decide to relocate to Australia, where dogs must undergo a six-month quarantine. "It would have broken Lassie's heart to be penned up for sixth months," according to producer Bob Golden, and after having been left with a friendly neighbor, the collie is reunited with Corey.

There's a real tension expressed in the article; Lockhart, as the spokeswoman for the cast, lets a certain amount of bitterness seep through, not only in the way the family was summarily removed from the show, but the ridiculous restrictions put on the characters during their six years in the role. "I was hardly ever allowed to kiss Hugh Reilly on the cheek. There was no affection shown. Any embrace we had, had to be like Cio-Cio-San—very cool." Still, they agree, it was a great experience, a hard one to give up. For all the fun playing "fallen women," Lockhart notes, "motherhood pays off better in the long run." For Bray, who maintained a low profile while the off-screen drama played out, it's a chance to revive a career that never quite hit the heights projected for it. For the series, which will continue until it wraps up in syndication in 1973, it's a new lease on life. And for Lassie—all six of them—the adventures keep on going.

◊ ◊ ◊

I suppose we should take a closer look at some of the programs on this week

On Saturday, Gunsmoke takes on topical issues with a thinly-disguised civil rights story about "hatred of Indians after a slain and scalped." (9:00 CT, CBS). Earlier, The Outer Limits (6:30 p.m., ABC) mixes topicality with an intriguing Harlan Ellison script in "Demon with a Glass Hand," in which the last man on Earth returns to the 20th Century (time travel, too!) to find out why alien invaders killed everyone but him. Meantime, Sunday features New York senate candidate Robert F. Kennedy on Meet the Press (5:00 p.m., NBC), and the return of Tele-Bingo (5:30 p.m., WTCN and other stations), a live, interactive bingo game show in which home viewers get an opportunity to win an appearance on the show.

Monday night Lucy offers a take on The Ladykillers with a tale of two gentlemen to whom she rents a room. They claim to be visitors to New York's World's Fair, but they're actually here to rob Mooney's bank. (8:00 p.m., CBS) At 9:00 p.m. on NBC, Andy Williams' guests are Tennessee Ernie Ford, Al Hirt, and movie producer Ross Hunter; Andy and Ernie spoof political debates. Speaking of which, Tuesday's Petticoat Junction is preempted by CBS for a half-hour political talk by Republican candidate Barry Goldwater—it's up against what, according to the letter writers anyway, must be Lyndon Johnson's favorite show, That Was the Week That Was. (8:30 p.m., NBC)

On Wednesday, CBS Reports looks at the hotly contested Senate race between RFK (see above) and his opponent, Republican incumbent Kenneth Keating. (6:30 p.m.) Keeping with the political motif, as we seem to be, Bob Hope takes on a rare dramatic role as the controversial, prohibition-era mayor of New York City, Jimmy Walker, in Beau James. (8:00 p.m., NBC) And if entertainment is what you're looking for, Danny Kaye might have it, with Angela Lansbury and John Gary. (9:0 p.m., CBS) Thursday's Perry Mason  (7:00 p.m., CBS) is a rare humorous episode (keeping in mind that there's also a murder), with John Larkin and Neil Hamilton both very funny as a family patriarch and the family's butler. Hint: the butler didn't do it. The Defenders (9:00 p.m., CBS) has a different kind of legal drama, with Cloris Leachman and Edwards Woodward on opposite sides of a libel case. Finally, on Friday George Hamilton plays, of all things, a Communist Chinese spy on Bob Hope's Chrysler Theatre (7:30 p.m.,, NBC), an episode that has a little of The Manchurian Candidate about it. Hope himself follows up on it with a guest appearance on Jack Benny's show. (8:30 p.m., NBC)

◊ ◊ ◊


Last but not least, how about this ad? Brings back some memories, doesn't it? The local Saturday (or Friday)-night horror movie, often with a host, although as this article at a very cool website recounts, there was no host on Dimension 5. It's the kind of thing most of us miss nowadays. TV  

October 12, 2018

Around the dial

This week at The Twilight Zone Vortex, Jordan reviews one of the more problematic episodes, "He's Alive," a story that should have been more intriguing than it was, with Dennis Hopper as a neo-Nazi being tutored by the not-so-great man himself. Like most episodes, it has its strong points and weak ones, but in this case the sum was less than what it could have been.

At Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, Ivan is spurred to look at the new DVD release of the 1957 series Blondie, based (of course) on the eternal comic strip of the same name. Though it only ran for 26 episodes, it features guest appearances by many of the recognizable names from classic TV and radio, as well as Arthur Lake, reprising his movie role as Dagwood.

John is back at Cult TV Blog with his summary of "Meet My Son, Harry," a 1963 episode of the ITC series The Sentimental Agent. It's a spin-off from the earlier series Man of the World, and according to John, if you like the ITC oeuvre, you're likely to appreciate The Sentimental Agent despite its flaws—one of which being, in this episode, the virtual absence of the lead character.

If you're confused, as I've been, as to how Trapper John can be played by Wayne Rogers in the TV version of M*A*S*H and Pernell Roberts (the man who once vowed never to work on television again) in the series Trapper John, M.D., then Toby's take on it at Inner Toob will be right up your alley. I particularly like how he resolved the discrepancy at the end of the article!

At Bob Crane: Life & Legacy, my good friend Carol talks about her podcast appearance with Mark Redfield, and relates a thoroughly engaging story about her relationship with Arlene Martel, the actress who appeared frequently on Hogan's Heroes, most memorably as the underground agent Tiger.

Remember Toma, the 1973-74 maverick-detective series starring Tony Musante? Television Obscurities does, and takes a look back as the show turns 45. Musante tired of series work and asked out after that one season; the producers replaced him with Robert Blake and, after briefly considering retaining the title, gave the show a new moniker: Baretta.

This week at bare-bones e-zine, Jack's Hitchcock Project continues its look at Bernard C. Schoenfeld with the second-season episode "Vicious Circle," an adaptation by Schoenfeld of the short story by Evan Hunter, with Dick York (!) good as a mob enforcer. Particularly interesting is Jack's take on how the drama could be interpreted by a contemporary viewer.

A Shroud of Thoughts remembers one of my favorite series, the gritty New York police drama Naked City, on the occasion of its 60th birthday. A trailblazing program in many ways, the show exists in two distinct versions; the original, a half-hour drama that took its name from the movie which spawned it, The Naked City, and after a hiatus, the hour-long series we know and love today. TV  

October 10, 2018

But can you dance to it?

For some reason—because I seldom remember having watched it when I was growing up—I found myself immersed in watching this clip from American Bandstand. It's an episode from the end of 1967, and it serves as a fascinating snapshot of the time. For instance, we learn that a coat and tie are still acceptable dance clothes for young men, at least when you're dancing on television. I suspect we won't be seeing that many more years.

And look at the songs in the top 40. Yes, "Light My Fire" by The Doors is #1 (at least according to AB, but there's also Frank Sinatra (albeit with help from daughter Nancy, singling "Something Stupid"), Aretha Franklin demanding "Respect," The Seekers looking for "Georgy Girl," and songs from Bobby Vee, Lulu, Frankie Valli, and Bobbie Gentry. In fact, there's just about every kind of genre listed there that you could ask for in 1967, and you wouldn't see anything remotely that eclectic in 2018. It's an astonishing commentary not only on the music industry, but on how Balkanized we've all become. If you listened to a Top 40 radio station in 1967, this kind of mix wouldn't have been surprising at all—in fact, you could probably see it most weeks on The Ed Sullivan Show. In today's world where we're our own programmers, our own storytellers, the author of our own lives—well, it's no wonder that the country's in the shape that it's in, when we have so little in common. No wonder loneliness is becoming a public health problem.

I don't know why I didn't think to dive into these archives before; Bandstand offers an excellent sample (albeit perhaps a unique one) of American pop culture at any given time. Here's a snippet of the show. "Fascinating" is a good word for it—after all, Mr. Spock has made that a very trendy word.


  TV  

October 8, 2018

What's on TV? Monday, October 9, 1967

There's a note at the beginning of today's listing that if the World Series requires a fifth game, it will air on NBC starting at 1:00 p.m., with a pre-game show at 12:30. The Minnesota Twins were eliminated on the final day of the season; had they won today's game would have been telecast by WTCN as well as NBC. In this case, I've chosen to show what TV Guide lists, rather than what actually aired. Since the game ran two hours and twenty minutes, you can probably figure out what was shown and what was preempted. Needless to say, the listings are from the Twin Cities.