March 27, 2023

What's on TV? Tuesday, March 30, 1954

Even though I’ve done many of these daily listings from the 1950s, I never stop being impressed by how many programs were broadcast back in the day. Of course, many of the daytime serials were 15 minutes, a carryover from radio, and other than the dramatic anthologies, most primetime shows were half an hour. (Fun fact: the first hour-long, non-anthology drama with continuing characters to be renewed for a second season was Cheyenne. It was also the first hour-long Western.) And we think people have short attention spans now! I wonder, though: one of the problems with contemporary television is that there’s too much original content—something like 600 series, if I remember. Nobody can watch it all, even if they wanted to. Maybe if they cut them to 15 minutes, we’d have a chance. Your issue this week is from Chicagoland.

March 25, 2023

This week in TV Guide: March 26, 1954

It really is difficult sometimes to explain the effect certain people have had on television history. Not because they weren't talented, or because their accomplishments transcended the medium, but because people don't remember them anymore. And that can be difficult for me to understand, because to me these are historical figures, as real (though perhaps not as important) as Grant, Lee, Jackson, and Sherman are to Civil War historians. Some celebrities just have more staying power than others; Arthur Godfrey and Dave Garroway, for instance, have probably disappeared from the consciousness of most people today, and yet there's no way to tell the history of television without apportioning a large part of that story to the two of them.

What about Jackie Gleason? His legacy, to the extent that it's remembered, is probably based on The Honeymooners, although film buffs will certainly remember his memorable, Oscar-nominated performance in The Hustler and his comic appearances in the Smoky and the Bandit series; others will recall that he won a Tony for Best Actor for Take Me Along, and had a series of successful, easy-listening record albums (which he supposedly arranged and conducted). And, as this week's lead story by Tom O'Malley shows, he was a larger-than-life presence off-screen as well as on: a man who, as his friends say, "really knows how to enjoy himself."

O'Malley describes Gleason as a "model of excesses," a big spender "even when he owned more bar tabs than dollar bills." Even now, when he grosses a half-million a year, one old friend bets he still hasn't got a quarter. He'll buy a thousand-dollar poodle on a whim, has (at least) 65 tailor-made suits in his closet (in three sizes, to accommodate his current weight) and "loves a good party"; he once presented a live goat to restauranteur and close friend Toots Shor because Shor "looked and smelled like one." 

Abour his weight: Fred Allen (another name sadly forgotten) once said of Gleason, "If he were a cannibal, he'd eat up the whole neighborhood." His weight fluctuates between 175 and 275, and he's known for his "much-publicized" trips to the hospital to starve it off; producer Jack Hurdle says Gleason "has to be tied down" to lose weight. But he makes sure that those 65 suits can handle it; he designs his clothes himself and has his tailor keep the "Jackie Gleason Drape" exclusive to him.

Part one of this three-part profile concludes by noting that all those friends who helped Gleason through the hard times, letting him roll up enormous tabs, knew their man. "The paid tabs are all torn up and now one of the softest touches in the business is Gleason himself."

I simply can't imagine what Gleason would have been like in the era of social media, of TMZ and E! and Entertainment Tonight. Would he still be the lovable bon vivant (warts and all) that we read about here, would he still be able to count on his chums in the media to be his co-conspirators (and frequently partners in crime)? Would he, possibly, be even bigger than he is now? Would he be as famous today as "real" housewives and celebrity sisters who've accomplished virtually nothing in their entire lives? Or would he have been laid low by a press that thirsts for scandal and loves the smell of blood, even if they have to inflict the cuts themselves? Would his relationship with them be acrimonious, contentious, punching out photographers? I'm not sure we'll ever know, but I'm not sure we'll ever have the larger-than-life figures like Jackie Gleason. To paraphrase The Great One himself, "Away they went."

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Speaking of Arthur Godfrey, as we were up there, the two primetime "Godfrey Shows" Arthur Godfrey and His Friends and Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, are the subjects of this week's unbylined review. The review speaks of Godfrey as a man "who takes up more air space on both radio and TV than most mortals have time to keep track of" (Arthur Godfrey Time, his Monday-Thursday morning show, isn't included in this review; see what I mean about Godfrey's place in TV history?); even though Godfrey's been a lightning rod for controversy since sacking Julius La Rosa last year, The Old Redhead has so far maintained his popularity and it's no wonder, since "[Godfrey's] charm has an almost mesmerizing effect on almost every viewer in the land over 41, and a good many under."

As the first program's title suggests, Godfrey still has a lot of "friends," including singers Frank Parker, the McGuire Sisters, Marion Marlowe, Lu Ann Simms, and announcer Tony Marvin, but with the exception of Parker, the rest of the regulars "bear a strong resemblance to small children doing their Sunday afternoon recitation piece for a kindly but nonetheless exacting grandfather." They owe their success to him, though; "Only Godfrey, America’s No. 1 salesman, could have taught the newcomers the essentials of showbusiness, made them work at swimming, dancing and even ice-skating, and sold them to a doting public."

Talent Scouts, described as "a sort of amateur-professional talent show which, under the aegis of anyone else but Godfrey, undoubtedly would have died a Potter’s Field death long since," is exactly what it sounds like. Three amateur performers are presented each week, introduced by their sponsors, with the winners selected by audience reaction. It may not sound like much, but this simple formula was, nevertheless, a great success; as Talent Scouts ran on radio and television from 1946 to 1958. And the list of participants is impressive: the McGuire Sisters joined Godfrey and His Friends after winning here, as did Pat Boone; other contestants included Tony Bennett, Don Knotts, Leslie Uggams, Jonathan Winters, Eddie Fisher, Lenny Bruce (!), Connie Francis, and more. 

You might wonder why I'm spending as much time on this review as I am, given that it might not seem all that interesting (at least in comparison to Cleveland Amory's witty columns). Well, you have to remember that Arthur Godfrey and His Friends is, at this time, the #6 show in the Nielson ratings, while Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts is #3. You can't underestimate Godfrey's popularity, nor his impact on television (and radio). It really is quite remarkable, and for those not familiar with him (a number that, sadly, continues to grow) it may seem unfathomable, given his lack of obvious talent. Godfrey had three things going for him, though: an avuncular, folksy personality to which viewers quickly warmed; his ability as one of the medium's greatest salesmen (sponsors loved him); and a shrewd eye for appraising and developing talent. In terms of a ubiquitious presence, maybe Regis Philbin compares to him, but it really is difficult to imagine another Arthur Godfrey today. Maybe you have some suggestions.

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I promise I didn't make this up, but when you're talking about television history and looking at an issue from the early 1950s, the time when most TV pioneers were active, I suppose it's inevitable: in that first paragraph today I mentioned both Arthur Godfrey and Dave Garroway; having just looked at the Godfrey story, who should pop up now but the Master Communicator himself, Garroway?

To be fair, Garroway is just one of many celebrities pictured here, recognizable for their various hand gestures (I wonder where Jack Benny's "Well!" is, by the way), but it's obvious that his "Peace" is first among equals. (He also has a pair of shows; in addition to Today, he hosts the primetime Dave Garroway Show on Friday nights.) More than anything else, I think this reminds us of the visual nature of television, and that it's still a new thing; in 1954 it's exciting to think that you can actually see these stars in your own home!

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Some scattered notes from the week:

We've got another one of those two-network spectaculars this Sunday, with General Foods celebrating their 25th anniversary by purchasing 90 minutes (8:00-9:30 p.m. CT) on both CBS and NBC for highlights from the musicals of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II*. If you're a fan of musicals, you'll be bowled over by the productions: Oklahoma, Carousel, Allegro, South Pacific, The King and I, and Me and Juliet. (Even yours truly, who does not consider himself a fan of musicals, recognizes four of these.) The talent isn't bad either: Gordon MacRae, Jan Clayton, John Raitt, Mary Martin (who also hosts), Yul Brynner, Rosemary Clooney, and Tony Martin are among the performers, and special guests include Jack Benny, Groucho Marx, Ed Sullivan, and Edgar Bergen. Not a bad lineup at all; I'm betting it won its timeslot. You can see a portion of the show here.

*Interestingly enough, because I'm always curious about these things, the always-reliable Wikipedia says this was aired on all four networks (including DuMont). I suspect this information came from IMDb, which seems to be the source for similar writeups, and I wasn't sure what to think until I came across this contemporary account from Time, which confirms the four-network broadcast. (And that's why I take the extra step sometimes.) General Foods must have added DuMont and ABC at the last minute, although I'm not sure what they gained from the two least-watched networks on television.

Monday's Voice of Firestone (7:30 p.m., NBC) features 16-year-old Elizabeth Evans of Akron, Ohio, winner of the Eighth Annual Voice of Democracy Contest for high school students, repeating her essay "I Speak For Democracy" in response to viewr requests. Having scored a major triumph with my research on the General Foods special, it seemed like a good idea to follow it up and check this out as well*. Elizabeth Ellen Evans was one of four winners of the contest, all of whom received prizes of $500 college scholarships and trips to Washington, D. C. I'm guessing Elizabeth may have been chosen to appear on Voice given her hometown, Akron, which was also the home of Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. The show's musical numbers include "The Lord's Prayer," "Land of Hope and Glory," and "Stars and Stripes Forever," which I imagine were performed in the same segment. You can read the entire essay here; I wonder if you could read something like this on network television today.

*That same research revealed that Elizabeth's essay was recited at least one other time on television, by Susan Huskisson, Miss Teenage Knoxville, Tennessee, on the September 28, 1968 episode of The Lawrence Welk Show. I'd imagine this wasn't the only time it was repeated on TV.

On Tuesday's Today (7:00 a.m., NBC), "William Buckley, author of God and Man at Yale, discusses his new book, McCarthy and His Enemies." Buckley, only 29 at this point, is the l'enfant terrible of the burgeoning conservative political movement; at a time when there was no significant intellectual conservatism, he becomes one of the most prominent public intellectuals on the scene. I don't have to do extra research here because I have both of these books; Buckley was a major influence on me at a time when I was just beginning to appreciate the intellectual aspect of politics. I still enjoy reading his earlier stuff, even though I think he went soft later on and sided too much with the neocons.

One other note: on Wednesday, Arlene Francis takes her Home show on the road (10:00 a.m., NBC) for its first color broadcast, from Washington D.C. ("under the cherry blossoms.") Highlights include girls from the Japanese Embassy showing off authentic costumes, a preview of the Mayflower Hotel spring fashion show, and a demonstration of the care of cherry trees. Things aren't all lightness and grace, though; Filmed overhead views of Washington's slums will be followed by Arlene showing scale models of plans for slum clearance. Lord only knows how well that turned out. We don't mention Home much except for the daily listings, but it's part of Pat Weaver's dawn-to-midnight programming for NBC viewers: Today, Home, and Tonight

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Boxing (along with wrestling) helped create early television—at one time, there were as many as six prime-time bouts a week, and there are five on this week—but now we're seeing some of the drawbacks of the mutual enrichment that came from that relationship. Two separate sources report that the upcoming heavyweight championship fight between Rocky Marciano and Ezzard Charles will not be shown on home television; the rights instead have been granted to Theater TV, which will show the fight in 61 theaters in 45 cities nationwide; those living outside of that select availability will have to be content to listen to the fight on network radio. It's the start of a trend that will grow in the years ahead; even as overexposure leads to the steady decline of boxing on network television, major bouts will migrate to theater broadcasts, and later to home pay-per-view. Nowadays it makes news when a major title fight is on free home TV. 

More sports: the baseball season starts next month, and the legendary sportswriter (and TV Guide columnist) Red Smith has his picks for the season. In the American League, the New York Yankees are going for their sixth consecutive World Series victory, and as Red sees it, "if the Yankees are to be beaten, they must beat themselves." Their opponents in the last two Series, the Brooklyn Dodgers, can expect stiffer opposition in the National League, but none of their challengers have "the superb balance expected of Brooklyn." Smith is a little off on his predictions this season: he feared that none of the Yankee rivals had done anything to challenge them, but the Cleveland Indians do exactly that, winning an American League-record 111 games and romping to the pennant; meanwhile, the New York Giants, picked to finish fourth by Red, take the National League title and then shock the Indians with a four-game sweep to win the Series. As a modern-day footnote, you've probably read about the pending collapse of regional sports channels and how it might affect the broadcasting plans for several teams, so I thought you might like to teams treated local television coverage back in 1954.

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Finally, how about some food? This era of TV Guide includes an occasional feature on regional recipes, provided by hosts of local television programs from around the country. This week we're in the Midwest, and Anne Hayes, host of Today's Woman on KCMO-TV in Kansas City, Missouri, has a recipe for Mid-America Beef Potpie. "I've always found that my listeners and viewers prefer menus typical of the average American family," she says, and "Mid-America Beef Potpie" is the very spirit of the Midwest. It’s easy to prepare and delicately spicy."

As always, if anyone tries this out let us know. TV  

March 24, 2023

Around the dial

Let's start things off this week at bare-bones e-zine, where Jack's Hitchcock Project moves to the first of two scripts by Lou Rambeau: "Hangover," from December, 1962, starring Tony Randall and Jayne Mansfield. While I'm offended that it features an alcoholic whose first name is Hadley, it sounds like a terrific, sinister episode.

At Realweegiemidget, Gill goes all the way back to 1981 and the glory days of prime time soaps, with the first episode of Falcon Crest, "In His Father's House," with Jane Wyman, Robert Foxworth, Susan Sullivan, and Lorenzo Lamas heading a cast that never, in the show's nine seasons, would lack for big names.

We've discussed the ABC Movie of the Week many times here; it remains a popular topic among classic TV fans, and at Classic Film & TV CaféRick looks at one of the more unusual entries in the series: Goodnight, My Love, Peter Hyams' neo-noir starring Richard Boone and Michael Dunn, with Barbara Bain as the femme fatale and Victor Buono as Sidney Greenstreet. Talk about great casting!

At Comfort TV, David makes me envious with his look back at close encounters with classic TV stars. It's an impressive list—I'm going to make you go over there and read it, because I don't want to pick and choose names—and I wish I could relate some experiences like that. I've seen many over the years, but the only one I've ever talked with was Gary Lockwood, who was very conversational.

John continues his series on 1980s TV at Cult TV Blog with a review of The Chinese Detective, and if you know anything about British TV and still don't remember this, it's because it's virtually impossible to find. Read what John has to say about this British-Chinese detective (David Yip) who has to battle both crime and racism on the mean streets of London's east end.

Here's the kind of story I enjoy: at the Washington Post, Benjamin Dreyer writes on HBO's reimagined Perry Mason, and the difficulty the series sometimes has with making sure the dialogue is period-authentic. I wrote about a similar article several years ago regarding Mad Men; it's another way we see the eternal challenges of viewing the past through the prism of the present.

What does Rod Serling mean to you? That's the question that Paul's asking at Shadow & Substance, with a story on efforts to erect a statue of Rod Serling in his hometown of Binghamton, NY—and how you can help. I submit it for your approval.

I've poked fun at television's attempts in the late 1960s and early '70s to be "with it"; sometimes, as in a series like Judd for the Defense, tackling current issues worked, but more often, the attempts were wince-inducing. Terence looks at the 1970-71 season at A Shroud of Thoughts, and finds that "relevant" TV didn't particularly translate to "successful" TV.

Finally, at TVParty, Cary O'Dell writes about those shows that went just one season too many. For some it will be a painful reminder of a favorite show that went, in Cary's words, "off the rails," while other examples will just confirm what you knew all along. In any case, it proves the old adage that you should always leave them wanting more; I hope we don't outstay our welcome here! TV  

March 22, 2023

Television in its natural state

Although classic television is my primary beat, that doesn’t mean I don’t pay attention to what’s going on in more contemporary TV news. And, as is usually the case, once I start digging around on a topic, one thing leads to another. In this case, I've been reading a pair of articles at Slate. (Who says I'm closed-minded?) The first, which came via a Google search that took me back to October 31, 2019, is called "The Golden Age of TV Is Over," by Sam Adams. The second, also by Adams, is from March 5 of this year, and it's entitled "Peak TV Is Over. Welcome to Trough TV." 

You might wonder about the difference between the "Golden Age" and "Peak TV," and although on first glance the two terms may seem similar, they really aren't. The Golden Age of Television, whichever one you think of (Adams thinks in terms of "the halcyon period that dates from the premiere of The Sopranos in January 1990) is steeped in quality, while "Peak TV" ("the halcyon days when streamers would throw money at established creators and new talents alike, and no idea was too strange to try for a season or three.") measures things in terms of quantity. During the Golden Age, streamers were flush with cash and therefore willing to try anything; the Peak era saw nearly 600 original series aired, hoping to overwhelm potential viewers with choices in hopes they wouldn't notice that the quality, with few exceptions, had dropped.

Now that we've got this out of the way, what does the end of Peak TV mean, and what does it have to do with our website? Well, Adams points out certain trends, from which I've extrapolated certain theories, which amount to the following:

  1. Because streamers (HBO Max, Netflix, etc.) are looking to monitize their back catalog of programs, previous seasons of your favorite show may just up and disappear, stuck in limbo until they wind up on another streamer, probably ad-supported.

    Solution: a return to physical media. You know, DVDs and such. Your physical media can't disappear without notice unless you've just been robbed and your DVD collection is the onlya thing of value you own, in which case you have my sympathies.

  2. It can take up to two years for the next season of your favorite show to drop.

    Solution: a return to a fixed seasonal structure. As far as I know, nobody ever waited two years for the next season of Friends or ER.

  3. The freedom of not having a fixed episode length encourages showrunners to write stories that may run for as many as 20 minutes over what the typical episode length is. While proponants claim this prevents stories from being truncated in order to fit a set length, some critics note that these expanded running times often encourage self-indulgence at the expense of tight editing.

    Solution: a return to a standard running time as the rule, not the exception. That "very special" cliffhanger? OK, let it run a few minutes over, but try a little discipline, people!

  4. Some shows, even ones with an established fan base, might disappear without ever having a resolution. 

    Solution: a return to self-contained episodes as the norm, with storyarcs that run for several episodes, not several years. Not every television show has to have a final episode that wraps things up.

  5. Too many new shows each season! Nobody can possibly watch them all, which means some will invariably get short-changed.

    Solution: I don't know; maybe fewer new shows? Like when there were only three networks plus a healthy inventory of first-run syndicated series.

If you've been reading carefully, you might notice that almost every concern that's been raised by the end of "Peak TV" and the onset of "Trough TV" can be tackled by returning to more traditional methods of television broadcasting. True, Trough TV may be plagued by a lack of originality, copycat concepts, and appealing to the lowest common denominator. As Adams points out, "For the first time in recent memory, it feels possible to revive the complaint from the pre–on demand era that there’s nothing good on." And, surprise, surprise: "No wonder audiences and critics alike have thrown their arms around Abbott Elementary, an old-fashioned network sitcom that provides new laughs 22 weeks out of the year."

There's an old saying that it doesn't do any good to close the barn door after the horses have escaped, and there's a good reason why it's an old saying: it's true. Not that we were ever going to return to the old days of three (OK, four) commercial networks and a handful of cable networks dominating your viewing via an inflexible schedule of programs with set start- and stop-times; between cord-cutting and streamers, we're never returning to that era again. Maybe that's a good thing, maybe not; as someone who doesn't watch a lot of new television, I'm not really in a position to say. 

Which brings us back to the somewhat obscure title of this piece. Perhaps there is what we might call a "natural state" for television. Maybe things were the way they were for a good reason, and that we're now finding out that the tried and true methods were the best ones after all. Maybe some of the challenges we're facing in this so-called Trough TV era exist because we strayed too far away from those methods. Maybe another old saying—what's old is new again—is right after all. Or maybe I'm just trying to fit all of this into some fantasy that things really were better back in the day. That could well be, and it wouldn't be the first time; I don't know. 

But one thing is for certain—television is entering yet another period of change, and as long as that's the case, it might not be a bad idea to take a second look at the "old" way of doing things. Like your parents, maybe the people who came up with them actually knew what they were doing. TV  

March 20, 2023

What's on TV? Saturday, March 15, 1969

It’s a smaller lineup than usual this week, thanks to the educational channels not broadcasting on the weekend. That doesn’t mean we have less to check out, though. For instance, there’s NBC’s Saturday Night at the Movies presentation of The Vikings, with Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, and Janet Leigh.  Judith Crist calls it “an idiot-level spectacular that passes off Ernest Borgnine as the viking daddy of Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis, as incredible a pair of blood brothers as you’d encounter in a comic strip, which this is in essence.” Well, maybe not. My money is on the basketball doubleheader in the afternoon (I discussed this on Saturday), and Jackie Gleason in the evening, with a fine lineup of comedians. And unlike The Vikings, they’re being funny on purpose. This week’s listings are from Northern California. 

March 18, 2023

This week in TV Guide: March 15, 1969

It's only fair, after all: A few weeks ago, we saw a stirring defense of the soap opera from none other than James Lipton, who hypothesized that it might be the most realistic form of drama on television. I hesitate to call this week's essay by Marya Mannes a rebuttal, since it was written before Lipton's (maybe his article was the rebuttal), but we can at least say that it's a differing opinion.

Whereas Lipton maintains that soaps are domestic dramas for a domestic society, ones that tell stories of life and death, Mannes counters that the genre deals with "a world that simply does not exist, which is doubtless why the serials fascinate millions of women and sell millions of dollars worth of detergents, cake mixes, deodorants, tooth pastes, polishes and illusions." It is, she continues, a story of one kind of America: "the comfortable suburban life of white, middle-class Protestants, the homes always impeccably neat and ultraconservative, the men either lawyers, doctors, small-business men or newspaper types, the women always perfectly coiffed and smartly attired, the forces of good and the forces of evil neatly opposed, love finally triumphant over obstacles that would have mired Eros himself." The "major illusion" of the soap opera, one trumpeted by Lipton—realism—is, according to Mannes, is one "sustained by domestic situations familiar to most people and dialogue so simple and explicit that a dropout would understand it. It is also sustained by men and women who might be the people next door, only better-looking."

Mannes goes on to discuss the many ways in which soaps drift away from reality; "Some of these may seem trivial, some are serious." Aesthetically, "[R]eal women do not do their housework in  perfectly pressed little luncheon dresses, with street shoes and coiffures fresh from the dryer" but instead "are often in housedresses or slacks and flat slippers. Their hair is, at the least, inclined to casualness, with detached or errant strands, when it is not—at the worst—in curlers." More important is the life of the average American woman as portrayed in soaps: a "total limitation of their horizons. They are given no independence of mind, spirit or action, as individual human beings; the role assigned them as wife and mother is assumed to permit no extensions and no additions." It is, she says, "indefensible." They don't read, don't take home courses, don't serve as substitute teachers, don't watch the UN on TV.

As she indicates, some of these problems are more trivial than others. We should hardly lose our cool at the lack of clutter in the average soap opera home, unless it's some kind of shaming (as we'd call it today) of the bad housekeeper. But there's something deeper at work, something that she calls "the perpetuation of attitudes which are neither relevant to the changes and needs of present life nor a preparation for a perilous future." The Achilles heel of the American commercial television industry, the need for sponsorship, yields programming—not just soaps, she stresses—that is designed "to keep as many people as possible at home in a suspension of reality and a mood to buy." "Like 'enriched' bread, which is divested of its original nutrient, the soap opera contains just enough additives to make viewers feel it is keeping up with the times." She cites a similar thinking in the way the soaps portray the "new young breed of social and political activists, what of the young idealists and draft protesters who court contempt and prison for their passionate beliefs? They're nary to be seen; "That wouldn't sell goods in Ohio or Georgia or Texas, to name a few."

This is harsh stuff, and while it's enjoyable to read Mannes lay waste to various cliches of the genre, I'm not at all sure they're all fair. Again, you need to keep in mind the context we're in: the end of the Sixties, the growth of Women's Lib. Given this, one can sense a certain disregard for the life of the average housewife, a devaluation of the values of those women who (then as now) derive satisfaction and pleasure from maintaining the home for their husband and children. As we can see from the disasterous decades since, the collapse of the domestic family has played a large role in the subsuming of the structure on which American society was built. And part of the appeal of the soap opera was always in offering housewives the chance to escape their lives for those of their television counterparts, who frequently had it worse than their viewers. In appealing for a more realistic portrayal of the world of "city families living, or trying to live, through strike after strike, through hopeless traffic, through noise and pollution and crowds and the daily brutalities of life," she's essentially advocating a daytime version of East Side/West Side, and I don't know that anybody wants that.

And yet, it would be foolish to use a broad brush in dismissing her objectives. There is something insidious about the way sponsors use programming to push their products, or the way programs of all kinds use their storylines to reinforce certain attitudes and perspectives in the minds of their viewers. It all goes back to that thin line between advocating and reflecting, between showing the world as it is and showing the world the way you, the writer or producer or sponsor, want it to be. 

There's much to be said for, as Mannes puts it, placing "an unlimited succession of human woes, sins and follies" within the context of "living realities instead of manufactured crises." It's time, she concludes, to free the viewer "from the soap that leaves a blurring and distorting film." Perhaps James Lipton, a year later, was trying to reassure Mannes that the soap opera was on its way, headed in that direction even if it hadn't yet reached its destination. 

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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 guests: George Burns; rock singer Janis Joplin; Jacques d'Amboise of the New York City Ballet (with a ballet version of Irish folk dances); singer Ed Ames; comedian Scoey Mitchell; country stars Chet Atkins and Floyd Cramer; saxophonist Boots Randolph; the USAF Strategic Air Command Band (playing “Strike Up the Band’); Honey Ltd.; and the Carols, novelty act. 

Palace: Sammy Davis Jr, takes the spotlight. Grooving with him are the James Brown Revue, Mod Squad’s Peggy Lipton (in her TV singing debut) and singer Charo (Mrs. Xavier Cugat). Providing comic touches: Nipsey Russell and Laugh-In’s Dave Madden, who comments on trite sayings. .

I swear, people watching Ed's show this week must have gotten some kind of cultural whiplash, being thrown from the old guard (George Burns) to Marya Mannes' "new young breed" (Janis Joplin) to the classical (Jacques d'Amroise) to country (Atkins and Cramer) to the establishment (the SAC Band). I get exhausted just typing it. But if you're in the business of entertaining the entire household, of delivering something for everyone, then this is the show for you. On the other hand, speaking of being exhausted, can you imagine a show with Sammy Davis Jr. and James Brown? I'm really too tired to come up with anything other than a Push for the week.

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Throughout the 60s and early 70s, TV Guide's weekly 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 shows of the era. 

When was the last time we had a positive—I mean really positive—review from ol' Cleve? Well, get ready, because ABC's new variety series This Is Tom Jones is the real thing.

Displaying "one of the most infections grins ever to cross the Atlantic," Jones captivates from the very beginning of the very first show, a program "so sumptuously mounted and inventively shot that, compared to most American variety shows, it broke new ground in not only backgrounds, but in variety too." The camera in production numbers "literally seemed to dart in and out, giving us so many peek-a-boos that at times it almost seemed sublminal." And while Jones occasionally looked "like a sick fish" when he leaned on a rock number, he also displayed a smoothness with his guests and (all-girl) staff that "seemed as charming as Dean Martin." The guests were also, for the most part, very good, particularly "a young French singer, Mireille Mathieu. The only way to stop her from stealing a show would be to arrest her before the show starts." Now, we've read about her in TV Guide before, so we shouldn't be surprised by Cleve's captivation with her, nor that he refers to a later show featuring "a singer from the first show who was evidently out on parole. Can you guess who she was? Well, we'll give you a hint—her initials are M.M." 

Amory had wondered if this first show would be the exceptioin rather than the rule, if they would "still use all this high-test or go back to regular gas" but he needn't have worried; "This Is Tom Jones was high-test all the way," beginning with a performance of "Help Yourself" on a stage "with so much going on that it was just like watching a three-ring circus," before deftly and almost imperceptibly segueing into a soft and memorable rendition of "Green, Green Grass of Home." The show included two particularly memorable guest appearances from relative newcomers: a Welsh singer named Mary Hopkin and a comedian named Richard Pryor. Not bad.  Yes, there's more than Mireille to this show, and as long as Tom Jones brings it, he'll continue his "tremendous start."

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One of the tragedies of American education over the decades is the virtual disappearance of music appreciation courses. Numerous reasons have been given for this, reasons that rapidly become political and which we don't need to discuss here. But I have to wonder how much of a role was played by the cancellation of programs like Captain Kangaroo. The pictures on the left shows highlights from "Jazz Week," a special week beginning April 7, in which the Captain (Bob Keeshan) and Billy Taylor, the American jazz pianist, composer, and broadcaster (he's currently porgram director of New York's WLIB radio) are going to present a history of jazz, featuring special guest artists.

On the top left, we see the African musical group Babatunde Olatunji and Company; tenor saxophonist George Coleman is on bottom left; on on bottom right is ragtime/blues pianist Willie "the Lion" Smith, along with Keeshan and Taylor. Other musicians include Wilbur de Paris' Zeba, talking about improvisations, solos, and counterpoint; the Eddie Daniels Quintet, demonstrating swing and bop; and Taylor's own quintet, performing with the Eric Gales group to demonstrate the influence of jazz on rock. "Might make for some swinging kids," the article concludes.

I was critical, or at least ambivalent, when I wrote about the generation that grew up watching Captain Kangaroo, but at the same time I retain a great affection for the program. My love of reading started with the Captain (as it did for my wife), and it, along with Bugs Bunny cartoons, provided me with an introduction to music appreciation. Programs such as Sesame Street, for all the good they may do, seldom offer such long-form exploration of single topics like music; local children's shows, especially in large cities, often had guests from that city's performaning arts groups. And so, again, I wonder how much the disappearance of shows like these (and Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts) have had to do with the lack of music appreciation. 

The appreciation of the classics, including jazz and its related genres, may seem like a small part of a child's education, but it helps to create a well-rounded, civilized young person growing into adulthood, and I think we can certainly use more of that in today's culture.

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I'm aware that there are a lot of things that were amazing back in the day, but hardly attract any attention now; the fact that I was amazed by these things just reminds me of how old I am. For instance, it's hard to explain what a big deal the Houston Astrodome was when it was built. A domed stadium! Indoor football and baseball! Even a basketball game, with a record crowd! It seemed as if there was nothing the Astrodome couldn't do, and we get an example of this on Saturday's Wide World of Sports, with coverage of last week's Grand Prix Midget Auto Racing Championship for dirt track cars (5:00 p.m. PT, ABC). The idea of indoor auto racing—well, that just about takes the cake. And if you think dirt track rasing isn't the real thing, the drivers are Bobby Unser, Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, and other stars from Indycar racing. You can see highlights of that race weekend here

Sunday's Public Broadcasting Laboratory (8:00 p.m., NET) presents a cinema-verite profile of Johnny Cash, "an authentic folk hero, self-made from the crucible of the American experience during the Depression." The producers explain that Cash's reticence required them to rely on observation; there is no narration, and besides excerpts of Cash performing, we see him visiting his family, returning to an Arkansas shack in which he once lived, and a chance meeting between Cash and Bob Dylan. You can see this documentary on YouTube.

On Monday, a two-hour ABC News Special, "Three Young Americans In Search of Survival" (9:00 p.m.) tells the story of these three young people, working to better the world they live in. One is an environmentalist, the second works with blacks in the ghetto, and the third is fighting water pollution. One could do a similar documentary today, using the same title, to tell of three young people struggling with the prospect of finding work in the rust belt, poverty and illiteracy in the Applechians, and searching for meaning to life in a world rapidly stripping away all cultural norms; that's the kind of thing I think of when someone talks about searching for survival. But we deal here with what we're given; Paul Newman narrates the special. By the way, it's interesting how the definition of "young people" has changed over the years; these three are 26, 32, and 30, respectively; Greta Thunberg would probably accuse them of being part of the establishment.

Tuesday's Red Skelton Hour (8:30 p.m., CBS) features guest star Merv Griffin spoofing his own show, interviewing three of Red's most famous characters: Cauliflower McPugg, Boliver Shagnasty, and Willy Lump-Lump; Merv also sings his back-in-the-day hit, "I've Got a Loverly Bunch of Coconuts." I love hearkening back to those days when talk show hosts had to have some actual talent. After an interlude with The Doris Day Show, CBS continues with an episode of 60 Minutes with Mike Wallace and Harry Reasoner (10:00 p.m.), which, as the listing reminds us, was then a bimonthly show. It's easy to forget that it wasn't until 1971 that 60 Minutes first aired on Sunday nights, and it was 1973 before it settled there for good.

Andy with Donovan. Dig the groovy shirt!
Speaking of Sunday, I always think of Glen Campbell's show as beng on Sunday, probably because he started out as the summer replacement for the Smothers Brothers, but here he is on Wednesday, leading off an interesting night of variety shows. (8:00 p.m., CBS) Glen's guests tonight are Jim Nabors and Bobbie Gentry, and there's a note at the end that Cleveland Amory will be reviewing the series next week. That's followed by a pair of specials on NBC: first, Bob Hope presents "an hour of comedy and song" with guests Jimmy Durante, Cyd Charisse, Ray Charles, and Nancy Sinatra. (9:00 p.m.) After that Andy Williams hosts a flower-power "Love Concert" (even the stage is covered with flowers) with Jose Feliciano, Donovan, the aforementioned Smothers Brothers, and the Ike and Tina Turner Soul Review. (10:00 p.m.) Hang on a minute while I get my Nehur jacket and beads.

I've mentioned this before, I'm sure, but I'm counting on most of you having forgotten about it. (At least I'm honest!) As you're reading this, we're in the midst of March Madness, with everyone and his great-aunt hosting some kind of bracket to make the NCAA basketball tournament worth watching. The tournament wasn't always such a big deal, though; on Saturday afternoon, NBC broadcast an "Elite Eight" doubleheader (it was just called the quarterfinals back then) featuring two of the four games being played—the Eastern and Central time zones got the East and Mideast finals, while the Mountain and Pacific time zones got the Midwest and West finals. Now, on Thursday, the winners of those four games meet in the Final Four in Louisville, and once again the game—yes, you only got to see one of the games—depends on where you live. The East and Central get the first game, the Mountain and Pacific get the second, which in this issue means Drake vs. defending champion UCLA. (7:30 p.m.) Dragnet and The Dean Martin Show follow the game. Once again, we're reminded how times have changed.

NBC finishes the week with a couple of interesting programs on Friday; first, The Name of the Game (8:30 p.m.) showcases a terrific lineup of British guest stars: Honor Blackman, Maurice Evans, Brian Bedford, and Murray Matheson among others. The story takes Glenn Howard (Gene Barry) to London to defend the company against a libel case being prosecuted by a crooked counselor (Blackman). Then, it's a Bell Telephone Hour special on the great Hollywood movies of David O. Selznick. Henry Fonda narrates; the special includes, for the first time on television, the burning of Atlanta scene from Gone with the Wind.

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Finally, the start of baseball season is just around the corner, and one of the most interesting former baseball players around is Joe Garagiola, one of the hosts on NBC's Today. Now, I'll admit that I've never been a particular fan of Garagiola—I always thought his mouth was a little too small for the number of words trying to get out, and I didn't find his humor that funny—but I'll also admit when I'm wrong, and in this case I've come away from Stanley Frank's article much more impressed than before.

Joe's been on Today for the last year and a half, and during that time the show's ratings have risen to an all-time high. After an eight-year career, spent mostly as a backup catcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, he segued into broadcasting. He'd already become a popular after-dinner speaker because of his folksy, self-deprecating sense of humor, and an appearance with Jack Paar eventually led to his role on Today. You might have expected him to serve as the token jock on the show, reading the scores and narrating the highlights from last night's games, but you'd be wrong. "Joe has a marvelous quality of cutting through the malarkey from pundits and pretentious writers by asking the questions viewers want to hear," producer Al Morgan says, explanating why he expanded Garagiola's role beyond sports. "He’s a very bright. guy who does his homework. Besides, I could trust his taste and judgment implicitly." Adds Today host Hugh Downs, "I have a tendency to be stuffy and pedantic. Joe's direct, down-to-earth approach counterbalances that element in me and gives the show the vigor that keeps it moving. He knows how to bring out the truest in a guest. That's his great forte."

Garagiola shares his experiences interviewing people outside the sports beat. Of poet Marianne Moore, whom Garagiola had never heard of prior to researching her for the interview, he said, "She bowled me over with her charm. She had a violent crush on the old Brooklyn Dodgers and reminisced about them for 10 minutes. I finally got her to talk about poetry and I was given a better appreciation of it than I'd ever learned in school." During one interview, he contfronted cultural historian Lewis Mumford, who deplored living conditions in the cities and suburbs, but admitted that although he had an apartment in New York, he went to his house in the country when life in the city got to be too much. "Few people can afford to maintain two homes,” Garagiola replied. "People like you should be working on solutions for urban problems instead of writing off the whole thing as a hopeless mess." And when Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), complaining about discrimination in America, said, "I live here, but it's not really my country," Garagiola told him during a commercial break that "If you want to move, OK. But if you want to live here, you'd better go out there and square yourself with people who are sympathetic to your cause." After they returned, Alcindor said he hadn't really meant to repudiate his citizenship.

Garagiola puts in 12-hour days preparing for interviews. When talking to authors, "Downs admits he skims through 20 percent of a book; but Joe, lacking his colleague’s background, reads it all the way through." The foyer of his house is lined with 20-foot shelves of books; Garagiola has read most of them. He enjoys Today, but admits to an idea he toys with: "I'd like to do a Saturday morning show talking to two kids without patronizing or putting them down and see the world through their eyes." He also recalls talking with members of the hippie compound at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. "When I asked what their beef was against society, they gave me a lot of tired cliches and ended every sentence with, 'You know what | mean?' Well, I didn’t know what they meant and they couldn't express it, clearly and simply. Maybe a guy like me could help them bridge the communications gap." That sounds like a home run idea to me; it's a pity people can't try something like that today.

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MST3k alert:
 The Deadly Mantis (1957) "A paleontologist suspects that a gigantic prehistoric mantis has returned to life. Craig Stevens, Alix Talton, William Hopper." (Saturday, 2:30 p.m., KHSL) 

You would think that a movie starring a couple of superstar detectives like Peter Gunn and Paul Drake would be better than this, right? But it's still good fun. TV  

March 17, 2023

Around the dial

This week begins with the return of Love That Bob to The Horn Section, and this time Bob's not the wolf preying on a lovely—he's actually trying to protect the lovely from another wolf: his friend Paul Fonda (Lyle Talbot). How does it work when the shoe's on the other foot, so to speak? Read what Hal has to say.

Something unusual at Cult TV Blog; John looks at the never-aired pilot for Blackadder, Rowan Atkinson's wonderfully funny alt take on British history. The entire Blackadder series is one of my favorites, and its quite interesting to document the differences between the series as aired and this pilot; as John says, it's hard to disagree with the changes made between the pilot and the series.

At A Shroud of Thoughts, Terence pays tribute to the career of producer and director Bert I. Gordon, who died last week, aged 100. Dedicated MST3K fans will recognize many of his movies, which tormented and delighted the show's fans: King Dinosaur, Beginning of the End, The Amazing Colossal Man, War of the Colossal Beast, Earth vs. the Spider, Tormented, Village of the Giants. Colossal!

Here's something you're not going to see in any store anytime soon, unless it deals in antiques: a television tube tester, courtesy of the Broadcasting Archives. I'm grateful, of course, for the new technology in TV, but there was something warm about those old sets, especially in the store, that I still remember. Wouldn't the tech who operated the tube tester have had a great line for What's My Line?

Episode 144 of Eventually Supertrain is up, and while we haven't gotten to Supertrain yet, Dan does have discussions of Lucan, Gemini Man, and something new, so be sure and check it out when you've got some time.

At Travelanche, a subject that, as he says, is sure to divide his audience: Jerry Lewis on television. I've always enjoyed him as a performer and humanitarian (I'm agnostic on his personal life), but there's no questioning that the man made a major impact on television history.

And if all this talk about classic television has got you in the mood for watching some, a reminder that one of the best places on the whole internet for viewing is Uncle Earl's Classic Television. This is one of my go-to sites, especially for shows that lack a proper DVD release. If you want to see for yourself what I keep talking about, go over there and visit the library. TV  

March 15, 2023

The Descent into Hell: "The General" (1967)

indoctrinate (in·​doc·​tri·​nate) verb. 1: to teach or inculcate a doctrine, principle, or ideology, especially one with a partisan or sectarian opinion or specific point of view. 

In man's eternal quest for knowledge, it sounds like a panacea, manna from heaven: an online learning program that allows a student to take a three-year college-level course in history in just three minutes. It's the most egalitarian of education opportunities, available, free, to everyone. You don't even have to leave home for it: it's delivered right over your television screen. And if you think you're the kind of person who can't learn like that, just ask The Professor: "It can be done," he says. "Trust me." 

What could possibly go wrong?

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There was something about The Prisoner from the very beginning, something that set it apart from other programs on television, before or since. It might have been the vividness of the color, or the style of Ron Granier's arresting theme, or the near-surreality of Portmeirion, the Welsh tourist village that became The Village in the series. Most likely, though, it was the defiant statement made by the series' protagonist in the initial episode. When told that he is, from now on, to be known not by his name but simply as "Number 6," he replies, "I am not a number; I am a free man!

This proclamation of individuality was different from those we're most familiar with, which usually have to do with greed or licentiousness—free to do, free to be, etc., etc. No, this was different—it was not external, but internal; not about an act, but about a state of being. It was a radical statement, coming as it did in the chaos of the 1960s, and part of its radicality was that it was not only a separation from the establishment, but from the counterestablishment as well. It meant free will, yes, but also freedom from organizations, from ideologies, from movements. "I am my own man," the statement says, and when we try to reconcile that with Donne's reassurance that "No man is an island," we can only think that this man is not afraid to stand alone against those who seek to subsume him; he hopes, however, that in so doing he will set a standard to which others can rally. It may mean a life of loneliness, of ridicule, contempt, exclusion, even death; his triumph will eventually come in the end, however, even if he is not alive to witness it.

The Prisoner presumed to tell the story of this struggle over the course of 17 episodes, and while its conclusion—that we are in fact our own jailers, our own oppressors—shocked and outraged viewers everywhere, it also inspired those who believed that one man could make a difference, that integrity could win out, that resistance wasn't necessarily useless, as long as that resistance itself didn't become a means of conformity. Heady stuff, for a television series with a cumulative running time of less than 17 hours, not including commercials.

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The premise of The Prisoner is critical to understanding the series; at the same time, its role in the big picture of each episode is often insubstantial. The Prisoner began as a quasi-spin off of a 1960s British espionage series called Danger Man (broadcast in the United States as Secret Agent), which starred Patrick McGoohan as John Drake, an agent at war against England’s enemies and, at times, against his own bosses. Unlike James Bond, Drake (at McGoohan's insistence) resorted to violence only as a last resort, and eschewed any romantic interest in women. Despite this (or perhaps because of it?), the series ran for three full seasons (the first of which consisting of 30-minute episodes), and had started a fourth season (and the first in color) when McGoohan announced that he was leaving the series to begin The Prisoner.

The Prisoner can be said to pick up where Danger Man leaves off; the opening credits tell the story of a nameless man, a secret agent now retired, who while preparing to go on vacation is kidnapped and taken to a mysterious village (or, since it's a proper noun, The Village) where everyone’s name has been replaced by a number. Some of them are prisoners, some are agents of The Village. Who knows which is which?

The Village is run by—well, that's just one of the mysteries. It could be an Eastern bloc country—East Germany, perhaps, the loyal lackeys of the Soviets; or, per The Manchurian Candidate, Red China. It could be a nation outside of the major powers—a rogue country, we'd call it today; or even an individual; think Doctor No, or George Soros. Or it could be the West, organized by the Dulles-era CIA, suspicious of anyone trying to assert their independence; or the Brits, still stung by the betrayals of Kim Philby, Anthony Blunt and Guy Burgess, and obsessed with suspecting their own. In this world, nothing and no one is above suspicion. We know only that the supreme leader of chimera-like city-state, the Big Brother of The Village, is the unseen, unheard, Number 1. 

Number 1’s major domo, the prime minister, as it were, is aptly called Number 2, and as an individual is completely interchangeable; we see a different Number 2 virtually every week. And while Number 2's responsibilities envelop the whole of The Village, he appears to have one overriding question of this new prisoner, whom he has dubbed Number 6: Why did you resign? It is a question which Number 6 stubbornly refuses to answer: My reasons, he says, are my own. 

Subequent episodes feature the struggle of the Village overlords, under the direction of Number 2, to obtain the answer to their question "by hook or by crook," while Number 6 fights his twin battles: to escape from The Village, and to resist their questioning. All the while, one overriding question hangs over the series: who is Number 1?

As for The Village itself—well, that's perhaps the most perplexing of all. Unlike the other interrogation centers we've seen, The Village is not a grim underbelly, a vista dominated by Brutalist architecture swathed in a uniform grayness. It is, in fact, beautiful: the small flats in which Number 6 and his fellow inmates reside are neat and tidy—all the comforts of home, really. The architecture of the civic and social buildings is playful and imaginative, the grounds manicured and colorful. You might find it so pleasant that you would choose to stay there forever.

Which raises the question: is there such a thing as dystopia in paradise?

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"The General" was the sixth episode of The Prisoner, airing in the UK on November 3, 1967. In the United States, where The Prisoner was the summer replacement for The Jackie Gleason Show on CBS (the same network on which Danger Man/Secret Agent was shown), it aired on July 13, 1968. Not that the broadcast order necessarily matters; like so much about The Prisoner, it's somewhat enigmatic.

The story opens with another typically bucolic scene in The Village, where it seems as if everyone is taking part in the latest offering for the betterment of residents: a three-part home course on history, presented by The Professor. Today's 15-second course is called "Europe Since Napoleon," which will be broadcast over The Village’s single television station. Number 6 reads a poster for the class, featuring a picture of "The Professor," the class instructor and proponent of "Speed Learn," the method used to teach the course. "It can be done," The Professor says encouragingly on the poster. "Trust me." There is also a quote from "The General," promising "One hundred per cent entry, one hundred per cent pass." 

Number 6 becomes more curious after Number 12, another resident, suggests to him that he enroll. “You’ll find The Professor most interesting.” When Number 6 asks who he is, Number 12 replies “A cog. . . in the machine.” 

On the way back to his cottage, Number 6 notices a crowd on the beach chasing someone apparently trying to escape; Number 6 is surprised to find out the man being chased is The Professor. While hurrying down to the beach himself, Number 6 stumbles over a tape recorder buried in the sand. On the tape he can hear The Professor’s voice: "This is The Professor speaking. I have an urgent message for you." Before he can listen further, he’s interrupted by men in an emergency buggy. Number 6 quickly hides the recorder as the men pull up in front of him and urge him to return home for the start of the class. "Hundred per cent entry, hundred per cent pass," one tells him. "You know what The General said." In his voice, it is more of a command than a suggestion.

Number 6 decides to watch the course; The Professor, who has been captured and returned, appears on-screen to introduce today’s lesson. As hypnotic music plays, the camera focuses on a picture of The Professor, zooming in on his left eye. After 15 seconds, everything returns to normal. Following the class, Number 2 and one of his assistants enters Number 6’s cottage, looking for the recorder, and suggesting that he might be open to a deal: the recorder in return for Number 6’s freedom. Number 6 evades his comments. Number 2 then begins quizzing Number 6 about the class, and Number 6 is surprised to discover that he knows by rote facts about European history, ranging from the date of the Treaty of Adrianople to when Greek independence occurred to who Bismarck's ally was in the Second Schleswig War vs. Denmark. Furthermore, everyone he talks to is able to recite the same facts, word for word.

Later, returning to the beach, Number 6 finds Number 12 in possession of the recorder, which he gives to Number 6. Turning to leave, he asks Number 6 "What was the Treaty of Adrianople?" When Number 6 replies, "September, 1829," Number 12 tells him he asked "what," not "when" and adds,"You need some special coaching." Listening to the tape, Number 6 hears The Professor’s voice again, picking up where he left off: ". . . I have an urgent message for you. You are being tricked. Speed Learn is an abomination. It is slavery. If you wish to be free, there is only one way: destroy The General. Learn this and learn it well: the General must be destroyed!"

We next see Number 6 attending an art class—another of The Village's "voluntary" activities—which happens to be taught by The Professor’s wife. (A particularly instructive moment occurs when Number 6 witnesses a man tearing pages out of a book and asks The Professor's wife what he's doing: "He's creating a fresh concept. Construction arises out of the ashes of destruction.") Number 2 shows her a drawing he's done of her dressed as a general, which seems to irritate her; later, searching their home, Number 6 comes across busts she's sculpted, including both Number 2 and Number 6. When she finds him and demands that he leave, he asks her if she's done a bust of The General as well.

In talking with her, Number 6 comes to understand that while The Professor and his wife came to The Village voluntary (or so she claims) and have been treated as VIPs with certain privileges, The Professor is now trying to break away, and his wife, out of concern for him (or is it just ambition on own part?) is trying to pretend as if nothing is wrong. In the meantime, The Professor is being tended to by a doctor, ostensibly due to exhaustion from preparing all the lessons for his classes; in all likelihood, the treatments are designed to keep him from rebelling—to keep him functioning as a tool of The Village. The Professor’s wife confides to Number 2 that Number 6 seems obsessed with The General. Number 2 tells her not to worry; "I have an obsession about him."   

The next day Number 12 arrives at Number 6’s cottage on the pretense of supervising repair work on an electrical short. He asks Number 6 if he’d like to see The Professor’s words on the tape recorder go out in place of the next class. Number 6, concerned that Speed Learn is a tool of mind control or indoctrination, agrees, whereupon Number 12 gives him a security pass disc that will get Number 6 into the Administration building, and tells him to be there the following morning.

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Isn't Speed Learn an interesting concept? "A three-year course indelibly impressed upon the mind in three minutes." Imprinted—downloaded, if you will—right onto your brain while you're hypnotized by what's on screen; I wonder if that's what the Chinese used in The Manchurian Candidate? And the machine that facilitates it is called the Sublimator—a nice touch. You remember how subliminal images of food and drink used to be inserted into movies to make people in the theater hungry and get them to buy popcorn and soda, all without them being aware? We didn’t like it then, so why should we tolerate it anywhere else? Even the word sublimator has a sinister connotation, as if you’re trying to get away with something you shouldn’t be doing. It's a very effective tool for indoctrination.

Indoctrination, of course, isn’t limited to education (or movie makers); in fact, there are many educators who would steadfastly denounce it. But there’s more than one way to “educate” people. Take, for instance, the media. It doesn’t matter what kind of media we’re talking about; it all has to do with presenting the news in such a way as to mold your reaction to it—to ensure that your opinion conforms. They control access to the facts they choose to present, the video they choose to show, the people who face their cameras and write on their pages; you could say that they control access to the access. 

You notice how, after taking the course, everyone answers the questions by rote, right down to the use of the same words? Their answers don't vary, even by a comma. Haven’t you ever gotten curious when newscasters do the same thing, report a story right down to using virtually the same words, the same phrases, on every network? Almost as if they’re all working from the same script, isn’t it?

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In the end, Number 6's plan to substitute The Professor's warning in place of the regular lecture fails, as it must. He is recognized by Number 2 and brought into the boardroom, where he is interrogated by Number 2 and Number 12 (who must maintain his cover). Once again, they demand answers from Number 6; instead of "Why did you resign?" however, this time the question is "Who’s the head of the organization" behind the 'conspiracy.'

Number 2 ridicules Number 6 over his insignificant attempts to replace The Professor’s lecture with "This reactionary drivel that you were on the point of sending out to our conscientious students: 'the freedom to learn,' 'the liberty to make mistakes,' old-fashioned slogans. You are an odd fellow, Number 6, full of surprises." He goes on to explain why the conspiracy must be crushed: "I'm sure that a man of your caliber will appreciate that rebels... that rebels must be kept under the closest possible surveillance with a view to their extinction if the rebellion is absolute."

Realizing that Number 6 will not break, Number 2 changes tactics and, with Number 12, takes him down a series of corridors to a large room where The Professor is typing out his latest lecture. "Allow me to introduce—'The General.' " He pulls back a pair of curtains to reveal—surprise—a room-size supercomputer, The Professor’s invention. "He gave birth to it and loves it with a passionate love; probably hates it even more." "That mass of circuits," Number 2 continues, "is as revolutionary as nuclear fission. No more wastage in schools, no more tedious learning by rote: a brilliantly devised course, delivered by a leading teacher, subliminally learned, checked and corrected by an infallible authority." When Number 2 observes that the result will be "a row of cabbages," Number 2 corrects him: "Knowledgeable cabbages."

Having failed to extract the information from Number 6, Number 2 has decided he will simply feed the information into The General, which will deliver its infallible answer. Motioning to The Professor, he begins to dictate the salient points: a traitor in The Village, Number 6 in possession of a security pass disc, distribution of which comes only through Administration—Number 12’s department. But before the information can be fed into The General, Number 6 bates Number 2 by issuing a challenge of his own: ask The General a question that cannot be answered.

Unwilling to back down in the face of Number 6’s dare, Number 2 allows him to ask the question. Number 6 walks to the terminal, presses four keys, takes the tape generated by the terminal, and feeds it into The General. Immediately, dials begin fluctuating wildly, and the machine starts to smoke and spark while The Professor frantically tries to turn it off. As Number 12 rushes to assist, the computer explodes, killing both The Professor and Number 12. 

"What was the question?" the stunned and broken Number 2 asks. "It's insoluble, for man or machine," Number 6 replies. Number 2 asks again, and Number 6 tells him: "W. H. Y. Question mark." "Why?" Number 2 repeats. "Why?" Number 6 says. Number 2 is left repeating, " ... Why?" as Number 6 leaves the room.

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It’s interesting that presents both instruction and training as synonyms for indoctrination, as if it could somehow infuse the word with a kind of value-free meaning. Indoctrination deservedly carries with it a negative connotation, because it’s not education so much as it is reeducation, a way of presenting information to ensure conformity—Groupthink—as a natural way of thinking. Or, to be more precise, to eliminate the need for thinking altogether, for Groupthink encourages infantilism: Here, let me do that for you, you don’t want to hurt yourself by thinking too hard.

We encountered the danger of rote learning back in “The Children’s Story,” when James Clavell used his daughter’s inability to explain what the Pledge of Allegiance actually meant as the basis for his subversive take on education. There are facts that are important to know, but one also has to have the ability to understand, to put things in context and thereby draw conclusions from them, and teaching this type of critical thinking is often absent.

This is nowhere more apparent than in the discovery of the secret behind The General. Even in 1967, the idea of a computer pulling all the strings was becoming something of a cliché; science fiction programs like Doctor Who and Star Trek had dealt with it many times. However, even though the visual concept of a giant supercomputer dates the series, the logic behind it remains sound. And what does it mean that these electronic brains, seen by the writers as threats to our freedom, have evolved into items of convenience for modern living? One would have to be a fool to deny how willingly we’ve allowed these programmed algorithms and artificial intelligence bots to make our decisions for us; in doing so, we seem to be getting ever farther away from thinking for ourselves. 

When Number 6 challenges the computer, he does so not as Captain Kirk might, by using its own logical against it, but by posting the most human of questions: Why? And think about it: why is one of the first questions that we learn as infants. We’re always asking our parents why this and why that, and the answer we get is always the same: Because. There’s no need to go any further, to justify the answer, because they’re adults and we’re not; they know more than we do. And that’s fine when one is five years old; it’s another thing when it happens to adults. Let me repeat: Groupthink encourages infantilism.

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The Prisoner is a series comprised of questions, and "The General" is no exception: Who is Number 1? Why did you resign? Who is The General? Who is the head of the conspiracy? It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the most devastating moment of the episode is also sparked by a question: "Why?"

It’s precisely that type of questions that The General proposes to render irrelevant. If you simply give people everything you want them to know, then there’ll be no reason for questions. Whereas The General implies knowledge, questions suggest a lack of knowledge, and if you don’t know what you don’t know—well, then, there’s nothing to ask, is there?

Anyone even slightly familiar with The Prisoner probably knows the great reveal of the series’ final episode, that [SPOILER ALERT] Number 6 turns out to be Number 1. While there’s a school of thought that takes this to be literal—that Number 6, as Number 1, allowed himself to be embedded in The Village as a fellow prisoner, presumably to root out security threats—the consensus remains that that the ending—indeed, the entire series—is allegorical, that McGoohan seeks to suggest that we are all our own jailers, imprisoned in the cells we create for ourselves. The Professor is as much of a prisoner as everyone else in The Village. His greatest creation, The General, is also is warder; Number 2 shows a great deal of perception in identifying the computer as both The Professor’s greatest love and his greatest hate. 

Each episode of The Prisoner concludes with an image of prison bars superimposed over Number 6's face. There are many kinds of prisons, however; fear, as we’ve seen in past installments of this series, is one of them. FDR said as much when he called fear the only thing to be afraid of. And if those in power seek to keep everyone else imprisoned, whether literally or through such things as ignorance, it is because they are imprisoned by their own fear—the loss of power. Number 2, the all-powerful figure of The Village, is a prisoner himself, subject to the whims of Number 1. The fact that there is a new Number 2 each week only emphasizes how Number 2 really deals not from power, but from fear.

In order to hold on to their power, the powerful become the architects of fear. Not that they’ll show it to your face; as Number 2 says of The Professor, “People love him, they'll take anything from him. It's the image, you see, that's important: the kindly image.” They’ll cite their confidence in things like science in support of what they say. And when they warn of the calamities that await unless--, they may describe cataclysmic events such as pandemics, ecological disasters, revolutions, and the dangers of knowledge. They may substitute paranoia for caution and censorship for discussion. They will give you no alternative. And, if they’re lucky, all this will happen without you even being aware of it. 

The powerful thrive on fear, which is why it must be resisted; otherwise, we wind up imprisoning ourselves. After all, it’s hardly a coincidence that the one phrase appearing in the Bible more often than any other is fear not. Just as well, the prophet Isaiah promises that Lord’s Anointed One will “proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners.” Even the most powerful are going to have a hard time defeating that. TV