July 23, 2021

Around the dial

At Cult TV Blog, John makes a terrific point about the problem with TV shows set in a time other than the time in which they're made: there is "a lack of authenticity in period showsthey can't really get into the mindset" of the original time. And then there's Manhunt, the World War II British drama from 1970, which gets it "just right." Find out what he likes about it here

The stories of Ray Bradbury can be difficult to adapt to television; their lyricism and elegance often fail to translate, so when a superior adaptation comes up, you want to check it out. Fire-Breathing Dimetroden Time looks at one of them, the "entertaining and creepy" episode "There Was an Old Woman" from the mid-80s series The Ray Bradbury Theater.

"Christmas in July" continues over at Christmas TV History, and picking a random entry from the week brings us to 1983's "Operation: Silent Night" from Magnum, P.I. Not necessarily a series you connect with the Yule season, but it works. For more, check out all of Joanna's entries this month.

One of The Twilight Zone's recurring themes was time travel, and this week at Shadow & Substance, Paul looks at the season four episode "No Time Like the Past," starring the great Dana Andrews. It's one of those much-maligned hour-long episodes, but Paul focuses on a scene incidental to the plot but very much in line with some aspects of today's world. 

You might not recognize the name William F. Nolan, but you'd surely be familiar with some of his work. He and George Clayton Johnson wrote the novel Logan's Run, and his fabulous output included many well-regarded works for television. He died last week, aged 93, and Terence has a look at his career at A Shroud of Thoughts. Meanwhile, Brian focuses on Nolan's work for The Twilight Zone at The Twilight Zone Vortex.

Speaking of which, one of The Twilight Zone's recurring themes was time travel, and this week at Shadow & Substance, Paul looks at the season four episode "No Time Like the Past," starring the great Dana Andrews. It's one of those much-maligned hour-long episodes, but Paul focuses on a scene incidental to the plot but very much in line with some aspects of today's world. 

I don't, as a rule, watch Peppa Pig. Truth be told, I've never watched Peppa Pig. A lot of kids do, though, and in this droll article from The Guardian, American parents are lamenting that their toddlers are now speaking with British accents and using British pronunciations and turns of phrase. I'd contend that the same effect could be accomplished by watching the Premier League every weekend, but if you want to have a go, be my guest.

At The Ringer, Bryan Curtis looks at the 41-year career of legendary Dallas sportscaster Dale Hansen, who's retiring in September. You may recall that I lived in Dallas for four years; Hansen was never my kind of guy, either in style or substance, but the article makes some interesting observations about how local broadcasting has changed over the years, as well as how social media has changed the landscape. TV  

July 21, 2021

What's in a name?

True story: I've mentioned the soap opera The Brighter Day several times over the years, particularly in the weekly programming listings. It's not one of the better-remembered soap operas of the era (it ran on CBS from 1954 to 1962), and it was always a 15-minute soap, a carryover from the the days of radio, where The Brighter Day began in 1948. At any rate, here's a clip from a May 1955 episode.

The reason I mention this is because I have a somewhat oblique personal connection to this soap. (As you know, I don't often write about personal things, but I thought this one was too good to pass up.) One of the show's regular characters is an attorney named Mitchell Dru, played by actor Geoffrey Lumb, and his was the first character to cross over from one soap to another; after The Brighter Day went off the air, the character (and the actor) appeared first on As the World Turns, and then Another World and Somerset, all owned by the same company, Proctor & Gamble. After all, every good soap has to have an attorney present for one of its sensational murder trials, right?

Anyway, my point. I was born in early May 1960, while The Brighter Day was still on the air. My mother had wanted to give me, for a middle name, the last name of some family relation, cousins or something (I don't remember now), but she wasn't quite sure how to spell the name, nor could she find anyone who was, and because the birth certificate needed to be completed, she chose another middle name: Drew.*  

*It's a nice enough name, but I always felt kind of bad that it wasn't the name she'd originally wanted, and I seldom use it, or even my middle initial.

Granted it's spelled differently, but many of her friends teased her that she'd named me after the character Mitchell Dru. She said she'd not even been aware of it; she must not have watched The Brighter Day, but she did watch Another World later on, which is when she related the story to me, and I got to see my "namesake" in action. I've remembered this story all these years, but it wasn't until seeing this clip on YouTube, quite by accident, that I discovered the connection to The Brighter Day. Ah, the things you learn here: TV as a family tree. TV  

July 19, 2021

What's on TV? Saturday, July 17, 1954

won't spend a lot of time trying to analyze this week's listings, but you'll notice a few things right away. First, these affiliations are all over the place; it must have been kind of a free-for-all as to who carries what. I'll leave that to those with a greater understandng of Pittsburgh TV history to analyze. (Or more time readng Wikipedia pages.) However, WDTV, which will become KDKA in 1955, has a rich history as one of the oldest television stations in America. The other historic Pittsburgh station, WQED (now a PBS affiliate), is notable in its own right as the first community-sponsored television station in the U.S. It doesn't appear in today's listings; like so many educational stations of the time, it doesn't broadcast on the weekends. That won't stop you from finding plenty to watch on this Saturday in July, though, so let's get to it.

July 17, 2021

This week in TV Guide: July 17, 1954

If you're going to be called the "King of the Cowboys," you'd sure as shootin' better be able to back it up. In the case of Roy Rogers, he's earned that title as sure as he's earned his spurs. For eleven years now, Rogers has been the biggest Western star at the box office; his eponymous television show, in the middle of its third season, is the #10 ranked show in the Nielsens. And so for those, like Dan Jenkins, author of this week's cover story, who consider themselves a little too hip for the world of kiddie Westerns, the question remains: "What does it take to become King of the Cowboys?" It has to be more than simply how you draw your gun, ride your horse, capture the bad guy, and rescue helpless damsels, right? 

The answer, according to a Rogers associate, is that it requires "a relationship, a bond, between the star and his audience which has nothing to do with this week's script." This bond between Rogers and his audience, Jenkins writes, is "a very real thing, and it goes back to the days when Rogers was "an underpaid cowboy star" at Republic, and discovered that he was getting a lot of fan mail. As them mail grew, Roy found it impossible to answer every one. What did he do? He organized a rodeo tour for the express purpose of using the profits to hire a staff to make sure every letter was answered. Rogers doesn't need to resort to tours to fund his staff now, of course, so how does he spend that spare time? By flying around the country, visiting seriously ill children in hospitals and their homes. 

Roy and his wife, Dale Evans (Queen of the West) love children. They have six: Roy's two from his first marriage to the late Arlene Rogers, one from Dale's early marriage, and three adopted. The only child the two had together died just before, Robin Elizabeth, was born with Down syndrome and died of complications with mumps shortly before her second birthday. (Although Jenkins, discreetly, leaves out the details and only mentions her early death.) Following her death, Dale wrote the book Angel Unaware, "which has since become a rod and a staff to literally thousands of parents faced with this most terrible of blows: the loss of a child." It is, Jenkins says with no cynicism whatsoever, the story of "the deep faith of two simple peole who just happened to stumble across buckets full of long green; whose basic philosophy is: to love children is to love God."

There is little to differentiate his movies and TV shows from those of other cowboy stars—nothing to account for the size and devotion of his fans. No, there can only be one explanation, as Jenkins says: "this intangible feeling between parent and parent, and between children and star that has lifted the Rogers-Evans combine to the top and kept it there." And while Roy's basic naivete consists mostly of trusting people and working on a handshake basis, it is "a quality to be misunderstood only at your own peril." His stardom lasts until his death in 1998; his name becomes a virtual synonym for a hero. Through it all, he remains the same, simple man with a simple philosophy. As a close friend says, "Many cowboy stars, once they've made their splash, decide reluctantly that it's good business to play up the kids off stage as well as on. Roy never came to that conclusion. He was born with it. It makes quite a difference."

Roy Rogers was more than a cowboy, more than an actor. He was a real-life hero, who never traded in his boots and spurs for feet of clay. They don't come along very often, do they?

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Eddie Albert is the host of NBC's Saturday Night Review (or Revue, if you prefer), which airs at 9:30 p.m., ET as the summer replacement for Your Show of Shows; it's the last time we'll see Eddie for three weeks, as a series of guest hosts (including Cesar Romero and George Gobel, Hoagy Carmichael and George Jessel) take over while Eddie is off filming Oklahoma, where he plays Ali Hakim. Up against him is Jack Paar (9:30 p.m, CBS), who welcomes Betty Clooney, Johnny Desmond, and Pupi Campo, along with Jack's long-time bandleader Jose Melis. According to the Hollywood Teletype, we can expect Jack to show up with a three-hour Saturday afternoon variety show in the fall; instead, he winds up taking over for Walter Cronkite on The Morning Show.

Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town (Sunday, 8:00 p.m., CBS) is on the road this week, at the Westchester Country Club in Rye, New York, with singer-bandleader Vaughn Monroe, dancer Carol Haney, singer Doretta Morrow, Mexican trumpeteers Rafael Mendez and his twin sons, the Gautier Steeplechasers animal act, and pantomimist Stan Kramer. Ed's competition this week, as is the case for the early part of the 1950s, is the Colgate Comedy Hour, or, in this case, the Summer Comedy Hour (8:00 p.m., NBC), which features Kaye Ballard, Jules Munshin, dancer Jonathon Lucas, singer Betty Madigan and Heather-Jo Taferner. I thnk I'l have to give Ed the edge on this one.

During the summer, Robert Montgomery Presents (Monday, 9:30 p.m., NBC) employs a repertory company (which includes Bob's daughter, Elizabeth), and this week the company is joined by Orson Bean for "It Happened in Paris," a spoof on radio shows in which the sponsors of a popular program for honeymooners discover that their "lovey-dovey" honeymooner hosts aren't married. Oops. 

Is it wrong to think that Tuesday's highlights come at the beginning of the broadcast day? On Today (7:00 a.m., NBC), we get films of that loveable simian and co-host J. Fred Muggs getting his shots in preparation for his upcoming European tour. To all those celebrities who couldn't resist tweeting pictures of getting their virus shots, is this really who you want to imitate? (Just kidding, Muggs!) Meanwhile, on The Morning Show (7:00 a.m., CBS), host Walter Cronkite welcomes "Bing Crosby and Donald O'Connor," harmonizing on "Back in the Old Routine." It's not really Bing and Donald, but Bil and Cora Baird's puppets, regulars on The Mornng Show, and an unbylined article explores how the Bairds apply their trademark satire, from Charlemane the lion (right) spinning the latest records to musical sequences featuring a frog impersonating Mel Torme, a foxhound doing Crosby, and a cocker spaniel playing Johnnie Ray.

The unlikely paring of Alan Ladd and Liberace headline Wednesday's Red Skelton Review (8:00 p.m., CBS). Later, on Kraft Theater (9:00 p.m., NBC), Arthur O'Connell stars as a middle-aged father who can't measure up against the heroes that his daughter reads about in her stories about knights and medieval chivalry; perhaps coincidentally, this week's unbylined review of Mr. Wizard, which airs Saturdays on NBC, makes a similar point about how "Father may know best, but he can use a little help from [Don] Herbert every Sunday afternoon. What is that about a prophet without honor in his own home?   

I like the sounds of Thursday's Four Star Playhouse episode "The Witness" (8:30 p.m., CBS). Dick Powell stars as an attorney defending an accused murderer, "though all the evidence suggests he's guilty." We might have some doubt about the guilt or innocence of the accused, played by Charles Buchinsky, but we'd have fewer doubts if we knew then that Charles Buchinsky would later become famous as Charles Bronson.

On Friday, Walter Cronkite is back, this time as the quizmaster on It's News to Me (10:30 p.m., CBS), in which panelists Anna Lee, Quentin Reynolds, John Henry Faulk and Nina Foch "try to guess famous news events." Having newsmen emcee shows like this is nothing new; Mike Wallace hosted several game shows early in his career, and when It's News to Me began in 1951, it was with John Daly as host. Too bad they couldn't have used America's Most Trusted Man as a host after the Quiz Show Scandals, isn't it? (You can check the show out for yourself here.

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As you've probably noticed, I'm wont to drop, from time to time, a mention of Mystery Science Theater 3000, one of my favorite shows,* and if you share that fondness, you'll rejoice at not one, not two, but three appearances of MST3K movies from this week's issue—sightings in the wild, so to speak, perhaps some of the first times these movies appeared on television.

*Having had occasion to watch it on an almost daily basis thanks to Pluto and Shout TV, I've a mind to elevate it into the Top 10 as some of the bingeable of television programs.

Saturday night at 10:00 p.m. on WENS, Tom Neal and Jane Adams star in The Brute Man: "Disfigured in a college chemistry lab, a killer seeks vengeance." Sunday night (11:35 p.m., WDTV), it's Last of the Wild Horses, a Western starring Mary Beth Hughes and James Ellision, in which "Continual raids on wild horses provoke feud between a wealthy rancher and his neighbors." And on Thursday (11:00 p.m., WJAC), the mountain-climbing classic Lost Continent, with Cesar Romero: "Searching for a missing atom-powered rocket, a plan crew lands in an island jungle and comes upon a lost continent." The listing has Hillary Brooke as his co-star, but she's in only one scene; it would have been better to include a name from among Hugh Beaumont, John Hoyt, Whit Bissell, Sid Melton, and Chick Chandler. I've seen many of these movies pop up in various issues over the years, but never three at once.

Occasionally I'll watch the non-MST3K versions of a movie, though not with any of these three, and it can be remarkable to see how much had to be cut from them in order to fit the timeslots. Even so, many times the movies are so bad, the stories so incomprehensible, even the cut footage wouldn't help. I admit that Lost Continent and The Brute Man are two of my favorites, though; they must have been part of the same film package that Best Brains bought for MST3K, in which case we should be looking for more of these in the future.

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I've undoubtedly mentioned this before, but one of the pleasures of these really old issues is finding the names and events that mean more today than they did at the time. For instance, in "Pittsburgh Parade," Bill Adler notes that local Pittsburgh TV personality Mitzi Steiner, former host of the Kiddie Castle show on KDKA, "is in Hollywood (with her husband, Jack Tolen) looking for TV work under the name of Mitzi McCall." And it is under that name that, along with her second husband, Charlie Brill, she has entertained throughout a career of more than fifty years.

Another local Pittsburgh figure is Ray Scott, who hosts Sports Editor weekdays at 6:55 p.m. on WDTV. Three years later, he'll become the play-by-play voice of the Green Bay Packers, and as the team comes to dominate the NFL in the 1960s, Scott becomes one of the most recognizable, and most popular, announcers in the game. I always loved his "just the facts" style of broadcasting; we could use more of that today.

Columnist Harold V. Cohen notes that "Phil Silvers is being groomed for the Red Buttons time next season. I've always felt Silvers could be a very funny fellow on television with half a chance, and I'm sure he will be." He's one season off in his estimation, but come the fall of 1955, Silvers gets his half-chance as Sergeant Ernie Bilko in You'll Never Get Rich, which you'll probably know better as The Phil Silvers Show. As for Buttons, Cohen hopes the networks haven't given up on him; "That little fellow has a genuine comedy talent that is going to be channeled in the right direction one of these days and there will be no stopping him." Buttons, whose show was rated #11 in 1952, never does make it big again on television, but he channels that talent into an Academy Award in 1957 for his dramatic performance in Sayonara.

And George Burns is one busy man, according to the Hollywood Teletype. Not only is he starring with his wife Gracie in The Burns and Allen Show, his McCadden Productions company has a couple of series in the works. One of them, Life with Father, starring Leon Ames and Lurene Tuttle, premieres in November and runs for a couple of seasons. The other is a new comedy starring Robert Cummings as "a Hollywood commercial photographer," and debuts next January for a four-and-a-half season run. In first run it's called The Robert Cummings Show, but its more familiar syndicated title is Love That Bob, and my friend Hal Horn can tell you all about it.

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This week's starlet has a role she can really, well, sink her teeth into. It's Vampira, hostess of KABC's 11:00 Saturday night movie (appropriately called The Vampira Show), and the show—along with its star—has been a sensation ever since. 

Vampira's real name is Maila Nurmi, and despite what you see there, she's actually an attractive, blue-eyed blonde (measurements: 38-17-36) who was discovered several months ago when she attended a costume party in her getup and was seen by ABC producer Hunt Stromberg Jr. The rest, as they say, is history. (Speaking of history, Maila's uncle knows a bit about history himself: he's the great distance runner Paavo Nurmi, winner of nine Olympic gold medals and former world record holder in the mile.)

Nurmi delights in being eccentric off-camera as well as on; when she's wearing her five-inch nails, she has to be waited on hand and foot; her lunch consists exclusively of Bloody Marys ("It's almost bedtime" for vampires, she points out), and rarely ever goes out in public as anything other than her famous character.

Her personal life is every bit as colorful as that of Vampira; she had a child with Orson Welles while he was married to Rita Hayworth, was a close friend of James Dean, and was the model for Maleficent in Disney's Sleeping Beauty. After The Vampira Show is cancelled by KABC, she takes the character to KHA for a similar show, and continues to parlay her role for several years, including a memorable performance in the immortal Plan 9 From Outer Space. Today, she's remembered as television's first horror host, and that's something you can hang your hat on. Or your wig, as the case may be.

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And finally, an answer to one of the questions that has vexed humans for decades, caused men with minds greater than mine to scale mountaintops in search of the wise counsel of lamas, and lies at the heart of everything that we hold dear. It's deeper than the meaning of life, greater than why bad things happen to good people, and has more impact than life, the universe and everything:

Why do TV Guide's listings run from Saturday to Friday?

As we've noticed in the earliest issues of TV Guide, the listings originally ran from Friday to Thursday, and in this week's message from the editor, we're told that the decision to change the format was not made lightly, but only "after careful study of how the magazine could best improve its service to readers." But first, a tutorial on how each week's edition of TV Guide is assembled:

Collecting the mass of information that appears in the magazine each week requires staffs of trained personnel in New York and Hollywood, the major origination points for network programs, and local staffs in each of the cities where TV Guide is published. Details on network programs move from both coasts to local offices throughout the country on our own private leased wire Teletype system. In each city, information on locally originated programs is obtained from the stations and correlated with the network information received via Teletype.

All this takes time, of course, and during the 15 months that TV Guide has been in business nationally, meeting deadlines has been a constant struggle. And so: by starting on Saturday rather than Friday, "we now will be able to bring you those extra items of late information."

I'll be frank: the whole explanation was kind of anticlimatic. I was expecting something profound, perhaps even existential: aligning the television week with the restorative powers of the weekend, for example, Instead, it's the publishing equivalent of "I Subscribed to TV Guide and All I Got Was This Lousy Explanation." 

Still, to quote Bing Crosby in White Christmas, while it may not be a good reason, it's a reason. We don't have printed television listings anymore, and if your goal is accurate, up-to-the-minute information, it's a good thing: what used to require days to update can now be done in a matter of moments and instantly delivered to you via the internet or on your television. The romance of publishing, like that of newspapers, is a thing of the past; it's the kind of thing we sacrifice in the name of progress. TV  

July 16, 2021

Around the dial

The guests gathered after dinner to watch C-SPAN

he Hitchcock Project at bare•bones e-zine is always a good way to start the week, and today Jack looks at the first hour-long contribution by Levinson and Link, "Captive Audience," with a superlative cast starring James Mason, Angie Dickinson and Ed Nelson. 

There was more to Eve Plumb's career than playing Jan Brady, as David reminds us at Comfort TV, and this week he looks at her work outside of The Brady Bunch, a wide variety ranging from The Smothers Brothers and Family Affair to The Facts of Life.  

Realweegiemidget reviews the 1983 Brit TV movie Those Glory, Glory Days, and I normally wouldn't pay much attention except it's about a woman's teenage obsession with the Tottenham Hotspur soccer team, and as a (former?) Arsenal follower I can't possibly let this go unnoticed. The Spurs star she encounters, by the way, is real-life star Danny Blanchflower, who went on to serve as a color commentator for CBS's soccer coverage in 1967.

I may well have mentioned this last year, and I suspect I'll write about it again next year, but this week marks two notable birthdays in the classic television oeuvre: first, at Garroway at Large, Jodie honors Dave Garroway's birthday, as well as the fourth anniversary of her blog. (Has it really only been four years? It seems as if we've known you much longer!)

Meanwhile, at Bob Crane: Life & Legacy, it's the 93rd birthday of Bob Crane, which Carol celebrates with a birthday celebration podcast. I just can't imagine him at that age, even though Robert Clary, the last survivor of Hogan's Heroes, is in his 90s as well. It doesn't—TILT—compute.

Do I have to surrender my credentials as a Whovian by admitting I've yet to make it all the way through the Matt Smith episodes of Doctor Who? I've nothing against him; I have all the discs; what I don't have is the time. Fortunately, John is here at Cult TV Blog to save me, at least with the writeup to "The God Complex," which I have been accused of having a time or two. 

At Classic Film & TV Café, Rick interviews Michael Asimow, co-author (with Paul Bergman) of the book Real to Reel: Truth and Trickery in Courtroom Movies, which sounds like a book I really should own. I wonder if they had anything to say about the sanity trial of Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street?

At A Shroud of Thoughts, Terence has a three-part look back at Saturday Morning Musical Kids' Shows of the 1960s and 1970s, which brings back a lot of memories for me. You can (and should) read parts two and three as indicated. How different Saturday morning TV was back then! TV  

July 14, 2021

The history of television flashing before your eyes

Nobody, but nobody, could bite the hand that fed them like SCTV could. Some of the greatest, most devastating satire ever produced on television about television came from this show, which began on Canadian television in the mid-1970s before making the move to NBC, and then Cinemax, running for a total of six seasons. (I always thought the smart move on NBC's part would have been to dump Saturday Night Live and put SCTV in the timeslot, but what do I know?)

Increasingly, I find that when I watch highlight clips from television shows of the 1970s and '80s—the reels you see on excellent YouTube channels like FredFlix and RwDT09—I become convinced that I'm actually watching an SCTV rerun. Of course, those were the programs that SCTV was satirizing in the first place, but their ideas were so absurd at yet at the same time so plausible, it really can be hard to tell the difference.

There's a lot more to SCTV than satire, though. The elaborate, occasionally show-length skits are smart and literate as well as funny, and even when they're ravaging television, they manage to show a warmth and respect for it at the same time. This is particularly evident in 1983's "Sweeps Week," an Emmy-winning episode that takes on the practice of loading up the Sweeps period with the most spectacular, titilating, exploitative programming possible. The centerpiece of the episode (besides the absurd The Dallas Cowgirls Salute Copland) is a nearly 50-minute skit entitled Night of the PrimeTime Stars, a ridiculous parody of celebrity-laden variety shows ("starring" Linda Lavin, Lorne Greene, Jamie Farr, Merlin Olsen and Gavin MacLeod), wrapped up in a Poltergeist-like story.

Amid the satire, though, a couple of moments stand out: John Candy's spot-on impression of Jackie Gleason playing Ralph Kramden, and Andrea Martin's wicked take on What's My Line? star Arlene Francis. These, and other references throught the skit (culminating in a "regurgitation" of the history of television) display a true knowledge of and affection for the those old shows and the pioneers of television behind them, an appreciation that can't be faked. Here, take a break and check it out for yourself.

Of course, this familiarity with the medium's history is something that runs through the course of SCTV; how many people know, for example, that Joe Flaherty's private detective character Vic Arpeggio is a takeoff on John Cassavetes' "jazz detective" Johnny Staccico? That takes a real appreciation for history.

It is said that NBC, which saw SCTV as a stopgap until something better came along, was surprised by the show's popularity among young viewers, who presumably wouldn't be familiar with these "old" shows. The same thing they say about why they don't release vintage TV on DVD any more, isn't it? I guess it just goes to show how smart those network executives are, doesn't it? TV  

July 12, 2021

What's on TV? Thursday, July 14, 1966

Xome shows in the lineup today that we don't often get a chance to see, mainly because they weren't on that long. For instance, ABC's The Double Life of Henry Phyfe, starring Red Buttons as a man hired by the government to impersonate a foreign agent, his exact duplicate, who'd been killed. Seventeen episodes. And then there's McKeever and the Colonel, at 6:00 p.m. on KMSP. It's a sitcom from 1963, set at a military academy. Twenty-six episodes. Mickie Finn's was an NBC summer replacement series for Juliet Prowse's cancelled Mona McCluskey; it was a variety show starring Fred Finn and his then-wife Barbara, who went by the name of Mickie Finn, and was based on their San Diego Roaring '20s-style nightclub. Sixteen episodes. So, if you're reading this Minnesota State Edition, you can see that not everything in classic television is classic, at least not in a hall-of-fame sense. 

July 10, 2021

This week in TV Guide: July 9, 1966

As you've probably noticed, the entertainment industry has a far different definition of the word "disaster" than you or I have. Whereas we might think of, say, a natural disaster, a fatal disease, a broken marriage, financial ruin—something not only disastrous but heart-rending—those in the industry has a far narrower definition. And for Sammy Davis Jr., a man whose life has so far included racial discrimination and abuse, a near-fatal auto accident that cost him an eye, and problems with drugs and alcohol, his "disaster" is the cancellation of his television program. 

The disastrous headline spread across this week's cover is inspired by part one of a two-part article by Alan Ebert, an NBC employee who served as publicity director for The Sammy Davis Jr. Show, based on the diary he kept while working on the show. And, within the confines of the industry's definition, it would be hard to imagine a more disastrous experience than The Sammy Davis Jr. Show, one so fully comprehensive that to fully understand and appreciate it, we need to start long before the beginning of this week's article. For the story of the genesis of The Sammy Davis Jr. Show is probably as odd as it gets, and matches the series itself for drama and pathos.

We begin in the fall of 1965 with Sammy and His Friends, a special which Davis had made for ABC (a follow-up to his earlier special for the network, Sammy Davis, Jr. and the Wonderful World of Children, which the network aired in November). With friends like Frank Sinatra, Edie Adams, Joey Heatherton, and Count Basie and his orchestra, it looked like a success for the network. But, as we're fond of saying—or at least I am—the devil is in the details; in this case, a clause in the ABC contract that prohibited Davis from appearing on any other network show for a period of 21 days before and eight days following the broadcast. 

We now move to another network, NBC, which comes up with an offer of its own for Davis: not a series of specials, but a weekly series of his own, a midseason replacement for its soon-to-be-cancelled war drama Convoy, which was being battered in the ratings by CBS's two military comedies, Hogan’s Heroes and Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. The show seems to have a good setup: Joe Hamilton, husband of Carol Burnett, was tapped to produce. George Rhodes, Sammy’s longtime musical director, would head up the show’s orchestra. With Davis on-board, NBC announces a premiere date of January 7, 1966.

At this point, ABC makes an announcement of its own, that Sammy and His Friends will air on February 1. They also say they'll invoking the terms of the non-appearance clause in Davis' contract, meaning Sammy will be prevented from appearing on his own show for almost a month following the premiere. To say the least, it’s hard to imagine a more awkward way to start a television series. 

   The name is Connery—Sean Connery.
In the article, Ebert alludes to a "crazy contract hassle with ABC," which appears to be an understatement. First Davis tries to get ABC to air the special in December rather than Feburary. When that fails, he offers to buy the rights to the special from them; that's also a non-starter. NBC is equally committed to the January premiere date; in the rigid scheduling world of the time, the fall season always starts in early September, and the so-called “Second Season” begins right after New Year’s. The practical meaning of this is that Davis will host the show's premiere, and then guest hosts will fill in for the next three shows: Johnny Carson, Sean Connery and Jerry Lewis. (The network fills another week with a repeat of 1960's Peter Pan.)

However, in addition to the conflict with ABC, there are other problems. Chief among them, as Ebert points out, is Davis’ own approach to the show. He's frequently difficult to reach, almost impossible to schedule for promotional interviews, and perpetually surrounded by hangers-on and camp followers. (It was, interestingly enough, similar to the approach Davis’ mentor, Frank Sinatra, took toward his own variety show in the late 1950s. That show, too, was doomed to failure.) He's either making a movie, performing on Broadway in "Golden Boy," or doing a concert. Oh, and he also "ordered $30,000 worth of suits in various hues from Sy Devore, intending never to wear the same suit twice." Before long, Davis has built up the reputation around NBC as “difficult, a prima donna.” 

Gradually, however, Davis begins to win people over, including Ebert. They find that the "on" Sammy Davis Jr. is for real. "I enjoy being Sammy Davis. I love my life. I dig being the Sammy Davis cab drivers yell 'hi' to. . . Many people wear their success like a chain around their necks. Not me. I love mine." And then—

The initial episode of The Sammy Davis Jr. Show was taped on December 19, featuring Richard Burton and Liz Taylor, Nancy Wilson, Corbett Monica, Augie and Margo, and The Will Mastin Trio. It was, by all accounts (including Ebert's), a disaster. Taylor was, in Ebert’s words, “so nervous she’s practically hysterical.” Sammy spends more time trying to keep her calm than he does on his own performance. In fact, the only person who seemed happy with the result was Davis himself. The show garners terrific ratings, but the reviews are dismal, every bit as bad as Ebert has feared. He lays it on the line to Davis: without major changes, the show is doomed. "He decides then and there, without consultantion, that he'll revert to the old Sammy Davis and be 'on' constantly."

As part one of this diary ends, Davis has turned it on; the taping of his show with Trini Lopez is, Ebert says, "truly one of the best variety shows I've ever seen." But will the viewers buy it?

Short answer: no. Although the reviews are increasingly positive, even laudatory, the show never recovers from its initial start, and NBC announces its cancellation with three episodes still to be shown. (A premature cancellation, more than one reviewer will note, as the show gets better each week.) Davis would later tell a newspaper reporter that he "knew one week after the first show that he wouldn’t be picked up for more than 13.” He complained that he was being prevented from being himself—he “couldn’t undo his necktie or smoke. . . this is like putting a muffler on a drag race or refusing to let Jack Benny fold his arms." He pleaded with the network to “take me as I am,” to no avail. "If I don’t know anything else, I know how to entertain people, but I’ve got to be me” he told the reporter. “I ain’t a good somebody else—hey, listen, I ain’t but a fair me.”

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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: Ed's guests this week are Ethel Merman; the rockin' Rolling Stones; singer Wayne Newton; actor Hal Holbrook; comics Sandy Baron and Eddie Schaeffer; and the Rumanian Folk Ballet.

Palace: We're playing a little fast and loose with the listings this week; the Coaches All-America football game, which I discussed a couple of issues ago, preempts Palace this week, which means we're dependent on KCMT's delayed broadcast of last week's show. In that one, host Ray Bolger presents singer Kay Starr; jazz vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, accompanied by 7-year-old drummer Jim Bradley; impressionist Rich Little; comedian Norm Crosby; escape artist Michael De La Vega; and the Five Amandis, teeterboard act.

James Bradley Jr., Lionel Hampton's accompanist, was already known to television viewers, having appeared on Jack Benny's program when he was five, and he'd later appear in a small role in Paul Newman's Cool Hand Luke. Combined with Hampton, the wonderful song-and-dance man Ray Bolger, and the very funny Norm Crosby, the Palace would normally have this week hands-down. But then Ed comes back with the Merm, the Stones, and Hal Holbrook. There can be only one verdict for this high-quality week: push.

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Saturday is the final round of the British Open (10:00 a.m. CT, ABC), live via satellite* from Muirfield, Scotland. It's the first Saturday finish for the Open; in previous years 36 holes had been played on Friday, with Saturday reserved in case of a playoff. Jack Nicklaus wins the first of his three Opens, edging Doug Sanders and Dave Thomas by a stroke. Nicklaus loved Muirfield so much that when he built his own course in Dublin, Ohio, he named in Muirfield Village.

*Interesting that in years to come, the Open would revert to same-day coverage on Wide World of Sports before attaining the massive television coverage it enjoys to this day.

A prescient special on Sunday (5:30 p.m., NBC), "Who Shall Live?" takes a look at the crisis facing medicine. As producer Lucy Jarvis puts it, "One hundred thousand people die of [uremic poisoning] every year, and only 150 are being saved. Why is that—in a country as rich as ours?" The answer: a rigorous treatment for those suffering from the disease, which costs $10,000 a year and lasts for the rest of their lives. Applicants for the treatment must go through a battery of tests and then await the judgment of a committee that decides "who shall live." Not for the first time, I wonder if this kind of rationing is the shape of things to come.

Monday night Joey Bishop begins the first night of his three-week stint for the vacationing Johnny Carson (10:30 p.m., NBC). Now, I know Johnny liked his time off, but three weeks? On the other hand, I've got a TV Guide somewhere talking about then-Today host Dave Garroway beginning the first of a five-week vacation. Must be nice; I just got back from a five-day vacation and I was grateful to have it.

Tuesday is Major League Baseball's All Star Game, from the new Busch Stadium in St. Louis (12:30 p.m., NBC). The National League wins an excruciating 2-1 victory in ten innings, played in 105° heat. Imagine if Busch Stadium had artificial turf. By the way, this marks the last time the All-Star Game is scheduled for a afternoon broadcast; the following year's game, played in Anaheim, starts at 4:15 PT in order to capitalize on prime time in the East. (That game will have non-heat related problems of its own, namely the late afternoon sun shining in batters' eyes, contributing to another 2-1 game, this time going 15 innings.) 

On WednesdayAt Issue (7:00 p.m., NET) presents a discussion on Congressional ethics—stop it, I know you're laughing out there—moderated by Robert Novak, long before he became famous on The McLaughlin Group. Interesting footnote: all the Congressmen being interviewed are Democrats; that's how much of a majority they held before that year's midterms. For another kind of controlled violence, Emile Griffith defends his world middleweight boxing championship against Joey Archer, live from Madison Square Garden (9:00 p.m., WTCN). Griffith wins a hard-fought 15-round decision.

I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but prior to Laugh-In, Dan Rowan and Dick Martin hosted a summer-replacement show for Dean Martin on Thursday nights (9:00 p.m., NBC), a much more conventional format than Laugh-In would prove to be. Joyce Jameson and Pat Henry are this week's guests, with regulars Lainie Kazan, Frankie Randall, Judi Rolin, and Les Brown and his Band of Renown. If you're not watching that, you might be tuned to the final episode of ABC's British-import The Baron, starring Steve Forrest, and featuring an appearance by Lois Maxwell, whom we all know and love as the original Moneypenny of the James Bond films. Replacing The Baron next week: The Avengers.

An interesting program on Friday: Pablo Casals conducting his religious oratorio "El Pessebre" (The Manager) taped at the United Nations in 1963 in honor of United Nations Day, with an all-star cast and Robert Shaw conducting the Festival Casals Orchestra and Cleveland Orchestra Chorus. (9:00 p.m., NET)

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Random notes for the week:

A letter to the editor lauds an "excellent" recent article on NBC newsman Frank McGee and reminding readers of his yeoman in the hours and days following the assassination of John Kennedy; "His intelligent, saddened calm was exactly right." It's signed "Leslie Nielsen, Universal City, Cal." I wonder—there can't be that many Leslie Nielsens, can there?

Then there's a letter praising Jim Backus and "Continental Showcase, "the freshest variety show I have ever seen! As a performer, I not only admire the talent we have thus far enjoyed, but believe we may have much to learn from how the producers manage to escape the usual musical stereotype." It's signed "Joi Lansing, Woodland Hills, Cal." There can't be that many Joi Lansings, can there?

And a humorous note appears in the "On the Record" section that leads off the issue's programming section. Seems as if the magazine has a writer, Richard Warren Lewis, whose assignment was to go undercover, as it were, as a contestant on ABC's The Dating Game, then come back and write an article about his experiences. The article's now a week overdue, but Mr. Lewis presumably has a good excuse: Joan Patrick, the young woman whom Lewis selected during his turn in the bachelor's seat. Miss Patrick, apparently, has quite the recipe for rock cornish game hen stuffed with wild rice and cooked in white wine. Well, as they say, the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. Next month the two are set to be married, and presumably the article will have to wait a while longer.

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I have to ask: has this been a duller issue than normal? It's true there's not much to choose from during rerun season, and as usual the week's programming is studded with replacement series: we've mentioned Jim Backus and Continental Showcase, taking Jackie Gleason's place on CBS Saturday night, and Rowan and Martin filling in for Dean Martin on NBC Thursday nights; but there's also Vacation Playhouse, one of those collections of failed plots from over the years, replacing The Lucy Show on CBS; John Davidson taking over NBC's Kraft Music Hall for the summer; Hippodrome filling in on CBS for Red Skelton; and Mickie Finn's replacing Mona McCluskey on NBC.  

Even the TV Teletype is pretty ordinary, but there is one thing that caught my eye: a plan to turn literary classics into soap operas. It says here that NBC plans a soap—excuse me, "daytime series"—based on Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights this fall, and that Jane Eyre and Rebecca could follow suit. I don't know that the Heights idea ever took off; NBC only had a handful of soaps in the coming season, and all of them—Days of Our Lives, The Doctors, Another World—were pretty well established by that time. A pity, I suppose; so many of these books were built-in soaps, just waiting for their stories to reach a daytime audience. On the other hand, though, it might have been difficult to figure out how the network could have stretched Heathcliff and Catherine's tortured romance out for thirty years or so. Even if they'd filmed it in real time they couldn't have made it last that long. Could they?  TV