December 5, 2022

What's on TV? Wednesday, December 12, 1962




That CBS Reports special "109 Days to Venus" (not to be confused with the MST3K movie First Spaceship on Venus, which got it all wrong) is about the space probe Mariner II, which was launched in August and is expected to fly by Venus on Friday, 109 days later. In these early years of manned spaceflight, an unmanned probe to Venus would have been almost as exotic. And speaking of exotic, I made a note in the listings that the U.S. Steel Hour episode "Big Day for a Scrambler," starring James Whitmore as an aging professional golfer trying for one last lucky streak, is being done live, which must make it one of the few regular programs still doing so. There's something very distinctive and exciting about live television (I wrote about it here); I wish it was still done today. This week's listings are from the Dallas-Fort Worth edition.

December 3, 2022

This week in TV Guide: December 8, 1962




You remember those programs Fred Friendly used to do on PBS, where he'd ask a panel of distinguished experts from a variety of fields how they'd react to various situations. The ensuing discussion and debate made for fascinating television, as people wrestled with ethical questions that didn't have any easy answers. As Friendly himself often said, "These programs are 'evergreens.' The issues they explore don’t fade away."

My attention this week is drawn to a question that I think Fred Friendly would have found fascinating. It's the basis of an episode of The Dick Powell Show called "The Court-Martial of Captain Wycliff" (Tuesday, 8:30 p.m., NBC) with a big-name cast including Powell, Dina Merrill, Ed Begley, Robert Webber, Edward Andrews, James MacArthur, and Alexander Scourby. 


As the Close-Up says, "murder is really not the issue of the trial. Rather, it is the meaning of the law which is at stake: Can a criminal act—even if politically justifiable—be condoned by our society?" That, I think, is what Friendly would call an "evergreen" situation, an ends-and-means question, elevated to the highest levels of national security. Wycliff believes that the United States is in a "state of war" with the Communists; does this mean that if Closter is about to defect to an enemy country (East Germany, in this case, which really means the Soviet Union), assassinating him is a kind of national self-defense? Is it morally comparable to assassinating Hitler?  

The episode also raises a potentially provocative point during the testimony of General Johanson (Robert Keith), Wycliff's former commanding officer. During the war, Wycliff was trained as an assassin, part of an elite unit sent behind enemy lines to take out specifically designated targets (Germans, I assumed). Johanson describes Wycliff as a sensitive young man with strong beliefs—essentially, the general seems to be saying, the Army took hm and trained him to be a killer, and a very good one. He testifies to this with a suggestion of regret, a question as to the morality of the actions he authorized, and so we wonder: once you've been trained—brainwashed?—in such a way, can you just turn this kind of thing off in peacetime? Should Wycliff be proven guilty, is he even responsible for his actions? Wycliff obviously wouldn't think he'd done anything legally wrong; could his council (Ed Begley) use an insanity defense, claiming that his client's ability to distinguish 
right from wrong had been altered, perhaps irrecoverably, by his Army training and through no fault of his own?

That in turn leads to all kinds of other potential questions for everyday life. Is there such a thing as preemptive homicide? If you see a man about to kill someone, can you kill him first? What if he merely threatens to kill someone—and does it change things if he's known as someone who does what he says, as opposed to one who's all bluff and bluster? Can someone kill an abortionist to prevent him from performing abortions? Can you kill someone who's guilty of a crime if the state knows, but can't prove, his guilt? You can see how Friendly could easily fill an hour with these questions. Not only are there no easy answers, there's no guarantee that the answer in one situation will be the same as the answer in another. 

Unfortunately, Harry Julian Fink's script fails to deliver on many of these questions; having broached the subject of Wycliff's state of mind with Johanson's testimony, he does nothing to follow up with it. Instead, he offers a carnival sideshow digression, introducing prosecutor Clayborn's (Powell) married sister (Dina Merrill), Wycliff's former lover, who claims that she was in a hotel room with Wycliff at the time of the murder, forcing Clayborn to savage her testimony (and her character) on the stand. (How the defense didn't object to this as a conflict of interest, claiming that Clayborn's attempt to impeach his sister's testimony might have been personally motivated, is anyone's guess.) The story needed to be told on Judd, for the Defense, the kind of show that wasn't afraid of tackling big ideas like this head-on

It's true, as Clayborn says in what amounts to a closing summation rather than a question, that the United States has to stand for something in the eyes of the world and of its own citizens. The rule of law, the rights of the individual, the morality of vigilante justice—but what if the United States itself is responsible for deliberately creating the killer? Regardless of the verdict, regardless of what you think of it, you may well be unsatisfied by the result. (You can see it for yourself here.) Even so, the questions still remain. 

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There's another program that deserves special attention this week, one that captures the very essence of the conflict providing the atmosphere for "The Court-Martial of Captain Wycliff," and does it more successfully.

The construction of the Berlin Wall in August 1961 not only divided a city, it also divided families, friends, and loved ones. When the original barricade went up overnight, it trapped many West Berlin residents on the wrong side, with no way to return to their homes. For one group of courageous students in the West, their answer was to build a tunnel under the Wall. The going was slow, however, and they battled with shifting ground and the constant risk of cave-ins. 

At the same time, NBC News in Berlin was looking for a way to tell the story of the struggles in the divided city in such a way that it would bring home the drama of desperate people willing to risk their lives for freedom. When they found out about the students constructing the tunnel, they had their answer. The network agreed to finance the entire cost of the tunnel's construction—50,000 Deutschmarks—in return for the exclusive film rights to the story. And so was born The Tunnel (Monday, 7:30 p.m., NBC). the story of that dig, and the subsequent escape of more than two dozen men, women and children from East to West Berlin. 

The project was shrouded in secrecy. As NBC's website says in a story about The Tunnel, "Outside of a small production team in Berlin, only the president of NBC News and his assistant knew the details. Corporate lawyers were kept in the dark, the project was never mentioned over the phone and funds were dispersed 'outside the NBC channels,'" providing "tools, food and even an underground rest area for the group of over 40 tunnelers" who worked day and night.

It's an incredible story, as dramatic a demonstration of man's desire for freedom from authoritarianism as any. And best of all, it's not a movie, but the actual event. And yet, it raises questions. In financing the construction of the tunnel, did NBC create the story, or did it merely facilitate it? One could argue that escapes were going to happen anyway, and that the involvement of the network was nothing more than a humanitarian act, a way to tell the world what was going on. On the other hand, would there have been a tunnel, or at least this tunnel, had it not been for NBC? Perhaps more important, does a private company have the right to interfere in foreign affairs? Would it have been different if, say, NBC had bankrolled at attempt to sabotage a Soviet missile facility in order to prevent nuclear war? And by getting involved in the first place, did the network undermine the East German state's authority, thereby taking sides in the Cold War?

The Kennedy administration certainly had questions, worrying that NBC would make tensions between the U.S. and the Soviets even worse. (In fact, The Tunnel had originally been scheduled to air on October 31 but pulled it due to the Cuban Missile Crisis.) Robert F. Kennedy told the network "That was a terrible thing you people did, buying that tunnel." As it happened, the tunnel would collapse from flooding eleven days after 26 people used it to escape. Only then did the East Germans become aware of it.  

Regardless of these questions, The Tunnel is a remarkable documentary, one that tells the story with a drama that could never have been accomplished by a straight news report. It will go on to win three Emmys, including Best Program of the Year, the only documentary to do so. You can see it all here, and you can watch Executive Producer Reuven Frank discuss it here

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In the past, you've probably seen me use graphics like the one at the left to document the rising number of holiday specials as we approach Christmas. But this is 1962, and even though there'll only be eleven days until the Big Day by the time we come to the end of the issue, there's nary a Yule special to be seen. Part of this is that Rudolph, Charlie Brown, the Grinch and the like have yet to debut; Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, the first made-for-TV Christmas cartoon, will premiere next Tuesday. It's probably too soon for variety specials, and most weekly series save their holiday-themed episodes for closer to the day.

It's not that people aren't thinking about the season; we see the odd wreath and Santa in various advertisements. But I think today the consumerism—the pressure to buy, buy, buy—starts much earlier. Many years, Rudolph airs in November, prime time to move that merchandise, and often it seems that by the time we get to the last week before Christmas, there's nothing left to show. Commercialism was nothing new; it had already reared its ugly head and been satirized for it in Miracle on 34th Street, but nowadays there are almost as many commercials for extravagant items like cars—things you'd buy for yourself—as there are for other kinds of gifts. Well, about all you can do is ignore it. 

There are a couple of shows worth checking out, though, chief among them the annual holiday presentation of The Wizard of Oz*, once again hosted by Dick Van Dyke and his children (Sunday, 5:00 p.m., CBS). Although the movie itself has nothing to do with Christmas (or any other holiday), it was shown at this time for several years when it first landed on TV. It's billed as a "holiday delight," an event that the whole family can get together and watch. Remember that slightly bitter TV Guide review from Thanksgiving, when CBS was showing (and I wasn't watching) Charlotte's Web? That's what I mean. There's nothing seasonal about it, just that it's a family movie for a family time of the year, and that's what I see here as well. Of course, I have to ask myself if any family still gets together to watch anything on Christmas, or at any other time of the year, or if they're all doing their own thing. Of course they still get together! I'm just a lawn-preserving cynic. 

*I have to think, though, that the land of Oz loses some of its magic by being shown in black-and-white. It wouldn't have happened if it was on NBC.

For good measure, there is one Christmas-themed episode this week, Going My Way (Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., ABC), but it makes sense that it would be shown this early; it's about an ex-con working as a department store Santa thanks to Fr. Fitzgibbon (Leo G. Carroll) who actually uses the job to case the joint for a robbery. Yeah, that works. 

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Speaking of Mr. Van D., there's a very nice article about him by Richard Gehman. Van Dyke is, by all accounts, a very nice man, and a pleasure to work with according to his three co-stars: Mary Tyler Moore ("He's the most wonderful, beautiful, kind, generous person I've ever met."), Rose Marie, ("He is a heart comic, not a head one."), and Morey Amsterdam ("Everything he tries, he does great. I've never worked with a happier group of people in 40 years in show business, and it's Dick's fault.") His fans include Carl Reiner, the show's creator, and Dick's idol, Stan Laurel. And what does Dick Van Dyke have to say about all this? "I do a lot of things just passably. I hate that. I smoke too much and I drink too much. Also, I'm lazy."

The Van Dyke success story is built on equal parts failure and persistence. Less than 15 years ago he was working an act with friend Phil Erickson and struggling to pay the rent. ("You couldn't really call it a smart act," he says.) For awhile they settled down with their families in Atlanta, where Van Dyke did a local variety show on TV. He moved to New Orleans for a better opportunity, and that went well. Finally, he got the big call from CBS to come to New York, but instead of his comedy breakthrough, the network made him host of The Morning Show, opposite Dave Garroway's Today. Needless to say, it didn't work out. (It didn't for Jack Paar when he hosted the show, either.) Van Dyke resolutely refused to consider himself a reject. "I'm really lazy. I just enjoyed myself. And I did a little work. We made a pilot, a variety show. It was pretty good, I thought—but nobody else did. 

Finally, he got his release from CBS and headed for Broadway, where a good performance in a bad play landed him a starring role in Bye Bye Birdie, and the big-time success that had eluded him. CBS called him back, and he wound up as the star of his own half-hour sitcom. After struggling in the ratings the first season, it's now comfortably in the top 10, considered one of the smartest shows on TV. But for all of that, Dick Van Dyke still seems sanguine about things; Gehman notes that "he gives the impression that entertaining is only a small part of his life." He might not go down as one of the great comedians of his time, Gehman concludes (although I think it's fair to say he does), "but his ultimate accomplishment of remaining a decent, integrated, thoroughly engaging human being may turn out to be far more meaningful."

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Thank goodness for Dick Van Dyke, because we've been dealing with some heavy subjects this week. Not everything that's on is like that, though. I particularly like The Flintstones (Friday, 8:00 p.m., ABC), a sly Hitchcockian spoof called "Dial 'S' for Suspicion," which finds Fred worried about Wilma. "After she advises him to buy life insurance, he finds her reading a book about a wife who murdered her husband." It doesn't say this is the last show of the series, though, so I don't think we have anything to worry about. 

And how about Columbo as a killer? Before taking on the role of the redoubtable lieutenant, Peter Falk played many a heavy, and he's at it again Thursday night on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (9:00 p.m., CBS) as an evangelist who murdered an old woman ("[gave] the hand of Providence an assist") in order to get her mansion and turn it into a gospel temple. Now, though, he finds out the place was willed to the old lady's niece (Dina Merrill), and he has to find a way to persuade her to give the mansion to him.

Roy Rogers and Dale Evans are the subject of Muriel Davidson's article about the difficult competition their Saturday night show faces, up against Jackie Gleason and Sam Benedict. No need to worry, though; the's show's been cancelled effective December 22. Elsewhere, the new, one-hour version of The Twilight Zone premieres January 3, taking the place of The Nurses, which is moving to a new time slot. The New Loretta Young Show looks to be a goner, as are It's a Man's World and Saints and Sinners. They'll be replaced by the new NBC Monday Night at the Movies. Ah, well.

The Men Who Run TV: they're the network presidents and their associates, and this week the subject is Leonard Goldenson of ABC, who's fighting to keep the network a viable advertising option. Maybe I'll write about this at more length sometime. The money quote: Goldenson's miracle, "to raise up a third network—with more than 70 hours of programming, coverage of more than 90 percent of all TV homes, better than a third of the prime-time viewers' hours, over 100 advertisers and about 25 percent of all sponsors' network outlays—and, at the same time, to help send the quality of TV programs on all networks downward."

And this week's MST3K alert: Beginning of the End (Saturday, part two of a double feature beginning at 10:30 p.m., WFAA). "A girl reporter comes upon a town which has been mysteriously destroyed." Peggie Castle, Peter Graves, Morris Ankrum. Or, as IMDb describes it, "Swarms of giant grasshoppers are headed straight for Chicago." One can only hope.   

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For years, I've been making the point that TV Guide should be looked at as an original document allowing us to investigate and understand our times—not just pop culture, but history as it happened. I hope this issue has proved my point. "The Court-Martial of Captain Wycliff" plunges us into Cold War confrontation at an emotional level that we can understand, raising questions that are magnified by the lens of international politics. The Tunnel gives a human face to those political confrontations, demonstrating the lengths to which people will go for their freedom. And that's not all: David Brinkley's Journal, a program that follows The Tunnel, interviews crew members of the "Enola Gay," the American bomber that dropped the first atomic bomb in 1945, to show us just how high those stakes can go. When you recall that The Tunnel was bumped from its initial airing due to the Cuban Missile Crisis, I'd say that with this one issue, you can get a pretty handy guide to what was going on in 1962, not retrospectively, but contemporaneously. The only difference is that we're reading about it after the fact; they lived through it. TV      

December 2, 2022

Around the dial




Xhat picture on top is of grade school kids in my former hometown of Minneapolis, watching a video "classroom lesson" on TV while the city's public schools are on strike in 1951. Regardless of what you may think, I'm not in this picture; I freely admit to being old, but not that old. After I saw this, I tried to recall whether or not there was ever a strike while I was in school, and I believe there was, though I don't remember what us kids did while we were home. Probably watching television. Amazing what pictures can remind you of. 

Speaking of memories, at The Horn Section, Hal looks back at the Love That Bob! episode "Hawaii Comes Calling," which aired in 1955 (at which time, you'll recall, Hawaii wasn't yet a state!) and features Bob discovering he might have inadvertently become engaged to a Hawaiian beauty.

At bare-bones e-zine, Jack's latest Hitchcock Project subject is Jerry Sohl, whose initial Hitchcock script, "Dead Weight," premiered in 1959. The great Joseph Cotten stars in a nasty little story that includes murder, blackmail, and the consequences of doing something you oughtn't be doing. Fun fact from Jack: Angela Greene, who plays one of the supporting characters, once dated John F. Kennedy.

Jon Pertwee, the beloved third Doctor Who, as a villain? Perish the thought! Yet he is, and a very effective one as well, in "A Torch for Silverado," from the 1992 British series Virtual Murder. You can read more about it from John at Cult TV Blog.

Remember Joe Pyne? I don't know if I saw him back when, or if I just remember him from having seen him in so many TV Guides of the time, but the controversial TV talk show host is the subject of a Smithsonian article linked to at the Broadcasting Archives.

In the heydays of syndicated television, few shows were more beloved than The Muppet Show, and now, at ReelWeegieMidget, you can read about the upcoming Great Muppet Guest Star Caper blogathon, which ought to bring back some happy memories!

If you're in the mood for Christmas movies--and, since we're now in December, you should be--and you have access to Turner Classic Movies, Terence at A Shroud of Thoughts has the rundown on their schedule. And, although the Christmas connections for some of them are tenuous, they're all ten times better than anything you'll find on Hallmark, Lifetime, Netflix, et al. But you knew I'd say that, didn't you? TV  

November 30, 2022

A holiday gift idea!




I've occasionally been guilty of waiting until the last minute to do things, so I thought that for once I should get ahead of the curve. Therefore, as November turns to December, which means it's an excellent time to get your Christmas shopping done, I'll make my annual suggestion that you buy a copy of my book, The Electronic Mirror: What Classic TV Tells Us About Who We Were and Who We Are (and Everything In-Between)After all, you wouldn't be here if you didn't already like classic television, right? 

Now, I know that some of you have already purchased The Electronic Mirror or took advantage of my free book offer from a few weeks ago, so if you already have a copy and enjoyed it, why not consider one of my novels? The Collaborator is a suspenseful story ripped from today's headlines (I don't write this copy; that's what they tell me to say) of conflict within the Catholic Church—conflict that threatens to tear the Church apart. If you wonder what's going on in Rome, this book will help you understand it.

My other novel, The Car, is a mystery wrapped in an enigma (I didn't write that either), the story of how a man's curiosity takes him to a dark place where he is forced to confront questions ranging from the meaning of a person's life to the very definition of identity. Both The Collaborator and The Car are available here

If you're buying for a friend or loved one, I think you'll make them very happy. If you're buying for yourself (and we all need to treat ourselves to a gift once in awhile), I think you'll make yourself very happy. And in any case, you'll be making me happy. The way I see it, that's a win-win for everyone, and I'm sorry that I did write that one.  TV  

November 28, 2022

What's on TV? Saturday, November 26, 1955




You remember that review of Gunsmoke on Saturday? At the time, I mentioned how Gunsmoke was one of the new breed of "adult" Westerns, and today we get to see the old breed, when Westerns were perfect Saturday entertainment for kids. WCCO has nine Westerns, KSTP has a Western movie, KEYD a program called Slim Jim Westerners, and WTCN the Saturday morning show Chuck Wagon Chuck. Westerns have always made for great morality plays, and even as they became more psychological, they retained the entertainment value, the sense of adventure that made them work for kids. Did you play Cowboys and Indians back when you were little? If so, you'll know exactly what I mean! All these shows are found in the Minneapolis-St. Paul edition.

November 26, 2022

This week in TV Guide: November 26, 1955




You probably know John Daly best as the charming and urbane host of CBS's What's My Line? on Sunday nights, but this week we get a chance to see him at his day job: vice president in charge of news, public affairs, special events, religion and sports for ABC television and radio, and anchorman of ABC's evening news program. 

The combination of the two jobs isn't quite as incongruous as it might seem. "[Goodson-Todman] thought a newsman would have the necessary background to keep an ad lib show going," he says of his Sunday night job. And he enjoys his work as moderator, although he understands that "What's My Line? has got to go sometime. I'm surprised it lasted this long." (It would, in fact, last another twelve years, all with Daly at the helm.) He's really a natural at the job; "Serious and intelligent, he can rarely resist the temptation to be funny." It's what keeps him, he says, from getting ulcers.

Newsmanthat's his line.
He talks with you, someone says, "as if he has nothing else on his mind but to say what he's saying, and to you." Some call this his "charm technique," but he says it's his news training. "When a newsman works on a story, he concentrates fully on it. It's the only way to get things done." And make no mistake, despite his work on WML, his news days go way back to when he was with CBS. He announced the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the death of FDR, and covered Patton in Europe. And he's a man with strong opinions on the news business, opinions that don't always align with those of his friend and former colleague at CBS, Edward R. Murrow. Whereas Murrow strongly believes that networks, like newspapers, have the responsibility to take editorial chances ("Let the networks choose their sides and fight it out."), Daly things this is impractical, for several reasons. Suppose, he says, the editorial policy of a local station differs from that of the network? Does the affiliate simply not carry the network's opinion?

And while it's fine for a news show to make "a legitimate comment on any event of public interest," it should be "a conclusion drawn on clearly defined fact." "There should be no subjective declaration of opinion," Daly insists. It's too easy for editorial opinion to drift into subjective opinion, which "could play into the hands of those who might attack the concept of a free press. If we took one stand, they might claim all our news was slanted." I can't help but wonder what he'd think of today's network and cable news divisions.

Daly's weekday schedule runs from 9:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. After an hour during which he "plays executive," he works on the script for the evening's news. Lunch is "a business event." At 3:30 p.m. he heads into the newsroom, where he remains until after the show. Then it's on the train and back home. All in all, he reads eight newspapers a day, plus current magazines and biographies. Sundays he spends at home with his family, heading to the studio at 6;00 p.m. for What's My Line?, which airs live at 10:30 p.m. Eastern. With all that, he still gets "eight full hours" of sleep every night. It's another way to prevent ulcers.

John Daly remains at ABC until 1960, when he resigns in protest over the network delaying its election coverage for an hour in order to show Bugs Bunny and The Rifleman. A principled man, he'll also resign as the director of the Voice of America when personnel changes are made without his approval. And to this day, every time I watch him on WML, I say to myself that he's what I want to be when I grow up.

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It was, let's see, about three weeks ago that I last mentioned the trend of movie studios getting into television. Back then, it was Warner Brothers and M-G-M, and before that the focus was on Walt Disney. This week we turn to Fox, whose offering, The 20th Century Fox Hour (Wednesday, 9:00 p.m., CBS) is perhaps the "most ambitious attempt" yet to crash the TV landscape. Unlike the other studios, the Fox Hour "isn't a collection of clips from old films, nor is it a 'showcase' for young, little-known actors." Instead, the studio has chosen to recruit top talent in adaptations of past Fox movie hits. 

It's an ambitious proposal indeed, but it faces a not-insignificant challenge: how to adapt a 90-minute or two-hour movie into a 45-minute timeslot. (Especially, I'd think, if viewers have already seen the movie version, and know what you're leaving out.) So far, the results have been mixed: Merle Oberon and Michael Wilding starred in Noel Coward's Cavalcade, but as the review points out, "even the full-length movie version had trouble chronicling a British family from the Boer War [circa 1899] to the 1930s." Next, it was Laura, with George Sanders, Robert Stack, and Dana Wynter; alas, the cast tried "valiantly, but in vain, to evoke the feature film's suspenseful mood." It wasn't until the third outing, The Ox-Bow Incident, that they hit the jackpot, with an outstanding cast including Cameron Mitchell, Raymond Burr, and Robert Wagner; it was "something TV—and Hollywood—could be proud of."

You might have seen episodes from this series on YouTube or in syndication, under the title Hour of Stars. (The most frequently seen DVD episode is "The Miracle on 34th Street," starring Thomas Mitchell as Kris Kringle. Compare and contrast.) It runs for two seasons, continuing to feature big-name stars (though not every week), and by the second season it incorporates original stories as well as movie adaptations. Perhaps that's what the show should have done in the first place, when the story could be tailored to a shorter running time. As anyone familiar with old-time radio knows, it's very difficult to adapt a movie to a finite running time, and the results are not always satisfactory.

There's also a review of another new series that you might be interested in, a Western called Gunsmoke (Saturday, 9:00 p.m., CBS), starring James Arness as Marshal Matt Dillon, and so far the show has produced "taut, action-packed stories." As a frame of reference, Gunsmoke, like Wyatt Earp and Cheyenne, is one of the early "adult" Westerns, in contrast to previous fare by Western heroes like Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy, and Gene Autry, and the storylines reflect it, both in terms of action (in these shows those who get shot often die), and in the moral dilemmas faced by the heroes. Already in this first season, Marshal Dillon "has killed a psychotic gunslinger who had wounded him in an earlier gun battle; he has saved another gunman from being lynched by an angry mob; and he has amputated the leg of a wounded rancher." It is, to be sure, a good day's work. 

Arness is excellent in the role, and he's ably backed by a fine supporting cast including Dennis Weaver and Amanda Blake. From the sounds of things, this show might just have a future.

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'Tis the season and all, and if you have any doubt about what's in Santa's bag of toys this year for good little television watchers, look no further than this:











There are more than 20 television programs represented in the picture above, with tie-ins everywhere: everything from a Ramar of the Jungle chemistry set to a Dragnet squad car and game. Even The Today Show gets in the act, with a J. Fred Muggs doll. (So much for those Matt Lauer talking dolls that are gathering dust in some warehouse.) Not surprisingly, Disney is represented by several toys; some things never change. I imagine that if, the next time you're browsing in your local antique store, you run into a Honeymooners bus with Ralph Kramden behind the wheel, or a ukulele endorsed by Jimmy Durante. you'll be shelling out a little more than you would have back in 1955. And if you have one in your attic, better call Antiques Roadshow.

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As for what's on TV this week, what catches my eye?

Saturday's highlight is one of the nation's great sporting traditions, the Army-Navy game, live from Philadelphia, with Lindsey Nelson and Red Grange providing the play-by-play (12:15 p.m, NBC). The usually-mighty Army team has lost three games this season, but they rally this week, defeating #11 Navy 14-6. I notice that one of the Navy players is named Forrestal; any relation? Moving to primetime, it seems that no matter what issue it is from the 1950s, we're running into one of those Max Liebman spectaculars; this time, it's the Rodgers and Hart musical "Dearest Enemy" (8:00 p.m., NBC), with Anne Jeffreys, Robert Sterling, Cyril Ritchard, and Cornelia Otis Skinner. It's a romantic comedy set during the Revolution, but I'm skeptical—none of my enemies are dear to me.

Sunday afternoon on See It Now (4:00 p.m., CBS), the aforementioned Edward R. Murrow hosts a 90-minute documentary on "The Nation's Schools" and the challenges they face, including aging school facilities, federal aid to education, and the lack of good teachers. Let's see, that was nearly 70 years ago, and it seems like the same problems still exist. On a lighter note, Ed Sullivan's guests tonight (7:00 p.m., CBS) are Pearl Bailey, who recently completed a role in Bob Hope's film That Certain Feeling (and that's Bob at left, in an ad for RCA, plugging that very movie); comedian Dick Shawn; the Goofers, comedy vocal and instrumental group; the Princeton Triangle Club; Collier's magazine's All-America football team; and opera star Licia Albanese and her three-year old son doing a scene from Madama Butterfly. Afterwards, catch WCCO's movie The Stranger (9:30 p.m.), a sinister noir with Edward G. Robinson investigating a Nazi spy (Orson Welles).

I'm not positive, but I think Monday's presentation on Studio One (9:00 p.m., CBS) relates to a part of pop culture history that would have been assumed knowledge back in 1955. The episode is "The Man Who Caught the Ball at Coogan's Bluff," by Rod Serling, starring Alan Young and Gisele MacKenzie, and the storyline is thus: "George was a shy and unsung government worker when he entered the ball park. But after making that spectacular bleachers catch of a home-run ball, he was a national hero, and sky no longer." I haven't seen the episode and couldn't find a whole lot out about it other than what you read here, but there are a few assumptions we can make. Coogan's Bluff was the location of, and the nickname for, the Polo Grounds; the most famous home run ever hit there was probably Bobby Thomson's "The Giants win the pennant!" blast in the 1951 playoff against the Brooklyn Dodgers. Even non-baseball fans were familiar with it; if this story doesn't actually use that game as the background, the viewers would have supplied the details.

On Tuesday's Warner Brothers Presents edition of "Casablanca" (6:30 p.m., ABC), "A dealer in antiques and a professor are both interested in acquiring a priceless page from an ancient Bible. But Rick wants money to provide education for the ragged Arab shoeshine boy who gave him the valuable parchment." Does this sound like the Rick we know and love from Humphrey Bogart's portrayal? I suppose, if you're a cynic with a heart of gold. Personally, it sounds more to me like a case for Indiana Jones. Later, on The Red Skelton Show (Tuesday, 8:30 p.m., CBS), Red and guest star Peter Lorre appear in a sketch called "Phantom of the Ballet." "Skelton, as a private detective with a mail-order-school diploma, tries to track down a maniacal killer (Lorre). The murderer as a penchant for assassinating members of a ballet troupe." OK, you've got me on that one. 

Wednesday is the second big sporting event of the week, the world welterweight boxing championship from Boston, with champion Carmen Basilio taking on the #1 challenger, former champ Tony DeMarco (9:00 p.m., ABC). Basilio defends his title with a 12th round knockout in what will be voted the fight of the year; you can see it all here. Thursday's highlight, if you can call it that, comes on Tonight (11:00 p.m., NBC), when a dentist comes on the show to drill Steve's teeth. There's also a modern dance interpretation by Katherine Litz; whether or not she's actually doing an interpretation of Steve's dental work is anyone's guess. And Friday gives us some good, old-fashioned murder: a bank embezzler is suspected of it in International Playhouse (8:30 p.m., KEYC), a young man plots it against his lover's husband in The Vise (8:30 p.m., ABC), and the men of The Lineup investigate it when an ad executive is found dead (9:00 p.m., CBS). 

l  l  l

This week's words of wisdom come from George Burns, via the As We See It editorial. Burns has a new autobiography out, I Love Her, That's Why!; it's mostly anecdotical, talking about Gracie and their friends, but near the end of the book he turns serious for a moment. He and Gracie have moved into television, and he discusses his philosophy of playing to the audience. 

If we are successful, it is because we don't play down to an audience—we don't believe in that. There has been foolish talk about audiences having an average 12-year-old mind; it just isn't true. They are older than anybody, and wiser. And what is more, every individual among them is a manager, because in this day of television, he owns his own theater. The first thing an actor learns is to get along with the manager. He does well when he doesn't forget it.

Now, I don't know if that was ever really true, in television or in any other form of entertainment, but already, as we come to the end of 1955, it is becoming an issue for Merrill Panitt and the editors. "We would like to see that paragraph engraved on the forehead of every network official, advertising executive, producer, director, writer and performer who has anything to do with television," he writes. "Whatever real progress television has made has come from men who realize that the only 12-year-old thinking in America is done by 12-year-olds; that the surest way to lose an audience is to talk down to it."

As I said, this may never have been the case, but it certainly isn't the case today. In just about every way, today's maestros, people not only are being pandered to, we're practically demanding it. Whether it's the entertainment industry or the political establishment, the lowest common denominator rules; the simpler the answer, the better. We don't want to be stimulated; we don't want to face anything difficult. This isn't to suggest that there aren't intelligent forms of entertainment today, television programs that challenge not only the intellect but the conscience. They are, however, the exception rather than the rule. 

The editorial concludes by suggesting that the television audience "will turn away from a program that does not respect its intelligence," but I fear that's a pipe dream nowadays. We've been dumbed down in every way, from the cradle to the grave and everything in-between, and we seem to like it just fine. In a world dominated by memes, simplistic thinking, and short attention spans, we are all 12-year-olds now. TV  

November 25, 2022

Around the dial




I trust you all had a great day yesterday, and you've recovered from any tryptophan hangover you might have had. So how about a classic TV hangover? I'll see what I can do.

At Comfort TV, David talks about the basic truths that we don't seem to understand anymore, but are embedded in many classic television shows. This is something I've been trying to articulate for many years, but wasn't able to do it nearly as well as David does. I understand that many people think television of today is superior, but I wonder how they feel about the values so many of these shows exhibit? I mean, does everyone live next door to an international drug dealer?

I am, of course, intrigued by a show called Virtual Murder, and even more intrigued by an episode called "Last Train to Hell and Back." The series is from 1992, and, as you might have guessed, John has all the details at Cult TV Blog, and I think you'll find it quite interesting.

The Broadcasting Archives has a note about Craig Allen of Arizona State University, winner of the 2022 Broadcast Historian Award for his book, Univision, Telemundo and the Rise of Spanish-Language Television. I mention this because I've taken to watching some of the World Cup matches on Telemundo rather than Fox—at least the ones that have the American announcers. I can't understand most of what they're saying, but soccer is a universal language, and it's one that American announcers don't communicate well.

At Bob Crane: Life & Legacy, Linda has a touching tribute to the late Robert Clary, which includes a portion of the correspondence Clary provided during the writing of the Bob Crane autobiography. He was, to be sure, a remarkable man. 

At A Shroud of Thoughts, Terence looks back at the career of Jay Silverheels, whom we probably know best as Tonto in The Lone Ranger, but as Terence points out, he played Geronimo three times in the movies, and they weren't cheap flicks either, with stars like James Stewart, Jeff Chandler, and Audie Murphy. 

Finally, in my next update of what I've been watching, you'll get some of my thoughts on Combat!, the great 1962-67 World War II series on ABC, a series that really brought the war home. But why wait until then, when you can read about the Combat! episodes from 1962 at Television's New Frontier: The 1960s. TV  

November 23, 2022

Happy Thanksgiving!




We won't be visiting again until after Thanksgiving, so let me be among the first to wish you the greetings of the season. I make no secret of the fact that Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, second only to Christmas, and the memories I have of it are almost uniformly warm ones. 

For me, Thanksgiving primarily means taking considered time to give thanks. As I believe I have done in the past, I want to thank all of you for your support over the past year: your financial contributions, your comments, the articles you've written, and for taking time every week to stop by and see what's new.

Three other things that Thanksgiving means to me: parades, football, and food. Even though I don't follow the NFL anymore, the history of football on Thanksgiving is undeniable. I've written before about one of the greatest college football games in history, the 1971 Game of the Century between Nebraska and Oklahoma, but I don't know if I've ever admitted that I accidentally fell asleep during it. I'd been indulged by some generous relatives who allowed me to have my dinner on a tray in one of the bedrooms so I could watch the game on TV (millions of people did likewise, I'll add in my defense—there was a huge television audience for the game), and, well, you know what can happen with a full Thanksgiving stomach. Tryptophan or not, I couldn't stay awake, and woke up just before Nebraska scored the winning touchdown in the final minutes. As I was rooting for Oklahoma anyway, it's probably just as well.

Arguably the most famous professional game played on Thanksgiving was in 1962, the annual game between the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions at Tiger Stadium in Detroit. I'm not going to claim I remember this game, because I was only two years old, but I've certainly read enough about it. The defending champion Packers came into the game with a record of 10-0, having totally dominated most of their opponents; historians would later rank this one of the greatest teams in NFL history. The Lions, 8-2, had given the Pack their only really close game earlier in the year, losing 9-7 in Green Bay. In the game, the Lions sacked Packers QB Bart Starr 11 times (including once for a safety) and totally dominated Green Bay, racing out to a 26-0 lead en route to a 26-14 drubbing that wasn't nearly as close as the final score indicated. (Apropos of the day, one sportswriter said it looked as if Roger Brown and Alex Karras, the Lions' two defensive stars, were ready to take Starr by the legs and make a wish.) It was said that Lombardi was so furious about that loss that he ended the annual Thanksgiving game against the Lions; the teams had played every Thanksgiving since 1951, but after the 1963 game thy would not meet again on Thanksgiving until 1984.

Two other Thanksgiving games, both involving the Dallas Cowboys, merit mention. In 1974, backup quarterback Clint Longley came off the bench to replace an injured Roger Staubach and threw two touchdown passes, including a 50-yard bomb in the last half-minute, to defeat the Washington Redskins 24-23. Nineteen years later, in 1993, the field covered in snow from a freak storm and the Cowboys up 14-13 against the Miami Dolphins with 15 seconds to play, Miami had their game-winning field goal attempt blocked. All the Pokes had to do was let the roll dead and the game would be over, but inexplicably Dallas defender Leon Lett tried to recover the ball, slipped on the snow, and muffed the ball. The Dolphins recovered, kicked the field goal with one second to play, and won the game, 19-17. 

Stranger and greater things have happened during football's long and glorious history, but these games stand out; they're remembered decades later because they happened on Thanksgiving, with families gathered around the television, sharing fellowship and food while watching a sport that has become synonymous with the day. That's one of the things holidays are about though—creating memories. I have many happy ones of my own from Thanksgiving, and I hope you'll all have some tomorrow that you can look back on fondly in the years to come. 

Happy Thanksgiving! TV