January 27, 2021

Harry Reasoner and the meaning of living

Harry Reasoner was one of the finest television journalists and commentators from the 1960s through the 1980s. He was a mainstay at CBS, where he backed up Walter Cronkite for years, was one of the founding hosts of 60 Minutes, helmed news specials written in conjunction with Andy Rooney, and was known for his droll observations on life, the universe, and everything. (To coin a phrase.) In the 1970s he moved to ABC, where he anchored the evening news with Howard K. Smith and, later, Barbara Walters, before he returned to CBS to end his career. (He also grew up in Minneapolis and started his journalism career here, which doesn't hurt.) 

I always admired Reasoner's use of language and his astute insight into human nature. He had the ability to communicate a story to viewers with eloquence, warmth and humanity; kind of a combination of the gravitas of Chet Huntley and the wit of David Brinkley. Of his many quotes, one that's always stayed with me is a comment from essay he did on—well, not exactly the meaning of life, but the meaning of living. Reasoner himself had engaged in a long battle with both cigarettes and booze, refusing to give either of them up despite the effects on both his health and his career, and while the essay wasn't about him, it did reflect his outlook on things, the feeling that living just for the purpose of checking days off of the calendar wasn't really living at all. Here, he expresses a philosophy that ought to give one pause, especially in these days.

I think those are words to live by—and I do mean live—don't you? I wonder what Harry would think of our outlook on things today? TV  

January 25, 2021

What's on TV? Thursday, January 27, 1955

We've looked at TV Guides from New York City before, but I don't think we've ever gone this far back in time, and it's a pleasure to look at all the familiar names on local broadcasts: news from Robert Trout and Ron Cochran, sports from Chris Schenkel and Jim McKay, Steve Allen with his local program prior to the start of the national Tonight Show broadcast, Dancetime with Allen Ludden. It's also nice to see DuMont as a living network; this marks the last season in which the network would broadcast seven nights a week, although many of its programs would be cancelled in the spring as the network crumbled. Good thing most of their affiliates have agreements with other networks!

January 23, 2021

This week in TV Guide: January 22, 1955

We might as well get it out of the way right now, because you're not going to be able to concentrate on anything until you know the answer to the question: what makes Ed Sullivan laugh?

It's a fair question: after all, for six years, Ed's hosted the biggest names in show business, including a good number of comedians. And yet, as this week's unbylined article puts it, "despite his success, Sullivan continued for many years to act as if freshly stunned." "I think I'm getting better," Ed says when asked about his on-stage persona. "At least I haven't been getting any more letters teling me to get off my own program." He acknowledges that the knocks he got from the critics hurt, and in response he determined that he'd put himself in the background, allowing the guests to be the focus of the show.

He also launched an effort to "humanize" himself with viewers; for instance, he stopped looking straight at the camera, advice he'd received before the show began. He followed that by turning himself into the target of barbs from his guests; he hired Pat Flick to heckle him from the audience, calling calling Ed "Mr. Soloman"; encouraged insults from the likes of Joe E. Lewis' ("Ed is the one man in the world who can beautify a room by leaving it.") and Jack Howard (Ed was once "a greeter at Forest Lawn cemetery."); and invited Frank Fontaine and Will Jordan to do their exaggerated impersonations of him. 

Off-camera, Sullivan is easygoing and relaxed, and while he feels he's made progress in his humanization project, he seems philosophical about the whole thing. "By this time," he says, "people would think there was something wrong if I suddenly began standing and moving like somebody else." 

So in answer to the question of what makes Ed Sullivan laugh, I guess the answer is: jokes about Ed Sullivan. And that's the mark of a secure man.

t  t  t

Among the week's highlights is NBC Opera Theater's two-hour, English-language production of Tosca (Sunday, 2:00 p.m.), with Leontyne Price in the title role. The cast list and synopsis takes up an entire column, a long description even during a time in which TV Guide provided fairly extensive program narratives.

It is a landmark moment for Price, who, with this performance, becomes the first black singer in a leading role on Opera Theater. As critic Diane Brooks writes, NBC had, for several years been successfully practicing what they called "integration without identification"—that is, utilizing racially diverse casts without calling attention to it. Once Price had been cast in the role, however, the network "decided to make her ethnicity a central feature in order to project an international vision of America as a land of opportunity and inclusivity." It was not only a victory for Price and the nacent civil rights movement, it also served as a response to international Cold War criticism of America's racial policies.

The broadcast won great critical acclaim; Olin Downes, the music critic for The New York Times, called it "the most dramatic and convincing performance by this organization that this writer has seen." Not surprisingly, it also created controversy, as several Southern affiliates refused to carry the Tosca broadcast due to Price's apperance, while "white viewers’ letters of outrage and protest began to stream into NBC headquarters." The network responded with an official statement that ability—period—was "the only measure by which roles would be cast."

Price would go on to appear in three additional productions of NBC Opera Theater, and those performances helped transform her into a household name; she debuted at the Metropolitan Opera in 1960, and by her retirement in 1985, she was acclaimed as one of the greatest opera singers of all time—not because she was black, any more than Maria Callas was acclaimed because she was white. No, it was because Leontyne Price was, quite simply, one of the greatest opera singers of all time.

t  t  t

And now for a little industry gossip.

Sheilah Graham reports that Mary Martin has been offered a cool $400,000 (2021 equivalent: $3.88 million) to do her Broadway hit Peter Pan live and in color on NBC around Easter time. Bob Stahl adds that if the deal comes together, the show will probably be broadcast from the Winter Garden Theater on Broadway, where the play is currently running, because "no TV studio is rigged to permit Peter's flying scenes." NBC must have come up with the money; the show airs on March 7, 1955 on Producers' Showcase, attracting a then-record audience of 65 million viewers. I'd say that was a pretty good investment.

Staying with the Peacock, Dan Jenkins notes that NBC has paid the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences $1.3 million in order to televise the next six Academy Awards ceremonies. This could pose a problem, Sheilah Graham says, because Bing Crosby's "astronomical salary" for two broadcasts on CBS next year includes a rider that prevents him from guest shots on other networks. What happens, Graham puckishly asks, if Der Bingle wins an Oscar on NBC this year for The Country Girl? In the end, Crosby loses out in an upset to Marlon Brando for On the Waterfront, so I guess he gets to keep all the loot.

Jenkins also notes that Humphrey Bogart won't be appearing in The Petrified Forest on CBS after all. It's not that Bogart quit the production; after all, it was the role, first on Broadway and then in the movies, that made him a star. No, it's the production itself that quit—turns out that the television rights to the production are owned by NBC, so Bogie will have to do something else for CBS to earn his $25,000. Not to worry, though; since NBC already owns the rights, they decide they might as well have Bogart too; it airs on the ubiquitous Producers' Showcase later in 1955; Bogart's co-stjars are Henry Fonda and Lauren Bacall. 

Wait a minute—I just thought of something. NBC thinks Mary Martin is worth $400,000 while CBS only pays Humphrey Bogart a measly 25 grand? Isn't there supposed to be a glass ceiling for that kind of thing?

t  t  t

If you know me, first of all, you have my sympathy. Second, you probably know that, for a variety of reasons, Sunday night is my least favorite night of the week. However, this week, it's also one of the most interesting nights in the issue. Who couldn't relax with Mystery Night on WPIX? It starts at 7:30 p.m. with Dateline Europe, an espionage drama that ran for four seasons under the original title of Foreign Intrigue, and is notable for being the first American-made filmed series to be broadcast on Canadian television. There were three leads in the four seasons, and just as many alternate titles; Dateline Europe features Jerome Thor, while the third season, later known as Overseas Adventures, stars James Daly, and the final season (Cross Current) has Gerald Mohr. 

That's followed at 8:00 p.m. by Inspector Mark Saber, with Tom Conway as a British detective working in an American homicide unit—or, as it's also known, the reverse-McCloud gambit. The Mark Saber character offers some complications of its own, though perhaps not as convoluted as Dateline Europe. The orignial Saber series, with Conway, ran from 1951 to 1954. Then, in 1955, the producers of a mystery series called The Vise decided to reboot it, with Saber, now played as a one-armed private detective*, played by Donald Gray. (In case you're wondering, Gray was an amputee.) The series ran for two seasons on ABC before moving to NBC, where it was retitled Saber of London, and stayed there until 1960. In syndication, it was also known as Detective's Diary and Uncovered, and we have Brooks and Marsh to thank for keeping this all straight. 

*Wouldn't it have been funny if Richard Kimble had hired him to find his wife's killer? After all, who better to find a one-armed man than a one-armed detective?

The rest of the night is more straightforward. At 8:30 p.m. movie tough-guy stars as a police lieutenant in I'm the Law, followed by Follow that Man (aka Man Against Crime) with Ralph Bellamy at 9:00, and for the finale it's Rod Cameron in City Detective—and, as we saw last week, it's not the series that's complicated in this case, but the star's personal life.

t  t  t

The local stations in New York City often had a lot of talent in the news department, and the neat thing about these NYC TV Guides is that you get a chance to see some of them before they hit the big time with the networks. On the left, for example, is Ron Cochran, and before he became the anchor of the ABC Evening Report, he was on News of the Night on WCBS. In between those two gigs, he spent a year as host of CBS's Armstrong Circle Theatre

Some assorted odds and ends for your consideration, starting Monday night, as Studio One takes a foray into science fiction with "It Might Happen Tomorrow," starring Barry Sullivan, Tony Franciosa, Bert Freed and Dana Wynter, and penned by Carey Wilber, the author of the sci-fi serial Captain Video (10:00 p.m., CBS). On Tuesday, it's "New York's top-rated TV program, WOR's Million Dollar Movie. Tonight's premiere is Let's Live a Little, with Hedy Lamarr and Bob Cummings; you can see it tonight and every night this week at 7:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. 

The week continues with Wednesday night's Disneyland (7:30 p.m., ABC), with starring Fess Parker in "Davy Crockett Goes to Congress," part two of the three-part look at the legendary frontiersman. Hopefully, Davy finds a better class of people in Washington than the crowd hanging out there now.  Thursday night is college basketball on WPIX (9:00 p.m.), but I don't think even ESPN+ could be talked into showing a game between the U.S Merchant Marine Academy and King's College, from King's Point, Pennsylvania.* Friday ends the week with the WATV late-night movie, Repeat Performance (11:00 p.m.); "A glamorous stage star murders her husband on New Year's Eve, then wishes she could relive the year just ended." It's a great idea for a movie about 2020, said nobody ever. 

*Honorable mention for Thursday night goes to Dragnet (9:00 p.m., NBC) and whoever wrote this droll description: "Sgt. Joe Friday and his well-fed partner, Frank Smith, are sent out to obtain evidence against the television repair racket."

t  t  t

Who among us couldn't use some help deciding where to put our TV? Considering the size of today's screens, you might not have much choice: whichever wall it fits on. But what if you're thinking of upsizing your 10-inch set to 21, or even 27 inches? Talk about a tough decision! Thank the stars for interior decorator Mary Dorr, host of the At Home show on WFIL in Philadelphia, who's here to set us straight.

It's true, Mary writes, that "[i]n many homes, even now, housewives have not given sufficient thought to fitting the TV set into the decor of their rooms." That's why her first suggestion is also the most important one: no matter in which room you put your set, it "can and should be decorated around the set. Furniture should be arranged so that the room is completely in accord with its main purpose, 'living.'" At the same time, your furniture should be positioned to make conversation easy when the TV isn't on. And you shouldn't have to wind up having to turn down the lights or turning up the sound in order to enjoy your programs.

We all know that size matters, but how do you determine what size screen is right for you? A good rule of thumb, according to Dorr, is that "the distance between your chair and your TV set should be eight times the height of the TV screen. In other words, you'll need to sit about nine feet away from a 21-inch set, where the screen is about 13½ inches high; a 27-inch set requires about 12 feet. Now, our own television has a modest 40-inch screen, which means that as we speak, I should be sitting about 13 feet from the TV; but in reality, I'm really only about nine feet away, or as far away as I would have been sitting from a 21-inch set. And since the picture is in HD, I should probably be able to sit even farther away. Instead, I think about getting an even larger TV. Go figure.

Finally, Dorr cautions, your family and friends "cannot look up or down at a TV screen indefinitely in comfort." This is absolutely true; I can't tell you how unfomfortable it is sitting in front of the TV while simultaneously holding my head in my hands. TV  

January 22, 2021

Around the dial

h, but that picture brings back memories, in the days when you could go to a store that specialized in selling televisions, rather than buying from a big box electronics store. They called them "showrooms" back then, and for someone like me it was the next best thing to being in Santaland at Christmastime. It's a short but sweet list of links this week, all of them with something worth pondering, but you won't get the chance unless you read them. Therefore, I'll just get out of the way.

A while back, I mentioned an episode of Love That Bob in which Bob Cummings has a crossover appearance with George Burns; well, that episode, "Bob Meets the Mortons," is Hal's latest at The Horn Section. See what he thinks, because Hal knows Bob.

One of the shows I run across frequently in TV Guides of the mid-60s is Please Don't Eat the Daisies, with Pat Crowley and Mark Miller. Despite an impressive pedigree, though, the show never really worked, and David looks at some of the reasons why at Comfort TV.

At Garroway at Large, Jodie recalls Garroway and his Today crew as they braved the snow and cold in Washington D.C. to cover the 1961 Inauguration of John F. Kennedy. Even though I wasn't even one year old when it happened, I still have trouble believing that was 60 years ago. Or perhaps it's the fact that I'm that old that I have trouble believing.

Peter Mark Richman, who died last week at the ripe old age of 93, was a familiar face on classic television; he also starred in his own series, the single-season Cain's Hundred. Terence has a comprehensive review of his career at A Shroud of Thoughts.

Tomorrow's TV Guide review will be much longer, I promise. Of course, that may or may not be a good thing; your mileage may vary. TV  

January 20, 2021

The descent into Hell: 1984 on TV

Eddie Albert comes face to face with Big Brother in 1984 (1953).

In  Christian theology, the "descent into Hell," as enumerated in the Apostle's Creed, refers to the time between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, when Christ descends to the realm of the dead, bringing salvation to the righteous who had died since the begining of the world. The Church believes this to be a triumphant occasion, the victory over death and liberation of those souls destined to reside in Heaven.

There are many kinds of Hell, other than the theological kind. There's Hell on earth, a Hell often of our own making, and when you descend into this kind of Hell, it's not so easy to see it as triumphant. There's one thing that all these versions of Hell have in common, though, and that's the loss of freedom, the enslavement of the soul, the stench of death. We are, I think, engaged in such a descent now; I say "engaged," because I don't think we've hit bottom yet, not even close—if, in fact, there even is a bottom. It is the Hell of totalitarianism, a Hell that has, over the years, played itself out many times on television. The relationship between television and totalitarian dystopia is, I think, an interesting and ironic one; it could be said that television both sheds light on and perpetuates totalitarianism, at least in its modern incarnation. 

And so it seems particularly appropriate today that we begin an extended look at this particular descent into Hell by returning to Apocalypse Theater for one of literature's most famous stories, one that spawned two television adaptations within five years of its publication: 1984.

George Orwell wrote 1984 (or Nineteen Eighty-Four, if you prefer) in 1948, and for those of you into numerology, it might be interesting to ponder that it was 36 years between 1948 and 1984, and 36 years between 1984 and 2020. Then again, it might not be; I suppose it depends on your outlook.

Orwell's world is one that's become familiar in both literary and political history, a world built on  censorship, government surveillance, mutual suspicion, and the suppression of any forms of dissent, populated by agencies with names like the Ministry of Truth, which controls the distribution of information and makes appropriate "adjustments" to the historical record so that they conform to the latest pronouncements of the government; and the Ministry of Love, home of the infamous Thought Police, charged with the arrest and "rehabilitation" of those who practice dissent against the government. Orwell's concepts entered the lexicon almost from the very beginning, concepts such as Big Brother, the Two Minute Hate, Thought-Crimes, Doublethink, and—perhaps the most famous and most sinister of them all—Newspeak. You know the highlights; War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength, 2+2=5. To paraphrase that great philosopher Chico Marx, "Who ya gonna believe: Big Brother or your own eyes?" 

The first visual adaptation* of 1984 came just four years after its 1949 publication, and perhaps tellingly, it was made not for the movie theater, but for television. It aired on September 21, 1953 (the height of the McCarthy era), as part of CBS's Studio One, in a production written by WilliamTempleton, directed by series mainstay Paul Nickell and with a cast that included Eddie Albert (above) as the protagonist, civil servant Winston Smith; Norma Crane as Julia, his colleage and forbidden lover; and Lorne Greene as O'Brien, the underground member who turns out to be an agent of the Thought Police. The Studio One production dramatically condensed Orwell's story to about 50 minutes, typical of most hour-long shows of the day. Although today's reviewers are mostly critical of the show (especially in comparison to subsequent productions), contemporary reviews were more favorable. The New York Times praised Albert's performance and called the overall production "a masterly adaptation that depicted with power, poignancy and terrifying beauty the end result of thought control—the disintegration of the human mind and soul." 

*The very first adaptation was on radio in 1949 (they didn't waste any time, did they?), broadcast on NBC University Theater, starring David Niven as Smith.

It took only one year for another television version of 1984 to appear, this time on the BBC, and this adaptation won far more critical praise, both then and now. It was written by Nigel Kneale, who the year before had created the much-loved sci-fi classic, The Quatermass Experiment and was produced and directed by Rudolph Cartier, one of the BBC's best. Winston Smith was played in this version by a very young Peter Cushing, with Yvonne Mitchell as Julia, André Morell as O'Brien, and Donald Pleasance as Syme, the creator of Newspeak, who eventually becomes an Unperson.

At nearly two hours, or twice the length of the American version, this 1984 was a much more detailed adaptation of Orwell's work. It also created no little stir, with many viewers calling to complain about the show's "subversive nature and horrific content," and a number of protests in Parliament. Other MPs, however, rushed to the show's defense, pointing out that "many of the inhuman practices depicted in the play" were "already in common use under totalitarian régimes." The Queen and Prince Philip weighed in, letting it be known that they had watched the broadcast, and had "enjoyed" it. Thus emboldened, the BBC staged a second live broadcast four days later, and it is this rebroadcast that has been preserved on video.

The fact is, any adaptation of 1984 should feel subversive and horrific, because it is. As brutal as the world of 1984 is, though, there's an even darker thought behind it, for as essayist Scott Bradfield has pointed out, "For Orwell, the horror of totalitarianism was not that someone would impose it on you, but rather that you might be all-too-prepared to submit." Or, as Benjamin Franklin put it, those who would trade privacy for a bit of security deserve neither privacy nor security. We can quibble about what Franklin really meant (the quote actually comes from a debate over taxation), but one of the great attributes about being a genius is the ability to synthesize a thought, even if it isn't the thought you were thinking of at the time. 

I find it interesting that there hasn't been an adaptation of 1984 since 1965 ("The World of George Orwell: 1984", a second production of the 1954 BBC adaptation, which aired as part of a season of Orwell adaptations on the BBC program Theatre 625), when the Cold War was hot and the West was about to explode in an unrest that, in significant ways, continues to this day. Radio, yes; a big screen version (in 1984, of course), and movies that could be said to be in the spirit of Orwell. In fact, the last time television broached the subject was in the famous Super Bowl commercial by Apple, which might have been prescient in linking modern technology and a future 1984 society (though perhaps not in the way Apple intended). But then, as I said, the relationship between television and totalitarianism is a complex one. I don't know; maybe television has a reason for not revisiting it.

Orwell's attack on totalitarianism wasn't aimed solely at communism; 1984 takes many of its ideas from post-World War II Great Britain. Undoubtedly, one of the reasons for the book's eternal popularity is that both left and right can point to its contents as representing an existential threat to freedom and liberty. But since we're on the subject of chilling statements, try this one on for size. It comes from Orwell, in correspondence with, of all people, Sidney Sheldon, who had purchased the stage rights to 1984 from Orwell. In one letter, Orwell wrote that the book "was based chiefly on communism, because that is the dominant form of totalitarianism, but I was trying chiefly to imagine what communism would be like if it were firmly rooted in the English speaking countries, and was no longer a mere extension of the Russian Foreign Office."

That, my friends, is what we face today. It takes no great stretch to make the connections between Orwell's creation and our world today; if you glance at the headlines on any day of the week—Communist crackdown in China is "Beyond George Orwell’s Imaginings"—the parallels become clearer. And if you think that it can't happen here, in the land of the free and the home of the brave, you haven't been paying attention. 

So the next time someone—perhaps in the government or the media—tells you that Freedom is Slavery and Ignorance is Strength, remember the words of the prophet: "Woe to you that call evil good, and good evil: that put darkness for light, and light for darkness: that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter." (Isaiah 5:20) And then ask yourself: when someone asks what two plus two equals, what will you answer? TV  

January 18, 2021

What's on TV? Friday, January 22, 1960

It's been a while since we looked at my old stomping grounds of Dallas, Texas, and while I haven't particularly missed being there, it is nice to revisit some of the old shows. I hadn't quite been born yet when this issue hit the newsstands, and yet some of the programs and personalities are as familiar to me as if I'd grown up with them. The Twilight Zone episode on KRLD is one of the series' most popular, "The Hitchhiker," with Inger Stevens in virtually a one-woman show. Charles Murphy, the newsman on WBAP, plays a role in the local coverage of the JFK assassination, and becomes a regular on ABC news coverage. Wes Wise, WFAA's sportscaster, was a local legend in the Metroplex. And don't forget Teen-Age Downbeat, the local answer to American Bandstand. It's not true that everything looks better in the sepia tones of the past, but it's nice to visit the ones that do.

January 16, 2021

This week in TV Guide: January 16, 1960

Cliff Arquette is one of those personalities whose name means different things to different people, depending on how old you are.

To a certain generation he'll be known, if at all, as the grandfather of actresses Rosanna (who wasn't really the inspiration for the song by Toto) and Patricia (who was nominated a few years ago for an Oscar for Boyhood). To my generation, he's "Charley Weaver," the beloved lower left square in The Hollywood Squares. And to the generation reading this week's TV Guide, he's the jolly host of The Charley Weaver Show on ABC.

The Weaver shtick started in the late '40s, and has been smoothly refined by now. In addition to his show, Arquette is the author of Charley Weaver's Letters From Mama, many of which he reads during one of his regular appearaces on Jack Paar's Tonight. His homespun humor is based on the goings-on in the fictional town of Mount Idy, and most of his jokes deserve some kind of rim shot.  ("Elsie Krack was just married so we all pitched in and gave her a shower. It took six of us to drag her into the bathroom.")

What's interesting about Charley Weaver, or Cliff Arquette, is how his career spans so many different times.  Like many television stars, he and his character came of age on radio. By the time of this issue of TV Guide, in the pre-JFK days of 1960, he was already well-established on television, yet his greatest fame probably came on Squares, on which he appeared until his death in 1974. He spanned the years from the static of network radio to the musty black-and-white days of this issue to the vivid color and double entendres of the '70s. Three different ages, three different worlds. And he was there for them all.

t  t  t

Now, I know what you're thinking here: what in the name of Sherwood Schwartz is Mrs. Brady, aka Florence Henderson, doing as one of the hosts of NBC's Today, ostensibly a morning news program? Well, the answer to this question, as well as many others, lies in the phrase "Today Girl."

With Jack Lescoulie and Dave Garroway
As we've mentioned before, from the show's beginning until the mid '60s, the "Today Girl" (or "Woman's Editor," as they were originally called) had a specific role: to report on woman's issues (fashion, lifestyle), to give the weather, and to spar with the male host of the show (variously Dave Garroway, John Chancellor and Hugh Downs). None of the "Today Girls" were news reporters or, in fact, had much of a news background at all; they were either singers (Henderson, Helen O'Connell) or actresses (Estelle Parsons, Maureen O'Sullivan, Lee Meriwether and Betsy Palmer). Not to put to fine an edge on the point, but they were eye candy just as much as anything.

Barbara Walters was the final "Today Girl," joining the program in 1964 and being promoted to full-fledged co-host in 1966. According to Walters, the show's producers (and many in the television industry, to be honest) were concerned that "nobody would take a woman seriously reporting 'hard news.'" We can see that begin to change in the pages of TV Guide; anyone who's read the program listings from the early '60s has probably noticed ABC's Lisa Howard and Marlene Sanders as two pioneers in the news business, hosting five-minute afternoon updates. (By the way, the story of Lisa Howard, ABC's first female newscaster, is a fascinating one. You can read about it here.)

As for Florence's selection, it wasn't really all that hard a decision, says Dave Garroway. Following Betsy Palmer's departure, the show had been rotating different girls to sit on the panel for a week or so, but "It took me only about 20 minutes to know that Florence was just what we were seeking. She's more alive, more sensitive, with an indefinable quality of awareness. She has good taste and intelligence too." Since joining the team, her assignments have included reporting on fashion shows and interviews with authors, actors and other people in the news, duties that didn't some easily for her at first. (Why should a singer know how to interview Gore Vidal?) But, says Garroway, "we gave her hints on where she went wrong, and she straightened herself out." Her husband, Ira Bernstein, works as company manager for Paddy Chayefsky's new Broadway play, and with a two-year-old daughter at home, she doubts she would have taken the job if Today was still being broadcast live, but since it's taped in the afternoon for showing the next morning, she's been able to juggle everything nicely.

When Florence Henderson died in 2016, her time on Today was more a footnote than anything else. But even with her success in musical theater and on variety shows, and a lovely singing voice that never left her, it was as the lovely lady of The Brady Bunch that she won enduring, and endearing, fame. And considering the success that her other "Today Girl" colleagues had over the years, it seems fair to say that The Today Show has been a breeding ground for more than just successful journalists.

t  t  t

Yes, we all know that Saturday night is the television graveyard today, and that this wasn't always the case. I've referred frequently to the "Murderer's Row" that CBS used to have—All in the Family, Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, M*A*S*H and Carol Burnett—but even before then, Saturday was a big TV night; the famed Sid Caesar-Imogene Coca Your Show of Shows aired on Saturday, as did Gunsmoke, Lawrence Welk, Perry Mason and many other hits. Now, of course, people go out to bars, restaurants, or other special events on Saturdays (or at least they used to, when people were allowed to socialize), but back when they went out, it was often to someone else's home for a night of television. TV was the special event.

We get another example of the power of Saturday night broadcasting this week, with back-to-back color specials on NBC. First, at 7:30 p.m. CT, it's Jerry Lewis, hosting his second comedy special of the season, with opera star Helen Traubel, jazz great Lionel Hampton, football quarterback Johnny Unitas, and Jerry's sons Gary and Ronnie. It's a big lineup for one of the biggest comedians in the business. And guess what? You can see it here, in this remarkably clear color broadcast.

Following that, at 8:30, it's another comedian, Art Carney, starring in a much different role. It's the one-man drama "Call Me Back," in which Carney plays a man whose life is on the verge of destruction. His marriage has ended and taken his daughter away, he's been fired from his job, and his friends have deserted him. Sitting alone in his home with only a diminishing bottle of booze and the telephone, he tries to maintain a tenuous connection with the world. As I said, a different show altogether.

Live TV isn't dead yet, and we have three reminders of that on Sunday night alone.  First is Ed Sullivan (7:00 p.m., CBS), with singers Rosemary Clooney, Billy Daniels, Nelson Eddy and Gale Sherwood, musical-comedy star Carol Lawrence, and an assortment of dancers, acrobats, ventriloquists and other novelty acts. The Chevy Show, on NBC at 8:00 p.m., has Jane Powell hosting an hour of variety featuring Peter Gunn's Craig Stevens, Tales of Wells Fargo's Dale Robertson, Miyoshi Umeki, Taina Elg and Carl Ballentine.* Opposite that, at 8:30, The DuPont Show of the Month on CBS presents a live 90-minute adaptation of Sinclair Lewis' Pulitzer-winning novel Arrowsmith, starring Farley Granger and Diane Baker.

*Peter Gunn and Tales of Wells Fargo are both NBC programs. Imagine that.

Monday's guest on The Mike Wallace Interviews (10:00 a.m., KFJZ) is Dorothy Day, one of the most influential American Catholics of the second half of the 20th Century. Day, who is currently being considered for canonization by the Catholic Church, founded the Catholic Worker Movement, dedicated to peace and social justice. She's and has continued to grow in statue since her death in 1980. This interview with her, capturing her work in the moment, is a cultural touchstone, much like Wallace's interview with, for example, Ayn Rand. I wish there was a video copy of it, but various organizations have audio copies.

Rod Cameron was an interesting guyafter divorcing his wife, he married his former mother-in-law; a co-worker called him the bravest man he'd ever seenand a shrewd businessman. Hal Erickson, in his book, Syndicated Television: The First Forty Years, 1947–1987, points out that Cameron recognized a syndicated series would provide him with a greater share of the residuals than one backed by a network, and thus vowed to work only in syndication. His third and final such series, the detective show Coronado 9, premieres Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. on WBAP. As evidence of Cameron's smarts, those three shows (City Detective and State Trooper were the other two) provided him with over $200,000 a year in residuals.

sees the last show of the series for The Lineup (6:30 p.m., CBS), often thought of as the San Francisco version of Dragnet. Like Dragnet, the show started on radio (in 1951, one year after Dragnet) before making the move to television (in 1954, three years after you-know-what), where it was a staple of the CBS schedule for six seasons. Its syndicated title is San Francisco Beat, and it continues to air on local stations throughout the black-and-white era. Later, it's yet another live variety show, as Perry Como welcomes Lena Horne, Corbett Monica and Robert Horton to his colorcast. (8:00 p.m., NBC) 

On Thursday, it's the final regular broadcast of one of the Golden Age's most prestigeous dramas, Playhouse 90 (8:30 p.m., CBS), with Richard Basehart starring in the political drama "A Dream of Treason," in which he plays a State Department press secretary accused of leaking confidential documents to a reporter. Playhouse 90's audience has dropped to half of what it was last year, and from now on it will appear only as an occasional special. Don't remember the series for this play, though; think instead of Requiem for a Heavyweight, The Miracle Worker, Judgement at Nuremburg, and so many more outstanding dramas.

Friday finishes things off with the only prime-time sports that anyone's likely to find: boxing. And tonight's bout on the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports is Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Paul Pender for Robinson's world middleweight championship.* In an epic battle, Pender wins a controversial split decision to take the crown. He'll retain it in a rematch with Robinson later in the year, and will retire as champion in 1963.

*That is, if you define "world" as Massachusetts, New York, and The Ring magazine. Robinson had previously been stripped of his title by the National Boxing Association for having failed to defend it for 22 months. In case you're wondering why Massachusetts recognized Robinson, could it be because that would make this bout, being held in Paul Pender's hometown of Boston, a title fight?

t  t  t

Mort Sahl was, in a sense, the Dennis Miller of his day, a comedian thought too intellectual for audiences to be able to appreciate. As one television executive put it, "Mort's just wonderful. Isn't it too bad the average guy can't understand him?" Targets in his standup routines include Bernard Baruch an the Berlin crisis; "he never tells a sentimental joke, and seldom an untopical one." 

That's all changed now, though, as Sahl has become a hot ticket on TV. "The powers that be weren't too enthusiastic about me a couple of years ago," he says. "I had to keep telling myself, you can do it, you can sell it, you can. Luckily I have a stopgap, the nightclubs." His stint last April as one of the six emcees at the Academy Awards* was, Sahl phrases it, "a turning point. People even began to put me in their movies to get 'my audience.'" He'll be hosting Pontiac Star Parade on NBC this coming Friday at 7:30 p.m., costarring with Eddie Cantor in a show called "The Future Lies Ahead," a showcase for young entertainers. Not surprisingly, Sahl has some strong opinions about television. "Now my idea is, we've gotta get all the people from radio and movies out of TV. Give it a chance to ruin itself," he says, and he's probably only half-kidding. 

*The other four: Jerry Lewis, Tony Randall, Bob Hope, David Niven and Sir Laurence Olivier. Niven remains the only Oscarcast host to win during the same ceremony, taking Best Actor for Separate Tables.

Last year Sahl became the first comedian to win a Grammy, and later this year he'll become the first comedian to land on the cover of Time. He counts John F. Kennedy, Adlai Stevenson and Hubert Humphrey among the fans of his political satire, and there are rumors that all three networks are considering him for five-minute newscasts from both political conventions this year. In the Time profile, he'll accuse TV news of 'spoon-feeding' the public, of being responsible for the "corruption and ignorance that may sink this country." "I'm against those guys who read the news with a gas pump in front of them," he says. (Huntley-Brinkley?) A little humor never hurt the validity of any idea, he says; too bad we never got a chance to find out.

t  t  t

A glance at the movies on TV this week show that, unlike today, big stars frequently starred in B movies, sometimes several per year, and even with channels like TCM we might not recognize some of those movies today.  For example, WBAP has Cloak and Dagger, the story of an atomic scientist spying on the Nazis' atomic development from within German-occupied Italy, starring Gary Cooper and Lilli Palmer. There's They Met in Bombay on KFJZ, a jewel-heist story with Clark Gable and Rosalind Russell, which also has another Gable flick, Love on the Run, a spy story co-starring Joan Crawford, and The Secret Heart, about a rich widow and her stepchildren, with Claudette Colbert and Walter Pidgeon. Of course, there are plenty of familiar titles to choose from as well: Meet Me in St. Louis, Summertime, My Favorite Wife, Scarlet Street. Back when TV stations loved movies; those were the days, weren't they?

Finally, what's old is new again. Even in 1960, polio is something to be feared, though the Salk and Sabin vaccines have dramatically reduced the risk in the United States. Still, we're not that far removed from the time when even the whisper of the word polio was enough to send everyone into a panic (kind of like the word COVID, don't you think?), and we're reminded of that by KRLD's Monday night report on the Mother's March on Polio (10:30 p.m.), with reports given "by the team captains of each section of metropolitan Dallas." Good thing we could never have a scare like that again today. TV  

January 15, 2021

Around the dial

This week begins with Garroway at Large, where Jodie looks back at Today's 30th anniversary celebration in 1982, a gala celebration with most of the show's living former hosts, including the original three stars, Dave, Jack Lescoulie and Frank Blair (who wasn't actually an original but might as well have been), and the man who thought up Today, Pat Weaver. What a collection of talent; what a historic moment. It's a great read.

As is the latest in the Hitchcock Project at bare-bones e-zine, where Jack continues his survey of the Hitchcock career of William Fay with "The $2,000,000 Defense," a terrific and nasty little tale adapted from the short story by Harold Q. Masur, with Barry Sullivan and a very serious Leslie Nielsen.

Last night we watched the first season finale of the psychiatric drama The Eleventh Hour, which might as well be the last episode of all time, since the second and final season hasn't been issued on DVD, with no indication it ever will be. At Comfort TV, David gives his own review of the show. Purchase or pass? See what he thinks.

I have a shelf full of Ed McBain's famous 87th Precinct crime novels, so of course I also have the one and only season of the 87th Precinct TV series, and that series is the topic at Television's New Frontier: The 1960. One of the challenges that the review touches on is that McBain's cast of characters is so vast that it becomes difficult to narrow it down for the series. However, any series with Robert Lansing, even if he doesn't star in every episode, is bound to be a good one.

At A Shroud of Thoughts, Terence has a very interesting article on how Bewitched and Batman saved ABC (literally) in the 1960s. Despite the fact that the network had offered some very good series over the years, some of which were also quite creative for the time, it seemed destined to always be a distant third to CBS and NBC—if, that is, it survived at all. Things began to change with Bewitched and Batman, and they kept on changing.

Always nice to end on a light note, and here's one from Shadow & Substance: the seven times Rod Serling didn't say "In The Twilight Zone" at an episode’s end. You probably didn't know you needed to know that, but now that you've read it, you can't believe how you got along for so long without knowing it. TV