May 23, 2022

What's on TV? Monday, May 24, 1954

It might be good to remind younger readers out there that books—yes, books—used to be a big deal. I bring this up because I think we can see something like a parallel to today's business methods in tonight's broadcast on Robert Montgomery Presents, "The Power and the Prize." It's based on a novel by Howard Swiggett, and according to the listing, "the book by Mr. Swiggett is being dramatized for TV concurrently with its publication as a novel. This is believed to be a TV first." Reminds me of how movies were being released in theaters and on streaming services at the same time in the aftermath of the virus. Undoubtedly, the book was being promoted with an "as seen on TV" vibe in hopes of selling more copies. Did it work? I don't know, but the television adaptation didn't stop Hollywood from making a big screen version of it just two years later, starring Robert Taylor, Burl Ives, Mary Astor, Cedric Hardwicke, and Charles Coburn. It didn't do that well at the box office, for what it's worth.

Don't miss the rest of today's listings, from the Chicago edition, including the Studio One episode "A Man and Two Gods," written by Gore Vidal, who did a lot of TV writing in the day.

May 21, 2022

This week in TV Guide: May 21, 1954

It's been said, by no less an authority than me, that a wedding is the last refuge of television shows. It can be used to boost ratings, to inject new life into an aging storyline, to spin-off a character into a new series, or some combination of all three. Invariably, however, such nuptial events prove to be ratings blockbusters, and one of television's first such "events" is the wedding of Robinson Peepers and Nancy Remington on Sunday night's episode of the long-running sitcom Mister Peepers. (6:30 p.m. CT, NBC)

To many, the wedding, "after two years of timorous all-but-kissless romance," comes as something of a surprise. Wally Cox himself, who plays "TV's bucolic boy scout" and is, himself, a bachelor, expresses a mild surprise at this turn of events. "Peepers never struck me as having the nerve to marry," Cox says. "He's not only out of step with the world; I think he's a pretty ineffectual male. Pat [Benoit, who plays Nancy] and I used to speculate on what Peepers really does think—or do. I kind of look at him in wonder, don't you?" Benoit herself noted that "Wally always told people Robinson would never marry."

The producers, however, think differently. "Nothing could be more fitting for a family show. Marriage would open up new story lines. It is definitely popular with women. It sets an example for America's youth. And Nancy's luck might encourage all impatient, single girls." Acknowledges Cox, "Nancy might also look foolish dating a man for two years without getting anywhere. My writers would be the ones who know." 

Those writers have grand ideas; says Jim Fritzell, "Lots of story sequences and all the time people growing." Cox wants guarantees, though; when director Hal Keith promises him that "This will positively not degenerate into a family situation comedy—the idiot husband sort," Cox replies, "If it did, they'd have to get a new actor."

The Peepers wedding becomes one of the biggest TV events of the year, as such things will. However, the show only runs one more season after the "Wedding of the Year." This is also a common occurrence; sometimes the tension that's held the series together disappears (Moonlighting, although there was no marriage); sometimes the writers find out that those extra storylines didn't work after all (Rhoda); sometimes, the show's ratings just take a fall (The Farmer's Daughter). That doesn't stop shows from taking the plunge, though, and they aren't all disasters; My Three Sons ran for two more seasons after Steve Douglas remarried, and The Danny Thomas Show, which wisely had the wedding occur off-screen (during the summer break), ran for seven successful seasons.

I'm certainly pro-marriage, but I'm most certainly not a romantic, so I can't say that I approve of this disturbing trend. Were it not for the fact that Mister Peepers is a genuinely funny show, it would have a lot to answer for.

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"The public is becoming surfeited with outlandish crime," according to Martin Manulis, and we're not talking about Congress on television. No, Manulis is referring to Suspense, the long-running show of which he's now producer. It's not that rough stuff is altogether gone, but Manulis promises it will be tasteful violence. "There'll be no more hoods or professional gangsters," he promises. "In many cases we've found ourselves doing documentaries, rather than criminal suspense stories." 

So far, so good; ratings are up, as are fan letters, and Suspense has broadened its subject matter far beyond "routine crime stuff." Stories from Dickens, Zola and Balzac have found their way to the tube—just as crime comes in many forms, suspense can be psychological as well as physical,— and Manulis even toys with the idea of bring a straight drama to the show. He knows if the ratings don't bear out the change in the long run, it'll be back to the old formula, but he's betting that they will.

It does seem, as I've mentioned before, that violence on television has been an issue ever since shortly after television was a thing, and Herman Lowe's article on the state of the industry acknowledges that "[i]t affects almost everything it touches, and the length of its reach never ceases to amaze. We all know those stories about how movie theaters suffered on the nights when Milton Berle was on. A national organization of restaurants complains that people are eating at home instead of going out, so they won't miss the quiz and variety shows. In Little Rock, the transit system proposed a rate boost because of a fall in revenue—too many people staying home watching TV.

But things aren't all negative. Some within the trade refer to television as "The Monster," meaning that it doesn't know its own strength. For example, how much of the economic boom is television responsible for? "In a handful of postwar years, it has proved itself one of the most persuasive merchandisers of goods and ideas in history." There's a whole new line of furniture: television chairs, television tables, television lamps. American manufacturers "are turning out more sets annually than the rest of the world combined."  

That means, according to Paul A. Walker, former chairman of the FCC, that "within two years after a station goes on the air, the great majority of families in that community buy TV sets ranging in price from $200 to $400." This means not only business for the retailer, but for the repairman and the local utility. And we can't forget that the station pays out between $200,000 and $1,000,000 annually in salaries, plus taxes to local, state, and Federal governments. And sponsors pay $8 million to $10 million annually to have sporting events televised.

So television seems to be the golden goose, doesn't it? But there's one thing television has done for which it can't be forgiven. "TV brought millions of Americans directly into the convention hall to watch the Republicans and Democrats choose their Presidential nominees." Indeed, it will make it easier for politicians to communicate with more people at one time than they ever thought possible. Almost enough to make you get rid of your TV, isn't it?

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Well, that was fun, wasn't it? And now for some more fun.

On Friday night at 10:00 p.m., Chicago columnist and television host Irv Kupcinet hosts the fifth annual Cerebral Palsy Telethon (ABC), a 28-hour, star-studded extravaganza with Sarah Vaughan, Don McNeill, Fran Allison and Burr Tillstrom, Johnny Desmond, Walter Slezak, Melvyn Douglas, Ray Walson, Bill Hayes, and many more. The goal is $600,000; not quite sure how much they made, but if you're interested, here's a clip (one of two on YouTube) from that 1954 telethon:

On Sunday, Meet the Press (5:00 p.m., NBC) hosts an unusual show, one we wouldn't see nowadays: a debate between William White, President of the New York Central Railroad, and Robert Young, former President of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad. The two are battling for control of the NYC; Young is leading what turns out to be a successful proxy fight to oust management of the debt-ridden railroad. According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, Young found the New York Central in worse shape than he'd imagined, and after suspending dividend payments, he committed suicide in January 1958.

Ed Sullivan's rival in these years is the Colgate Comedy Hour, and I'll present their lineups to you without judgment: 

Sullivan (7:00 p.m., CBS): Ed introduces a film segment from Gone With the Wind, featuring Clark Gable, Vivian Leigh, and Leslie Howard. Guests include comedy team Betty and Jane Kean; singer Mindy Carson; "Mr. Pastry" Richard Hearne; dancers Page & Bray; and English singing star Dickie Valentine. Film producer David O. Selznick appears to discuss the story behind the reissue of Gone With the Wind.

Comedy Hour (7:00 p.m., NBC): Tonight's stars are Bud Abbott & Lou Costello. The Sauter-Finnegan Orchestra, Hoagy Carmichael, and the little singing comedian, Ricky Vera, are guests. Unlike Sullivan, skits make up most of the Abbott& Costello shows.

On Wednesday, Kraft Television Theatre (8:00 p.m., NBC) presents an adaptation of "The Scarlet Letter," Nathaniel Hawthorne's famous morality play, starring Kim Stanley as Hester Prynne and Leslie Nielsen as the Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale. Then, on Thursday, Anthony Ross stars as the title character "Dodsworth," Sinclair Lewis's grim story, on Kraft Television Theatre (8:00 p.m., ABC).

Wait a minute, you say, what's this? Two shows with the same name? So which is it: Kraft Television Theatre Wednesday night on NBC, or Thursday night on ABC? The answer is, both. The shows are produced by the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, which represents Kraft; the cheese company sponsors both hours, which adds up to 104 hours of live programming per season. The two shows function as one; Kraft employs six full-time producer-directors, each responsible for one hour every third week. Each episode employs 16 to 18 actors per episode, and with four shows in production at any one time, that means an average of 60 to 70 actors per week. 

The complex setup works like clockwork, as it would have to in order to make everything happen. And the results? The NBC version is number one among hour-long dramas, with the ABC edition gaining each week. Of course, companies and their sponsors don't have control over the schedule the way they once did, but still—can you imagine anything like it?

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Some news from the New York Teletype: Dragnet has bumped I Love Lucy from the #1 position in the ratings, according to the latest American Research Bureau report. It's News to Me, the panel quiz show hosted by John Daly, will be back on CBS this summer, replacing You Are There. That will make two shows that Daly is hosting on the Tiffany Network, while he's head of the news division at ABC. 

In Hollywood, an addendum on Dragnet: a character in a recent episode called a movie "a lousy show," which resulted in a stink coming from some movie exhibitors (remember how touchy they are when it comes to television), with the result that Jack Webb apologized for "bad and thoughtless editing on my part." Du Mont, which makes television sets in addition to broadcasting the shows that appear on them, is predicting a 21-inch color set in the next two to three years, running about $500. And Walt Disney will be originating his ABC show from a new, $9,000,000 amusement park he's building—Disneyland.

In local news, WGN premiered the new film series Life With Elizabeth last Sunday, starring "America's new sweetheart, Betty White." Local sports shows covering the Chicago Cubs are miffed that the Cubbies are charging $100 for guest appearances by their players on TV sports shows, up from $50. It's the same amount they charge for other personal appearances (aside from charity events); the sportscasters say they'll continue their $50 policy whether the Cubs are along for the ride or not.

And finally, "The average family now watches TV a total of five hours, 46 minutes each day," according to Nielsen. By contrast, in 2010, the peak of television viewing, the average family watched 8 hours and 55 minutes per day. Which just goes to show that there's always room for improvement. TV  

May 20, 2022

Around the dial

At bare-bones e-zine, Jack's Hitchcock Project takes us to "The Young One," a nasty but excellent third-season story written by Sarett Rudley, with Carol Lynley, Vince Edwards, and Jeanette Nolan, and directed by Robert Altman. I think this is a good one to check out.

Jodie has a great story at Garroway at Large regarding her RCA BK-4 "Starmaker" microphone, the kind that you see Dave Garroway wearing in early pictures from Today. Seems it needed some paint restoration work; I would have felt just as bad about it as she did, and just as glad when everything turned out all right!

At the Broadcasting Archives, it's the front page of WMAR's "Television Topics" newsletter, from September, 1969. Check out the station's NFL football schedule at the bottom of the page, including coverage of the final NFL-AFL Super Bowl.

Last week, John wrote a very interesting post at Cult TV Blog about watching The Prisoner using the premise that Number 6 is actually a patient in an asylum. It's an intriguing scenario; as I told John, I think I'll see what it's like the next time we watch the series. (Which can't be too long from now.)

I didn't participate in Rick's "Four Favorite Noirs" blogathon at Classic TV & Film Café to celebrate National Classic Movie Day on May 16th, but if you're a fan of film noir (as I am), you'll enjoy the posts from the blogs that participated. I should have offered some of my favorite Japanese noir!

Funny that Terence should bring up the Kim Sisters at A Shroud of Thoughts; he's sharing a video of them performing on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1965, and I just saw a different video of them performing on Sullivan from a later date. I guess great minds think alike; anyway, take a good look at the kind of non-superstar entertainment Ed used to bring us, and why we should be familiar with them.

If you don't recognize the name Tim O'Connor, you'll certainly recognize his face; he appeared on just about every television show in the '60s and '70s, and played Dr. Elias Huer on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. But MeTV tells how he found true love three doors down the road.

At The Hits Just Keep on Comin', JB has a reflection on what we were at one time, and how we've changed since then. Good thoughts ("If we’re lucky, we might still retain the best of what we were."), and some very interesting links. A good note to end on for the week. TV  

May 16, 2022

What's on TV? Tuesday, May 18, 1965

One of the things I most enjoy about looking at New York TV Guides is the big-name network talent that appears on local news broadcasts. Since all the networks have their home bases in NYC, it's not at all uncommon to see, as we do here, Frank McGee, Jim Hartz, Robert MacNeil, and Gabe Pressman on WNBC, Robert Trout on WCBS, or Bill Beutel on WABC. Likewise, in other issues we've seen Bill Ryan on the local news, and in Chicago, Floyd Kalber. Wouldn't that caliber of anchor be cool to see again today? Might even make me start watching the local news again.

May 14, 2022

This week in TV Guide: May 15, 1965

We'll start this week with an actor I've always enjoyed, Robert Lansing. Lately I've been watching a few episodes of his 1967 spy series The Man Who Never Was, a show intriguing enough that I mentioned it in my novel The Car.  It should have been better than it was, considering it co-starred Dana Wynter and was produced by John Newland—but then, I'm getting ahead of myself, since I'll be writing about this show, along with many others, in the next version of "What I've Been Watching." It just explains why I have Lansing on my mind today. 

Anyway, back to this week's issue. As you can see from the cover, Robert Lansing is currently—but not for long—the star of 12 O'clock High, ABC's World War II drama based on the movie starring Gregory Peck. Lansing stars in the Peck role, as General Frank Savage, and for my money he gives a better portrayal than Peck. I've always regarded Peck as a somewhat wooden actor, which is not quite the same thing as Lansing's often understanded acting. But, as is always the case, your mileage may vary. It's not that my opinion is wrong; an opinion, by definition, can't be wrong. If you have a differing opinion, you'd be right too.

But I digress again, and if I don't stop doing that, we'll never get to the end of this. I was talking about Lansing and 12 O'clock High; I've read various accounts of why he was sacked from the show after one season. Quinn Martin, the show's producer, offers one of the strangest reasons I've ever read. His theory: Lansing is an actor who plays best with the audience at a later, more adult, hour—say 10:00 p.m. (ET), which is the time that 12 O'clock High currently airs. Problem is, next season the show's moving to 7:30 p.m., and Martin claims that ABC asked him to "find another series for [Lansing]" that ran at 10 pm. "Had we remained at 10," Martin says, "Bob would have continued."

Now, quite frankly, that sounds ridiculous, but Lansing, who's being replaced by former Naked City star Paul Burke, is sanguine about it. "My contract was with Quinn Martin, and he's the only one I've talked to. I can't be mad at Quinn, either. He says it was the network's decision, and I have no evidence to make me doubt him." To show that he's a team player, Lansing adds that he feels the show's quality will suffer from being moved to an earlier time with, presumably, a younger audience. "When I realized what changes would be made in the show for that younger audience, I knew that 12 O'clock High couldn't be the same quality show next year." Offered the chance to stay on and make occasional appearances, he declined; "12 hours a day is too long to work at something you don't like."

A second theory about Lansing's departure is that it was hard for the audience to accept that General Savage, would be out there in the middle of the war himself, flying bombers, rather than directing things from behind a desk. (Paul Burke's character, by contrast, is a colonel, and we know from Colonel Robert Hogan that colonels do fly bombers.) 

I just don't know about all this. As I said, I'm a Lansing fan; he projects a tough, masculine image but has a softer side that still resonates with the audience. For instance, as Detective Carella in 87th Precinct, he was able to portray a no-nonsense cop who still had a sense of humor, not to mention a dedication to protecting the public. As the character Gary Seven, he's one of the few guest stars to hold his own with Mr. Spock and the rest of the Star Trek crew, outwitting them at almost every turn. He did a better job on the short-lived series The Man Who Never Was than the series deserved, and he had a memorable guest role in The Equalizer many years later. Cleveland Amory, a hard man to please, describes Lansing's work in 12 O'clock High: "Make no mistake about it. Robert Lansing is magnificent." The idea that he has to have a "10 p.m." timeslot is just—odd.

This leads to today's trivia question, which might make for some fun comments below. The second season of 12 O'clock High begins with Savage's plane being shot down and the general being killed. Paul Burke's previous series, Naked City, was also based on a movie, the stars of which were Barry Fitzgerald as Detective Lt. Dan Muldoon and Don Taylor as his partner, Jimmy Halloran. When the series transitioned to television, John McIntire assumed the Muldoon role (right down to Fitzgerald's Irish brogue; it's a wonderful portrayal), while James Franciscus played Halloran. McIntire soon tired of the weekly grind of a series, however, and was killed off late in the first season, to be replaced by Horace McMahon as Mike Parker.*

*I'll bet you thought I was going to say he was replaced by Paul Burke, right? No, his character replaces Halloran, who disappears for no apparent reason. Perhaps he was drafted to fly B-52s for the Air Force.

Having given you those examples, can you name any other television series adapted from a movie that then proceeded to kill off one of that movie's star characters? 

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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 special guests are Rudolf Nureyev and Dame Margot Fonteyn, stars of London's Royal Ballet Company. Also on the bill are Welsh recording star Petula Clark; comedian Alan King, who tells about the New York World's Fair; the West Point Glee Club; the rock 'n' rolling Beach Boys; comedienne Sue Carson and pop singer Frankie Randall.

Palace: Host George Burns introduces operatic soprano Mary Costa; singer Jack Jones; comics Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks in an interview sketch on dating; the Young Americans, vocal group; pantomimists Cully Richards and Company; the Flying Zacchinis, trapeze artists; and the Almiros, jugglers.

The Palace really starts strong this week, both musically (Costa and Jones) and comedically (Burns, Reiner and Brooks), but just when I was starting to get excited—the Young Americans, mimes (I hate mimes), jugglers, trapeze artists...

On the other hand, your affection for Ed will depend largely on what you think of ballet; since Nureyev and Dame Margot are two of the very biggest names in the business, you can bet they're getting a lot of airtime, with three excerpts from Nureyev's version of Swan Lake. I happen to like ballet myself, and since this is my blog, and since I also like Petula Clark and Alan King and think the Beach Boys are probably the best American rock act of the time, I'm giving this week to Ed; he dances away from the Palace.

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Throughout the 60s and early 70s, TV Guide's weekly reviews were written by the witty and acerbic Cleveland Amory. Whenever we get the chance, we'll look at Cleve's latest take on the shows of the era. 

Chuck Connors was a bankable star on television in the 1950s and '60s. The Rifleman was a hit for five seasons, and he'd go on to star in Arrest and Trial and Cowboy in Africa. In-between the latter two, there was Branded. And that's where we find Cleveland Amory this week.

Connors plays Captain Jason McCord, or rather ex-Captain McCord, washed out of the service for, allegedly, showing cowardice at the Battle of Bitter Creek, a battle in which every other man in his unit was killed. It is, Cleve points out, NBC's version of The Fugitive, only "Instead of the unjustly accused murderer, we have the unjustly accused coward." McCord, you see, is innocent of the charges, and travels around the land trying to convince others of that fact. How to do that when you're the only survivor? Don't worry; "In almost every episode a lot of people keep coming back from the Creek—and, the way we see it, there were more men engaged at Bitter Creek than at Normandy on D-Day."

And that pretty much sums up the entire series in a nutshell. Which is a problem, because the producers are left coming up with, as Amory charitably puts it, some "involved" plots. One example is a girl who hates McCord because her brother died at Bitter Creek, but also needs his testimony to save her ranch from evil bankers, who then threaten to kill McCord themselves until she saves his life. Then, there's the story of the crazy preacher whose two sons beat McCord up; there were three sons, but one of them was killed—at Bitter Creek. No wonder everyone in this series is so bitter. There are also Indians involved in this one; one of them tells McCord, "I could have killed you, but I have no desire to open the old wound of Bitter Creek." Eventually, of course, At the end, only McCord and the preacher are left, with McCord telling him to put away the idea of revenge. "You can't bring old things back. Not your sons, not Bitter Creek, not this town." And that, Cleveland Amory says, is "good, unenigmatic advice, and we hope NBC takes it."

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This week's issue is from New York City, home of movies. Lots and lots of movies. But that doesn't necessarily mean more movies, just more times that movies are on. For example, WNEW (now WNYW, the Fox affiliate, but an independent in 1965) has a movie which they show daily at 10:00 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.*, presumably for those housewives who either go shopping or have to pick up the kids from kindergarten or, I don't know, entertain the milkman in the morning. Whatever the case, when a movie's shown twice during the day, you don't really have any excuse for missing it unless you work outside the office, in which case it wouldn't matter how many times it's on.

*Just so there's no confusion, they show the same movie at 10am and 1:30pm. Not part two of the movie, the same movie.  The same exact movie.

Next, there's WOR's famous Million Dollar Movie. Million Dollar Movie, which began in 1955, was really a quite clever way of exploiting the showing of a big-time movie—which, due to the continuing antagonism between movie studios and television, wasn't always that commonplace. Million Dollar Movie's hook was twofold: the movies would have never before been seen on television, and they would be shown multiple times a day for the entire week—as many as sixteen times a week, according to some. By 1965, the number was down to seven times a week: 11:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m. on Sunday, and then 11:25 p.m. Monday through Friday. This week's feature: The Lost Missile, starring Robert Loggia and Ellen Parker. "New Yorkers have little more than an hour left to live, as a radioactive missile circles the earth, destroying everything in a 10-mile-wide swath."*

*In other words, they only have an hour to liveuntil the next showing. And you shouldn't confuse it with either WTIC's Satellite in the Sky, in which "a rocket ship heads for outer space to explode an experimental bomb," or WCBS's Abandon Ship, where 27 passengers of a luxury liner that sank try to fit into a lifeboat that can only hold 12 (a budget A Night to Remember), both airing on Monday at 11:20 p.m.

And then there are the two movie shows that have the most iconic names of all: The Late Show and The Late Late Show, both of which air on WCBS, Channel 2. Here's the opening to The Late Show, with its famous theme, Leroy Anderson's "Syncopated Clock":

Channel 2's couplet of The Late Show and The Late Late Show were billed as "post-midnight entertainment for 'television's other audience'," back in a time when it was somewhat sophisticated and grown up to stay up late during the week. The Late Show starts at 11:20 p.m., and The Late Late Show at about 1:25 a.m., which brings us up to about 3:00 a.m. most times, when Channel 2 airs a couple more movies to take the viewing audience up to Summer Semester that morning.

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Here's a quick look at the rest of the TV week:

Sports: The Preakness, live from Pimlico in Baltimore (5:30 p.m., CBS). The favorite is Lucky Debonair, winner of the Kentucky Derby, but Dapper Dan winds up in the winner's circle with the Black-Eyed Susans. If horse racing's not your game, there's plenty of baseball, with both the Yankees and Mets appearing numerous times throughout the week, and the final round of the New Orleans Open golf tournament airs on Sunday.

Comedy: I'll be talking about Gilligan's Island in a moment, but on Saturday we have that delightful situation that finds Jim Backus competing against himself, as Gilligan airs on CBS at 8:30 p.m., up against NBC's Mr. Magoo. It's the only time in TV history that an actor has been a regular in two different shows on two different networks at the same time.

Game Shows: Paul Anka is the guest panelist on What's My Line? Sunday night (10:30 p.m., CBS)  On the daytime shows, Roger Smith and singer Carmel Quinn are on What's This Song? (10:30 a.m. CBS), while Hermoine Gingold is the week's celebrity guest on The Price is Right (11:30 a.m., ABC). Selma Diamond and Les Crane appear on Call My Bluff (Noon, NBC), followed by singer Gogi Grant and her husband Bob Rifkind taking on Alan and Virginia Young on I'll Bet (12:30 p.m., NBC). George Grizzard and Joan Fontaine are on Password (2:00 p.m., CBS), singers Mel Torme and Sally Ann Howes are on NBC's You Don't Say! (3:30 p.m., NBC) and Henry Morgan and Lauren Bacall follow on The Match Game (4:00 p.m., NBC). Not a bad week of celebrity sightings.

"On Thursday We Leave for Home," featuring a moving performance by James Whitmore, is the first of 17 hour-long Twilight Zone reruns to debut in the show's Sunday night slot. (9:00 p.m., CBS) A sea monster terrorizes a Norwegian village on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (Monday, 7:30 p.m., ABC). And on Thursday (8:00 p.m., CBS), Perry Mason gets involved in the case of an actor taking part in one of Shakespeare's sword-dueling scenes—and winds up dead.

Current Events: Nothing could be more current than a repeat of last month's critically acclaimed CBS Reports report on "Abortion and the Law." (Monday, 10:00 p.m.) 

Music: Tuesday night at 8:30 p.m., it's NBC's annual Best on Record, entertainment featuring winners of the 1964 Grammys. Dean Martin hosts, Sammy Davis Jr. performs a tribute to the late Nat King Cole, and Frank Sinatra receives the Grammy Golden Achievement Award. All that's missing is Joey Bishop.

Culture:  On Monday, Channel 9 presents the movie version of Gian-Carlo Menotti's sinister opera The Medium (1:30 p.m.), starring Marie Powers, Leo Coleman and Anna Maria Alberghetti. WCBS has a documentary Tuesday about a place that'll get plenty of culture: the newly constructed Lincoln Center. And what could possibly be more cultural than the New York State finals of the Miss Universe pageant, shown live Thursday night (10:00 p.m,, WPIX)? The winner is Gloria Jon; I was hoping it might be someone who went on to great fame and stardom, but being Miss New York isn't bad at all.

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Finally, Sherwood Schwartz tells Richards Warren Lewis about the difficulties he's had in getting Gilligan's Island from the drawing board to the screen.

For one thing, everyone in the executive suite at CBS loved it—except for Jim Aubrey. And the problem there was that Jim Aubrey was the president of CBS. United Artists, co-producers with Schwartz, hated the idea of a theme song that told the backstory. The pilot was submitted to CBS, sans music, and it was rejected without comment.

At this point, Schwartz takes matters into his own hands. He reedits the pilot the way he wants it done; "Is everybody through with the film now? Can I do it my way?" He writes the theme song himself, assembles a new version, and ships it to New York, with a note that reads, "This is the pilot I had in mind."

The results were a smash. The test audience loved it so much that CBS made another audience sit through it, unable to believe the show had scored so high. When the second audience seconded its approval, the show finally got on the schedule. But even then, Schwartz's problems weren't done. The suits didn't like the Hollywood actress character: "Who can identify?" They didn't like the billionaire: "Who's going to understand a billionaire?" They didn't like the science teacher: "What kind of flair does that have to it?" Schwartz fought their suggestions and won. Then the network fired three of the seven actors who appeared in the pilot, which required further filming and editing.

The episode that winds up debuting on television is actually a combination of three separate shows, including about half of that pilot.* "It was an outlandish beginning," Schwartz says of that first episode. "If you're telling a story about people who get shipwrecked, the only honest way is if the first show is about how they got wrecked. Instead, it was about how they were trying to get off the island. It's like starting on chapter two. You didn't know who they were." He thinks that has something to do with the bad initial reviews from some critics.

*As you've probably read, you may notice that the flag in the marina is flying at half-staff; the pilot was completed on November 22, 1963. 

Even now, having spent the entire season in the top 40, not everyone at CBS is happy, but it doesn't matter to Schwartz. He's proud of the way audiences have identified with the characters and the situation; "Whether you like my show or not, you turn into Gilligan's Island and in one second you know what show you're looking at."

Reading this, I'm struck by the thought that, for all the accusations that Gilligan was part of the dumbing-down of television, the objections from the suits at CBS suggest they didn't have much confidence in their audience's ability to identify with characters and figure things out. Indeed, one can assume that if the network had had their way, Gilligan's Island would have been far, far dumber than even the harshest critics suggested. And it wouldn't be half as loved today. TV  

May 13, 2022

Around the dial

More impressionable young minds enthralled by C-SPAN

I think we'll kick off this Friday the 13th edition with something I've mentioned before—many times, I'm sure—how classic TV fans are accused of living in the past, and the shows themselves are held up to present an unrealistic and unattainable ideal. This week at Comfort TV, David takes a thoughtful look at this and asks the question: are these ideals beneficial or dangerous?

When I lived in the World's Worst Town™, you'll recall, I spent the better (or worst) part of six years with little more television entertainment than NBC, then suffering through a very bad decade. Petrocelli wasn't a bad series by any means, but it never caught on with me. Nonetheless, it's certainly watchable, and at Classic Film & TV Café, Rick reviews Night Moves, the pilot for the series, with Barry Newman reprising his role in the theater movie The Lawyer, and Susan Howard as his loyal wife and secretary. 

At Cult TV Blog, John looks about a series I have seen before: The Prisoner. One of the reasons I celebrate this as one of my favorite series is that it never ceases to make me think, even though I've watched it numerous times. And John comes up with a scenario that's making me think again—as it should you.

An oldie but goodie: at TVParty!, Billy remembers what surely must be one of the most controversial sitcoms ever seen on television anywhere: the British series Heil Honey, I'm Home, a spoof of American '50s sitcoms, which chronicled (or would have, were it not cancelled after one showing) the trials and domestic travails of Adolph Hitler and Eva Braun.

At A Shroud of Thoughts, Terence takes a look at the final episode of a long-running series that few people realize was actually a "proper" final episode: "The Case of the Final Fade-Out," the series finale of Perry Mason. And it is, as Terence says, one of the best.

The A.V. Club's Will Harris has a very interesting interview with John Astin, in which the Addams Family icon talks about everything from getting into acting (a great story) to his career role as Gomez, to his relationship with Fellini. What a life!

Forget the political discussions: Fox Entertainment talks with Diane McBain, a mainstay in the Warner Bros. shows of the early 1960s, about her new novel, The Color of Hope, how Aaron Spelling wanted to marry her, what it was like working with Elvis, and more.

Finally, Ben Model, who usually blogs about theater organs and silent film music, takes a good look at Ernie Kovacs, and one of his best sketches: "Albert Gridley," the story of the talk-show guest who can't remember the details of the subject he's being interviewed about. Matt Dennis plays the unfortunate guest. I'd better watch this again the next time I'm being interviewed. TV  

May 11, 2022

The "It's About TV" Interview: in Daniel R. Budnik, author of From Beverly Hills To Hooterville: Exploring TV's Henningverse 1962-1971

You'll probably recognize our guest from his fantastic podcast Eventually Supertrain, which I've been pleased to appear on many times over the years, but he has also authored several books, including the book we're here to talk about today, From Beverly Hills To Hooterville: Exploring TV's Henningverse 1962-1971. And so, without further delay, Mystery Guest, will you enter and sign in, please?

[Thunderous applause]

Thank you, Mitchell, and hello everyone. I’m Daniel R. Budnik. Call me Dan. I’m a writer and podcaster. I’ve written fiction. But, I’m mainly known for writing about TV and movies. I have a book on 1980s horror and 1980s action. And they are delightful. But here, we’re going to talk all about Paul Henning and his three big shows of the 1960s. Or, at least, we’re going to talk about my book about those shows and Mr. H.

The book
It's About TV: I think most people who visit this site will recognize the shows that Paul Henning created: in order, The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, and Green Acres. For someone my age, they were a staple of CBS's lineup when I was growing up. (Which is one reason I loved the book.) That wouldn't have been the case for a whippersnapper like you, though. So how did you discover them?

Dan Budnik: Rick Mitz’s The Great TV Sitcom Book really hates Henning’s 1960s sitcoms. That book was a sitcom Bible for me (3rd edition) until I got Eisner and Krinsky’s Television Comedy Series. Those two loved The Beverly Hillbillies and adored Green Acres. So, when a station in 1985 (CBN) started showing Acres, I gave it a try. CBN were showing the series (more or less) in order. And they were near the end of the 6th season. I watched a few episodes and I just loved it. It made me laugh. It made me smile. I thought it was intelligent. And I wanted to watch it more. (Get Smart was the main 1960s show from that time that I had similar feeling about but that always got rotten syndication in Rochester. NY.) Then, WTBS started showing the Hillbillies and I fell in love. The laughs from Acres. The serialization and satire from Hillbillies. Always gave them a place n my heart. In the mid-1990s when Columbia House released Acres on VHS, I bought every tape. Junction came later. I first watched it on DVD. But, those two others were very important to me in the world of sitcoms from early on..

Introduce us to this fictional "Henningverse" that Paul Henning created? How did he come up with the idea, where did he start, how did he add to it?

To me, it began when Paul decided to make Bea Benaderet the lead in Junction. She played Cousin Pearl in Season 1 of the Hillbillies. Having an actress who was so familiar in a role (in a #1 TV show) and then giving her another important role, I feel like that stuck in people’s minds. And then, when Acres was created, it made sense to set it in Hooterville. Then, as time went on, it made sense to bring the Hillbillies characters into Hooterville. And that, suddenly, gave us a world, an integrated universe. Of course, the people on Acres used to watch the Hillbillies on TV. So, how does that all fit in? You got me. But, I have theories. 

Although the three shows were all victims of CBS's rural purge, each has a distinct personality from the rest--they're not just cookie cutter clones. What makes the three shows different in a way that, say, the Warner Bros. detective shows of the early '60s aren't?

So, the Hillbillies, at its best, is beautiful satire. Some of it is dated, obviously. But much of it still holds true. It is a “fish out of water” show but with one advantage. These fish, the Clampetts, are richer than almost everyone else. Because of that, the people in the world they now a part of treat them as superior. Almost as royalty. Then, all of them get confused when they find hillbillies at the big, big mansion on the hill. At it worst, the show comes off as a bit dumb. But, generally, it is funny, and the serialization makes it rather modern. There are no reset switches thrown. If something happens, if someone appears, they probably will be back. And it probably will continue the story.

Petticoat Junction, apart from Season 2, is a standard 1960s sitcom. Sometimes there’s continuity, sometimes there isn’t. Sometimes characters act within their characters, sometimes they act weird. But, if you like the setting ad the basic characters when they act like themselves, you will enjoy the show. It’s not as funny nor as sharp as the others but it sure can be fun.

Green Acres starts off relatively normal but highly serialized and very funny. At some point, Jay Sommers and Dick Chevillat (the main writers) decided to go a bit crazy. They decided to indulge all their comedy whims. And the show goes surreal, the show goes screwy, the show becomes really, really funny. Making it such a different beast from the other two.

And of course, John Charles Daly introduces the first episode of Acres, which explains why I started off our interview as a kind of homage. [Both laughSo where did the idea for the book come from?

I was pitching ideas for my next book after 80s Action Movies on The Cheap. I like to come up with about seven or eight ideas. Right before that. I had started watching Hillbillies and Junction in tandem, as aired. I thought “This might make a fun podcast.” As I pitched books, I added, as the last entry, a book on the Henningverse, which I just made up. I had a lot of great book ideas. But, the publisher wanted the Hennigverse book. So, I spent the next 1 ½ years writing it. They rejected it. And I published it through Throckmorton Press.*

*Full disclosure: Throckmorton Press is also my publisher, as well.

This is a big book, that you can just pick up and start at a random point and be drawn into it. Tell us a little about how the book works.

You can start from where you want. To me, some folks buying it would prefer one show to another. And they’d skip around to the shows they wanted. Hopefully, later on, they’d read it all. Or you can start at the beginning and go. It’s a journey. It’s a very meticulous journey. It’s a step-by-step journey. But it is rewarding. If you chose to jump through randomly, remember that the book is cumulative. If you read an early Hillbillies review where I don’t mention the name of their hometown, I haven’t done that because the show hadn’t named it yet. (It’s "Bug Tussle.") So, please, don’t feel like the book is inept because of its structure. You need to read the intro before you dive in. The book learns as the creators tell us. Once you are conversant with how the book works, do whatever you want. Read a page and then eat it. I don’t care. That’s your thing. I don’t judge.

Was there any other addition to the Henningverse that he never had the chance to explore?

I think once Junction ended in 1970 (and it was supposed to end the year before) that fractured the Henningverse. Hillbillies was close to Junction and Junction was close to Acres. On Acres, Hillbillies was almost more fictional than "real." I think once Junction went away there was no way we were all going to get together as we did previously, although they were still technically together. Part of me wishes, Junction had gone on longer. But, as I think it’s the weakest of the shows, it was right to end when it did.

Do you have a favorite of the three shows? And do you have a favorite episode from each one?

Green Acres is my favorite. And it’s my favorite because it does a tricky thing. Back in 1986, when I was 13, I was watching the show. And I had a subscription to a magazine called Reruns, which focused on classic TV. (At the same time, I got TV Guide every week and was focusing on current TV. The moment one realizes that they can’t truly focus on all of it (from The Goldbergs to The Goldbergs) is a big moment. I realized that in late 1987. I ran away into music and horror/ exploitation films for some time after that.) In the back of Reruns were ads. From one of those ads, I ordered script copies of TV shows from a nice couple somewhere in the U.S. I ordered several Acres scripts from them. And I asked, at age 13, which show do you prefer, Hillbillies or Acres? The couple wrote back “Acres. Because of the relationship between Oliver and Lisa. No matter how crazy things got, they loved each other.” In the three shows, including Bettie Jo and Steve, there is no closer relationship than Oliver and Lisa. Their show was the funniest, but it was also the most human in some respects. Keeping it so screwy and yet keeping that relationship real isn’t easy. Acres did it. That’s why it’s my favorite.

Junction favorite episodes: Either "Cannonball Christmas" or "The Curse of Chester W. Farnsworth." 

Hillbillies: "The Clampetts In Court." Because I think it’s the perfect encapsulation of what the show does best. Email me for another 10 episodes.

Green Acres: "Love Meets Arnold Ziffel," or "Lisa’s Vegetable Garden," or "Kimball Gets Fired." There are too many to name.

Where, in fact, is Hooterville? I've read many theories, but nobody seems to know for sure.

It’s near Chicago. That’s all I can gauge. Probably in Illinois. Maybe near Springfield, where the Simpsons live. But, I don’t really know where they live either.

I was talking recently with David Hofstede, who runs the blog Comfort TV, about what vintage television shows can provide us during these--I don't want to lapse into cliche, but I will--turbulent times. Do the shows of the Henningverse provide the same benefit?

I think Junction can provide great comfort if you get into the groove of it. Of the three, it’s the most “regular” sitcom. It’s a woman raising her three kids and trying to run a small country hotel. Apart from Season 2, which is quite funny and rather odd, it’s a sweet and almost simple show. Occasionally it goes topical and, occasionally, it embarrasses itself by doing so. But, if you can get into the world, it’s seven seasons of fun.

Hillbillies is sharp satire, at its best, that can still work today. It helps that it’s a very funny show. But there are times when it goes down odd rabbit holes, especially in its last two seasons. And those might be more exasperating to people than comforting. Can I just say one word? “Frogmen.”

Green Acres is one of my favorite TV shows of all time. (Did I mention that?) Pop in almost any episode and it will make you laugh and, possibly, calm you down. It’s a good show to take you out of the world for a while. And it does what it says it’s going to: it makes you laugh. And it brings you back again, because it did fulfill that promise. 

The best shows are the ones that fulfill their promise. The sitcom that makes you laugh. (Or in the case of a show like My Favorite Martian, a sitcom that is clever and imaginative.) An action show that thrills you. A detective show steeped in good mysteries. That’s all I want. You give me one episode of one these shows that succeeds and I will return. And if you give me several or quite a few, I will buy your Complete Series boxset or hunt down all the episodes. I think there are many that fail. I think the members of the Henningverse succeed, some better than others. But they do. (And, not to be self-serving, Junction works better in tandem with the rest of the Henningverse than it does alone.)

The author

We know there are people out there who, for whatever reason—they've got recency bias, or they don't like black-and-white shows and movies; they're think they're not cool, even though Green Acres was always in color and Hillbillies and Junction were mostly in color
and they're like, "Why should I be bothered with these old TV shows?" What do you say to them?

One of the areas of pop culture I’ve written about quite a bit is a realm some might call the region of the “bad movie.” Or the movie that doesn’t meet blockbuster expectations. And so many times over the past 15 years or so, I’ve been asked or challenged about why one would watch these movies? (Except to laugh at them.) I’m happy to say that I have fought the good fight valiantly and have convinced some people to watch these things even though they aren’t huge, expensive epics. Some will never care or try. But, quite a few people will. And quite a few like it.

Now with TV, it is different because so much of what people watch nowadays is serialized. And the weird thing is I don’t think it has anything to do with age. My Mom was born in Eastern Europe in the late 1940s. She loves Lucy but she never watches any other old shows. She just watches new shows. My stepdad was the same way, apart from Sanford and Son. If I went to visit them and suggested we watch some Hillbillies or Acres, they might say “Sure,” watch an episode and then return to Ice City Truckers or something set in a pawn shop. 

As if that's more real-life than Hooterville.

[Laughs] Or they might wonder why bother? It’s an old show. They make new shows. Why watch old shows? That is the attitude of almost all of the older members of my family. So, if the older members don’t care, why on Earth would the younger members care? I think the people who watch older shows are becoming more and more a select few. I don’t think it’s a dislike for the older shows. It’s just a “Why? Would I bother? I’ve only a certain amount of time in the day and I’d prefer to watch new shows.” I can’t argue with that. The only thing I can do is appeal to the quality of some of the older shows. I mean, there are plenty of bad old shows. Plenty of them. But the best ones should be watched and should continue to be watched. With people that I feel might try an older show, I’ll pick episodes very carefully and try to introduce them. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. But, when it does, it’s awesome. I knew when I wrote a book on the Henningverse it would appeal to a very small group and maybe annoy some others. In the end, I may have written the book for myself. It’s exactly the guide I want to have to these three shows. My complaint? Needs a better index. (I would like to apologize to myself for not having a better index. At this time, Amazon does not allow books over 800 pages. If I put in the complete index I wanted, the book would have been very close to (or over) that allotment. So, I kept it simple.)

Paul Henning
Where are the pictures? You know me
—all these words make my brain hurt. 

That was the original publisher’s idea. They pointed out that the cost of acquiring rights to a decent amount of photos would cost more money than I would make from the book. They suggested that I don’t include photos. I agreed. I do hope that everyone either knows what the main characters look like or don’t mind hopping on Google to find the images.

What's your next project?

I was interested in doing something related to more American shows from this time period. But, my encounters with the Henningverse Gatekeepers have stopped me there. (I won’t go into detail. But, they’re all men. They all claimed to have watched the shows when they originally aired. They don’t know why someone who wasn’t alive when the shows aired has written this book. They’re arrogant. They’re unpleasant. And, when questioned, they’re always wrong.) So, my next best is going to be a Doctor Who book. Reviewing each episode, like the Henningverse book. But, after each story/ serial, I will be including a postscript relating my personal experiences with the show from 1981 to the most recent episode, which aired on Easter. And also I will include some stories and remembrances regarding the history of the show, which some people may have forgotten. It’s going to be hefty but I think it’s going to be fun.

l  l  l

As I often said about Eventually Supertrain, I hope you all had as much fun reading this as we did doing it. My thanks to Dan, not only for From Beverly Hills To Hooterville: Exploring TV's Henningverse 1962-1971, but for his time today, and his friendship. If this book isn't already on your classic TV bookshelf, make room for it. TV  

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.