October 31, 2020

This week in TV Guide: November 3, 1973

I had the option this week of several issues having to do with an election or its aftermath, but I think we're going to be getting more of that than we want over the next few days (and longer?), so let's skip ahead a couple of days to early November, and the man who may have "The Best Job in Sports." 

And why not? Jim McKay "travels 250,000 miles a year to the world's most exotic locales and the world's most exciting sports events, and he gets paid a great deal of money to do so." A lifetime "spanning the globe" has covered a lot of big events over the years: the Olympics; the Masters, U.S., and British Opens; the Indianapolis 500, the Grand Prix of Monaco and the 24 Hours of LeMans; the Grey Cup; the World Cup; the Triple Crown; Wimbledon; figure skating; track and field; even the world barrel jumping championship. How's that for starters? 

Jim McKay was one of what I call the "big game" announcers: whenever you heard his voice on television, you knew there was something big going on. Unlike most of the other announcers in that categoryCurt Gowdy, Pat Summerall, Lindsay Nelson, Mike Emerick, for example—Jim McKay wasn't necessarily doing the biggest game— in town, but he had that rare ability to transcend the event he was covering, to make it important because the people participating in it were important. And for McKay, anyone taking part in an athletic event was important. In his charming autobiography The Real McKay, he tells the story of being in Islip, New York covering a demolition derby for Wide World of Sports. Interviewing the winner, McKay was inclined to treat the whole thing as a lark. But it was no lark to the winner, who had just won the demolition derby "world championship" and discussed his strategy as seriously as would any other athlete. McKay learned a valuable lesson that day: "I had committed an unforgivable bit of gaucherie, looking down on this man in a condescending manner during what he considered the greatest moment of his life." From then on, McKay said, he tried to approach all sports "through the eyes of its competitors."

McKay didn't start out in sports, nor did he even start out with the name McKay. His real name was Jim McManus, and he got his television start in Baltimore, as a serious news journalist. He worked with people like Douglas Edwards, interviewed scientists, and covered presidential inaugurations, or at least the parades. When he became host of a daily variety show in Baltimore, he was asked to change his last name so that the show could be called "The Real McKay." He did so, grudgingly, but always thought of himself as McManus and retained the name for the family that played such an important role in his life.  "It vaguely annoys me," he tells interviewer Neil Hickey. "But when you're young and working in Baltimore, you let yourself be talked into a lot of things.

It should be no surprise, then, that McKay proved himself more than equal to the task at his most famous, and most tragic, appearance: covering the massacre of the Israeli athletes at last year's Munich Olympics. It's still fresh in the mind, a year and two months later; "I've never had a reaction to anything I've ever reported that approximates the public response to what we did that day." He won a Peabody and an Emmy for that, to go along with other Emmys and other awards that marked his stellar career. They were all well deserved. 

There's also McKay the family man, who refers to he and his wife Margaret as "a team," and credits that "team" for much of his professional and personal success. He knows that hard work is essential to a successful marriage and family, and believes that a common faith and shared interests have much to do with it. He's proud of his son, Sean McManus, who will eventually become Chairman of CBS Sports, and equally proud of his daughter Mary, a counselor. Of the life he and his wife have shared, he says, "There is little more we could ask for." The miles add up over the years, as they will when you've got a job that spans the globeover three million as of 1973and he's often heard to mumble, "I gotta start figuring out how to stay home a little more, and I don't know how I'm going to do it."

McKay always felt it was a priviledge to have the job he had, to see the places and cover the events to which he was taken on Wide World, but in fact the priviledge was ours as well, to be able to have him take us there. He was one of the last of a (literally) dying breed, the sportscaster who put the game ahead of himself.

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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 day. 

We all know that in the world of television only one thing counts: ratings. And so it doesn't matter what the "extra" is in NBC's new sitcom The Girl with Something Extra is, as long as that extra includes extra viewers. Sally Field was a familiar face on television when this series premiered, but it would be wrong to think of her as a star, or at least a two-time Academy Award-winning star. And it's a good thing, because I'd hate to think that this is the best you could come up with for a star of that magnitude. 

The Girl with Something Extra features Field and John Davidson as a young married couple, with a challenge that most young marrieds don't usually face: Field has ESP, which on the "extra" scale is probably on par with, say, being a witch. And yet TGWSE (if we can call it that) comes and goes quicker than you can wiggle your nose; 22 episodes in all. Cleveland Amory may have identified the problem early on, when he points out that the producers have made the conscious decision to eliminate one of the key plot potentials: the chance that Field could use her supernatural powers for profit on, say, game shows (the emcee has to be thinking of the correct answer while he's reading the question) or the track (she'd know which horses felt like running). Says producer Larry Rosen, "For someone less honest than Sally, ESP could be a powerful tool But for her, as well as her husband, it proves to be more a continuing source of trouble." And that, says Cleve, is "stuffy stuff," as well as gloomy. "If you have a funny gimmick, why not go with it and have fun?"

This isn't to say the show doesn't have promise; Amory finds Field a "cutie pie," as is Davidson, though he could do with a little less of it (I've always just found him smarmy myself), and their co-stars, Jack Sheldon and Zohra Lampert, do everything with what they have. As well, some of the stories are very funny—how, for example, do you buy someone like that a surprise birthday present that's a real surprise? But if the show's going to survive, "it's time for the producers and writers to do something too—only different. ESP isn't after all, a fatal illness. And this show isn't soap opera. You don't turn it on to enjoy the misery. You turn it on, presumably, for the fun." You'd think they would have known that, wouldn't you? 

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On occasion, we get to take a simultaneous look at three of the major rock music shows of the pre-MTV era: NBC's
The Midnight Special, ABC's In Concert, and the syndicated Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, Let's look at this week's listings and see who's better, who's best.

Kirshner: Van Morrison and Richie Havens are guests. Songs: "Gloria," "Caravan" (Van Morrison) and "Get it On Down" (Richie Havens).

Special: Jerry Lee Lewis is the host. Guests include he Ike and Tina Turner Revue, blues singer B.B. King, rock groups Flash and Ballin' Jack, pop singer Linda Gail Lewis. 

In Concert: Singer-composer Cat Stevens is the center of this 90-minute tribute to his own works. Linda Ronstadt, Donny Hathaway and Dr. John are also featured performing Cat's compositions.

Note that may interest only me: In the Twin Cities, you could watch these shows back-to-back-to-back without missing a thing. In Concert is at 10:30 p.m. for 90 minutes, followed by The Midnight Special at midnight for 90 minutes, followed by Kirshner on WCCO at 1:45 a.m. for 90 minutes. That's really a heck of a night if you're into that kind of thing. Of course, you'd need to stay up until nearly 3:30 in the morning to see it all; your mileage may vary, of course, but if I could cherry-pick from each, I'd take Van Morrison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Tina Turner, B.B. King, and Dr. John, and I'd have quite a program. You'll notice, though, that most of these acts come from one show, which means that this week, The Midnight Special really is special.

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The World Series finished a couple of weeks earlier, and surprise—according to The Doan Report, half of all Americans with their televisions on were watching it. It's the first time three consecutive games have appeared in prime time, which isn't so remkarable now when you consider the first night game in World Series history wasn't until 1971, and the ratings are called unprecedented. MLB would absolutely kill for numbers like that today. (Recent headline: World Series ratings hit record lowagain.) The only show to compete with the Series? The Waltons. Speaking of ratings, it's the time of the year when the networks start to spend more time looking at them, and we can tell which series have now assumed what the sports world calls the hot seat. At CBS, The New Perry Mason and Calucci's Dept. are called "dead ducks," while NBC is trying to "salvage" Lotsa Luck, but hopes are fading for Diana* and Love Story. Meanwhile, ABC's shaky list includes the veteran Partridge Family, as well as The New Temperatures Rising and Toma. In the end, only Toma can be said to have lasted; it was retooled with a new star and turned into Baretta.

*Starring Diana Rigg. Talk about failing to provide a star with the proper vehicle.

There's also speculation about a one-hour network evening newscast. This seems to pop up in TV Guide every few years, and as we know nothing ever comes from it. This time it's CBS, with the idea that they might expand the Cronkite news by adding an extra half-hour. The local stations won't mind, the thought is, because their local programming hasn't been profitable. Of course, this was before the strip programming that dominates the half-hour before prime time: Entertainment Tonight, TMZ, Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy! and the rest. I'll bet nobody thinks those aren't profitable now.

Speaking of news, ABC has multiple ads in this issue for the ABC Evening News with Howard K. Smith and Harry Reasoner, each one urging us to "Find out why more and more people are watching," presumably by tuning in. Apparently not enough people must have been watching: Smith is demoted to commentary in 1975, and Reasoner will be joined by Barbara Walters a year later.  Reasoner, who hated working with Walters, returns to CBS in 1978.

Sticking with ABC, the Teletype reports that the migration of big-name Hollywood stars to made-for-TV movies continues. Kirk Douglas will star in ABC's telefilm Mousey, about a man who plots to kill his wife, while Bette Davis is on tap for the network's Scream, Pretty Peggy. And Pat Boone bears the burden of a school principal accused of having an affair with a student on Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law. (Maybe it was just a case of April love.) As Joseph Finnigan notes, it seems like it was just yesterday when people were "gushing" about Boone's first screen kiss. 

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In some other highlights of the week, The Graduate makes its TV debut on CBS (Thursday, 8:00 p.m. CT), six years after its release. I always feel I have to point this kind of thing out, for the benefit of those who're used to seeing movies almost as soon as they hit the theater, that such was not always the case. Anyway, what's particularly interesting about the timing is that the movie was just re-released in theaters earlier this year, and it packed them in, just as it did in 1967. Judith Crist calls it "the milestone-in-youth-movies hit," and that pretty much sums it up, with brilliant performances by Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft, stylish direction by Mike Nichols, and "a put-it-all-together honey of a score" by Simon and Garfunkel. It comes on right after The Waltons, which is presumably doing even better in the ratings now that it doesn't have to go against the World Series.

For most of my life, WCCO passed up the opportunity to carry CBS's Sunday morning triumverate of Lamp Unto My Feet, Look Up and Live, and Camera Three. (9:00-10:30 a.m.) I've complained about this before, and I probably will again; even though I wouldn't have watched them at that age, I'd probably watch them today, so I'm retroactively offended. This week's Camera Three* has a profile of one of my favorite authors, the unconventional Austrian novelist and playwright Peter Handke. His best-known work is probably The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, later adapted into a movie by Wim Wenders, with whom Handke works several times, most notably on the screenplay for Wings of Desire; in 2019 he's awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. 

Carroll O'Connor gets a chance to show his acting chops outside of All in the Family in a trio of short dramas about women called Three for the Girls (Monday, 8:30 p.m., CBS). Joining him are Lee Grant, Barbara Sharma and Joan Blondell. It sounds to me a lot like the 1968 British Male of the Species, which I mentioned here

Another show not on in the Twin Cities (at least not in its regularly scheduled timeslot) is Hollywood Television Theatre (Wednesday, 9:00 p.m., PBS). Keir Dullea, Rip Torn, Jack Albertson, Geraldine Page, Hurd Hatfield and Earl Holliman star in "Montserrat," a drama of political terror in Venezuela (so what's new?) adapted by Lillian Hellman. In a special two-hour episode of Ironside (Thursday, 7:00 p.m., NBC) Ironside is off the force and onto skid row after a 10-year-old murder witness is killed while in his custody. Will the chief wind up out of the gutter and back in his wheelchair? Since the description doesn't include "Last show of the series," my answer is "Yes." 

Finally, on Friday, CBS's movie is Sunshine (7:30 p.m.), starring Cliff DeYoung as a young father having to deal with his 20-year-old wife's (Cristina Raines) battle for live against cancer. Judith Crist is of two minds about the two-and-a-half hour (!) movie; the cast is very good, led by DeYoung's "brilliant" performance, and Raines holds her own against a script that requires "constant emoting," but the movie still consists of cliches, gimmicks and endless repetition, and Brenda Vaccaro as "Marcus Welby in drag." Your reaction to the story "depends on how vicarious you like your agony." I'm not of two minds about it; any movie that features a soundtrack by John Denver, including the excreable title song, deserves to go to the bottom of the ocean like the Titanic.

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Be honest now—when was the last time you heard about Deirdre Lenihan? She's on the cover, so I should spend a moment on her. Currently, she's one of the stars on NBC's short-lived (14 episodes) series Needles and Pins (Friday, 8:00 p.m.), which also stars Norman Fell, Bernie Kopell and Louis Nye, all of whom had done or would do better work than this.

It's interesting, because Dwight Whitney's article spends several pages on her, while admitting that "[n]o one seems entirely sure who she is. Certainly not her fellow actors. Even the studio press department, usually bullish in these matters, seems to have only the haziest recollection." She worked in Joseph Papp's Shakespeare theater and did some other TV and movie bits, and at the time of this article had a "gentleman friend" named Jimmy Sloyan, a fellow actor. They're not against marriage, just haven't had time yet. They did find time eventually, had two children who've done some acting (Samantha Sloyan and Dan Sloyan), and as far as I know they're still married. But Deirdre Lenihan never did become the Next Big Thing, and it just goes to show that being on the cover of TV Guide isn't always everything it's cracked up to be. Nor, as we often discover, does it need to be. TV  

October 30, 2020

Around the dial



Tis the season for pumpkins and presidents, and at Comfort TV David talks about an episode that has both of them: 1968's "Secret Ballot" from That Girl, which portrays the excitement of casting one's first vote for president without having to broadcast a political message to the viewers. Radical.

Detouring into old-time radio for a moment, at A Shroud of Thougths, Terence offers a fine collection of classic Halloween-themed episodes, from Jack Benny and Fibber McGee to the Mercury Theatre's immortal presentation of "War of the Worlds." 

The Avengers has nothing to do with Halloween, or politicians, or anything else this week, other than fun. It's what John at Cult TV Blog calls the encapsulation of everything Avengers: "What the Butler Saw," from 1966. Sounds like just what we need right now.

At The Hits Just Keep on Comin', jb revisits some late-60s episodes from The Red Skelton Hour, courtesy of Amazon Prime (well, actually there isn't anything particularly courteous about it since we pay for the service, but I digress), and gives us a look behind the scenes at the famed comedian's style.

If you're looking for some podcast goodness, head on over to the Eventually Supertrain site, where Dan has some goodies for you: a Christmas (!) episode of Rockin' All Week With You with Christmas TV expert extraordinare Joanna Wilson, and the latest Eventually Supertrain

Finally, an email from Bill, one of our loyal readers, with a question about the March 20, 1960 episode of The Ed Sullivan Show, featuring acts from the International Circus show. Bill has an illustration by George Wachsteter promoting the issue; it has Ed and the two famous circus clowns, Emmett Kelly and Lindon. The illustration doesn't appear in the March 19, 1960 TV Guide, although Wachsteter's illustrations frequently appeared in the magazine. Wachsteter's work also appeared in the newspaper supplement Pictorial and TView magazine, but he hasn't found this illustration. Anyone heard of this magazine before? (I hadn't.) 

I'm grateful to Bill—for his readership, naturally, but also for writing and introducing me to more swell TV stuff. And does anyone (like Mike Doran) have any clues as to where the illustration might have appeared? TV  

October 28, 2020

The Great Pumpkin is comin' to town!



A





s I mentioned the other day, for the first time since its premiere in 1966, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown won't be airing on network television this year. I hope those of you without Apple+ have The Great Pumpkin on DVD, because it cdrtainly isn't Halloween without it.

The Great Pumpkin is probably second only to A Charlie Brown Christmas in terms of popularity, and it isn't surprising. It's a charming story, what with its sly satire on the Santa Claus mythos, Snoopy in his Sopwith Camel, and Charlie Brown's miserable trick-or-treating experience. It also generated quite a few tie-ins, including this: The Peanuts Book of Pumpkin Carols, published by Hallmark. Although I have to admit we've never had carolers coming around our neighborhood singing pumpkin carols, I wouldn't presume to speak for all neighborhoods; perhaps it's a local tradition where you live.

Here are a couple of my favorites—

GREAT PUMPKIN IS COMING TO TOWN
Oh, you better not shriek,
You better not groan,
You better not howl,
You better not moan,
Great Pumpkin is comin’ to town!

He’s going to find out,
From folks that he meets,
Who deserves tricks,
And who deserves treats,
Great Pumpkin is comin’ to town!

He’ll search in every pumpkin patch,
Haunted houses far and near,
To see if you’ve been spreading gloom,
Or bringing lots of cheer.

So, you better not shriek,
You better not groan,
You better not howl,
You better not moan,
Great Pumpkin is comin’ to town!

I’M DREAMING OF THE GREAT PUMPKIN
I’m dreaming of the Great Pumpkin,
Just like I do this time each year.
When he brings nice toys,
To good girls and boys,
Who wait for him to appear.

I’m dreaming of the Great Pumpkin,
With every Pumpkin card I write.
May your jack-o-lanterns burn bright,
When the Great Pumpkin visits you tonight.

And here's my personal favorite; I've shared "Pumpkin Bells" before, but we all know you can never have too much of a good thing. 

PUMPKIN BELLS
Dashing through the streets,
In our costumes bright and gay,
To each house, we go,
Laughing all the way.
Halloween is here,
Making spirits bright,
What fun it is to trick-or-treat,
And sing Pumpkin carols tonight!

Oh, Pumpkin bells! Pumpkin bells!
Ringing loud and clear,
Oh what fun Great Pumpkin brings,
When Halloween is here!

Pumpkin bells! Pumpkin bells!
Ringing loud and clear,
Oh, what fun Great Pumpkin brings,
When Halloween is here!

You can see the complete list here. In the meantime, we'll be watching It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown on Halloween night as we always do. I hope you'll join us, at least in spirit. After all, 'tis the night for spirits. TV  

October 26, 2020

What's on TV? Wednesday, October 25, 1967



Here we are in the middle of the week, and if you want to know what's happening, all you have to do is look up there at the listing for Kraft Music Hall; in the ad, it's called "The Phyllis Diller Experience," with Diller and Bob Hope trying to be hip with Sonny & Cher. Well, you've probably seen some of those painful Hope skits from his specials, where Bob's wearing a wig and trying to look like he's about 30. I don't know, maybe I've got it all wrong and it's one of the funniest shows of the year. Somehow, though, I doubt it. Anyway, there's plenty else to see in this Minnesota State Edition that, for once, has all the stations in play.

October 24, 2020

This week in TV Guide: October 21, 1967

News item: the second week of the 2020 NFL season sees seven plays lost for the season with knee injuries in what observers speculate could be "the league’s most catastrophic week for injuries in decades," continuing a trend that started last week.

As you know, one of the themes that runs through this look at TV Guides from the 1950s through the 70s is that there's very little that's really new. History either repeats itself, or it never changed in the first place. Given that sports, like everything else, is part of the human condition, it's not surprising that the same rules apply. And, as Joe King reports in one of this week's cover stories, a "secret NFL poll" reveals that as far back as 1967, officials were coming to the conclusion that "the game is becoming too dangerous for the players."

What's most interesting about this article is that, for a contemporary reader, it's easy to see how things have changed even as they've stayed the same. Take the subject of knee injuries, the dominant aspect of King's article. King presents an alarming list of players kayoed by injuries that occurred during the pre-season, which in 1967 consisted of six games. At any given time, the average NFL team enters a game missing 4.6 players due to injuries that occurred since the start of training camp, and a staggering 32 players (out of a 16-team league) missed at least 10 games (in a 14-game season) due to knee injuries. Says one doctor, the knee has become so vulnerable that "no protective device could be guaranteed to guard it." 

Now, it's true that knee injuries remain as common today as ever. At the same time, there can be no debate that the incredible advances in surgical procedures, including but not limited to arthroscopic surgeries, have made an incredible difference. It's not uncommon for a severe knee injury to cause a player to miss the rest of the season, but injuries far less severe than that used to end a player's career, or leave him a shadow of his former self. This is unquestionably progress of the best kind.

    Gale Sayers, carried off the field in 1968. (UPI)
Doctors aren't sure what's causing this epidemic of injuries, but they've dismissed the playing surface as a factor. For all teams except the Houston Oilers, that playing surface was natural grass, and the Oilers only played on artificial turf because of the Astrodome. Today, despite improvements to artificial playing fields, most players dread taking to the fake stuff. Several of the players cited as suffering season-ending injuries in our lead paragraph did so on the artificial surface at MetLife Stadium, home of the New York Jets and Giants. (And an outdoor stadium, by the way.) Despite player complaints over the last five decades, artificial turf remains a part of the game. The maintenance, you know.

And then there's the length of the season. One finding that the doctors did agree on is that most injuries occur during the pre-season and the first three weeks of the season, and then again in the last four weeks. They wonder: perhaps players start up too fast and wear down too quickly? The lack of a pre-season this year, due to the virus, could help explain the rash of early-season injuries, but the regular season, 12 games long as late as 1960, is now 16—and is soon to expand to 17. Not only that, but the playoffs, which once were limited to two teams, now consists of 14—meaning even more playoff games. The players understand this puts them at greater risk. The owners, presumably, know this as well. But, you know, money. They covet the revenue that comes from more games. 

It's possible, though, that the biggest difference between then and now is in the area of head injuries. Mark Duncan, the NFL's supervisor of officials, tells King that the protective equipment players wear is "the finest" in history, and it's constantly being improved. Says King, "The modern helmet, for instance, stems from military research and has virtually eliminated the head injury, so feared in the past." Well. I think it's safe to say that probably the single greatest concern when it comes to the health of football players today is the head injury. We now know, from scientific studies, that the head trauma sustained by football players at every level of the game, can be permanent; furthermore, it can often be years before the effects of repeated injuries becomes apparent, in the form of early dementia that can destroy a player's later years—that is, if it doesn't cause him to commit suicide. Let's face it: there's a big difference between shortening a player's career and shortening his lifespan. Would that it were a thing of the past.

Players have become so fast, so strong, so big, that what was once called a contact sport is now referred to as a collision sport, a sport of violence. Whereas players who used to play both offense and defense had to be taught their trade, the era of specialization means that players are often woefully inadequate when it comes to even fundamentals such as tackling; it's often easier—and more dangerous—to simply throw yourself at your opponent. And as the surge in head trauma continues, and as scientific studies point to how even the impact which a player sustains in practices can cause irreperable damage, more people begin to wonder if football can be saved. Not just professional football, but all the way down to the peewee level. 

King's conclusion, true for the time, crackles with bitterness when viewed through today's eyes. "Unless somebody finds a doctor in the house who can prescribe a cure for football's knee ailments, the high-riding pro game could be hurt." And that, my friend, is not all.

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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 day. (Graphic by Al Hirschfeld)

It isn't often that Cleveland Amory starts out on such a high note, but high he is, on NBC's new Western, The High Chaparral. The hour-long show opened with a special two-hour introduction, and it was clear from the start that creator David Dortort had put his all into it: "Extraordinary scenery, a generous cast, 14 plots, 82 sublopts and four full-fledged wars—one witgh the Apaches, another with the Mexicans, a third betwen a father and a son, and a fourth between a stepmother and a stepson." That may sound to you like a lot of fighting, but trust me—or Cleve, at least—this was something worth fighting for. The cast, led by Leif Erickson, Cameron Mitchell, Joan Caulfield, Linda Cristal, Frank Silvera, and Henry Darrow, was outstanding. Granted, Mark Slade "did a bit too much blubbering for us," but, as the son in the father-son round of fighting, that was the role he had to play. 

If that was all there was to this, we'd be able to wrap this review up pretty quick and mosey on to the next story, but, as we all know, life is seldom this straightforward. "What happened to The High Chaparral between the first two hour episode and the following one-hour one." Amory says, "shouldn't have." Yes, the magic is already gone. "John had turned on Victoria; Victoria had turned on John, her brother and Mrs. Cannon No. 1; Blue had turned on everybody; and if you didn't turn it off, we miss our guess." The third episode was better, but still nowhere near the quality of that introductory two-hours; says Amory, "it would have been thin for a half-hour show, let alone an hour." 

It's not surprising, given that the first episode is often the pilot that sells the series, that a show will start out with a bang (in this case, a literal one) and go downhill from there, but that doesn't make it any less discouraging. Often a series, given enough time, will go on to find its equilibrium, a point between the high of the first episode and the lows of the subsequent efforts. That may well be what happens with The High Chaparral, for it goes on to a four-season run, in an era when the TV Western was truly drying up. It would be interesting to see if Cleve takes another crack at it somewhere down the line, to get his second impressions. But even if it doesn't get a second chance to make a second impression on him, we'll be left with those 98 episodes, as well as one of the great TV themes of all time. It may not be Paris, but it isn't bad.

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It's a week of specials of every kind, many of them on ABC—must be a sweeps week or something. It begins on Sunday with Mia Farrow, this week's cover girl, in Johnny Belinda(8:00 p.m. CT, ABC), a remake of the 1948 movie that won a Best Actress Oscar for Jane Wyman. It's the first in what the network is calling a series of "Movie Night" TV dramas based on big-screen classics of the past and featuring stars of the present.* The role is a challenging one for Farrow, who had to learn sign language for the role of Belinda McDonald, a deaf mute with no speaking lines. Joining her is Barry Sullivan as her father, David Carradine as the drunken fisherman who rapes her, and Ian Bannen as her doctor. You can see how it come out here.

*Future installments include Of Mice and Men with George Segal and Nicol Williamson; Dial M. For Murder with Laurence Harvey, Diane Cilento and Hugh O'Brian; and The Diary of Anne Frank with Max Von Sydow and Diana Davila. ABC was fond of this kind of remake, as you'll see.

Monday
, and the emphasis is on documentaries, beginning with Coach Bryant: Alabama's Bear (7:30 p.m., ABC), an hour-long profile of Alabama's already-legendary football coach Bear Bryant. Chris Schenkel gives viewers a look at Bryant's coaching style (including an interview with former Alabama quarterback Joe Namath), and reviews last season, when Bryant's defending national champions finished the season as the nation's only unbeaten, untied team, only to finish third in the final polls. (That finish became a prime motivator for Bryant to integrate the team.) Then, followng a break for Peyton Place, it's an ABC News Special entitled "The Long Childhood of Timmy," a report on the life of a mentally retarted child, narrated by E.G. Marshall.

Tuesday is music night, starting with NBC's special presentation of The Beatles' A Hard Day's Night (6:30 p.m.). Judith Crist calls it a movie of "fantastic charm," with probing portraits of "four very likeable young men." Thanks to the movie's early start, you'll have time to check out ABC's revival of Armstrong Circle Theatre (8:30 p.m.), which originally ran from 1950 to 1957 on NBC and 1957 to 1963 on CBS, thus covering all the network bases. Unlike its earlier incarnation, however, this time it's just the umbrella title for a series of musical specials; previous presentations included Brigadoon and Carousel, both starring Robert Goulet, while this week it's Kismet, featuring an all-star cast that includes Jose Ferrer, Barbara Eden, Anna Maria Alberghetti, Hans Conreid and George Chakiris. Any resemblance between this series and the network's Movie Night is, I presume, entirely uncoincidental. 

ABC's specials continue on Wednesday with a real movie night, the TV premiere of 1956's The King and I (6:30 p.m.), with Yul Brynner in his Oscar-winning performance as the King of Siam, and Deborah Kerr as Anna, the English tutor to his 82 children, who isn't afraid to stand up to his majesty. Judith Crist hails Brynner's "greatest performance," describing it as "a creation of overpowering magnetism in the combination of complex intelligence and simple primitivism." The thought occurs to me that Yul Brynner, like James Cagney, played plenty of tough guys during his long career, but—like Cagney—found his greatest success, as well as his only Academy Award, for a musical. Interesting only to me, perhaps, but interesting nonetheless. And ABC isn't done yet; speaking of "overpowering magnetism," the movie is followed by With Love. . . Sophia, and the Sophia in question is, who else, Sophia Loren, taking viewers on a tour of her world. (And what a world it is!) Joining Sophia are Jonathan Winters (!), Peter Sellers, Marcello Mastroianni, and Tony Bennett; the music is by Leslie Bricusse.

Thursday
it's CBS's turn to turn to specials. At 6:30 p.m. it's the second broadcast of one of television's most-loved cartoons, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, Linus' eternal quest to see the mythical Halloween icon.* It's followed at 7:00 p.m. by a Don Knotts variety special, starring Don's old friend Andy Griffith, Juliet Prowse, Roger Wiliams, and the Kids Next Door (not this one, but the '60s singing group). ABC relies on its regular programming tonight, with a couple of special appearances: on Batman (6:30 p.m.), Milton Berle guests as Louie the Lilac, while F. Lee Bailey's guest on his interview program Good Company (9:30 p.m.) is the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. And let's not leave out NBC; Jack Kelly and Antoinette Bower are on Ironside (7:30 p.m.), and Dean Martin's guests are Donald O'Connor, Jonathan Winters (who survived his night with Sophia), Nancy Ames, and Flip Wilson. (9:00 p.m.)

*As I was writing this sentence, I saw that Great Pumpkin, as well as the rest of the Peanuts cartoons, including A Charlie Brown Christmas, will be shown on Apple+ instead of ABC. No network airings of the classics, in other wordsand it seems to me that if there was ever a year that these specials should be on broadcast TV, it's 2020. Death by a thousand cuts, one at a time, isn't it?

Dueling specials round out the week on Friday. At 9:00 p.m, an NBC News Special looks at a question that remains pertinent today: does America's legal system really provide equal justice for all? As writer-producer-director Bob Rogers puts it, "Some people in the U.S. can't afford lawyers—which means they can't afford their rights." Opposite that on ABC, John Davidson hosts an hour of variety from South Bend, Indiana, to celebrate homecoming week at Notre Dame. He's joined under the Golden Dome by Judy Colins, Spanky and Our Gang, George Carline, and the Notre Dame Glee Club. For more excitement, opt for The CBS Friday Night Movie, with Robert Mitchum, Elsa Martinelli, and Jack Hawkins involved in jungle adventure in Rampage. "Good guy Mitchum gets the girl" says Judith Crist, "but the four-legged animals on screen win the acting honors."

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In the Teletype, Joseph Finnigan reports that "Jack Webb signed Martin Milner (Route 66) and Kent McCord as co-stars for the new police-series pilot he's producing for NBC at Universal." Yep, Adam-12. Hollywood Palace is heading back to Saturday nights after ABC's abortive move to Tuesdays. (No Sullivan vs. The Palace this week, due to all those specials, but Ed's scheduled guests are the American Folk Ballet; the singing McGuire Sisters; England's Lulu ("To Sir, with Love"); and comedians Jackie Vernon, Tommy Cooper, Norm Crosby, and Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, so it was definitely a beatable lineup.) 

Don Quine in more recent years
We frequently look at profiles of the latest starlets, but turnabout, as Peter Marshall used to say on The Hollywood Squares, is fair play, so this week we'll see the latest l'enfant terrible of the small screen, Don Quine of The Virginian. Dwight Whitney describes him as "young, bright, short-fused and just unruly enough in a ding-a-ling sort of way to be catnip for the ladies in the mini-skirts." He's driven publicists crazy with his refusal to "play the game," fought with directors (literally, in one case), told off actors twice his age, and antagonized both crew and writers. Says one studio hand, "I think he thought he was at least as big a deal as Frank Sinatra." Executive producer Frank Price finally has to tell him to cool it, or else. "He said he got the message and was grateful."

One gets the impression that Quine is a man desperately searching for himself; at the time of the interview, he's just given up Reichian Therapy in favor of Transcendental Meditation and the Indian mystic Maharishi. He says he's calmer, but he's also split from his wife. And it sounds as if, success notwithstanding, he's still not sold on this acting business. "The studio is really very happy with me. I think I'll probably give up the Hollywood bag, split and go to Europe at the end of the season. There are just too many interesting things in the world not to." One of those interesting things is karate; after he does, in fact, kick the acting gig, he goes on to write the self-defense book American Karate, and serve as president of the Professional Karate Association. A (PKA) whose Kick of the 80’s weekly fight series on ESPN ran for close to a decade. As Sinatra might say, ain't that a kick in the head.

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Earlier, I mentioned ABC's "Movie Night" and their reboot of Armstrong Circle Theatre. Adapting classic movies for radio had been going on for years (often with members of the original cast), but it was not uncommon in the 1950s and '60s to see made-for-TV adaptations as well. Many of these were shot not the way we would think of them today, as TV-movies, but were done more in the manner of a play, and were captured on videotape rather than film. Even into the mid 1970s, when film had become the dominant medium, we can see networks attempting to give viewers more of what might be called a "theater experience" by shooting on tape instead of film.* To understand how such things work, it's useful, as well as fun, to go back to the spring of 1958, as recounted in Stephen Battaglio's terrific biography of David Susskind.

*Occasionally, these adaptations could prove disastrous, as in ABC's 1968 version of the 1944 classic Laura, starring George Sanders, Robert Stack, and . . . Lee Radziwill, also known as Jackie Kennedy's sisterThe Chicago Tribune, in one of the kinder reviews, called it "the worst drama" of the television season. 

Not long after MGM had run a giant ad in the trade publication Variety promoting their upcoming $12.5 million epic remake of Ben-Hur, Susskind and his buisness partner, Al Levy, ran a (much smaller) ad announcing that their company, Talent Associates, was in preproduction for a live television version of Ben-Hur. As anyone who's ever seen the movie knows, such an idea was utterly absurd; in addition to the famed chariot race, there's also a naval battle that would be the centerpiece of any other story, large groups of Roman soldiers marching through the streets of Judea, a leper colony, and the Crucifixion, accompanied by an earthquake. The logistics of staging such a spectacle on live television would be impossible.* Nonetheless, Susskind and Levy announced with straight faces, there it was, and MGM was livid at the prospect of their investment (upon which the survival of the studio might depend) being undercut.

*Although, it should be added, Kraft Television Theatre did sink the Titanic on live television in their adaptation of A Night to Remember, so perhaps it's forgivable that MGM bit on such a ridiculous story.

Inagine this in a television studio!

Quickly a meeting was arranged between an MGM executive and Susskind and Levy. What, they were asked, was Talent Associates up to?

"We think it's a great story," Levy deadpanned. "Live television has never seen anything like it."

And then the meaning of it all became clear. "How much do you want," the exeutive asked. "We don't want any money," Levy replied, pulling out of his pocket a list of MGM movie titles. What they wanted, in return for "dropping" the Ben-Hur idea, was the television rights to the listed movies. The deal was made, and Susskind subsequently announced that TA was shelving their live Ben-Hur, saying that "he could not with a clear conscience pursue a project that could be damaging to the studio." Over the years, Talent Associates did a lot of TV adaptations of MGM movies, for programs like DuPont Show of the Week and the original Armstrong Circle Theatre, and eventually even the press began to catch on.

It has nothing to do with TV Guide, perhaps, but as a look at how the sausage is made, you can't beat it. TV  

October 23, 2020

Around the dial



It's kind of a light week for TV blogging out there, which probably means that a lot of people out there have better things to do with their time than I do. Be that as it may, you all are teh beneficiaries from the combined wisdom that can be found Around the Dial.

Alfred Hyes is the latest screenwriter to receive the Hitchcock Project treatment from Jack at bare•bones e-zine. His first effort for Hitch is the eighth-season opener "A Piece of the Action," not to be confused with the Star Trek episode of the same name. Gig Young stars, with an early appearnce by Robert Redford.

It's another episode of "The Unshakeables" at Comfort TV, those episodes that just stay with you long after the show's over, and this week David looks at "Doomsday is Tomorrow," a 1977 episode of The Bionic Woman with a memorable payoff.

It was F Troop Friday last week at The Horn Section, but I'd already gone to press when it came out, so I'm making it up to Hal by making this F Troop Friday. It's "Honest Injun," from season one, when the series was in B&W, and it involves a fake gold mine and more.

I tried to watch the early '60s detective series Checkmate several years ago; I had a sampler set that gave me a handful of episodes, but it just didn't do it for me. Not enough Sebastian Cabot; Anthony George and Doug McClure just didn't do it for me, at least in this series. Anyway, it's the latest show at Television's New Frontier: The 1960s.

Here's a big shout-out and happy anniversary to Realweegiemidget, celebrating 5 years (and over 100,000 hits) as a film and TV review site, as well as host to a host of blogathons. Here's hoping there are more years ahead.

And finally, at Silver Screen, here's a 1956 British Pathé newsreel with a profile of Alban Adams, the inventor of the slot car. Nothing to do with television, but I've loved slot cars since I was a kid. Too bad we don't have room for a layout here. TV  

October 19, 2020

What's on TV? Sunday, October 18, 1953



After mentioning in Saturday's review that Sunday was probably the most interesting day in this TV week, I figured we might as well take a look at the entire day's schedule. And we're doing it with not one, but two Milwaukee channels added to the Chicago lineup. WTMJ has been joined by CBS affiliate WCAN, which began broadcasting just one month before, on September 6. As you can see, it doesn't have every CBS program on the schedule, but it will carry a very important one: according to the always-reliable Wikipedia, WCAN will be the only CBS affiliate in Wisconsin to air Edward R. Murrow's See It Now exposé of Wisconsin Senator Joseph R. McCarthy on March 9, 1954. Nothing so dramatic today, but a good lineup nonetheless.