April 19, 2021

What's on TV? Saturday, April 15, 1967

You wouldn't know it from looking at today's listings (from the Minnesota State Edition), but we're in the middle of an epidemic of multi-part episodes; Flipper and Gunsmoke are both conclusions of two-parters, and Get Smart is part two of three. I never liked multi-part stories; not because they're padded (although they frequently are), but because I didn't like having to wait until next week, often with a cliffhanger that we all knew wasn't really going to kill the star, to see how things end. I suppose I was impatient even when I was a kid. The nice thing about the digital age is that you don't have to wait until next week to find out how things end; the strange part of it, at least in my case, is that even though I can just advance to the next episode, I never do. Like it or not, I still believe in honoring the original TV conventions. I suppose that's just me being me.

April 17, 2021

This week in TV Guide: April 15, 1967

IIn the past, we've seen issues of TV Guide where circumstances have contrived to make programming listings subject to change. Most of the time the changes are caused by news coverage of breaking events, but this week we have something completely different: the strike by AFTRA, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which has already thrown the networks for a loop and threatens to complicate things for an indefinite period of time.

The strike, which all in all ran for 15 days, was actually settled by the time this issue hit the newsstands*, but at press time there was no telling when the end was going to come; thus, almost every other page contained some variant of the warning that programming—mostly newscasts, soap operas, variety programs and game shows—was being affected due to the AFTRA strike, and therefore might change. However, "[b]ecause the strike might end soon, TV GUIDE's listings are based on normal network schedules."

*The strike ended at 8:05 p.m. on April 10, just in time for the broadcast of the Academy AwardsI'll leave that to you as do whether or not that was a good thing. Had the strike still been going, the Academy had announced the show would go on with or without television; Bob Hope himself was unsure as to whether or not he would appear as host.

The effects of the strike have been immediate and quite noticeable, with results that in many cases were more entertaining than the regular programming. There's the sudden cult celebrity of Arnold Zenker, for example, thrust into the anchor chair of the CBS Evening News. Walter Cronkite isn't the only newscaster honoring the picket lines; he's joined by Peter Jennings of ABC and David Brinkley of NBC. (Hugh Downs, host of Today, was "chauffeured to the picket line 'in a Cadillac limousine supplied by the network.'")

Jennings's place on the newsbeat is being taken by producers Daryl Griffin and William Sheehan, neither of whom commands the following of Zenker. Others, however, including Brinkley's co-anchor Chet Huntley (who famously said he was "a newsman, not a performer"), Frank McGee and Ray Scherer, are continuing to work; at an event to pick up the Broadcasters' Distinguished Service Award, Huntley, and Brinkley confessed that "they really did not see eye to eye about Huntley's strike-breaking." Some would speculate that the perceived split between the two damaged their chemistry in the eyes of viewers; whether or not it does, the ratings for The Huntley-Brinkley Report will never be quite the same. and Cronkite (after reclaiming his anchor chair from Zenker) would beocme the face of the evening news for a generation.    

Equally hard-hit are the soaps, most of which are still being broadcast live. In place of the stories, networks have been running repeats of old favorites like Candid Camera and Father Knows Best. Some regular viewers have been suffering withdrawal because of the changes, which have left some key characters in life-threatening situations. "Oh please, bring them back," one said. The effects were not all bad, however, as many other viewers are feeling a sense of relief—much like an alcoholic drying out, as one put it. Many housewives have been telling reporters they've found themselves getting much more housework done than they used to; as a Mount Pleasant mother of four put it, "Once you break the habit, you feel free again." (I wonder, though, how many of them went back to it once the strike ended?)

In other strike-related news, The Doan Report tells us that Johnny Carson is "quitting his show for good" because NBC is combatting the strik by showing reruns of The Tonight Show. According to Carson's attorney (Bombastic Buskin?). the network is essentially turning Carson into "a scab against himself." NBC, however, responds that the star, who's making $780,000 a year (roughly $6.2 million in today's dollars) and has already developed a reputation for difficulty (remember his 15-minute flu?), is merely holding out for more money.

NBC newsman Edwin Newman, in a TV Guide piece entitled "Confessions of a Rookie Picket," humorously confesses that there is an upside to pounding the pavement in the line outside Rockefeller Center: "the females in the area are quite personable, and miniskirts add a new dimension to picketing.  Male pickets who appear downcast aren't. They are actually looking about two feet above the ground."

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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: Scheduled guests include singer Nancy Wilson; Norman Wisdom of the Broadway musical "Walking Happy"; and comedians Norm Crosby, Totie Fields, and Hendra and Ullett.

Palace: Host Milton Berle talks with baseball's Willie Mays, Maury Wills and Jim Piersall, and joins them for a parody of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend." Also: Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Buddy Rich and his band, singer Marilyn King, illusionist Prassano Rao and the tap-dancing Dunhills.

Ed's lineup this week is a little light, to be honest, with some of his favorite comedians, Norm Crosby and Totie Fields, and Nancy Wilson. But what lineup can compare when you have Maury Wills leading off and Willie Mays batting clean-up? Throw in Roy Rogers and Dale Evens, and Buddy Rich and his band, and the winner is clear. It's Palace with a home run. 

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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. 

Felony Squad, just concluding its first of three seasons on ABC, is yet another example in the abandoned genre of half-hour dramas, which really is unfortunate; as I've said before, the brief running time forces each episode to be more tightly constructed, and less focused on the personal lives of its stars, which in general is always a good idea. Felony Squad also demonstrates that a police procedural can be fun for the whole family. 

Our crime-fighting heroes are a trio of cops with, says Cleve, "a separate copy for each age group to identify with." stars Howard Duff as the middle-aged Sam Stone, which is about as good a name for a veteran cop as you could ask. He's given to fatherly talks with the junior partner of the firm, Jim Briggs, played by Dennis Cole. Jim has this annoying habit, according to Amory, of getting shot, on average, once in each show. But have no fear; "He's left-handed, you see, and even when he's shot in one arm, before you know it, he comes back for more, blazing away with the other." And for seniors, there's Ben Alexander as Dan Briggs, Jim's father, and you could be forgiven for wondering if we're talking about Frank Smith, Alexander's character from the original version of Dragnet*, or Steven Hill, who plays Dan Briggs on Mission: Impossible. Oh well; that's always the risk one runs in the TV universe. 

As police shows of the 1960s go, Felony Squad is pretty good. Its characters are likeable, and Duff is always a steady, sturdy presence in any role he plays. Cleve has a bone to pick with him, and the series, though: those "fatherly" talks he's always having with Jim extend to the crooks they've just shot, and "Take our word for it—after on of them, the crook is glad to go." In fact, the length of time it takes for the bad guys to die is one of Amory's chief complaints. A recent episode sees Ricardo Montalban shot by Stone "fair and square" after choking two men to death during a multi-million dollar industrial theft. He's given plenty of time for his "final curtain line," but can't resist resuming after the final commercial break to give his own heart-to-heart to Stone, asking him to complete the deal. When Stone refuses—he is the hero, after all—Montalban can only shake his head, verbally at least. "No style," he ruefully says. Harsh, maybe, but as Amory concludes, it described the show pretty well."

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Ready for some sports? The baseball season has opened, and NBC kicks off its Game of the Week coverage with the defending National League champion Los Angeles Dodgers taking on the St. Louis Cardinals, who will win this year's National League title (as well as the World Series). Newly retired Dodgers ace Sandy Koufax joins the NBC broadcasting team; Koufax was never a good fit in the broadcast booth, and he leaves NBC after the 1972 season.

The Minnesota Twins open their local television schedule on Friday night with a game against the Detroit Tigers (6:55 p.m. CT, WTCN and others). These two teams finished second and third in 1966 (behind the champion Baltimore Orioles), and they'll be key players in the four-team death match for the 1967 American League crown. The Twins plan to telecast 50 games during the regular season on WTCN, although they'll be adding some at the end due to the pennant race. Interesting how times have changed, isn't it—nowadays, between OTA and cable, almost every team televises almost every game.

WTCN follows-up on its Friday Twins telecast with The Winning Team (10:15 p.m., time approximate), the life story of Hall of Fame pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander, starring Ronald Reagan. Many years ago Terry Cashman wrote a hit song called "Talkin' Baseball," which included the line "the great Alexander is pitching again in Washington." A lot of people didn't get that line, but he's talking about Reagan, the newly-elected president, playing Alexander in this movie. A nice touch.

On Saturday at 12:30 p.m., CBS presents coverage of the Stanley Cup playoffs, with game five of the semifinal series between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Black Hawks, or, if that series has concluded, game five between the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens. If both of those series have already concluded, we'll be seeing the first game of the Stanley Cup Final. It will in fact be the Toronto-Chicago game that is seen, with the Leafs winning 4-2 on the way to a 4-2 series victory, and an eventual Cup triumph over Montreal. It's a historic win for the Maple Leafs, the last champion of the NHL's "original six" era; in September the league will kick-off its new season with six new expansion teams, and since then the teams just seem to keep coming. It's also a historic win for another, more dubious reason: to date, 1967 marks the last time the Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup.

The NBA's in playoff mode as well—Sunday's game on ABC is expected to be from the finals, and indeed it is: game two between the San Francisco Warriors and Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers are led by Wilt Chamberlain, who used to play for the Warriors, who used to be in Philadelphia before moving to San Francisco.* Philly's going to win this game, 126-95, on the way to a six-game victory over the Warriors.

*They then moved to Oakland and became the Golden State Warriors, but in 2017 they moved back to San Francisco. They're still called Golden State, though.

Also that Sunday (1:30 p.m.), CBS presents the premiere of a brand-new soccer league, the National Professional Soccer League, forerunner to the North American Soccer League*, as the Baltimore Bays tangle with the Atlanta Chiefs. I love this attempt in the listings to explain soccer for American fans who don't understand much about the game: "Placing best foot (and head) forward, 11-man teams maneuver the ball in a field roughly 110 by 75 yards. Only the goalkeeper can touch the ball with his hands or arms. Each goal is worth one point." I guess that does about cover it, though it loses something in the translation.

*The NASL was formed in 1968 by a merger between the aforementioned NPSL and the rival United Soccer League, and lasted until 1984.

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It's been a big week for Ronald Reagan, too. In addition to The Winning Team, the California governor is scheduled to appear on the premiere of Joey Bishop's late-night ABC talk show. The show itself was in doubt right up until the last minute, due to the strike, but it goes on as planned. Not planned is that, due to a scheduling mixup, Reagan shows up late for the live broadcast. Nowadays people would say this was a harbinger of things to come for Bishop, but as we know Joey was actually serious competition for Carson for a time.

The rerun season is beginning, and many of the biggest shows will be doing second-runs throughout the summer (except for the variety shows, many of which had summer replacements). One show presenting the first in a series of reruns: The Fugitive, in its final season. But as the listing notes, "Viewers will learn the truth about Dr. Kimble's guilt or innocence in a two-part episode to be telecast in August." As I've mentioned before, this may be one of the only times the concluding episode of a series has been shown after the rerun season, as the positively final episode of the show's run.

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There have been many starlets in the pages of TV Guide over the years, but this week's starlet gives us the opportunity to ponder the different ways in which the word can be used. It can refer to an up-and-coming female star, kind of like a junior star; or (as the word "boomlet" is to politics) it can mean a star whose sheen peters out, never attaining the brilliance that had been hoped for. In this case, both definitions apply to cover girl Karen Jensen, "The Starlet, 1967." 

Have you heard of Karen Jensen? I hadn't, although that in and of itself doesn't mean anything. Her IMDb listing gives us some information about her career, including that she was a regular in the NBC series Bracken's World. She also was named "Miss Fire Prevention Week," narrowly lost out to Sharon Tate for the part of Jennifer in Valley of the Dolls, and once won the Golden Calf Trophy for the actress with "the most beautiful legs in the world."  

In a whimsical, if somewhat mocking (today we might think of it as snarky), unbylined article, TV Guide goes into detail on how Jensen has all the prerequisites for stardom: vacuity and giggling innocence combined with sexual qualities, interests in obscure philosophies and material goods like furs and jewels, dates with the right men, and an attitude "which must exude the essence of Starletism."

Karen Jensen has it all going for her: she's "bright, pretty, affable, affected and a bit vague about just what it is she's saying." She has the "kit": she reads the "right" books: Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet and Siddhartha by Herman Hesse (of the later, Jensen reports, "It's about this young man who wants to find himself. I identified with him. He walks with his soul!"), she makes the rounds with the "right" people (George Burns' son Ronnie; producer Sy Weintraub; singer Jimmy Boyd (who "taught me a lot about ethics"); she has the "right" kind of sex appeal and knows how to talk about it ("I'd rather go nude now than wear something wrong"); and her life has the "right" kind of tragedy (her boyfriend Randy Boone went away "to think things out about us. I cried when he went. Then he married a girl he'd known only a few weeks. I was very sad.")

Mind you, I'm not making fun of Karen. Well, maybe a little, but you understand what I mean. She's done a lot more in the industry than I ever will. She worked steadily, if not spectacularly, for a number of years. No, I think, if anything, this shows how hard it is to make it big in Hollywood, and perhaps how our perceptions have changed over the years. There's a sexist, patronizing tone to the story, which I doubt you'd read today. Even the term "starlet" could be seen as sexist, seeing as how it fails the unisex test; we don't distinguish between "actors" and "actresses" anymore, except at the Academy Awards. But the thing is—I suspect it's just as accurate as it was then.

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Finally, TV Teletype tells us that comedians Rowan and Martin are being considered for an NBC series for the '68-'69 season, and will be doing a special as lead-in to the network's Miss America coverage. There are many false alarms in the Teletype rumor mill, but this isn't one of them: that specialRowan & Martin's Laugh-In—will indeed lead to a series, which debuts as a replacement for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in January of 1968. And the rest, as we know, is history. TV  

April 16, 2021

Around the dial

At GQ, Jason Diamond kicks things off this week with the story of how Columbo became "an unlikely quarantine hit." Turns out it's just the ticket for these strange times, as longtime fans and newcomers alike enjoy the show's many pleasures. 

Peter Falk isn't the only crowd-pleasing detective on TV; at Comfort TV, David says a good word (or several, really) on behalf of Banacek and the art of the locked-room mystery. Was there anyone smoother than George Peppard, with his turtlenecks, long cigars, and confidence to burn?

At Bob Crane: Life & Legacy, Carol and Linda set the record straight on Bob's appearance on the 1978 Canadian show Celebrity Cooks, which took place just months before his death in 1978. Odds are, whatever you've seen or heard up to now is wrong.

The Twilight Zone Vortex returns to the world of The Twilight Zone Magazine, as Jordan looks at the second anniversary edition from 1983, with, among other features, a batch of short stories, an interview with Colin Wilson, and Richard Matheson's teleplay for the classic “A World of His Own.”

Let's stay in the Zone at Shadow & Substance, with an in-depth look at one of the two dozen teleplays (out of 92!) which Rod Serling' adapted from other sources: 1963's "The Old Man in the Cave," starring James Coburn, based on a short story by Henry Slesar. 

At The Horn Section, Hal writes well of James Hampton, best known as F Troop's Private Hannibal Shirley Dobbs, who died last week at age 84. A wonderful actor, who appeared in many roles both comedic and dramatic.

I grew up in Minneapolis, but Minnesota KidVid has a story of a local kids' show of which I have absolutely no memory: "Sunday Storybook," with Barbara DeValerio, which aired circa 1966 to 1968. Too bad there's no video on it.

And in case you're wondering, the current violence in the Twin Cities is closer to us than the riots from last year, but still far enough away that we're safe. For this week, anyway. Glad I've already got tomorrow's TV Guide ready for you! TV  

April 14, 2021

True-or-false jeopardy

A couple of weeks ago, we were watching an episode of 77 Sunset Strip in which Kookie (Edd Byrnes) was arrested on a trumped-up murder charge and thrown in a small-town jail. Will our hero escape the clutches of the crooked police and live to fight another day? What do you think?

The following week while we were watching an episode of Mannix, Joe (Mike Connors), in a small town investigating a murder, finds himself arrested on trumped-up charges and thrown in jail. Will our hero escape and find the real killer before the crooked cops finish him off? What do you think?

That these two episodes aired, at least in our household, on consecutive weeks, probably exacerbated my already-intense dislike of a hoary television trope that I like to call "false jeopardy." (Actually I only started calling it that a minute ago as I was typing this, but we'll let that go for the present.) 

False jeopardy—and I'm not referring to a game show hosted by someone other than Art Fleming or Alex Trebek—is what I call it when one of the lead characters in a TV series is put into an extreme life-or-death situation that is supposed to keep us in suspense. Now, I don't mean the ordinary kind of risk that private detectives or policemen encounter on a weekly basis, like being shot at, run over, beaten up, caught in a room filling up with water, being trapped between two walls of spikes closely closing in on you—well, you get the point. After all, these shows would be pretty dull without some kind of action.

No, what I'm talking about is the kind of jeopardy that serves as the catalyst for the entire episode. For at least two of the four acts, Kookie and Joe are slapped around by bully boys in blue, menaced by fellow prisoners, or threatened by corrupt officials. Their protestations of innocense are ignored; their basic constitutional rights are trampled. It's all very manipulative, designed to work the viewer into a simmering rage against the injustice of it all. And when the bad guys get their comeuppance, as they invariably do, it's seldom satisfying enough to make up for it all. 

I don't want to say that this kind of thing happens all the time, but any drama that runs for more than a season or two will have at lesat one episode involving false jeopardy, whether through imprisonment, kidnapping, a hostage situation, a life-threatening disease, or something of the sort. And for the better part of an hour, we're supposed to think that the outcome is in doubt. 

What it does is create impatience on the viewer's part; since we already know how things are going to end (at least insofar as the lead character is concerned), we just want to hurry up and get to the end so we can see the happily-ever-after ending. That's about the time when I reach for the fast-forward button on the remote. I think we're supposed to be curious as to just how things wind up the way they do; who the real killer is, how the police find out where the hostages are, what the doctor comes up with at the last minute. Maybe I'm just not that curious; I'm a cut-to-the-chase kind of guy.

Perhaps we're supposeed to put ourselves in the place of the lead, what it would feel like if we were the ones in a seemingly impossible situation. What we would do, how we might escape. If you ask me, the best series at creating that kind of atmosphere was The Fugitive; after all, the prospect of being executed for a crime you didn't commit has got to be horrible. (Think about it; you didn't even get the satisfaction of murdering someone you hated like the guilty parties in Perry Mason.) But in The Fugitive, this wasn't a gimmick; it was the premise of the whole series. There's a big difference. Sure, there were episodes that put Kimble in the same kind of false jeopardy I'm talking about, and those episodes are subject to the same criticism. But you can't use the premise of The Fugitive as an excuse for the other series that put their leads in false jeopardy.

I remember an episode of Hawaii Five-O in which McGarrett (Jack Lord) was temporarily blinded. Maybe I should say apparently temporary, because the doctors weren't sure he'd regain his sight. Now, we all know that he's going to see again, because the name of the series is Hawaii Five-O, not Longstreet. But I'd argue that the threat of permanent blindness was nothing more than a McGuffin. The suspense wasn't in whether or not McGarrett would recover; it was how he'd cope with being blind while the bad guy was out there looking to finish the job. Of course, that outcome wasn't in doubt either. The point is that this was a battle of wits, with the false jeopardy just a backdrop against which the real drama was played out.

Defenders of these plotlines would, I suppose, say that this is the point with all of these false jeopardy stories, that we're supposed to be taken in by the chess match between good and evil. But this isn't The Seventh Seal we're talking about, and it's only a superior storyline that can make the suspension of disbelief work long enough to get to the end of the episode. And the word I keep coming back to is maniuplative

We're supposed to hate the dirty cops that keep Kookie im jail, the corruption and the injustice in the system. That's not suspense; that's advocacy. We're supposed to hate the killers that hold Cannon and his client hostage, and thirst for the retribution that awaits when they get what's coming to them. And that's great, until you realize the writers have stacked the deck, that they're counting on you to react that way. Once you figure that out, the anger lessens. So does the suspense, though. It can't make us worry about the lead, because we already know he or she is going to be all right. (Unless we've read in the trades that their contract is up for renewal.) And the premise is too sustained, over the course of an hour, to keep the level of suspense high enough to take us along on the ride.

That leads to another kind of false jeopardy, one that's become much in vogue over the last decade or two: the season-ending cliffhanger. One of the first, and most famous, cliffhangers (I can't remember right now if it was a season-ender or not) was the "Who Shot J.R." episode of Dallas. It was a great gimmick, because it kept people all over the nation talking for months. It was also a shrewd one, one that kept the concept from slipping into the clutches of false jeopardy.

What was shrewd about it was that the purpose of the cliffhanger was not to keep us guessing as to whether or not J.R. was going to pull through; without Larry Hagman, there's no Dallas. No, what the braintrust did was to make us guess who shot him, and this created some real suspense. Nobody could be ruled out; a trial could have sent ratings shooting even higher (no pun intended). A clever team of writers could have figured out how to keep the storyline going without endangering the tenures of any of the regulars. If need be, they could even have played it all off as a dream, right?

I know that all entertainment is manipulative, to some extent. Whether it's music, literature, movies or television—they all play on our emotions, condition us to respond. That's OK; we like being manipulated, just as we like being scared. We don't want it to be too obvious, though; we don't like knowing that it's happening. And that's how I feel when I see the lead in false jeopardy. 

It doesn't have to be that way, of course, and next week we'll look at a series that understood how to play the inevitable outcome for all it's worth, and succeed spectacularly. TV  

April 12, 2021

What's on TV? Tuesday, April 15, 1958

I always find it interesting looking at daytime programs from this era, especially compared to the mid-60s, the time in which I grew up. I remember Art Linkletter’s House Party, for example, but in 1958 there are also variety shows from Garry Moore and Arthur Godfrey (all on CBS); NBC has Matinee Theater, an attempt at a more mainstream, primetime type of drama (as opposed to the serials), and there are daily shows for the younger set like American Bandstand and the Mickey Mouse Club on ABC. Among the long-running soaps like Search for Tomorrow, The Edge of Night and Love of Life, there’s also Kitty Foyle, based on the novel by Christopher Morley, the movie version of which won an Oscar for Ginger Rogers. And while there are game shows, you don’t see the celebrity-driven shows that became so prominent in the 60s. Of course, nowadays daytime TV has been mostly Oprahfied, the most perfectly defined version of the “vast wasteland” that one could ask for. Still, I think you’ll find shows you recognize among these Oregon stations.

April 10, 2021

This week in TV Guide: April 12, 1958

In 1958, the major league baseball season began on April 14, and the final game was played on October 15. There were 16 teams in the major leagues, only three of which were located west of the Mississippi River. The average salary for a player was about $17,000. There were no divisions, no interleague games in the regular season, no league playoffs (except for ties), and only two teams made the postseason, which was colorfully referred to as the "World Series." Baseball was known to one and all as the National Pastime.
In 2019, the last year that baseball conducted a normal season, Opening Day was March 28 (two games were played on March 20 in Tokyo), and the World Series ended on October 30. There were now 30 teams in the majors, 12 of which resided west of the Mississippi, and one of which was located in Canada. The average salary had risen to $4.38 million. There were six divisions (three in each league), ten teams qualified for the playoffs (five in each league, two of which being runners-up in their division), and each team played 20 games against teams from the opposing league. The World Series was, to the time, the third-lowest rated in television history; Game 3, which took 18 innings, lasted seven hours and 20 minutes, longer than the lengths of 1958's Games 4, 5 and 7 combined (it also ended at 3:30 a.m. Eastern time), and while the game remained popular on a regional basis, nationally fewer than 10 percent listed baseball as their favorite sport.

No runs, no hits, many errors.

Baseball is big in 1958, though, and it's the lead story in this week's issue, with an in-depth look at the state of the game on television. Pertinent to the topic of this website, there were 70 regular-season games broadcast on television on two networks: CBS, with Dizzy Dean and Buddy Blattner, and NBC, with Lindsey Nelson and Leo Durocher,  plus the All-Star Game and World Series. In 2018, games were broadcast on one network, Fox—a network that didn't even exist in 1958—and there were only 12 of them; all other nationally televised games were on cable, something else that didn't exist in 1958.

And the game isn't limited to national TV, either; more than ever, teams are using television to spread interest. The New York Yankees, now the only team in town, plan to televise all 77 home games, as well as 63 from the road. The Philadelphia Phillies, betting that there are still National League fans in New York despire the departures of the Giants and Dodgers, plan to televise nearly 80 of their games into the Big Apple, more than their own fans in Philly will get. The Cubs will be on local TV 77 times, the crosstown White Sox 53. Not all owners have jumped on the TV bandwagon, though; home games are blacked out in St. Louis and Pittsburgh, and in Milwaukee, Kansas City and Los Angeles, there's no baseball on TV at all; San Francisco, meanwhile, is exploring the Pay-TV route.

What could be better, right? Well, some see clouds on the horizon. Frank Shaughnessy, president of the minor league International League, warns that weekend games could wreck the miniors becuase "folks would rather see a major-league team on TV than a minor-league team in the flesh." (The same philosophy has led the NCAA to limit the number of college football games on television.) And Larry MacPhail, known as the man who brought night baseball to the majors, issues perhaps the most prescient warning, that TV is changing baseball from a sport to "mere" entertainment. "The way things are going, baseball soon will be at the mercy of a push-button audience."

Baseball has changed a great deal over the past 63 years. To a great extent, television does call the shots, determining everything from start times (games that begin too early in the West, too late in the East) to the number of commercials between innings (more than twice what they once were). One sportswriter derisively refers to "baseball’s lifeblood—once its devoted fans but now whatever-it-takes TV revenue." And, in the view of many, the game continues to drift into irrelevance. The problem today is that not enough people are pushing the right buttons.

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Starting in 1954, Steve Allen helmed his own NBC variety show which, at the beginning, aired opposite that of Ed Sullivan. It didn't run as long as Ed's, of course, but then Allen said his goal was never to conquer Ed, just to coexist with him, which he did for several seasons. Let's see who gets the best of the contest this week. 

Sullivan: Ed's guests tonight are singer Nat King Cole; New York Yankee baseball stars Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berr and Whitey Ford; Jack Norworth, cmposer of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game"; British comedienne Joyce Grenfell; 14-year-old singer Laurie London, who does his current hit "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands"; the La Faye Marionettes; comedians Professor Backwards and Jack Durant; songstress Eileen Rodgers; the Texas Tech Gle Club; Texas drum major Dale Robins; Paul and Peta Page with their puppets; the Four Whirlwinds, acrobats.

Allen: Steve is joined by his wife, actress Jayne Meadows and her sister, comedienne Audrey Meadows; singer Carmen McRae; and comedienne Dody Goodman. Regulars: Don Knotts, Louis Nye and Tom Poston.

Steve has one definite advantage in tonight's matchup: his show is in color, while Ed's is still in living black-and-white. And—well, that's about it. Don't misunderstand me; I think Steve and Jayne are very funny together, and with Audrey on hand it's probably even better. But let's be real: Nat King Cole probably wins it right there, but when you throw in Mantle, Berra and Ford, it doesn't really matter who the rest of the guests are. Yes, I'll go for the obvious joke here: this week, Sullivan hits a home run.

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"Bottom of the Sixth," Norman Rockwell
As we saw earlier, baseball's Opening Day is Monday in Washington, D.C., with President Eisenhower on hand to throw out the traditional first pitch for the Senators-Red Sox game. But television gets a head start on Saturday with a pair of exhibition games: the Philadelphia Phillies take on the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium (10:55 a.m. PT, CBS) and the Detroit Tigers at the Milwaukee Braves (11:30 a.m., NBC). Exhibition games weren't uncommon back in the day; following the end of spring training, teams would often play their way up North for the start of the season, and it was the only time outside of the World Series and the All-Star Game that fans could see. live and in-person, players from the other league. 

The baseball theme continues on Friday, with a doubleheader of sorts. Some of those same Yankees from the Sullivan show are back on The Phil Silvers Show (8:00 p.m., CBS). In this case, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford are joined by teammate Gil McDougald and legendary announcers Phil Rizzuto and Red Barber; the story finds Bilko trying to sell his amazing new pitching find, Hillbilly Hank Wiggins, to the Yanks. That's followed at 8:30 p.m. by the real thing, as the hometown Portland Beavers appear on local television for the first time, taking on the Sacramento Solons in Pacific Coast League action from Multnomah Stadium in Portland. (8:30 p.m., KGW) Calling the game are Portland sportscaster Doug LaMear and Los Angeles Rams quarterback (and future Hall of Famer) Norm Van Brocklin, who played his college football at the University of Oregon. I wonder how well the Dutchman did calling baseball.

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Some more big shows on NBC Tuesday, starting at 9:00 p.m. with a Jerry Lewis color special, starring opera and nightclub singer Helen Traubel and actor Everett Stone. It's one of the specials that's survived to YouTube, although this copy is in B&W (and is misdated as April 5 rather than April 15).

That's the lead-in to the 10th Annual Emmy Awards, shown on a kinescope delay from earlier in the evening; Phil Silvers hosts the festivities from New York, while Danny Thomas does the honors from Hollywood. Only a few of the nominees appear in the close-up; the major winners include The Phil Silvers Show as Best Comedy, Playhouse 90 as Best Drama Anthology, Gunsmoke as Best Drama, and The Dinah Shore Chevy Show as Best Variety Show; Playhouse 90s "The Comedian," starring Mickey Rooney, Edmund O'Brien, Mel Torme and Kim Hunter, directed by John Frankenheimer, and written by Rod Serling, wins Best Single Program of the Year. Peter Ustinov (Omnibus, "The Life of Samuel Johnson") and Polly Bergen (Playhouse 90, "Helen Morgan") won single performance honors, while Jack Benny, Robert Young, Dinah Shore and Jane Wyatt took home the series awards. The show is scheduled for 90 minutes, which would take us through the technical awards today.

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The highlight of Wednesday night's lineup is Kraft Theatre's "Three Plays by Tennessee Williams" (9:00 p.m., NBC), directed by Sidney Lumet and introduced by Williams himself. The three plays are "Moony's Kid Don't Cry," with Ben Gazzara and Lee Grant; "The Last of My Solid Gold Watches," with Thomas Chalmers and Gene Sacs; and "This Property is Condemned," with Zina Bethune and Martin Huston. An ad heralds Williams as "Today's most talked about playwright," which is certainly true, considering his string of hits including The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, Summer and Smoke, The Rose Tattoo, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, but these are all early, less well-known plays; probably the best-known is "This Property is Condemned," which was made into a 1966 movie directed by Sydney Pollack and starring Natalie Wood and Robert Redford, which bore little resemblance to the play. If you're interested in learning more about this production, there's this excellent story at The Classic TV History Blog. What's really interesting, though, is the idea of a "most talked about playwright." Aside from theater critics who review plays for a living, how relevant is contemporary theater to the lowbrow, popular audience anymore?

None of these shows would be possible without local channels, of course, and we're reminded of that at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, as KVAL-TV, the NBC affiliate in Eugene, Oregon, celebrates its fourth anniversary, with local personalities on hand for the festivities. The station was locally owned by Eugene Television, and I'll be there was a lot of local pride on display; hard to think people would feel the same way today. KVAL has gone through several ownership changes over the years, but it's still on the air today, as a CBS affiliate.

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People sometimes wonder how I pick the things I write about from each issue. (Well, a few people might occasionally wonder that; let's just call it artistic license.) Well, mostly I'm looking for something that makes a cultural statement, something that shows the role television has played over the years in history or pop culture, or gives us insight into a particular time or place. TV Guide's Close-Ups are always useful, because they tend to spotlight programs that are big or special, and they often suggest themes that were of interest at the time (or that producers thought should be of interest). Sometimes, I choose shows simply because they catch my fancy, and since I'm the boss around here, that's all the explanation required. There's plenty I didn't get to this week, including the cover story about Hugh O'Brian, star since 1955 of The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp—generally considered the first "adult" Western on television, as well as one of the first to tell a continuous story from beginning to end. (I can tell you, though, that he has a reputation for being tight with a buck, very ambitious, hard on press agents, but a pretty good guy overall.)

Sometimes, though, there's something that's not particularly historic or significant or anything else: it just demonstrates that we live in different times. Such a case is this week's profile of "The Explosive" Lloyd Bridges, currently starring in the syndicated hit Sea Hunt. Bridges is known as one of the most powerful, intense actors on stage, and one of the most nicest and most gentlemanly off it. Which brings us to "Tragedy in a Temporary Town," an episode from two years ago on The Alcoa Hour. As we join the action, Bridges, playing a man called Alec Beggs, is attempting to shield a Puerto Rican boy from a mob determined to lynch him for attacking a young woman. 

Later newspaper accounts will point out that during rehearsals, "Bridges several times got so worked up over the scene that he broke down and wept." It is an exceptionally emotional scene, particularly considering that, in the teleplay, Beggs' son had just confessed to his father that he was the one who'd assulted the girl. Faced with this bloodthirsty mob, Bridges, caught up in the the moment and doubtless channeling his inner Method, lashed out at the crowd, calling them "You God damned stinking pigs!" (The article doesn't actually spell out what Bridges said, but the combination of letters and dashes doesn't leave any doubt.) 

By the way, did I mention this was on live TV?

"At first I couldn't understand why the cast was looking at me so strangely," Bridges says in the profile. "Then, when I realized what I had said, I just wanted to get swallowed up somewhere. But, of course, nothing could be done about it." 

Understandably, the switchboard at NBC lit up like a Christmas tree, and letters were soon to pour in. (The network wound up clipping the line out of the kinescope shown on the West Coast.) However, almost all of the reaction to Bridges' faux pas was sympathetic; most people understood that the actor had simply been carried away and reacted as he would have in real life. (It doesn't hurt that Bridges, in the play, is on the side of the angels.) A writer from the Yale Divinity School hoped that Bridges would not be punished, and added that "he did not consider the words blasphemous." The Anti-Defamation League chose the program as "show of the year." A representative of NBC called Bridges' slip "perfectly understandable." Everything soon blew over.

Now imagine that same scene today. Social media would be all over something like that, of course, but I expect the discussion would be far more harsh, profane and unforgiving, probably winding up getting tied in somehow to Donald Trump. That is, if that kind of language bothered anyone in the first place. Maybe this is what it means to live in more enlightened times.

At a time when that kind of profanity was definitely a no-no on television, not to mention most living rooms, it's kind of nice to see people being so understanding about it, though, isn't it? A nice way to end this week, in fact. TV  

April 9, 2021

Around the dial

It's another two-fer Friday this week, which means we should have twice as many things to look at, right? 

Let's begin with this article from Smithsonian Magazine that takes a fond look back at the precursor to today's distance learning: the venerable CBS early-morning series Sunrise Semester. I wonder: if there wasn't any such thing as online education, would television have stepped in with something similar in response to the virus?

At The Twilight Zone Vortex, Jordan takes a closer look at the excellent fifth-season episode In Praise of Pip, which features a wonderfully nuanced performance by Jack Klugman, and includes what is very likely the first mention of American casualties in Vietnam—a script change suggested by deForest Research, after Rod Serling had originally used Laos. Recommended reading, but then you already knew that.

On the latest edition of Flipside: The True Story of Bob Crane (available also at Bob Crane: Life and Legacy, Carol and Linda discuss why, as part of "Becoming Colonel Hogan," Bob had such a lousy German accent. The answer, as they say, may surprise you.

I suppose I'm more "Yesterday" than "Tomorrow," but that doesn't stop me from appreciating the latest at Cult TV Blog: John's write-up of the Brit series The Tomorrow People; "In various places it is definitely stonking good television, but in others represents the worst of 1970s TV." Find out what he thinks of the 1975 series "Secret Weapon."

Hey, how about another British show? This time, it's the return of British TV Detectives, and Rick's review of the ongoing detective show The Bay, starring Morven Christie) as a family liaison officer struggling to balance turmoil both on the job and at home. Glad to see this blog back!

Let's stay with the British theme for a moment more, as RealWeegieMidget Reviews looks at 2003's "The Wife of Bath," which Gill describes as "A Sexed-up Modern Day Adaptation of one of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales" with Julie Walters, Paul Nicholls and Bill Nighy. Seeing as how Chaucer was already fairly bawdy, you can imagine what happens here.

Two from Comfort TV: first, David takes the measure of IMDb's "top rated classic TV episodes," and asks if we agree. (No, although there are a couple of perceptive choices.) To cleanse the palate, so to speak, there's also the twelve most memorable commercials featuring classic TV stars, and that's a much easier sell.

The latest edition of the Hitchcock Project at bare-bones e-zine has Jack looking at the 1959 episode "No Pain," a nasty little piece written by William Fay and starring Brian Keith and Joanna Moore as an unhappily married couple, one of whom has a surprise in store for the other. . .

"Oh, what the heck: here's another British show to end on. At Drunk TV, it's a look at the BBC's 1966 "nightmarish" version of Alice in Wonderland, directed by Jonathan Miller, and featuring an all-star cast including Peter Sellers, Sir John Gielgud, Sir Michael Redgrave, Wilfrid Brambell, Peter Cook, Alan Bennett, John Bird, Leo McKern, and newcomer Anne-Marie Mallik as Alice.

There—I think we proved the adage "double your pleasure, double your fun," don't you? TV