September 22, 2018

This week in TV Guide: September 21, 1974

Another year, another new fall season.   You can either "Look at ABC Now!", enjoy the "Network of the New! NBC", or stick with old, reliable CBS, which undoubtedly felt that actions - or at least good TV shows - spoke louder than words.

The start of a new television season is a bit like the start of the NFL season, which coincidentally appears on the cover of this week's issue. It's a time for unlimited optimism, when fans everywhere harbor the dream (or illusion) that this could be the year their teams go all the way. Before that opening kickoff, every team is tied for first. For a lot of teams, it won't get any better than that.

And so it is with the 1974 fall season. The excitement from some of these ads jumps right off the page. Unfortunately, in so many cases the optimism is not only unfounded, it's sadly pathetic. And instead of a tingling leg, the reader is left wondering just who in the hell thought this show was a good idea. More on that in a minute.

But speaking of football, as we were a moment ago, the NFL's policy in the early 1970s was to start games at 1:00 p.m. local time (unless they were the second half of doubleheaders). Perhaps this was a nod to churches, I don't know. If you lived in Minneapolis-St. Paul, as I did, you had a fair share of 1:00 kickoffs, what with the Vikings playing other Midwest rivals like Chicago and Green Bay. And what that meant was that the second game of a doubleheader would be joined in progress. We can see that this week on NBC, with the Jets-Bears game starting at 1:00 CT, and the far-more-interesting Oakland Raiders-Kansas City Chiefs* game being JIPed at, maybe, 3:50. (Mind you, in the early '70s it is at least possible (if not likely) that a pro football game runs less than three hours, which means that if you're lucky, you might only miss the first quarter of the late game.) I can't remember exactly when the league changed to the hard-and-fast noon starting time (except for Baltimore, where the blue laws mandated a 2pm start), but it's hard to believe that "Joined in Progress" used to be a regular part of NFL TV listings.

*The fact that the Jets edged the Bears 23-21 while the Raiders routed the Chiefs 27-7 isn't the point; most fans will tell you they plan their football days around what they anticipate, and the fact that NBC sent Curt Gowdy and Al DeRogatis, their big-game announcers, to Oakland, suggests they expected the same thing.

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There's no question that by 1974, the NFL is a big deal. You know what else is a big deal? Movies on TV, or to be more precise, theatrical movies. The start of a new season has always been a great time for networks to showcase the latest additions to their movie inventory, and we can see it this week with three blockbusters right out of the gate: the network premieres of Rachel, Rachel (8:00 p.m. Monday, NBC) and Thunderball (8:00 p.m. Sunday, ABC), and the first rerun of Bonnie and Clyde* (8:00 p.m. Friday, CBS). What does our resident film critic, Judith Crist, think of these hits? Of Rachel, Rachel, directed by Paul Newman and starring his wife Joanne Woodward, Crist writes that It is "beautiful, sensitive and perceptive," with Woodward "perfection" as a spinster facing the "last ascending summer" of her life. Thunderball, starring Sean Connery, is "lighter in heart, spoofier and campier than, say, Goldfinger," but while there may be more corn than wit, "it's all fun." As for the "milestone" Bonnie and Clyde, in its second go-round Crist suggests concentrating on the supporting performances of Estelle Parsons, "brilliant in her screen debut," and "flawless" Gene Hackman, along with Michael J. Pollard as Warren Beatty's brother.

*I wonder how much they had to cut out to make it suitable for network television?

Incidentally, for movies with long running timesBen-Hur or Lawrence of Arabia, for examplethere were generally two ways for the network to deal with them. They could be split into two parts, often running on consecutive nights; or they could be shown on a Saturday or Sunday night and be allowed to run over the normal time slot. This is what we see with ABC's broadcast of Thunderball, which has a running time of 2:45. It begins at the normal ABC time of 8:00 p.m., and pushes the late local news back by 45 minutes, to 10:45 p.m. Of course, back then the weekend news wasn't as big a deal, and the movie would probably guarantee a larger audience for the local newscast anyway. Nowadays, pretty much the only time you see a program extend beyond its time slot by a substantial amount is when everything has been pushed back—by the NFL, for instance, where games seldom ever run less than three hours, and more often push closer to three and-a-half. In this case, times have changed.

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TV's two definitive 70s-era rock music shows, NBC's The Midnight Special and ABC's In Concert, faced off on Friday nights.  Midnight Special was a weekly show, airing after Johnny Carson, while In Concert was an every-other week part of Wide World of Entertainment.  Whenever the two slug it out, we'll be there to give you the winner.

In Concert: It's a tribute to Cat Stevens, with Linda Ronstadt, Donny Hathaway, Dr. John, and Stevens himself performing 90 minutes of the singer-songwriter's greatest hits.

Midnight Special: Singer-composer Randy Newman is the host, with Maria Muldaur, Dr. John, the Turtles and guitarist Ry Cooder.

Both of this week's installments are reruns, so it's merely a coincidence that Dr. John appears on both of them. We'll cancel him out, which leaves us with Stevens, Ronstadt, and Hathaway vs. Newman, Muldaur, the Turtles, and Ry Cooder. And you know what? I can't work up any enthusiasm for either of them. Sometimes these things happen. The verdict: Push.

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As you can see above, the cover of the September 14 TV Guide was mocked up to look like a horse racing tip sheet with odds on the new shows. Many of those shows are starting this week, and while some of them will run for many seasons, you'd better be quick to catch others, because you're not going to have many opportunities to see them. And as for the predictions: well, some of them were right on, while otherswell, let's just say that if you'd actually gone to Vegas and plunked down some dough based on these odds, you might not be reading this now, because you're homeless and the Starbucks won't let you use the wi-fi without making a purchase.

We're going to spend the rest of our time this week taking a look at what all the shouting was about, with a little quiz to see just how well you can place yourself back in that time period and imagine what the critics thought of the new season. Here are the odds on a dozen of those new shows as they appeared on the cover of that issue, along with a catchy tip for each one. 
  1. 1-2.  Could take it all.
  2. Even.  Won't monkey around.
  3. 2-1.  Real contender.
  4. Even.  May prove troublesome.
  5. Even.  Entry is well placed.
  6. 3-1.  Should get the nod.
  7. 8-1.  May freeze up.
  8. 4-5.  From good barn.
  9. Even.  Only filly in race.
  10. 7-2.  Might garner support.
  11. 6-1. May cop it all.
  12. 10-1.  Lost stablemate.
Now we'll take a look at the ads for these shows as they appeared in these very pages. See if you can recognize them from the handicapper's comments.  After the jump, we'll match the quotes and the shows, and separate the winners from the losers. Remember, no using subsequent knowledge when choosing your answers—you have to put yourself in the place of the critics of the day, considering things like the cast, the network, and the timeslot!


September 21, 2018

Odds and ends for a Friday morning

One of the drawbacks to returning from vacation, especially a working vacation as was just the case, is that things are kind of a mess when you get back.

As you know if you read Wednesday's "diary," we're back from Hunt Valley, Maryland, where we were attending the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention. Welcome, by the way, to the many nice people who stopped by our table during the three days of MANC and either bought a copy of The Electronic Mirror or took one of my cards. It was a pleasure meeting and talking with all of you, and I hope you enjoy both the book and It's About TV. Remember, it all exists for your pleasure as well as mine.

As I said on Wednesday, it was, as usual, a great time, and it was also interesting viewing the convention from the other side of the table, so to speak. There remains, however, the return home—and while I'll never again complain about coming back to Minnesota, it was, as usual, a rude awakening seeing everything waiting for your attention. That would be the case even if I didn't have a "real" job during the daytime, which just adds to the stockpile. There are emails waiting to be acknowledged, comments requiring a response, questions asking to be answered, new material demanding to be written. Trust me, if you fall into one of these categories, be patient—I'm working on it.

In the meantime, while you're waiting, might I suggest a trip to Amazon.com or BN.com to buy a copy of The Electronic Mirror? Carol Ford, who was gracious enough to write a blurb for the cover, says that after reading The Electronic Mirror, "You won't watch TV the same way again!" With no false modesty on my part, it really is a good read—a serious look at the relationship between television and American culture, that manages to be both fun and informative as well. And while you're at it, feel free to check out my other books: The Car, my newest novel, and The Collaborator, which seems more prophetic now than ever. These were a popular item at MANC, going for a special price if bought with The Electronic Mirror, and while that deal has expired, you can't go wrong picking these up! And for any of my books, if you'd like a personal inscription, drop me an email with your name and address, as well as how you'd like me to sign it, and I'll send you a sticker to go in the front of your book.

And now, a solicitation for help from one of our readers, who stopped by after my talk with a couple of questions that I'm confident you can assist with. If I remember correctly (and if I don't, I hope she'll chime in with a correction in the comments), her two questions are as follows:
  1. Is there a site out there that provides historical data on weekly series ratings? We all know that several sources provide year-end ratings for each TV season, and I've seen occasional top-10 weekly ratings, but does anyone know where one could find weekly data for every regularly-scheduled program, going back indefinitely? Television Obscurities doesn't have the info, and if that site doesn't, I can't think of another site that does, but if anyone can answer this question, I know one of you out there can.
  2. There used to be a blog out there called, I believe, the TV Guide Historian. The blog's no longer being kept current; does anyone out there know what happened?
Again, my apologies if I don't have the questions quite right, but I trust you all to provide the information that I'm lacking.

Then there are the emails. I mentioned earlier, there are emails that you good readers have sent me over the past two or three months, when I was tied up with edits and rewrites to The Electronic Mirror, and I'm shamefully behind in answering these emails. Please understand that it's nothing personal; I read and appreciate every bit of correspondence I get, and it was only my workload, combined with a tight publishing deadline, that has kept me from being responsive. That will change over the next couple of weeks; I will dedicate myself to cleaning out the inbox and getting back you you posthaste, before I've alienated you forever.

Finally: there is an audio version of my presentation, although I'm not yet sure about the quality. If it's sufficiently listenable and I can figure out how to do it, I'll put it up on the website for your enjoyment. And if I really luck out and can synchronize the audio with the actual PowerPoint, I'll do that as well. Keep your fingers crossed.

Anyway, it's good to be back, and hopefully by next week we'll be back to a normal schedule as well. One think you can depend on, though, and that's a TV Guide review tomorrow! TV  

September 19, 2018

Mid-Atlantic, 2018

Dear Diary,

Last week we were at MANC, and boy, did we have a swell time! MANC stands for Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention, in case you didn’t know, and it’s held every year at a place called Hunt Valley in Maryland, not far from Baltimore and Washington, D.C. We flew in to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, and I thought maybe we’d be able to see the lights from the monuments while we were in the plane, since it was at night, and we were up high in the sky, but I guess we were still too far away. Either that, or we were looking out the wrong side of the plane. Oh well, maybe next year!

This year wasn’t like the other two years we’ve been here. Those times, we walked around the hotel, looking at all the vendors and the things they were selling—really cool things like old TV Guides and DVDs of old shows and old toys and other old things. Hey, that’s OK—we’re old too! Ha! We did some of that this year, and I bought six old TV Guides—wait, I already said they were old, didn’t I? Anyway, six TV Guides, and a DVD set of The Green Hornet! I don’t remember watching it when I was a kid, but it sure did look like fun!


But the real reason we were at MANC this year is that I was giving a talk and selling copies of my new book, The Electronic Mirror. Isn’t that a cool title for a book? I thought it all up by myself! People seemed to like it—but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start back at the beginning.

Thursday was the first day of the convention, and the first talk was by two of my friends, Jodie Peeler and Kevin Doherty. They were talking about the Today Show, which is that show that’s on early in the morning, and the Tonight Show, which is on real late at night, and the Home Show, which isn’t on at all anymore, but when it was on it was in the middle of the day. Boy, was their talk good! I learned all about Dave Garroway—he was the first host of Today—and Jack Paar, who was the second host of Tonight; and Arlene Francis, who hosted Home and was a nice lady. They were all really interesting people. So are Jodie and Kevin, and real nice too. I’m lucky to have them as friends.

There was another talk after that, and then it was my turn. I was talking about “TV Guide: America’s Time Capsule,” and I had some pictures of old TV Guides—I already said they were old, didn’t I? I was showing people how reading TV Guides could tell you what the cultural world was like back then, and I think it went pretty well. People seemed to like it, and they asked questions that I could answer, and they all clapped when I was done! It made me feel good all over! Later on, people came up to the table where we were selling books, and told me they enjoyed listening to me talk. I didn’t even have to pay them to say that.

In fact, a lot of them bought my book! And they paid me! How cool is that? There were a lot of nice people who stopped by, even the ones who didn’t buy my book. There was a guy who used to work for Marvel Comics, and another guy who acted in Star Trek movies, and a retired doctor, and a retired lawyer, and a nice married couple—well, they were all nice!

And then there was our friend Carol Ford. She’s nice, too. She wrote a book about Bob Crane, who played Colonel Hogan on Hogan’s Heroes. He was a nice guy too, although some bad things happened to him. But he was still nice, and I’m glad Carol wrote about him, so everyone else could see that he was nice too. We only get to see each other once a year, which isn’t often enough. We need to see Jodie and Kevin more often too. That means we have to travel more, and that costs money. My wife said something about winning the lottery; maybe that would help us to travel more.

There were other neat people there too, and they all looked like they were having a swell time. Except for one lady who seemed really mad while we were checking in. She said the hotel people couldn’t show her to her room. She said some bad things, she was so mad. My mom used to tell me that sometimes people would act this way when they’d had something to drink. Boy, that must have been something really bad, to make them act that way. I wonder why anyone would do that? I guess I just don’t understand adults, even though I am one! Ha!

There was this other neat guy named Martin. He’s the guy who puts this all together. He isn’t very big, but all weekend he wore a shirt that said “Security.” I wouldn’t want to tangle with him! Anyway, he did a great job. There were some famous celebrities there too—Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers and three people from a show called WKRP in Cincinnati. They weren’t in Cincinnati this weekend,though. Maybe they flew in. Boy, I’ll bet their arms are tired! That was a joke—did you get it? Ha! Kristy McNicol was there too, and so was Morgan Fairchild, and the guy who played the Creature in the Black Lagoon and Diahann Carroll, and Geri Reischl, who was "Fake Jan" and seemed as excited to be there as the rest of us. She was always taking pictures on her phonealk past us each day while we were sitting at our table, so we got to see them all.

It's all over until next year, but we had a really great time. It was one of our best weekends ever! I’m glad I know such nice people—it was a fun time! I could go on and on! But I’ll have to wrap it up now, Diary—it’s time for me to go to bed, because I have to get up early to go to work tomorrow. My wife says If we don’t win the lottery this is the only way we’ll be able to go places and buy old things, and I guess she must be right—she’s really smart. She married me, didn’t she? Ha!

Talk to you tomorrow, Diary!

Love,
Mitchell TV  

September 17, 2018

What's on TV? Monday, September 15, 1958

As such things go, this is a pretty quiet day in the new season; Channel 2, the Twin Cities educational channel, actually has more series debuts today than any of the other stations. Jimmy Dean starts his weekday variety series, which is perhaps more memorable for this candid bit of commentary after the show's cancellation. Don't you wish more people spoke their minds today? (Pause, thinking about Internet...) Wait a minute; forget I said that.

September 15, 2018

This week in TV Guide: September 13, 1958

How times change.  Look at the TV Guide logo on the cover of this week's edition: not the famillar red, but blue.  TV Guide did this this from time to time, back in the day, when the cover's color scheme demanded it.  Blue, white, other colors.  I don't know offhand when they did this for the last time; I've got a Christmas issue from 1962 where the logo is gold. And then it became so, I don't, know, corporate.

And with that, we're off on another week of TV Guide, and in case you hadn't noticed, the theme is change.  Sometimes the change is evolutionary, based on changing times.  Other times, the changes we've seen make the past seem like it came from another planet.  Either way, things just aren't what they used to be.

The relationship between TV and football, for example.  Here we are at Saturday, September 13, and the big sports story on television is not college football, but the national pasttime - baseball. It's a preview of the upcoming World Series, sort of: CBS' team of Dizzy Dean and Buddy Blattner covers the eventual American League champion Yankees vs. the White Sox in Chicago, while NBC counters with the Cardinals visiting the soon-to-be National League champion Milwaukee Braves, broadcast by Leo Durocher and Lindsay Nelson. Dueling national broadcasts - but as we saw last week, this was before leagues negotiated national broadcasting contracts, so the networks were free to deal with teams (and their sponsors) on an individual basis. ABC would get into the act as well in the early 60s, before Major League Baseball awarded the exclusive national contract to NBC.

There's also no pro football on Sunday - at least none that counts. The NFL's season, which today runs 16 games (with a bye week) and one year started before Labor Day, was only 12 games in 1958, which meant that the regular season didn't kick off until September 28. So if you wanted some football, you got the preseason kind - in this case, an innocuous matchup between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts. Ah, but little did we know that these two teams would meet again for the NFL Championship on December 28 - aka The Greatest Game Ever Played.

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The great thing about a statewide TV Guide
Edition - if you don't like one station's ad,
there's always another one
And then there's the network news. In the days before CNN introduced us to 24/7 TV news, the holy grail for news junkies was a prime-time spot, preferably an hour, with plenty of time for an in-depth look at serious issues, a chance to educate viewers, and a look at foreign news, which typically didn't get much attention in this country except in times of war. Well, in 1958 you had it, or at least part of it: a regularly scheduled 15 minute broadcast* airing at 9:30 p.m. CT, featuring ABC's news chief, John Daly. Yes, the same John Charles Daly that we're also watching host What's My Line? on CBS.  

What I find remarkable about that is not that a newscaster was also doing a game show; Daly was always a newsman first, and besides, What's My Line? wasn't really a game show, but something far more sophisticated. No, imagine the idea of a prominent television figure with prime-time shows on more than one network. This at a time when networks were very protective of their turf: if you were the star of a series on CBS, for example, but you were a guest on NBC's Tonight show, you could only say that you appeared on "another network." After awhile it became a joke; Daly himself would often flaunt it, mentioning that the week's Mystery Guest would be appearing on "another network, which might have the initials N-B-C," or something similar. This wasn't the first time ABC had experimented with a prime-time newscast; they'd tried it in 1952, but it failed then, and failed now; Daly, who had been replaced by Don Goddard in the traditional pre-dinner timeslot when he made the move to prime-time, would return to the old timeslot by 1959.

*Four days a week; ABC had boxing on Wednesdays.

◊ ◊ ◊

Speaking of game shows as we were a moment ago, change is in the air there as well, with the advent of the Quiz Show Scandals signaling the beginning of the end of the big-money, big-ratings shows.  Burt Boyar's "Facts Behind Quiz Scandal" details the genesis of the scandal, which hasn't ripened into the full-blown Robert Redford era quite yet; the focus of the story is on the dispute between Herb Stempel and the producers of the show Twenty One, Dan Enright and Jack Barry.  Stempel claims he was forced off the program, while Enright and Barry counter that Stempel needs psychiatric care.  Dotto, the show that instigated the scandal, has been taken off the air, but Twenty One is still on NBC, and its most famous hero, Charles Van Doren, is still on the Today show.  Van Doren, in fact, isn't mentioned in the article at all, but there is what must have been a tantalizing line for those millions who idolized the brilliant, handsome Van Doren; Jack Narz, the host of the disgraced Dotto, says "there isn't a quiz show on the air which doesn't have some control over its contestants."  Boyar writes that "[w]here or when this drama will end is anyone's business," and, as is so often the case with these old TV Guide articles, it is the story yet to come that intrigues.

I know someone with one of these!
Another type of change - "out with the old, in with the new" - can be seen as the curtain falls on what was then television's longest-running and most storied drama series, the anthology Kraft Theatre, which had been a staple of NBC's schedule since 1947.  Its pedigree was indeed impressive; "the first commercial network show and the first sponsored show to go over the coaxial cable to the Midwest.  It was the first hour-long drama show in color, and the first to be televised in color on a weekly basis."  Its 650 presentations included a remarkable live version of the sinking-of-the-Titanic drama A Night to Remember.

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Do you remember when local ads ran in TV Guide?  Not ads for shows, but for products like Listerine and cheese-flavored Kor-Chees.  It seems an odd thing to see in these pages - more appropriate, perhaps, to appear in the local newspaper.  But then, as suggested by this ad encouraging parents to sign their kids up as TV Guide delivery boys, maybe people used the magazine in the same manner as they did a paper.  (Speaking of change, it took a lot less change to subscribe to TV Guide back then - $5.00 for 52 weeks.)  They consulted it for television listings, feature articles, the latest entertainment news from New York and Hollywood.  They even had a "Mr. Fixit"-type column on "How to Cure 4 Common TV Headaches."

The questions remind one of how far technology has come, and how much we take our crystal-clear HD pictures for granted:
  • At night a black jagged bar about a half-inch wide rips horizontally through my picture on Channels 2 through 6.
  • During the day, the picture on my set is beautiful.  At night it shrinks and gets dark.
  • When I was told my picture tube was weak I bought a new set.  I put the old TV in the den for the kids.  However, my new set acts erratic.  It only happens when I'm watching Channel 6 and the kids watch Channel 3.  My 6 whitewashes out. 
  • For the last few months we've had a ham-radio operator living across the street.  It seems to me that since then, Channel 6, which was my best station, has developed a continual herringbone-pattern overlay.*
* Seems to me being Channel 6 was not a good thing in those days.

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Advertising has changed as well - while future back cover ads declare, "You've come a long way, baby," in 1958 there was still room for the ad on your right, featuring singing star Jimmie Rodgers, for Halo shampoo, reminding all you ladies out there that "You can always tell a HALO girl."  Ah, doesn't it make you all want to be Halo girls?"

This whole piece has been about change, but perhaps the biggest change of all was the change that doesn't appear in this issue, but was hinted at on practically every-other page: the 1958 Fall Preview issue, coming the following week.  In those pages we'd learn of the new season ahead, featuring "Eleven new Westerns, many music and variety shows, more gumshoes," sports and "spectaculars."  They always did know how to make you want to stay tuned, didn't they? TV  

September 11, 2018

September 10, 2018

What's on TV? Monday, September 9, 1968

It's a grand start to the week, with all of the anticipation that comes with the beginning of the new TV season. Not all the new shows are on tonight, let alone this week, but there's definitely that change in the air that I talked about on Saturday. I particularly like the AFL game on Monday night on NBC. I might have gotten to see a little bit of it, even though I would have had to go to bed early for school the next day. I hated it then, and I hate going to bed early to get ready for work now. But that, of course, is another story. These listings, of course, are from the Twin Cities.