January 22, 2020

On censorship

It's all the rage, censorship. China does it, Russia does it, the Internet does it, the government does it. There's a difference between censorship and "censorship," of course, between not being able to get your TV show on the air and being jailed or killed for having shown it. The word's been cheapened through overuse, and I suppose I'm about to add to it. What is censorship, anyway? Is it when you regulate the amount of sex and violence in TV shows and movies, or is it when you regulate the amount on the evening news? The networks used to employ censors; they probably still do, although it's hard to say what they do nowadays. They decided what was acceptable and what crossed the line.

That's part of it, deciding where "the line" is, and if it were only about sex and violence, it would be hard enough to say. There are other lines out there though, and people eager to help you decide what shows are best for you, what you ought to watch. In a TV Guide from 1967, editor Merrill Panitt reports on an interesting suggestion by Democratic Representative Torbert Macdonald that schools should teach children courses in "critical viewing" of television. As children watch anywhere from six to 40 hours of TV a week*, often indiscriminately and uncritically, they need to be taught the importance of "selecting programs and evaluating what they see."

*I hate to think of where I might have fallen on that spectrum.

Panitt agrees with this idea in principle; after all, it would be good not only for the children but, as they grow older and audiences become more critical of what they watch, it could potentially be good for improving programming as well. But, on the other hand, he points to the words of a New York TV executive who reminds us that "If we produce shows that bore children to death, TV can teach them nothing" because they won't be watching it.

Acknowledging the truth of the statement, the editorial notes that "we doubt that if the proposed school courses are set up they will signal the total extinction of Batman, Gomer Pyle, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Monkees.*"  In much the same way as a balanced nutritional diet doesn't try to eliminate every treat from the menu, there's always going to be room for "elements of nonsense, fantasy and Walter Mittyism." However, the hope is that "the courses would probably cut down the volume of this stuff and get a wider audience for some of the more constructive material now being offered to children."

*Intriguing, their choice of shows, don't you think? I own half of them.

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I suppose my attitude toward censorship (the lesser type, that is, the kind that decides what we see on TV) vacillates between libertarian and churlish, and one of the reasons I can’t quite make up my mind is that it’s not as straightforward as it ought to be.

As you know if you're a regular reader, the controversy about the quality of programming is one that's raged for years, often in the pages of TV Guide, and the timing of this editorial would fit right in with the general debate. We're used, therefore, to seeing TV Guide express concern, for example, about the TV diet that children are fed. On the other hand, TV Guide has frequently been against the idea of controlling the content of programming, particularly when it emanates from outside bodies such as the government. The shorthand for this. although we could have a protracted discussion on this at a later date, is censorship. We'll use that word because it comes up frequently in these conversations, and TV Guide itself used it when discussing the content that appears on television.

One of the arguments made by those against censorship, for example TV Guide's Edith Efron, is that it absolves the viewer of his or her own responsibility in the matter. If the government, or some other authority, decrees that thus-and-such shouldn't be show on television, then you’re spared having to decide whether or not you would have watched it if it had been broadcast. This leads to a lot of righteous breast-beating from some parts, people who might say “of course I’d never watch a public execution if it were televised,” secure in the knowledge that they’ll be true to their word—they won’t watch it, since it isn't televised. But as Joyce Carol Oates once wrote, when the demon beckons, “You won't know until it beckons. To you. So long as it temps others you can judge—can sneer—can express shock, disgust, outrage, and prim disdain—the usual emotions of punitive people. But you won't know. I didn't." Or, put another way, someone once said that the difference between an honest man and a man of integrity is that the man of integrity does the right thing even when no one is watching.

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So one argument against censorship is that we should require the viewer to make choices, keeping in mind that ultimately, the market decides, and insofar as the market is a bellwether for public opinion, the public gets what they want. (That doesn't mean that society is prepared to accept the consequences emanating from those decisions, but there you go.) The other argument you hear, and this is probably the more prevalent one, is that “if you don’t like what you see on TV, change the channel. Nobody’s forcing you to watch it.” This is true, insofar as it goes; however, it's a truth that exists in the laboratory, outside of the real world, which is where most of us spend most of our time. And there, it's not so easy.

For one thing, even if we don't watch "that kind of thing," we have to live in a world where other people do, and to the extent that it affects their behavior, we have to live with the result. I've always found this argument most compelling when it comes to shows that objectify women. If men are constantly exposed to shows that portray women as nothing more than sex objects (either willingly or unwillingly), then it’s more likely that’s how men will see them. That's dehumanizing enough, but add a dollop or two of violence to the mix, and then see what happens. If we're taught not to show restraint, isn't that what eventually happens?

However, even here, the question arises as to whether or not we can be sure that watching this kind of behavior on television does, in fact, affect the viewer’s external behavior. For instance, I love watching Road Runner cartoons. In every single one of them, something hideous happens to Wile E. Coyote—he’s blown up, has an anvil dropped on his head, falls off a cliff; you get the idea. Pound for pound, these cartoons might be among the most violent things ever seen on TV. But can you demonstrate that there's a correlation between me watching these cartoons and me becoming a violent, anti-social person? I doubt it, because it isn't true.*

*The violent part, anyway. As for the anti-social part, I suppose the jury is still out.

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And yet, there’s something about the smell test here that supports the overall contention. After all, why do advertisers bother to put commercials on television if they don’t think the viewer’s behavior (in this case, their shopping habits) will be influenced by it? It’s somewhat fatuous to argue that viewers who fall for commercials—blatant attempts to get them to buy Product X, with no bones made as to why it’s being shown—will have the discernment to filter out the behavioral messages presented in their favorite shows. Isn't it?

So while I don’t accept the premise that viewers are completely influenced by their environment, neither do I think they can be totally unfazed by it. There has to be a residue that rubs off on them, the difference being the moral and philosophical background the viewer brings into it. And with that, we're back to the question of personal responsibility. One would like to think that people with well-formed consciences (or at the very least people who understand and appreciate the value of a civil society) will be able to watch television with a discerning eye; they neither become hostage to the behavior shown on screen nor do they accept programs that promote a message at odds with that of the wider society. And that brings us back to critical thinking.

Now, I'm all for critical thinking (or, if you want to be precise, critical viewing); I think it's a skill in short supply nowadays, and schools ought to be teaching kids how to think. But too often nowadays education is about teaching kids what to think; the mechanics of thought have been sacrificed in the interests of pushing the correctness of thought. And who decides what is correct? The whole idea has the whiff of elitism, the idea that people in general have to be taught not how to watch TV, but how to watch the right programs. And who determines what makes a program "right"? I'm thinking here of everything from HGTV's decision a few years ago to ax a show hosted by two brothers who opposed gay marriage* to Southern stations that routinely preempted shows in the 1950s and '60s because they portrayed blacks and whites interacting. Is this how we want to teach "critical viewing"? Will it improve the viewing experience? Does it provide us with more varied, well-rounded programming? Or is it simply another form of censorship? It has the potential for mischief written all over it—anyone besides me comparing this to how schools teaching about nutrition has led to governments trying to ban supersized soft drinks?

*Proving once again that HGTV will never have a show entitled "Interior Design for Heterosexual Males."

Now, perhaps I'm not the right person to be talking about this, given that I'm a great fan of, for example, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., but while I'm all for better programming on television, I do have a problem with the idea of labeling shows as ones a viewer "shouldn't watch" simply because they're not "good" for you, for whatever reason. To me, it sounds a whole lot more like taking medicine than watching television, and while I appreciate what medicine can do for me when I'm not feeling well, that's not why I usually watch TV. I once read an article about how book discussion clubs aren't necessarily a good thing because they can force you to focus more on your reaction to a book than what the book actually says, and consequently you become more self-aware, becoming the focal point yourself rather than the book you're ostensibly reading for pleasure or enlightenment.

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I confess I don't have a ready answer for any of this, and I'm not sure I would even if I weren't working under a deadline to get this piece up. It's clear that the libertarian answer, inviting though it may be, has flaws when it's applied to the real world. It's equally clear that whenever an outside authority gets involved, be it school or bureaucracy, there's an inevitable level of bias involved that tends to taint the experience.

The best I can offer, and it's hardly an original thought, is that we expose people to different types of experiences throughout their lives, not pushing them toward preferring one over the other, but simply allowing them to witness the variety. One popular idea making the rounds is that the graying of classical music audiences can be related to the lack of music appreciation being taught in schools today. Putting aside the question of who bears the responsibility for this failure (schools, administrators, classical music organizations, taxpayers, all of the above), there's no doubt that in my case, being exposed to classical music at an early age made an impression that continues to pay dividends. I'd suggest that exposing people to theater, drama, comedy, and other art forms without forcing them down their throats would be one way of educating potential viewers to become more discerning, or at least more varied, in their television tastes. If that means developing a palate like mine*, running the gamut from Hogans Heroes to The Grand Tour to The Prisoner to Doctor Who to MST3K, and including things like Masterpiece Theatre, Live from Lincoln Center, Great Performances and other shows that might be considered highbrow, then at least we'd have a varied programming schedule out there, instead of the pablum we're generally served.

*I'm not advocating that, by the way.  My tastes could easily give you an upset stomach.  

However, the fact remains that in a market-based economy, the market will determine what's on television—and it won't include high culture. Unless and until networks (both commercial and cable) and advertisers decide otherwise, shows with niche audiences and low ratings will be consigned to the trash heap, and most of our programs will simply be pallid clones of what's already gone before. Extend this to other forms of entertainment—books, movies, music—and what we're left with isn't a pretty picture. And that's why we should care.  TV  

January 20, 2020

What's on TV? Wednesday, January 23, 1980

We've looked at several editions of TV Guide from the Cincinnati area, but this is the first time, I believe, that we've seen Cincinnati from the point of view of the Kentucky edition. Well, change is good. A notice at the beginning of the day's listings reminds us that there's a chance the State of the Union might be given tonight, but no need to fear: it was given on Monday instead, so what you see here is as it was. And if you don't believe me, believe Fred Sanford.

January 18, 2020

This week in TV Guide: January 19, 1980

I don't generally review consecutive issues from the same year, but this week's issue offers something that's just too good to resist.* It was just last week, as I write this, that we were introduced to the term "Megxit," and while I'm already sick to death of it, as a television historian it's a gift of manna, because this week we have the premiere of a new costume drama from Britain that couldn't be more timely: the six-part miniseries Edward & Mrs. Simpson.

*Besides, I didn't have any other issue from this week, and since I promised 52 new issues this year, I didn't think it was a good idea to go back on that promise three weeks into the new year.  (Feel free to thank me for my thoughtfulness.)

Back in 1979, Mobil had sponsored the national broadcast of a 12-part British series, Edward the King, the colorful story of King Edward VII. The series was marketed directly to commercial stations; nearly 50 of them picked up the series (including 27 network affiliates, wreaking havoc with network programming), which turned out to a huge critical and commercial success. For an encore, it was decided to show another drama concerning British royalty, one that had a twist sure to appeal to the Colonies: Edward & Mrs. Simpson, which told the story of King Edward VIII and his ill-fated love affair with American divorcee Wallis Simpson, a romance which caused the king to eventually abdicate his throne in order to marry "the woman I loved."

Bob Bach, associate producer of the original What's My Line?, tells a wonderful story in his TV Guide Background feature about what a TV junkie Wallis Warfield Simpson was, belting out the themes to the Murial cigar and Skippy peanut butter commercial jingles at a table in New York's El Morocco while Bach and Dorothy Kilgallen looked on; she and the Duke were great fans of WML, and TV in general. "We watch all the shows," she told Bach, who meditated on the idea that "this man, once 'By the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas, King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India,' sitting up there in the Waldorf Towers watching Strike it Rich or The Big Payoff." It just goes to show that television, unlike the British class system, knows no boundaries.

The Windsors photographed by Karsh in 1971,
a year before the Duke's death.
To get back to the main story, the world was captivated by the romantic drama taking place during Edward's efforts to marry the twice-divorced Simpson, even while the British public was, for the most part, kept in the dark due to the British press' self-imposed censorship. Had Edward chosen to marry Wallis despite her previous marriages (the Church of England, at the time, disapproved divorce and remarriage), the government would have been forced to resign, and a constitutional crisis would have resulted. Rather than give up Wallis, Edward chose to abdicate, making his brother George the king—and, indirectly, resulting in the conflict we have today.

Leave it to the British tabloids to cut to the heart of the matter by pointing out that Meghan Markle, the apparent center of the current drama, is the second American to throw the monarchy into turmoil. "You have a very popular and senior member of the royal family who falls for an American divorcee and his world falls apart. Sound familiar? Talk about history repeating itself," writes Virginia Blackburn in The Express. One commentator compared Markle to a combination Wallis Simpson/Yoko Ono, a comparison that flatters nobody. Frankly, I've already spent enough time thinking about these two twits that I can see the appeal of a root canal without anesthesia as an alternative. The Windsors were often viewed as superficial social dilettantes, members of café society; yet Harry and Meghan manage to give them class by comparison.

While Edward & Mrs. Simpson failed to reach the heights of Edward the King, either with critics or viewers, it still radiates a sense of dignity that today's psychodrama fails to reach. It's a sure bet that the story of Megxit will make it to television as well, but you can bet it won't be on something like Mobil Showcase. Look for it on whatever sleazy reality channel offers them the most money.

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James MacGregor Burns is one of America's most respected political scientists and an expert on the Presidency, and in this election year, he addresses one of the questions of the campaign: can any candidate deliver on what they promise? "Since the start of our Government in 1789, the nub of the problem of Presidential leadership has been Congress," he writes in this week's issue. "All the 'strong' Presidents have had to invent ways of putting across their legislative programs." We've certainly seen that in the last few Presidencies, haven't we?

President Carter's problem, according to Burns, is "a modern case in Presidential-Congressional frustration." After a brief honeymoon period, Carter's determination to "not play old, Washington-type politics" has resulted in his bills being "lacerated or lost in the labyrinthine channels of Congressional committees and subcommittees." The Carter administration lacks "a clear and convincing set of goals," as well as "the political skill and electricity necessary to line up Congressional support." Burns, an advocate of a strong Presidency, wonders if the fragmentation of power that the Founders deliberately designed is the right one for the times. The only alternative, he says, is "strengthening our party system," which in the old days drew the separated powers of Government together. "Parties both supported and stabilized Presidential power" back then, he says. That may be the only chance we have in 1980 to "prevent holy wedlock from turning into holy deadlock."

We'll get the first indications into this on Monday night at 11:30 p.m. ET, as both CBS (Walter Cronkite, Morton Dean, Bruce Morton and Roger Mudd) and NBC ("NBC News correspondents") present coverage of the nation's first presidential test, the Iowa Caucuses, delaying the start of late-night programming. On the Democratic side, President Carter wins a decisive victory over his only serious challenger, Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, 59%-31%, setting the standard for the Democratic race. It's a different story for the Republicans, as George Bush upsets Ronald Reagan 31%-29%, with Howard Baker coming in third at 15%. It leads to the dramatic "I am paying for this microphone" moment for Reagan in his 1:1 debate with Bush in Nashua, New Hampshire. Reagan routs Bush in the primary by over two-to-one, spelling the end of Bush's "Big Mo" and propelling Reagan to the nomination and. subsequently, the Presidency.

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For those of you who might not be as politically inclined, this week brings another contest that might interest you: the Super Bowl.


Super Bowl XIV takes place Sunday at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, with the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers going against the (sort-of) hometown favorite Los Angeles Rams on CBS. You might say the coverage starts on Saturday at 5:00 p.m. with CBS Sports Spectacular's Super Bowl-themed "Battle of the NFL Cheerleaders" pitting the Minnesota Viking Parkettes (so named because the team's original cheerleaders were the St. Louis Park High School Parkettes) against the Miami Dolphin Starbrites. I don't know how I missed that when it was on. (Thankfully, we've passed on from the Super Night at the Super Bowl era.)

CBS's Super Bowl Sunday begins at 2:30 p.m. with coverage of the final round of the Phoenix Open golf tournament, one of the few sporting events that actually insists on being held the same weekend as the Super Bowl. (Winner: Jeff Mitchell, by four strokes over Rik Massengale. OK, the winners haven't always been the biggest names.) That's followed by a special 90-minute The NFL Today, renamed for the day as The Super Bowl Today, including commentaries by Jack Whittaker and Andy Rooney and analysis by John Madden. Finally, at 6:00 p.m. it's the game itself, with Pat Summerall and Tom Brookshier behind the mic, Cheryl Ladd singing the national anthem, and a halftime show featuring Up with People doing "A Salute to the Big Band Era." Yup, times have changed, haven't they? The evening wraps up with 60 Minutes, sometime around 10:00 p.m. Oh yeah, the game: Pittsburgh rallies in the second half to beat the Rams 31-19, successfully defending their championship, and becoming the first time to win four Super Bowls.

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That brings us to a look at some of the shows attracting attention this week. We do have a Kirchner-Midnight Special matchup this week, but it isn't much of a contest. Don Kirshner's Rock Concert (Saturday, 1:30 a.m., WAVE) has Bob Welch, Maxine Nightingale, America, and comic Denny Johnston, while The Midnight Special (Friday, 1:00 a.m., NBC) celebrates its seventh anniversary with Captain & Tennille hosting, and past performances by Rod Stewart, Donna Summer, Steve Martin, Linda Ronstadt, Barry Manilow, the Jacksons, Willie Nelson, and Olivia Newton-John. I can't say that many of these acts float my boat, but on sheer star power, Special takes the win.

Saturday offers the kind of special programming that reminds us again that Saturday used to be a big TV night. The Love Boat (8:00 p.m., ABC) has one of those two-hour star-studded voyages that they're known for, with Loni Anderson, Eve Arden, Pam Grier, Robert Guillaume, Rich Little, Denise Nicholas, Donny Osmond, Richard Paul, Slim Pickens, Marion Ross, and Richard Roundtree. Meanwhile, CBS debuts the western The Chisholms as a weekly series (8:00 p.m.), starring Robert Preston and Rosemary Harris; it had originated as a miniseries in 1979. That's followed at 10:00 p.m. by The Beatrice Arthur Special, yet another example of a series star getting her own variety special (see Lynda Carter from last week); the "outrageous, hilarious, musical special from a multi-talented superstar" includes appearances by Rock Hudson, Melba Moore, and Wayland Flowers & Madame. I swear, this sounds like something you would have seen on SCTV.

Bob Hope is back for another of his NBC specials Monday at 9:00 p.m., celebrating the songs from Bob's career in vaudeville, on Broadway, and in radio and movies. Joining Bob are the aforementioned Bea Arthur, Debby Boone, Diahann Carroll, and Shirley Jones. (I'll bet at least the Kraft recipes are good.) Speaking of which, the Hollywood TV Teletype reports that NBC will be airing a six-hour retrospective looking at Hope's 30 years of entertaining at military bases worldwide; you'll be able to see it February 3 and 10. Tom Snyder gets out of the late-night spotlight at 10:00 p.m., with an hour of celebrity interviews; his subjects are Clint Eastwood, Bo Derek, Gary Coleman, and Barry Manilow. It's too bad the network didn't give Tom more time; he always was at his best with long-form interviews.

A Happy Days-esque series, Goodtime Girls (not to be confused with The Golden Girls or The Goodbye Girl) debuts Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. on ABC, with Annie Potts, Lorna Patterson, Georgia Engel, and Francine Tacker as four girls enduring various hardships during World War II. Worst of all—the man shortage. At 9:00 p.m., it's dueling TV-movies: CBS's GE Theater presents Once Upon a Family, starring Barry Bostwick in what Judith Crist calls "a California version of Kramer vs. Kramer," with a fine performance from Bostwick, and excellent support from Nancy Marchand as Bostwick's mother, and Marcia Strassman as his new love interest. That's up against NBC Theatre's Death Penalty, with Colleen Dewhurst as a dedicated psychologist trying to save a 15-year-old killer from the electric chair. Crist labels it "plodding, predictable and dated," and calls Dewhurst's performance "surprisingly monotoned."

Wednesday features another star-studded special (I don't know what else you'd call it), The Tenth Annual Entertainer of the Year Awards (9:00 p.m., CBS), with George Burns (in his lecherous old-man period) hosting, and starring Benji, David Copperfield, Wayland Flowers & Madame, Mitzi Gaynor, Gilda Radner, Kenny Rogers, Doc Severinsen, Red Skelton, Suzanne Somers, Donna Summer, Tanya the Elephant, Rip Taylor, Gino Vannelli, The Village People, Dottie West, and Robin Williams. For those of you keeping score at home (or even if you're just reading), that makes two appearances on shows this week by Wayland & Madame, two by Bea Arthur, two by Dottie West (she's also on Merv Griffin's show Tuesday), Gilda Radner (she was also in Saturday Night Live, which was a rerun from 1977), two by Robin Williams (including Mork & Mindy), and probably six by Doc Severinsen, if he's on all five episodes of The Tonight Show. Speaking of which, it's only the third week of the year and already Johnny's got the week off*; his guest hosts this week are Kenny Rogers on Monday (whoops—that makes two appearances for him this week as well), David Letterman on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and George Carlin on Friday. One of George's guests is Donna Summer, so she's on TV twice this week!

*Or maybe he's still off from the holidays; with him, it was always kind of hard to tell.

The highlight on Thursday is the sixth annual People's Choice Awards (9:00 p.m., CBS), hosted by Mariette Hartley, Bert Parks, and Hollywood columnist Army Archard. It's an odd pairing; Mariette's looking for James Garner, Army's looking for someone to interview, and Bert's looking for Miss America. Anyway, we can be sure that they weren't as controversial as Ricky Gervais. The thing about the People's Choice Awards is that, having been voted on by the public, they're a pretty good barometer of what's popular at the time. The TV winners: Alan Alda is the Favorite All-Around Male Entertainer, Carol Burnett the Favorite All-Around Female Entertainer, Dallas the Favorite Dramatic Show, M*A*S*H the Favorite Comedy, Hart to Hart the Favorite New Program, and its stars Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers the Favorite Performers in a New Program, and Gary Coleman as the Favorite Young TV Performer.

Friday it's the final episode of Shirley Jones's comedy-drama Shirley, ending its 13-week run. Why did a show starring the mother of The Partridge Family only last 13 weeks? Here's the description: "A recent widow moves from a big city to a small town with her three children, her stepson and her housekeeper." Perhaps that lack of imagination has something to do with it. Oh, and that means Shirley Jones was on twice this week as well! Friday night's TV movie is Mother and Daughter: The Loving War (9:00 p.m., ABC), and it makes us all feel old that the "mother" is Tuesday Weld. As Judith Crist says, "Tuesday in middle-age?" It just doesn't seem possible.

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Finally, you've read me complaining, as recently as last week, about the lack of intellectual heft of the modern TV Guide compared to, say, 1980. However, it seems as if the publishers didn't think that even this was enough.


"Panorama's informative and entertaining articles explore television and its impact on you and everything it touches. From the news to the arts. From the people to the programs. From the sports arena to the political arena. From the present to the future." Throw in the past, and that, in a nutshell, is what I try to do with this website.

Panorama only lasted 17 months, from February, 1980 to June, 1981. Walter H. Annenberg, publisher of TV Guide and Panorama, told The New York Times that ''Our subject matter proved successful in attracting advertising, but circulation results proved beyond doubt that few readers were interested in our editorial content.'' I had a chance to read one issue of Panorama, the June, 1980 issue as it turns out, and I thought it was pretty good—I wasn't into the history of television as much as I am now, although I doubt that even a subscription from me would have saved it. Fortunately, all 17 issues of Panorama have been preserved and are available here. Perhaps, when I run out of TV Guides to review, I'll start in on these and see what the future of TV looks like from the past. TV  

January 17, 2020

Around the dial

We've got a full slate of goodness this week, so let's get right to it.

At Garroway at Large, Jodie has a wonderful look back at Today's 25th anniversary show on January 14, 1977, a classic demonstration of how a show with the history of Today should celebrate it. Dave's there, of course, with Jack Lescoulie and Frank Blair, and Pat Weaver's on hand as well. It's wonderful when a program can take advantage of having its stars still alive to celebrate a landmark occasion—and when they want to celebrate that history.

St. Valentine's Day isn't until next month, but David at Comfort TV has another Valentine in mind: Karen Valentine, who for some reason never had the success of Mary Tyler Moore, but whose body of work is more widely available now, thanks to YouTube.

At barebones e-zine, Jack continues his look at the Hitchcock work of Sterling Silliphant with the third-season episode "The Perfect Crime," adapted from the classic story by Ben Ray Redman, directed by Alfred Hitchcock himself, and starring Vincent Price and James Gregory. Silliphant's script makes a strange (and probably unnecessary) addition to the story, but even that can't ruin a great episode.

From Silver Scenes, a story that aired on last week's Sunday Morning on CBS, about the legendary Kim Novak and her hobby, at which she excels: painting. She's been doing it since she was a girl, and recently her work appeared in a show at the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio. You'll see some examples when you click on the link.

I've always enjoyed Glenn Ford's work; there's a toughness about him that I find very appealing, and that shades his portrayal of good guys, making them a little more complex than usual. This week. Rick takes a look at Ford's 1971 telefilm The Brotherhood of the Bell at Classic Film and TV Café; it's "an absorbing film that goes on too long and opts for a contrived, unbelievable ending" but survives thanks to the performances of Ford and Dean Jaggar, another favorite.

Carol Serling, widow of Rod, passed away a few days ago; it's thanks in part to her dedication that the Twilight Zone Magazine came to be. This week at The Twilight Zone Vortex, Jordan looks at the September, 1982 issue, which includes (among other things) Thomas Disch reviewing books by Philip K. Dick and Robert Heinlein, and an interview with director Paul Schraeder.

At Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, Ivan is prompted by last month's death of actress Shelley Morrison to revisit The Flying Nun, in which Morrison appeared as Sister Sixto. I was never a big fan of the show myself, but I wholeheartedly agree with Ivan's assessment that "The Flying Nun is just a solid example of why 60s TV was so wonderfully demented…and why I’ll take any of those classic shows over the inanity of “reality” television any day of the week."

Edd Byrnes, one of the stars of 77 Sunset Strip, died last week at the age of 87. Until I started watching Strip a couple of years ago, I didn't really have much on which to base an opinion of Byrnes, but I've come to have a real appreciation for him since. I enjoy the show anyway, but there seems to be just that little more spark when Kookie's part of the action. At A Shroud of Thoughts, Terence has a nice remembrance of the man and his work, which deserves to be remembered. TV  

January 15, 2020

Just call him Bill

In honor of the late, great Jack Sheldon—jazz trumpeter, comedian, music director of The Merv Griffin Show, and star of Run, Buddy, Runlet's take a look at one of his most famous roles, that of the eponymous Bill in the great Schoolrock House feature "I'm Just a Bill."


Sheldon, who died last month at age 88, ought to be remembered for more than this. Not only was he a very funny guy (as Merv's sidekick, he prefigures Paul Shaffer), he was a brilliant jazz musician. Here he is in a 1978 clip, performing "Rocky Raccoon" with Benny Goodman at Carnegie Hall—and I can't believe I just used "Rocky Raccoon," "Benny Goodman," and "Carnegie Hall" in the same sentence.


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January 13, 2020

What's on TV? Monday, January 14, 1980

Just as this is the first of several issues from 1980 that we'll be looking at this year, it's also the first of several that feature the programs from one of my favorite cities, Chicago. This particular issue is the Illinois-Wisconsin edition, so we have two major cities to work from; Milwaukee as well as Chicago. It may mean we'll have twice as many good shows, or it could double the mediocrity. We'll just have to see.

January 11, 2020

This week in TV Guide: January 12, 1980

As you're probably aware, I'm not a big fan of TV Guides from the 1980s. They just don't sing to me, if you know what I mean. However, it's occurred to me that self-improvement makes for a fine New Year's Resolution, and that a particularly good way to improve one's self is to challenge one's assumptions, to consider the possibility, however remote, that one could be wrong about some long-held opinions. It is, therefore, with that in mind that I've committed to write about at least three TV Guides from the year 1980, in hopes that some good, either personal or professional, might come from it.*

*These are also issues that I can look at for free on the Internet Archives, which constitutes a type of self-improvement of the budgetary kind.

We know we're in the 1980s just by looking at the cover, whicgh features two of the starts of one of the bigger hits of the era, CHiPs. The stars are Eric Estrada and Larry Wilcox, and I confess that I didn't give them must thought until I saw them appear together at the Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention a couple of years ago, when they proved to be a delight to listen to: charming, interesting, and very funny. That doesn't necessarily mean I'd automatically become a fan of CHiPs, but it does make it more likely I'd approach it without prejudice, which is not nothing.

This week's issue focuses on the "responsible" member of the duo, Wilcox, who confesses to Bill Davidson that he's got one eye on his post-CHiPs career, when he'll have more freedom. As an example, here's a recent day in the life of the co-star of a successful series: at 10:30 a.m., Wilcox has a scene in which he reads his first line of the day: "May I see your driver's license, please?" His second scene comes at 6:31 p.m., when he and Estrada do close-ups for chase scenes that have already been filmed. His second line of the day comes a half-hour later: "You've got traffic backed up to the freeway. What's this all about?" Shooting for the day ends at 7:30 p.m. So you want to be a TV star?

He's a complex young man who talks about his experiences in Vietnam and how he was affected by the murder of his sister; clearly. life is about more than acting. The previous season, Wilcox directed an episode of CHiPs; he says it was "much more fascinating being director Wilcox, planning eight scenes ahead, than being actor Wilcox." As an actor, it was his fondest hope to play Tom Jordache in Rich Man, Poor Man; when he lost out to Nick Nolte, he took the CHiPs role on the rebound. He's made a good living as an actor, and he's intensely loyal to his show, but still the challenges await, and when he thinks about his production company and the future that lies ahead, he can't help but wonder, "If a show about traffic cops can work. . ."

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With the TV season almost half over, Rick Cohen takes stock of the ratings race. ABC, the perennial third-place network, has been in first for four years, but CBS took the prize in the November sweeps, and the publicity department was so excited that they prepared a brochure proclaiming CBS as "The Intelligent Alternative—The Adult Alternative"; top executives were so shocked that they killed the brochure. "That's not the way we do things around here," one said.

Dallas has become a monster hit, five of the six shows on CBS's Sunday night schedule are in the top ten, and shows like Knots Landing and The White Shadow have provided strong ratings. For ABC, the news has been less encouraging; ratings are down almost a full point from last year, Laverne & Shirley has dropped from #1 last year to #23 this year, while Mork & Mindy has gone from #3 to #20 and Happy Days from #4 to #15. Their only new success has been Benson, which is only #24. And then there's NBC, which counts Real People and The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo among hits successes, and has high hopes for Sanford and The Big Show. Not too high, I hope.

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At the risk of sounding like a broken record (although some of you might think I’m cracked already), past issues are full of articles that we’d never see in a popular magazine today, let along the celebrity-obsessed pages of TV Guide. Whether this is a commentary on television, TV Guide, or both, I’ll leave to your discretion.

Case in point is this week’s “Background” article on PBS’s five-part Great Performances series on the French actor, playwright, and poet, Molière (1622-1673), written by poet and Molière translator Richard Wilbur. Molière, according to Wilbur, is probably the most versatile comic genius since Charlie Chaplin; not only did he write more than 30 stage pieces, he also acted as theater manager, director, and leading actor. And, as Wilbur notes, this doesn’t include such things as tennis and marriage, which he was also able to cram into his brief 51 years. His patron was Louis XIV, which helped him fend off some malicious gossip (such as the accusation that his wife, Armande, who was half his age, was actually his own daughter by his former mistress—and we thought people today were slanderous), as well as publish and produce his plays.

Molière’s work is primarily that of social comedy, set in “a world that is fundamentally orderly and good and governed by ‘natural’ laws and relationships.” The characters who bear the brunt of Molière’s humor are those who wind up being consumed by greed and avarice, pretentions, or power, and Molière’s goal is to show us how laughable these pretentions are, and how they risk upsetting society’s delicate balance.

Although there’s a temptation to look at Molière’s work as autobiographical, Wilbur tells us not to read too much into that; while “certain events and concerns of Molière’s life are reflected in his art,” it would be wrong to read them to learn more about his life, for “his art transforms [those events] utterly.” Neither is he a satirist, a philosopher, or a reformer; “while reflecting contemporary realities in a generalized way, he did not make direct attacks on real persons.” Even though “a few personal convictions do make themselves felt, Molière’s thought is on the whole the thought of comedy itself.” I wonder how contemporary comedians might feel about that. After all, here we are, talking about Molière almost 350 years after his death.

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I don’t usually stray outside of the Cleveland Amory era when writing about TV Guide’s reviews, but we’ll make an exception this week to look at Robert MacKenzie’s take on one of PBS’s landmark series: Free to Choose, the 10-part primer on economics hosted by Nobel Prize-winner Milton Friedman, one of the most highly-respected economists around. Friedman, whom MacKenzie identifies as “the last of the unrepentant free-market economists,” has for years urged the government to get out of the business of business, while, “everyone else—from corporation fatcats to stoop laborers—has been doing the opposite: demanding Government protection, subsidy and general tinkering in the marketplace.” Considering the situation we’re in, with “prices are going crazy and everyone getting poorer at a breathtaking rate,” MacKenzie is ready to think that perhaps Friedman has something at that.

The format of the show is straightforward: Friedman lectures on a topic, introducing real-life examples that serve to prove his point, and then follows it up with a discussion featuring guests who often disagree with his theories. In an episode on government deregulation, former Delaware governor Russell Peterson pointed out that market regulation helps evils like pollution, to which Friedman retorted that “Air and water are cleanest in the advanced countries.” It helps being the host.

MacKenzie points out gaps in Friedman’s theories, such as child labor laws, unemployment, and the 40-hour week. In fact, Friedman wasn’t against all government power; he believed in the role of the government to protect the nation from foreign enemies, and to provide law and order. His concern with welfare programs was that they could create welfare dependency, and required a different type of government policy, such as a negative income tax. Presumably, MacKenzie’s grasp of television is slightly stronger than it is of economics. Nonetheless, he concludes that this program, and Friedman’s theories, are “worth a listen. Who knows, they might even work.”

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I won't spend a lot of time on this, but we do have a matchup between The Midnight Special and Don Kirshner's Rock Concert. The Special features Isaac Hayes as host, with the Spinners, KC and the Sunshine Band, Kool & the Gang, and The Outraged and Outrageous comedy players, including Bruce Vilanch and Pat McCormack. Meanwhile the performers on Kirshner include Ashford & Simpson, Kansas, Michael Jackson, Brooklyn Dreams, Stephanie Mills and comic Garry Shandling. It's a close one, but I'll give the edge to Kirshner.*

*Milwaukee's WTMJ has last week's Special on Saturday night, which featured Dr. Hook as host, with Rupert Holmes, Cliff Richard, and Prince. Prince! If they knew what they had, he could have done the entire 90 minutes, without needing The Outraged and Outrageous comedy players to pad things out.

If you want music, you might want to check out the 7th annual American Music Awards instead (Friday, 8:00 p.m., ABC), hosted by Cher and Elton John, with an eclectic lineup featuring Peabo Bryson, Dottie West, Natalie Cole, Cheap Trick, Kenny Rogers, Charlie Daniels, Lionel Hampton, Michael Jackson, Chuck Berry, Eddie Rabbitt, the Captain & Tennilie, and Rick James. Seriously, if you can't find someone to listen to from that lineup, you might as well just give up.

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And now, the portion of our program that looks at highlights of the week.

Saturday: Remember the days when stars like Vince Edwards and Richard Chamberlain were able to spin their acting success into a musical career, and from that to their own variety special? This week it's Wonder Woman's turn, as Lynda Carter hosts her first special (7:00 p.m., CBS), with guests Kenny Rogers and Leo Sayer. ABC counters with a preview of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, with former Olympic champion Peggy Fleming and special music by Chuck Mangione! (Let's see, Lynda Carter or Chuck Mangione?) And a reminder that Jerry Lewis doesn't have the only long show in town; at 10:30 p.m., it's the start of the 29th United Cerebral Palsy telethon (WISN and WREX), with a cast of stars including John Ritter, Henry Winkler, Paul Anka, Gavin McLeod, Dick Van Patten, and Dennis James, the host of the telethon since its beginning in 1950. The show runs until 6:00 p.m. Sunday; unfortunately, telethons now seem to be a thing of the past. It would be better if it were the diseases that were a thing of the past.

Sunday: At 6:00 p.m., ABC presents a Closeup on the more than 200 Nazi war criminals reported to be living in the United States. Simon Wiesenthal is among the guests looking at efforts by the Justice Department to track down and bring to justice the fugitives, who avoided deportation because of "government indifference or negligence or through the efforts of influential friends or agencies that needed their brainpower." If that's too heavy for you (and the whole idea of the morality of war crimes trials is a fascinating, if grim, subject that we'l save for another day), you might think about tuning in to ABC's Sunday night movie, Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders II (8:00 p.m.) You might, that is, until you look at the cast; it’s a sad commentary that a movie dealing with “The Private Lives of the Most Gorgeous Girls in America” gives top billing to—John Davidson?

Monday: Dennis Weaver stars as Joseph Wambaugh in a new show, Stone. (8:00 p.m., ABC) Oh sure, they call him Daniel Ellis Stone, "a best-selling author-detective whose beat is so dangerous every case could be his final chapter!" We all know better, but if that’s the way they want it, that’s fine by me. The show's run: 10 episodes. (By the way, why does it seem as if the only people who go by three names are politicians, authors, and assassins?)

Tuesday: It's the exciting conclusion of Power (8:00 p.m., NBC), a two-part movie that is, according to Judith Crist, a "brazen rehash of Norman Jewison's 1978 F.I.S.T. with Joe Don Baker in the Sylvester Stallone role of a Chicago warehouse worker who rises to the top of the union. "Trouble is, Baker takes almost twice as long in this attenuated two-parter. (That will be no surprise to the writers at MST3K.) Unfortunately for us, while part one is "action-packed," tonight's part two is "padded and muddled."

Wednesday: "For Janet, having an affair is the only way to hold a marriage together." That's the tag line for If Things Were Different (8:00 p.m., CBS), a movie that sounds as if it should fit right in with the titillating fare that's so typical of made-for-TV movies from the era. Suzanne Pleshette stars as Janet, whose husband (Don Murray) is in a catatonic state after a nervous breakdown, leaving her to wonder if co-worker Tony Roberts might be able to tend to her, well, needs. I don't know; this could be a terrific movie, but it sure seems to me that Pleshette deserves better than this.

Thursday: Mork tries to reunite a father (Tom Posten) and his blind son (Tom Sullivan), whom he hasn't seen in 12 years, on a (very special?) Mork & Mindy (7:00 p.m., ABC) What else? Well, do you remember the series Skag? It's OK if you don't; it only ran for five episodes plus the pilot. It stars Karl Malden as a Pittsburgh steel worker, and Piper Laurie as his wife. On the CBS late movie, John Cassavetes is the killer du jour on Columbo (10:30 p.m.), an orchestra conductor who kills his mistress. (10:30 p.m.) Cassavetes is terrific playing off his old buddy Peter Falk, but he does one of the worst impressions of a conductor that I've ever seen. If you think that might bother you, flip over to The Tonight Show on NBC, where the great Benny Goodman is one of Johnny Carson's scheduled guests on The Tonight Show.

Friday: Art Carney and Lily Tomlin are outstanding in Robert Benton’s The Late Show (8:00 p.m., NBC). Carney plays an aging detective out to solve his partner’s murder, and Judith Crist says "you’re guaranteed the total pleasure of his company as an ailing, irascible man of heart and intelligence." It’s an affectionate homage to the Hammett-Chandler tradition of detective stories, but, being made in 1977, it also displays all the drawbacks of modern filmmaking, as Tomlin and Carney "are constantly interrupted by blood-soaked fatalities and violence. Present-day admirers of the genre would do well to take a blood count of the classics and see the superb restraint and power of suggestion that were used. It is a tribute to Carney that his performance emerges unsplattered."

And there's this programming note, appearing each evening before the 10:30 p.m. shows:


That update would, of course, become Nightline. But it does show that the roots of our present crises run very deep, don't they?

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Finally, here’s one of those situations that makes you realize entertainment executives are just like the rest of us—no smarter, at least. Last Friday, NBC showed us the movie Two-Minute Warning, an action/heist drama that garnered mostly negative reviews when it was released in 1976. That’s less than four years ago, yet—believe it or not—what we saw on Friday was, according to Rick Cohen, the third different version of the film:

“When NBC telecast the theatrical movie last February, it cut out about a half hour of the original footage, which was deemed too profane and violent. [How quaint.] Then, for a half-million dollars, NBC had the producer, Universal, shoot about an hour’s worth of new film and add new characters, a plot diversion and an identity for its sniper character. Now NBC has spent an additional $50,000 to shrink that three-hour TV version to two hours.” This, on top of the fee NBC presumably paid Universal for the rights to the movie in the first place.

And so, one has to wonder, might it not have cost just as much for the network to make a movie itself, about anything it wanted to, absolutely the way it wanted it to be? It certainly would have been easier, you’d think. Talk about trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. . . TV  

January 10, 2020

Around the dial

It's Friday, which means it's also time for us to take a spin around some of the classic TV blogs. Remember, you can find most of these over at the sidebar, and I'd encourage you to check them out weekly; even when I don't link to them, they have some great reading material.

I was a little young for Superman; I wasn't unfamiliar with the George Reeves version when I was growing up, but Underdog was probably more my speed back then, and it's a show I've never really gotten into. Which is why it's good for me to read an article like Rick's at Classic Film and TV Café on seven things to know about The Adventures of Superman.

Being a sucker for Christmas, I've always enjoyed Joanna's Christmas TV History blog, and now you can catch up on her activity from last year with this review of her 2019 podcasts, radio, and press appearances. I can't think of a better way to get back in the Christmas spirit.

For a show that lasted only one season, Jonny Quest has done pretty well at achieving iconic status. Martin Grams has always been a big fan of the 1964-65 series, so it's appropriate that this week he brings us a review of the BluRay release. Hint: if you like the show, you'll love the BluRay.

One of the simple pleasures of The Rockford Files was Noah Beery's memorable portrayal of Rockford's father, Rocky, but Those Were the Days reminds us that his resume includes a lot more than that. (I did not know, by the way, that Beery's paternal uncle was Wallace Beery. Where have I been?)

We keep hearing about how streaming has changed television forever, and certainly the TV landscape has evolved radically over a very short period of time, but The Wall Street Journal's John Jurgensen reminds us how old-school TV tactics helped make The Mandalorian a hit.

Finally, Buck Henry died this week, and it's a testament to his success and longevity that almost everyone has a different memory of him based on how old they are and when they started watching TV. (I always think, not of Get Smart, but of his samurai bits on SNL.The Land of Whatever brings us one of the more recent memories, from 30 RockTV