June 19, 2021

This week in TV Guide: June 18, 1954

It's rare that we have three unrelated articles providing a unified theme, but such is the case in this week's issue, and the thread that connects these stories is one that portrays a medium in the process of coming of age. It begins, appropriately, at the beginning.

Time Magazine once said of Ed Sullivan that "His smile is that of a man sucking a lemon." Why, then, does he look so happy on the cover of this week's issue, and on the pages inside? Perhaps it's because this Sunday, the master of the variety show begins his seventh season on television, and to fully appreciate the effect Sullivan has had on the young medium, one need only read the list of firsts ascribed to his show, Toast of the Town: "the first hour-long program on CBS; the network's first sponsored show; the first variety show to introduce guests from the audience and to integrate dramatic skits; the first to offer so-called 'spectaculars.'" This may not seem like a big deal today, but standards, like cliches, have to begin somewhere, and their point of origin is Ed Sullivan.

He's also responsible, according to TV Guide, for doing "more than anyone else" to bring Hollywood to television. Even back in 1949, he got permission from MGM to feature Luise Rainer recreating her Oscar-winning scene from the studio's movie The Great Ziegfield. Clips from other MGM movies were used in biography shows Ed did for Helen Hayes and Robert Sherwood. Sulliven also anticipated the current trend toward "spectaculars" back in 1951, with an all-star tribute to Oscar Hammerstein. "I was getting tired of the straight vaudeville format," he says of the theme shows, "and wanted to inject something new before the audience grew bored." His trademark of introducing stars from the audience began as a budget measure; "I figured if names make news, faces make news, too." The stars loved the publicity; Ed loved that he didn't have to pay for their appearance.

The star parade shows no signs of letting up; on the cover, Sullivan appears with Metropolitan Opera star Rise Stevens, and inside photos show him with Teresa Brewer, Ed Wynn, Patti Page and Tony Martin. Thus has it been, thus shall it be—every week, every year, the stars come out with Ed, and they stay with him until the show goes off the air 17 years later, in 1971.

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Speaking of those spectaculars, the concept was invented by Pat Weaver, in part because he believed that radio ratings had declined because listeners had tired of predictable weekly shows. He sought to avoid a similar problem in television by introducing lavish special programs, shot in color with big stars and big production budgets. As things turned out, though, viewers apparaently hadn't tired of predictable weekly shows, at least not yet. While some of Weaver's spectaculars succeeded—well, spectacularly—most of them didn't; CBS, by sticking to a regular schedule, moved ahead in the ratings race (ABC, of course, wasn't a factor), and Weaver was sacked in 1956. 

This, however, is not 1956, but 1954, and Bob Stahl's report to the Teletype is filled with talk of upcomng spectaculars that will "provide most of TV's excitement for next fall." (I wonder, by the way, when the term "special" became accepted? Maybe when they stopped being spectacular.) Broadway producer Leland Hayward's monthly series of Monday night shows on NBC, subsequently to be known as Producers' Showcase—you'll recognize the name from previous references here—has Mary Martin, David Niven and Joseph Cotton signed up for the first show alone, with appearances later in the season by Tyrone Power, Henry Fonda and Ethel Merman. and a story to be directed by Alfred Hitchcock. That not all of these came to fruition doesn't diminish the ambition in these plans.

I mentioned before that CBS's traditional scheduling won the ratings day over Weaver's spectaculars, but that doesn't mean the Tiffany Network was exempt from the genre; Bob Stahl's report touts Best of Broadway, set to run every fourth Wednesday in place of Blue Ribbon Bouts, and featuring current Broadway stars; looking at the shows that were eventually broadcast, the lineup included Helen Hayes, Buster Keaton, Claudette Colbert, Art Carney, Ethel Merman and Mary Astor. Pretty good, don't you think?

Producers' Showcase ran for three seasons on NBC, while Best of Broadway was on CBS for a single season. What one sees in these, though, goes beyond the number of broadcasts—am ambition for something new, something experimental. Something exciting. Maybe it's not possible to come up with anything like that today; maybe everything's already been done, and we're at the point where all we can offer are variants, with bolder storylines and bigger stars. Those are often rewarding in and of themselves, but the question remains: is there still anything new under the sun?

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That's not to say that everything's all hearts and flowers between the movie studios and television networks; far from it. In fact, this week's issue gives us several examples of how TV has become a punch line, or a punching bag, for some of Hollywood's most recent films. 

For instance, in the movie Top Banana, Phil Silvers ► plays an "ego-happy" television comedian—a broad caricature, "if that's possible," of Milton Berle. Judy Garland's character in her upcoming musical spectacular (to coin a phrase) A Star is Born is a struggling entertainer who, at one point, "sinks to the level of doing a TV commercial." And in the Judy Holliday movie It Should Happen to You, a TV "sensationalist" turns Judy into a figure of ridicule on panal and other shows.  

This is nothing new, of course; movies have long made fun of television staples such as quiz shows (Champaign for Caesar) and commercials (rightly so). Times will change, though; Phil Silvers, who did so well spoofing Milton Berle, goes on to quite a career in television himself, and the wistful conclusion of the article is prescient. "Some day," it reads, "the movies may discover the likes of Edward R. Murrow", and not only was the result Good Night and Good Luck, it was directed by someone (George Clooney) who made his name in television. But in the meantime, we shouldn't be so surprised that the movies are picking on easy targets, "TV is still a menace to the movie box office." And you don't make fun of things you don't feel threatened by. 

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In this issue of TV Guide, the week still begins on Friday, and Friday spells the end—the final episode—of Kate Smith's afternoon variety show. (2:00 p.m., NBC) Next week in this timeslot: Mrs. U.S.A. and Ask Washington. Meanwhile, keeping in the musical vein, Edward R. Murrow's guest on Person to Person is Guy Lombardo, who with his Royal Canadians makes "the sweetest music this side of heaven." (9:30 p.m., CBS)

Saturday, NBC covers the final holes of the U.S. Open Golf Championship, or the National Open, as it's often called, live from Baltusrol in Springfield, New Jersey, the first time the Open has ever been shown on television. (3:00 p.m.) Today is what used to be known as "Open Saturday," 36 holes to determine the champion, rather than the 18 holes played Thursday and Friday. Journeyman Ed Furgol wins his only major, defeating Gene Littler by a stroke to win a first prize of $6,000. First prize in 2020, on the other hand, was $2,250,000. But when it comes to the U.S. Open, it's not the check that counts; it's the money.

Also on Saturday, Ted Mack hosts the National Amateur Hour Talent Championships live from Madison Square Garden in New York. (7:30 p.m., NBC) Among the three-time winners featured is 19-year-old singer Pat Boone, from Nashville, Tennessee.

Sunday, the aforementioned Ed Sullivan celebrates the sixth anniversary of Toast of the Town with a program of comedic, dramatic, and artistic skits that review the show's history, as well as honoring the many stars who made their TV debuts on the program. (7:00 p.m., CBS) And Margaret Truman joins the panel on What's My Line?, subbing for the vacationing Dorothy Kilgallen. (9:30 p.m., CBS)

And now some odds and ends from the rest of the week:

On Monday, Billy Graham—no, not the evangelist—takes on Chris Christensen in a ten-round welterweight bout from Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn (8:30 p.m., DuMont). Graham, currently ranked #6 in the world, never wins the title, thanks to mob control of the reigning champ, Kid Gavilan, but wins 102 out of 126 career fights, and in 1960 appears on To Tell the Truth—not as himself, but as one of the imposters. By the way, Billy Graham was his real name.

Tuesday is a great day for guest stars: Carl Ballentine, in his magician guise, is the guest on Garry Moore's afternoon show (12:30 p.m., CBS); Ralph Bellamy plays a man refusing to pay the ranson to rescue his son from kidnappers in "Fearful Decision" on The United States Steel Hour (8:30 p.m., ABC); and Arthur Murray's Dance Party welcomes three guests from the Brooklyn Dodgers: Duke Snyder, Carl Erskine and Russ Meyer. Snyder and Erskine are among the Dodgers' all-time greats; Russ Meyer did not go on to make Beyond the Valley of the Dolls with Roger Ebert. 

I wrote about Don McNeil's Breakfast Club a few months ago, and on Wednesday the venerable show celebrates its 21st birthday on the air, having debuted on the radio on June 23, 1933. (8:00 a.m., ABC) In primetime, James Gregory plays a man struggling to adapt to life after being released from prison in "The Long Road Home" on Kraft Theater (8:00 p.m, NBC). And although you won't see it in TV Guide because it's a live show and the guest is always a surprise, actress-dancer Gilda Gray is the honoree on This Is Your Life (9:00 p.m., NBC). Not only was she a tuberculosis survivor, she also popularized a dance called the "shimmy," and raised funds for Poland during World War II.

David Niven is the star of the week, playing a dual role in "Finale" on Four Star Playhouse (Thursday, 7:30 p.m., CBS).  He is, of course, one of the titular four stars, the other three being Dick Powell, Charles Boyer, and Ida Lupino. Four stars, indeed.  

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"I enjoy watching The Plainclothesman every Sunday evening," writes Bernice Mackaitis of Calumet City, Illinois, "but I was wondering why they don't ever show the lieutenant's face. I think it would be much better if we got to see him, at least occasionally." And thus we begin a look at one of the more unusual programs in this week's issue—in fact, in this entire era of television.

I first heard of The Plainclothesman in the first edition of Brooks and Marsh's Complete Guide to Prime Time Network TV Shows, back around 1980 or 1981. I probably read that book from cover to cover, cumulatively, three or four times, absolutely fascinated by all the shows I hadn't heard of, as well as the ones that vaguely remembered but couldn't, in this pre-internet era, really prove had existed. I've bought updated versions of the Complete Guide in the years since, but none have captivated in the way that first edition did. I wish I hadn't gotten rid of it; while the current volume is more up-to-date, it's filled with hundreds of shows I don't care about.

But back to The Plainclothesman. It premiered October 12, 1949 on the DuMont network, something else that endlessly fascinated, and ran until September 12, 1954, or about three months after this issue of TV Guide. It was television's first police procedural, though you couldn't prove that by me, but even though it was the first, it apparently still felt it had to rely on a gimmick. In this case, the gimmick, as you might have gathered, was that the face of the show's star, Ken Lynch ("The Lieutenant"), never appeared on camera.* The entire series was shot from his point-of-view, meaning that, as Brooks and Marsh put it, "The technique was camera-as-actor… If he lit his cigar, a hand (his) came toward the camera with a lighted match (even the tip of his cigar could be seen jutting out at the bottom of the screen); if he was knocked down, the viewer looked up from floor level." 

*OK, there was one episode in which his face was seen via a flashback. The arms and hands that appeared belonged to Lynch, though, which meant he "often had to climb on the sides of the camera, or kneel underneath it for long periods of time."

As Cary O'Dell points out, it almost certainly was inspired by The Lady in the Lake, the Philip Marlowe drama starring Robert Montgomery, which came out in 1947; and if it's true that DuMont did this to keep costs down (since they didn't have to pay as much to an actor who wasn't seen), it still proved to be surprisingly effective and creative. Here's a look at one of only four episodes that are thought to still exist (and the only one on YouTube):

There are literally hundreds of stories like this in the Complete Guide, of programs you may or may not have heard of, of plots unique or cliched, of behind-the-scenes details that in some cases are even more interesting that the programs from which they come. It's what got me interested in the history of television, and even though it took me 25 years to figure out it's what I should be writing about, it still grabs me today; and I get the greatest pleasure out of sharing it with everyone who'll listen. TV  

June 18, 2021

Around the dial

It's time for a new focus for the Hitchcock Project at bare•bones e-zine and this one is top-notch: William Link and Richard Levinson. This week, Jack looks at their first Hitchcock script: the season seven episode "Services Rendered," adapted from their own short story.

Fire-Breathing Dimetroden Time reviews two episodes from the sixth series of the fanciful British show Worzel Gummidge, with Jon Pertwee as the titular scarecrow. Follow the links at the end of the story to check out other (perhaps better?) episodes from the series.

At The Twilight Zone Vortex, Brian continues the consideration of the show's final season with the episode "Steel," written by Richard Matheson and starring Lee Marvin in an memorable performance—a testament to the indefatigable spirit of man.

When I was growing up, daytime television meant three things: a matinee movie, game shows, and soap operas. I never watched the soaps myself except insofar as my mother had them on, but I knew all about them, and David has a fond remembrance of them at this week's Comfort TV. Daytime comfort indeed.

Last time we visited Bob Crane: Life & Legacy, we were previewing Linda's appearance on Autopsy: The Last Hours of Bob Crane. This week, in the latest episode of their podcast Flipside: The True Story of Bob Crane, Carol and Linda look at where Autopsy scored, and where it missed the mark.

At Cult TV Blog, John looks at "A Man for Emily," the episode of The Tomorrow People that, as John says, marks the point at which the show "went off the wall." On the other hand, it has Peter Davison, and how many times do we have two mentions of former Doctor Whos in one article?

The Broadcasting Archives links to an interesting article at Current on "how public broadcasting overcame early setbacks to become a national institution." Having gone through so many TV Guides from the early 1960s, it's remarkable to see how the programming evolved over the years.

Television Obscurities has been tracking the status of episodes from Kraft Television Theatre, the venerable anthology that ran from 1947 to 1958 and was the oldest surviving television program when it left the air. The output of that show is remarkable compared to modern shows; since it never took a summer break, there were 585 episodes over those 11 seasons.

I remember how much of a landmark The Flip Wilson Show was when it debuted back in 1970. It was an interesting show, not only because of Wilson's stable of colorful characters and his big-name guests, but also because of it's theater-in-the-round type of set, its logo—everything just screamed modern. Read about it this week at A Shroud of ThoughtsTV  

June 16, 2021

What I've been watching: May, 2021

Shows I’ve Watched:

Shows I’ve Found:
Stoney Burke
Johnny Staccato
Mike Hammer, Private Eye
The Search for Ulysses
Michelangelo: The Last Giant
The Twilight Zone: The
  Complete Series

Xhere was a time, back in what we might call the “Peak Era of TV on DVD,” when it was possible for just about any program from the classic era to wind up in disc, no matter how unlikely, no matter that there had been no great popular demand to see it, as long as the elements existed. That doesn’t mean that the series wasn’t a good one, nor does it mean that it didn’t have its devoted followers; it’s just that it wasn’t what you might call a “legacy” show, a hit from years past without which no classic television library would be complete.

Such a series is Stoney Burke (ABC, 1962-63 season), a contemporary Western set in the world of the professional rodeo circuit, starring Jack Lord in his pre-Steve McGarrett days. And, in fact, Stoney Burke is a show that’s often better than good, and occasionally very, very good. It’s produced by Leslie Stevens, who was also responsible for The Outer Limits, which means at the very least the episodes, even the ones that fall short, are going to be intelligent.

Stoney Burke is a young saddle bronc rider whose goal is to make it big by winning the world championship, and the series follows him from the beginning of the season through the individual rodeos that make up the circuit. It means visiting lots of smaller cities and towns in the West and Southwest, and even on one occasion a prison (and you can guess how that story worked out). Assisting him on the way is Warren Oates, who plays Ves Painter, a shady, often untrustworthy worker of odd jobs. It would be an exaggeration to call him a friend of Stoney’s, but it wouldn’t be quite right to consider him an antagonist, either; perhaps more like Angel in The Rockford Files, if that makes sense. Also among the supporting cast are Bruce Dern, in a rare television role, as E.J. Stocker; and Robert Dowdell (Cody Bristol), whom fans will recognize from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Both E.J. and Cody are friends of Stoney, and all three supporting actors are excellent, especially Oates and Dern, who give instant credibility to any television Western, even one set in modern times.

Clockwise from left: Robert Dowdell, 
Jack Lord, Warren Oates and Bruce Dern 
One of the interesting things about Stoney Burke is that, in many ways, it’s a series completely typical of its time. By that, I mean that the plot often revolves around guest stars facing one challenge or another, with Stoney somehow finding himself caught up in their story. In one instance, an old friend of Stoney’s (Jacqueline Scott) finds herself alone, depressed, and on the verge of giving birth, while her unreliable absentee husband (Albert Salmi, which tells you all you need to know) is off trying to make a living. Predictably, she begins to substitute Stoney for her hubby; importantly, Stoney does not reciprocate. He knows his place in their friendship, knows the role he has to play in her moment of vulnerability, but more important, knows the role that her husband, the father of her son, has to play. Salmi is always good playing a man you like to dislike, but the script, if it does not reform him, at least allows him some room for possible growth, and the ending is a hopeful one. It would be easy to see this kind of a plot on The Fugitive, Dr. Kildare, or the other quasi-anthologies of the era.

Even when Stoney does play the central role, as in the prison episode I mentioned earlier, in which he and a young woman are kidnapped by a man busting out (Ed Nelson, who’s very good), he has a way of drawing the fugitive’s story out, making him more than a simple character and providing us with an ending that is predictable only because the character development suggested it as the only possible way it could end. Even the disreputable Ves is given an episode of his own, when he's falsely accused of murder and Stoney finds himself defending his frienemy, at times against his better judgment.    

You’re probably wondering how Jack Lord does as a cowboy, and the answer is: pretty good. He’s still Steve McGarrett: incorruptible, virtuous, solid as a rock and ramrod straight. (You can take the boy out of the island, but you can't take the island out of the boy.) As it happens, these are pretty good traits to have if you’re a cowboy, and it makes him a natural leader of the others. It’s true that Lord has never been an actor of great versatility, but he gives you the kind of performance you’re looking for in a show like this. At times the cowboy vernacular sounds a little awkward coming from him; Lord as an actor is too well-spoken for it to sound completely natural when he starts dropping his g’s and using words like “reckon,” but it doesn’t jump the shark either. And you don’t worry about something happening to him, which is a good quality for a hero to possess. 

I mentioned at the outset that Stoney Burke comes from Leslie Stevens, which means Daystar Productions, which means composer Dominic Frontiere; and while the show's theme is appropriately Western, many of the music cues in each episode come from other Daystar shows like The Outer Limits. It often gives the show a decidedly non-Western feel. You might find that strange (I still remember hearing Sea Hunt music on Highway Patrol), but it works, because at heart Stoney Burke is not really a Western; it's a drama about men who still live a life of hard work and independence. (One of the best episodes features Stoney being wooed by a wealthy man, played by smarmy Robert Webber,  who promises him a future of security and success—at the cost of being his own man.) It's always nice to see a show you've only known from TV Guide, and most of the time Stoney Burke gives you a smooth ride.

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And then there's Mike Hammer, Private Eye (Syndicated, 1997-98). It's the third of the three iterations of Hammer as played by Stacy Keach, and we'll start with the good news since that won't take all that long. Keach has what it takes to play the rough-and-tumble detective; he wears the role comfortably, he sounds like Hammer, and he acts like Hammer—that is, when he's allowed to. And therein lies the rub.

If you're familiar with Mike Hammer, you probably know that the Mickey Spillane novels are among the most violent stories in the pulp fiction oeuvre. Hammer is a loner, skilled with his gun and his fists, distrustful of a legal system that he believes is too protective of the criminal, attracted by and irrestible to the ladies, but truly trusting only in his secretary and love of his life, Velda. For Mike Hammer, the only good criminal is a dead one. 

If you're familiar with Darren McGavin's version of Hammer from the late 1950s, you probably know that the show was criticized, even by McGavin, for being overly violent, with Hammer routinely shooting, punching, or kicking the bad guys in every episode. 

This, however, is a kinder, gentler Mike Hammer, a Hammer for the 1990s. He gets beaten up at least once in each episode (unlikely) by criminals who catch him offguard (extremely unlikely) before he tracks down the perp, whom he frequently hands over to the authorities (impossible). He's aided in his efforts by young Nick Ferrell (Shane Conrad, son of Robert), whose policeman father was killed in the first episode. Nick is pleasant enough in a bland sort of way, but aside from shooting a few crooks over the course of the season, he doesn't really provide any value other than demonstrating why the real Mike Hammer works alone.

The one major advantage we do have is the inclusion of Velda, who was inexplicably left out of the McGavin version. Velda is played by Shannon Whirry, who most certainly has the figure for Velda. What she doesn't have, for the most part, is the edginess and spark of the literary Velda. That Velda, you have to remember, is a licensed private detective in her own right, who packs heat and knows how to use it. She's also crazy about Mike; she knows his dalliances, but also knows that in the long run they mean nothing to him. Whirry's Velda, while delightful to look at, is more of an office manager/private secretary; she isn't above a little undercover work to unearth a clue, but she doesn't look like the kind who could drill you between the eyes with one shot, and the sexual chemistry between her and Hammer is virtually non-existent, to the point that you're not even sure if it's supposed to be there. 

The stories themselves are generic, run-of-the-mill mysteries, with none of the grimy, unsavory elements of the novels. They're frequently blandly written, the production values are on the cheap side, and the logic applied by the police in the course of their investigations is sloppy at best. (And by the way, there's no sign in this series of Lieutenant Pat Chambers, Hammer's old friend and occasional opponent. Instead, for reasons that are apparently none of our business, his police contact is Captain Skip Gleason, played with bluster but without inteligence by Peter Jason. And each episode features plenty of what sportswriter Dan Jenkins called "shapley adorables," most of whom are far too young for the mature Mr. Keach. 

The whole thing is disappointing, not just because I love the Hammer books (which I do), but because it's such a waste of intellectual property. Here you are, with the rights to one of the greatest fictional detectives in history, one whose sense of justice often borders on the sadistic, and you completely take away from him what makes him larger than life: you let him get punched around and ambushed by two-bit punks, you turn him into a more sensitive, more modern man (although he does still wear a fedora),  you seldom allow him the violent latitude that he's known for, and you stick him in stories worthy of The Snoop Sisters. I'm still willing to give the earlier versions of Keach's Hammer (both from the 1980s) a try; at the very least, having both been on CBS, they're likely to have higher production values.

And before you remind me that commercial television would never allow the level of violence found in, for example, Armand Assante's portrayal in the often-brilliant I, the Jury, I'd point out that McGavin's Hammer was, pound for pound, more violent than this one. Even without the sadism, the viewer doesn't come away from a given episode with any real sense of what it is that makes Mike Hammer one of the most feared men in New York City. 

That's more than just bad; it's a crime. What we need now is a good detective to investigate it.  TV  

June 14, 2021

What's on TV? Saturday, June 11, 1955

Xow did I choose this particular date for this week's listings? Well, in truth, not much changes in television from one week to the other, especially over the period of a few months in the middle of the television season. And as I look back on some previous issues from 1955, I see that I've already done Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, which narrows the range somewhat. And since daytime shows are pretty consistent across the week, that leads me to bypass Monday in favor of the weekend offferings. So Saturday it is, which brings some pleasures of its own, as you can see in these Chicagoland listings. And something else to note: for the first time in our perusal of these 1955 issues, the television week begins on Saturday, rather than the Friday we've seen in the past. It becomes a TV Guide tradition for decades.

June 12, 2021

This week in TV Guide: June 11, 1955

What's this? Another Liberace? Could it be the famous pianist Chandell and his evil twin brother, the archfiend Harry, back to terrorize Gotham City? Close, but not quite; the "other" Liberace to which this week's cover referrs is George, Lee's brother, and he plays not the piano, but the violin. In fact, he was good enough to be first violin with his hometown Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, before setting out on the big band circuit.

It wasn't until 1947 that George joined up with Lee; "Up to that time," George says, "he couldn't afford me." George became Lee's musical director (paid, of course), and today the two are equal partners in the million-dollar Liberace Enterprises, with George handling "music selections, business details, lighting, the Bel Canto Publishing Co., the payroll—and the violin." He'll continue with his brother, often serving as the straight man, before touring the country in the 1960's with his own band. Eventually he retires from conducting in the late 1970's and moves to Las Vegas, where he manages the Liberace Museum until his death in 1983. 

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Well, that was a fun way to start this week's issue, wasn't it? Here's some more fun for you: the debut of NBC's famous radio program Monitor, which introduces itself to the public via a one-hour television simulcast on Sunday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. The brainchild of NBC president Pat Weaver, Monitor is perhaps the most audactious idea in radio history, aside from the invention of radio itself: a continuous, 40-hour program running from Saturday morning to Sunday midnight, featuring some of the biggest names in entertainment presenting literally everything: news, sports, comedy, live concerts, interviews with celebrities, recorded music, and remote reports from around the world—in other words, a show that will become known for "going places and doing things." Weaver describes his baby as a "kaleidoscopic phantasmagoria," but settled on Monitor as a much simpler name. It is a last-ditch effort to save network radio, to offer something that viewers can't get on television, and it uses that very medium to make the introductions.

The first regular full-length show will be next weekend, but in this Sunday preview (the radio broadcast will run another seven hours, until midnight ET), Weaver appears at the outset to introduce the program and explain the concept, before turning the reins over to the first Monitor host (or "communicator," as they would be known), none other than Today's Dave Garroway, the master communicator himself. This very first broadcast takes its audience from New York City to Hermosa Beach, California; Bucks County, Pennsylvania; San Quentin Prison; the Catskills (for a Martin & Lewis performance); and a jazz club in Chicago. We also get to meet some of the show's regulars, including Bob & Ray, sportscaster Red Barber, literary critic Clifton Fadiman, and Morgan Beatty with the news.

Monitor survives, in various forms, until 1975, and the story of this program can be found at this great website, as well as by reading Dennis Hart's book Monitor: The Inside Story of Network Radio's Greatest Program, which I reviewed for this website here

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Monitor isn't the only radio program making the crossover to television this week; on Saturday, NBC presents a half-hour of the legendary Grand Ole Opry (7:00 p.m.), from the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. Minnie Pearl, Ernest Tubb, and Faron Young are among the performers appearing on the broadcast; unlike Monitor, Grand Ole Opry remains on radio Saturday nights to this day, the longest-running radio broadcast in U.S. history.

Sunday night we see another debut, that of the Colgate Variety Hour, successor to Colgate's long-running Comedy Hour (7:00 p.m., NBC). The inaugural episode, as well as next week's, is hosted by that famed variety show host Charlton Heston. Yes, I had a hard time envisioning that as well, but I suppose it's no stranger than the host turn done on July 24 by Jack Webb, although that one is really a plug for the upcoming Pete Kelly's Blues. But anyway, to get back to this week, Chuck's guests include Sarah Vaughan, Vera-Ellen, and Jimmy Stewart, and includes a salute to the Strategic Air Command. Next year the show will be replaced by The Steve Allen Show. Off we go, I guess. But I can't escape without mentioning G.E. Theater (8:00 p.m., CBS), in which Mike Wallace plays an American tourist in Capri.

On Monday, Art Carney ► and Leora Dana star in "The Incredible World of Horace Ford" on Studio One. (9:00 p.m., CBS). Many of you sharp-eyed fans out there may recognize this title, but not from tonight's broadcast or cast; Reginald Rose's teleplay also appears as a fourth-season episode of The Twilight Zone in 1963, with Pat Hingle and Nan Martin in the lead roles. There is, of course, a story behind this, as recounted at The Twilight Zone Vortex. Apparently, there was no little amount of confusion regarding the ending of this story; not only was it a downbeat ending, it also dabbled in time-travel, leaving viewers angry and puzzled as to what happened. (In fact, the network received a flood of complaints from viewers following the airing). When "Horace Ford" was revived for The Twilight Zone, the network was comfortable that viewers would appreciate the fantasy element, but producer Herbert Hirschman asked Rose to give the story a more optimistic conclusion. It was a request with which Rose was happy to comply; as he pointed out later, the story had already been shown the way he wanted it, so he had no problem changing it.

Tuesdsay, Armstrong Circle Theater (8:30 p.m., NBC) presents a conundrum that must have been rather interesting for viewers of the time: a congresswoman is torn between her husband, a foreign correspondent returning from a yearlong assignment, and a reelection bid that would enable her to pass a bill of great personal importance. The listing describes it as a story of a woman "torn between her duties to her country and to her husband," which I suspect would make feminists bristle today. The point is, this is an episode that would be nearly impossible to truly appreciate outside of the context in which it was originally written and shown; there's just too much cultural baggage from the subsequent 65 years for us to view it objectively today.

Sometimes a line of text just jumps out at you, as was the case with Wednesday's Tonight Show with Steve Allen (11:00 p.m., NBC). In addition to jazz pianist Erroll Garner and singer Bob Manning, "The voice of hospitalized Gene Rayburn* [Steve's sidekick] is beamed in to give us the latest sports scores and weather reports, with an assist from a pretty in-studio assistant." Given that people back then were often hospitalized for things that a doctor might take care of in his office today, I still wonder what that was all about? But if you're not as curious as I am, you might have watched Norman Ross Presents (Channel 7, 11:00 p.m.). Tonight's story: "A Man and His Kite—Ben Franklin."

◄ *Fun fact: In addition to hosting game shows, Gene Rayburn would go on to be a very popular host for several years on Monitor.
An assortment of shows on Thursday, starting with Dragnet (8:00 p.m., NBC), in which Friday and Smith spend New Year's Eve responding to an "officer needs help" call. As I recall, that does not end well. On ABC at the same time, it's Star Tonight, presenting "Strength of Steel," a drama written by Rod Serling (best-known at that point for "Patterns") about a young Army wife and her uneasy relationship with her father-in-law. David Niven stars in Four Star Playhouse (8:30 p.m., CBS) as a priest who must learn to forgive the Indians who tortured him for two years. And in the WGN late-night movie (10:30 p.m.), Tom Conway stars as a lawyer in "I Cheated the Law." You can be sure the law won.

It's not that I have a heart of stone, but I've gotten tired of those "surprise" reunions over the years, where a serviceman or woman returns home from a tour and surprises the spouse and/or kids. A little sentimentality goes a long way, you know. Anyway, what got me thinking on these lines is Art Linkletter's House Party (Friday, 1:30 p.m., CBS), in which Art and his crew film a serviceman's wife and the child he has never seen, to send overseas for the soldier-father. Nowadays you're talking about a Zoom or Skype call, or FaceTiming someone, but in 1955 it required a television show to shoot a film and send that film overseas in order to bring a family together. And I think that's worth getting sentimental over.

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That smiling cowgirl on this week's cover is Gail Davis, star of Annie Oakley, the syndicated Western series that will run for three seasons before going to weekend reruns on ABC. (A nice note from the always-reliable Wikipedia: "Except for depicting the protagonist as a phenomenal sharpshooter of the period, the program entirely ignores the facts of the historical Oakley's life.")

The protege of none other than the Singing Cowboy himself, Gene Autry, Davis has proven that she can handle a both a horse and a gun; she owns Target, the horse that viewers will be seeing in next season's shows ("He's still got a lot to learn"), and Autry, who produces the show, says that "Gail shoots very well, and she's getting better all the time." She's also a popular attraction on personal appearance tours.

Davis hails from Little Rock and graduated from the University of Texas, so playing the role of the cowgirl came easily to her. Six years ago, she came to Hollywood, where she made her debut in Van Johnson's The Romance of Rosy Ridge. She only had one line—"Hello, there"—but she had to say it to Van six times. "It wasn't a line you could do much with," she says, "but I did manage to give it six different inflections." Her big break came with the 1950 Autry flick Cow Town, the first of 15 Autry movies in which she's appeared. Autry had been looking to develop a female counterpart for many years, one that girls could identify with, but once Davis appeared, "I didn't have any more problems." 

Despite all this, Gail's career is a relatively brief one. Almost all of the movies she appeared in were Westerns (29 of 32 at one point), and most of her guest-starring roles on TV wer in the same genre, although she did play Thelma Lou's cousin on The Andy Griffith Show. "I tried to find other acting work," she would say, "but I was so identified as Annie Oakley that directors would say, 'Gail, I'd like to hire you, but you're going to have to wait a few years, dye your hair and cut off your pigtails." A career-limiting role, perhaps, but it earned her a place in the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame; how many of us out there can say that?

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Some quick notes:

Soap operas, which migrated from radio to television, are enormously popular, and prove to be a successful buy for soap and cereal sponsors. The networks are trying to give the shows a veneer of respectability, though; according to Bob Stahl's article, these shows (many of which are still 15 minutes long) are now to be called "daydramas." The truth remains that, no matter what you call them, they still "accent human misery," with storylines that boast "Suicides and murders that would rate time on Dragnet, love affairs that would interest Dr. Kinsey and surgery gripping enough for Medic."

And it's those love affairs that have attracted the ire of Harriet Spoon of South Beloit, Illinois, who writes to TV Guide: "Isn't it about time those borderline situations on the daytime serials were cleaned up? If the heroine has to drool over a man, she shouldn't pick one who is married. A lot of housewives like me are gtting sick of the lack of respect TV shows for marriage." It's nice to report that there's not nearly as much sex on soap operas nowadays. Not that the soaps have improved; there are just fewer of them.

And now, something from the teletypes: Ida Lupino, who's one of the four stars on Four Star Theater, is branching out into her own series with husband Howard Duff. Here, it's called Mr. and Mrs., but when it makes it to CBS in 1957, it's called Mr. Adams and Eve.

For years viewers have complained about popular TV shows being scheduled opposite each other, but there's reason to take heart: CBS says next season's ten full-color, 90 minute Saturday night specials will not be shown on the same Saturdays as Max Liebman's NBC Saturday night spectaculars. I'm not going to make the expected comment about the lack of DVRs—no, I'm just remembering the days when networks had big specials on Saturday night, instead of sports and reruns. Either way, it labels me as old.

And since we began with Liberace, we'll end the same way: Dorothy Malone has been signed to appear opposite Lee in his feature film debut, Sincerely Yours. The movie, unlike Liberace's television career, is a bomb—so much so that, according to Robert Osborne, by the time the movie made it to Seattle, "the billing was altered even more: Joanne Dru, Dorothy Malone, and Alex Nicol above the title (with big head shots of all three) and below the title in much smaller letters: 'with Liberace at the piano'." Lee was said to have been shaken by the whole experience, but I don't think we should feel too sorry for him; after all, in responding to a nasty review of his stage show, he famously replied, "My brother George and I cried all the way to the bank." TV  

June 11, 2021

Around the dial

A reminder that the latest episode of Eventually Supertrain is up, as Dan and I continue our episode-by-episode look at Search. Stick around for other segments on The Singing Detective and Planet of the Apes; you won't want to miss it.

From Bob Crane: Life & Legacy, a note that for those of you who get Starz, this coming Sunday at 9:00 p.m. ET, Bob Crane co-biographer Linda Groundwater appears on Autopsy: The Last Hours of... Bob Crane, helping set the record straight on the many misconceptions that continue.

It's the monthly roundup of YouTube finds at Television Obscurities, with some very interesting clips—from Roller Derby in1949 to the 2004 ABC special “The Best TV Shows That Never Were.” A great snapshot of television history, don't you think?

We spent much of last year celebrating the blog's 10th season, but Terence has been at it for 17 years at A Shroud of Thoughts. Take a look at some of the highlights of the past year, and here's hoping he keeps it up for many more years.

To me, the TV series Flipper meant one thing: Flipper was the mascot of the Miami Dolphins football team, and in the Dolphins' home stadium, the Orange Bowl, there was a giant dolphin pool behind one of the end zones. That tells you what kind of childhood I had; as for the series, read more about it at Drunk TV

That does it for a quiet week that makes up for it in quality; back tomorrow with a pretty good TV Guide that I think you'll enjoy. TV  

June 9, 2021


don't know how many of you are old enough to remember "Point Counterpoint," the feature that ended each episode of 60 Minutes before Andy Rooney took over that spot. In "Point Counterpoint," two journalists—one liberal, the other conservative—would discuss an issue; one began with the point, the other made the counterpoint. (Get it?)  Unlike today's shoutfests, it was exceedingly genteel; both sides of the issue were represented, each got to speak uninterrupted, and that was it.

The two best-known participants in "Point Counterpoint," at least to my mind, were James J. Kilpatrick on the right, and Shana Alexander on the left. If you've ever seen the "Weekend Update" bit on Saturday Night Live where Dan Ackroyd calls Jane Curtin an "ignorant slut," this is what they're satirizing, although Kilpatrick was far too civilized to ever call Alexander anything like that, nor would she have responded in kind. Of course, they weren't as funny as Jane and Dan, either.

Anyway, the reason for this digression is that I got a very nice email recently from a loyal reader who wanted to provide a rebuttal—a civilized rebuttal, I should add—to something I wrote recently. As we're always up for a good debate here, I was only to happy to oblige. After all, it gets kind of tiresome living in an echo chamber. And when it's as well thought out as this is, it deserved a place not in the comments section, but as a stand-alone piece. It is the author's request to remain anonymous, but this person is a trustworthy source. 

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I'd like to respond to a statement in your May 22 post:

"I think that's a fair point, and ultimately what the editors are saying is that the media has to exercise responsible restraint in how much of a story they tell, while still ensuring that the story itself is told. Not an easy task, but one would assume that teaching this kind of responsibility is what you should get in journalism school.

"And if you thought that, you'd probably be wrong."

As a faculty member of a journalism school, having worked as a reporter and having spent the last 20 years in the academy, please let me speak in defense of my profession.

First, I can promise you that ethics and responsibility are covered in several courses across our curriculum. In fact, programs accredited by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC) are required to incorporate ethics, criticism and reasoning into the programs in order to stay accredited. Even programs too small to be accredited will work ACEJMC-style standards into what they do. Codes of ethics such as the Society of Professional Journalists' Code are also commonly covered in coursework, featured in syllabi, and displayed on classroom walls. I can also promise you that if I catch a student journalist cutting corners or acting unethically, they get to have a very memorable one-sided conversation in my office. I can assure you I'm not the only one who does this.

From experience, I would suggest your criticism is better aimed at the broadcast industry. The economic and business pressures that prompt the relentless drive to be first with the story, to get the exclusive, to fill endless hours with content (no matter how dubious the value), and the need to post high ratings to satisfy the corporate ownership. When you are a newly-graduated junior reporter or producer with no seniority, who beat out a dozen other applicants with your exact qualifications, and you need to keep that job, you learn how the game is played if you want to stay employed.

I have been in the company of enough broadcasters and executives to know there are very good people in the business, and then some that I'd rather not talk about. I have had positive experiences with some of our local broadcasters, and I've also had some experiences that remind me why one should never watch sausage being made. I have to maintain good relations with them for professional reasons, so I can't get into details or say anything personally identifiable.

Those of us who devote our lives to training tomorrow's journalists do our very best to root our students in a strong ethical and moral system. We believe in what we do, and we believe in the purpose that responsible journalism has in a democracy. We do our very best to make our students understand that. But when they leave the academy, it's a different world, and the people they answer to aren't us.

Thank you,

(name redacted)

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Mitchell here. First of all, I think this is great. The internet needs to provide more opportunities for open and honest discussion without degenerating into vicious incoherence. And I'm always open to efforts to change my mind, or at least illuminate my way of thinking. 

As to the argument itself, I think there are some valid points. One point on which I'd agree with our guest is that the broadcast media, in particular, is struggling. Many have seemed to exchange accuracy for an increase in ratings, a desire to play to their constituency. I don't have the desire to get into an ideological screed here, so I'll just say that there are examples on both the left and the right, although I do think one side is more egregious than the other. (Note Jake Tapper's comments to the New York Times Podcast that he refuses to book Republicans who believe the election was tampered with, only to have several Republicans belonging to that category claim that Tapper's show has, indeed, tried to book them recently. True, Tapper, whom I've always liked, replied that he wasn't always aware of what his bookers were doing—but then you should be careful what you say.) 

Another point I'd make is that a solid liberal arts education is a key to a good education in journalism . Too many journalists, especially the ones based on the coasts, show a lack of understanding about the rest of the country, which invariably has an effect on their reporting. You need to be more well-rounded; you need to think outside your own experiences. But with the liberal arts under attack on many college campuses (for various reasons), prospective journalists are missing just what they need just when they need it. I don't remember who it was who said it, but the jist of the comment was that "too many schools have replaced a core curriculum in liberal arts with job training and specialization." And that goes for all areas of study, not just journalistic ones.

Anyway, this is a great topic, one that could certainly fill a book. Do any of you out there have an opinion? One of the reasons I'm no longer involved in politics is that civil discussion has become almost impossible, but that will never be the case here. TV  

June 7, 2021

What's on TV? Thursday, June 8, 1967

Tonight's listings include one of the all-time classic Star Trek episodes, "Shore Leave," in which Captain Kirk and his crew beam down to the surface of a planet where they soon encounter a white rabbit, friends from the past, and other characters: some of them deadly. It's part of a colorful night of television that includes the return of the Lucy-Desi Hour, with crossover guest stars Danny Thomas and his TV family; and the conclusion of a Batman story featuring Roddy McDowall as the Bookworm. And for the nightowls out there, there's the short-lived Bill Dana-hosted Las Vegas Show, a two-hour challenger to Carson and Bishop that was the first and only program on the equally short-lived United Network. A pity, as it was said to have been very good. Oh well, as you can see from this Minnesota State Edition, some stations were lucky enough to carry it.