August 4, 2021

The home of tomorrow, today

we spend a lot of time looking back at the past in an effort to understand it, but it can be just as enlightening to consider how the past viewed the future. Does our present look anything like the future that was imagined in the past?

For example, the computers in Star Trek look laughably primitive when compared to the technology of today (which is probably one reason why the remastered versions of the series have upgraded special effects). In fact, today's technology has far surpassed what Gene Roddenberry & company imagined; there's probably more power in an iPhone than there was running the Enterprise. Sometimes it seems as if we're afraid to let our imaginations truly run wild and imagine the possibilities. On the other hand, we still don't have the flying cars from The Jetsons.

Before pro football completely took over Sunday afternoons, CBS had a long-running documentary series called The 20th Century, which took a look back at the major historical events of the century. In January 1967 the show changed both its title and focus; renamed The 21st Century, the program now looked forward to what the future might have in store.

In that light, I'm reminded of David Gelenter's book 1939: The Lost World of the Fairin which Gelenter reminds us that much of the scientific progress on display at the 1939 World's Fair was designed for one purpose: to make our lives easier. Not that there weren't world-altering inventions on display, but we shouldn't underestimate the importance attached to such technological marvels as the washer and dryer or the refrigerator. We may take them for granted now, but these were major accomplishments.

With that in mind, let's take a look at this episode of The 21st Century from March 1967, in which Walter Cronkite hosted this episode, entitled "At Home: 2001." How much do you think they got right?


August 2, 2021

What's on TV? Wednesday, August 6, 1969

Network television had, by 1969, converted almost entirely to color. (And if you don't think it's a pain putting the little "C" after all these shows, you've got a nother think coming. Someone at TV Guide must hve felt the same way, because it isn't long after this that they start labeling those few shows that air in black-and-white instead.) You'll notice, though, that there are still a handful of daytime programs, mostly reruns, from the pre-color era. Most educational programming is still in B&W, and so are some local programs. And, of course, so is Stock Market Report on WIBF, where you don't need color to tell you that you're stocks are in the black; the Dow ends the day up 4.70, closing at 825.90. By comparison, this last Friday the market closed at  32,627.97—it's not just TV changing over the years. This week's listings are from Philadelphia.

July 31, 2021

This week in TV Guide: August 2, 1969

Until its reappearance as a guest-star vehicle for Rick Dalton in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, it was mostly only oldtimers like us who remembered Lancer, the western which ran on CBS for two seasons from 1969 to 1971. As is the case with so many Westerns, Lancer thrives on drama involving intertwined family trees; Bonanza's Ben Cartwright sired three sons with three different mothers, The Big Valley had an outsider who turned out to be the illegitimate son of the deceased Tom Barkley, The High Chapparal featured a second wife 30 years younger than John Cannon. (These family patriarchs sure did get around, didn't they?)

In the case of Lancer, our patriarch is one Murdoch Lancer, dealing with the tensions brought on by the relationship between his two estranged sons, each the product of a different marriage, who are now brought together to help the old man protect his ranch, also known as Lancer, from land pirates. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time, and in fact even though the series only ran two seasons, it was well-regarded by many western fans, and boasted good scripts and fine guest stars. It also had the advantage of this week's cover star, Andrew Duggan, in the title role. 

   With his two "sons," James Stacy (left)
and Wayne Maunder.
Dugan is one of those actors who invariably makes any show better than it would be otherwise, and even comes through bad shows with his dignity intact. And "dignified" is a good way to describe the subject of Leslie Raddatz's article: standing 6-feet-5 and 205 pounds, with his prematurely gray hair (he's only 45, but "I have always looked old," he tells Raddatz), and smooth voice (product of several years on the stage), he knows how to command a stage. Not that he lords it over people; those who work with him describe him as "unpretentious," "a fine human being," and "a real man." Of his work in Lancer, he acknowledges that "It barely gets through the second layer of you," but he doesn't complain; as a professional actor who's never wanted to be anything else, "I do the next thing to come along."

Lancer is the second show in which Duggan has starred, following the Warners detective series Bourbon Street Beat, and although I've always enjoyed his work, it was his portrayal of detective Cal Calhoun in BSB that made me a fan. He was adept at playing both heroes and villains (and sometimes you were unsure until the final scene), though his turns on the dark side were often complex and three-dimensional, and usuallty featured his own brand of charm. You're likely to recognize him from his many movies (70, including the unlikely coupling of The Incredible Mr. Limpet, with Don Knotts, and Seven Days in May, with Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster) and guest-starring appearances on television (more than 140). When he died of cancer in 1988, only 64, it was a loss. No matter what he was in, it was always worth a watch. 

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The humorist S.J. Perelman was a frequent visitor to the pages of TV Guide in the day. I'm not sure how many of you remember Perelman, who died in 1979, and how many more of you know him only as a name. As has been the case with so many humorists of the time (Thurber, Parker, Levenson, Menken, Buchwald), Perelman's style of writing, which featured most prominently in The New Yorker, has fallen out of favor over the years*, and reading him today can be a struggle, even for those of us who consider ourselves reasonably well-read, although I'm perfectly willing to take the blame for it.

*Arguably, P.G. Wodehouse is the one humorist from that era who has remained reasonably popular, probably because of his beloved creations Jeeves and Wooster. I'd be willing to include Damon Runyon in that category, thanks to Guys and Dolls and his eccentric, "Runyonesque" characters.

Anyway, Perleman is writing this week about nudity on television, and if you think I was going to pass up that story, you're crazy. The origin of the story comes from a recent BBC documentary dealing with nudism. The whole thing bothers Perleman, not because the site of naked men and women offend him; after all, as he points out, "every schoolboy polled [in Britain] knew more about sex than his family obstretician." No, what bothers our author is how the BBC wasted this nakedness on a documentary, eschewing "the juicy potential of skin as entertainment."

As an alternative, Perleman proposes a story based on the recent case of Miss Pamela Brewer, 18, who was found guilty of violating University of Florida rules for posing nude "on a bear rug" for a men's magazine. In Perleman's hands, Miss Brewer becomes Crystal Gondorf, a "demure but zottick freshmen, with a brain rivaling Spinoza's encased in the body of a Lollobrigida" Having undeniably verified that the picture is, in fact, of Miss Gondorf, university president Butterfoss has no alternative but to expel her. Crystal claims her innocence, comparing her situation to that of Josef K. in Kafka's The Trial. Eventually, it turns out the picture was doctored, the culprit being one Babs Cheesewright, a classmate jealous of Crystal's (pre-nude) popularity.

Perleman has some other ideas as well, his story running for another two pages. It's humorous (as opposed to funny), but I couldn't help but think, and again I may be the one to blame here, that the story was a bit like the skits we see in classic variety shows, running just a little too long for its own good. I appreciate long-form writing as much as anyone, but I kept wondering how I was going to summarize this story without taking up the entirety of today's column. As you can see, I finally gave up. This isn't meant to serve as a recommendation against reading Perleman's pieces, unless your job is to condense them. It just seems as if nudity on television should be, well, a bit more exciting, don't you think?

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You'll forgive me for taking a moment to catch my breath after all that. (Pause) Well now, for something else that's out of this world, The Doan Report takes a look at how last month's flight of Apollo 11 went over with TV viewers. It was, to coin a phrase, a smash. A worldwide audience estimated at 700 million watched the epic journey of Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins from the launch pad in Florida to the ghostly images live from the moon and the triumphant splashdown; just about the only parts of the world to miss the adventure were China, India, and most of Africa. But it was seen in Poland and Czechoslovakia, and even Moscow TV ran taped coverage of the moon walk three times in one day. Summing it all up was actress Gina Lollobrigida (she of the Perleman story above), who said, "Nothing in show business will ever top what I saw on television today." 

As for the coverage itself, the clear winner was CBS; Walter Cronkite and Wally Schirra garnered about 45 percent of the total audience, and Doan had high praise for the commentary of the former astronaut, who reassured viewers with clearly-understood explanations of what was going on during tense moments. 

And in a little more space news, on Saturday, the unmaned Mariner 7 is scheduled to pass by the southern region of Mars, five days after the flyby of its twin, Mariner 6, beaming black-and-white pictures of the Martian surface back to earth. The networks may preempt regular programming for coverage, including the possibility that the planet could support life.

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It's about time we get to what's on TV this week, don't you think? 

Spread across the weekend is coverage of President Nixon's visit to Romania and London, and back then it really was a big deal for an American president to visit a country behind the Iron Curtain; as a result, NBC plans live coverage of Nixon's arrival in Bucharest Saturday at 6:00 a.m. ET, while CBS has a prime-time special scheduled at 7:30 p.m., preempting Jackie Gleason's show—for one night, he wasn't the Great One after all. I'd assume there was more coverage than what was scheduled, though.

Here's something that caught my eye: an episode of All Star Theater entitled "The Tryst." (1:30 p.m., WIBF) Is the story any good? I don't know, but the cast is, with William Lundigan, Edward Arnold, and two very young future stars: Anne Francis and Vera Miles. The night rounds out with NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies (9:00 p.m.), showing a rerun of the pilot for this fall's new series Then Came Bronson, starring Michael Parks. a kind of Route 66 on two wheels. Unlike Tod, Buz and Linc, Bronson's adventures only ran for one season.

It's too bad we don't have Sullivan vs. the Palace this Sunday, but while The Hollywood Palace takes the summer off, Ed's back in reruns with a strong lineup: Johnny Mathis, singing a medley of songs by Henry Mancini (with Mancini conducting the orchestra); Diana Ross and the Supremes; dancer and chorergrapher Peter Gennaro; singer Shani Wallis; comedy from Burns and Schreiber and Rodner Dangerfield; and the balancing Rolan Brothers. (8:00 p.m., CBS) That's followed by a very good lineup on Hee Haw (9:00 p.m,. CBS), featuring Loretta Lynn and Waylon Jennings, along with Roy Clark and Buck Owens and the Buckaroos. For all of the ridicule Hee Haw takes from its cornpone humor, just about every big name country star appeared on that show over the years.

's highlight is a rerun of the 1966 historical epic Khartoum (8:30 p.m., NBC), the story of the 1884–1885 Siege of Khartoum, in the Sudan. Judith Crist hails this "intelligent epic," especially Robert Ardeny's screenplay, and a star-studded cast led by the two antagonists: Charlton Heston's "very good portrait of the enigmatic General 'Chinese' Gordon," leader of the British forces defending the city of Khartoum, and Laurence Olivier's "simply superb portrait" of the Mahdi, leader of the Arab tribesmen besieging the city. It is, says Crist, "the rare spectacular that engrosses the mind as well as the eye." If you're in the late-night mood, check out the guest hosts on the chat shows: Flip Wilson on The Tonight Show (11:30 p.m., NBC) and Pat Butrram (!) on The Joey Bishop Show (11:30 p.m., ABC); Pat's guests, by the way, include Gene Autry and Xavier Cugat and Charo. That might be the show of the week.

If you haven't figured it out yet, this week's shows are heavy on the rerun side, but that doesn't mean they aren't worth watching; after all, it's when people used to catch up on the shows they'd missed in this pre-VCR era. For example, one of Tuesday's choices is "All Our Yesterdays," the much-loved episode of Star Trek that sends our heroes back in time: Kirk has to defend himself against charges of whichcraft, while Spock and McCoy are stranded in a prehistoric ice age with the woman who captures Spock's pre-Vulcan heart, Mariette Hartley.* Of course, if you're going to give this a watch, you'll have to pass up this week's episode of Lancer, with guest star Johnnie Whitaker. (7:30 p.m., CBS)

*Typo alert: in the TV Guide, she's listed as "Mariette Hart."

Mariette Hartley—this time with her name spelled correctly—is back on NBC Wednesday night, this time as a naive Missouri girl who hires David Ross to find her missing brother (Rick Jason) in Darren McGavin's cynical P.I. series The Outsider (10:00 p.m., NBC). One of these days, I'm going to have to dip into the grey market and get some episodes of that. Fortunately, I won't have to do that with "And When the Sky Was Opened," an excellent first-season episode of The Twilight Zone, starring Rod Taylor, Jim Hutton and Charles Aidman as the first three astronauts into space, who find upon returning to Earth that not all is as it seems. After all, I just bought the complete series. (6:30 p.m., WPHL)

Have you had the feeling, especially in the last year or so, that you're just a piece on a chessboard, being moved at will by someone else? Find out what happens when this is literally the case, on a rerun of "Checkmate" on The Prisoner (8:00 p.m., CBS). As usual, the plot involves one of the favorite topics in The Village: conformity. As usual, Number 6 meets the challenge with his own favorite topic: escape. Otherwise, check out one of those movies I mentioned that features our cover star, Andrew Duggan. Yes, it's The Incredible Mr. Limpet (9:00 p.m., CBS), which Judith Crist describes as "a movie about a schnook who becomes a dolphin." I'm not sure who Duggan plays, but Don Knotts is the schnook. 

Friday boasts an interesting lineup of guest stars, beginning on The Wild Wild West (7:30 p.m., CBS), with opera star Patrice Munsel as—what else; a tempestuous opera star—who's run afoul of the sinister Order of Lucia. That's followed at 8:30 p.m. by The Name of the Game (NBC), a Robert Stack episode featuring Ricardo Montalban as a ghetto priest taking on the syndicate, led by—not Bruce Gordon, alas, but Edward Andrews. On NET Playhouse (8:30 p.m., NET), David Hemmings, who's since become famous in Antonioni's Blow-Up, stars in "Auto Stop," the story of a "callow youth" hitchhiking across continental Europe in hopes of becoming a man. The Saint (10:00 p.m, NBC) features one of Roger Moore's future co-stars, Lois "Moneypenny" Maxwell, as Simon Templar becomes involved in revenge, blackmail, and murder. Sounds as dangerous as anything Bond will come up against. 

A precaution, though: President Nixon is scheduled for an address to the Nation tonight, at which he'll reveal his new welfare initiative, the Family Assistance Plan. Typical of the time, the speech will be followed by analysis from network correspondents. Regular programming will be preempted, rescheduled, or delayed.

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An interesting Letter to the Editor this week, from Bill Cifton of Shelton, Washington, writing about a recent article on whether or not there's too much violence on television. (A recent poll indicated viewers felt excessive violence on TV was detrimental to society.) It's a little long, but I'm going to repeat it because I think it resonates with many of us out here:

My boss tells me what time to come to work, take my coffee break, eat lunch, get my paycheck, take my vacation and go home at night. Then my wife tells me to cut the grass, trim the hedge, take out the garbage, eat my dinner, not drink too much, and lastly what time to get up. The bank tells me when to make my house payment, car payment, TV payment and bring more money because my account is overdrawn. The only escape I have is watching TV—especially a nice violent show—because now somebody else is getting theirs. If I don't get any healthy violence to watch, I'm going to get even: I'm going to call the bank to come get the TV set. Then I'll send Nielsen his 50c and form back and tell him I just listen to radio.

I'd like to shake Mr Clifton's hand.

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Finally in this issue from Philadelphia, dueling news legends:

In this corner, one-half of the news lineup on WCAU, narrator par excellence of NFL Films, John "The Voice of God" Facenda!

And in this corner, present newsman of WLS and future star of NBC News, Tom "The Tomorrow Man" Snyder!

Who have you got?
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OK, I lied. Here's the final thought. It comes from former U.S. senator Henry Clay, as quoted in a letter from Ira H. Schoen of Yonkers, N.Y., writing about that poll on TV violence. Said Clay, "Statistics are no substitute for judgment." Make of that what you will. TV  

July 30, 2021

Around the dial

I think we can all agree that the real Avengers are not the superheroes from the comics, but the superheroes of British intelligence: John Steed, Mrs. Gale, Mrs. Peel, Tara King, et al. And speaking of movies, at Cult TV Blog John has some movies you'll like if you like The Avengers. 

One of the the arguments you'll hear in favor of classic television as opposed to the television of today is that classic television shows had the ability to inspire viewers, to encourage them to follow in the footsteps of their heroes. Case in point is at Comfort TV, where David asks how classic TV has inspired you over the years. By contrast, what inspirational value do today's shows have? To make you want to be a meth dealer?

On Wednesday I mentioned Dick Powell's portrayal of private detective Richard Diamond on the radio; at Once Upon a Screen, Aurora goes a step further and looks at Powell's long history of playing radio P.I.s, including a gig I hadn't been aware of: a turn as America's fabulous freelance insurance investigator: Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar

That Wednesday article referenced Richard Diamond and Johnny Staccato, two private detectives with more than a touch of noir and pulp about them. Appropriate, then, that at A Shroud of Thoughts, Terence writes about two new books, Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir, by Eddie Muller. It's coupled with Master of Mystery: The Rise of The Shadow by Will Murray. Might want to include them on your wish list.

At The Random Access Television podcast, Zach and Nas take a look at the story of Monday Night Baseball. Although ABC liked to fashion it as the summer continuation of Monday Night Football, it actually came from NBC, which, beginning in the 1960s, broadcast three Monday night games a year, before going to a full season's worth in 1973. In the days before cable TV, these night games were a really summer treat.

"Day of Reckoning," the fourth Hitchcock Project script by William Link and Richard Levinson, is Jack's latest entry at bare•bones e-zine. It's a nasty little story of infidelity, murder, and a confession that isn't believed, and stars Barry Sullivan, Dee Hartford, Claude Akins, Hugh Marlowe and Louis Sullivan. Once again, I particularly enjoy how Jack contrasts the original novel by John Garden and the Link-Levinson adaptation.

At Great but Forgotten, an interesting piece on The Funny Company, a 1963 syndicated cartoon that appeared as filler on local kid shows. I have to admit it doesn't ring any bells with me, but I'm certainly familiar with this kind of five-minute type of cartoon, something like The Mighty Hercules or Roger Ramjet. I miss those days, as much as I miss local kids' shows. But there again, I'm just showing my age. TV  

July 28, 2021

What I've been watching: June, 2021

Shows I’ve Watched:

Shows I’ve Found:
Johnny Staccato
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Richard Diamond, Private Detective
The Search for Ulysses
Smiley's People

suppose it would be many years ago now, on the late, lamented Trio cable channel, that I first saw the private detective series Johnny Staccato, starring John Cassavetes. It was part of a block of shows called "Brilliant But Cancelled," but the episode I saw must not have been very brilliant, because it gave me the impression that Staccato wasn't anything to write home about. But the end of N.Y.P.D. left a half-hour hole in our Thursday night schedule, so maybe it was time to give it another chance. And having that opportunity to view the series again has also given me the opportunity to reassess my opinion, for while Johnny Staccato may not be brilliant, it's mostly good and occasionally better than that, and it's always enjoyable to watch. (The ridiculous name of the show's hero also proved good fodder for SCTV's detective parody Vic Arpeggio, but that's a story for another day.)

Johnny Staccato (NBC, 1959-60) comes from the great era of jazz detective series, which also included Peter Gunn and Richard Diamond. (I wonder, though, was there another, not-so-great, era of jazz detective series, maybe a show starring Miles Davis as an irascible, iconoclastic, go-his-own way loner, doing battle with his evil nemesis, Felonious Monk. Or was that joke too easy? But I'm afraid I've digressed.) Staccato comes by his creditentials honestly, as a jazz pianist-turned-private detective who, when he's not hunting down the bad guys, spends his time jamming with real-life jazz greats like Red Mitchell, Barney Kessel, Johnny Williams and Red Mitchell. (The show's theme, by the great Elmer Bernstein, and the driving score, supervised by Stanley Wilson, add instant credibility for both jazz and mystery fans.) 

As is the case with many half-hour detective shows, the mysteries sometimes tend to get wrapped up a little too easily. That's an occupational hazard of the genre. It can seem as if Staccato barely has time for any detecting at all. But almost every episode introduces something that makes it worth watching. Cassavetes took an active part in making the show work, and it shows; in addition to directing several episodes himself (and you can tell; those episodes have a distinctive, movie-like feel to them), he also insisted on playing a part in casting, which results in some outstanding guest star lineups. In "Nature of the Night," a mysterious slasher is attacking young blondes in the neighborhood. As the attacks continue, Johnny suspects that the club's bartender, Dave, is involved. In the conversations that follow we learn the details, a bit at a time: Dave and Johnny are old friends; Dave is bothered by Johnny's success; Dave's life collapsed after his wife left him to pursue an acting career. Johnny thinks he's persuaded Dave to turn himself in, but Dave makes a break for it, and threatens to jump off a building. With help from the police and the parish priest, Johnny is able to talk Dave down.

On the surface, there's not much to the story. There's very little doubt that Dave is the slasher, we know Johnny won't fall in trying to rescue Dave. We're not sure that Dave's going to make it, though, thanks to an excellent, nuanced performance by Dean Stockwell, who gives Dave a backstory and depth often missing in half-hour dramas. Then there's J. Pat O'Malley as the police sergeant who recognizes the risks involved but doesn't resist Johnny's involvement. Finally, there's Vladimir Sokoloff as Pastor Keeley (unsaid, but likely a Catholic priest), who takes the time after Dave's rescue to make sure that Johnny is all right as well. As I say, there's a quality to this that raises the episode above the average detective thriller.

A halo, or the inquisitor's spotlight?
Another very good episode, this one directed by Cassavetes, is "Evil," which opens with a striking scene: Alexander Scourby, he of the diginfied speaking voice, looking straight into the camera and intoning,"Evil attacks you through your television sets." (Talk about bitting the hand that feeds you.) Scourby portrays Brother Max, a gospel mission preacher who may or may not be a con artist; Johnny's called into the case by a relative of an old woman who's pledged all her money—both in this life and in the next—to Brother Max. Johnny's preconceived notion of guilt is shaken after talking to her; he finds not a helpless old woman but one serene in her faith and the direction her life has taken, thanks to her involvement with Max. He decides to investigate further: if the preacher's a crook, the authorities need to know, but if he's legit, Johnny needs to know; he envies the quiet certitude that he's seen in the woman. 

Cassavetes brings a style and panache to his direction, putting himself in the backgroud to emphasize a trio of powerful performances from his co-stars: not just Scourby, who oozes charm and smarm in equal parts, but Elisha Cook, heartbreaking as a man constantly falling back into the sin of demon drink; and 
Lloyd Corrigan as Brother Thomas, founder of the mission, who finds an inner strength he never knew he had when he's forced to admit to the congregation that he, and they, have been duped by Max. His transformation from a weak man worried about what his congregation will think of him to a courageous man taking responsiblity for his failings and standing up against Max is both moving and inspiring; it's also a sign of an actor's director, which Cassavetes most certainly was, the certainty of the star allowing the guests to drive the episode.

Not every episode is this good, of course, or the series might have run for a few seasons rather than 27 episodes. And Cassavettes can be annoying in the best of times: I've always thought he had a Method tendency toward hammy, tic-filled, over-the-top performances at times, and perhaps that's part of what prejudiced me against the series for so long. I'm glad I got past that, though. Johnny Staccato is a worthwhile half-hour: entertaining, thought-provoking, exciting. If I was wrong to ignore it for so long, I'll gladly admit to it when the results are this satisfying.

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We've been speaking of noirish jazz detectives and Thursday nights, and they both segue nicely into Richard Diamond, Private Detective (aka Call Mr. D), the other half of Private Eye Thursdays in the Hadley household. Richard Diamond, which ran irregularly on CBS and NBC for four seasons between 1957 and 1960, is a spin-off of the radio series created by Blake Edwards, who also created Peter Gunn, which is either a remarkable coincidence or proves conclusively that these jazz detectives deserve to be grouped together.

On radio, Richard Diamond, a former cop who was too independent to stay on the force, was played by the incomparable Dick Powell; he was quick with his tongue, quick with his gun, and quick to spin a song in the apartment of his girlfriend, Helen. It was, overall, a light drama, filled with action and a healthy dose of violence, and the bad guy always got it in the end. Powell's production company, Four Star, brought the series to television in 1957, with David Janssen moving into the lead. 

A trendsetter with his car phone.
There are several differences between the radio and television versions of Diamond; although Janssen can wisecrack as well as Powell, the overall tenor of the show is darker, more serious, and now we can see the fights and shootouts that previously were left to the imagination. Helen no longer appears as Diamond's girlfriend, and his friend and former partner, Lieutenant Walt Levenson, has been replaced by Lieutenant "Mac" McGough, played by Regis Toomey. And the biggest difference of all came at the start of season three, when Diamond moved from New York to Los Angeles and acquired a Girl Friday of sorts, the sultry phone answering service operator Sam, who was never seen except in shadow, and was famously played by Mary Tyler Moore for most of the season (although neither she or her replacement, Roxanne Brooks, ever appeared in the show's credits).

So what do we make of all this? The stories, if not Holmsian in complexity, are good mysteries, and the dialogue is sharp, particularly when Diamond trades bon mots with the heavies. Unlike many detective heroes, Diamond's often playing from behind, due to a susceptibility for being bonked in the back of the head. (I wonder how many concussions he racked up over the course of the series?) One thing you can be pretty sure of, though, is that Diamond keeps score on little things like that, and he's more than likely to even the score before things finish. Janssen, of course, is everything you could ask for. His portrayal of Diamond is, as I said earlier, more serious than Powell's, and with his nervous tics and need to avoid calling attention to himself, you can see Dr. Richard Kimble foreshadowed in his performance. And although you don't worry about Diamond, he shows, I think, more vulnerability than the average TV detective. And the show is replete with guest stars, many of whom will go on to stardom: Dan Blocker, Charles Bronson, DeForest Kelly, Mort Sahl, Ross Martin, Claude Akins, and a very young Barbara Bain, who played Diamond's girlfriend in five episodes. And, speaking of jazz credentials, Diamond's come from the music of Pete Rugolo, who also wrote much of the music for The Fugitive

I use the word "fun" a lot when I'm writing about these shows, and I think that as TV goes, it's an underrated concept. Yes, TV can be educational, it can be profound, it can be mindless, it can be hilarious. We usually hope that it will at least be entertaining, even though we're resigned to our hopes being too often dashed. Sometimes, though, it doesn't need to be anything more than fun, and the team of Staccato and Diamond go a long way toward making Thursday nights a good warmup for the weekend.

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The third program on the lineup this month is The Search for Ulysses, a 1966 CBS documentary based on Ernle Bradford's quest for the real man behind the legend of Ulysses. It's one of a number of documentaries or classical programs from the 1960s that wouldn't see on broadcast TV today, but, somewhat surprisingly, can be seen on YouTube. Even though I saw it in June, I think I'll hold off on writing about it until I can pair it with another program from the era, NBC's Michaelangelo: The Last Giant. It gives us all something to look forward to, doesn't it? TV  

July 26, 2021

What's on TV? Monday, July 28, 1958

It's the Minneapolis-St. Paul Edition again this week, which I'm sure surprises all of you no end, but this week's issue has a little different look than you might be used to. It's 1958, and although it resembles the ordinary Minnesota State Edition, Duluth has only two stations, Austin and Rochester don't make the cut, and we're even missing my beloved KCMT, In their place we have two stations from Fargo, North Dakota which we don't see very often. Same great programming, though, so let's see what the week has to offer.

July 24, 2021

This week in TV Guide: July 26, 1958

Xhe Millionaire is a terrific idea for a TV series, don't you think? It has a simple, straightforward concept and a tantalizing, provocative premise with which virtually anyone can identify. It’s also a prime candidate for a look at, in the immortal words of Paul Harvey, "the rest of the story."

The Millionaire, which has a five-season run between 1955 and 1960, stars Marvin Miller as Michael Anthony, executive secretary to the mysterious multimillionaire John Beresford Tipton, Jr. Tipton remains an unseen presence throughout the series, his voice provided by veteran voice artist Paul Frees —the only part of him we ever see is his left arm, when he hands Anthony another cashier’s check for one million dollars, along with instructions as to whom the money should be given. The rest of each episode plays out as an anthology, as we follow the story of the beneficiaries and how the sudden wealth affects their lives.

It’s really kind of a cool idea, almost an existential one, not unlike Fantasy Island, I suppose: people are given the chance to experience a dramatic change in life, and in the process discover the kind of stuff of which they’re made—sometimes it’s good, sometimes not so good. And, like the enigmatic Mr. Roarke, it makes you want to know more about this John Beresford Tipton character.

Tipton gets ready to hand Anthony yet another million
We never know how he chooses his beneficiaries—maybe Paul Drake helps select them—or what motivates him, save a comment in the opening episode that his goal was to set up a kind of chess game, using human beings as the pieces. So apparently Tipton has something of a God complex about him, or perhaps it’s more as if he were a scientist conducting experiments on human lab rats. Either way, there’s something somewhat disturbing about the whole idea of people being playthings of the rich (Brewster's Millions, anyone?), and one thinks that Tipton’s backstory might have made for interesting viewing itself. In these days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you hear the phrase "origin story" a lot, and this is one I'd like to see.

I wonder, though, if The Millionaire is so much a product of its time that it couldn’t be made today. (A pilot for a revival was made in 2015, but didn't go anywhere.) For example, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? notwithstanding, a million dollars doesn’t really go all that far anymore* (as Dr. Evil found out), which makes the show’s premise a charming artifact. To put in perspective, one million dollars in 1955 would, factored for inflation, have the buying power of $9,301,508 today. And then there’s the question of where the money comes from: I don’t know about you, but I might be slightly paranoid about accepting almost nine million dollars from a total stranger. Suppose I’m being sucked into some kind of money-laundering scheme? And wouldn’t that kind of sudden wealth attract the attention of the government, regardless of the tax consequences? Frankly, I’d probably suspect the whole thing of being like one of those African bank email scams.

*Even though Tipton had already taken care of the taxes for each beneficiary, which would have been quite a chunk of change itself.

Probably the best chance for a revival would be to base the whole thing around winning a lottery, which has been done several times (Lottery, Sweepstakes, Windfall) without any great success. I think the problem here, though, is that with the lottery, we know where the money comes from: the government, in the form of ticket-buying suckers like you and me. With The Millionaire, on the other hand, the questions of “who” and “why” loom large over the series, even though the beneficiaries are prohibited from ever attempting to discover the identity of their benefactor.

Regardless, as Marvin Miller and producer Don Fedderson attest in this TV Guide article, The Millionaire is an irresistible premise. Each week Federson gets “scores” of letters from people convinced that Tipton is somehow real, who want to get a piece of the action. And Miller can’t really go anywhere anymore without people jokingly coming up to him and asking where the check is. Which just goes to show that, no matter how, the dream of instant wealth is alive and well.

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In the category of “unfortunate use of words,” the top of this week’s cover bears the teaser, “How ‘Twenty One’ Rehearses Its Show.” It’s unfortunate because, in less than one month, the Quiz Show Scandal is about to burst into full view of the public, with Twenty One being at the center of the storm.

The article itself is pretty innocuous, telling of how host Jack Barry and the evening’s contestants run through their marks, testing microphone settings and camera angles, making sure the participants are comfortable with the setup. It’s an interesting behind-the-scenes look at a television show, which must have seemed quite the exotic thing back in 1958. Of course, looking back on it in context, the headline itself is the payoff—I mean, I bought this issue for that alone, without even caring about the rest of the contents. It’s the kind of thing you just can’t make up.

The all-time biggest winner on Twenty One is Elfrida Von Nardoff (pictured, at left, with Barry), who is in the process of amassing $220,500, apparently honestly, as this article is being written. The most famous winner, however, is Charles Van Doren, who parlayed his death struggle with Herb Stempel back in 1955 into a lot of money and a co-hosting gig on the Today show. I was hoping, in fact, that one of Today’s listings for the week would have included Van Doren’s name—but then, that would have been just too perfect, wouldn’t it? Sort of like winning a million dollars.

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And now the odds and ends from the week, some of which might be thought of as a preview of coming attractions. 

Monday, it's the debut of a new game show: Concentration (10:30 a.m. CT, NBC). It does pretty well for itself, running until March, 1973. Hugh Downs hosts, while he's still doing double-duty as Jack Paar's sidekick. After the Tonight gig, he'll move to the morning as host of the Today show. Without Charles Van Doren.

Speaking of Paar, Monday's show (10:45, 11:00, or 11:30 p.m., depending on where you're watching it) is on location in Havanna, Cuba. Less than six months later, the country will have fallen to the Communists, and later Paar will try to arrange a swap of tractors for prisoners of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. I wonder if this is the only case of a network talk show originating from a country in the middle of a violent revolution? And on Tuesday, Jack celebrates his first anniversary as host of Tonight. He'll be the host for five years, moving to prime time in 1962 and ceding the seat to Johnny Carson.

Perhaps thinking that King
Arthur's no Doctor
Tuesday afternoon at 5:00 p.m. on WTCN, it's Sir Lancelot, starring William Russell, who would go on to great and lasting fame as Ian Chesterton, part of the original TARDIS crew of Doctor Who. Later that night, on a highlights edition of Name That Tune (6:30 p.m., CBS), the young Eddie Hodges is shown with his partner—Marine Colonel John Glenn—as they team up to win $25,000. (This is often mentioned in stories after Glenn's selection as an astronaut.) Later (7:30 p.m., to be precise), ABC carries The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, starring Hugh O'Brian. A note after the listing teases an article in next week's TV Guide on O'Brian's efforts to get out of his Earp contract. Must not have worked; the show continues to run successfully until 1961.

Walt Disney's show Disneyland hasn't yet moved from ABC to NBC, and it isn't yet broadcast in color. (Hence, it's called Disneyland instead of The Wonderful World of Color.) Wednesday night's episode, "Magic Highway, U.S.A.," (6:30 p.m.) explores the roadways of the past, present and future*, but what's interesting about this is not the episode itself, but the ad appearing at the bottom of the page for the latest Disney theatrical presentation, "The Light in the Forest," opening August 1 at the State Theater in Minneapolis. Disney always did know how to use television, and he was the first of the major studio heads to understand how TV, far from being a threat, could be used to further the business. Ads for movies, especially ones starring TV actors, weren't unusual in TV Guide, but I thought this was a nice example of complimentary product placement. I wonder how much Disney had to pay for that?

*Among the predictions for the future: concrete tires on rubber roads, and separate routes for female drivers.

Jim McKay - spanning
the courtroom
At 7:30 p.m. on Thursday evening, CBS presents The Verdict is Yours, a series of courtroom reenactments with actors portraying the actual participants. The court reporter in the series: a young Jim McKay, still a few years from the Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat. Tonight, in a case ripped from the headlines, or at least the scriptwriters at Perry Mason, a young woman challenges the codicil to her father's will disinheriting her—she claims it's skulduggery on the part of her brother.

Back in the 1950s and '60s, the "Efficiency Expert" was all the rage: people who would come in to a business and spend a few days walking around, watching how people do their jobs, taking notes and making everyone extremely nervous, because the efficiency expert would invariably suggest eliminating a few "non-essential" employees. (They almost never recommended that the boss take a pay cut.) In Friday's Personal Appearance story "The Uninhibited Female" (9:30 p.m., CBS), Barry Nelson is the efficiency expert, and Marilyn Erskine is the boss' pretty—and distracting—secretary.  

On Saturday's Have GunWill Travel (8:30 p.m., CBS), Paladin comes to the aid of a woman who's husband is attacked by an assassin while the couple are Paladin's guests at the opera. I'm not absolutely positive about this, but I don't think that the couple's names are Mary and Abraham. I could be mistaken in that, though.

Of course, when Sunday rolls around, we have to pause and take a look at what Ed Sullivan has to offer. This week (7:00 p.m., CBS), Ed's coming to us tonight from Hollywood, with Ernie Kovacs, Gisele MacKenzie, Gordon MacRae, Mickey Rooney, Bobby Van, and the All-Grandmother Orchestra, among a plethora of acts. Up against Ed is The Chevy Show, the summer replacement for Dinah Shore (7:00 p.m., NBC), and guests Eddie Foy, Jr. and Micky Shaughnessy hang out with regulars Janet Blair, John Raitt, and Edie Adams, who just happens to be Mrs. Ernie Kovacs. Wonder how many times the two of them were up against each other like that?

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There are, as always, some scattered items that have to make an appearance somewhere along the line.

Here's the kind of thing you don't see anymore: Lawrence Welk, star of the hit ABC series, will be in the Twin Cities August 5, and will be greeted by a parade from the airport to the Channel 11 studios at the Calhoun Beach Hotel. A parade!

While we're on the subject of color TV as we were a moment ago, we've mentioned in the past that there are few enough shows broadcast in color that TV Guide actually has a special section devoted to listing them, in the same way that they list specials and time changes (and, later on, sports). Not surprisingly, given RCA's role in the whole thing, all the shows this week are on NBC, including a couple of daytime programs (It Could Be You and Haggis Baggis), a trio of prime-time game shows (Tic Tac Dough, The Big Game and The Price Is Right), a few dramas (Noah's Ark, The Investigator and  Kraft Mystery Theatre), and some variety shows (Steve Lawrence and Edie Gorme, The Chevy Show, and Bob Crosby's Saturday night turn). Interesting, isn't it, the kinds of shows the network chose to colorcast?

It’s always interesting to see how different things were in the 1950s compared to even five or six years later. For example, programming is all over the map. Yes, most of the affiliates in this issue adhere to network scheduling, but not all, and not all the time. And with the proliferation of syndicated shows such as Sea Hunt and Highway Patrol, not to mention the increasing availability of reruns due to the advent of tape, the local TV station has more options than ever.

For example: What’s My Line? has been a mainstay of the CBS Sunday night schedule since 1950. It’s broadcast live, every week, at 9:30 p.m., and will continue to do so for the next nine years. And yet of the three CBS affiliates in this issue—WCCO in Minneapolis-St. Paul, KDAL in Duluth, and KXJB in Fargo—only WCCO carries the show in its live timeslot. (KDAL opts for the syndicated Mike Hammer, while KXJB offers a rerun of The Honeymooners.) My mother-in-law, back in the day, refused to watch What's My Line?, believing that it was too upper class and monied.* I wonder if that has anything to do with it, that it appealed to the wrong demographic? Or perhaps it's the right demographic, but the wrong time or day of the week.

*"Hoity-toity" was, I believe, the word she used for it.

I'm also amused by the future-tense grammar that TV Guide uses when writing about live events. For instance, Channel 4 presents a program of auto racing from a local race track. Per TV Guide, "Stock car races from Raceway Park in Shakopee, Minn., will be shown. Stew Reamer will report." Viewers, presumably, will be watching.

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Finally, because it's still the summer and there isn't that much else new to report, I thought we'd take a look at a few of the local ads appearing in this week's issue.

You don't see local music shows anymore, except maybe on public access. This was a late-night show, airing live from 11:00 p.m. to midnight—probably after some of these musicians had finished their gigs, or perhaps between shows. Doesn't it look as if they've changed the start time of the show, that they laid that "11:00" over whatever it used to be? 

I do have a fondness for the kids shows that used to be a staple of afternoon local programming; it's the kind of thing I grew up with. Nonetheless, there is something pretty hokey about this ad, isn't there?Captain Q was played by Jack McKenna, who, like so many kids show hosts, was also the weatherman. Here's a picture of him doing a weathercast—want to guess the era? That collar of his could have doubled as a cold front milllibar, don't you think?

I dare say that KDAL wouldn't be able to use this ad today. I don't know enough to figure out the smoke-signal tie-in, unless it was just indicative of the culture of the time, what with Westerns being so popular. And it's also interesting to think of Monty Hall hosting something other than Let's Make a Deal, isn't it?

The wonderful thing about these ads is that they take us back to an era when local stations had some kind of personality, an identity of their own. They had an ad department to create their own ads rather than depending on a generic network ad with a fill-in-the-blank for the station logo, and in fact they also created a lot of their own programming, some of which was especially good. There are no local kids shows, few local variety shows, little in the way of public affairs programming other than what you might find in on Sunday mornings, and rarely are there things like hosts of local movies. (For that matter, many stations don't even show movies anymore.) KCMT, the infamous Channel 7 which I was subjected to while living in the World's Worst Town™, tdoesn't even exist anymore, and in its last few years it had no local identity at all, simply simulcasting the programming from its parent station, WCCO.

This may or may not give us better programming—a lot of those local shows could be pretty awful—but it's deprived us of much more. Ernie Kovacs, Ed McMahon, Jim McKay, Dave Garroway, Kukla and Ollie: all of them started out in local television, and that just scratches the tip of the iceberg. We're now a "national" nation rather than a local one, as regional characteristics fade into a kind of bland homogenized culture, and in the long run we're a poorer nation for it. TV  

July 23, 2021

Around the dial

At Cult TV Blog, John makes a terrific point about the problem with TV shows set in a time other than the time in which they're made: there is "a lack of authenticity in period showsthey can't really get into the mindset" of the original time. And then there's Manhunt, the World War II British drama from 1970, which gets it "just right." Find out what he likes about it here

The stories of Ray Bradbury can be difficult to adapt to television; their lyricism and elegance often fail to translate, so when a superior adaptation comes up, you want to check it out. Fire-Breathing Dimetroden Time looks at one of them, the "entertaining and creepy" episode "There Was an Old Woman" from the mid-80s series The Ray Bradbury Theater.

"Christmas in July" continues over at Christmas TV History, and picking a random entry from the week brings us to 1983's "Operation: Silent Night" from Magnum, P.I. Not necessarily a series you connect with the Yule season, but it works. For more, check out all of Joanna's entries this month.

One of The Twilight Zone's recurring themes was time travel, and this week at Shadow & Substance, Paul looks at the season four episode "No Time Like the Past," starring the great Dana Andrews. It's one of those much-maligned hour-long episodes, but Paul focuses on a scene incidental to the plot but very much in line with some aspects of today's world. 

You might not recognize the name William F. Nolan, but you'd surely be familiar with some of his work. He and George Clayton Johnson wrote the novel Logan's Run, and his fabulous output included many well-regarded works for television. He died last week, aged 93, and Terence has a look at his career at A Shroud of Thoughts. Meanwhile, Brian focuses on Nolan's work for The Twilight Zone at The Twilight Zone Vortex.

Speaking of which, one of The Twilight Zone's recurring themes was time travel, and this week at Shadow & Substance, Paul looks at the season four episode "No Time Like the Past," starring the great Dana Andrews. It's one of those much-maligned hour-long episodes, but Paul focuses on a scene incidental to the plot but very much in line with some aspects of today's world. 

I don't, as a rule, watch Peppa Pig. Truth be told, I've never watched Peppa Pig. A lot of kids do, though, and in this droll article from The Guardian, American parents are lamenting that their toddlers are now speaking with British accents and using British pronunciations and turns of phrase. I'd contend that the same effect could be accomplished by watching the Premier League every weekend, but if you want to have a go, be my guest.

At The Ringer, Bryan Curtis looks at the 41-year career of legendary Dallas sportscaster Dale Hansen, who's retiring in September. You may recall that I lived in Dallas for four years; Hansen was never my kind of guy, either in style or substance, but the article makes some interesting observations about how local broadcasting has changed over the years, as well as how social media has changed the landscape. TV