September 18, 2019

When news breaks

A few weeks ago, I mentioned how Smithsonian had become my go-to channel for those times when I feel like watching a little TV, but don't have anything particular in mind. Not everything on it captures my interest, but some shows are far more interesting than you might be prepared for, and before you know it you're 45 minutes into a program you were only going to have on for a minute or two before you started working on something, and that something is still sitting in front of you, unworked-on and giving you dirty looks that you don't notice because you're too interested in the TV.

At any rate, one of the series on the channel is called America in Color, and the title pretty much gives it away: rare home movies or colorized footage that gives you an idea of what a particular period in American history looked like to the people who lived through it. As far as colorization goes, I'm ambivalent about it: it should rarely, if ever, be done to movies, because it alters the artistic judgment of the director and often ruins the effectiveness of the movie. (Try watching a colorized noir movie, and you'll see what I mean.) There are times, though, when colorization can bring an entirely new dimension to a piece of footage, especially something of a historical nature. An excellent example of this is Peter Jackson's amazing documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, in which World War I film footage was colorized and restored to extraordinary effect.

But enough of the prologue; one particular episode was all about the 1960s, which included a segment, naturally, on the assassination of President Kennedy. Early in the segment, the narrator, Liev Schreiber, says that "for the first time ever, network television is interrupted" by the "three-shots-were-fired" bulletin. This just didn't sound right to me; networks had covered inaugurations, presidential speeches and press conferences, space shots, the March on Washington, and the like, and unfolding stories had been covered on morning and evening news shows, but these were, to varying degrees, planned events that TV was covering, even if they were interrupting regularly scheduled programming, rather than "breaking news" bulletin as we understand it. It's possible that the episode's writers meant that this was the first instance of continuous coverage of a news story, but it was hard to believe that until 1963, a television program had never been interrupted for an unscheduled, unplanned news bulletin.


In cases like this I look to my go-to news experts for guidance, and one of them, the redoubtable Jodie Peeler of Garroway at Large, came up with some fascinating information. You might remember that last year, Jodie had a terrific story about how The Today Show, in its first month on the air, was presented with the news of the death of Britain's King George VI, one hour before going on the air.*

*How long has Queen Elizabeth been on the throne? Put it this way: Dave Garroway was host of Today.

Well, she said that this claim about the JFK assassination didn't sound right to her either, and after doing some digging she produced this little gem of TV history, which I share with you courtesy of A.R. Hogan. It's an excerpt from an interview that Hogan conducted with former NBC News producer James W. Kitchell, and wouldn't you know it—the subject of news bulletins just happens to come up:

James W. Kitchell: I had been asked to go to Boston because William McAndrew had recently moved to New York, as a vice president and director of news, and I was in broadcast operations. And it was interesting that one of the reasons that took me into the news at NBC—I was a senior supervisor in the evenings of broadcast operation, and there was a rumor that Joseph Stalin had died. And I went to Bill McAndrew, and I said, “Bill, it seems to me that this story, if it’s true, is obvious! Why don't you pre-write the bulletin in the off-hours in the evenings and so forth, and I will be personally responsible for it to get it on the air if it is confirmed, and we get the bulletin that it has happened.” And he agreed. And after that, I never would have suggested that again to pre-write a bulletin! [??] As a result—it was 13 seconds from the time that the bulletin bells rang on the AP wire machine, until we had it on the air in primetime.

A.R. Hogan: That was probably a five-bell story, I would think.

JWK: Yes, it was. It was indeed.

ARH: Thirteen seconds!?

JWK: Yes.

ARH: Wow!

JWK: The bells rang down in the newsroom, and they called me, and we said, “Go!”

ARH: So, you put on a bulletin slide, because you wouldn't I guess have had a flash studio.

JWK: Yeah. It was in [NBC] Broadcast Operations, and there were some pre-arrangements made—I had a slide ready, and so we went. And as I said, the bulletin had been pre-written, so I had the copy. 

Wow, indeed! Joseph Stalin died in 1953, ten years before the JFK assassination, so if this is not the first national news bulletin to interrupt regular programming, at least it shows that the assassination was definitely not the first. And the Stalin bulletin was in primetime, no less.

Now, as I say, it could be that the program was talking about continuous network coverage, in which case the claim is probably right;* I think even the Cuban Missile Crisis was covered through periodic bulletins (you can imagine what it would be like today). The point is, words mean things, and we need to be precise when we use them, especially when we're making grand claims. The JFK story was big enough without having to embellish its historical significance.

*News history buffs will be reminded of the story of Kathy Fiscus, the three-year-old girl who fell down a well in 1949, and how KTLA provided live coverage of the attempted rescue. This was quite likely the first time such continuous coverage had ever been done anywhere, but although the story received national attention, the television coverage itself was local.

Ultimately, though, what I find far more interesting than this question of what was "first" was the story of how the bulletin of Stalin's death came to make it to our home televisions. You never know where a little investigating will take you. Thanks again to Jodie for the sleuthing, and to A.R. for allowing me to share it here. TV  

September 16, 2019

What's on TV? Thursday, September 19, 1963

It's odd, considering this is the Fall Edition, that there are very few new shows premiering this Thursday. So why, you may ask, did I choose to spotlight this day? Partly a random choice, and partly because there are still things to report on in the listings. At any rate, I think you'll like what's on tap. We're looking at the Minneapolis-St. Paul edition.

September 14, 2019

This week in TV Guide: September 14, 1963

Funny thing about the TV Guide's Fall Preview: although I now have a fairly respectable library of back issues, I have relatively few of these, and the ones I do have seem to be from when I was a subscriber in the '70s and '80s, eras I find less interesting to write about. In other words, I kept them for one reason or another, as opposed to buying them later on, after the fact. Those Fall Previews tend to be prized issues, treasured by collectors, and hence the resale values are higher than for ordinary issues. I don't remember where I came up with this one, though I know I didn't pay much above the norm for it; I'm glad I did, though, because although we might not have known it at the time, there are some pretty great shows starting in the fall of 1963.

ABC, for one, can't wait. Reads their double-page ad, "On Sunday night, September 15, 1963, at 6:30, a new television network will be born." Oh, it may go by the same first three letters of the alphabet, but rest assured that it is the new ABC. "These won't be just any shows," the ad promises. "They will be television programs of conspicuous excellence." The new ABC presents 14 new series for 1963, and if we set aside the fact that the high number of new shows is due to the low ratings of the old ones, it's quite a promise. And in fact, although not all of these shows were ratings bonanzas (if you'll pardon the expression, NBC), several of them have cemented their place as fond favorites among classic TV fans.

There's The Outer Limits, for example. The description from the preview section is succinct: "Wild, man." The opening title sequence (you know, "We are controlling transmission . . .") is so spectacular it "makes you want to run and call the TV repairman." The promise is that of a bold series presenting things we haven't seen before, and for a series that ran only a season-and-a-half, it's well-remembered and well-loved. I probably would have given it a shot. Monday, 6:30 p.m. CT, ABC

Mr. Novak is decidedly less dramatic (although there are those who would cite teenagers as alien life forms), but that doesn't mean it doesn't have drama. It features "production slickness; intelligent, sharp writing; and a fine cast, including the veteran Dean Jagger as the high school principal and James Franciscus as Mr. Novak, the beleaguered English teacher"  The show deals with real issues, and it does so without "a lot of cheap rhetoric." "Everyone who has a teenager, is one or knows one, will be able to identify with this." Tuesday, 6:30 p.m., NBC

Then there's the show that's Les Miserables in modern dress, The Fugitive. "Richard Kimble is a doctor convicted of killing his wife. He is innocent. On the way to his execution he escapes after a train wreck. Shifting his identity as he drifts from place to place, he sets out to find his wife's killer, a one-armed man he had seen clearly on the night of the murder. At the same time, he is pursued relentlessly by Gerard, who catches up only now and then, and not long enough to stop the series in mid-track." That about says it, doesn't it? Based on this synopsis, attracted by the idea of an innocent man pursued by the police, I definitely would have tuned in. Tuesday, 9:00 p.m., ABC

Petticoat Junction, from the creator of last year's top show, The Beverly Hillbillies, will have crossover with its kissin' kin, in hopes that "two successes can be made to grow where only one grew before" Bea Benaderet, Cousin Pearl on Hillbillies, is the star, and along with Edgar Buchanan, Smiley Burnett, and Rufe Davis, provide the comedy; "Her shapely daughters provide the action—and what action!" It doesn't do anything for me, but I wouldn't have bet against it. Tuesday, 8:00 p.m., CBS

"Broadway's darling," Patty Duke, is the star of The Patty Duke Show, in the dual role of "a teen-ager who is the daughter of a managing editor of a New York newspaper, and a ditto who is her visiting cousin, daughter of her dad's brother." You can see where this is going, can't you? "Nobody, of course, can tell them apart, and therein lies the tale—the mistaken identity bit is played to the hilt." Would I have been able to get past the eye-roll to appreciate the charisma of the leading lady? Wednesday, 7:00 p.m., ABC

The Danny Kaye Show brings us back to a time when major movie stars were still resistant to television. For years Kaye had been a holdout, content with the occasional (and well-received) appearance, but now that his movie career is diminished, he's decided the time is ripe. "I know all the pitfalls," he says. "If I'm on television every week, I don't know if I can come back to the Ziegfeld Theater and be a sellout." TV Guide thinks the irrepressible Kaye will manage, and so do I. Wednesday, 9:00 p.m., CBS

My introduction to the Muppets came from The Jimmy Dean Show, and Rowlf the Dog, but Dean has a lot more going for him than that. Dean was one of the substitutes on The Tonight Show between the reigns of Jack Paar and Johnny Carson, and "[h]e drew the second highest rating" of the dozen or so guest hosts (behind only Jerry Lewis), which made a weekly variety show a good bet. ABC is hoping that a country music variety show will stand out from the myriad options out there. Thursday, 8:00 p.m., ABC

Kraft Suspense Theatre signals a move for the sponsor away from its longtime variety show, as Perry Como moves from a weekly series to occasional specials (also sponsored by Kraft in this time spot). Back in the days when anthology series were viable and popular on TV, Suspense Theatre featured well-known stars and often tense stories, and I remember it fondly. Thursday, 9:00 p.m., NBC

Less remembered, perhaps, but highly praised at the time, is The Bob Hope Show, known better as Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre. It, too, is a weekly anthology series, punctuated with six Hope comedy specials sprinkled through the year. As for the anthology element, a mix of comedy, mystery and drama, Hope will appear in them "now and then," but mostly he'll act as host. You'd think the Hope name will be enough to carry the series. Friday, 7:30 p.m., NBC

I've written before that I didn't get Burke's Law when I first saw it in reruns, but today it's one of my favorites. Gene Barry plays the role with the perfect combination of comedy and drama, and every episode features a bevy of glamorous female guest stars. "But girls isn't all—there's also a smidgen of action, some crisp dialog and good camera work." Add a very good supporting cast, and this would seem to be just right for an entertaining hour. Friday, 7:30 p.m., ABC

The Farmer's Daughter, based on the Oscar-winning movie of the same name, stars Inger Stevens as Katie Holstrom, "fresh off the Minnesota farm," who goes to work as governess for widowed congressman William Windom. It's so old-fashioned that you actually root for the congressman to get the girl, instead of getting sent to the slammer. Even as a kid I probably would have thought this hokey, but it survived for three seasons, making it into the color era, and it's still fondly remembered today. Friday, 8:30 p.m., ABC

It has been said that CBS originally offered Danny Kaye the 8:00 p.m. slot on Sunday, right after The Ed Sullivan Show. That time period, however, belonged to Bonanza on NBC, and Kaye refused it. That's how Kaye wound up on Wednesday nights, with the Sunday night spot going to another legend making a long-awaited television debut: Judy Garland.

The plan is for Judy to front an hour-long variety show featuring "some of Hollywood's biggest stars" (including old pal Mickey Rooney), and one star who's "not so big perhaps, but very important: Liza Minelli, Judy's daughter." Just wait a few years, and Liza will be a very, very big star. Yes, Judy was troubled, but CBS never really figured out what to do with this show. It's unfortunate, because the last few shows, which featured Garland (with occasional guests) simply singing, were the best.  Sunday, 8:00 p.m., CBS

My Favorite Martian will probably be your favorite one, too, with Ray Walston, fondly remembered for Damn Yankees, as the titular Martian (complete with antennae), and Bill Bixby as his earthly foil. "It's simply amazing, the way he can become invisible and read minds," says the reviewer, who sounds an awful lot like Cleveland Amory, and viewers found it amazing enough to keep it on the air for three successful seasons. I remember it approvingly. Sunday, 6:30 p.m., CBS

More than half of these shows are available on DVD, either commercially or through the grey market, which might be responsible in part for the perception that the new season contained memorable programs of high quality. There's a reason why these shows made it to DVD, though, and that's because people responded to them. Sometimes it was because of repeated airings in syndication; other times the show's reputation created the demand, with people curious to see programs that they either remembered themselves, or had read about. It is, nevertheless, quite a season, one of several from the early and mid 1960s that simply sparkles. I can't say that it would dominate the ratings today, because viewing habits and tastes have changed so dramatically. I can, however, assert that as far as quality goes, I'll take it against any old year.

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That's not to say, of course, that every show introduced in the fall of 1963 is a hit. The biggest bomb of the season, in fact one of the most infamous disappointments of any television season, is The Jerry Lewis Show, airing Saturday nights at 8:30 p.m. on ABC. The network, in its "New ABC" ad, plugs the show with typical modesty and reserve, referring to the "live, spontaneous two-hour show" as "perhaps the most electrifying two hours in television history." As is often the case, the show wasn't as bad as its reputation, but it did leave a huge crater after the end of its 13-week run.

I'd have to think that Grindl, the sitcom starring Imogene Coca as a temp worker who gets into new adventures each week, is a disappointment for NBC, only lasting one season. Her former partner, Sid Caesar, has a similar run with ABC's The Sid Caesar Show, which alternates with Here's Edie [Adams]; they're both gone at the end of the season. Arrest and Trial is ABC's novel 90-minute program that, in part one, features the arrest of a suspect by detective Ben Gazzara, followed by part two, in which defense attorney Chuck Connors tries to get Gazzara's perp off. One of the stars is guaranteed to lose each week, which isn't exactly the measure of a successful show (although I've seen several episodes and liked them). Over on CBS, viewers will decide over the course of the new season that they like the old Phil Silvers show more than The New Phil Silvers Show. And ABC got Jack Palance to do a weekly series, but The Greatest Show on Earth wasn't the greatest show in the ratings.

Then there are series that, if you'll forgive me, are familiar only to those who, like me, watch compilation videos on YouTube. Channing, Glynis, Espionage, 100 Grand, Temple Houston, The Great Adventure, and Harry's Girls are some of the new shows that, well, just don't leave much of a mark.

East Side/West Side, starring George C. Scott, is a gritty, realistic drama about a social worker and the conditions he finds in the city; it's terrific, but too gritty and realistic for viewers who want something a little less downbeat. The Richard Boone Show is the former Paladin's effort to establish a television repertory company Breaking Point, a psychiatric drama with Paul Richards and Eduard Franz, is a personal favorite of mine, and doesn't get a run as long as it should have; Cleveland Amory will report at the end of the year that he got more complaints about this show's cancellation than any other all season.

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Some of the year's hits aren't new at all; they're just back for another go-round. The Beverly Hillbillies, Hazel, Perry Mason, Daniel Boone, The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, McHale's Navy, To Tell the Truth, Combat!, The Red Skelton Show, The Jack Benny Program, The Donna Reed Show, I've Got a Secret, The Jack Paar Program, and Gunsmoke are just some of the shows that viewers liked yesterday, and keep liking today. The Hollywood Palace, which replaces The Jerry Lewis Show in January, stays on the air until 1970. Meanwhile, other favorites reach the end of the line, including The Danny Thomas Show, The Twilight Zone, Sing Along with Mitch, Route 66, and 77 Sunset Strip.

Sometimes the week's news doesn't come from the new fall lineup at all. College football returns to CBS on Saturday morning (11:45 a.m.), with Florida taking on Georgia Tech in Atlanta. The National Football League kicks off the season on Sunday (the American Football League started the previous weekend) as our hometown Minnesota Vikings go to San Francisco to play the 49ers. Our educational station, KTCA, celebrates its fifth anniversary Sunday afternoon at 4:00 p.m., with a look at "the role of Channel 2 to education here and in the Nation."

On Friday evening, Ingrid Bergman makes a rare television appearance in CBS's drama special Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen, a playwright who makes Ingmar Bergman look like Spike Jones; the all-star cast includes Michael Redgrave, Ralph Richardson and Trevor Howard, and with a cast like that, I don't care how depressing the play is.

Sometimes the news isn't what's happening now, but what's coming up. All three networks promise specials from the World's Fair, which opens in New York this spring. CBS plans an hour of music and dance to celebrate the opening of New York's Lincoln Center in September. Andy Williams has a dozen specials on tap this year for NBC, and Bing Crosby has four scheduled with CBS. There are upcoming specials that we've talked about at this site: Tennessee Ernie Ford's The Story of Christmas and NBC Opera Company's new version of Amahl and the Night Visitors. NBC's Project 20 documentary series looks at patriotism in "The Red, White and Blue," a story you'll be reading here sometime next year. And, of course, there will be things that we during the year that we can't even conceive of in September, 1963.

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I realize this has pretty much been a one-topic issue, with a lot of pictures, and I've enjoyed it immensely, far more than any other Fall Preview I've done. It really is remarkable, when you take the time to look back at it, how influential this new season is, as far as the shows that we carry with us in our memories. I have no doubt that someone out there, someone with a collection of both commercial and grey market DVDs, could replicate an entire evening's worth of television from this season—and that, 56 years later, is something that nobody connected with putting together this issue could ever have imagined. What a story that would have been! TV  

September 13, 2019

Around the dial

Personal note #1: over the past few months, I've alluded to my employment situation, which has been less than ideal. That, as I mentioned in my Liz Trotta piece a couple of weeks ago, has now been rectified. I'm quite grateful to all of you out their for your encouragement and best wishes, and your erudite comments that have added a great deal to my knowledge base and to my life. While we may not have the readership numbers here that other websites have, I wouldn't trade you for any of them.

Personal note #2: Due to the circumstances alluded to in personal note #1, we aren't at the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention this year. If I saw you there last year and said something along the lines of, "I'll see you next year," I did mean it at the time; hold that thought for another year. To my friends and fellow classic TV buffs, I miss you all, and we won't wait until next year to get together. In the meantime, Andrew has a preview at The Lucky Strike Papers. He won't be there this year either, so I don't feel too bad.

That's enough of the schmaltz; now, let's get on to the good stuff.

Thanks to Jodie for the link to The New Atlantis and this article on what she calls "the comfort and ache of YouTube." When I first discovered YouTube all those years ago, I instantly saw it for what it was, "the closest thing we have invented to a time machine." Much of what you read at this site has been shaped in one way or another, directly or indirectly, by YouTube. It is, in many ways, a miracle.

At bare-bones e-zine, Jack comes to the end of Arthur A. Ross's contribution to The Hitchcock Project, with the tenth-season "Wally the Beard," a sly story with a great twist at the end. I guess it isn't only clothes that make the man.

Here's a shout-out to Rick at Classic Film and TV Café, celebrating ten years of blogging about, well, classic film and TV. We should be so lucky as to make it that far, but as long as the TV Guides hold out. . .

One thing I can always count on each week is a thoughtful piece from David at Comfort TV, and this week is no exception, as he writes about why Rhoda was necessary, a lovely tribute not only to the show, but to the woman who made it possible, the late Valerie Harper.

I really do wish I'd paid more attention to The Twilight Zone Magazine when it was around; that's how good Jordan's summaries are at The Twilight Zone Vortex. I'm particularly intrigued by John Boonstra's interview with Philip K. Dick, who died shortly after the interview was conducted.

At The Last Drive-In, it's a very nice appreciation of the late Carol Lynley, who died last week. In addition to her many movies, she did some very nice TV work; I think I most recently saw her with Darren McGavin in the terrific The Night Stalker.

Let's take a u-turn now to radio, if you don't mind. At Once Upon a Screen, Aurora reflects on the enormous legacy of Orson Welles (no pun intended) and the Mercury Theatre on the Air. It strikes me that Welles was a man who never quite fit in anywhere, but perhaps he fit more in radio than anywhere else.

I always enjoy Television Obscurities because I'm never quite sure what I'll find next, and this week is no exception: Robert's latest project is TV Guide 365: 1964-1965, a daily look at "the prime time listings published 55 years earlier in TV Guide." I can't wait to read them! TV  

September 11, 2019

Divided we watch


I've tried, but I can't remember the last time I watched Monday Night Football. I'm pretty sure this is not due to early-onset dementia, but instead because it's been so long—at least the early 1990s, I'd guess, although I seem to recall watching the end of one about a decade ago when I had a head cold and couldn't lie down. So obviously I didn't see this past Monday's season opener, but plenty of people did, and they had plenty to say about what they saw.

What they saw, among other things, was a down-and-distance graphic that, according to The Ringer's Danny Heifetz, was an attempt to fix something that wasn't broken. At first glance, you wouldn't think that something as simple as down-and-distance could cause much controversy, unless it was telling you that your team had 3rd down and 49 yards to go. Because that's what it is: a simple graphic that tells you what down it is, and how many yards for a first down. As I said, simple—right?

Not for the graphics department at ESPN, apparently. On Monday night's game, the network inaugurated a new down marker, one that caused football fans, used to having to dealing with massive amounts of graphic information at a glance—not just down and distance, but score, game clock time, play clock time, and first down line—all without losing track of what's happening on the field. And for the first half of Monday night's game, that new down graphic caused massive amounts of reactive confusion, because, with its black lettering against a yellow background, it looked too much like the universal graphic for a penalty.* Fans have been conditioned by years of viewing to see a flash of yellow and immediately think, "Penalty!" And now they were seeing it on every play!

*Except in Canada, where penalty flags are red. They also have a 55-yard line, and spell "center" with an -re, but that's another matter.

To the network's credit, it only took one half of online ridicule to rectify the situation. By the start of the second half, a new graphic had been born:


It's a little thing, really, which makes one wonder why ESPN felt the need to fool around with it at all. As Heifetz says, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. And it does speak to a rare instance where a large corporation (or network) responds instantly to a potential faux pas, rather than stubbornly refusing to admit a mistake.

But this isn't really about football, as you might expect by virtue of me writing about it; there's a larger point to be made, and Heifetz makes it at the end of his article, when he mentions, in the course of discussing the "graphics arms race" that technology has made possible, how "Amazon experimented with allowing Prime users to choose between two sets of announcers for Thursday Night Football last year." This isn't anything new for the sports fan; viewers watching the NCAA basketball finals can choose from three different sets of announcers (each team's announcers, plus those of the network), and ESPN+ frequently allows a similar choice of team broadcasts for its weekday baseball games. And during the heyday of Monday Night Football, back when Howard Cosell was one of the announcers, fans (like me) regularly turned down the sound and listened to Jack Buck and Hank Stram on the radio.

And there's nothing wrong with that; I frequently wish I could choose a different set of announcers when I'm watching a good game being spoiled by bad announcers. There is, however, an unintended consequence, to which Heifetz alludes in his conclusion: "Something we take for granted—having the same viewing experience with the millions watching a sports game—may go away. Let’s enjoy the time we can all complain about the same thing while we still can." Yes, it's the end of the shared experience.

Since conveniences like DVRs, streaming video, and social media and habits like binge viewing have pretty much allowed us all to become our own programming directors, there's been a loose consensus that sports and breaking news represent the last best hope for a communal, talk-about-it-around-the-water-cooler-tomorrow viewing experience. Now, we're faced with the possibility that the more enjoyable of those two types may be going away.  And before you accuse me of reading too much into this (and if you haven't, just play along), let me explain why the loss of sports as a truly shared experience would serve as a microcosm of today's social problems.

What happens when Arsenal and Tottenham fans
don't see eye to eye.
Suppose I'm watching a Premier League showdown between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, and somehow I'm able to do so while listening to an Arsenal broadcast. Across town, my friend Sooj is doing the same thing, only he's listening to the Tottenham announcers. In the final minute of injury time, with the score tied, Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang goes down in the box after coming in contact with Tottenham's Jan Vertonghen. The referee calls a penalty, which Aubameyang converts to win the match for the Gunners. Naturally, Arsenal's announcers think the call was spot on, and after listening to them analyze the replay, I can see that they're right. Meanwhile, the Spurs announcers think their team was robbed, and after listening to their analysis, Sooj becomes equally convinced that the call was terrible. Have we shared the same experience? Have we, in fact, even seen the same match? Fans of opposing teams have always argued over controversies of one kind or another; it's the nature of sports. They've also frequently been at odds with the announcers, convinced that they're biased in favor of the other team; that's the nature of fandom. But in this case, we're not relying just on our own passions; we're basing our opinions, at least in part, on what we're hearing from the broadcast booth.

Now, let's suppose that instead of soccer, we're watching a political speech. One of us sees it on MSNBC, the other on Fox. After the speech, we're equally convinced of what we heard, even though our opinions may be diametrically opposed to each other. And we wonder, so opposite are our reactions: did we even hear the same speech? In fact, our biases, whatever they might be, are so reinforced, so justified, by the commentary on our chosen media outlet, that for all practical purposes we haven't listened to the same speech. See what I mean? Again, this is nothing new. We've had partisan analysis of the news for as long as newspapers have existed. But in our currently fragmented and inflamed state, when each of us is living on the equivalent of a desert island filtering out whatever we disagree with, the last thing we need is another source of confirmation bias, another opportunity to be divided rather than united.

This is not to put too fine a point on things. I doubt that the effects of tailor-made sports broadcasting are going to be quite that catastrophic. Nonetheless, I've gotten to the point in life where individuality goes only so far; it would be nice, at least once in a while, for all of us to start out on the same page. And when sports becomes less of a shared experience and more of an occasion for social media warfare, when we filter the outcome through a lens that accepts no derivation from the party (or team) line, when we can use the gospel truth as parroted by our favorite commentators to make our point that it has to be this way, then we've well and truly lost one more thing that once brought us together and now drives us apart.

Let's hope it doesn't come to that. It's a loss we can ill-afford in this day and age. TV  

September 9, 2019

What's on TV? Wednesday, September 16, 1964

This week marks the beginning of ABC's new season; NBC and CBS will follow next week. Tonight sees the debut of Shindig and Mickey, as well as the return of The Patty Duke Show and Burke's Law. ABC Scope, which is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. is preempted in the Twin Cities; KMSP was always on the lookout for a low-rated series they could bump in favor of movies or syndicated series, and Scope usually winds up being shown on Sundays. KMSP. NBC doesn't have anything new, but you'll notice they might have something even better: a full schedule of color. That means a lot back then, especially when nobody can match it. Of course, they only have two shows—the 90-minute Virginian and the two-hour Wednesday Night at the Movies, but who's counting? We're coming to you this week from the Twin Cities.

September 7, 2019

This week in TV Guide: September 12, 1964

There's a good reason why they're called the "Dog Days of  Summer." From the Latin diēs caniculārēs, the term originated with the Romans' belief that the star Siriusthe "Dog Star" was, because it rose at the same time as the sun—was responsible for sultry weather, and must be appeased.  It's commonly thought that the Dog Days end in late August, but in TV terms, the ending comes with the beginning of the new season.

In this week's issue, ABC kicks off its new season, and even though the official Fall Preview isn't for another week, that's close enough for me.  I've made no secret that the summer months can be slow; many shows are reruns, and the remainder of the schedule tends to be filled out with anthology collections of failed pilots, and summer replacement series that rarely catch fire.  But this issue is chock full of irony and newness and the return of old friends and all the other things that make television so much fun.

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Let's start with the new, and a look at the new TV sets for 1965. Back about five years or so ago, I had a bit about the new "smart" televisions for 1981.  That generated something of a "Meh," seeing as how virtually everything discussed in the article had come to pass, and in fact is pretty much of a given today. There was, in other words, no "a-ha" moment, when you could literally see the future coming to life before your eyes. Such is not the case this week.

The premise of Henry Harding's article is what you can expect in the television set of 1984, and he warns us ahead of time that the prophecies "may amaze" us.  For one thing, he speaks of a television set that is virtually invisible—mounted on the wall, measuring about four-by-three feet, and with a thickness of about two inches.  There are no cords; they're hidden in an outlet behind the set. You don't really notice the set, either; when it's not on, it assumes the guise of a Picasso  painting, something of a screen saver that shows when the set's not being used for anything else.

ALL: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
This set is the centerpiece of a "Home Communications Center," perhaps smaller than the average 1964 console set, which sits by your chair or sofa. From this center you can control your television (via 25 or so push buttons representing each channel," plus you have the ability to record and playback programs on a video recorder via a small tape cartridge. You can make your own recordings, using a miniature battery-operated camera that allows immediate playback, rather than waiting for the film to be developed.

And that's not all—you can get your newspaper, or anything else, faxed to you through the center. You can watch video books brought home from school or the library. You can watch video from security cameras placed in various locations around the house. You can make video phone calls that will show on your television. You can make use of the TV shopping service that allows you to purchase everything from clothes to groceries—just push a few buttons, and your computer does the rest.

And as far as the "television" programming you'll see—it's all in living color. Some of the broadcasts are international, being beamed to your set via satellite, and an automatic translator will convert to English any broadcasts that are being presented in another language. There will be educational channels, local access broadcasts—pretty much anything you can imagine. You're not limited to seeing them on your big screen, either; a portable unit, covering "one entire flat surface of the brief-case," will operate via battery or solar power, and, weighing less than four pounds, will provide "clear, bright color pictures."

Now, to be fair, it might have been premature to expect all of this by 1984. But, frankly, just about everything else in this article has come to pass in one form or another. Flat-screen television? Check, down to size and width. Cordless? Check. Videophone? How about your cellphone. VCR? Already come and gone, replaced by DVDs and DVRs and saving things to the cloud. The brief-case sized TV is today's mobile device. The automatic translator is called SAP, and while the newspaper may not be faxed to you every day, you read it (and everything else) on your phone. And don't even get started with home shopping networks.

Harding predicted that people would even be able to do their own repairs on their units, rather than calling a technician. I'm not so sure about that—last time I checked, the Geek Squad was still doing good business, and with other pieces of technology it's often more economical to replace than repair them. But otherwise, I think this article presents a remarkably accurate portrait of today's technology—sometimes off a bit on the detail, perhaps, but spot on as to the end result. Reading this today, and gradually developing a sense of amazement as one recognizes these predictions coming to live in various gadgets, is little less than astounding, at least for one who was alive during this time, and saw all these things come to fruition. One can only imagine how outlandish they might have seemed in context, presented to one reading about it in 1964.

A last note here—Harding asks for your forbearance at the end, reminding us that "If this vision of the future home communication center seems far-out to you," remember that the whole idea of "electronic home television" was absurd to many when it was first presented in 1926—only twenty years before the first household set was produced.

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And now for something ironic.

You'll note that on the cover we have David Janssen and Barry Morse, stars of ABC's hit series The Fugitive, about to enter its second season. Even with just one year under its belt, the concept must already have taken hold, as you can see in this first-run episode of CBS' The Defenders on Saturday night at 8:00 p.m.

The premise: "When the train taking him to the Sing Sing death house is derailed, condemned murderer Bernie Jackman [the always-good Gerald O'Loughlin] kills a guard and escapes." OK, as far as it goes. This could be a parody (yes, even a show as serious and earnest as The Defenders did do comedy once a year), or it could be a Law & Order-type "ripped from today's headlines" episode, even if those headlines were generated by an opposing network's show. But then we get to the twist, the second half of the episode's description: "What Jackman doesn't know is that he had just been cleared of the previous murder."

Ironic, yes; the storyline, told in isolation, is the stuff of Greek tragedy. But brilliant also, taken in the context of coexistence with a program built on a very similar storyline. Larry Cohen's script turns The Fugitive on its ear; imagine Kimble killing Gerard after the derailment, while back in Stafford, Indiana, Gerard's superior has just picked up the one-armed man. This is no mistake, believe me. I'm quite sure Cohen knew quite well that he was lampooning the premise of The Fugitive, while at the same time giving us a vicious turn of events. I've always admired that "what-if" mentality of taking an established idea and spinning it around until it goes in a different direction. I do it a lot myself. And while I don't know how successful this episode ultimately was (I'm assuming that the Prestons must have been defending Jackman, for example), I can imagine I might have enjoyed the episode immensely.

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All of ABC's ads employed one-word tags
There's no "Sullivan vs. The Palace" this week, although The Hollywood Palace is entering its ninth month on ABC; Palace is preempted this week by the Olympic Trials from Los Angeles. ABC, however, has something bigger in mind for the stage of the Palace.

It's ABC's Wide World of Entertainment (Sunday, 8:00 p.m.), a gala one-hour special hosted by Bing Crosby, and meant to introduce to us the stars of ABC's new and returning series. There are songs, clips, and simple walk-ons by the network's biggest stars: Elizabeth Montgomery, promoting her new show Bewitched; Mickey Rooney, star of the new series Mickey; Richard Basehart and David Hedison from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea; John Astin, Carolyn Jones and Ted Cassidy from The Addams Family; and more. Bing himself is plugging his new series The Bing Crosby Show. You've also got Ernest Borgnine, Jimmy Dean, Gene Barry, Patty Duke and others plugging returning series, some of which have moved to new time slots.

It's interesting, looking at this list. Just by looking at the names of the guests, you can usually figure out what shows they're associated with (George Burns and Connie Stevens in Wendy and Me, for example, or Inger Stevens plugging The Farmer's Daughter). And while some of them were real bombs (Valentine's Day with Tony Franciosa, Walter Brennan in The Tycoon), a fair number of them have entered classic TV folklore. ABC seemed to do particularly well with sci-fi/fantasy, considering Voyage, Bewitched and Addams, as well as Combat!, McHale's Navy, and The Fugitive, among others. Not all of them were long-running series (Addams ran a scant two seasons), but all of them were recognizable. I've mentioned this before, just a few weeks ago, in fact, but that's not bad for a network with a track record supposedly as weak as ABC.

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As I mentioned at the top, there's a lot of "welcome back" about this issue. Football, for example. At the ungodly hour of 10:45 a.m. CT on Saturday morning, NBC kicks off the new college football season with an interconference clash between UCLA and Pitt, live from Pittsburgh. UCLA wins, 17-12, but it's a rare bright spot for the Bruins, who end the season with 34-13 thrashing at the hands of USC to finish with a record of 4-6. Pitt's season isn't much better; the team winds up 3-5-2, including a 28-0 thumping from its hated rivals, Penn State.

The reason for the early start, by the way, is to accommodate 45 minutes of highlights from the men's semifinals at the U.S. National Tennis Championships at Forest Hills, New York. It's not called the "U.S. Open" yet, because it's not open to professionals—amateurs only. That cuts down on some of the great players, to be sure; stars such as Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall and Pancho Gonzalez are nowhere to be found. No matter; a couple of players who went on to some degree of success, Roy Emerson and Fred Stolle, meet in the final on Sunday, with the top-seeded Emerson taking the title.

Sunday marks the kickoff of the pro football season. There's only one game on television, the Kansas City Chiefs taking on the Bills in Buffalo in ABC's AFL game (2:00 p.m.). That suggests to me that the Minnesota Vikings must have been playing at home, triggering a blackout of all NFL games in the area—let me check, yes, I'm right: the Vikings beat the Baltimore Colts 34-24, en route to a very successful 8-5-1 season. (The Colts, on the other hand, would lose to the Cleveland Browns for the NFL championship; after that loss to the Vikings they would not drop another game until the next-to-last game of the season in Detroit.) As for the Bills and Chiefs, Buffalo comes out on top 34-17, on their way to winning their first of two consecutive championships. This is, by the way, the last year for the AFL on ABC; next season they'll move over to NBC, as the bidding war between the two leagues escalates.

There's still baseball, in the waning days of the season. The Twins are on WTCN with two games over the weekend with the Yankees (preempting the Saturday national Game of the Week), and later tilts against the Orioles and Red Sox. And, if you thought two football games on the weekend wasn't enough, there's bonus coverage on Wednesday: the Edmonton Eskimos and Toronto Argonauts in CFL action taped Sunday, the first of eleven weekly telecasts on the aforementioned WTCN. I'm pretty sure that's what I would have watched; Canadian football held a strange attraction for me as a boy, one that's lasted to this day. (As a matter of fact, not that you'd care, I'm watching a CFL game as I type these very words. Any typos as a result are purely their fault.)

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Some scattered notes from the rest of the week, as I think I've been running on a little long here:

Laugh - and that's an order!
Saturday night at 9:00 p.m., there she is—Miss America! It's on a new network this year, CBS instead of NBC, but we're still live from Atlantic City, New Jersey, Bert Parks is still the host (his tenth of twenty-five years in the role), and the lovely Bess Myerson, Miss America of 1945, is the television hostess. Parks is quoted in the Close-Up as saying ,"This year I hope to win!"* but in actuality the winner is Miss Arizona, Vonda Kay Van Dyke, who goes on to a very successful career as an author and singer.

*I don't remember the commercial now, but late in Parks' career as Miss America host, he appeared in one where he delivered the line, "Miss Americas may come and Miss Americas may go, but I'll go on forever," concluding with a somewhat uncertain expression, as if he were knocking on wood. It was a few years later that he was sacked, replaced with Ron Ely. Remember him?

On Wednesday night, it's the 13th season opener for ABC's Ozzie and Harriet (6:30 p.m.), and the debut on the same network of the rock music show Shindig (7:30 p.m.), with Sam Cooke, the Everly Brothers, Donna Loren, the Wellingtons, Bobby Sherman, the Blossoms, comic Alan Sues, Jackie and Gayle, and the Righteous Brothers. All in a half-hour. Over on CBS, Harry Reasoner narrates a special entitled "Politics is a Funny Business," concentrating on the role of humor in American political life. And you thought Ozzie was outdated?

Speaking of Ozzie, it's hard to believe that The Donna Reed Show is still on the air, but it makes its season premiere the following night at 7:00 p.m. It's even more interesting when one considers that later on Thursday night, ABC airs the second of the two-night debut of Peyton Place. (Bit of a contrast there, don't you think?) But it's only the seventh season for the show, which will run for one more season after this before leaving the airwaves. Why does it seem as if it were on for so much longer?  Perhaps because shows like Donna Reed and Ozzie and Harriet (which also went off the air in 1966, after 15 seasons) are thought of as presenting a simpler, idealized America, one that's been ridiculed so much over the years. Perhaps they were already something of an anachronism in 1964, but by the time they leave for good in 1966, they're coexisting with free love and Vietnam, which make them really stick out.

And on Friday, ABC airs two new series, Jonny Quest and The Addams Family, for the first time; meanwhile, at 7:30 p.m., CBS airs Route 66 for the last time. Now, Route 66 was one of the few (for the time) shows to offer something of a final episode, as Tod (Martin Milner) finally settles down with a girl, leaving Linc (Glenn Corbett) to roam the country solo. That was earlier in 1964 though, back before the summer rerun season; tonight's last show is from one of the show's first three seasons, with Tod's sidekick being the far more popular George Maharis as Buzz.

Good issue, don't you think? It's true that there is something about the fall air that makes everything seem fresh and new. But speaking of fresh and new, just wait until you see next week's issue! TV  

September 6, 2019

Around the dial

Just the other day I saw a video of the opening credits to Mission: Impossible, and was reminded (as if anyone needed reminding) how fetching Barbara Bain is in that role, and how good she is at convincing us that Cindy Crawford could well have been moving among us as an undercover agent. Like me, you'll appreciate Rick's interview with her at Classic Film and TV Café.

Thanks to Dennis Hart's book, I've become quite interested over the last few years in Monitor, Pat Weaver's brave effort to reshape NBC radio's weekend. At Garroway at Large, Jodie looks at the role The Master Communicator played in being a, well, communicator.

To tell the truth (no, not the TV show), I've never really given any thought to the link between toasted marshmallows and The Simpsons, but Michael's TV Tray has, and does it brilliantly, in honor of last week's National Marshmallow Day.

The year 1961 saw the end of Bronco's third season, and the beginning of its fourth, with a heavy emphasis on the appearance of real historical characters, Find out more about it with this overview from Television's New Frontier: The 1960s.

If you're of my age, you'll remember that among the hallmarks of early September, besides returning to school (and the less said about that, the better) was TV's new fall season, the return of football, and the Miss America Pageant. These cover stories, and more, are part of the September 2, 1989 TV Guide, and Television Obscurities has all the details.

When we lived in Dallas, back in the early part of the decade, one of the highlights was getting to see Jim Leavelle live and in-person. If his name doesn't ring a bell, you're probably familiar with him nonetheless: he was the Dallas homicide detective handcuffed to Lee Harvey Oswald when Oswald was murdered by Jack Ruby, Leavelle died last week, aged 99, and at The Lucky Strike Papers Andrew looks back at his picture, frozen in time for all eternity.

Finally, a couple of additional deaths to report on: first, Terrance Dicks, a name familiar to all Whovians, died at 84; he played a major role in making the original Doctor Who the show we all knew and loved. And Valerie Harper died after her brave battle with numerous illnesses; she was 80, and while it couldn't really be a surprise, it was, nonetheless just that. Both of these passings are covered elegantly by Terence at A Shroud of ThoughtsTV