August 13, 2022

This week in TV Guide: August 14, 1965




ABC News has a problem: nobody watches its nightly news program. They hope they have the solution: Peter Jennings.

At age 28, the boy wonder is set to take on Walter Cronkite and Huntley and Brinkley as he assumes the reins of ABC's 15-minute evening news program.* Ron Cochran, who anchored ABC's news during the JFK assassination drama, has been shuttled off to radio, and in selecting the young Canadian who still has to remin    d himself that it's "lieutenant" and not "leftenant" and that the Marine band does not play "Anchors Aweigh," ABC has passed over the likes of Howard K. Smith, Edward P. Morgan, and John Scali; all news veterans, all Americans.

*While CBS and NBC expanded their newscasts to 30 minutes in 1963, it wouldn't be until 1967 that ABC would follow suit.

Jennings isn't really comfortable with the role (even less so with his name as part of the program's title (Peter Jennings with the News), and ABC had to accept his demands that he be allowed to travel to cover the news on location as much as possible. Still, just over six months into his term as anchor, it's clear that he'd rather be out in the field all the time; he sees himself not as an anchor, but as a reporter. "I'm a newsman," he tells Neil Hickey, and he's sensitive toward the impression, as someone put it, that he's the network's "glamorcaster." He's sanguine about it, though. "If I blow this show—and that possibility exists equally with the possibility that I'll succeed—I'm still young enough to come back and make another name for myself."

Indeed he is. Despite ABC's confidence in the young man, truth be told, his first stint as anchor is less than a success. He never really does make a dent in the ratings of the Big Two, and after three years he quits the anchor desk to become a foreign correspondent. It's there that Jennings shines, covering various crises in the Middle East, including the Munich Olympic massacre. He returns to the States briefly as anchor for ABC's failed morning program A.M. America, after which he becomes the network's chief foreign correspondent. When ABC introduces World News Tonight, he holds down the foreign desk in London, along with Frank Reynolds in Washington and Max Robinson in Chicago. After Reynolds' death in 1983, he once again assumes the anchor chair, and this time it sticks. He will remain on World News Tonight, leading ABC to first place in the ratings, until his own death in 2005.

I wrote a piece at the other blog a few months before Jennings died; at the time, he was considered part of the Big Three along with Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw. That's all well and good, I wrote then, but to tell the real story of Peter Jennings, one had to consider him "the last reminder of the era of Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, and Walter Cronkite," and added that "That should put things in perspective."

Look at the picture of Jennings above: earnest, somewhat doubtful, painfully young. When ABC hired Jennings back in 1965, he was introduced as the network's answer to Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley. As unlikely as it may have seemed back then, even to Peter Jennings, that's exactly the way it turned out.

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During the 60s, the Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace were the premiere variety shows on television. Whenever they appear in TV Guide together, we'll match them up and see who has the best lineup.

Sullivan: Ed welcomes comedian Alan King; Metropolitan Opera soprano Birgit Nilsson; comics Marty Allen and Steve Rossi; singer Shari Lewis; the rock 'n' rolling Animals; impressionist George Kirby; South Vietnamese singer Bach Yenh; the Haslevs, trampoline artists; and Ravic and Babs, roller skaters.  Also: Rex Harrison, Audrey Hepburn and Wilfred Hyde White in a clip from the movie version of My Fair Lady.

Palace: Folk singer Burl Ives introduces Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy and Edgar's 18-year-old daughter Candy; operatic soprano Anna Moffo; singer-dancer Ann Miller; comic Pat Henry; Rih Aruso, bicycle-balancer; and the Baranton Sisters, jugglers.

This is where we see Ed at his best. I know these shows weren't scheduled against each other when they originally aired, but it's as if Ed's playing "anything you can do, I can do better." Palace has comedian Pat Henry? Ed tops them with Alan King. You want opera? Palace has Anna Moffo; Ed counters with Birgit Nilsson. Academy Award-winner Burl Ives? What about Academy Award-winning film My Fair Lady, with Oscar winner Rex Harrison to boot? Strangely-named foreign acts? How better to beat Rih Aruso then with Bach Yenh? Palace has Ann Miller, Ed counters with The Animals. Palace has a pretty good lineup, but Ed's is better. Sullivan shows 'em who's boss.

And it's bonus week!  Al Hirt, the summer substitute for Jackie Gleason, is back with another original lineup that in a lesser week might have taken top honors. Al's guests on Saturday night (6:30 p.m., CBS) include Liza Minnelli, country singer Johnny Tillotson, Little Richard and the Imperials, and Jackie Vernon. Even here, Palace can't get a break; while they have Burl Ives, Sam the Snowman in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, in a few years Jackie Vernon will be the voice of Frosty the Snowman. It's just one of those weeks.

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Throughout the 60s and early 70s, TV Guide's weekly reviews were written by the witty and acerbic Cleveland Amory. Whenever we get the chance, we'll look at Cleve's latest take on the shows of the era. 

I'm sure if we charged Cleveland Amory with being in full curmudgeon mode this week, our favorite critic would plead guilty, even with Perry Mason defending him. That's the show in the crosshairs, and Cleve acknowledges that "It would be nice to say that, after eight years on the air, the show has held up as well as Mr. Burr has." Alas, however, such is not the case, and Amory admits that "this is far from our favorite weekly hour."

At the outset, I'll stipulate that the Perry Mason of today is not the Perry Mason of the first few years. How could it be? There are only so many ways you can set up a courtroom drama, after all, and everyone involved in the show—the producers, the cast, and the freshness of the character—are that much older. Amory complains that many episodes are crammed not only with plots, but subplots and sub-subplots, and Burr himself had complained about needlessly complicated stories. And, adds Amory, "we've seen several plots here that we are convinced nobody believed—least of all the unfortunate actors who got the parts." Again, Burr himself would admit this is true. Amory doesn't quite accuse the actor of mailing his performances in, but he does suggest that Burr does his best acting in the opening credits. He still likes Barbara Hale and William Hopper, but he wishes Della Street and Paul Drake were in more of each episode.

So maybe Perry Mason isn't as good as it used to be. Maybe the stories are unbelievable, and the acting less than award-winning. But Cleve seems to ignore a central question: is the show still entertaining? There are shows I've given up on with only a season or two to go (Hawaii Five-O), and those I've stayed with to the end, with gritted teeth (77 Sunset Strip). In no instance have I ever been tempted to throw in the towel on Perry Mason, no matter how many times I've watched it. It is still entertaining—still fun, still comfortable, still better that most of the competition. If it's lost a step or two, well, then, so have I. To the accusation that I'm a fan of Perry Mason, I willingly plead guilty. But to the charge that, as Amory says, the show "can win, but lose winning," the verdict is: not guilty.

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On Thursday night, CBS' legal drama The Defenders presents "Eyewitness," in which E.G. Marshall defends "two youths who have openly committed murder—confident that no one would try to stop them." The "no one" includes 27 witnesses, "average citizens who didn't bother to interfere, shout for help or call the police."

The premise of "Eyewitness"—the 27 people who didn't want to get involved—bears obvious similarities to the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese in which 38 witnesses saw the fatal attack on the 28-year-old barmaid, who was stabbed to death just outside her apartment building in the Kew Gardens neighborhood of Queens. Two weeks after the murder, The New York Times ran a front-page story on how 38 witnesses had seen the attack on Genovese and had ignored her cries for help, watching as the young woman died on the pavement after having been attacked three times by her assailant. The Genovese murder, and the attendant publicity created an international firestorm of publicity, as well as a cottage industry exploring the sociological study of what came to be known as the "Genovese Syndrome"; the case "became a staple of U.S. psychology textbooks for the next four decades." Books and articles were written, studies were conducted, movies were made. As the TV Guide close-up notes, "Incidents of public apathy toward crime in the streets are becoming shockingly frequent." 

Except.

Not long after the initial story, questions began to be raised regarding accuracy of the Times coverage, particularly the claim that "38 witnesses" had seen or heard the attack and failed to do anything about it.* The story had been personally pushed by Times editor Abe Rosenthal, who saw an opportunity for the newspaper to capitalize on its sensational aspects. Indeed, the Times had been the main propellant in making the relatively obscure murder into an international story. However, such was the position and influence of Rosenthal that many journalists kept those questions to themselves. Gabe Pressman, a reporter for WNBC and later a journalism teacher, raised some of the doubts he'd heard, and was berated by Rosenthal.

*There never was any doubt as to the identity of the killer: Winston Moseley, who was convicted of the rape and murder of Genovese and confessed to at least one other murder. His death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, and he died in 2016 at the age of 81, having served 52 years in prisonthe longest of any New York state prisoner then incarcerated.

Over the years, doubts continued to accumulate, as researchers began assembling the pieces of disparate stories told by those who'd lived in the neighborhood, and compared them to the records of the police, the contemporary interviews with eyewitnesses, and the accounts appearing in the Times and other newspapers. Some people with first-hand knowledge of what had happened had never even been interviewed by police, and others said their comments weren't taken seriously. 

Finally, in 2014, Kevin Cook's provocative book Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime That Changed America exposed the holes in the "official record" and presented a story far closer to what actually happened. There were never 38 witnesses to the crime; the number likely came from a "harried civil servant" who gave a number to the police commissioner who in turn passed it along to Rosenthal, who thought it would make a good story. There was at least one phone call to the police, and perhaps more; the dispatcher never logged the call that is known to have been made. The attack took place near a bar where domestic arguments had been known to spill out into the street; some thought that's what was going on, while others couldn't make it out at all.

Genovese was actually attacked twice, not three times; Moseley fled when a man shouted at him from an open window but returned after Genovese rounded the corner to the rear entrance of her apartment building. That meant that, according to Cook, "most [witnesses] could no longer see her after just a minute or two. When there was nothing left to see, they went to bed and there was then a second attack." True, the one man who did see both attacks failed to call the police; according to Cook, he was a gay man who may have feared police persecution at a time when many organizations, including The New York Times, were inherently suspicious of homosexuals. (Although it wasn't made public until much later, Genovese herself was a lesbian.) In fact, Cook points out, no matter who you were, "It was a time when the police weren't necessarily your friend." And Genovese didn't die alone on the street; a neighbor ran out to comfort her and stayed with her until the ambulance arrived; she died on the way to the hospital.

In 2016, the Times appended an Editor's Note to the online version of its 1964 article, stating that, "Later reporting by The Times and others has called into question significant elements of this account," and printed a series of corrections, ultimately pronouncing the original story "flawed." More than one critic has suggested that the Times coverage would today be considered "fake news."

I wonder how The Defenders would have covered that story?

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Thursday is also the scheduled date for the launch of Gemini V, the third manned Gemini flight. Rookie astronaut Pete Conrad is teamed with Gordon Cooper, a "veteran" who flew the final Mercury flight in 1963; he was also the last American launched on an entirely solo orbital mission. 

We're far from the time when the public will take manned space flight for granted, and the networks are onboard for comprehensive coverage, beginning the night before the flight, when CBS (6:30 p.m. CT), ABC (9:30 p.m.), and NBC (9:45 p.m.) present previews of the flight and the goals of Project Gemini; the flight is scheduled for eight days, twice the length of Gemini IV, and approximating the time for the Apollo spacecraft to make its round-trip journey to the moon and back. Liftoff is to take place at 9:00 a.m. the following morning, with all three networks beginning their coverage at 6:00 a.m., and remaining on the air through the first few hours of the flight. Jules Bergman anchors for ABC, while Walter Cronkite and Mike Wallace do the honors for CBS, and NBC is led by Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, Frank McGee, and Merrill Mueller. 

Just in case, though, the listings include alternate programming in the event the launch is postponed by a day or two, and it's a good thing it does, as the Thursday attempt is scrubbed due to a computer problem (a thunderstorm within a couple of miles of the launch pad might have resulted in a delay anyway). CBS remained on the air until 1:00 p.m., while ABC and NBC continued their coverage until 1:30. Everybody's back on Saturday, though, and the launch goes off without a hitch. Eight days later, the Gemini splashes down successfully, and the U.S. for the first time holds the record for the longest duration space flight.

While it's true that the Gemini V flight was an important step in the journey to the moon, it's still remarkable that the networks are providing so much coverage; Fred Friendly would later complain about what he called "an escalation just like the arms race," and said that with the exception of a manned flight to the moon, CBS would "no longer begin telecasting manned spaceflight coverage 'any earlier than a half-hour before launch.'" For Saturday's rescheduled launch, CBS would begin coverage at 8:30 a.m., 2½ hours later than NBC and 1½ hours after ABC. Setting aside the ridiculous way the all-news networks deal with even the most minor news story, can you imagine many events getting this kind of airtime today?

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Finally, a quick look at "For the Record" and the industry gossip:

First off, Mia Farrow is about to marry Frank Sinatra (go figure on that one), and the question is how the producers of Peyton Place plan to handle her absence while she's off on a cruise with Frank. Their answer: a hit-and-run accident that puts her character, Allison Mackenzie, in a coma. (One of those special four-week comas; ask for it the next time you're in the hospital.) If Farrow comes back from the cruise, as the producers expect, she'll snap out of it. If, on the other hand, she decides she'd rather be Mrs. Frank Sinatra instead, then—well, better off not thinking about it. (Don't worry, though: she pulls through in the end.)

Next, it's praise for Joey Bishop's performance as guest host for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. The only blemish on the record may have been the show featuring Bishop's fellow Rat-Packers, Sammy Davis, Jr. and the aforementioned Frank Sinatra. Many of the critics thought Joey was fawning excessively (is there any other kind?) over Frank, but according to TV Guide, they missed the tongue that Bishop had firmly placed within cheek. Well, nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the average television critic.

Sadly, a survey of TV Guides of the era will see Vietnam start to play a more and more visible role in programming, as we see with CBS' four-part "Vietnam Examination," airing on consecutive Mondays for the next month. Not to be outdone, ABC is countering later in the month with "The Agony in Vietnam," while NBC's "White Paper" on foreign policy next month will devote substantial time to Vietnam. Before much longer, that's about all they'll be talking about. (In fact, ABC's Sunday afternoon program ABC Scope will eventually be devoted exclusively to the war.)

And last but not least, some surprisingly hawkish comments from Hollywood on the war, which if nothing else shows how early in the conflict we really are. Raymond Burr, who's made more trips to Vietnam than anyone not named Bob Hope, is on an extensive speaking tour where he calls for an escalation against the Viet Cong; not surprising, considering his closeness to the American troops as a result of his visits. And Hope himself is congratulating Secretary of State Dean Rusk for speaking out on nations still doing business with North Vietnam. Says Hope, who's usually apolitical in things like this, "People seem to forget we're at war." They'll be remembering soon enough, Bob—trust me on that. TV  

August 12, 2022

Around the dial



At bare-bones e-zine, Jack's review of Victor Wolfson's Hitchcock contributions concludes with the season five episode "The Ikon of Elijah," which Jack sums up as a "brilliant, haunting story in which a greedy man gets his just desserts." In other words, my kind of story.

Comfort TV, as David points out, may not look the way it usually does (I feel for you, brother), but the content is as good as always, and this week he has an elegant tribute to two departed friends: Vin Scully and Nichelle Nichols

Over at Classic Film & TV Cafe, Rick pays homage to the Japanese sci-fi thriller Atragon, which features a submarine that flies and drills! It reminds me a bit of the Mighty Jack compilation we see on MST3K, with a submarine that also flies; alas, though, as far as I know, it doesn't fight monsters.

At Shadow & Substance, Paul is paying close attention to a Night Gallery classic: "Green Fingers," with the great Elsa Lanchester. As Jack does with the Hitchcock Project, Paul looks at the short story from which it is drawn, and Rod Serling's "re-framing."

At Cult TV Blog, John's right: with everything that's happening lately, it's a great time for The X-Files, as a reminder that no matter how strange things seem, they can always be stranger. This week's episode: "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster." At least that hasn't happened. Yet.

Drunk TV is back with a look at "a spare, surprisingly grim little suspenser," the 1974 TV-movie The California Kid, with one of those great ABC Movie of the Week casts, including Martin Sheen, Vic Morrow, Michelle Phillips, Stuart Margolin, and Nick Nolte.

Martin Grams reminds us all that the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention is coming up next month, with a typically stellar lineup. I had the privilege of appearing there a few years ago, and some of the pictures are from that convention; hopefully, we'll be back someday. In the meantime, if you can go, do so! TV  

August 8, 2022

What's on TV? Wednesday, August 12, 1964




I've mentioned before that we're in an odd era right now. We've gone through the New Frontier and now the Great Society, and television can be transmitted across the oceans by satellite. And yet we're in some ways we're still in the 1950s with shows like Ozzie and Harriet (tonight) and The Donna Reed Show, and vaudevillian Rudy Vallee is hosting the variety show that's filling in for Danny Kaye during the summer. (Ozzie and Harriet, in fact, hangs around long enough that its final season is broadcast in color. Before long we'll see shows like Batman, Star Trek and The Prisoner, which are decidedly not 1950s. The culture seems up for grabs, and maybe that's why we wound up with the chaos we did. One thing that's not chaotic is that these listings come from the Minnesota State Edition.

August 6, 2022

This week in TV Guide: August 8, 1964




Sensation monger or boon to mankind? If that's the question, the answer can only be Mike Wallace, and this is years before 60 Minutes. But' as Edith Efron writes this week, that's what you get with Wallace, who insists that "news is drama." Let him explain how it works: "Have you ever looked at a cauliflower on your dining room table? It looks anything but dramatic! But when you see a crate of cauliflowers being examined under klieg lights at 3 in the morning, at a loading dock, by white-coated men haggling about price . . . When you see the battle between profit and loss that is going on . . . When you see one man pitting his business understanding against that of his competitors—this is dramatic. This is conflict. This is how we shoot a cost-of-living story." 

Adds Wallace, "If you look closely, every interesting news item is built around a value conflict." As the host of the CBS Morning News, which boasts an audience 30 percent larger than the news program it replaced, Wallace runs through 20 or 25 stories in the half-hour program, many of them what Wallace calls "instant documentaries" shot just for the show. 

All this may be a surprise to those who remember Wallace as the host of PM, the late-night variety-and-talk show, or the commercials in which he appeared. But look a little further back, to 1958 and The Mike Wallace Interview, that "hit like a bombshell." This is the Mike Wallace that we'd come to know on 60 Minutes, the fearless interviewer who used "a battering cross-examination technique" to focus on the guest's inconsistencies and contradictions—"a method that was lethal to double-talking phonies." He tackled controversial issues and presented "fascists, communists, racists, gangsters, and a host of little-known intellectuals with unusual and provocative ideas." Thus the question that opened this article. 

But ABC, the network on which his show appeared, tried to tone things down, and after Mike hosted gangster Mickey Cohen, who "cheerfully libeled a handful of West Coast police officials," for which the network was forced to apologize on-air, Wallace found himself on the outs—paid, but with no assignments. He tried a gig with a local station. He hosted PM, a show so unsuited to his temperament that he finally quit, leaving behind a sizeable amount of money. He found work with David Wolper, hosting Biography

Then the tide turned again, in the form of Newton Minow's challenge to cover the kind of stories that had made Wallace's name in the first place. The Museum of Modern Art put on a retrospective of "TV masterpieces," one of which was The Mike Wallace Interview. Biography became one of the highest-rated public affair programs in the country and won a Peabody Award. Wallace was hot again, and CBS came calling. 

It's not quite the same Wallace; one associate says that "Watching Mike on the air today is like watching a lion obediently padding down Madison Avenue, tied by a silken leash." Wallace is just happy to be in a news job again. "His appetite for major battle is well under control," Efron says. But, she adds, "His taste for clash and controversy is unabated." And for those who wonder what happened to the "old" Mike Wallace, you'll find out in four years and five weeks. That's September 24, 1968: the premiere episode of 60 Minutes.

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During the 60s, the Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace were the premiere variety shows on television. Whenever they appear in TV Guide together, we'll match them up and see who has the best lineup.

Sullivan: Van Johnson, who sings numbers for his night-club act; rock 'n' roller Bobby Vinton; Topo Gigio, the Italian Mouse; comedians Grecco and Willard; Petticoat Junction girls Jeannine Riley, Pat Woodell, Linda Kaye and Sheila James, who appear as the Ladybugs in a Beatles satire; comedienne Totie Fields; impressionist George Kirby; the brooks Sisters, vocal group; and the South African dancers of the Alan Paton-Krishna Shah play "Sponoro."

Palace: Host Nat King Cole welcomes songstress-dancer Diahann Carroll; ventriloquist Paul Winchell; Ken Murray, who narrates his Hollywood home movies; comedians Allen and Rossi; the Bruno sway-pole act; the acrobatic Amin Brothers; and the singing Merry Young Souls.

This one was really over before it started; once you see Nat King Cole's name, you don't have to go any farther. But it's useful to look at Ed's lineup anyway—how charming that we live in a time when Bobby Vinton is described as a rocker! And I like George Kirby! But Diahann Carroll will put on a show, Allen and Rossi are very popular, and Paul Winchell might invent the artificial heart right there on stage.*

*Fun fact: Winchell, who'd had previous medical education, developed his artificial heart in conjunction with Dr. Henry Heimlich, inventor of the Heimlich maneuver.

And then, of course, there's Nat, singing four songs plus a duet with the Young Souls. For that alone, Palace wins the honors.

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And now for the industry news. Henry Harding's "For the Record" feature reports that, after having been trounced in the ratings by NBC during last month's Republican National Convention, CBS is removing Walter Cronkite from its coverage of the August Democratic National Convention. (NBC garnered 51 percent of the audience, compared to CBS's 36 percent.) He'll be replaced by the team of Robert Trout and Roger Mudd (left, with Eric Sevareid), to compete with NBC's Chet Huntley and David Brinkley and ABC's Howard K. Smith and Edward P. Morgan. The network hastens to add that "Cronkite's days as anchor man are not ended. He'll continue to be the pivotal figure in CBS coverage of such events as the upcoming Gemini space shots, in addition to serving as anchor man of CBS's nightly newscasts. Spoiler: the Trout-Mudd team didn't cut it.

TV Teletype reports that CBS is planning a new production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, which debuted on TV in 1957 with Julie Andrews.* The network is hoping for Shirley Jones and Robert Goulet, but they're going to wind up with Lesley Anne Warren and Stuart Damon instead. If that seems a bit of a letdown, the supporting cast makes up for it, with Celeste Holm, Walter Pidgeon, Ginger Rogers, Jo Van Fleet, Pat Carroll, and Barbara Ruick; with its brilliant color recording, it becomes an annual tradition for several years. 

*The live broadcast, on March 31, drew the largest television audience in history up to that time—107 million Americans, in a country of 172 million.

In other headlines, a blonde-wigged Jane Wyatt is scheduled to appear in an NBC telefilm entitled The Widow-Maker. I don't see anything like that in her TV-filmography; could it be the autumn 1964 movie See How They Run, also known as the first made-for-TV movie? And staying with NBC, David Frost is scheduled to appear in the first three episodes of the upcoming season's That Was the Week That Was

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The great Robert Duvall did a lot of television back in the day, and you can see him twice this week, in two top dramas. 


On Saturday, Duvall stars in "Metamorphosis," an intriguing episode of The Defenders (7:30 p.m., CBS) which finds Preston representing Luke Jackson, a death-row inmate convicted seven years ago of killing a police officer, who's facing his eighth and final clemency hearing. Preston argues that Jackson's a model prisoner who's been fully rehabilitated and should have his death sentence commuted to life; the DA, who's fought Jackson each and every time, doesn't believe a killer can be rehabilitated in only seven years. The Defenders is one of those shows where you're not guaranteed that the Prestons will win, so I wonder how it turns out. We can find out here.

Keeping with the crime-and-punishment theme, a repeat episode of Arrest and Trial (Sunday, 7:30 p.m., ABC) stars Macdonald Carey as a law professor with a contract out on his life, courtesy of two disgruntled students (Chris Robinson and Joe Gallison). And today's teachers think they have it rough. On What's My Line? (9:30 p.m., CBS), director Joseph L. Manckiewicz tests the crew's ability to fit all those letters on a nameplate when he appears as a guest panelist, along with Arlene, Bennett and Dorothy.

Duvall's second appearance of the week comes Monday on The Outer Limits (6:30 p.m., ABC); in "The Chameleon," Duvall plays an intelligence agent sent to infiltrate a party of space aliens who've made a forced landing on Earth. The episode's written by Robert Towne, who'd later win an Oscar for his screenplay for Chinatown, and it costars Howard Caine, more familiar as Major Hochstetter on Hogan's Heroes. Meanwhile, Robert Redford plays the heavy in a Breaking Point episode (9:00 p.m., ABC) in which he finds group-therapy sessions to be "a perfect exercise for his sadistic tendencies."

Tuesday gives us a foursquare option of shows to watch (depending on where you live). Louis Jourdan's suave as a threat to Jack Palance's management of the circus in The Greatest Show on Earth (7:30 p.m., ABC); the next time we see him at the circus, he's trying to have the big top blown up while James Bond tries to stop him in Octopussy. Next, Oscar winner Rita Moreno is the guest on The Jack Benny Program (8:30 p.m., CBS), and that's followed by Florence Henderson hosting The Bell Telephone Hour showcase for new talent (9:00 p.m., NBC) The only name I recognize is Anita Gillette, who first appeared on TV with Ed Sullivan in 1963. At the same time, if you live in Duluth, you can see last week's Hollywood Palace on WDSM, and you'd probably want to, because the host is the one, the only, Groucho.

Wednesday
's a pretty quiet day, so we'll focus on the game show You Don't Say! (2:30 p.m., NBC). Mel Tormé and Ruta Lee are the celebrity guests, and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy appears to accept a gift for the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library. In prime time, 77 Sunset Strip (9:00 p.m., ABC) nears the end of its controversial sixth and final season with a rerun from the fifth season: "Terror in a Small Town," the only episode of the series we skipped. Reason: Kookie's being framed for a crime he didn't commit. Talk about the cliché of putting one of the regulars in false jeopardy; if you're unsure how it ends, you deserve whatever you get.

You don't see novels adapted on episodic television all that often, considering how hard it is to condense a book into a movie-length running time, but Thursday's Kraft Suspense Theatre (9:00 p.m., NBC) pulls it off with "The Deep End," an adaptation of mystery novelist John D. MacDonald's The Drowner. It doesn't feature MacDonald's famous creation Travis McGee, but then, neither did The Executioners, and that didn't hurt the story when it was made into the movie Cape Fear.

On Friday, we'll look at a contrasting pair of attractions: the 13th annual International Beauty Spectacular (7:30 p.m,., NBC), hosted by Hugh O'Brian live from Long Beach, California. I think I've mentioned this pageant before, but I'm too lazy to check it out; the winner, who I did check out, is Gemma Cruz, Miss Phillippines. At 9:00 p.m. on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Pat Buttram, best known as the comic Western sidekick of so many movies and TV shows, makes his first non-Western appearance in "The Jar," adapted from the short story by Ray Bradbury. Collin Wilcox, James Best, Slim Pickens, George Lindsay, Billy Barty and Jocelyn Brando are among the co-stars.
 
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Finally, it's been a while since we've done a fashion spread, and what better way to say "welcome back" than with the lovely Miss Anna Maria Alberghetti, star of stage, screen and television. She would have been 28 at the time of this photoshoot, two years off from having won a Tony for Best Actress in a Musical for Carnival. Music was her background; she performed at Carnegie Hall when she was 13; two years later she was in a film version of the Gian Carlo Menotti opera The Medium, At 16, she opened for Red Skelton in Las Vegas. On television, she'd perform with Martin & Lewis, and guested on programs from Wagon Train to The Hollywood Palace. She's still with us today at age 86, and was still performing even a few years ago. 

One website described her as "young, beautiful and talented," and I see no reason to disagree with any part of that assessment. In these pictures, she's wearing items from Renee Firestone's summer collection (and check out her remarkable life when you have time), but I don't think this is a case of clothes making the woman, do you? TV  

August 5, 2022

Around the dial



Xirst of all, happy birthday to George Jetson, who was born in this year back in 1962. OK, we don't know the exact date, but we do know that the cartoon debuted in 1962, that it was set one hundred years in the future, and that it was established early on that George was 40 years old. Thus, 2022. I'm not entirely sure how it was determined that he was born on July 31, but now that it's on the internet, it has to be true. Right?

One thing on which everyone seems to agree, whether they're on the internet or not, is Vin Scully, who died this week, aged 94. If you've ever listened to a baseball game on the radio or seen it on TV, you've heard Vin Scully. He also called the Rose Parade (with Elizabeth Montgomery!), hosted a game show, and broadcast football (it's his voice on the famous Montana-to-Clark pass), golf, and a host of other things. But it was baseball that suited his personality best, the melodic gentleness of his voice. When I was in California on a business trip once, I heard him call a game with no color commentator. It was just nine innings of him, and even though I was over baseball by then, I didn't particularly want this game to end. At The RingerBryan Curtis and Michael Baumann look at the man and what he meant to listeners.

My favorite memory of Vin Scully comes not from baseball, though, nor even from "The Catch," but from his call when journeyman golfer Ed Sneed came to the 18th hole needing to make a short putt to win the 1979 Masters. 


It was Scully's essential humanity that allowed him to view athletes as human beings, and to empathize with them. His anguished call couldn't have been any more heartfelt if he'd missed the putt himself, and to identify with both viewers and participants is rare indeed. Yes, one of the last big-game announcers. 

At Cult TV Blog, John continues his series on Birmingham on TV; this week, it's the Cold War miniseries The Game, which is only seven years old but takes the viewer back much further, to the ideological battles of the 1970s. John has some very good insight into different kinds of games that we all find ourselves in. Good TV should make you think that way.

Rick's latest "Seven Things to Know" series at Classic Film & TV Cafe looks at Buddy Ebsen, and tells you some things you might not know about a very talented man; one who could play Jed Clampett, yes, and fatherly (but shrewd) Barnaby Jones, but he was also a song-and-dance man who would have been the original Tin Man had he not had an allergic reaction. He was a very, very good actor.

The Broadcast Archives have a photo of what might have been one of the first guides to movies on television, complete with ratings. Are you surprised that it dates all the way back to 1958, or are you wondering why it took that long?

And in case you haven't caught up yet, at Christmas TV History Joanna has a complete recap to all the posts in her Christmas in July "It's a Wonderful Summer" series. Well worth going back to any that you might have missed.

It isn't often that I have a viewing connection to all of Terence's remembrances at A Shroud of Thoughts, but it's four times the case this week. Pat Carroll was a television mainstay during my childhood; I wouldn't describe myself as a particular fan of hers, but I knew who she was, I recognized her by name or sight, and I'm afraid not enough people can say the same today. Bernard Cribbins was warm and likeable in the rebooted Doctor Who as Wilfrid Mott, the grandfather of The Doctor's companion Donna Noble, and he was in so much more. Nichelle Nichols was Uhura on Star Trek, and while I don't mean to diminish her wonderful career (Martin Luther King Jr. urged her to stay on the show because she was a role model for what blacks could be), very few actors can ever have the role of a lifetime that she did. And David Warner—well, it's hard to know where to start, but I'll choose Twin Peaks, a great show even greater with him in it, and the made-for-TV A Christmas Carol (the George C. Scott version) where he played against type as a warm, sensitive Bob Cratchit, and, in doing so, I go so far as to say he made the character his own. There have been many very good Cratchits, but none better than his. 

And then there's Vin Scully. 

Perhaps, after I'm retired, we'll be able travel more, as we did in going to Liberty Aviation a couple of weeks ago. And when that happens, one of the places we may wind up is Serlingfest, a celebration of Rod Serling, in Binghamton, New York. In the meantime, at Shadow & Substance Paul has the lineup for this year's fest, and see if you don't feel the same way. It's just too bad it isn't walking distance. . . TV  

August 3, 2022

What I've been watching: July, 2022


Shows I’ve Watched:
Shows Next on the List:
The Bold Ones: The Lawyers (abandoned)
Maverick
Tightrope

Looking at the Masterpieces
Unknown hour-long drama



Xs you've by no doubt realized if you read this site on a regular basis, I've long had a thing for TV courtroom dramas. (See Perry Mason and Judd for the Defense as Exhibits 1 and 2, but not programs like L.A. Law and Boston Legal, because I'm not interested in soap operas—even though, as I'm sure someone out there will point out, the Perry Mason radio series eventually morphed to television as The Edge of Night.) 

If you're still with me after that tediously long digression, what I like the most about courtroom dramas, besides the whodunnit part of it, is the idea of the lawyer as Single Combat Warrior, prepared to go into battle on behalf of his client. If you think it would be hard to stake your life on the performance of one man, imagine what it's like for that man to know that your life is in his hands. So when we had an hour or so of prime time to kill the other night, a lawyer series sounded like a good idea.

Back in the late 1960's NBC introduced a series called The Bold Ones, comprised of three separate stories—The New Doctors, The Lawyers, and The Protectors. I watched the show when it was originally on, though the one I remember best is The New Doctors, with E.G. Marshall, David Hartman, and John Saxon. I also recall The Senator, the second-season replacement for The Protectors, with Hal Holbrook in the title role, and even then, I was irritated by its liberal politics. But since none of those shows feature courtroom theatrics on a regular basis, I must be here to talk about The Lawyers, and if it seems as if once again I'm having trouble getting to the point, there's probably a good reason for it.

The Lawyers
stars Burl Ives as Walter Nichols, a nationally renowned defense attorney from California, along with Joseph Campanella and James Farentino as Brian and Neil Darrell, a pair of lawyer-brothers whom Nichols has taken on as partners, and it has to be said that Ives doesn’t just lend his name to the show, as do so many big stars do when surrounded by younger, more virile co-stars. In the episode in question, "The Shattered Image," he fairly dominates the story, to the point that he doesn't even allow Neil to act as his co-council when Nichols is put on trial himself for jury tampering.

But we're getting ahead of the story at this point, which starts out as a fairly routine murder, with Nichols's client accused of having murdered a popular former jock who'd supposedly attempted to rape the client's wife at a party. There's some reason to think that not everything is the way it appears, and it probably would have been a better story had that been the subtext, but in fact Nichols gets his client off on temporary insanity by bringing to light the checkered past of the former jock, who apparently had a past history of sex crimes. 

This was a great blow to the jock's benefactor, Ralph Turner (Will Geer), a respected member of the community who had taken the young man under his wing at an early age and thought of him as a surrogate son. With his protegee’s image thus tarnished, he contrives with a woman member of the jury (Audrey Totter, in a great cameo) to make it look as if Ives bribed her to come in with a not-guilty verdict, setting up the trial in which Ives defends himself. (It’s only at the end, when he realizes that it was his vanity that caused him to rely on his own skills, that he realizes the truth that a lawyer who defends himself does indeed have a fool for a client.)

Now, every actor has his own method of trying a case. Whereas Perry Mason is stentorian and intimidating, and Clinton Judd forceful and righteous, Walter Nichols is folksy and reasonable, right up until you take the bait and he throws the trap on you. There is a thing, though, as we know there always is: when Ives is speaking in that calm, folksy voice, he sounds remarkably like Sam the Snowman, the character he voiced in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. At times the similarities were so distinct that I expected Nichols to call Rudolph as a surprise witness for the defense, an action that would have triggered great excitement in the courtroom except that the gallery isn't comprised of seven- and eight-year-olds. 

That wasn’t my problem with the episode, though, the thing that caused me to abandon the effort to go further with future episodes. (In fact, if Rudolph had turned up as a defense witness, I might have been encouraged to watch it every hour, waiting to see who else might show up—Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as the jury, for instance.) No, it was how the story was resolved—or, rather, how it wasn’t resolved. 

In the first place, Nichols doesn't do a very good job of it; he’s obviously too close to the situation to be objective, and he dismisses Neil's suggestions that he try the case instead (the aforementioned “fool for a client” syndrome), but in the end Nichols realizes that it was all an act of vanity on his part. That becomes his defense; he offers himself as his only witness, a tactic which allows him to make a statement to the jury in lieu of direct examination, and during this statement he gives an impassioned argument for his innocence, coupled with a mea culpa that he’d done a lousy job of defending himself. The reasoning behind this, I suppose, is that the jurors, impressed by the brutal honesty with which he excoriates himself, will also believe he’s being honest when he says he did not tamper with the juror. They accept this, and he’s found not guilty. 

Except.

In the meantime, Neil has found a witness who will testify that Turner did, in fact, conspire with the juror, to frame Nichols. Furthermore, Nichols knows that Neil has this witness. Why Nichols doesn’t call this witness to clear his name, rather than depend on the kindness of strangers (in this case, the jurors), is a mystery to me. Your guess is as good as mine.

There’s only one logical reason for it, and there’s one logical problem with that reason. Perhaps Nichols has a kind of compassion for Turner, an old man who sees himself tarnished as his protege was tarnished, and thus he decides to spare him the humiliation of being exposed in court as a perjurer. If that’s as far as it went, I might be able to buy it. It’s not a good reason, but it’s a reason. But here’s the problem: Turner is guilty of jury tampering himself, and in the zero-sum game that is often the law, both he and the juror are going to stand trial anyway. So Nichols isn’t sparing Turner anything. If that’s the case, why even introduce the witness who Nichols doesn’t use, unless it’s to reassure the viewers that Nichols really is innocent. And if your viewers need that kind of reassurance, then maybe you don’t have a very good hero.

I spent the better part of a half-hour following the episode trying to figure all this out, but in the end I had to give up, partly so I could watch another program, but also because I couldn’t come up with any explanation. Perhaps one of you can, in which case I’d be indebted. Maybe, like Nichols, I’m just too close to it to make sense of it. And maybe I’ll return to The Lawyers someday, but for now I think I’ll let Mason and Judd do my defending for me. 

l  l  l

Whatever your preference in attorneys-at-law, it's a fact that there would be no courtroom drama without criminals and policemen, both of which television has an endless supply. One of the more unique police dramas is Tightrope, which ran for one season on CBS in 1959-60 and stars a pre-Mannix Mike Connors as "Nick," an undercover agent who assumes a different name and identity each week as he infiltrates various criminal gangs, and unless I've missed something along the way, this may be the first case of a television show featuring a lead character who's never referred to at any point by name.  

Tightrope
is yet another of the half-hour dramas so prevalent at the time, and while this makes a nice fit with The Felony Squad on Thursdays, I'm not sure that it always works plot-wise. Nick provides a voiceover during each episode, which helps tie the ends together and keep the story moving; even so, though, things seem to happen a little too fast or a little too superficially. On the other hand, since Nick has no personal life of his own, you don't have that angle to encumber things, so maybe you do only need 30 minutes.

Connors is very good in a role that is not unlike playing in an anthology series each week. He has to present himself as a real tough (and occasionally a heel) in order to ingratiate himself with the bad guys; once he's in the inside, he has to figure out ways to avoid getting caught up in things like murder, which can be tough in the instances where he's playing the head crook's enforcer. And since even the local police don't know his identity, only that there's an undercover man working from the inside, he risks getting captured, or worse, by the cops. Walking the tightrope, indeed.

Connors, who always showed an unusual degree of warmth and understanding in Mannix, displays a similar humanity here. He feels empathy for the victims of crime, but isn't allowed to let them in on the secret. He's often ruthless with women, even when they show feelings for him. On occasion, such as when one of his fellow crooks saves his life, he forms a genuine bond with them, but there's no room for softness here.

Speaking of which, frequently he has to rely on a fellow undercover agent to deliver his information to the police, and often it's a race to the finish to see if they'll show up in time, before the bad guys spring their plan. (Spoiler alert: they do show up in time. Every week.) One of the treats in these episodes is to try and pick out the bit character, a barfly or hussy, who at the end is revealed to have been Nick's contact to the law. 

Each episode ends with Nick, wandering the streets of the city at night, destined to be alone for as long as he works both sides of the tightrope, and Connors does a good job of conveying the ambivalence of a man who has to disappear each week into another identity, working both sides of the law, doing a dirty job that he nonetheless realizes has to be done. There's really something noble about that kind of self-sacrifice—and, as Ken Wahl would show many years later in Wiseguy, it's not easy to stay on the tightrope without falling.

Was there more on the TV menu this month? Of course, but I don't always form a conclusion about a show as quickly as I did with The Lawyers. That was a bold move, indeed. TV  

August 1, 2022

What's on TV? Tuesday, August 5, 1986




Saturday’s piece was, in a sense, about growing old, and the TV Guide of the 1980s is not for old eyes. With cable stations being listed, there are now so many channels, with so much information, that I’ve got my magnifier on extra-large to make sure I catch it all. And among the things we see in this San Franciso Metropolitan Edition is that there are a lot more infomercials than we've seen in the past, though not as many as we will see. Along with some timeless favorites of the past, more recent series like Simon & Simon and Magnum are now included in the syndication rotation. (KOFY has a particularly strong crime lineup throughout the day.) As for this week's choices, in addition to the main stations from the Bay Area, I've also added SuperStation TBS and USA to give you a flavor from those good old days.