February 26, 2024

What's on TV? Saturday, February 22, 1969




It's hard to imagine now, in the 24/7 news environment that exists, but back in the day networks often didn't offer evening news programs on Saturday and Sunday. You can see it has abated somewhat by now in this Northern California edition, as both Huntley-Brinkley and CBS offer Saturday evening news. I remember one commercial for weekend news that went something like, "News doesn't wait to happen just because it's the weekend." Of course, I wonder how much of that is true. Yes, there are major news events that break on the weekend, but on the other hand, how much of what we hear on the news is really news? And how much of it is that important? 

February 24, 2024

This week in TV Guide: February 22, 1969




I think most of us are aware of the secret life of Raymond Burr, how he constructed a life's story that was almost entirely false, not out of any particular malice, but in order to keep his private life private. His homosexuality, to be sure, but I think the creation of his alternate life's story went far beyond what was necessary to simply keep quiet that part of his life. For years, until after his death, this story was accepted almost without question by so many news sources, but in part two of a two-part profile of Burr, Edith Efron takes a very close look at the actor, and finds some things that hint at the mystery of the man, and how not everything is what it appears.

There's her conversation with Linda Galloway, wife of Ironside co-star Don, who offers this view of him: "Ray is the most variable, individual man I know. He changes from minute to minute. He is like a lot of different men. Sometimes he is sharp, sometimes he is dull. He can say the same words on different days and they'll mean a hundred different things. Sometimes they'll be a caress, at other times an insult or a snub. He is so... complicated!" Like a lot of different men—isn't that an interesting description?

Burr, one of America's most popular actors, has often come across, Efron says, as "a combination of Falstaff and St. Francis of Assisi," a mixture of jollity and benevolence. But, she says, these are "scarcely the essence of Raymond Burr. They are his disguise." Underneath that disguise, he is solitary, remote, a man of "both massive strengths and massive weaknesses," an "unstable, darkly tense man who constantly reveals signs of inner torment." His many compulsions range from eating to tidying, working, and do-gooding. Most are, she says, more subtle; "He is locked up in repressive defenses and finds it virtually impossible to open up emotionally." Disguises, repressive defenses. "His own complex identity weighs heavily on Burr’s mind—he is often in an introverted, brooding state of selfinspection. But mainly he attempts to escape his inner anxiety." And most of his escapes, she says, are "creative." That may come across as a lot of psychobabble, but it also kind of strikes close to home, don't you think?

Efron notes his apparent disconnection during a dinner given by civic leaders to acknowledge his humanitarianism. He frankly admits his boredom with such events. But, he acknowledges, "The fun isn't there for them if you’re not a little available. So you go through with it. But it’s a terrible drain, a terrible drag." He's left tolerating people, but, he says, "Behind the social façade, I'm remote." There's that word façade

     Looking over his shoulder?
Why the inner conflicts? One friend says he feels Burr, a man of strong emotions, values, and convictions, "doesn't feel he should express them openly. He seems to feel there is something wrong about it. Almost as if it's guilt." Another calls him "a violently self-=assertive man who thinks self-assertion is wrong. . . Now he feels he should crucify himself for the world. But he doesn't want to. He's really greedy for life. He’s spent his life submissively climbing onto crosses, hating it, and hating himself for hating it." The result is a man who "exists in a state of virtually nonstop tension, alienation and self-condemnation," a man "with a brilliant capacity for life who can’t permit himself to live it."

It's all very interesting, but at the end, are we really any closer to understanding why Burr chose to create a fake life to tell the world? Perhaps not, although the hints of shame, guilt and and self-abnegation that pepper these snippets might give us a tantalizing clue. He names Socrates, Gandhi and Schweitzer as his moral ideals; perhaps he couldn't stand to have had a life that was, by comparison, so ordinary. In the end, though, I think it might just be that Raymond Burr couldn't have done it any other way, that his desire to create barriers and shields made it imperative, inevitable, that he would have done it. And maybe, in some odd way, he had something of a last laugh after all; maybe all this, too, was an illusion, one that allowed him to live a life that nobody knew about. Perhaps not, but maybe.
 
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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: Broadway takes a bow as Ed presents stars and other cast members from three current musical hits: Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, and Zorba. Also: the 5th Dimension, Glenn Yarbrough, Michele Lee, comedians Myron Cohen and Dickie Henderson, and Hugh Forgie’s Novelty act.

Palace: An all-comedy potpourri is hosted by Laugh-In’s Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, who offer their own brand of enlightenment about old songs and charades. Sharing the spotlight are fellow farceurs Ron Gaylord and Burt Holiday; banjo-playing pantomimist Gene Sheldon; double-talking Simmy Bow; telephone gossip Betty Walker; and stand-up comics Jackie Gayle and Irwin C. Watson. 

The Broadway stars appearing with Ed tonight aren't necessarily the names people associate from the original casts or the movie adaptations—Harry Goz is Tevye in Fiddler, Anita Gillette and Martin Ross in Cabaret—it's still a star-studded lineup, more than enough to overcome the all-comedy presentation on Palace. This week Sullivan takes the bows, and that's no laughing matter.

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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. 

Every once in awhile you run across one of those shows that simply leaves no impression, like the smallest of kittens walking across a bedspread. It could just as easily have been from the 1950s or the 1990s for all you know; it doesn't even ring a bell from having been in TV Guide. It's the opposite of total recall; there's no recall at all. Such a series, at least for me, is My Friend Tony. Had I not run across it on YouTube a few years back, I would have been like the man at his high school reunion who has no idea who his friend Tony is. There must be a good reason for this, so we turn to Cleveland Amory for encouragement that we didn't miss some hidden gem. As usual, he doesn't let us down.

My Friend Tony is, says Cleve, "one more show which starts out-with high promise and reasonable premise and promptly falls flat on its console." NBC has had too many of these "fallen soufflés," he continues; "It's time they either got a new chef in charge of locking at what's cooking or else a new Vice President in Charge of Believability." Sheldon Leonard, the producer who's developed much better series than this, terms the show a "mystery-comedy," which leaves something to be desired; "Mystery loves comedy all right these days, but whether or not they should get married is, judging by this show, an entirely different matter." Tony, the eponymous friend in question, is a young Italian (played by Enzo Cerusico) serving as the "fun-loving legman" for John Woodruff (James Whitmore), one of those professor/detectives (James Whitmore) that populate TV. John met Tony (a "street urchin") in Italy during the war, and later on Tony became one of his students. 

The mysteries, such as they are, are contrived and overly complicated; in one episode, Brooke Bundy plays a young woman who is, incredibly, not only the good girl, but the girlfriend of the crooked crime commissioner, and the sister of a murderer who kills someone she fingers, before he's killed himself. Not only that, she manages to fall for Tony, for whom the feeling is mutual. As Tony leaves, she says, ""Most girls cry at a time like this.' We couldn't have agreed more, except for one thing—she was almost at the end of the script and should have been happy as a clam." Cerusico is actually both good and likable in the role; what he isn't is believable. Whitmore is another example of what we've seen too many times this season, "a fine actor in a phony part." Perhaps Tony has the last laugh, after all. One of the reasons he has such a good time is because his English isn't very good, "and in a show like this, that's a big advantage."

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Looking through these issues of the late 1960s and early 1970s, it's impossible to overstate how traumatized news organizations were by the experience of Chicago, 1968. No matter how hard I might want to avoid it, it just keeps coming up, even though we're now almost six months after the fact. 

This week we lead off with the third of a four-part series by Neil Hickey entitled "How the Networks Stubbed Their Toes," which examines aspects of how the media covered the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and suggests that, just maybe, things weren't quite as bad as people made it out to be. The popular conception—certainly the one I've always read—is that the coverage was one-sided, "a straight-out contest of good versus evil: the good dissenters (both inside and outside the hall) versus the bad Establishment." But Hickey finds that there was, from the very beginning, an attempt by journalists to set a balance between the demonstrators and Mayor Richard Daley's police. 

Roger Mudd of CBS, for instance, took a harsh view of those delegates who favored the Vietnam peace plank that was defeated on the floor. "It occurs to me that we're suffering at this convention from a massive case of political bad manners," he said, "and the special goat became Mayor Daley." Did the dissidents, he continued, really think the convention could have been conducted without security? As far as his observations on what came to be called the "police riot" conducted against demonstrators in Grant Park, "I talked to reporters last night who were there who said that the police were right. I don't know that we're absolutely correct in calling it unprovoked." Hickey cites several similar comments by ABC's Howard K. Smith and NBC's Chet Huntley, calling out demonstrators for "being quite purposeful in their baiting of the police." 

According to William Wood professor at the Columbia School of Journalism, the strong feelings which many have regarding the events in Chicago may color their perceptions of how the story was handled. Nonetheless, he acknowledged that the reporters occasionally let their private feelings come through, when they're supposed to be "absolutely impervious" to such lapses. He also believed that at times the networks latched on to more sensational stories, ones lacking in substance, while saying to themselves, consciously or unconsciously, "Let's keep this thing going." He urges the FCC to be judicious with any demands they make of the networks to defend their coverage, but overall stresses a need for "quiet self-examination" by the news departments. Penn Kimball, a professor at the Columbia School, thinks that there might have been a benefit for reporters to have done "an old-fashioned news-gathering job on foot," feeding the information to the anchors, rather than reporting from the scene with cameras and microphones. 

One story that swept the convention was a rumor that Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy might make himself available as a last-minute compromise candidate. The rumor swept through the convention hall like wildfire, but there's never been any real evidence that such a rumor was true. Says Kimball, "There was indeed something to the story, but the boom was never real, and TV—and everybody else inflated it." CBS's Eric Sevareid wondered aloud if the rumors "were not, at least, in part, the creation of TV reporters looking for an intriguing story."

Demonstrators aren't fools; they know that reporters and cameramen are watching them, and they know how to stage events for their benefit. Kurt Lang, a sociology professor at SUNY Stony Brook, says that the journalists on the scene "inadvertently contributed to the uproar in their search for interesting interludes." That's not, however, the same thing as slanting the news, he stresses. He adds that the problem wasn't too much coverage, but not enough of the right kind of coverage. Television had an ideal opportunity to look at "what these demonstrations and these young people really meant," he says. "Who were they? Where did they all come from? Why, in fact, did they come to Chicago at all? What does it say about our institutions? Why should young Americans walk around waving a Vietcong flag? What moves them to shout, 'I want to destroy the whole Establishment and see it come tumbling down'?"

I've commented in the past that I see a lot of disturbing parallels between 1968 and what we're experiencing today, and while I think the experts in this article made some excellent points, the larger question still remains. The demonstrators in Chicago and elsewhere, protesting the war and the establishment—they're not much different from the young people of today, protesting on campuses and in the streets, with their anti-American slogans and chants. I don't suggest that they're representative of all young people, or all Americans; I'm just suggesting that those questions Lang mentions, the ones that weren't being asked in Chicago, aren't being asked today, either. The media may or may not be biased, but are they doing a good job covering the story? More important, are they even letting the public know there is a story? Lang concludes by saying, "Nobody I know in TV has attempted seriously to answer these questions. The networks were covering the violence, all right, but not what it means to all of us for now and the future.” Hickey adds, and I agree, that this is the better story.

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It's kind of a lean week, TV-wise, but here's a program that caught my eye: "The Experiment," an episode of CBS Playhouse, a kind of attempt to resurrect the old Playhouse 90 quality-drama idea (Tuesday, 9:30 p.m.) It distills almost every issue of the 1960s into one story: youth rebelling against the establishment, premarital sex, racial conflict. About the only thing missing, as far as I can tell without actually watching it, is drug use, but that might have been worked in there as well.

What's really notable about this is the casting. M.K. Douglas stars as Wilson Evans, the young scientist who sells his soul to corporate America in order to further his studies, while Tisha Sterling is Tess Hayes, a student activist and M.K.'s lover, who agrees to pose as his wife in order to further his career. M.K. Douglas, complete with scraggly beard, is, as we might have guessed, Michael Douglas (and a note in the listing helpfully identifies him as Kirk Douglas's son), while Tisha Sterling is the daughter of Ann Sothern and Robert Sterling. Was this stunt casting, especially playing up the generation gap? I don't think so; Sterling had a very capable career, particularly in the movies, while we all know the success that Douglas has achieved over the years. They're surrounded by a very strong supporting cast, including John Astin, Barry Sullivan, and Susan Strasberg. Ellen Violett talks here about her experience writing the teleplay.

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With De Gaulle in Paris
The networks are paying a lot of attention to President Nixon's trip to Europe this week; understandable, given that this is the first European trip by an American president since John F. Kennedy in 1963 (the famed "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech). Planned stops include Brussels, London, Bonn, Berlin, and Paris; considering that it's only been a month since the inauguration, one can appreciate the importance to which Nixon himself must have attached this visit. Networks plan coverage of the President's departure from Washington on Sunday, as well as mid-morning and late-evening reports and expanded news coverage. In addition, CBS has prime-time specials on Thursday (8:00 p.m.) and Friday (7:30 p.m.). I mention this partly to show how extensively television covered the news back then, and partly to show how, well, indifferent we've become to overseas travel through the years. It sometimes seems as if the president flies over to Europe every six weeks or so for something or other, and if I exaggerate on that, my point is that it's become so routine, so common, that we hardly consider it an event anymore—and technology, especially things like air travel and television, has made the world much, much smaller. And it could have felt even smaller; original plans called for the Apollo 9 launch on Friday morning, but colds for all three astronauts pushed the mission start back to March 3.

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Good news if you're a fan of CBS; according to the latest from Richard K. Doan, the network has such a comfortable lead in the ratings race that, with only scattered exceptions, they'll be sticking with their current lineup. At present, only The Jonathan Winters Show, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.*, and The Queen and I appear to be definite cancellations; while it's possible that Hawaii Five-0 and The Wild Wild West could be in trouble "as too action-oriented in the present antiviolence climate," but only if "something hot comes up." Whether they're referring to something hot being a hot news event or a hot potential show isn't clear, but in the event, while Five-0 will survive and thrive until 1980, the network gives West its cancellation notice by the time this issue hits the newsstands; producer Bruce Lansbury will call the show "a sacrificial lamb … It went off with a 32 or 33 share which in those days was virtually break-even but it always won its time period."

*Gomer Pyle was, in fact, number two in the ratings, behind only Laugh-In, but left the air in favor of Jim Nabors' variety program.

Elsewhere in the industry, Rod Serling remains in the spotlight, despite his comments a few months ago in which he "swore off writing for TV presumably forever." Not only has he been working on a proposed new ABC series, The New People, he's "engaged also in writing a two-hour World Premiere movie for NBC in which he'll appear as a plot-explaining host." The premise: three "slightly related" suspense tales, with a different star in each. The movie's referred to as "Night Gallery," with Joan Crawford, Roddy McDowall and Sam Jaffe among those scheduled.

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MST3K alert: The Eye Creatures
(1945) The strange inhabitants from a flying saucer terrify a lovers' lane. John Ashley, Cynthia Hull, Warren Hammack, Chet Davis, Bill Peck. (Saturday, 11:30 p.m., KCRA in Sacramento) As you can see from the picture at the left, the original title was rendered in a stylized logo. When the movie was re-released as Attack of the Eye Creatures, whoever was in charge of graphic embellishments inexplicably added "Attack of the" to the title, meaning that it reads literally as, well, Attack of the The Eye Creatures. No fan of MST3K would ever refer to it any other way. And I think that tells you just about everything you need to know about this movie.  TV  

February 23, 2024

Around the dial




At bare-bones e-zine, we start the week with Jack's Hitchcock Project, looking at Irving Elman's seventh-season teleplay "The Door Without a Key," starring the great Claude Rains, John Larch, and Billy Mumy, familiar faces all.

The Broadcast Archives has a small but important explanation for why it's important to preserve broadcast archives. I wish--no, I ache for all the material that's been lost over the years because it wasn't preserved.

Did you ever wonder how TV bloggers get ideas on what to write about? One way is by having a constant supply of programs to watch, and at Cult TV Blog, John shares some of the contents of his laptop. We'll be reading about them later!

At The Horn Section, Hal is back to continue his series dispelling myths about the ratings for the series F Troop, which were actually much better than those for more heralded show such as That Girl.

The Avengers returns at The View from the Junkyard, with "The Forget-Me-Knot," and a restatement of what the series is all about: "lots of fights, some baddies with a dastardly plan, eccentric secret agents, a gimmicky element to the story, and plenty of humour." Find out how all these come together.

Was The Love Boat the most influential program ever to air on television? This article from CNN, discussing the impact the show made on the cruise industry, makes a compelling case that it was; what do you think?

Did you ever wonder how James Garner wound up as Jim Rockford? My old friend Billy Ingram has the story at TVParty, the site that gave me my start in the classic TV business!

We're up to the 1962 episodes of the sitcom Dennis the Menace, and Television's New Frontier: The 1960s takes an in-depth look at the year's episodes and the direction the show is headed, including the transition from Joseph Kearns to Gale Gordon.

TV Obseurities presents a new audio exhibit looking at the closing credits to the 1975-76 season of All in the Family,. It's worth it for the voiceover promotions you hear over the credits, a great look back at what the network had to offer almost 50 years ago.

At Cult TV Lounge, it's a look at one of the best episodes of The Twilight Zone, the chilling, surprising "The After Hours," starring Anne Francis as a department store customer who isn't what she seems, in a store that isn't what it seems.

Finally, the podcast Flipside: The True Story of Bob Crane presents a special Bob hosted to mark the 8th anniversary of his KNX-CBS radio program. It's a reminder of what a great radio host he was, and how entertaining his show was. TV  

February 21, 2024

The New Top Ten: Judd for the Defense




It seems to me to have been a few months ago when I made some kind of rash promise that I was going to update my Top Ten show list, which you see on the sidebar. As I say, it was a rash thing to do, because here we are months later, well into the new year, and if you were to check that list, you'd see that nothing had changed. It isn't that I bite off more than I can chew, or promise more than I can deliver, or at least I don't think it is. I've thought about it, which has to count for something. And I wasn't trying to deceive anyone—matter of fact, the reason I mentioned it when I did was to give me time to do something about it. 

Well, I'm finally doing just that. There are several series out there that have earned a place on the current Top Ten list, and I think it's about time to give them their due. Notice that I'm not doing them all at once; after that first paragraph, there should be no explanation necessary, and this way I get a little more mileage out of it, a few more pieces to help fill out those quiet weeks. There's also an ulterior motive, as always: the more I talk about this, the more I force myself to follow through, lest you hold me accountable and demonstrate to everyone out there that I really am the fraud you suspected me of being.

But if you choose to bring that charge against me, I can't think of anyone better to defend me than the protagonist of the first addition to the list, Clinton Judd, the high-priced, high-profile defense attorney of Judd for the Defense. I rediscovered this show a few years ago, and almost immediately realized that my memories from having seen it originally were doing a great disservice to the show. What I had remembered, back when I was eight years old, was a show with a liberal viewpoint, one sharply at odds with the law-and-order ideology I grew up with and cultivated over the next five decades. Call them do-gooders, bleeding hearts, whatever you want, but Judd was definitely not Perry Mason.

And you know what? It isn't Perry Mason, and that's a good thing. Whereas Mason's pleasure lies in its predictability through a formula that plays episode after episode with little variation, Judd gives us something that's in stark contrast: a lawyer dealing with sometimes shockingly contemporary issues, ones that aren't always cut-and-dried, black-and-white, right-and-wrong, and may not even be solvable within the 60 minutes allotted to the story—in fact, we don't always even see the verdict come in.

That's because Judd, for the Defense is not a show about whodunnit, or at least not always. It's a show about ideas, about what a variable thing the law can be when you take the time to study it, how defending the law isn't always popular, and why it's more important than ever nowadays. John Adams—the same Adams from The Adams Chronicles—wrote, in his defense of the British soldiers charged with the Boston Massacre, that "it's of more importance to community, that innocence should be protected, than it is, that guilt should be punished." It was, Adams went on to argue, a distillation of Blackstone's Ratio, that it is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer. (Benjamin Franklin actually upped the ante; he made the ration 100 guilty and one innocent.) In other words, you don't apply the law only for the case today, but for the case tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.

At a time when individual rights are being trampled upon with increasing frequency, when the application of the law itself is being politicized beyond what we might have thought possible, and when law enforcement agencies often view citizens not as human beings to be protected, but as threats to be disarmed and persecuted, one readily comes to appreciate the importance of having someone standing in your corner, defending your rights, making sure you're not being taken advantage of by a system that can seem to care more about obtaining convictions than imparting justice. Someone once said that if the guilty occasionally seem to use the system to go free, it's so that the system can protect the innocent, the law exists not to punish the guilty, but to free the innocent, and that put things in a completely different perspective for me. Perhaps I have become more liberal over the years, at least in some ways. I suppose it's part and parcel of becoming a reactionary.

As I mentioned above, Judd is often a show about ideas, and shows like that can get preachy if you're not careful. In truth, there are moments when Judd seems to be standing on a soapbox instead of inside a courtroom, but that doesn't happen all that often, and even when it does, you're not really irritated by it, primarily because of the power with which these polemics are being delivered by Judd's star, Carl Betz. Best-known as Alex Stone, the pediatrician-husband of Donna Reed on The Donna Reed Show, Betz plays Clinton Judd with an edgy toughness; a man of integrity, committed to justice, and willing to do whatever it takes to achieve it for his client—even a client he doesn't particularly like, whose cause he doesn't especially approve of, because justice belongs to everyone, not just those who don't need it.

I also like Judd's able assistant, Ben Caldwell, played by Stephen Young; it's hard to pigeonhole him in the traditional mentor/student relationship we see so often on television (Ben Casey, Dr. Kildare, etc.) You can tell he's already a good lawyer (he gets to try a couple of cases during the series, and Judd wouldn't have him at his side if he wasn't); he's learning from Judd how to be a great lawyer. 

As I've gotten older over the years, I've begun to appreciate that not everything is as cut-and-dried as one would like it to be. This is especially the case when it comes to legal dramas. (Get it? Legal drama? Case? Never mind.) In an episode of The Defenders, another series I'm starting to reassess, Robert Reed's character, young lawyer Kenneth Preston, complains to his father, experienced attorney Lawrence, (E.G. Marshall), that sometimes the law is too unbending, to which the elder Preston replies that, as an attorney, it's Kenneth's job to figure out how to bend it when that's what's needed. 

I find myself feeling the same way, understanding that there is a dynamic that exists between law enforcement—the entire justice system, really—and the average citizen that is, right now, not a particularly healthy one. Maybe that's the way it's always been—unequal access, unequal outcomes—or maybe it's just become more pronounced over the last couple of decades; it's certainly become more political. Whatever the case, it's true that political conservatives, who have always been the greatest champions of law and order, have come to understand that the law is not always your friend, and it doesn't always work for justice. I've voiced this complaint many times over the years, particularly in the series of posts I wrote a few years ago about how America is more and more resembling a police state (You can see this one, this one, and this one for starters), so I'm not going to plow that ground again. 

My point is that the oft-heard argument that "if you're innocent, you have nothing to worry about" doesn't hold water any more. Perry Mason often tells his clients not to talk to police unless he's with them (and this was before Miranda), and I think this has only increased over the years. In such an atmosphere, lawyers like Clinton Judd, lawyers who realize what "justice" really means, become very appealing characters. There is a reason, after all, why more legal dramas tell the story of defense attorneys than they do prosecutors. It's difficult for us to envision ourselves as the murder, the rapist, the bank robber—but it's no longer impossible for us to suppose that we're innocent citizens who've found ourselves in some kind of Kafkaesque world where we're on trial for a crime we didn't commit, and nobody will listen to us. Judd, and shows like it, exist to remind us that there is one person who'll listen, and who'll fight on your behalf: your lawyer.

Provided you have the right lawyer, of course. That's something that Judd's very aware of; he's committed to taking pro bono cases on occasion for that precise purpose, but you get the idea that it does trouble him, the idea that not every defendant has the same access to receive the same benefits that his clients do, and it fuels his determination to fight on behalf of that amorphous, sometimes unbending concept of justice. It's not a matter of ideology or altruism; it always comes back to the idea that you preserve the rights of the guilty in order to protect the rights of the innocent. 

There are other things I like about Judd; the gravitas and literacy with which the issues are presented; the absence of stock characters such as Mason's Della Street, who—let's be honest here—can get a little annoying sometimes with her cutesy comments and presumptions; and the disinclination toward wrapping things up at the end with a nice little joke or feel-good moment—such scenes happen but rarely.

I've written about Judd a couple of times—here and here—and so I don't want to be guilty of repeating myself. And anyway, these Top Ten essays were never formal reviews of the shows themselves so much as they were descriptions of my personal relationships with the shows, the little things that elevate them from something I enjoy to something just a little bit more. Judd for the Defense is one of those series I get a great pleasure from; a serious show that makes one think, but also an exciting, enjoyable drama that one looks forward to each week. But it's also a noble depiction of what justice really means, and while there might be more than a dash of idealism in that presentation, well, I think that's all right, too. After all, a fella can dream, can't he? TV  

February 19, 2024

What's on TV? Wednesday, February 19, 1958




Not so long ago, I saw an article—at the CBS News website, no less—stating outright that Carol Burnett was the first woman to host a TV variety show. Meaning no disrespect to Carol, I can't see how this claim holds water, unless you parse it with some narrow definition of what a "variety" show is. We already know, not only from today's listing but from our look at Saturday's issue, that Patti Page was hosting The Big Record (8:30 p.m., ironically on CBS). But tonight also features The Patrice Munsel Show (10:30 p.m., WHEN), and Patrice Munsel was most assuredly a woman. She came to fame as a soprano at the Metropolitan Opera, debuting there at age 18 in 1943, the youngest singer ever to star there. She sang at the Met until 1958, but also san frequently on television, on her own show and others, and performed in musical theater until 2008. If you're of an age, you might remember her as the lead voice on Camp Fire Girls commercials, singing "Sing Around the Campfire." Betty White, who has a brief article in this issue about her diet, also hosted her own show; unless you're going to quibble about the definition of a variety show, I can't understand how the networks aren't even aware of their own history. All someone would have had to do is read this New York State edition.

February 17, 2024

This week in TV Guide: February 15, 1958




Xt was something of a tradition for TV Guide, back in the 1950s and '60s, to come out with these issues that I like to call "What a Week!" issues. (This one happens to say "A Great Week," but you get my point.) The What a Week! issues usually came out during Sweeps, and the ones I most remember were from the week after Thanksgiving. We're a little early for that here, but the effect is the same; the networks have some blockbuster shows scheduled to keep us entertained. We'll get to them all, but let's start with the four biggest ones, those that appear on the cover.

The week kicks off with NBC Opera Theatre's production of Verdi's tragic "Rigoletto" (Sunday, 2:00 p.m. ET), the first major American production of the opera to be staged in English. It comes to us live and in color from NBC's studios in Brooklyn, and stars Igon Gorin, Dorothy Coulter, and Kirk Oreste, with Jean-Paul Morel conducting the Symphony of the Air. You can see the broadcast, which unfortunately survives only in black and white, here. And in case you wonder about the commercial viability of opera, and its place as a "big event" on television, a contemporary newspaper article headlined "TV Opera Succeeds in Tagging Popular Audience" says that "Opera is fast becoming a popular mass entertainment in the U. S." The broadcasts on NBC averaged about 15 million viewers; by contrast, last year's most-watched non-sports program, Yellowstone, averaged 11.6 million. I know; different times.

Next up, Victor Borge presents the third of his Comedy in Music specials (Wednesday, 9:00 p.m., CBS), for which, we're told, he'll be picking up a handsome $250,000. Brooks Atkinson, the famous theater critic of The New York Times, describes Borge as "the funniest entertainer in the world," but despite his hugely successful specials, he has no desire to do a weekly broadcast. "I tried one, years ago, with some breakfast-food people," he says. "But although their cereal was delicious, their suggestions were a trifle hard to swallow." We'll have more on how advertising agencies develop TV series later on.

   Check out the art work by Hirschfeld!
On Thursday, Playhouse 90 presents "Point of No Return" (9:30 p.m., CBS), based on the novel by past Pulitzer Prize-winner John P Marquand, and adapted for television by future Pulitzer winner Frank Gilroy. Franklin Schaffner, a veteran director of live television (who will later win an Oscar for directing Patton) helms the production, which stars Charlton Heston as an executive who realizes during a trip to his old home town that there's more to life than business success. Heston got his start on live TV, and even though he's now a major movie star, he's never forgotten how important television was to his success. Later this year, he'll be heading off to Italy to film Ben-Hur, for which he'll win his own Oscar.

The final blockbuster of the week comes on Friday, with DuPont Show of the Month's live (and in color!) musical adaptation of "Aladdin" (7:30 p.m., CBS), with music and lyrics by Cole Porter (his final work for the theater), and humorist S.J. Perelman responsible for the book. Sal Mineo plays Aladdin, and he's joined by an all-star cast including Anna Maria Alberghetti, Cyril Ritchard, Dennis King, Basil Rathbone, and Howard Morris. Perhaps the only thing bigger than the cast is the budget; NBC's expenses for "Rigoletto" were $125,000, but they're dwarfed by the half-million dollar cost for "Aladdin." Was it worth it? See what you think in this black and white kinescope.

As far as truth in advertising goes, I think the cover has it right: it is a "Great Week," and there's still more to come. 

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Starting in 1954, Steve Allen helmed his own NBC variety show which, at the beginning, aired opposite that of Ed Sullivan. It didn't run as long as Ed's, of course, but then Allen said his goal was never to conquer Ed, just to coexist with him, which he did for several seasons. Let's see who gets the best of the contest this week. 

Sullivan: Ed's guests tonight include singers Vic Damone and Toni Dalli, popular vocalist from Italy; the Little Gaelic Singers from Ireland; the Four Esquires, vocal quartet; the comic team of Davis and Reese; vaudeville comedians Willie, West, and McGinty, with their classic "House-building" sketch; Spanish illusionist Richiardi; and pantomime artist George Cahl.

Allen: Tonight's show originates for the second week from Hollywood. Steve's guests are actor Dale Robertson, star of the TV series Wells Fargo; the Hi-Lo's, vocal group; songstress Peggy King; and comedian Don Adams. Dale Robertson joins Steve and the regulars in a comedy sketch, "How a Movie Star Is Born."

It's been over a year since we've looked at a matchup between Sullivan and Allen, but that doesn't mean it's been forgotten. Tonight's lineups have a little of everything; Ed leans heavily into vaudeville's roots, with the team of Willie, West, and McGinty, plus a quartet, an illusionist and a pantomimist. Steverino's cast strikes me as being more representative of the direction entertainment is going: a TV series star (Robertson), a stand-up comedian headed for his own series stardom (Adams), and a pop singer (King). Perhaps it's my own bias showing, and maybe I'd have a different opinion if I'd seen both shows, but this week the future sounds more to my liking, and Allen takes the prize.

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I mentioned earlier that those four blockbusters on the cover weren't the only big shows to air this week, and as you know, I'm nothing if not a man of my word, so let's count the stars.

Saturday evening sees the premiere of The Dick Clark Show (7:30 p.m., ABC). This is in addition to, rather than instead of, his Monday through Friday afternoon duties on American Bandstand, making Dick one of the busier men on television. It runs for two years, later known as The Dick Clark Saturday Night Beech-Nut Show. Later, Lawrence Welk's Dodge Dancing Party (9:00 p.m., ABC) observes the 60th anniversary of the battleship Maine, the event that triggered the Spanish-American War, with songs dedicated to Spanish War veterans. 

On Sunday night, Claudette Colbert stars in "The Last Town Car" on "TV's Most Popular Dramatic Show," General Electric Theater, hosted by Ronald Reagan. (9:00 p.m., CBS) Monday night, American tenor Richard Tucker is the featured star on Voice of Firestone (9:00 p.m., ABC). Tuesday, Jerry Lewis presents "60 Madcap Minutes" on The Jerry Lewis Show (8:00 p.m.), one in his series of occasional NBC specials, from the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. He's joined by Betty Grable and Sophie Tucker; according to the Teletype, Jerry also wanted Elvis Presley as a guest on the show—but not at a $100,000 price tag.

Wednesday
, it's a special Shirley Temple's Storybook (7:30 p.m., NBC), as Shirley narrates the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale "The Nightingale," with Thomas Mitchell starring as the Chinese Emperor who brings the beautiful bird to his palace. The story is the basis for Stravinsky's opera Le Rossignol. The music for tonight's production, however, comes from Mack David* and Jerry Livingston, the pair responsible for the theme to 77 Sunset Strip and so many other Warner Bros. television series. Also on Wednesday, Milton Berle plays a straight dramatic role in the Kraft Theatre presentation "Material Witness" (9:00 p.m., NBC); Berle was, in fact, a very good dramatic actor, as he would show in this and other performances over the years.

*His brother, the lyricist Hal David, was the long-time collaborator on so many hit songs with Burt Bacharach. 

It's been a busy week for Don Adams; not only does he appear on Steve Allen's show Sunday, he's also Rosemary Clooney's guest on The Rosemary Clooney Show (Thursday, 10:00 p.m., NBC). And rounding out the week is a dramatic story on The Frank Sinatra Show (Friday, 9:00 p.m., ABC). In an unorthodox format, the Sinatra show features a combination of musical variety programs, dramas starring Sinatra, and dramas starring other actors that are introduced by Sinatra. Tonight's show falls into the third category: "A Time to Cry," starring Anne Bancroft, Lloyd Bridges, and John Archer. It's generally conceded that this format was doomed to failure, and indeed the series lasts only one season; Sinatra's future television specials will be musical hours.

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This week's review is The Big Record, the CBS musical variety show hosted by singer Patti Page, and though the show has struggled in the ratings, it's an unpretentious, entertaining show. The credit for that goes mainly to Page, who sings in "a pleasing, unaffected way," and exhibits a natural warmth and energy as host. 

The show has put on display a strong lineup of guests throughout the season, including Hoagy Carmichael, Sammy Davis Jr., Johnnie Ray, Eydie Gorme, Gale Storm, and Benny Goodman. And they don't just show up and do their thing; they're integrated into duets and production numbers with Patti and her team of dancers (choreographed by June Taylor, longtime choreographer for The Jackie Gleason Show), and exhibit other talents as well—Gale Storm, for instance, not only sang her own current hit and then did a duet with Patti, she also turns out to be a gifted vocal mimic. "The entire bit could have been successfully presented in any of the more expensive night clubs."

True, the show is not highbrow—it's just entertainment, pure and simple. Unfortunately, the clock is running on The Big Record; in the Teletype, it's noted that one of the alternate-week sponsors has already given notice, and in March it's cut from an hour to thirty minutes. It leaves the air entirely in June, but fear not: Patti Page will be back next season with The Patti Page Oldsmobile Show—I'm betting that Olds was not the sponsor that cancelled out. And speaking of sponsors, that leads us to this week's final segment.

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I've mentioned numerous times over the years how advertising agencies used to be responsible for creating and producing the majority of television shows. It was one of the factors in the Quiz Show Scandal, which was in turn one of the many reasons why networks eventually assumed control over the creative process. This week, we're going to take a look behind the scenes with two of the preeminent figures involved in devising, planning, producing, and sponsoring the shows we watch.

First is C. Terence Clyne, vice president and chairman of the plans review board of the TV and radio department at the McCann-Erickson advertising agency in New York. Clyne's clients sponsor such shows as Studio One, Climax!, Disneyland, and The Frank Sinatra Show. He tells TV Guide that the most important aspect is instinct. "In this business," he says, "you have to know h ow to guess. If the guess is a good one, you're a genius." 

One of Clyne's shows is the time-share arrangement between comedian George Gobel and singer Eddie Fisher, who alternate as hosts of an hour-long variety show seen Tuesday nights on NBC. "First the word went out from one of our sponsors that they were interested in live personalities," Clyne says. Although Gobel's last show suffered a steep decline in ratings, and Fisher's was cancelled, Clyne felt that each of them had "sufficient friends" to make their show palatable to the sponsor. Each star has his own writers, director and producer, so Clyne had to coordinate the two staffs so they would work together. When the sponsor decided he only wanted to cover the weeks when Fisher was host, Clyne worked with another agency to get a sponsor for Gobel. The final step involved "sparring" with NBC to get the timeslot for the program. 

Nicholas E. Keesely, senior vice president in charge of radio and television at the Lennen and Newell agency, also in New York, says the first thing he looks for a show is "heart." Among the shows he's bought are Queen for a Day, Stop the Music, Ted Mack's Amateur Hour, and The Court of Last Resort. He says the key is to "put something in a show that makes people want to come back and look at it next week and the week after." Keesely prefers tear-jerkers and human-interest stories; "We find the public sympathizes with an advertiser it associates with a good cause." 

He points to The Court of Last Resort, a drama based on a real-life organization assembled by Perry Mason author Erle Stanley Gardner to investigate legal cases featuring people who may have been wrongfully convicted of crimes. The original idea came from the sponsor; "Somebody up there had been reading [Gardner's] stories in Argosy. He thought they had pictorial value. I agreed. I thought they had heart."

To set up a show for success, a crucial aspect is finding the right time slot; it helps to follow a show with good ratings. "And, of course, we want to buy the time that best reaches the market our client wants to hit." Food sponsors, for example, prefer early evening hours, while tobacco companies, such as the one that sponsors Last Resort, look for later times. In this case, "we aimed at a later time period than the one we got—8 P.M. on Fridays—but we had to settle for what we could get."

Both men agree that while ratings are important, they aren't everything. "The factors governing the life or death of a TV show also include the personalities involved and the sale of the sponsor's product," Clyne says. "There have been shows with terrific ratings which nevertheless were dropped by their sponsors because the products weren't moving." Adds Keesely, "If a weak show has an ideal time slot, it may have a better rating than it deserves. On the other hand, I've known good shows to struggle along on poor ratings because of bad time slots." 

One question that stumped both men was, perhaps, the most important: "What are the ingredients for a perfect TV show?" For that, the author defers to another ad man, Hal Davis, VP in charge of radio and television at the Grey Advertising Agency, who said that "The perfect TV show (at this moment) would feature a cowboy sitting on a stool in an isolation booth." If you ask me, they still haven't found the secret. TV  

February 16, 2024

Around the dial




No look at the history of television would be complete without touching on professional wrestling, a "sport" which seems to have been tailor-made for the confines of the television screen. At Comfort TV, David asks (and answers) the question, can professional wrestling be Comfort TV, complete with a few examples.

At Cult TV Blog, John writes about a series that even he hadn't heard of before, Inside Victor Lewis-Smith, a 1993 comedy series with a concept so bizarre that I'm not even going to try and explain it; read what John has to say about it or, better yet, check out one of the episodes on YouTube.

Update from Garroway at Large: Jodie's still around, and she has     , including a new YouTube Garroway at Large from 1951, and a second title to come from Tyger River Books, publisher of Peace. (And I hope you've gotten your copy; if not, why not?)

At Eyes of a Generation Bobby has a couple of very cool visual posts: one includes the two (apparently) remaining camera cards from Jack Paar's Tonight Show (the "More to Come" cards that we remember from Carson's time), and the second is on how television graphics came to be. Both well worth your time.

Television Obscurities reports the discovery of what is now the earliest surviving entertainment program on color videotape, the October 1958 premiere of Kraft Music Hall, starring Milton Berle. It's going to be shown next week at the UCLA Film & Television Library, for anyone who can make it. Great news for TV preservationists!

James Dean doesn't have a lot to do with classic TV, although he did do some live television, but Travalanche has a look at Dean—the man forever frozen at age 24—that is too interesting to pass up.

At The Lucky Strike Papers, Andrew uses a recent interview with Ringo Starr in the AARP magazine (ouch for all of us!) as a jumping-off point to look at the early years of the Beatles, including their famous Sullivan appearance, and reminds us of Starr's role in the group's success. 

The View from the Junkyard returns to the animated Star Trek with this look at the second-season episode that brings the animated series to a worthy conclusion, "The Counter-Clock Incident." Would we do it the same way if we had it to do all over again? Find out what the answer is. TV