September 26, 2020

This week in TV Guide: September 25, 1965

There's a good reason Jackie Gleason is known as The Great One; like him, everything he does is  larger than life, flamboyant. But, as Thomas B. Morgan writes in this week's cover story, there's something misleading about the application of the word, the hint that Gleason is "a man who almost gets away with it."

The occasion for this medidation is "The Great Gleason Express," a 14-car "party train" carrying Gleason and his cast, including Steve Lawrence, the June Taylor Dancers, a Dixieland jazz band, a film crew, and 20 newspaper reporters and columnists, on a junket from New York City to Miami Beach, where the Gleason show is done.

The adventure starts Saturday with a celebratory brunch at Gleason's favorite watering hole, Toots Shor's. Gleason, resplendent in a gray suit, a florid purple vest, ruby cufflinks, and a red carnation in his lapel. A crowd of about 200 feasts on a buffet including lamp shops, scrambled eggs, and shrimp salad, topped off by champagne (the tab for the brunch plus the ensuing train runs CBS $23,500), while Gleason holds court, accompanied by Miss Miami Beach. From there the troup troops to Penn Station, where Gleason is cheered by onlookers as he and his merry band board "The Great Gleason Express." 

As the train rolls merrily on the way to Miami, the band plays "Sweet Georgia Brown," June Taylor and Steve Lawrence dance in the aisles, and copious amounts of alcohol are consumed. (Lawrence figures prominently in the trip, promoting his own variety show this fall on, you guessed it, CBS, acting as Gleason's straight man.) Later, after Gleason takes an opportunity to quietly retire to his compartment for a break, he reemerges in a green sweater, "looking almost fresh," talking about how he was going to be starring in an upcoming movie with Frank Sinatra called The Odd Couple. (He couldn't be referring to the movie that eventually starred Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, could he?) There's more singing and dancing, card tricks, Dixieland, amd drinking. As Saturday turns to Sunday, the train passes through Savannah, Georgia, and by noon it's in Auburndale, Florida. The train's arrival in Miami Beach is marked by a 36-piece brass band, a marching string band, and a Beatleesque pop group, while Gleason strolls off with the mayor of Miami Beach, Elliott Roosevelt. (Yes, that Roosevelt.) Later that night, there's a banquet at the Doral Beach Hotel, where everyone celebrates the estimated $9,000,000-a-year in free publicity that the show brings to the city. 

And away we go!
Throughout the trip, Morgan toys with the idea that the Gleason greatness is a facade, a show for the benefit of others. At one point, catching Gleason looking out the window at the Pennsylvania countryside, he asks The Great One "if he ever felt as though he were living in the middle of a movie." Gleason shakes his head; "'No,' he says wearily, 'this is for real. I enjoy it.'" Meanwhile, further back, a publicist wonders out loud if they're "pressing Gleason too hard." "We have to get all we can while we can," the other replies. Late in the trip, the sudden appearance of a terrier running up the aisle causes Gleason to really laugh "for perhaps the first time in 24 hours." The weekend ends with Gleason and Lawrence and a round of golf; as the accumulated events of the weekend catch up with him, Gleason tires, "and he played the last three holes without smiling."

I get the impression that Morgan doesn't like Steve Lawrence, is skeptical about Gleason, and in short is somewhat cynical about the whole thing. Maybe it just isn't important enough for him; having previously been a press aide to Adlai Stevenson, he goes on to work for Eugene McCarthy and John Lindsay, served as editor of The Village Voice, and works for the United Nations Association. Quite a career—too bad he doesn't get more out of his travels with The Great One.

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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: On the second show from Hollywood, Ed’s scheduled guests are Dinah Shore; comic Jack Carter; rock ‘n’ roller Trini Lopez; actress Gertrude Berg; singer Leslie Uggams; the University of California (Berkeley) Band, and Komazuru Tsukushi, a top-spinner.

Palace: Host Bing Crosby introduces jazzman Louis Armstrong; comedian Phill Harris; the 36 singing Young Americans, led by Milton Anderson; comic magician Carl Ballantine, a regular on “McHale’s Navy”; Pat Woodell, formerly of TV’s “Petticoat Junction,” who makes her TV singing debut; Danish trapeze artist La Norma; French ventriloquist Fred Roby; and Simms’ performing ponies.

At first glance Ed may seem to have the edge, with Dinah Shore, Leslie Uggams and Trini Lopez, plus malaprop comic Jack Carter. And it's true that Ed's lineup has the depth that the Palace lacks. On the other hand, it's very, very hard to top Der Bingle and Satchmo, and Phil Harris and Carl Ballantine make for good second acts. This week, The Palace hits the high notes.

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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 series of the era. 

It's Cleveland Amory's first review of the new season, and his advice is to do as the title of this show suggests: run for your life. And, let's face it, it's a potential source of trouble when one of the kindest things a critic can say about a show is that "the color is magnificent", although it should be added that in this day when shooting a series in color was a real selling point, this praise isn't perhaps as faint as it would seem.

At any rate, Run for Your Life is, according to Amory, "an obvious switcheroo on The Fugitive," which is perhaps no surprise since Roy Huggins, creator of Run for Your Life, also created The Fugitive. (Will wonders never cease?) The difference here is that while Dr. Richard Kimble ran to avoid death at the indirect hands of Lieutenant Girard, Paul Bryan runs to avoid death from the Grim Reaper himself, a fatal disease that gives him one, perhaps two years, to survive, but will leave him relatively symptom-free until near the very end. Bryan decides, in his words, "to squeee 30 years' living" into that period. You can't blame him for this, Cleve concedes, but "if the show runs longer than two years, he's going to have to start re-running."

In addition to the color, Amory praises Gazarra for giving his all, acting as if he really believed the far-fetched premise he'd been given. (Gazarra, a classically trained stage actor, often felt frustration himself with what he saw as the superficiality of the role.  In many ways it was a paycheck job for him.) At this early point in the series' history—Amory bases his review on the first two episodes—the writers are clearly struggling with how to tell the story without lapsing into cliche and heavy-handedness, and to Amory's ears they seem overly intrigued with Gazarra's health, turning him into something of a noble mystic spouting such mysterious lines as "I have played [the game of life and death]—and I lost." He also finds lacking many of the people Gazarra runs into in his adventures; speaking of Katharine Ross' performance in the premier episode, Amory says that "we couldn't tell whether she was that shallow or her part was—but no matter, we wanted no part of her." We do learn something, though: in the episode "The Girl Next Door Is a Spy," Amory says, we find out that the swans located in a particular city park live a hundred years. Predictably, Gazarra replies, "Those miserable swans." To which Amory might have appended, "Those miserable viewers."

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We've been spending the last few weeks looking at the new Fall Seasons from various years, and this week is no exception. We're about two weeks into the 1965-66 season, and the pages of TV Guide are filled with ads for new network lineups, such as these two, for  Sunday and Friday nights, respectively. NBC is particularly aggressive about this; they have ads for each night of the week, and they're making a big deal out of how many of their shows are in color. And in case the artwork looks familiar, it should: it was done by Mad Magazine's Jack Davis, who did many, many TV Guide covers over the years. The Fall Preview issue from a couple of weeks back featured a multi-page "mural" by Davis, covering NBC's entire 65-66 schedule, elements of which are used in the ads for these individual nights. (Thanks to longtime reader Mike Doran for that heads-up.) NBC's Sunday night lineup has some clear hits; Friday night, well, not so much. But at least they're in color!*

*Except for Convoy, a World War II drama that was forced to take the B&W route since it was heavily dependence on old war footage.  Because of that, many NBC affiliates refused to clear the show, and it was gone before the end of the year.  Not that the rest of them (excluding U.N.C.L.E. did much better.)

Next are a couple of ads for ABC. The ad on the left is a fairly standard ad, promoting the network's "Sunday best," a lineup that's actually pretty successful—headlined by The FBI. That's the focus of the ad on the right as well, with one exception: that one isn't from ABC, but from one of The FBI's sponsors, Alcoa. That kind of advertising isn't unusual in this issue; we're at a time when there's still a close identification between shows and their sponsors. Chrysler, for example, has a promo for Bob Hope's Wednesday night special, hardly a surprise given the car maker's long relationship with Hope. Likewise, The Andy Williams Show is now presented by Kraft, a point emphasized by the company in their ad. I don't know if any sponsors are tied to shows anymore; whenever pressure groups call for boycotts of companies advertising on various controversial programs, it often turns out that the sponsors don't even know what shows they're sponsoring. The spots are all placed by ad brokers or the network.

CBS alone foregoes advertising the entire night's programming.  I'm not sure why; perhaps I missed it from a previous issue, or maybe I'll run across it next week.  I've seen them in the past, though.  As a matter of fact, they have precious little advertising of any kind in this issue, but they do manage to sneak in a sole ad for the Thursday Night Movie.

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After a year's absense when its spot was taken by Mr. Mayor, Captain Kangaroo returns to the Saturday morning lineup this week (7:00 a.m., CBS). Terence has more on the single-season history of Mr. Mayor here. It's one of a number of changes here or coming to the Saturday morning lineup; among the cartoons debuting this week are Heckle and Jeckle (8:00 a.m., CBS), The Beatles (9:30 a.m., ABC) and Tom and Jerry (10:00 a.m., CBS), while next week Atom Ant replaces Hector Heathcote (8:30 a.m., NBC), and Secret Squirrel moves into the lineup, while Fireball XL-5 moves out. Stubby Kaye also returns with his half-hour game show for children, Shenanigans (9:00 a.m., ABC). Take it from me; it's a good time to be a kid. On the sports side, CBS broadcasts its last regular-season Game of the Week, with the Chicago White Sox taking on the Yankees in New York (11:45 a.m., CBS); next season, the Game of the Week moves to NBC. Speaking of, the Peacock Network college football is the rule of the day, with Iowa visiting Oregon State at 2:00 p.m. Next season, you'll be seeing your weekly games on ABC.

Roberta Peters (left) and Ginger Rogers
There's plenty of pro action on Sunday, with games depending on where you live. Most channels in the Minnesota State Edition get the game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Diego Chargers (2:30 p.m., NBC), but for some reason if you live in Duluth you're treated to Joe Namath and the New York Jets taking on the defending AFL champion Buffalo Bills at 1:00 p.m. Those lucky folks in Duluth also get to see the Minnesota Vikings playing at home against the Detroit Lions (2:15 p.m., CBS); due to the blackout, the rest of the CBS affiliates in this week's issue are SOL, except for the affiliate in La Crosse, Wisconsin, where the home state Green Bay Packers clash with the Baltimore Colts, in a preview of the tiebreaking playoff game between the two teams at the end of the season (a controversial game the Packers will win, but that's another story). Not a sports fan? Don't give up; NBC saves you with G-E College Bowl at 1:30 p.m., and The Bell Telephone Hour at 5:30 p.m. This week's episode, by the way, is a tribute to “The Music of Jerome Kern,” with Ginger Rogers, Ella Fitzgerald, Metropolitan Opera soprano Roberta Peters, msucial-comedy performers Earl Wrightson, John Davidson and Nancy Dussault, and pianists Ferrante and Teicher.

Monday night features dueling variety hours from two of America's easiest and most popular singers, starting with Andy Williams (8:00 p.m., NBC), doing his best for his new sponsor with Phil Harris, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and the vocal group the Jubilee Four. That's followed—on another network, as they used to say—by Steve Lawrence's new series (9:00 p.m., CBS), this week with Diahann Carroll, Joey Heatherton, and Jordan Christopher and the Wild Ones. The network gives Steve a great lead-in, with The Andy Griffith Show and Hazel, and he consistently has a solid guest lineup, so I'm not sure why this series didn't do better. It could be because he's up against the aforementioned Run for Your Life on NBC (which turns out to be more popular with viewers than with Cleve) and Ben Casey on ABC. Or it could be just that viewers preferred seeing Steve and Eydie together.

Tuesday's local highlight is live coverage of the Miss Teen-age Twin Cities contest, from the Calhoun Beach Manor in Minneapolis. (8:00 p.m., WTCN) The winner heads off to Dallas for the Miss Teen-age America contest. Sounds exciting, but will it take viewers away from the riviting suspence that is Peyton Place (8:30 p.m., ABC), especially since Rodney (Ryan O'Neal) is charged with murder?

It's Bob Hope's first variety show of the new season on Wednesday (8:00 p.m., NBC), as Bob welcomes Bea Lillie, Douglas Fairbanks, Dinah Shore and Andy Williams. The sketches include a parody of Cat Ballou with Hope playing a cowardly, metal-nosed sheriff up against Bea's "Tiger Ballou." That's followd at 9:00 p.m. by the third episode of I Spy, and the globetrotting has already begun as Kelly and Scotty find themselves in Hong Kong, making a deal to get a million dollar back tax payment from a shady dealer.

The Dave Clark Five, Leslie Gore, Major Lance, Donovan, the Hollies, and the Turtles are the stars on Thursday's Shindig (6:30 p.m., ABC), and  Nehemiah Persoff is an exiled Latin American dictator who encounters the castaways on a classic episode of Gilligan's Island (7:00 p.m., CBS). And if you haven't had enough of the Dave Clark Five, they're back later this evening on the third episode of The Dean Martin Show (9:00 p.m., NBC), along with Eddie Fisher, Abbe Lane, Phyllis Diller, John Bubbles, and Yonely.

Johnny Carson's taken The Tonight Show to Hollywood for the next two weeks, and on Friday he celebrates his third anniversary as host (10:15 p.m., NBC); could anyone have imagined there were, what, 27 more of these to go?  It's not a clipfest as we would become accustomed to in years to come, just a regular show with Jerry Lewis and George Burns as guests to help him celebrate. It caps off an all-new night for the Peacock network, with Camp Runamuck, Hank, Convoy and Mr. Roberts. The only returning series on the night is The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and that's now in color.

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And finally, the jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi is the subject of the NET documentary Anatomy of a Hit (Wednesday, 9:00 p.m.), profiling the recording sessions for his new album, Black Orpheus, including the Grammy-winning hit "Cast Your Fate to the Wind." 

Guaraldi was a wonderfully talented musician - if the name doesn't sound familiar, perhaps this, his biggest hit, does.  You might have heard it a time or two.


September 25, 2020

Around the dial

There's a wealth of interesting informatin out there just waiting to be had, so let's have it!

This year's Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention was an unfortunate victim of the Wuhan virus, but fear not: thanks to Martin and Michelle Grams' ingenuity, this year's convention goes online with highlights from previous years. The virtual MANC runs Friday and Saturday, September 25 and 26, and can be seen through Sunday at the MANC Facebook page. Included among the presentations is my good friend Carol Ford's 2015 talk about Bob Crane, one that sets the record straight on a lot of misrepresentations regarding Bob's life. 

The Hitchcock Project continues exploring the works of Harold Swanton at bare•bones e-zine, and this week Jack's focus is on the seventh-season episode "The Twelve-Hour Caper," starring Dick York. How well did Swanton adapt the original short story by Mike Marmer? Read and find out.

At Comfort TV, David looks at the delightful Twilight Zone episode "A Nice Place to Visit" and Couture's painting “The Romans of the Decadence,” and places them within the context of today's confusing times. Make time to read a very incisive piece.

Having just interviewed William Bartlett about his book NBC and 30 Rock, I'm in kind of an NBC frame of mind. Jodie has the answer to that at Garroway at Large with an update on her Dave Garroway bio. This is a book I'm really looking forward to when it comes out. 

At this week's Cult TV Blog, it's John's turn to take the trip across the pond, and it's no surprise when the show is The Wild Wild West, a series that is reminiscent in many ways of The Avengers. As John says of "The Night of the Lord of Limbo," what's not to love about a story that combines time travel and magic?    

It doesn't seem possible that the sitcom The Odd Couple turns 50 this year, because that reminds me of how old I'm getting. Be that as it may, Terence looks back at the legendary comedy at A Shroud of Thoughts. It's enough to make me forget my age. TV  

September 23, 2020

The "It's About TV" Interview: William Bartlett, author of NBC and 30 Rock: A View from Inside

This latest edition of the "It's About TV" Interview is one that I think you'll really enjoy, as we dip into the history of one of America's greatest television networks and look at a wonderful coffee table book. 

William Bartlett has been with NBC since Seinfeld was in originals and the company consisted of NBC and CNBC. Fresh out of grad school with a PhD in English, he was hired in 1995 as the press department’s editor, where he embarked on a futile effort to get publicists to use the Chicago Manual of Style. After a few months though, he had a lucky break when then-CEO Bob Wright’s speechwriter left the company and Bartlett was tapped to replace him. For the next decade (not counting a short stint as Sumner Redstone’s speechwriter), he worked closely with Wright as the company grew into the diversified media giant it is today. Today, he heads up NBCUniversal’s in-house corporate video production team, which produces videos for clients around the company. He still writes or edits the occasional speech. Most significantly for our purposes today, he serves as NBC’s in-house historian, curating exhibits in the employee commissary and the 30 Rock lobby. To share the company’s enormous legacy more widely, he recently wrote a history book, NBC and 30 Rock: A View from Inside.

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 It's About TV: How do you get what sounds like the coolest job in the world? 

William Bartlett: I went to graduate school, thinking I’d be a college English teacher, and I’ve managed to end up with a job that is probably as close as you can get to being in academia while being in the corporate world. For most of my career my focus has been on executive communications: speeches, op-eds, annual report copy, and so on. But when NBC turned 75 in 2001, we partnered with John Wiley & Sons on a coffee-table book. A book packager was hired to create the book, and I was tasked with being the corporate point person in charge of reviewing and approving all the copy and photos. That taught me a lot about the company’s history, and I ended up not just fact-checking and approving the copy but writing portions of the book myself.

Fast-forward to 2011, when we were acquired by Comcast. In the months leading up to the close of the deal, the incoming CEO, Steve Burke, asked me to put together a fact sheet that employees would get on “day one,” which would explain what the new company consisted of. I agreed that employees wouldn’t necessarily know all the new company’s holdings, but it struck me that they really didn’t know the histories of the three remarkable companies that were now joined together: NBC, Universal, and Comcast. So instead of doing what I’d been asked, I wrote a short book on the history of the three businesses, with the glue holding them together being the fact that all three were founded by visionary outsiders: David Sarnoff (NBC), Carl Laemmle (Universal), and Ralph Roberts (Comcast). I showed it to Steve and he (fortunately for me) loved the idea. The rest is history, you could say. I became the go-to guy for info about NBC’s history, and I started getting more and more history-related assignments, from curating art for the hallways, to building a website, to putting together exhibits.

How did the idea for the book come about?
I didn’t know it at the time, but the seeds for the book were planted in 2012 with the construction of a new commissary for employees in 30 Rock. When it was finished, it was a beautiful, elegant space looking out over the ice-skating rink. But nothing about it said “NBC.” As an employee, you could have just as well been in a cafeteria at a bank headquarters. Steve Burke asked me to come up with a solution to this problem. I did two things: I selected archival black-and-white photos of NBC stars for the walls, and I commandeered two wooden cabinets intended for waste disposal and turned them into cases to hold historical exhibits.

For the next several years, drawing primarily on NBC archives at the Library of Congress and the Wisconsin Historical Society, I researched and curated four exhibits a year for these two cases, changing them every six months. I explored the history of NBC and World War II, the origins of the Tonight Show, the story of David Sarnoff, Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony, the beginning of sports broadcasting – basically, anything that I thought would be interesting to employees and for which I had assets to work with: photos, documents, and physical artifacts.

After doing a few dozen of these exhibits, it struck me that almost every one of them would lend itself to a spread in a coffee-table book. The research was done. The photos and documents largely sourced. I just needed to write the text and add a few chapters to fill some gaps. I thought this would be a book that anyone who took our famous NBC Studios Tour might want to take home as a keepsake, and that in fact would appeal to anyone who was interested in NBC and the history of broadcasting.

One of the many things I most love about the book, going back to that story about the commissary, is how rich the history of NBC is, and how important it is to keep that institutional history alive for people who work there today, to remind them of how special it is to be able to say "I work for NBC." Have you gotten much feedback from employees, comments along the lines of "I didn't know that!"

Yes I have, and it’s been very gratifying. Right before I went to press, I shared page proofs with the CEO (I figured that would be prudent!). He called me the next day and said he thought it was terrific and wanted to know what I thought about printing enough copies so that every New York-based NBCUniversal employee could get one. He thought that the book would do exactly what you just said: make employees feel that they work for a very special company, one that they can be proud to be part of. I thought that was a great idea but told him the money for the extra copies would have to come out of his budget! So last November, more than 5,000 employees arrived at work to find the book on their desks.

Younger readers might think of "30 Rock" as the name of a television show, but I like to think of "30 Rock" as being to television what Yankee Stadium is to baseball. Tell me a little about how 30 Rock came to such prominence.
Financed by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Rockefeller Center was built in the early 1930s as the largest privately-financed construction project in history. As originally conceived, it did not include any broadcast studios. The anchor tenant was intended to be the Metropolitan Opera, which was in dire need of a new theater. The Great Depression scotched those plans, however, and Rockefeller needed a new tenant. Coincidentally, RCA – then a booming technology company – needed more space and agreed to come on board and design studio facilities for its broadcasting subsidiary, NBC. The building’s address was 30 Rockefeller Plaza, but it was commonly known as “Radio City.” When it opened in 1933, it included among its many studios the then-largest broadcast studio in the world, Studio 8H, now famous as the home of Saturday Night Live. Over the years, more quality radio and TV programming has originated from this building than any broadcast facility in the world.

The readership here is obviously one that understands the importance of television’s past, not only in terms of history, but for the sheer enjoyment value. We both know, though, that there are younger people out there who, once they see something in black and white, just shut it down completely. What would you say to them about why they should be interested in this, and what they’re missing?
I would encourage any young person who is a fan of late-night comedy such as SNL to check out Sid Caesar and his Show of Shows, and Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, both on NBC. Two very different shows; both enormously influential. I would hope that a young audience could notice the writing of the Caesar show, and Sid’s timing. The man was a genius. And as for Laugh-In, well, Lorne Michaels was one of the writers. There’s a direct connection between that show and Saturday Night Live.
What would you consider some of the most significant moments in the network’s history?
A rare photo of Texaco Star Theater being shot
Well, given that NBC was the first national broadcaster, dating back to 1926, there are a lot of big moments. Here are a few that come to mind. On Christmas Day of 1937, Arturo Toscanini made his debut as the maestro of the NBC Symphony. Broadcast live from Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center, this was the first of nearly 500 concerts over the next 17 years, which for the first time made classical music accessible to a middle-class audience of millions. This was a seismic shift from its role as a rarified art form enjoyed primarily in concert halls by the well-to-do. A decade later, I would say the launch of two early TV programs, Howdy Doody on December 17, 1947, and Milton Berle’s Texaco Star Theater on June 8, 1948, both had the effect of selling lots of TV sets and paving the way for television to be a truly mass medium. Next, the debut of three programs that are still with us today and have had an enormous impact on our lives for generations now: Today (January 14, 1952), The Tonight Show (September 27, 1954), and Saturday Night Live (October 11, 1975). With the exception of Tonight, which was broadcast from Burbank from 1972 until 2014, all five of these shows have originated from 30 Rock for most of their runs. One final moment I’ll mention was more accurately three days rather than a moment: the work of NBC and the other networks covering the national trauma of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. NBC News broadcast nonstop, commercial-free, for 71 hours. There were moments when 9 out of 10 television sets in the nation were tuned in to network television. This was a tragic time during which television served the nation as a unifying force in a way that was unprecedented and certainly never to be repeated.

Did you run across anything in your research that surprised you, one of those moments when you found yourself thinking, "I had no idea!"
Sure, here is my favorite discovery from my research. I tell the short version of this story in the book. Here’s the full story. When I joined the company in 1995, I met a talented on-air promo producer named Skip Stuart. His office was adorned with many odd things, including a small, rather ugly green upright piano. The story he told me about it was that back in the radio days, it belonged to a now-nameless executive and it at one time was adorned with the signatures of celebrities. Then, after a wild party on Skip’s floor in the late seventies or eighties, a cleaning crew was brought in and one of the cleaners scrubbed all the signatures off the piano, after which the piano was put in the freight elevator bank for disposal. Skip, being Skip, salvaged it and put it in his office. When he retired in 2012, I inherited the piano. I knew nothing about it except what Skip had told me, but that was enough for me to want to hang on to it. Then, shortly after that, my department moved floors and I left the piano behind, in a storage closet. I told my contact in the facilities department to let me know if the piano became an issue. Sure enough, I eventually got a call from him, who explained that they really needed the space taken up by the piano and would it be okay if they disposed of it. As much as it pained me, since I didn’t know the full story behind the piano, I couldn’t justify keeping it and gave him the go-ahead to throw it out.
A few years after that, I was doing research on Bertha Brainard, NBC’s leading female executive in the early days of the company. I was reading a profile on Bertha in the August 1942 NBC employee newsletter, and I ran across this sentence: “A tiny upright piano in her office is decorated with the signatures of celebrities—all of whom Miss Brainard has met in her program-building and program-selling tasks in the past two decades.”
My heart skipped a beat and sunk at the same time. One, it hit me that Skip’s piano was surely Bertha’s piano. Two, I remembered giving the go-ahead for it to be thrown away! I rushed from my office on the 25th floor down to the storage closet on 10. And … yes! The piano was still there! Facilities had failed to follow through, and I couldn’t have been more thankful.
Although I had no doubt that this was indeed Bertha’s piano, I felt solid proof would be good. A check of NBC’s photo archive database revealed the existence of a folder labeled “Bertha’s Piano.” I had that folder retrieved from storage and the contents scanned and sent to me. A perfect match! Even better, on the photo, you could make out the many of the signatures on the piano! Fred Allen, Jack Benny, Jerome Kern, Mary Pickford, Babe Ruth, Ed Sullivan, and on and on.
I had a piece of NBC history, and now I knew the story behind it. I had the piano moved to my office, cleaned it off, and contacted a Saturday Night Live producer who I knew to be a history buff. My pitch: Put the piano at the entrance of Studio 8H and invite every guest host and musical guest to sign it, thus reviving the tradition Bertha began in the first years of NBC. Lorne Michaels gave his blessing to my scheme, and for the last two seasons the piano has been slowly filling up with signatures of the celebrities of our age.

Were there other stories or figures that you weren't able to get to in this printing that you're considering adding if there's a second printing?
Oh, for sure. Remember that the conceit of the book is to deal only with NBC’s activities within 30 Rock. Obviously, there are many stories to tell about NBC’s time producing shows from the studios in Burbank. But as far as activities in 30 Rock go, Tom Snyder and his late-night show Tomorrow, which debuted in 1973, certainly deserves a spot in the second edition. (The show flip-flopped between Burbank and New York but aired from 30 Rock for four or five years.) Radio program Monitor, which was yet another one of Pat Weaver’s programming innovations, deserves space as well. It launched in 1955 and at the beginning aired for 40 hours every weekend. I would also like to say more about how innovative the NBC Studios and the building that housed them were. There had never been anything like it. When the NBC tours began, the first stop was the air-conditioning unit on the tenth floor, where the guests would marvel at the 54 dials on the giant control panel as the page informed them that the “mammoth plant circulates 23,000,000 cubic feet of air every hour completely changing the air once every eight minutes” (I’m quoting the 1933 NBC Tour script).
Television has obviously changed a great deal through the decades, from rabbit ears to cable and satellite and now streaming, but it still is, after all, television. What are some of the constants that you see running through NBC’s history from then to now?
One obvious constant is advertising. NBC is still a broadcaster, even if relatively few people receive the broadcast signal through the air, the old-fashioned way. And that means it’s an ad-supported medium, even if we are now offering a ton of content through Peacock (our new streaming service) with an ad-free option. And, even if an enormous amount of viewing is time-shifted, we still do offer a schedule, whereby you know that if you tune in at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, you’re going to see the same show that aired at that same time the previous week and the following week. (Well, this isn’t entirely true but it’s more true than not, still!) The other constant is implied in the word “broad-caster.” Just as was the case in the early days of television, NBC wants to attract a broad audience, not just a niche. That’s what cable is for! Again, this is less true now than ten or twenty years ago, but it is still part of our legacy and ingrained in the thinking of our programmers. Come back to me with this question in another ten years, though!
If there’s one moment from NBC’s history that you could bring back for present-day viewers, what would it be, and why? 

I think I’d go back to the fall of 1948 when the entire country (or those homes with televisions) was captivated by a madcap comedian named Milton Berle and his show, Texaco Star Theater, broadcast on NBC Tuesday evenings at 8 p.m. There were nights when 95% of the nation’s TV sets were tuned to the man dubbed “Mr. Television.” Today, it is hard for us to imagine the nation’s collective attention being drawn to one TV program. An astonishing thought for us indeed. How fun would it be to recreate that! Apparently, Milton’s popularity was such that he disrupted the nation’s waterworks. In Detroit, officials were mystified by the sudden drop in the city’s reservoir levels just after 9 p.m. on Tuesday nights, until they figured out that the entire city waited until after Texaco Star Theater ended to use the bathroom, and they all flushed at once! I think the closest we’ve been to replicating this situation in recent years would be in the mid-1990s with the popularity of NBC’s “Must-See TV” Thursday night lineup.

NBC’s had a great run of success that’s continued to this very day; are there one or two series from the last few years, or something that’s even on right now, that you think would be at home with the very best that the network’s had to offer?
Sure, I think The Office was brilliant and certainly holds up against the best that NBC has ever put on the air. And I know I have mentioned Saturday Night Live. Granted, not every sketch works. But think about this: The show premiered in 1975 and today, 45 years later, it is still relevant, with moments of brilliance. That’s extraordinary.

You’ve got a time machine that can take you back to any program that’s ever aired on NBC. You’re there on the set. You can talk to anyone on the cast, or any member of the crew. Where do you go, what do you do, and why?  

Fred Coe in the control room
Great question. So many possible answers. But I think I’d pick Studio 8G on May 24, 1953. “Marty” is about to air, live, an episode of Goodyear Television Playhouse and perhaps the high-water mark of the (first) Golden Age of television. Rod Steiger and Nancy Marchand are in their dressing rooms. But I’m more interested in talking to the producer Fred Coe, hearing him explain how he figured out how to exploit the possibilities of the TV camera in ways that had never been envisioned. Delbert Mann, the director, is on set as well, reviewing last-minute script changes with Paddy Chayefsky. The atmosphere must have been electric. Here’s a quote from Rod Steiger that I used in my book, in the chapter on the Golden Age: “You had one shot. The pressure was hideous. You had to be a masochist to do it.” I would get such a kick out of being there to see it unfold.

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Wasn't that fun? I'd like to thank William for his time, and especially his most gracious patience in putting up with an interviewer who was shoehorning him in-between starting a new job and moving to a new home. Many programming directors would have put me on hiatus long ago. I'd also like to thank our mutual friend, the mighty Jodie Peeler, for helping to arrange this interview; you're undefeated once again! Since we completed our interview, William has told me that his last day at NBC will be October 16, ending a 25-year career there. (I can't imagine what it must be like to spend 25 years at one place; I've had trouble lately making it to 25 months.) 

If you want to purchase a copy of NBC and 30 Rock: A View from Inside—and let me say here that I cannot recommend this book strongly enough (full disclosure: I was provided with a copy of the book for my review)—you can purchase it at the NBC Store website. It is one of the rare coffee table books where the text more than lives up to the pictures. Remember, the holidays aren't that far away; a copy of  NBC and 30 Rock coupled with, say, The Electronic Mirror, would be a great gift for that classic TV fan you know, even if it happens to be you.  TV  

September 21, 2020

What's on TV? Monday, September 20, 1971

Tonight's a landmark in the history of televised sports. No, it's not the inaugural season of Monday Night Football; that was last year. It's close, though: for the second season debut, Frank Gifford replaces Keith Jackson as play-by-play announcer, a move that has twin rammifications. In joining Howard Cosell and Don Meredith, Gifford helps form one of the most memorable broadcasting teams in television sports history, one that would earn the praise and ire of millions around the country. They helped turn Monday Night Football from a mere football game to an event, a colossal Roman circus that inspired such activities as barroom contests to throw bricks through televisions when the trio appeared on the screen. More sedate, but perhaps more significant, Jackson moved from the NFL to college football, in the process becoming one of the greatest big-game announces in television history. On such a historic night as this, everything else pales in comparison, right? This week's issue covers the Philadelphia-New York City area.

September 19, 2020

This week in TV Guide: September 18, 1971

In the era which we call B.C.—that is, Before Cable—movies on television were a Big Deal. A Very Big Deal, in fact. They were, and had been for years, a staple of local television, and in the late 1950s ABC had experimented with a couple of movie packages consisting of pre-1950 movies or movies from England, but when NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies debuted in 1961, it represented a masssive change. Now, for the first time, movies that had been in theaters after 1950 could be seen in the comfort of your very own living room. Some of them were even in color, and all of them were shown in a time slot of at least two hours, meaning they didn't have to be hacked to death first. I explain all this for those of your out there, primarily younger readers, who may not be able to imagine a time when people like me got excited about watching movies on TV that were interrupted at regular intervals for commercials and had often been edited for time or content (or both). What can I say? Thinks were simpler then.

This is all a lead-in to one of this week's cover stories, Al Morgan's look at the men who decide what movies we see on TV. Their names are Barry Diller, Larry White and Mike Marden. They work for the three networks, and as Morgan writes, "Far beyond the dreams of any statesman, they can unite the country: unite it in rooting home the hero in a chariot race or unite it breathing heavily in the Burton-Taylor boudoir."*

*Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. They were an item once.

It's true: some bombs
cost nets as much as $300K
They all agree that things have changed dramatically over the years. In television's early days, the networks would bid against each other for movies, with the price for a single movie jumping "from less than $200,000 to more than a million." With that kind of price war, something had to change; enter the "film package." Distributors would put together a package of as many as 40 movies; the catch was that in order to buy the really good ones, you also had to take the, let's say, less desirable ones. (Kind of like cable television packages, come to think of it.) For example, there's the one CBS bought several years ago. It included hits like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Night of the Iguana, The Sandpiper, North by Northwest, and an Elvis movie. It also included "gems" like Your Cheatin' Heart (George Hamilton as Hank Williams), Hold On! (starring Herman's Hermits), and The Alphabet Murders (Tony Randall trying to play Hercule Poirot). As Mike Marden says, "In those days, our rule of thumb was 'You got 'em, you play 'em.' Today the public won't sit still for a bad movie, a really bad movie." He adds that it's more of a buyer's market today, that the days "when the networks bought anything that moved and talked" are long since over. 

Everyone agrees that NBC has the largest film library; "We haven't bought a package in two years," Larry Wilson says, and when they do, "we look at them on an individual basis. They are offered to us. We buy or we don't buy." ABC's library isn't bad either; Diller says the inventory is big enough that the network could program until 1975 without buying anything more. Diller is especially proud of the network's recent deal for two playings of Cleopatra for more than $4 million. He's also pleased with his purchase of the John Wayne Western The Sons of Katie Elder. "Wayne is pure gold to us," he says. CBS describes it's situation as "comfortable"; Marden says, "I haven't even bought many individual pictures lately." His most recent gems: Ben-Hur and A Streetcar Named Desire.

Scheduling movies is a real chess game for these men. A well-timed movie can take the edge off of a series premiere or other special program. A two-part movie not only doubles the potential ratings bonanza (two nights instead of one!), it also justifies the expense of purchasing that movie (Cleopatra supposedly cost ABC $4 million). This very week, CBS is premiering Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? in the old Ed Sullivan timespot to try and retain Ed's loyal audience. Summer nights make the perfect time for dumping those dogs that you had to purchase in order to get the movies you really wanted. And a blockbuster can help improve ratings for local affiliates, thereby earning loyal and undying gratitude. 

Star power is a big part of making investments pay off. John Wayne is "pure gold" not only for ABC, but CBS as well, and you have to think NBC's feeling pretty good about this week's two-part running of The Alamo. But there's one thing the networks haven't gotten into yet: foreign films. Only ABC has taken a chance: having previously shown A Man and a Woman as a kind of test, Barry Diller went ahead this year and bought Z, Costa-Gavras's political thriller that was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. It's an important movie, Diller says; "I hope people will watch it, but it's a movie that should be seen." I guess if we really want foreign films, we'll just have to wait for TCM.

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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 series of the era. 

The subject of Cleveland Amory's column this week is not a show. Rather, one could say that his focus is on the show within the show. It's the phenomenon known as the VIV—the Very Important Voice—and it's the latest fad in the advertising genre known as the television commercial. It's become so big, in fact, that according to Cleve there's at least one agency in Hollywood that works on nothing but voice talent for commercials. "Last year," says agency owner Charles Stern, "performers on shows earned $35,000,000. Performers on commercials earned over $65,000,000." Well, he's got me convinced; where do you line up for this kind of gig?

Nowadays everyone's doing it: J.D. Cannon for Piels, Jose Ferrer for Schlitz, Lloyd Nolan for Ford, Greg Morris for Datsun, Jack Kelly for Contac, David Wayne for American Airlines, Orson Welles for Eastern Airlines. As a matter of fact, Amory says, when Orson Welles took over Eastern from Alexander Scourby, "it was almost as much of a cause célèbre as when Robert Lansing was replaced from Twelve O'clock High or when Martin Landau and Barbara Bain were replaced in Mission: Impossible." And while big names like Jim Backus, Chuck Connors and Vincent Price are easily recognizable voices, Amory pays particular attention to the voice of a man he calls "unknown": Paul Frees.

Paul Frees is in fact a relative unknown when it comes to his face, but as a voice talent he has become one of the most famous of all time, rivaled today perhaps only by Mel Blanc and Daws Butler. You probably know him for his cartoon voices: Boris Badenov on Rocky and Bullwinkle, Inspector Fenwick on Dudley Do-Right, Burgermeister Meisterburger in Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, and a host of other roles for Jay Ward, Rankin/Bass, and others. He's also done voiceover work on movies from The Manchurian Candidate to Patton, and often worked as a sound-alike for none other than Orson Welles. Amory says that he can do anybody—James Stewart, Jack Benny—better than they can. He regularly earnes over $250,000 a year. For that kind of money, I'd be only too glad to be an unknown, too.

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There's a lesson to be taken somewhere from ABC's Wednesday night schedule. At first glance, you can see why the network would be excited about it; the star-studded lineup features returning series with Elizabeth Montgomery (Bewitched), Bill Bixby (The Courtship of Eddie's Father), Henry Fonda (The Smith Family), and new shows starring Shirley MacLaine (Shirley's World) and Anthony Quinn (The Man and The City). As I said, a lot of star wattage. There's only one problem: by the end of the 1971-72 TV season, none of them will be left on the network's schedule. What happened?

In the case of Bewitched, it's a bit misleading; the show had been a hit for ABC for eight seasons, going back to 1964, and had Montgomery wanted, it probably could have continued for another season or two.* Eddie's Father was a success as well, if not as successful as Bewitched; it ran for three seasons, which today would qualify it as an unmitigated smash. But The Smith Family, the third of the returning shows, only produced 39 episodes over a season-and-a-half, and neither Shirley's World nor Man and The City managed a second season. Hardly what one might expect from a lineup featuring multiple Emmy and Oscar winners. As for what happened, I have a theory, although that's all it is. Briefly, it could be descriped thus: there are stars, and then there are stars.

*Elizabeth Montgomery was understandably tired of the role after such a long run; in addition, she and husband (and Bewitched producer William Asher) were in the process of divorcing.

Elizabeth Montgomery and Bill Bixby were estabalished TV stars, Montgomery through Bewitched and Bixby with My Favorite Martian and Eddie's Father; they also featured in several TV movies over the years. They'd built up a rapport with viewers, who'd become comfortable with welcoming them into their living rooms each week. Fonda, MacLaine and Quinn, on the other hand, had made their fame on the big screen. Only Fonda had helmed a TV series before, The Deputy (1959-61), and in that one he'd usually played a secondary role. MacLaine and Quinn, on the other hand, were part of an inflow of movie stars into television for the 1971 season, one that included Jimmy Stewart, Glenn Ford, and Yul Brynner. TV Guide, in surveying the damage the following year, will suggest that television executives may have been so concerned about attracting big stars that they neglected to give them strong vehicles for their talents. Only Glenn Ford, in the Western-cop show Cade's County, had a series that matched up well with the star's image, and it's probably no coincidence that Cade's County was the only series of the bunch to be renewed for a second season.

In the intervening years, the crossover from movies to television and back has become more common, thanks mostly to prestige shows on cable outlets. Still, it's hard to imagine a network today trying to build a successful lineup around the star system. 

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It's the second (!) season opener for All in the Family (Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET; and they said it would never last), with the Bunkers having to deal with the aftermath of deadbeat cousin Oscar, who comes to visit and—well, becomes just dead Oscar. That's followed at 8:30 p.m. by the debut of Funny Face, starring Sandy Duncan, who's this week's cover star. The network really believed in Sandy, really wanted this series to work, but after a few weeks Duncan undergoes surgery for a tumor behind her left eye, and the show essentially goes on hiatus for the rest of the season. It will return next year, retooled as The Sandy Duncan Show, but the show itself is never as talented as she is. At 9:00 p.m., NBC Saturday Night at the Movies has one of those blockbusters we talked about earier, part one of The Alamo, with John Wayne as producer and director, as well as playing Davy Crockett. We also get an all-star cast including Richard Widmark as Jim Bowie, Richard Boone as Sam Houston, Laurence Harvey as William Travis, and Chill Wills in an Oscar-nominated turn as Beekeeper. Part two airs Monday, same Batjac-time, same Batjac-channel.* And at 10:00 p.m. on ABC, it's the debut of the British-import series The Persuaders!, with Tony Curtis and Roger Moore wonderful as two multimillionaire playboys who become crimefighters in their spare time.

*Batjac being the name of John Wayne's production company.

As I alluded to earlier, The Ed Sullivan Show has taken its last bows, replaced by the new CBS Sunday Night Movie (7:30 p.m.), starting off with 1967's Best Picture nominee Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, Spencer Tracy's last movie, co-starring Oscar winner Katharine Hepburn and Sidney Poitier. Crist has mixed feelings about this one; the performances of the three leads "are lovely to behold," but as for the movie itself, its thesis that "interracial marriage among the rich and successful is permissible provided the couple leaves for Africa by midnight" is "nothing less than vomitous." There's also The Duke again, this time with Robert Mitchum in El Dorado (9:00 p.m., ABC), although Crist says that both the movie and its stars are "hobbling around on crutches." Maybe you're better off with the premiere of The Jimmy Stewart Show (8:30 p.m., NBC), the star's first television series; it's also the first and only time Stewart ever allowed himself to be billed as "Jimmy" rather than "James." He gets that billing for 24 episodes.

It's the season premiere of Monday Night Football this week, with Minnesota taking on Detroit (9:00 p.m., ABC). We'll have more about that in Monday's TV listing. Meanwhile, Billy DeWolfe returns as a guest star on The Doris Day Show (9:30 p.m., CBS), Charles Nelson Reilly joins the cast of Hershel Bernardi's sitcom Arnie (10:30 p.m., CBS), and Joan Rivers is the guest host on The Tonight Show (11:30 p.m., NBC). On Tuesday, it's the fifth-season opener for Ironside (7:30 p.m., NBC), with "an exciting new star," James Olson, playing a contract killer. Olson had actually been around for some time, doing a lot of television, as well as cheesy movies like Moon Zero Two, and very good movies like The Andromeda Strain and Rachel, Rachei. That's followed by the debut of Sarge (8:30 p.m, NBC), starring George Kennedy as a former policeman turned priest, who deals with a dying man (Jack Albertson) looking to even the score with a mobster. If you're looking for something a little less intense, Glen Campbell has a pretty good guest lineup (7:30 p.m., CBS), with Bob Hope, Dionne Warwicke, and the Smothers Brothers.

We've already looked at ABC's Wednesday lineup, but there's more to the evening's entertainment. For one thing, it's the second-season debut of McCloud on the NBC Mystery Movie (8:30 p.m.) Like you, I remember the Mystery Movie mostly from Sunday nights, but it actually started out on Wednesday. (And McCloud got its start as part of Four-In-One, where it rotated with San Francisco International Airport, Night Gallery and The Psychiatrist.) Meanwhile, the program description claims that singer Steve Lawrence is making his TV dramatic debut as am ambitious surgeon in Medical Center (9:00 p.m., CBS), but we all know that his real TV dramatic debut was in Rod Serling's fantasy drama Carol for Another Christmas back in 1964. All they had to do was ask me; I would have told them. And at 10:00 p.m., it's none other than the aforementioned Night Gallery on NBC.

Thursday features a couple more new series on ABC, beginning at 9:00 p.m. with James Franciscus as the blind detective Longstreet, followed at 10:00 p.m. by Arthur Hill as Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law. And on WKBS, the independent station in Philadelphia, it's a delightful episode of It Takes a Thief (9:00 p.m.), with a guest appearance by Fred Astaire as Alexander Mundy's father Alister.  I always enjoyed the episodes with him. Finally, on Friday, it's Group W's Norman Corwin Presents (10:30 p.m., KYW). Corwin, one of the great writers from the Golden Age of Radio, hosted this half-hour anthology series during the 1971-72 season; tonight's episode, which he also wrote, is "Odyssey in Progress," a musical fantasy about a boy searching through space for his dead dog.

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Let's see, what else have we got in the headlines? Richard K. Doan reports on the late-nite turmoil at CBS, where Merv Griffin wants out of his contract so he can return to syndication with Metromedia (where he'll be a daytime show in many markets). CBS will be happy to him go, but then who would replace him? There are rumors; Sonny and Cher (!) were a hit in their summer series, so they've been mentioned, as has Bill Cosby, but the suits don't think either of these choices would be the right one. As it turns out, they wound up replacing Merv with movies and reruns, and didn't dip their toes into the talk show wars until they gave Pat Sajak a shot in 1989. Just think, though, if either of those options had come to pass. I could see Cosby as a talk show host, but Sonny and Cher? Ah, for someone to write an alternative history on that.

The New York Teletype says that Burt Reynolds, who most recently appeared on the small screen in Dan August, is going to take a detour to star in the big-screen version of poet James Dickey's novel Deliverance, along with Jon Voight. I wonder how that'll turn out for Burt? In Hollywood, the talk is about ABC's upcoming telemovie The Kolchak Tapes, currently filming in Las Vegas; it's a vampire epic starring Darren McGavin and Carol Lynley. I wonder if the network has any idea what a hit they'll have on their hands? There's also a report that Sterling Silliphant is working on a pilot for his old Route 66 star George Maharis. Needless to say. . .

Pat Morrow is this week's starlet, who asked herself, following five years as Rita Jacks on Peyton Place, "What did I want to do with the rest of my life?" The answer, at least for the time being, go to law school. She's just finished her first year at Glendale College of Law; her goal is to "defend poor people—people who can't afford to pay the fees of lawyers like my father [a corporate lawyer]." Not like the law shows on television, though, because "these shows have very little reality and no resemblance to the truth about the law and how it operates—in or out of the courtroom." She's had it with acting—"Maybe for some women it would be a good life. Not for me. I'll never go back to television." Not, at least, until next year, when she reprises her role as Rita on Return to Peyton Place until 1974. She does graduate from Glendale, though. TV  

September 18, 2020

Around the dial

It was a big deal, believe me, when Mary Tyler Moore moved into our neighborhood. Minnesotans have something of a native inferiority complex, and when it was announced that The Mary Tyler Moore Show would be set in Minneapolis, it gave all of us the feeling that we belonged, that, like her, we'd finally made it. That was 50 years ago, and Once Upon a Screen celebrates the occasion with a fond look back at Mary Richards and her wacky friends.

At Garroway at Large, Jodie shares another wonderful story of Dave and his son, and the wonders and charms that happen when you "get lost." I could go for some of that right about now myself.

Wednesday I took time out to remember the great Diana Rigg. David does the same at Comfort TV, and shares how he once saw her in person performing in the West End in London. What a treat that must have been!

Kevin Dobson died this week; depending on your genre, you remember him either from Knots Landing or Kojak; he was equally talented in both. At A Shroud of Thoughts, Terence looks back at the career of this versatile actor.

Television's New Frontier: the 1960s travels to 1962 and the tales of America's favorite talking horse, Mister Ed. Included is a look at how the show abandoned the intelligent storytelling of the first season in favor of easy laughs and celebrity appearances.

Over the years, I've developed a real appreciation for Dick Powell, particularly his transformation from song-and-dance man to hardboiled noir star. At Those Were the Days, it's a fond look at Powell and his wife, the equally well-known actress June Allyson. What a pleasant way to end this week's look at the blogosphere. TV  

September 16, 2020

Diana Rigg, R.I.P.

At my age, it doesn’t take much to feel old, some days more than others. A lithe young woman in a black leather catsuit stirs the blood (especially one holding a gun), and when that young woman dies, aged 82, it serves as a reminder that the pot doesn’t require much more stirring before it’s finished.

If you’re of that age, you remember that catsuit, and Diana Rigg, the young woman who wore it, from The Avengers. You also probably remember her from the James Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. If you’re of a different age, the first thing you think of might be Game of Thrones, or perhaps a stage show you’d seen her in (such as Medea, for which she won a Tony in 1994), or any one of countless movies, television shows, or productions in which she appeared over a remarkable career. The point is, you remembered.

The outpouring of memories immediately following the announcement of her death was, in fact, remarkable. It seems as if everyone had a favorite moment, mostly from either The Avengers or On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (after all, who else can lay claim to having been the one and only “Mrs. James Bond”?), but by no means all. There was, for example, her appearance in the Hallmark Hall of Fame version of Witness for the Prosecution, in which she held her own in the role made famous by Marlene Dietrich. Or perhaps you remembered her wonderful turn in Paddy Chayefsky’s wicked The Hospital, a portrayal laced with both absurd humor and pathos. You might have recalled her performance in Mother Love, or the way she played Mrs. Danvers in a TV adaptation of Rebecca; speaking of which, she was a wonderful host of PBS’s Mystery! for many years, taking over from Vincent Price, and that’s no mean feat. She was an acclaimed stage actress, in the classics but also more contemporary fare; in addition to her Tony for Medea, she was nominated three other times. People who saw her perform in person didn’t forget it. She even appeared, with her daughter Rachael Sterling, on Doctor Who, and if that doesn’t seal the deal, nothing does. Her fans, her admirers, those who had enjoyed her work: all spoke of her with affection, appreciation that so many of her performances are available on video, and a little bit of sorrow.

Returning to this idea of age, of an era having passed: in that picture on top, she’s almost painfully young, isn’t she? Young, and breathtaking. No matter your age, it makes you wonder if you were ever that young, and I don’t think that I was. (I’d better start trying to make up for lost time.) Samuel West, who co-starred with her in the remake of All Creatures Great and Small, said: "Doesn't really make sense to think of her having died. She generally lived the hell out of everyone." She lived the hell out of her career, that’s for sure, and that’s something we’ll never forget. TV  

September 14, 2020

What's on TV? Wednesday, September 14, 1977

Despite the fact I was still living in the World's Worst Town™ when this issue of TV Guide came out, I have a fondness for this time. For one thing, it was the start of my senior year in high school, which meant I only had one year left before being released out into the general population; for another, it was the year in which cable TV would finally come to the area. We were exposed to Channels 2, 4, 9 and 11 (KCMT had territorial claims to NBC), and when it hit in December, I felt like a prisoner being released from solitary confinement, blinking my eyes at the sudden appearance of the sun. I mention this only because I still recall my delight at getting to see some of these shows, such as Tom & Jerry (3:30 p.m., WTCN). It wasn't that I was such a big Tom and Jerry fan; it was just so—different from what I was used to seeing. Remember, to a man in the desert, even warm water is refreshing. In case you can't tell, we're in the Twin Cities this week.