July 8, 2020

Up for debate

In our last episode, I mentioned the role of television in the nation's political divisiveness. Well, it's back to the political arena once again this week, in a nonpartisan way of course. It's prompted by the recent story that the University of Michigan has withdrawn its particpation in this fall's televised presidential debates due to concern over the coronavirus. The debate, scheduled for October 15, will now be held in Miami. The decision was made in light of "[t]housands of reporters, protesters and attendees [set] set to descend on Ann Arbor for the debate, raising health and safety concerns". Some have suggested the debates be scrapped altogether as long as the pandemic continues.

Now, you can say a lot of things about this site, but one thing you can't accuse yours truly of is being naive; I wasn't born yesterday, a fact to which I can readily testify the way I feel this morning. Naturally, there are plenty of political reasons to think that the virus may just be an excuse, but as I’ve said many times before, this is a television site, not a political discussion site. So while I may have my own opinion about the whole thing (as I surely do), let's just stop for a minute and look at the Kennedy-Nixon debates in 1960 and see if they can't shed some light on the subject.

No social distancing issues here.
Central to the discussion is the reality of the situation: these debates were not events covered by television; rather they were held for television, in order to allow the entire country to see them. It was, among other things, a dramatic demonstration of the medium's ability to educate and enlighten viewers throughout the country. And it worked: 66.4 million people watched that first debate on September 26, and if I remember correctly, it was the most-watched television show in history to that point. The debates were held, not in auditoriums or theaters, but in television studios. In other words, there were no spectators aside from the handlers for both candidates and the television crew.

Given that, one has to ask—all right, I'll ask—why there need to be any ticketed spectators at a televised debate. They're not allowed to interrupt with applause or booing (at least, they're not supposed to), so what purpose do they serve, aside from perhaps allowing influential supporters to see their candidate up close and personal? I'll give you the answer to that one: none. They didn't need a studio audience; that's why they were on television in the first place. So if you eliminated a few hundred or a few thousand people in the crowd, you've already lowered the risk.

That's not all, of course. You can use robotic cameras to reduce the number of crew members needed on the set. Your sound and light technicians can all be in separate areas. You can even set up early in the day, and disinfect the set before the debate if you want. The candidates are going to have makeup people work on them any time they're on TV anyway, so put a mask on 'em if you're worried. As for the panel, you don't need them, either; let one newsperson, agreed upon by both campaigns, act as sole moderator. Throw in the floor director to give the candidates cues, and you're set. Since there are a lot of cities out there that continue to limit the size of public gatherings, you've already got reason to keep supporters and protestors from congregating outside the studio. In short, you've reduced the number of people required onsite dramatically. If you can't hold a debate under those circumstances, you're in pretty bad shape.

Not in the same city? No problem!
But if you're still worried that the risk factor is too high, here's a really radical idea: keep the candidates at home and let them debate remotely. And before you tell me how stupid that is, there's already a precedent for it. Due to scheduling conflicts for Kennedy and Nixon, ◄ their October 13 debate was held via split-screen, with Nixon (and the panelists) in the ABC studio in Los Angeles, and Kennedy in the ABC studio in New York.* The unique format didn't discourage viewership; that debate had the second-highest rating of the four. Surely if we hold Zoom conferences every day, we can manage to get a couple of cameras into Trump and Biden's living rooms and let one of the news anchors oversee the proceedings from the studio where they do the news. Then you don't even have to worry about crowds gathering. As for the press, put a couple of pool reporters in the studio and let the others watch it at home on TV along with the rest of us. There, now, that wasn't so hard, was it?

*In case you're curious, the first debate was broadcast from WBBM-TV in Chicago, the second from WRC-TV in Washington, D.C., and the fourth from the ABC studios in New York. You can (and should) watch all of them here, courtesy of the indispensible David Von Pein.

I realize it's probably not this easy, but it doesn't have to be that much more complicated, either. The point is that if you're worried about holding presidential debates in the middle of a pandemic, you shouldn't be. History tells us that the way it is isn't the same thing as the way it has to be. Crowds gathered for the Lincoln-Douglas debates because it was the only way to see them. That's not the way it is now; there's no good reason for us to hold our presidential debates as if they were circus sideshows. If, after all this, you still can't figure out how to hold the debates, that only means the virus was an excuse.

As I write this, I've got a live soccer match on TV in the background, being played in a 50,000 seat stadium with no fans in attendance. Aside from players, coaches, technical crews and stadium personal, the stadium is empty. Announcers talk about playing the games "behind closed doors"; in Germany, the term is Geisterspiele, that is, "ghost match." (The Germans, of course, have a term for everything.) Actually, I kind of like this idea of "ghost debates"—it describes the state of today's politics pretty well. Ghastly, that is. TV  

July 6, 2020

What's on TV? Tuesday, July 5, 1966

Someone once wrote that travel broadens the mind, and that's why I always enjoy visiting a new area via TV Guide—in this case, the Eastern Washington edition. Our home base for the week is Spokane, although the reach is as far as Idaho and Oregon. I wish there was time for me to delve into the television history of these different areas; I know more about some of them than others, but never as much as I'd like. Many of you have been good enough to chip in with your memories, and I hope you continue to do so. For all that, though, looking through the network programs, combined with things like local movies, just goes to show, as Roddy McDowall found out in The Twilight Zone, "People are alike all over."

July 4, 2020

This week in TV Guide: July 2, 1966

This is the way it is: only now, in July of 1966, is Walter Cronkite beginning to get the credit that would, in years to come, seem to be his by right, or maybe divine fiat. Today we're conditioned to view every landmark in American history through the eyes of the Most Trusted Man in America, and yet just two years before, in August 1964, he had been removed from the lead chair for CBS's coverage of the Democratic National Convention. Back then, rumors were rampant that Cronkite's job was on the line, that he'd either be replaced or teamed with someone more "glamorous." That's life for you.

As Richard Schickel notes in this week's cover story, it's taken years of struggle, but for the first time Cronkite and the CBS Evening News have started to top NBC's powerhouse Huntley-Brinkley Report. Not that he takes any satisfaction from it; for Cronkite, it's all about the news, not the ratings. "Walter is a newsman who has remained a newsman and has never tried to be a television 'personality,'" says Richard Salant, head of CBS News. Cronkite reminds people that it was only last year that he'd worked on television longer than for newspapers and wire-services, and he jealously protects his title as "Managing Editor" of the evening news. Over the years, viewers have come to recognize and trust the passion Cronkite has for the news, "that over the years he has generated a quality of believably no other broadcaster can match." In time, that will translate into becoming "the most trusted man in America."

He's a strong backer of the program's resident pundit, Eric Sevareid, whom he believes is right more often than not in his opinions; he also appreciates the freedom that Sevareid's commentaries have given him from having to interpret the news himself. He's devoted to hard news, which he thinks gives the program an advantage over "the softer Huntley-Brinkley approach." Fred Friendly, the former head of CBS News, puts it this way: "Walter and his staff are better newsmen than the opposition." The night that Luna 9, the Soviet Union's unmanned spacecraft, made the first soft landing on the moon, Cronkite led with pictures from the landing. NBC "doesn't put them on until they are 16 minutes into it."

The Cronk and his son Chip, working on a slot-car
track - a swell gift for a boy in the 1960s.
I've made this point before, but it bears repeating: NBC's ratings for the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 were higher than those for CBS and ABC combined. And as noted earlier, Cronkite's position was said to be in jeopardy a year later. Today, thanks to CBS's generous use of the Cronkite library—Cronkite announcing JFK's death, Cronkite overcome by the moon landing, Cronkite proclaiming that Vietnam is lost—one might think that Walter Cronkite was not just America's most trusted newsman, but America's only newsman. In light of that, it strikes me as somewhat disingenuous when Friendly, Salant, Cronkite, and the rest talk about how the ratings don't matter, that to even discuss them is to play NBC's game. On the other hand, the triumph of Cronkite's legacy, like his eventual victory in the ratings race, shows the value of playing the long game. The way it was isn't remembered; what goes in the history books is the way it is.

Which is not in any way intended to cast a shadow on that legacy. Unlike today's newsreaders, Cronkite was a newsman, and never stopped being one. He took the news seriously, and he took his obligation to the viewers seriously. Like the big-game sportscasters I've written about in the past, when you heard Walter Cronkite's voice, you stopped and listened.

In his office there is a quote from a review that Cronkite has framed and hung on the wall. "Viewers rarely recall and relish a Cronkite statement. They believe it instead." That's not a bad legacy either, one that today's television personalities might want to consider.

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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..

Ed Sullivan: Ed's guests are singers Tom Jones, Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello and Mireille Mathieu; actor Ray Milland, who appears in a scene from his Broadway play Hostile Witness; comics Don Rickles, John Byner and Arthur Haynes; puppet Topo Gigio; Los Vegas, singing-instrumental group; and Elizabeth and Collins, knife-throwing act.

Palace: Host Vincent "Ben Casey" Edwards presents an all-female guest lineup: actress Bette Davis, who reads Dorothy Parker's poem "Biographies"; singer-dancers Liza Minnelli and Liliane Montevecchi; comedienne Joan Rivers; Miss Elizabeth, Swiss trapeze artist; the balancing Roggé Sisters; and performing elephants Bertha and Tina.

We're in rerun season, of course, and it's not hard to see why these two episodes were chosen. I suppose Vince Edwards was a natural for hosting an all-female Palace, given that he's displayed his innate animal magnetism for years on Ben Casey. He's got a good cast, too, particularly when Bette Davis is the lead guest. However, even with Liza (with a Z) and Joan Rivers, Palace is not about to compete with Tom Jones, Frankie and Annette, Ray Milland, and Don Rickles, and if Ed feels he still needs a few more stars, John Byner can probably impersonate them. No pretending here; Sullivan for the win.

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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. 

Bad news for all you fans of The Cleve this week; our erstwhile hero-critic is on vacation. Not to fear, however, for his substitute (I don't think I can ever recall someone subbing for Amory, though I could be wrong about that) is none other than Judith Crist, movie critic for the New York Herald Tribune and film and drama critic of the Today show, and future movie reviewer for TV Guide.

For her subject this week, Crist not surprisingly looks at the state of the movie as seen on TV. Like the farmer and the rancher, she says, "movies and television have been forced into wary friendship and coexistence for economic survival." It is, however, time for "an awareness of what effect television is having not only on movie making but also on movie watching." The effect can be seen most strongly in young viewers, Crist says, those who have been conditioned to short-attention spans from television, delivered "in 12-minute doses of concentrated action zooming to a climax that is suddenly aborted" by commercial time. They don't know about subplots, the intricacies of plotting, and the subtleties of moviemaking. All they know is that they want their movies to be like their TV shows, "a series of exciting episodes and vignettes."

And it isn't just kids; many adults, according to Crist, admit that "their attention wanders after 20 of the 30 uninterrupted minutes Schaefer Award Theater allots its movies as a 'public service.'" Crist acknowledges that "it's a rare movie that can't be pared here and there," but such edits have to be judicious. Too many times, though, the end result is "out-and-out butchery." with film fans left nonplussed by bizarre jumps and stories that fall apart due to the total absence of certain scenes. What, for example, happened to the Marseillaise scene in Casablanca?

Television also needs to take its movie business more seriously. Rather than flooding the airwaves with "pop pap," Crist urges stations to seek out innovative opportunities such as airing a local film festival, or even serving as an art revival house. (An excellent idea, by the way; our PBS station KTCA had moments like that in the late '70s and early '80s.) She suggests that movie hosts share inside information with viewers about then-unknown stars who might be appearing in tonight's flick, not unlike what Robert Osborne would do on TCM decades later. "All it takes," she writes, "is some thought and less money." Ah, we can but dream, can't we?

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This week's starlet is Leigh Chapman, also known as Napoleon Solo's secretary on The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and despite her cool and chic appearance, she's her own biggest critic. "I despise selling myself as an actress because I don't like my body. There are too many defects," she says. "As writers go I might be good-looking, but as actresses go—"

She's written scripts for Burke's Law, Dr. Kildare, and My Favorite Martian, among other shows, and when asked how a nice girl like her wound up behind a typewriter, she replies simply, "I like words." She wants to prove she can write as well as a man can, and in fact she prefers to take a masculine point of view "because we have a masculine-oriented society."

Looking at Leigh Chapman's later writing career, it all makes sense. She becomes known for action-adventure movies and TV shows: Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, The Octagon, The Wild Wild West, Mission: Impossible, It Takes a Thief. She wrote the pilot for Walker, Texas Ranger. "I like larger-than-life characters who do dangerous, heroic things," she said. "And that, to me, means men." She gave up acting after a disagreeable experience with Desi Arnaz, an incident she details in a fascinating interview she does with Stephen Bowie. She dies of cancer in 2014, but not before having taken up underwater photography. With that kind of talent, who needs acting?

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Well, we've gotten this far, and we've barely touched on the week's programs. Let's see what we can do to rectify that.

Did NBC read an advance copy of Judith Crist's article? This week's Saturday Night at the Movies, Sam Peckinpah's Ride the High Country (9:00 p.m. ET), includes a feature following the movie, with Ken Murray (known for his home movies of life in Hollywood) taking a look at the careers of the movie's stars, Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott. (Pause, repeat "Randoph Scott" reverently.) Networks used to have these featurettes from time to time, when the movie didn't fill the entire two-hour timeslot.

On Sunday, ABC Sports visits close to home with coverage of the final round of the U.S. Women's Open golf championship (2:00 p.m.), from Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota, a suburb of the Twin Cities. Golf fans probably recognize Hazeltine from hosting the Ryder Cup in 2016, but its first brush with fame, or infamy if you will, was as host of the 1970 men's Open. The course, less than a decade old, had yet to mature, and was despised by most of the pros; Dave Hill famously suggested that it only needed "80 acres of corn and a few cows" to be truly complete; Minnesotans, being the proud people we are, serenaded Hill with mooing for the rest of the tournament. Sandra Spuzich, at +9, wins the Women's Open, and a first-prize of $4,000.

Monday is the 4th of July, which explains why NBC's on the air with the Minnesota Twins playing the Cleveland Indians (4:00 p.m.). It's been a disappointing season for the defending American League champion Twins, but the Indians have stayed near the top thanks to pitching from Luis Tiant, Sonny Siebert, and Sudden Sam McDowell—remember him? That's the only bit of holiday programming for the day, but remember that most people are out, going to parades and fireworks shows, or just enjoying the high point of summer. They probably have better things to do that stay inside watching television. I myself have no idea what I was up to.

Telly Savalas (right) and Beau Bridges guest star in Tuesday's episode of The Fugitive (10:00 p.m., ABC). Beau accidentally shoots the driver of a passing car; he wants to turn himself in, but Telly won't hear of it, leaving Dr. Kimble—who was riding in the car—as the prime suspect. I know I've mentioned things like this before, but how many times as something like this actually happened to you, let alone an innocent man on the run from the law? I wonder.

Wednesday's fun just for browsing through the night and seeing all the guest stars: Frank Gorshin as the Riddler on Batman (ABC, 7:30 p.m.), Glenn Corbett and John Doucette on The Virginian (NBC, 7:30 p.m.), James Brolin and Kim Carnes—yes, Miss "Bette Davis Eyes" herself—on The Patty Duke Show (ABC, 8:00 p.m.), Arthur Hill reading the poems of William Carlos Williams on U.S.A. (NET, 8:30 p.m.), Marilyn Mason in The Big Valley (ABC, 9:00 p.m.), Jack Lord, Dana Wynter, Pat O'Brien and Sheree North in "The Crime" on Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre (NBC, 9:00 p.m.), Pippa Scott on The Dick Van Dyke Show (CBS, 9:30 p.m.), and Julie London and producer Sheldon Leonard on I Spy (NBC, 10:00 p.m.). Oh, and Buddy Hackett is one of Johnny Carson's guests on The Tonight Show (NBC, 11:15 p.m.)

The highlight on Thursday is one of the most charming of movies (and star Jimmy Stewart's favorite role), Harvey, on the CBS Thursday Night Movie. (CBS, 9:00 p.m.) And in their pre-Laugh-In days, Rowan and Martin continue as summer subs for Dean Martin. (NBC, 10:00 p.m.)

Decisions, decisions: on Friday's Donna Reed rerun (ABC, noon), "Alex wants a new set of golf clubs, but Donna says that the family needs a new washing machine." Things were different in 1966, we know; still, you'd think that a doctor would be able to afford both. No wonder Carl Betz was so excited to play Clinton Judd—it probably meant a raise in pay. And on Court-Martial (ABC, 10:00 p.m.), Bradford Dilman discovers that his client is innocent of the crime for which he's charged, but guilty of another crime. Why didn't things like this ever happen to Perry Mason?

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That's it for this very unusual Fourth of July, 2020. Returning to the present for a moment, here's a hope for happier times ahead, and never forget what this day is all about.  TV  



July 3, 2020

Around the dial

That's how I feel sometimes. I'm staring at the tube, but there's nothing there. Plenty in store here this week, so let's get right to it.

At Comfort TV, David takes a witty, yet bittingly accurate look at statues of classic TV figures, and why you might want to take a look at them while you can, if you know what I mean. When I worked in downtown Minneapolis, I saw our very own Mary Tyler Moore statue every day, but I think I'd be afraid to go down there nowmight get shot.

At Classic Film & TV Cafe, Rick looks at one of the few classic TV series to appear (so far) on the new NBC streaming service Peacock: Alfred Hitchcock Presents. As a bonus, he also gives us a list of the best episodes from the first season.

Speaking of Hitch, this week's Hitchcock Project at bare•bones e-zine involves one of those first-season episodes, as Jack goes indepth on Harold Swanton's "Portrait of Jocelyn," a sinister little story that shows us what Philip Abbott did before he ran off and joined The F.B.I.

It's the first of a two-part appraisal of Dave Garroway's career after Today over at Garroway at Large, Jodie looks at a number of the Master Communicator's appearances in various media, including his week guest-hosting ABC's late night show Nightline. (Not that one.) 

Carol Ford and Linda Groundwater present the latest in their podcast series Flipside: The True Story of Bob Crane. In this two-part episode, Carol and Linda try to separate fact from fiction as it relates to the final days of Bob Crane.

At Inner Toob, it's a typically bizarre (and humorous) look at how a "fictional" version of The Hollywood Squares has been part of sevearl other television series. Read it, it'll make more sense than what I've said. Trust me.

Terence remembers Carl Reiner in a very nice obituary at A Shroud of Thought, reminding us of the accomplishments of one of the last legends of the Golden Age of Television. There are other retrospectives, but I thought this was one of the best.

Hugh Downs died on Wednesday at the age of 99. He was one of the few people who could project credibility as a talk show second banana, the emcee of a game show, a newsman on a morning show, and a host of a prime time newsmagazine. If you doubt his gravitas, watch this clip of him talking about the significance of John F. Kennedy on the morning of his funeral.


Nice, wasn't it? Simple and elegantjust like Hugh Downs himself.

Tomorrow's the Fourth of July, and we'll be back with another TV Guide. And though it will be a different Fourth than we're used to, take a moment to remember what the day is all about, and why we should be grateful to the Founding Fathers. And let's be careful out there, okay? TV  

July 1, 2020

Divided we watch

As I've mentioned before, The Smithsonian Channel is one of the few channels I watch on a fairly regular basis, so it's no surprise that I'd stumble across this insightful quote at their website as to what the Balkanization of television has meant to the political order. After the quote, I'll be back with the pertinent details.

A stable national government requires a measure of cohesion of the ruled. Such cohesion can be derived from an implicit mutual agreement on goals and direction — or even on the processes of determining goals and direction. With the diversity of information channels available, there is a growing ease of creating groups having access to distinctly differing models of reality, without overlap. For example, nearly every ideological group. . . now has its own newspapers. Imagine a world in which there is a sufficient number of TV channels to keep each group, and in particular the less literate and tolerant members of the groups, wholly occupied? Will members of such groups ever again be able to talk meaningfully to one another? Will they ever obtain at least some information through the same filters so that their images of reality will overlap to some degree? Are we in danger of creating by electrical communications such diversity within society as to remove the commonness of experience cessary for human communication, political stability, and, indeed, nationhood itself? Must “confrontation” increasingly be used for human communication?

National political diversity requires good will and intelligence to work comfortably. The new visual media are not an unmixed blessing. This new diversity causes one to hope that the good will and intelligence of the nation is sufficiently broad-based to allow it to withstand the increasing communication pressures of the future.

Am I right? Not only interesting, but insightful. Now for the rest of the story.

The author of that quote is Paul Baran, one of the pioneers of the Internet and a man who predicted the development of the "portable telephone." It comes from a paper titled "On the Impact of the New Communications Media Upon Social Values," in which he looked at how the societal fragmentation created by technology could create a polariation in our political discource, something which, I think we can all agree, exists in abundance today. It's quoted in a Smithsonian article, TV Will Tear Us Apart: The Future of Political Polarization in American Media,

He wrote this paper in 1969.

The Smithsonian article was written in 2013.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, And if we thought things were bad then. . . TV  

June 29, 2020

What's on TV? Saturday, June 28, 1969

I've been spending some video time lately looking at the late 1960s, at what a divisive and changed time it is. That's one reason why I'm struck looking at the listings for this Saturday morning, looking at how many westerns there are. The science fiction and superhero cartoons make sense—that is, after all, the future. But westerns? I understand the lure of the Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy; I had my share of cowboy hats and six-shooters among my childhood toys. I'm just a bit surprised that the wild west is still seen as fodder for kids; it's so traditional, so conventional, so unlike everything that the end of the '60s is supposed to be about. Oh well; if that's what's on TV in Philadelphia, that's the way it must be!

June 27, 2020

This week in TV Guide: June 28, 1969

You might think that an event being shown on television for the first time in 1969 would have made a repeat appearance by now, even if it was only an irregular occurrence. Here we are, though, 51 years later, and the investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales, broadcast live and in color via satellite from Caernarvon Castle in Wales on July 1, 1969, is still the one and only time we've seen this ceremony on TV—and it doesn't appear to be changing any time soon.

It's a glittering event, second only to that of the Coronation (and we haven't seen one of those since 1953), and there's been no little amount of controversy about it. Why, say some Welch, should their nation celebrate an event that meant "the end of its life as an independent country?" At a time when there's a need for improved housing, schools, roads and electric power, the Crown is spending $500,000 on a pageant that isn't even all that traditional, but a combination of several older rituals.

Charles, just 20 years old and having concluded his second year at Cambridge, was candid in a rare personal interview prior to the ceremony. Of course there's a certain amount of apprehension, he says; "I don't blame people demonstrating. They've never seen me before; they don't know what I'm like. I have hardly been to Wales, and you can't really expect people to be overzealous about having a so-called English Prince to come amongst them."

For those able to watch the festivities at home, coverage begins on NBC with Today at 7:00 a.m. ET, Ray Scherer and Barbara Walters reporting. CBS's broadcast starts at 8:00 a.m., with Harry Reasoner, Winston Burdett and Morley Safer, while ABC enters the scene at 9:30 a.m., with Frank Reynolds and George Watson. NBC and CBS remain on the air until 11:30 a.m.; ABC signs off at 11:00. (CBS also airs a 30-minute review at 10:30 p.m. for us working stiffs.) The ceremonies include a procession to the castle by Welch society, followed by the arrival of the Prince, then the Queen and members of the Royal Family, and concluding with the investiture itself, including an address by Prince Charles to the people of Wales, in Welch.

Charles has been Prince of Wales for over half a century now, the longest-serving Prince of Wales in British history. No heir has waited longer to become the monarch. I wonder if he, or anyone else, expected that he would still be Prince of Wales at age 71? But then, Elizabeth was only 43 herself at the time. Since she became Queen, we've gone through 14 U.K. prime ministers, 13 U.S. presidents, seven popes, and the turning of a century. How time flies.

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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 last Cleveland Amory column of the season is something like the last day of school: casual, loose, enjoyable. You can imagine him sitting in his office with the windows open, a light breeze tossing the curtains gently, one of his cats curling at his feet as he pens his final column. The sense of lightheartedness extends to this week's subject matter—a simple Q&A with readers. It is, as usual, a delight.

Q: Why do you use the "we" style? Who is we? You and who else? Do you think you're royal?
A: We is just me. However, to me, we is more amusing than I is. We would not have laughed, for example, if Queen Victoria had said, "I am not amused."*

*We might have, though, if she had said, "We is not amused."

Q: I think you are mellowing. Are you?
A: Nonsense. We weigh just what we weighed in college. It's just that with us writing each week, television could hardly fail to get better.

There are some questions that provoke more insightful answers, though. For instance, the one that asks Cleve how many episodes of a series he watches before he reviews it. "At least three," he says. "Three strikes, we figure, and you're out." Someone asked what shows he watches for his own personal pleasure. "Ironside and Mission: Impossible," he replies. Ironside because he likes the chemistry between the lead characters; "The only time this show leaves us cold is when they have a guest star take over. Then it's just like any other show." And in the case of M:I, "it's a real tour de force—without, praise be, too much force."

Then someone asks him which shows he regretted seeing go off the air, and the answers aren't a surprise for anyone who's followed Amory over the years. He liked The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, which he felt fell victim to an interdepartmental fight between CBS news and CBS entertainment. Yes, the Brothers were partisan and one-sided in their material, but the obvious answer is not to take them off, but "to put on another show which makes funny comments on the other side." He also liked That's Life, the musical comedy show starring Robert Morse and E.J. Peaker. It was, he thought, "a sparkling, innovative, really different musical-comedy effort."

And then there's the question about whether or not people take his criticisms seriously. Yes, he says; Monty Hal cornered him at a hockey game and went through the entire review, "line by line. He was against it." The best one, however, was a 12-year-old boy who called him at home late one night to lay into him. "Your review of Dark Shadows was the most close-minded review I have ever read. Letter will follow." It did, too, he says, and there he has me beat. I've gotten a few emails over the years, some overnight, but I've yet to have someone call me to complain. And don't get any ideas.

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The Fourth of July is right around the corner (more about that later), which means it's time for—college football? That's right: it's the ninth annual Coaches All-America Game, telecast Saturday night from Atlanta (8:30 p.m., ABC). It's kind of hard to explain this college all-star football game to anyone who wasn't alive to see it—it was played from 1961 to 1976—and even then, it's well, odd. Officially, it's the last game of the college football season, staged by the American Football Coaches Association, the group that names the college All-America teams each year, and the purpose of the game was to raise money for AFCA scholarships. It started out in Buffalo before shuffling to Atlanta, and this is the last year in the Peachtree City before it relocates to Lubbock, Texas, where the game really begins to take off; over the seven years it was played in Lubbock, it averaged over 40,000 per game in attendance. I'm not entirely sure why the game was played in the summer; the NFL training camps haven't opened yet, and this is before the days of year-round workouts, so perhaps this was a chance for players to arrive at camp in better shape than the veterans; it might also have been an opportunity for undrafted free agents to display their wares for scouts. Not surprisingly, despite the game's popularity, it was reluctantly ended after the 1976 game; much like the reasons for ending the College All-Star Game (in which the all-stars took on the NFL champions), the injury potential negated any upside for college seniors and NFL teams. I, for one, always enjoyed this dose of summertime football—but then, as people have reminded me, I'm kind of different.

Earlier in the day, ABC's Wide World of Sports presents a heavyweight championship bout between challenger Jerry Quarry and champion Joe Frazier. (5:00 p.m., taped on June 23.) If you're wondering why it's just a heavyweight championship rather than the heavyweight championship, it's because we're once again in an era of multiple champions. Following the decision to strip Muhammad Ali of the title for refusing military induction, the World Boxing Association conducted a tournament to name a new champion, which was won by Jimmy Ellis. Frazier declined to take part in the tournament, instead fighting Buster Mathis in the inaugural event at the new Madison Square Garden, with the winner to be recognized by the New York State Athletic Commission as its heavyweight champ. (Not insignificant in an era when so many title fights were staged at the Garden.) Frazier won that fight, and made four more successful defenses of the title (including a seventh-round TKO of Quarry in this fight) before unifying the title with a defeat of Ellis in February, 1970. Got all that?

There's less complicated sports on this week as well; the Tigers take on the Orioles in the NBC Game of the Week (Saturday, 2:15 p.m.), and the Phillies play the brand new Montreal Expos, as well as the Pittsburgh Pirates, during the week. There's also Roller Derby at 3:30 p.m. Saturday on WPHL, for those of you interested in honest competition.

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NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies presents a repeat of Ray Bradbury's celebrated novel Fahrenheit 451 (9:00 p.m.), with ► Oskar Werner as the fireman charged with burning books, and Julie Christie in the dual role of Werner's wife and a teacher who instills in him the quest for knowledge. Judith Crist doesn't like it; she sees it as "pretentious, loaded with heavy-handed ironies that stress its simple-mindedness." I like it myself, although it doesn't quite measure up to the book, but then you have to go a long way to match a masterpiece. Crist has kinder words for Mickey One (Sunday, 9:00 p.m., ABC), the avant-garde cult classic by Arthur Penn, with Warren Beatty, Hurd Hatfield, Alexandra Steward, Teddy Hart and Franchot Tone. Beatty is "brilliant" and the supporting cast "superb," in this "parable of modern man on the run from the nameless fears and faceless terrors of his time." Does anyone out there notice how much that description sounds like our times? Honey West (4:30 p.m., WIBF) offers a storyline that sounds like it belongs more on The Avengers: "A robot breaks into Honey's office, knocks her unconscious and murders a toy manufacturer." The kind of thing that happens to private detectives all the time, right? And you might want to check out Walter Cronkite's 21st Century episode "Stranger Than Science Fiction" (CBS, 6:00 p.m.), which (in light of next month's moon launch) looks at how today's realities compare to "the dreams of yesterday's science fiction."

Also on Sunday, Hee Haw (9:00 p.m, CBS) has an all-star guest cast of Faron Young, George Jones and Tammy Wynette; according to Richard K. Doan, the surprise hit is giving CBS a real headache. They've been trying for years to find a show to put up against NBC's longtime hit Bonanza; for all the troubles the Smothers Brothers were, at least they gave the Western a run for its money. "Now, to CBS's consternation—and all but disbelief", the "hayseed version of Laugh-In" smoked Bonanza in the ratings in its June 15 debut. "CBS's unwanted dilemma: If Hee Haw is a hit, how do you throw it off come September?" You can already see the rural purge coming, can't you?

Monday's best bet is the terrific Orson Welles thriller The Lady from Shanghai, co-starring then-wife Rita Hayworth (8:00 p.m., WIBF). Check this one out sometime if you can. Tuesday's Red Skelton rerun (8:30 p.m,. CBS) features a rare TV appearance by the late Boris Karloff (who died in February; the episode originally ran in September 1968), co-starring Vincent Price in what must have been quite a show. Here's a look at the two of them with Red.


Jock Mahoney, who played Tarzan in the movies, gets to do the TV version on Wednesday (7:30 p.m., NBC). He doesn't get to play the vine-swinger, though; that's still Ron Ely. And in case you missed Orson Welles last night, you get another opportunity tonight; this time, it's Macbeth (9:00 p.m., WPHL), with co-stars Jeanette Nolan, Roddy McDowall and Dan O'Herlihy. On Thursday, Vincent Price is back, this time on NBC; he's the ringleader of a band of child thieves on Daniel Boone (7:30 p.m.). A rerun of The Prisoner (8:00 p.m., CBS) tells a prescient story about the dangers of technology; The Village has introduced "a crash course that would endow villagers with a university degree in three minutes. But at what cost to the will of an individual's mind?" And a terrific guest lineup highlights Friday's The Name of the Game (8:30 p.m., NBC), involving an investigation into where Gene Barry got the money on which he built his publishing empire; Barry Sullivan, Jack Kelly, Fritz Weaver, Gia Scala, Ray Danton and Ed Asner make up the cast.

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At various times throughout the history of this feature, we've seen the Fourth of July celebrated on television with parades, baseball games, and variety specials. It remains, however, a holiday not particularly suited to television specials. It is a day when people gather in groups—well, perhaps not this year, but normally—to go to parades, to picnic or have cookouts in their backyards, to go to fireworks shows at night or shoot them off for the kids in their neighborhood, or simply to enjoy the summer breeze. It's no real surprise, therefore, to see the day go pretty much unnoticed in this issue. And that's just fine with me. Even though a program with an Independence Day feel would be welcome—a concert, perhaps, or movie about the Revolution—I have no problem with people tuning things out while they celebrate with friends, or in a crowd. Human interaction is, after all, something of a reminder that the Revolution was fought for human freedoms. Imperfect freedoms, maybe, but freedoms nonetheless. That we celebrate the day with other humans seems to be kind of appropriate, don't you think? TV  

June 26, 2020

Around the dial

The Broadcasting Archives at the University of Maryland links to this story of the greatest upset in quiz show history. It's from G-E College Bowl, of course, and it's great fun to watch, if you don't mind feeling stupid.

A twofer here, as Carol Ford and Linda Groundwater from Bob Crane: Life & Legacy appear on Ed Robertson's TV Confidential show with part two of their interview on their Bob Crane bio.

Some great vintage ads from Jodie at Garroway at Large on WCBS's campaign for Dave Garroway's morning and afternoon radio shows. Besides being fun to read, it's a good reminder that Garroway made significant contributions to radio as well as television.

Advanced TV Herstory continues the interview with Cady McClain, filmmaker, writer and actor, best remembered as Dixie Cooney on ABC's All My Children. Always interesting to look at how talented people transition from one form to another.

At The Horn Section, Hal revisits "A Gift From the Chief," from the first season of F Troop, marking the sixth and final appearance for the great Edward Everett Horton (the narriator of "Fractured Fairy Tales") as Roaring Chicken. I always thought he was on longer than that.

The review of Cain's Hundred continues at Television's New Frontier: the 1960s. I've never had the opportunity to see an episode of this program, although I'm going to make the effort, particularly considering the comments quoted from an interview with guest star Robert Culp. And yes, I'm going to make you read the whole thing to find out what that's all about. TV