March 23, 2019

This week in TV Guide: March 27, 1965

Yes, it's another fondly-remembered issue from the past. But take heart; next weekend offers a new issue! Well, sort of.

I'm often fond, when writing here, of quoting the old French saying, "plus รงa change, plus c'est la mรชme"the more things change, the more they stay the same.  And as I've read through these TV Guides, I find that more and more to be the case.  For example, take the following quote: "When I was a boy, a liberal was one who looked upon the state as . . . a necessary evil, to be watched night and day. Today, a ‘liberal’ is likely to be one who looks upon the state as a panacea.”

Since we’re reviewing a TV Guide from 1965, you probably think that’s when this quote was authored, and that the point is to show how little things have changed in nearly fifty years. Any guest on Fox News might say the very words today without changing even a comma, and nobody would blink an eye; but in fact that quote comes from 1947, predating this TV Guide by almost twenty years.

The man who said that was at one time one of the more recognizable faces on television, but today it’s unlikely you’ve heard of him unless you’re my age, or even older, and that's a shame because he was one of the major figures in early television, someone whose influence continues today. His name was Lawrence E. Spivak, and for thirty years he was the moderator and power behind Meet the Press. Spivak, along with Martha Roundtree, created Meet the Press for radio in 1945, and added a television component in 1947.  At the time he wrote the above, he was publisher of The American Mercury, a conservative magazine founded by H.L. Mencken.  Spivak fought vigorously against Communism and what he saw as its infiltration of labor unions.  He wrote against government control of the media, and advocated kicking the Soviet Union out of the United Nations.

Nowadays, Spivak has buried any personal ideology in the name of fairness. "I couldn't maintain my position as an impartial interviewer in the eyes of viewers if they knew my political philosophy or position on any particular issue," he tells writer Edith Efron. Instead, he positions himself as "anti-everybody," with no one escaping his public grilling. And yet, when pressed, he will give us an insight into his personal opinions. "I still think that the conflict between the individual and the state is the big problem of our time," he says. "The question I ask is: How much freedom are we willing to sacrifice for how much economic security? I fear that if we keep allowing the Government to handle more and more of our problems, we'll get into trouble." Conservatives would probably accept this verbatim, and if you substitute "national" for "economic" when discussing the sacrifice of freedom, you'd probably describe every liberal's concern about the Patriot Act. "The old-fashioned liberal originally was a fighter against concentrated power in the Government," he concludes, echoing his comments from 1947. "But the contemporary liberals are seeking more concentrated power." 

Efron says of Lawrence E. Spivak that his "heart is where Barry Goldwarter's is, his head is where [Socialist] Norman Thomas's is," meaning that Spivak is conservative in idology, but has the temperament of an anarchist who doesn't want to be told what to do. And that seems to me like a pretty good combination.

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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: Scheduled guests: comedian Sid Caesar; singer Bobby Vinton; comedian Jackie Vernon; impressionist Marilyn Michaels; comedian Bob King; Les Marcellis, acrobats; and Little Anthony and the Imperials, singing "It Hurts So Bad."

Hollywood Palace: Host Tony Randall; comedian Allan Sherman, who parodies the hit recording "Downtown"; romantic singers Nelson Eddy and Gale Sherwood; songstress Vicki Carr; the Supremes, vocal trio; Japanese comic Pat Morita; the Marthys, tumbling acrobats; Mendez's high-wire act; and a wrestling match between the Hangman and Victor the Great, a Canadian brown bear .

Allen Sherman (1924-1973) was Weird Al before Weird Al was born. He was a brilliant song parodist; very funny, but even more, witty, and clever. (He also created the game show I've Got a Secret, which had nothing to do with music, but was very successful.) His biggest hit was "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah," which I listened to over and over again when I was but a kid. Ed may have the bigger names this week, but based on my affection for Sherman, I'm going to give the edge to The Palace. That whole episode is on YouTube, by the way - here's the clip of Sherman with host Tony Randall, including the aforementioned version of "Downtown."

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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 a rare two-fer this week, as Cleve takes a look at flip sides of the same coin: NBC's Flipper, and ABC's The American Sportsman. No surprise here that he loves one and loathes the other.

Flipper, says Amory, is "probably the best new children's show on the air, and one which is curiously engrossing, week after week, for adults." Even in the most ridiculous situations, the show generates a tension that keeps viewers engaged. It's all due to the fish—er, mammel—who is, he assures us, "a porpoise with a purpose." Like Lassie, there's nothing Flipper can't do, and it's a good thing that Ranger Ricks (Brian Kelly) isn't as quick on the uptake as we are; if he simply acted every time Flipper warned him, "there would be no plot at all."

Contrast this with The American Sportsman, premiering on ABC as a four-episode series covering hunting and fishing, usually with a celebrity hunter/fisherman. According to Amory, "the narration is inept, the fishing is boring, the bird shooting pathetic, and the 'he-man' exchanges embarrassing." Not to mention that the premise of the show is hunters killing animals, such as the one where Robert Stack shoots a "killer" lion which, Amory says would be more accurately described as feeble and old.

Cleveland Amory was, of course, a prominent animal rights activist, once described by the head of the Humane Society as "the founding father of the modern animal protection movement;" it's natural, therefore, that he'd have something of an animus against The American Sportsman. As I recall (and someone out there can correct me if I'm wrong), this review generated a few Letters to the Editor, some in praise and others accusing Amory of an inherent bias. However, for what it's worth, it probably should be noted that Flipper ran for three seasons, while The American Sportsman would continue, with Curt Gowdy later serving as host, until 1986.

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How about this news quiz, designed by KSTP to show how valuable it is for you to watch their news at 6 and 10?  This is the kind of thing you see in free coffee store papers nowadays.  Can you answer all the questions?

The answers:

1) Too long. Seriously, it's 120 days. Four months. If only.

2) Msgr. James Shannon. Shannon, who died in 2003, was an interesting figure. I spoke with a priest who'd been in the seminary at the time Shannon was a teacher, and he said that although Shannon was considered a liberal, he was a staunch defender of orthodoxy, speaking at length about why the Catholic Church couldn't do some of the things its critics wanted it to do. However, his life was turned around by Paul VI's encyclical Humane Vitae, which reaffirmed the Church's stance on artificial birth control. It's possible that Shannon, who'd defended tradition so long, was rocked by the decision and lost faith with the teaching authority of the Church; I don't know for sure. Anyway, his decision in 1968 to step down as Bishop and resign from the priesthood (and eventually marry) rocked the Church. He remained a Catholic, but continued to speak out in favor of liberal causes.

3) The Gophers finished in second place, behind top-ranked Michigan, which made it all the way to the NCAA championship game before losing to UCLA, 91-80.

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Remember Pat Priest, the attractive young woman who played Marilyn on The Munsters? (Hint: she was the normal-looking one.)  There's a profile of her this week, and as usual the best part about it is learning something new. Did you know, for example, that Pat's mother was Ivy Baker Priest, former Treasurer of the United States (and Mystery Guest on What's My Line)? Or that her then-husband, Pierce Jensen, was a Naval aide at the White House? In fact, when the young couple were married, one of their gifts was a silver tray with the inscription "To Pat and Pierce from President and Mrs. Eisenhower."

Pat Priest didn't have a huge career after The Munsters—she didn't even appear in the feature-film version of the show (the role instead went to Debbie Watson, who was under contract to the studio), and retired in the 1980s. Pat and Pierce divorced two years after this article appeared. I wonder who got the tray?

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Melvin Durslag, TV Guide's most frequent sportswriter, has an interesting feature on the brand-new "Harris County Domed Stadium" in Houston, to be better known as the Astrodome. It cost the then-heady sum of $31 million, which might pay for a restroom in one of today's modern palaces. The stadium, besides having a plastic room, also has "de luxe boxes" on the top level of the stadiumwhat we'd today call luxury suites. It doesn't yet have the plastic grass, though, and there's a good story behind that. Originally the Dome was constructed with translucent plastic panes, in order to let enough light through that real grass would still grow. The problem was that the plastic created a terrible glare for outfielders trying to follow the flight of a fly ball. No problemthe offending panels, which comprised maybe a quarter to a third of the dome, were painted over. The glare disappearedbut so did the amount of sunlight needed to save the grass, which died and was painted green for appearance's sake. The next year it would be replaced by Monsanto's new product: Astroturf.

As Durslag's article suggests, baseball season is just around the corner. On Sunday a couple of the CBS stations have a half-hour feature on the defending World Series champs, the St. Louis Cardinals. St. Louis had been 6½ games out of first place with only 13 games to play, before Philadelphia's monumental collapse allowed the Cards to capture the National League pennant in a tight four-team race, and then go on to defeat the New York Yankees in the Series. But there was even more drama ahead, as the Yankees fired first-year manager Yogi Berra following the Series and replaced him with none other than Johnny Keane*, who had managed the Cards to the championship and then quit, fed up with what he saw as a lack of front-office support. It seemed a great move at the time for Keane, but who was to know that he'd arrived in New York just in time to preside over the collapse of the Yankee dynasty? Injuries and aging stars spelled the end for the Bronx Bombers, and after finishing in 6th place during Keane's initial season, they came out of the gate in 1966 with a record of 4-20, and Keane was fired. The Yankees would go on to finish in last place for the first time, and Keane died of a heart attack before the end of the year.

*Appearing on NBC's Today the next morning.

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Finally, there's the story of, as the cover calls it, the season's most jinxed show. It was CBS's variety ensemble show The Entertainers, which was supposed to star Carol Burnett, Bob Newhart and Caterina Valente. How could this go wrong, right?  For starters, Burnett injured her back in October, putting her out of action for 10 weeks. The famed comedienne Imogene Coca was signed to fill in for her; she sprained an ankle. Bring in dancer Gwen Verdon, who promptly broke her foot.

Bob Newhart complained that the studio audience was so young it didn't get his humor. ("I mentioned Wernher Von Braun* in one routine, and it was obvious from the response that few in the audience had heard of him.") The producers managed to calm Newhart down enough that he agreed to stay on until Burnett was able to return. Caterina Valente was supposed to appear in Europe in November and December, and so she'd pretaped her spots, but she wasn't available to do anything more. Ernest Flatt, the choreographer, quit to work on Mitzi Gaynor specials.

*Von Braun, the famed German rocket scientist who helped make America's manned space program a success, was the subject of a movie based on his autobiography called I Aim at the Stars, starring Curt Jurgens as Von Braun, which is being shown on Tuesday at 11:30 p.m. on WEAU, Channel 13. The British, mindful that Von Braun also designed the V-2 rocket that the Germans used during their terror bombing, joked that it should have been called I Aim at the Stars, but Sometimes Hit London.

When Burnett's doctors did allow her to return, she was promptly sued by the producers of her Broadway musical Fade Out—Fade In, who claimed her absence had cost the show $500,000. All of this, in and of itself, could perhaps have been overlooked if the ratings had been good, but they weren't. As a result, the show broadcast on March 27 was its last.

Valente remained a singing star in Europe for some time, and made frequent appearances on the Dean Martin Show. As for those other two, Burnett and Newhart, your guess is as good as mine. TV  

March 22, 2019

Around the dial

We kick-off this week with a visit to Bob Sassone's site, where Bob lists his dozen favorite TV shows, along with the best of the rest. You've seen me complain about best-of lists before—when they're written by people who have no appreciation for classic television—but you'll hear no complaints from me here, as Bob comes up with some very perceptive and eclectic choices. Brisco County Jr., for instance, is a show that I never felt got the credit it deserved; sure, some of it was corny, but it was also very witty and clever (and, Bruce Campbell). I like MST3K and The Odd Couple as well, and I always like to see someone take a show like What's My Line? seriously as a best-of series. Well done! (I also love his bit about Twitter.)

At Classic Film & TV Cafe, Rick gives us seven things to know about Constance Towers, a familiar face to TV fans for appearances on everything from Perry Mason, Hawaii Five-O and The Outer Limits to General Hospital and the Hallmark Channel. Oh, and she was in some pretty good movies too, like The Horse Soldiers and The Naked Kiss.

Speaking of familiar faces, at Comfort TV, David reminds us that diversity in television is not something that just started. Case in point: Gregory Sierra, who appeared in just about every television show imaginable during the course of a 40-year career.

I'm old enough that I remember when Barbary Coast was on TV; the universality of Star Trek was not quite what it is today, so that I could point to Shatner and say, "Hey, didn't he used to be Captain Kirk?" (As if he'd never work again.) Fire-Breathing Dimetrodon Time remembers back when as well. (And I really like the pun of that title.)

At Christmas TV History, Joanna takes us to her latest tour of classic Christmas and pop culture sites, as she visits New York City, where she sees the statue of Ralph Kramden, goes past the building where Felix and Oscar lived, and stops at the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree!

The March 18, 1989 issue of TV Guide asks the question: "Are women reporters better than men?" Kind of sexist, if you ask me, but, oh well. Find out the answer to that question and more as Television Obscurities continues with a look back at the year 1989 in TV Guide. TV  

March 20, 2019

Everything but the news

Those of us who believe in an afterlife know that once we’ve shuffled off this mortal coil, we’ll be called to account for our life’s actions. Not surprisingly, one who has accomplished much in life often has much to account for as well. You have to think that, when the time comes, Ted Turner will be one of these folks.

Turner’s greatest accomplishment in life, at least as far as television goes, has to be the creation of Turner Classic Movies, one of the greatest of all cable channels (as well as being one of the few niche networks to remain true to its original calling). And then—you knew this had to be coming—there’s CNN.

When it first started, critics referred to it as “Chicken Noodle News,” but in time it proved that it had real chops when it came to covering news as it happened, without viewers having to wait for a recap on the evening news. The idea of a channel devoted to nothing but news, 24 hours a day and seven days a week, was something that had been discussed since the germination of cable television as an idea. No longer would news be confined to the dimensions of a half-hour, with the length of stories often dictated by commercial placement. Now there could be an emphasis on longer, more in-depth features that covered the subtleties of complicated stories, as well as coverage of items that often received scant mention by Cronkite, Brokaw, et al. Neither would such a network be a slave to ratings, as were the broadcast nets. What could possibly go wrong?

That last was a redundant question, of course. Plenty could go wrong, and I think most of it has. The success of CNN bred competition—it’s the American way—and before long, there was not one, but three all-news networks, with Fox and MSNBC joining in the fun. Today, each of these networks has its own identity, its own way of doing business, and its own ideological agenda. Very little airtime is spent on actual news; most of it is devoted to self-contained programming driven by personalities, programs that inevitably degenerate into shoutfests—that is, when not simply reinforcing their own preconceived notions regarding what the news actually “means.”

News networks also discovered it’s not all that easy to fill a 24/7 news cycle, resulting in an emphasis on “event” coverage. Some of these, such as the assassination attempt on President Reagan and the start of the first Gulf War, were obvious; but it was the ability of cable news to create events—to take a local story and turn it into something deserving of national coverage, to elevate every trial into the Trial of the Century, and to provide days-long coverage of any story that appeals to our voyeuristic instincts, only to ditch it as soon as a newer one comes along—that have come to dominate. Identifying such stories—or, if necessary, creating them—became essential to filling the broadcast day, and as the news networks each developed their own agendas, they began to pick-and-choose the stories that would be most prominent, the stories that most closely hewed to their own ideology, as well as that of their viewers. They also began spending an inordinate amount of time attacking and ridiculing each other; inevitable, one supposes, giving how hard they work to fill airtime, that they’d eventually take the creation of news stories in-house, so to speak. (As a sidenote, I’d be interested to find out how many cable news stories actually overlap, appearing on all three networks. Not many, I’d bet.)

A few weeks ago I asked readers to suggest which television series would have changed history the most had it not existed, and while you can’t exactly classify an entire network as a “series,” I think one could argue that things might be quite different today without CNN. Oh sure, in retrospect we can say that the creation of an all-news network was obvious, a slam dunk; but it was far from a sure thing when Turner came up with the idea all those years ago. It could be that the overnight news programs tried by a couple of the broadcast networks might well have convinced people that this was the expanded news the public needed. Yes, the 9/11 attacks might have prompted calls for greater news coverage, but then television did quite well in covering events such as the assassination of Kennedy and the resignation of Nixon without having to go 24/7 thereafter. And we might have been spared the national embarrassment that was the O.J. Simpson trial in the process.

The best you can say is that someone probably would have come up with the cable news idea sooner or later, but there’s no assurance that it would have been someone with the drive and deep pockets of a Ted Turner, someone who was willing and could afford to wait out the hard times until the network found a stable footing. Would Stanley Hubbard’s All News Channel, for example, have necessarily spawned Fox News and MSNBC? As is the case with Tootsie Roll Pops, the world will never know.

One doesn’t have to be a mind-reader to know that this scenario is not at all what television’s pioneers envisioned when they spoke glowingly of the possibilities for an all-news network. I think what we have today would have sickened most of them, and probably caused them to despair of television ever getting this news thing right. I used to watch cable news frequently; now, I watch it hardly at all. And I like news; think of how those who aren’t news junkies must feel about it. CNN, Fox, and MSNBC have moved from covering the news to creating it, from reporting on our world to shaping it, from telling us how it is to lecturing us on how they want it to be, all the while using their resources to make it happen.

It would be wrong to lay blame for all of this at the feet of Ted Turner, who hasn’t been controlled CNN for many years; he might well be as sick of it as the rest of us. But Turner made a career out of entertaining us, from winning the America’s Cup owning America’s Team to creating America’s news network. How appropriate, then, that today’s cable news is saturated with coverage of stories that previously served up as fodder for tabloids and made-for-TV movies. As the songwriter said, that’s entertainment. TV  

March 18, 2019

What's on TV? Monday, March 20, 1961

I don't know how we came to have so many of these 1961 issues all at once, but here they are. You'll be glad to know that we'll be moving on to other years for awhile—or maybe you won't. I think it's always nice to have a little variety anyway. Stick around for next week and see what we get.

March 16, 2019

This week in TV Guide: March 18, 1961

Perhaps no star demonstrates the change in popular culture over the last 60 or so years more than Ingrid Bergman.

In 1950 there were fewer stars bigger than Bergman, who had appeared in a string of hits including Intermezzo, Casablanca, Joan of Arc and The Bells of St. Mary's, and had won an Academy Award as Best Actress for Gaslight. She then became involved in a scandal—an affair with director Roberto Rossellini (they were both married to other people at the time) which left her pregnant, and her reputation in tatters. Her adultery got her denounced on the floor of the U.S. Senate (as "a horrible example of womanhood") and disinvited from The Ed Sullivan Show, and she remained in something of an exile even after winning her second Oscar in 1958 for Anastasia. It wasn't until 1958, when she made a triumphant appearance as a presenter at the Oscarcast, that she returned to the American spotlight, and even then the lengthy ovation she received from the audience was controversial—some felt it amounted to a tacit endorsement of her past behavior.

This week, Bergman prepares for a rare television appearance, in the drama Twenty-Four Hours in a Woman's Life* on CBS Monday night. Gilbert Millstein's profile only alludes to that scandal, remarking that "in the last two decades, she has been successively praised, blamed, boycotted, picked over, analyzed, adjured, sympathized with, litigated over and clasped once more to the public breast without any noticeable erosion." Bergman herself says that "Everybody feels that you belong to them.  I would have liked to have my own problems in peace, but it was not to be and I could not change any of it." Having played a nun in The Bells of St. Mary's and a saint in Joan of Arc led people to view her not as a woman, but through the prism of the roles she played.

*Written by John Mortimer, better known as the creator of Rumpole of the Bailey.

And that is just one of the ways in which we see the massive cultural changes over these years. It's hard to imagine, for example, that the public, cynical as they now are, would feel so betrayed by an actress' personal life.  For that matter, adultery itself doesn't have the cache it used to. The old saying, "there's no such thing as bad publicity" seems to be more true now than ever. Hugh Grant's indiscretion a few years ago was played mostly for laughs, and probably helped Jay Leno's career more than anything else. With the advent of reality television to go along with the fanmags, embarrassment and public ostracism are things of the past.

The fallout over Ingrid Bergman's scandal was probably excessive (didn't the Senate have anything better to do?) but it came from a period in time when there was a common moral code, a sense of right and wrong that was generally accepted by a majority of the public. If people lacked charity in their reaction, it could be said that their hearts might have been in the right place.

Ultimately, though, it's time to live and let live. Ingrid Bergman, her elegance and her talent, are back—and we're the more fortunate for it.

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Preempted by the Bergman special on Monday is The Danny Thomas Show, and here we have another example of how things have changed, albeit a smaller, less monumental one. It has to do with our cover girl, Marjorie Lord, co-star of the Thomas show, and its origin goes all the way back to 1956.

In that year, Jean Hagen quit the Thomas show, then known as Make Room for Daddy. For the show's first three seasons Hagen had played Margaret Williams, wife of Thomas' character Danny Williams. But Hagen had tired of the role, and of Thomas*, and took a hike. She was written out as having died, and the show's fourth season concerned Danny's search for a new wife. Enter Lord, who as nurse Kathy O'Hara quickly captured the hearts of Danny and his kids. At the end of that fourth season, the two were engaged.

*Rumor has it that so great was the antipathy between the two, Thomas (who also produced the show) refused to put the Hagen episodes into syndication once the series had accumulated enough to comprise a successful package.

Typically, this would have set up an episode surrounding the wedding, perhaps to kick off the new season—a sure-fire ratings winner that would have been heralded as the television "event of the year," or some such nonsense. Shows from The Farmer's Daughter to Get Smart to Andy Griffith to Rhoda and beyond* have played that chestnut. But not in this case. No, as the fifth season started, Danny and Kathy were already married, and looking for a bigger place to live. I don't know why that decision was made (perhaps some of you out there do), but I approve wholeheartedly. I can't stand sentimentality, and I've never liked the cloying sentimentality that accompanies those "very special episodes." Obviously, though, considering the ratings that these episodes tend to draw, I'm in the minority here. I guess it must be me.

*Not to mention Luke and Laura.

Anyway, we read that the ratings for the Thomas show skyrocketed following the introduction of Lord as his wife, so perhaps he figured the show didn't need to resort to the gimmick of a wedding episode. Whatever the reason, the idea of a program passing up that kind of a ratings bonanza is something we're not likely to see happen in television today.

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Let's stick with Monday for a moment more, because if you plan on watching Bergman, you're going to have to pass up two other programs that, in our pre-DVR era, you might never see again. The first one, a novelty more than anything else, is The Play of the Week's presentation of "archy and mehitabel," starring Eddie Bracken and Tammy Grimes. archy and mehitabel (lower case intentional*) were the creation of Don Marquis, a columnist for the New York Evening Sun, and charmed readers from the beginning. archy is "a cockroach with the soul of a poet," or as TV Guide puts it, "a flair for free verse," and his sidekick mehitabel is an ally cat "with a penchant for free love." Together, the two of them have charmed readers ever since with their light poetry and whimsical stories. Carol Channing costarred with Bracken in the original musical production, and a Broadway version, Shinbone Alley, featured Eartha Kitt as mehitabel (no doubt an audition for her later appearance as Catwoman), with dialogue written by Mel Brooks.

*archy would "type" the stories of their adventures, leaping from key to key on a typewriter. Since he was unable to operate the shift key, everything appeared in lower case.

If you'd rather wait to get your singing cats from, well, Cats, then you might prefer Bing Crosby's latest special at 8:30 p.m. CT on ABC. Der Bingle is in France, and his guests include Maurice Chevalier (naturally), tenor Aldo Monaco, and singer-dancer Carol Lawrence. It's sometimes odd to think of Crosby on television in anything other than a Christmas special, but of course he did a lot of specials throughout the season, and Christmas, as we know, comes but once a year.

Don't see anything to watch yet? Then try The Barbara Stanwyck Show at 9:00 p.m. on NBC. This anthology series was hosted by Stanwyck, who also starred in most of the episodes, and ran for a single season. It was released on DVD a few years ago, and while it's not a great show, it's pretty good, and Stanwyck will win a Best Actress Emmy for it. Tonight's episode is "Adventure on Happiness Street," with Stanwyck playing the only character that appears in multiple episodes of the series, import-export tycoon Josephine Little. It is said that the Little character, who was in three of the series' 36 episodes, is intended to star in a spin-off series that never comes to pass. It is a typical Stanwyck character—tough, intelligent, strong, not in the mood to take much guff, but with a sensitive side underneath all that. Although Stanwyck doesn't get a chance to develop Josephine Little into a series, she will return in a few years with another tough character: Victoria Barkley in The Big Valley.

Finally, CBS follows the Bergman special with its 30-minute anthology series of its own, The June Allison Show. Tonight's feature, "The Secret Life of James Thurber," starring Orson Bean as cartoonist John Monroe (a stand-in for Thurber), is notable in that a few years later the Monroe character returns, played by William Windom, in NBC's My World and Welcome to It.

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Enough of Monday, you say. Wasn't there anything else going on the rest of the week? Well, let's see.

Ever heard of a series called Follow That Man? It ran on several networks from 1949 through 1956, and stars Ralph Bellamy as private eye Mike Barnett.* I've seen some episodes on DVD; it's pretty good. Again, not great, but not a waste of time either—Bellamy's almost always worth watching. Anyway, it pops up in syndication frequently in the TV Guides of this era, usually on a Monday-Friday weekday strip. In this case, it's on weekdays at 1:00 p.m. on independent KMSP, Channel 9.

*One of his sidekicks in the early years was Robert Preston. Professor Harold Hill himself!

As is the show preceding it, the sitcom Willy. (Not to be confused with Free Willy, according to Wikipedia. As if.) It stars June Havoc as a lady lawyer from New Hampshire now living and working in NYC. It only ran for one season; I confess I've not heard of it before, and I imagine part of the hook of the show must have been the female attorney angle.

With a name like Hadley, he just has to be good
And then, just to round out KMSP's pre-matinee movie block, there's Racket Squad, starring Reed Hadley (no relation) as a San Francisco detective busting crime rackets. (And you thought it was about tennis, right?) It also ran for a few years in the early 50s; I've seen a couple of episodes of it, too, but as much as I wanted to like it I just couldn't get into it.

Follow That Man and Racket Squad come as part of Mill Creek's Best of TV Detectives set, and if you can find it for less than $10, it's worth picking up. Most of the shows are fairly forgettable, but there are a number of small treasures in there, including a number of '50s Dragnet episodes, David Janssen as Richard Diamond, Beverly Garland in Decoy, and Mike Connors as Mannix. As a sampler package, you're going to find that one or two episodes will give you your fill of most of these series.

One series that did leave me wanting more was, surprisingly, Michael Shayne, which aired on NBC Friday nights at 9:00 p.m. It stars Richard Denning, who had been in Mr. and Mrs. North and would go on to play the governor in Hawaii Five-O, as a tough but suave private detective in Miami. I wrote about Michael Shayne, and Denning in general, a few years ago, and I've had occasion to see all the available episodes on YouTube since then. Perhaps it was because I had low expectations that I enjoyed Shayne; it certainly isn't the greatest PI show ever made, but Denning is winning and the whole thing is fun. I think all the episodes may be at the UCLA Film & Television Archive, but it's never come out on DVD.

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A quick sports note: on Saturday afternoon NBC presents an opening-round game in the NIT basketball tournament, from Madison Square Garden in New York. There was a time when the NIT was a very big deal; in the early days of college basketball it was more prestigious than the NCAA tournament, and even after the latter became the undisputed crowner of the national champion, the NIT remained a significant title well into the 1960s.

One of the main reasons for the NIT's status was that that, in those days, the NCAA tournament was not the massive 68-team event it is today. In 1961 the NCAA field was 24 teams, all of them either conference champions or independent at-large teams, which meant there were a lot of very good sides left out. Hence, the NIT. In 1961, twelve teams made up the field for the tournament, which was played out over a week or so at the Garden, an attraction in and of itself. The two teams playing in this first-round game, Providence (20-5)* and DePaul (17-7), likely would make the NCAAs today with records like that. But when the big tournament is more selective, the smaller tournament prospers. After all, when the humans are eating filet mignon, the scraps fed to the dogs are still going to be pretty good.

*Providence, in fact, goes on to win the tournament, defeating Saint Louis in the final, 62-59.

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I don't look at Gilbert Seldes' reviews as faithfully as Cleveland Amory's, but I wanted to take a moment to do so this week because his focus is on one of the most iconic, beloved series of the time, one that has seldom been off of America's television screens. I'm talking about those wacky characters from Bedrock, the modern stone-age family: The Flintstones.

The Flintstones is in its first season (of six) on ABC, and the idea, says Seldes, is a good one. Put this family from the caveman era into the predicaments that we encounter today. "Do it deadpan, pretend history never existed and that you never heard the word 'anachronism.' Work in a little gentle mockery on how unmodern modern man really is. Make the old jokes seem fresh and new." It's a good basis for a weekly program, Seldes says; "all you need to do is produce it with skill." Details, details.

Since its debut, The Flintstones has moved in one direction, according to Seldes: downward. Not that there aren't some clever ideas, such as the newspaper called The Daily Slate. But through the course of a half-hour, "You want some delight in the animation itself and there is none. [There are animated commercials, he says later, that are better drawn.] You want whatever story there is to move swiftly and it drags. You want some freshness of total approach and it is stale."

The sadness in this, he says, is that it doesn't have to be the case. He hears the arguments that this is what viewers want, that they won't accept anything more highbrow, anything better. "And in this case we have the proof that the producers are wrong. You and I have accepted far better stuff. We have even accepted masterpieces." Shows like I Love Lucy and Father Knows Best—"none of them great works of art"—are still far above what he calls the "flat jokes" of The Flintstones.

This is probably one of the harshest, most critical review we've seen in this series, but I'd be remiss if I didn't include Seldes' conclusion. It is not correct, he says, that shows like this do no harm. "They do harm. They put over the second and third best on people who want the best. So long as the Flintstones exist, some people will turn them on. It's better than nothing. But only the least bit better."

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Richard Gehman has the last of a three-part profile of Raymond Burr, and there's nothing particularly earth-shattering about them. We learn about some things that we know to be true; that Burr is a mensch, a good guy to work with, and that he loves where he lives today. But it's fun to see that Gehman, who frequently likes to dig up dirt on his profiles, has fallen for the falsehoods about Burr's life (at Burr's instigation) that so many have: the two dead wives and the dead son that didn't exist, his education, his early acting career.

Finally, the United States Steel Hour (Wednesday, 9:00 p.m., CBS) features Oscar winner Shirley Booth (in what was then a rare television appearance) in the play, "Welcome Home." The plot line:

Charles and Laura Austin have been planning a trip through Europe for a long time. But they'll have to sell the house to raise the money. And if the house goes, so does Jenny Libbott (Shirley Booth), their maid-cook-governess and companion for 25 years.

Don't worry, Shirley. If the Austins dump you, I know the Baxters will be only too happy to take you on. TV  

March 15, 2019

Around the dial

At Cult TV Blog, John takes a very interesting look at the early '70s British series Doomwatch and the episode "The Human Time Bomb"—a sociological look, one might say, focusing on high rise living, which was, as he says, "the sort of development which was in it's hay day while Our Sort of Television was being broadcast." A wonderful way to entrench an episode in a given period of time.

The Hitchcock Project continues at bare-bones e-zine, and this week Jack looks at "One More Mile to Go," the second season episode that provides the latest in the work of James P. Cavanagh. A great episode, with a wonderful performance by David Wayne as the murderer you might find yourself rooting for.

At Comfort TV, David provides a very nice coda in remembrance of the late Peter Tork via "The Monkees on Tour," the final episode of season one, a documentary which allows the audience backstage in a sense, giving us a look at the four leads not as characters, but actual flesh-and-blood people living out an incredible ride.

Remember when you'd tune in to Today and see Barbara Walters hawking a subscription to The National Observer or watch Ed McMahon peddling Alpo on The Tonight Show? Call me weird, but I kind of miss those days, but Jodie brings them back at The Garroway Project with a look at Dave Garroway (one of the all-time great pitchmen) doing a commercial for Watkins Products.

Hal returns to "F Troop Fridays" with the season one episode "Iron Horse Go Home" at The Horn Section. What happens when Our Heroes try to set themselves up as latter-day Peter Minuets? As F Troop hits its stride, we get an episode that provides, as Hal says, some wild moments as well as some guilty pleasures.

Episode #64 of Eventually Supertrain is here, and among the features in this episode, Dan and yours truly look at another fun episode of Bourbon Street Beat, a program that we've both gotten a big charge out of. If you've never seen an episode listen in to one of our podcasts—you may want to check it out. (Psst - it's available on the grey market.)

At The Ringer, Alison Herman asks a question that follows up nicely to one that David asked at Comfort TV last week: is a TV show good if no one talks about it? I admit I don't know how you answer that; after all, a major part of TV is entertainment, and if a show doesn't entertain because people don't see it, does it matter how good it is? A case of Schrรถdinger's TV, I'd say. TV  

March 11, 2019

What's on TV? Sunday, March 12, 1961

We're in the Twin Cities once again this week, and since KTCA, the educational station, doesn't broadcast on the weekends, we'll start right off with WCCO.