June 6, 2020

This week in TV Guide: June 6, 1964

How do you choose what you write about in each week's TV Guide? asked nobody ever. The truth is, there's no rhyme or reason to it, though some stories jump off the page and beg for attention more than others. But on occasion, there do seem to be some obvious choices; for example, there's the heading on this week's cover, "How to Make Millions Without Really Working." That seemed like an obvious place to start, since it might enable me to not only make millions myself (notwithstanding those who've suggested in the past that I've made thousands, or at least hundreds, without doing much of anything), but if the idea were really good, I could repackage and sell it to others who, like me, want to know the golden secret; this would, coincidentally, make make me more millions.

Alas, it's not quite so easy as that. The case in point is Milton Berle, who, as Dwight Whitney points out, is currently making $100,000 per year from NBC for doing absolutely nothing. To understand this, we have to flash back to 1951, when the network signed Berle, then at the top of his game, to a staggering 30-year contract. Part of that contract, perhaps the fine print, is known as the "pay even if no play" clause, which locks Berle into an exclusive arrangement with NBC. In other words, he works for them or for nobody; as Whitney puts it, the suits "would rather keep ebullient Uncle Miltie warming the bench at $100,000 a year than suddenly have him blast a homer for somebody else." It isn't exactly unusual to have this kind of clause in one's contract—Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Jimmy Durante, Lucille Ball, Phil Silvers, and Carol Burnett are among those who have similar contracts, although none of them have one that runs for as long as Berle's does.

It's this clause which results in one of the saddest, most pathetic sights ever seen on TV, the 1960 series Jackpot Bowling Starring Milton Berle, in which the man known as "Mr. Television" is reduced to doing standup in a bowling alley as a warmup to a couple of professional bowlers competing in a match. That Berle would subject himself to this kind of spectacle is, perhaps, a testimony to how badly he wants to perform. "This is my life," he tells an audience while performing in the Crystal Room. "I love the lights. I love to hear people laugh, and I love to make people laugh."


Despite the frustration that comes from sitting on the sidelines, Berle can't bring himself to give up the money. "It's a lot of money," he confesses, "but that's not what really bugs me. I have a lot to offer creatively and I want to know reasons. But there are no reasons." NBC, of course, presents a different picture. "We listened carefully to every one of Milton's ideas," says Mort Werner, vice president for programming; "they just didn't seem to work out for one reason or another. And a year ago he told us he wasn't interested in doing a weekly variety show." Werner points out that the network has loaned him out; he did a dramatic turn on The Defenders (which Berle says he had to beg NBC to let him do), and another time guest-hosted for Ed Sullivan. "But we can't let him do too much of that—we're not in this business to help out the competition."

In the end, it's a sad standoff. "Milton just can't stand having nothing to do," his wife Ruth says, but his pride just won't let him give in to NBC. In the end, of course, he does get out of the contract, enabling him to make a disastrous 1966 return to the variety show format for ABC, and he continued to appear in guest spots on various programs (including several very good performances in straight dramatic roles), but the glory days were exceedingly to be found in the past. In June 1964, no longer a superstar but not quite a has-been, he is very much a lion in winter.

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And then there's Richard Gehman's very funny profile of Steve Allen, the second of a two-part article. As you may remember from past articles, I've often approached Gehman cautiously, uncomfortable with his tendency to psychoanalyze his subjects in a somewhat disparaging manner. Perhaps it's the fact that the premise of Gehman's article—that Allen is one of the busiest performers in show-business—leads to a conclusion that is purely and delightfully absurd.

At this very moment, Allen is doing his five-nights-a-week Steve Allen Show, syndicated to 40 markets nationwide, mostly to compete with Johnny Carson. He's also just signed to replace Garry Moore as host of I've Got a Secret. This is how his schedule looks: "He will commute to New York every other week, tape two shows [of IGAS] there, get back to Hollywood and tape two of his own shows per night on Thursdays and Fridays (the fifth segment of the week will continue to be a rerun), and in addition will do various guest appearances as his whim strikes him and his energy permits."

Gehman takes a deep breath and recites Allen's various talents, while the rest of us suffer from a mass inferiority complex. He is a pianist, trumpeter, clarinetist, tuba player, bandleader, recording artist and songwriter; he has written 10 books and is a publisher of others; sculpts, lectures, does a nightclub act, and acts both in movies and on stage. He's a businessman and is active in politics. Some people think he's a jack of all trades, master of none, while others consider him shallow. The point is, he's a busy guy.

In attempting to interview Allen for this story, Gehman runs into roadblocks. albeit not intentional ones. He's meeting with agencies, talking to a representative from an actor's union, interviewing a singer, holding production meetings, working with the Cerebral Palsy charity, holding production meetings, and lecturing. Finally, Allen's talent coordinator comes up with an idea. "Why don't you come on the show and interview him?" Which is precisely what Gehman does.

There's nothing historic, or snarky, or particularly notable about the appearance; Gehman gets a chance to ask some questions and gets some answers. As I said, it's so absurd as to be perhaps the truest representation of the Hollywood lifestyle we'll ever see. If this had happened in, say, Get Shorty (one of the best treatments of said lifestyle), I never would have believed it.

After the show, as Gehman grabs a bite, he notices a sign at the market: WE NEVER CLOSE. "It was appropriate for Steve to be running his show so near, I thought. Steve Allen never closes either."

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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: Scheduled: Sir Alec Guinness in a scene from Broadway's "Dylan"; singer-actor Robert Horton; English musical comedy performer Tessie O'Shea; comics Nipsey Russell and Alan Gale; British vocalist Billy Jay Kramer; the Dakotas, British vocal and instrumental group; and comedians Grecco and Willard.

Palace: The host is Gene Barry, who parks his Burke's Law Rolls Royce and takes up his earlier profession of vocalist; Gloria Swanson and Buster Keaton, who offer a Mack Sennett silent-comedy version of the Cleopatra story and join Barry in a dance routine; comedian-singer Jack Carter; dancer Juliet Prowse; the Grammy award winning Swingle Singers; the André Tahon puppets; hand-balancer Marco; and the Romano Brothers, jugglers.

At first, I didn't think this would be much of a contest. When you start with Alec Guinness, as Ed does, that's pretty strong. It kind of tails off after that, though, with no disrespect to the rest of the guests. (And by the way, the Dakotas actually perform with Billy Jay Kramer.) On the other hand, while Gene Barry may not be any better a singer than Robert Horton, he fits the bill of host just fine, and it's hard to top two legends like Gloria Swanson and Buster Keaton. Throw in Carter, who's at least a big name, and Prowse, a talented dancer, and the Swingle Singers, and you've got a winning program. This week Palace takes the prize.

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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. 

This week Cleveland Amory turns his eye to one of the longest-running and most successful of TV sitcoms, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. And this is where we get to see the sophisticated and erudite Cleve make mincemeat out of the old-fashioned, corny humor of the Nelson family, right?

Wrong. Not that there's not plenty at which one could poke fun, such as the procession of Nelsons playing themselves in the show (Ozzie and Harriet, the two sons Dave and Rick, and their wives, Kristin and June), and the wholesome nature of the program, but Amory has nothing but respect for the program. "Indeed, we are inclined to believe that these adventures, Miss-adventures and now Mrs.-adventures, which were on radio long before the days of television—and, for all we know, have been going on since before the days of the telephone—still hold the mirage up to nature about as likably as any show on the air; and if you don't like it, it is perhaps less a reflection on the show than it is on the mirage itself—i.e., The American Way of Life."

The man most responsible for all this is Ozzie himself, as co-star, producer, director and head writer. He's the one that holds everything together and keeps it anchored, and if he's not the most exciting actor around, he still grows on you. As does Harriet, though more slowly; and the rest of the cast has advantages as well—Dave keeps the wholesomeness from being too much, and "Rick is always a threat to break up the plot with a song." Kristin and June are so obviously right for their roles that it doesn't really matter. In fact, Skip Young, who plays Wally, probably has the hardest role on the show: he's not a Nelson, doesn't even go steady with one, and can't play himself. What a hardship.

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One of the programs that got me most interested in television history was a 1963 Tennessee Ernie Ford special called The Story of Christmas, presented on NBC without commercial interruption and featuring an 18½ minute animated sequence depicting the story of the Nativity done by artist Eyvind Earle, who had previously worked at the Disney studios on such movies as Fantasia and Sleeping Beauty. It was one of the first non-series programs that I ever found on DVD, and for many reasons it's maintained a spot next to my heart since then.

According to the Hollywood edition of the TV Teletype, work has already begun on a sequel, The Story of Easter, which would reunite Ford, the Roger Wagner Chorale, and Earle's animation. I'd never heard of this, and a quick internet check informed me that the project was never green lit. Which is a pity, because in the process I also ran across some of Earle's conceptual art for the special, and as it was with The Story of Christmas, it is stunning, especially the image on the left, Jesus in the Temple. If you've seen any of those images, you'll recognize Earle's style here.


A real pity that this never got made; I'm sure that, like The Story of Christmas, it would have been a classic.

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Speaking of NBC, the network has another in its series of Project 20 documentary specials coming up on Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. CT. It's called "The Red, White and Blue" and is narrated by Walter Brennan, and producer Donald B. Hyatt has some interesting observations on its topic, ones that—as is so often the case—mirror the discussions that we have today.

At work in the world's largest flag factory, Verona, NJ
What, Hyatt says, has happened to the Spirit of '76? Watching a small Veterans Day parade on Fifth Avenue in New York City, he notes that as the flag passed, onlookers neither took off their hats nor held their hands over their hearts. Even when a massed group of 25 American flags passed, "[t]he sparse crowd was unimpressed. It was the same all along the parade route." The Pledge of Allegiance is increasingly being dropped from schools as students complain about "their rights." Sophistication is now in, and patriotism is "corny," for squares only. As one said, "All the flag flying these days is done by a lot of super patriots, nuts and radicals." Others equate patriotism with nationalism, or triumphalism. And this, Hyatt says, is deeply disturbing. "The kind of patriotism that our founding patriots envisioned had a universality to it. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written as testaments embracing all mankind."

Hyatt contrasts the apathy of New York with Faith, North Carolina, a town of 500 people, where a crowd of nearly 30,000 gathers to celebrate the Fourth of July. "Throughout the country," Hyatt says, "we found American patriotism far from dead, but it and the flag were hiding under a cloak of apathy and sophistication too often. We can't afford that." In another tiny town, Noank, Connecticut, the entire town marches to the cemetery on Memorial Day for a dedication.

Although he doesn't say it, I'd be tempted to think of this as an example of, in today's vernacular, "The Two Americas": one that takes pride in the country, the other that carries a sense of shame. I won't go into this in any detail because I want to stay apolitical, but I present it to you as food for thought. The divide, this difference of opinion, is nothing new, and apparently is not going to go away. The only thing we can control is how we react to it. TV  





June 5, 2020

Around the dial


A few internal announcements to lead off the day. First, you may have noticed some subtle changes to the site; I've moved several tabs, including the index to "This Week in TV Guide," from the top to the sidebar. The top is now reserved for items that I've done outside the blog, such as my books, videos, and appearances at other sites. Point is, if you're looking for something that isn't where it used to be, it's somewhere else. Nothing's disappeared.

A few weeks ago, I got an email from reader Barbie, with the following question: "I’m looking for a 1975 TV guide photo of the “Vegetable Soup” TV show. It may have been an insert. It was probably about a featured segment called “Nigel a boy and his boa”. I am friends with the person who played the boy in that segment. I’m trying to locate the photographs to present it to him as a gift. If you have any suggestions ideas or inclination on how I may track the photo down or find it, I would greatly appreciate it." I've been unable to find it so far myself, so I put it to those of you with TV Guides from the time. If any of you happen to have this picture, please let me know and I'll facilitate the communication with Barbie. Thanks in advance! And now to the best of the week.

At bare•bones e-zine, Jack comes to the last of the Morton Fine-David Friedkin scripts for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour"The Monkey's Paw—A Retelling," broadcast on NBC on Monday, April 19, 1965. Find out what Jack thinks of this adaptation of a classic short story.

Jodie has an excellent, thought-provoking piece at Garroway at Large, with several examples of times when Dave Garroway took a strong and principled stand in favor of racial equality. Not surprisingly, his actions met with less than universal praise.

Here's something I think you'll really like, courtesy of Carol at Bob Crane: Life & Legacy: a 1988 reunion show originally broadcast on WZFM radio in New York, with Werner Klemperer, Leon Askin, Larry Hovis, and Robert Clary, and hosted by Paul Cavalconte. It's a lot of fun!

Time once again for David to ask the question "Purchase or Pass" at Comfort TV. This week's show: The Smith Family, the comedy-drama from 1971 starring Henry Fonda as a police detective, Janet Blair as his wife, and Darleen Carr, Ron Howard, and Michael-James Wixted as his children.

Television's New Frontier: the 1960s takes on the 1961 season of one of my all-time favorites, Perry Mason, focusing on a very interesting look at professor Thomas Leitch's analysis of Mason's enduring popularity, that's well worth reading.

While we might be excited here about entering the 10th season of It's About TV!, Terence is celebrating his 16th anniversary at A Shroud of Thought. Read more about it, including a list of his favorite pieces from the past year.

And at Wink Martindale's classic television game page, there's a tribute to Fred Willard with a look at a 2004 attempt to revive Match Game with this concept pilot, known as What the Blank. (Thanks, obmcomp!)

That's it for this week; stay safe out there, wherever you are, and we'll see you tomorrow. TV  

June 3, 2020

Dispatches from Hell

I didn't intentionally set out to watch the 1968 Democratic National Convention on YouTube because of the riots that ripped through the Twin Cities last week and spread around the country from here. Incidentally, we're doing fine; we're far enough away from the troublespots that nothing dramatic happened, although many of the stores and gas stations were boarded up over the weekend, just in case. But much of the violence occurred in the part of Minneapolis where I grew up watching the TV shows I write about here. No, I didn't have the foresight for that.

In my case, it's what comes from finding myself unexpectedly unemployed (again!), this time due to virus-related layoffs. It's all there, the convention coverage; you might remember a couple of weeks ago I mentioned that there's a YouTube channel for just about everything, and that turns out to include classic television news. Virtually all of the CBS coverage is there, as well as much of NBC's, and the drone of speeches, the shouts of delegates, and the playing of bands makes a pleasant background while cruising internet job boards and filling out applications.

I had to stop and watch, though, when it came to the police riot.

Some background: that picture at the top is from Wednesday night, the third night of the convention. To say that it had been a contentious convention so far would be an understatement; Tuesday, the second day, had been plagued by acrimonious debates over the seating of rival state delegations (those supported by the establishment and selected by party bosses vs. delegations that were more integrated, and more anti-war). The session ran past midnight, and is probably best-known for Dan Rather getting socked by security people during a brawl on the convention floor.



Wednesday afternoon had been taken up by the highly-anticipated (and feared) debate on the Vietnam War, with the pro-war forces (supporters of LBJ's Vietnam policy) winning a narrow victory over the anti-war proposals (favored by candidates Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern, and many of the delegates previously pledged to the late Robert Kennedy). It was a noisy, bruising debate, with much cheering and booing from each side, and a lot of bitterness afterward; mass protests in and outside the International Amphitheater where the convention was being held were a distinct possibility.

In a sense, though, this was just fanning the flames of a fire that had been smoldering for some time. Over 10,000 anti-war protesters representing various groups had descended on the city of Chicago prior to the debate; Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley countered with 6,000 armed National Guard troops, in addition to the 11,000 city policemen working 12-hour shifts. When you put that many people in a relatively confined space (downtown, near Grant Park), something was bound to happen, and on Wednesday night—the night of the voting for the presidential nomination—it did.

It happened during the nominating speeches for president. Vice President Hubert Humphrey had wrapped things up by then, with McCarthy and McGovern candidates (and those touting a draft for Edward Kennedy) passionate but outnumbered. Following the nominating speech for McCarthy, given by Iowa Governor Harold Hughes, networks switched to taped coverage of the violence that had broken out between demonstrators and the police. (The coverage was taped due to a communications strike that prevented live remote coverage, a strike that some thought had been encouraged by Daley in an effort to limit media access to anything outside the controlled environment of the convention hall.) This footage comes from NBC, and while it's about nine minutes long, I think you'll find it worth watching:


It's shocking footage, and meant to be. I'm not going to go into a great deal of it here; I've already addressed it before, and at some length, in this piece, so there's no need to do it again. Word of the rioting spread to the convention floor, where it was called out by Connecticut Senator Abraham Ribicoff in his nominating speech for George McGovern.


Of course, none of this happened in a vacuum. There were the Watts riots in 1965, and the entire nation was rocked by rioting in 1967 and 1968. Chicago was not an isolated incident; it was, I suppose, inevitable.


I'm not trying to be political here, and this isn't going to be a commentary. My principle point here is that television played a major role in bringing the violence into the nation's living rooms, and that it serves as a primary source for anyone who cares about how history can help explain events and put them in proper perspective. I lived in Minneapolis during the 1967 and 1968 riots; I'd already seen it all, and perhaps worse. I remember that, just as it was over the weekend, there was a curfew, there were National Guardsmen, there were fires and clashes on the streets and areas we were told to avoid for the duration. As such, I wasn't as shocked as some here were, especially younger reporters. (I think my friend Marc Ryan would understand.)

All that doesn't mean I wasn't shocked, though, and dismayed. You like to think things have improved since then, but what it does go to show is that history seldom changes, it just recycles. Then as now, there were accusations of police brutality; then as now, there were charges of outsiders and rabble-rousers; then as now, buildings were torched, people were injured, property was destroyed; then as now, we saw it all unfold before our eyes on television. It was depressing then, and it's depressing now.

Things might not be as bad now as they were back in 1968; we've always had notoriously short memories, and today they barely stretch back more than a few months. We're on that road, though; if we just step on the accelerator a bit, we should be there in no time. TV  

June 1, 2020

What's on TV: Friday, June 4, 1971

The last time we took a look at the Montana edition, I mentioned what a mess it is: different time zones, multiple affiliate alliances, difficult-to-find shows airing on the "wrong" nights. This, of course, is what makes it fun! If you can't find something you like here, you're just not trying hard enough.

May 30, 2020

This week in TV Guide: May 29, 1971

This week features a couple of programs that show just how tender the nation's passions are right now.

The first is an ABC News Special on Sunday afternoon, "The Calley Case—A Nation's Agony," discussing the significance of the court-martial of Lieutenant William Calley for his role in the My Lai Massacre in 1968. It's hard to describe now just how charged this case was; the murder of hundreds of unarmed civilians in South Vietnam, and the subsequent court-martial, created a polarization that was Vietnam in a microcosm. The details of the crime, including the gang-rape of women, were horrifying enough, but the crime also served to illustrate the difficulties of the war, from the guerrilla tactics employed by the Viet Cong (tactics that the U.S. Army was ill-equipped to fight) to the dangers of becoming involved in a war where it was often difficult to tell the two sides apart, and where North Vietnamese terrorists often operated under the cover of rural civilians.

For many Americans, Calley was seen as a scapegoat, the only officer convicted in relation to the massacre. Calley's commander, Captain Ernest Medina, claimed that the men in the company committed the massacre of their own volition, and that in fact he was not aware that anything was going on until it was already well underway. (Medina was acquitted, being defended by a team led by F. Lee Bailey.)* The fact that Calley alone was convicted created a firestorm, so much so that two days after his conviction, President Nixon ordered him released from prison to house arrest. After years of appeals that alternated between overturning and reinstating his conviction, Calley was released after serving three-and-a-half years.

*Bailey often told clients that he'd charge them a whopping fee, then help them find a job to pay it off; after leaving the Army, Medina worked at an Enstrom Helicopter Corporation plant owned byF. Lee Bailey. 

The guests on ABC's program include Senator and future attorney general William Saxbe (R-OH), Representative and Jesuit priest Robert Drinan (D-MA), and John Kerry, leader of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War and future presidential candidate. Had the 24-hour news network existed in 1971, we'd probably still be debating it.

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This week's cover story is about the second program stirring things up: All in the Family, CBS's new hit comedy, and it's probably safe to say there's never been anything on American TV quite like it. The headline of Rowland Barber's story declares that "Bellowing, half-baked, fire-breathing bigotry" has made the show a hit, "and may make Archie Bunker a permanent part of the English language." I suppose that's true, although the younger generations have abandoned cultural history to the extent that anything older than last week may have fallen out of the consciousness. And, after all, they're the ones who are going to make the rules. Just ask them.

You might have forgotten the disclaimer that was read (by "a disembodied voice") prior to the inaugural episode: "The program you are about to see is All in the Family. It seeks to throw a humorous spotlight on our frailties, prejudices and concerns. By making them a source of laughter we hope to show—in a mature fashion—just how absurd they are." Oddly enough, many of those groundbreaking taboos that the show shattered are probably just as taboo today. You couldn't call someone a "Polack" today, I don't think—or "hebe," "coon," or "spick," all part of Archie's contemptuous vocabulary. And while the show meant to ridicule Archie's ways, the popularity soared, at least in part, because of an audience identification with what Archie said.

As Barber runs through the comments by people praising or condemning the show, it's interesting how closely they parallel each other. A lot of people, says Barber, like it because it depicts "life as it is really lived," while those who don't like it complain that it's "too much like life." The most commonly used words in complaint of the show are, in order, "disgusting," "vulgar," "revolting," and "trashy." People who loved the show enjoy the Archies and Mikes of the world being "exposed and put under a comic spotlight"; people who hate it are horrified to find that their grandchildren  laughing and celebrating Archie's insults. Letters have been running about 2-to-1 in favor of the show, but both sides remain vocal. Then, as now, we're a nation divided.

There's no denying that All in the Family changed television, and to a certain extent American life. Barber relates the story of a man who feels as if he's probably become more racially tolerant as a result of seeing how foolish intolerance looks coming from Archie. And the character does have a soft side, as we see after he admits having cried watching Love Story. The show's appeal always mystified me, but then, what do I know?

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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. 

For many readers, Cleveland Amory's last column of the season is one of the season's highlights. Not because they won't have to read him again until fall, although there are those who feel that way, I'm sure. No, it's because this is the week when Cleve takes a look back at the past year's worth of columns; when, as he puts it, "we have to decide if we went too far overboard" with the praise or scorn heaped on the season's programs. He definitely didn't go overboard on shows like All in the Family ("it's terrific"), Mary Tyler Moore ("she's wonderful"), and The Odd Couple (also wonderful; "all this and no laugh track, too.") He calls it a good year for comedy, but laments that "there were far too few new bright spots" on the dramatic scene; only The Senator (part of The Bold Ones) and Masterpiece Theatre scored. As for shows like The Tim Conway Show, The Don Knotts Show and Dan August, he concedes that he went "too far underboard" on those.

During the year, he was harsh on the "ruralities": The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, Mayberry R.F.D. and Hee Haw. Their cancellation is no cause for celebration, though, "for the simple reason that, judging by past track records, chances are their replacements will be worse." It comes with the shrewd caveat, though, that "if they were individually thought to have run out of gas, fine. But if they were canceled as the result of a general policy—because of some nonsense about appealing to the 'young rich' or 'the quality viewer'—we hardly think that's good news." "We don't think every show should be for everybody—in fact we don't think any show should be for everybody," he adds. "We do think, though, that every show should be at least some people's very favorite show."

He notes the growing disappearance of the variety show, what with Lawrence Welk, Johnny Cash, Andy Williams, Ed Sullivan, and Red Skelton among the casualties. He's been mostly harsh about these shows, and he wasn't terribly fond of two that survived: Carol Burnett and Glen Campbell. Of those remaining, he likes Dean Martin ("who still has style if not class") and Flip Wilson ("who has both style and class"). Once again, however, he takes no satisfaction in the dwindling number of variety shows on the air, especially ABC's decision to cancel Lawrence Welk, Johnny Cash and Pearl Bailey. He calls the decision "incredible," adding that the three shows were "of their kind, the best. And what will these fans be offered instead of their favorites next season?"

In the end, the television season is much like the baseball season, with eternal hope and promise just around the corner. "Wait until next year," we say every time, no matter how disappointing the past season might have been. That's where Cleve is as well; when the new season starts, "we'll be there watching." A warning to the networks, though: "we have a long memory."

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Saturday night brings us a sporting first. For the past few years, fans of the Indianapolis 500 have had three choices: plunk down a few dollars to watch the live closed-circuit telecast of the race in a local movie theater, listen to the live broadcast on the radio (a subtle pleasure, something I did for years), or wait until the following Saturday to watch edited highlights on Wide World of Sports. But this year, for the first time, ABC presents same-day prime time coverage of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, starting at 6:30 p.m. MT. Jim McKay, Chris Schenkel, Jackie Stewart, Keith Jackson and Chris Economaki (a veritable plethora of big-name voices) are on hand for all the action; the end of the race is still being edited as the two-hour broadcast goes on the air. ABC has paid $750,000 for the rights to the race, according to Richard K. Doan, with hopes to go live next year. We’ll have to wait until 1986, however, for ABC’s first live broadcast of the 500.


As for the race itself, it's an all-star lineup of who's who in Indycar racing, with Peter Revson (heir to the Revlon fortune) on the pole, and past and future winners including Mark Donohue, Bobby Unser, Mario Andretti, Johnny Rutherford, Gordon Johncock and A.J. Foyt; future announcer David Hobbs, and stock car champions Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough. But in the end, the race is dominated by defending champion Al Unser, who leads 103 of the 200 laps en route to his second consecutive win; he'll wind up with a record-tying four victories. Some say the racing at Indy is better than ever, though the star power (of both drivers and announcers) and popularity of the sport have both dwindled over the years. But you'll have to admit this about the 1971 race: at least it was held in May.

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It may be a great week for sports, but, as Judith Crist points out, it’s a lousy week for movies. Take Blast-Off (Sunday, 7:00 p.m., ABC), a 1967 British movie originally titled Jules Verne’s Rocket to the Moon, then released here as Those Fantastic Flying Fools in order to take advantage of Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines. That’s a lot of explaining required for a movie that, in Crist’s words, is a "poverty-program relative" of Magnificent Men and is "strictly from foolish." Then, there’s The Violent Ones (Thursday, 7:00 p.m., CBS), a movie on "an allegedly adult level" that Crist views as "even cheaper looking and more simple-minded today" than it was when originally released in 1967. Only Fernando Lamas seems to take it seriously; he probably has to, "since he directed it." Wild Women (Tuesday, 7:30 p.m., ABC), a story about bad women in the Wild West, would test "the credibility of anyone over the age of 6," and, in fact, serves as "a sort of IQ test."

There is something good about the week, in case you’re wondering: Nine Hours to Rama (Friday, 6:30 p.m., CBS), a riveting story about the assassination of Gandhi, starring Horst Buchholz as the conflicted assassin, with Jose Ferrer as a police superintendent and J.S. Casshyap’s "remarkable" portrayal of Gandhi. All in all, it’s no wonder that Crist sees the week’s supply as being found "at the bottom of the trash barrel in a deserted drive-in."

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Yes, it's May, the end of the television season, but if you can believe it, we're already talking about shows likely to be cancelled next season. Such is the case, at least, with ABC’s Nanny and the Professor, which the network plans to move from its current Friday time period to Mondays at 7:00 p.m. By an odd quirk ABC has chosen to turn the half hour from 7:30-8:00 p.m. (that is, the half hour preceding Monday Night Football) back to the affiliates, many of whom are planning to preempt Nanny in favor of a 6:30-8:00 p.m. local movie spot. "Without a competitive line-up of stations," Richard K. Doan writes, "Nanny is as good as washed up." (Of course, it didn’t help that, for affiliates choosing to stick with Nanny, the competition was Gunsmoke and Laugh-In.) And indeed, the end of December brings the end of Nanny as well.

Meanwhile, NBC has some ratings problems of its own. Since the end of The Huntley-Brinkley Report last year, its new NBC Nightly News, with John Chancellor, David Brinkley and Frank McGee as alternating anchors, has fallen to a "slow second" behind the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. What to do? McGee, who had been sidelined by illness, is back, but he’s also scheduled to take over for Hugh Downs as host on Today. Additionally, Brinkley’s contract expires at the end of next year, and he’s hinted he may want out afterwards. In the end, the network settles on Chancellor as sole anchor, with Brinkley providing commentary (although the network pairs the two as co-anchors from 1976-79 in an effort to improve ratings). The arrangement lasts until Tom Brokaw takes over in 1982.

Although Cronkite had taken the ratings lead from The Huntley-Brinkley Report during the 1967-68 season, the slide accelerated following Chet Huntley's retirement in 1970. I've never made a secret here of my admiration for both Huntley and Brinkley, but NBC is now discovering the truth of what Cronkite's producer, Sandy Socolow said in Lyle Johnston's biography of Huntley, Good Night, Chet: "All of us—effete easterners—had always assumed it was Brinkley who was drawing the audience with his wit and charm. He was a breath of fresh air, and we'd wait to see what smarty thing he was saying tonight. But low and behold, when Chet left, the audience left—and they came to CBS."

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Saturday gets off to an early start with the NBC Children's Theatre presentation of "For the Love of Fred" (9:00 a.m.), a charming little story about Fred the caterpillar and his friends, portrayed by the Ritts Puppets, and featuring the music of Miles Davis; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; and the New York Rock and Roll Ensemble. It ends with the first of a two-part Name of the Game with Sammy Davis Jr. as a Vegas soul singer (10:30 p.m., KRTV). If you recall, Name of the Game is a 90-minute series, which means this story is important enough to take up three hours. It claims to be "studded with cameo appearances," and at that length, it had better be. (KRT)V actually airs these episodes a day after they originally run, so the rest of the NBC network will see the conclusion this Friday with Ike and Tina Turner and Dionne Warwick joining Sammy.

I'm interested in Sunday's "special edition" of The Ed Sullivan Show hosted by Jack Jones (6:00 p.m., CBS). The final new episode of the Sullivan show had been on March 28; April 4 saw Ed Sullivan Presents Movin' with Nancy on Stage, which is nothing more than Nancy Sinatra's Vegas act, taped at Caesar's Palace. The show then continues in repeats until this week, and although Ed is shown in the listings as the host, I suspect it might not be anything more than a taped appearance up front, with the rest of the show devoted to Jack and his guests, Stiller and Meara, Loretta Lynn, the New Seekers, Your Father's Mustache and the Electric Peach Fuzz. Next week is another repeat, and after that—the CBS Sunday Night Movies. It's the end of an era. For Firing Line (7:00 p.m., PBS), it's the beginning of an era: the debut of William F. Buckley Jr.'s show on Public Broadcasting. For the past five years it's been in syndication, but the move to PBS presents the chance for live shows as well as shows taped closer to the air date. Says Buckley, it's "the advantage of contemporaneity."

Remember George Plimpton, the sports iteration of the "new journalism"? The man who when from behind the typewriter to behind the center with the Detroit Lions in Paper Lion is back on Monday  with Plimpton! The Man on the Flying Trapeze (7:00 p.m., KULR), documenting his preparation to join the Flying Apollos acrobat group with the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus. And since it's Monday, that means Johnny Carson is off, so his guest host is Burt Reynolds, with Doug McClure, Bobby Goldsboro and Don Meredith (10:30 p.m., NBC).

Not much to write home about on Tuesday; those pesky variety shows that Cleveland Amory's writing about, Hee Haw (6:30 p.m., CBS) and The Don Knotts Show (7:00 p.m., NBC) plus Wild Woman, the awful movie that Judith Crist panned, means that the best of the bunch may be Suspense Playhouse (8:00 p.m., KRTV), with an episode entitled "Call to Danger," starring Peter Graves as "a chess-playing trouble-shooter" whose assignment involves retrieving stolen currency plates. If this sounds a lot to you like an episode of Mission: Impossible, there's a good reason why—it was a pilot, originally intended as a vehicle for Graves in the event that M:I was cancelled. (Just wait a couple of years.) At 9:00 p.m., KRTV preempts Mannix for the annual Harlem Globetrotters special, with Curly Neal and the gang (and special guest Nipsey Russell!) taking on the hapless New Jersey Reds.

On Wednesday, KSL's prime time movie is The Outsider (8:00 p.m.), the pilot for Darren McGavin's moody detective series, one that probably deserved more than its single-season (1968-69) run. Another series that has only a one-year lifespan is NBC's Four in One (8:00 p.m.), a wheel series with a twist: each of the four segments of the series (McCloud, Night Gallery, San Francisco International Airport, and The Psychiatrist) aired all six of its episodes consecutively, rather than the four series rotating each week. As you can tell from the lineup, two of the series were more successful than the other two.

Thursday, a couple of child stars made good: Bill (don't call me Billy!) Mumy hires Johnny Lancer as a hit man to get the men he thinks killed his father (6:00 p.m., CBS), and Tony Dow plays a cop on Adam-12 (6:30 p.m., NBC). Elsewhere, someone tries to frame Ironside (7:00 p.m,. NBC), but I don't think they'll get away with it; Flip Wilson has a superior lineup (9:00 p.m., NBC), with Bing Crosby, the Supremes and David Steinberg; and Burt Bacharach hosts an hour of his own music (9:00 p.m., KSL) as performed by Dionne Warwick, Joe Grey, Sacha Distel, and Bacharach himself.

Bobby Sherman is ABC's new hope for the young generation; he has a new series coming up this fall (Getting Together, a spin-off from The Partridge Family; it dies after 14 episodes), and on Friday the network teases the audience with a Bobby special (9:00 p.m.) featuring the 5th Dimension, along with the "zany" humor of Rip Taylor. Now, that's OK if you're into it, but here's something you'll really like: The Terror, (11:30 p.m., KCPX), the movie that Roger Corman directed on the set of The Raven, starring Boris Karloff and Jack Nicholson. It's one of the most colorful experiences in the very colorful life of Corman; you can read about it at the always-reliable Wikipedia, including the story of how even Francis Ford Coppola had a share of the directing duties.

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Finally, our starlet this week is 22-year-old aspiring actress Alison Rose, and if she doesn't make it big-time, it won't be for lack of trying—or belief. "I'm one of the supreme egomaniacs," she tells Leslie Raddatz. "No way can my life be a fiasco. I won't allow it." She's been working steadily in The Doctors, The Secret Storm and Divorce Court (and has been "consistently disappointed" in her work, and of her biggest role to date, in the TV-movie Marriage: Year One, she told the screenwriter (via a poem) that "a masochist must indulge her pain." Despite that, she says, "There has never been any argument or controversy over the fact that I'm good." She modeled for the top fashion magazines in New York and studied acting for two years before heading for Hollywood last year, and so far her biggest disappointment has been missing out on the Candice Bergen role in Carnal Knowledge. She continues to look for that one big role that changes everything, and, says Raddatz, "don't bet that it won't come along. Or that she won't be good in it."

Well, the right role did come along, but not the way you think. She was a receptionist at The New Yorker in 1987 when she was "taken up" by the writers there, and eventually became one of them herself. In her memoir, Better Than Sane: Tales from a Dangling Girl, which has become something of a minor bible for single women, she writes of those days living in New York around the time she talked with Leslie Raddatz, "sleeping in Central Park, subsisting on Valium, Eskatrol, and Sara Lee orange cake," and hanging out with her colorful friends, including "Francine," who danced with Elvis, married Paul Burke's son, and has a page about her at the senior residence where she lives. (I'm not making this stuff up. The things you can find out thanks to Google.)

You wouldn't know any of this from looking at her IMDb page, which merely lists four credits for her, the last of which being the 1997 movie As Good as It Gets, in which she played "Psychiatric Patient." In fact, there are several Alison Roses out there, but the fact that she writes about her psychiatrist dad in California, combined with Raddatz's mention that "her father is a prominent San Francisco psychiatrist" leads me to believe that they're one and the same (although it looks as if she may have lied about her age). In fact, there's nothing new about her after 2004 or so, which is a shame; who knows what else there might be. Of course, I'm trusting that one of you out there has some new tidbit, like her being your aunt or something like that. But that's what's so interesting about all this, isn't it?  TV  



May 29, 2020

Around the dial

That's a picture of Pope Paul VI up there, watching the Apollo 11 moon landing. Heaven and earth encompassed within one photo. I have nothing to match that today, but I'll do the best I can.

I'm back at Eventually Supertrain, talking about Bourbon Street Beat with my buddy Dan. Stick around for the rest; it's really good.

At Classic TV & Film Café, Rick tells us seven things to know about Connie Stevens, better known around here as Cricket from the detective series Hawaiian Eye, the piece of the Warner Bros. detective puzzle I still need.

It's the Wednesday comics at The Twilight Zone Vortex, and Jordan has a story I would have found irresistible: "Nightmare for an Astronaut." July, 1966 was when I was of comic book age, too—wonder why I didn't have it.

One of the signatures of the early Today Show was the window to Main Street, or at least 49th Street in New York City, where people could look in and see the wonder of television—and be seen, as well, if they were lucky. Read the rest of the story from Jodie at Garroway at Large.

At Cult TV Blog, John introduces us to Jonathan Creek, the British crime drama from the 1990s and 2000s, It's an easy series to like, says John, as long as you don't worry about the massive plot holes. I can buy that.

Hal's F Troop Friday at The Horn Section snuck in after closing time last week, so I bring it to you today; it's "Me Heap Big Injun" from 1965, in which our heroes face the latest threat to O'Rourke Enterprises.

Television's New Frontier: the 1960s arrives in 1961, and the inaugural season of Danger Man, Patrick McGoohan's prologue to The Prisoner. It's a good look at how the series develops, parting from the stereotypical secret agent formula. You'll find it interesting.

Hopefully, you'll find tomorrow's TV Guide interesting as well. TV  

May 27, 2020

Eddie the Noun


This week we feature the first contribution to It's About TV! from Steve Harris, but readers of the old In Other Words blog will recognize the name from his many hilarious "This Just In" pieces, as good as anything you'll read in The Onion. In addition to being one of the nicest (and funniest) people I know, Steve is also one of the most gifted writers I've ever read. Hopefully, he won't be a stranger here.

by Steve Harris

Ken Osmond, who played “Eddie Haskell” on Leave It to Beaver, passed away last week at the age of 76. That sad news took me back to an early ‘60s ritual in our home. Every Saturday night I’d watch TV with my grandparents and older brother. I was little so they always chose the shows. Always the same: Lawrence Welk, Gunsmoke, and Leave It To Beaver. The first two didn’t grab me (until Janet Lennon caught my pre-pubescent eye, making things a bit more intriguing.) But the Cleavers—Ward, June, Wally and the Beave—were a hit with everybody.

Except for the same comment my grandma would make after every episode. “Those boys are so nice,” she’d say to my brother and me. “Look how nice they treat each other. Why can’t you boys be more nice like them?”

Nice was apparently a big priority for Grandma. Cleaver-nice was the bar she was setting. Not sure why. My brother and I, despite occasional scuffles, got along fine. What exactly were the Cleaver brothers doing that we needed to do?

The show had one redeeming quality—one character, really—that helped me keep this in perspective. His name was Eddie Haskell, Wally’s friend. Even at my young age I could see through Eddie. He was slick and conniving, hypocritical and selfish. Courteous to Wally’s parents to their face, snide behind their backs. In a funny way, of course. But I knew I was nicer than Eddie Haskell. That made me feel better. So there, Grandma.

Eddie Haskell may have been one of the great, early TV characters. Iconic, even. Even today (to people of a certain age) say “Eddie Haskell” to someone and you both recognize instantly the personality traits you’re talking about. His very name became short-hand. A noun, even. “You just did an Eddie Haskell.” (That happened a bit later with Don Knotts’ Barney Fife on Andy Griffith. That’s a “Barney,” you could say. Jerry Seinfeld once described Barney Fife this way. “You knew him by his sniff.” Exactly).  I hope Ken Osmond was proud of the character he created—he should have been. A fine piece of work.

He can be even more proud of the fact that when he passed his son, Eric, said that “…he was an incredibly kind and wonderful father.” So, Eddie Haskell was nice after all. Good to know and may he rest in peace. TV  

May 25, 2020

What's on TV? Thursday, June 2, 1966

The listings this week are a real mess, and I mean this in a good way. One of the great things about TV Guides of this era is the local element, and I'm not just talking about the programs listed, but the fact that these program sections are assembled and printed locally. Particular quirks that might be present in one edition aren't there in another, and this issue is proof that there's no standardization guide, or at least not one present this week. Take, for example, The McCoys, the daytime title of the long-running prime-time sitcom The Real McCoys. If you skip down just a few lines, you see that this is how it's listed at KOOK—Real McCoys. That's also how it reads at KXLF. However, if you go down a few lines, at KXLY (which shows it at a different time), it's just McCoys.

Same goes for The Baron; we've talked about TV Guide's longstanding policy that omits articles at the beginning of show titles, yet at 10:00 p.m. on KREM, there it is: The Baron. But at 10:30 p.m. on KOOK, it's Baron. KOOKy, indeed. On KXGN, the half-hour game show Password is on at 3:00 p.m., but at 3:15 p.m. it's Guiding Light. I checked other days of the week just to make sure this wasn't a one-day typo, but no: it's that way every day of the week. Where does the other half of Password go? And, of course, some shows are in color on one station but in black-and-white on another, depending on whether or not they're shown live on the network feed. And so on. Some people might consider these to be sloppy flaws, but I think it's all kind of charming, if perhaps a bit frustrating. But that's what you get with this week's Montana Edition.