November 18, 2019

What's on TV: Thursday, November 22, 1973

I know Thanksgiving isn't until next week, but Turkey Day 1973 fell on the earliest date possible, and you didn't really think that I'd pass up a chance to look at the day's listings, did you? I love Thanksgiving; it marks the start of the holiday season, and compared to Christmas, it's much less stressful and more low-key. (A pity some people have to ruin it by opening the stores instead of waiting until Friday, isn't it?) And then, of course, the smells: turkey, pumpkin pie, apple cinnamon. Ah, it's going to be hard to wait until next Thursday.

One non-related item to draw your attention to: Bob Cromie's guest on Book Beat (WDSE, 10:30 p.m.) is none other that Rex Stout, creator of two of my favorite detectives: the corpulent detective Nero Wolfe, and his assistant Archie Goodwin.

The listings come to you from the Minnesota State Edition.

November 16, 2019

This week in TV Guide: November 17, 1973

What we have this week is a really fine issue, full of specials and big-name movies, and for this we should be thankful. And no wonder—Thursday is Thanksgiving Day! No time to waste: let's get started.

Sinatra: Ol' Blue Eyes is back; Frank Sinatra returns in one of his specials that so often seem to air around Thanksgiving. This time, he really is back, coming out of retirement to appear with special guest star Gene Kelly. (Sunday, 7:30 p.m., NBC) Frank tells Dwight Whitney that he enjoyed retirement; "I just loved doing nothing. . . I got to see friends I hadn't seen in a long time. I got to travel without work—which is so hectic. I got time to delve into art. I did what came to me when I woke up." And yet he can't resist the pull of those who want to see him one more time, or who never had the chance. In addition to his old hits, Frank sings some new songs, including "Send in the Clowns," "Let Me Try Again," and "You Will Be My Music." But it's hard to see Sinatra at home with the new music, as he himself admits. "Rock? It's influenced music but not me. Some of it I absolutely loathe. Now I see a shining light at the end of the tunnel. A lot of young composers like Neil Diamond, Joe Raposo, Jimmy Webb and Kris Kristofferson are writing a lot of wonderful things a la Larry Hart."

JFK: Thanksgiving Day, November 22, is the tenth anniversary of the assassination of John Kennedy, and on Wednesday, ABC's late night Wide World of Entertainment presents "J.F.K.—A Time to Remember" (10:30 p.m.), a 90-minute recollection of the late president's life, with brother Ted and mother Rose, former Kennedy men Dave Powers and Pierre Salinger, and authors Theodore H. White and Jim Bishop. The anniversary's also the occasion for Rose Kennedy's Thanksgiving Special (syndicated; various dates and times). Am I the only one who thinks this sounds like an SCTV bit? "Join us for a very special Thanksgiving, with Rose Kennedy's Thanksgiving Special, hosted by Walter Cronkite and Rose Kennedy, with Peter Lawford, Vaughn Meader, Orson Welles, the Chappaquiddick Singers, the Juul Haalmeyer Dancers, and a special appearance by Robert Goulet singing the theme from Camelot! Ask what SCTV can do for you, this Thanksgiving Night!" It writes itself, doesn't it? Unfortunately, it's merely an "intimate conversation with Rose Kennedy, who talks about the joys and tragedies of her life and the careers of the Kennedy clan."*

*Did you ever notice that it's always the "Kennedy Clan," never the "Kennedy Family." At what point does a family become a clan, anyway? Perhaps, like the number of licks to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop, we'll never know.

Parades: What would Thanksgiving be without parades? The Macy's Parade is the highlight of NBC's Thanksgiving morning (8:00 a.m.), with Adam-12 stars Martin Milner and Kent McCord as the hosts. Lorne Greene and Betty White did this for a long time, and the last few decades it's been the hosts of The Today Show; teaming two of NBC's series stars is more like you'd expect on CBS. Speaking of which, the Tiffany Network's All-American Parade (8:00 a.m.) coverage features the warm presence of William Conrad as host, with highlights from New York, Detroit, Philadelphia and Toronto. I have very fond memories of those CBS broadcasts, unlike the sad spectacle that passes nowadays.

Specials: The week's specials begin on Sunday with dueling one-offs. On CBS, Carol Burnett recreates her celebrated 1959 off-Broadway performance in "Once Upon a Mattress" (8:00 p.m.) based on "The Princess and the Pea," with Ken Berry, Jack Gilford, Bernadette Peters, Wally Cox, and more. A half-hour later, NBC pairs Dinah Shore and Burt Reynolds in Dinah Shore in Search of the Ideal Man (8:30 p.m.), with samples from Telly Savalas and Peter Graves to Danny Thomas and Don Knotts.

Fast-forward (a phrase that hasn't been invented yet) to Thanksgiving, and following the Macy's parade, NBC presents a family-friendly lineup of specials starting with The Magic Man (11:00 a.m.), hosted by The Magician's Bill Bixby, and featuring magic acts from Mark Wilson, Jerry Bergman, the Amazing Randi, and more. That's followed by Alice Through the Looking Glass (12:30 p.m.), a musical adaption of the sequel to Alice in Wonderland, starring Agnes Moorhead, Jack Palance, Jimmy Durante, Nanette Fabray, Ricardo Montalban, Tom and Dick Smothers, and Judi Rolin as Alice. And Thursday late night, ABC has "A Salute to Humble Howard"—Cosell, that is. (10:30 It's a roast held on behalf of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, featuring Don Adams, Steve Allen, Don Rickles, Muhammad Ali, Merlin Olson, Don Meredith, and others.

Friday afternoon CBS takes advantage of the school holiday with Richard Thomas taking a break from The Waltons to act as host and narrator of Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta H.M.S. Pinafore (2:00 p.m.), performed by England's famed D'Oyle Carte Opera Company. And Julie on Sesame Street (Friday, 8:00 p.m., ABC) is pretty much what it sounds like, a musical tour of Sesame Street with Julie Andrews, the Muppets, and special guest star Perry Como. Julie and Perry do have a few minutes to themselves to sing a medley including "The Song is You," ""With a Song in My Heart," and "Killing Me Softly with His Song." I sense a theme somewhere.

Sports: In addition to the usual suspects over the weekend (college football with teams TBD on ABC, the Packers vs. Patriots and 49ers vs. Rams on Sunday) Thursday and Friday present a plethora of pigskin performances. The NFL kicks things off with the Detroit Lions in their traditional Thanksgiving game, this year against Washington (CBS, 11:15 a.m.), followed by the Dallas Cowboys and their traditional Thanksgiving game, hosting Miami. On ABC it's a college football doubleheader, starting with Air Force at Notre Dame (12:15 p.m.), and after a pause for local programming a nightcap with Alabama taking on LSU (5:30 p.m.) If you want to ease into those nighttime turkey sandwiches, you might watch a little hockey with Minnesota playing their hated rival St. Louis (8:00 p.m., WTCN). And on Friday, some bonus football, with the classic rivalry between Nebraska and Oklahoma. (1:15 p.m., ABC) It's a great lineup.

Cartoons: At 7:00 p.m. on Monday, NBC welcomes the first TV appearance by the characters from the comic strip "B.C." in B.C.The First Thanksgiving, which, sadly, does not become a classic. Tuesday, CBS presents the premiere of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, which does become a tradition, even though it's the weakest of the Peanuts holiday specials, IMHO. On Thanksgiving, WTCN airs the animated A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1:00 p.m.), followed by Hanna-Barbara's The Thanksgiving That Almost Wasn't (2:30 p.m.); meanwhile, CBS has a double serving of Famous Classic Tales: on Thursday it's "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" (2:30 p.m.), and Friday it's "The Three Musketeers" (3:30 p.m.), both by Hanna-Barbara.

Movies: Sunday night, Jason Robards, Mildred Natwick, and Lisa Lucas reprise their roles from last year's The House Without a Christmas Tree in The Thanksgiving Treasure (6:30 p.m., NBC)Thanksgiving night presents the television premiere of the magnificent My Fair Lady (7:00 p.m., NBC), winner of eight Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actor for Rex Harrison. The non-nominated Audrey Hepburn co-stars in what Judith Crist calls "the loveliest of stage musicals," transferred to film as "an outstanding example of moving a classic from stage to screen with integrity." That's hard to top, but CBS and ABC do augment the week; NBC offers a rerun of the literate sci-fi classic The Andromeda Strain (Saturday, 8:00 p.m.) with Arthur Hill, James Olson and David Wayne; Crist praises how the film builds "an intellectual rather than ugh-the-blob! horror." On Sunday it's ABC's turn, with The Hospital (7:30 p.m.), Paddy Chayefsky's savage satire of the medical profession, with George C. Scott (fresh off his declined Oscar for Patton) giving "perhaps the finest performance" of his career. It's a great, great movie. Even Doctor Doolittle (Wednesday, 7:00 p.m., ABC) provides "a viable evening's entertainment for the unsophisticated young." And why not wind down the week on Friday with To Sir, With Love (Friday, 8:00 p.m., CBS) with Sidney Poitier's terrific performance as the dedicated teacher, and Lulu singing the hit theme.


And all this doesn't even include the premiere on PBS of the eight-part War and Peace (Wednesday, 9:00 p.m.), an epic 14½ hour production that stars Anthony Hopkins and is scripted by Jack Pulman, who previously did the teleplay for I, Claudius. Back in the day, TV Guide used the headline "What a Week!" to describe the shows on Thanksgiving week; even without the headline, I'm sure you'll agree that it is, indeed, quite a week.

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Not only do we have NBC's The Midnight Special and ABC's In Concert this week, there's also the syndicated Don Kirshner's Rock Concert. Not only that, they're all on at the same time! Let's see who's better, who's best.

Kirshner: The Mark-Almond band, Dave Mason and Jesse Colin Young are the guests. Also: a taped segment featuring the late Jim Croce.

Special: Host Peter Noone, Gilbert O'Sullivan, the Bee Gees, the Electric Light Orchestra, and Manfred Mann.

Concert: Sly and the Family Stone, B.B. King, Johnny Winter, the Locker Dancers, the late Jim Croce, the Eagles, Seals and Crofts, the J. Geils Band, T. Rex, Dr. John, Black Oak Arkansas, John Sebastian, Billy Preston, Mott the Hoople, Sha Na Na, and Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks.

In a week of very special programs, this is a special Friday indeed. In Concert (10:30 p.m., ABC) celebrates its first anniversary with a three-hour special mixing new acts and segments from previous shows, which accounts for the massive (and impressive) lineup. Kirshner's 90 minute concert (2:15 a.m., WCCO) isn't nearly as large, but makes up for it with quality. My own personal choice is Special (12:35 a.m., NBC) with ELO and the Bee Gees supporting Noone, the former lead singer of Herman's Hermits and someone who, it seems to me, maintained a detached, bemused perspective throughout the Sixties, an observer watching everything unfold around him.

However, one of the treats of the Minnesota State Edition of TV Guide is that you get to see listings from a vast array of stations, not all of which show network programming at the scheduled time. Thus, we have Duluth's WDSM, which on Saturday at 10:40 p.m. presents the previous week's Midnight Special, with undoubtedly the best lineup of the week: David Bowie, making his American television debut, along with Marianne Faithful, Carmen, and the Troggs. Bowie's first appearance on American TV! And here it is:


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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 our intrepid critic once again makes an excursion into the world of children's television, and comes away suitably impressed. The program is ABC's Sunday morning show Make a Wish, hosted by singer/guitarist Tom Chapin. "He isn't the world's best singer or guitarist," Amory writes, "but he's very infectious, and he's very entertaining." The idea is to "expand the young person's frame of reference," by taking two words, one for each half of the show, and demonstrating the different ways in which the words can be used—"in song, in poetry, in extraordinarily effective film and in humorous stream-of-consciousness non sequiturs."  Each word is looked at from several angles, using history, myth, geography, even astronomy.

What Amory likes the most about Make a Wish is that it's all done with fun and word play, and it's no surprise that the show would appeal to Amory, given his own fondness for words. In one episode, Chapin mentions that "While it is true that the English have been known to eat soup, under no circumstances should a pea-soup fog in London be served for dinner"; it's the kind of joke that one might expect to show up in one of Amory's reviews. Another episode features a film of wild mustangs, with a note that it was letters from children all over the country that resulted in legislation to save these horses. Given Cleve's involvement in animal rights, it's no surprise that he'd be taken by this imagery.

Amory gives ample credit to executive producer Lester Cooper and producer Tom Bywathers for their roles in bringing Make a Wish a Peabody Award, and he concludes with a letter from a California women who wrote, "I have a 3-year-old son and a 40-year-old husband, and I'm not sure who enjoys it more."


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Not everything is so exciting; The Doan Report reports (well, I guess it would, wouldn't it?) that NBC has cancelled four of their new shows: NBC Follies, with Sammy Davis, Jr.; the anthology series Love Story, which didn't quite have the success that Police Story did; Diana, as big a waste of Diana Rigg as one could imagine; and the sitcom Needles and Pins. Not to be outdone, CBS has axed the "disappointing" sitcoms Calucci's Dept., Roll Out!, and The New Perry Mason. All is not lost, though; the network also has one of the few successful new series, Telly Savalas's Kojak.

Finally, in the words of this week's cover, "Will you pay for TV?" Today, the question is more like "how much will you pay for TV?" and with the rise of cord cutting, the answer seems to be, "not as much as I used to." People who only subscribe to services like Netflix and Prime probably don't even think of it as paying for TV. But back in 1973, the question was whether or not viewers would pay for it at all.

If you're a regular reader of this website, you'll know that the idea of pay-cable TV has seemingly been around forever, but as Richard K. Doan reports, it now seems closer than ever, with more areas testing it out for viewer reaction. Communities in Long Island were offered two cable channels showing nothing but movies from morning until late night; "households were free to look at any (or all) of eight showings of one picture in a day, all for $3 (plus a monthly service charge of $1.50). All the homes already were receiving, via cable, 10 over-the-air channels, including New York City's seven major VHFs." The test was a hit, and one of the big reasons is that the movies were shown uncut and without commercial interruption. "We've kind of given up on movies outside the house," one resident says. "We enjoy pay-TV. We can see a movie straight through without looking at 19 commercials." The seven movies the family watched cost them $21, and they were fine with that.

Pay-TV is receiving pushback from traditional broadcasters, who are taking out ads warning consumers that "free TV" is being threatened by this move. They're also limited to offering their service in areas that already have a cable system, and in 1973 the vast majority of major cities have yet to be wired. (Presumably, city leaders hadn't yet figured out how lucrative those contracts could be—to them.) There's also not much variety to these tests; movies are everyone's first choice, with live sports second, but "[v]irtually nothing has been seen yet of the cultural and educational programming—the opera, ballet, home study and other goodies—that was going to set wired TV apart (the 'communications explosion,' prophets said) from the standard broadcast offerings of TV." In other words, that part of the revolution that cable TV was always supposed to represent was never really in the picture. Oddly, those kinds of special presentations do exist—in movie theaters, via Fathom Events and other providers.

There are other concerns, worries that we're familiar with even today. What if children walk in on racy or violent scenes? (Today, they can bring them up themselves.) What about bootlegging? And will it be possible to come up with "a sophisticated two-way home terminal on which the family orders up each movie, football game or other program it wishes to see," or will providers have to resort to a blanket feel for their pay programming?

All of these things have come to pass in one form or another. The idea of pay-per-view, which is really what they're talking about here, is not driven by the movie industry, but has thrived for specific events, mostly boxing and MMA. People can "rent" a movie via streaming services, as well as paying a flat monthly amount for access to "free" movies. And then there's one of the most "grandiose" ideas of all, currently being studied for feasibility: "how satellites could be employed to link up cable systems for network programming." That one really is pie-in-the-sky, isn't it? Pumpkin pie, of course. TV  

November 15, 2019

Around the dial

At first, I thought those kids were watching static, but as I look more closely, it's probably a crowd of people, maybe from a football or baseball game.Don't laugh; there would have been a time when I would have even watched that. No static on the dial this week, though.

The Broadcast Archives at the University of Maryland sample some pictures of NBC News reporter Nancy Dickerson in a 1964 TV Guide spread, modeling the fashions for the smart convention-goer. In my talk last year at MANC, I mentioned that Dickerson was a serious reporter who broke the story that Hubert Humphrey was going to be LBJ's pick for vice president, and TV Guide's got her modeling clothes. Ah, but that's how it was back then.

Silver Scenes remembers that Monte Markham used to play Perry Mason, in CBS's 1973 reboot of the series. I like Monte Markham; I've enjoyed many of his performances. but let's agree that he's no Raymond Burr. Good picture of him, though.

Thanks to YouTube, we've gotten quite used to seeing videos of heroic acts being performed by household pets, usually involving small children. But at Garroway at Large, Jodie shares a funny story from Dave (or Charlie Andrews, his favorite writer) on how it isn't easy being a hero dog.

I've written admiringly in the past about Victor Buono, and I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who feels that way. At Comfort TV, David details some of Buono's more memorable television roles, and I suspect you'll remember many of them as well.

On Friday, I mentioned that Saturday was the 100th birthday of Felix the Cat, but that's not the only anniversary to celebrate this week. Yesterday (November 14, for those of you who for some reason aren't reading this seconds after it goes live) was the 60th anniversary of The Twilight Zone, and at The Twilight Zone Vortex Jordan has more.

This Saturday, your local PBS station will probably have A Classic Christmas (My Music), and Rick at Classic Film and TV Café has the rundown on what should be a wonderful show. Of course, YouTube TV has yet to add PBS to the schedule (next year!), so we won't be seeing it, but if it's as good as Rick says, it will probably be a standard for years to come.

Of all the special "weeks" when the networks rolled out their new fall schedules, I think "NBC Week" may be the best-known and remembered (even though I think ABC might have been the first to do this), and Television Obscurities has a promo for the 1972 Monday lineup.

If you don't recognize the name Bernard Slade, you'll undoubtedly recognize two of his TV creations: The Partridge Family and The Flying Nun. Slade died October 30, and Terence of A Shroud of Throughts remembers his legacy. TV  

November 13, 2019

The wonderful cat

November 9 was the 100th birthday of Felix the Cat, the world's most famous cat, as well as one of my personal cartoon favorites. For that reason, as well as because he was the first image to be broadcast on commercial television, I think it's only appropriate to celebrate the occasion with this essay that I originally wrote last year for The Electronic Mirror. If you'd like to read more from what I consider to be a most wonderful book (without admitting any bias, of course), click here for details. Did I mention it makes a great gift?

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We could only see him in black and white. But that didn’t matter, since he was black and white himself. And it was appropriate that his was the first image to be broadcast on television, since he was once one of the most famous movie personalities in the world.

I speak, of course, of Felix the Cat.

Felix’s origins date back to the silent film era. Nobody’s quite sure who first thought of him; Pat Sullivan, who owned the rights to his image and made him famous, claimed that he was the creator, while Otto Messmer, Sullivan’s head animator and the man who gave Felix “life,” makes a similar claim (one that is favored by many film historians). Whatever the case, during the 20s Felix became one of the film industry’s top stars; as one source put it, “he ruled animation as Chaplin ruled live-action comedy, Babe Ruth base-ball, or Man o' War horse racing.”

Particularly in the silent era, Felix was one of the most well-developed animated characters ever. From his famous “thinking” pose in which he paced back and forth, head down, front paws clenched behind his back, to his irrepressible way of connecting with the audience by turning and winking, he was in fact quite Chaplinesque, with a bit of Buster Keaton thrown in. As John Cawley and Jim Korkis describe him in the Encyclopedia of Cartoon Superstars, “Felix was like a real person and would solve problems with ingenuity and just a touch of mischief.” The “surreal” silent movies were filled with “wild angles, strange characters and preposterous stories.”

In addition to cartoons that came out at the rate of at least one per month, there was a Felix the Cat comic strip, Felix the Cat toys, Felix the Cat watches (I have one!), Felix the Cat-endorsed food products, and Felix “interviews” in newspapers and magazines. The famous Kit-Kat Klock bears a strong resemblance to Felix; he’s the symbol of Felix Chevrolet in Los Angeles; he’s been the mascot of bomber groups and high school teams and even the New York Yankees. Felix appeared in movies and magazine spreads with starlets, movie moguls and other celebrities and there’s a story that Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic with a Felix mascot. It’s not for nothing that even today, ads for Felix merchandise bill him at the “World’s Most Famous Cat.”

He came by his name honestly. It was supposedly suggested by John King of Paramount magazine, seeing as how domestic cats are included in the genus Felis, Latin for “cat”; the term “feline” is derived from the adjective form felinus (“of the cat”). Additionally, the Latin word felix translates as “happy,” which speaks directly to his friendly, wide-mouthed smile and famous “Right-ee-o!” fol-lowed by a hearty, belly-holding laugh. (There have also been four popes with the name Felix, not to mention Saint Felix of Nola, but that’s just a coincidence. Probably.)

Thus, it should come as a surprise to no one that when RCA began testing its experimental television equipment on New York’s station W2XBS in 1928, they would turn to our hero, in the form of a 13-inch paper mache figurine. It was a practical consideration: his black-and-white color was perfect for the tests, and, unlike human actors, the intense heat from the lights was no problem. “Felix was placed on a record player turntable and was broadcast using a mechanical scanning disk to an electronic kinescope receiver. The image received was only 2 inches tall, and the broadcasts lasted about 2 hours per day.”

In 1939, RCA transmitted an image of Felix on the first commercial television broadcast leading up to the New York World’s Fair. There was a pause in developmental work during World War II, but on November 7, 1946, a coin-operated television receiver was set up in New York City. Its purpose was to give people a glimpse of the future that awaited. Among various test patterns there was one familiar figure: Felix the Cat. It’s true that there was that fully functional reason for selecting Felix, but I think it was also an affectionate one.

Felix’s popularity has waxed and waned throughout the years, but it’s never gone completely away. In 1958, a new series of cartoons for TV introduced the famous Magic Bag of Tricks, one that contained a variety of marvels and could assume whatever shape Felix (and the cartoon’s plot) happened to require at the moment. It also featured the Felix theme song (“Felix the Cat/the Wonderful, Wonderful Cat”) that anyone of a certain generation will recognize at a moment’s notice. And did I mention that his tail could detach and be used as anything from an exclamation point to a fish hook to an airplane propeller?

It was, in fact, the 1958 series, rerun on Channel 11 during my childhood, that first introduced me to Felix, and made me a lifelong fan. In addition to my prized watch, I’ve got a whole shelf of Felix memorabilia in my library, including books, DVDs, mugs, music boxes, and stuffed Felix toys. You might call it an eccentricity; as a television historian, I prefer to think of it as honoring the very first TV star, and if you want to say that as well, it’s all right with me. TV  

November 11, 2019

What's on TV? Sunday, November 10, 1968

Ah, the good old Sundays, with the NFL on CBS, and the AFL on NBC. The Giants were playing the Cowboys, just as they were as I was typing this last sentence. (Without the black cat, though.) One thing that strikes me about this time is looking at the interview shows like Meet the Press. This week, the guests are the Apollo 7 astronauts; nowadays, they hardly have anyone outside of the political arena.

This week's listings are from the Twin Cities; no KTCA, as the educational channel doesn't yet broadcast on the weekend.

November 9, 2019

This week in TV Guide: November 9, 1968

Last week we dabbled in food, sharing a TV Guide recipe for minestrone. This week we go even farther, as Richard Gehman tells us how "You too can be a chef" by watching The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. You see, Carson makes a perfect companion for the hungry view (and Gehman finds himself, for some unknown reason, starved every time he watches Carson). Forthwith, Gehman's complete late-night supper, made during a recent episode of Tonight.

Start with the small potatoes, which can be prepared for boiling during Carson's commercial for a new spot remover. You can do the whole thing from your easy chair while Don Rickles comes on and insults everyone in sight. While Rickles continues, it's time for you to separate slices of chipped beef, which you've brought to your easy chair along with the spuds. As Ed McMahon shills for Alpo, take the separated beef to the kitchen, toss the potatoes in a pot for boiling, and while you're there put an eighth of a pound of butter in a frypan which has been preheated to 300°. Turn up the TV while Sergio Franchi is singing, so you can hear him while toasting two slices of bread and opening a can of peas. With the next commercial, you can drain the potatoes and toast a couple more slices of bread. The next guest, possibly George Jessel, allows you to chop a fresh green or red pepper.

When the show pauses for a station break, that's your chance to add two tablespoonfuls of sifted flour to the sizzling butter, stir with a whisk, and add a half teaspoonful of salt, a couple of pinches of dried parsley, a very small dash of oregano and some pepper, preferably fresh-ground. You can add a half-cup of water while the next singer (probably named Connie) warbles away. Add the chipped beef to the mixture when shills for a sewer-cleaning device, along with a half-cup of milk, stirring until the mixture bubbles, at which time you include the drained peas.

This whole thing should take you to within about ten minutes of the end of Carson's show. During the next-to-last commercial, add a tablespoonful of capped black pitted olives, and as Carson interviews his final guest (Mary Martin, Mary McCarthy, Mary Healy, or maybe Mary Queen of Scots), you can serve your creamed chipped beef, either on the toast or the potatoes you've put on the side. Turn off the set. Eat heartily.

I don't know. I don't think I can eat that heavy a meal right before bedtime.

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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: Tentatively scheduled guests: singers Tom Jones, Vikki Carr and Jimmi Hendrix; comedians Wayne and Shuster, and Scoey Mitchell; the Chung Trio, instrumentalists; and Valente and Valente, balancing act.

Palace: Host Mike Douglas presents Polly Bergen, Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66, Donovan, comics Hendra and Ullett, juggler Rudy Schweitzer and the Solokhins, balancing acrobats from the Moscow State Circus.

Once again, KMSP, the Twin Cities ABC affiliate, has seen fit to tamper with the schedule of Hollywood Palace. The station had a frequent habit of pre-empting the network's prime-time fare for local programming (and the accompanying ad revenue)—in this case sixing ABC's Saturday night shows (after Lawrence Welk, of course) in favor of a movie (Back Street, with Susan Hayward)*, and airing Palace on Sunday afternoon (opposite NFL football).

*Full disclosure: looking at the picture of Susan Hayward in the movie ad, I think I would have preferred Back Street to the Palace myself.

Be that as it may, I love these examples of the variety show adapting to contemporary culture. Vikki Carr is a traditional songstress, Tom Jones epitomizes the power of sexual dynamism, and Hendrix—well, he's out there in an area code of his own, isn't he? Case closed—the verdict goes to Sullivan.

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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.

Every one in a while television tries something a little different. Not often, but occasionally. What's not different, though, is the result, which usually takes about thirteen weeks to play out, thirteen being an unlucky number, but the traditional number of episodes a series would run before getting cancelled. The history of television is littered with such noble failures (Cop Rock, anyone?) and this week Cleveland Amory takes a look at one of them: ABC's That's Life, a comedy-variety series with a regular cast and continuing story. It is, Amory says, more like "a long musical comedy—with each act lasting an hour and each intermission a week." 

That's Life stars Robert Morse (Tony winner for How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying) and E.J. Peaker as a young couple headed for marriage; Morse, Amory admits, "is not our favorite actor. But he is, bar none, our favorite re-actor—in fact, he is perhaps the best in the business." Peaker took a while to grow on Cleve, but by the fourth ekpisode "we were ready, if not for marriage, at least to go steady."

One of the highlights of each week's episode is the guest star, and Amory points out that the show is often written to take advantage of that guest, rather than the regulars. And with a cast of guests including George Burns, Jackie Vernon, and Tim Conway, the show succeeds more often than not. A particular highlight is the show in which Kay Medford and Shelly Berman appear as Peaker's mother and father, an episode that also features Robert Goulet and Alan King. "This was," Amory writes, "by all odds the best single episode of any series we have seen so far." That's Life could actually be considered a success as far as these "different" series go, running for 32 episodes. Cleve's much more bullish on the show, though: "When That's Life is good, it's very, very good—good enough to pay money for on Broadway. And even when it's bad, it's never, never horrid."

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On the cover this week is Barbara Feldon in marryin' garb, and inside is a layout of Feldon in the year's smartest outfits. The hook is the upcoming wedding of her Get Smart character, Agent 99, to Don Adams' Maxwell Smart, but it's clear that there's more to Feldon than meets the eye—or the secret agent, as it were.

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
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Last week we also took a look at the story of PBL, the experimental new Sunday night program launched by NET. (I don't have anything to check on in this week's edition; KTCA, the Twin Cities' educational channel, is dark this Sunday.) This week we read of the network's plans to add a half-hour prime-time news program. James White, head of NET, hopes to have the newscast on by the fall of 1969. I don't know that it ever happens; if it did, I've not seen any evidence that it was shown in Minneapolis. It may well have been broadcast in one of the network's larger markets, such as New York, Washington D.C. or San Francisco. But a newscast delayed is not a newscast denied; following their coverage of the Watergate hearings, Robert McNeil and Jim Lehrer begin The McNeil/Lehrer Report, which quickly goes nationally and continues today as PBS NewsHour. White had said that he would seek "top-ranked commentators"—there's no arguing that's what they got.

And in one more follow-up from that piece, the Hawaiian Open golf tournament is back, and this time the broadcast really takes advantage of the time difference—Saturday coverage starts at 7:30 p.m. CT on Channel 11, with the final round airing Sunday at 7:00 p.m.

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The week's football is kind of a meh, but Stanley Frank provides a fascinating look behind-the-scenes at what happens in the television control booth. The focus is on CBS' coverage of the season opener between the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers, where announcers Frank Gifford and Jack Whitaker go through the preparation for the week's game with the production team, producer Bill Creasy and director Chris Erskine. Gifford runs through each team's tendencies, gives insight on key players, and advises the team on what to look for.  (Bobby Walden, the Pittsburgh punter, has "been known to pass from kick formation.")

Covering football has changed dramatically over the years. There are five color cameras assigned to the game: three near the 50-yard line, one on the sidelines, one behind an end zone. (By contrast, the average game today uses at least twice as many, and NBC has 40 for its Sunday night broadcasts.) CBS gets off to a rough start; despite Gifford's warning that Steelers running back Dick Houk had the capability of throwing on the option play, the cameras miss his 62-yard pass on the game's first play. Later in the first half Erskine cuts to the field-level camera as Giants quarterback Fran Tarkenton unleashes an 84-yard pass to Homer Jones; the ground shot "projects the speed and power of the players but loses a panoramic view of the field," blowing the live shot. An instant replay showing the completed pass doesn't make up for Erskine's frustration at missing the original play.


The game continues through to a 34-20 victory by the Giants, a dull affair that, as Frank notes, proves the truism that "false excitement cannot be pumped into an event." Despite the early glitches, the broadcast goes well, and Gifford's tip about a fake punt means the cameras are in perfect position when Walden does in fact opt for the pass in the fourth quarter (which was dropped). It's particularly interesting to note how commercials were treated back in the day: under the current agreement, CBS can ask the officials for a commercial time-out "if there has been no natural break in the action during the first seven minutes of a quarter." The referee misses the network's initial fourth quarter signal, and Creasy nixes a commercial during a first-down measurement. ("We can't interrupt a drive.") The network is eventually bailed out by Giants kicker Pete Gogolak, who obligingly kicks two field goals to provide natural breaks for the spots.

Televising a game is tough work for everyone; as Creasy says after the game's end, "I feel as though my eyes are falling out of my head, and they pop out a little farther every week."

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Us classic television fans remember Robert Young as the wise Jim Anderson on Father Knows Best, or the kindly family doctor Marcus Welby, M.D., but Young was a fine actor who wasn't above showing an edge in his work. We're reminded of that in Friday's episode of Name of the Game (7:30 p.m., NBC), as Young plays Herman Allison, "an ultraright fanatic who's building a private army" to guard against the growing race problem. Gene Barry, one of the three stars of Name of the Game, enters the scene while investigating the death of an investigative reporter, and runs into a cast of characters that includes an influence-peddling former senator, a washed-up actress, a restaurateur, and another murder.

It's just another indication of the sign of the times, as we can see in a Letter to the Editor from Doris Mathews of Checotah, Oklahoma. Miss Mathews writes in praise of a recent special called Soul, which could have been any one of a number of specials but was probably a public broadcasting series of the same name. In the letter, she says "The Negro 'Soul' special was fabulous. More shows like this should be aired so that the whites can see all the talent among the Negro people." Wince-inducing to modern ears perhaps, but this is a time not far removed from the infamous interracial kiss on Star Trek, which caused NBC so much trouble in the South.

Thomas J. O'Neal of New Orleans has a hilarious take on Howard Cosell, who's not quite the household name he'll become in two years thanks to Monday Night Football, but has become plenty familiar thanks to ABC's coverage of boxing—especially Muhammad Ali. In response to an October 19 article entitled "I'm Irreplaceable" (I'm assuming Humble Howard is speaking of himself here), O'Neal writes "In musing over the word 'saturnine,' which Howard Cosell believes everyone 'ought to learn,' it occurred to me that this Argus-eyed, stentorian Palladium of narcissism should pause on his commercial odyssey, pick up his aegis, take his Antaean virtues and his cornucopia of money—and paddle down the Stygian Way to Hades. [That's "go to hell," for the rest of us.] Cosell, you are a myth!" Couldn't have said that better myself.

I'll defer to the following as the Letter of the Week, though, as it checks a number of boxes that I've written about in the past months. Karen Fiedler, of Columbus, Ohio, has CBS' new Western series Lancer in mind in her letter. "Lancer is based on the fact that Murdoch Lancer [Andrew Duggan] was shot so badly he had to send for his boys, Scott [Wayne Maunder] and Johnny [James Stacy]. Scott gets shot int he first episode, Johnny gets shot in the second, and Scott gets shot again in the third by a family trying to avenge Johnny's killing of one of their brood. Johnny is forced to shoot one of them because they shot Scott. Luckily everyone recovers quickly except the bad guys. It is certainly a joy to view the new lack of violence." Got all that straight? TV  

November 8, 2019

Around the dial

This week, I'm back on the excellent Eventually Supertrain podcast, as Dan and I chat about the latest episode of Bourbon Street Beat. And by the way, Eventually Supertrain is excellent not because of me, but because some very interesting people talking about some wonderful short-lived series. But if you want to think that I'm also very interesting, it would be rude of me to attempt to correct you.

Burt Reynolds, Murray Hamilton, and Harry Dean Stanton are among the headliners in Bill S. Ballinger's suspenseful fifth-season "Escape to Sonoita," Jack's latest entry in the Hitchcock Project at bare•bones e-zine.

At The Twilight Zone Vortex, Brian talks about the contributions of an unsung TZ writer, Jerry Sohl, who ghostwrote three episodes of the series for his friend and fellow writer, Charles Beaumont, when the latter began suffering from the dementia that would eventually claim his life.

David always comes up with interesting angles at Comfort TV, and this one is definitely not comfort TV: the Lou Grant episode "Unthinkable," dealing with a topic that truly is unthinkable, though all-too-possible: nuclear war.

Television's New Frontier: the 1960s covers a police drama that I quite liked when I watched it as a blind buy a few years ago: Brenner, featuring Edward Binns and James Broderick. I was never a fan of Binns before this, but he is very, very good in this, and Broderick ain't bad either.

"A Year in TV Guide" continues at Television Obscurities, and this week the issue is from November 4, 1989, with a preview of the November sweeps programs, as well as coming video cassette releases (remember those?), and the week's highlights.

And at The Lucky Strike Papers, Andrew shares a quote from Attica Locke that says a lot about how the reader interacts with the book they're reading. I'd like to think it gives some food for thought to us writers as well. TV  

November 6, 2019

The "It's About TV" Interview: Rob Precht, Ed Sullivan's grandson

A while back, I got a very nice email from a gentleman named Rob Precht, who complimented the website and mentioned that he happened to be Ed Sullivan's grandson. [As well as the son of Robert Precht, Ed's son-in-law and longtime producer of the Sullivan show.] My first reaction was to be flattered that someone who knew a fair deal about classic television was reading and liking the site; my second was we have to talk! I asked Rob if he was up to being the latest participant in the It's About TV! Interview, and, to our great fortune, he was only too happy to comply.

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It's About TV: When did you first become aware that grandpa was actually someone pretty famous? 

Rob Precht: To me he’s always been grandpa. I sensed he was special when we would walk on the streets when I was around 6 and people would surround him asking for his autograph.

The show, which premiered as Talk of the Town in 1948, virtually at the outset of television history, runs all the way to 1971—23 years. And yet many see Ed Sullivan as the most unlikely person ever to host a television show. Impressionists loved to parody him (although I always suspected it was done more out of affection)—how did he manage to survive on TV for so long? 

Actually, he was a natural pick to host the show. Television was a brand-new industry in 1948. CBS executives were looking for someone to host a show. Ed had been a gossip columnist for many years and knew all the talents in New York. He could put them together in a show. Plus, he had done many live shows, the Harvest Moon Ball and Harlem Cavalcade among them. He was comfortable on stage. So, he was a natural pick. If one looks at the early kinescopes of the show one will see a man totally comfortable in this element. He didn’t feel he needed to impress people.

A lot of people look at Ed and wonder if he was really comfortable being on-screen, being so visible to the audience?

The better question is was he ever not comfortable being on-screen and the answer is no.

It also seems to me that I’ve read that he didn’t always think he was properly appreciated by CBS for his accomplishments as far as attracting viewers for the network and the sponsors.

The first two years of the show were high anxiety. Critics savaged Ed. At one point he learned CBS was shopping around the show to new sponsors “with or without Ed Sullivan.” That hurt him. But by 1950 or so the show was on a solid footing, and whatever resentments Ed may have had toward CBS dissipated.

Your dad, Bob Precht. produced the show for many years. How much of the responsibility for the day-to-day operations of the show, such as choosing the guests, was his, and how much of it was Ed’s?

Dad was an officer in the Navy when Ed recruited him to join the new industry of television, sort of like joining an internet startup in the 1990s.

He pulled all the elements together, but Ed was still in charge of choosing the guests. Dad also oversaw the show’s budget. He introduced more rehearsals to give the show a more polished look. But he presented all major decisions to Ed and Ed sometimes made changes.

Your mother, Betty, was the only child of Ed and Sylvia. What kind of a marriage did Ed and Sylvia have, with him being so involved in the entertainment world? 

Ed and Sylvia were devoted to each other. Ed had a racy night life as a columnist and liked to flirt with beautiful women, but my sense is their marriage was rock solid. Sylvia loved being the wife of Ed Sullivan.

One of Ed's better known feuds was with rival columnist Walter Winchell, who tried but failed to duplicate Ed's success on television. I know that in Michael Herr's novel about Winchell, he suggests that they made up late in life, but I don't know how based on fact that is.

Yes, he made up with Winchell and he introduced Winchell from the audience during one of the last shows.

Do you remember hearing about any controversies as far as acts that they wanted to be on the show but couldn’t get, or conversely acts that maybe they weren’t crazy about, but felt some pressure to have on either because of network ties, or because they’d bring in a big audience?

No. Obviously, Ed did not like anything that was in bad taste, such as telling dirty jokes. When acts were “censored” such as the lyrics of the Rolling Stones and the Doors, the censorship originated with CBS network executives not Ed. Also, the old story of Bob Dylan walking off the show needs to be clarified: Ed was perfectly happy for Dylan to sing his song spoofing the John Birch Society. It was CBS that objected to the song and asked it to be replaced by another song. Dylan refused.

I don’t know how many people are aware of the impact that Ed had as far as bringing black entertainers on his show, and bringing them into the public consciousness. 

Since his earliest days as a columnist in the 1920s, Ed valued and promoted African American talent. He objected to sports segregation in 1929. Being a New Yorker who traveled to Harlem frequently, he came into contact with African American athletes, singers, dancers and Jazz Greats. He detested racism. Ed brought that sensibility to his television show. He presented a huge array of African American performers from the very start. He did so not to send a message or to be sanctimonious. He featured African Americans because he couldn’t imagine any kind of quality show without them.

Was that a hard sell for him? Did he have difficulty with his sponsors, or with the network when he insisted on these performers? 

There were  grumbles from some southern sponsors during the early 1950s, but they were sporadic. Also, after Ed started featuring African Americans in 1948, it made it easier for later shows to do the same such as Arthur Godfrey and Ted Mack.

Rob Precht
It might be difficult for a lot of younger people to appreciate how different things were back in the age of three television networks, but your grandfather was basically America’s arbitrator of success. I mean, if you appeared on the Sullivan show, I don’t want to just say that you had it made, but you’d really accomplished something.

Yes, in a real sense Ed was the curator of culture for all of America. If a person or act appeared on the show it meant that here something you – the American people – should see and appreciate. Also, television was a much more communal experience than it is today. Families watched the show together, and friends and neighbors on Monday discussed who they had seen Sunday night. His show was a microcosm of a fully integrated society and I think it contributed to making the country more tolerant.

It really was a who's who: Elvis, the Beatles, the Supremes—the Supremes were a personal favorite of his, weren’t they?

He particularly liked Diana Ross and the Supremes. He liked the borsht belt comedians and old-time vaudeville stars like Sophie Tucker. I would not say the Beatles or Elvis were “favorites” of his. He knew they were hot, and he wanted him on the show, like a newspaperman scooping the competition.

Right. So there are these big pop stars, and the Muppets, and Bill Cosby, all kinds of people who went on to great fame. But he was also committed to what might have been called the middlebrow culture of the day: excerpts from the newest and biggest Broadway plays and musicals, fully staged scenes from operas being performed at the Metropolitan, and classical performers like Roberta Peters, who was I think a guest over 60 times. Why do you think it was so important for him to include these kinds of performances?

Because these performers were the best at what they did. They were champions in their fields. Ed respected champions and wanted others to see them.  He once devoted 15 minutes to a Met opera. The ratings took a dive, so when he presented opera the next time it was two songs at most. Also, he devoted a full hour to the Moisyiev Ballet from Moscow. Inconceivable today.

And yet it’s not only inconceivable that you’d see this on TV today, I can’t even begin to imagine what show they’d appear on. It would be hard to picture Placido Domingo on the Letterman show.

The late night shows are not venues for audiences composed of all age groups, the way the variety shows were in the 1950s.

Gerald Nachman, who wrote what I thought was an interesting but very flawed biography of your grandfather, nevertheless raised a particularly interesting point in suggesting that by welcoming the Beatles and their successorsthe Stones, the Doors, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, etc.Sullivan was in effect making a deal with the devil: he got the high ratings that he coveted and the relevancy he craved, but in doing so he also undermined the homogeneity of his audience, highlighting the growing generation gap and eventually rendering irrelevant the very acts that had served to carry him to such heights. Absent them, and with newer rock acts sniffing their noses at television, Sullivan’s show was doomed. As someone who is both an aficionado of classic television and one with intimate knowledge of the show, would you agree with that statement?

No, I don’t agree. Television was becoming more fragmented in ways that had nothing to do with Ed’s decisions. Households had more than one TV in the 1960s so the kids could tune into their own shows like Shindig. Cable brought more channels and choices too. Ed’s ratings were always high, but his viewership was getting older, and CBS wanted shows to appeal to younger people. That’s why his show was cancelledit appealed to an older demographic. But this was the fate of many old-style television shows that were born in the early years of television. The country changed and so did television.

I suppose Johnny Carson would have been the successor to Ed in terms of being that kingmaker or queenmaker, and introducing those young entertainers.

No, Carson was not a successor since his show appeared late at night. Ed had no successor.

The show was finally cancelled in 1971, after debuting in 1948. Do you remember how Ed reacted to the cancellation, how he took it? After all, it wasn’t that it was a ratings failure, but that the network and sponsors had decided the audience was too old.

Of course, he was disappointed. But I think he realized he had had a great run.

I’m curious, because we’re both fans of classic TV—how do you view the state of television today? Does it compare to the era in which Ed’s show was on, is it better—some call it the Platinum Age, as opposed to the Golden Age—or is there something about today’s shows that is missing? Call it humanity, or tact, or restraint?

Television is no longer a communal experience, that’s the biggest change. Television shows are no longer produced live, like Ed’s show, so there is a lack of spontaneity and excitement. Consumers of media these days are siloed in their own worlds. As a consequence, people are not exposed to as much culture as they were in the days of Ed Sullivan when Rock and Roll stars, talented dogs, opera singers, Jazz Greats, ballerinas and scenes from the latest Broadway shows appeared on the same stage, live, and were viewed by millions of people at the same time.

Is it a fair question to wonder what Ed would think of the entertainment scene today, considering how immersed he was in the entertainment world, even excluding the show?

Grandpa was a newsman at heart. He presented what was new and happening.  If he were alive today, I think he’d still delight in getting the scoop, being the first to introduce new talents.

OK, so I have to ask this: what did Ed think of Topo Gigio, the little Italian mouse puppet who was kind of a semi-regular?

Ed liked Topo because it gave him a chance to express his tender side.

Well, I just want to say that I think Ed Sullivan is a very important figure not just in the history of television, but in the American culture of the time. I enjoy watching those old shows immensely, because they’re kind of a time capsule into who and what was popular, what was going on in America, at any given time. And I think that we have to keep alive this institutional memory of what television was like, how it got to be the way it is; we have to remember people like Ed Sullivan, Steve Allen, Dave Garroway, Pat Weaver, Your Show of Shows, Dragnet, Gunsmoke—people both in front of and behind the cameras, and the shows that helped shape TV and America. Thanks for doing your part.

Thank you for asking me to contribute to your wonderful website.

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No, Rob, thank you. I've been doing this website for a few years now, and these interviews never get old. My only concern is that I'm not a good enough interviewer to capture the stories that my guests have to share with you all. As I mentioned in my final question, it is so important to keep these memories alive, as more and more figures from the era pass away. Rob is one of the good guys, helping keep these alive. He's currently working on a book about his grandfather, and when that comes out I'll be waiting to get a copy for my bookshelf—and you'll read about it here. Meanwhile, you can read about Rob and his work as founder and president of Justice Labs here.

If you're interested in more about The Ed Sullivan Show, a great resource is the wonderful Television Academy Interviews website (and YouTube page), which does so much to curate the oral history of television. Here is their Ed Sullivan page, featuring interviews with several of Ed's guests. TV