February 18, 2012

This week in TV Guide: February 17, 1968

On the cover this week are the two stars of The FBI, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and William Reynolds, although judging by the background one would be forgiven for thinking that they were starring in a series about Grand Prix racers.  (By the way, for an excellent review of The FBI and the role played in the series by director J. Edgar Hoover, check out this series from our friends at TVParty.)

Across the top of the cover is a blurb for "The Most Outlandish Game Show Yet," which turns out to be ABC's Treasure Isle.  Not only did the show take place outdoors, it was staged on a one-and-a-half acre man-made lagoon in Palm Beach.  Probably the most interesting item we find out is that the show was financed and packaged for $800,000 by John D. MacArthur, who's probably better known as the founder of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, supporter of many programs over the years on public television.  MacArthur's brother was Charles MacArthur, playwright and co-author of The Front Page  Charles MacArthur was married to the actress Helen Hayes, and his son James MacArthur played Danno on Hawaii Five-0.  When your geneology is more interesting than the TV show you created, you know you're in trouble.

The most notable program that week, although nobody knew it at the time, was an NBC made-for-TV movie on Tuesday called Prescription: Murder.  Judith Crist, TV Guide's longtime movie critic, noted that the movie had not been made available for preview by NBC, meaning that she'd have to stick to the facts without being able to advise potential views of the "wonders you may or may not behold."  She reported that the movie "stars Gene Barry as a doctor who murders his wife."  And that's true, as far as it goes.  What she didn't mention is that the murder is investigated by a detective named Columbo.  The listing doesn't even suggest that the movie's a pilot.  But the rest, as they say, is history.

Although made-for-TV movies were really making an impact by 1968, the big movies were still the ones coming from the theaters.  This week, the big news was the network television premiere on ABC of Shane, the landmark western starring Alan Ladd and Van Heflin.  As Crist pointed out, Shane was "the original source for many of the cliches of subseuent Westers - cliches that in the original are matters of inspiration, of genius and of art."  But that wasn't all, as CBS countered with Steve McQueen's WW2 hit The Great Escape, "offered again uncut in two installments, each supplemented by equally pleasing short subjects."  Although it's hard to imaging having to wait two nights to see a single movie, that was pretty common back in the day: running a long movie in two parts over two nights if it wouldn't fit into a two-hour time slot, except for Saturday and Sunday, when networks were more willing to let a movie run into the local news slot.  And those short films that the nets would use to fill up the rest of the time slot.  Sometimes TV Guide would note what the films were - in this case, part 1 was followed by a short cartoon, part 2 by "'Rainshower,' a 15-minute featurette honored at the Chicago Film Festival."  Quaint.  I probably wasn't watching it though; the state high school hockey tournament was on Channel 11, the independent station, on both nights.

What else?  On Saturday, ABC pre-empted the Pro Bowlers Tour for the penultimate day of the Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France.  The last day, including the closing ceremonies, would be shown Sunday afternoon from 1-3pm, followed by pro basketball - a little different than the saturation coverage we get today, hmm?  And then there were these two curious items: on Tuesday afternoon, CBS presented "the 19th annual Busy Lady Bake-Off."  Now, I've heard of the Pillsbury Bake-Off, but the Busy Lady?  Turns out a Google search suggests they're the same thing.  I wonder if this was a way for TV Guide to avoid the commercial mention for Pillsbury, or if the company itself billed the contest this way.  And then there's a musical version of Robin Hood airing on NBC Sunday night (in place of Walt Disney and The Mothers-In-Law).  It has a great pedigree: songs by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, and featured a who's who of familiar 60s names - Noel Harrison, Roddy McDowall, Steve Forrest, Walter Slezak, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Arte Johnson and Victor Buono in supporting roles.  But in the starring role of Robin Hood - David WatsonWho?  I'd never heard of him until checking him on Wikipedia, and it turns out that he had a pretty good pedigree on the legitimate stage and was one of the apes in Beneath the Planet of the Apes (taking Roddy McDowall's place, it should be noted), but his TV career seems limited to guest roles in various shows.  Well, you learn something new every day.

And one final note, just a small one.  "Communications experts seem increasingy agreed that closed-circuit TV (CATV) will gradually replace the over-the-air kind,"  Richard Doan writes.  And what would this new, "cable" TV mean besides the end of ghostly reception and the ability to beam signals into remote rural locations?  "It would mean the view would pay for his piped-in TV, much as he now pays for lights and phone service."  Not everything that TV Guide predicted came true - but this certainly did.  But many thought that three networks constituted a vast wasteland - could they have possibly foreseen the scorched earth that the future would bring? TV  

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