September 29, 2012

This week in TV Guide: September 30, 1967

The 1967 major league baseball season was the penultimate season to be played the way seasons had been played for the whole of the 20th Century.  In 1967 there were no divisions, no wild cards, no way to make it to the World Series without finishing in first place.  Oftentimes the League champions clinched a week or ten days in advance, and even before they clinched the average fan had a pretty good idea who would be facing off in the Fall Classic.  In 1967, however, that was not the case.

It was called "The Great Race," perhaps inspired by the 1965 movie of the same name, and baseball had never seen anything quite like it.  With a week to go in the season, four teams battled for the American League pennant - the Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins, Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox.  They had clung to each other for weeks, taking turns at the top, none able to break free from the others.  The ambiguity about the season's end was reflected in the listing for NBC's Saturday Game of the Week, with three games to choose from: Minnesota at Boston, California at Detroit or Washington at Chicago.  If all three games were important to the race, the listing noted, there would be simultaneous coverage.  It was the last scheduled telecast of the regular season, but maybe not: if things were still up in the air there was the possibility of Sunday coverage as well (preempting the Chargers-Bills AFL game).  And should there be a tie involving two, three or even all four teams, NBC would cover the play-off(s).  No wonder TV Guide cautioned viewers that the tiebreaker games "would begin on Monday - and could continue through the week."  The Series was scheduled to start on Wednesday, but with two days to go in the regular season, nobody could even be sure if it would start on time.

As it was, by Saturday the White Sox had fallen out, evenutally winding up three games behind.  But it was still too close to call, with the Twins holding a one-game lead over the Red Sox and Tigers.  My memory could be deceived by having lived in Minneapolis during that time, but as I recall NBC chose the Twins-Red Sox game.  A win by Minnesota would eliminate Boston and put the heat on Detroit, forced by rainouts to play back-to-back doubleheaders with Washington.  And into the fifth inning things were headed that way, before the Red Sox rallied for a 6-4 win, dropping the two teams into a tie for first, with the Tigers just a half-game back.

I don't know if NBC showed the game the next day; Channel 11, the Twins station in Minneapolis, did.  And the Red Sox, behind Cy Young winner Jim Lonborg, topped the Twins again, taking the lead for the first time in the 6th en route to a 5-3 win.  With the Tigers splitting their twin bill against California, the Red Sox were the last team standing.  There would be no play-off, and the Series would start on time.  In Boston they'd called it "The Impossible Dream" (after the musical Man of La Mancha*), and the Sox, who had last played in the Series in 1946, would take the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals to seven games before losing.  It would only be another 37 years before they'd finally win.

*The Great Race.  The Impossible Dream.  Who says sports isn't affected by the rest of society?

The drama of that pennant race, and the final weekend, is only hinted at in the pages of the TV Guide, but it's there.  And for someone who saw it as it happened, those hints bring back a flood of memories, and once again the realization that baseball will never be the way it was back then.  Here's a brief glimpse of the drama.


Speaking of sports and hints, there's a big one in the Hollywood TV Teletype section: "Jean Simmons, Sir Michael Redgrave and Academy-Award-winner Maximillian Schell co-star in NBC's version of the classic "Heidi," which will be shown next season.  Oh, yes, it was indeed - but that's another story.


Color TV is a bit more than a novelty in 1967; by 1966 all three networks were broadcasting their primetime lineups (except for older movies*) in color (although local schedules continued to be dominated by reruns of B&W series). 

*For example, NBC's broadcast of the 1960 movie Never on Sunday which, not surprisingly, was not shown on Sunday, but on Saturday Night at the Movies.  Really, what choice did they have?

But while color televisions were more common than ever before, the art of getting a perfectly balanced color picture was still mystifying to many, as David Lachenbruch points out in his very funny article "The Hows and Whys of Purple-Faced Cronkitis."  The first step in getting a good picture, Lachenbruch explains, is to understand the machine: 

All color sets are roughly rectangular in shape and have six basic parts.  These are called: (a) front, (b) back, (c) top, (d) bottom, (e) left, (f) right.  (Sides e and f are sometimes known as f and e; i.e., when one is addressing the set from the rear.)

You'll never go wrong if you remember that a color set is very similar to a black-and-white set, except that it has colors instead of blacks and whites.  (This is very important, and you are advised to red the sentence again, and memorize it if possible.)

Yes, things have changed, haven't they?

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. 
This week Sullivan comes out of the box on Sunday night with scheduled* guests: "singers Peggy Lee, Nancy Sinatra and Sergio Franch; comedians George Carlin and London Lee; the Bob Crewe Generation, instrumentalists; the dancing Birds of Britain; and magician Richardi."

*Sullivan, unlike Palace, was generally broadcast live; thus the guest lineup was always subject to change.

The Palace, in one of its rare periods when it was being shown on Tuesday evenings rather than Saturdays, counters with Victor Borge hosting "an internationally flavored salute to Expo '67.  Joining Denmark's famous clown prince: Adam "Batman" West, French songstress Mireille Mathieu, Hawaiian singer Don Ho, British comedians Hendra and Ullett, Australian vocalists Chris and Peter Allen*, the Lado Dancers from Yugoslavia, a Tahitian dance troupe and the U.N. Childrens Choir."

*Peter Allen, also known as Mr. Liza Minelli.

The verdict: push.


Lots of specials and documentaries on this week.  NET, the forerunner to PBS, has an interview with Svetlana Alliluyeva, also known as Stalin's daughter, who had defected to the West the year before.  Also on NET, choreographer John Butler presents an hour of original ballet.  Meanwhile, CBS Reports features a Harry Reasoner report on the painter Andrew Wyeth.  On Monday (in his regular time slot), Johnny Carson celebrates his fifth anniversary as host of The Tonight Show, longer than any previous host.  He'd only be on the scene another 25 years.  And, of course, Wednesday and Thursday it was the World Series, with the glorious starting time of 12:00 noon CT. 

Finally, there's a brief story about continuing efforts to develop a sound meter that will measure and control the volume of loud commercials.  Seems like people don't like loud commercials very much, and they've made their opinions well-known to the FCC.

I guess some things don't change after all, do they? TV  

September 26, 2012

Andy Williams, R.I.P.

I always liked Andy Williams, and in fact there was something very likable about him. He was handsome, with an attractive family and a smooth, easy style.  He didn't seem to take himself overly seriously, and he did seem to be enjoying himself on stage.  He stood behind his ex-wife when she was accused of murdering her lover, and there was something quite noble about that.  Yes, memories of watching Andy on TV are warm, pleasant ones.

But I wonder if he doesn't become even more likeable in retrospect, and I don't mean that in a critical way.  You see, there are entertainers who are timeless becuase they always seem relevant.  But others, like Andy Williams, are timeless because they epitomize their time. 

What does that mean?  Well, I'm not sure.  Even as I try to figure it out I struggle to explain it in words.  But Sinatra, for example, is always Sinatra; and whenever you watch him (at least until his last, trying years), you feel like it's happening right now.  Inside that concert hall it could be 1958 or 1988; it doesn't really matter.  Time is what Frank says it is.  And that's why Frank's always cool.

But when you watch a DVD of an Andy Williams Christmas special, time doesn't stand still; instead, you’re transported back in time. Perhaps, as in my case, it’s to childhood; for others, it might be the days of your first job, your first love, your first Christmas together. Watching Andy sing with his brothers, you might find yourself remembering trips back home for the holidays; when he walks down the streets of an imaginary downtown, it might be the town where you grew up.; when the whole family sits around the fireplace singing carols, it could be your family on a cold winter’s eve.  The feeling you get watching one of these shows is more than just pleasure; it's a sense of warmth, of security, of simple pleasure.

And just as you smile when Frank Sinatra sings "You make me feel so young" because Frank's always young when he sings that, no matter how old he is, you smile when you watch Andy Williams because he makes you feel so young.  Frank comes into your life; Andy brings you into his.  We can (and often do) idealize the past, but when Andy sings "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" (a song written for one of his shows, by the way), you remember what it was like when people actually went downtown to do their shopping, when cities actually used the word "Christmas" without fear, when Peace on Earth wasn't a cynical dream.  But don't take my word for it; those shows were special to everyone.

And that's why Andy Williams' Christmas shows are even better now than they were then; perhaps back then we took everything for granted, assumed that things would continue to be the way they'd always been.  Back then we didn't need Andy Williams to tell us how things were, because we were there.  Today, we need him because we'll never get back there again. And so when we read today of his death of cancer, at age 84, we mourned his death, but in a way he'll never be dead; he'll always be frozen in that time machine, keeping it ready for us every Christmas.

But if this is too existential for you, then let's just enjoy Andy doing what he does best: singing, and making us feel just a little bit better for it.


September 22, 2012

This week in TV Guide: September 21, 1974 (with bonus footage!)

Another year, another new fall season.   You can either "Look at ABC Now!", enjoy the "Network of the New! NBC", or stick with old, reliable CBS, which undoubtedly felt that actions - or at least good TV shows - spoke louder than words.

The start of a new television season is a bit like the start of the NFL season, which coincidentally appears on the cover of this week's issue.  It's a time for unlimited optimism, when fans everywhere harbor the dream (or illusion) that this could be the year their teams go all the way.  Before that opening kickoff, every team is tied for first.  For a lot of teams, it won't get any better than that.

And so it is with the 1974 fall season.  The excitement from some of these ads jumps right off the page.  Unfortunately, in so many cases the optimism is not only unfounded, it's sadly pathetic.  And instead of a tingling leg, the reader is left wondering just who in the hell thought this show was a good idea.  More on this in a minute.

Theatrical movies were still a big deal in the 70s, and the new season was a great time for networks to display the additions to their inventory.  This week saw three blockbusters: the network premieres of Rachel, Rachel (NBC) and Thunderball (ABC), and the first rerun of Bonnie and Clyde* (CBS). Back then, there were two ways to run movies with big running times: split them into two parts (as was often done with Ben Hur, for example), or put them on Saturday or Sunday night and let them run over the normal time slot.  Thunderball, with a running time of 2:45, falls into the second category.  It begins at the normal ABC time of 8:00pm CT, and pushes the late local news back by 45 minutes, to 10:45pm.  Of course, back then the weekend news wasn't as big a deal; nowadays, pretty much the only time you see programming run over by a substantial amount is when it starts late due to the NFL or breaking news.

*I wonder how much they had to cut out to make it suitable for network television?

Speaking of timing, the NFL's policy in the early 70s was still to start games at 1:00pm local time, perhaps in a nod to churches.  Thus, the 1:00pm kickoff of the first game of NBC's doubleheader, coming from Chicago, means that the second game - Chiefs at Raiders - is joined in progress.  Mind you, in the early 70s it was at least possible (if not likely) that a game could end in well under three hours, which meant that if you were lucky you might only miss the first quarter of the late game.  I can't remember exactly when the league changed to the hard-and-fast noon starting time (except for Baltimore, where the blue laws mandated a 2pm start), but it's hard to believe that "Joined in Progress" used to be a regular part of NFL TV listings.

Now for the teaser: the bonus footage.  The cover of the previous week's issue (September 14) was mocked up to look like a horse racing tip sheet with odds on the new shows.  Some of the predictions were right on, while others - well, let's just say that if you'd actually gone to Vegas and plunked down some dough based on these odds, you might not be reading this now - because you're homeless and the Starbucks won't let you use the wi-fi without making a purchase.

So let's take a look at what all the shouting was about.  Here are the odds on a dozen of the new shows as they appeared on the cover of that issue, along with a catchy tip for each one. 
  1. 1-2.  Could take it all.
  2. Even.  Won't monkey around.
  3. 2-1.  Real contender.
  4. Even.  May prove troublesome.
  5. Even.  Entry is well placed.
  6. 3-1.  Should get the nod.
  7. 8-1.  May freeze up.
  8. 4-5.  From good barn.
  9. Even.  Only filly in race.
  10. 7-2.  Might garner support.
  11. 6-1. May cop it all.
  12. 10-1.  Lost stablemate.
Now we'll take a look at the ads for these shows.  See if you can recognize them from the handicapper's comments.  After the jump, we'll match the quotes and the shows, and separate the winners from the losers.

September 19, 2012

Steve Sabol, R.I.P.

Mike Greenberg of ESPN said it best this morning: everyone who loves professional football owes Steve Sabol a big debt of gratitude.

When I was a kid, I thought football was the greatest thing since sliced bread. And my favorite TV show was probably NFL Action – even more than Alvin. In Minneapolis, it aired on Sundays in the summer, after the late local news, and it was one of the supreme treats that came from being able to stay up late when school was out. NFL Action – and the other shows produced by NFL Films, such as This Week in Pro Football – created a mythology about the game. It turned players into noble soldiers and simple grass fields became muddied scenes of pitched battle – all accompanied by Sturm und Drang soundtracks and narration by The Voice of God, aka John Facenda.

It was great, great stuff, absolutely mesmerizing for a kid like me. Whereas in past years kids might have grown up idolizing King Arthur or Red Ryder or Dick Tracy, the heroes of my imagination were the Green Bay Packers. They were the best team in the NFL, and the NFL was the best sport there was. And while those kids had sat in front of the radio listening to their heroes in the serials of their day, I sat in front of the television watching my heroes as portrayed by NFL Films, the company founded by Ed Sabol as Blair Motion Pictures, and eventually run by his son Steve. Together the two of them understood that football was more than just a game determining a winner and loser – it was an elemental story of human drama that begged to be told.

Without Ed Sabol, there would have been no NFL Films. But as Joe Posnanski wrote, “the vision [came] from Steve. When it came to football, he heard John Facenda's voice of God narrating in his head long before he knew John Facenda. In his mind, even as a kid playing sixth grade football, the games were epic struggles. The players were gladiators. The uniforms transformed mortals into gods. The autumn wind was a Raider. No, Steve Sabol never thought small.” I never played organized football, but in every other respect I was that sixth grader who understood that football wasn’t life or death – it was more important than that, a validation of one’s entire code of life.

How important to the NFL was the work of Steve Sabol? Brett Farve said, "He changed the face of the NFL without ever playing a down in it.'' “NFL Films,”'s Richard Rothschld wrote, “became a fan’s ticket to the entire league.” It was that dream of the NFL, probably even more than the game itself, that attracted me. It’s hard for me to describe – here, Posnanski puts into words the feelings with which I grew up:

Before the Sabols and NFL Films, mud on the football field was just mud on the football field. NFL Films turned that mud into something holy, something that reflected guts and manhood and courage. Mud proved a Herculean test for the players' souls. NFL Films showed cleats sloshing in mud, mud dripping off taped hands, mud caked on arms, the way mud turned linebackers into heroic and dangerous figures. We take that for granted now because NFL Films has created this image of pro football, but there's nothing intrinsically romantic about mud.

Chuck Klosterman sums up the talent that Steve Sabol had, in talking about a poem that Sabol wrote for an Oakland Raiders film. It’s not, Klosterman says, the best poem ever,

It might not be the 100th-best poem about autumn. But Sabol knew how those words would sound when John Facenda recited them, and he understood the kind of person who would hear them, and he could instantly visualize which images should fall behind them. NFL Films is a rare example of cinematographers placing style over substance and actually making the product infinitely more substantial. Sabol did this effortlessly, for 50 years. It was his natural state of filmmaking.

Steve never lacked for recognition; over the years he earned 35 Emmys for writing, cinematography, editing, directing and producing, and with Ed received the Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Ed was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last year, and hopefully Steve will follow him there in the not-to-distant future.  So you see, it wasn’t just the fans who recognized how special that work was.

As the years progress you can see the game change through the lens of NFL Films: the muddy grass replaced by plastic turf, the shadows of old ballparks replaced by the light of flying-saucer type creations, the players change from long-sleeved athletes to hulkish giants in stretched-out jerseys, the game itself change into a multi-billion dollar business. In fact, as I go through my collection of shows from NFL Films, I can see my love for the NFL falling away, bit by bit, as time passes, until there is nothing left.

But my admiration for NFL Films and the work they did never left me. And as I learned more about Steve Sabol, I began to appreciate him in a completely different way. A couple of years ago I wrote about how I thought it would have been my dream job to work at NFL Films. "My Dad hated his job," Steve once said. "He sold overcoats, but he wanted to make movies. He had a failed career working with the Ritz Brothers -- they were like the Marx Brothers, only a tier below. I always had a picture in my mind of him in a straw hat.”

You got the impression that Steve also had a picture in his mind of how Ed hated his job, and was determined that would never happen to him. He knew that football was not the most important thing in the world, but it was something he loved, and so it was important to do it right. And so he created a place where people who shared that love could not only get to do it for a living, but have fun doing it. He would give them an incredible amount of freedom with that job, because he knew that people who loved their work, who saw it as more than just punching a clock at a job, would bring to that work a skill and devotion that made it special. Trust and humor – words that keep popping up in descriptions of him. As Klosterman writes, “I never met Steve Sabol, but I wish I could have worked for him.”

He was dedicated to his job, and to his father. When Ed was finally voted into the Hall of Fame last year – after Steve had been diagnosed with the brain tumor that would kill him yesterday, at the much-too-young age of 69 – Steve had the chance to put things into perspective.

"For a company that prides itself on telling good stories,'' he said, "this is one hell of a story. Dad makes the Hall of Fame. Son's going to be his presenter. Son gets a brain tumor. Now the story is, Is the son going to be there? Will the son make it? Who knows? I could be around until the Super Bowl in New York [2014]. But I've had a lot of time to think ...

"So they talk about heaven, and I don't know what is waiting for me up there. But I can tell you this: Nothing will happen up there that can duplicate my life down here. That life cannot be better than the one I've lived down here, the football life. It's been perfect."

Steve Sabol was, by all accounts, an extraordinary man; one NFL GM told Peter King that he “was the most ethical person I knew.” And I think it shows in the way he lived his life. He saw it as a gift: not to be wasted, as some do, nor simply to be endured, as others feel. It was meant to be lived.

And so he did that, for 69 years. He loved what he did and how he did it; he had a passion, and figured out a way to transmit that passion to others, to share it with them so that it would become their passion as well. He loved his work and made a career out of it, and it wasn’t just a career that he somehow fit into; it was a career he created.

As I said, an extraordinary man. TV

September 15, 2012

This week in TV Guide: September 13, 1958

How times change.  Look at the TV Guide logo on the cover of this week's edition: not the famillar red, but blue.  TV Guide did this this from time to time, back in the day, when the cover's color scheme demanded it.  Blue, white, other colors.  I don't know offhand when they did this for the last time; I've got a Christmas issue from 1962 where the logo is gold. And then it became so, I don't, know, corporate.

And with that, we're off on another week of TV Guide, and in case you hadn't noticed, the theme is change.  Sometimes the change is evolutionary, based on changing times.  Other times, the changes we've seen make the past seem like it came from another planet.  Either way, things just aren't what they used to be.

The relationship between TV and football, for example.  Here we are at Saturday, September 13, and the big sports story on television is not college football, but the national pasttime - baseball.  It's a preview of the upcoming World Series, sort of: CBS' team of Dizzy Dean and Buddy Blattner covers the eventual American League champion Yankees vs. the White Sox in Chicago, while NBC counters with the Cardinals visiting the soon-to-be National League champion Milwaukee Braves, broacast by Leo Durocher and Lindsay Nelson.  Dueling national broadcasts - but as we saw last week, this was before leagues negotiated national broadcasting contracts, so the networks were free to deal with teams (and their sponsors) on an individual basis.   ABC would get into the act as well in the early 60s, before Major League Baseball awarded the exclusive national contract to NBC.

There's also no pro football on Sunday - at least none that counts.  The NFL's season, which today runs 16 games (with a bye week) and one year started before Labor Day, was only 12 games in 1958, which meant that the regular season didn't kick off until September 28.  So if you wanted some football, you got the preseason kind - in this case, an innocuous matchup between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts.  Ah, but little did we know that these two teams would meet again for the NFL Championship on December 28 - aka The Greatest Game Ever Played.

The great thing about a statewide TV Guide
Edition - if you don't like one station's ad,
there's always another one
And then there's the network news.  In the days before CNN introduced us to 24/7 TV news, the holy grail for news junkies was a prime-time spot, preferably an hour, with plenty of time for an in-depth look at serious issues, a chance to educate viewers, and a look at foreign news, which typically didn't get much attention in this country except in times of war.  Well, in 1958 you had it, or at least part of it: a regularly scheduled 15 minute broadcast* airing at 9:30pm CT, featuring ABC's news chief, John Daly.  Yes, the same John Charles Daly who was also hosting What's My Line? on CBS.  What I find remarkable about that is not that a newscaster was also doing a game show; Daly was always a newsman first, and besides, What's My Line? wasn't really a game show, but something far more sophisticated.  No, imagine the idea of a prominent television figure with prime-time shows on more than one network.  This at a time when networks were very protective of their turf: if you were the star of a series on CBS, for example, but you were a guest on NBC's Tonight show, you could only say that you appeared on "another network."  After awhile it became a joke; Daly himself would often flaunt it, mentioning that the week's Mystery Guest would be appearing on "another network, which might have the initials N-B-C," or something similar.  This wasn't the first time ABC had experimented with a prime-time newscast; they'd tried it in 1952, but it failed then, and failed now; Daly, who had been replaced by Don Goddard in the traditional pre-dinner timeslot when he made the move to prime-time, would return to the old timeslot by 1959.

*Four days a week; ABC had boxing on Wednesdays

Speaking of game shows as we were a moment ago, change is in the air there as well, with the advent of the Quiz Show Scandals signaling the beginning of the end of the big-money, big-ratings shows.  Burt Boyar's "Facts Behind Quiz Scandal" details the genesis of the scandal, which hasn't ripened into the full-blown Robert Redford era quite yet; the focus of the story is on the dispute between Herb Stempel and the producers of the show Twenty One, Dan Enright and Jack Barry.  Stempel claims he was forced off the program, while Enright and Barry counter that Stempel needs psychiatric care.  Dotto, the show that instigated the scandal, has been taken off the air, but Twenty One is still on NBC, and its most famous hero, Charles Van Doren, is still on the Today show.  Van Doren, in fact, isn't mentioned in the article at all, but there is what must have been a tantalizing line for those millions who idolized the brilliant, handsome Van Doren; Jack Narz, the host of the disgraced Dotto, says "there isn't a quiz show on the air which doesn't have some control over its contestants."  Boyar writes that "[w]here or when this drama will end is anyone's business," and, as is so often the case with these old TV Guide articles, it is the story yet to come that intrigues.

Suitable for TV snackin'
Another type of change - "out with the old, in with the new" - can be seen as the curtain falls on what was then television's longest-running and most storied drama series, the anthology Kraft Theatre, which had been a staple of NBC's schedule since 1947.  Its pedigree was indeed impressive; "the first commercial network show and the first sponsored show to go over the coaxial cable to the Midwest.  It was the first hour-long drama show in color, and the first to be televised in color on a weekly basis."  Its 650 presentations included a remarkable live version of the sinking-of-the-Titanic drama A Night to Remember.

Just don't throw it
through the window
Do you remember when local ads ran in TV Guide?  Not ads for shows, but for products like Listerine and cheese-flavored Kor-Chees.  It seems an odd thing to see in these pages - more appropriate, perhaps, to appear in the local newspaper.  But then, as suggested by this ad encouraging parents to sign their kids up as TV Guide delivery boys, maybe people used TVG in the same manner as they did a paper.  (Speaking of change, it took a lot less change to subscribe to TV Guide back then - $5.00 for 52 weeks.)  They consulted it for television listings, feature articles, the latest entertainment news from New York and Hollywood.  They even had a "Mr. Fixit"-type column on "How to Cure 4 Common TV Headaches."  The questions remind one of how far technology has come, and how much we take our crystal-clear HD pictures for granted:
  • At night a black jagged bar about a half-inch wide rips horizontally through my picture on Channels 2 through 6.
  • During the day, the picture on my set is beautiful.  At night it shrinks and gets dark.
  • When I was told my picture tube was weak I bought a new set.  I put the old TV in the den for the kids.  However, my new set acts erratic.  It only happens when I'm watching Channel 6 and the kids watch Channel 3.  My 6 whitewashes out. 
  • For the last few months we've had a ham-radio operator living across the street.  It seems to me that since then, Channel 6, which was my best station, has developed a continual herringbone-pattern overlay.*
* Seems to me being Channel 6 was not a good thing in those days.

Advertising has changed as well - while future back cover ads declare, "You've come a long way, baby," in 1958 there was still room for the ad on your right, featuring singing star Jimmie Rodgers, for Halo shampoo, reminding all you ladies out there that "You can always tell a HALO girl."  Ah, doesn't it make you all want to be Halo girls?"

This whole piece has been about change, but perhaps the biggest change of all was the change that doesn't appear in this issue, but was hinted at on practically every-other page: the 1958 Fall Preview issue, coming the following week.  In those pages we'd learn of the new season ahead, featuring "Eleven new Westerns, many music and variety shows, more gumshoes," sports and "spectaculars."  They always did know how to make you want to stay tuned, didn't they? TV  

September 14, 2012

When lions were kings (of breakfast cereals)

How many of you remember the 1960s Saturday morning cartoon Linus the Lionhearted? (Not to be confused with King Leonardo and His Short Subjects, another cartoon featuring a royal lion, or Linus Van Pelt, the blanket-carrying philosopher in Peanuts.) Perhaps you're more familiar with one of the characters that appeared on Linus—Sugar Bear, the ubiquitous cereal spokesbear? Ah, but therein lies the tale.

Linus the Lionhearted ran on CBS and ABC from 1964 to 1969. The characters were created originally as advertising for Post cereals—hence, Sugar Bear. In 1969, the FCC ruled that children's show characters could no longer appear in advertisements on the same program as their characters appeared, and ABC was forced to cancel Linus.*

*I hadn't thought of this before, but King Leonardy was sponsored by General Mills, the archrival to Post. What the appeal of animated lions for cereal companies was, I don't know.

Of course, one might wonder whatever happened to that FCC ruling, since so many cartoons on TV today seem to be nothing but full-length commercials that don't even try to tell a story. (I seem to recall having seen a Pokeman cartoon a few years ago that seemed to consist solely of kids playing the game; if that isn't a commerical, I don't know what is.) Unfortunately, this was the era of the so-called "reform" of children's programmng, spearheaded by groups such as the Children's Television Workshop, which in reality served primarily to destroy local children's TV by wiping out the necessary relationship between host and sponsor that kept these shows on the air.

Here is a complete episode of Linus the Lionhearted, including commercials, and you'll notice that the commercials are so well-integrated into the program that it is, indeed, kind of hart to dell where the show leaves off and the commercials begin (although I have no doubt that the savvier kids of today would be able to figure it out). You'll also recognize the aforementioned Sugar Bear, who somehow survived everything and continues (unlike the others) plugging Sugar Crisp before being P.C.'d into its current name, Golden Crisp. I always thought Sugar Bear was supposed to sound like Bing Crosby, and apparently others thought so as well. I don't know why the other characters failed to survive as commercial icons; perhaps someone else has the info.

The question remains though, as it so often does: was the cure worse than the disease? With all the ads that children were subjected to back then (as they continue to be today), were they really better off getting rid of Linus the Lionhearted at the expense of losing the local hosts that provided so much for them? You be the judge. TV  

September 8, 2012

This week in TV Guide: September 7, 1968

Beauty pageants! Monday Night Football!  And the first installment of "Sullivan vs. The Palace." It's all here, and more, in This Week in TV Guide!

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Much like last week, this week’s issue is a transitional one; the old season is over, the new one is about to begin, and the week in-between is filled with specials and one-offs, mostly sports. And we start with royalty.

Once upon a time, the Miss America Pageant was a big, big deal.  It was often the most-watched television special of the year,the winner became an American icon (and often a career in show business) and it made a star out of the marginally-talented Bert Parks.  Actually, there were two hosts of the show; while Parks was the host on the stage, there was also a television hostess (former Miss America Bess Myerson filled the bill in 1968), unseen and unheard by the crowd in the hall, who would talk to the viewers at home and introduce commercials.

There she is - Miss Illinois, Judith Ford,
just named Miss America 1969
I always remembered the pageant as a sign that the new TV season was upon us.  It was held on a Saturday night, extraordinarily late in the evening: 9:00pm in Minneapolis (which meant I'd usually finished my Saturday night bath by then), 10:00pm to midnight at the cavernous Convention Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  I've noticed that things often started later in the evening back then; the Academy Awards started at 10:30 ET, the usual first pitch of a major league baseball game was 8:00pm local time, and the NFL preseason game that CBS broadcast opposite Miss America (Baltimore vs. Dallas) didn't start until 9:30 ET.  It could be that the networks didn't want to pre-empt their regular prime-time schedules, but these specials were inevitably highly-rated.  I think there was a certain sophistication to late-night TV back then; the Tonight show ended at 1:00am in the East, and when I was a kid we didn't stay up until all hours; I only got to see Johnny Carson on Friday nights or during the summer.*

*Speaking of Carson, he was NBC's lead-in to Miss America that year, with a one-hour special from Cypress Gardens in Florida, featuring Vicki Carr and a bunch of water skiers. 

Even now the Miss America pageant was in a state of flux, attacked by feminists as being sexist and hopelessly out-of-date.  According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, "In 1968, about 400 women from the New York Radical Women protested the event on the Atlantic City boardwalk by crowning a live sheep Miss America. They also symbolically trashed a number of feminine products. These included false eyelashes, high-heeled shoes, curlers, hairspray, makeup, girdles, corsets, and bras."  There was no indication of this in TV Guide, of course, but there were other signs of the tumult racking the nation, including a CBS documentary on Friday night entitled "Ordeal of the City."  "[I]ncreasingly, the city has become the home of the poor as the middle class flees to the suburbs.  The city is a place to visit - on the job from 9 to 5 - but no one wants to live there."

And on Monday night at 8 CT, ABC features a half-hour paid political talk by George Wallace, the independent candidate for President, as he presumably tries to introduce his philosophy to a wider audience.  ABC follows it with a comedy featuring Wally Cox asking the question, "Is there really a Generation Gap?"  The country tries to deal with its turmoil by alternately mocking it and offering radical solutions, all on one network in the course of one hour.

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There's a special section in the programming guide devoted to what the local stations are doing for the new season, and in this era before strip syndicated programming became so prevalent, it's interesting to see what showed up outside of network hours. Channel 4, the CBS affiliate, features a series of variety specials called, appropriately, Something Special, plus local coverage of the University of Minnesota football season, and a series of holiday-themed King Family specials. Channel 5, affiliated at the time with NBC, introduced the five-a-week syndicated version of What's My Line? and the first 5pm local newscast, preceding Huntley-Brinkley. Channel 9, then the ABC station, offered Steve Allen's new variety show as a noontime program (I wonder how many markets around the country showed it as a daytime rather than nighttime show?), and Dennis James' All American College Show - check out this clip of the Richard Carpenter Trio., with Richard and Karen Carpenter (!)

Channel 11 was the independent station in the Twin Cities, so of course the majority of their programming consists of reruns of mostly recently cancelled series, including 12 O'Clock High, The Munsters, The Addams Family, Wagon Train, The Invaders and Run For Your Life. To promote their new lineup, they used one of the great taglines of all time.

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Are you ready for some Monday Night Football? While ABC’s series didn’t begin until 1970, that doesn’t mean we didn't have football on Monday night. As we’ve seen in the past, the AFL and NBC were willing to play on unorthodox nights as one way to increase exposure over the rival NFL*, and this opening week of the penultimate AFL season, which had started with a Friday night game between the new Cincinnati Bengals and the San Diego Chargers, ended with an 8pm (CT) telecast of the Kansas City Chiefs vs. the Oilers in the Houston Astrodome.  And boy, the Astrodome was so cool back then.

*Due in part to the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961, which in essence prohibited the NFL from telecasting games on Friday or Saturday nights by blacking out any NFL game played within 75 miles of a high school football game during the prime high school football months of September and October. The Act was passed in response to a court –ordered injunction regarding the NFL’s ability to “pool” its television rights with one network. Since the AFL was not a party to the original injunction, it was not covered by the Act. A sidelight of this is that out of the 15 weeks of the AFL season, only six did not include at least one game played on a day other than Sunday. Since NBC had introduced Monday Night Baseball recently, it's no surprise they'd be interested in football on Monday night as well.

There was other sports this week as well.  On Saturday, CBS telecast the finals of the very first U.S. Open tennis championship, from Forest Hills.  A word of explanation here: this wasn't the first time the U.S. championships had been played, just the first time they'd been open to professionals, who up until then had been prohibited from playing in the major tennis tournaments.  Once a player turned pro, he was barred from competing with amateurs, and was relegated to barnstorming tours and second-rate (and poorly-paying) tournaments.  It was only with the rise of pros such as Rod Laver that organizers realized the increasing difficulty in convincing fans to support a tournament like Wimbleton when the best players were not being allowed to play.  Hence, the U.S. National Championships became the U.S. Open Championships.  And the first winner of the first Open Championship was: an amateur. (Not just any amateur, though, but the soon-to-be great Arthur Ashe.)

Saturday also saw the first of two days of coverage on NBC of the World Series of Golf from the Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.  This tournament existed as recently as a few years ago, when it was subsumed by the World Golf Classic, but the World Series of the 60s was a much different tournament: a 36-hole exhibition, featuring the winners of golf's four major tournaments.  This year's tournament had Bob Goalby (Masters), Lee Trevino (U.S. Open), Julius Boros (PGA) and the winner, Gary Player (British Open).  The World Series was the unofficial end of the golf season.

On Friday night the Twins took on the Red Sox in Boston. Last year at this time the two teams were battling for first place, along with the Tigers and White Sox, in one of the great pennant races of all-time, settled only on the last day of the season. This year things are different; the Twins, who finished a game back of Boston in ’67, will end the season in 7th place, while the Red Sox, who lost a heartbreaking seven-game series to St. Louis, will finish a disappointing fourth.

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By 1968, there were two kinds of variety shows on television: those hosted by a singer or comedian (Dean Martin, Carol Burnett, Glen Campbell, Andy Williams), and those where the emphasis is on the guest stars.  Of the latter, Ed Sullivan had been been around since the 50s, and was the unquestioned king of the hill.  ABC's answer to Sullivan was The Hollywood Palace, which had replaced the doomed Jerry Lewis show in 1964 and ran for seven seasons, most of the time on Saturday night.  Each show prided itself on its big-time guest lineup (accentuated on Palace by the guest host, since there was no permanent emcee; for the record, the most frequent host was Bing Crosby), and it's been a longtime Hadley household game to match up those lineups each week and see which show came out on top.*

*This may tell you more about how easily we're entertained than anything else.  

This week the advantage definitely goes to Sullivan, who features a rerun of a 90-minute all-singing tribute to Irving Berlin, featuring Crosby (singing "White Christmas," of course), Ethel Merman, Robert Goulet, Diana Ross and the Supremes (a Sullivan favorite), and Berlin himself.  Palace would counter with its regular one-hour show, a rerun hosted by Phyllis Diller and featuring "singer Johnny Ray, actor Robert Vaughn, singer-ventriloquist Shari Lewis (and her puppet, Lampchop), comic Charley Manna, and the Sandpipers."  Ed wins, but every week won't be as clear-cut.  We'll include this feature each week that Hollywood Palace and Sullivan air.  Don't miss the next match-up! TV  

September 3, 2012

Time passages

I first saw this commercial on Channel 11, WTCN, in the late summer of 1971.  I'd heard of telethons before, from my mother and grandmother, and knew vaguely that it was some kind of marathon TV program that went on for hours and hours, but I had the idea that it was something from the past, like dance marathons.  So I was intrigued by this, in a big way.  I was also a big Jerry Lewis fan - no, I'm not French, but I was a normal kid* who'd grown up waiting in line at the Riverview and Nile Theaters to see movies like The Disorderly Orderly and The Nutty Professor.  And it was scheduled for Labor Day Weekend, when I'd be enjoying my first day off after having started school the week before.  Oh, this was a winner, all right.  I was hooked (and would remain so for decades), and the show hadn't even started yet.

*Or as normal as you could ever call me.

These were the days when there was still a sense that late-night was for adults, and there was no such thing (at least in Minneapolis) as all-night television.  The thought of watching TV at 3am, while the rest of the neighborhood was sound asleep, was enormously exciting.  I planned to take a nap Sunday afternoon to give me every advantage possible in staying up for the entire 20 hours, but as I recall I was too excited (and too well-rested) to sleep that afternoon, so I'd have to try and go for it for about 38 hours by the time I would be ready for bed Monday evening.

No, I wasn't able to make it all the way through that first telethon - I started fading around 5:00 Monday morning, when I found that I wasn't able to remember how to pronounce the Minnesota town "Mankato."  Next thing I knew it was about three hours later.  I was crushed in the way that only an 11-year-old with no conception of "next year" could be, but at the same time I'd had a blast.  It was the first time I'd ever heard of muscular dystrophy, and I immediately decided it was a charity worth supporting - I even made a $3 pledge on the phone.  My schoolmates and I talked about the show the next day at school, comparing how many hours we'd managed to watch, and  spent the next 11 months counting down the days until Labor Day (along with Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's), vowing that the next time would be different. 

And I made it that next year, but not without a battle.  The battle wasn't with sleep, however, but with TV.  To be sure, Channel 11 would be showing the telethon again, but we wouldn't have Channel 11 - we'd moved to hell on earth, a town with only one television station - and they weren't showing the telethon.  The solution (and I don't know how my mother ever put up with my childish eccentrities for so long) was to rent a room at a nearby motel, one that had access to the Minneapolis TV stations.  In that room, complete with room service, we spent Sunday and Monday, and I watched my telethon.

We did that for a couple more years, and then I began to appreciate the absurdity of the situation.  I didn't see the telethon until 1978, when we'd moved back to the cities as I began college, and the fun was back on.  The show was different by then; variety shows were pretty much dead by then and Jerry had moved the show from New York to Vegas to be closer to the casinos that offered the kind of entertainment that featured on the show.  There were still stars, singers and dancers and Sammy and Frank (and even Dean one year) and the rest, but as that kind of entertainment went out of style, the show became more and more populated by, what seemed to me, talent that probably played the lounge rather than the main room.  By the time I stopped watching the show full-time, there just wasn't much to see.  Even then, I tried to watch an hour or so, but it was mostly for old times' sake.

And then last year it ended, when MDA dumped Jerry.  That whole debate is for another day, but the lack of transparency on the part of the charity's management troubles me; if they aren't forthcoming on the details of this, are we sure that they can be trusted in the rest of their dealings?  So for the last couple of years I haven't given to MDA, and until I'm satisfied things are still on the up-and-up I probably won't.

I still have those childhood memories, though, of both the good years and the not-so-good, and so for me Labor Day will always means something special.  And I'll always thank Jerry for that. TV

September 1, 2012

This week in TV Guide: September 3, 1966

It's the last week of summer reruns, but before the 1966 TV season officially gets started, ABC fills the airwaves with sneak previews of its most anticipated new shows, including the Batman-inspired The Green Hornet (one season), Hawk (the Burt Reynolds one-season bomb), The Time Tunnel (yep - one season) and That Girl (a genuine hit), and season premieres of the aforementioned Batman, F Troop (final season) and 12 O'Clock High (final season). 

Of course, there was also The Tammy Grimes Show (which, in an era when the worst shows usually made it at least 13 weeks, was cancelled after only four), The Milton Berle Show (which ran only 17 weeks, a disasterous comeback for Uncle Miltie), Robert Lansing's The Man Who Never Was (18 weeks), and The Pruitts of Southampton (aka The Phyllis Diller Show, which at least made it the whole season)Notice a theme with ABC shows?  (Hint: it involves "one season.") You can read more about what became of ABC's season here.

Not to be outdone, NBC has their own "Sneak a Peek" at three of its new offerings, as well as an ad hyping next week's premiere of The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. with Stefanie Powers [*sigh*] and Noel "Windmills of Your Mind" Harrison. Two of the sneak peeks are fair-to-middling: Tarzan, with Ron Ely, and The Hero, with Richard Mulligan. The third? Well, let's just say it boldly went where no man had gone before.

Which of these shows are not like the others? Which of these shows just don't belong?

Interestingly enough, CBS doesn't have any teasers, other than its Fall Preview show, which WCCO airs at 12:30 on Sunday afternoon. Apparently the Tiffany Network felt it didn't need to work that hard on introducing its new series. However, since I spare no effort for my devoted fans, you can watch that show right here:

But while we're saying hello to a host of new shows, we're also saying goodbye to some old favorites: Branded (replaced by Hey Landlord), The Donna Reed Show and Ozzie and Harriet (bumped in favor of Shane, starring the pre-Kung Fu David Carradine, My Favorite Martian (replaced by It's About Time), and Perry Mason (Garry Moore moved into the timeslot). That last episode of Mason, by the way, is a rerun of "The Case of the Deadly Verdict" - that's the one where Perry actually loses to Hamilton Burger, because his client won't level with him. Don't worry, though - Perry finds out who did it anyway, and gets his client out of the slammer before they throw her in the gas chamber. All in all, I'm not sure the new shows were an upgrade on the old.

Many of these programs have episodes (or at least clips) on YouTube - after you're done reading here, mosey on over and take a look.
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There are several mentions of the upcoming Gemini XI launch, the penultimate launch of the Project Gemini program, which was scheduled for Friday, September 9. In fact, it wouldn't take off until the following Sunday, the 11th, with Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon aboard. I'm sure, considering the number of reruns on the remaineder of the TV schedule, that the networks probably would have preferred the launch take place on time - after all, there wasn't much else to watch.

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Today the NFL makes a big deal of its Thursday-night* prime time kickoff, but that was nothing compared to the AFL's opening weekend in 1966. The "other league" gets the jump on the NFL with a tripleheader, beginning the previous Friday and Saturday nights and concluding with Sunday's matchup between the Buffalo Bills and San Diego Chargers, two of the AFL's dominant teams. But that isn't all, as NBC is back this week with another Friday night game, between Joe Namath's New York Jets and the brand-new Miami Dolphins. The NFL, meanwhile, wouldn't start until September 10.

*Except for this year, when opening night was moved to Wednesday to avoid a conflict with President Obama's convention acceptance speech. Instead, the Giants and Cowboys will conflict with Bill Clinton's convention speech instead.

Appropos for the start of the season is Stanley Frank's behind-the-scenes cover story of how CBS and NBC influenced the NFL-AFL merger. Not surprisingly, it had a lot to do with money. Back then, the NFL (which became the NFC after the merger) was shown by CBS, while the AFL (which became the AFC) was on NBC. Now, of course, the AFC is on CBS, the NFC is on FOX, and Sunday Night Football is on NBC. Got it? 

One interesting sidebar to the TV debate concerns the blackout policy that existed back in the day. Nowadays games are blacked out in the home market only if they aren't sold out (and even this policy has been liberalized), but back then not only were those games blacked out regardless of how many tickets had been sold, you couldn't see any other game on TV at that time either. How times have changed - and yet, I suspect there was some progressive owner out there who was envisioning something like Sunday Ticket, and seeing dollar signs.

Elsewhere in the shiny section, Dwight Whitney profiles Eva Gabor and tells us how Green Acres changed her life, Edith Efron writes on the singing heartthrob Jack Jones, and the recipie section gives us new uses for apples. (Apple-Stuffed Roast Chicken and Zesty Apple Dumplings; write me for the recipies.) Finally, Monica Furlong, TV critic for the British humour magazine Punch, discusses the best and worst of American TV as seen on British TV. Her likes: The Virginian ("the British have learned more about the roots of American life, with its neighborliness, its idealism and its guts, from watching The Virginian than from any number of self-conscious cultural exchanges."), The Defenders (which has "a basic honesty - they debate things like drug addiction, mob law, violence, with a passionate sincerity.") and The Dick Van Dyke Show ("we have never yet managed to produce a native television family of undisputed charm."). Dislikes: Perry Mason ("rolls on interminably, Perry and Della linked as platonically as ever.") and The Fugitive ("[older] ladies want to mother him, the younger ones want to love him, and I suspect that the men would probably quite like to hunt him."). But her favorite?  "The wit, the grace, the charm, of Yogi Bear, Augie Doggie, Snaglepuss and all the rest" of the Hanna-Barbera cartoons - "the best productions, from any source, which we see on our television screens." TV