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!

* * *

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Even now the Miss America pageant was in a state of flux, attacked by feminists as being sexist and hopelessly out-of-date.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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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  

1 comment:

  1. The original World Series of Golf format ran until 1976, when the invitational format began (and had a name change when it became a WGC tournament). The original format returned in 1991 with the new name, the PGA Grand Slam of Golf. (There were events in 1979 and most of the 1980's but they were one-round tournaments, and two 1990's matches were match play.)

    The AFL wasn't treated much as a rival in 1961, and the NFL and AFL didn't think merger until later in the decade.

    Now CBS and the USTA are thinking Sunday/Monday finals for tennis. Monday Night Tennis? Five consecutive years of Monday finishes has forced the USTA to officially contemplate making the CBS deal a Monday night deal. Furthermore, it's rerun season still, so it's worth a try.

    Ironically, some of the complaints about Fox NASCAR broadcaster Darrell Waltrip comes from his work substituting as host on Ralph Emery's variety show. Sometimes, I wonder what would have happened if MTV hadn't messed with CBS in the late 1990's; might he have had a variety show himself?

    Miss America has fallen to the point now that it is now held in January during "hype week" on ABC in Las Vegas. How far have we fallen when every great event in the East Coast and Midwest have now moved to Las Vegas over money?


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!