April 5, 2014

This week in TV Guide: April 9, 1966

We're a hard lot to please, aren't we? First we wonder when TV's going to give us new movies, and now we complain about the ones they won't let us see!  It sounds a lot more sinister (or provocative) than it really is.

For the most part, we're talking about movies that don't appear on TV because of rights problems of one kind or another, something we've gotten all too used to when it comes to the release of DVDs. The Cat and the Canary, a 1939 flick with Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard, 1947's Life With Father with William Powell, Irene Dunne and Elizabeth Taylor, and Irving Berlin's This Is the Army are among dozens of movies that have fallen victim to the inability to reach an agreement with the rights owners, usually the widows or estates of the authors.

Other movies are no-shows for various reasons: Anna and the King of Siam was kept from television so it wouldn't compete with its musical version, The King and I.  The Buccaneer, The Desert Song, and So Big are among films that the studios themselves have withheld in order to protect remakes.  And when movies are remade - Show Boat, Cimarron, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, for example - the originals are often shelved to avoid confusion, or have their names changed - the original State Fair, starring Dana Andrews and Jeanne Crain, became It Happened One Summer to differentiate it from the newer version, with Pat Boone.  Blockbusters from years past - Gone with the Wind, the Disney movies like Pinocchio, Bambi, Snow White - are re-released periodically, and as long as they continue to make money for their studios, they'll be MIA on TV.

Have no fear, though; there's confidence that many, if not all, of these movies will eventually make it to the small screen - one way or another.  For example, a note elsewhere in this issue tells us that ABC has just paid a reported $2 million for the rights to the Oscar-winning Bridge on the River Kwai.  I just checked: you can get it today at Amazon for $8.48 and watch it as often as you want.


During the 60s, the Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace were the premiere variety shows on television. Whenever they appear in TV Guide together, we'll match them up and see who has the best lineup.
Sullivan: Scheduled guests: comic Alan King; Count Basie and his band; dancer José Greco; actor Eddie Albert, who reads James Weldon Johnson's dramatic narrative "The Creation"; English comedian Richard Pryor; Brusini, a magician; and Anden's Poodles.

Palace: Host Gene Barry presents comedian Wally Cox; the singing McGuire Sisters; Dodger pitching stars Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, who join Milton Berle in a comedy sketch; Tim Conway, who portrays the inventor of a matchmaking machine; the Mamas and Papas; the Lenz Chimps; and the Hildalys, French high-wire motorcyclists.

Good lineups this week.  Most of you know I'm a Gene Barry fan, and Tim Conway is presumably is usually funny self.  Koufax and Drysdale are appearing during their joint holdout against the Los Angeles Dodgers, when they were trying to demonstrate to management that they had other options.  They didn't, and while Drysdale had a so-so year, Koufax went on to win 27 games with only a week's spring training.

But I'm going with Ed this week.  Alan King, whom I also like, Count Basie, who's always a must-see, José Greco, one of the great dancers of his time, and Eddie Albert - whom I'm not particularly a fan of, but Johnson's "The Creation" is an appropriate choice for Easter.  (And probably would have been better read by Tennessee Ernie Ford.)  I don't know about that "English" comedian Richard Pryor, though.  Can they be talking about him?  The verdict:  Sullivan.


Speaking of Easter - as was the case with last week's issue, this Sunday is Easter.  But whereas Easter Sunday 1958 was chock full of religious programming, it's a different story in 1966.  There's a morning concert of Easter music by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on CBS, a an afternoon music program on NBC, a presentation of the drama "The Easter Angel" on ABC, and "The Triumphant Hour," the story of the Resurrection (featuring Raymond Burr as Peter) on Family Theater.  Locally, the Gustavus Adolphus choir sings Easter music on Channel 4, as does the Spooner High School choir on Channel 10 in Duluth.  And that's about it.  There are a couple of local church services, but those are on every Sunday, Easter or not. Interesting, don't you think?

So what else is on Sunday?  Well, the Stanley Cup playoffs on NBC (joined in progress, as was the practice with Hockey Night in Canada until 1968), the NBA playoffs on ABC, and The Masters are on CBS (as they were last week).  And at 3pm CT on ABC, it's a repeat of Lady Bird Johnson's tour of Washington, DC, spotlighting her beautification campaign for the nation's capital.


I like to think of 1966 as a bit of a cultural watershed, at least on television, a time when the realities of the 60s and the remants of the 50s coexisted on our screens.  It's the final season for ABC's The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (which debuted on the network in 1952, and has made the transition to color for its final season) and The Donna Reed Show (which started on ABC in 1958), but it's clear that the traditional family sitcom is living on borrowed time.  At the same time, and on the same network, ABC Scope reports on "the war's effects on the Vietnamese peasant."  Although the war still has support from a majority of the American population, protest is in the air; later in the year Muhammad Ali will refuse military induction, and the next year Martin Luther King will come out against the war.  A series on NET called Radical Americans examines "the positions of campus leftists and the traditional members of the Communist Party and the Progressive Labor Party."  And those kids who are part of the post-Korea boom, the age portrayed on Ozzie and Harriet and Donna Reed, will be part of the revolution.

Children's programming still populates the after-school hours; Bozo, Popeye, Captain Atom, Casey and Roundhouse, Bart's Clubhouse among them.  Barbara Eden still can't show her naval in I Dream of Jeannie, and Lawrence Welk and his Music Makers still entertain on Saturday nights.  Cowboys, doctors and cops take up significant space on the nightly grid, along with ABC's pair of "adult" dramas, Peyton Place and The Long Hot Summer, starring this week's cover star, Roy Thinnes.  Combat and Twelve O'Clock High tell the story of World War II, while Gomer Pyle portrays life in the stateside camp, with nary a hint of Vietnam in the air, and Gunsmoke's stalwart Matt Dillon shares the network with the James Bondian stars of The Wild, Wild West.

The phrase "ln Living Color" is no longer uncommon, as all three networks have liberally integrated their lineups with colorcasts - and yet prime time has yet to fully convert from black and white, with shows from Secret Agent and I Dream of Jeannie to The Fugitive and F Troop yet to make the transition.  Individual stations face the same difficulties - joint NBC/ABC affiliate KCMT in Alexandria broadcasts color programs such as The FBI and Run For Your Life in black and white, and KSTP is the only Twin Cities station to air its local newscasts in color.  Of course, there are countless B&W programs in syndication from years past, shows like The Untouchables and Wanted - Dead or Alive that are part of the classic TV lexicon today, but remain a staple of local programming until the color era renders many of them obsolete.

An interesting time, don't you think?


A short note on sports - the Minnesota Twins have released their television schedule for the 1966 season. The team, coming off their 1965 American League pennant and heartbreaking World Series loss to the Koufax-led Los Angeles Dodgers, will be television a total of 50 games this season, four at home and 46 on the road.  By contrast, how many of the Twins games will be on TV this year?  I believe, including games that might be carried on national and regional telecasts, that number would be 162 - in other words, all of them.  Whereas Channel 11 was the flagship Twins broadcaster in 1966 (and for many years afterward), today's games are carried on OTA stations, cable networks, and more.

And the start date of the 1966 Twins season?  Opening Day, against the Kansas City Athletics, is April 19 - in contrast to this year's Twins opener, which was played on March 31.


Sometimes we run into those "where are they now" moments, when we read about someone who was supposed to become the Next Big Thing, someone that we've never heard of and has an IMDb listing of one or two lines.  An example would be heavyweight boxer Jim Beattie, featured in Friday night's ABC documentary "The Big Guy".  The show covers Beattie's preparation for an upcoming fight against journeyman Dick Wipperman.  Beattie, who weighs in at 6' 9" and 240, is touted as a future contender for the heavyweight crown, but his career never really fulfills that early promise - he retires in 1979 with a record of 40-10, with his closest whiff of the crown coming in the 1970 James Earl Jones movie The Great White Hope, where Beattie plays "the Kid."

By contrast, later that night NET features a concert by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Zubin Mehta.  Mehta is only 29 and is viewed as a rising star, and that view more than comes to fruition.  Over the course of a long and successful career, Mehta becomes the Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, holding the position for longer than anyone else, and wins additional fame for his appearances conducting the Three Tenors.  For his work with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and others, he receives a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  And to top it off, he's married to TV and film star Nancy Kovack.


The ratings system has been a bone of contention almost from the beginning of television.  Throughout these TV Guides, one reads of complaints from creative artists, producers, viewers and critics about the pernicious influence of ratings, particularly the tendency of networks to dumb down programming in order to attract the lowest common denominator.  One look at 1966's programs would tend to reinforce this thought, from the cornpone humor of The Beverly Hillbillies to the escapism of Jeannie and Batman.  Some of the shows are more intelligent, more literate, than others, but nobody's calling 1966 a new Golden Age of Television. I can only imagine that this next story must add some fuel to the fire.

Seems that a man named Rex Sparger is admitting - boasting, if you want to be honest - about how he rigged television's ratings four separate times.  Sparger, who's currently the object of a $1,500,000 lawsuit by A.C. Nielsen as well as a subject of interest to the FCC and various members of Congress, allegedly mailed questionnaires to 58 Nielsen families, accompanied by $3 and a request to watch Carol Channing's recent ABC variety special, with the promise of an additional $5 if they complete and return the questionnaire.  In addition to the Channing show, he lays claim to rigging the ratings of Bob Hope's Vietnam show and two other programs he won't name - "I want to see if Nielsen can find out which ones they were."

Sparger says he did it "to expose the ratings and to obtain material for a book he's writing, 'How to Rig TV Ratings for Fun and Profit."  Eventually, as Hugh Beville's book Audience Ratings documents, Sparger admitted everything "and was enjoined from writing or publishing books or articles referring directly or indirectly to Nielsen without referring them to [the accounting firm] Ernst & Ernst" which would check said writing for "false and libelous" statements about the company.  In return, Nielsen dropped the claim for punitive damages.

Which, I suppose, explains why How to Rig TV Ratings for Fun and Profit doesn't show up at Amazon. TV  


  1. Roy Thinnes is from Chicago and is alive and well today....

  2. My reverse march continues ...

    The Rex Sparger "expose" went nowhere, to nobody's surprise.
    The one question no one asked:
    Why did Sparger choose to "rig" the numbers on shows that were likely to draw big numbers anyway?
    Carol Channing's special - which was on CBS, by the way - was her first such appearance in many years. General Foods sponsored it, and gave it promotional support well above and beyond the line of duty, both on-air and in print. The ad spots put Channing together with the stars of GF's many other CBS shows - exactly the sort of thing that GF's AdMen would make a legitimate survey topic.
    Bob Hope was at his peak in those days; his series and specials almost always won their timeslots by wide margins, and the annual Vietnam special usually was the number one show (or close to it) for its week.
    My point: If Sparger wanted to prove his point about rig-ability, why didn't he choose shows that ordinarily didn't rate well? Heaven knows there were more than enough candidates in those three-network days.

    I'm pretty much flying blind with this new confuser (a term I borrowed from the late Bob Collins, a Chicago radio guy of long standing), and one of the things I've having trouble figuring out is E-mail.
    Consequently, those "off-line requests" you mentioned elsewhere are out of my reach - for now, anyway.

    Back to excavations ...

  3. Regarding Frank McGee and the assassination of President Kennedy - Walter Cronkite and CBS seem to get most of the attention these days when people bring up TV's coverage of that terrible weekend, with special reference to Cronkite's catch-in-the-voice thing when he announced the death. But NBC's coverage was every bit as good. I particularly recall Frank McGee (who, as you note, made a special effort to bring fresh viewers up to speed on what was going on) and Edwin Newman, who was a powerfully somber presence (I seem to recall Newman anchoring coverage of the funeral on Monday but I could be wrong). Also Chet Huntley and David Brinkley of course. The overall NBC television news operation by 1963 had caught up with CBS and perhaps surpassed it in some areas (coverage of civil rights). CBS had the great tradition for broadcast news, dating to Edward R. Murrow and his boys broadcasting from Europe during WWII, but NBC in the early '60s was awash in cash because of the success of Huntley/Brinkley (who consistently beat Cronkite in the ratings). NBC was hiring top people - John Chancellor, Sander Vanocur (who was very good despite being in the Kennedy's pocket a lot of the time). My family in St. Paul watched NBC's coverage exclusively that weekend. One factor in this might have been the giant KSTP antennae on University Avenue - the KSTP/NBC signal was 25 percent better than WCCO/CBS.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!