August 30, 2014

This week in TV Guide: August 30, 1980

So just how smart are these televisions of 1981, anyway? Well, for starters, they've got computers! And keypads have replaced dials! Now you can use your TV's remote to tune your cable stations! And some models even offer stereo sound! Is there no end to this technology?

Most of the technological advances discussed in this issue have to do with refining color and adding inputs in the rear of the television for the discerning technophile's VCR or laserdisk.  I shouldn't really make fun of this; I was around in these days, and I remember being as impressed as anyone by these advances.  But what interests me most about this article is that there's no attempt at forecasting the future, envisioning television screens as large as walls, or anything like that.  It would have been fun, as always, to see just how close they came to predicting the future.

In the end, though, it's true that all of these advances have been incorporated into today's televisions as a fundamental part what makes TV work, and without them we probably wouldn't have what we enjoy today.


Herminio Traviesas tells us what it's like to be a network censor, or as the headline puts it, "the thankless task of cleaning up everyone else's act."  Traviesas is the former vice president of Broadcast Standards for NBC, which means one of the shows under his purview is Saturday Night Live, enough to give anyone a headache.

It's interesting getting a look at the SNL skits that Traviesas vetoed - for example, the one that made fun of the plight of the Iran hostages, proposed shortly after the militants seized the U.S. Embassy.  Or the skit in the wake of the Jim Jones massacre in Guyana, when the show wanted to use it as imagery to represent the large number of shows NBC had just cancelled.  That one might make it through today, but I think the hostage bit probably would never have a chance - it's fine to use the historical event in a movie such as Argo, but for humor?  Likely not.

Traviesas also tells of a line that he vetoed from the old Laugh-In show, belonging to Henry Gibson's meek pastor, who would have said, "I don't understand members of my flock who on Saturday sow their wild oats and on Sunday pray for crop failure."  That one definitely would make it today; in fact, even if Gibson's pastor was a Catholic priest, they'd probably let it go.

Lest you think Traviesas' job was limited to the series that one might expect to be pushing the envelope of good taste, he throws this one in, from The Dean Martin Show.  Seems that one year Dean's producer, Greg Garrison, wanted to open every show in a bar.  Traviesas explained to him why this couldn't be done - "community standards, the feminist movement, the plight of alcoholics," and so on.  That probably wouldn't be an issue today; you'd likely have to glamorize it in a setting other than that of a successful variety show headed by a man known for having a fondness for drink.  At any rate, Garrison wasn't having any of it, either.  "Last year," he told Traviesas, his voice rising, "you took away the braods.  Now you want to take away the booze.  What have I got left?"

The show that gave Traviesas the most problems?  None other than Johnny Carson's Tonight Show.  Johnny would, on occasion, throw out a word that he knew wouldn't make it past the censor, but he used it to get a rise out of the studio audience.  He was cool with it being bleeped out of the show.  His guests, however, weren't as understanding, as in the case of one who used a word which, interpolating the context of the story Traviesas relates, I would guess was "ass."  You hear a lot worse today on family shows, but this one got the boot.  (Kind of nice, when you think about it.)  Says Traviesas, tongue-in-cheek, "I just made another momentous policy decision for NBC."


That really bad artist's depiction on the cover (the colors are all wrong) can mean only one thing: time for Melvin Durslag to pick this year's NFL winners.  If I have the issue from a few weeks hence, we'll probably run across several letters critiquing Durslag's picks, using the most colorful imagery available to a family magazine.  However, we'll just have to make due with comparing his predictions to what really happens.

For instance, Durslag has as his three AFC division winners New England, Pittsburgh and San Diego.  That actually sounds as if it would be a good bet today as well, doesn't it?  In fact, however, of the three only the Chargers made it to the playoffs; both the Patriots and Steelers had winning records that would probably have gotten them into the playoffs nowadays, but back then there were only three divisions and two wild cards, so New England's 10-6 and Pittsburgh's 9-7 were just not good enough.

Over in the NFC, Durslag faired no better.  Of his division winners - Philadelphia, Chicago and New Orleans - only the Eagles came out on top (and they'll go all the way to the Super Bowl, before falling to the Oakland Raiders, whom Durslag had finishing third in the AFC West).  The Saints, who Durslag saw as a team possibly on the rise, finished with a record of 1-15 - the absolute worst in football.  They didn't call them the 'Aints for nothing.

Of interest is Durslag's commentary on ABC's Monday Night Football.  The franchise is still going strong, with Fran Tarkenton filling in for Don Meredith in nearly half the games.  But there are possible cracks in the foundation, mostly pointing back to Howard Cosell.  It's true that ad rates for MNF have risen from $65,000 a minute to $230,000 a minute today.*  But for the first time the ratings have slipped a little, and CBS Radio, also carrying the games, reported a record audience.  Stories are that people watch the picture on ABC but turn down the sound to favor CBS.  No such long-term worries, though - MNF (now seen on ESPN) and its progeny,  NBC's Sunday Night Football, continue to rule the ratings roost for their networks.

*The prorated figure today is nearly $1.2 million, by contrast.


It's Labor Day Weekend, which back in the day meant only one thing: the Jerry Lewis Telethon.  If I can digress for a moment and give a personal opinion, I'm still offended by the way in which the Muscular Dystrophy Association gave Lewis the heave-ho after so many decades of service, making a heretofore unknown disease into one of America's Charities (if that isn't too crass a way of putting it; it isn't meant to be).  The MDA Telethon was an institution, and now it's little more than an infomercial.  The failure of MDA to disclose the reasons for the change don't say much for the organization's definition of transparency either, enough so that we've stopped giving to them.  For all the criticism Jerry Lewis took over the years, there was never a shred of evidence of any financial impropriety, a rarity for any charity nowadays, and given MDA's tight-lipped response, it would cause one to wonder how reputable the agency is in handling its donations with Lewis gone.  The sad part of this is that it's the kids, as always, that suffer.  I know they're still taking in a lot of money (although I've heard that the conversation rates on pledges is much lower than previously; whether that's an urban myth or not I don't know), but they're not getting any of ours.

Be that as it may, there's no doubt that the show's quality declined over the years, which isn't surprising given the shift in entertainment, away from variety shows and toward Vegas entertainers that no longer carry the cache in mainstream America that they once did.  The 1980 lineup features some big names, including Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Liza Minnelli, John and Patty Duke Astin, Johnny and June Carter Cash, Tony Bennett, Paul McCartney, and more.  Now, there was an actors strike that year, so it's possible not everyone appeared, but it's still a pretty good lineup.  I'm fairly sure I watched the Telethon that year - it might have been one of the last times I decided to make a go of it and watch the whole 21+ hours without sleep.  I could do that back in my younger days, you know.  The haul that year was $31,103,787.


I realize I've gotten this far, and I really haven't talked a bit about what's on television.  Hmm.

Saturday:  Not a program, but one of those "Vital Statistics" that TV Guide used to insert into the programming guide to fill space.  According to the Screen Actor's Guild, "Although they are a full one-third of this Nation's population, people under the age of 19 make up only one-tenth of television's fictional population."  I wonder if that's still true today - it sure seems as if there are more youngsters, or adults playing teens, than there used to be.  At least as far as the IQ of today's shows, we can rest assured that teens are well-represented.

Sunday:  For a minute I thought I was in PBS Pledge Week territory, but no - this program appears on WEAU, the NBC affiliate in Eau Claire.  It's called The Neal Sedaka Touch, a special starring the early '60s pop singer whose career underwent a renaissance in the '70s, but who's now on the downslide of that comeback.  He's joined by Andy GIbb and the Captain and Tennille, and Neil's daughter Dara, with whom he recorded one of his big comeback hits, "Should've Never Let You Go."  I was never a big fan of Sedaka, but never had anything against him, either.  WEAU aired this essentially as a warm-up for the Telethon.

Also on Sunday, an episode of William F. Buckley Jr.'s Firing Line on PBS features Buckley's tribute to liberal activist Allard Lowenstein, who'd been murdered five months earlier.  I include this because it shows how much politics has changed since the '80s; Lowenstein and Buckley were about as far apart politically as could be.  Buckley was the author of the nation's conservative movement, while Lowenstein was a former congressman and head of Americans for Democratic Action.  Yet he was also a frequent guest on Firing Line, and the two men maintained a mutual respect despite their political differences.  According to Buckley, Lowenstein "spent a praiseworthy and highly unusual amount of time listening to his constituents' complaints and trying to redress their grievances and injustices one-to-one, face-to-face."  That, Buckley said, was a reason why he endorsed Lowenstein's reelection effort.  Buckley was one of the eulogists at Lowenstein's funeral; here's a clip from the episode of Firing Line in question.

I wonder how many on either the right or left are like Buckley and Lowenstein today?

Monday:  It's Labor Day, which means regular programming is subject to change.  The Telethon continues on many channels, both independent and network affiliate.  The CBS stations are covering the start of the second week of the U.S. Open tennis championship, with the broadcast starting at 11:30am CT and continuing through to 5:30, although WCCO bails out at 3pm to present The Joker's Wild followed by The John Davidson Show.  Until I started rereading the early '80s issues, I'd completely forgotten that John Davidson had taken over for Mike Douglas on the Group W stations.  He had the whole format down, from the 90-minute timespot to the celebrity co-host.  John didn't have Mike's easy charm or appeal, though, and the show ended after two seasons.  I never really liked John Davidson, by the way; nothing against him personally, but something about him always rubbed me the wrong way.

Labor Day sports include a matinee between the Cubs and Braves, tying up both WGN and WTBS for the afternoon, and a live broadcast of the All American Futurity quarter horse race from Ruidoso Downs, New Mexico.  It was billed as the richest event in horse racing, and was broadcast at 7pm on KMSP, Channel 9.  I always coupled the Futurity with the Telethon back in the day; I didn't consider my marathon TV watching complete unless I was able to make it through the race as well.*

*I was so disappointed the first time I saw the race; it was the first time I'd ever seen a quarter horse race, and I wasn't expecting the even shorter-than-usual event.  All this for a million bucks? I thought.

Tuesday:  It occurs to me that I've neglected to give you the biggest television story of the week, the continuing actors strike, which has indefinitely postponed the start of the new television season.  As such, we're stuck with reruns, bad television movies, and reruns of bad television movies.  Tonight we get part 1 of the massive war epic Midway on NBC, the disease-of-the-week drama "Echoes of a Summer Night" on CBS (salvaged by a cast including Richard Harris, Lois Nettleton and Jodie Foster), and reruns of staples like Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley and The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo.  And you wonder why I don't spend much time on television of the '80s?

Wednesday:  An NBC White Paper looks at the influence of Fidel Castro, "the spiritual godfather of every leftist revolution in Latin America."  Back then, the U.S. still fought against Communist insurgents, particularly in this hemisphere.  On the flip side, a coterie of stations present night two of telecasts from Billy Graham's crusade in Edmonton.

Thursday:  PBS' afternoon talk-show lineup features a couple of episodes worth watching; Hugh Downs' interview with Peter Pan herself, Mary Martin, and her son, Dallas' own Larry Hagman.  Following that, Dick Cavett's show talks with the great opera baritone Sherrill Milnes, and there were few better than him.

Friday:  The action's all on late-night this time: Bob Hope is Johnny's guest on The Tonight Show, while CBS' late night features a classic Steed-Mrs. Peel episode of The Avengers, followed by part 1 of the Charlton Heston-Sophia Loren epic El Cid.  And if that isn't enough for you, the classic sci-fi movie The Incredible Shrinking Man airs on WGN.  In a week of reruns, it proves that the classics can still be the best thing on TV. TV  

August 28, 2014

Summer reruns: What's in a name?

When people find out I write about television, especially from the era of the 50s and 60s, I’m inevitably asked whether or not I’ve ever seen Mad Men. The truth of it is: I haven’t. I’m not really sure why; I did see an episode early on, but for whatever reason I decided I wasn’t going to make it appointment television, the way I have, say, Top Gear.

There was another reason as well; I've always been apprehensive about programs (or books or movies) that attempt to recreate a period from the past while applying the conventions or mores of the present.  From what I've read, this does happen from time to time, which may or may not affect your enjoyment of the program, depending on your perspective.

I've always thought that if you wanted to see how things were in the '50s, the best way to do it was from the media of that time.  A television show, or magazine article, or newspaper advertisement, from that era, is as likely to tell you something significant about the time as anything we can contribute now.  That doesn't mean there isn't room for historical analysis, as it were - often, we can't gain perspective on a given period until we've had a certain passage of time.  But, and I think this is crucial, we need to apply our modern sensibilities to our understanding of it, not our portrayal.

In other words, we know that society's treatment of women and minorities was often lacking in this time period.  We know this because of a certain enlightenment, a deeper understanding of human rights, the examples set by others.  But if the screenwriter is to accurately portray these events, he cannot allow that knowledge to inhabit the minds of his characters.  Otherwise, he runs the risk of allowing the portrayal to become not insightful, but ironic.  And you often wind up not with a snapshot of a moment in time, but an allegory.  Nevertheless, I can appreciate what I've heard and read about the quality of Mad Men, and I've kept up with the talk about it enough to have a somewhat good idea of what it's about and where the various storylines go, so I'll probably rent it at some point and watch it from the start.

But I have to admit that my appetite has been whetted a bit by this wonderful post from the always-interesting Stephen Bowie, who speculates on how one would have cast Mad Men if it were being made in the same time period in which it takes place.  It's great fun looking at the names Stephen and his readers come up with (be sure and read the combox!) - some of them major stars, others character actors who pop up in small but crucial roles in so many of the series of that time - and by imagining how they'd play the role, it gives us a pretty good idea of what these Mad Men characters are like, even if we haven't seen the show.

We can, and should, do this with other shows as well, but in reverse: imagine who would play Lucy and Desi, or Colonel Hogan, or The FBI's Lew Erskine, or Mike Nelson in Sea Hunt.  The list, and the fun, is endless.  Be sure and check Stephen out, and then be prepared to check out Mad Men as well - maybe you, too, will find yourself doing it earlier than you'd planned.

August 26, 2014

The day in TV: Monday, August 25, 1958

We haven't done this for awhile, looked at a specific broadcasting day from this week's TV Guide, and since I'm actually on vacation as you read this, it seems like a sensible time to revisit the practice.

Actually, this week is a special week; most of the time, I just give you the Twin Cities listings for a given day.  However, this being 1958, there are few enough stations in the listing, and some of them only broadcasting a half-day, that I'm going to give you everything in the guide, with assorted notes to follow!

August 23, 2014

This week in TV Guide: August 23, 1958

It's one last look back at the '50s before we plunge ahead into the '70s and '80s over the next few weeks, so let's enjoy the ride while we can.

I've mentioned in the past how different television was in this era.  Fewer stations, of course, but more divided affiliates (particularly ABC, who was lucky to fit programming where they could), and far less uniformity in the times that shows were aired.  It's fun, though, at least for this week, because of the number of programs spotlighted in the as-yet unnamed "Close Up."

Mr. Waverly - don't!  For those of us that are a certain age, Leo G. Carroll is best-known as Mr. (Alexander) Waverly on The Man From U.N.C.L.E.  Other classic TV fans will remember him as Cosmo Topper in the series of the same name, spun off from the movie.  But in Monday's Studio One presentation "Bellingham" on CBS, he plays a quite different role - that of a killer.  "You wouldn't suspect that Bellingham is anything but what he appears to be - a conscientious and sensitive master in an English boarding school.  Actually he also leads another life entirely.  He hates evil political leaders, and belongs to a group determined to eliminate them by assassination."  As far as I know, that group isn't called T.H.R.U.S.H.  This actually sounds like a pretty interesting episode - unfortunately, we probably have to travel to the UCLA Film and Television Archive to see it.


Here's your hat, what's your hurry?  On Wednesday, CBS' U.S. Steel Hour, which is always labeled "Drama," presents what is clearly a comedy, "Be My Guest."  Starring Larry Blyden, the plot concerns Harvey and Jeannie Kent, who invite a couple to stay in their Connecticut estate guest house while they look for a new place to live.  Hijinks naturally ensue when that couple, Stewart and Mary Potter, take over the Kent's guest house, car, telephone and friends.  Ominously, the description concludes with Kent leaving home "to develop a suitable scheme" to get rid of them.  Comedy or not, I could easily see this on Alfred Hitchcock, taking a much darker turn than it likely took here.  Again, your guess is as good as mine as to whether or not it all ends in tears.

Elliot Ness was right!  On Friday, NBC presents a documentary on the Mafia entitled "Paper Saints."  Frank McGee narrates the half-hour program, which looks at the roots of the Mafia in Italy, follows their establishment in the United States, and explores the connection between the mob and organized crime.  Despite my joke there at the beginning, the show actually predates The Untouchables by over a year, although many of the mobsters mentioned in this documentary will find themselves later "portrayed" in the series.

As I say, they aren't called Close Ups yet, but TV Guide clearly wants to call attention to them as among the best shows of the week.  They may well have been right.


Besides the Close Ups, there are some fun ads for shows on the air this week.  Let's take a look at some of them.

This first one is a reminder to parents that nothing prepares a youngster for success more than an after-school job delivering TV Guides.  I remember paper boys, milkmen, even the Fuller Brush man - but I don't recall anyone ever delivering our TV Guide except the mailman.  Has anyone ever met one?

This ad for next week's issue promises tips on how to write Westerns for television.  It's probably supposed to be funny (and may or may not have been successful).  But on the other hand, who knows?  TV's filled with them right now.  Maybe they're really begging for more writers to help them out?

For example: even this Listerine ad references a Western, The Restless Gun, starring John Payne - who eventually found life on the range unsatisfying, went to law school, and eventually defended Kris Kringle.  (Good  for a mouthwash company to sponsor a Western, though - after kissing your horse, how would your breath smell?

Cedric Adams was a legend in the Twin Cities - a newscaster for WCCO radio and television, newspaper columnist for the Minneapolis Star, friend of Arthur Godfrey, guest of Edward R. Murrow.  As you can see by this ad, he hosted other shows besides the news, though.  Another thing we've lost from television today - the local movie host. I suspect that this half-hour drama was probably a refugee from an anthology series of the past.  Hah!  Just checked, and I was right - a syndicated ZIV series called Target.


One of the shows we run across frequently in the daytime listings of this era is House Party.  Actually, it's Art Linkletter's House Party.  The show ran on radio from 1945 to 1967, and on television from 1952 to 1969.

I've written in the past on my admiration for Art Linkletter - a good man, vital until nearly the end, one of the true pioneers of television.  House Party is probably his best-known program, and the feature "Kids Say the Darndest Things" was probably the best-known part of the program.  That feature lead to two book collections of the quotable children, both of which were illustrated by Charles M. Schulz.

I didn't know that tidbit about Schulz, which makes all the more interesting the Friday episode of the show, in which Schulz is Art's guest.  At that point in time I think Schulz is the well-known author and artist of "Peanuts," but the strip itself is not yet the American institution, nor Schulz the icon he will become.  In 1958 Peanuts is only eight years old, and Schulz has yet to pass into cultural immortality.

Here's a sample of House Party, from 1961:


Some notes from the teletype:  NBC touts its new detective series Peter Gunn as an adult mystery.  Is it because it airs after 7pm?  I don't think so; besides being somewhat violent, as I mentioned in my story about Gunn a few months ago Pete and his girl Edie enjoy a refreshingly grown up relationship between two adults who love each other without resorting to sappiness.

A sign of how television was in the '50s: Bob Cummings' show has been saved because its sponsor has re-uped for another year.  Back in the day, it was sponsorship dollars - and not ratings - that drove the renewal of series.  Many a series with decent ratings failed to return because they couldn't secure sponsorship.

One more Western note - Patricia Medina has been cast as the "love interest" for Richard Boone's Paladin in Have Gun, Will Travel, "appearing every third or fourth week."  Frankly, this sounds like an awful idea - Paladin is a smooth, suave and cultured man, but he's also a gunman who's on the road a lot.  He's good with the ladies and has a soft spot for them, but he's also got a certain cold-bloodedness to him, and there's a big difference between being cultured and being housebroken.  Evidently others agreed, because this didn't take - the series runs until 1963, but after this season there's no further word of Patricia.  She still had a successful career, though - and besides, she was married to Joseph Cotton.

And a few quick notes from programming - Monday marks the debut of a new NBC game show, Concentration.  It stars Hugh Downs, sidekick to Jack Paar and Arlene Francis, future host of the Today show, and still alive and kicking.  The show will run, with Ed McMahon and Bob Clayton later serving as hosts, until 1973.   Speaking of Today, Dave Garroway is on vacation this week, his place taken by a man soon to pass from television fame to infamy: Charles Van Doren.  And Monday night's Frontier Justice on CBS co-stars Dean Jagger and John Derek.  Jagger, of course, won an Oscar for Twelve O'Clock High and was memorable in White Christmas.  John Derek didn't have nearly as big a career, but his taste in wives was impeccable.


Finally, in this week's installment of the Next Big Thing, we get introduced to Judi Meredith.  According to Wikipedia, she started out as a professional figure skater and survived a broken back before being permanently sidelined due to a broken kneecap.
the always-reliable

This article touts her recurring appearances in Burns and Allen, which in turn has led to shots on Studio One, M Squad, Have Gun, Will Travel, The Restless Gun and Cimarron City.  (Those Westerns again!)  Aside from that, it appears that she did TV work through the '60s and early '70s, but was pretty much out of the business by 1973.  She just died earlier this year, at the still-young age of 77.

It's a nice picture, don't you think?   I'm surprised she didn't have a bigger career.  She cuts an attractive figure - not as attractive, though, as my friend Judi, the only other person I've ever met who spells her first name that way.  I know she reads the blog - I wonder if that statement will get a response from her?  At least we'll find out how carefully she reads this. TV  

August 21, 2014

Predicting the Emmys

I've written about the Emmys here from time to time (here, here and here, for example). They're a very strange fish; not quite like most awards shows, where you have different movies and nominees each year; it doesn't always the same number of nominees in each category, and it's gone through more dramatic changes in categories themselves than in most award shows.  They're set up for individuals and shows to dominate a given category in a way that no other awards show can do. They're not quite as prestigious as the Oscars, not as devil-may-care as the Grammys, not as much debauched fun as the Golden Globes.  Hell, they even changed from being a show that came at the end of the television season to one that preceded the new season, although that wasn't entirely voluntary on their part.  Not that there's anything wrong with this, mind you.

The show's coming up at the end of this month (August 25 on NBC, as a matter of fact), and since I'll be on vacation when it airs, I'll drop these tidbits your way.  The first is a fascinating infographic that came my way from Ben Clifford, who's done some cool infographics for the Hollywood entertainment website TheWrap.  This one gives us an insight into predicting who's going to walk away with the hardware on the big night.*  As always, you can click on the image to get a better look.

*Just to tell you something of my age, whenever it comes to Maggie Smith I still think of her winning an Oscar for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

In the second piece, our friend Lisl Magboo steers us to some interviews with this year's nominees (many of whom are familiar to us classic TV fans) at the Archive of American Television site.  I won't do the usual screen captures as there are so many, but each of these interviews is well-worth checking out - as are all the videos at the Archive.  I can't tell you how many times they've come in handy for me!  Like any good restaurant menu, pick and choose from the following categories.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (Veep)
Christopher Lloyd and Steve Levitan for Outstanding Comedy Series (Modern Family)

Julilan Fellowes for Outstanding Drama Series (Downtown Abbey)

Vince Gilligan for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series (Breaking Bad), Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series (Breaking Bad)

Matthew Weiner for Outstanding Drama Series (Mad Men)

Janie Bryant for Outstanding Costumes for a Series (Mad Men)

Robert A. Dickinson for Outstanding Lighting Design/Lighting Direction for a Variety Special (The Oscars, the Tonys)

Linda Ellerbee for Outstanding Children's Program (Nick News with Linda Ellerbee)

Variety Special
Louis Horvitz, Outstanding Director for a Variety Special (The Kennedy Center Honors)

Susan Lacy for Outstanding Documentary of Nonfiction Series (American Masters)

George Schlatter for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special (Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley)

My thanks again to Ben and Lisl for making my job a lot easier, and more enjoyable.

August 19, 2014

Don Pardo, R.I.P.

Was there a better voice for television than Don Pardo's?  At the same time, he was able to project warmth, authority, credibility.  He could announce a game show like the original Jeopardy!, while he could also break the news of JFK's shooting, and be absolutely the right voice for both.

Many of us, of course, know him best as the announcer and occasional foil on Saturday Night Live, and there was more than one time when his introduction of the cast was the best thing about the show.  It was then that his voice called not for authority, but humor - and the little tremor he put into it was just right.

Was he the most famous television personality that nobody would have recognized?  He did appear on-camera occasionally on SNL, but most of what he did was behind the scenes.  Nonetheless, he was elected to the Television Hall of Fame, and rightfully so.  The fine obit in The New York Times mentions that new SNL cast members "couldn’t wait to hear their name said by him,” according to Lorne Michaels.  It must have been like a kid growing up dreaming of playing baseball in Yankee Stadium and having his name announced by Bob Sheppard.

That Times bit also tells us something of what early radio and television was like.  Pardo, of course, got his start on radio, as a staff announcer.  But if you think that was a simple job, waiting around to give the time and station ID, you're wrong.  "As a staff announcer, he did more than introduce shows and read commercials. The announcer also played the role of engineer, getting the radio programs going and cuing up the right bits at the right time. If you could not do those chores, he said, you would not last as a radio announcer."  I wonder how many of our radio and television personalities could do that today?

His voice will continue in reruns of SNL, but many of his other work is lost, either literally in the sense that the shows (like Jeopardy!) no longer exist, or lost because his voice can't be used again - there's no occasion to play a pre-recorded Pardo introducing a show like SNL, because the cast names are all different.  I haven't watched SNL for years - in fact, though I think of myself as having a pretty good memory, I literally can't recall the last time I saw it.  Probably when Dennis Miller was doing Weekend Update.  But Michaels says the show will present a tribute to him this fall, and I'll probably tune in for that.  For SNL is one of TV's longest-running shows, and Don Pardo was its longest-running cast member.

Here's a wonderful appearance he made on Weird Al's video I Lost on Jeopardy (along with original host Art Fleming), which gives you a pretty good feel for the original show.  I love his line, "You don't even get a lousy copy of the home game!"  As is always the case with parody, it's the little details that make the difference.

Here is his voiceover on NBC television bringing the first news bulletin on JFK:

And here he is talking about getting the SNL gig:

Don Pardo died at the ripe old age of 96, one of only two people (the other being Bob Hope) to have a lifetime contract with NBC.  He had a great career, working right through the end of this season's SNL.  And best of all, he sounds like he was a good man.  R.I.P., Don Pardio - we'll miss your voice, and we'll miss you.

Around the dial

I'm making up for last week, when obituaries kept me away from taking a spin around the blogosphere. Well, better late than never, I say. Besides, there's plenty to choose from today.

Cult TV Blog takes a week off from his examination of allegory in The Prisoner to take a look at a British series I'd never heard of before, Department S.  He describes Department as a successor to The Avengers, and in fact elements of it reminded him of Danger Man.  That's enough of a recommendation for me; YouTube tells me there are episodes out there, which I now have to check out.

I always enjoy Rick's quizzes at Classic Film and TV Cafe, even though I'm seldom able to get many answers, and this week is no exception - on either count.  This week's edition gives us the names of a pair or trio of films or performers, and our job is to make the connection.  Good fun, but make sure you take your best shot before reading the comments, where readers take their best shots.

The Horn Section reviews a movie that completely baffled me back when it was on TV in the early '70s: Number One, a football drama starring Charlton Heston.  Actually, the movie puzzled me in a couple of ways: first it presented the New Orleans Saints as a past championship team - nice work if you can get it, since at the time the Saints were both new and awful.  My uneducated self just couldn't wrap around that concept, though once I figured out how money works (and how cooperative Saints ownership had been with the filmmakers), I got that part of it.  But what happens to Heston at the end of the movie?  I'm still not sure about that.

At Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, Ivan shares the good news that one of the funniest sitcoms of the '50s, The Phil Silvers Show, is coming to DVD as a complete set.  Silvers is memorable as the ultimate con-artist soldier, Sgt. Ernie Bilko (love that name), the prototype for later characters such as Hogan and McHale (although Bob Crane always insisted on playing Hogan straight, which makes Hogan's Heroes the great show it is).  Sometimes Silvers' act can wear a bit, but if you get to see the episode in which he represents a monkey drafted into the Army - well, you'll never see anything better.

Kinescope HD reminds us of one of the landmark programs of the late '60s - Elvis' comeback special.  I've got the TV Guide issue in which this show appears (one of an occasional series of musical specials sponsored by Singer), but I don't believe I ever saw it in first run - the first time might have been when it was coupled with Elvis' "Aloha From Hawaii" special after he died.  (I do remember that Hawaii concert distinctly.)  It's a reminder of just how dynamic the pre-Vegas King was.

I love Television Obscurities because it features just that - television obscurities.  And this week we get a look at something very obscure - "Dick Cavett's Watergate," a documentary that reviews Cavett's interviews with many of the major players in the Watergate scandal.  It's been 40 years since the resignation of Richard Nixon; being a Nixon fan, that's an anniversary that I've consciously tried to put out of my mind, which may explain why to this day I'm never quite sure exactly what year Nixon resigned.  (A flaw that I would absolutely ridicule in others as evidence of how stupid we are about history.)  What I do remember about that day is working a church rummage sale in the world's worst town with a female classmate of mine whom I liked quite a lot, and who had ambitions in the outside world as great as mine.  As we sat behind the table, hearing on the radio of the rumors preceding that night's speech, she turned to me and said, "Wouldn't it be something if he got up there and said 'I'm never going to resign'?"  Wouldn't it have been, indeed?

OK, I've confused the schedule enough for this week - I'll be back on Thursday with another piece of interest, followed by a new (or is that old) TV Guide on Saturday! TV  

August 16, 2014

This week in TV Guide: August 14, 1965

ABC News has a problem: nobody watches its nightly news program.  They hope they have the solution: Peter Jennings.

At age 28, the boy wonder is set to take on Walter Cronkite and Huntley and Brinkley as he assumes the reins of ABC's 15-minute evening news program.*  Ron Cochran, who anchored ABC's news during the JFK assassination drama, has been shuttled off to radio, and in selecting the young Canadian who still has to remind himself that it's "lieutenant" and not "leftenant" and that the Marine band does not play "Anchors Aweigh," ABC has passed over the likes of Howard K. Smith, Edward P. Morgan, and John Scali; all news veterans, all Americans.

*While CBS and NBC expanded their newscasts to 30 minutes in 1963, it wouldn't be until 1967 that ABC would follow suit.

Jennings isn't really comfortable with the role (even less so with his name as part of the program's title (Peter Jennings with the News), and ABC had to accept his demands that he be allowed to travel to cover the news on location as much as possible.  Still, just over six months into his term as anchor, it's clear that he'd rather be out in the field all the time; he sees himself not as an anchor, but as a reporter.  "I'm a newsman," he tells Neil Hickey, and he's sensitive toward the impression, as someone put it, that he's the network's "glamorcaster."  He's sanguine about it, though.  "If I blow this show - and that possibility exists equally with the possibility that I'll succeed - I'm still young enough to come back and make another name for myself."

Indeed he is.  Despite ABC's confidence in the young man, truth be told, his first stint as anchor is less than a success.  He never really does make a dent in the ratings of the Big Two, and after three years he quits the anchor desk to become a foreign correspondent.  It's there that Jennings shines, covering various crises in the Middle East, including the Munich Olympic massacre.  He returns to the States briefly as anchor for ABC's failed morning program A.M. America, after which he becomes the network's chief foreign correspondent.  When ABC introduces World News Tonight, he holds down the foreign desk in London, along with Frank Reynolds in Washington and Max Robinson in Chicago.  After Reynolds' death in 1983, he once again assumes the anchor chair, and this time it sticks.  He will remain on World News Tonight, leading ABC to first place in the ratings, until his own death in 2005.

I wrote a piece at the other blog a few months before Jennings died; at the time, he was considered part of the Big Three along with Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw.  That's all well and good, I wrote then, but to tell the real story of Peter Jennings, one had to consider him "the last reminder of the era of Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, and Walter Cronkite," and added that "That should put things in perspective."

Look at the picture of Jennings above: earnest, somewhat doubtful, painfully young.  When ABC hired Jennings back in 1965, he was introduced as the network's answer to Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley.  As unlikely as it may have seemed back then, even to Peter Jennings, that's exactly the way it turned out.


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..

Palace: Folk singer Burl Ives introduces Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy and Edgar's 18-year-old daughter Candy; operatic soprano Anna Moffo; singer-dancer Ann Miller; comic Pat Henry; Rih Aruso, bicycle-balancer; and the Baranton Sisters, jugglers.

Sullivan: Ed welcomes comedian Alan King; Metropolitan Opera soprano Birgit Nilsson; comics Marty Allen and Steve Rossi; singer Shari Lewis; the rock 'n' rolling Animals; impressionist George Kirby; South Vietnamese singer Bach Yenh; the Haslevs, trampoline artists; and Ravic and Babs, roller skaters.  Also: Rex Harrison, Audrey Hepburn and Wilfred Hyde White in a clip from the movie version of My Fair Lady.

This is where we see Ed at his best.  I know theses shows weren't scheduled against each other when they originally aired, but it's as if Ed's playing "anything you can do, I can do better."  Palace has Pat Henry as a comic?  Ed tops them with Alan King.  You want opera?  Palace has Anna Moffo; Ed tops them with Birgit Nilsson.  Academy Award-winner Burl Ives? What about Academy Award-winning film My Fair Lady, with Oscar winner Rex Harrison to boot.  Strangely-named foreign acts?  How better to beat Rih Aruso then with Bach Yenh?  Palace has Ann Miller, Ed counters with The Animals.  OK, there's Allen and Rossi, but nobody's perfect.  Palace has a pretty good lineup, but Ed's is better.  Sullivan shows 'em who's boss.

And it's bonus week!  Al Hirt, the summer substitute for Jackie Gleason, is back with another original lineup that in a lesser week might have taken top honors.  Al's guests on Saturday night include Liza Minnelli, country singer Johnny Tillotson, Little Richard and the Imperials, and Jackie Vernon.  Even here, Palace can't get a break; while they have Burl Ives, narrator of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Al has Jackie Vernon, who in a few years will be the voice of Frosty the Snowman.  It's just one of those weeks.


If you're like me, you were probably enthralled watching last week's PGA Championship on CBS.  Mickelson's my guy, but it's hard to root against Rory.  In 1965, the PGA is played a week later, and airs on ABC.  Saturday and Sunday the network gives us coverage of the final holes, from Laurel Valley Golf Club in Ligonier, Pennsylvania.  Arnold Palmer, the hometown boy, is the sentimental favorite to win the only one of the majors that has escaped him, but he's never a factor.  Instead, the title goes to Dave Marr, who will become far better known in the future as a golf commentator for ABC, where he teams for many years with Jim McKay.

Those who keep an eye on TV ratings will be quick to point out that Fox' national baseball game of the week has taken a nose dive; a couple of weeks ago it was beaten by a pre-season soccer match, and I think the network would be happy if it went away altogether, or at least to Fox Sports 1, which may amount to the same thing.  So it's hard to imagine that in 1965 there were two networks broadcasting Saturday baseball: CBS, which this week has the Kansas City Athletics taking on the Yankees at New York, and ABC, with the Cincinnati Reds and the Cardinals at St. Louis.  And that isn't all; because it's an American League game, the CBS broadcast is blacked out on Channel 4 in the Twin Cities, in favor of Channel 11's coverage of the Twins and the Indians in Cleveland.  If you lived in the right area, you just might have been able to get all three games.

Things are different now, of course; back then the Twins broadcast, I think, somewhere between 30 and 50 games a year, including three home contests; today, it's the rare team that doesn't have every single game on television via multiple cable and broadcast contracts, and ESPN joins Fox and the MLB Network in airing midweek games.  Given that local baseball coverage is doing gangbusters in the ratings this year, is it any wonder that the national game on Saturday would be, for many, a thing of the past?


Pretentiousness Watch #1:  On CBS' Sunday morning religion show Look Up and Live, Patrick O'Neal and Lovelady Powell are among those offering selected readings from history, literature and the Bible for "a quick but close look at religion's attitude toward woman through the ages."  This could be interesting, or not...

Pretentiousness Watch #2:  This time, it's Thursday night, as CBS' legal drama The Defenders presents "Eyewitness," in which E.G. Marshall defends "two youths who have openly committed murder - confident that no one would try to stop them."  The "no one" includes 27 witnesses who saw the two murder an old man but didn't want to get involved.

I put these two shows on Pretentiousness Watch, and they probably had more than a little bit of preaching in them, but what I wouldn't give nowadays to have even one show with this kind of gravitas airing in a weekly spot.


Also on Thursday, my favorite astronaut of the time, Gordon Cooper, is scheduled to launch with Pete Conrad on the mission of Gemini V.  The TV Guide is filled with broadcast schedules for the launch, including alternate programming in the event the launch is postponed by a day or two.  A good idea, that, because delays did in fact force a postponement until Saturday morning.  All goes well, though, and by the end of the flight eight days later, the U.S. for the first time holds the record for the longest duration space flight.


Finally*, a quick look at "For the Record," the feature at the start of the programming section that gives us some tidbits on what's going on behind the scenes.

*Sorry, Lassie - didn't make the cut this week.  Maybe another time.

First off, Mia Farrow is about to marry Frank Sinatra (go figure on that one), and the question is how the producers of Peyton Place plan to handle her absence while she's off on a cruise with Frank.  Their answer: a hit-and-run accident that puts her character, Allison Mackenzie, in a coma.  (One of those special four-week comas; ask for it the next time you're in the hospital.)  If Farrow comes back from the cruise, as the producers expect, she'll snap out of it.  If, on the other hand, she decides she'd rather be Mrs. Frank Sinatra instead, then - well, better off not thinking about it.  (Don't worry, though - she pulls through in the end.)

Next, it's praise for Joey Bishop's performance as guest host for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show.  The only blemish on the record may have been the show featuring Bishop's fellow Rat-Packers, Sammy Davis, Jr. and the aforementioned Frank Sinatra.  Many of the critics thought Joey was fawning excessively (is there any other kind?) over Frank, but according to TV Guide, they missed the tongue that Bishop had firmly placed within cheek.  Well, nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the average television critic.

Sadly, a survey of TV Guides of the era will see Vietnam start to play a more and more visible role in programming, as we see with CBS' four-part "Vietnam Examination," airing on consecutive Mondays for the next month.  Not to be outdone, ABC is countering later in the month with "The Agony in Vietnam," while NBC's "White Paper" on foreign policy next month will devote substantial time to Vietnam.  Before much longer, that's about all they'll be talking about.  (In fact, ABC's Sunday afternoon program ABC Scope will eventually be devoted exclusively to the war.)

And last but not least, some surprisingly hawkish comments from Hollywood on the war, which if nothing else shows how early in the conflict we really are.  Raymond Burr, who's made more trips to Vietnam than anyone not named Bob Hope, is on an extensive speaking tour where he calls for an escalation against the Viet Cong; not surprising, considering his closeness to the American troops as a result of his visits.  And Hope himself is congratulating Secretary of State Dean Rusk for speaking out on nations still doing business with North Vietnam.  Says Hope, who's usually apolitical in things like this, "People seem to forget we're at war."  They'll be remembering soon enough, Bob - trust me on that. TV  

August 14, 2014

Ed Nelson, R.I.P.

I passed through Greensboro several times during the year I lived in North Carolina, having no idea that Ed Nelson lived there.  To be honest, his was a name I didn't think about that often, though I certainly knew who he was.  After all, if you're an aficionado of classic television, you're most assuredly familiar with one of the stars of Peyton Place.  

Ed Nelson died in Greensboro this past weekend, and our loyal reader Mike Doran brought it up in a comment on my Robin Williams piece from Tuesday, pointing out that his death would likely go unnoticed compared to someone like Williams.  He also mentioned Lauren Bacall, who died Tuesday, doubting that she'd get the space that Williams got.  The gist of his comment, quoting David Frost, was that "... even in death, it seems, we're not equal ... "

I thought about that, and though Ed Nelson got an obituary in The New York Times, which I wager is going to be read by just a few more people than read this site*, it seemed appropriate that I spend a moment in consideration of Ed Nelson, if for no other reason than to try and equal things up a bit.  I would be a bad steward of my avocation if I didn't do so.

*I'll stake the quality of my readers against theirs any day, though.

As the Times obit mentions, Nelson was a staple of television in the '50s and '60s.  If you watch enough television from that era, you'll recognize his name, but even if by chance you don't, it's highly likely you remember having seen him.  Peyton Place, which was a hell of a lot bigger deal than we realize today, ran from 1964 to 1969.  He played Dr. Michael Rossi, one of the more stable elements of the show.  Every soap opera*, it seems, needs a good-looking male lead, and Ed Nelson fit the bill perfectly.

*By the way, if you're inclined, as I might have been, to dismiss Peyton Place as a prime time soap, you wouldn't have wanted to voice that opinion around Nelson, who felt that calling it a soap "kind of cheapens it.” Unlike most soaps, Peyton Place was on film rather than tape, and did far more exterior shots and complex setups than a regular soap.  Better to compare it to Dallas than to daytime television.

Peyton Place wasn't seen much in our house when I was growing up; I remember the iconography of the church steeple in the opening credits, and the theme song, but that's about it; I don't even remember Mia Farrow (more on her in the upcoming Saturday TV Guide story).  But I saw Ed Nelson in countless other shows, guest shots in programs like The Fugitive, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and The FBI, and westerns from Have Gun - Will Travel to The Rifleman to Gunsmoke.  He appeared on Perry Mason twice, as the defendant - not the killer.  (That tells you something right there.)  Variety lists some of his credits from the '70s:  Marcus Welby, M.D., Cannon, Night Gallery, The Mod Squad, Mission: Impossible, Kung Fu, Ironside, Police Woman.  So no matter your television tastes, I can almost guarantee you'd have seen Ed Nelson at  least two dozen times without even searching him out.

As was the case with other actors of the time, he did movies and theater as well, an extremely successful career by any measurement.  If he wasn't on the A list of actors, he nonetheless was never hurting for work.  Which brings us in a roundabout way, perhaps, to the point of Mike's comment.  Ed Nelson was a successful actor, a very well-known one of the time, but maybe he wasn't a celebrity.  Maybe his "problem," the reason why we don't devote as much space to his death as we do to others, is that he was primarily known for his work, not for being a celebrity.  He wasn't a larger-than-life character offscreen, he didn't do shtick,  he wasn't married and divorce a half-dozen times, as far as I know he didn't do multiple stints in rehab.  He was a working actor.  He appeared in a lot of TV shows, and did more than his share of movies.  People liked what he did, and liked the shows he was in.

And I think that deserves to be mentioned, and honored, every bit as much as that of the oversized celebrity. Don't you think?

August 12, 2014

Robin Williams, R.I.P.

He was a prodigious talent, no doubt about it, but his appeal - unlike that of his hero, Jonathan Winters - largely escaped me.  I grew up outside the range of Mork and Mindy*, so I missed Williams at his peak; his movie work, that which I saw of it, generally made on me a negative impression, if anything at all.  People like Patch Adams and Adrian Cronauer (the fictional ones, that is) are generally the kind that, in a perfect world, would receive a punch in the nose.

*Literally, thanks once again to the world's worst town.

And yet there were two performances of his which I would not hesitate to label as extraordinary - dramatic turns in Insomnia and Dead Again - that convinced me Williams could really act, if he put his mind to the right role.*  In that way, too, he mirrored Jonathan Winters, who turned in a memorable dramatic performance in an episode of The Twilight Zone that made one wonder what else he might have been capable of.

*I know: the old canard, which I largely agree with, that comedy is more difficult than drama.  True, likely, but not necessarily more satisfying.

There was, of course, the other trait he shared with Winters, and with many other entertainers, and that was depression.  Listening this morning to some of the details of Williams' life, we heard about how he was an unpopular, overweight child, and resorted to comedy and voice talents to create an alternate world in which he could be more comfortable.  He had later, well-publicized battles with addiction, and in retrospect one is tempted to look back at his body of work and see a latent sadness in it, an attempt to wring humor out of a world that was inherently hostile.  Again, the link between comedy and tragedy, separated by such a thin line.

In his obit of Williams this morning, NRO writer Michael Potemra used blogosphere language to describe depression; not unlike an internet troll, it is "an equally malevolent, anonymous force, trying to break someone’s spirit — only he actually lives inside that person, has the person’s own intelligence, and therefore knows that person’s faults with infinite specificity and can use them to destroy him."

That's about as good a description of depression as I've read, and as one who's suffered from it myself, I can testify to its debilitating qualities.  It is a tragedy wrapped in a tragedy, and it is why the Catholic Church has come to understand that suicide does not automatically condemn one to Hell, for it often renders that person incapable of thinking in a clear or straight manner; they literally become incapable of making a prudential judgment.  As Christians we know the deadliness of the sin of despair, and when one becomes so enveloped in depression that one cannot even recognize despair as anything but a way of life, it calls for - and, we can only hope and trust, will receive - a level of mercy that far surpasses the disease.

I started out with the suggestion that I was not a fan of Robin Williams; even in death I don't resort to hagiography.  But I know well that a great many people were and are, and his death affects them in a special way.  They'd come to know him, to feel that he was a part of their lives, one that gave them simple pleasures, perhaps even pulling them out of their own depression.  That's an essential element of our humanity, the ability to bring light into the life of someone else; a commendable one, and one which, again, we trust will carry with it its own merits and rewards.  Thus is the life of Robin Williams, its tragedy and ultimately its triumph.  To Thee do we commend his eternal soul.

August 9, 2014

This week in TV Guide: August 7, 1965

It's back to the '60s for a week after last week's preliminary incursion into the '80s. If you liked last week, though, don't worry; we'll be back there before you know it.


Regular readers are familiar with my affection for Gene Barry's detective series Burke's Law.  It was a stylish mix of humor and police drama, all done with tongue-in-cheek and twinkle-in-eye.  But Burke's Law, as we know it, is now done.  Starting this fall, the show's jumping on the secret agent bandwagon popularized by The Man From U.N.C.L.E.  Amos Burke, Secret Agent retains Barry's suave style (and Rolls Royce) amidst a bevy of beauties, but the supporting cast that did so much to make Burke fun - Gary Conway, Regis Toomey, Leon Lontac and Eileen O'Neill - is long gone, never to be seen again.*   And Amos Burke, Secret Agent will be gone before long itself - the reboot lasts a mere 17 episodes before the series bites the dust.

*Except for a cameo appearance by O'Neill as one of Burke's "secret agent" operatives.  Though she doesn't play the Sergeant Ames character, I think it's significant that she's one of the few female operatives working with Burke who doesn't get killed.

According to the article by Peter Bogdanovich (!), network executives feel the Burke's Law format was getting stale, "running 'out of gas'."  And despite the protestations of Tom McDermott, president of Four Star Productions that Amos Burke will not be a carbon copy of U.N.C.L.E. - "The last time I saw U.N.C.L.E., they looked like they were doing Burke's Law" - there's no doubt that the spy spoof has played a big role in the retool of Burke.   It's a James Bond world now, and we're all just living in it.

Barry himself professes to be excited about the new format.  "We made TV history," he says of the cameo-laden, sly humor of Burke - "and now the time is ripe to enlarge the format of the show."  And to its credit, Amos Burke doesn't try to deny its past.  As the season progresses, there are several references to Burke's previous career as the head of the L.A. homicide department, and Burke continues to drive his Rolls.  In fact, Barry's sophistication, which everyone agrees was the major selling point of Burke, should have been tailor-made for a globe-trotting secret agent.  But without the supporting cast of the previous two years, the spark just isn't there anymore.  The shows are pleasant, but nowhere near as entertaining.  Which once again proves that if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Besides Amos Burke, Secret Agent, the 1965-66 television season also sees the premieres of I Spy, The Wild Wild West, and Get Smart.  They all go on to longer, more successful runs than Amos Burke.  And when Gene Barry reprises the role of Amos Burke in 1994, it will be under the moniker of Burke's Law.  As it should be.


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..

Palace: Host Steve Lawrence inroduces Mickey Rooney and Bobby Van in a spoof of the movie "Bridge on the River Kwai"; opoeratic soprano Jean Fenn; the Backporch Majority, folk singers; choreographer-dancer Jack Cole; comic Gene Baylos; plate spinners Alberta and Rosita; the Gimma Brothers, novelty act; and 4-year-old drummer Poogie Bell.

Sullivan:  Ed welcomes Steve Lawrence, Victor Borge, the rock 'n' rolling Dave Clark Five, comics Rowan and Martin, the Israeli Ballet, puppet Topo Gigio, the tap dancing Mattison Trio and John, a balancer.

Well.  As I typed the listings, I was thinking to myself that I really wanted go go with Palace this week because I like Steve Lawrence, but beyond Rooney and Van the lineup's pretty weak.  And then I come over to Sullivan and who do I see?  Steve Lawrence!  As far as I remember, this is the first time we've had an act appear on both Palace and Sullivan the same week.  Of course, it helps when both shows are in reruns.  But Ed has more than Steve - try the very funny Borge, the occasionally funny Rowan and Martin, and the stylish Dave Clark Five.  And if that isn't enough, you've got a puppet and a ballet company!  No more calls, ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner.  Sullivan takes it in a song.


Football?  This early in August?  Of course.  The sporting landscape changes dramatically this week, with our usual summer fare of baseball, golf and bowling being joined on Sunday by the return of the American Football League as the Buffalo Bills and Boston Patriots face off in a pre-season tilt from Boston.  This is the first year of the AFL's new television contract with NBC, which gives the AFL the necessary finances to launch the bidding war that ultimately results in the league's merger with the NFL.

Not to be outdone, CBS presents an NFL game opposite the AFL, but we're really talking apples and oranges here.  The CBS offering is the Baltimore Colts inter-squad game, taped the previous night.  The focus is on Baltimore's preparation for the regular season, in which they'll be out to avenge their 24-0 loss to the Cleveland Browns in the previous year's NFL championship game.  In fact, it's Cleveland, not Baltimore, that makes it back to the title game - where they're waxed by my favorite team of the era, the Green Bay Packers, 23-12.  Better that you should tune in a day earlier and catch their broadcast of the Washington Redskins* and Philadelphia Eagles from Hershey, PA.**

*This being a retro TV site, we have no problem using the "R" word.
**Where, a couple of years earlier, Wilt Chamberlain had his famed 100-point basketball game.


On Monday, You Don't Say! begins a one-week stint by celebrity panelists Dr. Joyce Brothers and Dr. Frank Baxter.  "Who's Frank Baxter?" my wife sensibly asks, and though I kind of knew the answer, the always-reliable Wikipedia provides the rest of the story.

Born in Newbold, New Jersey, Baxter is best remembered for his appearances from 1956–1962 as "Dr. Research" in The Bell Laboratory Science Series of television specials. These films became a staple in American classrooms from the 1960s through the 1980s. The Bell series combined scientific footage, live actors and animation to convey scientific concepts and history in a lively, entertaining way; and the bald, bespectacled and affable Baxter served as narrator, lecturer and host. These films made Baxter (who was not a scientist) something of a scientific icon among baby boomers. Several of Baxter's science films have been released on DVD.

Baxter also appeared (as himself) in a prologue to the 1956 film The Mole People, in which he gave a brief history of theories of life beneath the surface of the earth.

In 1966, Baxter hosted a popular TV series called The Four Winds to Adventure, featuring filmmakers exploring little-known areas of the world, whether across continents, oceans, or local people and animals in a particular region.

Baxter died at age 85 in Pasadena, California. His body was cremated, but his ashes were scattered in Colorado, NOT placed in a vault in California, as some sources maintain.

What I love about this is that only in television of the '50s and '60s could a man become a cult celebrity, a guest on game shows in fact, by appearing in science specials.  Fat lot of good chance of that happening today, unless your name is Neil Degrasse Tyson.

You might not remember the name, but I'll bet you'd recognize him if you saw him.  To give that a test, here he is (along with Eddie Albert!  Directed by Frank Capra!) in the acclaimed Our Mr. Sun.


Kellam de Forest is my kind of guy.  His research company regularly vetts scripts for accuracy and liability, and is on call to answer questions that producers and scriptwriters might have about, say, how to peel a pearl (The Richard Boone Show) or what day December 30, 2022 falls on (The Twilight Zone).  And while some of these items may seem like they're not such a big deal - after all, anyone with an internet connection can tell you that 12/30/22 is a Thursday - others can be very important, not only for the show's accuracy, but its financial well-being.

For one thing, de Forest conducts a vigorous background check into character names that appear in scripts.  This service would have been particularly advantageous had the producers of Dr. Kildare taken advantage of it.  They're currently in the midst of a $5 million lawsuit because of a recent episode in which a fictional doctor stands accused of covering up a medical mistake that resulted in the death of a young child.  Seems that there's a real doctor out there with the same last name, who didn't take kindly to having that name besmirched, whether the TV doc was fictional or not.  Sending the script de Forest's way could have saved the producers a lot of grief, for a fraction of the cost.

I first read about de Forest many years ago, in Marc Scott Zicree's Twilight Zone Companion, in which de Forest applied his trade to the 1963 episode "In Praise of Pip."  Rod Serling's original script contained a reference to American military action in Laos, with Jack Klugman's son Pip dying in a place where "There isn't even a war there," but de Forest came back with the following recommendation:

The Geneva Treaty on the neutrality of Laos stipulated that all foreign troops be removed.  At present the only U.S. military in Laos is a small mission with the Embassy.  There are officially no combat or special forces in Laos.  The implication that the U.S. has troops fighting in Laos (even in The Twilight Zone) could be an embarrassment and might cause repercussions.  U.S. Special Forces are fighting ("in an advisory capacity") in South Vietnam.  Suggest South Vietnam.

There was also a suggestion as to the wording in the script:  "In South Vietnam it is common knowledge that there is a Civil War, but U.S. troops are not supposed to be fighting there.  Suggest 'There isn't even supposed to be a war there.'"

It's a fascinating line of work, at least to me.  De Forest sits in his office, surrounded by a library of over 5,000 books "run[ning] the gamut from "The History of Orgies" to Dr. Spock's 'Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care.'"  A script comes in, from an episode of Profiles in Courage set in the late 1800's.  Among 54 research points, de Forest issues recommendations regarding the phrases "Little old bird dog, that's me" ("the term 'bird dog,' referring to one who hunts and finds objects, didn't come into use until circa 1930") and "to take in a water cooler around the bend in the corridor" ("the modern cooler was invented about 1910, though there were can-top coolers earlier").  Another Profiles script called for a scene of "great shouting and commotion" at the 1924 Democratic National Convention.  De Forest, on his own, added "The 'official' record indicates specific cries of 'soak it to them, boys, soak it to them.'"

I don't have a Kellam de Forest Research Services at hand for my use, although the resources of the internet probably provide me with more data than de Forest could have dreamt of.  It's knowing how to use the research that counts.  And when it comes to storytelling, it's the details - putting a war in South Vietnam instead of Laos, or taking care to avoid historical anachronisms - that can make all the difference.


Some quick programming hits for the week:

Saturday, as we noted, is the return of exhibition football on CBS.  That night, Al Hirt, summer replacement for Jackie Gleason (and beneficiary of a feature article elsewhere in this issue), features a pretty good middlebrow lineup, with satirist Stan Freberg (one of the funniest men in radio or television), Met Opera soprano Anna Moffo , ballet dancers Edward Villella and Patricia McBride, pop singer Dionne Warwick, rockers Chad and Jeremy, harpist Robert Maxwell and jazz pianist Willie Smith.  And then, of course, there's Al's trumpet.  Pretty good lineup - to be honest, it might top Ed and Palace this week.

On Sunday ABC's public affairs program ABC Scope commemorates the 20th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.  We hear about this on an almost annual basis around this time of year, but in 1965 it was still pretty fresh in people's minds.  Correspondent Lou Cioffi (incorrectly identified as Gioffi in this issue) reports on how the city has changed since then; I wonder how much discussion concerned the use of the bomb in the first place?  I'm always interested in intense conversations about this today, conducted mostly by people who weren't alive then and have little feeling for the context and climate in which the decision was made.

Monday's rerun of Andy Williams features an odd pairing of guests: Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and Jonathan Winters.  "In a circus spot, Roy demonstrates his marksmanship and Jonathan portrays a lion tamer."  On the other hand, NBC's The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which is coming to camp mode by this time, has a story about "a strange disease [that] killed the entire population of a small English coastal village - by afflicting the inhabitants with old age." With a couple of tweaks, that could almost be The Andromeda Strain, couldn't it?

Tuesday - we're seeing the summer season wind down, and with it the shows that won't be returning in the fall.  NBC has a pair - Moment of Fear, which is showing an episode that originally came from G.E. Theater in 1959, and Cloak of Mystery, which shows a failed pilot episode.  Hullabaloo, also on NBC, will be back next summer, but it ends this year's run with a show hosted by Frankie Avalon.

Wednesday: It's CBS' Our Private World, the first prime-time program spun off from a daytime soap, in this case As the World Turns.  It airs twice weekly, on Wednesdays and Fridays, and stars the legendary soap actress Eileen Fulton in her ATWT role of Lisa Miller Hughes.  It would have been interesting had this show taken, to have a bifurcated story universe running in both daytime and nightime - that is, even though the shows (and storylines) are separate, the participants inhabit the same universe.  Alas, the show, which started in May, only makes it through to September and the beginning of the fall season.

On Thursday, the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees wrap up a series at Yankee Stadium, broadcast on WTCN, Channel 11.  It's an informal changing of the guard; the Twins, who were mostly miserable as the Washington Senators, are headed for the American League pennant in 1965, as part of a run that includes a second-place finish in 1967 and West Division titles in 1969 and 1970.  For the Yankees, on the other hand, it's the Twilight of the Gods: American League champions for the last five years and 22 of the last 29, the Yanks are headed for a sixth-place finish in 1965, followed by a total collapse into the cellar in 1966.  They won't make it back to the World Series for another decade.

Finally, what would Friday be without a beauty pageant, or "Beauty Spectacular," as the listings put it?  It's the 14th annual International Beauty Pageant, live from Long Beach, California.  John Forsythe is the host, with an all-star panel (well, kind of) of judges including actress Virginia Mayo, illustrator Alberto Vargas (yes, that Vargas), and Tom Kelley, the fashion photographer, who took a very famous photo of Marilyn Monroe against a red background which we probably, ah, shouldn't link to here.

Interestingly enough, this lesser-known pageant is still around, and is one of the few that doesn't judge solely on looks.  Its "contestants are expected to serve as 'Ambassadors of Peace and Beauty', demonstrating tenderness, benevolence, friendship, beauty, intelligence, ability to take action, and, most importantly, a great international sensibility. The ultimate goal of the Miss International beauty pageant is to promote world peace, goodwill, and understanding."

In other words, just like this blog, right? TV