October 4, 2014

This week in TV Guide: October 4, 1980

Ed Asner and Mason Adams, the stars of Lou Grant, are on the cover of this week's issue, and with a name like Lou Grant it has to be good, right?*

*Bonus points to anyone who gets that joke.  If you're not sure, here's a clue.

Seriously, I digress from this TV Guide for a moment to take a look at the issue of April 23, 1977.  In the TV Teletype, we read a story about how Asner's going to be doing a new CBS series this fall about the newspaper business.  Asner describes the show, to be set in Los Angeles, as a "modern epic," capturing "the ambiance of a newspaper." He admits he's a bit nervous, never having carried an hour-long series before: "I have yet to meet a happy hour-series star," but adds that the show will be about 30% comedy.  The writer of the blurb notes that it will have seven recurring characters.

What's interesting here is that nowhere is the name of the series mentioned, nor that it will be spinning off Asner's character from The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  Did they even know it would be at this point?  Was it something that was added later on, as if they decided the show needed an extra hook?  Or were they shying away from it, fearful that viewers would be leery of a sitcom character being spun off into a drama?  The always-reliable Wikipedia's no help here, although it does note that none of the main characters from MTM were ever seen or even referenced to in the series, and that the only crossover character to ever appear on both shows was Eileen Heckart as Mary's aunt Flo, a recurring bit in the former series who made a single appearance in the later.  So, what's the scoop* here?  Inquiring minds want to know.  Mike Doran, are you out there?

*A little newspaper lingo there.

The article itself is about Adams, and mentions his famous Smuckers commercial among the extensive radio and commercial work that has distinguished his career. Amongst Lisa See's review of that career and the details of his life (voracious reader, consummate professional, adeptness at playing different voices during rehearsals), one statement stands out that tells us a lot about the life of an actor.  Adams strikes me as being just about as well-adjusted as anyone in the business, and yet he's unable to escape that constant worry that unemployment is just around the corner: " I'm lucky.  I've always worked.  I've never had barren periods.  But there's nothing you can count on.  My reach has far exceeded my grasp.  I guess pessimism is just my nature."  Lest that sound like too much of a downer though, he adds, laughing, "Maybe it's just the fear of becoming smug."


In many of these early October issues, I've gotten the chance to write about coverage of the World Series.  But it's 1980 now, and we've got another layer of playoffs to deal with: the League Championship Series.  It's quite a contrast to 1963, with the division winners in each league facing off in a best 3-of-5 series to determine who goes to the Series, but it seems positively simple if you compare it to today's setup, with three division winners and two wild card teams from each league, and an LCS that's expanded to 4-of-7.  Next year the Series will probably end in November, which means it will likely be the month's first turkey.

At any rate, the regular season comes to an end on Sunday, with ABC's cameras there to cover the pivotal games in the pennant chase.  Actually, I should say the season is supposed to end on Sunday, and would have if the Houston Astros had been able to defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers in even one of the three games they play to end the season.  They don't, however, and the Dodgers' win on Sunday forces a one-game playoff which ABC covers on Monday afternoon.  I remember catching that game after coming home from class; pretty much everyone expects the Dodgers to keep rolling and take Houston, but the Astros score an upset win to take the division and go on to face the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLCS.

ABC has no trouble televising the League Championship Series games; the National League starts Tuesday night and continues Wednesday afternoon, while the American League starts on Wednesday night and follows up with a Thursday night game.  Friday, the National League plays in the afternoon, the American League in the evening.  Not so complicated, is it?  Ah, for those simpler days.  And the games weren't bad, either: see for yourself, with Game 3 of the NLCS on Friday, October 10, between the Phillies and Astros in Houston.

Oh yeah, the NFL is on as well.  In the Twin Cities the Vikings home game against Pittsburgh is blacked out; the rest of the state gets it on NBC, however.  The late game, on CBS, has the 49ers playing the Rams in Los Angeles (or Anaheim, to be precise).  The Monday night matchup on ABC has Tampa Bay taking on the Bears in Chicago.  And that's it - no Sunday night game, no Thursday night game.  As I said, simpler.


Big week for movies, not surprisingly since we're still early in the fall season.  On Monday, NBC features the Oscar-winning Julia, starring Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave and Jason Robards.  ABC's offering, on Sunday night, is a repeat of Jaws, which goes head-to-head with CBS's made-for-TV A Perfect Match, which draws its prestige from its teleplay, written by the great director/writer John Sayles.  Down one rung from that is the third Sunday night movie, NBC's repeat of Burt Reynolds in The End.  We won't discuss the Thursday night movie on NBC, The Castaways on Gilligan's Island, which Judith Crist describes as "tedious even with 24 of its 72 mediocre minutes cut."  At least it still has Dawn **sigh** Wells as Mary Ann.

The finest show of the week is probably part two of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, airing on Monday night as part of Great Performances on PBS.  If you're only familiar with the big-screen version that came out a couple of years ago, you really should see this; it's an exceptional six-part adaptation of John le Carré's spy thriller, starring the incomparable Alec Guinness as master spy George Smiley. It's really one of the finest shows of its type to appear on television - well, you can start here with episode one.

The prime complaint I've had through the years with le Carré's writing is the moral ambiguity of it all, as he attempts to draw some level of equivalency between the actions of the American and Soviet spies.  It fits in perfectly with the times, however - in 1980 (as, perhaps today), the United States was a country struggling to find out what it really stood for.


Speaking of the miniseries, in 1980 it remains a force to be reckoned with.  TV Update tells us of NBC's massive success with Shogun; the gamble to kick off the season with the 12-hour drama pays big dividends, the estimated 125 million viewers and 51% share making it the second-highest rated miniseries of all time, outdone only by the original Roots.

In other news from the update, a follow-up to our look a couple of weeks ago at the Reagan-Anderson presidential debate.  ABC indeed stuck with Midnight Express because of President Carter's absence, but even with one major and one minor candidate and only two networks, the debate scored 42% of all viewers in New York, 44% in Chicago, and 44% in Los Angeles.  Express, meanwhile, drew 42% and 39% in New York and Chicago; Priscilla Presley's Thos Amazing Animals, which aired against the debate on the West Coast, scored a mere 24% in Los Angeles.

Finally, "ABC has agreed to grant Kaiser Aluminum air time to reply to a report on 20/20 that asserted that aluminum wiring for homes is unsafe."  All the two sides have to do now is decide how much time Kaiser will get, and when it will be broadcast.


The cross-section of decades represented by these TV Guides gives testimony not only to the role of television within culture, but to the shape of the culture itself, as we can see from some of this week's articles.

In the 1950s, Howdy Doody stirred controversy by asking whether or not children should be watching the same kinds of shows as adults.  Back then, it meant the manic comedy of a Milton Berle.  This week, Marlo Thomas writes about the role television plays in presenting "the facts of life."  It's a companion piece to Thomas' controversial Body Human special "The Facts for Girls," running Tuesday afternoon on CBS.  Says Thomas, "Using television to bring accurate, straightforward information about sexual facts and feelings into the home can provide a starting point of shared feelings and information."  Almost seems quaintly naive today, doesn't it?  It's a far cry from the '50s and '60s, when dramatists had so much trouble writing about adult themes, but it's also light years away from today's television, when even broadcast networks present decidedly adult topics with a frankness that might have made people in the '80s blush.  Or maybe not; I don't know.

Speaking of which, there's also a very interesting article by Richard D. Heffner on what the movie ratings system really means.  Heffner, who produces David Susskind's Open End* program and teaches communications and public policy at Rutgers, is also the chairman of the Classification and Rating Administration, which helps determine what a movie's rating is.

*Also known, by Susskind's detractors, as Open Mouth.

Among other things, Heffner points out that nothing is actually prohibited in today's movies - "Nothing is banned by our system, or refused a rating."  And in answer to the question (posed by himself; Heffner the college professor interviews Heffner the CARA chairman) "Don't you ever want to refuse even your ultimate X rating to some of the awful things you see?" he replies, "Don't you think I share your sensibilities, your outrage, your disgust at some of what appears on the screen?  Believe me, I do. . . But as an erstwhile American historian, I'm convinced that the price of film censorship in this country would be too great."  The Production Code, which held sway until 1968, had gradually given way in the face of competition from television, and the movie audiences' increasing willingness to make box office smashes out of movies that didn't receive the code.  (Some Like It Hot, for one.)  Again, this article tells us much about how the times have changed, particularly in regards to sex and violence, and how they'll continue to morph.


Last but not least, there's a full-page ad at the beginning of the programming section touting a new and revolutionary network that will change the way you consume news.  Ta-da!


Take a look at that programming guide.  Gotta say, it looks a hell of a lot better than what CNN has on today.  Back when they had, you know, actual news. TV  


  1. Actually, I got that joke (alluding to the old Smuckers ad) not from the ad campaign itself, but from the old Saturday Night Live sketch (and I mean OLD Saturday Night Live sketch, from the first season of SNL) where they spoofed that ad. "With a name like Fluckers, it's got to be good"

    1. I thought the joke was that Mason Adams did the voiceover for the Smuckers commercials.

  2. What was most amazing about the Minnesota/Pittsburgh game being blacked-out in the Twin Cities was the fact that Pittsburgh was not only the defending Super Bowl champions, but had won the big game in four of the previous six seasons.

    If any Minnesota Vikings' home game in 1980 should have been sold out (and thus, locally televised), the Pittsburgh game would have been it.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!