November 1, 2014

This week in TV Guide: November 1, 1980

After months of long, hard, and at times tedious activity, Campaign '80 is at its conclusion.  And TV Guide tells you how you can pick the winner!

But first, a word from our publisher.


"TV GUIDE has never before taken a position in a Presidential election and as head of the company that publishes the magazine I intended that it remain silent in this one.  I, cannot, however, as a matter of conscience, refrain from speaking up when the result of this election is so critical to the future of this nation."

With that, Walter H. Annenberg, President of Triangle Publications, Inc., makes a rare appearance in the pages of his most famous publication for the purposes of endorsing Ronald Reagan for the Presidency.  "To put it bluntly," he says, "we see ourselves as a nation on the decline," a country overwhelmed with problems thought to be too big for anyone to solve.  Inflation tops 10%, unemployment "especially among young black people" is glossed over, and foreign policy is a mess.  "European and other world leaders are impressed by performance, not conversation," and talk seems to be all they get from the current occupant of the White House, "a well-intentioned, hard-working public servant" who has demeaned the office of the Presidency by portraying his opponent as "a warmonger with simplistic, antiquated economic ideas who would divide the country into antagonistic racial, religious and geographical factions."  America needs "an administration determined to solve our painful problems by attacking the basic causes of social and economic ills rather than by applying local anesthetics in the form of quickly dissipated Government handouts."

Annenberg writes that "While I respect the President's supporters for their loyalty to him and have high regard for Rosalynn Carter and her dedication to her husband, his unfortunate record of performance in office does not warrant his reelection."  Ronald Reagan, a man Annenberg has known for 30 years "as an actor, as a union leader and as a capable governor," will offer "in place of more years of political expedients to bolster weak domestic and international positions," an administration dedicated to ending "the feeling that we no longer can control our own destiny" and promises to "restore the self-confidence and the self-respect that until recent years have been the foundation of the American spirit."  In conclusion, "As we achieve these goals, our friends abroad - and our potential enemies - will respect us too."

It might seem strange, given the pulp fan mag that TV Guide has turned into, to read Annenberg's words - to think that the magazine's political preference would matter, either to the readers or to the nation as a whole.  But keep in mind that throughout these years of TV Guide, the magazine took its responsibilities to the public seriously, and felt that its readers were entitled to intelligent discussion of the issues of the day.  A critic once observed that TV Guide felt itself closer to magazines such as The New Yorker than to television and movie magazines, and it often showed in the types of articles published in TV Guide.

The Annenbergs and the Reagans
Annenberg himself was no stranger to Republican politics, having served as ambassador to the Court of St. James during the Nixon administration.  (He was, in fact, the man who introduced Reagan to Margaret Thatcher,)  Annenberg's wife Lenore was appointed the State Department's Chief of Protocol, and the Reagans and Annenbergs often celebrated New Year's Eve together.  This was not merely an endorsement of friendship, though - Annenberg enthusiastically agreed with Reagan's philosophy, and saw in him a man with the confidence and the political acumen to lead the United States through trying times both at home and abroad.

Regardless of where one stands politically (as I mentioned in my piece Tuesday), it really is quite something to see a publication like TV Guide - one that took seriously the role and responsibility of television in the shaping of American culture - take a partisan stand like this.*  Nowadays, it's more interested in what musical instrument a candidate plays, or what kind of underwear he or she wears.

*And what better way to demonstrate television's gravitas than to endorse for the presidency a man who once hosted a television series?


In our lead article, Elmer L. Lower, formerly president of ABC News and currently a professor of journalism at the University of Missouri, gives readers a brief recap of each candidate's electoral strategy, and gives viewers tips on what to look for throughout what is expected to be a long and suspenseful election night.  For example, the polls close earliest in Indiana and Kentucky; Reagan is strong in Indiana, so he's expected to take it at 6:30 ET when the evening news programs come on.  Carter took Kentucky in '76 but the state appears less certain for him, so "a Kentucky victory for Reagan would be significantly good news for him."

Meanwhile, five Southern and border states close between 7 and 8, all of which Carter swept in 1976.  Reagan's best chances to break Carter's almost-solid South are Florida, Alabama and West Virginia.  And the crucial hour, according to Lower, will be 7 to 8, when the networks are expected to project as many as 10 states, including New England and Texas.  Reagan is sure of Kansas and Vermont, while Carter can count on Massachusetts.  Back in 1976, Gerald Ford won both New Jersey and Connecticut; Reagan will do the same.

Lower is anticipating a long night - for example, by 11, it's likely that only Texas and New York, among the large states, will have been projected.  Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio will still be out, and the polls on the West will just be closing, so "you'll have to stay up late, it appears, if you want to know who your next President is before you fall asleep."  In fact, it may well be after 3 a.m. before a winner is finally projected - in 1976, NBC was first to project Carter as the winner, at 3:29 a.m., when they gave him victory in Mississippi.

As we now know, of course, such was not the case. The early news is indeed good for Reagan - in addition to Indiana, he does take Kentucky.  In the next hour, Carter's "solid South" of 1976 goes entirely for Reagan, with the exception of Carter's home Georgia (which the president takes by a much smaller margin than he did in '76).  At 8 p.m., Reagan wins Texas, as well as those two Eastern states he had to win, New Jersey and Connecticut.  And at 8:15 p.m. - over seven hours earlier than in 1976 - NBC's count puts Reagan at 270 electoral votes, enough to win the election.

Television coverage of the 1980 election is extremely controversial, to say the least.  NBC's early projections rely heavily on exit polling data (the first time projections had been made on that basis), and in fact the polls are still open in many Western states (including my home of Minnesota)* at the time of the call. Carter's concession at 9:50 ET, again before the polls have closed on the West Coast, doesn't do the Democrats any favors either, despite reminders from network pundits that there is more than just the presidential election at stake, and the Republicans take control of the Senate for the first time since the Eisenhower administration.

*It wasn't just television - radio reports throughout the day gave updates on the exit polls, with one CBS mid-afternoon broadcast suggesting that the numbers indicated a possible Reagan landslide. 

In retrospect, the results shouldn't have been as much of a surprise as they were.  Internal polls had already shown momentum moving toward Reagan, and the Reagan-Carter debate (see last week's issue) proves to be the decisive moment in the campaign.  Reagan's eventual 489-49 victory in the Electoral College is the largest ever for a non-incumbent, and his popular vote percentage of just under 51% is remarkable for a three-way election.

But it's a surprise to most of the "experts," and the stunned expressions of NBC's anchors as they watch Reagan's sudden sweep of the early states remains a vivid memory, nearly 40 years after the fact.


And now, some images from Election Night 1980:


And now the rest of the week.  Last Tuesday night, NBC had scheduled a two-hour Bob Hope special, built around Hope's campaign for President.*  He's nominated by Johnny Carson, his campaign is managed by Tony Randall, and he uses Angie Dickinson and Stefanie Powers to appeal to women voters (although I think their greater appeal would be to males).

*Of course, having been born in the United Kingdom, Bob would technically have been ineligible to serve as president, but this is a comedy show, after all.

Unfortunately, something came up last Tuesday that prevented the special from airing, namely the Reagan-Carter debate.  NBC didn't have many options left for a topical show as time-sensitive as this one, so look for it on Saturday at 7pm CT, followed by another special with political overtones bumped from Tuesday, an hour of comedy with the Smothers Brothers.

The recent end to the actors strike means we're still seeing season premieres of new and returning shows, and a big CBS player on Sunday night starts out with a bang: Archie Bunker's Place, the successor to All in the Family, opens with Archie coming to terms with the death of his long-suffering wife Edith.  It's a struggle for Archie, who "refuses to acknowledge his grief."

On Monday ABC and CBS block out an hour each for paid political programs, while NBC reserves 90 minutes.  PBS scores big, first with the conclusion of the brilliant miniseries Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, followed by the great political satirist Mark Russell in his Election Eve special, live from Buffalo.

Tuesday is Election Day, but if you're looking for an alternative, PBS's Nova explores the search for a cancer cure, and Dick Cavett has the first of a two-part interview with Sci-Fi legend Ray Bradbury.

Wednesday's feature event is CBS's Wednesday Night Movie - George Hamilton's hit comedy Love at First Bite, which Judith Crist calls "uneven but frequently very funny," and lauds Hamilton's "hitherto unexpected and unexploited comedic gifts."

Thursday night it's PBS again, with something they barely have time for anymore - classical music.  It's Rossini's charming opera La Cenerentola (Cinderella), live from the New York City Opera.  For the rest of us, 20/20 has a profile of David Bowie, who was probably promoting his latest hit, "Ashes to Ashes."

Friday's season premiere of Dallas is preceded by a literal bang - it's a rerun of the season-ending "Who Shot J.R.?" episode.  As TV Guide's preview notes, though, "the solution to this whodunnit is still weeks away."


Finally, a note in the TV Update section that Saturday Night Live is about to be "reborn," with an all-new cast and 15 new writers.  New producer Jean Doumanian sees "the public going crazy over them.  I went crazy over them."  In fact, most people probably would have amended that last sentence to read "I went crazy over them."  Doumanian and her new cast almost killed the show.

The new "Not Ready For Prime Time Players" consisted of Charles Rocket, Denny Dillon, Gilbert Gottfried, Gail Matthius, Joe Piscopo, and Ann Risley, with Eddie Murphy as a featured player.  This cast is probably best known for the February 21, 1981 program in which Rocket, during a spoof of the "Who Shot J.R.?" craze, dropped the F-bomb on live television.  He was fired, along with Gottfried and Risley, and Doumanian was replaced as producer by Dick Ebersol, who had been involved in the creation of SNL and was now being asked to help save the show.  At the end of the season he axed the rest of Doumanian's players, with the exceptions of Piscopo and Murphy, around whom the next generation of SNL would be built.

In fact, SNL had fallen behind ABC's Fridays in both audience ratings and critical approval, and was coming quite close to being cancelled altogether.  The fact that it continues on the air today, nearly 35 years later, may be a testament to the inertia that grips late night television, but it also demonstrates the necessity of acting quickly in the midst of crisis.  Had NBC waited until the end of the 1980-81 season to make changes, there might not be a Saturday Night Live today. TV  


  1. Annenberg's endorsement of Reagan could have run unaltered in 2012 as an endorsement of Mitt Romney, particularly in its characterization of the incumbent. Though it would not have had the same effect.

    1. I think you're right on both counts, David. Wouldn't it be a shock to see today's TV Guide do something like that?

  2. Non-TV question(s) here from a foreigner.

    Why is the US election day always on the first Tuesday in November?

    And being on a Tuesday, how do people who work during the day get to place their vote?

    1. The U.S. Constitution established Election Day for the Presidency as the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November in a year evenly divisible by four. (Interestingly specific, isn't it?) From there, when the House of Representatives terms were established at two years and the Senate at six years, the tradition of a "mid-term" election (meaning the middle of a presidential term) was created, and I suspect there's more than a bit of tradition that's made it as formulaic as it is. Even at that, though, there are local exceptions - as I recall, some statewide elections in Louisiana are held on Saturdays, and some of the primaries in other states are held on days other than Tuesdays as well. (And then there are states such as New Jersey and Virginia that have their elections for governor in odd-numbered years, but I don't imagine you're looking for a political science class here! Too bad you asked a political scientist the question!)

      The other part of the question is much easier - in most states, the voting locations are open from 6 or 7am until 8pm (again, some states close earlier), which makes it possible for people to vote either on their way to work or on their way home. I think it's the law in most places that employers are required to give their employees time off to go and vote, so there's that as well. And then many states have gone to "early voting," in which you can receive what used to be called an absentee ballot (for which you generally had to prove you were going to be out of town on Election Day or otherwise unable to cast your vote) - states have greatly liberalized their rules for early voting (you don't have to show cause any more), so even as we speak, millions of people around the country have already cast their votes. I'm not a big fan of this; after all, what if something happens in those last two weeks to change the way you're thinking, only for you to have voted already? But, being Americans, we always try to make it as easy as possible...

      There's been talk for as long as I can remember about either moving Election Day to Sunday or making the day itself a national holiday, but nothing really ever comes from that, and I kind of doubt it ever will.

      It's those varied poll closing times, along with all the different time zones, that makes a situation such as the 1980 election possible, where candidates can be projected as winners or concede the election before the polls have closed nationwide. There's also been talk about a uniform poll closing time, but since 10pm in New York would be 7pm in Los Angeles (and earlier than that in Alaska and Hawaii), it would be hard to do without moving Election Day itself.

      Glad you asked? :)

    2. Thanks for the reply :)

      In Australia, where voting is compulsory, election day is always on a Saturday so easier for people to get to. These days the coverage usually starts before polls close at 6.00, but with the west a couple of hours behind they could still have several hours of polling still and they're already seeing coverage of trends coming through from the east coast.

  3. I think I once read somewhere that there was a meeting of CBS News election-night personnel a few days before the 1980 election, and that CBS News division president Bill Leonard supposedly told everyone that they'd be on the air for seventeen straight hours, from 7 P.M. EST Tuesday through 12 Noon EST Wednesday, because the network thought that it wouldn't be until almost Noon that (a) CBS would be able to project a winner, (b) the losing candidate would make his concession speech, and (c) the winning candidate would make his acceptance speech.

    This November 8th (2016), could we again be looking at network election-night coverage that goes well into Wednesday morning?


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!