September 30, 2015

Time Capsule: The Scene Tonight, WCCO Channel 4

Here's a real blast from the past: a complete local newscast from the 1960s, including commercials.  It's a prime example of how television can be a time capsule unlike any other, and it also shows us how far local news has fallen over the years.

The Scene Tonight, the 10pm newscast for Minneapolis-St. Paul's WCCO, premiered in January 1968.  As I recall at the time, the big thing about The Scene Tonight was that it was the first local newscast to feature all of the on-air talent on the same set, allowing them to interact with each other.* In an era just a few years removed from the 15-minute newscast, Scene set a new standard with a running time of 45 minutes.  (It would eventually expand to an hour.)

*Prior to then, it was common for local newscasts to consist of three distinct programs: news, weather and sports, each with their own sponsors.  The on-air personalities would share a single chair behind the desk; after the commercial marking the end of the news, the weatherman would appear with his maps and charts, and would then disappear after the next commercial block, to be replaced by the sportscaster.

This broadcast, from January 17, 1968, appears less than three weeks from the show's debut.  The lead story: President Johnson's State of the Union address.

A few observations after watching the newscast:

First, you'll notice the emphasis on hard news.  Dave Moore, the anchor, is there to deliver as many stories as can fit, and there's no embellishment, no attempt to wring any emotion from the story.  Also, not every story has a visual component to it.  Remote units are still difficult and expensive to set up, and most remote broadcasts are still done on film, which has to be brought to the studio and developed before it can air.  Therefore, there's not much reporting from the field if it isn't necessary,

As for the stories themselves, they represent a moment frozen in time from the tumultuous year that was 1968.  Lyndon Johnson is still a candidate for reelection, Robert F. Kennedy is still alive but not yet a candidate, Eugene McCarthy is a candidate but not yet taken seriously.  There's a group looking to impeach LBJ; I don't remember anything about them, but obviously they didn't get very far. Martin Luther King Jr. was still alive, Vietnam was still trouble, the crew of the Pueblo had yet to be captured. Watching the news, I had the impression we were looking at the calm before the storm.

The weather is blissfully streamlined; without radar, there's no ability to show fronts moving in, to recap the last 24 hours, to project the next 12, to show what the weather's like in other parts of the country.  All we're interested in is the weather in the five-state area, in Minnesota, and in the Twin Cities.  I loved Bud Kraehling's "just the facts" type of forecast, and his ongoing banter with Moore, which never seemed scripted, was a delight for years.

George Rice, the station's editorial commentator, is there for his nightly commentary, something you don't see all that often on local news anymore.  Commentary was a real flashpoint in the '60s and early '70s; conservatives often accused national newsmen of presenting unlabeled commentary under the guise of reporting, and the "instant commentary" provided after such events as the State of the Union were a sore spot with many viewers, who resented talking heads telling them what it was they'd just seen and heard.  It was important, therefore, that commentary be labeled exactly for what it was.

Another feature of Scene was "Action News," in which the station's investigative reporter, Skip Loescher,* would find out the story behind stories about which viewers wrote in.  Some of the stories, such as the one tonight, were fairly light; others were serious news stories with major consequences.

*Hilariously satirized here in Channel 11's Lunch With Casey as "Skip Tomalou."

Hal Scott wrapped things up with the sports, and in this pre-internet, pre-cable era, the main focus of the sports was the scoreboard, presented lovingly through typewritten scores that were then scrolled through in front of the camera.  If you've watched the video, you know what I mean.

Of all these things, thought, what most struck me was how unobtrusive the commercials were.  Most of them were without music, and when it was used it wasn't the loud music that today's commercials often feature.  As a matter of fact, there was a sensibility about most of the commercials on Scene, as if it was understood they'd be viewed by people who might be in bed, and were designed not to disturb them.

There's at least one other Scene Tonight video out there, and I'll go through that some day.  But in the meantime I found this absolutely fascinating.  Watching it, all of a sudden I was eight years old again, back in the double-bungalow on 31st Avenue South in Minneapolis, and the theme music was absolutely the way I'd remembered it all those years ago.  It's a precious piece of tape, as all such shows are, not only for what it tells us about the times, but what it tells us about ourselves.

September 28, 2015

What's on TV? Wednesday, October 2, 1974

This week we're back in the Twin Cities, as the new season continues to take shape.  Tonight's programs are a mix of the new (Little House in the Prairie, in its first season, which I don't generally associate with Wednesday), the established (Cannon) and a slew of short-run series (Manhunter, Get Christie Love!, Sons and Daughters).  Let's see what the rest of the day looks like.

September 26, 2015

This week in TV Guide: September 28, 1974

This week we get a look at Paul Sand, whose CBS sitcom Friends and Lovers has been an almost unanimous choice to be the breakout hit of the new season.  It's sandwiched between two of CBS' biggest shows, All in the Family and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. And yet the series barely survives the new year, exiting in early January after a mere 15 episodes.

There's no hint of that in Rowland Barber's article on "Paul Sand's Long Road to Stardom."  Sand comes across as an eminently likable person: modest, unpretentious.  A veteran of the Second City, he's now the rising star of the MTM team, having first been noticed when his old friend Valerie Harper recommended him for a guest spot on Moore's show, and now slated to follow Bob Newhart into the world of MTM sitcom success.  Barber calls him "possibly the most appealing new face on the tube since the debut of Mary Tyler Moore herself."

So what happened?  One theory, suggested by the always-reliable Wikipedia, is that the ratings were good, just not good enough - it lost too much of Family's lead-in, and itself wasn't feeding the viewers to MTM. In another era, it might have been given more time to develop, or moved to a different time slot.  Likewise, in another era, it might have been cancelled even more rapidly, in order to limit the damage.  Its replacement, The Jeffersons, winds up doing exactly what the network wants.  As for Sand, despite a long television career, never again would he headline his own series.


Last week we took a look at the new 1967 model televisions, spotlighted in a special section in the middle of the issue, replete with ads from all the major manufacturers.  Eight years later, it's a four-page article, surrounded by car ads (and no Joey Heatherton).  And whereas the story of 1967's sets is COLOR!, the big news in 1975 will be far less sexy: solid state, meaning that except for the picture tube itself, all those little tubes in the set's interior are gone - replaced by transistors, diodes and integrated circuits.*

*Ironically, the first solid state television was introduced by Motorola in 1967.  I can't remember if it was mentioned in that preview or not.

What's good about this is that integrated circuits should allow for "vastly improved" color adjustments, getting rid of virtually all the knobs and dials that used to do the job.  It's more energy efficient as well, a handy thing to have during the energy crisis.  The old dial that you see on my "Around the Dial" features will be a thing of the past as well, replaced by remote control or push button tuners.  Some of them will feature on-screen channel displays.  And in general, the picture should be both clearer and brighter - important things, now that 70% of the public has color TV.


The ill-fated Morning News duo.
It might seem hard to believe nowadays, but one of the biggest TV stories of 1973 was the debut of Sally Quinn as co-anchor of the CBS Morning News with Hughes Rudd.  Quinn had been a journalist with the Washington Post when she was hired by CBS, and she was thrown on the air with virtually no preparation or training whatsoever, teamed up with an anchor with whom she had no chemistry and who clearly didn't want her on the show.  Not surprisingly, it was a disaster, lasting six months before Quinn returned to the Post.

Well, it's comeback time of a sort for Quinn, as The Doan Report - well, reports.  She's going to be featured in NBC's new magazine show, Weekend, hosted by Lloyd Dobyns.  Weekend will be a once-a-month show, taking the place of the Saturday night Johnny Carson rerun.*  Next year, it will be performing the same function for NBC's new late-night comedy show - Saturday Night Live.

*Except in the areas where Carson reruns are on Sunday; in those cases, the show runs on Sunday.  Which is, I suppose, why it's called Weekend.

Weekend itself runs for five years, the last of which was spent in prime time, when Dobyns was joined by Linda Ellerbee.  Quinn maintained a successful career at the Post, marrying her boss Ben Bradlee, and becoming one of Washington's more successful hostesses.


Lots of shows to look at this week, so let's get right to it.

Saturday's college football is nothing special.  In this era of one game per week, the regional choice is Washington State vs. Illinois.  The two teams will combine for eight victories this season; Illinois wins this game 21-19.  Following the game, Wide World of Sports presents the Harlem Globetrotters from London, followed by the Southern 500 stock car race, taped on Labor Day weekend.

That night, it's the bizarre, wonderful movie Theatre of Blood on ABC, starring Vincent Price and Diana Rigg, and featuring a who's-who of British character actors including Ian Hendry, Coral Browne (Mrs. Price), Robert Coote (from The Rogues), Oscar winner Jack Hawkins (Ben Hur), Robert Morley, and Arthur Lowe.  As Judith Crist says in her review, "if the names don't ring a bell, the faces and talents will."  It's the story of Shakespearean actor Edward Lionheart (Price), who embarks on a bloody trail of revenge against the film critics who deny him an important reward.  Crist calls it "a romp and a roll," done with "high style and invention" and serving to "restore that fine sense of fun to a genre more honored of late in its exploitation then by a creative exploration of its intelligent entertainment values."

On Sunday, the NFL doubleheader starts with the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings on CBS at 1pm (CT), followed by the Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers at 3pm on NBC.  Not a bad lineup, but it reminds us that before the NFL became a day-long marathon, there was room for other afternoon programming.  Leonard Bernstein became famous to millions as host of CBS' Young People's Concerts, performed with the New York Philharmonic.  But Lenny is gone now, leading the Vienna Philharmonic, and in his place is Michael Tilson Thomas, who presents "What Makes a Gershwin Tune a Gershwin Tune?"  The fact that kids would genuinely be interested in the program speaks volumes about the difference between young people then and now.  Following that, at 5:00pm, a CBS News Special looks at President Ford's struggle with the troubled economy, especially the attempts to curb inflation.  Anyone remember "WIN" buttons?

In prime time, if you haven't had enough music for one day, PBS' Evening at Pops presents the great Ella Fitzgerald in concert with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, among other things doing an Irving Berlin medley.  And finally, Sonny Bono's failed solo attempt The Sonny Comedy Revue has as guest stars McLean Stevenson (a relic of the '70s if ever there was one) and - hang on - Joey Heatherton!  See, even if you can't get her in the new TV preview, she's still here!

Monday night's highlight is probably NBC's Monday Night at the Movies presentation of 'Support Your Local Sheriff!", a delightfully funny Western spoof with James Garner as the Sheriff, Joan Hackett as the Girl, Harry Morgan as the Mayor, and Walter Brennan and Bruce Dern as two of the most spectacularly inept villains you're likely to ever see.

Also, I'm struck by the lineup CBS has on Mondays, starting with Gunsmoke at 7:00, Maude at 8:00, Rhoda at 8:30 and Medical Center at 9:00.  In a sense, this evening presents television's transition in a microcosm: Gunsmoke in its 20th and final season and Medical Center in its sixth of seven seasons, both series very much cut from the traditional cloth of television drama: self-contained (for the most part) episodes featuring traditional heroes from two traditional genres, Westerns and medical dramas. They're bookending two series in the vanguard of the medium's new wave - Maude, in its third season, featuring abrasive personalities and socially liberal causes, far more outspoken than the typical sitcom; and Rhoda, in its first season, a spinoff from Mary Tyler Moore that combines traditional elements (the single woman looking for a husband, the spectacular wedding) while eventually evolving to subjects infrequently discussed on comedies: separation and divorce.

Tuesday:  All week, Channel 9, the ABC affiliate in the Twin Cities, is advertising how their 6 o'clock news can now be seen at five o'clock.  If you've read some of the program listings from the 1960s, you might have noticed that Channel 9 generally eschewed the 6:00 news, preferring to counter other stations' news with game shows or reruns of sitcoms.  I don't know how long ago they introduced a 6:00 news program, if indeed they had one, but they're now the first with local news, followed by the evening news with Howard K. Smith and Harry Reasoner. and Truth or Consequences at 6.

CBS continues the "big show" lineup they had on Monday, and again it's a blend of the old and the new: Good Times at 7 (black, urban comedy), M*A*S*H at 7:30 (the groundbreaking dramedy), Hawaii Five-O at 8 (old-fashioned police work), and Barnaby Jones at 9 (private detective, albeit a senior citizen version).  But looking at ABC's Tuesday lineup you can begin to see the stirrings of the programming that would soon make it #1: Happy Days, combined with one of the network's first hits, Marcus Welby, M.D.

Wednesday:  It's kind of a lean night for the networks, although there are a couple of pretty successful shows on: Little House on the Prairie, in its first season, on NBC, and Cannon, in its fourth season, on CBS.  Combine that with NBC's Petrocelli at 9:00, rumored to be coming to DVD, and you could replicate the entire season at home.  However, the more unsuccessful shows are more prevalent on this night, with CBS having Sons and Daughters and Manhunter, NBC countering with Lucas Tanner, and ABC following up with That's My Mama, a movie, and the legendary Get Christie Love!

On Thursday PBS premieres one of my favorite shows of the time, the sports documentary series The Way It Was.  It's a nice combination of archival footage, occasionally with the original play-by-play, and interviews with participants from the event.  It's hosted by Curt Gowdy, accompanied by one of the event's announcers.  Tonight, it's a look at the "Miracle of Coogan's Bluff," the "Shot Around the World": Bobby Thomson's home run for the New York Giants to defeat the Brooklyn Dodgers in the final game of the 1951 National League playoff.  The Way It Was ran for two seasons, I think, and it was a terrific show.

It's a good sports night; at 8:00, it's the World Football League Game of the Week, with the New York Stars taking on the Chicago Fire.  If you know anything about the WFL, you'll recognize the historical implication of this listing, for before too much longer the Stars will move to Charlotte, where they're become the Hornets.  I didn't see this game, of course, because I was living in the World's Worst Town™.

Friday is the best night of the week, because, you know, weekend!  But NBC has a hit Friday night lineup, and I think after seeing this you'll agree: Sanford and Son at 7:00, Chico and the Man at 7:30, The Rockford Files at 8:00, and Police Woman at 9:00.  It's what I had on Friday nights, being stuck with Channel 7 for a commercial TV station, but if I'd had the choice, I likely would have been watching CBS' Friday Night Movie, a repeat of Steve McQueen's Bullitt, with hands-down the greatest car chase scene in the history of anything.

Too bad they never spun that movie off into a TV series, isn't it?  Bullitt would have been a great foil for Peter Gunn, don't you think?  Bullett & Gunn?  Gunn & Bullett?  Take your choice. TV  

September 25, 2015

Around the dial

Several things to get to this week, so let's get started.  First off, what you've all been waiting for: the answer to last week's crossword puzzle.  So how did you do?

Not classic television, but according to many, Lost was a classic, and John Purzanski tells me that yesterday was the publication of The Take2 Guide to Lost, available now at all major eBook sellers. It's the "definitive resource of over 400 articles from an incredible community of Lost-lovers."  If that's up your alley, sounds as if this is a no-brainer.

At the Criminal Element blog, there's an interesting article on Law & Order.  Again, not from the classic era though many would consider it a modern-day classic, but in discussing the show's portrayal of Riker's Island and how it vastly undersells the length of time it takes for a case to move through the actual criminal justice system, Mary Buser makes this point: "Law & Order is an enjoyable series, viewed by millions. The only danger in this innocent entertainment is when it masks the horrible truth, and people start believing this is how the system actually works."  Isn't that precisely what I've been saying all along when it comes to how today's procedurals act as a police state's wet dream?

In honor of yesterday, which was National Punctuation Day, Michael's TV Tray reminds us of the punctuation song from The Electric Company.  Full disclosure: I never saw an episode of The Electric Company when I was growing up.  My wife did, however, and has fond memories of it, particularly future Oscar nominee Morgan Freeman as Easy Reader.

Joanna Wilson at Christmas TV History sure sounds as if she's been having a great road trip: the Jimmy Stewart Museum, the site of the house from A Christmas Story, and now the It's a Wonderful Life Museum.  Who knew?

One show I did watch growing up was The Dick Van Dyke Show, and although I've never had any particular urge to revisit it, I do remember the suspense every week as I wondered: would Rob trip over the ottoman this week or not?  I know, it probably depended on what season was being shown, but if you mix in reruns and a kid's mind, you can see where the suspense comes from.  Anyway, at How Sweet it Was you can read about the story of the show and the ottoman.

Televison's New Frontier: the 1960's is back with a look at the Western series Tombstone Territory, starring Pat Conway.  I've not seen this series before, and from the sounds of this review, there wasn't much in the way of groundbreaking change in it.

Don't waste time - check out these stories now, and come back tomorrow for a new TV Guide story. TV  

September 23, 2015

Sunday night TV: The FBI and The Rogues, two sides of the legal coin

Continuing a look at the Hadley Broadcasting Company's DVD viewing schedule,

Sunday Night Lineup:
The Rogues

know I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating - the two greatest dramatic themes on television are Perry Mason and The FBI.  Each, in concert with its opening credits, summarizes its show perfectly: in Mason's case, Fred Steiner's music captures the single-combat warrior preparing to do battle on behalf of an unjustly accused defendant, while the jazzy, aggressive beat suggests the confident, determined man unafraid of taking chances - unafraid, really, of anything or anyone.  With The FBI, it's Bronislaw Kaper's majestic theme, set for the first two seasons against the symbols of Washington authority: the Capitol, the Washington Monument, the Supreme Court, and the Department of Justice, home of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  It makes you want to run right out of the house and sign up.

One of the things which I appreciate most about The FBI is its refusal to indulge in the private lives of its regulars; aside from the ill-advised addition of a daughter (Lynn Loring) for Inspector Erskine (engaged to Erskine's partner, no less), you rarely get a glimpse into the home life of its principals.  Who knows whether Erskine (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.) lives in a house or an apartment?  What does Assistant Director Ward do in his spare time?  Do any of Erskine's partners (Stephen Brooks, William Reynolds) have any hobbies?  What are their favorite books?  What do they watch on TV in the evenings, aside from Quinn Martin programs?

Like Perry Mason, the story isn't about what happens outside the office, a blessed change from the soap opera-like obsession of today's programs and the quirkbot characteristics of their characters.  Instead, The FBI, like several series of the era, turns that focus on the guest stars.  It's one way to ensure a relatively constant supply of big-name stars, rather than the B-listers that populate most guest star rosters.  An early episode featuring Charles Bronson as a particularly nasty fugitive was a revelation; Bronson infused his character with a sensitivity and backstory that made him far more three-dimensional than the average criminal.  Not only was it a fine acting job and a well-written episode, it made the FBI's adversaries human rather than a foil for its regulars - something that today's series would do well to learn.

There's a crispness about the investigations in the show as well; without many of the technical shorthand that today's procedurals use, we're left to watch the Bureau's men engage in good, old-fashioned hard work, pounding the sidewalks and wearing out the shoe leather, following up on countless leads, most of which they already know will lead nowhere, seeing the frustration that accumulates as one suspect after another is crossed off the list, before hitting upon the one thread that leads to the next and eventually pulls the whole case together.  Again, it's a relief from the "and then a miracle happens" work of today's shows.

The casting is quality as well; Zimbalist has got to be J. Edgar Hoover's ideal FBI agent (no wonder the two of them were friends), and once Erskine's boss Ward (Phillip Abbot), gets off Lew's case (as he was for almost the entire first seasons), he becomes a supportive boss instead of a hard-ass.  I enjoyed Stephen Brooks as Erskine's first partner Jim Rhodes, but I also like William Reynolds, as Tom Colby.  And then, of course, there's the music!

But what I like the most about The FBI is that it's truly a throwback, not only in style but in tenor, back to a time when the Federal Bureau of Investigation was an organization of integrity and gravitas*, when the scene of an agent pulling out his credentials and solemnly saying, "FBI" put literal fear into the hearts of criminals.  Nobody, but nobody, wanted the FBI on their trail; look at how many times you hear them, even in movies not remotely connected with the series, talk about their fear of the FBI being called in the case. There was great dignity, even nobility, in the idea of being a part of the world's greatest police organization, which brings us back once again to the opening credits, and how The FBI portrayed an American justice that was, even if it never was.

*Yes, I know all about Hoover's excesses, and how the FBI had been used for political purposes, and all that.  This was an imaginary FBI, in a sense.  But it was the organization you wanted if you were dealing with kidnappers or extortionists or bank robbers or Communists.


It is a pity that The Rogues ran for only one season, 1964-65 on NBC, and a pity as well that it has never had a complete series commercial release.  But for those fortunate enough to have seen it during one of its runs on MeTV, or purchased it on the grey market, it is a delightfully offbeat, satisfying show - not as serious as Mission: Impossible, not as violent as The A Team, not as coy and self-important as Leverage.  What it is, mostly, is fun.

The tree stars of The Rogues, Charles Boyer, David Niven and Gig Young, play members of a most conniving family of con artists, the St. Clairs and the Flemings.  Gladys Cooper is the matriarch of the family, while Robert Coote plays Timmy, the loyal sidekick and master of disguise, who supports whichever lead happens to be appearing in the scam of the week.  From top to bottom, it's an outstanding cast.

The great thing about the show is that the family is often quite open about their goal: to bilk a rich businessman out of a significant amount of money.  The fact that the businessman in question is generally an asshole plays an important part in the plan, as it could be said they deserve what they've got coming to them, but sometimes they're just in it for the money.  On occasion the episode may start off with a smaller, self-contained scam which serves no purpose to the larger story other than to provide the family with seed money for the bigger sting they're about to pull.  Sometimes their scams go off without much trouble, but more often they're scrambling due to an unforeseen change in plans, and their adaptability is hilarious.  There are times when they don't end up with any money at all, due either to a narrow escape or a soft heart.

The writing is witty and literate, the plots significant without being wholly incomprehensible, the bad guys (Broderick Crawford, Telly Savalas and Darren McGavin to name three) are properly villainous, their innocent victims (either employees, family members, or those who've come out on the short end of the stick) satisfyingly innocent.

But there's no question that the star of The Rogues is, well, the stars.  Although it was not uncommon for two, or even all three, to appear in the same episode, one of them always takes the lead.  Boyer, as Marcel St. Clair, is a delight, his broad characterization often approaching laugh-out-loud funny, and his ladies' man approach being the perfect epitome of a Frenchman.  And yet, it is most unwise to take Marcel lightly; not only is he often the shrewd mastermind of the sting, but behind that light exterior there's an edge to his character (a former member of the underground) that can get quite hard when it comes out into the open.  This is a man, we are reminded, who could get quite dangerous when called on, even if it never happens in the show.

On the other hand, Niven's Alec Fleming is what you'd expect from the suave British actor: confident, let projecting an air of vulnerability; urbane, but with a twinkle in his eye.  Owing to his busy schedule with movies, Alec appears less frequently than the others, often appearing in a single scene, or on the other end of a telephone conversation.  Needless to say, his infrequent appearances are always highlights.

And then there's Young as Tony Fleming, the American cousin: a ladies man himself, and a born con man.  He's often wonderfully over-the top in his portrayals, able to present himself as anything from a wealthy industrialist to a down-on-his-luck bum.  He can even play a con man as cover for being a con man - how many people can pull that off?  Throw in Coote and Cooper, who are in virtually every episode (and were rewarded for their work with Emmy nominations for supporting actor and actress) and you've got a complete, flawless cast.

I called The Rogues fun, but the other word I'd use to describe it is "charming."  And they kind of go together, the two words, don't they?  "Charming rogue"?  That describes the Flemings and the St. Clairs to a T.  Gig Young once said in an interview that there were "a lot of people who liked The Rogues, and a lot of people who didn't."  Maybe they didn't want to see crooks hailed as good guys.  That's all I can think of, because there's no other reason you shouldn't be a fan of the con artists on the side of the Angels.

September 21, 2015

What's on TV? Friday, September 23, 1966

There's an interesting programming note at the beginning of today's listings.  It notes that NASA was planning to launch Surveyor 2 on September 20, with a planned landing on September 23, for which the networks might provide special coverage.  The Surveyor program was a vital preliminary step in the manned space program, allowing NASA to take photographs of possible landing sites and test out various mechanisms which astronauts would use on the flight.  As it happens, Surveyor 2 crashed prior to landing, so there was no coverage.  I can still recall the magic of the Ranger spacecrafts taking the first pictures of the moon by an American craft.  Hard for people now to believe what a sensation that was.

We're back in Dallas-Fort Worth this week.  Nothing special to note, so we'll get right to the listings.

September 19, 2015

This week in TV Guide: September 17, 1966

As the week opens, opening week of the Fall Season premiere is coming to an end, and the face of the season is starting to take shape.


There's something exciting reading about the first episode of a series that goes on to become something of a cultural touchstone, as opposed to the majority of new shows that sink to the bottom without a trace.  Such is the case on Saturday night on CBS, where we get to see examples of both.  At 7:30pm CT it's Pistols 'n' Petticoats, a Western sitcom starring Ann Sheridan* that lasted for 26 episodes before the ax fell.  

*Sheridan appeared in 21 of the 26 episodes before dying of cancer in January 1967.  The show was cancelled in March

Following that, at 8:00pm, is the inaugural episode of Mission: Impossible.  The M:I team would continue for seven seasons and 171 episodes, not including a brief revival and a series of theatrical features that bear little resemblance to the series.  In fact, of the stars appearing on that first episode, only two of them - Greg Morris and Peter Lupus - would remain with the series for its entire run; Steven Hill would depart after one season, and Martin Landeau and Barbara Bain would last for the first three.  It's the second- and third-season cast, in which Peter Graves replaces Hill, that I think represents the golden age of the show, but as you all know, it remains one of my favorites.

This issue is filled with advertisements for the season's new shows, some of them - like Mission: Impossible - destined for success, others for oblivion.  For example, on Monday night NBC's lineup includes shows that succeeded - The Monkees - and those that didn't - The Road West and The Roger Miller Show.  Of course, it helps that there were also a couple of returning success stories in that lineup: I Dream of Jeannie (now in color!) and Run For Your Life.  CBS' entry, Run, Buddy, Run ran out of steam and didn't make it beyond 16 weeks; ABC's lineup was perhaps the most stable, with The Rat PatrolThe Iron Horse and Felony Squad* all surviving to second seasons.

*One of the co-stars on Felony Squad was Ben Alexander, who formerly played Officer Frank Smith on Dragnet.  This gig kept Alexander from rejoining Jack Webb on the Dragnet revival, mentioned below.

Tuesday's NBC lineup has to be considered something of a disappointment: The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., which failed to capitalize on the success of its parent show, and Occasional Wife, which the viewers apparently found only occasionally funny.  ABC's* The Rounders and The Pruitts of Southampton also disappeared without a trace.

*ABC's ads featured faux quotes from stars of other ABC series.  Ha ha.

I hope ABC didn't pay in advance for their ads touting The Tammy Grimes Show - it was sacked after a mere four episodes, replaced by a prime-time version of The Dating Game.  On the other hand, That Girl, its Thursday night partner, does pretty well.  NBC's Thursday night lineup has an existing hit - Daniel Boone, - a new legend in the making - Star Trek, a bomb which will be replaced by a hit - The Hero, soon to make way for the revival of Dragnet - and another hit, The Dean Martin Show.

ABC pushes Milton Berle's Friday night variety show, already in the process of being slaughtered by NBC's The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and CBS' Hogan's Heroes.  The Green Hornet didn't do much better, but The Time Tunnel remains a much-loved cult series, running for a couple of seasonseven though it only ran for one season.  In turn, NBC's Friday night ad - "The Blockbusters!" publicizes Tarzan and T.H.E. Cat*, two series that run for only a single season ran for two seasons and one season, respectively. 

*In fairness, many people consider T.H.E. Cat, with Robert Loggia, to be a superior series, the victim of bad scheduling.  Having seen a few episodes of the show, I'm inclined to agree. 


During the 60s, the Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace were the premiere variety shows on television. Whenever they appear in TV Guide together, we'll match them up and see who has the best lineup..

Sullivan: Scheduled guests include Red Buttons; Herman's Hermits, rock 'n' rollers; singer Nancy Ames; Renata Tebaldi and Franco Corelli of the Metropolitan Opera; the Muppets puppets; and highlights of the Polynesian Festival, featuring 167 nations from the South Pacific Islands.

Palace: Host Bing Crosby opens the show's fourth season with comedians Sid Caesar and George Burns; soprano Jane Marsh; the Mamas and the Papas, folk-rock group; singer-dancer Lola Falana; French comic-magician Mac Ronay; and the Rhodians, aerialists.

After a few weeks of so-so matchups, this is more like it!  Both shows pull out all the stops as the new season gets underway, and they're pretty evenly matched.  Ed features two of the world's most famous opera stars in Tebaldi and Corelli, but Palace counters with Jane Marsh, who will become a very well-known star herself.  Legendary comedians: Ed has Red Buttons, but Palace has Caesar and Burns.  Sullivan's soloist is Nancy Ames, but Palace far outdoes her with Bing as host and star.  Both have '60s rock groups, and here is where the difference lies.  I've always had a soft spot for Herman's Hermits, perhaps because Peter Noone seems to have been one of the few '60s stars to keep a clear enough mind that he could view the whole scene from a bemused distance.  On the other hand, I never could stand the Mamas and the Papas.  Didn't like 'em then, don't like 'em to this day.  I know they were on Ed's show as well, but not this week, and because of that Sullivan takes the season opening prize.


It's football season, of course, which means a raft of big weekend games.  It kicks off north of the border at 12:30 (CT) Saturday, as KDFX, Channel 3 in Wichita Falls, TX presents the Canadian Football League game of the week - Edmonton at Montreal, taped September 9.*  At 2:00, ABC's college football features USC vs. Texas from Austin (an off-year for the Longhorns, who are beaten by the Trojans 10-6).

*Fun fact: the play-by-play is by Don Dunphy, better known as the greatest boxing announcer in history.

Sunday's pro action kicks off with an 11am start for NBC's AFL coverage, with the Houston Oilers taking on Joe Namath and the New York Jets (joined in progress at noon on KDFX and KXII, which presented church services at 11).  As far as the NFL, the Cowboys are at home this week, which means their game is blacked out in Dallas; KRLD instead carries the game between the Baltimore Colts and Minnesota Vikings.  The Cowboys game, against the New York Giants, can be seen on KAUZ in Wichita Falls.

And - that's it.  Only two games on Sunday, which hardly seems like anything at all today.  NBC follows its AFL game with Meet the Press (the guest is Filipino President Ferdinand Marcos), G-E College Bowl (Oklahoma vs. Drury College) and Frank McGee's Sunday news show, this week looking at the friction caused by a Federal Jobs Center in Camp Kilmer, NJ.  CBS has Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour (brought to you by Geritol!) and a special report on Vietnam.  ABC, which had no football on Sunday, leaves its affiliates to air movies.  Which once again proves that there is life beyond sports on Sunday.


Finally, there's a special insert in this week's issue, making it even larger than usual - the 1967 TV Set Buyers' Guide.  And the big news this year is the move to color!  It's expected to number nearly 20,000 sets a day by the end of the year.  But rather than writing about it, why don't I just show you some of the new models, being advertised as if they were new cars.

It's easy to see why color is the Next Big Thing: as sets become more affordable and the networks convert almost all of their shows to color, people will be flocking to replace perfectly good black-and-white sets to the new consoles and portables.  And if you live north of the border, good news: color television will be coming to Canada next year!

Notice that DuMont, which ceased to be a television network a decade ago, is still a television manufacturer.  And that the TV-stereo combination is still very big.

Portable TVs are all the rage.

Speaking of which, the model appearing in these ads is none other than Joey Heatherton: singer, dancer, actress, daughter of the old Broadway star Ray Heatherton, with whom she'd occasionally appear on TV.  That "earring"she's wearing is one of the smallest portables, referred to here as a "transistor TV."  That must have been remarkable at the time (the TV, I mean), and yet take a look at your smartphone, which can do so much more than simply run videos - and the videos you do watch are in high-definition.

You're welcome.

September 18, 2015

Around the dial

Random thought: why didn't I call this feature "This Week's Best Bets" when I started it?  Named after the old TV Guide page, you know.  I must have been too enamored with the idea of posting pictures of different television dials.  Oh well.  Another idea for another time.

It is true, however, that these are the best bets of the week.  First off, though, here's an update on the progress of the crossword puzzle we started on Wednesday.  Keep going, everyone - you're doing great so far!

I usually get my fix of British TV from Cult TV Blog, and we'll get to that shortly, but first this digression to a nice piece at Classic Film and TV Cafe on two British shows I've never seen, one of which I've never heard of.  I've read about The Baron; just never motivated enough to check out a clip on YouTube, let alone buy the set.  But Adam Adamant Lives! has escaped my attention completely.  If you're reading this Cult TV, do you have any thoughts?

In Monday's TV listings feature, I mentioned Bowling for Dollars, which should not be confused with Celebrity Bowling.  It's the later that takes center stage here, as David of Comfort TV writes about that show's appearances by members of The Brady Bunch.  Not everyone would admit to owning this DVD, and for that alone I want to shake David's hand; if you ever make it to Dallas, David, I'm buying you dinner!

If you like those old TV listings, then check out The TV Guide Historian - there are a slew of them up this week (try this one on for size), and each one of them - as, indeed, is the case anytime one looks at old listings - tells a very specific story of time and place, and generates strong emotions, even if they're only of curiosity.  Which is why we keep coming back to them week after week.

Now, back to Cult TV.  To top off a week of good posts, there's an excellent essay on another show with which I'm not familiar: The Strange World of Gurney Slade, starring Anthony Newley! (Who knew?). To say I'm intrigued, after both the positive and negative comments in the essay, is an understatement.  Here's the opening scene from the first episode to give you an idea of how quirky this show was.  Now, to figure out how to see more of it...

Michael's TV Tray has a commercial for a do-it-at-home milkshake.  Did I ever have this, or something like it?  There seems to be something familiar about it, some sense of disappointment that it didn't measure up to the ones that I would get at Bridgeman's.

By the way, when you're browsing through the links on the sidebar, you might notice that some of the sites appear to be abandoned; that is, there hasn't been any new content for quite some time.  And this is true.  However, I keep the links up there because there's almost always something interesting buried in there somewhere (otherwise, I wouldn't have linked to it in the first place), and I'll bet none of us have read them all.

Rest assured that if I ever abandon this blog - and if I call it a day, you'll know about it; this won't be one of those where all of a sudden there are no new posts and no explanation - I'll still leave it up, so you can see what you've missed.  But one thing you shouldn't miss is tomorrow's TV Guide review, so be here! TV  

September 16, 2015

Help fill out the TV Guide crossword puzzle!

We don't usually do audience participation here at It's About TV, but this week I thought we'd try something different.  If it works and you like it, we'll make it a recurring feature.  It has to do with one of the most popular parts of TV Guide - the crossword puzzle.

Below is the puzzle from the September 14, 1974 issue we've been looking at this week. Pick out one or two of the clues, and enter your answers in the comments section below.*  (I've got next week's issue, which means I know what the correct answers are.)  Remember, this TV Guide is from 1974, so keep that in mind when answering the clues.  Between all of us, let's see how many of the answers we can come up with.  I'll print the correct puzzle next week.  Ready?  Let's get started!

*For those of you coming here from Facebook, please use the comments section here rather than answering on Facebook, so everyone can see your answers!

September 14, 2015

What's on TV? Saturday, September 14, 1974

There's nothing special about this week's listing, and that's precisely why I've chosen it. - to demonstrate to you how utterly terrible Saturday cartoons have become.  They totally lack imagination, most of them being ripoffs of lame live-action sitcoms, and as tiresome as kids' TV do-gooders can be, it makes me completely sympathize with their position.  But as MST3K has demonstrated, even looking at bad things can be fun!  The listings are from the Twin Cities, so let's get started.

September 12, 2015

This week in TV Guide: September 14, 1974

If you've been with us for awhile, you might recognize the cover of this week's issue, or at least the information contained on the very clever pastiche of the Daily Racing Form, listing the odds on the new seasons's shows.  Three years ago, when I covered the previous week's Fall Preview edition, I included a bit on this issue, correlating the odds with some of the new shows that had been profiled.  No real reason to go over that again; if you want to see how well some of the shows did, feel free to check that issue out.  Go ahead; I'll wait.


In the meantime, there's plenty of other stuff to keep us amused.  For example, Melvin Durslag has a story on how NFL players look at Monday Night Football as an opportunity to show off their skills to players in the rest of the league, who are presumably at home watching the game on TV.  Jane Hall writes about CBS' Bicentennial Minutes series, a two-year long lead-up to the Bicentennial, in which a star presents a one-minute factoid on some aspect of American history.

And then there's Richard Warren Lewis' preview of The Sex Symbol, an ABC Movie of the Week starring Connie Francis as a Marilyn Monroe-like movie star, suffering all the triumphs and tragedies therein.  It's taken the movie six months to reach the small screen, thanks to the "controversy and scissoring" needed to make it presentable for television.  The Kennedy family didn't like Don Murray's portrayal of a politician-lover who seemed to cut a little too close to the bone; the Monroe estate didn't like some of Stevens' lines that seemed to suggest a life a little too much like the real Monroe; the censors didn't like the movie's depiction of drug and alcohol abuse, not to mention the nude scenes that Stevens filmed for the movie's foreign release to theaters.  (Said co-star Shelly Winters of those scenes, "In the last act, they forgot to put clothes on Connie.  Or they didn't put enough.")  Stevens says that "the guy who did the editing must have been a genius," but insists that the uncut, foreign version "was a hundred and ten times better."  As for the finished product, Made for TV Mayhem's Amanda can tell you more about that.


If you're a sports fan, this is a terrific time of the year, with baseball's pennant races rounding into form and college and pro football kicking off.

On the baseball front, not much to report.  NBC's Saturday Game of the Week will be covering the game most important to the standings.  Their choices are the Yankees vs. Detroit, Pittsburgh vs. Montreal or Boston vs. Milwaukee.  A quick glance at how the 1974 season ended suggests the Pirates-Expos game would have been the best bet.  Airing opposite baseball is ABC's college football, in this case a matchup between Stanford and Penn State.  Of the two, Penn State will have the more successful season; they begin ranked #8 in the country, defeat Stanford in this game 24-20, and finish with a record of 10-2, good enough for a #7 final ranking.  Stanford is ranked #20 to start the season, but their narrow loss to Penn State is followed by a walloping against Illinois, and they wind up 5-4-2, out of the running for a post-season spot.  On Sunday, the NFL season begins with regional grudge matches; Cleveland vs. Cincinnati at noon (CT) on NBC, and Minnesota vs. Green Bay at 1pm on CBS.

The Oakland Raiders were always famed for their unparalleled record on Monday Night Football; for many years that record included but one loss, and the loss comes this week as they take on O.J. Simpson and the Bills in Buffalo.  I remember this game well, but not because I'd seen it; living in the World's Worst Town™, we didn't get the Monday night game, so I had to listen to it on CBS radio.*  In a terrific matchup, the Bills emerge with a 21-20 victory, headed for one of their most successful seasons in years.

*Which was actually a pretty pleasant experience; for years, dedicated fans would turn down the sound on television, thus avoiding the ABC crew of Frank Gifford, Don Meredith and Howard Cosell while enjoying the CBS radio crew's call.

And yes, even though it's 1974 and not 2015, we have Thursday night football - only it's not the NFL.  It's the World Football League, working its way through it's inaugural season (and only one to be completed).  The WFL had debuted to great fanfare earlier in the summer, with several big name NFL players jumping to the new league and early games in Jacksonville and Philadelphia drawing huge crowds.  But then the house of cards fell apart; teams were forced to admit most of the tickets had been given away, while other teams were forced to move to new locations during the season because of money problems.  Within a month of the game being played this week, teams in Philadelphia and Detroit would fold, and the league champion Birmingham Americans would have their uniforms and equipment impounded after the game due to nonpayment of bills.  But that's in the future, and this Thursday the league continues to limp along, with the Americans playing the Houston Texans in Birmingham.  That's not today's Houston Texans, by the way.


It's Disaster Week on the movie schedule, both in terms of subject matter and quality.

On Tuesday, up against The Sex Symbol, NBC has Terror on the 40th Floor, which sounds like a ripoff of The Towering Inferno (secret party on top floor of office building, fire breaks out) except Inferno hasn't been released yet; it's still in production and Terror is an obvious attempt to get a jump on it with a quickie ripoff.  One thing they get right is the casting; with John Forsythe, Joseph Campanella and Don Meredith heading the lineup, it's the same collection of just-below-the-top-level names that big screen disaster flicks depend on.

Wednesday, ABC has The Day the Earth Moved, with Jackie Cooper and Cleavon Little (again, following the rules of casting for disaster movies) as a couple of aerial photographers able to read the signs of an upcoming earthquake, but - wait for it - unable to convince the authorities of the impending disaster.  Stella Stevens, William Windom and Beverly Garland round out the cast.

CBS counters with a pair of disaster movies that deal with eco-disasters.  First, from the "nature run wild!" school, the Tuesday late movie has Frogs, with Ray Milland, Sam Elliot and Joan Van Ark trying to survive an invasion of killer frogs.  Then, on Friday, it's Bruce Davison starring in Willard, the story of a young man with a trained pack of attack rats.  Grim movies all around, don't you think?

There are a couple of movies that redeem the week, though - the network premieres of Klute (NBC, Saturday) and Fiddler on the Roof (ABC, Sunday).  Klute features Jane Fonda in her first Oscar-winning role, co-starring with Donald Sutherland in a movie that Judith Crist says "doesn't dodge issues or the intelligence of its audience."  As for Fiddler, starring Topol, Crist calls it a "universal story of tradition of man and God" that, by its commitment to film, is "ours to enjoy again and again."


I've remarked before about the stupidity of the Prime Time Access Rule, which was supposed to result in more local public affairs programming, but instead gave us strip series mostly consisting of syndicated game shows and Hollywood gossip programs.  There was a time, though, when this wasn't always the case.

For example, on Wednesday nights WCCO, Channel 4 in the Twin Cities, interrupted their week of game shows (Let's Make a Deal), variety shows (Bobby Goldsboro), and nature documentaries (Wild, Wild World of Animals) for a half-hour of Laurel and Hardy movies.  John Gallos, whose '60s altar ego was Clancy the Cop on weekday mornings, was part of the nationwide revival of interest in the two comedians, and on Sunday morning he included an hour of old-time movies from the Bowery Boys, the Little Rascals, and more Stan and Ollie.

On KSTP, Channel 5, the syndicated block was broken up on Monday night by The Bud Grant Show, a half-hour with Vikings head coach Bud Grant and the station's sports director, Tom Ryther reviewing Sunday's action.  On Thursday and Friday nights it was Bowling For Dollars, again hosted by Ryther.  It was, perhaps, something best described as a franchise program, but at least it was locally produced.  Even KMSP, Channel 9, the king of strip game shows, had a Vikings football preview show on Friday nights.

The other point about all this is that the five-night-a-week strip programming had yet to take over the 6:30pm time slot.  Even on the nights when local shows weren't on, the rest of the nights of the week generally featured different shows.  Nice to have a little variety, anyway.


Finally, NBC's advertising campaign for the fall season is "Turn On the Network of the New!"  One reason a network might have an abundance of new programming, of course, is because they've cancelled so many of their old shows.  And this season will be no exception:  Born Free, The Smothers Brothers Show, Amy Prentiss, The Bob Crane Show, Sierra, Lucas Tanner, Sunshine.  But then, there were a couple of shows here and there that managed to make something of themselves.  Little House on the Prairie, which experts had ranked as a 5 (out of 25) in terms of likelihood of success, survived for nine seasons and made Michael Landon a star in his own right.  Chico and the Man rated a 4, but parlayed that into four seasons and catapulted Freddie Prinze into ill-fated stardom of his own.  Police Woman provided arresting drama for Angie Dickinson fans, and The Rockford Files, which nobody wrote about, lasted for six seasons and became one of James Garner's most loved series.  So although there were more misses than hits, the New! NBC didn't do too badly after all, did it? TV  

September 9, 2015

Martin Milner, R.I.P.,
Judy Carne, R.I.P.

A confession: I was never a big fan of Martin Milner's two most famous roles, which is entirely different from not being a fan of Martin Milner the man.  The paths these two characters took, Tod Stiles on Route 66 and Pete Malloy on Adam-12, were almost inverse trajectories in my mind.

As Tod, the restless, educated young man roaming the country in search of adventure, romance and himself, Milner had a winning freshness about him, particularly when partnered with the rougher, more street-smart Buz Murdoch, played by George Maharis.  But there were always things about Tod - his over-eagerness to always get involved (i.e., meddling), his almost-Rousseauian conviction that life could be perfected - that would get on my nerves.  "Just walk away!" I would shout more than once, watching a particular episode or another.  "Don't get involved!"  Of course, he never took my advice - if he had, there might have been a lot of 10 minute episodes.  By the time Maharis was written out of the show, halfway through the third season, Tod had started to develop a chip on his shoulder: having to carry the series on his own, he became far too certain, for a man his age, that he absolutely knew what was right, far too quick to resort to his fists, often wound so tight that he seemed on the verge of hysteria.  When Glenn Corbett was introduced as Maharis' replacement, it was in an episode in which Tod's arrogance and pugnacity reached such heights that he was virtually a cartoon character.  It marked the first time I ever took a series that we watched every week and put it on indefinite hiatus.  That was two years ago, and it hasn't rejoined the schedule yet.  It will someday, but my Friday nights are just fine without Route 66.

A few years later, Adam-12 premiered, and unlike Route 66, I was able to watch this series in its original run.  Having had no past history with Milner, I had no reason to carry over any antagonism from the other series, and yet I found myself clearly not liking the character of Pete Malloy.  He was brusk, with an attitude that I found off-putting.  In those days I tended to side more with his partner, Kent McCord.  And yet as the series progressed, I found myself warming to Malloy - there was a good humor about him, a generosity of spirit, a benign patience with his partner that often mirrored the relationship between Dragnet's Joe Friday and his partners Frank Smith and Bill Gannon.* Though Malloy could still get on my nerves from time to time, I found him much more likable by the end of the series.

*No surprise, since the two shows were both created by Jack Webb.

I hasten to add that this is my opinion only; many fans of each show would disagree with me strongly on my negative takes.  And that's why I stressed from the very outset that there was a difference between Martin Milner's characters and Martin Milner himself.  He was an excellent actor, whether as a man who sees his double in The Twilight Zone or the very first murder victim on the very first episode of Columbo.  His reputation was always that of a consummate professional, on and off the set.  He was a devoted family man, married to the same woman for 58 years, and he brought his family with him on location during the run of Route 66 - impressive, since the show was on location, all over the country, every week.  And in virtually every role he played, he projected a trademark humanity (that picture at the top of the page is very fitting) that won him countless fans, all of whom mourn his death this week at 83.


If Adam-12 was at the law-and-order end of the cultural spectrum, Laugh-In was at the other end altogether, even though Mr. Law-and-Order himself, Richard Nixon, was a guest on the first show.  Laugh--In projected the anarchy and flower-power of the '60s that would have been the bane of many a social conservative, and nobody exemplified that spirit better than one of the undeniable faces of the show, Judy Carne.

"Sock it to me" - is there anyone of an age that doesn't remember that line, or the girl that made it famous?  And sock it to Judy Carne they would: doused with water, hit with a board, dropped through a trap door.  It doesn't say much for the progressiveness of the show that it held such an attitude toward women (besides the physical pummeling, the only other thing they were good for was dancing in skimpy bikinis), but as I've often said, it does no good to view one age through the lens of another.

I watched Laugh-In when it was on, partly because it was the thing to do, partly because it was the only thing on television for that first year I lived in The World's Worst Town™.  It would be an exaggeration to call it a favorite of mine; in fact, one of my few fond memories of it is that a stage version of the show was one of the choices we had when it came time to do our Senior Class play.*

*Sample line: "Dan: I have a brother who plays the piano by ear.  Dick:  That's nothing.  I have an uncle who fiddles with his navel."  I would have played either Dan or Dick had the administration allowed us to choose that play.  Needless to say, they didn't.  Needless to say, I would have loved it.

Laugh-In wasn't Carne's first television series; that would have been Fair Exchange, with Lynn Loring, followed by Love on a Rooftop, an ahead-of-its-time sitcom in which she co-starred with Peter Duell.  Nor was it her first brush with fame; that would probably have been her brief marriage to Burt Reynolds, who doesn't come off looking too well in Carne's account.  But Laugh-In was what she became known for, and sadly, it was probably the height of her career.  Poor health, a long history of problems with drugs and the law, and an unhappy life would plague her for years after,   It might best be summed up by a Los Angeles Times reviewer who, reviewing her autobiography Laughing on the Outside, Crying on the Inside, wrote "And, finally, after those celebrities have sold every used-up comedy line, or discount-shoe, or 15-minute stint on a cable talk show, or two-minute cameo appearance,” one Los Angeles Times reviewer wrote, “they go into their Emotional Ready Reserve, and — drawing on resources they never even legitimately had — sell the very last things in their lives: their memories and fabrications."

It's never fun reading something like that.  A friend said she was pretty much a recluse her last few years, and one can only hope that there she might have found some modicum of the peace that she had missed for so long.  She died this week at 76, leaving her demons, at least in this world, behind.