October 31, 2015

This week in TV Guide: November 3, 1962

What could be more frightening on Halloween than talking about politics?

Yes, there was once a time when the midterm elections were considered a big deal, and the networks would preempt their entire prime-time lineup to present the returns as they came in. There were experts for House and Senate races, experts for each region of the country, key contests that would help determine the direction the country would take over the next couple of years, and the decade beyond.

Now? A yawn, and well-deserved. The networks present, I don't, know, perhaps an hour of coverage. Midterms are, for the most part, of local interest only, and your broadcast stations may update viewers more often through breakaways and scrolling returns. Cable is where the action is, but there you're confronted by yelling and shouting, pundits pontificating and bloviating, spin doctors from each party urging us to believe them and not our own lying eyes. That's not to say that such things didn't exist in 1962; they did. If you go to YouTube and catch any election coverage from the '60s, you're going to find a fair share of most of these things, except for the shouting (well, they were more civilized back then). One of the key differences, I think, is that back in 1962 the average American was expected to be interested in politics - it was our future they were talking about, after all. Today, politics is a niche interest, like home improvement television or those men who watch My Little Pony. And my suspicion is that we're worse off for it. But then, to have favored a presidential debate the other night instead of watching the World Series? Why, that's absolutely un-American.


This is the kind of issue I love to run into. There was no compelling reason to purchase it save I needed one for this particular week in order to continue the series; were I just collecting them for my own edification and amusement, I might not ever have purchased it. But the fun starts off right away, with the editorial (likely written, as most of them were, by Merrill Pannit) empathizing with those viewers who complain when two quality shows are being broadcast at the same time. "Some would like to see Perry Mason and Dr. Kildare and The Nurses. But the last half of Perry Mason is on at the same time as the firs thalf of Dr. Kildare, and the last half of Dr. Kildare is on a the same time as the first half of The Nurses."

The plea from viewers, as always, is for the networks to stop doing this. But legally they can't collude over their schedules, and anyway what good would that do? It's like admitting to the public, "You love Perry Mason, so we're going to schedule this crap program on opposite it so you don't have to choose." Tell me, do you really think you're going to hear this anytime soon? TV Guide reminds viewers that they can always catch up on what they've missed during the summer rerun season, They only urge networks not to intentionally attempt to schedule successful shows against each other as a weapon, to try and drag down the ratings of a popular program - what today we call "counterprogramming."

Don't you think, somewhere out there, someone reads this and thinks to themselves, "That videotape technology that we know is coming down the pike - wouldn't it be something if we could miniaturize it, perhaps to the point where it would fit on top of someone's home television? Then if two of their favorite shows were on at the same time they could record one of them, and watch it later. We could even put a little clock on the front of the machine, so they could always tell what time it is. It shouldn't be too hard - if they can only set a clock, they'll be able to program the machine easily."

Nah - It'll never work.


The "For the Record" section, in a piece entitled "Fateful Days," praises the networks' effort regarding their coverage of events on "the night of Oct. 22." Says Henry Harding, "Television has served [the public] well - or, at least, as well as it could considering the fact that so much secrecy and mystery has shrouded the intentions of the cold war adversaries."

Though it's not referred to even once by name, what Harding is writing about is the Cuban Missile Crisis*, and President Kennedy's dramatic speech announcing the quarantine of Cuba. It was, quite possibly, the most intense, anxious event covered by television to that time, the questions of the highest stake: "What was the reaction in Moscow? In Havana? At the United Nations? Would the Caribbean become a battlefield? Would thermonuclear war be provoked?" I remember my mother once telling me how she'd watched the speech holding my two-year-old self on her lap, wondering if this was going to be the end and, if so, determined that the two of us would go through it together. That's the kind of tension that was in the air that month.

*Which begs the question: how long did it take before it become known by that name? So far I haven't been able to find out, though admittedly I haven't done that much research on it.

There's a general consensus that the new medium covered this story pretty well, although "the information supplied by TV could never be adequate to satisfy the public's appetite and need to be informed. But it is some comfort to know that, as news breaks, a twist of the television dial can make it available to every American." Little did anyone know that just over a year later, television would cover a story that dwarfed this one and, in the process, reach its full maturity in terms of how it could serve the public.

Here's the complete speech. I haven't been able to track down the original televised version, although bits and pieces of it appear in other contexts, particularly the network coverage following JFK's assassination. However, if you look carefully during this one you can still see some of the artifacts from how television addresses of the time were done: there's a riser in front of Kennedy to make it easier for him to look at the written speech, since the TelePrompTer hasn't yet come into use. And there's a backdrop behind him, blocking the Oval Office windows, allowing for a better television background. Far different from how things are done today.


On Sunday night's G.E. True (9:30 ET, CBS), host Jack Webb introduces "The Handmade Private," starring Jerry Van Dyke. The ad asks us to "watch what happens when two GI's invent a soldier...who soon becomes so "alive" that he not only turns an entire army camp upside down, but triggers a manhunt that reaches 'round the world...proves that truth can be funnier than fiction."

Gee, that sounds like a great idea for a story - I wonder how the writer thought it up?

Perhaps better-known than the story is the music it inspired, by Prokofiev. And if you doubt you know anything about it, I'll bet it's more familiar than you think.


It can't be a coincidence that WBZ, Channel 4 in Boston, is running the political drama The Last Hurrah this week (Saturday, 11:15pm); it has to be in honor of this week's elections, which marks the first time I can recall a station treating election season as a time for seasonal programming. Imagine if we did political movies in October and early November, the same way we do Christmas movies in December. It might look something like this. I wonder why it never caught on, said nobody ever.

Nonetheless, The Last Hurrah, based on the novel by Edwin O'Connor is a worthy movie, with Spencer Tracy wonderful as an old-time party boss conducting his last campaign for reelection as mayor of a New England city (never named, but assumed to be Boston). One of the themes running through the story is Tracy's character, Frank Skeffington, inviting his nephew to observe not just his last hurrah, but perhaps the last hurrah of urban politics as we know it, the politics of glad-handing and neighborhood wakes, rallys and speeches, before this world is changed forever by radio and television. And although the movie was made in 1958 (and the book written in 1956), it is in fact true that Skeffington's world will very soon be a thing of the past, due in no small part to a politician from New England who effectively utilizes mass media in his election as president in 1960.


One of the casualties of the Missile Crisis I mentioned above is a NBC news documentary entitled "The Tunnel," which tells the story of East Germans escaping through a tunnel dug under the Berlin Wall. It was controversial to begin with, as NBC helps "finance the tunnel by buying the right film its construction and the escape of refugees." Apparently that makes the State Department a little uncomfortable, and although they didn't ask NBC to shelve the program, the network does make the decision to delay its original broadcast date of October 31 because of the Cuban crisis.  When it does eventually air, on December 10, it is to critical acclaim. The documentary will go on to win three Emmy awards, including "Program of the Year."

On balance, I think postponing the program was probably a wise move, which makes me wonder how NBC felt about Thursday's docudrama on CBS' Armstrong Circle Theatre.  It's called "Tunnel to Freedom," and documents "the story of a group of elderly East Berliners who, no longer able to tolerate Communist oppression, planned a 100-foot tunnel under the Berlin Wall."  Sounds a little familiar, don't you think?

Airing opposite Armstrong Circle Theatre at 10:00 is NBC's psychiatry drama The Eleventh Hour. Like its ABC counterpart Breaking Point, The Eleventh Hour was a spinoff from a successful medical drama (Dr. Kildare, as Breaking Point came from Ben Casey), and it dealt with the relevant issues of the day. Among those issues were some that you just did not talk about in public, and I think this ad below epitomizes that perfectly:

No need to explain, in 1962, what it meant when your teenage daughter was "in trouble."


Not much in the sporting world, but I'll make mention of Saturday's college football game of the week between Notre Dame and Navy, played at Navy's occasional port-of-call, Philadelphia. The Fighting Irish are in the midst of a slump that won't end for a couple more years, while the Middies, led by future Heisman winner Roger Staubach, is one season away from challenging for the national championship. Both teams will finish this season with records of 5-5, and Notre Dame will come out on top in this week's clash, 20-12.

On Sunday the NFL game on CBS pairs the St. Louis football Cardinals and the New York football Giants at Yankee Stadium, while ABC's AFL clash is an interstate showdown between the Houston Oilers and Dallas Texans at the Cotton Bowl. Later in the year, the two teams will meet again in the AFL championship game, the oldest extant AFL television broadcast, and at the time the longest professional football game ever played; Dallas defeats Houston 20-17 in double overtime, and then moves to Kansas City and becomes the Chiefs.


Finally, this week's starlet is Roberta Shore, who currently appears as a regular on The Virginian. One of the most interesting things about Roberta, according to the article, is her middle name: Jymme. (Gee, I'd have thought they could find something more interesting than that.) She'd had a pretty robust career to this point, with numerous appearances on television and co-starring roles in several Disney productions, but The Virginian is probably her high point. She is a regular for the first three seasons and then is married off to Glenn Corbett in the fourth season.

After that, according to the always-reliable Wikipedia, her career pretty much tails off. She does a pilot and makes a few more appearances here and there, but with the exception of a radio gig in the early '80s, that's about it. She's still alive though, at the age of 72, which is more than can be said for many of the people in this issue. TV  

October 30, 2015

Around the dial

Before we get to our weekly trip around the blogosphere, a personal note. Those of you in my own Facebook network may know that I have a book coming out next month. It's a novel and has nothing to do with television, but I'm going to plug it here anyway because 1) it's my website, and 2) it's my book.*

*And if you need another reason, 3) they're both written by me..

The book is called The Collaborator; it's a religious-political drama about backstage intrigue at the Vatican, and I'm very proud of it; if I do say so myself, it contains some of the best writing I've ever done. It will be available from Amazon and other dealers, in both print and e-book versions. I promise I won't overdo it on the plugs; maybe just a short notice at the end of every post for the next three months or so. And did I mention it would make a great Christmas gift for the fiction-reader in your home?

OK, now on to the regular content.

In tomorrow's TV Guide review I mention a local station running the political movie The Last Hurrah and wondering if it was tied in to that week's midterm election coverage. At Christmas TV History, Joanna takes a look at something in the same vein - disaster movies that take place around Christmastime. Perhaps that's what we should be running at election time.

The Last Drive-In revisits an oldie but goodie, a look back at the early '60s NBC series Thriller. And speaking of sinister shows of the season, bare-bones e-zine continues The Hitchcock Project with "The Orderly World of Mr. Appleby" from 1956. I remember this episode well from having seen it on DVD a few months ago - with a very nice twist at the end.

It's Part III of Made for TV Mayhem's retrospective on made-for-TV Halloween movies. I mentioned Part I in an earlier "Around the Dial," and Part II can be found here.

Ah, The Great American Dream Machine - it was on in 1971 and 1972 on PBS, and I think I might have seen a few minutes of it - though I was a precocious child back then, it probably went clear over my head, especially the cartoons. I mean, I didn't even get Monty Python humor until a decade later. But at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, you can find out all about the show, and whether or not it's your cup of tea.

I'm managing editor and occasional writer at another blog, In Other Words, and this week my friend and fellow writer Bobby has a piece on audition tapes of game show hosts that might surprise you.

And how did you spend National Cat Day yesterday?

That's it for now, but you already know what's waiting for you tomorrow. TV  

October 28, 2015

How television reduces death to a "very special" moment

It occurred to me earlier this week that television really does a bad job handling death. It was on Sunday, after the news had broken that Flip Saunders, the coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves, had died from cancer. Naturally, this was big news on the sports networks, who filled their reports with properly somber reports, coupled with testimonials from many of the players and coaches who'd worked with Saunders.*

*Saunders isn't the point of this article, but as a native Minnesotan I have to take a moment to mention that by all accounts, he was not only a superior basketball coach (the only coach in the history of the Wolves to lead the team to a winning record in even one season), he was, in the words of a colleague, an even better man. 

And then, either in the background or as the report went to commercial, the music would play. Awful music, whether from a real piano or a synthesizer I can't say, but that's about par for how TV handles these somber moods. It's often sentimental, mawkish, manipulative, guaranteed to tug at the heartstrings and perhaps engender a tear in the eye; new-agey music from the Oprah school of emoting, brought to you by Hallmark. I don't have a clip handy, but I trust you've all seen enough of these kinds of memorial tributes that you know what I mean. If you're not all teared up, you're probably like me, rolling your eyes and reaching for the remote. It cheapens not only the theological meaning of death but the dignity of it as well.  Remember those "very special" episodes that used to plague television (and still do from time to time)? It's like that.

It wasn't always thus, of course. Back when American culture treated death as something worthy of gravitas, television responded with music that projected gravitas. Below is an example of this, after which I'll return with some final thoughts.

The music you hear, played by NBC while people filed past John Kennedy's casket, stars with about a minute of Robert Gauldin's "Pavan,"performed by Howard Hanson and the Eastman-Rochester Symphony, followed by the second movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, probably by Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra.

Not only was this music appropriately somber, it also showed some discernment on the part of the person selecting it. Gauldin's piece was written around 1959, which meant that it was contemporary not only in its style, but in that it had only been around about four years. Likewise, while the second movement of Beethoven's Seventh is among is most famous pieces, the obvious choice might have been the funeral march from his Third Symphony, often played for such occasions. The Third was likely used at some point - after all, NBC broadcast throughout the night - but neither of these would have been obvious choices, which means the music director had some taste.

A sidebar to this is how well the music matches up to the visual element, particularly the use of the Seventh as the cameras pan over the paintings and engravings lining the walls of the Rotunda, artwork that depicts various moments in the history of the United States. As far as video composition goes, it's almost perfect television work. And yet I don't think it could have been planned much; the Rotunda coverage, as was all the video work over the weekend, came from the network pool, which meant all three networks had the same pictures to choose from. Unless NBC controlled the pool coverage from the Rotunda (which is possible), it wouldn't be as if the director could order the cameras to pan down and pick up the paintings on the walls and then cue the music to match. It was pure happenstance that it came out this way, which just goes to show you can't always plan for everything, but oftentimes it works out all the same.

Perhaps it's more detail than you need (and when haven't I done that?), but it shows how much more mature television was, relatively speaking, in dealing with an emotion as grave as death. I don't mean to suggest that we have to pull out Barber's "Adagio for Strings" every time we do a video tribute to someone or commemorate a somber moment, but surely we can do better than we do. Can't we?

October 26, 2015

What's on TV? Saturday, October 25, 1969

A very interesting issue this week; I mentioned on Saturday that this issue is from upper New York, which means I had quite a few stations from which to choose, including Rochester, Syracuse, and Erie, Pennsylvania.  Ultimately I decided on a representative mix: Buffalo, New York, and Toronto, Ontario, and since it's been awhile since we looked at Saturday, I thought it was a good time to do so.  I hope you'll think I've made the right decision!

October 24, 2015

This week in TV Guide: October 25, 1969

This week's cover features William Windom, star of the NBC series My World and Welcome to It.  My World was a high-concept show combining live action and animation, as Windom played John Monroe, a cartoonist who was a thinly-disguised version of James Thurber. If you like Windom and/or Thurber, then you probably would have liked this show. Not enough did, however, as it ran for only the 1969-1970 season.

I remember watching it at the time and not really getting it, and it would appear this was a concern to others as well. Carolyn See suggests it "sounds a little like a wonderful cake with a few too many ingredients, or maybe an Indian recipe where you're expected to throw in the onion along with the coconut along with the pickled ginger and 23 other items besides." Windom, however, feels that for viewers willing to give it a chance, to "think outside the box" as we might say today, it's worth forgetting any preconceived notions you might have, particularly if you're a Thurber "purist" who might have trouble with his famous cartoons walking and talking. For those who do so, he says, "Then you can make the decision to take it or leave it alone."  You might even wind up learning something about Thurber.

I don't know what Windom's reputation was up until then. His most famous role might well have been as the Senator in The Farmer's Daughter, which firmly established him in the good-guy pantheon. I was surprised that most of the guest appearances in which I've seen him cast him against type as the villain, the smarmy, slightly greasy con man or killer. Later, of course, he'd go on to have a long, long run as Seth in Murder, She Wrote. It appears as if people accepted him as a bad guy as long as he was a guest star, but that he was destined to play the wise, humorous, good-natured type in a series. Whatever - I always enjoyed him, regardless of what he played, up until his death in 2012.


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: Guests are Liza Minnelli, actor David Hemmings, Henry Mancini, composer-guitarist Mason Williams, Laugh-In's Judy Carne, the rocking Santana and the Trio Hoganas, aerialists.

Palace: Host Engelbert Humperdinck presents Sid Caesar (with Maureen Arthur and Mickey Deems), Nancy Ames, Gladys Knight and the Pips, comedian Jack E. Leonard and English musical-comedy performer Lonnnie Donegan.

Well, this is an interesting pair of lineups.  As we move ever closer to 1970, we see a very different set of guests from what we're used to.  Sullivan's lineup, for example, features Judy Carne, one of the stars of the hippest show of the time; David Hemmings, who starred in Antonioni's iconic Blow-Up; Mason Williams, who composed "Classical Gas" and hung out with the Smothers Brothers; Liza Minnelli, now on the verge of moving beyond being Judy Garland's daughter and Santana, who apparently is ageless.

Englebert, who would get his own variety series in a few month, was ABC's attempt to clone the success they had with Tom Jones, but it didn't pan out. I don't think Nancy Ames ever evolved beyond the B list of the era's singers, and I've never been much of a fan of Gladys Knight, et al.  Of all the guests on both shows, it's only Sid Caesar who really hearkens back to an older time. And I'm afraid this isn't going to be enough to save Palace; this week, Sullivan takes the title.


A new feature for us this week is a look at Cleveland Amory's television review, which appears in TV Guide every week throughout the first-run season. Amory, who was the magazine's TV critic from 1963 to 1976 was one of the cleverest writers on the staff, fond equally of puns and referring to himself in the plural, using the royal "we." He was usually able to find both good and bad in each show he reviewed; that, plus the fact that he occasionally seemed to be writing for his own amusement rather that to inform the reader, sometimes makes it difficult to tell what he thinks of a series.

That's not the case this week with Room 222, which Amory quite likes. It's a prime example of the move by sitcoms of the era to become more relevant, dealing with issues such as race which previously had not gotten a lot of attention.  Amory approves of this, as well as how the characters - black as well as white - stay away from stereotypical characterization, showing various shades of grey instead of (pardon the expression) simple black and white portrayals.  The writing and acting are both thoughtful, Amory says - "with a little extra work on the writing, a little extra care on the characterizations and, above all, fine acting . . . a half-hour show can give you more for your money than all the old hour-long bang-bangs and beat-beats put together" and in particular he singles out Lloyd Haynes and Michael Constantine for praise.  Based on the first two episodes he's seen, Amory finds Room 222 an engrossing new series.


This week's issue is from upstate New York, which gives us an interesting look at the sports programs of the week. The World Series is over, with the New York Mets having put the finishing touches on their remarkable championship run almost ten days before this issue came out,* and so for the most part the stage belongs to football.

*Remember when the World Series ended before Halloween?

CBLT, Channel 6, coming from Toronto, has Canadian Football Saturday at 2:00pm ET, with the Toronto Argonauts taking on the Ottawa Rough Riders in Ottawa.  South of the border, ABC's college Game of the Week is a Big 10 showdown between Iowa and Michigan State - showdown being a relative word, I guess, since these two former powerhouses had fallen on hard times, with Iowa finishing the season 5-5, while Michigan State wound up 4-6.  A far cry from the success these two have achieved this season; as I write this, both teams are undefeated.  Saturday night belongs to hockey, as Channel 6 picks up CBC's famed Hockey Night in Canada, with the St. Louis Blues facing the Maple Leafs in Toronto.

On Sunday it's more conventional action, although CFTO, Channel 9 in Toronto, has another CFL contest, this one between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Montreal Alouettes. NBC has the AFL doubleheader this week, with the early game giving us the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins starting at 1:30, followed at 4:00 by the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers.  Meanwhile, on CBS' NFL coverage, most of the stations in the area get the St. Louis football Cardinals and the Cleveland Browns, with CBLT picking up coverage of the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Colts.


It's a big week on television as we approach November.  Let's check out some of the highlights.

On NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies at 7:30 ET, it's the network broadcast premiere of the Oscar-winning Best Picture of 1963, Tom Jones. (The movie, not the singer.) For years, whenever I heard the title (not having seen the movie), I could only think of the singer. In those days before the internet, it wasn't always easy to get a description of a movie, even one that had won Best Picture, and until I saw Tom Jones for the first time I wasn't sure what to expect. Was it one of those "angry young men" movies that the Brits were so good at making movies about? After all, the star was Albert Finney, who'd been in his share of them. I heard somewhere that it was a comedy, other places that it was a drama. Whatever the case, I can say with confidence that when I did see it, it was not what I'd expected. It's an utterly charming, totally bawdy sex farce, with Finney* never better as the reprobate Tom, accompanied by a zany cast of bizarre characters. Judith Crist, in her stellar revue, wrote that "Movies haven't been the same since," and I can't argue with that. You might not think you could produce such a farce out of a novel written in 1749, but Crist praises how the movie "captures [author Henry] Fielding's classic in all the glowing coarseness, robust wit, unadorned venality, forthright hypocrisy, social cruelty and elegant crudity."

*Surely it was an injustice that Finney lost the Best Actor Oscar that year to Sidney Poitier, whom I generally like.  But his performance in Lillies of the Field can't hold a candle to Finney's.

Sunday at 7:30 on CBS it's the fourth showing of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, the third Peanuts cartoon to make the transition to television. Like A Charlie Brown Christmas but unlike the second cartoon, Charlie Brown's All Stars, it's become an annual tradition; I wonder how much of a role it played in making Halloween the big deal it is today?  One thing I do remember is from grade school, a year or two after this airing, when I was introduced to one of the "Halloween Carols" to which Linus alludes during the cartoon.  To the tune of "Jingle Bells", the refrain went something like, "Pumpkin Bells, Pumpkin Bells/ringing loud and clear,/Oh what fun Great Pumpkin brings/when Halloween is here."

Monday Night Football won't become a TV staple until next year, but CBS makes a tentative foray into the prime-time market with a exhibition game pitting the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys. CBS supposedly turned down the chance for a weekly Monday night game, leading NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle to offer the game to ABC; the rest, as they say, is history. Perhaps as an indication of CBS' apprehension about football's drawing power, the game starts at 9:30, a half-hour later than next year's start time. That way, it's not so disruptive on the schedule - or the ratings.

Tuesday starts off with "The Desert Whales," the latest episode of ABC's The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, narrated by Rod Serling.  That's followed by The Red Skelton Show on CBS, with special guest star John Wayne, who's celebrating his 40th year in films. Opposite that, ABC's back with one of their made-for-TV movies, The Young Lawyers, which will return next season, with a slightly different cast, as a regular series. Whatever the viewers saw in the movie apparently didn't translate to the series, which ran for a mere 24 episodes.

Wednesday has one of the hottest musical acts of the day, along with another big network movie premiere.  The musical special stars Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, with special guest star Petula Clark. Herb Alpert (the "A" in A&M Records) and his trumpet are big stuff throughout the '60s, starting with "The Lonely Bull" and featuring five #1 hits; he and his band won six Grammys.

The movie premiere, on ABC's Wednesday Night Movie, is of Georgy Girl, which earned an Oscar nomination for Lynn Redgrave*, a bittersweet comedy-drama which Crist calls "offbeat and kooky and sentimental."  You might not have seen or heard of the movie, but I'm willing to bet you might remember the theme song, which also was Oscar-nominated.  The Seekers perform it here, on a clip from a Sullivan show of a couple years before:

*That year Redgrave went head-to-head against her sister Vanessa, who was nominated for Isadora.  Neither Redgrave sister won.

Thursday's variety night if it pleases you. At 8:00 CBS has The Jim Nabors Show, with Juliet Prowse as guest star. An hour later flip over to ABC, where This Is Tom Jones (the singer, not the movie) boasts Barbara Eden, Wilson Pickett and comics Hendra and Ullett. To round out the evening, turn to The Dean Martin Show at 10pm on NBC, with Tony Bennett, Sid Casesar, Charles Nelson Reilly and Pat Henry.

Friday morning opens with Today, as Judith Crist makes one of her occasional appearances to preview this weekend's new movies. On The Mike Douglas Show, author Irving Wallace promotes his new novel, The Seven Minutes, which is about a book called The Seven Minutes. It's not as strange as it seems, although the story itself is much stranger. At 4pm on NBC is a game show I freely admit I've never heard of, Letters to Laugh-In, hosted by Laugh-In announcer Gary Owens, and featuring two of the show's regulars each week, along with two guest stars. The premise is that viewers send in their favorite jokes, which are then judged by a panel of four. This week, the two Laugh-In stars are Henry Gibson and Teresa Graves, who are joined by Jack Carter and Louis Nye. The show runs for four months. I wonder if it was even shown in the Twin Cities?


Finally, if you've been reading these features for awhile, then you know one of the frequent subjects discussed in TV Guide is the effect on television on children. This week's article, as is often the case, is written by Edith Efron, and asks the question: what can children learn from television?

The process by which children develop their viewing habits is a fascinating one. At age two, the toddler, driven by an overwhelming curiosity, is captivated by "the light and bright and motion." By three, they understand what they're watching and have "distinct preferences." But by the time they reach elementary school, they're being bombarded by so many information and sensory experiences that "no one can untangle, with any precision," what the child picks up from TV as opposed to other sources.

In fact, the data on television's effect on children is often contradictory, as befits a discussion that has only been around for perhaps twenty years. While some experts suggest that "the brightest children are early starters" who would have watched TV from an early age, other studies claim that bright children who watch TV tend to fall behind children who don't. One thing that many experts on both sides agree on, however, is that by age 10 children start to get bored by television, and their viewing tends to decrease. Why? Because by that time children crave mental stimulation, and they don't find it on TV, which for them is a passive experience.

I can understand this. Though I'm often a harsh critic of the quality of TV, particularly in today's programming, I've always defended television in general, particularly the idea that someone who watches a great deal of it tends to be less creative , less communicative, not as smart. For example, I learned much of history not from my time in the high school of The World's Worst Town™, but by watching Alistair Cooke's America.  My love of classical music started with Bugs Bunny cartoons, and my fondness for reading was cultivated by Captain Kangaroo. My desire to write, particularly fiction, came from watching movies and critiquing their storytelling as much as by reading, which I often did while watching television. (A habit I maintain to this day, to my wife's exasperation.)

I don't argue that everyone is like me; there are a lot of TV kids who became couch potatoes, and kids who never watched it who are far better at almost everything than I am. But I'll leave it to you, readers, to decide whether or not television is Savior, or Satan. TV  

October 23, 2015

Around the dial

At the always-fun The Horn Section, Hal takes a look at an F Troop episode built around a hilarious misunderstanding, as Corporal Agarn believes he's dying. I always thought Larry Storch was the best part of this series, and I can only imagine how much he must have chewed up the scenery here.

Classic Film and TV Cafe reviews a movie that I don't remember, perhaps because I was living in The World's Worst Town™.  It's The Norliss Tapes, a more serious version of The Night Stalker, another series I didn't get to see in firsr-run (for the same reason). It stars Roy Thinnes, who was certainly a familiar face on television at the time, and if you can it's worth a look.

I remember reading about this once before, and I don't remember if I ever mentioned it, but even if I did it's worth mentioning again, as Silver Scenes does: Vincent Price, who was an exceptionally intelligent connoisseur of art, does this promotional film for employees of Sears, which is going into the fine art business. Well, you used to be able to by a house at Sears, so why not?

Did I ever see Gemini Man? I don't think so, but Dan at Some Polish American Guy Reviews Things (love that title!) has, and he's been writing about it lately. Today he reviews the Gemini Man Annual. The first time I ever saw a television series "annual" was when I was just getting into Doctor Who; it was mostly a British thing back then, I think.

Cult TV Blog continues his thought-provoking series on apartheid as portrayed in The Prisoner. As you know, I really enjoy reading this kind of analysis, about going deeper into a series to find the messages the producers intended - and quite a few they didn't.  This episode, "Checkmate," brings his thought process to a head, and I really enjoy one of his conclusions: "ideology can always be misused to support what you want." He goes on from there; it's good.

The TV Guide Historian likes old listings as much as I do, and this week takes a look at the schedule for Chicago's WGN on October 19, 1989. I started out thinking that wasn't that long ago, but it was over 25 years ago; I guess that qualifies.

Well, it's been quite a week, what with my YouTube appearance and all, so this will do until tomorrow, when I hope you're back for another TV Guide review. TV 

October 21, 2015

A chance to see yours truly!

For those of you who might wonder if there really is a Mitchell Hadley, you don't have to write to the New York Sun to get an answer. Now you can see for yourself!

Over the weekend I had the privilege and the pleasure of appearing on Dan Schneider's terrific YouTube video interview program with two of my fellow classic TV bloggers: Amanda Reyes of Made For TV Mayhem and Daniel Budnik of Some Polish American Guy Reviews Things.  The topic was Television's Golden Age - when was it, and did it really exist?

It was wonderful getting a chance to actually see two people that I read often, and the conversation was even more stimulating.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience; I want to thank Dan for inviting me to be a part of it, and Amanda and Daniel for being so smart and witty that I couldn't help but look good just by appearing with them.

The program appears here in its entirety; it runs for a little under two hours, but it's divided into several segments, so take some time and watch either the whole show, or individual parts of it.  And then let the three of us know how we did!

October 19, 2015

What's on TV? Tuesday, October 16, 1962

Something in this week's listings that I've never seen before - a double-check mark (√√) next to shows that TV Guide says are "Of unusual interest."  Something else I've never seen - the letters "N-T" stamped on the front cover of my issue, which we'll come to find stands for "North Texas".  It's not something that was added after the fact by a collector; it appears to be original to the issue.  Anyone else ever seen anything like that?

October 17, 2015

This week in TV Guide: October 13, 1962

A striking cover this week, don't you think? Totally black-and-white except for the flesh tones on Hirschfeld's caricature of Jackie Gleason.*  Even the famed TV Guide logo has been stripped of its color.

*By the way, have you spotted "Nina" yet?

It's no surprise that Richard Gehman would take a snarky approach to this article on Gleason, the first of a three-part profile of the star. "One can gauge the depth of his lonliness by how high Gleason flies," is the psychoanalytic subheading to the article.  The premise continues as Gehman accompanies Gleason on a cross-country train junket to promote his new variety show.

So what evidence does Gehman use to back up his diagnoses? Well, first of all Gleason likes people - he'll spend five or ten minutes with anyone who asks for an autograph, and during the whistle-stop tour, he personally greets everyone who shows up to see him. He drinks heavily, when he drinks at all - he sometimes stops for weeks or months at a time. He's been known to overindulge in the same way with food.  His explanation: "I'm thirsty and I'm hungry."

He loves to hold court for hours wherever he is. most frequently at Toots Shor's in New York. Writes Gehman, "his bombast conceals sensitivity and tenderness, and his leafily prodigal behavior is is rooted in a mulch of loneliness and awareness of the essential tragedy of the human condition." While visiting him at his hope in Peekskill, New York, Gehman observes the other Gleason: more contemplative, moodily musing on his broken marriage, his less-than-ideal childhood (deserted by his father, orphaned by his mother), his hard road to stardom.

I still think that Gehman, in an effort to avoid the fan-mag tenor that the magazine now proudly displays, errs on the side of psychobabble, but there's no denying the power of this paragraph that concludes part one of his profile: "It sometimes occurs to me, as I think of Jackie Gleason sitting there in that voiceless, empty house, that all his activities, his businesses and his productions, his performances and his plans, are no more than ways to erase the dark brown loneliness from which he knows he never will escape. And the same can be said for all that abandoned gregariousness."


A couple of big specials provide the highlights for the week. First off, it's Dinah Shore with her inaugural show of the year, Sunday night at 9:00 pm (CT) on NBC.  Dinah's been associated with NBC for a dozen years, and this will be the first of nine specials she'll do for them this season. This really is a special though, a one-woman show of just Dinah singing with Frank DeVol's orchestra.

Sid Caesar's signed up for nine specials this season as well, and his opener is on ABC Tuesday night at 9:30 pm.  Unlike Dinah, Sid has a regular cast of characters appearing with him, including - get ready for this - our friend Paul Sand of the Second City Troupe.

Looking at this week's regular shows, we find plenty more entertainment.  Ttony Bennett is the headline guest for the aforementioned Gleason on his Saturday night show (CBS), and later that night Lawrence Welk and his Champagne Music Makers take over on ABC. On Sunday, Ed Sullivan's guests include Connie Francis, Louis Prima and Sergio Franchi. Tuesday on CBS, Red Skelton welcomes Kay Starr and Jackie Coogan, while later that night on the same network, Garry Moore has familiar faces Alan King, Nancy Walker and Dorothy Collins. It's an all=-star lineup on Perry Como's NBC show Wednesday: Lena Horne, with jazzmen Charlie Byrd and Stan Getz, as they try out the new Brazilian dance the Bossa Novawith choreographer Carol Haney. On Thursday, again on NBC, Andy Williams has special guest Martha Raye. Finally, Jack Paar's Friday night show (NBC) has husband-and-wife Gordon and Sheila MacRae, Woody Allen, and the Harlem Magicians, a rival of the Harlem Globetrotters. I remember that team; they used to appear on television occasionally, and they were to the Globetrotters what homemade hamburgers are to the ones you get at a restaurant - good, but not as good. When I saw them, they were called the Fabulous Magicians, and their headliner was the great dribbler (and former Trotter) Marques Haynes.

*Don't like dancing?  Don't blame it on me.


If you'd rather have sports, we've got it.  The big game on Saturday's college football Game of the Week (CBS) is a classic: Oklahoma vs. Texas at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. This game was just played here last Saturday; it's the centerpiece of the State Fair of Texas, where the Cotton Bowl is located.  As was the case this year, the stadium would have been evenly divided between the burnt orange of the Longhorns and the red of the Sooners.  However, unlike this season, the 1962 Horns came into the game flying high, ranked #2 in the country, and they would take Oklahoma in a tight defensive game, winning 9-6.  Texas would finish the regular season undefeated before losing in the Cotton Bowl on New Year's Day, while this was the second and final regular season loss for Oklahoma; they would finish #8 before they, too, lost on New Year's, in the Orange Bowl

More football Sunday, although the pro games vary depending on where you live, due to the NFL's blackout rule. If you're in the Dennison area, CBS gives you the Redskins-Cardinals game at noon; if you're in Wichita Falls, you get the Cowboys, playing at the same Cotton Bowl against the Eagles. If you live in DFW, your only choice is the AFL game on ABC, pitting the New York Titans (before they became the Jets) and the Houston Oilers.  Otherwise, the week's highlights are ABC's Wide World Of Sports on Saturday afternoon, with auto racing from Trenton and horse racing from Paris, and a middleweight bout between a couple of unranked fighters that night, also on ABC.


Last week I previewed getTV's new Monday night schedule, which features reruns of the Merv Griffin Show. It's fitting, therefore, that this week's issue has a profile of Merv, written by Edith Efron.  This is the pre-talk show Merv, and Efron's profile is, shall we say, much kinder than the Gleason article.  Griffin, at the time 37, is a man of many talents - classical pianist, jazz musician, pop singer, movie actor, composer, game show emcee - and now, waiting for the next phase of his life, he admits "I don't have a fixed image."

His self-image, as it is, is much more positive than it used to be, when he weighed 80 pounds more than he does today. As the weight dropped, his career took off; the novelty song "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts" was a million-seller, after which he met Doris Day and wound up in movies, then met Tallulah Bankhead and wound up as part of her Vegas show, then would up on radio and television, and most recently a four-week gig as one of NBC's substitute hosts on The Tonight Show during the interregnum between Paar and Carson. So impressed with Griffin was NBC that they signed him to a contract for his own talk show, scheduled to begin October 1. That show will last, with a brief break in 1963-64, all the way to 1986.

Colleagues call Merv "warm," "talented," "clever" and "ingenious," and those last two perhaps help to describe Merv's future successes in the business world. There was the real estate deal in Atlantic City where he got the better of Donald Trump, just one of the shrewd deals that made him a major success in real estate. And we can't forget the two game shows that he developed and produced before selling them off for a good chunk of dough - Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! If memory serves, he even wrote the theme to Jeopardy! It was said that when he died, his net worth was $1 billion. In any event, next to Gene Autry, Merv Griffin was perhaps the most successful mogul in show business. And reading this article, we can say we knew him when.


The starlet of the week is actually a bona fide star, Sally Ann Howes, From the British music halls to Broadway to television variety shows and frequent appearances on such game shows as Password, she's become a familiar face to television viewers. This week, the elegant and stylish Miss Howes demonstrates "the beautiful trends for fall."


Best ad of the week has to be this odd comic strip-style feature for The Lloyd Bridges Show, an unusual anthology series in which Bridges played a newspaper reporter who, each week, would imagine himself in the role of the person about whom he was reporting. Later on it switches to a more conventional anthology, but I find this technique quite interesting. It's not as Walter Mitty as it sounds; more like the reporter trying to picture what must have happened in a given situation. Was he subconsciously testing himself, trying to figure out how he would have handled that situation?  Given that the show only ran for one season on CBS, we'll never know. I'm only surprised the cartoon doesn't have a thought bubble connecting him to the scene he's imagining.


One of the enduring mysteries of life is why we so often behave in a manner that runs contrary to what we say we want. That's no different with television, of course, where people claim to want quality programming while routinely ignoring it when it's offered. Dr. Herbert Kay, Director of the Center for the Study of Audience Reactions, thinks he knows why such things happen.

According to Dr. Kay, viewers drawn to family sitcoms are well-aware of their flaws and shortcomings, but their main reason for watching them is to "escape from crime, violence, brutality, uninhibited sex,* and other unwholesome or unhappy situations." Thus, while fans of such shows may describe them as "down-to-earth" and "true-to-life," what they really want is to escape that very quality, in favor of shows that offer happy endings and morals to the story.

*1962 style, anyway.

On the other hand, and this I find quite interesting given my own predilection for realism on TV, those who denigrate such shows as "trite" and "unpredictable" are drawn to shows that are not necessarily realistic, but "asks him to believe that it's realistic and could happen."  Therefore, such a viewer might find himself (or herself) watching a show such as Car 54, Where Are You? - a show that you might consider silly - because it doesn't make any pretensions or try to insult the viewer's intelligence. "Look," it says to the viewer - "we're going to try to make you laugh through slapstick and farce. Take us or leave us on those grounds."

It's always been typical of television executives that as soon as a style or format becomes a hit, imitation will follow.  Look at how many different versions of Friends swamped the airwaves. To a point, this is good thinking, because viewers do show a preference for new shows. However, they also put a premium on entertainment and production values, which means that a shoddy or cheap copy will be seen as just that, and sent fairly quickly to the garbage bin.

In short, the message is that while networks are often criticized for offering their viewers the television equivalent of junk food, they're simply acknowledging what they've known for some time now, something that researchers are only beginning to figure out - there's a difference between what viewers say and what they do, and programmers understand this. They've seen the trends, they've looked at the ratings, and they're doing nothing more than giving the viewers what they want.


Finally this week, a few quick notes from the Teletype section, since we haven't been there lately.

In New York, there's the report that NBC will soon be launching a new Goodson-Todman game show, the five-days-a-week Match Game.  Good move - it runs for seven seasons on NBC, then after a hiatus of four years is revived by CBS, where it runs for another six seasons, plus two or three more in syndication.

CBS Reports plans to focus on the current campaign for governor of California, pitting incumbent Edmund "Pat" Brown against former Vice President Richard Nixon.  We all know how that turned out; Brown, the father of current Governor Jerry, narrowly edged out Nixon, putting him into political retirement (or not, as the case may be), while Brown, four years later, would confidently predict another victory, this time against former actor Ronald Reagan. With Reagan winning by a margin of nearly one million votes, the laugh was on Brown.

NBC Opera is presenting a new Gian Carlo Menotti composition on March 3. Unfortunately, the Teletype doesn't bother to mention what it is,but thanks to the miracle of the Internet, we're able to tell that it's Labyrinth, not one of Menotti's bigger productions. From the sound of it, I think I'd rather like it; however, unlike Amahl, Labyrinth was never intended to be anything other than a television production, one specifically designed to take advantage of the techniques and opportunities offered by TV. It has never been performed again. TV  

October 14, 2015

After you drop that first anvil on someone's head, it always gets easier

The twin issues of violence on television and the quality of children's programming have received attention virtually since the beginning of the medium; frequently the controversy has combined the two into one - violence in children's television.  And among the shows most frequently panned by anti-violence advocates: cartoons.

As this article by Tom Klein at Cartoon Research shows, the issue dates back to Dr. Alberta Siegel's pioneering research into the relationship between violent cartoons and child development, initially centering around a 1941 Woody Woodpecker cartoon called "Ace in the Hole."* Klein continues his look at the issue here and here, and I'd encourage you to check all three of these articles out, as well as this story on the relationship between violent cartoons and - Stanley Kubrick!

*Not to be confused with the 1951 Kirk Douglas/Billy Wilder movie of the same name, about which there was nothing cartoonish.

Personally, I've never felt that watching Wile E. Coyote being flattened by another Acme anvil, or seeing Bugs Bunny put one over on Elmer or Daffy or Yosemite Sam, had the slightest adverse effect on me.  If anything, I think the introduction to classical music that Looney Tunes cartoons provided far outweighed any ill effects that might have existed.  I'd wager that most of you grew up watching these cartoons - what do you think? TV  

October 12, 2015

What's on TV? Monday, October 10, 2005

On Saturday I talked about how different 2005's TV Guide was from the issues we usually look at, and this is certainly apparent when we look at the daily programming guide.  For one thing, the listings - except for prime time - appear only in grid format, and only the prime time grid changes from day to day.

That's why, for example, you'll see "Various Programs" indicated on the listings below; if a station had different programming each day in the 2:00-3:00 pm time slot, for example, rather than take up the time with what each day's show is the grid simply lets you know you'd better check it out yourself if you're not sure.  They know what they're doing here, though - the publishers were only too aware that by this time the bulk of TV Guide's subscription base consisted of hotels and motels receiving complimentary copies; more and more, people were depending on on-screen guides for their daily viewing.  For the same reason, the listings begin at 6am and run through 1am (for some, they end at 10pm) - most of what's on overnight is either informercials or programs that were already shown during the day.

A few random notes on the programming itself - you'll notice there's not a single movie being shown, or at least not during the times listed.  What a change from the past!  Also, the proliferation of infomercials (not seen in the past, or limited to the odd half-hour here and there), smarmy talk shows and mock court programs (each one existing only an excuse for people to shout at each other) and back-to-back airings of a particular show.  As I say, the times they are a changin'. So let's see what we've got.  Our programs are from the Twin Cities.

October 10, 2015

This week in TV Guide: October 9, 2005

TV Guide was already dead and buried long before this, the final "small size" issue, and the final one to feature local programming listings.  The death rattle probably started when the magazine was purchased by Rupert Murdoch in 1988 and began its transformation into a tawdry tabloid, but in truth the germ of the disease was contracted even earlier, as the medium itself changed.

From the outset, one of the primary goals of TV Guide was to win respect for television, to encourage people to view it as something other than a frivolous entertainment.  Publisher Walter Annenberg and Editor Merrill Pannit strove to elevate the level of dialogue from that of the typical "fan magazine," commissioning articles by noteworthy politicians, historians and authors, and featuring pieces from such writers as John Gregory Dunne, Joan Didion, Edith Efron and others.  Once it became apparent that television needed TV Guide more than the other way around, the magazine and its writers took the gloves off, frequently casting a critical eye not only at the shows themselves, but the stars who appeared in them.  And always, Pannit's editorials insisted that television could become better, with more of an emphasis on culture and the arts and improved programming for children, and that it should not dumb down its programming for the public.

At the same time, TV Guide was a staunch defender of television against its many critics.  It was skeptical, though not totally dismissive, of the idea that programs could have adverse effects on viewers, especially young children.  It constantly campaigned against government intervention, while reminding the industry that such intervention was inevitable if it refused to clean up its own act.  There were serious, incisive interviews with producers, directors and writers about how programs could better deal with controversial issues and adult topics, and whether or not there was an implicit censorship emanating from network headquarters.

All of that was part of the old TV Guide, the issues that you ordinarily read about in this space. But now, looking at this final issue, we notice the differences, large and small, that have appeared over the years.

For one thing, the daily listings now begin on Sunday rather than Saturday.  I suppose this makes sense given that the calendar week begins on Sunday, but I always thought the Saturday start made an implicit point about the importance of the weekend and how television was an instrumental part of the leisure time that Saturday and Sunday represented.*  That's the first, and most obvious, change, along with the staggering number of channels covered in the issue.  Not only has there been a multiplication of local stations, we now have cable as well.  It's this, more than anything else, that probably made the change in focus inevitable; in 2005, it was almost impossible to keep track of the hundreds of channels out there, and to publish them in a concise magazine format.  Today, ten years on, it's probably ten times more complex than that, considering the rise in original streaming series from Amazon, Netflix, and others.  How does one put out a television guide when people can get their programs at any time they want, even all at once if they so choose.  I wonder if a visionary such as Pat Weaver could have imagined it?

*For this issue, there are actually eight days covered, since subsequent issues will run from Monday to Sunday.

Sadly, there are other changes that are less understandable, ones that illustrate how the content has been cheapened.  Where The Doan Report once informed readers about things going on behind the scenes at the networks, we now have a full-page horoscope.  The "Shopper's Showcase," another innovation, is filled with advertisements for psychic and tarot readings and dating services.  There are recaps of the world of soaps, replete with sensational headlines like "Oh no they didn't!", and picture layouts that look more like the pages of People Magazine than TV Guide.  Then, of course, there are the full-page drug ads, replete with warnings on proper usage and possible side effects.*  What once was presented as news is now juicy gossip, written in a breathless "dish the dirt" prose.

*Fortunately, this was in the pre-Viagra era of heavy-duty advertising. 

Have I mentioned, by the way, that youngsters ought to get off my lawn?

There is, however, a single redeeming section that dares to hearken back through the years, a section commemorating the history of TV Guide with a look through the decades, featuring historical recreations of famous covers with today's stars taking on the iconic roles of the past.  The recreations are often quite witty, as with the case of an I Dream of Jeannie cover from the late '60s, with Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa taking the roles of Larry Hagman and Barbara Eden (Right).  There's also a "Then and Now" section presenting quotes and icons of years past (such as the 1968 quote from Dean Martin when, asked if he could describe his philosophy of life in ten words, said he could do it in less: "Everybody should have fun."). They've also thrown in a picture of Diana Rigg in her Avengers leather outfit, so there's that.

This section functions much the same way as the retrospective film montages that frequent the Oscar broadcasts (another fun event of the past that seems to have lost its way in the last few years). They're fun on one hand, an affectionate parade of memories, of people you knew (and plenty you didn't), and on the other hand they provide a vivid reminder of how far away those times are, and that despite the brilliance that still manifests itself from time to time, those days - good and bad - are gone forever.


Since we're on a theme of change, there ought to be something to that effect regarding the programs on television this week.

Back then, Sunday Night Football was on ESPN
I've remarked often about the days when sports didn't dominate the weekend, but by now it does. There are no less than 14 college football games on Saturday alone, and thanks to cable there are now games on Thursday and Friday nights as well.  The World Series, the ending to which we looked at last week, hasn't even started yet; this week is the province of the League Division Series, followed by the League Championship Series; the World Series itself won't begin until October 22.  NASCAR, which once appeared a week or two later on Wide World of Sports, now gets live, flag-to-flag coverage on NBC, which shares NASCAR with Fox - a network that didn't even exist when the TV Guides we review were originally published.

The Close-Up, which once covered nearly half a page, now is reduced to a quarter of a page, and with so many programs from so many networks crammed onto the page (in small type, no less), it's what you might depend on as to what's worth watching.  This obviously applies to The Surreal Life, on VH-1 at 8:00pm (CT) on Sunday: "Feuding housemates Omarosa and Janice Dickinson battle to the (very) bitter end, leading one of them to leave the house in tears in the fifth-season finale."  There's a spotlight on the new series Relentless, a "true-crime series about women who took the law in to their own hands," that premieres on Oxygen at 9:30 Sunday. That was apparently good for a couple of seasons. Better that you might want to stick with this week's episode of Lost (ABC, Wednesday at 8:00), where Hurley tries to deal with numbers that keep coming back from his past, or Ghost Whisperer (CBS, 7:00 Friday), a "tearjerker" about a ghost reluctant to leave his grieving fiancee.* Even here, there's no rundown on casts, no details as to episode title - you either know it or you don't.

*Gee, I wonder where they got that idea from?

Movies remain as big as they ever were on television, but there's been a shift.  Instead of blockbuster theatrical premieres from the networks, and afternoon or late night movies from local stations, most movies today are broadcast on cable, and channels such as HBO and TCM give them to you unedited and without commercial interruption.  Remember how people used to complain about that?  And whereas even married couples used to sleep in separate beds, if you're lucky you can probably catch a glimpse or two of a bare breast now, at least if you have HBO or Cinemax.  Anyway, there are so many movies on TV now, and each one of them runs so many times a week, there's an entire section devoted to listing them - it's called, appropriately enough, "The Big Movie Guide," and it runs for 31 pages. You can find it in the back of the issue, right after the ad for the tarot readings.


It's been a strange issue to review, because the difference between this issue and one from, say, the '80s is far greater than the difference between that '80s issue and one from the late '50s. In the later case there were major cosmetic changes, to be sure, and the programming habits of individual stations could be somewhat erratic, but at least it was recognizable as the same type of creature.  Perhaps that's what makes this one so hard to follow, the fact that it's so different, so chock full of information that one doesn't even know where to begin to look.

And this only covers some of the stations available!
There are 10 local stations listed, and an additional 74 cable listings to choose from.  It's the ultimate in individualism, and when we look back over the years, we remember talk about the '80s being the decade of greed, and the '90s and early '00s being the time when the stock market took off and made everyone wealthy and prosperous until they weren't.  In the same way, we've seen television progress from a relative handful of local stations to increasing choices, first a number of cable networks and then an overwhelming number, a fourth broadcast network and then a fifth*, video cassettes and then DVDs and now streaming video enabling you to watch what you want when you want, even an entire season over a weekend, which means you're no longer subject to the programming decisions of others; and running through all this is a certain glorification of the individual.  And so we ask: has television promoted this, with its evolutionary choices driving the expectations people have about other aspects of their lives, or is it simply a mirror of how people feel regarding life in general, with television adjusting to that new reality?  Six of one, half a dozen of the other, in all likelihood, and yet - like the chicken and the egg, to belabor another cliche if we must - one of these schools of thought must have played a more dominant role, informed the other in some pivotal way.  Perhaps we need The Most Interesting Man in the World to tell us the truth.

*For some reason, PBS has never been counted as one of the Big Three, now the Big Four with the addition of Fox, and I'm simply following that convention.  Sorry, CW.

I'm not surprised that TV Guide changed its format, going to a bigger size and eliminating local programming. In a way, it's more surprising that it didn't happen sooner; I had been a loyal subscriber to TV Guide since 1972 and had read it going back years before that, but I'd stopped reading it three or so years before this; I'd actually gotten to where I'd ignored it for three or four months, never even opening the cover, before I got around to canceling the subscription altogether. It's true that it's more convenient to look programs up on the computer or through the channel guide from your cable or satellite provider, but it takes a bit of effort (I seldom get past the sports channels), and to be perfectly honest, it's nowhere near as much fun.

You wouldn't expect me to ignore
a Texas Ranger, would you?
For TV Guide was never really about the TV shows themselves, at least not about the titles. It was about the descriptions, the list of stars and writers, the way the shows interacted with each other and how one could plan an entire week's worth of viewing at a glance. It was reading about the stars and learning something about their private lives, even if that information was frequently laughably incomplete. It was about the editorials and articles urging improvement in programming, about prominent people from various fields making their suggestions, about stories that gave the historical background to documentaries or movies that were on that week. In those days one could read about the prospects of something called cable television, could speculate as to whether or not people would actually pay money to watch something in their own home, could imagine a large machine that would record programs for them so they could watch them later. There was even the hope that TV sets would become flatter, that you might even be able to hang them on the wall.

In short, TV Guide was about the future as much as it was the present, and when it was in the present it was all there. The issue of October 9, 2005, the final issue of its kind, is about a future that's already changing so quickly that this issue would appear quaint to us today, in the same way as that inaugural issue from April 3, 1953, the one with Lucy and Ricky's baby on the cover.

There is no sense of the present anymore, just a rush to reach a future that's much less exciting, with an emphasis on individual choice in viewing rather than the collective group experience.  As I said, it was inevitable.  But that doesn't mean I have to like it.

And if you damn kids are still there, get off the lawn - this time, I mean it. TV