March 12, 2016

This week in TV Guide: March 11, 1972

Believe it or not, there actually was a time when James Brolin was known as something other than Mr. Barbra Streisand. In the early 1970s, he was Dr. Steven Kiley, the young assistant to Robert Young's Dr. Marcus Welby, and as we look in on the young actor, we find a 31-year old who already feels as if he's at something of a crossroads in his career.

It's not that he isn't grateful; the TV series provides steady work and an income "better than that of a G.P." and Young has given him some valuable assistance with his acting, "a field in which Brolin had considerable room for improvement." But is he content to remain the junior partner, or is there the allure of something bigger out there? "I would like to do feature pictures," he admits to author Melvin Durslag, and if that fails "I would like to develop and sell features."

Welby is in its third season, and Durslag poses an interesting question to Brolin: why are medical series so popular? He's often wondered the same thing, Brolin says, and has concluded that the appeal of medical drama is much the same as that of horror movies. "Grownups, like children, like to be frightened. Kids go for monsters and horror creatures. Adults go for cancer and brain tumors. You would guess that people would want to turn away from life's ugliness, but a human is funny. He is the only animal that likes to scare himself." Welby's producer, David Victor, thinks it's because medical dramas deal with "the most basic format. All of us are aware of our mortality." He also feels the cause-and-effect inherent in medicine works to the genre's advantage: "A doctor in a medical story can bring a matter to a logical conclusion" by prescribing medicine or operating on someone, which in turn makes something happen. It's an ideal format for a weekly television series.

Whatever the reason, it's a successful enough format for Welby; the show runs for seven seasons, becoming the first ABC series to ever rank #1. James Brolin never does hit the big time as a star in feature films, but with a resume that includes the successful TV series Hotel and a number of high-profile guest spots on other series (as well as a role in the current Life in Pieces), he's had a TV career that's been pretty successful. Hopefully, that - along with being Mr. Barbra Streisand - has been satisfying enough.

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It's been a while since we've had the chance to find out what Cleveland Amory has to say about the state of television, but have no fear: Cleve is here. This week's focus is on NBC's Saturday morning live-action Take a Giant Step. It's a "bold and original idea," featuring three nonprofessional kids hosting a show geared at 7-14 year-olds. Bold and original ideas, Amory says, "are hard to come by, and when you get one, it deserves at least the credit of being recognized as such."

It is, therefore, a "capital" idea. "But the execution, alas, is capital punishment." The various kids appearing on the show are often terrible, mumbling and rambling and "you know-ing" until you can't stand it anymore, and because they generally don't get to choose what they're going to talk about on the show, they're put in a position that doesn't really allow them to be themselves - which, when you're making a point of hiring nonprofessionals, kind of defeats the purpose. "In between the pauses, the repetitions, the platitudes and the nothings, your chances of hearing anything either (a) bright, (b) funny, (c) pithy or even (d) different seem to be far less than if you were to spend the hour listening to any group of kids anywhere." Many of the film features on the show are "incredibly poor and incredibly pointless," even given the ages of the kids involved in them. "It is bad enough when you have to watch such a film.. It is too much when you also have to hear an explanation attempted by a monosyllabic grunter."

Don't turn them into professional actors, Amory says, but at the same time work with them, help them to do a better job, teach them about discipline. Freedom to do your own thing without the accompanying coaching will invariably result in a show like this. As one neighborhood youngster puts it to Amory, the kids talked "so 'obviously' about things, and yet 'they don't look like they'd be talking about things that way.'" Or as Amory himself puts it, quoting the younger of the two kids whose opinions he'd solicited, "When will this be over?"

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A quick look at the rest of the week:

Before there was March Madness™, there was still an NCAA basketball tournament, although it looked a lot different than it does today. For one thing, there are only 25 teams in the 1972 tournament, and each team is limited to one representative. There are few conference tournaments - the ACC being the main exception - and the champions from the top conferences - the Big 10, Big 8 and Pac 10, for example - were seeded directly into the second weekend's Round of 16. Because of this, we're left this Saturday with the absurd situation of having the tournament's first round take place before everyone's done with the regular season. Case in point: on NBC, Marquette takes on the MAC champion (yet to be determined at press time) and Long Beach State meets BYU in the first round, while Michigan plays Iowa in the final Big 10 game of the season and Oklahoma plays Missouri in the Big 8 finale. How times have changed. Besides, it's a moot point anyway - UCLA wins the championship for the sixth consecutive season, and eighth in the last nine seasons.

Both Tonight Show stars, Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon, appear in specials this week on NBC. Ed's Sunday show comes from Cypress Gardens in Florida, with Bob Newhart, waterskiing champion Liz Allen, daredevil speedboard drives The Stingers, and the Burgundy Street Singers. Johnny's Monday special is a variety revue with stars recreating some of their past glories from film and vaudeville, and features Bette Davis, Ethel Waters, Eddie Foy, Jr. and others. It's preceded by Bob Hope's special spoofing the Oscar-nominated films, co-starring Elke Sommer, Dyan Cannon, Connie Stevens and Eva Gabor. In other words, a typical Hope lineup.

Nowadays we take it for granted that we can see the biggest box office movie hits just months after they open in the theaters, but it wasn't always the case. As an example, this week we have the network premieres of two major movies not months but years after they played in theaters. The first, an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim from 1965, is shown in two parts on ABC Sunday and Monday. An all-star cast, including Peter O'Toole, Eli Wallach and James Mason, produce what Judith Crist calls "an eye-filling frequently rousing Saturday-afternoon-serial kind of romantic adventure - and a super-deluxe one at that."

Meanwhile, West Side Story, winner of 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture of 1961, debuts on NBC Tuesday and Wednesday. Crist calls the movie a landmark in movie musicals, "both in its social context and in its cinematic techniques," and has particular praise for the Oscar-winning performances of Rita Moreno and George Chakiris, the dazzling choreography by Jerome Robbins (who shared the Best Director Oscar with Robert Wise), and the powerhouse music by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim.That name sounds familiar: James MacArthur, who we looked at on Monday in the TV Sidekick Blogathon, appears in Sunday's Wonderful World of Disney on NBC. It's the conclusion of "Banner in the Sky," and Danno - that is, James - plays a young mountain climber trying to conquer the peak that killed his father. I'll bet you one thing - MacArthur probably enjoyed shooting in Hawaii a lot more than in the Alps, where this movie was filmed.

The Grammys are on ABC Tuesday night, with Andy Williams in his second of seven consecutive years as host. It's being broadcast not from Staples Center in Los Angeles, as it is today, but from the Felt Forum theater at Madison Square Garden in New York, and it's the last time any network other than CBS carries it. As our mission here is to illustrate popular culture through TV Guide, let us take a moment to share some of the nominees for Grammys, in order to remind you of what the music scene was like in 1972. For our edification, the winners are indicated by (W)

Record of the Year
"It's Too Late," Carole King (W)
"Joy to the World," Three Dog Night
"My Sweet Lord," George Harrison
"Theme from Shaft," Isaac Hayes
"You've Got a Friend," James Taylor

New Artist
Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Hamilton, Joe, Frank & Reynolds
Carly Simon (W)
Bill Withers

Pop, Rock and Folk Female Vocalist
Joan Baez
Janis Joplin
Carole King (W)
Carly Simon

Pop, Rock and Folk Male Vocalist
Perry Como
Neil Diamond
Gordon Lightfoot
James Taylor (W)
Bill Withers

Pop, Rock and Folk Vocal Group
Bee Gees
Carpenters (W)
"Jesus Christ, Superstar" original cast
Sonny and Cher
Three Dog Night

Don't you just love how the Academy groups these acts together?

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Running on empty? The networks haven't announced fall schedules yet, but speculation runs rampant, as always, on which of the incumbent favorites will fail to return next season. Among the well-known shows facing the possibility of the ax: The Persuaders, Bewitched and The Courtship of Eddie's Father on ABC, My Three Sons and Don Rickles on CBS, and Jimmy Stewart, Emergency! and Nichols on NBC.

Show I'd like to have seen: Kurt Vonnegut's Between Time and Timbuktu, a bizarre futuristic story featuring Bob & Ray. Well, here it is:

How about a touch of class? Masterpiece Theater, also on Sunday on PBS, presents part one of yet another acclaimed BBC miniseries, "Elizabeth R," starring Oscar winner Glenda Jackson as Elizabeth I.

The week's most provocative program: ABC's Saturday Movie of the Week, a made-for-TV drama entitled "The Last Child." Set in 1994, it depicts a United States with population control laws that limit families to one child (China, anyone?) and forbid medical care to those over 65, and stars the late Van Heflin in his final performance, that of a retired U.S. senator helping a young couple (Michael Cole, Janet Margolin) escape to Canada before government authorities can capture them and murder their unborn child. It's badly midguided in many ways - the whole concept of overpopulation, particularly in the United States, has always been overblown - but in other ways the idea of an increasingly totalitarian American government is one that chills the bones, perhaps now more than ever. Here's a clip from the film.

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Finally, we'd be remiss if we didn't talk a look at the most famous figure from this week's edition. He's arguably the most successful salesman on TV, and his commercials have become among the most famous on the tube. Because of his success, directors are willing to put up with his difficulty and temper tantrums, not to mention being ready to use "a lot of patience - and a lot of film." His adoptive name is Lucky, but you know him better as Morris the Cat.

Lucky is indeed Lucky; the orange cat was less than a half-hour from being put away when his handler, who was looking for a cat to use in a commercial, found him at an animal shelter. "He was walking around as if he owned the place," Bob Martwick says. He wound up being taken to a 9-Lives audition, and the producer said "We knew instantly he was the one the minute he walked in. He was the Clark Gable of cats."

Today he's at work doing his 14th commercial for 9-Lives, in which he's to type a testimonial letter extolling the virtues of the cat food, whose box he appears on. First the camera (running continuously) captures a few seconds of Morris sniffing at and appearing to read the box. In order to simulate the typing, food is placed between the keys of the typewriter, and the camera runs again until the cat paws at the keys. At last, after a few hours and 4,000 feet of film, the 30 seconds necessary for the commercial are captured, and Morris is loaded back into his travel cage, to make the 20-mile journey from downtown Chicago to the 4-by-3 foot cement kennel where he lives. It's a reminder that for the thousands of fan letters he receives, for all the articles written about him (like this one) and pictures taken (like the one at the left), a cat is still just a cat - even if he's top cat in the advertising business. TV  


  1. Another nice look back, thanks!

    "Before there was March Madness™, there was still an NCAA basketball tournament, although it looked a lot different than it does today. For one thing, there are only 25 teams in the 1972 tournament, and each team is limited to one representative.

    I think that you meant to write each CONFERENCE is limited to one representative, not each TEAM. From what I've read, this situation existed until 1975, when the tournament allowed multiple teams per conference. The tournament expanded to 32 teams that year and has more than doubled in size since then.

  2. The 1972 Grammys (honoring music made in 1971) were generally pretty good. Very good music and performers nominated, and very few head-scratching winners. 1978, the year the Academy chose A Taste of Honey as best new artist over Elvis Costello, was yet to come.

    1. The major nominated performers of the 1972 Grammy's included some who were already legends; except for Chase (nominated for Best New Artist), those not already legends eventually would be.

      Chase, whose sound was very reminiscent of Chicago (and I think both were on the same label), was a one-hit wonder. But I believe several members of the band were killed in a plane crash a couple of years later.

      Otherwise, the group might have mad more success later in the decade.

      BTW, the American Music Awards were created by Dick Clark in 1973 at the behest of ABC, which lost the Grammy show to CBS.

  3. I've never really forgiven Brolin for discarding Jan Smithers (Bailey Quarters on WKRP IN CINCINNATI) for Babs (of course, he traded in someone else for Jan--I have Buzzr and saw him with #1 on TATTLETALES)

    TAKE A GIANT STEP was revamped the following year into TALK TO A GIANT, where kids conversed with famous/important people in various fields.

    NBC made the wise choice in keeping EMERGENGY, as it ended up being solid counter-programming to ALL IN FAMILY and other sitcoms on CBS for six seasons.

    I never did understand the foundation of THE LAST CHILD...the couple had lost their previous offspring--couldn't the law allow a do-over?

    1. Nope, one child one chance.
      That was part of the Draconain government idea. All SciFi was dystopian at this time. All government was bad, as opposed to now where only Republican government is bad. China was still almost a decade away from its heralded "One Child" policy.

    2. Better Late Than Never Dept.:

      The Last Child was the first TV script of Peter S. Fischer, of whom I've had occasion to write in the past.

      His memoir, Me And Murder She Wrote, devotes a whole chapter to how he came to write it and subsequently see it filmed by Aaron Spelling and ABC.

      If you missed my earlier comments about Peter Fischer, he went on to do Columbo, Ellery Queen,, several not-quite-as-successful shows, and ultimately Murder She Wrote.

      Mr. Fischer wrote Last Child in protest of what he saw as increasing governmental encroachment on personal freedoms. Since he "retired" from TV, he has self-published some novels with similar themes.

  4. Talk about the fates lining up. I was thinking about Between Time & Timbuktu this past week but could not find it anywhere. I don't know how I missed it on Youtube but I only found clips. Thanks for the link. This was a PBS staple at the time and they showed it at least once a month, usually on a Saturday afternoon, in the Alexandria Va area. Thanks for the link.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!