July 2, 2016

This week in TV Guide: July 2, 1977

Is this the first time the blog has visited Atlanta? I think it might be. I don't know much about the area's television, but I do know that Atlanta is home to independent Channel 17, WTCG, and the "T" stands for Turner, as in Ted Turner. It was only last year that WTCG became the nation's first superstation*, beaming its signal into Nebraska, Virginia, Kansas and Alabama. Next year, WTCG will change its call letters to WTBS, later shortened to TBS, and the station that was once primarily known as the home of the Atlanta Braves will become part of a powerhouse media giant that grows to include TNT, TCM, CNN, HLN, Cartoon Network, Boomerang, and others.

*The first being HBO, whose owner, Time Warner (as the always-reliable Wikipedia reminds us), would eventually own TBS as well after its purchase of the Turner broadcast empire.

It's funny though; looking through the listings, there doesn't appear to be anything special about their shows. Star Trek, Perry Mason, Dragnet, Here's Lucy and Night Gallery are some of the familiar titles that appear during the week, and the movies that the station offers are good, watchable films, but not any more than those shown by 11 Alive, WXIA. The most notable, and most unique, programming from WTCG is Atlanta Braves baseball, with three games on this week, and it will be the station's coverage of the Braves over the years that will lead to Ted Turner's club being billed as America's Team. We don't even have "Turner Time" yet, the practice where all the network's programs were started at five minutes after the hour and half hour, rather than the traditional top and bottom. In other words, it's an absolutely conventional television station, with no clue of what it's to become.

When Andy Messersmith played for the
Braves, he insisted his nickname was
"Channel." Nice ad for the station, hm?
It's a bold move for Turner to take WTCG national, in essence becoming the nation's independent channel, when there were two other independents in Atlanta alone, and it was only the smallest markets that lacked even one indy station. But by working slowly, building his viewership with these markets (most of them in the Midwest and South), and offering the Braves to baseball fans (many of whom were without a team in their own market) at a time before ESPN, the station continued to grow and grow.

We often read about stars before they became stars, or see mention of a new series in development that goes on to become one of the all-time classics, but this may be the first time we've seen a network in its formative years, while it was still mostly a local station, before it hits the big time.

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Besides the Braves, we've got some other sports on hand, the biggest of which being Wimbledon. We're still a year away from NBC's live broadcast of the finals, but the network has dramatically expanded its Saturday coverage to 6½ hours, carrying both championship matches in their entirety, rather than via highlights as has been the case in the past. It all starts at noon (ET) with coverage of the women's final, taped Friday, and this must be the week for seeing the birth of future stars, as Martina Navratilova wins her very first Grand Slam championship, defeating Chris Evert in three tight sets. This is followed at 2:00 p.m. by the men's final, played earlier Saturday, in which two-time defending champion Bjorn Borg destroys former champion Jimmy Connors in straight sets.

Because of Wimbledon's control over the airwaves, the baseball Game of the Week is pushed all the way to 11:30 p.m., preempting Saturday Night Live - good thing it's a West Coast game between the Giants and Dodgers. Even at that, the game won't be starting until 8:30 their time. Since I lived in the World's Worst Town™ at the time, I doubt we even got it. Some schlock local movie, probably.

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In the "what's old, what's new" category this week, the "new" is Fernwood 2 Night, the bizarre spinoff of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, starring Martin Mull and Fred Willard as the host and second banana, respectively, of a talk show set in the fictional hometown of Mary Hartman, Fernwood, Ohio. The idea of getting nationally-recognized celebrities to appear on a quasi-public access talk show is as wonderfully absurd as is the idea of those same celebrities dropping in to SCTV's Melonville to appear on "The Fishin' Musician." It was apparently a little too absurd for some, as for its second season, the show changed it's "location" to California and its name to America 2-Night, in order to make the celebrity appearances more plausible.

Like Mary Hartman (and the real-life shows it parodied), the two "2 Night" shows were aired five nights a week, which means that despite the relatively short run (a total of about seven months), around 130 episodes were produced, thus accomplishing the "100 episode" gold standard. Question for the readership: do you think this program wound up being better-known than Mary Hartman?

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Fernwood 2 Night debuts on Monday, which coincidentally is the Fourth of July. This year's Fourth has a hard act to follow, coming as it does one year after the Bicentennial Fourth, a day which dominated the entire television schedule on all networks. In fact, it's such an impossible task that CBS doesn't really even try, making Our Happiest Birthday (8:00 p.m.), an hour-long retrospective of last year's celebrations, the centerpiece of this year's programming. In turn, the centerpiece of the retrospective is the look back at the tall ships from around the world that sailed down the Hudson River before a crowd of over five million people. Walter Cronkite hosts the show, which includes highlights of other festivities from last year, including the Boston Pops concert* that drew a million people to the Esplanade, along the banks of the Charles River.

*Fun fact: Although it seems like a tradition that has been around forever, it was only two years before that Bicentennial concert - in 1974 - that Pops conductor Arthur Fiedler introduced the practice of playing a piece that included bells, fireworks and cannons blasting, something he envisioned as "All hell [breaking] loose." That was, of course, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, which up to that time had never been associated with the Fourth, and since then has become a staple of the day.

Following Our Happiest Birthday, CBS gives us something new - a two-hour, star-studded "musical history of America" entitled They Said It With Music. The music spans the Revolution to Ragtime, and includes over 80 songs that range "from spirituals to marches, and touch on the Civil War, civil rights, sports and dance." Bernadette Peters, Tony Randall, Jason Robards, Jean Stapleton and Flip Wilson are the headliners.

One of the things I love about the occasional TV Guide from another  market is the look at what's unique about that area, and while the Fourth of July is in many ways a prototypical small-town celebration, Atlanta does it up big with the "Salute to America"* parade up Peachtree Road, televised by WSB starting at 1:00 p.m. (with a pre-parade show Sunday at 6:30 p.m.). This year's parade features a host of Atlanta celebrities, from political figures such as Governor George Busbee and U.S. Senators Sam Nunn and Herman Talmadge, to sports icons Henry Aaron, Phil Niekro and Boom Boom Geoffrion, to show biz stars Pernell Roberts, Brenda Lee and Robert Vaughn. The parade apparently doesn't exist any more, but Atlanta still knows how to celebrate the day.

*Or the "Salute 2 America," since WSB - Channel 2 - televises the parade.

There's also a concert of all-American music on Sunday night courtesy of PBS, with Leonard Bernstein at the helm of his old band, the New York Philharmonic. In one of those nice touches that only television can give us, the concert was taped in London. Go figure.

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Just over five years after the break-in at the Watergate and three years after the resignation of President Nixon, the political scandal is still a large part of the American consciousness. It is, after all, the reason why we had a President Ford, why we have a President Carter, and why we will have a President Reagan. And, writes Kevin Phillips, it remains a mystery.

Phillips, the conservative-leading pollster and pundit who is credited with successfully predicting and systematizing the "Southern Strategy" that has been the backbone of the Republican party since the mid '60s, is presently one of the rotating authors* of TV Guide's "News Watch" column that opens the national section of the magazine. Phillips has been considering what we know about it all, and what we don't know

*A group which included Patrick Buchanan and John Roche.

I have to admit I've never been captivated by Watergate - for one thing, I remember it happening, so there's not much nostalgia value. It also took down a president, Nixon, whom I admired; my thought at the time was that it was overblown, and I haven't changed my mind in the meantime. Mostly, though, it's been long enough since it happened that we've gotten the answers to most of the questions asked over the years - we know who Deep Throat was, for example - which makes many articles of the time either outdated or barking up the wrong tree. In Phillips' case, his theory is an interesting one: that the burglars were after information that Howard Hughes had helped fund CIA assassination plots against Fidel Castro in Cuba*, and that James McCord, one of the burglars, was actually a CIA mole planted in the group to help ensure their arrest.

*For one thing, the only two phones bugged in Democratic headquarters belonged to party chair Larry O'Brien and functionary Spencer Oliver, both of whom had ties to Hughes.

As I pointed out last week, it has been impossible to escape the politicization of television, along with everything else, that has increased steadily over time. The thrust of Phillips' article is that one of the networks would be well-advised to investigate and report on this theory; articles by Buchanan and others would point out possible media bias or conflicts of interest. At least there was something civilized about these articles; today we don't even have that.

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Finally - an "all-new" version of Star Trek? It's true - Paramount has signed on for 22 episodes for their new "fourth network," to start in April, 1978. Gene Roddenberry has even been contracted to create the new series, at a cost of $400,000 per episode. No word yet, the article continues, on whether or not the original cast will return.

As it turns out, the originals - Shatner, Nimoy, Kelley and the rest - do return. It's the show that doesn't come back, at least not for another nine years. Somewhere along the line, probably after the boffo box office from Star Wars, Paramount makes the decision to pour the money into a big-screen version of Star Trek, which launches an ongoing series of successful, highly profitable movies. Star Trek will return to the small screen, though, in the form of The Next Generation, with its own cast and following, and its own series of movies. I guess it just proves you can't keep a good starship down. TV  


  1. --One thing I remember about WTBS (and a big reason I preferred WOR and WGN) was there was nothing really Atlanta about it: no local news or commercials. Were things different in the early 70s?
    --You are right "Fernwood" is better remembered than "Mary Hartman". I remember Fernwood from the Nick at Nite reruns very well, and both Mull and Willard have had long careers. I never saw Mary Hartman rerun at all, and Lasser pretty much disappeared off the face of the earth after she left the show.
    --The NBC baseball slot is so odd. Of course NBA games of this era were often tape delayed, but what other sporting events were aired live in late night (at least on the East Coast)?

    1. Sorry I meant "early days of WTBS in the late 70s".

  2. Agree on Fernwood2Night; Fred Willard and Martin Mull made that show far more memorable than the Mary Hartman soap opera spoof, which hasn't aged nearly as well.

  3. Inexorable time in its flight:

    I didn't realize how long it's been since I've had any thoughts about Ted Turner.
    Apparently, the once "Terrible Ted" has retired from public life, concentrating on his philanthropies (his five adult children have all followed suit).
    It was different back in the '70s-'80s; you couldn't pick up a newspaper or magazine, or turn on your TV, without hearing something about a flamboyant, eccentric billionaire who not only took over various businesses but tried to run them himself, as publically as possible.
    Remember when he appointed himself manager of the Braves? It took him all of one night to realize that his lack of baseball knowledge was working against him.
    When he tried to compete with Vince MacMahon's wrestling empire - same result; MacMahon's years of experience was more than a match for Turner's money.
    Television was a different story: When Ted used satellite tech (then mainly unused at the local level) to take a UHF station national, you might say that he was anticipating the digital explosion that came at the century's turn.
    WTCG? The grandparent of MeTV, Cosi, Antenna, GetTV, and their many digital and cable siblings.
    Above all, let us not forget that Ted Turner created CNN, thereby also creating the 24/7 news cycle that we have now.
    Hey, you win some, you lose some ...

    In his time, Ted Turner was a Media Star, virtually inescapable from public view with his funny little mustache, his nasal twang, his highly variable love life, and his penchant for saying the Wrong Thing at the Wrong Time.
    More than a few times, I'd hear someone express this sentiment:
    "Well, it could be worse - he could be running for President!"

  4. There's a CBS Newsbreak from that night on YouTube(anchored by Morton Dean) which featured a promo for that "They Said It With Music" special and was followed by a "due to the following programming" bumper: One of the shows pre-empted by that "Music" special: "All's Fair," starring Bernadette Peters, who appeared on that special

  5. The parade ended after 2007. The primary problem now is the Peachtree Road Race starts at 6:45 AM (wheelchair/crankchair divisions) and the last wave of runners starts just past 9:10 AM, with the last wave starting after 9:30 AM. Cleanup of Peachtree Street has effectively made the parade impossible for a 1 PM parade with 60,000 runners!

    WSB TV still runs a fireworks show at Lenox Square that night -- way after the cleanup from the race has ended. I find the WSB fireworks stage taking up a chunk of the parking lot as I stretch and prepare for the logistics of the 10,000 meter jaunt that morning!

    It was not until 1982 that Wimbledon did schedule Sunday finals.

  6. This entry sent me over to look at CALL ME TED in Google Books, and it's an interesting read, as it goes...Turner, having bought Channel 17 to expand from radio and billboard advertising (TCG originally referred to Turner Communications Group) played some interesting programming strategies from the beginning, focusing on movies as counterprogramming to network talkshows and Sunday morning religious programs on the other stations, and getting some profitable clearances of locally-pre-empted network programming, till WTCG started making deals to gather up local sports coverage as the network affiliates gave up on them, in the early '70s. (WTCG got its biggest audience to date with their clearance of the ABC premiere of BRIAN'S SONG, getting more than four times the audience the ABC affiliate saw with their local NBA game pre-emption.) https://books.google.com/books?id=O8bQBgj2znwC&pg=PT65&lpg=PT65&dq=wtcg+watch+this+channel&source=bl&ots=wWDbjHPJdE&sig=Yd64Hi-glWBmGR74v1yO3HCZIY0&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjNlc3y2t_NAhXHXD4KHW-mAK8Q6AEIJTAC#v=onepage&q=wtcg%20watch%20this%20channel&f=false


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!