October 31, 2016

What's on TV? Monday, November 1, 1965

Happy Halloween, everyone! We haven't done a Monday for awhile, so why not now? We're in Ohio, one of at least two states that can lay claim to being the Birthplace of Presidents (Virginia being the other), so it's an appropriate place to be one week before the end of the campaign that wouldn't end. There are more stations in this issue than you can shake a stick at (though why you'd want to do that is a mystery to me), so we'll concentrate on Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton. And away we go.

October 29, 2016

This week in TV Guide: October 30, 1965

What better way to prepare ourselves for Halloween than with two of our favorite members of the macabre, Gomez and Morticia Addams.

The focus of this week's issue is the genial John Astin, who with his maniacal grin and wild eyes makes a perfect Gomez. He has it made now, with a home in Westwood (having upgraded from Beverly Hills; in Westwood he gets more home for the money, and, let's face it, he doesn't make that much money in The Addams Family). It's been a long journey to this point, one which took him to theater major at Johns Hopkins, early success in acting at the University of Minnesota, and eventually to television, where he co-stars in I'm Dickens...He's Fenster. Having demonstrated his comedic chops, he was more than ready to take on Gomez.

Charles Addams, creator of the cartoon characters on which the show is based, says that Astin and Carolyn Jones, who plays Morticia, "are beyond my reproach." He loves the series. The executive producer, David Levy, hopes the series will run five seasons. Astin acknowledges that television is "no great art form, but it's no disgrace either."

In fact, The Addams Family runs but two seasons, but it's lived on forever in syndication, often as part of an afterschool block that children of my age saw. By now it's firmly entrenched in the cultural landscape, along with The Munsters and Gilligan's Island and other shows from that era - fondly remembered long after shows with longer runs have been forgotten. And John Astin, who moves from Gomez to a spell as The Riddler on Batman to decades of guest appearances on TV series, who was once married to Patty Duke, raised one successful actor and fathered another - well, he hasn't done too badly either.

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Throughout the 60s and early 70s, TV Guide's reviews were written by the witty and acerbic Cleveland Amory. Whenever we get the chance, we'll look at Cleve's latest take on the series of the era. 

It's always nice to see Amory's eye cocked toward a series that becomes a genuine piece of television history, as opposed to some of the programs that fade out after their 13 weeks have come and gone. Such is the case, this week, with Get Smart.

At the outset, Amory makes what I think is a prescient point: speaking of spy semispoofs, he observes that often "you have the feeling the producers are waiting to see whether the public really believes it and wants it played for keeps, or whether they don't believe it, and therefore want it played for laughs." With Get Smart, he credits creators Mel Brooks and Buck Henry for "getting down to the serious business of being funny right from the start." It starts with the sparkling opening scene of the first episode, in which Smart (Don Adams) is called on his shoe phone, and subsequently, in his exchanges with Barbara Feldon's Agent 99, displays his unique blend of overconfidence, earnestness, and ineptness. From there, the viewer is treated to some of the show's winning adaptations of old jokes, and the emergence of Smart's catchphrases, particularly "Would you believe..."

Amory delights that "there are at least three of these gem-funny scenes in almost every episode," which he describes as "har-har for the course." He praises Don Adams, "excellent" in his role as Smart, though "Barbara Feldon is still a little coy for our tastes." He also likes Fang, the spy dog who plays Agent K-13, whom he finds "more than makes up" for Feldon. Most of all, he likes how producers Leonard Stern and Jay Sandrich "somehow manage to pull off the toughest job of all, a funny ending", as when Smart laments the end of the evil dwarf Mr. Big. "If only he could have turned his evil genius to . . . niceness." If only is a combination of words that sadly describes too many shows and their efforts to kill an ending (Saturday Night Live, anyone?), but when Get Smart can start out funny and end the same way - well, that's more than Cleveland Amory can ask for.

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As this week's cover tells us, Johnny Carson is now facing some competition for the late night audience - a double-barreled challenge, in fact. In one corner, we have Les Crane, host of ABC's Nightlife; in the other, it's Merv Griffin and his syndicated show. It is, says author Stanley Frank, the first real choice viewers have had since Jack Paar vacated the Tonight Show timeslot, leaving most viewers with "a choice between Carson's urbane, low-pressure humor, Steve Allen in some areas, and old movies that turn up as regularly as mortgage installments."

We know how this all winds up; Johnny remains triumphant, Merv flirts with a network show (on CBS) for a time before returning to a long and successful run in syndication, and as for Les Crane - well, there's always that shotgun microphone of his. I seem to recall one of our commentators - perhaps Mike Doran - offering some tidbits on Les, and in any event I suspect there are those of you out there who can fill in the blanks - the rest of the story, as it were. However, I do find some of the comparisons between the three hosts - a kind of talk show tale of the tape - to be quite revelatory.

Take, for instance, the way each of the three describes himself. Carson is "primarily a comedian, an ad-lib artist," Crane says, "I'm a communicator. Discussion is my forte," while Griffin sees himself as "a glamorous traffic cop and a good listener to guests who have something to say." As for the guests, Carson goes for show business types, Griffin prefers intellectuals, and Crane likes "kooks who run off at the mouth." How they treat those guests is the subject of a more animated discussion.

"The secret of a late-night show is instant humor," says Carson. "I don't want to sound like an egotistical jerk*, but could Crane or Griffin do a 50-minute act at Las Vegas as I did?" Counters Griffin, "Comedians always are thinking ahead to the next gag to protect their image. I think it's wrong for the host to rise above his guests. Besides, viewers at midnight are older and more sophisticated than the usual audience. They want to be entertained of course, but they really want to hear well-informed people express opinions on controversial issues." Carson rejects the idea he's stayed completely away from controversy, but states, "By and large, though, I feel that justice can't be done to a controversial topic in the time allowed. I like controversy if it's honest. Too often it's a phony device used for shock effect and the audience knows it."

*Sure, you don't.

If there's anyone who knows his way around controversy, it has to be Crane. In his first months on Nightlife, he's hosted discussions on topics including homosexuality and adultery, and criticism was so harsh (and ratings were so low) that ABC sacked him after four months, bringing him back only after they couldn't find a suitable substitute. He's more subdued and conventional now, a "truer reflection of my personality than the other thing," but in reality his biggest crime might have been that he was ahead of his time. True, the content of his show is more daytime than late night, but you can't tell me Les Crane wouldn't fit in perfectly with the debris that litters daytime television today.

The battle for second place between Griffin and Crane continues apace; it's a battle from which we know Merv will emerge triumphant, but there's no stopping Carson. Crane's days clearly appear to be numbered though, and there's speculation that ABC could replace him with a soap opera. (In a way they do, with Joey Bishop succeeding Crane only to be replaced by Dick Cavett, who then makes way for an aborted comeback by Paar, followed by late-night reruns, made-for-TV movies, and Nightline, before finally settling on Jimmy Kimmel.) There's one thing for sure though, and that's that the battle for late-night has dramatically increased the number of insomniacs, encouraged by their increasing viewing options.

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It's always nice to take a moment and see what's on the sports scene.

By now, we should be used to the fact that in the 1960s, you're generally only going to have one college football game on TV, and because of the limitations on how many times a school can appear during the course of the season, you're going to see a lot of games that don't necessarily play a key role in the national landscape. This week's regional game on NBC gives us Purdue (4-1-1) against Illinois (3-3-0), a game the Fighting Illini will win 21-0. That's not to say there isn't future talent in this game: Purdue's quarterback is none other than future Hall-of-Famer Bob Griese, while Illinois boasts a running game led by Jim Grabowski, who goes in the first round of next year's draft. ABC's Wide World of Sports, in the meantime, features two events that were a staple of the Saturday afternoon program: the World Roller Skating Championships, from Spain, and the World Championship Timber Carnival, from Albany, Oregon.

Sunday means pro football, and this week it's championship football: CBS, with the defending NFL champion Cleveland Browns (yes, you read correctly; the Browns were a powerhouse in the NFL up through the merger, and had several very good teams prior to moving to Baltimore) hosting the Minnesota Vikings; and NBC, in the first year of its AFL contract, with the defending champion Buffalo Bills taking on the Houston Oilers. Buffalo will be the more successful of the two titleholders, taking its second consecutive AFL championship by beating the San Diego Chargers, while the Browns fall to the Green Bay Packers in the NFL title game. Oh, and on Thursday night, the syndicated Canadian Football Game of the Week continues the championship trend, in a game taped on October 17, with the current Grey Cup champion BC Lions playing the soon-to-be champion Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Three games, six teams, four champions. Not bad, huh?

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The Sunday news scene tells us a lot about the state of the world in 1965. It starts with NBC's Meet the Press, featuring Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, charismatic wife of the leader of Nationalist China. At the time, Red China - which defeated Chiang and his forces in 1949, forcing their retreat to the island of Formosa - is an outlaw nation: not recognized by the United States, not a member of the United Nations. It is Chiang's government recognized by the Americans, Chiang's government which holds the seat on the UN's Security Council, Chiang's country that competes in the Olympics under the banner of China.

Madame Chiang has long been an outspoken political figure in the United States, a frequent guest on talk shows, confidant of conservative political leaders and publishers, and would remain active long after her husband dies in 1975. Vietnam would be a perfect storm for her - not only were Communist rebels attempting to take over all of Vietnam, they were doing so with the assistance of the Red Chinese.

Even as early as 1965, Madame Chiang may well have been was urging American steadfastness in Vietnam, and the reason why she would have felt it necessary becomes apparent by looking at ABC's Issues and Answers, in which host Frank Reynolds moderates a debate on "draft-card burning, protest marches, and U.S. involvement in Vietnam." It's coming, my friends, oh yes, it's coming.

ABC Scope, which follows, will in time devote itself entirely to coverage of the war, but for now it's still examining various issues from around the world. This week, it's an up-close look at Jomo Kenyatta, President of Kenya. Kenyatta has led the country since independence, maintaining what he calls "Harambee," a form of socialism which emphasizes brotherhood rather than communal ownership. Kenyatta leads the pro-Western government until his death in 1978, keeping Kenya from turning Communist.

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No Sullivan vs. The Palace this week; Hollywood Palace has been preempted by a Jimmy Durante special, the first in four years for The Schnoz, and it's a show you wouldn't expect. It's called Jimmy Durante Meets the Lively Arts, and Jimmy's guests include Metropolitan Opera star Roberta Peters, ballet dancers Rudolf Nureyev and Lynn Seymour, pop art painter "Sandy Warlock"*, Robert Vaughn (reading from Hamlet), and the singing group The Shindogs. An accompanying article captures the great Durante in all his glory; "I hate doin' ballet," he says of his bit with Nkureyev. "I wanted to show the legs. I'm not proud of 'em, I just like to show 'em off once in a while."  Ah, I'll bet that was a show.

*Warlock is played by actor Max Showalter, who played Ward Cleaver in the original pilot for Leave it to Beaver.

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Finally, here's something you don't see very often: a blank TV screen in a TV Guide Close-Up.

The CBS affiliates in this issue from Southern Ohio are Channels 7 (WHIO, Dayton), 9 (WCPO, Cincinnati), and 10 (WBNS, Columbus). Obviously, when the printing press was being set, the assumption was that all three affiliates would be carrying Trials of O'Brien. However, as it turns out, Channel 9 chooses instead to present Teen-Age Revolution, a David L. Wolper documentary (hosted by Van Heflin) on America's teenagers. It's too late to reset the design of the ad - what to do, what to do? Easy - just color out the number 9! I'm sure this must have happened before, but I can't remember ever seeing it. TV  

October 28, 2016

Around the dial

It's a kind of theme week here at Around the Dial, with many of this week's pieces concentrating on the upcoming Halloween spooktacular. Let's take a closer look at them.

Science fiction movies are very popular in the old TV Guides - many of them look as though they should have the little silhouettes at the bottom of the screen. It's therefore appropriate (as well as fun) to check out this article at The Last Drive-In on science fiction movies of 1953.

Time for another Hitchcock update at bare-bones e-zine, and as was the case previously, it focuses on the frequently-cast-as-a-British-detective John Williams, this time in the second season story "I Killed the Count," the only multi-part Hitchcock story, and a fun one as well.

Also in the mystery vein, The Twilight Zone Vortex continues its Halloween countdown with another in a series of horror-themed episodes. This time, Cliff Robertson stars in the tale of a ventriloquist gone bad, "The Dummy."

I would never have associated Tales of the Crypt with Christmas, which is why Joanna Wilson writes Christmas books and I don't. This week at Christmas TV History, she takes us back to, let us say, an unconventional type of Christmas episode from 1998.

Let's stay with the horror theme for a moment, as Classic Film and TV Cafe looks at the 1970 telemovie "How Awful About Allan," with Anthony Perkins and Julie Harris - as Rick says, a very strong cast for an ABC Movie of the Week.

And Made For TV Movies continues the trend, with - natch - another made-for-TV movie. This one, from 1979, is "Mind Over Murder" with Deborah Raffin and Bruce Davison, and Amanda, who should know, classifies it as "closer to the greats" as far as horror telemovies goes.

Now for something completely different, let's shift over to British television, and of course that means we start with Cult TV Blog, and 1965's Undermind. I'm not saying we're done with the horror subtext, though, because we're talking about an alien force using technology to undermine society! And British TV Detectives follows up with the ongoing series Silent Witness, a series with potential that ultimately disappoints,

The Broadcasting Archives at the University of Maryland links to a Vox story on a topic we touched on a while back, the introduction of color-coded maps on election coverage, and how the Republicans and Democrats became labeled with the counter-intuitive colors red and blue.

David at Comfort TV has another of his thought-provoking yet nostalgic articles, this time taking a look at how foreign cultures were portrayed in various classic television series. He makes an excellent point about how watching these shows, you're reminded of how the world seemed somehow bigger back then, before the information highway brought us all closer together (and drove us farther apart int he process).

That should keep you until tomorrow, when I'll be back with one of our favorite ghoulish couples, on the cover of TV Guide. TV  

October 26, 2016

Got a headache?

On Saturday we learned about a school of thought that held that in order to be effective, commercials also had to be offensive. We also read that the most obnoxious commercials tended to be those that hawked pain medication - "like the one for a headache tablet that had hammers banging in the brain," said one expert.

It's likely that the expert in question, ad agency executive (and putative Mad Man) Robert Robb, had the following commercial in mind when making his comment.

Now, lest you think people exaggerate when they talk about how irritating viewers found these commercials, one need look no further than Allan Sherman, the Weird Al of his time, who, my wife reminded me, penned this immortal classic, "Headaches," to the tune of "Heartaches." Enjoy!

October 24, 2016

What's on TV? Saturday, October 21, 1961

This week it's a return stop to New England, where we'll look not only at the Boston stations, but Hartford, New Haven, Providence, and other areas as well. And in case you were looking at the lower right hand corner above, you're right - that's another of the "This is the Week to Watch" issues. Can you recall the last time there was a week like that on TV?

October 22, 2016

This week in TV Guide: October 21, 1961

Do commercials actually have to be offensive? According to Martin Abramson's article, there's a school of thought that says this is precisely the case. (Then again, there was a school of thought that believed Hello, Larry was a good idea, too.)

What we have, apparently, is a situation akin to that which we find in political commercials today - namely, that obnoxious commercials are often the most effective ones. Commercials for pharmaceuticals generate the most complaints, but as Robert Robb, executive VP of the Reach, McClinton ad agency, points out, it's a case where you "sell through irritation." "When people suffer an attack of gas or a splitting pain, they run out for the remedy whose TV message they associate with their pain or discomfort. Some commercials - like the one for a headache tablet that had hammers banging in the brain - actually give many people the headache that the tablet will subsequently cure." Nice work if you can get it.

Rosser Reeves is seen as the hottest new voice in the ad business, and he's recently made waves with his comment that originality is "the most dangerous word in advertising." For Reeves, nothing succeeds like hitting the viewers over the head with the same commercial over and over and over again. (Now we know who to thank for the invention of the mute button.) It's not a universally-accepted thesis; Sylvia Dowling, VP of Benton and Bowles, says that the reason clever commercials often have bad track records is "because you can't sell on entertainment alone." No matter how fresh, how clever, how humorous the commercial, you have to be "getting across one strong simple selling idea in each commercial" in order to move the product.

Charles Kebbe, who runs a school for commercial performers, explains how the philosophy of people like Rosser Reeves came to be. Originally, he says, TV commercials were pretty clever. "But then as costs zoomed, the print-minded and print-trained agency heads and sponsor representatives too control of everything, and now 90 percent of the commercials you see are wrong for this unique, visual medium. They're static and they're as imitative as rabbits. The people turning them out are scared to take chances. And most of the performers they hire to deliver commercial messages are peas-in-a-pod, model-pretty girls and all-American boys who have no conviction or interest in what they're doing."

There is hope, however; CBS has started to crack down on the "more odious commercials," and the American TV Commercials Festival has started handing out awards to the best commercials of the year. Referring to those commercials for antacid and headaches, one ad agency executive says that because of steps like these, "There'll be fewer stomach arrows and explosions in people's heads in the future." And yet...

Let's look back at today's political commercials again for a moment. One of the comments that jumps out in this article is that the most effective commercials are those in which people remember the name of the product. "If their recall doesn't indicate a sales message is getting through, the commercial is dropped." We know everyone hates those negative political attack ads, and yet polls consistently indicate they're the most effective form of advertising when it comes to getting across a candidate's message.

People tend to give more negative feedback than positive; they're more likely to write a letter of complaint than one of praise. Perhaps, then, Rosser Reeves is right - the more irritated the viewer, the more likely they are to remember the message. And if they remember that it's the other candidate they're supposed to be irritated at, then you're home free.

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One of Ed Sullivan's first great on-air challenges came from Steve Allen, who left Tonight to take over an NBC variety show which, at the beginning, aired opposite Ed. It didn't run as long as Ed's, of course, but then Allen said his goal was never to conquer Ed, but to coexist with him, which he did for three seasons. Let's see who gets the best of the contest this week.

Sullivan: Ed's guests include Phil Silvers and Nancy Walker, who present songs and scenes from their musical comedy "Do Re Mi"; comedy teams Wayne and Shuster and Antone and Curtiss; singer Matt Monro; and the winners of the Harvest Moon Ball dance. .

Allen: Vocalists Jennie Smith and Jack Jones and a group of singing comics called the Characters (Charles Hunt, Carmen and Champ Baccari, Johnny Rico and Jack Kent) are Steve's guests.

This is kind of hard to tell, because aside from Jack Jones I don't really know any of Allen's guests. However, Matt Monro had a long and successful careeer; bet you'll recognize him from his 1963 hit "From Russia With Love," from the movie of the same title. Phil Silvers and Nancy Walker ought to be able to carry Ed past the finish line, so the verdict goes to  Sullivan.

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In sports, television coverage of the 1961-62 NBA season tips off on Saturday as the New York Knickerbockers take on the Philadelphia Warriors. The Warriors coach, Frank McGuire, came to Philadelphia from North Carolina, where his Tar Heels won the 1957 NCAA championship by defeating Kansas, led by Wilt Chamberlain. Chamberlain is now the center for McGuire's Warriors, and in March of the following year he'll score 100 points for Philadelphia against the Knicks. For the year, Wilt averages 50 points a game, the all-time single season record. It's interesting that NBC starts their basketball coverage in October; with rare exceptions, it will become customary for the networks to wait until January to begin with the weekly broadcasts.

Football's in full swing, and you can take your pick of games. On Saturday, ABC has future Heisman winner Ernie Davis leading Syracuse against Penn State (Penn State wins 14-10), while Sunday's pro games include the once and future Los Angeles Rams playing the New York Giants at Yankee Stadium on CBS, the Cleveland Browns playing the Pittsburgh Steelers on NBC, and the AFL game between the Houston Oilers and Dallas Texans on ABC.

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We haven't had a starlet for awhile, so what better than to go across the ocean to get one? It's Ulla Jacobsson, who will be making her American acting debut on Wednesday night's episode of Naked City. It isn't her first time acting, though; she started off on the stage before moving into Ingmar Bergman's stock company, appearing in Smiles of a Summer Night.* It was that performance that attracted the attention of Naked City producer Bert Leonard, who asked her to come to America just to do this one episode. She's known for her "sensitive, subtle quality," which proves particularly effective in her role as a maid who conspires with her boss (David Janssen) to murder his wife (Constance Ford).

*According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, she's perhaps best-known  internationally for her nude scenes in the 1951 movie One Summer of Happiness. How appropriate that she'd be appearing in Naked City, don't you think?

After that, there are other roles, but she never does make it big in America (if she even wanted to), and she dies of bone cancer at the painfully young age of 53.

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Mrs. J.L. Waybourn, of Farmington, New Mexico, writes to remind TV Guide that "there are still many people in these United States who find such words as "hell" and "damn" used in television shows objectionable - especially coming from teen-agers as on last week's Bus Stop."

The program to which Mrs. Waybourn refers is based on the 1956 romantic comedy starring Marilyn Monroe, which in turn was (very) loosely based on the Tony-nominated 1955 play by William Inge. Bus Stop the television series, which debuted October 1 on ABC, boasts Roy Huggins (The Fugitive, Run For Your Life) as creator and producer, stars Marilyn Maxwell, and credits Inge as a script consultant, which may or may not mean anything.

Regardless of its pedigree, though, there's no doubt the series has created quite a stir. The network ws "deluged" with protests, so much so that network president Ollie Treyz banns all such words from future network programming. Typical of the letters is another that found its way to TV Guide, from Judy Vogel of Rochester, NY, who found Bus Stop "sadly disappointing. I shall never be able to understand why I cannot watch an adult program without hearing language like "damn" and "hell." Some of our writers must indeed be in a very serious situation if they can find no better way to get their ideas across to an audience than by the use of this coarse language." The simple answer to Ms. Vogel's question, according to Huggins, is that you can't watch an adult program without hearing that kind of language because that's the way adults talk. "The words . . . are genuine and realistic," he tells TV Guide, "but they are not essential for adult drama at all."

I think Huggins' last point is the crucial one. Quite soon the same type of question will be asked by movies, only there it will pertain to nudity rather than profanity. The essence is the same, though: is it essential to the story? Starting with the 1964 film The Pawnbroker, Hollywood's Production Code will begin to grapple with the situation; by the end of the decade, the Code is gone altogether, replaced with a ratings system that acknowledges that there is in fact a time and place for profanity, nudity, and violence in movies. Eventually, the debate will move to extremities; the words in question are no longer "hell" and "damn," but "s***" and "f***," and many of the same objections will arise, to be met with the same answers.

I completely agree with Ms. Vogel in that the use of profanity can often be seen as the mark of a lazy writer, just as nudity is, far often than not, used for gratuitous titillation. The fact remains, sad though it may be, that one has only to stand on the corner to hear language far worse than what most television shows contain today. For that matter, most of us probably hear it at work.

I don't know how old either of these women were, but one has to wonder if they lived to see the works of Steven Bochco, or Martin Scorsese, or HBO, and what they though of it.

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On Saturday, one of Ernie Kovacs' lesser-remembered programs, Silents Please, presents the first part of D.W. Griffith's 1916 spectacular "Intolerance." I can't imagine condensing even part of this movie to a half-hour, but there you go. Kovacs doesn't do much more than introduce each program, and considering the tax problems he was known to have, I suspect he might have done this for the money more than any love of silent films. It's the last show of the series, at any rate. Here's a sample:

On Sunday, we have Car 54, Where Are You, which stars this week's cover boys, Fred Gwyne and Joe E. Ross, and the aforementioned Bus Stop, which had better not have any swear words tonight, dammit.

Monday you can catch an episode from a Robert Young series that doesn't work - Window on Main Street (8:30 p.m. ET, CBS), in which Young plays an author writing about the people he meets in his small hometown. It's 34 episodes and out, allowing Young to go to medical school and change his name to Marcus Welby. Also, what was probably a provocative episode of Ben Casey, in which brilliant young surgeon George C. Scott hides the fact that he's also a drug addict.

On Tuesday, Milton Berle makes a rare dramatic appearance on The Dick Powell Show (9:00 p.m., NBC), playing a blackjack dealer who finds himself badly in need of money for his daughter's operation. I've seen Berle in a few dramatic roles; like many comedians, he's really quite good. His biggest obstacle is getting you to take him seriously; once you're by that, his character portrayals are often powerful. After that, on CBS's Westinghouse Presents (which sounds a lot like Westinghouse's Studio One), Ralph Bellamy, Earl Holliman and Dina Merrill star in "The Dispossessed," the story of American Indians hoping to live outside their reservation.

Wednesday gives us dueling cartoons, starting with The Alvin Show on CBS at 7:30 p.m.; in this week's episode, "David Seville and the Chipmunks are shopping for a foreign car. THey find one that an ostrich has mistaken for its egg - and is desperately trying to hatch." If that's not to your liking, try Top Cat on ABC at 8:30; "Benny the Ball is 'discovered' when a famous impresario named Gutenbad hears him play the violin. That is, Gutenbad things he hears Benny play - actually the music comes from a nearby record shop."

Eliot Ness and the rest of The Untouchables (10:00 p.m., ABC) go after heroin dealers on Thursday's episode; Martin Balsam stars as one of the pushers, while the incomparable Bruce Gordon probably steals the episode as Frank Nitti.

On Friday, The Flintstones (ABC, 8:30 p.m.) parodies The Untouchables with an episode called "The Soft Touchables," in which Fred and Barney go into the detective business. What could possibly go wrong? If you like music, it's not likely you can do better than The Bell Telephone Hour at 10:00 p.m. on NBC. The theme is trios, and to prove it we have Benny Goodman and his jazz trio, the three McGuire Sisters, the Kingston Trio, folk singers Margaret Mercier, Eric Hyrst and Vernique Landary, and opera stars Phyllis Curtin, Nicolai Gedda and Theodor Uppman.

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And finally, Jack Paar has announced he's leaving The Tonight Show next March after a five-year run. He'll be back in the fall, however, with a once-a-week hour-long prime time variety show, which plays much as his late-night program. Unmentioned is the $64,000 question: who will be his replacement?

Thanks to Jon Hobden for this week's issue! TV  

October 19, 2016

History in the making - RFK, June 5, 1968

Source: RFK: A Photographer’s Journal by Harry Benson, published by powerHouse Books. Copyright © 2008 by Harry Benson
Although this piece is about television footage that is unquestionably a part of political history, it's not because of the current campaign that I'm writing it - the timing is completely coincidental, as I ran across the accompanying footage just a couple of weeks ago. It's ABC's coverage of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy on June 5, 1968 (technically, it's actually coverage of his shooting, since Kennedy didn't die until the next morning, but you know what I mean), and it strikes me as a remarkable bit of television history as well. I wrote about that event a couple of years ago, but watching this stunning coverage of the first report adds another dimension to it.

Certainly this isn't the first major news story covered on television; the assassination of JFK unfolded dramatically on television just five years prior. It isn't even the only assassination that year, as Martin Luther King, Jr. had been shot and killed just a month beforehand. And the mass murder by sniper Charles Whitman on August 1, 1966 at the University of Texas is considered the first time television had actually provided live coverage of a breaking story as it happened (as opposed to reading wire service reports from the studio).

What, then, makes this footage special, at least to me? For one thing, it's a stunning look at what a breaking story looks like in the studio, as people go from a state of unawareness of a major story to hearing about it to trying to gather as much information on it as possible. This usually happens in the background, but thanks to the particular circumstances involved here, we get to see it right on camera.

Perhaps before we go any farther, I should show you the clip, and we can discuss it afterward. We'll begin with discussions of the vote as it comes in, followed by Senator Kennedy's victory speech, and ABC anchor Howard K. Smith preparing to sign off. It's all captured in context rather than through highlights, but if you're pinched for time and want to skip straight to the relevant part, go to about 37:30 in, as Smith is summarizing.

You'll notice that Smith has already removed his earpiece and microphone and unbuttoned his coat which his head whips around at 19:12, and he goes to put his mic back on. ABC political analyst Bill Lawrence, sitting on the lower right hand side, is looking off-screen as well; clearly, something has happened. By 19:29 Lawrence is on the phone, probably an internal phone to the control room, and Smith joins in a few seconds later. As things unfold, you can see more activity in the background, as staffers are drawn to the teletype machines printing out wire service reports. All the while, ABC's campaign theme music plays in the background, until there is a long moment of silence before an announcer's voice comes on at 20:12 with "Please stand by." In the meantime, Smith and Lawrence have prepared themselves to go back on the air, with Smith particularly looking ready to go at any time. The theme music recycles, things become more animated,and the announcer repeats at 21:14, "Please stand by for a special report." Finally, as another round of music fills the dead space, you can see someone talking to Smith at 22:45, a director runs out on the floor, a staffer crouches down, appearing to be passing information to Smith, who bends over to talk with her. By now, all the staffers are standing around, waiting for what comes next. Controlled chaos. Finally, Smith confirms the camera that will be picking him up, puts down the phone after a quick conversation, and at 23:33 returns to the air with "an alarming report."

Now, I don't know about you, but although television remote controls did exist in 1968, I know our home didn't have one, and I suspect most households didn't, either. And so after Smith signs off and there's one final plug for the sponsor (BFGoodrich), the average viewer would have had to get up and walk across the room to turn off the TV. If he didn't do that right away (and keep in mind this is all happening around 12:15 a.m. Pacific time, which makes it 3:15 a.m. on the East Coast), he might have had the chance to wonder why the music kept playing, and he surely would have been curious after that "Please stand by" announcement. Whatever it is, it's clear something has happened. My wife pointed out it didn't necessarily mean that whatever it was was bad; it could have been as innocuous as ABC projecting that Kennedy would, indeed, be the winner. It's impossible to really know what people were thinking at the time, because we have the benefit of hindsight, but the longer the wait goes on, the more you might think the viewer's anxiety will grow. At this point you'd be a fool to turn off the television.

The same person who posted this video has shared with us coverage from CBS and NBC; unfortunately, neither captures the exact moment when news of the shooting is first aired. In the comments section, one person speculates that CBS may have signed off earlier, having been able to already project Kennedy as the winner due to their own key precinct data, and NBC may have been off the air as well. Therefore, we're left with ABC's coverage, fortunately anchored by a steady hand of a veteran newsman like Howard K. Smith.

Much like the video of CBS breaking into As the World Turns with the first bulletin of JFK's shooting, this footage really gives you a "see it now" feeling of what must have been awful, sickening news. As the coverage continues (I think YouTube has nearly seven hours just from ABC alone), we begin to see still photos of Kennedy: lying sprawled on the floor after being shot, being tended to by bystanders, being lifted into an ambulance with an oxygen mask on. Regardless of how one feels about Robert Kennedy (and there were ample reasons one could dislike him), the juxtaposition of the young, vital, alive man who claimed victory in California and vowed, "Now it's on to Chicago," and the dying victim lapsing into unconsciousness after asking whether everyone was all right, is shocking.

In terms of news as it happens, coverage of the assassination of Robert Kennedy occupies a kind of middle ground between the frontiers broken by TV during the JFK assassination and the later ability of networks to smother us with coverage of breaking events as they unfold. If for no other reason, this remains an extraordinary artifact of American history, and the chance to see it exactly as the viewer saw it then is fascinating.

October 17, 2016

What's on TV? Thursday, October 17, 1957

Another week, another look-in at television in DFW. We discussed most of today's highlights in our Saturday review, so let's get straight to the listings for the entire day. Note how the 15-minute program still dominates so many of the morning schedules, a carryover from the days of radio.

October 15, 2016

This week in TV Guide: October 12, 1957

Inquiring minds want to know: why is this "the week to watch"? Or is it just another piece of hyperbole? As is usually the case, "a little bit of each" appears to be the answer, with plenty of recognizable names, and a few that are footnotes to history now but were well-known to viewers at the time.

By consensus, Sunday appears to be the big night, not only for the week, but quite possibly for the year. It begins at 4:30 p.m. (CT) on NBC with David Susskind's musical version of "Pinocchio," starring Mickey Rooney as the wooden juvenile delinquent, with veteran character actor Walter Slezak as Geppetto, Fran Allison (without Kukla and Ollie) as the Fairy Godmother, Stubby Kaye as the Town Crier, and Jerry Colonna as the Jolly Coachman. Here's a very rare clip from the broadcast:

NBC follows that one-hour broadcast with a star-studded tribute to the Standard Oil Company on its 75th anniversary. Yes, for those of you who think television is just a corporate sell-out today, this is the kind of thing that used to happen back then. Not to worry though, because it's not a documentary on oil production; far from it, with a rare television appearance by host Tyrone Power, and performances from Jimmy Durante, Marge and Gower Champion, Duke Ellington, Jane Powell, Bert Lahr, Art Buchwald, Donald O'Connor, and others. It takes 90 minutes to cram in all the entertainment, and I'm not surprised.

In the duel of corporate sponsorships, it's the turn of Ford next, with a program we've seen here quite recently - The Edsel Show, headlined by Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong and Rosemary Clooney. If this is what TV Guide meant when they said it was a week to watch, they were right. And yet, you can find history in the smaller places, as well. At 8:00 p.m., CBS's $64,000 Challenge, not yet exposed by the quiz show scandals, has one of the most famous of the "honest" guests, boxing expert Dr. Joyce Brothers. Dr. Brothers parlayed her experience into a very long, very successful career as America's Psychologist (with a couple of guest shots as a boxing commentator along the way). Could she be responsible in the long-run for people like Dr. Phil? Possibly, but we love her anyway.

But that's not all! On Thursday night, the Hallmark Hall of Fame opens its new season with a landmark broadcast of the acclaimed Pulitzer-winning musical "Green Pastures," which I first mentioned when it was rebroadcast in 1959. It features an all-black cast, including William Warfield, Ethel Wathers, Eddie Anderson (Jack Benny's Rochester), and Sugar Ray Robinson, and it will win a Peabody award, in addition to being rebroadcast several times. The show doesn't come off very well in this revisionist look at it which views it as somewhat safe and condescending; I find the review itself to be somewhat predictable and condescending, And it's one of the dilemmas one faces with shows of this kind - you can't win no matter what.

In the end, the show, as that article points out, is lost in the ratings bonanza generated by another self-serving program, labeled in TV Guide as "Mike Todd Party." It's a 90-minute special from Madison Square Garden, purporting to celebrate the first anniversary of the Broadway opening of the movie Around the World in 80 Days, produced by Mike Todd. It's hosted by Todd's wife, who happens to be Elizabeth Taylor*, and while Time magazine famously calls the party a "spectacular flop" (which the showman Todd dismisses with the comment "You can't say it was a little bust."), I suspect it all depends on how you look at it; cynically, I'd view it as a 90-minute infomercial for the movie, which is still in theaters, and I'm only surprised it wasn't aired before March's Academy Awards, as part of the movie's very expensive Oscar campaign. No matter - it wins five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, anyway.

On Friday, it's the premiere of two new variety shows on ABC. The first stars Patrice Munsel, the star coloratura of the Metropolitan Opera and has great crossover appeal as well, singing show tunes and interacting with guest stars (the premiere features Eddie Albert). That's somewhat overshadowed by the show that follows, The Frank Sinatra Show, with an opening night lineup that includes Bob Hope, Peggy Lee, and Kim Novak. You might not think this, but both shows lasted the same length of time: one season. Sinatra had an interesting idea of doing a program with a revolving format: variety shows, dramas starring him, and dramas hosted by him. Interesting, yes, but was it really what viewers wanted? We'll probably never know, because Frank also didn't like rehearsing much, and so many of the programs weren't very well done. When Sinatra reappears again on TV in the '60s, it's with a series of very good specials that feature Frank (and some guest stars) singing - and nothing else. On the theory that even bad Sinatra is still Sinatra, here's that opening show.

In addition, all three networks will provide sporadic coverage throughout the week of Queen Elizabeth's visit to Canada, including the arrival of the Queen and Prince Philip* on Saturday (CBS), her Speech from the Throne at the opening of the Canadian Parliament Monday afternoon (NBC), her arrival Thursday in Washington D.C., where she and the Prince will be greeted by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles (NBC), and events such as a reception held at the British Embassy. In addition to the special broadcasts Today keeps us posted on all the activities.

*Of all the names listed in this issue of TV Guide from some 59 years ago, the Queen and Prince Philip are two of the only people still living. What do you think the odds of that would have been back then?

Well, what do you think? Does the week live up to the hype or not?

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One of the shows that isn't on the hype list for the week is another newcomer, a Western airing Saturday evenings on CBS. It stars Richard Boone, who most recently was in the medical series Medic, and it's called Have Gun - Will Travel.

For Boone, the new series marks a pleasant change of pace from playing the doctor/narrator on Medic (he was the in-character host for all 60 episodes, and acted in the episodes himself 20 times), a role in which he was convincing enough that an actual doctor wrote to him with an offer to join the practice. In fact, even though he's played in nearly a dozen Westerns on the big screen, CBS wasn't quite sure he was right for the role of the elegant, black-clothed gunfighter Paladin. "They told teh studio I'd never played anything but doctors. I had to make a five-minute test film as Paladin to ship to New York before they accepted me." Needless to say, it took about five minutes for the network to see the light.

During Have Gun - Will Travel's successful six-season run, it was often held up as an example of violence on television, which makes his comments on playing Paladin even more interesting. "I red the scripts for 14 different series looking for a character with the right humor and complexity," Boone says, "something as far from [Medic's] Styner as I could find - and the minute I read this one I jumped up and yelled, "This is for me." In fact, Paladin is no heartless killer - he's cultured, West Point-educated, a connoisseur of fine wines, fine cigars, fine music, and fine women. It's only when he's on the job that he turns into the grim, determined man with the gun, and even then he frequently turns to violence only as a last resort. He's a great believer in the dignity of individuals, and on occasion he even turns against the man who hired him, if he feels that an injustice is being done. He also has a sense of humor. It's an adult Western to be sure, but a far cry from the bloody gunfights that marked many of the genre back then - and even today. In fact, there are many episodes I wish had a little less of a light touch and a little more of an edge. and But, as they say, it's all relative.

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One of the things you might have noticed missing from the week so far is sports. It's still there; you just have to look a little more closely for it.

The World Series ended on October 10, a splendid seven-game series in which the Braves bested the New York Yankees for their first Series title since 1914, back when they were in Boston. For a comparison, the seventh game of this year's World Series, if there is a seventh game, is scheduled for November 2.

There's one college football game on, the annual classic from the Cotton Bowl between Texas and Oklahoma. At the time, Oklahoma's in the midst of their epic 47-game winning streak, dating back to 1953. The Sooners would beat Texas 21-7, their 43rd consecutive win; a month later the streak would end with a 7-0 defeat to Notre Dame. You might have seen the Oklahoma-Texas game just a week ago, still in the Cotton Bowl. Oklahoma won this one as well, 45-40. By contrast, the '57 Sooners gave up 89 points the entire season. It was a different game back then. As for pro football, there are a pair of games on Sunday afternoon - the San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears on CBS, and the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns on independent KFJZ. Again, a far cry from today.

There's some golf on Saturday - the premiere of one of the most influential golf programs of the day, All Star Golf. This was before tournament golf was a regular part of the weekend schedule; The U.S. Open had been telecast only since 1954, The Masters had just started the year before, and even these tournaments only covered the final three or four holes. When All Star Golf came along it gave viewers the opportunity to see two big-name golfers play 18 holes head-to-head, with the time between shots cut out to enable it to fit in a nice, neat one-hour timeslot, All Star Golf begot other made-for-TV programs, Shell's Wonderful World of Golf, Big Three Golf (Nicklaus, Palmer and Player), and the CBS Golf Classic, but it wasn't until the '70s and '80s that tournament coverage really took off. Hosted by former Masters champion Jimmy Demaret, All Star Golf would stick around until 1963.

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The mission of CBS's Playhouse 90, says its producer Martin Manulis, is to "entertain the grown-ups," and that includes topics such as illegitimacy, discrimination, addiction, - why, one show even used the word "damn." "We believed that was the way those people would talk," Manulus says. "And we didn't receive one letter of complaint."

What this probably proves is that viewers aren't necessarily in favor of profanity, but they understand that it can be appropriate based on the context, and they're not going to be particularly disturbed when it happens. It kind of reminds me of the old cliche about the actress willing to do nudity "if it's artistic," but there's obviously something to what Manulis says when he proclaims, "I don't believe that one or two quacks should dictate the policies of other well-informed and, I might add, quite nice people."

Manulis comes from the "standard of excellence" created in Broadway theater, and his goal with Playhouse 90 is to retain that standard, "to bring the theater into the home." That goes not only for the stories but for the actors and actresses appearing in them, and one of Manulis' trademarks is "switch-casting," when he puts an established star in an unconventional role. It was his idea, for instance, to cast comic Ed Wynn in his first straight dramatic role in "Requiem for a Heavyweight," and he's featured Tab Hunter as aheel, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre as lovable guys, Shirley Jones as an alcoholic (Mrs. Partridge!), and Zsa Zsa Gabor as a 70-year-old matron. There is, he stresses, a difference between switch-casting and miscasting.

Obviously, not every episode of Playhouse 90 is a hit, but even in 1957 there's a suspicion that television's catering to the lowest common denominator, with more than a few shows - particularly Westerns - geared to younger viewers. People like Martin Manulis believed it didn't have to be that way, that one could be serious but not boring, provocative but not offensive. Later in life, he would produce the series James at 16, and miniseries such as Chiefs and Space. What, I wonder, would he think of TV today? TV  

October 14, 2016

Around the dial

et's start off the week with a few episode recaps, shall we?

The Twilight Zone Vortex continues its October tribute to Halloween with a review of the sinister little episode "Night Call," starring Gladys Cooper, whom I like so much in the one-season NBC series The Rogues. Really, be sure to check out the Vortex every day this month, for more reviews of classic TZ creepers.

I just recently saw Victor Jory in an episode of Wanted: Dead or Alive in which he co-starred with Warren Oates and Michael Landon, opposite Steve McQueen. What a cast! The Secret Sanctum of Captain Video briefs us on another Jory appearance, this time in The Green Hornet episode "Frog is a Deadly Weapon."

If you're ready for some more Hitchcock, bare-bones e-zine has it, with a recap of the second-season episode "The Rose Garden," starring John Williams. Williams usually plays a police inspector; here, its a slight change-of-pace: a book publisher's representative, who winds up investigating a possible murder.

The Horn Section covers a 1967 episode of the Western Hondo with the intriguing title "Hondo and the Mad Dog." I really like the picture caption that opens Hal's piece: "Your lives are meaningless compared to Hondo!"

Cult TV Blog is back with a look at the mid-50s series Colonel March of Scotland Yard, which comes from the era "before television executives began smoking copious amounts of weed in the 1960s and came up with the weird shows I post about here." (Don't you love that!) Read and find out a bit about the series, and a bit more about star Boris Karloff.

Let's stay with the genre, but travel to British TV Detectives, and a look at the A-rated mystery series Shetland, based on the well-regarded novels by Ann Cleeves. If you like this type of British mystery, I think you'll like this one.

Is Night Gallery one of your first choices when thinking about Christmas episodes? Maybe, maybe not. It should be, considering Rod Serling's talent at writing them, and as Christmas TV History points out, this episode is no exception: "The Messiah on Mott Street," starring the legendary Edward G. Robinson.

Comfort TV has a fine recap of David Janssen's sadly overlooked detective series Harry O, which has at least been released on DVD. The two-season series was not a hit, but as David succinctly puts it, "it’s also proof that yesterday’s also-rans are more appealing than many of today’s most successful shows."

That should hold you over until tomorrow, don't you think? TV  

October 12, 2016

A time capsule moment: Petticoat Junction, 1970

When people ask me what this blog is about, I sometimes struggle to answer in such a way that I don't come off as a nerd or a kook, or make people give me sidelong glances as they edge slowly away. That's not to say I don't have that effect on people, but I'd just as soon this blog not be one of the causes.

Anyway, we know that this blog is about classic television, but what about it? It occurs to me, in thinking about it, that the best way to describe what I do is to return to a term I coined back at In Other Words. Back then, I used to refer to myself as a "cultural archaeologist," one who looked at the remnants of a particular time in television history and drew conclusions from it that I could relate to our own times, much as an actual archaeologist looks at artifacts and bones and tells us what life was like in 100 BC. It is often said by historians that it can take decades before one can accurately assess the overall effect of a particular era; therefore, the time should be ripe for us to look at the classic television era (for our purposes, primarily the 1950s through the 1970s) and find out what it tells us about life, and how it's changed (or hasn't changed) in the interval. Television, as much if not more than other contemporary sources (history books, newspapers, Time and Life and Newsweek and other topical magazines) functions as a sort of time capsule, a description of what life was like then.

This week, what we have on tap is what I like to call a "time capsule moment." It's when we come across something - a clip from a television show, an article from a magazine - that teaches us a fundamental truth about the era. I'm sure I've written about such moments before; the one that leaps to mind is this piece about the 1950s medical show Medic. The particular example to follow isn't the only illustration of what I'm going to point out, of course, but it's a representative one.

It happened one morning last week. As is my wont (and that of most people, I suspect), when I go to bed I usually leave the TV on the station I've been watching, even though that might not be the station I'll want to when I get up in the morning. It's not a surprise, therefore, that I always see a minute or so of Petticoat Junction* on MeTV first thing in the morning, since I usually watch Hogan's Heroes last thing in the evening.

*Petticoat Junction is, I think, one of those shows that I tend to be embarrassed to admit having ever watched. I can remember it from when I was a kid, and I suppose I enjoyed it in the same way I enjoyed Gilligan's Island and The Beverly Hillbillies and other sitcoms of the era. It doesn't interest me today, but I'd never criticize anyone who does watch and enjoy it. 

The moment in question comes from the series' final season in 1970, an episode called "Susan B. Anthony, I Love You." In it, "Billie Jo returns from Chicago with a visionary zeal for the women's liberation movement, and enlists her sisters in 'the cause.' " It's a product of its time; women's lib is all the rage, no-fault divorce was passed by California the year before, Ms. will start publication the year after, the Equal Rights Amendment is already in the works and will be passed by Congress in 1972. At the point in which I joined the episode, Billie Jo is in high dudgeon, reciting various statistics illustrating the various states of inequality that exist between women and men, and urging her sisters and Dr. Janet Craig (June Lockhart) to fight. (When Betty Jo says that doesn't sound very "ladylike," Billie Jo reminds her that they're women, not ladies, and that "ladies" is a term coined by men to subservient women.)*

*Lest you wonder how I was able to amass this kind of detail while only catching a glimpse of the episode, I won't lie to you: I looked it up.

The key line - the one that insures this episode a spot in the time capsule - is when Billie Jo insists that the way to fight back is to have nothing to do with men, including "complete segregation" from men, including sex and marriage. In response, the doubtful Bobbie Jo, replies  "If we're not going to marry men, who else is there?" The line gets a huge response from the laugh track, and Billie Jo assures her sister this isn't going to happen, that they're just going to let men know that "we're invading their world."

If anything, the episode is probably a Hooterville (i.e. G-rated) take on Aristophanes' famous play Lysistrata, in which Greek women withhold sex from their men to force them to stop warring. It's an old and venerable story, one which has been adapted endlessly, and I suspect this had to be at least in the back of the minds of writers Charles Stewart and Dick Conway. (As perhaps a concession to the sign of the times, Dr. Craig asks Billie Jo about what happens to "sex and marriage," subtly suggesting the two might exist separately.)

Now, you have to keep in mind that by this time in the series, Bobbie Jo has come to represent, as the always-reliable Wikipedia puts it, the "humorous scatterbrain," In other words, someone who often states the obvious. And in this case, the obvious is reduced to: duh, women marry men. Billie Jo's answer is equally obvious; she doesn't suggest that women marry each other, or live together communally in a community that excludes men. No, it's to get men to accept women as equals, to redefine the relationship rather than eradicate it.

There's no doubt that the institution of marriage had already been battered by the revolution of the '60s; remember the joke about "who wants to live in an institution"? It's an era of free love, of shunning the shackles of marriage in favor of open relationships. Gay rights protests are hardly unknown at the time; Stonewall happened just the year before.

As a companion piece to the episode in Medic, this episode of Petticoat Junction gives us yet another look at how marriage is seen in its time. While Dr. Craig's comment does suggest sex can exist outside of marriage, Bobbie Jo's question about who else they could marry - well, it certainly shows that same-sex marriage isn't on anyone's radar screen at the time. It's a punch line, a statement so utterly obvious that it's put in the mouth of the resident scatterbrain to prove its point. It's a perfect representation of popular culture at that moment in time, far more so than pictures of a lavish wedding in Life. Secondarily, it tells us something about the fight for equal rights in 1970, the thought that such a revolutionary idea could even come to Hooterville. Even while presenting serious statistics, however, it leavens the moment by leaning heavily on the naivete and earnestness of the equality movement's less dogmatic members. It is, after all, a comedy - not a dramedy.

Again, this is not an essay about politics, or moral beliefs. As a writer on television, I couldn't care one way or the other what you think about the issue - what I'm interested in with this time capsule moment is what it tells us about the culture that conceived and aired it. And in this episode, "Susan B. Anthony, I Love You," Petticoat Junction presents the perfect time capsule moment, the clip that I'd show someone if they asked me what we thought about marriage way back in 1970. TV  

October 10, 2016

What's on TV? Wednesday, October 13, 1965

I thought about spotlighting Monday's programming for this week's feature, but since the networks are probably preempting most of it for the papal visit, that obviously won't do. What days of the week haven't I done yet? Oh, what the hell - let's just pick one.

Wednesday it is!

The listings are from the Minnesota State Edition, including the Twin Cities, Alexandria, Duluth, and Mankato. If you've followed these editions over time, you'll notice that WDIO, the ABC affiliate in Duluth, isn't listed; it doesn't take the air until January of next year.

October 8, 2016

This week in TV Guide: October 9, 1965

When last we visited this issue in October 2012, our focus was on the phenomenon of the local station, particularly KCMT in Alexandria, Minnesota, and how it (and others like it) had been gobbled up by a station in a larger metropolitan area.* That made this a good issue to revisit, since there's plenty more content that we didn't get to the first time.

*There was also a mention or two of cover girl Anne Francis; I'll leave it to you as to whether or not you'd care to revisit that yourself.

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There's no one big feature this week, so let's start off with something we usually use to wind up the day - Letters to the Editor. What makes these so interesting this week is that they represent such a cross-section of television programming, and so many of them tell so much about the climate of the times.

For example, the first two letters have to do with a recent CBS Reports documentary on the Ku Klux Klan, entitled "KKK - The Invisible Empire." The Klan, in 1965, is still a major presence in American culture, and Jim Vickrey of Auburn University writes to praise CBS for the documentary, with the wise words that "Exposure to light is still an effective way to destroy a destructive - albeit 'invisible' virus." Ann Carlson of Devon, Connecticut wants to remind CBS, however, that two wrongs don't make a right, asking the pertinent question "Now how about a report on the Black Muslims?"

Television has, of course, always contained shows that have an element (or two) of implausibility, and Lamont Dixon of Coronado, California, thinks there are just too many to contend with in Juliet Prowse's sitcom Mona McCluskey. "I can't believe a childless couple, living on a sergeant's pay of $500 a month, has to exist on peanut butter and crackers for breakfast and dinner. I can't believe that the sergeant is a buddy of his commanding general. This is more fantastic than a magical Martian, a witch with a twitching nose, an instant genie from a bottle, a car that talks, or a Smothers Brother from heaven."* Meanwhile, Kevin Burford of Iowa City, Iowa, has had it with Hogan's Heroes - "There's nothing funny about prisoner-of-war camps." Considering the widespread approval the show met with from veterans, one wonders if Mr. Burford is, like so many people, confusing a POW camp with a concentration camp? Or perhaps he just doesn't believe humans can continue to be human even in inhuman conditions?

*Bonus points if you're the first in the comments section to identify each of the series to which Mr. Dixon refers.

Advise, solicited or not, is always something generous viewers are free to give the networks, and a trio of letters closes out the section, offering executives ideas that they think will improve their programming dramatically. In response to NBC changing Dr. Kildare from an hourly drama seen once a week to a half-hour, two-nights-a-week program (a la Peyton Place), Betty Norris of Jacksonville, NC, begs the network to "Please stitch Dr. Kildare together again!"* Dave Sepulveda of Santa Rosa, California, advises NBC to "Get smart!, and turn off the laugh machine." (A common complaint of the era.) And Diana Werner of Park Ridge, New Jersey, has perhaps the harshest verdict of all. After watching Robert Lansing get written out of ABC's Twelve O'Clock High by having his plane shot down in the opening moments of the new season, she says that "That finished us (our family) too, as far as this show is concerned." A good point; though Paul Burke is a fine actor (see Naked City, for example), this WWII drama was never the same after Lansing's General Savage left the scene. It lasted only another season-and-a-half.

*Hint to letter-writers who want to see their missives in print: humor always helps, as does cleverness.

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Throughout the 60s and early 70s, TV Guide's reviews were written by the witty and acerbic Cleveland Amory. Whenever we get the chance, we'll look at Cleve's latest take on the series of the era. 

This week Cleveland Amory's critical eye focuses on I Spy, "a kind of spin-off, or perhaps we should begin to call them spy-offs, of The Man from U.N.C.L.E."  - which itself was, he points out, something of a spin-off of the James Bond style of movie. Amory doesn't take long to get to the point, describing I Spy as "the best of the new shows we've reviewed so far."

As might be expected, Amory makes note of Cosby's status as the first black ("Negro") co-star in a regular dramatic series, but he also mentions that in the series' first show, Ivan Dixon was a guest star - "a truly memorable performance" as an athlete who defects to Red China. He likes Cosby, who "plays it all pretty straight but with just enough hint of glint to fill the bill," and favors Culp as well; the actor is "excellent, all the way from karate to kissing, and, like Cosby, can turn on rare humor when the situation warrants." Indeed, Culp and Cosby make a formidable team, not only as spies, but as co-stars, as they "carry on through the series their own offbeat series of remarkable shaggy spy sorties which along are worth the price of admission." Culp even does double-duty on the series, having written the script for that first episode.

All in all, Amory sees I Spy as a winner: strong acting, not only from the regulars but an admirable roster of guest stars; exotic scenery, with episodes shot on location in Hong Kong, Japan and Mexico, and good, solid writing. Provided the series doesn't forgot what makes it successful in the first place, it should be one of the can't-miss shows of the season.

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And now, a spin around the dial.

Game 3 of the World Series between the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Dodgers is the centerpiece of Saturday's broadcasting day, but I was also drawn to the night's episode of Gunsmoke (9:00 p.m. CT, CBS) in which "After killing a young gunman on the road, Matt finds three more gunfighters waiting for him in Dodge." Those three, unless I miss my guess, are played by Nehemiah Persoff, Warren Oates and Bruce Dern. Talk about an all-star lineup of character actors, and two of them pretty well-known in the Western field, too.

On Sunday, there are two episodes of CBS's morning religious programs that tell much about the apparently prosperous America of the early 1960s. The first, on Lamp Unto My Feet, is entitled "The Pit," a play by Jan Hartman. "The pit is a huge garbage dump* where 'people live in the refuse, building their houses out of the city wastes.' A doctor who has left his comfortable practice to minister to the outcast inhabitants learns the true meaning of charity when he is placed in a position where he cannot save the life of a man." Look for performances from future TV figures Clarence Williams III and Billy Dee Williams.

*Sounds very much like John Lindsay's New York, doesn't it?

That's followed by an episode of Look Up and Live that could have been aired today: It's called "Reformation: Chicago," the first of a three-part report "on the problems facing Chicago clergymen in their attempt to make Christianity a working force in urban society." Judging by the statistics on murders and shootings this year in Chicago - far higher than they were in 1965 - I'd have to guess the clergy may have failed in their attempt.

With the warning that Monday's programming may be preempted by the papal visit, the highlights include an episode of the aforementioned Twelve O'Clock High (ABC, 6:30 p.m.) in which Jack Lord stops in England on his way to Hawaii to play the brother of new series star Paul Burke. Lord also appears earlier in the week on a syndicated telecast of Stoney Burke, which proves there is life before Five-0. Andy Williams hosts what sounds like a pleasant hour of variety (NBC, 8:00 p.m.), with guests Bob Hope, Mary Tyler Moore, and Roger Miller.

On Tuesday, it's the television premiere of 1957's "Funny Face" on NBC Tuesday Night at the Movies, starring Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn, with model Suzy Parker making her television debut. And you'll be seeing Dorothy Malone on Tuesday night's Peyton Place (ABC, 8:30 p.m.). Why is that worth mentioning? Because at press time she's recovering from a fight for her life, one that included 7½ hours of surgery, during which her heart stopped once, and a tracheotomy was performed to assist in her breathing. That was followed by a fever that ran as high as 105, and blood transfusions that drained the hospital's supply, necessitating an emergency blood drive that resulted in donations from co-stars and many Hollywood figures, as well as ordinary folk. During her long recovery, Peter Gunn's Lola Albright will fill in.

Wednesday features something that ties in vaguely to what I'll be mentioning below: the debut of a syndicated color program (WTCN, 7:30 p.m.) called Wanderlust, in which host Bill Burrud "narrates films of foreign lands and their heritage." I'm sure it must have looked quite exotic at the time. At 8:00 p.m. on NBC, it's an episode of one of the more underrated anthology series of the time, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theater, with a petty good cast of familiar faces - Mickey Rooney, Don Gordon, Jack Weston, Harold J. Stone and Joey Foreman, and Melodie Johnson in her first major TV appearance - in the gambling drama "Kicks." I also see ABC's Amos Burke, Secret Agent on at 9:00 p.m., which reminds me of what Cleveland Amory was writing about Man from U.N.C.L.E. spin-offs - when Burke's Law became Amos Burke, it was definitely not for the best.

Thursday's best programming is during the daytime; CBS's Captain Kangaroo celebrates former President Dwight Eisenhower's 75th birthday with a look back at an amazing career that took Ike from West Point to the battlefields of Europe to the White House. I doubt we'll ever again see a president with a resume like that - nor a kids program that wouldn't take the opportunity to become a fawning partisan broadcast. And at 12:30 p.m., NBC presents the seventh and final game of the World Series, as Sandy Koufax - pitching on just two days' rest and without his best stuff - breaks the hearts of all Minnesotans, pitching the Dodgers to a 2-0 victory over the Twins, and their third world championship since moving from Brooklyn.

The end of the week begins with Channel 9's syndicated broadcast of The Eleventh Hour (Friday, 11:00 a.m.), an intriguing story starring Harry Guardino as the author of a book on capital punishment whose own story is rapidly coming to an end - in the death house. On Art Linkletter's House Party (1:30 p.m., CBS) Rod Serling, president of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, discusses the Emmy Awards, to be telecast in September (rather than the end of the television season) for the first time. It won't do that again until 1977, when it settles into the slot it maintains to this day.

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Finally, it will probably come as no surprise to you that I think television, on balance, has been a good thing. (Granted, I could still get a lot of mileage out of it even if I didn't think so, but it's not much fun writing about things you don't like.) I'm not blind to its faults though; ironically, one of them comes about because it does its job too well. I'll get to that in a minute.

Pope Paul VI is arriving in New York this coming Monday - not just his first papal trip to the United States, but the first time any sitting pope has ever visited America. The networks are planning all-out coverage, the most, says Henry Harding, "since the funeral of President Kennedy." The nets have not only had to pool their coverage, they're also leaning on the help of New York's three independent stations. They'll need all that assistance, as they've "planned for continuous coverage of all aspects of the Pope's visit, from the time his plane was to touch down at Kennedy Airport until departure following the scheduled Mass at the stadium and visit to the World's Fair." This will require some 65 cameras in and about the city, including cameras at 27 locations for the Pope's motorcade from the airport to Manhattan, 15 more at the United Nations for his address there, a helicopter for aerial shots, and seven color cameras for the primetime Mass at Yankee Stadium.* Even the Pope's departure from Rome for the United States will be aired, via Early Bird satellite.

*Which provides a great punchline to the joke: "Who's the only Cardinal with a monument in Yankee Stadium?"

That, you might think, sounds great, so why am I complaining? Well, near as I can tell, it's because television can do this kind of big event so well, it kind of removes the wonder from it all. And that's the nub, and one way television has impacted culture in unexpected ways. Thanks to various technological advances over the decades, we're now accustomed to getting live pictures from pretty much anywhere on Earth, and if we ever go back to the Moon, I expect the coverage from there will be astonishing - for the first couple of flights, that is. Then, as was the case during the initial Moon landings, it will all become ho-hum, we'll get tired of it, and move on to something else.

That television can reduce if not eliminate the sense of the world's true auwe, that it make the ordinary out of the extraordinary is much like the baseball player who never gets the acclaim he deserves because he makes things look so easy. Edward R. Murrow once marveled at the ability of live television cameras to show both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, live and simultaneously, on a split screen. Today I don't think that would merit much of a second look.

It isn't just television, of course; technology itself has a way of doing this, so that we don't think anything of carrying around a computer/television/telephone in our pockets. We just take it for granted. But, if I can venture a thought, I think television's impact has in some ways been more unexpectedly far-reaching. Let's take that satellite coverage I was talking about a couple of paragraphs ago. One of the main attractions of the early James Bond movies was the exotic locale that featured in them, the ability to see these lands of intrigue and beauty in color on the big screen. In other words, the movies could take you places you couldn't go to see things you couldn't see.

Nowadays that isn't so; physically we can travel much easier, much farther, than previous generations. But even before we were able to travel to these locales, we were able to see them on television. And pretty soon you didn't have to plunk down money to see Bond pursuing a SPECTRE agent through the crowded streets of Hong Kong (or something like it); you had a pretty good chance of seeing Hong Kong on any one of a number of travel shows, all shown in your home and in color. For Bond to provide that selling point, that reason to draw you to buy what is now a very expensive movie ticket, there has to be more - more chases, more explosions, more sex, more special effects. That, in turn, affects our other forms of entertainment, not only in terms of content but, increasingly, in shortening our attention spans, which were pretty short to begin with. The effects go on and on.

It isn't just television responsible for all this, of course. The ability of a pope, or any other world leader, to take advantage of this same ease of travel that we do, means a papal trip itself isn't the phenomenon it once was. John Paul II, for example, visited America several times, and while the networks went all-out for his first visit here in 1979, it was never quite the same sensation again. Additionally, the explosion of cable news networks has not only freed the networks up from covering many of the news events that once dominated our screens, it's made it far more difficult to tell what news events actually are important and what's just filler for a 24/7 news cycle.

Perhaps this is a simplified, even naive, answer. Perhaps I'm asking a question that doesn't even need to be asked, or one that doesn't merit an answer any more complicated than "Duh." It is, nonetheless, striking to see the extremes to which the trip of Paul VI dominated our news in 1965, and why it might seem so foreign to us today. TV