November 30, 2016

Santa's perfect gift

With December 1 right around the corner, here's a reminder that as long as television has been around, it's been associated with Santa. There's no question that Santa has the perfect gift on his lap.

November 28, 2016

What's on TV? Friday, December 1, 1967

We're now in the week after Thanksgiving, and there's not a holiday special stirring anywhere. Nowadays, you can't start the Christmas season too early - I've seen Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer in November, for crying out loud - but back in the late '60s it seems as if they at least waited until December started. Next week's issue would tell us for sure, but we're not worried about that - we want to know what's on now!

The listings come from Minneapolis-St. Paul.

November 26, 2016

This week in TV Guide: November 25, 1967

Right off the bat we have to acknowledge the most distressing headline stretched across the top of this week's issue, and ask one of today's vital questions: are male models really the most unhappy fellows in TV? And if so, why? Cindy Adams goes behind the scenes with some of television's more familiar faces: the nameless, "ruggedly handsome" men who frequent TV commercials. And believe you me, it's not all it's cracked up to be.

One of the more successful, Barry Bartle, describes some of the hardships he regularly faces. "Women who earn a living by means of their looks look contemptuously on men who are in the same category," he complains. "They treat us like dirt." He cites one female model with whom he was trying to develop some kind of rapport while doing a commercial. "I tried a little conversation," Bartle says. "Well, she turned to me with an icy stare and snapped, 'I don't speak to male models!' "

Lest we think that Barry and his cohorts are being a little paranoid, one female model, a "25-year-old blonde who specializes in perfume ads," tells Adams that "It's obvious why we look down on them. The profession attracts homosexuals who love wearing pancake and who race you to the mirror to primp. The other kind feel obliged to prove their manliness, so they breath too hard on your hair and mess it all up and you come off the set looking like you've been in a wind tunnel." She reminds Adams that "Male models are hired purely to make us look good." Another model adds, "We female models anticipate that these guys will be conceited and many are. They're egotistical and terribly aware they're good-looking. Also it strikes you that their work is a little unmanly."

Bartle, a "happily married husband and father born in Australia, educated at Harvard and now up to his green eyeballs in acting lessons," says the trend on Madison Avenue is away from male models towards actors,much as companies today require college degrees for even menial work. "If they could find a way of peddling their products without ever using us, they would."

Adams finds that when you cut through it all, male models aren't that different from others who make their living in entertainment. Jobs are scarce. Preferred looks come and go. Age and weight are both enemies of those who depend on their appearance for their income. Location work is often grueling, with extremes in temperature. People fuss and work over you while you stand there, "like a dummy."Says Bartle, "We're treated like cattle...This business tears every vestige of self respect from you. I hate it."

So why do they do it? For the reason you might think, the reason why many might scoff at the headline on the cover. Money. The best make $60 an hour, and if your face is in style this year you can earn as much as $50,000 a year. One science teacher-turned model explained to his disapproving mother that he earned more for one Clairol commercial than he did from his annual salary as a teacher ($9,000). Many might think that makes it all worth it, that they don't have it so bad after all. I suppose it all depends on how you look at life.

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

Sullivan: The Beatles (on film) in London; singers Jane Morgan, Connie Francis and the Doodletown Pipers; jazz trumpeter Al Hirt and his band; comics Wayne and Shuster, and John Byner; and Rogana, novelty act.

Palace: Host Milton Berle welcomes Nanette Fabray, the comedy team of Jack Burns and Avery Schreiber, singer-pianist Buddy Greco and the singing King Family. Joining the gang are the Los Angeles Rams' Fearsome Foursome (Roger Brown, Deacon Jones, Lamar Lundy and Merlin Olsen) and their sidelined teammate Roosevelt Grier. The gridders sing a football song written by Grier.

Let's see - on one show we have the Fab Four, on the other the Fearsome Foursome, who may have been terrific football players, but singers?

The simple truth is that with this week's Palace lineup, you're not going to best The freaking Beatles. The winner, Sullivan, by a touchdown and extra point.

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No review by Cleveland Amory this week, but that doesn't mean we're without his wit and wisdom. In the last of his five-part series on "Who Killed Hollywood Society," Amory focuses on "The New Order," and how they've taken over the scene. Gone are the lavish parties of days past, the time when traditional Hollywood Society ruled. It's been replaced by a younger generation, one that dismisses "stuffy dinner parties" in favor of a more informal, looser order.

Jack Hanson, owner of The Daisy, one of the biggest membership clubs around, tells Amory how his place serves this new clientele. Speaking of his membership he says that there are "only things that count here: (1) are they attractive and (2) are they fun? If they're a celebrity, they've still got to be both. Most celebrities, you know,, are a pain in the neck." If those two qualities exist, the "the biggest director of all will sit beside a nobody, and if they're attractive and interesting, he won't give a damn." He points to actors John Ireland and George Hamilton embracing. "They didn't even know each other before they started coming here. They know they're OK, you know, if they are here. I've learned who the good guys are and who the asses are." As proof, he talks of people who've tried to bribe or B.S. their way into membership. "But I won't let just any jerk in - our members would feel like suckers." He modestly refers to The Daisy as "the most famous club in the world."

But not for long, Amory notes. Already there's another club, the "new" place in town. It's called The Factory, and its owned by nine directors - Paul Newman, Sammy Davis Jr., Anthony Newley, Pierre Salinger, Peter Lawford, Jerry Orbach, Peter Bren, Ronnie Buck and Dick Donner, "all of whom, ironically, were either close personal friends or best customers of Jack Hanson." It's The Daisy, just on steroids - four pool tables instead of one, live music instead of recorded, dinners instead of just desserts. It shows how fleeting fame can be in Hollywood, in the celebrity industry. Amory seems to miss the old days, when glamour ruled, when there was a certain elegance that seems to be missing from today's scene. from The Daisy and The Factory and the rest. As a piece of very self-conscious graffiti says, "Aren't We All Too Much." That Amory ends his piece with this phrase tells you all you need to know.

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There's also a brief profile of Ron Harper, star of ABC's Garrison's Gorillas (the network's version of The Dirty Dozen) and this week's cover feature. Harper is a three-time loser in series television, starting with the very good police series 87th Precinct, in which he was upstaged by Robert Lansing, then as the husband of Connie Stevens, both of whom were upstaged by George Burns in Wendy and Me, and finally as the son of Jean Arthur in The Jean Arthur Show - a role in which, Dwight Whitney writes, Harper was reduced to saying, "Yes Mother" a lot.

Harper is, as actors go, pretty much a "what you see is what you get" type; frank about his ambitions to make it big but not given to talking a lot about himself; a man who planned to become a lawyer but was bitten by the acting bug (his political science thesis in college was on "The Efficacy of Art as an Instrument of Propaganda"); one who has always been big with the ladies, including his former girlfriend Marlo Thomas and his current "girl-of-the-hour" Jo Ann Pflug; and very confident that Garrison's Gorillas will be the vehicle that will finally give him the stardom he craves. "It's where it's at for me," he says of the World War II series. Unfortunately, it isn't where the viewers are at, lasting for only 26 episodes before being replaced by The Mod Squad. Harper goes on to more series work, in Planet of the Apes, Land of the Lost, and the NBC soaper Generations. He never becomes the star he'd hoped to be, but he's also a man always seemed able to find work.

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I wouldn't call this an extraordinary week on television, not like it is sometimes when networks pull out their blockbuster "What a Week!" schedules right around the beginning of the holiday season. Maybe it's because Thanksgiving was early in 1967, allowing for an entire week between Turkey Day and the start of December. (Not such a problem nowadays.) That doesn't mean there aren't some interesting programs for us to take note of, though.

Saturday is rivalry day in college football, and ABC's doubleheader kicks off with the traditional Big 10 showdown between Ohio State and Michigan. It's a rare year when neither team is involved in the race for the Rose Bowl (that honor goes to Cinderella Indiana, winner of a three-way tie with Minnesota and Purdue), but it's a game that always carries bragging rights - which, this year, go to Ohio State 24-14. That's followed by a southern clash between Georgia and Georgia Tech in Atlanta, which Georgia wins 21-14, even though neither team is having a standout season.

ABC's long-running news and public affairs program ABC Scope switched its focus earlier in the '60s to concentrate exclusively on the Vietnam War, and this Sunday the show presents it's 100th Vietnam report, taking a look at the villagers in the Viet Cong-controlled area of Hoa Binh Province, a farming village halfway between Saigon and Danung, and increasingly caught in the crossfire between the government and the Communist rebels. Their prospects, everyone agrees, are bleak. Today, it's considered a tourist destination,

Also on Sunday, NET looks at the Democratic Party's outlook for 1968, including George Wallace's plans to run for president on a third-party ticket. At this point nobody imagines that Lyndon Johnson will withdraw from the presidential race; there's no discussion of any alternative. Later on (8:00 p.m. CT), ABC presents a remake of The Diary of Anne Frank starring Max von Sydow and Lilli Palmer, with Diana Davila in the role of Anne.

On Monday, Ingrid Bergman* narrates an ABC documentary, "Can You Hear Me?", which follows the story of Mary Beth Bull, a deaf 2½-year-old, as doctors try to determine the extent of her deafness, and search for methods of treatment. In one scene, Mary Beth is fitted with a hearing aid, while Mrs. Spencer Tracy, whose son was deaf, discusses training for the deaf. I wonder how that little girl made out - were the doctors able to help her? Did she eventually get her hearing back?

*More on her below.

There's a celebrity softball game on NBC Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., taped at Dodger Stadium. In what must surely be one of the high points of his long and distinguished career, Vin Scully joins forces with Jerry Lewis to call the game, which pits a celebrity team managed by Leo Durocher and including Don Adams, Bobby Darin, James Garner, Hugh O'Brian and Dale Robertson against a major league side with Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Harmon Killebrew, Tim McCarver and Don Drysdale, managed by Milton Berle. Right after that, the network's Tuesday Night at the Movies gives us "McHale's Navy" in "their first full-length motion picture," which Judith Crist calls "another instance of television serving itself."

Wednesday might as well be Bob Hope Day on NBC, with the network recognizing the 30th anniversary of Hope's relationship with NBC. First, Today devotes its entire two hours to "The Eternal Hope," a filmed biography of Hope's life. That evening, Hope hosts one of his patented variety specials, taped at UCLA, with David Janssen, Elke Sommer, Jack Jones, the Kids Next Door, UCLA's own basketball star Lew Alcindor (today's Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), and the AP football All America team.

On Thursday NET presents two interviews sure to capture some attention. The first is with former vice president Richard Nixon, who discusses both his and the Republican party's prospects for 1968; Nixon is one of several unannounced candidates, and he's expected to make known his plans just after the new year. He also talks about the "nuts and bolts" of party politics, from grassroots involvement to the role of television to the importance of primaries and the workings of the electoral college. Like him or not, Nixon was always one of the most knowledgeable when it came to politics, which makes his own misjudgment with Watergate all the more inexplicable. I would have loved to hear his analysis of the Trump campaign, which I suspect might have been more accurate than that of many pundits out there.

Later on, NET has an hour-long interview with Ingrid Bergman, still one of the most beautiful actresses in the business. She sits down with Los Angeles Times drama critic Cecil Smith to discuss her professional return to America after an absence of 21 years to act in Eugene O'Neill's play "More Stately Mansions." During the hour the candid Bergman (Jean Renoir once called her "so honest that she will always prefer a scandal to a lie.") also talks about other theater roles she's played, those she'd like to take on, and how it will feel returning to Broadway.

On Friday, dueling documentaries. First, WTCN, the independent station, presents "Freedom's Finest Hour," an award-winning documentary narrated by Ronald Reagan and Robert Taylor. Jimmie Rodgers sings period songs. This pretty much falls under the Reagan category today, and while I couldn't find the video, the audio is available for anyone who'd like to check it out. That's at 7:00 p.m.; at 9:00 p.m. NBC presents a news special, "Same Mud, Same Blood," with Frank McGee reporting on the experience of the Negro soldier in Vietnam. "Is the Negro accepted in the ranks - and does he make a good soldier? Does he command the respect of his men?" This is kind of a two-for-one for the network, hitting two of the hottest buttons that 1967 has to offer: race relations and the war. TV  

November 23, 2016

But what did you really think, Brett Halliday?

Did you ever wonder how writers whose work winds up being adapted for television feel about those adaptations? We know they're not always pleased, and if one of them happens to be named Harlan Ellison, we also know we're sure to read about it. Most of the time they profess to be pleased, at least in public, but often they have ways of letting people know their true opinions. Not all of them are as creative as Brett Halliday, though.

Halliday was the literary creator of Michael Shayne, a two-fisted detective out of the Mickey Spillane school, with perhaps a little less sex and violence. In addition to appearing in nearly 80 books (50 of which were actually written by Halliday; the rest by ghostwriters), Shayne also featured on radio and in a a very successful series of movies, with first Lloyd Nolan and then Hugh Beaumont (!) portraying Shayne. Inevitably, Shayne would make it to television, in a 1960 series starring Richard Denning, about which I wrote here.

The pilot episode "This Is It, Michael Shayne," contains an addendum plugging the series to potential sponsors. Halliday himself makes a brief appearance in this section, seeming quite enthusiastic about the potential series.* Denning even uses uses Halliday's continuing involvement in the series as yet another incentive for those sponsors. It's quite an interesting plug.

*At least in words, if not in delivery. Maybe his ghostwriters wrote it for him.

Considering that Michael Shayne lasted just one season, one might be curious as to how Halliday felt about it all. Well, thanks to the fact that the Shayne books continued to come out long after the series ended, we have an idea.

In the book Murder by Proxy, published in 1962 (after the series had been cancelled), we find that the character Michael Shayne now lives in a world in which the Shayne TV series also exists, giving people a chance to ask about his thoughts on the series. It's a very meta concept, but not an unknown one; after all, both Archie Goodwin and Dr. Watson will, on occasion, run into someone who's read one of their books detailing a case solved by their famous bosses. It's natural, then, that it would be updated for the modern age by having had people see the TV series.

Anyway, as we join the story in progress, Mike and his newspaper friend Tim Rourke (played in the series by Jerry Paris) have stopped for a drink in a cocktail lounge, where they're served by Tiny the bartender, who knows Shayne well.

"Aren't you Tim Rourke, now? So it'll be bourbon and water. You can see I read all those books about you, Mike. But what's with this lousy T-V show on NBC Friday nights" He scowled as he poured whisky for Rourke. "Where'd they did up that bird that plays you, Mike? Why in hell aren't you out there playing the part your ownself?"

"A small beer, Tiny," Merrill had Ellen's photograph in his hands and he tapped it on the bar, but Tiny was giving his full attention to Shayne. "Take that show last night now. I turn it on every Friday night here just for laughs. My God, Mike! The way that actor got pushed around by everybody last night. How can you stand to watch it?"

Shayne said, "I don't." He sipped the fine cognac appreciatively. "I haven't tuned it in since the first two shows. Richard Denning is supposed to be a very fine actor."

"He the guy who plays you?" Tiny snorted his disgust. "Maybe he's a good actor, but the things they have him do...." He shook his head sadly. "And how do you like that young wise-cracker they got playing you, Mr. Rourke?"

Rourke said, "I'm like Mike. I just don't watch T-V."

"What's the matter with that friend of yours that writes the show?" Tiny demanded. "That Brett Halliday. Has he gone nuts or something? His books are swell, but God preserve me from those stories every Friday night."

"He doesn't write those," Shayne explained wryly. "The wise boys in Hollywood won't let him. They think they've got writers out there who know better how to do it."

"I'll tell you one thing frankly, Mike. It's a stinker and it's not going to stay on the air very long. Like I say, I turn it on here because it's supposed to be you and from Miami and all, and I hear what people say about it. We're proud of you in Miami, damn it, and it makes people sore to watch it."

Later, Shayne is interviewing a possible witness to a murder he's investigating. After getting the information he's looking for, he tells the man that the police may want to speak with him later.

"Sure. Say, aren't you Mike Shayne, the famous detective?

"I'm a detective and my name is Shayne."

"Gee, my kid'll be nuts when I tell him. He watches your T-V show every Friday night, but that actor doesn't look like you much."

Shayne grinned and got back in his car as a taxi drew up behind him.

Finally, there's the scene in which Shayne is working with Angelo Fermi, a detective on the New York police force. They're introduced by Shayne's old friend Jim Gifford.

"Only inducement I could hang in front of Angelo's nose to get him out here this afternoon, was that you'd tell him how to get a Fermi show on television."

Shayne grinned and told the New York detective, "You wouldn't like it. If you ever watched my show, you'd know why I don't."

"I'd like the money that is in it," Fermi told Shayne with conviction. "I have this idea for a series built entirely on the use of fingerprint evidence to solve otherwise insoluble cases. Everything authentic and taken from the records. I have been gathering material for twenty years, but I do not know how to approach the networks." His liquid black eyes were hopeful.

Shayne said, very seriously, "I'll tell you what, Fermi. If this thing comes off this afternoon the way I think it will, Brett Halliday will be up here getting the dope from you to help him make a book out of it."Brett is the one who knows all the T-V angles. You talk it over with him and he'll give you the straight dope."

I'm not positive, but I think Halliday didn't much like Richard Denning as Shayne. Nothing personal, I'm sure. Having read several of the books, I have to agree - Denning is too smooth, more like Peter Gunn, though if you take the TV series on it's own, he's very good in it. The series, too, is good fun as long as you don't expect the hard-drinking, two-fisted toughness and bodacious babes of the novels. Halliday obviously found the show much too sanitized for his own liking, and it's true that the two episodes he penned do have a harder edge than the rest.

As I mentioned, Halliday had ceded the Shayne books to ghostwriters by the time the book came out; still, they were published under his name, and one would have to think that his feelings about the series approximated those written by the ghost. In the end. both the TV series and the books are worthwhile on their own terms - separate, but reasonably equal.


And before I forget - since this is the last piece to appear before Thanksgiving, let me take a moment to wish each and every one of you a very happy Thanksgiving. I may say this every year, but it remains true, that I have much to be thankful for - including those of you who spend a few minutes of your day reading what I've written, and occasionally commenting on it. I"m very grateful to you all, and I'll go on being thankful that you share that time with me.

November 21, 2016

What's on TV? Thursday, November 24, 1966

It's Thanksgiving Day 1966, and I'm both glad and fortunate to have a Twin Cities issue, not only because I'm familiar with the stations, but because I would have been watching many of these very programs myself. It hearkens back to a great time; I've always enjoyed Thanksgiving, because it actually means something, because of the wonderful aromas that fill the air, and because it introduces the absolutely best, most wonderful time of the year. It's changed over the years, and not particularly for the better (c'mon - can't you go without shopping for one day?), but it's still a day that can, and should, be appreciated, if you've a mind to. And that will never change.

November 19, 2016

This week in TV Guide: November 19, 1966

This week's issue is dedicated to my friend Carol Ford, who wrote that fine biography of Bob Crane that I talk about periodically. I'm sure Carol must have seen this copy of TV Guide, with Bob and Robert Clary of Hogan's Heroes on the cover, even though the feature story inside isn't on Crane.

Instead, it tells the amazing story of "Robert Clary, A-5714." That was his number in Buchenwald, one of the four concentration camps where he spent a good chunk of World War II, subsisting on "one cup of watery soup each midday and one chunk of bread each night," along with any food he might be able to scavenge from the trash. Each day, Clary recalls, he and his fellow prisoners would return from hard labor at the war factories, after which they would stand "at attention for three hours to witness the hanging of some poor wretch who maybe stole a piece of garbage."

With memories like these, one wonders why Clary would sign up for Hogan's Heroes, even if it is just a job. To the critics who ream the show for being in bad taste, Clary reminds them that Hogan takes place not in a concentration camp, but in a POW camp, "and that's a world of difference. You never heard of a prisoner of war being gassed or hanged. Whereas we were not even human beings." In fact, of the 12 people in Clary's family who'd been sent to camps, including his parents, "I was the only one to come back alive." And yet, he says, "I don't live in the past. I didn't suffer as much as a lot of people."

After the war, his remarkable journey took him back to France as an entertainer, and then to America following his hit single, "Put Your Shoes On, Lucy." He became a favorite in supper clubs, added acting to his resume, and now, at 40, lives in Los Angeles where he is happily married to Natalie, the daughter of the entertainer Eddie Cantor. Yes, life has been very bad to Robert Clary. Life has also been very good to Robert Clary. And though he will never forget the bad times, he chooses always to remember the good times.

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

Sullivan: The rock 'n' rolling Dave Clark Five; singers Barbara McNair and Bobby Vinton; Metropolitan Opera tenor Franco Corelli; comics Henny Youngman, Nancy Walker and Charles Nelson Reilly; dancer-chorergrapher Peter Gennaro; and Burger's animal act.

Palace: Host Vincent Edwards introduces dancer-singer Juliet Prowse, pianist Peter Nero, the comedy duo of Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, comic Norm Crosby, the rock 'n' rolling Standells, the acrobatic Ghezzi brothers, and Otto and Anna, balancing act.

It's not that the Palace lineup is bad this week; it's just kind of thin. As a singer, Vince Edwards makes a good doctor; if he's your headliner, you're in a spot of trouble - particularly if you're going up against Sullivan's trio of Barbara McNair, Bobby Vinton, and Franco Corelli. Rowan and Martin are good, as is Norm Crosby (if you're in the right mood), but again I don't think they're any better than Henny Youngman (at his best), Nancy Walker and Charles Nelson Reilly. Overall, this week has to go to Sullivan in a clear decision.

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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. 

I've read this week's review of The Monkees twice now, and I'm still not quite sure what Cleveland Amory thinks of them. My wife thinks he doesn't think much of them. And indeed, he spends almost half of his column talking not about The Monkees, but their predecessors, The Beatles. His story about how The Beatles begat The Monkees is very funny - funnier, one thinks, than he thinks The Monkees is. I think, that is.

If pressed, though, I'd say that Amory views The Monkees as harmless, if a bit stupid. "The episodes are so fast-paced that even when they're over-milking the kind of comedy you outgrew in kindergarten, by the time you get mad with them they're on to something else." As for their music, which makes up a good portion of each episode, "once you've heard them sing 'Last Train to Clarksville,' with those beautiful lyrics - both of them - if you're a girl you'll just have to mother them, and if you're a boy. . .well, lots of luck."

Looking at it from today's perspective, I think he undersells the pre-Fab Four a bit; when Davy Jones died a few years ago, there was an outpouring of sadness and affection that very few celebrities from that era get if they haven't made some kind of impact on their audience. Their comedy was silly, in a subversive kind of way, and their songs hold up about as well today as they did then. No, although I was never a big fan of The Monkees, I think Cleve's being a little harsh. If we were to bring this show back today (updated, of course), on, say, Fox or the CW, viewers would probably see it as something new and fresh. Or maybe not. The point is, 50 years to the day from when this review was written, we're still talking about The Monkees, and that ain't bad; not bad at all.

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I might as well tell you now that Monday's TV listings are going to be from Thanksgiving Day, so we won't be discussing the holiday as much as we might, but there are still some things we won't want to miss. For instance, on ABC Saturday night Lawrence Welk and his Champagne Music Makers gear us up for Thanksgiving, with songs such as "Thank the Lord for This Thanksgiving Day," "Faith of Our Fathers," and "Bless This House." Monday night Perry Como hosts a pre-Thanksgiving edition of the Kraft Music Hall on NBC, with special guests Angela Lansbury and Bob Newhart. The Young Americans are also guests, but I think we'll just pass by them. It's worth noting, though, that it's not often that you find a show 50 years old where all the guest stars are still alive!

On Wednesday it's the return of CBS's Young People's Concert with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. It's a good time to have this, on the night before a holiday. I watched these faithfully when I was young; part of Bernstein's genius is that they remain interesting today, no matter what your age. There's a lot to be said about Bernstein, from his flamboyance to his unorthodox lifestyle, and you can argue over whether or not he was overrated as a composer or a conductor, but he was a brilliant teacher, and I think that is the area in which history will adjudge him to have been at his best. For those who argue about the lack of music teaching in schools today, and if that's the reason classical music seems to be dying out, I have one suggestion: buy the boxed set of these shows on DVD, and show them to your classrooms. I can promise kids will learn a lot more than they're learning now, and at a fraction of the cost. Here's part one of the program; you can follow the links to parts two, three and four.

Thanksgiving also marks the beginning of the end of the college football season, and Saturday's doubleheader is a doozy, beginning with the Game of the Century: Notre Dame vs. Michigan State, to decide the #1 team in the country. I wrote about that game here, so I won't repeat myself other than to note that it begins at noon CT on ABC; nowadays a game like this would almost certainly be played in prime time. Of course, it was a little hard to do that in East Lansing in 1966, seeing as how the stadium didn't have lights. For viewers who had anything left after that draining epic, the second game, at 3:00 p.m., isn't bad either: USC vs. UCLA, with the Rose Bowl birth possibly at stake. I say possibly because even though UCLA wins, USC still goes to Pasadena. Explaining the politics of that decision would require a whole other story, probably at a whole other blog. Let's put it this way, though - neither game's a turkey.

And on the day after Thanksgiving, ABC continues its tradition of entertaining the kiddies with a day of Saturday cartoons - or maybe it's just starting it; I don't know, it always seemed to be on when I was growing up, and it was one of the highlights of the day after, along with looking through the Sears and Penney's toy catalogs. The Cartoon Festival runs from 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and includes the animated Beatles, Bugs Bunny, Milton the Monster, Beany and Cecil, Magilla Gorilla, and Hoppity Hooper. Yes, those were the days.

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How about some industry speculation, via The Doan Report? NBC is apparently talking with Jerry Lewis about a variety show similar to that of his old partner, Dean Martin. This despite Jerry's spectacular flame-out with his big-bucks, two-hour series that flopped in 1963, making way for The Hollywood Palace. The show does indeed come off in 1967, but it only runs for two seasons. Still, better than the before.

That made-for-TV movie with Raymond Burr - you know, the one about the police detective who gets shot and goes sleuthing in a wheelchair - could well develop into a regular series; it's one of three pilots that Universal is making for NBC, and the speculation is right on - Ironside, like Jerry Lewis, will premiere in 1967, but it has a very successful eight season run, making Burr one of the few stars to have two long-running hits.

Two shows that won't be doing so well are the subject of speculation as to who stole from who. On January 9, CBS will premiere Mr. Terrific, a comedy about an ordinary man who becomes a superhero when he swallows a special pill. That will be immediately followed on NBC by Captain Nice, a comedy about an ordinary man who becomes a superhero when he swallows a special potion. One has a pill, the other a potion - obviously, not the same plots at all.

And then there's Charlie Chaplin, the silent film legend who's making noises about wanting to give television a shot - not in the form of a series, but some kind of special. The networks are a little uneasy, though; although Chaplin is a controversial figure for his liberal politics, which have resulted in his self-imposed exile from America, the nets are more concerned that any appearance might be construed as a plug for the upcoming A Countess From Hong Kong, which Chaplin directed and which stars Sophia Loren and Marlon Brando. It was a bomb in this country, but did moderately well in Europe. I don't think Chaplin ever did do that special, although I could be wrong; he finally returns to America in 1972 to accept an honorary Oscar. The protests that some expected never materialized.

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Finally, Thanksgiving has always been the start of the holiday season - or at least it was back then; today, it's probably Labor Day - and in case we need any reminders, we have two. The first is this ad for M&M's party cookies, because we know the party season is just around the corner!

That looks awfully good to me. And this does, as well - an ad for an Aurora slot-car racing set. I had one of these when I was a kid - a couple to be precise, one in this HO scale, and an earlier one in 1/32. Come to think of it, I might have gotten that 1/32 set for Christmas in 1966.

You'll only see an ad like that in TV Guide around this time of year. I still look on eBay for sets like this though, even though we have no place in the apartment to put it and I have no youngster to race against. Perhaps it means I'm still just a kid at heart - and maybe that's why this is such a special time of the year. It's all fun from here on it! TV  

November 18, 2016

Around the dial

First off this week, a note of shameless self-promotion: with the holidays coming, my novel The Collaborator would make a great gift for that friend or loved one who enjoys combining religion and mystery. Here are a couple of reviews I'm linking to for the first time, as well as an interview I did earlier in the year.

And now back to our regularly-scheduled programming...

At the mystery blog Criminal Element, a writer says it's time for us to admit that The Sopranos wasn't really all that great.

Lincoln X-ray Ida looks at an Adam-12 episode with an appropriate title for our time, reminding us that we are "Citizens All."

We may be counting down to Christmas, but television's already there! Joanna of Christmas TV History tells us where to find our favorite Yuletide movies and shows, and the retro schedule on getTV is especially good news.

One of the year's biggest classic DVD releases was that of season one of The Defenders, and Classic Film and TV Cafe runs down the five best episodes of that first season.

In honor of Veterans Day last Friday, The Twilight Zone Vortex gives us a rundown of the fabled series' war episodes.

Right now I'm putting the finishing touches on my new novel, The Car, so naturally I'd be drawn to Realweegiemidget's top five movies and TV shows where the car's the star.

Remember the View-Master? I do, and so does Comfort TV, where David shares the TV shows that were big hits when viewed through the 3-D viewer.

Cult TV Blog has some observations on a couple of British kids' shows from the '70s: The Owl Service and The Flockton Flyer. I love his phrase about "my jaundiced meanderings," which has to be why we get along so well!

Enjoy the end of your week; see you back here tomorrow! TV  

November 16, 2016

Robert Vaughn, R.I.P.

Robert Vaughn was made to play villains, so much so that even his good guys were smarmy. I mean, look at Napoleon Solo. When The Man from U.N.C.L.E. first debuted, Vaughn was clearly the star of the show - remember, it's original title was to be Solo - and there was something indelibly smug and superior about him. Yes, one could say that Sean Connery's James Bond had the same aura of superiority about him, but in Connery's case it was leavened by a certain self-awareness, the knowledge - even when the Bond movies were more serious than they became - that you couldn't really take it all that seriously. U.N.C.L.E., though, was always about the fantastic (even when it was more serious than it became), but you couldn't really tell it by looking at Napoleon Solo.* But then something happened: the Russian agent, Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum), who was intended to be little more than a bit part, struck a nerve with the TV audience - especially the young female segment - who thought Illya deserved a much bigger role. That may well have been the best thing to happen to Napoleon Solo.

*A fact of which you're probably all aware: the name Napoleon Solo came from the Bond story Goldfinger, and was gifted to the show by Ian Fleming, who was originally to have played a role in the development of the series. It was one of his two contributions, the other being the name "April Dancer" - which, of course, became Stefanie Powers' character in The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.

It is something of a testament to the entire U.N.C.L.E. crew - Vaughn, McCallum, the producers, directors and writers - that they rode with the changes brought by making McCallum's character a co-equal, and in so doing made The Man from U.N.C.L.E. a far better show, and Solo a far better character. The addition of Kuryakin brought another side to Solo, the humor that rounded the edges of his smug character, in time even producing a self-deprecating side that would never have been apparent otherwise. Perhaps it was the writing, perhaps it was the way McCallum and Vaughn seemed to click from the beginning, but from this came the Napoleon Solo that we all know and love. And yet -

You remember the smarmy, politically ambitious Walter Chalmers from Bullitt, for example. Frank Flaherty in Washington: Behind Closed Doors. His appearances in Columbo. That kind of character seems to fit Vaughn to a tee. Even in The Protectors, where as Harry Rule he again plays a good guy, there's still something smarmy and smug about him.*

*A quality he displayed off-screen as well, according to at least one source working on the series.

But Vaughn could turn that to his advantage as well, whether parodying his image, as he would many times (one could argue that his occasional appearances with Conan O'Brian were just that), or as in The Magnificent Seven, where his character Lee isn't particularly likable, but becomes suddenly vulnerable - and accessible - when his secret fear is exposed, working to his (and our) advantage. In his Oscar-nominated role as Chet Gwynn in The Young Philadelphians, he's on trial for murder, a jam from which only Paul Newman can rescue him. And when the smugness was in the background, then you could admire the urbanity and charm that was so often on display, and for which he was so well known. Most of all, no matter what role he was playing, he was seldom ever out of work - an extremely valuable knack when you're an actor.

Off-screen, he could display the same tendencies. He comes off as incredibly pretentious and self-important in a TV Guide profile where he talks about his close friendship with Robert Kennedy - adopting similar mannerisms to "Bobby" and decorating his office in the same style. I'll say this for him though; he was a true believer, one who wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty in the political realm. He never would have been satisfied with making grandiose proclamations on Twitter. (I wonder how he felt after this election?) Other stories talk about him being difficult to work with, although Hollywood is one of those towns where everyone has an ax to grind.

If this all sounds somewhat negative, I don't mean it to be, because you can't be the star of a TV series I like a lot without earning some goodwill. And the truth of the matter is that I liked Robert Vaughn. It was easy enough when he played a character with likable tendencies, but even when he didn't, I could admire his considerable skill as an actor. I can't miss his living presence, because I didn't know him; I can't be too sorry that he won't appear in any new work, although he was still busy in this decade. But I can be grateful that so much of his work is preserved, such as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. - where he was never better than when he wasn't flying solo.

November 14, 2016

What's on TV? Friday, November 21, 1969

This week we travel to New York City for our pre-Thanksgiving listings. There were listings from a few other channels in New Jersey and Connecticut, but we're sticking with New York, New York. After all, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere, right?

A note on the programs: by now, almost everything is in color, except for old movies and series from the '50s and '60s.  TV Guide, however, has yet to catch up with this, and its preferred methodology is still to let you know which programs are in color. That will be changed in the not-too-distant future but I'm not waiting until then, so if you happen to own an issue from this era, you'll see that I've decided to let you know only if a program is in B&W.

November 12, 2016

This week in TV Guide: November 15, 1969

A funny thing happened on the way to television's coverage of the second manned lunar landing. The funny thing involved an astronaut, Pete Conrad; a camera lens; and the sun. We can all laugh about it now if we choose, but back then nobody was laughing at the funny thing that wasn't really funny.

The lunar module Intrepid touched down early Wednesday morning, and the moon walk was scheduled for about 5:00 a.m. Minneapolis time. I'd gotten up much earlier than I usual, just to see the beginning of the walk, even though I'd have to leave for school before it was over. What I got to see that morning - what anybody got to see - was Conrad, the mission commander, walk down the ladder to the surface of the moon. Unlike Apollo 11, this broadcast was in color (from the moon!), and it promised to be spectacular. Conrad went to set up the camera, and as he did so it accidentally pointed at the sun. There was a flash, a brief flicker of an image, and then about two-thirds of the picture went black. It was still that way by the time I had to head for school, and despite all their efforts, it appeared it was going to be hard to get that camera to work.

As it was, NASA never was able to do anything about the lens - it was destroyed, and that was all anyone got to see of the famed second moon walk. There's no reason not to replay those memorable moments, though, so here's a look at Conrad descending to the moon's surface, followed by the unfortunate incident with Conrad, the camera, and the sun.

I had completely forgotten how absolutely stunning the color video of Conrad was, in comparison to the relatively ghostly images we'd seen of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldren. Of course, the mind boggles at what it would be like today, with HD video of astronauts walking on the moon. But it's all relative.

That little glimpse of the moon's surface was the last we'd see for awhile; Apollo 13, of course, never got to the moon, but had to loop around and head back to earth after the explosion. It wasn't until Apollo 14, in February 1971, before we'd see men walk again on the moon. By December 1972, the moon landings were over, and they have yet to resume. Ah, it was something while it lasted, though.

I feel sorry for those of you too young to have been around when the Apollo program was riding high. You take it all for granted nowadays - back then, we lived through it. What a time it was!

◊ ◊ ◊

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. 

If Doris Day can have her own show, you may wonder, why not Debbie Reynolds? Well, Cleveland Amory can tell you why not Debbie Reynolds.

It's not that Debs is bad at what she does - she's very good at it, in fact, displaying "a tremendous amount of drive and spirit and bounce and effervescence and just about any other quality you can name." But, he points out, "these are not necessarily the qualities you want to see coming at you - especially so soon after dinner." Especially not in a sitcom - The Debbie Reynolds Show - that has such a derivative sit to it. Debbie plays the wife of a sportswriter; they live next door to her sister, who's married to his best friend. Debbie's 11-year-old nephew edits the neighborhood gossip rag. "Can you bear it? Please do. Because if you can, you can also bear with the plots," which, Amory writes, appear to be "thought up on the basis of how many different costumes they permit Miss Reynolds to wear."

The maddening thing, he says, is that there's a funny show somewhere here, and Debbie has what it takes to pull off the satire of the housewife who wants to be more. "But it's all so overdone, so overproduced and overacted, that it's a crashing overbore." He has kind words for most of the cast, especially Tom Bosley as Debbie's brother-in-law, but Patricia Smith, playing her sister, is far too broad, as are most of the guest stars. However, the best part of each show comes at the end, when "Miss Reynolds comes out dressed to the nines to say goodnight. We always look forward to that."

◊ ◊ ◊

Yet another week without "Sullivan vs. The Palace." Ed's holding up his end of the deal, with a spectacular guest list including Carol Lawrence, Douglas Fairbanks, ballet dancers Edward Villella and Patricia McBride, Jack Carter, Moms Mabley, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Karen Wyman. I'll say in advance that if The Hollywood Palace had been able to top that, it would have been a hell of a show.

However, ABC has chosen to preempt Palace for a rare prime-time college football matchup (kickoff at 9:30 p.m.!), as Notre Dame travels to Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech. The Fighting Irish, led by star quarterback Joe Theismann, come into the game ranked #9 in the country, and don't disappoint, defeating Tech 38-20. It's a historic season for Notre Dame, the year they finally abandon their decades-long policy of not going to bowl games. Come January 1, they'll play #1 Texas in the Cotton Bowl, their first time bowling since the 1925 Rose Bowl. They lose that game 21-17, but beat Texas in a rematch the next year, and have seldom been out of the bowl picture since.

Tonight's game is on opposite the second of two time capsule episodes on CBS, both out of the Henning factory. First, on Green Acres (9:00 p.m. ET), "Hooterville's alarming population drop (from 68 to 46 in one year) has Oliver crusading to make the farm community more appealing to young people." That's followed by Petticoat Junction at 9:30, in which "Janet and deputy nurses Bobbie, Billie and Betty plan to inoculate everyone in the valley against flu. Then they encounter hard-nosed Jasper Tweedy, patriarch of a large un-inoculated brood." Either of these stories could easily be told today, with only updates to reflect the change in era. Small rural areas still struggle with dwindling populations, still fight to find ways of keeping young people from moving away; and vaccinations have become increasingly controversial over the past few years, although I suspect that as far as opponents go, Jasper Tweedy doesn't cut nearly as fine a figure as Jenny McCarthy.

CBS wraps up the night with the Miss Teenage America contest live from Fort Worth. It's won by Miss Odessa, Texas, Debbie Paton. What's interesting is that the television personalities and judges are probably better known than the winner; the hosts are Dick Clark and former Miss America Marilyn Van Derbur, and the judges include former contestant and current Model of the Year Cybill Shepherd. You might think that Miss Teenage America sounds familiar, but it isn't around anymore, having crowned its final queen in 1997. In that case, you're probably thinking of Miss Teen USA, even though that one hasn't been on TV for years.

◊ ◊ ◊

The Doan Report tells us about ABC's massive shakeup in its schedule, cancelling five series and moving others around. The five facing the ax are mostly unforgettable; Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, a failed attempt by Monte Markham to revive the classic Gary Cooper movie; The New People, a 45-minute version of Lost without the metaphysical existentialism, which was coupled in a 90-minute time slot with The Music Scene, a successor to Hullabaloo that failed despite a plethora of big-name acts; and two long-running series - The Hollywood Palace and The Dating Game. Nanny and the Professor, The Johnny Cash Show, The Englebert Humperdinck Show, and The Pat Paulson Half-a-Comedy Hour are among the newbies, and every night except Sunday and Tuesday will see schedule changes.

Also, there's speculation that David Brinkley might become a solo when Chet Huntley retires from The Huntley-Brinkley Report next year. And indeed, the network does turn to a solo anchor system upon Huntley's adieu, sort of: NBC Nightly News presents a rotating system with Brinkley, John Chancellor, and Frank McGee taking their turns a week at a time. Eventually, Chancellor takes the top spot, with McGee becoming host of Today, and Brinkley doing commentaries until the network calls him back to team with Chancellor. None of it works, and CBS's Walter Cronkite remains on the top spot.

◊ ◊ ◊

What does the rest of the week have to offer?

On Saturday, NBC has some fun at CBS's expense on Saturday Night at the Movies, with the network television premiere of the 1965 movie The Fortune Cookie, starring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. Lemmon plays a cameraman for CBS, who's injured while covering an NFL game, and is talked by his shyster brother-in-law Matthau into suing CBS, the Cleveland Browns, and Municipal Stadium. Throw in a greedy wife, suspicious insurance company, and devious private investigator, and you're in for what Judith Crist calls "vicious fun," for which Matthau wins an Academy Award.

Current events rear its ugly head on Sunday's Issues and Answers on ABC, with Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott (R-PA) facing the inevitable questions on Vietnam and the latest calls for a cease fire, and President Nixon's recent nomination of Clement Haynesworth to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, CBS's Look Up and Live asks the question "What's Happened to the Catholic Mass?", a question people still ask today, as the pews grow more and more empty. "[A] change from Latin to English, and the experimental [!] use of jazz and rock" might have something to do with that. Cleanse your palate by watching ABC's broadcast of the movie The Flight of the Phoenix later that night. It stars Jimmy Stewart in a role that's anything but the bumbling, sly charmer you're used to seeing from him.

Here's something you don't seen in Minnesota: the programming notice beginning Monday and running for the rest of the week, that independent station WNYC will have coverage of the United Nations General Assembly if it's in session. It's kind of like watching C-SPAN with an international accent, and without taking Novocaine beforehand.

On Tuesday, we see both sides of the coin that is modern America, going head-to-head at 8:30 ET. On CBS, it's Red Skelton, a stalwart on the network since 1951, who welcomes guests Lou Rawls and George Gobel. On ABC, it's the world television premiere* of The Ballad of Andy Crocker, starring Lee Majors, Agnes Moorhead, Joey Heatherton, and Pat Hingle, in what has to be one of the first movies to tell the story of the difficulties facing returning Vietnam veterans. For Majors' character Crocker, "no brass bands welcome him to his Texas home town. His girl friend has been forced into a marriage by her shrewish mother, the small business he left behind has been ruined by mismanagement and friends capable of more than sympathy are in short supply. It's written by Stuart Margolin, whom we probably know better as Angel in The Rockford Files.

*In other words, a made-for-TV movie.

Songwriter Burt Bacharach, whose music is "appealing to both sides of the generation gap," hosts Wednesday's Kraft Music Hall on NBC. (9:00 p.m.) Burt's guests, Lena Horne and Tony Bennett, sing some of his many hits ("I'll Never Fall in Love Again," "The Look of Love," "Alfie," and "San Jose," and ballet dancer Edward Villella dances to a couple more, "Promises, Promises," and "This Guy's in Love with You."

On Thursday, Tom Jones (9:00 p.m., ABC) looks as if he's taken a wrong turn somewhere and wound up in Nashville instead of Hollywood; his guests are Johnny and June Carter Cash, Minnie Pearl, and Jeannie C. Riley. I really dig the picture of Tom and Johnny wearing paisley neckerchiefs. If country ain't your thaing, I'd go with Dean Martin (10:00 p.m., NBC), who has Gordon MacRae, Dom DeLuise, Stanley Myron Handelman, Tommy Tune, and Dean's daughter Gail. If you want to stay up later, catch Johnny Carson during one of his sojurns in Hollywood before he moved The Tonight Show there permanently; he welcomes Charlton Heston, Goldie Hawn, Jane Powell, Fernando Lamas and George Chakiris.

Friday ends the week with an intriguing Hallmark Hall of Fame: "The File on Devlin," (NBC, 8:30 p.m.) a suspense drama with Dame Judith Anderson, Elizabeth Ashley, and David McCallum as, respectively, the wife, daughter, and biographer of Laurence Devlin, an author, journalist, and Nobel Prize winner. He also happened to be an occasional spy for the British government, and now he's disappeared. Has he defected, has he been kidnapped, or has something else happened? NBC follows up on that with George C. Scott in a rare comedic appearance as the star of "Mirror, Mirror, Off the Wall," on the occasional anthology series On Stage. Scott plays a failing author named Max Maxwell who becomes a sensation when he writes a dirty book under the pseudonym N.Y. Rome. The trouble begins when Rome's personality lets it be known he's tired of being kept in the background, and attempts to take over Max completely.

A pretty good way to end the week - you might say we're over the moon about it. Literally. TV  

November 11, 2016

Around the dial

Another prime week in the classic television blogosphere, and some very things in store for those who click on the links. I can't promise you'll like them, because I have no control over your behavior, but hopefully I can influence you to check them out, with the intimation of my confidence that you'll be pleased with the finished product.

The Broadcasting Archives at the University of Maryland has a copy of a great ad from WICU in Erie, Pennsylvania, boasting the four networks from which the station can pick and choose its programming. Who needs one affiliation, when you can get the best of all worlds?

Comfort TV reviews the career of Gordon Jump, whom you'd recognize anywhere based on his many character appearances, but whom you'll always remember for the infamous turkey drop episode of WKRP.

Cult TV Blog looks at "The Desperate People," an episode from Francis Durbridge Presents, a thriller anthology series of the 1960s. In addition to a nice shout-out to yours truly, it's a wonderful description of how a program can capture so well the era in which it was made - one of the great sidelights to classic TV viewing.

British TV Detectives has a review of Chasing Shadows, a series from 2014. It's another one I haven't heard of before, but it co-stars Alex Kingston, whom I've liked since the movie Croupier, and who was so good in her guest appearances on Doctor Who.

A quick rundown of episode reviews:
Television Obscurities reviews the 1969 book The Only Complete Guide to TV 70, written by Dave Kaufman, a nice rundown of what to expect in the new season, including series, specials, sports, stars, and movies!

And of course there's my own essay for the week; if you haven't read it yet, it's a complex look at how television looks at lies told in the pursuit of criminal justice, and whether or not it can be justified.

That should cover this week, and I'll try to do my part to live up to these pieces with one of my own tomorrow. I trust I'll see you then, at least metaphorically. TV  

November 9, 2016

The lie's the thing

At long last, our long national nightmare is over! For at least a few minutes, anyway...

I've chosen to celebrate the occasion with another of my dissertations on television and moral consequentialism. If this isn't your cup of tea, no hard feelings - I'll see you on Friday.

I don’t normally watch Law & Order: Criminal Intent – OK, I never watch it – but the other day my wife had it on when I came home from work, and I got caught up in the final few minutes of the drama. As near as I can tell, the cops were after a bad guy who had stolen some gems and murdered someone. They went to work on the bad guy’s woman, who (as is usually the case in these things) was the weak link, trying to get her to rat on her boyfriend. Finally, one of the cops – the guy cop (nowadays they always work in boy-girl tandems, apparently) – managed to convince her that her boyfriend was HIV-positive due to some things he’d been doing in prison, and that because of the – well, various acts in which they had engaged, she was likely HIV-positive as well. He even offered to have her get an AIDS test if she had any doubts. In the end (no pun intended), she did indeed turn on him, letting the cops know where he’d be when the stolen gems deal went down. As they slapped the handcuffs on to take him away, she told him that, yes, she was the one who’d squealed, and that since thanks to him she was going to die, she thought she’d return the favor.

Whereupon our cop hero turns to her and says – Surprise! You’re not going to die after all! I just lied about that AIDS thing to get you to turn your boyfriend in. No hard feelings, right? I mean, it’s good to be alive, isn’t it?

Well, maybe he didn’t say the last part, but he gleefully admitted to having intentionally lied to her about having AIDS, hoping that it would get her to cough up what they needed to make the bust. All’s fair in love and war and law enforcement. It doesn’t matter how you play the game, and it is a game – it’s all whether you win or lose.

Or is it? The episode got me to thinking, which isn’t a surprise since I wouldn’t be writing about it otherwise, and much to the consternation of my wife, who really prefers a restful, relaxing dinner, I started bouncing around several theories on the moral law as it applied to this case.

Legally, were the cop’s actions right? I don’t know. I can see a case where a judge throws the evidence out, but it all likelihood the cop didn’t break the law. As far as I know, unless you’re running for president or testifying under oath (which may be the same thing soon), you’re not breaking the law by telling a lie. So legally he might have been on safe, if somewhat sloppy, ground.

But, I continued, there are two other ways to look at this – ethically, and morally. They sound similar, but they aren’t.

Ethically, did the cop cross the line by lying to extract information? It’s a tricky question. I don’t think anyone would disagree that a public servant, which is what a policeman is, had better have a damn good reason for lying in the performance of his or her job. And in fact, there are probably times when lying is appropriate, based on the magnitude of the lie and the importance of the results produced by the telling of the lie. But I don’t mind saying this kind of lie makes me uncomfortable. First, there’s a blitheness to it, a suggestion on the part of the cop that lying is part of the job, that the end always justifies the means, that it’s the kind of thing that never gives him pause.

Let’s examine this a little closer, because what it does, at least in part, is reduce law to a game, one with a winner and a loser where the competition to win is what it’s all about. In viewing the law this way, you vastly diminish its moral authority, as well as demonstrate a lack of respect for what it represents. Recall, if you know your TV history, that Perry Mason was always very careful when it came to misleading someone on the witness stand. As he would point out to Della and Paul in the episode’s dĂ©nouement, he was always careful to use the phrase “Suppose I were to tell you” as a preface to the allegation which he would use to trap the guilty party. It’s an important distinction – after all, most of the time, in the excitement of the courtroom confession, nobody would give a second thought to the question by Perry that triggered it all. But even if nobody asked about it, Perry would still know. And when he stashes his client at a motel in order to keep them out of the clutches of the police while he investigates the case, he always tells them to register in their own name. As an officer of the law, of course, he has to do that – but there’s an ethical component for Perry as well.  He’ll do anything for his client, but he won’t lie, and he won’t suborn perjury – even if he has a good reason for doing so.

Let’s look at another example. Just last week, I saw an episode of Columbo in which the Lieutenant tricks a murderer into confessing by pretending to arrest the killer’s son and charge him with the murder. The episode is unclear as to whether or not Columbo did this with the cooperation of the son; I don’t think he did, and if this is the case, did he, like our friend in L&O, cross the line? Possibly, although I don’t think it’s quite the same magnitude of lie (which I’ll discuss in the next paragraph) – but in any event, Columbo does something interesting after the real killer confesses. He apologizes to him for having arrested his son, and assures him his son will be released shortly. That tells me that while Columbo may have felt he had to stage this charade in order to get the killer to confess, he didn’t feel particularly good about having done it. In other words, he showed not glee, but remorse.

That leads me to the final way in which this is measured: the moral equation. Legally, the L&O cop is probably in the clear, ethically his actions are dubious at best, but what about morally? Is a lie ever justified? Aquinas thought not; in the Summa, he wrote that "Therefore it is not lawful to tell a lie in order to deliver another from any danger whatever. Nevertheless it is lawful to hide the truth prudently, by keeping it back, as [St.] Augustine says"(In other words, as Mr. Spock once said in response to an accusation that he’d told a lie, something Vulcans are supposed to be unable to do, “I did not lie. I merely withheld a portion of the truth.”)

In discussing whether or not one can ever justify the lie, a Catholic theologian said the following:

It would satisfy a well-formed conscience, I think, to permit the speaking of falsehood when it is the only means we can think of to prevent someone from committing an immoral act. But if so, it is hard to reach such a conclusion only by denying the intention to deceive. There must be something more than that, for we could also say that when we lied to our boss last Wednesday, our intention was not to deceive but to save our skin. Clearly this is just one more possibility for exploration, and so far all the possibilities in history have not led to a formal doctrinal development to settle the matter. It remains the case that, despite our instincts, we don’t quite know how to justify deceiving our proverbial thugs, or telling jokes that involve deception, or doing undercover police work, or engaging in military counter-intelligence activities during wartime. [Emphasis added.]

Let’s look also at the first part of that quote, the discussion of permitting a lie in order to prevent someone from committing an immoral act. The classic example of this is the World War II German who lies to the Gestapo, telling them there are no Jews in the house, when in fact there’s an entire family hiding in the attic. It’s a lie, yes, but one can persuasively argue that the Gestapo officers aren’t entitled to the truth, that they have no right to ask the question in the first place since their purpose is to gather information in order to capture Jews and execute them, an objectively evil act.

You could argue, as the cop undoubtedly would, that he did what he had to do in order to make the arrest – that he did it on order to prevent a future immoral act – but that’s just convenient. What if, for instance, she hadn’t turned on her boyfriend and led the cops to him? What if the combination of a criminal career and the despair of finding out she had AIDS had led her to, say, commit suicide? Or if she’d decided to get even with her boyfriend by killing him first, and then committing suicide? Or blowing up the room, which not only would have killed the two of them but also their partners in crime? Would the cop have had any remorse about that, about his lie having been responsible for the deaths of one, two, three people? Based on what we see of him, we have to doubt it.

I think what troubles me so much about this the lie told by the L&O cop is that it’s dealing with something incredibly personal – telling someone they’ve contracted a terminal disease. That kind of lie strikes me as so intimate; regardless of what that person might have been done, the liar is robbing them of their human dignity by treating their health – and soul – in such a cavalier manner. It is, in fact, a subtle form of torture. Psychological rather than physical, but torture nonetheless. Think about it; what's the difference between telling someone they're going to die when they aren't, and faking an execution or waterboarding a suspect? In all three instances you're trying to convince them they're going to die unless they give you the information you want, when in reality you have no intention of killing them. Granted, physical torture can get out of hand, but so can psychological torture, if that person doesn't act the way you think they will.

At the same time, let’s not overlook the danger the cop is posing to his own soul with this kind of lie. Not only has he violated the human dignity to which everyone – even a crook or killer – is entitled, he’s also scarred his own human dignity. It’s the kind of act that causes someone to say, “C’mon, you’re better than this.” And this last point is an important one, because it cuts to the heart of what it's all about - the responsibility that a person assumes because of their actions. It's why Columbo's showing remorse is crucial. There's no evidence that our L&O cop feels any qualms about what he's done, but were he to discuss it with a priest, for instance, there's every chance he'd be told something similar to what we've discussed here, that his actions carry with them profound moral consequences. Perhaps he hadn't considered them when he told the lie, but now that it's been brought to his attention, he's going to have to change the way he thinks in the future. Can he understand this - can he understand that being a detective and trying to track down and punish the guilty does not give him carte blanche to do whatever he feels is necessary. Now, can he continue to do his job under those circumstances? Can he remain an effective detective without manipulating morality in order to do it?

If the answer to that is "no," then he has only one choice: give up his job. Because ultimately the state of his soul, and the souls of those with whom he comes into contact, is more important.

◊ ◊ ◊

Now, I realize I've gotten kind of far afield of what this program was all about. We've taken a leap from Dick Wolf to St. Thomas Aquinas, and that isn't an easy thing to do. There's a point I've made over and over again, though, and I'm going to make it again: when we see television programs portray law enforcement officials acting in a particular way, and justify that behavior in the name of fighting crime, or combating terrorism, or defending national interests, then we are being conditioned to accept that behavior as a necessary aspect of modern law enforcement. I'm not saying we consciously mimic the way people on television act, but certainly it can influence our thinking, the way we see things, and ultimately our desire to rationalize it.

It's the old story of the frog and the boiling water, and it will be repeated to us again and again until we've accepted it, until we've bought into the idea that only the guilty have reason to worry, that such tactics will never be used against the innocent. And of course before we know it, we as a people have given up a fundamental piece of our freedom, and those sworn to protect us have given up a fundamental part of their humanity.

By presenting this kind of thinking in an uncritical, unchallenged way, we wind up encouraging it. Before long, we'll accept "lying for justice," and might even find ourselves doing it. And when that happens, then we'll know that the Criminal Intent in Law & Order refers not only to the bad guys, but the good guys as well.