December 24, 2016

This week in TV Guide: December 24, 1966

Looking at it in retrospect, I can't imagine anything more exciting for a kid than having Christmas Eve on a Saturday. I mean, Saturday is already the best day of the kid week, and adding Christmas Eve to the mix - in our family, Christmas Eve was the big night, when we had our tree (except for the presents that Santa brought for the next morning), and the relatives all came to visit - well, I don't see how the excitement level could possibly get any higher.*

*Upon mature reflection, having Christmas Day fall on Sunday means that we get Monday off from work, and to people of our age, that's perhaps even more exciting.

As is often the case even today, the day builds up to the excitement, staring in the morning. Remember Davey and Goliath, the clay-animation religious show produced by the Lutheran Church? The obligatory Christmas episode in which our heroes "learn something about Christmas" is shown Saturday morning at 7:30 a.m. CT on KSTP, opposite the second half of Captain Kangaroo on WCCO, when the Captain reads Clement Moore's "The Night Before Christmas." At 2:30 p.m., KSTP has a half-hour concert of Christmas music by the U.S. Naval Academy Glee Club, and at 5;30 p.m. KMSP carries a live Christmas concert from the Apollo Club

At 6:30 p.m. it's Jackie Gleason's Christmas Eve show, which features Gleason as his Poor Soul character dreaming his way into a fairy tale fantasy, meeting Art Carney as Old King Cole, Sheila MacRae as the Old Woman in the Shoe, and Jane Kean as the princess rescued from the dragon. Lawrence Welk's Yuletide show is on ABC at 7:30 p.m., as the Maestro's family makes their TV debut along with the rest of his Music Makers. And speaking of debuts, The Hollywood Palace features Bing Crosby and his second family on TV for the first time (see below for more).

At 10:00 p.m. WTCN airs the classic Crosby movie Holiday Inn, with Fred Astaire. It's a perfect time to show the movie on Christmas Eve, and it leads into the late-night music and church services. The Saturday night best-of Tonight Show is preempted, as it always is on Christmas Eve, for Heart of Christmas, 45 minutes of holiday music presided over by Tonight's music director, Skitch Henderson. No video of that, but if you want to get an idea of the spirit of the show, here's the first part of the 1984 broadcast, by which time Doc Severinsen had taken over the hosting duties. On CBS, the Tucson Boys Choir does the musical honors, with a program entitled "Let the Desert Be Joyful."

CBS carries a Christmas Eve Methodist church service at 11:00 p.m., and it's certainly a sign of the '60s. Rather than the dignified sacred music of the past, "Folk singer Lee Chandler and jazz saxophonist Frank Foster join the congregation in the 'Celebration of the Birth of Love.' " NBC's coverage of the Midnight Mass from St. Patrick's in New York may no longer be in Latin, but it still has at least some of the trappings of the High Mass of the past, as does the Mass at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C., telecast on ABC. It's a cultural touchpoint, though, a moment when we're most definitely in the '60s rather than the '50s.

Christmas morning begins with Berlioz's famed oratorio L'Enfance du Christ at 9:00 a.m. on CBS, featuring singers from the Metropolitan Opera along with the Camarata Singers and the John Butler Dancers. At 10:00 a.m., NBC telecasts the Christmas Lessons and Carols live from the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and at noon ABC Scope looks at Vietnam vets returning home for the holidays.

At 3:00 p.m., ABC's Saga of Western Man repeats a broadcast from earlier in the month, "Christ is Born," produced by John Secondari and narrated by Secondari and John Huston. Here's a look at the opening of the much-acclaimed program.

At 5:00 p.m. CBS presents a documentary on "Christmas in Spanish Harlem," hosted by Charles Kuralt, and NBC's Bell Telephone Hour has "Christmas Through the Ages," with singers Sherrill Milnes and Gianna d'Angelo, and hosted by Florence Henderson, while at 5:30 p.m. WTCN has a live broadcast of the Twin Cities Figure Skating Club's annual Christmas Ice Show, hosted by the beloved children's show hosts Casey and Roundhouse. At 6:00 p.m., ABC reruns the delightful musical The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood with Cyril Ritchard, Liza Minnelli, Vic Damone, and The Animals. And while NBC's Bonanza airs a Christmas episode with Wayne Newton (!) at 8:00 p.m., Garry Moore closes the musical festivities on CBS, with Buddy Rich and his orchestra, and Mel Tormé, singing - what else? - "The Christmas Song." A fitting end to a blessed day.

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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: From the Krone Circus Arena in Munich, West Germany, Ed is the ringmaster for a taped sequel to his circus show of last Christmas, featuring circus acts from all over Europe.

Palace: Bing, Kathryn, Harry, Mary Frances and Nathaniel Crosby make their family TV debut on this Christmas Eve program, with guests Kate Smith; comic Bob Newhart; dancer Cyd Charisse; the Kuban Cossacks, Ukranian dancers; Rene and His Puppets; Murillo, a tight-rope walker; and Excess Baggage, a dog act.

Ordinarily I might say this week's listing depends a lot on whether or not you like circuses, but come one - Bing freaking Crosby and his family on Christmas Eve. His guests aren't bad either, but even without them, The Palace win this week is a no-contest.

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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. 

Cleveland Amory's bulls-eye comes to rest this week on the new CBS sitcom Family Affair. And what does he think? "'This show was created,' a CBS release stated, 'by the executive producer and producer, respectively, of My Three Sons.' So much for that. All right, now for the two or three readers, respectively, whom we still have with us, let us say that contrary to the prevailing network thinking, we do not agree that one of the most hysterically funny ideas ever conceived for a comedy is the story of a bachelor with children." In case you're not quite sure yet where he stands, we'll add this: "[W]e outrightly challenge the belief that such a program can be guaranteed by a laugh track which greets every greeting with a guffaw, every gesture or grimace with a belly laugh and every old joke with a clap of thunder."

It's all too bad, because Brian Keith deserves so much more, based on how he "copes with the disasters around him with extraordinary good grace and at times even genuine touchingness." Sebastian Cabot, as his valet French, is "a man who serves not only in the spirit of his part but also of all those in television who only stand and wait for better scripts." The failure, Amory declares, is primarily, but not entirely, the responsibility of the three children, Kathy Garver, Johnnie Whitaker, and Anissa Jones. However, he adds quickly, they are not solely responsible for "making Family Affair the appalling thing it is."  For the truth of the matter is that "the writers have given them so much idiotic dialog and the directors so much obvious business that the whole thing ends up as a team effort - one which, at its depths, manages to achieve the impossible. It makes you look forward to the laugh track.

Amory clearly has his curmudgeon act going this week, for there are many who count themselves even today as fans of Family Affair and remember the show (which ran for five seasons!) with real fondness. And of course we should also recall that Amory often enjoyed poking and prodding the tiger in the cage. Perhaps, in his eyes, the series will grow as it ages into its niche, and a subsequent review will be more positive. Or it could be that he simply decided it was about time to, in the parlance of the times, sock it to one of these series. Maybe he just woke up in a bad mood. I myself have to admit that I'm not a fan of the show, although neither do I bear it any animus, especially after seeing the charming Kathy Garver at this year's Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention. Nonetheless, it's hard to disagree with Amory's conclusion that it's time for a Christmas truce, one in which "all networks would agree not to put any situation comedy on the air unless it has (a) a good idea, (b) a good script and (c) such a good idea and script that it can be recognized without a laugh track. From his lips to God's ears.

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From time to time I like to take a look at the world of sports, but there's not much to be had in that area this week. Oh, the Sun Bowl is on Christmas Eve (Wyoming vs. Florida State), and there are college all-star games on Saturday and Monday, but that's about it, and it provides us with yet another abject lesson in how, for all that  "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose," sometimes things really have changed.

I mean, c'mon, this is the week between Christmas and New Year's. Where are the bowl games? This year, there are twenty-three - count 'em, 23 - bowl games played on the six days from December 26 to December 31. Compare that to 1966, when the total number of bowls was nine. That year, four of the games (including the Sun Bowl) were played prior to Christmas, two (the Gator and Cotton Bowls) were played on New Year's Eve, and the big three (Sugar, Rose, Orange) were contested on January 2.*

*Contrary to those without historical perspective, it is not the case that in years where New Year's Day falls on a Sunday, the bowl games are moved to Monday in order to avoid a conflict with pro football. The tradition dates all the way back to the early years of the 20th century, long before the NFL was a twinkle in anyone's eye, back when sporting events were seldom held on Sundays. The Rose Bowl created the precedent for moving the game (and parade) to Monday in such cases, and it's remained since. (Even the Indy 500 used to do that.) By the time it got to the point where the NFL season stretched to January 1, the tradition was more or less set in stone. So there.

You'll notice there aren't even any pro games this week, and certainly not on Christmas Day. The NFL is in its open week between the end of the regular season and the Championship game on New Year's Day, and a note in Monday's program listings informs us that if a tiebreaker game is required to settle the AFL's Eastern Division title, it will be played Monday at noon. No football on Christmas, either, you see.

My gosh, without football whatever did people watch that week?

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Well, unlike nowadays where you can drive around late on Christmas night and see discarded evergreens waiting to be picked up by the trashman, in 1966 Christmas didn't end on December 25, or December 26 for that matter. On Monday evening, KTCA, the educational station, presents Holiday Festival, a program of seasonal music; additional episodes of Holiday Festival run on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights at 10:00 p.m. On Thursday evening The New Twin City Federal Hour, on the independent WTCN, carries The Nutcracker, the Christmas favorite, danced by the San Francisco Ballet.

The ads continue in the seasonal spirit, as these from Contac and Canadian Lord Calvert indicate.

Widely different products, but fun, don't you think?

Then there's the staple of the year end, the news year-end-in-review program. CBS has theirs on Sunday afternoon (there being no football to show), while ABC's is Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. CT, and NBC's is at 8:30 p.m. the following evening. Show you how quickly things could change back then, NBC tapes their show earlier that evening. And what were the major stories in 1966? Well, international affairs dominate the scene. Vietnam is front and center, of course, but there's also the growing rift between the Soviet Union and Communist China, and there are the continuing repercussions in the West regarding France's withdrawal from NATO. Domestically, racial unrest continues, as James Meredith is shot in Mississippi, and riots occur in Chicago and Cleveland. The GOP wins big in the midterm elections, with Richard Nixon playing a key role campaigning for Republicans around the country, and racking up IOUs for a prospective presidential bid in 1968. Of course, the space race is out of this world, amid rising anticipation of Apollo 1's launch in just two months.

And some things are just fun. On Saturday, The Skipper, also known as Alan Hale, makes a rare dramatic appearance on Gunsmoke. Monday night, The Monkees are caught up in the search for "The Maltese Vulture," The dignified Michael Rennie, as the Sandman, teams up with the dangerous Julie Newmar as Catwoman to torment Gotham City on Wednesday and Thursday's episodes of Batman. Frank Sinatra plays a priest to Fred MacMurray's worldly press agent in The Miracle of the Bells, the late-night Wednesday movie on WTCN. Bob Newhart, who's very funny in that Hollywood Palace episode on Saturday, is probably equally funny on Dean Martin's show Thursday, while Nancy Sinatra makes her dramatic television debut as Coco Cool on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Friday, and our time-traveling heroes on The Time Tunnel wind up in Nottingham Forest trying to prevent King John from foiling the signing of the Magna Carta.

I think there's more than enough there to watch without football, don't you?

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We're told, in Leslie Raddatz's article, that we ought to come back in ten years to check on this week's starlet, Linda Evans, one of the co-stars of ABC's The Big Valley. She doesn't really want to be a star, she says, but "under the blonde prettiness and behind the blue eyes is a drive - a consuming interest in her work - that belies her words." If you'd come back in those ten years, in 1976, you would have found that she'd continued to work in television, made some movies, and appeared nude in Playboy. You also would have had no idea that she was about to explode as one of the biggest stars on television, in ABC's Dynasty.

It's too bad Raddatz limited his futuristic outlook to ten years; he concludes his profile by saying that "Ten years from now she will be in her mid-30's. She will still be pretty - the fine bone structure inherited from her Norwegian forebears assures that - but she will have learned a lot that she doesn't know now. She may be married, divorced, disillusioned, or any combination of the three. She will either be a star or not. She could make quite a story." If you'd just said fifteen years, Leslie, you would have had quite a story, indeed.

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If you're reading this on the day of publication, it's Saturday - Christmas Eve, 2016. And it gives me a final opportunity to wish you and yours a happy Christmas, with my thanks as always for choosing to spend some of your valuable time here. I hope your day is very merry indeed. TV  


  1. Who would expect in 50 years, that Cleveland Amory, in his review, would pick C, giving that most sitcoms today aired without laugh tracks, and most have good story and good ideas!!!

  2. I'm resisting the temptation to launch into a spirited defense of "Family Affair," but I'll simply say that the show was never designed to be 'hysterically funny,' particularly in its first season when the three kids were still coping with a tragic loss (a topic that permeates several shows). And Anissa Jones was a mature-beyond-her-years actress. Every time I watch the series' first episode she breaks my heart.

  3. As somebody must have pointed out to you by now, this post didn't show up here until very late yesterday, the 26th.
    After the regular Monday post.
    Things seem to be a touch wonky at your end ...

    I was going to mention that Family Affair, like all the Don Fedderson sitcoms, was what in those days came to be called a "warmedy", with boffo laffs deemphasized in favor of cuddly family stuff - but David Hofstede beat me to it, so there too.

    This past weekend, MeTV ran the referenced Time Tunnel episode, which featured Donald Harron as the Earl of Huntingdon (aka Robin Hood).
    I seem to recall mentioning Donald Harron here a while back; he came from Canada to Broadway to Hollywood for a fair run as upright Anglo-Saxon types, good, bad, and in-between, before returning to Canada and turning comic, eventually winding up in Nashville doing the stubble-bearded newsguy on Hee Haw. I still have trouble getting people to believe this ...

    The custom back then was to use reruns during Christmas and New Year's weeks, so that Gunsmoke was likely a pre-Gilligan rerun. Alan Hale was a frequent guest on the Westerns before he became the Skipper.

    Now I go back to the Sunday lists and see what I can annoy you with there.

    (Did you ever go back and look at my Michael Shayne comments? I mean, I went to an awful lot of trouble to put them up ...)


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!