January 30, 2017

What's on TV? Tuesday, January 31, 1984

The listings this week have expanded dramatically, and it's not just because we've got more local stations in the Twin Cities area than in the past. It's 1984, and we're now in the cable era that we've read so much about in older issues. It's not full-blown cablemania yet; this issue only carries program listings for nine, five of which you'll see below. Still, it's a distinct difference from, say, 1962, when at most you'd see your three network affiliates, an independent station or two, and perhaps an educational station (especially if a major university was nearby). As to whether or not cable television in 1984 is fulfilling the promise of giving us unlimited viewing opportunities? Well, you'll have to be the judge of that.

January 28, 2017

This week in TV Guide: January 28, 1984

OK, Cybill Shepherd, we’ll say it. You’re sexy. Satisfied now? Sheesh.

(Fingers crossed.)

Cybill Shepherd, current star of NBC’s The Yellow Rose, future star of ABC’s Moonlighting, is this week’s cover story. We’ll be back later to find out if there’s anything else worth discussing, but in the meantime here’s the rest of the issue.

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One of the constant features of dyspeptic, apocalyptic police state stories has been the ability of governments to spy on their citizens through the television, looking out at you as you look at it. Stories of early television viewers worried that the characters on the tube could actually see them are legion, although you’d like to think most of them are urban legends. Still, the thought of moving pictures actually appearing in your living room, some of them being broadcast live as they happened, had to have been a pretty radical concept. Seen from today’s perspective, when we watch television on the same phones with which we have video chats with friends, maybe it wasn’t so far out after all.

This week, in another of the cautionary stories that marked this era of TV Guide, James Morrow commemorates the first month of 1984 by looking at just how close we are to the world of George Orwell’s book, and it turns out we’re pretty close – just not the way you might think.

For example, Morrow points out that to Orwell, “language is the blood of the mind. To abuse language is to abuse the human spirit.” What better example of the power to abuse language, he says, than the television commercial? Consider the use of the word “natural.” It seems pretty straightforward, until you hear someone say, “Change your hair color. It’s the ‘natural’ thing to do.’”* Orwell called this trait “doublethink,” as in “War is Peace” and “Freedom is Slavery.” Television does this kind of thing all the time.

*I hadn’t even thought about that one. It’s kind of like “jumbo shrimp,” don’t you think?

American television, writes Morrow, may have developed a “dominion over human consciousness” similar to that existing in Winston Smith’s world. Viewers turn to fictional TV doctors for medical advice, they accept without question documentaries that portray American society as far riskier and dangerous than it really is. Some people might substitute Dr. Phil for Dr. Marcus Welby, while others would  see either global warming (to the right) or Donald Trump (to the left) as evidence of American television viewers’ willingness to be taken in by The Big Hoax.

And yet, a question remains: “[I}s the right to be stupid not one of the most fundamental freedoms afforded by a nontotalitarian government?” It reminds me of the comment we noted a couple of weeks ago by CBS news chief Richard Salant that the job of TV news was to provide “what people ought to know, rather than what people want to hear.” As Morrow notes, nobody forces you to watch television. You don’t have to “abandon” your children to it or use it as your only source of knowledge. To do so, to suggest that the truth, or anything else worth knowing, comes from TV and only TV, “is to lower one’s guard against the day when somebody decides to chisel away your set’s on-off switch or to install a spy-camera adjacent to the picture tube, or to attempt some other truly Orwellian innovation.”

For all of American television’s faults, Morrow thinks that Orwell might well have liked it, or at least parts of it. Orwell, says Morrow, “believed in the common sense of common humanity” and might well have seen TV’s “populist nature” as protection against the all-encompassing state. Orwell believed that “it was among the intellectuals, not among the working classes, that you found society’s villains”: he probably would have loved Cheers.

So how close are we to the nightmare telescreen world of 1984. We’re not there, at least not yet. But, as Morrow concludes, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen to those who seem to be crying wolf about TV’s power and influence. “The boy who cried wolf was wrong – and the townspeople who ultimately ignored him were also wrong. Theirs was the sin of complacency.”

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I think I’ve mentioned before that Cleveland Amory’s successor as TV Guide’s critic is Robert MacKenzie, and in a week where we’re looking for worthy information to assess, his review is probably as good a place as any. This week’s show is ABC’s Hardcastle and McCormick, a buddy comedy-adventure starring Brian Keith and Daniel Hugh-Kelly as, respectively, a retired judge hunting down scoundrels who escaped his justice via technicalities, and a young rascal paroled to Hardcastle’s custody because the judge “saw good in the lad.”

It’s a preposterous premise, on many levels. Neither of them work, for example, yet they pay their bills every month. There are a lot of car chases and crashes, and McCormick drives so fast and so well that in real life he’d probably be a professional racing driver, thus solving the problem of where the two find the money to pay bills. Keith is fine as Hardcastle; MacKenzie believes he “can do better work, and has, but he likes steady employment.” Hugh-Kelly is “cute” and has great hair, which puts him in competition with NBC’s Knight Rider, which features David Hasselhoff, “who also drives fast and has even more hair.”

Sometimes, after a long day of work, you just want to turn on the television and relax instead of thinking about the world’s troubles or having some talking head shout at you all evening long. The problem, as Orwell might have put it, is that this can lead to complacency, or at least laziness. Like so much of television in 1984, H&M “seems designed for workingmen who dream about hot cars but can’t afford them, who can flake out in from of a TV world in which the good guys have the fastest cars and the hardest fists.” It’s a nice world to visit from time to time, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

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We’re now on to sports, and this is the early stages of the cable era, that unregulated free-for-all before sports governing boards figured out the power of collective negotiating, when leagues and conferences signed contracts with just about any cable network that would have them. This week there are no less than 26 college basketball games on this week, for example, and that’s only with NBC, CBS, ESPN, WGN, and USA. Suffice it to say that some of these games might have been quite entertaining, but few of them were actually important.

As was the case last weekend, it’s All-Star time, and in a sign of the times, the NBA All-Star Game, from Denver, is on CBS Sunday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. (CT) You heard me right; it’s not on cable, it’s not on in prime time. All it has to offer is a bunch of pretty good players: Julius Erving, Larry Bird, Isaiah Thomas, Kevin McHale, Moses Malone, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, George Gervin. Not bad, I’d say. ABC counters with the NFC-AFC Pro Bowl at 3:00 p.m. from Honolulu, which also managed to find some pretty good players to take part: Dan Fouts, Earl Campbell Joe Theismann, Eric Dickerson. The NHL version is on USA Tuesday night* from East Rutherford, NJ. No indication as to the players taking part, although a quick spin through the interwebs tells us there were a few Hall-of-Famers on hand, names like Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Ray Bourque, Grant Fuhr, Steve Yzerman, and Gilbert Perrault. Back in the days before fans could see just about any game they wanted just about any time they wanted, these contests were rare treats, the one time you could see some of the game’s greats in action. I do miss those times.

*When all-star games used to be played so as not to tamper with the weekend gate receipts.

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Coming to your TV screens Saturday night on NBC – it’s World War III! Or, to be more accurate, World War III! It’s actually a rerun from 1982, when this kind of speculation, in the Ronald Reagan-Evil Empire era, was all-too-real for some. It boasts an all-star cast including Rock Hudson as the American President, Brian Keith as the Soviet Leader, David Soul as “an American colonel trying to hold off a war,” and Cathy Lee Crosby as “an intelligence officer craving one last moment of love,” among others. It runs both tonight and Sunday night, and since Judith Crist calls it a “dandy,” I’m inclined to give it a pass instead of saying something even snarkier. I’m more inclined to like Channel 11’s Saturday late-night (2:40 a.m.) movie, The Underground Man, with Peter Graves as a private detective looking for his old flame’s kidnapped son.

Sunday night at 6:00 p.m., NBC Reports presents a profile of a man very much in the American bloodstream – Lee Iacocca. The man who saved Chrysler (among other things) and became a ubiquitous television pitchman and best-selling author visits with Tom Brokaw, who finds him “an emotional, sensitive and religious family man, who talks on the phone with his grown daughters at least twice a day.” There’s no greater American success story in the early 80s than Iacocca, whose name is occasionally bandied about as a possible presidential candidate, though the idea of a successful businessman with no political experience running for office seems ridiculous…

On Monday (8:00 p.m.), NBC (again) airs a live special from Hawaii as David Hasselhoff and Jayne Kennedy invite viewers to vote for The Most Beautiful Girl in the World, chosen from “21 international beauties.” Entertainment comes from Air Supply and Engelbert Humperdinck. Opposite that, it’s the ABC Monday Night Movie “When She Says No,” examining the case of a woman who claims she was raped, and the men who insist she led them on. Crist calls it a “cogent and sensitive” movie, free from the leering exploitation that one often sees in such fare.

The Hallmark Hall of Fame has made its complete transition to movie format, but it hasn’t yet descended to saccharine Oprah-style greeting cards expanded to feature length. On CBS Tuesday it presents a rip-roaring adventure, Robert Louis Stevenson’s "The Master of Ballantrae," starring Michael York and Richard Thomas, and Crist views it as “first-class romantic adventure despite the final sugarcoat” which gives it a happy ending

Live From the Met headlines the PBS schedule on Wednesday, with the remarkable Plácido Domingo headlining an all-star cast in Verdi’s masterpiece Don Carlo. I’m not shy in using the word “remarkable” to describe Domingo, still wowing audiences over 30 years later; and it’s not a case of him having been a young unknown back then, either – he was already a star, and has remained one since.

This Thursday we get a look at one of CBS’s most successful programming nights of the 80s, starting at 7:00 p.m. with Magnum, P.I. – it’s the episode where he gets trapped in a bank vault with Carol Burnett. At 8:00 p.m. the detective-brothers Simon & Simon look after a flashdancer (a trendy thing back then) who’s a target for an assassin. Rounding off the evening, more suds with Knotts Landing, the venerable nighttime soap. Now, I ought to note that WCCO, the Twin Cities CBS affiliate, isn’t showing Simon at all this week (good decision) due to a University of Minnesota basketball game, and they’re tape-delaying Knotts to 10:30 p.m., after the late local news, so if basketball isn’t your thing, you might instead watch Hill Street Blues (9:00 p.m., NBC), the most celebrated drama of the time, which tonight deals with the death of the much-loved actor Michael Conrad, who played Sgt. Esterhaus. (“Let’s be careful out there.”) Or you could just forget it all and watch Grease on ABC.

Friday night has a cast of familiar programs, unless you’re last-place NBC – The Dukes of Hazzard, Dallas, and Falcon Crest on CBS, Benson, Webster, and Matt Houston on ABC, even Washington Week in Review and Wall $treet Week on PBS. The best NBC can do is the underrated Ninja action series The Master, starring Lee Van Cleef, master of many a movie on MST3K.

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Let’s get back now to Cybill Shepherd, if we must. In our last episode, we mentioned that she was one of the stars of NBC’s The Yellow Rose, in which she plays a young widow who, with her two stepsons (not much older than she is) tries to hold on to the family ranch against, one supposes, a recurring cast of unsavory interlopers. Former co-executive producer Michael Zinberg says Shepherd was chosen for the role because they wanted “a very hot, attractive woman, and she was always our first choice.” Oh, and she’s Southern too, so that helps.

Along the way we learn about her start in The Last Picture Show, her romance with the movie’s director Peter Bogdanovich, who viewed her in the same category as Ava Gardner and Lana Turner. Although her acting ability is often overshadowed by her looks, she’s learned the craft over the last few years, taking acting classes from Stella Adler; says John Wilder “We’ve put some real demands on her dramatically in the first couple of weeks, and she’s really come through.”

She’s also learned more about herself, that marriage is “a male invention to control women,” but that she still loves it; that childbirth is the most incredible experience, one that men envy because “women create life”; that even through adversity “we can’t be afraid of making mistakes.” The Yellow Rose only lasts for 22 episodes, but it leads next to Moonlighting, which can hardly be said to be a mistake.

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Finally, a quick note that Thicke of the Night, Alan Thicke’s late-night talk show, has been picked up for another 26 weeks, despite poor ratings that caused about a quarter of the stations showing it to bow out. It will go on with more than 60 still onboard. It’s a good thing we came to know him for more than this, isn’t it? RIP.

January 27, 2017

Mary Tyler Moore, R.I.P.

It was a strange experience, being in Minneapolis as I was on Wednesday when it was announced that Mary Tyler Moore had died. The reaction nationally was swift - she was one of the great figures in television history, from her time as the invisible "Sam" in Richard Diamond to her winning portrayal of Laura Petrie in The Dick Van Dyke Show to her eponymous sitcom, a trailblazer in casting as the show's lead an unmarried young woman striking out on her own in the frigid flyover city of Minneapolis. It was new, contemporary, groundbreaking. Her place had already been assured by the time she turned to movies and won an Oscar nomination for Ordinary People. A television legend was gone, and the nation responded.

In Minneapolis, however, it was not only Mary Tyler Moore who had died, it was Mary Richards. The coverage was personal; "Our Mary" was gone. It didn't matter that, aside from the famous opening credits and a few exterior establishing shots, the show had nothing to do with Minneapolis. What was true was that, in a television world dominated by New York and Los Angeles, The Mary Tyler Moore Show had put our city on the map. We've always had something of the need for recognition from others, their approval making us somehow legitimate. As Lileks put it yesterday, "It’s hard to understate how Minneapolitans felt . . . validated by that show. That was us. Yes yes no, it wasn’t, of course, but we knew where she was walking and running and shopping and smiling."

Yes. That's it, exactly.

You look at the "Open Tonight" in red neon to the right of Mary, between her head and beret: that's Dayton's downtown department store, before it became Marshall Field's, before it became Macy's, before it became closed. The places she touched became local landmarks: the building in which she worked (which, if memory serves, was actually home to an insurance company, but it seemed like a television station should have been operating out of there), the house in which she lived (which is now up for sale), the table at which she ate (in Basils; the plaque marking the "Mary Tyler Moore table," at which I've actually eaten, is still there). For years, no trip to Minneapolis would be complete without visiting them.

I remember my own feeling in 1970 when I read that her new show was going to be set in Minneapolis. There was a real excitement about it - imagine a big star like that picking us for her show! It didn't matter that it was probably the creators who'd made that decision; the point is that she made us feel good about ourselves.

A few years ago, when TV Land was still something of a retro network, they erected a statue of Moore on the Nicollet Mall, by the corner at which the hat toss had occurred. (As you can see by the photo at left, you have to strike that pose if you're visiting downtown. You just have to.) MTM came to Minneapolis for the unveiling, and then threw out the first pitch at a Twins game at the Metrodome. At the time, I thought there was something kind of cheesy about it all; Philadelphia had a statue of Benjamin Franklin, Boston a statue of Paul Revere, Minneapolis - Mary Tyler Moore. In retrospect, that was shortsighted of me. Those statues of Franklin and Revere, and countless others like them around the country, portray the contributions by those cities to American history. And so it is in Minneapolis as well; in some small way, we played some small part in a television show that remains a part of the American cultural fabric.* The statue's in a temporary location right now, while the Mall is undergoing renovation; throughout the day, people stopped by to pay tribute, laying flowers at the statue's base, having their picture taken tossing their hats in the air. It wasn't a flippant gesture by these people; I suspect she would have enjoyed it.

*Who, for example, can forget the funeral of Chuckles the Clown? 

Outside of her hometown and the neighborhood in which she lived, it's probably no exaggeration to say that nowhere was her death felt as keenly as it was in Minneapolis, a city that could only claim her indirectly. And why not? After all, the lyric of the series' famous theme song, a lyric quoted on the plaque at the base of the statue, asks "Who could turn the world on with her smile?" The world, yes, and also one city that never forgot what she meant to us, what she did for us.

January 25, 2017

TV Jibe: A picture so lifelike...

I had a Philips-Magnavox television once. I don't remember the picture being that realistic, though.

January 23, 2017

What's on TV? Sunday, January 24, 1971

Weekend program listings are often the most enjoyable, because unlike most weekdays, there's less network programming scheduled during on Saturday and Sunday mornings and afternoons (unless it's football season). True, we have football, hockey, and basketball on tap today, but it's nothing like the saturation coverage that can exist nowadays. There's even some room for afternoon movies! The listings are from the Philadelphia metropolitan area.

January 21, 2017

This week in TV Guide: January 23, 1971

Here's another timeless headline for you: why television turns off college students – and vice versa. Today, we’d ascribe this phenomenon to cord-cutting, streaming, game-playing. In a way, we’ve now come full-circle, to the first generations to not really live with television since – well, since the before World War II, I suppose. The Boomers would all know it well, would grow up and grow old with it, and so you’d really have to look at the generation that died out in the ‘50s, perhaps the early ‘60s, to find people who didn’t really know TV.

Until now.

This week we have part one of a five-part series by Neil Hickey, whom TV Guide often turned to when they wanted a serious article, and since we’ve only got part one here, his analysis is going to necessarily be incomplete. But that hasn’t stopped us before, so let’s see what the problem is.

It isn’t necessarily what you think it might be. In 1971, one of “the most dangerous problems” facing America, according to pollsters, is campus unrest.* With the nation still in the throws of Vietnam, and student protests frequently ending in violence, is it any wonder that Americans harbor concerns about college campuses? “The lines of communication between students and the adult population are almost nonexistent,” writes Hickey, and the divide has caused consternation for groups ranging from “most parents, to law enforcers, to many in the blue-collar class who never had the opportunity of attending college, and to large segments of the press, including television.”

*The previous spring it had been rated the most dangerous problem, ahead of Vietnam, crime, inflation, racial unrest, the environment, and everything else.

Indeed, in many ways this divide resembles the one existing today, although we use different terms to describe it: “undesirables vs. social justice warriors” might be one way of doing so. In fact, with one exception the battle lines, if you want to call them that, are arrayed on almost exactly the same fault line. That one exception, I think, is television. Back in 1971, TV newsmen saw the protesting students as “snobbish elitists with a ‘line of goods’ they’re avid to force upon the American public by whatever terrorist means they can muster.” Personally, I happen to think that’s the case today as well, but I don’t think the media would describe it that way. Today’s portrayal of student activism is often sympathetic if not favorable, in the ”conscience of the nation” vein, and the more sordid incidents are given nuanced treatment, if not ignored altogether. I’d be happy to entertain anyone with an opposite opinion, but to this writer it appears to be the most dramatic difference between then and now, a cultural sea change to be sure.

For their part, Hickey notes, students view television with deep suspicion, unresponsive and obtuse. TV represents the Establishment, the “pig press” as they call it, “a financial dependent of the materialistic ‘consumer culture’: a cog in the great machine of interlocking power blocs” which has resulted in war, racism, environmental decay, and polarization – all while lulling viewers to sleep with its soothing, meaningless drivel. Again, it’s difficult to know how this contrasts with student feelings today, or if students think much about television at all.

Which brings us back to the original premise of the article. Many students see TV as a hopeless medium, too entrenched with the establishment. Any coverage they give of the issues important to the students is likely to be “ingenious, superficial and ultimately distorted” if not ignored altogether, and that the students themselves are misrepresented. Students with a more moderate bent aren’t ready to write off the medium yet; they’d like to use it as “a forum to improve understanding between themselves, the administration, and the people of the community in which the university exists.” The minute something happens on campus, they claim, television sensationalizes it without trying to find out the root cause, the motivation behind student acts. Their problem is lack of access, and they know it’s only when things get violent that TV gets interested.

Riots at the University of Wisconsin
The reaction from the media is varied. Vic Burton, news director of KRON in San Francisco, acknowledges the station could do a better job with its coverage, but complains he doesn’t have the resources. “We need people to cover campus militancy before it erupts in violence,” he says. “Did I say we could use 30 [reporters]? Hell, we could use a hundred.” On the other hand, Reuven Frank, head of NBC news, is far less sympathetic. “These students think of themselves as an elite,” he says. “So why don’t they just talk to each other? Why do they want to press their opinions on people they detest? I don’t owe them anything. I refuse to believe they are of any significance.” Brave words -unthinkable, in today’s day and age. Were a network news head to say such things today, he’d be branded with several different -phobes, compared to Trump and Hitler (likely in that order), and forced out of his position by nervous executives and sponsors concerned about selling their products to that demographic.

Yet another school of thought is that the students aren’t media-savvy, that they haven’t learned how to use the power of television in the same way that, say, civil rights groups have. “Students think they’re well organized,” according to Thomas Dorsey, news director at WBNS in Columbus, “but they’re not.” His station’s refusal to be dragged into the unrest at Ohio State was met with opposition from many of Dorsey’s own reporters, who accused him of “a form of news distortion.” Nevertheless, “a virtual news blackout from Ohio State was in effect while the demonstrations grew in intensity.” When the inevitable riots did occur, says Dorsey, it was “without any help from us whatsoever.”

Some experts think that students need to “meld their efforts with the needs of television,” while others feel the students have given up on any hope of changing the media. As student demands escalate beyond issues of campus reform to merge with the general political unrest of the times, as the students get angrier and angrier with everything including, it would seem, life itself. But with next year’s presidential election set to be the first in which 18 year-olds can cast votes, it becomes more important, in Hickey’s words, “that what America thinks is going on in the universities coincides with what is really going on there.”

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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’s show is a dog. I mean that – an actual dog. It can only be Lassie, of course, which has now been on for 17 years – “through thick and thin, through war and peace, through fire and flood, through good guys and bad guys, through the Golden Age and the Vast Wasteland, through Milton Berle and Marshall McLuhan, through great critics like ourself and terrible critics like other people, through good plots, bad plots and no plots at all,” as Cleveland Amory puts it.

Now, we know about Amory’s career as an animal-rights activist, so we shouldn’t be surprised that his ultimate assessment of the series is a positive one. He loves the humanity and warmth the good-naturedness of it “in a cold and cynical world where on the one hand articles are written that we must get rid of all of the dogs in the cities and, on the other, where the ‘use’ of dogs is discussed only in terms of research laboratories.” Even so, there are some things that are just too much – too much fighting, for example. And throughout the history of the show, the kid actors have been “awful,” often because of the shortcomings of the scripts they’re given to work with. He cites an early season episode about a child who was a mute, due to a psychological block. At least that’s one theory. “It was our theory that the kid could talk fine – he just wouldn’t talk. He’d seen the script.”

That rundown that Amory gives at the start of the review – that’s pretty much the entire history of television, and although Lassie might not have been there at the very beginning, it wasn’t far off. And for a show to have continued for that length of time, with an audience base consisting of kids from 2 to 13, along with parents who’d watched the show when they were that age, well, that’s pretty good. I don’t know that there’s room for a series like Lassie today; it often ran late on Sunday afternoons, time that’s now taken by sports or infomercials, and that’s too bad. As Amory says, “somehow it’s reassuring to have Lassie on television every Sunday night year after year standing guard – not only over all dogs and all animals but also, and just as vigilantly over our better selves.”

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In sports, it’s an all-star weekend, starting on Saturday afternoon with CBS’s coverage of the American Basketball Association All-Star Game, from Greensboro, NC. Don Criqui and Pat Summerall are on hand to call the action, and while not all of the names would be familiar to casual fans, I think everyone of the time would agree that the New York Nets’ Rick Barry belongs there.

On Sunday, the same network presents what they call the “NFL All-Star Game.” In this first year of the NFL-AFL merger, it’s the inaugural matchup of stars from the NFC and AFC. In the past, when this was an NFL-only contest, it was called the Pro Bowl, just as it is today. Perhaps they thought a new name might be in order considering the new format, and this was just a tryout to see if the name would stick. Or it’s possible that TV Guide was just lazy with its listings; after all, other sports called it an All-Star game, why not football? The venue isn’t even listed, although it had been the same since the game started – the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Maybe TVG thought we already knew that as well. And that it was called the Pro Bowl.

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It appears that CBS’s gamble with All in the Family has paid off. The “bias-bating” show is being applauded by views as “a breath of fresh air,” with more than 60% of viewer feedback being positive, although some have complained about what the ethnic slurs. The critics have been positive as well.

ABC’s announced that Joseph Campanella, Arthur Hill, and Tim Matheson will be starring in their upcoming Movie of the Week “Owen Marshall, Counselor-at-Law.” No hint that the movie’s serving as a pilot, but Hill and the series will return in September for the start of a three-season run.

Pearl Bailey’s new variety series begins at 8:30 (ET) Saturday on ABC. I’d actually forgotten that Pearlie Mae had her own show at one time, and I can’t even blame it on having lived in The World’s Worst Town™ (where we surely wouldn’t have gotten it) because we hadn’t moved there yet. Pearl pulls out all the stops for that first show, with Louis Armstrong, Andy Williams, and Bing Crosby as the guests; unfortunately, the show still only lasts 15 weeks. Here’s a sample:

Even though we don’t have The Hollywood Palace for comparison, that’s no reason why we can’t take a look at Ed Sullivan’s lineup for the week. Ed’s guests on Sunday night are Godfrey Cambridge, Nancy Ames, Sergio Franchi, B.J. Thomas, dancer-choreographer Peter Gennaro, jazz musician Fahsaan Roland Kirk, and the Texas A&M Singing Cadets. (Doing “The Ballad of the Green Berets”?) Not a bad show, but certainly beatable – I’d take Pearl Bailey over Ed this week, for example.

And Lucille Ball’s series is set to return on CBS next season – she’ll be joining Ed in logging 20 seasons with the network. Can you imagine? When I look at today’s series, I’m often stunned by how long some of them have run – Grey’s Anatomy, for example, or NCIS. It’s not the quality of the shows that I’m complaining about, at least at this time – it’s that with the smaller number of episodes produced each year, there just seems to be less gravitas to their longevity. That, perhaps, and the endless times you can see these shows rerun on multiple cable networks, which I’m sure is what TV reformers had in mind.

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A couple of weeks ago I promised you Flip Wilson, and now you’re going to get Flip Wilson. He’s the hot new thing on television, and that fact is “one of the miracles of this current TV season.” It isn’t just that he’s black, although that can’t be overlooked: no black performer has ever had a successful comedy-variety series, and that includes notables from Nat King Cole to Leslie Uggams. (With Pearl Bailey to follow.) It’s a touchy subject in 1971, but no less true. Also true is that the comedy-variety format is itself the most volatile - 16 of them currently grace the airwaves, with all but Hee Haw competing for the same guest stars. It's a battleground that's claimed its share of big names, including Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, and Jerry Lewis, to name just a few.

In fact, it's one of the reasons why NBC was reluctant to throw Wilson into the variety show maelstrom. "We were determined to give him his own show this year," NBC's West Coast programming chief Herb Schlosser tells writer Bill Davidson, "but we were afraid of tackling that terrible variety-hour competition with him." They worked out a half-hour sitcom for him, one that might have worked. But "[w]e looked at that and then we looked at Flip and we said, 'The hell with it. Let's go for broke with the variety show.' It was a last-minute decision and we haven't regretted it."

What Flip Wilson brings to the variety show game is a charm and good cheer that, according to the show's producer Bob Henry, makes him attractive to audiences of both races. "Black people love Flip because he revives their old favorite Negro comedy routines from the Apollo Theater, without Uncle Tomming it. White people love Flip because even though his early life was bittersweet, he seems to be able to tone town the bitter and retain the sweet - unlike many other black comedians." No less than Bill Cosby, visiting the set, says that "Old Flip here might just be the one cat to put across black feelings through comedy."

That "bittersweet" early life is both blessing and curse to Wilson, though. His storytelling style and characters (Geraldine, Reverend Leroy) all come from that hardscrabble life, but so does the loneliness that often plagues him, "the moods and the faraway trances afflict him in the midst of his triumphs," causing him to try remedies such as biorhythm and hypnotism, and take "long, lonely journeys out into the desert in his car 'to find the funny.'"

Flip Wilson's series runs for four seasons, winning him two Emmys and a Golden Globe, and next year he'll appear on the cover of Time as "TV's first black superstar." After his show ends, he's a regular on other television shows and in movies, but it's probably safe to say his career never again reached the heights that he scaled in the early '70s. No matter; the historicity of his accomplishments, not to mention the enjoyment they brought people, is enough.

◊ ◊ ◊

And finally, an inside look at the workings of this blog provides an ironic coincidence.

It's the Sunday evening before the Saturday on which this piece appears. NBC's Bell System Family Theatre presents an hour of highlights of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, hosted by Jack Cassidy. This morning, the news carried the story that after 146 years, the circus is closing down, victim of a changing culture - video games, short attention spans, fewer kids' TV show on which they can run commercials - and increasing political pressure from PETA and the Humane Society. Without having read the news this morning, I doubt I would even have noticed the listing.

I suppose it's yet more evidence of how things inevitably change over time, but regardless of how you might feel about it, there's something bittersweet about the whole thing. Television shows of the '50s and '60s, warm family comedies and variety shows, would always have at least one episode in which a young boy would be running away to join the circus. It was a synonym for excitement and adventure, the thrill of the exotic, of thinking about what you wanted to do when you grew up. Most of all, it had to do with the power of dreams, of lying in bed at night and thinking of that big, exotic, wide, wonderful, unknown world out there.

What do kids dream of nowadays? What captures their imagination, where would they go if they wanted to see the world? Do they even want to grow up anymore? It doesn't seem to be such a big deal.

The world of the circus, the world of hopes and dreams. As my wife said, "Catch it while you can."


January 20, 2017

Around the dial

Apropos for today, the Broadcasting Archives at the University of Maryland takes a look at the history of broadcast coverage of the Presidential Inauguration. No matter your political bent, it is always a monumental moment in American history.

Once Upon a Screen takes it in a different direction, with a photo gallery showing various movie portrayals of both real and fictional presidents. How many of these movies do you recognize?

I really enjoy these Hitchcock posts that Jack does on bare-bones e-zine, both for the episodes I've seen, and the ones I haven't. This week's falls into the later category, the 1963 story "The Star Juror," based on the French novel by Francis Didelot. As Jack suggests, we may be better off with the book than the episode...

A very interesting question posed by David at Comfort TV: which television series changed the most in the transition from black-and-white to color? There are some shows where it really doesn't much matter, but I think he's spot on that The Fugitive, for example, lost something when it made the switch.

There's a good review of the fourth season Adam-12 episode "Back-Up 1L-20" over at Lincoln X-ray Ida. Is it just my imagination, or did William Boyett play a policeman in just about everything in which he appeared?

At The Lucky Strike Papers, Andrew Fielding has a nice acknowledgement of the late Dick Gautier, who died last week at age 85. Did you know that he played Hymie the KAOS robot on only six episodes of Get Smart? And yet he'll be remembered for it forever.

Television Obscurities reports that the audio from the Super Bowl I post-game show has been recovered. You know, if we keep going at this rate, one of these days we just might be able to find and release the whole game.

Finally, not a link but a question, from loyal reader George Everson, who wonders if there's anyone out there who remembers a show from his youth:

I grew up in Youngstown, Ohio and we regularly got WTAE channel 4.  One of the shows I watched was the early morning showing of the Three Stooges at 7:30 a.m.  However, I remember that in addition to the Three Stooges there would also be circus short films shown in addition to the Three Stooges shorts.  I have been trying for years – without success to track these films down.  I would like to know first of all who made them and second of all if they are still in existence.  I talked last week with the individual in charge of the station’s archives and he assured me that the station’s morning program at that time was all live.  

If you can help George out, just send me an email or answer in the comments section! TV  

January 18, 2017

Additions to the Top Ten: Mystery Science Theater 3000

After I did my Top Ten list a few years ago, I'd occasionally write about a series or two that deserved to be in that elite company, even though it would push the number of shows beyond 10. My rationale for this, being a native Midwesterner, is that if the Big Ten (aka B1G) can have 14 teams, then my Top Ten should be allowed to have just about any number I want. It may not be a good reason, but it's a reason.

And so there's no reason for MST3K not to be included in that list. After all, I've already written the piece that tells you why, so why not make it official? If there's any doubt that the show belongs, check out the following clip, which combines two of my favorite things: Ingemar Bergman movies and Sven and Ole jokes. Very few television series in the history of the medium, no matter how intelligent and sophisticated they imagine themselves to be (SCTV being the one exception that comes to mind), could have come up with this.

Oh, and friends? This piece was written a week or so ago, as I keep trying to get as far out ahead of this move as possible. Most of our time has been spent looking for a job and packing things up, in that order, so my profound apologies in advance that I haven't been responding to comments lately. I am reading them, mostly from a location where I can't get in to reply, but one of these days you're going to be flooded with my comments. Until then, thanks for putting up with me! 😺

January 16, 2017

What's on TV? Thursday, January 18, 1979

The Mountain time zone is set up with a similar structure to the Central, with prime time running from 7 to 10 p.m., which makes us feel right at home. The place is the Phoenix metropolitan area, so have at it!

January 14, 2017

This week in TV Guide: January 13, 1979

What’s wrong with television news? It’s a question that could be asked today, as is the case with so many of the topics we run across in past TV Guides, which probably says more about inertia than anything else. Be that as it may, this week we get a unique opportunity to go in-depth on the question, along with many others, in a roundtable discussion comprised of the three broadcast news chiefs: Roone Arledge of ABC, Richard Salant of CBS, and NBC’s Les Crystal. It’s a wide-ranging discussion, taking up the entire front section of the issue, and while we won’t look at everything they brought up, we will focus on a few points that seem more prescient to today.

The discussion begins with a topic that’s been at the forefront of conversation – the influence of what we now refer to as the “mainstream media,” particularly television, about their ability to shape and advance the political agenda, and how the election of Donald Trump spells a diminution, if not complete end, to said influence. In comments that are either candid, defensive, or prophetic, all three presidents deny that their medium is that influential. Salant, for example, sees television news as “instruments of reinforcement rather than conversation,” and Crystal points out that “there are a whole lot of forces in this country” that shape and influence public opinion.” He adds, however, that “[o]ur primary emphasis should be, has to be, on what people ought to know, rather than what people want to hear.” I know what he means, but it’s that “eat your vegetables” attitude, I think, the idea that the networks know best, that gets under people’s skin so much. All three agree, however, that whether or not they actually have such power, it’s important for them to proceed on the assumption that they do. Says Arledge, “we spend more time, and I am sure they do too, checking, double-checking, assuring accuracy, because of this responsibility.”

What about the fact that 64% of Americans get the majority of their news from television? Again, Crystal challenges the premise, warning that “[w]e shouldn’t make assumptions” about the influence of television news. “I think people are still influenced more by the world in which they directly live – the community they live in, the neighborhood they live in, where they work – than any other single factor.” It was, of course, a much different world back then, one that suggests an actual, rather than virtual, community. In pointing out how multiple communities, however they’re constructed, inevitably diminishes the influence of television news, however, Crystal again seems to foresee today’s world. Substitute “social media” for neighborhoods and workplaces, and television does indeed become less important.

Arledge makes an interesting observation in suggesting that more people get their news from local television than national, and that a viewer who “depends upon a local television station as his sole source of news is probably in trouble to start with.” In fact, depending on any single source, or cluster of like-minded sources, as their sole outlet for information could be said to be in the same sort of trouble. Shrewdly, Arledge points out that television’s power doesn’t really come from the judgments these three men and their news departments make – it comes from the power of the medium itself, its ability to reach into every home, and, says Arledge, “there is no question that it’s there.”

The question of in-depth news coverage comes up, specifically the long-held dream, one we’ve seen in these pages before, of an hour-long network newscast. Arledge strongly suggests that ABC was on the verge of implementing such a newscast (perhaps this is what World News Tonight was supposed to be like), but that it was scuttled – “sabotage” is the world Arledge originally uses, although he later walks it back – by NBCs announcement that “under no circumstances” would NBC go to an hour-long program. “That gave all the ammunition that was needed to our affiliates” to doom the plan. Salant doesn’t deny that happened – “I wasn’t involved” in the decision – but he sees something else on the horizon, something that will not only impact the hour-long news, it will also address what all three see as a weakness, the inability to do in-depth, long-form stories.  If satellite television (direct to the home!) finally becomes a reality, with the fragmentation and specialization that inevitably accompanies it, “I expect there will be an all-news channel.”

There’s some discussion around the role of the anchor, with TV Guide questioning whether or not it’s wise to spend $500,000 on someone who reads the news; Crystal says the anchor does more than just read headlines, and the real question is whether or not the large salary interferes with the job he does. Of course, we can all see the problem NBC faced dealing with Brian Williams’ fabrications; in this case it was the anchor himself who was the distraction, but would he have done what he did had he not been paid his fabulous salary? Did it in some way pressure him to exaggerate things, to inflate his importance, in order to justify himself? Would have been a good question.

Then, there’s the matter of ratings, and here all agree that news programs have no business being slaves to ratings. Salant doesn’t think they affect news judgments, although he concedes that if news documentaries got higher ratings, they’d be seen in prime time more often. On the other hand, he acknowledges that in the modern world, it’s impossible to ask the network to be oblivious to ratings – “[t]hey must look at the fact that they’re in a business. And that has to color their decisions.” Not on the content of the news, but on its availability, or frequency.

In all, it’s an interesting discussion, although a bit of a slog to make it all the way through. There’s a little too much self-congratulatory sentiment, a bit too much bipartisanship among all three. It does, however, indicate that the networks are aware of the challenges they face, and if they didn’t predict the future with precision, at least they were aware of the shadows being cast. Personally, I don’t miss the days when anchors were much more forthcoming with their commentary and much less forthcoming admitting that’s what it was, when LBJ complained that losing Cronkite meant losing the War, when Dan Rather picked fights with President Nixon at press conferences.

That is, until I compare it to the news today. In that case, I miss it very much indeed.

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It's that time of the year, as I mentioned a week or two ago, the time for television's second season: when the hopes and prayers behind so many new series come crashing down like the Hindenburg, their places to be taken by a new set of shows, with their own hopes and prayers.

Hopes are certainly riding high for Delta House (7:30 p.m. Tuesday, ABC), based on the smash hit National Lampoon's Animal House. Despite the presence of several actors and actresses from the original movie (including John Vernon, Stephen Furst, Bruce McGill), the failure of Delta House - despite good ratings*, it only ran for 13 episodes and was off the air by April - shows not only how difficult it is to catch lightning in a bottle twice, it also demonstrates how dangerous it is doing derivative television. Seeing ABC introduce a series not only Obased on a hit movie but featuring some of the original cast, NBC and CBS both rush their own Animal House clones to the air: Brothers and Sisters and Co-Ed Fever, respectively. Brothers and Sisters only runs 12 episodes, which is still better than Co-Ed Fever, the rare series to be cancelled after a single showing. Also on Tuesday, NBC says farewell to Grandpa Goes to Washington (7:00 p.m.), the Jack Albertson sitcom that lasts but eleven episodes before the network pulls the plug. It's replacement in February will be Cliffhangers - another short-run series.

*There were constant disputes between the producers, one of which was Ivan Reitman, and the network; obviously, the ratings weren't good enough for ABC to consider it worth the price.

Wednesday brings us the first episode of the much-loved Edward the King, the epic,13-episode story of Britain's King Edward VII, the kind of series which Americans are only accustomed to seeing on Masterpiece Theatre. Edward the King, a syndicated series sponsored by Mobil. presents an interesting challenge for the networks; while many of the stations picking it up are independents, the series also makes its way to a number of affiliates who are only too willing to pre-empt their own low-rated network programs in favor of a miniseries that's both classy and popular.

On Thursday, it's the final episode of David Cassidy - Man Undercover, on at 9:00 on NBC. In was Cassidy's first starring series since The Partridge Family, and his attempt to distance himself from those memories and be taken seriously as a dramatic actor. You might be surprised, considering the title, to find out that in the series Cassidy plays an undercover cop - who knew? Cassidy Undercover was itself a replacement for W.E.B., a Network takeoff; this was its tenth and final episode, to be replaced by, in order, Mrs. Columbo, Presenting Susan Anton, and NBC Novels for Television. The timeslot, ruled by Barnaby Jones on CBS, is a tough one for NBC.

Friday brings us notice of an impending change for NBC, as they're about to take one of their few successful series - The Rockford Files - and move it to Saturday nights. Rockford is replaced by a couple of series, one of which is Turnabout, a seven-episode sitcom about a husband and wife who suddenly find themselves inhabiting each other's bodies. The other series is one of those that has since become a byword for television disaster, in the same way that Scrooge has become a descriptor for a miser. It's Hello, Larry, one of McLean Stevenson's many failed series, which actually made it through two seasons and 35 episodes. Either way, Hello, Larry is soon replaced in this timeslot by the aforementioned Brothers and Sisters, and before long they're all out, and Rockford is back where it belongs.

◊ ◊ ◊

Also on Thursday night at 7:00 p.m., NBC presents The Challenge of the Superheroes, which has to be either the most outrageous or the dumbest idea of this young year. It's billed as a "live action movie," which reinforces the idea that the public might have been expecting an animated adventure - either that, or some kind of "Battle of the Network Stars" showdown between the Good Guys (Adam West, Burt Ward, and a "roster of superheroes") vs. the Bad Guys (Frank Gorshin, Charlie Callas, and an "alliance of arch-villains"). I don't know how well the special does, and I don't really care - what amazes me is how far ahead of their time the producers were. They may not have realized it, but they were - they absolutely saw the superhero craze coming, twenty years before the fact. If you were to put something like this on the big screen today, schlock or not, it would make millions, millions!  If only they'd had a time machine...

Then again, the outrageous program of the week could bethe world premiere on the ABC Sunday Night Movie of “The Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders,” starring Jane Seymour as a reporter going undercover to find out what goes on behind closed doors, or something like that.* It’s difficult to know how to react to something like this – I know how much the cheerleaders have done to burnish the reputation of America’s Team, not to mention the entire city of Dallas, over the years, and there’s no doubting the glamour that surrounds them even to this day. But a movie? Whether or not you like it, the football team is, after all, still the centerpiece of the organization. Making a movie about the cheerleaders is a bit like, I don’t know, doing a Washington DC insider movie that ignores the politicians altogether and focuses solely on what would have been called the secretarial pool. And they’d have done it too, I suppose, if the secretaries dressed like Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. It still sounds like a two-hour commercial for the team, I think.

*It has to be something like that – after all, it’s billed as “An Explosive New Movie!”

◊ ◊ ◊

Not much on the sports front this week; ABC's Pro Bowlers Tour visits Las Vegas on Saturday for one of its stalwart tournaments, the Showboat Invitational - with a total purse of $125,000! The pro golfers have it a bet better this weekend, as NBC travels to Palm Springs for the final two rounds of the year's first tournament, the Bob Hope Desert Classic, with a first prize of $54,000. In case you're curious, Emmett Shutes wins the Showboat, while John Mahaffey comes out on top in the golf.

The NBA tips off its TV schedule on CBS Sunday afternoon, with the New York Knicks taking on the Kansas City Kings, who've since moved to Sacramento. The Harlem Globetrotters make their annual appearance on ABC's Wide World of Sports Sunday as well, and just before that Wilfred Benitez retains his world welterweight boxing championship with a split-decision victory over Carlos Palomino on International Boxing Champions. Madison Square Garden, which has hosted a title fight or two over the years, is the scene for the season-ending Colgate-Palmolive Masters tennis championship, with the execrable John McEnroe taking the crown. Oh, and there's plenty of college basketball on both Saturday and Sunday.

◊ ◊ ◊


Diana Canova is in the spotlight this week; the daughter of comedienne Judy Canova is proving her acting chops as one of the stars of ABC’s outrageous Soap. She’s too established to call her a starlet, though.

ABC’s getting ready for its highly-anticipated Roots II sequel next month, but don’t look for any favors from the competition – while the unheralded original went up against mostly regular programming, the sequel’s going to encounter everything from Bob Hope to the two-part telecast of “Gone with the Wind” to various other movies and miniseries. I think Roots II won the day(s) anyway, though I could be mistaken.

NBC tries to get a jump on CBS’s “Gone with the Wind” broadcast by debuting “Charlestown” on Sunday night. Judith Crist compares the movie to “Carol Burnett skits or Saturday Night Life takeoffs,” and notes that Delta Burke, one of the cast’s “unknowns,” “thinks she’s Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett. No way.” She also doesn’t think much of the network’s Tuesday night offering, in which Sonny Bono solves a “Murder in Music City,” calling it a “second-rate whodunit,” although Bono’s easy charm makes it an easy movie to relax to.

Dean Martin roasts Joe Namath on Friday night (9:00 p.m., NBC). As much as I like Deano, it’s hard to get worked up over the roasts, which really are kind of a poor substitute for his old variety show. How many times can you cut away to Orson Welles laughing at the funniest thing he’s ever heard, especially when it probably comes from an entirely different context?

Rob Brown plays Captain America in a CBS movie on Friday as well. Wasn’t he in that Superhero Challenge already? Or did he just feel left out?

Finally, a week or two ago Sports Illustrated did a retrospective on Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes and the ignominious end to his career after slugging a Clemson player on the sidelines during the waning seconds of the Gator Bowl. This week, ABC is forced to defend announcers Keith Jackson and Ara Parseghian after the duo failed to mention the incident during TV coverage of the game. The network acknowledges they mishandled the coverage, not providing the announcers (who didn’t see it live) with the proper replays, and failing to follow it up until the next day. I remember watching the game live, seeing Hayes throw the punch and being stunned by what had just happened – or had it happened? The announcers didn’t mention it, after all, and if TV doesn’t pick up on it, does it really matter? Talk about the influence of television – now that’s a question the network news presidents would be hard-pressed to answer. TV  

January 13, 2017

Around the dial

What do the other blogs have to say this week? Here’s a sampling:

A couple of times in tomorrow’s TV Guide piece, I use the word “prophetic” to describe something that someone says. Talk about prophesy – the following has only a tangential connection to television, but it’s the kind of tidbit that I love running across myself, so I can’t resist sharing. At Lileks’ site, a commenter, apropos of nothing, shares this snippet of a conversation from a 1958 episode of Trackdown entitled “The End of the World.” It features a huckster named – well, read the rest:
Trump: I am the only one. Trust me. I can build a wall around your homes that nothing will penetrate.

Townperson: What do we do? How do we save ourselves?

Trump: You ask how do you build that wall. You ask, and I'm here to tell you.

I don’t care what your political persuasion is, you have to appreciate that. It’s like, “who writes this stuff?”

At The Horn Section, Hal’s back with a review of the 1967 Hondo episode “Hondo and the War Hawks,”  an entertaining outing according to Hal. Meanwhile, Lincoln X-ray Ida looks at the fourth season Adam-12 episode “Substation,” in which Malloy and Reed confront a hostage situation at LAX.

If The Twilight Zone is more your style, The Twilight Zone Vortex offers a genre guide to the series’ episodes. Want to know which episodes deal with “Death and the Afterlife” or “Dolls, Dummies and Effigies”? This is the place.

Cult TV Blog’s review of the Brit series Spyder’s Web prompts reflections on quality television. It’s a nice companion to his previous post, which discussed the difference between quality television and regular television. Should I be looking at adding this set to my collection?

Vote for Bob Crane looks back at a 2008 tribute to Bob from one of his former broadcast homes, WICC radio in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Well worth a listen.

Comfort TV offers a tribute to frequent Hogan guest Bernard Fox, who died last month. As David writes, in addition to mourning Fox, we’re also reminded of how the list of surviving classic TV actors continues to dwindle.

That’s another reason why we write about classic television, my friends and I, to keep these memories alive as long as we can – presumably until we’re gone, and then hopefully someone from the next generation will pick up the torch.  But until then, I’ll keep on typing, and you can read the latest effort here tomorrow. TV  

January 9, 2017

What's on TV? Thursday, January 14, 1971

This week we're in Philadelphia, all set to have a good time. We're halfway through the first month of the year, and as you'll see, some of the new season's hopefuls are already dropping off the schedule. Whoever said April was the cruelest month obviously wasn't a television producer.

January 7, 2017

This week in TV Guide: January 9, 1971

It's long been a contention of mine that the early years of the 1960s are really an extension of the '50s, and that the '60s as cultural phenomenon reach into the early '70s. However, as is the case with most theories, there are exceptions, and one of the clearest examples of how the decades differ is Andy Griffith. Had Matlock existed back then, it might have been called "The Case of the $3,500,000 Misunderstanding."

Bill Davidson's cover story does indeed tell a story, that of the beloved television star finding out you can't go home again, but if we're honest about it, that story really dates back to 1957, when Andy Griffith made a great motion called A Face in the Crowd, after which nothing would ever be the same. The movie made Griffith a star, but it left a deep scar in him as well; critics began to refer to him as "another Jimmy Stewart," and whether you agree with that assessment or not the fact remains that Jimmy Stewart never was sheriff of Mayberry, and while The Andy Griffith Show made Griffith a millionaire and the undisputed star of CBS, it also left him craving another bite of that dramatic apple - a bite it seems he'll never get.

This would seem to explain his decision in 1968 to abandon Mayberry in favor of a five-year contract to star in at least ten movies for Paramount, where they assured him he'd "be another Jimmy Stewart or Hank Fonda." The deal lasted but one year, and produced one movie (Angel in My Pocket), and when the studio asked him to do a comedy with Don Knotts, "That cut it," Griffith says. "I love Don, but teaming up with him again would be like going backwards."

And so his next step was, if not backwards, at least lateral - back to television, thanks to his longtime agent Dick Linke, in a dramedy called Headmaster. CBS was so excited at the prospect of getting their star back that they signed on to a series without a script, or even a scenario, for $3.5 million. Headmaster called for him to play "a stern but just high school principal," with the comedy left to others, but the Andy that audiences knew and loved clashed with the new Andy, the one "pompously moralizing with minsermons on such maxitopics as drug addiction and freedom of academic expression." The show was a bomb, and though Griffith's stature alone could probably have gotten the series a second season, both he and the network agreed to scrap it in favor of The New Andy Griffith Show, in which he returned to his rural roots as mayor of a small Southern town. There are hopes for the series as this issue goes to press, but alas, the new new Griffith show does even worse than the old new Griffith show, and before the year is out CBS is back to running reruns of Headmaster in the timeslot.

It's just one of several setbacks which will come Griffith's way:  Adams of Eagle Lake, Salvage 1, and The Yeagers are all short-run series, and he'll make at least as many failed pilots. He remains popular and in the public eye due to his numerous TV-movie appearances, including some of those darker roles he craved. Finally, in 1986, he hits the jackpot again with Matlock, where he plays the down-home Southern lawyer, but with a sharp edge that had been missing with Sheriff Andy Taylor. The series runs for nine seasons, even longer than the original Andy Griffith Show.

But while it's always nice to go out on top, one can't help but think of his words when describing A Face in the Crowd. "I wish I could get a role like that again," he says in this article. "It'll come along." Success may return to Andy Griffith, but that one role he craves, that second bite of the apple, never does.

◊ ◊ ◊

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 may only be January, but Cleveland Amory's already looking toward August - Dan August, that is, Burt Reynolds' new police drama that premiered on ABC just last September. And although the show seems to be of two minds about just about everything, Amory is single-minded in his verdict: no matter what the producers try, this series falls short. It is, in many ways, a prime example of television cynicism at its worst.

The problem plaguing August, according to Amory, is that "they want it both ways. A tough, hard-hitting, violent, beat-'em-up - but, of course, mustn't have too much violence, so, in at least two episodes so far, they give you, in the station house, a kind of second-degree third degree." Anti-establishment enough to attract "the kids," but not so anti that it turns the elders off. Stories that invariably feature two sides. And so on. Even the setting - large enough for big-city crime, small-enough that cases still involve August's friends.

Lest you think the producers are merely covering all the bases, Amory notes, "like every other show that ever set out to have it both ways, Dan August hasn't got it either way." The result is an unreal mishmash that usually leaves you with nobody to root for, or even identify with. As for Reynolds, "[t]hey are so careful to make him not one thing or another - not too superhero, for example, nor too bumbly - that they end up not making him anything. He is all wood and a yard wide." His co-stars "just trail around after Dan, trying to pick up the pieces of the plots and expositions." That is, those who aren't either invisible or irritating.

In fairness, Amory does find the good in Dan August, in that the show takes on, as we noted, difficult themes, ones that present both sides of an issue. "It does not do them particularly well, mind you, but it does undertake them." Alas, the old adage that the person who walks in the middle of the road winds up getting hit from both directions holds true for TV series as well: Dan August never sees August, going off in April 1971. It reappears in reruns only after Burt Reynolds' career takes off later in the '70s. Proving, I suppose, that no good deed goes unpunished.

◊ ◊ ◊

On Sunday, the NBA and NHL seasons get underway on ABC and CBS. Now, if you're a sports fan, you might have thought the seasons actually began in October. But, you see, those games don't count - like the internet today, nothing happens unless it's seen on television. Back in the days before sports saturated the tube, the networks didn't pick up on hockey and basketball until after the football season had ended, and so with football all but over, it's time to move on to other sports. On Saturday, ABC kicks off the tenth season of the Professional Bowlers Tour with the St. Paul Open, televised live from my once and future home of St. Paul, Minnesota, while the PGA tees off on CBS with coverage of the Glen Campbell Los Angeles Open.

The Juice and Jill St. John
I said that football was all but over - there is, in fact, one game yet to be played, but that one game is the Super Bowl, to be played on January 17 in Miami. It will be a game of firsts: the first Super Bowl since the AFL-NFL merger, and the first to be played on artificial turf. But that's next Sunday; this Sunday evening at 8:00 p.m. ET CBS warms us up for the big game with something called The Super Comedy Bowl, a one-hour variety special featuring an odd combination of celebrities and sports figures, including Lucille Ball, Jack Lemmon, John Wayne, Charlton Heston, Jill St. John, and Charles Nelson Reilly from the Hollywood side, and Ben Davidson, O.J. Simpson, Joe Namath, Roman Gabriel, Deacon Jones, and Dick Butkus on the jock side. This is the first in a series of Super Bowl tie-in variety specials over the next few years, most of which would be broadcast the night before the game with titles such as Super Night at the Super Bowl, as networks began to appreciate the capitalize on the growing hype value of the game and the consequent opportunities for cross-promotion.

This provides us with a nice segue to some of the week's variety shows. We're past the era of The Hollywood Palace, and Ed Sullivan is preempted tonight by the Super Bowl show, but that doesn't mean we're without variety. Glen Campbell is enjoying Sunday evening success with his Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour on CBS (9:00 p.m.), and tonight his guests include Liberace, Neil Diamond, Larry Storch, Linda Ronstadt, and the winner of the aforementioned Glen Campbell Los Angeles Open. That's followed by Jackie Gleason's show, which airs at 10:00 p.m. on CBS; tonight's rerun stars Bing Crosby, Maureen O'Hara and Bert Parks in a Honeymooners-goes-to-Hollywood musical.

On Monday night Rowan and Martin (8:00 p.m, NBC) welcome Johnny Carson, Gore Vidal, and Los Angeles mayor Sam Yorty (an odd collection if ever there was one), and on Carol Burnett (10:00 p.m., CBS) the guests are Jerry Lewis and Leslie Uggams. Tuesday features The Don Knotts Show (7:30 p.m., NBC) with Lloyd Bridges, his sons Jeff and Beau, Nancy Wilson, and Tommy Roe. The second half of the Knotts show overlaps with Hee Haw, still on its CBS run, with Roger Miller, Peggy Little, and New York Yankees outfielder Bobby Murcer (?) leading the way. And we've got dueling shows on Wednesday, with NBC's Kraft Music Hall going up against ABC's Johnny Cash Show. On the former, "Alan King Plays the Games People Play" with James Coco, Anne Meara, and Mary Ann Mobely; the latter features Jane Morgan, Homer and Jethro, Bill Anderson, Gordon Lightfoot, and Jan Howard.

Thursday night features Flip Wilson's* ground-breaking show (NBC, 7:30 p.m.), with an eclectic guest cast of Zero Mostel, Steve Lawrence and Roberta Flack. Meanwhile, do you remember that Jim Nabors left Gomer Pyle to host his own variety series? (Probably, except for some of you youngsters out there.) It ran for a couple of seasons and did very well, but it was included in the rural purge that claimed so many of CBS's other successful series. Anyway, Jim's special guest this week is Robert Goulet, along with Jim's regulars Ronnie Schell and Frank Sutton. Of course, the crown jewel of Thursday's shows is always Dean Martin's, and this week Deano has something for everyone, with Orson Welles reading from the Bible (I'll bet you thought he only did roasts), and Charles Nelson Reilly and Don Rice for comic relief. Finally, on Friday, ABC's This Is Tom Jones ends its two-year run, with Petula Clark as Tom's sole guest.

*You'll be reading more about Flip in TV Guide two weeks from now.

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It's interesting that even in 1970 people within the medium were predicting the eventual end of the networks, and it's a theme that will continue through this year of 1971. Some thought they'd be gone before the turn of the century; nearly all of them felt they'd have disappeared by now. The reasons are fairly simple: the dreck polluting the airwaves today, combined with the coming growth of cable television, something that nearly everyone knows is coming. In the first of a two-part analysis by Richard K. Doan, we learn the details of the gloom descending on network boardrooms.

There are a host of reasons for pessimism, to be sure: loss of revenue, due at least partially to the ban on cigarette advertising ($200 million annually); loss of a half-hour of prime time per night starting next year ($170 million in lost billing); a movement to ban commercials on Saturday morning cartoons (the biggest profit center other than soap operas and The Tonight Show); a prohibition of networks syndicating their old series to local stations ("lucrative"); increasing attacks from politicians, particularly Vice President Spiro Agnew; and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Says one insider at NBC, "Let's face it, we're as big as we're ever going to get. From now on it's a defensive action."

Mike Dann, the former head of programming for CBS, is blunt: "I believe there is no chance the network structure as we know it can or will survive." Paul Klein, the former head of audience research for NBC, agrees that there is no future for the networks, and adds that most viewers "settle for the least objectionable programs, rather than watching anything they really care about," which in turn results in the networks offering what he refers to as "future schlock" - "a slow deterioration of network fare toward 'cheap' shows such as games and more and more reruns." And then there's the growing trend of affiliates pre-empting network programs to run old movies and syndicated series - Jack Harris, president of KPRC in Houston, says "Such pre-emptions are made for only reason. It is spelled M-O-N-E-Y and pronounced money." When the most profitable affiliates do it, "then the pronunciation is GREED."

Donald McGannon, president of Group W, said the programming put out by networks is "not relevant to our times," and was a major backer of the FCC move to give a half-hour per night of prime time back to local stations. He felt the result would be "socially relevant, innovative and instructional or cultural" programs every night on all stations. The result, of course, has been syndicated game and talk shows and other such pablum. And there we have it, for just about every plan to reform television has failed. Greater network control of television programs, started as a response to the Quiz Show Scandals, has resulted in an increased emphasis on ratings, which in turn has caused programmers to dumb down their shows in search of that "lowest common denominator" programming. The salad days of the past, when the networks were rolling in money, have resulted in unrealistic profit expectations. As one executive points out, "what other business expects to return 45 [cents] out of every dollar to profit? And that's the return right now."

We don't know what the second half of this article says about what all this means for the future of broadcasting and the effect on viewers, but we can make a few observations based on what we know today. Network television did survive the dismal predictions, at least for a little while. The growth of cable television reduced network ratings, true, but for awhile the networks seemed poised to survive. The attraction of cable in those days was mainly uncut movies, female nudity, sports, and news. Networks bought into cable networks, and those stations even became prime buyers of network syndicated programming. Once cable started producing its own original programming, however, the tide indeed began to turn. Before long the Emmys were dominated by cable series, and cable became a byword for quality. Then streaming video entered the picture, first through services like Netflix and Hulu, and then these services started producing original programming as well. The "cut the cord" movement became a real thing, though its long-term trend is still up in the air.

And so we have returned once again to the future of network broadcasting. Whereas the concerns of the '70s were based in part on fear of the future, today's worries seem more grounded in fact, in an analysis of what's happening right now. It's not just concern about network survival, either - it's the entire concept of television as we know it, for the cable networks stand to lose the most. Some even predict the networks could come out of this in better shape, at least in the short term.

One thing's for certain, however: the future of television has always been a matter of great speculation. Only now, we find ourselves asking if that future has finally arrived.

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This week's starlet is Angel Tompkins, the typical ambitious actress, and Leslie Raddatz says don't bet against her when she talks about how she hates losing and likes beating the system. The hook Raddatz is using in his story is that Tompkins lives on the same street as Bob Hope, but it's not the neighborhood with the mansions - rather, she lives with her son in one of a row of tiny cottages for which she pays rent of $145 a month. It's every bit the rags-to-sort-of-richest story, coming from a broken home, with a childhood full of insecurities, an failed early marriage, a number of television credits to her name, and the determination to "work and improve."

Her credits continue into the '80s, and include a Playboy spread a year after this article appears. She becomes heavily involved in SAG politics, and probably leaves a greater mark there than from her acting career. She never becomes that big star, but she's done better than most.

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Finally, a woman who's a star by any and every definition of the word: Sophia Loren. There's no particularly good reason to include this, either in TV Guide or here, other than, well, Sophia Loren. She's not appearing on any program in the near future (although she's always been a hit on television), nor is she publicizing an upcoming movie. No, the reason we're here in Rome is simply to find out "what 'movie stars' look like these days, an era defined by "faded blue jeans and tie-dyed sweat shirts." The good news is that Miss Loren does not go in for this kind of clothing, at least not in public. "You must feel like a queen at that moment," she says. We'll leave you with these as parting shots.