February 18, 2017

This week in TV Guide: February 17, 1968

The good news: every room in the house, save one, has been unpacked and set up. The bad news: that one room is the library. The good news: the TV Guides were in one of the boxes that has been unpacked, and they're on a shelf in the closet. The bad news: I wasn't able to get to it until Friday night, which leaves little time to do anything constructive. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

What awaits you this week is a hybrid that's strange, even for me. It's based on the original write-up I did back in the early days of the blog, augmented by brand new material made up of some of the features I've added over time (Sullivan vs. The Palace, Amory's Review). It's not perfect, I'll be the first to admit, but it's better than nothing - about 50% new. The good news: next week I should have far more time to spend on TV Guide. The bad news: I don't have a new issue waiting for me. How will this drama play out? Tune in next week and find out.

On the cover this week are the two stars of The FBI, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and William Reynolds, although judging by the background one would be forgiven for thinking that they were starring in a series about Grand Prix racers. I've written several times about The FBI, one of my favorite law enforcement programs, including the impact Zimbalist's portrayal had on countless young viewers who, because of the series, were motivated to join the FBI.

The focal point of this week's profile, authored by Arthur Hano, is Zimbalist's sidekick, William Reynolds. The FBI is the fourth series Reynolds has worked on in the last eight years, and the first in which he will appear for more than one season. When the call came from his agent telling him he'd snagged the role of FBI special agent Tom Colby, he was either out playing golf (his version) or trying to sell real estate (his wife's version). Either way, it is a life preserver for a man who had waited three years for the big call. He will wind up putting in six years as Colby, but in 1968, he remains uncertain enough that he doesn't let the success of The FBI go to his head, still driving the same used Cadillac that he has nursed for over 50,000 miles. Such is the life of a second banana, he says; "You've got to stay cool. Otherwise you get eaten alive."

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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: Ed's scheduled guests are Jane Powell; George Chakiris; singers Bobby Gentry and Franco Corelli; comics Rodney Dangerfield and Will Jordan; pianist Paul Mauriat; and the Muppets.

Palace: Host Jimmy Durante welcomes Van Johnson singers Jimmy Dean and Vikki Carr, comedian Pat Henry, the rocking Temptations, comic magician Mac Ronay, and strongman Franklin D'Amore and the Bodyguards.

An interesting pair of lineups this week. They both start out strong, but whereas Ed's guest list finishes up with Paul Mauriat (performing his smash hit "Love is Blue") and the Muppets, the Palace can only counter with a comic magician and a strongman group. As soccer experts will tell you, a deep bench is what wins championships, and on that basis Sullivan takes the match.

Here's Paul Mauriat in a performance from this very year, 1968:

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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. 

When I was growing up, I thought Jonathan Winters was one of the funniest people I'd ever seen. Today, speaking from a mature perspective, I still think he's one of the funniest people. So does Cleveland Amory - "pound for pound, sound for sound" - and as only Amory can, he explains why now is the Winters of his discontent.

Amory is a big fan from way back, and for years he's griped about how networks don't seem to know how to handle a man of Winters' talent. His network specials were terrible, but this was actually good news - as Amory's Law says, "if you can't be good, be terrible. That way at least you attract a lot of attention." The problem is that Winters' new weekly series is good, very good - and, according to Amory's Law, it will probably go off the air.

What works with this new series, in Cleve's opinion, is that Winters has to do it all - not only perform, but host, introduce the guests, and so forth. In a strange way all that work works to Winters' benefit, providing just enough restraint for his manic talent to shine through. He cites an example which is so wonderfully convoluted that I have to repeat it in full just to give you a taste of it.

As Mad Dog Wretchen, [Winters] is in command of the Filthy Dozen, who are ordered to attack the Sieg Heil Hilton. "The Nazis are having a little banquet there," Mad Dog explains. "The usual thing, a little chamber music and then they kick the waiters to death. Now you all know your assignments?" Replies guest Fess Parker, "Roger. First Fats goes over the electrified fence. To do that, the twins distract the guard by cleaning chickens in the mine field. Then when the guards turn to look, I short-circuit the fence by riding a rubber cow into the wires. Next I put the Count into a pair of Sta-Prest rocket pants, ignite his zipper and blast him up into the 10th-story window, from which he drops a giant M-3 yoyo and we all ride to the top on the upstroke, just in time to serve the snake-infested sauerkraut and the booby-trapped bratwurst. Well, that's the plan, major. What do you think?" Replies Mad Dog: "Well, it's an old trick, but it just might work."

Sadly, Amory's Law seems to hold true; the Winters show: by 1969, it's gone. Jonathan Winters is never forgotten, though.

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Across the top of this week's cover is a blurb for "The Most Outlandish Game Show Yet," which turns out to be ABC's Treasure Isle.  Not only did the show take place outdoors, it was staged on a one-and-a-half acre man-made lagoon in Palm Beach.  Probably the most interesting item we find out is that the show was financed and packaged for $800,000 by John D. MacArthur, who's probably better known as the founder of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, supporter of many public television programs over the years.  MacArthur's brother was Charles MacArthur, playwright and co-author of The Front Page  Charles MacArthur was married to the actress Helen Hayes, and her son James MacArthur played Danno on Hawaii Five-0.  When your genealogy is more interesting than the television show you created, you know you're in trouble. But then, here's a sample episode; decide for yourselves.

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The most notable program this week, although nobody knows it at the time, is an NBC made-for-TV movie on Tuesday called Prescription: Murder.  Judith Crist, TV Guide's longtime movie critic, notes that the movie has not been made available for preview by the network, meaning that she'll have to stick to the facts without being able to advise potential views of the "wonders you may or may not behold."  She reports that the movie "stars Gene Barry as a doctor who murders his wife."  And that's true, as far as it goes.  What she doesn't mention is that the murder is investigated by a detective named Columbo.  The listing doesn't even suggest that the movie's a pilot.  But the rest, as they say, is history.

Although made-for-TV movies are really making an impact by 1968, big-screen movies still command the attention of viewers. This week, the big news is the network television premiere on ABC of Shane, the landmark western starring Alan Ladd and Van Heflin.  As Crist points out, Shane is "the original source for many of the cliches of subsequent Westerns - cliches that in the original are matters of inspiration, of genius and of art."  But that isn't all, as CBS counters with Steve McQueen's WW2 hit The Great Escape, "offered again uncut in two installments, each supplemented by equally pleasing short subjects."  Although it's hard to imaging having to wait two nights to see a single movie, that is pretty common back in the day, running a long movie in two parts over two nights if it doesn't fit into a two-hour time slot (except for Saturday and Sunday, when networks are more willing to let a movie run into the local news slot). As for those short films that the nets use to fill up the rest of the time slot, sometimes TV Guide tells us a little about what the films are. In this case, part 1 is followed by a short cartoon, while part 2 is wrapped up by " 'Rainshower,' a 15-minute featurette honored at the Chicago Film Festival."  Quaint.  I probably wasn't watching it though; the state high school hockey tournament is on Channel 11, the independent station, on both Thursday and Friday nights.

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What else?  On Saturday, ABC pre-empts the Pro Bowlers Tour for the penultimate day of the Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France.  The last day, including the closing ceremonies, is shown Sunday afternoon from 1:00 to 3:00, followed by pro basketball - a little different than the saturation coverage we get today, hmm?

And then there are these two curious items: on Tuesday afternoon, CBS presents "the 19th annual Busy Lady Bake-Off."  Now, I've heard of the Pillsbury Bake-Off, but the Busy Lady?  Turns out a Google search suggests they're the same thing.  I wonder if this was a way for TV Guide to avoid the commercial mention for Pillsbury, or if the company itself billed the contest this way. Maybe some enterprising researcher out there can fill us in on the truth.

And then there's a musical version of Robin Hood airing on NBC Sunday night (in place of Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color and The Mothers-In-Law). It has a great pedigree: songs by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, and it features a who's who of familiar 60s names - Noel Harrison, Roddy McDowall, Steve Forrest, Walter Slezak, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Arte Johnson and Victor Buono in supporting roles.  But in the starring role of Robin Hood - David WatsonWho?  I'd never heard of him until checking him out on the always-reliable Wikipedia, and it turns out that he had a pretty good pedigree on the legitimate stage and was one of the apes in Beneath the Planet of the Apes (taking Roddy McDowall's place, it should be noted), but his TV career seems limited to guest roles in various shows.  Well, you learn something new every day.

And then there's this note: "Communications experts seem increasingly agreed that closed-circuit TV (CATV) will gradually replace the over-the-air kind," Richard Doan writes. And what would this new, "cable" TV mean besides the end of ghostly reception and the ability to beam signals into remote rural locations? "It would mean the view would pay for his piped-in TV, much as he now pays for lights and phone service." Not everything that TV Guide predicted came true - but this certainly did. But many thought that three networks constituted a vast wasteland - could they have possibly foreseen the scorched earth that the future would bring?

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And finally, the Letters to the Editor feature a moment of poetic magic from Sidney M. Major, Jr., of Independence, MO, lamenting the replacement on ABC's The Avengers of Diana Rigg with Linda Thorson.

Steed without Emma
Presents a dilemma
With which I, for one, cannot cope;
Without her assistance
Steed can't go the distance - 
Please tell me there yet is some hope.

Sorry, Sid - them's the breaks. But you know the old saying about life giving you lemonade - and trust me, Linda Thorson is no lemon. TV  


  1. - Prescription: Murder wasn't identified as a pilot -
    - because it wasn't.
    William Link and Richard Levinson wrote the original short story for Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.
    Then, they adapted it into an hour-long teleplay for The Chevy Mystery Show.
    Ten, they rewrote it into a stage play, which didn't quite make it to Broadway.
    Years later, after landing at Universal TV, L&L converted the property into an early made-for-TV movie for NBC.
    And that was the end of it - or so they thought.
    A couple of years after that, someone at either NBC or Universal invented the "wheel series" and thought that Columbo might work that way.
    Levinson & Link were convinced that it wouldn't, but wrote an original story just to shut the brass up; they got others at UTV to do the work on Ransom For A Dead Man, which was the 'pilot'.
    The rest, as they say, is history.

    - That Robin Hood was produced by George Schlatter and Ed Friendly, at the same time that they were putting together Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In.
    The Decades digital channel has been running Laugh-In in its original broadcast order, twice daily since last fall.
    In the early first season shows, many of the Robin Hood stars (including the mysterious Mr. Watson) appear in character doing blackout gags; this was roughly coincident with the airing of the special. How this affected the ratings of either show is unknown or long forgotten.

    - Recalling the flap over Diana Rigg's departure from The Avengers:
    Come late springtime, ABC began running the previous season's Rigg shows.
    And if your Guide collection extends that far, you'll find a letter on that page which goes something like this:
    One good thing about reruns: we get back the Peel instead of the lemon.
    That was then ...

    1. PRESCRIPTION:MURDER might have reached Broadway if it weren't for the death of Thomas Mitchell, the actor who played Columbo. Best known for his roles as Scarlett O'Hara's father and George Bailey's Uncle Billy, Mitchell won an Oscar for portraying the alcoholic doctor in the original 1939 version of STAGECOACH. And it connects here...Universal wanted to cast Bing Crosby in the role of the lieutenant--his last feature film role was as the doctor in the 1966 STAGECOACH remake.

    2. Wondering what it's like, if Bing were Columbo, wearing a old raincoat and a hat at all times and with a pipe instead of a cigar!!!

  2. Following up on the above (sort of):

    - I meant to throw in a possibly irrelevant mention of the passing earlier this week of Bruce Lansbury, who in '68 was producing Wild Wild West, a series he'd rescued from oblivion the previous season.
    Lansbury (you may have heard of his older sister Angela somewhere along the way) had a lengthy career in Hollywood TV; post-WWW, he made stops at Mission: Impossible, The Magician, Wonder Woman, with a side trip as Paramount TV's chief of production for much of the early '70s.
    Later on, when Angela Lansbury formally took over Murder, She Wrote, brother Bruce took over the production end and brought the series to a proper finish after twelve years.
    I haven't even covered a fraction of Bruce Lansbury's TV career; check out IMDb or the formal obits when you can.

    - The William Reynolds profile kicked up a mild fuss, due to Arnold Hano's many negative quotes from his subject.
    Efrem Zimbalist Jr. was sufficiently hacked off to write a letter of protest to TV Guide, which appeared a few weeks later.

    - More when/if I can think of it ...

    1. Can't see how Zimbalist could be upset...Reynolds certainly didn't sound like he was trying to overshadow him.

      And as a car buff I would like to note that a Cadillac with 50,000 miles even then was hardly a basket case, especially when properly maintained (as I'm sure Reynolds could afford to do)

    2. Zimbalist was upset with Arnold Hano for the snarky tone of the article; he felt that it made Reynolds out to be a griper, and felt it necessary to come to his defense of his colleague and friend (most people who worked with Zimbalist over the tears would tell you the same).

  3. As a game show fan, I enjoyed TREASURE ISLE...another thing about its pedigree--the mobile production unit it used was acquired from the remains of the United Network--so you had a like new vehicle with only one month of mileage on it.

  4. Too bad that it appears that no color videotapes of any "Treasure Isle" episodes exist. It would have been nice to see the show's outdoor setting in "living color" (to borrow the slogan of a competitive network)!

    Although contestant teams on "Treasure isle" were usually married couples, wasn't there a week during the show's short run where single people played, paired with a celerbrity?


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!