March 18, 2017

This week in TV Guide: March 16, 1968

Yes, children, there was a time when you didn't simply run out to the store and buy a new TV when the old one stopped working, nor did you go online and order one.* This was a time long, long ago, when you weren't even a glimmer in your parents' eyes, and the only people who remember it are very, very old indeed. When your set "went on the blink," as we used to say, you picked up this big book with yellow pages, and flipped through it until you found what you were looking for, and then you picked up the telephone - they were attached to the wall back in those days - and called a man, and pretty soon he came out in a truck and took the back off your set and tried to find out what was wrong with it and "repair" it. He warned you that he might have to take it back with him to his "shop," where he could run some tests and find out exactly what was the matter. And when he was all done, your television set would work again, and the repairman would give you an astronomical bill for work, most of which you didn't think was necessary. But you had your television back, and in the end that was all that mattered, and they all lived happily ever after. The end.

*Al Gore hadn't invented the information superhighway yet, at least not for consumer use.

Well, perhaps it isn't quite that simple, but it is true that television repairmen were the politicians of their time; in other words, they had a terrible reputation. And this week, they take to the pages of TV Guide to insist that they are not all crooks, that in fact they are "misunderstood, maligned, distrusted, unappreciated, overworked and underpaid." True, they concede, there are dishonest ones among them, as is the case in any profession, but to judge the 130,000 or so TV repairmen by the actions of a few bad apples is grossly unfair.

Last year, a TV Guide article on set repair fraud estimated examined 20 service dealers in New York and Chicago, and found that 65% of them charged more than they should have (on a repair job that should have cost about $8.00), some "claiming to have made extensive repairs." But does this really give us a balanced view of the repairman's job? To find out, author David Lachenbruch talked with Richard Tinnell, a former electronics professor at Oklahoma State, who's coordinating a development program to train more repairmen, a program sponsored by the nation's television manufacturers. He points out that at this moment there are 515 million electronic instruments of various kinds in the U.S., and 75 million being added each year. "All 515 million are in working order. If 65 percent of the service technicians were unethical or incompetent, this situation just couldn't exist."

Tinnell finds the claim that the repair job in question should have cost $8 to be dubious. According to the definitive Blue Book of service charges, a tube replacement alone should run anywhere from $9 to $14, depending on the socio-economic area. "Anything below $15 looks reasonable." A technician's itemized invoice of such a repair job lists the following prices, which remind us of how long ago 1968 was:

Recording and scheduling call: $0.50
Travel time: $1.00
Locating and replacing tube, explaining trouble to the customer: $2.00
Shop overhead (estimated at 150% of actual labor costs): $5.25
Cost of the new tube: $5.00
Total expenses: $13.75

This adds up to a wage of about $4.00 per hour, or $8,000 per year, for the repairman.

John Gooley, service manager of the National Appliance and Radio-TV Dealers Association, points out that with expenses such as a truck, parts inventories, test equipment, uniforms, laundry, rent and insurance, such expenses aren't out of line. In fact, the union bus driver in New York City makes more on an hourly basis. Says a part-time serviceman who works on sets in his spare time, "On each job I'm happy if I make enough for gasoline and a couple of dollars for beer and cigarets. Good luck to those thousands of trainees who try to make a living in this business."

And then, says Gooley, there's the customer, who bears some responsibility himself. "People who have these problems are often those who have larceny in their own hears, and who fall for lowball prices. A shop can't exist on $2 service calls and 20-per-cent-off parts. A little simple arithmetic and cost-of-living figures will show you why." Indeed; it's the complaint we hear even today from brick-and-mortar stores struggling to compete with online retailers who are able to offer the same products at a fraction of the cost to consumers looking for the best deal, or simply trying to maximize their purchasing power.

Whatever the reason, concludes Lachenbruch, the color-TV era brings with it new challenges, more complex technology, and the sense that the "old-fashioned 'tube-puller' can't survive." The end result: "Reliable TV service isn't cheap and you're probably going to have to pay even more for it.

Either that, or throw it out and buy a new one, right?

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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: Scheduled guests include Lucille Ball; George Hamilton; singers Tony Sandler and Ralph Young, the Bee Gees, Fran Jeffries, and the Dubliners; and comedians Stiller and Meara, and Jackie Kahane.

Palace: Host Don Knotts and guests Douglas Fairbanks Jr., singer Nancy Ames, Met soprano Mary Costa, Country-Western guitarist Glenn Ash the rocking Merry-Go-Round and magician Ralph Adams.

This week's matchups seem fair well-balanced in terms of overall entertainment. However, when one looks at star power - well, there's Lucy. And I think Ed has the deeper bench this week, which leads me to give the nod to Sullivan, by the strength of the redhead.

◊ ◊ ◊

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. 

A few weeks ago I mentioned Operation: Entertainment, the new ABC series that takes entertainers to American servicemen stationed at various bases around the country. It's a worthy idea, according to Cleveland Amory, but not one without some drawbacks. The very concept "involves the necessity of everyone playing not primarily to you  [the viewer], but to the GI audiences. And thus everyone seems one step further removed from you than you are used to." There's also what Amory calls a"a kind of amateur-night quality" to the whole enterprise, particularly in the way GIs become participants in the show. In one example, the program's "entertainment girls" are tasked to "help chosen GIs find someone who kissed like their wives," while in another, "there was a contest among three GI photographers to choose the best model poses for three entertainment girls." It was rigged, of course, since one of the girls turns out to be the fiance to one of the GIs, resulting in much jocularity. By the way, did we mention that this show was created by Chuck Barris?

The professional talent leaves something to be desired as well. There was gospel-singer Bessie Griffin and her Pearls; "[t]heir screaming, yelling jumping performance was one of the most appalling acts we've seen this year. Altougher, if it hadn't been for singer Fran Jeffries, who was excellent, we would have gone A.W.O.L." Another show, with Tim Conway and Paul Lynde, was equally bad. Cleve did have kind words for an episode hosted by Dean Jones, in which "singer Barbara McNair was wonderful and we even went along with sailors trying to sing while being nuzzled by Sivi Aberg, Eileen O'Neill and Shawn Robinson." Seems to me that if that doesn't make you sing, nothing will.

He doesn't say it, but he doesn't have to: Operation: Entertainment may have been born with the best of intentions, but we all know just where that road can lead you, right?

◊ ◊ ◊

Our look at some of the week's programs begins on Saturday night with an unusual triple-feature courtesy of CBLT* in Toronto. It leads off with one of the grittiest movies of the '60s, The Pawnbroker, starring Rod Steiger in an Oscar-nominated turn as a concentration camp survivor. That's followed by an Elvis movie, Follow that Dream, in which Presley portrays a "naive and girl-shy Southerner." The evening (or morning, more accurately) winds up with Meet the Girls, a 30s screwball comedy in which two dancers wind up in Hawaii. As I said, a very unconventional pairing.

*No truth to the rumors that BLT stands for bacon, lettuce and tomato.

In 1960, the famed author John Steinbeck toured the United States in a camper-truck, accompanied by his French poodle Charley, where he observed the many facets and peoples of America, The result, Travels with Charley, became a best-seller and, on Sunday night (10:00 p.m. ET), an NBC documentary. Steinbeck's words are read by Henry Fonda, with animation recounting Charley's role in the adventure. The score is by Rod McKuen.

On Monday, Bill Cosby appears in his first television special (8:00 p.m. NBC). "The key to Cosby's wit," according to the Close-Up, "is his wonderfulness - a mobile face and a warmly whimsical appreciation of childhood's fears, fantasies, experiences and delights." Reminds you of just how popular Cosby was from the '60s until the last few years, and how it has to be one of the quicker, more spectacular falls from grace that the entertainment industry has seen.

Tuesday, CFTO, also in Toronto, runs last week's Batman episode, featuring the great Frank Gorshin as The Riddler, with Joan Collins as his sidekick, The Siren. That seems about right. It's also a night for stars on Tuesday's variety shows - Merv Griffin and Barbara Eden guest on Jerry Lewis' show (NBC, 8:00 p.m.), while on CBS (8:30 p.m.), Red Skelton welcomes Eddy Arnold. At 10:00 p.m., CBS carries another of Andy Rooney's delightful essays, "The Strange Case of the English Language," narrated by Harry Reasoner, with an appearance by Peter Ustinov, modeling foreign accents.

It's a momentous occasion on Wednesday, as Mrs. Emma Peel says farewell to The Avengers. (7:30 p.m., ABC) Replacing the delightful Diana Rigg is the give-her-time-and-she'll-grow-on-you Linda Thorson as Tara King, with more boot-kicking action to follow. Also, tonight's Bob Hope special (9:00 p.m., NBC) boasts a lineup including Anne Bancroft, Lou Rawls, Jill St. John and Arnold Palmer. That's followed by a Jack Benny special with Lucille Ball, Johnny Carson, Paul Revere and the Raiders and Ben Blue.

*Highlight: in introducing herself to John Steed for the first time, she identifies herself as Tara, followed by "Ra-Boom-De-Ay." I've included the Wikipedia link for those of you too young to remember the reference, a group I suspect is closely aligned with those who don't remember TV repairmen.

Thursday, NBC's Children's Theatre special (7:30 p.m.) kicks off its run with "The Reluctant Dragon" (right), a puppet drama with Burr Tillstrom, Fran Allison, and the Kuklapolitan Players, based on a story by Kenneth Grahame, author of "The Wind in the Willows." One guess as to which of the Kuklapolitans plays the Dragon.

Finally, Friday rounds out the week with the conclusion of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" on ABC's Off to See the Wizard (7:30 p.m.), The Bell Telephone Hour (10:00 p.m., NBC) presents something you'd never see on prime-time network television today: an hour of operatic ensemble scenes, with some of the greats of opera: Joan Sutherland, Tito Gobbi, Nicolai Gedda, Phyllis Curtin, Jerome Hines, Mildred Miller and Charles Anthony. Just Google Joan Sutherland, for example, and you'll see I don't exaggerate. Last but not least, I'm often joking about how thus-and-such movie looks as if it should be on MST3K - well, here's one that was! It's The Giant Gila Monster, the first half of WKBW's horror double-feature. The second half, The Monster Demolisher, sounds as if it should have been.

◊ ◊ ◊

Did I say that was it? Indulge me one more. In this week's TV Jibe, two executives are talking across a desk. Says the one to the other, "I think the pilot script is vacuous, inane, and insulting to any viewer's intelligence. Now let's hope the sponsor likes it, too."

Which goes to show that not everything changes over time.

Thanks to John Rowe for providing this week's issue! TV  


  1. Great analysis of an issue from a historic time in US history. RFK announced his candidacy for president on March 17, 1968 and a skinny guy named Mike Krzyzewski was on the Army basketball roster...Glad you had a better image of the cover than my less than pristine one. Always happy to contribute what I have to your entertaining and insightful website, Mitchell. More to come as I dig through boxes in the cellar.

  2. I don't ever remember a TV repairman coming to our house. When KOLN in Lincoln, NE went out, they put up a slide that was an advertisement for Sperry TV, a Lincoln TV repair place. My house had a desk-type phone, it was hard-wired into the phone line. And you had to lease them from AT&T/local Baby Bell.

  3. - The cover story is Dwight Whitney's account of how The Flying Nun became the surprise hit of the current ('67-'68) season.
    Frankly, given your attitudes about such things, I'm surprised that you didn't lock onto this one.
    Maybe now ...?

    - Saturday: Get Smart presents the latest exploit of Hymie the Robot (Dick Gautier).
    This time out, the KAOS villains are two renegade Brits - Snead and Mrs. Neal (probably just coincidence ...).

    - This week's ABC Sunday Night Movie is Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?. Perfect for St. Patrick's Day ...

    - Also Sunday night in Chicago:
    Merv Griffin has sent out a special for St. Pat's Day, taped mostly on location in Ireland, with the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem, Ella Logan, Burl Ives, John Huston, and (on film) John Wayne.

    - Monday:
    Danny Thomas is repeating his Wonderful World Of Burlesque special from two seasons before.
    I remember that the studio was done up as a real theater, with proscenium stage and orchestra pit.
    At the start, Danny introduced his main guest stars, who joined him on stage.
    Mickey Rooney was the last guest introed; he bounded onto the stage, ran past the other stars, and went headlong into the pit - loudest laugh of the night.

    - There were some basketball tournaments here and there; since I don't gamble, I had no interest in them ... so there too.

    More later, if it occurs to me ...

  4. Brief follow-up:

    On Monday, Channel 2, the CBS station in Chicago, took out a full page ad to mark a change in its news anchor command chain.
    Ch2's long-time 10 pm anchor, Fahey Flynn, had just jumped to channel 7, and WBBM had to do some promoting from within.
    The new 10 pm anchor was Bill Kurtis, moving up from 6 pm.
    Getting the 6 pm slot was a guy who'd been the weekend anchorman - Peter Hyams.
    These days you might know Bill Kurtis as the face and voice of the digital DECADES channel.
    Peter Hyams went from news anchoring to directing feature films; his best remembered efforts would be Capricorn One (about a faked landing on Mars; the astronauts were James Brolin, Sam Waterston, and some former football player whose name escapes me at the moment), and 2010, an unasked-for sequel to 2001.

  5. We had a great TV repairman. He operated out of his basement and charged reasonable prices. Our first color TV was a GE 21" table model bought in 1969. My parents kept it in regular service until 1988 when I moved it to my living room and it's still there. I went to school to learn how to fix TVs and repaired it the last few times it needed repair. It's been hit by lightning twice over the years. Many of my fondest TV memories have been watching that TV.

    I have more memories of seeing Ed Sullivan on Sunday nights than ever watching Hollywood Palace, but if I had to pick which one I'd like to see today, it would be Hollywood Palace. The comedy of Don Knotts and the beautiful Mary Costa would win out over Ed's lineup. All Lucy did on Sullivan was plug her movie "Yours, Mine and Ours."


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!