April 29, 2017

This week in TV Guide: April 28, 1973

This week's issue is another from my own personal collection of issues that have always belonged to me. Most of the copies of TV Guide that I now own were purchased at flea markets, antique shows, nostalgia conventions, and from online dealers, and it's a good thing I haven't purchased multiple copies of it; until recently I was able to recognize the issues I had by sight, and this particular one is missing the cover. It could have been disastrous.

You know, this cover just doesn't look familiar at all. I still remember many of the covers I got when I subscribed to the magazine, but this one doesn't ring any bells at all. Perhaps something inside will trigger a reminder as to why I hung on to it.

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Rather than saving this for the end, let's shake things up by leading off with a spin through the week's programming. We'll start on Saturday, where CBS affiliate WCCO preempts a repeat of Bridget Loves Bernie (7:30 p.m. CT) to give us a half-hour WCCO Reports story on "The Monster of Loch Ness." Description: "For more than 1,400 years, there have been reports of the legendary Loch Ness monster of Scotland. WCCO's Alan Lotsberg* interviews residents of Scotland who have reported seeing the monster, and Terrance Mitchell, a toy designer and manufacturer from Arden Hills (Minn.) who believes the Loch Ness phenomenon also exists in Lake Okangan in British Columbia, Canada. Also on Saturday, The Julie Andrews Show takes its last bows (8:00 p.m., ABC) with guests Sandy Duncan, Sergio Franchi, and the Muppets.

*Who played "Willie Ketchum" in WCCO's beloved kids' show Clancy and Willie.

You'll read more about Sunday's sports extravaganza later on, so we'll focus on the non-athletic side of things. We can start with McCloud (7:30 p.m., NBC), as Dennis Weaver's fish-out-of-water cowboy cop goes to London, Paris, Rome, and Nassau in hot pursuit of a trio of thieving stewardesses. If that doesn't do it for you, William F. Buckley Jr.'s Firing Line (9:00 p.m., KTCA) features Georgia governor Jimmy Carter, a full three years before he's elected president, and a year before he even declares for the office - which, two years before the election, was considered preposterous at the time. Today, if you weren't already a candidate two years before election day, people would be wondering why you were taking so long. At 10:50 p.m., the nemesis of my teen-age years, KCMT, Channel 7, presents a live, hour-long public affairs program on tornado safety. Tornadoes are pretty scary and dangerous things, so of course you schedule a program on them to run until nearly midnight on a work/school night, in a time when there are no recording devices so you can watch it later. Of course.

Lucille Ball welcomes yet another big-name guest star to Here's Lucy (Monday, 8:00 p.m., CBS) - this time Eva Gabor, who has to deal with Lucy's star-struck friends. Opposite that, the ABC Monday Night Movie has a black-and-white movie, a rarity in 1973, almost unthinkable on network TV today (except for Miracle on 34th Street and It's a Wonderful Life). It's "Man Trap," John D. MacDonald's crime drama, starring Jeffrey Hunter, David Janssen, and Stella Stevens, and directed by Edmund O'Brien. I might recommend checking out the CBS Late Movie, "The Comedy of Terrors," starring Vincent Price and Boris Karloff, spoofing their reputations, with Peter Lore and Basil Rathbone.*

*And Orangey the cat, who starred in Rhubarb, one of the greatest cat baseball movies ever made.

Andy Griffith gets to stretch his acting muscles a bit in Tuesday's episode of Hawaii Five-O (7:30 p.m., CBS), in which he plays the patriarch of a family of con artists who wind up mistakenly conning a crime lord. Just wait until he has to deal with Steve McGarrett. And on Wednesday, it's another black-and-white movie, - apparently, it's black-and-white week on ABC - the 1948 Alfred Hitchcock classic "The Paradine Case" (7:00 p.m.) starring Gregory Peck, Ann Todd, Charles Laughton, Charles Coburn, Ethel Barrymore, Louis Jourdan, and Alida Valli. If I'm not mistaken, I believe this is Hitchcock's only courtroom drama. Also on Wednesday, music buffs will enjoy NBC's All-Star Swing Festival (9:00 p.m.), with a who's-who of music greats: Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie, and more.

On Thursday, another movie steals the show - literally. It's the delightful caper flick "Hot Millions" (8:00 p.m., CBS), co-written by and starring Peter Ustinov, with Maggie Smith, Karl Malden, Bob Newhart, Robert Morley, and Cesar Romero. I wouldn't recommend it, but if you feel like skipping the last hour, you can catch Zero Mostel in the musical comedy Saga of Sonora (9:00 p.m., NBC), with Vince Edwards, Jill St. John, and Don Adams heading up the supporting cast. Finally, on Friday there's an interesting coupling; first, on Room 222 (8:00 p.m., ABC), a young student who's gotten his girlfriend pregnant has to decide whether or not to marry the girl, and thereby give up an appointment to West Point. Then, at 9:00 p.m. on NBC, "The New Doctors" segment of The Bold Ones has David Hartman struggling with one of his patients, a pregnant teenager who hopes her new baby will fill a void in her life. That's up against Love, American Style on ABC - and we wonder how we get where we are.

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The Midnight Special held court over the late night rock music scene Friday nights from 1973 to 1981 on NBC. Its challenger: ABC's In Concert, which appeared every other Friday as part of the network's Wide World of Entertainment. When we're lucky, we get to match them up and see who has the best lineup.

Midnight Special: Johnny Nash hosts, with Gladys Knight and the Pips, folk-rock artist Kenny Rankin, Pop group Raspberries, singer/composer Chi Coltrane, and comic Jack Andrews.

In Concert: This three-hour concert (originally broadcast in two parts) features Alice Cooper; the Allman Brothers Band; Blood, Sweat and Tears; Curtis Mayfield; Seals and Crofts; Chuck Berry; Poco; and Bo Diddley.

Well, well. Last week it was Midnight Special vs. Don Kirshner; this week, it's In Concert. From famine to feast, apparently. Actually, we're cheating just a little here; the In Concert program we're watching was actually taped last Friday, and is being shown on KMSP Sunday night at 11:00 p.m. (Just as they did all those years with Joey Bishop and Dick Cavett, Channel 9 still shows local movies Friday nights in place of network fare.)

No matter; it's a heavyweight shootout, but I'm afraid the knockout punch comes early. Yes, Special has Gladys Knight and Kenny Rankin, but that duo is completely overwhelmed by the powerhouse In Concert lineup, even if it did take three hours to do it. Chuck Berry on his own was probably enough to do it, but when you throw in the rest of the cast, it's no contest. In Concert takes this week's crown.

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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. 

A television series about doctors isn't supposed to make you sick, but then not all television series are Police Surgeon.

Police Surgeon is a syndicated drama, made to cash in on the new opportunities created by the Prime Time Access Rule, which as we know was supposed to make local stations more responsive to serving the public interest. Cleveland Amory isn't sure, however, whether any public interest is being served by Police Surgeon. It's an import, filmed in Toronto, "where it's evidently cheaper to make it." Not that cheaper programming is in the public interest either, though. "The only way [the viewer] could break even with this show would be if they gave something away with it. One episode was so sloppily shot we even saw one of the microphones. And when the villain said to one of his henchmen, "If she's up to something, kill her," he looked right into the camera. He didn't wave, though."

Police Surgeon stars Sam Groom as Dr. Simon Locke, the eponymous police surgeon of the title. He's earnest, Amory will grant him that, but "earnestness is not enough. You also need something else. And whatever it is, Groom, or his part, doesn't have it." Locke's boss is Lieutenant Palmer (Len Birman), who isn't any better. When he tells Locke during one crisis that "you're only second line. Don't become a hero," Amory remarks that "The first part of this was way too true for comfort. As for the second part, the danger was remote."

If it weren't for the fact that I actually remember this series from my time in The World's Worst Town™, I'd be inclined to doubt that such a show could possibly exist. Honestly, I laughed all the way through Amory's review; clearly, this is one of the funniest programs on television. And then I remembered it wasn't supposed to be funny. In that sense, it was a perfect fit for The World's Worst Town™.

Amory points out that the show airs in most markets in the 7:30-to-8:00 p.m. timeslot, the one recently vacated by the networks. (Where I lived, it was seen Sunday nights at 10:30 p.m.) Considering that its plots involve sons trying to commit patricide, psycho telephone callers, and drug addicts chained to bedposts, one has to wonder what the stations airing Police Surgeon could possibly have been thinking. Says Amory in conclusion, "The station in New York that puts it on calls itself 'Your Community-Minded Station.' One thing seems certain. Your community should mind this one."

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It's an interesting week in sports - significant, if not downright historic. The centerpiece event of the weekend comes on Sunday, with CBS's live broadcast of the U.S. - U.S.S.R. basketball game (2:30 p.m.) from the Los Angeles Forum. It's the first time the two countries have played since the controversial gold medal game in the 1972 Olympics, when the Soviets - let's be honest here - stole the gold from the Americans. It's also the first of an eight-game U.S. tour for the Soviet Olympians, six of the games to be played against the U.S. national team. I can't tell you how much the country seethed as a result of that 1972 game; it tends to get overshadowed because of the Olympic Massacre, but the Soviet victory has to be one of the biggest robberies since Jesse and Frank James roamed the American Midwest. These U.S. vs. Soviet showdowns always seemed to be an event, no matter what sport they took place in, and in this case we have the added ingredient of an American side thirsting for revenge.*

*It was, in fact, marketed as the "Revenge Tour."

The tour was a brutal, punishing series, marked by physical play on both sides, and numerous players fouling out in each game. Amidst name-calling by both sides and charges of aggressive play (at one point Bob Cousy, the U.S. coach, said of his center, Sven Nater, "I wish he could play 40 per cent more aggressively, and if that means 40 per cent dirtier, that's all right with me."), the United States won that first game decisively, 83-65, and took four of the six games between the two sides.

In other, less violent sports, CBS begins its Sunday sports with the opening game of the World Hockey Association finals between the Winnipeg Jets and New England Whalers, with the Whale coasting to a 7-2 victory. Over on NBC, it's Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals, and the Montreal Canadians skate to an 8-3 victory over the Chicago Black Hawks. Not to be left out of the act, the NBA playoffs continue on ABC, with the New York Knicks defeating the Boston Celtics 94-78 in the seventh and final game of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Knicks now head to Los Angeles, where they'll defeat the Lakers to win the NBA title. Whew!

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I've neglected to mention some other things, such as the fact that Jack Paar's back on latenights, as the once-a-month host of Jack Paar Tonite, his effort to give a boost to the struggling ratings for his friend Dick Cavett. Jack's sidekick is Peggy Cass, to my knowledge the only time a woman has served that function. And, again if I remember correctly, the couch and chair were to the right of Jack's desk, rather than the traditional left side that all other shows used.

And then there's an interesting episode of Ironside in which Don Galloway's character Ed Brown finds himself on the wrong side of a jail cell, arrested for a misdemeanor while he's out of town, and he finds himself faced with an existential crisis: "the rougher he's handled, the guiltier he feels: he has treated suspects the same way." I wonder if there's anything to the fact that Raymond Burr himself directed the episode?

We have another week of deadly accuracy from the TV Teletype, which as we know is not always the case. The Hollywood edition reports that Burt Lancaster will be starring in a CBS miniseries entitled "Moses the Lawgiver" (true), and that Bill Bixby will be returning to weekly series television next season with an NBC effort called The Magician (also true). Richard Roundtree plans to reunite with his Shaft character for a CBS series in the fall (yes, every third week, but it only survived for seven episodes), and Jack Palance plans to assay the title role of CBS's movie Dracula, which does indeed come off as planned.*

*Or almost as planned, that is. According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, the movie was originally scheduled to air in October, but was preempted due to a speech by President Nixon on the resignation of Vice President Agnew. Not exactly an auspicious sign, is it? It eventually aired in February 1974, which seems like a very long delay.

The summer schedules are coming out, and NBC plans to copy ABC's success with Monday Night Football by introducing 15 weeks of Monday Night Baseball, while also bringing on Helen Reddy  to replace Flip Wilson. CBS is mostly shuffling things around, and bringing in repeats of the Burt Reynolds' old ABC series, Dan August. Ozzie and Harriet are coming back after six years, in the syndicated Ozzie's Girls. And the favorites for the lead in CBS's revival of Perry Mason are said to be Robert Stack and Leslie Nielsen.

Finally, we'd be remiss if we didn't look at this week's editorial, and if you think this year's Academy Awards show was a fiasco, take a look at the 1973 show which aired just a couple of weeks previously. "It was," says the editor (Merrill Panitt?), "television's most magnificent spoof, a rib-tickling, guffaw-producing parody of all the Oscar shows that have ever been televised."

Where to start? The "high-camp: movie-set opening? The late arrival of co-host Charlton Heston, which forced Clint Eastwood to read jokes about Moses and chariot races?  The off-key singing of "You Oughta Be in Pictures?" Maybe it was how "Hosts introduced co-hosts, who introduced award presenters, who introduced their co-presenters."? Presenters "who delivered the stilted dialogue while convincingly feigning fright, [and] were the essence of genial informality as they misread the cue cards."?

The most entertaining performances of the night had to be those of the Best Song nominees, "each of which carefully received the treatment it deserved." Not to be forgotten was the spectacle of Sacheen Littlefeather [real name Marie Louise Cruz], "an Indian maiden in high-fashion regalia" refusing Marlon Brando's Oscar. "And then there was the cleverness of having members of the audience boo her. A real Hollywood twist."

It was, the author concludes, "the funniest, most entertaining Oscar show in years. To those who say it was not intentional parody, we say 'Ridiculous!' It would not be possible to put on such a flawless fiasco unless it was carefully planned." And just think, they didn't even have to use the old joke about the presenters who opened the wrong envelope. TV  

April 28, 2017

Around the dial

We start off the week with a twofer from the ubiquitous Martin Grams, talking about a pair of books that have flown under the radar. Creeds, Codes and Cowboy Commandments, by Matthew McKenzie, is just what the subtitle says, rules to live by from TV's B-Western Heroes. It's really a shocking example of how far our culture has come from the '50s, when these cowboy heroes were on TV screens throughout the nation with lessons such as this one from the Roy Rogers Safety Club: "Love God and go to Sunday School regularly." As one of Martin's friends remarked to him, "We had real heroes then. People to look up to and aspire, and every story taught a moral." That book is coupled with Flickering Shadows by Ed Hulse, which tells you everything you wanted to know about the film short, television pilot, and movie series The Shadow. If you haven't heard it on OTR, The Shadow is a pretty cool series about the mysterious crime fighter Lamont Cranston, and like the first book, it sounds well worth your time. Martin points out that many of these self-published or small-press books have a very difficult time promoting their existence (tell me about it!), and it's through word-of-mouth like this that people find out about books that they otherwise might have overlooked.

Speaking of books, Classic Film and TV Café reviews what looks like a very interesting book on some of the seminal movies of the 1970s, Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-In Near You (and boy, do I remember that phrase from my childhood) by Charles Taylor. And if you go to that site, you'll notice a link to Jeff's newest blog, The International TV Blog, yet another source for quality television from other countries (a topic we'll return to in a moment).

Classic Television Showbiz is back with an episode and a couple of clippings from a 1968 syndicated variety show I hadn't been aware of, Here Come the Stars. As explained in this piece from The Land of Whatever, Here Come the Stars was a series of celebrity roasts (prefiguring those of Dean Martin), hosted by Hollywood's Toastmaster General, George Jessel. Speaking of The Land of Whatever, I discovered it quite by accident while Googling for some info on Here Come the Stars, and it just goes to show you that for as many interesting blogs as you think are out there, there are probably 100 times that number that you've never heard of. That's one reason why I share these pieces with you every week, and I hope that if you like them you'll do likewise with your friends. Here's the most recent one from Whatever: a 1974 commercial for Bold detergent featuring Laugh-In's Jo Anne Worley.

After what seems like too long a gap, The Classic TV History Blog is back with a primer on '60s videotaped dramas from British television. As you probably know from my frequent links to Cult TV Blog, it's a genre that I particularly like, and now that I have my region-free Blu Ray player, I'm free to indulge in some of these more obscure (to us) series. These series are completely new to me, and as my wife is wont to say, "A day when you don't learn anything is a wasted day." I'm surely not wasting this one!

I don't have the import DVDs of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, but in anticipation of the time when I do, I haven't watched that many of the episodes that have aired over time on MeTV. Don't want to spoil the surprise, you know. I can't resist the bare-bones e-zine articles about them, though, especially when it's an episode that I actually have seen - as is the case with the darkly ironic episode "The Gentleman Caller," starring a very nasty Roddy McDowell.

Although The Flintstones was always on when I was a kid and I watched it often, I was never that big a fan of it, and perhaps that's why I'm not as knowledgeable about it's history as I might be. Sure, I knew it was a spoof of The Honeymooners, and I remember the characters like Dash Riprock, Perry Masonry, and Ann-Margrock. But there's a lot in this interesting piece by Television's New Frontier: the 1960s that I didn't know, including how long it took for The Flintstones to refine some of the familiar aspects that we take for granted today, and how the show's popularity peaked very early in its run. As I say, interesting.

Television Obscurities lives up to its name with a piece on the long-running (1949-1955) ABC kids' show, Super Circus. Like so many of these, it's a show that's new to me; unlike many of them, there's actually some video footage of the program!

I do hope this keeps you busy for awhile, and I'll keep you busier tomorrow. TV  

April 26, 2017

TV that should not have existed

Last week, you might recall that I was kind of hard - brutal, almost - on the state of contemporary television. Well, I'd like to make up for that, and give you this clip from the rapidly indispensable FredFlix YouTube channel. The title is pretty self-descriptive: "21 TV Shows That Should Not Have Existed, Yet Did." It's not one of those clickbait slide shows that pollute the internet; rather, it's an often humorous look at some really bad programs, with the shows themselves providing the evidence that convicts them. The best that can be said about some of them is that they look a lot like a really good SCTV parody, until you figure out that they're real. While some of these shows are from the '80s and later, a good number of them come before that. No matter when their origin, it's a reminder that bad TV - like good TV - has existed always and everywhere. The only difference is that in television's earlier days, the evidence was destroyed.

April 24, 2017

What's on TV? Wednesday, April 27, 1977

This week offers some interesting program choices - so interesting, in fact, that there's a little something to say about all of our stations. The area covered includes both Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tennessee, and it should have a little something for everyone. Have a look and enjoy!

April 22, 2017

This week in TV Guide: April 23, 1977

We've skipped ahead in time to the late '70s, and moved south to Atlanta, in search of television's past. Who knew that television itself was looking for the same thing?

It's a two-hour CBS News Special Thursday evening (9:00 pm. ET) entitled "When Television Was Young," and unlike many of today's shows about "pioneers of television," this one stays firmly rooted in the 1950's, when the medium really was young. It's hosted by Charles Kuralt, the perfect choice for a retrospective that combines history and nostalgia, looking at an imperfect era with an often romantic hue. We see the great triumphs of early television: series like I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, and Ed Sullivan, landmark anthology dramas from "Requiem for a Heavyweight" to "Twelve Angry Men," stars such as Paul Newman, Jack Lemmon, Grace Kelly and James Dean, and memorable moments from a time when baseball really was the National Pastime.

However - and you knew there has to be one of those - there are also the dark times: the blacklist, the Army-McCarthy hearings, the Korean War, and the Quiz Show Scandal. Although the decade is remembered for serious, intense dramas, there's also a fair share of interference from advertisers and network executives, who often demand changes in the scripts: minor ones, such as a coffee sponsor objecting to characters drinking tea, and major ones, dealing with significant social issues such as race and sex. Some will seem silly, while others - Southern stations refusing to air programs with black entertainers - are appalling.

Ultimately, it is what it is, and that's what history's all about. It's critical that television remembers its own roots, even if many of today's viewers have no idea about it, or the people who created it. But then, if TV doesn't care, why should anyone else? Fortunately, this show exists in its entirety on YouTube; here's part one as a sample, and you can take it from there.

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On weeks when we can, we'll match up two of the biggest rock shows of the '70s, NBC's The Midnight Special and the syndicated Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, and see who's better, who's best.

Hey, what a treat! I can't remember the last time we did this - well, I could look it up, but that would just delay the excitement! Let's see what our shows have in store for us...

Kirshner: The Average White Band, Ray Barretto, David Soul, comic Tom Dressen, and the Mime Company.

Special: British rock is the theme of a show featuring Elton John, Rod Stewart, Fleetwood Mac, Genesis, Electric Light Orchestra, and Queen.

Do you even have to ask? The only reason I'd even hesitate is that for so many years, Tom Dressen opened for Frank Sinatra, and you don't want to disappoint The Chairman. But let's face it: this week there's no comparison, which makes it a special night for The Special - winner by a landslide.

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Continuing with music, some interesting variety specials this week, a genre you don't see much anymore; you can still see concerts with stars like Adele and Lady Gaga, especially (but not exclusively) on HBO or Showtime, but not shows with the traditional Bob Hope-type format. On ABC Saturday night, Paul Lynde gets an hour of his own (8:00 p.m.), a traditional set up with musical guests and comedy skits. Paul's guests are Cloris Leachman, Tony Randall, LeVar Burton, and K.C. and the Sunshine Band, and Paul does a comic monologue about an encounter with an unfriendly alien...

On Monday night at 10:00 p.m, ABC's back as Paul Anka hosts an hour with Natalie Cole and Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band, plus cameos from Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Ann-Margaret, Dean Martin, Don Rickles, and others (singing special lyrics to "My Way."). It's mostly Anka singing his hits from through the years, and he's got plenty of them.

NBC follows up with back-to-back country-flavored specials on Tuesday; the first, at 9:00 p.m., starring the aforementioned "Ann-Margaret. . .Rhinestone Cowgirl." While you let that image sink in for a minute, I'll mention that the special, taped at the Grand Ole Opry, includes appearances by Bob Hope (of course!), Perry Como, Chet Atkins, and Minnie Pearl. That's followed at 10:00 p.m. by an hour with Mac Davis, and his special guests Tom Jones, Dolly Parton, and Donna Summer, and 84-year-old Memphis guitarist Furry Lewis.

Elsewhere, George Burns co-stars with Abbe Lane in a special taped by the BBC in 1975 and airing on WXIA at 10:00 p.m. Thursday. One of the things for which I'm grateful to classic television is the chance to see Burns in his prime, because by this time he's in what I'd call his "Dirty Old Man" phase, with Brooke Shields or some other comely young thing on his arm while he does a little singing and a little more leering. Quite frankly, I didn't much like that George Burns; the Burns of Burns and Allen, on the other hand, is a lot more fun.*

*Although from the stories we read, that Burns had a wondering eye (and hand) as well.

Whereas variety shows were all the rage just a decade ago, most of them are syndicated now and, like the Ann-Margaret/Mac Davis shows, are of the country variety: Buck Owens, Porter Wagoner, Pop Goes the Country, That Good Ole Nashville Music, and Nashville on the Road all run consecutively on WTCG Saturday night, and that doesn't even include Hee Haw and Dolly Parton. (Note how these shows all feature some of the biggest country stars around.) And then there's the one last big network show, Carol Burnett, Saturday at 10:00 p.m. Carol's guest is a pretty big star himself, in stature if not size: Sammy Davis., Jr.

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Baseball season is now in full swing, but the year’s biggest play didn’t happen on the diamond, or even a front office. It occurred, instead, in a board room, where on December 23, 1975, arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled in favor of players Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally in a case challenging baseball’s reserve clause, the provision in the standard contract that allowed teams to “reserve” the rights to players even after their contracts had expired. After the appeals process had played itself out, with the owners finally conceding defeat after losing in the federal courts, Major League Baseball and the Players Association sat down and negotiated the terms of free agency, with the result that many players chose to play the 1976 season without a contract, preferring to test the free agency waters after the season.

The 1977 season will be the first contested in this new environment, and the effect this will have on the game, both short- and long-term, is the subject of Tuesday's CBS Reports special, "The Baseball Business," airing at 10:00 p.m. Fans aren't so naïve as to think baseball isn't a business, of course, not with the strike from a few seasons ago; nonetheless, "free agents, player agents, million-dollar bonuses and long-term contracts" are guaranteed to change the way the game is played, and the way fans, players and owners see it. For this report, correspondent Bill Moyers travels to spring training to look at the team "many have singled out as the most flagrant practitioner of checkbook baseball" - and if you think that team is any other than the New York Yankees, you've got another think coming.

In other sports, Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ABC presents professional bowling's most prestigious event, the Firestone Tournament of Champions from Akron, Ohio. I loved watching the Pro Bowlers Tour when I was a kid; after we moved back from The World's Worst Town™, one of life's simple pleasures was reintroducing myself to the sport and my old favorites, while quickly picking up on new stars. Mike Berlin comes out on top, defeating Mike Durbin in the final match. CBS has an NBA playoff doubleheader on Sunday afternoon, and WTCG has syndicated coverage of the NHL playoffs Sunday night at 8:00 p.m. Oh, and WTCG also has the Braves - of course - taking on the Cardinals Friday night at 8:30 p.m.

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Here's a real collector's item - an article about Bruce Jenner in which the phrase "sex change" is nowhere to be found. The only transformation to be found is the one Jenner's making from track and field to the broadcasting booth with ABC, a challenge Jenner approaches the same way he did when he was in competition: "It may be a good idea," he tells Melvin Durslag. "But I first have to believe it myself, and that's what I'm trying to do."

The son of a tree surgeon, Jenner was an excellent all-around athlete in school, but he didn't try track until he was 20, and didn't get into the decathlon until 1970. Six years later, he won the gold medal at the Montreal Olympics, setting a world record in the process. He admits that his dedication to preparing for the Games put a strain on his marriage, but he hopes that giving up the competitive world of sports will make a new man out of him, and heal the divisions - for the time being, at least. (They divorce in 1981.) Now that he's made himself over, Jenner hopes to start an acting career as well, and as this article is being written, he's won a small part in a movie called - SST - Death Flight.

ABC is bullish on Jenner's future, but as Durslag notes, the athletes most successful at making the transition from the playing field to the broadcast booth - Frank Gifford, Pat Summerall - did so only after long hours of preparation and worth, and the ability to win over their non-athlete colleagues. Concludes Durslag, "[Jenner] has an incredible personality. This will carry him for a while. But how far he goes from there will be up to him." One thing's for sure - as is the case with any former jock, a new life awaits Bruce Jenner.

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Thanks in large part to the local stations, we have a top-notch slate of movies in this pre-movie channel era. Not so with the ABC Sunday Night Movie, alas, at least according to Judith Crist. That movie, For a Few Dollars More*, represents "the sadism of allegedly adult adventure," "the kind of fun you can find at your neighborhood abattoir." That's more than a bit harsh when describing what's become something of a modern classic, but then, as I remember, she never did like Clint. Or Charles Bronson, for that matter. She opts, instead, for A Boy Named Charlie Brown, the 1969 feature-length Peanuts film being shown Friday night on CBS. It's on up against ABC's Friday night effort, "a silly but slanderous view" of cruise ships: The Love Boat. No suggestion that it's destined for long-run success.

*Which, ironically, I was watching while writing Wednesday's Brutalism piece.

No, the big movies this week are home-grown. On Saturday night's Late Movie, WXIA presents the Oscar-winning From Here to Eternity, with Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, and Frank Sinatra. Monday night WGTV, the PBS channel in Atlanta, has a most un-PBS like movie, the 1943 Howard Hughes epic The Outlaw, starring Jane Russell's breasts. Chattanooga's WTVC gets in the act on Tuesday night, with "a TV-edited version" of the 1970 Best Picture, Midnight Cowboy. Come on guys, it's on at 11:30 p.m. - do you really need to show a bowdlerized version? Wednesday night, WTCG offers the 1964 version of Ernest Hemingway's The Killers, anchored by a terrific Lee Marvin performance, with Angie Dickinson and Ronald Reagan (in his last movie role), and Thursday night this proto-TCM follows up with the eerie, disturbing On the Beach, with Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, and Fred Astaire.

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It's been an unusually program-centric review of TV Guide this week, no? And we've barely scratched the surface - for example, on Sunday night, part 15 of Upstairs, Downstairs (9:00 p.m., PBS) takes us to the Great Depression of 1929, when James and Rose are both wiped out by the stock market crash.  Not to mention Tom Snyder's week in Chicago with The Tomorrow Show, and a lineup that includes Bill Veeck, Paul Harvey, Studs Terkel, and Fran Allison. And then there's that Monday night Tonight Show where Johnny's guest is Orson Welles! Don't tell me these '70s issues are starting to rub off... TV  

April 21, 2017

Around the dial

As usual, we have some very good articles to read this week. I'm constantly impressed by the high quality of writing out there, and the thoughtfulness (not to mention creativity) displayed by so many of these authors. That's why I like to do this roundup every week, and believe me when I say I just scratch the surface - there are just as many good ones that I don't write about; if I did, I wouldn't have time to do much else!

The Broadcasting Archives at the University of Maryland has some great info (and pictures) on Joey Bishop’s talk show from the late ‘60s. As I’ve mentioned before, contrary to what most people think today, Bishop really did give Carson a run, until Johnny put the strongarm on guests to keep them from appearing on the Bishop show.

Network is one of those movies (like A Man For All Seasons) that I didn’t really “get” the first time around, but I’ve come to appreciate both of them since. In Network’s case, it’s a razor-sharp satire of the television industry, witty while still managing to make its devastating points. Realweegiemidget takes a closer look at the movie, which I don’t think could be done today – not because TV doesn’t deserve satirizing, but because too much of what happens in Paddy Chayefsky’s Oscar-winning script seems too plausible!

Silver Scenes has a fantastic list of Easter- and other religious-themed movies for the season; even though Easter has passed, there’s always next year – and after all, a movie like Ben-Hur is good for any time of the year!

Back in the day, the Twilight Zone episode "The Fugitive" always made me a bit uneasy. The idea of a young alien king, in the guise of old-timer J. Pat O'Malley, befriending a young girl who suffers at the hands of an abusive aunt - well, that part is OK, but then whisking her to his home planet where she'll grow up to be his bride, that struck me as a bit creepy. The Twilight Zone Vortex doesn't mention that particular apprehension, but their review of the episode leaves little doubt that it's not one of the series' better endeavors.

I ask you: how could you possibly pass up a title like "None of This Crap Works"? If I had a dollar for every time I've said that, I'd be a rich man. At Comfort TV, David uses the phrase to describe his frustrations with streaming video, internet problems - all crap that doesn't work. (Come to think if it, this really does sound like me.) That may be what we're left with, though, if the classic TV DVD market continues to dry up. (David also makes some very interesting observations about the series he struggled to stream, Netflix's 13 Reasons Why.

Cult TV Blog takes me back to an Avengers episode that people either love or hate - "Small Game for Big Hunters." John and I see eye-to-eye on this - we think it's a good episode, and it stands as a reminder once again of why it's important to take a show in the context of the times from which it comes, and to look at that show in terms of what it can tell the viewer about those times.

That should do it for the time being; I'll try and keep up with everyone with my own efforts tomorrow. TV  

April 19, 2017

The Brutalist era of television

Lileks wrote something last week about architecture, and I keep coming back to it because it seems to me that there’s an essential truth embedded in what he wrote, and one way to tell whether or not it’s both essential and true is to try it out in another area, another field of endeavor, and see if it still holds up.

He’s writing about the architectural style called Brutalism, and I’d contend that television today, for all its achievements in storytelling and sophistication, is displaying something of its own Brutalist movement. Architecture and television are both creative, even artistic, forms, and they both can be used to tell a story, so it seems to make some sense to think there could be similarities. And ironically, the era of architectural Brutalism to which Lileks refers – the mid-60s – is precisely the era in which television displayed perhaps its least Brutalist characteristics. Or perhaps it isn’t so ironic after all.

In the most literal sense, the Brutalism of television has, in context, been an issue for decades. Whenever an act of violence occurs – assassinations, riots, mass shootings – television has been held up as one of the contributing factors. As an easy example, the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy resulted in well-documented cases of episodes being pulled off the air in response to public revulsion. These were episodes that had already been made, so there was no question that they’d be aired eventually – just not at the time, in the wake of what had happened. (Whether network executives expected audiences to be more discerning about these episodes when they did air, or, more cynically, they figured people would have forgotten about the fuss, is anyone’s guess.) The point is this: if you go back and look at most of these episodes and compared them to the content of programs on cable and network today, you’d find the level of “violence” laughable, almost genteel. The point is, I think you could make the case that every time this happens, and TV tones its act down accordingly, it winds up regeneration somewhere down the line, ever more graphic (both visually and psychologically) – more brutal – than before. And they’re not just brutal in content, but in look as well; natural lighting which often gives the shows a perpetually dark look; washed out colors that accomplish the same thing, as well as suggesting characters drained of hope; and graphic sex and violence that serves to dehumanize the characters and desensitize the viewers. There was something stylized about the violence of early television – not unlike the stylized nature of Streamlined architecture of the pre-Brutalist era – where, for example, multiple gunshot wounds rarely produced the kind of blood that one would see in real life. It didn’t need to; the viewer’s imagination would supply the rest. Now, the producers want you to see every speck of blood, every particle of bone fragment or brain tissue – and in HD to boot.

I’ve mentioned this before, and it’s not an original thought of mine, that this has created a universe that bears little resemblance to that with which most people are familiar, one to which very few would aspire. As Lileks puts it with regard to architecture, “Their answer to ‘the urban problem’ was to raze history and replace it with something unmoored from human experience.” I think the same goes with television. One of Brutalism’s proponents described the experiment, “We had a very modern, sixties attitude towards what an urban university should be. We thought it should provide skills and philosophies that would help resolve the urban problem. Of course it didn’t. But the buildings reflected that effort.”

The favorite example is a program like Leave it to Beaver, which may have presented an idealistic view of family life in the ‘50s, but which remained recognizable to most people, and which had many aspects that were attainable to the average American family. In the same way that pre-Brutalist architecture gave us buildings that guided the eye upward, presenting their beauty in an aspirational sense, television of the ‘50s and ‘60s lifted viewers up, rather than pressing them down. In addition to their messages, which I’ll get to in the next paragraph or so, there was the sheer beauty of late-‘60s programming, the vividness of the palate in the wake of the transfer to all-color programming. The lighting may have been unrealistically bright, the colors themselves might have lacked decorating sense, but there was something celebratory about them, something that doesn’t come through in the more naturalistic cinematography that’s used today. And, as we know, “naturalism,” along with “functionality,” is a word and a philosophy closely associated with Brutalism. But television of the ‘50s and ‘60s didn’t necessarily have to be functional in an intellectual or philosophical sense, just in the way in which it served its dual purposes of attracting viewers and selling products.

So far the analogy has worked primarily in an aesthetic sense, because both television and architecture are visual media. Pre-Brutalist architecture celebrated that aesthetic pleasure, in the same way that pre-Brutalist television tended not to emphasize the ugly side of life. In fact, though, Brutalism is not just a visual style of architecture, but a philosophical as well; buildings that, according to Lileks, “were technocratic machines for making technocrats and social scientists.” He’s talking about college campuses, where Brutalism was a big hit, but he could be talking about business as well. He continues: “It is possible to be rational and beautiful, but there’s always a certain type of pinched soul drained of wit who distrusts beauty: it cozens and seduces you from the true goal, which is usually some sociopolitical objective.” Again, he’s talking about architecture, but he could just as well be talking about modern television. The aspirational ideal of pre-Brutalist television exists, not just aesthetically, but as a link to the past. The Honeymooners sent the message that success was possible for the lower middle-class. The moral of the story in Dragnet was that crime didn’t pay. Perry Mason presented a man dedicated to preserving the integrity of the legal system and the defense of the innocent. Countless comedies and dramas gave us a nuclear family that could at least give one hope that the thorniest problems could be solved if a family was determined to solve them. Even a show like The Beverly Hillbillies, derisively dismissed though it may have been, could reassure viewers that wealth didn’t have to corrupt the average man. These were all themes that were part of the American psyche, that - to use a cliche - had been passed down from generation to generation in their familiarity.

Shows such as these still exist, but many of them have an additional flavor thrown in, a sense of cynicism that, at its best, does not flatter it, and at its worst, degrades and offends a large segment of the public with its abrupt divorce from the past. We shouldn’t be surprised by this; One of the characteristics of Brutalist architects, writes Lileks, is that many of them typify “a certain type of pinched soul drained of wit who distrusts beauty: it cozens and seduces you from the true goal, which is usually some sociopolitical objective.” The humor of today’s shows, for example, takes many forms, but a genuine wit is seldom one of them. Its primary characteristic is snark and ridicule, which it employs relentlessly in support of its underlying message of tolerance and freedom of expression – or, as some might put it, libertinism. Often, to accept the humor of a given situation, one is forced to accept also the premise which the program tries to present. With Friends, for instance, the premise was that sex is “no big deal”, and only if you conceded that premise did the humor become natural. Modern Family presents homosexuality as “no big deal,” and if shows like this ever think to portray characters who have trouble reconciling this lifestyle with their own moral values, it’s only done with the proviso that those moral values have to be presented as being wrong.

Dramas carry their own agenda, predictably a liberal one. You might recall that a few weeks ago I wrote about the problems ‘70s television had in portraying the drug crisis, and how much of that challenge revolved around ideology.* So it is with television today, especially in its ability to create programing that “flyover” territory can identify with. Considering how over 90% of people in the industry profess a liberal political agenda, it’s only natural. It does, however, transform television from a medium of entertainment (and commerce) to one that favors and advocates a distinct ideological way of thinking and behaving.

*One reason why I’ve tended to limit the pre-Brutalist era of television to the ‘50s and ‘60s; this is not to say, however, that the Brutalist aesthetic had infiltrated programming of the ‘70s and ‘80s to the extent that it has today. It didn’t. However, it would be foolish to suggest that Brutalism simply sprung up out of nowhere, and I think the ‘70s is a good place to look

Everything from police procedurals to legal dramas are filled with this weary cynicism, which again is implicit in the Brutalist style. As Lileks writes, “[Y]ou might think its example was enough to put everyone off the idea for the rest of human civilization.” Just as the Brutalist landscape leaves you thinking that it "looks like a place for a robed, mutated council to pronounce sentence on a man from the irradiated outlands," Brutalist television can leave one with that crushing feeling. Lileks, in another column, has it just right: "The very thing that makes modern TV so different from old rote TV with its one-off eps and no continuity is the same thing that makes it feel like a duty some times." And this makes sense: after all, being forced to sit in school and learn what's good for you often feels like a duty, and as we've seen, Brutalism tried to impart that same kind of aesthetic medicine. The Brutalist message is thus: "If we have curved, meandering paths and different styles of buildings, the students we produce will have minds so accustomed to disorder they will hesitate to shoot the proletariat when - I mean, they will be unable to properly grasp the need for theories that shape the masses for the betterment of all!" In other words, let's make it easy for the viewers to understand the proper feelings, emotions, opinions.

This is an imperfect analogy, of course; all analogies are, and any one of you can probably come up with examples of current television shows that fail to fit neatly into this comparison, or contradict it completely*, as well as dozens of shows from the '50s and '60s that don't even rise to the level of crap. It's also an imperfect example of - well, I won't call it scholarship, because it fails the academic standards of research that would be required to classify it as such. It's an opinion piece, albeit a well-reasoned one, if I do say so myself. But then, I never claimed this site to be a scholarly one. If I took the time to research everything I wrote, there might be fewer mistakes and more sophisticated theories - but there'd also be about half the number of pieces, and I don't really think you'd like that, do you? By the time this makes it to the book, combined with other essays comparing past and present television, I suspect I'll have had the opportunity to flesh it out a little more.

*And let's face it, everyone enjoys a little Brutality once in a while,he says as he watches the end of "For a Few Dollars More." But then, Clint hardly seems to exhibit the world-weariness that so many of today's television stars show.

At any rate, I think it makes for a compelling argument. And you remember how, at the beginning, I said that perhaps it wasn't so ironic after all that the Brutalist era of architecture coincided with the least Brutalist era of television? Recall that as Lileks writes, those Brutalist-designed campuses were intended to be "technocratic machines," and recall also that those students who were products of that education are probably the showrunners and scriptwriters of today. Coincidence?

April 17, 2017

What's on TV? Tuesday, April 18, 1972

This week it's another trip to the Baltimore-Washington area, and one of the first things you might notice about the prime-time lineup is that for NBC and CBS, the network programming ends at 10:30 p.m. ET, rather than 11. The implementation of the new access rule (about which you read a complaint in the Letters to the Editor section last week) exempts Sunday and Tuesday (for now), but the Peacock and Tiffany networks have both ceded Tuesday's final half-hour back to local stations anyway. (ABC made up for it, at least in the spring, by giving back the last 30 minutes on Wednesday.)

As I've suggested before, this was, on balance, a bad idea - the extra time was rarely used the way it was intended, and today it means more to local stations as a source of revenue than a way of serving the community. For ABC, it didn't make any different tonight anyway; they've preempted Marcus Welby, M.D., for the fifth game of the NBA Western Conference finals between Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's current team, the Milwaukee Bucks, and his future team, the Los Angeles Lakers.

By the way, in case you ever wondered what the original owners of these TV Guides watched at the time, perhaps the pencil marks give us an idea. Or maybe it's just a way of ranking the shows?

April 15, 2017

This week in TV Guide: April 15, 1972

There's another moon landing scheduled for this week, and to say something this matter-of-factly a few weeks ago would have been unthinkable. And yet that's what success will do for you. By Apollo 13 the novelty of a manned moon flight was already wearing off, and it was only the life-and-death struggle to get the astronauts back that captured the public's attention. Apollo 14 would have brought people back somewhat, just to see if anything happened this time, but by the time of Apollo 16, it takes a moon buggy to capture people's imagination once again.

The launch of Apollo 16 comes off as scheduled on Sunday, with the first of three moon walks taking place on Thursday. And while that little car might not look like much, it revolutionizes exploration of the moon, dramatically increasing the amount of terrain that astronauts John Young and Charlie Duke will be able to cover. And there will be more television coverage of this trip than ever before, including three prime-time color broadcasts live from the moon - with, NASA says, an improved and "cleaned up" picture. They also promise a better view of the Lunar Module launch from the moon's surface to reunite with Ken Mattingly, orbiting the moon - the camera on Apollo 15 failed to follow the upward flight of the LM, but "a new-type clutch in the camera mounting should fix that." And while the shock absorbers on the buggy aren't good enough to permit live shots while it's moving, it will allow viewers at home to see some truly spectacular shots of the moon's terrain, including Stone and Smoky Mountains and Palmetto crater.

Hard to believe that after this, there's only one more moon flight - December's launch of Apollo 17, the first nighttime launch. And after that - well, there's the joint mission with the Soviets, and then the space shuttle and the international space station, and - that's it. Forty-five years later, and we haven't returned to the moon since.

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Throughout the 60s and early 70s, TV Guide's reviews were written by the witty and acerbic Cleveland Amory. Whenever we get the chance, we'll look at Cleve's latest take on the series of the era. 

I'll be upfront (as I always am with you, dear readers) by admitting that I've never been a fan of David Frost, and so you'll forgive me if I seem to be focusing on only the negative parts of Cleve's review. But then, where is one to go when the very first paragraph notes that Our Favorite Reviewer takes "a rather dim vue of it." When he adds that "it's not all bad, by any means," you know that's damning with faint praise. Part of the problem stems from the talent that Frost has apparently displayed for the deft interview, and Amory feels that he deserves higher standards than what he's been given here. The jokes are old - for example, in discussing the Seven Deadly Sins, Frost refers to "autolatry," defined as "the intemperate worship of one's automobile - and they weren't all that funny to begin with.

Frost has a band of regulars, ala Steve Allen, who join him in each episode, and with the exception of Jack Gilford, who does "long vignettes," the cast "are subjected to one or two skits which are either underwritten or overdirected or both." Of course, that's nothing terribly unusual - Saturday Night Live has been doing the same thing for decades - but that doesn't mean it's very good, either. Even when a bit does succeed at hitting the mark, there seems to be just too much of it, and as we all know too much of anything isn't necessarily a good thing.

Amory also complains that guest stars aren't used to their particular advantage, and that can be fatal - when Sid Caesar is your guest and you're not getting laughs, there's something seriously wrong. This show, which happened to be about politics - every episode tends to have a theme - should have been a barrel of laughs; if you can't find something funny about politics, you might as well just give up. And yet, as Amory notes, he could only think of two funny scenes, and one of those was overcooked. It is too bad, as he notes in conclusion, that the show doesn't come off better. "Can't anybody on this show tell what's funny and what isn't?" he asks plaintively. "And, if he can, why doesn't he tell somebody else?"

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If David Frost had really wanted to do a funny show about politics, he should have turned to David Brinkley. He's no longer anchoring The Huntley-Brinkley Report since Chet Huntley's retirement, but his commentaries on NBC Nightly News allow him a platform from which he can launch his incisive opinions, most of which are quite funny without him even trying. (Frost, take note!)

For example, there's the story of the time he was in West Virginia covering the 1960 Democratic presidential primary, when the longest lines weren't to talk to the candidates, but to get Brinkley's autograph. "It was just . . .embarrassing," Brinkley recalls. "What I think is that you could put a baboon on television every night for 15 years and he'd become some sort of celebrity."

It's that refusal to take himself seriously that's endeared himself to so many. Brinkley considers himself not a celebrity, nor an anchorman, but a newsman - a reporter. And yet, even within that definition, there are limitations. He compares the lot of the journalist to that of a politician. "In the case of the politicians, it's a seeking of approval and a seeking for power. In journalism it may be more of the first and less of the latter, because there's no real power in journalism. People say you have it, but you don't. You may write about them, talk about them, watch them, follow them, chronicle their doings, but they have the power."

It's not all fun and games, being a respected television reporter; as a matter of fact, it isn't much fun at all. "I like what I do, but I don't much like the way I have to do it," he says, lamenting that with the tight, rigid schedule under which they all have to work, TV newsmen often wind up slapping something together, rather than crafting a story that really interests him. He does find, however, encouragement in his frequent trips to speak on college campuses. Whether or not young people are as smart as they think they are, or have all the answers, ("everybody who's 19 years old is wrong about a lot of things, because in most cases he doesn't know what he's talking about"), "they do talk and they do care about it and they think about it and they ask about it and they read about it." Had previous generations done this, he thinks, "this country would be in much better shape now than it is."

Interspersed with glimpses of Brinkley's grueling workday ("At the end of the day I'm like a squeezed lemon."), are more of his pithy comments on the issues of the day. "The Federal Government is marvelously equipped to start things and totally ill-equipped to stop them. It never stops anything. Everything that was started in the '30s to deal with the Depression and unemployment is still thriving and booming. Government as an instrument of social reform is an idea I used to hold but don't much any longer." He's a fervent believer in freedom of the press, reminding one and all that "if people are concerned about dangers to their liberties, they ought to know where these dangers come from, and they do not come from the press." And he is convinced that "power is very much apart from the people. The people in this country have no power."

Lest you get too caught up in this seriousness, though, one more Brinkley anecdote to lighten the mood" "When I was [in the Washington airport] waiting for an airplane, a lady came up to me and said, 'Aren't you Chet Huntley?' And I said, 'Yes.' Actually, that is the polite answer, because first of all, it doesn't make any difference. People confuse us all the time; nothing could be less important, so if I had said, 'No, I'm Brinkley,' then she would have been embarrassed and would have felt it necessary to apologize, which was not necessary, and this would have taken some time and I would have missed my airplane. So I said, 'Yes,' and she said, 'Well, I want to say I think you're pretty good, but I don't know how you put up with that idiot in Washington'."

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Of all the items of interest this week, one stands out from the rest, a momentous change in television. On Wednesday, April 19, Johnny Carson hosts the last regular episode of The Tonight Show from New York; after a few days off, the show will start up again on May 1 from its new home in Hollywood. This is a landmark in more ways than one. It demonstrates, once and for all, that the celebrity balance of power has moved away from New York and the legitimate theater, and to California, the land of movies and television. That might not mean much to those of you who grew up watching Johnny from Hollywood (or Burbank, if you will), but there was something about New York that gave those shows a different feel.

New York was the home of the first late-night show, Broadway Open House, with Jerry Lester. It was the home to Lester's successors in the time slot, Steve Allen and Jack Paar. When Tonight was done live, it could count on stars appearing after they'd finished a Broadway performance. There were comedians who were playing in the Village, or at clubs in other parts of the city. Most celebrities promoting their latest book or movie or television show had to pass through New York at some point in time, and a trip to Tonight was natural. There was a sense of - I don't know, maybe grown-up sophistication - that wasn't particularly apparent in Hollywood. But one has to go where the stars are - Joey Bishop had done his show from there, and Merv Griffin would soon move his as well - and Johnny wanted to make the move, so there.

Of course, with Jimmy Fallon as host The Tonight Show has returned to the city of its birth, and Letterman was always based there. It's a different New York, naturally, a different world in fact. I'm not sure there is any one center of the entertainment world anymore, not when you can make a successful web series or cut an album from your own home, not when travel between the two coasts is much more commonplace. There was a time, though - and that time runs out this week.

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The Doan Report has the scoop on the new television season, as CBS and ABC announce their new fall lineups, to go along with NBC, which made their announcement last month. Anything here we should be concerned with? Well, yes.

On CBS, debuting series include M*A*S*H, "an army hospital comedy with Alan Alda and Wayne Rogers," Cousin Maude, with Bea Arthur in a spin-off from All in the Family, Spencer's Mountain, starring Richard Thomas, and The Bob Newhart Show, with Bob "as a condominium manager, with Suzanne Pleshette as his wife." Obviously, some of these series underwent a bit of fine-tuning between now and the time in September when they go on the air - Spencer's Mountain becomes The Waltons, Maude drops the "Cousin," and Newhart goes from managing a condo to being a psychologist. Still, that's not bad for one season. To make way, the losers include My Three Sons, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, and Arnie.

How does ABC counter this? Start with The Rookies, about "four young, antiviolence policement," Temperature's Rising, which the network tried so hard to make work, The Julie Andrews Show, which should have worked, and Kung Fu and The Streets of San Francisco, which did work. Among the casualties: The Courtship of Eddie's Father, Longstreet, and Bewitched (sorry, Adam-Michael!).

By the way, speaking of Eddie's Father, Brandon Cruz - Eddie - is among the acquaintances waiting to surprise Bill Bixby on This Is Your Life (WJZ, 10:30 p.m. Wednesday). He's joined by Ray Walston (My Favorite Martian), William Windom, and Dinah Shore. I wonder if you could do a show like that nowadays? "Kim Kardashian, this is your life!" I mean, what more is there to show?

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It was called "Ping Pong Diplomacy," the exchange of table tennis players between the United States and Communist China; it helped make possible Nixon's trip to China, and on Saturday it's the feature presentation on ABC's Wide World of Sports (5:00 p.m. ET), as the Chinese team kicks off its 13-city tour of the U.S. It is not, however, the only pivotal moment in sports history that day, as a syndicated lineup of stations presents third-round coverage of the richest tournament in women's professional golf history, the inaugural Dinah Shore Women's Circle Championship, from Palm Springs, California (5:30 p.m.). The winner's share of the purse is $20,000, nothing to sneeze at, but it's Dinah's long-term support of women's golf, starting here, that makes this tournament one of the oldest and most prestigious on the women's tour to this day, even though the late star's name is no longer appended to the tournament.

On Sunday, we get a glimpse at one of the most infamous stars from the Jerry Springer era of television: Maury Povich. Only he's not involved in sleazy, sensationalist chat yet; he's best-known as the son of famed Washington baseball writer Shirley Povich, and at 10:30 p.m. on WTTG, his Sports, People and Povich show takes a look "A Town Without a Team: - the first year without baseball in the nation's capital, now that the Senators have moved to Texas.

One of the biggest music stars of the early '70s, Chuck Mangione, headlines with the Rochester (N.Y.) Philharmonic in a 90 minute special on PBS Monday night (8:00 p.m. ET). He had some really big hits in the day - do that many people remember him today? Meanwhile, Dinah Shore guest stars as herself in Here's Lucy (9:00 p.m., CBS). The redhead, typically, is star-struck to meet her.

On Tuesday, Today (7:00 a.m., NBC) presents a terrific show, with the legendary conductor Leopold Stokowski* interviewed on the occasion of his 90th birthday, after which John Houseman discusses his memoir Run-Through.

*"Leopold!" in the Bugs Bunny cartoon "Long-Haired Hare," and the maestro in the Disney movie Fantasia.

We've already touched on Wednesday a couple of times, so we'll skip to Thursday, where I love this description of tonight's Ironside: " 'Murder Impromptu,' a whodunit about an on-stage stabbing during an improvisational comedy show." I don't ever remember that happening on Who's Line is it, Anyway? - not even the British version. CBS counters this with a CBS Reports look at Chicago Mayor Richard Daley - timely, with a presidential election coming up.

And there's supposed to be some baseball on Friday, but at press time, we're not quite sure. Under the description for the Cleveland - Baltimore game, the notation informs us that "a players' strike threatened cancellation of the game." For those of you who've never known a time when labor unrest was not part of professional sports, you can't appreciate how disturbing this possibility was. The players walked on April 1, and didn't return until April 13, when the union reached agreement with the owners about salary arbitration and increases in the players pension fund. Nearly 90 games were cancelled during the strike, and were never made up - cold comfort to the Boston Red Sox, who will lose the American League East title to the Detroit Tigers by one-half game because the Sox will have one more game cancelled than the Tigers. It's just the way the ball bounces, I guess. TV  

April 14, 2017

Bishop Sheen, Good Friday, 1979

There probably has never been a religious figure, with the possible exception of Billy Graham, more familiar to television viewers than Bishop Fulton Sheen. His program Life Is Worth Living ran on network and syndicated television from 1951 to 1968, and reruns appeared on local television for years afterward.

The following is from his Good Friday reflection at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City on Friday, April 13, 1979. It's known as his "last Good Friday," since he died on December 9 of that year. I've said it before, but I think his message is every bit as relevant today as it was then. Timeless, in other words.

April 12, 2017

Two from Trotta

Hopefully, many of you will remember Liz Trotta, the former correspondent for NBC and CBS from the mid-60s through the 80s. Throughout her career she’s had to battle on two fronts: as a woman - the first to report from Vietnam for television - and as a conservative. She’s also had a perspective on the world that many of her colleagues lack, one that’s shown in the two engrossing books she’s written about wildly different topics.

Fighting for Air: In the Trenches with Television News, written in 1991, is her memoir on her television days, beginning with her time at NBC. It was there that she found herself, as they say, in “the jungles of Vietnam”, and while that sounds like a trite cliché, it’s difficult to find a better way to describe that claustrophobic war, one in which nature itself seemed to suffocate those who went there. Heart of darkness, indeed – Trotta writes that she’s still haunted by the experience, and it’s easy to see why. On one hand, the country tries to swallow you up, while at the same time you have to worry about someone shooting at you, and all the while questions continue to be asked about the meaning of it all. (Sometimes I think the wonder of Vietnam is that anyone returned without being insane, addicted, depressed, or dead – in fact, Trotta’s six-month assignment comes about after two reporters are wounded and another suffers a breakdown; as she puts it, NBC’s “cannon fodder was getting scarce.”)

Trotta’s view of the war is that the only thing wrong is ``the U.S. government's half-hearted commitment to it,'' and that pro-war sentiment gets her in trouble with the more liberal members of the network, including soon-to-be evening news anchor John Chancellor, and it’s a foreshadowing of the trouble she’ll have throughout her journalistic career – well, that and her own outspoken nature. (I knew there was a reason I liked her!) Throughout her career, she covers some of the big stories that the job has to offer, from presidential campaigns to civil war in the Philippines, from war between India and Pakistan to the hostage crisis in Iran, from unrest in Northern Ireland to the murder trial of Claus von Bulow.

Trotta suggests her conservative politics, along with that outspokenness (she’s wonderfully candid about many of her colleagues, as well as the issues of the day) is what leads to her “demotion” by NBC (just after winning an Overseas Press Club award) and her sacking at CBS (supposedly for being “too old” at age 41), and the quality of her work certainly lends credence to those who suggest that the media is more interested in their own narrative than in the actual story.

It’s a great read, but her second book proves to be a real change of pace, one that’s not only intriguing but quite affecting. Jude: A Pilgrimage to the Saint of Last Resort, written in 1998, serves partly as a biography of the famous “patron saint of desperate causes,” about whom we actually know very little. His actual name may have been Judas Thaddaeus, and during his lifetime he may have been a victim of mistaken identity from those who confused him with the betrayer of Jesus.* The Latin translation of the Roman Canon contains no mention of Jude; instead, he is referred to as Thaddeaus. Aside from the Epistle of Jude, which the saint may or may not have written, there is but one line in the Bible credited to him: “Lord, why is it that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?” (John 14:22).

*Which may help explain how Jude became the patron of lost causes. Since so many wrongly associated him with Judas and for that reason gave him less attention and reverence than the other disciples, "St. Jude is ready and waiting to hear the prayers of those who call upon him."

Trotta shares with us the fantastic story of the Image of Edessa, or Mandylion, a piece of cloth upon which the image of Jesus had been imprinted and which Jude is often portrayed as wearing around his neck. According to tradition, King Abgar of Edessa had written to Jesus, asking him to come and cure him of an illness; Jesus had replied that he would not be able to come, but the king would later be visited by one of his disciples – which turned out to be Jude, bringing the Mandylion as a sign. Abgar was cured of his illness, and the rest, as they say, is history.

While all this is educational, it is the personal testimonials which Trotta relates that makes the greatest impact. In story after story, ordinary people relate how and what circumstances they've turned to Jude. Probably the most famous is that of entertainer Danny Thomas, who prayed to Jude for success in show business and vowed that if his prayer were to be answered, he would build a shrine to the saint in gratitude. This, of course, is how St. Jude Children's Hospital came to be. And indeed there are many stories of people cured of illnesses, freed from unemployment, reunited with lost family members, and so on. Just as impressive, however, are those who come to Jude not in desperation, but for everyday requests - a good day at work, success on a test. To them Jude is not the saint of last resort, but a friend with whom they talk every day. As for her own relationship with Jude, Trotta confides that she has yet to approach him with that desperate petition for help. She doesn't want to take the saint lightly, wasting his time with something inconsequential to her life. When the time is right to go to him, she will know.

There is something about St. Jude, as Trotta notes, that compels people not just to seek him out, but to share him with others. Almost everyone who has been the beneficiary of his intercession has at one time or another "gone public" with their thanks, hoping to serve as an example for others in similar situations. In my own case, I consider everything about our return to Minnesota - the jobs which enabled us to make the move, the apartment which we found on very short notice, the success of a move that was put together in about two weeks - to be inexplicable any other way. There was absolutely no reason to think that everything would fall into place the way it did; it's not an exaggeration to say that it happened against all odds. Some might ask for more proof - I rather think that asking for help and receiving it is proof enough. Gratitude does not begin to explain it.

The story of Jude is filled with such examples, and as a result some critics have dismissed Trotta's book as mere hagiography. I'm not sure about that; in the first place, as a journalist she's too good for that. She doesn't attempt to hide her Catholicism, however, nor her belief in the intercessory powers of the saints. If that strikes some as cheerleading, so be it.

With Fighting for Air and Jude, Liz Trotta addresses the two dominant themes of our time, Caesar and Christ, and renders to each their due. We stand to profit from those endeavors.