April 8, 2017

This week in TV Guide: April 10, 1971

The tradition of holding the Academy Awards ceremony on Monday night started, according to Oscar historian Damien Bona, because Monday was the slowest night of the week for movie viewing. By scheduling the show on Monday, the thinking went, you’d be less likely to pull movie fans away from the theater so they could sit in front of their television sets to watch an awards show about movies.

Over the years there had been occasional exceptions to the rule; in 1968 the Oscars were moved to Wednesday to allow interested parties to travel to Martin Luther King’s funeral in Atlanta on Tuesday and in 1981 the ceremony was delayed by a day due to the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan. Now, of course, they’re held on Sunday, the night on which TV has its highest viewership. (Ironic, isn’t it, that the emphasis is now on what’s best for TV rather than the movie industry.) But there was a time, back in 1971, when the Academy decided to do something really radical – and so they scheduled the Oscars for Thursday. I'm not really sure why; there's no explanation in Bona and Wiley's definitive history, and a cursory internet search failed to turn anything up. Easter was on Sunday, so perhaps the Academy was uncomfortable with staging the big show on Easter Monday - but surely it's been done before, n'est-ce pas? Or maybe the Academy was simply trying different things - the 1970 show was on Tuesday. I think Thursday is a perfectly good day for the Oscars; after all, if the show runs too late you can take Friday off, and make a three-day weekend out of it.* However, whatever the experiment hoped to accomplish apparently didn’t pan out, and next year the ceremony was back to Monday, where it mostly stayed until it moved to Sunday in 1999.

*It’s the third-longest ceremony to date, running eight minutes short of three hours, which today would be considered breathtakingly short – by contrast, the 2002 broadcast will last four hours and 23 minutes. It’s still apparently still too long for the Academy, though: the 1972 show will clock in at one hour and 44 minutes. Yes, those were the days.

That’s not all that’s different about this year’s Oscarcast though: for one thing, it’s being televised not on longtime home ABC, but on NBC (at 10:00 p.m. ET) – the Peacock Network is in the first of a five-year deal, after which the rights are won back by ABC, which has had them ever since. And Bob Hope, the perennial emcee of the show, is merely one of a number of presenters who share the hosting duties.* Hope has been involved in the show for 30 years, and Leslie Raddatz looks back on some of the more memorable moments from Hope's Oscar career, including his five honorary Oscars, his 14 times emceeing the show, and the time he almost missed the start of the show (in 1953) when, of all things, he got stuck in traffic. The fact that Hope has never won an Oscar legitimately doesn't bother him, he says, although it's certainly been fodder for many of his jokes, such as "Welcome to the Academy Awards, or as it's known at my house - Passover." He also used Mission: Impossible in that joke, a few years later.

*I never much liked the idea of multiple hosts, but after the last few years, maybe they should consider going back to it.

Sign of the times: near the end of his article, Raddatz writes that in the years where Hope hasn't been the host, "he has been missed." And yet by 1971, Hope's jokes are falling flat with a new generation of Oscar attendees. A quip about remembering "when a girl says 'I love you,' and it's a declaration, not a demonstration," was actually booed. After years of multiple hosts (or no hosts at all, as was the case in 1971), Hope returns as solo host in 1978 for the 50th anniversary ceremony, after which Johnny Carson takes over. One thing is for sure, and that's that the Oscars used to have glamour - I'm not sure you can say that today.

◊ ◊ ◊

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

It's not often that a talk show gets the Amory treatment, but not every talk show is hosted by Merv Griffin. The question is: is this a good thing?

When Merv was in syndication, it was a very good thing, says Amory - "relaxed and easy, earnest when the occasion demanded it, and cute but not too cute when it didn't." And then something happened: CBS. When the network picked up Merv to go head-to-head with Carson and Bishop, the producers found the idea of tampering with a successful formula to be irresistible. They "pushed most of Mr. Griffin's old friends, who were the staples of his syndicated show, off - and just about everything else every show did, on." In the midst of this Carson copycat, however, Merv "got lost in the shuttle. He was less a host than a traffic cop, less a personality than a puppet. We never got to know what he was like, or what he liked." The result, laments Cleve, is that "even the people who couldn't stand Mr. Carson couldn't sit still for the new Mr. Griffin."

The cavalry has arrived, though, in the form of a new producer, and with that change there's hope for the show at last. The show's new format stresses themes - one night was filled with old-time orchestra leaders, which Amory says was "a new-time hit parade all by itself." Other shows featured mayors from around the country, Hollywood fathers and their sons, and bachelors vs. married people. This, Amory thinks, was the best yet, featuring a showdown between Cher and former football player Fred "The Hammer" Williamson. After putting Sonny down - or, rather, his mother (My mother-in-law, she says, had an accident: "She went out wearing a yellow coat, and three men tried to jump her. They thought she was a taxicab."), she turns her attentions on the egocentric Williamson, currently appearing on Julia, who "unburdened himself of some of his deepest public secrets, among them the fact that he is beautiful and never asks girls out on dates - they, it seems, ask him." Merv asks The Hammer what he looks for in a girl, to which he replies, "Looks, and obedience." Chimed in Cher, "Oh - a collie."

Concludes Amory, "A few more shows like this, and Mr. Griffin's troubles will be over." Behind the scenes, however, we know that Griffin and the network were constantly at loggerheads, and that in the dying days of his time with the network he was already arranging a return to syndication. By March 1972 he was back where he wanted to be, free of interference from the CBS suits, where he would remain until his retirement in 1986.

◊ ◊ ◊

This week's biggest sporting event is the Masters golf tournament, the third and fourth rounds of which are seen on CBS Saturday and Sunday. As is always the case, the azaleas are matched by a glittering field of champions, but this year's tournament produces a surprise winner - Charles Coody, winning his only major title by two shots over a couple of golfers named Nicklaus and Miller.

It's the first weekend of baseball season, and since this is a Cleveland-area TV Guide, we're not surprised to see a couple of Indians games, against the Boston Red Sox on Saturday and Sunday. NBC's Game of the Week coverage debuts on Saturday with the defending World Series champion Baltimore Orioles hosting the Detroit Tigers. The Orioles are going to be very, very good this year as well, and they'll make it back to the Series, where they'll lose in seven games to the Pittsburgh Pirates - a Series that will give us the first-ever nighttime post-season game, and change the way we watch the Fall Classic forever.

The NBA playoffs are in full swing, and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. ET ABC will give us a conference finals game between two teams yet to be determined. Just think - the conference finals. The playoffs won't even have started on April 10 this year, and there's something just wrong about that. CBS counters with a quarter-final matchup between the Chicago Black Hawks and either the Minnesota North Stars or Philadelphia Flyers. (Hint: it's the Flyers.) The Stanley Cup playoffs won't have started by April 10 this year either. I think that in many ways sports was a lot better back then.

◊ ◊ ◊

Let's see, I already mentioned Thursday's Academy Awards broadcast, and on the night before, there's a star-studded look at Oscar's past and present. It's not hosted by Barbara Walters, though, but by Hollywood columnist Rona Barrett, whose syndicated special airs on Cleveland's WEWS, thereby preempting a special called Changing Scene, which in turn preempts The Johnny Cash Show. I guess the scene indeed is changing, and we'll see it first-hand with Robert Goulet, Robert Culp (singing!), Barbara Eden, comedians Jud Strunk (I haven't heard that name in years) and Bernie Koppell, John Denver, and the Mike Curb Congregation.

Sunday is Easter, and while it doesn't measure up to Christmas in terms of television content, there are a number of religious specials on the day, including morning services, classical music (on ABC's Directions), and - provided the basketball game doesn't run too long - the Rankin-Bass animated special Here Comes Peter Cottontail (5:00 p.m., ABC), featuring the voices of Danny Kaye and Vincent Price.  It's not limited to Sunday, though; Lawrence Welk and his Champagne Music Makers celebrate with their annual Easter program on Saturday (7:30 p.m., ABC) and the King Family returns for their own seasonal syndicated special on Tuesday (7:30 p.m., WUAB).

And the week's starlet is Brenda Sykes, "99 pounds of surprise," who parlayed a winning appearance on The Dating Game to a string of appearances in Mayberry, R.F.D. and Room 222, and movies with Elliott Gould and Rock Hudson. She also happened to be the girlfriend of Fred "The Hammer" Williamson during that infamous appearance on The Merv Griffin Show that we read about earlier. When not tangling with Cher, Williamson mentioned to Merv that "he had no trouble acquiring girls." When the show was over and he went to take her home, he found that she had disappeared - for good. "I think I was ready to break that one up," she says.

Her career pretty much ends in the '70s, with a few more appearances on the big and small screens. Her first husband was Grammy winner Gil Scott-Heron, with whom she had a daughter, poet Gia Scott-Heron; I suppose the fact that I haven't heard of either her or her poetry is my fault.

◊ ◊ ◊

Want a sign of how things have changed? I'll just give you a headline, from The Doan Report: "TV Most Trusted of Mass Media, Survey Says." That wasn't one of Richard Dawson's surveys from Family Feud, was it?

◊ ◊ ◊

Finally, let's take a look at letters. I almost always find these interesting, not least because it gives us a bit of insight not only into what was going on back then, but how people felt about it - something that isn't readily apparent when all you do is read the listings.

John Potter Jr. of Rochester, New York (or as it's known here in Minnesota, "the other Rochester"), is shocked by the FCC's recent decision to give a half-hour of prime time back to local stations. But don't take my word for it - let him tell you himself: "I am shocked [see?] at the recent requirements of the FCC to cut some more network programming for more local programming. How does one of those low-budget amateur local shows rate against shows like Lassie and Wild Kingdom? Americans are going to miss a lot of good shows. Merrill Panitt's response: "FCC says there are a number of reasons for the new rule but 'the main thrust' is to encourage greater diversity of programming by giving independent film producers an opportunity to compete for time."

This entire exchange is full of irony. Mr. Potter is right when he touts shows like Lassie and Wild Kingdom, but it's unlikely he could have foreseen that in the not-too-distant future, Wild Kingdom would, in first-run syndication, fill that very half-hour in many markets, as could Lassie when it went into syndicated reruns. The amateur local programming that had Mr. Potter concerned (and some FCC commissioners hopeful) never materialized, not really, and I can't believe that "independent film producers" profited much either. The real winner was someone like Merv Griffin, who was able to make a few dollars by strip-programming Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune into that half-hour "local" programming. My own opinion is that viewers would, indeed, have been better served had those 30 minutes remained with the networks. The only way this was going to work was if the FCC had forced local stations to producer their own programming. I wonder how that would have gone?

Then there's the letter from Dorothy B. Forsythe of Broomall, Pennsylvania, who has a gripe about commercials. "During a recent illness, I watched daytime TV for five hours and witnessed 151 commercials. On another occasion, as we settled to watch 'Ben-Hur,' my husband said, 'I wonder how many commercials we will see in the next four hours?' I got pad and pencil and counted them - 74. . . I know commercials pay the bill, but isn't there a less annoying way of doing it?" Yes, Dorothy, there is - it's called pay-TV. And today we often pay over a hundred dollars a month for the privilege of seeing commercial-free movies, while other programs have more commercials than ever. What was I saying about ironic?

Staying on the same subject, K. Rita Hart of South Euclid, Ohio (I wonder what the K. stands for?) writes, "A month ago, I came back from a 45-day stay in Sweden (my birthplace). It was grand, but the TV shows are still next to nothing  and no commercials. I bless American TV with all its commercials. Without them, we wouldn't hve any good shows at all." Hmm, if she's Swedish, her name could have been Kaarin; went with her middle name to sound more American. At any rate, I can't figure out whether or not she's being sarcastic here. I don't think so; I think she's suggesting that it's the revenue from commercials that allows networks to invest in making better programs, and I suppose that's a plausible theory. Either that, or the "good shows" she's talking about are the commercials themselves, which is how Terry Teachout's mother felt in that article of his that I quoted a couple of weeks ago.

I guess we'll never know the answer, will we? To what the K stands for, I mean. TV  


  1. Some years ago, the Academy Awards were moved to late February so they'd fall during the February TV ratings "sweeps".

    One other note is that even now, the Oscars (despite starting at 8:30 P.M. Eastern time) don't end until well after Midnight on the East Coast. That's too late for most people in the east, even on a Sunday night.

    What the Academy and ABC should do in the future is this:

    With the Oscars on a Sunday, a day when most people don't work or go to school, TV coverage of the "Red Carpet" could begin at 6 P.M. Eastern time (assuming that ABC stations run local news at 5 Eastern and network news at 5:30 Eastern), with the ceremony itself starting at 7:30 Eastern time.

    And with a "tighter" show, the ceremony could end between 10:30 and 11 Eastern time.

    From then until 11:30 Eastern, ABC could air a "post-show", with backstage interviews of the winners.

    Or, if ABC decides not to give local stations early-evening news on Oscar day/night, the network could conceivably start it's weekly Sunday-afternoon NBA game at 12:15 P.M. Eastern time, and start Oscar-day programming at 3 P.M. Eastern.

    Such programming could include a "History Of The Oscars", a look at nominated films and stars, a panel discussion of film critics to give their predictions, and perhaps a "Red Carpet" show starting at 5:30 P.M. Eastern time, with the Oscar show starting at 7 Eastern time.

    And if the Oscar show begins at 7 P.M. EST, the time between the end of the show (approximately 10 to 10:30 Eastern time) and 11 P.M. EST could again be filled with backstage post-show interviews.

    I think Oscar ratings would spike because more people on the East Coast would watch. I think many in the East don't even bother to watch the Oscars because they know it won't end until well after their bedtime.

    Sometimes, I think the Motion Picture Academy thinks nobody lives east of the Rockies!

  2. On an unrelated but related topic have you seen any of "Feud" on FX?
    Heavens it is fun!


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!