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  


  1. Reading the article on Bruce Jenner I am reminded of an old Bill Anderson song I heard in Jr. High School in the early 70's. It may sound preachy and even sappy by today's standards but it touches on some of the things discussed on this site. Here is the link to "Where Have All Our Heroes Gone?"


    George Everson

  2. On NBC's Mac Davis country special, musical guest Furry Lewis seems an odd choice considering he was a blues singer/guitarist not a country performer & certainly not familiar to audiences entertained by then-contemporary country/pop artists...Mike in British Columbia

  3. Jenner would eventually leave ABC and sign a contract with NBC that allowed him the chance to comment on NBA sports events(he did a lot of work for NBC as a pit reporter on their CART Indy Car series telecasts) and do some acting as well. It was a contract like Don Meridith had when he left ABC for NBC in the mid 70's

  4. You have done it again, Mitchell.
    I recall that CBS Reports; "The Baseball Business” as if were yesterday. It was so well done. I forgot that Moyers narrated/hosted but that doesn’t surprise. For the music, I loved Pop Goes the Country and, just mentioning “Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band” shakes the cobwebs!
    -But that’ why we come here.

  5. Can anyone verify whether the ABC Sunday Night Movie broadcast of "For a Few Dollars More" on 4/24/1977 was the television premiere of that movie? Thanks.

  6. What I was looking for was a listing of a nature documentary about Carnivorous Plants called "Death Trap " which was narrated by Vincent Price and was broadcast on NBC-TV on Thursday, April 28,1977,at 8:00 P.M.. I would like to see the listing for that special. Yours truly,Margaret is


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!