July 31, 2017

What's on TV? Wednesday, August 5, 1970

Back in the Big Apple, we've advance one year since we were here a couple of weeks ago. It's a slice of life from 1970; Summer Semester is beginning to study the Eisenhower years, we're hearing the other side of the story of the Pueblo incident, Vietnam and drugs are still everyday parts of the scene. The entertainment is all about the era as well.

July 29, 2017

This week in TV Guide: August 1, 1970

CBS is changing its image - out with Red Skelton and Jackie Gleason and farewell to the "rut of blandness" that network president Robert Wood thinks has plagued the Eye for the last few seasons. He's touting a new series, Those Were the Days, a spinoff of a BBC series called Till Death Do Us Part, a show "that was so outrageously bigoted many Britons didn't know whether to chuckle or scream at it." The show tells the story of "a testy hard-hat type and his left-wing son and daughter-in-law," and while Wood acknowledges that the show "rubs nerve endings," he adds that CBS is prepared for whatever may come its way.

Do they really know what awaits them, though? I wonder. You probably recognize the series they're talking about, even though the son and daughter-in-law were changed to a daughter and son-in-law, and the title changed to All in the Family. The show's every bit the controversy that the network had hoped fAllor and feared (including the unexpected by-product of many viewers cheering for the conservative father rather than the enlightened youngsters), and a bigger hit than anyone could have imagined. The show premieres, as predicted, in January 1971, and by the end of the season it's the number one show on television, a position it will continue to hold until it's displaced by Happy Days in the 1976-77 season. All in the Family changed the face of television, and I'm not sure it was for the better - a ruder, cruder, harsher type of comedy than we were used to. Yes, it's probably more realistic than Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver, and as the tumultuous '60s lead into the '70s, it's probably inevitable that this change would happen. But it's probably also no coincidence that the tone of the dominant sitcom of the '80s, The Cosby Show, is diametrically opposed to that of All in the Family. The pendulum continues to swing, this way and that.

One other note from CBS: the network plans to group its "bucolic humor" shows - The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and Hee Haw, on Tuesday nights come the fall. Mayberry R.F.D. remains on Monday nights. Wood hopes to phase them all out in the next few years. Hillbillies and Green Acres continue to remain popular in reruns for decades, while Hee Haw continues in first-run syndication until 1992 - long after the shows that replaced it have faded away.

In the meantime, speaking of the generation gap, TV Teletype notes that a number of familiar TV faces appear in the new big-screen movie Joe, detailing "unrest in the Silent Majority." The faces include Peter Boyle, veteran of many a TV commercial, in the title role, Dennis Patrick from Dark Shadows, Audrey Caire from The Virginian, K. Callan of As the World Turns, and, in her film debut, Susan Sarandon (her name mispelled "Serandon" in the story), from A World Apart. The always-reliable Wikipedia says that the movie "inspired the creation of other tough, working class characters in 70s films and TV shows, including the character of Archie Bunker," but we know that's where Archie really came from.

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CBS isn't the only network making changes; there's a major one at NBC as well, although this wasn't their choice. This Saturday, for the first time since October 29, 1956, the Peacock Network's evening news program will not be The Huntley-Brinkley Report: Chet Huntley has said good night for the last time.

For years the duo had dominated network news, so much so that Walter Cronkite was actually driven out of the main chair for CBS's coverage of the 1964 Democratic Convention. During the coverage of John F. Kennedy's death and funeral in 1963, NBC's news coverage outdrew that of CBS and ABC combined. There are theories as to why their ratings slipped late in the decade; some said it was because of the increasing relevance of the space program (Frank McGee was the network's go-to man), others that it was because of the 1967 AFTRA strike (Huntley, unlike Brinkley, crossed the picket lines and did the news, and the "split" may have puzzled viewers who'd grown so used to seeing them as a team). Whatever the reason, by 1970 Walter Cronkite is the man on top, and Chet Huntley is ready to ride into the sunset, heading for his ranch in Montana. Not, however, before sharing a few parting shots with readers.

One of the things that concerns Huntley is the growing perception of a liberal-conservative divide in how the news is presented.* Huntley, a registered Independent himself, decries the use of the terms, which he says "convey or communicate so little" in today's context. However, now that he's out of the news business, he is permitting himself "a few hundred words" on what he himself thinks. For example, when it comes to his "fellow human beings," he calls himself "a dedicated and unalterable liberal," dedicated to purging his mind of prejudice "to the end that I can advance to every other fellow person the assumption that he possesses sensitivity and human dignity." It's a quality, he believes, that is required if one is to be able to present the news in an unbiased manner.

*Gee, imagine that!

Huntley considers himself a conservative when it comes to the scope of government bureaucracy, and feels that labor unions are "one of the chief inflationary forces" in the nation. Economically he's a conservative, an unapologetic capitalist. The establishment, he says, does not need replacing - not when it's "so flexible and easy to enter." He is liberal when it comes to the military (he believes in strong civilian control), but equally firm in his believe that the Soviet Union, "with its incredible set of ambitions, has been and remains, a dangerous force." He's for freedom of all religions (liberal), for conservation ("The New Left will never succeed in making environmental control its exclusive property"), believes that Vietnam may be unwinnable (liberal) but that the United States was not necessarily wrong to aid the South Vietnamese (conservative). As far as the dominant political voice of the time, the so-called "Young Extremists," Huntley says - in words that could be applied to college campuses today - "I can find nothing of value in what they are saying. They are shockingly ill-equipped in history, philosophy, classic literature, political science, or economics. I find them to be arrogant, ill-mannered boors, each in such hot pursuit of his own inflated ego that there is no consensus. They have not affirmative program - only a tantrum." While there certainly are things that need fixing in this country, he's certain of on thing - "we don't turn society over to them."

Finally, and most important, freedom of the press. He does not agree with Vice President Agnew that the media is "inventing these signs of social, economic, political and racial unrest." "Journalists," he says, "were never intended to be the cheerleaders of a society, the conductrs of applause. Tragically, that is their function in authoritarian societies - but not in free countries," Freedom of speech is paramount - "I take comfort in the fact that the racists, the demagogues, the anarchists and the enemies of freedom, with whom I disagreed profoundly, were given their day and their time to promote their ideas in the market place." What he would have thought of the wave sweeping the country today, especially on college campuses, of quashing any speech with which the mob disagrees.

What comes through for me in this article is that Huntley is an impressive, dignified man, one whose opinions I can respect, whether or not I agree with them. I doubt he feared disagreement so much that he would have refused discussion. I always liked both Chet and David, but I think Brinkley has come to overshadow his partner, probably because of Huntley's early death in 1974. (I wonder if my friend Marc Ryan has some insight he can share from his father's time at NBC?) It's clear Huntley deserves his share of respect and appreciation.

I've always thought that Chet Huntley's final sign-off on Friday, July 31 was quite poignant, specifically for what lay between the lines of what he said. Near the end of his brief comments, he said, "At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I would say to all of you: be patient and have courage, for there will be better and happier news one day, if we work at it." I listen to that, and I think of what he and David Brinkley had seen over the course of the last seven years: three major assassinations, riots throughout the country, a war that seemed endless, a society on the verge of collapse. And in that farewell a somewhat plaintive plea, that there will be "better and happier" news - someday. Yes, someday. He must have been thinking of those things, perhaps especially the war; and it must have seemed to those weary viewers that "one day" was so far out in the future it might never come, and wondered what else, in the meantime, might happen.

I suppose we could say the same now; perhaps that day will come, one day.

Here's that final sign-off (the original was in color) from July 31, 1969.

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In the wake of Huntley's retirement, news programs are scrambling to fill the gap. It's steady as she goes for CBS, with Walter Cronkite at the helm; the network will remain in first place for years to come. For ABC and NBC, though, it's a different story. For the moment, David Brinkley stays on as one of three rotating anchors, along with Frank McGee and John Chancellor. Chancellor eventually takes over the top spot, with Brinkley moving to commentary (with a return to co-anchor between 1976 and 1979) and McGee taking over The Today Show until his death in 1974.

Meanwhile, ABC is hoping to exploit the vacuum with "a new approach to nighttime news." It's the ABC Evening News with Frank Reynolds and Howard K. Smith, and the new approach is to present the news in "segments consisting of related news events," one flowing into another without using the anchor desk as an intermediary. It's combined with outspoken (and "clearly marked") commentary from Reynolds and Smith, and a staff of experienced correspondents. It's the latest attempt by ABC to remain relevant in the ratings race, coming after turns by Peter Jennings, Bob Young, and Reynolds. The team of Reynolds and Smith has been at it since May of 1969, but in another four months Reynolds will be replaced by Harry Reasoner in yet another reorganization.

John Chancellor has a good run at NBC, but he never does reach the heights of Huntley-Brinkley, and NBC doesn't return to the top until Tom Brokaw takes over. ABC, meanwhile, finally asserts itself when sports honcho Roone Arledge takes over the news division and introduces World News Tonight, featuring Reynolds, Jennings, Max Robinson, and Barbara Walters. It's the evening news I always watched.

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The very pleasant visage to your right is this week's starlet, 6-foot-tall Inga Neilsen, a frequent figure (pun intended) on TV next to Dean Martin on his show, or yukking it up with Red Skelton and Henry Gibson, or being chased around by Dick Martin while "Hold That Tiger" plays in the background. She can sing and dance - "Music was like therapy to me," she says - but nowadays, even though her acting coach Jeff Corey says she has "unusual sensitivity," she's known mostly as "that big, funny sexy broad." If this frustrates her, though, she doesn't show it. She lives happily with her husband and son, and though a pilot of Holly Golightly never panned out, she's constantly busy with commercials and guest shots, and she's even come to terms with the way men look at her.

Inga goes on to nurture that love of music by singing professionally, she appears in movies and television through 1985, and as far as I can see there are no tragic headlines out there online. For someone of whom Parade once asked "Is She Too Big For Hollywood?", perhaps she showed that you don't have to be a big star to have a big life.

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Quite frankly, we're in the dog days of summer, and there's not a lot on the tube to attract attention. The sporting event of the week is the PGA Westchester Classic from Rye, New York, featuring the second-largest purse of the year: $250,000, with $50,000 to the winner. (Bruce Crampton, in case you're interested.) On Saturday, New York's WOR presents, without commercial interruption, the Oscar-winning classic The Red Shoes, staring Moira Shearer and Anton Walbrook.

Sunday the 5th Dimension headlines a repeat showing of The Ed Sullivan Show, with Richard Tucker, Imogene Coca, Sandler and Young, and Ferrante and Teicher. All that's missing are Siegfried and Roy. There's also a very interesting movie on ABC's Sunday Night Movie: Seconds, the 1966 thriller directed by John Frankenheimer, with John Randolph as a man who wants a second chance at life, and enters into a Faustian bargain to get a new mind and a new body - and he walks out as Rock Hudson. That description doesn't really do the movie justice; it makes it sound like a campy horror movie, The Man With Two Heads or something like, that, when in reality it's a deadly serious nightmare.

Monday NET Journal comemmorates the upcoming 25th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with a documentary that, says producer William Weston, is neither a justification nor an apology. On Tuesday WNEW presents highlights of the Miss Wool of America Pageant, an event we've run across before, with Glenn Ford as one of the judges. Meanwhile, CBS presents an encore showing of its acclaimed Vietnam documentary "The World of Charlie Company."

On Wednesday noon, WNEW presents a rerun of Route 66 that finds Tod and Linc in Minneapolis (!), whith Tod working at a hotel which no longer stands. In fact, if you have the chance to watch this fourth-season episode, you'll find that very little of what you see is still around. That's urban renewal for you. The late Thursday movie on WTIC is the Hitchcock thriller I Confess, in which Montgomery Clift portrays a priest facing his worst nightmare - accused of murder, he knows who the real killer is, but can't reveal his identity because of the Seal of Confession. Finally, Friday brings the week to an end with an episode of He & She, the sophisticated CBS sitcom starring real-life husband and wife Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss, in which Benjamin's character finds he has to have his tonsils removed - by a doctor who's just had a fight with his wife.

There's undoubtedly more to the week, but if you'll permit me a personal indulgence, I'm now into day fourteen of an off-and-on migrane, and as much as I love you all, I think it's now time to stop. TV  

July 26, 2017

The write stuff

One of the great things benefits of having my own website is that I can pretty much write whatever I want, whenever I want. Well, that isn't strictly true; I've created a weekly schedule over the last six years that works pretty well, and while I'm not a prisoner to it, there are expectations from my adoring public that I have to deal with, so I don't want to disappoint you.

By and large, though, I have a freedom to pursue what's referred to nowadays as "long-form" writing, that is, a piece that might run for several pages were it in print rather than pixels. You've been remarkably generous in allocating your time to indulge me in this project, whether I'm nattering about some obscure aspect of an equally obscure program, or going off on some tangent or other than elevates a mere sitcom to something metaphysical, if not existential. It must be a labor of love, because I don't make any money off of it (yet; just wait until the book version of It's About TV comes out), but at the same time I'm very fortunate to have the time and ability to pursue it.

What brings this sweeping reflection to mind is an article from a few weeks ago in which The Ringer's Bryan Curtis noted the recent layoff of FoxSports.com's entire writing and editorial staff, in favor of going to an all-video format. (Read: pimping from the network's own video content.) This comes on the heels of several other high-profile cutbacks, including one at MTV.*

*Imagine, a network built on video going back to video. But, as you'll see from the article, we're talking about a different kind of video.

I think one of the sadder takes on the whole tend came from Sports Illustrated's Andy Gray, who, while expressing regret for those who lost their jobs, added on Twitter that “I’ve been in digital media for 12 years. One thing I’ve learned is that nobody wants to read anything over 1,000 words. MTV is more proof.” Of course, as more than one person pointed out, SI's motto is “longform since 1954.” Despite the ridicule that Gray received for the comment, the fact remains: people, so the storyline goes, don't want to take the time to read all about it. If you can't summarize what you have to say in a few choice soundbites, forget about it. Often, a website uses video to do just that; Curtis notes that "I often get a paragraph or two into a Sports Illustrated story only to find Madelyn Burke in the lower right-hand corner of the screen, giving me a summary of the sentences I’m already reading."

Now, you may wonder what all this has to do with classic television, and the answer is this: directly, nothing; but if you think about it indirectly, you'll find that it could mean a great deal. In a way, it sounds funny to suggest that the future of television depends on the written word; after all, TV was one of those forms of entertainment that was supposed to kill reading. And yet the continued appreciation of classic television often depends on people reading about it; I’ve got shelves lined with books about television history, television genres, specific television programs, and so on. My laptop is filled with bookmarks of various websites that exist to share information about various aspects of television. The loss of these sites would be another example of our culture dumbing itself down for the sake of sexy soundbites and video bursts that cannot possibly be a substitute for the written word:

  1. Television is history, and history doesn’t lend itself very well either to soundbites or snapshots. In fact, it’s twofold history: not just the history of the medium itself, but the history of the culture through its depiction on screen. History doesn’t have to be dry and monotonous, but you can’t tell the story of Western Civilization in Twitter-sized bits either. To explain and understand it, you need both room and time.

  2. Television is meaningful, and the meaning isn’t always apparent in a clip or a screenshot. To understand what a television show is saying (either overtly or subconsciously), you occasionally need to spread it out in front of you and go through it one step at a time. Long-form writing is, as I hope I’ve shown, one of the best ways to accomplish this.

  3. Television is entertainment, and entertainment doesn’t always come right out and bite you on the nose. Sometimes you need to dig for it – I can’t count the number of times I’ve learned about a television series by reading an article about it, either through an old issue of TV Guide or by reading about it on one of the blogs, and in cases like this, a headline or soundbite often won’t do.

This last point, I think, bears further elaboration. Classic television has developed a kind of oral history through the years, a history that was initially passed on from people who’d seen old programs when they originally aired, to people who obtained copies of these shows through traders and other “brown market” sources, to people who purchased the shows on VHS or DVD when they were released by studios. In each case, the audience for this oral history was often comprised of people who had no first-hand knowledge of the program, other than perhaps a few vague memories from when they were a child, or something they’d briefly heard about or seen mentioned in an article.

As the internet grew, these oral histories were set down in writing, either in message boards or through websites dedicated to preserving the memories of particular programs or entertainers. These histories did indeed keep classic television alive, beyond the familiar programs (I Love Lucy, Perry Mason, Gilligan’s Island, and others) that made the rounds of syndicated reruns. This is how people learned of truly obscure programs that hadn’t seen the light of day since their original broadcast, or had faded from view after garnering initial publicity. Oftentimes people were intrigued, even captivated, as they learned of these shows, and sought them out as blind buys, based on nothing more than what they’d read in a long-form article. In other instances programs were made available because of the demand harnessed by the sharing of these memories. In either case, were it not for written communication, many of these programs would have gone unwatched, and the lives of their viewers would have had that much less enjoyment in them.

I doubt I’ll be starting a podcast anytime soon; for one thing, I don’t have time, and for another I don’t really have anyone close by that I can talk with about these things. And while podcasts can be both entertaining and educational, they’re not always a substitute for writing. That’s why I’ll keep at this, in one way or another, for as long as there’s something for me to write about, whether it runs 1,000 words or not. For if we don’t continue this oral history that has now become written, there soon won’t be any history to talk about at all.

July 24, 2017

What's on TV? Sunday, July 24, 1960

I wasn't quite sure what day to choose for this week's listings, but finally settled on Sunday; with convention coverage dominating both daytime and prime time, I wanted something that gives a better sense of what's actually on. Sunday it is! There's still a smattering of convention preview coverage, but it coexists with religious programming, sports, and of course the ever-present matinee movies.

Our listings this week come from Southern Ohio, an area in which we've had many pleasant visits in the past.

July 22, 2017

This week in TV Guide: July 23, 1960

This week the Republican Party is assembled in convention at the International Amphitheater in Chicago, where on Wednesday the delegates will nominate Vice President Richard M. Nixon for President of the United States.

It's a decision that creates rammifications lasting for two decades: because of Nixon's platform deal with New York's liberal Governor Nelson Rockefeller to avoid a floor fight, angry conservative delegates (still a minority in the party in 1960) rally around Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater. Goldwater withdraws his name, but not before delivering a speech from the rostrum in which he urges conservatives to "grow up," and adds, "If we want to take this party back - and I think we can someday - let's get to work." They do, and four years later Goldwater wins the GOP nomination, before going on to a disastrous election defeat at the hands of LBJ. One of the most famous speeches made in support of Goldwater during the campaign was by Democrat-turned-Republican Ronald Reagan, who would catapault to the forefront of Republican politics as a result, and ride the conservative wave created by Goldwater to the presidency in 1980. Meanwhile Nixon, who will lose the 1960 election to JFK, emerges as an elder statesman in 1966, campaigning for candidates across the country in the off-year elections, and piling up IOUs which will come in handy when he's elected President in 1968 - helped at least in part by the riot of a Democratic convention, held right here in the International Amphitheater. Watergate will be his downfall, leading to the election of Jimmy Carter, whose mishandling of many things (including the Iran hostage crisis) leads to the election of - Ronald Reagan. And now you know the rest of the story.

There are five convention sessions - Monday afternoon and evening, and Tuesday through Thursday evenings - and the networks will be there to cover it all, with Walter Cronkite anchoring for CBS, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley for NBC, and the man on this week's cover, John Daly, for ABC. There's even a wonderful two-page section in TV Guide where you can keep track of the roll call vote as it progresses! And while it's nice - even patriotic - to see all the coverage, which includes Saturday and Sunday specials on the platform debate, convention history, and the main convention speakers, we can already sense the start of the transition from television covering an event to a made-for-television event. Two weeks previous, at the Democratic convention in Los Angeles, the convention chair was often left, according to Dan Jenkins, "with the unhappy job of trying to get the delegates to pay a little more attention to the podium and a little less to the publicity." During the eight hours which it took for all the candidates to be nominated, seconded, and have their floor demonstrations, boredom began to set in inside the TV booths; Huntley and Brinkley, writes Jenkins, "found themselves with less and less to talk about." Even CBS's Edward R. Murrow seemed to have run out of ideas; "Students of the Murrow art form know that he smokes in direct ratio to his own feeling of excitement. By late Wednesday night, he was hardly smoking at all." Concludes Jenkins, the output from the three networks "represented a truly staggering amount of tie, effort and money, yet the sum total of the results amounted to very little genuine excitement."

The effect isn't limited to pundits, as the Letters to the Editor show. R.W. Saums of Houston asks, "Is the coverage of the Democratic Convention so urgent that it must monopolize all stations in the southeast Texas area? Viewers in this area still make a choice - the Democratic Convention or nothing." And G.N. Coleman of New Philadelphia, Ohio, looks as the prospect of a second political convention in the span of three weeks and proclaims, "Boy - am I going to the movies!" It's left to Jim Calandrillo of Fair Lawn, N.J. to put in a good word, noting that "Where else is one able to find more excitement, heartbreak and surprise than at a convention? History is being made."

I used to feel that way myself, before political conventions became totally scripted infomercials for the parties - and bad ones at that. In the political biz, drama and excitement are to be avoided at all costs, because they aren't controllable - 1968 and 1972 proved that as far as the Democrats were concerned, with 1964 and 1976 being the flip side of the coin for the GOP. Those conventions were, to one extent or another, marvelous (if occasionally tragic) theater - but terrible politics. In 1960 we can see the beginning of the end of the political convention as real news; it will just take a couple more decades to finish the job.

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As for the loquatious and erstwhile Mr. John Charles Daly, I'll leave it to you to imagine Pat Sajak or Alex Trebek anchoring coverage of a national political convention.* But in 1960, the conventions were more serious, and quiz shows were more decorous, and sponsors were more involved in programming, and so the fact that one man could both host What's My Line? on CBS Sunday evenings and anchor the ABC news Monday through Friday

*On the other hand, considering how lacking in substance the conventions are today, maybe that isn't such a far-fetched idea after all.

With ABC's Quincy Howe at the convention (Wikipedia)
Daly has done it all during a remarkable career that included duty as a war correspondent in Italy during World War II, reporting on the Berlin Airlift, the Nixon-Khrushchev "Kitchen Debate" in Moscow, and conflicts at the United Nationsl; he was also the first radio correspondent to announce both the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and he's now the head of ABC news. As anyone who's watched WML knows, Daly has an enviable gift for ad-libbing, and a suave and urbane manner. He has a profound knowledge of news and politics, and he's excited about the upcoming convention, even if nobody else is: "This is going to be a great show. The spotlight of the world is on this show - just the way it was on the Democrats. And once that big spotlight is turned on the speaker's platform, once that hazy cloud of smoke begins to fill the stokyards next door, we'll see the second half of the most exciting show of the year. This is television at its best - transmitting the sound and picture of a real and significant event into homes all over the country." Even if nobody cares.

I've never disguised my admiration for Daly, not only as newsman but for his work on What's My Line? Were you to remake WML today, I'm not even sure who you could get to host it - at least with the smoothness and gentility that John Daly displayed. He's who I want to be when I grow up.

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In sports this week, it's golf's final major of the year, the PGA Championship, telecast live on CBS from the famed Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. The PGA is, as TV Guide puts it, a "medal-play" event, meaning 72-hole stroke play - in other words, like just about every other golf tournament you see. It hadn't always been that way though; through 1957, the PGA was match-play, which can be very exciting during the Ryder Cup, but doesn't necessarily produce the same thrills otherwise. TV hated it, because there was always the posibility that the best players would be eliminated prior to the championship match. And so, with television's influence growing in all sports, the PGA changed to a more "normal" tournament in 1958.* This year, Jay Hebert (pronounced AAY-bear) takes his only major championship, matching the accomplishment of his brother Lionel in 1957. Basebal and wrestling make up most of the rest of the sports week.

*Oddly, the description in the listings preserves much of the match play nomenclature, referring to Saturday's third round as the "semi final" round. 

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This week's starlet is former Miss Long Island Duckling Barbara Nichols, better known as the "Dumb Blonde" in her many appearances on the Jack Benny and Red Skelton programs. Benny, who had worried at first that Barbara was "too young" to play his girlfriend, is a big fan; "I spotted her immediately. I liked her delivery. She's very talented, very interesting, looks good and is just right for my show. A good actress." For her part, she loves working with both Benny and Skelton - "It's like stealing money," she says.

Before moving to television, Nichols got her start playing "hussies" in movies such as Sweet Smell of Succes, but television is where she's made the most impact. And despite her enjoyment at doing comedy, drama is her real love. "I hope pretty soon somebody comes up with a good series for me," she says. Her role models are Claire Trevor and Joan Blondell; she acknowledges that she's somewhat typecast as the Dumb Blonde, "[b]ut so was Jean Harlow - and she wasn't bad." She thinks the Method is useful, "as long as it doesn't turn out carbon copies of Brando," and that too many actresses are "stuck on themselves," whereas her advantage is that she can be sultry and funny at the same time.

Barbara Nichols never does get that big series, although she continues to make frequent appearances on television shows from The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. to Emergency! and The Rookies, with the odd movie thrown in. She dies in 1976 of complications from an old automobile accident, at the age of 47.

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TV Teletype tells us that ABC's forthcoming Churchill Memoirs series, which eventually makes it to the screen as Winston Churchill: The Valient Years. has hired a notable group of writers to pump out the weekly series; although they have the benefit of Sir Winston's own words, they stil need to provide the dramatic continuity. What else do we learn about the future? Well, Bob Cummings is tipped to star in a Twilight Zone episode next season, called "King Nine Will Not Return." The tip is correct; Cummings does star in the episode, and he's terrific. The opening show of NBC's new series Thriller will be "The Twisted Image," starring Leslie Nielsen and George Grizzard; initial reviews will not be positive. George Schaefer has broken with tradition, casting "three young and pretty British girls" to play the witches in the Hallmark Hall of Fame production of "Hamlet," starring Maurice Evans and Dame Judith Anderson. And Nicholas Georgiade, who plays Rico, one of Eliot Ness' loyal troops on The Untouchables, was accidentally stopped and frisked by a New York cop who could swear he'd seen his face on a wanted poster. Whoops.

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There's not a whole lot going on this week other than the convention, so let's just pick some shows at random and see what's what:

On Saturday, ABC presents John Gunther's documentary series High Road (8:00 p.m. ET) which, this week, takes a look at "Japan: the People" at work, school, and play. Fifteen years after the end of World War II, this must have been something of an exotic look for viewers. Later, the same network's rerun airing of the John Cassavettes "jazz detective" series Johnny Staccato (10:00 p.m.) presents a dependable TV trope: the war vet who escapes from a mental hospital (probably suffering from PTSD) and, convinced his wife's having an affair, intends to kill the other man. Is he just imagining things, or is it true that even a paranoid has some real enemies? Buy the DVD set and find out.

Convention previews are scattered throughout Sunday, but there's still room for Maverick (7:30 p.m., ABC); this week Bart (Jack Kelly) provides protection for the members of a cattle drive and gets paid for his troubles with counterfeit money. On G.E. Theater (9:00 p.m., CBS), David Wayne stars in "Do Not Disturb," written by Groucho Marx' son Arthur

How appropriate is this? All this week on NBC's Today, Burr Tillstrom and his puppets Kukla and Ollie provide a puppet's-eye view of the convention, while to close out Monday evening, Arlene Francis is guest hostess of Tonight; among her guests are the famed "Hoodlum Priest," Fr. Dismas Clark.

On Tuesday, the highlight of the convention is an appearance by President Eisenhower. Networks wil be on hand with all the coverage, from his arrival at O'Hare just after noon all the way to his motorcade to the Sheraton-Blackstone Hotel. His speech at the evening session, following "a musical interlude by the Diplomats, vocal quartet," will, of course, be must-viewing,

Lola Albright, at whom we had such a pleasant look a couple of weeks ago, is the guest on ABC's daytime repeat of Love that Bob! Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. Seems Bob's fallen hard, and who can blame him? (I wonder if Hal Horn's seen that episode?) Meanwhile, at the convention Richard Nixon will receive the nomination of the delegates, and he'll choose as his running mate Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., whom JFK defeated for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts. Will history repeat itself (kind of)? Come back in November to find out! And if you've had quite enough of this political thing, the midnight movie on KCPO in Cincinnati is appropriate: Port of Hell, starring Dane Clark.

Thursday morning at 9:00 a.m. - and this is not a convention commentary - WLW-D in Dayton presents part one of The Human Comedy, written by William Saroyan and staring Mickey Rooney and Frank Morgan. The convention itself closes with the acceptance speeches of Lodge and Nixon, and Joey Bishop follows as guest host on Tonight.

Friday we return to our regular programming, and I'll choose NBC's Moment of Fear (10:00 p.m.), with Inger Stevens and Leslie Nielsen in "Total Recall." No, not the Schwarzenegger story. "First the drugs, then the carbon monoxide fumes - Nancy Derringer has disposed of her husband very neatly, or so she thinks. Calmly she leaves the scene of the crime and goes to her sister's to await the call from the police. The call domes, but the news shatters her complacency: Norman Derringer has survived the murder attempt." Again, why do I get the feeling Columbo's on the other end of that call and the story about Derringer being alive is a bluff?

Finally, to end the week, WKRC, Channel 12, presents the Tracy-Hepburn classic State of the Union, the story of "An airplane manufacturer [who] campaigns for the presidency." Coincidence? I think not. TV  

July 21, 2017

Around the dial

Martin Landau died this week; the Oscar-winner and co-star of Mission: Impossible played many a bad guy during his career, and certainly that must have influenced the way viewers saw him in M:I. His character, Rollin Hand, was an illusionist, a master of disguise, called in when the IMF needed to impersonate a key figure; but there was an underlying edge, a menace in the way Landau played him, that combined with his past roles* to make it quite believable that Rollin moonlighted as a spy. (Or was a spy moonlighting as an illusionist, one or the other.) In those episodes that didn't depend on his impersonations - I think of one in particular when he was filling in for Steven Hill, for reasons best explained elsewhere - he was convincing in a way that Barney or Willy might not have been, and of all the agents on Mission: Impossible, including Jim Phelps, Rollin was the one that I would least have wanted to meet in a dark alley, and the one I would have most wanted on my side. Though the series still had some fine seasons after Landau and his then-wife Barbara Bain left, it was never the same, and never as good.

As I mentioned on the Facebook page, Martin Landau was scheduled to appear at the Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention in September, and I was looking forward to being able to meet him. That won't happen now, but as is the case, we're consoled by the many terrific performances he left behind for us to appreciate. The Last Drive-In has a brief but very accurate tribute to Landau, "a truly great actor." Andrew at The Lucky Strike Papers recalls some of Landau's best performances.

*In much the same way Raymond Burr brought his past as a heavy to bear on his portrayal of Perry Mason. Particularly in the early seasons, it must have had the same kind of influence on viewers, convincing them that he wasn't kidding when he played hardball on behalf of his client. 

At Comfort TV, David continues his tour of the United States through television with two really good choices - Naked City to represent New York, and The Rifleman for New Mexico. I don't think I ever thought of New Mexico as Lucas McCain's home, but it works for me.

I don't think I've ever heard of the British detective series Hamish Macbeth, but if you're turning in expecting some kind of Scottish melodrama full of shadows and mystery, I'm afraid you'll probably be disappointed. Instead, as British TV Detectives points out, it's a solid series that probably isn't my cup of tea but likely appeals to a lot of viewers.

Staying on the Brit theme is Cult TV Blog's review of They Came from Somewhere Else, the sci-fi/horror parody that, as John points out, is "the true frontier of cult TV" as well as very much of an '80s series.

The FBI, as I've written before, is on our Sunday night viewing schedule, and last week featured the seventh-season episode "The Game of Terror," starring a sadistic Richard Thomas. The episode was directed by Ralph Senensky, who writes about this episode at his terrific website, a virtual history of television from the late '50s through the '80s. After you're done reading about "The Game of Terror," browse around the rest of the site - I can promise you'll still be there two hours later.

One of the reasons I'm drawn to Jack's Hitchcock Project summaries on bare-bones e-zine is that, as a writer, I'm fascinated by the process of adapting a novel or short story into a television script, where the challenge is either fleshing out the story or deciding how to make it fit. (I often wonder how someone might adapt The Collaborator for film or stage.) This week's piece is no exception: "Power of Attorney," the final James Bridges teleplay for Hitchcock.

Finally, at Taki's Mag, Gavin McInnes has a, shall we say, provocative article on the provocative story that a woman will be the next Doctor Who. Seeing as how the classic version of Doctor Who is on my Top Ten list, you may have been wondering if I was going to weigh in on this. Frankly, I have neither the heart nor the energy to do so, although that could change in the future. I'll say just two things about it: one, that I'm not a fan of Jodie Whittaker, the actress who'll be essaying the role, and since this is bound to taint my opinion, I'll just keep my mouth shut about it.

Second, I seriously question whether or not the canonical structure of Doctor Who (such as it is) allows for this kind of folderol in the first place. We know there are such things as female Time Lords (Time Ladies); witness Romanas I and II and the Rani, just for starters. During that time, there was never a suggestion that these characters had ever been anything other than female; at a minimum, therefore, what this new development suggests is that Time Lords are naturally androgynous, doesn't it? Oh, I suppose you could counter that the exterior trappings are of no importance when you're an alien with two hearts; perhaps they don't have the same male and female biological differences that we do. And if that's the case, then all you're dealing with is typical P.C. from the BBC. Otherwise, you're left with the conclusion that the show's producers want you to believe that there's no difference between male and female, that we're all polysexual - or is it pansexual? I admit, I can't keep up anymore - and that those who talk about gender fluidity have been right all along. And I'm sure the BBC doesn't mean to suggest that, do they? As one of their more famous characters might put it, "You might very well think that. I couldn't possibly comment." TV  

July 19, 2017

The It's About TV! Interview: Stephen Rodgers of PROClassic TV

We haven't had a good interview lately, so I thought this time we might take a look behind the scenes of the classic television streaming business with Stephen Rodgers, CEO of the Peter Rodgers Organization (PRO), the company behind PROClassic TV, If you're a classic television fan, you may have heard of PROClassic TV, or you may even be signed up for it. If not - well, let's find out more about it, along with Steve's views on why classic television remains popular, why the studios have no incentive to release their classic library on DVD, why "what people want to watch" is not the real question, and more.

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It's About TV: Tell me a little about PRO Classic TV. How did the idea come to you? How many shows do you currently have in your catalog? Do you know how many subscribers you have?

Stephen Rodgers: PROClassic TV was done for multiple reasons. Primarily, it was to be an educational experience necessitated by the spawning demand for content that could be delivered online directly to the consumer, since we were witnessing a decline in DVD sales on a retail basis. Before PROClassic TV, our business dealt on an executive level only with other companies whose business plans were that of retail sales to the general public. Kind of like a consumer buying their car directly from Ford or GM, rather than going through a dealer. We also recognized the growing demand for content by hundreds of start-up on-line platforms, but were dissatisfied with the modest revenue sharing proposals offered by these platforms for our content.

Ray Walston and Bill Bixby of "My Favorite Martian"
As the number of DVD retail sales declined, we needed to examine a way to continue providing classic television shows to the consumer. We were never in a position to manufacture physical DVD or tape formats for retail (we usually licensed the rights to companies whose primary business was such) so we felt that we could feasibly digitize our library into an on-line platform, which could be delivered to the consumer electronically. This removed the traditional risks associated with physical retail sales, such as returns, sales taxes, and seeking retail distribution to brick and mortar locations.

Today, PROClassic TV platforms are available on streaming services like HULU, You Tube and set-top device systems like ROKU, and on PRO’s exclusive web base site, proclassictv.com. Combined, these exhibition platforms regularly draw an average of over 3 million views every 90 days. (Quarterly)

How does it differ from other streaming services and retro subchannels out there?

The key difference is that PROClassic TV is dedicated to the content that PRO represents on behalf of its producer owners. While other services offer content, their content is comingled among many other content providers, which creates a fragmentation of revenue and makes promoting specific content to a single content provider impossible. PROClassic TV also ensures the viewer every episode from every season and offers a commercial free environment for a cost, which is competitive with other platforms, but allows us to retain 100% of the revenues for distribution to our clients and owners of the content, without questionable or unverifiable expenses. The other difference from other retro channels is that PRO’s content is copywritten and this translates to content offered exclusively that consumers will not find on other classic retro platforms who use a high percentage of television content in the public domain. Examples of identical episodes on numerous retro platforms include The Lucy Show, and sporadic non-sequential episodes of Bonanza, Dragnet, Robin Hood and more.

Why this attraction that people have to classic television? We continually hear that we’re in another Golden Age, and yet there’s a group of TV viewers out there who keep gravitating back to the classics. In your opinion, what is it that the new age is missing? 

Classic television has earned its stripes. Many of the shows are household names, solidly branded as a result of decades of television exposure, cultivating fan bases numbered in the millions. Classic TV shows attracted ratings numbers that are impossible to achieve today. This is why so many theatrical remakes are based on classic TV shows that are universally recognized – there is already a substantial loyal following and so they require less effort and expanse to promote. The “new age” viewer, as you call it, is increasingly exposed to branding on a much smaller scale. Some of the brands recognized by younger viewers are a result of “flash in the pan” exposure, which is soon displaced because they do not endure the time necessary to really establish them. Something may be on fire for two or three seasons, but wean shortly after. These new age shows cannot achieve the same tenure from a three-year stint as some classic tv shows which have spanned three decades.

I write a lot about classic television, obviously, and I keep hearing two things: first, that younger people have absolutely no interest in black-and-white programming, and second that the demographic for classic television skews so old that it really isn’t a very valued group. What do you say to that?

I would say to ask contemporary B&W photographers like Mary Ellen Mark, whose B&W images still draw high numbers and continue to inspire young adults through the presence of her works in galleries worldwide, or motion pictures produced in B&W even though color was well available. Color was not necessary for box office results. Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, for example, was produced in the 1970’s, yet both the picture and its producer are renowned and recognized. B&W also helps set a theme or period unique to its genre, something the viewer comes to expect.

Chuck Conners, "The Rifleman"
An example of this is Schindler’s List, a Spielberg film that mixed both B&W and color sequences to better express a point or authenticity to a particular time. It is also an element of authenticity for shows like Westerns or period pieces. Our series, The Rifleman, has no problem earning hundreds of thousands of viewers on-line every month, as well as national cable exposure via AMC - with ratings, I might add, that exceed other notable series of the time that were produced in color.

As far as skewing older viewers, I can only say that history usually repeats itself. If not, it certainly rhymes, and such is true with genres and styles of production. If classic TV were reliant on only older demographics, then one would expect B&W content would have faded away many years ago.

But it hasn’t, has it?

No! In fact, there are a number of shows that continue to draw new viewers by way of their simplicity and B&W values. Look at I Love Lucy, The Rifleman, or even late-night runs of Perry Mason, all shows that relied on brilliant writing and plot, as opposed to flashy effects or being shot in color.

So you think there’s more to these shows than just the recognition factor – that there’s a values system that viewers are looking for, or a way of storytelling that they don’t seem to find in contemporary television?

You're right, it's all about the storytelling. Sure, you can cram a production with a bunch of explosions and special effects, but without a basic story...what's it all about?

And it’s true that even after the move to color, you had numerous shows still being shot in B&W, and many times fans of those shows say they prefer the B&W ones to the later color seasons.

PRO represents the first western television series even shot in color, which aired on NBC in the late 50’s, The Cisco Kid, at a time when not even half of television households owned a color TV set. Did it make a difference-? The answer is - no. Many B&W TV series followed with equal or greater success, even when shooting in color was possible.

I also hear a lot from classic TV fans about their frustration at so many of their favorites being unavailable to them, for one reason or another. You might not be in a position to answer this, but in your opinion what can be done to get some distributors to be more “generous” with their catalog? Is there any way that PROClassic can become involved in, say, the WB or Fox inventory?

(Laughing!)  Studios don’t want old shows available to consumers; they have already made their money back on these productions. Studios deliberately “shelve” older content, because they want revenues earned on the newer productions they remain in the red for. This is especially true with broadcast and cable platforms. Studios are in constant production, but there are only 24 hours in a day and selling an older series in any particular timeslot means a new production won’t air there. From a studio standpoint, why promote and offer an old show (regardless of popularity) that has already recouped its costs, when a new show awaiting recoupment needs to afford a return on the studios investment?

Roger Moore - the one and only "Saint"
I have personally witnessed dozens of instances when a producer/owner we represent has reached the end of its contract with us, lured away by a studio, offering a considerable upfront advance, only to see their beloved series languish on the shelf, because its the mentality of these studios to pay a few hundred thousand dollars to keep something off the air, to afford the millions it needs to break even or realize profit on their latest work. Studios are not interested in entertaining or brand preservation, they only live to produce more content and profit from the new works created. Studios may be the source of remakes of branded content, but they are the leading killer of the classic shows from which they originate. Studios don’t want companies like PRO to approach them, or even exist, because we take away audience they need to satisfy their financial goals on their current works.

In other words, if you’re fed up with Warners not putting out one of their catalog shows and you complain to them, their answer is likely to be something like “tough luck.”

And that's assuming you can even get to anyone at Warner Bros.

Based on the feedback you’ve gotten so far, what kinds of shows do people want to see? And are there any types (genre, age, star) that you’ve been surprised by, either that the response was better than you expected, or not as good?

How long is a line, and how high is up?

What people want to watch is not the question. The question is this: what is currently available to see? Look at the basic cable networks today, which started as specific genre channels during their growth in the 1990s. A&E, supposedly Arts and Entertainment, has content that has nothing to do with either anymore. AMC, American Movie Classics, now runs movies less than 10 years old, as well as original series. Discovery Channel now only discovers what’s at the bottom of some swamp, and TV Land abandoned classic TV altogether and produces first-run content. None of these networks shows the content for which they were originally created, because the viewing habits of consumers changes with the availability of content to watch. This is why on-line viewing has been dramatically reducing standard TV and Cable numbers. In response, these channels, once dedicated to over-the-air or cable-delivered, are now expanding to online platforms, trying to keep their viewership respectable.

Overall, it comes down to the death of scheduled programing. Viewers no longer have to wait for a specific day and time to see their favorite shows on a scheduled basis. They want to see what they want, when they want to. This was what DVRs tried to harness, but have been losing grip to as a result of on-line and on demand platforms.

What is the process you go through to obtain the rights to add a series to your catalog?

We do not obtain or license anything. We are the exclusive representatives for the actual producers, owners or in many cases, the estates and families of their producing family member. After 43 years of business, we are approached by these individuals and entities, seeking a way to monetize the asset left them by their parent or experienced the reversion of long term rights on content, tied up since its original production and network release. We also represent companies with film libraries, which do not have the tenure of domestic distribution as PRO does. There are also those that are too focused on new productions and the financing of such, to extend the efforts required to license classic content in their libraries.

What kinds of things do you look for when you’re considering adding a series? Things like the quality of transfers, number of episodes, availability in other media?

I focus on brands - plain and simple. We know we are not going to acquire “The Second Coming of Christ” with the original cast, but we know we don’t have the leverage to push “Who Shot Paul in the Ass in Patty’s Room” either. Obviously, the more episodes the better, as any series with less than 75 episodes won’t satisfy a Monday – Friday schedule and that’s where the lion’s share of acquisition budgets are. There is little support to spend resources on a show that is relegated to weekends only by virtue of not enough episodes to air beyond that.

Are there any programs (that you’re at liberty to discuss) that are on your radar for the future? Any shows that you’ve really wanted to add but were unable to make work? 

Yes to both. I know studio vaults house dozens of series that I know I could successfully sell, but never will because of the reasons I stated above. There have been a couple of series we aggressively pursued, only to see them swooped up and shelved by the very same studios. This recently happened to The Honeymooners and the Zorro series we represented - it was not renewed because of a studio upfront that never allowed it to see the light of day or a penny afterwards.

It’s just business and one which places more interest in the bottom line than in entertaining the public or fulfilling their content demands. This is another aspect of the threat that on-line exhibitors present.

Celebrities strike out!
What’s the definition of success for PROClassic TV? How large do you want to get in terms of your catalog, and how many subscribers are you shooting for?

Our definition of success is providing content which has established milestones in television history and that viewers want to see, which result in a respectable revenue stream for those who worked hard to produce them and their heirs, effectively preserving the brand these time-honored productions so richly deserve.

Do you have your own personal favorite of the shows you currently have in your catalog?

Actually, I don’t think I’ve seen more than 10 episodes of any of the TV series we represent! I do, however, hold these classics in the highest regard and recognize each of them for the qualities they possess and the fact that they were made at a time where entertainment was the primary motivation for their creation and the money they earned, was merely the icing on the cake, over and above the enjoyment they brought to millions of viewers, each and every week. For fulfilling the drams, not necessarily the pockets, of those creative individuals for which Hollywood was made.

If you were to remake one series from the past, what would it be and why?

I make deals, not productions, so it’s difficult for me to answer this question. My personal favorites do not necessarily reflect the preferences of others. You question would depend on the desire to remake for creativity, popularity or for monetary reward. Generally, I appreciate the wholesome, simple yet sometimes-dangerous plots surrounding westerns. Many of these concepts hold true today, whether it be a single father trying to single-handedly raise a young boy in the old west or a pair of truckers or cowboys riding from place to place, helping those who need help along the way, Classic TV series rely more on values and story than current productions, giving them an admirable quality. To remake these today would demand the inclusion of special effects or shock value elements that would result in something very different than what their preceding origins would have liked or intended.

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My thanks again to Stephen Rodgers for his time, and to Tim Williams for facilitating our interview. You can find out more about PROClassic TV at their website, or by checking out their YouTube channel.

July 17, 2017

What's on TV? Monday, July 21, 1969

We're back in the Big Apple this week, the day following the moonwalk. It must have been an interesting day, as many people stayed up late watching the news (and would have been up even later, had the walk occurred at its originally-scheduled time rather than a few hours earlier). Today, the Lunar Module is scheduled to lift off from the moon's surface - unlike the launch at the Cape last week, there's no second chance if anything goes wrong - so expect pre-emptions throughout the day as the astronauts begin the long voyage home.

July 15, 2017

This week in TV Guide: July 19, 1969

Well, there's not much suspense about this week's big story, is there? As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the flight of Apollo 11 is one of the most highly anticipated events in world history, the culmination of one of mankind's greatest achievements. What might be just as incredible, though, is the idea that the world will see man's most famous footstep live from the moon. Live! I like to think that had TV been around when Columbus sailed for America, or Peary set off for the North Pole, or Lindbergh took off for Paris, things would have been much the same.

(What's really interesting about all this is that movie portrayals of men landing on the moon - or other planets - seldom ever take TV coverage of the event into consideration. The landing usually takes place in a vacuum of awareness, and what communication there is with earth scientists is done via radio. Even in those situations where cameras cover the launch, they're never factored in to the landing. The idea that the same advanced technology that propelled astronauts to the moon could also allow TV signals to reach from the moon to the earth seems never to have occurred to filmmakers. Either that, or they figured that for security reasons, the public wouldn't be informed of the trip's success until it had already been accomplished.)

"The Epic Journey of Apollo 11," as it was billed on CBS, began with the launch on Wednesday, July 16, and reaches its climax on Sunday afternoon with the moon landing. The moon walk itself is originally scheduled for 2:00 a.m. ET Monday morning, and I remember having been prepared to stay up as long as necessary to see the actual walk. Fortunately, NASA made the decision to move the time of the walk to earlier in the evening; as I recall, they cancelled the sleep period the astronauts were supposed to have, figuring they'd be too keyed up to sleep, although I doubt it hurt that this meant the walk would now appear in prime time.

The coverage provided by the three networks reflects the recognition that this is not just a newsworthy event but a moment of great cultural importance the world over, and it's reflected in the coverage provided by the three networks. Granted, saturation coverage of a spaceflight (TV Guide estimates 31 continuous hours from Sunday through early Monday evening) means you're going to have lots of dead air time; even so, there's a measure of reflection contained in these plans, and I wonder if we'd see the same thing today. According to TV Guide, here's what the networks have in store:

ABC: Frank Reynolds and Jules Bergman are the anchors, along with Apollo 8 astronaut Frank Borman, physicist Robert Jastrow, and possibly an interview with a Soviet cosmonaut, Steve Allen does a medley of songs spotlighting the moon in popular culture, Duke Ellington performs a concerto and James Dickey recites a poem, both in honor of the landing, and Rod Serling moderates a panel of science-fiction writers (including Isaac Asimov) discussing "Where do we go from here?"  There's also a video essay on space travel as portrayed in the movies, with Peter Jennings and Richard Schickel.

CBS: Walter Cronkite anchors with Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo astronaut Wally Schirra. Cronkite interviews former President Lyndon Johnson, an early champion of the space program, and 2001 author Arthur C. Clarke. Bob Hope does a monologue (strange that he isn't on NBC), and there are appearances by Orson Welles (because of War of the Worlds), Buster Crabbe (played Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon in the movies), Keir Dullea (2001), and satirist Stan Freberg, with his space puppet Orville. A special-effects device called HAL 10,000 will use nine projectors to portray space travel.

NBC: Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, and Frank McGee anchor the coverage with Gemini IX astronauts Gene Cernan and Tom Stafford. Guests include Nobel Prize chemist Harold Urey, and expert on the origins of the solar system. NBC also plans to have cameras on hand in Denver and Atlanta as telescopes attempt to pick up images of the Apollo spacecraft as it orbits the moon.

Fascinating, isn't it? Reminds me a bit of the coverage we saw during the Bicentennial and the countdown to January 1, 2000. It transcends mere news reporting to celebrate a singular moment in time - a philosophical news story, if you will. I don't mean to suggest that Neil Armstrong's famous first step isn't a historic event in and of itself; it is, and I don't think that anything television has broadcast since (not even the destruction of the World Trade Center) can really compare to it. But it's clear from the coverage that this is about much, much more than that. It's not only the event of an era, but the end of one as well. No longer will the quest to walk on the moon be the stuff of fantasy and imagination. Future flights can be measured in terms of newsworthiness and scientific progress, but the flight of Apollo 11 is different.

You'll recall that President Kennedy's charge to NASA was to land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth, so the coverage isn't really complete until Thursday, July 24 when the command module Columbia splashes down safely. The three astronauts are taken into an isolation unit on the aircraft carrier Hornet, and congratulated by President Nixon. Later, they'll be feted in ticker tape parades throughout the country and the world. For people who lived through it, there was nothing like it, and there hasn't been since then. There was much promise that this was the end of one era but the beginning of another; of course, we know today that this was about as good as it got, at least for manned exploration, although the unmanned robots have produced truly glorious results. It's missing something, though - the human element. And when man lands on Mars - not if, but when - perhaps that will be the next great journey. By then, maybe technology will be such that we'll feel like we're standing on the surface of the Red Planet with them.

Here's the opening to CBS's coverage of the Apollo 11 flight.

And here's Duke Ellington performing "Moon Maiden," his composition in honor of the moon landing, commissioned by ABC News and performed during their Sunday coverage, next to the giant lunar module mock-up on ABC's Space Headquarters set in New York.

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No Sullivan vs. The Palace this week; Hollywood Palace is on its summer hiatus, replaced by The Johnny Cash Show, with guests Ed Ames, the Monkees, Roy Clark*, and Joni Mitchell, and Sullivan (a rerun with Arthur Godfrey; Caterina Valente; the Young Americans; Blood, Sweat and Tears; Rodney Dangerfield; and some jugglers and acrobats) would have been preempted by CBS's moon coverage anyway. There's always next time.

*Who's billed as a "comic guitarist", which I think really sells short his excellent playing.

Compared to the moon mission, of course, everything else takes a back seat, but there is other programming. On Saturday night, CBS telecasts the Miss Universe pageant live from Miami Beach (10:00 ET); what do you want to bet the orchestra plays "Fly Me to the Moon" at least once?* Sunday morning at 10:00 a.m. CBS presents a special program looking at the religious ramifications of the Apollo 11 flight. Major League Baseball's All-Star Game is scheduled for Tuesday night at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington, D.C. (NBC, 7:00 p.m.) Nobody tells the weatherman, though; a tremendous rainstorm roars through the Capital City, flooding the dugouts and forcing postponement of the game until Wednesday afternoon. To date, it marks the last time the All-Star game was rained out, and the last time it was played in the afternoon. And Thursday Tom Jones swings on ABC (9:00 p.m.) with Lynn Redgrave, Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66, the Bee Gees, Lulu, and Tim Conway.

*The winner, by the way, is Miss Philippines, Gloria Diaz.

And in future news, it's all good for Joey Bishop - "his show has been renewed well into 1971" by ABC - which will come as a shock to Dick Cavett, whose show replaces Bishop's on December 29 of this year. Seems that TV Guide's source jumped the gun, and Bishop and the network never did agree on that contract. You can read about the spectacular last night of Bishop's late-night show at the end of this article.

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Since New York City has always been the happening place, let's take a look at some of the week's programming on the local stations and see what the Big Apple has to offer.

In honor of the moon flight, we'll look first at the weekend's sci-fi movies, starting with dueling spider movies on Saturday afternoon! WABC has The Spider at 2:00 p.m., while WOR counters with Sombra, the Spider Woman. I think I'll take a pass on those. Saturday night WNEW shows The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, one of those monster-thawed-from-ice-by-atomic-blast movies. The Astounding She-Monster terrorizes the public early Sunday morning on WNHC in New Hampshire, and giant man-eating crabs wreak havoc in the Caribbean in Port Sinister on WABC's late movie. Sunday evening doesn't look any better for Ray Milland than Markham did last week; this time he directs and stars in Panic in Year Zero, about the aftermath of a nuclear attack. It's scheduled for 11:30 p.m. Sunday on WABC, so expect it to be bumped by the moon walk.

Did you know Allen Ludden once had his own talk show? I didn't either, until I saw the listing for his daily program, Allen Ludden's Gallery, on WNEW as well as WTIC in Hartford. It's 90 minutes, as most talkers were back then, and Ludden seems to have had no problem attracting stars; his guests on Monday's WNEW airing are Hugh O'Brien, Chita Rivera, Scoey Mitchell, the Back Porch Majority singing group, and a profile of Kirk Douglas by Rona Barrett.

Joan Rivers is also on the air with her show, or That Show, if you want to be precise, mornings at 9:30 on WNBC and 11:30 on New Haven's own WNHC; her Monday guests (on WNBC) include Phyllis Newman and cooking expert Marcia Morton. And then there's Cesar Romero, whose Cesar's World is on WTIC Tuesday evening at 7:00 p.m.; this week, Cesar tours Leticia, Colombia.

And then there are the ubiquitous ads for WABC's Eyewitness News, featuring their very own "Eyewitnesses": Dell Wade, Melba Tolliver, Milton Lewis, Robert Lape, and "Anchorman" Roger Grimsby, "the man the other Eyewitnesses tell their stories to." If I'm not mistaken, they had another eyewitness around that time, a sports guy named Cosell.

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Finally, before I overstay my welcome for the week, we'll end with something appropriate: a pair of topical movies courtesy of WPIX.

At 2:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon it's the 1950 classic Destination Moon, about the first trip to the lunar surface, starring John Archer, Warner Anderson, and Tom Powers. It won an Oscar for special effects. At 10:00 a.m. Monday, PIX has the 1961 Italian flick The Day the Sky Exploded; "When a manned missile to the moon explodes, asteroids are thrown out of their orbits and sent hurtling toward the earth." Our survival is up to Paul Hubschmid. (Good thing they didn't show that last week.)

I wonder how close they got it? TV  

July 14, 2017

Around the dial

First of all, a personal note. I was cleaning out the comments section this week, deleting some that were obviously spam (either that, or I've got a huge following in the Middle East and India), which meant I got a chance to catch up with some replies, so if you've left a comment in the last two or three weeks, I might have added something. It does remind me, however, of how tremendously grateful I am to all of you for taking time to read and comment on this blog. I've said this before and I'll probably say it again, but I'm humbled by the kind things you say - really, by the fact that you read this at all. It's come a long way in the last few years, and I owe that to you, the readers, as well as the bloggers below and on the sidebar, with whom I share a terrific community of classic TV fans. Now, doesn't that make you feel as if you really owe it to me, as well as to yourselves, to buy my book when it comes out?

Enough with the sentiment! Let's get to the hard facts of the week in classic television. And we'll start off with Comfort TV, which makes it to Minnesota in the countdown of "50 States, 50 Classic Moments." And after that cruel, vicious, unwarranted attack I made against Iowa last week, I should point out in fairness that David's article spotlights the poster boy for television news in the Twin Cities: Ted Baxter.

On Saturday, yours truly appeared in Christmas TV History's annual "Christmas in July" series, answering some wonderful questions about my favorite Christmas television. Many thanks to Joanna for hosting this each year and generously inviting all of us to participate. Keep reading; there are many more good answers to come!

Thrilling Days of Yesteryear brings back one of Art Linkletter's signature programs - the 40s radio series and 50s TV series People Are Funny, which was of the same genre as Truth or Consequences. I don't think I've ever actually seen or heard an episode of the program, but I know it well enough that I recognize it in the very funny Bugs Bunny TV spoof "People Are Bunny," in which Bugs and Daffy wind up on the show "People Are Phony." You can guess how that turns out.

Classic TV and Film Café highlights what is, indeed, some perfect summer viewing: the 60s NBC series Dr. Kildare, starring Richard Chamberlain and Raymond Massey. Kildare is always coupled with ABC's similar doctor series Ben Casey (although Kildare had a long life on radio and in the movies), just as each series spun off its own psychiatric drama - The Eleventh Hour from Kildare, Breaking Point from Casey. I was never a big fan either of Vince Edwards or the Casey character, so I'll go along with Rick's endorsement of Doc Kildare.

Yes, Richard Roundtree is Shaft, as Once Upon a Screen reminds us, not only on the big screen but on television as well. It's a story that still holds up very well, transcending its genre every bit as much as Raymond Chandler did with Marlowe. I thought the remake with Samuel L. Jackson was a lot of fun, but he's still only second best. TV