August 12, 2017

This week in TV Guide: August 15, 1970

I almost didn't get this issue when I first saw it; I thought I already had it, was positive I already had it, and even after I failed to find it on my list, I looked two or three more times, checked this website multiple times, so sure was I that I'd seen the issue somewhere before, so afraid was I of commiting that dreaded faux pax of the collector, spending good money on something I already had.

Part of the problem, of course, was that Johnny Carson appeared on the cover of TV Guide 28 times, and there are just so many ways you can arrange a portrait of Carson, or anyone for that matter, before they start to run together. And this article by Merle Miller doesn't even tell us much, except that Carson and Company don't like to talk to people. That's the joke, get it? A talk show whose stars and staff don't talk. Miller, whose career as a movie and television writer was interrupted by the blacklist, spent hundreds of hours in the early '60s interviewing Harry Truman for a television project that never came about and whose best-known work will be the book Plain Speaking, an oral biography of the former president, probably found it ironic to be working on a story about people who wouldn't talk to him. Johnny's all interviewed out, the press agent for NBC explains, and a writer who wouldn't talk on the record said that one reason why Carson doesn't like his backstage people talking is that he likes people to get the impression he's responsible for all the material he uses on Tonight. "Don't ask me why." "I didn't ask him why," Miller notes.

The most interesting aspect of Miller's story is his look behind the scenes at one episode he witnesses up close. For example, James Coco, one of Johnny's guests, fresh from his performance in the play "Last of the Red Hot Lovers" for only a few weeks, has "confidence in every pore of him, and he has a great many pores; he is a chubby man." On the other hand, Maureen Stapleton, a star for over twenty years, sits pale, clinging to the edge of a table with a white-knuckled hand. "I might as well leave right now because I'll never make it. I'll never be able to walk out there on stage, not in a million years." Dennis Weaver, who's been in both Gunsmoke and Gentle Ben, isn't quite that nervous but, writes Miller, "I could tell that, Given a choice between going on stage and wrestling Gentle Ben, he'd take the bear, every time." Of course, they're all just fine with Johnny on stage; Maureen Stapleton was "warm and witty and wonderful. It didn't matter if she had said most of the same things to a talent co-ordinator six hours before or if Carson's best lines had been handed to him four hours before."

I don't know how people looked at talk shows back in 1970*, whether they were aware of the extent of the work that writers and talent coordinators did. (After all, I can't recall ever thinking that Johnny came up with all those lines himself, and I think a lot of people knew Dick Cavett himself had worked as a writer.) Still, perhaps there were people who were surprised to find out that this is how talk shows operated. Perhaps Merle Miller wanted to let Carson and his people know what happens when you don't cooperate with the press. Or maybe it was just a case of plain speaking, of telling it like it is.

*I know, I know: they looked at them on their television sets. (Rim shot.)

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The ad on the right is for Richard Doan of the Doan Report, the feature that for many years ran at the front of the programming section of TV Guide and from which I frequienty quote. I mention it because it shows how different TV Guide is in 1970 from the fanmags of the day, as well as the TV Guide of today.

The emphasis is on Doan as a serious journalist - the black and white photograph, grainy, with Doan in his shirtsleeves, probably a white shirt and tie, taken in the newsroom. The stark text with the pronounced whitespace, listing his credentials in the industry: columnist, critic, program director, research company vice-president. An encyclopedic knowledge of television. Most important, a trusted source of news and insight into the television industry for the 32 million adult readers who turn to TV Guide every week.

No discussion about how many celebrities he hangs with, how chummy he is with the insiders, how with-it and down he is. In short, everything that a writer from today's TV Guide would be.

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As some of you may have noticed, I now have my own personal troll; I can't even say that the troll belongs to the blog, because said troll seems to have picked out me personally. He goes by the handle of Ray G., and in last week's "This Week" comment section he proudly proclaimed that "When you let your rightist political views enter into your articles, I can't stand you. I will not be reading your blog, and will spread the word about it." Now, I'd probably have been more bothered by this if, as I mentioned in my reply, he hadn't said essentially the same thing on June 6, when he also called me "revolting." My crime, apparently, was that I'd attacked PBS, and for that I deserve to lose the right to write about classic television forever.

With this in mind, I'm a bit hesitant to include this next item, which happens to be about PBS. Yes, I know Ray G. said he's not reading the blog anymore, but he said that once before and you all know what happened, so who knows? Anyway, the reason I mention this is that PBS has been controversial almost from the very moment it was created, and prior to the actual creation of the network the idea of a government-funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting was controversial, so any discussion of television that includes the political and cultural dynamics of the time is bound to include it.

The item is from the aformentioned Doan Report (written for the vacationing Richard Doan by Andrew Mills), and mentions an attack on Sesame Street from Arnold Arnold, an educational consultant speaking recently at a conference of the American Management Association. Arnold "called the program a failure and quoted a number of other authorities who agree with his opinion." One of those who agreed with him elaborated, saying that Sesame Street "is not imagination; it is more acurately labeled as fradulent." For example, while chldren from poverty homes did know their numbers, they didn't know what they meant; "They couldn't relate the numeral '3' to a group of three apples." Says Arnold, this type of learning is equivalent "to that achieved by a fairly bright parrot."

In an argument that could be made today with respect to how children learn through computers and cellphones, Arnold argues that "preschool children learn primarily 'through direct contact with people and by active manipulation of materials.'" Sesame Street doesn't provide this opportunity; there's no chance "to conjecture, to solve problems, to be creative." Thus, says Arnold, it doesn't teach - however, not only does it pretend it teaches, it spends big money telling people it does. "It's a promotional campaign without parallel," Arnold says of the $6 million spent on ads and PR, with the end result that moms no longer feel guilty about letting TV act as a babysitter because they're convinced Sesame Street is educational. It's not right, because as far as innovation goes, concludes Arnold, Sesame Street "stands on a par with the invention of the dunce cap."

I don't get any particular pleasure out of all this. As longtime readers know, I've written about Sesame Street before; it wasn't on when I was of proper viewing age, and didn't start to really watch until I was in high school in The World's Worst Town™, when I watched it out of self defense because there was absolutely nothing else worth watching. I enjoyed the program's wittiness and jokes designed to amuse the parents, I have enormous affection for the Muppets, including an abiding love for Ernie, Bert, and the Cookie Monster, and even today I get a big charge out of bits like "Monsterpiece Theatre."

Sesame Street first premiered in November of 1969, so the show's less than a year old at this point and this may be one of the first negative stories to feature in the popular press. As such, it's significant, and it deserves to be mentioned here. Now, if Ray G. has a problem with it, that's his perogative. I love my readers, all of them, even the ones who disagree, because they (1) care enough to read, and (2) care enough to comment. In Ray's case, though, he's already quit reading for the last time twice, so if he decides to come back again I hope one of you will get ahold of me and tell me what I'm doing wrong.

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While we're on the education front, on Sunday afternoon, it's a repeat of the controversial ABC documentary "The Eye of the Storm" on teacher Jane Elliott's "blue-eyes-brown-eyes" experiment in racial hatred with her Riceville, Iowa class of third graders. As this article details, the experiment began on the day after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, as an effort to explain to her small charges why somoeone would want to kill the man they had recently made their "Hero of the Month." By dividing the class into two groups based on eye color, and by rewarding and punishing the two groups accordingly, Elliott hopes to demonstrate to the children what it was like to live in a society plagued by discrimination. During the course of the two-day experiment, she sees "children who were cooperative and thoughtful turn nasty and vicious," and she realized that she had “created a microcosm of society in a third-grade classroom.” This is the third year that Elliott has conducted the experiment, and the first time that it has been filmed for television; PBS's Frontline will return in 1984 to visit with members of that class to see how the experiment affected their lives.

I'm of two minds about this kind of experimentation, especially in elementary schools. On the one hand, I'm all for teaching critical thinking in schools rather than what often takes place in the classroom. On the other hand, I'll admit to being very uncomfortable with the idea of experimenting on third graders, when their minds are particularly impressionable to whatever you happen to be teaching them (I'm thinking here of James Clavell's The Children's Story as an example) and especially if their parents don't know what's going on. There's a fine line between education and indoctronation, and it doesn't only happen when you're nine years old.

In the meantime, Jane Elliott remains a controversial figure to this day, becoming nationally renown as a facilitator of diversity training and an anti-racism activist. Ironically, a 2003 study at the University of Georgia suggested that the Blue-Eyes-Brown-Eyes exercise could exacerbate problems that didn't previously exist, and "can also lead to anxiety because people become hyper-sensitive about being offensive or being offended." I ask you, who could have imagined that people today would be hyper-sensitive about being offended?

And to think it all begain with this experiment. Ah, that's the '70s for you.

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Sue Bernard is called the Starlet's Starlet, and so that should be worth at least a moment's notice. Dick Hobson describes her as a rarity, the starlet "who actually works at her trade" with a regular daytime role on General Hospital and nighttime gigs on shows such as Room 222 and "The Joe Namath Special." She was a child actress, appearing on Playhouse 90 and Father Knows Best. Oh, and as was the case with last week's starlet, Carol Lynley, she's graced the pages of Playboy, this time as December, 1966 Playmate of the Month. (Again, I'm taking their word for it.)

Since this article, most of her work has been in the form of documentaries and as the author of six books, and works at promoting the work of her late father, the photographer Bruno Bernard; her Playboy photos were taken by one of her father's apprentices, the famous Mario Casilli. Although I don't partake of the portfolios of these men's work, I don't look down on them; after all, Felix Unger took pictures for Playboy as well, remember?

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And now the week in viewing pleasures.

The honors in sports go to ABC's weekend coverage of the PGA Championship from Southern Hills in Tulsa. We read about the PGA a few weeks ago when it was played in July, but by this time we're seeing the tournament settle in to its traditional mid-August spot. Dave Stockton, known today as one of the great putting doctors in golf, wins the first of his two PGA titles; he's the only player to break par in the brutal 100⁰+ heat, finishing at -1 and defeating Arnold Palmer and Bob Murphy by two shots. On Sunday, Chet Atkins is the guest on Evening at Pops (PBS, 10:00 p.m.), and on the replay of Friday night's Merv Griffin Show which several affiliates offer (having preempted the Friday airing), longtime announcer and sidekick Arthur Treacher says farewell to Merv; the show's preparing to move to Hollywood, and Treacher, who loves New York, doesn't want to move with it.

Monday night at 8:30 p.m., Channel 4, WTAE in Pittsburgh, has a British film I quite admire, from the "Kitchen Sink" era of realistic drama. It's the 1961 black-and-white movie The Mark, which garnered the first and only Best Actor Oscar nominaton for Stuart Whitman as a convicted child molester now rehabilitated and out of prison but struggling to acceptance in the wider world. Maria Schell co-stars as a sympathetic woman who becomes his girlfriend, and Rod Steiger turns in a surprisingly effective performance as the humane psychiatrist who treats him. Whitman has never been what I'd call a great actor, but I've never seen him give a better performance. If it's not your cup of tea, tune in to CBS at 10:00 p.m. for The Wild Wild West, as Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford guest star in the story of a town terrorized by a ghostly rider. And on a replay of NET Festival (10:00 p.m., NET), it's a report on how movie music is no longer for background only. Examples include the use of "Eleanor Rigby" as a sequence in the Beatles' Yellow Submarine.

Tuesday's first run of NET Festival (8:00 p.m.) is "In the Name of Allah," a "colorful" documentary of Moslem life in the city of Fes, Morocco, includng "a look at modern French-build areas of Fes, where young Moslems are rebelling against the traditions of their ancestors." Were this documentary to be done today, I rather suspect it it might have a slightly different tone. Later on NET, Firing Line (9:30 p.m.) presents a debate over capital punishment with Truman Capote, who comes up with the provocative suggestion that all murder cases be tried in Federal courts.

Wednesday the race issue appears again, in the Group W special "The Man Nobody Saw," (KDKA, 7:30 p.m.) It's based on the Kerner Commission Report on race relations, and under the guise of a courtroom drama tells the story of a man (Arthur French) repeatedly rejected by "a white society that ultimately impelled him to commit crimes against that society. As the drama unfolds, it becomes evident that it is not Richardson who is on trial, but rather the 'white establishment.'" The drama is followed by a discusion between blacks and whites about the questions raised by the play, and one of the things these programs makes clear is that for all the discusions about race today, (1) they're nothing new, and (2) you get the feeling nothing's changed. Whether or not that is, in fact, true, is another matter. It is, however, all-pervasive in 1970,

Also on Wednesday, NBC's The Virginian presents "High Stakes," an episode from 1966 starring Jack Lord. Why, you may ask, would they present a four-year-old rerun? Well, for a series that's been on the air since 1962, they've got quite a stockpile of episodes to choose from, and during rerun season you're not going to simply rely on the last couple of years. Additionally, when you just happen to have an episode that features an actor who's now starring in a very popular TV series of his own, even if it is on another network - well, that doesn't hurt, does it?

On Thursday the guests on This is Tom Jones (ABC, 9:00 p.m.) are Anthony Newley, Peggy Lipton, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and John Byner. Newley's singing some of his songs, including "What Kind of Fool Am I," "On a Wonderful Day like Today," and "Who Can I Turn To?"; the man wrote a hell of a lot of hits, didn't he? Dean Martin Presents the Golddiggers (NBC, 10:00 p.m.) features "Marty Feldmen as a traffic cop who things he's a matador and Charles Nelson Reilly as a matchmaker who runs his place like a used-car lot," and Joan Rivers is the guest host for the week on The Tonight Show, a reminder of how her relationship with Johnny Carson went south, and how as much as we might enjoy Johnny in front of the camera, he really was not a very nice man.

Herman's Hermits star in the CBS Friday Night Movie "Hold On!", which Judith Crist describes as "11 numbers barely connected by plot," and goes on to add that "This is a film designed for teen-agers who undoubtedly wouldn't be caught dead watching such teeny-bopper stuff." She feels unsophisticated seven-year-olds might tolerate it.

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Finally, an article by Dr. George Weinberg on those one-parent shows. They're nothing new to television, although in 1970 the single-parent family is never the result of divorce; it's always because the parent is widowed or comes into custody of the children through unusual means. But what do they tell us?

Well, we find that single-parent families are affluent. The fathers are rich, the mothers have good jobs, they all live in comfortable surroundings with helpful friends and neighbors and often employ live-in help. They also enjoy remarkably healthy social lives; although permanent relationships often escape them, their romantic escapades provide fodder for storylines and humorous situations.

The children of single-parent families are well-behaved and intelligent, and they enjoy loving relationships with their sole parent, often bordering on that of two adults. Rarely do we see the territorial possessiveness of a parent that children demonstrate in real life when they feel their position threatened by the appearance of an interloper; the son in The Courtship of Eddie's Father who actively looks for a mate for his dad is an outlier indeed. Only occasionaly, as in Family Affair, do we see the children struggle with the memory of the deaths of their parents.

It sounds as if this is a negative review of the single-parent show as unrealistic, preposterous, existing merely to provide easy plot devices for the writer, but in fact there are many worthwhile aspects to these shows as well, Dr. Weinberg points out, among which is an example of what parenting should be and too frequently isn't. He cites an episode of Mayberry R.F.D. in which Sam (Ken Berry) "discovers from small signs that  his son is removing himself and losing zest for their relationship, [and] he sets out systematically to recover the boy. The story is the father's struggle to make contact again - perhaps a struggle that should be more familiar to us than it is." It is, says Weinberg, an episode that stands "in contrast to shows that thrive on depicting neurosis and violence."

These one-parent shows are watched more or less equally by men, women and children because, Weinberg posits, they offer some promise of the daily life that we once envisioned, a life that seems increasingly "gone and irretrievable." There's an honesty, a devotion to value, a kindness that is generally the chief motive of one or another of the charactors. Weinberg has hopes that programs like these can help reduce the gap between the generations, can improve the relationships between parent and child. There has been a sudden increase in their number on America's TV screens, and they will have ain increasing influence on the next generation of childhood television viewers. TV  


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  2. This is a great site on the history of American TV seen through the lens of TV Guide. This is not a political blog and I come here for TV history, not nuances of politics. I understand Mitchell is a conservative. Know what? I'm a Rockefeller Republican (I actually campaigned for Rocky when I was a teenager in upstate New York) which, of course, does not exist any more but it doesn't stop me from enjoying this blog every week. Write on, Mitchell, write on... (with apologies to the Temptations)...

    1. A very wise colleague of mine is fond of saying "If your politics are bigger than your life, you're doing one of them wrong."

      I've read enough of Mitchell's work here and elsewhere to know we'd disagree on some things. But I haven't seen him use his beliefs on here as a bludgeon; instead, I've tended to see gentlemanly arguments from another point of view. I'm comfortable enough in my own beliefs to know that's not going to hurt me - and that it could even nudge me to think about my own beliefs a little, which can be a healthy thing.

      More important, I know from this blog that Mitchell loves television history as much as I do, and he writes about it with insight and perspective and context. I'm certainly not going to let whatever differences there are keep me from the pleasure of reading what he writes about the marvelous subject that brings us all here.

    2. Right on, Jodie!

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks to all of you for the very kind remarks. I'm sure you know I'd be absolutely sick to think that I'd offended any of my friends and fellow TV fans here based on anything political - our common love of this is bigger than that, and I hope you all know that regardless of where any of us stand, you'd all be welcome at our dinner table and in our guest room!

  4. I especially liked your choice today with this TV Guide, since I'm guessing your copy is from the Pittsburgh/Western PA issue (where I grew up). I was 9 years old when this issue came out and I'm sure I read this copy, my family got the guide during those years.

    As for your troll, you know, I could never understand internet trolls. If I go to a site, blog, etc... that writes about or says things that I not only don't agree with but angers me as well, you know what I do? I don't go there anymore. There are as many web sites as there are grains of sand on the beach. If I don't like a particular site, there are plenty more for me to visit and spend my time.

    How pathetic is someone's life to spend it somewhere they don't like and hate?

  5. The single-parent article is in THE FIRST 25 YEARS...

  6. 'The Virginian' showed reruns from past seasons all through the summer of 1970. It was transitioning to a new format and new title as 'The Men From Shiloh' for the upcoming 1970-71 season. They dropped all the regulars except for James Drury and Doug McClure and brought in as new cast members Stewart Granger and Lee Majors. They changed the familiar theme music and adopted a "rotating star" format a la 'The Name of the Game'. This change was ultimately unsuccessful as 'The Mem From Shiloh' only lasted one season. Since this was the last season of 'The Virginian' in the old format, I guess they wanted to go out with one last hurrah by showing "best of" eps from previous seasons.

    1. It helped the ratings, as SHILOH ended up in the Top 20, a big jump from the previous year of THE VIRGINIAN, but likely dropped for the same reason as the CBS "purge" of rural programming (it was reliably reported the show in both versions had trouble getting the price for commercial time its numbers would merit)


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!