September 30, 2017

This week in TV Guide: September 29, 1962

The World Series begins on NBC Wednesday in Los Angeles, with a resurrection of the old "Subway Series" between the Dodgers and their old sparring partners the New York Yankees, their first meeting since the Dodgers abandonded Brooklyn for Los Angeles.

Except it didn't start on Wednesday, and when it did, it wasn't the Dodgers who took on the Yankess, but another transplant: the San Francisco Giants. It's also a lesson in what can happen when you're a publication working under a deadline.

In defense of the magazine, the close-up notes that it "looks like" the Dodgers will be playing the Yankees, and at press time it must seem a pretty good bet; the Dodgers lead the Giants by four games with just over a week to go in the season. It's such a good bet, in fact, that TV Guide doesn't even include their routine disclaimer about schedule changes in the event of a playoff. But a playoff is indeed what we're in store for; in a finish eerily reminiscent of 1951, the Dodgers collapse down the stretch and are tied on the last day of the season by the surging Giants. The teams split the first two games in the best-of-three playoff and then, just like in 1951, the Dodgers lose a 9th inning lead as the Giants' four-run rally gives them the pennant with a 6-4 win.

It's only going to get worse for TV Guide in the days ahead; the playoff forces the Series to start on Thursday rather than Wednesday, making Saturday the travel day. The teams play Sunday and Monday in New York, but Tuesday's scheduled Game 5 is rained out, causing the game to be played on Wednesday. The teams return to San Francisco and the middle of a West Coast monsoon; Game 6, originally scheduled for October 11, isn't played until October 15. By Tuesday, October 16, the longest World Series to date is threatening to become an anti-climatic, but a Willie McCovey line drive caught by Bobby Richardson gives the Yankees a thrilling 1-0 victory and their 20th World Series championship.

Here's the famous pair of Peanuts comic strips by baseball fan Charles Schulz, describing the anguish that Giants fans everywhere felt in the months after the game.

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Even though we cross into October this week, the new series continue to roll out. Jackie Gleason begins his new variety show, The American Scene Magazine, Saturday at 6:30 p.m (CT) on CBS, a timeslot he'll occupy for several seasons. His new cast includes Sue Ann Langdon, Patricia Wilson, and Frank Fontaine, whose Crazy Guggenheim portrayal is one of the most memorable aspects of the new series. He also has an old friend as guest star for the premiere: Art Carney as Ed Norton. ABC has a pair of new series; Roy Rogers and Dale Evans go up against Gleason at 6:30 with their new variety show; that's followed by Fess Parker's return to television in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (7:30), which runs for 25 episodes and proves that audiences are more interested in Parker as frontiermen than an earnest United States Senator. His next series, Daniel Boone, will return him to a familiar format, and familiar success.

On Sunday Jack Webb hosts GE True, the replacement for General Electric's long-running General Electric Theater. The shows are taken from the pages of True magazine, presumably with just the facts, ma'am. The Lucy Show (Monday at 7:30 on CBS) is Lucille Ball's follow-up to I Love Lucy and her first series without Desi Arnez. This time she's playing a widow with two children; Vivian Vance is back as her sidekick, divorcee Vivian Bagley;* the next year Gale Gordon will sign on as her perpetual foil, Theodore J. Mooney. At 8:00 the same evening, ABC premieres Jack Lord's new series Stoney Burke, in which Lord appears as a modern-day rodeo star.

*According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, Vance's character is the first divorced woman on primetime television.

On Tuesday, it's the first episode of the venerable World War II drama Combat! (6:30, ABC) with Vic Morrow and Rick Jason alternating as leads. The series runs for five seasons and is probably the best-known and most critically acclaimed of the WWII dramas. Wednesday sees the debuts of several more series: Going My Way (7:30, ABC), based on the Oscar-winning movie, stars Gene Kelly in the Bing Crosby role of Fr. Chuck O'Malley. It's followed by Our Man Higgins, based on the radio comedy It's Higgins, Sir, with Stanley Holloway as the British butler Higgins. Neither of these shows will see a second season, but the night's third premiere, NBC's psychiatrist drama The Eleventh Hour (10:00), will, although Wendell Corey will be replaced as the lead doctor by Ralph Bellamy. Friday's lone new series is The Gallant Men (ABC, 6:30), another World War II drama starring William Reynolds that is considerably less successful than Combat!, lasting a single season. Reynolds, however does pretty well for himself later on, moving to ABC's The FBI.

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One of the more interesting episodes of the week comes not from a new series, but the second season opener of the ABC anthology series Alcoa Premiere, hosted by Fred Astaire (9:00 p.m.). In "Flashing Spikes," James Stewart (!) plays a former major leaguer thrown out of baseball for taking a bribe to throw a game. Now, he's suspected of bribing his friend, young Bill Riley, whose error cost his team the World Series.*

*No doubt the episode was scheduled to coincide with the start of this year's World Series, as opposed to commemorating the 43rd anniversary of the Black Sox Scandal.

What makes this interesting is not just the presence of Stewart as a morally compromised man, but the rest of the cast. His young friend Riley is played by Patrick Wayne, whose father John makes a cameo appearance. Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale plays one of Riley's teammates, Vin Scully is the announcer, Jack Warden plays the commissioner of baseball, and Tige Andrews and Edgar Buchanan appear in supporting roles. And did I mention the whole thing is directed by the legendary Oscar winner John Ford? It isn't the only time Ford, Stewart, and The Duke have worked together this year; they also made a movie called The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Here's a clip from the program:

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Something that our friend Mike Doran does so well is spot the special guest stars populating various series each week, and since I find this week's feature articles something less than captivating, let's go back to the program listings and see what else we can find.

Well, here's one right off the bat: Saturday night's episode of The Defenders features Dennis Hopper as a young man accused of murdering a synagogue caretaker and then painting a swastika on the building. It reminds me of the Twilight Zone episode "He's Alive," in which Hopper plays a neo-Nazi - that's coming up in January of next year. Later on Saturday Burt Reynolds makes his first appearance as Quint Asper on Gunsmoke (9:00); he'll remain in Dodge as a blacksmith until 1965.

On Sunday night William Conrad, the original Matt Dillon on the radio version of Gunsmoke, plays a doctor who has to remove an unexploded shell embedded in the stomach of a Marine, in that debut episode of GE True. Robert Culp wrote the script for the season premiere of The Rifleman on Monday night (7:30 p.m., ABC), and Patty Duke suffers from a brain tumor in the season opener of Ben Casey (9:00, ABC)

Troy Donahue (left) joins the cast of Hawaiian Eye on Tuesday (7:30 p.m., ABC); he'll later move on (as a different character) to another of the WB detective shows, Surfside 6. Frank Sinatra, Jr. makes his network television debut at 8:30 on The Jack Benny Program (CBS). Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player appear in a sketch with Perry Como to open the eighth season of his Kraft Music Hall (Wednesday, 8:00 p.m. on NBC), and Vera Miles is a possible murderess in The Eleventh Hour (9:00, NBC).

In addition to that Alcoa Premiere episode we just talked about, Thursday night features Bruce Dern on The Law and Mr. Jones (8:30 p.m, ABC), Brian Keith on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (9:00, CBS), and Rita Moreno and Paul Lynde on The Andy Williams Show (9:00, NBC). And don't overlook late night; one of Johnny's guests on The Tonight Show is "musical-comedy star Barbra Streisand" (never thought of her that way), and the pre-Voyage David Hedison stars in the syndicated rerun of Five Fingers (10:30, KMSP). Friday ends the week with John Ireland as guest star on Rawhide (6:30 p.m., CBS), and Mort Sahl takes a dramatic turn on the rerun of Thriller (10:30, KMSP).

See, that was fun, wasn't it?

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There's one appearance this week that I haven't mentioned - not because it isn't listed in the issue, but because there's so little made of it. It happens Monday night, October 1, and if you didn't already know about it, you wouldn't have realized its significance at all. Under the listing for The Tonight Show, we read that Johnny Carson's guests tonight include Joan Crawford, Rudy Valley, Tony Bennett and Mel Brooks.

All well and good. A couple of things are missing, though. One is that Groucho Marx is also a guest - the first guest, as a matter of fact. And Groucho's there to introduce the new host of Tonight - yes, this is Johnny's first Tonight Show. I'm a bit surprised that TV Guide doesn't make more of it, even just a mention in the listing that "Tonight, Johnny Carson takes over as permanent host." You know, something like that. Now, it could be that there was something in the previous week's edition; I don't have it to compare. Still, one knows how different things would be today: a full-page ad, a clever blurb in the listing itself. You wouldn't be able to help but know it. Even though Carson was, by this time, well-known (if not famous) to the average television viewer, they still might have at least acknowledged the moment.

Oh well. Sometimes the retrospective impact can be made by what isn't said, as well as what is.

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There were reviewers in TV Guide prior to Cleveland Amory, and this week's review is provided by Gilbert Seldes, perhaps the most erudite writer the magazine has ever employed. Would there be room for Seldes in today's TV Guide? Are you kidding?

He was a friend of F. Scott Fitzgerald, even though The Great Gatsby was the only one of Fitzgerald's books that he liked, and knew Ernest Hemingway, though the two were not friends. He was editor of the hugely influential literary magazine The Dial, where he championed the works of James Joyce and T.S. Eliot, wrote regularly for magazines such as The New Yorker and The Saturday Evening Post (he started as movie critic for The New Republic in 1927), and in 1924 authored the landmark book The Seven Lively Arts. He was also the first Dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at Penn, served as Director of Television for CBS News (where he butted heads with Murrow over the latter's criticism of Joseph McCarthy; Seldes thought Murrow had crossed the line and become partisan, rather than impartial, in his attacks on McCarthy), and hosted the series The Subject is Jazz for NBC.

By the way, see if you can recognize the trumpet player in Billy Taylor's combo.

According to his biographer, Michael Kammen, The Seven Lively Arts "was the very first to insist that popular culture deserved serious attention from cultural critics." He felt that that "vaudeville, musical revues, movies, jazz, and comics should be taken as seriously as the ballet or the opera."

Seldes' thoughts on television were complex; yes, it was capable of greatness, and it had the ability to bring entertainment to a mass audience. On the other hand, he believed that television dramas and soap operas were "corrupting influences," and that networks pandered to the "lowest common denominator" in their efforts to maximize profits. Instead of broadcasting a wide range of cultural activities, TV tended, in Seldes' opinion, to narrow the interests of viewers by controlling the types of programs to which they had access. Seldes' ultimate worry was, as Arthur Schlesinger pointed out in his review of Kammen's biography, a mass culture of mediocrity and tastlessnes. "Do the mass media tend to reduce all people to the same level of intelligence and to the same zone of emotional maturity?"

I think you see a lot of these concerns reflected in Seldes' articles for TV Guide, whether reviewing a program or writing about other topics. Nonetheless, he remained able to assess a program on its own merits, even though it may also be a participant in a far broader malaise of creativity. In this week's issue, he reviews The Untouchables, then in its first season, and it's a favorable review. There are plots that he finds unbelieveable, though he frankly adds that he also expects to be told that "these things really happened." Besides, "the usual TV crime show doesn't particularly care whether you believe it in detail." What it requires is credibility, something altogether different.

The Untouchables, he writes, "has three items working for credibility: the voice of [narrator] Walter Winchell, which is absolutely right - it comes at you in bursts like a machine gun; the manner of Robert Stack as Ness - the organization man as a crime-fighter, efficient and without heroics; and the underlying fact tha twhile the show deals with a crime or a series of crimes in each episode, it is really about the organization of crime - the corporate structure that plans and executes crime, the wholesaler for whom the gunman does the dirty work." The details of this fascinate him.

Ultimately, Seldes concludes that The Untouchables belongs in the same league as gangster movies such as Scarface and Public Enemy (again, an example of Seldes taking television seriously as a form of cultural communication). These classic movies were "probably no more true to life than The Untouchables and no more exciting." The only problem, he says, is that he keeps looking for Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney to turn up - "and, except for Robert Stack, all I get is George Raft by the dozen."

In 1966 Seldes wrote that  "In my own lifetime I have witnessed more changes in the modes of communication than occurred in all recorded history before." And that was before cable and satellite television, the internet, and cell phones. What would he have thought about today? TV  

September 29, 2017

Around the dial

Short and sweet this week; without further adieu let's get to the meat on today's menu.

At The Ringer, Alison Herman asks the question "When should a prestige TV show end?" Good question. It ties in to the discussion we had a while back on whether or not shorter TV seasons are a good thing. But in this day and age, when every series seems to contain a story arc that runs the length of the show's run, I think a better question is this: do we really need to tell stories this complex?

Made for TV Mayhem's Amanda gives an insightful review to the 1973 teleflick Cry Rape - a movie that has an essential place in television annals as one of the early movies to deal with the sensitive subject matter.

"The Trade-Ins" is this week's episode on The Twilight Zone Vortex, and Jordan takes us into a story that, despite some flaws, remains a moving testament to the power of love, featuring powerful performances by Joseph Schildkraut and Alma Platt as a couple who discover that neither life nor death are worth being without the one you love.

Manimal on the podcast Eventually Supertrain - need I say anything more?

Comfort TV takes an affectionate look back at the '60s rock duo Chad & Jeremy. Poor man's Beatles? No, but it is fun to see how they managed to stand in as symbols for the Fab Four in various television series of the day.

I really like what John has to say at Cult TV in his look at The Avengers episode "Propellant 23" - "A blog about TV suggests the blogger is blogging about what he is watching. I have always aimed to make this blog more about what I think is good TV." My sentiments exactly, and I think John does it very well. Having said that, read what he has to say about this episode!

At bare-bones e-zine, Jack is back with another installment in the Hitchcock Project. This time: the first-season episode "Breakdown," written by Francis and Marion Cockrell, and starring Joseph Cotten in what amounts to a one-man performance.

Back tomorrow, right? TV  

September 25, 2017

What's on TV? Tuesday, September 23, 1969

Well, here we are in St. Louis this week. And it's a good week; we continue to see new series debut, and there's still a sense of excitement about the rollouts, since none of these series have bombed yet. Check out Tuesday and see what you think.

September 23, 2017

This week in TV Guide: September 20, 1969

This week brings the 1969 Fall Season into sharp focus with the debut episodes of several familiar series as well as the returns of others - some on new networks.

The new season highlights some strange times for television, a curious blend of the old and the new that often fits awkwardly. Take, for example, a review of the recent Miss America pageant by Scot MacDonough, who calls it a "damsels-on-display affair that, in reducing 50 live girls into wind-up, vaseline-varnished robots, was enough to turn even the die-hard bird watcher into a confirmed misogynist." Among the painful highlights was Bert Parks, singing "You can't be caught nappin'/with your generation gappin'," and a singing group called the Statements, which "struggled with original tunes containing lyrics like "When I cry, my nose gets red/and I could die'." MacDonough describes it all as a "now" look for a strictly "then" show, which I think sums things up nicely. As I've said before, it's like seeing your parents trying to act hip around your friends - in the end, you disavow any knowledge of their existence.

Let's see if things get any better.

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Andy Williams returns to weekly television after a couple of years' absense, with a Saturday evening variety show (6:30 p.m.) that, if I remember correctly, is a little sillier, a little less smooth, a little too much "with it" compared to his previous series. Nevertheless, it's always nice to have Andy around; his guests tonight are Petula Clark and Don Ho, with cameo appearances by, among others, Jonathan Winters and Professor Irwin Corey. After that it's the second season opener of Adam-12, with Butch Patrick, of Munsters fame, as one of the guests. At 8:00 the network's Saturday Night at the Movies presents the 1967 romantic comedy "A Countess From Hong Kong," which one would think would have been a hit - what with it written and directed by Charlie Chaplin, and starring Marlon Brando, Sophia Loren, and Tippi Hedren. Alas, says Judith Crist, the movie comes a cropper, "cliche-ridden, old-fashioned and naive," and "primitive in its technique, execution, sentiment and humor." The highlight - perhaps the only one - is a cameo by Chaplin himself.

Sunday night starts with a CBS documentary (6:30 p.m.) detailing a year in the life of the Windsor family, the titular head of which is Prince Philip, but we all know that his wife, Queen Elizabeth II, is the star of the show. The Royal Family is portrayed as "warm, witty and close-knit," which I suppose is all well and good. Liz had only been Queen for 17 years at that point - could anyone have possibly foreseen that 48 years later she'd still be on the throne? I doubt it. Here's a clip, and look at how young they are!

Meanwhile, ABC scores big with its Sunday Night Movie at 8:00, the outrageous spy spoof "Our Man Flint" staring James Coburn. It's a much better choice than Woody Allen's first comedy special, on CBS at the same time, with the Rev. Billy Graham (answering questions from the studio audience), Candace Bergen, and the 5th Dimenson.*

*In TV Guides from a few years earlier, they would have been referred to as "the rockin' 5th Dimension," but now we know better.

ABC tries something new on Monday night: a pair of 45-minute shows. The Music Scene is first up at 6:30 p.m., highlighted by a taped appearance from The Beatles, followed at 7:15 by The New People, a cross between Lost and Lord of the Flies maybe, with a properly diverse cast. Here's Lucy is back for a second season on CBS at 7:30, and at 8:00 Mayberry R.F.D. opens its second season with a guest appearance by former sheriff Andy and his now-wife Helen - a sure ratings gambit. Opposite that, NBC's got a gambit of its own, the start of Bob Hope's 20th season on the network, with over two dozen comedians as special guests. Flip Wilson is one of those guests, and at 9:00 he hosts his first TV special (his series won't begin for another year), with Andy Williams, Jonathan Winters, Arte Johnson, and Jackie DeShannon as guests. I don't know how well it'll do though, up against Carol Burnett in her third season premiere, with her traditional opening-night guest Jim Nabors.

I think Tuesday provides us with one of the more interesting programming days we've seen, starting at 7:30 p.m. with the debut of ABC's Movie of the Week series of made-for-TV movies, and there were some fine movies included in that run. Whether or not "Seven in Darkness," the story of seven blind survivors of a plane crash, is one of them, I can't say. If you're not sure either, try out The Red Skelton Hour at the same time on CBS, which includes - I kid you not - a performance of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" by Iron Butterfly. (What was I saying before about culture clashes?) At 8:30, CBS premieres The Governor and J.J. (more about that later), but the real story is the debut at 9:00 on ABC of Marcus Welby, M.D. one of the most sucessful programs in the history of ABC.

Wednesday's headliners are Glen Campbell, starting his second season with the Smothers Brothers, Barbara McNair, and folk singer John Stewart as guests. (6:30 p.m., CBS) Later on, at 9:00, CBS rolls out its long-running doctor series Medical Center, with Chad Everett and James Daly trying to treat a college football star (O.J. Simpson) suffering from mysterious headaches. At 9:00, the venerable Hawaii Five-O opens its second (of twelve!) seasons on CBS, and the independent station, KDNL, shows the movie "The Scarface Mob," the pilot for The Untouchables.

The ad campaigns for the three networks: ABC busy and bold, CBS minimal and offbeat, NBC artsy and to the point.
Fresh off his appearance with Carol Burnett, Jim Nabors leads off Thursday with the inaugural episode of his own variety hour (7:00 p.m., CBS), which brings Frank Sutton and Ronnie Schell over from Gomer Pyle, and features special guest Andy Griffith to boot. CBS follows this up with the first of a two-night presentation of the 1961 World War II blockbuster The Guns of Navarone

Friday begins with Get Smart at 6:30 p.m., moving to CBS after four seasons on NBC. That's followed at 7:00 on ABC by the premiere of a long-running and much-loved sitcom that, in this first episode, features the wedding of a lovely lady and a man named Brady. At 7:30 Hogan's Heroes (CBS) kicks off its fifth season with a very funny episode in which Hogan cons the Nazis into letting him direct a "propaganda" movie for them, starring a captured American actor, as a cover for blowing up a bridge. At 9:00, ABC launches one of those series that causes you to wonder just who in the world thought it was a good idea to mix Jimmy Durante and the Lennon Sisters. You'll have just 16 episodes to find out.

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

Cleveland Amory's column this week looks backward, not forward, to what he calls the "Summer Similarity Shows." "In the old days, it is true, they gave you nothing but reruns for your money. But is today's system any better - when so much of what they give you is a narow range of what we can only call similarity shows? And then they have the nerve to call them brand new. Listen, if these shows are brand new, we are the New Year baby."

He's writing about the variety shows from the past summer - The Golddiggers, Jimmie Rodgers, John Davidson - with "not only the same format and the same guests but, a good part of the time, the same jokes." Take Dean Martin Presents the Golddiggers, for instance. "In our opinion, if the show is billed as Dean Martin Presents, he should be among those present - if not in person, perhaps, at least in spirit." Alas, such is not the case. And the show could've used some singers as well. "The Golddiggers are swingers too - and very attractive girls. But the King Family they're not. We were even disappointed in Lou Rawls, which is rare for us. And poor Paul Lynde was made to be in just about every skit. Very few people are that funny, and Paul is not one of them."

Jimmie Rodgers' show doesn't fare much better under the Amory pen. "[O]n a recent show, to try our patience to the breaking point, he had Eddie Fisher on. First Mr. Fisher sang "I've Gotta Be Me" - which in his case is understandable but not necessarily a wise choice. Then Jimmie and Eddie sang "My Way" - which, again, was right far from ours. It is our impression that Mr. Fisher said he had sold, so far, 30,766,000 records. Hardened as we all are to bad news these days, this is still not an easy thing to go to bed on." He also notes that "In these affluent times, there is something about all these country-and-western singers making millions of dollars singing about the poor dead beats of Depression days that we find - well, depressing." That is, except for Johnny Cash, who's too busy singing prison laments - "we will arrest him for disturbing a piece of our minds. We like him best when he's singing hymns."

Of course, the time of summer replacement shows will end soon enough. The problem is that it takes the end of the variety show era to bring it about.

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It's been awhile since we've spent any time with letter writers, so let's see what the viewing (and reading) public has to say.

There's a split decision on Neil Hickey's article about Johny Cash from last month. Mrs. David Clark of East Northport, N.Y., in a lengthy letter, sees Hickey's piece as a negative one requiring an enthusiastic, if somewhat hagiographic, defense: "Mr. Cash's success is not due to masses of urban dwellers fleeing their neuorses by a pseudo-return to the farm. If Mr. Hickey should look again, he will see a man who responds to people with warmth and joy; who finds something worth seeing in every man; who loves his country and the variety of people within it; and who speaks of what he sees plainly and simply." On the other hand, Mrs. Robert Bergfelder of Arlington, Texas apparently saw nothing wrong with Hickey's article: "Thank you for the compassionate article on Johnny Cash - for those of us who love him." (Although not, apparently, as much as Mrs. Clark.) It's always interesting to observe how people take different things from the same article.

Meanwhile, a prophetic letter from Allan Konczak of La Salle, Illinois: "Now that Martin Landau and Barbara Bain won't be back, CBS ought to call its series Ratings: Impossible. While the series remained on the air for four seasons following the departures of Landau and Bain in a contract dispute, I don't think there's any disputing that the series' first three seasons were by far the best.

Ethel E. Fallon of Bellerose, N.Y. questions a recent article about The Beverly Hillbillies which "has them returning 'from whence they came' - to the Ozarks! I suggest you listen to the title song. It says, 'from the hills of Tennessee.' Ozarks indeed!" Says the editor, "We are taking steps now to close this geography gap."*

*A nice momento for the time capsule. Just as everything in the early '60s was "space age" and every scandal today carries the appendage "-gate," everything in the late '60s and early '70s was part of the "gap," as in "generation gap."

In like manner, Marilyn Gross of Roanoke, Virginia, writes "I was under the assumption that Mayberry R.F.D. took place in Mayberry, N.C. Then why do the cars used in this series have California license plates?" Whoops!

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It may still be baseball season, but c'mon, everyone knows that when the NFL kicks off, everything else ceases to matter. Yes, it's the start of the 50th season of the NFL, with a restrained lineup compared to what we see now. Instead of games on Thursday, Sunday, and Monday nights, it's just one little old game on Sunday afternoon: the St. Louis football Cardinals playing the Dallas Cowboys in Dallas at 1:30 p.m. CT on CBS. Meanwhile, on NBC, the AFL (which began last week) continues its 10th and final season, with the New York Jets playing the Denver Broncos at 3:45 p.m.* Perhaps the best option is not an actual game at all, but NFL Action's "Football Follies," the first and most famous football blooper reel. It's often imitated, but never quite matched, as we see "a kicker who falls flat on his back, a kick-return specialist who can't return kicks, and a team of behemoths delicately dancing to the 'Nutcracker'." A lot of times it's just laugh-out-loud funny.

*NBC might well have had a doubleheader scheduled, but their St. Louis affiliate, KSD, opts for the baseball Cardinals vs. the Cubs.

The college game on Saturday is Indiana vs. Kentucky, a game that might have some regional interest, but considering the teams will combine for six victories all season, I can't see many people getting worked up over it. I prefer ABC's Wide World of Sports and its live coverage of the Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix, won by the great Belgium driver Jacky Ickx.

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I didn't want to get away without mentioning Dwight Whitney's profile of Jim Nabors. As we learned earlier, the former Gomer Pyle star is taking a big step forward with his new variety show, and he admits to being "scared stiff" at the prospect of leaving the security of the proven hit sitcom. He thought the show had worn out its welcome, though; "Not many comedy situations left to get Gomer into. And the schedule. It was horrendous." Regardless of what CBS might have felt when Nabors told them he wanted to do something diferent (he says they were "thoughtful and considerate. Whatever Ah wanted to do was what they wanted to do."), the network is thrilled with the results from the inaugural taping. West Coast programming chief Perry Lafferty admits there may have been some concern at first, "But you are talking about a giant star. And with a giant you don't press too hard." As a result, "We've got an even bigger hit on our hands."

What I find interesting about this article, though, is when Whitney questions Nabors on "something happening in the world called the Now Generation." (I'm not going to try and replicate Nabors' drawl here, all the Ahs and jes' and all.)

"I dig the kids," Nabors says. "Oh, some things I don't like. Some of the music. Some of the movies. I despise the drugs. It's just that suddenly there's a whole generation different from me. I try to get in tune with where it's at for them. Theat's our society tomorrow and I'd like to be in on their wave length. Because I love people. It's important in this business."

As for his own views on things, "Guess you could say I'm a Nixon Republican. As long as there're 50 men in Vietnam, I got to support them a hundred percent. Now student protest - that's where they're getting their education free. When you work for it you take a different view. Long hair? If it's neat, I certainly don't mind." Most interesting is when the topic turns to the sexual revolution, Here Whitney doesn't quote Nabors, only describing his reaction: "The sexual revolution gives a little more pause. It doesn't meld too easily with the teachings of the church - any church. " Whitney notes that Nabors dates singer Mary Costa, and for awhile was seen with Dorothy Malone. Given what we know about Nabors' personal life (and many suspected it, even then), I wonder just how that part of the conversation went, and why we didn't read more of it.

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There's more in this week's issue - a look at the 1970 TV sets, a rebuttal by Richard Salant, head of CBS News, on charges that the networks are failing to report important information to viewers, a very funny article by Burt Prelutsky on his experience writing a script for Jack Webb, and a fashion layout by movie star Dina Merrill. But with no disrespect to Miss Merrill, the prize this week isn't to be found on a show, or even in an article, but - of all things - an ad. It's the lovely Diane Baker for Sarah Coventry. There's no starlet this week, but who needs one?

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Finally, a note from the Teletype on the new CBS series The Governor and J.J., starring Dan Dailey as (surprise!) the governor of an unnamed state, and Julie Sommars as his more free-spirited daughter. According to Joseph Finnigan, the series plans guest appearances from time to time by real governors, including the governor of our fair state of Minnesota, Harold LeVander. Did you know, and this is something I learned from a classmate in The World's Worst Town™, that LeVander spelled backwards is "red navel"? I didn't, which surely tells you something about the quality of education in these United States. TV  

September 22, 2017

Around the dial

No plugs for the Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention this week, unless you want to start thinking about attending next year. If you're on the fence, you can read about our experience here, and Jodie Peeler of Garoway at Large shares her great adventure here. And now on to the rest of the week.

At The Bob Crane Show Reloaded, Eric and Carol have a powerful podcast on Bob Crane's mistrial in the court of public opinion, focusing (no pun intended) on the movie Auto Focus and the inaccuracies it's helped to perpetuate. I run into this so often myself when talking about Hogan's Heroes or Crane, and people only know what they've heard from the tabloid press. Talk about fake news.

I enjoyed this writeup at Fire-Breathing Dimetrodon Time on the Avengers episode "The Hour That Never Was." Besides being a sucker for titles like that, it's a tense hour of suspense and mystery - a little different for the series. It's nice to see that their son appreciated the story as well; I think kids love this kind of edge-of-your-seat suspense.

Once Upon a Screen has an affectionate shout-out to The Adventures of Superman, starring George Reeves - and really, isn't he the one and only Superman? (With the possible exception of radio and cartoon voice Bud Collyer.) Yes, that opening sequence and the narration - I always enjoyed that as well.

The Twilight Zone Vortex has an interview with William F. Nolan, the famed author of Logan's Run and other sci-fi classics, who had a tight friendship with many of the legendary Southern California authors who made up the core group of Twilight Zone writers. Very neat stuff - and, again, how important it is to talk with these people while they're still around.

You may remember my fondness for Burke's Law, the early '60s cop show with Gene Barry (which helps explain my pleasure at seeing Gary Conway at MANC last week), but did you know that the original Amos Burke was none other than Dick Powell? The Land of Whatever has a look at the episode of The Dick Powell Show that introduced the suave detective.

Having lived in Dallas for four years, and studied the JFK assassination for years before that, I'm well-familiar with WFAA, so I enjoy seeing this old ad at the Broadcasting Archives at the University of Maryland announcing that the station is now the "most powerful TV station in all Texas," which in Texas talk means the most powerful station in the world. We're spoiled with cable and satellite TV; back then, a large transmitter tower and improved coverage was really a big deal.

At The Federalist (I told you once, I find interesting stories in unusual places), David Breitenbeck writes about how watching What's My Line? tells us something about how people back then thought of their world. And, incidentelly, it tells us about how we view our own world as well. I love these kinds of articles.

Finally, not a link to a blog, but our friend Mark Rathaus, whom I interviewed last year about the '70s series Movin' On. Says Mark, "DVDs are finally available. Fans may now buy remastered, high quality Season 1 and Season 2 sets for $39.95 each. Sorry, no telemovie, pilot, In Tandem yet. But the new DVDs are approved by the shows original Producers, Barry Weitz and Philip D’Antoni, and Restoration Producer, Mark Rathaus." Allied Vaughn is manufacturing the MOD DVDs and the Peter Rodgers Organization is the distributor. You can purchase Season 1 and Season 2 by clicking on the links.

Thanks for the update, Mark - and on that note, we'll see you tomorrow with another TV Guide. TV  

September 20, 2017

MId Atlantic, 2017

In his shareholder report for this year's program notes, Martin Grams, Jr. referred to the Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention as "an annual family reunion where no one is blood-related." People who haven't seen each other in a year great one another like long-lost relatives, conversations pick up where they left off, hobbyists catch up on what's new, new friendships are formed. It's everything a family reunion should be, without the skeletons in the closet.

There's a phrase that I've quickly grown tired of, and I hope you'll shoot me if you ever see me using it - that of someone referring to "my tribe." To me, the Shawnee, the Sioux, the Apache - those are tribes, and it's a little bit of cultural appropriation to use the term. In the same vein, I don't like referring to "my people" - it's just a little hoary, if you ask me. But if I ever were tempted to resort to one of those terms, it would be now, because spending three days at Mid Atlantic is like finding out you've finally discovered where you belong.

This was our second year at the bash in Hunt Valley, Maryland - our second year to arrive at the hotel after 11:00 p.m. on a Wednesday night, of getting up early and staying up late and figuring we can sleep when we get home, of getting up on Sunday morning at 5:00 a.m. to catch a flight that gets us home before noon. It's an exhausting 80 hours or so of sore backs, tired feet, irregular eating schedules, and ultimately smaller wallets. And every single bit was worth it.

I got to meet a new friend, Jodie Peeler. You remember here; I interviewed her last month regarding her Dave Garroway biography project. We talked for two hours about Garroway and JFK and classic television, and then found out we also shared a passion for auto racing. Who knew? I can't wait to read that Garroway book, Jodie!

We had dinner on Friday with Jack Seabrook and his wife Lorraine; you know Jack from his terrific "Hitchcock Project" write-ups at bare-bones e-zine. Although we'd corresponded via email and the website, we'd never met before, and it was such a pleasant time talking television and other things over a pizza at California Pizza Kitchen.*

*And by the way, the manager could not have been nicer; he stopped at our table, as he did several, to make sure everything was all right. When he found out we were out-of-towners at a convention, he returned with certificates that could be used by other MANC attendees. And then he sent over a free dessert. Friends, if you've not been to California Pizza Kitchen before, treat yourselves.

A couple of years ago I interviewed Carol Ford for her biography of Bob Crane, and that begat a warm friendship; Judie and I had dinner with her on Thursday, and it wasn't until they started turning off the lights in the restaurant that we figured it was time to get back to the hotel. And her parents are equally nice people; I don't know how things like this happen, but we've now been adopted into the family, which takes care of our vacation plans for next year.

Then there were the various vendors we talked with (who left with a good amount of our money), the presentations we heard (particularly those on the space program, OTR and the Great American Songbook, Rod Serling, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), the panel discussions with celebrities. Short version: Dawn Wells (Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island) is still very popular, as are Eric Estrada and Larry Wilcox, who had a CHiPs reunion on Friday; Aileen Quinn, who played Annie in the movie, is cute and charming; Shirley Jones is elegant and gracious; Cindy Williams is very funny; Tammy Locke (The Monroes) is very loud; Larry Storch is a real (F-) trooper; and Gary Conway sounds older but just like he did in Burke's Law. And that's not even mentioning the movie room, which ran for 24 hours the entire convention, with old TV shows and movies (mostly featuring the celebrities from the convention) and horror flicks all night.

Here are some additional photos from the 2017 scrapbook. Remember, a lot of these celebrities aren't going to be with us that much longer. If you're a fan of classic television, movies, and old time radio, treat yourself to coming out here one of these days. Martin does such a good job putting this together - it's fun, and more important it's a good place to be, if you know what I mean - it just radiates throughout the event. It feels - well, to me, it feels like home. And if you get the chance, try to make it next year, when I hope to be one of the speakers.

September 18, 2017

What's on TV? Tuesday, September 19, 1972

As you can tell, I've survived the weekend at the Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention, which I'll be writing more about later this week, and I'm back just in time to take you through this week's listings, from New York City.

On of the things that always puzzled me about TV Guide is how they determined which programs would receive the little category label following the title. You know - "Joker's Wild - Game." It's much more prevalent in the issues of the late '50s and '60s than it is here in the early '70s - look, for example, at the CBS prime time lineup. Nothing after I've Got a Secret, Maude, or Hawaii Five-O. Why not? Is it assumed that we know what kinds of shows they are? A new series like ABC's Temperatures Rising has one, and that makes sense because it's a new show, whereas Marcus Welby, M.D., an old favorite, doesn't need one. Look at the soaps - excuse me, "serials" - during the day. No labels there, either. None of the game shows in NBC's morning schedule have them, but the ones in the afternoon do. I know sometimes it depends on how much room there is after the title; don't add a label if it means adding a line. But it does seem arbitrary at the same time. Maybe there's a more elaborate pattern I couldn't see when I was a kid and can't now, or maybe I think about these things too much.

September 16, 2017

This week in TV Guide: September 16, 1972

The start to the new television season, as I've often said, used to be an exciting time, with both new and familiar vieing for attention. This week is a perfect example, as the NFL returns, big movies make their TV debuts, and new shows are popping up everywhere. One of the shows you'd think would have done well is Anna and the King, with Yul Brynner returning to the role for which he won an Oscar on the big screen, but no, it's 13 episodes and out. Maybe Walt Disney was too much competition? At any rate there's plenty more to see here, starting with those movie blockbusters.

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It may seem odd that one of the big attractions of the new TV season is the theatrical movie, but this is the way it is before cable, before streaming, when Hollywood's biggest hits used to take years to make it to your living room set. The action starts right away, with NBC rolling out In the Heat of the Night, winner of five Academy Awards including Best Picture, on Saturday night (9:00 p.m. ET) Sterling Silliphant won an Oscar for his screenplay adaptation, and in doing so demonstrates something he must have learned from Naked City: if you're going to do a genre story, no matter what kind of message you want to send, you're still going to have to respect the demands of the genre at the same time. Indeed, although In the Heat of the Night is about race relations, ignorance and prejudice, and the old south coming to terms with a new world, Judith Crist reminds us that it still succeeds as a top-notch whodunit. Of course, having Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger in the cast doesn't hurt.

Neither does it hurt Richard Brooks to have a superior cast for his 1966 The Professionals, led by Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, Jack Palance, and Claudia Cardinale. CBS brings it to the small screen on Thursday night at 9:00 p.m., so that everyone can appreciate what Crist calls a "supurbly entertaining adventure-suspence Western" that garnered two Oscar nominations for Brooks, for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. It runs twenty minutes over the normal two hour timeslot, but that includes a Republican political announcement that we're told follows the movie.

Crist's also going to give a good reivew to Tuesday's late movie, Roger Corman's House of Usher (11:30 p.m., CBS), in which Vincent Price "established himself as the nonpareil in the portrayl of intellectual and sophisticated madmen." She isn't as big a fan of Sunday night's big premiere, ABC's Goldfinger, which she writes "isn't up to the standards set by 'Dr. No' and 'From Russia with Love'," as the franchise begins to change focus "from emphatic action and vicarious heroism to sex and sadism, which outweigh the good dirty fun that initially gave Bond his adult comicstrip status with grown-ups." I understand what she means by that, though I'm not quite sure I agree; nevertheless, as she points out, "compared with all the imitations that have come along in the past eight years - good old 007 still holds his own."*

*Oh, the things I could say but won't. 

However mild that criticism may be, it's nothing compared to what she thinks of CBS's offering on Friday night, Valley of the Dolls (9:00 p.m., followed by a Democratic political announcement). Quoting in full, "It's a bowdlerized version of the Jacqueline Susann book which provided a mawkish, trite, cheap story and smut; the movie lacks the smut but compensates by being badly acted, badly photographed and sleazily made, with a cheapjack production underlining the near-idiot literacy level of the script. Patty Duke, who scores high in the repulsive bracket, and Susan Hayward, who can count this as her horror movie (all middle-aged stars have to do one, it seems) fortunately survive their appearances herein." Well, I didn't want to watch that one anyway.

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September's the time when football returns as well, and in these days of the 14-game schedule, the NFL kicks off its new season on September 17, when for at least three hours every fan in America can dream of their team reaching the Super Bowl - and then the whistle blows, and for most of those fans the dream will be shattered beyond repair. For our gameday experience, CBS has the half-hour NFL Today, followed at 2:00 p.m. by the New York Giants and Detroit Lions, from Tiger Stadium in Detroit. The season is pretty good for both the Giants and Lions, as each will win eight games, though neither makes the playoffs. Over at NBC, there is no pregame show (unless you consider Meet the Press a proper warmup for gladiatorial combat), so we'll go right to the action, starting at 1:00 p.m., as the New York Jets travel to Buffalo to take on the Bills. The main men in the game: Joe Namath for the Jets, O.J. Simpson for the Bills. Neither makes it to the playoffs. That's followed by the Miami Dolphins and the Kansas City Chiefs, from K.C. The last time these two teams met, it was Christmas Day 1971, with the Dolphins defeating the Chiefs in a double-overtime thriller. The Dolphins will defeat the Chiefs on this day as well, along with every other team they face, on their way to becoming the NFL's only undefeated, untied Super Bowl champion. And lest we forget, the Monday night game on ABC (9:00 p.m.) pits the Washington Redskins - the team that the Dolphins will defeat in Super Bowl VII - against the Minnesota Vikings.

Baseball's still going on, in case anyone's interested. Since this is a New York area TV Guide, there's plenty of local coverage, with WOR following the Mets to Chicago to play the Cubs over the weekend, before catching them at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night. The Yankees, on WPIX, have a weekend series at home against the Baltimore Orioles. NBC's Saturday Game of the Week has the Detroit Tigers, who at this point are battling the Boston Red Sox for first place in the East, playing the division's last-place team, the Milwaukee Brewers. As you recall, 1972 was a strike season, and I don't recall how much of a lasting impact that had on fans' interest, but when football kicks off, baseball usually knows enough to take a back seat.

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ABC's rolling out their new Saturday morning lineup this week, apparently making it the "place to be." Compared to cartoons of the past, some of which can still be seen Saturdays on other networks, this lineup strikes me as - what? Trendy, taking advantage of headlining music groups? (The Jackson 5ive, The Osmonds.) Cynical, spinning off from the network's own primetime shows? (The Brady Girls, with magic myna bird and pandas thrown in for good measure.) Unimaginative, regurgitating some of those old, favorite characters in an hour-long story with a social message? ("Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, Top Cat, Magilla Gorilla and his other animal friends sail away from Jellystone National Park to escape pollution.") Perhaps all three? It strikes me that this would have been about the time I stopped watching Saturday morning cartoons, which is a shame because I still enjoy the best of them (Rocky and Bullwinkle, Alvin, Felix the Cat, Bugs Bunny), but I'm afraid most intelligent children will see right through some of this claptrap.

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Let's see what else we can find this week.

A couple of notable series make their debuts on Saturday night; at 9:00 p.m., ABC introduces The Streets of San Francisco, with Karl Malden and Michael Douglas co-starring with The City itself. It's up against CBS's Mary Tyler Moore, which begins its third season as Ted Baxter is chosen to front WJM's new "Happy Talk" news format. If you're watching Minneapolis' favorite girl, chances are you might stick around for the night's second notable debut, The Bob Newhart Show (9:30 p.m.), the story of "A psychologist who can't handle his own hangups." Throw in In the Heat of the Night, and this really is the kind of night for which the VCR was invented.

"The Movie Fractured You. The Series Will Have You in Stitches." That's the way CBS advertised the debut of M*A*S*H on Sunday night (8:00 p.m.). If I didn't know any better, I'd think it was going to be something like Hogan's Heroes. Of course, the tenor of the program evolved somewhat over the years. If family fare is more your thing, Walt Disney begins its 19th season with "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes," staring Kurt Russell. Turning to crime, it's the second-season premiere of Columbo (NBC, 9:00 p.m.), and it's "Etude in Black," the episode Once Upon a Screen wrote about a couple of weeks ago, with John Cassavetes as the killer conductor. Elsewhere in the crime racket, Eddie Egan, the real-life former NYC detective who was the basis for Gene Hackman's character in The French Connection, is "a cop out to nab a killer" in the sixth-season opener of Mannix at 9:30 p.m. on CBS. The bad guy, I think, is played by Rip Torn; I haven't gotten to the sixth season in my DVD set yet.

We've already talked about Monday Night Football, the night's biggest program, but right before that ABC features one of its new series, The Rookies, starring Georg Stanford Brown, Michael Ontkean, and Sam Melville. And do you remember Bill Cosby's variety show? I didn't either, until I was reminded of it here; his big-name guest lineup includes Peter Sellers and Lily Tomlin. (10:00 p.m., CBS)

On Tuesday, WCBS presents the season premieres of two old favorites in new skins (syndicated, that is). First, at 1:00 p.m., it's Larry Blyden as the host of the all-new What's My Line? Then, at 7:30 p.m., it's Steve Allen hosting I've Got a Secret. Both harmless entertainment; neither come close to the sophistication and star power of the originals. Later in the evening (9:00 p.m.) NBC's The Bold Ones has one of those crossover episodes that used to be so popular back when diferent series shared the same television universe. This time, it's part two of an episode that began last week on Ironside; seems a surgeon's daughter has been kidnapped, and only Raymond Burr and his gang can get to the bottom of it.

Wednesday gives us several new shows, including The Paul Lynde Show (8:00 p.m., ABC) with Lynde woefully miscast as a family man. NBC has a hard-hitting lineup, led by Adam-12 at 8:00 p.m., which has a terrific guest cast: Christina Sinatra, Gary Crosby, and Frank Sinatra Jr. It's followed by Richard Widmark, reprising his movie role of the tough New York cop Madigan, as part of the network's new Wednesday Mystery Movie (8:30 p.m.); then, it's Tony Francoisa as one of the three wheels that keep Search rolling (10:00 p.m.), along with Hugh O'Brian and Doug McClure on alternating weeks. (Well, it rolls for a season, anyway) But the show that catches my eye is Medical Center at 10:00 p.m. on CBS, because something tells me that Chad Everett's Dr. Gannon is going to have a very tough day: "Mrs. Slade has a happy secret: after many years of marriage, she is finally pregnant. Mr. Slade has a secret, too, and the implication isn't as happy - three years ago he had a vasectomy." I read that description to my wife, who wondered if, back then, hospitals didn't have the policy that exists today where the wife has to give written permission first. Yes, I think Dr. Gannon will need some aspirin before this hour is over. And a stiff drink.

Bobby Sherman is the guest star on Thursday's episode of The Mod Squad (8:00 p.m., ABC), while at the same time on NBC, Tim Conway is Flip Wilson's foil (or is it the other way around?) The Dean Martin Show (10:00 p.m., NBC) has opera soprano Anna Moffo, Lloyd Bridges, and Barbara Feldon as guests, along with Nipsey Russell, Rodney Dangerfield, and Dom DeLuise. ABC's legal drama Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law* has Julie Sommars as the guest star; she plays a professor who has an affair with one of her students, and winds up being accused of his murder.

*Which, by the way, shares the same television universe with Marcus Welby, M.D.

Friday gives us a prime example of another staple of the new television season: a multi-episode spectacular. Tonight: The Brady Bunch goes to Hawaii on vacation. (Part one of three.) Frankly, I recommend Howard Cosell's guest spot on The Odd Couple (9:30 p.m., ABC). If you're staying up late, I also suggest going over to WNEW at 1:30 a.m. to catch a terrific suspense movie: The Stranger, with Orson Welles directing and starring in the story of a United Nations agent (Edward G. Robinson) hunting a Nazi war criminal (Welles). Oh, by the way, Loretta Young is also in it, as Welles' fiancee.

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There's so much else to look at in this issue - the former cast of Laugh-In, a fashion layout with Susan Clark, and all kinds of syndicated reruns that today we look at as classic television. But one has to draw the line somewhere, so let's close out with some cultural touchstones.

The Doan Report has a few items that caught my eye; first, a recap of the Munich Olympic Massacre, which had only happened the past week. ABC's coverage of the Games, which started out in color and pagentry, ended in a "spectacle of horror," but the network acquitted itself magnificently, with Jim McKay and Howard Cosell "suddenly cast in the role of headline-news reporters." NBC and CBS scrambled as best they could to provide coverage, but were limited in the amount of satellite time they were able to access, although CBS was able to get an hour, using coverage from the German police TV camera that ABC also had. Hard to imagine now, that one network could have virtually exclusive live coverage of a breaking news story like that, but in 1972 it wasn't all that easy to get satellite time under the best of circumstances; as I recall, ABC faced the same challenges in staying on the air.

Doan also notes that NBC is engaged in a "nation-wide search" for someone to host their proposed new late-late show, Tomorrow. While entertainment is forseen as being part of the new program, the emphasis will be on talk, often on "very important subjects of a nature that might not get discussed on TV at an hour before 1 A.M." No speculation as to the host will be, although it might be someone from "outside show business." (As indeed it is.) ABC and CBS are said to be "taking a wait-and-see attitide" toward NBC's new venture.

As for the new season, experts don't see any new trends coming from the new series; All in the Family, Marcus Welby, M.D., and Flip (Wilson) are expected to once again lead the pack. The heavy favorite among the new series is CBS's Bridget Loves Bernie, which lasts only a single season. The real interest lies with public reaction to the so-called "New Permissiveness." "Titillations with the gay life, abortion, unmarried sex and such will abound on TV in the weeks ahead. It's going to induce either drooling or damnation, or both."

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Two months later. . .
And From the Teletype: Here's a program I remember, from the day after Thanksgiving, 1972. They don't have a name for it yet, but it will be called "The Jerry Lucas Super Kids Day Magic Jamboree," filling three hours for ABC on the morning after Turkey Day, and it will feature the New York Knicks star performing magic tricks, passing along basketball tips, and "display[ing] his freakish memory (which allows him to memorize hundreds of pages of telephone directories.)" As I recall, Lucas would go on talk shows and memorize the names of everyone in the audience, and one of his greatest feats was the ability to take any word, at the instant it was spoken, and alphabatize it. He was a very good player, but disarming and fascinating in all these other ways. Sports Illustrated had two interesting articles on him; this one at the height of his memory fame, and this one from 30 years later telling of the interesting turns his life has taken since.

Also: Neil Diamond's received offers from all three networks to do music specials for them. He's mulling them over, but as I recall, he winds up going with NBC, doing a special called "Neil Diamond at the Greek Theatre."  Jerry Lewis plans an appearance on Sonny & Cher on CBS, including a skit in which he and Sonny play chess. (It happens to be the episode that airs this Friday.) And finally, Robert Young plans to star in a TV movie for ABC, entitled "All My Darling Daughters." Now TV Guide doesn't mention this, but I've heard they were going to call it "All My Darjeeling Daughters," but Young said it wasn't his cup of tea. . . TV  

September 15, 2017

Around the dial

This is the culmination of a short week for me; if you're reading this on the date of publication, I'm at the Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention, but I didn't leave you without something to read in the meantime.

Speaking of satire, as we were on Wednesday, the Broadcast Archives at the University of Maryland links to this article at Smithsonian about Bullwinkle taught kids sophisticated political satire. I think "sophisticated" is one of the key words at play, not in the same sense as dressing up in a tuxedo, but in the way the show managed it without being crude, loud, or beating viewers over the head with it. (Even if Boris and Natasha were beating the moose and squirrel over the head.)

I've alluded to this in the TV Guide articles, but there was a time, once, when September was a little bit like Christmas, a special time when everything was new and fresh (even the returning TV series). At Comfort TV, David knows what I'm talking about, as he too remembers the days when Septembers were special.

Television Obscurities remembers the 50th anniversary of The Second Hundred Years, the 1967-68 ABC sitcom one where Monte Markham gets to play a man and his grandson, with Arthur O'Connell caught in the middle. I've read that O'Connell was put out that Markham was the star; that he was promised he would be the focal point of the episodes. Considering Markham plays twice as many characters in the series, I'm not quite sure how he figured that out.

Classic Film and TV Café has seven things we might not have known about Barbara Stanwick. What's interesting, and this I did know, is that although we think of her as a movie star, she had much more success with awards in television, winning Emmys for The Barbara Stanwyck Show, The Big Valley, and The Thorn Birds. The other thing I know is that she was a class act all the way - and by far the toughest of all the Barclays.

At Classic TV History, Joanna makes a stop in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania (just south of Pittsburgh) to see the statue of one of their favorite sons, Mr. Christmas himself, Perry Como, with a bonus - Bobby Vinton! - thrown in.

The Twilight Zone Vortex takes a closer look at the 1962 episode "Hocus Pocus and Frisby," which is not a story about someone making a misspelled flying object disappear, but a story of tall tales, starring Andy Devine. I think Brian's analysis of the episode's strengths and flaws is pretty much spot-on.

The very fun Eventually Supertrain podcast (from the man who brings you Some Polish American Guy) does some quick time travelling, with looks at Manimal, The Immortal, and Voyagers! Boy, some memories there.

Hopefully, that will hold you until I get back! TV  

September 13, 2017

No laughing matter

The following contains information which some readers may interpret in a political sense. That isn't the case; as you'll see, there's really nothing political about what follows, but if your name is Ray G., or if you just don't want to take the chance, come on back Friday for our ideology-free look around the dial - I won't be offended. I promise. Not much, that is.

Anyway, what you've just read is an example - perhaps not a very good one, but an example nonetheless - of satire. The dictionary (or one of them, anyway) defines satire as "the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues." That sounds about right. However, nowhere in this definition does it say anything about the ultimate goal of satire, whether or not it has any purpose, anything its purveyor hopes to accomplish, other than the aforementioned exposure or criticism. We'll get to that in a moment, since it's the heart of the discussion.

For just about as long as television has been around, so has satire. In fact, as this brilliant radio bit by Stan Freberg shows, the first satirist came on the scene not long after the first event worth satirizing. And not long after the first satirist came the first nervous network executive, worried about the effect the satire would have on the show's advertisers. Sic semper erat, et sic semper erit. Throughout the years television has provided a fertile opportunity for satirists to ply their trade, as guests on variety and talk shows, in comedy sketches, and on sitcoms.

This isn't intended to be a history of satire, though, and you probably could get a better one from the always-reliable Wikipedia; what got me thinking in this direction was an episode of Malcolm Gladwell's podcast called "The Satire Paradox." I'm not going to describe it at any length - you can and should check it out for yourself. But if you know anything about Gladwell, then you know he often goes about poking holes in popularly-held beliefs, so it should come as no surprise that there is indeed a paradox when it comes to satire, that is: satire has no effect on the things it satirizes.

The focus of Gladwell's study is on the British comedian Harry Enfield, who during the Margaret Thatcher years became enormously popular for a satiric character he called Loadsamoney. It was a vicious attack on Thatcher's England, symbolizing everything that liberals felt was wrong with conservative policies. And yet, when all was said and done, and Gladwell asked Enfield what the character had accomplished, how it had changed things, he was surprised by the answer: nothing. And, Gladwell continues, this shouldn't be a surprise, because all down the line, that has been the answer with satire: it has changed nothing. I've written about All in the Family before; a goodly number of the show's fans actually agreed with Archie Bunker's opinions, and Gladwell mentions that the show's ultimate effect was to reinforce the prejudices of its viewers.

Taking a look at a more recent program, Comedy Central's Colbert Report, a similar study showed that both liberals and conservatives felt Stephen Colbert's fake conservative news character was telling it like it was: liberals naturally saw in his O'Reilly spoof an obvious satire on conservative politics; conservatives, on the other hand, didn't actually believe Colbert's character was genuine, but what they did believe was that buried in his broad humor was, as is so often the case, a kernel of truth. Heather Lamarre, co-author of a study on Cobert's humor, was I think, somewhat surprised by this, but she shouldn't have been, for I think we've always known that buried somewhere in the funniest situations is the truth, whether it's intentional or not.*

*This was part of Colbert's genius - the ability to appeal to liberals and conservatives alike - which is what ultimately made his selection to succeed Letterman such a bad choice by CBS. Unless they could have bought the "Colbert character" from Comedy Central, Colbert would be forced to play himself, and eventually he'd be forced to alienate half of his audience, as indeed I think he has, by clearly becoming a partisan. Of course, your mileage may vary, and there's nothing wrong with this if it makes money for the network.

In discussing Tina Fey's portrayal of Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live, Gladwell attempts to get to the heart of the matter: Fey's satire was too funny, too good at drawing laughs, to be truly effective satire, and this "toothless satire" tends to be emblematic of what appears on American television. Now, I'm not sure I agree with this rationale, but after thinking about it for awhile I think I understand what Gladwell's point is. Does the satirist simply hope to gain laughs from the audience, or does that person actually hope to use satire to point out the awfulness of something in an attempt to get people to think seriously about it?

One of Gladwell's sources referred to satire as, and I'm paraphrasing here, the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down - or, in this case, the harsh reality that people are too reluctant to face head-on otherwise. And it's true that humor can be a great way of facing uncomfortable truths. But that's assuming that facing the truth is what you want to accomplish, and not just getting a cheap laugh at someone else's expense.

I think the problem with effective satire today is that too much of it is preaching to the choir. Think about it for a moment: how many politically conservative people do you know who watch Saturday Night Live? A few, maybe, but probably not a lot. I myself haven't watched it in probably 30 years. And because Gladwell finds both Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert funny in a way that I don't, he might not agree with, or even think of, where I'm going with this. But it seems a reasonable assumption that most of the people who do watch SNL already agree with the show's political agenda (in a way that might not have been true with The Colbert Report), and therefore the savage humor that the show produces week after week is largely falling on deaf ears. It's not meant to illuminate or educate people, to get them to change their minds or even consider another point of view. No, in reality what it does is serve to reinforce the opinions already held by its core audience. And there's nothing wrong with that - my purpose isn't to criticize SNL for left-of-center humor, just to suggest that if you really want to get people to think about something, to take your satire seriously, perhaps you might try being less antagonistic, less obvious, more subtle.

There's another problem with satire, something that Jonathan Coe suggests in another article to which Gladwell refers, and that is that satire can cause people to cease to take anything or anyone seriously, a particularly dangerous attitude in this day and time. Rather than being moved to take action, satire eventually overwhelms a listener to the point that they become a cynic, seeing any type of reaction as useless. Or, what could be even worse, it allows for a kind of "plausible deniability," an opportunity for the viewer to, as Michael Frayn put it, "disclaim with laughter any responsibility for this situation, and so relieve their consciences without actually voting for anything which might have reduced their privileges." In other words, satire provides an audience already predisposed to agreeing with the point of view of the satirist with the opportunity to signal their approval through laughter. It is, in a way, a kind of "virtue signaling," to use an in-vogue term. Referring to a sketch by the famed British comedian Peter Cook on the show Beyond the Fringe, Coe concludes that "The sketch makes it clear that laughter is not just ineffectual as a form of protest, but that it actually replaces protest."

That single line, I think, is what unites these two theories that I have, a unity that Gladwell may hint at but doesn't necessarily voice himself. Today's satire is ineffective because it is, on the one hand, not really interested in creating a dialogue or raising someone's consciousness, the way really effective satire can. On the other hand, because it performs to people who already "get" its truth, it eventually becomes a surrogate, a substitute, for doing anything useful. No matter which way you take it, the satirist fails if his hope was to generate any kind of real awareness or change. At best, he (or she) has to be satisfied with laughs and boatloads of money. If that's all you're after, then that's fine.

Ultimately, I don't know what all this proves. As long as ratings and sponsor dollars are important, satire on television is always going to pull its punches one way or another. Either it will become toothless in an attempt not to offend, or it substitutes approval for a call to action. It's been that way since television started, and those who've tried to practice it have complained about it ever since. As it turns out, though, perhaps it was much ado about nothing, because it seems as if that skit that got everyone so worked up, or that series that gave people fits, or those jokes that outraged one side or the other - well, in the end, none of it mattered at all.

Someone ought to write a bit about that. It would have to be satire, of course.