*The Baron was the first ITC show without marionettes to be produced entirely in color, a singular distinction. Bonus tidbit: Steve Forrest was the younger brother of Dana Andrews.
"Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot, so my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts. I must be a creature of the night." It shouldn't be too difficult to imagine Adam West speaking those lines, though I'm not sure they ever appeared anywhere other than the issue of Detective Comics that introduced Batman to the world. And though the show ran only for a little over two years, until March 14, 1968, it became, for a short time, the most influential program on television. Not only did it make camp a high art form on American television, it turned West and Burt Ward into household names, made the role of "Guest Villain" into one of the most coveted on television, spawned a second series based on a comic book hero (The Green Hornet), and influenced a change in direction for such existing shows as The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
*Yes, I know the title was actually "Hi Diddle Diddle," but it's "Hey" in the TV Guide. This strikes another blow to accuracy in the media.
Interesting notes in the listing - Lorenzo Semple Jr., who wrote the script for the original version of Casino Royale, wrote this script; Neal Hefti, who wrote the theme for The Odd Couple and worked with Woody Herman, Count Basie, and Frank Sinatra, did the theme; and the incidental music was by Nelson Riddle, who most famously did the arrangements for Sinatra's comeback. (With two connections like those, it's interesting that Sinatra never did one of the window appearances.)
Open question: was there ever a series with a shorter run that had a more significant cultural influence on its time than Batman?
No "Sullivan vs. The Palace" this week, and when that happens it's usually because of a pre-emption on ABC's part. This week, however, CBS pre-empts not only Ed, but Lassie and My Favorite Martian, for the annual presentation of The Wizard of Oz, with wraparound segments hosted by Danny Kaye.
|From the first broadcast in 1956|
*In this issue, a note along with the description advises views that "The first 22 minutes of this movie are in black and white."
The Wizard of Oz was the true definition of a "special," a show that families made plans to watch and incorporated as part of their annual seasonal traditions. I appreciate how you can now see the movie just about any time you want, and how you can see it without commercial interruption (both on TCM and in its home video incarnations), but at the same time that very familarity has made it somehow less special, if you know what I mean. I suppose it's one of the tradeoffs that we always seem to be making.
One program this week that definitely is not an event is the NFL Playoff Bowl (Sunday, 12:30 p.m., CBS), an absolutely awful excuse for a football game. The game pitted the second-place teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences in what amounted to a game for third place, and was a benefit for the NFL players' pension fund.* It was played in Miami, started in the years before the Dolphins were created, and was another way for the NFL to increase its visibility. This year's combatants are the Baltimore Colts and Dallas Cowboys, and probably because Miami was part of the Colts' TV territory in the pre-Dolphin years, this year's game will draw a record crowd of 65,569. The Colts reward that crowd with a 35-3 victory. The game disappears after the NFL-AFL merger.
*Nobody wanted to play in this game; Packers coach Vince Lombardi, whose teams won five championships during the ten years the game existed, derisively referred to it as the "Shit Bowl."
In other sports, the final college football game of the season is played: the Senior Bowl all-star game (Saturday, 1:00 p.m., NBC). The Pro Bowlers Tour returns to ABC on the same date (2:30 p.m.), as does Shell's Wonderful World of Golf (NBC, 4:00 p.m.). It's also a return to TV for college basketball; in these unenlightened days when there weren't 50 games a week on television, most nonconference games are seen primarily as tuneups for the far more important conference schedule beginning in January; when the important games start, they're back on TV.
And the NBA isn't exactly big-time yet, either. Yes, now that we're in January ABC has its Game of the Week Sunday afternoons (it's New York vs. Baltimore this week, by the way), but when it comes to the league's All-Star Game, it's being shown via syndication on Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m., live from Cincinnati Gardens. Harry Carey (Holy Cow!) and Jack Buck report the action.
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.
After all these years of reviewing Cleveland Amory's reviews, we have finally arrived at vintage Amory, the perfect Amory, the review that combines his puns and acerbic wit to produce a sparkling prose that leaves no doubt as to where he stands on the program in question.
|Juliet Prowse and Denny Miller|
As for the writing, all one has to do is look at episode titles such as "Mail Against Female," "the touching saga of the little woman who can't resist opening her male's mail," or "My Husband the Wife Beater," based on the classic misunderstanding when a couple of maiden aunts overhear a "marital pillow fight" and assume the worst. The head writer and show's creator, Don McGuire, has done better - he wrote the screenplay for the classic Bad Day at Black Rock, but, says Cleve, "we asure you, however bad things were at the Ol' Rock, the day he first thought of this show was worse."
The acting is "led" by Denny Miller as the sergeant; his credits say he was "first choice to become Hollywood's 12th Tarzan in the film 'Tarzan, the Ape Man.' For this show, however, he would be our 13th choice - and the only reason he would be that high is that he overacts less tha the rest of the cast." Included in that assessment is star Juliet Prowse, "who is one of our favorites as a dancer, [but] as an actress she is one of our least favorites." Says Cleve, "The best that can be said for her is that - particularly in the cutesy-cutesy love scenes, of which there are about six each half hour, not including the commercials - she is actually fascinating; unfortunately, in much the same way that a school play is fascinating when your child isn't in it."
There can be no question that "When so many actors are so bad, the directors have to be at fault." George Burns, who really ought to know better, is the producer of all this, along with United Artists Television, "which obviously does not." In any case, writes Amory, there can be only one conclusion: "Together they have managed to produce a show whose premise would be irritating enough in real life. On TV it is positively excruciating."
Lola Albright, the former Peter Gunn flame who pinch-hit for the ill Dorothy Malone on Peyton Place, and while it's certainly enlightening reading about Lola's stormy third marriage (and her troubled second marriage as well), her battles with insomnia, her seeing a psychiatrist and the like, what I find most intriguing about it all is the very fact of one actress temporarily replacing another on a series.
Malone had suffered a life-threating pulmonary embolism and was in the hospital after a seven-and-a-half-hour emergency operation, leaving Peyton Place producer Paul Monash with a dilemma. His two choices were to either write Malone's character, Constance Mackenzie Carson, out of the series, or bring on someone who could essay the role until Malone was able to return. Considering how vital Constance was to the storyline, there wasn't really any choice, and the call went out to Albright. It happens all the time in daytime soap operas.
Would this happen today? You'll recall that when Raymond Burr was incapacitated during the run of Perry Mason, several actors were brought in to play surrogate lawyers, including Hugh O'Brien, Walter Pidgeon, Bette Davis, and Mike Connors. Something like this could be done, and had to be done, because shows produced a lot more episodes back in the day. Variety show hosts like Red Skelton had guest hosts when they were sick, and this made sense because of the short leadtime between the show's taping and airing. Albright was brought in because a surrogate could never work in the complicated world of the soap.
The point is, I'd imagine that if something similar happened today the show would fill in with reruns until the star was able to return. If it looked like it was really going to be protracted, they might bring in someone in a similar role for awhile. One of the reasons why Monash had to bring in Albright was because you couldn't stop a soap opera in the middle of a story. I wonder - considering how serialized television has become, if the star of one of today's shows fell ill during a crucial point in middle of the storyline, one in which his or her character was absolutely essential to what was going on, what would the producers do? I tend to watch so little new television nowadays, I don't know but what this has already happened.
Speaking of guest hosts and the like, Johnny Carson is subbing for Sammy Davis Jr. on Davis' variety show. (Friday, 7:30 p.m., NBC) Back in the early days of this blog, I wrote about Davis's show, and the puzzling contractual obligation with ABC that required Davis to sit out the second, third and fourth episodes of his own show. Carson's guests on Sammy's show are Mickey Rooney, Diahann Carroll, Joan Rivers, Bobby Van, Tony Mattola and Don Allan.
Elsewhere this week, Don Knotts returns to Mayberry for a class reunion on The Andy Griffith Show (Monday, CBS, 8:00 p.m.), while the aforementioned Dorothy Malone returns to Peyton Place on Tuesday night (8:30 p.m., ABC). CBS Reports is pre-empted for a documentary on "The Search for Ulysses," attempting to prove that the hero of Homer's "Odyssey" was a real man (Tuesday, 9:00 p.m.). Academy Award winner Simone Signoret makes a rare television appearance, appearing with George Maharis in the drama "A Small Rebellion" on Bob Hope's Chrysler Theatre (Wednesday, 8:00 p.m., NBC), and Eve Arden makes a post-Our Miss Brooks appearance Thursday on Bewitched (7:30 p.m., ABC). Also on Thursday, Mona McCluskey gives ample demonstration of why it only lasted one season: "Mike, who's broke, refuses to let Mona buy a color TV set - so Mona decides to plant a coin worth hundreds of dollars in his pocket."
And now for some bonus Amory this week, although Amory himself is not the author. It comes from a very funny Letter to the Editor - the sole letter in this week's issue - by J. Harvey Howells of Brunswick, Maine, who was inspired to write in after reading about Amory's experience with his series O.K. Crackerby!, which ran a couple of weeks ago. In 1956, Howells won a Writers Guild award for Best TV Comedy of the Year for a script called "Goodbye, Grey Flannel," an episode of the anthology series Robert Montgomery Presents. It's the story of a Madison Avenue ad executive who escapes to a New England orchard only to find out that, as Howells puts it, "advertising is a state of mind, not geography." Soon, the exec, played by Lee Bowman, has organized the local farmers and has set up a new agency in his home.
The series would focus not on Ichabod, but on "Me," played by Bob Sterling. ("See the parallel, Cleve?") The ad exec's ex-model wife was replaced by "a fat, jolly housekeeper such as never was in New England." The exec's bulldog, which had scored high in the pilot, was replaced by a "adenoidal boy-child" playing Me's orphaned son. "Retired ad me being old hat (sic), Me became a small-town newspaper editor, and if that wasn't a deep reach into the cliché closet, then Bob's your uncle." Howells won but one battle, and that was to keep the locale in New England, rather than moving it to Kansas "for more national empathy."
Needless to say, Ichabod and Me was no hit show, although unlike O.K. Crackerby! it did survive for an entire season, and Howells points out that he did make some good friends along the way, like George. "But I still can't understand why they bought my idea in the first place. Can you, Cleve?"