February 28, 2018

"Don't be a fool"

Back again this week is Jodie Peeler, author of the Garroway at Large website, wrapping up her February guest stint on It's About TV! with this thoughtful look at the Quiz-Show Scandal of the '50s.  It fits right in with what we've been talking about lately. I think you'll enjoy it.

by Jodie Peeler

Back in 1992 the PBS series The American Experience aired an hour-long documentary about the quiz-show scandal of the 1950s. For those who love television history, it was a treasure: plenty of clips from the handful of surviving kinescopes, still images from network publicity files and magazine archives, and interviews with key figures in the story (several of whom passed away not long after filmmaker Julian Krainin interviewed them).

Krainin was also able to get the cooperation of a few contestants who appeared on the rigged programs, including the Rev. Stoney Jackson, James Snodgrass (whose letters describing his instructions on how to handle himself on Twenty One, sent to himself via registered mail, were key evidence in the investigation), and Herbert Stempel, the contestant who "lost" to Charles Van Doren on Twenty One. But Van Doren, the most prominent contestant from the scandal, didn't participate.

Much has been written about the quiz show scandals in general and Charles Van Doren in particular, and after he admitted during a 1959 Congressional hearing that he had been one of the rigged contestants, Van Doren mostly dropped out of sight. He continued to write and teach, and every once in a while appeared on television in conjunction with one of his projects. He even appeared on Today in December 1985 to promote his book The Joy of Reading, and during the interview the quiz scandals didn’t come up.

In 2008 Van Doren finally broke his long silence with a lengthy essay in The New Yorker. Among the revelations was that when he told his soon-to-be wife in 1956 that he was going to be on a quiz show, she didn't like the idea; three and a half decades later, she was likewise cool to Krainin's entreaties on the documentary. "I think you're being foolish," she told Charles as they discussed the proposal. Later, when Krainin extended a $100,000 offer from Robert Redford to be a consultant on the movie Quiz Show, Gerry was again cool to the idea: "Please don't be a fool." In the end, Charles took her counsel and resisted the temptation.

In these times it seems quaint to imagine someone refusing to cash in on a moment of infamy. If someone confessed to cheating on a game show these days, we'd hardly blink; within days, said cheater would be getting book contracts and endorsement deals, a cameo in a Saturday Night Live sketch (if not a guest-hosting gig), and maybe even their own reality series. But in 1959 Van Doren found himself going from hero to punchline, with Columbia University relieving him of his teaching duties and NBC firing him from his gig on Today. Dave Garroway wept on the air as he dealt with the news about Van Doren, whom he had come to consider not only a valuable contributor to the program but also a good friend. The illusion was shattered, and the nice young man who symbolized intelligence and read poetry on national television turned out to be as susceptible to temptation as any of the rest of us.

But as the news settled in, it became apparent the ones really being fooled were ourselves, and for the most dangerous reason: because we allowed ourselves to be fooled. The Trappist monk Thomas Merton, who had been Mark Van Doren's student at Columbia University and maintained a friendship with him, struggled with the revelations. In a letter to Mark Van Doren, Merton wrote that the younger Van Doren was "seduced into impersonating himself, in order to please and comfort this foolish, and pitifully foolish, nation with a day-dream of itself....America wants to be kidded and the only crime is letting the people know, realize, the falsity. We are such babies that we want our unrealities to be real and the only thing we resent is the reminder that they are not."

People had sunk so much effort into believing in Charles Van Doren's innocence that to deny this, to admit he had cheated, would not only negate all that belief, but reveal something about themselves that would be unsettling and disturbing. But, beneath that, how much of it was being manipulated, and how much of it was wanting to be manipulated? How much of the quiz show craze was really about watching average people display incredible knowledge, and how much of it was, as Martin Scorsese's businessman in Quiz Show put it, about wanting to "watch the money?"

And has this ever really changed? When the big-money game shows came back (albeit in non-rigged form), they drew a following. It wasn't because Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? required you to know a lot of trivia or because Deal Or No Deal required a gambler's sense of risk. Certainly the gimmicks helped - as The $64,000 Question had its IBM sorting machine and its isolation booth, so Deal had the array of models with briefcases. And the dramatics - the music, the theatrical lighting, the catchphrases, the timing. Some combined the drama with humiliation, as contestants on The Weakest Link gladly let themselves be verbally abused for a chance at a big prize. Others, like Survivor and the countless other reality competition shows it spawned, let us watch along as contestants acted out Lord Of The Flies for our enjoyment.

But it's an illusion. The average game of Deal Or No Deal or Millionaire would have taken five minutes, but was sliced thinner than prosciutto to fill an hour's time, build suspense and keep viewers on the edge of their seats. Reality shows craftily edit hours of footage, stripping context and truth in favor of maximum conflict and drama. No matter how the contestants fare, the hosts and producers and staff get paid either way. And yet, even when we know we're being manipulated, we still tune in. It's too tempting. What if it was me playing for that million? What if I was able to outwit everyone else on the island? The Walter Mitty in all of us enjoys the fantasy too much.

Maybe after all these years of scandal after scandal wearing us down, with everything in life from our television programs being less than they seem to be, to a long list of evangelists being revealed as frauds, to the clay feet of business and government leaders being exposed, we'd respond to a modern quiz-show scandal with a hardened, cynical shrug. We’d watch the offending contestant milk his or her fame for all it was worth, turning infamy into C- or D-list stardom, because doing what Charles Van Doren did - taking your lumps, retreating into exile, quietly working to rebuild your name in an honorable way – would mean missing out on an opportunity to cash in. (“Don’t be a fool” is such a quaint notion in our times, isn’t it?) Then we’d shift our attention to the next thing and gnaw it down to the marrow, because there’s always a next thing.

How much of that daydream Thomas Merton warned about turned into our reality? And is it that we no longer resent reminders that it’s unreal, or is it more that we’re hardened to the unreality itself? Perhaps I’ll think about it later. Right now, there’s this really great new show I want to watch…. TV  

February 26, 2018

What's on TV? Wednesday, March 2, 1966

Back to the Twin Cities this week, for a perfectly average day in a perfectly average week. Just look at the listings below; I can't remember the last time there wasn't a SPECIAL or DEBUT or RETURN - just the regular schedule. (Now watch, someone will look back in the archives and tell me it happened just three weeks ago...)

Some notables: Art Linkletter's guest on House Party is Bennett Cerf; it's always nice to see a panelist from What's My Line? appearing on a different program. And over on NBC, the program listed as "Bob Hope" is actually the Chrysler Theatre, or if you want to be picky about it, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, which is why I included the title of tonight's story. (That's so you're not looking to see where Anita Ekberg or Angie Dickinson are; Angie's on Password, actually.) Anyway, have at it!

Billy Graham, R.I.P.

Is it possible to know someone not by who they are, but by who they aren't? Billy Graham wasn't the faith-healing huckster Oral Roberts, who lived lavishly and once told people God was holding him hostage to get them to contribute more money. He wasn't the Elmer Gantry-life Jimmy Swaggart, who married a 15-year-old and dallied with hookers; he made it a point to never be in a room alone with a woman with the door closed. He wasn't Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker; he never served time in federal prison, nor was he associated with industrial-strength cosmetics. He wasn't Joel Osteen, preaching the prosperity gospel in a megachurch that used to be a professional basketball arena; in fact, he never pretended to be a pastor at all. He was a preacher, who always sought advice from his own pastor. He didn't run for president like Pat Robertson; instead, he counseled them. He didn't have his own television network, he didn't live in a mansion, he never was implicated in personal scandal. That was who Billy Graham wasn't.

Who Billy Graham was was a man who appeared 60 times on Gallup's list of the world's most admired men, who integrated his own crusades in 1953, who preached with Martin Luther King Jr. and once bailed him out of jail, who sold out Madison Square Garden in New York for 16 consecutive weeks 1957, who understood the power of radio and television and used it successfully in a way few ever have. (His radio program, Hour of Power, continued for 60 years.) As a dynamic speaker who could mesmerize television audiences as well as those viewing him in person, he was rivaled - perhaps - only by another evangelist, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.

Let's talk a bit more about Billy Graham and television. Those sold-out crusades in New York City in 1957 were telecast on ABC, Saturday nights from 8:00-9:00 p.m. Today, it would be unthinkable to see such programming on a national broadcast network, but it was the first of four times Graham would appear regularly with his crusades on ABC over a two-year span. Later, when the networks banished such programs from their their regular lineups, Graham would appear on syndicated broadcasts carried by massive numbers of network affiliates; those stations, who would gladly preempt network programming in order to gain advertising revenue, carried Graham's crusades commercial-free. Granted, the time was bought by Graham's organization so it wasn't as if the stations were being totally altruistic, but neither were they ignoring that which appealed to their viewership.

I don't know how many people came to Billy Graham through television, who found their way to a relationship with Christ that changed their lives; I think you could plausibly argue that he had a greater direct impact on his viewers than any other star of any other television program that has ever been shown. Although he didn't preach my particular brand of Christianity, I would sit mesmerized listening to the man speak, and seldom heard anything I could disagree with. Watching the young Graham preaching from the Garden, there is a power, a magnetism, a fire, to his words that is almost astounding - if you've only heard Graham in his later years, even in the '70s when he'd become somewhat less the revivalist preacher, you owe it to yourself to look up one of his sermons online; his own website has many of them, and be reminded of the power of speech.

For many years, Graham was associated with the Twin Cities, his headquarters being in Minneapolis, and he appeared here with his crusades several times, but I saw him in person only once, in the '90s when he was older and more frail. So unassuming was he that when he took to the podium to speak, not everyone realized it at once. But when he did speak, it was as if time had stood still, perhaps even wound its way back a decade or two. Standing there preaching about Christ and salvation, his face was animated, his voice strong and clear, and it was obvious that during a half a century of preaching, the externals may have changed - the celebrities who appeared with him, the hairstyles, the clothing - but the message never changed.

After his death last week, The Wall Street Journal asked rhetorically whether or not there would ever be another Billy Graham. The answer, of course, is no; there is never a second version of a one-of-a-kind. The question, I think, is whether or not this medium, present as it is in today's culture, will ever see anyone like him again. Forget the message, think only of the man and the way he penetrated the camera lens and met the viewer wherever he or she happened to be, physically or emotionally. The answer to that, without doubt, is also no. TV  

February 24, 2018

This week in TV Guide: February 26, 1966

You might be surprised to learn that on occasion I do actually put some thought into the sequence of issues I write about here. Or, you might not; maybe nothing I do here surprises you any more.

Anyway, while I sometimes have the luxury of shaping, if you will, the story I'm going to tell over a number of weeks, I'm usually left with only one issue from which to choose, and that's only because I've gone out and purchased that issue to fill my need. That's what seven years of this will do to your TV Guide inventory. But enough about backstage drama - let's get on with the show.

I confess that, seeing the ad for the coming attractions in last week's issue (surprisingly enough, it was on a page that hadn't been cut up), I was intrigued by the banner at the top of the cover: "TV's impact on our civilization - a startling appraisal." "I wish I was writing about that issue," I thought to myself. And lo and behold, here it is!

The author is Louis Kronenberger, Professor of Theatre Arts at Brandeis, writer of novels and essays, and former drama critic for Time. This must be understood, Kronenberger says at the outset: "[T]elevision is not just a great new force in modern life, but that it virtually is modern life. What, one might ask, doesn't it do?" It is, he concludes, "a truly stupendous addition to American life - our supreme cultural opportunity." It is, as well, "a supreme cultural commodity," a case of Big Business operating in tandem with Bigger Business. "Business calls - or cuts short, or calls off - the tune." And because of this, nothing else about television and its potential matters; "it makes any other fact about TV and its effect upon our civilization ultimately subsidiary and expendable."

Kronenberger compares television to the menu of a vast banquet; a fair amount on the menu is "unexceptionable" while a good deal more is "harmless entertainment." Some is even very good, but much else is not good, and even more is "truly dreadful." In offering this argument, though, Kronenberger goes beyond the artistic merits of the program itself, whether it is "good" or "bad" in conventional terms. Instead, he refers to the effect that such programs have on the audience. Not only does it pander to the lowest common denominator, it does so in the hopes of keeping that denominator low - hence, making it easier to keep the audience entertained, and available for the messages of its advertisers.

More than that, however, is the corrosive effect the programming has on the, for lack of a better word, dignity of the individual watching it. Take the Quiz Show Scandal for example: the technical crime, as Kronenberger puts it, was that the shows were being rigged, the immorality being that the networks should and probably did know about it. "But what was really degrading, indecent, uncivilizing was that, rigged or not, the quizzes pandered to the venality of a whole nation, had multitudes glued to their televisions not at all for the fun of the game, but for the size of the stakes. Knowledge had become the grossest, the most uncultural, of commodities." To despoil the purity of knowledge, to turn it into a tool for making ever larger sums of money - aye, there's the rub.

It's not just this, of course - the corruption extends to violence, to "cheap gags and gossipy wisecracks," to an invasion of privacy - "not just in terms of outright gossip, but in the way of candid 'discussion,' or psychiatric 'discovery,' or photographs of the sick, the unhappy, the doomed?" In other words, the kind of exploitation found in everything from Strike it Rich to today's reality television. (Or, as I put it some time ago, trafficking in human misery.) The ratings system encourages "not merit but mass popularity"; by basing the value (and therefore continued existence) of programs on ratings, "it turns any illiterate into a critic; an entrepreneur into a craven; a defeated contestant into a criminal."

And it all surrounds money, money, money, making the offscreen antics just as craven, just as uncivilized, as what happens on the tube: "TV doesn't even wash its dirty linen in public; it merely waves it." The Great Networks are assisted by the Great Advertising Agencies and the Great Artists' Representatives, with the end result that "the alluring daughters and nieces of art - Language and Laughter, Melody and Declamation and Dancing - are constantly bedded and wedded to the paunchy sons and nephews of Mammon. The general effect is often about as civilized as gluttony." There's nothing in the least altruistic about the actions of the network executives responsible for all this; they have absolutely no interest in improving their audience, in enlightening them, in doing anything other than analyzing them not as individuals, as humans, but as statistics on a balance sheet.

It's a pretty harsh assessment, especially for a self-professed fan of television such as yours truly to have to record. And yet while I don't know that I can wholeheartedly agree with everything Kronenberger says - to do so would be to call into question most of the shows that I spend so much time watching and enjoying - I find it difficult to disagree with most of what he says, particularly the idea of how the quest for profit has made television's effect on the public both coarse and profane. "TV," writes Kronenberger, "has consistently either imposed uncivilized elements on American life, or aggravated and intensified those it found there. It has helped destroy respect for privacy, it has helped foster a more rackety publicity."

But herein lies the dilemma. Certainly we can argue about the corrupting influence of advertisers on viewers. Quoting Gore Vidal from some time back, what television could use is "a sense that getting people to buy things they do not need is morally indefensible." As for the coarsening of culture, as my friend Gary used to say, he feared letting his small son watch something as harmless as golf on TV because he didn't want to be asked "What does erectile dysfunction mean?" It's understandable that under these circumstances, networks want the highest ratings they can get in order to attract the advertisers whose dollars keep the network on the air. And since Kronenberger mentions sports in passing, let's take a moment with that as well - it's more than just ED commercials. Look at how TV has gone from covering the games to influencing them - start times, endless commercials stretching game lengths, advertising covering the players and saturating the stadiums, rules changes designed to make the game more exciting, more palatable to targeted demographics. And whereas once upon a time the goal was to win the championship, now it often seems that, as was the case with the quiz shows, winning means being able to get more money in the next contract negotiation.

What's the alternative, though? Sure, there's government subsidy, as you'd see in Britain, but if television is as pervasive in the culture as Kronenberger said it was in 1966 (and, expanding the definition of television to encompass all of today's mass media, it's probably even more so today), do you want the government to be controlling that? Really, do you? But if you go the PBS route, you're going to run into what PBS itself has discovered, namely that you still have to have "popular" programs in order to get viewers to contribute - which means more British series and aging Baby Boomer rockers. Frankly, I don't have an answer, if indeed one exists, which suggests that perhaps television was doomed from the start.

Kronenberger's conclusion is not optimistic. About television, he says, "There has been nothing too elegant for it to coarsen, too artistic for it to vulgarize, too sacred for it to profane."

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As predicted last week, the resignation of Fred Friendly makes headlines in "For the Record" - right below the item commending the networks for covering the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's hearings into the progress of the Vietnam War. (In particular, author Henry Harding singles out NBC for covering the hearings in their entirety, unlike some other networks we could name but won't.) I don't suppose it's an exaggeration to say that these hearings, chaired by powerful Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright, mark the beginning of the end of majority support for the war, or as the above article says, they "parted the curtain," allowing the public a view of what was actually going on. Although the clip below shows the appearance of Secretary of State Dean Rusk, it is probably the testimony of General Maxwell Taylor, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that is the most pivotal (and I believe that it was the failure to cover all of that testimony that led to the Friendly-CBS split); it is Taylor's contention that Hanoi will never agree to negotiate unless they are convinced that the United States is committed to fighting on behalf of the South Vietnamese.

The hearings, according to historian Marc Selverstone, "legitimized public dissent" over the war, creating a story that, along with its fallout (e.g. Watergate), would dominate television - and the nation - for much of the next decade.

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During the 60s, the Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace were the premiere variety shows on television. Whenever they appear in TV Guide together, we'll match them up and see who has the best lineup..

Sullivan: Scheduled guests are comic Alan King; singer Petula Clark; rock 'n' rollers Gary Lewis and the Playboys; singer Jerry Vale; comic Richard Pryor; the Tokyo Happy Coats, a girls' jazz band; and the Berosini Chimps.

Palace: Host Liberace presents comedian Bob Newhart; singers John Davidson and Marni Nixon; the comedy team of Avery Schreiber and Jack Burns; magician Channing Pollack, and trapeze artist Betty Pasco.

Well, this was easy. Liberace and Newhart start out pretty well, but after that the Palace goes off a cliff. No offense to Marni Nixon, who has a lovely voice, but I can't stand John Davidson, and Burns & Schreiber always left me cold. On the other hand, Ed has a great lineup top to bottom - King and Pryor, Petula Clark, Jerry Vale, and Gary Lewis make this a unanimous victory for Sullivan.

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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. 

This week we're looking at the original Smothers Brothers show - not the variety show, but the sitcom that preceded it, wherein Tom plays an angel (on probation) who has to do good to earn his wings, and Dick is his brother, presumably the beneficiary - or victim - of Tom's good deed-ing. "If you accept it all," writes Cleveland Amory, "you can have a very good time with this show. If, however, you can't accept it and are on the side not of the angels but the angles, and you even regard the whole thing as a rather "B" switch on Bewitched - you won't have a good time."

Amory is of two minds on the show; sometimes it works, other times, "we have seen another one which was so bad we wouldn't have accepted the fact that there were ,are, or even ever have been, two brothers named Smothers." A different producer has made the show, in Amory's words, character-funny instead of funny-funny, which is an improvement - especially when the writers avoid saddling Tom with hackneyed jokes.

So things are looking up. But there's one thing they absolutely need to do, according to Cleve, and that's improve the show's beginning. I mean the real beginning - the theme, which is "bad enough," and what follows it, when the brothers come on to tell everyone what's about to happen in the show. "Honestly, it takes strength to handle it when you don't know, but when you do - well, never mind." After one particularly painful beginning, "you could hardly wait for the first commercial."

His final verdict: like the angel Tom, the show needs to do not only good, but better.

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It's not a terribly exciting week of television, but that's never stopped us from finding things of interest, has it?

On Saturday's episode of Secret Agent (7:30 p.m., CBS), a captured British agent is being tortured to reveal the links in his espionage network. There's nothing new in particular in this episode, but don't you find this title just a bit revealing, considering Patrick McGoohan's follow-up series The Prisoner? It's called "The Man Who Wouldn't Talk," with one of the key lines being, "We all talk. It’s just a question of time." Interesting, hmm?

By 1966, our local NBC affiliate, KSTP, had ceased showing The Bell Telephone Hour on a regular basis, so when it did pop up, it would be on the independent station, WTCN. This week Cyril Ritchard is host to a tribute to Alan Jay Lerner, with a cast that includes Florence Henderson. (Sunday, 5:30 p.m.) One of the many things I find interesting about this series is that it was usually broadcast live; along with What's My Line? and I've Got a Secret, was it one of the last non-soap opera, non-news program to do so?

On Monday night, Vivian Vance guests on I've Got a Secret (7:00 p.m., CBS), and that's followed (not surprisingly) by The Lucy Show, with guest stars Jay "Dennis the Menace" North and the wonderful character actor Vito Scotti. Meantime, on the music side, Hullabaloo (NBC, 6:30 p.m.) has George Hamilton doing the hosting, with guests Lainie Kazan, Simon and Garfunkel, Mel Carter, and the Young Rascals. Later, at 8:00, NBC preempts Andy Williams for Perry Como's once-a-month Kraft Music Hall, with Judy Garland and Bill Cosby. Big show!

Some big guest stars on Tuesday's lineup, including John Wayne as Red Skelton's sole guest (7:30 p.m., CBS) and Zsa Zsa Gabor as a Hungarian gypsy on F Troop going after Agarn (Larry Storch). That must have been great. Later, on the IBM-sponsored Town Meeting of the World (9:00 p.m., CBS), the subject for debate is "How to Stop the Spread of Nuclear Weapons." The debaters: Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in New York, French presidential adviser General Pierre Gallois in Paris, former West German Defense Minister Franz Josef Strauss in Munich, and Lord Chalfont, British Foreign Minister, in Geneva. Eric Sevareid is the moderator. Perhaps the best-known of these Town Meetings would come a year later, when RFK debates California Governor Ronald Reagan over the Vietnam War (there's that war again). Alas, it was not to be a preview of coming presidential attractions.

Eduard Franz, whom I liked so much in Breaking Point, is on Wednesday's episode of The Virginian (6:30 p.m., NBC), playing Indian Chief Two Hawks. Because of his noble profile, Franz often played Indians during his long, successful career. Cesar Romero, as The Joker, is the Guest Villain on Batman (6:30 p.m, ABC), and The Beverly Hillbillies presents John Carradine in what must have been a typical over-the-top performance as Marvo the Magnificent, an unemployed magician. Speaking of over-the-top, William Shatner and John Cassavetes head the cast of Chrysler Theatre (8:00 p.m., NBC), along with Pippa Scott and Wilfrid Hyde-White. Opposite that, it's Green Acres (CBS), with Jesse White - not there to repair broken appliances.

Thursday features some familiar names: Barbara Rush, who played the wife of Lieutenant Gerard in The Fugitive (see Wednesday's essay for more), is in a very different role - Sister William - in Laredo (7:30 p.m., NBC), while at the same time one of my favorites, Leon "General Burkhalter" Askin, is secret agent U-45 in ABC's short-lived The Double Life of Henry Phyfe, starring Red Buttons. CBS's Thursday Night Movie (8:00 p.m.) is "The Devil at 4 O'clock" with Spencer Tracy, Frank Sinatra and Jean Pierre Aumont. And if you're in Duluth, a couple of late movies you might want to see for different reasons: the great "On the Waterfront" with Brando at 10:15 p.m. on KDAL up against "Frankenstein - 1970" and Karloff on WDIO.

On Friday Britt Ekland, aka Mrs. Peter Sellers, makes her U.S. TV debut on Trials of O'Brien (9:00 p.m., CBS). Meanwhile, Johnny Carson wraps up another week off on The Tonight Show; his guest hosts this week were Alan King (Monday and Tuesday), Hugh Downs (Wednesday) and Henry Morgan (Thursday and Friday). If that isn't your late night style, you've got a couple more movies to choose from: "Beat the Devil," the sly Humphrey Bogart spoof on KDAL at 10:15 p.m., and the classic "All About Eve" on KEYC in Mankato at 10:30 p.m. For those of us in the Twin Cities, we have a nice consolation prize movie: "Witness for the Prosecution" at 10:30 on KMSP. Or you can wait until ten minutes after midnight for "Mothra" on WCCO.

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This week's young actress and actor are, in order, Debbie Watson, star of Tammy, doing a photo shoot in California, and Dick Kallman, star of NBC's Hank, who first came to attention in the national touring company of the smash musical "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." Kallman comes across as a good guy with endless energy and ambition, who hopes that someday people will feel about him as a comedian the way he does about Sir Laurence Olivier. Alas, he never quite makes it in showbiz, but becomes a very successful antiques dealer before he and his partner are murdered in a robbery attempt in 1980.

As for Debbie Watson, since there's not much text to accompany the pictures, you'll just have to settle for (left).

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Of course, how can we leave without at least a word about Barbara Stanwyck? Missy, she's called on the set (mostly affectionately) comes across as confident yet insecure, an accomplished actress who feels she still has something to prove, a strong woman who still hasn't found what (or who) she wants in life. A woman of contradictions, a puzzle, but leaving absolutely no doubt that she's a star. And when you're a star the magnitude of Barbara Stanwyck, you don't get that way simply by telling people you're a star, or acting like a star. You just are. Her anthology series of the early '60s was, she hoped, a way to be able to play a strong character on television, and although that failed, I think you can say that as Victoria Barkley, the matriarch of The Big Valley, she's tougher than all of her sons put together. I like that woman.  TV  

February 23, 2018

Around the dial

Kind of a light week this week, what with the blogathon earlier, but still plenty of things worth your while. Let's take a look.

This is certainly worth a listen: Jim Benson's TV Time Machine interviews Mark Dawidziak, author of the book Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in The Twilight Zone.

As part of Black History Month, A Shroud of Thoughts educates us on the first black performer to host his own television show: Trinidadian born singer Hazel Scott, who hosted The Hazel Scott Show on the DuMont Network from July 3 to September 29 1950.

At The Lucky Strike Papers, Andrew remembers the late Vic Damone with a clip of his April 1949 appearance on DuMont's Morey Amsterdam Show. (This must be the week for DuMont.) Jb also remembers Damone with this very nice retrospective at The Hits Just Keep On Comin'.

Jodie shares the story of the Today Show interview that wasn't, with someone who just happened to show up at the famous picture window - former President Harry Truman - at Garroway at Large.

Classic Television Showbiz takes us back to one of television's most famous incidents: Jack Paar walking off The Tonight Show. Audio only, but even if you've heard the scene before, you'll want to check out this recording of the entire program.

That should keep you busy for awhile, or at least until tomorrow. Come back and find out what's waiting for you then.  TV  

February 19, 2018

The cop you loved to hate

For those of you who aspire to such things, there are, as far as I'm concerned, three criteria necessary to make you a good television villain:
1. The viewers don't root for you;
2. The show's characters actively try to stop you from succeeding; and
3. You’re attacked in real life for what you do on the screen.
Based on those standards, Lieutenant Philip Gerard makes the perfect villain.

Gerard (brilliantly played by Barry Morse) is, as you all probably know, the police detective who serves as the nemesis of Dr. Richard Kimble in The Fugitive. You can’t really mention one without the other; they’re almost a team. In fact, we’re introduced to the two men at virtually the same time, sharing opposite ends of a pair of handcuffs while riding a train bound for the death house in Indiana. Kimble has been convicted (wrongly, we are assured) of murdering his wife; Gerard is the detective who investigated the case and is escorting Kimble to prison. When the train derails, Kimble escapes, leaving Gerard holding the bag, or the broken handcuffs, as it were. From that moment to the end of the series, Gerard has but one mission, which is his obsession: to recapture Kimble and bring him in so his death sentence can be carried out.

Now, I know what you're thinking: how can you call a policeman - an honest one at that! - a villain? In Gerard's case, it's easy. Reflecting on his most famous role of a distinguished career, Morse talked of how viewers reacted to him on the street. "Elderly ladies bashed me across the head with their handbags, or some hulking great man would come up to me in a bar and say: 'Don't you understand? The guy's innocent!' It was an enormous compliment -- and quite dangerous." Gerard, he he said, was a character that had been "carefully designed to be disliked. . . . I was the most hated man in America, and I loved it." Gerard might even have influenced Stephen King; “Lt. Gerard really scared me as a kid,” he wrote. “Kimble had made him crazy, and as The Fugitive went on you could see him heading further and further into freako land.”

Series creator Roy Huggins always said that Gerard was based on the character of Inspector Javert, the relentless antagonist in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. It was an obvious idea, really; every chase story requires a pursuer as well as a pursued, and in the intimate world of television, where familiarity means everything, it made far more sense for Kimble to have a semi-regular pursuer than to be on the run from an impersonal authority figure each week. It served to focus the threat in the person of a single man whose individuality provided the face for the long arm of the law.

In fact, Gerard only appears in 37 of the show’s 120 episodes, but it is the threat of Gerard (he's seen in the opening credits of every episode) that makes him so threatening. Even in those episodes where he doesn't appear, his presence hangs over Kimble like the Sword of Damocles; he's the bogeyman hiding under the bed, the monster in the closet, the mysterious something hiding in the shadows of those dark, rain-slick streets.

The three principals: (l to r) The One-Armed Man,
Dr Richard Kimble, Lt. Philip Gerard
By the time the series starts, Gerard is already obsessed with recapturing Kimble; the lieutenant holds himself responsible for Kimble's escape, the single blemish on his career, even though the accident was completely out of his control. No, Gerard had one job to do in order to close the case, and his failure to deliver Kimble to prison haunts him for the length of the series. "I've lost a lot of things these past four years," he says in part one of the series finale, “starting with a prisoner the state told me to guard." Over time, Kimble ceases to be merely an escaped prisoner, and his continued status as a fugitive goes beyond being a challenge to Gerard's integrity, or even perhaps his manhood. Richard Kimble is Philip Gerard's white whale, his Moby Dick.

Beginning with the very first episode broadcast, "Fear in a Desert City," Gerard finds out just how difficult recapturing Kimble is going to be. Appearing at the end of the episode and (as usual) just missing Kimble, he tries to convince Monica Welles (the luminous Vera Miles), a woman whom Kimble had befriended, to tell him where the fugitive had gone. "He's innocent!" Wells tells him. "The law says guilty," Gerard says. Welles' retort: "The law isn't perfect." Welles replies.*

*A sentiment similar to that of Earl Holliman's marshal in "The Good Guys and the Bad Guys," who remarks, "most of the people who make the laws aren't exactly perfect. So I figure that the laws can't be too perfect, and maybe every once in a while they deserve to get broken." That kind of attitude drives Gerard crazy.

Ah, yes - as Charles Dickens wrote, "If the law supposes that, the law is an ass." At this point, Gerard - as relentless as Schwarzenegger's Terminator - must have been receiving some kind of "Unable to Compute" error message. Time and time again over the four seasons of the series, he would be stymied by people whom he felt had been taken in by Kimble. Women attracted to him as if he were a lost kitten needing rescue, or drawn to his smoldering, subdued charisma; men returning favor for favor after witnessing Kimble's loyalty or benefiting from his help; children who saw in him a fellow lost soul, a grown-up who understood them in ways others didn't. (Kimble was, after all, a pediatrician.) It didn't help that Gerard often came off as prickly, self-righteous, or arrogant (which he often was) - in a competition for the hearts and minds of the public, there was never any doubt about who would come off second-best.

On occasion, as in episodes like "Corner of Hell" and "The Evil Men Do," Kimble's allies might even try to do Gerard harm in order to facilitate Kimble's escape, at which the good doctor himself would have to step in on Gerard's behalf. There are even separate episodes where Kimble befriends Gerard's wife and son. Do you think Gerard undergoes any kind of conversion, begins to have even the slightest doubts or second thoughts about continuing his chase of a supposedly guilty murderer who intervenes to save his pursuer's life? Even just to give him, say, a 30 minute head start? Of course not! "I suppose Gerard would say that personal relationships, as between himself and Kimble, are not affected by the accidental happenings which befall him," Morse said. "He would simply say, 'Whether or not this man saved my life doesn't affect my duty to deliver him to the legal system which employs me and which has convicted him. Whether he has been wrongly convicted or not is not my business." Maddening, yes, but in its own way quite admirable.*

*You wonder if Kimble subconsciously needs Gerard to believe in and accept his innocence in order to feel fully vindicated? If Gerard were not around - would it be quite as satisfying? 

The passage of time: Gerard now wears glasses.
Although Gerard continued to fulfill the role of villain throughout the run of the series, that's not to say the character didn't develop over time, coming to display a more nuanced view of his prey. While his determination to recapture Kimble never wavered, Gerard sometimes found himself in the position of defending Kimble against accusations made by other law enforcement officials. In "Stroke of Genius," Kimble, a stranger in town, becomes the prime suspect in the murder of a preacher. Gerard finds the idea ridiculous - Kimble has "never killed anybody while trying to escape, nor has he tried to," he tells the small-town sheriff. Certainly Gerard has motivation to clear Kimble of the crime in order that he can take him back to Indiana, but there's more to it than that. Gerard has come to know Kimble over the years in a way that few others can. While he might deny it, he knows that Kimble's crime, if he indeed did commit it, was one of passion, and likely the only murder he'd ever commit in his life. Other times, Gerard reacts with scorn to the greed of people trying to track down Kimble for the reward. Although Kimble, in Gerard's mind, is an escaped murderer, he's also deserving of some measure of dignity; in "The Good Guys and the Bad Guys," he describes Kimble as clever and resourceful - and also courageous.

Nonetheless, even these glimpses of humanity don't disguise the fact that Gerard can be, and often is, something of a jerk. In one of the greatest Fugitive episodes, the two-part "Landscape with Running Figure," his obsession with Kimble causes his wife (played by Barbara Rush) to leave him*; she poignantly remarks at one point, “Life without Kimble…what a pretty dream that used to be.” In "Nemesis," it's Gerard's son (Kurt Russell), hiding in a car which Kimble steals, who helps the fugitive make his escape. (Need I mention that Philip Gerard Jr. was along because he and his dad were supposed to be on a fishing trip?) In a memorable exchange, young Gerard refuses to tell his dad which way Kimble went. "He says he didn't do it!" Junior says, to which the lieutenant replies, "Of course he says that!" But then his son asks, point blank, "And if he's right? If he's right?" Gerard, after a long pause, can only say, "Well, it means that I'm wrong...doesn't it, Phil?"

*So obsessed with your job that you drive away Barbara Rush? How dumb is that?

In the end, Gerard has one job, to bring Kimble back to face his punishment. It's what makes Gerard's turn in the final episode that much more remarkable. If you've not seen it, I won't spoil it for you, but suffice it to say that it can only be the knowledge of Kimble that Gerard had gained over the four years of the chase that allowed him to finally make the leap. And no matter how much he might try to explain it away by logic, it also means he had to admit to himself that he was wrong.

Actors often talk about how they enjoy playing villains; they're more interesting, there's more to the role. David Janssen was brilliant as Kimble, but without Barry Morse as Gerard, The Fugitive wouldn't be nearly as compelling as it is. It proves that every hero needs a villain, and Philip Gerard, "the most hated man in America," one of television's most complex and unlikely villains, was more than up to the job. TV  

The Classic TV Villain Blogathon is hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. Please check out the rest of the wonderful villains by clicking here.

What's on TV? Saturday, February 19, 1966

When last we saw this week's TV Guide, the one with the missing pages and the clipped listings, we were left with exactly two days that contained untouched, complete listings: Saturday and Sunday. As much as it pains me to do so, having just looked at a Saturday last week, I had very little choice - after all, I'd just done Sunday the week before.

I don't know if, in all this chaos, I've taken the time to mention that this week's issue is from Iowa, including listings for the Quad Cities in Illinois. They're good listings - enjoy them!

February 17, 2018

This week in TV Guide: February 19, 1966

Sometimes life throws you a curve, and when that happens the best thing you can do is hang on for the ride. This is the story of one of those curves, and it's called "The Case of the TV Guide with the Missing Pages."

Our story opens as the issue opens. At first everything is normal - but then, after the New York Teletype on page 4, the next page in the issue is - page 11. So that's why the story on Fred Friendly starts in the middle. Page 12 is there, so we're back on firm ground, and then - the programming section. What happened to pages 13 through 18? A close inspection of the binding and the pages on the other side of the local section reveals some tears right along the fold, which leads me to believe that the original owner of this issue removed some of the contents. It's part of the risk you run when you purchase issues from antique stores; you never really know what you're getting. Perhaps there were some coupons or other ads that someone really wanted.

That's not the end of it, though. Every day, from Monday through Friday, the noontime programs have been cut out, leaving a empty spot where once there lived a television show. It has to be the same program being cut out each day; that's the only explanation, since it comes at the same time each day. The cumulative effect is somewhat like the letters soldiers sent home during the war, after they'd passed through the censor's office. When you combine that with the checkmarks placed next to each one of the movies in the issue, it's clear that what we have here is a TV Guide that's been lived in. In a way it's kind of charming - this is no museum exhibit, no reproduction of an old magazine. This is the real thing, used by a family for the purpose it was intended. It's a slice of real life, and compared to that, any minor annoyance by an amateur historian is small potatoes.

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There are some practical aspects to this, of course. If you want a thorough analysis of that Fred Friendly piece, talking about how he's fought for his baby, CBS Reports, you're probably not going to get it. We do know, though, that Friendly is very proud of his CBS news division, over which he presides as president. He's adamant on how the division should remain above the cheap and sensational; "CBS Reports cares little for the show-business world." He is also scornful of attempts to make the news department a profit center rather than a servant of the public. "There's a limit to just how much entertainment can be created. You can be overentertained, but never overinformed." Despite ratings that indicate popular series such as, well, Bonanza, outperform CBS Reports by five-to-one, Friendly is adamant. "The fact remains that shooting a man up in a rocket is more exciting than shooting a cowboy on Bonanza and  seeing catsup seep out of his shirt." Even so, it's more important for the news to be educational than entertaining. "We must have the right to be dull at times."

It is ironic, then, that the "For the Record" section, which for the record is intact, makes mention of CBS's new programming chief, John Schneider, vetoing Friendly's plans to televise the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's live hearings on Vietnam, preferring instead to show The Lucy Show. This incident will lead to Friendly's resignation from CBS (on February 15, before this issue had even hit the newsstands); it is, Friendly said, "the most important act of my life ... a matter of conscience." As networks begin to demand more from their news divisions, namely ratings to attract advertising dollars, Friendly condemns what he sees as the bleak future of television: being "twisted into an electronic carnival, in which showbiz wizardry and values obscure the line between entertainment and news."

After his resignation, Friendly is not lacking for offers, supposedly from NBC, ABC and the BBC. Instead, he decides to go to work for the Ford Foundation and later teaches at Columbia University. Eventually, he produces a series of provocative seminars on television ethics, in which he asks a panel of journalists how they'd react to various situations, and the ensuing discussion and debate made for fascinating television - to me, at least.

So in fact, I suspect this story from "For the Record," and its follow-up, is probably a lot more important than whatever it is we're missing from the rest of the issue. Maybe this won't be such a bad edition to look at after all.

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During the 60s, the Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace were the premiere variety shows on television. Whenever they appear in TV Guide together, we'll match them up and see who has the best lineup..

Sullivan: Ed's scheduled guests are sitirist Allan Sherman; the rock 'n' rolling Dave Clark Five and the Supremes; Menasha Skulnik, currently starring in Broadway's "The Zulu and the Sayda"; comics Stiller and Meara; and Ugu Garrido, who juggles with his feet. Julie Andrews is seen in a clip from the film "The Sound of Music."

Palace: Host Bing Crosby introduces singers Rosemary Clooney and Bing's sone Gary; Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy; comedian Henny Youngman; dancer Hugh Lambert; comedy xylophonist Roger Ray; and the Fiji military band.

This is a pretty straightforward week. Palace starts out with an advantage due to Bing as host, but throw in Rosie, Bergen and McCarthy, and Henny Youngman, and that produces a winning formula every time. This week the Palace comes out on top.

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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. 

I love it when Cleveland Amory lets us know what he thinks right away, and that's the case this week with The Wackiest Ship in the Army. "It's a tough title to live down to, but this show does it," he writes in the opening paragraph, and it's all downhill from there.

Wackiest Ship is set it World War II, "[b]ased on the television thesis that wars are a scream - as long as they are least one war before the one we're in now," and takes place on the USS Kiwi, a two-masted schooner used in espionage missions. The series, as you might gather from the title, purports to be a comedy - at least from what Amory "learned from survivors of its first viewing," and then "developed" into "a strange mixture of low comedy, high adventure and low dresses." (So far I'm already holding my sides in anticipation.) As for the stars of this adventure, aside from Jack Warden and Rudi Solari, who have their moments, "the general cailber of the acting and directing is so near sea level that we can only aedvise you to keep your eyes on the Kiwi," which is not only the best-looking, but the best-acting, thing in this series.

Does this series drag? I can't say for myself; it's probably been over fifty years since I saw an episode (but then, there were only 29 of them to see), but Cleve says that he saw an episode in October "which we will swear to you is still going on." Sadly, that looks to be the only way Wackiest Ship will stay on the air.

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It must be a sign of the enlightened '60s. Rather than a rising starlet, we have a rising male star - what would you call him? In this case, you'd call him Lee Majors, who was once projedcted to be the new James Dean, but after a few months as one of the stars of ABC's The Big Valley, he hasn't quite lived up to the predections.

Majors is young, good looking, and ambitious. He also confident - very confident,saying that after a few years on TV, he'd like to get into movies. "Seven years from now, if everything works, I'll be getting an Academy Award nomination." He was not only compared to Dean, but some saw in him a stance reminiscent of Paul Newman. Barbara Stanwyck, star of The Big Valley, found his magnetism "irrestible." He's seen as the key component to attracting young viewers to the show, and the network isn't shy about promoting him that way. It rubs some of his co-stars the wrong way, actors like Richard Long and Peter Breck who've already starred in their own series.

It's not all his fault though, says one of the show's producers, Jules Levy. There are, after all, five other stars on the program, making it harder for any one of them other than Stanwyck to break out. He's also been upstaged by a hot young prospect from another ABC show, The Long Hot Summer's Roy Thinnes. Levy's still bullish on Majors though, despite associate producer Lou Morheim's statement that "He's not exactly the rage of the network." "This kid," says Levy, "jumps out of the screen at you. One day people will come to discover it."

It's one of those predictions, and we see them from time to time in these pages, that actually comes true. Lee Majors goes on to become a very big star for ABC, first on The Six Million Dollar Man and then on The Fall Guy. He marries a woman who goes on to become one of the most desirable in Hollywood, Farrah Fawcett. To this day he continues to guest star in various series and appear in television movies. And although he never quite reaches the heights of James Dean and never gets those Oscar nominatons, his career has by far outlasted Dean's entire life. All in all, I suspect Lee Majors would be pretty satisfied with that.

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Let's see if we can find anything interesting in the programming week - at least in the remaining pages.

On Monday, the Righteous Brothers host Hullabaloo (6:30 p.m., NBC) with guest star Nancy Sinatra. What's My Line? moderator John Daly is the special guest on CBS's I've Got a Secret at 7:00 p.m., and at 7:30 p.m. Bob Crane is the guest on The Lucy Show (CBS). Vic Damone, who died on the very day that these words are being typed, is one of the guests on The Andy Williams Show (8:00 p.m., NBC) along with Anthony Newley and Allan Sherman. But if you're looking for a galaxy of stars, check out CBS at 9:00 p.m., and The Strollin' 20's, a salute to the Harlem of that era, with Sidney Poitier, Sammy Davis Jr., Diahann Carroll, Duke Ellington, Joe Williams, Nipsey Russell and George Kirby, among others.

Tuesday's headliner is the season finale to Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts (6:30 p.m,, CBS) in which he presents an internationl group of teenage pianists and young conductors. None of the names on the show look the least bit familiar, with the exception of the 25-year-old conductor Edo de Waart, who 20 years later will become the music director of none other that our very own Minnesota Orchestra. I've seen him in person several times; he's very, very good.

Part two of "Michaelangelo: The Last Giant" returns on NBC Wednesday night at 8:00 p.m.; part one was, as I recall, back in November, but hey - he's not going anywhere, and neither are his magnificent works. Tonight's show looks at the last 50 years of Michaelangelo's life, including his glorious fresco in the Sistine Chapel. José Ferrer is the narrator, and Peter Ustinov reads excerpts from the artist's letters. On The Dick Van Dyke Show (8:30, CBS), Sally (Rose Marie) takes a page from The Dating Game, deciding she's going on a TV show to advertise for a husband. Maybe she was really thinking about The Bachelorette. And movie star Dolores Del Rio makes a rare television appearance on I Spy (9:00, NBC); her fellow guest star is the classic movie villain Victor Jory.*

*Fun fact: according to the always-reliable Wikipedia, Victor Jory was the narrator of the classic children's film "Tubby the Tuba."

On Thursday, David Wayne takes his place in the Batman guest villian hall of fame, playing the Mad Hatter (6:30 p.m., ABC). He's assisted by Diane McBain. On CBS's Thursday Night Movie, it's the movie that Jimmy Stewart always said was his favorite: "Harvey," the story of Elwood P. Dowd and his invisible rabbit friend.

Friday gives us one of those Sammy Davis Jr. episodes in which Sammy actually appears (7:30 p.m., NBC); his guests are Juliet Prowse, George Maharis, Barbara McNair, Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, and Bob Melvin. Pretty good lineup, if you ask me. At 9:00 p.m., CBS presents one of those news specials of which Fred Friendly is so proud, "16 in Webster Govers." Says host Charles Kuralt in "For the Record," "I thought we would be doing a film about dissatisfaction and rebellion among teen-agers. Instead we found. . . a drive for financial success, an obsession about going along with the 'in' crowd, a lack of awareness of the world about them." Interesting how quickly things change.

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Finally, we've seen how The Beverly Hillbillies can explain your salvation; now we're going to see how it can also explain your appetite - satisfying it, that is. From the upcoming Granny's Hillbilly Cookbook by series co-star Irene Ryan and Cathey Pinckney, we present a sample recipe:

As Julia Child would say, "Bon Appétit!" 

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Before we wrap up, a reminder that the Classic TV Blog Association blogathon on Classic TV Villains begins tomorrow. My entry is on Monday, which means the TV listings from this issue will be postponed to Wednesday. Be here - Aloha. TV  

February 16, 2018

Around the dial

First off, just a reminder that the Classic TV Blog Association's blogathon on TV villains starts Sunday and runs through Monday with, as usual, terrific articles on the characters you love to hate. You can read the lineup here; my own contribution, as you can see, runs on Monday, which means that the program listings will, for one week only, be bumped to Wednesday. And now for the rest of the news.

Sadly, another week - another obituary of a classic entertainment legend. This week it's Vic Damone, who died on Sunday at age 89. In addition to having his own summer replacement show, Damone was a frequent guest on all kinds of variety shows, as well as musical comedies such as The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood and The Stingiest Man in Town, to name just two. A Shroud of Thoughts has the look back. He also remembers John Gavin, the former actor and U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, who died Friday at 86, who will be a familiar face to classic TV and movie fans. And lest we forget, Marty Allen, the "Hello dere" half of Allen and Rossi and the onetime "Darling of Daytime TV" died on Monday at the ripe old age of 95.

At Garroway at Large, our guest blogger Jodie returns to her usual haunts with an ad for Dave's Place, the unsuccessful 1975 radio comeback effort by Dave Garroway.

The Broadcasting Archives at the University of Maryland has a terrific-looking full-color copy of NBC's 1967 full-color schedule.

Cult TV Blog looks at the Doctor Who adventure "The Time Machine," starring the irrepressible Tom Baker. I remember, when last I saw this story some years ago, having an opinion not much different from that of John's, who said, "it is probably best avoided by people who may be overly critical of the quality of the TV they watch."

Eventually Supertrain is back, with episode 39! In this installment, Dan and the gang are back to look at The Green Hornet, Ellery Queen Mysteries, and Garth Marenghi's Darkplace. Be sure to give a listen to one of my favorite podcasts, and I don't say that just because I'll be on a future episode or two...

Another returnee is Television's New Frontier: the 1960s, and the new show on the block is the 1961 animated Dick Tracy Show, featuring a host of well-known voices. I remember this show growing up; I thought those two-way wrist radios were the coolest thing! Little could we imagine what the iPhone would be capable of.

At bare-bones e-zine, Jack brings us to part 13 of the latest Hitchcock Project on Francis and Marian Cockrell - season three's "Miss Bracegirdle Does Her Duty." It's another episode with a great punchline; let Jack explain why!

And at The Twilight Zone Vortex, part 7 of Jordan's review of The Twilight Zone Magazine includes pieces by Theodore Sturgeon, Gahan Wilson and George Clayton Johnson, among others.

Pretty good week, if you ask me. We'll have to do our best to keep up with it. Tomorrow we'll look at an unusual TV Guide - and remember, the Classic TV Villains piece is on Monday, so TV listings are moved to Wednesday for this week only.  TV  

February 14, 2018

Voices carry

I'm pleased today to present a guest essay from Jodie Peeler, author of the Garroway at Large website. You probably remember a terrific interview I had with her last year about her Dave Garroway biography project, about which I'm very excited. Jodie has graciously agreed to fill in here from time to time while I continue my own book project. Here's her first contribution, one that should strike a chord with every historian.

by Jodie Peeler

A couple years ago as I was starting to get serious about the Dave Garroway book project, a friend gave me a telephone number and an e-mail address. "Get in touch with this man," my friend said. "Frank worked with Garroway." It took a little courage for me to give him a call (the telephone is not my favorite thing in the world), but the result was more than worth it. Not only was Frank on one of the camera crews for the very first Today program in January 1952, but he worked with Garroway on other television programs, and decades later his memories remained vivid.

During that conversation Frank, who is one of the kindest people you could ever meet, invited me to his home in Florida. A couple weeks later I drove down to see him. What I'd planned as a two-hour interview went even longer, as story after story of days gone by transfixed me. Frank told me not only about working with Garroway, but about working with Wally Cox and Bob Hope and Steve Allen and Johnny Carson and so many others, a couple of encounters with Thomas E. Dewey during his 1948 run for the Presidency, a great story about a Robert Montgomery Presents that went slightly awry. He told stories of General Sarnoff and Pat Weaver and Mike Dann and others from the executive suites. I had brought my own list of questions, but the more I listened the more I felt Frank's recollections were by far more interesting, so I kept listening, taking notes as I could (I didn't record the interview, and will spend the rest of my days wishing I had). It was an incredible experience to hear these stories from someone who was there, who interacted with so many people whose names are legendary.

Like so many who had a hand in turning television into a truly national medium, Frank was a World War II veteran. He had worked with electronics during his time in the Army Air Force, joined RCA after the war, and ended up in a group of 60 that RCA assembled to get television going in the postwar era. For so much of what we consider iconic about the early days of television, Frank was there: working on Howdy Doody, the first days of Today, the Milton Berle show, the dawn of color. After he left RCA, Frank went on to other ventures in television, and even in his 90s was helping pioneer new broadcast technologies. His love for the medium, and his pride in being part of it, was unmistakable.

But time is now the enemy. As the members of the Greatest Generation leave us, we are losing countless stories. For the military historian, it's the little stories of units and battles that add up to the big story of winning a war. And for the media historian, it's the stories of carving a medium out of the wilderness, spreading it across the country, and giving it color. Now we're also losing the next generation, as the Baby Boomers who built on that foundation are passing away - those who were there as cable and satellite changed the landscape, who formed sports broadcasting into what we now take for granted, who worked for the networks when the networks still were giants. Their stories matter, too, and we're just as surely losing them, as the retirees associations' websites chronicle on a sadly routine basis.

There have been efforts to record stories from these pioneers. Jeff Kisseloff interviewed dozens upon dozens of people who played roles in television history; from those interviews he formed his oral history The Box, essential reading for anybody who loves the medium. The Archive of American Television (www.emmytvlegends.org) has recorded lengthy interviews with hundreds of broadcasting figures, everyone from legendary performers and respected executives to producers, directors, writers, stage managers, technical directors, set designers...you name it. And, better still, they're available online for anyone to watch. They're not only essential sources for authors and historians, but also great viewing for their own sake.

But for every one of those interviews, there's a broadcast industry veteran whose stories have been forever lost because no one got to them in time. Or no one knew just what that person did, or appreciated what it meant, and never asked them. Or sometimes that person didn't think there was anything special about what they did. The problem is, it really was special, and those stories matter too. They are a glimpse not only into a time gone by, but into how the future began.

Some of these stories will be captured by the professional historians, but not all of them will. We can take this as something to be mourned – or, perhaps, we can take it as a challenge. Those of us who are passionate about television history probably know at least one person who's worked in the business at some level. It doesn't have to be someone who worked for the networks. Even the stories at the local level matter. The stories from the kids' show host, the local anchor, the camera operator, the director, the master control operator are just as significant a contribution to our medium's history. And more often than not, there are great stories to be had - of big stories that had to be covered, of moments that went hilariously wrong, of unexpected grace, of brushes with greatness. Those stories matter, and they need to be saved, too. So why don't we each do our part, and help save them?

The morning I spent with Frank is still one of my favorite things from this research project, and every time I look over my notes I still find things that amaze and amuse. I remember how his eyes lit up as he recounted those moments from yesteryear. The memories Frank shared will add detail and warmth to the Garroway book, and my experience with him has me looking forward to all the interviews yet to come for this project, and all the stories I’ll get to hear. And yet I wonder whose now-stilled voices could have contributed to this project if only I'd started even a few years earlier. Whose now-lost stories could have added even more detail and insight? And what other great stories from broadcasting’s rich history are still out there, waiting to be preserved?  TV  

February 12, 2018

What's on TV? Tuesday, February 16, 1960

On of the interesting things about tonight's prime time schedule - perhaps the most interesting thing - is the weakness of CBS's early evening lineup. The network has nothing scheduled for 6:30 p.m., which is very unusual for this era, and follows that up at 7:00 with The Dennis O'Keefe Show, carried by only one of the four CBS affiliates in our area. By 7:30 it's back to normal with Dobie Gillis, carried by three of the four, but I don't think I've seen that much bleeding on a CBS schedule with this many affiliates to choose from. Not that interesting, perhaps, but the kind of item that ought to appeal to TV nerds like us.