March 31, 2018

This week in TV Guide: April 2, 1960

For some of you, what I'm about to say might be hard to believe, but there was a time when the Academy Awards honored movies that people had actually seen. In movie theaters. They were called "popular" movies. And not just people with degrees in film studies who hang out at art house theaters, either. These were people who simply enjoyed going to the movies; for them, the 1960 Oscars were like old-home week.

Once again, Bob Hope does the honors as emcee for the broadcast, which NBC carries at 9:30 p.m. (CT) live from the Pantages Theater in Hollywood. There's a 30-minute pre-awards show beforehand, with Tony Randall, Betsy Palmer and Edith Head at the famed Brown Derby restaurant to interview luminaries dining prior to heading for the show. The Oscarcast only runs an hour and 40 minutes, which means that Jack Paar isn't even preempted - it just starts a little later. When all's said and done, Ben-Hur is the big winner, taking home a then-record 11 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Charlton Heston, Best Supporting Actor for Hugh Griffith, Best Director for William Wyler, and a host of other awards.

And what are those "Oscar Headaches" referred to on this week's cover? The biggest one is ending the show on time. (Even at 1:40, this year's show actually clocks in ten minutes over budget.) It rubs both ways, though; memories of last year's debacle are still fresh, when through a horrible miscalculation the show actually ended 20 minutes early, leaving host Jerry Lewis to vamp in a desperate attempt to fill the time until NBC mercifully pulled the plug. Neither Lewis nor last year's producer, Jerry Wald, will be returning this year; their schedules just didn't permit it, they said.

This year the job as producer will fall to Arthur Freed, who produced last year's Best Picture winner, Gigi. His challenge, among other things, is to tread the fine line between, as he says, "dignity and entertainment." Too far in the dignity direction and it gets stuffy; go too far the other way and it turns into "a vaudeville show." (I wonder if the producer of this year's broadcast knows that?) There are temperamental celebrities who need to be cajoled through delicate diplomacy to do what they're supposed to do and be where they're supposed to be. Freed, a lifelong baseball fan, has added Vincente Minelli and John Houseman to his staff; "I am the manager," he says, and "Minelli and Houseman are my pitchers."

One big change that Freed is planning to introduce: in the past, the show has been staged for the audience in the theater, but this time, "we are going to stage it for the TV audience." There are, after all, 60 million or so tuning in, and that's a little bigger than the 2,500 at the Pantages. Fortunately, no such accommodations were necessary for the 2018 Oscars; they managed to bore everybody.

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Tennessee Ernie Ford makes an interesting observation about the kinds of specials we've frequently seen in the pages of TV Guide, even if we haven't talked about them a great deal. They're called "two-man" specials, with Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, or Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, or Perry Como and Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, or Bing Crosby. They're super-casual, laid back, with a couple of rocking chairs as a set. Even if you haven't read about one of these lately, I'm sure you know what I mean.

The point is that Ernie, a man who's been on television about as much as anyone since the medium began, isn't sure this is the right approach to take. "Television's still in its infancy, as far as entertaining a live audience is concerned. There is a lack of knowledge on how to entertain in the home. A great huge blare and 10 top names and about 50 dancers leapin' across the stage don't do it. But neither do two rockin' chairs." Later, he adds, "You just can't have too far-out ideas of what entertains int he American living room. You gotta sorta make 'em feel - well, that they don't have to put on their best duds just 'cause you're occupying the living room."

This reinforces something I've mentioned in the past, something that early television stars were very aware of, which is the intimacy of television, the idea that TV is a guest in the home. There are certain ways to behave when you're a guest, and this is something that is still being experimented with, whether you're Ernie Ford with a guest star, or the producer of the Academy Awards. I remember Jack Paar discussing this in an interview once; he talked of always reminding guests that they were on at 11:30 in the evening, that people were staying up very late to watch them, and that you wanted to take that into consideration. Keep your voice lower, don't be as manic, It's an interesting observation, one that's lost in today's culture. I don't know, it's kind of as if we've opened all the doors and windows, and TV isn't so much a guest as it is a part of the woodwork. We've opened ourselves so much to various forms of social media that it's as if we've merged with these various implements, all part of the same living organism. Or something like that.

This gets back around to what Ernie considers the secret to his success. "I've got the kind of personality people don't mind havin' around. I don't shove anything down their throats. People get kinda used to thinkin', "Well, tonight's the night ol' Ernie will be here." He carries this philosophy over to the way he does commercials, which he considers a privilege rather than a chore. "I always do the middle commercial myself and it's real Ernie. And I consider it a great compliment that what I say they believe. It's a big responsibility."

As proof of the importance of knowing the audience, Ford points to the most popular segment of his show, the hymns he sings. The TV folks were against it, he recalls. "They told me I couldn't sing hymns because it 'brings people down.' That's ridiculous. I don't think the good Lord cares for a bunch of deadheads. I mean, you don't have to put on sackcloth and sit in a pile of ashes to sing a hymn. Some of the most beautiful music is in hymns. Well, sir, I won, and now the hymns are the biggest think we have on the show."

Certainly Tennessee Ernie Ford seems to have figured out this television thing, don't you think?

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Some interesting programs on this week, as always.

Saturday, NBC presents the first of back-to-back games in the NBA finals, as the Boston Celtics take on the St. Louis Hawks for the championship. Boston takes Saturday's Game 3 102-86, but the Hawks rebound the next day to win 106-96. Eventually, the series goes seven games, with the Celtics winning their second consecutive title, and third in the past four years. And yes, this year the NBA regular season won't even be done by April 2.

On Sunday's Playhouse 90 (7:00 p.m., CBS), Dana Andrews, Don Murray, Kim Hunter and Barbara Rush star in "Alas, Babylon." "It looks like the beginning of an ordinary day in the small Florida town of Fort Repose. But Randy Bragg receives a horrifying warning from his brother: a nuclear war is hours away." I wonder how well it translated to the small screen?

There's not much on Monday, it being Oscar Night and all; by the way, the Oscars preempt Steve Allen this week, which is why we don't have a "Sullivan vs. Allen" feature for you. At any rate, if you're looking for something, there's The Kate Smith Show on CBS at 6:30 p.m., followed by Rory Calhoun in The Texan at 7:00, Father Knows Best at 7:30, The Danny Thomas Show at 8:00, The Ann Sothern Show at 8:30 (with future Medical Center co-star James Daly as private detective Johnny Danger), Jackie Cooper's Hennesey at 9:00, and The June Allyson Show at 9:30. Imagine this - an entire evening of half-hour shows. You wouldn't see that today.

Tuesday's Ford Startime (7:30 p.m., NBC) presents a puzzling mystery in "Incident at a Corner." "Someone wants an elderly crossing guard fired, and a vicious note to school officials does the trick. When members of his family search for the note's anonymous author, they run into unexpected opposition." Paul Hartman, Vera Miles and George Peppard star, but what likely makes this worth watching - and what suggests that not all is as it seems - is that it's directed by Alfred Hitchcock, with a script by mystery writer Charlotte Armstrong adapted from her own book

Wednesday features an episode of Men Into Space (right), one of the first "realistic" space dramas (as opposed to, say, Space Cadet). The series, which airs at 7:30 p.m. on NBC, stars William Lundigan, who admits in an interview that he really doesn't get this space business. "It's all I can do to drive a car," he says, and he's frankly embarrassed when meeting with "packs of nine-year-old boys" who pepper their TV hero with questions about space travel. "I can't answer their questions," he says. "I excuse myself and pretend to answer the phone. Or else I wind up asking the questions - and sure enough, the boys know the answers." It's refreshing that Lundigan often makes changes to the script to make his character, Colonel Edward McCauley, less heroic than the writers want. "I'm no hero," he tells them, "so take me off the hook."

I like the sound of this show on Thursday night (9:00 p.m., CBS) - it's Night Clubs, New York, starring Bob and Ray as two "big spenders" touring New York night spots, including performances by Peggy Lee and Felicia Sanders, and Spanish dancer Jose Greco. Mike Wallace narrates their adventures, broadcast live.

Friday brings a reminder that if you only remember Art Carney from The Honeymooners, you're overlooking the fact that he was a fine, fine dramatic actor. In another of his occasional live specials for NBC, "Victory" (7:30 p.m.), Carney plays Axel Heist, a man living in isolation on an East Indian island, who meets an female entertainer (Lois Smith) during one of his trips to the mainland and asks her to return to the island with him. It's adapted from the novel by Joseph Conrad, and costars Eric Portman, Oscar Homolka and a very young Richard Harris.

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How different things used to be: in this week's Letters to the Editor, Mrs. Thomas Hudson of Tacoma, Washington, wants everyone to know that "Bob Hope has lost a fan! I, for one, am disgusted and not amused by his frequent quips about a man of such stature, character and high principles as President Eisenhower. He is entitled to sound like a Democrat, but he should make his point at the polls instead of on TV." (Jimmy Kimmel, are you listening?) Aside from the fact that Hope poked fun at all the presidents (not to mention that Bob and Dolores Hope donated the land that the Eisenhower Medical Center was built on), I don't think that Hope was ever less than respectful when critiquing the presidents. And, as long as it's done in that spirit, do we really want to live in a country in which you can't make fun of its leaders? I don't think so. TV  

7 comments:

  1. Thanks to a hint you dropped last week, I was able to guess that this was the issue you were going to use this week.
    The early look I was thus afforded led me to some pits that made me wonder how much you were really aware of.
    To wit:

    - That pre-Oscar show on Monday night, which aired Live, coast-to-coast - meaning that it was 7:30 pm in Hollywood.
    This is a story that Tony Randall told on himself for years afterward.
    He caught a late flight from New York to LA, and either forgot to reset his watch, or got jet-lagged, or something; for whatever reason he didn't realize he'd be going on live.
    As Tony read his spiel from the prompter, he made a slip-up, and restarted the spiel from the top, thinking the tape would be edited.
    Anyway, Tony re-read, and flubbed again; then he re-started, and flubbed again.
    And started a third time and reflubbed.
    And on the fourth try, some teenagers in the crowd behind him began reading the prompter along with him.
    Whereuon Tony Randall, on live coast-to-coast television (but not realizing that he was live) turned to the teenagers and yelled:
    "Shut up, you little ********!"
    As I said, Tony Randall told this tale on himself for years afterward.
    On Tonight some years later, Johnny Carson listened with great empathy, and told Tony that he'd been watching the live broadcast with his family, and had observed to them, "He's got to be drunk ..."
    And Tony Randall, laughing hysterically, answered,"I wish to God I had been!"
    True story ...

    I'm running behind this morning (nostalgia show I have to get to); more later, maybe ...

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  2. Picking up from yesterday:

    - From my Old DVD Wall, I watched Incident At A Corner ("collector DVD", as we like to call bootlegs).
    The thing is, the story isn't really a mystery at all.
    At the start, we see the incident from three different angles.
    Exact same scene, same dialogue each time - but at each viewing we get a bit more information - and on the third viewing, we get the whole story (almost, anyway).
    The rest of the show consists of everybody misunderstanding everybody else, resulting in near calamity for all concerned.
    You can find Incident At A Corner on YouTube; it runs about 50 minutes, give or take, and I don't want to spoil it for anyone.
    I will say that the whole story does have a resonance for some things going on today ... and I'll let it go at that.

    - The Art Carney special on Friday is apparently lost - it was a live show, and if a kinescope was made, nobody at NBC remembered to steal a copy.
    There was a Close-Up in the program section, with a good-sized cast list.
    I don't know how far down your edition may have gone, but my list in Chicago had this credit at the bottom:
    Wang .................... Kaie Deei
    Interesting name, isn't it?
    For fun, try saying it aloud.
    Sound it out, using the letters.
    See if it might sound familiar to you ...

    - That letter from Mrs. Hudson could be answered any number of ways.
    Here's one possibility, fro many years before:

    O, Times! O, Manners! It is my opinion
    That you are changing sadly your dominion -
    I mean the reign of manners hath long ceased,
    For me have none at all, or bad at least;
    And as for times, altho' 'tis said by many
    The "good old times" were far the worst of any,
    Of which sound doctrine I believe each tittle,
    Yet still I think these worse than them a little.

    **************************************************

    This is a question which, oh heaven, withdraw
    The luckless query from a member's claw!
    Instead of two sides, Job has nearly eight,
    Each fit to furnish forth four hours debate.
    What shall be done? I'll lay it on the table,
    And take the matter up when I'm more able;
    And, in the meantime, to prevent all bother,
    I'll neither laugh with one, nor cry with t'other,
    Nor deal in flatt'ry or aspersions foul,
    But, taking one by each hand, merely growl.


    - The first and third stanzas of O Tempora! O Mores!, by Edgar Allan Poe, written circa 1825.

    ... To which I add: The more things change, the more they stay the same.





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  3. Absolutely. When this year's ''Best Picture'' was announced I realized I hadn't ever heard of it. checking IMDB revealed when it was released (Dec 1) and what it was about (nothing I have even the slightest interest in seeing).
    Personally the only ''awards'' that even pique my interest is The Razzies - best described as the anti-Oscars Worst picture, actor, ect. I had at least heard of it's big *ahem* winner and having seen a clip of it on YouTube, it truly did deserve everything it got. Out of mercy I chose not to link the YouTube clip. Compare:
    Oscar Best Picture: Gross USA $63,379,905 28 March 2018
    Razzie Worst Picture: Gross USA $86,089,513 30 November 2017
    And from what I've heard of both, they're both garbage. The Razzies, as always, were not televised, but from what I've heard it wasn't even as long as the circa 1960 Oscars mentioned above. Though had it been, it would likely had at least been entertaining.

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  4. I thought "Men Into Space" aired on CBS.....unless the CBS affiliate in the area covered by this TV Guide passed on it and the NBC station picked it up instead.

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    Replies
    1. Men Into Space was indeed a CBS series, airing Wednesday night, right after Be Our Guest and before The Millionaire.

      Just check out the next post in order here; most (not all) of the CBS stations have Men ... right where I just said it is ...

      ... And also the story in the color section about Bill Lundigan, which clearly IDs CBS as the ...Space venue.

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  5. With only a few exceptions, most of the major Oscar winners since the late 1990's have been "independent" films that aren't seen by (and often don't appeal to) many people.

    Today, there's actually a certain "cachet" to "independent" films, with major stars willing to appear in them for a fraction of their usual salaries, just so they can appear in a "prestigious" picture likely to win Oscars for the films (and themselves).

    If a movie comes out between now and the end of this year that is both a huge box-office smash and a very high-quality film, then the ratings for the 2019 Oscar telecast could well be much higher than they have been in recent years.

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Thanks for writing! Drive safely!