It begins on NET at 8:00 p.m. ET with the debut of an interview series with British historian Arnold Toynbee, who I've written about in the past. In the first of five episodes, Toynbee talks about America and Vietnam: why American policy in Asia is wrong, why U.S. forces should be withdrawn from Vietnam, and how the idea of world-wide Communist aggression is an "imaginary dragon." WTTG, the independent station in the Nation's Capital, counters at 8:00 with the gritty English "Angry Young Man" drama Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, the movie that catapulted the great Albert Finney to fame.
At 9:00 p.m., CBS has an adaptation of the Arthur Miller play "The Crucible," starring George C. Scott, Colleen Dewhurst, Fritz Weaver, Henry Jones, Will Geer, Tuesday Weld, Cathleen Nesbitt and Melvin Douglas. "The Crucible" is, of course, Miller's take on McCarthyism, told in the guise of the Salem witch trials. You hardly ever see the legitimate theater on TV anymore, but can you believe that on this night you've got dueling plays? The second comes at 10:00 p.m., courtesy of ABC Stage 67 - it's Jean Cocteau's one-character drama "The Human Voice," starring Ingrid Bergman in an extremely rare TV appearance.
The trouble with all this, of course, is that in these pre-VCR days one has to choose carefully what to watch, and hope to catch the other show(s) in reruns. And, truth be told, it's probably no accident that CBS and ABC scheduled these prestige plays opposite each other. Having just praised television for the quality of the programming, let's not forget that even in this era, tony shows like these weren't blockbusters in the ratings. Oftentimes, networks would schedule documentaries, news features, and the like in the same timeslot - no sense getting killed in the ratings by putting Stage 67 up against The Beverly Hillbillies, right? At the same time, the network gets kudos from the critics for scheduling these kinds of shows in the first place, which in turn helps raise the stature of the network in the eyes of the FCC, congressmen, and the like. The viewers might not be happy at having to make tough choices, but after all, nothing's perfect - right?
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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 Cleveland Amory's review proceeds from an assumption, and I'm not sure whether or not it's a good one. The assumption is that The Avengers should, on the whole, try to be more realistic.
It's not that he dislikes The Avengers, mind you. Last year when he reviewed the series, he was very positive, although "we kidded it for some of the plots - particularly the one where, in a simulated jungle in the wilds of England, a group of dispossessed rubber plantation owners decided to let loose, on the local population, 1000 tsetse flies." I remember that episode - "Small Game for Big Hunters" - and while I'll acknowledge it might not have been the best the series had to offer, it was still good fun. However, compared to this season - well, there's "the story of a pretty girl named Venus who believes there is life on Venus but, just to make sure, causes an awful lot of death on earth" ["From Venus with Love."] and the one about "a 'see-through man' who not only invented a formula for invisibility but goes around disputing, via murder, the fact that seeing is believing' ["The See-Through Man.'], and - but you get the picture.
Amory laments what he sees as the loss of "a genuinely engrossing adventure story," witty and sophisticated, as it would have to be with Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg ("easily not only the most beautiful but probably the best actress on the TV screen on either side of the Atlantic.") as your stars. And here's where I start to have mixed feelings. Having seen pretty much all the Avengers episodes that still exist, I remember when the series was far more serious, and deadly, than it is by this time. Many of those stories were when Honor Blackman was Macnee's partner, and while they're terrific stories, they lack the fun that the later adventures featured, no matter how ridiculous the premise.
And I guess that's the point - The Avengers is a show of its time, combining elements of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Doctor Who and Batman and probably a few others we could toss in. Yes, the show did change over the years, and the plots got a little more outlandish (if you think those are far out, wait until Linda Thorson replaces Rigg) but it remained urbane and - yes - fun. If I wanted to see something that was all those things but a little more realistic, I'd watch The Saint. The important thing to note is that, while it may be campy, Steed and Mrs. Peel themselves never approximate, say, Batman and Robin; they always take the plot seriously, even when it doesn't deserve it. I can throw it over to John at Cult TV Blog and see what he thinks; as for me, The Avengers is like any other series, with its good points and bad - but still a winner.
There's plenty of it to be had, and some is good and some is bad - that's the week in movies, with two in particular earning praise from Judith Crist, and one singled out for scorn.
Also the good: Donovan's Reef, the Saturday night movie on NBC (9:00 p.m.). It's true that you can't go wrong with John Wayne and Lee Marvin as stars, and John Ford as director - "the sheer physical finesse of the old pros manages to make this continuous barroom brawl set in a Pacific paradise not only a delight for the kiddies but also tolerable for grown-ups."
The bad: Fame is the Name of the Game, a TV-movie that serves as the pilot for the NBC series The Name of the Game. (Tuesday, 9:00 p.m., NBC) Crist describes it as a "sex-and-slaughter" story "starring Tony Franciosa's teeth, chin and chest." Now, I'll agree that of the three stars eventually comprising the rotating leads when Name of the Game goes to series - Franciosa, Gene Barry and Robert Stack - Franciosa is probably the weakest. Still, Tony has a lot of fans out there, and I'm sure this hurt them.
Ah, it's a good time to flip through the listings. Take Saturday, for instance. At 2:00 p.m. on CBS, it's the fifth game (if necessary) in the Stanley Cup Final between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. This is a historic occasion, the last time the Cup will be contested among the "Original Six" NHL teams before the league expands to 12 for next season. Fitting that the two winningest teams in Stanley Cup history. The fifth game is, in fact, necessary - with the series tied at two games apiece, the Leafs beat Montreal 4-1; on Tuesday evening in Toronto, they'll win game six and the Stanley Cup by besting Les Habs 3-1. Fifty seasons later (don't forget the lockout in 2005) it remains the last time Toronto has won the Cup.
An interesting day for the Sunday interview programs; at 12:30 p.m., CBS's Face the Nation features Edward Bennett Williams, one of the most famous attorneys in the country (as well as the owner of the Washington Redskins and future owner of the Baltimore Orioles). Williams will be discussing some of his more famous clients, including Jimmy Hoffa, LBJ confidante Bobby Baker, and the late Senator Joe McCarthy. Later on, he'd represent John Hinkley and John Connolly. I think his ownership of the Redskins might be his lasting fame; too bad, because he was one of the best trial lawyers around. Later, at 1:30 p.m., ABC's Issues and Answers has Rhode Island Senator John Pastore, whose committee is in charge of funding for public broadcasting. In 1969, he and his committee will hear from none other than Fred Rogers, famously testifying on behalf of educational television.
Monday features some fine programming as well; at 10:00 p.m. on ABC, Zero Mostel presents a one-man hour of comedy - a pantomime segment in which he plays inanimate objects including a coffee percolator; a Mel Brooks-written sketch where he's an actor preparing to go on stage; bits from his nightclub act; and songs from his hit play "Fiddler on the Roof." Quite a show. Then, at midnight, Bill Dana debuts his new two-hour, five-nights-a-week variety show from Las Vegas. The Las Vegas Show is the first, and only, program of the new United Network, founded by Daniel Overmyer. Now that's a fascinating story in and of itself; it's really too bad it wasn't able to survive. I won't go through the details now beyond what you can read at the link; despite good programs and reviews and decent ratings, Dana's show folds at the beginning of June, when the one-show network runs out of money.
In addition to Fame is the Name of the Game, Tuesday has another of CBS's periodic audience-participation "national tests" - this one is the National Science Test (10:00 p.m.), hosted by Harry Reasoner and Joseph Benti, and featuring Mr. Wizard himself, Don Herbert. On Wednesday, Danny Thomas spoofs the Crosby-Hope "Road" movies with "The Road to Lebanon" (9:00 p.m., NBC); the premise is that Crosby doesn't want Hope in this one, preferring the "young, fresher and Lebanese" Thomas. Another Danny, Kaye, has a fine lineup on his show (10:00 p.m., CBS), with Ella Fitzgerald, Buddy Greco, and Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66.
I overlooked this tidbit on Thursday - the first appearance of the rascal Harry Mudd (Roger C. Carmel) on Star Trek (8:30 p.m., NBC), while a pre-All in the Family Carroll O'Connor is a playboy opera star on That Girl (9:00 p.m., ABC) On Friday, the week wraps up with an ABC special on The Legend of Mark Twain (8:00 p.m.) we're so used to associating Hal Holbrook with Twain that it's something of a surprise to find anyone else hosting such a show; yet David Wayne, as narrator and portrayer of various Twain characters, looks to do the job well.
It goes without saying that Lawrence Welk, one of the most popular television stars of the day, remains remembered in his old hometown of Strasburg, North Dakota. There's the Welk Dam and the Welk Swimming Pool and Picnic Park; his picture adorns the bulletin board of the Post Office, right next to that of President Johnson. Maurice Condon's article presents a whimsical look at some of the small-town characters that remember Welk, such as Mrs. Anna Mary Mattern, whose father loaned Lawrence the money to buy his first accordion ("he paid it back in two years!"), and "Uncle Pius," the store owner who knows everything and everyone, and remembers that "Lawrence took a correspondence course with a music academy in Minneapolis." Welk has a diploma in piano tuning, "a good thing for a man to have a trade to fall back on, but I don't suppose he's ever had to tune pianos for a living." Oh, he liked penny candy too. Yes, in a small town, everybody knows everyone back when.
Finally, we haven't done a fashion spread for awhile, and the timing is perfect when the model is Barbara Bain, the glamorous - and dangerous - Cinnamon Carter on Mission: Impossible. With her then-husband Martin Landeau, Bain helped create the glory days of M:I; the show was never the same after they left.
I have to admit, though, that I kind of like the idea of Cindy Crawford actually being a spy involved in secret missions around the world, dealing with dictators and munitions brokers and freedom fighters. It's a ridiculous idea, though. The next thing you'll be telling me, a game show host could travel around the world pretending to chaperone couples while actually acting as an international assassin for the CIA. And who'd believe that?