May 30, 2018

Freberg encore

A couple of weeks ago I shared a pair of Stan Freberg's classic TV spoofs, on Dragnet and The Lawrence Welk Show. As a radio and recording artist, Freberg's satire was nonpareil. But he could do television as well, with some of the funniest commercials ever seen. And, as was often the case with Freberg, the stories behind the commercials were just as funny.

Take the series of ads he did for Jeno Paulucci, the Duluth food entrepreneur responsible for Chun King Chinese food and Jeno’s Pizza Rolls. Paulucci hired Freberg to make a series of commercials for his products, and Freberg guaranteed the ads would result in a 25% increase in sales - if they didn't, Freberg would pull Paulucci in a rickshaw down Los Angeles’ La Cienega Boulevard.

As Paulucci recounted it, “the premise was the same for every one of Stan's [Chun King] commercials. We were trying to make hay out of our major disadvantage: Only a minority of Americans ever ate Chinese foods. One of the ads began: ‘Nine out of 10 doctors recommend you eat chow mein for dinner.’ The camera then panned slowly over our smiling medical corps. Nine of the doctors were Chinese.”

Well, the picture at the top tells the story. Freberg was right, and it was Paulucci who pulled Freberg down the streets of L.A.

Here's another of Freberg's commercials, this one for Jeno's Pizza Rolls. It's a spoof of the popular Lark Cigarettes ads running at the time; a truck with the sign “Show Us Your Lark Pack!” would drive through the streets, whereas people would hold up their cigarette packs. You can see the idea at work below, although Freberg typically adds his own twist,

It is said that when this commercial aired during Carson's Tonight Show, Jthe sudio audience applauded when it was done. People talk about the Super Bowl commercials every year, but if you haven't seen a Stan Freberg commercial, you ain't seen nothing. TV  

May 28, 2018

What's on TV?: Friday, June 2, 1967

We're back with the Minnesota State Edition, for a wholly unremarkable day of television. As you know if you've read these in the past, that's not meant as a criticism; it just means there's nothing out of the ordinary on, save that James Bond special. But in fact that's what television was like most of the time - your regular shows, just the way you like them.

May 26, 2018

This week in TV Guide: May 27, 1967

I'm baaack!

Now this may be good news or bad news, depending on how you look at things - but admit it, you're glad to see new material, aren't you?

This week we're looking at the many faces of America, starting with Edith Efron's provocative profile of Diahann Carroll, "who has been torn since childhood by the magnetic pull of two worlds - the world of Black and of White." It's a somewhat predictable struggle in 1960s America - you might remember reading about Lloyd Haines, among other black celebrities, offering his feelings on the subject - but Carroll's approach is a different one. "The conflict first took the form of music," she tells Efron. "The music we all listened and danced to, rhythm and blues. . . . I never sang that kind of music. I never had a jazz feeling, a blues feeling, and I still don't. I had a very strong resistance to that kind of music because it was racial. I saw the other kind, my kind, as a move to assimilate. I sang popular music, songs like 'Over the Rainbow.' But I kept it secret. It didn't belong."

The struggle became one in which she tried to hold on to her racial and cultural roots while looking to succeed in the world in which she was more comfortable, that of "the white world of show business." It's not that she hasn't experienced discrimination, which she calls a "horror" that's "enough to drive you up the wall." However, she believes racism is a street that runs two ways. "Someone said, at a party recently, that Leontyne Price was hampered by her racial background, that she had no racial contact with European music. A Negro said that - can you imagine! I felt the whole idea was wrong. I went home and played a group of records, women whose voices were unfamiliar to me, to see if I could tell that Leontyne Price was Negro. Of course I couldn't tell the difference!"

Her interests now have turned to the heritage of Western Civilization, to understand classical music. She puts her work first, where she can be "Diahann first and Negro second." It's a difficult battle, she says. "It's so terrible to have fears you don't dare to examine, it's a source of real peace for me to say the unsaid.

◊ ◊ ◊

And then there's the face of America being presented to the British, as discussed by Robert Musel, an American corresponded for UPI based in Europe,* who says it's "more a caricature than a portrait." Thinking of the anti-American sentiment in Britain and other European countries, Musel observes that "As an American based in Britain, I find it just as hard to identify with the America and the Americans I see endlessly examined on British television."

*Musel was a lyricist as well as reporter, and is also credited with coining the Elvis Presley nickname "Elvis the Pelvis."

The America seen by Britons, thanks to the documentaries they're fed by the BBC's two stations, portray us as "brash, vulgar, aggressive, crude, warlike, nonintellectual, money-mad, sex-crazy, rat-racing, ulcerous," which, when you think of it, sounds a lot like the way we're portrayed today. The programs aired in Britain have an almost obsessive focus on race relations, for example (and, according to Musel, their coverage of the problems is very good) - but they ignore the fact that more blacks get higher education in America than whites do in England. They report on the high cost of living here, while skipping over how in relation to salaries earned the U.S. is generally cheaper than England. And of course, the BBC is extremely hard on America over the Vietnam War, consistently taking the side of the Vietcong and taking for granted the truth of any anti-American comment than any expert has to offer. Says one American official, "We don't want the British to like us necessarily. But we'd like them to understand us."

Paul Fox, head of public affairs for the BBC, replies, again, with a comment that wouldn't be out of place in today's discussions. "Balanced television is nontelevision. We've really gone out of that age. That's Stone-Age television." In response to American criticism of the accuracy of such shows, he notes that this is what one would expect an American to do." I find these comments quite interesting considering the reputation the Beeb has gotten over the past few years, the accusations of an extreme left-wing bias in their news-reporting departments. To be fair, Fox is one of the most respected figures in television, even by Americans. He grants that the country is far more open in allowing criticism of it than most countries. And he's one of a number of British television figures offering that fictional American series often do more harm than good; Peyton Place, says one commentator, is probably regarded as normal American life by many people, and the more violent crime dramas do their part in giving a distorted picture of most American cities.

What to do? Peregrine Worsthorne - what a great name! - from the Telegraph newspapers says that television is still a young medium, one that has yet to develop elder statesmen to curb its "impetuous youth." He views British reporting on Vietnam as "straight anti-American propaganda. To some extent this is attributable to fellow-traveling bias; but much more, in my view, to sheer ignorance on the part of the juvenile producers whose attitude to war is untempered by experience or knowledge."

Musel himself thinks a main ingredient may well be envy; this kind of coverage is "the natural penalty we pay for being the richest and most powerful nation on earth," and the British once received this same coverage themselves. He doesn't ask for puff-pieces; just credit for good intentions.

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While The Hollywood Palace is on summer break, ABC filled the Saturday night time slog with Piccadilly Palace, a London-based variety show starring the iconic British comedy duo of Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, We'll stop in from time to time during the summer months to see who has the best lineup..

Sullivan: Scheduled guests are singers Robert Goulet and Jane Morgan, the rock 'n' rolling Temptations, English musical-comedy star Tessie O'Shea, the singing Doodletown Pipers, comedians Jack De Leon, Lee Tully and The Pickle Brothers, and puppet Topo Gigio.

Palace: Morecambe and Wise welcome England's rock 'n' rolling Hollies and singer Tom Jones, plus regular Millicent Martin.

I don't know how many times we'll run across this during the summer, with Piccadilly substituting for the regular Palace, but we might as well go with it whenever we have the chance. And this week it's short and sweet; despite the presence of Robert Goulet (remember those great "Mr. G" commercials he did for ESPN late in his life?), it's going to be tough to beat Tom Jones and the Hollies. As a matter of fact, this week it's impossible, even with Jack De Leon and Lee Tully. The trophy goes across the pond: it's the Palace, and that's not unusual.

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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. 

The Hollywood Palace isn't the only thing taking the summer off. Cleveland Amory, about to wrap up another television season, entertains us this week with some choice Letters to the Editor written about him intended to point out his various shortcomings as a critic and, in some cases, a human being. Our Critic is nothing if not serene in the confidence of his own correctness, however, so he never fears contrary opinions.

Take this missive from Dennis Colella of Little Falls, N.J.: "Dear Sir: Why don't you get rid of Cleveland Amory? He had better go back to college and learn to write an expository theme. I have never seen anyone twist facts and use minor ideas to criticize a TV show like Mr. Amory . . . I was always in the opinion that a review was supposed to be very general with no side comments unless backed by facts, or with no definite opinions formulated by the critics." [Welcome to the real world, Dennis.] A similar sentiment is expressed by Lydia Harvey of North Edwards, California, who asks "Dear Sir: What is it? That is the question I put before you. What is a Cleveland Amory? He never has anything good to say to anyone at any time, and that includes the article on Felony Squad. So, Mr. Amory, I say to you it will be your tough luck that Felony Squad will return next season." [Yes, but how many seasons did it run, and how many seasons did Cleve write about?]

Mrs. Mark A. Williams of Medford, Oregon is a little less personal in her comments: "TV Guide's review of Family Affair makes my blood boil. In my book this review is on a par with an attack on motherhood." Perhaps the most incomprehensible letter is addressed to Amory himself: "You must think you are some article writer. What you are is a 5 year old Baby! Just becuase a GOOD show comes on TV, you have to knock it. You think you are a expert of judging shows. You are T.H.E. WORST!!! Rango is one of the BEST shows on TV. The trouble is that you are JEALOUS of Rango!" It's signed "YEA! RANGO! YEA! RANGO!" Rango, I should note, was a western comedy starring Tim Conway, and ran on ABC from January 13 to September 1, 1967. I do hope this letter writer wasn't too destroyed when it was cancelled.

Not all is lost, though. Karen Tucker of Fulton, N.Y., tells Cleve "I have just finished reading the review of The Time Tunnel. Anyone who can be very enjoyable, even while degrading one's favorite program, should continue to have the column as long as TV Guide exists. Mr. Amory, you're the greatest." Says Amory, "keep that letter coming."

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This is history?
We're also looking at the latest depiction of the wild west, in a humorous essay by Ronald Searle, the great satirical cartoonist whose illustrations appear on the cover and accompanying his story. (British TV fans might recognize him as the author of those brilliant cartoons during the opening and closing credits of Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister.)

His topic: how "the excessively romanticized misrepresentation of historical events" found in popular culture - until, that is, the debut of F Troop. "For with the generous cooperation of both the Hekawi and the Shug tribes, we can see, week by week, a virtual on-the-spot portrait of frontier life as it was lived in everyday terms."

"Honesty is the byword," writes Searle with a fine excess of drama - "if one can honestly get away with inefficiency, blackmail, embezzlement, bare-faced robbery, lying, cheating, seduction, procrastination and ducking out of a fight, one has got through the day graciously. In other words, this series has heart." In other words, I'd add, absolutely nothing has changed since then.

In calling F Troop "the funniest ideas to have hit television in years," Searle is, I think, lampooning not only the excess of John Ford-type westerns of the past, he's poking fun at the way in which we present history in popular entertainment. In its own way, F Troop is about as realistic as other historical dramas - just in the opposite direction. If you're going to do it, you might has well have fun!

◊ ◊ ◊

The Indianapolis 500 is this week, although you won't see it live on TV Memorial Day. No, the 500 mile race hasn't even made it to same-day broadcasting on ABC, let alone a live telecast. There are only two ways to keep track of this year's race: buy a ticket and watch the live closed-circuit broadcast in a local movie theater, or listen to Sid Collins call the race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway radio network. That's what I, along with millions worldwide, used to do back in the day; I still watch the broadcast with the sound turned down to listen to the superior radio coverage.

No, the only way you'd know about the race is because of the 500 Festival Parade, telecast live from Indianapolis on Sunday afternoon at 4:00 p.m.CT and hosted by James Garner, a actor with impeccable racing credentials going back to the movie Grand Prix. Minneapolis didn't get to see the live syndicated coverage; WCCO, Channel 4, shows it at 9:00 a.m. on Memorial Day - which, you'll remember, was May 30 until 1971 - and I think showing it on Tuesday is just fine by me.

Let's see, some other things on this week: At 5:00 p.m. Sunday, CBS's The 21st Century presents "The Communications Explosion," showing the changes in store due to satellites, laser beams, and computers - including one that sings "On a Bicycle Built for Two." And no, it's not a coincidence. Another milestone on CBS Monday: the debut of Coronet Blue - as the listing says, "This series was originally intended for the 1965-66 season, but CBS shelved it, and the 11 episodes are being telecast for the first time this summer." I wonder if they had any idea it would become a cult hit.

A while back I mentioned the premiere of The Las Vegas Show, Bill Dana's two-hour late night variety show. It shows up here on a couple of CBS affiliates; KDAL in Duluth carries it at 10:30 p.m., head-on against Carson and Bishop, while WCCO shows it at 12:40 a.m., after a rerun of Marshal Dillon and a movie.

Tuesday is Memorial Day, but WTCN, Channel 11, seems to have their wires crossed - at 10:30 a.m. they're showing Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker," the same version they usually show at Christmastime. They have a nice recovery, though, showing the Twins-Yankees game from Yankee Stadium along with the rest of the Twins television network, starting at noon, while at 4:30 p.m., KSTP has live coverage of the Jersey Derby horse race from Garden State Park in New Jersey. Tuesday evening, CBS carries a 90-minute drama special, Sir John Gielgud starring as Ivanov in Chekhov's famed play of the same name.

Finally, Friday night  at 7:30 p.m. NBC airs what amounts to an hour-long infomercial for the latest James Bond movie, You Only Live Twice. This isn't the first time NBC's done this - they had a similar special, The Incredible World of James Bond, back in November 1965, promoting Thunderball. That special was the highest rated show of the week, and I wouldn't be surprised if this one does the same thing. Would you bet against Sean Connery? TV  

May 25, 2018

Around the dial

Aee that picture up there? Now that's the house I would have liked to have grown up in! Anyway, on to this week's highlights.

At Thrilling Days of Yesterday, Ivan has a truly captivating review of the latest 3-disc set of the 1960s Jackie Gleason Show, put out by Time-Life. I'm old enough to remember this iteration of the Gleason show, though I was young enough at the time that not much of it stuck in my memory. Ivan captures the spirit of the show in his review, though - go read it and see if it makes you want to buy the set.

Inner Toob has the latest on the remake of Magnum, P.I., with Jay Hernandez in the Sellick role. Now, I know what you're thinking - I'm going to rag on another remake of a classic series because I live in the past and can't stand updating the old shows. Well, that's partly right, I'll grant you that. But this typifies the laziness that I see infiltrating television everywhere (and that's nothing new, either) - I mean, what is the point? For those with fond memories of the old show (and I wasn't really a fan, by the way, although I didn't dislike it), why ruin them? And if you're changing enough that you're not going to attract the old fans, then why remake it in the first place? Aren't there enough places in the world to set a private detective drama? Or doesn't the new Hawaii Five-0 pay for the studio?

In a similar vein, Comfort TV asks the question: can new episodes of classic television shows work? Most often they don't (remember the remake of Family Affair? I didn't think so), but on occasion, as with the new Will & Grace and Roseanne, they can strike paydirt. I think it helps to have members of the original cast, but as I said above, I'm leery about something like this unless it can give you something the original couldn't, or didn't, have. The key, as David says, is that "the new episodes [stay] true to what made the source material successful, with no self-awareness, no casting or scripts based on 21st century sensibilities, and no winking at the audience."

"The Day of the Bullet." an atmospheric Stanley Ellin story of two young friends and the divergent paths their lives take, is the latest episode of The Hitchcock Project at bare-bones e-zine. As usual, Jack does a terrific job of taking us through the original short story and how it was adapted into one of the classics of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. 

The Twilight Zone Vortex is back with a a look at another issue of the old Twilight Zone Magazine. This time it's the 1981 Halloween edition, with book reviews by Theodore Sturgeon, Gahan Wilson's review of the movie Dragonslayer, the continuing episode guide by Marc Scott Zicree, a classic TZ screenplay from Rod Serling, and more!

Cult TV Blog takes a rare, but not unprecedented, look across the pond at American TV - this time, it's "Miracle Man," an episode from The X-Files. As was the case with Ivan's Gleason review, John really captures the essential nature of this episode - I think any great review is one that makes you want to see the episode, or read the book, or go out and watch the movie, and that's what this does. It's also nice to see a non-American's perspective of this episode and some of its provocative themes.

The great Clint Walker, star of Cheyenne, died earlier this week at the age of 90. He was a towering presence on television - tall, handsome, with a rich, deep voice. I read somewhere a comment from a man who remembered his girlfriend thinking that Walker was the most handsome man ever; the man didn't resent it because Walker was his hero, too. That's the kind of guy Clint Walker was. A Shroud of Thought has a fine appreciation of his life and career.

Although Roger Moore is The Saint, at least for my money, you can't not like the radio version of Leslie Charteris' famous character, played by the always suave Vincent Price. The Saint on the Radio is one of two new books by Ian Dickerson reviewed this week by Martin Grams; the other is Who Is The Falcoln?, referring to the movie series about Michael Arlen's "gentleman detective" played by George Sanders.

At the always-interesting Garroway at Large, Jodie reports progress on her biography of Dave Garroway, and gives us a fascinating look at the "what-ifs" - books that were never written, people who have since died, programs that no longer exist - that would have given us even more insight into the always interesting, often enigmatic Garroway. Another reason we should all be pack rats. TV  

May 23, 2018

The defense that never rests

Stick with me here - it may be slow going at first, but I think you'll agree the payoff is worth it.

Last week the Church celebrated Pentecost, the day in which the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles. There are many titles given to the Holy Spirit, depending on the religion, the region, and the language; one of the most common is Paraclete, which comes from the Greek word παράκλητος, or Parakletos, and roughly translates as, among other things, "Advocate," "Intercessor," or "called to one's aid in a court of justice." (The literal translation is "at one's side.") As the priest teaching our Bible study class said, "Think of the Paraclete as being like a defense attorney." And, of course, that got me to thinking.

The most famous defense attorney in the history of television, of course, is Perry Mason. Perry - Paraclete. Paraclete Mason. Similar, or at least uncanny. I'm not suggesting in any way that Erle Stanley Gardner had this in mind when he named his beloved literary creation; in fact, the name comes from the Perry Mason Company, publisher of Youth's Companion, one of Gardner's favorite magazines as a child.*

*I have to admit that when I had this thought, which came to me instantly, I had to stifle the urge to laugh out loud - which would have been very unbecoming in a Bible study class.

Still, as I've written before, we oftentimes play the role of inadvertent prophets, speaking the truth without even being aware of it. In this case, I can't think of a better name for the greatest defender of them all, I'd like to think that, somewhere in Greece, someone who knows about the show could hear the name "Paraclete Mason" and smile. Or even laugh out loud. TV  

May 21, 2018

What's on TV? Wednesday, May 25, 1966

As was the case with last week's "encore presentation," I was not doing a "What's on TV?" feature back when Saturday's TV Guide story was first run, so this is brand-new. We're looking once again at the Minnesota State Edition, and you'll notice a few things that call out for attention. WTCN, Channel 11, has yet to incorporate colorcasts of Minnesota Twins baseball on a regular basis. (I'm sure there's someone out there who could tell us when that started.)

At 3:25 p.m., ABC has Arlene Dahl's Beauty Spot, a five-minute segment featuring the actress giving beauty tips. Although the program ran in color, the existing copy is in black-and-white.

And one of the guests on Today is famed architect Philip Johnson, who coordinated the design of Lincoln Center, Rev. Robert Schuller's Crystal Cathedral (now the Christ Cathedral) in Garden Grove, California, and the iconic IDS Center in my hometown of Minneapolis. The IDS was by far the tallest building in Minneapolis when it went up in the early 70s; we're so passive-aggressive about these things that for years no other building would attempt to top its height, but would always wind up a foot or two shorter than IDS. That's Minnesota for you.

May 19, 2018

This week in TV Guide: May 21, 1966

Here's another encore presentation, which is a fancy way of describing how I've simply repeated a piece from five years ago. Fear not; we'll return with something new next week, just in time for the long Memorial Day weekend!

Lately I've been checking out Mr. Lucky, a show I'd never seen before, which has been running on MeTV.  Mr. Lucky, produced by Blake Edwards and starring John Vivyan, ran for only one season in 1959 on CBS; it's a charming-enough piece of fluff, the story of an honest professional gambler running a floating casino, but the storylines are often flimsy and the tone a little too silly for my taste.  Had it gone in the direction of Edwards' other hit of the era, Peter Gunn, it might have had more staying power.

However, one of the pleasures of Mr. Lucky is Ross Martin as Lucky's partner Andamo, whose slightly cynical sense of humor often redeems questionable scenes.  And it's that same Ross Martin who shares the cover of this week's TV Guide with his Wild Wild West co-star Robert Conrad.  

Although Conrad was the focal point of the CBS series, it was Martin's performance as Artemus Gordon, master of disguise, that I always appreciated.  After many years in the business, Martin, an exceptionally talented actor, has resigned himself to the fact that he'll never be the star, the heroic romantic lead.  "I can't say I'm happy being a second banana," he says, although he concedes that the role of Gordon, in which he eventually plays over 100 different characters, is "a show-off's showcase!"  He has a friendly but somewhat guarded relationship with Conrad, as he did with Vivyan on Mr. Lucky, but has the admiration of his colleagues.

Although The Wild Wild West was Martin's best-known role, he remained working in television (including two subsequent West movie sequels) until his death from a heart attack in 1981.

◊ ◊ ◊

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..

Ed Sullivan: Scheduled guests: singers Maria Cole and Nancy Sinatra; Metropolitan Opera baritone Robert Merrill; the comedy teams of Allen and Rossi, and Stiller and Meara; Elva Miller, a housewife-turned-singer; and the West Point Glee Club.

Hollywood Palace:  Host Bing Crosby introduces comedian Shelly Berman; singer Leslie Uggams; lyricist Johnny Mercer; the singing King Family; the Three Mecners, Polish acrobats; Mac Ronay, French comic magician; and British vaudevillians Pat Daly and Bill Wayne.

On the one hand you have the great Robert Merrill, the occasionally funny Stiller and Meara, the funny-then-but-not-so-much-now Allen and Rossi; on the other you have Bing Crosby, Shelly Berman and Johnny Mercer.  Almost a push, but not quite, so we'll Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive. The verdict: Palace.

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Seagram's ads were a staple of sports coverage in the 60s
Some fascinating similarities in the sports coverage from this week, compared to the 1958 TV Guide we looked at a couple of weeks ago.  Let's take a look at them.

This week, as was the case two weeks ago, horse racing was a big event.  Then it was the Kentucky Derby; this week it's the Preakness Stakes, second jewel of the Triple Crown.  And just as Tim Tam would win the Derby and Preakness in 1958 before falling short in the Belmont, Kauai King would win the Derby and Preakness in 1966, only to have his Triple Crown hopes dashed with a fourth place finish in the Belmont three weeks hence.

That TV Guide from two weeks ago featured a championship boxing match on ABC; so does this one. Then, it was the lightweight title bout between Joe Brown and Ralph Dupas; this week, ABC's Wide World of Sports brings us an even bigger fight - Cassius Clay, defending his world heavyweight title against England's champ Henry Cooper, live via satellite from Arsenal Stadium in London.  As I'd mentioned a couple of months ago, boxing was an irregular prime-time performer on network TV by the 60s, but it maintained a steady presence on Wide World - as did its favorite boxer, the soon-to-be-known-as Muhammad Ali.  Ali was good to Wide World, and the show was good to him.

Cooper was thought to have a real chance - he'd knocked Clay down in their previous fight in 1963 before Clay rallied to win.  This time, though, the champ would open up a cut above Cooper's left eye (which would later require 12 stitches to close), and the referee would stop the bout in the sixth round, with Clay retaining his title.

And, now as then, there were a pair of baseball games on Saturday afternoon; now, as then, the Yankees and Indians were involved, though not playing each other.  NBC's Game of the Week has Cleveland taking on the Chicago White Sox, while the Minnesota Twins play the Yankees in Channel 11's Twins broadcast.

There's even bowling on Sunday, as the CBS Bowling Classic kicks off its season on Sports Spectacular.  However, since 1958 we've learned that Sunday afternoons are meant to be filled with sports, so the keglers have to share the limelight with another Twins game, pocket billiards (!), and the final round of the Colonial Invitational golf tournament from Fort Worth (won by Bruce Devlin, in case you're interested).

◊ ◊ ◊

Speaking of sports, there's another article of interest in this issue, notable as much for what it doesn't say as for what it does.  It's Neil Hickey's "Is There An Athletic Gap?", a look at Sunday night's NBC documentary The Russian Sports Revolution.  The question on everyone's mind is why the Soviets have become such a athletic superpower.  The reasons given are the standard ones: special training for promising athletes identified at a young age to be groomed for success, governed and subsidized by a government organization called the All-Union Committee for Physical Culture and Sport.  "It's a sports-crazy country," sportscaster Jim Simpson says, and international success by Soviet teams and individuals has become a prime weapon in the ongoing Cold War.

Accepting the idea that the Soviet system has its advantages, how can the Americans hope to compete?  The ongoing rivalry between the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and the NCAA is blamed for much of the nation's problems.  "We have such a hit-and-miss, shoddy athletic system here it's unbelievable," Simpson says.  A special Senate committee investigation produces such a gloomy prognosis that Vice President Humphrey appoints a special arbitration committee in hopes of resolving the intra-organizational dispute.

Doubtless all of this was true, but we now know much more, including the preponderance of performance-enhancing drugs that were used by Eastern bloc countries, especially East Germany.  Hormones, steroids, blood doping, and the like were thought responsible for as many as 10,000 athletes, many of whom had no idea they were being turned into addicts by their trainers and coaches.

There had always been rumors about what the Eastern Europeans were doing; I wonder if any of them made their way into NBC's broadcast?

◊ ◊ ◊

Scattered notes from the Teletype: Batman, after just one week, has hit the top 10 in Japan.  Johnny Carson begins a five-week vacation in July; Joey Bishop will guest host.  And Martin Landau has a recurring guest-star role in the new Mission: Impossible, playing a makeup artist who's a master of disguise.*

*Possibly a descendant of Artemus Gordon?

The thing is, if you watch the first season of M:I, you'll notice that Landau is in every episode, albeit listed as "Special Appearance by" - but how special can it be if he's there every week?  In fact, one of the reasons for Landau's expanded presence on the series was that star Steven Hill, an Orthodox Jew, refused to work after 4pm Friday until after sundown Saturday, and Landau's character, who in fact was only supposed to appear as one of several rotating guest stars, took up much of the slack.  (Indeed, in several episodes Landau's assignment has little to do with disguise.)  Landau himself refused to sign the typical contract in order to maintain availability for feature film work, and didn't become an actual "regular" until the second season - by which time Hill had been replaced by Peter Graves.

◊ ◊ ◊

In the fall of 1965 the Politz Media Service surveyed 4,020 viewers on their television preferences. Nothing particularly unusual about that; Nielsen's been doing it for quite a while.  What Politz did, however, was break down the results by various demographic characteristics*, and the results produced a number of surprises.

*I'm assuming, based on the amount of ink used on this article, that such extensive demographic profiling was fairly uncommon for the time.

For one thing, it appears that education level is not a defining characteristic when it comes to the most popular television programs.  Shows that might ordinarily be thought of as "low-brow" -  Red Skelton, Gomer Pyle, Lawrence Welk, Ed Sullivan and The Beverly Hillbillies were among the shows cited - were among the most popular programs for college graduates.

In search of an explanation for these seemingly counter-intuitive results, Herbert Kay Research, Inc. came up with some "tentative" conclusions, including: "People of high intelligence tend to like the same programs that people of lower intelligence like."  That sounds obvious considering the findings of the Politz poll, but it's interesting nonetheless; we've long heard about how television viewers don't really want intelligent programming.  Is this evidence of that, or do intelligent people watch "non-intelligent" shows because that's all that's on?

Ah, you might say, but intelligent shows don't get high ratings because there aren't enough smart people to watch them.  Everyone knows smart people have better things to do with their time than watch the boob tube!  But you'd be wrong - according to Kay Research, "proportionately more people of high intelligence than low were found among those who habitually watch a great deal of television."

I suppose you could argue that TV had already succeeded in dumbing down even the smartest audience.  But it's probably a question we'll never be able to answer.  TV  

May 16, 2018

G-Men vs. Commies

Efrem Zimbalist Jr., left, receives an award for "patriotic civilian service" from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, center, and Gen. William C. Westmoreland, Army chief of staff, in Washington, Dec. 4, 1968. (AP)
I've mentioned in the past that our Sunday night routine includes watching The FBI, starring the great Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. and a succession of partners, fighting criminals and making the country safe from Communism. Although J. Edgar Hoover never appeared in the show, his fingerprints - so to speak - are all over it, and it must break not only his heart but that of Zimbalist and everyone else who worked on the series to see the mess the Bureau has become. Therefore, let us think of happier times, when the FBI was seen as the shining light of American law enforcement. The following, a kind of compendium of past mentions of the show, is one of the essays included in my forthcoming book. 

Although J. Edgar Hoover first came to prominence with the FBI’s 1936 capture of gangster Alvin Karpis, “Public Enemy #1,” I think it’s safe to say that his real passion in life (at least from a law enforcement perspective) was protecting the nation from the threat of Communism. Hoover not only viewed Communism as the greatest danger to the stability of the American government, he also saw other groups (anti-war radicals, civil rights protesters) as working in tandem with the Reds, either intentionally or inadvertently, to undermine American democracy.

This was evident at the very start of The FBI. Right there in the show’s original opening credits, viewers were informed of the Bureau's mission: to “protect the innocent and identify the enemies of the United States Government.” That opening title scene was perfect, really; perhaps only the start of Perry Mason did a better job of summarizing what the show was all about. After a cold opening that gave us a look at the episode’s criminal, along with the case number and why he or she was wanted by the FBI, the scene dissolved into shots of Washington icons: the Capitol, the Washington Monument, and the Supreme Court, ending with a zoom-in on the Justice Department, home of the Bureau. Between that and the majestic theme, written by Bronislaw Kaper, it was enough to make you run right out there and sign up. I’m sure Hoover must have loved it.

Hoover and the FBI had had a brilliant public relations machine for years, dating back to radio programs such as I Was a Communist for the FBI, and favorable articles in the nation’s publications and periodicals. By the mid-60s, though, the Bureau was going through some tough times, what with the twin barrages brought by Vietnam and civil rights (and Hoover’s surveillance against leaders of both movements), and though the Bureau’s reputation was probably far above where it is today, a little good publicity couldn’t hurt. "We finally decided to clarify for the public what the FBI does," Cartha DeLoach, Hoover's #2, said. "We're simply an investigative agency. We can't protect people - like civil rights workers, for instance. There's some confusion about what we do and I hope this program will show people how we really work." Nicely played.

Over the years, Hoover had received many requests from television people interested in doing a weekly FBI series, and it’s been said that he personally wanted producer Quinn Martin, he of The Untouchables and The Fugitive, to be the one who did it. Martin had resisted the idea at first; he was, he said, "much more politically left of the FBI," but he eventually too up the challenge, and despite their political differences the two men liked each other and got along well.

A cynic might be tempted to dismiss The FBI as an entertaining piece of propaganda designed to show the Bureau in the best light possible, and in fact it does come across as a paragon of law enforcement, more interested in getting the guilty party than simply making a quick arrest (although ideally doing both); one of the highlights of each episode is when the fugitives realize the Feds are on their trail. “It’s one thing to have the cops after us,” one of them will always say to the other, “but now we’ve got the FBI out there.” It’s a sobering moment - from then on, no matter how much they may try, they know in their heart of hearts that the jig is up.

The perfect man to embody that philosophy was the show’s star, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. Hoover may not have hand-picked the cast on each week’s show, but the Bureau did have approval rights, and supposedly screened the background of every potential actor and actress who appeared in order to make sure they upheld the image that Hoover wanted projected. Over the years Zimbalist and Hoover became lifelong friends; every year, when the show’s production team would come out to the Capital to shoot some exterior shots establishing location, Hoover would have him come to his offices where they'd chat a bit, and then Zimbalist would address the agents, who cheered him as their hero. (At Hoover’s funeral in 1972, Zimbalist was seated in the FBI section.) For years afterward, Zimbalist recounted, men and women would come up to him, current or former FBI agents, and they would tell him of how watching him on the series had inspired their own career choice. It was humbling, he said, and how could it not be?

Give credit to Efrem, though, because his portrayal of special agent Lewis Erskine was an iconic one, the very definition of the hard-working, incorruptible FBI man. So identified was Zimbalist with the role that for the political satirist Art Buchwald he was the FBI; in a hilarious column about the first known wiretap (President Grant tells a Hooveresque surrogate “I want you to go to Boston and find out what Alexander Graham Bell is up to”) the agent registers in the hotel under the name of “Zimbalist”; another of his columns features an agent named “Efrem Zumgard.”

The FBI didn’t spend all its time fighting Communist agents; there was a fair share of bank robbers, kidnappers, corrupt union officials, organized crime bosses, and other lawbreakers whose nefarious activities took them across state lines (and therefore into the jurisdiction of the FBI); and Quinn Martin tended to shy away from hot-button issues such as civil rights (he was as sensitive to audience and sponsor reaction as anyone). It’s probably true, though, that the most frequent heavies were those who spoke with eastern European accents and preyed on the weaknesses of those who could be blackmailed into helping them – particularly if those people worked with Department of Defense contractors. Occasionally, you’d even meet a true believer, someone who of their own free will was involved in providing aid and comfort to the enemy, in the form of top secret information on a new missile guidance system which they hoped would lead to the victory of the peace-loving Soviets or Red Chinese.

No matter. The FBI always got their Commies.

As was the case with Mission: Impossible, The FBI had to adapt as the public began to adopt a more cynical attitude toward government, and in lieu of Communist agents, La Cosa Nostra became a favorite target. I wonder, though, if The FBI wasn’t one of the last dramas of the ‘70s to actually portray the war against Communism in a favorable light. Although several of the Red agents were given very complex treatments, with some of them even emerging as sympathetic characters, there was never the slightest suggestion that what they were doing could be ignored or excused. They were involved in espionage, and if they were Americans, they were also betraying their country. Neither the FBI nor The FBI thought much of that.

There was, in that day, great dignity – even nobility – in the idea of being a part of the world's greatest police organization, which brings us back once again to those opening credits. As much as anything, they showed us how the FBI was, even if it was never how it was. TV  

May 14, 2018

What's on TV: Thursday, May 18, 1961

I promised the TV listings would be new this week, and so they are. It is, I think, a pretty average day TV-wise, but as always what strikes me most from this time period is the local flavor of the programming. With national educational programming in its infancy, many of the shows on KTCA are locally produced, and, in particular, WCCO's daytime schedule is heavily local. That's not to say we don't have local programming today as well, but much of it has the feel of an infomercial, especially the features presented on what passes for local morning "news." Oh well. I think on the whole, you'll find these Minneapolis-St. Paul listings, as always, worth a read.

May 12, 2018

This week in TV Guide: May 13, 1961

I'm on vacation the next couple of weeks. Not the kind of vacation where you go on a trip or take time off your job - just a blogging break. In the meantime, we'll be revisiting a couple of TV Guides from the past, starting with this issue from five years ago, which is long ago enough to introduce it to new readers. I'll throw in new programming listings on the Mondays, but otherwise it's best-ofs for the next two weeks, with new TV Guides resuming after that.

The new Chairman of the FCC, Newton Minow, kicks off this week's edition of TV Guide with an Open Letter to the public, asking for their help in improving television.

Minow is responding to a recent Open Letter to him by the editors of TV Guide, in which they had called on the FCC to take action on several fronts, including the amount of violence on TV, the tendency of local stations to pre-empt educational shows being broadcast by the networks, and that programming decisions are being governed almost completely by the ratings.

In his response, Minow quite rightly points out the public's role in keeping TV responsible - after all, each station's license is reviewed by the FCC every three years, during which time they must show how they've served "the public interest."  If the public doesn't feel that its interests are being served, speak up!  He also talks about a study the commission is conducting regarding the influence of the ratings system and the role of talent agencies in casting decisions.

Minow also stresses how little of the TV band is actually being utilized - "85% of available television broadcasting frequencies are hardly used."  With the advent and continued development of UHF, the time will eventually come when "we will be able to provide every community with enough stations to permit all parts of the public to receive programs directed to their particular interests."  That's a very intriguing statement - in one sense it prefigures today's glut of specialized cable stations, especially when he references how some stations "will recognize the need to appeal to more limited markets and to special tastes."

However, Minow also makes the assumption - no, that's not quite right.  He doesn't assume that educational and cultural programming will thrive in this environment.  What he says is that after this model has come of age, "[t]here will be time to prove that television stations can make money by appealing to our highest capacities instead of our lowest."  In fact, it is here that he throws it back in the public's lap, saying that while the FCC can provide leadership in this area, "the best leadership rarely can take people where they do not want to go."

What's interesting about this is that it had only been four days earlier - undoubtedly after this issue had gone gone to press - that Minow had given his famous speech to the National Association of Broadcasters in which he excoriated television as "a vast wasteland."   So while we know Minow well, he was probably far less well-known to the public at the time of this article.  I personally think the timing of the article, coming so closely to the speech, is fascinating.  (I wonder which one was written first?)  It causes you to read the article more closely, to look for signs of it being something of a talisman, a sign of Minow's attitude toward the medium.  In the article he concludes by saying that television "has a responsibility to serve the Nation's needs as well as its whims" and a duty "to assist in preparing a generation for great decisions."  It's no stretch to connect the article to his speech, in which he states that when television is good, "nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse."

Television, Newton Minow concludes, "has a deep obligation to guide our country in fulfilling its future." And I suppose it a way it has.  For better - and for worse.

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Click to enlarge
The Emmys (or "Television 'Emmy' Awards" if you prefer) are Tuesday night on NBC, hosted by Dick Powell in Hollywood and Joey Bishop in New York.*  As is the case with Oscar telecasts of the time, this year's show is relatively late in the evening (9pm CT), and is scheduled for a compact running time of 90 minutes.  NBC was the broadcaster of record for the first few Emmy shows, but by the end of the 60s it will be rotated among the networks, a situation that exists (with a few exceptions) to this day.  You'll also notice that back then the Emmys were held in May, at the end of the TV season.  It's not until 1977, when they were delayed by a strike, that they moved to their current date at the start of the following season.

*Coincidentally, I'm sure, both Dick Powell and Joey Bishop were at the time starring in series on NBC.

The most noticeable thing about this year's program, viewed from today's perspective, is the list of nominees. For example, in the since-abandoned category "Program of the Year," the nominees include specials by Fred Astaire and Danny Kaye, a Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation of "Macbeth," NBC Sunday Showcase's "Sacco-Vanzetti Case," and - NBC's 1960 political convention coverage. Not something you'd be likely to see nowadays. (It didn't win, though - "Macbeth," starring Maurice Evans and Judith Anderson, which was the evening's big winner, took home the award.)

Other categories included "Outstanding Program Achievements" in humor, drama, variety, news, public affairs and education, and children's programming. The acting awards were for acting in a special, series (comedy or drama; there were no individual categories), and variety show. Then there were the usual directing and writing awards.

I think this, as much as anything, shows the evolution of television over the years. The preponderance of variety shows, the inclusion of public affairs (low-rated though they might be), even the number of nominees (five in programming categories, but only three in each acting category) - well, it was just a different time. As for the winners - you can find out about them here.

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Even without Hollywood Palace, I can't seem to shake the urge to see what Ed Sullivan's got going.  It's such a good way to find out what's hot right now.  And this week Ed has Metropolitan Opera star Richard Tucker, singer Teresa Brewer, Gene Barry, star of Bat Masterson, The Three Stooges, clarinetist Pete Fountain and his jazz group, comedians Larry Griswold and Adam Keefe, and the Idlers, Coast Guard vocal group.  And that would be a hard act for anyone to follow. 

Dinah Shore's got a pretty good lineup on Sunday as well, on NBC.  Her guests include jazzman Red Novaro, the great musical-comedy star Carol Channing, singer Jack Jones (who's still going strong today), and the NORAD Command Band.*  And opposite the Emmys, Garry Moore's CBS show (a repeat) has comedian Alan King, singer Denise Lor and calypso singer Steve DePass.  Of course, he also has a regular who went on to some variety show fame of her own - Carol Burnett.

*With all these military groups on TV, one wonders if this was a recruiting tool?

And an interesting note, apropos of nothing in particular.  Dave Garroway, host of the Today show, is on vacation for the week.  Subbing for Dave is none other than John Daly, host of What's My Line?  Daly was, until the previous year, VP of news for ABC, as well as the evening news anchor.  He did this while hosting What's My Line? for CBS.  And now he's appearing on Today on NBC.  What a guy!

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I’ve mentioned in the past how popular bowling was on TV of the early 60s, and this week is no exception, as Wide World of Sports devotes 2½ hours to the semifinals and finals of the National Invitational Bowling Championship from Paramus, New Jersey.  The winner takes home a whopping $15,000 first prize - by contrast, Gene Littler, winner of the U.S. Open golf championship the following month, only gets $14,000.  How times have changed.

This was actually replayed on ESPN Classic a few years ago, as you can see here.  You're going to have to watch it to see who wins, though!

The best sports story of the issue is Melvin Durslag's profile of Leo Durocher, who's left his job as color commentator on NBC's Game of the Week to return to baseball as a coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers.  It's widely rumored that Leo the Lip will succeed Walter Alston, but it doesn't happen.  Leo's next job managing will be with the Chicago Cubs, and his tenure will be remembered for the Cubbies' collapse in 1969, as the Amazin' New York Mets storm ahead late in the season on the way to their improbable championship.

Durocher has some interesting ideas on the business of baseball.  "My policy would be no televising of home games," he says.  "It doesn't build fans.  In most major league towns there already are enough fans.  Your problem is getting them to buy tickets."  TV doesn't help, says Durocher, "when you give them the games for nothing.  I would televise only a few road games.  You show home games and it will murder you."

That was the conventional thinking for a long, long time - even as recently as the early 90s.  Today, of course, almost every team televises almost every game, home and road.  It's not quite free, though - the vast majority of these games are on cable sports channels.  But Leo's right about one thing: the revenue streams that come to sports from rights fees, marketing fees, naming fees and the like, mean that nowadays the least important part of the equation is the fan.

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This week's cover story is on Lorne Greene, star of NBC's hit Bonanza.  I have to admit that Bonanza was not my favorite show growing up; my grandparents liked it, possibly because they'd been farmers once.*  Even despite my ongoing infatuation with classic TV, I've never warmed to it.  Maybe if I made a concerted effort to sit down and watch it - or maybe not.

*Of course, they liked Lawrence Welk, too.

I was never a big Lorne Greene fan back then, either, but I have come to appreciate him.  There was a dignity to his speech and his on-screen manner that we don't see as often today.  And it's not surprising; after all, Greene was the chief radio broadcaster for the CBC, becoming known as the "Voice of Canada," before relocating to the states in the early 50s and turning to acting.  His career on Broadway and was hit and miss - mostly miss - before he went to television and Bonanza.  The rest, as they say, is history.

It's amusing that Greene's three TV sons - Michael Landon, Pernell Roberts and Dan Blocker - "are apt to fall into the son role despite their best intentions," often asking Greene for advise of various kinds.  Greene had other series after leaving the Ponderosa - most infamously, perhaps, as Commander Adama in the original Battlestar Galactica - and was the longtime host of NBC's Macy's Parade coverage.  But it will always be as Pa Cartwright that Lorne Greene will be most remembered.

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Some histrionics here, wouldn't you say? What would Newton Minow think?

It's a good companion to this week's "sign of the times" article, a debate between Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice John Dethmers and NBC News Executive VP William McAndrew, on the question "should television be permitted to cover courtroom proceedings?"  Justice Dethmers says no - there are too many potential pitfalls.  The witnesses would be too aware of the camera.  Judges up for reelection might gain an unfair advantage from their on-air exposure.  Most of all, Dethmers is concerned that TV's insatiable appetite for ratings (and the revenues they produce) might cause them to focus on the more "sensational" aspects of trials, rather than the "mundane and prosaic monotony of learned discussion of legal and Constitutional questions." 

On the flip side, McAndrew feels that by televising trials, the broadcaster is fulfilling "part of his obligation to keep the public as fully informed as possible on as many vital matters as possible."  The public, he contends, "has a right to know what goes on in the courtroom" - it's the best guarantee of a fair trial.  He assures us that broadcasters don't "look to the courtroom for a show" but for news "that at times may have an important impact on history."  He also contents that many of the concerns about exposure would exist with or without the presence of the cameras.  Act against them, he urges the Bar Association, rather than blaming TV.

We know how the argument ultimately ends, but one thing's for sure: I doubt that either of these men - nor Newton Minow, for that matter - could possibly have foreseen how television would develop, that one of those dedicated stations of which Minow speaks would wind up broadcasting nothing but courtroom trials, and that the coverage would be both a public service and a sensational circus, and that the very news channels that in 1961 might have been seen as a dream come true would, by 2013, be far closer to the vast wasteland. TV  

May 11, 2018

Around the dial

First things first: the terrific podcast Eventually Supertrain, which is even more terrific now that yours truly is guesting on episode 45. I'll follow Dan's lead in withholding the name of the series we're reviewing over the next little while, but let me take this opportunity first to thank Dan (aka Some Polish American Guy) for inviting me to join him; you'd be hard-pressed to find a nicer, more gracious partner, and he's a knowledgeable aficionado of classic television to boot! I hope you enjoy listening to it as we enjoy doing it; it's a lot of fun.

Our Twilight Zone fix this week comes from Realweegiemidget Reviews, looking at the fabulous Ida Lupino in the season one episode "The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine," which as Gill points out is as much a commentary on the difficulties facing older actresses as it is a trip into dimension of imagination.

At bare-bones e-zine, Jack's latest Hitchcock Project entry is Stanley Ellin's story, "The Specialty of the House," which appeared on the fifth season of Hitchcock. Robert Morley leads a terrific cast; as always, Jack's magic is in following the journey of this story from page to screen and showing the changes that take place on the way.

I remember watching The Magician when I grew up; part of that was because I was trapped into watching it courtesy of the one TV station in The World's Worst Town™, but partly because I had fond memories of Bill Bixby, probably from My Favorite Martian. Is The Magician worth purchasing on DVD? Go to Comfort TV, where David gives you the answer.

Kliph Nesteroff is back at Classic Television Showbiz with part one of an interview with William Schallert, one of the most beloved and best-known television character actor. It's been too long since we've had one of these in-depth interviews; they're a real pleasure to read.

A really interesting piece from Jodie at Garroway at Large, talking about what it's like to write a book. It's a fascinating look at the process - the historian's craft, as she says - with links to some extremely valuable resources for anyone doing research on a project. I wish I'd read this before I started writing!

Martin Grams looks a 1961 ABC prime-time cartoon that was, in essence, the animated version of Amos 'n' Andy: Calvin and the Colonel, created by Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, and detailed in Kevin Scott Collier's new book of the same title.

Television's New Frontier: the 1930s moves into 1961, a year that contains the second half of season three of Rawhide, and the first half of season four. It was a time of change for the popular Western, both on-camera and behind-the-scenes.

Finally, as I'll be explaining in tomorrow's piece, I'm taking a couple of weeks off from new blogging. That doesn't mean you'll be without content; I'll have encore presentations from two TV Guides (along with brand-new program listings for those Mondays!), and best-of pieces on Wednesdays and Fridays. Then, it will be as if I'd never gone anywhere. TV  

May 9, 2018

Making fun of TV, successfully

If there's ever been a better satirist than Stan Freberg, I don't know who it might be. That isn't to say that he's the best, just that there's nobody better.

I thought we might quickly look at a couple of Freberg's greatest television satires (of which there are many). The first is his famous "St. George and the Dragonet" spoof of Dragnet. I can't remember if I've written about that here, although I have a paragraph about it in my new book. It is, at any rate, hilarious (as well as the true source of the "Just the facts, ma'am" quote that many people mistakenly think was actually on Dragnet).

The second is, I think, less well-known - I just heard it for the first time this last weekend - but no less funny. It's Freberg's take on Lawrence Welk, called "Wun'erful, Wun'erful!" It's satire with a real edge; the great arranger Billy May, who worked with Freberg regularly and despised Welk's sound, does a great job of mimicking it, working with an orchestra of big band veterans and jazzmen who also despised Welk.

It's said that Lawrence disliked this spoof intensely and I can see why, which is why I loved it. I suspect you may feel the same way. TV  

May 7, 2018

What's on TV? Friday, May 8, 1970

I can assure you I didn't choose this date simply because it was my 10th birthday. No, I actually go to some effort in picking days of the week that we haven't seen recently. In the last few months, we've looked at Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, even Thursdays in the 1969-70 season, which leaves us Friday. The listings are from the Minnesota State Edition.

You'll notice in the picture above that ABC has The Ghost and Mrs. Muir scheduled for 7:30 p.m., but this would have been preempted for the seventh game of the NBA finals, which we read about on Saturday. Coverage started at 6:30 p.m. CT, and I figured it would probably have run until about 9:00 p.m. including the trophy presentation; since Love, American Style was scheduled to run from 9:00 to 10:00, I took the liberty of assuming ABC would have left that in place rather than borrowing one of their shows from earlier in the evening. (In case you're interested, the programs that were preempted in favor of basketball were The Flying Nun, The Brady Bunch, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, and an ABC news special on the American handyman.)

One last sports note: WDSM, Channel 6 in Duluth, is shown as joining the Twins-Indians game in progress, about five minutes late. If that's really true, they probably only missed a few batters. Today, the way they play the game, after five minutes the lead-off man is probably still at bat.

May 5, 2018

This week in TV Guide: May 2, 1970

This week I thought we'd start off with something a little different. For the first time, television now has three late night network talk shows, not to mention others that run in syndication. There's Merv Griffin on CBS (his 2½ year interlude between syndication runs), Dick Cavett on ABC, (having previously hosted a daytime show for them), and of course the King of the Hill, Johnny Carson, starting his eighth season on NBC. And for good measure, David Frost has joined the battle as well, with his syndicated program following Johnny on KSTP. So, just for the fun of it, let's see what each of them has to offer throughout the entire week, and afterwards figure out what, if anything, the guest lineup tells us.

A note before we begin: KSTP does not air Frost on Monday nights, opting instead for a rerun of The Henry Wolf Show (another talk show that usually airs over the weekend), so we'll substitute the Sunday night Frost airing on Monday night. Ready?

  • Merv: New York Times drama critic Clive Barnes, Little Richard and comedian Jonathan Moore.
  • Johnny: Novelist Gore Vidal, Tony Randall, pianist Peter Nero and comic Charlie Callas.
  • Dick: Debbie Reynolds (and other guests).
  • David: Jackie Gleason (for the entire program).

  • Merv: Jimmie Rodgers, Eloise Laws, and actress Bette Midler.
  • Johnny: Former U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers and actor Kenneth Nelson ("Boys in the Band").
  • Dick: Singer John Davidson and comedian Robert Klein.
  • David: Theodore Bikel and Stevie Wonder.

  • Merv: Singer-composer John Denver, fitness expert Debbie Drake and actresss Louisa Moritz.
  • Johnny: Jack Benny, Roberta Peters and Argosy editor Milton Machlin.
  • Dick: Hugh Hefner, satirist Jonathan Miller and sex education proponent Mary Calderone.
  • David: Black militant Stokely Carmichael, National Theater of the Deaf members William Rhys and Bernard Bragg, and singer Vivian Reed.

  • Merv: Jane Morgan, Sarah Vaughan, director Jacques Levy ("Oh! Calcutta!") and comedian Dick Capri.
  • Johnny: Lord Charles Spencer Churchill, nephew of Sir Winston Churchill (and other guests).
  • Dick:  Dr. Christiaan Barnard and horticulturist Nelson Koons.
  • David: Hugh Hefner and model-actress Barbara Benton, leading New York City Ballet dancer Jacques D'Ambois and singer Billy Barnes.

  • Merv: Imogene Coca, Jack Douglas and Reiko, singer Kaye Hart, poet Brother Theodore and comedienne Marcia Wallace.
  • Johnny: Actress Melba Moore (and other guests).
  • Dick: Representative Shirley Chisholm (D-NY) (and other guests).
  • David: Hugh Downs, photographer Yousef Karsh, New York City Opera soprano Beverly Sills and singer Gerri Granger.

So what do you think? One of the things that strikes me immediately is the number of guests you'd never see on a talk show today: opera singers (Roberta Peters and Beverly Sills), world-famous photographers (Yousef Karsh) and heart transplant surgeons (Dr. Christiaan Barnard), the drama critic of the Times (Clive Barnes), authors (Gore Vidal) and political activists. Yes, I know Kimmel and particularly Colbert feature politicians, but I often have the feeling they're doing so to reinforce their own ideological opinions, as opposed to featuring provocative guests discussing the issues of the day.

That last category of guest is one that appealed to Merv Griffin, but I have the feeling from some of the things he's said that CBS was not keen on cultivating controversial guests, which leaves him with a more bland lineup than he'd otherwise like. Both Cavett and Carson offer a pretty good mix of celebrity and serious, and Frost actually has the most interesting lineup of the week on Friday night.

I miss these talk shows. Even the least of them has an erudition that's completely missing from today's programs. Obviously many of them have something to plug (why else would Hugh Hefner be on two shows in two nights?), but even if that's the case, they're still interesting. I think that genie's out of the bottle, though, never to come back. I can't even think of who would host a show like that today.

Oh, one other thing: "Barbara" Benton? Was that the first and last time she was ever referred to that way?

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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. 

Back in the day, "Mister Rogers" was all oneword - Misterogers. I don't know why that was the case, and I don't know why it eventualy changed, but Misterogers it was back in 1963 on CBC, and Misterogers' Neighborhood it is in Cleveland Amory's review this week.

There's really no suspense here; Amory begins his review with a quote from Fred Rogers' testimony to Congress regarding funding for public television - we saw that last week, remember? There's an excerpt from that testimony that I want to repeat here, because I think it explains a lot about the world in which we live. "If programmers consistently present human life as something of little value, the authority as someone to be feared, the rich as people to steal from, and children as little adults whose main objective in life is to outwit their parents, then all this becomes part of our American family tradition." They do, and it has, and we can see with our own eyes what good has come from that.

What Amory likes most about Mister Rogers - I'm sorry, I can't write it as one word - is that "he doesn't either play up to children or talk down to them. And above all, he doesn't put them down." He's not, Amory writes, the typical kids' show host whipping his audience into a sugar-fueled insanity: "Your child watches as you watch, happy or sad, but controlled." Granted, not everything he does will be to everyone's liking, but most are. Quoting one of his songs about what to do when it doesn't seem as if you can't do anything right, Cleve concludes thus: "When you feel like that, particularly about television, we suggest that you watch this show." Whether one word or two, there's no doubt that Fred Rogers was a class act.

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No "Sullivan vs. The Palace" this week, for a simple reason: no more Palace. The show wrapped up in February; in its time period, ABC is showing reruns of Jimmy Durante Presents the Lennon Sisters. Now, as I've said in the past, I like Durante, who has the ability to steal almost every scene in every movie and show he's ever appeared in. I also have nothing against the Lennons, although I'll admit that they're not necessarily my type. But whoever green-lighted this idea - well, I don't know what kind of a future they had at ABC.

This week the show's special guests are Leslie Uggams, Vic Damone and Arte Johnson joining Jimmy and the Lennons in a salute to Paris. It must not be everyone's cup of tea though; of the four ABC affiliates in the Minnesota State Edition, only two of them air the program. KMSP, the Twin Cities station with a history of moving The Palace around anyway, has the war movie 633 Squadron, with Cliff Robertson, George Chakiris and Maria Perschy. KAUS, the ABC affiliate in Austin, goes even darker with Ship of Fools, the Oscar-nominated adaptation of Katherine Anne Porter's Pulitzer winner, with Oskar Werner Simone Signoret, Vivien Leigh, Lee Marvin, Jose Ferrer and Michael Dunn, among others. I mean, how bad do the ratings have to be when you'd schedule Ship of Fools, one of the most existential, allegorical movies of the 1960s, instead of a lightweight variety show? Not exactly your average Saturday evening fare.

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Let's see, what else can we write about this week? Saturday afternoon it's the 96th Run for the Roses, the Kentucky Derby (4:00 p.m. CT, CBS), with Dust Commander taking the win. According to the always-reliable Wikipedia (and why should we doubt it?), the race is best-known for an article written about it, "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved," by none other than Hunter S. Thompson, which is considered the first example of gonzo journalism. I can believe it. There's an excellent episode of Hallmark Hall of Fame on Saturday evening (6:30 p.m., NBC), the Emmy- and Peabody-winning "Teacher, Teacher" with David McCallum as an alcoholic tutor trying to rebuild his life, Billy Schulman as the mentally-retarded student he's brought in to help, and Ozzie Davis as the handyman who becomes something of a role model for each of them.

The Grammys have yet to become a television spectacular; instead, Thursday night brings us The Best on Record (9:00 p.m., NBC), a one-hour special with recorded performances by winners and nominees, plus a live announcement of the Record of the Year. The nominees for Record of the Year, in case you're interested, are "Spinning Wheel" by Blood, Sweat & Tears; "A Boy Named Sue" by Johnny Cash; "Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In" by the 5th Dimension; "Is That All There Is?" by Peggy Lee; and "Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet" by Henry Mancini. I know who the winner is, but this time I'm not doing your work for you; it's easily found out.

Friday night is the seventh and final game of the NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks, preempting regular ABC programming. (TV Guide guesses the game will probably start at 6:30 p.m.) The game is famous for the dramatic game-time appearance of Willis Reed, the Knicks' MVP, who had been injured earlier in the series and was uncertain for Game 7. Reed's appearance is one of the great moments in NBA history, with ABC announcers Chris Schenkel and Jack Twyman bringing the scene to viewers as it happens. Inspired by their leader, the Knicks go on to shred Los Angeles 113-99 to win their first NBA title.

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We should really do something topical to end the week, so we'll look at Judith Jobin's article "The Sex Battle Takes on a New Meaning," which details the fight between parent groups against a weekly sex-ed program called A Time of Your Life. The highlight - or lowlight, depending on how you look at it - is, fittingly, the 13th episode, "A New Life," in which the hostess uses life-size, anatomically-detailed diagrams of boys and girls, before giving a "straightforward" verbal description of sexual intercourse (no diagrams) and the feelings generated by it.

I'm not going to spend much more time going through this, because the arguments are familiar - so familiar, in fact, that we still hear them being debated today. The real importance of this, it seems to me, is not sex per se, but the question of how much responsibility parents have for teaching their children and deciding what others will teach them, and how much authority the state has to make those decisions on behalf of the child as an individual, and society collectively. Tangentially, it also raises the question as to what happens with unintended consequences, i.e. sex education not merely teaching children about reproduction, but then encouraging that very behavior. It's not an argument I want to start here; suffice it to say that it has far-reaching implications, dealing with more than just sex. Not surprisingly, it was - and is - an issue that's been played out, many times, on TV. An electronic mirror reflecting our times, indeed. TV