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?

◊ ◊ ◊

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.

◊ ◊ ◊

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.

◊ ◊ ◊

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.

◊ ◊ ◊

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  


  1. Monday, May 4, 1970 will be forever remembered for the Kent State shootings.

    1. I seem to recall that there were some network news bulletins that afternoon (May 4th, 1970), interrupting soap operas.

      The first bulletins reported that there was a fatal shooting; I recall that an hour or two later, programs were interrupted again for some film footage of the scene, from what the networks were able to shoot.

      Many college graduations were cancelled; because there were so many college students in Boston, there was even brief talk that evening of moving the Boston Bruins' home games in that week's Stanley Cup Finals to another city (possibly even playing the entire series in St. Louis).

      But the decision was made to play Games 3 and 4 in Boston as scheduled.

      There were no problems with crowds or violence, either at the games or at the victory parade in downtown Boston the day after Boston wrapped-up the championship (Bobby Orr's now-legendary overtime goal won Game 4 and the Stanley Cup), nor at the few college graduations in the Boston area that did get held.

  2. Here and/or There:

    - This being 1970, David Frost's show was on the bicycle: what you saw in Minn-StP had probably been recorded anywhere from one to three weeks (or more) ahead of time.
    Also, David Frost was a full-time transatlantic commuter at this point; his habit was to tape many shows (on both sides of the Atlantic) and bank them for use over the long term.
    Also also, KSTP's scheduling that you described means that the Frost show that aired on Sunday night would have aired under normal scheduling on the previous Friday; this in its turn would put the other Frost shows that week on a one-day delay - which means that Hugh Hefner's twofer with Cavett and Frost should have aired the same night.
    ... Which of course it didn't: Cavett's ABC show was 'day-and-date', which is the basic system used today with the current incumbents.

    - But this was supposed to be about the guest bookings then and now, wasn't it?
    Just back from a double-check at the reference shelf: Carson was still based in New York at this point, meaning that all four of the shows in question were taping 90 minutes a night, usually at the same hour (around 6pm Eastern Time), and sharply competitive for guests to fill all that time.
    Loking over the lists, I note that Merv Griffin was sticking with his old Westinghouse family of 'regulars': Jack Douglas and his wife REiko, whom he'd inherited from Jack Paar; also singer Jane Morgan, who was an old friend fro his Big Band days; and especially Brother Theodore, who was what would nowadays be called a "performance artist" - his 'act' was pretty much beyond description; you have to see it for yourself (and I'm not sure if you can any more ...).
    Of Frost's guests, the most interesting one (to me, anyway) would be Billy Barnes, who was far more than a 'singer'.
    During this period, Billy Barnes was the 'special musical material' man on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In: all the original songs sung by the cast were his compositions. Additionally, you saw Billy Barnes on camera, playing piano accompaniment for everything from JoAnne Worley's singing to Goldie Hawn's ballet turns - and everything else in between.
    And when he wasn't doing all that, Billy Barnes was staging his Revues in Hollywood, wherein he made many 'discoveries' who enjoyed long careers in all media (oh, just look him up - why do I have to do everything?).

    - Noting that Dick Cavett has John Davidson, who had done a summer replacement show for ABC the previous year; he'd gone to London to do the show for Sir Lew Grade, who was trying to sell the French chanteuse Mireille Mathieu and a daffy blonde comedienne named Aimi Macdonald in the USA (0 for 2). Apparently Davidson still had some contract left to burn off with ABC, which is why he was doing Cavett ...
    Side note: next time you're at YouTube, check out what John Davidson's doing lately (no spoilers - this you have to see for yourself ...).

    - Off-topic, sort of:
    Yesterday, I took delivery of a book called The Big Life Of A Little Man: Michael Dunn Remembered, by Sherry Kelly.
    Ms. Kelly was a cousin of Michael Dunn - or rather of Gary Miller, the name he was born with. Throughout the book, she refers to him as Gary (when talking about his family life) and as Michael (when talking about his career), going back and forth; it takes some getting used to ...
    This book was a family project for Sherry Kelly, who got it published in 2009, by a small press in Oklahoma (Dunn's home state). Most likely, it was a short press run, and getting a copy would prove costly - as it did for me (sometimes, my curiosity gets the better of my fiscal sense).
    Nonetheless, I'm glad I got the book, brief as it is (about 150 pages, plus notes), because Gary Miller/Michael Dunn was a fascinating character - in all senses of the word.
    Well, there it is - and after all, you brought it up, however indirectly ...

  3. Carson having Gary Powers on was likely tied to the forthcoming publication of "Operation Overflight," Powers' memoir about the U-2 incident. By May 1970 he had given talks about the subject in various locales and it had been excerpted in a few publications, and his book apparently irked the CIA enough to cost Powers his job as a Lockheed test pilot. Powers ended up as a helicopter pilot for KNBC in Los Angeles, and it was in that role he was killed in a 1977 crash.

    One more factor in why Carson seems so different: In 1970 Carson was still originating from New York. The program forever changed when he moved to California, and it lost something in the move.

    The last network-level talk show host I can recall who would have guests on just to engage in conversation and talk about ideas was Tom Snyder on "The Late Late Show" in the mid-'90s. Any time he'd have somebody on like Ray Bradbury, it was a treat. If there was anything to plug, they'd do it quickly, and then they'd just settle in and talk, and it was...beautiful. No talking points, no agenda, nothing but ideas being explored for the enjoyment of exploring ideas. If that kind of thing is happening now, I sure can't find it, not in this era of "I'm on this show because I'm trying to sell this book/product/movie/album/TV show/case of Watkins liniments/you name it." And I think with that kind of loss, we're diminished somehow.

  4. I would have loved to see that Jackie Gleason interview with Frost, hopefully they brought up his great performance in The Hustler.

  5. The actual play-by-play in the clip of Game 7 in the 1970 NBA Finals was the local New York radio broadcast, called by Marv Albert.

  6. Hockey's 1970 Stanley Cup Finals were also that week (with Game 1 in St. Louis Sunday afternoon, Game 2 in St. Louis Tuesday night, and Game 3 in Boston on Thursday night).

    CBS did carry Game 1 (and would carry Game 4 the following Sunday afternoon), but the only U.S. cities that would get to see Games 2 and 3 were Boston (since the Boston Bruins were playing; broadcast there by WSBK), St. Louis (since the St. Louis Blues were playing, and broadcast there by KLPR) and areas near the Canadian border like Buffalo and Detroit, which were within range of Canada's CBC Television, which carried all four games.

  7. The Twin Cities were one of the few places where David Frost ran late at night.

    Some of the Metromedia independents ran him in prime-time, but most stations running his 1969-72 talk/variety show did so in late-afternoon, often leading into the early-evening local news.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!