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.
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.
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.