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.

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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).

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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?

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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.

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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  


  1. Message (bottle optional) for Mitchell:

    Just back from listening to Eventually Supertrain, with reference to the Bourbon Street Beat, and your contribution therein.
    FYI, this is the story of "W. Hermanos", greatly condensed:

    Circa 1960, the Writers Guild of America (West) called a strike against the film studios, throwing a block against all feature and TV productions.

    The studios could still film scripts they already had, but couldn't order up new ones.
    Wanner Bros. had a scad of TV shows in production at the time (about a third of ABC's prime time lineup, as I recall), which were eating up material at a considerable rate.
    So Jack Warner and his son-in-law Wm. T. Orr came up with this solution:
    They would simply take scripts from other series that they had on the air, and rewrite them into episodes for the other series they had.
    Genre didn't matter; Westerns became detective shows, and vice versa.
    There's a term in the trade for this: haircutting, as in "giving this script a haircut".
    The difference here was that in many cases, the original scriptwriters were cut out of getting paid royalties for their scripts (this is part of a much longer history Warners had of bilking writers).
    The doctored scripts were credited to the mythical "W. Hermanos", in order to aid in Warner Bros's fiscal duplicity.
    It took several more "job actions" by the WGA-W to end this particular practice; Haircutting still happened, but the original writers got credit (and money) when it did.

    By the way, I'm putting this here because Google's mail has made itself unavailable to me, following my computer replacement of a few weeks back.
    To get in here, I have to use the Name/URL option, which Eventually Supertrain doesn't have, thereby cutting me off from putting the comment there.
    Footnote: if John from Cult TV Blog and David Hofstede from Comfort TV should happen to see this - the same applies to your sites (among too many others). Unless any of you decide to add the Name/URL option to your comment area, I can't comment to you any more.
    Before you make helpful suggestions to me, be advised:
    I've spent much of the last few days trying to re-enter the Google world, to no avail: Because (among other things) I don't have text messaging, and my only phone has a rotary dial, and I generally don't speak or read Technoslavian, and several other things I can't call to mind just now, I am currently stuck with a Google account that I can't activate.
    This leaves me with Name/URL - which I will attempt right now.
    Apologies for my desperation.

  2. Along the lines of Landau being a "special guest star" on MI, Jonathan Harris was billed as "Special Guest Star" for every episode of LOST IN SPACE, which I think implies that he was never on contract with this series for its whole time in production.

    1. I understood it was because he had become the breakout performer on the show, but couldn't get a more conventional improvement in billing because of the other cast members's contracts.

    2. What happened with Jonathan Harris on Lost In Space was an early example of what came to be called "box billing" in movies: the actor was too well-known to be lumped in with a bunch of supporting actors.

      Nowadays, the big name guy usually gets "and Older Star" at the end of the list; if there's two such big names, this becomes "with Older Star and Older Star", with accompanying extra compensation.

      For the record, I believe Jonathan Harris was contracted to Lost in Space from Day One, with his paycheck reflecting his billing status; you might recall that later on, Kurt Kasznar had a similar deal on Land Of The Giants, also for Irwin Allen.

  3. I was 5, 6 years old when Wild Wild West originally aired and while I'm sure many kids my age were a fan of James West, I was always an Artemus Gordon fan. And seeing that he'd appeared on that Blake Edwards show "Mr. Lucky" may answer the question why Ross was cast as the villain, Baron Rolfe Von Stuppe in the movie "The Great Race" (another favorite of mine). Seeing Artie as the villain was a bit tough for me to accept. Of cours I WAS a little kid...


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!