July 7, 2018

This week in TV Guide: July 9, 1960

Believe it or not, part one: there once was a time when it was your duty to watch the quadrennial political conventions on TV. At least that’s according to this week’s As We See It, in which Merrill Panitt reiterates the message that Americans owe it to both themselves and the nation to become well-informed in advance of the 1960 presidential campaign. "At the most important level, watching the conventions bears ultimately on our survival as a Nation. To turn the conventions off, or to spin the dial seeking to avoid them, is to play electronic Russian roulette." And brother, he means Russian.

We’re at an interesting point in both American history and the history of television. The medium has already made a significant impact in the way Americans respond to politics—witness the outpouring of support for then-vice presidential candidate Richard Nixon following the Checkers Speech in 1952. And it was their coverage of the conventions in 1956 that helped make Chet Huntley and David Brinkley household names. As John Kennedy points out in his 1959 TV Guide article that TV enables candidates to speak to, what? Twenty million people on TV in the same amount of time and effort it takes to give a speech to 2,000 people in person?

By 1960 television is fully maturing as a participant in the political process. Panitt says, "Watching the conventions and thus participating in our democratic process is one step along the road to a surer, stronger, more purposeful America." The changeover won’t be complete; Robert Drew’s fascinating documentary Primary gives us a look at the grass-roots politicking that Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey engaged in during the campaign for the Wisconsin primary that year, and glad-handing would remain an essential part of presidential campaigns for decades.

But I think that the people at TV Guide understand what the stakes are like, for both nation and citizens. We can look back at Erwin Canham's article urging television executives to use their incredible platform to educate Americans, to make them both better citizens and better-informed citizens for the cold war struggle that would continue throughout the decade. Television is doing its part, presenting vast amounts of coverage not only of the party conventions themselves, but also the platform debates and other behind-the-scenes maneuvering (guaranteed, no doubt, to obscure from site the even-more-behind-the-scenes maneuvering.

This week it’s the Democrats, meeting at the Sports Arena in Los Angeles, and it’s anything but cut-and-dried. The usual suspects are there to provide coverage: Huntley and Brinkley for NBC, Walter Cronkite for CBS, and John Daly for ABC. The highlight is a debate between JFK, the frontrunner, and late challenger Lyndon Johnson, held on July 12 before the Massachusetts and Texas delegations, in which Kennedy easily disarms Johnson’s candidacy with a display of the witty and media-savvy style that will serve him so well in his more formal debates with Richard Nixon. On Wednesday, the nominating speech for 1952 and 1956 nominee Adlai Stevenson (who never explicitly announced his candidacy but was essentially running a no-campaign campaign) touches off a 20-minute demonstration (followed by an additional 15 minutes after Eleanor Roosevelt’s seconding speech), but in the end, it makes no difference. It isn’t until Wyoming that Kennedy is put over the top, but on Friday night at the Los Angeles Coliseum, he’s the one delivering the acceptance speech as the Democratic nominee, along with his surprise running mate, LBJ: a moment which, in the pantheon of history, will take years to play out, in ways that couldn’t have been foreseen at the time.

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Believe it or not, part two: there used to be two baseball All-Star Games, and this year NBC is carrying them both—Monday afternoon at 1:45 p.m. CT from Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium, and Wednesday afternoon at 11:45 a.m. from Yankee Stadium in New York.

The two-game format started in 1959, in order to increase the money going to the players’ pension fund, and that year—as would be the case in 1961 and 62, the games were played about three weeks apart. Ah, but in 1960, those games took place in the same week. There were no red carpet shows, no home run hitting contests, none of the hype that surrounds today’s game: the sole attraction was the only instance of interleague play prior to the World Series. Because of the short timeframe involved, the rosters were expanded from 25 to 30 players (to allow for additional pitchers), but otherwise the squads and managers were the same. It was, many said, a dilution of the product—and the crowd of just over 38,000 that saw Wednesday’s game in 67,000-seat Yankee Stadium would seem to bear that out. After 1962, with an agreement in place to increase contributions to the pension fund, the Midsummer Classic returns to being a single-game affair. And the result of our two 1960 games? A sweep for the National League, winning the first game 5-3, the second 6-2.

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Let's see what else we've got this week; you're not going to find much other than politics during the week, but there's still the weekend. On Saturday at 10:30, WCCO has the Miss Universe 1960 pageant, live from Miami Beach.* George deWitt, host of Name that Tune, is the emcee on stage, while Arthur Godfrey is the television host, aided by Charles Collingwood (!) and Jayne Meadows. The more I read about this, the more interesting it gets; says here that the Miss U.S.A. selection was only two days before, with the winner (Miss Utah, Linda Bement) proceeding directly to compete the next night in the first of two nights at Miss Universe. Not quite like today, where Miss Universe would be an event in and of itself, but then, six states didn't even send representatives. Anyway, by the time midnight rolls around, we're ready to crown the new Miss Universe, and she's: Miss U.S.A., Linda Bement! She just died earlier this year, aged 76.

*Ordinarily I'd say that this would be 11:30 p.m. Eastern Time, but with Daylight Savings Time screwing everyone up, who knows what time it was? Nevertheless, even midnight seems to be a very late time for a beauty pageant to end. By the way, this is the first time the Miss Universe pageant is telecast nationally.

If you want to stay up late on Saturday, you could instead choose David Susskind's infamous Open End, which starts at 10:30 p.m. on KMSP and runs - well, runs until it's over. David's panel tonight is a roundtable of international newspapermen, with UPI correspondent Merriman Smith (later to win fame for his coverage of JFK in Dallas), Bob Considine from the Hearst newspapers, Max Freedman from The Guardian in Manchester, England, Indian reporter Krishna Balarman, and Count Adalbert de Segozac from France.

Convention previews and candidate profiles dominate Sunday's programming, but there is a program on at 3:30 p.m. on WCCO Reports regarding the controversy surrounding the Twin Cities' exchange of their two AAA minor league teams, the St. Paul Saints and Minneapolis Millers, in return for a major league team. The Twin Cities already failed in an effort to lure the New York Giants before they moved to San Francisco, but they're going to succeed at the end of the 1960 season in convincing the Washington Senators to become the Minnesota Twins. There were several franchise moves in baseball during the decade of the 1950s, and it's interesting to think that many people preferred their two long-time minor league teams (and the chance to see rising stars; Willie Mays and Ted Williams both played here before moving up) to a mediocre major league team. Which is what we have here today, two World Series championships notwithstanding.

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A couple of items from the TV Teletype: Danny Kaye's going to do his first TV special, preempting Ed Sullivan on CBS October 30. In three years, he'll make the move permanent, lasting four seasons on CBS. But not on Sunday; he wasn't foolish enough to go up against Bonanza. Let Judy Garland have that timeslot.

There's a report that Jack Webb is putting together a golf series of 39 half-hour episodes. I wonder what kind of program that would have been? Friday on the golf course, telling his caddy, "just the four-iron"?

Anthony George and Doug McClure will be co-stars of the new CBS detective series Checkmate, to be produced by Jack Benny's production company. Before the series starts, they'll be joined by Sebastian Cabot. I've seen a few episodes; harmless enough, but not enough Cabot.

Ernie Kovacs' game/comedy show, Take a Good Look, has been renewed by ABC. It's a funny show, but not really what you'd call a game show; Edie Adams, Kovacs' wife, says that he used the skits that comprised the "quiz" part of the show as a way to get ideas for his famous specials.

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Finally—and there's probably no better way to end this week's segment—a fashion show, which we haven't had for awhile. This week, actresses Lola Albright, Leslie Parrish, Peggy Connolly, and Joanne Dru model that split skirt known as the culotte.

Almost makes it worth coming back this week, doesn't it?  TV  

1 comment:

  1. "It was once a duty to watch the political conventions"?

    Back in 1960, more people watched the conventions than they do now for two reasons:

    (1) In most areas, there were at most three commercial channels. The Twin Cities were one of only a handful of markets with more than three commercial stations. It was either watch the conventions or not watch TV.

    (2) But the major reason that political conventions had such huge ratings through the 1960's was that unless an incumbent President was running for re-election, candidates seldom arrived at the convention within enough pledged delegates to have mathematically clinched their party's nomination. The convention actually determined the nominee.

    People watched because there was intrigue as to who would make deals with whom to try to get enough delegates to become the nominee.

    During the 1960 Democratic convention, Huntley and Brinkley, Walter Cronkite, and John Charles Daly kept updating the huge viewing audience as to what was really going on.

    Today, a candidate usually has clinched the nomination long before the primary season ends.

    In fact, in 2020, I could see a scenario where only one session of a political convention is in prime-time; The Thursday-night finale where the Presidential and Vice-Presidential nominees make their acceptance speeches.

    The other sessions could very well be in the afternoon. It may also be the only way that the broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) might want to show any convention session other than the acceptance speeches of the nominees on the final night.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!