August 25, 2018

This week in TV Guide: August 29, 1970

Do you think of Green Acres as being from the 1960s or the 1970s? An easy answer, I guess; it ran from 1965 to 1971, which puts it 75 percent in the '60s. I suppose that's why I'm always a little startled when I see a show like this in a TV Guide issue from the '70s, even though we're only eight months into the decade. I don't know about you, but for me it's always been as if a switch was thrown at 11:59:59 on December 31, 1969. Once the '70s started, everything was different. This can't be nostalgia speaking either, because I distinctly remember having this feeling on New Year's Eve 1969, watching a "Decade in Review" feature on the Channel 4 news, that everything was going to be different when 1970 started. Granted, it was the first decade change I'd lived through; I'd only ever known the '60s,and most of those years I didn't know very well. I wouldn't expect anyone else to have that feeling; it's so quirky that I'm sure it's just me.

The Smothers Brothers are another example; despite the fact their career has covered probably six decades, they seem intractably connected to the '60s. They're back on TV in 1970, this time on ABC (Wednesday, 10:00 p.m. ET) in a milder version of their CBS series; their guests aren't Pete Seeger and The Doors, but Richard Pryor, Jennifer Warren, and Procol Harum. Petticoat Junction still runs Saturday nights, with reruns of its final season. It's a victim of CBS's Rural Purge, as will be Green Acres and others, but like them it seems to be a show from a different era, a different time. Mitch Miller is on WOR Saturday evening at 7:00 p.m., in what I suspect are reruns of the NBC series. There are other series scattered through the week, syndicated reruns; Peyton Place, Make Room for Daddy, Mr. Ed, Abbott & Costello. They wouldn't be out of place on MeTV or Antenna today, and yet they don't seem to belong in the 1970s; it's been too recent, not enough water under the bridge yet.

Maybe we can think of this as a transition year, a season that starts in the '60s and ends in the '70s, and while the first few years of the '70s are really just an extension of the '60s, it's still, as I said at the outset, strange to see shows like these in a TV Guide from 1970. More typical of the '70s are the variety shows of Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck—those are the shows I expect to see in an issue like this. But then, as we all know, things are changing all the time.

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As proof, the world of sports offers us something that surely ranks as one of those "back in the day" times. On Saturday and Sunday afternoons, ABC presents third and final round coverage of the "richest event in PGA [golf] history," the first Dow Jones Open, from the Upper Montclair Country Club in Clifton, New Jersey. The purse for the Dow Jones is $300,000, with the winner receiving a staggering $60,000. To put that in a bit of perspective, according to the close-up, "the third prize—$21,300—tops first-place money in 21 of the 48 PGA tournaments."

To put that in a little more perspective, last week's PGA event, the Wyndham Championship, offered a total purse of $6 million, with the winner taking home a cool $1,080,000. (In fact, if you'd finished in 24th place at the Wyndham, you'd have made $57,600—almost as much as the winner of the Dow Jones.) And to put that in perspective, the total purse for all of the PGA events in 1970 was $5.5 million. The leading money winner, Lee Trevino, made a shade over $157,000; last year's leading money winner, Justin Thomas, took home $9.9 million, less taxes. I know, inflation and all that, but it's still extraordinary how prize money has risen in golf over the years. As recently as 1987, the golfer of the year, Curtis Strange, won about $925,000; in 20 years, it's risen tenfold.

In case you're wondering, Bobby Nichols (left) won the 1970 Dow Jones Open, finishing at -12 to edge out Labron Harris and Dan Sikes, and while he wasn't exactly a Palmer or Nicklaus (they'd already fallen out of contention by the final round), Nichols did win the PGA Championship in 1964 and was always a factor in big tournaments. Nichols was not only the first, but the only winner of the Dow Jones Open. I wonder why the tournament only lasted the one year? Could be because, according to Sports Illustrated, Dow Jones dropped a cool half million in the process.

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As you know if you've been reading this feature for any length of time, I have a particular affinity for Judith Crist, TV Guide's movie critic, who skewers movies with such panache and gusto that she feels it necessary this week to write that, yes, she does indeed love the movies. "Anyone who is a movie critic can't 'hate' movies," Crist points out. "He has, in fact, not merely to 'like' movies but to love them." Why bother to criticize them in the first place if you don't care? And considering that she sees "nearly all of the more than 400 new films that open annually" in New York, you'd better believe that she cares. 

But why, some people ask, does there need to be a television movie critic in the first place? As Crist says, "television in general has conditioned its audience to be grateful for small and even dubious favors" like seeing movies for free, featuring stars that don't generally appear on other programs, all in the comfort of one's own living room. Her answer to that is that the critic exists "to put forth an individual viewpoint for his readers to evaluate and react to. That, I think, is his function—to stimulate a response, hopefully favorable or very possibly negative—but a response." By responding, people are forced to "think for ourselves, probe, discover the whys of our agreement or disagreement and therefore formulate our own standards, test them and live by them."

For Crist, a "good" movie is one that will fulfill its aspiration and by doing so will "illuminate some facet of experience for me, provide some sort of emotional empathy or tell me something about somebody or something." It doesn't have to be complicated, as in the case of comedies that show us that people are funny, or it can be exceptionally complex, but if it's an honest film, it will have virtue even if it is not completely successful. Why shouldn't a critic be part of this process? When you go to a restaurant, don't you sometimes ask your waitress what the special is, or what she might recommend? And in the end, isn't this one of the ways you raise the level of things overall, whether it be food or movies or television shows? Nobody likes to be negative (unless you're simply a killjoy), but you want to share good things with others.

One problem with modern life, Crist says, is that we're too prone to settle, "accepting the banal, the cheap and the degrading because we are paying for it only with our attention." You don't learn much that way, about life or about your friends or about yourself. And you shouldn't be afraid to demand more and better. "Wouldn't we rather see six reruns of a classic than sit through the 90th brand-new tailored-for-television how-to-slaughter-your-wife or reluctant-spy or jet-set-slime nonsense? Or would you?Why not think about it, about what you've really liked, about what was worth those two hours out of your life—and what wasn't? Just because it's allegedly for free, are you going to settle for cheap?" Of course, it isn't even free anymore, most of it, and I wonder if Crist wouldn't be saying the same thing about the current fad of rebooting old shows—why not just show the originals, even if they are in un-hip black-and-white?

I think this is an important article, and Crist's philosophy about criticism is one that I've tried to follow over the years in my own writing. One of the problems with the internet is that too often, people use this public forum of communication in order to glorify their own opinions and to pronounce them the one and only truth. This is exactly the wrong way to do it, unless your purpose is simply to engage in self-aggrandizement, and to ridicule any contrary opinion. While I have a good deal of confidence in my own opinion, formed by what I hope is a distinct and at least somewhat cogent thought process, my overall purpose, as seen in The Electronic Mirror, is to stimulate thought, to encourage people to perhaps look at things in a way different from how they've done so in the past, and to create an atmosphere ripe for discussion. As Crist says, "You have to be your own critic, when all is said—but you have to be critical." I don't always succeed in this, but I at least strive for it, and while I'm far from alone in doing this, I wish more people did.

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So what does Judith Crist have to say about this week's movies?

The quality offering of the week is The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (Sunday, 9:00 p.m., ABC), "a grim and dour film version of John Le Carre's best-seller" with Richard Burton in an Oscar-nominated performance. Five Weeks in a Balloon (Friday, 9:00 p.m., CBS) is an example of a movie fulfilling its aspirations, "an absolutely simple-minded, good-to-look-at and pleasant-to-go-with Jules Verne near-travesty." It's food fun, she says, but sometimes it "doesn't hurt to nibble." On the other hand, The 2nd Best Secret Agent in the Whole Wide World (Monday, 8:30 p.m., ABC) is "unabashed and blatantly foolish," and Island in the Sun (Tuesday, 7:30 p.m., CBS) gives us "pretension (but no more ultimate significance)," and, she continues, "The characters are supercilious, the preachments superficial and the best thing about the movie is its lovely views of the British West Indies." Well, at least there's that.

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Jack Paar's always been a favorite around here, so it's no surprise that we'd notice his documentary Jack Paar and His Lions (Sunday, 7:30 p.m., WNEW), home movies of his trip to Kenya to see the offspring of the Born Free lions, as well as Jack's own pet lion, "thoroughly at home in his master's house."

We're also starting to see the coming of the football season; a special guide at the beginning of the programming section gives us the schedule for all the pro and college football games on TV—and it's another of the signs of the times that this list only takes up two pages. The season runs all the way from this Sunday's exhibition game between Green Bay and Oakland (6:00 p.m., CBS) to the college football kickoff between Stanford and Arkansas on September 12, to the Super Bowl on NBC at 2:00 p.m. on January 17.

On Monday, Fred Astaire makes one of his occasional appearances as Robert Wagner's father on It Takes a Thief (7:30 p.m,, ABC), John Wayne is Lucille Ball's special guest (8:30 p.m., CBS), and WTIC in Hartford has the Miss Black America Pageant (9:30 p.m,), with an eclectic group of judges including baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson, basketball star Willis Reed, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald team up for a terrific concert at the Antibes Jazz Festival on the French Rivera, on NET Festival Thursday night at 8:00 p.m., and at 8:00 p.m. CBS has what I like to think of as "Failed Pilot Playhouse," but it's listed in the TV Guide simply as Drama Special. It's "Crisis," a Quinn Martin production, with Carl Betz and Billy Dee Williams working in a "crisis clinic" trying to find out about a man who "keeps phoning with details of a murder he's going to commit." We'll be hearing more from Carl Betz in a moment.

On Friday, Judi Dench stars in part one of a four-part NET Playhouse presentation of "Talking to a Stranger," four different accounts of a tragic family reunion. The Brady Bunch deals with a tragedy of their own (8:00 p.m., ABC)—Marcia has lost her confidential diary. And on Hogan's Heroes (8:30 p.m., CBS), Hogan relies on Klink to spirit some confidential information out of Stalag 13, but it all backfires when the Gestapo charges Klink with treason.

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Finally, Medical Center dips its toe into the relevance pool on Wednesday, with the episode "The V.D. Story," described as "a plea to treat venereal disease as a medical problem divorced from social stigma." Dr. Gannon's patient is a young woman with gonorrhea, and he agrees to keep it secret from her father, played by none other than the aforementioned Carl Betz. Carl Betz! Mr. Donna Reed! You can't see the transition from the '50s to the '70s any more clearly than that, can you? TV  

4 comments:

  1. I can't look at that cover image of good old Eddie Albert without thinking of that record album he released that had his versions of "Blowin' In The Wind" and "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right." So often it's forgotten that in the mid-1930s, he was one of the very first performers on American television.

    Regarding the role of the critic, like so many things these days criticism and reviews have so often become another form of punditry, with an emphasis on hot takes and quick, snarky judgments both against a piece of art and the audiences that go for it. Every once in a while there will be a film or a television show so overwhelmed in its own self-importance, or one so inane, that such a take is justified. But those are few.

    The strength in a good critic comes when he or she can lay out what works or doesn't work about a film or a television show or an album and explain why. The very best critics are the ones who persuade me to re-examine something I had written off or that I had hated, and on occasion they can make me feel just a little uncomfortable as they lay out their case - which, that slight amount of discomfort often means they're making me rethink my prior judgments. They can also prompt me to re-examine something I loved and look for something new in it. They are the ones who see criticism as an examination instead of a soapbox and realize the same film can have notes of grace as well as moments of clunkiness, who know that a four-star movie can drag and that sometimes there's few things more fun than a mindless two-star movie. Best of all, they make me think about what I'm watching. I wish we saw more of that in film, television and movie reviews, instead of the parade of hot takes we too often get.

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  2. PETTICOAT JUNCTION was cancelled a year before CBS' other rural shows. It was probably hurt more by Bea Benederet's illness & death during the series than it was by its rural appeal. It for certain would've been cancelled by 1971 even with Bea Benederet.

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  3. Beginning with a distraction:

    I just got back from Eventually Supertrain, Episode 53, which Mr. Budnik just put up.
    Since you sort-of asked, here's an FYI about Wayne Morris:
    In 1959, Wayne Morris was at a career crossroads; he'd never gotten past second-lead status in features at Warners before WWII, and was getting stuck in B Westerns in Gower Gulch.
    During WWII, Morris was a genuine hero, a Navy pilot who achieved ace status in aerial combat (the first Hollywood star to do so).
    This did him no good on screen, where he always played "the Hero's Friend".
    By '59, Morris had decided to concentrate, and spent the early part of that year doing a scad of episodes, including "Mrs. Viner Vanishes", and a pilot for his own comedy Western series to be called They Went Thataway.
    With all that film in the bank, Wayne Morris went to visit some old Navy pals on an aircraft carrier in September, to watch maneuvers.
    And that's where he suffered a fatal heart attack, at age 45.
    All those guest shots, and the pilot, aired throughout the '59-'60 season, posthumously.
    I suppose in retrospect that you were better off not knowing any of this, as you were watching "Mrs. Viner Vanishes" - especially the latter part of the episode.

    By the way, about that Alfred Hitchcock Presents version of this:
    "Into Thin Air" was the first AHP show to be filmed in 1955 (although it wasn't the first to air).
    Hitchcock didn't direct it (Don Medford did).
    But his daughter Pat played the leading role.
    You can find it on the Season One DVD set; watch it sometime (and stick around for Hitchcock's closer at the finish).

    This is in lieu of a regular response, since I don't have this particular TV Guide in stock. Maybe next time …

    And Mr. Budnik: if you liked this, I may have something about the other shows over at your blog (as soon as you put up the entry).
    Stay tuned …

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  4. Based on inflation, only the podium golfers made more than $312,000 (closest to thousands for the winner's purse of the Dow Jones Invitational) at the aforementioned Greater Greensboro Open. Brandt Snedeker (-21) won $1.08 million, while tied for seconds Pan Cheng-Tsung and Webb Simpson _18) won $528,000.

    The players who tied for fourth place in 2018 earned $264,000 -- about $29,000 more in 2018 dollars -- than winner Gary Player in the 1970 version of the Greater Greensboro Open.

    Also what should be known is the cost of air transportation and the removal of the Gold Standard. A Greenback was still based on gold, it no longer was a few years later.

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Thanks for writing! Drive safely!