September 8, 2018

This week in TV Guide: September 7, 1968

Once upon a time, the Miss America Pageant was a big, big deal. It was often the most-watched television special of the year,the winner became an American icon (and often a career in show business) and it made a star out of the marginally-talented Bert Parks. Actually, there were two hosts of the show; while Parks was the host on the stage, there was also a television hostess (former Miss America Bess Myerson filled the bill in 1968), unseen and unheard by the crowd in the hall, who would talk to the viewers at home and introduce commercials.

There she is - Miss Illinois, Judith Ford,
just named Miss America 1969
I always remember the pageant as having been a sign that the new TV season was upon us.  It was held on a Saturday night, extraordinarily late in the evening: 9:00 p.m. CT in Minneapolis (which meant I'd usually finished my Saturday night bath by then), 10:00 p.m. to midnight at the cavernous Convention Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey. I've noted before that things often started later in the evening back then; the Academy Awards started at 10:30 ET, the usual first pitch of a major league baseball game was 8:00 p.m. local time, and the NFL preseason game that CBS broadcast opposite Miss America (Baltimore vs. Dallas) didn't start until 8:30 p.m. It could be that the networks didn't want to preempt their regular prime-time schedules, but these specials were inevitably highly-rated. I think there was a certain sophistication to late-night TV back then; The Tonight Show ended at 1:00 a.m. on the East Coast, and when I was a kid we didn't stay up until all hours; I only got to see Carson on Friday nights or during the summer.*

*Speaking of Carson, he was NBC's lead-in to Miss America that year, with a one-hour special from Cypress Gardens in Florida, featuring Vicki Carr and a bunch of water skiers. 

Even in 1968 the Miss America pageant is in a state of flux*, attacked by feminists as being sexist and hopelessly out-of-date.  According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, "In 1968, about 400 women from the New York Radical Women protested the event on the Atlantic City boardwalk by crowning a live sheep Miss America. They also symbolically trashed a number of feminine products. These included false eyelashes, high-heeled shoes, curlers, hairspray, makeup, girdles, corsets, and bras."  There was no indication of this in TV Guide, of course, but there were other signs of the tumult racking the nation, including a CBS documentary on Friday night entitled "Ordeal of the City."  "[I]ncreasingly, the city has become the home of the poor as the middle class flees to the suburbs.  The city is a place to visit - on the job from 9 to 5 - but no one wants to live there."

*Although I don't think even the 1968 pageant had the kind of internal tumult and controversy that this year's has had.

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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..

Sullivan: This week Ed gives us a rerun of a 90-minute all-singing tribute to Irving Berlin, featuring Bing Crosby (singing "White Christmas," of course), Ethel Merman, Robert Goulet, Diana Ross and the Supremes (a Sullivan favorite), Fred Waring and his Glee Club, the Harry James Orchestra, Morecambe and Wise (another Sullivan fave), and Berlin himself.

The Palace: In another rerun, Phyllis Diller is the hostess, with singer Johnnie Ray, actor Robert Vaughan, singer-ventriloquist Shari Lewis (and her puppet, Lampchop), comic Charley Manna, and the Sandpipers.

This is one of those weeks where it wouldn't make much difference what Palace has to offer; with the star power on Ed's show, I don't think Palace could ever have hoped for more than a push, even if they had all the star power in Hollywoodwhich, in this case, they ain't got. This week's prize goes to Sullivan.

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There's a special section in the programming guide devoted to what the local stations are doing for the new season, and in this era before strip syndicated programming became so prevalent, it's interesting to see what showed up outside of network hours. Channel 4, the CBS affiliate, features a series of variety specials called, appropriately, Something Special, plus local coverage of the University of Minnesota football season, and a series of holiday-themed King Family specials. Channel 5, affiliated at the time with NBC, introduced the five-a-week syndicated version of What's My Line? and the first 5:00 p.m. local newscast, preceding Huntley-Brinkley. Channel 9, then the ABC station, offered Steve Allen's new variety show as a noontime program (I wonder how many markets around the country showed it as a daytime rather than nighttime show?), and Dennis James' All American College Show - check out this clip of the Richard Carpenter Trio., with Richard and Karen Carpenter (!)

Channel 11 was the independent station in the Twin Cities, so of course the majority of their programming consists of reruns of mostly recently cancelled series, including 12 O'Clock High, The Munsters, The Addams Family, Wagon Train, The Invaders and Run For Your Life. To promote their new lineup, they used one of the great taglines of all time.

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Are you ready for some Monday Night Football? While ABC’s series didn’t begin until 1970, that doesn’t mean we didn't have football on Monday night. As we’ve seen in the past, the AFL and NBC were willing to play on unorthodox nights as one way to increase exposure over the rival NFL*, and this opening week of the penultimate AFL season, which had started with a Friday night game between the new Cincinnati Bengals and the San Diego Chargers, ended with an 8:00 p.m. telecast of the Kansas City Chiefs vs. the Oilers in the Houston Astrodome. And boy, the Astrodome was so cool back then.

*Due in part to the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961, which in essence prohibited the NFL from telecasting games on Friday or Saturday nights by blacking out any NFL game played within 75 miles of a high school football game during the prime high school football months of September and October. The Act was passed in response to a court –ordered injunction regarding the NFL’s ability to “pool” its television rights with one network. Since the AFL was not a party to the original injunction, it was not covered by the Act. A sidelight of this is that out of the 15 weeks of the AFL season, only six did not include at least one game played on a day other than Sunday. Since NBC had introduced Monday Night Baseball recently, it's no surprise they'd be interested in football on Monday night as well.

There was other sports this week as well. On Saturday, CBS telecast the finals of the very first U.S. Open tennis championship, from Forest Hills. If you've paid any attention at all to this year's Open, you may have noticed references to the Open's "50th Anniversary," and you might have thought this tournament had to go back farther than 1968. Well, you'd be right. This wasn't the first time the U.S. championships had been played, just the first time they'd been open to professionals, who up until then had been prohibited from playing in the major tennis tournaments.  Once a player turned pro, he was barred from competing with amateurs, and was relegated to barnstorming tours and second-rate (and poorly-paying) tournaments.  It was only with the rise of pros such as Rod Laver that organizers realized the increasing difficulty in convincing fans to support a tournament like Wimbledon when the best players were not being allowed to play.  Hence, the U.S. National Championships became the U.S. Open Championships.  And the first winner of the first Open Championship was: an amateur. (Not just any amateur, though, but the elegant and soon-to-be great Arthur Ashe, whom I had the great honor of meeting once.)

Saturday also saw the first of two days of coverage on NBC of the World Series of Golf from the Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.  This tournament existed as recently as a few years ago, when it was subsumed by the World Golf Classic, but the World Series of the '60s was a much different tournament: a 36-hole exhibition, featuring the winners of golf's four major tournaments.  This year's tournament had Bob Goalby (Masters), Lee Trevino (U.S. Open), Julius Boros (PGA) and the winner, Gary Player (British Open).  The World Series was the unofficial end of the golf season.

On Friday night the Twins took on the Red Sox in Boston. Last year at this time the two teams were battling for first place, along with the Tigers and White Sox, in one of the great pennant races of all-time, settled only on the last day of the season. This year things are different; the Twins, who finished a game back of Boston in ’67, will end the season in 7th place, while the Red Sox, who lost a heartbreaking seven-game series to St. Louis, will finish a disappointing fourth.

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Some other highlights of the week:

On Monday night at 8:00 p.m., ABC features a half-hour paid political talkyes, there did used to be such thingsby George Wallace, the independent candidate for President, as he tries to introduce his philosophy to a wider audience.  ABC follows it with a comedy featuring Wally Cox asking the question, "Is there really a Generation Gap?"  The country tries to deal with its turmoil by alternately mocking it and offering radical solutions, all on one network in the course of one hour. Tuesday, CBS offers a prescient CBS News Special called "The Football Scholars" (9:00 p.m.), with Roger Mudd reporting on what the college football recruiting process really looks like. (It's probably quaint compared to what goes on today, much of which you probably couldn't show on network television today.) Wednesday, The Avengers presents an episode I wouldn't miss, whether it was any good or not (and it was OK, as I recall). The title: Have GunsWill Haggle." I ask you, could you resist that? On Thursday NBC's On Stage presents the drama "Certain Honorable Men" (8:30 p.m.), a political drama written by Rod Serling, starring Van Heflinb in a rare television appearance, and also featuring Peter Fonda, Pat Hingle, and Will Geer. And Friday brings us another of President Johnson's five-minute appeals for the United Community Fund, seen at 7:25 p.m. on CBS, NBC, and ABC. TV  


  1. In 1960, the Broadway production of The Music Man needed a new Professor Harold Hill; Eddie Albert, who'd taken over for Robert Preston, had a movie commitment.
    Prof. Hill is considered one of the toughest parts in musical theater; just to have to perform "Ya Got Trouble!" eight times a week is pretty daunting.
    After some testing of many well-known performers, the producers gave the role to Bert Parks.
    A number of critics went back to see Parks as Hill - and all gave raves.
    I would suggest that you reconsider that "marginally-talented" crack …
    ( … and see someone about your "Orson Bean" syndrome.)

    1. I always wondered why the Broadway production never brought Forrest Tucker in from the road version, since he played Hill more often than anyone (including Preston): some 2,038 times as he kept the road version going from 1958 to 1963.

  2. That slogan in the WTCN-TV ad reminds me of a similar ad during NBC's "Must See TV" days. It would promote its reruns by stating "If you haven't seen it yet, it's new to you!". I have to say that about every 1950s & 1960s show I've seen has been in reruns. The first shows I remember seeing in primetime were shows like THE BRADY BUNCH & THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY, though I probably saw more of them when they were rerun than when they were originally aired.

  3. In the 1960's, the Miss America Pageant was actually the third-or-fourth most-watched TV event of a typical year (behind the two weekend games of the World Series and maybe behind the Academy Awards).

    And it was at a time when most people stayed home on Saturday nights to watch TV!

    Many top shows of the 1950's, 1960's, 1970's, and even into the 1980's were broadcast on Saturday nights!

    Maybe that's the problem with today's Saturday-night TV: Networks program reruns and newsmagazines (and some sports) because they think there aren't enough people home to make first-run prime-time scripted programming on Saturday nights worthwhile.

    I disagree. Put compelling programs on Saturday nights, promote them extensively, and people might start staying home on Saturday nights again to watch.

  4. This was the last issue of TV Guide to use the logo the magazine adopted in 1962.

    The next week, they adopted a new logo (with a new font for the word "Guide") they they'd use for the next twenty years.

    1. I was just about to post that. Though, you could still see that logo on old copies that they would use when advertising for people to renew their subscriptions and on that and urging young boys to earn money by delivering TV guide.

      By the way, the 1968-1969 TV season TV Guide would slowly undergo a graphical change that TV season starting with the aforementioned logo change in next week's Fall Preview issue. There would change in fonts this year to Helvetica. The change would be complete by the May 31st issue (again with Buffy, Jody and Mr. French of Family Affair; this time blowing bubbles). The May 31 1969 issue saw virtually all text in various weights and sizes of Helvetica as well a TV Guide channel bullets in more of a rounded rectangle also using the Helvetica font. This new look would last into the early 1980's before TV Guide incrementally some changes (addition cable channels, Prime Time Grid, Insider etc.) Meanwhile, the new TV channel bullets would endure in some form until TV guide made the unwise decision to change to an "Entertainment Weekly" clone in October 2005.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!