October 13, 2018

This week in TV Guide: October 17, 1964

Hmm. The Hollywood Palace is preempted this week by a Dinah Shore special, and there's no Cleveland Amory review. I wonder if it's too late to change issues...

Just kidding! I know we've gotten used to those features in TV Guides from this era, but even without them, there's still plenty to look at this week. For instance, the Hollywood Teletype has a couple of interesting notes that I'd not heard of before. First, the story that "CBS executives are thinking of building a whole new series around Gilligan's Island co-star Tina Louise. I assume they're talking about her and not her character, but Gilligan stayed on the air until 1967, and most of the cast thought another season was on the way until Mrs. Paley convinced her husband to save Gunsmoke and ax the castaways instead. So how were they planning this? Replacing her on the island? Rescuing the castaways? Cancelling the show? Ah, sweet mystery of life.

And then there's Mel Allen, perhaps the most famous sports announcer in the country. Those of you born in the 1970s have probably heard of him, but you might have heard him only as the narrator on This Week in Baseball. But in his day, Mel Allen did every big sporting event, from the World Series to the All-Star Game to the Rose Bowl, and, as TV Guide puts it, he "is as much a fixture in the World Series broadcasting booth as his team, the New York Yankees, is on the field." As the longtime announcer for the Yanks, Allen has invariably been one of the four announcers (two from each team) chosen by NBC to announce the Series either on TV or radio. However, for the first time since 1947, Allen wasn't chosen, and most insiders think it was due to CBS, the new owner of the Yankees. Lest you think it's because the network doesn't want one of their employees appearing on NBC, there are also rumors that CBS is preparing to sack Allen from the broadcast team for next year, which they did.

Allen had already been dropped for the 1964 Rose Bowl broadcast in favor of Lindsey Nelson, and there's long been speculation that Allen's sudden drop in fortune is traceable back to the end of the 1963 World Series, when the Dodgers swept his beloved Yanks in four games. Near the end of that final game, Allen had lost his voice and been unable to continue; his partner in the booth, Vin Scully, took over for him. Immediately afterward, rumors began that Allen had choked up, that he had been unable to broadcast the Yankees' defeat to the hated Dodgers. (The legendary New York sportswriter Dick Young cracked that Allen suffered from a case of "psychosomatic laryngitis.") Whatever the reason, and no matter how much personal pain the sacking had caused Allen, he responded heroically in print. "What the devil," he said, referring to CBS and the 1964 Democratic Convention, "they took Cronkite off as anchor man, didn't they?" As to the true reason for his fall from grace (some said drugs or booze, others said he was too opinionated and too expensive, there were even whispers that the bachelor was gay), it's another mystery.

Regardless, the fact that TV Guide sees fit to cover it tells you what you need to know about Mel Allen's fame.

◊ ◊ ◊

One of things I mentioned in my talk at MANC, and which you've probably noticed over the years, is that talk of political bias on television is nothing new. Some of the letters which appeared in TV Guide over the years could have been written today, virtually word-for-word.

This from the Letters to the Editor section, and as is always the case, the letters TV Guide prints are representative of the many letters they receive on each topic. In this case, the focus is on NBC's That Was the Week That Was, and the opinions being expressed—well, let them speak for themselves. An anonymous writer from Stevenson, Alabama, says that "the idea crept into my head that at the end of the show, when the credits were shown, I would see the name of LBJ's campaign manager." George Morriss, of Cos Cob, Connecticut (nice alliteration there), has also had it. "It seems to me there should have been a notice at the end of the show saying: 'This was a paid political broadcast by the citizens for Johnson.' How about giving Barry a chance—we do have a two-party system." And Mrs. R. W. Hirst of Louisville, Ohio sums it up: "Enjoyed the new TW3 skits. What a relief—a program packed with bias and utterly lacking in humor!"

That probably goes some way toward explaining why the show didn't last that long. It's never a good idea to alienate almost half your viewers. Of course, as Jack Paar once suggested, it would have helped if it had been funny in the first place.

◊ ◊ ◊

As was the case last week, I don't want to emphasize sports, but I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that the Summer Olympics continue this week from Tokyo, and NBC has a 15-minute wrap-up show each night, plus two hours of coverage Saturday and an hour on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Although, as you'll see below, NBC's regular coverage was in black-and-white, their live telecast of the opening ceremonies last week was the first color broadcast televised live via satellite back to the United States (at 1:00 a.m. ET, following The Tonight Show).

Here's NBC's recap:

◊ ◊ ◊

This week's cover story is about the major change to the format of Lassie. After all these years, reports Richard Warren Lewis, The Martin family (June Lockhart, Hugh Reilly, and Jon Provost) has moved on, leaving Lassie in the hands of a new master. It's all due to the machinations of the Wrather Corporation*, the show's owner, which decided that the old format—farm, family—was too confining, too predictable, in need of refreshing. Try selling that to June Lockhart, though, who scoffs at the explanation. "There's also an old show-business axiom that you just don't mess around with a hit," she says. "The Wrather people wanted to protect themselves against any future lack of popularity. As far as this property is concerned, the humans are all expendable."

*And owner also of Muzak; make of that what you will.

I had this picture, although mine wasn't
personally autographed.
The story of how this was accomplished is fascinating, or at least interesting. In part one of a five-part story, Lassie is separated from her family by a boating accident; she's found and nursed back to health by forest ranger Corey Stuart (Robert Bray). At the conclusion of part five, the family returns to reclaim the dog. The storyline—Lewis calls it a "trial separation"—was indeed a trial, to see how viewers might react to a new scenario. The results were astounding; the ratings went through the roof, lifting the show to sixth place in the ratings for several weeks, and the decision was made to adopt the new format permanently. In a subsequent three-part adventure, the Martins decide to relocate to Australia, where dogs must undergo a six-month quarantine. "It would have broken Lassie's heart to be penned up for sixth months," according to producer Bob Golden, and after having been left with a friendly neighbor, the collie is reunited with Corey.

There's a real tension expressed in the article; Lockhart, as the spokeswoman for the cast, lets a certain amount of bitterness seep through, not only in the way the family was summarily removed from the show, but the ridiculous restrictions put on the characters during their six years in the role. "I was hardly ever allowed to kiss Hugh Reilly on the cheek. There was no affection shown. Any embrace we had, had to be like Cio-Cio-San—very cool." Still, they agree, it was a great experience, a hard one to give up. For all the fun playing "fallen women," Lockhart notes, "motherhood pays off better in the long run." For Bray, who maintained a low profile while the off-screen drama played out, it's a chance to revive a career that never quite hit the heights projected for it. For the series, which will continue until it wraps up in syndication in 1973, it's a new lease on life. And for Lassie—all six of them—the adventures keep on going.

◊ ◊ ◊

I suppose we should take a closer look at some of the programs on this week

On Saturday, Gunsmoke takes on topical issues with a thinly-disguised civil rights story about "hatred of Indians after a slain and scalped." (9:00 CT, CBS). Earlier, The Outer Limits (6:30 p.m., ABC) mixes topicality with an intriguing Harlan Ellison script in "Demon with a Glass Hand," in which the last man on Earth returns to the 20th Century (time travel, too!) to find out why alien invaders killed everyone but him. Meantime, Sunday features New York senate candidate Robert F. Kennedy on Meet the Press (5:00 p.m., NBC), and the return of Tele-Bingo (5:30 p.m., WTCN and other stations), a live, interactive bingo game show in which home viewers get an opportunity to win an appearance on the show.

Monday night Lucy offers a take on The Ladykillers with a tale of two gentlemen to whom she rents a room. They claim to be visitors to New York's World's Fair, but they're actually here to rob Mooney's bank. (8:00 p.m., CBS) At 9:00 p.m. on NBC, Andy Williams' guests are Tennessee Ernie Ford, Al Hirt, and movie producer Ross Hunter; Andy and Ernie spoof political debates. Speaking of which, Tuesday's Petticoat Junction is preempted by CBS for a half-hour political talk by Republican candidate Barry Goldwater—it's up against what, according to the letter writers anyway, must be Lyndon Johnson's favorite show, That Was the Week That Was. (8:30 p.m., NBC)

On Wednesday, CBS Reports looks at the hotly contested Senate race between RFK (see above) and his opponent, Republican incumbent Kenneth Keating. (6:30 p.m.) Keeping with the political motif, as we seem to be, Bob Hope takes on a rare dramatic role as the controversial, prohibition-era mayor of New York City, Jimmy Walker, in Beau James. (8:00 p.m., NBC) And if entertainment is what you're looking for, Danny Kaye might have it, with Angela Lansbury and John Gary. (9:0 p.m., CBS) Thursday's Perry Mason  (7:00 p.m., CBS) is a rare humorous episode (keeping in mind that there's also a murder), with John Larkin and Neil Hamilton both very funny as a family patriarch and the family's butler. Hint: the butler didn't do it. The Defenders (9:00 p.m., CBS) has a different kind of legal drama, with Cloris Leachman and Edwards Woodward on opposite sides of a libel case. Finally, on Friday George Hamilton plays, of all things, a Communist Chinese spy on Bob Hope's Chrysler Theatre (7:30 p.m.,, NBC), an episode that has a little of The Manchurian Candidate about it. Hope himself follows up on it with a guest appearance on Jack Benny's show. (8:30 p.m., NBC)

◊ ◊ ◊

Last but not least, how about this ad? Brings back some memories, doesn't it? The local Saturday (or Friday)-night horror movie, often with a host, although as this article at a very cool website recounts, there was no host on Dimension 5. It's the kind of thing most of us miss nowadays. TV  


  1. Today, ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here to bid farewell to an American icon: Sears.

  2. The inside joke on that episode of "Perry Mason" was that John Larkin IS Perry Mason! He played the title role in the radio series of "Perry Mason" for 8 1/2 years and then moved to TV with the daytime version as the title character Mike Karr in "The Edge Of Night" for another 5 years.

  3. A brief historical emendation:

    After That Was The Week That Was had its season premiere in September, the Republican National Committee bought that Tuesday time slot for the next three consecutive weeks.
    When TW3 came back on after nearly a month's unasked-for layoff, many of the jokes were about that fact - and about why the GOP targeted that particular time. Naturally enough, those jokes were mainly about how the GOP was "... trying to keep us off until after the race …" (that's from Nancy Ames's closing song: " … so Merry Christmas, just in case!").
    Perhaps not coincidentally, when the RNC went timeslot-shopping again, they went for the higher-rated Petticoat Junction slot - but that's another story …

    Oh, about Jack Paar's comment:

    That mercurial gentleman had several long-standing grudges with some of the figures involved at TW3, which had made a number of jokes at his expense during the first season, when their shows had adjacent time slots on Friday nights; it was at Paar's insistence that TW3 was moved to Tuesday night, which (as TVG editor Merrill Panitt pointed out in an editorial) was an illogical placement for a live, topical comedy series.

    Since NBC failed to preserve very much of TW3 (for reasons unknown), I have to rely on my own aging memory to recall that it was indeed a very funny show when they were on their game (especially in that first season, where among others I first saw Alan Alda, Bob Dishy, and Tom Bosley, plus David Frost's first US appearances, plus Tom Lehrer's satirical songs, plus Burr Tillstrom's amazing work - plus the Paar jokes, which only called attention to the fact that for a comedian, Jack Paar had no sense of humor about himself (and that's another another story …)).
    The second season was treated rather sloppily by NBC, possibly at Paar's instigation, but they did bring on Buck Henry and a few others, which didn't hurt.
    Also, remember that in 1964, politics hadn't even begun to approach the levels of toxicity that we have these days on all sides.
    And that's yet another story …


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!