November 17, 2018

This week in TV Guide: November 18, 1978

As you know, I'm a sucker for holidays, particularly Thanksgiving and Christmas (although New Year's isn't bad either). We have one of those in this week's issue, and one of the nice things about Thanksgiving is that since the date moves around, there's always a chance we'll get to look at it being celebrated in back-to-back issues—as, in fact, will be the case this week and next.

This is one of the old-fashioned Thanksgiving issues, as is apparent from the very beginning, with William Conrad anchoring CBS's All-American Thanksgiving Day Parades (8:00 a.m. CT). He always did this from a studio with a warm, welcoming scenecrackling fireplace, decorations, comfy wingback chair. It was very inviting. No wonder I have fond memories of those years. These were the years when CBS covered the parades in Detroit, Philadelphia, Toronto, and Honolulu in addition to New York. A pity they don't do that anymore, although the Detroit parade is syndicated as well as streamed online. NBC is, of course, home of the Macy's parade, and this year Ed McMahon is the host (8:00 a.m.), with a host of singing stars doing their best to sync to the songs being played over the speakers. I'd check that parade out from time to time, but CBS was the home for me.

What's Thanksgiving without football? NBC's game, beginning at 11:30 a.m. is Detroit's Turkey Day contest, this year against Denver. That's followed at 2:30 p.m. by those two old rivals, Washington and Dallas, facing off on CBS. No college action, alas; it's one of the fallow periods, before cable TV brought college games back to Thanksgiving.

I always enjoyed the other special programs that were on, even though I'd be too busy watching football to care about them. For instance, Channel 4 has an animated version of Jules Verne's "Journey to the Center of the Earth" on Famous Classic Tales at 11:00 a.m., followed at 12:30 p.m. by a Family Sports Special with figure skating from Central Park and highlights of the Moscow Circus, the Calgary Stampede, and women's gymnastics. Channel 11 presents the feature-length Hey There, It's Yogi Bear at 1:00 p.m.—it was originally made in 1964. WTCN's "Movie of the Month" is John Wayne in Hatari. (7:00 p.m.) And at 8:00 p.m. Channel 5 has part one of Howard Fast's The Immigrants, in what looks to me like an Operation Prime Time production.

One of the highlights of the day after Thanksgiving used to be ABC's cartoon festival, in which the regular Saturday morning lineup would feature on Friday morning and early afternoon. I don't know when they stopped doing that, or if it was merely an interruption in 1978, but there's no sign of it this year. ABC counters with college football at noon—once again traditional rivals, this time Pitt and Penn State. Donnie and Marie offer some Thanksgiving leftovers with their Thanksgiving program, accompanied by Cindy Williams, Seals & Crofts, and Lorne Greene—a varied lineup, to be sure.

I dunno—the parades still hit the mark, but compared to what we've seen in the past (and may see again in next week's issue), it's not as bit a television event day as it used to be. Or maybe it's just that you can't go home again, even if home is merely in your memories. As someone once said, I don't live in the past—I just vacation there.

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Thanksgiving week has always been one the sweeps weeks, when networks pulled out a raft of specials, and this year is no exception, with the programming providing a blend of special broadcasts and special episodes.

On Saturday night, CBS presents "One of the greatest films of all time!,"The Bible (7:00 p.m.), which covers the Book of Genesis; Judith Crist, on the other hand, sees that same movie as "reverential and dull." Oh well. ABC counters that with an evening that includes Battle of the Network Stars (7:00 p.m.) and an episode of Fantasy Island (9:00 p.m.) in which we find out Tatoo's secret fantasy. In the middle of all this, NBC offers a special reuniting Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello in a pilot for a potential sitcot didn't make it, and I don't know whether or not it was any good, but regardless, I think it's too bad it wasn't picked up.

Sunday, The Wonderful World of Disney (6:00 p.m., NBC) expands to 90 minutes to celebrate the 50th birthday of Mickey Mouse, a special featuring "100 superstars" and probably not enough Mickey. NBC, apparently deciding CBS's Bible presentation was too limited in scope, launches part one of the four-part miniseries Greatest Heroes of the Bible; whereas The Bible boasted of an all-star cast of movie stars, Greatest Heroes (7:30 p.m.) is limited to an all-star cast of television celebrities. CBS thinks you'll flip for a Lucille Ball special at the Grand Ole Opry (8:00 p.m.), and ABC wants to blow them both out of the water with the conclusion of the miniseries Pearl (8:00 p.m.).

Bobby Vinton hosts a '50s-themed variety special on Monday (7:00 p.m., CBS) with Fabian, Stockard Channing, Eve Arden, Gale Gordon, Erik Estrada, and Penny Marshall. Tuesday night Dean Martin's first celebrity roast of the season features Suzanne Somers (9:00 p.m., NBC), with Orson Welles and LaWanda Page among the roasters; what they could possibly have to say about Suzanne Somers is beyond my thinking.* Tuesday and Wednesday night (8:00 p.m.) CBS presents not just a movie, but a "movie spectacular"—Harold Robbins' The Pirate, a made-for-TV movie with Franco Nero, Anne Archer, Christopher Lee, and a cast of dozens of made-for-TV stars. What's missing, according to Judith Crist, is class; she calls it "four hours of typical Harold Robbins trashiness," though she adds that "if you share my delight in the perfectly awful, you won't want to miss a minute of it."

*A rare crossover promotion, given that many of the guests, including the honoree herself, are on ABC shows.

Bugs Bunny is "A Connecticut Rabbit in King Arthur's Court" in a CBS special Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. And we already know Steve Martin is a "wild and crazy guy," but tonight he gets to prove it with his first TV special (9:00 p.m., NBC), co-starring Bob Hope, George Burns, Johnny Cash, Milton Berle, and Strother Martin—and if that isn't a guest list that screams "wild and crazy," I don't know what is.

And there you have the week; I'll let you decide if there's a turkey among them.

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I suppose, given how this kind of thing seems to be in the news these days, we ought to take a look at John Weisman's article on how foreign lobbyists try to manipulate U.S. television. (Heaven forbid they ever try to manipulate anything important, like an election.)

For example, the syndicated travel show Journey to Adventure, features a segment on the great tourist destination of Iran, with Iranian ambassador Ardeshir Zahedi talking about the progress in freedom of religion and thought made under the Shah, in an interview with Gunther Less, the show's host and producer. What viewers don't know is that Less is a paid consultant to Iran Air, the Shah's government-owned airline. And then there's how the South African government pays more than $50,000 to an American company to place favorable travelogue pieces on U.S. TV stations. And how the British Information Service sends news spots on Northern Ireland—pieces "promoting the British position in Belfast"—to ABC and NBC for use in their affiliate news service. In short, these governments are paying cash money to manipulate how their countries are seen by American television viewers.

Today producer Michael Krauss calls this a "symbiotic relationship," in that "They need us to get their message across; we need them as the basis for stories." He adds, though, that most of the time, the shows themselves do the approaching, and they're "judicious" in their use of them: "I don't think that we are 'used' that much."

That remains to be seen, according to Weisman. That American company that received $500,000 from South Africa succeeded in "placing 12 of its government-made films on broadcast and cable-TV outlets that showed them to more than 30 million Americans." Over 100 stations used the British Information System's film on how Protestants and Catholics celebrated Christmas in Belfast together. The European Common Market, precursor to the European Union, paid for a journalist to visit the United States on a lecture tour, during the course of which he was interviewed on a number of TV shows, extolling the virtues of the Common Market. And then there's the annual Tchaikovsky musical competition in Moscow. "That is a very positive image for the Russians," says a P.R. consultant who works for foreign nationals. "It shows them to be cultured, genteel people who appreciate good music. And they know that when TV covers the Tchaikovsky, it's taking time away from Soviet dissidents."

Governments have their own favorites, journalists they know will give their side a positive spin. ABC's Steve Bell is often contacted by Arab spokesmen, while Jewish lobbyists prefer CBS's Marvin Kalb and ABC's John Scali, and the PLO likes Peter Jennings. It also helps if those lobbyists have close connections; former Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford works for Algeria, while former senator J. William Fulbright and former Kennedy aid Fred Dutton are paid by Saudi Arabia. In fact, some estimates put the total bill paid by various Arab nations at somewhere around $15 million for their consultants, PR firms, and spokesmen.

The networks deny that these efforts are universally successful. "There are too many people making decisions," according to one producer; says another, "When you become sure that you're being used, you just turn down the story—even if you want it badly." That doesn't stop governments and other special-interest groups from trying, though, particularly at local stations often in need of stories and interviews. "Television," according to an embassy official for a Middle Eastern country, "is a primary battleground for us in an important battle: the fight for America."

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David Brinkley marks the 15th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy with a look back at how television helped hold the nation together during the crisis. For roughly 70 hours, until 1:16 a.m. on Tuesday, November 26, there was nothing else on television; no entertainment, no commercials. "I thought then," Brinkley writes, "that we helped the American people get through a sad and scary time by showing and telling everything there was, by preventing the spread of the frightening rumors always set afloat in times of public stress, by showing the swearing-in of the new President and showing the people that even in a time so horrible, orderly government continued, and by giving the new President Johnson the means to speak reassuring words to a people who desperately needed them." It was, says Brinkley, "the most useful single service in television's history."

How would things be different, in 1978? Certainly it would be better technically; video would be in color, there would be no wait for film to be developed or pictures to be broadcast live. But the coverage itself would remain about the same; "It was nearly all live, and since live TV is simultaneous with the event itself, it cannot be any faster." Otherwise, television was able to facilitate a shared experience for the country—"People grieving in private saw others grieving in public." Rumors and fears were debunked, the nation was reassured that the country would go on, JFK was laid to rest with a dignity and solemnity that helped cleanse the wound.

"Chet and I and all of us were sorry for our country," Brinkley concludes, "and proud of television for helping our countrymen share their grief, respond together to sights of tragedy and tragic beauty, and then to go on."

By the way, when you've got a few minutes, read this very good Atlantic article by Andrew Cohen, written for the 50th anniversary, that talks about how to watch TV's coverage of the assassination. It's very perceptive, remarks on many of the same things that I've thought, and points out the little things that are too easily overlooked.

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Mary Tyler Moore's variety show Mary has come and gone (three episodes), and now star and network are getting ready for its successor, The Mary Tyler Moore Comedy Hour, which, according to TV Teletype, will be more like the old Jack Benny Program in that the main character will be named Mary Tyler Moore, host of her own television show, with stories about all the characters and adventures that surround production of that show. In the final analysis the lead character wound up being named Mary McKinnon, but otherwise the gimmick is the same. And it is more successful than Mary; it runs for an entire eleven episodes.

There's also a note about how Kurt Russell will be playing Elvis Presley for an ABC TV-movie. That movie, appropriately titled Elvis, is a triumph: Russell wins accolades (and an Emmy nomination) for what has come to be seen as one of the finest portrayals of Presley, and it marks the first of several collaborations between Russell and director John Carpenter, fresh off working on Halloween.

Hallmark's Hall of Fame Christmas presentation will be Stubby Pringle's Christmas, starring Beau Bridges and Julie Harris. According to multiple online sources, the program was only aired once; despite (or perhaps because of) this, it's built up a loyal following over the years, either from people moved by the one showing, or those who've read the book by Jack Schaefer (who also wrote Shane and Monte Walsh, among other Westerns). The program isn't available commercially, but if you want to see Stubby Pringle's Christmas, you can watch it on YouTube.

Finally, the Letters to the Editor section has people promoting their favorite programs. Tony Hudson of Raleigh, NC finds Vega$ "a refreshing change from the usual TV detective show. The locations are much better, the characters are believable, and the plots are not loaded with cliches." For Enid Mattson and her family, from Rock Springs, Wyoming, it's The Paper Chase: "We find it entertaining, clean and even educational to a certain extent." I'm sure John Houseman, who's profiled in this issue by Arnold Hano, appreciates the comment that "Professor Kingsfield is great!" Holly Graskewicz, of Westbury, NY casts her vote for Grandpa Goes to Washington. "I find it refreshing to be able to fantasize for one short hour a week that somebody out there just might care enough about us 'small potatoes' to do the job for which he or she was elected."

And then there's Barry Mork of Spokane, Washington, who—not surprisingly—likes Mork & Mindy. The whole family watches it, "not only because of the fresh, clean humor and talented acting, but because since it's been on, people no longer misspell or mispronounce our name!" Robert MacKenzie's review this week is of Mork & Mindy as well, and he makes an observation that, in retrospect, is interesting. "I'm told that Williams worries," MacKenzie writes, "—about losing his touch, running out of material—all the things that good comics worry about. I am tempted to say he should quit worrying, but probably he shouldn't. A certain amount of hypertension is probably good for his work." A typical comedian, or a sign of things to come? TV 


  1. I was in the audience for 1 of the 2 tapings of "Lucy Goes to Nashville", which had been taped back in September at the Grand Ole Opry House. I still have a ticket from that night. I remember we were asked before our night's taping began just to laugh riotously (at nothing), and I figured our laughs were being recorded for a "laugh track" for this special. I think our audience (the 2nd night of taping) got the leftovers, as I don't remember Lucy doing much but introducing acts. I remember seeing Barbara Mandrell, whose kids were attending the same school I was that year, singing "Sleeping Single in a Double Bed", but I don't remember anything else I saw performed that night. Maybe if this special is on YouTube I can watch it again & see if I remember seeing any of it live. I do remember audiences were allowed to bring cameras in, since my mom pasted a distant picture in a photo album of Lucy on stage from our seats in the balcony.

    On your comments on the article on foriegn influence, any tourists wanting to go to Iran had about 2 months left before things fell apart for good there, up to today 40 years later!

    MARY may be best-known today for a couple of MTM's costars, David Letterman & Michael Keaton. Keaton continued on to be in the cast of the MTM HOUR.

  2. By the time you read this, Thanksgiving will probably be over, by I found my copy of this particular issue from the New York City edition. Just like Mike Doran does when talking about his Chicago copies, I thought that I would post some neat finds from my issue. I would not be born for another year, but I thought some of the programs were interesting.

    Sun 1PM 2 WCBS, 3 WTIC - NFL Football Philadelphia Eagles vs. NY Giants from Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ

    On first glance, this would appear to be an ordinary game by two teams with a recent history of futility, but those who a football historians know better. Both teams were actually in the playoff hunt this season at the time and needed a win to help their cause. With the Giants leading 17-12 and the Eagles without time outs, the Giants had to run a play where QB Joe Pisarcik would fall on the ball to ensure a Giants victory (Note: The NFL did not yet have its quarterback kneel down rule until 1987). Instead, Pisarchik handed the ball of to Larry Csonka for a short gain play. However, the Pisarchik ended up fumbling the ball and the Eagles cornerback Herman Edwards picks up the ball and runs it for a touchdown, giving the Eagles a 19-17 victory. The play would be known in NFL circles as "The Miracle of the Meadowlands" The Eagles ended up making the playoffs for the first time in years, meanwhile after the game the Giants fired their offensive coordinator and eventually their head coach in the end of the season. Don't feel bad for the giants though. After the season, the Giants, one of the few teams which did not hire a GM since owner Wellington Mara had handled most of those duties, realized he really needed one. Mara ends up hiring George Young as GM. With Young drafting star such as Phil Simms and Lawrence Taylor, and hiring Bill Parcells first as Defensive Coordinator and then as Head Coach, the Giants would recover to the point of winning a Super Bowl in the 1986 and 1990 season.

    Mon-Fri 7 WABC, The 4:30 Movie
    Back in the 70's, channel 7 would air movies after all its soap operas and before Eyewitness News at 6 PM. This weeks theme would be Elvis films.

    Monday- Follow That Dream (1962), part 1
    Tuesday- Follow That Dream (1962), part 2
    Wednesday- Spinout (1966)
    Thursday- Kid Galahad (1962)
    Friday- Live a Little, Love a Little (1968)

    9 WOR Thursday & Friday Thanksgiving Special- King Kong vs. Godzilla Festival

    Back when channel 9 was owned by RKO, they had a tradition of airing monster movies during the holidays, mainly during Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Channel 9 sets this up as King Kong vs Godzilla. As, Mitchell does with his Sullivan vs. Golden Palace recaps, I will list the films that aired and then who I think won.

    Thursday-King Kong
    12:30 PM - Mighty Joe Young (1949)
    2:30 PM - King Kong (1933)
    4:30 PM- Son of Kong (1933)

    12:30PM - Son of Godzilla (1969)
    1:30 PM - Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (1971)
    3:00 PM - Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1966)
    4:30 PM - Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)

    Considering that on Thursday that the classic King Kong with Fay Wray aired and the fact that as a little kid laughed at King Kong, I have to give Kong my vote.

    There was a special on NBC by Steve Martin (his first) that aired Wednesday. I wonder what ever happened to him. :) Anyways, a Happy belated Thanksgiving to you all.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!