November 3, 2018

This week in TV Guide: November 2, 1968

Well, it's almost upon us. In one of the most tumultuous years in this country's history, one of the most tumultuous election campaigns in this country's history is just about over, and two questions remain outstanding: who will win, and will independent candidate George Wallace win enough electoral votes to throw the election into the House of Representatives. And, has been the case throughout this year, television will be on hand to cover whatever happens.

It is, writes Neil Hickey, minute for minute the most expensive television program in history, with the networks collectively budgeting $8 to $10 million for Election Night. The cost includes new computers—better, stronger, and faster; or, at least faster and more sophisticated. So much so, in fact, that we get a brief description of what a "nanosecond" is, as opposed to the poky milliseconds of the 1964 computers. The computers, along with the key precincts that each network uses (9,000 to 10,000 between the three), will be used in hopes of the small edge, the little advantage that can give a network the bragging (and publicity) rights that come with being the first to project the winner.

The trick, or one of them at least, is not to let projections infringe on the rights of those who haven't yet had the chance to vote. In Tennessee, for example, some poles close as early as 4:00 p.m, while those in Memphis remain open until 8:00 p.m. "We could project the Tennessee results long before the Memphis polls close," says ABC's John Thompson, "but we won't." The question remains, though: what happens if projections from states in the East, Midwest and South have settled the question before voters in the West have had a chance to weigh in? Nobody's really sure, since it hasn't happened before; logic dictates there has to be some effect, but sociologists insist there there really isn't. It might not matter in 1968, since Nixon's victory over Humphrey isn't declared until mid-morning Wednesday, but the question becomes real in 1980, when the network call Ronald Reagan's landslide victory over Jimmy Carter very early in the evening, and Carter concedes to Reagan well before Western polls have closed. So decisive is Reagan's victory that the early projection makes no difference in the presidential race, but serious questions are asked as to whether or not the news discouraged enough people from voting that it cost Democrats control of the U.S. Senate.

For the record, Illinois winds up being the pivotal state in the electoral vote. As Broadcasting magazine reports, ABC confidently gives the state, and the election, to Nixon at 8:19 Wednesday morning, while "NBC declared Mr. Nixon the winner at 10:33 a.m., and CBS at 10:45 a.m." By that time, ABC's coverage, which ended at 9:00 a.m., had been over for more than 90 minutes.

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Something else I remember from elections of years past that you don't see much anymore is the Election Eve political talk. Hubert Humphrey (and celebrity Democrats*) appear on ABC for a two-hour telethon from 8:30-10:30 p.m. ET, in which viewers will have a chance to call the vice president with questions. They'll also be able to call Richard Nixon on NBC, where he'll be holding court with former Oklahoma football coach Bud Wilkinson from 9:00-11:00 p.m. George Wallace and his running mate Curtis LeMay are on all three networks, having bought a half-hour of time on each.

*Some things never change.

I know it's hard to believe that Americans would sit still for a two-hour political broadcast the night before the election, but it's something else that I get from all this; further evidence of the fragmentation of American culture. I've only voted absentee twice in my life, and each time I had to actually provide proof of why I wouldn't be able to vote on Election Day. There was a good reason why it was called an absentee ballot; Election Day was a serious, almost sacred, opportunity to help determine the course of the country's future. I know, even in 1968 voter turnout was low compared to what it is in other countries; it's always been that way, which perhaps speaks to the relative stability of America. Still, there was something special about the day, the culmination of all the campaigning and drama and emotion that has mounted throughout the summer and fall.

Today, it's called "early voting," and, depending on where in the country you live, you've got a wide window of opportunity and means by which you can cast your vote. There's no sense that everyone's going to the polls at the same time, because they aren't. So if something happens before Election Day but after you've voted, too bad, so sad. And it could, you know—a scandal, a terrorist attack, an economic upturn or downturn, an imprudent comment over a live mike—but if you've already voted, you don't get a do-over. And when they poll early voters to see which way those first returns might be going—well, talk about a possible disincentive to vote. It's the kind of external event that can absolutely have an effect on an election. Why, then, would any candidate bother to spend significant money the night before? Talk about a bad return on investment.

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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.

Ed Sullivan: Tentatively scheduled this week: the Beatles (on film) introduce a scene from their new movie "The Yellow Submarine"; Alan King; George Hamilton; singers Connie Francis, and the Checkmates, LTD; comedians Stiller and Meara; dancer Peter Gennaro; and the Anotinettes, tetter-board act.

The Palace: Host Sammy Davis Jr. takes the spotlight for nearly a third of tonight's hour. Joining him are soul singer Aretha Franklin, Spanky and Our Gang, comedian Corbett Monica, Johnnie Whitaker of Family Affair, and the 24-voice Ray Charles Singers.

Interesting week. Ordinarily I'd declare The Palace to be a runaway winner, just because of Sammy. who at the time was one of the greatest all-around entertainers ever. Throw in Aretha, and you've got a powerhouse lineup. Unfortunately, there's Johnnie Whitaker singing "Every Little Boy Can Be President," which is, to me, wince-inducing. So that's a minus. I'm also not a big fan of Spanky and Our Gang, which is another minus. Then again, while I like Alan King and can live with Connie Francis, I don't really care for Stiller and Meara, and I'm not a fan of The Beatles. It's all personal preference, you understand—no claims to anything other than opinion. Still, Sammy and Aretha. So while it's not as decisive as I might have thought, I'm still giving a comfortable edge to The Palace.

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.Throughout the 60s and early 70s, TV Guide's weekly reviews were written by the witty and acerbic Cleveland Amory. Whenever we get the chance, we'll look at Cleve's latest take on the series of the era. 

Coming to Darren McGavin's new private detective show The Outsiders (NBC), Cleveland Amory had some reservations—and not the kind of reservations you make when you want to make sure you don't miss the show. For one thing, the private eye who fights for the little guy because he was once jailed for a crime he didn't commit is not particularly original; Amory describes it as "The Fugitive outcast theme combined with every other one-man detective show you can think of."

Speaking of which, Cleve's also concerned about that one man. No boss, no pals, not even any regular gals. (All of a sudden, I'm starting to write like Comden and Green.) "He doesn't have a girl Friday, a man Friday or, for that matter, even a Sergeant Friday." He also takes a beating in every episode, at least three times in every episode, and it's so predictable that "a 3-year-old boy child could have seen it coming."

However, not all is lost. McGavin's low-key performance grows on you as a character, making him much more likable than if he had a more overpowering personality, and in some episodes the interaction between him and the other characters is quite good. It all depends, however, on the quality of the storytelling (isn't that the truth?), and when McGavin is given "some awful out-of-character writing"—well, The Outsider winds up being a 50/50 proposition. "Half the time you'll be pleasantly surprised—and the other half you'll be clouted." I don't know about Cleve's criticism of those "silly and unbelievable" episodes, though. Honestly, you'd think he was hunting vampires or something.

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I love the 11:30 p.m. movie on Channel 7, putting on Otto Preminger's Advise and Consent, the ultimate political soap opera, on the Saturday night before the election. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Allen Drury, the movie ups the book's sleaze quotient without conveying the subtitles and inherent nobility of government.* It provides, nonetheless, a good time for all, with an outstanding cast that includes, in addition to the names mentioned in the ad, Walter Pidgeon, Charles Laughton, Peter Lawford, Gene Tierney, and Lew Ayres. It could have included Martin Luther King, Jr. as well; Preminger offered him a role as a senator from Georgia, one which King reportedly seriously considered before declining. When it was pointed out to Preminger that there were, as yet, no black U.S. senators, he dismissively replied that there should be.

*A facade that, at least back then, could be at least plausibly maintained.

It comes one night earlier than the other candidates, but Pat Paulson has his own "last bid for votes" on Sunday's Smothers Brothers (9:00 p.m., CBS), which also features Glen Campbell (singing "Wichita Lineman," the Clinger Sisters (who were semi-regulars on Danny Kaye's variety show), and Leigh French spoofing TV cooking shows.

There's a local note on Monday morning, repeating throughout the week, that Channel 5 (WNEW, the independent channel in NYC) will be presenting the high school class "Regents Prep: American History" at 9:00 a.m. throughout the week, should the New York City teachers still be on strike. Otherwise, Colonel Klink himself, Werner Klemperer, is one of the guests on Steve Allen's program (7:30 p.m., WOR), while Lucille Ball, Eddie Albert, and Nancy Wilson are Carol Burnett's guests at 10:00 p.m on CBS.

Tuesday is dominated by election coverage, of course, which means turning to the independent channels for entertainment. WOR does its best, with Nehemiah Persoff as a gangster on I Spy (6:30 p.m.), Bewitched's Agnes Moorhead with Steve Allen at 7:30 p.m., and the panel of Joanna Barnes, Bert Convy, Arlene Francis, and Nipsey Russell on What's My Line? (9:00 p.m.) Meanwhile, Ben Gazzara might be speaking for all of us politics-weary viewers with Run for Your Life. (8:00 p.m., WPIX)

Bob Hope is back on Wednesday night (9:00 p.m., NBC), shooting a bit in Houston with Barbara Eden and the Apollo 7 astronauts (Schirra, Eisele, and Cunningham), then spoofing the space program with David Janssen, and singing the blues with Ray Charles. Opposite that on ABC's Wednesday Night Movie is a truly odd offering, John Goldfarb, Please Come Home*, with Shirley MacLaine, Peter Ustinov, Richard Crenna, and Jim Backus in the bizarre story of a Middle Eastern potentate whose support for an American military base depends on the State Department convincing the Notre Dame football team to play (and lose to) the kingdom's team. I suppose its main claim to fame is that the University filed suit to prevent the film's release on the grounds that "its name and prestige had been misappropriated and the film would do it 'irreparable harm'." (Although one wonders; if Joe Kuharich wasn't able to accomplish that, how could John Goldfarb?)

*Based, incidentally, on the novel by William Peter Blatty.

Another movie on Thursday night seems to fit the apocalyptic tenor of the times: The World, the Flesh and the Devil (CBS, 9:00 p.m.), starring Harry Belafonte, Inger Stevens, and Mel Ferrer as the only three survivors of a nuclear holocaust, left wandering the deserted streets of Manhattan (right).

One of the things that doesn't seem to get around much anymore is the episode title. Sure, they're on your DVD menu when you pop a disc in the machine, but they don't really have the style of the past, as David noted in this piece at Comfort TV. One of the most unforgettable is this week's Star Trek, "For the World Is Hollow, and I Have Touched the Sky" (NBC, 10:00 p.m,), but Judd for the Defense comes back with "Weep the Hunter Home" (ABC, 10:00 p.m.). The Name of the Game is more straightforward, or at least less poetic, with "Lola in Lipstick" (NBC, 8:30 p.m), and Felony Squad is downright practical with an episode suitable for a police drama, "The Nowhere Man." (ABC, 8:30 p.m.) I have to admit being disappointed in The Wild Wild West, though—this week's tale (CBS, 7:30 p.m.) tells of a town named Epitaph, and that alone was enough to get my hopes up, until I consulted the episode guide and found out the title is "The Night of the Fugitives." I mean, that might be good enough for Richard Kimble, but...

Now be good and vote on Tuesday, right? TV 


  1. A bit of a quandary this week: I'm missing this issue, but I do have the ones for the week before and the week after.
    Still not sure how to work this; maybe I'll have it figured out later …

    Meanwhile, there is something I ought to mention:

    I remember those Election Eve specials from '68.
    Both of them: Nixon's on NBC, Humphrey's on ABC.
    As noted, the ABC/Humphrey show was an All-Star Spectacular: introduced by Paul Newman, anchored by Danny Thomas, with rows and rows of stars manning the phones and taking down questions to pass on to Humphrey and Ed Muskie, who shared the main phone desk.
    I do recall that the first star I noticed at the phone bank was Tommy Smothers, which surprised me a bit.
    Also, the first caller to get through to Hubert and Ed was Sen. Eugene McCarthy (Humphrey's fellow Minnesotan), who passed along his endorsement of the Democratic ticket (it seemed a bit muted, but if you remember Gene McCarthy, he always was that way).
    Meanwhile, at NBC, Ask Richard Nixon was proceeding apace, sort of.
    RMN was seated center stage, with Bud Wilkinson feeding him questions and getting prepared answers.
    Also present was Joe McGinniss, who was quietly putting together what eventually became The Selling Of The President.
    McGinniss revealed in his book that this show was totally staged: There was a phone bank offstage, where anonymous functionaries would compile lists of questions from callers, which were filtered through the Nixon staff, who had their own list of Nixon talking points that they wanted covered.
    Team Nixon would find a call-in question that sort of matched up with a prepared answer, and would send it out to Bud Wilkinson, who posed it to Nixon, crediting a caller.
    Nixon would thereupon deliver the prepared answer, "ad lib".
    Roger Ailes, Nixon's campaign showrunner, took a few seconds off to look in on the ABC/Humphrey-Muskie show - and was appalled by what he saw: Humphrey and Muskie were actually taking calls LIVE on the air!
    Quoth Ailes: "They've got no control!"
    Well, that was then - and regrettably, this is now …

    Now to figure out how to handle bookend issues with no middle …

  2. Regarding Mike's comment about McCarthy endorsing the Democratic ticket: IIRC, he said after the convention that he wouldn't endorse either presidential ticket but would instead work to elect antiwar senators. If I had a better work ethic, I might dig into the reason why he changed his mind. A close election, if I had to guess.

    Regarding the proliferation of early voting: I'm in favor of making it easier for people to participate in the process. Up here in Wisconsin, early voting is technically absentee voting, in that your ballot gets sealed in an envelope and witnessed as if you'd gotten it from the clerk's office. I've early-voted and absentee-voted for years; nowadays it's a serious time-saver, given the lines that form because of voter ID requirements. And we still have the shared national ritual of sitting in the living room on Election Night sweating out the returns, and making fun of local TV reporters trying to ad lib on the air.

    Regarding Pat Paulsen: we could have done worse than to elect him president in '68. Some folks would argue that we did.

    This post is one of my all-time favorites on your site. Thank you sir.

    1. Gene McCarthy ("Clean Gene") wasn't the only leftish Dem who wanted to punish HHH for staying loyal to LBJ (a few of the Hollywoodians, like Robert Vaughn, said much the same).

      What ultimately happened was the belated realization that if Humphrey didn't win, Nixon would.
      Had the campaign lasted another week or so, that comeback Humphrey was making just might have happened - but (in the immortal words of Fats Waller) one never knows - do one?

  3. "Wince-inducing" for that Johnnie Whitaker performance is being kind.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!