November 24, 2018

This week in TV Guide: November 23, 1968

Doesn't it seem as if we just celebrated Thanksgiving here last week? Well, I did warn you this was coming, so if you've had your fill of turkey, feel free to skip skip over that, but stay for the rest.

And this week, "the rest" means Marya Mannes' provocative article on the lack of women in television news. Oh, there's Pauline Frederick, NBC's UN correspondent; Marlene Sanders, who has the afternoon news update on ABC; Liz Trotta, reporting from Vietnam for NBC; and Mannes herself, who had her own show on WNEW in 1959 and has been a frequent radio and television commentator since.*

*It's interesting that Barbara Walters isn't included in this group, but then , even though she's now co-host of Today with Hugh Downs, she isn't apparently taken seriously as a journalist. 

"[I]t is a fact," Mannes writes, "that the only national television female of real authority is Julia Child." That's because women are supposed to be experts on food; nobody cares that she doesn't look like Raquel Welch; "in fact, quite properly, they care for her more because she is, simply, herself." But put a woman behind the news desk and the situation changes quickly. For starters, "she should look young and smooth-faced, and who can be that after 20 or 30 years of training, involvement and experience?"* As one network executive says, who "wants to look at a middle-aged dame, especially if she's bright?" Such a one would be likely to remind men of their mothers, wives, or mothers-in-law, "always talking or laying down the law."

*See Fox News, for example, although to their credit, (a) they aren't the only ones with attractive women anchoring the news, and (b) some of their reporters are not only quite good, they're also quite experience. Nonetheless, if the shoe fits,...

Mannes makes an interesting argument that television is, after all, entertainment; therefore, why aren't more women in news? The exceptions to the rule—public affairs programs such as WNBC's For Women Only (which, Mannes notes, is a stupid name for the show) are shown in the morning, which means housewives can watch—but what about prime time? Mannes acknowledges that there's still a "deep-seated resentment" to career women, which, interestingly, she says is"quite understandable in the case of militant females who bulldoze their opinions with strident voices, contorted faces and guerrilla tactics." Even worse, perhaps, are "those silken-voiced, super-groomed ladies who use the guise of femininity to conceal a vaulting and implacable ambition."

What Mannes looks forward to is the time when it won't matter if the news is presented "by a man or a woman, or whether, if a woman, she is young or not young, neither a fashion model nor a Playboy centerfold." (Again, see Fox.) By their very nature, Mannes says, women have a lot to offer in terms of special and different insights. "I believe that women have a special way of looking at things and feeling about them that men by their very nature often lack." If nothing else, adding more women to television news would provide viewers with more variety, which can be quite refreshing.

What will it be, she asks network executives in conclusion. "Could it be that you are more concerned with public acceptance—than with the public interest? Could it be that because you are men, you see only your own image?"

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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: Tentatively scheduled guests: Eddie Albert; singers Nancy Wilson and Dusty Springfield; and comedians Rodney Dangerfield, and Morecambe and Wise.

Palace: Co-hosts Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca welcome singers Lou Rawls and Jane Morgan, singer-dancer Chita Rivera, the rocking Bee Gees and trapeze artist Galina Adaskina from the Moscow State Circus.

We're alerted in the small print that the possibility of a musicians' strike hovers over the Sullivan show; if the strike isn't settled, a rerun will air instead. And perhaps that accounts for the confusion over who actually appears on this episode. After consulting with TV.com, it appears that Dusty Springfield and Nancy Wilson did in fact appear on November 24, but they were actually joined by The Kessler Twins, The Doodletown Pipers, Jackie Mason, Burns & Schreiber, Morey Amsterdam, The Muppets, and Italian magician Silvan. As confirmation, here's Dusty Springfield with her classic rendition of "Son of a Preacher Man."


Now, Sullivan's show is live, so the lineup is always subject to change. It's usually a packed show as well, whereas the lineup from TV Guide looks a little skimpy. So it could be that this kind of thing happens all the time. Does that mean I should check TV.com every week to see how accurate TV Guide is? I could, but that seams like taking some of the fun out of browsing through these issues. I know there are times when I do a great deal of outside research in order to enhance the content, but still... Anyway, if any of you out there have strong feelings about it one way or the other, just let me know. Otherwise, this is probably the exception rather than the rule.

Now, where were we? That's right—I was going to say something about Palace. Well, it's an OK show; with the original Sullivan lineup, I think I was going to give Ed a slight edge. And I think between Dusty, Morey Amsterdam, and the Muppets, I still will. It's not a landslide, but Sullivan still carries the day.

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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. 

One of the trends that Cleveland Amory finds annoying is this habit, now in vogue, of using the series star's real first name as the first name of the character they play in the series. Doris Day, for example, plays Doris Martin in her series, and Lucille Ball, the star of Here's Lucy, plays Lucy Carter. "We object to this trend," Amory says, "and since Lucy started it all in I Love Lucy, we hold her strictly responsible. After all, it's hard enough to believe in these half-baked half-hours without also assailing us with half-truths." He also doesn't like how husbands are disappearing from television; we've gone from smart husbands and dumb wives to dumb husbands and smart wives, and now there are no husbands at all, unless they happen to be single parents.

This is a roundabout way of getting to the subject of this week's review, which just happens to be the aforementioned Here's Lucy, and the fact that Cleve gets bogged down in such minutiae at the outset means he's trying to put off an actual review for as long as possible. The reason? "[W]hile we loved I Love Lucy, we can't even make friends with this show. It's the old Lucy all right, and she does her zany darnedest to make you give a darn. But the trouble is you don't."

Even with Gale Gordon as the always-popular boss doing the slow burn, even though Lucy herself has her moments, the show just doesn't work. "The trouble comes first—and we must speak plainly here—with the fact that Miss ball has inserted into her show her two real children—Lucie Desiree and Desi Arnaz Jr. And since neither of them is ready, this was a mistake." Second, the scripts just aren't very good, even if the idea behind them is amusing. Now, given that the show wound up running for six seasons, it could be that it got better over time, or perhaps Cleve was just in a bad mood when he wrote this, or maybe it really wasn't that good a show, and it was just the popularity of Lucy that carried it through 144 episodes. I guess everyone's entitled to their own opinion. But given that it's Thanksgiving week, I guess we can't be too surprised that Amory would come up with a turkey to review.

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As we've seen in the past, Thanksgiving week is a great time for the networks to roll out specials, and this week is no exception.

Saturday it's the first holiday cartoon of the year, the debut of the Rankin-Bass special The Mouse on the Mayflower (7:30 p.m. ET, NBC), with Tennessee Ernie Ford both narrating and starring as William Mouse, who travels to the New World with the Pilgrims and mingles with such names from American history as John Alden, Miles Standish, Priscilla Mullens, and William Bradford.

On Sunday, America's sweetheart, Olympic and World figure skating champion Peggy Fleming, stars in her first TV special (9:00 p.m., NBC), with Gene Kelly, Richard Harris, Spanky and Our Gang, and members of the Los Angeles Kings hockey team. Traditionally figure skaters had always been associated with classical music to this time, and I think perhaps this was her way of linking skating with contemporary music.

Monday brings Frank Sinatra's annual November special; this year's show, Francis Albert Sinatra Does His Thing (9:00 p.m.), is on CBS instead of NBC, although the special was taped at NBC's studios. (Because, Dick Hobson mentions in this week's Sinatra article, Frank apparently prefers it that way.) Frank's guests are Diahann Carroll and the 5th Dimension (left), in "an hour of songs—swinging, spiritual, soul and psychedelic." I have to admit how painful this sounds, especially when compared to the Sinatra specials of the previous three years. Hobson's article alludes to this as well; Sinatra acknowledges that for the last few years, "I felt left out. I wondered what was going to happen to people like me. I couldn't compromise with the New Sound. I just sat on the side lines waiting it out." He's optimistic about the future, saying that many of today's songs are already standards, although I wonder if he really means it; he says that "the young songwriters are more ballady than even Rodgers and Hart. I don't feel like such an outsider."

60 Minutes isn't an entertainment program, and it's not yet a weekly series, but Tuesday's special episode (10:00 p.m., CBS) presents a discussion of Pope Paul VI's controversial encyclical on birth control, Humane vitae, released in July of this year. If you  weren't alive in those years, it's difficult to explain just how controversial, how much of a thunderbolt, this letter was. Suffice it to say that books can, and have, been written on it, and a television website is not the place for another one to be written.

On Wednesday, Bob Hope is at USC (9:00 p.m., NBC), with his guests Glen Campbell, Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66, singer Barbara McNair, and dancer Juliet Prowse. There'll also be an appearance by Heisman Trophy contender O.J. Simpson (insert obvious joke here). Caution if the musician's strike is still on, previously recorded segments will be substituted.*

*About that strike: it began on October 30, 1968, and ran for 28 days. This news item from Billboard says that the strike ended on November 28 (which would have been Thanksgiving). According to the terms of the settlement, made retroactive to August 1, staff musicians received an increase to $280.70 per week. An AP story dated December 7 says that "Bob Hope's Chrysler TV special taped numbers at U. S. C. to recorded music during the network musicians strike; Eddie Fisher sang from his own recordings — and had to use cue cards." Did this also happen in Dusty Springfield's performance on Sullivan? (Minus the cue cards, of course.) The Sinatra special mentioned above was taped in August.

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The Thanksgiving Day festivities begin at 9:00 a.m. on CBS, with the "Thanksgiving Parade of Parades," three hours of parades from New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, Charlotte, and Toronto. I shan't wax on about this the way I usually do, for which I'm sure you're grateful; this year, Kukla, Fran, and Ollie host from New York. NBC's coverage of the Macy's parade begins at 10:00 a.m. and runs for two hours (they don't have the hour-long prelude of musical acts as they do today), hosted by the longtime duo of Lorne Greene and Betty White. And if you're interested, Joe Franklin's show over at WOR (10:00 a.m.) features Johnny Marks, composer of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

The football action today is fast and furious, beginning at 12:15 on CBS, with the Philadelphia Eagles traveling to Detroit for the Lions' Thanksgiving Day game. I remember this game well; it was a terrible game, played in a driving rainstorm, with absolutely no incentive for either team to win. Sam Baker kicked four field goals for the Eagles, one in each quarter, as they defeated the Lions 12-0 for their first win of the season. (They'd win again the following week, in the process losing the chance to draft O.J. Simpson with the number one pick.} It was two weeks later, incidentally, that the famous incident occurred where Eagles fans booed Santa and pelted him with snowballs at halftime of their season-ending game against Minnesota. (You can read about both games here.) Man, what a season—even when the Eagles won, they lost.

At 1:30 on NBC, the AFL kicks off its doubleheader action with the Kansas City Chiefs, the league's own Thanksgiving Day traditional hosts, taking on the Houston Oilers. That game is followed at 4:15 by the second game, the Buffalo Bills facing the Raiders in Oakland. The Bills had the good sense to lose that game, 13-10; by finishing 1-12-1, they edged out the Eagles at 2-12 and won the Simpson lottery. The NFL finishes its own doubleheader at 6:00 p.m. on CBS with those old rivals, the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys, facing off once again in Dallas. (2018 will be the ninth time the two have played on Thanksgiving.) And if college football is more your style, you won't be left out; ABC has the traditional Turkey Day game (3:00 p.m.) between Texas A&M and Texas, from Austin. If you don't like football, might I suggest WNEW's The King Family Thanksgiving special at 3:30 p.m.? It probably goes well with the pumpkin pie.

And for those living in New York, there's WPIX's legendary Thanksgiving Day Jamboree (2:30 p.m.) with "Officer" Joe Bolton and Carol Corbett, and including Speed Racer, The Three Stooges, and Superman. It's preceded by high school football (Xavier vs. Fordham, in color) and Laurel & Hardy's classic March of the Wooden Soldiers. What fun!

Have I ever talked here about Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory? Yes, I can see that I have. Anyway, this year the less-heralded sequel, The Thanksgiving Visitor, appears, appropriately enough, on Thanksgiving night (7:30 p.m., ABC), with Geraldine Page reprising her role as Sookie, Capote's spinster cousin. I can't say anything about this since I've neither read the story nor seen the special—I guess I don't do tender and sensitive—but if you want to give it a try and let me know how it is, you can see it starting here.

On Friday, ABC presents four hours of cartoons usually seen on Saturday mornings. I think, however, we'll read more about that in the TV listings piece on Monday—what do you think?

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Some quick notes, as I am wont to do, from the Teletype and elsewhere: John Forsythe is slated to play a widower with three children in the new CBS sitcom When in Rome. When it debuts next fall, it's called To Rome with Love and runs for two seasons. Likewise for Nanny Will Do, a pilot about "an English girl working in an American household," which becomes ABC's much-loved Nanny and the Professor, starring the much-loved Juliet Mills. And then Joseph Campanella, fresh off his single season on Mannix, is an attorney in The Whole World is Watching, with Burl Ives and James Farentino. Right—The Bold Ones. In the "nothing's new" department: Indiana Senator Birch Bayh is on NBC's Meet the Press Sunday, discussing his plan to abolish the Electoral College in favor of direct popular vote for the presidency.

And finally, a message from the Editor in "As We See It": don't blame us; blame Pete Rozelle instead.

It's all about Rozelle, the commissioner of the National Football League, and his idea to add a Monday night game to the television schedule. It's a bold idea, but nobody's quite sure whether or not it's going to fly. As Merrill Panitt points out, "football ratings are relatively low and the need to bounce high-rated shows for 14 Monday nights to make way for more football" might not be all that appealing to the networks. CBS already pays upwards of $23 million on the NFL; since NBC only pays $8.5 million to the AFL, they would seem to have the inside track on the new games. Then there's ABC, which doesn't have any pro football at all, only the college games on Saturday. And if none of them seem interested, there's always Howard Hughes and his Sports Network, which Rozelle says he'll be happy to deal with.

Of course, Rozelle's dream did become a reality, and then some—in addition to Monday nights, we also have Sunday nights and Thursday nights, and while TV ratings have slipped dramatically over the past few years, the NFL is still the most dependable product out there; virtually every one of the year's highest-rated programs is a football game.

Well, you can't say you weren't warned. TV  

6 comments:

  1. Ah, I remember Thanksgiving 1968 well. The "Mud Bowl" from Detroit but even in Syracuse, the local NBC affiliate that always canned the second late AFL game for a 1940's B movie on Sunday actually carried both games of the doubleheader, most likely because Buffalo (the regional team) was playing the Raiders on the west coast.

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    1. An affiliate not carrying the second game of the doubleheader? You mean that it wasn't just The World's Worst Town that experienced that??

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  2. I always thought the incident of Philadelphia Eagles' fans booing and pelting Santa with snowballs was in the mid or late 1980's, not back kin 1968.

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    1. From what I know of Eagles fans, I wouldn't doubt that it could have happened more than once, but being of advanced age as I am, I can attest that I'd read about it even before the '80s.

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  3. While viewers considered Barbara Walters to be a true "co-host" of "Today" in 1968, NBC didn't recognize her as an official co-host until after Frank McGee died in 1974.

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    1. I have to think that might have had something to do with Frank McGee himself; from what I can recall, the talk always was that he and Walters didn't get along very well, that he wanted Today to have a harder news content. Meaning no disrespect to McGee, I think there may have been an element of sexism to it as well; in any event, it's no surprise that it wasn't until he died that she attained that status officially.

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