December 29, 2018

This week in TV Guide: December 28, 1974

I've talked at length about the awful year 1968, and I suppose that in my lifetime, it ranks with 1963 and 2001 in terms of sheer awfulness, although one could argue that 1968 has the added agony of having been horrible for pretty much the whole year, instead of just a few months.

But 1974 was a pretty bad year too, and we're reminded of that this week, as various news sources take stock of the year in review. It was a year in which impeachment was in the air, when the relationship between president and press was at its most adversarial, there was war in the Middle East, and the inflation rate was more than 11%. By the time it was all over, President Nixon had resigned, President Ford had pardoned him, the Republicans were trounced in the midterm elections, and few were in the mood for the yearlong buildup to 1976's Bicentennial celebration. Oh, and fashions were terrible. As Judith Crist says of a certain movie, "Maybe we do need a Frankenstein to help us see the old year out."

This is no way to start an article, though—I might as well feed everyone Prozac. And that's not even considering how much 1974 resembles 2018. We'll come back to all this shortly; let's celebrate the new year first.

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In 1974, New Year's Eve still meant Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians. CBS broadcasts their traditional bash live from the ball room at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, with singer Helen O'Connell as his special guest. In addition to "Auld Lang Syne," the orchestra plays "Boo-Hoo," "Maple Leaf Rag," "Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose?" and "I Want to Be Happy." Not exactly a playlist that reflects 1974, although Levine and Brown's "Gypsy Rose" fits in well with the rest of Guy's standards. Helen's offerings are a little more timely, I suppose: "Killing Me Softly with His Song" and "The Way We Were." It's not particularly my kind of must, but you know what? If it were on this year, I'd watch it. Guy can always convince you that the new year will be a better one. I didn't see this year's show on YouTube, but here's a clip from the 1976-77 program, Lombardo's last New Year's Eve before his death that November. Maybe we'll just watch this when midnight rolls around—if we're still awake.

Dick Clark wants to offer an alternative to Guy Lombardo—something more in tune for younger viewers. And so on ABC, beginning at 11:30 p.m. ET (same time as Guy), Wide World Special presents "Chicago's New Year's Rockin' Eve 1975," with guests the Beach Boys, the Doobie Brothers, Olivia Newton-John, and Herbie Hancock, and they're all performing their hits, from "Wishing You Were Here" to "Good Vibrations" to "I Honestly Love You." The show itself isn't live, but there are frequent cutaways to Times Square in New York, where Clark reports as everyone waits for the ball to drop. This is the third year for Clark's Rockin' Eve, and the first to air on ABC rather than NBC. I might be wrong about this, but I think it still took Lombardo's death before Dick & Company take over the ratings lead. Here's a clip from this show.

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If New Year's Eve belongs to the musicians, there's no doubt that the rest of the time is dominated by two things: parades and football.

When I was a kid, the Orange Bowl parade was a big deal. It was held at night, on New Year's Eve, with plenty of lights and color. Being that this week's issue is from Miami, it shouldn't be a surprise that the parade is a big deal, but it's on network TV anyway (NBC, 7:30 p.m.) with Joe Garagiola and Jo Ann Pflug. After 65 years, the parade ended in 2002 due to financial considerations after NBC dropped it in 1997. (The Junior Orange Bowl parade, taped the afternoon of December 28 and shown on New Year's morning on ABC, is still around, though it's held in early December nowadays.)

The Cotton Bowl parade doesn't exist anymore either, and for much the same reason: when the Cotton Bowl game shifted from CBS to NBC in 1992; NBC had no interest in it, and CBS didn't want to show the parade if they weren't showing the game. (A revival only lasted a few years.) But it's around in 1975 (10:30 a.m.), with William Conrad and Sandy Duncan hosting the coverage that serves as a warm-up for the network's coverage of the Tournament of Roses Parade. That's the granddaddy of them all, of course, beginning at 11:30 a.m. on both CBS (Bob Barker, Betty White and Ted Knight) and NBC (Kelly Lange and Michael Landon). This year's theme is "Heritage of America," and fittingly, the Grand Marshal is Henry Aaron, provider of one of 1974's few highlights.

In these pre-ESPN days, there still aren't that many bowl games—eleven, according to the Sports Reference database, of which three have already been played. And in these pre-ESPN days, the majority of non-major games are syndicated, such as Saturday's Peach Bowl between Texas Tech and Vanderbilt. (12:00 noon; Mizlou). Shockingly, I remember this game, which ends in a 6-6 slag. Better would have been CBS's coverage of the Sun Bowl between North Carolina and Mississippi State (1:00 p.m.), won by Mississippi State 26-24. That's part one of a CBS doubleheader that concludes at 4:00 p.m. with the Fiesta Bowls (Oklahoma State 16, BYU 6), while on NBC it's the East-West Shrine Game from Palo Alto; when you've only got eleven bowl games, there are a lot of good players out there from teams that didn't make a bowl—Michigan, for one, even though they finished the season 10-1. That crazy Rose Bowl-only rule that the Big Ten had back then. (By contrast, Oklahoma State finished 6-5.) In other action, ABC carries the Gator Bowl between Texas and Auburn on Monday night, and Nebraska vs. Florida in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Eve.

Not an endorsement.
New Year's Day itself is a nicely symmetrical day: the Cotton Bowl at 2:00 p.m. on CBS (Penn State 41, Baylor 20), the Rose Bowl at 4:45 p.m. on NBC (a two-point conversion gives USC an 18-17 victory over Ohio State), and the nightcap at 7:45 p.m., also on NBC, pitting Notre Dame against Alabama in a rematch of their memorable 1973 Sugar Bowl (which was actually just 366 days ago), when the Fighting Irish won the national championship 24-23. Alabama enters the game ranked #1, but in Ara Parseghian's final game, Notre Dame is the spoiler, winning 13-11 and giving undefeated Oklahoma (on probation and ineligible for a bowl game) the unofficial national title. What a start to the year and end to the season!

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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. 

"We had," Cleveland Amory begins, "a terrific idea for a new show. It would be called Edna and the Ethnic, and would star Billy Jack and a little old lady Episcopalian. We had a terrific idea for the setting, too. It would be set in a Rest Home for TV Program Creators—a secondhand home, of course. And where would we schedule our new show? Right after Sanford and Son and Chico and the Man."

He is, of course, reviewing the aforementioned Chico this week, and I think he's tipped his hand in that opening paragraph. But in case you're not quite sure, he goes on to explain how the "creators" have followed Sanford's blueprint, just changing a few things along the way: a broken-down garage instead of a junk shop, a mean and cantankerous white man instead of a mean and cantankerous black man (maybe, Cleve notes, the next show will feature a mean and cantankerous critic), and a long-suffering Mexican-Puerto Rican instead of a long-suffering black son.

However: Jack Albertson is very good as Ed Brown, the mean and cantankerous white man. Freddie Prinze, as Chico, is very likable, "the most infectious newcomer on your screen this year." And Prinze doesn't just say his lines, Amory says, "he plays them." "One minute he's Marlon Brando, the next he's James Cagney. Our favorite routine was when he played a linebacker of the Chicago Meatpackers selling after-shave lotion." Everyone has their routines in this show, such as Scatman Crothers as Louie the Garbageman trying to sell his old car. "The lines were awful. But it didn't matter, because Crothers went into his own routine. The show's plots are just "excuses for vaudeville routines," and the undeniable charm and humor of the show is completely attributable to the cast, which sells it as if there's no tomorrow. Prinze's charisma became even more evident after his tragic suicide, which would pretty much end the show, but all that is in the future. For now, just sit back and enjoy what our critic calls TVaudeville.

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Two of TV's definitive 70s-era rock music shows, NBC's The Midnight Special and ABC's In Concert, faced off on Friday nights.  Midnight Special was a weekly show, airing after Johnny Carson, while In Concert was an every-other week part of Wide World of Entertainment.  Whenever the two slug it out, we'll be there to give you the winner.

In Concert: Soul music is performed by the Isley Brothers, jazz by the Climax Blues Band and pop tunes by Gentle Giant, and the Souther-Hillman-Furray Band. Don E. Branker is host.

Midnight Special: The Guess Who hosts, with Spencer Davis Group, soul-rock from the Average White Band and country-rock by the Charlie Daniels Band.

At least for me, this seems to be a fairly straightforward week. I have a fondness for Charlie Daniels even though it isn't really my kind of music, and although Steve Winwood has long since left Spencer Davis—this is actually a reconstituted group of sorts—they still have a lot of hits. And who can resist the Guess Who singing "Clap for the Wolfman" with Wolfman Jack? We start the new year right with a victory for The Midnight Special.

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Well, we should all be in a good mood now, so we can take that look back at 1974. As Edith Efron reminds us in "News Watch," the battle between president and press did not start with Donald Trump; in fact, the Watergate scandal inaugurated an era of journalistic activism and advocacy that continues unabated to this day.

Efron does not dispute the guilt of former President Nixon, but counters that the press is hardly a knight in shining armor. The first, and most obvious, fault is that of a press double-standard; the most important example is Max Frankel, Sunday editor of the New York Times, who "conceded that the press had not pursued the LBJ-Bobby Baker scandal or the Kennedy-Chappaquiddick scandal with anything like the zeal reserved for the Nixon scandal." Efron notes that efforts by the Times and the Boston Globe to "correct the error" by increasing their scrutiny of Chappaquiddick may well have been the reason why Edward Kennedy withdrew from the 1976 presidential race. Was the press's "double-standard" sheltering Kennedy all this time?

She also points to the obvious hatred which many in the press have for Nixon, looking at Los Angeles Times writer David Shaw's analysis of Watergate coverage. Says Shaw, "It is almost impossible to convey to anyone outside Washington just how deep and intense the press's bitterness toward Mr. Nixon runs—and how pervasively, albeit subconsciously, that bitterness colors some of their perceptions." Shaw adds that "much of the American press—blinded largely by its hostility to Mr. Nixon—did a generally inadequate and sometimes irresponsible job of covering the Ford Administration." Again, did this attempt to "make right" a perceived bias result in more favorable coverage for Ford? It ended, of course, with the pardon; Shaw describes the press reaction as "harsh, subjective and speculative, at times giving the impression that the act was, above all, a personal affront to, and a betrayal of, the press itself."

As I've mentioned in the past, I try to keep politics off the blog, and nobody should intuit that I'm trying to draw a parallel between the press's clash with Nixon and their current battle with Trump. But as Efron says at the beginning of her essay, everybody's sick to death of Watergate. "I don't want to write another word about it." The point is that by the end of 1974, the nation was suffering from Watergate fatigue. It hung over everything, even after Nixon's resignation, and the perception that the country was falling apart—the discovery that the emperor has no clothes—coming as it did on top of Vietnam, left Americans profoundly disillusioned and uncertain about their country, a malaise (to coin a term) that remained until the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.

And that is the parallel I want to draw, how tired people are about so many things nowadays. Left and right may not agree on much of anything anymore (and that's another change), but one thing I think they do agree on is that we've reached a point of outrage fatigue. (We just disagree over what outrageous us, but that's a point for another day.) This issue should be proof enough that we can't escape real life simply by going back to the past. It does, however, point out one of the most important services television has to offer: that of being, as my friend David Hofstede points out, "comfort food" for the viewer. Certainly Edward R. Murrow was right a couple of weeks ago when he wrote of TV's responsibility to the public; after all, where is The Seven Lively Arts or Omnibus or NBC Opera Theatre of today? But sometimes you just want to get away from it all, for 30 minutes or an hour or two. Let's hope that as 2018 turns over to 2019, we might be able to experience that, even if it's just once in a while. TV  


  1. By the "nightcap at 7:30 PM" on New Year's Day, are you referring to the Orange Bowl? I was a bit confused that you may have been referring to the Sugar Bowl, but I went back and saw that it was again played that year on New Year's Eve.

    CHICO AND THE MAN was a good complement to SANFORD & SON, and I enjoyed watching CHICO a lot more. It continued its good ratings into the next season, where it clobbered MASH until CBS moved MASH from Friday back to Tuesday nights, but then NBC moved it to Wednesday nights, and the ratings didn't seem to recover much, and this was all before Freddie Prinze's suicide, which metaphorically "killed" the show for good.

    1. Sadly, I'm not only old enough to remember when the Orange Bowl was the only game on New Year's Night, I can almost remember when the Orange Bowl was played during the day...

  2. Today, ESPN has corrupted college football postseason in more ways than we thought. And hockey, not football, is the network television feature of New Year's Day. CBS is just airing their regular daytime dramas and one of their two game shows is new for the day.

    It was the 1974 season that we had a split "national championship" because of the rule the Coaches Poll imposed. The AFCA imposed a rule prohibiting teams on postseason bans or major scholarship reductions from being eligible in their poll in order to ensure a team being punished cannot win the title.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!