May 18, 2019

This week in TV Guide: May 17, 1969

The biggest bomb of the season? How about one of the biggest fiascoes in the history of television? You've read about it before, you might even have seen it, but this week we get a chance to learn first-hand, from a contemporary account, about the disaster that was Turn-On.

In the event that this is all new to you, Turn-On's first—and last—episode aired February 5 of this year on ABC. As Richard K. Doan and Joseph Finnigan report in this week's lead story, the viewers who turned in to the series' premiere—"16 or 17 million"—"were so violently turned off by what they saw that the network had to call off the series the next day." The authors dryly note that "Not many series have played one-night stands." Within two days of its airing, 75 ABC affiliates—roughly half the network—told executives they'd no longer air the series. Critics referred to it as "dirty," "vulgar," and irreverent."

Part of the problem, the authors point out, might have been that viewers expected a show more like Laugh-In, which is not surprising considering it was created by Laugh-In vets George Schlatter and Ed Friendly. Instead, viewers wound up with "a crude fraud," and found themselves "repelled or confused or antagonized by it." One female viewer said "All I can remember is the word 'sex,' in huge letters, pounding across the screen," a scene that lasted several minutes, while guests Tim Conway and Bonnie Boland "flitted in and out of the picture, mugging suggestively at each other, to the tune of throbbing electronic sounds building in intensity." "There were no pros—only antis," says Gene McCurdy of Philadelphia's WFIL-TV. "We canceled the show right away." Baltimore station WJZ reported calls running three to one against, and said they'd have refused to carry it again even if the network didn't cancel it. New Haven's WNHC even aired an announcement before the show stating it was "for mature viewers"

Again, we're confronted with one of my favorite sayings, Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose: the more things change, the more they stay the same. Take this quote, for example, from Robert Doubleday of KATV in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was one of the most outspoken critics of Turn-On, receiving letters of support from viewers around the country who'd read about his comments. If only, he said, the network had listened to people like him warning them that "most people still have standards of taste and morality." "It would be a good idea," he says in the money quote, "to load those people who do those TV series into Greyhound buses and take them on a trip across the country to show them how the rest of the people live." Red America before the term was coined.

The producers, Friendly and Schlatter, refuse to acknowledge that their show was a bomb; in fact, "It was really not a show; it was an experience, a happening." (Only someone from the TV industry or a political scientist could come up with doubletalk like that.) They didn't mean to offend; it was provocative, adult, sophisticated comedy. "But the fact that it was taken off doesn't mean it was unsuccessful. It only means it's going to take a little time before we can do it again." In other words, when the stupid yokels out there grow up.

One participant in the fiasco, speaking on condition of anonymity, offers a contrary viewpoint. "There were 300 jokes in that show, enough to offend everybody, regardless of race, religion or national origin. We just went totally wrong in our judgment. . . There were two things basically wrong with it: there wasn't any sort of identification with the audience—just a bunch of strangers up there insulting everything you believe in. And secondly, it wasn't funny enough."

I suspect Turn-On wouldn't be nearly as controversial today, but it also probably wouldn't be the same show that was aired in 1969. It would be cruder, more tasteless, more explicit. And it would probably be just as offensive today as it was 50 years ago. You can bet there'd be a network that would take a chance on it, though—nobody in Hollywood ever went broke by pitching an idea that offends people like us.

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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: Tonight Ed's live show features Lisa Minnelli; Mike Douglas; the 5th Dimension; and comics Bill Dana, Joan Rivers and George Carlin. Also on hand: the West Point Glee Club and Vino Venito, balancing act.

Hollywood Palace: An all-comedy potpourri is hosted by Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, with fellow comedians Ron Gaylord and Burt Holiday; banjo-playing pantomimist Gene Sheldon; double-talking Simmy Bow; telephone gossip Betty Walker; and stand-up comics Jackie Gayle and Irwin C. Watson.

I have to admit that I have never heard of most of Rowan and Martin's guests, which is probably a shortcoming of my own. On the other hand, I have heard of all of Ed's guests (except for Vino Venito), and there are some pretty big names there. Actually, I guess they're all pretty big. Which makes this week pretty easy: a unanimous victory for Sullivan.

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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. 

There's no sense trying to paraphrase the opening of Cleveland Amory's review of The King Family, so let's just go with it:

"The last time we reviewed the King Family, we told you there were 36 of them—which made, on our screen, about one King per five square inches or, on the other hand, 10 square inches per two square Kings. In any case, since that time, there are a great many more of them. On the whole, however, and to their credit, they do not seem nearly so square."

It's common knowledge that Tina Cole, best-known as Don Grady's wife on My Three Sons, was one of the "King Cousins," the younger generation of family members most responsible for rounding those square corners. But they're not the only reason this show has taken on a more contemporary sound, The Sisters, the other regulars, even Alvino Rey, have all taken on the new era; in one recent show, Cleve recounts that Candy Conkling ("she's a King, too") sang "Frank Mills" from the Broadway musical Hair. It might sound ridiculous, but "it actually wasn't."

The only sour note, notes Amory, comes with the notes of so much of modern music, which he calls "just plain hard of hearing." Some of it, like recent Oscar nominees "Star!" "Funny Girl," and "For Love of Ivy" just don't cut it. The Bottom Line, says Cleve, is this: "If the Kings can't sing it/there's something wrong/and not with the Kings/but with the song."

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The guest lineup of the week has to be on Kup's Show, hosted by Irv Kupcinet. (Tuesday, 7:30 p.m., WNYC) Try this on for size: Mel Brooks; Academy Award nominee Lynn Carlin (Faces); actors Gene Barry, Robert Young and Edy Williams; singer Lou Rawls; General Omar Bradley; porucers Robert Wise and Carl Foreman; former Pueblo crewman Richard Roggola; Yale President Kingman Brewster Jr., and John Gregory Dunne, author of The Studio.

If you're wondering how Kup was able to cram so many guests (and diverse ones at that!) into one show, it helps that it was three hours. But even that wasn't always enough. In the early days of At Random (the show's original name), the program would begin at midnight, and would end whenever conversation ran out—which sometimes wasn't until 5:30 a.m. It was, Kupcinet would say, all about "the lively art of conversation," something that's sadly lacking in television today. Of course, this presumes that you'd be able to find guests today who were capable of sustaining a conversation for more than a few minutes. When you consider that Kupcinet would never ask his guests about their latest movies ("We tried to make it meaningful."), they'd have even less to talk about. Can you imagine how stimulating a program like that must have been? Even when the standard length for a talk show was 90 minutes, you'd have occasions when the host and a guest would run out of time right in the middle of a good conversation. But to have an open-ended show like this one used to be? Better than informercials, I'd say.

I'm sure our loyal reader Mike Doran has some additional stories about Kup that he could tell. But the remarkable story of the murder of Kupcinet's daughter Karyn, and the various theories about it (including one linking her to the JFK assassination) would be worthy of a James Ellroy novel.

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What else is interesting this week? Well, on Saturday it's the second jewel of horse racing's Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes, from Baltimore (5:00 p.m. ET, CBS). Kentucky Derby winner Majestic Prince goes two for two with a narrow victory over Arts and Letters, before losing to the same horse by 5½ lengths in the Belmont.

At 12:49 p.m. Sunday, Apollo 10 lifts off in the final dress rehearsal before July's scheduled moon mission, with 10's lunar module coming within 50,000 feet of the moon's surface. Needless to say, all three networks are planning extensive coverage. Also on Sunday, the characters from Walt Kelly's comic strip Pogo make their television debut in an animated musical special (8:30 p.m., NBC).

Monday night, comedian Alan King hosts his own comedy special (8:00 p.m., NBC, preempting Laugh-In), with guests Buddy Hackett, Linda Lavin and Karen Morrow. Considering the problems Sammy Davis Jr. had when he couldn't host his own NBC series for a period of time before and after his special on ABC, I wonder if Laugh-In's preemption had anything to do with Rowan and Martin hosting The Hollywood Palace the previous Saturday? Probably not, just the idle thought of a tired mind.

On Tuesday at 1:30 p.m., WNEW presents the movie The Winning Team, with Ronald Reagan starring as Hall of Fame pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander, co-starring Doris Day, and featuring a number of baseball stars playing themselves, including Bob Lemon, Hank Sauer and Gene Mauch. If you remember Terry Cashman's song "Talkin' Baseball" (real title: "Willie, Mickey, and the Duke), written in 1981, the lyric, "And the great Alexander is pitching again in Washington" is a reference to this movie.

Wednesday features the rerun of Yul Brynner's Oscar-winning performance in The King and I (8:30 p.m., ABC), a movie which Judith Crist calls "that loveliest of Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals," with brilliant performances by Brynner and Deborah Kerr. If you're not up for that, and I probably wouldn't have been, try a repeat of Jack Benny's February birthday bash (10:00 p.m., NBC), with guest stars Lucille Ball, Dan Blocker, Lawrence Welk, Dennis Day, Don Wilson, Jerry Lewis, and Ann-Margret.

Jonathan Winters' short-lived CBS series goes off the air on Thursday (8:00 p.m.); his final guests are the Smothers Brothers (who also appear on Glen Campbell's show this week), Paul Lynde (who also appears on Jerry Lewis' show this week), Marvin Gaye, and Mickie Finn's musical revue. At the other end of the scale, Tom Jones moves to Thursdays this week (9:00 p.m., ABC), with guests John Davidson, George Burns, Sally Ann Howes, and The Dave Clark Five.

Each network features some fine guest stars on Friday night's programs; Michael Dunn is the evil Dr. Loveless in The Wild Wild West (7:30 p.m., CBS), an episode that also features Susan Seaforth, who'll become far better known as one of the great soap opera stars of all time. At the same time on ABC, it's the documentary "The Singers," featuring profiles of Aretha Franklin and Gloria Loring—not quite on the same scale, but we'll let it pass for now. And on The Name of the Game (8:30 p.m., NBC), Robert Young, Anne Baxter, and Ralph Meeker are among the stars in a drama about a right-wing reactionary (Young) marshaling a private army to fight the race war.

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Finally, a letter to the editor. Helen Harris, of Los Angeles, writes in to praise the recent 60 Minutes interview with Theodore Roosevelt's daughter, Alice Longworth. "She is bright, witty and sharp. But why must she be so unkind? If I were a Washingtonian, I would steer away from her like the plague."

Alice Roosevelt Longworth, daughter of a president and widow of a speaker of the House of Representatives, one of the great figures of Washington society, knew every president from Benjamin Harrison to Gerald Ford. "Many were intimate friends," the Washington Post once said, "others were intimate enemies." She was famous for her wit, and her tart and acerbic tongue; her devastating impression of "Poor Cousin Eleanor" Roosevelt was a favorite at her tea parties.

Her most famous saying (and my personal favorite) is, "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me." Of Wendell Willkie, she once said, "He sprang from the grass roots of the country clubs of America." and she remarked that Calvin Coolidge "looks as though he's been weaned on a pickle." Of journalist Dorothy Thompson: "Dorothy is the only woman in history who has had her menopause in public and made it pay." In what could be a commentary on today's generation, she remarked that, "I've always believed in the adage that the secret of eternal youth is arrested development." Of her father, whom she adored, she commented that he "always wanted to be the corpse at every funeral, the bride at every wedding and the baby at every christening." (TR once said that, "I can be President of the United States, or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both.")

It's a mark of her reputation that some of the quotes attributed to her were actually said by others—they just sounded like something she'd say. She admitted she wasn't the author of the devastating comment on Thomas Dewey, "How can you vote for a man who looks like a bridegroom on a wedding cake?" "She said she merely spread it around, or 'gave it currency,' out of respect for the phrase."

Perhaps only Winston Churchill and Dorothy Parker could rival the sharpness of her wit and her tongue. Ms. Harris wondered why Washingtonians didn't stay away from her, but presidents were known to change seating arrangements at state dinners in order to have her placed next to them. (LBJ had an attractive young woman moved to make room for her; when an aide told him he didn't know what he'd be missing, he replied, "Ah but I know what I'm getting.") Alice Roosevelt Longworth died in 1980; I wonder—I just wonder—what she'd have to say about Washington today? TV  

May 17, 2019

Around the dial

Does the Dali Lama read It's About TV?
I think most of us who are of a certain age got their introduction to many classic movies by seeing them on television, and so it's fitting that Classic Film and TV Cafe helps celebrate National Classic Movie Day with five favorite films from the 1950s. And if that's not enough, Once Upon a Screen chips in as well. How many of these did you first see on TV?

And how many of these did you first hear on TV? It's the conclusion to David's 100 most memorable songs introduced by classic TV at Comfort TV. And yes, this list is filled with classics that will give you an earworm if you're not careful.

Back to movies for a sec; RealWeegieMidget has some great stills from Joan Crawford's appearance on The Man from U.N.C.L.E., one of several two-part episodes over the run of the series that were turned into theatrical releases.

At Garroway at Large, Jodie takes us back to the premiere of Today, and gives us what may be our best (and certainly most fascinating) look at what the RCA Exhibition Hall, home of the Today set, looked like. The set only made up a small part of that large building, after all.

The Horn Section is back to Love That Bob!, with this week's episode being "Bob Tangles With Ruthie," first broadcast in 1957. Bob Cummings is, I think, an often-overlooked TV star of the 1950s and 60s, and it's good to be reminded how funny this show was.

The Broadcast Archives at the University of Maryland links to this Vanity Fair story about how Carl Reiner went toe-to-toe with CBS over the content of a classic Dick Van Dyke episode, and almost left the series because of it. Of such things is television history made.

Television's New Frontier: the 1960s has made it to Maverick in 1961, in which the show's  fourth and fifth seasons are seen. Creator Roy Huggins and star James Garner have both left, but with Jack Kelly still carrying the water (along with Roger Moore and a very brief appearance by Robert Colbert), the series still manages to hit some of the highs it was always known for.

And finally, two entertainment giants died this week, Doris Day and Tim Conway. I seldom have the time anymore to do the kinds of obituaries I like to do, but at A Shroud of Thoughts, Terence has fine appreciations of both Conway and Day. We won't see their likes again. TV  

May 15, 2019

Arlene Dahl's Beauty Spot, circa 1966

When you've seen as many of TV Guide's listings from the 1960s as I have, you get used to certain things that probably haven't been on TV in at least 40 years. One of those things is the daytime five-minute newsbreak. All three networks aired these, primarily in the '60s and '70s, and the faces of these brief news updates were quite well-known: Edwin Newman and Floyd Kalber on NBC, Douglas Edwards on CBS, and Marlene Sanders on ABC, among others. In the mid-60s, however, ABC had a five-minute break of another kind.

It was called Arlene Dahl's Beauty Spot; in last Monday's listing, it aired at 3:25 p.m. CT. Arlene Dahl, the host, was a Hollywood actress who achieved quite a bit of success thanks to her talent and her, well, anatomic assets.* However, she was no dumb blonde—actually, she was a redhead, but you get what I mean—and in 1954, while her acting career was still going strong she branched out into Arlene Dahl Enterprises, marketing cosmetics and designer lingerie. She also had her own syndicated newspaper beauty column, and later she became vice president of an advertising agency. Somewhere in there, she also gave birth to Lorenzo Lamas; her husband at the time (the second of six) was Fernando Lamas who undoubtedly looked marvelous.

*She's also yet another celebrities who hales from Minneapolis, graduating from Washburn High School, which is where I might have gone had we remained here during my teen years, rather than being exiled to the World's Worst Town™. She was a few years ahead of me, of course.

On September 27, 1965 the five-minute Arlene Dahl's Beauty Spot began on ABC; it would run until June 24, 1966, following Never Too Young, and later, Dark Shadows. Here are a couple of episodes, to give you an idea of what to expect the next time you see Arlene Dahl in the daytime listings.

Arlene Dahl is still alive today, at age 93. After all, we grow them hearty here in Minnesota. TV  

May 13, 2019

What's on TV? Thursday, May 19, 1966

What is there to say about this week's listings, which come from the Minnesota State Edition? Well, there are a couple of things that are exceptions to TV Guide's style guide: The Saint, at 3:30 p.m. on KDAL, and The Baron, at 9:00 p.m. on ABC, both include the article "The," and the network's afternoon soaper A Time for Us has the article "A"—these are very rare for the magazine. I can only remember a few exceptions like this; not quite sure why they pop up here, since they could easily have done without—see that listing for Untouchables in the picture above? I won't say that these are the kinds of things that keep me awake at night; if they did, my life would be even more pathetic than it sometimes seems. It's just that, well, inquiring minds want to know. Oh well—enjoy the rest of the day, and try not to think too hard about it.

May 11, 2019

This week in TV Guide: May 14, 1966

What better way to kick the week off than with a look at the undisputed heavyweight Chairman of the Board?

Leslie Radditz' article, which accompanies an encore presentation of  Sinatra's acclaimed NBC special A Man and His Music on Sunday (9:00 p.m. CT), looks at Sinatra at 50. In many ways, Radditz notes, Sinatra "seems to be reaching new peaks." He complains about not getting enough sleep, about his current Vegas gig being about two weeks too long, about lousy service in the hotel dining room. But then, when he gets onstage—well, as Radditz says, "the old excitement is there." Comments from women in the audience bear this out: "It's the eyeball-to-eyeball contact that gets me," one says. "I'll bet there isn't a place in that room where you wouldn't feel he was looking at you." Adds another, "His animal attraction is amazing."

Sunday's Sinatra special, which had originally aired the previous November, bears it out. It's just an hour of Frank singing—no skits, no forced banter, just Sinatra, with two of his best collaborators, Gordon Jenkins and Nelson Riddle, providing the orchestral backing. The show's available on DVD, and if you're a Sinatra fan you need to have it. Looking through some of the songs is like reading the notes on a Greatest Hits album: "I've Got You Under My Skin," "I Get a Kick Out of You," "It Was a Very Good Year," "Young at Heart," "Come Fly with Me," "Lady is a Tramp," "You Make Me Feel So Young," "One For My Baby." He closes the show with his longtime theme, "Put Your Dreams Away."  "My Way" and "New York, New York"? He hasn't even recorded those yet. Yes, Frank Sinatra still has some very good years ahead of him.

Here's a sample from A Man and His Music:

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No Hollywood Palace this week, preempted by a "Holiday on Ice" show hosted by Milton Berle. However, that doesn't mean we don't have some variety for you. Sullivan himself has a pretty good lineup (7:00 p.m., CBS), headlined by Alan King, Kate Smith, and dancer Peter Gennero. Frank's Rat Pack pal Dean Martin, on NBC Thursday night (9:00 p.m.), has singers Gisele MacKenzie, Tommy Sands and the McGuire Sisters, comedian Jack Carter, and Sherri Lewis and Lamb Chop. Red Skelton's Tuesday show (7:30 p.m., CBS) features Petula Clark, who was so big back in the early '60s that she's on twice this week—she's also a co-headliner on NBC's Best on Record program (Monday, 8:00 p.m., NBC), featuring performances by winners from March's Grammy Awards.

While we're at it, let's take a closer look at that Grammys show. The listing for it reads "The annual Grammy awards are presented," and mentions that Dinah Shore will be giving the Golden Achievement award to Duke Ellington. But we know it isn't the awards show itself—that was on March 15, in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Nashville. So what gives?  Well, believe it or not, the Grammy award ceremony wasn't broadcast live on TV until 1971—prior to that, a series of annual specials, called Best on Record, showcased the winners in the major categories, performing their winning tunes. It wasn't about the competition; who knows whether or not they named the losing nominees on the show? It was all about the music. And in that sense, it's no different than the Grammys today. Nobody really turns on the show to see the lame jokes from the presenters, the envelope opened, the four losers on screen while the winner tearfully accepts the award. No—people want the performances, and that's what this show gives them. Maybe they should consider this format every year?

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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. 

The Avengers, Cleveland Amory writes, "is so British you don't have to be British to understand it—but it helps." Understand? I'm not sure I do, but we'll leave it at that for the time being.

As I recounted a few years ago, it apparently took the British public a while to figure out that The Avengers was a satire, but with the passage of a couple of years, Cleve has no such problem—"Each of the episodes we've seen has involved not only individual satires of the old days, but also general satires of modern life." He at least acknowledges the presence of Patrick Macnee as John Steed (well, after all, he's only the glue that holds the whole series together), but he more than notices Diana Rigg in the unforgettable role of Mrs. Emma Peel, "the swinging girl of today and the forward-looking woman of tomorrow." "Pretty good, what?" says Amory, and adds, "make no mistake, she's both pretty and good."

He goes on to joke about a few more British-type jokes; cucumber sandwiches, "brollys," and "By Jove," but doesn't really say much more about the show. And I suppose that's a good thing—if you've read these capsule summaries over the years, one thing you know is that the more Cleve has to say about your show, the more you'll regret it. Understand?

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Keeping on the theme of British television, there's Robert Musel's (yes, this one's for you, Mike Doran!) profile of "the incorruptible" Patrick McGoohan, star of the decidedly more serious Danger Man or, as it's known in these parts, Secret Agent. McGoohan hasn't yet ventured into what will become his most famous role, that of Number Six in The Prisoner, but it's not hard to see the genesis of that show as he riffs on his television philosophy. "Every real hero since Jesus Christ has been moral," he says, a statement that will come as absolutely no surprise to those who've noticed the occasional Messianic parallel in Number Six's actions. He adds that he will not let John Drake, his character in Danger Man (and perhaps alter ego of Number Six?), do anything he would not do himself.

McGoohan's a man who knows what he believes in and isn't afraid to say so.  "When I first started the series," he tells Musel, "they wanted me to carry a gun and have an affair with a different girl in each episode.  I wasn't going to do that. I simply will not appear in anything offensive.  I won't accept bad language or eroticism."  That doesn't mean he's against romance on screen; "Romance is the finest for of entertainment...It's something you create in the mind of the viewer."  Rather, it's his philosophy toward television itself, and its responsibility to the viewer.  "What I object to is promiscuous sex which is anti-romance.  Television is watched by so many people, children and grandmothers among them, that it has a moral obligation to its audience."

McGoohan's a demanding man to work with, but "generally liked by his crew because they recognize him as a professional who could, if he had to, light a set or edit a film or even design a production."  I suspect it also doesn't hurt that he has a clear idea of what he wants in a series.  All in all, we get a picture of a man with an ego, a man with vision and the determination to bring it to fruition, a man with a pure artistic integrity.  It's hard not to respect a man like that.

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What else is there to talk about this week?

Well, if you're a sports fan, there's not much to look forward to this week. The Dodgers and Pirates meet in NBC's Saturday Game of the Week (1:00 p.m.), and the Twins take on the Yankees in a local broadcast Friday night at 7:00 p.m. on Channel 11. Otherwise you've got swimming, wrestling, bowling, ice-dancing and hydroplane races to look forward to. Oh, and Sam Snead offers tips on how to avoid sand traps.

Many of the weekly series have started the rerun season, so there's not a lot new there either.  Even the week's biggest show (except for Frank, that is) comes up a cropper. That's the scheduled launch of Gemini IX, which was slated to take off on Tuesday morning as the second-half of a space doubleheader. The day was to begin with the launch of an Atlas-Agena target vehicle at 10:00 a.m., followed at 11:40 a.m. by the Gemini launch. The Gemini, manned by Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan, would then catch up with, rendezvous and dock with the Agena, a crucial component that had to be understood and mastered prior to the forthcoming Apollo flights.

However, as you can see here, the launch of the Agena didn't exactly come off as planned; Mission Control lost contact with the vehicle after the Atlas booster failed, and the Agena plunged into the Atlantic. The Gemini flight was postponed until the following month, when a replacement vehicle was launched. Gemini IX finally took off on June 3, and while it didn't quite come off without a hitch, it was still a success.

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Another of the fashion spreads that TV Guide features from time to time, and this week our model is Joan Hackett.  Hackett, a woman of unconventional beauty, has had a pretty good career, winning awards for her work on stage and showing up regularly on a variety of movies and television shows and series.  This article has nothing to do with that, of course; for TV Guide, Hackett makes a perfect model for the English-styled fashions popularized by the ultra-chic New York shop Paraphernalia.

The store, which opened multiple locations and remained around in one form or another until the late 70s, is quite a story itself.  As for Hackett, her career continues on the upswing, with critical plaudits for the TV adaptation of Mourning Becomes Electra followed by Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for her work in her last movie, Only When I Laugh; in 1983 she will die of ovarian cancer.

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That seems like kind of a down note to end on, so let's take a look at a movie that sounds so awful, you have to smile at it.  It's 1958's Attack of the Puppet People, starring two actors who really ought to have known better, John Hoyt (many television shows) and John Agar (Shirley Temple's first husband; how far we've fallen since then, hmm?), and I swear to you that this is the real description of the movie, which airs on Channel 5 at 12:45 a.m. on Saturday night/Sunday morning:  "A toymaker carries his occupation to an extreme.  He shrinks people and locks them in a dollhouse."

Shockingly, the always-reliable Wikipedia says that the movie, which was shot under the working title The Fantastic Puppet People,  "has had a generally poor reception amongst critics."  It was rushed into production to capitalize on the recent popularity of The Incredible Shrinking Man, but something tells me that no amount of time would have helped this flick out.

Perhaps it makes more sense with the Spanish subtitles. But I keep waiting for three silhouettes to appear on the bottom of the screen.

Finally, there's this from Hugh Downs. According to the Doan Report, Hugh was speaking before The Advertising Club of New York last week, and and his comments were, shall we say, less than flattering.

Talking about so-called "high-irritation" commercials—and isn't that all of them nowadays?—Downs says, "Viewers, particularly the younger ones, are insulted by the patronage implicit in this sea of video silliness, and there's mounting evidence that they are rejecting this kind of advertising." One-joke commercials are "repeated to a point of great unfunniness." And to those who counter that, after all, it works, Downs says, "This isn't my point. It may work for a while longer, but while it's working it may be doing heavy harm to the credibility of advertising." Hugh Downs turned 98 earlier this year, and although he said these words over 50 years ago, he could say the same thing todayTV  

May 10, 2019

Around the dial

The Kuklapolitan Opera! I just like the way that sounds! And having Kukla, Fran and Ollie doesn't hurt; at Garroway at Large, Jodie takes us back to Dave Garroway (doing Milton Cross!) and Arthur Fieldler as they join the Kuklapolitans for "St. George and the Dragon."

We're into the Top 40 at Comfort TV, as David continues the countdown of the 100 most memorable songs introduced by classic TV. I've really enjoyed reading this series, and I'm happy to say (or admit) that I recognize most of these!

"Coming, Mama" is the sixth-season episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents that is Jack's latest entry in the Hitchcock Project at bare-bones e-zine. It's about—well, let's just say it's a typical Hitchcock story with a twist, and leave it at that...

At The Twilight Zone Vortex, Jordan continues his look at the new TZ on CBS All-Access; this week, it's "Not All Men," and Jordan offers what I think is a very perceptive critique of the episode's weaknesses and the themes it presents. Even if you don't have All-Access, it's worth reading the opinion of someone who knows their Zone.

Television Obscurities continues the year-long look at TV Guide 1989; it's the May 6 issue, celebrating television's 50th birthday, with some wonderful articles and powerful images that take us all the way back to television's beginning, as well as our own history.

At A Shroud of Thoughts, Terence has a very good look at the noir roots of Perry Mason. Raymond Burr, of course, cut his teeth in noir, often as a heavy, which I think makes his portrayal of Mason even more intimidating—imagine what it must have been like facing him in the witness box. TV  

May 8, 2019

It's not like it's the end of the world or anything...

When Ted Turner started CNN way back in 1980, it was with the promise that the network "would stay on until the end of the world." Now, according to several news stories, it transpires that CNN is downsizing its staff through voluntary buyout options, with the possibility of layoffs to follow. Given how CNN itself is dying in the ratings, it’s hardly a surprise that something like this is happening; it seems to me as if the network lost its way some time ago. Nonetheless, no matter what one’s opinions on CNN are, it’s always sad to see something like this happen—I’ve been on the wrong end of corporate layoffs myself, and it’s seldom ever a pleasant experience.

Despite all this, one can't help but note the irony of it all, especially when considering the video below: the infamous, oft-rumored and apparently confirmed, “Doomsday Video” that Turner had prepared for broadcast at the end of the world.

You may well have seen the video since it first surfaced a little over four years ago. The premise is just bizarre—it sounds like something you’d see on The Simpsons, doesn’t it? In fact, it's more than a little unsettling to watch. (Having the band play "Nearer My God to Thee" is a nice touch, though.) It’s also somewhat problematic theologically, whatever your beliefs. My own thought is that the Second Coming probably won't need breaking news to announce it. But who knows? It’s not as if there's any precedent to go by.

Now, CNN is not the only network to have thought about the potential of this story; the late Roger Ailes once mentioned that Fox would be there to provide live coverage when the end comes (“God to World: It’s OVER”), and I suspect MSNBC would be of the same mind (“World to End: Women, minorities affected the most”). No word if they have a similar video locked away in a secret vault.

Whatever—but if CNN still plans to air this tape when the world ends, it would first behoove them to make sure that the network doesn’t end before the world does. TV  

May 6, 2019

What's on TV? Thursday, May 7, 1981

By 1981, we were no longer living in the World's Worst Town™, and so this issue is another from my personal collection, with our St. Paul address on the label. I don't know why I kept this particular issue; sometimes it's easier to tell why I hung on to one, but this one is a mystery. I'd only kept a couple dozen or so before I started buying old issues in earnest (although it would probably be easier to find them in stores), but I didn't really ramp up my purchasing until I started this blog. You're welcome.

May 4, 2019

This week in TV Guide: May 2, 1981

Care for some charasmatic newsmen? Gerald M. Goldhaber's article on the most popular TV newsmen confirms what we've always been told: Walter Cronkite has the most charisma.

Goldhaber is Chairman of the Communication Department at The State University of New York at Buffalo. He's also president of the New York research firm McLuhan, Goldhaber, Williams, Inc., which was founded by Marshall McLuhan. All this means that Goldhaber likely knows what he's talking about. The study suggests three distinct kinds of charismatic personalities: the "hero," an idealized person who is what we wish we were; the "antihero," seen as "the common man," someone that we're comfortable with; and the "mystic," someone who's unusual, different, strange or unpredictable. Other qualities taken into consideration include appearance, sexuality, message similarity, actions, and imagery.

As I mentioned, Cronkite comes out on top, even though he's no longer anchoring the CBS Evening News: his 43 antihero charisma rating far outdistances NBC's Roger Mudd at 31, and John Chancellor at 29. Dan Rather, who's inherited Cronkite's spot behind the anchor desk, scores 41, but none comes from the antihero category; Rather scores 34 under hero, and 7 under mystic. A telling anecdote comes from Art Buchwald, who mentions that, "I remember once, when the astronauts were in trouble and I was worried, my wife said, 'Don't worry: Walter will solve the problem.' Twenty minutes later, Walter came back on the air. . . and fixed it. Dan Rather will never be able to do anything like that." That's it in a nutshell.

My preferred anchor, Frank Reynolds of ABC, ranks third with a total score of 33 (13 hero, 20 antihero); his co-anchors Max Robinson (12/19=31) and Peter Jennings (17/5/5=27) rank fifth and seventh overall. I'd argue that in another twenty or so years, Jennings would rank at the top of the list, don't you think? Using the same criteria, Good Morning America's David Hartman is the ideal morning show host, with an antihero rating of 33.

According to Goldhaber, the study suggests that NBC should put Mudd behind the anchor desk when Chancellor retires and use Tom Brokaw in the field; that Reynolds should be less aggressive and that Robinson and Jennings would make better reporters; and that CBS may just want to reconsider Dan Rather as an anchor unless he can rid himself of the hero mold (he never does)—otherwise the network might be better off moving Charles Kuralt from mornings to evenings. Wouldn't all that have been interesting?


On the cover this week are the hosts of one of television's more surprising hits of recent years: Cathy Lee Crosby, the one-time professional tennis player, failed Wonder Woman and B-movie actress, perennial game-show celebrity and B-grade singer John Davidson, and hall-of-fame quarterback and B-grade TV personality Fran Tarkenton. What's really incredible about their show, That's Incredible!, is that in its first season (of four), the show finished #3 in the Nielsens.

That's Incredible! isn't exactly a reality show, not in the way we think of them today, anyway. It's closer to shows like Ripley's Believe it or Not! or, back in the old days, You Asked For It. I suppose you could also compare it to something like America's Funniest Home Videos, in that the hosts really don't do a whole lot more than introduce videos. Time called it "the most sadistic show on television," and for every segment that focused on something that was a real accomplishment, a medical or technological advancement, there was a clip of a man catching a bullet in his teeth.

So why was it popular? It's only a theory, mind you, but the show's first and most successful season was 1979-80. The country was in a malaise, the economy was a mess, and we were apparently too inept to free the hostages in Iran. There was, for those of us alive at the time, a feeling of great impotency, as if the United States couldn't do anything right anymore. Under those circumstances, it's perhaps understandable that people wanted to watch a show that didn't require much from them, that consisted of people actually accomplishing things, even if it was just catching a bullet in your teeth. A feature on cryogenic corneal reshaping through lathe keratomileusis might have been enough to remind people that we could get something right at least once in a while.  As I say, it's just a theory.

Either that, or it was Cathy Lee Crosby.

On Saturday at 4:00 p.m. CT, ABC brings us the 107th running of the Kentucky Derby, live from Churchill Downs. The broadcast's only an hour long, compared to the virtually all-day coverage that NBC foists on us nowadays*, but that's plenty of time to cover the excitement as Pleasant Colony holds off Woodchopper to win by less than a length. Colony will go on to win the Preakness two weeks later and then, with Triple Crown excitement building, finishes third in the Belmont. As I recall, there wasn't as much excitement about a possible Triple Crown winner back in 1981. After all, following the great Secretariat's victory in 1973, Seattle Slew had taken the Crown in 1977, and Affirmed the very next year. In fact, Spectacular Bid had fallen just short in 1979, so at this point the question wasn't whether not the Triple Crown would be won, but whether or not this year's Derby winner would fail to win it. Who could possibly have known that Affirmed's 1978 triumph would be the last time for almost 40 years?

*Which is still double the 30 minutes that CBS often offered when it carried the Triple Crown races.

By 1981, the TV Teletype—which once graced both the beginning and end of the shiny section—has been reduced to one single page, encompassing news from both New York and Hollywood. There's not much here that's newsworthy, but I do see a note that in June, "NBC will telecast five pilot episodes of "Wedding Day," a daytime series in which real couples get married, for better or for worse, on TV." Sounds like something you'd see on E! or Bravo nowadays, no? Also in the Teletype is a story about Carol Burnett, Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence and Ken Berry getting together for "Eunice," a spinoff of the bit from Burnett's variety show. That, of course, becomes Mama's Family.

Long Live Betamax!
In the "TV Q&A" feature, a questioner asks why TV sound can't be broadcast in stereo. The answer—it can! It's already being done in Japan, and should be making its way here within the next few years. Wonder what they'd think of surround sound? There's also a question from someone who'd recorded a number of tapes on Betamax and wondered if it would be compatible with VHS, and another from someone concerned that their new cable box meant they couldn't use the remote control from their television. A lot of this is probably gibberish to younger readers, but for people of my age these were real problems—and it makes me feel old. Again.

A rising star of the '80s is future Oscar nominee Mare Winningham, who appears this week in the TV-movie Freedom, in which she plays a rebellious 15-year-old runaway. This comes on the heels of her performance as a runaway teen-age hooker in Off the Minnesota Strip in 1980, and Operation Runaway, in which she played, well, a runaway. Typecasting, anyone? Unlike many profiles from TV Guide, Winningham actually does fulfill her potential, with a long and successful career in both TV and movies.

So what's on tap for viewing this week? Well, on Saturday night at 7:00 p.m., ABC has a special two-hour Love Boat, featuring "top fashion designers": Geoffrey Beene! Halston! Bob Mackie! Gloria Vanderbilt! Compared to the guest cast that week (including Morgan Brittany, Jayne Kennedy, McLean Stevenson and Robert Vaughn), it might have been the first time the designers were bigger stars than the celebrities. Oh well, I'm sure a fun time was had by all.

If  you wanted to catch all of Love Boat, you would have been forced to pass up NBC's Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters, which also starts at 7:00. I'm not a country music fan, so I really have no idea how well-known Barbara Mandrell is today, but back in the early '80s she was a big name. Blonde, cute, with a good-enough voice, and two equally cute sisters; not a bad combination for a show that ran for a couple of years. You also would have missed Channel 9's airing of the syndicated Hee Haw, not to mention the show that followed it at 8:00 p.m., Dolly.* You would have been good to see Lawrence Welk at 6:00 p.m,, though, so there is that. And then don't forget ABC's Fantasy Island at 9:00 p.m., with an all-star cast—Cleavon Little, Joe Namath, Christopher Connelly, Trish Stewart.  I mean, they're stars. Right?

*One guess as to who that would have been. Or perhaps two, if you get my drift.

A quick look at the rest of the week's "highlights":

Sunday: CBS has a pretty strong lineup, which kicks off with 60 Minutes, followed by Archie Bunker's Place, One Day at a Time, Alice, The Jeffersons and Trapper John, M.D. All of those shows made a nice little profit for CBS. But my choice would have been PBS' Meeting of Minds, the marvelous Steve Allen program in which historic figures from the past (played by actors) "sit down" to discuss the issues of the day. This week's discussion looks promising: economist Adam Smith (Sandy Kenyon), birth-control (and eugenics) advocate Margaret Sanger (Jayne Meadows, Allen's wife), and Gandhi (Al Mancini). Again, back to a time when good conversation was actually considered entertainment.

Monday: Take your pick; it's the aforementioned That's Incredible! on ABC, or Little House on the Prairie on NBC. If you like your drama straight up, there's M*A*S*H (still) and Lou Grant on CBS.

Tuesday: It's ABC's version of CBS' famed Saturday-night Murderers' Row of the 1970s, with Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Three's Company, Too Close for Comfort and Hart to Hart. I'd imagine a lot of networks would love to have that lineup as well.* But for other choices, there's always Hill Street Blues on NBC, or the made-for-TV flick Broken Promise on CBS.

*Topic for another day: could we postulate that this is ABC's signature lineup of all time, to compete with that CBS Saturday night schedule (All in the Family, M*A*S*H, Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart and Carol Burnett) and NBC's Must-See Thursday of the 90s (anchored by Friends, Frazier and ER, along with, variously, Will and Grace, Suddenly Susan and others)? Might make for an interesting discussion.

Wednesday: A fleeting reminder of the glory that once was Hallmark Hall of Fame, as PBS' single season of the long-running series presents Charles Durning in the one-man play "Casey Stengel." I don't think Durning looked anything like Stengel, but he was brilliant in the role. That year was a very good one for Hall of Fame; in addition to "Stengel," there was another one-man performance, with Roy Dotrice as "Mr. Lincoln," and Jane Alexander and Edward Hermann teaming up for "Dear Liar." If you're not a fan, you're probably watching Real People, Diff'rent Strokes and The Facts of Life on NBC.

Thursday: Heavy hitters, indeed: The Waltons and Magnum, P.I. on CBS, Mork & Mindy, Barney Miller and Taxi on ABC, and part one of the murder-of-the-week telemovie The People vs. Jean Harris on NBC. Jean Harris, you may recall, was accused and convicted of the murder of her lover Dr. Herman Tarnower, author of the famed "Scarsdale Diet." Think Atkins, but with violence.

Friday: I'd think the night would have been dominated by CBS' twin-bill of Dukes of Hazzard and Dallas.Tonight's Dallas episode is a repeat of the season premier, which opened with J.R.'s crumpled body being discovered. That's right, it's the "Who Shot J.R.?" season! What's particularly interesting about this is that Friday, nowadays considered something of a TV graveyard, was anything but back in 1981. ABC sought to siphon off some of that Dallas audience with a brand new Battle of the Network Stars, and NBC gave us the shocking verdict in the conclusion of The People vs. Jean Harris.

Also on Friday night is a program I have fond memories of. Actually, "program" might be a misnomer, but I'm not sure what you'd call it. Not a series, nor a miniseries, because it's not scripted drama. I suppose you might think of it as reality programming, but it doesn't exploit anyone. No, I guess there's really no way to describe the spectacle that was "Action Auction."

The Auction was the principal fundraiser for KTCA, Minneapolis' public broadcasting station. It was a delightfully scatterbrained week or so of broadcasting that preempted Channel 2's prime time schedule and, on the last night of the auction, would stretch into the the early hours of the next morning. I first became acquainted with it in 1971 or '72, when the broadcast came live from the Garden Court of Southdale Center. The Garden Court was the center atrium of the three-story mall, and people were able to stand at the railings and watch the show while the mall was open.

You might think that this would be pretty dry programming, but you'd be wrong. For one thing, celebrities from all the other Twin Cities stations would appear to do some time as a guest auctioneer (KTCA wasn't seen as competition at the time, and appearing on it was more like a civic duty). There were also some fantastic items being auctioned off—from a popcorn wagon that became a staple during summers on the Nicollet Mall, to lunch with movie star Cary Grant.* And it wasn't just a spectator sport, of course; anyone could call up and bid on an item, and anyone who's attended a benefit featuring a silent auction knows that some of those items are pretty good.

*Grant, a member of the board of Faberge, was in St. Paul often for board meetings, and was apparently a big supporter of public broadcasting.

The best part of the auction was the final Saturday, which would start at 4:00 p.m. and would end—well, whenever the last item had been sold. In the year I'm thinking of, the year of the Southdale broadcast, that hour came at 6:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, and there was a wonderful shot on TV of the sun rising through the clear windows that lined the Garden Court. Watching the auction was a lot like watching a telethon, and as midnight came and went, as 2:00 a.m. came and went, the on-air personalities would get loopier and loopier.  (The closest I've seen  to it was the 1987 Islanders-Capitals four-overtime playoff game, which ended around 1:00 a.m. CT and at one point featured announcers Mike Emrick and Bill Clement on camera with their neckties tied around their foreheads like headbands while Clement did impressions of John Wayne.)

There was something delightfully amateurish about Action Auction, and as KTCA became more professional and more polished, the auction started to lose its appeal. Eventually it became a dry affair, more reminiscent of a pledge break than live anarchy; I don't remember when KTCA finally discontinued it, but it would be great if they brought it back one more time—in its goofiest version, of course. TV  

May 3, 2019

Around the dial

Lately, I’ve been considering cutting the cable and going with a streaming service. It seems to make sense, since probably 90% of what we watch (outside of sports and news) comes from DVDs or Amazon Prime. Because I have this foolhardy idea that I can educate myself on the pros and cons of each service out there in hopes of making a well-thought out decision—itself somewhat foolhardy—I’ve been going to various websites, gathering information on everything from channel lineups to costs to antenna placement.

It should come as a surprise to exactly nobody, then, that the result of this has been a dramatic increase in popup ads for—you guessed it—streaming services. I’m flattered to know that Sling, Hulu, PlayStation Vue, and Philo (among others) are so eager to have our business; it’s nice, after all, to be wanted. I’d be even more flattered if I were convinced, beyond what they say in their ads, that any one of them could give me the kind of service they want. They say they can, but will I find myself casting off a perfectly functional but very expensive cable plan for a cheaper service that is worth exactly how much less I pay for it? Stay tuned; I’m as eager to find out the answer as you are. In the meantime. . .

I know that professional darts doesn’t exactly fall under the category of classic television, but for an aging coot like me, the evolution of darts from pub activity to big-time television spectacle is reminiscent of watching pro football evolve from an athletic contest all about winning to a pop culture/party/concert mishmash in which the game is secondary. Besides, how can you pass up a quote like this, found in Bryan Curtis’s excellent Ringer article?

Last year, at a tournament in the city of Wolverhampton, someone let out some horrific farts on stage during a match. To the delight of the British press, the players blamed each other. Asked for comment, [promoter Barry] Hearn deadpanned, “We’ve got to get to the bottom of this.”

The answer: you can’t. Read it for yourself.

At Comfort TV, David returns with the latest installment of the 100 most memorable songs introduced on TV. Some real classics here, coming from shows like The Addams Family, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Greatest American Hero and The Carol Burnett Show.

We think we live a pretty dull life, all in all, which isn't necessarily a bad thing (although with all the streaming video ads, it promises to get more interesting by the day). Our friends, on the other hand, might (?) consider us a bit goofy. But Dave Garroway had the courage to admit he led a goofy life, as Jodie recounts in this week's Garroway at Large

It's hard now to remember how big a deal War and Remembrance was when it aired 25 years ago, partly because of the sheer scope of it. It's one of the things that's "bustin' out all over" the month of May, and you can read about it at TV Obscurities in this week's A Year in TV Guide feature.

Ah, it's back to F Troop at The Horn Section, and Hal's focus this week is on 1965's "Dirge for the Scourge," with Sam Urp—the "Scourge of the West"—played by Jack Elam in a wonderful bit of casting. Hal makes a comparison between F Troop and Bilko, which I'd never considered before. I have to think about that. TV  

May 1, 2019

Taking TV seriously

"Pop culture can fill you with empty calories; that’s just what it wants. Once you pop, you can’t stop.”

That quote comes from "Searching for Life in the Time of Easter Eggs," Sean Fennessey's article at The Ringer, that asked whether or it was possible to watch today's movies and television shows on their own terms, instead of looking for hidden meanings from their creators. It reminded me of a piece I did about three weeks ago, a fairly deep dive on Hogan’s Heroes where I asked questions about the morality of  actions taken during the show—questions that might not really be considered until you’d seen each episode multiple times.

The difference is that, unlike the shows mentioned in The Ringer article (Game of Thrones, etc.), the issues in Hogan's Heroes were ones that weren't planted by the creators—in fact, they might not even have known about them. When I wrote The Electronic Mirror, I argued in favor of viewing television in this manner, of exploring programs not only for their subtleties, but for meanings that the creators themselves might never have intended. Biblical scholars will tell you that certain personages from the time—Caiaphais, for one*—often speak the truth inadvertently, without realizing what it is they’re saying, or what its significance is. It’s fair to say, therefore, that just because a particular subtext was missing from the scriptwriter’s intent, that doesn’t mean we aren’t free to consider the questions it raises.

*John 11:50.

What it really boils down to, I suppose, is whether or not one can address such serious questions—questions of life and death, of ethics and morality and the costs associated with doing the right thing—within the context of any television show, not just a sitcom meant mostly as a form of clever but diverting entertainment.* In the case of Hogan, the questions clearly are valid ones, and could be addressed at some length and detail.

*Most of you probably know about the controversy surrounding Hogan’s Heroes and the question of whether or not a Prisoner of War camp is an appropriate location for a situation comedy so this series in particular seems ripe for deeper discussions. 

The next question is this: was this an outlier, a case of a devoted fan digging deeper into the meaning of a show than most people would be inclined to do? Was Hogan’s Heroes itself ever intended to be analyzed in such a manner? Or should we look at all television this way, as a form of entertainment that comes embedded with its own Easter eggs that point, for the curious viewer, in the direction of a gateway to a more significant form of discussion and debate?

To the surprise of nobody, I’m sure, I subscribe to a fair number of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube pages dealing with classic television. And again, not surprisingly, most of them deal with questions about things like “Who’s Your Favorite TV Spy?” or “Does Anyone Remember [fill-in name of show between 1970-2010]?” I like these kinds of discussions; they’re fun and frivolous, and they often bring back warm and happy memories. They are, in short, entertaining.

And so let’s go back to the quote at the beginning of this essay.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from decades of old TV Guides, it’s this: there has always been a concern that television should be more than just “mere entertainment.” I don’t think the phrase “empty calories” was in use back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, but, as I pointed out in The Electronic Mirror, the food metaphor was always close at hand; I frequently quote Erwin D. Canham as pointing out that people can’t live on dessert alone; therefore, television has an obligation to provide viewers with a balanced diet of programming.

I think some people might be afraid of this kind of scholarship, for that’s what it is. They think they’ll be accused of being nerds, of turning into obsessives who dress up at conventions and create foreign languages and live their lives in a semi-permanent state of detachment from the real world—Trekkies, in other words. They may simply fear that going beyond the text of the show threatens their ability to enjoy it for what it is: a relaxing form of entertainment that they can share alone or with friends. Or, it may be something that they never even consider.

I want to challenge the notion that classic TV consists of empty calories, to go beyond it, as I think many of you do as well. I want to prove that pop culture can be the balanced diet that provides both the nourishment of dinner and the fun of dessert. It can never leave the realm of entertainment; Easter eggs do no good if nobody’s there to see it. But it doesn’t have to be a plateful of empty calories either, and in fact we should try and avoid that whenever possible.

That’s what I set out to do in The Electronic Mirror, and it’s what I look to do here on a regular basis. It can be done, and I think I’ve tried to do this, without becoming threatening, without discouraging the reader who wants nothing to do with a dry, academic text. Hopefully you find it as much fun as I do, and as satisfying. (If you don’t, I hope you’ll at least come for the old TV Guides, and stay for the cartoons.)

Whatever the case—and I’m trying to speak beyond the choir here—I hope you’ll consider that classic television can be stimulating as well as entertaining, that it can cause you to ask big questions and ponder the meanings of what you see on the screen, that it will engage you in a form of active participation that will enrich your viewing pleasure in so many different ways. Yes, it’s fun and games, but to paraphrase Peggy Lee, that’s not all there is. TV  

April 29, 2019

What's on TV? Friday, May 3, 1957

This week's TV Guide is advertised as the Northern Minnesota edition, and you'll see some differences from our usual Minnesota State Edition. The stations shown include a pair from Fargo, North Dakota, and the Twin Cities educational channel, KTCA, hasn't yet started broadcasting. Many areas only have two stations, which means we have more split affiliations than usual. You'll notice that variety shows are a regular part of the daytime schedule. And, of course, Daylight Saving Time plays havoc with some of our schedules. It's just an average day in the broadcasting week.

April 27, 2019

This week in TV Guide: April 27, 1957

There’s discontent rising in the land, my friends, and it’s about to boil over. It pits neighbor against neighbor, city against city, network against network; and there’s no telling how far it may go before it’s done. I speak, of course, of: Daylight Savings Time.

Daylight Time was scheduled to go into effect for the year at 2:00 a.m. on Sunday, April 28. That is, in places where it was observed. And what a mess that was, as TV Guide points out. "Duluth, Minn., and Superior, Wis., lie right next to each other in the Central Time Zone.* Both receive programs from the same TV stations. During the winter, everything is fine. Come summer, Superior goes to daylight time; Duluth, however, stays on standard (unless the state legislature passes a new law). To which of the two times should programs be geared?"

*I can vouch for this, having been in Duluth before. The area is often referred to as "Duluth-Superior."

See, at this point both the federal and some state governments have left it up to local communities to decide whether or not to go on Daylight Savings Time. Minnesota, as a state, did not observe it; the legislature, however, was in the process of debating a law that would put Minneapolis-St. Paul and Duluth on it, leaving the rest of the state on Standard Time. This becomes a major issue for the networks, who are at this point still dealing with a substantial number of live programs. The advent of tape has helped things to an extent, but it's still confusing, as this example of the Ed Sullivan and Steve Allen shows illustrates. The shows are initially broadcast live at 8:00 p.m. in New York. New York follows Daylight Time.

Instead of being televised [live to other parts of the country], they are recorded on tape. The tape is held for three hours, then transmitted at 8 o'clock Los Angeles PDT. The tape is simultaneously fed back to stations in the Central Standard Zone for broadcast at the usual air time there of 9 o'clock and in the Mountain Standard Zone at 8 o'clock.

Do you have a headache yet? If not, consider that Seattle remains on Standard time, which puts it an hour behind Los Angeles. Seattle is frequent host to televised boxing. With an air time of 10:00 p.m. EDT, this means the main event must begin at 6:00 p.m. PST, with the undercard starting even earlier. As an NBC exec says, "What fight fan wants to watch a fight at 6 o'clock? He hasn't even had is dinner yet."

The effect of this national confusion isn't limited to TV, of course—airlines and railroads have to deal with the shifting sands of time as well. Whatever you have to say about Daylight Savings Time (I'm against it, personally), I think everyone can agree that things were much worse back then.

♦️ ♦️ ♦️

As you can see from the cover, the feature story this week is on Groucho Marx, whose show You Bet Your Life is one of the top-rated programs on TV. Groucho was seldom at a loss for words, and this week's interview, conducted at Romanoff's restaurant by staff writer Dan Jenkins (not this one) is no exception.

Groucho on criticism of TV: "I don't see why everybody, including myself, should spend so much time criticizing television. I think television has done a remarkably good job considering the circumstances. If you were the advertising man entrusted with the spending of two or three million dollars, would you try to elevate the public or would you try to find yourself a good commercial show? When the public wants to be elevated, it will do its own elevating."

On Hollywood creativity: "People look upon Hollywood as a great outdoor lunatic asylum. This is not true. There are some very intelligent people in Hollywood—intelligent enough to know what all the rest of the lunatics want in the way of entertainment."

On appearing as a guest on other programs: "I've regretted most of the guest spots I've done. But for one of them, a four-minute spot, I got $25,000. How can I regret that? If somebody wants to spend his money that foolishly, I am quite happy to help him out."

On the unfairness of the TV ratings system: "The only way to judge a show's value is to examine the sales record of the show's product. I think I am safe in saying that De Soto [the car company that sponsored his show] barely existed in the public's mind before You Bet Your Life, and then only as a character who preceded Mark Twain on the Mississippi. I think they know now that De Soto is an automobile. I drive two of them myself, though not at the same time."

On the photographer suggesting Groucho might want to hide his drink before being photographed: "Why? And if it looks like tomato juice, tell 'em there's vodka in it. I don't see why I should hide the fact that I have a drink with my lunch. Let's order a drink for the photographer. He probably needs one more than I do."

On the future: "The future will have a TV screen covering your living-room wall. All in color." Lest this sound too scholarly, considering this has pretty much come to pass, he adds, "The set itself will erupt popcorn at regular intervals. They'll even send a man to your house to put his feet on your shoulders and provide background talking and paper rustling."

♦️ ♦️ ♦️

Saturday morning's presentation of Winky Dink and You on CBS is the last show of the series, to be replaced the next week by Susan's Show, hosted by Susan Heinkel. Susan's Show debuted in 1956 on Chicago CBS affiliate WBBM before moving to the network a year later.* The premise of Susan's Show was pretty simple: using a magic flying stool, Susie would travel to mystical lands, where she would engage in adventures with her dog Rusty. In other words, pretty standard kids' TV fare.

*Chicago was a hotbed of television in the early days, and many series made the transition from local to national broadcasts.

By the way, did I mention that Susan Heinkel is 12 years old? Not only that, she's a show biz veteran, having started her career in St. Louis at the age of three, and she's a hit in Chicago, trailing only the Mickey Mouse Club in the daytime ratings. Notes the article, "Susan ad-libs commercials with astonishing poise." 

Think about that next time you get a bumper-sticker talking about how your kid's an honor student. Impressive, but does she have her own TV show yet?

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Starting in 1954, Steve Allen hosted his own NBC variety show which, at the beginning, aired opposite that of Ed Sullivan. It didn't run as long as Ed's, of course, but then Allen said his goal was never to conquer Ed, but to coexist with him, which he did for several seasons. Let's see who gets the best of the contest this week.

Sullivan: Ed welcomes Lena Horne, singer; young actor Anthony Perkins, in his TV singing debut; Bill Haley's Comets; comedians George de Witt and Jack Paar; Apaka, Honolulu's top recording star; the Happy Jesters, instrumental group; Heidi, Toronto's adding dog; and Jim Piersall, Boston Red Sox outfielder.

Allen: Steve greets comedians Jack Carson and Don Adams' songstresses Brenda Lee and Abbe Lane, who is joined by Xavier Cugat and his band; and dancers Peter Gennarro and Ellen Ray from the Braodway musical "Bells Are Ringing."

Not bad. You can clearly see Ed's vaudeville roots showing, far more than Allen, who concentrates on more established stars. Abbe Lane, profiled in the front of the magazine, is not only a talented singer and dancer, she's a knockout (with "one of the world's most remarkable torsos"), who's married to the bandleader Cugat (his fourth wife; he later divorces her and marries Charo). Don Adams will eventually become Maxwell Smart, and Jack Carson is a TV mainstay.

On the other hand, it's hard to top the great Lena Horne, and although Perkins is supposed to sing, he's also there to plug the movie Fear Strikes Out, the true story of Jim Piersall's struggle with mental illness.* But the reason I'm giving this one to Sullivan is a more whimsical one: Jack Paar, who's appearing on Ed's show, will - three months later - take over the Tonight Show; the very program that Steve Allen had given up. I love that kind of irony.

*Perkins' widow, Berry Berenson, was killed on American Airlines flight 11 during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

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Wouldn't be able to get away with this today.
Baseball season! But it's pre-major league baseball in the Twin Cities, so there's no Minnesota Twins. Instead, there's the Minneapolis Millers, the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Giants, who the year before moved from Minneapolis to the brand-new Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington (even though TV Guide, which lacks the subtleties, says the Met is in Minneapolis). The new digs have been built in hopes of luring a major league team, and in time they will—the Washington Senators, who make Minnesota their home in 1961. On Thursday night the Millers take on the Louisville Colonels. A quick glance at the lineups gives me the name of at least one future star, Orlando Cepada, who plays for the Millers before being called up to the Giants, now in San Francisco, in 1958. Cepada is elected to the Hall of Fame in 1999.

There is major league baseball on TV Saturday afternoon, though it isn't seen in the Twin Cities. (Perhaps the Millers were playing at home and the games were blacked out?) Lindsay Nelson and Leo Durocher are behind the mic for NBC as the Brooklyn Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates face off from Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, while the irrepressible Dizzy Dean and Buddy Blattner call CBS's telecast of the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indians in Cleveland's Municipal Stadium.

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"To a national audience, Mike Wallace is known as the sympathetic quizmaster on "The Big Surprise," which recently left the air. New Yorkers, however, know him as the incisive interviewer on a late evening local program which made its debut last fall and created widespread interest."

And with that, ABC launched the debut episode of The Mike Wallace Interviews (Sunday, 10:00 p.m., ABC), which introduced us to the Mike Wallace we all came to know and love (or hate). I've seen clips of Wallace as game show host, actor and commercial pitchman, and I'm sure that acting experience helped hone his skills when it came to interviewing. Still, it's hard to imagine Mike Wallace as anything other than the newsman and 60 Minutes star, isn't it? Kind of like finding out your parents were once young—it just doesn't compute.

Also, there's a note in the Teletype that confirms "CBS's new Perry Mason show, starring Raymond Burr, will replace Jackie Gleason next fall." Who could have imagined how that would turn out.

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Speaking of which, we'll end today with the kind of footnote to which I'm so often drawn. Again from the Teletype:

"Charles Van Doren, Twenty-One winner, has signed an exclusive contract with NBC. Tentatively, they'll build a quiz show around him, use him as consultant on educational shows. He'll continue as college prof."

This was, of course, before the Quiz Show Scandals, before he was exposed as being part of the rigged show, before he was fired from NBC and Columbia University. In other words, before everything fell apart.

But as far as this issue of TV Guide is concerned, all of that is in the future. And what impresses me the most is looking at this note, so innocent and without guile. It's not a reprint, it's not a message that blinks on a computer archive. (As you'll be reading it.) No, what I hold in my hands is the actual TV Guide, a historical document, if you will, which came out before anything had hit the fan. It was not only written in the context of the time, it was printed and sold in that context as well. It's kind of like the difference between a lithograph of the Declaration of Independence and the real thing, though not nearly as important, of course. It is, nonetheless, living history. Our history. And that never fails to impress me. TV