February 23, 2019

This week in TV Guide: February 25, 1961

James Hagerty, prior to becoming head of ABC News, was President Eisenhower's press secretary - so it is with this dual authority that he offers, in this week's edition, a "Creed for Television Newsmen." There are six points to this creed:

1. TV news reporting must be "factual, impartial, free and fearless. It cannot permit itself to be dominated or even remotely to be associated with any group or faction of special interest, any political party or any government."

2.  While analyzing and explaining news developments, "it must not confuse news reporting with personal opinion of a commentator who, after all, is expressing only his own thoughts and analysis."

3. Local, regional and national news "must never be neglected or overlooked."

4. News must be reported from "all sections" of the world, regarding a larger staff of trained reporters with expertise in foreign languages.

5. TV news cameras "must have the right to cover news wherever it happens, here at home or overseas."

6. "A good reporter does not seek to fake or exaggerate his story.  He gets the news as it happens, and reports the truth, the whole truth. That is his job."

Politics is part of the cultural history not only of this country but of television, and so I've spent a fair amount of time on it. I've tried, however, to keep my distance when it comes to ideological interjections, although I've got a fair number of opinions (as anyone who knows me can attest). Having said this, I find it interesting that fully three of Hagerty's six points deal with the importance of neutral and objective reporting. Now, without injecting any partisanship, I think we can all agree on the importance of this, and I hope we can also acknowledge that, no matter which side of the political fence you stand on, television news falls woefully short not only in this area but on all of Hagerty's points.

Hagerty served as head of
ABC News from 61-63
Obviously, this isn't a new problem; Hagerty wouldn't have made such an issue of it otherwise. But one of the more unfortunate aspects of the fragmentation of American society over the decades is that the discerning viewer can pretty much watch whichever news program slants towards his or her point of view. Just as music doesn't need to appeal to the masses any longer, and thus shatters into a million different niche networks, there is no incentive for any news program to offer objective, unbiased coverage. Liberal? Watch MSNBC or CNN. Conservative? Fox News. Human interest stories? There's always the networks, who seem to have pretty much given up on hard stuff. And so on.

This isn't the place to debate solutions to the situation, of course, but one further point before we move on: Hagerty's first point, that the news must be kept separate from special interests, is one reason why Reuven Frank, as producer of NBC's Huntley-Brinkley Report, kept it commercial-free in its early years. Frank understood that a news program had to avoid even the hint of a conflict of interest. Considering the amount of influence sponsors exercised over programs in the early days of TV, it's no wonder Frank wanted to keep the news free of such entanglements.  Of course, today the bottom line in TV news is not journalism so much as the network's profit-loss statement. So I guess none of us should be surprised.

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So what's on this week? Saturday presents an interesting episode of the debate show The Nation's Future (8:00 p.m., NBC). The question before the panel: "Should Congressional Investigations of Loyalty Be Curbed?" For the affirmative: Rep. James A. Roosevelt (D-Cal); for the negative: Martin B. McKenally, Chairman of the the Americanism Commission of the American Legion. Remember, this is at a time when the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC, the precursor to Joe McCarthy's work) still exists.

CBS's Sunday documentary series The Twentieth Century (5:30 p.m. CT) casts a spotlight on French turmoil, and one can't help but see this as a forerunner of the chaos waiting around the corner in the United States. The show promises to tell us about the "turbulent youth of France. LEARN why they condemn conscription, defy [President] de Gaulle, rebel against the Algerian war.  SEE if they are the sinners or the saviors of France." We learn that amidst this tumult, "one dominant theme always recurs—Algeria."

Substitute "Vietnam" for "Algeria" and you've got almost a perfect match, don't you think? Resist conscription, i.e. the draft? Check. Defy the President? Check. Sinners or saviors? Ah, yes, that's the question. Unrest in both France and America would come to a head in 1968; here, it was assassinations and riots, while in France a general strike will threaten to bring the government down altogether, forcing President Charles de Gaulle to make sure he still has the support of the French military, and raising the spectre of French troops marching down the Champs-Élysées.

That's still seven years away for America, though, and even with the civil rights unrest that rears its head in the South, viewers watching this show might well be forgiven for thinking that the French were going mad, the Republic was teetering on the brink, and the children were lunatics running the asylum. Thank God it can't happen here, right?

Monday's The Play of the Week (8:30 p.m., KMSP) is an intriguing one; "Night of the Auk," a play in blank verse written by Arch Oboler (radio's Lights Out), starring William Shatner, Shepperd Strudwick, Warner Anderson, James MacArthur and Alan Mixon as astronauts returning from the first manned flight to the moon. And a couple other things: a sixth man was left on the moon's surface to die, and the Soviet Union threatens nuclear war over egomaniacial Shatner having claimed the moon for the United States. (It's a good thing Captain Kirk was more diplomatic.) The play originated on Broadway, and though it was edited down for television, the production apparently retains the dark, unusual flavor of Oboler's verse. Can you imagine anything this unique on television today?

An American named Hadley plays an important role in Tuesday's Alcoa Presents, which we know better as One Step Beyond (9:00 p.m., ABC). Naturally he's the good guy, hunting through rubble for survivors of a recent earthquake in Asia Minor. I have nothing to add to this, other than that it's inconceivable that someone named Hadley could be anything but the good guy.

On Wednesday, Perry Como (8:00 p.m., NBC) welcomes that hot new comedy team of Mike Nichols and Elaine May, "currently starring on Broadway." At 9:00 p.m. on NBC, Dennis Hopper stars on Naked City in a fine episode about a man born to wealth who insists on trying to make his own way, as owner of the Tango Dance Palace. Unfortunately, the Palace attracts the attention of Detectives Flint and Arcaro (Paul Burke, Harry Bellaver) when one of the girls working there disappears, and Hopper's character claims he's never even seen her.

Life magazine celebrates its 25th anniversary on Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. with a 90-minute star-studded extravaganza on NBC, hosted by Bob Hope, with Fredric March discussing Life's war coverage; Sid Caesar and Peggy Cass on how the average family has changed; Hope and the Mercury 7 astronauts talking about the coming journey into space, and a look at how fashion has evolved in the last quarter-century. Mary Martin also appears in a duet with Hope.

It's truly a moment in time; for more than two decades the famed weekly picture magazine had chronicled our times, portraying life in all its various shapes, sizes and (eventually) colors. And here it is being feted by the very medium that is inexorably taking its place. Exotic images of foreign lands, the pomp and pageantry of coronations, the breathtaking drama of sporting events - all of this had made Life a staple of American households. But now you can see all that on television, except for the color (and that's coming soon enough), and these pictures move! Soon enough Life would be gone.  It folded in 1972, came back as a monthly in 1978, folded again in 2000, tried one further comeback as a Sunday newspaper supplement in 2004, and finally folded for good in 2007. And the medium that took its place, television, now finds itself in the same position in relation to the internet. Am I the only one who finds this moment ironic?

Friday wraps up with a little something for everyone. On the Bell Telephone Hour (8:00 p.m., NBC), "A Galaxy of Music" celebrates song from every arena: folk (Burl Ives), music hall (Gracie Fields and Stanley Holloway), opera (Renata Tebaldi), flamenco (the Robert Iglesias ballet) and Spanish (Los Chavales de Espana). Roger Moore appears as himself (a typical WB self-promotion) on 77 Sunset Strip (8:00 p.m., ABC). And I've always had a soft spot for the one-season detective series Michael Shayne (9:00 p.m., NBC), where this week Shayne (Richard Denning) has to solve a murder committed at a homicide convention. Busman's holiday, hmm?

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The TV Teletype tells us that after March 16, you won't be able to take a good luck at Ernie Kovacs' panel show Take a Good Look on ABC; the following week, the network is bringing Ernie back as host of Silents Please, the summer-replacement show he hosted last year. As part of the deal, Kovacs will replace Silents once a month with one of his patented specials, which will run in April, May, June, and September. That will continue into the winter; the January show, taped in December, will be aired ten days after Kovacs' death.

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On the cover this week are the stars of CBS's Candid Camera. If the smiles in the picture look somewhat forced, there's a good reason for it.

Candid Camera premiered on radio in 1947, where it was known as Candid Microphone. It made the transition to television the next year where it remained, off and on, until 2004. Candid Camera was an early form of reality television, but rather than the celebrity horror shows of today, I think you could describe it as being more like America's Funniest Home Videos. For those of you unfamiliar with it, the premise was simple: an ordinary person walks into a seemingly normal situation, which rapidly becomes completely abnormal. For example, a gas station attendant* fills the tank of a car, but no matter how long he's at it the tank never fills up. The car is found to have a fake tank in it, but not before the surprised attendant is told, "Smile—you're on Candid Camera!"

*You're probably too young to remember them, either. They used to come out and fill your car with gas while you remained in the car. They'd check your oil too, if you asked. Yes, a long time ago.

The picture on the cover is taken from Camera's 1960-67 run on CBS when it appeared as a stand-alone show, rather than as a feature on another program. The balding man in the background, looking as if he desperately wants to be seen, is Candid Camera creator Allen Funt. He's being blocked by the legendary Arthur Godfrey, who at this time is co-host of the program. The woman to the left is the singer-actress Dorothy Collins, who often appeared as the person who introduces the unsuspecting victim into the extraordinary situation (for example, she drove the car to the gas station in the prank listed above).

Candid Camera was Funt's baby through and through, but Godfrey was a known commodity to CBS and sponsors, and it might well be that the network thought he would be more likely to attract viewers than Funt alone. It was a relationship doomed from the start; Godfrey's ego demanded a large role, and he saw the program as a vehicle for his folksy humor and commentary; and yet at heart the show was nothing more than a collection of videos requiring basic introductions.

Funt, no shrinking violet himself, resisted Godfrey's efforts to put himself at the center of the show. He told a San Francisco interviewer "that Candid Camera would be much better if Godfrey didn't talk too much" and added that "if the Godfrey problem can't be solved, the Candid Camera company has another similar show in the works and ready to put on the air." In one instance, Funt was said to have become so fed up with Godfrey that he stormed off the set during rehearsal, refusing to take part in the show's taping. In the end, Funt won out, and Godfrey disappeared after the first season, replaced by Garry Moore's sidekick Durward Kirby. I doubt that moment never appeared on Candid CameraTV  


  1. The ad for the "twentieth Century" episode on France was a relative rarity for that long-running program: Most episodes looked back on major events of the past.

    Only a few episodes dealt with current issues.

    Perhaps because Walter Cronkite as host and narrator, "Twentieth Century" was quite popular. It ended in 1966 and would be replaced by a science documentary series titled "The 21st Century", which Walter Cronkite also hosted.

    CBS News producer Burton "Bud" Benjamin was producer and director of both series.

    1. I thought that 20C was mostly WWII films too, but looking at the episodes listed on IMDB (and checking with Einstein's book on network news shows) shows that over half (132 of 221 episodes) were about current or future events. The 65/66 season was all new material.
      I've gathered what shows there are about outer space for my TV Guide project.

  2. At the time the "Life 25th Anniversary Special" was taped and broadcast, NASA hadn't made public the fact that Alan Shepard had been selected for the first Mercury flight (I think the agency was worried that had the choice been made public, he would have been hounded by the media).

    In fact, NASA had named the three men who would fly the first three missions: Shepard for the first sub-orbital flight, Gus Grissom for the second sub-orbital flight, with John Glenn as backup pilot for both of them and prime pilot of the third manned flight. Depending on how the Shepard and Grissom flights went, Glenn's flight would either be the third sub-orbital flight, or the first flight to go fully into orbit.

    (Of course, the Shepard and Grissom flights were successful enough that Glenn would go into orbit in February of 1962, becoming the most famous of the "Mercury 7")

    Bob Hope probably did some banter with the Mercury 7, pointing out that "one of these seven heroes will become the first man to be launched into space".

    But the Russians spoiled the party by launch Yuri Gagarin into orbit three weeks before Shepard's flight.

  3. A quick nit-pick:

    Ernie Kovacs was not the host of Silents Please in its first summer run in 1960.
    When ABC ordered up a second series for the following summer (this one), they and Dutch Masters Cigars imposed Kovacs as on-camera host, to the distress of Silents's producer Paul Killiam.
    Killiam was a serious film historian, a champion of the silent film; he had created Silents Please as a labor of love, and getting the ABC network to put it on in prime time was a personal triumph.
    When ABC and Dutch Masters offered a second summer, Killiam went for it, but the imposition of Kovacs's comedy went against his serious approach; he ultimately went along, but after that summer he stopped any further dealing with ABC and took the series into syndication - without any of the Kovacs material.

    Dan Budnik just put up # 63 of Eventually Supertrain, which I just listened to.
    I'll have something to say over there once he gets the post proper up, but some things you and he said about continuity set me to thinking, thusly:

    About a week back, MeTV was running 77 Sunset Strip, season 4; by this time it was in spring of 1962.
    The episode was called "Upbeat", a sequel to a first-season show called "Downbeat";
    the first show had Stu Bailey undercover "in disgrace", to draw out a traitor who ultimately got away, while the sequel found the traitor coming back to wreak more havoc, this time from an estate in old New Orleans.
    So anyway, at one point Old Stu runs afoul of a local thug, but fortunately the New Orleans cops come around just in time to save his hash -
    - and wouldn't you know, one of the cops is a real tall guy in a white suit and a plantation hat, and lo and behold, it's Cal Calhoun, who went back to the NOPD after Rex Randolph decamped to the Sunset Strip!
    After busting the bad guy, Stu and Cal chatted a bit about their mutual friend, before returning to their respective assignments (this was just an in-joke cameo).
    Note: Andrew Duggan made six appearances on 77SS all told, covering the whole run of the series - different characters each time.
    That was Warner Bros TV - a rep company: everybody worked as often as possible.
    Another example: John Dehner made at least as many appearances here as Duggan did; the other night, MeTV had one set in a movie studio, wherein Dehner played himself, an actor friend of Jeff Spencer who helps out with the case of the week.
    Beating this point to death, we note that that '60-'61 was the season that Roger Moore did Maverick, So There Too.
    - And just one more:
    Check the listing for this week's Surfside Six: there's a footnote there that you (and Dan) might find interesting (as usual, no spoilers; look it up yourself).
    There's a whole book - maybe even a series of volumes - in Warner Bros' TV operation with ABC during the '50s-'60s. What a damn shame nobody's written it yet (and since most of the people are long gone, probably no one ever will …).

    Shortly, I'll be going to the Old DVD Wall to find various episodes from this week; who knows, maybe I'll get lucky and find something really odd …

  4. Good post, as usual.
    I have been an Arch Oboler radio fan for quite a few years but I have never thought his live action or movies were particularly that good. While his social philosophy drove him endlessly, it hampered making his points creative. He was always hitting you over the head with a Ball Peen hammer.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!