April 20, 2019

This week in TV Guide: April 21, 1973

When I showed my wife the cover of this week's TV Guide with Raymond Burr as Pope John XXIII, and added that the Pope was actually the good guy in the program, she remarked, "Boy, they wouldn't do that on TV today, would they?"

The program in question is Portrait: A Man Whose Name Was John, an ABC special airing at 7:00 p.m. CT on Easter Sunday.  It tells the true story of Archbishop Angelo Roncalli, who in 1958 would be elected John XXIII, but during World War II was the apostolic delegate (i.e. ambassador) to Turkey, and his battle to save over 600 Jewish children from being shipped to Nazi Germany. It was a cherished experience for Burr, who had personally met John four times* during his papacy and called him the most impressive human being he had ever met. "There was absolute communication between us," he said of their first meeting in 1959, which had been arranged by Family Theatre producer Father Patrick Peyton. Though not Catholic—he describes himself as "believing in all religion"—Burr had long hoped to do a film project based on John's life (a film for "all people"), when he was approached by producer David Victor with the idea for A Man Whose Name Was John. It was less ambitious than Burr's plan, but "it told a lot about the kind of man Roncalli was." Eventually, Burr decided, "it wouldn't be a bad idea" to take it on. As far as I know, Burr's own movie on John was never made.

*At this point I should point out, not unkindly, that given Burr's predilection for creating events in his own life, one has to be careful not to put too much stock into this. Still, his impressions of John are so strong I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

The whole movie is, not surprisingly, available on YouTube. Burr makes for a very convincing John; dare I suggest that TV Guide's cover shot makes him look even more papal than the current pope?

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Given that Easter doesn't have a set day every year, this is the second of back-to-back issues we've looked at with Easter programming of one kind or another, and this issue is no exception. In addition to John, there are several religious-themed movies, mostly on Saturday night on local TV: The Robe (9:00 p.m., Austin's WEAU), A Man Called Peter (10:30 p.m., WKBT in LaCrosse, Wisconsin), The Nun's Story (10:45 p.m. WDIO in Duluth), and The Song of Bernadette (10:50 p.m., WCCO in Minneapolis).

As for Easter itself,  CBS has a live broadcast of an Easter service from New York, conducted by the famed positive thinker Dr. Norman Vincent Peale (10:00 a.m.), NBC presents a Sunday morning documentary on the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral in England (10:00 a.m.), while ABC's Directions covers the Easter Mass from St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. (12:00 p.m.) Later in the day (12:30 p.m.), Eau Claire's WEAU gives us an hour of sacred music from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and at 4:00 p.m., PBS has Handel's Messiah (which Handel wrote as an Easter, rather than Christmas, piece), featuring the Arion Musical Club of Milwaukee.  In case you're looking for ABC's annual airing of The Ten Commandments, that didn't start until 1973.

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TV's two 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.

Don't know if you can call this week's matchup entirely fair, as In Concert goes with a three-hour marathon (originally broadcast as two separate shows) featuring Alice Cooper; The Allman Brothers Band; Blood, Sweat and Tears; Curtis Mayfield; Seals and Crofts; Chuck Berry; Poco; and Bo Diddley. I count eighteen songs during the show, with almost everyone doing at least one of their biggest hits ("School's Out," "Ramblin' Man," "Roll Over, Beethoven," "Summer Breeze," etc.) The 90-minute Midnight Special counters with an all-50s show hosted by Jerry Lee Lewis with Little Anthony and the Imperials, Chubby Checker, the Shirelles, the Ronettes, Freddy Cannon and the Diamonds.

You can't say the stars weren't out this Friday night, can you?  I'm going to give it to In Concert strictly on the basis of it being twice as long; as far as the talent, it's a push.

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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. 

Friends, this is a column to be savored, to be remembered; indeed, to be immortalized. For in this column, friends, Cleveland Amory admits he has made a mistake.

Back in the summer, Cleve reviewed The Bobby Darin Show and wrote, among other things, that this show would never make it past the summer. First of all, it's a variety show, and we all know that they're on their last legs. Second—well, to be frank about it, the show wasn't very good. But, as Our Critic says, "we can't always be right, can we?" The show is back, and much better than it was during the summer. For one thing, Darin has made liberal (or should we say conservatively?") included the oldies in his repertoire, songs like "I Get a Kick Out of You" and "Hello, Young Lovers" that made him big in the first place. His guest list has improved as well, with terrific appearances by Burl Ives and Sid Caesar, among others, and the welcome addition of 8½ year old Charlotte Wong—a girl for all ages, according to Amory—as a regular. The show's skits have improved as well, particularly Darin's takeoff on Groucho Marx.

At the outset, Amory remarks that one of the reasons variety shows are in trouble is that if they appeal to seniors, then they're not attractive to sponsors; if, like Sonny & Cher, they appeal to the younger set, well, that's a fickle audience with a short attention span. And despite the fact that Amory has an animus against shows that try to appeal to everyone, it's clear that this is just what The Bobby Darin Show does. He doesn't love it, but he does like it. And coming from Cleve, that's pretty good.

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Besides John, there are some other very interesting specials on this week—or at least they were interesting to me, even though I didn't see any of them. Yes, it's time for more tales from the World's Worst Town™. As you know, my six years in exile were spent primarily watching two television stations; the main channel, KCMT, was primarily an NBC affiliate, but picked up additional programming (mostly sports and some specials) from ABC. We did get TV Guide up there; this very issue, in fact, which still carries my name and address on the label Unfortunately, the Minnesota State Edition meant I was continually being taunted with glimpses of shows I would never see. Nonetheless, a number of these shows intrigued me—they seemed fraught with a suggestion of gravitas that lent them importance, or so it seemed.

*I realize I'm being quite shallow in judging quality of life based on number of television stations received, but you have to remember I was only 13 at the time.  On the other hand, the promoters of cable TV would surely have agreed with me.

Monday night, for example, CBS counters with its own special Monday night, as Rex Harrison stars in The Adventures of Don Quixote, (8:00 p.m.), a co-production with the BBC, sponsored by IBM. Frank Finlay is his Sancho Panza, and Rosemary Leach is Dulcinea. Doctor Who fans will recognize Roger Delgado, The Master, as a Monk. (Not a meddling one, as Whovians will understand.)

Tuesday is one of those nights that made the VCR inevitable; Cliff Robertson stars in ABC's The Man Without a Country (7:30 p.m.), available (naturally) on YouTube. I suspect viewers today might wonder what all the fuss was about back then. The final 30 minutes dovetails with CBS's Playhouse 90 at 8:30 p.m. (yes, it's still around, though as an occasional special rather than a regular series), presenting Ingmar Bergman's made-for-TV play The Lie, the story of a husband and wife (George Segal and Shirley Knight Hopkins) struggling to hold their marriage together. An all-star supporting cast includes Robert Culp, Victor Buono, William Daniels, Dean Jagger, and Mary Ann Mobley. As one of the unhappily marrieds comments, "People have to lie and deceive in order to live together."  Does this in any way resemble The Secret Life of Dentists?

PBS weighs in with a couple of specials of their own: on Sunday night at 7:30 p.m., the opera great Joan Sutherland continues a series of abridged operas on Who's Afraid of Opera (this week: La Traviata), and on Thursday evening at 7:00 p.m., the network presents a restored version of David Lean's epic Oliver Twist, which includes nine minutes of footage originally cut from the American film version.

Now, you may notice that none of these are on NBC, which means none of them are seen in our household.  Oh, there was an NBC special: The Going Up of David Lev (Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.), a musical saluting the 25th anniversary of the creation of Israel, starring Topol (Fiddler on the Roof), Brandon Cruz (The Courtship of Eddie's Father), Melvyn Douglas and Claire Bloom. And on Friday, NBC's documentary series The American Experience looks at three turbulent eras in U.S. history—the Revolution, the Civil War and the Depression. The program is entitled "Strange and Terrible Times," which not only seems to describe our own times, but certainly is an apt way to put my six years in the wilderness. But don't start cheering—neither of these were on KCMT, which preempted them for Twins baseball games. That the games were what I would have watched anyway is besides the point.

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This week's "Shape of Things to Come" feature: this note in The Doan Report, asking "Will the Senate's Watergate probe early next month develop, as some observers predict, into a major TV show?" The Senate committee, led by North Carolina Democrat Sam Ervin, is welcoming the cameras into the hearing room, and NBC News president Richard Wald tells Doan that "We'll air a live pickup if the hearings are interesting enough." Oh, they will be, Mr. Wald—trust me on this.

That note makes all the more poignant a CBS news special on Thursday, Five Presidents on the Presidency (8:00 p.m.), in which the incumbent, Richard Nixon, is quoted as saying, "The most important thing about a public man is not whether he's loved or disliked, but whether he's respected. I hope to restore respect to the Presidency."

Doan also tells us of the strange Star Trek craze; even though the show has been off the air for several years, there are still devoted fans "hold[ing] reunions to bemoan its loss." For them, producers hope to provide some solace with a new sci-fi series entitled Starlost, created and written by legendary writer Harlan Ellison, starring Keir Dullea (2001: A Space Odyssey). It winds up being called The Starlost, and if you've never heard of it, this article—with the title "Is The Starlost the Worst Science Fiction Series Ever Made?" might provide an explanation.

And finally there's the coming end of the third and final incarnation of Jack Paar's talk show, the one that featured on ABC's Wide World of Entertainment.  Paar had made the comeback, in part, to help out his old friend and protege Dick Cavett, but speculation is that ABC and Paar "will mutually call off his late-night comeback as an unsalvageable disappointment." A pity; we could use that intelligent conversation today. TV  


  1. Did the Star trek piece not mention that Filmation's animated variant was debuting in five months?

  2. Thanks for the memories of April 1973, Mitchell. It brought a lot back as I was ending my sophomore year in college, especially the Friday night music shows. My girlfriend and I would flip back and forth between them, catching the acts we wanted to see.

    Have a good Easter and I hope the job search ends successfully soon.

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  4. "The Starlost" likely suffered from a very low budget.

    Except for filmed special effects, the show was shot on videotape, and seemed to be shot "live on tape".


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!