April 6, 2019

This week in TV Guide: April 6, 1968

Some of this week's issue might seem familiar to you from a few years ago, but trust me: I've doubled the content since then, with all-new material!

Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, the start of an awful summer in the United States. All three networks preempted regular programming to cover the story, including King's funeral April 9 in Atlanta. This doesn't show up in this week's issue, which was already on the newsstands when King died, but the impact was felt nonetheless—especially, and most surprisingly, with the biggest program of the week: the Academy Awards.

The Oscarcast was scheduled in its then-customary Monday night slot, which fell on April 8, and the show was in tune with the times; of the five movies nominated for Best Picture, two of them—In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner—dealt with race issues, and several black entertainers would be performing. King’s murder, however, and the funeral scheduled for the day following the Oscars, cast a heavy cloud over the proceedings. On a somber episode of The Tonight Show the day after the assassination (which included Johnny Carson paying tribute to King in place of his opening monologue), Sammy Davis, Jr., who was scheduled to sing one of the Best Song nominees, said he wouldn’t be there. "I certainly think any black man should not appear," he told Carson. "I find it morally incongruous to sing 'Talk to the Animals' while the man who could make a better world for my children is lying in state." He wasn’t the only one; Sidney Poitier, Diahann Carroll, Louis Armstrong, Harry Belafonte, Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger were among those who announced that they, too, would pass up the show if the date wasn’t moved.

Realizing the Academy was in an untenable position, Academy President Gregory Peck called an emergency meeting of the Board of Governors on Saturday, April 6, after which he announced that the show would indeed be moved to Wednesday, April 10, the day after the funeral; in addition, the Governors Ball that followed the ceremony was cancelled, and host Bob Hope’s monologue would be altered. (Hope himself ended the broadcast with a rare moment of seriousness. "Films reflect the human condition," he said. "The moguls shared something with the man in Atlanta—they had a dream.")

ABC, which was consulted by the Academy on the delay, worked to fill the suddenly-available time on Monday. Along with the other networks, it covered the civil rights march in Memphis on Monday afternoon; that evening, following the regularly-scheduled Cowboy in Africa at 7:30 p.m. ET, came the movie that had originally been scheduled for Wednesday, Move Over, Darling, followed by a special on King at 10:30 p.m. After the late local news, the network wrapped things up at 11:30 p.m. with a repeat of the Joey Bishop Show memorial to King that had first been shown on the night of King’s murder. Those aren’t the only programming changes; according to Variety, the Smothers Brothers show scheduled for Sunday substituted a rerun, and CBS also changed Tuesday night’s planned episode of The Red Skelton Hour, replacing a show that featured Nipsey Russell.

Only once since has the Academy Awards broadcast been postponed—in 1981, when President Ronald Reagan was shot on the afternoon of the scheduled broadcast. While the NCAA chose to continue with that night’s national championship basketball game (a decision made, in fairness, after it had been announced that Reagan was out of the woods), the Academy voted to move their show until the following night.

Along with the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy two months later, the murder of Martin Luther King triggered a backlash against television violence that manifested itself in rescheduled and re-edited programs. Judging by looking at today's fare, it was a movement that didn't last.

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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. 

After that, it would be nice to read something uplifting, and Cleveland Amory's only too happy to oblige, with his look at the long-running religion series Insight. And the insight that Cleve provides is that this is a pretty good show: "well-produced, well-directed, well-acted, well-written and, above all, worth-while stories."

A big reason for that is Insight's producer and host, Father Ellwood Kieser (who has appeared in this space before). The Paulist priest fulfills the mission of his order to "serve their God by serving those outside their Church," in this case through television. "I am a theological educator," Kieser says, and the aim of Insight is "to get at the deepest level of human experience, when the person grapples with himself, God and other people. I want to hit them where they live." A mark of the show's effectiveness is that many of the 166 stations carrying Insight don't even show it on Sunday morning, but during the week in prime time.

The issues covered, from premarital sex to racial discrimination, are topical, and the show utilizes top stars as well as top writers with, Amory notes, "a freedom they would never have under networks, sponsors, agencies, etc." Amory singles out a couple of episodes in particular; one, starring Robert Lansing, deals with abortion vs. adoption, while another, with James Stacy and Davey Davidson, tells a powerful story of a young couple's ordeal after their first baby dies. The point of that episode, says Kieser in the opening, is that "we can control our lives only up to a certain point." It was such a clear message that Kieser didn't even need to appear at the show's end. "Which is, we are sure, exactly what he wanted."

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In lieu of the King coverage, it's hard to know what was actually shown this week and what was preempted, but we'll do our best.

No Sullivan vs. The Palace this week; Ed's missing (see below), but The Hollywood Palace is on Saturday (9:30 p.m,, ABC) with host Don Adams welcoming singers Nancy Sinatra, Lee Hazlewood and Hal Frazier; comics Kaye Ballard and Joey Forman; the King Family; and heavyweight boxing contender Jerry Quarry making his singing debut, with his sister Diana.

It's playoff time on Sunday for the indoor sports, with both the NHL (2:00 p.m., CBS) and NBA (2:00 p.m., ABC) scheduled, although a little bit of research shows that both the New York-Chicago hockey game and the Philadelphia-Boston basketball game were moved to later in the week—no surprise there. And Ed Sullivan's a no-show tonight, preempted (or at least scheduled to be) by a Dick Van Dyke variety special (8:00 p.m., CBS) with Dick's brother Jerry, and composer-pianist Michel Legrand.

We've seen how jumbled Monday night's programming has become; it's possible that ABC moved their Wayne Newton special (8:30 p.m.) to Wednesday, but if not, you'll see Wayne with a literal cast of thousands, including Frankie Laine, Johnnie Ray, Louis Jordan, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Kay Starr, the Mills Brothers, Count Basie, and more.

One of my favorite performers, Ernie Kovacs, rules on Tuesday night, as ABC presents an hour of highlights from 1961-62 specials (10:00 p.m.), including such favorites as Percy Dovetonsils, the Nairobi Trio, the silent Eugene spots, and his vintage "Mack the Knife" blackouts. For something more serious, there's CBS's special The Great American Novel (also 10:00 p.m.), which includes documentary-like scenes of modern American life backed by pertinent readings from Sinclair Lewis's Babbitt and John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. I wonder how well that worked.

Wednesday's unexpected rescheduling of the Oscars (10:00 p.m., ABC) changes the feel of the night's programming. I don't know if The Avengers (7:30 p.m., ABC) made it, but I expect The Kraft Music Hall (9:00 p.m., NBC) did, with Don Rickles hosting a sports-themed hour that includes Pat O'Brien, George Plimpton, Carl Yastrzemski, Joe Garagiola, and Rosey Grier. I'm betting that Jonathan Winters's show (10:0 p.m., CBS) might have been changed, since black comedian Godfrey Cambridge was scheduled to be one of the guests.

The always-funny Alan King does an hour of satire on Thursday (7:30 p.m., NBC), reviewing "contemporary fads and foolishness" with Liza Minnelli, Connie Stevens, Charlie Callas, Linda Lavin, and Kenny Mars. Bob Hope, fresh off the Oscars, follows King on NBC at 8:30 p.m.; it's not one of his variety shows, but a political satire set in the Caribbean, where Bob finds himself caught in the middle of intrigue, plots, and counterplots; Janet Leigh, Fernando Lamas, J. Carrol Naish and Pat Harrington, Jr. are part of the fun.

Friday night sees a rerun of one of Star Trek's signature episodes, "Mirror, Mirror" (8:30 p.m., NBC), in which Kirk and three crewmen are transported to a parallel universe in which the Captain has to deal with a goateed, savage Mr. Spock. Over on CBS, Ingrid Bergman stars in her Oscar-nominated role of Joan of Arc (9:00 p.m.), and at 10:00 p.m. on ABC, Judd for the Defense sees Our Hero trying to delay a convicted murderer's execution in order to use him as a witness in the robbery trial of his client, a naive country girl.

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On the cover this week is Barbara Anderson, co-star of NBC's Ironside, although I thought she was much better in her guest-starring appearances in the final season of Mission: Impossible, filling in for the pregnant Lynda Day George

Baseball season kicks off later this week, and CBS celebrates with a rerun of Charlie Brown's All-Stars Saturday at 8:30 p.m. The Phillies open their television schedule with a game against the Houston Astros on WFIL Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. TV Guide's Melvin Durslag projects the Minnesota Twins and St. Louis Cardinals as the participants in the last World Series to be staged before the introduction of divisions and playoffs. (He was half-right: the Cards were there, but they'd lose the Series in seven to the Detroit Tigers, Durslag's pick for second in the AL.)

FCC Commissioner Lee Loevinger, writing in TV Guide's occasional "In Defense of Television" series of articles. Why? Among other reasons, television "lets us share daily a common reflection of society and helps us see a similar vision of our relationship to society," which "builds a common culture to unite our country." (That sounds a lot like The Electronic Mirror, doesn't it?) This, Loevinger believes, is television's "natural function and highest ideal," and, he concludes, "It is enough."

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There's an article referenced on the cover: "Yesterday's Quiz Winners—Today." To put it in perspective, in 1968 it had only been a dozen or so years since the height of the quiz shows, which culminated in the scandals of the late '50s. There are the usual suspects, those whose names have remained in the public eye to one extent or another: Charles Van Doren, the golden boy whose fall was the most spectacular of the scandal, and Dr. Joyce Brothers, an honest contestant who was already on her way to becoming America's most popular psychologist, the Dr. Phil of her day. (Or, if you prefer, Dr. Phil is the Joyce Brothers of today.) But it was the names of two other contestants that caught my eye.

Rob Strom and Leonard Ross were two of the most spectacular winners of the quiz show era. Both were child prodigys: Strom, an 11-year-old science whiz who took home a cool quarter-million (inflation-adjusted: $1,211,392); Ross, a 10-year-old expert on the stock market whose winnings were more than $150,000. When TV Guide's Dan Carlinsky visited with them in 1968, they were both on the road to success—Strom, now 21, had already graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard and was now doing graduate work, and the 22-year-old Ross had graduated from Yale Law School the previous year and was looking forward to a career in government.  (By the way, check out this interview with Ross and Mike Wallace in 1957.) For each of them, the sky seemed to be the limit.  And so, I wondered, what had indeed happened to them? Had they indeed fulfilled the potential that had been suggested in 1968?

In Rob Strom's case, it's hard to tell. He doesn't have a Wikipedia entry, and while a Google search doesn't provide a definitive answer, it does give us some suggestions. For example, there's a "Rob Strom" working (as of the mid-2000s) as a IBM Research Staff Member at the IBM TJ Watson Research Center, who was credited with several scholarly papers. The brief bio in the abstract doesn't mention quiz shows, but this 1957 newspaper article mentions that IBM had already offered the 11-year-old a job in mathematical computer work when he grew up.* Considering all this, I don't think it's unrealistic to suppose that this is the same Rob Strom. 

*I wonder if he had anything to do with work on the Watson computer that won on Jeopardy?  Wouldn't that have been ironic?


Leonard Ross, on the other hand, tells a different story. Indeed, we know exactly what happened to Ross, and it doesn't have a happy ending, as Maureen Dowd illustrates in this poignant 1985 column about Ross' death by suicide earlier that year. He had, in fact, stormed through Yale; one classmate recalled that Ross "raised his hand and answered questions on torts and contracts with such lucid brilliance that . . . ''a chill went down the collective spine of the class.''' After that he taught at Harvard and Columbia, and worked for both Jerry Brown in California and in the early Carter administration. 

And then it fell apart.

Ross' torment was an awful one: "Over the years, his friends had watched with horror as Mr. Ross's quicksilver mind moved faster and faster and his attention span grew shorter and shorter." Having been, as one acquaintance put it, an adult since childhood, he expected perfection and cut himself no slack. He was compulsive about everything. He became frustrated with government work once he discovered he wasn't able to really change things. Eventually, nothing was able to hold his interest, and he couldn't even complete one project before starting another. He attempted suicide, underwent psychoanalysis, took as many as fifteen medications a day, and even had an operation to "snip a circuit in the limbic system, the part of the brain concerned with emotion and motivation."

Nothing worked. As one friend pointed out, perhaps the worst torment for Ross was that, due to his natural brilliance, he was fully aware of what was happening to him. His inability—helplessness?—to change things just made it worse. Finally, on the last day of April in 1985, he walked into the pool of the Capri Motel in Santa Clara and was found the next morning face down at the bottom of the pool, with his arms crossed, at last able to complete a project he'd started. He was only 39. Awful.

When we see child stars we always hope for the best, that they'll wind up a Mozart or Shirley Temple. Too often it doesn't turn out that way. Still, there was something hopeful, something wistful in that 1968 "Where are they now?" article. We weren't talking about child actors or composers, but young boys whose intellect seemed to offer them the moon. One wanted to find out that these two had fulfilled all that potential, had gone on to really make a difference. Rob Strom likely accomplished a great deal, but Dowd's heartbreaking story shows that the gift that brought Leonard Ross his fame also resulted in his fall. And that fall truly was tragic. TV  

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