May 31, 2019

Around the dial

Let's go a bit off-topic this week, since there isn't a lot to report in the classic TV universe.

Alison Herman's article at The Ringer about the Deadwood movie-finale brings up a number of things about television: the ensemble drama, the tension between "prestige" television and ratings, and the philosophy behind offering said series a final, wrap-up-all-the-loose-ends episode. I suppose that as television becomes more and more novelistic, people are going to want the closure that they get at the conclusion of a novel: a good ending.

Embedded in Herman's story is a link to Mark Singer's New Yorker profile of David Milch, creator/showrunner of Deadwood and co-creator of NYPD Blue, among others. Milch, one of television's most prolific writers, is in the middle stages of Alzheimer's, and Singer's poignant story covers, among other things, the writing process, the discipline required to find the proper voice in the written word, how to do all this while at the same time battling dementia.

Ready for a quiz? Try the three-word TV series game at Classic Film and TV Café.

At Inner Toob, a look at the many faces (and voices) of Gilligan's Island's Ginger Grant.

As I suggest every week, go to Television Obscurities for the latest in A Year in TV Guide: 1989, but stay for this old conversation (that keeps getting refreshed via a fascinating comments section) on whether or not there was supposed to be a third season of F Troop. You won't be surprised to find our own Hal from The Horn Section with several comments.

Exciting news from my good friend Carol: she and her co-authors of Bob Crane: The Definitive Biography are about to embark on a new podcast, Flipside: The True Story of Bob Crane. Their Bob bio is a terrific read, and based on Carol's previous podcast you're going to want to listen to this!

Remember RC Cola? As Terence reminds us in a pair of posts at A Shroud of Thoughts, RC used to be a big deal. Movie stars used to endorse it, and it was the sponsor of a Nancy Sinatra special, in which Nancy did two of the commercialsTV  

May 27, 2019

What's on TV? Saturday, May 21, 1977

We're in the Bay Area this week, and no matter how often I see a TV Guide from this part of the country, I don't think I'll ever get accustomed to the time change. It's one thing to live in the Eastern time zone, which I've done a couple of times in my life; that makes more sense than to get it coming and going, as you do in the Pacific. Live events, in this case sports, start in the morning or before you get home from work, while prime time still runs until 11:00, as it does in the East. At any rate, I'm sure this won't keep you from enjoying your favorites.

May 25, 2019

This week in TV Guide: May 21, 1977

The Quiz Show Scandal, you may recall, had to do with public deception. Television viewers were tricked into thinking that a contest between two people, a battle of knowledge, was legitimate—on the level. It was not. As far as we know, however, no viewers were damaged by the deception; there's no record of anyone losing thousands of dollars betting on the outcome of the latest Van Doren-Stempel showdown. And since the American television viewers of the 1950s weren't a bunch of snowflakes, they emerged from the scandal more cynical, less willing to believe it what they saw on the tube, but otherwise more or less intact. You wouldn't have known that from the reaction, though: the Congressional investigation, the indictments, the shaming. Oh, the humanity. It was one of the great scandals of the time, a Turning Point in American culture—you know, the proverbial "we'll never see things in quite the same way again."

Anyway, we're now flashing ahead about 20 years, to something I saw at the time, and completely forgot about, until now. It was the odd era of the Heavyweight Championship of Tennis, and it's the subject of not one, but two pieces in this week's issue.

The Heavyweight Championship of Tennis series goes back to the Wild West days of the sport, which at the time lacked a true season-ending measurement of determining the year’s number one. Owing to the nature of the various tours in existence back then, it was quite possible that the world’s best players might not ever face each other outside of the four Grand Slam tournaments*, which resulted in this made-for-TV extravaganza, something more like boxing than tennis (coincidentally, at a time when both sports were much higher in the public’s consciousness than they are today), with gunslingers facing off against each other outside the boundaries of regular tournaments.

*Even with the vagaries of tournament tennis, having the top players meet in the Majors was no sure thing; Wimbledon suffered through a men’s boycott in 1973, and the French Open banned the participation of “contract” players who had signed with the new World Team Tennis league. There's no percentage in going into the politics around all this.

The answer to this was the Heavyweight Championship, a series of "winner-take-all" matches for tennis supremacy, aired by CBS, pitting the reigning champion and consensus #1 player in the world, the odious Jimmy Connors, against a variety of challengers—or contenders, if we're continuing with the boxing analogy. Over a two-year period, Connors takes on (and wins) matches against Rod Laver, John Newcombe, Manuel Orantes, and Ille Nastase, held in such exotic places as the sports pavilion at Caesars Palace. (Yet another boxing hotspot!) There’s only one problem with this, and surprisingly enough it doesn’t come from any of the tennis authorities itself, but from the Federal Government.

That problem: the matches were not winner-take-all, and CBS knew that was the case. Oops.

Connors (L), Nastase (R): both boors
Unlike the quiz shows, the matches weren’t actually rigged. Nonetheless, as Richard K. Doan points out in the Doan Report, the advertising for them was clearly deceptive; Connors’ match against Nastase on March 5, for example, was allegedly for a winner-take-all pot of $250,000, when in reality Connors was guaranteed $500,000, win or lose, and Nastase would get $150,000. According to series promoter Bill Riordan, "The reason the public was told that there was no more than $250,000 at stake was that CBS told me it would be immoral if it was any higher." I know, that's kind of quaint in an era when a golfer can make $10 million for winning a major championship, but this is forty years ago we're talking about.

It all comes to a head at the start of the Connors-Nastase match, when announcer Pat Summerall cited the $250,000 winner-take-all stakes. CBS Sports VP Barry Frank, hearing the claim (it's nice to know he watches his network's presentations), ordered Summerall not to repeat it, but never called for a retraction or correction. A network spokesman claims that the network could not announce the true split because "they did not know how Riordan had doled out the prize money"—implying, of course, that they knew all along there would be a division between the players.

In November, the House Communications Subcommittee holds that CBS did indeed engage in deceptive practices, saying that the network deliberately intended to mislead the public, and calling their conduct "inexcusable." The Federal Communications Commission, adding insult to injury, intends to investigate whether CBS has violated the Communications Act. And if this isn't bad enough, in January 1978, the International Tennis Federation accuses CBS of deceptive practices in billing an upcoming four-man event between the winners of the Grand Slam tournaments as the "Grand Slam of Tennis," charging that the title will "mislead the American public and do harm to the credibility of the sport," and that CBS's actions, if unchecked, will "cheapen the title 'Grand Slam' and destroy one of the game's great traditions." Not only that, they continue to run commercials listing U.S. Open champ Guillermo Villas as one of the participants, despite him having pulled out due to injury several days previous. Does this network not learn?

This week's As We See It is devoted to the tennis fraud as well. The Editors note that tennis seems susceptible to this kind of thing, often paying appearance fees to players for competing in tournaments, regardless of how they perform. The problem, according to the editorial, is that television money has popularized sports to an extent that borders on corruption. The money leads to problems, "not the least of which are under-the-table deals to hoodwink the suckers (viewers) into thinking there's a real prize at stake, as in the case of the Connors-Nastase payoff." (Shades of the quiz shows...)

The Editors are about as unimpressed with Connors and Nastase as I was, back then. "Connors and Nastase, whose God-given talents could help them set an example of clean living and exemplary conduct for the youth of our time, are a couple of vulgar characters who all too frequently are an embarrassment to the game. To have their arrogance and disdain for the public compounded by a conscienceless promoter and a shameless network sports department is a truly disgusting development." Yet another testament to the power of television.

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It must be truth or dare week at TV Guide. Next up, there’s an interesting exchange of opinions in this week’s Letters section, responding to an article by Frank Walton from the April 23 edition, in which Walton criticizes the accuracy of NBC’s Baa Baa Black Sheep (aka Black Sheep Squadron), a series based on the real-life World War II exploits of Gregory "Pappy" Boyington and his famed squadron called the "Black Sheep." (They wanted to be known as "Boyington's Bastards," but the military put the kibosh on that.) Walton, the squadron’s Air Combat Intelligence Officer, sharply disputed the image of the pilots (several of whom he quoted in his article) as “a collection of misfits and screwballs,” and casts a dark eye at what the self-aggrandizement of both Boyington and the actor who plays him, Robert Conrad.

Pappy Boyington with Robert Conrad
The first letter comes from none other than Pappy Boyington himself, who accuses Walton of engaging in “more fiction and downright falsehoods than does the dramatization he is criticizing,” and says that Walton “is not a pilot and hasn’t the slightest knowledge of how a combat pilot thinks.” He’s joined in this criticism by the show’s creator, Stephen J. Cannell, who says that Walton “is anxious about the fiction in the series because he is obviously a man with no knowledge about television or storytelling or 8 o’clock violence on TV which would make the kind of documentary story he wants unacceptable to network censors.” And a neutral observer, A.T. LaRoche (Navy retired), asks why Walton sees fit to criticize the show, since “Hogan’s Heroes, McHale’s Navy, etc. are also made for entertainment of the TV-viewing public and are not factual.” That last letter prompts a tart response from the Editor (probably Merrill Panitt), who replies that it does matter, “Because ‘Hogan’ and ‘McHale’ never lived. Gregory “Pappy” Boyington did—and does.”

Now, Cannell (who, you might notice, doesn’t dispute the central tenet of Walton’s article) is probably right in pointing out that any television series designed to entertain is bound to have “a high degree of fiction” in it. But let's take a closer look at what Walton actually wrote in that article. Whereas the series portrays the Black Sheep as "a group of green, inexperienced 18- and 19-year-old kids," in fact the youngest member of the squad was 21—there were no teenagers. Nor were they lacking in experience; nearly a third had completed at least one tour in the South Pacific, and between them they had 16 Japanese kills to their credit—and that's before they joined the Black Sheep.

Boyington portrays the squad in interviews as men who "had nothing to lose, those Black Sheep. They knew if they distinguished themselves, they might get off with easier sentences." Conrad, in a talk show interview promoting the series, added that "All these guys had failed in everything they'd ever done. None of them could make it on their own." In fact, writes Walton, "not a single member of the squadron" was facing, or had ever faced, any kind of disciplinary action. Nor did they engage in the kinds of brawls frequently portrayed in the series.

Eight of the Black Sheep remained in the Marines after the war, all retiring as colonels. As for those who returned to civilian life, seven become owners or presidents of businesses; two are elected mayors of their cities; three are lawyers; seven are directors, executive directors or managers of companies and firms. At a reunion in Hawaii with nearly two dozen members of the squadron, Boyington left with no doubt as to how the men felt about how they were portrayed in the series. Even though he serves as technical adviser to the series, he admitted that he couldn't explain how or why they had been played as misfits and screwballs.

The series only runs for a year and a half, hardly long enough for this to become one of the big controversies in television history. There is, to my ears, something about Walton’s article that rings true, just as the protestations , Boyington and Cannell ring false. Of course we all know that compromises are made when a true story is brought to the small screen; nevertheless, as Walton points out, the "real facts" of the squadron's accomplishments would have made a story of high adventure. Having settled on a narrative, though, Cannell chose to play it through to the end, regardless of how inconvenient the truth might be.

Boyington, who won the Congressional Medal of Honor for his accomplishments, led a very colorful and controversial life both during and after the war, going through multiple marriages and divorces, enduring financial difficulties, and battling both alcoholism and lung cancer—cancer arrested by the squad's former flight surgeon, one of the "misfits." Frank Walton goes on to write a well-received book, Once They Were Eagles: The Men of the Black Sheep Squadron, which he says is the true story of the men from the Black Sheep Squadron, and their own heroic accomplishments. It is published in 1986, two years before Pappy Boyington dies.

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On weeks when we can, we'll match up two of the biggest rock shows of the '70s, NBC's The Midnight Special and the syndicated Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, and see who's better, who's best.

Kirshner: Al Stewart, Chubby Checker, the Bay City Rollers, Queen, Blondie, the Babys, comic Rick Podell and the Mime Company.

Special: In performance: guest host Neil Sedaka, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, Helen Reddy, the Captain & Tennille, Thelma Houston, and Kim Carnes.

Plenty of hits to choose from between these two shows, no doubt about it. I grant Neil Sedaka's talent as a songwriter, but I don't like Judy Collins, I don't like Joan Baez, I don't like Helen Reddy, and I don't like the Captain and Tennille. (Personal opinions only; YMMV) That seems to make the choice pretty simple, doesn't it? But I will add that I like Al Stewart, Chubby Checker is a throwback to the old days, and Queen is, well, Queen. That alone is good enough to make Kirschner this week's winner.

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Good grief, I've spent a lot of space already on not very much. Let's take a quick look at the rest of the week while we have time.

On Saturday, Kentucky Derby winner Seattle Slew tries to make it two in a row (and succeeds) in the Preakness Stakes (2:00 p.m. PT, CBS). The Slew will go on to become horse racing's tenth Triple Crown winner. On Sunday at 8:00 p.m. PT, CBS presents the first of consecutive nights of big movies, the kind that networks don't run anymore (not that they show any theatrical movies anymore) with a single-night showing of Ben-Hur, the winner of 11 Oscars including Best Picture; its running time of three-and-a-half hours is accomplished by shaving 40 minutes off. They wouldn't cut out the chariot race, would they? (Now that's a real winner-take-all match!)  The following night, CBS comes back with Hello, Dolly!, starring Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau. (8:00 p.m., Monday) On Tuesday, gossip columnist and occasional What's My Line? panelist Aileen Mehle, better known as Suzy Knickerbocker (or just plain Suzy), hosts an hour-long profile of two giants of their professions: Frank Sinatra and Muhammad Ali. (10:00 p.m., NBC) Earlier in the evening, Henry Winkler makes a crossover appearance as The Fonz on Laverne & Shirley (8:30 p.m., ABC)

David Frost's one-on-one interviews with Richard Nixon come to a conclusion Wednesday (9:30 p.m., syndicated) as the former president reflects on his final days in office, and other events of his presidency. (The Doan Report notes that Frost has agreed to an additional episode consisting of material not previously used, sometime in the fall.) On Thursday, Anthony Hopkins gives a brilliant performance as Bruno Hauptmann in a repeat of the three-hour TV-movie, The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case (8:00 p.m., NBC) Opposite it at 9:30 p.m., an ABC News Special presents Barbara Walters interviewing Cuban leader Fidel Castro. And speaking of Lindbergh, on Friday, Eric Sevareid interviews Charles Lindbergh's widow Anne Morrow Lindbergh, a noted writer and poet in her own right. (8:00 p.m., PBS) The Apollo 8 astronauts, the night before their historic flight to the moon, met with Lindbergh, the Lone Eagle. Said Lindbergh, "In the first second of your flight tomorrow, you'll burn 10 times more fuel than I did all the way to Paris." His death, only three years ago, is recent history indeed, and the end of the era of aviation pioneers. TV  

May 24, 2019

Around the dial

Acouple of non-classic TV pieces that I include here to start off the week, because I think they have meaning when studying the scholarship of classic television. First, at The Federalist, Ben Domenech has an interesting article on how the conclusion to Game of Thrones sums up what he calls "Life in the Hollow Golden Age of Television." The money quote: "The appeal of Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Justified, Deadwood, and The Sopranos is obvious. But are shows likes Game of Thrones really what we want history to record what we were doing when the debt ballooned and fertility collapsed? As China’s elites took over the world, America’s elites were really spending their time arguing about a show with a dragon named Drogon?" Nero fiddles, and Rome burns...

Next, at The Ringer, Miles Surrey points out how streaming (and binge-watching) has changed television viewing habits forever, leading to what could be called "No Country for Old-Fashioned Network TV Shows." As I think I've pointed out before, we don't binge-watch; we usually take in our series viewing one week at a time, which I guess makes us old-fashioned (or just old, I'm not sure which). But I'm not sure Surrey's pointing out anything new; back in the day, we all lived in fear that our favorite show might be cancelled before its time. And back then, most series did not feature a final episode that wrapped everything up. That's just the way things were, and for every series like The Fugitive, that profits from a last episode, or Hogan's Heroes, which should have had one, there are at least a couple hundred that simply didn't need one. Perry Mason, for instance; the last episode of that series simply implied that Perry, Della and Paul were going to go on as they always had. And I think that's just fine.

At Comfort TV, David offers a warm reflection on the three TV stars who've passed in the last couple of weeks: Peggy Lipton, Doris Day and Tim Conway, and what they meant. "I'm glad I was there to see them," is the theme of his piece, which is actually kind of poignant, and I know exactly what he means. With some stars and some shows, it's just a privilege to have been around when they were originally on. After all, that's really what comfort TV is, isn't it?

At The Twilight Zone Vortex Jordan takes us once again to the world of Twilight Zone Magazine. It's April 1982, the first anniversary of the inaugural issue, and one of the highlights is a story of the party given at the home of author Marc Scott Zicree to celebrate the completion of The Twilight Zone Companion, a book which I've found immensely entertaining and informative. There's a whole lot more you'll want to read, though.

"A Jury of Her Peers" is the latest in the Hitchcock Project by Jack at bare-bones e-zine. It's a 1961 episode that I haven't yet seen, so I'm not going to get much further into reading it other than to offer Jack's judgment that the James P. Cavanagh-scripted episode is "stunning, a great adaptation that improves upon its source with a brilliant script, outstanding direction, and superb acting all working together to spellbinding effect."

At The Lucky Strike Papers, Andrew posts a picture of his lovely and charming mother, Sue Bennett, from the late '80s/early '90s. If you've read his delightful book of the same name, you'll know that she was one of the singers on Your Hit Parade; she died 18 years ago this month.

You'll want to be sure to read the latest in Television Obscurities's TV Guide rundown from 1989, but while you're there check out the broadcast listings for experimental NBC station W2XBS in December, 1940. We probably should keep this in mind the next time we complain about all the channels we get, with nothing to watch. TV  

May 22, 2019

How TV complements your lifestyle

Recently I was browsing through a bookstore that I’ve been known to frequent from time to time, doing what I usually do when I’m in a bookstore: looking for television shows on DVD. To be clear, that’s not all I do in a bookstore; I look for books as well, and not just books about TV. However, considering people apparently don’t read much anymore, you’re apt to find all kinds of different things in bookstores nowadays, including jigsaw puzzles.

On this particular trip, I saw one puzzle that billed itself as a booklover’s puzzle, with various sayings and mottoes pronouncing the joy of reading. One of them, though, caught my attention. It said, “Kill Your TV.” Setting aside the fact that your television isn’t a living, breathing thing (Alexa notwithstanding), this seemed unduly harsh to me. I mean, I understand the sentiment behind it: there’s a natural tendency for people to look at television (or video games, or movies) as the enemy of reading, as if the whole thing was some type of zero-sum game, with us all being lulled into a form of somnambulism through the aphrodisiac of mindless viewing. (Of course, if we really were somnambulists, we wouldn’t be couch potatoes, but we’ll let that slide for awhile.) And I'll admit I've been tempted to impart destruction on my television a time or two hundred, but that usually has to do with the banality of what I'm watching, not the medium itself.

So I’ll grant you the possibility, but it seems to me that if you’re predisposed to sit on a comfy couch starring inertly at a lighted screen, whether it’s your TV, your laptop, your phone, or something else, then you’ve got a problem to begin with, one that has to do with neither television nor books. We used to call this “sloth,” which has since been replaced with “lazy bum,” but the point is the same; if you’re so inclined to begin with, you’re probably not going to pick up a volume of Aristophanes, or even Danielle Steele, just because someone tells you to turn off the electronics.

Setting up this false dichotomy, this zero-sum with television and books as polar ends of a magnet, is unfortunate for two reasons: first, because it reinforces this snobbish idea that television is for some reason not deserving of serious consideration as a creative form (something I'm constantly fighting against); and second, because both really serve the same purpose: to augment the quality of one’s life. As you probably know, when it comes to the number of hours of television I’ve watching in my lifetime—especially during my adolescence—I consider myself second to none. And yet I never saw television and books as competing for my attention. Often, after watching something on TV, I’d find myself, in the words of the old CBS campaign, wanting to “read more about it.” Over the years, I’ve stocked my shelves with volumes on subjects ranging from the Titanic to Howard Hughes to space exploration to politics, all because of something I saw on television. Likewise, I’ve found hours of pleasure watching programs that I sought out because of something I’d read, with the opportunity to learn more, to see for myself what the author had written about. (And of course it helps when one has the ability, as I do, to watch TV and read at the same time.)

The point is that reading and watching television exist as complimentary forms of media. They both provide the opportunity to be educated, entertained, and enlightened. That old aphorism I keep pulling out about how television can’t be all dessert applies to books as well; a steady diet of romance novels and cheap detective thrillers isn’t likely to do much more for you than constantly watching sitcoms and reality shows. True, it might make you a little more literate, or more than a little more if you’re reading Chandler or Hammett, but a discriminating lineup of television shows and books can work together to make you a more well-rounded person. You can learn about the history of ancient Greece, or learn how to build a sunroom for your house. You can read a biography of Mozart, or watch—and listen to—one of his operas. You can cheer for your team on the weekend, and during the week find out how that team’s owners are fleecing the public. Anthony Bourdain and Eugene Fodor may no longer be with us, but their works still have the ability to take us to other lands, and Carl Sagan can take us right out of the universe, in either medium. They can even encourage you to contemplation. (It’s true that there are a lot of bad things out there, both on television and in books, so you need to make sure your choices compliment your own personal code of ethics and morals, but you can say that about any form of entertainment or education.)

So, as someone with a foot in each camp, I urge book lovers to show television some love as well. It’s not an either-or proposition; we’re creatures of images as well as words. And as for those who keep throwing potshots at TV—well, that’s little more than being a couch potato of the mind. TV  

May 20, 2019

What's on TV? Thursday, May 22, 1969

I never cease to be fascinated by these New York City TV Guides, even when—as is the case today—there's nothing particularly important or distinctive being broadcast. For someone who grew up in the Midwest, far from the Center of the Universe, it's easy to be impressed by the names on the local news: Jim Hartz, who would succeed Frank McGee as host of Today; Dr. Frank Field, the meteorologist who always updated NBC's viewers on the latest hurricane; Kyle Rote, sports anchor and former star for the New York football Giants; Bob McAllister, who would go on to host Wonderama. And then there are variety shows, hosted by stars like Donald O'Connor and Allen Ludden, that we never got to see in the Twin Cities. Even today, looking at these listings, you get a feeling that you've reached the Big Time—something that you never quite felt here. Perhaps that's why Mary Tyler Moore meant so much to us.

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 celebrity 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