June 8, 2019

This week in TV Guide: June 8, 1963

The show where nothing's sacred. That's how Robert Musel, TV Guide's man in the UK, presents the most controversial program on British television: That Was the Week That Was. One American columnist (not Cleveland Amory?) describes TWTWTW as "the best TV show in the world." And while that may be exaggerating things a bit, you can't deny that this series is a candidate in the "show that changed television" category.

The mastermind behind TWTWTW is 31-year-old Ned Sherrin, whom you may recall also created the hilarious late-70s PBS game show spoof We Interrupt This Week. The show, which runs at about 11:00 p.m. on Saturday nights (about, because the show doesn't have a specific starting or finishing time) is, in Sherrin's words, "an intelligent television commentary on the week's events, at a peculiar hour posed between the sores and sorrows of one week and the alarms and excursions of the next. What we wanted to do was to try to convert conversation that is worth listening to into television terms."

The show's host, David Frost (24 years old!) expands Sherrin's comments. "There is a good and serious purpose behind everything we do. We produce a funny show about important things. We cater to the people who like to think while they laugh. We try to be as frank on television as one is frank in conversation at home. Nothing, as long as it is important, is sacred to us. What we don't do is deal in trivialities and we don't hit a man when he is down." That's an interesting point, about people who like to think when they laugh. You may recall the piece I wrote a couple of years ago about satire, and how difficult it seems to be to get it right. I think one of the reasons for that is that many satirists forget to be funny—they use the cover of humor as license to proselytize. Not saying that TWTWTW wasn't that way as well, but the point is that Frost's idea is right, whether he always followed it or not. And that bit about not hitting a man while he's down—well, that's long since gone by the by in our culture, but it's a corollary to his remark about nothing being sacred: for satire to be effective, there has to be a sense of equality about it, that everyone is fair game. And by those rules, you don't hit a man when he's down—or a woman, for that matter, nor do you kick dogs and cats.

The Royal Family has not been exempt from all this, of course, although the bits are more gentle than they are against politicians: on a joint visit by West German Chancellor Adenauer and French President de Gaulle: "They went to Rheims Cathedral and inspected troops and graves—an appropriate gesture for two who had spent so many years filling the latter with the former." I wouldn't have laughed at that when it was originally on, because I was only two years old and didn't know anything, but I laugh at it today, because I get it—and because it's true.

As is the case with so many programs from across the pond, an American version of That Was the Week That Was was developed and aired by NBC, and even though it had the same David Frost as host, it didn't fare quite as well, for a myriad of reasons. In Britain, television broadcasting comes under the jurisdiction of the Postmaster-General (don't ask), and the current occupant of that position, Reginald Bevins, quite approves. "On the whole I think the program has had a fairly salutary effect. After all it is human nature. Most people like to see other people lampooned. When I was recently lampooned on it, my family laughed their heads off. And so did I."

Here's a feature on the show for when you have some spare time.

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Speaking of things sacred, some time ago I was walking through an antique store last weekend when I came upon a book with an unusual title: Hollywood Priest.  Face it, when you see a title like that you're going to pick it up, as I suspect the author intended. And that author, I was not surprised to find, was Fr. Ellwood Kieser.

I recognized the name immediately. In 1960, Kieser began a modest, low-budget program called Insight which, at the time of this unsigned TV Guide profile, was entering its third year, given free of charge to some 100 channels throughout the United States. Insight was one of those programs that always seemed to be on somewhere in the early decades of television, filling a gap between programs, usually on Sunday mornings. It might flit from station to station, and you might see the same episodes from time to time, but if you watched enough television you were sure to run across it eventually.

What made Insight unusual was not just its religious message—after all, Bishop Fulton Sheen had been a major TV star in the '50s and early '60s—but Kieser's ability to get major Hollywood talent, Catholic and non-Catholic alike (Raymond Massey, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Jane Wyatt, Irene Dunne, John Forsythe), who appeared for scale and then donated it back, acting on low-budget, minimalist sets. A typical story might involve an estranged family, a man contemplating suicide, or a woman tempted to shoplift - in other words, the drama of everyday life garnished with a moral message.  There are many conflicts in the 20th Century, but the basic conflicts are theological," Kieser is quoted as saying. "We have discovered that theological conflicts make great drama." Its tone might have been earnest but was not especially preachy or moralizing; nonetheless, in its low-key way, it got the point across. Early shows featured Kieser at the blackboard, Sheen-like, but by the second season he had evolved into giving Serlingesque introductions to each episode (though not, perhaps, quite as sanctimonious).

The tone of the article is admiring and respectful, with nary a hint of cynicism—almost too good to be true. Kieser is portrayed as unassuming and modest, perhaps a bit nerdy ("I've found actors give better performances if you feed them."), but with an undeniable presence, as indicated by the story of an unnamed non-Catholic actress who after one rehearsal, tells Kieser she's decided to join the Church.

His television fame brought him a job providing network commentary on what was then called the "Ecumenical Council," i.e. Vatican II., and led to his producing several faith-themed movies, including biographical portrayals of Archbishop Oscar Ramiro and social worker Dorothy Day. Insight itself wound up a 23-year run in 1983, winning six Emmys in the process.  

The book, which was written in 1991, also detailed another side of Kieser, one that a more cynical article might have hinted at back in 1963. Kieser's spiritual struggles in the wake of the changes wrought by the Council, including a romantic (but ultimately chaste) relationship with a nun—one of the hoariest cliches of the post-V2 Church. Kieser considered breaking his vows, leaving the priesthood, marrying (he did none of them). He dabbled in psychotherapy and the New Age. He lived in the limelight, rode the talk-show circuit, and enjoyed it.

In a telling story, Kieser relates how he was once accused by a conservative Los Angeles monsignor of being one of those priests who "start out playing around with the liturgy. Next you question church doctrine. You end up dating nuns." Said Kieser, "I was furious; partially, I guess, because I was doing all three."

Was this all present in 1963, when Kieser was a young priest on a television mission? Did the writer miss it, or choose not to look at it? Or was it all a product of the turbulent times, something just under the surface, waiting for the breakdown in discipline that the era brought, a breakdown that claimed many souls? (Would the same thing, for example, have happened to Bing Crosby's Fr. O'Malley after Going My Way? He is, after all, described in the movie as a "modern" priest.) We'll probably never know, but I'm reminded of the story of a bishop in the early 60s, one of the staunchest defenders of Church tradition, especially celibacy. In the wake of the Pill, he was confronted by a climate that suggested the Church was about to change its mind on many of the principles which the bishop had fought so hard to defend. By the time Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae came out in 1968, reaffirming the Church's opposition to birth control, the horses had been let out of the barn, so to speak.

The bishop wound up leaving the priesthood and marrying a former nun.

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The week that is to be—a nice turn of phrase, don't you think?—starts off on Saturday with the Belmont Stakes (3:30 p.m., CBS), being run for the first time at Aqueduct while Belmont Park is closed for renovation. Chateaugay, winner of the Kentucky Derby and runner-up in the Preakness, makes it two out of three with the victory over Preakness winner Candy Spots. On Hootenanny (7:30 p.m., ABC), which features in a pictorial in this issue, Jack Linkletter (son of Art) welcomes the Smothers Brothers, Oscar Brand, Shirley Abicair, and the Tarriers, in a show taped at Rutgers University. And while we're on the topic of universities, this week's combatants on Sunday's G-E College Bowl (4:30 p.m., CBS) are brainiacs from Temple and Bucknell. That's followed at 5:00 p.m. by a Twentieth Century profile of Frank Lloyd Wright, with Mister Ed and Lassie to follow. Remember when Sundays weren't filled from end to end with sports?

Monday sees The Rifleman preempted on ABC for As Caesar Sees It, one of Sid Caesar's occasional specials (7:30 p.m.), and I'd particularly appreciate the skit that shows the perils of pro hockey "for the spectators who get too close to the game." Meanwhile, singer Lena Horne and comic writer Abe Burrows are the guests on Password (9:00 p.m., CBS). On Tuesday, Jack and Rochester play cards to decide who does the household chores, on The Jack Benny Program (8:30 p.m., CBS), and you can guess who loses. At the same time on NBC, the late Dick Powell (who died in January of 1963) makes one of his last appearances on The Dick Powell Theater as a lawyer checking out the potential beneficiaries for a dying man. Powell's wife June Allyson, Edgar and Frances Bergen, Jackie Cooper, Lloyd Nolan, Mickey Rooney, and Barbara Stanwyck are the guest stars. Fortunately, with a cast like that, we're able to watch this episode via YouTube:

Perhaps the highlight of the week is Wednesday's special featuring Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett from Carnegie Hall (8:00 p.m., CBS). Yup, you can see this Emmy-winning special as well:

I like Thursday's Andy Williams Show (9:00 p.m, NBC), with Kate Smith as special guest; at the same time on ABC, Fred Astaire's Premiere casts Claude Akins and Roger Perry as Marines who find themselves in the middle of a Mexican revolution in the 1930s. And on Friday's Jack Paar Program (9:00 p.m., NBC), it's the story of President Kennedy's exploits on PT-109, as Jack shows films from the South Pacific where JFK's boat was sunk, and interviews Benjamin Kevu, the native who found Kennedy and the other survivors, Reginald Evans, who was responsible for their rescue, and 10 of the crew members.

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Finally, if the ghosts of the near future were present in the article on Fr. Ellwood Kieser, the ghosts of our near future might well have been present in an odd little story appearing on Sunday, June 9 on the Dupont Show of the Week. Entitled "The Triumph of Gerald Q. Wert," and starring Art Carney, the story presents us with a dystopian future in which—well, let me give you the description that appears in the listings:

Gerald Q. Wert, the only comedian left on earth, finds his talents in great demand. But plying his trade is dangerous. The totalitarian regime has decreed that making people laugh is a crime punishable by death. Now government agents are hot on his trail and a suspicious little boy has seen him hiding from the police.

Although there's undoubtedly a good deal of humor in this episode, it is not a comedy—far from it. And I can't help but wonder about this; couldn't find anything on Google about it, no clips on YouTube, so I'm forced to rely on this listing for my information, but I wonder how close we are to something like this today? The Thought Police and Speech Police are everywhere, the slightest suggestion of disrespect merits condemnation, and everyone seems a victim, sensitive about everything. We're quick to anger,slow to forgive, disinclined to understand or make allowances. Once we've reached that level of humorlessness, will we even need a regime to outlaw humor, or will we be content to do it ourselves? TV  


  1. That DICK POWELL THEATRE segment was one of the very first TV appearances for young Kurt Russell, as well. A really good series. I got hooked on it and BURKE'S LAW when Nostalgia Channel was running both in the early morning circa 1989-1990.

  2. Huzzah! Huzzah!
    An issue I actually have (Chicago edition, of course)!

    I'll just do the days of the week for now.

    - Shari Lewis's morning show features Jerry Orbach, still starring on Broadway in Carnival (with puppets in tow); Shari had Jerry on several times a season during her NBC run - and he always scored big.

    - The Defenders has a child-custody case tonight.
    The father is Arthur Hill, the mother is Norma Crane, and their little boy is Richard Thomas, who had much better luck with a later TV family - but that's another story …

    - Believe it or don't, I actually saw "The Triumph Of Gerald Q. Wert" on this very night!
    I was twelve at the time - and it seemed pretty heavy-handed back then.
    Art Carney made the most of what he was given, which wasn't much; "Wert" was a pretty harmless comic, with pantomime and family jokes that were as bland as could be; making him out to be someone who "makes fun and hurts people" was a stretch even for a fantasy dystopia.
    There was a good scene at the end, where Carney has to make a public confession, and sends it up as much as he can (talking rapidly, then talking very slowly), but basically it was a depressing drag.

    Danny Thomas is running one of the episodes he filmed in England this season; this one features Jimmy Edwards, a legendary British comic whom I once got to see here in Chicago, in a stage farce called Big Bad Mouse.
    Edwards sported a mustache-sideburns combo which once seen, was unforgettable; he made quite a hit here at the Studebaker Theatre, which unfortunately was short-lived - and that's another story …

    - ABC has Boston Terrier, a Blake Edwards pilot with Robert Vaughn as a preppie PI; this was Edwards's attempt to come up with a replacement for his own just-dropped Peter Gunn - no go this time.

    - The US Steel Hour ends its long run with Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne in James Barrie's "The Old Lady Shows Her Medals". This one got almost as much notice as Julie and Carol …

    - 77 Sunset Strip finishes up its fifth season with "Never To Have Loved", which marked the show's takeover by Exec Producer Jack Webb and Producer William Conrad.
    It also marked the final appearance of Edd Byrnes as Kookie - who was thereafter personally fired from the show by Bill Conrad: "I had the pleasure of firing the little prick … He annoyed me no end."
    The newly revised 77SS arrived in the fall, to no discernable response - and that's another story too …

    - By the way, this news arrived late to the TV Teletype page: you might note that Dan Jenkins seemed to think that Byrnes and Efrem Zimbalist were going to share 77SS come fall, wheel-style - but that didn't happen (them's the breaks …).
    There are a few other Teletype items that didn't quite match up with the future - but you can find those yourself …

    Anyhoo, tomorrow I'll be at Centuries & Sleuths in Forest Park to see my friends Max and Barb Collins, which always makes me feel better, So There Too.

    1. I read somewhere on the Net that Edd Byrnes said he bought himself out of his contract for 77SS. I don't know why he would've bothered, since he was let go, as were all the other regulars: Roger Smith, Louis Quinn, Jacqueline Beer, & Bob Logan.
      Roger Smith married Ann-Margret a few years later, managing her career for the rest of his life (or as long as he was capable), and Bob Logan took a new stage name, Robert F. Logan, as he starred in a few "Wilderness Family" movies (which I've never seen, though I remember the ads in the newspaper for them).

  3. "Never to Have Loved" was on MeTV about a month ago. Good episode, solid bow-out for Byrnes. I really think for the newly conceived show to have a chance, it needed a new title since Webb was ditching all the 77 SUNSET STRIP trademarks. Should have just been a spinoff series for Zimbalist in name too, since that's what it really was.

  4. TWTWTW was required viewing in my household on Friday nights. My dad loved the dry with and because he was politically involved, he appreciated the humor. However, TW3 could also do a 180 and become relevant in a serious way. Witness Millicent Martin's tribute to JFK shown as part of NC's continuous coverage of the assassination and funeral on Sunday, November 24th. As a precocious 10 year old fascinated with TV and politics, this is a TV moment I'll never forget. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h56_IbHqTIo

  5. David Frost also hosted the American version of "TW3".

    My late mother was a big fan of the show and as a result, became a big fan of David Frost. In later years, she was a habitual viewer of all his American TV work (his 1969-71 talk show; his 1971-73 "David Foist Revue", the interviews with former President Nixon, etc.).


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!