July 13, 2019

This week in TV Guide: July 11, 1964

Why, in the name of all that is good and holy, I would want to spoil a lovely summer day by writing about politics is beyond me. But here we are, about to embark on a TV Guide review that's going to be probably 80% politics.

There's a difference though, unless I'm fooling myself (which is entirely possible), because this issue originates from a lost world, a world featuring the glamour and status of the network anchorman, and the importance to the political process of the presidential nominating convention.

The cover story is the Republican National Convention at San Francisco's Cow Palace, where the GOP meets to choose a candidate to face Lyndon Johnson in November. Television is there to provide gavel-to-gavel coverage of the convention, one of the last of the great knock-down, drag-out brawls that not only made conventions so entertaining, but also demonstrates why political parties no longer hold them. Oh, they still call them conventions, but you and I both know they’re really just week-long political infomercials.

The five men on the cover: Walter Cronkite, who within a decade will be the most trusted man in American; Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, whom NBC bills in their convention ads as the “San Francisco Giants”; and ABC’s new team of Howard K. Smith and Edward P. Morgan, trying to bring credibility—and sex appeal—to the network’s news division. And it's interesting to see the esteem with which the news anchors are treated. TV news is still, at this point, in something of its infancy—CBS and NBC only went to half-hour newscasts a few months before, and ABC won’t follow suit until 1967. The news anchors of the time are portrayed as serious and authoritative, likely because of the emotional connection they made with viewers during the assassination and its aftermath.

Most historians say that television came of age with its coverage of the Kennedy assassination, and the five men here can all testify to that. Huntley and Brinkley dominated that coverage, ratings-wise, with more people watching NBC than CBS and ABC combined,* and NBC comes to the convention as the network to beat, so to speak. Cronkite, whose announcement of Kennedy’s death has since become the iconic image of the event, is not yet the revered institution he will become; in fact, so thoroughly is CBS trounced by NBC in the GOP convention ratings that Uncle Walter will be replaced by Robert Trout and Roger Mudd for the Democratic convention the following month. Smith and Morgan were the prime anchors for ABC’s coverage of JFK's funeral, and won enough critical (and viewer) approval that the network teamed them up for the '64 conventions (even though Ron Cochran continues to anchor the network’s evening news until 1965).

*Since hardly anyone watched ABC news, the battle between NBC and CBS was actually much closer than this statement might indicate.

All three networks will be providing start-to-finish coverage, beginning with the opening session at noon (CT) Monday and continuing through Tuesday’s speech by former President Eisenhower, Wednesday’s nominating and balloting for president, and Thursday’s veep nomination and acceptance speeches.* In addition, there’s plenty of pre-convention coverage, programs that would be unthinkable today except on C-SPAN (I won't even include the cable news networks in this): each network has a preview show Sunday evening, and ABC has several convention-related shows on Saturday and Sunday, including an appearance by Eisenhower on the children’s show Discovery ’64, where he’ll explain the role of the convention in the democratic process.

*Interesting thing here: the convention was originally scheduled to end on Friday, rather than Thursday. The difference was that in the original plan, the nominating speeches and demonstrations would take place on Wednesday, but the balloting itself would be on Thursday. That didn’t happen; it appears the schedule itself had been modified prior to the start of the convention, probably because the chance of multiple ballots had pretty much disappeared by the start of the festivities. Fortunately, TV Guide provides us with an alternate schedule of programming for Friday in case the convention’s already over.

The convention itself is a riotous affair, with more entertainment value than probably the last ten conventions combined. The eventual nominee, Arizona senator Barry Goldwater, has more than enough delegates to win, barring any kind of last-minute turnaround. The platform fight, mostly over the civil rights plank, is particularly nasty; when Goldwater's bitter arch-rival, New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, takes to the podium to support a liberal plank denouncing “extremism,” he's shouted down by the delegates* (a grinning Rockefeller taunts them, like a kid prodding a lion with a stick, which produces great theater and proves Rocky’s point about the extremism of the Goldwater delegates). Rockefeller’s surrogate, Pennsylvania governor William Scranton, puts himself up as a last-minute candidate, though he has no hope of winning.

*Rockefeller's personal life (he was divorced and remarried) was a point of contention with conservative GOP voters; one delegate, according to Theodore H. White, taunted Rocky during this demonstration by shouting, "You lousy lover!" 

This new, more conservative GOP also expresses its distrust of the news media—increasingly personified by television. For many, Huntley and Brinkley, the top dogs in the news game, epitomized the liberal bias of the eastern media establishment. “You know,” one delegate was overheard to say, “these nighttime news shows sound to me like they’re being broadcast from Moscow.” When Eisenhower, in his speech, referred to “sensation-seeking columnists and commentators” seeking to divide the GOP, the delegates roared their approval, shaking their fists at the commentators in their booths. One of the unquestionable highlights of the television coverage was the arrest of NBC floor reporter John Chancellor for blocking the aisle; as you can see in the video, his colleagues expressed grave concern for his welfare.


Goldwater, in his acceptance speech on Thursday night, utters one of politics' most famous lines (or infamous, depending on how you look at it), telling the delegates that "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." He goes on to a resounding defeat at the hands of LBJ in November (winning less than 40% of the popular vote), surely in part by the negative impression left by television coverage of the convention. The grassroots movement he creates, however, helps to lay the groundwork for the victory of Ronald Reagan 16 years later.*

*As did Reagan's speech on behalf of Goldwater in the final weeks of the campaign.

As both a TV fan and a political junkie, I can only lament the change in conventions from meetings where things actually got done to slick television productions that nobody watches. However, in 1964 the process has already begun; media representatives outnumber delegates by two to one.

t  t  t

Here’s something else you’re not likely to see nowadays. NBC news correspondent Nancy Dickerson appears in a feature on the convention—but if you’re looking for her analysis of the party platform or her predictions for the winners, you’re out of luck. Instead, TV Guide “asked her to model some of the clothes she plans to wear on the convention floor.” There’s a pink-and-white checkered number by Gustave Tassell, a navy silk twill suit with white blouse by Yves St. Laurent, and a two-piece green sleeveless top by Geoffrey Beene.


But then, who's Nancy Dickerson in the long run? After all, she only scooped everyone at the Democratic convention and broke the news that LBJ was going to choose Hubert Humphrey as his running mate.

t  t  t

One thing that hasn’t changed since 1964 is the impact television has on politics. Well, actually to the extent it’s changed, it’s become even more of an impact than it was then. In an article on TV’s influence, political columnist William S. White says “there is no question among old political observers that TV unconsciously worked against Richard Nixon in 1960,” and adds that were it not for the presence of television at the 1960 Democratic Convention, LBJ probably wouldn’t have been chosen by JFK as his running mate.

“The late-night session in Los Angeles that nominated Kennedy showed a succession of urban Democratic bosses . . . at the head of the powerful blocs that put him over. Overnight, there was concern in the Kennedy camp that the country would see this as a heavy-handed urban-boss bulldozer movement flinging all resistance out of its way.” That image had to be softened, and the way to do it was to find someone from the Southwest, a Protestant, with connections to rural and small town America. In other words, Johnson.

White feels that television can do a very good job of covering politics, and that it will be essential for the successful politician to learn how to use TV. But for all the good work that television does, it’s growing influence and efficiency mean the end of an era. “That matchless technical skill which combines the lens and the computer produces the final answers for us—tells us who has in fact won and who has in fact lost—long before the climax really should have been reached and exposed.” That’s about the size of it.

t  t  t

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..

Sullivan: On this rerun, Ed’s guests are Duke Ellington and his orchestra and musical comedy performer Liza Minnelli. The Beatles are seen in a segment taped in London on the set of their forthcoming movie. Other guests include French singer Jean Paul Vignon, British comics Morecombe and Wise, and mezzo-soprano Shirley Verrett. Also seen: films of Michelangelo’s Pieta, on display at the New York World’s Fair.

Palace: Host Dale Robertson introduces singers Vic Damone and Jane Morgan; comedian Red Buttons; the Smothers Brothers, comedy folk singers; the Four Amigos, vocal quartet; ventriloquist Russ Lewis; and the Harris Nelson family, a musical comedy act.

Well, I didn’t have to put too much thought into this week’s entry. When this show originally aired, Ed had teased it the previous week by saying, “Next week—The Beatles and the Pieta!” Add in the Duke and Liza with a Z, and even though it’s a repeat it’s still Sullivan who's number one for the week.

t  t  t

Finally, Friday winds up as the only weeknight without convention programming, and undoubtedly the highlight of the night is CBS's Twilight Zone rerun, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" (8:30 p.m.), and if you know your TV history, I don't have to tell you this is the episode with William Shatner and the thing on the wing, right? According to Marc Scott Zicree's Twilight Zone Companion, writer Richard Matheson wasn't happy with the gremlin; Jacques Tournier, who had been considered to direct the episode, had wanted a man in a dark body suit covered with sparkle, creating a creature lacking any definite shape or form. Richard Donner directed instead; his concept of the gremlin, felt Matheson, "looked like a teddy bear." Nevertheless, it's still considered one of the most famous and most loved episodes of the series. TV  

8 comments:

  1. However, Jacques Tournier did get another chance to make a Matheson-written episode of the Zone later in the season, called "Night Call", which was important for it's was originally planned to aired a few weeks later, only to get bumped by the Kennedy Assasnation

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jacques Tourneur, pronounced tur-nyur (and many in Hollywood just gave up and said turner).
      And if you think that's nit-picking, you obviously don't know many French people …

      Delete
    2. Of course, "Jack Turner" was the director of one of the greatest noir movies ever, "Out of the Past." As for the Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys...

      Delete
  2. While he has faded into the past, Edward P. Morgan's daughter had an even more historically eventful and miraculous life: https://sawoman.com/2008/03/future-tense-linda-hardberger/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Now that's fascinating -- wish I'd known that back when I lived in Texas. I would like to have talked to her about that!

      Delete
  3. Just back from the Old DVD Wall:

    On the New York TV Teletype page, first paragraph, second item:

    PETER LAWFORD will appear in Profiles In Courage, the NBC drama series based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book written by JOHN F. KENNEDY when he was a senator. LAWFORD will play Brig. Gen. Alexander William Doniphan, who in 1838 disobeyed orders to execute a band of Mormon leaders.

    I just watched this episode, direct from my crappy bootleg DVD of the complete Profiles series.
    I honestly think that everybody who reads this ought to see this program, which aired on NBC in January of 1965.
    I'd send you all to YouTube, but apparently it's not up over there.
    Too Damn Bad.
    Comes to that, I can think of a whole lot of people who ought to watch this particular episode, especially today.

    Oh well/oh hell …

    Tomorrow, I'll go back and see if I can find something else of interest.

    ReplyDelete
  4. While waiting for the other stuff to get through:

    - Sex appeal?
    On network TV news?
    In 1964?

    Fact: in '64, ABC News was a work in progress.
    Elmer Lower, who'd taken over from John Daly a few years before, had to build a whole world-wide news operation from scratch, on a bare-bones budget, calling in chits from old colleagues from other networks, and like that there.
    In my Chicago edition, the ABC network doesn't take a full-page ad - but the local station, WBKB-channel 7, does, heralding the fact that two of their top reporters. Frank Reynolds and Hugh Hill, have been conscripted by the mother ship to go to the conventions for floor duty.
    (And yes, this was the beginning of Frank Reynolds's path to the top anchor seat at ABC.)

    One thing that I recall about ABC's convention coverage in '64 (and I seem to be the only one who does) is that the news department decided to do some "lighter side" segments with George Gobel, sprinkled here and there amid the slower spots in the convention.
    Didn't get much notice, but at least they tried …

    - In the color section:
    There's the second part of a twofer about Erle Stanley Gardner and Perry Mason, which will help to correct many misconceptions about that gentleman and his creation that have taken root over the years.

    Also, a lovely feature about Barbara Morrison, a portly British actress who'd found a Hollywood home as a Margaret Dumont-style foil to Red Skelton; a very wise woman indeed.

    - Going to the Old DVD Wall now, for some of those Friday shows that got on:
    - Destry, featuring the final film appearance of the semi-legendary comic El Brendel ("Yumpin' yiminy!").
    - Burke's Law, with guest stars Martha Hyer, Hans Conried, Jack Carter, and Gloria Grahame.
    - The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: "The Magic Shop", with serious Leslie Nielsen as Dad to the creepiest kid actor ever, John Megna. (You really have to see for yourself …)
    - And on the local scene:
    Channel 9's Ray Rayner Theater is showing Laurel & Hardy's "A Chump At Oxford", as good an antidote as any for whatever …

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh yeah, Morgan and Smith were seen as quite the dynamic duo after the network teamed them together. I don't remember where I read that -- probably TV Guide. I know, I don't see it either. And good one on the George Gobel bit -- I've never ever heard of that before.

      Delete

Thanks for writing! Drive safely!