September 20, 2019

Around the dial

There was always a girlish charm about Phyllis Newman, from the way she had to hold her head up on What's My Line? to keep the mask from falling off during the Mystery Guest segment, to how she always put her glasses on to do the Lightning Round on Password, to her infectious laugh on her many appearances with Johnny Carson. Her very appearance on TV was invariably a delight. But there was more to her than game shows and laughter; she won a Tony Award in 1962, acted on television into the '90s, and survived breast cancer to become an advocate for women's health issues. She was 86 when she died on Sunday, and television seems just a little less fun without her.

Sander Vanocur, who died on Monday at 91, was not bubbly and charming, at least not when he was on-camera. He was the kind of reporter we could sorely use on television news today, serious and literate, part of the glittering assemblage of talent on NBC along with Frank McGee, John Chancellor, and Robert MacNeil (among others) and gave his work a gravitas that represented the seriousness of his beat, from presidential elections (he was one of the panelists on the first Kennedy-Nixon debate) to civil rights to Vietnam. This quote about the growing 24/7 news cycle, from 1991, sums up everything wrong with today's cable news networks: "Now, we have the capacity because of technology to be almost everywhere almost at once, and, because we are there, that in itself becomes significant. And, because everything’s significant, nothing is significant." I was just thinking about him the other day, remembering him on Movies in Time on the History Channel—back, you know, when they actually did history—wondering if he was still around, and now he isn't. You might consider this the next time I start wondering about you.

At Comfort TV, David asks a very good question: why do the creators of today's TV shows feel the need to disdain "fan-friendly" storylines? Is it insecurity, the idea that they need to do "serious" stories, that turns them to plots that they know antagonize the show's fans? It's a good way to lose viewers, but it allows them to starve for their art.

James Franciscus was always an underrated actor, but despite his starring roles as the teacher in the acclaimed Mr. Novak, the blind detective in Longstreet, a season on The Naked City, and an astronaut in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, he never quite achieved that next level of stardom. Rick gives us seven things to know about Franciscus at Classic Film & TV Café.

At Cult TV, John has some spare time for TV (thanks to a bad job experience; brother, I hear you), and this week he shares some of his viewing choices, including The Day of the Triffids and Kojak. Interesting comparison between you and Telly Savalas, John.

Television Obscurities introduces the daily feature TV Guide 365, and here's a look at the listings from Saturday, September 19, 1964. It captures all the things I love about those old issues; the abbreviated titles, the notations of "Debut", "Special", "Return", "Color" and the like, and, of course the program descriptions.

I don't remember how much of a fan I was of Sea Hunt, but I do remember watching it, that there were plenty of merchandising tie-ins (small scuba divers!), and because it was syndicated, it always seems to have been on. Here's a look at the fourth and final season, courtesy of Television's New Frontier: the 1960s. Suddenly, my lungs were aching for air. TV  


  1. I enjoyed Phyllis Newman very much and Sander was a role model.

  2. I once read that off-camera, Sander Vanocur actually had a keen sense of humor. Not as strong as David Brinkley's, but he did have a wit. But on-air, he was all business and a solid reporter.

    Vanocur, along with Frank McGee, John Chancellor, and Edwin Newman were the so-called "Four Horsemen" of NBC's political convention reporting in the 1960's, serving as the "floor correspondents" at those conventions.


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