October 12, 2019

This week in TV Guide: October 12, 1974

You are Frank Sinatra, one of—if not the—biggest names in entertainment. You came out of a two-year retirement last year, you've just recently concluded a massive world tour, and on Sunday night ABC is broadcasting a concert you performed just a few nights ago at Madison Square Garden in New York. You are Frank Sinatra, and your opening act tonight is: Sonny Bono.

Well, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration. Sonny isn't actually in New York City. But The Sonny Comedy Revue (8:00 p.m. PT), his effort to prove that there is indeed life after Cher, kicks off a big night of music for ABC, one that concludes at 10:00 p.m. with Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. And between Sonny and Herb—sounds like a sandwich shop, doesn't it?—is The Main Event. Or rather, SinatraThe Main Event.

It's not just the title that plays off the Garden's storied boxing history; ads portray Sinatra posing like a victorious prize fighter, a towel around his shoulders, hands clasped triumphantly over his head. The stage looks like a boxing ring (minus the ropes), and Sinatra walks through the star-studded crowd to reach it, escorted by his entourage, all to the sounds of Howard Cosell's introduction. We get the message: Sinatra's not just The Chairman, he's the Heavyweight Champion; it's Frank's world, and we just live in it.

It's a great bit of theater, and no wonder—Roone Arledge, ABC's genius master of sports, is producing the special, using 11 cameras "including several hand-held ones" to capture the action. Sinatra sings all his favorites,* backed by Woody Herman and The Young Thundering Herd, and even though he might not be in the best voice on this night, who cares? "The Lady is a Tramp," "My Kind of Town," "I Get a Kick Out of You," "I've Got You Under My Skin," "My Way"—that's what people want to hear.

*Plus a couple of clunkers. "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown"? I mean, it's a great song for Jim Croce, but seriously? Not "New York, New York," thoughit hasn't been written yet.

Oh, and the rest of the night? Well, Sonny's guest stars are Glen Campbell, Twiggy, and The Staple Singers. Herb Alpert has a retooled Tijuana Brass, one that he says is more strongly influenced by jazz. The Muppets are around for some laughs, and Herb's vocalist (and future wife) Lani Hall puts some words to the music. All in all, that's a pretty good night of entertainment.

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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: Bad Company, Rare Earth and Renaissance are guests.

Special: Host Paul Anka welcomes James Brown, Guess Who, Brownesville Station, and the Tymes and Ohio Players soul groups.

This week's Kirshner comes to us Saturday night on KOVR in Sacramento. However, I don't think we have to think about this too much. It's an odd juxtaposition, the two shows this week, especially with Paul Anka, but he's having a career renaissance, so to speak, himself. Add James Brown, and you've got two legends on one stage—and the Guess Who aren't too bad, either. The clock strikes twelve for Kirshner this week; the glass slipper goes to The Midnight Special.

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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.

That's My Mama,
 one of ABC's new sitcoms, has gotten more than its share of attention since its debut. Part of that is because the network put it on a week ahead of its other shows, hoping it would stand out. Well, it worked, but perhaps not the way the network had hoped. It's gotten some pretty negative reviews, and Cleveland Amory says that's too bad, because it's a pretty good show.

It gives us a new comedy setting, Washington, D.C. (this is, remember, in the pre-C-SPAN days, before we knew just how funny a city Washington, D.C. could be), and producers (Allan Blye and Chris Bearde) who have chosen to handle the typical sitcom situations with "taste and even tact," rather than phony farce. And it has a terrific cast, starting with the titular Mama, Theresa Merritt, who defends her turf admirably. It's just as important, however, for her to have a worthy adversary—the success of shows like these invariably depends on the conflict between parent and child, who bicker all the way through but still love each other—and Clifton Davis, as her son, "not only gives his mother as good as he gets, which is plenty, but, miracle of miracles, she doesn't always kick the extra point. Sometimes he does." Throw in a daughter, played by Lynne Moody, who can hold her own against her mother, her brother, and her husband as well; add in a good supporting cast, and you're ahead of the game.

True, the plots often are nothing to write home about; this is a television series, after all, not a house of miracles. Still, there are enough things that stand out to make That's My Mama worth a second look—even a third.

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The World Series begins this weekend, though we don't know who's playing in it since the playoffs ended after press time. (I just looked it up: it's the Oakland A's and Los Angeles Dodgers. Actually, I knew that, but I did look it up just so I could type that last bit honestly.) It's also, if I'm not mistaken, the first all-West Coast series, so the weekend games will all have later start times, since those games are still played in the daytime. Saturday's coverage on NBC starts with a 15-minute pre-game show at 12:30 p.m., while Sunday's game starts at 1:00 pm. In any event, it's all done by the end of the week, with the A's winning their third straight series.

Melvin Durslag, TV Guide's resident sports expert, recently had a conversation with Oakland's owner, the irrepressible (and, some would say, irresponsible) Charles O. Finley. Finley has some, shall we say, interesting ideas about how to make baseball more popular. He suggests making the field more colorful, for example. "We should have the base lines and the bases in bright hues. Who the hell says that white is sacred?" Along those same lines, he'd like to get rid of the white baseball and replace it with an orange one. "Alert Orange," to be precise. He's in favor of a Designated Runner as well as the Designated Hitter. He'd like to see the umpires lose weight and have their own uniforms, instead of the suits that, he says, make them look like "undertakers." And so on.

What would Finley think of baseball today? The game is at a crossroads, with sabermetrics and the increasingly popular theory of "three true outcomes" reducing baseball to a frequently tedious, three-plus hour contest of home runs, walks, and strikeouts. The three-ball walk, which Finley talks about in this article, would certainly be up for discussion. (The automatic intentional walk, which Finley also advocated, has already come to pass.) One of Finley's passions was a pitch clock, forcing the pitcher to throw within 20 seconds; there's been serious talk about this, but it appears that it will be at least 2022 before it's implemented.

And then there's the prime-time World Series game. Finley advocated this long before the the first nighttime Series game was played in 1971, in part because, as Finley said, "Why play some of the games when the kids are in school and the workers are in the factories?" And yet games now run so late into the night (or early morning) that, as one sportswriter put it, an entire generation of school-age kids has grown up never having seen the end of a weeknight Series game. I think Charlie Finley, who for all his eccentricities was essentially a populist, would be horrified at what today's game has done to one of his prize ideas.

What would he do today? I think he might be tempted to sell the team, shake his head, and walk away.

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The first ratings results are in, reports Richard K. Doan, and already it's becoming clear which of this year's shows are hits—and which are bombs. In the latter category, ABC's The New Land, Kodiak, The Texas Wheelers, The Night Stalker, and the aforementioned Sonny Comedy Hour are sure losers, as is CBS's Sons and Daughters. Existing series in trouble include The Six Million Dollar Man, Kung Fu, The Odd Couple, and Adam-12. All is not lost, however, for veterans such as All in the Family, Sanford and Son, and M*A*S*H, which have returned to their winning ways, and newcomers Chico and the Man, Little House on the Prairie, Rhoda, That's My Mama, Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers, and The Rockford Files.

So how did it all turn out? The "experts" were wrong about The Six Million Dollar Man, which kept going successfully until 1978; they also missed the boat on Friends and Lovers, which was cancelled after 15 episodes; I think that was a case where the critics were so in thrall to that show that they didn't want to see the evidence that the rest of the country wasn't that crazy about it.

If, as it seems, Sonny can't cut it without Cher, what about the other way around? CBS has already given Cher a guarantee for a series of her own next year, and she'll have a special in February that might give us an idea of just that series might look like. That lasted two seasons, before a reconciliation with Sonny that lasted a further season. And after that? Well, Cher goes on to the movies, and Sonny to a political career that eventually takes him to Congress. Who'd have thunk it?

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On Monday, ABC News Closeup takes a look at the dangers of playing high-school football in "Danger in Sports: Paying the Price." (10:00 p.m.) It's a particularly prescient topic in 2019, with the heightened awareness we have of head injuries and their long-term effects on the brain, but even in 1974 there were concerns about tactics such as leading with the head when tackling. In 1974 there were an estimated 800,000 injuries playing football each year; today that figure is 1.2 million. The more things change. . .

The World Series resumes on Tuesday, with weekday games beginning at 5:15 on the West Coast, pretty much taking care of NBC's prime-time lineup for the week. Which is just fine, since the night's highlight is the all-time great crime drama Point Blank (8:00 p.m., KTXL), with Lee Marvin outdoing himself as novelist Richard Stark's antihero Parker (renamed Walker in the movie), and a brilliant supporting cast including Angie Dickinson, Keenan Wynn, Carroll O'Connor, and a host of recognizable character actors. It's one of Marvin's greatest roles; although it's the only time he plays the character, you can't go wrong reading any of Stark's* 24 Parker novels.

*Pen name of the celebrated crime novelist Donald E. Westlake.

Occasionally I'll catch an episode of the long-running (1943-55) OTR drama Nick Carter, Master Detective on the SiriusXM Radio Classics channel, but I wasn't aware until now that a 1972 TV-movie version of Nick existed, with Robert Conrad in the role. Wednesday's CBS Late Movie (11:30 p.m.) presents The Adventures of Nick Carter, with Shelley Winters, Broderick Crawford, and Dean Stockwell as the supporting cast.

A couple of interesting programs on Thursday; first, it's an episode of PBS's outstanding sports documentary The Way it Was, hosted by Curt Gowdy (8:00 p.m.). Each week, The Way it Was focused on a great sports event of the past, combining highlights with a panel discussion featuring some of the surviving participants. Tonight it's the 1952 world middleweight championship bout between Rocky Graziano and Sugar Ray Robinson, and it's a tremendously entertaining half-hour. Later, on ABC's Wide World Special (11:30 p.m.), Dick Cavett does a 90-minute interview with Walter Cronkite from Cronkite's home at Martha's Vineyard. Cavett quotes a critic who once said, "Viewers rarely recall and relish a Cronkite statement. They believe it instead."

On Friday, the NBA kicks off a new season as the Golden State Warriors take on the Los Angeles Lakers (8:00 p.m., (KTVU, KTXL). I know it's hard to believe that the start of the season could be this low-key, but back in the pre-cable days, that's the way it is. (To coin a phrase.) Aside from a couple of special occasions, the NBA won't even have a game of the week on network television until January.

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Finally, this week's issue of TV Guide is the first of twelve that will be coming to you over the next year or so courtesy of Alvaro Leos, who graciously loaned these issues to me to use plugging holes in our weekly feature. I'm extremely grateful to him, as well as to all the benefactors who've dipped into their collections over the years to share their knowledge of TV Guide not only with me, but with you, the readers. As always, if you have any issues that you'd like to see on the site, and if you're willing to part company with them for a short time, please drop me an email. Thanks again!

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R.I.P., Valerie Harper. TV  



2 comments:

  1. "It's also, if I'm not mistaken, the first all-West Coast series". Actually the 1989 World Series was between the SF Giants and the Oakland A's. Hopefully, there won't be an earthquake this time :)

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    Replies
    1. Yes...but 1974 was before 1989...and 1988 was a rematch of 1974.

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