November 9, 2019

This week in TV Guide: November 9, 1968

Last week we dabbled in food, sharing a TV Guide recipe for minestrone. This week we go even farther, as Richard Gehman tells us how "You too can be a chef" by watching The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. You see, Carson makes a perfect companion for the hungry view (and Gehman finds himself, for some unknown reason, starved every time he watches Carson). Forthwith, Gehman's complete late-night supper, made during a recent episode of Tonight.

Start with the small potatoes, which can be prepared for boiling during Carson's commercial for a new spot remover. You can do the whole thing from your easy chair while Don Rickles comes on and insults everyone in sight. While Rickles continues, it's time for you to separate slices of chipped beef, which you've brought to your easy chair along with the spuds. As Ed McMahon shills for Alpo, take the separated beef to the kitchen, toss the potatoes in a pot for boiling, and while you're there put an eighth of a pound of butter in a frypan which has been preheated to 300°. Turn up the TV while Sergio Franchi is singing, so you can hear him while toasting two slices of bread and opening a can of peas. With the next commercial, you can drain the potatoes and toast a couple more slices of bread. The next guest, possibly George Jessel, allows you to chop a fresh green or red pepper.

When the show pauses for a station break, that's your chance to add two tablespoonfuls of sifted flour to the sizzling butter, stir with a whisk, and add a half teaspoonful of salt, a couple of pinches of dried parsley, a very small dash of oregano and some pepper, preferably fresh-ground. You can add a half-cup of water while the next singer (probably named Connie) warbles away. Add the chipped beef to the mixture when shills for a sewer-cleaning device, along with a half-cup of milk, stirring until the mixture bubbles, at which time you include the drained peas.

This whole thing should take you to within about ten minutes of the end of Carson's show. During the next-to-last commercial, add a tablespoonful of capped black pitted olives, and as Carson interviews his final guest (Mary Martin, Mary McCarthy, Mary Healy, or maybe Mary Queen of Scots), you can serve your creamed chipped beef, either on the toast or the potatoes you've put on the side. Turn off the set. Eat heartily.

I don't know. I don't think I can eat that heavy a meal right before bedtime.

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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..

Sullivan: Tentatively scheduled guests: singers Tom Jones, Vikki Carr and Jimmi Hendrix; comedians Wayne and Shuster, and Scoey Mitchell; the Chung Trio, instrumentalists; and Valente and Valente, balancing act.

Palace: Host Mike Douglas presents Polly Bergen, Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66, Donovan, comics Hendra and Ullett, juggler Rudy Schweitzer and the Solokhins, balancing acrobats from the Moscow State Circus.

Once again, KMSP, the Twin Cities ABC affiliate, has seen fit to tamper with the schedule of Hollywood Palace. The station had a frequent habit of pre-empting the network's prime-time fare for local programming (and the accompanying ad revenue)—in this case sixing ABC's Saturday night shows (after Lawrence Welk, of course) in favor of a movie (Back Street, with Susan Hayward)*, and airing Palace on Sunday afternoon (opposite NFL football).

*Full disclosure: looking at the picture of Susan Hayward in the movie ad, I think I would have preferred Back Street to the Palace myself.

Be that as it may, I love these examples of the variety show adapting to contemporary culture. Vikki Carr is a traditional songstress, Tom Jones epitomizes the power of sexual dynamism, and Hendrix—well, he's out there in an area code of his own, isn't he? Case closed—the verdict goes to 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.

Every one in a while television tries something a little different. Not often, but occasionally. What's not different, though, is the result, which usually takes about thirteen weeks to play out, thirteen being an unlucky number, but the traditional number of episodes a series would run before getting cancelled. The history of television is littered with such noble failures (Cop Rock, anyone?) and this week Cleveland Amory takes a look at one of them: ABC's That's Life, a comedy-variety series with a regular cast and continuing story. It is, Amory says, more like "a long musical comedy—with each act lasting an hour and each intermission a week." 

That's Life stars Robert Morse (Tony winner for How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying) and E.J. Peaker as a young couple headed for marriage; Morse, Amory admits, "is not our favorite actor. But he is, bar none, our favorite re-actor—in fact, he is perhaps the best in the business." Peaker took a while to grow on Cleve, but by the fourth ekpisode "we were ready, if not for marriage, at least to go steady."

One of the highlights of each week's episode is the guest star, and Amory points out that the show is often written to take advantage of that guest, rather than the regulars. And with a cast of guests including George Burns, Jackie Vernon, and Tim Conway, the show succeeds more often than not. A particular highlight is the show in which Kay Medford and Shelly Berman appear as Peaker's mother and father, an episode that also features Robert Goulet and Alan King. "This was," Amory writes, "by all odds the best single episode of any series we have seen so far." That's Life could actually be considered a success as far as these "different" series go, running for 32 episodes. Cleve's much more bullish on the show, though: "When That's Life is good, it's very, very good—good enough to pay money for on Broadway. And even when it's bad, it's never, never horrid."

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On the cover this week is Barbara Feldon in marryin' garb, and inside is a layout of Feldon in the year's smartest outfits. The hook is the upcoming wedding of her Get Smart character, Agent 99, to Don Adams' Maxwell Smart, but it's clear that there's more to Feldon than meets the eye—or the secret agent, as it were.

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Last week we also took a look at the story of PBL, the experimental new Sunday night program launched by NET. (I don't have anything to check on in this week's edition; KTCA, the Twin Cities' educational channel, is dark this Sunday.) This week we read of the network's plans to add a half-hour prime-time news program. James White, head of NET, hopes to have the newscast on by the fall of 1969. I don't know that it ever happens; if it did, I've not seen any evidence that it was shown in Minneapolis. It may well have been broadcast in one of the network's larger markets, such as New York, Washington D.C. or San Francisco. But a newscast delayed is not a newscast denied; following their coverage of the Watergate hearings, Robert McNeil and Jim Lehrer begin The McNeil/Lehrer Report, which quickly goes nationally and continues today as PBS NewsHour. White had said that he would seek "top-ranked commentators"—there's no arguing that's what they got.

And in one more follow-up from that piece, the Hawaiian Open golf tournament is back, and this time the broadcast really takes advantage of the time difference—Saturday coverage starts at 7:30 p.m. CT on Channel 11, with the final round airing Sunday at 7:00 p.m.

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The week's football is kind of a meh, but Stanley Frank provides a fascinating look behind-the-scenes at what happens in the television control booth. The focus is on CBS' coverage of the season opener between the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers, where announcers Frank Gifford and Jack Whitaker go through the preparation for the week's game with the production team, producer Bill Creasy and director Chris Erskine. Gifford runs through each team's tendencies, gives insight on key players, and advises the team on what to look for.  (Bobby Walden, the Pittsburgh punter, has "been known to pass from kick formation.")

Covering football has changed dramatically over the years. There are five color cameras assigned to the game: three near the 50-yard line, one on the sidelines, one behind an end zone. (By contrast, the average game today uses at least twice as many, and NBC has 40 for its Sunday night broadcasts.) CBS gets off to a rough start; despite Gifford's warning that Steelers running back Dick Houk had the capability of throwing on the option play, the cameras miss his 62-yard pass on the game's first play. Later in the first half Erskine cuts to the field-level camera as Giants quarterback Fran Tarkenton unleashes an 84-yard pass to Homer Jones; the ground shot "projects the speed and power of the players but loses a panoramic view of the field," blowing the live shot. An instant replay showing the completed pass doesn't make up for Erskine's frustration at missing the original play.

The game continues through to a 34-20 victory by the Giants, a dull affair that, as Frank notes, proves the truism that "false excitement cannot be pumped into an event." Despite the early glitches, the broadcast goes well, and Gifford's tip about a fake punt means the cameras are in perfect position when Walden does in fact opt for the pass in the fourth quarter (which was dropped). It's particularly interesting to note how commercials were treated back in the day: under the current agreement, CBS can ask the officials for a commercial time-out "if there has been no natural break in the action during the first seven minutes of a quarter." The referee misses the network's initial fourth quarter signal, and Creasy nixes a commercial during a first-down measurement. ("We can't interrupt a drive.") The network is eventually bailed out by Giants kicker Pete Gogolak, who obligingly kicks two field goals to provide natural breaks for the spots.

Televising a game is tough work for everyone; as Creasy says after the game's end, "I feel as though my eyes are falling out of my head, and they pop out a little farther every week."

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Us classic television fans remember Robert Young as the wise Jim Anderson on Father Knows Best, or the kindly family doctor Marcus Welby, M.D., but Young was a fine actor who wasn't above showing an edge in his work. We're reminded of that in Friday's episode of Name of the Game (7:30 p.m., NBC), as Young plays Herman Allison, "an ultraright fanatic who's building a private army" to guard against the growing race problem. Gene Barry, one of the three stars of Name of the Game, enters the scene while investigating the death of an investigative reporter, and runs into a cast of characters that includes an influence-peddling former senator, a washed-up actress, a restaurateur, and another murder.

It's just another indication of the sign of the times, as we can see in a Letter to the Editor from Doris Mathews of Checotah, Oklahoma. Miss Mathews writes in praise of a recent special called Soul, which could have been any one of a number of specials but was probably a public broadcasting series of the same name. In the letter, she says "The Negro 'Soul' special was fabulous. More shows like this should be aired so that the whites can see all the talent among the Negro people." Wince-inducing to modern ears perhaps, but this is a time not far removed from the infamous interracial kiss on Star Trek, which caused NBC so much trouble in the South.

Thomas J. O'Neal of New Orleans has a hilarious take on Howard Cosell, who's not quite the household name he'll become in two years thanks to Monday Night Football, but has become plenty familiar thanks to ABC's coverage of boxing—especially Muhammad Ali. In response to an October 19 article entitled "I'm Irreplaceable" (I'm assuming Humble Howard is speaking of himself here), O'Neal writes "In musing over the word 'saturnine,' which Howard Cosell believes everyone 'ought to learn,' it occurred to me that this Argus-eyed, stentorian Palladium of narcissism should pause on his commercial odyssey, pick up his aegis, take his Antaean virtues and his cornucopia of money—and paddle down the Stygian Way to Hades. [That's "go to hell," for the rest of us.] Cosell, you are a myth!" Couldn't have said that better myself.

I'll defer to the following as the Letter of the Week, though, as it checks a number of boxes that I've written about in the past months. Karen Fiedler, of Columbus, Ohio, has CBS' new Western series Lancer in mind in her letter. "Lancer is based on the fact that Murdoch Lancer [Andrew Duggan] was shot so badly he had to send for his boys, Scott [Wayne Maunder] and Johnny [James Stacy]. Scott gets shot int he first episode, Johnny gets shot in the second, and Scott gets shot again in the third by a family trying to avenge Johnny's killing of one of their brood. Johnny is forced to shoot one of them because they shot Scott. Luckily everyone recovers quickly except the bad guys. It is certainly a joy to view the new lack of violence." Got all that straight? TV  


  1. The Soul special referenced by the letter writer was likely the one made by George Schlatter-Ed Friendly Productions that aired on NBC 10/17/1968.

  2. That's Life was a great show that is, unfortunately, totally forgotten outside the pages of this fine blog. I really wish someone would show it again.


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