December 11, 2019

A "Christmas Carol" the likes of which you've never seen

INT. A ROOM - MORNING.

SCROOGE lies slumped on the floor, his hands locked around the bedpost. For a moment the reality of the situation escapes him; then, looking around, he realizes that he is in his own bedroom. There are the bedcurtains; they haven't been torn down after all! The walls, the pictures - they're all his!


SCROOGE
My bed! My room! I'm alive! 
(Beginning to dance around the room)
I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future! The Spirits of all three will live within me. I'm as light as a feather, I'm as happy as an angel, I'm as merry as a schoolboy.
(He staggers slightly, as if lightheaded)
I'm as giddy as a drunken man. But what day is it? I don't know how long I've been among the Spirits. I don't know anything!

Hearing the chimes of the church bells outside, SCROOGE stops. 


SCROOGE
Is it? Could it still be Christmas Day?

He runs to the window and throws it open, and he is stopped in his tracks. His mouth falls open. If he was confused a moment ago, now he is utterly shocked.

CUT TO:
EXT. STREET OUTSIDE SCROOGE'S WINDOW. SCROOGE'S P.O.V.

Everything that is familiar to SCROOGE is gone. Across from his home rises a large glass skyscraper. Below him are people walking on sidewalks lining the sides of paved streets, wearing close in a style he has never before seen. Moving across his view from right to left is a red double-decker bus. As his eyes dart back and forth he sees a jet aircraft streaking across the clear blue sky, the sunlight glinting off its silver skin.

CLOSE SHOT SCROOGE

His lips are moving, but nothing comes out. He shakes his head, his hands pressed against either side. Finally he speaks.


SCROOGE
It...it...it must be the result of being with the Spirits. Well, yes, a shock to the system such as this is bound to cause confusion. Yes, that must be it.

SHOT OF STREET OUTSIDE WINDOW. WE SEE SOMEONE WALKING PAST SCROOGE'S HOME.

CLOSE SHOT SCROOGE.


SCROOGE
Here, let me ask that young woman out there.
(Raising his voice)
Excue me, miss. Can you tell me what is today?

MEDIUM SHOT PEDESTRIAN. 

We can see that despite the long hair, the young woman is, in fact, a YOUNG MAN.


YOUNG MAN

What? You talkin' to me?


SCROOGE
Excuse me, my good man, I meant no offense. It's just - it's just...
(Motions to head, tugs on own hair)
Your hair, I'm afraid, well I mistook you for a young lady.


YOUNG MAN
Whatever.
(Under his breath)
Sod off, old man.

He begins to walk away.


SCROOGE
Wait!


YOUNG MAN
(Impatiently)
Yeah?


SCROOGE
Can you tell me what day today is?


YOUNG MAN
What day it is? Are you barmy?


SCROOGE
(Insistent)
Today! What day is today?


YOUNG MAN
Why, It's Christmas Day. Whatdy'a think?


SCROOGE
(As if to himself)
Then it is still Christmas Day. I haven't missed it. But - (looking around at the inexplicable sights) what is all this?
(To YOUNG MAN)
What kind of place is this?

CLOSE SHOT YOUNG MAN


YOUNG MAN
What kind of nutter are you? This is London!


SCROOGE
(Confused)
London?

The YOUNG MAN again begins to walk away.


SCROOGE
(Suddenly)
Young man!

LONG VIEW YOUNG MAN, AS SEEN FROM OVER SCROOGE'S SHOULDER.


YOUNG MAN
(Exasperated)
Now what?


SCROOGE
(Desperately)
The year. What year is it?


YOUNG MAN
What year is it? First he wants to know the day, now the year. You really musta got rat-arsed last night!

CLOSE SHOT SCROOGE


SCROOGE
Never mind all that. What year is it.

CLOSE SHOT YOUNG MAN


YOUNG MAN
(Deciding he may as well humor SCROOGE)
Why, it's 1993!
(Sotto voce)
Wanker!

CLOSE SHOT SCROOGE - HIS CONFUSED EXPRESSION GIVES WAY TO HORROR AS HE LISTENS TO THE VOICE ECHOING SUDDENLY IN THE ROOM.


VOICE OF GHOST
(Mocking)
Yes, Ebenezer, you asked to be returned to Christmas Day, and I have done that. But you didn't say which Christmas!
(Laughs malevolently)


NARRATOR
(Voice over)
Presenting Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge, the world's most famous miser.

FAST PAN AROUND SCROOGE'S BEDROOM TO ROD SERLING, IN SUIT AND TIE, HIS HANDS FOLDED IN FRONT OF HIM, A COPY OF "A CHRISTMAS CAROL" TUCKED UNDER HIS ARM.


ROD SERLING
For over a century, every Christmas, the story of Scrooge's journey through his own personal reclamation has played out, in book, on stage and in film, thrilling millions of people around the world. But whenever you enter the ghostly fog of time travel, you're apt to discover that the rules can change without warning, and leave you in a place you weren't expecting. Tonight Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge is about to find out that clocks can run forward as well as backward, that the end is sometimes the beginning, and that this particular time, the road from ruin to redemption will take him through: The Twilight Zone.

t  t  t

Admit it: you'd like to see the rest of this story sometime, wouldn't you? TV  

December 9, 2019

What's on TV? Wednesday, December 13, 1967

There are a number of specials on tonight, but only one that into the Christmas category, and that's the Andy Williams Christmas Show. Andy doesn't have a regular weekly series this season, but you can count on him to be back for the holidays, because you can't have Christmas without Andy, his brothers, and the Osmonds. Over at ABC, The Desperate Hours is part of the network's occasional David Susskind-produced series of classic movie remakes; it stars George Segal in the Humphrey Bogart role, with Arthur Hill replacing Fredric March as the protagonist. Better to stick with the original, I think. And while it isn't a special, having Groucho Marx host Kraft Music Hall feels like an event, doesn't it?

December 7, 2019

This week in TV Guide: December 9, 1967

It's a little more than two weeks until Christmas, and the networks start to ramp up their holiday presentations. After all, it isn't too late to plug those last-minute gift ideas! (And if you're looking for one this year, look no further.)

t  t  t

For once, we're actually looking at a football weekend more like the ones we know today. We're still in the two-league, two-network era, and NBC (AFL) and CBS (NFL) battle on both Saturday and Sunday; in the meantime, ABC counters with the final college football game of the regular season, Florida vs. Miami at the Orange Bowl. (1:00 p.m. CT) It's interesting how Miami is referred to here as "Miami of Florida," as they often were back then. In those days they were a good but not great college team, and the Miami that everyone usually thought of in the college game was Miami of Ohio.*

*Known as the "Cradle of Coaches", having produced, among others, Paul Brown, Sid Gillman, Woody Hayes, Ara Parseghian, Bo Schembechler, Weeb Ewbank and Jim Tressel. You could start a coaching hall of fame right there.

It's also interesting to see pro football on Saturday. The Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961 prohibits the NFL from playing televised games on Saturdays until the second Saturday in December (which, in 1967, was December 9)*, the rationale being that the college season would be over by the second Saturday. Of course, back then it was also unusual to have a college game as late as December 9. How unusual? Well, 1967 was the last year that the college national champion was selected before the bowl season; from 1968 on, the Associated Press would take their final poll following the January 1 games. But on December 9, 1967, the national champion had already been chosen, the poll having been taken following the November 25 games. (The champ that year was USC, by the way; most of the top-ranked teams concluded their season on November 25.) The fact that regular season games continue to be played after the final poll—well, it's hard to explain, particularly on a TV blog. It's probably an existential thing.

*The act didn't apply to the AFL, since they were in only their second season and were hardly an antitrust threat in 1961, and they played occasional Saturday games on TV throughout their history.

NBC offers viewers three of the four AFL games played that weekend, and had the early game on Saturday, the Bills vs. the Patriots in Boston at 1:00 p.m. (On head-to-head against Florida-Miami, one of the very few times you'll ever see pro and college football on at the same time.) CBS has the late game, a key late-season matchup between the Packers and Rams in Los Angeles (3:00 p.m.). The Rams take it, 27-24, but the Packers win a playoff rematch two weeks later,  28-7, en route to yet another championship.

Sunday offers us a rare opportunity for two network doubleheaders. As part of the post-merger TV contract, the primary networks of the two conferences alternate doubleheaders, but there were no such rules in 1967, and both NBC and CBS take full advantage. The AFL doubleheader seen in the Minnesota market is Kansas City vs. New York at 1:00 p.m,, followed by Oakland at Houston, joined in progress at 4:00 p.m.  (Oakland wins 19-7; the two teams will meet again on New Year's Eve in the AFL Championship, won by Oakland 40-7)  The NFL twin-bill also starts at 1:00 p.m., with the hometown Vikings playing the Bears in Chicago, followed at 4:00 p.m. (again in progress) with the Cleveland Browns and the St. Louis Cardinals in St. Louis.*

*The new Cleveland Browns, not to be confused with the team now calling itself the Baltimore Ravens; and the St. Louis Cardinals, not to be confused with either the Los Angeles Rams, the Arizona Cardinals, or the St. Louis baseball Cardinals. Again, to my younger readersit's complicated.

And then there's this howler of a typo: Sunday night the Minnesota North Stars are in Pittsburgh for a hockey game against, we're told, the Pittsburgh Pipers. No, you're right—the hockey team in Pittsburgh was called then, as it is now, the Penguins. So who are the Pipers? You'd be right to be confused; they're the ABA team in Pittsburgh. Basketball, not hockey. The Pittsburgh Pipers would win the first ABA championship, but would then relocate the following season to—you guessed it—Minnesota. That move didn't work out so well, so the Pipers headed back to Pittsburgh for 1969. They then changed their name to the Condors. And a couple years later they folded altogether. As I said above, it's complicated.

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: In the midst of Ed's 20th anniversary year, CBS goes all out, honoring the veteran showman by renaming it's Broadway theater, Studio 50, in his honor. Guests from some of Ed's earliest shows are scheduled to appear tonight. Pearl Bailey, who first graced Ed's stage in 1948 and is now starring in Broadway's "Hello, Dolly"; opera star Robert Merrill (1951); Gwen Verdon (1953); and Alan King (1956). Los Ninos Cantores, an Argentine singing group, are making their "Sullivan Show" debut. New York's Mayor John V. Lindsay officiates at the unveiling of the theater's new marquee. Also on hand: the famed Emerald Society pipe bands of New York City's fire and police departments.

Palace: Tiajuana Brass leader Herb Alpert explores new sounds in music. Guests: Liza Minnelli, the Baja Marimba Band, Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66, composer Burt Bacharach, jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery, and singing songwriters Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. A film segment by Palace writer Steven H. Stern conjures up visions to match the music.

Where to start? This week we see a real dichotomy between the past and the present. The Palace lineup is about as hip as you can get; you can probably hear most of it on one of those Time-Life '60s collections. For the time, this would have been a very strong show, but that film-segment-conjuring-up-visions bit really gives me pause. If there's anything worse than psychedelia, it's psychedelia produced by the establishment. This does not sound good.

Ed, on the other hand, pulls out all the old warhorses. It's not particularly creative or challenging, and it was probably a bit hoary in spots, but hey—that's entertainment. Points off for John Lindsay's appearance, though. It's not a time for politicians to be making speeches, and they could have done just as well by having CBS chief Bill Paley do the honors.

So who gets the nod? I would have been a youngster back when this was on, but I'm an old fart now.  However, nobody likes an old fart. The verdict: Palace, though I'm not offended if you disagree.

And here's a clip from that Palace to help you decide.


t  t  t

.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.

The Carol Burnett Show is one of the most revered shows of the era, but was it always thus? Not according to Cleveland Amory. He describes Carol as "an odd choice for an emcee. In the first place, a little of her goes a long way, and a lot of her—her muggings, tongue-outs, etc.—often goes the wrong way."

He rips many of the sketches, especially one in which Carol plays "Luci Brains" (a takeoff on Luci Baines Johnson) being interviewed by F. Lee Korman (based on F. Lee Bailey's short-lived interview show Good Company), which included "such offensive lines as 'Mah daddy's real busy, but he sends Hubert Humphrey down to play with the baby.'" And then there's the two sketches with Carol and Nanette Fabray which, Cleve says, "really took the cake." Both the sketches "were so equally overdone that they ended in a dead heat between unfunniness and tastelessness." He also sighs at her running jokes about her appearance and the handsomeness of Lyle Waggoner, and sees her Q&A with the audience as "transparently plotted and planned."

But lest we think he has nothing to say in praise of Burnett, he reminds us that "there are fine things" about the show. He likes the autograph book at the end, very much likes Lyle Waggoner and Vicki Lawrence (as well as a guest spot by Tim Conway), and says that Carol's "at her very best when she's just herself—she is obviously a very nice person—yet she gives us so little of this that it's positively infuriating." Perhaps as time went on (this is the show's first season, after all), she started to do just that, becoming the Carol Burnett we know and love; or maybe that was the real Carol—the "muggings, tongue-outs"—all along, and Amory just didn't recognize it. Regardless, it's the critic's lot to be remembered by very few, while Carol Burnett remains remembered—and loved—by millions.

t  t  t

Isn't that a great ad for GE on the left? I always loved those Lighted Ice lights—have a few of them in my possession from the early '60s (still work, although we don't use them anymore; don't want to burn them out), and you can find them in many antique stores and on eBay this time of year. I don't have a great regard for GE products nowadays; I think their appliances are cheap and poorly made, but I'll always love those ads. 

Lawrence Welk "serves up a holiday sampler" on Saturday night (7:30 p.m., ABC), and A Charlie Brown Christmas (6:30 p.m., CBS) makes its third yuletide appearance on Sunday, already considered a classic. Also on Sunday, NBC presents the Radio City Music Hall Christmas special (8:00 p.m.), probably not as flashy as the ones they do today, but it features the Doodletown Pipers and the US Military Academy's Glee Club. Plus, there are the Rockettes; really, what else do you need?

Nancy Sinatra stars in her first TV special on Monday (7:00 p.m., NBC), but she's going to need some help from her dad and his friends—Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr.—to carry the load for a full hour. Danny Thomas is on Monday as well (8:00 p.m., NBC), with Hans Conried, Eve Arden, Kurt Kasznar, Shirley Jones, Gale Gordon, and Ken Berry. Neither of these are Christmas specials per se, although as I've mentioned before, the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is rife with opportunities for advertisers to hawk their wares. 

Andy Williams' Christmas show is Wednesday night (9:00 p.m., NBC), featuring wife Claudine Longet, the Williams brothers, the Osmonds, and the whole Williams clan. Quite a few clips from this show are in the Andy Williams Christmas DVD that came out a few years ago, which I highly recommend. Bob Hope's Christmas special (the stateside version) airs on Thursday night (7:30 p.m., NBC); footage of him entertaining the troops will appear in another special after Christmas. 

The local stations aren't missing—the infamous (to me, at least) Channel 7 presents a 3½ hour telethon called "Jingle Bells," starting at 10:30 Friday night, to raise money for food banks. They were still doing this show in the '70s, when I got Channel 7 while living in The World's Worst Town™. The show was awful, but the cause was a good one. And KEYC, Channel 12 in Mankato. has what I find to be a poignant reminder of how we used to celebrate Christmas—local high schools and colleges singing Carols and other Christmas music, nightly at 10:30. I wonder if they're even allowed to say the word "Christmas" in public schools nowadays?

t  t  t

Frank Sutton, Sergeant Carter on Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.*, is the subject of an interesting, un-bylined profile. Sutton discusses the differences between himself and his character, particularly his personal discomfort with how hard he sometimes has to be on Gomer, and his rejection of the military-tinged violence existing in the present culture. In that context he talks about his efforts to raise his son, Joey, now 12, to be "not a bully and not a sissy but 'all boy.'" "Guns, violence and war are evil and horrible. I didn't want my kid to be hostile." And so when Joey was three, Sutton wouldn't allow him to accept a birthday present of a toy tommy gun.

*Not to be confused with Larry Hovis, Sergeant Carter on Hogan's Heroes. That both shows are on CBS only adds to any possible rupture of the time-space continuum. 

At the same time, Sutton emphasized the importance of knowing how to defend yourself, teaching Joey both boxing and judo, and reminding him of the "Marine Corps thing: Don't be afraid of being hit." He describes his son at 12 as being a pacifist, as Sutton had wanted him to be; I know there are gradations of pacifists that accept the idea of self-defense and those that don't, but regardless of how one uses the word it seems Sutton had the right idea: raise your son to be a man.

Most telling, and most illustrative of the difference between the '60s and today, is when Sutton talks about his trip to entertain the troops in Vietnam. "My identification was with the young, healthy guys fighting. I wanted to be a part of it. I know what it means to die in a rice paddy with the stink and the filth. [Sutton served in the Pacific in World War II.] I saw boys all shot up. I saw a quadruple amputee and blind. When I got back everybody put me down. You'd think I was practically a Nazi. I am surrounded by dovish people in my business." Very interesting that Sutton draws a distinction between being a pacifist and being a dove. And a shameful reminder of how Vietnam veterans were treated when they returned from the war, and how those who supported them were seen. At least in that regard we've evolved in the right direction.

t  t  t

There are a couple of features on California Governor Ronald Reagan; first, NET's Sunday night show PBL has a segment on Reagan's Chubb Fellowship visit to Yale University; then, on Tuesday, CBS Reports broadcasts "What About Ronald Reagan?" in an attempt to discover "just how far below the surface Reagan's appeal runs." Reagan was elected governor in 1966, and at this point he's rumored to be a possible candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968 (as he was; finishing third to Nixon and Rockefeller).

The media was always fascinated, perhaps even obsessed, with Reagan, and never really understood either him or his appeal. I can't say this for certain, but I suspect the premise of NET's segment was "fish out of water"—the actor and bumpkin Reagan on the campus of the oh-so-sophisticated Ivy League campus. Likewise, the description of CBS's special sounds like the network's examining a lab specimen rather than the governor of the nation's second-largest state.

Thirteen years later, Ronald Reagan would be elected President of the United States—and the media still didn't understand him. Some things they never do figure out.

t  t  t

Finally, and tangentially political, there's the social event of the season: the White House wedding of President Johnson's daughter Lynda Bird* to Captain Charles Robb, who went on to become a governor and then U.S. senator from Virginia. (I don't imagine LBJ's connections hurt him any.) The networks give us extensive coverage of the President escorting Lynda down the staircase and processing into the East Room (TV cameras weren't allowed at the ceremony itself), as well as the happy couple walking under the crossed swords.  NBC's coverage is at 4:00 p.m., CBS and NBC follow at 6:00 p.m.

*Only the seventh First Daughter to be married in the White House.

All three networks feature male-female anchor teams—after all, you couldn't expect to understand the social niceties without having the feminine touch, right? Marya McLaughlin was CBS's first on-air female reporter. She wanted to cover politics, and did—usually having to cover the "Women of Washington." We've mentioned Nancy Dickerson of NBC before, a crack political reporter whom TV Guide used for a fashion show, complete with NBC microphone. ABC's Marlene Sanders was the first woman to report from the field in Vietnam, and her son is Jeffrey Toobin, CNN's legal correspondent.

I can't say this for sure, but I'm confident that all three were capable of more than covering Washington's social scene. TV  

December 6, 2019

TV Jibe: best of both worlds

Yes, I'm well aware it's Friday, and you're expecting a trip "Around the Dial." However, a different kind of trip—another secret mission on behalf of my employer—calls for a visit to the land of TV Jibe, courtesy of The New Yorker. I'll make it up to you next week.

  TV  

December 4, 2019

Looking for the perfect holiday gift? How about "The Electronic Mirror"!

Now that Thanksgiving has passed, it's prime Christmas shopping season. Are you still hunting for that perfect gift? Or, like the people on the Black Friday commercials, are you thinking about a little treat for yourself? Allow me to suggest The Electronic Mirror: What Classic TV Tells Us About Who We Were and Who We Are (and Everything In-Between). After all, you wouldn't be here if you didn't already like classic television, right? So why not take advantage of it?

The Electronic Mirror looks at how classic TV acts as a time capsule, telling us how life used to be, and in many cases how things got the way they are today. It contains the best of what I've written for It's About TV!, along with many new essays written expressly for the book. Not only does it feature many of your favorite shows and stars, it also places them in context, explaining their meaning and significance. As Carol Ford (Bob Crane: The Definitive Biography) says, "You won't watch TV the same way again!"  Best of all, you'll have fun along the way. If you like It's About TV!, you'll love The Electronic Mirror. And at $12.95 (plus shipping, unless you're a Prime member) it won't break the bank.

The link above takes you to the Amazon link, but The Electronic Mirror is also available at Barnes & Noble.com, as well as many other online retailers. And if you really want to make it a special gift, how about a signed copy? After you've placed your order, just send me an email (the address is on the sidebar) with your address, telling me who it's for and how you'd like it signed, and I'll send you a bookplate that you can insert in your copy. Don't be shy; I won't bite!

I'm very proud of The Electronic Mirror, and I'm confident you and your favorite classic TV fan will enjoy this trip through television history. If you've already got it (and if you haven't, why not?), consider one of my novels, The Collaborator or The Car, available here. You'll want the complete Mitchell Hadley collection of books, for sure, so order now, in time for your gift-giving! TV  

December 2, 2019

What's on TV? Friday, December 9, 1960

This may be the last time we see the TV listings without some kind of Christmas special (then again, it may not be; you don't expect me to know what's on tap for next week, do you), but it has familiar faces (Rawhide, Route 66, and The Twilight Zone on CBS alone), not to mention one of Frank Baxter's famous science shows. And then there are the ones you might not recognize, such as CBS's The Garlund Touch, which I confess I have never heard of prior to this very minute. But then, I don't pretend to know everything—or even most things. I just try to get by.

This week's listings are from the Minneapolis-St. Paul edition.