December 14, 2019

This week in TV Guide: December 18, 1971

Let's start off the week with a couple of true Christmas classics.

First up is Richard Williams' magnificent animation version of A Christmas Carol. TV Guide's pictorial takes us behind the scenes to show the process behind the animated special. The animators base their drawings on John Leach's illustrations in the first edition of Dickens' story, as well as old engravings of 19th-century London. Studies are made on things even as small as the items on Scrooge's desk.

And then there's one of the highlights of the special: the stunning opening shot, in which "[t]he camera will focus on Scrooge's home and then pan dramatically down the facade of the building to the lighted window of the room occupied by the old skinflint." An artist works on the details of the scene, "using an old engraving as his source of authentic architectural details." Best of all, perhaps, the story features Alastair Sim recreating his 1951 film role as Scrooge; Michael Hordern, who played Marley's Ghost in the movie, does so here as well. Sir Michael Redgrave is the narrator.

The special airs Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. CT on ABC, and in a mere half-hour it does a remarkable job of condensing the story without losing any of the important details, let alone the flavor. At the end of the article, the author posits that viewers will decide "whether it is a 'Carol' to be remembered." The Motion Picture Academy certainly thought so; shortly after the airing, A Christmas Carol was released in theaters, and wound up winning the 1972 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.* Viewers thought so as well; despite its brevity, it remains one of the most-loved of all Carol adaptations. Richard Williams discusses it below:

*Not everyone was a fan, however; controversy about the eligibility of a film that had been initially broadcast on television resulted in a change to Academy rules, requiring all films to premiere in theaters first. We might think of it today as the "Netflix Rule."

Now we come to the CBS movie special at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, one which TV Guide labels "A potential Christmas classic," and they're not wrong. It's The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, the pilot for The Waltons, written by and based on the novel by Earl Hamner Jr., with Academy Award winner Patricia Neal as Olivia Walton, Richard Thomas as John-Boy, and Andrew Duggan as John Walton. Ellen Corby, Judy Norton, and Mary Elizabeth McDonough will join Thomas when The Waltons becomes a weekly series in September 1972.

As Dick Adler writes in his profile of Patricia Neal, this is a homecoming in more ways than one. It's the first time she's really been before the cameras in Hollywood since her trio of massive strokes in 1965; The Subject Was Roses, her storied comeback after a three-year recovery, was shot in New York. Having been born in a small Kentucky town, she can identify not only with Hamner's characters, but having lived through the Depression, having lived through a Christmas with "no money in the house, snow outside and FDR on the radio." And though she's done several dramas for British TV (she's lived for many years in England with her husband, writer Roald Dahl), this is her first appearance on American television in over a decade. It is, to be sure, a memorable one.

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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. 

We begin Cleveland Amory's review of McCloud with the image of Dennis Weaver galloping down a New York street while riding a horse. (I don't imagine it was Wall Street; otherwise, he would have been riding either a bull or a bear.) Worry not, Cleve assures us, for while the show is not played narrowly, it's not played that broadly, either. But, he says, it is played well. The cop from the sticks—or, at least, Taos, New Mexico—teaches the city boys a thing or two. "It's kind of a one-joke premise, but these days, what television premises aren't?"

The joys of McCloud begin with Dennis Weaver, who plays "a terrific country slicker." He gets the nut cases, "but what he does with them makes wonderful little comic vignettes." Case in point: a man asking for police protection because of constant assaults by women. "With them," he says, "I am a sex object. "Replies McCloud, with wonderfully live deadpan, 'Well, it's a curse, all right.'" Weaver is aided by "the wonderful exasperation of J.D. Cannon, as McCloud's chief."

Not all the stories are plausible; in fact, most of them strain some level of credulity. But, in these days when so much of television looks and sounds so much alike, "there's something about that li'l ol' boy that relieves it—even when you can't quite believe it."

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Friday is Christmas Eve, and it's the last chance for weekly series to air their Christmas-themed episodes in. Let's take a look at a few of them.

Remember Getting Together, the Partridge Family spin-off starring Bobby Sherman and Wes Stern? Here's Saturday's episode (7:00 p.m., ABC), "Tale of an old-fashioned Christmas... in a run-down mountain cabin without heat, electricity or plumbing." And on Arnie (8:30 p.m, CBS), "A holiday tale about giving and receiving traces Arnie's anxiety over a Christmas bonus." Nothing for Mission: Impossible, though it wouldn't be hard to come up with something: "Responding to the dying declaration of a mob hitman, Phelps and his IMF team launch a scheme to protect a toymaker from being taken over by an Eastern syndicate." See how easy it is?

On Monday's daytime rerun of The Dick Van Dyke Show (4:30 p.m., KSTP), "'The Alan Brady Show Presents' a Christmas musicale" in which Laura joins the writing staff in showing off their talents. One of the best scenes features the four of them performing "I Am a Fine Musician."

On Adam-12 (7:00 p.m., NBC) reruns it's annual Christmas episode: "Tales of Christmas: a robbed Santa, an unwed mother caught shoplifting, an infant lost in a mountain area." Henry Fonda's single-season police-family drama The Smith Family (8:00 p.m., ABC) invites viewers to spend "Christmas with the Smith Family: the children are out of town, Betty has a touch of the blues and Chad's handling everything from shoplifting to a jail break." Hollywood Television Theatre hearkens back to the Golden Age of Radio Drama (Thursday, 8:00 p.m., PBS) with a re-creation of Norman Corwin's radio verse play "The Plot to Overthrow Christmas," about the Devil's plan to kill off Santa Claus. John McIntyre plays the Devil, who's joined in his efforts by Nero, Ivan the Terrible, Caligula, and Simon Legree. I've heard the radio version; it may sound like a comedy, but it isn't. And Christmas Eve brings perhaps the best of them all, The Odd Couple's classic Christmas episode (8:30 p.m., ABC) as "Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol' gets the comic treatment: Oscar's dreaming that he's Scrooge in a nightmare populated by Felix and their poker-playing pals." (Read more about it here.)

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The holidays also mean college football bowl season, starting Saturday with CBS's coverage of the Sun Bowl (12:00 noon), pitting LSU against Iowa State. And with the NFL regular season at a close, the Liberty Bowl slides into the Monday Night Football timeslot (8:00 p.m, ABC), pitting Arkansas against Tennessee.

What else have we got here? Well, Edith Efron's visit to Boston's respected PBS station WGBH yields this interesting observation from Greg Harney, executive producer of The Advocates, which I remember has being a very interesting show: "In our first year, we mostly had liberal advocates, activist types. It dawned on me we weren't clarifying the issues, we were muddying them up! We were trying to polarize within the liberal position! All we were attracting were the Eastern-liberal-leftist viewers!" So, Harney hired a strong conservative advocate, William Rusher, publisher of National Review. "It turns out that Rusher and [William F.] Buckley aren't splinter-groups spokesmen at all! They represent the point of view of millions of people. We've doubled our mail. And the show has become one of the few that he whole PBS system cherishes." They were shocked, shocked, to find out there was another legitimate point of view out there, and that, my friends, is how Boris Johnson and Donald Trump wind up being elected.

The Doan Report mentions that Merv Griffin's return to syndication with Metromedia after his run at CBS could be trouble for—David Frost. Merv will take Frost's prime-time slots on Metromedia's channels in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., and Frost could wind up being moved to late evening, where he could wind up in competition with Johnny Carson and Dick Cavett. Group W says the show is not in jeopardy, but it will go off the air next year. There's also a report on cable-TV, where the future appears bright; the Alfred E. Sloan Foundation says that cable could bring "as many as 40 channels into 40 to 60 per cent of all American homes," and that the competition with broadcast TV will be good for viewers. And ABC is talking about cutting commercials back on Saturday morning kids' shows, from six minutes per half hour to four. The reason for the the discussion? The FTC is cracking down on children's TV, and ABC is floating the idea in hopes that the Commission picks up on it; they're "not likely" to do it on their own "for competitive reasons."

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Saturday at 2:00 p.m., WTCN carries the 40th Annual Santa Claus Lane Parade, taped November 25. Mickey Mouse is the star, along with Pat Boone, Johnny Mathis, Kent McCord, Gisele McKenzie, Wayne Newton, Lou Rawls, Robert Reed, Rudy Vallee, and the casts of Arnie, Room 222, The Doris Day Show, Nanny and the Professor, and many others! This parade is still around, known today as the Hollywood Christmas Parade. True story: Gene Autry, riding in the parade one year, heard a couple of excited children pointing further down the parade route and crying, "Here comes Santa Claus! Here comes Santa Claus!" And Gene, as smart a businessman as ever there was, thought to himself, "That gives me an idea. . ."

Speaking of Mickey Mouse, he's back Sunday in the live-action "Disney on Parade" on The Wonderful World of Disney (6:30 p.m., NBC). On Masterpiece Theatre (8:00 p.m., PBS), it's the final episode of Tolstoy's "Resurrection"; next week, it's a two-hour adaptation of "Cold Comfort Farm" starring none other than Alastair Sim; too bad that couldn't have been on this week, isn't it? Will Geer is the guest star on Bonanza (8:00 p.m., NBC); the next time we see him, he'll be sliding into Edgar Bergen's role as Grandpa on The Waltons.

Monday, Burt Lancaster hosts An American Christmas: Words and Music (7:00 p.m., PBS), with James Earl Jones, the Columbus Boychoir, the Harlem Children's Chorus, a series of short films, and more. That's followed at 8:00 p.m. by the special Christmas in Boys' Town, with the Boys' Town Choir.

Tuesday, NBC follows President Nixon around the White House for December 6, 1971: A Day in the Presidency (6:30 p.m., hosted by John Chancellor). What was going on back then? Henry Kissinger talks to the president about the India-Pakistan conflict (they're joined later by General William Westmoreland, Secretary of State William Rogers, and CIA director Richard Helms); Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew discuss a revenue-sharing bill; and Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau arrives for a conference and state dinner. At 8:30 p.m., CBS preempts Cannon for The Comedians, with Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Tony Randall, Don Adams, Peggy Cass, and Ron Carey.

Wednesday night at 9:00 p.m., Notre Dame travels to Los Angeles to take on UCLA in one of college basketball's great rivalries (WTCN/syndicated, probably by TVS; since school is on Christmas break, I would have stayed up to watch this). It's the first time the two have played since the Fighting Irish ended UCLA's 44-game winning streak in January; UCLA, led by Bill Walton and Henry Bibby, roars out to a 53-16 halftime lead, en route to a 114-56 win. The Bruins won't lose again until January 1974, when their 88-game winning streak ends, once again at the hands of Notre Dame.

Thursday night CBS continues the tradition of year-end reviews with part one of a two-part look back (8:00 p.m.), with Walter Cronkite leading the correspondents on a survey of the economy, the Supreme Court, prison riots, and jockeying for the upcoming elections. At 9:00 p.m., Jonathan Winters plays a "wisecracking Santa" (is there any other kind?) on The Dean Martin Show; and at 12:30 a.m., David Frost's guests are Joy Piccolo, Gale Sayers, and Dick Butkus—remember, it was just last month that Brian's Song premiered on ABC.

Friday is Christmas Eve, and CBS presents a rerun of the touching J.T. (7:00 p.m.), the touching Peabody-award winning story of a shy black youngster (Kevin Hooks) determined to nurse a mangy, one-eyed and half-starving alley cat back to health. I wonder why Hallmark doesn't do any movies like this?

If you've already seen it, check out Mitch Miller's Christmas show (7:00 p.m., WTCN), with Leslie Uggams and Diana Trask; it was originally broadcast in 1961. Don't ask me why, but I distinctly remember we were watching this before doing our Christmas Eve tree. As we pass into late night, with Santa coming our way, NBC gives Johnny Carson the night off; first, Skitch Henderson hosts a half-hour of holiday music with the Robert Shaw chorale (10:30 p.m.), followed by Midnight Mass live from St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. CBS's traditional church service is the candlelight service from the True Light Lutheran Church in New York City's Chinatown (11:00 p.m.), followed at midnight by Christmas gospel music from the Greater Zion Church of God in Christ in Philadelphia. And what better possible way could there be to end Christmas Eve than with KSTP's showing of Miracle on 34th Street, the greatest Christmas movie ever? That's a gift anyone would be happy to find under the tree on Christmas morning. TV  

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