July 1, 2020

Divided we watch

As I've mentioned before, The Smithsonian Channel is one of the few channels I watch on a fairly regular basis, so it's no surprise that I'd stumble across this insightful quote at their website as to what the Balkanization of television has meant to the political order. After the quote, I'll be back with the pertinent details.

A stable national government requires a measure of cohesion of the ruled. Such cohesion can be derived from an implicit mutual agreement on goals and direction — or even on the processes of determining goals and direction. With the diversity of information channels available, there is a growing ease of creating groups having access to distinctly differing models of reality, without overlap. For example, nearly every ideological group. . . now has its own newspapers. Imagine a world in which there is a sufficient number of TV channels to keep each group, and in particular the less literate and tolerant members of the groups, wholly occupied? Will members of such groups ever again be able to talk meaningfully to one another? Will they ever obtain at least some information through the same filters so that their images of reality will overlap to some degree? Are we in danger of creating by electrical communications such diversity within society as to remove the commonness of experience cessary for human communication, political stability, and, indeed, nationhood itself? Must “confrontation” increasingly be used for human communication?

National political diversity requires good will and intelligence to work comfortably. The new visual media are not an unmixed blessing. This new diversity causes one to hope that the good will and intelligence of the nation is sufficiently broad-based to allow it to withstand the increasing communication pressures of the future.

Am I right? Not only interesting, but insightful. Now for the rest of the story.

The author of that quote is Paul Baran, one of the pioneers of the Internet and a man who predicted the development of the "portable telephone." It comes from a paper titled "On the Impact of the New Communications Media Upon Social Values," in which he looked at how the societal fragmentation created by technology could create a polariation in our political discource, something which, I think we can all agree, exists in abundance today. It's quoted in a Smithsonian article, TV Will Tear Us Apart: The Future of Political Polarization in American Media,

He wrote this paper in 1969.

The Smithsonian article was written in 2013.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, And if we thought things were bad then. . . TV  

June 29, 2020

What's on TV? Saturday, June 28, 1969

I've been spending some video time lately looking at the late 1960s, at what a divisive and changed time it is. That's one reason why I'm struck looking at the listings for this Saturday morning, looking at how many westerns there are. The science fiction and superhero cartoons make sense—that is, after all, the future. But westerns? I understand the lure of the Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy; I had my share of cowboy hats and six-shooters among my childhood toys. I'm just a bit surprised that the wild west is still seen as fodder for kids; it's so traditional, so conventional, so unlike everything that the end of the '60s is supposed to be about. Oh well; if that's what's on TV in Philadelphia, that's the way it must be!

June 27, 2020

This week in TV Guide: June 28, 1969

You might think that an event being shown on television for the first time in 1969 would have made a repeat appearance by now, even if it was only an irregular occurrence. Here we are, though, 51 years later, and the investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales, broadcast live and in color via satellite from Caernarvon Castle in Wales on July 1, 1969, is still the one and only time we've seen this ceremony on TV—and it doesn't appear to be changing any time soon.

It's a glittering event, second only to that of the Coronation (and we haven't seen one of those since 1953), and there's been no little amount of controversy about it. Why, say some Welch, should their nation celebrate an event that meant "the end of its life as an independent country?" At a time when there's a need for improved housing, schools, roads and electric power, the Crown is spending $500,000 on a pageant that isn't even all that traditional, but a combination of several older rituals.

Charles, just 20 years old and having concluded his second year at Cambridge, was candid in a rare personal interview prior to the ceremony. Of course there's a certain amount of apprehension, he says; "I don't blame people demonstrating. They've never seen me before; they don't know what I'm like. I have hardly been to Wales, and you can't really expect people to be overzealous about having a so-called English Prince to come amongst them."

For those able to watch the festivities at home, coverage begins on NBC with Today at 7:00 a.m. ET, Ray Scherer and Barbara Walters reporting. CBS's broadcast starts at 8:00 a.m., with Harry Reasoner, Winston Burdett and Morley Safer, while ABC enters the scene at 9:30 a.m., with Frank Reynolds and George Watson. NBC and CBS remain on the air until 11:30 a.m.; ABC signs off at 11:00. (CBS also airs a 30-minute review at 10:30 p.m. for us working stiffs.) The ceremonies include a procession to the castle by Welch society, followed by the arrival of the Prince, then the Queen and members of the Royal Family, and concluding with the investiture itself, including an address by Prince Charles to the people of Wales, in Welch.

Charles has been Prince of Wales for over half a century now, the longest-serving Prince of Wales in British history. No heir has waited longer to become the monarch. I wonder if he, or anyone else, expected that he would still be Prince of Wales at age 71? But then, Elizabeth was only 43 herself at the time. Since she became Queen, we've gone through 14 U.K. prime ministers, 13 U.S. presidents, seven popes, and the turning of a century. How time flies.

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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. 

The last Cleveland Amory column of the season is something like the last day of school: casual, loose, enjoyable. You can imagine him sitting in his office with the windows open, a light breeze tossing the curtains gently, one of his cats curling at his feet as he pens his final column. The sense of lightheartedness extends to this week's subject matter—a simple Q&A with readers. It is, as usual, a delight.

Q: Why do you use the "we" style? Who is we? You and who else? Do you think you're royal?
A: We is just me. However, to me, we is more amusing than I is. We would not have laughed, for example, if Queen Victoria had said, "I am not amused."*

*We might have, though, if she had said, "We is not amused."

Q: I think you are mellowing. Are you?
A: Nonsense. We weigh just what we weighed in college. It's just that with us writing each week, television could hardly fail to get better.

There are some questions that provoke more insightful answers, though. For instance, the one that asks Cleve how many episodes of a series he watches before he reviews it. "At least three," he says. "Three strikes, we figure, and you're out." Someone asked what shows he watches for his own personal pleasure. "Ironside and Mission: Impossible," he replies. Ironside because he likes the chemistry between the lead characters; "The only time this show leaves us cold is when they have a guest star take over. Then it's just like any other show." And in the case of M:I, "it's a real tour de force—without, praise be, too much force."

Then someone asks him which shows he regretted seeing go off the air, and the answers aren't a surprise for anyone who's followed Amory over the years. He liked The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, which he felt fell victim to an interdepartmental fight between CBS news and CBS entertainment. Yes, the Brothers were partisan and one-sided in their material, but the obvious answer is not to take them off, but "to put on another show which makes funny comments on the other side." He also liked That's Life, the musical comedy show starring Robert Morse and E.J. Peaker. It was, he thought, "a sparkling, innovative, really different musical-comedy effort."

And then there's the question about whether or not people take his criticisms seriously. Yes, he says; Monty Hal cornered him at a hockey game and went through the entire review, "line by line. He was against it." The best one, however, was a 12-year-old boy who called him at home late one night to lay into him. "Your review of Dark Shadows was the most close-minded review I have ever read. Letter will follow." It did, too, he says, and there he has me beat. I've gotten a few emails over the years, some overnight, but I've yet to have someone call me to complain. And don't get any ideas.

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The Fourth of July is right around the corner (more about that later), which means it's time for—college football? That's right: it's the ninth annual Coaches All-America Game, telecast Saturday night from Atlanta (8:30 p.m., ABC). It's kind of hard to explain this college all-star football game to anyone who wasn't alive to see it—it was played from 1961 to 1976—and even then, it's well, odd. Officially, it's the last game of the college football season, staged by the American Football Coaches Association, the group that names the college All-America teams each year, and the purpose of the game was to raise money for AFCA scholarships. It started out in Buffalo before shuffling to Atlanta, and this is the last year in the Peachtree City before it relocates to Lubbock, Texas, where the game really begins to take off; over the seven years it was played in Lubbock, it averaged over 40,000 per game in attendance. I'm not entirely sure why the game was played in the summer; the NFL training camps haven't opened yet, and this is before the days of year-round workouts, so perhaps this was a chance for players to arrive at camp in better shape than the veterans; it might also have been an opportunity for undrafted free agents to display their wares for scouts. Not surprisingly, despite the game's popularity, it was reluctantly ended after the 1976 game; much like the reasons for ending the College All-Star Game (in which the all-stars took on the NFL champions), the injury potential negated any upside for college seniors and NFL teams. I, for one, always enjoyed this dose of summertime football—but then, as people have reminded me, I'm kind of different.

Earlier in the day, ABC's Wide World of Sports presents a heavyweight championship bout between challenger Jerry Quarry and champion Joe Frazier. (5:00 p.m., taped on June 23.) If you're wondering why it's just a heavyweight championship rather than the heavyweight championship, it's because we're once again in an era of multiple champions. Following the decision to strip Muhammad Ali of the title for refusing military induction, the World Boxing Association conducted a tournament to name a new champion, which was won by Jimmy Ellis. Frazier declined to take part in the tournament, instead fighting Buster Mathis in the inaugural event at the new Madison Square Garden, with the winner to be recognized by the New York State Athletic Commission as its heavyweight champ. (Not insignificant in an era when so many title fights were staged at the Garden.) Frazier won that fight, and made four more successful defenses of the title (including a seventh-round TKO of Quarry in this fight) before unifying the title with a defeat of Ellis in February, 1970. Got all that?

There's less complicated sports on this week as well; the Tigers take on the Orioles in the NBC Game of the Week (Saturday, 2:15 p.m.), and the Phillies play the brand new Montreal Expos, as well as the Pittsburgh Pirates, during the week. There's also Roller Derby at 3:30 p.m. Saturday on WPHL, for those of you interested in honest competition.

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NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies presents a repeat of Ray Bradbury's celebrated novel Fahrenheit 451 (9:00 p.m.), with ► Oskar Werner as the fireman charged with burning books, and Julie Christie in the dual role of Werner's wife and a teacher who instills in him the quest for knowledge. Judith Crist doesn't like it; she sees it as "pretentious, loaded with heavy-handed ironies that stress its simple-mindedness." I like it myself, although it doesn't quite measure up to the book, but then you have to go a long way to match a masterpiece. Crist has kinder words for Mickey One (Sunday, 9:00 p.m., ABC), the avant-garde cult classic by Arthur Penn, with Warren Beatty, Hurd Hatfield, Alexandra Steward, Teddy Hart and Franchot Tone. Beatty is "brilliant" and the supporting cast "superb," in this "parable of modern man on the run from the nameless fears and faceless terrors of his time." Does anyone out there notice how much that description sounds like our times? Honey West (4:30 p.m., WIBF) offers a storyline that sounds like it belongs more on The Avengers: "A robot breaks into Honey's office, knocks her unconscious and murders a toy manufacturer." The kind of thing that happens to private detectives all the time, right? And you might want to check out Walter Cronkite's 21st Century episode "Stranger Than Science Fiction" (CBS, 6:00 p.m.), which (in light of next month's moon launch) looks at how today's realities compare to "the dreams of yesterday's science fiction."

Also on Sunday, Hee Haw (9:00 p.m, CBS) has an all-star guest cast of Faron Young, George Jones and Tammy Wynette; according to Richard K. Doan, the surprise hit is giving CBS a real headache. They've been trying for years to find a show to put up against NBC's longtime hit Bonanza; for all the troubles the Smothers Brothers were, at least they gave the Western a run for its money. "Now, to CBS's consternation—and all but disbelief", the "hayseed version of Laugh-In" smoked Bonanza in the ratings in its June 15 debut. "CBS's unwanted dilemma: If Hee Haw is a hit, how do you throw it off come September?" You can already see the rural purge coming, can't you?

Monday's best bet is the terrific Orson Welles thriller The Lady from Shanghai, co-starring then-wife Rita Hayworth (8:00 p.m., WIBF). Check this one out sometime if you can. Tuesday's Red Skelton rerun (8:30 p.m,. CBS) features a rare TV appearance by the late Boris Karloff (who died in February; the episode originally ran in September 1968), co-starring Vincent Price in what must have been quite a show. Here's a look at the two of them with Red.


Jock Mahoney, who played Tarzan in the movies, gets to do the TV version on Wednesday (7:30 p.m., NBC). He doesn't get to play the vine-swinger, though; that's still Ron Ely. And in case you missed Orson Welles last night, you get another opportunity tonight; this time, it's Macbeth (9:00 p.m., WPHL), with co-stars Jeanette Nolan, Roddy McDowall and Dan O'Herlihy. On Thursday, Vincent Price is back, this time on NBC; he's the ringleader of a band of child thieves on Daniel Boone (7:30 p.m.). A rerun of The Prisoner (8:00 p.m., CBS) tells a prescient story about the dangers of technology; The Village has introduced "a crash course that would endow villagers with a university degree in three minutes. But at what cost to the will of an individual's mind?" And a terrific guest lineup highlights Friday's The Name of the Game (8:30 p.m., NBC), involving an investigation into where Gene Barry got the money on which he built his publishing empire; Barry Sullivan, Jack Kelly, Fritz Weaver, Gia Scala, Ray Danton and Ed Asner make up the cast.

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At various times throughout the history of this feature, we've seen the Fourth of July celebrated on television with parades, baseball games, and variety specials. It remains, however, a holiday not particularly suited to television specials. It is a day when people gather in groups—well, perhaps not this year, but normally—to go to parades, to picnic or have cookouts in their backyards, to go to fireworks shows at night or shoot them off for the kids in their neighborhood, or simply to enjoy the summer breeze. It's no real surprise, therefore, to see the day go pretty much unnoticed in this issue. And that's just fine with me. Even though a program with an Independence Day feel would be welcome—a concert, perhaps, or movie about the Revolution—I have no problem with people tuning things out while they celebrate with friends, or in a crowd. Human interaction is, after all, something of a reminder that the Revolution was fought for human freedoms. Imperfect freedoms, maybe, but freedoms nonetheless. That we celebrate the day with other humans seems to be kind of appropriate, don't you think? TV  

June 26, 2020

Around the dial

The Broadcasting Archives at the University of Maryland links to this story of the greatest upset in quiz show history. It's from G-E College Bowl, of course, and it's great fun to watch, if you don't mind feeling stupid.

A twofer here, as Carol Ford and Linda Groundwater from Bob Crane: Life & Legacy appear on Ed Robertson's TV Confidential show with part two of their interview on their Bob Crane bio.

Some great vintage ads from Jodie at Garroway at Large on WCBS's campaign for Dave Garroway's morning and afternoon radio shows. Besides being fun to read, it's a good reminder that Garroway made significant contributions to radio as well as television.

Advanced TV Herstory continues the interview with Cady McClain, filmmaker, writer and actor, best remembered as Dixie Cooney on ABC's All My Children. Always interesting to look at how talented people transition from one form to another.

At The Horn Section, Hal revisits "A Gift From the Chief," from the first season of F Troop, marking the sixth and final appearance for the great Edward Everett Horton (the narriator of "Fractured Fairy Tales") as Roaring Chicken. I always thought he was on longer than that.

The review of Cain's Hundred continues at Television's New Frontier: the 1960s. I've never had the opportunity to see an episode of this program, although I'm going to make the effort, particularly considering the comments quoted from an interview with guest star Robert Culp. And yes, I'm going to make you read the whole thing to find out what that's all about. TV  

June 24, 2020

Mornings beyond Today: the history of those "other" morning shows

Walter Cronkite and Charlemagne bring you the morning news on CBS. 
You know her, you love her, you can't live without her! My good friend Jodie Peeler, the erstwhile scribe at Garroway at Large, is back with a wonderful guest column on the checkered history of ABC's and CBS's attempts to compete with NBC's groundbreaking Today. For ABC, the second time was the charm; as for CBS, well. . .

by Jodie Peeler

Early on the morning of January 14, 1952, a cop saw Mort Werner standing on a corner near his home in Scarsdale, New York. “What are you doing out so late?” he asked. Werner explained that he was waiting for a ride into Manhattan, where he would help put a television program on NBC at seven that morning. The patrolman scoffed. “You must be out of your mind!”

No one could have known the first shaky morning of a new program called Today was the first shot in a revolution. A time period that policemen scoffed at and critics thought a money-loser turned out to be a gold mine. And when Today turned out to be a real money-maker for its parent network, imitation wasn’t long in following. That imitation – and that revolution – continues to this day. But how did we get to where we are now?

Today was two years old when CBS took its first whack at the morning slot. The Morning Show, anchored by Walter Cronkite with Charles Collingwood as newsman, debuted in March 1954. To compete with J. Fred Muggs, The Morning Show featured the puppets of Bil and Cora Baird, including a lion named Charlemagne and a “disk doggie” named Humphrey. Charlemagne would offer commentary about news events, then would dance with Humphrey when records were played. Just before the show debuted, among the many well-wishes was a telegram reading “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.” It was signed by Dave Garroway, Jack Lescoulie and Frank Blair.

Critics offered praise for The Morning Show but noted how much it seemed to imitate Today, right down to some of its competitor’s penchant for gadgetry; for instance, a weather map with flashing storm symbols and blinking arrows drew comparisons to a pinball machine or “something swiped from Coney Island.”

Cronkite had heard rumors that the CBS entertainment division wanted control over the program, but hadn’t seen any substantial signs to that effect. But when Cronkite was out for a few weeks in mid-1955 after an operation, the program experimented with a more entertainment-oriented format. The next month, Cronkite found out through a newspaper column that he was to be replaced with up-and-coming comedian Jack Paar, a favorite of Jack Benny’s. “I felt the show still had a future as an information show,” Cronkite told a reporter at the time, “but suggested that if this is what they wanted they should go the whole way and hire a comedian. I pointed out that entertainment was not my metier. I was not trained for it.” Cronkite went back to harder-news assignments, as well as hosting Sunday News Special and You Are There.

Paar took the helm on August 16 and drew favorable comparisons to Garroway; columnist John Crosby called his casting “in a way a quiet victory for NBC.” Charles Collingwood and the Baird puppets remained, but joining the ensemble was singer Betty Clooney (sister of Rosemary); musician Pupi Campo, who gradually took part in comedic skits; and bandleader Jose Melis. Singer Julius LaRosa, famously terminated on Arthur Godfrey’s program, joined the cast in November. A review praised the show: “The Garrowaycast has a sort of functional, stainless efficiency but who wants functional fare when you can have fun?”

Jack Paar and Dick Van Dyke: two of many following in
Walter Cronkite's footsteps
But by May 1955 Paar was hearing that CBS wanted to take the program back towards news, as well as providing time for children’s programming. Paar protested that his humor couldn’t be tailored to younger viewers, and left The Morning Show to take an afternoon time slot. Texas humorist John Henry Faulk, who had been doing various programs on CBS radio and television, pinch-hit for Paar until a young comedian named Dick Van Dyke took over the show. That October, The Morning Show was cut to one hour to make way for a new children’s program called Captain Kangaroo. Van Dyke’s morning ensemble included a female singer, Sandy Stewart, and an up-and-coming vocalist named Merv Griffin. At one point Walter Cronkite was summoned back as Van Dyke’s newsman to help stabilize the newscast.

But nothing could soothe executives’ itch to try something new, and in February Van Dyke was out. Will Rogers, Jr., a favorite of network executive Lou Cowan, took over the newly-retitled Good Morning! in February 1956. Rogers, who had been a guest-host on Today while Garroway was on vacation, had done some acting and television work among his many other fields of endeavor. Rogers drew praise for his folksy, low-key manner. But some critics were growing weary of the constant attempts CBS was making to compete with Today. One columnist likened it to “starting a newspaper in a town that already has one.”

By January 1957 the rumors were in full flight, and they became fact in early April when Good Morning! was replaced by a morning program hosted by 28-year-old country singer Jimmy Dean. “We’re going to give ‘em something totally different from the Garroway show,” Dean promised. “We’re going to give ‘em country music, which is smilin’ music.” And The Jimmy Dean Show started off strong, enough to prompt a little heartburn over at NBC. But on December 13, CBS surrendered, giving the 7 a.m. hour to the affiliates.

John Hart and Joseph Benti
When CBS returned to the morning hours in September 1963, it was with a decidely hard news tack. The CBS Morning News initially debuted at 10 a.m., displacing Harry Reasoner’s morning program Calendar. In time the Morning News moved to the traditional earlier hour, and for the next 15 years it maintained a hard news format with a succession of hard news anchors: Mike Wallace, Joseph Benti, John Hart, Hughes Rudd, Bruce Morton, Richard Threlkeld and Lesley Stahl. The exception came in 1973 when Rudd was famously (and disastrously) paired with former Washington Post reporter Sally Quinn in an effort to boost ratings. On her debut telecast, Quinn worked while battling a case of flu. It was a harbinger. The “Beauty and the Grouch” experiment went disastrously wrong; Quinn’s lack of experience in television showed, and the twosome could not match the chemistry evident on Today. Quinn returned to the Post in early 1974, and hosting duties went back to established CBS correspondents.

As Peter J. Boyer wrote in Who Killed CBS?, the hard news morning format came in large part because CBS chairman William S. Paley wanted the morning block to be free of commercial pressures. But it also happened Paley was an avid viewer of the CBS Morning News, watching each broadcast while having breakfast and often calling news division president Richard Salant with suggestions about tiny details. Jokes flew at CBS that its morning news shows were for a loyal audience of one.

Bill Beutel and Stephanie Edwards 
Meanwhile, what was happening at ABC? The Alphabet Network, always having to make do with less, didn’t try a morning show until the January 1975 debut of AM America. It was based on a program Ralph Story hosted on KABC-TV in Los Angeles, and featured co-anchors Bill Beutel and Stephanie Edwards, with Peter Jennings as newsman. The intent was good but the execution failed to get a following. Some stations pre-empted it for their own local broadcasts. ABC executive Fred Silverman, who had decreed AM America sleepy and dreadful, had seen a program called The Morning Exchange that the Cleveland ABC affiliate aired instead of AM America, as well as a Boston-based program called Good Morning. These programs had a much less formal format, eschewing a traditional set in favor of something resembling a family room, and putting more emphasis on features than hard news.

These elements went into a new network program titled Good Morning America, which replaced AM America in November 1975. Its hosts were two actors, David Hartman and Nancy Dussault. Within three years Good Morning America was providing Today with serious competition. On the program, there was no mistaking that Hartman was the dominant personality; Dussault, and then Sandy Hill, played unmistakable second chair. Both grew frustrated and left. Hill’s replacement, Joan Lunden, grew unhappy being stuck with softer fare, asserted herself to get more substantial stories, and eventually got a contract that made her a full-fledged co-host. Ratings during the 1980s continued to rise, sparking a decades-long back-and-forth between Today and Good Morning America. Charles Gibson replaced the retiring Hartman in 1987, and although there have been many host and format changes, Good Morning America has proven Today’s equal in popularity, reach and stability.

Which, as we’ll see, is much more than can be said for CBS. In January 1979, the network tried yet again with another format. It inaugurated a series of morning newscasts under the Morning umbrella (Monday Morning, Tuesday Morning, and so on) and expanded the broadcasts to six days a week. Bob Schieffer anchored the weekday newscasts, while Charles Kuralt took Sunday duty. In time, Kuralt was persuaded to take over all six newscasts, and the weekday installments’ title was shortened to Morning. And Captain Kangaroo, which had once been the cause of the morning programs’ abbreviation, had to give back time in September 1981 when the news programs expanded to 90 minutes, starting at 7:30 Eastern. Diane Sawyer joined Kuralt as co-anchor of the weekday programs. Morning went to a full two hours in January 1982, and Captain Kangaroo was shoved to a 6:30 Eastern time slot titled Wake Up With The Captain. (Captain Kangaroo would end up on weekends that fall, but the damage was done; several affiliates dropped the program and a very unhappy Bob Keeshan left CBS in 1984.)

Morning was a dignified program that began to build a following. It worked to avoid the sorts of show-business and fluff stories that populated Today and Good Morning America. But it remained in third place. New CBS News president Van Gordon Sauter thought the Morning programs sleepy and dull, and within months Kuralt was jettisoned in favor of Bill Kurtis, who had worked with Sauter at WBBM-TV in Chicago. (Kuralt, the minimalist studio, and the format would remain on Sunday Morning; for years, its title sequence would remain unchanged, the days of the week marching up the screen to Don Smithers’ recording of Abblasen a vestige of its brief life as a weekday program. Sunday Morning remains on the air, hosted now by Jane Pauley; somewhat modified to meet today’s times, Sunday Morning remains a relaxed and dignified reminder of a different time in television, when stories had time to breathe, and retains a devoted following. It is perhaps the last televised remnant of Mr. Paley’s network.)

Phyllis George and Bill Kurtis don't hug it out
The new CBS Morning News, which debuted in March 1982, was everything Morning wasn’t. It had a computer-generated title sequence with a synthesized theme that demanded viewers’ attention. It had a busy modern studio. For nearly two years the new Morning News, headed by former Good Morning America producer George Merlis, made progress in the ratings. But, wouldn’t you know it, that’s when things began to fall apart. Merlis was abruptly fired. Sawyer didn’t like the post-Merlis direction of the broadcast and was being courted by the 60 Minutes unit. When word leaked she was leaving, she was abruptly let go from the Morning News. Jane Wallace and Meredith Vieira had on-air trial runs as Sawyer’s replacement, and it seemed Wallace had the job secured. Instead, the job went to someone outside the news division. Phyllis George, late of The NFL Today, was signed to a huge multi-year deal to co-host the Morning News. Her initial excitement did not last long, as the news format threw someone who had no background in journalism. Among her on-air gaffes, the most notorious came in her May 1985 interview with Gary Dotson and Cathy Webb, who had recanted a rape accusation that had sent Dotson to prison. At the end of the interview, George asked Dotson and Webb, “How about a hug?” Nor did it help that many within CBS News, still miffed that Jane Wallace was snubbed, felt no shortage of schadenfreude with each of George’s missteps. Bill Kurtis, unhappy with the direction of the program, returned to WBBM-TV in July 1985. Bob Schieffer filled in for Kurtis until more permanent arrangements could be made. The following month, CBS let George go after eight months on the Morning News. Maria Shriver and Forrest Sawyer then took over the program until August 1986, when it was abruptly announced the third-place Morning News would be replaced by a program produced by the entertainment division.

Shriver and Sawyer vanished, replaced by a succession of guest hosts until the new program debuted in January. The Morning Program, hosted by Mariette Hartley and Rolland Smith, with weather from Mark McEwen and comedy from Bob Saget, was an instant disaster. Affiliates threatened to flee unless changes were made. By November The Morning Program was gone and News again had control of the time slot. A new program, CBS This Morning, debuted November 30. It proved durable, but could never break out of third place; Today and Good Morning America were too dominant. Oddly enough, ratings went up when CBS allowed affiliates to produce one-hour local newscasts with CBS This Morning content, then carry a second hour in full.

CBS conceded in October 1999 and replaced This Morning with The Early Show. Host Bryant Gumbel had anchored Today through the 1980s and early 1990s; co-host Jane Clayson had been an ABC correspondent. The broadcast had some memorable moments; The Early Show was in progress when the September 11 attacks commenced, and Gumbel anchored the initial network bulletins. Clayson’s memorable 2002 interview with Martha Stewart during a cooking segment, when Stewart testily refused to answer questions about an investigation into her stock dealings, generated buzz in those pre-YouTube days and was re-enacted in a TV movie. But The Early Show proved no better than its predecessors at finding long-term stability. Gumbel and Clayson left the program in 2002 and a number of casting changes were made over the next several years. Julie Chen would move from newscaster to co-host, and Harry Smith (who had once hosted This Morning) would co-host until 2010. Others who passed through included Hannah Storm, Rene Syler, Russ Mitchell, Maggie Rodriguez and Erica Hill. She and Chris Wragge would continue with the show until its end in January 2012.

The hosts of CBS This Morning in happier days
And then...everything old became new again. CBS premiered a new morning program, titled (wait for it!)...CBS This Morning. Originating from the purpose-built Studio 57 (so named because it faced West 57th Street) at the CBS Broadcast Center in New York, CBS This Morning featured co-anchors Charlie Rose, Gayle King and Erica Hill. The new This Morning was unapologetically hard news and discussion-driven, and had in Rose one of the best interviewers in television. It also avoided the forced happy-talk that defined other morning programs. Hill left later in 2012 to be replaced by Norah O’Donnell. For the next five years the CBS morning program had a stability that seemed unusual for a CBS morning program. It got attention, made ratings gains and earned awards. The three hosts had good chemistry, with moments of spontaneity and genuine fun. It seemed too good, and it was, and it came to an abrupt end. In November 2017, eight women accused Rose of sexual harassment. CBS immediately suspended him, and the next day a visibly shaken O’Donnell and King reported the story. John Dickerson of Face the Nation stepped in as co-anchor, then both he and O’Donnell left in May 2019; Dickerson joined 60 Minutes, while O’Donnell became anchor of the CBS Evening News. Anthony Mason and Tony Dokoupil now anchor This Morning with Gayle King.

The lineup today
Has CBS This Morning broken the CBS morning curse? At times it has shown promise against its competitors, but its faster-paced and more pop-culture-oriented competitors Today and Good Morning America continue to slug it out for the top spot. This Morning particularly lags in the much-desired 25-to-54 demographic, drawing about half the viewers in those categories that each of the other programs pull. And both Good Morning America and Today draw the outside in; Good Morning America, with its Times Square studio, and Today with its famous windows that look out on Rockefeller Plaza, are magnets for tourists and fans. CBS This Morning, in contrast, originates from a not-particularly-scenic building nestled in Hell’s Kitchen; its window isn’t a magnet for tourists or devotees, and even if it were, the program would likely go out of its way not to show them. On the other hand, This Morning has won critical praise and earned a Peabody Award for its reporting. (And, speaking personally, it’s my favorite among the morning broadcasts...but perhaps you’d expect that from me.)

Maybe it’s all somewhat moot in an era when fewer people are watching broadcast television and there are a dozen different channels offering similar content. One hopes CBS has realized it’s not such a bad thing to be the alternative – and with no need for a window, puppets, or even a weather map that looks like a pinball machine. TV  

June 22, 2020

What's on TV? Wednesday, June 24, 1970

Some very interesting things on the schedule for today. For instance, Merv Griffin's lineup is a classic of the time: Phil Silvers, Shecky Greene, Red Buttons and Charo. That had to be out of control before it even started. And then there's poet James Dickey appearing on Bob Cromie's Book Beat, discussing his first novel. You might have heard of it—Deliverance. And even though I've seen it many times in these old issues, I'm always somewhat taken aback when Mister Rogers' name appears as one word: Misterogers. Makes him sound sort of like a superhero, doesn't it? Well, there's plenty more for you to see down there; this week's listings are from Philadelphia.

June 20, 2020

This week in TV Guide: June 20, 1970

We're continually assaulted, if that's the right word, with controversy over violence on television. In 1968, on the heels of the King and Kennedy assassinations and the general level of discontent in the country, there had been a wave of revulsion over the perception that television programs were saturated with violence. The result, as we looked at here, was a sudden self-censoring of violent content, at least temporarily, along with a promise to be more responsible in the future. We're now just over two years since that spasmodic response, and the bill for nonviolent television is coming due.

As Joseph Finnigan reports, the stakes are high for television producers, who face losing "thousands of dollars in some cases because a show with too much violence—or even a show which somebody suspects has too much violence—simply doesn't get on the air." And it doesn't matter how big the stars, or how popular the shows. An unaired episode of Bonanza illustrates how ridiculous, in my opinion, it has gotten: the episode has remained in limbo for almost a year, at a cost of $200,000, because of a storyline involving star Michael Landon being attacked (and a prison guard killed) by "vicious prison dogs." "The action took place off-camera," Finnigan points out. "Not a single fang was bared. Still, it all proved too much for the network censors, who apparently never saw a Rin Tin Tin movie." The show's producer, Dick Collins, says the episode was nixed by Standards & Practices "because the dogs worried and bothered them."

To say the least, the crackdown has put a crimp in storytelling. Many producers look upon the restrictions as a form of "arbitrary censorship [that] is not only dishonest but debilitating to the medium." This isn't the first time we've read about such frustration, but even though the specific issues may have changed, the result is the same. An anonymous spokesman for Universal describes the effect: "The Virginian was hurt the past season by a lack of violence which was part of the life of those times. The problems that existed then were emotional, violent problems. In that period the problem was not how well you did your job, or what your boss thought of you, the problem was keeping alive. Today you have other things which support drama—international problems, dope, pollution." But, says Finnigan, "they won't help The Virginian tell his story."

One way around this is to appeal to the conscience of the character involved in committing the violent act. "Ray Burr's Ironside series had a classic example in an episode depicting a policewoman shooting a suspect and feeling remorse over her act." If you don't enjoy the violence, Finnigan observes, this seems to make it OK. Another tactic, especially useful with shoot-outs, is "to keep the camera rolling" on a scene until the shooting victim moves. "Later, if the censor objects to the dead body," the scene can be inserted in the cutting room to demonstrate he isn't dead after all. Writers can ramp up the complexity of the episode, using mystery and detective work to keep the drama going in lieu of a violent scene; and a censor for one of the networks talks of reading a script over and wondering, "Is there any other way to show that Joe Blow is a bad guy and John Blow is a good guy? Is there a nonviolent way to do it?" They even look at the music, to see if it "heightens the violent attitude of the story."

The networks have a good reason for this seemingly childish behavior, of course, and the reason is called Congress. "They're looking for anything that might make waves," leading into one of those "sex and violence" probes that senators like, when someone like John Pastore asks "What are you doing about all that violence?" The next time that happens, they just pull out the scoresheet saying how many murders they've eliminated, how many dog attacks they've prevented, how many sour notes they've nixed. A CBS spokesman says "the incidence of violence is reduced 50 per cent compared with two years ago." I wonder how long that attitude lasts.

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Cleveland Amory's off this week, probably readying his quill for a go at the new summer shows coming our way, but all is not lost, as we still have Judith Crist to look at the week in movies. She starts with Tobruk (Saturday, 9:00 p.m., NBC), a World War II story set in North Africa. Rock Hudson is the star, but Crist's praise is for George Peppard, "at his best" as the leader of German Jews fighting with the Allies; his performance is the movie's "prime distinction." The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (Friday, 9:00 p.m., CBS) is Tennessee Williams' "Soap-operatic survey of decadence," enlivened only by the luminous performance of Vivien Leigh, who provides "a credibility that neither Warren Beatty, as a foppish gigolo, nor Lotte Lenya, as a vile procuress, do much to sustain."

Patrick McGoohan, "another invariably good performer, gives a certain amount of class to Koroshi" (Monday, 8:30 p.m., ABC), a movie made up of the two color episodes of McGoohan's pre-Prisoner series Secret Agent, with McGoohan as the indefatigable John Drake. And in Libel (Thursday, 9:00 p.m., CBS), Dirk Bogarde is "at his invariably excellent" in a courtroom drama in which he plays three separate characters; it's helped "splendidly" by Robert Morley and Wilfrid Hyde-White as the two barristers. Unfortunately, there's nothing good about Rock-a-Bye Baby (Sunday, 9:00 p.m., ABC); "Not even his fans," says Crist, "could flip for the tired slapstick buffoonery of this one. Last, and quite possibly least, is Did You Hear the One About the Traveling Saleslady? (Tuesday, 9:00 p.m., NBC). The verdict: "You don't have to hear it or even see it. You can smell it."

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Speaking of the summer: lots of reruns (and a farewell or two), combined with some of the new summer shows. Ray Stevens takes over for Andy Williams (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., NBC), and Andy's on-hand to hand over the keys. Cass Elliot and Lulu are regulars, and Tom Smothers, Jonathan Winters, Jo Anne Worley and Bill Dana are around for brief cameos. Don't worry; Andy's back this fall. G-E College Bowl (Sunday, 1:30 p.m., KYW) isn't, though: the series finale actually aired on the network last week, but it's just making it to Philadelphia today. In the final match, Old Dominion defeats last week's champion, Albright College, 300-100. Later on Sunday, an Ed Sullivan rerun (CBS, 8:00 p.m.) features impressionist David Frye; country music's Chet Atkins, Floyd Cramer, Bobby Goldsboro and Boots Randolph; Connie Stevens; comics George Carlin and Richard Pryor; Sam and Sammy, balancing act; and a production number from "Promises, Promises." That's followed by Glen Campbell at 9:00 p.m., who welcomes Tony Randall, Lulu (fresh from Ray Stevens' show), and Jerry Reed.

If you're looking for Jerry and Bob Hope, you'll
have to wait until next Tuesday. Sorry!
Monday's highlight is one of NBC's occasional broadcasts of Monday Night Baseball (8:00 p.m.), with the Baltimore Orioles in Boston to take on the Red Sox. And for those Jerry Lewis fans out there (among which I count myself), don't despair over that Judith Crist review; Jerry's hosting The Tonight Show all week (11:30 p.m., NBC). Tuesday's Red Skelton rerun is the CBS farewell for the redhead, as he goes to NBC for a final season in the fall; his guests tonight are Duke Ellington and his orchestra, and comedienne Pat Carroll. At 10:00 p.m., Anne Baxter stars on Marcus Welby, M.D. (ABC), while a CBS News Special looks at how businesses recruit on college campuses, where they often get hostile receptions from students accusing them of social irresponsibility. Country variety show reruns dominate Wednesday, with Hee Haw (7:30 p.m., CBS) featuring Charley Pride, Loretta Lynn and Jerry Lee Lewis, while Johnny Cash (9:00 p.m., ABC) counters with Merle Haggard, Brenda Lee, and—the very busy Charley Pride. And let's not forget Engelbert Humperdinck (10:00 p.m., ABC), with Lena Horne, Joel Grey, Tricia Noble, and "the rocking Vanity Fare."

Happy Days—no, not the one with Richie and The Fonz—premieres Thursday (8:00 p.m., CBS). The summer series is out to recall "the music and comedy of the '30s and '40s" with regulars including Louis Nye, Bob & Ray and Jack Burns; it opens big tonight, with guests Buddy Rich, Helen O'Connell, Bob Eberle, and Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. For more conventional fare, Tom Jones (9:00 p.m, ABC) welcomes Leslie Uggams, Joe Cocker and the Grease Band, and Guy Marks, while Dean Martin (10:00 p.m., NBC) has Phil Harris, Lou Rawls, Arte Johnson and Nancy Kwan. And we'll round out the week on Friday starting with The Name of the Game's venture into spy territory; reporter Darren McGavin investigate a report that a missile scientist thought to have defected to Cuba (James Whitmore) is actually in hiding to protect his life. A superior guest cast includes Strother Martin, Dane Clark and Jan Sterling. (8:30 p.m., NBC) Hogan's Heroes (8:30 p.m, CBS) gets its Bilko moment in a great episode involving a chimp, and classic TV fans will know what I mean.

Finally, since we're working with the Philadelphia edition this week, we'll take a moment with this ad for "The Big News" on WCAU, with legendary anchorman John Facenda, better known to those of us outside the area as the legendary voice of NFL Films. (It's always interesting to see the day jobs of our heroes.) Whether you recall the "frozen tundra of Lambeau Field" and "the Autumn Wind," or remember him simply as The Voice, there's been nobody like him on NFL Films since; I can only imagine how authoritative he must have been on the news. In fact, here's a great sound clip of him from 1958, and it's about what you'd expect.

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My interest in golf has waxed and waned over the years (up in the days of Arnie and Jack and anyone not named Woods; down in the days of the aforementioned Woods), but it first starts here, with ABC's telecast of the final two rounds of the U.S. Open (6:00 p.m. Saturday, 5:00 p.m. Sunday), live from Hazeltine National Golf Club in the Minneapolis suburb of Chaska, Minnesota. In these simpler days, it was rare when a sports event being played in the Twin Cities was available on television; home football games were always blacked out and the baseball and hockey teams televised about three home games per season, so it was a big deal when we could sit at home and watch something being played, as it were, in the neighborhood.

There had been major golf tournaments in the Twin Cities before; the great Bobby Jones won the 1930 U.S. Open here, and there used to be a regular PGA tournament in St. Paul, but this was probably the first major played here in the television era. And what a tournament it was, starting with the golf course. Through some influential lobbying, Hazeltine was awarded the Open even though it had only been built eight years before, and might not have been ready for the big time. It was constructed pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and the winds whipped around the former farm land, driving the players crazy. The best score after Thursday's opening round was a mere 71, one under par, and some players thought a final total of 300 (+12) would be good enough to win. In particular, one player emerged as the most vocal critic of the course: Dave Hill. Hill was fined $150 for saying the course lacked "about 80 acres of corn and four cows," and that he'd love to "plow it up." In our gentle Minnesota fashion, the galleries responded (in an era when golfers weren't heckled) by mooing at Hill all through the rest of the tournament.

 Tony Jacklin, the British Open champion who'd won us over early by saying that, as an Englishmen used to challenging conditions, he didn't have any problem at all with the course, was the only player under par after the first round. By Sunday's final round, he has a five-shot lead, and as he comes to the final hole, with the crowd cheering him on, he leads by six, then sinks a 30-foot birdie putt to finish at seven under par, the only player to break par for the tournament. Hill finishes in second place at even par, the closest he'll ever come to winning a major. Watching it all unfold on TV, I'm hooked.

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Finally, The Editors—Merrill Panitt, in other words—have an interesting idea. I'm using the plural, by the way, since the weekly editorial is called "As We See It," so I'm assuming Merrill is using the royal "we" here, though if anyone's entitled to speak on behalf of the staff of TV Guide, it's Merrill Panitt. Either that, or he's channeling Cleveland Amory. At any rate, they, or he, or whichever pronoun we want to use, are essentially advocating the creation of "Nick at Nite" about 25 years before the fact.

This all came about because of CBS's decision to air reruns of He & She, the critically-acclaimed but ratings-deficient sitcom from 1967 starring Richard Benjamin, Paula Prentiss and Jack Cassidy. on Friday nights over the summer. It's long been thought that He & She might have been just a little ahead of its time, and with this move CBS now signals its decision to join NBC and ABC in programming for the "right" demographic audience, in this case, young marrieds. Considering this predates the network's infamous rural purge by about a year, this seems about right. And if the move is successful, they wonder, what other series might be resurrected?

One such series is It's a Man's World, "a delightful story of some nonconformists living on a houseboat" starring Glenn Corbett, Michael Burns, Ted Bessell and Randy Boone. (A number of episodes exist on YouTube, so if you're interested, you can start with Episode One here.) There's also George C. Scott's gritty East Side/West Side, which anticipated ghetto problems before they were a big deal; Roger Miller's 966 TV series ("overproduced as well as before its time"); Bob & Ray's 1950s series ("flopped—some felt—because it was premature"); and My World and Welcome to It, which we might catch up to someday.

Two things you might have noticed about these shows: they were all, to one extent or another, "ahead of their time"; and many of them are available on YouTube, which says a lot about their enduring popularity, even if it's just a cult audience. I wonder if any other classic programs might have been saved if this idea had come to fruition sooner? The editorial concludes by noting that "Some of the best new ideas in programming may be old ideas whose time has come," to which I'd add only that other ideas, and programs, are timeless—if only we take the time to find them, and appreciate them. TV  

June 19, 2020

Around the dial

I'm not a drinking man, but it seems as if it helps to be one any time you turn on your TV nowadays. Somehow, though, they don't seem to have the same motive as you and I have today.

At bare•bones e-zine, Jack introduces us to Harold Swanton, the latest in the Hitchcock Project, and his first effort for Alfred Hitchcock Presents: "Premonition," the second episode of the series, starring John Forsythe, who just happened to be starring in Hitchcock's new film, The Trouble with Harry, which had opened nine days before.

David points out something important in this week's Comfort TV: you can learn a lot from classic TV shows of the past. In this case, a look at a lesson in life courtesy of The Brady Bunch. Great stuff.

Interesting piece up at Cult TV Blog, where John looks at a unique film from 1976, made by The Children's Film Foundation, entitled "One Hour to Zero." It's a rich-in-period-details look at what happens when a nuclear power plant moves into your neighborhood.

The wonderful Jodie, who will appear at this site with a guest column next Wednesday, checks in at Garroway at Large with a link to the legendary radio program of the past, NBC's Monitor, which prominently featured the Master Communicator. And by the way, you'll love next Wednesday's piece.

Lawman was one of the last of the Warner Bros. westerns, and its final season is the subject at Television's New Frontier: the 1960s. You'll enjoy not only a comprehensive rundown of this underrated western, there are also some nice shots of the series' merchandise tie-ins.

Finally, I'm assuming that you're all retro fans, and you obviously enjoy reading or you wouldn't be here, so you might want to go to Martin Grams' website for this story and subscription offer for the magazine Retro FanTV  

June 17, 2020

What I've been watching: April—May, 2020






Shows I’ve Watched:

Shows I’ve Bought:
The Ernie Kovacs Show
Batman
The Green Hornet
N.Y.P.D.
Richard Diamond
Appointment with Destiny

Imentioned a couple of months ago, the last time we visited this little corner of the blogosphere world, that I'd been watching some episodes of Ernie Kovacs' 1956 summer replacement show. Or, to be more precise (precision being a trademark of the competent writer, and also yours truly), I'd listed it in the category of stuff I'd bought. That's only partially accurate; I haven't been buying much of anything lately, having once again joined the ranks of the unemployed, but since it would be a pretty one-sided look at my tastes in video if I only told you what I was watching (not to mention I'd run out of material sooner rather than later), I've taken to including in the "bought" category things I've discovered on YouTube or some other streaming platform. In this case, that includes several Kovacs episodes from the wonderful YouTube channel Free the Kinescopes! (exclamation point theirs).

I've written about Kovacs before; he's one of my favorites, and the shows at Free the Kinescopes! don't disappoint. I've got the two volumes of Kovacs material from Shout! Factory—exclamation points are apparently a recurring theme this month—and, while it's been a few years since I've seen them, I think most of of what we have here is new material. Not only that, but unlike the shows from Shout!, these appear to be for the most part intact, including the musical and dancing numbers that are often omitted due to the expense of acquiring the rights. The primary benefit of this is the chance for us to hear more of Edie Adams, Kovacs' wife and sidekick, who has a lovely singing voice to go with her comedic talents. It makes her more of a partner in the success of Kovacs' shows, as well as giving us a chance to see some of Ernie's guest stars, such as singer Bill Hayes. If you're a Kovacs fan, I urge you to go and check these out. If not, why aren't you?

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Batman was, in many ways, the quintessential television series of the 1960s. Like Kovacs, there was a zaniness about the program, a use of color and graphics and camera angles that hadn't been seen on the tube before, at least not with such exposure. It introduced, or at least made popular, a new genre for television: camp. And while its flame burned out relatively quickly—as is often the case with trendsetters and trailblazers—its influence continued, and continues, to be felt.

I'd been old enough to watch the original run of the show when it started back in 1966, but I remember it more clearly during its afterschool broadcasts later on. I liked it, as far as I can recall, although I didn't go crazy over it as so many people did. I viewed it primarily as a comedy, not taking in the irony or the spoofs it entailed, and was quite confused when the Riddler switched from Frank Gorshin to John Astin and then back again. (There were two Catwomen too; what's up with that?) I also remember the feature length movie that was made with the original cast, including yet a third Catwoman, the one and only onscreen appearance of Lee Meriwether; I watched thaHe int one on a Saturday night in a motel room in the college town near the World's Worst Town™, and it was one of the few moments of relief in an otherwise dismal trip. Despite that, however, there are no symptoms of PTSD involved in watching these episodes, in glorious Blu-ray.

Television in 1966 wasn't all that much different from how it had been in previous years. The highest-rated series for the 1965-66 season included programs like Bonanza, The Lucy Show, Andy Griffith and Gomer Pyle. Series like Bewitched and Hogan's Heroes, although they had unorthdox concepts, were essentially conventional (though very good) sitcoms. Batmani, on the other hand, wasn't anything like the two series it replaced on ABC, Ozzie & Harriet and Shindig (remember, it aired twice a week). It was colorful and creative, it showed that crime could be funny, it brought back the concept of the cliffhanger, and at a time when the industry was honing its dramatic chops on the great social issues of the day (see here for example), it emphasized how television, first and foremost, is entertainment. If anything, you might say it built on the legacy of The Beverly Hillbillies, a show that was often criticized for pandering to the lowest common audience denominator, but was often far more clever than it let on.

Unfortunately, the combination of Batman and the James Bond movies had a negative impact on a lot of TV shows of the time, series like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. that took a sharp turn toward the ridiculous and were never able to find their way back. It also created an expectation for The Green Hornet that couldn't be met—wasn't even attempted, in fact. (More about that momentarily.) I'd suggest, though, that you can draw a somewhat straight line from Batman to The Gong Show and Police Squad!, even though the latter played it totally straight and the former defies description.  Batman made television's theater of the abusurd possible.

There’s something delightful and audacious about the show’s efforts to duplicate comic book adventure in a live-action setting, such as the Joker’s (Cesar Romero) escape from prison via a spring-powered catapult buried under the prison yard. We never actually see it happen, but thanks to a cloud of smoke, a well-timed sound effect, and a shot of the platform balancing on the spring after it's shot the Joker over the prison walls. If you've ever seen a Road Runner cartoon, you know how these things work. And, of course the use of the superimposed POWs and BIFFs and whatnot just make the scenes POP off the screen.

Watching it again after all these years, I'm struck by several things. One is that Frank Gorshin was a hell of an actor; we may remember him best for his manic portrayal of the Riddler (and his terrible riddles), but in the times where he lapses into one of his soliloquies while the members of his gang look on, he displays an intensity suggesting something much deeper, namely the existence of a real person under the mask and ridiculous costume. At times like this Gorshin's Riddler seems to retreat into a private world of his own, unaware there's anyone in the room with him, lost in thoughts of who-knows-what. Maybe he's pondering how he came to be like this; I know the comics probably deal with this, but the series doesn't, and it's the only kind of introspection we're likely to get.

Alan Napier, who plays Alfred, the loyal butler, is really good too. He's the soul of discretion, Jeeves for the superhero set, and in the best tradition of English butlers, it's impossible to imagine him getting rattled by anything. It's clear, to me at least, that Bruce and Dick wouldn't be able to get away with anything around Aunt Harriet without Alfred there to facilitate things. And Neil Hamilton really sells the mock-seriousness of Commissioner Gordon, as he has with so many characters in so many classic TV shows of the time. (By the way, have you ever looked at his office? It takes up half a floor in City Hall. I can only imagine what the Mayor's office must look like, but if it doesn't have a spiral staircase and a hot tub on the upper level, I'd be surprised.) And Burgess Meredith looks like he's just having fun playing the Penguin, another in his resume of quirky characters.

Another thing that's intriguing about watching the show with contemporary eyes is its a sustained attack on the parole system. The police, the prison warden, even Batman himself, are all hilariously portrayed as true believers in the rehabilitative powers of incarceration, even though any time anyone gets out of prison, they go right back to their life of crime. Whether this was intended as a sincere but exaggerated belief (and in the War on Poverty-era social programs of the '60s, it would have been all the rage), or if the writers were lampooning the obvious consequences of naive rehabilitators being taken advantage of by hardened criminals, I'm not sure. Either way, it makes Gotham's officials look even more useless than usual, and when the pendulum swings the other way in the Dark Knight movies, it comes across as the logical reaction.

I haven't mentioned the two leads, Adam West and Burt Ward. I wrote about West here, and I don't think I need to add anything more to that. As for Ward, what do you use to describe a straight man in a show where everything's a straight line? I'm not sure, but the wrong Robin would have been disasterous, and Ward is not wrong.

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Van Williams was the junior member of the firm on Bourbon Street Beat; he started out as a law student learning the detective trade and helping answer the phones, but by the end of the show's first (and only) season, he'd come into his own as both a law graduate and a full-fledged detective. When BSB left the air, Williams's character, Kenny Madison, was spun off into another Warner Bros. detective series, Surfside 6. As one of the leads, along with Troy Donahue, Van was now an equal partner in detecting, fighting bad guys, and romancing the gorgeous women always around in these shows. Williams appeared in a third series, The Tycoon, opposite Walter Brennan, before embarking on a role that could have made him a much bigger star: millionaire newspaper publisher Britt Reid, also known as The Green Hornet. Watching him in this series makes me feel as if I've seen him grow up before my eyes, from cub detective to business tycoon and superhero, and I take a great deal of pride in saying that. Williams is a poised, confident businessman, and a cool and collected crimefighter; it's nice to see that he's become a success.

It just wouldn't have been right to review Batman without looking at the series that shared its universe, if not its sensibilities; in fact, I make a point of watching the two of them back-to-back on Friday evenings. The Green Hornet was a product of the Batman phenomenon, and was birthed by William Dozier, who gave us the much-loved Caped Crusader. Unfortunately, and understandably, the Hornet (as he's called by the bad guys) never lives up to Batman's success, for several reasons. One of them is not Al Hirt's fantastic rendition of the show's theme, "Flight of the Bumblebee," given a great arrangement by Sinatra's arranger, Billy May. Another is the dynamic presence of Bruce Lee as Kato, Reid's valet and the Hornet's partner-in-crime. With few exceptions, Lee never really has enough to do in this series, and it's obvious why: he'd have most of the bad guys unconscious in a couple of minutes, leaving us to suffer through the rest of the episode watching Lloyd Gough as Mike, the newspaper's "ace" crime reporter, who keeps trying to prove that the Hornet is the master criminal everyone believes him to be, except for Reid's secretary, Lenore Case. (Wende Wagner) and the D.A. (Walter Brooke). We don't see any of them that much in the series, although Lenore does get put in jeopardy in a couple of episodes, but you have to know going in that any series where Bruce Lee gets number two billing isn't going to afford you much screen time.

There's nothing at all wrong with Williams' performance as Reid. The challenge, other than that the Hornet's completely overshadowed by his supposed sidekick (as would be the case no matter who played Reid) is the decision to play the show straight. Understand, I don't have a problem with that at all; I think The Green Hornet is a lot of fun, and perhaps if it wasn't so closely identified with Batman (there were two crossovers, with each crime-fighting duo making an appearance on the other's show) it would have worked. But while the criminals du jour can be suitably expansive, both Reid and the Hornet are presented as serious, thoughtful, and realistic (given the perimeters of the show's premise). I don't think it was what viewers expected (or were led to expect), with the result that the sting left The Green Hornet after 26 episodes. If this reads like a lukewarm review, you shouldn't take it that way; as I said, I like The Green Hornet a lot. An hour spent with Batman and The Green Hornet is what you need on a Friday evening when you're more interested in entertainment than dealing with the weight of the world, and these days that's praiseworthy indeed. TV