January 4, 2020

This week in TV Guide: December 31, 1966

We've discussed TV disasters before, you and I, and although the circumstances differ from show to show, there's one thing that remains constant, one statement that you can take to the bank with the assuredness that it will generate more interest than the show itself: someone should have known better.

This brings us to The Tammy Grimes Show, one of this week's cover stories. That the series was cancelled after four weeks wouldn't be such a big deal today, when shows come and go while creating barely a ripple, but in 1966 this is a big deal, "one of the fastest and most ignominious nose dives in TV history," according to authors Neil Hickey and Joe Finnigan.* The show's failure implicates a lot of big names in the process: executive producer Bill Dozier, responsible for Batman and The Green Hornet; writer George Axelrod, author of Broadway smashes such as The Seven Year Itch and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter; Grimes herself, who's just come off of two years on Broadway in The Unsinkable Molly Brown; and a supporting cast that includes Dick Sargent, Hirman Sherman, and Maudie Prickett. Oh, and by the way, the cost of the four-week failure amounts to $1,000,000.

*At the time, the only competition in terms of rapid cancellations is ABC's 1963 quiz show 100 Grand, which lasted but three weeks.

So what happened with "Grimes' Fairy Tale" to cause such a debacle? Dozier was enthusiastic; he'd been pursuing Grimes to play the lead in Bewitched, and though she'd turned it down, he still wanted to create a vehicle for her. Axelrod produced the script, based on the "madcap heiress" idea that appealed to Grimes. And everyone agreed: the pilot was terrible, so bad that General Foods pulled out as a sponsor. However, Bristol-Myers liked the talent involved with the show and thought it had a chance, so it pushed for a place on the schedule, between F Troop and Bewitched. Reluctantly, ABC decides to go ahead, with reservations, and sends the show back to the drawing board. The revised version, however, is no better: "It wasn't like we just had a bad show," one of those involved says. "This was an unfixable show. There was nothing to fix. The whole premise was cockeyed. There was no natural nor well-reasoned flow of events in the stories. The main character wasn't related properly to the basic premise."

The solution seems easy enough—admit defeat and move on. But it's too late for that; the network has already included it on the schedule and in the promotions. Fearing the worst, ABC decided to move ahead; after all, sometimes a show becomes a smash despite all expectations. Er, no. The ratings are an absolute disaster, plummeting from the heights delivered by Batman and F Troop; Chevrolet, primary sponsor of Bewitched, makes clear their unhappiness with Grimes as a lead-in. Something has to be done—and ABC decides to play its trump card, an idea that they'd kept in reserve as they'd watched the difficulties surrounding Grimes. The idea is called The Dating Game, and with that, The Tammy Grimes Show is off the air four weeks after its debut, "the quickest casualty of any comedy or drama series in TV history."

Why was this an "unfixable show"? Depends on who you ask. According to some, Dozier was too involved with Batman and The Green Hornet to give the show proper attention. Likewise, Axelrod lacked the time to get more involved. Others point to Grimes herself as someone whose talent doesn't translate to television; "She has a brittle quality which just doesn't work on TV. You've got to be warm on that cold tube," according to co-producer Alex Gottlieb. "If she were one-tenth as warm and likable on film as Dick Sargent was, the show would have been a hit." Sargent has nothing bad to say about Grimes, calling her "the greatest performer I've ever worked with." Co-producer Richard Whorf, who came out of the experience with bleeding ulcers, would rather not talk about it, saying it wouldn't be "gentlemanly." And Grimes, who disagrees with the assessment that she's not right for TV, simply says, "You cannot blame anyone for this. Please don't blame anybody".'

In the end, the death of The Tammy Grimes Show may be more notable for what replaced it—The Dating Game—than anything else. As a disaster, it will soon enough be eclipsed by one of the greatest of all time, ABC's Turn-On. It is interesting, though, that unlike most disasters, this doesn't seem to be one where everyone was afraid to point out that the emperor had no clothes. It was a show that just didn't work.

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: Scheduled guests: pianist Peter Nero; the New Vaudeville Band; ballerina Sandra Balsti of the New York City Opera Company; comics Joan Rivers, Georgie Kaye, and Hendra and Ullett; singers Lana Cantrell and the Castro Brothers; Les Ballets Africans, a native dance troupe; the acrobats Tovarich Troupe; and the Three Houcs, jugglers.

Palace: Host Bing Crosby presents singers Dorothy Collins, Charles Aznavour and the Mills Brothers; pianist Skitch Henderson, formerly of The Tonight Show; the comedy team of Burns and Schreiber; Johnny Puleo and his Harmonica Gang; dancers Szony and Claire; and the Volentes' unicycle act.

Sometimes you can't tell who's going to come out on top until the very end, and sometimes the outcome is clear from the start. This week it's the latter; Bing gives Palace an edge at the outset, and by the time we get to Skitch Henderson it's all over. Peter Nero is a fine pianist in his own right, but he's not enough to keep Palace from winning in a landslide.

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. 

In case you're not sure whether or not Cleveland Amory likes the NBC sitcom Occasional Wife, starring Michael Callan and Patricia Harty, he settles the issue in the opening sentence: "If you haven't seen this show yet, you've been missing something. It's a fine, fast, funny situation comedy—and, for once, the situation is comic."

The premise of Occasional Wife is guaranteed to outrage modern sensibilities: a young man (Callan) whose boss has a policy of married executives ("I'm sorry, Peter—no marriage, no promotion.") teams up with a young woman, Greta, (Harty) who agrees to pose as his wife in return for rent, art lessons and contact lenses. It's a patently illegal premise today, and for all I know it might have been even when the series was made, but if we're going to appreciate this series in the way that Cleve does, we're going to have to look beyond that to the humor that arises from it. The couple live in the same building; Peter on the seventh floor, Greta on the ninth floor, and they commute back and forth via the fire escape (including those times when Peter's boss unexpectedly drops by), to the consternation and amusement of the "Man in the Middle" (Bryan O'Byrne) who views the comings and goings from his apartment on the eighth floor.

The show is set up for misunderstandings aplenty, which, as Amory notes, come not from the idea of a couple trying to hide the hanky-panky, but from the fact that there is no hanky-panky (both Peter and Greta have their own dating lives) and they have to pretend that there is. The writing is good, the situations are funny, and the acting—particularly from Callan and Jack Collins, who plays his boss—deserves credit. The best thing, though, might be the "peerless tones" of the narrator, none other than the Voice of the Dodgers, Vin Scully. Occasional Wife lasts for 30 episodes, but don't cry for Vin: he'll have his job with the Dodgers to fall back on for the next 50 seasons.

t  t  t

As you would have noticed by the date on this issue, Saturday is the last day of 1966, and even though we did that "ring-out-the-old-ring-in-the-new" bit with last week's issue, we have a chance to do it over again.

We'll clear up one thing at the outset: whenever New Year's Day falls on a Sunday, the parades and bowl games are moved to Monday. This has nothing to do with the NFL, as some youngsters with no sense of history seem to think; the Tournament of Roses Committee has a policy, dating back to 1893, against holding the parade on a Sunday, as organizers did not wish to disturb horses hitched outside Sunday church services. When the Rose Bowl came along, it followed suit, as did all the other bowl games and parades that were created over the years. Even though most other sporting events have since come to bend Sundays to their will without regard to church (or anything else), the New Year's tradition remains sacrosanct. Besides, nowadays it would conflict with the NFL.

Anyway, enough of all that. New Year's Eve is lively enough; the Cotton Bowl (2:15 p.m. ET, CBS, preceded by the Cotton Bowl Parade at 1:00 p.m.) is being held on December 31 to get away from the glut of games on New Year's. (Georgia 24, SMU 9.) At 7:30 p.m., it's the prime-time King Orange Jamboree, in color on NBC, with Lorne Greene and Florence Henderson. At 10:30 p.m., Philadelphia's WIBF presents the WGN-produced Big Bands, a four-hour extravaganza featuring the music of Tommy Dorsey, Si Zentner, Guy Lombardo, Hary James, Sammy Kaye and Count Basie. And at 11:30 p.m. on WFIL, it's Guy Lombardo himself, ringing in the New Year on a syndicated network, with his Royal Canadians, Nelson Eddy, and Gail Sherwood at the Waldorf-Astoria, and Jack Lescoulie live in Times Square.

While the New Year's festivities may have moved to Monday, that doesn't mean there aren't fireworks waiting for us on Sunday. Today the American and National Football Leagues select their champions for the inaugural Super Bowl, to be played in two weeks. (You're right; who could have imagined it would become such a big deal?) It begins in Buffalo, as the two-time AFL champion Buffalo Bills take on the Kansas City Chiefs (1:00 p.m., NBC) for the AFL crown, followed at 4:00 p.m. by the defending champion Green Bay Packers playing the Cowboys in Dallas for the NFL title. We all know how those games turned out. A pair of terrific music programs round out the day: at 6:30 p.m., NBC's Bell Telephone Hour features "The First Ladies of Opera," four of the greatest voices around: Birgit Nilsson, Leontyne Price, Joan Sutherland, and Renata Tebaldi. Trust me when I say that the word "great" is not hyperbole. And at 10:00 p.m., also on NBC, Andy Williams welcomes Ella Fitzgerald, Henry Mancini and his orchestra, Phyllis Diller, and Rose Queen Barbara Hewitt and her court. And late night (10:00 p.m., WHYY), David Susskind's Open End features, along with night club owners and Congress of Racial Equality director Floyd McKissick, Dr. Sam Sheppard, who last month was acquitted in the retrial of the 1954 murder of his wife, Marilyn.

If you love a parade, Monday's for you. The Mummers parade is a Philadelphia tradition, and it's covered on not one but two local channels. WFIL's six hour coverage begins at 8:30 a.m., while CBS affiliate WCAU offers an hour of coverage, after which the network picks up an additional hour, with Allen Ludden and Betty Furness hosting. All three networks cover the Rose Parade in Pasadena, starting at 11:30 a.m. Take your choice of hosts: Elizabeth Montgomery and Vin Scully on ABC, Bess Myerson and Mike Douglas on CBS, or Bill Cullen, Betty White, Barry Sullivan, and Pat Boone on NBC. (Network coverage runs for between 15 and 30 minutes longer than it does today, by the way.) The bowl games are the exclusive province of NBC, kicking off with the Sugar Bowl at 1:45 p.m., with Jim Simpson and Charlie Jones (Alabama 34, Nebraska 7), followed by Lindsey Nelson and Terry Brennan covering the Rose Bowl at 4:45 p.m. (Purdue 14, USC 13), and wrapping up at 7:45 p.m. with Curt Gowdy and Paul Christman at the Orange Bowl (Florida 27, Georgia Tech 12). None of these games have any significance; top-ranked Notre Dame, which doesn't play in bowl games, has already been named National Champion.

On Tuesday it's The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. at 7:30 p.m. on NBC; Richard Warren Lewis's cover story is on the star of Girl, Stefanie Powers. Stefanie wasn't the first choice to play April Dancer, the female counterpart to Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin; former Miss America Mary Ann Mobley had originally been cast in the role, before network brass, for some reason, decided on Powers. She works out using Royal Canadian Air Force exercises, has killed bulls in a slaughterhouse in Mexico, and performs countless stunts, all with a $1,000 per episode wardrobe budget. (Robert Vaughn should do so well.) Later in the evening, it's the final episode of the comedy The Rounders (8:30 p.m., ABC); next week it will be replaced by the debut of the new science-fiction series The Invaders, the success of which helps fuel the cancellation of Occasional Wife. And on CBS at 10:00 p.m., it's another in the continuing series of audience-participation tests; this one is the National Current Events Test, with Walter Cronkite, Harry Reasoner, and Mike Wallace. I suspect people back then did better than they would today.

Wednesday sees Batman take on his latest villain, the Mad Hatter, played by David Wayne (7:30 p.m., ABC), and it's the final episode of the Robert Lansing spy series The Man Who Never Was (9:00 p.m.) On I Spy (10:00 p.m., NBC), singer Leslie Uggams plays a straight dramatic role as a Communist revolutionary trying to break up Kelly and Scott's partnership. And perhaps it's because I'm watching Boris Karloff in Colonel March of Scotland Yard as I type this, but at 1:10 a.m. on WCAU, it's Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer: Boris Karloff. At that time of the night, what do you expect? NBC leads off Thursday with the Battle for Asia, looking at developments in "Laos: The Forgotten War." (7:30 p.m.) At 10:00 p.m., Dean Martin's guests are Florence Henderson, Jack Jones, Dom De Luise, Bob Melvin, and Kaye Stevens; opposite that on ABC, it's a special report on the pro football merger between the NFL and AFL, which gives its first sign with the upcoming Super Bowl, and culminates in four years with a complete merger between the two leagues. Finally, Friday brings us comedian Victor Borge's TV dramatic debut on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (8:30 p.m., NBC), and we can certainly use the laugh.

t  t  t

Finally, a Letter to the Editor worth sharing. It's from Sheila Ryan Buttram of Hollywood, the wife of Green Acres actor Pat Buttram. It seems that the October 22 issue featured a very commendable article on Pat which gave him wonderful publicity, for which Mrs. Buttram is most grateful. However, there's just one thing: the mention that Buttram collects buttonhooks, a fact that immediately captivated the readers of TV Guide. "So far we have received 1734 beautiful antique buttonhooks, and offers for hundreds more. Meanwhile, Pat has forgotten about buttonhooks and gone on to some other hobby. I won't say what it is for fear of receiving mail boxes full of 'it.' Now what do I do with 1734 buttonhooks?" Merrill Panitt didn't seem to have an answer for that, but he did helpfully add this note: "Pat now collects sheet music of old songs."  There's no record of Mrs. Buttram's response to thatTV  


  1. *At the time, the only competition in terms of rapid cancellations is ABC's 1963 quiz show 100 Grand, which lasted but three weeks.

    What about You're in the Picture (1961)?

    1. I'd agree with you; the "100 Grand" comparison came from the article, and although I don't have any evidence, I wonder if it's because they consider "The Jackie Gleason Show" to be a continuation of "You're in the Picture" since it's in the same time slot with the same host, even though the title and format are different. Possible, I guess.

  2. Mitchell,
    You mentioned Bristol-Myers sponsored "The Tammy Grimes" show and then mentioned that this show would be the quickest cancellation until "Turn-On" three years later. Ironically, Bristol-Meyers also sponsored "Turn-On" and we know how that turned out. Bristol-Meyers a leader on medicine, on comedies not so much. :P

    1. That's a brilliant tie-in! I had no idea!

    2. Fun Fact (verifiable in old TV Guides and other sources):
      A man named Marvin Koslow was Bristol-Myers's advertising director during this period.
      B-M was ABC's leading advertiser during this period, largely because Koslow had a long-standing friendship with Ed Scherick, who was ABC's chief programmer in the '60s.
      In the spring of '66 (the season we're covering here), after ABC had already announced a fall schedule, Scherick invited Koslow to sit in on the network meetings to vet the slate.
      Koslow was allowed to rearrange the already-announced schedule - moving shows around, dropping some shows, adding others - to the point that ABC had to scrap its ad campaign and start from square one.
      * One of the shows that was dropped was a TV version of House Of Wax, which Warner-TV wound up re-editing into a theatrical feature called Chamber Of Horrors (Ever see that one? With the Fear Flasher and the Horror Horn?).
      Also dropped was Sedgewick Hawk-Styles, Prince Of Danger, with Paul Lynde taking off on Sherlock Holmes; this is reputedly one of the funniest pilots to not make the network cut (Lynde thought so to the end of his days).
      Marvin Koslow, on behalf of Bristol-Myers, personally spiked both these shows (as well as a few others).
      Draw your own conclusions … *

      Several years after this, Koslow was still on the job for Bristol-Myers, and it was he who personally championed Turn-On at ABC (when it was still called Section 8, Cockamamie, and several other tentative names).
      TV Guide wrote this one up as well; you can find it if you're willing to look.

      Full disclosure: I've always wondered whether George Schlatter held on to any or all of the extant Turn-On shows - and if, fifty-plus years on, he has any intention of releasing any of them.
      Comes to that, I also wonder if anybody has a copy of Paul Lynde's Sedgewick Hawk-styles pilot, which I've never seen; it sounds like fun …

    3. Yes, George Schlatter still owns the master tapes to every "TURN ON" episode he produced (including the one telecast, and the one unaired)- but your chances of seeing it on home video are about as good as seeing the 13 telecasts of "THE STEVE LAWRENCE SHOW" he produced for CBS in 1965. And by the way, "SEDGEWICK HAWK-STYLES" is privately available for viewing (and it's just as funny as Lynde claimed it was).

  3. THE TAMMY GRIMES SHOW likely took a very bad toll on co-producer, Richard Whorf. I'm not sure if the bleeding ulcers did it, but he died in mid-December 1966, before this story was even published.

    I remember seeing OCCASIONAL WIFE once or twice on Comedy Central, back when it respected classic comedy and before it devoted time making political statements on THE DAILY SHOW, Colbert's show, and other similar trash.

    1. Did not know that Whorf had already died by then, although that experience certainly couldn't have helped.

  4. Couple of additional notes on Occasional Wife

    1. Lead actress Patricia Harty would marry co-star Michael Callan in 1968; though the two ended up divorced by 1970

    2. This would not be the last series Patricia Harty co-starred in that got a quick (especially by 1960s standards) hook, as she resurfaced as the title character on the 1968 version of Blondie, which barely made it to midseason before CBS pulled the plug.

    1. Patricia Harty also co-starred with Bob Crane on the spring 1975 NBC MTM sitcom THE BOB CRANE SHOW (originally proposed as SECOND START). Bob played a man who gave up his insurance business at mid-life to go to medical school, and she played his wife under a new name, Trisha Hart.

  5. I wonder if Szony and Claire ever met Sonny and Cher...

  6. "Tammy Grimes" also had to face the long-running "My Three Sons" on CBS and a new sci-fi series on NBC titled "Star Trek".

    Given the competition, Tammy Grimes' show was doomed from the beginning (but then again, ANY program on ABC in the Thursday 8:30 P.M. Eastern timeslot that season probably would have had trouble finding and building an audience).

    1. That doesn't bode well for the life expectancy of a show, does it?


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!