January 11, 2020

This week in TV Guide: January 12, 1980

As you're probably aware, I'm not a big fan of TV Guides from the 1980s. They just don't sing to me, if you know what I mean. However, it's occurred to me that self-improvement makes for a fine New Year's Resolution, and that a particularly good way to improve one's self is to challenge one's assumptions, to consider the possibility, however remote, that one could be wrong about some long-held opinions. It is, therefore, with that in mind that I've committed to write about at least three TV Guides from the year 1980, in hopes that some good, either personal or professional, might come from it.*

*These are also issues that I can look at for free on the Internet Archives, which constitutes a type of self-improvement of the budgetary kind.

We know we're in the 1980s just by looking at the cover, whicgh features two of the starts of one of the bigger hits of the era, CHiPs. The stars are Eric Estrada and Larry Wilcox, and I confess that I didn't give them must thought until I saw them appear together at the Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention a couple of years ago, when they proved to be a delight to listen to: charming, interesting, and very funny. That doesn't necessarily mean I'd automatically become a fan of CHiPs, but it does make it more likely I'd approach it without prejudice, which is not nothing.

This week's issue focuses on the "responsible" member of the duo, Wilcox, who confesses to Bill Davidson that he's got one eye on his post-CHiPs career, when he'll have more freedom. As an example, here's a recent day in the life of the co-star of a successful series: at 10:30 a.m., Wilcox has a scene in which he reads his first line of the day: "May I see your driver's license, please?" His second scene comes at 6:31 p.m., when he and Estrada do close-ups for chase scenes that have already been filmed. His second line of the day comes a half-hour later: "You've got traffic backed up to the freeway. What's this all about?" Shooting for the day ends at 7:30 p.m. So you want to be a TV star?

He's a complex young man who talks about his experiences in Vietnam and how he was affected by the murder of his sister; clearly. life is about more than acting. The previous season, Wilcox directed an episode of CHiPs; he says it was "much more fascinating being director Wilcox, planning eight scenes ahead, than being actor Wilcox." As an actor, it was his fondest hope to play Tom Jordache in Rich Man, Poor Man; when he lost out to Nick Nolte, he took the CHiPs role on the rebound. He's made a good living as an actor, and he's intensely loyal to his show, but still the challenges await, and when he thinks about his production company and the future that lies ahead, he can't help but wonder, "If a show about traffic cops can work. . ."

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With the TV season almost half over, Rick Cohen takes stock of the ratings race. ABC, the perennial third-place network, has been in first for four years, but CBS took the prize in the November sweeps, and the publicity department was so excited that they prepared a brochure proclaiming CBS as "The Intelligent Alternative—The Adult Alternative"; top executives were so shocked that they killed the brochure. "That's not the way we do things around here," one said.

Dallas has become a monster hit, five of the six shows on CBS's Sunday night schedule are in the top ten, and shows like Knots Landing and The White Shadow have provided strong ratings. For ABC, the news has been less encouraging; ratings are down almost a full point from last year, Laverne & Shirley has dropped from #1 last year to #23 this year, while Mork & Mindy has gone from #3 to #20 and Happy Days from #4 to #15. Their only new success has been Benson, which is only #24. And then there's NBC, which counts Real People and The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo among hits successes, and has high hopes for Sanford and The Big Show. Not too high, I hope.

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At the risk of sounding like a broken record (although some of you might think I’m cracked already), past issues are full of articles that we’d never see in a popular magazine today, let along the celebrity-obsessed pages of TV Guide. Whether this is a commentary on television, TV Guide, or both, I’ll leave to your discretion.

Case in point is this week’s “Background” article on PBS’s five-part Great Performances series on the French actor, playwright, and poet, Molière (1622-1673), written by poet and Molière translator Richard Wilbur. Molière, according to Wilbur, is probably the most versatile comic genius since Charlie Chaplin; not only did he write more than 30 stage pieces, he also acted as theater manager, director, and leading actor. And, as Wilbur notes, this doesn’t include such things as tennis and marriage, which he was also able to cram into his brief 51 years. His patron was Louis XIV, which helped him fend off some malicious gossip (such as the accusation that his wife, Armande, who was half his age, was actually his own daughter by his former mistress—and we thought people today were slanderous), as well as publish and produce his plays.

Molière’s work is primarily that of social comedy, set in “a world that is fundamentally orderly and good and governed by ‘natural’ laws and relationships.” The characters who bear the brunt of Molière’s humor are those who wind up being consumed by greed and avarice, pretentions, or power, and Molière’s goal is to show us how laughable these pretentions are, and how they risk upsetting society’s delicate balance.

Although there’s a temptation to look at Molière’s work as autobiographical, Wilbur tells us not to read too much into that; while “certain events and concerns of Molière’s life are reflected in his art,” it would be wrong to read them to learn more about his life, for “his art transforms [those events] utterly.” Neither is he a satirist, a philosopher, or a reformer; “while reflecting contemporary realities in a generalized way, he did not make direct attacks on real persons.” Even though “a few personal convictions do make themselves felt, Molière’s thought is on the whole the thought of comedy itself.” I wonder how contemporary comedians might feel about that. After all, here we are, talking about Molière almost 350 years after his death.

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I don’t usually stray outside of the Cleveland Amory era when writing about TV Guide’s reviews, but we’ll make an exception this week to look at Robert MacKenzie’s take on one of PBS’s landmark series: Free to Choose, the 10-part primer on economics hosted by Nobel Prize-winner Milton Friedman, one of the most highly-respected economists around. Friedman, whom MacKenzie identifies as “the last of the unrepentant free-market economists,” has for years urged the government to get out of the business of business, while, “everyone else—from corporation fatcats to stoop laborers—has been doing the opposite: demanding Government protection, subsidy and general tinkering in the marketplace.” Considering the situation we’re in, with “prices are going crazy and everyone getting poorer at a breathtaking rate,” MacKenzie is ready to think that perhaps Friedman has something at that.

The format of the show is straightforward: Friedman lectures on a topic, introducing real-life examples that serve to prove his point, and then follows it up with a discussion featuring guests who often disagree with his theories. In an episode on government deregulation, former Delaware governor Russell Peterson pointed out that market regulation helps evils like pollution, to which Friedman retorted that “Air and water are cleanest in the advanced countries.” It helps being the host.

MacKenzie points out gaps in Friedman’s theories, such as child labor laws, unemployment, and the 40-hour week. In fact, Friedman wasn’t against all government power; he believed in the role of the government to protect the nation from foreign enemies, and to provide law and order. His concern with welfare programs was that they could create welfare dependency, and required a different type of government policy, such as a negative income tax. Presumably, MacKenzie’s grasp of television is slightly stronger than it is of economics. Nonetheless, he concludes that this program, and Friedman’s theories, are “worth a listen. Who knows, they might even work.”

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I won't spend a lot of time on this, but we do have a matchup between The Midnight Special and Don Kirshner's Rock Concert. The Special features Isaac Hayes as host, with the Spinners, KC and the Sunshine Band, Kool & the Gang, and The Outraged and Outrageous comedy players, including Bruce Vilanch and Pat McCormack. Meanwhile the performers on Kirshner include Ashford & Simpson, Kansas, Michael Jackson, Brooklyn Dreams, Stephanie Mills and comic Garry Shandling. It's a close one, but I'll give the edge to Kirshner.*

*Milwaukee's WTMJ has last week's Special on Saturday night, which featured Dr. Hook as host, with Rupert Holmes, Cliff Richard, and Prince. Prince! If they knew what they had, he could have done the entire 90 minutes, without needing The Outraged and Outrageous comedy players to pad things out.

If you want music, you might want to check out the 7th annual American Music Awards instead (Friday, 8:00 p.m., ABC), hosted by Cher and Elton John, with an eclectic lineup featuring Peabo Bryson, Dottie West, Natalie Cole, Cheap Trick, Kenny Rogers, Charlie Daniels, Lionel Hampton, Michael Jackson, Chuck Berry, Eddie Rabbitt, the Captain & Tennilie, and Rick James. Seriously, if you can't find someone to listen to from that lineup, you might as well just give up.

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And now, the portion of our program that looks at highlights of the week.

Saturday: Remember the days when stars like Vince Edwards and Richard Chamberlain were able to spin their acting success into a musical career, and from that to their own variety special? This week it's Wonder Woman's turn, as Lynda Carter hosts her first special (7:00 p.m., CBS), with guests Kenny Rogers and Leo Sayer. ABC counters with a preview of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, with former Olympic champion Peggy Fleming and special music by Chuck Mangione! (Let's see, Lynda Carter or Chuck Mangione?) And a reminder that Jerry Lewis doesn't have the only long show in town; at 10:30 p.m., it's the start of the 29th United Cerebral Palsy telethon (WISN and WREX), with a cast of stars including John Ritter, Henry Winkler, Paul Anka, Gavin McLeod, Dick Van Patten, and Dennis James, the host of the telethon since its beginning in 1950. The show runs until 6:00 p.m. Sunday; unfortunately, telethons now seem to be a thing of the past. It would be better if it were the diseases that were a thing of the past.

Sunday: At 6:00 p.m., ABC presents a Closeup on the more than 200 Nazi war criminals reported to be living in the United States. Simon Wiesenthal is among the guests looking at efforts by the Justice Department to track down and bring to justice the fugitives, who avoided deportation because of "government indifference or negligence or through the efforts of influential friends or agencies that needed their brainpower." If that's too heavy for you (and the whole idea of the morality of war crimes trials is a fascinating, if grim, subject that we'l save for another day), you might think about tuning in to ABC's Sunday night movie, Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders II (8:00 p.m.) You might, that is, until you look at the cast; it’s a sad commentary that a movie dealing with “The Private Lives of the Most Gorgeous Girls in America” gives top billing to—John Davidson?

Monday: Dennis Weaver stars as Joseph Wambaugh in a new show, Stone. (8:00 p.m., ABC) Oh sure, they call him Daniel Ellis Stone, "a best-selling author-detective whose beat is so dangerous every case could be his final chapter!" We all know better, but if that’s the way they want it, that’s fine by me. The show's run: 10 episodes. (By the way, why does it seem as if the only people who go by three names are politicians, authors, and assassins?)

Tuesday: It's the exciting conclusion of Power (8:00 p.m., NBC), a two-part movie that is, according to Judith Crist, a "brazen rehash of Norman Jewison's 1978 F.I.S.T. with Joe Don Baker in the Sylvester Stallone role of a Chicago warehouse worker who rises to the top of the union. "Trouble is, Baker takes almost twice as long in this attenuated two-parter. (That will be no surprise to the writers at MST3K.) Unfortunately for us, while part one is "action-packed," tonight's part two is "padded and muddled."

Wednesday: "For Janet, having an affair is the only way to hold a marriage together." That's the tag line for If Things Were Different (8:00 p.m., CBS), a movie that sounds as if it should fit right in with the titillating fare that's so typical of made-for-TV movies from the era. Suzanne Pleshette stars as Janet, whose husband (Don Murray) is in a catatonic state after a nervous breakdown, leaving her to wonder if co-worker Tony Roberts might be able to tend to her, well, needs. I don't know; this could be a terrific movie, but it sure seems to me that Pleshette deserves better than this.

Thursday: Mork tries to reunite a father (Tom Posten) and his blind son (Tom Sullivan), whom he hasn't seen in 12 years, on a (very special?) Mork & Mindy (7:00 p.m., ABC) What else? Well, do you remember the series Skag? It's OK if you don't; it only ran for five episodes plus the pilot. It stars Karl Malden as a Pittsburgh steel worker, and Piper Laurie as his wife. On the CBS late movie, John Cassavetes is the killer du jour on Columbo (10:30 p.m.), an orchestra conductor who kills his mistress. (10:30 p.m.) Cassavetes is terrific playing off his old buddy Peter Falk, but he does one of the worst impressions of a conductor that I've ever seen. If you think that might bother you, flip over to The Tonight Show on NBC, where the great Benny Goodman is one of Johnny Carson's scheduled guests on The Tonight Show.

Friday: Art Carney and Lily Tomlin are outstanding in Robert Benton’s The Late Show (8:00 p.m., NBC). Carney plays an aging detective out to solve his partner’s murder, and Judith Crist says "you’re guaranteed the total pleasure of his company as an ailing, irascible man of heart and intelligence." It’s an affectionate homage to the Hammett-Chandler tradition of detective stories, but, being made in 1977, it also displays all the drawbacks of modern filmmaking, as Tomlin and Carney "are constantly interrupted by blood-soaked fatalities and violence. Present-day admirers of the genre would do well to take a blood count of the classics and see the superb restraint and power of suggestion that were used. It is a tribute to Carney that his performance emerges unsplattered."

And there's this programming note, appearing each evening before the 10:30 p.m. shows:

That update would, of course, become Nightline. But it does show that the roots of our present crises run very deep, don't they?

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Finally, here’s one of those situations that makes you realize entertainment executives are just like the rest of us—no smarter, at least. Last Friday, NBC showed us the movie Two-Minute Warning, an action/heist drama that garnered mostly negative reviews when it was released in 1976. That’s less than four years ago, yet—believe it or not—what we saw on Friday was, according to Rick Cohen, the third different version of the film:

“When NBC telecast the theatrical movie last February, it cut out about a half hour of the original footage, which was deemed too profane and violent. [How quaint.] Then, for a half-million dollars, NBC had the producer, Universal, shoot about an hour’s worth of new film and add new characters, a plot diversion and an identity for its sniper character. Now NBC has spent an additional $50,000 to shrink that three-hour TV version to two hours.” This, on top of the fee NBC presumably paid Universal for the rights to the movie in the first place.

And so, one has to wonder, might it not have cost just as much for the network to make a movie itself, about anything it wanted to, absolutely the way it wanted it to be? It certainly would have been easier, you’d think. Talk about trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. . . TV  


  1. I'm amazed that MoS LOBO was considered a "hit", but anything on NBC then above 40th place was considered a hit. It was renewed for 1980-81, but its setting was changed to Atlanta, and it was renamed LOBO. Nell Carter appeared in LOBO just before she started her starring role on GIMME A BREAK.

    I remember seeing John Ritter on the Cerebral Palsy telethons. This cause was particularly important to him, as his brother, Tom, has the disease but was a practicing lawyer with it.

    I remember seeing that COLUMBO with John Cassavetes as the murderer on CBS Late Night early in 1985. I've read somewhere that Blythe Danner, who played his character's wife, was pregnant with her daughter, Gwyneth Paltrow, during filming. She wasn't noticeably pregnant in the movie though, that I remember.

  2. This is mainly about Two-Minute Warning and its three versions, and your question "Why?"

    This is before cable became the way of life for movies: Even as features were made, studios like Universal were making alternate versions for theaters, TV, and in some cases even for in-flight use, with content altered to suit the venues.

    Two-Minute Warning opened in theaters to a critical drubbing, which centered largely on the fact that we never learned who the sniper was or why he was sniping.
    Since the network TV sale was part of the deal from the get-go, NBC and Universal (after some negotiation) came up with the idea to add on the heist plot, which was not in the theatrical version.
    That's why about a half-hour of extra scenes were tacked on, with more actors hired and Chuck Heston brought in to make some bridging scenes.
    Also, the body count in the TV version was drastically reduced: nobody got killed in this one.
    The seams showed, quite badly, and the TV Warning became a national joke.
    By the time this third version came about, it was decided to keep the heist while cutting even more of the actual story. The result was dire.

    I first saw Warning in a theater, as God intended.
    My own view was that of its type, it wasn't bad at all; coming at the tail-end of the all-star disaster cycle was the likely reason for its box-office flop.
    Just this morning, I rescreened my DVD, and while it has many of what Alfred Hitchcock would call "refrigerator moments", it had its merits as a procedural.
    The pace was jet-speed, which you need in a movie like this (i.e., don't give the audience time to think), and the star actors were on top of their game.
    I had seen the three-hour TV reboot when it first aired, and as I said above, this was a mistake that should not have been made (during this period, it wasn't the only one).
    But that may just be my memory; the extra TV scenes are no longer available to view, So There Too.

    1. Off-topic, in the nature of a heads-up:

      If you haven't yet recorded the next Eventually Supertrain with Dan -
      - and if you can easily access the first season of 77 Sunset Strip -
      - you ought to take a look at episode 8, "The Well-Selected Frame", before (or at least closely after) you check out "Suitable For Framing" on Bourbon Street Beat.
      Just telling you this is probably the tip-off of tip-offs, but it will go a long way in informing your discussion of adaptive reuse, Warner Hermanos style.
      I really do wish - now more than ever - that someone somewhere had written a detailed account of Warner Bros. TV's recycling center; it would make things a lot easier for the rest of us …
      Just remember one thing : in 1960, there was no such thing as streaming.
      Back to you, Mitchell and Dan!

  3. This Just In:

    Just reading of the death of Lan O'Kun, a few days short of his 88th birthday.
    He's probably best known as the frequent collaborator of Shari Lewis on her various TV shows, for more than 40 years - music, lyrics, and comedy scripts (his wife of 60 years was Shari's sister Barbara Hurwitz).
    Lan O'Kun also wrote for many other shows, most notably Father Kieser's Insight; you can check many of these out on YouTube.
    Or you can look up his obituary, which can be found in many places online, or his IMDb entry, which is prodigious.
    And when you do, you'll wonder why you never heard of him …

  4. Chuck Mangione composed "Give It All You've Got", the official "pop" theme of the 1980 Winter Olympics, so that's why his music was in the preview special.

    However, while that music was occasionally heard on ABC's telecasts of the 1980 Winter Games, it didn't displace the traditional American TV Olympics theme, "Bugler's Dream".

    This wasn't the only Olympic preview special: ABC carried a 90-minute preview special the night before the Games began. Much of it was devoted to the first game of the men's hockey tournament between the U.S. and Sweden (in which the U.S. tied Sweden, who was favored to win a medal) late in the game to earn a tie and start the momentum that would lead to the "Miracle On Ice". If my memory serves me correct, they showed a few highlights of the first two periods and the final period in full (the game was on a five-hour-or-so tape-delay).


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!