January 18, 2020

This week in TV Guide: January 19, 1980

I don't generally review consecutive issues from the same year, but this week's issue offers something that's just too good to resist.* It was just last week, as I write this, that we were introduced to the term "Megxit," and while I'm already sick to death of it, as a television historian it's a gift of manna, because this week we have the premiere of a new costume drama from Britain that couldn't be more timely: the six-part miniseries Edward & Mrs. Simpson.

*Besides, I didn't have any other issue from this week, and since I promised 52 new issues this year, I didn't think it was a good idea to go back on that promise three weeks into the new year.  (Feel free to thank me for my thoughtfulness.)

Back in 1975, Mobil had sponsored the national broadcast of a 12-part British series, Edward the King, the colorful story of King Edward VII. The series was marketed directly to commercial stations; nearly 50 of them picked up the series (including 27 network affiliates, wreaking havoc with network programming), which turned out to a huge critical and commercial success. For an encore, it was decided to show another drama concerning British royalty, one that had a twist sure to appeal to the Colonies: Edward & Mrs. Simpson, which told the story of King Edward VIII and his ill-fated love affair with American divorcee Wallis Simpson, a romance which caused the king to eventually abdicate his throne in order to marry "the woman I loved."

Bob Bach, associate producer of the original What's My Line?, tells a wonderful story in his TV Guide Background feature about what a TV junkie Wallis Warfield Simpson was, belting out the themes to the Murial cigar and Skippy peanut butter commercial jingles at a table in New York's El Morocco while Bach and Dorothy Kilgallen looked on; she and the Duke were great fans of WML, and TV in general. "We watch all the shows," she told Bach, who meditated on the idea that "this man, once 'By the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas, King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India,' sitting up there in the Waldorf Towers watching Strike it Rich or The Big Payoff." It just goes to show that television, unlike the British class system, knows no boundaries.

The Windsors photographed by Karsh in 1971,
a year before the Duke's death.
To get back to the main story, the world was captivated by the romantic drama taking place during Edward's efforts to marry the twice-divorced Simpson, even while the British public was, for the most part, kept in the dark due to the British press' self-imposed censorship. Had Edward chosen to marry Wallis despite her previous marriages (the Church of England, at the time, disapproved divorce and remarriage), the government would have been forced to resign, and a constitutional crisis would have resulted. Rather than give up Wallis, Edward chose to abdicate, making his brother George the king—and, indirectly, resulting in the conflict we have today.

Leave it to the British tabloids to cut to the heart of the matter by pointing out that Meghan Markle, the apparent center of the current drama, is the second American to throw the monarchy into turmoil. "You have a very popular and senior member of the royal family who falls for an American divorcee and his world falls apart. Sound familiar? Talk about history repeating itself," writes Virginia Blackburn in The Express. One commentator compared Markle to a combination Wallis Simpson/Yoko Ono, a comparison that flatters nobody. Frankly, I've already spent enough time thinking about these two twits that I can see the appeal of a root canal without anesthesia as an alternative. The Windsors were often viewed as superficial social dilettantes, members of café society; yet Harry and Meghan manage to give them class by comparison.

While Edward & Mrs. Simpson failed to reach the heights of Edward the King, either with critics or viewers, it still radiates a sense of dignity that today's psychodrama fails to reach. It's a sure bet that the story of Megxit will make it to television as well, but you can bet it won't be on something like Mobil Showcase. Look for it on whatever sleazy reality channel offers them the most money.

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James MacGregor Burns is one of America's most respected political scientists and an expert on the Presidency, and in this election year, he addresses one of the questions of the campaign: can any candidate deliver on what they promise? "Since the start of our Government in 1789, the nub of the problem of Presidential leadership has been Congress," he writes in this week's issue. "All the 'strong' Presidents have had to invent ways of putting across their legislative programs." We've certainly seen that in the last few Presidencies, haven't we?

President Carter's problem, according to Burns, is "a modern case in Presidential-Congressional frustration." After a brief honeymoon period, Carter's determination to "not play old, Washington-type politics" has resulted in his bills being "lacerated or lost in the labyrinthine channels of Congressional committees and subcommittees." The Carter administration lacks "a clear and convincing set of goals," as well as "the political skill and electricity necessary to line up Congressional support." Burns, an advocate of a strong Presidency, wonders if the fragmentation of power that the Founders deliberately designed is the right one for the times. The only alternative, he says, is "strengthening our party system," which in the old days drew the separated powers of Government together. "Parties both supported and stabilized Presidential power" back then, he says. That may be the only chance we have in 1980 to "prevent holy wedlock from turning into holy deadlock."

We'll get the first indications into this on Monday night at 11:30 p.m. ET, as both CBS (Walter Cronkite, Morton Dean, Bruce Morton and Roger Mudd) and NBC ("NBC News correspondents") present coverage of the nation's first presidential test, the Iowa Caucuses, delaying the start of late-night programming. On the Democratic side, President Carter wins a decisive victory over his only serious challenger, Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, 59%-31%, setting the standard for the Democratic race. It's a different story for the Republicans, as George Bush upsets Ronald Reagan 31%-29%, with Howard Baker coming in third at 15%. It leads to the dramatic "I am paying for this microphone" moment for Reagan in his 1:1 debate with Bush in Nashua, New Hampshire. Reagan routs Bush in the primary by over two-to-one, spelling the end of Bush's "Big Mo" and propelling Reagan to the nomination and. subsequently, the Presidency.

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For those of you who might not be as politically inclined, this week brings another contest that might interest you: the Super Bowl.

Super Bowl XIV takes place Sunday at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, with the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers going against the (sort-of) hometown favorite Los Angeles Rams on CBS. You might say the coverage starts on Saturday at 5:00 p.m. with CBS Sports Spectacular's Super Bowl-themed "Battle of the NFL Cheerleaders" pitting the Minnesota Viking Parkettes (so named because the team's original cheerleaders were the St. Louis Park High School Parkettes) against the Miami Dolphin Starbrites. I don't know how I missed that when it was on. (Thankfully, we've passed on from the Super Night at the Super Bowl era.)

CBS's Super Bowl Sunday begins at 2:30 p.m. with coverage of the final round of the Phoenix Open golf tournament, one of the few sporting events that actually insists on being held the same weekend as the Super Bowl. (Winner: Jeff Mitchell, by four strokes over Rik Massengale. OK, the winners haven't always been the biggest names.) That's followed by a special 90-minute The NFL Today, renamed for the day as The Super Bowl Today, including commentaries by Jack Whittaker and Andy Rooney and analysis by John Madden. Finally, at 6:00 p.m. it's the game itself, with Pat Summerall and Tom Brookshier behind the mic, Cheryl Ladd singing the national anthem, and a halftime show featuring Up with People doing "A Salute to the Big Band Era." Yup, times have changed, haven't they? The evening wraps up with 60 Minutes, sometime around 10:00 p.m. Oh yeah, the game: Pittsburgh rallies in the second half to beat the Rams 31-19, successfully defending their championship, and becoming the first time to win four Super Bowls.

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That brings us to a look at some of the shows attracting attention this week. We do have a Kirchner-Midnight Special matchup this week, but it isn't much of a contest. Don Kirshner's Rock Concert (Saturday, 1:30 a.m., WAVE) has Bob Welch, Maxine Nightingale, America, and comic Denny Johnston, while The Midnight Special (Friday, 1:00 a.m., NBC) celebrates its seventh anniversary with Captain & Tennille hosting, and past performances by Rod Stewart, Donna Summer, Steve Martin, Linda Ronstadt, Barry Manilow, the Jacksons, Willie Nelson, and Olivia Newton-John. I can't say that many of these acts float my boat, but on sheer star power, Special takes the win.

Saturday offers the kind of special programming that reminds us again that Saturday used to be a big TV night. The Love Boat (8:00 p.m., ABC) has one of those two-hour star-studded voyages that they're known for, with Loni Anderson, Eve Arden, Pam Grier, Robert Guillaume, Rich Little, Denise Nicholas, Donny Osmond, Richard Paul, Slim Pickens, Marion Ross, and Richard Roundtree. Meanwhile, CBS debuts the western The Chisholms as a weekly series (8:00 p.m.), starring Robert Preston and Rosemary Harris; it had originated as a miniseries in 1979. That's followed at 10:00 p.m. by The Beatrice Arthur Special, yet another example of a series star getting her own variety special (see Lynda Carter from last week); the "outrageous, hilarious, musical special from a multi-talented superstar" includes appearances by Rock Hudson, Melba Moore, and Wayland Flowers & Madame. I swear, this sounds like something you would have seen on SCTV.

Bob Hope is back for another of his NBC specials Monday at 9:00 p.m., celebrating the songs from Bob's career in vaudeville, on Broadway, and in radio and movies. Joining Bob are the aforementioned Bea Arthur, Debby Boone, Diahann Carroll, and Shirley Jones. (I'll bet at least the Kraft recipes are good.) Speaking of which, the Hollywood TV Teletype reports that NBC will be airing a six-hour retrospective looking at Hope's 30 years of entertaining at military bases worldwide; you'll be able to see it February 3 and 10. Tom Snyder gets out of the late-night spotlight at 10:00 p.m., with an hour of celebrity interviews; his subjects are Clint Eastwood, Bo Derek, Gary Coleman, and Barry Manilow. It's too bad the network didn't give Tom more time; he always was at his best with long-form interviews.

A Happy Days-esque series, Goodtime Girls (not to be confused with The Golden Girls or The Goodbye Girl) debuts Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. on ABC, with Annie Potts, Lorna Patterson, Georgia Engel, and Francine Tacker as four girls enduring various hardships during World War II. Worst of all—the man shortage. At 9:00 p.m., it's dueling TV-movies: CBS's GE Theater presents Once Upon a Family, starring Barry Bostwick in what Judith Crist calls "a California version of Kramer vs. Kramer," with a fine performance from Bostwick, and excellent support from Nancy Marchand as Bostwick's mother, and Marcia Strassman as his new love interest. That's up against NBC Theatre's Death Penalty, with Colleen Dewhurst as a dedicated psychologist trying to save a 15-year-old killer from the electric chair. Crist labels it "plodding, predictable and dated," and calls Dewhurst's performance "surprisingly monotoned."

Wednesday features another star-studded special (I don't know what else you'd call it), The Tenth Annual Entertainer of the Year Awards (9:00 p.m., CBS), with George Burns (in his lecherous old-man period) hosting, and starring Benji, David Copperfield, Wayland Flowers & Madame, Mitzi Gaynor, Gilda Radner, Kenny Rogers, Doc Severinsen, Red Skelton, Suzanne Somers, Donna Summer, Tanya the Elephant, Rip Taylor, Gino Vannelli, The Village People, Dottie West, and Robin Williams. For those of you keeping score at home (or even if you're just reading), that makes two appearances on shows this week by Wayland & Madame, two by Bea Arthur, two by Dottie West (she's also on Merv Griffin's show Tuesday), Gilda Radner (she was also in Saturday Night Live, which was a rerun from 1977), two by Robin Williams (including Mork & Mindy), and probably six by Doc Severinsen, if he's on all five episodes of The Tonight Show. Speaking of which, it's only the third week of the year and already Johnny's got the week off*; his guest hosts this week are Kenny Rogers on Monday (whoops—that makes two appearances for him this week as well), David Letterman on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and George Carlin on Friday. One of George's guests is Donna Summer, so she's on TV twice this week!

*Or maybe he's still off from the holidays; with him, it was always kind of hard to tell.

The highlight on Thursday is the sixth annual People's Choice Awards (9:00 p.m., CBS), hosted by Mariette Hartley, Bert Parks, and Hollywood columnist Army Archard. It's an odd pairing; Mariette's looking for James Garner, Army's looking for someone to interview, and Bert's looking for Miss America. Anyway, we can be sure that they weren't as controversial as Ricky Gervais. The thing about the People's Choice Awards is that, having been voted on by the public, they're a pretty good barometer of what's popular at the time. The TV winners: Alan Alda is the Favorite All-Around Male Entertainer, Carol Burnett the Favorite All-Around Female Entertainer, Dallas the Favorite Dramatic Show, M*A*S*H the Favorite Comedy, Hart to Hart the Favorite New Program, and its stars Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers the Favorite Performers in a New Program, and Gary Coleman as the Favorite Young TV Performer.

Friday it's the final episode of Shirley Jones's comedy-drama Shirley, ending its 13-week run. Why did a show starring the mother of The Partridge Family only last 13 weeks? Here's the description: "A recent widow moves from a big city to a small town with her three children, her stepson and her housekeeper." Perhaps that lack of imagination has something to do with it. Oh, and that means Shirley Jones was on twice this week as well! Friday night's TV movie is Mother and Daughter: The Loving War (9:00 p.m., ABC), and it makes us all feel old that the "mother" is Tuesday Weld. As Judith Crist says, "Tuesday in middle-age?" It just doesn't seem possible.

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Finally, you've read me complaining, as recently as last week, about the lack of intellectual heft of the modern TV Guide compared to, say, 1980. However, it seems as if the publishers didn't think that even this was enough.

"Panorama's informative and entertaining articles explore television and its impact on you and everything it touches. From the news to the arts. From the people to the programs. From the sports arena to the political arena. From the present to the future." Throw in the past, and that, in a nutshell, is what I try to do with this website.

Panorama only lasted 17 months, from February, 1980 to June, 1981. Walter H. Annenberg, publisher of TV Guide and Panorama, told The New York Times that ''Our subject matter proved successful in attracting advertising, but circulation results proved beyond doubt that few readers were interested in our editorial content.'' I had a chance to read one issue of Panorama, the June, 1980 issue as it turns out, and I thought it was pretty good—I wasn't into the history of television as much as I am now, although I doubt that even a subscription from me would have saved it. Fortunately, all 17 issues of Panorama have been preserved and are available here. Perhaps, when I run out of TV Guides to review, I'll start in on these and see what the future of TV looks like from the past. TV  


  1. Once again, I don't have the issue, so we're potshotting around.

    - Using the old What's My Line standard:
    The British Royal Family, separately and together, are salaried and deal in a service - said service being as goodwill ambassadors for the United Kingdom.
    The Royals do not rule the Kingdom; Parliament does that, and has done so for the last couple of centuries at least.
    Putting it more snarkily, the Windsors are fronts for the UK, symbolic at most - which I'm guessing is why the British are so protective of the family, and so rough on any who don't toe the line.
    In the case of "the Duke and Wally", it was all about keeping up appearances - royalty wasn't supposed to behave like that.
    Thus, the abdication, which was likely not Edward's idea, nor that of his BFF; nonetheless, they went with the rules, and became the World's Guests for the rest of their days.
    Some while back, I told you about Phillippe Halsman, the photographer who contributed many covers to TV Guide over the years, and of his custom of having his subjects jump into the air at the end of a session.
    As I told you then, Halsman compiled these shots in his Jump Book, which was reissued a few years back.
    I pulled it from the shelf to double-check - and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor get a double-page spread, jumping separately and together.
    It really defies description: you have to see it for yourself.
    (You should see the whole Jump Book, comes to that; one double-take after another, guaranteed.)

    - This might be a misrembering:
    At some point late in his tenure, Johnny Carson swung a part of his deal with NBC that Ed McMahon would take the same weeks off that he did; thus Ed would always have second chair while he was there.
    If this deal was in place in 1980, Doc Severinsen would definitely be in all five shows this week, since he was designated backup announcer for Tonight.

    - When TV Guide announced the launch of Panorama, I became a charter subscriber.
    Sad to say, I don't have any of the issues to hand; these fell victim to pesky clean-up campaigns by those I was living with at the time.
    My memories of Panorama are that it was very much worth the effort that was put into it; Walter Annenberg took a lot of pride in this magazine, justifiably so.
    That it didn't catch on was reputedly one of the reasons that Annenberg retired from publishing altogether (I may have the exact timing wrong, but his disenchantment with the business probably dated from this time).

  2. Re: 'Tonight Show' vacation schedules:
    Ed began taking the same weeks off as Johnny later in 1980, when Johnny's new contract kicked in, and the show dropped from 90 to 60 minutes.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!