February 24, 2020

What's on TV? Saturday, February 23, 1980

Sometimes I think I don't pay enough attention to the weekend listings. In truth, if we were to sort through the 281 previous "What's on TV?" features, we'd probably find that Saturdays and Sundays are represented just as often as any other day of the week. (We'd probably also find that we have far too much free time on our hands.) In this case, looking at Saturday's listings was an obvious choice since we just looked at a 1980 issue last month. Trust me, the weekday daytime programs haven't changed that much in a month. Today's listings, which give us a nice mix of shows, movies and sports, comes from the Kentucky issue, which includes Cincinnati.

February 22, 2020

This week in TV Guide: February 23, 1980

The Winter Olympics come to a conclusion this weekend in Lake Placid, New York, and of course that means the Miracle on Ice. When you ask people what that means to them, assuming they care anything about the 1980 Winter Olympics, they'll say the U.S. hockey team's 4-3 victory over the Soviet Union. And yet, miracle though it may have been, that victory only gets them into the final game, against Finland on Sunday morning; by winning that game 4-2, Team USA takes the gold medal, and earns a place not just in sporting history, but American history as well.

I've often wondered, though, how history would have been different had the U.S. lost that last game. It's not far-fetched; Finland led 2-1 in the third period before the U.S. rallied, and hockey is the most mercurial of sports. It would hardly have been a stretch to see the U.S. follow up that landmark win over the Soviets by losing to Finland; in fact, with the Iranian hostage crisis in full flower and the country in the grip of a malaise (according to President Carter), one might say that such a result could have been expected. It's to the credit of the players and especially coach Herb Brooks that the inevitable letdown didn't cost the Americans the gold medal.

Was the victory over the Soviets more important than winning the gold medal? It's easy to say that it was, since that's the game that people remember, but certainly, if not tarnished, it would have come with an asterisk; due to the complicated nature of the round-robin medal round, the loss could have knocked the U.S. out of the medals altogether. The players on that team would have been admired, but not revered. In fact, the memory of the victory over the Soviets probably would have become painful, an example of what-if. It would have been a footnote rather than a headline; Kurt Russell and Karl Malden would never have played Herb Brooks, and Al Michaels never would have had the chance to shout, "Do you believe in miracles?" as the clock ran out in the Finland game. Would Michaels have would up becoming a broadcasting legend?

The pertinent questions were answered with the U.S. victory on Sunday morning. Combined with the five gold medals won by speed skater Eric Heiden, the United States finished third in the total medal count. It was one of the last Winter Olympics to be held the same year as the Summer games, and one of the last to hold to a 12-day schedule before the Winter games followed the bloated schedule of the Summer games. It was a nostalgic return to Lake Placid, the small New York town that had hosted the 1932 Winter Olympics, and remains, for those with a good memory, one of the best-remembered and best-loved games.

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The first-in-the-nation New Hampshire Primary is Tuesday night, with all three networks providing coverage after the late local news, and as was the case with the Olympic hockey team, the real story actually begins earlier.

When last we checked in on the battle for the Republican nomination, we were in Iowa, where George Bush had scored a surprising victory over Ronald Reagan. That led to the one-on-one debate between Reagan and Bush in New Hampshire, coming just three days before Tuesday's primary, which culminates in the famous "I am paying for this microphone" moment that galvanizes Reagan's campaign, puts an end to Bush's momentum, and results in a decisive victory for Reagan in New Hampshire. Reagan doesn't forget the fiasco in Iowa, however; as soon as the New Hampshire results are in, he shakes up his campaign staff, including sacking his campaign manager, John Sears (who, if I remember correctly, had wanted to run a safe, risk-free campaign that didn't allow Reagan to be Reagan).

Less well-remembered, perhaps, is that President Carter faces a primary challenge of his own, from Senator Ted Kennedy. Kennedy gets off on the wrong foot due to a disastrous interview with Roger Mudd, and he is routed in both Iowa and New Hampshire by Carter. The nomination is never really in doubt after that, and Kennedy's famous refusal to pose with Carter on the convention podium is a portent of things to come.

Speaking of which, when we considered how things might have been if the U.S. had lost that game against Finland, could it have affected the presidential race? I'm not sure about that, but there are those who believe the U.S. defeat of the Soviets may have subconsciously created a sense that the Soviets were beatable, that their domination of Eastern Europe was not inevitable after all—which is what Reagan had been saying all along. Who knows? To coin a phrase, I report; you decide.

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On weeks when we can, we'll match up two of the biggest rock shows of the '70s, NBC's The Midnight Special and the syndicated Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, and see who's better, who's best.

Kirshner: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Chic, David Johansen, the Village People, REO Speedwagon, and comic Jay Leno.

Special: Fleetwood Mac, Barry Manilow, Queen, Helen Reddy, the Byrds, Gary Wright, Wolfman Jack.

Let's get this much out of the way up front; the week is a pushfor me, the negatives on each show outweigh the positives. But let's not get into that; what interests me here is the longevity of these acts. Fleetwood Mac: still around (albeit after a few reunions and some cast changes); Queen: still around (with a new lead singer); Jay Leno: still around (if not on The Tonight Show). Barry Manilow: still around (even though we may not have asked for him). REO Speedwagon: still around (part of the lucrative seniors rock tour). Even the Village People still sing about the YMCA (although only one original member still remains), and I have no doubt that Tom Petty would still be touring if not for the  inconvenient fact that he's dead.

Now, consider that this TV Guide is 40 years old (and that Midnight Special episode was originally shown in 1977), and yet, most of these acts are still around. And they're by no means alone in this durabilitythe Stones, for instance, go back even further, and they're going to be starting a new tour. Frankly, I'm not sure what this means: could be it's a testament to the timelessness of classic rock; on the other hand, it might be evidence of creative stagnation in contemporary music. But here's an experiment for you: as you read through this today, and look at the TV listings from this issue on Monday, keep track of the actors and actresses on the big shows of February, 1980, and see how many of them are still acting, still starring in their own series, still relevant in today's entertainment world. I wonder what we'll find out.

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The late John Simon was probably one of the most polarizing critics of recent history; his brutal takedowns of movies, plays and books make Judith Crist's harshest criticisms look tame by comparison. That I have three volumes of Simon's collected reviews on my bookshelf probably says as much about me as it does about what Simon says.*


This week he takes a look at the BBC's landmark project to adapt all 37 of Shakespeare's plays,which kicks off its second season with Twelfth Night (Wednesday, 8:00 p.m., PBS). Simon's of two minds about this, the two minds being "Democrat" and "Elitist." The democrat in him celebrates how "the great playwright is finally reaching the audience for which he wrote: the peopleall of them." The elitist responds that "even assuming that these productions were decentwhich I don't think that the 'Romeo and Juliet' was; and the 'Measure for Measure,' 'As you Like It' and 'Julius Caesar' were scarcely betteris 'decent' good enough for a work of genius? And is television a good enough medium for the world's greatest poetic drama and dramatic poetry?"

As the dialogue goes on, it becomes clear what Simon means when he talks about whether or not TV is "good enough." For one thing, the intimacy of TV, the way it places you on the stage itself rather than in the audience, shatters the illusion that you experience in the theater. "If you can see all too clearly that Romeo is a chubby Teddy Boy and Juliet a sweet little Plain Jane, without even the compensation of remarkable acting, the romance gets lost. On-stage, distance and makeup can help older and better actors look right for the parts."* He's also not wonders if Shakespeare on TV is too easy for the viewer; "I am not sure that a masterpiece that drops readily into our laps, that requires no sacrifices, can ever be fully appreciated." Watching the Bard at home leads to too many visual distractions; "Shakespeare needs the sheer size he gets from the stage or the big screen."

*A valid point, one that the opera world has discovered with the rise of HD transmissions in movie theaters. It's no longer good enough to sing the role; you have to look it as well.

Simon also makes a shrewd point about how television puts the viewer at the mercy of the actor. What does he mean by this? A poor performance "can to some extent be palliated in the theater, where the spectator frames his view as his eye chooses, not as the TV director decides to frame a shot." And if the performance is really bad, "it becomes too easy to flip the dial or turn the damned thing off."

That's not to say that television has nothing to offer. Simon's democratic side points to the ability to use the natural world as a backdrop (rather than a painted background or obvious prop), or how TV "allows the sword fights in "Romeo" to be more real and terrifying than they can ever be on stage." Simon's elitist side counters that too much realism detracts from and overwhelms the play itself,  To which the democrat replies, "Those are all arguments of a perfectionist who belongs in Utopia, not in this imperfect world." Is it not true that "half of a loaf is still vastly preferable to a perfect but unattainable whole"?

In the end, that's where Simon seems to come down: while the complete televised Shakespeare "may be only a partial and dubious blessing to sophisticated viewers," the majority will derive "pleasure, profit and perhaps even the stimulus to sit down and read and ponder the texts."

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Big news in the world of news: Walter Cronkite will be stepping down as anchor of the CBS Evening News in favor of Dan Rather. Rather has been the subject of intense interest from NBC and, especially, ABC; Roone Arledge reportedly offered Rather $1.5 million a year to make the jump. I remember at the time there was speculation that CBS, desperate to keep Rather at the network, had eased Cronkite out of the anchor desk; TV Guide reporters Sally Bedell and John Weisman say only that "when the seriousness of ABC's offer was discovered, CBS executives asked Cronkite to decide when he would retire, and were able to give Rather a firm offer" for five years and $8 million. Is that the real story? One of my Christmas gifts last year was Douglas Brinkley's Cronkite biography; maybe I'll find the answer there.

If John Simon has talked you out of watching Shakespeare on Wednesday, you might want to try the Grammy Awards (9:00 p.m., CBS), hosted by Kenny Rogers. TV Guide calls this "one of the most entertaining of the awards shows," which tells you how old this issue is. Another indication: the nominees. For example, in the category of "Best New Artist," the nominees are The Blues Brothers, Dire Straits, Rickie Lee Jones, The Knack, and Robin Williams; while the battle for "Record of the Year" comes down to "After the Love Has Gone" (Earth, Wind & Fire), "The Gambler" (Kenny Rogers), "I Will Survive" (Gloria Gaynor), "What a Fool Believes" (Doobie Brothers); and "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" (Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand). Rickie Lee Jones and the Doobies are the winners in those two categories, in case you're curious, and Billy Joel's "52nd Street" wins Album of the Year. Wednesday also sees the conclusion of Edward and Mrs. Simpson (8:00 p.m., syndicated); I wrote more about that series when it premiered.

The three-part miniseries Scruples, starring Lindsay Wagner and Barry Bostwick, is the centerpiece of CBS's schedule this week, airing on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday nights at 9:00 p.m. Whoops, I didn't mean to demean it by calling it a miniseries; the ads refer to it as "A CBS Movie Spectacular." And you can get ready for Scruples by watching She's a Good Skate, Charlie Brown (8:00 p.m. Monday, CBS), another of the subpar (in my opinion) Peanuts specials of the late '70s and '80s.

And, since it's the month for thinking of loved ones, just remember that nothing says love quite like a subscription to TV Guide. The two most honest men in American history, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, cannot tell a lie, so you can believe them when they offer you a no-risk, 37-issue subscription at the rock-bottom price of only $13.95. That's only $13.95 for 37 action-packed issues of the nation's #1 magazine! Or, if you want to hedge your bets, you can try 26 issues for the introductory price of just $9.87! Can you believe it?

A one-year subscription to today's version of TV Guide costs just $20, plus you get a free Organizer Tote and a Classic Covers calendar! Mind you, TV Guide is only published every other week, you don't get your local TV listings, and instead of incisive articles on the issues of the day you get fan-mag profiles of today's hottest celebrities. But, hey, free calendar! TV   

February 21, 2020

Around the dial

One of these days I'm going to hold a contest for you all to come up with the best caption/story behind the pictures I use in this feature each week. It doesn't matter what the real meaning of the picture is; take this week's, for example. I have no idea what the context is, but whatever it is, I'm confident that you can come up with a better, more entertaining one. For our classic TV bloggers out there, it should be no trouble at all.

One of the things I like best about Rick's movie reviews at Classic Film & TV Café is that they can make me want to watch a movie I've never considered before. Take Hour of the Gun, director John Sturgess' follow-up to The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. It boasts a stellar cast, including James Garner in a rare straight dramatic role, and dwells in the aftermath of an event that became part of American history.

Staying in the Western genre, Television's New Frontier: The 1960s takes measure of Whispering Smith, the 1961 Audie Murphy Western that I reviewed myself a while back. I think the series made a more positive impression on me than it did at New Frontier, but there's some fascinating insider and behind-the-scenes information on this single-season series. I wonder if I can interest Eventually Supertrain in this.

Audie Murphy was a tough guy indeed, but so was Robert Conrad, and David has a very nice appreciation of Conrad's career at Comfort TV. The man has a lot of credits, and even in the shows and movies that were, shall we say, less than memorable, he almost always rose about his material.

Speaking of appreciation, you'll know from my TV Guide reviews how much I appreciate the rip jobs that Judith Crist would write about a particularly bad Saturday Night at the Movies feature. (There were a couple of good ones last week, in fact.) Therefore, you can't be surprised that I thoroughly enjoyed (and agreed with) the trashing of the PBS series Sandotin, based on the unfinished novel by Jane Austen, at The Flaming Nose. My wife, who loves Austen, wouldn't go near this.

Finally, on Wednesday I wrote about a rather critical review of The Andy Griffith Show, which generated a good number of interesting comments. One of the best came from BDHarrell, who linked to a very, very funny spoof from Spy magazine titled "The Truth About My Three Sons."  If you don't read any other link from today's roundup (and, really, you should read them all), read this one. I think you'll be glad you did. TV  

February 19, 2020

The Andy Griffith Show: Unsuitable for children?

A couple of years ago, I linked to an essay in one of our weekly "Around the Dial" features; it's called "The Decline and Fall of The Andy Griffith Show, the premise being that the author didn't think ole Andy and his Mayberry friends were "safe" for his children to watch. I didn't have much to say at the time other than that I thought he was overthinking the whole thing; in fact, I'd forgotten all about it, but a repost of the essay appeared on Facebook a few weeks ago, and I thought it was time to take a closer look at it.

The author is Joseph Pearce, British expat, Catholic author, and theological and social critic, and as you can see from his Wikipedia biography he's lived quite a remarkable life. I didn't mention his name back then, because, frankly, he's more famous than I am and I didn't think he needed the publicity. Although Pearce had been no stranger to American sitcoms growing up in England, The Andy Griffith Show was one that had escaped his attention until moving here, "at which point I became aware that it held an affectionate and nostalgic place in the hearts of many Americans."

Joseph Pearce, reading about—you guessed it.
Even then, he didn't pay much attention to the show, which his wife introduced into the family viewing schedule as something "safe" for the children. "And it was only over the past few weeks, while watching several episodes with our nine-year-old daughter, that I have come to realize that this iconic expression of American culture is not as 'safe' or wholesome as I had thought."

Let me interrupt at this point to disclose that I've never been a particular fan, either of Andy Griffith or The Andy Griffith Show. I realize that puts me in the minority among classic television fans, but it's one of those "your mileage may vary" moments. Nonetheless, even though the show's charms escape me, I've never thought of Mayberry as anything less than wholesome. So what's up? I'll let Pearce explain it in his own words:

The problem lies in the fact that the Mayberry that we see in the first few seasons is systematically undermined so that by the seventh and eighth seasons it has ceased to exist in all but the dereliction of its name, the iconic image of idyllic and idealized small-town America having been desecrated and destroyed by the iconoclasm of sixties’ ideological hedonism. What is presented over the eight years and more than 200 episodes is the demise of Mayberry and all that it represents. What we witness and experience is its decay and disintegration, and ultimately its death. This was brought home to me after I watched several episodes from the first season, in which I basked in the almost prelapsarian warmth of the benign sun that shines forth on the idealized simplicity of the small and beautiful world in which Sheriff Andy Taylor lives, and then, immediately afterwards, I watched an episode from the seventh season* in which the ideal had been swept away by sixties “progressive” preachiness. In this later episode the simple but sagacious Sheriff of earlier seasons has become an emasculated shadow of his former self, passively embracing the feminist modernism of the female protagonist as she undermines traditional values at Mayberry’s high school, encouraging her students to usher in the forthcoming summer of “love,” which would lead to the loveless loneliness of postmodernist alienation. And thus the timeless moral verities that had formed the solid foundation of Mayberry had succumbed to the quicksand quagmire of relativism, sinking without trace into the desert of the urbanized wasteland. And all with Sheriff Andy’s approval.

*"The Senior Play," first broadcast November 14, 1966

Pearce goes on to compare "the idealized world of Mayberry with the idealized world of Hobbiton, the home of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins in Tolkien’s mythical Shire." In many ways, they reflect the same values, "an ideal to which the better part of ourselves wishes to aspire, an inkling of a perfection to which, paradoxically, all our imperfections point, the latter being merely the perceived lack of the former." There is, however, a difference. More Pearce:

Whereas Mayberry suffers the scourge of modernism, succumbing to its sweet-tasting poison and thereby ceasing to be, the Shire suffers the same modernist scourge but is scoured and restored to health. After the hobbits return home from their quest, they discover that their beloved homeland had succumbed to industrialization and the crass materialism and big government socialism that is its consequence. Instead of capitulating and moving with the times, as does Sheriff Andy, they fight with indomitable courage to defeat the modernist enemy and to heal the culture which had been contaminated by it. The Shire is scoured; it is cleansed and purged.

Pearce's conclusion suggests that Mayberry has become a victim of a certain sort of nihilism; "[I]f we believe that there is nothing but decay we can expect nothing but death. This is the deadly price of decadence. If, however, we believe that the very heart of life is love, and that love is inseparable from a dying to ourselves, we will see that this sort of death always leads to resurrection. If we truly learn to love our neighbours and to love our neighbourhoods, laying down our lives for them in the spiritual death which is the essence of love, we can scour the Shire and rekindle the vision of human dignity which makes Mayberry feel like home." Or, in the parlance of the Sixties, "All you need is love."

Now, far be it from me to criticize anyone for introducing postmodernism, iconoclasm and relativism to the world of classic television; I'm certainly not an anti-intellectual, since I'm prone to discussing existentialism myself. Still, on rereading Pearce's essay, my reaction now is the same as it was two years ago: I think he's overthinking things. Perhaps the show's later seasons do lack the "prelapsarian warmth" of the early episodes, but is this due to "the quicksand quagmire of relativism," or is it more a case of the writers running out of ideas, and trying desperately to make the series relevant in a culture that was rapidly evolving out of control?

It's not surprising that Pearce invokes Tolkien and the Hobbit stories, given that one of the books he's authored is Tolkien: Man and Myth. Nevertheless, he comes across as one of those guys you meet at a party—you know, that guy who knows everything about one particular subject, and finds a way to work it into the conversation no matter what you're talking about. It could be the presidential election, the weather, the Super Bowl; you can be sure he's somehow going to steer it back to Tolkien. And don't misunderstand me; I consider myself second to none in my admiration for the works of Tolkien. I love the Hobbit stories, especially when Orson Bean plays one of them. But, just as the case of that guy at the party, pretty soon you just start to tune him out, and I think it was at this point that Pearce lost me.

I'm only too willing to grant that Pearce is right in much of what he says about the underlying message being delivered in "The Senior Play." The question is this: for those viewers less learned than Pearce, would they have the same takeaways at the end of the episode? And if we're going to talk about Mayberry in such a hyperrealistic way, how can we overlook the racial component? Let's face it: Mayberry is in the heart of the South (is it North Carolina? I've always thought so, for some reason), which in the Sixties wasn't exactly the most racially harmonious part of the country. What Pearce sees as "idyllic and idealized small-town America" looks quite different to progressive writer Ta-Nehisi Coats, who quotes his friend Brooke: "And as we all know--we all know this, right?--a 'simpler time' is shorthand for a time when white people didn't have to think about whether they were treating nonwhite people (or women) like humans. As Brooke said, it was mostly the 'good old boys' who still clung to the ideals of Mayberry." Apparently, when it comes to this small town, you're damned if you do, damned if you don't. Maybe we should just forget the whole damned town of Mayberry altogether.

As you can see, I'm somewhat conflicted about all this. I kind of agree with Pearce but not completely, and there's maybe something about his manner and reasoning that sort of turns me off. But, as I admitted at the beginning, I'm not a fan of the show. I'm sure many of you out there are. So let me put the question to you: is Pearce right? Would you let your kids watch The Andy Griffith Show? Or does its "decline and fall" mirror the disintegration of American culture in general; is it, does it, in fact, precipitate the decline? Share your experiences in the comments, and tell me what you think. TV  

February 17, 2020

What's on TV? Friday, February 21, 1969

I don't think it's a secret to any of you that my favorite issues are from the Twin Cities; we have a history, the Cities and me. That's probably why I enjoy these occasional excursions into other parts of the country; it gives me an idea of the shows we were missing back home. For instance, without TV Guide I would never have known that Donald O'Connor hosted his own variety show (8:30 p.m., WKBS), just as past issues introduced me to similar programs with Allen Ludden and Tom Kennedy. (I don't count the time I spent in the World's Worst Town™; you could probably put together an entire issue with nothing but the shows we didn't get there.) This week's issue, for the record, is from Philadelphia.

February 15, 2020

This week in TV Guide: February 15, 1969

This city of Chicago runs the city of Prague a close second right now as the world's least attractive tourist attraction." Now, before you get upset with me, I didn't say this; as a matter of fact, I rather like Chicago, even though it's one of the most violent and corrupt cities in the country, if not the world. No, these words come from CBS commentator Eric Sevareid, in the buildup to the 1968 Democratic Convention, and they set the tone for Neil Hickey's article, the second of four parts, on "Television in Turmoil"—in this case, the networks defending themselves against charges of bias and distortion in their coverage of the convention.

And they can use all the help they can get. As we saw a while back, the media were united as seldom before in their opposition to the violence and police abuse that they had witnessed (and, in some cases, experienced personally) during the "Battle of Chicago," only to find that the great majority of Americans were siding against them, and with Mayor Daley and his police. They're now being called upon by the FCC to answer the many letters of complaint received about their coverage, and in their defense they point out that a relatively small percentage of their overall convention coverage was devoted to the more violent moments. ABC, for example, points out that with their limited coverage (90 minutes per night), only 13 minutes and 49 seconds concerned the violence between police and demonstrators. Additionally, ABC counted William F. Buckley Jr. among their commentators, and both he and ABC newsman Howard K. Smith were strongly critical of the demonstrators. NBC had perhaps the cheekiest response, telling the FCC that many viewers simply had "forgotten instances of reporting which contradict their conclusions, while recalling only selectively or inaccurately to suit an argument." (Doubtless those same viewers probably felt the same way about the NBC,) CBS, meanwhile, criticized the limits set up by the Chicago police, "restraints upon the freedom of movement and technical resources of television . . . which have never before been imposed on the medium."

ABC's explanation may be the best: the events were so "inherently inflammatory," and "people identified so passionately with one side or the other, that no matter how these events were treated by the news media, there would inevitably have been criticism of the news coverage." However, Hickey concludes, that explanation has pleased nobody, neither "private citizen nor public official who was convinced that television behaved with partisan bad manners in Chicago last August and ought to be restrained from ever doing so again."

What's the moral of the story? For the news media, Chicago 1968 was an existential crisis, the first time they'd been confronted with the possibility they were out of touch with the views of the public, and many media people wondered if that might not in fact be the case. The question of media bias is rising, through the coverage of civil rights, Vietnam, the convention, and national protests, and it's only going to get more pointed with the outspoken speeches of Vice President Agnew. And, judging by what we read and hear today, the argument shows no signs of dissipating. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

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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: Tentatively scheduled guests: Arthur Godfrey; singers Caterina Valente and the Young Americans; the rocking Blood, Sweat and Tears; comedians Rodney Dangerfield, and Fiore and Eldridge; and juggler Eric Brenn.

Palace: Host Milton Berle welcomes Steve Allen, Jayne Meadows, Mel Tormé, singers Dana Valery and Leland Palmer, and comedian Jerry Collins.

This matchup could go either way. I think Sullivan has a deeper lineup, but I like the way Palace starts out strong with Steverino, Jayne, and the Velvet Fog. And anyway, this isn't about which lineup is better, it's about which one I like the best, and I think this week I prefer Hollywood over New York. Palace wins the week.

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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. 

Before Brian Lamb and Booknotes on C-SPAN, there was a program on NET, a much-loved program called Book Beat, hosted by Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Cromie, in which Cromie interviews an author about his latest book. Now, there's nothing particularly new about authors being interviewed about their books, though rarely for a half hour. Johnny and Merv and Joey do it all the time. And this doesn't always make for the best television since, as Cleveland Amory points out, authors make for difficult interviewees: "All too often he exhibits that one unpardonable combination—nervousness and ego together. A man becomes an author, Somerset Maugham once said, because he is the kind of man who things of what he should have said on the way home from the party. We have often thought of that line as we watched some interview program and saw some author mumbling along."

(As an author myself, I'm probably not the best one to talk about the accuracy of this statement. It is true, I will admit, that many of my best retorts come post facto, when I become hilarious and erudite in the eyes of an audience of one. In my defense, however, as well as the defense of authors everywhere, I should note that the only important thing about coming up with the right thing to say is being able to remember it long enough to write it down. This I am usually able to do.)

What makes Bob Cromie, and Book Beat, different is this: not only does Cromie read every book that he discusses on the show, he proceeds from the assumption that his viewers are as interested in these books as he is. This makes a big difference. It also helps that Cromie knows his role on the show. For instance, notes Cleve, a recent program with Marc Connelly (Voices off Stage) required him to do little more than provide the punctuation for Connelly's nonstop stories. On the other hand, when interviewing Norman Mailer (Miami and the Streets of Chicago), Cromie's job was to "grin and bear it" in the face of Mailer's relentless negativity, and he did it so well that, Amory says, "at the end Mr. Mailer was actually likable."

Most memorable, perhaps, was an interview with Elie Wiesel (Legends of Our Time), in which Cromie's simple question, "You are, I believe, a survivor of Auschwitz?" was enough to "open the floodgates of one of the most memorable interviews we have ever heard." So memorable was it that Cleve dispenses with his clever bon mots and puns, in favor of quoting Wiesel's poignant words about the Holocaust. When asked how many of his family died in Auschwitz, Wiesel replies, "Dozens. Dozens and dozens and dozens. In each of my books I give life to one member of my family. In one book my father, in another my grandfather, in another my little sister. I try to bring them in and give them some kind of monument. In words, not stone—there is no stone." That, I think, is what it means to be an author, and also what it means to be interviewed by a pro.

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The Americanization of Emily is generally considered one of James Garner's best movies; with a script by Paddy Chayefsky, it combines the easygoing charm of Garner and co-star Julie Andrews with the savage satire and biting wit of Chayefsky's other hits, including The Hospital and Network. (In fact, both Garner and Andrews considered it their personal favorite of all the movies they acted in.) Its anti-war message was controversial in its time, however, and we get a hint of that in Judith Crist's review (Thursday, 9:00 p.m. ET, CBS). "[This week's] pretension is in The Americanization of Emily, an "almost" movie in that it almost gets where it thinks it's going before it changes its mind  and gets nowhere. Blame the fuzzy-minded and phrase-gimmicked screenplay extolling cowardice because heroics and heroism immorally support and encourage war. James Garner is simply unbelievable as the antihero and Julie Andrews is charming, but Emily barely gets her first papers.

If you think that's a bad review, though, wait until you get to her take on The Carpetbaggers (Sunday, 9:00 p.m., ABC). "Five years ago this screen version of Harold Robbins' foray into poor man's pornography was noteworthy for its being dull and dreary soap opera decked out with near-incest, nymphomania, alcoholism, prostitution, blackmail, big-business dirty-dealing and some antique theorizing about hereditary insanity. Since these are now the everyday stuff of entertainment, we're left only with the dull and dreary. The movie grossed millions because people paid to see if it was as smutty as the book. It wasn't." Ouch!

Lest you think all is negative, there's "one of Hollywood's best movie musicals," Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Friday, 9:00 p.m., CBS), directed by Stanley Donen and choreographed by Michael Kidd, and staring Howard Keel and Jane Powell. "The fresh humor of the plotting is irresistible and the dancing—particularly a barn-raising and rough-house sequence—still stands beyond compare." I know it's one of my wife's favorites, but I can't help but think about this version.

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College basketball is the big winner in this week's sports scene, highlighted by the famous Palestra doubleheaders that have been such a big part of the Philadelphia basketball scene for so many years. On Wednesday night it's Seton Hall vs. St. Joseph's, followed by Duquesne vs. LaSalle; Friday it's Brown vs. Penn and Detroit vs. LaSalle. Both nights begin at 7:00 p.m. on WPHL. While some of these colleges may be obscure in the big-time scene nowadays, Eastern basketball was big-time back in the 1950s and 1960s, when the NCAA tournament had maybe 22 teams and each conference could only send one team.

There's also golf this week; the PGA Tour event is the Phoenix Open (5:00 p.m. Sunday, ABC), and the made-for-TV shows include the CBS Golf Classic (4:00 p.m. Saturday) and Shell's Wonderful World of Golf (Saturday, 5:00 p.m., NBC). With their big names and color footage of some of the world's greatest golf courses, I think these shows had more to do with the growth of golf than the actual tournaments. The NHL Game of the Week gives us the Boston Bruins against the Black Hawks at Chicago (Sunday, 2:30 p.m., CBS), and the Flyers are on local TV, taking on the Blues in St. Louis Wednesday at 9:00 on WKBS.

Also on Wednesday, it's the second annual Academy of Professional Sports Awards, live from Hollywood (10:00 p.m., NBC). Last year, the host was Johnny Carson; this year, the honors go to Perry Como. I haven't been able to find out too much about these awards; I know there were several awards of this type around this time (the Victor Awards, for example), but I don't see any evidence of this outfit beyond this year.

And if none of these float your boat, there's ABC's Pro Bowlers Tour Saturday at 3:00 p.m., followed by Wide World of Sports, featuring figure skating and the World Figure-Eight Stock Car Championships at Islip, New York—always a favorite. Remember these?

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Raymond Burr has moved out of the courtroom and into a wheelchair, as the star of Ironside. In fact, I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that, despite the supporting cast, Burr, virtually through an act of will, is the show. And in this interview with Edith Efron, he shows how similar the character is to the man.

Efron begins by looking back, to Burr's portrayal of Perry Mason, to find how the actor inhabits a role—or, more accurately, how he creates it. Speaking of Mason, Burr says he wasn't given much to work with: "Erle Stanley Gardner did not create a character with spiritual qualities." But Mason, like Robert Ironside, "is something like doing a Greek tragedy. You already know what the end will be. Because the action is schematized and predictable, the whole concentration must be on qualities of character. I had to project these qualities, these values, from the inside."

So what, Efron asks, does it take for an actor to portray a hero? "It's harder to play a hero than a heavy. It requires the ability to project honesty and truth, to project great moral purity. A certain subtle quality of evil can prevent an actor from conveying the purity required for a heroic lead." When Efron asks if, then, Burr lacks that quality of evil and has that purity, he replies "I didn't say that." Even though, implicitly, he did.

Because of the values he projects, Efron says, Burr "has gotten more than respect. He is the object of moral adulation by an incredible legion of human beings in 71 countries—where the Perry Mason show is breaking international records for inspiring devotion, as it did for so long in this country." He inspires awe in fellow actors, and even fear. Says an old friend, "Those eyes—they seem to go right through you to the core. He looks—and you've had it. He affects a lot of people that way."

Raymond Burr is something of a contradiction. He's an intensely private person, and yet to a great degree the man you see on the screen, regardless of the role, is Raymond Burr. He tells Efron a curious thing: "I never lie. I don't say all there is to say about myself. But I never lie. And I hate being lied to." Well, we know that he has lied, about his life and his background, though there's no evidence that it was ever done for personal gain, but simply to help create that barrier around him. (And in fairness, a number of the "lies" are simply conclusions drawn by others based on things he's said.)

This isn't the first article TV Guide has done on Burr, and it won't be the last. But no matter how many times we read about him, he continues to be more and more fascinating, even as we find we never get any closer to knowing him.

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I don't really know what to make of the show I'm about to mention. It's a special called Children's Letters to God (Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC), hosted by Gene Kelly and by our old favorite, Dr. Frank Buxton, and based on the best-seller by Stuart Hample and Eric Marshall. From the description, I think it's supposed to be a humorous half-hour, kind of like those bits that Johnny Carson used to do where he'd read Thanksgiving recipes from children. ("Put the turkey in the oven at 1,000 degrees for 10 minutes.") The letters were written by kids in Sunday school, and put to animation by Bill Melendez Associates, the folks responsible for the Peanuts specials.*

*Of which there just happens to be one this week, He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown, Thursday at 7:30 p.m. on CBS.

Some of these letters are pretty funny: "Dear God, Why did you make worms and things? I know you must have had a reason, but I hope it was a good one," reads an unsigned one, while Frank writes, "Dear God, I saw St. Patrick Church last week when we went to New York. You live in a nice house." The program description notes that a child may write about "anything—slum conditions, a show-business career or a distaste for [as we saw] crawly creatures." The letters are described as whimsical and touching, and there's something quite poignant about how these children share with God so freely and openly, about whatever happens to be on their mind, as if they were talking with a friend or parent—and that's the way it should be.

At the same time, I get the feeling there's something far more existential buried in this idea, especially considering when this show was made. I'm drawn back to that memorable 1968 Mister Rogers episode in which Daniel Striped-Tiger asks about assassination. Was there a letter from a child asking, "Dear God, Why do bad people kill good people? Or are they not really bad?" What about a letter like, "Dear God, Why did you make things like War? And why did my daddy die?" And, of course, we're right in the middle of the counterculture revolution; I wonder if anyone would have written, "Dear God, My older sister says you're dead. Is that true?" Maybe a Jewish child would have asked a question about the Holocaust, like Elie Wiesel. I realize that this all sounds terribly depressing, or at the very least like something that The Onion would have come up with. But there was great desperation taking hold of America at the end of the Sixties, and no wonder: war, race, poverty, sex, drugs, divorce. Children must have been frightened by it all, it also seems quite natural that this would have been a deeper, more reflective program than it is.

And then there's how a show like this looks from today's perspective. I know that these kinds of programs are still done by people like Steve Harvey, and books like this one are still written. (The original authors themselves wrote additional volumes.) But there's a segment of the population out there, the people who despise any kind of religion, and they probably equate Sunday school with some form of child abuse, or scoff at the naivety of these children that they actually believe in something as foolish as God. Certainly the East and West Coasts are far too sophisticated for this kind of sentimental claptrap. Seriously, could you air a program like this today? It seems to be a relic not just from another era, but another world.

That's why I say that I'm not quite sure what to make of this program. I look at the title and I see something that's probably completely different from what the program actually was. I look at the books with their brightly colored covers, and read the earnest letters written in a kid's handwriting, and I understand what they're going for. Then I look back at the title again: Children's Letters to God. There is something so very stark about that, don't you think? "Dear God, Please get me and my family out of this place." "Dear God, I pray every night. Do you hear me?" Maybe one like "Dear God, Thank you for the food we have every day," or "Dear God, Thanks for bringing my mom home from the hospital." Were there letters like those too? Why is there suffering? Why did my dog have to die? Kids ask these kinds of questions, and I think the answers would have been quite moving, as well as inspiring.

I know, I know; reading too much into something again. Still, a version of this program on Lamp Unto My Feet or Look Up and Live might have been interesting; Fred Rogers would certainly know how to do it. As the world seemed to crumble before our very eyes, it would have reminded us just Who holds it all together. TV  

February 14, 2020

Around the dial

We’ll start off this week with a shameless self-promotion for the latest episode of Eventually Supertrain, in which I join Dan Budnick to discuss our favorite topic of conversation, Bourbon Street Beat, And don’t miss Dan and Amanda talking about Masquerade—plus a surprise!

Speaking of podcasts, Ed Robertson’s TV Confidential is always recommended, and in his latest episode, he welcomes actress and director Michelle Danner, and pays tribute to Robert Conrad and Kirk Douglas.

Jodie returns to Garroway at Large with video links to a 1962 science series that Dave Garroway hosted for NET after having left Today. Titled “Exploring the Universe,” it’s further proof of the relentlessly inquisitive and eclectic Garroway, and it comes to us courtesy of the American Archive of Public Broadcasting, which has a growing collection of programs dating back to the early days of national educational television.

Of Late I Think of Cliffordsville” is the episode up for review at The Twilight Zone Vortex, and as Jordan tells us, it’s another one of those nasty time-travel stories that reminds us the past is seldom the way we remember it. Oh, and did I mention that it also features the Devil? Take it from me, this is not going to turn out well.

On Wednesday I wrote of Orson Bean, who died last week; Inner Toob shares a retrospective of Bean as well (and how could I have failed to mention his memorable performance as Mr. Bevis in The Twilight Zone?), along with some personal remembrances. And while you’re at it, check out A Shroud of Thoughts for Terence’s wonderful look at Bean’s career. Bean once said that he was someone famous simply for being famous, which as Terence says, is far from the truth. It’s clear that Bean’s career touched a great many people

At Cult TV, John dips into the world of Monty Python with “The War Against Pornography,” an episode that demonstrates how even (especially?) comedy can give us a shrewd (and hilarious) insight into the times from which it comes. Now that I think about it, “especially” is probably the right word.

We all have things in life that give us great pleasure, although we’d be hard-pressed to say why. In the case of our friend David at Comfort TV, it’s the 1977 series Magic Mongo, a production of Sid and Marty Krofft. I have no memory whatsoever of this show, which I’m perfectly willing to blame on the World’s Worst Town™.

The Hitchcock Project continues at bare•bones e-zine, and this week Jack takes us to the sixth Hitchcock episode written by Sterling Silliphant, “The Canary Sedan,” with Jessica Tandy and Murray Matheson. As always, it’s fascinating to find out how the scriptwriter adapts a short story into a teleplay—what he adds and subtracts, alters or changes outright, and the effect it has on the story. TV  

February 12, 2020

Orson Bean / Robert Conrad, R.I.P.

Orson Bean used to talk about how he was one of the few entertainers who'd been blacklisted by both sides; in the Fifties, it was for being a communist ("I wasn't a communist. I was horny for a communist girl and she dragged me to a couple of meetings."), while in the 2000s it was for being a conservative ("It’s harder now to be an open conservative on a Hollywood set than it was back then to be a Communist," he once told his son-in-law, Andrew Breitbart). He might have been bitter about it, but he seemed more amused than anything.

Several years ago, someone wrote of Orson Bean that "I never could figure out who the guy was, So far as I knew, he never had done anything of note. He was on the show because he was a celebrity, and he was a celebrity because he was on the show. . . He was the compleat artificial man." Not only was this needlessly cruel, it was completely false. Bean had been a fixture in clubs and on Broadway since the Fifties; he starred on Broadway in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter with Jayne Mansfield, and was nominated for a Tony for Subways Are for Sleeping. He appeared at the famous New York club The Blue Angel on a bill with Nichols and May, Harry Belafonte, and Eartha Kitt, and he recorded a comedy album at another famous club, The Hungry I. He counted as friends everyone from Lenny Bruce to Jonathan Winters to Henry Fonda, appeared in series such as The Twilight Zone, Studio One, The Love Boat, One Life to Live, and Murder, She Wrote, and displayed his skills as a raconteur on The Tonight Show, both with Jack Paar and Johnny Carson. (He subbed as host for Carson more than 100 times.) He played the voice of Bilbo Baggins in Rankin-Bass' animated version of The Hobbit, and Frodo in the sequel, The Return of the King, and was a regular on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. All that, and he still had time back home in California to do community theater. I wish I'd been so artificial.

(By the way, I didn't name the person who wrote that, but I know who it was. I don't see any point in giving that person any publicity, even if it comes from being an idiot. I will tell you that it was not someone who writes regularly about television, which just goes to show you shouldn't dabble in things you don't know anything about.)

Unquestionably, what he was best known for—the show that our unnamed critic refers to—was his many years as panelist on To Tell the Truth. He was smart and witty, urbane and good-natured, a humorous and warm presence on the show ("Elegant Kitty Carlisle on my right with a feather boa. Peggy Cass on the other side."), and drew funny little cartoons on the card each panelist used to indicate who they thought was "telling the truth."

I'm usually saddened by the death of someone I've watched and liked, as you'll see below, but when I heard that Orson Bean had died as the result of being hit by a car, I was a bit stunned as well. Yes, he was 91, and yes, it was unexpected, but it affected me in a way that most of these celebrity deaths don't. For years I'd and listened to him talk, not only about Hollywood and show business, but about how he'd found God, how he'd moved politically from the left to the right (like Ronald Reagan, he'd insist that he didn't leave the Democratic party, but it left him). He was one of those people about whom you say that the world seems just a little better place with him around, and it saddens me that he isn't, and that his death seems so needless.

I don't know if that's how he'd want to be remembered, though, so I'll leave you with a couple of fascinating stories. One occurred while he was performing at The Blue Angel in the 50s: "A guy named Bud Howard introduced the acts and played the piano in between. One day I came in early and he said, 'Listen to this song I knocked off.' He played Fly Me to the Moon. I said, 'That's great, but what are you going to do with it?'" (Give it to Frank, natch.) The other concerns his son-in-law Andrew Breitbart who, like Bean, started out on the political left. One night, Breitbart noticed a book by Rush Limbaugh in Bean's bookcase.  "Why in the world would you have a book written by some fascist right-winger on your bookshelf that anybody could see?" Breitbart asked him. Bean replied, "Andrew, take that book and read it. Just read it." The rest is history, and there's no political point that I'm making here; it's just quite a story, from a man who lived quite a life.

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The one and only time I saw Robert Conrad in person was at the 2018 Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention. He was in poor health then, a shadow of the robust, charismatic James West, and if that was the Robert Conrad you’d come to see, then you were asking for disappointment. Or maybe not.

See, the thing about James West was that no matter what megalomaniacal villain he confronted, no matter what fantastic plot for world domination he foiled, no matter what outrageous steampunk invention he faced, he knew that to fail was not an option. That requires a kind of inner determination, a resolve that (with apologies to Paul McCartney) when you’ve got a job to do, you’ve got to do it well* or you die trying. There is no in-between. It’s the same thing when you play a character like that, and especially when you insist on doing most of your own stunts. You’re laying it all on the line for everyone out there to see, and if you can’t pull it off, you’re going to look like a fool. Perhaps it was a combination of ego, insecurity, and supreme confidence, but Conrad took that bet, and pulled it off.

*Well, that and good scriptwriters.

And that brings us back to his appearance at MANC. He was obviously ailing, but he declined staff offers to make him more comfortable by cutting back on the time available for his fans to meet him. It wouldn’t be right if he did that; those fans had come to see him, had paid money to do so and had spent time in line waiting, and he wasn’t going to disappoint them. No, he wouldn’t quit until everyone who’d wanted an autograph or a picture or a chance to shake hands had had the opportunity to do so. He wasn’t going to leave any fans disappointed. And you don’t do that without that same inner determination, that will to finish the assignment. So maybe there wasn’t such a difference between James West circa 1965 and Bob Conrad circa 2018. They were the same man, after all.

Robert Conrad had his detractors, those who said he had a chip on his shoulder, that he suffered from short man’s disease, that he insisted on doing it all because he was basically insecure. He didn’t suffer fools, which is a drawback in an age that prizes sensitivity. Discussing the various run-ins he’d had with people over the years (which had earned him several lawsuits), he put it simply: if you’re nice to me, I’ll be nicer to you. If not, well. . . He starred in several TV shows that were failures, but he had two that were hits—Hawaiian Eye and The Wild Wild West, successes that most actors would gladly accept. He lampooned his own tough guy persona in a series of Eveready commercials, daring you to knock that battery off his shoulder.

I was planning to write about Wild Wild West in my next “What I’m Watching,” but I’ll get ahead of myself here and mention that it’s a tremendously enjoyable show to watch every Friday night, and I’m glad we were able to watch the entire first season, with episode instructions by Conrad, while he was still alive. It doesn’t make any difference, I know, but somehow it still seems meaningful. And every time I watch James West, I think back to Robert Conrad at MANC, determined to make sure everyone left satisfied. After all, it wasn’t just his fans coming to see him; he’d come to see them as well. And, as he does every Friday night, it was a mission he successfully completed. TV  

February 10, 2020

What's on TV? Sunday, February 11, 1973

February 12 is Abraham Lincoln's birthday, and in commemoration there are no fewer than five Lincoln specials on TV this week. On Tuesday, NBC celebrates with The Great Man's Whiskers, the story of how Lincoln came to grow his beard, with Dennis Weaver as Honest Abe. The rest are today: Lamp Unto My Feet's "No Lonely Mountain Peak" is a musical tribute, with Met Opera baritone Sherill Milnes performing the Gettysburg Address; WPIX has Abe Lincoln in Illinois, with Raymond Massey in his signature role; and NET Playhouse has D.W. Griffith's Abraham Lincoln biopic. (Various PBS stations also carry A Look at Lincoln, with actor Dick Blake as the 16th president. It was a time for heroes, and speaking of which, who wants to miss Peter Cushing as Doctor Who in Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D., starring the Daleks.

The week's issue is the New Jersey-Pennsylvania edition, with New York City thrown in for good measure.

February 8, 2020

This week in TV Guide: February 10, 1973

On January 28, 1962, NBC broadcast a White Paper called "The Battle of Newburgh," Newburgh being "a tiny, declining upstate New York city." The story that emerged was of a town run by a city manager, Joseph Mitchell, who had launched a "crackdown on chislers," which among other things denied welfare benefits to unwed mothers who continued having children, provided free bus tickets to send welfare recipients back to their home states, placed all able-bodied welfare recipients on the city's work crews and required welfare recipients to register at the police station." Jack Gould, the influential New York Times columnist, called it a "scorching indictment" of Newburgh's policies. And, eleven years later, residents claim the city still suffers from the effects of its night on national television.

I don't bring this up to discuss whether or not Newburgh's policies were correct (although I can't believe anyone named Mitchell could be that bad). No, what I find interesting about this is how different things might be if it happened today.

I'm thinking specifically about a couple of instances, although there are more. In 1982, nine years after this article appeared, former U.S. Army Chief of Staff General William Westmoreland brought a $120 million libel suit against CBS over a CBS Reports documentary entitled The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception. The documentary, which aired on January 23, 1982—five days short of 20 years after the original broadcast of "The Battle of Newburgh"—claimed that "Westmoreland had contributed to the public reaction to Tet by manipulating intelligence about enemy strength in order to create the impression of progress." Westmoreland countered that there had been no political motivation behind the intelligence reports. The case went to trial in 1984, and the following year, with jury watchers predicting Westmoreland would lose, the two sides settled out of court. You can read more about Westmoreland v. CBS here.

The second case this calls to mind happened in 1992, when two producers for ABC News went undercover at Food Lion grocery stories in the Carolinas. (Full disclosure: we shopped at Food Lion the year we lived in Raleigh. Not that it comes into play here.) The report that emerged from this undercover work, which aired on the network's Prime Time Life (remember that?) alleged that "Food Lion’s meat department at those stores required employees to engage in unsafe, unhealthy or illegal practices, including selling old meat that was washed with bleach to kill odor, selling cheese that had been gnawed by rats and working off the time clock." As part of the report, the network used hidden camera footage taken by the reporters. Food Lion sued in July, 1995, arguing that ABC used "illegal newsgathering methods." including falsifying information on the producers' job applications, to obtain their information. This case also went to trial, and in December 1996 a jury ruled in favor of Food Lion, awarding the grocery chain $5.5 million in punitive damages for fraud. It all wound up in the U.S. Court of Appeals, where the fraud claim and damage award was overturned; however, they also ruled that the ABC reporters trespassed in that they didn't have permission to videotape secretly. That case you can read about here if you're so inclined.

As I said, there are other cases; the always-reliable Wikipedia mentions General Motors' successful objection to an NBC report in 1993 (NBC fired the news director and reporter and publicly apologized); Philip Morris's lawsuit against ABC in 1994 (settled out of court); and Brown & Williamson's threat to sue CBS over a planned interview with whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand (CBS pulled the segment, but the movie version did earn Russell Crowe an Oscar nomination). The point I'm making here is that, in another day and time, Newburgh probably would have hauled NBC into court. I'm thinking specifically of this quote from George F. McKneally, former mayor of Newburgh, who says of writer-director Arthur Zegart (who'd become a good friend during the making of the report), "Zegart warned me the White Paper on Newburgh would not be particularly helpful for Newburgh or anyone who would be appearing in it. Zegart told me that NBC had made most of the people look like bad guys, so he decided to leave me out of the show." Now wouldn't that have looked good in a court document? Zegart, of course, denies he said that, but this probably would be best left for lawyers (and a jury?) to decide. Then, of course, there's the power of social media, alternative media, Fox News ("it's not uncommon," writes author Michael Krawetz, "to hear about 'those Communists who run ABC, NBC and CBS back in New York City.'")—well, as I've said so often, the possibilities really do write themselves, don't they? Yes, times—and news gathering—really have changed since then, haven't they?

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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. 

Friends, you're going to have to help me out a bit this week. The subject is M*A*S*H, in its first season, which Cleveland Amory, our man in action, says, "was one of those movies that was adjusted a bit much for television. So instead they made it into a television series, the idea apparently being that what will corrupt us if we see it once will not corrupt us if we see it every week. They've got a point, too. Anyone who sees this program every week is, from a corruption standpoint, around the bend." He praises good performances, especially from Alan Alda, McLean Stevenson, and Gary Burgoff. You'll notice that he does not praise the writing and plots; while the doctors toss off joke after joke while "hacking away" on anesthetized patients, "[t]he rest of us do not have the advantage of being anesthetized." He also looks askance on what we would see as the sexual harassment of the nurses by our heroes.

As for the plots—well, "[o]ne plot begins with Hawkeye acting strangely, another with Radar acting strangely, a third with Colonel Blake acting strangely. That produces, you see, a lot of suspense. Acting strangely is very hard to diagnose here." There's also a tendency to rely on chloroform as a plot mechanism, e.g. Hawkeye and Trapper John putting it in Major Burns' after-shave. It is, Cleve seems to be telling us, the only way in which we can sit through the outrageous developments that confront us in every episode.

And this is where I need your help. Obviously, I'm not unaware of M*A*S*H (Amory adds that when it comes to shows with asterisks in their titles, "[p]roceed at your own risk—or, in this case, at your own risque."), and it's not as if I've never seen an episode of it. I know that it's really an allegory for Vietnam, and that over the years the show became increasingly serious, until it becomes what we'd today think of as a dramedy. I never liked it, though, never—not the show, nor the smarmy Alda (a younger version of Robert Vaughn) nor, later on, the equally off-putting Mike Farrell, so I'm not in a position to be objective here. Was the early series really, as Amory suggests, tough to watch? Was the humor of suspect taste, and did it improve in future seasons when it became more serious and character-driven? Or was it better when it took itself less seriously, when it was content to simply be a comedy rather than to try and take itself so very seriously? I don't know, through there are strong opinions on both sides. Here's your chance to have your say on the matter.

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Let's take a really deep dive into the week's programming and see what we come up with.

Don't "strain" yourself, James Olson.
Saturday's highlight is the television premiere of director Robert Wise's literate science-fiction thriller The Andromeda Strain (NBC, 9:00 p.m. ET). Judith Crist praises the qualities of the movie that I like myself: "its propinquity to fact rather than fantasy; its consistency of theme without the usual sex-schmaltz trappings that so often reduce sci-fi to soap opera or slickery; its high-class production values; and its terrible significance in relation to the truths of germ warfare and miltaristic puropse in space exploration." It's a faithful adaptation of Michael Crichton's "chilling and complex best-seller," with Arthur Hill very good as the lead scientist, and James Olson in an extremely effective turn against type as one of the good guys.

If sci-fi's a little plebeian for your taste, you'll probably want to go to Jean Cocteau's bizarre, wildly imaginative "fairy tale for adults," 1946's Beauty and the Beast (8:00 p.m., PBS). which Crist calls "an exquisite realization of the children's fairy tale that all ages can savor on a variety of levels." And if you happen to be living in Philadelphia this week, you've got a late-night choice: The Innocents (11:30 p.m., WPHI), a very creepy adaptation of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, with Deborah Kerr. At the same time, on WCAU, Jason Robards is Al Capone to Ralph Meeker's Bugs Moran, in The St. Valentine's Day Massacre, which for the genre is a pretty good movie. It just goes to show that Saturday really is movie night, isn't it?

On Sunday, CBS gets down with the star-studded Duke Ellington . . . We Love You Madly (9:00 p.m.), a brilliant tribute to the jazz great, with a glittering lineup including Count Basie, Ray Charles, Sammy Davis Jr., Louis Bellson, Roberta Flack, Aretha Franklin, Sarah Vaughan, Peggy Lee, Chicago, Billy Eckstine, Paula Kelly, and Joe Williams. Later, it's the premiere of a Jack Webb series that, frankly, I don't remember. It's called Escape (10:00 p.m., NBC), and it's a four-episode anthology series about "people caught in life-and-death situations." It's on right after Columbo, and we were living in the World's Worst Town™—is it possible that KCMT didn't carry it? After all, they used to show Sanford and Son on Sunday nights to show Lawrence Welk, so anything could happen. But that's getting beyond the point, isn't it? We were talking about Escape, and tonight Ed Nelson is a World War II submarine captain being hunted by a Japanese destroyer. At 10:30 p.m., a time that the nets ceded back to the locals, WOR has the syndicated revival of This Is Your Life with Mrs. Spencer Tracy as the surprise subject. (I'll bet Katharine Hepburn isn't one of the guests.) There's another episode of TIYL on earlier in the day where the subject is Anne Baxter; I don't know about you, but I think there was something more interesting about it back in its original run, when it was live and TV Guide didn't list who the honoree would be.

Does Ed Nelson look like a talk-show host to you?
Monday's Laugh-In has a pretty good guest lineup (NBC, 8:00 p.m.), with Ernest Borgnine in a Sherlock Holmes spoof (he's Watson; don't ask me who's playing the lead), plus appearances by John Wayne, Don Rickles, Arthur Godfrey, and Slappy White. And no, Hogan's Goat (8:00 p.m., PBS) isn't a story about Sergeant Carter forgetting to set the timers for the bombs on the Adolf Hitler Bridge—instead, it's a television adaptation of William Alfred's 1965 play about Irish-American politics in late-1800s Brooklyn, starring Robert Foxworth and Faye Dunaway. And you remember Ed Nelson as captain of that sub? Well, he must have made good on that escape, because he's playing a radio talk-show host whose wife is murdered in Tenafly (NBC, 9:00 p.m.), the pilot for the private detective series starring James McEachin. I always liked McEachin's character; there was, in fact, something very likable about both him and his character, and the show was created by Columbo's Levinson and Link; too bad there were only four other episodes as part of one of NBC's Mystery Movie nights. For something completely different, go to NET Opera Thetare (PBS, 9:00 p.m.), and Thomas Pasatieri's rending opera The Trial of Mary Lincoln, based on her 1875 insanity trial. Mezzo Eliane Bonazzi stars as the widowed First Lady, with Wayne Turnage as her son Robert, the plaintiff.

Just between you and me, I've got a great idea for a movie—let's take a guy, say, William Shatner, and put him in an airplane flying at 37,000 feet, see? And something weird happens on that plane, see? Strange voices, strong winds, funny things, you know what I mean? Waddya think? (Pause) You mean it's already been done? With Shatner? No problem! We'll just change a few things in the script, have it be some supernatural thing in the cargo hold instead of a gremlin on the plane's wing, throw in anyone who's been on the last ten years (Roy Thinnes, Chuck Connors, Lyn Loring, Buddy Ebsen, Tammy Grimes, Jane Merrow, Paul Winfield, Will Hutchins, France Nuyen), and call it The Horror at 37,000 Feet (Tuesday, 9:30 p.m., CBS). What more can you ask for? Per Judith Crist, it was unavailable for preview.

Wednesday is St. Valentine's Day, which I guess explains the Jason Robards movie on Saturday, and what could be more fitting than the lineup on The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour (8:00 p.m., CBS): Joe Namath, a dozen Playboy centerfold playmates, and a cameo appearance by their boss, Hugh Hefner. No? OK, let's go back to the movies; how about Sammy Davis Jr. as "a bumbling disciple from hell" trying to lure Jack Klugman to the land of fire and brimstone in Poor Devil (NBC, 8:30 p.m.) As was the case with Horror at 37.000 Feet, this was unavailable for preview, and, speaking as a fan of Sammy, it's probably for the best. The late movie on ABC's Wide World of Mystery (11:30 p.m.) is The Screaming Skull, with David McCallum in "an eerie tale about a murderer whose victim (his wife) returns to avenge her death. Dick Cavett's wife Carrie Nye plays the wronged woman. Though there are differences in the plot, it has at least a passing resemblance to another Screaming Skull, made in 1958, known and loved from MST3K.

An American Family continues Thursday on PBS (9:00 p.m.), and, according to The Doan Report, Dick Cavett will be devoting his entire February 20 show to an interview with the now-divorced Louds and their five children, to try and figure out why a family would choose to lay bare their lives on national television. And PBS can use all the publicity it can get; Doan also reports that President Nixon has slashed the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's $70 million request in half, leaving the funding level as it has been for the past two years. Too early to tell what the effect will be on the CPB, but the worst-case scenario is that "the money crimp might force CPB to wipe out the PBS network."

Come Friday, we've got a little In Concert vs. The Midnight Special action going. In Concert (11:30 p.m., ABC) has the Hollies, Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina, and Billy Preston, while The Midnight Special (1:00 a.m., NBC) counters with Mac Davis as host, and guests Helen Reddy, the Hollies, Waylon Jennings, Billy Preston, and Billy Paul. Now, I think you can see where this is going, so let's think about it for a minute: both programs have the Hollies (performing different songs; "Amazing Grace" and "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" on Concert; "Magic Woman Touch" on Special), and both have Billy Preston ("Blackbird" and "Outa-Space" on both, plus "That's the Way God Planned It" on Concert). That leaves us with Loggins and Messina vs. Mac Davis, Waylon, Billy Paul, and Helen Reddy. Even with the numerical advantage that Special has, we'll have to go with In Concert this week. Or you could skip them both and watch Monterey Pop, which follows In Concert on WABC; that features a few stars of its own, including Jimi Hendrix. If your taste runs more to the classics, then you can't go wrong with Bogie and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (11:30 p.m., WNEW).

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In an otherwise uneventful sports week, there's one event that I think deserves to be singled out. This weekend NBC carries the final two rounds of the Bob Hope Desert Classic (Saturday and Sunday, 5:00 p.m.) from Palm Springs. It's one of the most popular tournaments of the year, with a cast of celebrities that might rival that Duke Ellington special. But that's not what's noteworthy about this tournament. No, even though the Hope isn't a major championship, neither I (watching on television) nor anyone else watching the tournament will ever forget it. The tournament is won by Arnold Palmer, shooting a 3-under-par 69 in the final round to edge Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller by two strokes. The win breaks a two-year victory drought for Palmer, who last won at the 1971 Westchester Classic, and it is the 62nd and final regular tour victory of The King's illustrious career. It is, indeed, a hell of a day.

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Things being what they are nowadays, I suppose pornography is as good a way as any to end this week's issue. What am I talking about with that provocative statement? Well, don't blame me; it's all the fault of CITY-TV, the small-budget, community-oriented UHF station operating out of Toronto. Jack Batten tells us the story of how this cable station (which is still around, and isn't so small anymore) has created a niche for itself with its avant-garde programming: there's Free for All, "a live, two-hour show on Sunday nights that invites anyone with a beef or a cause to air it in the Hyde Park soapbox style"*; The Money Game, a nightly investments show; Greed, a live Saturday night amateur talent show; and a full two and a half hours of news and public affairs every night in prime time from 8:00 to 10:30 p.m.

*Sounds a little like the inspiration for Johnny LaRue's Street Beef, doesn't it?

And then there's the late night movie show on Fridays. It's called The Baby Blue Movie, and its fair includes I Am Curious (Yellow) and All the Loving Couples—unedited and uncensored. "When we cooked up the idea of running restricted movies," says the station's managing director, Moses Znaimer, "we figured it as a loss leader something that'd attract attention to us but wouldn't necessarily make money because advertisers would hardly want to be associated with the smut." But, surprise! The Baby Blue Movie is the station's most popular program, and ad space is so hot that the stations can force sponsors to advertise on weaker programs in order to get on the movie.*

*Commercials in a pornographic movie? Commercium interruptus, I suppose.

As for how the station was able to get the movies past the censors, that's another story. "The head of Morality phones us the day before we went on the air," the station's lawyer, Jerry Grafstein, says. "He sounded very heavy, very threatening, and he told us he didn't like what he'd heard about our plans for the Baby Blue." The station cut 100 seconds from I Am Curious (Yellow) ("I thought it was tragic to interfere with a director's work that way," Granstein comments, "but our backs were against the wall.") The station heard nothing from the police department's Morality Squad. Later, they ran the movie again, with the cuts restored. Still later, there was the movie How to Succeed with Sex (directed by MST3K fave Bert I. Gordon), which Grafstein describes as "real hard-core pornography"—crickets. "We're beginning to feel safe," he says.

So viewers love it, advertisers love it, and the Morality Squad doesn't seem to care. In fact, there's only one group out there that seems upset about The Baby Blue Movie: bowling-alley operators. "They're mad because on Friday nights their customers are packing it in early to get home for the Baby Blue." TV