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.*

*Ouch.

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   

4 comments:

  1. It was the Soviet game that Al Michaels did the Miracle call. I know that, since they reairing it all weekend. The best look back is on NBCSN, which Mike Tricio interview Michaels on that game and the whole tournament. Well worth watching!

    And, if you think that year's Music Biggest Night was nothing, you should have stick around for the following year, which made history, when Christopher Cross became the first artist to win all four Major Grammys (Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Best New Artist). The second is this year, when Billie Eilish became the youngest to win it all. Who knows, she might win an Oscar next year for "No Time to Die", just like Cross did the following year!!!

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  2. The Soviet game was on tape, I believe, because I was watching it in my college dorm lounge when the featherbrain on the local ABC affiliate revealed the outcome during a station break and a huge cry of outrage went up.

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    1. Yes, the game started at 5 ET, and when Jim McKay signed on live at 8, he acknowledged video of fans celebrating outside the arena, and told the audience they were about to see why there was reason to celebrate.

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    2. At least Jim had enough sense and finesse not to blab out the score while the telecast was still in progress...40 years later and I'm still seething.

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