March 21, 2020

This week in TV Guide: March 18, 1967

The relationship between television and boxing has always been a complex one. At the dawn of television, boxing was a major sport—more popular than professional football, comparable to baseball and college football—and it was a mainstay of early TV. It was cheap to broadcast, easy to televise and had a ready-made audience, and all four networks (including DuMont) had regularly scheduled boxing shows which garnered huge ratings and made bartenders the country over very happy. By the mid-1960s, however, prime-time boxing was gone from the networks—a victim of massive television overexposure, mob involvement, fight-fixing scandals, and deaths in the ring. Oh, fights were still to be found, mostly on Wide World of Sports, but the big-time championship bout had headed for the world of closed-circuit, pay-per-view broadcasting, which is what makes Wednesday night's heavyweight title fight between Muhammad Ali and Zora Folley all the more interesting.

The bout, which Ali wins via a seventh round knockout (you can read a very interesting analysis of it here), comes during a transitional stage in the broadcast of heavyweight championship bouts. The fights had been steadily moving to closed-circuit TV broadcasts, shown in movie theaters or other large auditoriums, since the late 1950s, and many of Ali's greatest fights—his defeat of then-champion Sonny Liston in Miami, the "Fight of the Century" against Joe Frazier, the "Rumble in the Jungle" versus George Foreman, and the "Thrilla in Manila" rematch with Frazier—were broadcast on closed-circuit. The broadcasts made Ali and his promoter, the infamous Don King, a lot of money.

However, at this point you can still catch a heavyweight title fight live on home TV if you're lucky. Maybe Zora Folley isn't a big-enough draw (even though he's the number one contender), or possibly it was too soon to ask people to plunk down money for an Ali fight; he'd previously defended his title just seven weeks before, winning a 15-round decision against Ernie Terrell in Houston on February 6. At any rate, the prime-time broadcast of the first heavyweight title fight to be held in the famed Madison Square Garden since 1951 comes not on a network, but via a syndicated hookup of stations (produced by RKO General and Madison Square Garden),* with the great Don Dunphy at the mike and Win Elliot doing the color. You notice on the ad that Ali is also referred to by his former name, Cassius Clay, even though it has been almost two years since Ali changed his name, many people (including former champion Floyd Patterson) still refuse to refer to him as anything other than Clay.

*Prime-time boxing was pretty much confined to syndication by then, with title fights in many weight classes being shown on an irregular basis.

This is Muhammad Ali's last title defense for some time—in fact, it was the last time he would fight, under any name, for over three years. He'll be stripped of his title the following month for refusing induction into the Army, and remain in boxing limbo until his first comeback in 1970, when he fights and defeats Jerry Quarry.

Home broadcasts of heavyweight title bouts make a comeback as well, ironically with Ali at the helm of many of them (the ones not big enough to go to closed-circuit). Eventually, though, they disappear again, to be replaced by another kind of pay-per-view, as cable TV becomes the main delivery mechanism for championship boxing.

Here's the original broadcast (complete with commercials!) of Ali-Folley, one of the last big fights held in the old MSG. Coverage starts about 40 seconds in, with the pre-fight introductions.

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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..

Ed Sullivan: Scheduled guests: singer-dancer Jane Powell; the singing Lovin' Spoonful; bandleader Cab Calloway and his singing daughter Chris; the comedy team of Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara; Country and Western singer Johnny Rivers; comedians George Carlin, Jackie Kahane and Dave Allen; and the balancing Hoganas.

Hollywood Palace: Host George Burns presents the musical King Family; singer Lainie Kazan; Italian opera star Enzo Stuarti; Desmond and Marks, English music-hall comics; and Baby Sabu the elephant.

Not, perhaps, the best week, but despite the odd description of Johnny Rivers as a country singer (for singing this song?), Jane Powell, Cab Calloway and George Carlin are more than enough to give Sullivan the nod this week. Then again, you might want to wait until Thursday at 9:00 p.m, CT, when Dean Martin's guests include Buddy Greco, Louis Prima, Bob Newhart and the McGuire Sisters.

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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. 

Cleveland Amory wasn't the house critic at TV Guide when the original Dragnet dominated the airwaves in the 1950s, but have no fear: Cleve is on the beat this time, as Jack Webb returns to the scene of the crime and punishment with his Dragnet 1966 revival. And, says Amory, not only is Joe Friday back, he's good. In fact, "it's our duty to remind you not only of your constitutional rights, but also that he is still walking his old, shoulders-still, glide-walking, tough-talking, eyeball-to-eyeball self." If you haven't seen the new Dragnet, with Harry Morgan assuming the sidekick role played memorably by Ben Alexander, "you're missing something—some of the scenes between them are up there in the same league as the Culp-Cosby duologs in I Spy"

It is true that there's a tendency, in our 21st Century cynicism, see Dragnet as verging on camp, but those who look at it that way overlook how dramatically sound and tight the half-hour is (and again, I say, why can't we bring the half-hour drama back?), and, as Amory points out, "unlike some other shows which have purported to bring us 'true' case histories, [it] never seems to be too good to be true." Amory particularly likes the episodes that deal with teen-age problems, "of which there are so many these days; the minor characters—in both senses of both words—are not only real people, but their dialog is real, too."

If Amory has one criticism, it's a minor one, that Webb sometimes overuses the show's trademark voiceover narration; it "can be boring, and it can even be jarring when Friday goes too quickly from off-camera voice to on-camera person." A show this good, he concludes, doesn't need that kind of device; "Just the facts, ma'am." And even though it was actually Stan Freberg's Dragnet parody that gave us this memorable line, we're not going to quibble with Cleve's positive verdict.*

*Cleve will return later, in a different context.

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Speaking of variety, Jackie Gleason is once again the cover boy for this week's issue. He's in the midst of his fifth season with his eponymously-named variety show (Saturday, 6:30 p.m., CBS), telecast from Miami Beach, and Ted Crail's article gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the preparation for the show. Gleason is pretty much invisible until the day of the taping, when he swoops in and takes total command. He insists on the hours, and also the control: "There were comedians who relied on everyone else" he tells Crail. "They only got in trouble."

It's Sunday, home of the cultural programming ghetto; it's also Palm Sunday, and CBS pre-empts Lamp Unto My Feet and Look Up and Live for a Palm Sunday concert (9:00 a.m.) from Holy Cross Cathedral in Boston, featuring music from Stravinsky and Buxtehude. NBC follows suit with live coverage at 10:00 a.m. of a Palm Sunday service from Pleasant Ridge Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati. Also at 10:00, CBS's Camera Three has a centennial tribute to the late conductor Arturo Toscanini, who for many years led the famous NBC Symphony Orchestra; too bad his home network couldn't have found some time to honor the maestro. the media critic Marshall McLuhan discusses his opinions on communications theory in an NBC Experiment in Television, which you'll not be surprised to find is being broadcast at 2:00 p.m.

Sunday night, Ethel Merman makes a rare television appearance, starring in an adaptation of her 1946 Broadway hit (and 1966 revival) Annie Get Your Gun (7:30 p.m., NBC) along with Bruce Yarnell, Harry Bellaver , Benay Venuta and Jerry Orbach. Here's a clip from the broadcast, brought to you by "Your Gas Company"

Perry Como returns to Kraft Music Hall on Monday for his Easter show, with guests Connie Stevens and Woody Allen. (8:00 p.m., NBC) Incidentally, you'll be able to see more of Woody Allen all week; he's guest hosting for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. Regardless of what you think about Allen, and I've never been a fan of his for reasons having nothing to do with his current controversial status, it's an interesting choice; I would not have thought of him as a talk-show host. But see what you think; here he is hosting Tonight in 1971, with Bob Hope as one of his guests. 

Tuesday night gives us programming that is anything but escapist: Lee Marvin, himself a former Marine, narrates Our Time in Hell (6:30 p.m., ABC), the harrowing story of the Marines in World War II's island-hopping Pacific campaign, including color footage of battles at Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and Bloody Ridge. The next time you hear someone talking about athletes as "warriors," show them this, beginning with Part 1.

Wednesday's feature is Sodom and Gomorrah (7:00 p.m., ABC), a three-hour biblical epic, which Judith Crist calls "a travesty made memorable by its seedy attempts to portray sin on a nursery-school level and by the Queen of Sodom's [Anouk Aimée] hailing a victorious army with "Greetings, Hebrews and Sodomites!" I'm guessing she didn't like it. On Thursday, That Girl (8:30 p.m., ABC) channels its inner Lucille Ball, as Don tries to remove a bowling ball stuck on Ann's toe before she has to appear on a televised awards show. That's followed at 9:00 by ABC Stage 67, which features "On the FLIP Side," an original rock musical about a singer on the decline, trying to adapt to the new hard rock sound. Ricky Nelson plays the singer, with Joannie Sommars costarring; the songs are written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

Friday's highlight is the network television premiere of Lillies of the Field (8:00 p.m., CBS), with Sidney Poitier in his Oscar-winning role as an ex-GI who helps a group of nuns build their chapel in the Arizona desert. Crist calls it a "descendant of the Going My Way school, but brilliant performances by Poitier and Lilia Skala, and "a joyousness, a sense of decency and an appreciation of the human spirit that pervade the film" make it worthwhile despite the sentimentality.

Oh, and one piece of news that I ought to mention here, because there's no place else to talk about it: Richard K. Doan reports that CBS has reversed its decision to cancel Gunsmoke; the Western will be back for its 13th season in the fall, moved to Monday (supposedly at the urging of CBS boss William Paley's wife, a fan of the series). To make room, the network is canceling Gilligan's Island and a planned new comedy called Doc.

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Time yet again for one of those "nothing ever changes" moments. This week's comes to us in two parts.

First up is an NBC News Inquiry (Sunday, 5:30 p.m.) entitled "Whose Right to Bear Arms?" At least the producers don't pretend this is anything other than an advocacy piece; says producer Fred Freed, "There are almost no real restrictions on buying guns. You don't have to travel very far to accumulate an arsenal." The show cites some outrageous truly examples of how easy it is to pick up a gun—in one place, if you don't have the cash you can use trading stamps, but offsets this true piece of journalism by stacking the deck with his spokesmen: gun control advocates include President Johnson and Senators Kennedy and Dodd (the elder), while the opponents, in addition to the NRA, include "a Grand titan of the Ku Klux Klan and the speaker at a neo-Nazi rally in Los Angeles." I wonder how this program would do with James Hagerty's creed for newsmen we looked at several years ago?  Nah, no bias there.

The second is an entertaining exchange that takes up the entire Letters to the Editor section, concerning Cleveland Amory's  recent review of ABC's The American Sportsman. Amory, no fan of sports hunting, was disgusted with the show; three letters appear in support of Amory, three in opposition. Jack Nicholas of North Hollywood likes Amory's "excellent and obviously heartfelt review," and Barbara Jager of Los Angeles adds, "Enough of cruelty." On the other hand, Warren King of Bridgeport, Connecticut writes that Amory "seems incapable of giving The American Sportsman an impartial review, and prefers to use it as a means to express his personal attitude toward hunting under the guise of public outrage," and Robert W. Sniegocki of Brooklyn says that if Amory would ever get out from behind his desk and into the outdoors, "it will make a man out of him."

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This ad probably wouldn't make much sense to people today, unless you're of the same bent that I am. But the audience in 1967 would have immediately gotten the reference to The Untouchables—not just the word play, but the style of clothing on the hoods as well. After all, the series itself had aired on ABC as recently as four years ago, and many local stations continued to carry it in syndication well into the early 1970s. But today?  Maybe some people would think of The Incredibles, but otherwise the joke probably falls upon deaf ears.

It reminds me of Scroogie, the cartoon strip from years past done by the late Tug McGraw, the former Mets and Phillies pitcher, and Mike Witte. Scroogie centered around a left-handed relief pitcher named Scroogie who played for a team called the New York Pets and bore a remarkable resemblance to McGraw himself. (I always thought Scroogie was probably baseball's version of Barney Miller, but that's another topic.) Anyway, in the cartoon I'm thinking of, Scroogie is dealing with a potentially serious arm problem. "It's over! My career is over!" he laments to a teammate. "I mean, who on earth would want a one-armed baseball player?" At this point another teammate comes in with some news: "Scroogie, there's a Dr. Richard Kimble here to see you."

It's a joke straight out of Mystery Science Theater 3000, isn't it? As a matter of fact, they both are. They're the kinds of jokes that whiz right at you, and if you get it, great. People of a certain time will know exactly what it's all about, of course, and people who aren't, who don't speak the secret code, won't know what we're talking about. It's something that brings people like us together, in knowing amusement, while the rest shake their heads at us, because they don't have a clue.

I love how ads like this one can be so firmly rooted in a time and place. They tell you about far more than just the products they're pitching.

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Finally, there's no doubt about it: color TV, the wave of the future, is here. If you've followed your TV Guide listings over the past months, you've noticed more and more shows being broadcast in color, and this year the networks have moved to all-color for their prime-time lineups. And yet, there's still trouble in paradise, according to the TV Guide editorial, which challenges the networks and producers to "set up color standards they all can and will follow."

Viewers are fed up, say the editors, with having to keep fiddling with dials and buttons because "some commercial producers turn out film or tape with higher color intensity than others," some using "film that accents blues and others film that boosts reds." The networks, the editors assert, can't even agree on what color flesh is.*

*Of course, speaking in a purely technical sense, "flesh" incorporates a wide variety of colors, from dark black to pale yellow. I think what they're talking about here more closely approximates what Crayola used to call "peach."

It's generally agreed that "before long nearly all homes will have color sets." Isn't it time, therefore, for everyone to come together to make sure these sets provide the quality that viewers expect? "Color is great," TV Guide concludes, "and we've been among its most enthusiastic supporters for many years." But "color will not be completely satisfactory to viewers until they can be freed from constant dial twiddling."  

The twin developments of digital television and high definition are amazing for many reasons, but even more than the astounding detail, their greatest contribution is that the viewer no longer has to deal with ghosts, interference waves, strange color tints and the like. It's something that younger viewers can't even imagine, but for those of a certain age it's little less than a miracle. It might even be considered a wonderTV  

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