April 29, 2020

The Monsters

On March 4, 1960, "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street," the twenty-second episode of The Twilight Zone, aired on CBS. Viewers who've watched The Twilight Zone will remember the episode vividly (it's considered one of the show's greatest stories); even those who haven't watched the series may well have heard of it.

The story, written by Rod Serling, takes place in a close-knit neighborhood on Maple Street, in an unnamed city. Strange things begin to happen (flashing lights, power outages, and the like), and the fractures develop between the once-close neighbors as, fueled by fanciful science-fiction stories, they become convinced one of them part of an alien invasion of Earth. (Remember, this is The Twilight Zone we're dealing with.) Eventually, a mob mentality takes hold of the neighborhood, there's a death, accusations fly (along with bullets and rocks), and the the neighborhood devolves into a riot.

There are no monsters, of course—or, rather, there are monsters; they just aren't playing the role we suspect. They are watching the disintegration of civilized behavior on Maple Street from a hillside where their spaceship landed. They haven't come near the street; all they've done is cause a few lights to flash and the power to go on and off, and the humans did the rest. They observe how they'll be able to colonize Earth neighborhood by neighborhood, and we'll make it possible: all they have to do is fiddle with the expected, to "take away human comforts and throw in an element of fear and humans will seek out their natural enemy: themselves." That quote comes from The Twilight Zone Vortex, and it's as good as you'll find.

Allegorical interpretations abound. Serling clearly intends this to be one of his "message" scripts; his closing narration states that "thoughts, attitudes, prejudices" are weapons found only in our minds, and that "prejudices can kill...and suspicion can destroy...and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own—for the children and the children yet unborn." It could be a warning about racism. It could be a treatise on the Red Scare. And it's timeless: it could be about terrorism, immigration—even COVID-19.

Have you noticed how people are being urged to "snitch" on people they see violating the norms of "social distancing"? (And boy, I'll be happy to never see or hear that Newspeak term again.) We hear of cases of social media ridiculing individuals who fail to join in nightly neighborhood celebrations of health workers. And predictably, the response to the virus has divided along political and ideological lines. Liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, red states and blue, make claims, exchange accusations, and hurl invective. Those who claim to be protecting lives are called tyrants; those who claim to be protecting jobs are called traitors. If we don't close everything up, people will die. If we don't open everything up, people will die. And, as is always the case, anyone who disagrees with us is a fool. We're in this together? Give me a frigging break.

If there's one thing we've learned in the last decade or so, it's that social media presents a highly distorted view of society, and so it's possible that the nation really has attained a level of unity not seen since World War II. It's possible. But it will be interesting to see what kind of world we live in when this pandemic ends. Will the businesses forced to close ever reopen, and will the workers laid off regain their jobs? Will the public scolds keep at it, or will they go back into their dark holes? Will things get back to normal, or is this, as some people have suggested, the "new" normal? What will the future be like?

In one of his more memorable quotes, Harry Reasoner, the CBS and ABC newsman, once cautioned against a society pursuing hypersafety:

The idea of trying to outguess life, to avoid everything that might conceivably injure your life, is a peculiarly dangerous one. Pretty soon you are existing in a morass of fear. A man makes a sort of deal with life, he gives up things because they are undignified or immoral; if life asks him to cringe in front of all reasonable indulgence, he may at the end say life is not worth it. Because for the cringing he may get one day extra or none; he never gets eternity.

I think we've forgotten that; in fact, I'm not sure how many of today's generations ever even considered this. We react today to life, and to our fellow man, with fear and paranoia. But as Reasoner says, danger comes in different disguises. Some might say that, in the panic of the moment, it is too dangerous to consider the the post-virus future. If not now, though, when? The future is only one second away; if we keep putting it off, we'll only guarantee that the present remains the same. And then who will The Monsters be? TV  

April 27, 2020

What's on TV? Saturday, April 25, 1953

I'm going to do a little cutting-and-pasting to give you a visual of something you'd never see in a TV Guide of the 1990s: the listings for an entire day of television, contained in four columns. Of course, this is what happens when you only have four stations, and the earliest program starts at 9:30 in the morning. Chicago may be a toddlin' town; that must mean even the TV people need to sleep in on Saturdays.

April 25, 2020

This week in TV Guide: April 24, 1953

A couple of weeks ago, when I wrote about the issue with Eve Arden on the cover, one of our readers commented that it was too bad I didn't write anything about her. Well, you know how it is—time and space, and I'm not talking about Doctor Who. I like Eve Arden too, and I love her sense of humor, especially her delivery. Well, I get a second chance this week: she's mentioned as one of the "Funny Females" that can be found all over the airwaves. Not just Arden, but Lucy, Imogene Coca, Gracie Allen, Gale Storm, and others. Which raises the question: why are there so many funny women on TV?

Dr. Bergen Evans, who moderates the show Down You Go, thinks that it's because women can succeed faster in television than in other, male-dominated professions. You see, afternoon soaps, which have a dominant female audience, thrive on "weak male characters and strong women."  When hubby comes home, however, they have to revert to "chiefly comic" roles. "They will have to be attractive but giddy, blundering with charming impetuosity from one absurdity to another, to be rescued at last by the superior and forgiving male. That will make hubby beam." He's speaking partly with tongue-in-cheek, but I think there's something to this; We know stories about how men feel threatened by smart, clever women (never mind that Bogie always seemed to be attracted to them, and always seemed to get them), and that women often had to hide that intelligence in order to get ahead. But who really has the last laugh? That character that Dr. Evans is describing sounds a lot like Lucy, and she did turn out to be quite a television mogul, didn't she?

Dr. Miles Murphy, a professor of psychology, believes that women succeed in comedy because they don't face the same constraints that men do, the need that many men seem to have to appear respectable. Does this mean that comedy isn't respectable? I don't think so; I think it more likely means that women are less self-conscious than men might be about letting themselves go. Dr. Yale Nathanson, who practices psychology, looks at the ways in which women are often charged with holding families together and says that comedy is a relief, "the escape valve that lets off the pressure of responsibilities or worries."  I admit, though that I'm partial to the explanation from anthropologist Ashley Montagu, who points out that "women are, on the whole, so much more appealing than men," and adds that it was inevitable that they would take over television entertainment. "Women possess the qualities of warmth and sympathy which immediately draw their fellow human beings toward them. Men may be clever, but it is the women who are good"

As for Eve Arden, "She's witty, easy on the eyes but generally finishes second to the male." THe first two are true enough, but second best? Just because she doesn't get Mr. Boynton? My wife says she never could understand what Connie Brooks would see in him. And anyway, it's not called Our Mr. Boynton, is it?

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We’re always looking at Ed Sullivan’s competition around here, and in the first half of the 1950s, that competition is NBC’s Colgate Comedy Hour and its stable of rotating hosts. Colgate and Sullivan's Toast of the Town have been going head-to-head every Sunday since 1950. Let’s see how it looks this week.

Sullivan: Ed presents a preview of "Never Let Me Go" with Clark Gable & Gene Tierney. Guests: singers Roberta Peters & Jan Peerce; Willie West & McGinty, comedy team; and the Marquis Monkeys. Also the four Copa Girls, and comedian Wally Boag.

Comedy Hour: Bud Abbott and Lou Costello host this week, with guests Hoagy Carmichael, Teresa Brewer and the Amin Brothers.

Sullivan often presented movie previews on Talk of the Town, so you can't really consider Gable and Tierney as guests; otherwise, the competition would be pretty much over. As it is, Roberta Peters and Jan Peerce are two of the biggest stars that the Metropolitan Opera has to offer (I wonder if they were appearing together in anything that season?) Willie West & McGinty were second-generation vaudevillians carrying on an act that had been around since the turn of the century, and I'm guessing the Marquis Monkeys are better known as the Marquis Chimps. On the other hand, Abbott & Costello are big box office, and combined with Hoagy Carmichael and Teresa Brewer, that's a formidable group of headliners. Maybe if Gable was actually on with Ed. . . this week's nod goes to the Comedy Hour.

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What, from this issue, speaks to us today? The man on the cover is Ralph Edwards, and in 1953 he was a TV star, with his show This Is Your Life. It began on the radio, as was the case with so many shows of the period, and after four years, in 1952, it transitioned to television. It remained on NBC until 1961, and was revived a couple of times along the way. Does the name mean much to you today? What about the idea of surprising people with the story of their life, including voices and appearances from friends, co-workers, and family? To tell you the truth, it doesn't do a whole lot for me; I don't think I'd want my life story played out in public, and this guy sure didn't.

Does Mister Peepers speak to you? It had a great cast, with Wally Cox starring in the title role of the mild-mannered Robinson J. Peepers, before he became the voice of the mild-mannered Shoeshine Boy, alias Underdog. (I should ask, first; does Underdog speak to you?) You'd recognize some of the other names in the cast: Tony Randall, Jack Warden, Marian Lorne, Ernest Truax. I confess that other than scattered clips, I've never seen an episode, but I've been told that it holds up pretty well. This issue features a look at some of the gadgets that have become a trademark of the show's humor (a trick locker, a sagging gooseneck desk lamp, Peepers' shaving mirror). Of course, besides Peepers and Underdog, Wally Cox is probably best-known as one of the original regulars on The Hollywood Squares.

And then there's Jackie Gleason, the Great One. I would like to think that he still speaks to a lot of people, but then I'd also like to think that whoever succeeded Ed McMahon as spokesman for Publishers' Clearing House is going to show up at our door any day now, and I'll welcome that person with open arms, social distancing or not. At any rate, this week's lead story goes behind the scenes to show us the writers' room, where all those great Gleason bits come from; I take some comfort from reading about how even professional writers who compose professional jokes can have writer's block, struggling to come up with an idea that takes off, especially when dealing with someone as larger-than-life as Gleason. And speaking of the Great One, it comes as no surprise that he disdains things such as rehearsals, not even bothering with the script until the day before the show. But once he gets involved, watch out; he controls everything from the music performed on the show (and how the music is performed) to the camera angles for the dance routines. Says an observer, "I've often marveled that the show ever gets off the ground. Week after week I'm frankly surprised that it does. Somebody appears to be a genius around here—and my guess is that it's Gleason."

The TV Teletype asks questions. Will he or won't he? Danny Kaye is demanding $200,000 for a three-minute guest spot on an unnamed show. "Producers are convinced he made his asking price intentionally prohibitive" because he's not ready to move to the new medium. That won't come for another decade, but when he does, he'll meet with much success. Does he or doesn't he? Red Skelton is threatening to move to ABC in the fall with a filmed show. It doesn't happen, though: Red, who's currently on NBC, instead moves over to CBS, where he'll remain until he returns to NBC in 1970. Does this speak, can you hear it?

It can be a challenge, in these early, unshaped days of television, to know what to look for, to identify that which is significant, to find what speaks to us today. It seems so long ago. And yet all these people, and those you read about below, they do speak to us. They've helped to form the cultural world we live in today; even if you haven't seen This Is Your Life, everyone knows the premise and recognizes the spoof. We live in their world, after all, and we're richer for it, whether we hear them calling us or not.

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Cultural programming (i.e. the classy show) on TV isn't dead yet, and we've got several examples this week, even if they aren't in prime time. On Saturday, NBC Opera Theatre presents part one of a two-part Der Rosenkavalier, Richard Strauss' magnificent opera, at 3:30 p.m. (part two airs next week). Then, at 2:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon, NBC's back at it with a two-hour Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation of Hamlet (left), starring the great Maurice Evans (also known as Sam's father on Bewitched), Ruth Chatterton, Joseph Schildkraut, Sarah Churchill and Barry Jones; TV Guide calls it "the epitome of high level entertainment." In one of those unfortunate scheduling moments that people are always complaining about in the pre-VCR days, CBS's Omnibus (3:30 p.m.) has a terrific show of its own, including a dramatic reading from A Tale of Two Cities, a dance performance by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, a look at the latest exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and a short story by James Thurber. It's great stuff—providing you're willing to skip the last hour of Hamlet—and it's the kind of thing that you can see, if not all the time, with far more frequency than you see today.

(One of the reasons we don't see programming like this anymore is because weekends are dominated by sports. Well, this weekend all we have is a horse race on Saturday, and a pair of Cubs games Saturday and Sunday. Makes you wonder how people freaked out by the virus-induced sports meltdown would have reacted back then.)

On Monday night the classics continue, as the enduring Voice of Firestone (7:30 p.m., NBC) features opera stars George London and Dorothy Warenskjold performing hits from both opera and musical theater. There's music of another kind on Tuesday; on Dinah Shore's thrice-weekly show (6:30 p.m., NBC), Dinah "welcomes Nashville, Tennessee to the network* and goes to a senior prom, singing "Tennessee Waltz" and "Dear Hearts and Gentle People." Later on, it's Milton Berle's Texaco Star Theater (7:00 p.m., NBC), and Uncle Miltie's guests are Bob Cummings, the aforementioned Wally Cox, and Lisa Kirk. Arthur Godfrey hasn't fired Julius LaRosa yet, so you'll see him Wednesday on Arthur Godfrey and Friends (7:00 p.m., CBS), along with friends including Frank Parker, Marion Marlowe, Janette Davis, and the Maguire Sisters.

*WSM, according to Wikipedia; the radio station of the same name is home to the Grand Ole Opry.

Thursday night Amos 'n' Andy (7:30 p.m., CBS) puts the Kingfish in a spot; a computer error results in a vocational guidance center grading him as an artistic genius. Next, it's Dragnet (8:00 p.m., NBC), as Sgt. Friday investigates the case of a man who apparently died from a heart attack—that is, until they find traces of poison in his system. On Friday, Dr. Bergen Evans—you remember, from the article on funny women—hosts Down You Go at 9:30 p.m. on DuMont; earlier, one of those funny women, Eve Arden, tries to help Principle Conklin make a good impression for "Board of Education Day" on Our Miss Brooks (8:30 p.m., CBS) And at 10:00 p.m., WBKB's Jim Moran hosts the fourth annual "Chicago Fights Cancer" Telethon, where you can see "Show Biz Greats" help hit a goal of $100,000 for the American Cancer Society. And who knows? You might win a 1953 Hudson!

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There's a nice article this week on 20-year-old Judy Tyler, aka Princess Summerfall Winterspring on Howdy Doody. You might remember her from this 1956 issue in which she shared the cover with Ed Sullivan; you might also remember her for the somewhat, shall we say, colorful aspects to her life that I mentioned at the time—with the kinds of details that don't make it into the pages of TV Guide, at least not in the 1950s.

But here all is goodness and light. The profile mentions how she's always wanted an acting career (her parents were both entertainers), and how, "[a]t a time most girls were concerned with dolls, Judy was modeling for Harry Conover. And that's not all, I want to say, but I won't. We don't, after all, know, although based on what we've learned, we can't help but wonder. But there's no question that Judy's got talent, and she's well on her way to having a big career; she's already won a national beauty contest, had her own show on WOR, and appeared in movies and as a bit player in nightclub acts. She married in 1950, when she was 18. She currently makes between $25,000 and $30,000 a year, which isn't chicken feed in 1953.

She'd just finished Jailhouse Rock with Elvis when she and her second husband were killed in an auto accident in 1957, when she was just 24. I prefer not to think of her that, or the other things; better to picture her as she is here, 20 years old, with a whole life to live and a career that seems limitless.

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There was a time—indeed, a very long time ago now—when, if something was wrong with your television, you didn't just up and buy a new one. You see, back then, TVs were—well, when they first came along they were pretty much a luxury item, and even after they became more commonplace, they were still pretty expensive relative to the amount of money the average household had. They weren't disposable items, in other words. So when something happened to your set, if the sound went bad (or you had no sound at all), or if suddenly black bars started appearing across the picture, you'd call a television repairman.

The repairman would come out to your home and remove the back of your set (as that repairman is doing at left) to see what the problem was. Televisions were made of tubes, resistors and capacitors, things that could be repaired or replaced, and it might be a case of merely changing a couple of tubes, like you might change the spark plugs on your car's engine; otherwise, he'd wind up putting the set in his truck and taking it back to the shop, where he'd repair the set and then bring it back to you, along with a bill for parts and labor.

The problem, which you would constantly be reminded of by the media, was that many television repairmen were crooks. They'd charge you for parts that didn't need to be replaced, or tell you they'd spent more time working on your TV than they actually had. They had the same reputation as auto mechanics, but since by then the television, like the family car, had become indispensable, you either asked your friends who they used or you picked a name from the phone book* and hoped for the best.

*A big book with names, addresses and telephone numbers in it. I'll tell you about it sometime.

The ad at the left is something you definitely would not have seen in any TV Guide from the past 40 years or so. There are several other ads in this issue for individual repairmen. It looks like good business to me; after all, if you're having trouble with your TV, why not trust someone who advertises in TV Guide? Notice that several of the shops offer "day & night" service, because you never know when your set might go on the fritz, and if you're like me, you're not going to want to wait until the next day to see if it can be repaired.

There's no question that times are different today; I think the last time I had a TV repaired was in 1988, and that only bought me a few more years at best. It's said that most modern televisions can be repaired, and it can save you a lot of money by having someone look at it, but I wonder if most people do that, or they just buy a new TV. Still, there's something about getting rid of an otherwise perfectly good appliance, like a television, just because a small part might not work. I hate the idea of planned obsolesce, but that kind of philosophy is itself obsolete. There's something about this ad that I like; it reminds me of my childhood, and of the shows from that time period. Just don't ask me to give up my big-screen TV. TV  

April 24, 2020

Around the dial

We start the week with a couple of articles from The Ringer; first, Michael Baumann hearkens back to the days of the opening title sequence, for both TV and movies, and says it's time to bring them back. He's absolutely right: a great title sequence can tell you everything you need to know about a show's story and tenor—think, for instance, of The Fugitive and The FBI, two of the very best.

The other Ringer piece, by Claire McNear, has nothing to do with classic television whatsover, except insofar as to illustrate the difference between then and now. It's about Too Hot to Handle, the new Netflex reality series, which sounds as godawful as any show that's ever appeared on television. I don't think it's to strong to say that this is what the fall of Western Civilization looks like. Just don't read it on an empty stomach.

After that, I think I might need something a little stronger that a soft drink (were I a drinking man), but it's welcome nonetheless to see these pop/soda/Coke/whatever-your-region-calls-it ads from the past, courtesy of Michael's TV Tray.

At bare•bones e-zine, it's time for another Hitchcock episode from the writing duo of Morton Fine and David Friedkin, as Jack looks at the 1964 episode "The McGregor Affair," with the great Andrew Duggan and John Hoyt among those in a standout episode that is very nasty indeed.

The Horn Section salutes the late Andrew J. Fenady, a television vet who died last weekend at the age of 91. Among his many credits are the three westerns he produced in the 1960s: The Rebel, Branded, and the series that's near and dear to Hal's heart, Hondo. R.I.P.

Another passing in the classic TV family is Tom Lester, Eb Dawson in Green Acres, who was 81 when he died on April 20. At A Shroud of Throughts, Terence looks back on the career of the man who was the last surviving cast member from a much-loved show.

The October 1982 issue of The Twilight Zone Magazine is a best-of-1982 issue, with the greatest stories of the year, and Jordan from The Twilight Zone Vortex is here to review it all, including stories by Stephen King, George R.R. Martin, Harlan Ellison, Joyce Carol Oates, and Rod Serling himself, among others.

Last, but most certainly not least, it's time for another episode of the Eventually Supertrain podcast, as Daniel and I discuss the further adventures of Bourbon Street Beat, plus more fun features!

Steady on, and we'll be back tomorrow with—well, I don't remember what issue we're looking at tomorrow, so it will be a surprise for all of us. A good one, though. TV  

April 22, 2020

The 10th Season

In my book The Electronic Mirror: What Classic TV Tells Us About Who We Were and Who We Are (and Everything In-Between!), I allowed myself the conceit of calling my chapters "Channels," and since there's no such thing as Channel 1 on the dial, I began the book (after a prologue) with Channel 2 and went on from there. After all, it's a book about television; cute, eh?

It's About TV! formally began on April 20, 2011 (a summer replacement series, maybe?), which makes this the 9th anniversary. If, that is, you did things the normal way. Since that's pretty much out of the question here, and since I've already gotten away with calling chapters channels, it stands to reason that I look at every anniversary as the start of a new season. Therefore, this represents the first post (episode?) of It's About TV!'s 10th season.

There are a lot of great television series that didn't make it as far as ten: Perry Mason, The FBI, All in the Family, Little House on the Prairie and Seinfeld only made it to nine, for instance, and Bewitched and The Andy Griffith Show were good for eight. Mission: Impossible and The Mary Tyler Moore Show made it to seven. 77 Sunset Strip ran for six season, Combat! for five, and The Fugitive stopped running after four. For that matter, Police Squad! only made it through six episodes. So I figure I'm in pretty good company. Of course, Gunsmoke ran for 20 seasons, and the original Doctor Who hit 26—but don't you dare ask me about that. I think, with this being the 1,535th episode (including a few reruns), it's done better than the average blog.

When It's About TV! first started, it was as a spin-off of a general interest website that's now called In Other Words, which had been running for a few years at the time. The tables have since turned, in that It's About TV! is now the main site, and while In Other Words is still going, it's closer to being a series of occasional specials than a weekly series.

Just as a television show can't exist without viewers, a website can't exist without readers. Well, it could, but it would probably be a waste of time for the person writing it. And writing It's About TV! hasn't been a waste of time for me; I hope you don't feel it's been a waste of your time reading it. Without all of you, there'd be no reason for this spectacle, or whatever it is, to keep going.

I may have mentioned before that this experiment is probably closer to the end than it is to the beginning; classic TV itself is, after all, a finite resource. It seems as if there's always something new to say about it though, and as long as the cast continues to sign up for another season and I can maintain the high level that I demand from myself, we'll have a new season to look forward to. TV  

April 20, 2020

What's on TV? Monday, April 17, 1961

It's the first day of the affiliate switch I mentioned on Saturday, with KMSP becoming an ABC affiliate, and WTCN now an independent, and Channel 9's viewers notice an immediate difference, not the least of which is tonight's live Academy Awards broadcast. While this might have seemed, at first, to be a loss for Channel 11, they'll go on to become the nation's top-rated independent station, home to well-loved reruns such as Star Trek, The Twilight Zone and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, as well as Mel Jass' famous matinee movie, and, in the 1970s, Merv Griffin in primetime. It also becomes the home of Minnesota professional sports, along with any kind of nationally syndicated sports. That, of course, is the WTCN I knew and loved. In many ways I think it was a mistake for them to turn to NBC affiliation (KMSP, once again an independent, assumed the role of top-rated in the nation), before becoming a Fox affiliate after the NFL deal. Independents aren't what they used to be, and none of them are quite like the old WTCN.

April 18, 2020

This week in TV Guide: April 15, 1961

Perhaps it was the fact that we shared a first name, or maybe it was the way he held his arms; Mitch Miller is to conducting what Joe Friday is to walking. Whatever the reason, and we'll probably never know just what it was, I grew up a fan of Mitch Miller. I've been told that I was quite the sight, standing in front of the TV with my legs together, arms stretched out, waving my hands in imitation of Miller's famous conducting pose. Ah, those were the days.

Mitch Miller was a singularly unlikely television star. He was a classical oboist, a studio musician, and head of recording for Columbia Records. He worked with, and later feuded with, Sinatra. He certainly had an eye for talent: his discoveries included Tony Bennett, Patti Page, Rosemary Clooney and Johnny Mathis. He had a knack for marketing: in 1954, the producers of Studio One approached Miller in search of a song for a drama they were doing about payola in the music industry. (He was a natural to ask, given Columbia was owned by CBS); he gave them a ballad called "Let Me Go, Devil," and urged them to use an unknown singer (Joan Weber) rather than an established star. The show was telecast (with the song now titled "Let Me Go, Lover"); Miller shrewdly saw to it that store shelves were well-stocked with recordings of the song. It was a smash, and sold 500,000 copies in five days.

He made a few records himself, and had a big choral hit with "The Yellow Rose of Texas." Yes, Mitch Miller was doing pretty well. But there was one thing Mitch Miller didn't like: rock music. It wasn't his kind of music, the music that had been so successful for him for so long; he called it "musical baby food: it is the worship of mediocrity, brought about by a passion for conformity." So he decided to fight back, with what was called the "Sing-along" album, recordings of old favorites with the lyrics printed on the cover so listeners could sing along with Mitch and the gang.

And when Sing Along With Mitch debuted on television in 1961, Mitch Miller became a star.

Sing Along With Mitch was an instant, and surprise, hit, reaching #15 in its first season.  It slaughtered The Untouchables (perhaps the most violent program on television at the time).  It spawned the successful singing career of Leslie Uggams.  It introduced us to Bob McGrath, of Sesame Street fame, who was a longtime singalongers.  Not bad.

The show stayed on the air for three seasons, was seen in reruns through 1966. The Christmas specials were always a highlight. The records sold well. Eventually, of course, the British invasion and the rock movement proved too much. But Mitch Miller never really faded away entirely. He was a pretty good, not great, player on Password. He was a frequent guest conductor for the Boston Pops. A lot of people credit Miller with being the progenitor of karaoke. OK, we'll give him a pass on that one.

Today I suppose it's hard to imagine a show like that being a hit, but then back in the day, almost anything was possible on television. It's—well, it's unfortunate that TV, with its astounding technological advances, is in many ways far less advanced than it was when it depended on the incredible creativity of its pioneers. But, as with so many other things, that's a story for another day.

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This Saturday is a red-letter day in Minnesota: the first home game of the new Minnesota Twins, who used to be the old Washington Senators, back when we had sports—remember those days? The pre-game show begins at 1:00 p.m. on WTCN, and at 1:25 the Twins take the field against the new Washington Senators from Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota, a suburb located roughly midway between the rival cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul; the team plays there for its first 21 seasons before moving to the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis. The Met was as good a place as any to watch a ballgame, a stadium that lacked what we’d call the finer amenities, but there were few bad seats in the place.

Unfortunately, the one thing it lacked was a roof, and when the politicos in Minnesota decided that an indoor, climate-controlled stadium was essential to retain the Twins and Minnesota Vikings, the stadium’s days were numbered. The Metrodome, too, has since bit the dust, being replaced by a new—outdoor—stadium in 2010. Meanwhile, the site of the old Met is now the Mall of America, which shares one thing in common with today’s Twins: right now, neither of them is open. Oh, and by the way, the Twins lost that first home game to the Senators, 5-2. A perennial loser when in Washington (“First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League”), by 1965 they’d be in the World Series.

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Affiliate switch! It’s not as big as the one in 1979, but “Operation Big Switch” prepares the Twin Cities for the swap, effective April 16, with ABC moving from WTCN, Channel 11, to KMSP, Channel 9; Channel 11 will take Channel 9’s place as the area’s independent station. And the first fruits of that change. . .

. . . None other than Hollywood's own red-letter day, the 33rd Academy Awards (Monday, 9:30 p.m., ABC), live from Santa Monica, California. The show’s hosted for the ninth time by Bob Hope, with a star-studded cast of nominees, presenters, singers and dancers filling out the two-hour program, which preempts Peter Gunn. The big winners? Burt Lancaster as Best Actor, Elizabeth Taylor as Best Actress, and The Apartment as Best Picture. I suspect you can catch them all on TCM. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I always enjoyed having the Oscars on Monday night; like Monday Night Football, it gave you something to look forward to on the toughest day of the week. Moving it to Sunday night has, I think, taken some of the glamour away. As for the argument that Sunday allows for an earlier start (and therefore an earlier end), I have a better idea: make the show shorter. You know their attitude towards us viewers, though: let 'em eat cake.

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Sunday's highlights are mostly for night owls At 10:00 p.m. on WTCN, it's the debut of The Oscar Levant Show, with guests Carl Reiner and Jayne Mansfield. For those of you who aren't familiar with him, Oscar Levant was a fascinating bundle of contradictions: he was a prodigy at the piano, studied with Arnold Schoenberg (had he more self-confidence, he could have had a career as a concert pianist; as it was, he was still very good), was a friend of George Gershwin, served as Al Jolson's sidekick on the radio version of Kraft Music Hall, and acted in all kinds of musicals, including The Band Wagon, An American in Paris and The Barclays of Broadway, providing an acidic wit to leaven their hoakiness. It was that caustic, sarcastic humor that he came to be best known for—well, that and his mental health. Oscar was hospitalized several times because of it, and he was quite open and upfront about it; in fact, an episode of The Jack Benny Program features Jack going to Oscar's psychiatrist for troubles with his nerves. Levant often discussed his problems on talk shows like Jack Paar's, where he was a favorite. Oscar Levant was not, I think, a happy man; the fact that he found humor in his problems doesn't disguise the fact that he had them.

If you're still awake after Levant, you might want to stick around for Eichmann on Trial (Midnight, ABC), which replaces the news program Roundup USA for the duration of Adolf Eichmann's war crimes trial. It's a digest of the week's developments at the trial, which began on April 11 and will run through August; Eichmann will be found guilty in a verdict released in December, and is executed on June 1, 1962. Eichmann was one of the most evil of the Nazis, a prime architect of the "Final Solution" agreed upon at the 1942 Wannsee Conference. His trial is big, big news worldwide.

You're going to want to save your energy on Monday for the Oscars, but if you can, watch the prime time premiere of the daytime game show Concentration (8:30 p.m., NBC), hosted by Hugh Downs. Not only does it give working stiffs like us a chance to see the fun, there's a bonus: unlike the daytime version, it's in color! Tuesday night presents the premiere of Walter Matthau's only television series, the police drama Tallahassee 7000 (9:30 p.m., KMSP). As shows go, there's nothing special about it; according to the always-reliable Wikipedia, Matthau did the series "only for the minor inconvenience of making a living," and the bio Matthau: A Life by Rob Edelman and Audrey E. Kupferberg call it "another Matthau career nadir." If you want a Florida-based show, you're probably better off sticking with Surfside 6. Meanwhile, if you've only seen Frank Sutton on Gomer Pyle, you're going to want to check out Wednesday's episode of Naked City (9:00 p.m., ABC), where Sutton and Robert Blake (no surprise) play a couple of psychopathic killers on the loose.

Do you remember how the networks used to do specials when the Ringling Brothers Circus or the Ice Capades would open their seasons? They'd be hosted by someone like Ed Ames, who'd sing a couple of songs and introduce a few acts that would duly impress viewers, and everyone would have a good time. We have one of those on Thursday, as Arthur Godfrey travels to Greensboro for highlights of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus (7:00 p.m., CBS). Makes sense, since Godfrey often appears at western shows of one kind or another, doing some dance steps with his horse, Goldie; I saw him at the Minnesota State Fair one year, performing at such a show. He was a crowd pleaser, even when he wasn't appearing on a twin bill with Julius LaRosa. Later one, Pat Boone has his own springtime special (7:30 p.m., ABC), with Dorothy Provine, Fabian, Johnny Mercer, Joanie Sommers, and the Kingston Trio. Saving the best for last, at 9:30 p.m. on ABC, it's another of Ernie Kovacs' monthly specials. The night's heavy on music, with "interpretations" of Tchaikovsky, Bartok and Weill.

The most intriguing program of the week may well be Friday’s Jackie Gleason special entitled "The Million Dollar Incident” (7:30 p.m., CBS). It is presented to us as a “true” story and is set seven years ago, with Gleason, as himself, bursting into Toots Shor’s and, after a shot of whiskey for the nerves, telling his friend Ed Sullivan (also playing himself) what’s just happened to him. From there we learn that Gleason had been kidnapped by a trio of crooks who planned to hold him for ransom—one million dollars, to be precise, payable by CBS. The crooks are played by Everett Sloane, Jack Klugman and Peter Falk; Gleason himself came up with the story, which was written by A.J. Russell, Sydney Zelinka and Walter Stone, and was directed by Norman Jewison. You can see it at the Paley Center in New York, and it would be a great one (for the Great One) if it was made available for home viewing.

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Richard Gehman has an article on John Charles Daly, one of my favorite television personalities of all time, a man now making news rather than reporting it. We know about his remarkable news career, which I wrote about here; Gehman says that over the years Daly became known as a man "who could cover anything from a Presidential tour to the birth of a penguin." His desire to learn as much as he could about a subject, and to find the facts for himself, had made him one of the most learned men in the news business. Not long ago, according to Gehman, a friend had asked Daly about the situation in Laos. He replied with "a 10-minute exposition, peopling it with the principal characters in the struggle for power, giving their backgrounds and forecasting the events of the next few months."

But, as the headline says, Daly's now making the news himself. Last year he left his position as news chief at ABC after a dispute about the network's election-night coverage. Sure, there had been disagreements in the last four or five years, but things came to a head on November 8. "When the executives cut into my news coverage to put on two shows, Bugs Bunny and The Rifleman, I felt it was going too far." It's freed him to work full time as emcee of What's My Line? on CBS, a job he's held since 1950. (Even though he was a VP at ABC, the network allowed him to do WML on CBS, a network he had worked for until 1949.) For Daly, hosting the quiz show is "little more than a chore." He arrives at the studio at 10:10 p.m., talks a little with the night's guests, gets some powder on his face for the live broadcast beginning at 10:30 p.m, and leaves the studio at 11:05, five minutes after WML goes off the air.

A half-hour a week hardly enough time to keep a man like Daly busy, so everyone wonders what he's headed for next. Will he go into government? Will he go into newspaper publishing? Daly himself says only that "I've had no vacation for four years. I'm getting some rest now. [And also spending time with his bride, Virginia, whom he married last year.] I don't know how long I"ll rest. But when, one morning, I wake up itchy, I'll know it's time to go back to work." John Daly hosts What's My Line? until its network run ends in 1967. He then spends a year as head of the Voice of America, and works for several years for the American Enterprise Institute. Through it all he remains urbane, avuncular, good-humored; as I've said many times, he's what I want to be when I grow up.

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Do you remember Mark Wilson? I probably haven't thought of him in years, but whenever I see his name in TV Guide, or run across an article like the one in this week's issue, he reappears in my memory as if out of nowhere. Which is appropriate, since Mark Wilson is one of the best-known magicians in the country. For the last three years he's hosted the Saturday morning ABC show called The Magic Land of Allakazam. The article focuses on his work with the animals in his act (Basil the Baffling Bunny, Gertrude the Glamorous Guinea Pig, Charles the Charming Chicken, and more), but if you want to know how he gets them to levitate in his act, don't count on him telling you. "With all the animals sailing into space these days," he says, "we can brag that we do not use a space capsule, and we promise to bring 'em back alive."

Unlike many of the shows I write about, I can't really tell you much about Allakazam, other than that "Allakazam" (not "Presto!") is the magic word. No, my memory of the show comes from finding a "paintless paint book" in an old cedar chest in our basement about 25 years ago. There were all kinds of things in that chest: old cartoon-character soaky toys, scrapbooks, comics and coloring books. We kept the soaky toys and got rid of most everything else in one of the many downsizings we've gone through over the years; part of me is sorry for having gotten rid of it all, but on the other hand it's pretty embarrassing when things like that keep you from fitting into the condo you want to buy, so it's a question of values. We'll always have the memories though, even if we don't have Paris, and the memory I have is of seeing Mark Wilson on the cover of this paint book, where if you dampened the page, the color magically! appears. Even before I found the picture on the right, I could tell you what it looked like: yellow cover, Mark Wilson pulling a rabbit out of the hat, and the word "Allakazam" across the front.

So whenever I see Allakazam, I don't remember the show, although I know I watched it; I remember the paint book. It's a pleasant memory, seeing something that you'd forgotten about for so long, I suppose this whole website has been about memories, come to think of it. But then, where would we be without them? I think someone answered that once, but I can't remember what it was. TV  

April 17, 2020

Around the dial

Everyone still hanging in there through all this? As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, we're fine here; take a moment to drop a line in the comments box and let us know how you are!

I don't do the grocery shopping in our family, and I doubt they'd let me in some stores right now (only the shopper need enter), but I have fond memories of riding around in the grocery cart basket when I was a kid. At Comfort TV, David brings back some of those memories with a look at how grocery stores have been portrayed in classic television. I do like that old packaging!

It's Wednesday comics week at The Twilight Zone Vortex, and in this week's issue (May, 1971), Jordan gives us a story called "The Man-Beast of Paris." And no, they're not talking about Andre the Giant here.

Television's New Frontier: the 1960s travels out west to look at the 1961 episodes from Tales of Wells Fargo, starring Dale Robertson. The year covers the second half of season five and the first half of season six, including the show's move to color. That isn't all that moved, though; the network moved the show to Saturdays, up against Perry Mason. Need I mention that it's the show's last season?

We haven't stopped in at Eyes of a Generation for awhile, and I can't think of a better reason to look in today than this color film tour of CBS's Studio 72 in 1954. It was never aired, and features color productions of both The Ed Sullivan Show and Danger.

Speaking of tours, Inner Toob takes us on a tour of Alan Hale Jr.'s career as Jonas Grumby, The Skipper on Gilligan's Island. And if you know how Inner Toob works, then you won't be surprised to see some other areas where Hale pops up--but could that have been, in fact, The Skipper that we actually saw?

At Realweegiemidget, it's time for a look at "Black Magic," a second season episode of The Bionic Woman, with a guest cast that includes not only Vincent Price (in a dual role!) but also Abe Vigoda, Julie Newmar, and William Windom.

From the mailbag, loyal reader Mark Waldow writes that he collects print ads about local affiliation changes, and wonders if anyone else out there does this. Of course, we went through a few affiliate changes here in the Twin Cities, and I'm going to check on the advertising during an upcoming weekend when I rearrange all my issues of TV Guide. But do any of you have examples you'd like to share? If so, please let me know in the comments or via email.

As for that picture at the top? It's Dick and Pat Nixon, of course, watching the Republican National Convention on TV. There's no date on the picture, but I'm betting it's 1960, the year he's nominated for his first run at the presidency. Something else about this picture; I know that Nixon was a very private man, and I don't think that sharing himself or his feelings came easy to him. You notice that even though they're sitting very close together, there's no physical contact. Now, expressions of public emotion were far less common back then; still, I can't imagine that being the case with my wife and I, regardless of the occasion but especially during such a momentous time. When Pat died, he took it very hard; I think he regretted not having shared more with her. Like him or not, there's always been something very Shakespearian about Richard Nixon, in the most tragic of contexts. TV  

April 15, 2020

What I've been watching: March, 2020

Shows I’ve Watched:

Shows I’ve Bought:
The Occult History of the Third Reich
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
The Ernie Kovacs Show
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Somehow or other our Sunday night viewing had settled into a pattern of a documentary on the Third Reich and an episode of a Sherlock Holmes story. The fact that this has been going on for a number of months serves as a testimony not only to the number of documentaries about the Nazis—they’re legion—but the number of series built around Sherlock Holmes: Basil Rathbone, Ronald Howard, Douglas Wilmer, Peter Cushing, and now Jeremy Brett.

The fascination with Nazis started with two superb movies: Downfall, starring Bruno Ganz in what has to be the definitive portrayal of Adolf Hitler; and Conspiracy, the disturbing movie on the 1942 Wannsee Conference at which the Final Solution was drawn up, with Kenneth Branagh and Stanley Tucci. That was followed by Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will, her account of the 1934 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg, one of the greatest cinematic pieces of propaganda ever made, which captures Hitler at his most mesmerizing. There were series such as Architects of Darkness, which included some incredible home movies of Hitler, some taken by Eva Braun, and did well to explain how and why Hitler became Hitler. One of the most fascinating was an extremely interesting, but very odd, documentary series called The Occult History of the Third Reich, which traced Nazism from a grotesque goulash of Germanic folklore, the Völkisch movement, Aryanism, Eugenics, antisemitism, paganism, and mysticism, and how Heinrich Himmler hoped to convert the SS into a new religion. After watching those, I'd defy anyone to not be fascinated with the subject.

Although the supply of Nazi documentaries seems to be limitless, and probably is, after a bit it tends to get a bit repetitive, which made it a perfect time to segue to the three-hour adaptation of William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, produced by the great David L. Wolper, which aired on ABC in 1968 in three one-hour episodes shown on consecutive nights. The fact that a network would spend three prime time hours on a black-and-white documentary about World War II says much not only about the quality of the program, but how television has changed since then.

Were it not for the fact that the legacy of the Third Reich goes beyond horrifying, I'd be tempted to refer to the hierarchy of the Nazi party as a motley group of colorful misfits, but that's a little too Runyonesque for what was essentially a band of gangsters. There was Julius Streicher, (publisher of the virulently antisemitic newspaper Der Stürmer); Josef Goebbels (who understood, better than today’s politicians, how to use the mass media); Hermann Göring, head of the Luftwaffe (whose disastrous advise to Hitler may have saved England during the Battle of Britain); Himmler (who emerges as one of the most interesting, as well as disturbing, of the Nazis); Albert Speer (a brilliant organizer who might have won the war for Germany if Hitler had given him control); and that's just the supporting cast, because any documentary about the Third Reich is going to have Adolf Hitler as the star.

Inside the Third Reich (the television series) isn't necessarily the definitive account—you couldn’t possibly do that in three hours, and it doesn’t even begin to get into the things, such as the Völkisch movement, that made Germany so susceptible to Hitler. Shirer has often been accused of a bias against the German nation and its people, and I think that's an accusation that is not without merit. What the series does, however, it does exceptionally well. We get footage of Hitler and the Nazis that is startlingly clear, quite unlike some of the grainy footage we’ve become used to seeing over the years. We see interviews with some people very close to Hitler and other members of the hierarchy (and several appearances by Shirer himself). It's all set against the backdrop of a pulsating, discordant score by Lalo Schifrin in which one can hear traces of his music for Mission: Impossible, and framed with a dignified narration by Richard Basehart.

I don’t pretend that a review of the documentary is a review of the book; as I said, you can’t cover a book of over 1,200 pages in such a short time. But as television goes, informed and enriched by multiple viewpoints and areas of interest, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich serves as a fitting epitaph to a time in history when the leaders of a modern nation tried to reinvent it into a Medieval killer state. And it reminds us, as events in the Middle East in recent years have shown, that there are those out there who would love to reboot the whole thing.

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The Third Reich is probably one of the few topics that could make a series on crime and punishment look lighthearted by comparison, but while Sherlock Holmes is the detective story par excellence, much of the charm and insight comes from the inner workings of the main character himself, Sherlock Holmes, and in the case of television, that of the actor playing him.

The Holmes routine began with the series of movies starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, and while they weren’t exactly true to the canon established by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—as far as I know, Holmes never took on the Nazis or flew to Washington, D.C.—they were true to the spirit of the character, often using the bones of other Holmes stories to tell their tales. Most important, they were fun. Ronald Howard (son of Leslie) starred in a single-season half-hour series that was kind of lightweight, but again, fun. Douglas Wilmer’s take, from 1965-66. casts Holmes as serious, sarcastic and determined, with an arrogance that is both bracing and fully justified. Dr. Watson, played Nigel Stock, is still a boob, but more bumptious than stupid—after all, the man is an M.D. Fewer than a dozen of his episodes still exist, but they're terrific. Wilmer only played Holmes for one season; when it came back in 1968, Peter Cushing took over the role, with Stock continuing on as Watson.

That leaves only the definitive Holmes, Jeremy Brett. (Yes, I know there are other movies and series that are perfectly adequate, even excellent. I liked Robert Downey Jr. myself. And while Benedict Cumberbatch is fun—a word that always works well with Holmes—I prefer my Sherlocks as period pieces, or at least in that spirit. Besides, there's only so much room here.) Where was I? Yes, Brett—who played Holmes from 1984-94 and is everything you'd want Holmes to be. He's quirky, quick-witted, self-assured, occasionally tortured, frequently arrogant, and virtually always right. He's also surprisingly nimble, of body as well as mind, and I bring that up because it points out how important the physical portrayal of Holmes can be. That physicality projects not only his determination, but the rapidity of his mind; and his body language establishes that, for the criminal, he truly is a dangerous man.

Brett is aided, in this first season, by David Burke as Watson. This is a Watson who is very smart indeed; not at the level of Holmes, of course, but he's learned well from his compatriot, and each episode contains a bit in which Watson demonstrates how he's picked up on the art of observation, often listing the very same clues that Holmes has seen. The difference, of course, is that Watson fails to come to the same—that is, the correct—conclusion, and the cutting retort from Holmes can sometimes be painful, to us as well as to Watson, who is the most loyal of friends. Holmes is always quick to temper his remarks, though, and there's no doubt that when he compliments Watson, it is no mere flattery. Their chemistry is great.

Throw in literate, even elegant, scripts (many by John Hawkesworth) and period details that create a perfect atmosphere, and you've got just the thing to cleanse the palate after an hour with the Third Reich. TV  

April 13, 2020

What's on TV? Wednesday, April 15, 1953

Another thing about these old issues: they're very local. You'll remember that this is only the second national issue of TV Guide, and clearly not much has changed since this was Chicago's own TV Listings (which was all of two weeks ago). Not only are our four stations saturated with local programming, the features are all written by local writers and geared toward local personalities. There are no logos of any kind in use for the station numbers, and we see something that's never used in TV Guide: serif fonts. What this really reminds me of, more than anything else, is one of those TV digest types of magazines you used to be able to pick up for free in convenience stores. (Hopefully, you're old enough to know what I'm talking about.) At any rate, even in these early days of TV (and TV Guide), you're going to find shows that you recognize.

April 11, 2020

This week in TV Guide: April 10, 1953

Last week we were on hand for the first anniversary of TV Guide as a national publication. This week, we’ll go back one more year, to the second-ever issue of the magazine. We’ll also travel from Philadelphia west to another city with a rich television history, Chicago. Over the course of 2020, we’ll be looking at several 1953 issues from Chicago, and we’re bound to see some of the city’s early TV stars along the way. Since the Chicago edition began life as "TV Forecast," we’ll also see features unique to that publication, ones with a definite local angle.

First, though, we'll start with the cover, and a man sitting on top of the television world right now. Jack Webb is in his early 30’s, he weighs a trim 165 pounds, and Dragnet plays to an audience estimated at 38 million each week. (For context, 2018’s top-rated program, NBC’s Sunday Night Football, averaged about 19.3 million viewers, up about a million from the previous year.) And, according to this week’s article, "He plays every television scene as if it were a real police case."

Dragnet started on the radio in 1949, and from 1952 to 1957 was broadcast on both radio and television (different stories, of course). Webb got the idea while playing a police lieutenant in the movie He Walked By Night; he asked a Los Angeles police sergeant serving as technical advisor if it would be possible to do a radio series based on actual case files. After getting information from the department, creating his characters, and coming up with a format, he made the pitch to NBC and won the day. According to police chief C.B. Horrall, what made the show appealing is how it doesn’t make heroes out of ordinary policeman, and reflects "the day-to-day drudgery of police work." The sponsor suggested adding a TV version in 1951, and it made its debut on January 1, 1952.

No, Joethe ratings are great!
There's a good look backstage at how each episode is made. It stars with Webb and writer John Robinson reviewing case histories given to them by the department. Once they’ve chosen the week’s story, they do the script for the radio series (they’ll later adapt it for TV), which is then submitted to the department for technical corrections and the City Attorney’s office for any legal ramifications; a policeman from the appropriate department is on the set to guarantee authenticity. Webb makes liberal use of teleprompters to cut down on retakes (important since the budget for each episode is only about $30,000). He makes four episodes over a two-week period, then takes two weeks off for “careful planning and editing.”

Other things that I find quite interesting: Webb reads and answers every letter he gets (about 400 per week; he estimates that each letter represents about 10,000 viewers), and if even ten letters suggest a change, he’ll consider it—after all, that translates to as many as 100,000 listeners who might feel the same way. It’s not a show that thrives on violence (and that alone makes it notable in the world of TV police shows); Webb estimates that only about 15 bullets have been fired during the life of the show, which would probably equal an average single episode of The Untouchables—before the first commercial break. (Ah, but we’re skipping ahead a few years, aren’t we?) He’s most proud of the letters he gets from real law enforcement officials praising the show’s realism. And while Webb is a stickler for accuracy, he also wants to make sure there’s nothing in the episode that would make the criminal recognizable in real life—he’s already paid his debt.

All this accuracy has helped make Dragnet the #3 rated show on television. It also reminds the public that “crime does not pay.”

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We’re always looking at Ed Sullivan’s competition around here, and in the first half of the 1950s, that competition is NBC’s Colgate Comedy Hour and its stable of rotating hosts. While Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were the most famous (and most popular) headliners, there were a number of big-name entertainers who at one time or another were part of that rotation, including Donald O’Connor, Eddie Cantor, Abbott & Costello (separately and together), Jimmy Durante and Bob Hope. Although the show gave Ed a real run for his money early on (especially when Martin & Lewis hosted), by now Toast of the Town, as the Sullivan show was known for its first few years, is exercising ratings dominance, and by 1955 it’s off the air. For now, though, they’re still going head-to-head at 7:00 p.m. CT every Sunday. Let’s see what it looks like this week.

Sullivan: Ed presents Jane Powell in a scene from “Small Town Girl”; Rex Harrison and Lilli Palmer; Billy de Wolfe; Billy Ward’s Dominoes, singing and instrumental quartet; the University of Michigan Glee Club; and the Gae Foster Toastettes.

Comedy Hour: This week’s host is Eddie Cantor, with guests Gloria Grahame, the Will Maston Trio with Sammy Davis Jr., and Harry Kari, Japanese singing comedian.

You know, these are both pretty good, pretty typical lineups for the time. Ed has some real star power with Powell, Harrison and Palmer; on the other hand, you've got the young Sammy Davis Jr. performing with the Will Maston Trio, and you know I'm a fan of Sammy's. In the end, though, Ed just has too much star power; perhaps if Eddie Cantor had Harry Caray the baseball announcer, or Harry Carey Jr. the actor—but no. And so we'll toast Ed as this week's winner

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Another week, another big championship bout. Or not. Red Smith, perhaps the nation's premiere sportswriter, has an article on what to look forward to in the Rocky Marciano—Jersey Joe Walcott heavyweight championship fight, scheduled for Friday night from Chicago Stadium. The two had first met last September in Philadelphia with Walcott's title on the line, and ended in the 13th round with a spectacular Marciano knockout, one of the most famous in the long history of the sport. Friday night Marciano makes his first title defense in a rematch with Walcott. Not everyone is convinced that the rugged, rough-around-the-edges Marciano has what it takes to be a champion, and that his one-punch KO of Walcott was more a fluke than anything else. Red Smith's take is that Walcott, known affectionately as "The Old Man" ("the oldest heavyweight champion since Achilles outpointed Hector," Smith says), has reached the end of the line, and that Rocky, crude and inexperienced though he may be, should take him out in the seventh or eighth round.

Now, you'll notice how I mentioned that the fight was "scheduled" for Friday. So why, when you turn to Cavalcade of Sports at 9:00 p.m. on NBC, do you see Randy Sands scheduled to take on Willie Troy? Well, it's like this: just as the national section of TV Guide went to press, Marciano sustained a cut while in training, necessitating a postponement of the fight by one month, to May 15. The editors decided that Smith's article "still holds true for the May 15 match."* And when that fight does take place, still in Chicago, Marciano scores a knockout two minutes into the first round. It's a controversial ending; many think Walcott took a dive in return for the biggest payday of his career, even more than the champ was getting paid. We'll probably never know. What we do know is that on Monday night, young Floyd Patterson is scheduled to meet Dick Wagner in a light-heavyweight bout (8:30 p.m., DuMont). It's only the sixth professional fight for Patterson, the 1952 Olympic light-heavyweight gold medalist.

*FYI: since the fight was held in Chicago, it would have been blacked out in Chicagoland anyway.

The rest of the story: Jersey Joe Walcott never fights again after losing to Rocky Marciano. The Rock retires in 1956 as the only undefeated heavyweight champion in history (a distinction he holds to this day). A tournament is held to select his successor; it's won by—Floyd Patterson.

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If, like me, you believe that Ronald Reagan’s road to the presidency begins with his long association with GE Theater, you’ll note this from the New York TV Teletype, that the show, “which substituted for Fred Waring while the Pennsylvanians were on tour, will also replace the Waring show this summer.” It stays there, airing Sunday nights until 1962, as Reagan tours the country as commercial spokesman, meeting and impressing the public. Four years after the show goes off the air, Reagan moves into the governor’s mansion in Sacramento.

You might be surprised to see Perry Como with a 15-minute program, but until 1955, when he got an hour-long show (and moved to NBC), Mr. C made do with airing three times a week (6:45 p.m., CBS) in the remainder of the half-hour taken up by Douglas Edwards and the CBS news. (None other than Dinah Shore performed a similar function over on NBC Tuesday and Thursday nights). And yes, the Eddie Albert who hosts his own daily half-hour variety show on CBS (2:30 p.m.) is the same Eddie Albert who, 15 years later, lives on Green Acres.

And on Tuesday morning (7:00 a.m., NBC), Today throws "a birthday party for Mr. Muggs, who is one year old today." That's certainly a cause for celebration!

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What kind of letters are people writing about in 1953? The magazine doesn't have a national “Letters to the Editor” section yet, so the letter writers are going to be from the TV Forecast circulation area, Chicago and surrounding cities. Also, since this is only the second issue of TV Guide, they’re probably also all referring to articles that had appeared in TV Forecast. And there’s a heavy, though not exclusively, local slant to the correspondence.

For example, the Leptich Family of Chicago writes, “Your TV critics really can miss the boat. There is a real personality right here in Chicago. The warm, humorous off the cuff type such as Godfrey—And we mean Chuck Bill. Why not put him in charge of a panel show or variety show?” Chuck Bill is the host of Adventure Time Saturday mornings on WBKB; later on, he hosts the station's Serial Theater on Saturday afternoons, and later on he can be found on the radio at WLS Farm Special. As far as I know, he never got a national show of his own.

There are a couple of letters referring to the Fohrman family; alluding to their sponsorship of Saturday night wrestling on WGN. Mrs. Mack McIntyre of Hammond, Indana, thanks God that “we still have a few men in America like them that will spend part of their money in America for the American people,” and ads that her TV “wouldn’t be worth 10 cents to me without wrestling.” Mrs. Fred Coughenour of Gary, Indiana adds that “I’m for the Fohrman family 100% . . . Now don’t answer me and say I don’t know art.” I’m assuming that these two ladies (and remember how many wrestling fans of the 1950s were women) are referring to Fohrman Motors and Benjamin Fohrman, referred to in his obituary as “an early television advertiser.” In fact, that obituary mentions a remarkable and tragic story, which you can read more about here.

And then there are some stories that supersede regional interests. Mr. and Mrs. Henry Von Ogden of Chicago have some strong words for the star of the sitcom My Friend Irma.* “Why don’t they do something about the clothes Marie Wilson wears on “Irma”? We’re so disgusted we stopped smoking her sponsor’s product.” I looked around the internet and watched a couple of episodes of Irma, and while it’s not hard finding a cheesecake photo of Marie Wilson, this picture from the cover of TV Forecast is the only specifically “Irma” photo I could find that could conceivably fit the outrage from Mr. and Mrs. Von Ogden. (And she does look very friendly indeed, doesn't she?) Call the Morals Squad!

*Fun fact: Irma began on radio in 1943 and moved to television in 1952. A movie version of My Friend Irma was made in 1949; Marie Wilson played Irma, but it's mainly remembered today for introducing Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis to moviegoers

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Finally, here's something I can almost guarantee you won't see on WGN today: the grand opening of City & Suburban Heating, at 4:00 p.m. Saturday, or right after the ball game, with a host of personalities headed by WGN radio personality Jim Ameche (brother of Don, and cousin of Alan "The Horse," the great Baltimore Colts running back who scores the winning touchdown in overtime in the 1958 NFL Championship), and before you assume that this is just a collection of B-listers and brothers of more famous stars, Jim is a star in his own right, most prominently as the radio voice of Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy from 1933 to 1938—no surprise since the show originated on WBBM in Chicago. He'll continue with a long and successful radio announcing career before dying in 1983.

As for City & Suburban Heating, it's still around, known today as City & Suburban Heating & Cooling. A pet grooming business now operates at 5434 South Archer, but City & Suburban has a location about 12 miles away, and they're an A-rated company by Angie's List. It's nice to know that, even after more than 60 years, some things don't change. TV