May 16, 2020

This week in TV Guide: May 15, 1971

Are the words "television" and "journalism" mutually exclusive? Of course not; we saw a couple of weeks ago how Edward R. Murrow took on Joseph McCarthy; New York Times critic Jack Gould called it a week that "may be remembered as the week that broadcasting recaptured its soul." That was 17 years ago, and in this first of a four-part look at television journalism, Richard Townley looks as why today's TV news "appears paunchy and pallid. It seems to lack the most important thing Murrow's brand of journalism gave it: promise."

The series begins with a look at local news coverage, which Townley sees as a particular disappointment in the New York and Washington D.C. areas, markets that one would think are the "sine qua non of broadcast journalism." And yet, compared to the work being done by print journalists, "television has almost totally abdicated its responsibility to do original reporting: the kind . . . that's important because we say it is, not because The New York Times says so."

Townley runs through a litany of responsibilities and resources that local news departments have, juxtaposed with the lack of return, all of which convinces the reader that the public deserves better than they get—which one analyst describes as "a headline service." So where's the problem? Townley points to a uniformity of thought in news departments about what constitutes "important" news. It's not an ideological bias, he writes, but one of "a common belief that some stories can be covered better than others on television. Invariably, this means picture stories. And the best stories of this kind—as any movie-goer can testify—are stories of excitement and conflict." Townley points to the civil rights and antiwar movements as stories of conflict that were also legitimate news stories. But, he asks, would the media have become as invested in civil rights if it hadn't been violent, if the South had acquiesced to racial integration? (The protesters, knowing what sells on TV news, clearly understood how to frame the story to get maximum coverage.) Dr Milton Eisenhower, brother of Dwight and chairman of the post-RFK assassination commission on violence in America, says that "for a long, long time [television] has given greater news value to conflict than it has to the fundamental knowledge that people need in order to make wise democratic decisions."

So now we know what the problem is, but why? Townley points to three factors: demands on news managers to be profitable as well as respectable; the definition of success as being measured in ratings in order to deliver that profitability; and the perception that viewers are "lazy, indifferent or ignorant, and easily bored," which "makes thought the slave to picture." The conclusion Townley reaches at the end of his examination: in an industry where "one rating point means hard cash" and one New York station when through three news directors in one year, the tone is set by "men like WNEW-TV's Ted Kavanau, who says: 'We can only take so many risks.'" So it was then, so it is now.

t  t  t


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. 

It's fitting, considering this week's cover story, that Cleveland Amory has in his sights not one, nor even two, but threecount 'em, three—shows: the network evening news programs. Anchoring the nightly news is a tough job, says Cleve; back in the old days, when he was "a boy in Babylon," if an emissary came bearing good news, "we welcomed them with open arms, gave them a banquet and wrote them a rave review." On the other hand, if it was bad news—well, "we first smote them hip and thigh, then slew them, then delivered, to their next of kin, a rotten review." Nowadays, they just lose their jobs—ask the last two anchors at CBS.

There's a problem, in general, with the news on television, Amory says—we need more of it. That is, tough-minded news, with independent thought. We all prefer good news to bad news, but sometimes it just hasn't been that good a day—and that's the way the news has to be presented. But, "with the kind of pressure the news departments are getting these days, we have just that much less chance of getting it. For whether or not no news is good news, one thing is certain—all good news, for a country that pretends to freedom, is bad news indeed."

Amory points out the weaknesses of network news programs: they're all "slavish imitations of each other" (echoing the observations of Richard Townley above); when charges are made against somebody, "the answers to these charges are somehow the things you remember"; and for an industry such as network news that makes such an issue (and rightly so) of independence from government interference, "why don't they give outside commentators the same independence they want?" And don't try to make them into show business; back in the day, "Huntley and Brinkley's competitors always seemed to be searching frantically for a kind of top-banana team consisting of a Pete Personality and a Charley Charisma."

As far as individual broadcasts are concerned, Cleve feels NBC's has improved, with "the professorial Mr. McGee and the wryly earnest Mr. Chancellor," and at CBS, "Mr. Cronkite is as good as he ever was, backed up by Mr. Sevareid, who could be for our taste a bit more full of sound and fury, but he at least signifies something." ABC has become a player as well, with Howard K. Smith (who "has moved unobtrusively but steadily into becoming close to our No. 1 favorite") being joined by Harry Reasoner, "who can be both light and heavy." All that's left now is for public television to come up with a real evening news program, producing four-way competition. "That, not censorship, is the only answer."

t  t  t

Philo Farnsworth's friends complain there's nothing good on.
It's TV's "great paradox," according to the Doan Report: "more and more people watching while more and more disparagement is heaped on the medium." The average viewer, according to Nielsen, watches "just under six hours" of television each day. (They obviously didn't ask me.) Women, who spend more time at home, watch about 30 hours per week, men about six hours less. And while the wealthy and highly education tend to look down their noses at TV, that doesn't prevent them from watching; men earning over $15,000 (affluent back in 1971!) watch 20 hours a week, their wives take in 23 hours.

One can imagine this has always been the case, and as the number of stations grew, people still complained. Remember Springsteen's song about 57 channels and nothing on? I wonder, though, if we're finally arriving at a point where people are happy with their choices? (If not the amount of money they have to pay.) With the growth of cord-cutting, if people aren't happy with their choices they just get rid of it all.

t  t  t

And now for the sports page. Canonero II, the upset winner of the Kentucky Derby, tries to make it two-for-two as he takes to the track in the Preakness, second jewel in horse racing's Triple Crown, (CBS, 5:00 p.m. ET). And come out on top he does, defeating Eastern Fleet by a length-and-a-half, leading to great anticipation for June+'s Belmont Stakes, where the horse tries to become the first Triple Crown winner since Citation in 1948. Alas, despite the cheers of a record crowd, he fades in the grueling mile-and-a-half race, finishing fourth to Pass Catcher.

The NBA playoffs ended in April, if you can believe that, with the Milwaukee Bucks defeating the Baltimore Bullets in four games, so the only hoops action left is in the ABA, and game six of the finals is Saturday afternoon (2:00 p.m., CBS) with the Utah Stars taking on the Kentucky Colonels in Louisville. The Stars come into the game with a 3-2 series lead, but the Colonels force game seven by defeating Utah 105-102. That deciding game, played Tuesday in Salt Lake City, isn't on national television—not unusual back in the day. But just because a game isn't seen on national TV doesn't mean it isn't played; Utah beats Kentucky 131-121 to win the fourth ABA championship.

The NHL's Stanley Cup playoffs end this week as well; we'll talk about that later.

t  t  t

For those not in the horse racing set, Jean Shepherd's America (Saturday, 5:30 p.m., WHYY) takes a tour of America's favorite dishes, pronouncing that "There's a Lot More to Life than a Hostess Twinkie." (Truer words were seldom spoken.) In prime time, Tom Jones . . .And Such Special Friends (8:30 p.m., ABC) features Frank Gorshin, Paul Anka and Dusty Springfield. But for my money, the best entertainment on television for the whole week has to be Kup's Show (1:00 a.m., WNEW). I mentioned Irv Kupcinet's remarkable career last month; the format of Kup's Show was more like a round-table discussion than a traditional talk show, with all of his guests taking part, and tonight's guest list is a prime example of what made it so watchable. We have singer, actor and activist Harry Belafonte; George Reedy, former press secretary to LBJ; Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman; Saul Alinsky, author of Rules for Radicals; Perry Wolf, executive producer of CBS's The Selling of the Pentagon; feminist author Germaine Greer; and Stephen Birmingham, author of a book about Sephardic Jews in America. It's like lighting a match in a fireworks factory. You think the discussion turned out like this?

Sunday starts with an Ella Fitzgerald special (7:00 p.m., WNEW), with guest Duke Ellington; sounds like a wonderful way to start the evening. Ed Sullivan follows (8:00 p.m., CBS), with George Hamilton (singing "If You Could Read My Mind"), Bernadette Peters, Oliver, the Phil Driscoll Explosion, the Young Saints, Georgie Kaye, and Skiles and Henderson. And at 9:00 p.m, the start of a grim double-feature on NET. First, it's NET Playhouse, with an adaptation of Marya Mannes' dark novel "They," set in 1990; a future in which "At age 55, citizens are carted off to detention camps—and given a maximum of 10 years to live." The stars include Cornelia Otis Skinner, Gary Merrill, Jack Gilford and Joseph Wiseman. That's followed at 10:30 p.m. by NET Opera Theatre's presentation of "Owen Wingrave," Benjamin Britten's written-for-television antiwar opera, with a stellar cast featuring Benjamin Luxon, Peter Pears, Sylvia Fisher, John Shirley-Quirk and Janet Baker.

Now here's something we could use today: Hess's department store of Allentown, Pennsylvania presents Hess's 10th International Flower Show (Monday, 8:00 p.m., WPVI), "featuring exotic flowers and the news in fashions." It stars Barbara Eden, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Dorothy Malone and Barbara Walters. Elsewhere, Anthony Quinn stars in the made-for-TV movie The City (9:00 p.m., ABC), the pilot for the fall series The Man and the City, in which Quinn plays the mayor of a large southwestern city (it's not named, but the series is filmed in Albuquerque). Despite Quinn's star power and a good pedigree, the series only lasts a half-season. Meanwhile, apropos of nothing in particular, all three late night talk shows are away from home tonight. Dick Cavett has extended his stay in London for an extra day, while Merv Griffin comes to us from Las Vegas for a week, and Johnny Carson does likewise with one of his periodic visits to Hollywood. I wonder who's home minding the store?

Something that caught my eye on Tuesday morning: Summer Semester (6:30 a.m., CBS) welcomes the famous American astronomer physicist, and NASA scientist Dr. Robert Jastrow, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who'll be teaching a nine week course on "New Science," appearing Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. I would gladly have taken that class. Speaking of space—sort of—the 4:30 p.m. movie on WOR is Mutiny in Outer Space, which sounds for all the world like something that ought to have been on MST3K: "After an exploratory moon trip, two astronauts return to their orbiting space station—bringing with them a deadly fungus." At 8:30 p.m, ABC's Movie of the Week has a rerun of The Over-the-Hill Gang Rides Again, with Fred Astaire, Walter Brennan, Edgar Buchanan, Andy Devine and Chill Wills. Says Judith Crist, it's "designed for Golden Agers and movie buffs who get a bang out of seeing familiar faces."

It's been a while since Tennessee Ernie Ford headlined a weekly series, but he's big enough to host Sing America Beautiful on Wednesday night (9:00 p.m., NBC). Ernie's guests for this "hand-clapping singalong" are Danny Thomas, Diahann Carroll, the Smothers Brothers, Arlene Golonka, the International Children's Choir and the Third Marine Aircraft Wing Band. And is Ben Cartwright a Commie spy? Shocking! But here it is in black-and-white, in the 1969 movie Destiny of a Spy (WOR, 11:00 p.m.). Lorne Greene plays a retired Russian agent (so maybe he's not a Commie!) involved in "a plot to destroy a British counter-radar system." No, I guess he's a Red after all. That is, until he falls in love with a British double-agent, played by Rachel Roberts. Will love conquheroiceror Marx? Who knows?

It's farewell to The Jim Nabors Hour on Thursday (8:00 p.m., CBS), with an episode spotlighting the regulars: Frank Sutton does a dramatic reading, and Karen Morrow is torn between two potential husbands (Jim, Ronnie Schell). Plus there's plenty of singing! It means the first time since 1962 that he won't be on a weekly series, after The Andy Griffith Show, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. and this, but don't feel too sorry for him: according to the Hollywood TV Teletype, he'll be picking up "some of that personal-appearance money this summer," headlining shows from Lake Tahoe to Washington D.C., along with "practically the whole cast of his canceled CBS-TV series." Next year his summers will include his longest-running gig: singing "Back Home Again in Indiana" at the Indianapolis 500, which he'll do faithfully, with few exceptions, between 1972 and 2014. And David Frost takes a page out of Dick Cavett's playbook, spending the entire 90 minutes of his show with guest Johnny Cash (8:30 p.m., WNEW).

Memorial Day 1971 isn't for a couple of weeks yet, but Friday's late movie schedule makes you think stations are gearing up for it now, starting with Hell to Eternity (11:00 p.m., WOR), based on the World War II heroics of Marine Guy Gabaldon (Jeffrey Hunter) "who, at age 18, captured or persuaded to surrender over 1,300 Japanese soldiers and civilians during the battles for Saipan and Tinian islands in 1944." (Definitely not a snowflake there.) Then there's The Day and the Hour (11:30 p.m, WPIX), with Simone Signoret as a member of the French underground who becomes involved with U.S. soldier Stuart Whitman; To Hell and Back (1:00 a.m., WCAU), the incredible true story of Medal of Honor winner Audie Murphy, playing himself; and Away All Boats (1:10 p.m., WCBS), the adventures of an attack transport crew fighting the Japanese, with Jeff Chandler and George Nader. Plus, there's the documentary series Men in Crisis (2:40 a.m., WNEW), portraying the final stages of World War I, with General John J. Pershing leading his American troops against German Field Marshal Eric Ludendorff.

t  t  t

Finally, there's a topic I've been trying to avoid for as long as possible, but I suppose I have to deal with it eventually. Despite having lived most of my life in Minnesota, even though I rooted for the Green Bay Packers as a child, there is only one sports team that I have consistently taken to my heart: the Chicago Blackhawks. I don't know what it was; maybe it was the legendary Chicago Stadium, the world's loudest arena, its antiquated scoreboard and its mighty Wurlitzer organ; perhaps it was the dynamism of Bobby Hull; or it could have been part of the endless fascination I've had with the city of Chicago. Whatever the reason, ever since I started watching hockey, through thick and thin, season in and season out, the Hawks were my team. It certainly didn't hurt that when the night was clear, I could get the home games on WMAQ radio, with the legendary Lloyd Pettit behind the mic.

In 1971, the Hawks found themselves in the Stanley Cup Final against the Montreal Canadiens. At that point, Montreal had won the Cup 16 times, compared to just three for Chicago. But here they were, behind Hull, Stan Mikita and goalie Tony Esposito, poised to bring the Cup back to Chicago for the first time since 1961, and they had the home ice advantage to boot. The teams split the first six games, each team winning their home games, and game seven was scheduled for Tuesday night in Chicago. For the longest time, everything went our way. The Hawks drew first blood with a goal from Bobby Hull's brother Dennis, then added another from Danny O'Shea. The cameras shook with the roar from the crowd. With less than six minutes to play in the second period, the Hawks still led, 2-0.

And then it all fell apart.

Jacques Lemaire launched a shot from outside the blue line that floated past Esposito, and it was 2-1. Before the period ended the game was tied. Less than three minutes into the third period, the Canadiens led 3-2. And even though the Hawks had 17 minutes to even the score, even though they swarmed the Montreal net, that's they way the game ended, and the Canadiens carried off the Stanley Cup again. I didn't smash anything, as I'd been known to do, nor did I bite the coffee table, as I once did. This was too painful for anger; if you were a Hawks fan, you were absolutely heartbroken, and you knew it would last. It called for bitterness, and I was bitter. And it snowed the next day

The Hawks made it back to the finals two years later, and lost. They made it again in 1992, and lost. Crowds dwindled, the Stadium was torn down in favor of United Center, a more lavish but soulless arena built mostly for Michael Jordan and the Bulls. For more than a few seasons, they missed the playoffs altogether. Through the thick and thin of all those years, with few exceptions, I stuck with the Hawks. When they finally—finally!—won the Cup in 2010, after a drought of 49 years, when some of us had given up on it ever happening, it was like reaching the Promised Land, so emotional that it was almost numbing. They'd win again in 2013, and take a third Cup in 2015, this one a win at home. I'd stopped following hockey by then, but I tuned in to those final games, wearing one of my Blackhawks jerseys and waving my Blackhawks pennant, cheering them on. Those years were a reminder that winning isn't everything, it's the only thing. And yet. . .

Almost every sports fan will tell you that the agony of defeat always outweighs the thrill of victory. As joyous as winning is, it can never make up for losing. And so even after winning three Stanley Cups in six years, there was always something a little bittersweet about those victories, always the one that got away—not 1992, not 1973, but 1971. It's probably why losing hurts so much; it's meant that way, to keep you from wanting to experience it again. But we keep at it anyway. TV  

1 comment:

  1. I too was a Black Hawks fan at about this time, and I listened to the games on WMAQ from southern Wisconsin. At least some of the time, IIRC, WMAQ only carried the last two periods, preceded by highlights on "The First Period Show." I have never understood why they did it that way, but I remember it . . . unless I hallucinated it.

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for writing! Drive safely!