May 9, 2020

This week in TV Guide: May 9, 1981

One of the continuing storylines around here has been my efforts, successful so far, to find compelling things to write about in the TV Guides of the 1980s. The difficulty here is that for some of you, 1981 is distant history; it is, after all, 39 years ago. At the same time, the Eighties seem like, if not yesterday (for that would be 2000), just a few years ago. Classifying this era as "classic" television is kind of like finding your childhood toys in an antiques store. It means you're old.

And this brings us, somewhat logically, to Claire Safran's review of Kate Moody's new book, Growing Up on Television. This isn't about her happy memories of favorite shows on the tube, though; Growing Up on Television's purpose is to provide "convincing evidence that viewing changes the quality of childhood, and offers a persuasive explanation of how it does so." That's probably not news to anyone who's been reading this blog for the last ten years, and indeed, Safran points out that the psychological effects ofhe television on children are well known by now. There's been less discussion of the physical effects of TV, however, and that's where Growing Up on Television comes in.*

*As Linus said when asked if he thought television was harmful to you heath, "I don't know. I've never had one fall on me."

The subtitle of Moody's book is "A Report to Parents," and one of its primary purposes is to provide parents with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions about their kids' TV viewing. For example, she points out how television can change brain-wave patters by overloading them with stimuli (and that's before the MTV effect came to be), and too many hours of viewing can affect a young child's overall body coordination. Television also impacts cognitive development; by training the viewer to focus on one spot, TV can hamper the brain's ability to learn to read, something for which it depends on eye movement. As well as educating parents on these potential side effects, Moody also offers what Safran calls "sensible conclusions," such as providing helpful suggestions on how parents can "give the TV set some competition,"

It's not just parents who need to be aware of these physical effects; teachers have to realize that they are dealing with "a new generation of TV people, not Gutenberg people." Pictures, and not words, will become the primary method of storytelling for this generation (think of USA Today's infographics), and smart educators will have to find out how to use TV as a tool, teaching them the value of critical viewing. They must, however, continue to help children rediscover the power of reading. And the community at large must continue to insist on standards for television programming, such as less TV violence, fewer commercials on kids' programs, and better programs in general, making this not only a guide for parents, but a call to action.

In a 2011 interview, Moody lamented that since the publication of Growing Up on Television, "all the problems are still there and I don’t see that anything much has been solved." I doubt that much has changed in the intervening nine years, unless one wants to point to the increasing influence of video games, cell phones, and other forms of stimuli which have served to decrease attention spans even more, while increasing juvenile hyperactivity. It remains important, Safran says, because of "television's power as storyteller to the Nation's children." Quoting George Gerbner of the Annenberg School of Communications (funded by TV Guide's father, Walter Annenberg), she reminds us that "If you can control the storytelling of a nation, you don't have to worry about who makes the laws." Food for thought, in 2020 as well as 1981.

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If you're perusing this week's listings, you might be puzzled when it comes to the CBS Evening News, shown as being anchored by "Rather/Drinkwater." "I remember Connie Chung," you might be thinking to yourself, "but when did Dan Rather have another co-anchor?" Well, it's like this (and I'm going by memory now): there was a time, following the live, East Coast broadcast of the CBS Evening News, when Terry Drinkwater, who was based in Los Angeles and had covered many memorable stories throughout the years, from the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy to the kidnapping and trial of Patty Hearst, would act as co-anchor of the West Coast edition of the news, presenting and updating stories that had happened since the original broadcast. This arrangement lasted a couple of years, before reverting to its conventional format. I believe the networks still update their evening newscasts in various ways, either with a completely new broadcast or by inserting updated stories, but nobody else has done it with a separate anchor.

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Any sports this week? Why sure, although the NBA might want to forget all about it. A note in the sports section of the listings advises us that "CBS may pre-empt regular programming Tuesday and Thursday at 11:30 P.. for taped coverage of the fifth and sixth games (if necessary) in the NBA championship series."

Yes, we're in the tape-delay era of the NBA Finals, when CBS would record the weeknight games and show them following the late local news, an ignominious thing to happen to one of the supposed four major sports. Basketball wasn't the hot sport back then, though. The quality of the game was suffering, and it was widely (and correctly) believed that the sport had a major drug problem. Ratings were low, and because the NBA's regular season started in early October, the Finals would fall during the May sweeps month. For all that, though, the NBA was on its way back to relevance; Magic Johnson and Larry Bird had entered the league at the same time, reigniting the storied Celtics-Lakers rivalry, and after that it was Happy Days are Here Again for the NBA and its followers.

But back to the present: the 1981 Finals pit the Houston Rockets against the Celtics, The Celtics had won 62 games during the regular season, the Rockets just 40. And while Houston plays Boston tough, the Celts eventually win an ugly low-scoring series four games to two. The series garners what was, to that point, the lowest television rating in NBA history (a 6.7 rating), And as promised, the network shows games five and six on tape delay. My, but how those times have changed.

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It's only May, but the networks are already discussing the new fall season, and ABC and NBC are pinning their hopes on reliable male stars from the past. Pay close attention; there'll be a test at the end.

ABC's eight new series are led by Code Red, with Lorne Greene as captain of a "dedicated family" of Los Angeles firefighters (apparently their previous efforts with Firehouse were unappreciated); Today's FBI, with Mike Connors as Efrem Zimbalist Jr., only with four assistants; The Fall Guy, starring Lee Majors as a Hollywood stuntman and bounty hunter; Best of the West, a Western with a former Union soldier who marries a Southern belle; Open All Night, the story of a "grumpy owner of a 24-hour supermarket"; Maggie, a comedy about family life in the suburbs, written by Erma Bombeck; Strike Force, with Robert Stack as captain of an undercover police unit; and King's Crossing, a mystery with two teen girls haunted by "mysterious secrets." To make way, the network's canceling Soap, I'm a Big Girl Now, Vega$, Eight is Enough, Those Amazing Animals, Charlie's Angels and Aloha Pardise.

NBC's new schedule represents Fred Silverman's continued struggle to pull the Peacock Network out of its third-place slump, starting with Father Murphy, starring Merlin Olson posing as a priest to shelter a group of orphans; The Powers of David Star, with a high-student who's also a superhero; Love, Sidney, a follow-up to the TV-movie Sidney Shorr, with Tony Randall as a middle-aged homosexual; The Rock Hudson Show, starring—well, you know—as the elder member of a father-son detective agency; Gabe and Guich, a comedy starring Gabe Kaplan and Guich Koock running a country-music club in Texas; Gimmie a Break, with Nell Carter helping a police captain raise three children; Roomies, featuring Mickey Rooney who moves in with his college-student grandson; Chicago Story, a 90-minute drama following the lives of seven men who grew up together in Chitown; The James Arness Show, with the former Gunsmoke star as a veteran cop teamed with a young partner; and Bret Maverick, James Garner's return to one of his most famous roles. On the outs: BJ and the Bear, Lobo, Nero Wolfe, The Brady Brides, Walking Tall and The Gangster Chronicles.

So, how did it all turn out? Well, there were two unqualified hits in the list: Gimmie a Break, which ran for six seasons on NBC, and The Fall Guy, which had five successful seasons for ABC. Love, Sidney was the only other series to run for more than a single season (44 episodes through two seasons). Three survived for 10 episodes or less (Open All Night, Maggie and King's Crossing), two of them (The Powers of Matthew Star and Roomies, which was renamed One of the Boys), wound up on TV Guide's 50 Worst Shows of All Time. (Almost all of NBC's shows underwent name changes by the time they made it to air, by the way.) Were these shows an upgrade on the shows they replaced? Well, you be the judge.

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That may be next season, but let's get back to this season, and Saturday starts off a heavy movie-and-specials week with a couple of thriller classics: first, XETV shows the modern-day horror of Ira Levin's classic The Stepford Wives (8:00 p.m. PT), with Katharine Ross, Paula Prentiss and Peter Masterson. If that's not to your liking, and it wouldn't be to mine, head to CBS at 8:30 for its special movie presentation of The Exorcist (8:30 p.m.), with William Friedkin directing a cast including Ellen Burstyn, the late Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb and Linda Blair as the possessed little girl. And while we don't have anything to compare them to, we have not one, but two renditions of Don Kirshner's Rock Concert tonight. The first (1:00 a.m., KCST) stars David Bowie, AC/DC, Ashford & Simpson, Cameo, and comic Dennis Blair; the other (1:30 a.m., KNBC) features Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Pat Benatar and Billy Burnette. Nobody asked me, but I'll give the edge to the KCST version anyway.

Sunday is Mother's Day, and NBC commemorates the day with The All-Star Salute to Mother's Day (9:00 p.m.), made up of just about every B-lister you can think of; just check out the list at the left! In the meantime, it's "An All-New Sunday of Specials on ABC!" starting at 7:00 p.m. with Benji (Takes a Dive) at Marineland. "Will a conniving canine rival keep Benji from becoming the world's first scuba-diving dog?" My guess is no. At 7:30 p.m., it's Pink at First Sight: "While the Pink Panther plays cupid. . .he falls head over paws in love!" Not sure what those two have to do with Mother's Day, but we'll give it a pass. At 8:00 p.m., "It's the golden voice at the Golden Gate!", said voice being that of Perry Como, with special guests Cheryl Ladd and Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, in Perry Como's Spring in San Francisco. (By the way, the Gatlin brothers appear in much smaller type in the ad than Larry's name; I wonder how they felt about that?) Following that trifecta of specials, it's the ABC Sunday Night Movie presentation of The Main Event, starring Barbra Streisand and Ryan O'Neal in "The Love Match of the Century!" The caption "First Time on Free TV!"—that's an unsaid sign of the times, isn't it? And I hope all you moms out there feel properly honored by the day.

Wait a minute, didn't we already do a Lynda Carter variety special? Why yes, as a matter of fact. This Monday (8:00 p.m., PT, CBS) she's back in a dazzling new celebration—of what, I'm not quite sure—with Ray Charles, Jerry Reed and Chris Evert Lloyd. Maybe she's just celebrating life, which is what you do when you're Lynda Carter. Over on XETV, "San Diego's Free Movie Channel," it's part one of the movie that made Sally Field a dramatic star, 1976's made-for-TV Sybil (8:00 p.m.), the story of a woman possessed by sixteen different personalities; there's no truth to the rumor that the station is planning on showing the movie in sixteen chapters. Over at ABC, 9:00 p.m. brings a serious study of the disorder anorexia nervosa, The Best Little Girl in the World, starring Jennifer Jason Leigh as the young woman struggling with self-doubt and a lack of self-esteem. It's accompanied by a Background article from Dr. Hilde Bruch, an expert on the disease that "until recently [was] so rare that it was completely unknown to the general public—even to many physicians." It's a puzzling situation, difficult for many parents to comprehend, and Karen Carpenter 1983 death will bring home the fact that anorexia can happen anywhere.

Tuesday features Dean Martin's Comedy Classics (NBC, 8:00 p.m.), a clipfest that recalls the heydays of The Dean Martin Show between 1966 and 1976. Deano himself is on hand to take part in the fun, along with four stars closely identified with his shows: Rat Pack buddy Frank Sinatra, Dom DeLuise, Bob Newhart and Orson Welles. I know Welles was a friend and frequent participant on Martin's roasts; still, I can't help but wonder if, whenever there's a pause in the taping, he isn't sipping a nice Paul Masson white and wondering what happened to his career after Citizen Kane. Opposite that on CBS (and at the same time as XETV's conclusion of Sybil), "Ann is married to five men!" Before you get too excited though, The Five of Me is about Ann's husband Dana and his four hidden personalities. True, it's not as big as Sybil, but in fairness, it's half the length as well.

On Wednesday, XETV features yet another all-star variety special; the gimmick this time is that the stars are all alums of Northwestern University. Among the glitterati on The Way They Were (8:00 p.m.) are Claude Akins, Ann-Margret, Robert Conrad, Patricia Neal, Charlton Heston, McLean Stevenson and more, and the only real reason I'm sharing the ad for this special is that if you look at the picture of Ann-Margret on the far right, you'll recognize that as the template for TV Guide's infamous doctored Oprah Winfrey cover. Your alternatives: Annette O'Toole and Tim McIntire in Stand By Your Man, the Tammy Wynette story (CBS), or Neil Simon's California Suite, with a—let's call it a star-laden—cast including Michael Caine, Jane Fonda, Alan Alda and Walter Matthau (ABC). Both run at 9:00 p.m.

Thursday's feature is yet another movie, the TV-premiere of Dracula (9:00 p.m., NBC), starring Frank Langella as the "stylish" vampire, with Sir Laurence Olivier as Van Helsing, Kate Nelligan and Donald Pleasence. For something a little less intense and more humorous, may we recommend Bob Newhart's special (10:00 p.m., CBS), with Don Rickles, Dean Martin and Dick Martin celebrating routines new and old.

For all of the incredible talent we've been reading about, however, I've been saving the best for last: Friday's world television premiere of the one and only The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island, with the original cast (save Tina Louise) and featuring Martin Landau, Barbara Bain and Scatman Crothers in addition to the fabulous hoopsters. It is the third and final feature-length movie based on the series. For me, the most notable item on the schedule is the debut of SCTV Network 90 (12:30 a.m., NBC), replacing The Midnight Special. At first the show presents mostly bits recycled from the previous half-hour syndicated version, but soon they're up and running with some of the funniest, most outrageous television parodies ever seen, taking full advantage of their 90-minute timeslot. Oh, and we don't want to forget Dick Clark's TV's Censored Bloopers (10:00 p.m., NBC), but I wouldn't get too excited about it. After all, it's still 1981; how censored can they be? TV  


  1. Love reading about the shows the networks were hoping to be successes in the Fall. And what was previously a hit and now is just fading away. I mentioned to my son how we wouldn't know a show was over until we happened upon hearing about its demise in the pages of TV Guide. So different than the instant notification today.

  2. THE POWERS OF MATTHEW STAR, in addition to its name change, was also delayed for an entire season due to 2 major problems: the death of the original producer and David Barton's injury from pyrotechnics. TV Guide mentioned this when it featured the show in its Fall Preview for 1982-83, pointing out that the same pages a year ago had previewed the same series.

    1. Likewise, the 'Rock Hudson Show',was also delayed for a year, and eventually renamed 'The Devlin Connection', after Hudson underwent heart surgery.

  3. NBC's troubles during this era are totally exemplified by the cancelling there of BJ the Bear. It was a mild mid-season hit. But instead of letting it grow & thrive they instantly spun off its best character, changed it's time slow & then in the second season of both shows, retooled the formula & changed the cast and location. They were both cancelled after that.

    It was impatience killed the Bear.

  4. Always thought 'Guich Koock'was a cool name but that Gabe Kaplan show(renamed 'Lewis and Clark') seemed to be the end of his career, which had only begun with 'Carter Country.
    Guichy,we hardly knew ye.

    1. I remember a 1978 TV GUIDE profile of Mr. Koock gave the correct pronunciation of his name, roughly GWEECH COOK, so at least I learned that much about him.

  5. THE WAY THEY WERE special was great...Cloris Leachman won an Emmy for her performance of the monologue "I Am An Actress"

    Paul Duca


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!