June 20, 2020

This week in TV Guide: June 20, 1970

We're continually assaulted, if that's the right word, with controversy over violence on television. In 1968, on the heels of the King and Kennedy assassinations and the general level of discontent in the country, there had been a wave of revulsion over the perception that television programs were saturated with violence. The result, as we looked at here, was a sudden self-censoring of violent content, at least temporarily, along with a promise to be more responsible in the future. We're now just over two years since that spasmodic response, and the bill for nonviolent television is coming due.

As Joseph Finnigan reports, the stakes are high for television producers, who face losing "thousands of dollars in some cases because a show with too much violence—or even a show which somebody suspects has too much violence—simply doesn't get on the air." And it doesn't matter how big the stars, or how popular the shows. An unaired episode of Bonanza illustrates how ridiculous, in my opinion, it has gotten: the episode has remained in limbo for almost a year, at a cost of $200,000, because of a storyline involving star Michael Landon being attacked (and a prison guard killed) by "vicious prison dogs." "The action took place off-camera," Finnigan points out. "Not a single fang was bared. Still, it all proved too much for the network censors, who apparently never saw a Rin Tin Tin movie." The show's producer, Dick Collins, says the episode was nixed by Standards & Practices "because the dogs worried and bothered them."

To say the least, the crackdown has put a crimp in storytelling. Many producers look upon the restrictions as a form of "arbitrary censorship [that] is not only dishonest but debilitating to the medium." This isn't the first time we've read about such frustration, but even though the specific issues may have changed, the result is the same. An anonymous spokesman for Universal describes the effect: "The Virginian was hurt the past season by a lack of violence which was part of the life of those times. The problems that existed then were emotional, violent problems. In that period the problem was not how well you did your job, or what your boss thought of you, the problem was keeping alive. Today you have other things which support drama—international problems, dope, pollution." But, says Finnigan, "they won't help The Virginian tell his story."

One way around this is to appeal to the conscience of the character involved in committing the violent act. "Ray Burr's Ironside series had a classic example in an episode depicting a policewoman shooting a suspect and feeling remorse over her act." If you don't enjoy the violence, Finnigan observes, this seems to make it OK. Another tactic, especially useful with shoot-outs, is "to keep the camera rolling" on a scene until the shooting victim moves. "Later, if the censor objects to the dead body," the scene can be inserted in the cutting room to demonstrate he isn't dead after all. Writers can ramp up the complexity of the episode, using mystery and detective work to keep the drama going in lieu of a violent scene; and a censor for one of the networks talks of reading a script over and wondering, "Is there any other way to show that Joe Blow is a bad guy and John Blow is a good guy? Is there a nonviolent way to do it?" They even look at the music, to see if it "heightens the violent attitude of the story."

The networks have a good reason for this seemingly childish behavior, of course, and the reason is called Congress. "They're looking for anything that might make waves," leading into one of those "sex and violence" probes that senators like, when someone like John Pastore asks "What are you doing about all that violence?" The next time that happens, they just pull out the scoresheet saying how many murders they've eliminated, how many dog attacks they've prevented, how many sour notes they've nixed. A CBS spokesman says "the incidence of violence is reduced 50 per cent compared with two years ago." I wonder how long that attitude lasts.

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Cleveland Amory's off this week, probably readying his quill for a go at the new summer shows coming our way, but all is not lost, as we still have Judith Crist to look at the week in movies. She starts with Tobruk (Saturday, 9:00 p.m., NBC), a World War II story set in North Africa. Rock Hudson is the star, but Crist's praise is for George Peppard, "at his best" as the leader of German Jews fighting with the Allies; his performance is the movie's "prime distinction." The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (Friday, 9:00 p.m., CBS) is Tennessee Williams' "Soap-operatic survey of decadence," enlivened only by the luminous performance of Vivien Leigh, who provides "a credibility that neither Warren Beatty, as a foppish gigolo, nor Lotte Lenya, as a vile procuress, do much to sustain."

Patrick McGoohan, "another invariably good performer, gives a certain amount of class to Koroshi" (Monday, 8:30 p.m., ABC), a movie made up of the two color episodes of McGoohan's pre-Prisoner series Secret Agent, with McGoohan as the indefatigable John Drake. And in Libel (Thursday, 9:00 p.m., CBS), Dirk Bogarde is "at his invariably excellent" in a courtroom drama in which he plays three separate characters; it's helped "splendidly" by Robert Morley and Wilfrid Hyde-White as the two barristers. Unfortunately, there's nothing good about Rock-a-Bye Baby (Sunday, 9:00 p.m., ABC); "Not even his fans," says Crist, "could flip for the tired slapstick buffoonery of this one. Last, and quite possibly least, is Did You Hear the One About the Traveling Saleslady? (Tuesday, 9:00 p.m., NBC). The verdict: "You don't have to hear it or even see it. You can smell it."

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Speaking of the summer: lots of reruns (and a farewell or two), combined with some of the new summer shows. Ray Stevens takes over for Andy Williams (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., NBC), and Andy's on-hand to hand over the keys. Cass Elliot and Lulu are regulars, and Tom Smothers, Jonathan Winters, Jo Anne Worley and Bill Dana are around for brief cameos. Don't worry; Andy's back this fall. G-E College Bowl (Sunday, 1:30 p.m., KYW) isn't, though: the series finale actually aired on the network last week, but it's just making it to Philadelphia today. In the final match, Old Dominion defeats last week's champion, Albright College, 300-100. Later on Sunday, an Ed Sullivan rerun (CBS, 8:00 p.m.) features impressionist David Frye; country music's Chet Atkins, Floyd Cramer, Bobby Goldsboro and Boots Randolph; Connie Stevens; comics George Carlin and Richard Pryor; Sam and Sammy, balancing act; and a production number from "Promises, Promises." That's followed by Glen Campbell at 9:00 p.m., who welcomes Tony Randall, Lulu (fresh from Ray Stevens' show), and Jerry Reed.

If you're looking for Jerry and Bob Hope, you'll
have to wait until next Tuesday. Sorry!
Monday's highlight is one of NBC's occasional broadcasts of Monday Night Baseball (8:00 p.m.), with the Baltimore Orioles in Boston to take on the Red Sox. And for those Jerry Lewis fans out there (among which I count myself), don't despair over that Judith Crist review; Jerry's hosting The Tonight Show all week (11:30 p.m., NBC). Tuesday's Red Skelton rerun is the CBS farewell for the redhead, as he goes to NBC for a final season in the fall; his guests tonight are Duke Ellington and his orchestra, and comedienne Pat Carroll. At 10:00 p.m., Anne Baxter stars on Marcus Welby, M.D. (ABC), while a CBS News Special looks at how businesses recruit on college campuses, where they often get hostile receptions from students accusing them of social irresponsibility. Country variety show reruns dominate Wednesday, with Hee Haw (7:30 p.m., CBS) featuring Charley Pride, Loretta Lynn and Jerry Lee Lewis, while Johnny Cash (9:00 p.m., ABC) counters with Merle Haggard, Brenda Lee, and—the very busy Charley Pride. And let's not forget Engelbert Humperdinck (10:00 p.m., ABC), with Lena Horne, Joel Grey, Tricia Noble, and "the rocking Vanity Fare."

Happy Days—no, not the one with Richie and The Fonz—premieres Thursday (8:00 p.m., CBS). The summer series is out to recall "the music and comedy of the '30s and '40s" with regulars including Louis Nye, Bob & Ray and Jack Burns; it opens big tonight, with guests Buddy Rich, Helen O'Connell, Bob Eberle, and Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. For more conventional fare, Tom Jones (9:00 p.m, ABC) welcomes Leslie Uggams, Joe Cocker and the Grease Band, and Guy Marks, while Dean Martin (10:00 p.m., NBC) has Phil Harris, Lou Rawls, Arte Johnson and Nancy Kwan. And we'll round out the week on Friday starting with The Name of the Game's venture into spy territory; reporter Darren McGavin investigate a report that a missile scientist thought to have defected to Cuba (James Whitmore) is actually in hiding to protect his life. A superior guest cast includes Strother Martin, Dane Clark and Jan Sterling. (8:30 p.m., NBC) Hogan's Heroes (8:30 p.m, CBS) gets its Bilko moment in a great episode involving a chimp, and classic TV fans will know what I mean.

Finally, since we're working with the Philadelphia edition this week, we'll take a moment with this ad for "The Big News" on WCAU, with legendary anchorman John Facenda, better known to those of us outside the area as the legendary voice of NFL Films. (It's always interesting to see the day jobs of our heroes.) Whether you recall the "frozen tundra of Lambeau Field" and "the Autumn Wind," or remember him simply as The Voice, there's been nobody like him on NFL Films since; I can only imagine how authoritative he must have been on the news. In fact, here's a great sound clip of him from 1958, and it's about what you'd expect.

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My interest in golf has waxed and waned over the years (up in the days of Arnie and Jack and anyone not named Woods; down in the days of the aforementioned Woods), but it first starts here, with ABC's telecast of the final two rounds of the U.S. Open (6:00 p.m. Saturday, 5:00 p.m. Sunday), live from Hazeltine National Golf Club in the Minneapolis suburb of Chaska, Minnesota. In these simpler days, it was rare when a sports event being played in the Twin Cities was available on television; home football games were always blacked out and the baseball and hockey teams televised about three home games per season, so it was a big deal when we could sit at home and watch something being played, as it were, in the neighborhood.

There had been major golf tournaments in the Twin Cities before; the great Bobby Jones won the 1930 U.S. Open here, and there used to be a regular PGA tournament in St. Paul, but this was probably the first major played here in the television era. And what a tournament it was, starting with the golf course. Through some influential lobbying, Hazeltine was awarded the Open even though it had only been built eight years before, and might not have been ready for the big time. It was constructed pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and the winds whipped around the former farm land, driving the players crazy. The best score after Thursday's opening round was a mere 71, one under par, and some players thought a final total of 300 (+12) would be good enough to win. In particular, one player emerged as the most vocal critic of the course: Dave Hill. Hill was fined $150 for saying the course lacked "about 80 acres of corn and four cows," and that he'd love to "plow it up." In our gentle Minnesota fashion, the galleries responded (in an era when golfers weren't heckled) by mooing at Hill all through the rest of the tournament.

 Tony Jacklin, the British Open champion who'd won us over early by saying that, as an Englishmen used to challenging conditions, he didn't have any problem at all with the course, was the only player under par after the first round. By Sunday's final round, he has a five-shot lead, and as he comes to the final hole, with the crowd cheering him on, he leads by six, then sinks a 30-foot birdie putt to finish at seven under par, the only player to break par for the tournament. Hill finishes in second place at even par, the closest he'll ever come to winning a major. Watching it all unfold on TV, I'm hooked.

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Finally, The Editors—Merrill Panitt, in other words—have an interesting idea. I'm using the plural, by the way, since the weekly editorial is called "As We See It," so I'm assuming Merrill is using the royal "we" here, though if anyone's entitled to speak on behalf of the staff of TV Guide, it's Merrill Panitt. Either that, or he's channeling Cleveland Amory. At any rate, they, or he, or whichever pronoun we want to use, are essentially advocating the creation of "Nick at Nite" about 25 years before the fact.

This all came about because of CBS's decision to air reruns of He & She, the critically-acclaimed but ratings-deficient sitcom from 1967 starring Richard Benjamin, Paula Prentiss and Jack Cassidy. on Friday nights over the summer. It's long been thought that He & She might have been just a little ahead of its time, and with this move CBS now signals its decision to join NBC and ABC in programming for the "right" demographic audience, in this case, young marrieds. Considering this predates the network's infamous rural purge by about a year, this seems about right. And if the move is successful, they wonder, what other series might be resurrected?

One such series is It's a Man's World, "a delightful story of some nonconformists living on a houseboat" starring Glenn Corbett, Michael Burns, Ted Bessell and Randy Boone. (A number of episodes exist on YouTube, so if you're interested, you can start with Episode One here.) There's also George C. Scott's gritty East Side/West Side, which anticipated ghetto problems before they were a big deal; Roger Miller's 966 TV series ("overproduced as well as before its time"); Bob & Ray's 1950s series ("flopped—some felt—because it was premature"); and My World and Welcome to It, which we might catch up to someday.

Two things you might have noticed about these shows: they were all, to one extent or another, "ahead of their time"; and many of them are available on YouTube, which says a lot about their enduring popularity, even if it's just a cult audience. I wonder if any other classic programs might have been saved if this idea had come to fruition sooner? The editorial concludes by noting that "Some of the best new ideas in programming may be old ideas whose time has come," to which I'd add only that other ideas, and programs, are timeless—if only we take the time to find them, and appreciate them. TV  

3 comments:

  1. There was also Love on a Rooftop (ABC-TV), which originally ran during the 1966-67 season, and was re-aired during the summer of '71.

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    1. The reason that ABC brought back Love On A Rooftop that summer:

      Alias Smith And Jones had premiered surprisingly strong against Flip Wilson in January, and the network decided to push Pete Duel (Deuel).

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  2. Steve Martin was also a regular on Ray Stevens' NBC summer show. There's a YT compilation of some of his best bits on the show:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nyAemx7HNJ4

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Thanks for writing! Drive safely!