July 11, 2020

This week in TV Guide: July 10, 1971

Indulge me for a moment in a personal reminiscence. It was the summer of 1971, the year before we moved to the World's Worst Town™, and we were on vacation at a lake resort in Alexandria, Minnesota. We were often in the area during the summer, considering Alex was only about an hour from the town of infamy, and while I have nothing against the place other than KCMT, that doesn't mean I'm in any hurry to go back. But I digress.

I was going through television withdrawal, since our cabin didn't have one, and I was particularly suffering since Tuesday night was the baseball All-Star Game, the Midsummer Classic, played that year in Detroit. (Tuesday, 7:00 p.m. CT, NBC) We were in the dining room of the resort, between dinner and dessert; I heard a shout from the lounge, where there was a TV tuned to the game, and rushed in to see what the fuss was about. (To this day I marvel at how patient my mother and grandparents were with me.)

"What happened?" I asked a man who was watching the game.

"Jackson just hit one off the light tower," he replied.

I'd missed Reggie Jackson's home run, but caught the replay. It was a titanic shot off the light standard on top of the roof of the right field stands at Tiger Stadium, traveling so high that the camera was unable to follow its flight all the way up. (It's been estimated the blast would have gone well over 500 feet had the tower not gotten in the way, and was reportedly still going up at the time.) It was instantly one of the most famous home runs in All-Star Game history, and remains so to this day.

It was an immensely entertaining game, with the American League ending a long losing streak by beating the National League 6-4, with all ten runs scored on home runs. The rosters of the two teams included 25 future Hall of Famers (including both managers), an astounding amount of talent.

The only way it could have been any better would have been if I could have seen it all.

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There was, at least, one good thing to come out of my six years in the WWT: Sesame Street.

By the mid-1970s, I'd become so desperate to watch something—anything—besides the bilge on KCMT that I'd taken to watching the show in the afternoons after coming home from high school, courtesy of KWCM in Appleton, the only station other than KCMT that we could get without an antenna. I was, of course, much too old to be part of the show's target audience, so I watched in the detached way that adults did, enjoying the sly humor included for the benefit of parents forced to watch with their kids, jokes that preschoolers would never get.

*Sample: Ernie (to Bert's brother Bart): "I'm aghast!" Bart: "No, I'm aghast—you live here!" 

But all that is in the future; let us return to 1971, when the occasion for Cookie Monster's cover appearance is the second anniversary of Sesame Street's premiere, as Max Gunther takes a measure of the show's first two years. It's difficult to appreciate exactly how revolutionary Sesame Street has been since its premiere, but to fully understand, one has to go back to the state of American education in the years preceding its debut. "Sesame Street began," Gunther points out, "because many people in this country were worried about what happens to poor kids—the so-called 'culturally deprived'—when they start school." They lack the exposure to books and magazines that other children have; thus, "they come into kindergarten or first grade with an often cruel handicap." Letters and words are unfamiliar to them, they don't understand what the teacher's talking about, they fall further behind, and may give up in frustration, winding up on the mean streets of the ghetto. The Head Start program, which was meant to address the situation, fell short. The cost of various early education proposals was often prohibitive. It was then that Joan Cooney suggested television. After all, almost every kid has access to one, and TV has long been adept at selling products. Couldn't it also sell education?

The show has had its share of critics. A Cornell psychologist complains that Sesame Street is part of a dream world, with "no racial tensions; nobody ever gets mad; no sharp words are spoken." How, he wonders, does this prepare children for real life? A school principal says that the show "makes no demands on the kids. Real school and real life aren't like that. If a problem is troubling you, you can't just switch it off and walk away." The show has ten times as many fans, though, who point at dramatic increases in test scores among disadvantaged children who watch Sesame Street often. And Susan, one of the show's humans who was previously a housewife, is now a nurse; "Women's lib has a thing about housewives."

The producers envision Sesame Street as a show continuously evolving to better serve the needs of its young viewers. The research chief of Children's Television Workshop constantly tests kids' reactions, incorporating the findings into future shows; for instance, they've discovered that children are not, as one might suspect, bored by seeing the same thing several times in one broadcast; repetition, therefore, is a key aspect to successful learning. They also tend to remember things when they're able to say or sing it along with the performer on-screen. And fully 20% of the stations showing the program are commercial stations in areas that don't yet have educational television; although CTW won't allow advertising during the show, many station executives know that kids watching Sesame Street will probably leave the TV tuned to the same channel afterward, allowing them to charge a premium for that show. In other cases, corporations and civic groups have bought the time to air the show. And a second show, The Electric Company, is planned for this fall; its target will be 7- 10-year-olds.

Within all this good news, the cloud on the horizon, as always, is funding. Congress will do its best, and new licensing deals will help. "I think we've started something big," Cooney says; her Congressional ally, Sen. John Tunney, agrees. "People are only beginning to understand what early schooling can accomplish." And even I was able to learn something; thanks to Sesame Street, I can at least count to 20 in Spanish.

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You know that I try to be as positive as possible, but the truth is that we've got a case of the summer blahs this week. A couple of movies stand out, and we'll get to them, but between summer replacements and repeats, there's just not a lot to fly at the top of the flagpole. It doesn't mean we can't find a few highlights, though. For instance. . .

I had just started to get an appreciation for golf in 1971, so when I say that the All-Star Game was the big sporting event of the week, it's more a matter of personal opinion. Other eyes are looking toward England, where the 100th British Open, the world's oldest golf tournament, is being contested at Royal Birkdale, with ABC providing same-day coverage of the final round on Wide World of Sports (Saturday, 4:00 p.m.) Lee Trevino, in his greatest season, wins a thrilling duel with Lu Liang-Huan and Tony Jacklin to take his first of two consecutive British Opens; it's also his second consecutive major, having bested Jack Nicklaus in a playoff to win the U.S. Open the previous month. Later that night, NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies presents the touching movie A Patch of Blue (7:30 p.m.), starring Sidney Poitier, Elizabeth Hartman, Shelley Winters (who won an Oscar) and Wallace Ford in what Judith Crist calls "a quartet of brilliant performances" that "make the sentimental melodrama memorable." Sunday belongs to PBS, first with the return of Evening at Pops (7:00 p.m.), tonight featuring an all-Tchaikovsky hour with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops. That's followed at 8:00 by Masterpiece Theatre and part one of one of its most famous stories, The First Churchills, with John Neville and Susan Hampshire.

Sticking with PBS, Lorne Greene, Dan Blocker and Michael Landon teach the difference between near and far on Monday's Sesame Street (4:30 p.m.). Turning to the networks, Dave Garroway returns to network television after a nine-year absence with CBS Newcomers (9:00 p.m.), a weekly talent show with professional entertainers from night clubs and theaters around the country. You can read more about that at Jodie's Dave Garroway blog here and here. If you're not in the mood for Tuesday's All-Star Game, ABC has a rare prime time network showing of a classic movie, with 1939's Made for Each Other, starring James Stewart and Carole Lombard. It's classic soap opera as well, Judith Crist says, but with Stewart and Lombard "at the height of their romantic appeal," the mush is "not only palatable but well worth savoring." If you think we've had it bad with the coronavirus, just look at the staff of Medical Center Wednesday (8:00 p.m., CBS)—they're looking for a missing radium implant that could contaminate the entire hospital. Over at NBC, the Kraft Music Hall (8:00 p.m.) has moved across the pond for the summer, with British comedian Des O'Connor and Connie Stevens doing the honors; this week, their special guest is Phyllis Diller.

Thursday, NBC Action Playhouse (6:30 p.m.) has a rerun from 1966 (see what I mean by a weak week?), Massacre at Fort Phil Kearny, a drama about the military inquest into the deaths of 81 U.S. soldiers massacred by Sioux warriors in 1866. It's got a good cast, though, with Richard Egan, Robert Fuller, Carroll O'Connor and Robert Pine. A Tom Jones special (6:30 p.m.) highlights ABC's night, with Nicol Williamson, Tom Paxton and Lulu. Future Oscar winner Joel Grey (he wins next year for Cabaret) plays a jockey suspected of throwing races on Ironside (7:30 p.m., NBC), with former Tarzan Ron Ely, future Paramount CEO Sherry Lansing, and Dana Elcar. Later, Johnny Cash is the honoree on This Is Your Life (9:30 p.m., KTHI). And we'll bring the week to an end with Friday's summer replacement series It Was a Very Good Year (8:30 p.m., ABC); the year is 1939, which was an extraordinary year: the German invasions of Czechoslovakia and Poland, Picasso's extraordinary antiwar painting "Guernica," the movies The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind, the opening of the legendary New York World's Fair, and the retirement of Lou Gehrig.

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And speaking of Tom Jones. . .

It's not unusual to see Tom featuring in an ad like this, but it's also interesting to see the wide variety of names and styles that were big in 1971: Led Zeppelin; Dean Martin; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; Glenn Miller; Mantovani; Loretta Lynn; Emerson, Lake & Palmer; the Bee Gees; Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, and more. It's quite a slice of musical life—if you can't find anything there, I imagine you just don't like music. Ads like this were common in TV Guide; most of the time you could find them in the center section where the paper was stiffer, but this one was on the last two pages of the issue. And you can appreciate the latest in technology: records, cassettes, and 8-track!

June and Allan Jefferys' humorous article about being the first family on the block to have a VCR is about technology as well. Being able to show movies without commercial interruption makes the Jefferys a very popular family, and it isn't long before they're hosting movie nights for their friends, complete with popcorn and theater seating! It kind of predicts the home theater experience of today, albeit on a much smaller scale. It reminds me of something else though, of how technology used to bring people together in social situations. Having the first VCR on the block wasn't any different from having the first TV, or a radio that could bring in stations from other parts of the country—it became an occasion for having friends over, getting to know your neighbors, just like playing cards or having dessert on the porch. Bars installed TVs and saw their business explode. Nowadays the neighborhoods are virtual, and technology is accused of isolating people, of pushing them apart instead of bringing them together. But things could be a lot worse than our own virtual community here.

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Finally, a word from our friend, the Cookie Monster:

Who says there's no class on TV anymore?  TV    


  1. I was part of the first target audience for SESAME STREET, since I was 4 years old & in nursery school when it premiered. I also learned how to count to 20, or at least 15, by the same video, I'm sure. I couldn't keep up w/ the numbers after 15 (quince), since 16 (diez y seis), and the later numbers were sung too fast for me.

    That 4th monster in "Me Claudius" looks like an early prototype for Elmo (ugh). Grover was my favorite SESAME ST. Muppet.

  2. I've been following your blog for a while but don't remember which town you branded as The World's Worst Town, or the reasons. Would you give a link to a post that gives an explanation?


    1. There's no one post that tells the whole story, but here's the short version: it's the town I lived in between 1972 and 1978, after having spent the first 12 years of my life in Minneapolis-St. Paul. The town had a population of a little over 800 people, and most of the children there had known each other since birth, making it a very difficult place for an outsider. My mother and I moved there because my grandparents had farmed there and still owned a house there, and because my mother and aunt had been born there. The family felt it was necessary because of the dangerous state of the inner city schools in Minneapolis (I wasn't given a say in the matter, and my mother regretted it). From a TV standpoint, there were only two stations: the PBS affiliate in Appleton, and KCMT in Alexandria. KCMT was a combined NBC/ABC affiliate, and was notorious for pre-empting network programming for shows of "local" interest; they'd skip the second game of an NFL doubleheader, for example, to show local polka music shows.

      For a kid who'd grown up in a big, vigorous city, it was a terrible culture shock. I loved Minneapolis, loved living in the city, didn't know any other kids, and did not like living in a small town. I don't want to say that I had no happy memories of my six years there because I did, but I hate that place with a passion that has never abated, so much so that I came up with the moniker "World's Worst Town" because I refuse to even refer to it by name. (If you're curious, this is it.) It was a very bad experience, but I firmly believe that good comes out of the worst circumstances, and I can fill pages with how my life has been enriched as a consequence of that time. (For example, my interests in writing and politics were both born there in a kind of self defense.) I use a somewhat exaggerated version of it here as a foil for my sardonic humor, and I'm not bitter because that doesn't accomplish anything, but my feelings about it are genuine.

      There - more than you probably ever wanted to know!

    2. I followed your link to the town, and it's geographically near the "Bump" (how a MN resident referred to it once). which is not far from the ND/SD border. I'm surprised you couldn't pick up Fargo stations there, as I think (having flown there once) that Fargo is close to the SE corner of ND.

    3. You had to have an antenna to pick up anything other than KCMT and the PBS station in Appleton, and it wasn't until my final year there that cable came along to get the stations in the Twin Cities (with the exception of KSTP, which was with NBC at the time - they were blocked due to the territory belonging to KCMT). I suspect that a really tall outdoor antenna might have been able to pick up Fargo, but as far as I can remember, there was no discussion about it. I think the whole TV fiasco was a conspiracy specifically designed to make me miserable!


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!