July 4, 2020

This week in TV Guide: July 2, 1966

This is the way it is: only now, in July of 1966, is Walter Cronkite beginning to get the credit that would, in years to come, seem to be his by right, or maybe divine fiat. Today we're conditioned to view every landmark in American history through the eyes of the Most Trusted Man in America, and yet just two years before, in August 1964, he had been removed from the lead chair for CBS's coverage of the Democratic National Convention. Back then, rumors were rampant that Cronkite's job was on the line, that he'd either be replaced or teamed with someone more "glamorous." That's life for you.

As Richard Schickel notes in this week's cover story, it's taken years of struggle, but for the first time Cronkite and the CBS Evening News have started to top NBC's powerhouse Huntley-Brinkley Report. Not that he takes any satisfaction from it; for Cronkite, it's all about the news, not the ratings. "Walter is a newsman who has remained a newsman and has never tried to be a television 'personality,'" says Richard Salant, head of CBS News. Cronkite reminds people that it was only last year that he'd worked on television longer than for newspapers and wire-services, and he jealously protects his title as "Managing Editor" of the evening news. Over the years, viewers have come to recognize and trust the passion Cronkite has for the news, "that over the years he has generated a quality of believably no other broadcaster can match." In time, that will translate into becoming "the most trusted man in America."

He's a strong backer of the program's resident pundit, Eric Sevareid, whom he believes is right more often than not in his opinions; he also appreciates the freedom that Sevareid's commentaries have given him from having to interpret the news himself. He's devoted to hard news, which he thinks gives the program an advantage over "the softer Huntley-Brinkley approach." Fred Friendly, the former head of CBS News, puts it this way: "Walter and his staff are better newsmen than the opposition." The night that Luna 9, the Soviet Union's unmanned spacecraft, made the first soft landing on the moon, Cronkite led with pictures from the landing. NBC "doesn't put them on until they are 16 minutes into it."

The Cronk and his son Chip, working on a slot-car
track - a swell gift for a boy in the 1960s.
I've made this point before, but it bears repeating: NBC's ratings for the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 were higher than those for CBS and ABC combined. And as noted earlier, Cronkite's position was said to be in jeopardy a year later. Today, thanks to CBS's generous use of the Cronkite library—Cronkite announcing JFK's death, Cronkite overcome by the moon landing, Cronkite proclaiming that Vietnam is lost—one might think that Walter Cronkite was not just America's most trusted newsman, but America's only newsman. In light of that, it strikes me as somewhat disingenuous when Friendly, Salant, Cronkite, and the rest talk about how the ratings don't matter, that to even discuss them is to play NBC's game. On the other hand, the triumph of Cronkite's legacy, like his eventual victory in the ratings race, shows the value of playing the long game. The way it was isn't remembered; what goes in the history books is the way it is.

Which is not in any way intended to cast a shadow on that legacy. Unlike today's newsreaders, Cronkite was a newsman, and never stopped being one. He took the news seriously, and he took his obligation to the viewers seriously. Like the big-game sportscasters I've written about in the past, when you heard Walter Cronkite's voice, you stopped and listened.

In his office there is a quote from a review that Cronkite has framed and hung on the wall. "Viewers rarely recall and relish a Cronkite statement. They believe it instead." That's not a bad legacy either, one that today's television personalities might want to consider.

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During the 60s, the Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace were the premiere variety shows on television. Whenever they appear in TV Guide together, we'll match them up and see who has the best lineup..

Ed Sullivan: Ed's guests are singers Tom Jones, Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello and Mireille Mathieu; actor Ray Milland, who appears in a scene from his Broadway play Hostile Witness; comics Don Rickles, John Byner and Arthur Haynes; puppet Topo Gigio; Los Vegas, singing-instrumental group; and Elizabeth and Collins, knife-throwing act.

Palace: Host Vincent "Ben Casey" Edwards presents an all-female guest lineup: actress Bette Davis, who reads Dorothy Parker's poem "Biographies"; singer-dancers Liza Minnelli and Liliane Montevecchi; comedienne Joan Rivers; Miss Elizabeth, Swiss trapeze artist; the balancing RoggĂ© Sisters; and performing elephants Bertha and Tina.

We're in rerun season, of course, and it's not hard to see why these two episodes were chosen. I suppose Vince Edwards was a natural for hosting an all-female Palace, given that he's displayed his innate animal magnetism for years on Ben Casey. He's got a good cast, too, particularly when Bette Davis is the lead guest. However, even with Liza (with a Z) and Joan Rivers, Palace is not about to compete with Tom Jones, Frankie and Annette, Ray Milland, and Don Rickles, and if Ed feels he still needs a few more stars, John Byner can probably impersonate them. No pretending here; Sullivan for the win.

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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. 

Bad news for all you fans of The Cleve this week; our erstwhile hero-critic is on vacation. Not to fear, however, for his substitute (I don't think I can ever recall someone subbing for Amory, though I could be wrong about that) is none other than Judith Crist, movie critic for the New York Herald Tribune and film and drama critic of the Today show, and future movie reviewer for TV Guide.

For her subject this week, Crist not surprisingly looks at the state of the movie as seen on TV. Like the farmer and the rancher, she says, "movies and television have been forced into wary friendship and coexistence for economic survival." It is, however, time for "an awareness of what effect television is having not only on movie making but also on movie watching." The effect can be seen most strongly in young viewers, Crist says, those who have been conditioned to short-attention spans from television, delivered "in 12-minute doses of concentrated action zooming to a climax that is suddenly aborted" by commercial time. They don't know about subplots, the intricacies of plotting, and the subtleties of moviemaking. All they know is that they want their movies to be like their TV shows, "a series of exciting episodes and vignettes."

And it isn't just kids; many adults, according to Crist, admit that "their attention wanders after 20 of the 30 uninterrupted minutes Schaefer Award Theater allots its movies as a 'public service.'" Crist acknowledges that "it's a rare movie that can't be pared here and there," but such edits have to be judicious. Too many times, though, the end result is "out-and-out butchery." with film fans left nonplussed by bizarre jumps and stories that fall apart due to the total absence of certain scenes. What, for example, happened to the Marseillaise scene in Casablanca?

Television also needs to take its movie business more seriously. Rather than flooding the airwaves with "pop pap," Crist urges stations to seek out innovative opportunities such as airing a local film festival, or even serving as an art revival house. (An excellent idea, by the way; our PBS station KTCA had moments like that in the late '70s and early '80s.) She suggests that movie hosts share inside information with viewers about then-unknown stars who might be appearing in tonight's flick, not unlike what Robert Osborne would do on TCM decades later. "All it takes," she writes, "is some thought and less money." Ah, we can but dream, can't we?

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This week's starlet is Leigh Chapman, also known as Napoleon Solo's secretary on The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and despite her cool and chic appearance, she's her own biggest critic. "I despise selling myself as an actress because I don't like my body. There are too many defects," she says. "As writers go I might be good-looking, but as actresses go—"

She's written scripts for Burke's Law, Dr. Kildare, and My Favorite Martian, among other shows, and when asked how a nice girl like her wound up behind a typewriter, she replies simply, "I like words." She wants to prove she can write as well as a man can, and in fact she prefers to take a masculine point of view "because we have a masculine-oriented society."

Looking at Leigh Chapman's later writing career, it all makes sense. She becomes known for action-adventure movies and TV shows: Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, The Octagon, The Wild Wild West, Mission: Impossible, It Takes a Thief. She wrote the pilot for Walker, Texas Ranger. "I like larger-than-life characters who do dangerous, heroic things," she said. "And that, to me, means men." She gave up acting after a disagreeable experience with Desi Arnaz, an incident she details in a fascinating interview she does with Stephen Bowie. She dies of cancer in 2014, but not before having taken up underwater photography. With that kind of talent, who needs acting?

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Well, we've gotten this far, and we've barely touched on the week's programs. Let's see what we can do to rectify that.

Did NBC read an advance copy of Judith Crist's article? This week's Saturday Night at the Movies, Sam Peckinpah's Ride the High Country (9:00 p.m. ET), includes a feature following the movie, with Ken Murray (known for his home movies of life in Hollywood) taking a look at the careers of the movie's stars, Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott. (Pause, repeat "Randoph Scott" reverently.) Networks used to have these featurettes from time to time, when the movie didn't fill the entire two-hour timeslot.

On Sunday, ABC Sports visits close to home with coverage of the final round of the U.S. Women's Open golf championship (2:00 p.m.), from Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota, a suburb of the Twin Cities. Golf fans probably recognize Hazeltine from hosting the Ryder Cup in 2016, but its first brush with fame, or infamy if you will, was as host of the 1970 men's Open. The course, less than a decade old, had yet to mature, and was despised by most of the pros; Dave Hill famously suggested that it only needed "80 acres of corn and a few cows" to be truly complete; Minnesotans, being the proud people we are, serenaded Hill with mooing for the rest of the tournament. Sandra Spuzich, at +9, wins the Women's Open, and a first-prize of $4,000.

Monday is the 4th of July, which explains why NBC's on the air with the Minnesota Twins playing the Cleveland Indians (4:00 p.m.). It's been a disappointing season for the defending American League champion Twins, but the Indians have stayed near the top thanks to pitching from Luis Tiant, Sonny Siebert, and Sudden Sam McDowell—remember him? That's the only bit of holiday programming for the day, but remember that most people are out, going to parades and fireworks shows, or just enjoying the high point of summer. They probably have better things to do that stay inside watching television. I myself have no idea what I was up to.

Telly Savalas (right) and Beau Bridges guest star in Tuesday's episode of The Fugitive (10:00 p.m., ABC). Beau accidentally shoots the driver of a passing car; he wants to turn himself in, but Telly won't hear of it, leaving Dr. Kimble—who was riding in the car—as the prime suspect. I know I've mentioned things like this before, but how many times as something like this actually happened to you, let alone an innocent man on the run from the law? I wonder.

Wednesday's fun just for browsing through the night and seeing all the guest stars: Frank Gorshin as the Riddler on Batman (ABC, 7:30 p.m.), Glenn Corbett and John Doucette on The Virginian (NBC, 7:30 p.m.), James Brolin and Kim Carnes—yes, Miss "Bette Davis Eyes" herself—on The Patty Duke Show (ABC, 8:00 p.m.), Arthur Hill reading the poems of William Carlos Williams on U.S.A. (NET, 8:30 p.m.), Marilyn Mason in The Big Valley (ABC, 9:00 p.m.), Jack Lord, Dana Wynter, Pat O'Brien and Sheree North in "The Crime" on Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre (NBC, 9:00 p.m.), Pippa Scott on The Dick Van Dyke Show (CBS, 9:30 p.m.), and Julie London and producer Sheldon Leonard on I Spy (NBC, 10:00 p.m.). Oh, and Buddy Hackett is one of Johnny Carson's guests on The Tonight Show (NBC, 11:15 p.m.)

The highlight on Thursday is one of the most charming of movies (and star Jimmy Stewart's favorite role), Harvey, on the CBS Thursday Night Movie. (CBS, 9:00 p.m.) And in their pre-Laugh-In days, Rowan and Martin continue as summer subs for Dean Martin. (NBC, 10:00 p.m.)

Decisions, decisions: on Friday's Donna Reed rerun (ABC, noon), "Alex wants a new set of golf clubs, but Donna says that the family needs a new washing machine." Things were different in 1966, we know; still, you'd think that a doctor would be able to afford both. No wonder Carl Betz was so excited to play Clinton Judd—it probably meant a raise in pay. And on Court-Martial (ABC, 10:00 p.m.), Bradford Dilman discovers that his client is innocent of the crime for which he's charged, but guilty of another crime. Why didn't things like this ever happen to Perry Mason?

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That's it for this very unusual Fourth of July, 2020. Returning to the present for a moment, here's a hope for happier times ahead, and never forget what this day is all about.  TV  


  1. There’s a print ad that ran in a TVG July 4th edition I’ve never forgotten. Maybe in 1966. It was for Tiger Paws tires and the headline was “You May not need Tiger Paws on July 4th.” (Shot of an empty highway) “But how about July 5th?” (Shot of a packed highway.)

  2. Happy 4th all. One factor in 60's battle of Huntley-Brinkley vs Cronkite can be traced back to network loyalty that carried over from radio to TV.

    My parents were an NBC family thanks to a combination of their favorite NBC radio programs and the fact the the first TV station you could get in our part of upstate NY was the Syracuse NBC station (early 50's). Next door to me, however, my grandparents were avid CBS viewers from day 1 of the CBS station starting in Syracuse. One explanation may be found in the words of my always thoughtful grandmother. When I would ask why they didn't watch Huntley-Brinkley, she replied, "Your grandfather loves Jack Benny and followed him to TV from radio. So we watch CBS."

    The entertainment division of "the eye" had a spinoff effect for Uncle Walter as far as one American family went. With only major two networks to follow (radio, then TV),I'm sure it was the same across America.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!