July 18, 2020

This week in TV Guide: July 21, 1973

The year is 1967, and you're a Navy flier in Vietnam. While flying a mission on May 18 of that year, you're shot down over North Vietnam and taken prisoner. For nearly six years, until March 4, 1973, you're shuttled from prison to prison, including the infamous "Hanoi Hilton." During that time, you've missed Laugh-In, the Smothers Brothers, and Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. You didn't see the end of The Fugitive, Peyton Place or The Ed Sullivan Show. You've never seen Monday Night Football or Big Bird. Even though it's only (!) been six years, you have, in essence, missed an entire generation of American pop culture. This is the world that Lt. Robert Naughton returned to when he was released from North Vietnam custody, and this week he tells Clifford Terry how television has changed during his time as a POW.

He never saw television during those six years, but he and his fellow prisoners talked about it. "I must give it credit for providing us with a lot of entertainment," he says. "We'd discuss the shows we had seen in order to pass the time and cheer each other up." In doing so, he says, "[T]hat's when I awakened to its lack of depth. If I tried to tell the guys the story of a certain episode, I'd realize there really wasn't any. Nor any message." As he thought of the shows he'd once considered his favorites, such as The Andy Griffith Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show, he came to the same conclusion. "My feeling now is that you can be entertained and at the same time have your intellect stimulated."

What might surprise you—or not, when you think about it—is that Naughton doesn't see much of any change in television now from how he remembered it. "only the names of the prime-time shows are different. I saw The Doris Day Show and Sanford and Son, and got a few laughs out of them, but I couldn't watch to the end." He'd always enjoyed Dean Martin, but after seeing a recent show, "I'm sorry to say it was a kind of nothing." As for the #1 show in America, All in the Family, "I thought it was funny, but someone who doesn't do any analyzing may think, 'Oh, everyone's laughing, that must be the way to live.' I couldn't see any subtlety to it. And kids might pick up some of the words, the bigotry."

He enjoys Alistair Cooke's America ("If that could represent the over-all quality, television would be above reproach"), and thinks shows such as Face the Nation and Meet the Press are great, but that it's "almost criminal" that they're stuck on Sunday mornings or afternoons. He's impressed with public television and its capacity to educate young people. As a matter of fact, television's ability to educate as well as enlighten is a big point with him; he points out how more and more people get their news not from newspapers but TV. "The communications media have a real obligation to the country—especially television, because of the fast pace of American life." He enjoys newsmen who present their opinions as well as the news, from Eric Sevareid and Harry Reasoner to Paul Harvey, and he stresses the need of news programs to subject politicians to public scrutiny. "Of course," he cautions, "if it ever should come to the point of slanting the news, then it should be stopped. I heard a lot of slanted news in North Vietnam in the last few years—propaganda that was directed to about the 6th- or 7th-grade level. No subtlety at all."

Naughton greeted by high-schoolers in the Philippines
following his release
Not surprisingly, the subject of Hogan's Heroes comes up. "I think they begin [the show] from the point where the prisoners already have been beaten up; they assume everyone knows that a POW is tortured—just by the fact that he is a POW. The program misrepresented what I went through, but the fact that a person is able to laugh at the situation is very true." As Reader's Digest always said, laughter is the best medicine; "A sense of humor got us through quite a bit. We called it 'sick prison humor'." He likes TV's new candidness, as long as it's "handled intelligently and not used as an excuse to make bawdy jokes" He appreciates talk shows such as Dick Cavett's, which isn't afraid to discuss issues frankly and honestly.

In terms of this discussion, one of the things he appreciates most of all is freedom,; radio programs in North Vietnam were broadcast over loudspeakers in the streets, "so you listen whether you want to or not. Here, you can always walk up and turn off the radio or TV. That's one of the freedoms I've come to appreciate: the right to quit." To have the freedom to watch TV or not; that is a great thing. One of the understandings that Robert Naughton came to in prison was the importance, the value, of time. "I thought a good deal about how much time I had watched television—unproductive programs. I more or less made a resolution that I wasn't going to become glued to the TV screen."

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TV's two definitive 70s-era rock music shows, NBC's The Midnight Special and ABC's In Concert, faced off on Friday nights.  Midnight Special was a weekly show, airing after Johnny Carson, while In Concert was an every-other week part of Wide World of Entertainment.  Whenever the two slug it out, we'll be there to give you the winner.

Funny thing about Channel 9, the then-ABC affiliate in MSP. Throughout the sixties and seventies, Channel 9 would show a movie in place of the network’s Friday late-night offering, showing the pre-empted program instead on Sunday after the late local news. Has to do with revenue from those commercials, I know, but it’s still an interesting quirk in KMSP’s programming.*

*They also frequently delayed the Monday through Thursday offering, particularly during the Les Crane and Joey Bishop eras, until after their 10:30 movie.

So even though there wasn’t a Midnight Special-In Concert clash scheduled for this week, we’ll have one anyway, using Channel 9’s Sunday night’s broadcast of last Friday’s episode. Talk about luck!

In Concert: The Guess Who, B.B. King and Melanie perform in this rock concert taped at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. Produced by Dick Clark Teleshows, Inc.

Midnight Special: Hostess Dionne Warwicke, with Johnny Mathis, Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, folk singer Leo Kottke, rock group Malo and pop singer Bud Brisbois.

Dionne Warwicke was in her “e” phase in 1973*, and was also making the talk show rounds. Just before this Midnight Special appearance, she’s appearing with guest host Jerry Lewis on the Tonight Show, and—at least on the Special—she’s going with what made her famous: the songs of Burt Bacharach, including 1968’s hit “I Say a Little Prayer.” Johnny Mathis follows with one of his hits, “Killing Me Softly with Her Song.” Throw in the pre-Gambler Kenny Rogers and singer Leo Kottke (later a frequent guest on radio’s Prairie Home Companion), and you have the kind of eclectic music mix that was a hallmark of top-40 radio, and is virtually non-existent nowadays.

*From the always-reliable Wikipedia: Warwick, for years an aficionado of psychic phenomena, was advised by astrologer Linda Goodman in 1971 to add a small "e" to her last name, making Warwick ‘WARWICKe’ for good luck and to recognize her married name and her spouse, actor and drummer William ‘Bill’ Elliott. Goodman convinced Warwick that the extra small ‘e’ would add a vibration needed to balance her last name and bring her even more good fortune in her marriage and her professional life. Unfortunately, Goodman proved to be mistaken about this. The extra ‘e,’ according to Dionne, "was the worst thing I could have done in retrospect, and in 1975 I finally got rid of that damn ‘’e” and became “Dionne Warwick“ again.’” You’d think she would have known that would happen, don’t you?

Meanwhile, In Concert features some hits of its own: The Guess Who’s “American Woman,” B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone,” and Melanie’s “What Have They Done to My Song, Ma?” So who’s the winner this week? I’m afraid I’m going to show my age here, but if you can’t share it with your friends, who can you share it with? Midnight Special, on style points alone.

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If it’s July, it must be football season, right? This Friday night the gridiron greats return with coverage of the College All-Star Game from Soldier Field in Chicago (8:30 p.m, CT, ABC), pitting the NFL champion Miami Dolphins (coming off their undefeated season) against a team featuring future pro stars Bert Jones, Otis Armstrong and John Matuszak. Melvin Durslag’s preview article discusses the history of the game, which started in 1934 as a benefit for the Chicago Tribune Charities.*

*The game was started by Tribune sports editor Arch Ward, who was also responsible for major league baseball’s All-Star Game.

One of the problems the game faces (which helped end the game in the mid '70s) is a growing reluctance of NFL teams to allow their newly drafted stars to participate, due to both a concern about injuries and the amount of training camp the rookies will miss. This helps explain why the game’s usually a rout, and this year’s edition is expected to be no different, but the All Stars, coached by USC’s legendary John McKay, give the Fins all they can handle, and more. In the fourth quarter, buoyed by a strong defense led by Matuszak, the Stars trail the Dolphins only by 7-3, before Miami running back Larry Csonka scores the clinching touchdown in a surprisingly tough 14-3 victory.

And speaking of baseball’s All-Star Game, that’s this week as well. Before the days of cable TV and regularly scheduled interleague play, the All-Star Game really was must-see TV. For many of us living in Minnesota, it was one of the rare times we got to see National League players, whom we’d otherwise only see on the Saturday game of the week.

This year’s game is Tuesday night in Kansas City (7:00 p.m., NBC), with the Nationals (the league, not the team, which won't be around for another thirty years or so) routing the Americans 7-1 for their 10th win in the last 11 years. They aren't kidding about this being an all-star game, either; the Nats featured nine future Hall of Famers, including Johnny Bench, Hank Aaron, Joe Morgan, Ron Santo, Tom Seaver, Don Sutton, Billy Williams, Willie Mays and Willie Stargell—plus that pesky Pete Rose character. The Americans countered with nine of their own: Carlton Fisk, Rod Carew, Brooks Robinson, Reggie Jackson, Carl Yastrzemski, Nolan Ryan, Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers and Bert Blyleven. I wonder—will this year’s game do as well?

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What with so many regular series in summer reruns, we’ve been focusing the last few weeks on summer replacement shows. Ready for some more? Saturday night, Jack Burns and Avery Schreiber star in The Burns and Schreiber Comedy Hour (8:00 p.m., ABC), in place of the cancelled Julie Andrews show, with guests Ed McMahon, Teresa Graves and the Muledeer and Moondogg Medicine Show. On Thursday night NBC has Helen Reddy sitting in for Flip Wilson at 8:00 p.m., with fellow feminist Gloria Steinem, B.B. King, the New Seekers, Albert Brooks and the Modern Jazz Quartet; that's followed at 9:00 p.m. by the premiere of Dean Martin Presents Music Country, this week starring Johnny Cash, Mac Davis, Loretta Lynn, Marty Robbins and a cast of thousands.

There are plenty of movies to choose from this week, including the summertime staple, failed pilots for series that never came to pass. Two such as I Love a Mystery, an unsold pilot from 1966 with Ida Lupino (Monday, 8:00 p.m., NBC) and Crime Club (Tuesday, 8:30 p.m., CBS), which is only a year old, starring Lloyd Bridges, Barbara Rush, Paul Burke, Cloris Leachman, Martin Sheen, Victor Buono and William Devane. Great cast; I wonder why it didn't sell.

There is one kind of summer program not seen anymore, at least in Minneapolis: the twin Aquatennial parades. When I was a kid, the Minneapolis Aquatennial was the biggest summer festival around (it even featured as the backdrop for an episode of Route 66), and the two parades—the Grande Day Parade on Saturday and the Torchlight Parade on Wednesday—were major events. WCCO preempts its regular programming Saturday afternoon for the Grand Day parade starting at 2:30 p.m., featuring a pair of celebrity grand marshals, Larry Linville from M*A*S*H* and evangelist Billy Graham, and an appearance by Colonel Sanders. Keeping with the “Seas of Antiquity,” there are also a number of representatives from Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon and Greece.

*No coincidence that a CBS star would appear on a parade being televised by a CBS affiliate, right?

KSTP does the honors for the Torchlight parade, beginning at 8:30 p.m. (preempting Madigan and Search) with grand marshal Simcha Dimitz, Israeli Ambassador to the United States, along with the Israeli consul general, and another appearance by Colonel Sanders. Although the floats are the same ones from the Saturday parade (now with lights attached), I wonder if all of the Arab representatives still participated, considering the company they’d be keeping? After all, the Yom Kippur War is less than three months away.

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Since we’re talking about old TV, here’s something interesting—a program about TV shows that were already considered old in 1973. That’s not too meta for you, is it?

Eric Sevareid interviewing Rachel Carson
It’s CBS News Retrospective, airing Sunday afternoons at 5:00 p.m., in which the network dips into its vaults to rebroadcast some of its most acclaimed and influential CBS Reports documentaries from the fifties and sixties. This week it’s the 1963 documentary “The Silent Spring of Rachel Carson,” the landmark program that first shown the spotlight on ecology and the environment, specifically the uses of DDT and other pesticides, and the effects they had on birds, fish and the soil. Carson’s assertions were controversial then, and they remain controversial today.

Thanks to being in the Twin Cities for the summer (after the first of six years in the World's Worst Town™), I was able to see this limited-run series, which included several documentaries by Edward R. Murrow. This was advocacy television at its finest (in terms of quality, that is, not necessarily ideology), and these programs were great examples of a type of television journalism that’s pretty much nonexistent today. And I can’t help but wonder about the method behind CBS airing these shows at this particular time. Could it be that the Tiffany Network was reminding viewers of their great news tradition, in order to bolster the division’s credibility during the continuing coverage of the Watergate hearings? Or is that too cynical a thought?

Speaking of which, we’re reminded at the start of the programming section (as well as several times throughout the week) that regular programming stands to be preempted for those Senate Watergate hearings. The nation has just been stunned the previous week by former presidential aide Alexander Butterfield’s casual comment that there was tape recording going on in the Oval Office. On Monday, July 23, special prosecutor Archibald Cox will demand that the White House turn over transcripts of those taped conversations, which President Nixon will refuse to do, citing Executive Privilege.

What’s interesting is that even at this point, roughly a year before Nixon will be forced to resign, the public is still divided over the issue. While 50% believe former aide John Dean’s accusations that Nixon is covering up the affair, they’re also split evenly (38%-37%) as to whom they would believe if Nixon denies the charge. Ah, politics.

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We'll wrap things up with our cover story. Back in the days before the internet, Americans relied on television to give them the information they couldn’t get from their doctors. And what better “virtual” physicians to have than the kindly Marcus Welby and the dedicated Joe Gannon? Muriel Davidson’s cover story shares real-life incidents of lives being saved because of what viewers had seen on their favorite medical shows. A boy in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota, administers mouth-to-mouth and heart massage on his asthmatic brother because he’d seen it done on Marcus Welby, M.D.; a man in Springfield, Missouri watching Welby self-diagnoses himself with a bleeding ulcer (he was right); a woman living in Los Angeles sees a man on Medical Center suffering from slurred speech, numb hands, and difficulty seeing – symptoms identical to hers. She tells her doctor she thinks she has M.S., because that’s what the character on Medical Center had. The skeptical doctor runs the tests, which confirm her suspicions. It’s not all WebMD-type diagnoses, though; another Welby episode tells the story of a brain-damaged boy who’s been labeled “slow”—the sensitivity and compassion of the episode produced thousands of letters of commendation.

Doctors caution people not to rely on fictional television stories in place of actual medical care, and point to patients having cancelled scheduled needed surgeries after seeing a Bold Ones episode about an unscrupulous doctor performing unnecessary surgery for profit. The producers of the shows say that their purpose is not to replace doctors, but to provide awareness education for viewers, pointing out potential health concerns or de-stigmatizing others, such as sexually-transmitted diseases.

Ultimately, the money line in the story points to the growing role of television in American society, and its power—at the time—to unify. Says a mother of a child suffering from a similar brain-damaged syndrome, who used the Welby episode to educate teachers and classmates on his condition, “It’s a miracle what can be done when people no longer are alone.” Words for thought, eh? TV  

1 comment:

  1. There won't be an All-Star Game this year.
    Meanwhile, it seems too many people regard 'Hogan's Heroes' as a documentary, and the fact that 'the inmates ran the asylum' is lost on most critics.


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