August 15, 2020

This week in TV Guide: August 16, 1969

A new era in television begins this week, as Merv Griffin enters the late-night talk show fray with his debut on CBS. (Guests for that first show: Joe Namath, Woody Allen, Leslie Uggams.) Merv's hardly a stranger to the game, having helmed a daytime show on NBC as well as his syndicated chatfest for Group W, but as Neil Hickey writes, things are a little different now.

This is the first time ever that all three networks are programming simultaneous late-night talk shows, with Joey Bishop representing ABC's entry in the "Insomnialand Sweepstakes." And we're not talking about peanuts in this battle-to-the-death contest; Johnny Carson's Tonight Show earned about $15 million for NBC last year. For years, CBS's affiliates had survived on the network's inventory of old feature films, but with prices going up and inventory shrinking, change was in the air; when around 80% of CBS affiliates said they'd clear the show in the late-night timeslot, the game—or, in this case, the show—was on. As for the host, . . .

According to Hickey, it was a call from the William Morris Agency to CBS's new late-night boss Mike Dunn that set things in motion. Among the Agency's many clients was one Merv Griffin, currently negotiating a new contract with Westinghouse, and the renewal was far from a done deal. The Agency asked if CBS would be interested in Griffin should he become available. Dunn replied that, yes, he'd be interested. When the Group W negotiations reached an impasse, about three weeks later, Griffin's handlers called Dunn back. A couple of meetings later, the deal was set: two years, with an option for six more, and CBS had itself a ready-made show to take on Johnny and Joey.

Merv's not under any illusions about the magnitude of the challenge, but he's also excited. "The biggest drawback to the show which I've been doing for the last four years was its built-in lack of topicality, caused by the fact that it was aired, in some cases, as much as five weeks after we made it." When Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, he says, "we had to just sit there as though it happened." He wants his staff to "read the front page as well as the theater page," but doesn't want propagandizing. "The fewer personal causes I exploit on the air the better the show we'll have." It's the guests he's interested in, and their areas of expertise. "These shows should reflect the whole contemporary scene: comedy, ideas, music." He's not going to let himself worry about the competition, either. "If I let myself pay too much attention to the competition, I risk falling into a tererible trap. I can't let them affect how I do my own show."

There's a very interesting comment made near the end of the article by a CBS executive. "Nobody knows how long Carson is going to work," he says. "He shows signs of wanting to do something else. When he does quit, NBC—which has enjoyed this lush oasis for so long—will suddenly be in the same position we were. Griffin will get a large chunk of Carson's audience and some of Bishop's." The truth, as Hickey concludes, is that nobody knows. And ain't that the truth. Carson, of coursee, is not near quitting; he'll continue another 23 years, to 1992. By that time Bishop is long gone—he won't even make it out of 1969. Merv is absent the scene as well; as Griffin's comments suggest, he wanted a topical show with topical, and often controversial, guests, and soon chafes under the restrictions CBS attempts to put on his show. and he secretly negotiates a deal with Metromedia to return to syndication as soon as CBS cancels his show, which happens in 1972. That edition of The Merv Griffin Show continues until 1986 when Merv finally hangs it up. Maybe he doesn't beat Carson, but he certainly leaves the scene unbowed.

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Speaking of the late-night wars, 1960s style, if you're into this kind of thing then this is your week! Not only do we have Johnny, Joey and Merv slugging it out in the post-local news period, we also have Dick Cavett! Yes, in the timeframe between Cavett's morning show and his anointing as Joey Bishop's successor, during the summer of 1969, Cavett hosts a three-nights-a-week show for ABC. As such, on Monday, Tuesday and Friday of this week, you have all four of my generation's late-night titans appearing on the same evening, three of them at the same time. It's really quite extraordinary, when you think about it. And if you lived in the right market, you could also have seen Steve Allen's syndicated show. If only someone could have found a place for Jack Paar—wouldn't that have been a time!

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We spend a lot of time here looking at woman's fashions, so it's only fair that this week we get a glimpse at Hollywood's "wild" new look for men.

It grooves, doesn't it? Our models are, from left to right, Stan Freberg, Robert Wagner and Robert Culp, three men with reputations as being among the most stylish dresers in entertainment. Dick Hobson gathered the three of them, plus Sammy Davis Jr., to see how they feel about the new styles. Wagner admits to the truth of his publicist's statement that he has "the most impressive wardrobe on the tube"; Culp concurs, saying that Wagner "always looks elegant," but says Davis is "the only cat I'd call a style leader." Not surprisingly, Freberg bosts of the most flamboyant outfits, living up to his daughter's description of him as "a groovy daddy." The formula: "An Edwardian suit with a dragoon collar. Or my Cardin suit with a sculptured back—a real mindblower. I have a Bill Blass blazer with his initials monogramed all over the lining, which is a little ostentatious of him, don't you think, considering it's my coat." He does have his limits, though: "The bell-bottom is a little too faddish for me."

As for other favorite outfits: Davis is proud of "Two mink coats and a mink cape and three pairs of doeskin boot-pants." The boots and pants are all one piece? "Yeah, you put them on just like a regular pair of pants. The gas is to casually put your leg up and people say, 'You mean they're all one?" Wagner boasts of starting the Cassini Nehru look; when Culp suggested that Tony Randall actually ntroduced the Nehru to America on the Carson show, Davis interjects, "No, I brought it from Paris and it wasn't called the Nehru; it was called Mao jacket. Because of politics, you wouldn't use the word Mao so I said it was a Nehru." Davis adds that "I came back from London three years ago wearing beads, and people said, 'Beads?' Within six months everybody was wearing beads." Freberg says that at first he felt a little self-conscious; "A year and a half ago I went on the Tonight show wearing what I thought was a wild Eric Ross jacket until Tony Curtis came on with Edwardian lapels, a whole row of military medals and high knee boots. Everybody applauded."

Yes, boys and girls, this is what the state of men's fashion looked like at the end of the Sixties. But there are some more traditional styles that the men admire: Wagner likes Cary Grant ("He never had to bother with an expernsive wardrobe because he wers clothes so well that the suit that looked well on him in 1939 still looks well on him."), Culp admires Johnny Carson (he "has a fabulous influence, though nobody has ever accused John of being adventurous."), Davis loves Fred Astaire ("Tails on Astaire look as comfortable as tennis shoes, Levi's and a T-shirt."), and they all agree that while Sinatra has loosened up from his investment banker look, Davis tells of how he once kidded the Chairman that "You're dressing like you're known all over the world," to which Sinatra replied, "Well?"

I love clothes myself; I never went for ascots and Nehru jackets, although I'll admit to a couple of leisure jackets in the day, but I've always been most comfortable in a nice three-piece suit or double-breasted jacket with dress boots, and I only wear a white shirt to weddings and funerals. My one regret is that I've never had the opportunity to wear a tuxedo; they say a tux looks good on every man, and at this stage in my life I'll probably never get the chance to find out. But a classic wardrobe is still timeless—I'll let you decide if the outfits above fill the bill.

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As far as TV goes, summertime is reruntime, but that doesn't mean we can't still have a blockbuster. That's the case on Sunday, when NBC repeats Elvis Presley's historic comeback concert (8:00 p.m. CT), first shown the previous December. It was the King's first television appearance in eight years, and it's proven to not only be one of the definitive moments in Presley's career, but a riviting hour of television. In the rerun vein, Saturday night's Jackie Gleason show (6:30 p.m., CBS) shows how far the Honeymooners have come from their half-hour roots; in this hour-long musical-comedy episode, "The Honeymooners visit sunny Spain, where Ralph rushes to the rescue of a lovely senorita—and finds himself entangled in a blackmail plot." It's part of the story arc in which the Kramdens and Nortons have won a trip around the world; the elements are there, in that it would be typical for Ralph to get in over his head with some complicated scheme. But it seems a long way from that New York tenament, doesn't it?

On Saturday and Sunday (4:00 p.m.), ABC presents third- and final-round coverage of the golf season's final major, the PGA Championship, from National Cash Register Country Club in Dayton, Ohio. (Yep, you read that right.) The tournament "offers a mouth-watering $175,000" in total prize money (2019's total purse: $11 million). and Ray Floyd holds on, despite a final round 74, to defeat Gary Player. Proving that political controversy is no stranger to sports, civil rights and antiwar protestors disrupt the third round, throwing a cup of water in Player's face and trying to grab Jack Nicklaus's ball off the green. "The tournament continued in a sinister cloak-and-dagger atmosphere," according to Associated Press. "Small groups of long-haired characters in hippie attire were seen congregating at various places. Police milled through the crowd." Player double-bogied the hole where the water was thrown at him; he lost by one shot. Rounding out the weekend sports scene, WTCN is the flagship for Minnesota Twins baseball, as the Twinkies take on the Washington Senators (noon both days) from Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Washington, which just last year was known as D.C. Stadium.

Liberace is back on network TV with his own summer replacement show (Tuesday, 7:30 p.m., CBS) and his guests are Eve Arden, Mary Hopkin, Matt Monro, and ventriquilist Ray Alan with his dummy Lord Charles. That's on opposite It Takes a Thief (7:30 p.m., ABC), in which we get to see Robert Wagner and his fabulous wardrobe accompanied by a cast of unlikely guest stars: Joey Heatherton, Paul Lukas and Barry Williams. And at 8:00 p.m., "A black district attorney and a white cop are men at odds" in the TV-movie Deadlock, which winds up as "The Protectors" segment of The Bold Ones. We also get part two of a CBS News Special on the generation gap (9:00 p.m.); last week's first segment was called "Fathers and Sons," this week's follow-up is "Mothers and Daughters." The producers express the hope that viewers will watch the troubled families and take consolation in knowing they're not alone; executive producer Ernest Leiser says, "The only way to bridge the gap is with mutual compassion."  Thursday's episode of Ironside (7:30 p.m., NBC) strikes me as a prescient one. "Ironside is caught in a racist crossfire when he's ordered to prove the innocence of a Negro millitant accused of a riot murder. White extremists whant to set an example; black extremists claim it's a frame." I wouldn't want to be the Chief in this one.

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This week's starlet is 22-year old French pop singer Mireille Mathieu, the girl who none other than Maurice Chevalier calls "A little queen [who] has come out of the peoplpe, to be workshiped by those who like French songs." Having made it big first in France and then the rest of Europe, she's now in the process of making it in the United States, doing the circuit with Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin and Danny Kaye. Her agent, Johnny Stark, places her in high company, along with such French icons as Chevalier and Edith Pief, but to do so she will need to become both a singer (which she is) and an artist (an area in which she continues to evolve). And she has to be accepted in the U.S. as she is elsewhere.

Back in the day, it was possible to charm an audience by singing in a foreign language; after all, Piaf herself did it with "La Vie en Rose." But, Mathieu tells Robert Musel, she is determined to master the English language. "I cannot sing in English with the emotion I feel in French because the words do not mean as much to me. This makes me dissatisfied because I want the Americans to hear me at my best." She plans to remain in England after the end of her television series with John Davidson (Fridays, 7:00 p.m., ABC) "until I learn English really well." "When I talk with John on the show, I have to read the English from cards phonetically."

Music styles change; in the years since, the type of song Mireille Mathieu sings has waned in popularity. She never really became big with English language songs, and never reached the heights of Chevalier or Piaf, but she's remained popular in France, Germany and Russia, among other countries. And the 75 albums she's recorded, most recently in 2015, are 75 more than I've managed.

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The original PBS logo, using the colors of  the old NET
What's in a name? We're not sure, but The Doan Report tells us that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, about to begin it's first full season of broadcasting, is haggling over just what the new network is going to be called. The preferred name—Public Broadcasting System—is thought by some to sound too corporate, too "centralized," which is just what they don't want to employ, since much of the network's content will be provided by local stations for local stations. ("Besides," says one official, "it may sound too much like CBS." Would that they could get CBS's ratings, though.) Then there's the Public Broadcasting Network, but "the word 'network' is thought be be anathema these days to many congressmen." As we all know, they never did come up with a good alternative, and PBS it is, to this day. And still without CBS's ratings.

NBC, meanwhile, has announced plans for 100, count 'em, 100 specials for the 1969-70 season. There are so many, in fact, that Doan acknowledges the risk that the frequent preemptions may run the risk of antagonizing fans of NBC's hits, such as Laugh-In and Bonanza. I'm not getting too worked up about the specials, though; we're talking about things such as Christmas specials from Bob Hope, Dean Martin and Bing Crosby (plus a repeat of The Little Drummer Boy), standards like the Miss America Pageant, and an all-star circus with Tony Curtis, who can do a few acrobatic stunts himself. In other words, fun, maybe, but not too many "special" specials. Your mileage may vary, though, depending on how much you like the stars.

And the Teletype reports that "A specially set up network will carry Jerry Lewis's annual Muscular Dystrophy Labor Day telethon for 22 hours on Aug. 31. Last year, Lewis, who has been national chairman of the charitable organization for 18 years, raised $1,400,000 on the telethon." The all-time record, set in 2008, is $65,031,393.

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Last but not least, for all you youngsters out there, one of the catchphrases of the post-Apollo 11 era was, "We can put a man on the moon, but we can't" followed by your favorite description of some worthy but insurmountable task, e.g. "We can put a man on the moon, but we can't figure out how to feed the hungry." Subconsciously, it was not so much a complaint about things that needed to be done (although it was certainly that), as it was a reminder of how monumental the moon landing was, and how unthinkable it had been for so long. I don't know what its equivalent would be today, since continuous technological achievement is more or less taken for granted, but you get the point. So did Susan Biles of Waterbury, Connecticut, who, in this week's Letters section, reminds us of something else we take for granted nowadays. "I can watch the fantastic live transmission of the moon walk," she writes, "but I cannot receive a local channel 24 miles away. Ah, the inconsistencies of life!" Indeed, Ms. Biles, and were it so that this could be our biggest complaint today. TV 


  1. I have an ongoing argument with one of my friends about the quality of television today compared to 40 or 50 years ago. I claim it was better, more interesting more entertaining, more creative. Even though today we have 150 channels and streaming, the overwhelming majority is junk, reality shows, 24/7 political propaganda, .. Yes, We had the wire and breaking bad and some other fabulous series, as good as the best 50 years ago. But back then, the percentage of great TV was higher.

  2. A couple of things to start off with:

    - CBS's programming chief throughout most of the '60s was Mike Dann, with an 'a'.
    In Les Brown's book from 1970, Dann shares a chapter with NBC's Paul Klein, his rival in press and publicity; I was a while catching on to Brown's snarky attitude to both men.

    - As to Merv Griffin's CBS adventure, he wrote it up himself in his various memoirs over the years.
    Merv and CBS were at odds almost from 'go', starting with Merv's desire to not drastically alter his basic format from the show he'd been doing for Westinghouse.
    CBS wanted change for its own sake, starting with wanting to get rid of Arthur Treacher as announcer (too old, you know).
    That was the start; Merv wrote up the nickel-and-diming in detail elsewhere.

    - John Davidson's summer variety hour was a Sir Lew Grade production, which that gentleman designed to get European artists a foothold in the USA - among them Mirielle Mathieu, op cit.
    There were two other regulars on Davidson's show: Rich Little, then more or less fresh from Canada, whose star imitations were a weekly centerpiece; and Aimi Macdonald, a zany blonde comedienne who'd done some stuff with some of the Monty Python people just prior to that show (had she tried for the USA, she wouldn't have been a bad fit on Laugh-In - but that's another story).
    As a late-teenager (19, OK?), I liked this show, and hoped that ABC would bring it back, but no go.

    - As to Dick Cavett's summer place-holder:
    The one show I do remember was the only network TV appearance of Rex Stout (that I ever saw, anyway).
    I don't know if Cavett (who apparently owned his shows) held onto the tape of Stout's appearance, but at the time I was disappointed by it; it was clear that Cavett was bluffing his way through the interview, asking about stories he really hadn't read (Dick did that quite a bit, more than his "critical" acolytes might be willing to admit).
    That said, I would like to see that show again, for the record: I do recall that Stout got a kick out of Eartha Kitt, who was also on the show that evening.

    - That men's fashion layout is a real period piece.
    What I recall from that time was that Stan Freberg had a reputation as one of most conservative dressers in showbiz: three-piece suits, striped rep ties, crew-cut, et al.
    I recall that in this story, Freberg tells of how he decided to "go all out" in remaking his "look" into the mod trend of the time (in later years he did walk it back somewhat, but that's another story).
    Stories like this, in TV Guide and elsewhere, led me to my lifelong practice of avoiding trends wherever and whenever I could.
    I basically look and dress the same way I did in high school, when I became a practicing square; I've never seen the need to change since.
    Your mileage may vary, of course ...

  3. The show that Aimi MacDonald was involved w/some of the Monty Python gang was At Last the 1948 Show, which also included Marty Feldman

    1. Thanx to diskojoe for your confirmation.

      As it happens, At Last The 1948 Show has been collected on DVD - and I'm glad to say I've got it in the Wall.

      The reason I didn't mention the title was that I didn't think that many of the USA audience of this blog would have been familiar with it; not the first time I've been wrong, won't be the last ...

  4. When did David Frost enter the chat fest sweepstakes?

    1. Fall 1969. Group W plucked him as Merv's replacement. Ironic that they would dump him three years later after Merv went back into syndication via Metromedia.

      And to think it was all descended from the ill-fated "PM East/PM West" from 1961. After that withered away, Westinghouse tapped Steve Allen to host their late-night gabfest. After he left to replace Garry Moore on "I've Got a Secret" in 1964, 'W' looked to Regis Philbin to maintain their franchise - but he only lasted a few months before they approached Merv.

      They didn't have anything to replace Frost after they canned him - or did they?


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!