September 19, 2020

This week in TV Guide: September 18, 1971

In the era which we call B.C.—that is, Before Cable—movies on television were a Big Deal. A Very Big Deal, in fact. They were, and had been for years, a staple of local television, and in the late 1950s ABC had experimented with a couple of movie packages consisting of pre-1950 movies or movies from England, but when NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies debuted in 1961, it represented a masssive change. Now, for the first time, movies that had been in theaters after 1950 could be seen in the comfort of your very own living room. Some of them were even in color, and all of them were shown in a time slot of at least two hours, meaning they didn't have to be hacked to death first. I explain all this for those of your out there, primarily younger readers, who may not be able to imagine a time when people like me got excited about watching movies on TV that were interrupted at regular intervals for commercials and had often been edited for time or content (or both). What can I say? Thinks were simpler then.

This is all a lead-in to one of this week's cover stories, Al Morgan's look at the men who decide what movies we see on TV. Their names are Barry Diller, Larry White and Mike Marden. They work for the three networks, and as Morgan writes, "Far beyond the dreams of any statesman, they can unite the country: unite it in rooting home the hero in a chariot race or unite it breathing heavily in the Burton-Taylor boudoir."*

*Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. They were an item once.

It's true: some bombs
cost nets as much as $300K
They all agree that things have changed dramatically over the years. In television's early days, the networks would bid against each other for movies, with the price for a single movie jumping "from less than $200,000 to more than a million." With that kind of price war, something had to change; enter the "film package." Distributors would put together a package of as many as 40 movies; the catch was that in order to buy the really good ones, you also had to take the, let's say, less desirable ones. (Kind of like cable television packages, come to think of it.) For example, there's the one CBS bought several years ago. It included hits like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Night of the Iguana, The Sandpiper, North by Northwest, and an Elvis movie. It also included "gems" like Your Cheatin' Heart (George Hamilton as Hank Williams), Hold On! (starring Herman's Hermits), and The Alphabet Murders (Tony Randall trying to play Hercule Poirot). As Mike Marden says, "In those days, our rule of thumb was 'You got 'em, you play 'em.' Today the public won't sit still for a bad movie, a really bad movie." He adds that it's more of a buyer's market today, that the days "when the networks bought anything that moved and talked" are long since over. 

Everyone agrees that NBC has the largest film library; "We haven't bought a package in two years," Larry Wilson says, and when they do, "we look at them on an individual basis. They are offered to us. We buy or we don't buy." ABC's library isn't bad either; Diller says the inventory is big enough that the network could program until 1975 without buying anything more. Diller is especially proud of the network's recent deal for two playings of Cleopatra for more than $4 million. He's also pleased with his purchase of the John Wayne Western The Sons of Katie Elder. "Wayne is pure gold to us," he says. CBS describes it's situation as "comfortable"; Marden says, "I haven't even bought many individual pictures lately." His most recent gems: Ben-Hur and A Streetcar Named Desire.

Scheduling movies is a real chess game for these men. A well-timed movie can take the edge off of a series premiere or other special program. A two-part movie not only doubles the potential ratings bonanza (two nights instead of one!), it also justifies the expense of purchasing that movie (Cleopatra supposedly cost ABC $4 million). This very week, CBS is premiering Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? in the old Ed Sullivan timespot to try and retain Ed's loyal audience. Summer nights make the perfect time for dumping those dogs that you had to purchase in order to get the movies you really wanted. And a blockbuster can help improve ratings for local affiliates, thereby earning loyal and undying gratitude. 

Star power is a big part of making investments pay off. John Wayne is "pure gold" not only for ABC, but CBS as well, and you have to think NBC's feeling pretty good about this week's two-part running of The Alamo. But there's one thing the networks haven't gotten into yet: foreign films. Only ABC has taken a chance: having previously shown A Man and a Woman as a kind of test, Barry Diller went ahead this year and bought Z, Costa-Gavras's political thriller that was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. It's an important movie, Diller says; "I hope people will watch it, but it's a movie that should be seen." I guess if we really want foreign films, we'll just have to wait for TCM.

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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. 

The subject of Cleveland Amory's column this week is not a show. Rather, one could say that his focus is on the show within the show. It's the phenomenon known as the VIV—the Very Important Voice—and it's the latest fad in the advertising genre known as the television commercial. It's become so big, in fact, that according to Cleve there's at least one agency in Hollywood that works on nothing but voice talent for commercials. "Last year," says agency owner Charles Stern, "performers on shows earned $35,000,000. Performers on commercials earned over $65,000,000." Well, he's got me convinced; where do you line up for this kind of gig?

Nowadays everyone's doing it: J.D. Cannon for Piels, Jose Ferrer for Schlitz, Lloyd Nolan for Ford, Greg Morris for Datsun, Jack Kelly for Contac, David Wayne for American Airlines, Orson Welles for Eastern Airlines. As a matter of fact, Amory says, when Orson Welles took over Eastern from Alexander Scourby, "it was almost as much of a cause célèbre as when Robert Lansing was replaced from Twelve O'clock High or when Martin Landau and Barbara Bain were replaced in Mission: Impossible." And while big names like Jim Backus, Chuck Connors and Vincent Price are easily recognizable voices, Amory pays particular attention to the voice of a man he calls "unknown": Paul Frees.

Paul Frees is in fact a relative unknown when it comes to his face, but as a voice talent he has become one of the most famous of all time, rivaled today perhaps only by Mel Blanc and Daws Butler. You probably know him for his cartoon voices: Boris Badenov on Rocky and Bullwinkle, Inspector Fenwick on Dudley Do-Right, Burgermeister Meisterburger in Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, and a host of other roles for Jay Ward, Rankin/Bass, and others. He's also done voiceover work on movies from The Manchurian Candidate to Patton, and often worked as a sound-alike for none other than Orson Welles. Amory says that he can do anybody—James Stewart, Jack Benny—better than they can. He regularly earnes over $250,000 a year. For that kind of money, I'd be only too glad to be an unknown, too.

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There's a lesson to be taken somewhere from ABC's Wednesday night schedule. At first glance, you can see why the network would be excited about it; the star-studded lineup features returning series with Elizabeth Montgomery (Bewitched), Bill Bixby (The Courtship of Eddie's Father), Henry Fonda (The Smith Family), and new shows starring Shirley MacLaine (Shirley's World) and Anthony Quinn (The Man and The City). As I said, a lot of star wattage. There's only one problem: by the end of the 1971-72 TV season, none of them will be left on the network's schedule. What happened?

In the case of Bewitched, it's a bit misleading; the show had been a hit for ABC for eight seasons, going back to 1964, and had Montgomery wanted, it probably could have continued for another season or two.* Eddie's Father was a success as well, if not as successful as Bewitched; it ran for three seasons, which today would qualify it as an unmitigated smash. But The Smith Family, the third of the returning shows, only produced 39 episodes over a season-and-a-half, and neither Shirley's World nor Man and The City managed a second season. Hardly what one might expect from a lineup featuring multiple Emmy and Oscar winners. As for what happened, I have a theory, although that's all it is. Briefly, it could be descriped thus: there are stars, and then there are stars.

*Elizabeth Montgomery was understandably tired of the role after such a long run; in addition, she and husband (and Bewitched producer William Asher) were in the process of divorcing.

Elizabeth Montgomery and Bill Bixby were estabalished TV stars, Montgomery through Bewitched and Bixby with My Favorite Martian and Eddie's Father; they also featured in several TV movies over the years. They'd built up a rapport with viewers, who'd become comfortable with welcoming them into their living rooms each week. Fonda, MacLaine and Quinn, on the other hand, had made their fame on the big screen. Only Fonda had helmed a TV series before, The Deputy (1959-61), and in that one he'd usually played a secondary role. MacLaine and Quinn, on the other hand, were part of an inflow of movie stars into television for the 1971 season, one that included Jimmy Stewart, Glenn Ford, and Yul Brynner. TV Guide, in surveying the damage the following year, will suggest that television executives may have been so concerned about attracting big stars that they neglected to give them strong vehicles for their talents. Only Glenn Ford, in the Western-cop show Cade's County, had a series that matched up well with the star's image, and it's probably no coincidence that Cade's County was the only series of the bunch to be renewed for a second season.

In the intervening years, the crossover from movies to television and back has become more common, thanks mostly to prestige shows on cable outlets. Still, it's hard to imagine a network today trying to build a successful lineup around the star system. 

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It's the second (!) season opener for All in the Family (Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET; and they said it would never last), with the Bunkers having to deal with the aftermath of deadbeat cousin Oscar, who comes to visit and—well, becomes just dead Oscar. That's followed at 8:30 p.m. by the debut of Funny Face, starring Sandy Duncan, who's this week's cover star. The network really believed in Sandy, really wanted this series to work, but after a few weeks Duncan undergoes surgery for a tumor behind her left eye, and the show essentially goes on hiatus for the rest of the season. It will return next year, retooled as The Sandy Duncan Show, but the show itself is never as talented as she is. At 9:00 p.m., NBC Saturday Night at the Movies has one of those blockbusters we talked about earier, part one of The Alamo, with John Wayne as producer and director, as well as playing Davy Crockett. We also get an all-star cast including Richard Widmark as Jim Bowie, Richard Boone as Sam Houston, Laurence Harvey as William Travis, and Chill Wills in an Oscar-nominated turn as Beekeeper. Part two airs Monday, same Batjac-time, same Batjac-channel.* And at 10:00 p.m. on ABC, it's the debut of the British-import series The Persuaders!, with Tony Curtis and Roger Moore wonderful as two multimillionaire playboys who become crimefighters in their spare time.

*Batjac being the name of John Wayne's production company.

As I alluded to earlier, The Ed Sullivan Show has taken its last bows, replaced by the new CBS Sunday Night Movie (7:30 p.m.), starting off with 1967's Best Picture nominee Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, Spencer Tracy's last movie, co-starring Oscar winner Katharine Hepburn and Sidney Poitier. Crist has mixed feelings about this one; the performances of the three leads "are lovely to behold," but as for the movie itself, its thesis that "interracial marriage among the rich and successful is permissible provided the couple leaves for Africa by midnight" is "nothing less than vomitous." There's also The Duke again, this time with Robert Mitchum in El Dorado (9:00 p.m., ABC), although Crist says that both the movie and its stars are "hobbling around on crutches." Maybe you're better off with the premiere of The Jimmy Stewart Show (8:30 p.m., NBC), the star's first television series; it's also the first and only time Stewart ever allowed himself to be billed as "Jimmy" rather than "James." He gets that billing for 24 episodes.

It's the season premiere of Monday Night Football this week, with Minnesota taking on Detroit (9:00 p.m., ABC). We'll have more about that in Monday's TV listing. Meanwhile, Billy DeWolfe returns as a guest star on The Doris Day Show (9:30 p.m., CBS), Charles Nelson Reilly joins the cast of Hershel Bernardi's sitcom Arnie (10:30 p.m., CBS), and Joan Rivers is the guest host on The Tonight Show (11:30 p.m., NBC). On Tuesday, it's the fifth-season opener for Ironside (7:30 p.m., NBC), with "an exciting new star," James Olson, playing a contract killer. Olson had actually been around for some time, doing a lot of television, as well as cheesy movies like Moon Zero Two, and very good movies like The Andromeda Strain and Rachel, Rachei. That's followed by the debut of Sarge (8:30 p.m, NBC), starring George Kennedy as a former policeman turned priest, who deals with a dying man (Jack Albertson) looking to even the score with a mobster. If you're looking for something a little less intense, Glen Campbell has a pretty good guest lineup (7:30 p.m., CBS), with Bob Hope, Dionne Warwicke, and the Smothers Brothers.

We've already looked at ABC's Wednesday lineup, but there's more to the evening's entertainment. For one thing, it's the second-season debut of McCloud on the NBC Mystery Movie (8:30 p.m.) Like you, I remember the Mystery Movie mostly from Sunday nights, but it actually started out on Wednesday. (And McCloud got its start as part of Four-In-One, where it rotated with San Francisco International Airport, Night Gallery and The Psychiatrist.) Meanwhile, the program description claims that singer Steve Lawrence is making his TV dramatic debut as am ambitious surgeon in Medical Center (9:00 p.m., CBS), but we all know that his real TV dramatic debut was in Rod Serling's fantasy drama Carol for Another Christmas back in 1964. All they had to do was ask me; I would have told them. And at 10:00 p.m., it's none other than the aforementioned Night Gallery on NBC.

Thursday features a couple more new series on ABC, beginning at 9:00 p.m. with James Franciscus as the blind detective Longstreet, followed at 10:00 p.m. by Arthur Hill as Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law. And on WKBS, the independent station in Philadelphia, it's a delightful episode of It Takes a Thief (9:00 p.m.), with a guest appearance by Fred Astaire as Alexander Mundy's father Alister.  I always enjoyed the episodes with him. Finally, on Friday, it's Group W's Norman Corwin Presents (10:30 p.m., KYW). Corwin, one of the great writers from the Golden Age of Radio, hosted this half-hour anthology series during the 1971-72 season; tonight's episode, which he also wrote, is "Odyssey in Progress," a musical fantasy about a boy searching through space for his dead dog.

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Let's see, what else have we got in the headlines? Richard K. Doan reports on the late-nite turmoil at CBS, where Merv Griffin wants out of his contract so he can return to syndication with Metromedia (where he'll be a daytime show in many markets). CBS will be happy to him go, but then who would replace him? There are rumors; Sonny and Cher (!) were a hit in their summer series, so they've been mentioned, as has Bill Cosby, but the suits don't think either of these choices would be the right one. As it turns out, they wound up replacing Merv with movies and reruns, and didn't dip their toes into the talk show wars until they gave Pat Sajak a shot in 1989. Just think, though, if either of those options had come to pass. I could see Cosby as a talk show host, but Sonny and Cher? Ah, for someone to write an alternative history on that.

The New York Teletype says that Burt Reynolds, who most recently appeared on the small screen in Dan August, is going to take a detour to star in the big-screen version of poet James Dickey's novel Deliverance, along with Jon Voight. I wonder how that'll turn out for Burt? In Hollywood, the talk is about ABC's upcoming telemovie The Kolchak Tapes, currently filming in Las Vegas; it's a vampire epic starring Darren McGavin and Carol Lynley. I wonder if the network has any idea what a hit they'll have on their hands? There's also a report that Sterling Silliphant is working on a pilot for his old Route 66 star George Maharis. Needless to say. . .

Pat Morrow is this week's starlet, who asked herself, following five years as Rita Jacks on Peyton Place, "What did I want to do with the rest of my life?" The answer, at least for the time being, go to law school. She's just finished her first year at Glendale College of Law; her goal is to "defend poor people—people who can't afford to pay the fees of lawyers like my father [a corporate lawyer]." Not like the law shows on television, though, because "these shows have very little reality and no resemblance to the truth about the law and how it operates—in or out of the courtroom." She's had it with acting—"Maybe for some women it would be a good life. Not for me. I'll never go back to television." Not, at least, until next year, when she reprises her role as Rita on Return to Peyton Place until 1974. She does graduate from Glendale, though. TV  

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