October 31, 2020

This week in TV Guide: November 3, 1973

I had the option this week of several issues having to do with an election or its aftermath, but I think we're going to be getting more of that than we want over the next few days (and longer?), so let's skip ahead a couple of days to early November, and the man who may have "The Best Job in Sports." 

And why not? Jim McKay "travels 250,000 miles a year to the world's most exotic locales and the world's most exciting sports events, and he gets paid a great deal of money to do so." A lifetime "spanning the globe" has covered a lot of big events over the years: the Olympics; the Masters, U.S., and British Opens; the Indianapolis 500, the Grand Prix of Monaco and the 24 Hours of LeMans; the Grey Cup; the World Cup; the Triple Crown; Wimbledon; figure skating; track and field; even the world barrel jumping championship. How's that for starters? 

Jim McKay was one of what I call the "big game" announcers: whenever you heard his voice on television, you knew there was something big going on. Unlike most of the other announcers in that categoryCurt Gowdy, Pat Summerall, Lindsay Nelson, Mike Emerick, for example—Jim McKay wasn't necessarily doing the biggest game— in town, but he had that rare ability to transcend the event he was covering, to make it important because the people participating in it were important. And for McKay, anyone taking part in an athletic event was important. In his charming autobiography The Real McKay, he tells the story of being in Islip, New York covering a demolition derby for Wide World of Sports. Interviewing the winner, McKay was inclined to treat the whole thing as a lark. But it was no lark to the winner, who had just won the demolition derby "world championship" and discussed his strategy as seriously as would any other athlete. McKay learned a valuable lesson that day: "I had committed an unforgivable bit of gaucherie, looking down on this man in a condescending manner during what he considered the greatest moment of his life." From then on, McKay said, he tried to approach all sports "through the eyes of its competitors."

McKay didn't start out in sports, nor did he even start out with the name McKay. His real name was Jim McManus, and he got his television start in Baltimore, as a serious news journalist. He worked with people like Douglas Edwards, interviewed scientists, and covered presidential inaugurations, or at least the parades. When he became host of a daily variety show in Baltimore, he was asked to change his last name so that the show could be called "The Real McKay." He did so, grudgingly, but always thought of himself as McManus and retained the name for the family that played such an important role in his life.  "It vaguely annoys me," he tells interviewer Neil Hickey. "But when you're young and working in Baltimore, you let yourself be talked into a lot of things.

It should be no surprise, then, that McKay proved himself more than equal to the task at his most famous, and most tragic, appearance: covering the massacre of the Israeli athletes at last year's Munich Olympics. It's still fresh in the mind, a year and two months later; "I've never had a reaction to anything I've ever reported that approximates the public response to what we did that day." He won a Peabody and an Emmy for that, to go along with other Emmys and other awards that marked his stellar career. They were all well deserved. 

There's also McKay the family man, who refers to he and his wife Margaret as "a team," and credits that "team" for much of his professional and personal success. He knows that hard work is essential to a successful marriage and family, and believes that a common faith and shared interests have much to do with it. He's proud of his son, Sean McManus, who will eventually become Chairman of CBS Sports, and equally proud of his daughter Mary, a counselor. Of the life he and his wife have shared, he says, "There is little more we could ask for." The miles add up over the years, as they will when you've got a job that spans the globeover three million as of 1973and he's often heard to mumble, "I gotta start figuring out how to stay home a little more, and I don't know how I'm going to do it."

McKay always felt it was a priviledge to have the job he had, to see the places and cover the events to which he was taken on Wide World, but in fact the priviledge was ours as well, to be able to have him take us there. He was one of the last of a (literally) dying breed, the sportscaster who put the game ahead of himself.

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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 shows of the day. 

We all know that in the world of television only one thing counts: ratings. And so it doesn't matter what the "extra" is in NBC's new sitcom The Girl with Something Extra is, as long as that extra includes extra viewers. Sally Field was a familiar face on television when this series premiered, but it would be wrong to think of her as a star, or at least a two-time Academy Award-winning star. And it's a good thing, because I'd hate to think that this is the best you could come up with for a star of that magnitude. 

The Girl with Something Extra features Field and John Davidson as a young married couple, with a challenge that most young marrieds don't usually face: Field has ESP, which on the "extra" scale is probably on par with, say, being a witch. And yet TGWSE (if we can call it that) comes and goes quicker than you can wiggle your nose; 22 episodes in all. Cleveland Amory may have identified the problem early on, when he points out that the producers have made the conscious decision to eliminate one of the key plot potentials: the chance that Field could use her supernatural powers for profit on, say, game shows (the emcee has to be thinking of the correct answer while he's reading the question) or the track (she'd know which horses felt like running). Says producer Larry Rosen, "For someone less honest than Sally, ESP could be a powerful tool But for her, as well as her husband, it proves to be more a continuing source of trouble." And that, says Cleve, is "stuffy stuff," as well as gloomy. "If you have a funny gimmick, why not go with it and have fun?"

This isn't to say the show doesn't have promise; Amory finds Field a "cutie pie," as is Davidson, though he could do with a little less of it (I've always just found him smarmy myself), and their co-stars, Jack Sheldon and Zohra Lampert, do everything with what they have. As well, some of the stories are very funny—how, for example, do you buy someone like that a surprise birthday present that's a real surprise? But if the show's going to survive, "it's time for the producers and writers to do something too—only different. ESP isn't after all, a fatal illness. And this show isn't soap opera. You don't turn it on to enjoy the misery. You turn it on, presumably, for the fun." You'd think they would have known that, wouldn't you? 

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On occasion, we get to take a simultaneous look at three of the major rock music shows of the pre-MTV era: NBC's
The Midnight Special, ABC's In Concert, and the syndicated Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, Let's look at this week's listings and see who's better, who's best.

Kirshner: Van Morrison and Richie Havens are guests. Songs: "Gloria," "Caravan" (Van Morrison) and "Get it On Down" (Richie Havens).

Special: Jerry Lee Lewis is the host. Guests include he Ike and Tina Turner Revue, blues singer B.B. King, rock groups Flash and Ballin' Jack, pop singer Linda Gail Lewis. 

In Concert: Singer-composer Cat Stevens is the center of this 90-minute tribute to his own works. Linda Ronstadt, Donny Hathaway and Dr. John are also featured performing Cat's compositions.

Note that may interest only me: In the Twin Cities, you could watch these shows back-to-back-to-back without missing a thing. In Concert is at 10:30 p.m. for 90 minutes, followed by The Midnight Special at midnight for 90 minutes, followed by Kirshner on WCCO at 1:45 a.m. for 90 minutes. That's really a heck of a night if you're into that kind of thing. Of course, you'd need to stay up until nearly 3:30 in the morning to see it all; your mileage may vary, of course, but if I could cherry-pick from each, I'd take Van Morrison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Tina Turner, B.B. King, and Dr. John, and I'd have quite a program. You'll notice, though, that most of these acts come from one show, which means that this week, The Midnight Special really is special.

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The World Series finished a couple of weeks earlier, and surprise—according to The Doan Report, half of all Americans with their televisions on were watching it. It's the first time three consecutive games have appeared in prime time, which isn't so remkarable now when you consider the first night game in World Series history wasn't until 1971, and the ratings are called unprecedented. MLB would absolutely kill for numbers like that today. (Recent headline: World Series ratings hit record lowagain.) The only show to compete with the Series? The Waltons. Speaking of ratings, it's the time of the year when the networks start to spend more time looking at them, and we can tell which series have now assumed what the sports world calls the hot seat. At CBS, The New Perry Mason and Calucci's Dept. are called "dead ducks," while NBC is trying to "salvage" Lotsa Luck, but hopes are fading for Diana* and Love Story. Meanwhile, ABC's shaky list includes the veteran Partridge Family, as well as The New Temperatures Rising and Toma. In the end, only Toma can be said to have lasted; it was retooled with a new star and turned into Baretta.

*Starring Diana Rigg. Talk about failing to provide a star with the proper vehicle.

There's also speculation about a one-hour network evening newscast. This seems to pop up in TV Guide every few years, and as we know nothing ever comes from it. This time it's CBS, with the idea that they might expand the Cronkite news by adding an extra half-hour. The local stations won't mind, the thought is, because their local programming hasn't been profitable. Of course, this was before the strip programming that dominates the half-hour before prime time: Entertainment Tonight, TMZ, Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy! and the rest. I'll bet nobody thinks those aren't profitable now.

Speaking of news, ABC has multiple ads in this issue for the ABC Evening News with Howard K. Smith and Harry Reasoner, each one urging us to "Find out why more and more people are watching," presumably by tuning in. Apparently not enough people must have been watching: Smith is demoted to commentary in 1975, and Reasoner will be joined by Barbara Walters a year later.  Reasoner, who hated working with Walters, returns to CBS in 1978.

Sticking with ABC, the Teletype reports that the migration of big-name Hollywood stars to made-for-TV movies continues. Kirk Douglas will star in ABC's telefilm Mousey, about a man who plots to kill his wife, while Bette Davis is on tap for the network's Scream, Pretty Peggy. And Pat Boone bears the burden of a school principal accused of having an affair with a student on Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law. (Maybe it was just a case of April love.) As Joseph Finnigan notes, it seems like it was just yesterday when people were "gushing" about Boone's first screen kiss. 

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In some other highlights of the week, The Graduate makes its TV debut on CBS (Thursday, 8:00 p.m. CT), six years after its release. I always feel I have to point this kind of thing out, for the benefit of those who're used to seeing movies almost as soon as they hit the theater, that such was not always the case. Anyway, what's particularly interesting about the timing is that the movie was just re-released in theaters earlier this year, and it packed them in, just as it did in 1967. Judith Crist calls it "the milestone-in-youth-movies hit," and that pretty much sums it up, with brilliant performances by Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft, stylish direction by Mike Nichols, and "a put-it-all-together honey of a score" by Simon and Garfunkel. It comes on right after The Waltons, which is presumably doing even better in the ratings now that it doesn't have to go against the World Series.

For most of my life, WCCO passed up the opportunity to carry CBS's Sunday morning triumverate of Lamp Unto My Feet, Look Up and Live, and Camera Three. (9:00-10:30 a.m.) I've complained about this before, and I probably will again; even though I wouldn't have watched them at that age, I'd probably watch them today, so I'm retroactively offended. This week's Camera Three* has a profile of one of my favorite authors, the unconventional Austrian novelist and playwright Peter Handke. His best-known work is probably The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, later adapted into a movie by Wim Wenders, with whom Handke works several times, most notably on the screenplay for Wings of Desire; in 2019 he's awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. 

Carroll O'Connor gets a chance to show his acting chops outside of All in the Family in a trio of short dramas about women called Three for the Girls (Monday, 8:30 p.m., CBS). Joining him are Lee Grant, Barbara Sharma and Joan Blondell. It sounds to me a lot like the 1968 British Male of the Species, which I mentioned here

Another show not on in the Twin Cities (at least not in its regularly scheduled timeslot) is Hollywood Television Theatre (Wednesday, 9:00 p.m., PBS). Keir Dullea, Rip Torn, Jack Albertson, Geraldine Page, Hurd Hatfield and Earl Holliman star in "Montserrat," a drama of political terror in Venezuela (so what's new?) adapted by Lillian Hellman. In a special two-hour episode of Ironside (Thursday, 7:00 p.m., NBC) Ironside is off the force and onto skid row after a 10-year-old murder witness is killed while in his custody. Will the chief wind up out of the gutter and back in his wheelchair? Since the description doesn't include "Last show of the series," my answer is "Yes." 

Finally, on Friday, CBS's movie is Sunshine (7:30 p.m.), starring Cliff DeYoung as a young father having to deal with his 20-year-old wife's (Cristina Raines) battle for live against cancer. Judith Crist is of two minds about the two-and-a-half hour (!) movie; the cast is very good, led by DeYoung's "brilliant" performance, and Raines holds her own against a script that requires "constant emoting," but the movie still consists of cliches, gimmicks and endless repetition, and Brenda Vaccaro as "Marcus Welby in drag." Your reaction to the story "depends on how vicarious you like your agony." I'm not of two minds about it; any movie that features a soundtrack by John Denver, including the excreable title song, deserves to go to the bottom of the ocean like the Titanic.

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Be honest now—when was the last time you heard about Deirdre Lenihan? She's on the cover, so I should spend a moment on her. Currently, she's one of the stars on NBC's short-lived (14 episodes) series Needles and Pins (Friday, 8:00 p.m.), which also stars Norman Fell, Bernie Kopell and Louis Nye, all of whom had done or would do better work than this.

It's interesting, because Dwight Whitney's article spends several pages on her, while admitting that "[n]o one seems entirely sure who she is. Certainly not her fellow actors. Even the studio press department, usually bullish in these matters, seems to have only the haziest recollection." She worked in Joseph Papp's Shakespeare theater and did some other TV and movie bits, and at the time of this article had a "gentleman friend" named Jimmy Sloyan, a fellow actor. They're not against marriage, just haven't had time yet. They did find time eventually, had two children who've done some acting (Samantha Sloyan and Dan Sloyan), and as far as I know they're still married. But Deirdre Lenihan never did become the Next Big Thing, and it just goes to show that being on the cover of TV Guide isn't always everything it's cracked up to be. Nor, as we often discover, does it need to be. TV  


  1. Burt & Adele Styler created "Needles and Pins". Burt went on record to say that it was the worst casting ever! He said that he liked Louis Nye and Norman Fell, but if he was the sponsor, he wouldn't have renewed it, either. As it was, only ten episodes aired.

  2. Here is Lenihan guest starring on the debut of POLICE WOMAN...


    Paul Duca


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!