November 7, 2020

This week in TV Guide: November 7, 1964

This week, Arthur C. Nielsen, Jr. defends the accuracy of the television ratings system against the slings and arrows of outrageous critics. "Ratings are today's TV scapegoat" he writes. "Shows with low ratings blame the raters; those who think television quality can an dshould be elevated blame the raters; and some owners of magazines and newspapers which lose advertising revenue to television attack the raters."

Nielsen, as the man behind the ratings service that bears his name, has a vested interest in defending the system. First, he wants you to know, a show's ratings should not be taken as a commentary on the program's intrinsic merit; while one may affect the other, ratings "are not critical measures of any program's intrinsic merit." Instead, the ratings indicate, "with objectivity and impartiality," the appeal of a given program.

It starts with an automatic recorder called an Audimeter, which the company places in a cross-section of the nation's homes. In case you've ever wondered how a gizmo like that worked back in the day, here's your chance: "These Audimeters are placed out of sight—in closets, basements, etc.—and by electronic 'photographs' on film, record minute-by-minute whether the sets are on or offi, and to what channel they are tuned. This record is kept 24 hours a day, week in an d week out, and the film records are mailed back to our production center twice a month, when the sample home receives a fresh film magazine." After the film is developed, information is transferred to punch cards, matched up with TV schedules, and fed into computers, and extrapolated into ratings. The accuracy of the rating depends, of course, on the sample, and Nielsen spends almost two pages explaining how sampling works and how his organization arrives at the selection of their Nielsen families. Think of the ratings system as you would a soup spoon; if the soup needs more salt, you don't blame the spoon, do you? So if you have any complaints about your favorite shows being cancelled, don't write Nielsen; take your complaints to the networks, who make their decisions, correctly or incorrectly, based on reliable information.

It's ironic, I suppose (if that's the right word for it), that we're looking at the accuracy of television ratings in the aftermath of yet another fiasco on the part of political pollsters who, regardless of the election's outcome, were far off in their projections. Without a shred of irony, Nielsen even writes that "the best-known evidence that sampling is practical is found in political polling," in which case we should be fairly confident that the highest-rated shows of the season should be The Baileys of Balboa, Harris Against the World, and Mr. Broadway. Charitably, Nielsen says that the political pollster's job is much more difficult, since he's measuring opinions on future actions rather than tangible evidence of what a viewer is doing now. This is undoubtedly true, and yet there's a distrust of television ratings that quite mirrors the distrust of political pollsters that we see today.

In fact, it's just too easy to make fun of the whole thing, so I won't. I've never been asked my opinion by a political pollster, but I did do a Nielsen diary back when I was in college—I guess they figured we didn't rate an Audimeter. I was pledged by my word of honor (and a dollar) to faithfully and honestly record my viewing habits over the span of a couple of weeks. Having no particular motive to lie, I naturally did as I was asked; the point, however, is that I was absolutely free to write down whatever I wanted, for whatever reason. If, hypothetically, let's say, I wanted to lend some support to the ratings-inpaired Police Squad! but for whatever reason was unable to watch it in these pre-VCR days, I could still write it down, and as far as the A.C. Nielsen Company was concerned, it made for one more household committed to Police Squad! (It didn't do any good, unfortunately.) It occurs to me that this could, in the hands of someone less scrupulous than I, lead to results that are hardly reflective of the actual situation. Kind of like someone who's asked—oh, I don't know—how they were voting for president. Imagine if such a person was afraid to answer truthfully, or was mistrustful of the polling organization. There goes your accuracy, out the window, But then, I'm only speaking hypothetically. Right?

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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..

Sullivan: Jimmy Durante headlines this show with comedian Nipsel Russell, singer Jean Paul Vignon, London's rock 'n' rolling Bachelors, comic Richard "Mr. Pastry" Hearne, pianist Ginny Tiu and her singing-dancing company, the juggling Del Ray Brothers, and Brizio the clown.

Palace: Host Gene "Burke's Law" Barry introduces two actresses seldom seen on television: Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland, who do "The Twilight Shore," a dramatic sketch. Barry also greets comics Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, who do a "2000-year-old man" sketch; U.S. Olympic Gold Medal winners; songstress Monique Van Vooren; pantomimist Ben Blue; musical clown Yonely; and the Back Porch Majority, folk singers.

It's not that Ed has a bad show this week; as a matter of fact, it might well come out on top with Jimmy Durante leading the way. (Complete with the headline "Sullivan wins by a nose.") But let's be real here: Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland, together on the same stage, and doing a dramatic scene—not unprecedented on Sullivan, but very rare for the Palace. Throw in Amos Burke, whom I like a lot, and Reiner and Brooks, whose bit is always funny, and it makes for a legendary week for The Palace.

And, as an added bonus for your viewing pleasure, here are the legends themselves, Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland, in that dramatic performance from Palace.

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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. 

It could be that I wasn't of viewing age when Kentucky Jones was originally on, but this NBC dramedy strikes me as one of those programs about which one knows very little. As far as I'm aware of, it's never been a regular on the syndication circuit (it only ran for 26 episodes), it's not on YouTube (except for the theme), and the only place it's ever gotten a DVD release is Germany (go figure). And, according to Cleveland Amory, that ignorance might well be a good thing.

As I recall, the premise of Kentucky Jones features Dennis Weaver, finally allowed to stand on his own two legs, as a veterinarian who, along with his wife, adopt a Korean orphan. Unfortunately, Mrs. Jones dies before the child arrives, and the good doctor finds out it's too late to stop the process, so, in the best traditions of Bachelor Father, et al—instant family. The boy, played by Rickey Der, carries the charming name of Dwight Eisenhower Wong—of course he does—and, Cleve assures us, he "knows right from Wong." In the great tradition of television kids, and despite the fact he's a newcomer to America, there's no chance of any adult getting the best of him; if so, it's "purely occidental." But, as is also the case with child actors, a little of Ike, as they call him, goes a long way. 

Weaver, says Amory, is a fine actor, and this could be a fine show, "but so far, apparently because of its scriptwriters' love for heavy symbolism, it has not lived up to its high promise." It took four episodes for the show to explore what one would think fertile ground, the world of the farm veterinarian. (See: All Creatures Great and Small.) He also finds tiresome the episode in which Ike struggles after being told at school that he has to learn without an abacus ("Man without abacus is junk without sail."). Of course, he eventually sees the light and tosses his abacus into a fire, a bit of cultural triumphalism that even William F. Buckley Jr. might find irritating. Another story features Ike and his girl friend, and Cleve things 9 is far too young for things like this, especially if plots like that turn into a steady diet. That, he says, would surely be "junk without fail."

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Premiering this Sunday afternoon on NBC is Profiles in Courage, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book "written" by the late president John F. Kennedy.* The book contained biographics of eight United States Senators who had displayed particular political courage while in office; in order to provide enough material for a television series, Kennedy had authorized producer Robert Saudek to add additional portraits, including men and women outside the political arena, and it is one of these new profiles, that of Senator Oscar W. Underwood (Sidney Blackmer), who took a strong stand against the Ku Klux Klan at the 1924 Democratic Convention at the expense of winning the party's nomination, that appears as the inaugural episode. 

*I don't think it's trampling on JFK's memory to suggest that Profiles in Courage was actually written by Kennedy speechwriter Ted Sorenson. Columnist Drew Pearson said as much to Mike Wallace in an interviewin 1957.

Crane and his friend Mike
Another program making its debut this week is The Les Crane Show (10:15 p.m.), ABC's entry* in the late-night sweepstakes. From the listing: "Topics as well as guests will hold the spotlight when Les enters the late-night sweepstakes. A variety of moods will prevail: Leading proponents of opposing views will come face to face; exerpts from Broadway and off-Broadway shows; comedy acts and other light entertainment; and taped interviews with prominent personalities. Crane's shotgun mike permits participation from the studio audience.

*In Minneapolis, Crane's show appeared not on KMSP, the ABC affiliate, but WCOO, the CBS station. It's on tape-delay at 11:45 p.m. Even when Joey Bishop comes on-line, KMSP carries him after their late movie.

Crane came from New York, where he'd hosted a similar show, Late Night, on WABC. The Les Crane Show, which becomes ABC's Nightlife (it's a long story) is off the air by next November. Perhaps his style was too confrontational (cross Phil Donahue with Tom Snyder?), perhaps Carson was already too popular for him, perhaps it just wasn't the right time, or maybe audiences just wanted less of Les. But compared to what's on late-night nowadays, it sounds—well, almost refreshing.

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It's been awhile since we've done a sports roundup; nothing special on this week, it's just good to keep track of what's on, and at this time of the year what's on is football. The college football game of the week pits Illinois, the defending Big 10 champion, against Michigan, on the way to being this season's title winner (12:15 p.m., NBC). Michigan wins, 21-6. By the way, it's good to know, in this pandemic season we're having, that back in 1964 each team only played nine regular-season games, meaning this year's lineup isn't so bad after all.

No NFL football in the Twin Cities this Sunday, because the Vikings are at home, playing San Francisco in a game available in Duluth and Mason City (outside the blackout radius). That's just the way it is at this time, in order to protect the live gate, and it's this tactical error on the part of the NFL that allows the AFL to gain a foothold, because if you live in Minneapolis and want to see a pro football game on Sunday, the AFL's your only choice. And speaking of choice, it's a choice matcup indeed, between two of the AFL's most bitter rivals, the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs (2:30 p.m., ABC). The Chiefs come out on top handily in this one, winning 42-7.

On Wednesday, it's the Canadian Football League's turn, with the Eastern Semi-Final between the Montreal Alouettes and Ottawa Rough Riders (7:30 p.m., WTCN), in a game taped Saturday. Ottawa takes the game 27-0, but winds up losing in the Eastern Final to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. 

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If you were with us a couple of weeks ago, you might recall ABC's special With Love. . . Sophia, in which the delightful Signora Loren takes us on a tour of her beloved Rome. This wasn't the first time the network had teamed up with the Italian beauty; this Thursday at 9:00 p.m., it's Sophia Loren in Rome, as the star takes us on a tour of her beloved Rome, with her special guest star Marcelo Mastroianni, her co-star in this year's Marriage Italian Style. As we can see from this week's cover, Richard Chamberlain and the rest of the Dr. Kildare cast were recently over in Rome filming episodes; I wonder if they ran into Sophia and Marcelo while they were there?

One of the guests on the 1967 Loren special was Jonathan Winters, and this Monday (8:00 p.m.) the comedian stars in the first of eight specials he's doing for NBC. For this special, Winters is working without a script, while his guests—Mickey Rooney, Connie Francis and Noelle Adam—have rehearsed their bits, but have no idea what their genial host plans to do.

Danny Thomas is doing five specials for NBC as well, the first of which airs at 7:30 Friday evening, with Dick Van Dyke, Juliet Prowse, singer Piccola Pupa and 14-year-old talent contest winner Semina DeLaurentis. Expect plenty of dancing and mime, along with Dannty's comedy.

And finally, on the local scene, we've got a couple of movies that devoted television fans will recognize from Mystery Science Theater 3000. (There's also Messalina Against the Son of Hercules on WTCN Saturday afternoon; alas, it's not the same Sons of Hercules movie that Rifftrax has.) Up first is It Conquered the World (10:30 p.m., KSTP), with Peter Graves, Beverly Garland and Lee Van Cleef. If you get nothing else out of this movie, you'll learn that man is a feeling creature, one who has to make his own way and make his own mistakes. On Friday, it's Invasion. U.S.A. (11:00 p.m., WCCO), a 1952 Cold War thriller with Gerald Mohr, Dan O'Herlihy and Peggie Castle. What, I wonder, are the odds? TV 

1 comment:

  1. With regard to Les Crane being on delayed tape---before the advent of social media it would have been like seeing the show live in '64. No one would spoil the show's content thanks to FB or Twitter...


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