December 30, 2020

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow

I don't think anyone's really going to miss the end of 2020, do you? In retrospect, the omens were there for anyone to see, with so many people talking about it being the start of a "New Roaring 20s,"* and we all know how that turned out: the aftermath of the Great War introduced a spiritual nihilism, prohibition, the first sexual revolution, massive labor unrest, the rise of Marxism, the Great Depression, and finally—a decade later—a second world war that included the Holocaust and culminated in the introduction of nuclear weapons and the start of the Cold War. 

*Not to be confused with the TV series of the same name. We could have used Dorothy Provine this year.

And now here we are, one year later, and the first year of the new Roaring 20s has given us the worst twelve months since, what? 2001? 1968? 1941? It doesn't matter, I guess, except in degrees. It's like asking whether you'd rather have your skull smashed or your heart torn out. No matter which one you choose, it's gonna hurt. I know there are people out there who think 2021 will be a better year, and you can't blame them for that hope. Hey, I hope it's better, too. 

In a way, New Year's provides us with a choice, a fork in the road. One path continues the status quo, the other leads to something new, different, uncertain. Sure, this may be symbolic more than anything else; after all, you don't need to wait for a new year to start to make decisions about your future. Seeing that date 1/1 does make things so much easier, though.

The Monsters
I suppose this last essay of 2020 serves as something of a "best of" for the blog; over the past year, I've written several times about the foreboding nature of 2020, of those prescient movies and television shows that seem to reflect in their black-and-white images the nightmarish visions of today; paranoia, people ratting on their neighbors, the dehumanizing isolation into which so many have been fooled or forced. From 1984 to "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" we see it all unfolding before us. The scientists in the Outer Limits episode "The Architects of Fear" assumed they had the answer, if only the right question is asked, but found out that they knew nothing at all. It is, indeed, Apocalypse Theater, and every time you see this rerun on TV you wonder how it can be happining, whether or not this Great Reset is in fact a Great Betrayal, and you want to cry out, in David Shoemaker's words, You told us this was fake. You lied!   

Tomorrow at midnight, another year joins the pantheon of history, and there are those out there who think that we're headed for some kind of epiphany in which this brave new world will take care of everything. To say that I'm apprehensive about the future is an understatement; 2020 looks to me like it was just the prelude to a complete meltdown: soft totalitarianism, social credit systems, elections that don't count, unending constraints on basic social interaction, globalists who want to control what we can and can't think and say and believe, wars and rumors of war—from biological to civil—and you can't even face them with a smile, because nobody'll see it behind your mask. 

It only takes Two
But then, there are those two paths I talked about, and invariably the stories from Apocalypse Theater offer us that moment of choice, when disaster can be averted, when our leaders pull their fingers away from the button at the last moment. Perhaps, a la Jack Benny in the TV version of The Horn Blows at Midnight, we'll have a little angelic intervention on our behalf. And, of course, we haven't even begun to discuss that other popular genre, the post-apocalyptic story. In the Twilight Zone episode "Two," it is suggested that humans (in the form of Charles Bronson and Elizabeth Montgomery) can, after all, come together to create a hopeful future: true, that's only after the war has been fought, but at least there's a future, and that's something to hang on to. I always like to think that, in a twist on the old saying, where there's hope, there's life.

          There would have been a time for such a word.
          — Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
          Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
          To the last syllable of recorded time;
          And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
          The way to dusty death.

Tomorrow night we say "Good Riddance!" to 2020 and look forward to 2021, but we'd better be careful what we wish for.  TV  

December 28, 2020

What's on TV: Tuesday, December 28, 1971

Here we are, on the final Tuesday of 1971.  On Saturday, Cleveland Amory delivered his verdicts on several of the season's more disappointing series, and throughout this issue we can see evidence that some of these shows have already run out of time. Tonight, for instance, is the final episode of The Funny Side, and Sarge will air its final episode on January 11. James Garner as Nichols (yes, that's its full name) has until March, despite the unusual decision to kill off Garner's character in the final episode and replace him withJames Garner. Well, the clock is always ticking on failure, but there's also plenty to be seen in this listing from the New York City edition, such as an all-star week on The Mike Douglas Show, featuring Sammy Davis Jr. So don't despair; 1972 will be a better year. Right?

December 26, 2020

This week in TV Guide: December 25, 1971

The biggest television event on Christmas Day doesn't have anything to do with Christmas, although it might have interfered with a few Christmas dinners. It takes place in Kansas City, where the Miami Dolphins are taking on the Kansas City Chiefs in the first round of the NFL playoffs.

You'll remember that back in 1960, when Christmas fell on a Sunday, the NFL moved its championship game to Monday, the legal holiday. In 1966, the next time it happened, both the NFL and AFL finished their seasons on December 18 and then had bye weeks before settling their championships the following weekend. But in 1971, the league decided to schedule a doubleheader on Christmas Day (there would be another the following day). In the first game, at 1:00 p.m. ET on CBS, the Dallas Cowboys defeat the Minnesota Vikings 20-12. But nobody remembers that game; I had to look it up myself. It's the second game, which kicks off at 4:00 p.m., that goes into the record books. 

Near the end of the game, with the score tied at 24-24, Chiefs kicker Jan Stenerud misses a 32-yard field goal attempt, and the game goes into sudden-death overtime. Each team misses opportunities in the first 15 minutes, and with the score still tied, the two teams head for a second overtime. Just over seven and a half minutes into the second extra period, Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian finally ends it with a 37-yard field goal, and the Dolphins win, 27-24. At a total playing time of 82 minutes, 40 seconds, it is the longest NFL game ever played (and remains so to this day) and one of the greatest NFL games ever played. According to legend, it also played havoc with Christmas dinners all around the country, as football fans everywhere, caught up in the drama and excitement of the overtime thriller, refused to tear themselves from their television sets for the dinner table. (Former Dolphins linebacker Nick Buoniconti once said, "Everyone I knew in Miami told me they had to shut off their ovens to avoid ruining their Christmas turkeys." Since then, the NFL has tended to avoid Christmas Day games, save a prime-time game here and there. After dinner.

It all could have been avoided, of course, if they'd eaten Christmas dinner in the early afternoon, like sensible people; but hindsight is always 20/20, and the game must have run at least an hour later than scheduled. I would have settled that kind of conflict by having my dinner served in front of the TV, even at 11 years old, I had a forceful personality. (I was also spoiled rotten, but let's not get into that.) I clearly remember watching the game, and I never met a dinner I didn't like, so I'm assuming that we must have eaten earlier in the day. I don't know that for sure, though, and anyway it's all a moot point: after all, a great meal only lasts until it exits your body later on, but a great football game lasts forever.

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Amidst the reruns that one has come to expect on Christmas (when, presumably, people have better things to do than sit around watching television), there are some pretty interesting programs, so let's sample some. NBC carries the Christmas Day service from the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. (11:30 a.m.), a service known for its magnificent music. (I used to love watching that Christmas morning.) WPIX has a terrific Christmas double-feature, with Miracle on 34th Street at 3:00 p.m., followed by Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman in The Bells of St. Mary's at 5:00 p.m. Burt Lancaster hosts An American Christmas: Words and Music (8:00 p.m., PBS), with James Earl Jones reading from Frederick Douglass's writings on a slave's Christmas; a skit on what Christmas morning might have been like at the Mark Twain household; and sacred music sung by the Ella Mitchell Singers, the Columbus Boychoir and the Harlem Children's Chorus. 

If you have to watch it, watch it this way.
At 8:30 p.m, WNEW presents the epic Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, not only one of the worst Christmas movies ever made, one of the worst movies period.* At 9:00 p.m., Jonathan Winters hosts a Christmas party for the children of Navy families (WPIX), and at 9:30 p.m. PBS's Hollywood Television Theatre re-creates the radio drama "The Plot to Overthrow Christmas," Norman Corwin's verse play about the devil's attempts to eliminate Santa Claus through the efforts of Nero, Lucrezia Borgia, Simon Legree, and other famous fiends. And at 10:30 p.m,, it's back to WPIX for A Bittersweet Christmas, with Cliff Robertson, Eddie Albert, Eli Wallach, Joanne Woodward and others doing readings touching on poverty, Christmas and children.

As for the non-Yule programming. ABC's Wide World of Sports looks back on highlights from the show's first decade, headed by Muhammad Ali, Arnold Palmer, Peggy Fleming, Jean-Claude Killy and A.J. Foyt, to name a few. (Vintage decade, wasn't it?) In prime time, ABC repeats the Emmy-winning TV-movie Tribes, with Darren McGavin and Jan-Michael Vincent as a drill instructor and hippie playing out the generation gap in the Marines. NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies counters with part one of Far from the Madding Crowd (part two airs Monday), which Judith Crist praises for the lavish atmosphere and "brilliant performers," including Peter Finch, Julie Christie, Alan Bates and Terence Stamp. And then there's the 11:30 p.m. movie on WOR, the West German crime thriller The Return of Dr. Mabuse, a sequel to Fritz Lang's trilogy of Mabuse movies. Gert Fröbe stars as Polizei Komissar Lohmann, nemesis of the master criminal Mabuse; he'll become better known as a master criminal himself: Auric Goldfinger.

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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 era. 

It's not uncommon for a television critic to offer a post-mortem on those shows that have come and gone during the course of the season. However, as Cleveland Amory points out in this week's column, sometimes there are shows that are so bad, their demise so predictable, one can acutally offer a pre-mortem, an appreciation of their death before the fact.

Such is the case with programs like Sarge, with George Kennedy as a cop turned priest, and The Partners, a cop-buddy comedy with Don Adams and Rupert Crosse. Kennedy may be a convincing actor, but, says Cleve, too few people are buying "that priestly a copy or that coply a priest." Adams and Crosse are good, and there are some very funny scenes, but the show has tough competition, and "somehow we feel we've seen it all before, that it isn't a new show at all." And The Funny Side, a series about five couples that combines comedy with singing and dancing, isn't bad either—except that "it isn't very funny." 

One of the biggest disappointments of the season is Shirley's World with Shirley MacLaine, and while some big stars (e.g. Henry Fonda) haven't been served well by TV, she "has really not been served at all." MacLaine is "bright, interesting and involved" in real life, but Shirley's World is something she "never should have gotten mixed up with." Another underachiever is The Good Life, with Larry Hagman and Donna Mills as a butler and cook to a wealthy Society couple. "It is a good idea—the trouble is the writing," which shows as much sophistication as "a s ompomore smoker." They'll be more succesful the next time they share the screen, though. 

Finally, there are those shows that scrape the bottom of the barrel. Bobby Sherman's Getting Together has its moments—"about four out of 30," which is not a very good ratio. The D.A., with Robert Conrad, is both overrated and overnarrated. And as for The Chicago Teddy Bears and Bearcats!, "the tastelessness of the bears is matched only by the unbelievability of the cats." Shows like this, which hearken back to the nostalgia of the Roaring '20s, do succeed in one way: they make you nostalgic for the shows they replaced.

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It's probably not fair for us to have made such a big deal about those two NFL playoff games on Saturday without mentioning the Sunday doubleheader; the early game (1:00 p.m;, NBC) sees the defending champion Baltimore Colts shut defeat the Cleveland Browns, 20-3, while in the nightcap (4:00 p.m., CBS), it's the San Francisco 49ers 24, Washington Redskins 20. On Monday, the North-South Shrine college football game, usually played on Christmas but bumped this year by the NFL, slides into ABC's Monday Night Football slot (9:00 p.m.). The growing number of bowl games means a diminishing number of stars in this early all-star contest. Anyway, there's more college football on tap: more all-stars clash in the Blue-Gray classic (Tuesday, 8:00 p.m., WPIX), while Mississippi takes on Georgia Tech in the Peach Bowl (Thursday, 8:00 p.m., WPIX), and on New Year's Eve it's a triple-header with Georgia facing North Carolina in the Gator Bowl (2:00 p.m., NBC), the East-West Shrine Game (4:00 p.m., ABC; not to be confused with the North-South version) and Colorado vs. Houston in the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl (7:30 p.m., WOR). 

Yes, let's take a look at New Year's Eve, because it's more than just college football. At 8:00 p.m., CBS repeats their 1965 production of Cinderella, with Lesley Ann Warren as the title character, Stuart Damon as her Prince, Walter Pidgeon and Ginger Rogers as the King and Queen, Jo Van Fleet as the Wicked Stepmother, and Celeste Holm as the Fairy Godmother. It's a great cast, but if musical theater isn't your thing, you might like the King Orange Jamboree Parade, live from Miami (8:00 p.m., NBC), with Joe Garagiola and Anita Bryant calling the action. And of course, what would the night be without Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians ringing in 1972 (11:30 p.m., CBS), live from the ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria. Guy's special guests are Bobby Rydell, Shani Wallis, and The Bells, with live cut-ins from Times Square, where a teeming throng counts down the seconds until the ball drops. Yes, those were the days, when people were allowed to gather in large numbers.

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One of my favorite newsmen, whom I don't mention here often enough, was Frank McGee. He was never the "star" of NBC News in the way that Chet Huntley and David Brinkley were, but whenever major news was breaking, he was on the air: yeoman work during the civil rights struggle, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy, brilliant and knowledgable coverage of the manned space program, host of his own news program, unflappable and professional reporter—and now taking over from Hugh Downs as the new host of The Today Show

For McGee, it's been a long road from his beginnings in Oklahoma to "one of the most prestigious assignments in television." As he recounts to Merle Miller, he started out at WKY in Oklahoma City, where he was responsible for a 15-minute, five-day-a-week documentary that often required him to "borrow" a camera while everyone else was at lunch and found him doing all the photography, editing, and narration himself. They were wonderful stories, though—what happens to a drop of rain from the time it falls until it makes it into your glass of water, how an office building is cleaned at night—and convinced him he had the talent for a career in broadcast journalism.

Some of McGee's best work came with the NBC affiliate in Montogmery, Alabama as he covered the burgeoning civil rights movement; he was the first TV newsman to interview the young Martin Luther King. Jr., the first to interview the young circuit court judge George Wallace, the first to give national coverage to a woman named Rosa Parks who refused to give up her seat on a bus. "At the station we had great trust from the black community and, in the best, sense, we worked hard to keep it,' he explains. "For instance, there was talk about separate but equal playgrounds. So we went to the black playground and showed that there was nothing there but one fire hydrant sticking out of the ground."  And then there was the time he heard about an ambulance drive who'd refued to pick up a black accident victim. He pressed the dispatcher for the company's policy, to which the dispatcher said, "Would you want to be in an ambulance" after it had carried a black? "Replied McGee," OK, now we know what your policy is." It appeared on the news that night.

He doesn't expect any fundamental changes with Today, though there will probably be more news than there has been. "I am not going to allow [my credentials as a newsman] to atrophy," he says. Remarks one observr, "nobody will mistake what Frank does for what Dave Garroway, John Chancellor or Hugh Downs did." 

Not enough people today know what a great newsman and consummate professional Frank McGee was. The Doan Report notes that more than a half-million fewer people watched the network news in 1971 than they did the previous year (though the networks blame it on the prime time access rule), and one can only imagne how many millions have tuned out today, disgusted by media bias or content to get their news from a source that confirms their own beliefs. If today's reporters spent even a few minutes watching some of the work Frank McGee did over the years, they'd learn a lot from it. Both we and they would benefit. 

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Among the week's other highlights is the return of the hit summer show The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour (Monday, 10:00 p.m., CBS), with the feature skit being an operatic spoof of All in the Family, featuring opera star Robert Merrill as Archie, and Harvey Korman playing both a priest and a rabbi. Carroll O'Connor and Glenn Ford both make special appearances. 

And that leads us to dueling Letters to the Editor on the merits of CBS's most controversial success. Jean Merrill of Southgate, Kentucky praises O'Connor's performance as one that "perfectly captured the lower-middle-class bit-hard hat character" and notes that he was just as effective in an episode of That Girl in which he played a Frenchman. R, Dunn of New York City, however, has nothing good to say about the show: "One would have to be naive indeed not to realize that the ulterior motive behind All in the Family is to semar all right-wingers as bigots." The contrived situations aredesigned to convince viewers that "there can be no such thing as an intelligent, informed and creative conservative. This odious show is not a television satire on bigotry; it is itself a bigoted performance." I think you could hear pretty much this same discussion anywhere in social media today.

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And with that, we come to the end of another year of TV Guide. Next week at this time, we'll be looking to the past once again, this time from the perspective of 2021. My thanks again to all of you for coming along on this journey, and in a special way to those generous patrons out there who've donated or loaned various issues for my benefit, as well as the entertainment of their fellow readers. As always, if you'd care to make a contribution (temporary or permanent) to the Hadley TV Guide Archives, please send me an email or drop a comment in the box below. TV  

December 25, 2020

True story


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the Light of men. That Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the Light, that all might believe through him. He was not himself the Light, but came to bear witness to the Light. 

The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. There is one who enlightens every soul born into the world; he was the true Light.

The Gospel According to St. John 1-14

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‘Ex Ore Infantium’
By Francis Thompson (1859–1907)

LITTLE Jesus, wast Thou shy
Once, and just so small as I?
And what did it feel like to be
Out of Heaven, and just like me?
Didst Thou sometimes think of there,        5
And ask where all the angels were?
I should think that I would cry
For my house all made of sky;
I would look about the air,
And wonder where my angels were;        10
And at waking ’twould distress me—
Not an angel there to dress me!
Hadst Thou ever any toys,
Like us little girls and boys?
And didst Thou play in Heaven with all        15
The angels that were not too tall,
With stars for marbles? Did the things
Play Can you see me? through their wings?
And did thy Mother let Thee spoil
Thy robes, with playing on our soil?        20
How nice to have them always new
In Heaven, because ’twas quite clean blue!
Didst Thou kneel at night to pray,
And didst Thou join thy hands, this way?
And did they tire sometimes, being young,        25
And make the prayer seem very long?
And dost Thou like it best, that we
Should join our hands to pray to Thee?
I used to think, before I knew,
The prayer not said unless we do.        30
And did thy Mother at the night
Kiss Thee, and fold the clothes in right?
And didst Thou feel quite good in bed,
Kiss’d, and sweet, and thy prayers said?
Thou canst not have forgotten all        35
That it feels like to be small:
And Thou know’st I cannot pray
To Thee in my father’s way—
When Thou wast so little, say,
Couldst Thou talk thy Father’s way?—        40
So, a little Child, come down
And hear a child’s tongue like thy own;
Take me by the hand and walk,
And listen to my baby-talk.
To thy Father show my prayer        45
(He will look, Thou art so fair),
And say: ‘O Father, I, thy Son,
Bring the prayer of a little one.’
And He will smile, that children’s tongue
Has not changed since Thou wast young!        50
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Finally, in a lighter vein, what would Christmas be without a visit to the world of Twin Cities children's television and the immortal Axel, with his famed rendition of "The Night Before Christmas." Yes, it's Christmas morning, but it's the spirit that counts, right?

And from Lunch With Casey, here's Casey (Roger Awsumb) with "Vinter Undervear."

To all of you, my sincere and heartfelt wish for a blessed and very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, until we meet again! TV  

December 23, 2020

Around the dial

What better way to start this week's journey than with a Christmas episode! At The Horn Section, Hal looks at the Love That Bob! episode "Bob's Christmas Party," which appropriately aired on December 24, 1957. I think this is one you might want to check out.

Continuing in the Christmas vein, at Cult TV Blog John recalls Carry On Stuffingthe 1972 Christmas TV-movie based on the legendary "Carry On" movies. It's a unique take on Christmas shows, but if you're familiar with "Carry On," you'll get it. 

Who is John McGiver? He's one of those character actors you'd recognize if you saw him, and he's good in everything he's in. I remember him most from his ill-fated turn in The Manchurian Candidate, but as David reminds us at Comfort TV, he has a very impressive television resume, including a star turn in his own series.

Alfred Hayes' final script for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour is "The Photographer and the Undertaker," starring Jack Cassidy, Harry Townes and Alfred Ryder, which aired in March 1965. You can read all about it in Jack's latest Hitchcock Project at bare•bones e-zine.

At Fire-Breathing Dimetroden Time, it's a look at the late-1980s version of The Twilight Zone, and the 1988 remake of "A Game of Pool," with Esai Morales and Maury Chaykin assaying the roles originally played by Jack Klugman and Jonathan Winters. Without having seen the redo, it's impossible to think that it could match the original, but there are some very interesting differences in store for those comparing the two.

Speaking of, Shadow & Substance makes the very good point that 2020 seems as if it's been one long Twilight Zone episode (and not a very good one at that), so it's appropriate that Syfy has the schedule up for its 2020-21 New Year's marathon. There are some fine episodes there for you to dip in and out of during those two days.

NBC's classic Western series The Virginian, with each episode checking in at an epic 90 minutes, first hit the airwaves in 1962. At Television's New Frontier: The 1960s, we can see how the series differs from the book that inspired it, and how that first year lacked the distinction one might look for.

And a great way to complete the tour is with Season's Greetings from a couple of our favorite sites. At Garroway at Large, Jodie has some exciting news regarding the progress of the Garroway bio; meanwhile, Vote for Bob Crane provides updates, good and not-so-good (and some pretty tantalizing news), on the personal and Bob-oriented fronts, along with a heartfelt wish for a better 2021. Can I get an amen on that?

I'll have a special Christmas post on Friday, but if you have better things to do that day (and I hope you do!), take your time getting to it. There are twelve days of Christmas, you know. TV  

December 21, 2020

What's on TV? Friday, December 24, 1954

As I mentioned on Saturday, I’ve saved all our Christmas Eve content for today, which means we’ll have a little more written content than usual because there’s plenty to cover. Let’s get started, shall we?

December 19, 2020

This week in TV Guide: December 18, 1954

As I've said many times before (many, many times), these Christmas editions of TV Guide are among my favorites. Next week we'll be looking at  Christmas Day 1971, while this week takes us right up to the Eve of the big day—you can just feel the excitement build! I'll have more about the Christmas Eve programs in Monday's retro TV listing, but until then we've got plenty to look at:

Saturday leads off with the much-loved special The Spirit of Christmas (5:00 p.m, WNBQ), with the Mabel Beaton marionettes. It consists of two stories: an interpretation of "The Night Before Christmas," and a devout rendition of "The Nativity." It was originally broadcast in Philadelphia and spread throughout the country, sponsored without commercial interruption by local telephone companies (in this case, brought to you "With the Holiday Best Wishes of Illinois Bell Telephone Company.") or shown in schools (before Christmas was made persona non grata in the public education system). Alexander Scourby brings his distinguished voice as host, and narrates "The Night Before Christmas." The Spirit of Christmas is fondly remembered by several generations who grew up with this as part of their annual Christmas viewing; as you'll find with many of this week's shows, it's available on DVD, and can be seen on YouTube

Saturday continues with Oldsmobile's December Showcase presentation of Victor Herbert's perennial holiday favorite, the operetta "Babes in Toyland" (8:00 p.m. CT, NBC), using the framing device of a little girl, lost in a department store, being entertained by a story-telling Santa while waiting for her mother to find her. Dave Garroway is our Santa, Dennis Day is Tommy Tucker, the hero of the original Herbert story, Wally Cox is Grumio, the bumbling assistant toymaker, and Jack E. Leonard is the evil Silas Barnaby. The show survives in a B&W kinescope, but it was originally broadcast in brilliant color. The evening ends with The Cheaters (12;05 a.m., WBBM) a screwball comedy (though it's listed in the guide as a drama) that sounds like a Yuletide knockoff of the far more successful My Man Godfrey with Joseph Schildkraut in the William Powell role. It was a Christmas standard for many years, having fallen into the public domain.

afternoon's cultural ghetto presents a holiday alternative to the NFL on DuMont (Cleveland vs. Detroit, 1:00 p.m.), beginning with Bishop Fulton Sheen's "No Room at the Inn" (1:00 p.m., WNBQ), a special Christmas broadcast in support of the World Missions of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, for which Bishop Sheen is the national director. At 3:00 p.m. on NBC's Zoo Parade, the humans and animals of Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo gather for the show's fifth annual Christmas celebration, with host Marlin Perkins (pre-Wild Kingdom) reading from his book One Magic Night, a fantasy about Christmas and animals. At 4:00 p.m., CBS's Omnibus presents a Christmas tryptich of stories and music from the Cloisters in New York. The program comprises the medieval play "The Second Shepherd's Play," singing by the Vienna Choir Boys, and a reading of Christmas stories for children, presented by Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. Unfortunately, and in an early demonstration of the need for VCRs, this is up against the Hallmark Hall of Fame's annual presentation of Amahl and the Night Visitors on NBC, with Bill McIver in his third appearance as the crippled shepherd boy whose faith and generosity brings about a miracle. (You can see McIver in the role in the commercially released 1955 production.) Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians give us a pleasant half-hour of Christmas music on General Electric Theater (8:00 p.m., CBS, and in color!), and the evening concludes with seasonal storylines on Father Knows Best (9:00 p.m., CBS) and The Loretta Young Show (9:00 p.m., NBC). 

Monday begins a parade of Christmas episodes from series looking to get in on the fun. On Caesar's Hour (7:00 p.m., NBC), Sid and Nanette Fabray play a married couple faced with spending their first Christmas apart. Voice of Firestone (7:30 p.m., ABC) presents opera soprano Eleanor Steber in a half hour of Christmas music both sacred and secular, while Medic (8:00 p.m., NBC) and December Bride (8:30 p.m, CBS) both stage their plots during the season. Dinah Shore (6:30 p.m., NBC) and Jo Stafford (6:45 p.m., CBS) both dedicate their 15-minute Tuesday shows to festive singing, while Meet Corliss Archer (7:30 p.m., CBS), Meet Millie (8:00 p.m., CBS), Fireside Theater (8:00 p.m., NBC, with Dorothy Malone), Armstrong Circle Theater (8:30 p.m., NBC), Life with Father (9:00 p.m., CBS) and It's a Great Life (9:30 p.m., NBC, with Frances Bavier) all use Christmas as a backdrop for their plots. 

On Wednesday, Arlene Francis' Home (10:00 a.m., NBC) continues its Christmas week with "gift suggestions for college and career girls," poetry from the Bible, read by Beatrice Straight and Kevin McCarthy, and a Christmas play by students from Edgemont School in Montclair, New Jersey. Moving to primetime, Disneyland's 1954 Christmas Show, "a tribute to our Latin American neighbors," sees Donald Duck on a tour of South America with some of his fans, including Pablo the penguin, Jose Carioca the debonair parrot, and others. (6:30 p.m., ABC)

's highlight comes courtesy of CBS's showcase for spectaculars, Shower of Stars (7:30 p.m., brought to you by Chrysler and broadcast in color!) It's a musical rendering of A Christmas Carol, with a score by Bernard Herrmann, script and lyrics by Maxwell Anderson, and starring ◀ Fredric Marsh as Scrooge and Basil Rathbone as Marley, with an all-star supporting cast (including Bonnie Franklin as one of the little Cratchits). It's perhaps the most lavish version of A Christmas Carol to appear on television, and the first one anywhere to be done in color. In the good news-bad news department, there's no surviving color version of the program, but you can watch it in a B&W kinescope. If you already know how the story ends, go to NBC at 8:00 p.m. as Joe Friday and Frank Smith investigate the strange theft of the Baby Jesus from a church's Nativity scene in the annual Dragnet Christmas episode "The Big Little Jesus." 

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So why does Imogene Coca look so dour on the cover of this week's issue? Well, she's a worrier (something I can identify with), and her new series (Saturday nights on NBC) gives her plenty to worry about. For one thing, the show—her first solo venture after Your Show of Shows—is off to a shaky start in the ratings, leaving Coca to turn the reins of the series over to NBC. Her typical weekday consists of reading mail, answering letters and studying scripts, all before breakfast, and spending the afternoon in rehearsals and conferences with writers and directors, before heading home for dinner and watching some TV. (It helps that she pounds down up to 20 cups of coffee a day.)

On Saturday, the day of the show, she memorizes scripts, in-between interruptions by press agents, show aides, neighbors, and phone calls. She and her husband leave for the theater around 1 p.m., where she deals with missing scenery, ripped costumes and changing choreography. She works in some time to wash her hair, and nervously nibbles on a ham sandwich. "This is the worst time for me," she says. "This is the time my stomach always starts to churn. I'm thankful our show is black-and-white. I'd hate to turn green on color TV." No wonder she looks like she does on the cover.

Alas, the effort will be in vain. Like her former co-star Sid Caesar, Coca is unable to replicate the magic of Your Show of Shows, and The Imogene Coca Show lasts only one season. Nevertheless, her place in television history has been secured.

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You might find this a little hard to believe, I know, but apparently you can't trust everything you see on television. (And we're not even to the quiz show scandals yet.) 

The incident that brought this to light, which occurred a few weeks ago, occured on an episode of the aforementioned Shower of Stars, with singer Mario Lanza as special guest. What Mario did was insist to the press that he was actually singing on the program, when in fact he was lip-synching to a record the whole time. Lanza, like Richard Nixon, discovered the real crime is always in the cover-up, or the denial. The process, the technical term for which is dubbing, is actually a common practice in the entertainment industry, and Donald O'Connor is credited as being the first star to bring it to television. Since then, it's become a favorite on shows like The Colgate Comedy Hour and The Milton Berle Show. Jo Stafford decides which of her songs should be dubbed based on the amount of physical movement involved in the performance, and Les Paul and Mary Ford say it's impossible to reproduce the sound of dozens of voices and electric guitars without help. Not everyone feels this way, though. Dinah Shore says she'd "rather be caught dead" than synch her songs, and other performers—Perry Como, Eddie Fisher, Martha Wright, and the cast of Your Hit Parade, to name a few—say they're "foursquare" against it. 

Naturally, there are pros and cons to the whole thing; Stafford thinks the quality is most important, while Shore believes it destroys the intimacy of television, the very thing we've talked so often about at this site. And in a comment that foreshadows why the quiz show scandal was such a big deal to so many people, Dinah adds that "On TV you're offering your whole personality—and you can't pre-record that." Or pretend that you know all the answers, for that matter.

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There are some non-Christmas highlights this week, believe it or not. Ed Sullivan has a star-studded lineup on Sunday's Toast of the Town (7:00 p.m., CBS) , with apperances from Hollywood by Frank Sinatra, Gloria Grahame, Olivia de Haviland, Broderick Crawford, Charles Bickford, Robert Mitchum and director Stanley Kramer, all of whom are currently shooting the movie Not as a Stranger. In addition, James Mason and his seven-year-old daughter Pamela appear in Star of Bethlehem, a short that Mason produced and directed. (Of course, you can see it on YouTube.) Back in New York, Ed's joined by Sam Levenson, Patti Page, Julius LaRosa, and the Chordettes. Too bad there's no Hollywood Palace for comparison. 

You can see more stars on the Look Magazine Awards (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., NBC), as the magazine presents its annual TV awards to the year's best shows and stars. The catagories aren't given (if, in fact, there are any), but we've got a list of the honorees: George Gobel, Fred Coe, Jack Webb, John Cameron Swayze, Groucho Marx, Ding Dong School, Cavalcade of Sports, Omnibus, Garry Moore, Tost of the Town, See It Now, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, and the United States Steel Hour. Not a bad lineup, if you ask me. 

Robert Montgomery Presents (Monday, 8:30 p.m., NBC) begins a multi-part adaptaton of David Copperfield (one of Dickens' other stories) with Rex Thompson as the Copper man. WGN presents a Chicago Symphony concert on Wednesday (8:00 p.m.), conducte by the orchestra's legendary maestro, Fritz Reiner. No Christmas music, but they do perform Beethoven's 6th, certainly a star turn if ever there was. There's also the regular weekly assortment of boxing matches—two on Monday night, one on Wednesday (taking Christmas Eve off), but aside from the entertainment factor, there are no fighters of note. And among local movies, there's the Sherlock Holmes classic Dressed to Kill (Tuesday, 10:00 p.m., WGN, part of a week of Chicago TV debuts), with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as literature's most famous crimefighting duo (until Batman and Robin, that is.)

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Finally, speaking of that great detective, there's a new, syndicated Sherlock Holmes series on your television set, and this week Ronald Howard, son of the late actor Leslie, talks about his unique take on role. Unlike Rathbone's high-strung and kinetic Holmes, Howard says, "Mine has a more ascetic quality, is deliberate, very definitely unbohemian, and is underplayed for reality." Producer Sheldon Reynolds says Howard's portrayal more closely resembles that of the early Holmes stories, before Arthur Conan Doyle tired of him. And that's not all there is different about this series. Holmes' trusty sidekick, Dr. John Watson, is not the "perennial brainless bungler" of other versions. As played by H. Marion Crawford, this Watson is "a normal man, solid on his feet, a medical student who gives valuable advice." In other words, according to Reynolds, "a perfect foil to Holmes' youthful buoyancy." Howard says he wants to make Holmes a fallible hero, and I have to admit that I prefer my Holmes to be on the omniscient side, but there's still a warmth to his portrayal that's won him praise from Holmes fans.

There are 39 half-hour episodes in the series, and it's actually pretty good. I wouldn't put it in the same category as the mercurial characterization by Jeremy Brett, and it doesn't have the charm of the Rathbone movies, but given the difficulty in fitting a Holmes story into 30 minutes (not to mention that only a few are based on Doyle stories; most of them are originals penned by American writers), it's a worthy addition to the Holmes canon. And you don't need a detective to discover that. TV  

December 18, 2020

TV Jibe: The true meaning of Christmas

If you've come here looking for the regular Friday tour of the classic TV blogs, don't panic; I'm saving it for next Wednesday, as part of our Christmas week programming. In the meantime, enjoy this reminder of what Christmas is all about.


December 16, 2020

Hogan's Heroes - the final episode

Idon't think I've ever given an old piece a bump to the top; to be sure, I've resussitated a few old pieces here and there, if they prove to be timely in their subject matter (or if I prove to be untimely in my ability to come up with something new), but usually once I write something, it becomes part of the archives, destined to be found only by people looking for it (or stumbling upon it). Today, though, I make an exception.

A few years ago—almost nine now, if you can believe it—I wrote what I thought was a fanciful little piece speculating on what would have happened if one of my favorite shows, Hogan's Heroes, had been given a final episode. Today, of course, it would go without saying; just about any series that isn't cancelled in the middle of its first season gets the chance to have the last word. Back then, though, that generally wasn't the case. But if there were ever a series that deserved a closing episode, it's Hogan. After all, the concept is a closed circuit; we all know that World War II ended, and so the heroes' time in Stalag 13 would have come to an end as well. Additionally, there's the unique dymanic of the relationship between the captors and captives, especially that between Hogan and Klink, that really begs a "rest of the story" story. And, being a comedy, we can be pretty sure that it won't be a tragic end that befalls these much-loved characters.

Over the years, this post has continued to get comments; two, in fact, in the last couple of weeks. I have no other essay that can make that claim, which I think speaks less to my skill as a writer and more to the enduring popularity of Hogan's Heroes. However, because it was originally published so long ago, it occurs to me that very few of you have had the chance to see this continuing discussion in the combox. Therefore, for your pleasure, as well as that of those who'd like to offer their own scenario on how Hogan's Heroes ends, I thought I'd bump it back to the top. And so, we return to February 21, 2012, and an episode that never was.

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I've never been embarrassed to admit that Hogan's Heroes was, and remains, one of my all-time favorites. It was the first series I got in its entirety on DVD; the acting was superb, the writing spot-on, the plots often literate and clever and frequently downright hilarious. The cast—Bob Crane as Hogan, Werner Klemperer as Klink, John Banner as Schultz, Klink’s nemeses General Burkhalter and Major Hochstetter (Leon Askin and Howard Caine) and the whole cast of heroes (Robert Clary, Richard Dawson, Ivan Dixon,* Larry Hovis, and Kenneth Washington)—were uniformly great.

*Ivan DixonSergeant Kinchloe, Colonel Hogan's chief of staff, whom Hogan would almost certainly have taken with him wherever he went—was, as loyal reader Fred Baillargeron points out, was the first black television actor to receive "equal-billing" in a show's credits.

The last episode, airing on July 4, 1971 could have been any particular episode from that final season, and in fact there’s no reason to think it was conceived any other way. A seventh season had been expected, and so the show's cancellation came as something of a surprise, but, in fact, it had been around for six years and, like most extended-run shows, was beginning to show its age, and the ratings had begun to fade. In other words, a perfect candidate for a wrap-up episode.

So what would that final episode have been like? Well, many of the major events of the war had come and gone during Hogan’s run (though not necessarily in linear order) including D-Day. The Allies might have come to liberate the camp, or they might simply have terminated Hogan’s assignment (the POWs, you recall, were stationed at Stalag 13, posing as prisoners but in reality operating a massive underground commando and espionage ring). Myself, I prefer to think of the series concluding with the end of the war; Burkhalter and Hochstetter, being true believers in the Nazi regime, probably would have been taken prisoner themselves by the Allies. (In reality, they might have committed suicide, but let’s not make this too realistic.)

Hogan and his men probably would have vouched for Schultz, who really was just a working man at a job he didn’t particularly like, and possibly even Klink, who when all was said and done didn’t really bear the POWs any real malice; he was too incompetent to have done too much harm. The men would have been lauded as true heroes for their daring behind-the-lines escapades, none more so than Colonel Robert Hogan himself. Already a full colonel, it’s reasonable to assume that Hogan would have come out of the war at least a Brigadier General, with a brilliant future should he decide to stay in the service. The Army, recognizing what it had on its hands, would have made the most of the photogenic, dynamic Hogan. (An earlier episode had actually involved the brass bringing Hogan back home, cashing in on his accomplishments by having him lead bond drives throughout the country.)

And where do things go from there? There certainly would have been a book about such an audacious assignment, just as there was with A Bridge Too Far, A Man Called Intrepid, The Great Escape and other true war stories, probably called, simply, Hogan’s Heroes, by General Robert Hogan as told to David Halberstam. In due course, a movie would have been made based on the book, and it’s fun to speculate on who would have played Hogan in the movie. (Greg Kinnear, anyone? Probably more likely Kirk Douglas.) Hogan might have served in Korea, flying the same kinds of bomber missions he flew in Europe during WWII; on the other hand, he probably would have already been back in Washington, with a high-level job in the Pentagon.

Come the early 60s, Hogan would still have been only about 50. JFK, who also recognized talent when he saw it, might have made Hogan his Air Force aide, working directly out of the White House. (I'll bet they would have had some adventures together.) Our co-blogger Steve suggests that Hogan might have been in charge of the Bay of Pigs invasion, which would have meant that the fiasco would have been averted, Castro toppled, and Cuba liberated. Without Castro and the CIA working behind the scenes, JFK doesn’t meet his death at the hands of conspirators in Dallas, and as we all know that means no expanded war in Vietnam. (Yeah, right.)

See how easy this is? The world as we know it changes completely! Kennedy goes through with his plan to dump LBJ from the ticket in 1964, choosing instead the charismatic Senator from Minnesota, Hubert Humphrey. Bobby lives, not being shot in the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, because it is JFK’s loyal Vice President Humphrey who becomes the unanimous choice to continue the legacy of the New Frontier. (Bobby continues as Senator from New York, even providing consultation with that young Clinton fellow from Arkansas who’d had his picture taken with JFK that time. Bobby and Bill fly to Hollywood often and hang out with friends.

The Republicans, of course, turn to Richard Nixon as the best bet to unseat Humphrey and end eight years of Democratic dominance. In a peaceful campaign prosperity becomes the number one issue, and the voters decide to give the Republicans and their tax breaks a chance, electing Nixon as president. True to form, Nixon immediately sees an opportunity to wreak havoc on his enemies, even authorizing a burglary at Democratic headquarters at the Watergate. (What was that about history changing?) The country in a shambles, being led by the president who pardoned the man responsible for it, the people turn to someone they can trust: Robert Hogan, the now-retired military hero, the man who has always stayed above politics, the most trusted man in America (next to Walter Cronkite). And with him, the charismatic former actor and governor of California, Ronald Reagan. What a match! Hogan and Reagan – or is it Reagan and Hogan? Whatever. Happy days are here again.

All that from a simple half-hour sitcom. See why it’s so important for series to have final episodes? You can never tell how history could turn out differently. TV