December 5, 2020

This week in TV Guide: December 2, 1967

We're long past the point when television claimed to be an impartial bystander in the stories it covers. After all, just look at last month's presidential election. Or, perhaps less controversially, there's the story from a couple of weeks ago of the ESPN analyst who inserted himself into the story when his lighthearted but derogatory remarks about the Northwestern football team so enraged the players and coaches that they used the insults as motivation in their upset victory over Wisconsin. I'm sure the Badgers really appreciated his support. 

But we're into controversy around here, and in 1967 there's nothing more controversial than the Vietnam War. And so Martin Maloney's cover story asks the question: does TV confuse Americans about Vietnam?

Maloney calls it "TVietnam, the big war in the little box, the war brought to me by courtesy of pain-relievers, deodorants and low-cal beverages." Not, he hastens to add, is he suggesting that television coverage has been anything other than honest and conscientious. But it is inevitable that the immediacy of television's war coverage, its ability to bring "terror, shock and death" right into the living rooms of Americans, "may force them to become participants in the agony of the times." No longer is war "presented" to us through distant radio and newspaper reports while we wait for future historians to tell us what it all meant; we now find ourselves processing the war simultaneously, "as a kind of daily puzzle which we must ourselves piece out and understand." 

The very nature of television news demands movement and urgency. Dramatic developments—or, shall we say, developments that have been deemed to be dramatic—are given the biggest piece of the limited news pie; a crisis calls for, and gets, covered over and over and over. "As a fairly consistent viewer of TV news programs," Maloney writes, "I sometimes get the nightmarish feeling that I have been trapped in a 6 o'clock treadmill: There is nothing new about the news." Television also reduces the size of battle and "detaches the viewer from it." It becomes so incomprehensible to those at home that it is "almost inaccessible to the human intellect." With the U.S. involved in a proxy war between North and South, it becomes nearly impossible to tell who is who, who the Viet Cong are, where the South Vietnamese army has gone. The struggle over territory lacks the clear definition of the march to Berlin; "if the war has actually progressed from North to South, or South to North, or in any discoverable direction, you would never know it from TV."

The end result of TVietnam seems to be "to reduce the whole war to simple numbers, and to report it rather like a series of baseball games in an endless hot summer. Old Walter, or Chet, or Harry, or somebody, comes on and says: 'This was an average fighting week in Vietnam. Opposition casualties: 2473. South Vietnamese: 417. Americans: 201.' But the numbers don't mean anything." In such circumstances, viewers have no choice but to invent the answers for themselves. Maloney compares it to a haunted doll house in which the characters act out their human dramas every night. "But the war inside the box is never acted out in full; this drama continues night after night, world without end." 

It is no wonder, Maloney conludes, that the Americans, having absorbed such coverage, "protest, complain, demonstrate, cry out. They are suffering the ultimate human discomfort: they need desperately to make sense out of one of the crucial events of the time, an event which eats at them—at their secure existence, at their children, at their sense of what is decent and proper, at the whole fabric of their lives. And the sense is not given them. It simply is not there." Sounds a lot like today, doesn't it?

"Meanwhile, the news broadcasters, caught between necessity and habit, will continue to produce their box scores. Meanwhile, the discomfort will become more and more painful. The end is not in sight."

Again: sounds a lot like today, doesn't it? 

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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: Ed's scheduled guests are Ray Charles; comic Bill Dana; Met soprano Marie Collier; the singing-dancing Grand Music Hall of Israel; singer Frankie Fanelli; the Muppets puppets; the Mecners, balancing act; and All-American football players.

Palace: Host Jimmy Durante presents Ethel Merman; the singing Lennon Sisters; the rocking Grass Roots; singer-actor Noel Harrison; the comedy team of Larry Bishop (Joey's son) and Rob Reiner (Carl's son); comedian Milt Kamen; and the acrobatic Berosinis.

Perhaps one of the reasons for the decline and fall of the variety show is that there simply isn't much of an appetite anymore for acts like acrobats or balancers, though I maintain spinning plates are still the best cheap entertainment around. The Lennon Sisters' appearance with Jimmy Durante on Palace prefigures their 1969-70 variety series, an effort that tried to attract young and old but succeeded with neither. If we cancel out the Grand Music Hall and the Grass Roots, and likewise Bishop and Reiner with Frankie Fanelli and Marie Collier, we're left with Ray Charles, Bill Dana, football players and the Muppets vs. Durante, the Lennons, Noel ("Windmills of Your Mind") Harrison and Milt Kamen. In my mind, that makes this week a Push.

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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. 

Television, says Cleveland Amory, bears "a heavy responsibility" for the "almost steady decline of decency and erosion of values" in this country. And what he sees is network television programming as it "shifts from beat-'em-up Westerns and shoot-'em up detective stories to situation comedies, which are funny only in their utter self-satisfaction with the neo-idiotic way of life they represent." Sounds a lot li— wait, we've already done that bit, haven't we?

Anyway, this brings us to Ivan Tors, who, according to Amory, has made "the greatest single-handed effort" to counter this trend, through programs such as Flipper, Daktari and Cowboy in Africa. In doing so, he has "not only fulfilled a crying need in television, he has also shown up the kind of school system which regards science and science fairs as if they were the Second Coming and yet regards anything to do with nature or nature studies as on a par with pagan industry." And this leads to Tors' latest effort, CBS's Gentle Ben

Being the animal lover he is, you'd think that Cleve would have gentle words for Gentle Ben, and indeed he allows that it's almost "uncharitable," after all he's said, to critize it. In fact, it's not the animal participants in Tors' series that provide their shortcomings, but the human elements. Even if one were to concede that they're produced for children, "there is no excuse for the prevalence of scripts that would bore a baby," not to mention dialog that's often "too cute for words." But what Gentle Ben has going for it that the others lack is star Dennis Weaver. Weaver is much better than he was when we last saw him in Kentucky Jones; here, he's convincing regardless of what he does, and when he's piloting that airboat, he's "positively dashing." Weaver is so good that he elevates his co-stars, Beth Brickell (who has too little to do) and Clint Howard (who, without Weaver, would be "too cute for even our words.") And while Ben is no Rin Tin Tin, you can't blame him for doing his best work in the opening credits; all he needs is "either better plots or better direction—or, preferably, both."

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It's the first week in December, which means it's time to sell some Christmas merchandise, right? I have to admit, though, that I'm disappointed with Kodak's "very merry special" starring Tennessee Ernie Ford (Sunday, 8:00 p.m. CT, CBS). There's nothing wrong with the cast: Andy Griffith, Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Young Americans, and Danny Thomas. But as far as I can tell, there's no festive content to the show; "Danny does a turn as a flamenco dancer," Ernie sings "Yesterday" and "Funny How Time Slips Away," the Supremes do a medley of traditional songs, and the Young Americans contribue a medley from Doctor Doolittle. It's all do-little for me. Much better is Friday's showing of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (6:30 p.m., NBC), which seems over the years to have become the unofficial start to Yuletide programming. I'd expect we'll see more of this sort next week.

Even without the Christmas spirit, though, specials are a great way for advertisers to get the attention of viewers whose minds have started to turn to thoughts of Xmas shopping. Hallmark's Christmas offering is an adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan (Monday, 8:00 p.m., NBC), with an all-star cast including Genevieve Bujold (in the title role), Roddy McDowall, Maurice Evans, James Daly, Theodore Bikel and Raymond Massey. Two nights later, CBS shows the musical-fantasy Aladdin, as presented by New York City's Prince Street Players, Limited. And for those who didn't get enough of James Daly in Saint Joan, don't worry, because in a couple of years he'll be on Medical Center. But in the meantime, he stars with Hope Lange, Patricia Barry, Eli Wallach, David Wayne and Rosemary Harris in the brittle marital drama Dear Friends on CBS Playhouse (Wednesday, 8:00 p.m.) And in case that isn't enough for you, he also stars in a repeat of Ibsen's subersive play An Enemy of the People on NET Playhouse (Friday, 9:00 p.m., NET). I don't think he's in anything on ABC, but appearing on three of the four networks in the same week is still pretty good, don't you think?

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I kid you not, Jack Paar is back. For his fourth NBC special since leaving his weekly prime-time program, Jack looks at what TV Guide calls "The world's longest-running comedy": the human comedy. And, insists Paar, it proves that "truth is not strainger than fiction—it is far funnier." (Wednesday, 8:00 p.m.) In a very funny article, Jack answers questions on just what he's been doing since leaving weekly television, in an insisive interview conducted by the only man who could possibly be up to the task: Jack Paar.

He's happy to be out of the weekly grind; "I do not miss it nor most of the people in it. There are not enough hours in the day to do all the things I want to do"; some of those things include traveling with his wife, painting, reading, and working on his cars. He recently turned down $75,000 a week to play in Vegas because, he points out, "everyone knows that there's nothing I can do." When Paar asks whether or not he thinks the public misses him, Paar replies in the negative. "I was never an entertainer for the masses, nor did I ever wish to be. It's a Gomer Pyle world. It's a credit to the industry that even occasionally the networks try something better." And as for the medium of television, he thinks its influence has, for the most part, been good. "I feel our children are far brighter and better informed than we were." He's never even seen a bad program, "because I refuse to watch it. God gave me a mind and a wrist that turns things off." 

Mindful of Paar's reputation for controversy, Paar asks him what was the most unfair thing that's ever happened to him; Paar cites the incident at the Berlin Wall in 1961. "[I]t was a nightmare at the time. I was denounced in Congress; editorials in the country's best newspapers were written against me." He was cleared by both the Army and the FCC of any wrongdoing; "This story appeared in only one paper in New York, on the back pages." His infamous water-closet joke, which triggered his famous walkout from The Tonight Show, doesn't rank; besides, "it was mild compared to what is heard on the air today." And speaking of controversy, when asked if he had any regrets, he said if he had to do it over again, he'd be more gentle. "If I hit anyone below the belt, it was because they wore their belt as a halo." 

I've written many times about my admiration for Paar; the one part of this interview with which I disagree is his contention that he is not missed. What with his literate conversation and wit, and considering what we see nowadays, he's very much missed indeed.

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Anything else of note? Well, last year's National Drivers Test is rerun on CBS (Tuesday, 9:00 p.m.), and based on what I see on the roads, we could do with a new version of it this year. One of Alfred Hitchcock's lesser-known movies, Under Capricorn, is the CBS Thursday Night Movie (8:00 p.m.). Contrary to most of Hitch's thrillers, this is a drama about a society woman's descent into alcoholism due to her husband's false conviction for murdering her brother. Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotten play the unhappily married couple; the script is by actor Hume Cronyn. I confess this is one of Hitchcock's movies that I was not aware of. 

According to the Teletype, Harry Belafonte will be subbing for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show next year; I wrote about that landmark week here. The networks have put in full-season orders for five of the season's new shows: Batman, Judd for the Defense, Ironside, Mannix and The Mothers-in-Law. Burl Ives plays a small-town defense attorney in The Adversaries, a TV movie for next season co-starring Guy Stockwell and James Farentino. The Teletype reports it could become Roy Huggins' latest series, and it does, in a way: just swap out Guy Stockwell for Joseph Campanella, relabel it from The Sound of Anger (its title when finally broadcast) to The Lawyers, make it one of the three rotating components of The Bold Ones, and you're all set.

Robert Hooks and Judy Ann Elder
in NET's "Day of Absence"

In the Letters section, Carolyn Sawyer of Norton, Massachusetts, wonders why CBS allowed the pro-Vietnam song "An Open Letter to My Son" to be performed on The Ed Sullivan Show while they excised Pete Seeger's anti-war "Big Muddy" from The Smothers Brothers Show. There's TVietnam rearing its ugly head again. (By the way, I think you can explain that decision in three words: L.-B.-J.) Another Bay Stater, Ann Hahn of Easthampton, praises NET's PBL for not pulling its punches with its recent play “Day of Absence,”* performed by black actors in white-face. "Even my husband and I, presumably 'enlightened Northern liberals,' found [it] to be strong stuff. But we'd have been more upset to hear that such a play had been canceled for fear it might offend." Hear, hear.

Finally, on the sports front, ABC has an attractive doubleheader on Saturday, starting with the 68th Army-Navy game, from John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia. (12:30 p.m.) That's followed at 4:00 by Wide World of Sports, with a heavyweight elimination bout between Jimmy Ellis and Oscar Bonavena, part of the tournament to fill the vacancy after Muhammad Ali was stripped of the title for refusing military induction. We started this week in Vietnam; I suppose it's appropriate we end there as well. TV  


  1. Is the Danny/Marlo cover story promoting "Cricket on the Hearth"? (A Rankin-Bass cel-animated Christmas-themed episode of The Danny Thomas Hour that would air on December 18th)

  2. I'm surprised that TVG considered BATMAH a new program late in 1967. It was nearing the end of its 2 1/2 season run by then, w/ the last new episode aired by ABC the next March.

  3. At the same time of Hallmark's TV adaptation of SAINT JOAN, Diana Sands was playing the title role at the Lincoln Center, the first African-American actress to play Joan of Arc.

    Ivan Tors was probably at his peak going into this TV season, with COWBOY IN AFRICA and GENTLE BEN joining DAKTARI on the schedule. DAKTARI's ratings took a tumble, from 7th place in 1966-67 to out of the top 30, and all 3 series would be off the air by the end of 1968-69.

    I have this issue also, and will be getting to it myself sometime as part of my HONDO series (Ralph Taeger is profiled in one of the other articles; one could sense he was nearing the end of his career reading this profile).


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!