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  


  1. The greatness of the game lasts forever if you win, but if you lose (as KC did), the heartbreak had to go on and on. That was the start of the downfall of the Chiefs as a great team.

    1. It took the Chiefs 48 more seasons to get back to the Super Bowl, but they did win the last one, and from what I heard today, they're at the top of the AFC going into this year's playoffs too.

    2. One of the articles I was reading as background for this -- it was written several years ago -- noted that this game served as the fall of the Chiefs and the rise of the Dolphins, as Miami would advance to the Super Bowl in the 1972 season, and win it the two following seasons. But now we've come full circle in that it's the Chiefs at the top, while the Dolphins have not won another Super Bowl since VIII.

  2. Frank McGee was NBC's main correspondent for the space race. H&B weren't that into the whole program, thus Frank played NBC's Walter. Consummate professional. Many prefer his coverage over Uncle Walter, as Walt tended to overtalk everything.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!