January 22, 2021

Around the dial




A
h, but that picture brings back memories, in the days when you could go to a store that specialized in selling televisions, rather than buying from a big box electronics store. They called them "showrooms" back then, and for someone like me it was the next best thing to being in Santaland at Christmastime. It's a short but sweet list of links this week, all of them with something worth pondering, but you won't get the chance unless you read them. Therefore, I'll just get out of the way.

A while back, I mentioned an episode of Love That Bob in which Bob Cummings has a crossover appearance with George Burns; well, that episode, "Bob Meets the Mortons," is Hal's latest at The Horn Section. See what he thinks, because Hal knows Bob.

One of the shows I run across frequently in TV Guides of the mid-60s is Please Don't Eat the Daisies, with Pat Crowley and Mark Miller. Despite an impressive pedigree, though, the show never really worked, and David looks at some of the reasons why at Comfort TV.

At Garroway at Large, Jodie recalls Garroway and his Today crew as they braved the snow and cold in Washington D.C. to cover the 1961 Inauguration of John F. Kennedy. Even though I wasn't even one year old when it happened, I still have trouble believing that was 60 years ago. Or perhaps it's the fact that I'm that old that I have trouble believing.

Peter Mark Richman, who died last week at the ripe old age of 93, was a familiar face on classic television; he also starred in his own series, the single-season Cain's Hundred. Terence has a comprehensive review of his career at A Shroud of Thoughts.

Tomorrow's TV Guide review will be much longer, I promise. Of course, that may or may not be a good thing; your mileage may vary. TV  

January 20, 2021

The descent into Hell: 1984 on TV

Eddie Albert comes face to face with Big Brother in 1984 (1953).

In  Christian theology, the "descent into Hell," as enumerated in the Apostle's Creed, refers to the time between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, when Christ descends to the realm of the dead, bringing salvation to the righteous who had died since the begining of the world. The Church believes this to be a triumphant occasion, the victory over death and liberation of those souls destined to reside in Heaven.

There are many kinds of Hell, other than the theological kind. There's Hell on earth, a Hell often of our own making, and when you descend into this kind of Hell, it's not so easy to see it as triumphant. There's one thing that all these versions of Hell have in common, though, and that's the loss of freedom, the enslavement of the soul, the stench of death. We are, I think, engaged in such a descent now; I say "engaged," because I don't think we've hit bottom yet, not even close—if, in fact, there even is a bottom. It is the Hell of totalitarianism, a Hell that has, over the years, played itself out many times on television. The relationship between television and totalitarian dystopia is, I think, an interesting and ironic one; it could be said that television both sheds light on and perpetuates totalitarianism, at least in its modern incarnation. 

And so it seems particularly appropriate today that we begin an extended look at this particular descent into Hell by returning to Apocalypse Theater for one of literature's most famous stories, one that spawned two television adaptations within five years of its publication: 1984.

George Orwell wrote 1984 (or Nineteen Eighty-Four, if you prefer) in 1948, and for those of you into numerology, it might be interesting to ponder that it was 36 years between 1948 and 1984, and 36 years between 1984 and 2020. Then again, it might not be; I suppose it depends on your outlook.

Orwell's world is one that's become familiar in both literary and political history, a world built on  censorship, government surveillance, mutual suspicion, and the suppression of any forms of dissent, populated by agencies with names like the Ministry of Truth, which controls the distribution of information and makes appropriate "adjustments" to the historical record so that they conform to the latest pronouncements of the government; and the Ministry of Love, home of the infamous Thought Police, charged with the arrest and "rehabilitation" of those who practice dissent against the government. Orwell's concepts entered the lexicon almost from the very beginning, concepts such as Big Brother, the Two Minute Hate, Thought-Crimes, Doublethink, and—perhaps the most famous and most sinister of them all—Newspeak. You know the highlights; War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength, 2+2=5. To paraphrase that great philosopher Chico Marx, "Who ya gonna believe: Big Brother or your own eyes?" 

The first visual adaptation* of 1984 came just four years after its 1949 publication, and perhaps tellingly, it was made not for the movie theater, but for television. It aired on September 21, 1953 (the height of the McCarthy era), as part of CBS's Studio One, in a production written by WilliamTempleton, directed by series mainstay Paul Nickell and with a cast that included Eddie Albert (above) as the protagonist, civil servant Winston Smith; Norma Crane as Julia, his colleage and forbidden lover; and Lorne Greene as O'Brien, the underground member who turns out to be an agent of the Thought Police. The Studio One production dramatically condensed Orwell's story to about 50 minutes, typical of most hour-long shows of the day. Although today's reviewers are mostly critical of the show (especially in comparison to subsequent productions), contemporary reviews were more favorable. The New York Times praised Albert's performance and called the overall production "a masterly adaptation that depicted with power, poignancy and terrifying beauty the end result of thought control—the disintegration of the human mind and soul." 

*The very first adaptation was on radio in 1949 (they didn't waste any time, did they?), broadcast on NBC University Theater, starring David Niven as Smith.


It took only one year for another television version of 1984 to appear, this time on the BBC, and this adaptation won far more critical praise, both then and now. It was written by Nigel Kneale, who the year before had created the much-loved sci-fi classic, The Quatermass Experiment and was produced and directed by Rudolph Cartier, one of the BBC's best. Winston Smith was played in this version by a very young Peter Cushing, with Yvonne Mitchell as Julia, André Morell as O'Brien, and Donald Pleasance as Syme, the creator of Newspeak, who eventually becomes an Unperson.

At nearly two hours, or twice the length of the American version, this 1984 was a much more detailed adaptation of Orwell's work. It also created no little stir, with many viewers calling to complain about the show's "subversive nature and horrific content," and a number of protests in Parliament. Other MPs, however, rushed to the show's defense, pointing out that "many of the inhuman practices depicted in the play" were "already in common use under totalitarian régimes." The Queen and Prince Philip weighed in, letting it be known that they had watched the broadcast, and had "enjoyed" it. Thus emboldened, the BBC staged a second live broadcast four days later, and it is this rebroadcast that has been preserved on video.


The fact is, any adaptation of 1984 should feel subversive and horrific, because it is. As brutal as the world of 1984 is, though, there's an even darker thought behind it, for as essayist Scott Bradfield has pointed out, "For Orwell, the horror of totalitarianism was not that someone would impose it on you, but rather that you might be all-too-prepared to submit." Or, as Benjamin Franklin put it, those who would trade privacy for a bit of security deserve neither privacy nor security. We can quibble about what Franklin really meant (the quote actually comes from a debate over taxation), but one of the great attributes about being a genius is the ability to synthesize a thought, even if it isn't the thought you were thinking of at the time. 

I find it interesting that there hasn't been an adaptation of 1984 since 1965 ("The World of George Orwell: 1984", a second production of the 1954 BBC adaptation, which aired as part of a season of Orwell adaptations on the BBC program Theatre 625), when the Cold War was hot and the West was about to explode in an unrest that, in significant ways, continues to this day. Radio, yes; a big screen version (in 1984, of course), and movies that could be said to be in the spirit of Orwell. In fact, the last time television broached the subject was in the famous Super Bowl commercial by Apple, which might have been prescient in linking modern technology and a future 1984 society (though perhaps not in the way Apple intended). But then, as I said, the relationship between television and totalitarianism is a complex one. I don't know; maybe television has a reason for not revisiting it.


Orwell's attack on totalitarianism wasn't aimed solely at communism; 1984 takes many of its ideas from post-World War II Great Britain. Undoubtedly, one of the reasons for the book's eternal popularity is that both left and right can point to its contents as representing an existential threat to freedom and liberty. But since we're on the subject of chilling statements, try this one on for size. It comes from Orwell, in correspondence with, of all people, Sidney Sheldon, who had purchased the stage rights to 1984 from Orwell. In one letter, Orwell wrote that the book "was based chiefly on communism, because that is the dominant form of totalitarianism, but I was trying chiefly to imagine what communism would be like if it were firmly rooted in the English speaking countries, and was no longer a mere extension of the Russian Foreign Office."

That, my friends, is what we face today. It takes no great stretch to make the connections between Orwell's creation and our world today; if you glance at the headlines on any day of the week—Communist crackdown in China is "Beyond George Orwell’s Imaginings"—the parallels become clearer. And if you think that it can't happen here, in the land of the free and the home of the brave, you haven't been paying attention. 

So the next time someone—perhaps in the government or the media—tells you that Freedom is Slavery and Ignorance is Strength, remember the words of the prophet: "Woe to you that call evil good, and good evil: that put darkness for light, and light for darkness: that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter." (Isaiah 5:20) And then ask yourself: when someone asks what two plus two equals, what will you answer? TV  

January 18, 2021

What's on TV? Friday, January 22, 1960




It's been a while since we looked at my old stomping grounds of Dallas, Texas, and while I haven't particularly missed being there, it is nice to revisit some of the old shows. I hadn't quite been born yet when this issue hit the newsstands, and yet some of the programs and personalities are as familiar to me as if I'd grown up with them. The Twilight Zone episode on KRLD is one of the series' most popular, "The Hitchhiker," with Inger Stevens in virtually a one-woman show. Charles Murphy, the newsman on WBAP, plays a role in the local coverage of the JFK assassination, and becomes a regular on ABC news coverage. Wes Wise, WFAA's sportscaster, was a local legend in the Metroplex. And don't forget Teen-Age Downbeat, the local answer to American Bandstand. It's not true that everything looks better in the sepia tones of the past, but it's nice to visit the ones that do.

January 16, 2021

This week in TV Guide: January 16, 1960

Cliff Arquette is one of those personalities whose name means different things to different people, depending on how old you are.

To a certain generation he'll be known, if at all, as the grandfather of actresses Rosanna (who wasn't really the inspiration for the song by Toto) and Patricia (who was nominated a few years ago for an Oscar for Boyhood). To my generation, he's "Charley Weaver," the beloved lower left square in The Hollywood Squares. And to the generation reading this week's TV Guide, he's the jolly host of The Charley Weaver Show on ABC.

The Weaver shtick started in the late '40s, and has been smoothly refined by now. In addition to his show, Arquette is the author of Charley Weaver's Letters From Mama, many of which he reads during one of his regular appearaces on Jack Paar's Tonight. His homespun humor is based on the goings-on in the fictional town of Mount Idy, and most of his jokes deserve some kind of rim shot.  ("Elsie Krack was just married so we all pitched in and gave her a shower. It took six of us to drag her into the bathroom.")

What's interesting about Charley Weaver, or Cliff Arquette, is how his career spans so many different times.  Like many television stars, he and his character came of age on radio. By the time of this issue of TV Guide, in the pre-JFK days of 1960, he was already well-established on television, yet his greatest fame probably came on Squares, on which he appeared until his death in 1974. He spanned the years from the static of network radio to the musty black-and-white days of this issue to the vivid color and double entendres of the '70s. Three different ages, three different worlds. And he was there for them all.

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Now, I know what you're thinking here: what in the name of Sherwood Schwartz is Mrs. Brady, aka Florence Henderson, doing as one of the hosts of NBC's Today, ostensibly a morning news program? Well, the answer to this question, as well as many others, lies in the phrase "Today Girl."

With Jack Lescoulie and Dave Garroway
As we've mentioned before, from the show's beginning until the mid '60s, the "Today Girl" (or "Woman's Editor," as they were originally called) had a specific role: to report on woman's issues (fashion, lifestyle), to give the weather, and to spar with the male host of the show (variously Dave Garroway, John Chancellor and Hugh Downs). None of the "Today Girls" were news reporters or, in fact, had much of a news background at all; they were either singers (Henderson, Helen O'Connell) or actresses (Estelle Parsons, Maureen O'Sullivan, Lee Meriwether and Betsy Palmer). Not to put to fine an edge on the point, but they were eye candy just as much as anything.

Barbara Walters was the final "Today Girl," joining the program in 1964 and being promoted to full-fledged co-host in 1966. According to Walters, the show's producers (and many in the television industry, to be honest) were concerned that "nobody would take a woman seriously reporting 'hard news.'" We can see that begin to change in the pages of TV Guide; anyone who's read the program listings from the early '60s has probably noticed ABC's Lisa Howard and Marlene Sanders as two pioneers in the news business, hosting five-minute afternoon updates. (By the way, the story of Lisa Howard, ABC's first female newscaster, is a fascinating one. You can read about it here.)

As for Florence's selection, it wasn't really all that hard a decision, says Dave Garroway. Following Betsy Palmer's departure, the show had been rotating different girls to sit on the panel for a week or so, but "It took me only about 20 minutes to know that Florence was just what we were seeking. She's more alive, more sensitive, with an indefinable quality of awareness. She has good taste and intelligence too." Since joining the team, her assignments have included reporting on fashion shows and interviews with authors, actors and other people in the news, duties that didn't some easily for her at first. (Why should a singer know how to interview Gore Vidal?) But, says Garroway, "we gave her hints on where she went wrong, and she straightened herself out." Her husband, Ira Bernstein, works as company manager for Paddy Chayefsky's new Broadway play, and with a two-year-old daughter at home, she doubts she would have taken the job if Today was still being broadcast live, but since it's taped in the afternoon for showing the next morning, she's been able to juggle everything nicely.

When Florence Henderson died in 2016, her time on Today was more a footnote than anything else. But even with her success in musical theater and on variety shows, and a lovely singing voice that never left her, it was as the lovely lady of The Brady Bunch that she won enduring, and endearing, fame. And considering the success that her other "Today Girl" colleagues had over the years, it seems fair to say that The Today Show has been a breeding ground for more than just successful journalists.

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Yes, we all know that Saturday night is the television graveyard today, and that this wasn't always the case. I've referred frequently to the "Murderer's Row" that CBS used to have—All in the Family, Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, M*A*S*H and Carol Burnett—but even before then, Saturday was a big TV night; the famed Sid Caesar-Imogene Coca Your Show of Shows aired on Saturday, as did Gunsmoke, Lawrence Welk, Perry Mason and many other hits. Now, of course, people go out to bars, restaurants, or other special events on Saturdays (or at least they used to, when people were allowed to socialize), but back when they went out, it was often to someone else's home for a night of television. TV was the special event.

We get another example of the power of Saturday night broadcasting this week, with back-to-back color specials on NBC. First, at 7:30 p.m. CT, it's Jerry Lewis, hosting his second comedy special of the season, with opera star Helen Traubel, jazz great Lionel Hampton, football quarterback Johnny Unitas, and Jerry's sons Gary and Ronnie. It's a big lineup for one of the biggest comedians in the business. And guess what? You can see it here, in this remarkably clear color broadcast.


Following that, at 8:30, it's another comedian, Art Carney, starring in a much different role. It's the one-man drama "Call Me Back," in which Carney plays a man whose life is on the verge of destruction. His marriage has ended and taken his daughter away, he's been fired from his job, and his friends have deserted him. Sitting alone in his home with only a diminishing bottle of booze and the telephone, he tries to maintain a tenuous connection with the world. As I said, a different show altogether.

Live TV isn't dead yet, and we have three reminders of that on Sunday night alone.  First is Ed Sullivan (7:00 p.m., CBS), with singers Rosemary Clooney, Billy Daniels, Nelson Eddy and Gale Sherwood, musical-comedy star Carol Lawrence, and an assortment of dancers, acrobats, ventriloquists and other novelty acts. The Chevy Show, on NBC at 8:00 p.m., has Jane Powell hosting an hour of variety featuring Peter Gunn's Craig Stevens, Tales of Wells Fargo's Dale Robertson, Miyoshi Umeki, Taina Elg and Carl Ballentine.* Opposite that, at 8:30, The DuPont Show of the Month on CBS presents a live 90-minute adaptation of Sinclair Lewis' Pulitzer-winning novel Arrowsmith, starring Farley Granger and Diane Baker.

*Peter Gunn and Tales of Wells Fargo are both NBC programs. Imagine that.

Monday's guest on The Mike Wallace Interviews (10:00 a.m., KFJZ) is Dorothy Day, one of the most influential American Catholics of the second half of the 20th Century. Day, who is currently being considered for canonization by the Catholic Church, founded the Catholic Worker Movement, dedicated to peace and social justice. She's and has continued to grow in statue since her death in 1980. This interview with her, capturing her work in the moment, is a cultural touchstone, much like Wallace's interview with, for example, Ayn Rand. I wish there was a video copy of it, but various organizations have audio copies.

Rod Cameron was an interesting guyafter divorcing his wife, he married his former mother-in-law; a co-worker called him the bravest man he'd ever seenand a shrewd businessman. Hal Erickson, in his book, Syndicated Television: The First Forty Years, 1947–1987, points out that Cameron recognized a syndicated series would provide him with a greater share of the residuals than one backed by a network, and thus vowed to work only in syndication. His third and final such series, the detective show Coronado 9, premieres Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. on WBAP. As evidence of Cameron's smarts, those three shows (City Detective and State Trooper were the other two) provided him with over $200,000 a year in residuals.

Wednesday
sees the last show of the series for The Lineup (6:30 p.m., CBS), often thought of as the San Francisco version of Dragnet. Like Dragnet, the show started on radio (in 1951, one year after Dragnet) before making the move to television (in 1954, three years after you-know-what), where it was a staple of the CBS schedule for six seasons. Its syndicated title is San Francisco Beat, and it continues to air on local stations throughout the black-and-white era. Later, it's yet another live variety show, as Perry Como welcomes Lena Horne, Corbett Monica and Robert Horton to his colorcast. (8:00 p.m., NBC) 

On Thursday, it's the final regular broadcast of one of the Golden Age's most prestigeous dramas, Playhouse 90 (8:30 p.m., CBS), with Richard Basehart starring in the political drama "A Dream of Treason," in which he plays a State Department press secretary accused of leaking confidential documents to a reporter. Playhouse 90's audience has dropped to half of what it was last year, and from now on it will appear only as an occasional special. Don't remember the series for this play, though; think instead of Requiem for a Heavyweight, The Miracle Worker, Judgement at Nuremburg, and so many more outstanding dramas.

Friday finishes things off with the only prime-time sports that anyone's likely to find: boxing. And tonight's bout on the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports is Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Paul Pender for Robinson's world middleweight championship.* In an epic battle, Pender wins a controversial split decision to take the crown. He'll retain it in a rematch with Robinson later in the year, and will retire as champion in 1963.

*That is, if you define "world" as Massachusetts, New York, and The Ring magazine. Robinson had previously been stripped of his title by the National Boxing Association for having failed to defend it for 22 months. In case you're wondering why Massachusetts recognized Robinson, could it be because that would make this bout, being held in Paul Pender's hometown of Boston, a title fight?

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Mort Sahl was, in a sense, the Dennis Miller of his day, a comedian thought too intellectual for audiences to be able to appreciate. As one television executive put it, "Mort's just wonderful. Isn't it too bad the average guy can't understand him?" Targets in his standup routines include Bernard Baruch an the Berlin crisis; "he never tells a sentimental joke, and seldom an untopical one." 

That's all changed now, though, as Sahl has become a hot ticket on TV. "The powers that be weren't too enthusiastic about me a couple of years ago," he says. "I had to keep telling myself, you can do it, you can sell it, you can. Luckily I have a stopgap, the nightclubs." His stint last April as one of the six emcees at the Academy Awards* was, Sahl phrases it, "a turning point. People even began to put me in their movies to get 'my audience.'" He'll be hosting Pontiac Star Parade on NBC this coming Friday at 7:30 p.m., costarring with Eddie Cantor in a show called "The Future Lies Ahead," a showcase for young entertainers. Not surprisingly, Sahl has some strong opinions about television. "Now my idea is, we've gotta get all the people from radio and movies out of TV. Give it a chance to ruin itself," he says, and he's probably only half-kidding. 

*The other four: Jerry Lewis, Tony Randall, Bob Hope, David Niven and Sir Laurence Olivier. Niven remains the only Oscarcast host to win during the same ceremony, taking Best Actor for Separate Tables.

Last year Sahl became the first comedian to win a Grammy, and later this year he'll become the first comedian to land on the cover of Time. He counts John F. Kennedy, Adlai Stevenson and Hubert Humphrey among the fans of his political satire, and there are rumors that all three networks are considering him for five-minute newscasts from both political conventions this year. In the Time profile, he'll accuse TV news of 'spoon-feeding' the public, of being responsible for the "corruption and ignorance that may sink this country." "I'm against those guys who read the news with a gas pump in front of them," he says. (Huntley-Brinkley?) A little humor never hurt the validity of any idea, he says; too bad we never got a chance to find out.

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A glance at the movies on TV this week show that, unlike today, big stars frequently starred in B movies, sometimes several per year, and even with channels like TCM we might not recognize some of those movies today.  For example, WBAP has Cloak and Dagger, the story of an atomic scientist spying on the Nazis' atomic development from within German-occupied Italy, starring Gary Cooper and Lilli Palmer. There's They Met in Bombay on KFJZ, a jewel-heist story with Clark Gable and Rosalind Russell, which also has another Gable flick, Love on the Run, a spy story co-starring Joan Crawford, and The Secret Heart, about a rich widow and her stepchildren, with Claudette Colbert and Walter Pidgeon. Of course, there are plenty of familiar titles to choose from as well: Meet Me in St. Louis, Summertime, My Favorite Wife, Scarlet Street. Back when TV stations loved movies; those were the days, weren't they?

Finally, what's old is new again. Even in 1960, polio is something to be feared, though the Salk and Sabin vaccines have dramatically reduced the risk in the United States. Still, we're not that far removed from the time when even the whisper of the word polio was enough to send everyone into a panic (kind of like the word COVID, don't you think?), and we're reminded of that by KRLD's Monday night report on the Mother's March on Polio (10:30 p.m.), with reports given "by the team captains of each section of metropolitan Dallas." Good thing we could never have a scare like that again today. TV  

January 15, 2021

Around the dial




This week begins with Garroway at Large, where Jodie looks back at Today's 30th anniversary celebration in 1982, a gala celebration with most of the show's living former hosts, including the original three stars, Dave, Jack Lescoulie and Frank Blair (who wasn't actually an original but might as well have been), and the man who thought up Today, Pat Weaver. What a collection of talent; what a historic moment. It's a great read.

As is the latest in the Hitchcock Project at bare-bones e-zine, where Jack continues his survey of the Hitchcock career of William Fay with "The $2,000,000 Defense," a terrific and nasty little tale adapted from the short story by Harold Q. Masur, with Barry Sullivan and a very serious Leslie Nielsen.

Last night we watched the first season finale of the psychiatric drama The Eleventh Hour, which might as well be the last episode of all time, since the second and final season hasn't been issued on DVD, with no indication it ever will be. At Comfort TV, David gives his own review of the show. Purchase or pass? See what he thinks.

I have a shelf full of Ed McBain's famous 87th Precinct crime novels, so of course I also have the one and only season of the 87th Precinct TV series, and that series is the topic at Television's New Frontier: The 1960. One of the challenges that the review touches on is that McBain's cast of characters is so vast that it becomes difficult to narrow it down for the series. However, any series with Robert Lansing, even if he doesn't star in every episode, is bound to be a good one.

At A Shroud of Thoughts, Terence has a very interesting article on how Bewitched and Batman saved ABC (literally) in the 1960s. Despite the fact that the network had offered some very good series over the years, some of which were also quite creative for the time, it seemed destined to always be a distant third to CBS and NBC—if, that is, it survived at all. Things began to change with Bewitched and Batman, and they kept on changing.

Always nice to end on a light note, and here's one from Shadow & Substance: the seven times Rod Serling didn't say "In The Twilight Zone" at an episode’s end. You probably didn't know you needed to know that, but now that you've read it, you can't believe how you got along for so long without knowing it. TV  

January 13, 2021

The running man




From The Fugitive to The Immortal, Run for Your Life to Run Buddy Run, classic television has told the stories of people on the run—from the law, from criminals, from death itself. The Fugitive was praised for its decision to bring to an end the premise which had sustained the series for four seasons; in this era of closed-loop storytelling, which suggests that every series contains an overall arc with a beginning, a middle and an end, it’s difficult to imagine a series that doesn’t provide some type of closure—"The Day the Running Stopped." The notable exception to this, of course, is the final episode of The Sopranos, which ends with an abrupt cut to black, and leaves the viewer forever in the dark as to what happens next. Considering the hue and cry accompanying that ending, it's probably unlikely we’ll ever see an ending like that again, or at least one left open to so many possibilities.

In a way, though, there’s something fitting about those series for which no end is provided. I’m not suggesting they do this intentionally; usually, the decision is made for them, in the form of low ratings, stars ready to move on, or recalcitrant network executives. Still, it seems to me that perhaps leaving things open-ended isn’t really such a bad idea, at least in some instances. It forces both the show's viewers and its creators to consider the existential implications of life, and how their characters fit into that scheme. Viewers, for instance, are left to fill in the blanks after the ending of a show like The Sopranos, and in doing so, they not only display their perspective on what the show was all about, they also reveal a great deal about themselves and their own way of thinking: their values, their moral convictions, their philosophy of life. 

And what do those shows themselves tell us? In providing for an end to the four-season odyssey of Richard Kimble, Quinn Martin was following in the footsteps of Route 66, which also provided for an end to the journey—at least for Tod, when he decided it was time to settle down and marry Barbara Eden. (Smart man!) That suggests our heroes were not so much running away from something, as running toward something. Tod finds that, or at least thinks he has, but we’re not sure about Linc, let alone Buz. The question remains, though: if they were running toward life, toward something that they perhaps can’t define but will recognize when they see it, what are they running away from? A life without hope, without meaning, a boring, 9-to-5 job that provides security whereas the adrenalin that is the spice of life comes from insecurity?*

*You could include Then Came Bronson in that discussion as well. 

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Is The Immortal really running away from his pursuers, or is he running away from the burden of being immortal? The setup of having the hero pursued by the heavy was not only exceedingly conventional, it was probably necessary in order to get the show on the air. But there’s a twist to the convention: Ben Richards is useless to Jordan Braddock if he’s dead; Richards must be kept alive in order to produce the rare blood that enables him to cheat death, the blood that Braddock wants. If the implication is that Braddock wants to keep Richards alive, then it also follows that by running from Braddock’s henchman Fletcher, Richards is also running from eternity, or at least natural eternity. One could say that he is running from a false life, running toward death, or the possibility of death, which is the only way a man can truly feel alive. Think of this series in another way, one which probably never would make it to television, but is intriguing nonetheless: Ben Richards, unable to experience death in a natural way and unwilling to take his own life (because he still has scruples) dedicates his life to taking outrageous risks for the purpose of helping others. It could be anything from climbing a tree to rescue an old woman’s cat to dashing into a flaming house to rescue a small child. Perhaps he takes on the mob to save the life of a young man who’s fallen into debt, or offers himself as a human hostage to prevent an international incident. There are an endless number of ways to risk your own life, after all, and if you can’t do something good with the life you’ve been given, what good is it? 

I think you get the picture here. The most existential question of all is that of the meaning of life; while Dr. Richard Kimble hoped to get his life back after being exonerated of the murder of his wife, his real-life counterpart, Dr. Sam Sheppard, was never able to recover what had been his, and stumbled through years of wrestling professionally and drinking heavily before meeting a premature death. Sam Sheppard could not return to the life he once lived—but having died as a man, he continues to live as a legal precedent, and if that precedent (Sheppard v. Maxwell) makes a difference in the lives of others, perhaps even saving the lives of others by ensuring them a fair trial, could he be said to have died at all—or did he, in some mysterious way, experience the suffering of a life lost in order to provide life to others? Does that make him any different from our alternate version of Ben Richards? And what hope does that give Dr. Kimble? Unlike Sheppard, he was able to continue interacting with others during his journey, rather than spending years in prison—will the life of a successful pediatrician still appeal to him? 

Perhaps the most profound lesson we can learn is from the story of Paul Bryan, the protagonist of Run for Your Life. Like Kimble, he is running for his life, but whereas Kimble is trying to escape the death house, Bryan is attempting to outrun the disease that will claim his life in two or three years. We don’t see how his race ends; there was much derision over a series about a man with two years to live running for three seasons, but remember: television doesn’t measure time in the same way that calendars do. (Otherwise, M*A*S*H never would have lasted as long as it did—or the Korean War would have lasted a lot longer.) And, in fact, we never know what happens to Paul Bryan. Since Run for Your Life ends without an episode wrapping up all the loose ends, we don’t know for a fact that Bryan actually dies. His doctor did tell him to stay in contact, that advances in medical science are being made all the time. It’s unlikely, perhaps, but it could be that Paul Bryan beats the odds, that he hangs on long enough for his doctors to provide him with the treatment that cures him of his fatal illness. And then what? Having finally learned how to live a life of gusto (he’d told his doctor he hadn’t had a day off since law school), does he return to the world of a corporate lawyer, or does he continue living a life of adventure, as a latter-day Hemingway? And will he find the extra years he’s been given as satisfying as those years he’d lived when he had nothing to lose, and therefore everything to gain? Given time, would he have traded places with Ben Richards, living with an antibody that would likely have prevented his fatal illness, if it meant he wouldn’t have learned how to really live? That’s an interesting question.

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The world today can often seem like a patient in extremely critical condition, but too stubborn to ask for the Last Rites. Under such circumstances, who wouldn't look to run? (Unless you're one of the ones causing the problems in the first place, in which case you're not only running, you want to bring everyone and everything along with you.) Trying to predict the future is often a fool's errand, and anyone looking for certainties right now is certain only of being a fool. 

In a sense, these running men are trying to both escape from and head toward the same thing simultaneously, as if they were caught on an endless treadmill comprised of an existential mobius strip. By ending the series without a conclusion, or leaving the viewer uncertain as to the rest of the story, the showrunners ensuring that everything will always be just out of reach; the man freed from punishment, the man free to experience death, the man hoping for a second act he hadn't realized he wanted. It is life that they seek, it is life from which they run. And that's appropriate, because after all, can we ever really escape what we’re running from? Can we ever truly arrive at what we’re running toward? In a way, the running never stops, and never can; we're all on a treadmill to eternity, running toward a goal we'll never reach. The second we reach the future it becomes the present, and the next second it becomes part of the past. Sportscaster Sid Collins famously said that we all speed toward death at the rate of 60 minutes every hour; we speed toward the future in the same way, but like death, we'll never truly experience it for ourselves. 

And that's why some answers are better left unsaid, and why it might not be so bad for a television series to end while leaving the question unanswered. For that unanswered question is the exploration of life itself, and what it means to be fully present in that life—as a participant, not merely an observer. 

In the meantime, we keep running, always running. TV  

January 11, 2021

What's on TV? Monday, January 12, 1959




Mondays, I've found, are usually the toughest days of the week to get through; to be able to come home from work (or school) and unwind in front of the TV is one of life's simple pleasures. If that's what you're looking for this week, then tonight's your night. Aside from the premiere of The Bell Telephone Hour (which I mentioned on Saturday), there's pleasant music on The Voice of Firestone (unfortunately, on at the same time as Telephone); Tony Bennett guests on The Danny Thomas Show (also on at the same time), and Danny Thomas is in turn a guest on Ernie Ford's show. If you're looking for action and live in the right market, you can watch Highway Patrol, Sheriff of Cochise, San Francisco Beat and Badge 714. You can probably find more of your favorites as you browse these listings, from the Minnesota State Edition.

January 9, 2021

This week in TV Guide: January 10, 1959

It's the first month of the final year of the 1950s, and one of those weeks that puts the "classic" in classic TV. 

We'll start on Sunday night, with one of the most famous episodes of Maverick: "Gun-Shy" (6:30 p.m., ABC), a wicked parody of Gunsmoke, with Bret finding himslf in Ellwood, Kansas, a small town presided over by "Marshal Mort Dooley," a lawman who spends the entire episode looking "for somebody to run out of town." The tone is set in the opening scene, a virtual copy of Gunsmoke's premiere episode which found Marshal Matt Dillon in Dodge City's graveyard, reflecting on the grim nature of his job while contemplating the graves before him. "Arguing doesn't fill any graves," he had said then. This episode also opens in a graveyard, but Marshal Dooley has a slightly different outlook on things. "It's a nice place to visit," he says. "I like to come up here sometimes to think and maybe get ahead a grave or two." Marshal Dooley is surrounded by his trusty confidants: gimping deputy Clyde Diefendorfer, crusty old Doc, and Amy, the mistress of the Weeping Willow Saloon, of which Mort is a 37-and-a-half percent owner. 

If all this wasn't enough to let you know what the writers were up to, take a look at this showdown between Dooley and Maverick. Anyone who's ever seen Gunsmoke would instantly recognize the setup on the left, the opening scene in which Matt faces down the bad guy; Maverick hilariously exaggerates it to an absurdity, with Bret standing so far in the distance he shouts out to Dooley asking if he should move a little closer. MeTV helpfully points out where Maverick is standing, little more than a speck on the screen.


I'd love to see this kind of parody of an existing series more often; God knows there are enough shows on TV today that deserve it. The audience obviously approved as well; this episode of Maverick pulls in a 49 share for the night, something most series today can on dream of. The lesson isn't lost on the producers, either; three seasons later, the show will do a wild spoof of Bonanza, with Jack Kelly's Bart dealing with Joe Wheelwright and his three sons, Moose, Henry, and Small Paul. But that's an episode for another day. 

Here's Roy Huggins, Maverick creator, discussing "Gun-Shy."


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That's not the only special episode this week. On Friday, The Phil Silvers Show (8:00 p.m., CBS) presents the third airing of "the funniest of all the episodes" of the series: "The Court Martial," in which Bilko somehow finds himself defending a chimp that's been accidentally inducted into the Army. You know about the warning against acting with either kids or animals; well, someone should have let Zippy the chimp know that upstaging Phil Silvers wasn't going to be so easy. The most memorable scene of this memorable episode takes place during the court martial itself, when the chimp, going completely off-script, romps around the courtroom and picks up a telephone, eliciting laughter from everyone but the unflappable Silvers. "What are you doing," he ad-libs, "calling another lawyer?" It's a great moment, not only the funniest Bilko episode, but one of the greatest in sitcom history. No wonder TV Guide notes that "The popularity of this episode has led to this third showing." That's how things worked in this pre-DVR era.

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"Gun-Shy" is also not the only parody on TV this week, but you'll have to choose which one you want to watch, because they're both on at the same time. Maverick's competition is The Jack Benny Program (6:30 p.m., CBS), and tonight Barbara Stanwyck guest stars with Jack in "Autolight," a parody of the Charles Boyer/Ingrid Bergman thriller Gaslight. Before "gaslighting" became a term of political deception, it referred to the technique employed by Boyer in this movie, in which he attempts to drive Bergman insane by making her think she's imagining things; one way in which he does this is by manipulating the gas lighting to make it dim and brighten.


There must have been times in which Benny began to doubt his own sanity in his long battle to make "Autolight." Benny had originally satirized the movie on his radio show in 1952, with no problems. Pleased with the results, in 1953 Benny filmed a 15-minute spoof for his television show, and at that point MGM stepped in, claiming the movie couldn't be parodied without its permission. What really concerned the studio was the exclusivity of their entertainment product; remember, back in 1953 television was the hated enemy of the movie studio; MGM felt it had no choice but to take legal action in order to protect the value of its product in the eyes of movie theaters. As Erskine Johnson wrote at the time, "Left unchallenged, it could set a precedent. Left unchallenged by MGM, the studio’s customers, the theater men, would have a nice 'you done us wrong' argument about aiding the TV 'enemy.' The Hollywood winds were blowing in a different direction in 1953 and Jack and his film were caught in the legal gust." 

The case wound up in the United States Supreme Court (CBS v. Loew’s), where in 1958 eight justices* deadlocked 4-4 on the question. By this time the issue of studio exclusivity had become a moot point, since MGM was now leasing their movies for use on television, and profiting greatly in the process. Benny finally wound up buying the rights to put the show on the air (how that woudl have killed his TV persona!), and this Sunday, five years after it was filmed, the controversial parody will finally appear on television, with Benny in the Boyer role, and Stanwyck taking over from Bergman. If you're curious about how it turns out, you can see it here.

*Justice William O. Douglas recused himself to pursue a business opportunity with CBS that never materialized. 

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Back a few months ago—or about five years ago, in TV Guide time—the talk was about the "new" Milton Berle: how he was now less outrageous, more restrained, more sophisticated, adapting to the changing demands of the television audience. To which, five years later, Milton Berle says, "What new Milton Berle?"

Berle is back on weekly TV again after an absence of two years, as host of The Kraft Music Hall, and according to Dwight Whitney, "Berle has never been sharper, funnier or more engaging." Critics have described him as, variously, "topically minded," "less explosive," "better attuned," "more mature." Berle himself says, "I haven't changed a bit," although he does allow as to how viewers have become more sophisticated. But after all, Mr. Television reminds Whitney, "I've been in television a long time." Since 1929, in fact, and if you're a bit skeptical about that claim, he explains that back in 1929, while he was working in Chicago, he ran into a fellow named Sanabris from an outfit called American Television Corporation that was doing an experimental closed-circuit broadcast. "He asked me to do the 'experiment," Berle says, and "naturally I said yes." His job was to introduce a performance, which he did, while cracking what he calls "the first TV joke." That was the beginning.

After eight years on the air, five of which were spent as the number one show, Berle took a break. "I needed rest," he says. "I was overexposed and the ratings showed it." He made a "triumphant" return to the nightclub circuit, did a boffo bit on last year's Emmy Awards (his "brassy, brash monolog was the hit of the show."), and here he is back at the grind of weekly television. "Coming back is tough," he acknowledges. "That goes for anybody. If they're thoroughbreds, they'll go to the starting gate with feathers in the stomach." He has no illusions about his gig with Kraft, figuring it will be good for one or two seasons "before the old bug overexposure begins to take hold. Then I'll do spots. Or just relax for awhile and come back later." 

The new Berle of 1953 was loved by the critics, but his ratings steadily dropped until the show ended in 1956. The new Berle of 1959 will fare similarily; this run lasts one season, after which Perry Como becomes the face of Kraft Music Hall, hosting through 1967. Coincidentally, it's in January of 1967 that Milton Berle's final variety show, an attempt to attract the children of his original viewers, ends after a four-month run, slaughtered in the ratings by The Man from U.N.C.L.E. 

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Starting in 1954, Steve Allen helmed his own NBC variety show which, at the beginning, aired opposite that of Ed Sullivan. It didn't run as long as Ed's, of course, but then Allen said his goal was never to conquer Ed, just to coexist with him, which he did for several seasons. Let's see who gets the best of the contest this week. 

Sullivan: Ed's guests tonight are Jason Robards, Jr. and George Grizzard, doing a scene from the current Broadway play "The Disenchanted," songstress Teresa Brewer, comedienne Dody Goodman, comedians Alan King and Prof. Backwards, Ireland's Little Gaelic Singers, Victor Julian and his troupe of trained poodles, and the Gutis, European comedy act.

Allen: Steve's guests are British actress Diana Dors, Perez Prado and his orchestra and the Three Stooges—Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Joe DiRita. In comedy sketches, Steve, Don Knotts, Louis Nye and Tom Posten spoof three different types of TV "conversation" shows.

As I was this, I wondered which way I'd be going; Ed's got a pretty good lineup, with that Broadway bit, a good singer, and a couple of funny comedians. On the other hand, Diana Dors, sure, she's OK, but—and then we came to the Stooges. No more entries, we have a winner: it's Steverino, you knuckleheads.

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Let's see; there's even more to choose from this week.

Monday at 2:00 p.m., the show Language in Action debuts on NET. That's notable because the host is Dr. S.I. Hayakawa, "internationally-known semanticist." In the '60s, Hayakawa, then president of San Francisco State College, became a conservative folk hero for pulling the wires out of a loudspeaker system being used by radical protestors led by the Third World Liberation Front. He would parlay that support into election to the U.S. Senate in 1976, upsetting incumbent John Tunney.

Tuesday
 has a little something for everyone, On George Gobel's colorcast (7:00 p.m., NBC), George welcomes Myrna Loy, Cesar Romero and the Platters. After that, switch to CBS at 8:00 p.m. for the rest of the evening, starting with Arthur Godfrey and his guests, the legendary songwriting team of ◄ Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (lyrics). Edward Everett Horton (narrator of Bullwinkle's "Fractured Fairy Tales") is Red Skelton's guest at 8:30, and then at 9:00 Garry Moore's guests include Andy Griffith and Ella Fitzgerald. Not a bad night, hmm?

The big attraction on Wednesday is an ad from Kraft with the headline "Win $20,000 acting in Bat Masterson TV Show" and the instructions "See easy contest rules on Kraft Caramels or Kraft Fudgies." Curiosity, of course, demands more information. which I found not on a package of Kraft products, but in a full-page ad running in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Everyone eligible: boys, girls, men, women! As winner, you get an acting part in a Bat Masterson NBC-TV Show! (See Rule 4.) 2 weeks at $10,000.00 a week! All Screen Actors' Guild union dues paid. No acting experience necessary. Plus 2-week vacation in Hollywood for your entire family (residing with you) while you are performing. First-class round-trip transportation by Trans World Airlines. Stay at famous Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, where the stars stay! All meals plus $500.00 spending money for the family. Or take $20,000, if you want the Grand Prize as cash. Enter now! Enter often! Who knows? You may discover an acting ability in yourselt that can start you on a great career and lead to fame and fortune!

Among the other prizes awarded: 1000 Fourth Prizes Bat Masterson Derby Hats! Genuine felt. Copies of the famous derby that was the "trademark" of the Old West's deadliest gunfighter! I wonder who won, and whether or not they did, in fact, embark on a great career leading to fame and fortune?

On Thursday's Playhouse 90 (8:30 p.m., CBS), "The Blue Men" tells the story of police detective Roy Brenner, a man with a sterling record and a son who's just joined the force, but now he faces an investigation by Internal Affairs over his failure to arrest a robbery suspect. In June, the characters of Roy and his son Ernie will return in the very good weekly series Brenner, with Edward Binns and James Broderick taking over for Edmond O'Brien and Richard LaPore.

If you've already caught Bilko and the chimp, you'll be free to watch Bob Hope's special (Friday, 8:00 p.m., NBC), in which the star shows highlights from his annual Christmas tour of American overseas military bases. With no active conflict at present, Hope and his troupe (including longtime sidekick Jerry Colonna, columnist Hedda Hopper, singers Molly Bee and Randy Sparks, dancer Elaine Dunn, and Les Brown and His Band of Renown) stop over in Madrid (where they're joined by Gina Lollobrigida), Italy, West Germany, and Ireland.

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Finally, since a new session of Congress began last week, I thought this might prove interesting: Walter Cronkite hosts a one-hour CBS News special introducing our newest batch of U.S. senators. (Sunday, 2:00 p.m.) It's difficult to think the networks would bother with something like this today, but back in 1959 I suppose we were all naive enough to harbor the thought that amongst this group might be the dynamic leaders of tomorrow, like that young Jack Kennedy back in 1952. And while not all of them went on to become household names, there are a fair number you might have heard of before: a vice presidential nominee and secretary of state, an influential presidential candidate, and other assorted cabinet members and ambassadors. 

One thing to note: as you probably know, only in the most extraordinary of circumstances does a state elect two senators in the same year; their terms are usually staggered so something like that doesn't happen. But I can't think of anything more extraordinary than statehood, which explains the two new senators from the 49th and newest state, Alaska. (Jennings Randolph of West Virginia won a 1958 special election.)

The new senators, and how long they remained in office. 

 
Name
State
Term(s)
Years
 
E.L. “Bob” Bartlett
Alaska
1959-1968 (died)
10
 
Ernest Gruening
Alaska
1959-1969
10
 
Thomas J. Dodd
Connecticut
1959-1971
12
 
Vance Hartke
Indiana
1959-1977
18
 
Edmund S. Muskie
Maine
1959-1980
21
 
Eugene J. McCarthy
Minnesota
1959-1971
12
 
Howard W. Cannon
Nevada
1959-1983
24
 
Kenneth B. Keating
New York
1959-1965
  6
 
Stephen M. Young
Ohio
1959-1971
12
 
Hugh Scott
Pennsylvania
1959-1977
18
 
Frank Moss
Utah
1959-1977
18
 
Robert Byrd
West Virginia
1959-2010 (died)
51
 
Jennings Randolph
West Virginia
1958-1985
26
 
Gale McGee
Wyoming
1959-1977
18
 
Winston Prouty
Vermont
1959-1971
12

Those senators, they just homestead once they get there, don't they? The only reason Ken Keating served a single term is that Robert Kennedy wanted that Senate seat. My favorite is how Utah's Frank Moss was defeated by Orrin Hatch, who ran on the slogan, "What do you call a Senator who’s served in office for 18 years? You call him home." Hatch, of course, holds the seat for the next 42 years. But you know what the song says; How Ya Gonna Keep 'em Down on the Farm After They've Seen Dee Cee? TV