January 30, 2021

This week in TV Guide: January 29, 1966

I'm generally not one to make hay of other people's misfortunes—at least not most of the time—but there's a line in Robert De Roos' cover story profile of Pat Crowley that shouts out for contextualization.

The actress, currently starring with Mark Miller in NBC's Please Don't Eat the Daisies, is talking about her marriage to attorney Ed Hookstratten. De Roos asks her if the marriage, now eight years long, will last now that she's working on a weekly series. "It sure is," she tells him. "We are Catholics and there is a little solidity there."

That sounded like such a refreshing attitude to me that I immediately went to Google, only to find that the Hookstrattens had divorced sometime in the 70s or 80sCrowley remarried in 1986, to producer Andy Friendly.*

*Fun fact: Andy Friendly's father is legendary TV newsman Fred Friendly; his brother, David Friendly, was nominated for an Oscar in 2006 as producer of Little Miss Sunshine.

I hasten to say here that I have no knowledge of why Crowley and Hookstratten divorced*, and I don't want to play either a pop psychologist, a pop marriage counselor, or a pop theologian. After all, I haven't stayed at a Holiday Inn Express lately. But one of the many tragedies of the Catholic Church in the latter half of the 20th Century—particularly the post-Vatican II turmoil, which reached a peak in 1968 with Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae—is the breakdown of basic Catholic beliefs. By the late '60s, Catholic doctrine had become a smorgasbord; if you didn't like what one priest had to say on birth control, for example, you could shop around and find a priest who would readily sanction it. Similar situations existed for everything from premarital sex to divorce and remarriage to a whole host of previous elements of Catholic teaching that had rarely been questioned. Inevitably, this kind of confusion among the faithful led many to doubt the Church's sincerity, authority, what have you. Bottom line: no solidity.

*Hookstratten, Elvis Presley's personal attorney, represented The King in his divorce from Priscilla, which certainly suggests mixed feelings regarding divorce.
Again, I have no reason to think that this might have had any role to play in Pat Crowley's divorce from Ed Hookstratten. But I do think it's part of this blog's narrative to fit these kinds of things into the larger cultural environment. The 1960s were already a period of flux by now, and they were headed toward even more cataclysmic change. (Of course, considering the utter chaos of the Church today, the '60s look like a model of stability by comparison.) Understanding the climate of the times (even though the insufficient space here hardly scratches the surface) puts little moments like this into some sense of context. It even adds, I think, a note of poignancy. 

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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: Scheduled guests: Dinah Shore; puppet Topo Gigio; comic Jackie Vernon; the rock'n' rolling Four Tops; Les Feux Follets, Canadian folk dancers; guitarist José Feliciano; comic Dick Capri; Markworth and Mayana, trick bow-and-arrow act; and Army sergeant Barry Sadler, who sings "The Ballad of the Green Berets."  In a special film segment, Sir Laurence Olivier is seen in excerpts from his film of Shakespeare's Othello.
Palace: Host Arthur Godfrey presents comedian Sid Caesar; singer Abbe Lane; The Mamas and the Papas, rock 'n' roll group; comic Corbett Monica; the Berosinis, Czechoslovakian acrobats; and Les Apollos, balancing act.

Now, it's true that nothing could be finer than Dinah, and you can't beat Olivier doing Shakespeare (nor the beat of "The Ballad of the Green Berets"), but it's offset by The Old Readhead and and Sid Caesar, with a little help from Abbe Lane. I almost went with the Palace, but this time the only fair decision is to call it a Push.

Now, as sometimes occurs, it just so happens that we have access to another Palace episode in this week's issue; if you lived in LaCrosse, Wisconsin and were so inclined to tune to WKBT, Channel 8 (the NBC affiliate, but Western Wisconsin lacked an ABC affiliate at the time), you would have been able to catch last week's episode of Palace at 10:30 p.m. CT on Tuesday night. Fred Astaire hosts this night at the Palace making a rare TV appearance with dancer Barrie Chase. Guests include Mickey Rooney and his nightclub partner Bobby Van; British singer Petula Clark; the Nitwits, musical cutups; the Lenz Chimps; and comedian Ray Hastings.

Yes. It definitely does make for a better show. See?

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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. 

Mister Roberts started out life as a book, became an enormously successful Broadway play and movie, and has now made it to the small screen in a weekly series of its own on NBC. And Cleveland Amory has a suggestion for you: if you liked the book, play or movie, do not under any circumstances watch the series. "In fact you're probably better off not even reading this—it will just make you mad."

Mister Roberts—book, play, movie and series—tells the story of the men onboard the USS Reluctant, a naval cargo ship, during World War II. True, the ship performs a vital function, but it is far from the battle, and the executive officer, Doug Roberts, itches to see action—however, to his dismay, his transfer requests are never approved. All well and good, and one would think this, combined with the popularity of the various versions, would make for a decent series. One vital ingredient missing is, of course, the star; and in both the play and the movie, that star was Henry Fonda, and while the absense of Henry does not make the heart grow fonda*, even with 77 Sunset Strip's Roger Smith in the title role, Cleve acknowledges that the likeable Smith does grow on you. And Steve Harmon, who plays Ensign Pulver, has pretty big shoes to fill, (David Wayne on Broadway, Oscar winner Jack Lemmon in the movie) as does Richard X. Slattery, who takes over from James Cagney as Captain. But Harmon does well, and Slattery is at least equally funny. 

*I'll bet you thought Amory came up with that one, but no—I take the credit or the blame for it myself.

No, the cast isn't the problem here; there's more to it than that, something elemental about the story itself, as Amory shrewdly understands. The strength of the original story lies in the fact that these men are in war but not at war; they're apparently condemned, for the duration, to suffocating boredom, "all of the frustration and none of the action; all of the tensions and none of the release." Men with nothing else to do create their own dramas, and the ensuing interactions within that shipboard family—the incident of the captain's palm tree being the most famous—mean nothing without the attendant boredom as the backdrop. "And it was there—in the book, in the two-and-a-half hour play, in the two-hour movie. In the TV show it is not there. An hour's show might have had a chance. This half-hour job has none."

Recent episodes have given Amory hope that the producers might have figured out, if not the solution to their problems, at least a way to make them more bearable. It isn't the real Mister Roberts, Cleve notes, "but then, these days what is?"

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In the early days of this blog, I did a piece on the short-lived Sammy Davis, Jr. Show, which featured the oddity of its star having to sit out nearly a month's worth of shows immediately following the premiere, due to a no-compete clause. Seems that Sammy had done a special for ABC, and the terms of that contract prohibited him from appearing on any other network for the three weeks immediately preceding the show. The Sammy Davis, Jr. show was on NBC. You can, of course, see the problems coming a mile away.

Well, this is the week that Sammy and His Friends, the ABC special in question, airs, and he hangs out with a pretty cool bunch of people: Frank Sinatra, Count Basie, Edie Adams and Joey Heatherton. It's on Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m., up against Red Skelton on CBS (with guests George Gobel and The Hollies) and Dr. Kildare on NBC.* As for Sammy's own show, it airs its fourth episode on Friday night, the third to feature a guest host—this week it's Sammy's old friend Jerry Lewis, who welcomes Peggy Lee, the comic Weire Brothers, singer Danny Costello, and The Skylarks. Debuting your own show and then having to follow it up with three weeks' worth of guest hosts doesn't seem to me to be a successful formula, but to each its own. I said it before and I'll say it again here: what a strange, strange situation.

*I wonder how NBC felt about all this? On the one hand, a ratings win for Sammy could bode well for the ratings of his NBC series; on the other, the network  probably wanted to see Kildare beat Red Skelton. Should such an absurd thing happen nowadays, I wonder if the network would consider airing a Kildare rerun in order to preserve its Davis investment?

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Sammy's show probably didn't stand much of a chance anyway; it's opposition was Hogan's Heroes and Gomer Pyle on CBS, The Addams Family and Honey West on ABC. But later on that Friday night, we'll see another oddity: Garry Moore on a network other than CBS.

Moore had been a fixture on the network since his radio show debuted in 1949; from 1950 on he'd had both morning and evening variety programs, as well as his long-running emcee duties on I've Got a Secret. But Moore's prime-time show had been cancelled by the network in 1964, after which he'd left Secret and the network. Now, a year and a half later, Moore's ready to come back. There's only one problem: CBS, to whom he's still under contract, doesn't want him. Or, to be precise, they don't want what he has to offer.

Moore acknowledges that the variety format he'd been so successful with has seen better days, and he's ready for something new and different. He thought he'd found the answer when CBS news chief Fred Friendly approached him about working on some public affairs programs, but the network's policy forbade entertainers from working in news or public affairs. In later years, Moore will talk with TV Guide about his desire to move into news and "people" programming, even becoming a news reporter, and his immense frustration at CBS's reluctance to see him in that light. You can see the seeds of that disappointment here, as Moore chafes at being paid "to sit around and do nothing." His exclusive contract with CBS, which prevents him from doing a series for any other network and requires him to give CBS first refusal on any one-shot special, still has nine years to run. He's asked the network to release him from the contract, but they refuse to do so. His only recourse is to sue, an option he says he'd consider.

In the meantime, an agency came up with an idea right up Moore's alley—Garry Moore's People Poll, a special in which he gets to travel around the country interviewing ordinary people and asking them basic questions: Do you kiss your wife when you get up in the morning? Are you stricter than your own parents? Are you satisfied with your life—and what changes would you make if you could start over? Things like that. Per the provisions of the contract, the show is first offered to CBS, which turns it down. So he turned elsewhere. "We were delighted," Moore says, "to find a more flexible policy at ABC." It airs Friday at 9:00 p.m.

Earlier in the article, Moore mentions a project he and Jay Ward are working on for CBS, a comedy-variety program. It debuts in the fall, and is quickly wiped out by Bonanza. Moore will eventually come back to regular television as host of the syndicated To Tell the Truth (with CBS's approval) in 1969, and will host it until 1977, after which, suffering from throat cancer, he'll retire for good, dying in 1993. It is, really, kind of a sad story for a man who was once one of the biggest stars on television.

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There are still a few days we haven't looked at yet, so let's get to it. Sir John Gielgud stars in part two of Ages of Man (CBS, Sunday, 3:30 p.m.), in which he gives dramatic readings from Shakespeare's works. CBS split the original two-hour version of Gielgud's one-man Broadway show into two parts and broadcast them on Sunday afternoons, presumably because they worried viewers wouldn't be able to sit still long enough to listen to a longer show, and wouldn't tune in if it were on prime-time. At least they showed it at all; I doubt they would today. 

Andy Williams and Friend.
Monday night it's the Golden Globe Awards, presented on The Andy Williams Show (NBC, 8:00 p.m.) and hosted by Andy himself. The Golden Globes have always had something of a checkered past, with a longstanding reputation for awarding performances based on suspicious criteria. (See: Pia Zadora.) At this point very few nominees appeared for the show, and those who did were invariably the winners, which led more than one person to suspect that the only way to induce stars to show up was to promise they would win; in 1968, the FCC ruled that this practice constituted "mis[leading] the public as to how the winners were determined," which in turn led NBC to drop coverage of the show until 1975.

Wednesday, Eddie Albert does double duty; on his own Green Acres (CBS. 8:00 p.m.), he falls through the roof while attempting to put up a TV antenna; I hate to see anyone injured while trying to promote television. Then, after a half-hour break for The Dick Van Dyke Show, Albert returns as a guest on The Danny Kaye Show (9:00 p.m., CBS), where he's joined by singer Morgana King. If that doesn't do it for you, switch to Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theater (NBC, 8:00 p.m.), as Jane Wyman makes a rare network TV appearance in "When Hell Froze," a drama that co-stars Leslie Nielsen and Martin Milner. 
And on Thursday night, NBC's Hallmark Hall of Fame presents a rerun of "The Magnificent Yankee" (7:30 p.m.), a biography of the Washington years of Supreme Count justice Oliver Wendell Holmes starring the husband-and-wife team of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, two of the greats of the theater. "The Magnificent Yankee" won five Emmy awards when it was originally broadcast in 1965, including Best Actor (Lunt), Best Actress (Fontanne) and Best Drama. (As you can see, this is back when Hallmark cared enough to show the very best.) It also features Eduard Franz, Robert Emhardt and James Daly. 

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John Schneider, president of CBS, had this to say at the recent convention of the Association of National Advertisers:

By 1975 virtually every television home in the United States will be capable of receiving programming from six times as many sources as today!. . .

By 1975 it looks as if three out of four homes will own at least two sets. . . No longer will every member of the family be forced to look at the same program.  Viewing will become fractionalized and selective. . . 

The teen-ager, the intellectual, the tired businessman, the housewife - each will be able to tune in the particular kind of entertainment, information, music or discussion that suits his or her respective desires.

Now, I don't know how things were by 1975, but his predictions become very interesting when viewed in light of today's cultural norms. For example, every home today has at least six times as many programming sources, but Schneider couldn't have anticipated how they would shake out. Anyone can stream video on devices from laptops and tablets to iPhones; they can subscribe to services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Disney+ and HBO Max that allow them to catch original programming as well as classics; they can binge-watch an entire season of a series over a weekend if they want, or watch their favorites whenever they choose; they can even utilize old school medial like DVDs. Cord-cutting has become commonplace, and cable subscriptions continue to plummet. 

But even more, technology has forever changed the impact of television viewing. Because people can watch whatever they want whenever they want, the shared experience of watching television has virtually disappeared, except for the Super Bowl. Schneider did indeed foresee this kind of individual viewing, with the concurrent result that programs no longer had to appeal to a broad audience, but could he have predicted the kind of Balkanization that resulted?

In "As We See It," TV Guide wonders about this vision of the future. The author (probably Merrill Panitt) looks at the current state of television in Los Angeles, where numerous multi-TV homes and ten stations have merely produced programming "given over to hundreds of old movies and old TV series." And isn't that what we have today? I've made this complaint before so I won't belabor the point, but who can tell TNT from TBS from USA from FX from Bravo from Sundance from Hallmark? What's the difference between A&E and History and TLC and Discovery?

Reality programming of one kind or another dominates networks as diverse as E! and HGTV MTV is all about lifestyle, and news networks spend their time on opinionated shoutfests geared toward satisfying their particular ideological niche. Cultural programming, which used to be seen at least occasionally on some of these networks, is all but gone. And overnight hours (on both cable and OTA stations) is dominated by informercials and replays of previously broadcast shows. Is this really what the future was supposed to give us?

Panitt compares Schneider's view of TV's future to the state of radio in 1966, "which long since has become fractionalized (several sets per home) and selective (there's a choice of many stations everywhere). In most areas these days, once you've heard the news, radio offers records, talking disc jockeys and very little else." Is TV today any more diverse than that?

TV Guide's conclusion is this: "Improvement and variety in programming will not just happen in television any more than they happened in radio. There must be planning. There must be direction. So far we have neither." I'll end by asking the question: is there any evidence that television executives are doing any planning today? Or are they simply waiting for things to happen? TV  

1 comment:

  1. Ed Hookstraten was also Johnny Carson's lawyer for many years, possibly after Carson fired Henry Bushkin.

    WKBT was the CBS affiliate for the La Crosse/Eau Claire market, and WEAU was the NBC affiliate. Both had secondary affiliations with ABC until WXOW went on the air as an exclusive ABC affiliate in 1970.

    I've never seen the original play, movie, or tv versions of MR. ROBERTS, at least more than a few minutes, but I did see the NBC live production of MR. ROBERTS in March 1984, which featured Robert Hays in the title role, Charles Durning as the Captain, and Kevin Bacon as Ensign Pulver. It was a good show but probably not at the level of the original play or movie.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!