February 27, 2021

This week in TV Guide: March 2, 1968

It is, indeed, a week of big specials, and I must confess that I love these editions, not just because they make my job a whole lot easier (although they do), but because they bring an excitement, a vitality to the television week that's pretty hard to come by anymore. I mean, is there anything out there that's so special it can not just make you, but practically force you, to watch television? Yet that's the feeling one gets here, leafing through the pages and being assulted by one close-up after another, many of them looking, well, pretty special. And what better way to start than with the man who knew Hitler?

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William L. Shirer had been a foreign correspondent since 1925, working for several newspapers and wire services before joining Edward R. Murrow's team at CBS, a team that included Eric Sevareid, Charles Collingwood, Howard K. Smith, Walter Cronkite and Winston Burdette. He was in Berlin the day Hitler went to war, and was there in 1945 when the Nazis fell. "Hitler didn't like me," Shirer tells Neil Hickey. "He considered some correspondents friendly and some not. Still, I was in almost daily contact with him. He was a keen and cynical judge of people. Once he said, in private conversation, 'Ever man has his price, and you'd be surprised how low that price is.'"

Following the war, Shirer wrote about his observations in the 1,245-page best-seller The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, which comes to television this week as an epic documentary shown on ABC over three nights (Wednesday, Friday and Saturday), with narration by Richard Basehart, a pulsating score by Lalo Schifrin, and extraordinary footage, much of it seldom sceen, tracing the decline of Weimer Germany, the growth of Hitler and the Nazis, and the war that in retrospect is both tragic and inevitable. (For my review of the series, go here.)

In later years, I suspect this might have been done as a docudrama (like the network's 1982 Inside the Third Reich), but the power of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich comes from the knowledge that what we see and hear is the real thing, from the rallies at Nuremberg to the destruction wrought across the face of Europe. It should have a "special fascination" for young Americans, Shirer thinks, given that half the population was born after the end of the war; he's amazed by the ignorance he sees among students today when talking about Nazi Germany. "Some don't even know who Hitler was. The Sudetenland crisis, the Munich conference, the Anschluss with Austria—they don't know what the hell you're talking about." (Unfortunately, based on what we hear from today's students, they seem to have gotten even more ignorant since then.)

While Shirer's book has been widely praised, it's not without its critics; some historians accuse him of holding an anti-German bias, of lacking an understanding of the subtleties in the Nazi's rise to power, of presenting an unbalanced view of the war. Others suggest the book is "not sufficiently scholarly nor sufficiently well written to satisfy more academic demands." It is, in other words, a popular history rather than a scholarly one, a criticism that I think is not without merit. Despite this, both book and documentary offer a riviting look at what Shirer calls "the story of a great, civilized, Christian people, far advanced in music, science, the arts—and how such a nation can be taken hold of by an evil influence."

The story of Nazi Germany is both fascinating and horrible, and the more you learn about it the more fascinating and horible it becomes. That we have become so ignorant and misinformed about this period of history—that the words "Hitler" and "Nazis" can be thrown out so casually and in such a careless way, with no real understanding of the horrors they truly entail—is the fault of many, primarily those historians and educators who choose to ignore or distort the truths about  
National Socialism and its leaders, and those in the media, such as YouTube, who censor or flag videos that try to tell the story, all in the name of cracking down on "hate" speech. The only hate on display is a hatred for the truth, which is only too common; Joseph Goebbels himself would be proud.

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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 comedians Alan King, Jack E. Leonard, Joan Rivers, and Morecambe and Wise; songs from Lou Rawls, Sergio Franchi, Gail Martin and Dana Valery.

Palace: Host Sammy Davis Jr. welcomes Diahann Carroll; Rowan and Martin, who conduct a sidewalk interview about actors in politics; Peter Lawford, who gives Sammy a musical French lesson; and the rocking Checkmates, Ltd.

If you've spent any time at all at this site, you know I'm a big fan of Sammy Davis Jr., so this is pretty much a foregone conclusion. But Palace has a lot to offer anyway, with Sammy and Diahann performing a condensation of Porgy and Bess, and I suspect the Rowan and Martin bit makes good mention of both Ronald Reagan and George Murphy, the governor and senator, respectively, from California. And while I think Alan King's very funny, there's just no comparison this week. It's all sweetness for the future Candy Man this week, as Palace takes the prize. 

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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. 

There are, says Cleveland Amory, three kinds of people: those who don't like games of any kind; those who don't like games on TV but enjoy them at home; and those who love games on TV. The first two groups should, under no circumstances, watch ABC's The Newlywed Game. As for the third group, they "are not necessarily people beyond help. They are just beyond outside help."

For the uninitiated, if there are any of you out there, The Newlywed Game pits four teams of newly-married couples (one year or less) against each other, with the winning couple being the ones where the husband most often correctly predicts how their wives will answer particular questions, and vice versa. These questions, according to Cleve, are either complicated or inane, or both. Many of them, although Amory doesn't get into this, are also loaded with double ententres, most of them having something to do with "Whoopie," and one of them resulting in one of the great moments in television history.

Nobody could possibly be surprised that Amory turns his nose up at The Newlywed Game; it's not his kind of show, and I'm not quite sure it should be anyone's type of show. In truth, it more closely resembles some of today's reality shows more than it does a game show, with the humor often coming at the expense of the dim contestants. (You also couldn't be surprised that the show was the creation of Chuck Barris.) The show, he notes, is hosted by a young man named Bob Eubanks, who goes on to become one of the most famous, and most fondly remembered, of all game show hosts. He never pretended that the show was anything other than what it was, and he didn't generally make fun of the contestants; he just gave them the rope and let them hang themselves. But hey: at least they all believe in marriage, and in the Sixties, that's saying something.

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Sunday gives us another of ABC's "Movie Night" TV dramas based on big-screen classics of the past and featuring stars of the present. (Or, as Judith Crist calls them, "nonmovies.") Tonight it's A Hatful of Rain (9:00 p.m. ET), based on Michael V. Gazzo's play about a Korean War veteran hooked on morphine and the effect it has on his young family. Gazzo himself adapted the script for the broadcast, which stars Michael Parks, Peter Falk, Sandy Dennis and Herschel Bernardi in the roles played by Don Murray, Tony Franciosa*, Eva Marie Saint and Lloyd Nolan in the 1957 film version. 

*Franciosa copped a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Actor for the film version, in which Art Fleming, the beloved original host of Jeopardy!, has a small part.

On opposite A Hatful of Rain (and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour) is NBC's warhorse Bonanza, now in its ninth season. Dwight Whitney's cover story profiles David Canary, the "new boy" on the set. Canary's presence as ranch foreman Candy is symptomatic of the challenges facing the Cartwrights in this era of the "now generation" (more on that later); last season, CBS's Smothers Brothers hurt Bonanza in the ratings, and Tom Smothers hurt the show's image with his cracks about the show and its "middle-aged spread." Robert Blees, the show's new line producer, admits as much, telling Whitney, "[Candy's] there to shake up the Cartwright establishment, put a bomb under all those chliche little morality plays. While Papa Ben is yelling for a fair trial, Candy is capable of something a little more underhanded—and human." It's a dilemma that all long-running shows eventually face, whether because of the age of the actors involved or the stagnancy of the plots, or both, but it's doubly unfortunate for Bonana that the show has to try and tell a conventional story of traditional families in the Old West while all around it the acid trip of the Sixties rages on. I wonder if any other decade in TV's history forced shows to deal with such cultural and societal upheaval?

A brief note on Monday; here's an ad for The Cleveland Amory Show, weekdays at 10:00 a.m on Philadelphia's WFIL. I'm not sure if I've ever known that Amory had his own talk show, or if I've just forgotten about it. You can't find much on it online, although there's a note in a 1968 issue of Broadcasting that it's part of a trend caused by "the decline in the supply of feature films and the rise in price of movies." Triangle Program Sales, is looking to put the show into national syndication in the spring; that wouldn't be Triangle as in Triangle Publications Inc., the publisher of TV Guide (and located in Philadelphia), would it? I'll bet Mike Doran would know for sure. I would have watched it, though.

Tuesday's special is Dear Mr. Gable (8:00 p.m., NBC), a tribute to the man known in Hollywood as "The King," produced by his old studio, MGM, and narrated by Burgess Meredith. Clark Gable, who had died in 1960, is still very much a contemporary figure in American pop culture; even though his most famous movie, Gone with the Wind, was made in 1939, Gable maintained a charisma and movie-star presence to the end of his life at age 59. The documentary includes clips from many of Gable's hits, including It Happened OneNight, Mutiny on the Bounty, Boomtown, and the aforementioned Gone with the Wind. Speakng of which, the scenes shown from GWTW mark the first time any clip from the movie has ever been shown on television; it will be 1976 before the film, which MGM re-releases every few years, receives the TV treatment.  

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For a nation that fought a war to free itself from the tyranny of royalty, we Americans sure seem to be obsessed with royals. A royal love story is even better! And somewhere between the love stories of Edward and Mrs. Simpson and Charles and Di, we had a royal love story of our very own—and her name was Grace Kelly. Twelve years after her fairy-tale marriage to Prince Rainier of Monaco, Her Serene Highness makes a rare television appearance to host ABC's Monte Carlo: C'est La Rose (Wednesday, 9:00 p.m.) a musical tour of Monaco that includes British comedian Terry-Thomas, French singing stars Françoise Hardy and Gilbert Bécaud (whose hit song "C'est La Rose" serves as the show's theme), and choreographer David Winters and his dancers. The show is a hit, not surprisingly; one reviewer comments that the Princess is "not only breathtakingly beautiful but quite charming as well." Look at her picture from the Close-Up. The simplicity is beauty itself: still only 39, a dozen years removed from Hollywood, but looking every bit as glamorous as any movie star.

Grace's tour of Monaco is just one of an extraordinary night of specials on ABC, beginning at 7:30 p.m. with "The Savage World of the Coral Jungle," the second documentary in The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. Narrated by Cousteau and Rod Serling, the special gives viewers a stunning look at the mystery and beauty of a coral reef in the Indian Ocean. That's followed at 8:30 p.m. by The Now Generation, hosted by Ryan O'Neal, a pilot for a projected series on the "now generation." Ryan's guest tonight is his former Peyton Place co-star Mia Farrow, who shares her thoughts on Vietnam, today's youth, and how her life has been changed by "celebrity guru" Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. That brings us to the Princess at 9:00, and concludes with part one of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich at 10:00. 

And now for the rest of the story, the part that makes 3½ hours of specials even more special: Three of those hours—Cousteau, Grace and the Reich—are produced by the same man, David L. Wolper. Think of it: one producer, and a documentarian at that, whose shows make up almost an entire night of television  (If only there was some way to tie him to The Now Generation; and believe me, I looked.) Yes, that is special.

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As we know, this is not always the case  
Nineteen sixty-eight is an election year, and if we had forgotten for even a minute, the end of the week will surely remind us. On Thursday, it's the excellent drama The Best Man (9:00 p.m., CBS), Gore Vidal's savage look at a political party coming together to nominate its presidential candidate, with an all-star cast including Henry Fonda, Cliff Robertson, Edie Adams, Margaret Leighton, Lee Tracy, Kevin McCarthy, Ann Sothern and Shelly Berman. It is, says Judith Crist, "a caustic commentary on the facts of our political life," saved from cynicism by its integrity, "for it pretends to be neither a panacea nor a speech-ridden preachment—simply a picture of practical politics." And in that sense, the movie isn't dated at all. (You can read more about it at my list of the top 20 political movies.)

Meanwhile, Les Crane's guest on Friday is Alabama governor and independent presidential candidate George Wallace (11:00 p.m., WKBS). Wallace had announced his candidacy for the presidency in 1967, but unlike his campaigns in 1964 and 1972, he's running not as a Democrat, but as the standard-bearer of the American Independence Party. (He won't be getting Crane's vote, though; "I wouldn't vote for you for dogcatcher," Crane told him.) Virtually every obituary of Crane lists Wallace as one of his guests, probably because they all used the same information from AP, but since there's very little video of the Crane show still in existence, we can't see it for ourselves. I can show you, however, this show, from later in 1968, in which Crane interviews Joseph Lewis, author of What Makes Reagan Run?

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A non-TV Guide reminder: as I mentioned yesterday, my conversation with Ed Robertson on his TV Confidential program is now available for listening on demand. We talk about my book The Electronic Mirror and some of the  programs that helped shape the era of classic TV. I really hope you'll give it a listen, because it was a lot of fun and I think you'll enjoy it; and after you've given it a listen I really hope you'll by a copy of The Electronic Mirror, because it's a good book and I think you'll really enjoy it. And also because I need the money. Or at least I would like the money. So would my accountant. Confidentially, that is.

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Finally, some odds and ends: Debbie Reynolds also has a special this week (Thursday, 8:00 p.m., ABC, and it's not your imagination that most of this week's specials come from that network), with an all-star cast of guest stars including Bob Hope, Jim Nabors, Frank Gorshin, Bobby Drin, and her old co-star from Singin' in the Rain, Donald O'Connor.

Monday, Dick Cavett's This Morning, premieres as a Monday-Friday morning show. (11:00 a.m., ABC) Dick's guests for this premiere show are Muhammad Ali, Tony Bennett, Tony Randall, and the Lemon Pipers; at the conclusion of the program, Marlene Sanders offers a news update. This is Cavett's first network show; by the end of next year, after a stopover in prime time, he'll be in the late-night spot vacated by Joey Bishop.

The Teletype reports that Lucille Ball's two kids, Lucie and Desi Jr., may join their mother on her new CBS series Here's Lucy next season. (They do.) Also in the Teletype, a British-based adventure series, The Prisoner, will be a summer replacement for Jonathan Winters' show on CBS. (It winds up as a replacement for The Jackie Gleason Show.) The Doan Report says that Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, I Spy, The Monkees and I Dream of Jeannie are among the shows targeted to be cancelled this season, replaced by Here Come the Brides, Hawaii Five-O, Adam-12 and Name of the Game, among others. Richard K. Doan's report on TV coverage of the 1968 elections notes that President Johnson (who's still a candidate at this point) overrode the Democratic site committee's rejection of Chicago as the party's convention site, based on Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daily's assurances that "the Windy City's cops would be prepared to put down any unruly exhibitions of disagreement with the Administration's war and domestic policies." (The networks are dubious, and they're preparing for trouble.) 

Finally, the letter of the week comes from Rita Roork of Muskogee, who writes that "I wouldn't really call the Smothers Brothers irreverent, just irrelevant." I think I'll agree with that. TV  

February 26, 2021

Around the dial

I'm not going to be coy about it; I'm starting off this week with parts one and two of my appearance with Ed Robertson on his TV Confidential program. We talk about my book The Electronic Mirror and some of the classic programs that helped shape the era of classic TV. I really hope you'll give it a listen, because it was a lot of fun and I think you'll enjoy it; and after you've given it a listen I really hope you'll by a copy of The Electronic Mirror, because it's a good book and I think you'll really enjoy it. And also because I need the money. Or at least I would like the money. So would my accountant.

If there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's that if a character on Alfred Hitchcock Presents tells you "I'll Take Care of You," you should not take that as reassuring. Case in point is this week's Hitchcock Project at bare-bones e-zine, in which Jack takes us to the season four episode of the same name, with Ralph Meeker as the sinister speaker of the quote.

At Realweegiemidget, Gill revisits the 1978 TV-movie Cruise into Terror, which, quite frankly, has just about everything you could ask for in a Seventies TV flick (or an episode of The Love Boat): big names (John Forsythe, Ray Milland, Hugh O'Brien, Stella Stevens), a cruise ship in trouble, and a dangerous Egyptian sarcophagus. Read all about it!

It's always nice to see Carol Ford and Linda Groundwater get the opportunity to share Bob Crane's story and try to clear up some of the misinformation that continues to swirl around him; at Bob Crane: Life & Legacy, Carol talks about their latest appearance, on The Claw's Corner. (You can see that appearance as well!)

A show with the title The Enigma Files ought to be mysterious, don't you think? Well, it is—a police procedural, that is, British, '80s style. John has the lowdown on what he calls a "proto-Morse" over at Cult TV Blog. And that's no mystery. TV  

February 24, 2021

"I swear you'll never see anything like this ever again!"

It was 41 years ago on Monday, the Miracle on Ice. Doesn't seem possible it was that long ago, does it? I'm sure most of you know what I'm talking about, the team of plucky college kids that bested the Soviet Union's professionals en route to winning the hockey gold medal at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. Coming as it did in the midst of the Iranian Hostage Crisis, with America mired in Jimmy Carter's malaise, the Miracle on Ice has earned a permanent place in history: it's been the subject of documentaries, movies, and books; the team was collectively chosen as Athlete of the Year by Wide World of SportsSports Illustrated voted it the greatest sports moment of the 20th century; and announcer Al Michaels' "Do you believe in miracles?" is remembered as one of the great calls of all time. Yes, it was quite a time, it was, enough to make any red-blooded American cold warrior proud.

Amazing? Undoubtedly. 

Unforgettable? Most assuredly. 

But if this was a miracle, what happens when you witness a resurrection, something that you immediately know you've never seen before and will never see again? What Spalding Gray might call "The Perfect Moment"?

With all due respect, that's what happened on the afternoon of May 13, 2012, the final day of the English Premier League football* season, and the match between Manchester City and Queens Park Rangers. 

*If you've enough of a sports fan to have made it this far, you probably know that most of the world refers to soccer as football. I'm going to follow the same convention here.

Entering that final day, Manchester City and their crosstown rivals, Manchester United, were tied for first place. Now, as Charles Dickens might say, you have to understand this much or the rest of the story won't mean a thing: first, unlike American sports, there are no championship playoffs in the Premier League: in other words, the team in first place when the season ends wins the title. If two teams are tied, the tie is broken not by a playoff game, nor by head-to-head results, but by goal differential—goals scored minus goals allowed. 

Second, while Manchester United are one of the most glamorous teams in the world, winners of more championships (19) than any other English team (think of them as the New England Patriots of soccer), Manchester City—well, City was the "other" team in Manchester. Although they'd been around since 1880, they'd won only the title twice, in 1937 and 1968. It had only been in the last few years that the team had become a genuine contender, after their Middle East owners had pumped millions of petrodollars into assembling an expensive team. And yet, they were still known as "Same Old City," a team that could pluck defeat from the jaws of victory. 

This year would be different, though: it had to be different. City were playing at home, against QPR, a team near the bottom of the league standings. Since City had an insurmountable lead in goal differential, their task was simple—beat one of the worst teams in the league, and the title would be theirs, no matter what United did. It was that simple.

As it turned out, though, it wasn't that simple, not at all. After scoring first, City unaccountably found themselves trailing QPR 2-1 in the closing minutes. Meanwhile, United were leading in their match*, and if the results stayed as they were, United would be champions, and Same Old City would have blown it again. One City player would later say that "we were staring down the abyss." An announcer said of the despairing City fans, "Where will they hide tonight? Where will they go? Where will they find the moral fibre to get up and go to work in the morning?" It was that serious.

*In the best English tradition, all matches on the final day of the season have the same start times, creating the potential for just such drama as unfolded.

The clock doesn't stop in football; if anything happens that would ordinarily cause the clock to stop in another sport, the referee simply adds the time on to the end of the half. It's called, appropriately enough, stoppage time. And as the teams entered five minutes of stoppage time, City looked doomed, gassed, destined to fail. Same Old City strikes again. And then—well, let the great announcer Martin Tyler, calling the game on the international feed, tell the story of those final four fateful minutes:

There were only a few seconds left; Sergio Aguero's goal, the second for City in stoppage time, had won them the championship. In a sport where the two most common scores are 1-0 and 0-0, two goals in the last five minutes is, well, special

It was and is impossible to describe the emotion involved. In the stands, City fans, some of whom were heading toward the exits just minutes ago, were now beside themselves in shock, tears running down their cheeks, some of them likely assuring the Lord that they they could now depart in peace, having seen their Blues attain the title, I hope you let that video run for a few minutes after the goal, to savor it, as Martin Tyler says. 

It was an extraordinary moment, one of those that caught the attention of people who weren't even sports fans, let alone soccer fans. It was on the front pages of newspapers throughout Europe. ESPN, which was televising the game live, led off SportsCenter with the story. 

The best indicator of how incredible it all was can be seen in these clips from SkySports. Again, in this quirky world of English soccer, most games aren't shown live on English TV; they're blacked out in order to keep the live gate from suffering, Instead, a live wraparound show like this one keeps everyone up to date, and replays of the games are shown later on. I think I can safely say that, even in the overhyped world of ESPN, I've never seen anything quite like the scene that unfolded 

I knew that day, and nothing has happened since to change my mind, that it was unlikely I'd ever see anything approaching it, and I figure I've still got a lot of years left. If anything, Martin Tyler's famous phrase—the phrase that makes up the title of this piece—is an understatement. The whole thing was incredible, impossible, stupendous, flabbergasting, astonishing, breathtaking, unfortgettable. Peter Drury, the announcer calling the game domestically, asked rhetorically, "Where does football go from here?" 

Perhaps the best way to sum up this miraculous moment, this improbable victory by Manchester City, comes from the words of another commentator; I've forgotten who it was, but not what he said, because it's the only way anyone could describe the indescribable, explain the inexplicable. "For as long as the game of soccer is played," the commentator said, "people will remember this moment, and this match."

Such as it was, such it will be. Even after all the ice has melted. TV 

February 22, 2021

What's on TV? Wednesday, February 24, 1954

This is only the eighth-oldest TV Guide in the collection at the time of writing, but today's programs include something we haven't seen before: a listing for "Test Pattern." It wasn't unusual for the test pattern to be shown at times when there was no programming on the station, oftentimes accompanied by music. I don't know if that's the case here, but I'd like to think that at least in some cases, the music came from radio stations that shared ownership with the TV station. Nice corporate synergy, if you know what I mean. Something else that's unusual about this week: we have not one but two stations that have affiliations with all four networks, and that results in Boston having two stations with CBS affiliations. Yes, it's always entertaining when we go back this far in history. Our sample comes from the New England Edition.

February 20, 2021

This week in TV Guide: February 19, 1954

e must be born with some kind of a nostalgia gene as part of our DNA. Why else would we be talking about what television was like "back in the day" from the perspective of 1954? I mean, it isn't as if there were that many days to choose from in the first place, right?

And yet here we are in "Only Yesterday," the lead article in this week's issue, wondering if TV has fallen into a rut, and remembering what things were like six whole years ago, in February, 1948. Back then, "Milton Berle was making money, not in TV, but in night clubs' Eddie Fisher was a little-known singer, and Howdy Doody was a secondary character in an NBC Saturday afternoon program titled Puppet TV Theater." Back then, a TV with a 10-inch screen cost between $350-$400 ($3,631.14 in today's dollars), expensive enough that most people went to the neighborhood bar to watch TV. Back then, there were about 170,000 sets (or "receivers,") as they were called; in 1955 there are nearly 27 million. I guess it was a long time ago, wasn't it?

Of the shows on television in 1955, few of them existed six years ago, the exceptions being Kraft TV Theater, which debuted in 1947 and would run until 1958*, and The Original Amateur Hour, which had an even longer run, from 1948 to 1970. Milton Berle and Ed Sullivan were still a few months away from making their television debuts. On the other hand, NBC had been televising the World Series since 1947, and had shown two of Joe Louis' championship fights in the same year.

*Not only that, it spent 10 seasons in the same time slot; how many shows can say that today?

Pioneers of early television: Burr Tillstrom's
puppets, Kukla and Ollie, and Fran Allison
Speaking of sports, NBC spent about seven hours a week on sports, along with seven hours on "women's shows, mostly of the how-to variety." Three-and-a-half hours were spent on drama, three on kids' shows, two on educational features, and one-and-a-half on quiz and discussion shows. That adds up to 27 hours per week, which sounds pretty good until you realize that includes both daytime and evening programming. 

Still, it's better than CBS, which at the start of 1948 only showed sports and other remote shows, because they'd shut down their New York studios the previous year. In the works, however, was "the world's biggest TV studio," under construction in the Grand Central Station building, and while they still use it in 1954, it "would fit in the vest pocket" of Television City in Hollywood. Meanwhile, ABC and DuMont were airing public affairs programs that became the precursors of shows like Meet the Press.

So I guess that even in a mere six years, television has made giant strides. Remember that progress isn't always good, though: 1948 was also the year that the networks pooled their resources to show the political conventions.

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Some interesting shows on this week, or at least shows with interesting backgrounds. Let's take a look at some of them.

Don McNeill with Alfred Hitchcock
After 21 years on the radio, Don McNeill's Breakfast Club is coming to television (Monday, 9:00 a.m. ET, ABC). McNeill started out in Chicago on the NBC Blue Network in the early 1930s, and by 1933 the show had morphed into The Breakfast Club. Fran Allison, the aforementioned co-star of Kukla, Fran and Ollie, was a regular on the show, and one of the vocalists, known professionally as Annette King, was Charlotte Thompson Reid, who grew up to represent Illinois in Congress for five terms. 

This is actually the second go-round on television for Breakfast Club; an initial version was seen in prime time on ABC* in the 1950-51 season. This edition is simply a simulcast of the radio program (heard on ABC radio), and runs for one year.

*NBC Blue was eventually spun off into the ABC Radio Network thanks to intervention by the Federal Communications Commission. 

Don McNeill's Breakfast Club remains on the radio, with McNeill at the helm, until December 27, 1968. According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, McNeill's run of 35½-years run as host (on radio and TV) holds the record for longest tenure as emcee of a network entertainment program, surpassing both Johnny Carson (29½ years) on The Tonight Show and Bob Barker (34⅔ years) on The Price Is Right. Or, put another way, back in 1948, the show had already been on the radio for 15 years; it still has another 20 years to go.

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Wednesday evening at 7:00 p.m. on WBZ, it's The Sue Bennett Show, with "well-known recording artist" Sue Bennett. If you're a fan of classic television, or a longtime reader with a great memory, you'll remember Sue from The Lucky Strike Papers: Journeys Through My Mother's Television Past, the book written by Sue's son (and my friend) Andrew Lee Fielding. I reviewed The Lucky Strike Papers a few years ago; it's a wonderful book, both an affectionate tribute to his mother, and an evocative look at the early days of television, when local programming was much more of a force than is the case today. 

Sue Bennett had previously been on Kay Kayser's NBC show and DuMont's Teen Time Tunes before becoming one of the singers on Your Hit Parade, so she knew what it was like to be on national television. This was different, though; I had the impression from Andrew's book not because of ambition, to work her way back to national TV, but simply becuase she enjoyed singing, and this gave her an opportunity to do so. And I think that's kind of nice, don't you?

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We've done our fair share of obscure television shows here over the years, but here's one that I don't think we've looked at yet: Bride and Groom, a daily 15-minute show airing at noon on NBC. The premise of Bride and Groom was about what you'd expect: couples applied to appear on the show, where they'd be married live on the air, given some lovely parting gifts, and then whisked off to an all-expense paid honeymoon. For young couples who might ordinarily have to save up just for a modest wedding, it was an opportunity they might never have otherwise. (Over at my old stomping grounds, TVParty, Zachary Houle has a marvelous story about one couple's opportunity that didn't quite pan out the way you might expect.)

Bride and Groom attracted my attention for another reason, though, one having nothing to do with such domestic drama. In his excellent book on the 1960 Summer Olympics, Rome 1960: The Olympics that Changed the World, David Marinass tells the story of Olympic gold medalist hurdler Lee Calhoun, whose fiancee, Gwen Bannister, applied for the couple to appear on the show; she didn't tell Lee about it until after they'd been selected. A week before they were to appear on the program, the Amateur Athletic Union, governing body for amateur sports in America, ruled that if Calhoun and Gwen appeared on the show, he would lose his amateur status and thus be ineligible for the 1960 Olympics. According to the AAU, Calhoun was profiting from his status as a track and field champion, despite the fact that any engaged couple could be on the show*. They got married on Bride and Groom anyway; Calhoun was suspended from amateur competition for one year, but returned in time to qualify for the Olympic team and win his second gold medal in Rome. Love wins out over all.

*Or almost any couple; divorcees were excluded, as were Catholics, since a sacramental marriage has to be performed in a Catholic church. 

There doesn't appear to be anything like that on this week's shows; for instance on Thursday, Blanche Magill of Silver Springs, Maryland, marries Roger Frody of Greenbelt, Maryland. No life lived is without drama, though; I wonder what kind of story the Frodys could tell us?

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As for the rest of the week, Tuesday night at 11:00 on WNHC, NBC's Robert Montgomery Presents adapts "Our Hearts Were Young and Gay," a "comedy about two young girls on an ocean voyage, who heed their parent's advice about being careful with whom they mix." Those "two young girls" were actually author-actress Cornelia Otis Skinner and journalist Emily Kimbrough (played here by Elizabeth Montgomery and Sally Kemp), and the account of their trip, which they wrote in 1942, became a best-seller, spawning a big screen version in 1944, and a play in 1946*. It was also a television series on CBS in 1950, so I suppose you could call this a reverse-pilot. 

*In a nice bit of TV tie-in, the story was dramatized for the stage by Jean Kerr, who later wrote Please Don't Eat the Daisies; the character loosely based on her was portrayed in the series by Pat Crowley (and in the movies by Doris Day).

Remember a couple of weeks ago how Edward R. Murrow told us he liked to choose personalities with contrasting backgrounds to appear on Person to Person? Well, this week is no different (Friday, 10:30 p.m., CBS), as Murrow's guests are film magnate Sam Goldwyn in California, and basketball star George Mikan in his Minneapolis home. 

Jackie Gleason's suffering from a broken ankle, and in these days of live television, that means guest hosts on his Saturday night show (8:00 p.m., CBS). Rumor (and the Teletype) has it that Red Skelton, despite his own ailment (a tightly-bandaged right arm "following an altercation with a shower door"), volunteered to step in for the Great One, but this week's stand-in is Perry Como, who appears in a skit with Art Carney and Audrey Meadows. Not playing Ralph Kramden, thankfully.

On Sunday, Hallmark Hall of Fame (5:00 p.m., NBC) tells a little-known part of American history: "Miss Tracy of Mt. Vernon," starring Sarah Churchill, is the story of Sarah Tracy, the woman who kept Washington's home at Mt. Vernon neutral during the Civil War by using it as a resting place for both Union and Confederate soldiers. She must have been a remarkable woman, able to create neutral ground for two armies in the middle of a war. Too bad Hallmark doesn't make movies about people like her anymore. Probably couldn't toss off enough bon mots for their liking.

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As far as coming attractions, the man responsible for Today is at it again. Pat Weaver's latest brainchild is The Home Show, a "revolutionary idea in daytime television."  

Home was a magazine-type show, with guests and features specifically designed to appeal to the homemaker; in that sense, it's not so different from many of the morning shows on TV today—or, one supposes, the fourth hour of Today. Hosting Home is Arlene Francis, making her the second member of the What's My Line? team (the other being John Daly) to host programs on two different networks. Hugh Downs, a man who will spend the next couple of decades sliding effortlessly between morning and late night shows, is Arlene's sidekick (as he will be for Jack Paar), and the whole thing's backed by by the Norman Paris Trio.

Home is the second segment in what Weaver saw as a trio of shows that would unify NBC's daily schedule; the third, which will premiere later in the year, is Tonight. Home runs until 1957; Today and Tonight, of course, are still on the air. Still, two out of three ain't bad.

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A long, long ad for The Long, Long Trailer, with Lucy and Desi—and a chance to see that flaming red hair in color. Don't underestimate the appeal of that; when Dragnet became the first TV series to be made into a feature film in 1954, one of the major talking points in convincing people they should pay to watch characters they could see for free in their homes was that now you could see Joe Friday in living color! (According to this week's Hollywood Teletype, filming on the movie is scheduled to start in the next 90 days.)

It wasn't uncommon to see movie ads in TV Guide, even when there wasn't such a direct tie-in with a TV show. After all, it's a great place to advertise, and there were still some things that you could only get in the movies. TV  

February 19, 2021

Around the dial

We'll kick off the week with a personal note: this weekend, I'll be one of the guests on Ed Robertson's terrific TV Confidential radio show. We'll be talking about classic TV, of course, as well as my book The Electronic Mirror. I had a great time talking with Ed, who's a gentleman as well as a host who really knows how to bring the best out of his guests (and having interviewed a few people in my time, I know that's no mean feat). Check here to find the time and station near you. And if you like what you hear, buy a book!

And now for the rest of the news. Are you feeling down and out, bunky? At Comfort TV, David has the answer for you: "The Kappa Sigma Party," a charming episode of Ozzie & Harriet that points to a simpler time, a world that one might not mind being part of.

One of those comfort TV worlds that David talks about is that of Perry Mason, and as you all know, Perry's trusty detective Paul Drake was played by William Hopper. At Classic Film & TV Café, Rick tells us seven things to know about a man who was much more than a P.I.

At Bob Crane: Life & Legacy, Carol shares another great find: an aircheck of a 1968 broadcast that Bob did for the U.S. Armed Forces Radio and Television Network, including pre-recorded interviews from the early '60s with Otto Preminger, Bill Dana, Steve Allen, and Jayne Meadows.

At A Shroud of Thoughts, Terence pays tribute to the career of the late Christopher Pennock, whose long television resume includes various roles on Dark Shadows (including Leviathan leader Jeb Hawkes and astrologer Sebastian Shaw).

Finally, Drunk TV (what a great name!) goes in-depth to look at the second season of the 1960s sitcom Dennis the Menace, the highest-rated of the show's four seasons. Check out some of the stars that helped make the season a success. TV  

February 17, 2021

Pat Paulsen for President

Am I dating myself to say that I remember Pat Paulsen and his 1968 presidential campaign? Probably, but I hold out hope that most of my loyal readers know who I'm talking about. (If not, this is a good place to start.)

I was never really a fan of Paulsen's shtick, just as I was never a fan of the Smothers Brothers, on whose show Paulsen was a regular. Perhaps I was too young back then, perhaps not, but my feelings toward them haven't changed appreciably in the 50+ years since.

However, let it not be said that I refuse to give credit where credit is due. In retrospect, Paulsen's mock campaigns for the presidency, especially the original one in 1968 (second acts rarely live up to the first), has some great moments, chief among which is this very funny interview during CBS's coverage of the 1968 Republican National Convention. His straight man is CBS's very serious political correspondent Daniel Schorr. (I never knew Schorr had it in him, although he did once sing with Frank Zappa; the things you learn in this job.) 

Here's the interview, introduced by the deadpan Walter Cronkite, in all its glorious color; as Cronkite mentions several times during the course of the proceedings, it is the first time an American political convention has ever been telecast in color. I think that, regardless of which party you support, you'll all agree that even though the images today are in HD, the conventions have far less color. 

Stephen Colbert, eat your heart out. TV  

February 15, 2021

What's on TV? Saturday, February 11, 1961

There's something relaxed about this Saturday's lineup. It's not wall-to-wall sports crammed into the afternoon; just some college and pro basketball, and a replay of an NFL game from last fall. Prime time is full of easy favorites, from Perry Mason and Gunsmoke on CBS (Actually, their whole lineup is very watchable), to The Roaring 20s and Lawrence Welk on ABC. It is funny, though, to not see Saturday Night at the Movies on NBC; it's not far away though—just wait until the fall. I'm sure you can find your favorites from this Minneapolis-St. Paul Edition; just don't look for KTCA, as the educational station doesn't yet broadcast on the weekends.

February 13, 2021

This week in TV Guide: February 11, 1961

Until a few years ago, the most I could say about Peter Gunn was that Craig Stevens played a suave private eye, and it had one of the coolest themes of all time. I had to have seen it at some point in time, probably many years ago, before I was old enough to understand Lola Albright. But then I was able to get the complete series on DVD—and then I got Lola Albright.

Albright plays Edie Hart, the singer who's also Gunn's girlfriend. She works out of a bar called Mother's, which doubles as the place where Gunn meets his clients and conducts his business. She's a smart, sassy character* who's graced with some snappy dialogue, every bit Gunn's equal in the scenes in which they're matched. She has a fine singing voice, doing her own vocals in the occasional set pieces at Mother's. She exudes an adult sexiness that makes it impossible to take your eyes off of her when she's on screen. And she's a likable character, as is Gunn, making this one of the easier private eye shows to watch.

*Gunn's nickname for her was "Silly."

Off screen, Lola Albright has some things to say about what she sees as an unreasonable invasion of her privacy since her divorce from actor Jack Carson. "To tell the truth, I'm sick and tired of the line 'Does Lola get what Lola wants?'* Every magazine and newspaper seems to leap on it as though discovering it for the very first time. I am equally sick and tired of the line 'Lonely Lola.'" Such are the curses of having an alliterative name, it would appear. "If my name were Betty, I'd be two cliches to the good." She struggles with the line between personal and public; while she understands the sacrifices of privacy that are part of stardom, she wonders "why does the press have to go so far? Why do they print things you never said, things they make up out of a blue sky? Why do they twist what you say into meanings you never meant?" Lola also denies she's dissatisfied with her role on Gunn; she likes how Edie got her own place in the third (and final) season, a plot devise that gives her a chance to sing more. "I don't want to dominate the show and I certainly don't want a series of my own."

*If you're unsure of the origin of the line, watch this.

People who work with her have nothing but good things to say. Frank Stempel, who was her ex-husband Carson's manager, says that "Even now that she's making good money, she doesn't really know what it is. She goes out of her way to help people. She'd give away her last dime if she thought it would help somebody." Press agent Bill Stein remembers how when his wife was in the hospital, "Lola must have called me a dozen times offering to come out and take care of the two kids while I was working. If you know her, you like her."

Peter Gunn, which ends its three-year run at the end of the current season, is probably the high point of Lola Albright's career, although she's hardly a recluse once the series ends, appearing in several big-screen movies and is a steady presence in guest roles on TV through the 80s. But there's no disagreeing that in a genre that often produces more than its share of annoying characters, Peter Gunn's Edie is one of the most enjoyable; in fact, after you've watched her in a few episodes, you'll probably be singing these words as well:

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I've mentioned in the past the snarkiness of TV Guide writers like Richard Gehman, and the Letters to the Editor section this week shows I'm not the only one who picks up on this. Apparently Gehman did another of his hatchet jobs a couple of weeks ago, this time on Bobby Darin, to coincide with Darin's upcoming network special. Carol Tuman of Great Neck, NY writes that Gehman's profile of Darin "is . . . full of unprecedented nastiness," while Donna Ott and Joyce D'Ambrosio of Fair Lawn, NJ say that "We have never read or heard so many degrading comments on this terrific star," and make the point that "we are not teen-agers; we are a single girl of 20 and a married woman of 23," possibly in response to a comment about the demographics of Darin's fanbase.

Now, it might be that Gehman's article is a fairly accurate portrait of Darin; Kevin Spacey's Darin biopic Beyond the Sea certainly demonstrated that Darin had a his share of warts, and maybe Gehman really does capture how the people who work with Darin feel about him. And clearly, Gehman is among the vanguard of writers turning TV Guide away from the studio-driven fan-type articles of its first few years towards more of a critical appraisal of the medium andits stars, and I think we should be grateful for that. But at the same time there's clearly something about Gehman's writing style, his choice of words and turn of phrase, that rubbed readers the wrong way.

In Glenn Altschuler and David Grossvogel's excellent Changing Channels: America in TV Guide, the authors write that "Gehman believed that creative people were often emotionally insecure because of an unhappy childhood, and that those who became celebrities in the entertainment industry sometimes did so because their insecurity motivated them to succeed." I'm not surprised to read that; it's fairly typical of the amateur psychoanalysis that was so prevalent in the journalism of the time.

One could be tempted to suggest that Gehman was projecting his own insecurities onto his subjects; according to his entry in the always-reliable Wikipedia, he was married five times and fathered at least nine children, and wrote under a variety of pen names—all before his death at age 51. Perhaps he had an identity problem tied to a basic inferiority complex, causing him to tear others down in an attempt to elevate himself. Perhaps his experiences in the entertainment industry left him jaded and cynical, and ascribed those same motives to those he met.

I don't know, and it's not my place to say anything. Richard Gehman was also a talented and interesting writer who lent a much-needed seriousness to TV Guide. He was prolific to say the least; not only did he write 20 books, his friend Maurice Zolotow tells a story about how Gehman once wrote three of the principal articles for an issue of Cosmopolitan, each one under a different name, plus a record review and possibly another column. Now that takes something. And his daughter Pleasant, an artist, author and dancer (among other things) has had quite the career herself, both as herself and under her stage name.

You meet the most interesting people in TV Guide. Some of them even have articles written about them.

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Let's meet some more of those interesting people that fill the pages of this week's issue. Ed Sullivan leads off the star wars on Sunday night (7:00 p.m., CBS), with a fine lineup that includes Peggy Lee, Paul Anka, Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, comedian Myron Cohen, the Wanderers vocal quartet, the Martelli Trio acrobats, and dancer Carmen de Lsvallade. I think Hollywood Palace would be hard-pressed to stand up to that. Next, G.E. Theater has some star power of its own; Ernest Borgnine stars as a has-been Hollywood director in the drama "The Legend that Walks Like a Man" (8:00 p.m., CBS), with Zsa Zsa Gabor, William Schallert, and Jason Robards Sr., and a script by Budd Schulberg. And on The Loretta Young Show (9:00 p.m., NBC), Darryl Hickman makes his television writing debut with "The Golden Cord," in which he also stars.

On Wednesday night, Bob Hope hosts the aptly-named Bob Hope Sports Awards (9:00 p.m., NBC), honoring the "best and brawniest athletes" of 1960. Being that it's a Bob Hope special, there are plenty of beautiful women among the presenters*—Julie London, Jayne Mansfield, Ginger Rogers, Jane Russell, Tuesday Weld, Esther Williams, Lucille Ball, Jane Wyman—but I wonder how many athletes were in attendance? The winners included Joe Bellino (college football), Norm Van Brocklin (pro football), Wilt Chamberlain (pro basketball), Pancho Gonzales (pro tennis), Dick Groat (National League baseball), Rafer Johnson (track), Roger Maris (American League baseball), Arnold Palmer (golf), Floyd Patterson (boxing), Jerry Lucas (college basketball), and Barry Mackay (amateur tennis). Might have been an interesting show; might not.

*Also among the presenters: Dean Martin, Dana Andrews and Ronald Reagan; obviously afterthoughts.

This didn't become an annual tradition (there are a lot of one-and-done sports awards shows in the history of television), but Bob did return with another version of the Bob Hope Sports Awards from 1973 through 1975. Hopefully, they didn't wait so long for an encore because the first one had been such a dud. . .

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   He gets by with a little help from his friends
Wednesday's schedule also features taped coverage of President Kennedy's fourth press conference. (No details on which networks or what time it'll be shown.) I've mentioned before that these press conferences were quite the sensation, as Americans had never seen the president quizzed by reporters quite like this; President Eisenhower's conferences had been shown on same-day tape, but JFK had been the first to air live pressers on a regular basis, and it was his generous access to the press (at the time of his death, according to the JFK Library, he'd held 64 conferences, an average of one every sixteen days) that made those conferences popular viewing. "The first, less than a week after his inauguration, was viewed by an estimated 65 million people. A poll taken in 1961 indicated that 90 percent of those interviewed had watched at least one of JFK's first three press conferences. The average audience for all the broadcast conferences was 18 million viewers."

We shouldn't be too surprised; the medium loved JFK, and he loved to use the medium. The reporters loved him as well, for he was great copy: witty, quick, engaging, informative without necessarily saying anything. There's been a good deal of controversy over the amount of press access given by recent occupants of the White House, but there's little question Kennedy made himself much more accessible. And the viewing audience responded.

I would never make the link between a Kennedy and the playboy philosophy, so it's purely by chance that our next stop is Playboy's Penthouse (Thursday, 11:00 p.m., KMSP),where Hugh Hefner's guests are Tony Curtis (playing the flute!), Ray Charles, Gene Krupa and his trio, Phyllis Diller, and Frank D'Rone. I'm no fan of Hefner or his lifestyle, but the man certainly did a lot to give jazz musicians, especially black musicians, a media platform that they had a hard time getting otherwise.

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Thursday night's Ford Show with Tennessee Ernie Ford (8:30 p.m., NBC) offers a real change of pace: an adaptation of Bizet's opera Carmen. Ernie, who loved to play "The Ol' Pea-Picker," had in fact been classically trained at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, and he uses that rich bass-baritone of his to good use tonight in the role of the flashy torreador Escamillo. Karen Wessler plays the title role, John Guarnieri is Don Jose, and Ernie's house singers, the Top Twenty, provide the chorus. It's not the only time opera features on The Ford Show; in previous years, Ernie and the gang had done the Gilbert and Sulliven operettas The Mikado and HMS Pinafore.

On the other hand, you'd expect classical music from Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, and on Sunday's Young People's Concert  and on Sunday you'll get it, with a tribute to the great American composer Aaron Copland, who celebrated his 60th birthday last November. (3:00 p.m., CBS; you can see a clip from the show here.) I loved watching these concerts when I was young, although I doubt that, at nine months, I tuned it for this one. Bernstein, whatever his other faults, was an engaging and often brilliant teacher: in these telecasts (53 of them, which ran on CBS from 1958 to 1972) he never talks down to children, never dumbs the material down for them. He treats them, instead, as intelligent beings capable of understanding and appreciating music, and he does a wonderful job of making classical music accessible and exciting without resorting to gimmicks. If it is true that the audience for classical music is dying off (literally), much of the blame can be laid at the feet of an educational system that no longer values music appreciation classes, and an industry itself that thinks Star Wars-themed concerts and hyperactive experiences are the way to introduce kids to the classics.

Bernstein wasn't the only teacher of classical music, of course. Through the 70s there were various attempts to use television to spread music appreciation. The great Joan Sutherland, with her conductor husband Richard Bonygne, hosted a PBS series in the early 70s, Who's Afraid of Opera? which used puppets to help teach children (and adults!) about opera.

It was the young people's concerts of the Minneapolis Symphony that first introduced me to classical music, and helped foster a lifelong interest in the classics. True, I didn't really develop this appreciation fully uintil the last 25 years, when I learned to embrace opera, but who knows if I would have been open to it at all without learning about it at a young age?

I'm put in mind of all this because of another letter this week, from Paul Winterhalter of Lincoln, NE, decrying the disappearance of Voice of Firestone. "The television 'brains' who presume to do all the thin king for the millions of viewers said that the Voice of Firestone lacked the quality for prime time, so we lost a fine program." Mr. Winterhalter said this in the context of criticizing Jackie Gleason's infamous You're in the Picture flop—"the most awful bunch of garbage*"—which those "brains" obviously considered a superior, or at least having the potential to be a more popular, show.

*Ah, but was Voice as entertaining as Gleason's apology the following week?

It's true that acclaimed music programs such as Voice of Firestone were never ratings hits, and it's also true that television—a medium designed primarily as a vehicle for moving the products of its advertisers—can't pay the bills solely from Peabody awards.  Nonetheless, as I mentioned a while back, the Golden Age referred to more than the quality of programs; it had to do with the variety as well.

This Friday, opposite the post-You're in the Picture Gleason show, NBC airs The Bell Telephone Hour (8:00 p.m.), one of those shows probably on Mr. Winterhalter's hit parade (as well as being a favorite of mine), presenting "The Sounds of America," a salute to American music taped at Disneyland and produced (and conducted) by Gordon Jenkins. The show features not only musical pieces but "sound-effects 'essays'" that bring, literally, the sounds of America—the West, the river, Main Street. There's a heavy emphasis on dance, with Gene Nelson, Jacques d'Amboise and the Earl Twins dancing to choreography by Hermes Pan, who collaborated so successfully for so many years with Fred Astaire. 

There's a sad irony in all that, don't you think? A program about America's long-gone past, told by a television genre on the way to being long-past itself. TV