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  

1 comment:

  1. Since you note that the Smothers Brothers' popularity forced Bonanza to alter its casting and plots, you must concede they are no irrelevant. Perhaps not to your taste, but certainly not irrelevant.


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