September 17, 2021

Around the dial

A few months ago, I delved into the history of early British television, lighting on the BBC's "first identifiable drama," Murder in the Cathedral, which aired in 1936. This week at Cult TV Blog, John goes back even further, to 1933, and The Crooked Circle: the first film ever broadcast on commercial TV.

The Broadcasting Archives links to this interesting article at Variety on why, with traditional television less important and the schedules more fluid than ever, the Fall Season still matters. I can't remember the last time I checked out the first episode of a series I might be interested in watching, but then I'm different that way.

At The Horn Section, James Garner's Bret Maverick finds himself in "A Flock of Trouble," and Hal is here to tell us how he gets out of it, in this 1960 episode that includes the lovely Myrna Fahey as the best-looking cattle owner around.

Jordan's back to review the July/August 1983 issue of The Twilight Zone Magazine at The Twilight Zone Vortex, including an interview with H.P. Lovecraft (and his short story "Something About Cats," and a review of Natalie Wood's last movie, Brainstorm, with Christopher Walken, Louise Fletcher and Cliff Robertson.

Staying in the Zone for a moment, at Shadow & Substance, Paul looks at the 1962 episode "The Fugitive," and asks why it makes some fans uneasy, and whether they're right to feel that way. It points out, as Paul says, how different things can look when one views them from a 21st century perspective, and why this can be problematic for classic TV.

There's nothing better than discovering a forgotten show, and at Comfort TV, David is back with another installment of "Ten Forgotten Shows I'd Like to Watch." This edition covers the 1970s, and includes four shows I actually remember, though I don't know why. Raymond Burr as Kingston: Confidential? Yes, indeed.

Can it really be 50 years since the premiere of Columbo? You bet it can, and Terence is all over it at A Shroud of Thoughts. I, of all people, should know that television has been around a long time, and yet when you look at how crisp and alive these shows look, it just doesn't seem they could be that old. After all, that would make me even older. TV  

September 15, 2021

"The TV Season That Almost Wasn't"

We spent some time over the weekend with the 1980 Fall Season; as I've said before, one man's trash is another man's treasure; which side do you fall on? 

Courtesy of the YouTube channel RwDt09, here's a closer look back at "The TV Season That Almost Wasn't."


September 13, 2021

What's on TV? Sunday, September 14, 1980

This is your lucky day: since Saturday's postponed issue debuted earlier this morning, you're getting two for the price of one today. And this week's international issue reminds us that the United States and Canada aren't all that different, at least when it comes to television. Sunday features pro football, just as it is south of the border. And a good many American programs make the lineup on both CBC and CTV. No matter which way you look at it, it spells entertainment. This week's issue covers Washington and British Columbia, with Ted Turner's Superstation thrown in as part of the bargain.

This week in TV Guide: September 13, 1980

It's time once again for the Fall Preview issue (postponed from last Saturday), and as I see it, there are three ways I can lay this out for you. I can, of course, try to cover everything, which would take a very long time, and if true would mean that I am probably writing these words in July. I can concentrate on those shows that were huge successes, programs like Hill Street Blues that became a household name. Or I can do the opposite, look at the shows that failed miserably, which can be a lot of fun—especially if some of them were highly rated and had big names fronting them. 

I'll admit that each of these three options has something going for it. I'll be honest, though: since I'm not writing this in July, but in the middle of August, you can assume I've decided not to go the comprehensive route. The only fair way to decide this, then, is the age-old solution of flipping a coin. Heads I go for the winners; tails and it's the losers. And you're here to keep an eye on things to make sure I'm honest, right? So here we go—wait. What do you mean it landed on its edge? Yes, I know what it means, but—no, of course I'm not suggesting you'd lie in front of all these people. Of course I trust you. All right then, I'll just have to compromise and do a little of each. Fair enough?

A proviso, though: as we're warned in TV Guide, there's an actors' strike in progress, and some of the shows listed in this issue may be postponed, or even cancelled, because of it. I'll try to point that out as I go along.

l  l  l

I mentioned Hill Street Blues (NBC), which is certainly the most acclaimed of the new shows, although it will come perilously close to being cancelled before it catches on. It won't actually air until January 15 of next year, and it airs on three different nights during that first half-season (including Saturdays!) before it finally settles down to Thursdays at 10:00 p.m.

The most popular series of the new batch, though, is probably CBS's Magnum, P.I., and it's pretty hard to bet against Tom Sellick's charm and an exceptional supporting cast; the Hawaii scenery doesn't hurt either. It's up against Barney Miller on ABC and Thursday Night at the Movies on NBC. It does a little better than Hill Street Blues in terms of debuting—it hits the airwaves on December 11. It does better in the ratings as well, finishing the truncated season #14, as opposed to #87 for the Blues.

Three new series base their hopes on the popular movies they're adapted from, and—well, one out of three ain't bad. rate. Breaking Away (Saturdays, ABC), based on last year's Oscar-nominated movie, actually premieres in November, but while it's heavily publicized by the network and even brings some of the same cast members as the movie, only seven of its episodes are broadcast, and it's actually off the air before Hill Street Blues premieres. Freebie and the Bean (Saturdays, CBS), based on the 1974 buddy cop comedy, it fares no better; seven and out. Harper Valley, P.T.A. (Fridays, NBC), birthed by both a popular movie and song, actually survives for two seasons, and I'd suggest that a big reason for that success lies in its star, Barbara Eden.

Imitation is, they say, the sincerest form of flattery. In Hollywood, it's also the surest way to survival. What other way to explain the resurgance of the prime-time soap opera, spawned by the success of Dallas and Knotts Landing. NBC has Flamingo Road on Tuesdays, with a big-name cast including Morgan Fairchild, John Beck, Mark Harmon, Howard Duff, Barbara Rush, and Stella Stevens, and it lasts two seasons.* CBS hopes to continue its success with Saturday's Secrets of Midland Heights, but even though it's produced by Lorimar, maker of Dallas, and stars Lorenzo Lamas and the pre-Terminator Linda Hamilton, it remained a secret to audiences, and disappeared after eight episodes. 

*It, too, was based on a successful movie, the 1949 hit starring Joan Crawford .

Closely related to the series based on a movie is the series spunoff from another series, and we've got a couple of those as well: Enos (Wednesdays, CBS), which takes Sonny Shroyer's character from The Dukes of Hazzard and puts him in his own series, actualy makes it through an entire truncated season of 18 episodes before Enos returns from whence he came. A spinoff of a different kind is Those Amazing Animals (Sundays, ABC), inspired by the same network's That's Incredible!, right down to having three hosts of its own: Burgess Meredith, Priscilla Presley and Jim Stafford. It's good for a full season.

Bosom Buddies (Thursdays, ABC) is almost a spin-off; its men-in-drag scenario is certainly reminiscent of Some Like it Hot, and while it lasts for four successful seasons, both of its stars went on to bigger and better things: Peter Scolari, and—especially—Tom Hanks. And there are two other ABC sitcoms that deserve some mention: Too Close For Comfort (Tuesdays), which, between its network and syndication runs for seven seasons, makes Ted Knight the second most-successful alum of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, right after Gavin MacLeod; and It's a Living (Thursdays), which played the same network/syndication parlay to six successful seasons. 

And finally a brief moment of silence while we recite the names of those series whose names are, if not known only to God, remain nonetheless relatively anonymous: Ladies' Man (Mondays, CBS. Episodes aired: 15) and I'm a Big Girl Now (Fridays, ABC; couldn't make it even with Diana Canova and Danny Thomas. Episodes aired: 19) I've heard of the latter, not the former, but I just can't think of anything else worth saying about them.

l  l  l

One of the continuing trends is the star-studded, epic scale miniseries (even though many of them are nothng more than two-part movies, but of course that isn't sexy enough), and for all the talk of coming attractions (Masada, East of Eden, The Gangster Chronicles), the biggest one of the season kicks off on Monday: Shōgun, NBC's $20 million gamble, a 12-hour adaptation of James Clavell's massive (1,152 pages) best-seller starring Richard Chamberlain and Toshiro Mifune.

The 12 hours are spread out over five consecutive nights, with three-hour episodes on Monday and Friday, and two hours each on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. It's interesting scheduling, especially having it conclude on Friday; nowadays, I think we've become accustomed to Sunday being the big television night of the week, with multipart events skipping a night or two so that they can begin and end on that date. Having it air on consecutive nights is far more sraightforward, almost like the binge programming of today.

Shōgun is a huge hit for NBC, with the network garnering its highest weekly rating in its history. It will be nominated for 14 Emmys, winning three, including best limited series; it also wins a Golden Globe and a Peabody. Almost makes the rest of the season an anticlimax, doesn't it?

l  l  l

One of the most anticipated sections of the Fall Preview is Judith Crist's look at the big-screen movies coming to television for the first time. Even with VHS and cable on the horizon, most of us still rely on the networks for the movies we missed in the theaters, or want to see again. Last year, there were 111 theatrical premieres on network TV, and that doesn't include 13 that had been announced but won't make it until this season. With that to look forward to, what are some of the highlights?

NBC's list is headed by two prestige hits from the middle of the last decade, 1976's All the President's Men, with Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman; and 1977's Julia, starring Vanessa Redgrve and Jane Fonda. Other features include The Boys from Brazil, with Lalurence Olivier and Gregory Peck; Eyes of Laura Mars, starring Faye Dunaway and Tommy Lee Jones; New York, New York, with Liza Minelli as the last person to sing the theme before Frank Sinatra appropriated it as his own; and the 1970 documentary Woodstock.

Over at CBS, the emphasis, says Crist, is on "froth rather than 'class'," including the "wonderfully witty" Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe; George Hamilton and Susan Saint James in Love at First Bite; Same Time, Next Year, with Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn, and Foul Play, with Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase. Their headliner is 1979's The Amityville Horror, which Crist calls "the most boring, illogical and inept horror movie to have made $35 million at the box office," which was quite a bit of money at the time; and The Champ, with Jon Voight, Faye Duanway, and Ricky Schroder.

Last but not least, ABC has a lot to offer, beginning with 1977's Saturday Night Fever, which made John Travolta a star; 1977's The Spy Who Loved Me, which introduced us to the villain Jaws; Sally Field's 1979 Oscar turn in Norma Rae; Neil Simon's California Suite, and a doubleheader of Barbra Streisand: the "self-indulgent remake" of A Star is Born, and The Main Event. There's also Midnight Express, which details the horror of Turkish prison; and The Enforcer, Clint Eastwood's third turn as Dirty Harry Callahan. It's enough to make up for the "tedious, mindless" trucker movie Convoy.

All in all, says Crist, the season gives promise of being a good one for viewers. Even if you have to wait years, not weeks, for some of your favorites.

l  l  l

In our hurry to look forward to the coming season, let's not forget that there are shows worth watching right now—depending on your tastes, of course. On Monday, it's the debut of Solid Gold (various stations throughout the week), with hostess Dionne Warwick welcoming Paul Anka, Irene Cara, and Johnny Lee. Hour Magazine, hosted by Gary Collins (and not to be confused with PM Magazine), debuts in syndication on Monday, while Alan Thicke premieres a weekday variety show; no, this isn't Thicke of the Night. Tuesday night gives two dubious changes: The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson goes from its traditional 90 minutes to an hour, while Tom Snyder's Tomorrow expands to 90 minutes to fill in the gap. An hour has since become the standard for such shows; it's hard to call them "talk shows" anymore, since nobody ever sticks around to talk. It is, in my opinion, a great, great loss to television, as well as the art of conversation.

On Saturday night at 10:30 p.m., PBS broadcasts the world television premiere of the opera The Ocean Flight, by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. The original title was Der Flug der Lindberghs, telling the story of Charles Lindbergh's historic transatlantic solo flight; Brecht, who would become disillusioned with what he saw as Lindbergh's wartime isolationism and Nazi sympathies, later changed the name and removed all references to Lindbergh from the text. 

I was curious as to what it was like. Perhaps you will be, too.

There are some excellent movies on this week, starting with the Oscar-winning A Man for All Seasons (Sunday, 11:30 p.m., KIRO); it took me many years to warm to this movie and watch it all the way through, but now that I have, it's one of my favorites. (You should watch it, too; we may be living this way sooner rather than later.) The Man in the White Suit (Sunday, 11:45 p.m., CBUT) is a very funny Alec Guinness satire on modern business.And I quite like the movie Badlands (Friday, 12:15 a.m., CHEK), based on the 1957-58 murder spree of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, with Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. 

Of course, we can't forget Casablanca (12:15 a.m., CBUT), can we? Otherwise, we'll never have Paris. 

l  l  l

Since this piece was postponed from September 11, you can read another piece later this morning: this week's retro TV listings. Be sure to return for it! TV  

September 11, 2021

20 years on

“It didn’t take tragedy or war to derail a man. It took only a memory.”
― Ali Shaw

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter—bitter,” he answered;

“But I like it
“Because it is bitter,
“And because it is my heart.”
― Stephen Crane

September 10, 2021

Around the dial

At bare•bones e-zine, Jack's Hitchcock Project examination of the works of Joel Murcott continues with the third-season episode "Last Request," a death-row drama with that little twist at the end that makes the series so enjoyable. Harry Guardino is at his hammy best.

Had an episode called "Bob the Body Buider" been written nowadays, people would have thought it a painful pun on the kids' show. Instead, it's the latest episode of Love That Bob, directed by Bob Cummings himself, and Hal has all the details at The Horn Section. 

L for Lester is a fairly obscure 1982 British sitcom that folded after only six episodes. At Cult TV Blog, John calls it "a pleasant way to spend half an hour," and since all six are on YouTube, you can easily tell whether or not he's right.

At Television Obscurities, Robert reviews "Halloween's On Us," a seasonal (but I'll bet you figured that out) episode of 1967's Accidental Family. In case you'd forgotten, the stars are Jerry Van Dyke and Lois Nettleton; it's about par for the course for Jerry, but Lois really deserved better.

I didn't subscribe to Ed Asner's Twitter feed, but it seems as if he was fairly active (I often saw his Tweets), and so his death at age 91 was more surprising that it perhaps should have been. It's really difficult to find a classic TV show in which he didn't appear, and Terence has a good appreciation of his career at A Shroud of Thoughts.

At Shadow & Substance, it's a look at yet another Twilight Zone episode that presents us with some harsh realities about ourselves: "The Encounter," an episode often left out of syndicated packages, starring Neville Brand and George Takei. Read about what makes it so controversial. TV  

September 8, 2021

Bringing the past to life

It isn't often that I use one of your comments as the focal point for an article of my own (also known as "theft" in some corners, but we're all friends here), but last week a reader named "Toad" left a comment on something I'd written five years ago, and I was afraid it wouldn't be seen by enough people if I didn't bring it to your attention.*

*I'll bet many of you didn't know I actually pay attention to your comments. I don't respond to them often enough, but I do read them. 

There's another reason I want to share Toad's comment with you, though. He'd read my 2016 story about ABC's as-it-happened coverage of Robert F. Kennedy's shooting. It brought back a lot of memories for him, in a way that books, movies, and even newspapers aren't able to. "Watching this particular non-stop footage puts you in the moment, almost as if it is still happening live somehow, on a continuous loop," he wrote. "I had the feeling I get while watching actual live moments, like if you wished hard enough, you could help control the outcome."

Ever since I started this website, I've maintained that television should be regarded as an original source document, a form of entertainment that serves to place events in context, to give the viewer an idea of how things were "back then." Programs made in the 1950s and 1960s show what those decades were like in a way that period pieces like Mad Men are incapable of doing. Watching the final game of the 1965 World Series, played in the afternoon with the shadows acting as an hourglass, creeping across the diamond as the innings wear on, you're transported back in time, and things come alive. And when you watch breaking news, as was the case with Toad, you allow yourself a few moments to hope, that this time events might end differently. 

In short, Toad, you've justified the reason I've spent more than ten years writing "It's About TV." It's the nicest thing anyone's done for me in a long time.

Here's what Toad had to say:

I watched all 7 hours of the ABC footage throughout the week upon hearing the news that Sirhan Sirhan may be released from prison soon. I was born in 1969 so I have only heard or seen things associated with the Kennedy assassinations way after the fact. My grandparents loved the Kennedys so I learned a lot about them growing up. And I have always sought out new documentaries or footage I hadn't yet seen. Watching this particular non-stop footage puts you in the moment, almost as if it is still happening live somehow, on a continuous loop. I had the feeling I get while watching actual live moments, like if you wished hard enough, you could help control the outcome. Even knowing that RFK would be dead in a number of hours, I got a feeling of hopefulness watching the doctor tell us that all was not lost. Kennedy was shot in the head, sure. But it was the best possible spot to be shot if one had to be shot in the brain. This particular location of the brain was a non-vital area. Perhaps Bobby could be out of the hospital and back on the campaign trail in a week or two. After all, his pulse was strong and he had a good heart. He was not unconscious right after being shot and he said a few words and squeezed hard on the rosary beads that were placed in his hand.

After watching the ABC broadcast, I found color footage from inside the Ambassador Hotel. This CBS footage was recorded but I guess it wasn't broadcast live when the shooting occurred. But while watching this on a big TV and with all surround sound speakers going, I did FEEL what some of the attendees described: that immediate shift in mood. "Kennedy, Kennedy, Rah Rah Rah! Kennedy, Kennedy Sis Boom Bah!" Then everything SUDDENLY and disturbingly turned to horrific screams and it seemed like the entire ballroom was shaking and on the verge of exploding. People OUTSIDE the kitchen seemed to realize instantly that their world just caved in on itself. The TV cameras didn't pick up the sound of the shots. ABC thought they did. But it must have been balloons popping or some other noises. On the CBS tape, nothing resembling gunshots was heard. And reading descriptions of the shooting by the ABC newsman that was also shot, actually made me chuckle. He said he thought he was dying. He was bleeding a lot from his wound and what he said he distinctly remembers most vividly was looking up and seeing how the kitchen door would open up to reveal a hysterical woman standing in the doorway, screaming a blood-curdling scream, only to shut and then be opened up again by a whole different woman, screaming in the same disturbing way. Then the door would shut again, open again, new woman, same scream, over and over and over again. I pictured his description in Looney Tunes animation and found it amusing. But of course there is nothing funny about any of this. Our minds need to go someplace absurd because the weight of this tragedy really drives home the fact that no matter how happy you are one moment, everything can be turned upside down the next. And there is no way to predict it or to prepare yourself for it. And the course of history is irreversibly changed forever. Nixon, more Vietnam, Watergate, and on and on.

I'm only sorry we weren't able to watch it together, Toad. We could have talked about it for hours.

If you haven't watched it yet, take some time over the course of a few days and do so. Does it bring back the same kind of memories? Does it help you appreciate what it was like to be alive during those days? History books and documentaries may wind up being more accurate, with access to information that wasn't available at the time—but can they make you feel, in the words of Walter Cronkite's old program, that "You Are There"? What a magnificent time machine it is. TV  

September 6, 2021

What's on TV? Monday, September 7, 1964

Happy Labor Day, everyone! On Saturday I joked about calling this Labour Day, since most of today's listings are from Canada. Be that as it may, it's certainly an interesting day of television we have, and while the commentary might be lighter than usual, I don't doubt but what we'll find something to write about!

September 4, 2021

This week in TV Guide: September 5, 1964

You remember Newton Minow. When he was head of the FCC, he looked out at the television landscape and saw only a vast wasteland, and wound up having the marooned ship in Gilligan's Island named after him. Well, he did a lot more than that, actually, before leaving his position in June of 1963 to become executive vice president of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Now he's back, and in excerpts from his forthcoming book Equal Time: The Private Broadcaster and the Public Interest, he discusses the problems and potential of television.

One priority for Minow is eliminating interference from advertisers, something far more prevalent then than it is now. The Quiz Show Scandals, for instance, resulted in large part from sponsors exercising creative control over the shows they often developed and sold to television networks. Here's an example of what Minow's talking about:

Automobile sponsors do not like shows involving automobile accidents; or even stories that use "chase" scenes with cars driven at high speed to the sound of squealing brakes. Detective Michael Shayne might be an authority on cognac, but if he discusses this specialty, no beer company wants sponsorship.

Sherlock Holmes' love of the pipe rules out a cigaret company or a cigar maker for sponsorship. A coffee sponsor would not allow the comic scenes in Gunsmoke in which Chester makes such dreadful coffee for Marshal Matt Dillon. A company manufacturing shaving tools would never permit a bearded hero, and a soap company does not want a hero who wears dirty clothes.

Colorfully written, but I think it's essentially accurate. Of course, the Law of Unintended Consequences is bound to rear its ugly head here; an outgrowth of the Quiz Show fiasco was greater control by the networks over their programming. The downside to this, not surprisingly, is that networks become far more anxious over ratings; in order to placate sponsors leery of investing their money in a program over which they've had no control, they've had to make the investment as attractive as possible, and low ratings aren't a particular inducement to a company to spend their money. As we've seen throughout time, the rating system has come under heavy criticism from viewers and legislators concerned that "quality" television falls victim to a fickle public, and ultimately is sacrificed in the name of the financial bottom line.

Minow appears to have anticipated this, taking a long, hard look at the relationship between broadcasters and the FCC. He cites examples of FCC commissioners and their too-cozy relationship with the industry they're supposed to be regulating, and points out that commissioners, as governmental appointees, are likely to be opposed by powerful interest groups if they take too strong of a stand against the networks and/or their affiliates. The only way to counteract this is to open the FCC up more to public input, and as FCC chair he'd urged President Kennedy to streamline and reorganize the Commission. Rather than the regulated controlling the regulator, he feels that such an approach will set up healthy conflict: "the sight and sound of battle [between public and private interests] are the public's best evidence that their rights are being protected."

And there will be battle, for as Minow writes, there is and will be that eternal conflict between public and private interests. One the one hand, he readily recognizes that broadcasters have "a vested and narrow interest in achieving and preserving profits." On the other, however, the FCC exists to guarantee that the public's interest is being served by those who hold the special and precious privilege of owning a broadcasting license. Broadcasters have come to view this not as a privilege but as a right—but, as Minow points out, "a 'right' cannot be regulated. It is part of the power the people refuse to give to a government. Only a privilege can be regulated."

This is an important concept and a huge conflict, one that resonates through our political system today despite the fact that Minow's statement can trace its roots all the way back to the Declaration of Independence and Jefferson's assertion that the "unalienable Rights" which mankind enjoys come not from the government, but from "their Creator," and that government exists not to bestow but to secure those rights. When privileges become rights, when the government seeks to grant obfuscate the difference and then grant something over which it has no natural authority, then the entire concept of the governor and the governed falls under suspicion.

This, invariably, leads to a discussion of politics and political advertising, an emerging point of import for Minow's FCC. Again, he takes the industry to task for thinking that their granting of free time to candidates is a gift from them to the candidate; in fact, Minow contends, the gift is in actuality from the public, which has allowed the broadcaster the right to use the public airwaves. It is, therefore, the obligation of the broadcaster to treat this time with care, and not to look at it as yet another opportunity to make a profit: "Television's soaring costs have created a monumental danger that a dollar wall will be stretched across ready access to the public air waves. This wall can create obstacles to the most able candidates—while helping the election of the most obligated candidates. Such an event would be a catastrophe."

Minow's answer is for broadcasters to be obligated to make "minimal amounts of free political time an explicit responsibility of those privileged to hold a broadcast license." He then makes the prescient observation, true even from the early days of television, that "Some politicians believe that television sells candidates as well as soap. But we cannot stack the deck in favor of the candidate able to buy the most time."

What a kettle of fish this discussion has opened! For the power in Minow's arguments is that they strike at the heart of how our system of government functions. Television and radio broadcasting can't, and shouldn't, be treated as something above and beyond the established system, and if that system can't handle something like this, if an activity as vital as broadcasting cannot fit in or conform to those sensibilities, then the question must be asked: can anything? Minow seems confident at the end of these excerpts, as long as "each of us insists that those involved in broadcastingin industry and government alikeceaselessly go to the people." It has become apparent, with over fifty years to reflect on it, that neither industry nor government any longer feels such a need or obligation. We are starting to see the fruits of such behavior ripen; what the future portends is anyone's guess.

l  l  l

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 guests are the Kim Sisters, Italian recording stars Rita Pavone and Enzo Stuardi, and one of America's favorite clowns, Bert Lahr. The tap-dancing Stepp Brothers perform and the Two Carmenas present their head-to-head balancing act. Other guests are child saxophonist Attila Galamb, and comedians London Lee and Pat Buttram.

Palace: Host Louis Jourdan introduces songstress Anna Maria Alberghetti; the singing King Sisters; comedian Henny Youngman; tap dancer John Bubbles; ventriloquist Russ Lewis; comics Lewis and Christy; juggler Johnny Broadway; and Olympic gymnasts Muriel and Abe Grossfeld, Armando Vega and NCAA champion gymnast Ron Barak.

An interesting comparison this week, as Ed presents a rerun from earlier in 1964, while the Palace is into its new season. Both shows are into the vaudeville look, with jugglers, tap-dancers, singers and comedians. It's not particularly an inspired choice, but dapper French actor and singer Louis Jourdan's (Gigi) picture appears next to "suave" in the dictionary, Anna Maria Alberghetti is lovely to look at and delightful to listen to, and when he's on Henny "Take my wife, please" Youngman* is as funny as anyone. Perhaps Bert Lahr should have been singing "If I only had some help," because the choice is The Palace by a comfortable, if unimpressive, margin.

*Whose first name is spelled "Henry" in the issue. The proof reader must not have been a fan.

There is, by the way, an article in this week's issue on how The Hollywood Palace has made vaudeville work in the same time spot where Jerry Lewis failed so spectacularly.

l  l  l

You know you're in an election year when the week's TV review is of the networks' convention coverage. And, surprise, surprise, it's not all that different from what we're used to today. "To a large degree," writes Samuel Grafton, "[the networks] have made themselves the show, instead of the meetings they are supposed to be covering." In the process, he asserts, they missed important stories at both conventions.

For example, they were so fired-up to see Pennsylvania Governor William Scranton as a serious challenger to Arizona Senator Barry Goldwatera challenge that was always hopelessthey missed the bigger story, that of how Goldwater took over the Republican party in the first place. Seems to me it's not unlike their confusion as to how Donald Trump took over the Republicans in 2016. (Oh well, I guess some things never change.) At least, he notes, ABC kept their cameras trained on the podium, unlike NBC and CBS, who "constantly cut away from Senator Dirksen's nominating speech, to tell us what they thought about what Dirksen was saying, instead of letting him say it." David Brinkley's humor, however, was in good form, part of the reason why NBC thrashed CBS in the ratings (leading the network to sack Walter Cronkite for the Democratic convention in favor of the "team" of Robert Trout and Roger Mudd). ABC's own team of Howard K. Smith and Edward P. Morgan worked hard, but "lost out in the ratings because they did not show enough of the special qualitiesthe glint, the jokesmithingthat these broadcasters' Olympics now seem to call for."

The Democratic convention wasn't much better for the networks, as they again missed the big story: once again preferring conflict (in this case, delegate challenges in Alabama and Mississippi) to the more significant fact that Southern delegates, by-and-large, stood by their party rather than walking out because of LBJ's civil rights legislation. No matter how hard they tried, the floor reporters were unable to convince delegates that it was in their best interests - the networks' best interests, that is - to make trouble.

In the end, concludes Grafton concludes, viewers were frequently treated to scenes that looked more like a "convention of reporters" rather than delegates. Even when they were forced off the floor during the demonstration for Johnson's nomination, they wound up cutting away to show Johnson's arrival in Atlantic City. It makes one pine for the old days "when television was only a camera reporting the news, and modestly keeping itself off the screen."

l  l  l

And now a word about this week's issue. As is the case from time to time (we'll see it again in a couple of weeks), we're going north of the boarder, with the St. Lawrence edition covering Montreal, Ottawa and Sherbrooke, in addition to stations in upper New York, Vermont, and Poland Spring, Maine. Many of the programs are similar (you'll see CBC programming in Monday's piece)—except when it comes to sports, specifically football. Although the NFL, AFL and colleges haven't kicked off yet, the Canadian Football League is in full swing, having started in July.

On Labor Day (or Labour Day, I suppose we should say) CTV carries the matchup between the Montreal Alouettes and Saskatchewan Roughriders from Regina, while a Friday doubleheader pairs the Alouettes and the Edmonton Eskimos, followed by the Ottawa Rough Riders (no relation to the Saskatchewan Roughriders) against the British Columbia Lions (taped Tuesday). If you've not seen the Canadian version of football, you should catch it sometime when it's on one of the ESPN networks; it's similar to our version, just different.

As far as American sports, there's plenty of that as well. The New York stations have the Mets, playing the Dodgers in New York on Sunday, the Houston Colt 45s* on Labor Day, and the Dodgers again on Friday, this time in Los Angeles. And on ABC's final Friday Fight of the Week, former and future Middleweight Champion Dick Tiger takes on Rocky Rivero in Cleveland.

*Known today as the Houston Astros.

l  l  l

Finally, a quick look at the rest of the news.

The front section of the magazine takes note that on August 27, Gracie Allen died of a heart attack at age 58.* Her widower, George Burns, debuts on Friday night with his new ABC series, Wendy and Me, co-starring Connie Stevens in the dumb blonde role.

*Or 69, as the case may be; her birth records were destroyed in the San Francisco earthquake. Her actual birth year remains a mystery.

Actress Maureen O'Sullivan is leaving her role as the "Today Girl" after four months. She's headed back to acting, having called her role on Today "asinine." She explains, "It's not enough to sit ther and smile every day with nothing to do. . . The show is simply no place for a woman." Her successor is Barbara Walters.

On Wednesday, CBS's Robert Pierpoint interviews Mrs. Barry Goldwater at the family home outside Phoenix. Apropos of the times, the listing never gives us her first name, Margaret. I hardly think the viewers would have confused her with some other Mrs. Goldwater...

Also on Friday, Jack Paar's prime time program (10:00 p.m. ET, NBC) has Muhammad Ali and Liberace as guests, and the two team up for a memorable duet.

And finally, the final program of the week also makes for a great exit line. It's the biographical film "I Aim at the Stars," the story of the brilliant rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, who designed the Saturn V booster that helped land Americans on the moon. The British, who remembered von Braun as the man who developed the V2 rockets that rained terror on England, had a different name for the movie. As Tom Wolfe recalls in The Right Stuff, they called it "I Aim at the Stars—But Sometimes Hit London." TV  

September 3, 2021

Around the dial

We'll start off the week at Comfort TV, where David takes a fond look back at some of the best work by Will Geer. People of our age remember him as Grandpa Walton, but as David shows, there was much more to Geer's portfolio than that.

I really enjoyed Fire-Breathing Dimetroden Time this week, because of Grant's pleasure at discovering a show that's long been one of my favorites: The Saint. (Which probably says more about my age than anything else.) The episode: the second-season "The Romantic Matron."

At Cult TV Blog, John has some thoughts on the 1979 series Dick Barton, chronicling the adventures of the post-WWII special agent. We know that John can be apprehensive when it comes to period dramas, but have no fear: this one is top-notch!

Carol has a treat at Bob Crane: Life & Legacy: family videos of Bob with his wife and children, including one from Father's Day, 1978—just ten days before his murder. The videos come courtesy of his son, Scott.

With the Emmy Awards just around the corner, Rick poses seven things to know about the Emmys, at Classic Film & TV Café. Whether or not you're a fan of the Emmys (or award shows in general), I think you'll find these fun facts quite interesting.

Perhaps the Emmys would have a bigger viewing audience if they followed the recommendation from The Horn Section, where Hal looks at the F Troop episode "Bring on the Dancing Girls" from 1966. Not one of the show's strongest episodes, but still entertaining. 

Finally, at Television's New Frontier: The 1960s, a review of the first half of the sole season of Stoney Burke, starring Jack Lord. Although I'm a bigger fan of the series than he is (I reviewed it here), it's a comprehensive look at the who and what of the series, with some valid observations. Maybe it would have been more successful if it had been called Stoney Burke's LawTV  

September 1, 2021

Ayn Rand with Johnny Carson, August 11, 1967

Ayn Rand, political philosopher and author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, among other novels, has never really been out of the public eye, though it's likely that few of the people who read her and debate her ideas today ever had the chance to see her live. So let's take this opportunity to look at footage of Rand appearing with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show on August 11, 1967. (Johnny's other guests included Florence Henderson and the Temptations—an eclectic show to say the least.)

This was the first of three 1967 appearances by Rand with Carson, and not only does this give us a chance to hear Rand describe the philosophy of Objectivism in her own voice, it points out the vapidity of today's late night talk shows. In fact, Carson's own version of The Tonight Show was a shadow of its former self by the time it came to an end, but it towers as an ivory tower of intellectualism compared to Colbert, the Jimmys, Myers and the rest.

I've frequently written in the past about the decline of what Terry Teachout refers to as "middlebrow" culture on television. Usually I'm talking about the lack of classical music, drama or documentary shows, but this reminds us that the dearth of smart programming extends to the talk show as well. Sure, you might have been able to find something like this from Charlie Rose (as a matter of fact, offhand he's the only one I can think of who would have done something like this), but perish the thought that a stimulating political discussion (that wasn't also a piece of partisan advocacy) would appear on one of the broadcast networks today. 

As for daytime talk shows—well, we won't even go there. (Although it would have been interesting to see what Rand would have done to Oprah. TV