October 16, 2021

This week in TV Guide: October 13, 1962

It's a striking cover this week, don't you think? Totally black-and-white except for the flesh tones on Hirschfeld's caricature of Jackie Gleason.* Even the famed TV Guide logo has been stripped of its color.

*By the way, have you spotted "Nina" yet?

It's no surprise that Richard Gehman would take a snarky approach to this article on Gleason, the first of a three-part profile of the star. "One can gauge the depth of his lonliness by how high Gleason flies," is the psychoanalytic subheading to the article. The premise continues as Gehman accompanies Gleason on a cross-country train junket to promote his new variety show.

So what evidence does Gehman use to back up his diagnoses? Well, first of all Gleason likes people - he'll spend five or ten minutes with anyone who asks for an autograph, and during the whistle-stop tour, he personally greets everyone who shows up to see him. He drinks heavily, when he drinks at all - he sometimes stops for weeks or months at a time. He's been known to overindulge in the same way with food. His explanation: "I'm thirsty and I'm hungry."

He loves to hold court for hours wherever he is. most frequently at Toots Shor's in New York. Writes Gehman, "his bombast conceals sensitivity and tenderness, and his leafily prodigal behavior is is rooted in a mulch of loneliness and awareness of the essential tragedy of the human condition." While visiting him at his hope in Peekskill, New York, Gehman observes the other Gleason: more contemplative, moodily musing on his broken marriage, his less-than-ideal childhood (deserted by his father, orphaned by his mother), his hard road to stardom.

I still think that Gehman, in an effort to avoid the fan-mag tenor that the magazine now proudly displays, errs on the side of psychobabble, but there's no denying the power of this paragraph that concludes part one of his profile: "It sometimes occurs to me, as I think of Jackie Gleason sitting there in that voiceless, empty house, that all his activities, his businesses and his productions, his performances and his plans, are no more than ways to erase the dark brown loneliness from which he knows he never will escape. And the same can be said for all that abandoned gregariousness."

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Edith Efron profiles Merv Griffin, and unlike Richard Gehman's article on Gleason, Efron is, shall we say, much kinder. Griffin, at the time 37, is a man of many talents—classical pianist, jazz musician, pop singer, movie actor, composer, game show emcee—and now, waiting for the next phase of his life, he admits "I don't have a fixed image."

His self-image, as it is, is much more positive than it used to be, when he weighed 80 pounds more than he does today. As the weight dropped, his career took off; the novelty song "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts" was a million-seller, after which he met Doris Day and wound up in movies, then met Tallulah Bankhead and wound up as part of her Vegas show, then would up on radio and television, and most recently a four-week gig as one of NBC's substitute hosts on The Tonight Show during the interregnum between Paar and Carson. So impressed with Griffin was NBC that they signed him to a contract for his own talk show, scheduled to begin October 1. That show will last, with a brief break in 1963-64, all the way to 1986.

Colleagues call Merv "warm," "talented," "clever" and "ingenious," and those last two perhaps help to describe Merv's future successes in the business world. There was the real estate deal in Atlantic City where he got the better of Donald Trump, just one of the shrewd deals that made him a major success in real estate. And we can't forget the two game shows that he developed and produced before selling them off for a good chunk of dough: Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! If memory serves, he even wrote the theme to Jeopardy! It was said that when he died, his net worth was $1 billion. In any event, next to Gene Autry, Merv Griffin was perhaps the most successful mogul in show business. And reading this article, we can say we knew him when.

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A couple of big specials provide the highlights for the week. First off, it's Dinah Shore with her inaugural show of the year, Sunday night at 9:00 p.m. (CT) on NBC. Dinah's been associated with NBC for a dozen years, and this will be the first of nine specials she'll do for them this season. This really is a special though, a one-woman show of just Dinah singing with Frank DeVol's orchestra.

Sid Caesar's signed up for nine specials this season as well, and his opener is on ABC Tuesday night at 9:30 p.m. It's another attempt on Caesar's part to reclaim the magic of Your Show of Shows; as is the case with his previous and future attempts, he's never quite able to do it.

Taking a quick look at some of this week's regular variety shows, we find plenty more entertainment. Tony Bennett is the headline guest for the aforementioned Gleason on his Saturday night show (6:30 p.m., CBS); later that night Lawrence Welk and his Champagne Music Makers take over on ABC (8:30 p.m.). On Sunday, Ed Sullivan's guests include Connie Francis, Louis Prima and Sergio Franchi. (7:00 p.m., CBS) Tuesday, Red Skelton welcomes Kay Starr and Jackie Coogan (7:30 p.m., CBS), while later that night (9:00) on the same network, Garry Moore has familiar faces Alan King, Nancy Walker and Dorothy Collins. It's an all-star lineup on Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall Wednesday (8:00 p.m., NBC): Lena Horne, with jazzmen Charlie Byrd and Stan Getz, as they try out the new Brazilian dance the Bossa Novawith choreographer Carol Haney. On Thursday, again on NBC (9:00 p.m.), Andy Williams has special guest Martha Raye. Finally, Jack Paar's Friday night show (9:00 p.m., NBC) has husband-and-wife Gordon and Sheila MacRae, Woody Allen, and the Harlem Magicians, a rival of the Harlem Globetrotters. I remember that team; they used to appear on television occasionally, and they were to the Globetrotters what homemade hamburgers are to the ones you get at a restaurant: good, but not as good. When I saw them, they were called the Fabulous Magicians, and their headliner was the great dribbler (and former Trotter) Marques Haynes.

*Don't like dancing?  Don't blame it on me.

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If you'd rather have sports, we've got it. The big game on Saturday's college football Game of the Week (CBS) is a classic: Oklahoma vs. Texas at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. This annual battle is the centerpiece of the State Fair of Texas, where the Cotton Bowl is located. Coming into the game, the Longhorns are flying high, ranked #2 in the country, and they go on to take Oklahoma in a tight defensive game, winning 9-6. Texas will finish the regular season undefeated before losing in the Cotton Bowl Classic, played in this very stadium on New Year's Day; it's the second and final regular season loss for Oklahoma, which finishes ranked #8 before they, too, lose on New Year's, in the Orange Bowl

More football Sunday, although the pro games vary depending on where you live, due to the NFL's blackout rule. If you're in the Dennison area, CBS gives you the Redskins-Cardinals game at noon; if you're in Wichita Falls, you get the Cowboys, playing at the same Cotton Bowl against the Eagles. If you live in DFW, your only choice is the AFL game on ABC, pitting the New York Titans (before they became the Jets) and the Houston Oilers. Otherwise, the week's highlights are ABC's Wide World Of Sports on Saturday afternoon, with auto racing from Trenton and horse racing from Paris, and a middleweight bout between a couple of unranked fighters that night, also on ABC.

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The starlet of the week is actually a bona fide star, Sally Ann Howes, From the British music halls to Broadway to television variety shows and frequent appearances on such game shows as Password, she's become a familiar face to television viewers. This week, the elegant and stylish Miss Howes demonstrates "the beautiful trends for fall."

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Best ad of the week has to be this odd comic strip-style feature for The Lloyd Bridges Show, an unusual anthology series in which Bridges played a newspaper reporter who, each week, would imagine himself in the role of the person about whom he was reporting. Later on it switches to a more conventional anthology, but I find this technique quite interesting. It's not as Walter Mitty as it sounds; more like the reporter trying to picture what must have happened in a given situation. Was he subconsciously testing himself, trying to figure out how he would have handled that situation? Given that the show only ran for one season on CBS, we'll never know. I'm only surprised the cartoon doesn't have a thought bubble connecting him to the scene he's imagining.

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One of the enduring mysteries of life is why we so often behave in a manner that runs contrary to what we say we want. That's no different with television, of course, where people claim to want quality programming while routinely ignoring it when it's offered. Dr. Herbert Kay, Director of the Center for the Study of Audience Reactions, thinks he knows why such things happen.

According to Dr. Kay, viewers drawn to family sitcoms are well-aware of their flaws and shortcomings, but their main reason for watching them is to "escape from crime, violence, brutality, uninhibited sex,* and other unwholesome or unhappy situations." Thus, while fans of such shows may describe them as "down-to-earth" and "true-to-life," what they really want is to escape that very quality, in favor of shows that offer happy endings and morals to the story.

*1962 style, anyway.

On the other hand, and this I find quite interesting given my own predilection for realism on TV, those who denigrate such shows as "trite" and "unpredictable" are drawn to shows that are not necessarily realistic, but "asks him to believe that it's realistic and could happen." Therefore, such a viewer might find himself (or herself) watching a show such as Car 54, Where Are You?a show that you might consider sillybecause it doesn't make any pretensions or try to insult the viewer's intelligence. "Look," it says to the viewer, "we're going to try to make you laugh through slapstick and farce. Take us or leave us on those grounds."

It's always been typical of television executives that as soon as a style or format becomes a hit, imitation will follow. Look at how many different versions of Friends swamped the airwaves, To a point, this is good thinking, because viewers do show a preference for new shows. However, they also put a premium on entertainment and production values, which means that a shoddy or cheap copy will be seen as just that, and sent fairly quickly to the garbage bin.

In short, the message is that while networks are often criticized for offering their viewers the television equivalent of junk food, they're simply acknowledging what they've known for some time now, something that researchers are only beginning to figure out: there's a difference between what viewers say and what they do, and programmers understand this. They've seen the trends, they've looked at the ratings, and they're doing nothing more than giving the viewers what they want.

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Finally this week, a few quick notes from the Teletype section, since we haven't been there lately.

In New York, there's the report that NBC will soon be launching a new Goodson-Todman game show, the five-days-a-week Match Game. Good moveit runs for seven seasons on NBC, then after a hiatus of four years is revived by CBS, where it runs for another six seasons, plus two or three more in syndication.

CBS Reports plans to focus on the current campaign for governor of California, pitting incumbent Edmund "Pat" Brown against former Vice President Richard Nixon. We all know how that turned out; Brown, the father of former Governor Jerry, narrowly edged out Nixon, putting him into political retirement (or not, as the case may be), while Brown, four years later, would confidently predict another victory, this time against former actor Ronald Reagan. With Reagan winning by a margin of nearly one million votes, the laugh was on Brown.

NBC Opera is presenting a new Gian Carlo Menotti composition on March 3. Unfortunately, the Teletype doesn't bother to mention what it is, but thanks to the miracle of the Internet, we're able to tell that it's Labyrinth, not one of Menotti's bigger productions. Unlike his previous works, Labyrinth was never intended to be anything other than a television production, one specifically designed to take advantage of the techniques and opportunities offered by TV. It has never been performed again, but thanks to the miracle of modern technology, that single performance survives, and I wrote about it here. TV  

October 15, 2021

Around the dial

I wouldn't have first-hand knowledge of this, but I'd imagine that when you've been lampooned in the pages of Mad magazine, you know you've made it. Dave Garroway certainly did, and at Garroway at Large Jodie has the story of The Dave Garrowunway Show.

I think we're all familiar with certain shots or sound effects that keep popping up in movies and TV shows over and over again, and at Cult TV Blog John follows the "famous ITC white Jaguar" as it plummets over the cliff. This week: "Something for a Rainy Day" on The Baron.

I've never been a huge Halloween buff, but I do have fond memories of dressing up and going door-to-door when I was of an age ("Don't eat any candy that hasn't been wrapped!"); today, it's more of an occasion for looking at the treasure trove of Halloween TV movies, as seen by David at Comfort TV.

The premiere of the 25th James Bond movie (and the last of the Daniel Craig era) prompts reflections by Rick at Classic Film & TV Cafe, who ranks all 25 of them from worst to best, and the Secret Sanctum of Captain Video, where the retrospective is on how it all began.

David DePatie, who produced television's Bugs Bunny Show and then, with his partner Friz Freleng, went on to bring the animated character from the Pink Panther opening credits to life as a long-running Saturday morning cartoon, died last month at 91; Terence looks at his career at A Shroud of Thoughts.

This weekend marks the return of SerlingFest in Binghamton, New York, and one of the speakers is none other than Shadow & Substance's Paul Gallagher, talking about Serling's skill at adapting short stories for Night Gallery. His work on TZ wasn't bad, either. TV  

October 13, 2021

Sid Caesar does opera: October 10, 1955

Xere's a little class to liven up your Wednesday—a hilarious spoof of the opera Pagliacci by Sid Caesar and his merry band of crazies, as seen on NBC's Caesar's Hour broadcast of October 10, 1955. Don't worry; you don't have to understand opera to appreciate it; you don't even have to speak Italian. Sid certainly didn't.

The thing of it is, I don't know that Caesar was considered a highbrow, elitist comedian. Literate and intelligent to be sure, but at the same time there's a lot of slapstick involved in his bits. As well, you probably remember his famous send-up of This Is Your Life that he did on his previous series, Your Show of Shows with Imogene Coca, which indicates his proclivity to satirize conventions with which the audience would be familiar.

And that brings me to my point, which is that the costume, the pathos of the story, all the trappings we see in this skit—they're all as iconic to opera as the image of a large woman with pigtails, a horned helmet, and a breastplate and shield. What's more, they're images that people know even if they don't know much of anything else about opera. The television audience—the "middlebrow" audience of which Terry Teachout frequently writes—would have been expected to recognize these images, to know the gist of what Caesar is lampooning. Far from being incomprehensible, the skit was written and performed in order to entertain, to make people laugh: and that entertainment quotient depends on a general familiarity with the premise. The television audience of the mid-'50s would have had that familiarity. Would mainstream audiences today? I doubt it. That's unfortunate; not only do we lose a good amount of comedy because of that, the topical comedy we do get comes from an incredibly fragmented society, targeted not to a general audience (I don't think such a thing exists anymore) but to a very small niche. And today's niche for opera humor—well, you've heard the one about the number of angels on the head of a pin, right?

The writeup of this skit at by the person who posted it at YouTube is very good; take a minute to read it if you can, as it shows just how it matches up with the actual opera. And if you're interested in seeing the actual Pagliacci, you can see it in its entirety here—it's a short opera. TV  

October 11, 2021

What's on TV? Wednesday, October 13, 1965

I thought about spotlighting Monday's programming from this week's Minnesota State Edition, but since the networks are probably preempting most of it for the papal visit, that obviously won't do. What days of the week haven't I done yet? Oh, what the hell—let's just pick one. 

 Wednesday it is! 

A note on what you see in the listings: there is, indeed a sixth game of the World Series (Twins 5, Dodgers 1), which affects the programming on NBC and WTCN (the Twins' home network). The game lasts 2:16, which places the end around 3:00 p.m., plus any post-game coverage.

October 9, 2021

This week in TV Guide: October 9, 1965

Before we go any further, let us pause for a moment in silent appreciation of that fine figure of a woman, Anne Francis. Or, as she's referred to on this week's cover, the  "Slinky Sleuth."


Oh yes, Anne Francis. Well, Honey West is often considered the first action show on American television to have a female lead. The Honey West character itself was featured in a dozen or so detective novels from 1957 to 1971. Anne Francis introduced Honey in a 1965 episode of Burke's Law, and starred in the series in the 1965-66 season. It was obviously modeled in part on the British show The Avengers, and in fact producer Aaron Spelling was said to have originally offered the role of Honey to Avengers star Honor Blackman. 

Honey West
has always had something of a cult following, which continues today thanks to DVD and MeTV. It's nothing special; fun enough to watch, but in truth it's easy to see why it only ran the one season. (ABC apparently decided it would just be cheaper to import The Avengers; as I've always said, why go with a cheap imitation when you can have the original?)  The pleasure of watching Honey West is really derived from the pleasure of watching Anne Francis, who cuts quite the figure (see left) in her black cat-suit (which actually reminds me more of Diana Rigg, who replaced Blackman on The Avengers), being both very tough and very sexy, able to handle a gun but still occasionally needing to be saved by a man (her sidekick Sam Bolt, played by John Ericson). In other words, it's the perfect symbol for the schizo 60s. 

Meanwhile, Anne Francis is the perfect symbol forwell, for watching television.

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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: From Hollywood this week, Ed's scheduled guests are Kate Smith; satirist Woody Allen; the rock 'n' rolling Supremes; singers Petula Clark and Wayne Newton; puppet Topo Gigio; comics Davis and Reese; and the Four Little Step Brothers, a rock 'n' roll group.

Palace: Hostess Joan Crawford, making a rare television appearance, reads "A Prayer for Little Children." Guests: singers Jack Jones and Joanie Summers; comedians Godfrey Cambridge, and Allen and Rossi; Japanese bicyclist Lily Yokoi; Stebbings' Boxers, an English comic dog act; and the Rodos, West German acrobats.

At the dawn of television, Pat Weaver came up with the idea of "spectaculars," shows meant to attract people who might not ordinarily watch television. The term has since given way to "special," and the goal is not to introduce new viewers but to induce them to watch your special instead of the humdrum fare offered on the other networks. The Hollywood Palace may not be a special, but a hostess like Joan Crawford gives it a special feeling this week. It was once said that Joan Crawford became a star because she decided to become a star; even though Ed's lineup is, I think, a little stronger (Kate Smith! The Supremes! Wayne Newton!), the appearance of the star herself is enough to make this week's matchup a Push

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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. 

This week Cleveland Amory's critical eye focuses on, NBC's adventure series I Spy, "a kind of spin-off, or perhaps we should begin to call them spy-offs, of The Man from U.N.C.L.E." which itself, he points out, was something of a spin-off of the James Bond style of movie. Amory doesn't take long to get to the point, describing I Spy as "the best of the new shows we've reviewed so far."

As might be expected, Amory makes note of Cosby's status as the first "Negro" co-star in a regular dramatic series, but he also mentions that in the series' first show, Ivan Dixon was a guest star, giving "a truly memorable performance" as an athlete who defects to Red China. He likes Cosby, who "plays it all pretty straight but with just enough hint of glint to fill the bill," and favors Culp as well; the actor is "excellent, all the way from karate to kissing, and, like Cosby, can turn on rare humor when the situation warrants." Indeed, Culp and Cosby make a formidable team, not only as spies, but as co-stars, as they "carry on through the series their own offbeat series of remarkable shaggy spy sorties which along are worth the price of admission." Culp even does double-duty on the series, having written the script for that first episode.

All in all, Amory sees I Spy as a winner: strong acting, not only from the regulars but an admirable roster of guest stars; exotic scenery, with episodes shot on location in Hong Kong, Japan and Mexico, and good, solid writing. Provided the series doesn't forgot what makes it successful in the first place, it should be one of the can't-miss shows of the season.

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And now, a spin around the dial.

Game 3 of the World Series between the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Dodgers is the centerpiece of Saturday's broadcasting day, but I was also drawn to the night's episode of Gunsmoke (9:00 p.m. CT, CBS) in which "After killing a young gunman on the road, Matt finds three more gunfighters waiting for him in Dodge." Those three, unless I miss my guess, are played by Nehemiah Persoff, Warren Oates and Bruce Dern. Talk about an all-star lineup of character actors, and two of them pretty well-known in the Western field, too.

On Sunday, there are two episodes of CBS's morning religious programs that tell much about the apparently prosperous America of the early 1960s. The first, on Lamp Unto My Feet (9:00 a.m.), is entitled "The Pit," a play by Jan Hartman. "The pit is a huge garbage dump* where 'people live in the refuse, building their houses out of the city wastes.' A doctor who has left his comfortable practice to minister to the outcast inhabitants learns the true meaning of charity when he is placed in a position where he cannot save the life of a man." Look for performances from future TV figures Clarence Williams III and Billy Dee Williams. That's followed by an episode of Look Up and Live (9:30 a.m.) that could have been aired today: It's called "Reformation: Chicago," the first of a three-part report "on the problems facing Chicago clergymen in their attempt to make Christianity a working force in urban society." Judging by the statistics on murders and shootings this year in Chicago, I'd have to guess the clergy may have failed in their attempt.

*Sounds very much like John Lindsay's New York, doesn't it?

With the warning that Monday's programming may be preempted by the papal visit, the highlights include an episode of Twelve O'clock High (ABC, 6:30 p.m.) in which Jack Lord stops in England on his way to Hawaii to play the brother of new series star Paul Burke. Lord also appears earlier in the week on a syndicated telecast of Stoney Burke (as do the aforementioned Warren Oates and Bruce Dern), which proves there is life before Five-0. Andy Williams hosts what sounds like a pleasant hour of variety (NBC, 8:00 p.m.), with guests Bob Hope, Mary Tyler Moore, and Roger Miller.

On Tuesday, it's the television premiere of 1957's "Funny Face" on NBC Tuesday Night at the Movies, starring Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn, with model Suzy Parker making her television debut. And you'll be seeing Dorothy Malone on Tuesday night's Peyton Place (ABC, 8:30 p.m.). Why is that worth mentioning? Because at press time she's recovering from a fight for her life, one that included 7½ hours of surgery, during which her heart stopped once, and a tracheotomy was performed to assist in her breathing. That was followed by a fever that ran as high as 105, and blood transfusions that drained the hospital's supply, necessitating an emergency blood drive that resulted in donations from co-stars and many Hollywood figures, as well as ordinary folk. During her long recovery, Peter Gunn's Lola Albright will fill in.

Wednesday features something that ties in vaguely to what I'll be mentioning below: the debut of a syndicated color program (WTCN, 7:30 p.m.) called Wanderlust, in which host Bill Burrud "narrates films of foreign lands and their heritage." I'm sure it must have looked quite exotic at the time. At 8:00 p.m. on NBC, it's an episode of one of the more underrated anthology series of the time, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theater, with a petty good cast of familiar facesMickey Rooney, Don Gordon, Jack Weston, Harold J. Stone and Joey Foremanin the gambling drama "Kicks." I also see ABC's Amos Burke, Secret Agent on at 9:00 p.m., which reminds me of what Cleveland Amory was writing about Man from U.N.C.L.E. spin-offs: when Burke's Law became Amos Burke, it was definitely not for the best.

Thursday's best programming is during the daytime; CBS's Captain Kangaroo (8:00 a.m.) celebrates former President Dwight Eisenhower's 75th birthday with a look back at an amazing career that took Ike from West Point to the battlefields of Europe to the White House. I doubt we'll ever again see a president with a resume like that, nor a kids program that wouldn't take the opportunity to become a fawning partisan broadcast. And at 12:30 p.m., NBC presents the seventh and final game of the World Series, as Sandy Koufaxpitching on just two days' rest and without his best stuffbreaks the hearts of all Minnesotans, pitching the Dodgers to a 2-0 victory over the Twins, and their third world championship since moving from Brooklyn.

The end of the week begins with Channel 9's syndicated broadcast of The Eleventh Hour (Friday, 11:00 a.m.), an intriguing story starring Harry Guardino as the author of a book on capital punishment whose own story is rapidly coming to an endin the death house. (Having seen this episode, I don't think the story paid off in the end, but it was a provocative journey getting there.) On Art Linkletter's House Party (1:30 p.m., CBS) Rod Serling, president of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, discusses the Emmy Awards, to be telecast in September (rather than the end of the television season) for the first time. It won't do that again until 1977, when it settles into the slot it maintains to this day.

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Here's something you don't see often: an episode of Bonanza presented without commercial interruption.  But, as you can tell, there's a catch: a 5½ minute commercial for Chevrolet, "uninterrupted by Bonanza.  At least they had their priorities right.

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Finally, as we are wont to do, we'll make our last stop with Letters to the Editor. What makes these so interesting this week is that they represent such a cross-section of television programming, and so many of them tell so much about the climate of the times.

For example, the first two letters have to do with a recent CBS Reports documentary on the Ku Klux Klan, entitled "KKK - The Invisible Empire." The Klan, in 1965, is still a major presence in American culture, and Jim Vickrey of Auburn University writes to praise CBS for the documentary, with the wise words that "Exposure to light is still an effective way to destroy a destructive - albeit 'invisible' virus." Ann Carlson of Devon, Connecticut wants to remind CBS, however, that two wrongs don't make a right, asking the pertinent question "Now how about a report on the Black Muslims?"

Television has, of course, always contained shows that have an element (or two) of implausibility, and Lamont Dixon of Coronado, California, thinks there are just too many to contend with in Juliet Prowse's sitcom Mona McCluskey. "I can't believe a childless couple, living on a sergeant's pay of $500 a month, has to exist on peanut butter and crackers for breakfast and dinner. I can't believe that the sergeant is a buddy of his commanding general. This is more fantastic than a magical Martian, a witch with a twitching nose, an instant genie from a bottle, a car that talks, or a Smothers Brother from heaven."* Meanwhile, Kevin Burford of Iowa City, Iowa, has had it with Hogan's Heroes: "There's nothing funny about prisoner-of-war camps." Considering the widespread approval the show met with from veterans, one wonders if Mr. Burford is, like so many people, confusing a POW camp with a concentration camp? Or perhaps he just doesn't believe humans can continue to be human even in inhuman conditions?

*Bonus points if you're the first in the comments section to identify each of the series to which Mr. Dixon refers.

Advise, solicited or not, is always something generous viewers are free to give the networks, and a trio of letters closes out the section, offering executives ideas that they think will improve their programming dramatically. Diana Werner of Park Ridge, New Jersey, has perhaps the harshest verdict of all. After watching Robert Lansing get written out of the aforementioned Twelve O'clock High by having his plane shot down in the opening moments of the new season, she says that "That finished us (our family) too, as far as this show is concerned." A good point; though Paul Burke is a fine actor (Naked City, for example), this WWII drama was never the same after Lansing's General Savage left the scene. It lasted only another season-and-a-half. In response to NBC changing Dr. Kildare from an hourly drama seen once a week to a half-hour, two-nights-a-week program (a la Peyton Place), Betty Norris of Jacksonville, NC, begs the network to "Please stitch Dr. Kildare together again!" Dave Sepulveda of Santa Rosa, California, advises NBC to "Get smart!, and turn off the laugh machine." 

Hint to letter-writers who want to see their missives in print: humor always helps, as does cleverness. TV  

October 8, 2021

Around the dial

At bare-bones e-zine, Jack's Hitchcock Project continues to look at the work of Joel Murcott; this week, it's the third-season episode "Death Sentence," a nasty little piece of work starring James Best, Steve Brodie, and Katharine Warren. 

John returns to the 1970s action series The Professionals at Cult TV Blog, taking us all the way back to "Long Shot," the series' second episode to be filmed (although it aired later in the season), and along the way he wonders just how "real" the show is supposed to be. Good question.

Fire-Breathing Dimetroden Time has been surveying the tenth season of the new Doctor Who, and this week comes up to "The Doctor Falls," featuring the always-reliable Cybermen. I have to admit I've long-since given up on the new version; Peter Capaldi's Doctor, whom we see here, is as far as I'll go.

At A Shroud of Thoughts, Terence takes a look at Desi Arnaz and his work on I Love Lucy. We always talk about Lucy, but Desi was a true trailblazer: the first Latino to star in an American sitcom, and thus the first mixed marriage to be shown on American TV.

At The Hits Just Keep on Comin', JB takes a wonderful look back at the marvels of local television, from Chicago's The Prize Movie With Ione to kids' shows to Dialing for Dollars. As the world has become more homogeneous, so has TV—and we lose these lovely little things.

Television Obscurities commemorates the 75th anniversary of Faraway Hill, the first prime time soap opera on network TV, and laments that, as is so often the case with early television, we know so little about a series that presaged so much.

Speaking of which, in a very good review of the career of the Ink Sports, Gary at Soulride drops a couple of fascinating classic TV tidbits: that the Ink Spots first appeared on TV on November 6, 1936, making them the first performers (of any color) to appear on live TV; and that in the same program, Eddie Albert appeared in a drama he wrote called “The Love Nest”, the first original drama to ever be presented on live television. The program in question was an NBC/RCA TV Demonstration: the first live TV demonstration in history. TV  

October 4, 2021

What's on TV? Wednesday, October 8, 1980

If you've paid attention to these Minnesota State Editions, you'll notice the ways they've changed over the years. A half-dozen or so channels have changed call letters since the statewide editions of the early 1960s, and WXOW in LaCrosse doesn't even come on the scene until 1970; meanwhile, in thenew  in the Twin Cities, three stations change their affiliations. There are also several PBS affiliates from around the state, but I didn't include them because their programming was mostly redundant. I did, however, share what you'd be seeing on Superstation WGN.

October 2, 2021

This week in TV Guide: October 4, 1980

The late Ed Asner and Mason Adams, the stars of Lou Grant, are on the cover of this week's issue, and with a name like Lou Grant it has to be good, right?*

*Bonus points to anyone who gets that joke.  If you're not sure, here's a clue.

Seriously, I digress from this TV Guide for a moment to take a look at the issue of April 23, 1977. In the TV Teletype, we read a story about how Asner's going to be doing a new CBS series this fall about the newspaper business. Asner describes the show, to be set in Los Angeles, as a "modern epic," capturing "the ambiance of a newspaper." He admits he's a bit nervous, never having carried an hour-long series before: "I have yet to meet a happy hour-series star," but adds that the show will be about 30% comedy. The writer of the blurb notes that it will have seven recurring characters.

What's interesting here is that nowhere is the name of the series mentioned, nor that it will be spinning off Asner's character from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Did they even know it would be at this point? Was it something that was added later on, as if they decided the show needed an extra hook? Or were they shying away from it, fearful that viewers would be leery of a sitcom character being spun off into a drama? The always-reliable Wikipedia is no help here, although it does note that none of the main characters from MTM were ever seen or even referenced to in the series, and that the only crossover character to ever appear on both shows was Eileen Heckart as Mary's aunt Flo, a recurring bit in the former series who made a single appearance in the later. So, what's the scoop* here? Inquiring minds want to know.

*A little newspaper lingo there.

The article itself is about Adams, and mentions his famous Smuckers commercial among the extensive radio and commercial work that has distinguished his career. Amongst Lisa See's review of that career and the details of his life (voracious reader, consummate professional, adeptness at playing different voices during rehearsals), one statement stands out that tells us a lot about the life of an actor. Adams strikes me as being just about as well-adjusted as anyone in the business, and yet he's unable to escape that constant worry that unemployment is just around the corner: "I'm lucky. I've always worked. I've never had barren periods. But there's nothing you can count on. My reach has far exceeded my grasp. I guess pessimism is just my nature." Lest that sound like too much of a downer though, he adds, laughing, "Maybe it's just the fear of becoming smug."

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In many of these early October issues, I've gotten the chance to write about coverage of the World Series. But it's 1980 now, and we've got another layer of playoffs to deal with: the League Championship Series. It's quite a contrast to 1963, with the division winners in each league facing off in a best 3-of-5 series to determine who goes to the Series, but it seems positively simple if you compare it to today's setup, with three division winners and two wild card teams from each league, and an LCS that's expanded to 4-of-7. Sometimes the "Fall" Classic even ends in November, which means it's usually the month's first turkey.

At any rate, the regular season comes to an end on Sunday, with ABC's cameras on hand to cover the pivotal games in the pennant chase. Actually, I should say the season is supposed to end on Sunday, and would have if the Houston Astros had been able to defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers in even one of the three games they play to end the season. They don't, however, and the Dodgers' win on Sunday forces a one-game playoff which ABC covers on Monday afternoon. I remember catching that game after coming home from class; pretty much everyone expects the Dodgers to keep rolling and take Houston, but the Astros score an upset win to take the division and go on to face the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLCS.

ABC has no trouble televising the League Championship Series games; the National League starts Tuesday night and continues Wednesday afternoon, while the American League starts on Wednesday night and follows up with a Thursday night game. Friday, the National League plays in the afternoon, the American League in the evening. Not so complicated, is it?  Ah, for those simpler days. And the games weren't bad, either: see for yourself, with Game 3 of the NLCS on Friday, October 10, between the Phillies and Astros in Houston.

Oh yeah, the NFL is on as well. In the Twin Cities the Vikings home game against Pittsburgh is blacked out; the rest of the state gets it on NBC, however. The late game, on CBS, has the 49ers playing the Rams in Los Angeles (or Anaheim, to be precise). The Monday night matchup on ABC has Tampa Bay taking on the Bears in Chicago. And that's it: no Sunday night game, no Thursday night game. As I said, simpler.

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Big week for movies, not surprisingly since we're still early in the fall season. On Monday, NBC features the Oscar-winning Julia, starring Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave and Jason Robards. ABC's offering, on Sunday night, is a repeat of Jaws, which goes head-to-head with CBS's made-for-TV A Perfect Match, which draws its prestige from its teleplay, written by the great director/writer John Sayles. Down one rung from that is the third Sunday night movie, NBC's repeat of Burt Reynolds in The End. We won't discuss the Thursday night movie on NBC, The Castaways on Gilligan's Island, which Judith Crist describes as "tedious even with 24 of its 72 mediocre minutes cut."  At least it still has Dawn Wells as Mary Ann.

The finest show of the week is probably part two of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, airing on Monday night as part of Great Performances on PBS. If you're only familiar with the big-screen version that came out a few years ago, you really should invest the time in this; it's an exceptional six-part adaptation of John le Carré's spy thriller, starring the incomparable Alec Guinness as master spy George Smiley. It's really one of the finest shows of its type to appear on television—well, you can start here with episode one.

The prime complaint I've had through the years with le Carré's writing is the moral ambiguity of it all, as he attempts to draw some level of equivalency between the actions of the American and Soviet spies. It fits in perfectly with the times, however: in 1980, as today, the United States is a country struggling to find out what it really stands for.

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Speaking of the miniseries, in 1980 it remains a force to be reckoned with.  TV Update tells us of NBC's massive success with Shogun; the gamble to kick off the season with the 12-hour drama pays big dividends, the estimated 125 million viewers and 51% share making it the second-highest rated miniseries of all time, outdone only by the original Roots.

In other news from the update, a follow-up on the Reagan-Anderson presidential debate, which President Carter boycotted (he didn't think the independent candidate Anderson should be included). ABC indeed stuck with Midnight Express because of President Carter's absence, but even with one major and one minor candidate and only two networks, the debate scored 42% of all viewers in New York, 44% in Chicago, and 44% in Los Angeles. Express, meanwhile, drew 42% and 39% in New York and Chicago; Priscilla Presley's Thos Amazing Animals, which aired against the debate on the West Coast, scored a mere 24% in Los Angeles.

Finally, "ABC has agreed to grant Kaiser Aluminum air time to reply to a report on 20/20 that asserted that aluminum wiring for homes is unsafe."  All the two sides have to do now is decide how much time Kaiser will get, and when it will be broadcast.

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The cross-section of decades represented by these TV Guides gives testimony not only to the role of television within culture, but to the shape of the culture itself, as we can see from some of this week's articles.

In the 1950s, Howdy Doody stirred controversy by asking whether or not children should be watching the same kinds of shows as adults. Back then, it meant the manic comedy of a Milton Berle. This week, Marlo Thomas writes about the role television plays in presenting "the facts of life." It's a companion piece to Thomas' controversial Body Human special "The Facts for Girls," running Tuesday afternoon on CBS. Says Thomas, "Using television to bring accurate, straightforward information about sexual facts and feelings into the home can provide a starting point of shared feelings and information." Almost seems quaintly naive today, doesn't it?  It's a far cry from the '50s and '60s, when dramatists had so much trouble writing about adult themes, but it's also light years away from today's television, when even broadcast networks present decidedly adult topics with a frankness that might have made people in the '80s blush. Or maybe not; I don't know.

Speaking of which, there's also a very interesting article by Richard D. Heffner on what the movie ratings system really means. Heffner, who produces David Susskind's Open End* program and teaches communications and public policy at Rutgers, is also the chairman of the Classification and Rating Administration, which helps determine what a movie's rating is.

*Also known, by Susskind's detractors, as Open Mouth.

Among other things, Heffner points out that nothing is actually prohibited in today's movies: "Nothing is banned by our system, or refused a rating." And in answer to the question (posed by himself; Heffner the college professor interviews Heffner the CARA chairman) "Don't you ever want to refuse even your ultimate X rating to some of the awful things you see?" he replies, "Don't you think I share your sensibilities, your outrage, your disgust at some of what appears on the screen? Believe me, I do. . . But as an erstwhile American historian, I'm convinced that the price of film censorship in this country would be too great." The Production Code, which held sway until 1968, had gradually given way in the face of competition from television, and the movie audiences' increasing willingness to make box office smashes out of movies that didn't receive the code. (Some Like It Hot, for one.) Again, this article tells us much about how the times have changed, particularly in regards to sex and violence, and how they'll continue to morph.

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Last but not least, there's a full-page ad at the beginning of the programming section touting a new and revolutionary network that will change the way you consume news. Ta-da!

Take a look at that programming guide.  Gotta say, it looks a hell of a lot better than what CNN has on today.  Back when they had, you know, actual news. TV  

October 1, 2021

Around the dial

I'm generally a sucker for courtroom dramas. Maybe it's all the years I spent watching Perry Mason (which has the best of them, by the way), but whenever I run across one, I'll generally stop and see if it's worth watching. (There's one major exception to that; the two-part QB VII, which represents VI hours of my life I'll never get back.) If you're like me, check out David's entry at Comfort TV on three memorable cases from classic TV.

The third of those three cases is from The Addams Family, and the Secret Sanctum of Captain Video gives us a look at the animated version from 1973, which hews closely to Charles Addams's original characters. Be sure to keep reading, to see the Addams Family comic book!

I'm not much for using this blog as a confessional, but I have to confess that I've never been a fan of Lucille Ball. I don't make this as an authoritative statement, that you have to agree with me or else, it just is what it is. But that doesn't stop me from reading Television's Last Frontier: The 1960s and this look at the The Lucy Show from 1962, with some very interesting background information.

I missed the phonomenon that was Rich Man, Poor Man, which wasn't carried in the World's Worst Town, so I probably wouldn't have watched the sequel, Book II, when it aired in 1976; of course, I didn't get the choice, since that wasn't shown up there either. But thanks to Drunk TV, I'm still able to get a feel of this rushed, but entertaining, miniseries.

At Cult TV, John focuses once again on The Avengers (but who wouldn't, given the chance?), with an episode which has a title too long to reprint here, so I'll just call it "(Stop Me If You've Heard This One)." As befits such a title, it has a star-studded comedic guest cast including John Cleese; it also gives us a chance to recall that while Tara King may not be Mrs. Peel, she does have a way of growing on you. TV