October 30, 2021

This week in TV Guide: November 1, 1980

After months of long, hard, and at times tedious and controversial activity, Campaign '80 is at its conclusion.  And TV Guide tells you how you can pick the winner!

But first, a word from our publisher.

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"TV GUIDE has never before taken a position in a Presidential election and as head of the company that publishes the magazine I intended that it remain silent in this one. I, cannot, however, as a matter of conscience, refrain from speaking up when the result of this election is so critical to the future of this nation."

With that, Walter H. Annenberg, President of Triangle Publications, Inc., makes a rare appearance in the pages of his most famous publication for the purposes of endorsing Ronald Reagan for the Presidency. "To put it bluntly," he says, "we see ourselves as a nation on the decline," a country overwhelmed with problems thought to be too big for anyone to solve. Inflation tops 10%, unemployment "especially among young black people" is glossed over, and foreign policy is a mess. "European and other world leaders are impressed by performance, not conversation," and talk seems to be all they get from the current occupant of the White House, "a well-intentioned, hard-working public servant" who has demeaned the office of the Presidency by portraying his opponent as "a warmonger with simplistic, antiquated economic ideas who would divide the country into antagonistic racial, religious and geographical factions." America needs "an administration determined to solve our painful problems by attacking the basic causes of social and economic ills rather than by applying local anesthetics in the form of quickly dissipated Government handouts."

Annenberg writes that "While I respect the President's supporters for their loyalty to him and have high regard for Rosalynn Carter and her dedication to her husband, his unfortunate record of performance in office does not warrant his reelection." Ronald Reagan, a man Annenberg has known for 30 years "as an actor, as a union leader and as a capable governor," will offer "in place of more years of political expedients to bolster weak domestic and international positions," an administration dedicated to ending "the feeling that we no longer can control our own destiny" and promises to "restore the self-confidence and the self-respect that until recent years have been the foundation of the American spirit." In conclusion, "As we achieve these goals, our friends abroad—and our potential enemies—will respect us too."

It might seem strange, given the pulp fan mag that TV Guide has turned into, to read Annenberg's words—to think that the magazine's political preference would matter, either to the readers or to the nation as a whole. But keep in mind that throughout these years of TV Guide, the magazine took its responsibilities to the public seriously, and felt that its readers were entitled to intelligent discussion of the issues of the day. A critic once observed that TV Guide felt itself closer to magazines such as The New Yorker than to television and movie magazines, and it often showed in the types of articles published in TV Guide.

The Annenbergs and the Reagans
Annenberg himself was no stranger to Republican politics, having served as ambassador to the Court of St. James during the Nixon administration. (He was, in fact, the man who introduced Reagan to Margaret Thatcher,) Annenberg's wife Lenore was appointed the State Department's Chief of Protocol, and the Reagans and Annenbergs often celebrated New Year's Eve together. This was not merely an endorsement of friendship, though—Annenberg enthusiastically agreed with Reagan's philosophy, and saw in him a man with the confidence and the political acumen to lead the United States through trying times both at home and abroad.

Regardless of where one stands politically, it really is quite something to see a publication like TV Guide—one that took seriously the role and responsibility of television in the shaping of American culture—take a partisan stand like this.* Nowadays, it's more interested in what musical instrument a candidate plays, or what kind of underwear he or she wears.

*And what better way to demonstrate television's gravitas than to endorse for the presidency a man who once hosted a television series?

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In our lead article, Elmer L. Lower, formerly president of ABC News and currently a professor of journalism at the University of Missouri, gives readers a brief recap of each candidate's electoral strategy, and gives viewers tips on what to look for throughout what is expected to be a long and suspenseful election night. For example, the polls close earliest in Indiana and Kentucky; Reagan is strong in Indiana, so he's expected to take it at 6:30 p.m. ET when the evening news programs come on. Carter took Kentucky in 1976 but the state appears less certain for him, so "a Kentucky victory for Reagan would be significantly good news for him."

Meanwhile, five Southern and border states close between 7:00 and 8:00, all of which Carter swept in 1976. Reagan's best chances to break Carter's almost-solid South are Florida, Alabama and West Virginia. And the crucial hour, according to Lower, will be that 7:00 to 8:00 hour, when the networks are expected to project as many as 10 states, including New England and Texas. Reagan is sure of Kansas and Vermont, while Carter can count on Massachusetts. Back in 1976, Gerald Ford won both New Jersey and Connecticut; Reagan will do the same.

Lower is anticipating a long night—for example, by 11:00, it's likely that only Texas and New York, among the large states, will have been projected. Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio will still be out, and the polls on the West will just be closing, so "you'll have to stay up late, it appears, if you want to know who your next President is before you fall asleep." In fact, it may well be after 3:00 a.m. before a winner is finally projected; in 1976, NBC was first to project Carter as the winner, at 3:29 a.m., when they gave him victory in Mississippi.

As we now know, of course, such was not the case. The early news is indeed good for Reagan - in addition to Indiana, he does take Kentucky. In the next hour, Carter's "solid South" of 1976 goes entirely for Reagan, with the exception of Carter's home Georgia (which the president takes by a much smaller margin than he did in '76). At 8 p.m., Reagan wins Texas, as well as those two Eastern states he had to win, New Jersey and Connecticut.  And at 8:15 p.m., over seven hours earlier than in 1976, NBC's count puts Reagan at 270 electoral votes, enough to win the election.

Television coverage of the 1980 election is extremely controversial, to say the least. NBC's early projections rely heavily on exit polling data (the first time projections had been made on that basis), and in fact the polls are still open in many Western states (including my home of Minnesota)* at the time of the call. Carter's concession at 9:50 ET, again before the polls have closed on the West Coast, doesn't do the Democrats any favors either, despite reminders from network pundits that there is more than just the presidential election at stake, and the Republicans take control of the Senate for the first time since the Eisenhower administration.

*It wasn't just television; radio reports throughout the day gave updates on the exit polls, with one CBS mid-afternoon broadcast suggesting that the numbers indicated a possible Reagan landslide. 

In retrospect, the results shouldn't have been as much of a surprise as they were. Internal polls had already shown momentum moving toward Reagan, and the Reagan-Carter debate proves to be the decisive moment in the campaign. Reagan's eventual 489-49 victory in the Electoral College is the largest ever for a non-incumbent, and his popular vote percentage of just under 51% is remarkable for a three-way election.

But it's a surprise to most of the "experts," and the stunned expressions of NBC's anchors as they watch Reagan's sudden sweep of the early states remains a vivid memory, nearly 40 years after the fact.

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And now, some images from Election Night 1980:

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And now the rest of the week. Last Tuesday night, NBC had scheduled a two-hour Bob Hope special, built around Hope's campaign for President.* He's nominated by Johnny Carson, his campaign is managed by Tony Randall, and he uses Angie Dickinson and Stefanie Powers to appeal to women voters (although I think their greater appeal would be to males).

*Of course, having been born in the United Kingdom, Bob would technically have been ineligible to serve as president, but this is a comedy show, after all.

Unfortunately, something came up last Tuesday that prevented the special from airing, namely the Reagan-Carter debate. NBC didn't have many options left for a topical show as time-sensitive as this one, so look for it on Saturday (7:00 p.m. CT), followed by another special with political overtones bumped from Tuesday, an hour of comedy with the Smothers Brothers.

The recent end to the actors strike means we're still seeing season premieres of new and returning shows, and a big CBS player on Sunday night starts out with a bang: Archie Bunker's Place, the successor to All in the Family, opens the 11th season for the combined series with Archie coming to terms with the death of his long-suffering wife Edith. (7:00 p.m.) It's a struggle for Archie, who "refuses to acknowledge his grief." It's also a revelation for anyone who compares this Archie from the Archie of the first episode.

On Monday ABC (7:00 p.m.) and CBS (9:00 p.m.) block out an hour each for paid political programs, while NBC reserves 90 minutes (8:30 p.m.). Meanwhile, PBS comes in first in the early returns, first with the conclusion of the brilliant miniseries Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, starring the incomparable Alec Guinness (7:00 p.m.); followed by the great political satirist Mark Russell in his Election Eve special (8:00 p.m.), live from Buffalo.

Tuesday is Election Day, and for one of the candidates, it will be High Noon (3:30 p.m., WDIO), but if you're looking for an alternative, PBS's Nova (7:00 p.m.) explores the search for a cancer cure, and Dick Cavett has the first of a two-part interview with the legendary Ray Bradbury (10:00 p.m.)

Wednesday's feature event is CBS's Wednesday Night Movie, George Hamilton's hit comedy Love at First Bite (8:00 p.m.), which Judith Crist calls "uneven but frequently very funny," and lauds Hamilton's "hitherto unexpected and unexploited comedic gifts." And on NBC (also 8:00), it's part one of Alcatraz: The Whole Shocking Story, which is not only shocking but "based on a true story," with Michael Beck, Art Carney, Telly Savalas, and Alex Karras.

Thursday night, it's the presumably shocking conclusion of Alcatraz (7:00 p.m., NBC), and PBS scores again with Live at Lincoln Center presenting something they barely have time for anymore: classical music, in the form of Rossini's charming opera La Cenerentola (Cinderella), performed by the New York City Opera. (7:00 p.m.) For the rest of us, 20/20 (9:00 p.m., ABC) has a profile of David Bowie, who was probably promoting his latest hit, "Ashes to Ashes," and NBC presents a "pilot" from 1968: Lassiter (9:00 p.m.), starring Burt Reynolds. The ad boasts that it's the "first time on TV!" and you have to ask yourself just how good a pilot can be if it's taken twelve years to make it to television.

Friday's season premiere of Dallas is preceded by a literal bang—it's a rerun of the season-ending "Who Shot J.R.?" episode (8:00 p.m., CBS). As TV Guide's preview notes, though, "the solution to this whodunnit is still weeks away."

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Finally, a note in the TV Update section that Saturday Night Live is about to be "reborn," with an all-new cast and 15 new writers. New producer Jean Doumanian sees "the public going crazy over them. I went crazy over them." In fact, most people probably would have amended that last sentence to read "I went crazy over them." Doumanian and her new cast almost killed the show.

The new "Not Ready For Prime Time Players" consisted of Charles Rocket, Denny Dillon, Gilbert Gottfried, Gail Matthius, Joe Piscopo, and Ann Risley, with Eddie Murphy as a featured player. This cast is probably best known for the February 21, 1981 program in which Rocket, during a spoof of the "Who Shot J.R.?" craze, dropped the F-bomb on live television. He was fired, along with Gottfried and Risley, and Doumanian was replaced as producer by Dick Ebersol, who had been involved in the creation of SNL and was now being asked to help save the show. At the end of the season he axed the rest of Doumanian's players, with the exceptions of Piscopo and Murphy, around whom the next generation of SNL would be built.

In fact, SNL had fallen behind ABC's Fridays in both audience ratings and critical approval, and was coming quite close to being cancelled altogether. The fact that it continues on the air today, more than 35 years later, may be a testament to the inertia that grips late night television, but it also demonstrates the necessity of acting quickly in the midst of crisis. Had NBC waited until the end of the 1980-81 season to make changes, there might not be a Saturday Night Live today. TV  


  1. The Perils Of Having A Semi-Long Memory:

    That Burt Reynolds pilot, Lassiter, actually did air in 1968, as part of a CBS summer "Failure Theater" collection of unused pilots.
    I know this because that's when I first saw it back in '68.
    This was before Burt Reynolds's Deliverance breakthrough: he was still doing bad feature movies then, while occasionally sniffing out TV projects as a fallback.
    Lassiter had a bit of a pedigree: written by Richard Alan Simmons and directed by Sam Wanamaker, it cast Reynolds as a journalist with a crusading streak.
    As memory serves, it was actually pretty good; as a weekly, it just might have gotten Burt out of his rut - but as always, it was the roll of the dice ...

    To show you how bad I am, I even remember several of the other downed pilots from Premiere (that was what CBS called this collection):

    - Call To Danger: This was a CBS house job from a couple of years before (as was Lassiter): it was a lot like Mission: Impossible, which was in development at the same time - and its star, Peter Graves, proved to be available for M:I just when he was needed (but that's another story ...).

    - A Walk In The Night, which was made around 1965 on location in Chicago by Robert Altman (this was well before the M*A*S*H movie).
    This was a night-shot cop show, where the boss cop was Carroll O'Connor.
    Again, pretty good show; whether it would have worked as a weekly, who knows?

    - Higher & Higher, Attorneys At Law, again from the CBS shelf from a few years before.
    John McMartin and Sally Kellerman were husband & wife lawyers, solving mysteries.
    Light stuff, not bad.
    What got noticed in '68 was the appearance of Dustin Hoffman, who was earmarked for a regular role as the DA (this was filmed before The Graduate, of course - but you probably figured that out).
    As above, who knew?

    There were a couple of others, but these are the ones I recall offhand.
    Getting older is no fun at all ...

  2. A couple TVG predictions above ended up being wrong. Carter ended up winning WV, which was a solid state for Dems until 2000, and Reagan won MA, the only state that McGovern won in 1972.
    I remember seeing parts of that Bob Hope special. At the end, some boy out of a group of kids pointed out what you stated, that Bob was born in England and was thus ineligible to run for President. I thought that more or less ruined the whole point of the special and made Randall & the rest look like fools for not knowing what a kid knew.
    I read in the book A BACKSTAGE HISTORY OF SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE that NBC had planned an SNL special to be aired that Saturday night, Nov. 1, but the Hope special, having been pushed out of Tuesday night by the debate, took its place. This special would've involved members of the original cast & writing staff, like Michael O'Donoghue and Dan Aykroyd. NBC offered to run the special on Nov. 8, after the election, but for obvious reasons the SNL people turned down that idea.

  3. And now once again, our country is plagued by record-high inflation, and SNL is seeing another massive ratings plunge. The more things change, and all that.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!