November 6, 2021

This week in TV Guide: November 6, 1976

I've written on-and-off over the years on the sometimes tempestuous relationship between television and the movies. The big studios have variously viewed television as a novelty, a threat, and a partner; for its part, network television has gone from lusting after major studio films to owning the studios themselves, while ceding actual movies to cable and streaming services.

We are, however, primarily interested not in the present but in the past, and so we go back to a time when big-screen films, interrupted by commercials and cut to fit timeslots (and broadcast standards) were not only an asset to a network, their debuts on home television were an event. And when it comes to this, there is no bigger event than the broadcast premiere of one of the biggest movies ever made, back when it was seen as a Hollywood epic and not a problematic political statement. 

Gone with the Wind, one of the most popular movies ever made, first hit movie screens in 1939, less than a decade before television began to move into living rooms nationwide. Throughout nearly 40 years, MGM resisted selling its rights to TV, and indeed why should it? Through its periodic rereleases in 1942, 1947, 1954, 1961, 1967, 1971 and 1974, Gone with the Wind proved to be a money-maker for the studio. There was, after all, no other way for people to see it, and as long as it continued to be popular in theaters (where it was often shown on a reserved-seating basis), why ruin a good thing?

This week, the movie makes its long-awaited television premiere over two nights on NBC (Sunday at 8:00 p.m. PT, Monday at 9:00 p.m.), and it's hard to describe how big a deal this really was. I mean, think about it: there's no home video, no movies hitting a streaming service a month after leaving the theaters. If you don't go see it in person, you're out of luck. It was one of the last of the great movies to hold out for so long before coming to the small screen (2001: A Space Odyssey will make its move to TV next year, after nearly a decade), and its showing becomes the hightest-rated television program ever to that point, with 65 percent of all Americans watching it—still a record for movies, by the way. 

Judith Crist says the broadcast will meet a "mixed jury" of viewers; "this major Hollywood achievement is nowadays regarded variously with reverence, sentimentality and reservations—and, of course, by newer generations, with curiosity." There can be little doubt, however, that Gone with the Wind remains "a prototype of spectacular romantic entertainment, generated by superstar power." Sunday's broadcast is packaged under NBC's Big Event umbrella, and for once, the hype is deserved. It was a time when movies could have that kind of impact on TV, and yes, it means I'm old. 

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Movies dominate this week's programming—it is, after all, ratings week—thus, they'll dominate this week's writeup. Judith Crist points out that Sunday night's movies give viewers the chance to "demonstrate their preference for romanticism or violence," as ABC goes up against part one of GWTW with 21 Hours at Munich (9:00 p.m.), a made-for-TV movie that "shows what really happened on the day that touched all our lives," the massacre of the Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics. William Holden, as the Munich police chief, heads an all-star cast that includes Franco Nero, Shirley Knight, Richard Basehart, and Anthony Quayle; Jim McKay narriates portions of the movie. Crist's review of this movie points out a bitter irony: German officials rejected suggestions from the Israelis as to how the crisis should be handled; on July 4, 1976, the day that filming of this movie wrapped, the Israelis used the same plan to free their hostages at Entebbe.

That's not all to this big movie week; Wednesday sees a pair of network television premieres, the most significant of which is Death Wish (9:00 p.m., CBS), with Charles Bronson revolutionizing cinema as the architect-turned-vigilante after his wife is murdered and his daughter raped and traumatized. Crist, in her review, calls Death Wish an urban version of Walking Tall, a perceptive comment in that the movie brings the threat of violence out of the "hillbilly sticks" and into the city. Death Wish, like Dirty Harry three years earlier, was a "statement" film, a commentary on the disintegration of the American inner city. Bronson's everyman—a successful, comfortably liberal professional forced to confront the violence desstroying the cities—spoke to what Richard Nixon called the Silent Majority and its fears about the lawlessness enveloping the country in the 1960s and 1970s; in its portrayal of the urban jungle, it articulated the feelings that many Americans were afraid to voice themselves. Bronson, by the way, is just terrific in the role—"smashing," in Crist's words, creating a new type of action hero in the process.

You'll forgive me if the second part of Wednesday's premiere night arouses less enthusiasm in me. The Great Waldo Pepper (8:00 p.m., NBC) stars Robert Redford as a World War I flying ace (not Snoopy) who becomes a post-war barnstormer. It's a great role for Redford, who's as good as anyone at "capturing the dash and glamour of those golden boys," and the Roaring '20s are a fascinating time in American history. However—and someone once told me that it's never good to start a sentence with the word "however," because it sends a negative message right away—the movie is let down by William Goldman's screenplay, which, as Crist says, leads us "from sunlit skies into the gloom and doom of obvious metaphor." 

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On weeks when we can, we'll match up two of the biggest rock shows of the era, NBC's The Midnight Special and the syndicated Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, and see who's better, who's best.

Kirshner: Music by Lou Rawls and Dr. Hook, comedy by the teams of Jim Samuels and Marty Cohen, and Natural Gas. Songs include "Natural Man," "Pure Imagination."

Special: Lou Rawls (host), Neil Sedaka, Helen Reddy, Traffic, England Dan & John Ford Coley, the Lettermen and Dorothy Moore. Lou sings "Groovy People" and "You'll Never Find Another Love like Mine." Traffic and the Lettermen each sing a medly of their hits.

Well, it's obvious who the winner this week is: Lou Rawls. Seriously, after seeing these, I started paging through the rest of the issue to see if there was some other show he might have been on. I have to admit feeling a bit disappointed that I couldn't find one, but I felt a little better when I saw that Dr. Hook was on Wednesday's Merv Griffin show. It just wasn't the same, though. But back to the matter at hand: Traffic may have broken up in 1974, but thanks to the miracle of modern technology, they're the subject of The Midnight Special's weekly salute. No more calls; we have a winner, as Special speeds to the victory.

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Saturday, it's The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, otherwise known as the Georgia-Florida college football clash, live from Jacksonville. (11:15 a.m., ABC). Coming into the game, Florida is 6-1, ranked #10 in the country, and looking to win the SEC title for the first time. Early in the third quarter, with the Gators trying to hang on to a 27-20 lead, Florida coach Doug Dickey elects to go for it on 4th and one from his own 29-yard line, a play that has since come to be known as "4th and Dumb." Well, you probably guessed it; Florida doesn't make the first down, Georgia subsequently scores, and the Bulldogs go on to win 41-27.

, Disney celebrates Donald Duck's birthday in a World of Disney repeat (7:00 p.m., NBC). Now, I'm a little suspicious of this, given that nowhere in the ads or the description does it say just how old Donald is, only that the cartoons on tonight's show date from the late 1940s. For the record, he was created in 1934; assume then that this program was originally aired in 1974, for his 40th birthday.

On Monday, Mike Douglas continues a second week of programs celebrating his 15th year on television (4:30 p.m., KPIX). These anniversaries are tricky things, though, as we saw with the Donald Duck special; as we know, Merv has actually been on television since 1954, so the 15 years simply refer to his time with Group W syndication. Ah, the devil's in the details, isn't it? Later that night, a couple of programs on topics still very much in the news 45 years later: first, Merv Griffin  discusses transsexualism with psychologist William Rader (10:00 p.m., KGSC), while KQED's special asks the question "Is School Desegregation Working?" (11:00 p.m.)

There's a most unusual double-feature of sorts on Tuesday: two movies by Ingmar Bergman, at the same time, on two different PBS stations. KVIE in Sacramento has Bergman's Dreams, starring Harriet Andersson and Eva Dahlbeck; meanwhile, KQED is showing Monika, with Andersson and Lars Ekborg. That's one heavy night of television. Earlier in the evening, the Hallmark Hall of Fame presents something a little less depressing and a lot more inspirational: Maxwell Anderson's "Valley Forge," the story of George Washington trying to hold his ragtag army together through the winter of 1777-78, with Richard Basehart outstanding as the First American. (8:00 p.m., PBS)

Between Death Wish and Waldo Pepper, there's not much room for anything else on Wednesday, but let's go with The Andy Williams Show (8:00 p.m., KHSL), with guest Florence Henderson, and regulars Wayland Flowers and Madam. Yeah, I know, it's not quite like it used to be, but still. At 9:00 p.m.,PBS's Theater in America presents Shakespeare's classic comedy "The Taming of the Shrew," with Marc Singer and Fredi Olster.

Thursday, Carol Burnett is Dick Van Dyke's special guest on Van Dyke and Company (8:00 p.m., NBC). A couple of notes about this short-lived (11 episodes) show: first, it introduced Andy Kaufman to primetime television (but we'll let that pass); and second, the TV Teletype tells us that a future episode will feature Jim McKay singing, dancing, and playing a psychiatrist in a comedy skit. It's not a real stretch for the sportscaster, though; "Twenty-six years ago I was brought from Baltimore to New York to do a variety show on WCBS called The Real McKay, heaven help me." Up until that time, McKay had been known by his given name, Jim McManus; his name was changed to create the pun on "The Real McCoy."

And guess what: more movies on Friday! Three of them to be exact, all made for the small screen. First, Elizabeth Montgomery is outstanding as the titular murderess in The Legend of Lizzie Borden (8:00 p.m., KTVU). Meanwhile, two brand-new teleflicks premiere: The Boy in the Plastic Bubble (9:00 p.m., ABC), with John Travolta (one year away from Saturday Night Fever) as a teen born without an immunity system and forced to live in a sterile bubble; and Mayday at 40,000 Feet (9:00 p.m.,, CBS), with—well, the ad really says it all: "Killer on Rampage. . . Pilot and Plane Disabled. . . Untried Co-Pilot at Controls. . . Airport Snowed In." As they would say on Jeopardy, "What do you get when you cross Airport with Snakes on a Plane?" For something more sedate, Donny and Maire welcome Andy Griffith, Paul Lynde, Bo Diddley and Jim Connell. (8:00 p.m., ABC) 

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From time to time, as you know, we provide updates in this space regarding the on-and-off quest by certain networks to expand their evening news program to an hour, or move it to primetime, or both! CBS recently made a pair of pilots for an hour-long newscast, and NBC had "concrete plans" to add a half-hour. According to the Doan Report, those prospects, alas, are, for the time being, dead. Richard Salant at CBS said he's "disappointed as hell," while a source at NBC speculated that "It may be the final nail in the coffin."*

*And where was ABC? No plans, said one official, "At least until Harry Reasoner and Barbara Walters improve their ratings."

The culprit? The affiliates, of course, who didn't want to give back the half-hour they'd gained through the Prime Time Access Rule—you know, the rule that was supposed to provide for locally produced public affairs and educational programs but instead became an open door for game shows and endless reruns of insignificant sitcoms from the last couple of decades. Anyway, they don't want to lose the commercial revenue from that time, so they voiced their objections, and the networks backed down.

Of course, we have entire networks devoted to news nowadays, or "news," if you prefer. And 45 years later, the network news is still 30 minutes long, and nobody's talking about expanding it. In fact, last I heard, one network was quietly exploring the idea of getting rid of it altogether. 

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Finally, Thanksgiving's just around the corner, and you know what that means: food! So let's take a look at a couple of recipes that are just right for your Turkey Day table. First up is a delicious-sounding Apple-Sausage Stuffing, Pennsylvania Dutch Style. 

After dinner and dessert, with the dishes cleared away and the last football game of the day on television, nothing finishes things off like a cup of Hot Buttered Cider:

One of these days, someone out there is going to have to tell me how one of these recipes turns out. TV  

1 comment:

  1. Regarding the "Death Wish" CBS broadcast on Wednesday November 10, in Northern California, KXTV of Sacramento moved it to 11:30 pm, and in San Francisco it was moved to independent KBHK from CBS's KPIX at 9:00.


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