January 1, 2022

This week in TV Guide: December 26, 1964

A Happy New Year to everyone from this little corner of the world. I'm sure many of you are waking up this day with hopes that 2022 will turn out to be a better year, perhaps the best year yet. It would be hard to imagine things could continue to get worse (although on a personal note this year ended on a real high note), so let's look on the bright side of things—namely that flickering box in your living room. Just what does it have in store for us?

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Last week, I mentioned the program The Legend of Silent Night, which appeared in TV Guide under the generic heading "Christmas Drama." This week (Monday, 8:30 p.m. CT, ABC), we have another such Christmas Drama, Rod Serling's legendary take on A Christmas Carol, Carol for Another Christmas.

The movie, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and featuring an all-star cast, is the first in a series of planned movies made by the United Nations for the purpose of demonstrating the organization's mission. (I wrote about them a few years ago at TVParty!, so I won't rehash all the details here.) Now, your mileage may vary, but it's true that Carol got some pretty bad reviews at the time, with many critics suggesting that Serling's strident, polemical script served to undercut its intended drama; in fact, its "legendary" status may be due to being considered a "lost classic," having gone unseen for nearly 50 years after its original broadcast until it was rebroadcast in 2012 on TCM. 

But you know, not everything that Rod Serling wrote was great; he knew that better than anyone. And not every "lost classic" is actually a classic. It's still worth watching, though, as a part of television history. 

One last thing; you know how I've written about how quick we are to declare Christmas over as soon as the calendar flips over to December 26. Well, Carol for Another Christmas was aired on December 28. And it was still called a Christmas Drama. And that's not all; on Saturday, Jackie Gleason offers his annual Christmas show (6:30 p.m., CBS), in which he talks about his own childhood Christmas memories and reads "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," while his sidekick Frank Fontaine offers his version of "A Christmas Carol." Try telling the Great One that Christmas was over before his Christmas show aired!

I've made this point before, but the 12 Days of Christmas don't start until Christmas, and it's quite apparent from past TV Guides that even in the '60s, the period of time between Christmas and New Year's was considered an extension of the holiday. Schools were out, parties were held, many people were taking time off if their office wasn't already closed. Heck, WCCO even has the Mora High School choir singing Christmas music Saturday afternoon. Today things seem different; a couple of years ago we actually saw store employees taking down decorations on Christmas Eve. By the time December 26 rolls around we're already on to something else, stripped trees already sit on the curbside waiting to be picked up by the trashman. By December 28, it can often be as if Christmas had never happened. As I said, we're in too much of a damn hurry.

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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: Scheduled guests are singer Leslie Uggams, impressionist Frank Gorshin, comedian Rip Taylor, the Serendipity Spingers, comedienne Jean Carroll, the Czechoslovakian State Folk Dance ensemble and Burger's animals. On tape: juggler Gil Dova and the comedy team of Davis and Reese.

Palace: Host Van Johnson introduces actress-singer Betty Grable; tenor Sergio Franchi; comedian Jackie Mason; French trapeze artist Mimi Zerbini; comic Paul Gilbert; the Jambaz balancing act; the dancing Bal Caron Trio; and the Zeros, knife throwing act.

I'm not convinced that this is the strongest week you'll see. Of course, Frank Gorshin probably could have impersonated everyone on either show, and that would have been worth watching. I'm not a big Leslie Uggams fan, though, and Rip Taylor always used to drive me crazy. On the other hand, if therest of the cast weren't enough, I think Betty Grable gives Palace at least one leg up on the competition, if not two

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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. 

When this week's series first premiered in 1962 it was called, simply, The Nurses. Now, by the time Cleveland Amory has gotten to it, it's become The Doctors and the Nurses. What's it all about? Says Cleve, "There are four kinds of opera—grand opera, soap opera, horse opera and, last and least, hospital opera. We have our own thoughts as to why so many people have, for so many years, found the hospital shows so fascinating—including every last gory operation-room detailbut up to now we have spared you this theory."

As I say, the show started out as The Nurses, starring Shirl Conway and Zina Bethune in the titular roles, but after a couple of seasons doctors Michael Tolan and Joseph Campanella were brought in to add some bulk to the dramatis personae; as one of the producers put it, there's only so much drama you can squeeze out of a storyline that deals with nurses, because there's only so much nurses can do on their own. At some point, you have to bring doctors into the mix. According to Amory, the additions have done little good: "CBS, not content to do the gentlemanly thing and let the old show, The Nurses, go—a decision by which they could have won the undying gratitude of millions yet unborn—have, instead, in their infinite obstinacy, seen fit not only to keep The Nurses on, but, horror of horrors, to add to it."

Storylines are almost uniformly grim, "some of the heaviest fare this side of the Black Hole of Calcutta—and we hesitate to mention that for fear they'll shoot that, too." Stories include examinations (no pun intended) of menopause, the concerns a black patient has about having a black doctor, and a two-parter about abortion. That one, in which a woman apparently died as the result of a botched abortion, climaxes with "about as silly a chase as we can recall, with the abortionist engaging in a high school debate with his chaser (Tolan), who had been accused of performing the operation." The innocent Tolan, says Amory, "behaved like such a heel that to this day we don't believe the script got it right. We believe he was guilty. As to the Mata Hari girl who helped him (Katherine Crawford), if ever we saw a nurse's aide who needed aid, she was it."

To be fair, there have been some good episodes, marked by good writing and acting, but these seem to be the exception rather than the rule, as the very next episode will invariably be another turkey. He did like one, which featured an interesting guest-star turn by Barbara Harris, but "As for the writing, the kindest thing on could say about it was that there wasn't any. Maybe Miss Harris ad-libbed it from an old movie."

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I'm surprised there's no New Year's Eve programming on the networks, at least here in Minneapolis-St. Paul. I'd assumed that CBS might have been showing Guy Lombardo, but as we look into it further, it turns out we're in that period from 1965-70 in which Guy and his Royal Canadians were syndicated, and apparently no one in the Twin Cities thought it was worth carrying. Over on NBC's Tonight, Johnny Carson probably has a cutaway to Times Square for the ball drop, and ABC has The Les Crane Show (carried in Minneapolis on WCCO, the CBS affiliate), which doesn't even begin until midnight. In fact, the only New Year's Eve show is a local one, from KSTP, Channel 9. It's called Nightwatch, a three-hour live music program from Souls Harbor ministries in downtown Minneapolis. I never watched this, but I remember this program running on New Year's Eve for years. Not the same program, of course.

The New Year rings in bright and early with The Today Show (7:00 a.m., NBC), which devotes the entire two hours to the Grammy-award winning Swingle Singers. The festivities continue with the Cotton Bowl Parade from Dallas (9:30 a.m., CBS), hosted by Allen Ludden and for-mer Miss America Marilyn Van Derbur. At 10:00 a.m., NBC carries a half-hour of highlights from last night's King Orange Jamboree, hosted by Dennis Weaver, with Grand Marshal Jackie Gleason. At 10:30 a.m., CBS and NBC offer dueling coverage of the Tournament of Roses Parade and Grand Marshal Arnold Palmer; CBS's features Bess Myerson and Ronald Reagan, while NBC has the long-running team of Lorne Greene and the now-late Betty White. Finally, at 11:00 a.m., ABC's Les Crane and Kathy Nolan host the Mummers Parade from Philadelphia. Added to the football to come, there should be no complaints about finding something to watch. 

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After months of struggle, the college and pro football seasons both come to conclusions this week. (Yes, I know it's hard to believe the NFL season once ended before February, but it's true.)

The two pro leagues have coordinated their championship game schedules to avoid conflict, and so the AFL leads off on Saturday with the defending champion San Diego Chargers taking on the Buffalo Bills at 1:00 pm on ABC. It's one of the most memorable games in AFL history, as the Bills, riding the arm of Jack Kemp and a ferocious defense, dismantle the Chargers 20-7. Most remembered of all is Bills linebacker Mike Stratton's tremendous hit on Chargers star Keith Lincoln, "The Hit Heard 'Round the World," which knocked the MVP of last year's title game out for the rest of this one. As a side note, NBC's new contract with the AFL, one that provides the upstart league with financial security, begins in 1965; until the start of Monday Night Football in 1970, this will be the final pro football telecast by ABC.

The following day at 12:30 pm, CBS gives us the NFL championship between the heavily favored Baltimore Colts and the Cleveland Browns. After a scoreless first half, which one sportswriter describes by writing, "Never have so many paid so much to see so little," the Browns come alive in the second half, and dominate the Colts, winning 27-0. It's the first time CBS has broadcast the championship game, under a unified new contract; even though the network carried most of the league's regular season games, previous title contests had been carried by NBC. It's also, to this day, the last championship won by the Brownies.

As for college football, believe it or not, the title—rather, the mythical national championship—has already been decided. The college football landscape is a lot different in 1964 than it is today; the national champion is chosen by the Associated Press and United Press International polls before the bowl games, which are considered little more than exhibitions. Speaking of bowls, there are only nine of them, and some conferences, like the Big Ten and Pac-8, put limits on how many of their teams can go bowling, and where. 

And so the undefeated Alabama Crimson Tide, led be star quarterback Joe Namath, have already been proclaimed national champions when they travel to Miami to play the #3 Texas Longhorns in the first-ever nighttime Orange Bowl (6:45 p.m., NBC). It's also the conclusion to NBC's "Football Widows" triple-header, which begins at 12:45 p.m. with the Sugar Bowl (LSU 13, Syracuse 10) and continues at 3:45 p.m. with the Rose Bowl (Michigan 34, Oregon State 7) before winding up in Miami. And while the Crimson Tide stride into the Orange Bowl as champs, they leave as chumps after losing to the Longhorns 21-17. Meanwhile, Arkansas, ranked #2 and also undefeated, beats #6 Nebraska 10-7 in the Cotton Bowl (12:45 p.m., CBS), and is chosen national champion by the Football Writers Association and the Helms Foundation. Don't feel too sorry for Joe Namath, though; the following day he'll sign with the AFL's New York Jets for $400,000, making him the highest-paid player in the history of professional football.

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Let's see what else we've got this week.

On Saturday, ABC's Wide World of Sports (4:00 p.m.) presents the Australian Rules football championship between Melbourne and Collingwood. Having watched many matches over the years, I can safely say that the description of the sport having "a complicated set of rules" is an understatement. Having no rules at all would be closer. 

At 9:00 a.m. Sunday morning, CBS presents another in their series of Sunday cultural specials, with a broadcast of a 1959 staging of "Noye's Fludde," a 15th Century miracle play set to music by Benjamin Britten. A nice color feature article accompanies the broadcast, taking a look at the nature of miracle plays and background behind the production. Of course, shows like this have always been stuck somewhere harmless in the broadcasting schedule, where they can't do much ratings damage. Later in the evening, Gordon and Sheila MacRae host Winterland on Ice (6:30 p.m., ABC), supported by members of the Ice Follies, including former world champion Donald Jackson. Then CBS puts a cultural bookend on the day with an 8:00 p.m. telecast of the Royal Ballet doing "Les Sylphides" by Chopin, followed by the third act of "The Sleeping Beauty" by Tchaikovsky. featuring the legendary Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev.

One of the things I find interesting is that the networks are still showing first-run episodes throughout Christmas and New Year's, in addition to specials. For example, there's a full-page ad for The Lucy Show on Monday night (8:00 p.m., CBS), with special guest star Danny Kaye (another CBS star, natch). 

Tuesday's episode of the aforementioned The Doctors and the Nurses (9:00 p.m,, CBS) probably drives Cleveland Amory crazy, and I'm not sure I blame him: the staff and patients witness a life-and-death drama across the street as a man threatens to jump off a building. 

And speaking of Danny Kaye—well, on his own variety show (Wednesday, 9:00 p.m., CBS), he has his own crossover guest, with The Beverly Hillbillies' Buddy Ebsen doing the honors. I just love this self-promotion.
I mentioned the dearth of New Year's Eve programming, but that doesn't mean there isn't anything on Thursday: on Kraft Suspense Theatre (9:00 p.m, NBC), Roddy McDowall stars as an alcoholic former teacher trying to prove a skid-row friend innocent of a robbery and murder that claimed his own life.

And if you're not into the football scene, Friday's highlight is probably Nuthouse (7:30 p.m., CBS) an hour-long satire of pop culture produced by Jay Ward and Bill Scott of Bullwinkle fame. As I recall, it was a pilot for a series that never went anywhere.

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Finally, if you've been past the toy aisle of a store lately, you know the Marvel Cinematic Universe has taken over pretty much everywhere. But this week's article about Fess Parker, written by Arnold Hano, reminds us that merchandising has always been a part of hit entertainment.

Parker became a huge star in the '50s by playing Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier, on Walt Disney's show. Everywhere you heard "The Ballad of Davy Crockett," you saw kids wearing coonskin caps, and Parker drew thousands to his every appearance. When Disney declined to revive the series, Parker and producer Aaron Rosenberg sat down to see what other kind of Crockett-like character they might be able to adapt into a series. They settled on Daniel Boone, and today the Boone publicity machine is going non-stop.  "A comic-strip syndicate ordered an artist-writer team to rough up two weeks of panels for a daily Boone strip. A soft-drink TV commercial featured a cartoon figure of Daniel Boone. And—bless their hammer pin heads—the kiddies began singing: "Daniel Boone was a man . . . a big man . . ." Adds Parker, "We are ready to meet the demand for a merchandising program. NBC is even ready to create the demand, if it has to." As I often say, the more things change, . . .

Daniel Boone ran for six seasons. Parker, already a millionaire from the Crockett series and owner of 30% of Boone, became even more wealthy, turned down the lead role of McCloud, and retired from acting to oversee various real estate developments and operate a successful winery. Not a bad career. I imagine Disney took some notes, don't you? TV  


  1. I wanna know about the "Daytime Delilahs"! Who are they? And why do "they make housewives' blood boil"?

  2. I am late getting to this post, but I'd like to add a couple of thoughts. First, it always puzzles me how radio stations that start playing Christmas music in October will drop it at midnight on 12/25 (or sooner), like they were sneaking out after a regrettable romantic rendezvous. Many years ago, when Christmas fell on a Friday, the radio station I worked for at the time kept a few Christmas songs on the air through the weekend and people called up to thank us.

    Completely unrelated second thought: I once stumbled across a broadcast of Australian Rules Football at 1:00 in the morning. I had no idea what I was looking at, but it was riveting because 75,000 people in the stands and the announcers on the broadcast were going absolutely wild with excitement, and I wanted to figure out why.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!