January 29, 2022

This week in TV Guide: February 3, 1968

This week's big event is the opening of the 10th Winter Olympics from Grenoble, France*, and ABC is all over it. The network promises “a 27-hour Olympic orgy” with at least one prime-hour a night, a 15-minute nightly wrap-up, and daytime weekend coverage. Included will be unprecedented live coverage, via Early Bird satellite, of the Opening Ceremonies at 7:45 a.m. CT on Tuesday morning.

*Back in the days when the Winter Olympics were actually held, you know, in a country that has an actual winter climate.

The U.S. is hoping to make a better showing in this Games than in 1964, when speed-skater Terry McDermott was the lone American gold medalist (with the U.S. taking home a paltry six medals in total), but the only Yank with a real chance for the gold is America's sweetheart, figure skater Peggy Fleming. Nonetheless, ABC plans to cover all the angles, with a 250-man staff using 40 color cameras to bring the pictures back home. Roone Arledge wants the games to be more than just a technical marvel, though: "Figuring out where the drama will be and shooting it – that’s more important than technical wizardry." In other words, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat – or, as Jim McKay would say many times over the years, "up close and personal”' – that’s the ABC way.

Twenty-seven hours doesn't seem much of a broadcast “orgy,” does it? By the time of the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, the TV schedule had expanded dramatically, to take advantage of the favorable time-zone (and to help pay for the enormous amount ABC was shelling out to win the rights). This kind of saturation coverage has remained the rule since, to the point that new sports are added, it would seem, simply to give the broadcasters more to show. Now, when you add up all the different platforms used to broadcast the Olympics, you've got more than 27 hours of coverage a day.

And so, when one looks at the Close-Up that accompanied ABC’s coverage of the first week of the Games, it’s kind of nice to see how simple things are, how naïve. The 1968 Winter Olympics were not free from controversy, but they were still a sporting event to be covered, not a made-for-TV spectacle that saturates everything in sight. What a concept.

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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.

Palace: Host Phil Silvers introduces singers Connie Stevens, Jack Jones and Polly Bergen; comedian Henny Youngman; the Waraku Trio, Japanese pantomimists; and the rocking James Brown Revue.

Sullivan:  Scheduled guests: singer-actress Michele Lee; comedians Jackie Vernon, Stiller and Meara, Morecambe and Wise, and Stu Gilliam; dancer Peter Gennaro; and acrobats Gill and Freddie Lavedo.

I think it's a pretty straightforward week; Phil Silvers is very funny, Henny Youngman can be very funny, Jack Jones is very smooth, and James Brown is very, very rocking. Ed's show isn't bad, mind you, but compared to the hardest-working show on TV the choice is obvious: the Palace dances all the way to the win.

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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 we're on the mean, crumbling streets of New York, along with the cops of ABC's half-hour drama, N.Y.P.D.—or, as Cleveland Amory calls it, OKTV. Don't take that as an insult, though; "It may not be everybody's cop-in, but at least it's not a cop-out." For one thing, as the only network show filmed in New York ("Gun City"), it presents a look decidedly different from California. The small, 16-mm cameras make the entire city a shooting stage, taking us places we wouldn't normally visit, and it looks authentic.

There's also a well-written and well-developed trio of characters, with a good cast of actors playing them: Jack Warden as Det. Lt. Mike Haynes, who in Warden's hands is "believably tough and has believable heart"; Frank Converse as Det. Johnny Corson ("completely recovered, you'll be happy to know, from his trying amnesia in Coronet Blue"); and Robert Hooks as Det. Jeff Ward ("in TV, at least once in a while, handsome is as handsome does.") And the plots are good if sometimes a bit worn (one episode was a little psychopathic for Amory, but "it was nonetheless engrossing" with a fine performance from Hooks), and even when we have a bit too many clichés, the stories are "generally fine."

I reviewed this series myself a couple of years ago, so I was glad to see Cleve give it the thumbs up, but he does have one reservation: "in one episode there was a girl named Jilly Ammory. And they made her an ex-convict. Now why, we ask you, did they do a thing like that? Next they'll have some character who is an ex-critic."

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It's the question that follows Ben Gazzara around no matter where he goes, no matter who he speaks to. When are you going to die?

The question isn't as rude as it sounds, nor is it as existential as all that. No, it refers to Paul Bryan, the character Gazzara plays in the hit NBC series Run for Your Life, who at the outset was given no more than eighteen months to live. The series is now in its third season; hence the question that dogs Gazzara throughout this press junket through New York, followed by TV Guide's intrepid reporter Edith Efron. At first Gazzara takes it in good humor, all bonhomme and masculine laughter, reminding an interviewer that "Little Orphan Annie never grows up," lauding the writers for keeping the series' quality high, the usual dog-and-pony act. But as the day wears on, Efron watches Gazzara's defenses start to drop. A one-minute plug on Hugh Downs' Concentration is followed by a radio interview with Ed Joyce, then an appearance on NBC with Lee Leonard, a talk with Art Fleming on NBC Radio's Monitor, an interview with Bob Stewart, a pre-Tonight show prep with Johnny Carson's staffers. And, bit by bit, the weariness and frustration that Gazzara feels toward series television begins to show.

To Joyce, who quotes the well-known director Elia Kazan as calling Gazzara "one of the three most brilliant actors working in the English language," he comes close to dropping the façade, baring the soul. "This kind of work doesn't tap all the muscles," he admits, and when Joyce suggests that some might view Gazzara as a sell-out, the actor doesn't argue. "The plays don't keep coming, the films are fewer and farther between. An actor has to work." This will be his last series, he promises, but "I'm coming out of this one with loot." 

As the day progresses the bonhomme dries up, the answers become rote and mechanical, the eyes deaden. By the time of the interview with Bob Stewart, all his defenses are broken. Asked to complete the sentence "Doing a regular series is like ______," Gazzara replies, "Being in purgatory." Between interviews, he tells Efron that the problem is "that there's so little opportunity for complex acting" in Run for Your Life. "It's scripts, it's directors. I'm becoming interested in movies. Something is happening in European films. They're nonobjective, but they're personal.   They're not the creation of a bunch of bureaucracies." Unlike television, he might as well have said.

The process of selling yourself is often a distasteful one for celebrities. It's the very thing that Sammy Davis Jr. found so difficult to stomach when his variety show started, and his failure to do it at the beginning, when it most mattered, was one of the many reasons for its downfall. Gazzara understands the necessity of turning himself into a "zoological creature" putting himself on display for tourists. But understanding it doesn't make it easier. When he sits down with Efron for the last time, after the Carson pre-interview, she says about the drained Gazzara that "It would be an act of cruelty to conduct an interview." All she can ask him, with a wry sympathy, is, "When are you going to die?" to which he says, with an exhausted smile, "You know, Little Orphan Annie . . . she never grows up," after which he finishes the last of his drink with a gulp.

This will be Run for Your Life's final season, and at the end Paul Bryan's fate is still uncertain; Gazzara will later say that viewers became cynical about the show's seeming disregard for Bryan's life expectancy. (One website, after a studied analysis of the timeline indicated by the episodes, estimated that the show covered about 20 months from first episode to last.) One can understand Gazzara's frustration with the series; I mean, if you were considered "one of the three most brilliant actors working in the English language," would you be happy while your peers were on stage and in the movies and you were doing a weekly show?

Maybe, for that sack full of loot.

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Care for a quick look through the week?

On SaturdayWide World of Sports (4:00 p.m., ABC) covers a semifinal bout in the heavyweight elimination tournament to choose a successor to Muhammad Ali, who was stripped of the title for refusing military induction. The winner of the Jerry Quarry—Thad Spencer fight will take on Jimmy Ellis later in the year for the heavyweight championship. Quarry will win the fight, Ellis will later take the title, and he in turn will lose to Joe Frazier down the line. But all that is another story.

Sunday afternoon features another of Leonard Bernstein's "Young People's Concerts" (2:30 p.m., CBS), this time an all-Beethoven program. Later in the afternoon, NBC carries final round coverage of the Bob Hope Desert Classic from Palm Springs, California (3:30 p.m.), which will be won by the great Arnold Palmer. And moving to primetime, the men of the Seaview confront the Abominable Snowman on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (6:00 p.m., ABC). I wonder who will win?

On Monday, singer/actor/activist Harry Belafonte starts a one-week stint as guest host on the Tonight Show (10:30 p.m., NBC), with a star-studded lineup featuring Senator Robert Kennedy and his wife Ethel; Bill Cosby; Lena Horne; and actress Melina Mercouri and her husband, movie producer Jules Dassinn. A great lineup but wait until we get until Thursday. If you can't stay up that late, "One or My Baby," an episode of Danny Thomas's anthology series, has a few stars of its own in Janet Leigh and Ricardo Montalban (8:00 p.m., NBC).

In addition to the opening of the Olympics on Tuesday morning, Mike Douglas welcomes former Vice President and current presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon (4:00 p.m., WCCO). I Dream of Jeannie (6:30 p.m., NBC) gives us a thorny problem: Jeannie's locked in a safe, which has an explosive mechanism that will go off unless a demolitions expert can disarm it. Making things more difficult, the man who opens the safe will become Jeannie's new master. How does it end? Tune in next week and see if Larry Hagman's still in the credits. For less suspense, Tuesday Night at the Movies (8:00 p.m., NBC) has McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force; that's the one without Ernest Borgnine. Where is he? Guest starring on The Jerry Lewis Show (7:00 p.m., NBC), of course!

On Wednesday, it's another of Fred Astaire's acclaimed specials (8:00 p.m., NBC), with his partner Barrie Chase and a bevy of artists promoting "today's sound"—Simon and Garfunkel, Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66, the Young-Holt Trio and the Gordian Knot. Personal opinion, of course, but I think I'll stick to Fred's specials from the early '60s.

You remember that on Tuesday I mentioned Thursday night's Tonight Show lineup? Harry Belafonte's guests are Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Paul Newman and comedian Nipsey Russell. And herein lies a difference between late-night talk shows of the past and present. Belafonte had an incredible guest lineup that week; I haven't even mentioned Sidney Poitier, Robert Goulet, Aretha Franklin or Dionne Warwick. One of Belafonte's guests is a Nobel Prize winner, the other is a candidate for president of the Unite States. Can you imagine Kimmel or Fallon with that kind of a lineup? Or that two of the biggest headliners would be dead less than five months later? (I wrote about Belafonte's week as host here.)

NET has another of its unusual dramas at 10:00 p.m. on Friday. Entitled "The Successor," the British play "focuses on the deliberations of a convention [in other words, conclave] of Catholic cardinals as they elect a new pope. The cast contains characters such as the Cardinals of Palermo, Boston and Paris, plus some generically named prelates. I wish I could find something more about it, but I can't. This is the year Pope Paul VI releases his encyclical Humanae Vitae, after which many in the media probably wished the Church was meeting to select a new pope.

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Finally, this week's TV Teletype gives us a preview of coming attractions. Sheldon Leonard, the producer of I Spy, has acquired rights to James Thurber's works with the intent of making an hour-long series for the 1968-69 season. That turns out to be My World and Welcome to It, which stars William Windom. It premieres on NBC in 1969 and runs only 30 minutes, but though it's cancelled after a single season it's still fondly remembered by many classic TV fans.

ABC has plans for a new daytime chat-and-info show called This Morning, a 90-minute daily show that premieres next month. It's hosted by Dick Cavett, and will run in daytime for less than a year before shifting to prime time, and then to the late-night slot to replace Joey Bishop.

And then there's the one that got away, the one we would have liked to see. It's a pilot called City Beneath the Sea, and if all goes well for producer Irwin Allen, it will become part of the primetime schedule. "It's about a futuristic city under the ocean," writes Joseph Finnigan, who adds that "Maybe [Allen'll] cast Lloyd Bridges as mayor." Sadly, the movie never turns into a regular series, and we're forced to conclude that Finnigan is right. Imagine Lloyd Bridges as mayor, with Richard Basehart and David Hedison as head of the city's defense system? It's a sure-fire idea, that is. TV  

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