February 5, 2022

This week in TV Guide: February 7, 1981

Xere's Jane Seymour, looking not at all like the future Dr. Quinn, but with a bit of a slutty, come-hither appearance to her, quite consistent with the role she's playing in ABC's three-part miniseries, East of Eden (starting Sunday, 7:00 p.m.)And for those who think we don't need another version of John Steinbeck's classic, especially when we have one with James Dean in it, TV Guide assures us that we do—this one is "more faithful to Steinbeck," and Seymour, as the "Satanic siren" Cathy Ames, is a major attraction.

In Bill Davidson's profile, Seymour (real name: Joyce Penelope Wilhelmina Frankenberg) confesses she likes "evil parts," as did Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. She's just now coming into her own as an actress; despite her appearance as a Bond Girl in Roger Moore's 007 debut Live and Let Die, her most recent fame comes from her Emmy-nominated turn in Captains and the Kings, followed by another miniseries, Seventh Avenue. With East of Eden, she's ready to cement her status as "Queen of the Miniseries." And this is before appearing in War and Remembrance.

Perhaps her fame today rests on her ability to sell jewelry, but Jane Seymour has come a long way from being mistaken for one of Henry VIII's wives.

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There's another movie on this week, CBS's A Gun in the House (Wednesday, 8:00 p.m.), starring Sally Struthers, and that's the subject of this week's editorial. As one might imagine from the title, there's a gun involved in the story, and it's the violence surrounding the gun that's attracted TV Guide's "anger and disgust." "Television drama," Merrill Panitt writes, "had gone too far again, in pursuit of a Serious Issue." Surprisingly, given the movie's title and TV Guide's political leanings, the Issue is not gun control, at least as far as this editorial goes.

In the movie Struthers plays a woman terrorized by two robber-rapists who resorts to a gun "only when she has good reason to believe it is her only chance to avoid being raped and possibly murdered." So far, so good. "But the script establishes this by offering scenes of prime-time soft-core sadism that go considerably beyond the artistic requirements of showing a woman who fears for her life." To cite one extreme example, "Was it really necessary for the would-be rapist to pour pear brandy over the head of his intended victim? Two glasses of pear brandy? (What is this, 9½ Weeks?) And then force her to wipe the floor with her body?" Ooh, kinky. Too bad Jane Seymour wasn't available for the role.

But I get what Panitt is saying here. It sounds campy today (and even he described it as blackly humorous), but over thirty years ago, something like this quite possibly would have earned a theatrical release an R rating. And, in fact, what does it have to do with the main story? Are the writers trying to establish the rapist as a sadistic, possibly psychotic, criminal? It is, as Panitt says, "an excuse for scenes of gratuitous nastiness."

The point, the editorial concludes, is that scenes like this aren't necessary. "For lessons on how to create terror without sleaze, they should see any movie of Hitchcock's."* But in this case, it was business as usual for the writers, who simply followed the maxim of "hasty TV writing" that "tastelessness is a shortcut to powerful effects."

*Notwithstanding that Hitch received much of the same criticism for a movie called Psycho.

It isn't just Panitt feeling that way, though. Judith Crist's review calls it a "simple-minded" movie that winds up "exploiting sex and violence," is more interested in "sadistic perversions," and "loses all its credibility with the introduction of a near-manic district attorney and Struthers' being left to solve her own case." Says Crist, "It's true that social-issue movies need juicing-up to hold the viewer, but lascivious drool isn't the lubricant."

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And now a local note: I've had occasion in these reviews to allude to the Great Affiliate Switch of 1979, in which three of the Twin Cities' four commercial stations changed their affiliation, with KSTP switching from NBC to ABC; WTCN teaming with NBC instead of being an independent; and KMSP, the former ABC affiliate, winding up with the short end of the stick, becoming the new independent.

Or maybe things didn't turn out so bad after all.

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As I said a couple of weeks ago, I'm not going to take up space with another of my gratuitous shots at what's become of the Hallmark Hall of Fame—I mean, it's like catching fish in a barrel, isn't it? Instead, I'm just going to concentrate on this week's presentation, the one-man show Mister Lincoln (Monday, 9:00 p.m., PBS), starring Roy Dotrice and taped at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C.

The broadcast is one of three that appear this season on PBS*, the other two being Casey Stengel, another one-man show with Charles Durning, and Dear Liar, a two-person play with Jane Alexander and Edward Herrmann. It's one of the Hall of Fame's most interesting recent seasons, the only one since 1979 in which the presentations were staged as plays rather than movies. As for Mister Lincoln, I recall having seen this when it was first broadcast. Dotrice, an English actor known as a man of many faces, is a most convincing Abraham Lincoln, and TV Guide's description of his "stirring reading of the Gettysburg Address" is no exaggeration. This is one of the few instances in which Hall of Fame was done before a live audience, and at the end of that reading the audience burst into spontaneous applause. But here—see for yourself. The Address comes about an hour and 10 minutes in.

*Somewhat disingenuously, back when PBS still pretended to be commercial-free, these presentations were simply called the Hall of Fame, with Hallmark providing the grant.  Today, using the full title would hardly be an issue. 

There's also a nice article by Herbert Mitgang, author of the play, putting Lincoln's life in context and debunking many of the myths that have grown up around him, such as his being a hick lawyer, and that he opposed racial equality. TV Guide would do this from time to time under the label "Background," with an article, often by an outside expert, providing added information regarding one of the more significant programs being shown during the week.

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A warning, though—if you want to see Mister Lincoln, you're going to have to pass up part two of East of Eden (8:00 p.m., ABC), and the remake of the Doris Day movie Midnight Lace (8:00 p.m., NBC), starring Mary Francis Crosby in Dodo's role. Capitalizing on the whole Dallas angle, the teaser proclaims, "She Shot J.R. Now Who's Trying To Kill Her?"

That's the way of it during Sweeps Weeks of course, and February has long been known for the networks packing as much star power into their programming as possible. East of Eden has it particularly hard; not only does it go up against Midnight Lace on Monday and A Gun in the House on Wednesday, its Sunday night premiere has to face NBC's three-hour docudrama Kent State (7:00 p.m.), which Crist calls a "stunning film [that] allows us our individual judgment but, more important, does not allow us to forget."

And that's not all. Both Kent State and East of Eden have some real competition with the week's other blockbuster movie, Burt Reynolds' Hooper (7:00 p.m., CBS), co-starring Sally Field and Jan-Michael Vincent. It was one of the big box-office hits of 1978, and Crist's favorable review describes it as "wonderfully rowdy, funny and on occasion touching."

On the other hand, all this week Family Feud features competition between Miss USA and Miss Universe. I don't suppose that has anything to do with Sweeps, do you?

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What else is on this week?

With Howard Hesseman's death last week, there's only one choice for Saturday: a special one-hour edition of WKRP in Cincinnati (7:00 p.m., CBS) in which Johnny Fever moonlights as a TV disco host. 

On Sunday night, it's part 6 of one of the most popular Masterpiece Theatre stories of the '80s, Danger UXB (8:00 p.m., PBS), the story of a bomb disposal unit during World War II. I must admit I never saw an episode of it, but I hear it was a blast.

With all the sensationalism on Monday's shows, it's nice to know you can depend on a wholesome family drama like The White Shadow (7:00 p.m., CBS). Tonight: "Falahey's girl friend is young, pretty, and pregnant!" Never mind.

TV Update reports that Fred Silverman's job as programming boss at NBC is in jeopardy, and we might have a glimpse into why by looking at the network's Tuesday night lineup. Whereas top-rated ABC has Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Three's Company, Too Close for Comfort, and Hart to Hart, NBC counters with Lobo, BJ and the Bear, and Flamingo Road. Maybe that's it, or maybe it's something else?

, NBC presents The Bob Hope Valentine Special (8:00 p.m.), with the usual lineup of beauties: Cathy Lee Crosby, Barbara Mandrell, Charlene Tilton, and, of course, Phyllis Diller—plus "surprise guest stars!" The listing mentions Dr. Joyce Brothers, but I can't believe that's all, can you?

Thursday NBC rolls out a brand-new series, The Gangster Chronicles, starring Joe Penny, Michael Nouri, and Brian Benben, with a three-hour premiere. This was later repackaged into movie form as Gangster Wars. The series itself runs for 13 episodes, after which it's edited down into a 121-minute VHS presentation also called Gangster Wars. Confused? So am I.

I'm also a bit confused by Friday's movie Inmates: A Love Story (8:00 p.m., ABC), starring Perry King (Joe Penny's old running mate from the series Riptide) and Kate Jackson as residents of an experimental co-ed prison (!) who fall in love. Gee, who could have seen that coming? Fortunately, Judith Crist reports that it wasn't made available for preview.

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As I was running through those blockbuster Sweeps matchups, I wondered how much any of this would mean to younger viewers, those who've grown up with DVRs and streaming video. I mean, when you can record a half-dozen or shows at once, or go to your computer and watch a show any time you want, what difference does it make if there are two or three good ones simultaneously?

Remember, though, that this particular electronic age is in its infancy right now. I was reminded by an ad that appeared just before the programming section. It was for Audio King, an electronics chain that was big in the Twin Cities at the time. It asks you to imagine the absolute wonder of being able to play a television program over again and again.

But be forewarned: this technical marvel will cost you. The top-of-the-line MGA HS300U features infrared remote control, speed search, slow motion and a 7-day timer, all for $1,450. If that's a little too rich for you, there's the Hitachi—it's compact and easily programmable, and only sets you back $1,250. And for those of you on a budget, JVC has a two-speed model that still offers remote control, still-frame and slow motion for $950.

These are all in the VHS format, but don't forget there's another player in the field. An ad for Video Images offers you your favorite movies and television shows on either VHS or Beta! And when you buy three, you'll get a fourth title free! What a deal! And free with your order, you'll get their giant video catalog with "over 400 all-time favorite TV shows, feature films, cartoons, etc!" (That should just about cover it all.) The cost?  Well, each Beta is $39.95, while VHS runs you $42.95. And to think - today you can get a movie on DVD, a far-superior format, out of the bin at Walmart for a buck.*

*And you can download to your laptop or the cloud and not even have to have it physically in your possession. How far we've come.

With prices like that, it's no wonder people are still complaining that they always put all the good shows on at the same time. TV  

1 comment:

  1. About 8 months before this time (7/1/1978) Charlotte, NC, had the same affiliation scramble that MSP had, WSOC-TV (channel 9) switched from NBC to ABC, WRET-TV (channel 36) switched from independent to NBC, and WCCB-TV (channel 18) switched from ABC to independent. I'm not sure if going independent worked as well for WCCB-TV as it did for KMSP-TV. Now both the former independent stations are now affiliated w/ Fox.

    MeTV will be rerunning that WKRP 1-hour episode, "Dr. Fever & Mr. Tide", tomorrow (2/6) at 4 PM ET in Mr. Hesseman's memory.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!