April 30, 2022

This week in TV Guide: April 30, 1955

I'm sure you're all aware of those letter-writing campaigns that fans of particular TV shows mount from time to time, trying to keep their favorite programs on the air. Some work, some don't, but one thing that almost all of them have in common is that they're well-organized, grassroots efforts, coordinated by the program's most loyal fans.

This is not one of those stories. Instead, it's the case of an article in a recent issue of TV Guide about television's race for ratings. At the bottom of the page was a coupon that asked, perhaps rhetorically, "Which are your favorite shows?" As the editors note, "There was no poll or contest intended, and we offered no prizes or other inducements to send in the coupons. As a matter of fact, we buried the thing at the bottom of a page because we were, quite frankly, curious to see just how much trouble viewers would take to make their program likes known."

As it turns out, "despite the lack of fanfare or bonuses," more than 45,000 people took the time to fill out the coupons, address envelopes, lick stamps, and send them in. (A number that, they note, is larger than the population of New Brunswick, New Jersey.) You can see the results of that at left. 

There are some interesting aspects to this poll. For one thing, the top two shows—Disneyland and The George Gobel Show—are in their first season. At the time of the non-contest, they'd been on the air for less than five months, meaning there was an instant identification from the viewers. 

And then there are the write-ins. Readers were invited to name their own favorites if they didn't find them among the shows listed on the coupon. That's just what they did in the case of Medic, which wound up 17th in this list. Shows 18 through 20 were also write-ins, and while Dear Phoebe only ran one season, Medic brought the same level of realism to the medical series that Dragnet (#5) did to police shows. And Father Knows Best, a series also in its first season, ran for six well-loved years. Five other shows, although they didn't make the list, also gathered a substantial number of votes.

I mentioned those letter-writing campaigns at the beginning, and perhaps there's a greater similarity here than I first thought, because one of the things to come out of this viewer response is that fans of television shows take their fandom quite seriously, and they're not afraid to take the time and the effort to let people know about it. In this most intimate of communications mediums, we shouldn't be surprised to find that out.

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Linking to myself is kind of like riffing Mystery Science Theater 3000, if you know what I mean. Sometimes it can't be helped, though, especially when I'm the primary source of background information on something in this week's issue. It's Monday night's Producers' Showcase colorcast of Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler's classic novel, adapted by Robert Alan Aurthur, directred by Delbert Mann and featuring an all-star cast including Lee J. Cobb, David Wayne, Ruth Roman, Oscar Homolka, Joseph Wiseman, Nehemiah Persoff, and Henry Silva. (5:00 p.m., NBC—the early hour suggesting this is a live broadcast.)

I wrote about Darkness at Noon last year—the novel, this production, and the meaning of Koestler's grim warning on the terror of communism. Cobb stars as Nicholas Rubashov, the revolutionary-turned-enemy of the people; "As he is brutally pressed to confess to political crimes he never committed, Rubashov begins to re-think all the principles of his life, and to reconsider his entire career as an Old Bolshevik." There's not much more to say about this than what I wrote last year; it's one of the great stories about one of the great evils of all time, and a story that's as important now as it was during the Cold War, though I'm sure it wouldn't find a place on TV today. 

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We're at an interesting point in the relationship between movie studios and television. From the outset the attitude of the movie moguls toward the new medium has alternated between scorn, ridicule, and fear. TV is either a novelty to be ignored, or a form of free entertainment that threatens the very existence of the studios. 

This begins to change in 1954 when Walt Disney makes a deal with ABC to produce a weekly series for the network in return for funding his California theme park. Perhaps taking to heart that old adage that "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em," the 1955-56 season will see a raft of studio-produced series making their way to the small screen. 

Dan Jenkins's Hollywood Teletype has the lowdown on Warner Bros. and their "all-out bid for TV supremacy among the major studios." They're launching four new series on ABC next season: Casablanca, Kings Row, and Cheyenne, all under the umbrella title Warner Brothers Presents. (A fourth, Men in the Sky, appears nowhere on the schedule—at least not under that title.) All three of the shows are based on successful Warners movies, but the only one that survives is Cheyenne, which sends an important message to Warners: rather than spinning off movies to television, it will be more profitable to develop original titles. Even if they are derivative.*

*Don't think that Warners is deserting the movie scene, though: they're also planning to spin off several TV series into movies, including Our Miss Brooks (with the original TV cast), Pete Kelly's Blues, Sincerely Yours, and Foreign Intrigue.

Not to be outdone, Republic is considering going 100 percent into television; in the last two years the studio grossed $7 million from selling its old movies to TV, and they're already heavily into TV production. And MGM is rumored to be next, "in the near future," leaving only Howard Hughes's RKO "out of the magic circle," as Jenkins puts it.

That's not all that's planned for next season, though. In the New York Teletype, Bob Stahl reports that, NBC is busy putting together its Tuesday lineup, to be headlined by Milton Berle and Martha Raye, alternating every other week (the network would also like Martin and Lewis, and Bob Hope, to appear in the timeslot at least once in a while), followed by Jane Wyman's Fireside Theater, and a series of rotating dramatic anthologies sponsored by Pontiac and Armstrong. Meanwhile, CBS plans to counter with the new Phil Silvers Show (as the conniving Ernie Bilko), followed by The Red Skelton Show, and the new quiz show (premiering in June), The $64,000 Question. (Wonder what ever happened to that?) 

Stahl also has a bit of "old" news on hand; Julius LaRosa will be making his first TV appearance since he "left" the Godfrey show (or was pushed), taking over the Perry Como/Jo Stafford 7:45 p.m. timeslot on CBS for two months. Meanwhile, Perry heads for NBC in the fall, where he'll do battle with Jackie Gleason and The Honeymooners. Classics all, eh?

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I want to stick on this Julius LaRosa-Arthur Godfrey thing for another minute. This TV Guide issue contains no fewer than five—five!—promos for next week's issue, like that one over on the left, asking if this is the end for the Old Redhead. 

I'm not sure what today's equivalent would be of the furor surrounding Godfrey's dismissal of LaRosa; maybe the uproar when people found out that Ellen Degeneres wasn't as nice as she appeared on TV. And yet her fame wouldn't begin to rival Godfrey's; at one point, he had three shows on television simultaneously, all of them in the top 10. Then there's his radio show, his public appearances, his commercial endorsements, and his warm, folksy image. That image is what was eviscerated in the LaRosa matter (and the dismissals of other "Little Godfreys" Marion Marlowe, Haleloke, and the Mariners, which is the subject of next week's article), and while this wasn't the "end" of Godfrey—he would continue his radio program for another two decades, and he made occasional television appearances for years—it was the end of his reign as one of America's biggest stars.

One last thing about the teasers in this week's issue: if this all smacks of sensationalism, you have to remember that TV Guide, as a national publication, is still young, still much closer to the fan magazines of the time than a publication with articles that treat television as something worthy of serious journalism and insight. In that sense, one could say that today's TV Guide has simply returned to its roots.

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There's another teaser for something else that you'll be reading in next week's issue: next Monday's I Love Lucy, which features Harpo Marx and the famous "double in the mirror" bit, which you can see here. Items like this are precious parts of television's legacy: the chance to read about history before it becomes history, to view something fresh for the first time. 

According to this article, one of the most interesting aspects of the routine is that "pieces of the scene were spliced together. Why? Harpo kept changing up the routine, throwing Lucy off-balance at times. She had to go over and over again with him how the routine would work." Lucy would say of Harpo that he was "So bright and so darling and, ooh, such a great musician," but it was Lucy who had to keep teaching him the routine.

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Speaking of Disney, as I suppose we were in a sense earlier on, our cover story this week is on Fess Parker, who's become "something of a phenomenon" as Davy Crockett, "King of the Wild Frontier" in the recent three-part Disneyland adventure. He is, in fact, the first and only Disney live actor under the standard Hollywood seven-year contract, and he's being called television's "first genuine overnight star." 

In fact, as the quiet Parker points out, he's been bumming around in Hollywood for a few years now. He's been in nine movies, and did an episode of Dragnet once, in which he "Played the whole thing on m'knees opposite Webb and ol' Ben." Did we mention that Fess stands six-foot-five? He's a favorite around the Disney lot; "This boy has no illusions about himself," one associate says. "Gives the impression of being real naive, but look out. West Texas common sense—and he's loaded with it—is about as naive as British diplomacy of the old school." Considering that Parker would go on to be a successful businessman (including a resort and winery), as well as owner of a number of lucrative properties, I'm not surprised. That's in the future, though; right now, he owns one good suit, one good tie, and a four-year-old car, and he's "just now wearin' out my last set of GI underwear."

As far as his immediate future is concerned, there are four more Crocket shows lined up, plus another Disneyland story. And in the next decade, he'll star as yet another frontier legend, Daniel Boone, running for six highly successful seasons, before retiring from acting at age 49, as one of television's most popular stars. And as down-to-earth as ever.   

(By the way, it occurs to me that this issue mentions two of the three tallest cowboys on television: with 6' 5" Parker, as well as 6' 6" Clint Walker (of Cheyenne); the only one we're missing is 6' 6" Chuck Connors—but The Rifleman won't be on until 1958.)

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Finally, I've been at this for a long time now, and it's not often that I run across a show I've never heard of. I'm not saying it's impossible, but it's a rare experience. That is, until I was introduced to The Florian ZaBach Show. Perhaps you have heard of it, and if so, you're a better man than I, Gunga Din.

Florian ZaBach was a violinist, and a good one. He was discovered by Arthur Godfrey, won fame with a recording of a piece called "The Hot Canary," and appeared on most of the New York-based television shows of the day, and because of that he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which makes me think that perhaps I should have heard of him. 

And so Guild Films, producer of The Liberace Show, has latched on to ZaBach for his own weekly series of violin music, augmented by Mary Ellen Terry (left), "a lithe young dancer," who appears with him many weeks. ZaBach, who was once timed (according to the always-reliable Wikipedia) as playing 12.8 notes per second, performs a pleasant repertoire of popular music—musical comedy, operetta, and standards. With "his wavy blond locks and handsome smile, he undoubtedly impresses the same brand of feminine viewer who dotes on Liberace." And he seems like a nice guy, one "whom housewives would like to know, if not to mother." 

Despite all this, ZaBach has yet to match Lee's ratings success (possibly, according to the review, because he doesn't have a brother named George). The show runs a full season, and after it leaves the air ZaBach spends years performing and conducting around the world with various symphony orchestras. And now that we know him, I suspect none of us will ever forget Florian ZaBach. TV  

April 29, 2022

Around the dial

At Cult TV Blog, John gets our week off to a start with the British dramatic anthology series Play for Today and the episode "The Hallelujah Handshake," a disturbing drama directed by Alan Clarke, one that shows us how very different things have become over the years.

Baseball has been a mainstay on television over the decades, and not just when the game is televised. At Comfort TV, David looks at the ten-best baseball-themed classic TV episodes. An well-thought-out list, including my favorite: Leo Durocher meets Mr. Ed.

Probably a little late to compete in the comments section, but it's always fun to test your wits with another edition of the "Movie Quote Game" at Classic Film & TV Café, featuring the movies of Bette Davis. who's responsible for more than a few memorable quotes over the years.

At A Shroud of Thoughts, Terence pays tribute to the great Robert Morse, who died last week, aged 90. Morse was known for his work on the stage, particularly How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and Tru, but in addition to movies he was a formidable figure on television, with guest appearances aplenty, and the series That's Life and Mad Men.

Finally, some classic TV channels that you definitely need to check out if you want to find yourself watching some fairly rare episodes: the YouTube channels burgersinspace (what a great name; I'd refuse to go into space if there weren't any) and Times Past Television, and the redoubtable Uncle Earl's Classic TV Channel. I think it's fair to say the products of these sites (and others) will be showing up here over the next several months. TV  

April 25, 2022

What's on TV? Sunday, April 27, 1980

Over the years, we've lived in both the Eastern and Central time zones. (The Central is, in my opinion, the most natural, but I'll make an exception now that we're living in God's country.) Although we've never lived in the Pacific time zone, I've visited there before, most recently a couple of years ago, and I will never get used to the idea of sporting event starting at 10:00 in the morning. You'll notice that there's a doubleheader NBA playoff game on CBS today, but it's all over by 3:00 p.m.—what are you supposed to do the rest of the day? Well, this is your chance to find out. Our stations come from the Bay Area.

April 23, 2022

This week in TV Guide: April 26, 1980

If you're looking for television that's reflecting the social climate of 1980—or is it 2022?—boy, have you come to the right place this week.

It's hard to know where to begin, so we might as well start with this week's cover story on NBC's new anti-sitcom, United States, starring Beau Bridges and Helen Shaver. It is, according to Alison Lurie, a series for "[t]hose of us who are tired of laugh tracks, and of pretty people with cute problems." It's Larry Gelbart's creation, and he's set out to show America a married couple where the woman sometimes has the advantage, where the husband is always a step behind, and the show itself lacks both a laugh track and background music. There are children, but they're only occasionally "too damned cute for comfort." One of the most striking elements of the show is Gelbart's creation of an entire two-story interior for the set, giving them "real space to move around in." 

Gelbart has created this show not for "the sugar-added baby-food audience; he wants to attract adult gourmets." It is, Lurie says, "a native sequel to Ingmar Bergman's, a kind of 'Scenes from an American Marriage." It is as far away from Father Knows Best, Donna Reed, and even All in the Family as one can get; a bold move, particularly for a medium that has yet to experience what we would today call "prestige drama" "One thing is sure, however:" Lurie concludes grimly. "if United States does not attract an audience, it will not be around for very long." It is around for exactly nine episodes (with four more unaired) Our go-to resource, Brooks and Marsh's Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, called it "tedious, boring and didactic" It would appear that the viewers of the United States have spoken.

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Next up is the Hallmark Hall of Fame's presentation of Gideon's Trumpet (Wednesday, 9:00 p.m. PT, CBS)based on Anthony Lewis's book of the same name about the landmark 1963 Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright (the book was required reading in my pre-law classes in college), and starring Henry Fonda. If you're up on your Constitutional law, you'll remember that Gideon is the case in which the Court ruled (using the "incorporation doctrine") that the Sixth Amendment right to an attorney applied to the states as well as the Federal government, through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. And yes, I knew that without looking it up.

Gideon's Trumpet presents Fonda in a role that's as different from what we're used to as was his performance in Once Upon a Time in the West. If you're expecting him to portray Abe Fortas, the heroic lawyer (and future Supreme Court justice) who takes Gideon's case all the way to Washington, D.C., you'd be wrong—that honor goes to Jose Ferrer, in a brilliant piece of casting. No, Fonda plays Clarence Gideon, a "semiliterate drifter" charged with breaking and entering, who's forced to defend himself in court because he can't afford a lawyer, and winds up being convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. The 75-year-old Fonda is, in Judith Crist's words, "simply superb" in this "forthright and fascinating drama" that goes to show that, at its best, "truth emerges as more suspenseful and engrossing than any fiction." And those first ten amendments to the Constitution are debated just as much today as they were back in 1980, not to mention 1963.

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Another legal dilemma—the right to privacy—is the subject of an ABC News Closeup (Tuesday, 10:00 p.m.). Specifically, as reporter Paul Altmeyer points out, the increasing use of surveillance by businesses and local police forces against private individuals. In one segment, Altmeyer surprises a phone-company secretary with tapes made by security personnel who tapped her phone for two weeks in 1978. Says a former investigator with the company, "We could check on anybody. We had absolute power." 

And so it goes. TWA supervisors eavesdrop on their reservation clerks, even when they aren't taking calls. Companies using polygraphs and voice-stress analyzers on current or potential employees. Undercover police infiltrating citizens groups that were seeking to open police files on private citizens. Even WLS, the ABC-owned station in Chicago, where the former general manager is being sued by directors who claim he electronically eavesdropped on them.

Now, here we are, 42 years later, and we're still dealing with the same problems, only worse. Silicon Valley tech companies, federal and state governments, financial agencies, police departments: using technology to monitor people: what we say, where we go, the political causes we support. Social credit systems that could be used to decide who can work, who can bank, who can buy groceries. Privacy? What's that?

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That's just one of two documentaries this week touching on issues that are just as explosive today as they were back in 1980, if not more so. It's the CBS Reports look at "Gay Power, Gay Politics." (Saturday, 10:00 p.m.) The focus is on San Francisco, where homosexuals make up 12 to 25 percent of the population, and are seen as the city's new "power brokers," especially the "night of gay rage" in the wake of Dan White's manslaughter conviction for the murder of mayor George Moscone and gay leader Harvey Milk (above).

While there are interviews with homosexual men and woman as well as insights into their lives and the gay lifestyle, the accent is on politics—for instance, the key support they provided in the election of Dianne Feinstein as the city's new mayor. According to producer George Crile, Feinstein "gave them all they had asked for," including a promise to appoint them to city government positions in proportion to their numbers. Their growing power is also evident in proposals to "'demystify' homosexuality for school children," and the impact it's all having on "traditional values." I'd swear I read this very story just yesterday. Why anyone should be surprised by any of this is beyond me.

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Whenever 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: Performers Cheap Trick, Lena Lovich, Rick Derringer and Le Roux.

Special: It's part two of the seventh-anniversary show, with Captain and Tenille (hosts), Dolly Parton, Olivia Newton-John, the Commodores, the Village People, Willie Nelson, Crystal Gayle and Andy Kaufman. Also: a comedy segment with Bruce Vilanch. 

OK, I'll admit this probably isn't a fair match this week, since The Midnight Special has a loaded, clip-driven all-star lineup. (Still, who doesn't like a good set from Cheap Trick?) But, fair or not, Special is a perfect example of what top-40 radio used to sound like, and when every act is a hit, you can't deny that this week Special is special.

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The sports news this week is bad, at least for NBC; according to Frank Swertlow's TV Update, the network has "unofficially" ruled out televising the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics in light of the U.S. decision to boycott the Games. Now begins the process of reimbursing the advertisers who've paid for the sold-out commercial time, as well as filing an insurance claim with Lloyds of London and other carriers for the $87 million they paid for the television rights. A prescient decision, that, considering that boycott rumors had begun as early as two years ago. In light of how political sports has become over the decades, I wonder if insurance coverage like this is standard nowadays?

I recall how the boycott fever that year prompted so many people to think of the Brits as traitors, not only for refusing to participate in the boycott, but carrying TV coverage on BBC. Or a few years later, when the French pissed us off over something or other (but then, when aren't they?) and we wound up with "Freedom Fries"? It's easy to get fervent about causes like this, isn't it? You're either for us or you're against us. I also find it interesting how, over 40 years later, Russia is still the center of world political attention. What do I always say, the more things change. . . 

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Some other highlights of the week: 

Let's keep with sports this weekend, starting with playoff action in the NHL (Saturday, 5:00 p.m., KTSF) and the NBA (Sunday, 10:00 a.m., CBS). Sunday also showcases the golf tournament that gave birth to golf's Senior Tour, the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf, from Austin, Texas (11:30 a.m., ABC). The Senior Tour hadn't been formalized at the time, so this is a unique event, giving "the sport's old-timers a chance to cash in on today's hefty purses." Some of the tour's great names of the past, including Roberto de Vicenzo, Julius Boros, Tommy Bolt and Art Wall, play in two-man teams for a share of the $400,000 purse, and this year Arnold Palmer makes his debut in the event. Soon, these "old-timers" will be rivaling the regular tour for popularity. 

Also on Sunday, Diana Ross makes her movie debut in Lady Sings the Blues (8:00 p.m., ABC), "based recognizably" on the life of the great Billie Holiday. Judith Crist sees Ross's performance as "brilliant as both actress and singer," and she's joined by Billy Dee Williams, telling the "rags-to-riches tale of a singer done in by the wrong man, with drugs or drink the recourse.)" As for Monday night's movie, All God's Children (9:00 p.m., ABC) is a story of "a town torn apart" by court-ordered busing to achieve racial segregation. Richard Widmark, Ned Beatty, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee star, and considering the racial tensions in this country today, I probably should have included it above. I was just too tired, though.

night, John Williams makes his debut as conductor of the Boston Pops in a special two-hour Evening at Pops (7:00 p.m., PBS). Williams is facing a tall order replacing the legendary conductor Arthur Fiedler, who died the previous July, but he's helped out with a glittering lineup that includes violinist Isaac Stern and actor Burgess Meredith, who narrates a 14-minute adaptation of William Faulkner's The Reivers, to a score written by Williams for the 1969 film version. Williams also conducts two selections from his score for the upcoming Star Wars sequel, The Empire Strikes Back

Here's a great idea for a new feature: I'll describe the show, and you tell me if it's real or an SCTV parody! In this corner, we have The Jimmy McNichol Special, with Conrad Bain, Jeff Conaway, Magic Johnson, Donna Pescow, Kurt Thomas, Ricky Schroder, and Kristy McNichol. Meanwhile, in the opposing corner, a movie adaptation of Agatha Christie's mystery Death Takes No Holiday. If you had Jimmy McNichol to win, you're about to cash in; "The face on every newsstand comes home, for his first all-star TV special." (Wednesday, 8:00 p.m., CBS) I can't help it; this ad makes it sound as if everyone's entitled to an all-star TV special sooner or later. This one was Jimmy McNichol's first, and unless I'm mistaken, also his last. By the way, Death Takes No Holiday airs Sunday morning on Second City Television (1:00 a.m., KRON). 'Tis a far, far better thing to switch to PBS at the same hour for a broadcast of Gian Carlo Menotti's magnificent hour-long opera The Medium, a dark story about a mysterious fortune-teller, with Maureen Forrester in the title role.

Thursday it's the Academy of Country Music Awards, live from Los Angeles (Country capital of the world, right?), hosted by Loretta Lynn, Charley Pride, and Claude Akins. (9:00 p.m., NBCS) A star-studded lineup of entertainers is on hand, including Barbara Mandrell, Donna Fargo, the Oak Ridge Boys, Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, and Eddie Rabbitt. Among the night's awards is the special Entertainer of the Decade award, given to none other than the Coal Miner's Daughter herself, Loretta Lynn.

On Friday, it's a reminder that the Kentucky Derby arrives on the first Saturday in May, as Frank Gifford and Sandy Hill host Friday Night Live at the Kentucky Derby (11:30 p.m., ABC). Unlike the many pre-Super Bowl specials, though, this concentrates on the sport itself, with a preview of the horses running tomorrow, and features on some of the more interesting stories, such as actor Jack Klugman's horse Jacklin Klugman, who'll be part of the race. The only showbiz entertainment is the premiere of Dan Fogelberg's Derby song, "Run for the Roses." Wonder if any of them mentioned Genuine Risk, who the next day becomes the first filly in 65 years to win the Derby.
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Finally, I was wrong up there when I said we were done looking at socially relevant shows. Take a look at the topics on this week's People are Talking. (10:00 a.m., KPIX):
  • Monday: Sexual Slaves
  • Tuesday: U.S. Invaded by Foreigners
  • Wednesday: Terrorist Secrets Exposed!
  • Thursday: Fat Discrimination
  • Friday: Dealing with Daily Stress  
Correct me if I'm wrong—this issue was written in 1980, wasn't it? TV  

April 22, 2022

Around the dial

We're back after the Good Friday break, and as is usually the case after we take a week off, we have a packed trip Around the Dial in-store, so we'll get right to it.

Part three of the Hitchcock Project look at the television work of Sarett Rudley is up at bare-bones e-zine, and this week Jack is looking at "My Brother, Richard," Rudley's teleplay from 1957. It's a routine story, but with a very nice cast: Royal Dano, Inger Stevens, and Harry Townes.

At Classic Film & TV Cafe, Rick gives us seven things to know about Barbara Eden, the wonderful actress who turns 91 (!) this year. She's more than Jeannie, of course, with a list of credits both before and after the show, but I don't think she needed any of that magic to remain a star for all of us.

I Dream of Jeannie wasn't the only '60s sitcom using magic as a premise, of course, but at Comfort TV, Rick takes a slightly darker look at Bewitched, and Darrin's vow to not take advantage of his wife Samantha's powers. His resolve wavered once, but in the end remained firm; what, he asks, can happen when we're the ones being tempted? Will we ever know for sure how resolute we'll be when temptation comes knocking at the door?

It's an "Escape to Tampico" for a flat-busted Bret Maverick at The Horn Section, as Hal recounts the noirish second-season episode, with the great character actor Gerald Mohr as the Bogartesque casino owner Steve Corbett.

Could you possibly resist an event called the First Nether Wallop International Arts Festival? Especially if you knew it featured Peter Cook, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, Rik Mayall, Billy Connolly, Rowan Atkinson, and others? It happened in 1984 (you can see highlights here), and John has the details at Cult TV Blog.

The top 10 hits of the Doors is a topic that has pretty much nothing to do with television (although they did their share of TV appearances); since I'm a fan of their music though (though I do cringe at some of the lyrics), I couldn't resist linking to this piece over at The Flaming Nose.

At RealWeegieMidget, Gill reviews the television remake of David Lean's classic Brief Encounter, which I believe aired here on the Hallmark Hall of Fame (back when, well, you know). The ill-fated lovers are played by Richard Burton and Sophia Loren; with them as your stars, do you need anyone else?

Nehemiah Persoff must have been one of the last major stars from television's Golden Age; his performances were often intense and frequently memorable, and one role that encompassed both was the Twilight Zone episode "Judgment Night." At Shadow & Substance, Paul looks at what powered Persoff's powerful performance.

Care for some reading? If, like me, you enjoyed the 1960s television version of The Green Hornet, then you'll be drawn to The Green Hornet: How Sweet the Sting, a new novel by Jim Beard. Martin Grams has the lowdown. 

I promised a lot of good stuff today; hopefully, the wait was worth it. TV  

April 20, 2022

"The Wacky Show That Shook a Nation"

The infamous Lando Gegoli (right) with host Mike Bongiorno

Sometimes you wind up doing the wrong thing for the right reason. (And other times you just wind up being wrong.) In this case, I meant to say something on Saturday about the headline across the top of this week's TV Guide cover: "The Wacky Show That Shook a Nation." Anticipating questions about a provocative headline like that, I was going to explain that it was about an Italian show that had gone off the air in 1959, and that we needn't concern ourselves with it any further. I forgot, though, and so I wound up answering questions about it anyway. And it was a good thing as it turned out, because Nino Lo Bello's story makes for far more interesting reading than anything I'd been planning to say today anyway.

The show in question is Lascia o Raddoppia, which roughly translates as "Leave It or Double It," and it's described as Italy's version of The $64,000 Question. And in answer to one of those questions I received, it didn't, unlike its American counterpart, have any scandals; and yet, as Lo Bello says, "nothing in history will ever quite compare with the absurd sequence of events related to that show." Since we're all about absurdity around here, I saw this as a promising start. Indeed, when a newspaper recently suggested bringing back the show, a Government spokesman responded, "Isn't it enough we fought that pestilence once? Wouldn't it be easier to bring back the bubonic plague instead?"

To understand all this, it's necessary to look at the case of Lando Degoli, who taught high school math, and presented himself as an expert on opera. (And at the outset I want to note that there is no guarantee American audiences would have responded to the following the same way Italians did to this story.) He'd announced to viewers that he was intending to "go all the way" for the top prize of $5 million lire, which amounts to a little over $8,000 US, because he and his wife wanted to adopt a baby. 

So far, so good—until he got to the $4,000 question, which was: "In what opera did Verdi first use the double bassoon?" Stunned and on the verge of tears, Degoli had to respond, "I just don't know." According to Lo Bello, the fallout divided all of Italy into pro- and anti-double bassoonists. From the floor of Parliament, legislators insisted that it was unfair to ask amateurs such hard questions. (I told you we might not react in the same way.)

Finally, RAI, the State-owned network, decided to invite Degoli back onto the show as if he'd answered the question correctly, and give him the chance to win the grand prize. Degoli then produced a monkey wrench of his own. "These questions, if they were easy, I'd refuse to answer on the basis of my dignity," he said admirably. "I'm leaving this most cruel of all games." He then added, however, that he was going to take the money after all, even though he'd committed himself to going "all the way." Viewers, who had invested so much emotion in Degoli's quest, felt betrayed. So betrayed, in fact, that the government had to provide Degoli with security for two months until things died down. That's how big Lascia o Raddoppia was.

You can't overestimate the popularity of the show. Contestants received as many as 2,000 letters a week. Those who were down and out were deluged with offers of help. Attractive young ladies were swamped with proposals of marriage. And this leads us to the story of Maria Luisa Garoppo, the Tobacco Girl of Casale. For two months, she'd thrilled viewers with her knowledge of Greek drama, which was ample, and her 45-inch bust, which was also ample. (Not to mention that she had a 19-inch waist, which simply accentuated the positive.) 

Wearing a tight red dress, the Tobacco Girl set off all kinds of alarms of scandal, with half the county outraged by her appearance (this is the 1950s, after all), and the other half drooling. The network, sensing trouble on the horizon, decided to pay her off to leave the show (they told viewers she was leaving due to "emotional shock"). Conservatives praised the decision; one pointed out that Pope Pius XII was a big fan of the show, and applauded a return to modesty. Communists accused the Church of getting involved in matters that didn't concern it; said one, "The Vatican is evidently discontented with God, for it seeks to change His creations." The controversy continued for a week.

Paola Bolognani and her mother
There was Marisa Zocchi (Miss Tuscany of 1954), going for the $8 grand so she could hire a full-time nurse for her ailing mother; it was another story that enchanted the country. When push came to shove, however, she tearfully announced she couldn't risk losing the $4,000 she'd already won—she had to take it "for Mom's sake." There was no backlash, as the poor Degoli had experienced; in fact, this one had a happy ending, as King Farouk (another loyal viewer) was so moved that he sent her a money order for the additional $4,000 she might have won if she'd gone for the last question. Then there was Paola Bolognani, the attractive 18-year-old contestant who became famous enough (22 magazine covers, over 20,000 letters, and 3,500 offers of marriage) that a newspaper tried to cash in on her fame by publishing a (true) story disclosing that she was an illegitimate child, with an entire family of step siblings she didn't even know about. An outraged public rioted outside the newspaper's headquarters, stoning their windows; while RAI received more letters than ever before. Streets were deserted the night she tried—and succeeded—at winning the grand prize, a three-part question on soccer.

Stories like this led to Lascia o Raddoppia's eventual downfall. While American networks would kill for this kind of publicity (and there's no such thing as bad publicity), the Government resented all the attention it was receiving. They'd created a monster; everyone was talking about Lascia and not about them. In fact, the Christian Democratic Party and the Italian Communist Party combined forces to, as Lo Bello put it, "assassinate" the show. I admit to not quite understanding this; after all, Roman politicians had once promised the people bread and circuses, but I guess even Caesar might have felt that this went too far. One politician called Lascia o Raddoppia a "Trojan horse," presumably comparing it to the evils wrought by wine, women and song. "If Mussolini had been around when it started, he would have booted that cursed quiz to Dante's inferno. It did Italy more harm than all her enemies put together." Heaven forbid that American politicians (cough—TipperGore—cough—DanQuayle) would have accused pop culture of being so detrimental.

And so the legend of "The Wacky Show That Shook a Nation" comes to an end. Incredibly, the show does make a comeback—three of them, in fact, as you can read here. (You'll also learn that the show's most famous contestant was American composer John Cage.) And I'm glad I didn't dismiss it with one line on Saturday. It has to be one of the more colorful stories in television's often-colorful history, and I just feel better knowing about it. Don't you? TV  

April 18, 2022

What's on TV? Wednesday, April 17, 1963

Xt isn't often that you see a CBS affiliate with more color programming than an NBC one in the early 1960s, but that's the case this week with WHDH. The station appears to have made a major commitment to color with its local programs, with the result that it winds up looking like an NBC station! (And that doesn't include carrying The Tonight Show in place of NBC's own affiliate, WBZ). In fact, the history of WHDH (and its successor, WCVB) is a very colorful one, as you can see from the always-reliable Wikipedia. We're with the Eastern New England edition.

April 16, 2022

This week in TV Guide: April 13, 1963

He's one of the most influential men of the 20th Century, although most of his damage was done behind the scenes. His fingerprints are all over the concepts of urban development. His battles with mayors, governors and even presidents were legendary, and it was the rare man who didn't succumb to at least a little trembling at the mention of his name. His accomplishments, for good as well as ill, were legion. He's the subject of this week's CBS Reports (Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. ET): "The Man Who Built New York," Robert Moses, where host Bill Leonard quizzes him on his ideas, his critics and his accomplishments, as well as his reputation as "someone hard to argue with."

If you watched Ric Burns' magnificent documentary New York about 20 years ago, you know the name well, for no discussion of New York City can be had without talking about Robert Moses. He's been called the most polarizing figure in the history of urban planning, and his concepts were a blend of genius and utter contempt. It is Robert Moses who developed the modern superhighway, the spaghetti pattern of on- and off-ramps that frequently approached art in their intricacy; it is Moses who, with his contempt for mass transit, helped create the modern suburb. 

Moses designed Jones Beach State Park as a haven for those trying to escape the city, accessible by freeway, and then designed the overpasses low enough that buses couldn't use them, allegedly in order to keep the riffraff away. He created landmarks such as the Triborough Bridge, and ordered the destruction of landmarks such as the original Penn Station. He did more than any man since Henry Ford to not only popularize but make essential the automobile, yet he himself did not drive. He tore through neighborhoods to build roads and housing projects, he refused to help Walter O'Malley build a new stadium in Brooklyn to keep the Dodgers but gladly pushed for the construction of Shea Stadium at the site of his 1964 World's Fair. He started out as a reformer and ended by treating "the people" with scorn, while never holding elective office.

Moses was hugely influential in urban planning, and if you look at just about any large urban city in America you'll see his influence. I could see it when I lived in Minneapolis, every time I drove through the slums and run-down areas that lined the freewaysfreeways that had been built by tearing down thriving ethnic neighborhoods, replacing them with miles and miles of concrete and fences. The irony is that Moses' creations, designed to alleviate congestion on the roadways, actually wound up causing more congestion; as the roads and bridges went up, they encouraged more and more traffic, often making the projects outdated before they'd even finished.

At the time of this profile, Moses is controversial, but still feared by politicians, and his accomplishments (including that upcoming World's Fair) are generally praised, if sometimes grudgingly. But the tide is turningthe following year, his plan to demolish Greenwich Village in favor of the Mid-Manhattan Expressway is vetoed by city government, and Jane Jacobs takes direct aim at him in her classic book The Death and Life of Great American Cities. But it is probably Robert Caro's massive Pulitzer-winning biography of Moses, The Power Broker, that seals the public's perception of him. Its subtitle is "Robert Moses and the Fall of New York," and it comes at a time when the city is in crisis, when its finances are collapsing, crime is spiraling, subway cars are enveloped by graffiti, and decay is everywhere. This, says Caro, is his legacy; this is the promised land that Moses hath wrought.

By then Moses has fallen from power; Nelson Rockefeller is the first politicianfederal, state or localto outwit the master, and Caro captures perfectly the puzzlement of the man who, oblivious to his own ruthless, bullying legacy, simply can't understand why people don't understand that he did what he had to do: what he knew was best for New York, and for America.

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April 14 is Easter Sunday, and there's no lack of special programming to bolster the regular Sunday morning lineup. WNAC in Boston, presents a program at 9:30 a.m. on the Shroud of Turin, and if that sounds familiar, it's because I also noted it last month in a 1959 issue. At 10:00 a.m., WBZ has Our Believing World, a half-hour of sacred music performed by the Boston University Seminary Singers. Also at 10:00, CBS presents Missa Domini, an hour of Easter music by the University Chorale and chamber orchestra of Boston College conducted by C. Alexander Peloquin, including three of Peloquin's own compositions. Meanwhile, ABC stations in the area have live coverage of the Easter Solemn Pontifical Mass from Holy Cross Cathedral in Boston, celebrated by Richard Cardinal Cushing, Archbishop of Boston; I don't know whether or not this was a national broadcast. At 11:00 a.m., NBC carries an Easter service from Pleasant Ridge Presbyterian in Cincinnati, while CBS follows with a service from Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. 

Later in the day, WPRO in Providence, has a half-hour of Easter music from the Canticum Glee Club at Brown University and the Lincoln School Glee Club, conducted by Erich Kunzel, who will go on to great fame as conductor of the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. There are also musical presentations at 4:00 p.m. on ABC's Directions '63 and WBZ's Odyssey program, and at 4:30 Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians are on NBC to provide a little popular Easter and spring music.

Finally, at 6:30, it's another of John Secondari's Close-Up! documentaries on ABC, this one on the Vatican. We see the inner workings of Vatican bureaucracy, a session of the Second Vatican Council, and Pope John XXIII at work in his office. In an article that appears elsewhere in the issue, Secondari talks of the profound impression the Pontiff left on everyone involved in producing the program - he asked questions of the sound and cameramen, wondering how their equipment worked, asked about the families of the correspondents, obligingly reread a statement when asked if he could do another take, and engaged in his everyday routineall along seemingly oblivious to the chaos caused by the crew. "It was not only his appearance of universal grandfather," Secondari writes, "it was the warmth and friendliness which came out to envelop all of us who had invaded what little peace and quiet is his." As they wrapped up their work the Pope blessed cameras and crew, remarking, "It is early yet and I have many things to do before I have earned my midday meal."

John XXIII was already dying of stomach cancer when this program was filmed; less than two months after it is aired, on June 3 he dies at the age of 81.

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Nominees received a bowl, like this one for Peter Pan
nominated for Best Dramatic, Musical or Variety show.
So much for religious programming, but there are several primetime specials still waiting to round out Easter—the kind of programming you might offer if families were gathering for the day. Ed Sullivan's show this week is from England (8:00 p.m.), with Judy Garland, Peter O'Toole, Cliff Richard and the Shadows, Margo Henderson, and Frank Ifeld headlining the bill. Hollywood Palace hasn't been born yet, but this would have been a tough act to top. At the same time on NBC, a Bob Hope special features Dean Martin and Martha Raye, with the annual TV Guide Awards rounding out the evening. (Bonanza won Favorite Series, by the way.) And at 10:00 p.m., Dinah Shore's colorcast special on NBC co-stars special guests Bobby Darin and Andre Previn. Meanwhile, Voice of Firestone (10:00 p.m., ABC) welcomes opera stars Rise Stevens and Theodor Uppman, and ballet giants Maria Tallchief and Oleg Tupine, with Arthur Fiedler as the conductor.

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We should spend a moment on this week's cover feature about Richard Egan, star of the new Western series Empire, which airs Tuesday nights on NBC. Empire is a big show, set on a sprawling ranch in New Mexico, and it takes a big star, at least in size. Egan, as ranch manager Jim Redigo, certainly fits the bill there; over six feet tall and weighing more than 200 pounds, with a 17-inch neck, an 18-inch arm, and a 48-inch chest. (In other words, something like me when I was younger.) Good thing, because Egan has had to heft around 150-pound calves as well as 230-pound actors (Ed Begley), as well as carrying the weight of Empire on his shoulders. 

The show's original cast included Ryan O'Neal, Terry Moore, and Anne Seymour, but the two women were dropped early on, replaced by Charles Bronson and Warren Vanders; producer William Dozier says the women "reacted against the masculinity of the show. They were a dissonance." Despite the four-man cast, though, Empire is no Bonanza or Virginian, where the stars alternate leading roles. Egan is The Star. 

Being a Star is something Egan has worked for since he started acting in 1946, but for years he was stuck with the label of future star, with endless predictions that he was on the brink of being the next big thing. The problem has been that Egan can field a variety of roles, but none of them have fully come to define the "Richard Egan character." Egan's hoping that Empire will change things, so much so that he's moved his family from Southern California to a rented adobe home in New Mexico. The work is tough, but as Egan admits, "The only thrill you get from acting is people seeing you," and to be seen, you have to be working. 

Empire runs for a complete season before being cut from an hour to 30 minutes, with the truncated series being renamed Redigo. Egan obviously remains the star, but the new version runs a mere 15 weeks before departing the mortal coils of television history. Egan never becomes that big star, but he certainly has a long career, doing the lead in some low budget movies and appearing in guest star roles on television before dying of prostate cancer in 1987.

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ABC has spent the first decades of its broadcasting life as the red-haired stepchild of television. And yet, as Thursday night's lineup proves, the network has also been responsible for some of the best-known and most fondly remembered shows of the 1960s. With one exception, this is a stunning night of television, a veritable who's who* of iconic sitcoms, all of which are deeply ingrained in classic television history.

*The only kind of "who's who" is a "veritable" one.

It starts at 7:30 p.m. with America's favorite family, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, in its 11th of 14 seasons, which made Ricky Nelson into a teen idol. That's followed at 8:00 by The Donna Reed Show, in its fifth of eight seasons, which helped define the housewife of the late '50s and early '60s. At 8:30 it's Leave It to Beaver, a show which has only grown in popularity over the years, in its sixth and final season, and then at 9:00 My Three Sons, which is probably better-known as a CBS show but spent its first five of 12 seasons on ABC. The sitcom stars conclude at 9:30 with the youngster of the group, McHale's Navy, in its first of (only) four seasons, reminding us of the "Good War" that isn't even 20 years past. ABC's schedule concludes at 10:00 with the hour-long drama anthology Alcoa Presents, the most outstanding feature of which is that it's hosted by Fred Astaire, who also occasionally stars in an episode.

I've written before about the Saturday night "Murderer's Row" of CBS shows in the '70s, and the Thursday night "Must See TV" on NBC more recently, but this has to rank as one of the most underrated television lineups of all time. Every one of those sitcoms is well-remembered and loved, with big-name stars and familiar storylines, and each one of them tells us something important about the America of the '50s and '60s. If you wanted to learn about those times and were limited to watching just these five sitcoms, you could do a whole lot worse.

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Here's something we haven't done for awhile: a quick look at the celebrities appearing in this week's game shows. As is generally the case, the celebs are on for the entire week.

Appropriately enough, first up is Your First Impression on NBC, with Steve Dunne, Betty White and Dennis James joining host Bill Leyden. On CBS's Password, Orson Bean and Susan Strasberg are the duelers, with Allen Ludden moderating the fray. That's followed by To Tell the Truth, which this week has Carol Channing, Joan Fontaine, Skitch Henderson and Henry Morgan on the panel, and Bud Collyer behind the host's desk. (From past experience watching game shows, I can assume that Carol Channing was a real pain in the you-know-what.) Finally, the most interesting pairing, on NBC's You Don't Say!Lee Marvin and Beverly Garland, with host Tom Kennedy. Maybe it's just me, but I've never thought of Lee Marvin as a game show panelist.

In the primetime shows, the nighttime version of To Tell the Truth has Tom Poston, Peggy Cass, Kitty Carlisle and Sam Levenson, while the nighttime Password has Eydie Gorme and Alan King (who was an excellent player). The cast of I've Got a Secret isn't listed (apparently it's a secret), but I'd assume it's the regular one, with Bill Cullen, Betsy Palmer, Henry Morgan and Bess Myerson, presided over with avuncular charm by Garry Moore. And on the granddaddy of them all, What's My Line? (now in its 14th season!), Phyllis Newman and Richard Boone join regulars Arlene Francis, Bennett Cerf, and host John Daly, and though it wouldn't have been listed in the TV Guide, the Mystery Guest is Jimmy Durante.

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Finally this week, the essayist Marya Mannes, serving as guest reviewer for the next couple of weeks, has a very funny and yet insightful look at soap operas which, she says, she became addicted to during a recent brief illness. Says Miss Mannes, "They relax the brain, suspend belief and elicit continuous admiration for the expenditure of so much production and acting talent on such unending woe."

Her two favored soaps right now are The Guiding Light and The Edge of Night, with occasional look-ins at As the World Turns and The Secret Storm. In particular, she finds The Edge of Night to be far and away the best, primarily because of its emphasis on law and crime and its use of reason and ingenuity in telling its stories. She finds it, for the most part, free of the "grotesquely lurid" storylines that populate many soaps, and is "refreshing to find the sentiment occasionally leavened with humor, and some indication that the American female exists outside the kitchen."

On the other hand, there's The Guiding Light and the "bovine dumbness" of the Bauer females, which is only partially made-up for by outstanding performances of Barbara Becker as ex-alcoholic Doris Crandall and Phil Sterling as lawyer George Hayes. (I think she's got something for lawyers.) She finds As the World Turns to be "dull but peculiar," describes the two heroines, Penny and Ellen, as "tedious girls," and sees the show as the epitome of what plagues most soap operas: "rampant emotionalism for small reason." I'm going to have to remember that phrase the next time someone asks me to describe the biggest problem with the Internet. In fact, one might consider the following to be a kind of "Everything I Know About Life I Learned From Soap Operas":

  • Americans Spend Half Their Time on the Operating Table and the Other Half on the Witness Stand.
  • Nothing Exists Outside the Family Unit.
  • Women with Aprons Are Good Women; They Drink Coffee Every Two Minutes.
  • Bad Women Drink Cocktails and Have Careers.
  • Mothers Who Want Their Grown Children to Stay Home Are Good Mothers.
  • Good Men Must Be Lawyers, Doctors or Business Executives.
  • Nobody Reads Books.
  • Divorce Is Unthinkable.
  • There Is No Happiness Outside the Home.

That would make a great poster, don't you think? TV