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  


  1. In a way, Conrad Bain was combined with SCTV when SCTV became a Friday night/Saturday morning show on NBC starting about a year later. Each episode had a mixture of old & new SCTV clips mixed with a common thread, and one particular episode had "Hank Bain" starring in SCTV's ripoff of DIFF'RENT STROKES. However "Hank" was actually an enemy spy for planet Zontar who attached small cabbages to the backs of people's heads around the SCTV studios to control them. I fell asleep during the show when it was first run, then I saw up to the end next time and was surprised to see not Conrad Bain but his identical twin brother, Bonar (a Canadian businessman), credited on the show. I thought he looked a little bit different from his brother. Bonar also filled in as a twin for Arthur Harmon on MAUDE and a European female relative of Philip Drummond's (Dana Plato played her mischievous son.) on DIFF'RENT STROKES.

    Loretta Lynn was about to have an even bigger 1980 with the release of her bio movie, "Coal Miner's Daughter", which I remember seeing at a theater that year. Sissy Spacek won the Best Actress Oscar the next year for her portrayal of Mrs. Lynn.

    PEOPLE ARE TALKING was a daytime show in different versions on all the Group-W Westinghouse-owned tv stations, with KPIX being Group-W's San Francisco station. Oprah Winfrey got great career mileage hosting the Baltimore version of the same show on that city's WJZ-TV.

    1. Believe it or not, the Oprah version of "People are Talking" was picked up in Cleveland by the old WCLQ, channel 61, in 1984!

  2. The enitre Bay Area edition for that week is available in Internet Archive (archive.org). Regarding KPIX's People Are Talking (originally The Morning Show), it shut out The Price is Right for parts of the Bay Area which didn't get KXTV 10 of Sacramento, or KMST 46 of Monterey. TPIR would return to the Bay Area airwaves on December 8, 1980 (we all know what happened later that night) on KTZO 20 (formerly KEMO, now KOFY) when they started carrying CBS and NBC game shows that their SF affiliates locally pre-empted.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!