May 30, 2022

What's on TV? Monday, June 2, 1980




One of the things I've noticed doing this feature throughout the years is how the number of ABC affiliates has increased as we get into the 1980s. Some of this is due to location, of course; one never has a problem finding an ABC station in New York City. But ABC, along with DuMont, always lagged behind NBC and CBS; those two networks had the advantage of building on their many radio affiliations. Frequently, you'd see ABC having to share an affiliation with another network, and sometimes they had no affiliate at all, but had to wrangle what time they could for their more popular shows, which explains why a show such as The Hollywood Palace would be seen at 10:30 p.m. on Sunday night. No longer, though; this is the era of ABC dominance in primetime, and in this Southeast Texas issue of TV Guide, ABC affiliates dominate the landscape. I wonder how many of them had made a switch in the previous few years? I could find out, but that would require too much effort. In the meantime, hope you all have a restful Memorial Day.

May 28, 2022

This week in TV Guide: May 31, 1980




True story: back when I was hosting a political talk show on public access television back in the 1990s, I had this great idea to try and measure how many people were watching the show. It wasn't a very good show, sandwiched as it was between two other political shows on Monday nights, all of which ran for 30 minutes (I used to joke that the time period ought to be called the "Narcolepsy 90," on the grounds that nobody would be awake by the time the third show had ended), but we did have our moments, and this surely would have been one of them.

The idea, and I'm not sure why we never did it, was that the show would open with our usual opening credits, but that instead of our regular, public domain theme, we'd play the extended version of Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," which runs 17 minutes, while the title slide remained up the entire time. When the song finally ended, nearly 20 minutes into the show, the picture would fade to me, whereupon I would introduce my guest as if nothing had happened, and then promptly apologize that we had run out of time, tell the audience that we'd see them again next week, and roll the closing credits.* My thought was that, five or so minutes into this, people might start to wonder what was going on, and by the 15-minute mark, they might be convinced that something was seriously wrong, and would call the station to find out what was going on. Since nobody bothered to measure ratings for shows like ours, it might at least give us a vague idea of how many viewers we had, or at least how many were invested in the show as more than background noise for their pets while they were out.

*The idea progressed enough that I actually considered whether to let the guest in on the joke, or to spring it on him unawares, and then explain everything afterward. 

Even though that show never came off, it wouldn't have been out of place in the wacky world of public access television, as this week's article by Don Kowet points out. Take, for example, Dick Roffman's show on public access Channel J in New York City. On Dick Roffman & Friends, "a roomful of preening vanity-press authors and tin-eared Carusos spring through 15-seconds-of-glory TV spots. The oblivious Roffman shuffles some papers on his desk. He reads a magazine. One night a poet tried to recite more than his one allotted stanza. Outraged, Roffman leaped up and shoved the babbling bard off the stage." Now that's my kind of guy.

Some of the shows are borderline pornographic; "performers on all three public channels are allowed to commit almost any sexual act, and they often do. They can utter anything except outright criminal libel." Some are, arguably, even more disgusting; one show broadcast, on Christmas Day, a loop of "an 'artist' walking up to a little dog and actually shooting it dead in cold blood." Some preach their own version of the Gospel; one invented "a trinity in which she, New York TV-nostalgia-king Joe Franklin and the Mafia competed for control of her soul." 

But most are simply eccentric. On Mondo Bozo, star Kathy O'Connell tries to enroll viewers in her write-in campaign to become Queen of Holland. Her qualifications? "I saw both versions of 'Hans Brinker, Or, The Silver Skates'.") On The Grube Tube, Steve Grub talks to telephone callers while his phone number flashes on the screen, accompanied by the message, "Steve needs a woman now!" Adrian Stokes, host of New York Live, Jim Chladek, a former ABC programming executive, says there are eight different reasons why people want to host a public-access show: "Some do it for vanity, some for instant ego gratification. How many reasons is that? Only one? I'll have to call you later with the other seven." 

Some access shows have higher goals than that; Nick Yanni's Tomorrow's Television Tonight hopes to, in the host's words, "prove that you don't need such glossy production values to create a show." Yanni, a TV critic for the New York Post, gives a weekly review of what's happening in the city's TV, art and theater. His guest list—Joan Fontaine, Steve Allen, Hugh Downs and Stockard Channing among them—pays testimony to the respect with which Yanni's show is held.

I never had a guest list like that, but I think that by the time my show went off the air, we had developed a certain élan in the way we spoofed local and national politics. (E.g.: "We show how the soundtrack to Hogan's Heroes matches up exactly with the picture on C-SPAN.") Perhaps, if we'd stuck with it another twenty years or so, we might even have made it to cable.

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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: Music by Rufus and Chaka Khan, Squeeze, Tanya Tucker and Rupert Holmes; comedy by Jimmie Walker and Dick Lord.

Special: Hostess Dolly Parton welcomes Paul McCartney & Wings, Crystal Gayle, Alice Cooper, Rita Coolidge, Frankie Valli, Chuck Mangione, Yvonne Elliman and a salute to Queen. 

It's possible that some of you might find the real winner of the week to be ABC's sketch comedy show Fridays, which has Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers as musical guests (minority report: Randy Newman on Saturday Night Live), but in the world of big-name talent, this week's Special is special, boasting five Rock Hall of Fame enshrinees. How can you go against that? Special wins the week.

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I appreciate Joseph Finnigan's turn of phrase in this week's TV Update, in which he describes NBC as having a "death grip" on third place in the ratings. But as we all know, when you've got nothing left in the bank, you go double or nothing, and that's what network president Fred Silverman has done with his decision to open the season with the 12-part Shogun, broadcast over six consecutive nights. Of course, if everyone had known what a ratings blockbuster Shogun would be—it gives NBC its highest weekly Nielsen ratings ever, and the average rating for the miniseries is the second highest in TV history (following Roots, of course)—Silverman probably would have been given no credit at all. The question, however, is this: will Shogun save the network? Well, at the end of the season, NBC has but six of the nation's 30 highest rated shows, and its top series (Little House on the Prairie) comes in tenth. By the following year, the man with the golden touch is gone.

The new season will also see The Tonight Show cut from 90 minutes to an hour, at Johnny Carson's request, and plans to fill the gap by expanding Tom Snyder's Tomorrow show to 90 minutes. This move is, I think, a mistake for both shows: cutting Tonight effectively changes the character of the show from one in which guests sit on the couch and chat with each other, to a series of one-on-one interviews (most of which sound rehearsed) and no interaction whatsoever. For Tomorrow, the addition of Rona Barrett as co-host is an unmitigated disaster, and instead of Snyder's often incisive interviews, Tomorrow becomes a bloated shadow of its former self.

The fall season will be affected by an actors strike that runs three months and results in a boycott of the Emmy awards, but that's not the strike that TV Guide's talking about this week. No, the program listings carry the warning that a baseball strike could result in the preemption of regularly scheduled games, to be replaced by baseball-themed programming. In fact, the strike ran from April 1 to 8, and while it cancelled the end of spring training, it didn't affect the regular season at all, so I'm not quite sure why it's popping up in TV Guide nearly two months later. Each of these events is a kind of shape of things to come, though; the Writers Guild of America goes on strike for three months in 1981, forcing a delay in the fall season; while baseball suffers through yet another strike, this one running from June 12 to August 9, resulting in a split-season that sees the two teams with the best records in the National League, the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals, out of the expanded playoffs altogether.

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Jeff Greenfield, who's better-known as a political commentator, weighs in on the future of the sitcom in part two of a series asking the question "Are Sitcoms Getting Better or Worse?" According to Greenfield, the sitcom is at a crossroads: "It has been liberated from the frozen stereotypes of bumbling fathers, scatterbrained wives, and the unrelenting sugarcoated cheeriness of a fantasy world where the most serious problems are what Mom will do with the burned roast, now that the boss is coming over for dinner, and whether Sis will get Chuck to take her to the prom if she's still wearing her braces." 

Notwithstanding that these were real questions for many real families in America, it's clear that the sitcom has moved into a new world. But, according to Greenfield, "the no-holds-barred spirit of the early '70s, exemplified by Norman Lear's All in the Family and Maude has faded." While characters have matured beyond the one-dimensional stereotype of the 1950s and '60s, they have "less curiosity about the world around them." Rather than race, poverty and war, characters now deal with more personal issues: marriage and divorce, for example, or dealing with handicaps. 

Another trend that Greenfield sees is the "dramedy," seen in shows from United States (which I looked at here) and Eight is Enough to Trapper John, M.D. However, Grant Tinker of MTM doesn't see this as a winning formula for primetime. "I don't think of drama with comedy as serious—there's nothing encouraging." Echos Gene Reynolds of Lou Grant, a show which arguably began as a comedy-drama before moving solidly into the drama arena, "The ratings are good, but I think it's a terrible hybrid. Comedy just doesn't stretch easily into an hour, because you have to get too heavy for the story and that fights the comedy." 

Greenfield discusses other factors that could play a role. Network scheduling, for instance. "You have to look at needs and timeslots," former ABC VP Bridget Potter tells him. "If ABC needs more new 8 o'clock shows, for example, that means appealing more to kinds and teen-agers—and they like strong, broad, physical comedy. If you're looking to later times, that means more 'adult' themes and characters." And then there's the growing competition posed by cable (both basic and pay) and home entertainment systems. "At the least, the uncensored language and material now available to more than six million pay-cable subscribers will almost certainly make networks a little less cautious about what can be done in broadcasting." 

It is, Greenfield concludes, up to a variety of factors. Will audiences stick with "the cheap laugh and the tight-T-shirt-and-shorts humor," or will they opt for something more subtle. And will the networks allow shows the time to develop, especially ones with "more complicated characters and ideas" that viewers have to get used to? The future contains no special "kind" of comedy, he says, "just a lot of it."

How do you think that trend has played out 42 years later? Streaming programs and video games are indeed competition, and prestige cable overwhelms programming on the networks. Many of the most prestigious programs contain major elements of both comedy and drama. And sitcoms tackle both social issues and taboo topics, although one could argue that there's nothing taboo anymore. Have they changed for the better, or the worse?

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Coming attractions:
I think Jeff Greenfield's appeared on there a time or two.

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The rerun season is in full swing, and one of this week's highlights is Goldie & Liza Together (Saturday, 7:00 p.m. CT, CBS), a stylish variety hour, produced by George Schlatter, that includes both production numbers and a dramatic sketch that allows the two Oscar winners to show off their acting chops. 

On Sunday, it's time for yet another failed Andy Griffith attempt to recapture his previous magic: The Yeagers (6:00 p.m., ABC), in which Griffith plays the owner of a mining-and-lumber company in the Pacific Northwest. Not only do I not remember this series, I'm not at all sure that I ever heard of it. No wonder; as I check on it, it ran for exactly two episodes. Matlock can't come too soon for him.

Phyl and Mikhy
(Monday, 7:30 p.m., CBS) proves that NBC isn't the only network hurt by the Olympic boycott. The show's premise is that a 19-year-old American track star (Murphy Cross) falls in love with a 22-year-old Russian decathlete (Rick Lohman), and of course part of the comedy is supposed to come from the opposites-attract nature of their relationship, played out against the backdrop of the Moscow Olympics. Unfortunately, by the time the series debuts, the U.S. has already announced they're not going to Moscow, which renders the whole concept kind of hollow. Six episodes and out; Soviet characters aren't selling any sitcom in 1980.

One of the reasons NBC continues to have that "death grip" on last place might be shows like The Big Show (Tuesday, 8:00 p.m.), which tries to revive the big-name variety show, years after the genre started to slide. The show has a 90-minute timeslot, and this week's episode features Flip Wilson and Sarah Purcell as hosts, with Diahann Caroll, champion skaters Peggy Fleming and Robin Cousins, Peaches and Herb, flamenco dancer Jose Molina, Barbi Benton, comedian Ronnie Corbett, song impressionists Roger and Roger, the West Point Glee Club, the Dance Theatre of Harlem, and puppeteer Bruce Schwartz. It's an admirable effort, but what is it they say about putting good wine in bad wineskins? The June 3 broadcast is the show's eleventh and last. If you're interested in politics, it's also Super Tuesday, the final primaries of the election season. Doesn't change a thing; Reagan and Carter are still the ones.

The Daytime Emmy Awards are, appropriately, being broadcast in daytime (Wednesday, 1:30 p.m., NBC), with Ed McMahon, Susan Seaforth Hayes and Beverlee McKinsey doing the honors from New York. In case you're wondering, the big winners are Guiding Light, Hollywood Squares, The $20,000 Pyramid, Sesame Street, Douglass Watson and Judith Light for Best Actor and Actress, and Peter Marshall for best game show host. In primetime, CBS shows that they haven't quite got the superhero thing down, or maybe it's just ahead of its time, with part one of the two-part Captain America (7:00 p.m.), starring Reb Brown as the good Captain. MST3K fans might well remember him as the hero of the Space Mutiny, as Dave Ryder, or Slab Bulkhead, "Bolt Vanderhuge, Hack Blowfist, or whatever name you might want to choose. Judith Crist calls it "strictly for kiddies and motorcycle freaks," and calls Brown "a wooden hero."

Thursday features a rerun of a touching tribute to the late Jack Soo on Barney Miller (8:00 p.m., ABC). Later on, a Dallas rerun (9:00 p.m., CBS) provides a look at things to come (at least when it was originally aired), as Val and Gary Ewing remarry and move to the Southern California town of Knots Landing. Knots debuted at the end of last year, and ran to 1993—but, of course, that's another story. 

Finally, it's TGIF, and here's a look at what I might well have watched on a Friday night: 7:00 p.m., Washington Week in Review; 7:30 p.m., Wall $treet Week; 8:00 p.m., Free to Choose (all PBS); and 9:00 p.m., an NBC Reports look at whether there's a better way for political parties to choose their presidential nominees. And you wonder why I wound up on public access. TV  

May 27, 2022

Around the dial




Let's start this holiday weekend on a musical note, with David's piece at Comfort TV on who wrote the most memorable TV music: Henry Mancini or Mike Post? Granted, they're not the only two composers, but they're the most prolific, so: place your bets.

Now we return to the world of The Prisoner, and the world of Cult TV Blog, as John advances his theory that Patrick McGoohan's series takes place in a psychiatric hospital. This week, it's a look at the episode "The Chimes of Big Ben." Is he winning you over yet?

Television's New Frontier: The 1960s visits 1962 and Laramie, and poses questions that we've often wondered about: how do you balance your own view of a series against the view audiences had when it was aired? And do things such as repetitive plots harm your viewing of them today? 

Good news from Paul at Shadow & Substance: Night Gallery Season 2 is headed to Blu-ray, to join last year's Season 1 release. Since commentaries are provided by several of the bloggers you've seen mentioned here, it's a good bet we'll have this on our shelves at some point.

That's it for the week; a quiet one, but with a three-day weekend on the way, I think a lot of us have more important things going on. Anyway, see you back here tomorrow for the TV Guide review—same time, same channel. TV  

May 25, 2022

Shows I've been watching: April, 2022



Shows I’ve Watched:
Shows Next on the List:
Judd, for the Defense
Surfside 6
The Felony Squad
The Man Who Never Was
The Rat Patrol
Dante
Blue Light



Around the Hadley household, Monday nights have been psychiatric drama nights for quite some time, what with Breaking Point, The Eleventh Hour, and The Human Jungle being regular features. (No smart cracks about self-diagnosis.) So, naturally, the only kind of show that will do as a follow-up is a courtroom drama, right?

Judd, for the Defense was an ABC series running for two seasons, from 1967 to 1969. Now, every courtroom drama inevitably winds up being compared to Perry Mason, and Judd is no exception. Like Mason, Judd involves a high-powered defense attorney; like Mason's, Judd's clients are (usually) accused of murder; like MasonJudd culminates in a courtroom trial with a fair share of histrionics. And like Perry Mason, Judd, for the Defense is powered by the charismatic performance of the title character.

Clinton Judd, whom the ABC press releases compared to real-life attorneys such as Percy Foreman and F. Lee Bailey, is played by Carl Betz, best-known as Dr. Alex Stone, Donna Reed's husband in The Donna Reed Show. Betz played Dr. Stone for eight seasons and, as more than one critic has pointed out, he must have loved sinking his teeth into a juicy role like this. Judd, like Mason, is driven by a thirst for justice, often resulting in him taking on clients against his better judgment. They're far from identical, though. Whereas Perry relied on his loyal secretary, Della Street, and his trustworthy investigator, Paul Drake, Judd has his young associate, Ben Caldwell, played convincingly by Stephen Young.

Judd also displays a flamboyance that Mason, for all those accusations of "courtroom theatrics" that Hamilton Burger flings against him, rarely shows. Wearing a string tie and sporting a Stetson, Judd is every bit the Texan he portrays. (His office is, I believe, supposed to be in Houston.) And he's not above pulling some real theatrics; in one episode, just as the prosecutor is about to reach the dramatic peak of his argument, Clint "accidentally" knocks a pitcher of water off the table, interrupting his adversary and causing a delay while everything is mopped up. He was, of course, appropriately apologetic. 

Longtime viewers of Perry Mason know that Mason's cases don't usually get to trial; most of them are solved in the preliminary hearing (thus saving the producers money in having to cast actors as jurors). Things are a little different here, though; Judd does his work in front of the jury, where he forcefully argues his case before the defendant's peers. It's a thrill watching Betz do his thing; he speaks with heat and passion in a way that we seldom get to see Raymond Burr operate, beyond the first season or two. The same goes for the way Judd questions witnesses; he can be sly and subtle, or he can lash out like an angry animal. Either way, you get the point that Clinton Judd is not a man to be messed with.

Another thing about Judd: you can't always assume that his clients are innocent. One of them, in fact, turns out to be guilty, although as the victim of a split personality, he didn't really realize it. It was very cleverly set up and well executed, though, and the reveal came as a genuine surprise, to me at least. And then there was the case of a woman accused of murdering her abusive husband. She's acquitted, but at the end she wonders out loud whether or not she really acted in self-defense, or if she wanted to kill her husband. She's not suggesting that she got away with something; rather, she's expressing a self-doubt that is clearly going to take her years to work through. The point is, you're not nearly as confident that Judd's client will get off, or deserves to get off, as you were with Perry.

It's true that the legal side of things is often a bit dubious, the plots can sometimes be far-fetched, and while the series is admirable in tackling "relevant" issues like abortion, drugs and the draft (not unlike The Defenders), those "with-it" moments can be a little bit painful. the scenes in the courtroom never last quite as long as you want them to. The important thing, though, is that they're entertaining; you won't be bored watching them. 

Most of all, Judd is about Carl Betz, who is just terrific. I'm not enough of an expert on Donna Reed to tell whether or not he ever flashed these glimpses of edgy toughness, but watching him, you believe he's a man of integrity, committed to justice, and willing to do whatever it takes to achieve it for his client, even when he's pushing the envelope. You find yourself tuning in to watch Betz, and sticking around for the rest of the show; no wonder he not only won an Emmy for the role, but (like Raymond Burr) frequently spoke before bar associations. I don't want to shortchange Stephen Young, though, who is smart and tough. He's not afraid to stand up to Judd, to challenge or goad him on his strategies, and to rake their client over the coals when it's justified. 

And those clients often have it coming. After all, the lesson learned from all these shows—even more than "crime doesn't pay"— is this: never, ever withhold anything from your lawyer. You'd think they'd know better by now. 

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Speaking of programming, Thursdays have been cops-and-robbers night here for as long as I can remember (keeping in mind that my memory doesn't work as well as it used to). First, there was a long, long run of Hawaii Five-O (except for the final season, which—let's face it—was really, really bad). After that ended, Thursdays became a rotating series of half-hour dramas, many of which you've read about here: N.Y.P.D., Richard Diamond, Johnny Staccato. Now we've moved on to another pair of 30-minute melodramas featuring good guys and bad guys, but that's where the similarities end.

The Felony Squad ran on ABC for three seasons, from 1966 to 1968. It lacks the grittiness of, say, N.Y.P.D. or Dragnet, and unlike those series, it always seems to feel as if the ending is rushed, or condensed, to make sure it fits inside the half-hour timeslot. That's not meant as a knock, just an observation. The Felony Squad stars Howard Duff as veteran detective Sam Stone*, Dennis Cole as his partner, young Jim Briggs, and Ben Alexander as desk sergeant Dan Briggs, Jim's father.

*I've often wondered if the name "Sam Stone" was an inside joke, since for many years Howard Duff played private detective Sam Spade on the radio.

The stories are run-of-the-mill, nothing special, but usually well-acted, although the first episode, "The Streets Are Paved with Quicksand," is harmed by an unbelievably hammy performance from Darren McGavin as a shyster trying to get Stone and young Briggs nailed on a charge of police brutality. Stone is street-smart, young Briggs is earnest, and elder Briggs shrewd, and protective of his son. (Fun fact: this role prevented Ben Alexander from reuniting with Jack Webb on the reprisal of Dragnet.) I would prefer more, especially more for Duff, but I'm not complaining about what I do have. It clearly falls into the "enjoyable" category, plus it has a no-nonsense theme by Pete Rugolo. And there's a crossover story with Judd, for the Defense!

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Felony Squad teams up with another half-hour drama, The Man Who Never Was, yet another ABC drama which aired for 18 episodes in 1966-67. For all I know, commercials for all three of these shows might have run during the others' shows, but that's kind of beside the point, I suppose. I'll say this right up front: The Man Who Never Was is extremely frustrating to watch. Not because it's a bad show, although it should have been called The Show That Should Have Been Better Than it Was. No, it's frustrating because very little of it exists, at least on YouTube, and most of what does is taken from two theatrical releases that were, in turn, compilations of episodes from the show. What that means, in practical terms, is that of the seven or so episodes that YouTube has, most of them only run about 17 minutes, leaving you with the distinct impression that something is missing.

And that's too bad, because I'd like to give this show a better look. It stars Robert Lansing as Peter Murphy, a CIA agent in East Berlin whose cover is blown in the premiere. On the run from the Stasi, Murphy staggers into a bar where he sees his exact double, playboy Mark Wainwright, who just happens to be one of the richest men in the world. As Murphy watches, an inebriated Wainwright stumbles out of the bar and is promptly gunned down by an agent who mistakes him for Murphy. Well, since they're exact doubles, you could be forgiven for making that kind of mistake, I suppose. 

Murphy assumes Wainwright's identity in order to save his life, but finds that having to pretend to be Wainwright is no bargain. For one thing, he was a bully, a louse, and a ruthless businessman. For another, Wainwright was also married. Fortunately for Murphy, Wainwright's wife Eva is played by the elegant Dana Wynter, who has as much of a motive for keeping the deception alive as Murphy has: half brother Roger is trying to steal the family fortune, something he can't do as long as Wainwright refuses to go along with it. So in turn for helping Eva out, she agrees to help him impersonate her late husband—his mannerisms, his turns of phrase, his relationships with friends and enemies. Despite this, almost every episode features Murphy having to fight (and kill) in order to keep his real identity secret, all while falling in love with his pretend wife.

Yes, it is pretty implausible; I mean, I have yet to meet my exact double, although if he's out there, I hope he's enjoying pretending to be me. But in Lansing and Wynter, you have a couple of real pros; ad to that the presence of John Newland (One Step Beyond) as producer and director, and location filming throughout Europe, and you've got the ingredients for a pretty good show. Maybe it's another case of an idea not served well by a 30-minute running time; maybe the laid-back Lansing was a little too laid back (which is what Cleveland Amory thought, although I think an undercover agent would necessarily be restrained in his actions), maybe the audience liked their spies to be more like James Bond. It was up against Green Acres and Chrysler Theatre, which didn't do it any favors. I'd just be happy to see a few more complete episodes. It's a short run, though—stay tuned to see what takes its place next month. TV  

May 23, 2022

What's on TV? Monday, May 24, 1954




It might be good to remind younger readers out there that books—yes, books—used to be a big deal. I bring this up because I think we can see something like a parallel to today's business methods in tonight's broadcast on Robert Montgomery Presents, "The Power and the Prize." It's based on a novel by Howard Swiggett, and according to the listing, "the book by Mr. Swiggett is being dramatized for TV concurrently with its publication as a novel. This is believed to be a TV first." Reminds me of how movies were being released in theaters and on streaming services at the same time in the aftermath of the virus. Undoubtedly, the book was being promoted with an "as seen on TV" vibe in hopes of selling more copies. Did it work? I don't know, but the television adaptation didn't stop Hollywood from making a big screen version of it just two years later, starring Robert Taylor, Burl Ives, Mary Astor, Cedric Hardwicke, and Charles Coburn. It didn't do that well at the box office, for what it's worth.

Don't miss the rest of today's listings, from the Chicago edition, including the Studio One episode "A Man and Two Gods," written by Gore Vidal, who did a lot of TV writing in the day.

May 21, 2022

This week in TV Guide: May 21, 1954




It's been said, by no less an authority than me, that a wedding is the last refuge of television shows. It can be used to boost ratings, to inject new life into an aging storyline, to spin-off a character into a new series, or some combination of all three. Invariably, however, such nuptial events prove to be ratings blockbusters, and one of television's first such "events" is the wedding of Robinson Peepers and Nancy Remington on Sunday night's episode of the long-running sitcom Mister Peepers. (6:30 p.m. CT, NBC)

To many, the wedding, "after two years of timorous all-but-kissless romance," comes as something of a surprise. Wally Cox himself, who plays "TV's bucolic boy scout" and is, himself, a bachelor, expresses a mild surprise at this turn of events. "Peepers never struck me as having the nerve to marry," Cox says. "He's not only out of step with the world; I think he's a pretty ineffectual male. Pat [Benoit, who plays Nancy] and I used to speculate on what Peepers really does think—or do. I kind of look at him in wonder, don't you?" Benoit herself noted that "Wally always told people Robinson would never marry."

The producers, however, think differently. "Nothing could be more fitting for a family show. Marriage would open up new story lines. It is definitely popular with women. It sets an example for America's youth. And Nancy's luck might encourage all impatient, single girls." Acknowledges Cox, "Nancy might also look foolish dating a man for two years without getting anywhere. My writers would be the ones who know." 

Those writers have grand ideas; says Jim Fritzell, "Lots of story sequences and all the time people growing." Cox wants guarantees, though; when director Hal Keith promises him that "This will positively not degenerate into a family situation comedy—the idiot husband sort," Cox replies, "If it did, they'd have to get a new actor."

The Peepers wedding becomes one of the biggest TV events of the year, as such things will. However, the show only runs one more season after the "Wedding of the Year." This is also a common occurrence; sometimes the tension that's held the series together disappears (Moonlighting, although there was no marriage); sometimes the writers find out that those extra storylines didn't work after all (Rhoda); sometimes, the show's ratings just take a fall (The Farmer's Daughter). That doesn't stop shows from taking the plunge, though, and they aren't all disasters; My Three Sons ran for two more seasons after Steve Douglas remarried, and The Danny Thomas Show, which wisely had the wedding occur off-screen (during the summer break), ran for seven successful seasons.

I'm certainly pro-marriage, but I'm most certainly not a romantic, so I can't say that I approve of this disturbing trend. Were it not for the fact that Mister Peepers is a genuinely funny show, it would have a lot to answer for.

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"The public is becoming surfeited with outlandish crime," according to Martin Manulis, and we're not talking about Congress on television. No, Manulis is referring to Suspense, the long-running show of which he's now producer. It's not that rough stuff is altogether gone, but Manulis promises it will be tasteful violence. "There'll be no more hoods or professional gangsters," he promises. "In many cases we've found ourselves doing documentaries, rather than criminal suspense stories." 

So far, so good; ratings are up, as are fan letters, and Suspense has broadened its subject matter far beyond "routine crime stuff." Stories from Dickens, Zola and Balzac have found their way to the tube—just as crime comes in many forms, suspense can be psychological as well as physical,— and Manulis even toys with the idea of bring a straight drama to the show. He knows if the ratings don't bear out the change in the long run, it'll be back to the old formula, but he's betting that they will.

It does seem, as I've mentioned before, that violence on television has been an issue ever since shortly after television was a thing, and Herman Lowe's article on the state of the industry acknowledges that "[i]t affects almost everything it touches, and the length of its reach never ceases to amaze. We all know those stories about how movie theaters suffered on the nights when Milton Berle was on. A national organization of restaurants complains that people are eating at home instead of going out, so they won't miss the quiz and variety shows. In Little Rock, the transit system proposed a rate boost because of a fall in revenue—too many people staying home watching TV.

But things aren't all negative. Some within the trade refer to television as "The Monster," meaning that it doesn't know its own strength. For example, how much of the economic boom is television responsible for? "In a handful of postwar years, it has proved itself one of the most persuasive merchandisers of goods and ideas in history." There's a whole new line of furniture: television chairs, television tables, television lamps. American manufacturers "are turning out more sets annually than the rest of the world combined."  

That means, according to Paul A. Walker, former chairman of the FCC, that "within two years after a station goes on the air, the great majority of families in that community buy TV sets ranging in price from $200 to $400." This means not only business for the retailer, but for the repairman and the local utility. And we can't forget that the station pays out between $200,000 and $1,000,000 annually in salaries, plus taxes to local, state, and Federal governments. And sponsors pay $8 million to $10 million annually to have sporting events televised.

So television seems to be the golden goose, doesn't it? But there's one thing television has done for which it can't be forgiven. "TV brought millions of Americans directly into the convention hall to watch the Republicans and Democrats choose their Presidential nominees." Indeed, it will make it easier for politicians to communicate with more people at one time than they ever thought possible. Almost enough to make you get rid of your TV, isn't it?

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Well, that was fun, wasn't it? And now for some more fun.

On Friday night at 10:00 p.m., Chicago columnist and television host Irv Kupcinet hosts the fifth annual Cerebral Palsy Telethon (ABC), a 28-hour, star-studded extravaganza with Sarah Vaughan, Don McNeill, Fran Allison and Burr Tillstrom, Johnny Desmond, Walter Slezak, Melvyn Douglas, Ray Walson, Bill Hayes, and many more. The goal is $600,000; not quite sure how much they made, but if you're interested, here's a clip (one of two on YouTube) from that 1954 telethon:


On Sunday, Meet the Press (5:00 p.m., NBC) hosts an unusual show, one we wouldn't see nowadays: a debate between William White, President of the New York Central Railroad, and Robert Young, former President of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad. The two are battling for control of the NYC; Young is leading what turns out to be a successful proxy fight to oust management of the debt-ridden railroad. According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, Young found the New York Central in worse shape than he'd imagined, and after suspending dividend payments, he committed suicide in January 1958.

Ed Sullivan's rival in these years is the Colgate Comedy Hour, and I'll present their lineups to you without judgment: 

Sullivan (7:00 p.m., CBS): Ed introduces a film segment from Gone With the Wind, featuring Clark Gable, Vivian Leigh, and Leslie Howard. Guests include comedy team Betty and Jane Kean; singer Mindy Carson; "Mr. Pastry" Richard Hearne; dancers Page & Bray; and English singing star Dickie Valentine. Film producer David O. Selznick appears to discuss the story behind the reissue of Gone With the Wind.

Comedy Hour (7:00 p.m., NBC): Tonight's stars are Bud Abbott & Lou Costello. The Sauter-Finnegan Orchestra, Hoagy Carmichael, and the little singing comedian, Ricky Vera, are guests. Unlike Sullivan, skits make up most of the Abbott& Costello shows.

On Wednesday, Kraft Television Theatre (8:00 p.m., NBC) presents an adaptation of "The Scarlet Letter," Nathaniel Hawthorne's famous morality play, starring Kim Stanley as Hester Prynne and Leslie Nielsen as the Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale. Then, on Thursday, Anthony Ross stars as the title character "Dodsworth," Sinclair Lewis's grim story, on Kraft Television Theatre (8:00 p.m., ABC).

Wait a minute, you say, what's this? Two shows with the same name? So which is it: Kraft Television Theatre Wednesday night on NBC, or Thursday night on ABC? The answer is, both. The shows are produced by the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, which represents Kraft; the cheese company sponsors both hours, which adds up to 104 hours of live programming per season. The two shows function as one; Kraft employs six full-time producer-directors, each responsible for one hour every third week. Each episode employs 16 to 18 actors per episode, and with four shows in production at any one time, that means an average of 60 to 70 actors per week. 

The complex setup works like clockwork, as it would have to in order to make everything happen. And the results? The NBC version is number one among hour-long dramas, with the ABC edition gaining each week. Of course, companies and their sponsors don't have control over the schedule the way they once did, but still—can you imagine anything like it?

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Some news from the New York Teletype: Dragnet has bumped I Love Lucy from the #1 position in the ratings, according to the latest American Research Bureau report. It's News to Me, the panel quiz show hosted by John Daly, will be back on CBS this summer, replacing You Are There. That will make two shows that Daly is hosting on the Tiffany Network, while he's head of the news division at ABC. 

In Hollywood, an addendum on Dragnet: a character in a recent episode called a movie "a lousy show," which resulted in a stink coming from some movie exhibitors (remember how touchy they are when it comes to television), with the result that Jack Webb apologized for "bad and thoughtless editing on my part." Du Mont, which makes television sets in addition to broadcasting the shows that appear on them, is predicting a 21-inch color set in the next two to three years, running about $500. And Walt Disney will be originating his ABC show from a new, $9,000,000 amusement park he's building—Disneyland.

In local news, WGN premiered the new film series Life With Elizabeth last Sunday, starring "America's new sweetheart, Betty White." Local sports shows covering the Chicago Cubs are miffed that the Cubbies are charging $100 for guest appearances by their players on TV sports shows, up from $50. It's the same amount they charge for other personal appearances (aside from charity events); the sportscasters say they'll continue their $50 policy whether the Cubs are along for the ride or not.

And finally, "The average family now watches TV a total of five hours, 46 minutes each day," according to Nielsen. By contrast, in 2010, the peak of television viewing, the average family watched 8 hours and 55 minutes per day. Which just goes to show that there's always room for improvement. TV  

May 20, 2022

Around the dial




At bare-bones e-zine, Jack's Hitchcock Project takes us to "The Young One," a nasty but excellent third-season story written by Sarett Rudley, with Carol Lynley, Vince Edwards, and Jeanette Nolan, and directed by Robert Altman. I think this is a good one to check out.

Jodie has a great story at Garroway at Large regarding her RCA BK-4 "Starmaker" microphone, the kind that you see Dave Garroway wearing in early pictures from Today. Seems it needed some paint restoration work; I would have felt just as bad about it as she did, and just as glad when everything turned out all right!

At the Broadcasting Archives, it's the front page of WMAR's "Television Topics" newsletter, from September, 1969. Check out the station's NFL football schedule at the bottom of the page, including coverage of the final NFL-AFL Super Bowl.

Last week, John wrote a very interesting post at Cult TV Blog about watching The Prisoner using the premise that Number 6 is actually a patient in an asylum. It's an intriguing scenario; as I told John, I think I'll see what it's like the next time we watch the series. (Which can't be too long from now.)

I didn't participate in Rick's "Four Favorite Noirs" blogathon at Classic TV & Film Café to celebrate National Classic Movie Day on May 16th, but if you're a fan of film noir (as I am), you'll enjoy the posts from the blogs that participated. I should have offered some of my favorite Japanese noir!

Funny that Terence should bring up the Kim Sisters at A Shroud of Thoughts; he's sharing a video of them performing on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1965, and I just saw a different video of them performing on Sullivan from a later date. I guess great minds think alike; anyway, take a good look at the kind of non-superstar entertainment Ed used to bring us, and why we should be familiar with them.

If you don't recognize the name Tim O'Connor, you'll certainly recognize his face; he appeared on just about every television show in the '60s and '70s, and played Dr. Elias Huer on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. But MeTV tells how he found true love three doors down the road.

At The Hits Just Keep on Comin', JB has a reflection on what we were at one time, and how we've changed since then. Good thoughts ("If we’re lucky, we might still retain the best of what we were."), and some very interesting links. A good note to end on for the week. TV  

May 16, 2022

What's on TV? Tuesday, May 18, 1965




One of the things I most enjoy about looking at New York TV Guides is the big-name network talent that appears on local news broadcasts. Since all the networks have their home bases in NYC, it's not at all uncommon to see, as we do here, Frank McGee, Jim Hartz, Robert MacNeil, and Gabe Pressman on WNBC, Robert Trout on WCBS, or Bill Beutel on WABC. Likewise, in other issues we've seen Bill Ryan on the local news, and in Chicago, Floyd Kalber. Wouldn't that caliber of anchor be cool to see again today? Might even make me start watching the local news again.

May 14, 2022

This week in TV Guide: May 15, 1965





We'll start this week with an actor I've always enjoyed, Robert Lansing. Lately I've been watching a few episodes of his 1967 spy series The Man Who Never Was, a show intriguing enough that I mentioned it in my novel The Car.  It should have been better than it was, considering it co-starred Dana Wynter and was produced by John Newland—but then, I'm getting ahead of myself, since I'll be writing about this show, along with many others, in the next version of "What I've Been Watching." It just explains why I have Lansing on my mind today. 

Anyway, back to this week's issue. As you can see from the cover, Robert Lansing is currently—but not for long—the star of 12 O'clock High, ABC's World War II drama based on the movie starring Gregory Peck. Lansing stars in the Peck role, as General Frank Savage, and for my money he gives a better portrayal than Peck. I've always regarded Peck as a somewhat wooden actor, which is not quite the same thing as Lansing's often understanded acting. But, as is always the case, your mileage may vary. It's not that my opinion is wrong; an opinion, by definition, can't be wrong. If you have a differing opinion, you'd be right too.

But I digress again, and if I don't stop doing that, we'll never get to the end of this. I was talking about Lansing and 12 O'clock High; I've read various accounts of why he was sacked from the show after one season. Quinn Martin, the show's producer, offers one of the strangest reasons I've ever read. His theory: Lansing is an actor who plays best with the audience at a later, more adult, hour—say 10:00 p.m. (ET), which is the time that 12 O'clock High currently airs. Problem is, next season the show's moving to 7:30 p.m., and Martin claims that ABC asked him to "find another series for [Lansing]" that ran at 10 pm. "Had we remained at 10," Martin says, "Bob would have continued."

Now, quite frankly, that sounds ridiculous, but Lansing, who's being replaced by former Naked City star Paul Burke, is sanguine about it. "My contract was with Quinn Martin, and he's the only one I've talked to. I can't be mad at Quinn, either. He says it was the network's decision, and I have no evidence to make me doubt him." To show that he's a team player, Lansing adds that he feels the show's quality will suffer from being moved to an earlier time with, presumably, a younger audience. "When I realized what changes would be made in the show for that younger audience, I knew that 12 O'clock High couldn't be the same quality show next year." Offered the chance to stay on and make occasional appearances, he declined; "12 hours a day is too long to work at something you don't like."

A second theory about Lansing's departure is that it was hard for the audience to accept that General Savage, would be out there in the middle of the war himself, flying bombers, rather than directing things from behind a desk. (Paul Burke's character, by contrast, is a colonel, and we know from Colonel Robert Hogan that colonels do fly bombers.) 

I just don't know about all this. As I said, I'm a Lansing fan; he projects a tough, masculine image but has a softer side that still resonates with the audience. For instance, as Detective Carella in 87th Precinct, he was able to portray a no-nonsense cop who still had a sense of humor, not to mention a dedication to protecting the public. As the character Gary Seven, he's one of the few guest stars to hold his own with Mr. Spock and the rest of the Star Trek crew, outwitting them at almost every turn. He did a better job on the short-lived series The Man Who Never Was than the series deserved, and he had a memorable guest role in The Equalizer many years later. Cleveland Amory, a hard man to please, describes Lansing's work in 12 O'clock High: "Make no mistake about it. Robert Lansing is magnificent." The idea that he has to have a "10 p.m." timeslot is just—odd.

This leads to today's trivia question, which might make for some fun comments below. The second season of 12 O'clock High begins with Savage's plane being shot down and the general being killed. Paul Burke's previous series, Naked City, was also based on a movie, the stars of which were Barry Fitzgerald as Detective Lt. Dan Muldoon and Don Taylor as his partner, Jimmy Halloran. When the series transitioned to television, John McIntire assumed the Muldoon role (right down to Fitzgerald's Irish brogue; it's a wonderful portrayal), while James Franciscus played Halloran. McIntire soon tired of the weekly grind of a series, however, and was killed off late in the first season, to be replaced by Horace McMahon as Mike Parker.*

*I'll bet you thought I was going to say he was replaced by Paul Burke, right? No, his character replaces Halloran, who disappears for no apparent reason. Perhaps he was drafted to fly B-52s for the Air Force.

Having given you those examples, can you name any other television series adapted from a movie that then proceeded to kill off one of that movie's star characters? 

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During the 60s, the Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace were the premiere variety shows on television. Whenever they appear in TV Guide together, we'll match them up and see who has the best lineup..

Sullivan: Ed's special guests are Rudolf Nureyev and Dame Margot Fonteyn, stars of London's Royal Ballet Company. Also on the bill are Welsh recording star Petula Clark; comedian Alan King, who tells about the New York World's Fair; the West Point Glee Club; the rock 'n' rolling Beach Boys; comedienne Sue Carson and pop singer Frankie Randall.

Palace: Host George Burns introduces operatic soprano Mary Costa; singer Jack Jones; comics Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks in an interview sketch on dating; the Young Americans, vocal group; pantomimists Cully Richards and Company; the Flying Zacchinis, trapeze artists; and the Almiros, jugglers.

The Palace really starts strong this week, both musically (Costa and Jones) and comedically (Burns, Reiner and Brooks), but just when I was starting to get excited—the Young Americans, mimes (I hate mimes), jugglers, trapeze artists...

On the other hand, your affection for Ed will depend largely on what you think of ballet; since Nureyev and Dame Margot are two of the very biggest names in the business, you can bet they're getting a lot of airtime, with three excerpts from Nureyev's version of Swan Lake. I happen to like ballet myself, and since this is my blog, and since I also like Petula Clark and Alan King and think the Beach Boys are probably the best American rock act of the time, I'm giving this week to Ed; he dances away from the Palace.

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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. 

Chuck Connors was a bankable star on television in the 1950s and '60s. The Rifleman was a hit for five seasons, and he'd go on to star in Arrest and Trial and Cowboy in Africa. In-between the latter two, there was Branded. And that's where we find Cleveland Amory this week.

Connors plays Captain Jason McCord, or rather ex-Captain McCord, washed out of the service for, allegedly, showing cowardice at the Battle of Bitter Creek, a battle in which every other man in his unit was killed. It is, Cleve points out, NBC's version of The Fugitive, only "Instead of the unjustly accused murderer, we have the unjustly accused coward." McCord, you see, is innocent of the charges, and travels around the land trying to convince others of that fact. How to do that when you're the only survivor? Don't worry; "In almost every episode a lot of people keep coming back from the Creek—and, the way we see it, there were more men engaged at Bitter Creek than at Normandy on D-Day."

And that pretty much sums up the entire series in a nutshell. Which is a problem, because the producers are left coming up with, as Amory charitably puts it, some "involved" plots. One example is a girl who hates McCord because her brother died at Bitter Creek, but also needs his testimony to save her ranch from evil bankers, who then threaten to kill McCord themselves until she saves his life. Then, there's the story of the crazy preacher whose two sons beat McCord up; there were three sons, but one of them was killed—at Bitter Creek. No wonder everyone in this series is so bitter. There are also Indians involved in this one; one of them tells McCord, "I could have killed you, but I have no desire to open the old wound of Bitter Creek." Eventually, of course, At the end, only McCord and the preacher are left, with McCord telling him to put away the idea of revenge. "You can't bring old things back. Not your sons, not Bitter Creek, not this town." And that, Cleveland Amory says, is "good, unenigmatic advice, and we hope NBC takes it."

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This week's issue is from New York City, home of movies. Lots and lots of movies. But that doesn't necessarily mean more movies, just more times that movies are on. For example, WNEW (now WNYW, the Fox affiliate, but an independent in 1965) has a movie which they show daily at 10:00 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.*, presumably for those housewives who either go shopping or have to pick up the kids from kindergarten or, I don't know, entertain the milkman in the morning. Whatever the case, when a movie's shown twice during the day, you don't really have any excuse for missing it unless you work outside the office, in which case it wouldn't matter how many times it's on.

*Just so there's no confusion, they show the same movie at 10am and 1:30pm. Not part two of the movie, the same movie.  The same exact movie.

Next, there's WOR's famous Million Dollar Movie. Million Dollar Movie, which began in 1955, was really a quite clever way of exploiting the showing of a big-time movie—which, due to the continuing antagonism between movie studios and television, wasn't always that commonplace. Million Dollar Movie's hook was twofold: the movies would have never before been seen on television, and they would be shown multiple times a day for the entire week—as many as sixteen times a week, according to some. By 1965, the number was down to seven times a week: 11:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m. on Sunday, and then 11:25 p.m. Monday through Friday. This week's feature: The Lost Missile, starring Robert Loggia and Ellen Parker. "New Yorkers have little more than an hour left to live, as a radioactive missile circles the earth, destroying everything in a 10-mile-wide swath."*

*In other words, they only have an hour to liveuntil the next showing. And you shouldn't confuse it with either WTIC's Satellite in the Sky, in which "a rocket ship heads for outer space to explode an experimental bomb," or WCBS's Abandon Ship, where 27 passengers of a luxury liner that sank try to fit into a lifeboat that can only hold 12 (a budget A Night to Remember), both airing on Monday at 11:20 p.m.

And then there are the two movie shows that have the most iconic names of all: The Late Show and The Late Late Show, both of which air on WCBS, Channel 2. Here's the opening to The Late Show, with its famous theme, Leroy Anderson's "Syncopated Clock":


Channel 2's couplet of The Late Show and The Late Late Show were billed as "post-midnight entertainment for 'television's other audience'," back in a time when it was somewhat sophisticated and grown up to stay up late during the week. The Late Show starts at 11:20 p.m., and The Late Late Show at about 1:25 a.m., which brings us up to about 3:00 a.m. most times, when Channel 2 airs a couple more movies to take the viewing audience up to Summer Semester that morning.

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Here's a quick look at the rest of the TV week:

Sports: The Preakness, live from Pimlico in Baltimore (5:30 p.m., CBS). The favorite is Lucky Debonair, winner of the Kentucky Derby, but Dapper Dan winds up in the winner's circle with the Black-Eyed Susans. If horse racing's not your game, there's plenty of baseball, with both the Yankees and Mets appearing numerous times throughout the week, and the final round of the New Orleans Open golf tournament airs on Sunday.

Comedy: I'll be talking about Gilligan's Island in a moment, but on Saturday we have that delightful situation that finds Jim Backus competing against himself, as Gilligan airs on CBS at 8:30 p.m., up against NBC's Mr. Magoo. It's the only time in TV history that an actor has been a regular in two different shows on two different networks at the same time.

Game Shows: Paul Anka is the guest panelist on What's My Line? Sunday night (10:30 p.m., CBS)  On the daytime shows, Roger Smith and singer Carmel Quinn are on What's This Song? (10:30 a.m. CBS), while Hermoine Gingold is the week's celebrity guest on The Price is Right (11:30 a.m., ABC). Selma Diamond and Les Crane appear on Call My Bluff (Noon, NBC), followed by singer Gogi Grant and her husband Bob Rifkind taking on Alan and Virginia Young on I'll Bet (12:30 p.m., NBC). George Grizzard and Joan Fontaine are on Password (2:00 p.m., CBS), singers Mel Torme and Sally Ann Howes are on NBC's You Don't Say! (3:30 p.m., NBC) and Henry Morgan and Lauren Bacall follow on The Match Game (4:00 p.m., NBC). Not a bad week of celebrity sightings.

Drama: 
"On Thursday We Leave for Home," featuring a moving performance by James Whitmore, is the first of 17 hour-long Twilight Zone reruns to debut in the show's Sunday night slot. (9:00 p.m., CBS) A sea monster terrorizes a Norwegian village on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (Monday, 7:30 p.m., ABC). And on Thursday (8:00 p.m., CBS), Perry Mason gets involved in the case of an actor taking part in one of Shakespeare's sword-dueling scenes—and winds up dead.

Current Events: Nothing could be more current than a repeat of last month's critically acclaimed CBS Reports report on "Abortion and the Law." (Monday, 10:00 p.m.) 

Music: Tuesday night at 8:30 p.m., it's NBC's annual Best on Record, entertainment featuring winners of the 1964 Grammys. Dean Martin hosts, Sammy Davis Jr. performs a tribute to the late Nat King Cole, and Frank Sinatra receives the Grammy Golden Achievement Award. All that's missing is Joey Bishop.

Culture:  On Monday, Channel 9 presents the movie version of Gian-Carlo Menotti's sinister opera The Medium (1:30 p.m.), starring Marie Powers, Leo Coleman and Anna Maria Alberghetti. WCBS has a documentary Tuesday about a place that'll get plenty of culture: the newly constructed Lincoln Center. And what could possibly be more cultural than the New York State finals of the Miss Universe pageant, shown live Thursday night (10:00 p.m,, WPIX)? The winner is Gloria Jon; I was hoping it might be someone who went on to great fame and stardom, but being Miss New York isn't bad at all.

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Finally, Sherwood Schwartz tells Richards Warren Lewis about the difficulties he's had in getting Gilligan's Island from the drawing board to the screen.

For one thing, everyone in the executive suite at CBS loved it—except for Jim Aubrey. And the problem there was that Jim Aubrey was the president of CBS. United Artists, co-producers with Schwartz, hated the idea of a theme song that told the backstory. The pilot was submitted to CBS, sans music, and it was rejected without comment.

At this point, Schwartz takes matters into his own hands. He reedits the pilot the way he wants it done; "Is everybody through with the film now? Can I do it my way?" He writes the theme song himself, assembles a new version, and ships it to New York, with a note that reads, "This is the pilot I had in mind."

The results were a smash. The test audience loved it so much that CBS made another audience sit through it, unable to believe the show had scored so high. When the second audience seconded its approval, the show finally got on the schedule. But even then, Schwartz's problems weren't done. The suits didn't like the Hollywood actress character: "Who can identify?" They didn't like the billionaire: "Who's going to understand a billionaire?" They didn't like the science teacher: "What kind of flair does that have to it?" Schwartz fought their suggestions and won. Then the network fired three of the seven actors who appeared in the pilot, which required further filming and editing.

The episode that winds up debuting on television is actually a combination of three separate shows, including about half of that pilot.* "It was an outlandish beginning," Schwartz says of that first episode. "If you're telling a story about people who get shipwrecked, the only honest way is if the first show is about how they got wrecked. Instead, it was about how they were trying to get off the island. It's like starting on chapter two. You didn't know who they were." He thinks that has something to do with the bad initial reviews from some critics.

*As you've probably read, you may notice that the flag in the marina is flying at half-staff; the pilot was completed on November 22, 1963. 

Even now, having spent the entire season in the top 40, not everyone at CBS is happy, but it doesn't matter to Schwartz. He's proud of the way audiences have identified with the characters and the situation; "Whether you like my show or not, you turn into Gilligan's Island and in one second you know what show you're looking at."

Reading this, I'm struck by the thought that, for all the accusations that Gilligan was part of the dumbing-down of television, the objections from the suits at CBS suggest they didn't have much confidence in their audience's ability to identify with characters and figure things out. Indeed, one can assume that if the network had had their way, Gilligan's Island would have been far, far dumber than even the harshest critics suggested. And it wouldn't be half as loved today. TV