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.

"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  


  1. WNBC-TV also had a late-night movie (presumably after Carson) which also had, I think, a nice theme:
    WHAT'S THIS SONG? was on NBC, not CBS. It was Wink (then Win) Martindale's first game show hosting job in his long career.
    While these weren't both regular roles, I remember Geoff Pierson starring in WB's UNHAPPILY EVER AFTER in the 1990s on Wed. nights, up against his occasional appearances as Grace Kelly's ex-husband Jimmy on ABC's GRACE UNDER FILE.

  2. When it comes to late night movies and how they were programmed back in the day, one name comes to mind: Alice Necker. She programmed for WCBS in the 50's, then WBBM in Chicago in the 60's and 70's. On a couple of occasions, WBBM promoted a month's worth of films as "The Alice Necker Film Festival." Not bad for someone who majored in anthropology back in college.

  3. I was always disappointed by Robert Lansing's departure from "Twelve O'Clock High." Paul Burke did not possess Lansing's charisma. As a guest on "The Mike Douglas Show," Lansing was good natured about the network's choice, accepting those kind of decisions. I now get the impression the show would not have been long-running, anyway. Your research is new to me. I have read that Lansing's ego made things difficult. Which may have been simply a theory, as well.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!