July 9, 2022

This week in TV Guide: July 10, 1982

Xomehow or other we seem to have found ourselves back in the '80s again, and while it seems like recent history when going through the TV Guides of the 1950s and '60s, it is, in fact, 40 years since this issue came out. And that makes me feel very, very old. 

One thing that should make us all feel young, though, is that the lead story then, as now, is that massive land mass in Eastern Europe, and whether you call it the Soviet Union or Russia, understanding what they're up to is a cottage industry. And, says Harrison Salisbury, former New York Times correspondent in Moscow, television has demonstrated some massive gaps in its understanding of what goes on inside the Soviet bloc. For even though the networks not only covered the same major stories that print journalists did, as well as uncovering some of their own, "the quality of network coverage during this [period] was, for the most part, erratic." 

Salisbury's complaints are familiar ones, both then and now: an emphasis on stories that have a visual component; lack of follow-up on major stories; and a lack of time given over to these stories in general. Although reporting on these stories may have been good, "good spot reporting is not enough to enable a concerned citizen or a serious decision maker the depth he needs to judge what is going on or what is likely to happen." Salisbury suggests that there needs to be more in-depth reporting on subjects such as the Soviet failures in agriculture and industry, the decline in Marxism within Soviet society, and the "shabby performance of the Red Army in Afghanistan." Moscow correspondents need to be talking more on American talk shows and news specials, and network news stars need to travel to Russia more frequently, giving the issues greater visibility.

Let's bring this forward to today. Russia is in the headlines as much as ever, and in an era when so many people get their news courtesy of social media, we see more than ever the need for accuracy and clear reporting. We all know about the stories concerning the Russia-Ukraine war that have recycled old pictures and presented them as current, thereby providing not only a deceptive view of the war, but often a biased one as well. We are learning that much of that reporting has been not only inaccurate, but has relied on estimates and projections from "experts" who have as little idea of what's really going on as you and I. 

What we needed then, and what we need now, is reporters and analysts who are experienced with the geopolitical situation, are knowledgeable when it comes to personalities and strategies, and above all are neutral in providing a clear picture of what's going on in a very confusing part of the world. We need to take an honest look at what's going on, not only in Russia but in Ukraine, and to present the situation warts and all, even if it goes contrary to the conventional story. We need to investigate the links between American politicians and leaders in both countries, much as was done during the Cold War. Instead, we face the same shortcomings that Salisbury complains about 40 years ago.

Salisbury concludes his essay by noting that his prescription for improved coverage is "a challenging task, but one, I believe, that is well within the scope of American television's almost unlimited technological capability." We're already 40 years too late—let's get on with it.

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If Judith Crist calls it a "first-class network movie week," you'd better believe it. And no matter what your tastes, there's something in store for you. 

For comedy lovers, it's the network premiere of The Last Remake of Beau Geste (Monday, 9:00 p.m. PT, NBC), a sendup of "every Foreign Legion flick around," with director/co-writer/star Marty Feldman as Digby Geste, "identical twin" of Michael York's Beau Geste, and a supporting cast that includes Trevor Howard, Ann-Margret, Peter Ustinov, Henry Gibson, James Earl Jones, and a cameo (on film) of the original Beau, Gary Cooper. It is, says Crist, a "[Mel] Brooksian blend of satire, slapstick and vulgarity." It also has "the general air of hilarious madness that make the movie a joy."

If music (and Barbra Streisand) is your thing, check out Funny Lady (Sunday, 8:00 p.m., ABC), the follow-up to Streisand's Funny Girl that is "that rare sequel superior to the original." James Caan and Ben Vereen round out the bill. For adventure, look no further than The Deep (Monday, 8:00 p.m., NBC), with Robert Shaw, Nick Nolte, Jacqueline Bisset and a wet T-shirt, all searching for buried treasure. For thrills, there's Rollercoaster (Sunday, 9:00 p.m., NBC), a "dandy thriller" about an amusement park mad bomber, with Timothy Bottoms, George Segal and Richard Widmark. And for something with a little bite to it, there's the made-for-TV movie The Killing of Randy Webster Wednesday, 9:00 p.m., CBS), based on a true story of a father's quest for the truth about his son's killing by a Houston policeman, which Crist calls "deeply affecting and cogent," and "potent" performances by Hal Holbrook and Dixie Carter as the boy's parents.

Some pretty good flicks on the local level as well, starting Saturday on Elvira's Movie Macabre Presents (8:00 p.m., KHJ), with Roman Polanski's The Fearless Vampire Killers, starring Sharon Tate. Monday night with Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones in Duel in the Sun (8:00 p.m., KTLA), with "only two intermissions"! Choose between that and The Pawnbroker (9:00 p.m., KHJ), a gritty, sobering drama with an Oscar-nominated performance by Rod Steiger. Tuesday evening, it's David Lean's magnificent epic Lawrence of Arabia (8:15 p.m., KABC), for which both Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif should have won Oscars. On Wednesday, the Z Channel has Gunn (12:00 p.m.), with Craig Stevens reprising his role as the suave jazz detective (but without Lola Albright and Hershel Bernardi), and KTLA's back with another two-intermission feature, Hour of the Gun (8:00 p.m.) Wednesday and Thursday, KTTV's midnight movie (more about that later) features Slaughterhouse-Five and Diary of a Mad Housewife, respectively, and Thursday at 9:00 p.m. on Z Channel, it's Blake Edwards' savage satire on the movie industry, S.O.B., with Julie Andrews, Richard Mulligan, William Holden, Robert Preston, and more. 

You know what? Judith Crist was right—that is a heck of a week.

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Let's not forget the sports scene, because there are a couple of major events on tap this week. On Sunday it's the world's most-watched sporting event, soccer's World Cup, live from Madrid (10:30 a.m., ABC). Soccer in the United States hasn't yet reached the level of popularity that it has today, and this is the first time the final has been broadcast live on American television since London in 1966. Before an in-stadium crowd of 87,000 and a worldwide television audience of more than two billion (possibly the largest television audience in history), Italy defeats West Germany 3-1 to win its first World Cup since 1938. Italy, by the way, missed this year's World Cup in Qatar. They also missed the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Tuesday night, it's sports with a more American flair (even though it's being played in Montreal), the baseball's All-Star Game, aka the Midsummer Night's Classic, (5:00 p.m., ABC). Believe it or not, this used to be one of the biggest nights of the baseball season, one of the rare times when American League fans got to see National League teams, and vice versa. There was no red carpet show, no endless interviews with celebrities, no tie games because teams ran out of pitchers. It was an actual baseball game, played by two teams trying to win. Melvin Durslag, TV Guide's resident sports expert, has an accompanying article discussing the challenge that the two teams' managers will have getting all those stars (and their egos) into the game; it's hard to imagine giving the game even that much attention nowadays. (I don't think I've watched the game in over 30 years.) By the way, the National League wins this edition of the game, 4-1, the first All-Star game ever played outside the United States.

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And now some bad news, and if it isn't the end of the world, it's an end to a way of life. CBS has announced that Captain Kangaroo will no longer be seen Monday through Friday mornings, but will be banished to the weekend. They're doing this to clear the way for their morning news program to air in a better timeslot, opposite Today and Good Morning America. Peggy Charren, president of Action for Children's Television, lashed out at the network: "The most important educational institution in America is discriminating against children," she said. "The broadcasting industry should be ashamed of itself." 

Let's not pretend that there's any place for children's programming on network television weekday mornings; that's a ship that sailed a long time ago. Still, this is, I think, a stupid move by CBS. In clearing the way for direct competition against the other two morning shows, the network is signaling a retreat from its previous hard-news morning format, but the CBS morning programs, it all its many incarnations (they've had nearly 30 on-air personalities since 1982), never catches on; I wonder if the show's ratings were any higher than the good Captain's. The story notes that CBS will now have news continuously from 2:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. weekdays. Just what we needed—more news.

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I don't suppose we should blame Joseph Wapner personally for the plague—dare I call it diarrhea—of "courtroom" shows on TV today. If nothing else, it proves that you can always have too much of a good thing, even if this form of reality television was never that good to begin with.

But this is 1982, and a show like The People's Court still has a freshness to it, a "rich vein of real-life comedy and drama," as Ellen Torgerson Shaw puts sit. Executive producer Stu Billet talks about researching the idea at small-claims courts courts, where "I saw there was a constant audience watching the litigants." So he knew it was a good idea, but it still took him five or six years to sell the idea. "One network thought I should have Nipsey Russell and Charles Nelson Reilly as prosecuting attorney and defense attorney," he complained. (Perhaps they were just ahead of their time?) Finally, he turned to Ralph Edwards, the man behind This Is Your Life and Truth or Consequences, who immediately saw the potential for a hit. 

The key, though, was to find the right judge, and that's where Judge Wapner comes in. During his audition, (a real-life case), he was confronted with two litigants ready to duke it out. "Wapner told both parties to cut the hysterics and just present their testimony," and Billet and Edwards knew they had their judge. He's every bit as interesting a character as today's "judges"; he attended Hollywood High, once dated Lana Turner, and aspired to the stage before serving 20 years as a judge in small-claims court.* He likes the idea of showing people what the judicial system is really like, adding, "I think this show is better for young people to see than cops and robbers." Judges and attorneys like what they've seen so far; judge Harry Shafer says, "I see the humanity in it. I think people want realism, and it is real." Adds John Phillips of the Center for Law in the Public Interest, "It's a good exposure to the justice system—people get a sense of their responsibilities." 

*His father, a lawyer, used to appear on Divorce Court. 

Nowadays, we seem to have abandoned the idea that television can be both entertaining and informative; we rarely seem interested in anything more than scoring a cheap point or getting a cheap laugh. There's almost an innocence about the original People's Court, which is still on today, and still has a real judge (Marilyn Milian) as host. There are other courtroom shows have real judges as well. No wonder the courts are so backlogged—all our judges are on TV.   But Steve Harvey? Chrissy Teigen? Jerry Springer? (Well, at least he was actually a lawyer.) I don't know what the late Judge Wapner would think of my objections to today's shows, but I'd like to think that he'd sustain it.

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On Thursday night an ABC News Closeup (10:00 p.m.) reminds us that Vietnam is still recent history, and the wound caused by that war is still an open one. "Vietnam Requiem" takes its cue from a study showing that 34 percent of the Americans who saw combat were later arrested, most for the first time, for civilian crimes.

The focus is on five men, all of whom fought for the United States in Vietnam, all of whom are now in prison. The crime is not the focus; rather, it's "their recollections of nightmarish combat, disillusioning homecomings and difficult adjustments to civilian life." Included is the story of Albert Dobbs, a soldier described as "worth five men," who's still haunted by "the obscenity" of the war, and agonizes over an atrocity he says he committed: "I shot a family. Not for what they did; they happened to be where 17 of my friends were slaughtered. If I'm 1000 years old, I'll never forget [the family's] faces." 

There's also a mention of "post-traumatic stress disorder," and I wonder how many times that had appeared in the media up to that point? As a country and as a people, we handled this whole thing so terribly, terribly wrong: throwing them into a war we never should have been in to begin with, with no defined outcome and no way to win; then protesting against them and giving aid and comfort to the enemy; then treating them like forgotten men (at best) and scum (at worst) when they did return; then totally failing to account for the trauma they went through. If today's glorification of the military is overkill, and I think it is, then at least we can understand from where the pendulum had to swing back.

You can see this extraordinary documentary in its entirety here.

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Let's end on a hopeful note, rather than a downbeat one:

We'd be remiss if we didn't bring you all the color there is to see in an issue of TV Guide. The Melanie in question is Melanie Vincz, the first of eleven winners of KTTV's (Channel 11, naturally) search for the "Bedtime Movie Girls." The station says that over 500 women auditioned for the position; each of the eleven will spend one week as movie hostess. There isn't much online about the Bedtime Movie Girls, which clearly deprives us of a small but crucial bit of television history, although there's a picture and list of the winners here, and you can catch a promo for the Bedtime Movie here. Sounds like a research project for someone out there, doesn't it? Anyway, it just goes to show what we've lost with the disappearance of movie hosts from local stations. TV  


  1. The 1982 All-Star Game wasn't the only one played outside the US. The 1991 All-Star Game was played at Toronto's relatively-new (at the time) Skydome.

    Your mention of the story about Wapner, which I remember reading back in 1982, reminded me of something that a coworker of mine from the early 1990s told me, which was a sad statement of the public's lack of knowledge. He told me that in some survey (sounds like "Jaywalking") the majority of people, asked who they thought the US Chief Justice was, named Judge Wapner.

    1. You're right--fixed. Shows how long it's been since I've watched a game! Seriously, it hasn't been that long, but I have no memory of the game having been played there.

  2. A couple of those Judith Crist reviews have not aged well. I've never met anyone who enjoyed The Last Remake of Beau Geste, or thinks Funny Lady was better than Funny Girl. But I'd give anything now to get the insight of a Bedtime Movie Hostess on Slaughterhouse Five!


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!