August 31, 2022

Fame vs. Greatness: In Television, Does It Matter?

by David Hofstede

His name was Edwin Arlington Robinson. And I’d wager if you asked the next
thousand people you meet who he was, not one could tell you.

But 100 years ago, when Americans read more books and universities still
espoused a liberal arts education (now supplanted by mere liberal indoctrination), it wouldn’t take long to find someone familiar with Robinson’s work. He won three Pulitzer Prizes for his poetry and was nominated four times for the Nobel Prize in literature, achievements that placed him at the pinnacle of his artistic endeavor.

His poems are not widely known today, and his name even less so. Teenagers might have read “Richard Cory,” in high school, as its macabre final verse is just the thing to rouse bored students from their stupor in English Lit. But if they read it they certainly long forgot who wrote it.

Fame can be fleeting (or even non-existent) for poets. How many Americans could identify the country’s current poet laureate? But is television fame any less so?

One would think a mass visual medium that beams pictures of attractive, talented people into millions of homes would confer some level of enduring recognition. But once their shows disappear, or get lost amidst a rerun universe of hundreds of channels and streaming options, once exalted personages are often reduced back to mere faces in the crowd.

A friend who teaches college told me that during COVID he taught a business class online in which his students appeared on the computer screen in rows of boxes. “It looks like The Brady Bunch,” he said, and was greeted with blank stares from the 20-somethings in the class.

It says something that a show with that high of a pop culture profile is now on the verge of being unknown. Is that important? Should it matter? Or did The Brady Bunch just connect with the children who grew up at the same time as the Brady kids, only to pass into obsolescence when they do?

These days television fame is more transitory than ever. Survivor castaways and RuPaul’s Drag Race hopefuls achieve it for a time without even winning their respective contests. How many of this month’s most buzzed about streaming shows will anyone remember in, say, five years? At least syndication kept the Bradys relevant for at least two generations.

Some facets of art and culture do last. And perhaps here is where we need to draw a distinction between fame and greatness, as one does not always accompany the other. Poets can achieve greatness without fame. Television personalities can achieve fame without greatness.

The works of great authors, painters, sculptors, composers, and playwrights may be venerated for hundreds of years. Movies are the closest medium to television, and even here cinephiles recognize names like Chaplin and Bogart, Hitchcock and Capra. Their odds for continued recognition now rest on whether future generations designate them for cancellation for being too white, male, straight, and/or religious. Will the same be said for those that achieved not just fame but greatness in television? Rod Serling? Lucille Ball? Sid Caesar? Mary Tyler Moore? Ernie Kovacs? Will their work endure? If I had to guess I would say no, because television then and now is largely perceived as a disposable medium— a pleasant distraction, but not an art form comparable to a great book or a classic film. That’s disheartening to those of us who love it, but I see no basis on which to believe otherwise.

This isn’t the first time I’ve wondered about this – one of the first pieces I wrote for my Comfort TV blog was titled, “Will Your Granddaughter Think Keith Partridge is Groovy?” That was ten years ago. Why is this still on my mind?

I struggled to find the right words until I read a column by Los Angeles writer and radio personality Doug McIntyre. He had just returned from a Hollywood Bowl tribute to Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee, in which current pop star Billie Eilish sang the praises of these musical icons, before singing some of their greatest hits.

"Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra were once enormous stars. Today, young people are likely to ask, 'Peggy who?', or 'That old mafia guy?' When the things we loved all our lives draw a blank from our kids, it’s hard not to feel a sense of loss," McIntyre wrote. But if their legacies live on through subsequent generations of singers, perhaps their names will never be forgotten. "We want our world to be remembered," he admits, "even if we are not."

Maybe that’s it. Maybe this is really more about us than the entertainers whose prominence we want so ardently to preserve. I’m still not confident it will happen with television the way it might in music. I’ll try to be optimistic, but these times were not made for optimists. With all the advances of western civilization under constant assault, what chance do a few old TV shows have to survive?

The best we can hope for now, I think, is for even the greatest of these shows to be mostly forgotten, but hopefully still accessible. Like the poems of Edwin Arlington Robinson, you might have to dig through a lot of other stuff to find them. Hopefully, those that do will decide they were worth the effort. TV  

David Hofstede is the founder of the Comfort TV blog, as well as the author of several books on television history. His most recent book is When Television Brought Us Together: Celebrating the Shows and the Values That Shaped America's First Television Viewing Generations

August 29, 2022

What's on TV? Friday, September 8, 1967

With NBC Week not debuting until next week, the network has some time to fill, and you can see it in tonight's listings, with four programs that apparently didn't make it to the new season. First up, Tim Matthieson [sic] and Rick Gates are The Hardy Boys in "The Mystery of the Chinese Junk," with Richard Anderson as dad. Next, Kerwin Matthews and Diana Van der Vils are a university professor and a lady hypnotist who help detective Norma Fell solve supernatural murders in Ghostbreaker. That's followed by Police Story, which has nothing to do with either Jackie Chan movies or the anthology series of the 1970s; it's a Gene Roddenberry-helmed cop drama with Steve Ihnet as Captain James Paige (wonder what his middle initial is?) on the search for a shotgun terrorist. Finally, it's Three For Danger, with Larry Pennell, Alejandro Rey, and Charles Carlson as three adventurers caught up in crime and intrigue in Acapulco. Only two of the five NBC affiliates in Minnesota took advantage of this night of failed pilots (anti-NBC Week?); the other three found solace with the Minnesota Twins and Baltimore Orioles. Good choice. 

August 27, 2022

This week in TV Guide: September 2, 1967

This is, by my count (and I actually did check!), the 538th edition of "This Week in TV Guide," and even when you allow for a number of reruns I've done over the years, that still makes for a lot of issues. It's also true that one of the drawbacks you run into when you've covered that many issues is finding out that some of the most interesting stories, the ones you think you might like to write about, are ones that you've already written about previously.

For example, Richard K. Doan reports that NET has booked an exclusive interview with Stalin's daughter, Mrs. Svetlana Alliluyeva, in October. That's old news to you out there, since you read about it here six years ago. Doan also mentioned that Jacqueline Kennedy's sister, Lee Radziwill, will be making her TV acting debut next winter in ABC's Laura remake. But you knew that already—you've even read the reviews. A musical comedy version of Aladdin done by the Prince Street Players of New York? We saw them adapting Pinocchio. (And they're doing The Emperor's New Clothes this Sunday anyway.) The ABC WWII action series Garrison's Gorillas premieres Tuesday; I've already reviewed it here. And so on.

The temptation is to just throw your hands up in the air and give up; nothing new to see here! But you'd be wrong! There's plenty of spanking newness here, courtesy of ABC and CBS, who are busy rolling out some of their new shows already, even though the Fall Preview isn't until next week. And you know, some of these are pretty good! In addition to the aforementioned Garrison's Gorillas, ABC debuts the excellent half-hour police drama N.Y.P.D. (Tuesday, 8:30 p.m. CT, which—whoops!—I already wrote about here); Custer (Wednesday, 6:30 p.m.), with Wayne Maunder in a series that lasted only slightly longer than the Battle of the Little Big Horn; The Second Hundred Years (Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.), starring Monte Markham in a dual role that doesn't really double your fun; The Flying Nun (Thursday, 6:30 p.m.), a show that's both ridiculous and a product of the Second Vatican Council; Good Company (Thursday, 9:00 p.m.), in which famed attorney F. Lee Bailey tries (and fails) to duplicate the success of Person to Person; Off to See the Wizard (Friday, 6:30 p.m.), ABC's version of The Wonderful World of Color; a pair of Westerns trying to defy the dying genre in Hondo (Friday, 7:30 p.m.) with Ralph Taeger and The Guns of Will Sonnett starring Walter Brennan; and the courtroom drama Judd for the Defense (Friday, 9:00 p.m.), which—as you know—I favorably covered here. I count four series which made it to my rotation, which is pretty good.

Meanwhile, the Tiffany Network has some stars of its own, starting with the comedy Good Morning World (Tuesday, 8:30 p.m.), with Joby Baker and Ronnie Schell as radio DJs; He & She (Wednesday, 8:30 p.m.), the very stylish comedy with Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss that may have been just a little ahead of its time; Dundee and the Culhane (Wednesday, 9:00 p.m.), and I just don't know how they hoped to sell a series with a title like that; and Cimarron Strip (Thursday, 6:30 p.m.), a 90-minute Western with Stuart Whitman hanging on to that horse for dear life—seriously, have you ever seen the opening credits to this series? Go here and watch them now and tell me I'm wrong about that; I'll wait. Now, it should be noted that three of CBS's most successful series aren't in this this week's issue: Gentle Ben, Mannix, and The Carol Burnett Show. They'll be along in the next week or two, and that's where the network makes its impact.

As for NBC? Well, I believe NBC Week is next week, although we do get a sneak peek on Saturday Night at the Movies of one of the network's upcoming hits: the pilot for Ironside.

l  l  l

It's true, though, that in order to make room for these new shows, some of our favorites have to go, although they couldn't have been favorites of all that many people, or else they would have stayed a little bit longer. So farewell to Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre; so long to Please Don't Eat the Daisies; see you in the daytime, Candid Camera and Let's Make a Deal; Godspeed, The Saint; it was nice knowing you, summer replacements Away We Go, Piccadilly Palace, and Our Place, You all made our TV viewing worthwhile!

And then there were the shows that didn't follow the typical path. Coronet Blue, the enigmatic spy series that was a surprise summer hit, makes its enigmatic farewell with an episode that answers none of the questions raised by the preceding 10 episodes (two of the original 13 were unrun); ABC gloats that the popularity of Coronet's young star, Frank Converse, will spill over into his new series, N.Y.P.D. And Gilligan's Island still has the ratings to continue for another season, but it says bon voyage because the show that's replacing it on Monday nights, Gunsmoke, is the favorite of one very important person: Babe Paley, the wife of the network's legendary president, William S. Paley. In cases like that, it doesn't really matter how many fans you've got; it's a battle you're going to lose, so don't bother even trying to fight it. 

l  l  l

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: The Smothers Brothers, Mel Tormé and the Woody Herman orchestra, singers Enzo Stuarti and Gail Martin (Dean's daughter), comedians Nipsey Russell and George Carlin, the banjo-playing Your Father's Mustache, and the Seven Staneks, a balancing act.

Palace: Bing Crosby opens the fifth season at the Palace, with Jimmy Durante and Milton Berle; singer Diahann Carroll; singer-dancer Joey Heatherton; Indian musician Ravi Shankar; and Every Mothers' Son, vocal group.

It's something old and something new this week, a rerun from last season on Ed's show while Bing is the traditional season-opening host for the Palace. And each show boasts a strong lineup. But while it's always hard to go against Bing (especially when he has Durante as one of his guests), I'm afraid this week there's just too much depth on the Sullivan bench. Mel Tormé and the Woody Herman orchestra! This time Sullivan opens the season in winning fashion.

But that's not all. ABC, in its infinite wisdom, has moved The Hollywood Palace to Saturday night (don't worry; it won't be there for long), but Piccadilly Palace, the show's summer replacement, appears in the old timeslot this week (meaning two Palaces for the price of one), with singers Millicent Martin and Frank Ifield and comic Bruce Forsythe. Sorry, but this week even two Palaces don't equal one Sullivan.

l  l  l

Since we're on the subject of season premieres, are you ready for some football? Well, ready or not, here it comes, as NBC kicks off its third season of American Football League coverage on Sunday with the Boston Patriots taking on the Broncos at Denver (3:30 p.m.) The Patriots are coming off an 8-4-2 season, led by MVP Jim Nance; the Broncos, on the other hand, struggled through a 4-10 season. For Denver, the good news is that they're already 25 percent of the way to matching that total, as they take Boston 26-21. The bad news is that they'll only win two more games the rest of the way. But then, the Patriots will only win three games themselves. 

Unlike the AFL, the NFL season doesn't start until next week, but all's not lost, as CBS comes up with a practice—I mean exhibition—I mean preseason game between the defending champion Green Bay Packers and Cleveland Browns, live from Cleveland (Saturday 8:30 p.m.). That's probably what keeps Mannix from premiering until next week.

But don't forget about baseball! There's a month to go in the American League's Great Race, and on Saturday's Game of the Week (1:00 p.m., NBC), the scheduled game you'll see is either the Chicago White Sox vs. Boston Red Sox, or Detroit Tigers vs. Minnesota Twins, with a note that if these teams are still in contention, coverage may alternate between both games. I don't know whether NBC did or not, but all four teams are indeed still in contention, and will remain so until the final weekend of the season, in one of the great pennant races of all time.

And in case you hadn't noticed, and there's really no reason why you should have, Monday is Labor Day, which explains why CBS has golf on at 3:30 p.m. Monday afternoon. It's the final round of the $200,000 Carling World Golf Championship, from the Board of Trade Golf Club in Toronto. (And have you ever heard of a less-romantic name for a golf course than that? Maybe the National Cash Register Country Club in Dayton, Ohio.) An international field tees off in search of the $35,000 first prize, which was quite an amount back then, but in the end a pair of Americans duel for the title, with Billy Casper defeating Al Geiberger in a sudden-death playoff. It is the last Carling World Championship after having been played since 1953. 

l  l  l

A couple of political notes, because in 1967 you can't really go for long without running into something political. Monday night on NET, radical activist Saul Alinsky is interviewed about his work as director of Chicago's Industrial Areas Foundation (10:00 p.m., WDSE). Alinsky died in 1973, but his influence in politics, both in America and around the world, remains as strong as, if not stronger than, ever. 

On Tuesday, Harry Reasoner takes a look at the South Vietnamese elections (9:30 p.m., CBS), with General Nguyễn Văn Thiệu winning with 35 percent of the vote, easily defeating civilian candidate Trương Đình Dzu. Don't expect election night coverage like you'd get here; no exit polls or projections, I suspect.

I looked for something else that might cleanse the palate, but no such luck.

l  l  l

Finally, there's one last series making its final bow this week, and I think it deserves a place all to itself. 

Point number one: What's My Line? debuted on CBS on February 7, 1950. By October of that year, it had settled in on Sunday nights at 9:30 p.m. Central, and it would remain there for the next 17 years. Think about that for a minute—today's network programs often change dates and times multiple times each season, while WML maintained the same spot in the schedule for more than 800 weeks. During its long run, not one but two regular panelists—Fred Allen and Dorothy Kilgallen—died. When it left the air, only Ed Sullivan and Ted Mack had been on primetime longer.
Point number two: During the entire run of WML, the show never aired a rerun. It was often broadcast live, especially during the first nine or ten years, and it was preempted perhaps 20 times during the course of its run. But it aired 876 episodes during its time, and not one of them was a rerun.

Point number three: For all but four of those episodes, WML was hosted by John Daly, perhaps the most urbane man ever to host a network television program. Keep in mind that during the first ten years of WML, Daly was also vice president in charge of news for ABC, hosting the network's evening news, as well as other major news events. When Daly went to Chicago and Los Angeles to cover the national political conventions, WML went on the road with him. The three most familiar regular panelists—Arlene Francis, Bennett Cerf, and Dorothy Kilgallen—would occasionally take vacations, go on assignment, or make public appearances. For the show's long run, the only true constant was John Daly.

On Sunday night, What's My Line? airs on network television for the last time. Arlene and Bennett, the longest serving panelists, are there, along with Steve Allen, who had been a regular for several years, and Martin Gabel, Arlene's husband, who had appeared on the show more often than any other guest panelist. The contestants from that very first episode in 1950 were back, as they had been on a previous anniversary show. But the highlight of the show—perhaps the highlight of the entire run of WML—was the identity of the Mystery Guest.

For years John Daly had been the emergency Mystery Guest in case something had gone wrong or a guest had failed to show, and a couple of times it had looked as if he might have to fill in, but it had never happened, and in retrospect it seems as if there could have been only one man to fill the bill. It's one of the great moments of television.

It's true that What's My Line? had been showing its age for the last few years; it's also true that the winds of change were blowing through the world of television at an increasing speed. But What's My Line? represented something different: a style and élan, a time when men wore tuxedos and women dressed in evening gowns and everyone was called Mr. and Mrs. (or Miss). There was a je ne sais quoi that's absent not only from today's television, but from life in general. It's that, not the genteel parlor game, that remains irreplaceable. 

And of course I already wrote about all this, too. Could we end today any other way? TV  

August 26, 2022

Around the dial

A bit of business to take care of first: only four copies of The Electronic Mirror remain, so if you're interested in getting one for free (plus postage and handling) send me an email! And now we return to our regular programming.

A new writer steps into the spotlight of Jack's Hitchcock Project at bare•bones e-zine: it's Kathleen Hite, and her third-season story "Disappearing Trick," with Robert Horton, Betsy von Furstenberg, and Mr. Drysdale—I mean, Raymond Bailey.

At last, one of John's shows that I've seen! I haven't actually seen the episode of Sapphire and Steel he's writing about this week at Cult TV Blog; it's part of the third assignment, and I haven't gotten that far yet, but I'll want to have this up when I do reach it.

Not many actors get a third act when it comes to TV series, but Dick Van Dyke did, with his eponymous sitcom, followed by his new eponymous sitcom, followed by Diagnosis: Murder, and at RealWeegieMidget, Gill looks at a DM telemovie, "The House on Sycamore Street." 

Once we cut the cord, we didn't get TCM anymore (but we do subscribe to The Criterion Channel, so I think it's a fair trade), but one of the things I do miss is Noir Alley, and for those of you with access to TCM, Terence at A Shroud of Thoughts has the highlights.

I've mentioned more than once that hanging around this site can make you old, and JB contributes to the feeling with his The Hits Just Keep on Comin' piece about two recent articles: the demise of the manual transmission, and Lynn Spigel's book TV Snapshots: An Archive of Everyday Life, which shows midcentury pictures featuring the television set as a focal point of the home. Not unlike the pictures you see at the top of each week's "Around the Dial." 

JB ends with a quote I'll borrow for the end as well, from novelist L. P. Hartley: "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there." TV  

August 24, 2022

The Bing Crosby Show, 1964

Here's something you don't see often: a Bing Crosby special that's not for Christmas. It was aired on CBS February 15, 1964 (preempting The Defenders), but it had actually been recorded nearly a year earlier, in June 1963.* Talk about a star-studded lineup; Bing's guests are Rosemary Clooney, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Gennaro, and Bing's wife Kathryn. Now that's a special

*And it was recorded at the NBC studios in Burbank. I know that Bing was supposed to be one of the wealthiest entertainers in Hollywood, but I didn't realize he owned all three networks.

One of the interesting sidelights is that this CBS special comes in the midst of Bing's work with ABC. His 1961 and 1962 Christmas specials had been on the network, as had a non-Christmas special in May 1962; his long association with The Hollywood Palace (he hosted it 31 times) began in January 1964 (before the Crosby special on CBS; evidentially Bing's contract with CBS didn't have the same clause as Sammy Davis Jr.'s! But I forgot—Bing owned all the networks), and his weekly series, with Beverly Garland, premiered on ABC in September 1964. 

This was not the first time Crosby had been on CBS, though; he had a history with CBS radio dating back to the late 1940s and had aired a television special on the network on November 7, 1963, so these two programs might have been part of a package. And then there's Bing's production company, fittingly named Bing Crosby Productions, which had programs on both CBS and ABC and was famous for cross-pollinating variety shows with stars from series on opposing networks (e.g. the cast of Hogan's Heroes on The Hollywood Palace).  

Something interesting about that November show; according to several sources, Sinatra and Martin were scheduled to be guests on that special but were bumped to the later one. (It might have had something to do with music rights, I don't know. I could have paid The New York Times to get access to their archive, but that's not in the budget for a starving artist.) At least The Bing Crosby Show is broadcast in time for the opening of the movie that starred Crosby, Sinatra, and Martin: Robin and the 7 Hoods, which opened in June 1964.

Anyway, here it is, from February, 1964: The Bing Crosby Show. See what it's like to watch a Bing Crosby special that doesn't end with "White Christmas."  


August 22, 2022

What's on TV? Thursday, August 26, 1954

I've probably mentioned this before, but one of the great losses in contemporary television is that of local programming. In turning America into one big market, we've seen local stations become centralized, homogeneous, without any of the regional dialects and quirks that we see in these old issues. In this issue we have variety shows, "musicals," interview programs, and local sports; granted, we're talking about Chicagoland here, but even smaller markets used to have their share of locally produced shows and news documentaries. Nowadays the primary local program is an endless soft news program that combines elements of all of the above, along with a healthy dose of infomercial-like programming. Is this an adequate evolution of programming? You be the judge.

August 20, 2022

This week in TV Guide: August 21, 1954

Considering how sexual television has become, the kiss is perhaps one of the tamer expressions of sensual pleasure we're likely to see, although, as the Baptists say about dancing, we all know how one thing can lead to another. As a matter of fact, I was briefly concerned that this story might be a little too hot to cover here, before I concluded that the average reader of this blog is probably old enough to handle such a frank discussion. I don't have any demographic information to back that up, though, so if it turns out that you haven't had that talk about the birds and bees yet (or if you're a Baptist worried that I'm going to be writing about Dancing with the Stars), accept my apology and, please, don't complain to Blogger that this blog should have a "mature content" label.

But to return to the point, Kathy Pedell's article is on how the simple kiss is anything but simple when it comes to 1950s television. While Hollywood and Broadway are cool with the heat, when it comes to TV, "a conference is called. The producer, director and continuity acceptance (censorship) department discuss the matter thoroughly. A most unromantic prelude to passion." When all is said and done, the decision often is to skip the kiss altogether; "not doing something is the best way to avoid offending."

Example #1: "Some time ago,* a TV version of a stage comedy, "Reunion in Vienna," stressed kissing, lots and lots of it. This was bad enough, but during some of the bussing, the actors were just a bit too sincere. Everybody, hardened [sic] critics too, objected. So now there's an unwritten law: No prolonged kisses on TV."

*The article doesn't specify, but based on extensive Google research of at least three minutes, it may well have been the Celanese Theatre production of January 9, 1952, which starred Melvyn Douglas and Signe Hasso.

Example #2: "On Studio One recently, a couple met after walking out on their respective spouses. It was kismet, or whatever operates at such moments, and they planned a mad whirl in Spain. But they never kissed. They never got to Spain, either. You could see why that didn't happen, but why the ban on kissing? 'Not proper,' explained producer Felix Jackson. 'They're married to other people and any such manifestations of affection might antagonize viewers.'"

I might be a little slow on the uptake here, so let me see if I've got this straight: according to Jackson's reasoning, adultery would be fine, just as long as the couple doesn't kiss. Is that about it? I ask because I was a pre-law minor in college, and as far as I can remember, the act of adultery does not require kissing; it does require a somewhat different act of affection, however, which also doesn't require kissing, and isn't shown on TV either. 

One of the challenges facing television producers is that "it's never been clearly defined when a TV couple may or may not kiss. Nor has the length of a TV kiss been formally limited, not even by the code of the National Association of Radio and TV Broadcasters." Says Herbert Carlborg, part of the CBS censorship—that is, continuity acceptance—department, "We don't want to be stuffy, but we're so gun-shy of what people will think, we blow the whistle on almost everything."

The whole thing seems kind of silly; even Mister Peepers didn't get to kiss Nancy until he gave her the engagement ring. As Pedell remarks, "the kisses TV 'husbands' and 'wives' give each other will never do a thing to promote marriage." It's one thing to suggest that married couples never sleep in the same bed, but to defer from expressing any type of normal affection is hardly a ringing endorsement of the quality of television programming. It serves to put into context the perennial complaints we've read here by TV writers beefing about their lack of freedom in writing about adult subjects.

Still and all, it is a slippery slope, isn't it? One minute a teen couple is shown kissing, and the next thing you know, they're dancing on American Bandstand. And we all know where that leads.

l  l  l

Well, I don't know about you, but after all that I feel like I need a cold shower. And when you find yourself in that kind of situation, who better to bring you back to earth than Ed Sullivan? Ed's show this Sunday (7:00 p.m. CT, CBS) is noteworthy in that it's the first ever color telecast for Talk of the Town. It's an experimental broadcast by the network; as the listing notes, Ed has appeared on many of CBS's such broadcasts, and after a brief review of the wonderful world of color television (to coin a phrase), Ed brings out his guests: sultry songstress Eartha Kitt; Janis Paige and John Raitt of the Broadway musical The Pajama Game*, "Miss Malta and Company," a dog act; a European dance troupe, The Andrea Dancers. Not an overwhelming lineup, perhaps, especially considering that one of Sullivan's favorites, Alan King, is appearing opposite on NBC's Summer Comedy Hour.

*The better-known movie version starred Doris Day in the role played by Paige.

The Fall Preview issue doesn't come out until September 25, but some of our favorite stars are getting a head start on the new season. Perry Como returns with his 15-minute, thrice-weekly program (6:45 p.m., CBS), as is Eddie Fisher's show (Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. NBC). Life With Father returns at 9:00 p.m. Tuesday on CBS; did you know that one of the stars is Marion Ross? You probably did; I'm always among the last to know. Dragnet's season premiere (Thursday, 8:00 p.m., NBC) puts Friday and Smith on the trail of someone pushing "objectionable material" in a high school; I'll bet it doesn't depict two people kissing, which is probably why it can be shown on TV. Also on Thursday, Lux Video Theater debuts its new one-hour format after four seasons of half-hour dramas, as Dorothy McGuire stars in "To Each His Own" (9:00 p.m., NBC), a story of a woman dealing with tragedy from World War I. And on the local scene, which in this case means Chicagoland, The Howard Miller Show returns on Friday night for two hours of music and guest stars (11:00 p.m., WBBM).

The Teletype notes that September 11 will see the first-ever broadcast of the Miss America Pageant, with John Daly emceeing the broadcast (Bob Russell hosts the actual pageant). By contrast, the last pageant was streamed only. The following month, the premiere of CBS's action series Climax (airing October 7) will be Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye, featuring Dick Powell as Philip Marlowe. Having played Marlowe in the big-screen Murder, My Sweet (and then in two radio adaptations of the same story), Powell becomes the first actor to play Chandler's iconic detective multiple times; to my mind, he remains the definitive Marlowe.

And a premiere of sorts; on Saturday, August 28, NBC will be kicking off weekly coverage of Canadian Football, presenting games of the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union (which exists today as the East Division of the Canadian Football League), and the network introduces viewers to this strange version of the game with a preview of the new season Monday night at 8:00 p.m. Things were a little different back then; American professional football wasn't quite as lucrative as it is today, and some Canadian teams paid more than their American counterparts; additionally, many black American collegiate players found it easier to play in Canada than the U.S. All this means that you might well recognize several of the names playing this season north of the border. For comparison, this year's CFL season began on June 9.

l  l  l

You may remember how Mac Davis had a hit song back in 1980 called "It's Hard to Be Humble," and if you're one of those unfortunates who have that problem, all you have to do is look at the life of Steve Allen, and you'll develop, as I have, an instant inferiority complex. Wonder why? "He's a panel stalwart on What's My Line; the star of a critic-caressed late-night New York variety show NBC plans to give nightly coast-to-coast showcasing effective September 27 [that would be, in case you're wondering, The Tonight Show]; a writer of TV dramas; a composer of song hits; an aspiring novelist." Not only that, he turned down the opportunity to host Talent Scouts in the event the show's current host, Arthur Godfrey, decides not to return in the fall. Oh, and did I mention he just got married last month, to the charming Jayne Meadows? Not only does his career make me feel inferior; I now feel as if I should have written a better paragraph describing all this; punchier, more fitting for a man of his accomplishments. 

Allen doesn't look the part of a typical comedian; he's "quiet-mannered, soft-spoken, relaxed" and laughs self-consciously when he tells a joke. He rejects the idea of being a "smart and sophisticated" comedian, and says he likes to make people feel they're part of the joke. Scheduled to be the last comedian on the bill for a benefit show, his quick mind and quicker wit helped turned a potential disaster into triumph by "basing his material on what was done by those who were on before him," becoming the hit of the evening.

You might recognize Jayne from her time as a regular panelist on I've Got a Secret* (like Steve's What's My Line?, a Goodson-Todman production; nothing like keeping it in the family), and now that she's got a new husband and his three boys from a previous marriage, she's planning "devote all her time to Steve, his sons and TV." And while NBC is considering a series starring the two of them (an idea from Jayne), Steve jokes that they "may do a show together some time during the next 20 years."

*Ironically, Steve would wind up hosting I've Got a Secret on CBS after Garry Moore's departure, but Jayne had long since left the panel, replaced by Bess Myerson.

Before we go, let's take a moment to consider Steve Allen's career. In addition to Tonight, he hosted a variety show that went head-to-head with Ed Sullivan (we occasionally grade those matchups), wrote 8,500 songs (including his theme, "This Could Be the Start of Something Big") and won a jazz Grammy, wrote more than 50 books (including a series of ghostwritten* murder mysteries that starred both him and Jayne and should have been made into a television series), created Meeting of Minds, a PBS series that featured discussions between famous figures of history, and campaigned against what he called "the rising tide of smut on television." (I wonder how he felt about kissing?) He was a religious skeptic, a political liberal, a witty and clever entertainer, was mentioned on Mystery Science Theater 3000 as having thought of "everything," and a man who led an extraordinary life. Now if you'll forgive me, I think I'll just dry up and fly away.

*One of the ghostwriters, Robert T. Westbrook, is himself an accomplished mystery writer, most notably the series featuring Howard Moon Dear. Quite a fascinating life: his mother was Sheilah Graham, columnist and former lover of F. Scott Fitzgerald; his father purportedly was actor Robert Taylor. You can't make this stuff up,

l  l  l

I'll admit, perhaps I've gone a little overboard in returning things to an even keel after the excitement of that lead story. In fact, I wouldn't blame anyone for dropping off there for a few minutes in the middle of that discussion about Canadian Football. Hopefully, I can raise the temperature a little bit with this concluding piece, a letter to the editor from Mary Tocts of Racine, Wisconsin, who'd like to see a special kind of pin-up. "I love to watch wrestling on TV," she writes, "but they never show the faces of wrestlers clearly. Would you please tell me where I could write to get some pictures of all the wrestlers?" The answer from the editor: "Cameramen and directors apparently subscribe to the theory that close-ups of the grunt ’n groaners might frighten the viewers. However, if you’re an indomitable muscle fan, try writing to the stations on which wrestling is seen."

Hot and sweaty groaners. Just the thing that television needs, right? TV  

Reminder: I'm giving away my inventory of The Electronic Mirror. Find out how you can get your free copy (only paying for shipping and handling) here

August 19, 2022

Around the dial

One of the shows that always fascinated me—not because of the content, necessarily, but that it could get on television in the first place—was the Johns Hopkins Science Review, which aired on DuMont in the early 1950s. The Broadcast Archives links to this 1952 episode, "Television in Great Britain," that looks like a winner.

John's current series at Cult TV Blog is "Television for a Time of Strife," and no matter your feelings on the issues of the day, I think we can all agree that we're in such a time, and television can be a source of relief as well as strife. This week's example: At Last the 1948 Show, with an all-star cast that includes Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Marty Feldman, and Aimi MacDonald.

Talking of televison's ability to provide comfort should, and does, lead us to Comfort TV, where David shares TV memories of the late Olivia Newton-John, and she had several of them, in which she shines even when the material doesn't.

Herbie Pilato looks back at a moment in television history that was decidedly not comfort TV: the Quiz Show Scandal, and its genesis on the show Twenty-One. Assuming that this would still be a scandal today, it's interesting to speculate on how the media might cover it now.

For the 45th anniversary of Elvis Presley's passing, Paul linked to this 2019 article at Drunk TV in which he reviewed the 2005 miniseries Elvis, which promised much and delivered, well, a little less than that. It's always the way, isn't it?

At The Ringer, Keith Phipps looks at Candid Camera as perhaps the first example of what has come to be called "cringe comedy," or what Phipps refers to as "reality TV and the comedy of humiliation." As one early TV critic put it, "For my money, Candid Camera is sadistic, poisonous, anti-human, and sneaky." Find out where it inevitably led.

And in case you missed it, I'm giving away my inventory of The Electronic Mirror. Find out how you can get your free copy (only paying for shipping and handling) hereTV  

August 17, 2022

Take my book—please!

 don't know this for an absolute fact, but it's my suspicion that not all of you have taken advantage of the opportunity to purchase my book, The Electronic Mirror. For one thing, I used to be able to dine once dinner a year at a place like Ruth's Chris; nowadays my royalties cover a Happy Meal at McDonald's. And, when you think about it, since I shell out a modest fee each year to maintain this domain, you might say that I pay you to read this content, at least indirectly.

You're in luck, though. As it happens, I've decided to liquidate my entire inventory of extra copies, which means you can have The Electronic Mirror free, just by sending me an email. (I'll even sign it if you want!) All I'm asking is $4.25 to cover postage and handling; I'll be getting nothing out of the deal besides extra storage space, which I can use to buy more books—ones I didn't write and haven't read—and you'll be getting a collection of the best essays from It's About TV! over the years, plus original material written specifically for this book. It's still less than you'd pay for retail, and if you don't want to give Amazon your money, this solves the problem.

This offer will continue for as long as I have books to give away, so if you want a copy of The Electronic Mirror, or if you have a friend or family member who might enjoy it as a gift (Christmas isn't too far away!), send me an email at the address on the sidebar, with your name and address, and I'll tell you how to pay for postage. It's an offer you can't refuse; more important, you'll be doing me a great favor in helping clean house. TV  

August 15, 2022

What's on TV? Friday, August 20, 1965

The first thing we can do is forget all those notices about Gemini mission updates preempting regular programming. The launch won't be until tomorrow, so it's business as usual. And what about that business? True, we've got "original" summer shows like Vacation Playhouse, but remember that people often used the summer rerun season to catch up with programs they missed because they weren't home, or they were watching another of their favorite shows. So if, for example, you were a regular fan of Slattery's People (and I'm sure the producers wished there were more of you), you might take this opportunity to switch over to that Jack Paar repeat, with a delightful lineup including Mary Martin and Nichols and May. That's just the way it was when there weren't such things as DVRs and on-demand programming. Your favorites are from the Minnesota State Edition.

August 13, 2022

This week in TV Guide: August 14, 1965

ABC News has a problem: nobody watches its nightly news program. They hope they have the solution: Peter Jennings.

At age 28, the boy wonder is set to take on Walter Cronkite and Huntley and Brinkley as he assumes the reins of ABC's 15-minute evening news program.* Ron Cochran, who anchored ABC's news during the JFK assassination drama, has been shuttled off to radio, and in selecting the young Canadian who still has to remin    d himself that it's "lieutenant" and not "leftenant" and that the Marine band does not play "Anchors Aweigh," ABC has passed over the likes of Howard K. Smith, Edward P. Morgan, and John Scali; all news veterans, all Americans.

*While CBS and NBC expanded their newscasts to 30 minutes in 1963, it wouldn't be until 1967 that ABC would follow suit.

Jennings isn't really comfortable with the role (even less so with his name as part of the program's title (Peter Jennings with the News), and ABC had to accept his demands that he be allowed to travel to cover the news on location as much as possible. Still, just over six months into his term as anchor, it's clear that he'd rather be out in the field all the time; he sees himself not as an anchor, but as a reporter. "I'm a newsman," he tells Neil Hickey, and he's sensitive toward the impression, as someone put it, that he's the network's "glamorcaster." He's sanguine about it, though. "If I blow this show—and that possibility exists equally with the possibility that I'll succeed—I'm still young enough to come back and make another name for myself."

Indeed he is. Despite ABC's confidence in the young man, truth be told, his first stint as anchor is less than a success. He never really does make a dent in the ratings of the Big Two, and after three years he quits the anchor desk to become a foreign correspondent. It's there that Jennings shines, covering various crises in the Middle East, including the Munich Olympic massacre. He returns to the States briefly as anchor for ABC's failed morning program A.M. America, after which he becomes the network's chief foreign correspondent. When ABC introduces World News Tonight, he holds down the foreign desk in London, along with Frank Reynolds in Washington and Max Robinson in Chicago. After Reynolds' death in 1983, he once again assumes the anchor chair, and this time it sticks. He will remain on World News Tonight, leading ABC to first place in the ratings, until his own death in 2005.

I wrote a piece at the other blog a few months before Jennings died; at the time, he was considered part of the Big Three along with Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw. That's all well and good, I wrote then, but to tell the real story of Peter Jennings, one had to consider him "the last reminder of the era of Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, and Walter Cronkite," and added that "That should put things in perspective."

Look at the picture of Jennings above: earnest, somewhat doubtful, painfully young. When ABC hired Jennings back in 1965, he was introduced as the network's answer to Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley. As unlikely as it may have seemed back then, even to Peter Jennings, that's exactly the way it turned out.

l  l  l

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 welcomes comedian Alan King; Metropolitan Opera soprano Birgit Nilsson; comics Marty Allen and Steve Rossi; singer Shari Lewis; the rock 'n' rolling Animals; impressionist George Kirby; South Vietnamese singer Bach Yenh; the Haslevs, trampoline artists; and Ravic and Babs, roller skaters.  Also: Rex Harrison, Audrey Hepburn and Wilfred Hyde White in a clip from the movie version of My Fair Lady.

Palace: Folk singer Burl Ives introduces Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy and Edgar's 18-year-old daughter Candy; operatic soprano Anna Moffo; singer-dancer Ann Miller; comic Pat Henry; Rih Aruso, bicycle-balancer; and the Baranton Sisters, jugglers.

This is where we see Ed at his best. I know these shows weren't scheduled against each other when they originally aired, but it's as if Ed's playing "anything you can do, I can do better." Palace has comedian Pat Henry? Ed tops them with Alan King. You want opera? Palace has Anna Moffo; Ed counters with Birgit Nilsson. Academy Award-winner Burl Ives? What about Academy Award-winning film My Fair Lady, with Oscar winner Rex Harrison to boot? Strangely-named foreign acts? How better to beat Rih Aruso then with Bach Yenh? Palace has Ann Miller, Ed counters with The Animals. Palace has a pretty good lineup, but Ed's is better. Sullivan shows 'em who's boss.

And it's bonus week!  Al Hirt, the summer substitute for Jackie Gleason, is back with another original lineup that in a lesser week might have taken top honors. Al's guests on Saturday night (6:30 p.m., CBS) include Liza Minnelli, country singer Johnny Tillotson, Little Richard and the Imperials, and Jackie Vernon. Even here, Palace can't get a break; while they have Burl Ives, Sam the Snowman in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, in a few years Jackie Vernon will be the voice of Frosty the Snowman. It's just one of those weeks.

l  l  l

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. 

I'm sure if we charged Cleveland Amory with being in full curmudgeon mode this week, our favorite critic would plead guilty, even with Perry Mason defending him. That's the show in the crosshairs, and Cleve acknowledges that "It would be nice to say that, after eight years on the air, the show has held up as well as Mr. Burr has." Alas, however, such is not the case, and Amory admits that "this is far from our favorite weekly hour."

At the outset, I'll stipulate that the Perry Mason of today is not the Perry Mason of the first few years. How could it be? There are only so many ways you can set up a courtroom drama, after all, and everyone involved in the show—the producers, the cast, and the freshness of the character—are that much older. Amory complains that many episodes are crammed not only with plots, but subplots and sub-subplots, and Burr himself had complained about needlessly complicated stories. And, adds Amory, "we've seen several plots here that we are convinced nobody believed—least of all the unfortunate actors who got the parts." Again, Burr himself would admit this is true. Amory doesn't quite accuse the actor of mailing his performances in, but he does suggest that Burr does his best acting in the opening credits. He still likes Barbara Hale and William Hopper, but he wishes Della Street and Paul Drake were in more of each episode.

So maybe Perry Mason isn't as good as it used to be. Maybe the stories are unbelievable, and the acting less than award-winning. But Cleve seems to ignore a central question: is the show still entertaining? There are shows I've given up on with only a season or two to go (Hawaii Five-O), and those I've stayed with to the end, with gritted teeth (77 Sunset Strip). In no instance have I ever been tempted to throw in the towel on Perry Mason, no matter how many times I've watched it. It is still entertaining—still fun, still comfortable, still better that most of the competition. If it's lost a step or two, well, then, so have I. To the accusation that I'm a fan of Perry Mason, I willingly plead guilty. But to the charge that, as Amory says, the show "can win, but lose winning," the verdict is: not guilty.

l  l  l

On Thursday night, CBS' legal drama The Defenders presents "Eyewitness," in which E.G. Marshall defends "two youths who have openly committed murder—confident that no one would try to stop them." The "no one" includes 27 witnesses, "average citizens who didn't bother to interfere, shout for help or call the police."

The premise of "Eyewitness"—the 27 people who didn't want to get involved—bears obvious similarities to the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese in which 38 witnesses saw the fatal attack on the 28-year-old barmaid, who was stabbed to death just outside her apartment building in the Kew Gardens neighborhood of Queens. Two weeks after the murder, The New York Times ran a front-page story on how 38 witnesses had seen the attack on Genovese and had ignored her cries for help, watching as the young woman died on the pavement after having been attacked three times by her assailant. The Genovese murder, and the attendant publicity created an international firestorm of publicity, as well as a cottage industry exploring the sociological study of what came to be known as the "Genovese Syndrome"; the case "became a staple of U.S. psychology textbooks for the next four decades." Books and articles were written, studies were conducted, movies were made. As the TV Guide close-up notes, "Incidents of public apathy toward crime in the streets are becoming shockingly frequent." 


Not long after the initial story, questions began to be raised regarding accuracy of the Times coverage, particularly the claim that "38 witnesses" had seen or heard the attack and failed to do anything about it.* The story had been personally pushed by Times editor Abe Rosenthal, who saw an opportunity for the newspaper to capitalize on its sensational aspects. Indeed, the Times had been the main propellant in making the relatively obscure murder into an international story. However, such was the position and influence of Rosenthal that many journalists kept those questions to themselves. Gabe Pressman, a reporter for WNBC and later a journalism teacher, raised some of the doubts he'd heard, and was berated by Rosenthal.

*There never was any doubt as to the identity of the killer: Winston Moseley, who was convicted of the rape and murder of Genovese and confessed to at least one other murder. His death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, and he died in 2016 at the age of 81, having served 52 years in prisonthe longest of any New York state prisoner then incarcerated.

Over the years, doubts continued to accumulate, as researchers began assembling the pieces of disparate stories told by those who'd lived in the neighborhood, and compared them to the records of the police, the contemporary interviews with eyewitnesses, and the accounts appearing in the Times and other newspapers. Some people with first-hand knowledge of what had happened had never even been interviewed by police, and others said their comments weren't taken seriously. 

Finally, in 2014, Kevin Cook's provocative book Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime That Changed America exposed the holes in the "official record" and presented a story far closer to what actually happened. There were never 38 witnesses to the crime; the number likely came from a "harried civil servant" who gave a number to the police commissioner who in turn passed it along to Rosenthal, who thought it would make a good story. There was at least one phone call to the police, and perhaps more; the dispatcher never logged the call that is known to have been made. The attack took place near a bar where domestic arguments had been known to spill out into the street; some thought that's what was going on, while others couldn't make it out at all.

Genovese was actually attacked twice, not three times; Moseley fled when a man shouted at him from an open window but returned after Genovese rounded the corner to the rear entrance of her apartment building. That meant that, according to Cook, "most [witnesses] could no longer see her after just a minute or two. When there was nothing left to see, they went to bed and there was then a second attack." True, the one man who did see both attacks failed to call the police; according to Cook, he was a gay man who may have feared police persecution at a time when many organizations, including The New York Times, were inherently suspicious of homosexuals. (Although it wasn't made public until much later, Genovese herself was a lesbian.) In fact, Cook points out, no matter who you were, "It was a time when the police weren't necessarily your friend." And Genovese didn't die alone on the street; a neighbor ran out to comfort her and stayed with her until the ambulance arrived; she died on the way to the hospital.

In 2016, the Times appended an Editor's Note to the online version of its 1964 article, stating that, "Later reporting by The Times and others has called into question significant elements of this account," and printed a series of corrections, ultimately pronouncing the original story "flawed." More than one critic has suggested that the Times coverage would today be considered "fake news."

I wonder how The Defenders would have covered that story?

l  l  l

Thursday is also the scheduled date for the launch of Gemini V, the third manned Gemini flight. Rookie astronaut Pete Conrad is teamed with Gordon Cooper, a "veteran" who flew the final Mercury flight in 1963; he was also the last American launched on an entirely solo orbital mission. 

We're far from the time when the public will take manned space flight for granted, and the networks are onboard for comprehensive coverage, beginning the night before the flight, when CBS (6:30 p.m. CT), ABC (9:30 p.m.), and NBC (9:45 p.m.) present previews of the flight and the goals of Project Gemini; the flight is scheduled for eight days, twice the length of Gemini IV, and approximating the time for the Apollo spacecraft to make its round-trip journey to the moon and back. Liftoff is to take place at 9:00 a.m. the following morning, with all three networks beginning their coverage at 6:00 a.m., and remaining on the air through the first few hours of the flight. Jules Bergman anchors for ABC, while Walter Cronkite and Mike Wallace do the honors for CBS, and NBC is led by Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, Frank McGee, and Merrill Mueller. 

Just in case, though, the listings include alternate programming in the event the launch is postponed by a day or two, and it's a good thing it does, as the Thursday attempt is scrubbed due to a computer problem (a thunderstorm within a couple of miles of the launch pad might have resulted in a delay anyway). CBS remained on the air until 1:00 p.m., while ABC and NBC continued their coverage until 1:30. Everybody's back on Saturday, though, and the launch goes off without a hitch. Eight days later, the Gemini splashes down successfully, and the U.S. for the first time holds the record for the longest duration space flight.

While it's true that the Gemini V flight was an important step in the journey to the moon, it's still remarkable that the networks are providing so much coverage; Fred Friendly would later complain about what he called "an escalation just like the arms race," and said that with the exception of a manned flight to the moon, CBS would "no longer begin telecasting manned spaceflight coverage 'any earlier than a half-hour before launch.'" For Saturday's rescheduled launch, CBS would begin coverage at 8:30 a.m., 2½ hours later than NBC and 1½ hours after ABC. Setting aside the ridiculous way the all-news networks deal with even the most minor news story, can you imagine many events getting this kind of airtime today?

l  l  l

Finally, a quick look at "For the Record" and the industry gossip:

First off, Mia Farrow is about to marry Frank Sinatra (go figure on that one), and the question is how the producers of Peyton Place plan to handle her absence while she's off on a cruise with Frank. Their answer: a hit-and-run accident that puts her character, Allison Mackenzie, in a coma. (One of those special four-week comas; ask for it the next time you're in the hospital.) If Farrow comes back from the cruise, as the producers expect, she'll snap out of it. If, on the other hand, she decides she'd rather be Mrs. Frank Sinatra instead, then—well, better off not thinking about it. (Don't worry, though: she pulls through in the end.)

Next, it's praise for Joey Bishop's performance as guest host for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. The only blemish on the record may have been the show featuring Bishop's fellow Rat-Packers, Sammy Davis, Jr. and the aforementioned Frank Sinatra. Many of the critics thought Joey was fawning excessively (is there any other kind?) over Frank, but according to TV Guide, they missed the tongue that Bishop had firmly placed within cheek. Well, nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the average television critic.

Sadly, a survey of TV Guides of the era will see Vietnam start to play a more and more visible role in programming, as we see with CBS' four-part "Vietnam Examination," airing on consecutive Mondays for the next month. Not to be outdone, ABC is countering later in the month with "The Agony in Vietnam," while NBC's "White Paper" on foreign policy next month will devote substantial time to Vietnam. Before much longer, that's about all they'll be talking about. (In fact, ABC's Sunday afternoon program ABC Scope will eventually be devoted exclusively to the war.)

And last but not least, some surprisingly hawkish comments from Hollywood on the war, which if nothing else shows how early in the conflict we really are. Raymond Burr, who's made more trips to Vietnam than anyone not named Bob Hope, is on an extensive speaking tour where he calls for an escalation against the Viet Cong; not surprising, considering his closeness to the American troops as a result of his visits. And Hope himself is congratulating Secretary of State Dean Rusk for speaking out on nations still doing business with North Vietnam. Says Hope, who's usually apolitical in things like this, "People seem to forget we're at war." They'll be remembering soon enough, Bob—trust me on that. TV