September 30, 2022

Around the dial

I'm still having this kind of lethargic feeling, almost a sort of acedia, which is, of course, my problem and not yours, and I bring it up only because I'm not on the ball as much as usual. It could be that Classic TV & Film Café has the very answer for me, where Rick reviews Charles Bronson's action-thriller, The Stone Killer, with a standout supporting cast including Martin Balsam, Norman Fell, Stuart Margolin, and Ralph Waite. Sometimes a good shoot-out or two is just what the doctor ordered!

At Comfort TV, David continues his journey through 1970s TV with Saturday night in 1970. I've mentioned this before, but one of the most striking changes in television over the years is how Saturday, now pretty much of a wasteland, used to be one of the biggest nights of the week; you can see evidence of it here.

The Horn Section looks at an episode of the 1987-88 Stephen Cannell series J.J. Starbuck, starring an actor I've always enjoyed, Dale Robertson. Hal explains what's good and bad about the series, and why, considering its timeslot, it never really had a good chance at success.

The Young Ones is a British series that used to run on MTV, and a series I never got into, but at Cult TV Blog, John as a good rundown on a particular feature of the series: someone called "The Fifth Horseman." Intrigued? You should be.

On Monday, Terence celebrated the 60th anniversary of the legendary sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies with a very good review of the series over at A Shroud of Thoughts. It's a show that has popped up here frequently, with authors from Dan Budnik to Malcom Muggeridge discussing its meaning; Terence's article is a welcome addition.

That should keep you busy for awhile, and in the meantime, I'll try to figure out if maybe I'm just plain lazy. TV  

September 28, 2022

Over the Transom: The fork in the road

By Stephen Taylor

While most episodes of Ironside were routine, with some even being bad, every now and again the show would cast forth a pearl. It does so tonight with an episode from the Sixth Season called “Down Two Roads.”  

Mark Sanger has been going to night school for several seasons now; he wants a law degree. And he’s made it. The episode opens with Mark graduating. Now it’s time to clerk, and then the Bar Exam; but for now, he’s got his diploma, and a buddy from school is also graduating. On the day of the graduation, however, a beloved janitor at the college is arrested; he’s stolen $6,000 from the college. Mark knows the man, and doesn’t believe it. He sets out to solve the crime, and on the way finds that he has a decision to make.

Fran Belding and Ed Brown fade into the background, as this episode is all about Mark Sanger and Chief Ironside. They’ve worked together for five years now, and they care for each other a great deal.  Ironside is to Mark the surrogate for the father he never had, while Mark stands in for the son Chief Ironside never had. Their relationship is characterized in an early scene; Mark trips into the Chief, and a bowl of chili is dropped on the floor. The Chief snaps at Mark, and Mark snaps right back. The two began to yell at each other, but the disagreement is borne of the affection the two men have one for the other. And underlying all of Ironside’s bluster is the knowledge that he’s going to lose Mark; he’ll miss him, but he’ll also needs to learn to do more for himself. And there’s a nice touch; with Mark gone the Chief will need to learn to drive the van. And he does, but only after failing his first driving test. It’s funny, and a nice contrast to the serious tone of the episode.

Ironside has arranged for Mark to interview with the District Attorney's office, and the ADA (David Spielberg) invites him to tag along for the day, to see how things are done. And Mark gets an eyeful.  The ADA interrogates the janitor, and suggests that "you’re guilty, and we both know it. Why don’t you just go ahead and plead?" Mark is horrified. He questions the ADA, who tells him that guilt or innocence isn’t really the point; what matters is the conviction rate and saving money for the taxpayers.  Mark then spends a day with a public defender (Michael Lerner); he’s clever, and understands the problems Mark has with the case against the janitor, but he makes clear to Mark that there isn’t going to be a proper investigation, as they have far more work than resources. Mark then enlists the aid of Lt Reese (Johnny Seven), who brought the original case to the ADA. Mark begs Reese to re-open the case, but "Do you know how much paper crosses my desk every day?"  Mark is enormously frustrated. He’s gotten a first-hand look at the judicial system, and it’s nothing at all as he imagined. Ironside has little sympathy, and advises Mark to "investigate the case yourself!" And he does, finding evidence that points away from the janitor and directly toward his buddy from law school.

Of the entire cast, Mark Sanger had to be the easiest to write for; his character was dynamic and had a lot of room for growth. The characters of Ed Brown, Eve Whitfield and Fran Belding would remain static; they began and ended the series as cyphers, while Chief Ironside started the show with a fully developed character. But Mark Sanger? The Chief had plucked him out of jail; he saw something in Mark and took him under his wing. And Mark has come a long way. He’s no longer the fatherless young street rat from The Fillmore; he’s learned a great deal about police work, and now he’s an attorney. (Chief Ironside paid for Mark’s college.) And in the growing he’s stubbed his toe more than once, and there’s been conflict with the Chief. Yes, he was very easy to write for.

And this episode ends with a bang. Mark finds the trail of evidence leads straight back to his friend from school (Felton Perry) and confronts him in his apartment. Ironside and Ed Brown are with him And it’s sad. There’s bluster at first, but Mark’s friend finally admits he stole the money. He’s not really sure why, but he comes to realize that he’s thrown away three years of hard work, along with a promising career in law. And the disappointment; he’s let down everyone who had faith in him. It’s all very emotional, and Felton Perry is quite good. He asks Ironside for a little help, a little consideration, but the Chief just very quietly shakes his head, "I'm afraid I can’t do that, Mr. Stewart." 

With the case closed, Mark has a decision to make. Which sort of law? And Mark has found that he doesn’t think he cares to practice law, at least not for now. What he’s learned during the investigation is that he likes the work, and would probably be a good cop. And Ironside, to no one’s surprise, has already made arrangements for Mark to enter the police academy in "two weeks and four days! Now go to bed!"

Kudos to writers Collier Young and Sy Salkowitz for one of the best episodes of the series. Highly recommended. TV  

September 26, 2022

What's on TV? Thursday, September 30, 1954

Do network stars still work their way up from the affiliates, or do they have other ways of self-promotion? I'm not being snarky here; since I haven't watched local television for years, I really don't know anymore. I do know that you can find a couple of legendary names for sports fans, with John Facenda and Jack Whitaker both coming from WCAU, part of Philadelphia's great television heritage. Ernie Kovacs got his start on television in Philadelphia, and the host of WPTZ's Lunch with Uncle Pete is Pete Boyle, father of the actor Peter Boyle. Of course, The Mike Douglas Show originated from Philadelphia for many years, as did American Bandstand (seen here on WFIL in its pre-national, pre-Dick Clark days). And speaking of WFIL, that was owned by Triangle Publications, publisher of—TV Guide! It's a small world, isn't it?

September 24, 2022

This week in TV Guide: September 25, 1954

Well, here we are—the second annual TV Guide Fall Preview! But if you're expecting this special issue to look like the Fall Previews from more recent years, you might be in for a surprise. Intrigued? Let's hope so, or I've completely lost my touch.

For one thing, we won't be reading separate profiles of each new show (my favorite part of the issue); instead, we're treated to previews by genre: variety, drama, comedy, culture, and so forth. I guess that makes sense, considering the sheer number of programs that were on—if you think the rise of streaming services has produced a surplus of shows today, you should see what it was like in the mid-fifties. The syndicated market is boffo, and with schedules made up of so many half-hour shows, we're literally talking about hundreds of programs. (Example: variety shows may be dead today, but in 1954-55 you have more than 40 to choose from.) And that doesn't even include the many "spectaculars" that air on a monthly basis—from Best of Broadway and Shower of Stars on CBS, to NBC's Max Liebman Presents

Just to make sure you can keep track of what the editors are calling "TV's biggest season ever," TV Guide provides you with a handy alphabetical listing of all the season's shows (running to six pages in this Philadelphia metro edition), giving you the date, time, and channel. There's no doubt we're talking about a keepsake edition here, one that you'll want to keep by your side all season long—or at least until the winter schedule changes everything.

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In general, here's what the writers think you should be looking for during the new season. Remember, the following isn't meant to be comprehensive; if it was, it would be as long as, well, an issue of TV Guide.

Variety: As I mentioned earlier, there are more than 40 variety shows on tap this season, featuring new shows with new stars, new shows with old stars, and old shows with new formats. (As an example of the latter, CBS's Morning Show has replaced Walter Cronkite as host with Jack Paar. You'll forgive me if I take a few moments to process this.) Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca are both flying solo after the success of Your Show of Shows, and while Caesar (along with his long-time sidekicks Carl Reiner and Howard Morris) does well, neither of them will ever achieve separately the fame they had together.

How many of them do you recognize?

Perhaps the biggest debut of the season is the new spectacular by Walt Disney. Disneyland isn't what I'd consider a variety show, but it's true that it does present a variety of subjects. Several stars are time-sharing their weekly spots; for instance, Red Buttons will be on three Fridays out of four with Jack Carson slated for the fourth, while Martha Raye, Milton Berle, and Bob Hope will share a Tuesday night spot, and Jimmy Durante and Donald O'Connor split Saturdays. Don't worry, though; your favorites are still around, led by Arthur Godfrey, Jackie Gleason, Jack Benny, Red Skelton, and Ed Sullivan. And the busiest man on TV may be Steve Allen, doing two-and-a-half hours each night on Tonight.

Game shows are as popular as ever, but there's not much new, with the usual suspects hosting the usual shows: Garry Moore, Bud Collyer, Bill Cullen, Bert Parks, John Daly, Win Elliot, Jan Murray, Herb Shriner, and, of course, Groucho. We'll have something new and different shortly, though, as the parlor games give way to big money shows like The $64,000 Question (next summer!) and Twenty-One. What could possibly go wrong?

: There are at least eight live hour-long dramas on the schedule for each week, while Hallmark Hall of Fame, currently seen weekly as a half-hour program, will expand to an hour once a month, with the kind of grand productions (Macbeth, with Maurice Evans and Judith Anderson) that will become the show's trademark. With the increase in drama, we'll also see an increase in star power, with many of those stars making their TV debuts: Climax (which airs three weeks out of four) premieres on October 7 with Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye, starring Dick Powell*, Teresa Wright and Cesar Romero. The big names aren't restricted to those in front of the camera, either: writers include Paddy Chayefsky, Horton Foote, Robert Alan Aurthur, and (although he isn't mentioned here) Rod Serling.

*Powell, who portrayed Philip Marlowe in the movies, on television, and twice on radio, was the first actor to play Marlowe on screen, and the first to play him more than once.

The best new series is thought to be Medic, starring Richard Boone, which promises to do for doctor shows what Dragnet does for police shows. Meanwhile, you'll see some new faces hosting old shows, with James Mason assuming the duties on Lux Video Theater, and Ronald Reagan as your host on GE Theater. And then there's one of my favorite anthologies: Studio 57, sponsored by and named after Heinz, naturally.

Daytime: I'm old enough to feel a wisp of nostalgia for what daytime television used to be. Not just the soaps, obviously, since I never was into them. But there used to be variety shows, talk shows, game shows; a real kaleidoscope of programming, as opposed to—well, I was going to say something disparaging about today's shows, but that would be too easy. Besides, I want to keep the focus on the past, not the present. 

So all we need to know is that 1954 will have Arthur Godfrey and Garry Moore, Robert Q. Lewis and Arlene Francis, Buffalo Bob Smith and Bing's brother Bob (Crosby, that is). And "For viewers who enjoy exercising the tear ducts, there's many a two-handkerchief soap saga or detergent drama." I was hoping to find some classics included in that list of newcomers, but I'm afraid the best we can do is a batch of soaps like Golden Windows, First Love, A Time to Live, and The Seeking Heart. Perhaps it's that we don't need more tear-jerkers; The Brighter Day and The Secret Storm share a total of eight motherless children between them.

: There should be around 50 sitcoms on television at some point during the year (not including the unintentional comedies); it's true that "the situation comedy seems to have become a basic TV staple." The experts seem to like The Mickey Rooney Show (also known as Hey, Mulligan), created by Blake Edwards, which runs a grand total of 32 episodes, followed by Honestly, Celeste, starring Celeste Holm, which lasts less than three months. It's nice to know that the experts weren't any more accurate back then than they are today. 

Rather than betting on the favorites, you'd be better off investing in some of the shows transitioning from radio to television, chief among which is Father Knows Best, which manages to hang around for six seasons and more than 200 episodes. You might also like December Bride (five seasons, 156 episodes, plus the spinoff Pete and Gladys), or wait for one of the shows debuting in the winter, like The Bob Cummings Show (aka Love That Bob!, five seasons, 173 episodes). But remember, no matter what you think of the new shows, there'll always be I Love Lucy and Burns & Allen.

: The term "adventure" encompasses a slightly broader spectrum than you or I might think, seeing as how it includes Westerns, police dramas, and—well, I don't want to say TV is going to the dogs, but there are a pair of dog shows making their debuts this season: Lassie and Rin Tin Tin. You're also going to see The Lineup, San Francisco's version of Dragnet (and a pretty good show at that), and the syndicated Sherlock Holmes, starring Ronald Howard (which doesn't compare to Jeremy Brett, but it's good fun). 

Leading the way West is Death Valley Days; there will be 24 Westerns on network and syndicated television this season. Hugh Marlowe, one of those actors whose face you'll quickly recognize, stars as Ellery Queen, and suave Cesar Romero is a diplomatic courier in Passport to Adventure. All in all, shows comprising this amorphous "adventure" category will top 70, most of them appearing in syndication. 

For the Kids: Here's one I haven't heard of before—Youngsters, Edward R. Murrow's new juvenile show, which is like Person to Person except the interviewees are kids. I wonder if its unknown-to-me status is good news or bad? Did it even air? The rest of the lineup is dominated by returning favorites, from Superman to Ramar of the Jungle, Captain Video to Flash Gordon, Howdy Doody to Winky Dink and You. And there are some more thoughtful shows as well: Marlin Perkins and his Zoo Parade, and Watch Mr. Wizard.

: Or is it? This category includes shows like Person to Person, See It Now, Today, and the evening news shows. I'd rather see something like Now and Then, the new Sunday afternoon literary series with Dr. Frank Baxter, or Omnibus, hosted by Alistair Cooke. On the religious front, there's Life Is Worth Living with Bishop Sheen, and new series from Father James Keller, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, and Billy Graham. And as far as music goes, there are weekly concerts by the Chicago Symphony, the long-running series Voice of Firestone, and NBC Opera Theatre

Sports; Then as now, there's plenty of football on the tube. Du Mont has 57 NFL games on tap Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons, and ABC brings us Saturday afternoon college football plus the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day; NBC counters with the Grandaddy of them all, the Rose Bowl, as well as Canadian Football on Saturdays. Boxing remains the prime-time king, with fights on four nights a week; if the bout of the night doesn't interest you, there's also wrestling to choose from. We can't forget baseball, though, especially the crown jewel of the National Pastime, the World Series, on NBC.

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So, after all that, is there anything left to talk about? Is there anything on TV this week, or is everything in the future? 

Saturday night is kind of a wasteland now, admit it; about all you ever see is sports and reruns of shows from earlier in the week. Saturday used to be a glamor night, though, when you'd invite your friends over and watch something special. At 9:00 p.m. ET on NBC, it is something special—movie star Ann Sothern in the first of the monthly Max Liebman Presents, "Lady in the Dark," an adaptation of the musical by Moss Hart with music by Kurt Weill and lyrics by Ira Gershwin. 

Hurry, before the Series is over!   
On Sunday, Ed Sullivan takes Toast of the Town to Cleveland to salute the Indians on the eve of the World Series, where they'll be taking on the New York Giants. (8:00 p.m., CBS) The Series starts in NYC on Wednesday; by this time next week (with Dizzy Dean writing in TV Guide on what to watch for in the Series) it's all over, the Giants sweeping the Tribe in four games, memorialized by "The Catch" in Game 1. Harry Belafonte is the special guest, in a remote from Obernkirchen, Germany.

Monday night sees the debut of Steve Allen's Tonight (11:45 p.m., NBC), more accurately described as a variety show than a talk show, with a cast of regulars including second-banana Gene Rayburn (who also does news and sports updates), singers Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, and Skitch Henderson and his orchestra; "And to add just a little more spice, [Allen] will interview guests from the music and theatrical world." I'm not sure that it ever ran for more than two hours, as mentioned above, but it did go an hour and 40 minutes. 

Tuesday gets us ready for the Series with "Baseball Blues," the story of a pitcher (Frank Lovejoy) reaching the end of his career, on The U.S. Steel Hour. (9:30 p.m., ABC) The World Series itself takes center stage for the rest of the week, with games in New York on Wednesday and Thursday, and Cleveland on Friday (all at 12:45 p.m. on NBC). Also on Thursday, Shower of Stars, one of those once-a-month color specials, debuts with a musical starring Betty Grable, Harry James, and Mario Lanza. (8:30 p.m., CBS)

Finally, Friday sees the return of shows headlined by Red Buttons (8:00 p.m., NBC) and Jan Murray (the quiz show Dollar a Second, 9:00 p.m., ABC), and the debuts of The Vise (9:30 p.m., ABC), a series of "tense plays," made in England, "that show human beings caught in the vise of fate"; and the aforementioned The Lineup (10:00 p.m., CBS), with Warner Anderson and Tom Tully fighting crime in the City by the Bay. They sure could use them there now. 

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Do we know anything more about television in the mid-50s than we did before? Well, we know there are a lot of shows out there, that movie stars are making the trip to the small screen, and that this is television's biggest season ever. 

There's an implication in all this, that as television grows up and continues to get bigger, it will continue to get better: more color shows, more big-name stars, more writers penning more creative programs. There's an optimistic tone that, as the lead editorial says, "In your dial-twisting fingers lie the hopes, the plans and the efforts of the industry's finest minds." TV is the future, and with the best stars and writers on the job, "Money apparently is no object. The networks have decided that nothing but the best will satisfy them—or you." 

However, unless I'm mistaken, there is also, a subtle, cynical note to the observation of all the Westerns and game shows and children's shows that come out of the same old playbook, of the soaps and their tearjerkers, how the more things change the more they stay the same.

Does that seem contradictory? Of course. That's TV in a nutshell. Then and now. TV  

September 23, 2022

Around the dial

Like that image up there? It's from tomorrow's TV Guide, and while I don't usually tell you what's coming up, I'm making an exception in the case of the 1954-55 Fall Preview edition. Don't you love the idea of people dressing up in tuxes and evening gowns to watch television? After all, what would any good cocktail party be without a little entertainment from the TV? Anyway, I think you'll enjoy the issue, but then I always do.

I'd also like to remind you that I still have two copies of The Electronic Mirror available for anyone who wants them, free (plus shipping and handling). At the same time, thanks to those of you who emailed me requesting copies. (And a particular thank you to a generous reader who left a very kind tip for me that is much appreciated. You know who you are!)

Finally, my apologies for taking a long time replying to comments. It's a disturbingly busy period here at HQ right now, with some not-terribly welcome intrusions for me to deal with. Nothing life-threatening, but it will be a welcome time when they're gone. And now down to business.

We've got a double dose of links this week, starting with Jack's latest Hitchcock Project at bare-bones e-zine. It's the third and final contribution of Kathleen Hite's to the show, the fourth-season "The Morning of the Bride," an excellent adaptation with Don Dubbins, Barbara Bel Geddes, and Pat Hitchcock. 

At Comfort TV, we've got a pair from David: first, a look back at the days (and I remember them), when the best remedy for a cold was to "get to bed." Good advice back then, and it tells a lot about what things were like back then. There's also this review of Linda Evans' top TV moments. I can think of a couple—The Big Valley and Dynasty, of course. Why, what did you think I meant?

There's also a pair from John at Cult TV Blog; a reconstruction of the Avengers season one story "The Springers," featuring John Steed and Dr. David Keel—yes, one of the episodes where Steed had a male sidekick. We're also treated to a review of the BBC podcast The Lovecraft Investigations and the episode "The Whisperer in Darkness."

Gotta like this picture of a tin toy NBC remote camera truck over at the Broadcasting Archives. I had toys like this when I was little, but they were toy tanks or race cars or rocket ships. Don't get me wrong; I love all those things, but how cool would this have been?

At Bob Crane: Life & Legacy, Carol shares her thoughts on providing commentary for the Blu-Ray of the season two Night Gallery episode "House, With Ghost," starring Bob, Jo Anne Worley, and Bernard Fox. Reason enough to have this in the library.

Martin Grams provides a recap, in pictures and words, of this year's Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention. I used to be able to give you this myself, back when we went every year, and perhaps I'll be able to do that again sometime in the future. Fun times.

At A Shroud of Thoughts, Terence looks back at the life and career of Henry Silva, who died last week, aged 96, and offers an appreciation on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the premier of the venerable Western The Virginian

Hopefully that will keep you all busy until tomorrow, when you can find out about the rest of that TV Guide. TV  

September 21, 2022

Over the Transom: Sian Barbara Allen

by Stephen Taylor

Watched two episodes of Ironside tonight. The second one "Nightmare Trip," involved Ed Brown being thrown into the Los Angeles County jail because he wouldn’t identify himself to the two cops checking him out. What a mess. Too many unanswered questions, and a great deal of bizarre behavior on the part of Sgt. Brown and Chief Ironside. Raymond Burr directed this one, so you’d expect better, but no. A soggy, leaden mess, with the less said the better.
The first episode was just routine. The plot was opaque and the writing only so-so. But if you watched a lot of television in the Seventies, you’re going to see a familiar face. The episode is called "Riddle Me This," A man has been run over, and his daughter is convinced he’s been murdered. Ironside is skeptical at first; there’s no real evidence. But Fran shames the Chief into beginning an investigation, and the clues start piling up. All very routine. It’s Sian Barbara Allen, playing the daughter, who makes the episode worthwhile.

Allen was at her best playing characters who were fragile, vulnerable or damaged in some way.  She wasn’t flashy or glamorous; she looked a lot like you might think her characters looked.  She was all over television, but most active in the Seventies.  She also did some writing, including an episode of Baretta.  But her best role, in my opinion, was as a junkie in an episode of Adam-12 called "Something Worth Dying For." Officer Reed is detached to Narcotics. He’s directed to befriend her, cultivate her and then turn her into a snitch. He does this, hating himself the entire time. But it gets worse; he’s instructed to bust her for an unrelated theft. She’s really good in this one. While she’s street-tough, she’s also damaged, fragile and vulnerable. She trusts Reed, only to find out what happens when you trust someone too much. It’s excellent television, and perhaps the best episode of the entire series, and it couldn’t have happened without Sian Barbara Allen. She was one of those actors who was never going to have a series; her career was one long succession of guest starring roles, but she also added instant credibility to any role she played and stayed busy.

Her last acting credit was an episode of L.A. Law in 1990; she retired from acting at that point. She’s still with us. TV  

September 19, 2022

What's on TV? Friday, September 24, 1965

The change that viewers have seen in prime time over the last couple of weeks is headed for daytime, as NBC and ABC both have extensive revamps coming to their lineups. NBC's morning changes are pretty nondescript: with all due respect, the soapers Paradise Bay and Morning Star, and the game shows Fractured Phrases and Let's Play Post Office aren't in anyone's television hall of fame. Likewise with ABC's changes; The Nurses, a recast version of the CBS primetime series of the same name, runs for a couple of years, and the "new daytime serial" that takes up the first half of the old Trailmaster timeslot, Never Too Young, lasts until June of next year, when it's replaced by a more successful soap: Dark Shadows. Otherwise, tonight's highlights come from the late-night local movies: the legendary Western The Magnificent Seven on WCCO, and the superb noir Crossfire on WTCN. And if you're wondering why The Flintstones and Tammy aren't in color on KMMT, no mistake; the station doesn't yet colorcast. This all comes from the Minnesota State Edition.

September 17, 2022

This week in TV Guide: September 18, 1965

One of the things a sportswriter learns early on, according to the great Roger Kahn (who should know), is that you never write the story before the game's over. So when I saw the cover teaser "Don't Give Viewers What They Want," several possibilities presented themselves. It could be a humor piece by S.J. Perleman—we've read those before. Or it might be a warning not to give viewers the steady diet of mindless entertainment they crave—I've written about that at length. It might even be a piece of reverse psychology—who hasn't used that, especially if they're a parent? There is, of course, one other possibility, which is that I'll have to read the article before I start writing the story.

OK, I've looked at the article, and it's written by a television educator, so I think we know where we're going with this. Harry J. Skornia is the author of Television and Society: An Inquest and Agenda for Improvement, which The New York Times described as "a searing indictment of our system of broadcasting," written with "a savage rage," so I guess we can rule out humor and irony as the end product. 

That's not to say that Skornia is off base here, though. In applying the adage "give the public what it wants," Skornia points out that this is based on the premise that the public does, in fact, know what it wants. Furthermore, it envisions "the public" as a monolithic entity, rather than a collection of individuals. And finally, it assumes that one can actually and accurately tell what the public wants.

This "public" can be considered in three different ways: as Audience, as Market, and as Public. The Audience is represented by the ratings system, but it fails to measure likes and dislikes—only the number of sets actually turned to a program. (Based on personal experience, I can vouch that the correlation between the set being on and someone actually watching what's on can be a tenuous one.) The Market measures economic success, not the aesthetic quality of the program itself; we're left with a measurement that depends on advertising as much as it does the program. It's only when one comes to Public—by which Skornia means Citizen—that the measurement becomes meaningful. A Citizen often asks himself "what is the responsible thing to do, rather than merely what is it that he likes or wants." While the Audience member may personally like pornography, for example, and while the Market may bear [sic] out the popularity of porn, the Public will probably ask for limitations on such programming.

There's more to the article, and obviously even more to the book, but where Skornia loses me is in his assertion that the Public will take into consideration the good of all rather than the preferences of the few. We've known for years now that voters often cast their ballots in favor of candidates whose promises benefit them as a group, even if future generations wind up paying the bill—you're telling me these people are going to choose what I watch—that is, if I watched contemporary TV. Remember the maxim WIIFM: What's In It For Me. Skornia's altruism is possible, but not likely.

Additionally, arguments such as Skornia's often return to the idea—and I could be doing him a disservice in that I haven't read his book and he doesn't mention this in his article—that the best way to provide "quality" television is to remove it from the purview of the advertising dollar and have it publicly funded. Now, I hate commercials about as much as anyone—I can barely make it through the ones on Pluto. I'll gladly pay a premium to avoid them. But that's if I'm in charge of the programming. If everyone were to move to the PBS method? Not so much. The problems with that are myriad, and they've been discussed here before. But what else are the alternatives? 

Skornia concludes his argument by comparing needs and wants. "People do not necessarily want what they need. Needs are objective, and they represent requirements; they are relatively lasting. Wants, on the other hand, are subjective. They are irrational and can be created by all kinds of irresponsible temptations and lures." That assumes that people are rational beings, and we're being confronted on a daily basis by evidence that we are not. I sympathize with much of what Skornia says, and I certainly support the idea that we need better television. But by whose choice? "Something a man needs is something it is harmful for him not to have. What he wants may actually be harmful." According to whom? When someone else takes the initiative to decide what I need, that's when I take a hike.  

Where's S.J. Perleman when you need him?

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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: On the first of five shows from Hollywood, Ed welcomes Milton Berle; Eddie Fisher; singer-actress Polly Bergen; Dino, Desi and Billy, vocal-instrumental group; the Moro Landis dancers; and the Kimbris Duo, aerialists. Also featured: excerpts from the film Tokyo Olympiad, which is being previewed tonight at the New York World's Fair.

Palace: As the Palace starts its third season, guest host Bing Crosby welcomes singer-dancer Caterina Valente; comedian Tim Conway of McHale's Navy; Bertha the Elephant and her daughter Tina; the comedy team of Avery Schreiber and Jack Burns; the Rudas, Australian dancers; the Nitwits, comedy music group; and the performing objects of the Black Theater of Prague.

You know, I might have hoped for a little more from the season opener of The Hollywood Palace. Sure, you've got Bing, the traditional season-opening host, and the highlights are heavy on duos with Bing and Caterina Valente. That's good, and Tim Conway is good, although I suspect not as funny as he would be with Carol Burnett, and I can take or leave Burns and Schreiber. But there's a strong vaudeville aspect to this episode, and I think I like Ed's lineup better: the star power quotient is a little better, plus there's the clip from the stunning Tokyo Olympiad, one of the greatest films about the Olympics ever made. My choice would have been to watch the whole movie instead, but lacking the Criterion Channel at the time, I'll take Sullivan for the gold medal.

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This week's issue is one of the most highly anticipated of the year, perhaps second only to the Fall TV Preview—the new TV Set Buyers' Guide! And if you're one of those who watches old movies and TV shows and complains about how cars back then had character and didn't all look alike the way today's cars do, then you'll appreciate where I'll be coming from here. (You'll also out yourself as being as old as I am, but we're probably at the point where that's a given.)

According to David Lachenbruch, "Everything's coming up color." For the first time, "most of the programs seen by the average viewer will originate in color," with 60 percent of prime-time shows filling the bill. Color television sets are in the spotlight, naturally, although you also have to remember that we're not yet at the point where primetime has reached 100 percent color, so you still have plenty of black and white sets to choose from, and they're considerably less expensive; a 21-inch G-E color console runs about $500, while it's B&W counterpart is about half that. And if you want a portable TV, black and white is your best option, so there are plenty of good reasons why your new TV might be a B&W. (We were without one until the 1970s, but I don't recall feeling too deprived.) 

It would be easy to spend an entire column discussing various models, and maybe I should do that sometime. For now, though, what I was struck most by was the sheer number of manufacturers, almost all of them American made, almost all of them nowhere to be seen today: Admiral, DuMont, Emerson, G-E, Magnavox, Curtis Mathes, Motorola, Olympic, Packard Bell, Philco, RCA Victor, Sears Silvertone, Sylvania, Westinghouse, and Zenith. They all have their own trademarks, their gimmicks, their little quirks that make them stand out from their competitors; a technical expert could probably tell the difference between an Admiral and a Motorola the same way a car buff could distinguish an Oldsmobile from a Ford.

As this Magnavox console shows, some models 
come with more accessories than others.
And they come in styles to fit the rest of your home decor—after all, they're not just appliances; they're pieces of furniture. You can get consoles in Early American, French Provincial, Danish Modern, slimline, space-age, all with or without radio and record player. They are all, frankly, gorgeous.

But then, it shouldn't be a surprise. Television was, as it has always been, the original social media—an occasion, an event, an excuse for people to get together. The shows themselves were guests in your home. And if your guests put on their finest when they come over, shouldn't your television set do the same?

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Leslie Raddatz has a poem—an ode, I suppose one could call it—to Dawn Wells, and, to be honest, it isn't very good. I realize that you might say the same thing about my poetry, if I were to write any, and the fact that I don't probably counts as a point for him and one against me. But let me share this stanza, or whatever one calls a section of a poem, and tell me what you think:
Where the life of Dawn
Is quiet as L'après-midi d'un faune, 
But not so grand.
One might almost say she is bland.
Yet is is quite
Nice that all I'm able to write
Is: Actress extraordinaire
So round and still so square!

Perhaps Raddatz is a better poet than I realize, or possibly this is a pastiche I don't recognize; he did, after all, call out to The Afternoon of a Faun, so maybe it's me. I'm not a stranger to poetry; I like Ernest Lawrence Thayer, W.H Auden, T.S. Eliot, Cole Porter, J.D. McClatchy. Maybe I just don't like the right kind of poetry. And thanks to Raddatz, we know that Dawn was a Miss Nevada, that she's married to Larry Rosen, and that she's in Gilligan's Island. Alright, so it's not Homer, but it does tell a story, right?

And yet I can't help but think that Irving Berlin said it better in fewer words: a pretty girl is like a melody, you know?

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Hey, wait just a minute. Is it possible we've gotten this far without having even looked at anything that's actually on TV this week? Besides the Sullivan/Palace story, that is. Well, we'll take care of that.

I Dream of Jeannie
and Get Smart, two of television's most loved programs, make their debuts on a splendid Saturday night—surely one of the more notable in TV history. (7:00 and 7:30 p.m,. NBC) And while they stand above the rest, they're not the only newcomers tonight; there's also The Loner, Rod Serling's philosophical Western which has risen in critical esteem over the years (8:30 p.m., CBS), and The Trials of O'Brien (7:30 p.m., CBS), with Peter Falk as "a fast-talking legal con man; Falk often said he liked this show more than Columbo. That is not a bad night of television.

Sunday night wraps up premiere week with the debut of The FBI (7:00 p.m., ABC) kicking off the first of nine very successful and entertaining seasons. You read about that in Stephen Taylor's highly entertaining article on Wednesday, but we're not quite to the William Reynolds era of the series yet; for the first couple of seasons, Efrem Zimbalist Jr.'s partner is Stephen Brooks. Tonight's other premiere isn't nearly so successful; it's The Wackiest Ship in the Army (9:00 p.m., NBC), created by Danny Arnold and staring Jack Warden and Gary Collins. It runs 29 episodes.

As befits the opening weeks of the new season, guest stars make their mark on Monday night's shows: James Mason is a doctor looking to commit suicide rather than live with paralysis and kidney failure on Dr. Kildare (7:30 p.m., NBC), followed by Andy Williams, welcoming special guest Judy Garland, along with David McCallum and Cliff Arquette (8:00 p.m., NBC). Arquette's also a guest on The Farmer's Daughter (8:30 p.m., ABC), playing the "Old Ranger," a character I suspect might have a passing resemblance to Charley Weaver. Cliff Arquette's not on Steve Lawrence's new variety show (9:00 p.m., NBC), but Connie Stevens, Frankie Avalon and Ursula Andress are, along with film taken on Jackie Gleason's chartered train to Florida, which you read about here.

I don't know if you'll appreciate this, but you should: Tuesday's late-night syndicated rerun of Lee Marvin's M Squad (10:15 p.m., KDAL) stars the wonderful Ruta Lee as "Ora Kane, a pretty young cashier who is embezzling funds from her employer, [and] shoots a customer and a co-worker." And if that episode sounds the least bit familiar to you, then you've probably seen the first episode of Police Squad! If you haven't made the connection, watch these episodes back-to-back (or just watch this). And if you're not interested, you can catch Nightlife (10:20 p.m., ABC), where Les Crane's guests include Gene Barry and Carolyn Jones, both of whom will pop up here later on.

ABC's Wednesday lineup features Ozzie and Harriet making the transition to color (6:30 p.m.) followed by a number of iconic, or at least familiar, programs: The Patty Duke Show, Gidget, The Big Valley, and the aforementioned Gene Barry in Amos Burke, Secret Agent (which should still be Burke's Law). Meanwhile, it's the second episode of Green Acres (8:00 p.m., CBS), and Lisa's first look at the farm—"and as far as she's concerned, one look is enough."

For some of us, it's hard to believe there was ever a time when The Dean Martin Show wasn't on the air, but according to "For the Record," producer Bill Colleran has already fun afoul of the suits, who say they want the show to be a West Coast version of Ed Sullivan. (If you needed any further evidence of the relative stupidity of network executives, this is it.) Colleran, who came up with the idea of the living room set, is now gone, in favor of—Greg Garrison? Anyway, on Thursday's show (9:00 p.m., NBC), John Wayne makes a rare television appearance, along with Peggy Lee, Jack Jones, Shari Lewis, juggler Rudy Cardenas and comic Walter Dare Wahl.

Friday leads off with The Addams Family (7:30 p.m., ABC), Carolyn Jones pulls double duty as both Morticia and her sister, Ophella Frump, whom Gomez was actually supposed to marry. As an added attraction, Granny Grump is played by the one and only Wicked Witch of The Wizard of Oz, Margaret Hamilton. Switching networks, Rip Torn is wonderfully over the top in the conclusion of the "Alexander the Greater Affair" on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (9:00 p.m., NBC). As an added attraction, Alexander's moll Tracey is played by the wonderful Dorothy Provine. And over at NET, it's a artistic tryptic celebrating the third anniversary of Lincoln Center, with short, commissioned works in drama, ballet and opera. (10:00 p.m.)

That's not a bad week of television—makes you think about buying one of those new sets, doesn't it?  TV  

September 16, 2022

TV Jibe: Hold that line!

Next week we'll be back with a double dose of "Around the Dial." In the meantime, here's something we hope you'll really like.


September 14, 2022

Over the Transom: Remembering William Reynolds

by Stephen Taylor

I see by the papers that Williams Reynolds has died. I was saddened by this, as my wife and I had watched the entirety of The FBI several years ago. As Special Agent Tom Colby, Reynolds was an excellent second banana to Efrem Zimbalist Jr.'s Inspector Lewis Erskine; never got to do much but make suggestions and acknowledge orders. "Tom, I’ll need you to check every drugstore between Tallahassee and Miami to see if anyone has bought any large quantities of Dristan in the last 45 days. And I’ll need a report by 4 PM this afternoon." And it was always, "Right, Lew. I’ll get started." Never anything more than a pretty face. Of course, Zimbalist didn’t have a huge acting range either, but the show didn’t call for it. No one cared about their personal lives, so the opportunity for drama for these two just wasn’t there. The drama was all left to the guest stars.

The show was "A QM Production," so it started from a foundation of quality. And it was good. Great music, with an excellent theme. Good casting. Good writing. Always depicted the FBI in a very positive light, with agents and supervisors all pillars of integrity. To this day, my wife and I will be watching a movie or TV series depicting cops, and they’re having real issues tracking down the suspect or making the case, and we’ll say in unison "Better call Lew and Tom," or "Lew and Tom wouldn’t do it that way." And we both agree that Lew and Tom would be mightily disappointed in their employer and what it became. It was always that way, of course, but the Sunday night audiences believed in the righteousness of the FBI, and Lew and Tom exemplified that attitude perfectly.

Reynolds had worked in Hollywood since the early 50’s, but he finally understood that he was never going to be the star, was always going to be the second banana, always the yes man. And he was content with that until the producers fired him at the end of Season Eight; they believed he was too old for the part. He was all of 41. He took the hint and went into real estate law.

With the passing of Reynolds, all the male cast members of The FBI are now gone. Lynn Loring is still with us; she played Lew’s daughter for in the first season. She was in about three episodes, at which point the producers decided that allowing the agents to have a personal life wasn’t necessary, and she vanished without explanation.

William Reynolds died of pneumonia, what those of a certain age call old man’s friend; he was 91. TV  

September 12, 2022

What's on TV? Saturday, September 11, 1954

To be perfectly honest—and that's a terribly important thing around here, in case you hadn't noticed—there's not a whole lot to report on in Chicagoland today. We push on, nevertheless, and find some tidbits worth knowing. For instance, I'm the Law, a first-run syndicated police show on WBBM starring movie tough-guy George Raft (who, at least in the handful of episodes I've seen, is remarkably wooden) and is produced by Lou Costello and his brother, Pat. You can see Lou and his partner, Bud Abbott, in the morning on WBBM. Meanwhile, WNBQ has NBC's Canadian Football coverage, with one of two games from the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union (the Eastern Conference for short), and WGN has a White Sox game. WBKB has the science fiction serial Rocky Jones, Space Ranger, and, perhaps surprisingly, you'll soon be reading about that as one of the shows I've been watching. And then, of course, there's the Miss America pageant, so I guess there is something important after all.

September 10, 2022

This week in TV Guide: September 11, 1954

Some of you might have been wondering, after my comments last week about my boss and her charm—or lack thereof—whether or not there would be any repercussions. I'm happy to say that there were not, so far, although I'm not surprised, since—as I told you then—something as gauche as classic television operates outside her sphere of influence. Of course, if it were to come to her attention, I'd have to deny any of it ever happened, and blame one or more of you for hacking into the website in an effort to get me into trouble. It won't happen, though, so I don't want any of you to worry about it, but it's always a good idea to have a backup plan, or, as some people see it, an excuse. In any event, if I start asking for money next week, you'll know I miscalculated.

Something else you also read about last week in these pages was the Miss America Parade, the existence of which may have been a surprise to many of you. This week it's the pageant itself, which I'm guessing you are familiar with, and if you were one of the 27 million watching the broadcast on Saturday night (9:30 p.m. ET, ABC), you'd be among the audience seeing the pageant on national TV for the first time. John Daly and former winner Bess Myerson are the television hosts for this historic broadcast, while Grace Kelly is one of the judges and Bob Russell is the on-stage emcee. (He'll be replaced next year by a newcomer named Bert Parks.*) 

So who takes the honors as Miss America 1955, and will we have heard of her? Yes! The winner is 19-year-old Lee Ann Meriwether, surely one of the most popular and successful post-pageant winners ever. In fact, the very next night she'll be one of the guests on What's My Line?, hosted by none other than John Daly. Her resume is long and impressive, so I'll sum it up thusly: The Today Show, The Time Tunnel, The Batman Movie (in which she played Catwoman), and Barnaby Jones. There's much more, of course, but that ain't bad.

*Fun fact: Bob Russell is credited with having created the 1961 game show Yours for a Song, which was hosted by: Bert Parks! It began in primetime before moving to ABC's daytime lineup, where it was replaced in 1963 by a new soap opera called: General Hospital! Yes, we got a lot out of this one, didn't we?

Miss America is presented in living black-and-white, but the discussion about color broadcasting is growing. This week's As We See It points out that NBC and CBS are increasing the use of color in their spectaculars, but there's one problem: no color programming during the day, when stores are open and the public is shopping. This might sound odd to contemporary ears, but remember: stories didn't used to stay open in the evenings; at most, they might be open one night a week. And since most women do the shopping, and most women don't work, there's no problem! We can debate this another day, but the point Merrill Panitt is making is sound: why spend a bundle of bucks on a color set when you can't go to a store and see one in operation? "Perhaps," Panitt speculates, "the networks hope that dealers will stay open until 9 or 10 o'clock at night and that folks are curious enough about color to visit showrooms after dinner." So far, though, there's no evidence that such curiosity exists. 

In the meantime, though, a couple of those color spectaculars make their debut this week. On Sunday at 6:30 p.m., NBC presents the first of impresario Max Liebman's live monthly specials, Satins and Spurs, an original musical comedy by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, starring Broadway and movie star (and this week's cover girl) Betty Hutton (Annie Get Your Gun) in her television debut. The revues are mixed, causing Hutton to temporarily retire, but you can judge for yourself in this black-and-white kinescope that's of remarkably good quality. Meanwhile, Livingston and Evans have better luck with one of their later works—the theme for Bonanza.

On Wednesday night, CBS comes back with a color special of its own, on the monthly program Best of Broadway. (9:00 p.m.) It's the George S. Kaufman—Edna Ferber comedy "The Royal Family," recounting "the life and times of America's number one family of the theater," with an all-star cast including Charles Coburn, Claudette Colbert, Helen Hayes, Frederic Marsh, and Nancy Olson. 

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Let's stay with this week's programming for another minute, for a couple of series premieres. They may be in black and white, but I think you'll agree that they're fairly significant in the classic TV lexicon.

Monday at 8:00 p.m., NBC debuts Medic, the new medical drama starring Richard Boone as Dr. Konrad Styner, narrator and occasional star of the series. Medic is generally considered the first "realistic" medical show, one that concentrated on illness and procedure as opposed to the personal lives and loves of doctors and nurses (like, say, General Hospital)—hardly a surprise since the show was created by James Moser, frequent writer for Dragnet. Even though it only lasts a couple of seasons in first-run, it's a regular in syndication for many years, and sets the standard for a different kind of medical drama. NBC's ad boldly announces "no compromise with truth."

And on Sunday, it's the debut of one of the longest-running and most-loved series of all time, Lassie (6:00 p.m., CBS). Lassie's fame didn't start with television; there had been seven feature films between 1943 and 1951, the first of which, Lassie Come Home, starred Elizabeth Taylor and Roddy McDowell, which means you weren't likely to forget about it; and so by 1954, the collie was a well-known commodity. His companion for the first few seasons, starting tonight, is eleven-year-old Jeff Miller (Tommy Rettig), and the adventures will continue until the final episode, on March 24, 1973.

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How many times has this happened to you: you and your family are gathered in the living room, watching your favorite television program, when all of a sudden the doorbell rings. You look out the window, and it's Brad and Carol, the couple down the street. You sigh; they're nice enough, but they never know when to go home, and you've been waiting all week to watch this show. You'd pause the disc, or maybe just record the end of the show and watch it later, but neither the DVD nor the DVR have been invented yet, and that drives you even crazier. What do you do? What do you do?

It's obvious that television has introduced a whole new aspect to home etiquette, with all kinds of ramifications accordingly. Good thing we've got Amy Vanderbilt, author of Amy Vanderbilt's Complete Book of Etiquette, on hand to answer all your questions.

For instance, to answer your first question, you're not obligated to turn off the TV just because you have uninvited guests. Amy says, "The hostess, taking the initiative, may say: 'We were just watching a program we enjoy very much. Would you like to join us? Or would you prefer to chat with me in the next room until it's over?'" This is not only courteous, it has the added benefit of giving your guests the hint that they're not welcome while the television is on. You also determine to never turn your TV off again. (Actually, I added that last part for comic relief.) Miss Vanderbilt's suggestion is far preferable to my own; I used to tell people to get the hell out and call first the next time. It may help explain why I've gone through life with so few friends.

Among other things, the mistress of etiquette says that if you're a guest in someone's home while they're watching TV, you should watch the program quietly, or, if you came on an errand, finish it as quickly as possible and then leave. If someone calls you while you're watching a favorite show, it's not rude to ask your caller if you can call back after the show's done. If you've planned to have guests over to watch TV but they'd rather do something else, you should feel free to suggest that they come on another evening--gently, of course. And respect your children's wishes if there's a conflict over what to watch. That doesn't mean you should let them control the dial, but it does mean you should respect their own favorites, and try to work out a compromise. 

If, on the other hand, you happen to be a guest on someone's TV show, you should not try to upstage the host by dressing inappropriately or trying to top the star's jokes And above all, don't act as if you're doing the host a favor by appearing on their show, even if you are. Remember who the host is, especially if you hope to get a return invitation sometime. Yes, it seems, even celebrities have to follow the rules of etiquette.

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After that lighthearted interlude, we should be able to stomach a slightly more serious special, airing Monday at 7:00 p.m. on NBC. It's the Project Twenty documentary "Three, Two, One—Zero," exploring "the impact of the Atomic Age on the human race." Remember, and this is the part that really hits home for me when I think about it, this documentary airs only nine years after the dropping of the bomb in Japan. This isn't a look back; it's contemporary.

The show covers the history of the atom, and how many atomic scientists are, ironically, driven out of Germany due to Hitler's racial policies. We see the successful test on July 16, 1945, and the two uses in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We look at Klaus Fuchs and the Rosenbergs, and how the Soviet Union develops and explodes its own bomb. The race continues, climaxing with the first test of the hydrogen bomb. The program ends with a prayer by Stephen Vincent Benet. 

The show is produced by Henry Solomon Jr., who did Victory at Sea, with narration by Project Twenty veteran Alexander Scourby and music from Robert Russell Bennett. The description of the program takes up an entire column in the issue.

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You know, there aren't really any new ideas. I used to enjoy watching the British version of Whose Line Is It Anyway? hosted by Clive Anderson. It was an improv fan's delight, watching stars doing skits based on audience suggestions. It was imported to the United States, where Drew Carey hosted a version that featured many of the same improv stars as the original. 

Well, it turns out that in 1954 there's another British import that's made its way to the American airwaves, specifically DuMont: One Minute, Please, and while it isn't exactly the same thing, it speaks a similar language. As Frank DeBlois explains in "Program of the Week," One Minute, Please, features a host (John K. M. McCaffery) and a panel (British comedienne Hermoine Gingold, joined by such American luminaries as Cleveland Amory, Marc Connelly, and Ernie Kovacs), who are tasked with talking for a full minute nonstop on "some impossible subject." "This sounds easy," DeBlois says, "but actually—as those who have appeared on the program will avow—it's often tough." 

The subjects have included such scintillating topics as "Why I Wear Sneakers," "The Perfect Woman," "Whale Blubber," and "Zebras." DeBlois is right: as someone who used to compete in speech contests and worked for a company that trained executives in proper speaking techniques, 60 seconds is a lot longer than you think. (Try counting to 60 sometime, and you'll see how time seems to expand.) And once you've talked for a half-minute on something like "How to Make Glue," horrified contests will discover they're only halfway through. DeBlois's verdict: "Although none of this fare will leave you gasping, some of it—particularly when Miss Gingold is activating that wonderful face—is quietly amusing. It rates more than one minute, please, of your time."

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And in next week's issue of TV Guide, available on newsstands now:

Don't go there. Just. . . don't. TV