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  

2 comments:

  1. Just back from a quick look at the Chicago edition:

    - In the listings:
    - On Saturday night, you didn't notice that the I Dream Of Jeannie and Get Smart debuts are both in black-and-white - the last of their kind, at least on NBC.
    Smart went to color the following week; Jeannie held off for a year before tinting.
    In '65, this was significant: the last all B/W show on NBC was Convoy which didn't make it through half a season.
    = Meanwhile, on CBS the same night, Trials Of O'Brien, B/W all the way, fell mainly to Get Smart when color set in (a little less so to Lawrence Welk, also in color on ABC); CBS replaced Peter Falk with the B/W Secret Agent, which was a placeholder (Patrick McGoohan and ITC had already decided to fold it anyway), so there too.
    - Wednesday on NBC, there was the second episode of I Spy, in which we see three reasons why that show was a breakthrough:
    (1) The international location shooting, almost unheard of at that time;
    (2) The use of color, as noted above;
    (3) Go back and reread the listing for this episode, and see if you can spot a clue toward the third reason (yes, this is a test).

    - In the color section, there's a feature by Edith Efron about Herbert Brodkin, who lost all three of his CBS series (The Defenders, The Doctors and the Nurses, For The People), and how he was regearing his TV production operation to deal with the changing marketplace.
    This ties in more-or-less directly with Mr. Skornia's screed about "what the public 'wants' " versus what the networks will give them; Brodkin and the CBS brass who talk herein give their vies, which Mr. Skornia ought to have read before writing his own piece (my opinion, of course; your mileage may vary).

    There's other stuff in here, to which I'll have to give a closer look.
    Back later, maybe ...

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  2. Actually the problem with deciding what's broadcast is capitalism. As soon as any financial interest is involved what is broadcast will reflect what is popular and thus attracts more viewers. This is a disincentive to making or broadcasting shows which won't be popular and means people only used to the popular don't get a chance to see anything different. This is why the best TV is found on small stations operating on a shoestring, on DVD or illegally uploaded to the internet, while streaming services literally keep broadcasting the same stuff because they follow a formula..

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Thanks for writing! Drive safely!