November 30, 2022

A holiday gift idea!

I've occasionally been guilty of waiting until the last minute to do things, so I thought that for once I should get ahead of the curve. Therefore, as November turns to December, which means it's an excellent time to get your Christmas shopping done, I'll make my annual suggestion that you buy a copy of my book, The Electronic Mirror: What Classic TV Tells Us About Who We Were and Who We Are (and Everything In-Between)After all, you wouldn't be here if you didn't already like classic television, right? 

Now, I know that some of you have already purchased The Electronic Mirror or took advantage of my free book offer from a few weeks ago, so if you already have a copy and enjoyed it, why not consider one of my novels? The Collaborator is a suspenseful story ripped from today's headlines (I don't write this copy; that's what they tell me to say) of conflict within the Catholic Church—conflict that threatens to tear the Church apart. If you wonder what's going on in Rome, this book will help you understand it.

My other novel, The Car, is a mystery wrapped in an enigma (I didn't write that either), the story of how a man's curiosity takes him to a dark place where he is forced to confront questions ranging from the meaning of a person's life to the very definition of identity. Both The Collaborator and The Car are available here

If you're buying for a friend or loved one, I think you'll make them very happy. If you're buying for yourself (and we all need to treat ourselves to a gift once in awhile), I think you'll make yourself very happy. And in any case, you'll be making me happy. The way I see it, that's a win-win for everyone, and I'm sorry that I did write that one.  TV  

November 28, 2022

What's on TV? Saturday, November 26, 1955

You remember that review of Gunsmoke on Saturday? At the time, I mentioned how Gunsmoke was one of the new breed of "adult" Westerns, and today we get to see the old breed, when Westerns were perfect Saturday entertainment for kids. WCCO has nine Westerns, KSTP has a Western movie, KEYD a program called Slim Jim Westerners, and WTCN the Saturday morning show Chuck Wagon Chuck. Westerns have always made for great morality plays, and even as they became more psychological, they retained the entertainment value, the sense of adventure that made them work for kids. Did you play Cowboys and Indians back when you were little? If so, you'll know exactly what I mean! All these shows are found in the Minneapolis-St. Paul edition.

November 26, 2022

This week in TV Guide: November 26, 1955

You probably know John Daly best as the charming and urbane host of CBS's What's My Line? on Sunday nights, but this week we get a chance to see him at his day job: vice president in charge of news, public affairs, special events, religion and sports for ABC television and radio, and anchorman of ABC's evening news program. 

The combination of the two jobs isn't quite as incongruous as it might seem. "[Goodson-Todman] thought a newsman would have the necessary background to keep an ad lib show going," he says of his Sunday night job. And he enjoys his work as moderator, although he understands that "What's My Line? has got to go sometime. I'm surprised it lasted this long." (It would, in fact, last another twelve years, all with Daly at the helm.) He's really a natural at the job; "Serious and intelligent, he can rarely resist the temptation to be funny." It's what keeps him, he says, from getting ulcers.

Newsmanthat's his line.
He talks with you, someone says, "as if he has nothing else on his mind but to say what he's saying, and to you." Some call this his "charm technique," but he says it's his news training. "When a newsman works on a story, he concentrates fully on it. It's the only way to get things done." And make no mistake, despite his work on WML, his news days go way back to when he was with CBS. He announced the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the death of FDR, and covered Patton in Europe. And he's a man with strong opinions on the news business, opinions that don't always align with those of his friend and former colleague at CBS, Edward R. Murrow. Whereas Murrow strongly believes that networks, like newspapers, have the responsibility to take editorial chances ("Let the networks choose their sides and fight it out."), Daly things this is impractical, for several reasons. Suppose, he says, the editorial policy of a local station differs from that of the network? Does the affiliate simply not carry the network's opinion?

And while it's fine for a news show to make "a legitimate comment on any event of public interest," it should be "a conclusion drawn on clearly defined fact." "There should be no subjective declaration of opinion," Daly insists. It's too easy for editorial opinion to drift into subjective opinion, which "could play into the hands of those who might attack the concept of a free press. If we took one stand, they might claim all our news was slanted." I can't help but wonder what he'd think of today's network and cable news divisions.

Daly's weekday schedule runs from 9:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. After an hour during which he "plays executive," he works on the script for the evening's news. Lunch is "a business event." At 3:30 p.m. he heads into the newsroom, where he remains until after the show. Then it's on the train and back home. All in all, he reads eight newspapers a day, plus current magazines and biographies. Sundays he spends at home with his family, heading to the studio at 6;00 p.m. for What's My Line?, which airs live at 10:30 p.m. Eastern. With all that, he still gets "eight full hours" of sleep every night. It's another way to prevent ulcers.

John Daly remains at ABC until 1960, when he resigns in protest over the network delaying its election coverage for an hour in order to show Bugs Bunny and The Rifleman. A principled man, he'll also resign as the director of the Voice of America when personnel changes are made without his approval. And to this day, every time I watch him on WML, I say to myself that he's what I want to be when I grow up.

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It was, let's see, about three weeks ago that I last mentioned the trend of movie studios getting into television. Back then, it was Warner Brothers and M-G-M, and before that the focus was on Walt Disney. This week we turn to Fox, whose offering, The 20th Century Fox Hour (Wednesday, 9:00 p.m., CBS) is perhaps the "most ambitious attempt" yet to crash the TV landscape. Unlike the other studios, the Fox Hour "isn't a collection of clips from old films, nor is it a 'showcase' for young, little-known actors." Instead, the studio has chosen to recruit top talent in adaptations of past Fox movie hits. 

It's an ambitious proposal indeed, but it faces a not-insignificant challenge: how to adapt a 90-minute or two-hour movie into a 45-minute timeslot. (Especially, I'd think, if viewers have already seen the movie version, and know what you're leaving out.) So far, the results have been mixed: Merle Oberon and Michael Wilding starred in Noel Coward's Cavalcade, but as the review points out, "even the full-length movie version had trouble chronicling a British family from the Boer War [circa 1899] to the 1930s." Next, it was Laura, with George Sanders, Robert Stack, and Dana Wynter; alas, the cast tried "valiantly, but in vain, to evoke the feature film's suspenseful mood." It wasn't until the third outing, The Ox-Bow Incident, that they hit the jackpot, with an outstanding cast including Cameron Mitchell, Raymond Burr, and Robert Wagner; it was "something TV—and Hollywood—could be proud of."

You might have seen episodes from this series on YouTube or in syndication, under the title Hour of Stars. (The most frequently seen DVD episode is "The Miracle on 34th Street," starring Thomas Mitchell as Kris Kringle. Compare and contrast.) It runs for two seasons, continuing to feature big-name stars (though not every week), and by the second season it incorporates original stories as well as movie adaptations. Perhaps that's what the show should have done in the first place, when the story could be tailored to a shorter running time. As anyone familiar with old-time radio knows, it's very difficult to adapt a movie to a finite running time, and the results are not always satisfactory.

There's also a review of another new series that you might be interested in, a Western called Gunsmoke (Saturday, 9:00 p.m., CBS), starring James Arness as Marshal Matt Dillon, and so far the show has produced "taut, action-packed stories." As a frame of reference, Gunsmoke, like Wyatt Earp and Cheyenne, is one of the early "adult" Westerns, in contrast to previous fare by Western heroes like Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy, and Gene Autry, and the storylines reflect it, both in terms of action (in these shows those who get shot often die), and in the moral dilemmas faced by the heroes. Already in this first season, Marshal Dillon "has killed a psychotic gunslinger who had wounded him in an earlier gun battle; he has saved another gunman from being lynched by an angry mob; and he has amputated the leg of a wounded rancher." It is, to be sure, a good day's work. 

Arness is excellent in the role, and he's ably backed by a fine supporting cast including Dennis Weaver and Amanda Blake. From the sounds of things, this show might just have a future.

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'Tis the season and all, and if you have any doubt about what's in Santa's bag of toys this year for good little television watchers, look no further than this:

There are more than 20 television programs represented in the picture above, with tie-ins everywhere: everything from a Ramar of the Jungle chemistry set to a Dragnet squad car and game. Even The Today Show gets in the act, with a J. Fred Muggs doll. (So much for those Matt Lauer talking dolls that are gathering dust in some warehouse.) Not surprisingly, Disney is represented by several toys; some things never change. I imagine that if, the next time you're browsing in your local antique store, you run into a Honeymooners bus with Ralph Kramden behind the wheel, or a ukulele endorsed by Jimmy Durante. you'll be shelling out a little more than you would have back in 1955. And if you have one in your attic, better call Antiques Roadshow.

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As for what's on TV this week, what catches my eye?

Saturday's highlight is one of the nation's great sporting traditions, the Army-Navy game, live from Philadelphia, with Lindsey Nelson and Red Grange providing the play-by-play (12:15 p.m, NBC). The usually-mighty Army team has lost three games this season, but they rally this week, defeating #11 Navy 14-6. I notice that one of the Navy players is named Forrestal; any relation? Moving to primetime, it seems that no matter what issue it is from the 1950s, we're running into one of those Max Liebman spectaculars; this time, it's the Rodgers and Hart musical "Dearest Enemy" (8:00 p.m., NBC), with Anne Jeffreys, Robert Sterling, Cyril Ritchard, and Cornelia Otis Skinner. It's a romantic comedy set during the Revolution, but I'm skeptical—none of my enemies are dear to me.

Sunday afternoon on See It Now (4:00 p.m., CBS), the aforementioned Edward R. Murrow hosts a 90-minute documentary on "The Nation's Schools" and the challenges they face, including aging school facilities, federal aid to education, and the lack of good teachers. Let's see, that was nearly 70 years ago, and it seems like the same problems still exist. On a lighter note, Ed Sullivan's guests tonight (7:00 p.m., CBS) are Pearl Bailey, who recently completed a role in Bob Hope's film That Certain Feeling (and that's Bob at left, in an ad for RCA, plugging that very movie); comedian Dick Shawn; the Goofers, comedy vocal and instrumental group; the Princeton Triangle Club; Collier's magazine's All-America football team; and opera star Licia Albanese and her three-year old son doing a scene from Madama Butterfly. Afterwards, catch WCCO's movie The Stranger (9:30 p.m.), a sinister noir with Edward G. Robinson investigating a Nazi spy (Orson Welles).

I'm not positive, but I think Monday's presentation on Studio One (9:00 p.m., CBS) relates to a part of pop culture history that would have been assumed knowledge back in 1955. The episode is "The Man Who Caught the Ball at Coogan's Bluff," by Rod Serling, starring Alan Young and Gisele MacKenzie, and the storyline is thus: "George was a shy and unsung government worker when he entered the ball park. But after making that spectacular bleachers catch of a home-run ball, he was a national hero, and sky no longer." I haven't seen the episode and couldn't find a whole lot out about it other than what you read here, but there are a few assumptions we can make. Coogan's Bluff was the location of, and the nickname for, the Polo Grounds; the most famous home run ever hit there was probably Bobby Thomson's "The Giants win the pennant!" blast in the 1951 playoff against the Brooklyn Dodgers. Even non-baseball fans were familiar with it; if this story doesn't actually use that game as the background, the viewers would have supplied the details.

On Tuesday's Warner Brothers Presents edition of "Casablanca" (6:30 p.m., ABC), "A dealer in antiques and a professor are both interested in acquiring a priceless page from an ancient Bible. But Rick wants money to provide education for the ragged Arab shoeshine boy who gave him the valuable parchment." Does this sound like the Rick we know and love from Humphrey Bogart's portrayal? I suppose, if you're a cynic with a heart of gold. Personally, it sounds more to me like a case for Indiana Jones. Later, on The Red Skelton Show (Tuesday, 8:30 p.m., CBS), Red and guest star Peter Lorre appear in a sketch called "Phantom of the Ballet." "Skelton, as a private detective with a mail-order-school diploma, tries to track down a maniacal killer (Lorre). The murderer as a penchant for assassinating members of a ballet troupe." OK, you've got me on that one. 

Wednesday is the second big sporting event of the week, the world welterweight boxing championship from Boston, with champion Carmen Basilio taking on the #1 challenger, former champ Tony DeMarco (9:00 p.m., ABC). Basilio defends his title with a 12th round knockout in what will be voted the fight of the year; you can see it all here. Thursday's highlight, if you can call it that, comes on Tonight (11:00 p.m., NBC), when a dentist comes on the show to drill Steve's teeth. There's also a modern dance interpretation by Katherine Litz; whether or not she's actually doing an interpretation of Steve's dental work is anyone's guess. And Friday gives us some good, old-fashioned murder: a bank embezzler is suspected of it in International Playhouse (8:30 p.m., KEYC), a young man plots it against his lover's husband in The Vise (8:30 p.m., ABC), and the men of The Lineup investigate it when an ad executive is found dead (9:00 p.m., CBS). 

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This week's words of wisdom come from George Burns, via the As We See It editorial. Burns has a new autobiography out, I Love Her, That's Why!; it's mostly anecdotical, talking about Gracie and their friends, but near the end of the book he turns serious for a moment. He and Gracie have moved into television, and he discusses his philosophy of playing to the audience. 

If we are successful, it is because we don't play down to an audience—we don't believe in that. There has been foolish talk about audiences having an average 12-year-old mind; it just isn't true. They are older than anybody, and wiser. And what is more, every individual among them is a manager, because in this day of television, he owns his own theater. The first thing an actor learns is to get along with the manager. He does well when he doesn't forget it.

Now, I don't know if that was ever really true, in television or in any other form of entertainment, but already, as we come to the end of 1955, it is becoming an issue for Merrill Panitt and the editors. "We would like to see that paragraph engraved on the forehead of every network official, advertising executive, producer, director, writer and performer who has anything to do with television," he writes. "Whatever real progress television has made has come from men who realize that the only 12-year-old thinking in America is done by 12-year-olds; that the surest way to lose an audience is to talk down to it."

As I said, this may never have been the case, but it certainly isn't the case today. In just about every way, today's maestros, people not only are being pandered to, we're practically demanding it. Whether it's the entertainment industry or the political establishment, the lowest common denominator rules; the simpler the answer, the better. We don't want to be stimulated; we don't want to face anything difficult. This isn't to suggest that there aren't intelligent forms of entertainment today, television programs that challenge not only the intellect but the conscience. They are, however, the exception rather than the rule. 

The editorial concludes by suggesting that the television audience "will turn away from a program that does not respect its intelligence," but I fear that's a pipe dream nowadays. We've been dumbed down in every way, from the cradle to the grave and everything in-between, and we seem to like it just fine. In a world dominated by memes, simplistic thinking, and short attention spans, we are all 12-year-olds now. TV  

November 25, 2022

Around the dial

I trust you all had a great day yesterday, and you've recovered from any tryptophan hangover you might have had. So how about a classic TV hangover? I'll see what I can do.

At Comfort TV, David talks about the basic truths that we don't seem to understand anymore, but are embedded in many classic television shows. This is something I've been trying to articulate for many years, but wasn't able to do it nearly as well as David does. I understand that many people think television of today is superior, but I wonder how they feel about the values so many of these shows exhibit? I mean, does everyone live next door to an international drug dealer?

I am, of course, intrigued by a show called Virtual Murder, and even more intrigued by an episode called "Last Train to Hell and Back." The series is from 1992, and, as you might have guessed, John has all the details at Cult TV Blog, and I think you'll find it quite interesting.

The Broadcasting Archives has a note about Craig Allen of Arizona State University, winner of the 2022 Broadcast Historian Award for his book, Univision, Telemundo and the Rise of Spanish-Language Television. I mention this because I've taken to watching some of the World Cup matches on Telemundo rather than Fox—at least the ones that have the American announcers. I can't understand most of what they're saying, but soccer is a universal language, and it's one that American announcers don't communicate well.

At Bob Crane: Life & Legacy, Linda has a touching tribute to the late Robert Clary, which includes a portion of the correspondence Clary provided during the writing of the Bob Crane autobiography. He was, to be sure, a remarkable man. 

At A Shroud of Thoughts, Terence looks back at the career of Jay Silverheels, whom we probably know best as Tonto in The Lone Ranger, but as Terence points out, he played Geronimo three times in the movies, and they weren't cheap flicks either, with stars like James Stewart, Jeff Chandler, and Audie Murphy. 

Finally, in my next update of what I've been watching, you'll get some of my thoughts on Combat!, the great 1962-67 World War II series on ABC, a series that really brought the war home. But why wait until then, when you can read about the Combat! episodes from 1962 at Television's New Frontier: The 1960s. TV  

November 23, 2022

Happy Thanksgiving!

We won't be visiting again until after Thanksgiving, so let me be among the first to wish you the greetings of the season. I make no secret of the fact that Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, second only to Christmas, and the memories I have of it are almost uniformly warm ones. 

For me, Thanksgiving primarily means taking considered time to give thanks. As I believe I have done in the past, I want to thank all of you for your support over the past year: your financial contributions, your comments, the articles you've written, and for taking time every week to stop by and see what's new.

Three other things that Thanksgiving means to me: parades, football, and food. Even though I don't follow the NFL anymore, the history of football on Thanksgiving is undeniable. I've written before about one of the greatest college football games in history, the 1971 Game of the Century between Nebraska and Oklahoma, but I don't know if I've ever admitted that I accidentally fell asleep during it. I'd been indulged by some generous relatives who allowed me to have my dinner on a tray in one of the bedrooms so I could watch the game on TV (millions of people did likewise, I'll add in my defense—there was a huge television audience for the game), and, well, you know what can happen with a full Thanksgiving stomach. Tryptophan or not, I couldn't stay awake, and woke up just before Nebraska scored the winning touchdown in the final minutes. As I was rooting for Oklahoma anyway, it's probably just as well.

Arguably the most famous professional game played on Thanksgiving was in 1962, the annual game between the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions at Tiger Stadium in Detroit. I'm not going to claim I remember this game, because I was only two years old, but I've certainly read enough about it. The defending champion Packers came into the game with a record of 10-0, having totally dominated most of their opponents; historians would later rank this one of the greatest teams in NFL history. The Lions, 8-2, had given the Pack their only really close game earlier in the year, losing 9-7 in Green Bay. In the game, the Lions sacked Packers QB Bart Starr 11 times (including once for a safety) and totally dominated Green Bay, racing out to a 26-0 lead en route to a 26-14 drubbing that wasn't nearly as close as the final score indicated. (Apropos of the day, one sportswriter said it looked as if Roger Brown and Alex Karras, the Lions' two defensive stars, were ready to take Starr by the legs and make a wish.) It was said that Lombardi was so furious about that loss that he ended the annual Thanksgiving game against the Lions; the teams had played every Thanksgiving since 1951, but after the 1963 game thy would not meet again on Thanksgiving until 1984.

Two other Thanksgiving games, both involving the Dallas Cowboys, merit mention. In 1974, backup quarterback Clint Longley came off the bench to replace an injured Roger Staubach and threw two touchdown passes, including a 50-yard bomb in the last half-minute, to defeat the Washington Redskins 24-23. Nineteen years later, in 1993, the field covered in snow from a freak storm and the Cowboys up 14-13 against the Miami Dolphins with 15 seconds to play, Miami had their game-winning field goal attempt blocked. All the Pokes had to do was let the roll dead and the game would be over, but inexplicably Dallas defender Leon Lett tried to recover the ball, slipped on the snow, and muffed the ball. The Dolphins recovered, kicked the field goal with one second to play, and won the game, 19-17. 

Stranger and greater things have happened during football's long and glorious history, but these games stand out; they're remembered decades later because they happened on Thanksgiving, with families gathered around the television, sharing fellowship and food while watching a sport that has become synonymous with the day. That's one of the things holidays are about though—creating memories. I have many happy ones of my own from Thanksgiving, and I hope you'll all have some tomorrow that you can look back on fondly in the years to come. 

Happy Thanksgiving! TV  

November 21, 2022

What's on TV? Thursday, November 25, 1976

As I mentioned on Saturday, there's so much to this week, I figured I'd save the Thanksgiving commentary for today. 

It's a particularly nostalgia-heavy day, starting at 8:00 a.m. with the parade coverage on CBS and NBC. As opposed to the (quite frankly) awful coverage that CBS has nowadays, which consists of a poor imitation of NBC's already bad Macy's broadcast, the 1970s featured William Conrad as our avuncular host in the New York studio (a warm and welcoming set complete with fireplace and decorations), from where he would send us to five parades, featuring stars of various CBS programs. Jack Lord was always the host in Hawaii (natch), but we also have Richard Crenna, Kevin Dobson, Michael Learned, Bill Macy, Gavin MacLeod, Mackenzie Phillips, Isabel Sanford, and Loretta Swit announcing from parades in Toronto, Detroit, Philadelphia, and New York. This was my preferred broadcast, and I'd always set the alarm to make sure I was up in time to see itafter all, who wouldn't prefer five parades to one? That one is the Macy's parade on NBC, also at 8:00, with Ed McMahon and Shari Lewis hosting the pre-parade, and then Ed joining Della Reese and McLean Stevenson joining the parade itself. I love the balloons and floats; my problem with Macy's has always been the "entertainment," with pop singers doing bad lip-synching to songs that I can't stand. And by the way, get off my lawn.

ABC has college football on Friday, which is why they're having their traditional day of Saturday morning kids' shows, starting 11:00 a.m., with Soupy Sales as host. It was always special seeing Saturday cartoons on another day; it added to the feeling that this day was special. Thursday afternoon football does that as well, and in addition to the NFL doubleheader, CBS tries an NBA special at noon. That did not become a tradition.

I really appreciate how the networks go all-out on Thanksgiving night. I think that they mostly show reruns these days, figuring that it's not a big TV day, but in 1976 they were still figuring that families might sit around the set after dessert (or perhaps before second helpings), and they saved some big shows for the occasion. CBS has a special two-hour Waltons' Thanksgiving at 7:00 p.m.—will John-Boy come back from being blinded in an accident? It was originally shown in 1973, but what better occasion to rerun it? That's followed by Beverly Sills and Carol Burnett in a two-woman show from the Metropolitan Opera House (9:00 p.m.) that's reminiscent of Burnett's 1960s specials with Julie Andrews at Carnagie Hall.

Over at NBC, a first-run episode of Dick Van Dyke's short-lived variety show at 7:00 is followed by the two-hour conclusion of Captains and the Kings, the star-studded nine-hour miniseries that was quite the show; I don't quite know if it's fair to call it a "sensation," but these was the heydays of the miniseries, Captains and the Kings was an engrossing hit, and it's unthinkable that NBC would show it on Thanksgiving night unless they expected a healthy audience.  

ABC's not left out; after the charming, animated Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too (narrated by Sebastian Cabot), it's the traditional Thanksgiving rivalry between Texas and Texas A&M (traditional, that is, until the two schools joined different conferences and decided not to play each other at all); depending on where you live, you might instead see Colgate at Rutgers, or Appalachian State at East Carolina.

All in all, it's a totally satisfying day, particularly with all three networks offering special programs of one kind or another in primetime. It's what I said earlier—it makes the day feel special, and the turkey, potatoes and gravy only add to it. You can relive it all in this Minneapolis-St. Paul edition.

November 19, 2022

This week in TV Guide: November 20, 1976

True story: I was leafing through the pages of today's issue, getting ready to do some typing, and I started reading out loud some of the blockbuster programs that were on. Parades! Football! NBC's anniversary special! What a terrific week, I said.

"You must have been in seventh heaven," my wife said. 

My face clouded over. "This is while I was living in the World's Worst Town™, remember?"

"Oh," she said after a moment. 

It occurred to me then that it had been awhile since I’d had a really good rant about the World’s Worst Town™, and I was overdue for one. Now, I realize you didn't come here to listen to me gripe about this, but that's what you're going to do anyway, at least for the next few minutes. The WWT, we'll call it for the sake of convenience, is the small town in which I spent the so-called formative years of my life, from ages 12-18. While we lived there, we had access to one commercial television station, an NBC/ABC affiliate. There was a PBS station. On occasion there was a snowy picture from an out-of-state CBS affiliate. And that was it, which meant that 90 percent of our television viewing was restricted to NBC. For someone who may have been a descendent of Mike Teavee, it was—well, I don't really have the vocabulary to describe what it was like, at least not that I can use here.

I will allow as to how this arrangement did have one benefit this week: I was able to watch NBC's magnificent 50th anniversary show (Sunday, 6:00 p.m.) The four and one-half hour program, narrated by Orson Welles and featuring just about every living star who's ever appeared on the network, goes all the way back to the days of radio, and because television itself only makes up about have of the history, the program doesn't suffer from the recency bias that plagues so many of these kinds of shows today. Looking through some of the highlights, you get a really impressive look at the breadth of NBC's hits over the years: Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In; This is Your Life; Kukla, Fran and Ollie; The Wonderful World of Disney; Bonanza; The Tonight Show; Peter Pan; the Halmark Hall of Fame; Milton Berle's Texaco Star Theater; Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom; Martin and Lewis on The Colgate Comedy Hour; Dr. Kildare—among others. There are also highlights of Rose Bowls and World Series, the moon landing and the JFK assassination, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, Rudy Vallee, and Bob Hope. The program ends with a tribute to David Sarnoff.

Ellen Torgerson's accompanying article shows how difficult it is to put together a program like this; it was over a year in the making, and the video archives weren't nearly as helpful as producer Greg Garrison would have liked. "We found lots of things missing, or they'd been erased or given away or stolen. And one of the warehouses was destroyed by fire." The storage building in New Jersey contained thousands of cans of film; they were labeled, all right, but there was no cataloging system, which meant "it might have taken 10 years to look through all those tins of tape to find, say, Grace Kelly in Lights Out." Garrison recounts the search for a color print of a 1957 Gene Kelly special with Donald O'Connor. A black-and-white print was located in Akron, but Garrison really wanted color. Finally, six weeks before the show, and resigned to using the B&W clip, Garrison was out shoveling hay in the barn of his horse farm, "and under an old pule of hay I found this box. There it was, a color print of the Kelly show, right in my own barn." He'd stored tapes of all the shows he'd produced in the rafters of the barn, and this one had fallen through an opening and into a bale of hay, unnoticed until his cleaning. It may have been a lot of work putting the special together, but it's worth it.

All three broadcast networks would arrive at milestone anniversaries in the next a couple of years, and each one approached their anniversary programs in different ways. CBS spread their celebration over an entire week, devoting each night to a particular genre; ABC, which had no radio history to speak of and was recognizing its 25th anniversary, put on a show that was more like a series of tributes at an awards show, with a live audience to boot. The NBC celebration is a show apart, though; with a script by Oscar winner Abby Mann, it combines gravitas, celebrity and history, and brings home the storied legacy of the Peacock Network. If nothing else, I'm grateful to the WWT for giving me the chance to see it.

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As I said, it's a very, very good week of television; Thanksgiving week was often that way. The college football season's almost over, so you've got plenty of big games between big rivals. There are plenty of specials on—movies, variety shows, and the like; there's so much to look at that I've decided to treat Thanksgiving Day itself separately, on Monday. 

And, as I've progressed through this issue, it happens that I'm able to judge pretty much everything about this week based on whether or not I had access to it in the WWT. That's the key, I think; not that I would have watched it, but that I could have if I'd wanted to. For instance, I'm pretty sure that KCMT carried the Big Ten showdown between Michigan and Ohio State (Saturday, 11:45 a.m., ABC)—it was pretty good at picking up college football from ABC. (I'm not sure about the second half of the doubleheader, USC vs. UCLA, though.) KCMT even played fast and loose with NBC programming; it never carried Saturday Night Live (10:30 p.m., this week with host Paul Simon and musical guest George Harrison), instead substituting a local movie. I'm not quite sure what the motive was; it could have been the ad revenue generated by local commercials, or the station might have thought that the show's content was in poor taste, too "adult" for rural audiences. (If I had to bet cash money, I'd put it on the second explanation, because SNL wasn't recorded and played back later—it just wasn't shown period.) NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies is Billy Jack (8:00 p.m.), and that's probably what we watched, even though Judith Crist calls it "primitive" and says it "manages to insult every segment of society, as well as the intelligence of its devout audience." 

As I mentioned in the lede, I did get to see that NBC anniversary special, which means I passed up Sunday's Hallmark Hall of Fame, which ironically aired this season on PBS instead of NBC, its longtime home. All the presentations this season were celebrating the Bicentennial, and this one is "The Rivalry," a dramatization of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, with Arthur Hill as Abraham Lincoln, Charles Durning as Stephen Douglas, and Hope Lange as Mrs. Douglas. (9:00 p.m.) Now, I'm not positive that this would have been carried on KWCM, the PBS affiliate we got; it was kind of funky in what it did and didn't show, compared to its counterpart in the Twin Cities. I don't think I've ever seen "The Rivalry," in fact; I wonder if it's on YouTube. (Checking.) Nope, apparently not. Still, I'll look around if I have time later.

Arthur Hill's also on Little House on the Prairie Monday night (7:00 p.m., NBC). Little House wasn't a favorite in this house, though, so I probably was in my room doing homework. No Charlie Brown Thanksgiving* or Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck in Carnival of the Animals, of course (starting at 7:00 p.m., CBS), and KCMT wouldn't pick up Monday Night Football unless the Minnesota Vikings were on, so you can forget the Baltimore Colts-Miami Dolphins game as well. (8:00 p.m., ABC) Instead, the TV-movie is The Savage Bees, with Ben Johnson and Michael Parks (8:00 p.m., NBC). Yep, homework.

*We have A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving on DVD, so we can watch it whenever we want. It's not the best of the Peanuts specials, though, so we don't usually watch it. Another case of irony, I suppose.

KTCA, the PBS affiliate in the Twin Cities, has a solid lineup on Tuesday; I don't know if KWCM carried it or not. One of the highlights is Mark Russell's post-election musical-comedy review (8:30 p.m.). Russell was one of the most astute, and funniest, political satirists around, an equal-opportunity humorist who puts someone like Art Buchwald to shame, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching his shows over the years until politics became too discouraging to be funny anymore. Anyway, I suspect Russell has a field day with Jimmy Carter's election; Carter always provided Russell with a lot of material. That's followed at 9:00 p.m. by Ingmar Bergman's magnificent The Seventh Seal. I probably wouldn't have watched that back then; I mean, I was precocious, but not that precocious, and besides, it would have run past my bedtime, but I own it today. No, if I watched anything, it would have been Police Woman (8:00 p.m., NBC). I don't think I'd watch it today, but you have to remember that back then I was a 16-year-old male, so you have to give me credit for that. 

night's NBC TV-movie is Irwin Allen's Flood, with Robert Culp, Martin Milner, Barbara Hershey, Teresa Wright, Carol Lynley, and Roddy McDowall (7:00 p.m.). There's a reason why NBC's TV-movies aren't usually remembered with the same affection and nostalgia as ABC's Movie of the Week, and maybe this is one reason why: "An overwhelming action-spectacle about an overwhelming disaster that swept through the lives—and revealed the lies—of a whole city!" I don't know; maybe it's really good! Or maybe those ABC movies weren't all that people remember them to be—remember, I didn't get to see them. Tonight is better-remembered for what wasn't available: The French Connection (8:00 p.m., CBS), which Judith Crist describes as "a milestone police-chase movie and a remarkable feat of filmmaking." The film, director William Friedkin, and star Gene Hackman all took home Oscars. And then there's Charlie's Angels (9:00 p.m., ABC; part of a big lineup that includes The Bionic Woman and Baretta): "Jill applies as a centerfold candidate for a girlie magazine that had its two previous centerfolds murdered." C'mon—Farrah Fawcett-Majors as a centerfold? I ask you, who's going to believe that?

Since you'll have to wait until Monday to read about Thanksgiving in detail—I'll have today's rant out of my system by then—I'll only point out that it was a very good day; the parade, football, turkey with all the trimmings. Nothing to complain about there, and who would want to complain, anyway? It's a day to be thankful for what you have, not dwell on what you don't have. (Still, you'll see that we missed a lot.)

And that brings us to Friday, the bonus day-off that's so great when you're a kid (and isn't bad when you're an adult, either, which might mean I haven't grown up yet). One of the big college football games of the year is the annual day-after-Thanksgiving* battle between Nebraska and Oklahoma, one that used to decide the Big 8 title each season. It's on ABC at 1:15 p.m. I had to listen to it on the radio, which I was able to swing by getting a fairly clear signal from a Nebraska radio station. The same applied to the nighttime half of the doubleheader, Penn State vs. Pittsburgh. (8:00 p.m.) It was harder finding a Pennsylvania radio station, but I was able to do it. Let's see; what else wasn't on? There's the animated adaptation of the beloved children's story Charlotte's Web (7:00 p.m., CBS), featuring the voices of Debbie Reynolds, Henry Gibson, Paul Lynde, Agnes Moorehead, and others (7:00 p.m, CBS). There's the All-Star Tribute to John Wayne (7:00 p.m., ABC), with appearances by Bob Hope, Angie Dickinson, Claire Trevor, Ron Howard, Lee Marvin, James Stewart, Sammy Davis Jr., Maureen O'Hara, and host Frank Sinatra. Plus. there are some great film clips There's the sequel to The French Connection, aptly titled The French Connection II (8:00 p.m., CBS) which still has Gene Hackman, but little else; Judith Crist says it's "not only resistible but repugnant, a botched, pointless and plodding film that thunks its way through detestable personalities and sadomasochistic details to an incredible ending." So I guess it was OK to miss it. Opposite that, KCMT offers The Lawrence Welk Show (6:30 p.m.), Chico and the Man (7:30 p.m.), The Rockford Files (8:00 p.m.), and Dean Martin's roast of Redd Foxx (9:00 p.m.). No evening that includes Jim Rockford can be all bad.

*One of the reasons ABC scheduled big games like this on the day following Thanksgiving was because of a little-known exception to the limit on how many times a team could appear on national television over a given period. Games played on days other than Saturday didn't count, as I recall, giving times like Nebraska and Oklahoma a bonus appearance.   

Oh, and if we're talking about bad television, we should mention the MST3K alert: Plan Nine from Outer Space (Friday, 3:30 p.m., WCCO). "Space aliens enlist the aid of the dead in trying to conquer the universe." Bela Lugosi, Lyle Talbot, Vampira. It wasn't on MST3K, but the Rifftrax gang did this live a few years ago. It's widely considered one of the worst movies ever made; since I didn't see this in the WWT, perhaps the week was better than I thought!

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OK—time to take a deep breath, step back, and pull myself together. Perhaps I got just a little carried away with that last bit. Let's take a look at what else there is in this week's issue.

Doug Hill has a very nice article on Charles Kuralt—hopeful, even, for as he puts it, "Kuralt's reports from the church-supper, county-fair beat suggest that while journalism is crisis-ridden, America is not." That's an important message to hear; the country was going through a hard time in 1976, with the Cold War still strong, the wound from the Nixon resignation still fresh, and a very narrow presidential election just having concluded. Inflation, unemployment, and interest rates were all high, and morale was low. But as Kuralt points out, "I think that 'On the Road' should be irrelevant—uttterly. It serves to remind people that there are people besides politicians and entertainers and criminals [all one and the same, aren't they?] in the country." Kuralt has been doing his "On the Road" feature on the CBS Evening News since 1967; I always used to enjoy those whimsical pieces—back when we actually had CBS, of course. Now that we're in the WWT, where we don't get CBS—

No, wait, wait! Don't go there again! Get your mind off it, do you hear! (Takes deep breath.) Sorry about that. I don't know what came over me. Here's another look at what goes on behind the scenes: Frank Sean Swertlow's story on the "elite squad of New York's finest" delegated to keep TV stars out of trouble while doing location filming. "There are 15 police officers and four sergeants in the group," Swertlow writes, "with a lieutenant in charge. And one of the missions is to make sure all the production is done without inconveniencing millions of residents." One of those productions is Kojak, and the squad has its hands full—not just keeping the crowds away from Telly Savalas, but also keeping Telly away from them, especially the ladies. "Telly is a real ladies' man," says Lt. Paul Glanzman of the actor who headlines CBS's hit detective series—

A series I can't watch, right? Because it's not shown where I live! (Takes another deep breath.) I'm sorry again. I've really got to stop all this. It's not healthy, and it isn't doing anyone any good, especially me. Let's read about something more relaxing, funny even. Stephen Rubin talks to Beverly Sills and Carol Burnett about their holiday special at the Metropolitan Opera House on Thanksgiving night. They'd never worked together, or even met, until Burnett picked up the phone and asked Sills if she'd like to work with her on a special. The two clicked from the very beginning, and they make a delightful pair; "I'm having the time of my life," Beverly exclaims, while Carol "nearly fainted" when Sills told her she couldn't wait until they got started. Apparently the audience at the Met agreed, enthusiastically responding throughout the special, taped last March for . .  CBS . . .

All right, that's it! I give up! You win, World's Worst Town™! Even though it's been 46 years, you still have the power to bring me to my knees! How you nearly ruined my adolescence, stunted my cultural growth, deprived me of some of the simple pleasures of life. No, I can't let it go! I need to see Dr. Raymer or Dr. Thompson from that ABC series Breaking Point. Wait, they wouldn't have shown that either! (Collapses sobbing, a broken man.)

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NBC's year got off to a bad start
I feel much better now, thank you. What this little exercise accomplished, besides allowing me to vent my spleen, is the frustration that any TV connoisseur would have experienced during a week where most of the best programs were unavailable. With the exception of Sunday night (due to the NBC anniversary show), one could arguably claim that what NBC had to offer was inferior every night of the week. As evidence, I submit the list of top-rated programs of 1976-77; of the top 30 shows, NBC had only four, with one of those being Monday Night at the Movies and another being The Big Event, the umbrella title given to Sunday night specials from the World Series to, well, the NBC 50th anniversary show. The only two actual series to make the list were Little House on the Prairie and Sanford and Son; and KCMT, in its provincial way, preempted Sanford for Lawrence Welk.

In a way, I have only myself to blame for this, and in recognition of this, I can only throw myself on the mercy of the court—you, my readers. As I've said, I was already committed to television by then, and so the culture shock of moving to the World’s Worst Town™ would have affected anyone in my position. Had I grown up with only one television station, things might have been different. You could also argue that I attach too much importance to television, and you'd probably be right about that as well, but on the other hand, if not for that, you wouldn't be reading this now. (All right, that's a push.)

However, had there not been others like me, there wouldn't have been the push for cable television in rural areas. There wouldn't have been the evolution of pay-TV, the explosion of cable networks, the exponential increase in televised sports, the demand by the consumer for more choice. And that's what it all boils down to: choice. I'm not saying I would have watched all those shows on other networks, had I had the choice; it's that I didn't have the choice. And it's not as if I didn't know what I was missing, because thanks to TV Guide, I did know. 

What's ironic about it, I guess, is that now, with more stations than ever to choose from, I hardly watch any current TV. The programs I do watch are mostly from the classic era, and some of them are shows I chose not to watch when they were originally on. Maybe I'm just not as dependent on TV as I used to be, and that's something I can truly be thankful for. TV  

November 18, 2022

Around the dial

Another easy week in the blogosphere; you'd almost think that people had other things to do besides type about old television shows. But you can't go wrong with a collection that includes a Thanksgiving recipe, right?

Helen Nielsen's third and final script for Alfred Hitchcock Presents was "You Can't Trust a Man," a skillful adaptation of her own short story, starring Polly Bergen and Joe Maross; it's the subject of Jack's latest Hitchcock Project at bare-bones e-zine.

I submit that there's no way you're going to pass up a story that contains the line, "What on earth is going on with Shakespeare's tomb," am I right? That, and a lot of other interesting information, is contained in "Shakespeare's Tomb," the latest documentary that John reviews at Cult TV Blog

Pamelyn Ferdin was one of the most ubiquitous child stars on television in the 1960s and 1970s; as David points out at Comfort TV, she was never a regular but appeared in almost every series at one time or another. This week, read about some of her most notable roles. 

Robert Clary, the last surviving member of the original cast of Hogan's Heroes (Kenneth Washington, who was in the last season, is still alive) died earlier this week, aged 96. He might be best-known for Hogan, but he was accomplished in many other roles as well. Terence remembers his career at A Shroud of Thoughts.

Did you know that Uncle Sam had a wife? Yes, Aunt Sammy! (The things you learn on the internet.) In 1931 the USDA and Aunt Sammy put out a collection of recipes from her radio program; the Broadcast Archives has her nifty recipe for roast turkey with chestnut stuffing. Just in time for next week! TV  

November 16, 2022

The It's About TV! Interview: Talking about The Gallant Men with Brandon Hollingsworth

As you probably know, I've done a lot of interviews since this website started. For the most part, I enjoy talking with people who expand my knowledge of the classic TV world: fellow authors, classic TV buffs, people who can tell me (and, by extension, you loyal readers out there) about shows that we should know more about. This week, The It's About TV! Interview presents Brandon Hollingsworth, as we discuss the 1962-63 World War II drama The Gallant Men. I think you'll enjoy our conversation.

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It’s About TV: Even classic TV fans might not be as familiar with The Gallent Men as they are with other period war dramas, and I’m thinking of shows like Combat! or Twelve-O’Clock High. Let’s start by talking a little about the premise of the series and its origins.

Brandon Hollingsworth: The Gallant Men is the story of a core group of eight men within the U.S. Army’s Fifth Division from the amphibious landings at Salerno in September 1943 to a point north of Naples in late spring 1944. The cast is a simplified cross-section of Army personnel in the fictional Able Company, led by Capt. Jim Benedict (played by the recently-deceased William Reynolds). Almost every episode is framed at the beginning and end by the narration of newspaper correspondent Conley Wright (Robert McQueeney), who was embedded with the company.

William Reynolds as Capt. Jim Benedict
Series creator William T. Orr had come up with the concept, under the working title Battle Zone, as early as 1957, but the Big Three networks weren’t interested. It took him until 1961 to sell the show to ABC. That network was looking for a varied programming slate in the fall of 1962 that it hoped would siphon viewers away from NBC and CBS. ABC was also the Warner Bros. TV division’s best customer, so there was a relationship that I think aided The Gallant Men in landing there.

There had been a couple of World War II dramatic series in the '50s. But the big thing was Westerns (a ship that was also launched by Orr, because he created Cheyenne in 1955; its success touched off the thirst for television Westerns). I know we’re talking about The Gallant Men, but focus group data collected in early 1962 for the Combat! pilot showed that kids and adults were favorably inclined toward a World War II drama. So I think by that time, a substantial number of people could handle a war show as an exercise in entertainment.

How did you first find out about The Gallant Men? It’s not as if the show is easy to find on TV.

My spouse got me interested in World War II, and with my interest in TV history, I naturally started wondering if there were small-screen depictions of the war before Band of Brothers. That's how I found Combat! In reading about Combat!, I kept seeing references to this "other" series that debuted the same season. I naturally got curious. But when I started searching for The Gallant Men online, I could find so little about it. The series doesn't live on YouTube, like Combat! and 12 O'Clock High, and it's not in current reruns on MeTV or Antenna or Decades. It didn't have detailed, dedicated fan sites. There was just hardly anything about it, and what was available was very incomplete. And if you're anything like me, when you're interested in something and find that it's hard to get to, it only increases your interest. So I got the DVD set in December 2019 and started from there.

Besides William Reynolds, who are some of the co-stars or guest stars who we'd recognize?

Roger Davis, who played radioman Roger Gibson, will immediately be recognized by Dark Shadows fans for his role as cursed portraitist Charles Delaware Tate. In 1972, he succeeded Pete Duel as Ben Murphy’s co-star in Alias Smith and Jones.

Robert Ridgely (Lt. Frank Kimbro) hit it off with Mel Brooks and ended up in amazingly silly bit roles in a few of Brooks’ films (a flasher in High Anxiety and an executioner in Robin Hood: Men in Tights, to name a couple). Ridgely also landed a number of bit parts in television series and had a long career in cartoon voice work. Once you know his face or his voice, you see (or hear) him all over the place.

Others from the regular cast turned up in one-off roles on other series, such as Perry Mason, the ubiquitous Westerns of the era, other Warner shows of the early ‘60s and the crime dramas of the ‘70s. Davis and Ridgely were definitely the biggest "successes," at least in terms of regular gigs, to come out of the principal cast.

Recognizable guest stars include William Windom, who later played Dr. Hazlett, the town doctor on Murder She Wrote; Julie Adams, who was in Creature From the Black Lagoon; Hans Gudegast, who would go on to play Dietrich, the antagonist in Rat Patrol; George O’Hanlon, who was the voice of George Jetson; Peter Breck; Robert Conrad; and three people who would become extremely well known in another context—DeForest Kelley, George Takei and James Doohan.

What role did the other men in the unit play with regard to the overall storytelling?

It really depended on the episode. While Gallant Men had better continuity than Combat!, it still aired well before the era of the show bible and airtight continuity, in which viewers really expect an ironclad universe and ample backstory. But there are some trends that generally hold true throughout the series.

Upper row, left to right: Reynolds and McQueeney, Fontaine,
Ridgely. Lower row: Slattery, Davis, Gothie and La Starza.
Gibson is the youngest of the group and probably the least worldly. The other men of the unit typically tease him as they would a younger brother. He gets storylines about having to mature fast and to think differently in a combat zone to ensure his own survival. McKenna (Richard X. Slattery) is the by-the-book sergeant who has to learn to accept the validity of methods different than his own—which is hard for him. Hanson and Lucavich (Robert Gothie and Roland La Starza) are mostly there for comic relief. Kimbro is the character most likely to question the wisdom of the orders Able Company is given, or try to improvise if he feels like the orders he's given don't match reality and good sense.

D’Angelo (Eddie Fontaine) probably goes through the most of any regular character in the series. He’s shot, he’s captured, he accidentally shoots an old friend while on sentry duty, and he almost gets conned into losing his G.I. benefits to a prostitute. Generally, if something unfortunate is going to happen, it happens to D’Angelo.

A pattern that holds true through the series is that Capt. Benedict and Conley Wright form a strong but largely unspoken bond. Benedict, who normally keeps people at arm's length, confides in Wright more than anyone else. And though Wright is a reporter, not a GI, he's seen enough combat during the war that he can commiserate with the responsibilities, stress and grief that are inherent in Benedict's decisions and orders from farther up the chain. And of the principal characters, only Wright can usually get away with challenging or questioning Benedict, another indication of the trust and latitude present in that relationship.

How did the show compare to Combat!, which premiered the same season?

Combat! was grimmer and more naturalistic. At times, it felt more like a docudrama than a primetime network series. Orr acknowledged The Gallant Men had a fundamentally different aim, and many of its plots revolved around romance, psychology, and ethics away from the battlefield (one critic drily noted that Able Company must have arrived in Italy during a lull in the war, so few were the battle scenes).

Combat! very early on adopted its house look and tone: serious, long stretches without dialogue, lots of outdoor shooting. You can look at a Gallant Men episode and see most of it is filmed on indoor soundstages, and a few outdoor locations that appear again and again. It felt more like a standard weekly drama of the period (which reflects WB's assembly-line style of production). It's harder to suspend disbelief that these guys are in 1943 Italy when you notice they're on the same set you saw three episodes ago. Of course, it should be noted that Combat! frequently re-used outdoor shooting locations, something that became more and more obvious in later seasons.

One thing I find interesting is that, in the decades since these two shows were in first-run broadcast, an impression developed that somehow Combat! was the superior show and Gallant Men was an errant stepchild that deservedly got cancelled. Even Rick Jason (Combat's Lt. Hanley) hinted at that in his memoir, reinforcing the view. But I think a lot of that is assumption that ossified into accepted wisdom. The ratings and Q scores paint a different picture, one of more equal footing for these two freshman dramas that were each good, but in different ways.

It's worth noting that, for all the discussion about the pros and cons of these two dramas, both placed way behind McHale's Navy in the Nielsen ratings. Make of that what you will.

The Gallant Men
was on the air while the Vietnam War was in its early days. Was there any attempt, a la M*A*S*H, to try and draw a parallel between what was going on in WWII and contemporary issues? I know that's probably not the case; the war had yet to become unpopular, and I don't think the show was the "social issues" type of program that you see with writers like Sterling Silliphant, but I'd be interested in your take.

You’re exactly right. The Gallant Men wasn’t so much a careful, incisive exploration of war so much as it was William T. Orr’s attempt to expand the Warner TV brand into war shows. There are glimpses of topics like PTSD and the stress of ceaseless combat duty. We get some taste of the difficulty of re-establishing government and order in towns turned to rubble. A couple of installments show us what war does to the frightened and weary civilians of the villages Able Company visits. But generally, there wasn’t the kind of clear social or moral message you would see on The Twilight Zone or Route 66.

About the closest I think the series comes to serious commentary is the episode “One Puka Puka,” in which a squad of our regulars encounters a group of Nisei from the 100th Infantry Battalion (a real unit from the Italian campaign, highly decorated and very well respected for their valor and actions). McKenna reveals he served at Pearl Harbor before the 1941 attack, and developed a strong distaste for Asians and Asian-Americans. The combined group has to defend itself against a German unit that sweeps in, and McKenna learns to trust and even embrace the unorthodox methods of the 100th Infantry guys. That episode aired in March 1963, when racism in the United States was really being challenged in education, law and politics. I feel like viewers would would see the parallel there.

What was the competition that the show faced from NBC and CBS? As far as you know, was ABC doing any kind of intentional programming to put it on when they did?

The competition was strong. ABC initially put The Gallant Men up against Rawhide on CBS (a top 25 show that season). In December 1962, ABC cancelled another of its freshman shows, a Roy Rogers-Dale Evans vehicle, and threw Gallant Men into its place on Saturday nights. And in that timeslot, the competition was even stiffer: Jackie Gleason on CBS (a top-20 show). NBC’s competing shows in the respective timeslots were the variety show International Showtime and legal drama Sam Benedict, neither of which was a real smash.

Those choices raise a question my research hasn’t totally answered yet: Did ABC put Gallant Men in those challenging timeslots because they believed in it, or because they didn’t? ABC's pre-premiere advertising expressed a hope for a broad audience. The leadoff spot on Friday night was considered a critical one to build an audience. The network further hoped Gallant Men would at least steal some viewers away from Rawhide. But the mid-season switch to Saturday nights frankly baffles me. It’s like the network started the season with a goal, then threw in the towel early and resorted to guessing. And, based on the trade publication reports, that inference may be a safe bet.

The Gallent Men runs for only one season, 26 episodes. Why do you think that was? 

You know, Bill Reynolds asked me the same question. Even he didn’t know why the show was cancelled! The show was no worse than any other drama running on TV at the time. Its Q scores, as I mentioned earlier, were pretty close to those of Combat! While ABC may have decided it was an underperformer, its ratings weren't awful. And Warners had commissioned at least a dozen scripts for additional episodes, indicating that they thought a second season was in the cards.

What I’ve gathered from contemporary accounts indicates the show was dropped because of politics between ABC and Warners. ABC had been WB television’s biggest customer, but the network seemed to lose its ardor for the studio during that ‘62 season, when the programming spaghetti it threw at the wall refused to stick. The TV division of Warners, meanwhile, entered a period of turmoil as it failed to sell new shows to the networks for the upcoming 1963-64 season.

Is there something that could have made the show more likely to be picked up for another season—say a better timeslot than Saturday against Jackie Gleason

I think better relations between Warners and ABC and a stronger promotional push from the network would have helped. It's likely the show would have turned out a second season comparable in quality to the first, and then ABC could have made a better decision about its future based on the show’s own merits, not the network’s bad blood with the production company.

What did critics and viewers think of the show?

There were a couple of ways to measure viewer response. One was the Nielsen ratings. In November and December 1962, Gallant Men averaged 17.9—which means one in six TV-equipped homes in the U.S. were tuned to the show. That's an amazing success in our highly-fractured entertainment environment today, but back the Big Three days, 17.9 put The Gallant Men in the lower third of the primetime pack. But get this—it did succeed in drawing viewers away from Rawhide. Not enough to beat the Western, but an outcome that was in line with ABC's original goal.

The other way was Q scores, which purported to measure how much viewers personally liked a show. And by that measure, The Gallant Men did pretty well. In late 1962 and early '63, its Q scores were a couple points behind those of Combat! It consistently was among top ten primetime shows that season. But The Gallant Men's highest Q scores were among people 17 and younger, a demographic that may not have impressed ABC or potential advertisers.

Critical response to the show was mixed. The TV critic from the Atlanta Constitution praised it; Variety yawned, and said the show "might hang on." TV ratings prognosticator James Cornell predicted The Gallant Men would win its timeslot, based on the strength of the pilot episode. Toward the end of the season, he revised his view, opining that the succeeding episodes were weaker.

Over the years I've become a fan of the Warner Bros. series from the 1950s and 60s, particularly the P.I. and Westerns.  Did The Gallant Men display any typical characteristics of WB shows, or was it more traditional? And in keeping with that, was William Reynolds the star of every episode, or did it focus on guest stars and/or other members of the cast?

To answer the last question first, each of the eight principal characters had at least one “focus” episode in which they played the central role. In a few of those, Capt. Benedict had only a peripheral role. Out of the 26 episodes produced, I’d say there was a good balance in giving the main cast something substantial to play. The guest stars usually had something interesting to do—and of course, were written out or “killed” by episode’s end to tie everything up.

I’m less familiar with the world of Warner Bros. television from this era than you, but in researching for the wiki, I noticed a lot of cross-pollination among the actors and crew. Names like actors Richard X. Slattery and William Reynolds, directors Charles R. Rondeau and Richard C. Sarafian, and writers Richard Landau and Don Tait appear in the credits lists for multiple Warners shows. If you were watching back then, you'd have noticed Reynolds, for instance, and thought to yourself, "Isn't that the guy from Pete Kelly's Blues and The Islanders?" both of which were also Warners shows. The writers had mostly turned in scripts for the private eye dramas and Westerns you referenced in your question. Lots of credits for Hawaiian Eye, Surfside 6, Cheyenne, and Maverick.

Is there a particular episode of the program that stands out for you? 

"Retreat to Concord," the show's second episode, features Peter Breck as a master sniper who became embittered and misanthropic, essentially to protect his own mind, after watching nearly all his friends die in one horror after another. It's not a terribly original plot, but Breck does such a good job playing this damaged man that the hour becomes something of a standalone "play of the week" that you get wrapped up in. I won't spoil the rest of the plot, but if all 26 episodes had been as good as that one, the show might have had a better reputation.

Is there a "message" that you think resonates from the show, or does it stand on entertainment and the performance of the actors?

I believe the show stands on its own entertainment value and the actors. Some of the folks who made Combat! said it was always an anti-war show (the same thing said about M*A*S*H a decade later), but I don’t sense that vibe from The Gallant Men. Nor was it a pro-war show. I think it’s a standard, but entertaining, melodrama set against the backdrop of the Italian campaign. Reading between the lines, it's fair to argue that plots of Gallant Men episodes point out there are some things that remain with us, even during the upheaval of war—there is romance, there is strife, there are interpersonal conflicts, and there are moments of levity.

This is also perhaps a good place to note that it wasn't just the writers, producers and directors determining what each episode would look and feel like. The show's technical advisor was Lt. Col. David Sisco, who had himself served in the Italian campaign. But Sisco wasn't just there to teach the actors how to shoot believably (though he did that as well); he had a veto power over storylines. So when he decided a particular plot didn't reflect well on the Army, he'd have it nixed, or some watered-down compromise would be written and shot. So while I mentioned a moment ago that the show wasn't explicitly pro-war, Sisco wanted to make sure it was in some way pro-Army.

Do you have any plans for writing a book? Because if you do, I’m buying it!

Kinda-sorta. What I've found is that if you're going to have a good reference book for any classic TV show, it's almost always up to the fans to research and write it. Someone like Douglas Brinkley isn't going to swoop in and do it. So my plan at the moment is to take what I've collected so far from period publications, notes drawn from the episodes themselves, databases such as IMDB, and material from the Warners archives at the University of Southern California, and write a concise history of the show and its context in the 1962-63 TV season. Something that I can make available in some way, so if a TV scholar or enthusiast of the future wants to learn about the show, they'll have somewhere to begin.

Incidentally, the Warners archives have been closed to researchers and the public for nearly three years. A finding aid indicates there's a lot to be mined there, so I can't really finish this putative mini-book until I can go through the USC holdings. And I'm very enthused about doing that.

You mentioned earlier that The Gallant Men doesn't live on retro channelsis it available anywhere right now? 

My short answer is, it ought to be! But sadly, no. The only place one can find complete episodes is on the Warner Bros. whole-season DVD set. Copies can be found on eBay and Amazon.

One final questionthe world has changed a lot since The Gallant Men; do you think there's a place for a war drama on television today? I suspect that WW2 and Korea would be too old to appeal to an audience, and we're probably now at that point for Vietnam as well. Is the Gulf War too divisive, or is there something that a series could teach us?

I might quibble just a bit with the idea that a WWII or Korean drama wouldn't find an audience. Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, and The Pacific helped ignite an interest in the Second World War among people who were born long after the real thing ended. At the same time, those works really raised the bar for production values and scripting. I'm not sure a Combat! or a Gallant Men would necessarily succeed today, but if you wanted to produce a version of those shows with Band of Brothers production values, I think it could succeed on cable or on a streaming service. Like with every other television genre today, you have to reset your expectation of success; a much smaller audience is a hit these days, and I think a well-done war series could meet that mark.

The question of lessons is probably better directed to a philosopher or historian, but my personal view on the matter is that, from Combat! to Tour of Duty to Generation Kill, the message is pretty clear: war is bad, and even when fought for the "right reasons," it damages people and places in many ways. Yet we still make war. So the message isn't landing with the right people, I guess.

I don't think I'm wandering out on a limb to say it's harder for people to agree on what the lessons are, the closer in time we are to the event being depicted. There's so much information, and so many perspectives, that emerge only years after the last shot rings out. I think there's a reason The Gallant Men, M*A*S*H and Tour of Duty came out 20 years after the wars they depicted. It's also worth noting there's a nostalgia factor, particularly with WWII productions, and we're a long way from feeling romantic about Iraq and Afghanistan. I am curious whether that changes two decades from now, or ever.

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Brandon Hollinsworth
That was fun! I want to thank Brandon for such an enjoyable time talking about The Gallant Men, which has moved higher up on my wish list. (And I want to know when that book comes out!) If you're appetite for the show has been whetted, I encourage you to visit this page and episode guide, which Brandon did a great job in creating. 

And also a big thanks to one of my partners in crime, my ol' buddy Jodie Peeler, who put Brandon and me in touch—thanks for always looking out for us! TV  

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.