December 10, 2022

This week in TV Guide: December 14, 1968

Let's face it: 1968 was a pretty crummy year. And even now, with only 17 days left, we're still dwelling on one of the most fractious events of the year: the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

Reuven Frank, the head of NBC News (remember him from last week's The Wall?), defends the media's coverage of the riots in a very long (eight pages) article that's very difficult to condense, but once you get beyond the details of what happened in Chicago and how the networks covered it, you get to the crux of the matter: you find that the specific complaints are just a symptom of a greater problem that goes beyond Chicago; they deal with the psyche of the nation, the threats that people feel they face, and perhaps the truths they don't want to face.

"Many, even most, Americans consider themselves individually threatened these days," Frank says. "There are three sources of threat: racial conflict, the Vietnam War, and dirty young people with long hair." And what "hurts" television is that there is no escape from the camera's eye. "The newspaper-reader's eye can skip what bores him, ignore what disturbs him." Not so with television; "If the Huntley-Brinkley Report shows the Vietnam War five days one week and the viewer always watches the Huntley-Brinkley Report, he will see the Vietnam War five days that week." There may be other news, including good news that networks are always accused of ignoring, "but not enough to erase the afterimage of the inescapable." 

   Reuven Frank
Defending the images shown on the news, Frank says, "As for the news we put out, we put it out because we think it out to be put out." It's put out because it's relevant, current, and involves the public. "But American journalism as an institution is never venal. It never does things purely for its own gains." Subjective decisions are always made, but they're made according to what the public wants and the instincts of journalists as to how they should act. "They do not act from self-interest." 

This makes American journalism different from other countries, where journalists are expected to advance a social purpose. "And here, today, in the United States, facing a frightening jigsaw of crises for which we are unprepared, many people seem to think that American journalism, and above all American television journalism, should be governed by ennobling purposes. We are castigated for not promoting unity, for not opening channels of interracial communication, for not building an edifice of support for our fighting men, for not ignoring dissent, for not showing good news."

But who decides what is unity, what is dissent, what is good news? It could be five Albert Schweitzers sitting around a table making that decision, or it could be five Joseph Goebbelses. But, says Frank, "I say the table itself is evil."  "The only safeguard is free journalism, journalism without directed purpose, because whether that purpose represents good or evil depends on who you are." Because when you start telling journalists what to put in and what to leave out, "[w]hatever you call it, censorship is censorship, and all censorship is aimed not at the transmitter but at the receiver."

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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: Tentatively scheduled guests: Gwen Verdon; comedians Steve Rossi and Joe E. Ross (appearing as a team for the first time), and Norm Crosby; Anna Maria Alberghetti; singer Stevie Wonder, who does "For Once in My Life"; and Anna Lou and Maris, magicians.

Palace: Host Jimmy Durante's guests are Ethel Merman, Sugar Ray Robinson, Bill "Jose Jimenez" Dana, Vikki Carr, singer-dancer Leland Palmer, the comedy team of Hendra and Ulett, and the Iriston Horsemen from the Moscow State Circus.

Both Ed and the Palace will be on again before Christmas, so it's a normal week of lineups. Both entertaining, neither overwhelming the other. Just because of two legends, Durante and Merman, I'll give the Palace the win by a nose, and although I know I've used that joke before, I just couldn't resist one more time.

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Throughout the 60s and early 70s, TV Guide's weekly reviews were written by the witty and acerbic Cleveland Amory. Whenever we get the chance, we'll look at Cleve's latest take on the shows of the era. 

"This show," Cleveland Amory begins, "has been described as 'Dragnet on wheels.' It might also be described as 'My Mother, the Patrol Car' on the prowl." But, he warns, "don't dismiss it too lightly."

In case you haven't already figured it out, "this" show is Adam-12, NBC's new half-hour police drama, executive produced by Jack Webb. And in his review, Amory adopts a serious tone much earlier than we're accustomed to, to make a serious point. Yes, he acknowledges, we're given the traditional "veteran mentoring a young rookie," a trope that goes back at least as far as Dr. Kildare. "But underneath this surface routine it's at least an attempt to get at one of the underlying causes of one of our deepest troubles these days—that many of us fail to realize that if the average policeman of today bears no relation to the Keystone Cop of yesterday, neither does he necessarily bear any relation to helmeted Yippie-beaters." [See above.] "And," he continues, "this show tells us, without ever laboring the point, that if we can't look up to the police in quite the same way we did as kids, still we should, as adults, at least be able to look at them fairly and squarely, without looking down on them."

Amory admires the program's dedication to a kind of realism not generally seen on television—the realism that understands not every episode climaxes in a wild chase or shootout, that patrolmen will often leave the "big" stories to the detectives because crime waits for no one and there are always other calls to check out, and that as often as a policeman is an enforcer, he is also an arbiter, one who tries to keep things from reaching a head but still has to be prepared to act appropriately if it does.

Amory reserves particular praise for the show's stars: Martin Milner, as the veteran Malloy, "is excellent—just the right mixture of world-weariness on top (he's over 30 but still in possession of all his faculties) and good-guyness underneath." McCord, portraying the rookie Reed, is "just the right mixture of youthful pride and earnestness. Their scenes together will not pull you out of your chair but you will believe them." The two demonstrate sensitivity when appropriate, hardness when required—and that's not a particularly easy combination to portray. 

It's been my observation, though I'll gladly defer to those who look at these shows more closely, that Adam-12 never achieved the respect of Dragnet, nor the affectionate fandom of Emergency!, two other shows from the era produced by the Webb stable. "All in all," Cleve concludes, "it may not be a show you'll want to stay home for, but if you are home, you could do a lot worse than turn it on and, afterwards, think about it." 

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Last week, in another issue from another decade, I mentioned that as we got closer to Christmas, we'd likely see more programs demonstrating the Yuletide spirit; let's just cut to the chase and look at this Thursday, when NBC gives us one of the great seasonal lineups of all time:

At 6:30 p.m. CT, it's the debut of what is arguably the last great Rankin-Bass animated Christmas special, The Little Drummer Boy, with Jose Ferrer as Ben Haramed, Teddy Eccles as the Drummer Boy, and Greer Garson as the narrator. I wrote about this special here; it hasn't enjoyed the network run of other specials (due, I suspect, to its overtly religious content), but remains a touching look at the true meaning of the season.

That's followed at 7:00 p.m. by the Andy Williams Christmas Show. Andy no longer hosts a regular weekly show, but you're not about to keep him away from the most wonderful time of the year. For his eighth annual Christmas show, he's joined, as always, by mom and dad Williams, the Williams brothers, wife Claudine Longet and the kids, and the Osmonds. All you need now is a fireplace and a cup of cocoa. (Incidentally, the original music for the program is written by Mason Williams.)

At 8:00 p.m., it's the Bob Hope Christmas Special. This is Bob in the studio, as opposed to the show with the troops, which usually airs after the New Year. The entire show, save the monologue, revolves around a search for the missing Santa Claus, a spoof of Mission: Impossible (interesting that they'd essentially give free publicity to a show from another network), with the typical bevy of beauties as suspects: Nancy Ames, Carol Lawrence, Janet Leigh and Stella Stevens. Along the way, Bob runs into Glen Campbell (who sings "If You Go Away") and Jerry Colonna.

To top off the night, it's the only program that's not a special, but it's still pretty special. The Christmas edition of The Dean Martin Show (9:00 p.m.) a very funny hour with special guests Dennis Weaver, Bob Newhart, Dom DeLuise, and the Golddiggers, and featuring plenty of Christmas music (including Weaver trying to sing "The Marvelous Toy" while being "assisted" by the kids of the show's stars and staff.

That's the cream of the crop, but there's more! A couple of syndicated specials highlight The King Family Christmas (Wednesday, 6:30 p.m., WCCO) and The Ray Conniff Christmas Show (Thursday, 7:30 p.m., KAUS). Back on the networks, Eddie Albert narrates an abridged version of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker (Friday, 6:30 p.m., CBS), with Edward Villella, Patricia McBride, and other stars from the New York City Ballet. Some weekly series, such as Here Come the Brides and The Beverly Hillbillies, air their Christmas episodes this week, being their last shows before Christmas. Sunday morning, Lamp Unto My Feed and Look Up and Live unite for an hour-long Hanukkah special reflecting Jewish heritage (9:00 a.m., CBS), and Roberta Peters talks about entertaining Israeli troops during the Seven-Day War and sings the Hanukkah folk song "Al Hanisim" on another Hanukkah special (11:00 a.m., NBC). WEAU in Eau Claire provides live color coverage of the lighting of the White House Christmas tree on Monday (4:00 p.m.) And throughout the week, various stations present Christmas concerts by local high schools and colleges—some of them were cringe-worthy at the time, but what I wouldn't give to see that kind of local programming today. 

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It's also the time of the year when the football season winds down, with the first college bowl game of the year (of 10), and the final regular season games for the NFL and AFL. On Saturday, it's the Liberty Bowl (11:15 a.m., ABC), with Mississippi, led by future sire of famous quarterbacks Archie Manning (a pretty fair QB himself), taking on Virginia Tech. Neither team is ranked; the bowl games with the best teams are almost never before Christmas. On Sunday, both pro leagues have doubleheaders (which I would have considered a boon); on CBS it's the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles (12:15 p.m.) followed by the Baltimore Colts and Los Angeles Rams (3:00 p.m.), while NBC counters with the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins at 12:30 p.m., and the Oakland Raiders at the San Diego Chargers at 3:00 p.m. The playoffs start next week. 

What else would you like to know? Here's something: did you know that prior to The Ten Commandments, ABC's Easter movie tradition was The Robe? Not only that, the network is showing it again this Wednesday night "as a Christmas observance," according to the Close-Up. I own the DVD, so it's not like I'm complaining, but I share Judith Crist's confusion that showing a "story of the Crucifixion at the season celebrating the Nativity is a puzzlement." (It does, however, make a certain theological sense, as Christmas inexorably leads to Good Friday, and culminates with Easter Sunday, but that's a discussion for another time and place.) In any event, it's an epic, with Richard Burton, Jean Simmons, and Victor Mature leading an all-star cast.

In this week's cover story, Diahann Carroll tells Richard Warren Lewis about the importance of her new series, Julia, "the first weekly series to be built around the character of a contemporary Negro." "For a hundred years we have been prevented from seeing accurate images of ourselves and we're all overconcerned and overreacting," Carroll says. "The needs of the white writer go to the superhuman being. At the moment, we're presenting the white Negro. And he has very little Negro-ness." She's working to bring more black writers into television, ones who understand the need to present a more realistic view. "So many things have been done with black people on television that have lacked any real commitment," she says. "It is time to present the black character primarily as a human being. I want to do something that deals with a black person in the everyday situation of ups and downs, good and bad." 

Mike Douglas, in a syndicated repeat from 1967, hosts an "upbeat" look at the younger generation (Friday, 9:00 p.m., KROC). "[T]his younger generation is pretty great," Mike declares, and interviews others with the same opinion, including Hubert Humphrey, the late Robert F. Kennedy [who was alive when the show originally aired], Bob Hope, Bishop James A. Pike, Jerry Lewis, Ronald Reagan, and Pearl S. Buck. 

One person who definitely doesn't share Mike's upbeat opinion is Cesar Romero. In an interesting profile by Carolyn See, Romero voices his disapproval of today's movies: "Unless you take off your clothes or make love to a relative, it's not a serious movie. And children's pictures are just awful. Unless you're under 4 or a pervert, there's nothing to look at. Years ago they couldn't say damn; now they say anything." When See asks his opinion of what's brought about the decline of movies, he makes his opinion known. "I imagine the hippies, the flower children, have a lot to do with what's going on today. There's a decay in our moral system, no one knows what's right or wrong, there's a disregard for all the old values. They take drugs, they go to those love-ins, they don't go to school, they don't learn a trade, they don't know what they want to do in life. . ." 

As one of the last of Hollywood's Golden Age—Cesar numbers Clark Gable, Tyrone Power, Carole Lombard, Betty Grable, and William Powell among his friends—he's seen the times change, the end of the studio system, the disappearance of stock companies where young actors could learn their trade, the old days of elegance and fame, glamor and sparkle, the Hollywoodness of it all. He's become famous again for a new generation through Batman, and he enjoys playing the Joker, but his frank view of television is framed by a working actor who came through the business learning how to play different roles on a weekly, sometimes nightly, basis. Through that lens, television is something that eats up actors, asks them to play the same character week after week until everyone looks and sounds like everyone else—and because everyone is called a star, no one actually is one. "TV bores you to death," he says, "but you can build up an annuity."

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I would imagine that, with 17 days until the end of this lousy year, having been reminded of violence and racism and inequality, flower children and discontent and dirty movies, with Vietnam hanging over everything, it must have seemed like a good time for Prozac. Isn't there any good news to look forward to?

It comes on page A-68, the last page in the program section, a CBS news special at 9:45 p.m. "A preview of the Apollo 8 space flight, scheduled to begin tomorrow. Walter Cronkite reports from Cape Kennedy." The flight would leave the Cape on Saturday, December 21; three days later, on Christmas Eve, the Apollo 8 astronauts would orbit the moon, reading from Genesis, before the largest television audience in history. Many people would say that Christmas Eve broadcast saved the year; at the end of the year Time named the three-man crew "Men of the Year," and it's unlikely that anyone looking at the pictures of the Earth rising from behind the moon could have failed to be moved. As Frank Borman would say, "good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you—all of you on the good Earth." And in that moment, maybe the year 1968 wasn't so bad after all. TV  


  1. ...and we are only eight days away from the AFL's second division championship playoff game with Oakland clobbering KC 41-6. The Chiefs would get their revenge a year later in the final AFL championship.

    1. The Jets, in turn, got revenge on Oakland in the AFL Championship Game for losing the "Heidi Game" to the Raiders back in November.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!