December 17, 2022

This week in TV Guide: December 17, 1966

James Burnham, the midcentury political philosopher, coined a series of ten maxims about the realities of life which his friends collectively referred to as "Burnham's Laws." Number four on the list is "You cannot invest in retrospect," and while that's certainly true, it's also unfortunate, because if you could go back in time and invest in some of the longshots of the 1966-67 television season, you'd be in pretty good shape.

You see, there are viewers out there who believe this is "the 'worst' television season on record." There are critics who agree with them. There are even network executives who—privately, of course—concede this to be the case. They're not talking about news or public affairs shows, specials, or movies; they're specifically referring to how few hits there have been among the new season of weekly shows. The last few seasons have produced at least one or two hits each year, but "Critics, professional and home-style alike, have been keenly disappointed in the series unveiled so hopefully last September. There have been a few raves, much criticism and vast indifference." What do we know?
  • The Rat Patrol is "the only new series anyone could cite immediately as a success of sorts."
  • Family Affair is "no instant hit but frequently touted as a comer for its quality of human warmth."
  • CBS's senior programming vice president, claims critical success for Mission: Impossible, "a view not necessarily shared outside CBS." 
  • Mort Warner, NBC's top programmer, believes "The Monkees would be a hit if the Monday series had more station clearances," but many program movies on Monday nights instead.
  • Warner also thinks "Star Trek could be in for a long run."
  • At ABC, an anonymous executive insisted that the network is changing what the audience doesn't, like, and "insisted that That Girl and Love on a Rooftop will wind up hits. He described The Time Tunnell as an "unsung hero." 
Well, let's see. The Rat Patrol did, indeed, run for two seasons, and spawned product tie-ins and comic books. But Family Affair does indeed strike that warm chord with viewers and lasts five successful seasons. Mission: Impossible does even better, running seven seasons, the first three of which are excellent. The Monkees lasts two seasons, but The Monkees last forever. Star Trek—well, there's no need to go where that series has gone before, is there? That Girl, like Family Affair, runs for five seasons and sets the standard for the single working woman. I don't think I'm exaggerating to say that each of these five shows (we're excluding Rat Patrol) became, in their own way, iconic shows in television history.

As for why the performance of the new shows has been so underwhelming, there are many reasons. Most agree that movies provide the stiffest competition, as there are now five, soon to be six, movie nights a week. Of course, the ironic thing is that if this is true, the networks have only themselves to blame, since they're the ones programming the movies. Herb Brodkin (The Defenders) thinks "the networks would like to improve the quality of their programming, but I don't think they know what to do." Producer Hubbell Robinson thinks it's "getting harder and harder to find something different." How many different ways, he says, can you tell the same story? One network executive says there's no new blood out there; out of 50 scripts for proposed new series, "I liked about three or four. One was sensational."

What do we make of all this? For one thing, you have to give those executives credit for defending their shows; if we'd bet on their success at the odds that must have been offered at the time, we might be able to afford our own network. But the closing comment from one station-group executive seems prescient for our times. "The American public has been spoiled," he says. "It's had too much programming to choose from, from early morning to late night." That was when there were only three networks; what would he say today, according to The Hollywood Reporter, the year 2021 featured 559 English-language scripted shows? To borrow his own words—hanged if I know."

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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: Scheduled guests: singer Diahann Carroll, Count Basie and his orchestra, dancer-choreographer Peter Gennaro, comedienne Totie Fields, and the singing duo of Tony Sadler and Ralph Young.

Palace: Host Eddie Fisher presents Agnes Moorhead of Bewitched, who offers a reading from Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past; the singing Young Americans; comedian Joey Foreman; singing dancers Alice and Ellen Kessler; the Canestrelli Family's trampoline act; and the Swordsmen of the Lido.

You probably remember Diahann Carroll from last week's TV Guide, where she was appearing as an actress rather than a singer; I don't know if she's performing with Count Basie or not, but either way that's some top music. Sadler and Young top the Kesslers, and I think we'll be entertained by both Peter Gennaro and Totie Fields. Palace isn't bad, but this week Sullivan takes the title.

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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. 

If you're a fan of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and you're thinking that twice as many shows would be twice as nice, Cleveland Amory may have you wanting to cry uncle before his review is over. You see, for a spoof like the U.N.C.L.E. franchise to work, "it must surely have, to begin with, something serious to spoof off from. Or, failing that, it must at least be funny enough that you don't care whether you believe it or not." Unfortunately, this spinoff, with Stefanie Powers as April Dancer and Noel Harrison as Mark Slate, "has neither one nor the other. It's about as believable as women's wrestling. And it has about as much wit as a roller derby." That hurts.

The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. came along as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was going full Batman-style camp, so it's no surprise that it takes, as its inspiration, what was undoubtedly the worst of the three-and-a-half seasons of its predecessor. And it's no surprise that the stories involve the Lost Continent of Atlantis, cheese impregnated with microdots with secret information, and the like. Talented, likeable, charming actors can overcome such pitfalls, or at least make them more palatable. But, Cleve points out, Noel Harrison (son of Rex, singer of "The Windmills of Your Mind") "seems to conceive his role as a combination of court jester and village idiot." As for Stefanie, she "runs [or perhaps he should have said Dancers] charmingly around in leotards, shorts and bathing suits, and she bowls over all her enemies with just one whiff of her secret weapon." And your complaint is? 

Seriously, it's true that all that charm can only get you so far. "Even Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin look bad n their occasional appearances here." Now, I'm a big fan of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I own the series on DVD, and even I admit that the show was on life support by then, and the final half-season was a case of too little, too late. The Girl never made it to a second season, which is probably for the best. I was wrong about one thing, though. At the end of his review, Cleve says it's enough to make you cry aunt. And here I thought I was being the clever one.

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This week's highlight is the premiere of Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Sunday, 6:00 p.m., CBS), one of television's most beloved animated specials. Leslie Raddatz has a background article on the making of The Grinch, which took almost a year to complete, and is the most expensive half-hour animated cartoon ever created for television. Seuss, aka Theodore Geisel, had been reluctant to get involved with the Hollywood "mass-production area," but was assuaged by the assurances of his old friend, Chuck Jones, that he would give the Grinch "the same loving care that Geisel himself would." After all, as Geisel's publisher Bennett Cerf points out, "We have some great names on our list—Faulkner, O'Hara, Capote. But Ted Geisel is the only real genius among them."

But there's more! The festivities actually get started on Saturday, with The Jackie Gleason Show's Honeymooners Christmas episode (6:30 p.m., CBS), in which Ralph (Gleason) thinks that Alice (Sheila MacRae) is expecting, and takes a job as a sidewalk Santa. Opposite that on NBC, it's Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol (6:30 p.m.), one of the best adaptations of the Dickens story, with Jim Backus unforgettable as Magoo. NBC continues the holiday cheer at 7:30 p.m. with Christmas with Lorne Greene, featuring the UNICEF Children's Choir, a group of 45 youngsters from Long Beach, California; included is an imaginary trip back to Dickens' London, and Greene's recitation of "One Solitary Life," the story of Jesus. NBC then rounds off the evening with the Irving Berlin classic White Christmas (8:00 p.m.), starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen, and Dean Jagger. Judith Crist points out that it has a "soppy plot" and is "low on laughter," but tune in for the wonderful Berlin songs. 

Returning to Sunday, The Grinch unfortunately conflicts with the second half of The Bell Telephone Hour's live "Christmas Through the Ages" (5:30 p.m., NBC), with Florence Henderson hosting "a musical outline of the history and customs of Christmas" with Sherrill Milnes and Gianna d'Angelo of the Metropolitan Opera, and musical theater stars Anita Gillette and Bruce Yarnell, concluding with Mrs. Brady's reading of the Nativity. I own a DVD of this; it's as fine a Christmas special as you'd want to see. How unfortunate that viewers were forced to choose between these two specials back in 1966. The night concludes with The Andy Williams Christmas Show (9:00 p.m., NBC), with the traditional lineup: Andy's wife Claudine Longet, and his parents, the Williams Brothers, and their children. I think you'll agree that this is an easy choice over the Candid Camera Christmas show, as the hidden camera picks up a group of children debating whether or not Santa is real, what to give their teachers for Christmas, and their wishes for the New Year.

And let's not forget Perry Como; Mr. C's Kraft Music Hall Christmas special (Monday, 8:00 p.m., NBC) stars the Met Opera's Anna Moffo, ventriloquist Senor Wences, and Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara. In addition to Christmas music, Stiller and Meara do a North Pole skit, and Perry recites the Nativity story. Skipping ahead to Wednesday, ABC Stage '67 presents Truman Capote's autobiographical story "A Christmas Memory" (9:00 p.m., ABC), starring Geraldine Page and Donnie Melvin, and narrated by Capote himself; the much-acclaimed program will win an Emmy and Peabody the next year. Watch it, and you'll miss The Danny Kaye Show's Christmas episode (9:00 p.m, CBS), with Peggy Lee, Wayne Newton, and the International Children's Choir from Long Beach, Ca—wait a minute. That UNICEF choir on Lorne Greene's show on Saturday was from Long Beach. You don't suppose that these two choirs are one and the same, do you? I see a page for the International Children's Choir, but why would a UNICEF choir be based in Long Beach, instead of, say, Zurich? I wonder if we're looking at a case of rebranding here?

Finally, on Friday it's Merv Griffin's syndicated Christmas show (7:30 p.m.), with Garry Moore reading the Nativity, Merv's sidekick Arthur Treacher, ballet dancers Lupe Serrano and Scott Douglas, singer-actress Patrice Marand, singers Gilbert Price and David Soul, singer-actor Frankie Michaels, and the choir from St. Michael's Orphan Home on Staten Island. 

By the way, you'll notice the place the Nativity story plays in these shows. Garry Moore reads it—as do Perry Como, Lorne Greene, Florence Henderson, and Andy Williams (in the lyrics of his songs). The Nativity didn't used to be controversial on television shows, given that the event Christmas commemorates is, you know, the Nativity. I guess I'm just a little too simple-minded to understand what the problem is. 

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Speaking as we were of Danny Kaye, that Christmas show of his will be the last one, at least for the near future. After four "disappointing" seasons, during which the show dropped in the ratings to 77th (out of 100), CBS has decided to pull the plug. According to Richard K. Doan, "Kaye had evidently kept too well his 1963 promise: 'With a weekly show. . . I can take chances. I can afford to be lousy." CBS permitted Kaye to resign, so to speak, rather than get fired, by announcing that Kaye's agent had informed the network Kaye would not return to TV next season. I believe that Danny Kaye and Judy Garland both debuted their variety shows the same season; they were both big stars who had resisted going into weekly television for some time before finally taking the plunge. Of course, Garland had her own problems and really wasn't served well by the network, but (and this isn't an original thought), Some say he was at the height of his popularity, but his last few movies had been bombs; I wonder if Kaye waited too long to make the jump? Or perhaps, as Doan suggests, he was just lousy too often. His replacement? Carol Burnett, who would inherit Harvey Korman from the cast.

On Meet the Press (Sunday, 3:00 p.m., NBC), the guest is Republican governor Dan Evans of Washington, who's asked about the significance of the GOP's gains in last month's midterm elections. I can tell you the answer to that in one sentence: the Republican party just nominated Richard Nixon for the presidency. Let me explain; after LBJ's landslide win over Goldwater in 1964, the Democrats held supermajorities in both houses of Congress (68-32 in the Senate, 295-140 in the House). Nixon campaigned tirelessly for Republican candidates in the midterms, resulting in a gain of two seats in the Senate and 40 in the House. Nixon earned a lot of IOUs through his campaigning, and that would play an important role in his winning the nomination in 1968, especially in keeping conservatives from endorsing Ronald Reagan. The Republicans may not realize it yet, but Nixon is about to make the greatest comeback in American political history.

You remember the family specials I've mentioned that so often made up a part of the holiday season? On Monday night, CBS presents a musical version of Jack and the Beanstalk by New York's Prince Street Players (6:30 p.m.), one in a series of children's musicals the Players did on CBS. You can see that broadcast right here.

As a demonstration of how ambitious local news organizations used to be, WCCO's Phil Jones has just returned from Vietnam, and he reports on servicemen from Minnesota in Our Men in Vietnam (Tuesday, 8:30 p.m.). On Friday at 10:30 p.m., WCCO associate news director Joe Bartelme interviews Jones for further observations on his trip to Vietnam. Here's another WCCO report on Vietnam from 1969. I know KSTP anchors Gene Berry reported from Vietnam as well; I don't know how much of this happened in the Gulf. 

Wednesday night, Maurice Evans, who was so good in so many Shakespearian dramas on Hallmark Hall of Fame (not to mention Samantha's father in Bewitched) is The Puzzler in Part 1 of Batman (6:30 p.m., ABC). His M.O.: leaving a trail of Shakespearian quotes and puzzles, of course.

In the Teletype, Mike Connors will be playing a detective in the CBS pilot Mannix, filmed by Desilu. That's going to be a big hit for both Connors and the network. Also in the Teletype: "The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. is coming up with its first musical of the year. "The Brublegratz Affair" which will feature a new rock-'n'-roll group, the Daily Flash." That single paragraph goes a long, long way toward explaining Cleveland Amory's review above, and why the show won't be back for another season (and another musical). Fortunately for them, the Daily Flash had a longer career

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Finally, this week's MST3K alert: The Lost Missile (Monday, 10:30 a.m., WTCN). 1958. "New Yorkers have little more than an hour left to live as a radioactive missile circles the earth, destroying everything in a 10-mile-wide swath. Robert Loggia, Larry Kerr, Ellen Parker." This is another movie that wasn't on MST3K, but was riffed by Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff, the mad scientists from MST3K. Will scientist Robert Loggia save the city before it's too late? A riff by any other name would sound as snarky. TV  


  1. Well, two notes about "The Girl From U.N.C.L.E," both musical: "The Daily Flash" performed a song on that episode that is (unfortunately) engraved in my memory - "Oy Oy Oy Oy / My Bulgarian Baby." (Sorry if I earwormed it into your collective memories too.) But secondly, Dave Grusin's driving arrangement of the theme, in 9/8 time, is my absolute favorite of all of them (and his wonderful harpsichord-driven scores are available on Volume 3 of the soundtrack albums, which I think may be out of print by now, but are worth seeking out).

  2. After all this time, an issue I have!
    From the Chicago edition, December 17-23, 1966:
    - The week in review:
    - Saturday:
    -Channel 9, 12 noon: The Trap, Sidney Toler's final appearance as Charlie Chan.
    Toler was dying of cancer, and usually had to lie down and rest between takes; when Mantan Moreland (to whom he'd become close) told him that he really ought to be in the hospital, Toler said "Manny, if I quit now, all these people are out of work."
    - Ch7, 7pm: Shane: part 1 of 2, with Bradford Dillman as a fanatic ex-officer out to destroy the homesteaders; I saw this on GetTV not long ago, and it was a chiller.
    - Ch2, 7:30: Mission:Impossible, an episode featuring Barbara Bain being romanced by Hans Gudegast, while Steven Hill takes on Albert Dekker - and is defeated by that character's name (Shtemenko, pronounced shtem-ENK-o, but Hill never quite manages it; watch the episode and see).
    - Ch32, 6:30: They Don't Make Movies Like This Anymore presents "The Canary Murder Case" from 1929, with William Powell as Philo Vance (this was well before the digital age, so it likely didn't look so good).
    - Ch7, 7pm: Francis Of Assisi, with Bradford Dillman, op cit., in the title role, and Dolores Hart as St. Clare (just before she decided on a career change).
    - Ch32, 10:30 pm: Bill Veeck's talk show is about "Witches and Psychics"; insert your own joke here.
    - Ch7, 7 pm: Combat! has Robert Duvall as a German medic, who gets captured by Vic Morrow's platoon and has to face The Choice: is he a Doctor or a Soldier?
    Wednesday and Thursday: nothing really grabbed me here ...
    - Ch7, 6:30 pm: The Green Hornet presents an election episode, with DA Scanlon running against an Honest Joe - whose less-than-honest brother is up to no good ...
    - Ch 5, 7:30 pm: The Man From UNCLE has a Christmas episode, wherein Akim Tamiroff is a Soviet bigwig who has to play Santa (it makes sense if you see it ...).
    - Ch 7, 9pm: 12 O'Clock High picks up the Christmas theme, with Lilia Skala (the boss nun from "Lilies Of The Field"), doing convent duty as a leader of some refugee nuns whom Paul Burke has to save from an imminent Allied bomb run'
    Not long after this, Lilia Skala did her nun thing again, in the pilot film of Ironside (which I believe I mentioned a while back; this became her sort-of specialty for a while, untile she picked up part-time work as Eva Gabor's mother on Green Acres).

    In the color section:
    Note that the cover story is about Michael Callan of Occasional Wife, seen on the cover with his leading lady Pat Harty, and in the interior with his real-life wife Carlyn (within a year's time, he'd divorced the wife and married the leading lady - but that's another story ...).

    What can I tell you - kind of a slow week ...
    ... but you might like to take a look at the Hollywood Teletype - some very interesting items ...

  3. Ah, yes, "The Lost Missile". A favourite on Buffalo's WKBW-TV's "early" show (6 PM). Good antennae made WKBW-TV popular in Southern Ontario, but this was one movie we did not like! Why? Well, before Robert Loggia could save New York City, the radioactive missile destroyed half of Canada, including our national capital, Ottawa. Hey! Canada and the U.S. were Cold War Allies, why wasn't the missile destroyed before wiping out Canada? A bit of nightmare fuel for Canadians!

  4. Sentimentally, I appreciated the 1966-67 TV season as a somewhat astute 13-year old, tempered by my participation in my high school debate club. I suggest we judge the merits of the network programming by seeing which shows from that season are available on the myriad of channels through cable, OTA, Sling, Roku, YouTube, etc. On balance, I'd argue that it wasn't such a dud as originally thought...


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!