June 10, 2023

This week in TV Guide: June 10, 1978

In the decade-plus that I've been writing this feature, we've dealt with many topics: politics, sex, sports, drugs, nihilism, and on occasion even television. Never before, as far as I can recall (unless it had to do with The Invaders), have we delved into the mystery of Unidentified Flying Objects. Until now.

The cover story of this week's issue, written by Dick Russell (and, by the way, isn't that a terrific illustration on the cover? It's by the great John Berkey), is sparked by the new Jack Webb series Project U.F.O., which premiered in February 1978 and, as Russell points, is "television's first attempt to dramatize the isse in some sort of authentic fashion." Just as Webb's police dramas Dragnet and Adam-12 come from authentic police files, the incidents in Project U.F.O. come from the Air Force's Project Blue Book, which investigated UFO reports for 22 years. Roughly 70 percent of the cases from Blue Book were, according to Webb, "Natural phenomenia like balloons or clouds." Other reports were hoaxes. "But about 12 to 15 per cent are true unknowns." Webb's producer is retired Air Force colonel WIlliam Coleman, who headed Blue Book in the early 1960s. Coleman says he's seen several UFOs himself, all of which were eventually identified as natural phenomenia, except one. When Coleman became head of the project, he found that his report on the 1954 incident was missing, which sounds about right the way the government does business.

Examinations of the mysterious appearances continues; the United Nations has recently started its own debate, and the United States budget contains about $21 million over the next seven years for a project called "Search for Extraterrestial Intelligence," designed to detect "artificially generated radio signals possibly being beamed toward our solar system from distant planets." The project's manager, Robert Edelson, doesn't think the answer lies in little green men, or aliens of any color. "What's involved is either an absolutely incredible energy expenditure or an extremely long travel time, and probably both," noting that a round trip journey to the nearest star, traveling at seven-tenths the spead of light, would require "about 500,000 times the annual electrical output of the entire U.S." And that's without any recharging stations on the way. 

Astronomer Dr. J. Allen Hynek is convinced that there's more to this. He's convinced that "there's an intelligence connected with this. I don't know whether this intelligence is from very far off, or whether it is metaterrestrial . . . or whether it will finally turn out to be from inner space, some strange manifestation of our own psychic energy." It could even be a parallel dimension. Then again, as Isaac Asimov says, it could be a lot of baloney. "Eyewitness reports of actual spaceships and actual extraterrestials are, in themselves, totally unreliable." He puts them in the same league as ghosts, angels, levitation, zombies, and werewolves. Whatever the case, apparently there were not enough people interested in it to make Project U.F.O. a success, as it exits these mortal coils after 22 episodes.

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One flying object that's anything but unidentified is the satellite. Not that long ago, we saw the dramatic impact introduced by the Early Bird communications satellite, and now, says Don Kowet, the satellite is having a "startling" impact on the pay-TV industry. 

Our story begins on November 8, 1972, when HBO's microwave antenna on the Pan Am Building in New York was toppled by a sudden storm. It was hoisted back up just in time, and the programming went on as scheduled. Critics warned that this was an omen, that HBO's project was doomed to failure. Instead, six years later, HBO's subscrption base has increased from 365 to over a million, on 500 cable systems in 46 states and Puerto Rico. It controls about 80 percent of the pay-cable industry, now worth $14.2 million monthly. And with Showtime joining an increasing number of packages, the future looks rosy. "Within 10 years," one network official says, "cable will be generating annual revenues of $2.5 billion." With assets like this, he says, "the best shows on TV will end up on pay." 

The secret to cable's success lies in the satellite. The costs of transmission via satellite as opposd to traditional land lines is less than half, and it costs just as much to broadcast to thousands of receivers as it does just one. "Before the satellite," says HBO chairman Gerald Levin, "there were an isolated 3500 cable systems across the country. Immediately, with the satellite, we had the potential of a national network, with millions of homes across the country available." 

A second break for the cable companies came with a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling in 1977 that ended prohibitions on what kind of movies systems were allowed to show (previously, they'd been prevented from showing any movie between three and 10 years old), and the amount of sporting content they could carry. Says Levin, the decision "gave us the freedom not to be artificially denied a particular film merely because it was a certain age." 

The remaining obstacle to cable's success is the peneration of major metropolitan markets. While cable is a hit in rural areas and places where getting a clear signal can be difficult, basic cable reaches only 5.7 percent of homes in the top-50 core cities. Levin sees those rates going up, with disconnect rates going down. The introduction of lightweight "optical fibers" might aid in expansion as well. William Donnelly, a vice president at Young & Rubicam advertising agency, says he expects a 30 percent penetration by Christmas 1981, at which time advertisers will be very interested. But as Viacom's Ralph Baruch says, "I don't believe the American public is ready to have pay cable and, in addition, be besieged by commercials." Baruch is also doubtful about things like pay-per-view; "How do you persuade the viewer to pay $2 to $3 a program above the basic cable fee, when he was paying $8 to $10 a month above the basic cable fee for a whole lot of programming?"

Times change. That network official who predicted the best programming would wind up on pay-TV has been proven right. As for the delivery method, though—just the other day, I read the latest article projecting the upcoming death of cable, as cord-cutting continues to increase; the eventual move of ESPN to an over-the-top service could be the final straw. One analyst predicted that an over-the-top ESPN could cost $50 or more per month, and that a sports fan who wanted to see all his favorite teams compete in various sports conceivably could wind up paying $500 a month to see them all. The exponential increase in prices for both cable and streaming have led many people to give up on television altogether, or to go with ad-supported free channels such as Roku and Pluto. Services such as Netflix, Paramount+, Peacock, and Max are doubling down on Baruch's analysis, asking people to pay more per month to avoid commercials. In short, television has passed through an entire phase, going from broadcast to cable to streaming to cord-cutting. The future did come true, though, even though it was for a relatively short time.

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On weeks when we can, we'll match up two of the biggest rock shows of the era, NBC's The Midnight Special and the syndicated Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, and see who's better, who's best.

Kirshner: The performers are Patti Labelle, Gary Wright, Robert Gordon with Link Wray, Ricci Martin, and comic Ellis Levinson. Songs: "Isn't It a Shame?" "Funky Music," "You Are my Friend" (Patti).minneapomin

Special: Host Mac Davis, Rod Stewart, Todd Rundgren, Andrew Gold, Johnny Paycheck and George Benson. Highlights: "You Put Music in My Life," "You Are" (Mac); "Can We Still Be Friends?" (Todd).

As you know, I'm frequently ambivalent about this feature; it can sometimes be difficult to tell a real difference between the lineups. Not this week: I must admit, probably to my shame, that other than Patti Labelle I don't recognize anyone from Kirshner, although I might recognize the music. On the other hand, I may not like country music, but there's no denying Mac Davis is a star, as are Todd Rundgren and Johnny Paycheck, and I am a George Benson fan (Benson and Earl Klugh; good times back in the day). So this week Special wins in a song.

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This week's issue contains more than just a documentation of what was on TV in St. Louis, Missouri the week of June 10, 1978; it contains, in a way, a little piece of the life of the owner of this issue. Paging through the listings, we see programs circled and notes made, indicating what he or she (or they) watched that week. We've seen this kind of thing before in the issues we look at; it makes the issue more alive to me —more personal, more like a document that tells a human story. Did they watch highbrow drama or lowbrow comedy? Were movies their thing, and if so, who were their favorite stars? Were they, like I was at this time in my life, a sports fan who'd watch anything with a stick, a ball, or a tire? Let's find out, complete with the program descriptions that helped attract their attention.

Our viewer begins Saturday with the movie The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (noon, KPLR), producer Stanley Kramer's fascinating excursion into childhood fantasy, starring Hans Conried and Tommy Rettig. A 1977 made-for-TV movie captures primetime viewing: Sharon: Portrait of a Mistress (8:00 p.m., NBC), stars Trish Van Devere as a career woman with a history of compulsive affairs with married men, who has become involved with an impetuous single man. However, Fantasy Island (9:00 p.m., ABC) is also circled, perhaps in case Sharon isn't that captivating. (After all, Judith Crist did say that "affairs with married men do a lady little good.") The two fantasies for tonight feature Maureen McCormick as the daughter of a former glamour queen itching to win a beauty contest; and three adventurers who want to find the lost treasure of a nororious pirate. 

Sharon was circled, while Fantasy Island had a box around its title, but our viewer must really have wanted to watch FDR (11:30 p.m., KETC), because it's both circled and starred! Anyway, FDR was a half-hour series broadcast on ABC in 1965, running for 26 episodes, covering the Roosevelt presidency. Tonight's episode, "The Hundred Days," covers FDR's inaugural speech and the first months of his Presidency when Congress passed 15 New Deal bills.

Either our viewer isn't a sports fan, or is just planning to surf around Sunday afternoon's schedule, which includes boxing, tennis, women's golf, and auto racing. Instead, we cut to another starred program at 7:00 p.m., an ABC News Special entitled "1968: A Crack in Time," hosted by Cliff Robertson and Frank Reynolds, which provides a retrospective on major news stories of that year. Film clips are scheduled to review the Presidential campaigns, the Tet offensive in South Vietnam, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the capture of the Pueblo, student riots in New York and Paris, the stormy Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and Apollo 8 orbiting the moon. There are also scenes from the topical Laugh-In and memorable moments in sports: the summer and winter Olympics, and Joe Namath's Super Bowl win (even though that actually happened in January 1969). People who lived through that must have marveled that it was already (or only?) ten years ago; frankly, I'm surprised they were able to cover it all in an hour.

There are big stars next to two Tuesday movies, so unless there's a VCR in the house, something's got to give for this viewer: at 8:00 p.m., it's CBS's repeat of the Woody Allen hit Play It Again, Sam, starring Allen as Allen Felix, an insecure writer whose love life hits bottom when his wife walks out on him; coming to his aid is the ghost of his movie idol, Humphrey Bogart, who offers some hard-boiled advice. Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Susan Anspach, and Jerry Lacy co-star. However, at 9:00 p.m. on NBC, it's the final hour of the three-hour Raid on Entebbe (joined in progress following St. Louis Cardinals baseball), the story of the June 1976 terrorist skyjacking, and the ordeal and rescue of the Israeli hostages at Uganda's Entebbe airport. There are more stars in this movie than there is time to show them, but Peter Finsh, Charles Bronson, and Yaphet Kotto are, in Crist's words, "outstanding."

There's another program starred at 9:00 p.m., though: Six American Families, a PBS documentary about the Burks, a family of 12 from rural Georgia. (This viewer was a real fan of documentaries!) In their isolated hollow, Arlon Burk, 65, and his wife Grace, 56, have $128-a-month social security to compensate for a lifetime of demeaning jobs, boredom, alcoholism an dalienation. Yet the Burks also have a spirit of survival, and are stoic about their plight.

's star belongs to Great Performances (7:00 p.m., PBS), and the San Francisco Ballet's performance of Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet," acclaimed for its "vigor and energy" by dance critic Clive Barnes. "I was struck by the speed and brilliance of [choreographer and comp;any codirector Michael] Smuin's conception," he wrote. "His images of love and death have an instant appeal." The TV stays tuned to PBS on Thursday for The Ascent of Man (8:00 p.m.), Jacob Bronowski's acclaimed 13-part series on the development of human society through its understanding of science. Tonight's part two traces the change from nomad to village agriculture. Bronowski follows Iran's Bakhtiari tribe, which migrates as it did 10,000 years ago. And Friday wraps up with yet another documentary, Treasure Galleon (8:00 p.m., KDNL), the 1973 story about the recovery of treasure from a Spanish ship sunk in a 1715 hurricane.

So what do we know about this real-life viewer? Well, he or she (or they) liked documentaries and PBS specials. They didn't watch much sports, or at least didn't make a point of blocking out time to watch it. The movies they watched tended to be more serious, with the exception of  The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T , and the only non-documentary weekly series they watched was Fantasy Island. Perhaps most important, they were people who don't appear to have planned their lives around television; I like to think that they spent their time reading, doing things outside, or getting together with friends. We'll probably never know for sure, but it's interesting to speculate, isn't it?

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And what didn't they watch? For one thing, the Belmont Stakes (Saturday, 4:00 p.m., CBS), with Affirmed going for—and winning—the Triple Crown over Alydar, who finished second in all three races. Saturday night, ABC has the movie Vanishing Point (8:00 p.m.), with Barry Newman; Judith Crist found it without virtue, but it's gone on to attain cult status in the years since. Remember Circus of the Stars? It's on Sunday night (7:00 p.m., CBS), with Lucille Ball, Telly Savalas, Cindy Williams, and Michael York as ringmasters, and you won't want to miss Peter Fonda motorcycling on the high wire!  The Carol Burnett Show returns for summer reruns (Wednesday, 7:00 p.m., CBS), and tonight's guest is Rock Hudson. Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord) goes undercover on Hawaii Five-O (Thursday, 8:00 p.m., CBS), and who's going to believe that? Ann-Margret's a guest on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (Friday, 10:30 p.m., NBC), and Michael Caine stars in the heist classic The Italian Job (Friday, 12:50 a.m., KMOX).

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Last (but certainly not least), PBS has released a first draft of their upcoming fall and winter schedule. It's a mixture of old and new; among the returning favorites are Masterpiece Theatre, Wall $treet Week, and The MacNeil/Lehrer Report. Julia Child returns with a new series, Julia Child and Company, that promises "new menus and culinary techniques." The Long Search will be an indepth look at world religions, similar to Civilisation and the aforementioned Ascent of Man. Cinema Showcase will present ten critically acclaimed international movies, with titles such as Seven Beauties, Pumping Iron, and Harlan County, U.S.A.

And speaking of movies, there's one other program mentioned; not too many details included, but it's described as a "consumer guide to movies," showing clips from new releases. It's called Sneak Previews, and though there's no word on who the host or hosts will be, I'm sure they'll come up with someone who'll earn a thumbs-up from viewers. TV  

June 9, 2023

Around the dial

Acouple of maintenance items on the personal side to lead off. My latest appearance on Dan Schneider's internet show is up; this week, Dan and I discuss the original Hawaii Five-O, and you can see it here. Two mea culpas to offer; first, I momentarily spaced out on the first name of James MacArthur's adopted father; it's Charles, the famed playwright who co-wrote, among other plays, The Front Page. (His mother was actress Helen Hayes.) More important, I misspoke in the last part of our show when I spoke about Steve McGarrett's arch-nemesis, the villaneous Wo Fat; I confused a storyline from this with a storyline from the Five-0 reboot. You may or may not notice these misstatements, but even if you don't, I feel better letting you know about them beforehand, and I'm sorry for the errors. I don't want you to think I'm a poseur. A fake, maybe, but never a poseur.

In addition, I've started to update my Goodreads page for the first time in a long, long while. If you're a member, you can check out what I've been reading and what I think of them; you can also leave a review of my own books, which I hope you'll do. (I hope you do that on Amazon as well; it helps our credibility as writers.) Goodreads is a good community; if you haven't signed up for it, ,you should. And now we return to our regular programming.

At Cult TV Blog, John has been writing about TV shows related to the circus (and no, he's not talking about Parliament or the Congress), and this time it's "Clown Virus" from the comedy The Goodies, with Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden, and Bill Oddie. As John points out, there's more to this one than meets the eye.

One of the threads running throgh "Clown Virus" has to do with Americans vs. Communists, and Communism also plays a role in this odd story linked to from the Broadcast Archives in which an archivist runs across a picture of an anti-Communist "Freedom Rider" displaying a leather scroll that's on its way to the White House. Find out what it's all about!

With Christopher Nolan's upcoming biopic on J. Robert Oppenheimer just around the cornerlooks back to the 1982 PBS miniseries Oppenheimer, starring Sam Waterson as the title character. I'm looking forward to the movie (anything adult in the theaters is to be celebrated), but this looks to be very much worth checking out as well.

Martin Grams has a tribute to John Dunning, the author and classic radio historian, who recently passed away. Dunning's book Tune In Yesterday is described as Martin as "the   most significant 
and influential volume written about old-time radio," and that the book is in the library of every follower of OTR. What an outstanding legacy.

A pair of obituaries for figures from television past, courtesy of Terence at A Shroud of Thoughts: singer and actor Ed Ames, a particular favorite of mine who died aged 95 and threw a mean tomahawk (just ask Johnny Carson); and Barry Newman, star of Petrocelli and veteran of many TV appearances, who died aged 92. RIP to both of them.

At Television's New Frontier: the 1960s, it's the 1962 western The Tall Man, starring Barry Sullivan as Pat Garrett, and Clu Gulager as Billy the Kid. It's not particularly original, and not particularly historically accurate (given that both characters are part of American history), but of course that's never stopped television before, has it? TV  

June 7, 2023

No laughing matter

Last Saturday, I offered a bit of a screed on the genre known as the dramedy. As if to reinforce my point, at Slate this week, Dahlia Lithwick has a defense of the final season of Ted Lasso, the Apple+ sitcom about an American coaching in the English Premier League. Lasso has received a great deal of criticism this year from critics who accuse the show of straying too far from its roots, to which Lithwick replies, it's not the show, it's you, the viewer. "Season 3 of Ted Lasso may not offer as many laugh-out-loud funny jokes, but I would argue that it gives the audience a view into something even more compelling: the experience of living with someone who is severely and chronically depressed, while also struggling with your own escalating depression. And if that isn’t necessarily fun or amusing for the viewer, well, it’s possible that that’s the point." You see, the series gives us what we need, not necessarily what we want

Continues Lithwick, "Season 3, with its deliberately meandering, atomized, and lonely plotlines, especially concerning Ted, reflects that state of being: being at war with oneself. And if you’re experiencing all that as a letdown, I’d remind you to take a beat to reread Hamlet, which is also very much a story about profound depression and stuck-ness." And in saying that, Lithwick proves my point: I don't want pop psychology from a sitcom. I want something funny; I want to laugh. If I want a story about profound depression and stuckness, I'll read Hamlet. Besides, Shakespeare's outtakes are better than anything that any writer of Ted Lasso has ever produced.

The problem with that is that I don't want a television show trying to convince me that I really want this when what I came for was that. Let me ask you: would you go to an Italian restaurant and order sauerkraut and schnitzel? Maybe if you had a demented sense of taste, but otherwise the general idea is that you go to a German restaurant for German food, a Mexican restaurant for Mexican food, and an Italian restaurant for Italian food. I realize this may be a complicated idea for some people, but I guarantee you most people think the same way I do.

So why do sitcoms like Lasso seem to be obsessed with showing off their serious chops? Is it because, as Lithwick insists, they're giving us what they need? Or are there other reasons to be considered? Charles Holmes suggests the latter in his recent Ringer piece on recent dramedies such as Lasso, Barry, and Bupkis. "[O]ver time, each series crept toward similar conclusions. As the accolades and viewers mounted, so too did a push for a particular brand of seriousness—and, by extension, 'prestige.' " 

*Some people consider Succession a dramedy as well, or at least a black comedy, but it really doesn't seem like a laughing matter to me.

There's no question that many actors hunger for the desire to be taken seriously, and nothing says "credible auteur" more than the appelation "prestige." (It's true that comedians often make excellent dramatic actors—if you ever get the chance to catch a young Don Rickles doing a straight dramatic role, it's a revelation.) But Holmes points out that, for some time now, comedy has been less commercially successful than drama. "Collectively, theatrical comedies haven’t grossed over $2 billion domestically since 2011; that number was halved by 2018." Therefore, for the comedian trying to break through into the big time (and it should be noted that the stars of all three of these shows—Jason Sudeikis of Lasso, Bill Hader of Barry, and Pete Davidson of Bupkis—are alums of Saturday Night Live), they're faced with the knowledge, as Holmes says, that "the commercial viability of comedy is in flux with little reprieve in sight."

(As an aside, I wonder why comedies are struggling the way they are? Is it because the superhero genre, which I suppose you'd more broadly categorize as drama than comedy, has so overwhelmed the movie industry as a whole? Or is it because, in these oppressively depressing times, people just don't feel like laughing? In which case, contra  Lithwick, Ted Lasso would be giving us what we need by making us laugh. There's a third possibility as well, which is that millennials don't have any sense of humor; after all, what previous generations thought funny seems to them to be merely offensive.)

In the case of Ted Lasso, since that seems to be the prime example we're considering at the moment, Holmes says that by the just-ended third (and supposedly final) season, the show had become "more millennial morality play than sitcom." "It’s Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood if every character explained their emotional state through DJ Khaled and Nora Ephron references." (A wonderful line, by the way.) The problem is that while the best comedies always have room for drama, they're not equipped to handle such weighty questions as "Can people change?" "Instead of leaving room for ambiguity," Holmes says, "the characters treat this philosophical query about the human condition as an uncomplicated life lesson that can be answered within the confines of a five-minute conversation." (Or, as Mark Hemingway of The Federalist puts it, the show has become "little more than a solipsistic mess of feel-good pablum" and "subjective therapeutic claptrap."

I'll say it again: I don't mind some comedy in a drama, nor do I have a problem with some drama in a comedy. Life is, after all, a fragile mixture of comedy and tragedy. And that's likely what Lithwick is trying to say, that Ted Lasso gives us life as it is. But whenever I hear someone say that, I'm reminded of the words of the novelist and essayist D. Keith Mano, who, when teaching a creative writing class, told a student that his writing was dull, lacked interest. "But that's the way it happened," the student protested, to which Mano replied, "Yes, and see to it that doesn't happen that way again." 

Television doesn't have to mirror real life, after all. I don't turn to Hogan's Heroes to see soldiers struggling with separation anxiety and fear of death, and I don't turn to Combat! to listen to one-liners about incompetent German officers. As Holmes points out, "For years, the axis of most sitcoms leaned toward fiction over fact." And it worked; "Part of the allure was the slickness of the illusion." But once you're bitten by this reality bug, the idea that a sitcom needs dramatic reality (often accompanied by a Message) destroys the illusion. I don't know when this started for sure; in Saturday's bit, I singled out M*A*S*H, and that's the series that comes to mind, but the dramedy has been the flavor of the month for awhile now for anyone looking for prestige. 

Someone once said that there's a place for everything, and everything has its place. When I want to think, I'll watch Leonard Bernstein's Norton Lectures. When I want to be confronted by social issues, I'll watch The Defenders. And when I want to laugh, I'll watch Police Squad!, not a treatise on "profound depression and stuck-ness." 

No matter how many times Ted throws the rope, he's not going to lasso me that way. TV  

June 5, 2023

What's on TV? Friday, June 13, 1980

There's a space-filler box with "Vital Statistics" in today's listing that tells us, "Cable systems now offer their subscribers a maximum of 36 channels. However, some companies are presently testing a 54-channel system." Can you imagine? This will keep viewers happy forever! We don't have 54 channels in this Memphis issue, but we do have an example of how many stars have "friends." You can see Carol Burnett and Friends in the picture above; there's also Bugs Bunny and Friends, and in other issues we've seen Fred Flintstone and Friends, Tom & Jerry and Friends, etc., etc. Most of the time, it's just an excuse to put together a mashup of different cartoons with recognizable names in the title; with Carol Burnett, I suppose it's a matter of coming up with a title suitable for syndication. (Hard to believe those same Carol Burnett episodes have been rotating around for more than 40 years under the same title, although MeTV thankfully introduced some early episodes a few years ago.) Here are your shows from the end of the week; have at it.

June 3, 2023

This week in TV Guide: June 7, 1980

We'll start the week off with this news item from the Hollywood teletype: "John Forsythe has replaced George Peppard as the patriarch in Oil, ABC's Dallas-like movie and series pilot. Peppard denied speculation that he left the show because of a reluctance to play a character patterned after Larry Hagman's J.R. Ewing, though he does say that he quit because of a disagreement over how his role should be played. Forsythe will continue his work as the voice of Charlie on Charlie's Angels, and as host on The World of Survival." Oil, of course, became Dynasty, which introduces us to the glory days of primetime soap operas, and this week's cover story, on the Dallas spinoff Knots Landing.

For those of you keeping score at home, the bridge characters of Knots Landing are Gary and Val Ewing (Ted Shackelford and Joan Van Ark), of those Ewings. Gary's the black sheep of the family (although I'm not exactly sure what being the black sheep of that family would be like), and the two of them were spun off into their own series in the third season of Dallas. Knots Landing returns to the CBS schedule this week, which gives author Cyra McFadden the opportunity to take a look at what it takes for a couple from Texas to make it in sunny Southern California.

We're reminded that the residents of Knots Landing are women who probably have their jeans drycleaned to keep their shape, and their eyelashes "began life as part of a mink"; however, it's unlikely that Karen (Michele Lee) would be a "marvelous cook" with those "inch-long, dark-red 'sculptured' claws that look as if they belong on a lobster." The women are all "thin, pretty and glowing with health. You know they’re on the Scarsdale Diet and never miss a workout at the local branch of Jane Fonda’s gym." As for the males of the enclave, Richard (John Pleshette) is a lawyer who wears gray suits, white shirts and ties; "my most successful lawyer friends," notes McFadden, "dress like very clean, very rich lumberjacks." Gary's okay wearing his cowboy boots becuase they're trendy even in Southern California, "but someone should tell Gary to stop sleeping in that Stanley Kowalski undershirt before he hears from the Knots Landing improvement association."

Still, the show gets some of the California details right. Unlike Texas, the oilmen are the bad guys when it comes to offshore drilling; and a rape episode showed the men in a sensible, sensitive and enlightened light; "No macho chest-beating, no vigilante attempts, no flicker of suggestion that the wife involved might somehow be to blame." And everyone seems to know that the fashionable California drink is a white-wine spritzer, not a Scotch-and-soda. But Val has problems—it is, after all, a soap opera—and she needs to do better than sing tenderlyto her childhood rag doll. Maybe, McFadden suggests, "Val would benefit from some of the new California therapies—primal screaming. or est, or meditative massage."

In the event, what began as a spinoff wound up more than holding its own; Knots Landing runs for 14 seasons (longer than Dallas), wins critical acclaim and viewer affection, and is the last of the primetime soaps to leave the airwaves. It even outlasts Dynasty, that John Forsythe show. And by the way, we shouldn't feel too sorry for Dynasty's would-be star, George Peppard; he went on to do a series called The A-Team, and as I recall, that did pretty well, too.

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On weeks when we can, we'll match up two of the biggest rock shows of the era, NBC's The Midnight Special and the syndicated Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, and see who's better, who's best.

Kirshner: Music by Rufus and Chaka Khan, Squeeze, Tanya Tucker and Rupert Holmes: comedy by Jimmie Walker and Dick Lord. Songs include "Do You Love What You Feel?" “Lay Back in the Arms of Someone," "Blind Love,” "Escape.”

Special: The Brothers Johnson; J. Giles Band; Randy Vanwormer; Neil & Dara Sedaka; and clips of Del Shannon, Bonnie Tyler and John Travolta from the film Urban Cowboy.

I wouldn't say that either show has an unforgettable lineup, but that's the way it is sometimes. John Travolta was already on something of a comeback after the bomb that was Moment by Moment, and Urban Cowboy helped prop him up. If this was a documentary on Travolta's career, it might be more significant, but as it is, it adds enough panache to Special's roster that the week winds up with a Push. 

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And now to the week in TV. Awards shows are often (but not always) a barometer as to what's popular, what's trendy. (I was going to add "what's hot," but I would have needed a thermometer for that.) This week, we have two we can choose from, starting on Sunday with the Tony Awards (8:30 p.m. CT, CBS), hosted by Mary Tyler Moore and Jason Robards. From the nominees, the big productions are the musicals Evita, Barnum, and Sugar Babies, while Children of a Lesser God is probably the best-known drama; individual nominees include Jim Dale (who wins for Barnum), Mickey Rooney (nominatd for Sugar Babies), Patti LuPone (winner for Evita), Blythe Danner (nominated for Betrayal), and Sandy Duncan (nominated for Peter Pan). 

The following evening, NBC carries the Music City News Country Awards (Monday, 8:00 p.m.), live from the stage of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. Again, big names abound; Larry Gatlin, Marty Robbins, Kenny Rogers, Conway Twitty, and Don Williams are the male artist nominess, while Crystal Gayle, Emmylou Harris, Loretta Lynn, Barbara Mandrell, and Anne Murray are up for female artist. Lynn Anderson, Ray Stevens, and the Statler Brothers are the hosts.

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I've never been a fan of the hybrid genre called "dramedy." For me, things are pretty straightforward: a show is either a comedy or a drama. That doesn't mean you can't have humor in a dramatic situation (just watch Joe Friday's Dragnet partners Frank Smith and Bill Gannon; they provide excellent comic relief and at the same time are very competent detectives), nor does it mean you can't have drama in a humorous show (even a series like Hogan's Heroes has several surprisingly serious moments). One of the prime examples of a show that can't keep track of what it is is M*A*S*H. Full disclosure: I never liked M*A*S*H, so I could be projecting some bias here. But this show's crossovers into drama seem far more appropriate for a series like Medical Center or E.R. than a sitcom—and before you say anything, I know the show ceased to call itself a sitcom by the time it concluded. It just seems to me that if you want to send a message like this, spin Hawkeye off into his own dramatic series. Hey, it worked for Trapper John, M.D., right?

Anyway, the subject of this ramble is Monday's episode "A Race Against Time" (8:00 p.m., CBS), in which Hawkeye battles with the clock to save the life of a GI with a damaged heart. His only hope is to graft a blood vessel from another dying soldier—provided that soldier dies in time. Now, I have no complaints about the material here; the drama of the attempt to save the first soldier's life, combined with the potential ethical dilemma of wanting the second soldier to die "in time" is fine dramatic fare. I could see this in one of the old anthology series, or in a medical series like Ben Casey or Dr. Kildare. I have my doubts about a sitcom, though. And if they want to go that route, just make M*A*S*H a half-hour drama; they used to be plentiful. Again, you can disagree with me, and I won't hold it against you. 

Another program on Monday could be thought of as blurring the lines between comedy and drama, but in a different way. Mark Twain: Beneath the Laughter (8:00 p.m., PBS) gives us a brilliant performance by Dan O'Herlihy as an elderly Samuel Clemens, reflecting on life and death following the unexpected death of his daughter. The drama draws on Twain's writings, as well as insights from Twain scholars, to illustrate "the tragedy or folly that often provoked Twain's humor, while never forgetting the laughter, his device for getting and holding our attention." We know that most comedians have a dark, or at least darker, side to them anyway, so maybe I'm wrong about M*A*S*H; perhaps it's the comedy that makes us better appreciate the drama of the human condition.  Or maybe I was right the first time.

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In contrasting the TV Guides of the era with the fanmag it's turned into today, I often cite examples of how the magazine used to try and provide viewers with context and background for various shows they might be watching, and we've got an example of that this week. 

No "Disraeli Gears," but not bad.  
Masterpiece Theatre
is currently airing the four-part drama "Disraeli: Portrait of a Romantic," which looks at the former British prime minister's life: a man of humble beginnings who rose to power in the Victorian Era despite being "a dandy, a womanizer, and a Jew." The "Background" article, written by Michael Hiolroyd, gives us further insight into this enigmatic man, compelling us to be more interested in finding out more by watching the drama. 

Disraeli (played in the series by Ian McShane) was a writer of "extravangtly poetic novels" who dreamed of a career in politics. He believed, as he told one friend, that "to enter high society a man must either have blood, a million, or a genius." He lacked the blood part, and often failed in his moneymaking efforts (one debt took him 30 years to repay). Women were strongly attracted to him, and he engaged in several scandalous affairs with married women. Finally, he was "rescued" by a wealthy widow, 12 years his senior, with whom he enjoyed an extraordinarily happy 33-year marriage; Mary Anne (Mary Peach) would later say that "Dizzy married me for my money, but if he had the chance again, he would marry me for love."

Eventually, Disraeli was elected to Parliament as a Conservative; he continued to write novels, but in time he became a kind of early version of Churchill; an aphorist more than a novelist, a formidable adversary in debates. (One example: when an opponent accused Disraeli of having been picked out of the gutter by his wife, he replied, "My good fellow, if you were in the gutter, nobody would pull you out.") As his star rose, he became more serious; then ovel Sybil focused on industrial poverty in the north of England, while Tancred exposed Victorian materialism. Finally, he rose to "the top of the greasy pole," becoming prime minister in 1868, and again in 1874. His well-known cynicism was a cover for his kindness and humor; it was Disraeli who convinced Queen Victoria to return to public life after the death of Albert; it was Disraeli who made her Empress of India; and despite never completely winning over the blue-blood Tories, he achieved his life's ambition: to become a great man.

Now, after reading that, doesn't it make you want to watch the series? Doesn't it help you understand a little more about the obstacles he faced in his improbable rise to greatness? Doesn't it at least make you a little curious? It's certainly more compelling that a kiss-and-tell expose of what happened behind the scenes of the production.

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Now here's something interesting: a controversial new series on NBC's fall schedule. It's called Speak Up, America, and it's being condemned—not by viewers, not by critics, not by various advocacy groups, but by the network's own affiliates.

Speak Up, America
is a spin-off from Real People, produced by that show's producer, George Schlatter (who was responsible for Laugh-In), and hosted by former child evangelist Marjoe Gortner. Two episodes of the show were aired in April; although the ratings for the previews were not good, the network, calling it "The Time Magazine of the Airwaves," gave it a spot on the fall schedule. But, as an anonymous NBC spokesman admitted, the affiliate meeting exposed "a lot of concern that this show blurred the lines between news and entertainment." Indeed, many of the station executives told newsmen they would simply refuse to air the show. Their complaints were several: the show is "tasteless" ("a sperm bank was the subject of one feature"), it was too easy to mistake for a news show (giving news departments a black eye), and that it took on too many controversial targets, such as the oil industry, which could leave stations vulnerable to lawsuits.

Much of the criticism was aimed at Gortner, with one executive quoted as saying, "Marjoe’s nothing but a clown. His outbursts are too editorial, and I think we could have some very serious Fairness Doctrine problems," while another compared him to Network's Howard Beale in his revivalistic rhetoric and delivery. (One critic, Tom Shales, described him as "less personable than the average used-car salesman.") There were also problems with the show's "man in the street" segments; one executive said that "all the public is getting is mob responses for effect."

Frankly, I'm not sure what all the shouting is about; Speak Up, America sounds no different from the basic newsmagazine/reality show of today, albeit perhaps a little more flamboyant. Debuting in August (yes, it did make it to the fall schedule, with former NFL Today personality Jayne Kennedy and comedienne Rhonda Bates added as co-hosts), it was off the air by October, replaced by NBC Friday Night at the Movies. As I've often said here, perhaps the really problem was that Speak Up, America was just ahead of its time.

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In fact, I do remember Speak Up, America, at least vaguely, although I know I didn't watch it. (Having graduated from the World's Worst Town™, I was no longer limited to watching NBC). There are several shows, however, that I don't remember, either because I was busy with college, or they weren't on long enough to notice. I've probably mentioned some of them here—undoubtedly one of the times we looked at a 1980 issue—but I'm always surprised when I think about it; I'm familiar with so many of the shows of the 1960s and '70s, some of them I was too young to watch; and yet even though the 1980s should be a TV sweet spot for me, I have no memory of them. 

There's Joe's World (Saturday, 8:30 p.m., NBC), a "short-lived situation comedy about the owner of a house-painting contracting firm (Ramon Bieri) trying to support a wife and five children whose ages range from 9 to 23." It ran for 11 episodes. There's When the Whistle Blows (Saturday, 9:00 p.m., ABC), another "short-lived comedy about construction workers enjoying themselves. The crew was all male except for Lucy (Susan Buckner)." Dolph Sweet and Sue Ane Langdon are the best-known members of the cast; this one ran for 10 episodes. The Yeagers (Sunday, 6:00 p.m., ABC) was an Andy Griffith vehicle about "A logging/mining baron and his family struggling to operate and maintain the family business." It was also short-lived; four episodes were made, two were aired.

Phyl and Mikhy (Monday, 7:30 p.m., CBS) was a sitcom meant to play off the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow; "Track stars Phyllis (Phyl) and Mikhail (Mikhy) are on opposite sides of the Cold War but meet and marry." Six episodes, but director Hal Cooper says the show had good ratings; it was cancelled because of the controversy over the Olympic boycott. Semi-Tough (Thursday, 8:30 p.m., ABC), based on Dan Jenkins' much-loved satire on pro football, starred David Hasselhoff and Bruce McGill as "fun loving roommates," with Markie Post as the girl they both love; four episodes. Here's Boomer (Friday, 7:00 p.m., NBC), a contemporary take on Lassie but with a different breed, actually ran for two seasons. I have no recall of it. Maybe you do. That was followed by Me and Maxx (7:30 p.m., NBC), with Joe Santos as Norman, a man "living the bachelor life when his ex-wife decides it's his turn to raise their 11 year old daughter Maxx." Ten episodes.

Now, there were successful shows on in 1980—many of them—so it's not as if everything from the era is forgettable. Dallas, CHiPs, Alice, Little House on the Prairie, Lou Grant, Three's Company, Happy Days, Taxi, Hart to Hart, Charlie's Angels, Quincy. That's just a casual glance; there are many more. So not everything from the decade faded into the ether. But 1980 certainly had its share.

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A brief word on this week's editorial, which begins with a look at the controversy surrounding the upcoming NBC miniseris Beulah Land, set on a Southern plantation during the Civil War era. The series faces protests from the NAACP that the miniseries presents "a demeaning and sterotyped portrayal of blacks." "There is, of course, hardly a group that hasn't been stereotyped by television," editor Merrill Panit comments; "that’s almost the nature of the beast. But whether Beulah Land's depiction of blacks is "demeaning” is another question, and one for individual viewers to judge."

Executive producer David Gerber complains that the protests were "based on an original script that was revised 15 times after the NAACP committee saw it, and checked for accuracy by the chairman of the department of history at Rutgers University." Gerber has, it should also be noted, been the recipient of several awards regarding portrayals of black characters, including one from—you guessed it—the NAACP.

The last time we looked at an issue from 1980, the editorial was criticizing the Australian import series Prisoner: Cell Block H. But in that case, the complaint was not over whether or not the show should be aired at all, but rather what time it should be aired; there was never any question that stations should be allowed to show the series, no matter how bad it was, in the first place. The protests over Beulah Land, however, form an example of what we've come to call "cancel culture," the demand to preemptively censor anything offensive to anyone. Doubtless, a show like Beulah Land would never see the light of day today. But, as Panit says, "The dramatic quality of the film is not at issue here: Beulah Land may turn out to be an outstanding show, a mediocre one or a third-rate version of Gone with the Wind. What is at issue is the right of viewers to make up their own minds. We urge NBC—and the NAACP—to let us do that."

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MST3K alert: 
Reptilicus. (Danish; 1961) Prehistoric monster comes to life and rampages in Copenhagen. Fair effects, the rest smorgasbord. Carl Ottosen, Ann Smyrner. (Friday, 10:30 p.m., WTBS) This otherwise-undistinguished movie will always be remembered as the first to be shown in the first revival of MST3K on Netflix, with Jonah Ray taking over the hapless role of nursemaid to two robots, and viewer of cheesy movies. As for this offering, well, the movie industry has seen better times. TV  

June 2, 2023

Around the dial

Let's begin our look, as we often do, with bare-bones e-zine, where Jack's Hitchcock Project continues the look at the works of Halsted Welles. This time it's the seventh season episode "The Silk Petticoat," starring a couple of personal favorites, the always-satisfying Michael Rennie and the lovely Antoinette Bower. 

At Comfort TV, David's odyssey through the 1970s continues; this week, he's up to Tuesday night in 1972. Some iconic shows from that year: Maude, Hawaii Five-O, Adam-12, Banacek, Marcus Welby, M.D. and Search, among others. And then there was Temperatures Rising, . . 

The Broadcast Archives gives us a look at one of public broadcasting's early breakout stars, the ragtime pianist Max Morath, who made 26 half-hour programs for NET between 1959 and 1961. You can read more about him, and follow links to some of his videos, here.

John keeps on returning to American television at Cult TV Blog, and this week his focus is on the Get Smart episode "Rub-a-Dub-Dub. . . Three Spies in a Sub." Actually, as he mentions, the focus isn't on this episode, but that doesn't stop it from being entertaining—and, as usual, John makes some very salient points along the way.

Something that I don't dwell on, but that bothers me greatly, is the rise of AI. I don't dwell on it because it's a threat to so many things, including truth, that it becomes depressing. But as a writer, I resent the idea that artists can be replaced, or augmented, by it. JB has thoughts on this and more at The Hits Just Keep On Comin'.

If you're in the mood for a little old-time radio, how about The Green Hornet? As Martin Grams tells us, Radio Spirits has just released a batch of them, many not heard in decades. Best of all, Martin has written the liner notes for many of these sets! You can read more about it here

Route 66 was never the same once George Maharis left. Don't get me wrong; I think Glenn Corbett was fine, and I even came to prefer him to Marty Milner. But the original dynamic between Maharis and Milner was what made the show work, and at A Shroud of Thoughts, Terence takes the opportunity of Maharis's death last week to look back on his long and successful career.

Burke's Law has become one of my favorite shows (although I seldom think of it when I'm counting off my favorites), and one of the most enjoyable parts of the show was the show's weekly list of cameo appearances by big-name guest stars. Those Were the Days provids a handy—and very impressive—list of those guest stars. What other show can compare to this?

Roger and Mike, the guys at The View from the Junkyard, do write about things other than The Avengers, but when their reviews are that enjoyable, why should we look any further? This week, the pair take a look at the fourth season episode "Too Many Christmas Trees," and—well, let's just say it's not your typical Christmas story. TV  

May 31, 2023

World without end

By the time you read this, the final episode of one of television's most acclaimed recent series will have aired. Succession, the comedy-drama about one of the most, if not the most, disgusting, reprehensible, repugnant, and despicable families since the Manson clan, came to the conclusion of its four-season run on Sunday night, and it seemed as if, over the last week, you couldn't avoid online speculation about it no matter where you looked. I've never seen an episode of Succession, since we don't subscribe to HBO, but I've read enough about it to know that it's not my kind of television. I had to work for too many people like them while I was working; now that I'm retired, why would I want to spend any more time around them? 

At any rate, this isn't about Succession, although it does provide a nice lead-in to what this is about. In Brian Phillips's Ringer article "In Praise of the TV Shows That Just Won't End," Phillips meditates on the nature of a series finale—why they invariably cause so much anxiety for true fans of the series—and then returns to the idea of shows that "never really end." In this case he's referring to shows that somehow seem to continue in the television universe, whether through spinoff series, reunions, or movies. Take Star Trek, for example; the existence of Star Trek movies has removed the pressure to nail the series finale; "You’re always encouraged to imagine that more will be coming, whether or not it actually arrives. And that little hedge against finality, that slight ducking of last-act obligation, frees you to keep your imagination in the ongoing present where the rest of the show has taken place."

That's pretty good, and it reminded me of a series that had a final epsiode of sorts, even though it didn't really need one: Perry Mason. By happenstance, last week I saw the final episode of the show's nine-seasons run, "The Case of the Final Fade-Out." It's a whimsical episode, set in the world of series television, the story of an egomanical TV star who's murdered while filming a scene of his popular television show. Mason and Paul Drake interview the show's crew to find out what they know; most of the crew members are played by actual members of the Mason crew. The judge is played by Mason creator Erle Stanley Gardner in an unbilled cameo. The killer turns out to be none other than (spoiler alert) eternal teenager Dick Clark! The story itself, as is the case throughout most of Mason's final season, is no great shakes, but it's an appropriate series finale in that it gives everyone a chance to take a final bow, turning the episode into a kind of wrap party.

The point of all this, though, comes in the very last scene. Having won yet another case (and once again humiliating Hamilton Burger in the process), Perry, Paul, and Della discuss an upcoming case. When Paul and Della ask where they should start, Perry replies, "It seems to me that the place to start is at the beginning." Fade out, end of series. 

It's a simple, but stunningly effective ending. It's symbolic in that it sends a message that the work of the lawyer in pursuit of justice will never end; in the world of the series, it also suggests that while the series has come to a conclusion, Perry's work (and Paul's and Della's) will keep going on—we just won't see it every week. Their universe will continue to exist, so if you ever thought to yourself that Perry Mason is the man who you'd go to if you found yourself in trouble, you won't have to worry about convincing him to come out of retirement or anything like that—they'll still be there. In that sense, it is a series that, in Phillips's words, never really ends; it can continue for as long as you want it to. (Gardner himself wrote six more Mason mysteries after the show left the air.)

Of course, Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale did return as Perry and Della in a series of movies, although they're pale imitations of the show (and many Mason fans don't consider them to be canonical). But putting that aside, the show's perfect ending left you with an even more perfect message: Perry and the gang aren't going anywhere, so there's really no need to say farewell, when au revoir will do. And isn't that the way it's supposed to be with friends? TV  

May 29, 2023

What's on TV? Thursday, June 3, 1965

I noticed something interesting in today's listing from the Northern California edition. I don't know if it's been present before; I suspect it has, but I hadn't noticed it until now. You can see it too, if you look. All three networks have five-minute afternoon newscasts, they've been doing it for years. CBS and NBC usually have them in the morning too, except for the space coverage today. Douglas Edwards hosts the CBS newscast, but today the ABC anchor is Marlene Sanders, and the NBC broadcast is by Nancy Dickerson. Two women anchoring news in 1965; even though it's only five minutes, that counts for something. Sanders and Dickerson were among the pioneers of female newscasters, as was Lisa Howard, Sanders's precedessor. We ought to remember their contributions more, perhaps, than we do.

May 27, 2023

This week in TV Guide: May 29, 1965

Let's give top billing this week to one of the most under-appreciated actors in television, Dick York. As Edith Efron points out in the story's intro, there's a pile of press clippings in an executive office of Screen Gems. It has to do with one of the studio's new hits, Bewitched, a show "that has a good part of the Nation in a tizzy," and the pile of clippings weighs about 10 pounds, "And the subject of every article is the witch herself—with a few kind words about her witch mother. The advertising-man husband is almost never mentioned."

The "witch" is, of course, Elizabeth Montgomery, and her mother is Agnes Moorehead. York's friends and colleagues are indignant about his press invisibility; producer Danny Arnold calls the critics "shallow" and points out that without York for Montgomery to bounce her character off of, "nobody would care. He supplies the motive for everything she does." Adds Moorehead, "Dick plays a very important part. Ignoring Dick isn’t constructive criticism. It’s absurd." And Montgomery says that "anyone who watches him work appreciates his talent."

York is philosophical about it all. "The two witches," he says, "are by far more spectacular than I am. I’m just a human being. And I’m identified by the critics as being just like themselves. I, too, am watching the witch from the sidelines." He then adds, in a disconcerting prophesy, "{T]the only way to tell if it’s me or not is to kill me off in one show, give the witch another husband and see if I’m missed."

York's entire career has been, as Efron puts it, "steady if nonamazing." He's worked in theater, radio, and television, and has worked with the best, including Elia Kazan and Stanley Kramer, all of whom agree that he is a very good actor. But York is without the passion that drives so many in the profession; "I don't work because I love it," he allows. "In our household, work is something Daddy sdoes to provide us with things we need for our physical comforts." His great passion is his wife Joan and their five children, about whom he talks endlessly. He writes short stories, he paints, he sculpts, he studies religion. And, although the article makes no mention of it, he's in almost constant pain as a result of the back injury that will eventually force him to leave the show.

Dick York describes himself as "a man who's looking for something. He's still looking for a self." Even today, when considering his signature role of Darrin Stephens, he's often identified as "Darrin #1." And that's too bad, because not only is a fine actor, he also sounds like a fine man.

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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: musical-comedy star Anthony Newley, who will sing numbers from his Broadway musical "The Roar of the Greasepaint—The Smell of the Crowd"; comedian Bert Lahr doing his "Woodman, Spare That Tree" routine; singers Connie Frances and Wayne Newton; comic Jackie Vernon; the comedy team of Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara; monologist Morty Gunty; the De Mille aerialists; and comedian Pat Henning. .  

Palace: Hostess Kate Smith welcomes satirist Mort Sahl; singer Trini Lopez; silent comic Ben Blue; the Juan Carlos Copes dance troupe from Argentina; harmonica-player Stan Fisher; Desmond and Marks, English comedy dancers; and the Karlini and Jupiter dog act. 

A couple of good lineups on tap this week; it's hard to go wrong with Kate Smith, especially when she's singing "God Bless America" (which she will), and Mort Sahl probably has as much to satirize as he ever does. I think it comes in second, though; Anthony Newley has several hits in "Roar of the Greasepaint," including "Who Can I Turn To?" and Bert Lahr's "Woodman" route is a classic. (Here it is from an early episode of Omnibus.) The rest of the lineup isn't bad either, so on that basis Sullivan wins the week.

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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. 

Weep not, Hollywood Palace fans, for though you may not have won this week's battle with Sullivan, you have won Cleveland Amory's vote. "We admire Ed Sullivan for doing his show live, but the fact is ABC’s Palace, on tape, seems more alive." It also doesn't hurt that a few times a year, you're going to get Bing Crosby as the host. "To say that Bing is the best somehow seems not enough. At singing, acting, or just being himself, name your best—and Bing is better."

Cleve speaks highly of all the hosts, in fact, a long and distinguished list that includes Burl Ives, Pat Boone, Eddie Fisher, Victor Borge, Robert Goulet, and Debbie Reynolds—and, "you won't believe this," even Debbie was good. He particularly liked the show we looked at a few weeks ago, in which Louis Armstrong was honored for 50 years in show business; in particular, the closing "Old Man Time," which Satchmo sang with Jimmy Durante, was wonderful. Bette Davis was another standout, both in performing (a song-soliloquy) and in introducoing guests like dancer Barrie Chase and Nerveless Nocks, the amazing high-pole act. ("This is one time, with no net, when we thoroughly appreciated the fact the show's on tape—they couldn’t have fallen.")

The show's first anniversary celebration—hosted by Bing, of course—was "one of the fastest-moving, most pleasant variety hours we have seen all season," Amory recalls. And, in one of the great compliments any critic can pay any performer, he recounts the old jokes and tireless cliches that Crosby trots out in a vaudeville spoof with Frank McHugh and Beverly Garland. ("I have a dog named Ginger." "Does Ginger bark?" "No, Ginger snaps.") "Somehow," Cleve notes, "when Bing does it, it’s not only different, it’s great." It could be said for The Hollywood Palace as well; the lyrics to an old song go, "Until you’ve played the Palace, you haven't played the top," and when Cleveland Amory says that about you, then you know it's true.

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Big doing in the manned space program this week, as Gemini IV—the second two-man American capsule—is scheduled to launch this Thursday, with James McDivitt and Edward White the astronauts. Gemini IV is important for a number of reasons: not only will this be the longest American flight, at four days, it will include the first American spacewalk, with White scheduled to take the 20-minute walk during the first day. 

Coverage begins Tuesday night when Chet Huntley and David Brinkley preempt the drama anthology Cloak of Mystery (a series of reruns from G.E. Theater and Alcoa Presents) to preview the mission, including interviews with crew members and key NASA personnel. (9:00 p.m. PT) Similar reports air on Wednesday, anchored by Walter Cronkite (8:00 p.m., CBS) and Jules Bergman (ABC Scope, 10:30 p.m.) Launch day coverage begins at 4:00 a.m. Pacific time, with Chet and David (NBC), Cronkite and Mike Wallace (CBS), and Bergman (ABC); the coverage continues until 9:00 or 9:30 a.m., with updates continuing throughout the day; ABC plans one-minute evening bulletins on the hour, NBC with similar updates prior to every show, and CBS with a five-minute report at 9:25 p.m. All three networks have 15-minute reports scheduled at 11:15 p.m. The same schedule is planned for Friday evening, and presumably continue throughout the weekend, until splashdown Monday morning. 

The Gemini IV mission proves to be a complete success. Not only is it a crucial next step in the lunar program, it matches Soviet achievements, sending the Russkies a message that the U.S. is in it to win it.

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It's a rare occasion when Lawrence Welk takes a week off from his own show, but he's absent from Saturday's broadcast (8:30 p.m., ABC). The reason: he's back in his home state of North Dakota, receiving an honorary degree from North Dakota State; I'm sure Myren Floren can man the show just fine in the maestro's absence. The Music Makers pay tribute with "My North Dakota Home," which I confess I'm not familiar with despite having spent a half-century living next door to it.

Sunday afternoon, CBS airs the American debut of Martin's Lie (4:00 p.m.), the one-act opera by Gian-Carlo Menotti about a young boy who must choose between telling the truth and saving a man's life. It was originally scheduled for a primetime debut in January, but was pushed back to today. The director is Kirk Browning, who worked with NBC Opera Company for many years prior; it's also the first collaboration between the network and Menotti, who broke up with NBC acromoniously after the final production of Amahl and the Night Visitors

Back in the 1960s, before the Uniform Monday Holiday Act that created so many three-day weekends, Memorial Day was May 30. That falls on Sunday in 1965, so everything's been moved to Monday, including National Golf Day, the day when the U.S. Open champion plays the PGA champion for $10,000. More important, the winning score sets the target for amateur golfers across the country, who have had two weeks to submit their best handicap score in competition with today’s winner. (In 1964, 4,751 amateurs received PGA certificates by beating Jack Nicklaus’s 67.) Live coverage from the Laurel Valley Country Club in Ligonier, PA begins at 2:00 p.m. on NBC; PGA champ Bobby Nichols will edge U.S. Open titelist Ken Venturi by one stroke, shooting a two-over-par 73. Just for the fun of it, I Googled "National Golf Day" to see if it's still around. It is, but it's a little different now: it's a day for leading organizations and industry leaders to educate (i.e. lobby) Congressional members on golf's impact.

The movie highlight of the week is the Spencer Tracy classic Bad Day at Black Rock (Wednesday, 9:00 p.m., NBC), with an outstanding supporting cast including Robert Ryan, Anne Francis, Dean Jagger, Walter Brennan, Ernest Borgnine, and Lee Marvin. It's perhaps my favorite Tracy movie; if the title leads you to expect a Western, you'll be in for a surprise.

Rounding out the rest, the great Ethel Merman makes a rare dramatic non-singing appearance in the Kraft Suspense Theatre presentation "Twixt the Cup and the Lip" (Thursday, 10:00 p.m., NBC), the story of a timid man (Larry Blyden) who schemes for revenge after being fired from his job; the Merm plays the owner of the boarding house in which he lives.

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We've talked before about cross-promotions where the stars of a show on one network appear as guests of a show on another network. One of the more unusual examples happens this week on The Match Game (Tuesday through Friday, 2:30 p.m., NBC), where the celebrity guests this week are baseball's Joe Garagiola and Whitey Ford. Garagiola works for NBC as a co-host on Today, while Ford is in the final seasons of his great career as a pitcher for the New York Yankees—and that technically makes him an employee of the Yankees' owner, CBS. The network purchased the perennial champions (14 of the last 16 American League pennants) last year, and as Melvin Durslag reports, it's been anything but smooth going. The presumption has been that CBS purchased the Yankees in an effort to control baseball on television; right now, the Yanks are one of only two teams exempt from ABC's national baseball contract due to previous commitments (the Philadelphia Phillies are the other); William MacPhail, Yankees VP, says the network hasn't yet decided if they'll join the TV package next year. He also denies CBS had anything to do with the firing of manager Yogi Berra and long-time announcer Mel Allen; those decisions were made "before we bought the club." And the team is under threat from their crosstown rivals, the hapless New York Mets, who outdrew the Yankees by 400,000 fans last year; the network is still assessing how to compete with the Mets.

CBS's ownership of the Yankees falls far short of expectations. The team fails to win the pennant in 1965, and the next year finishes the season in last place for the first time since the sinking of the Titanic. Their greatest stars, including Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Elston Howard, and Ford, either retire or are traded away. Perhaps most embarrassing is the World Series victory for the Amazin' Mets in 1969. While the seeds of the next great Yankees teams are planted through shrewd drafts and trades, and the team makes a deal with the city to remodel Yankee Stadium, CBS sells the team to a group led by George Steinbrenner in 1973*, saying that the network had concluded "that perhaps it was not as viable for the network to own the Yankees as for some people." 

*They bought the team for $11.2 million, sold it for $10 million. Not one of the network's better deals.

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The young (19) Liza Minnelli is this week's fashion plate, and as you can see, even though we haven't reached peak-60s style yet, the color palate is definitely changing. Layouts like this are as good an indication of cultural trends as anything in TV Guide.

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MST3K alert
 Killers From Space. (1942) Flying over a bomb-test area, a scientist notices a strange light. Peter Graves, Barbara Bestar, James Seay. (Saturday, 6:00 p.m., KSWB, Salinas) Another presentation on MST3K's sister, Rifftrax. Peter Graves was in a lot of movies like this back in his pre-Mission: Impossible days. The description means nothing without mention of the bug-eyed monsters, though (created from cut-in-half ping-pong balls). And don't forget that Peter Graves graduated from the University of Minnesota. . . TV