September 25, 2023

What's on TV? Sunday, September 27. 1970

Good memories of Sundays back in the day: remember Bullwinkle and The Perils of Penelope Pitstop? Or Notre Dame football replays with Lindsey Nelson and Paul Hornung, and Bill Fleming narrating highlights of other games? Or the Boston Patriots? As I said, good memories. A couple of other things I noticed: despite having a dozen stations in this Central Virginia edition, there are no independent stations; all of them are network affiliates. Not unprecedented, just something I noticed. Also, despite Raleigh being the capital of North Carolina, they have only two stations: WRAL, then with ABC, now with NBC; and WTVD, in Durham, a dual CBS-NBC affiliate then, but now with ABC. That area now has 15 stations; times do change, don't they?

September 23, 2023

This week in TV Guide: September 26, 1970

Occasionally I'll run across people talking about how, back in the "good old days" (i.e. unlike today), the news on TV was just that—news, without any bias, given by real newscasters without a partisan angle. Now, there's something to this; I think the newscasters of the past—Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley, Smith, Reynolds, Reasoner—were men of gravitas who presented the news with a seriousness and, dare I say, dignity, that dwarfs what we see on television today. I have great respect for them; sometimes I'll go on YouTube and watch an old newscast from the 1960s or '70s just to see how things used to be.

But when it comes to bias, let's be honest: claims of bias in news reporting go way back, even beyond those good old days to the very beginning of television. And as we enter the decade of the Seventies, the clamor and discontent with TV newsmen is in full swing, articulated by Vice President Spiro Agnew's attacks on the "nattering nabobs of negativism," the influential journalists who "espouse a liberal or anti-Establishment breed of politics and display that bias in their reporting." Seldom, he complains, are the conservative viewpoints represented or even honestly explained.

And so we come to this week's lead story by Max Gunther looking at media coverage of one particular aspect of the race riots in Asbury Park, New Jersey on July 7-8, 1970. The fulcrum around which this story centers is reporter Dell Wade, covering the riots for WABC in New York. Appearing with his head bandaged and face bruised, Wade went on to tell of police firing shots into black crowds, using clubs to keep people away, and in one case, "pushing a man through a plate glass window." When he tried to report on this violence, he said, he was beaten by police and arrested. Their purpose, Wade believes, was to prevent him from "trying to tell it like it was."

"Maybe the story was true," Gunther writes. "On the other hand, maybe it wasn't. A doubt exists, and its existence illustrates some prickly and so far intractable problems facint the TV news business in this nervous age." 

In the wake of Wade's reporting, residents of Asbury Park flooded newspapers and television stations with complaints about coverage of the riot, protesting "erroneous information, slanted editing, leading questions, inflammatory comments." Police officials, led by chief Thomas S. Smith (himself a black officer) agreed with the comments. "It seems to me the news media should try to be constructive in a situation like this," he tells Gunther. "Help cool things off, not get everyobody heated up stil worse." While he wouldn't comment further on the situation, he gave Gunther carte blanche to talk with his officers on the spot, without time for them to prepare or coordinate any comments. And while their stories—at first—parallel Wade's account, the two versions soon diverge "so sharply that it's hard to believe you're hearing about the same episode." 

In contrast to Wade's accusations of police brutality, the officers single out Wade as the sole reporter on the scene who refused to stay behind the line set up for media reporters; says Special Officer Patrick Barrett, "[T]here was this guy with his tape recorder—no helmet, no protection. State police lieutenant tells me, 'Get that guy out of here while he's still alive!'" Barrett moved Wade back to where the other reporters were stationed, "But a while later I see him out there again!" This version is backed up by one newspaperman who says that "Wade was distinctly out of line. He didn't need to go prancing iup there 10 feet from the kids. I could see everything perfectly from where I was, behind the police line." 

Wade tells Gunther the police "started firing. I didn't actually see anybody hit, but I did see that the police were shooting level—I mean, not into the air. Shooting level. And I saw one cop push a man through a plate-glass window with a baton at his throat." According to Patrolman Charles Rockhill, however, "There was a kind of hush, you know? Both sides waiting to see what was going to happen. And then I heard this man Wade shouting into his tape recorder, 'They're shooting people! They just pushed a man through a plate-glass window1' Nothing of the kind was happening." Adds Barrett, "The crowd was falling back. We didn't need to use violence." And Asbury Park Evening Press reporter Raymond Tuers notes, "I've never known Pat Barrett to lie to me." There were protesters treated for gunshot wounds following the riot. But a doctor at Jersey Shore Medical Center says "most of the wounds were small—like birdshot, not police bullets." And many in the group were themselves carrying guns. There are further discrepencies throughout the stories, including Wade's treatment at the police station.

Wade, a reporter with excellent credentials, insists, "I'm a trained observer. I don't report what I don't see." Special Officer Barret says, "My post takes in the black district. I like the people there and they like me. Why would I be shooting them? Why would I cover up if I saw anybody else pushing them around?"

    Scenes from Asbury Park
What to make of it all? Writes Gunther, "Only three conclusions are possible, and each is unpleasant in its own peculiar way." One, the police are lying, or "recalling the events inaccurately." Two, Wade is lying, or "gripped by hysteria, simply didn't see what he imagined he saw." Or three, both Wade and the police are telling the story inaccurately. "This conclusion may be twice as bad as either of the others." Whatever conclusion you come to, Gunther concludes, "it can't conceivably make you content."

Covering breaking news stories such as a riot is never an easy thing. Having witnessed the reporting first-hand during the 2020 riots in my former home (those, like the one in Asbury Park, were race-based), I heard a great deal of criticism that news reporters were shading the news, presenting an inaccurate version of events (particularly when it came to the killing of George Floyd), ignoring the violence that continued in the aftermath of events. I also read the reports of the police brutalizing citizens, using excessive violence, and targeting people based on their race. Leaving aside the specific events in the Floyd case, I've read plausible stories supporting critics of the police, and other stories supporting critics of the media. 

One of the problems we have today, in a society that has lost trust in virtually every institution, is that when that trust is gone, it isn't easy to tell who's telling the truth. There is, in fact, a tendency to assume what Gunther called option three, that everyone is lying about some aspect of the story. But, as we see here, this isn't something new, something that's just started in the last few years. It may be more pronounced today, but it has, in fact, been around forever.

l  l  l

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. 

One sure sign of fall, in addition to the turning of the leaves, is the return of Cleveland Amory to the pages of TV Guide, What new, exciting program will he have in his sights this week? One of the breakout shows of the new season? A returning series with a retooled format? 

Or maybe a once-a-month newsmagazine?

If you're feeling a bit let-down, don't be. We all know our Cleve is a sucker for thoughtful, intelligent programming, and NBC's First Tuesday certainly fits the bill. Hosted by veteran newsman Sander Vanocur, First Tuesday is a two-hour, once-a-month examination of news features big and small—not just the stories we know about, but the stories we ought to know more about. There was, for instance, a story about baton twirling, and while that might seem trite on the surface, it morphed into what Amory calls "a truly powerful expose of an awful mother-daughter push." He also praises Tom Pettit's report on chemical and biological warfare, "The Secrets of Secrecy," done without the cooperation of the Department of Defense, which was "a sterling example of TV reporting at its all-too-rare in[depth and investigative best"—think of what a reporter like Pettit might have been able to come up with in Wuhan, if news outlets still adhered to reporting instead of partisan shilling. A later feature on an increasing Soviet presence in the Middle East included a memorable interview with Israeli prime minister Golda Meir, who was asked if U.S. policy in the Middle East had encouraged a deeper Russian involvement. "Let me put it more kindly," she replied. "It hasn't discouraged them."

Remember that First Tuesday aired in an era when 60 Minutes had yet to become an institution; in fact, Mike Wallace and Harry Reasoner weren't even on every week back then, only every other Tuesday, meaning that once a month First Tuesday and 60 Minutes opposed each other for an hour. Just think: NBC's quixotic effort to mount a successful clone of 60 Minutes went through no less than fifteen failed attempts prior to landing on Dateline NBC. And here they'd had it all along, if only they'd stuck to it. 

l  l  l

ABC has a lot of ad space in this week's issue, touting its new fall lineup. When I see this kind of advertising, I usually think one of two things: either these programs are really good, or they need all the help they can get. Which is it this time? I'll let you be the judge.

The lineup on Saturday is a bit misleading, insofar as ABC is sticking with it's tried-and-true favorites: Let's Make a Deal at 7:30 p.m. and The Dating Game at 8:00 p.m., followed by The Lawrence Welk Show at 8:30 p.m. Its only new Saturday offering, The Most Deadly Game, doesn't premiere until October, possibly because of the need to recast Inger Stevens' role after she committed suicide following the pilot; the role goes to Yvette Mimieux. Its timeslot tonight is filled by a comedy-variety special, "Howdy," hosted by Ferlin Husky, with guest stars Glenn Ford, Pat Buttram, Nanette Fabray, and Terry-Thomas. (9:30 p.m.)

night starts off with The Young Rebels (7:00 p.m.), a Revolutionary War drama that tries—and fails—to show that today's kids are really no different from their predecessors, willing to fight for what they believe in. As we'll see tomorrow night, it's not the only show on the network to emphasize the word Young. How did it do? Well, it's up against Lassie and The Wonderful World of Disney, if that gives you any ideas. (15 episodes) That's paired with the only other returning shows to get the ad treatment: The FBI (8:00 p.m.), starting its sixth season, and The ABC Sunday Night Movie (9:00 p.m.), this week presenting Hurry Sundown, starring Michael Caine, Jane Fonda, and Diahann Carroll. Despite the big-name cast, Judith Crist pans it as "unadulterated tastelessness," and for good measure adds that it has "idiot plotting and [a] patronizing approach to blacks." 

Monday it's a double-dose of new programming, beginning at 7:30 p.m. with The Young Lawyers, with Lee J. Cobb mentoring a group of, well, young lawyers—no, make that idealistic young lawyers—including Zalman King, who tonight defends a young man currently serving time for murder-two as the result of a plea bargain; he insists he's innocent. (24 episodes) That's followed by The Silent Force, starring Ed Nelson as the leader of a undercover government team fighting against the mob. He's aided by Percy Rodriguez and Lynda Day; Day will receive a promotion next season, as she moves over to Mission: Impossible. (15 episodes)

On Tuesday, we get a full-page layout for the Movie of the Week, Night Slaves (8:30 p.m.), starring James Franciscus, Leslie Nielsen, and Lee Grant. It's a science-fiction thriller with Franciscus as a man who, one night, witnesses various townsfolk, including his wife, boarding trucks to leave town; the next morning, they're back, with no memory of it ever happening. Sounds suspicious, but then Franciscus is recovering after an auto accident that left him with a metal plate in his head—can we believe what he thinks he saw? 

starts off with a new show that's not really new; it's Danny Thomas in the revival of Make Room for Daddy, only now he's Granddaddy. (8:00 p.m.) Marjorie Lord and Rusty Hamer are back, and Angela Cartwright makes an appearance in the first episode. The only thing that doesn't come back are the viewers, even with big-name guest stars, such as tonight's guest, Sammy Davis Jr.* (24 episodes) Later, Burt Reynolds stars in the crime drama Dan August (10:00 p.m.), a rare misfire from Quinn Martin. Later, Reynolds would memorably say, "I swore I'd never play a cop on TV because you can't make jokes or have a broad. You wind up loving your car a lot. I was halfway out the door when Quinn said the magic words–$15,000 a week." (24 episodes)

*Sammy also guest-stars as himself on Monday's Here's Lucy, on opposite The Silent Force.

Thursday gives us another example of a returning star in a new vehicle: Vince Edwards as the "community psychiatrist" Matt Lincoln* (7:30 p.m.), who tonight tries to prevent killer Martin Sheen from killing again. Sheen's character is named Charlie—after his son, perhaps? I'd hate to think he'd name his son after this kind of character. (16 episodes) At 9:00 p.m., it's back-to-back Neil Simon adaptations, beginning with Barefoot in the Park, starring Scoey Mitchell and Tracy Reed playing the roles made famous by Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. (12 episodes) That's followed by another of Simon's hits, The Odd Couple, with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall taking over for Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. As opposed to some of ABC's other offerings, this one pays dividends for both the network and audiences. (114 episodes)

*As Matt Lincoln was championing a new and relevant kind of psychiatry, perhaps it should have been named The Jung Rebels.

Come Friday, and it's time for ABC to pair the returning Brady Bunch with The Partridge Family (8:30 p.m.), starring Shirley Jones, David Cassidy, Susan Dey, Suzanne Crough, Jeremy Gelbwaks, and Danny Bonaduce—oh, and Dave Madden, who keeps things from getting too sugary. Tonight Harry Morgan plays the heavy, which must have been a nice change from being Jack Webb's sidekick on Dragnet. (96 episodes, eight albums)

There's one other new series I forgot to mention earlier, one that's had a fair amount of success. It's called Monday Night Football, and this week it's the second-ever MNF game, featuring the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and the Baltimore Colts. (9:00 p.m.) The Chiefs win the game, 44-24; the Colts, however, wind up winning the Super Bowl. (719 episodes—er, games—and counting)

l  l  l

I don't want you to have the wrong impression here; there are some non-ABC programs worth mentioning this week. 

Personally, I think ABC could have left The Hollywood Palace on Saturday night; it couldn't have underperformed any more than The Most Deadly Game. It also gives me one more easy mark each week, when I can compare it to Ed Sullivan. But while Palace is no more, Ed is still hanging in there for one more season, and on Sunday (8:00 p.m., CBS) he presents highlights from the Holiday on Ice Revue, a competitor to ice shows like the Ice Capades and Ice Follies. As a bonus, he also has performances from Bobby Vinton, Karen Syman, and the Rare Earth rock group. I'm not sure, but I think I'd probably go with Palace no matter what the lineup might have been.

OK, one more ABC mention: on Monday night following the football game, Dick Cavett welcomes author Norman Mailer as his only guest for the entire 90 minutes (12:15 a.m., time approximate). The controversial Mailer is scheduled to discuss his reasons for quitting politics (he ran for mayor of New York City in 1969); his new book Of a Fire on the Moon, about the Apollo 11 mission; and his recent movie Maidstone, about a film director who runs for president.

The Men from Shiloh, which we all knew and loved as The Virginian before it changed its name for its final season, features a rare television appearance by Janet Leigh as the Virginian's old flame, who's being threatened by three mysterious men. (Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., NBC) 

Kraft Music Hall
presents another in its occasional series of Friars Club roasts on Wednesday (9:00 p.m., NBC), with Don Rickles in the role of the victim. Those on the dais make up an odd collection: Johnny Carson, Milton Berle, and Henny Youngman, but also George C. Scott, Dick Cavett, and Chet Huntley (!). If you've not seen the Friars Club roasts before, they're the model for the popular Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts, although the Friars, in their unedited formats, could get a bit more, well, adult

Joseph Campanella turns in a "powerful" performance as a heroin addict on Ironside (Thursday, 8:30 p.m., NBC), with Ironside trying to nurse his old friend through withrdawal when the men are isolated in a mountain cabin by a heavy snowfall. Also on Thursday, it's the network premiere of the movie Butterfield 8 (9:00 p.m., CBS), which won Elizabeth Taylor her 1960 Best Actress Oscar. It's a movie with "a certain nostalgia for those interested n our changing mores" according to Judith Crist, who added that when it was made it was considered a "lingerie meller." 

l  l  l

This week's cover story is a profile of Michael Constantine, the beleagered principal Seymour Kaufman on ABC's Room 222, and a man with no illusions about his fame within the Greek community, a community which includes such luminaries as Telly Savalas, Christopher George, George Maharis, and Melina Mercouri. "Greek people couldn't care less what kind of parts I play," Constantine says. "All they care about is that they can look at our show and bask in the refledtion of a good Greek face on the screen."

He's proud of his Greek upbringing, having grown up in a home where everyone spoke Greek and he didn't speak a word of English until he was seven. (He can still read and write in the language.) Although he loved being Greek, he hated being patronized for being different. He still hates it, but he doesn't let it define him; "Nobody makes me feel inferior without my permission," he recalls hearing and old black woman say. "And that's how I feel."

Constantine honed his acting chops in New York, working in off-Broadway shows and the occasional TV drama, but found Hollywood more profitable. "I"d fly out to do an Untouchables or a Fugitive and they'd pay me twice as much as I got in New York doing Defenders or Naked City. 'What am I doing in New York?' I finally asked myself. 'What am I proving, how artsy-craftsy I am?' The next time I went to Hollywood I stayed, and nothing wil get me back." There are other benefits to working on the West Coast as well; "An actor in New York is treated like contemptible dirt—humiliated by receptionists, made to feel worthless by producers, made to feel desperately grateful for crumbs. Contrary to legend, in Hollywood they treat actors like human beings." 

So Michael Constantine is living the good life, with his wife and two children. When he's not on Room 222, he's at Theater East, an L.A. workshop for actors. He studies photography, reads, and enjoys the sun. His colleagues love him; "The show spins around him," says producer Gene Reynolds, "and he holds it all together." Co-stars Lloyd Haynes and Denise Nicholas are great admirers. And every once in a while, he gets to head back to his home town of Reading, Pennsylvania, where he found himself invited to a Greek wedding. "I sang, I danced, I had a ball," he says. "It was sublimely, soul-nourishingly Greek."

l  l  l

MST3K alert: San Francisco International 
(Made-for-TV, 1970) This TV-movie, filmed on location, previews one part of the new "Four in One" series. Like the movies "Airport" and "The V.I.P.s," this behind-the scenes airport drama is jam-packed with plot angles: a plan to rob $3,000,000; a kidnapping; a marriage near collapse. Pernell Roberts, Clu Gulager, Tab Hunter. (Tuesday, 9:00 p.m., NBC) It isn't often that we see a riffed movie during its network run, but this effort deserves it. And while Pernell Roberts is the putative star of this pilot, he'll be replaced by Lloyd Bridges when the series begins. Including tonight's movie, there are seven episodes in total, beginning at the end of October. According to Wikipedia, the MST3K airing "rescued" the movie from obscurity. A double-edged sword, if you ask me. TV  

September 22, 2023

Around the dial

Let's start this week at bare-bones e-zine, where Jack welcomes a new writer to the Hitchcock Project. It's Dick Carr, author of the first season episode "The Big Switch," a story of gunfighters and possibly divine intervention, with a stirling cast including Gene Barry, Darren McGavin, and Ellen Corby.

At Classic Film & TV Cafe, Rick applies his "Seven Things to Know" talent to Zorro, the late-1950s Walt Disney-produced series for ABC, starring Guy Williams as the famed masked crimefighter. Did you know that Annette was a big fan of Zorro and appeared on four episodes?

The Secret Sanctum of Captain Video goes the graphic route, with this Kung Fu story "The Rising Storm." Excellent artwork in this adaptation, which reminds me that I really should go back and watch this series again at some point.

Roger takes on the 1995 Columbo episode "Strange Bedfellows" over at The View from the Junkyard. Reading the description, the story didn't sound familiar, and I've got the Columbo boxed set. It made sense when I saw the 1995 date; we skipped most of the movies, which failed to live up to the standards of the original series. As for this episode? Sounds like we made the right choice.

A couple of anniversary recognitions from Terence at A Shroud of Thoughts. First, it's the 60th anniversary of The Fugitive, one of the great TV shows of all time. Next, it's 60 years for The Patty Duke Show, the series that made "identical cousins" a thing, even though the odds on that happening are something like a billion to one. (Like so much else, you can actually look it up online!)

At The Hits Just Keep On Comin', JB posts some random thoughts, including a review of what sounds like an interesting book, TV Snapshots: An Archive of Everyday Life, by Lynn Spigel. (Embedded is a link to another interesting piece, this one by Drew Magary, on the meaning a television set can have.)

David raises an interesting question at Comfort TV: what does it mean when we say a television character has "integrity"? Some interesting examples follow; I always enjoy it when someone measures television charactes as if they were actual people, and David does a very good job of it. Good comments here as well.

At Cult TV Blog, John wraps up (for now) his excellent series on The X-Files and the American Dream, and comes to some conclusions. You'll want to make sure to catch up on the latest entries from the past week, Thought-provoking as always.  TV  

September 20, 2023

Leftovers from the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention

When I made my original on-site report from the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention a couple of weeks ago, it was Friday morning, meaning there were still two more days to come. As I mentioned, we had an absolutely great time on Thursday, and if we'd left then, it would have been one of our greatest vacations ever. Having driven nine hours to get there, however, we were going to make sure we got our money's worth, and in fact there was still a lot more fun to come. Herewith a report on some of the things we did during the last two days, not only to gloat about what a great time we had, but to show you all what kind of an experience MANC is, in hopes that you'll be encouraged to become a regular attendee as well.

At the time of my Friday post, I mentioned that we were off to a What's My Line? recreation, and that was great fun (as John Daly would have put it). Martin Grams played the role of John (and I'm so jealous), while three volunteers from the convention served as the panel, and the guests were ordinary people with regular occupations that the panel had to guess. (There were some great questions, by the way; these people were clearly familiar with how the show worked.) Filling the role of Mystery Guest: two of the cosplayers who wandered the corridors of the convention all weekend, "Commando Cody" and "Jake Blues." Martin says they'll be reprising this next year, and I'm looking forward to it. 

Friday evening was highlighted by an interview featuring Hal Linden and Max Gail from Barney Miller, and Tim Matheson, from many shows and movies. It was a charming hour, with the three guests sharing stories and insights from their years in the business, and answering questions from the audience. It was particularly fun watching Matheson, who, when he wasn't answering questions, was watching Linden and Gail and taking it in as if he was in the audience with the rest of us. Three great raconteurs,  especially Linden, who at age 92 has neither missed a step nor forgotten a story. You'll remember that I mentioned how nice each of them was when we met them in the autograph line; they were just as nice in this appearance. You can see a video of the interview here.

After that, in the movie room, it was a showing of the 1957 Playhouse 90 drama "A Sound of Different Drummers," which was never repeated on television, and has seldom been seen anywhere since then, It was a terrific opportunity for me to do some first-hand research, as you'll be reading a "Descent into Hell" essay on "A Sound of Different Drummers" in the next couple of weeks, and I'll leave it at that. That was followed by the 1970 Hawaii Five-O episode "Bored, She Hung Herself," another controversial episode that was never reaired, nor included in the syndication package or Five-O boxed set, because some fool accidentally hanged himself after trying to copy a move from the episode. I wouldn't put it in the upper tier of Five-O episodes, but neither would I ban it from being reshown, and since I'm something of a completist when it comes to series television, I'm glad we were able to see it. That's one of the great things about MANC; it isn't limited to meeting celebrities, but includes seminars, special showings such as these, and vendors. Something for everyone.

Nostalgia isn't limited only to television and movies, of course. My friend David Krell is a fan of both classic television and classic baseball, which helps explain why we're friends. On Saturday morning he gave a talk on primetime television in the 1960s, which included a tough 50-question trivia quiz on various aspects of '60s TV, made all the tougher because it was a multiple-choice quiz in which "all the possible answers are plausible, but only one is correct." Modesty prevents me from identifying the winner of the quiz, but I am saving my answer sheet for posterity. At a previous convention I'd purchased his book "Our Bums": The Brooklyn Dodgers in History, Memory and Popular Culture, and this year I picked up two of his new books, 1962: Baseball and America in the Time of JFK, and Do You Believe in Magic? Baseball and America in the Groundbreaking Year of 1966, and I'm looking forward to reading both of them. I also purchased Veeck as in Wreck, the autobiography of baseball visionary Bill Veeck, for two bucks at a used book table; I've been wanting to read this for years. (The magazine is a publication of the Society for American Baseball Research, in which David has an article; it was given out as a prize for the trivia quiz, which, again, is all I'll say regarding the winner of the quiz.) 

I also got a few minutes to chat with fellow author Garry Berman, who confessed that, like me, he always worries that a question-and-answer segment will expose him as a poseur. After we left, my wife asked me if we were all like that, since I'm always expressing the same apprehensions, almost word-for-word, as Garry. I suspect that at some level we all think we're just playing at this, and I'm not sure I'd want it to be any other way; I'd hate to be one of those snooty academics who's so cocksure about everything and talks down from the Ivory Tower. Anyway, Garry has nothing to worry about—yours truly, on the other hand, has every reason to be afraid.

We wound up getting some classic TV boxed sets at ridiculously good prices, including The Lawless Years, starring James Gregory (who's also a recurring actor in Barney Miller), a progenitor to The Untouchables, for $8. You can't beat that. The Loner, created by Rod Serling and starring Lloyd Bridges, is a philosophical Western that CBS didn't really allow to bloom; Serling found it a typically frustrating experience, but it's well worth watching. Arrest and Trial was a failed experiment on the part of ABC, a 90-minute drama with Ben Gazzara as a police detective making the arrest in the first half of the story, and Chuck Connors as the defense attorney trying to get the suspect off in the second half. It's an interesting concept and features some terrific actors, so I wasn't afraid to buy it at that price. And then there's Nichols, the one-season Western from James Garner that's part-Maverick, part-Rockford Files, and one of the few shows that I actually remember having watched back in the day.

There were other things we'd have liked to have seen or done while we were there, but just as it was impossible in the era of classic television to watch two shows at once, it was impossible to be in two places at once. I think we made the right choices, but I can't imagine that any choice would have been wrong. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, it was such a nice experience being around people who shared your interests, understood what you were talking about (instead of starring at you with blank expressions), and looking for nothing more than having a good time. We'll be back next year, God willing, and I hope we'll see some of you there! TV  

September 18, 2023

What's on TV? Friday, September 23, 1955

We looked at that big Park Forest event on Saturday, and I'm not sure anything else is going to compare to that today. You may have noticed, however, if you're an observant viewer of these Chicagoland editions, that we have a new station in the lineup: WTTW, the educational station. It began a two-days-a-week test schedule on Monday, with programs being broadcast between 4:00 and 10:00 p.m. every Monday and Friday while its permanent studio is being constructed. They're expecting to go to a full 30-hours-per-week schedule in the fall. So you can't say these little news items aren't educational. 

September 16, 2023

This week in TV Guide: September 17, 1955

Let's start the week off right with a look at two legends and their relationship to TV, beginning with Judy Garland and her television debut on next Saturday's 90-minute Ford Star Jubilee. It will be telecast live and in color (on the East Coast, anyway), with special guest David Wayne, playing the Fred Astaire role in a song from Easter Parade.

Garland is only 33 and without the gaunt look that we'd see a decade later—in fact, don't you think she looks like daughter Liza in the picture on that album cover below? And even though she cancelled the remainder of her national tour in order to do the special, she's nervous all the same. "I’ll probably come out on the stage, take one look at those three-eyed TV monsters and faint dead away," she says. "And then where am I going to find another medium to make my comeback?" 

Still, it's a time of excitement, and she's not going to worry about it. "I’ll just work my head off, get good and sick 30 minutes before air time, and by Sunday morning we’ll know whether or not I’ve laid an egg." The writer is confident that she won't. And I don't think she did, either; included in the show is the only video performance of "Over the Rainbow" while wearing the famous tramp outfit that she so often wore in concert. As a matter of fact, you can see most of the show here and decide for yourself. As I frequently say, we're fortunate we have this much of our television history still intact.

l  l  l

From one legend to another: Frank Sinatra says he has no interest in doing television on a regular basis—it's "too tough," he says—but the networks keep coming after him, and he's not above doing the occasional special, such as this Monday's now-famous Producers' Showcase presentation of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" (7:00 p.m. CT, NBC) in which Sinatra plays the Stage Manager and introduces the song "Love and Marriage."* The cast includes Paul Newman and Eva Marie Saint, the two teenagers at the heart of the story, plus Shelley Fabares and well-known character actors Paul Hartman, Ernest Truex, Sylvia Field, and Peg Hillias. 

*It's also the first of a long collaboration between songwritesr Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen. 

But back to The Chairman; he's happy with "Our Town" ("a great script"), but he says he doesn't have any TV plans for the future. "I like movies better," he tells Dan Jenkins, although he makes fun of an early effort, 1948's The Miracle of the Bells, now popular on The Late, Late Show, in which he plays a priest, "walking through the role with all the grace and animation of a wooden Indian" according to Jenkins ("Pretty awful, wasn't it?" Sinatra acknowledges.) A man can afford to do that when he has an Academy Award on the mantlepiece, which Sinatra won five years later for From Here to Eternity. "Takes a guy that long to learn how to act," he says. "You gotta keep watching all the other guys and pretty soon you absorb enough of it or it just rubs off on you or something. Anyway, you learn." He learns pretty good; later in the year he'll star in The Man with the Golden Arm, for which he'll receive another Oscar nomination the following year. And despite his protestations to the contrary, he's got one more TV series up his sleeve, a 1957 effort for ABC that was to combine dramatic efforts with occasional music specials.

That series fails (as did an earlier CBS effort in 1950), but no matter; he remains a powerhouse in records and movies, and his frequent singing specials are always ratings hits. This must be our lucky week, though; "Our Town" is available on YouTube as well, and you can see it here.

l  l  l

Another week, another story about CBS's struggle to field a competitive morning show to go against Today. It seems as if this has been the case ever since television started, but that's an exaggeration; it's only been several decades. Anyway, we've already seen Walter Cronkite and Jack Paar try, and fail, to make a dent in NBC's dominance of the two-hour timeslot, but according to the New York TV Teletype, the network has a radical new idea: "Bill Leonard, local New York CBS commentator, will do feature stories; Charles Collingwood will continue with the news, and Bob Keeshan, original 'Clarabell' on Howdy Doody, will do a kid show, Captain Kangaroo."

Now, isn't that something? CBS does, in fact, cut The Morning Show down to an hour, and giving the second hour to The Captain. Paar actually stays with the show until the following year, when CBS moves him to a late-morning program of his own. Paar's replaced by Will Rogers, Jr.; that format lasts 14 months before Rogers is replaced in turn by country singer Jimmy Dean; that show runs for 45 minutes, with a 15-minute morning news program leading into Captain Kangaroo; the whole shebang lasts another nine months, after which CBS gives up altogether until The CBS Morning News debuts in 1963.

Meanwhile, Captain Kangaroo continues weekdays until 1982, when it's moved to the weekend in order to make room for an expanded CBS Morning News, hosted by Bill Kurtis and Diane Sawyer, which actually worked for whilebefore failing again. 

l  l  l

Let's stay with the industry news for a bit longer. Dan Jenkins takes a not-so-fond look back at the summer season just ended; "If 'good riddance' is too strong a term, and it probably is, let it be said that it was a 'normal' summer. As such, it in no way measured up to the exciting promises voiced by the networks." Only one program, The $64,000 Question, emerged from the season to become a hit, and while Jenkins questions its cultural value, rest assured that it's going to become a symbol of television culturecough, scandalbefore long. 

Johnny Carson debuted his variety program on CBS*; the "bright young comic" is still in the launching stage, but when he takes off, it'll be quite a flight. Julius La Rosa, standing in for Perry Como, was "pleasant, if not inspiring." His old boss, Arthur Godfrey, turned the reins over to Frankie Laine, "who poses no immediate threat." Many of the "spectaculars" promised for the summer were less than special, including "One Touch of Venus," which I mentioned just a few weeks ago. Jenkins wastes fewer words than I did in describing it; it was "a bore." 

*You can find this on DVD, and while I think the makers would like you to mistake this for The Tonight Show, it's worth it anyway, to see his legendary career in its embryonic stage. 

I don't want to give the impression that everything was bad, though. Jenkins liked Ethel and Albert, the Peg Lynch-created crossover from radio, writing that it was "one of the few intelligently written husband-and-wife situation comedies extant and should be jealously preserved for the benefit of the American sanity." He also liked The Dunninger Show, starring the famed mentalist (you can read about the TV Guide profile here), calling him a pheonmenon, and adding that "there aren't many phenomenons on TV." Then or now, if you ask me. And the anthologies that continued throughout the summer, such as Studio One, were satisfying. 

All in all, says Jenkins, good television "is somewhat akin to the weather. Everybody talks about it, nobody does anything about it—yet occasionally, as though all by itself, along comes that rare day in June. It’s the waiting that can kill you."

l  l  l

John Cameron Swayze, anchor of NBC's Camel News Caravan, is the latest to weigh in on the effect television has on children, and surprise: he believes they'll profit from it. 

While acknowledging that "a few programs are not what they should be," Swayze points out that "our youngsters' TV experiences are in no way limited to specifically designed 'children's programs,' either good or bad; their interest isn't limited to programs tailor-made for their particular age group." Because of its visual impact and sense of immediacy, "televisison has captured the child's imagination and boosted interst in areas of thought and activity often considered outside his own sphere." 

In support of his contention, Swayze points to his own experience with News Caravan; more than 35 percent of the mail he gets is from children between six and 16, a "tremendous response" from a demographic that's not the target market. In one week, he received letters from an entire New Jersey elementary class commenting on world problems; had a letter from a 14-year-old in Arkansas asking about use of the H-bomb for defense; heard from a 15-year-old with her views on the power struggle in the Kremlin; and had a 10-year-old write asking for ideas on the president's foreign policy." Many colleagues, he reports, have received similar kinds of mail from young viewers; among other things, he concludes, "we parents are slow to realize how much youngsters are interested in what’s going on in the world beyond their own particular family and school realm."

The lesson, he says, is that parents should "take advantage of this painless, entertaining 'schoolroom,' i.e., the TV set," and understand that children "are quite capable of interest in good adult programming." It's not enough to make sure they see they monitor children's programs; "a little effort should be put to surveying personally the type and quality of the many TV programs available and scanning daily schedules for shows overlooked that could spark their child’s interest." It might surprise them, as it surprised Swayze, to find out "they have been selling young folks a bit short when it comes to enjoying and profiting from the better type of so-called grown-up TV fare."

l  l  l

We'll wrap things up for the week with a look at more programming highlights, beginning with the debut of Perry Como's one-hour primetime show (Saturday, 7:00 p.m., NBC). Perry's guests are an all-star lineup including Frankie Laine, Rosemary Clooney, Marion Lorne, Leo DeLyon, and Dave Barry. Como had hosted the three-times-weekly Chesterfield Supper Club since 1948, and his hour-long show is an instant hit, becoming the Kraft Music Hall in 1959, and remaining on the air until 1963, when Como decides to cut back to several specials per year.

On Sunday, it's the premiere of Famous Film Festival (6:30 p.m., ABC), notable for being the first primetime movie series on network television, featuring nearly three dozen recent movies from Britain. Tonight's premiere is Carol Reed's grim 1947 thriller Odd Man Out, starring James Mason in one of his greatest performances, supported by Robert Newton and Kathleen Ryan. If you're looking for something a little more lighthearted, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis are back to kick off the new season of the Colgate Variety Hour. (7:00 p.m., NBC) Included in tonight's features a satire on the recent differences of opinion between the two stars; Less than a year later, the partnership is dissolved. I wonder if the "differences" referred to here are what precipitated the break, or if it's something else. They're going up against Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town (7:00 p.m., CBS), tonight spotlighting the U.S. Navy's World Wide Talent Contest, with the finalists coming from all over the world. Julius La Rosa and the Marquis Chimps are also part of the fun. 

Besides "Our Town," Monday also features opera star Roberta Peters on Voice of Firestone (7:30 p.m., ABC), where in addition to the classics, she sings pieces by Noel Coward and Richard Rodgers. And later, on WTMJ in Milwaukee, Orson Welles' brings film noir to Shakespeare in his 1948 black-and-white adaptation of Macbeth, with Jeanette Nolan in her film debut as the murderous Lady Macbeth. (Midnight)

A pair of premieres are on tap for Tuesday, starting with Cheyenne (6:30 p.m., ABC), one of the three rotating elements of Warner Brothers Presents, and the only one to survive to a second season. Cheyenne is not only the first hour-long Western, it's the first hour-long show with continuing characters to survive beyond one season. Meantime, at 7:30 p.m. on CBS it's the inaugural episode of You'll Never Get Rich, later to be known as The Phil Silvers Show, starring Silvers in his most famous role as Master Sergeant Ernie Bilko. 

, Arthur Godfrey and Friends begins the night for CBS (7:00 p.m.), which leads us to one of the week's cover stories, part two of Godfrey's feud with the press. The star himself shrugs off any significance to what's written about him; "I learned a long time ago to read as little as possible about myself," he told one interviewer. "First they build you up; then they tear you down." And such is the case with Godfrey; for years he enjoyed laudatory writeups from the press, but the tide began to turn with the firing of Julius La Rosa, when his role suddenly switched "from hero to villain, from crusader to bully." Says Ben Gross of the New York Daily News, "to see the Great Man requires the eating of more humble pie than trying to interview the Queen of England. He is the master of the brush-off, with a generally contemptuous manner toward newspapermen." Godfrey's vow to even the score in his upcoming autobiography doesn't help things any, and despite his best efforts he never regains the popularity he once enjoyed.

Thursday belongs to guest stars, with Nina Foch and Vincent Price starring on Climax! (7:30 p.m., CBS); naturally, Price is the heavy, and meets an untimely ending. Ida Lupino, one of the four stars of Four Star Playhouse, stars in "With All My Heart" (8:30 p.m., CBS), while Brian Donlevy and Bobby Van are the leads in "The Policy of Joe Aladdin" on Ford Theatre (8:30 p.m., NBC) And WTMJ's midnight movie is The Lie, with Lee Bowman as a man who wakes up to find a dead body in his room. How many times has this happened to you?

Throughout the week, the merchants of the modern Park Forest Plaza in Park Forest, Illinois ("60 modern stories! Parking for 3500 cars!") have been celebrating the "Park Forest-TV Guide Jamboree," and Friday features a musical-variety hour with local celebrities, headlined by a non-local celebrity: Sammy Davis Jr., who also crowns the queen of the festival. (3:00 p.m., WGN) In case you were curious, the Park Forest Plaza is no more, but it's not a victim of the recent downturn in retail malls; it came to an end in 1996. Later, on Edward R. Murrow's Person to Person (9:30 p.m., CBS), it's a great doubleheader: first Ed interviews conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein and his wife, Felicia Montealegre; then his guest is Olympic legend Jesse Owens. Not a bad way to end the week, right? TV  

September 15, 2023

Around the dial

Well, we're back this week after last week's special report from—where was I again? Oh yeah, the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention. (By the way, I'll have a final entry on that next Wednesday.) As is always the case when this feature takes a week off, we've got a full batch of links, so let's get right to it!

We'll start off with my latest appearance on the Dan Schneider Video Interview. This week, we look at the history of special event news coverage, from the death of Stalin to the Gulf War. There's a lot more to this than you might think, and I'd be interested to see what you all think. You can see the entire episode here.

John takes another break from his excellent series at Cult TV Blog on The X-Files and the American Dream for a look at The Avengers, and the early episode "Box of Tricks," a rare Steed-Venus Smith story. I like it not only because he mentions yours truly (thanks, John!) but because he goes deeper into an episode which has received valid criticism but still entertains. 

At Classic Film & TV Café, Rick reviews the 1964 version of Ernest Hemingway's short story The Killers, starring Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager. Most of you probably know it was originally slated to be the first TV movie, but wound up in the theaters due to its violence; like Rick, I quite like this movie. He also reviews Tenebrae, Dario Argent's 1982 giallo thriller, which might be worth a look.

The latest entry in the Hitchcock Project is Allan Gordon's "The Man Who Found the Money," from Hitchcock season six. Jack takes a deep look at this very nasty episode, starring Arthur Hill and Rod Cameron, at bare-bones e-zine.

Much of the appeal to classic television lies in its uncanny ability to revive happy memories of the past, and David demonstrates this at Comfort TV with his fond review of the superb PBS children's show The Electric Company, featuring Bill Cosby, Rita Moreno, Morgan Freeman, and Irene Cara. It's proof that educational television doesn't have to be boring at the same time.

Cult TV Lounge pulls up a blast from the past—an episode of the 1950-51 Dick Tracy TV series, included as a bonus in the box set of Dick Tracy serials. It's an excellent look at the challenges involved in doing a half-hour drama series, and how the writers have to really know what they're doing.

Collider has an interesting article on how the excellent neo-noir movie Experiment in Terror may have influenced David Lynch, especially in the making of Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet. Now, the article doesn't actually quote Lynch as acknowledging this, though I wouldn't doubt it; still, I'm in a kind of prove-it mindset. Nevertheless, it seems hard to refute! 

Not long ago, I posted a review of the 1970s miniseries Captains and the Kings, looking primarily at the striking coincidences between the story's Armagh family and the real-life Kennedys, and author Taylor Caldwell's political message. If you're interested in the ins and outs of the series itself, Paul has an excellent extended look at Drunk TV

At Travalanche, it's a nostalgic look back at the Labor Day tradition that was the Jerry Lewis Telethon, an annual tradition for so many of us around here. Labor Day just isn't the same anymore, sad to say, but that doesn't make it unique.

A View from the Junkyard takes a look at what must be one of the most famous non-cartoonish animated shows, Star Trek: The Animated Series. It really was quite something at the time: a cancelled primetime show making a comback as a Saturday-morning show, feauring the voices of the original cast members; as Mike says, it's essentially season four of the series.

At A Shroud of Thoughts, Terence dips way back into the memory files for NBC Follies, the network's 1973 attempt to revive the variety show genre. The fact that NBC Follies is, as Terence says, "largely forgotten except by television historians and fans of Sammy Davis Jr. and Mickey Rooney," tells you what you need to know about its success. Of course, since he's describing me, I had to link to it. TV  

September 13, 2023

NBC Week, 1965

Here's something I thought might be a fun follow-up to Saturday's 1965-66 Fall Preview edition of TV Guide. It's an eight-page insert from that issue, advertising NBC's new fall lineup, which premieres during NBC Week, September 12 through 19. 

For those of you who don't remember, the networks used to roll out their fall lineups over the course of a week-long extravaganza. You'd get your first glimpse at new shows, the return of old favorites, and probably some blockbuster movies along the way. It was a great way to do business, and NBC Week ("NBC: The Full Color Network!") was one of the best of the promotions. 

The illustrations in this advertisement are by the legendary MAD magazine artist Jack Davis, and they appeared in the program section in individual ads for each night as well as in this section. I think you'll enjoy it!

As an added bonus, here is a half-hour special promoting NBC's new season, hosted by Don Adams, star of the new series Get Smart!. Will it be a hit? We'll see! TV  

September 11, 2023

What's on TV? Wednesday, September 15, 1965

Art Linkletter's guest on House Party, "physical culturist" Verne Gagne, was better known to me (and millions in the Midwest) as the American Wrestling Association's world heavyweight wrestling champion, and one of the great "good guys" in wrestling history. He was a native of Minnesota, having played college football at the U of M (where he was all-Big Ten), before turning to wrestling, and was a dynamic personality on television. He was an old-school wrestler; there was nothing flamboyant about him, no outrageous costume or over-the-top persona—just good, clean wrestling (his submission hold was "The Sleeper") and a warmth that endeared him to fans. According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, he's one of only seven men inducted into each of the WWE, WCW and Professional Wrestling halls of fame. Too bad this issue isn't from Minneapolis-St. Paul; the programs come from the Northern California edition.