January 30, 2023

What's on TV? Saturday, January 28, 1967

Here's something that might only bother me, but I'm going to share it anyway. The CBS Golf Classic was a made-for-TV event that ran throughout the 1960s, with 16 two-man teams of top professionals. The winning team each week advances to the next round, and the season culminates with a championship match between the final two teams; the whole thing was actually taped months in advance, since I can pretty much promise nobody was playing golf in January at the Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. 

Anyway, as it was back in the day, programs don't always air at the same time in different markets, and in this case WHDH in Boston is showing the "live" match, while WABI in Bangor is on a one-week delay. The team of Ken Venturi and Johnny Pott are in both, but in Bangor they're playing Frank Beard and Miller Barber in a first-round match, while in Boston it's a quarterfinal match against Julius Boros and Don January. If you're still with me, you might see the problem: anyone in Bangor reading this TV Guide and noticing that Venturi and Pott are in a quarterfinal match on WHDH will already know how their own match is going to end; Venturi and Pott will win, otherwise, they wouldn't be in the quarterfinals. They can see it right there! Geez, talk about killing the suspense! Perhaps the listing could simply have read, "Julius Boros and Don January take on the winner of last week's match between. . ." Oh well. As you may have surmised, this is the Northern New England edition, minus the educational channels; they don't broadcast on the weekend.

January 28, 2023

This week in TV Guide: January 28, 1967

Sometimes—perhaps most times—even when you're able to watch a program from 50 or 60 years ago it can be difficult to recapture the impact that show must have had on viewers at the time. After all, times change, people change. 

Take, for instance, Sunday's episode of CBS Playhouse, the network's successor to the fabled Playhouse 90*. Set in 1963, "The Final War of Olly Winters" stars Ivan Dixon as an Army sergeant serving as a United States military adviser in South Vietnam at a time before American soldiers had been committed to combat.

*Unlike the original, CBS Playhouse aired on an occasional basis (only twelve were shown over the three years that the show ran; it was dropped for lack of sponsorship).  

A couple of points about this: first, it's a neat trick to set the story in 1963, before Vietnam had become so polarizing. By the late 1960s, war protestors were vilifying American soldiers as war criminals, baby murderers, and the like. By doing this, I wonder if Ronald Ribman, the author of the play, wasn't trying to create some distance in order to make it easier for Winters to be accepted as a protagonist by the audience. I'm not attempting to psychoanalyze Ribman or his motives, but it does seem logical that making it a period piece by only four years would make sense. 

What I was really thinking about, though, was the casting of Ivan Dixon as Winter. Dixon was far from being unknown (he'd appeared in many movies and television shows, including a memorable appearance on The Twilight Zone in "The Big Tall Wish." At this point, however, he's been on Hogan's Heroes for nearly two full seasons, playing Staff Sergeant Kinchloe; Olly Winter is also a staff sergeant. Same rank, same uniform, same mustache. Surely viewers (and there were 30 million of them) would have been alerted by the TV Guide description that they were going to see something far different from Hogan. Still, look at him in that picture. Consider that he's been a soldier for 20 years—since 1943. Sure, Kinch would have been promoted for his heroic service in Stalag 13, but in some way you might have thought of Winter as Kinch, but in a very, very different story. I don't want to make too fine a point there, but you have to admit that it's kind of unnerving to see an actor playing a role that, on the exterior, looks so similar to the role in which we know and love him. And don't forget that he's playing Kinch at the time; as a matter of fact, you could have seen him on Hogan's Heroes just 48 hours earlier, Friday night at 8:30 p.m. 

In addition to Dixon, who will be nominated for an Emmy for Best Actor for his brilliant performance, "Olly Winter" boasts top credentials; Paul Bogart, the director, had already won an Emmy for The Defenders and he'll get a nomination for Best Director for this as well. (He was also nominated for directing sitcoms like All in the Family and The Golden Girls; hell, he could have directed an episode of Hogan's Heroes!) Fred Coe, the producer, had also done Playhouse 90. And the music was by Aaron Copland. "The Final War of Olly Winter" is a critical as well as popular success; I wish this had led to even more dramas of this type.

CBS would make one final effort in the early 1970s to bring back the dramatic anthology concept, this time resurrecting the Playhouse 90 title in its entirety (as well as the opening music and graphics); CBS Playhouse 90 would air a number of quality plays, including Ingmar Bergman's "The Lie" and Brian Moore's "Catholics." "The Final War of Olly Winter" isn't available commercially or online, but it can be seen at the Paley Center in New York or the UCLA Film & Television Archive in L.A. It's probably the thousandth show I have on my list to watch at places I'll likely never get to.

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. 

When you think of The Jackie Gleason Show, what comes to your mind first? Is it The Honeymooners, the classic sitcom? Is it the 1950s variety show, on which the Honeymooners sketches first appeared? Is it The American Scene Magazine, Gleason's 1962 return to weekly television? Or is it the show that Cleveland Amory reviews this week, which originates from "The Sun and Fun Capital of the World," Miami Beach and brings The Honeymooners back as a regular feature? If you're like me (and, once again, I hope you aren't), this is the version you're most familiar with. And it's a good thing, Cleve says, because this show, which has for too long been too average, is now "not only as bright comedy as is available anywhere on your dial, but it is also, at its best each week, a full-scale musical comedy."

Key to the show's evolution has been the reunion of Gleason with his Honeymooners on a regular basis—not just the great Art Carney, who makes The Great One "a great deal Greater," but the additions of Sheila MacRae as Alice (who, in her first continuing TV role, shows herself "not only a fine actress but a terrific reactress") and Jane Kean as Trixie ("both singer and swinger"), to make what Amory calls "a winsome foresome and then some." The idea of making The Honeymooners into a musical comedy (which, I'll admit, would not have occurred to me) has been transformational; the songs by Lyn Duddy and Jerry Bresler "are, if not Broadway caliber, so close to it that, when you consider they are turning them out week after week, even more remarkable than Broadway."

The show isn't perfect; Amory finds that the characters of Ralph and Norton are still "unnecessarily crude," a critique that many will agree with today; and, he says, "too many of the routines are routine," although my personal opinion always was that by (for example) sending the Kramdens and Nortons on adventures around the world, they were straying too far from the skit's original concept. But I suppose the tenements of New York don't lend themselves to all that many musical storylines, unless you're making West Side Story. All in all, Cleve concludes, "when you see wonderful episodes like Ralph being blackmailed by a senorita or being duped into becoming a Santa Claus bookie, somehow you like the show the way it is—warts and all."

l  l  l

Now that the inaugural Super Bowl (and yes, that's what TV Guide has called it) is over, Stanley Frank is here to answer the big question: no, not which league is best, but which network won the TV game—CBS, with their broadcasting team of Ray Scott, Jack Whittaker, and Frank Gifford, or NBC's long-running announce booth of Curt Gowdy and Paul Christman.

As you probably know, both networks televised the game, with an agreement that they would alternate coverage of future games. With the largest U.S. audience ever to watch a sporting event on the line, the stakes were high. During the regular season, CBS outdrew NBC by two to one, which isn't surprising considering the NFL is not only the more established league but has the larger television markets; it was thought that CBS needed to win by about five ratings points in order to show it had retained its core audience, while NBC needed to keep things close or else they'd have trouble selling the AFL to advertisers next season.

As is typical when ratings are involved, there was good news for everyone. According to the Arbitron overnight figures, CBS scored a "smashing" victory, drawing 59 percent of the football audience and besting NBC by more than seven points; NBC countered with Nielsen figures that showed them trailing CBS by only 1.2 points in the critical New York City market. (The final ratings: CBS won the Nielsens 22.6 to 18.5, and the market share 43-36.)

How did the announcers do? Frank's analysis is that NBC's Gowdy betrayed his rooting interest in the AFL's Kansas City Chiefs, "flout[ing] the objectivity a reporter is supposed to observe," but he did inject excitement into the game while the score was still close. (I don't find that unexpected, considering that Ray Scott, who did the first half of the game for CBS, is known for his minimalist, "just the facts" style of play-by-play.) The NFL's Green Bay Packers made Gowdy look bad several times; after proclaiming that "Green Bay's famed ground game has been stopped!" Gowdy watched as Green Bay's Jim Taylor rolled 14 yards on the ground for a touchdown. He was, Frank says, "a prophet without honor and a partisan without a winner." Better was Gowdy's color analyst, Paul Christman, and it's too bad that more aren't familiar with his work today. He was the first announcer with the ability to, in Frank's words, "explain what was happening clearly and concisely, with a minimum of technical gobbledygook." He shrewdly anticipated plays and wasn't afraid to lay it on the line; with the Packers leading 7-0 and the Chiefs threatening, he called the next play the pivotal moment of the game, saying, "Kansas CIty will have to prove itself and score to have a chance to win."

CBS, in general, displayed a more impartial voice; Gifford "almost dislocated a vertebra bending over backward to laud the Chiefs and make character for his firm with AFL owners," no doubt hoping it would improve the network's chances of getting the whole TV package after the leagues merge. The inexperienced Gifford, a rookie announcer, struggled working the first half with the bare-bones Scott, but he became more comfortable as the game progressed, and worked well with second-half play-by-play man Jack Whittaker. Although he didn't have the analytical acumen of Christman, and he sometimes seemed surprised that the Chiefs were, in fact, an accomplished professional football team ("The Chiefs came to play football," he remarked "lamely" after they'd tied the game), he was particularly good at explaining the emotional aspects of the game; Frank feels that "his human-interest touches brightened what had become a dull contest" by the fourth quarter. Perhaps he knew what Kansas City players were feeling, Frank concludes; after all, in 1961 "Gifford's Giants met the Packers for the NFL title and were clobbered, 37-0."

Why did I spend so much time on this? Well, 29 of the top 30 most-watched television broadcasts of all time have been Super Bowls. The cost of a 30-second commercial in 1967 was $42,000; last year, it was between $6.5 and $7 million.

l  l  l

I missed the point of The Monkees when they debuted in 1966. Sure, I watched the show from time to time, but since I wasn't a fan of The Beatles, the comparisons were lost on me. And since I wasn't a teenage girl, the "cute" factor was a non-issue as well. In fact, now that I think of it, I probably saw the show more often on Saturday mornings than I did in the original airing. I was never a fan, but neither did I dismiss them out of hand.

Leslie Raddatz's article rehashes everything we know about the group: the Daily Variety ad ("MADNESS!! Auditions—Folk & Roll Musicians-Singers—Running parts for 4 insane boys, age 17-21.") and the descriptions of our four heroes (Davy, "the little one"; Mike, "the one with the hat"; Mickey, "who was Circus Boy when he and TV were both young"; and Peter, "the shy one with the dimples."), and we're not surprised to find that the four not only are referred to as "kids" by everyone, "they act like kids, and that's the way they seem to think of themselves." But as Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, the co-producers, point out, their goal was not to find four actors to play The Monkees, but to be The Monkees.

Each one of them has his own story; Davy was a jockey in England as well as an actor; under contract to Columbia, he's the only one of the four who wasn't cast from the Daily Variety ad. Peter flunked out of college and worked as a kitchen boy while he sang in coffee houses; he originally didn't want to audition, "but I had let my hair grow in the Village, so I was ready for the part." Mickey was part of an acting family and starred in Circus Boy when he was 10; Raddatz describes him as "the only one who seems to be acting, rather than just being himself." Even at this early stage in their history, Mike is seen as different from the other three; he has "a brooding quality," and is the only one of the four who is "reluctant to talk about himself." He's worn his hat for five years, but "Now that I've got to wear it, I'm gettin' tired of it."

The Monkees cut quite a swath through pop culture in the 1960s, even though the series only runs for two seasons, with a total of 58 episodes. The show makes a comeback in 1986, thanks to a marathon on MTV, and it never really dropped off the map after that, with the group, in various incarnations, touring around the country. And yet, I don't know if anyone truly appreciated the impact it made until Davy Jones's unexpected death in 2012, and the overwhelming outpouring of grief and memories across social media. Sure, the Monkees had been popular, and Davy's death was a shock, but I think very few people were prepared for the tidal wave of warmth and affection that resulted. There were those, I know, who didn't understand, maybe couldn't understand, how a silly TV show could mean so much to so many people. And yet there it was. We saw it again in 2019 with Peter Tork's death, and in 2021 when Mike Nesmith died, leaving only Mickey Dolenz. 

And if that seems impossible to believe, well, Mickey's 77 now, and while he should have many years to go, eventually that time will come, and then The Monkees will be just a memory, four young men frozen in time on video. Even the thought of that seems impossible, but there it is. And then all of us will look back then, back to the days when we, too, were young.

l  l  l

All right, let's look at what's on this week, and see if they interest anyone besides me.

Words mean things and they tell stories, and on Saturday's Lawrence Welk Show (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC), the story is told herein in the description of tonight's show, "A tribute to the late Walt Disney." Disney died the previous December 15, six weeks past, and the phrase "the late Walt Disney" must still have looked very strange (and very sad) to a public that had become so used to him and fond of him. 

You may have notice that there's no "Sullivan vs. Palace" this week; The Hollywood Palace is preempted tonight by the "Deb Star Ball," telecast live from the Hollywood Palladium and hosted by Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows. It's kind of hard to describe just what this event is; think of it as something like a beauty pageant with actresses. Donna Loren describes it like this: "Each year, ten of Hollywood’s most promising young actresses were dubbed Deb Stars by the Hollywood Makeup Artists and Hair Stylists Guild and were presented with the coveted 'Debbie' at the Guild’s annual ball." Past debs include Yvette Mimieux, Mary Ann Mobley, Yvonne Craig, Raquel Welch, Sally Field, and, of course, Donna Loren. This year's debs include Linda Kay Henning (Petticoat Junction), Debbie Watson (Tammy), Celeste Yarnall (The Nutty Professor), and E.J. Peaker (next season she'll be in That's Life). Not a bad lineup. We won't ignore Ed, though; his guests on Sunday's show (8:00 p.m., CBS) include the comic Smothers Brothers; the folk rocking Mamas and Papas, who sing "Words of Love"; singers Enzo Stuarti and Gale Martin (Dean's daughter); comedians Nipsy Russell and George Carlin; and Your Father's Mustache, banjo-playing singers. Frankly, I would have liked the Palace's chances. 

Also on Sunday, we see the transition of CBS's long-running 20th Century to the forward-looking 21st Century (6:00 p.m.). Still hosted by Walter Cronkite, tonight's debut episode is "The Communications Explosion," looking at the radical innovation of fiberoptics, which will allow "100 million phone calls on a single beam of light." 

I got to thinking about Monday's episode of Run for Your Life (10:00 p.m., NBC), in which Paul (Ben Gazzara) is defending an ex-cop charged with murder. (Remember, Paul Bryan is a lawyer by profession.) In the series, Paul has only one to two years to live due to his disease. Today, the average time it takes for an accused murderer to go to trial can take one to two years. Knowing that, would you want to hire Paul as your attorney? Mind you, I'm not criticizing the author of this script; 55 years ago, this probably wouldn't have been an issue. After all, Perry Mason gets his clients off in a matter of weeks. 

On the other hand, here, I think, is an example of why The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. failed: "April and Mark join a rock 'n' roll combo to protect Prince Efrem, the swinging heir apparent to a Tyrolean throne. The rockin' Daily Flash do 'My Bulgarian Baby. ' " (Tuesday, 7:30 p.m., NBC) This sounds to me more like a skit on a Bob Hope special, with Bob playing Prince Efrem. Help me out on this; would this ever have been hip? At least Vito Scotti is one of the guest stars; that helps. Occasional Wife, which airs a half-hour later on NBC, has a far more plausible plot: the man whose female friend agrees to pose as his wife in order for him to advance in the corporation.

Speaking of Hope, Wednesday's episode of Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre is notable in that the director of "The Lady Is My Wife," is Sam Peckinpah. Not surprisingly, the story is a Western, with Bradford Dillman, Jean Simmons, and Alex Cord. Peckinpah actually did quite a lot of television early in his career, including The Rifleman; he created the Brian Keith Western The Westerner in 1960, and had a major success in 1966 with "Noon Wine" on ABC Stage 67. but at the time of this Hope episode, he's also started to make a mark on the big screen, with both Ride the High Country and Major Dundee

     An ad from the 1964 airing.
begins with yet another quality drama on the Hallmark Hall of Fame: "Abe Lincoln in Illinois" (9:30 p.m., NBC), a 1964 rerun starring Jason Robards as Honest Abe, with Kate Reid as Mary Todd. Robert Sherwood's Pulitzer winning play begins in 1830 with young Lincoln establishing his law practice, and ends in 1860 with him bidding farewell as he departs by train for Washington, D.C., to be sworn in as President of the United States. Thursday ends with "David Frost's Night Out in London" on the aforementioned ABC Stage 67 (10:00 p.m.), with David "heading where the action is" in "the most 'In' town in the world," and running into Sir Laurence Olivier, Albert Finney, and Peter Sellers. 

On Friday night, NET Playhouse presents Roman Polanski's feature film debut, 1962's Knife in the Water (8:00 p.m., NET), a psychological thriller about two men fighting for the same woman. Ah, an eternal story, but not the way Polanski does it. After that, you can get The Avengers' take on The Invisible Man, as Steed and Mrs. Peel check out the case of two Slavic (i.e. Soviet) agents who've obtained an invisibility formula (10:00 p.m., ABC). You won't be able to see through that plot.

l  l  l

MST3K alert: Gunslinger (1953). "The female owner of the town saloon imports a killer to slay the town's female marshal. John Ireland, Beverly Garland, Allison Hayes." (Thursday, 6:00 p.m. WEMT) The saloonkeeper is Allison Hayes; the gunman is John Ireland; the marshal is Beverly Garland, the producer/director is Roger Corman. Need we say any more? TV  

January 27, 2023

Around the dial

I remember someone once saying, "Never tell people you don't think, or people will think you don't." (It was probably on some TV show.) Words to live by, even though I'm sure if you did a search of this website, you'd find that I use the phrase "I don't think" frequently. But do I say it too often? I don't think so.

Anyway, on with the show. At bare-bones e-zine, Jack continues the Hitchcock Project look at the work of Leigh Brackett with the episode "Terror at Northfield," based on an Ellery Queen short story, starring Dick York, Jacqueline Scott, and R.G. Armstrong. It is, Jack says, "a poor adaptation of a good story," which is why you need to read what he has to say to find out what it could have been.

As you'll recall, over at Cult TV Blog John has been pairing complimentary episodes of The Prisoner that would play well together edited into a film. This time it's the episodes "Many Happy Returns" and "A, B and C," and you owe it to yourself to read further and see how well this idea works.

Martin Grams takes a look at the late 1950s NBC series Harbormaster, starring Barry Sullivan—or is it the ABC series Adventure at Scott Island, starring Barry Sullivan? Well, as they would say on the classic SNL, it's both a floor wax and a dessert toping! The series started out as Harbormaster in 1957 on NBC, then changed networks and titles in January 1958. Only lasted one season, regardless.

Quinn Redeker, one of those actors you recognize even if you don't know his name, died near the end of last year, aged 86. It seemed as if he was on every television show, but he's probably best known for his roles in the soaps Days of Our Lives and The Young and the Restless. Find out about his career from Terence at A Shroud of Thoughts.

The Broadcast Archives links to a piece at oldshowbiz that offers a pictorial look at the vintage game show Concentration; it's a nice trip down memory lane for those of us who remember, and if you go to oldshowbiz you'll be led further down a series of posts that will leave you wondering where the time went, an hour or so later. TV  

January 25, 2023

Hope springs eternal

Last week, in my "What I've Been Watching" piece reviewing Christmas programs, I mentioned Bob Hope's Vietnam Christmas show; it was kind of a tangential follow-up to the TV Guide of January 13, 1968, in which Hope talked about his overseas Christmas trips to entertain American troops, which he had been making since 1941. We skipped over his 1968 show and watched the 1969 edition as our final Christmas program of the season. (Personal choice; Ann-Margret over Raquel Welch.)

People have differing opinions when it comes to Bob Hope; some of them think he's very funny, others not so much. Increasingly, the new generations don't even know who he is. There's no doubt that his humor comes from a different time, and his brand of joke-telling (along with the constant ogling of the beautiful women who populated his guest lineup) might play differently to newer and more tender ears. 

There can be no doubt, though, about two things, One, a historical fact: Bob Hope was, for much of his lifetime, a legend and an American institution. Two, not verifiable but likely: Bob Hope was a proud American, and he cared about the troops he entertained.

For these men, stationed in a foreign country they didn't want to be in and not really sure why they were even there, Hope was a slice of home, a reminder that there was a world other than the swamp they were in. And speaking of that home, a home that seemed to be sliding into a hellish morass with riots and assassinations and antiwar protesters calling them murderers, Hope and his crew provided evidence that there were people back there who remembered them and loved them and couldn't wait for them to come home. A tough reminder in many ways, as it always is for the soldier wondering how much longer an endless war would last, and if they would live to see it; but even a little bit of home is better than none at all. And in a strange country with a strange language, it had to mean something to see a backdrop being assembled, with "The Bob Hope Show" in large letters. That was something they could understand.

There was a moment I particularly enjoyed; although it was corny, it also said much about what these trips were about. Hope mentions in his narration that, prior to leaving on their trip, they'd been given tens of thousands of letters from home, and during the shows he'd call some of those troops up to the stage. There was Gunner’s Mate Jerry Long, for example, whose fiancée had written that she hadn't gotten a letter from him in awhile. Hope invited Long to dictate a letter to her right there on television. “Want to seal it with a kiss or anything? Right there in the camera. Go ahead, she’ll be watching. Go ahead, blow her a kiss. Blow it to the camera.” It was part of Hope's schtick, of course, but there was an intimacy about the way he said it, a humanity to it all, that made clear he viewed these men as more than just an audience. As he would say, "Our merry Christmas is knowing we made theirs a little merrier." I wonder if Jerry Long made it home? I hope so.

Near the end, as a montage of highlights from the trip is shown, Hope turns serious in a voiceover: "Discussions about our posture in Vietnam go on and on. The rights and wrongs of it are being debated and will continue to be debated for years. But one thing is not debatable and that is the contribution our men have made in Vietnam. Their courage, their kindness, their humanity and their sacrifice can never be undone. It’s now part of history. And it is in the finest tradition of America. This was our fifth trip. I never dreamed back in 1964 that we’d go on this long. It takes such a terrible toll."

And then he continues, with something surprisingly blunt. Yes, I know one of his writers probably wrote it for him, but I don't think he would have read it without it echoing his own feelings: "But here we are again, and somewhere along the way the realization hit me that we were trapped in a kind of quicksand, and that there was no end in sight. We were paying too high a price in our greatest natural resource, our youth." Everyone talks about the effect on the war when Walter Cronkite turned against it, the possibly apocryphal story that has Lyndon Johnson saying if he'd lost Cronkite, that was it. But what happens when you lose Bob Hope? It's not like he called for an immediate withdrawal, but he made no pretense that everything was hunky-dory.  

  Ann-Margret strikes an appropriate pose
    for an appreciative soldier
During the tour, Hope and his troupe had entertained 250,000 soldiers. They were "[t]he fighting kids, the wounded kids, the happy kids on their way home. Tough kids and frightened kids, sad kids, and just kids. These are the ones who have it all at stake, the ones who’ll win it all or lose it all. These are the ones who are going to pay the price if we fail. A lot of them have already paid the price." He and the other entertainers spent several minutes talking to injured soldiers on camera (some with Purple Hearts pinned to their pillows), presumably to let their loved ones know they're all right. All the time, their attention was on the men they're talking to, not the camera crew.

Remember that this tour came at the end of 1968, a desperately sad year that offered only a faint hope that things would be better. Richard Nixon, who was president-elect at the time these shows were filmed, had been given a mandate, slim though it may have been, to end the war. But how? It would take another four years for that to happen, and even then, the peace would only be temporary before the Communists accomplished the victory that we'd paid such a high price to prevent. 

It didn't make any sense back then, for those of us who lived through those days (even if we were young at the time), and it seems to make less and less sense as the years go by. For these soldiers, and for us, Bob Hope helped it make sense for at least a few minutes. TV  

January 23, 2023

What's on TV? Friday, January 29, 1965

This week we're in Northern California, and a program that caught my eye is NET Playhouse's prodution of the verse play "A Sleep of Prisoners," by English playwright Christopher Fry, best known for his play "The Lady's Not for Burning" (9:00 p.m., channel 6). It tells the story of four prisoners of war locked up in a church overnight, and the Old Testament style dreams they have springing from an argument between them, representing a kind of universal human conflict. The broadcast boasts a strong cast including Barry Morse, Paul Stevens, Ramon Bieri, and Jon Voight. Despite what you might think, I'm not always saying that television was better back in the day than it is today, but I do wish there were more thoughtful dramas like this at least occasionally--you know, ones with adult themes that didn't involve drug cartels or crooked lawyers or meth manufacturers or vampires or zombies. That's not asking for too much, is it?

January 21, 2023

This week in TV Guide: January 23, 1965

When last we saw Chuck Connors, the actor and former professional athlete was hanging out with his old buddy, Leonid Brezhnev. This week, however, he's involved in something far more mundane: his new Western series Branded, which debuts this Sunday on NBC. Most of you are probably familiar with the show, in which Connors plays Jason McCord, a U.S. calvary officer drummed out of the service on an unjust charge of cowardice. If nothing else, I'm sure you've seen the opening (reproduced below), in which Connors is stripped of his rank, his sword is broken in two, and he's unceremoniously escorted out of the fort. From then on, he spends each episode trying, through his actions, to disprove the charge against him.

It's interesting, therefore, to see how Larry Cohen, the show's 29-year-old creator, envisions Branded's themes. "My intellectual concept of the show is that it’s like a Shakespearean tragedy," he explains, "a man mistakenly, unfairly hated and persecuted—a man who must fight to destroy the image of dishonor that follows him." Cohen acknowledges the show's obvious similarities to The Fugitive, but it differs in that "Connors isn’t chasing a one-armed man." Instead, it's the much more existential concept of honor.

Connors wants to create the image of a man as different as possible from Lucas McCain, his character in The Rifleman. "I even changed my hair. I decided to keep it short and let my sideburns grow, and have it long in the back. I wanted to look military—I’m a West Point man in this show. That’s why I lost weight, too. I’m 12 pounds lighter than when I was doing The Rifleman." (And check out that sweater he's wearing; I used to have a blanket that looked like that.) And unlike The Rifleman, in which he owned only a "small piece," he's "equal partners" with Goodson-Todman, Branded's producer (one of the company's rare non-game show properties). 

At one time, the article concludes, there were 29 Westerns on television. Branded will be TV's first half-hour Western since Have GunWill Travel left the air two seasons ago. Connors is confident: "There'll always be a place for Westerns on television, because they’re Americana and you can’t throw America out of America. The Western is the American fairy tale." Unfortunately, Branded only runs a year-and-a-half and leaves the airwaves in September 1966. The late 1960s was not a good time for the American fairy tale—more like the American nightmare.

l  l  l

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.

Ed Sullivan: Tonight's scheduled guests include Metropolitan Opera soprano Birgit Nilson; comic Alan King; impressionist George Kirby; puppeteer Shari Lewis; Vietnamese pop singer Hach Yen; comedians Marty Allen and Steve Rossi; the rock ‘n’ rolling Animals; the Haslevs, tumblers; and roller skaters Ravic and Babs.

Palace: Hostess Kate Smith introduces comedian Mort Sahl, singer Trini Lopez and pantomimist Ben Blue. Also on the bill: the Juan Carlos Copes dance troupe from Argentina; harmonica player Stan Fisher; English comedy dancers Desmond and Marks; and the Karlini and Jupiter dog act.

A fairly straightforward matchup this week, and for my money a fairly straightforward choice. Birgit Nilson is a celebrated legend of the opera stage, and Alan King, George Kirby and Shari Lewis round out a strong top of the lineup. Notwithstanding Kate Smith's legendary status of her own, and Mort Sahl's typically satirical standup, Palace just doesn't have the depth. This week: Sullivan takes the bravos.

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. 

This week, Cleveland Amory takes a look at ABC Scope, a weekly half-hour news documentary airing on, well, ABC. And, says Cleve, Scope is not only well worth your attention but is also one about which the network is legitimately entitled to congratulate itself."

Documentary, though, is such a stuffy word. Today, we'd call programs like Scope newsmagazines. Each show focuses on a specific topic (after all, it only has 30 minutes to work with), but "it does not tie itself to the week's news or even, necessarily, the 'news' at all." One week it could be a look at the Ecumenical Council in Rome, the next an examination of discotheques. Amory was particularly impressed with a pair of episodes written by Ernest Pendrell, one a story about a doctor working in the mountains of Balsam Grove, North Carolina; the other a profile of Preston Lewis, a 48-year-old man who has been consistently unsuccessful at various jobs throughout his life—bellhop, dishwasher, janitor—with one exception: playing Santa Claus. "Two scenes of “The Gift” still stand out in our mind. In one, Mr. Lewis is worried about being a good Santa Claus because he is so thin; in the other, we have the sound, still ringing in his ears as he walks through the park after his job is over, of the child’s voice saying 'I love you, Santa Claus.'" These shows weren't just good, Amory says; they were great.

Other episodes that caught Cleve's eye included a look at the town of Massillon, Ohio, perhaps the most football-crazy town in the United States (it still is today, as far as I know), the other an appreciation of Winston Churchill by Richard Burton. It would have been interesting to see how ABC Scope might have developed, as a kind of forerunner to 60 Minutes, if it had continued in this vein. However, in February 1966, Scope shifts its focus to report exclusively on Vietnam, with each episode subtitled "Vietnam Report" followed by the topic to be examined. Although it continues to be scheduled in primetime, many affiliates push it off to Sunday afternoons, where it can do less ratings damage. The last episode airs in March 1968; I wonder if Cleveland Amory ever reviewed it in this format?

l  l  l

Richard Rodgers and Lesley Ann Warren
Next, we'll look at an article by a most distinguished contributor: Richard Rodgers. During his career, the composer would go on to win an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony and a Grammy (the first to do so), as well as a Pulitzer and a Kennedy Center honoree. His partnerships with Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II resulted in just a few musicals you might have heard of: Oklahoma!, Flower Drum Song, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, and The Sound of Music. On his own, he wrote the score for the NBC documentary series Victory at Sea. Not a bad career, hmm?

This week, he's writing about another of his collaborations with Hammerstein: Cinderella, the made-for-TV musical (the only such piece ever written by R&H) which originally debuted in 1957 with Julie Andrews, and was at the time the most-watched television program in history. The new production, which airs next month on CBS, will be in color, and stars 18-year-old Lesley Ann Warren as Cinderella, with Celeste Holm as the Fairy Godmother, Walter Pidgeon and Ginger Rogers as the King and Queen, and Stuart Damon as the Prince. There are other changes as well: a brand-new book (the non-singing dialogue) and a new song that had been composed for South Pacific but wasn't used.

I suspect this is the version of Cinderella that most of you are familiar with; it airs eight times over the next ten years, and it's available on DVD. It's not, in my opinion, one of Rodgers and Hammerstein's best musicals, certainly not in a class with Oklahoma! or The Sound of Music, and it lacks a signature song that provides immediate identification; speaking of the 1957 production, New York Times critic Jack Gould called it "a pleasant Cinderella that lacked the magic touch." Perhaps it was asking a bit much for two of the premier Broadway writers to put together a musical that would have a running time of less than 80 minutes and would be interrupted six times by commercials. Nonetheless, it's a much-loved story that continues to be a crowd-pleaser today.

l  l  l

And now a word about our sponsor. 

No look at television history would be complete without a mention of Kraft Foods, because Kraft's involvement with television goes back to the very beginning of TV. Starting in 1947, Kraft Television Theatre was television's first commercial network program, and when it left the air in 1958 after 650 episodes, it was the oldest and longest-running dramatic anthology in television history, introducing such stars as Grace Kelly, Jack Lemmon, and James Dean. (For a time, Kraft actually sponsored two completely separate stories each week, one on NBC and the other on ABC.) Then, there was The Kraft Music Hall (which had started on radio in 1933 and was hosted by Bing Crosby for ten years), with first Milton Berle and then Perry Como acting as emcee.

Now, however, there's a new entry in the Kraft stable: Kraft Suspense Theatre, which one critic calls "an oasis of drama in a wasteland of comedy." It airs three out of every four weeks each month, with the fourth week being filled by Como's Music Hall. Talking about the program, executive producer Frank P. Rosenberg compares it to shooting a movie each week; "We try to make a picture that people would walk up to the box office and pay $2 to see." And while, as an anthology, there are no continuing characters, there are what Rosenberg calls continuing characteristics, "basically human characters that the audience can understand as human beings, put in suspenseful situations."

Each episode costs upward of $200,000 to shoot, and while the stars aren't quite up to the caliber of a Crosby, they're filled with recognizable names, such as Steve Forrest and Dana Wynter. As many as four episodes are being shot simultaneously at the time of the article, including "Rapture at Two-Forty," the pilot for Run for Your Life. In the end, Suspense Theatre's run is fairly modest: two seasons, 59 episodes. It may not have the impact of Kraft Television Theatre, but it's an eminently watchable series that enjoyed a healthy existence in syndication, and you can find it on YouTube today. 

l  l  l

Oh, and how about a trip to Denver? Bob Denver, that is. He's come to Gilligan's Island fresh off of four successful seasons as Maynard G. Krebs in Dobie Gillis. In fact, however, Denver had never set out to be an actor; he originally studied to be a lawyer, and almost turned down the chance to audition for Maynard. (His sister was secretary for the director of new talent at the studio making Dobie Gillis.) He's something of a pessimist, but an all-around good guy. 

But what's most interesting in what we learn is not about Bob Denver per se, but his Gilligan's Island castaway castmate, Tina Louise. "Denver will not say why he and the glamorous Tina do not get along, nor will any of the castaways—they just ignore her, and she ignores them." Between scenes, she sits off by herself while the other six chat and tell jokes. "And recently when Denver was asked to pose for pictures with her, he adamantly refused." I don't suppose any of this is particularly new; there have always been stories about an ambivalence between her and the others, so all this really does is confirm some of that gossip. 

The unbylined profile concludes with the comment that Denver can't be too much of a pessimist these days; "there are reports that Tina Louise will be leaving Gilligan’s Island to go into another series." Well, that didn't happen; Tina was around for all three seasons of the show, and presumably would have been on the fourth season had not Babe Paley become involved in the network's scheduling. But she was also the only member of the original cast to decline involvement in the show's three movie sequels.

l  l  l

Several items of interest help us round out the week, and I'm sure there must be someone out there thinking, "Finally!" Hopefully, you'll feel I've done you right.

Those things begin with the debut of The King Family Show (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., ABC). For those of you who aren't familiar with the Kings, there are 37 of them—the original King Sisters (Alyce, Luise, Marilyn, and Yvonne), plus other subsets of the family (cousins, children, etc.), the best-known being Yvonne's daughter Tina Cole, who'd go on to My Three Sons. It fits in perfectly with ABC's Saturday night schedule, along with The Lawrence Welk Show and The Hollywood Palace; it runs through June, and then comes back in a half-hour format from September of 1965 to January 1966. There's one more iteration of The King Family Show that ABC airs, starting in March 1969—in the timeslot formerly held by the infamous Turn-On.

On Sunday, Dr. Werner von Braun discusses the future of space travel—specifically, project Apollo—on Science All Stars (5:00 p.m., ABC). As for the past, The Twentieth Century (6:00 p.m., CBS) looks at one of the most enigmatic figures of World War II, Rudolf Hess, and what may have been behind his bizarre flight from Germany to Scotland in 1941. It's also the debut of the aforementioned Branded (8:30 p.m., NBC), and the American premiere of composer Gian Carlo Menotti's new opera, Martin's Lie (9:00 p.m., CBS). It's the first time since Menotti's acrimonious dispute with NBC over a new production of Amahl and the Night Visitors that one of his operas has appeared on another network. Kirk Browning, who directed many productions on NBC Opera Theatre, is the director here.

Monday's episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., "The Yellow Scarf Affair" (8:00 p.m., NBC), is notable more for the guest stars than for the plot, with appearances by Kamala Devi and Neile Adams, also known as Mrs. Chuck Connors and Mrs. Steve McQueen, respectively. On The Andy Griffith Show (8:30 p.m., CBS), Barney has to deal with the consequences of throwing away a chain letter. (I did that once, which is why I'm here in rural Indiana typing these words instead of enjoying life on the French Rivera.) And The Andy Williams Show (9:00 p.m., NBC) boasts a stellar lineup, with Burke's Law's Gene Barry, Jill St. John, and the brilliant Antinio Carlos Jobim. 

Tuesday's most interesting topic, although it may not be the most interesting program, is an NBC news documentary on The French Revolution. (10:00 p.m.) The reason I'm hedging my bets is because, even today, relatively few Americans understand the ramifications of the Revolution—not surprising, given that the philosophy behind the founding of the United States is based on the Enlightenment, something very much at work in the Satanic horrors of the Reign of Terror. I think, however, it would be well worth watching to see what the take is.

Wednesday's highlight is the 1951 movie Detective Story (Wednesday Night at the Movies, 9:00 p.m., NBC), a tough, gritty police drama starring Kirk Douglas, Eleanor Parker, William Bendix and Lee Grant. The movie was nominated for four Oscars, including a Best Director nom for William Wyler. That's on opposite The Dick Van Dyke Show (9:00 p.m., CBS), with Jerry Van Dyke guesting as Rob's brother Stacey. 

Leonard Bernstein returns with another Young People's Concert on Thursday (8:00 p.m., CBS), highlighting young artists. A couple of artists who are not young, but are quite distinguished, are the husband-and-wife team of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, two of the greats of the stage, who make a rare TV appearance as the stars of the Hallmark Hall of Fame production of "The Magnificent Yankee" (9:30 p.m., NBC), the story of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. Somewhere in-between is David Susskind's Open End (9:00 p.m., KVIE), with "Seven Beautiful Airline Hostesses" discussing their "glamorous—and at times difficult—jobs."

Friday night, Bob Hope's Chrysler Theatre (8:30 p.m., NBC) tells the story of "The Loving Cup," in which a yachtsman racing in the America's Cup needs to contact his former wife's flame to raise the financial backing. I find these kinds of stories fascinating, in that how-many-times-has-this-happened-to-you way; it seems as if men are always being forced to seek out rivals for their wife's affection because they need money. Isn't there anyone else around they can borrow money from? Like a bank? Either that, or the population of this country is much smaller than I thought, with about a two-degree separation between a man, his wife, her former flame, and financial security. What are the odds? I mean, what are the odds?

l  l  l

MST3K alert: Invasion, U.S.A. (1953). "A forecaster named Mr. Ohman envisions the destruction of the United States. Gerald Mohr, Dan O'Herlihy, Peggie Castle, Erik Blythe, Wade Crosby, George Sylvester." (Friday, 11:30 p.m., KNTV). The message of this Cold War thriller: a vote against the military-industrial complex is a vote for communism. Dan O'Herlihy, who plays Mr. Ohman, will be nominated for Best Actor two years later for Robinson Crusoe. Obviously, nobody told him acting was optional here; his performance is much better than the typical B-movie requires. TV  

January 20, 2023

Around the dial

If you like, you can imagine that the lone cowboy on the screen is Gabby Hayes, whom Chuck and Mike correctly identified in last week's post. Just a reminder of how popular Westerns were back in the day, and why not? The best of them were little morality plays that just happened to be set in the old West, and even ones like The Lone Ranger and The Roy Rogers Show provided decent entertainment. What more could you want from TV?

Let's start this week at Classic Film & TV Café, where Rick visits the 1964 film The Brass Bottle, which stars Tony Randall as a man who discovers a bottle with a real-life genie in it. No, Barbara Eden isn't the genie, but she is Tony Randall's fiancée; Sidney Sheldon saw The Brass Bottle, and remembered it when it was time to cast I Dream of Jeannie. The movie's genie? Burl Ives.

It's been 20 years since Fred Rodgers died. No, I can't believe it's been that long, either, and I don't believe there's anyone on television today—or anywhere, for that matter—who comes close to his warmth and kindness. At Comfort TV, David looks back at everyone's neighbor, and how things have changed without him.

A cool picture at the Broadcast Archives of Al Sinton, sound technician for CBS radio, and the various gadgets he used to generate sound effects on radio shows of the day, circa 1930. It's nice to have a look at things that are always heard but seldom seen. Not much else to say about this; Al let his tools do the talking for him.

You'll recall that last week at Cult TV Blog, John began a series on pairing episodes of The Prisoner to make a film out of them. (The idea of double episodes was originally considered when the series was being conceived.) Here, he links "Arrival" and "The Schizoid Man" and comes up with something quite interesting; John always has intriguing ways of looking at this fascinating series.

At Drunk TV, Paul looks at "Rules for School," one in a series of classic educational shorts issued on DVD by Kino Classics DVD. I have to admit that after watching these on MST3K, Return of the Mads, and Rifftrax, it's pretty hard for me to take them seriously. but they do remind me of those dear old school days of my youth. If I can think back that far. TV  

January 18, 2023

What I've been watching: December, 2022

In the Hadley household, once the calendar turns to December 1 the entire primetime lineup changes. No more Judd, for the Defense or Star Trek. Say goodbye to Hawaiian Eye and Surfside Six. Call a truce with Combat! For during the month of December, the schedule is turned over exclusively to Christmas programming. And so it is here.

One of the things that most interests the cultural archaeologist in his examination of Christmas past is the Christmas variety show, and thanks to YouTube, we have an amazing assortment from which to choose. I'm constantly making the point here, so much so that you're probably long since sick of it, that the surest way to understand and appreciate a particular era is to watch how it's portrayed on the television of the time. The specific benefit, aside from presenting us with original artists and songs instead of cheap imitations, is that we get to see what Christmas plausibly looked like in the 1960s and '70s, rather than what we in the 2000s think it should have looked like.

The Cowsills on Sullivan in 1967. Dig that white wreath!    
And so, as you make your way through the decades watching Andy and Bing and Bob Hope and Ed Sullivan and the rest, you see when white flocked trees were all the rage, or ones made of silver aluminum or pink plastic. You see pine garlands strung across downtown streets with lights in every store window and bells hanging from streetlights; you see families gathered around the piano singing carols. (And you see the United Nations Children's Choir, which appeared everywhere.) Again, not everyone experienced this—maybe most people didn't. But it wouldn't have seemed out of place for them to see it on TV.

Speaking of color, by the mid 1960s many of these shows are being taped in color, and the art directors know how to make the most of it. I have no idea if people in the Victorian era dressed as colorfully as they do in the specials that try to recreate the feel of a Charles Dickens Christmas, but the palettes in these specials look absolutely wonderful. Not all of these shows survive in color, but enough of them do to remind us of how special color television was back then, how vivid the colors were and how they popped right off the screen. There probably wasn't anything comparable until high definition came along. And the sets—the detail, or the illusion of detail created by the set designers—brought back the hum of a midcentury Christmas in the city, with store windows decorated for Christmas and shoppers crowding the sidewalks. It's something that Gen Z probably wouldn't get (and wouldn't care about), but this is the Christmas I grew up with, and there's something special about seeing it, whether you're watching Andy Williams, Red Skelton, Tennessee Ernie Ford, or The Bell Telephone Hour

Because of YouTube, there are a lot of shows to choose from, meaning you don't have to watch the same ones year after year after year. As I mentioned to someone a while back, there are no less than ten Perry Como specials from the 1960s and '70s on YouTube, most of which have never been commercially released. And while several Bing Crosby specials have come out on DVD, there are even more to be found online. Now, unless you're the biggest Perry Como fan alive, you're not going to watch all ten of them this year; we chose the 1974 and 1983 specials, but we could watch two different shows each year and be covered for five years. Incidentally, the 1983 special, new to us, included an extraordinary look at a Christmas celebration you probably wouldn't see on commercial TV today—a dinner that Perry threw for his guest stars and the entire production team at the home of friend and restaurant owner Andrew Balducci. Of course, with a name like Balducci, you figure they're Italian Catholics, as was Perry, so dinner featured everyone saying grace and making the sign of the Cross, and the program concluded with Perry singing sacred songs at St. Patrick's Cathedral. The reason for the season.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
As part of a totally nerdish desire to reproduce a night's worth of entertainment on NBC, we watched almost exactly what the network aired on December 19, 1968The Little Drummer BoyThe Andy Williams Christmas Show (we substituted 1966 for 1968, because that's what's on YouTube), The Bob Hope Christmas Special, and The Dean Martin Christmas Show. It was fun to see them at the same time and in the same order they aired, as possibly the people who lived in our house in 1968 did. Continuing the theme, we added Hope's Vietnam Christmas show, which aired in January 1969. YouTube also has other Christmas shows from Andy, Bob, and Dean, of course, so we're well-set for awhile. 

The year's viewing also included Christmas shows from Jimmy Dean (1963), Lawrence Welk (1965), Mitch Miller (1961), Garry Moore (1959), Judy Garland (1962), Bing Crosby (The Hollywood Palace, 1966), Frank Sinatra with guest Bing Crosby (1957), and Steve Allen (1961), and animated specials like The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty the Snowman, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town, among others. There were also Christmas episodes of Dragnet ("The Big Little Jesus), Ozzie and Harriet, Jack Benny, Green Acres, and Liberace, to name a few. The quality of these shows varies, just like all television does, and the guests on the variety shows may or may not be to your taste. But one thing is certain: after you've watched one, you won't be able to say you're not in the Christmas spirit.

Besides our favorites, I try every year I track down a new addition or two to add to the viewing list. It seems as if I'm always able to come up with one or two new shows, and it always leaves me convinced that I've milked this for all it's worth, that there won't be any more new ones. Of course I'm wrong; it seems as if I'm always discovering something new (to me, anyway), and this year was no exception. This year we watched 1954's "Babes in Toyland," a delightful adaptation of Victor Herbert's operetta that originally aired live on Max Liebman Presents, utilizing a framing device with Dave Garroway as a department store Santa telling the story to a lost little girl while waiting for her mother to pick her up. Garroway was charming, a real example of the Master Communicator at work, and it was an impressive look at a live production from the early days of television. The kinoscope is in black-and-white, but thanks to Jodie Peeler's picture on the header (a picture from Today with Garroway with Florence Henderson), we can imagine what it must have looked like in color.

Look at the use of color in the Skelton show.  
There was also a color video of the 1962 Red Skelton Show Christmas episode, featuring Red's famous "Freddie and the Yuletide Doll" sketch with Cara Williams. You may have seen this sketch on a black-and-white public domain release, but this video is not only much clearer, it includes the entire episode, with dancer Roberta Lubell, the Mitchell Boychoir, the Modernaires, and Red's monologue. And since it's on the YouTube channel of the Red Skelton Museum (located here in the great state of Indiana), you can be sure it's not going to be taken down due to a copyright claim. 

The Curious Case of Santa Claus is an Australian program from 1982 that uses a documentary style to show how Santa has evolved from the real-life St. Nicholas to Father Christmas to Clement Clarke Moore's "The Night Before Christmas," and how different cultures celebrate him. The story is told by Santa himself (James Coco), who seeks a psychiatrist (Jon Pertwee) because he's suffering from an identity crisis. It contains some very funny digs at the psychiatric profession (when Santa complains about seeing "imposters" on street corners and in department stores, Pertwee asks if he's suffering from multiple personality syndrome); Doctor Who fans will smile every time Pertwee's referred to as "The Doctor." I've had this program on DVD for years, recorded from A&E back when they actually had some class, but this year I watched it on YouTube; imagine my surprise when I found this version contained scenes that had been edited from the A&E presentation for time. It was like seeing it for the first time!

It's not all about TV though, notwithstanding the title of this blog; we watched our annual movies: Miracle on 34th Street, The Bishop's Wife, Going My Way, Holiday Inn, White Christmas, We're No Angels, The Man Who Came to Dinner, and two versions of A Christmas Carol (George C. Scott and Sir Seymour Hicks); we also saw a couple for the first time (The Great Rupert and Come to the Stable). All in all, a good year, and I'm hoping to add some new shows next year. 

At the It's About TV YouTube channel, I have a playlist devoted to Christmas specials; a couple of shows don't allow you to save to a playlist, but the rest of them are all there, and it will get updated from time to time during the year, so feel free to check it out. I hope you'll be introduced to some new traditions there.

As I write this, we're about to start watching Combat!, which you should be able to read about at this same time next month, when I'll be writing about the regular shows I've been watching. TV