March 18, 2023

This week in TV Guide: March 15, 1969

It's only fair, after all: A few weeks ago, we saw a stirring defense of the soap opera from none other than James Lipton, who hypothesized that it might be the most realistic form of drama on television. I hesitate to call this week's essay by Marya Mannes a rebuttal, since it was written before Lipton's (maybe his article was the rebuttal), but we can at least say that it's a differing opinion.

Whereas Lipton maintains that soaps are domestic dramas for a domestic society, ones that tell stories of life and death, Mannes counters that the genre deals with "a world that simply does not exist, which is doubtless why the serials fascinate millions of women and sell millions of dollars worth of detergents, cake mixes, deodorants, tooth pastes, polishes and illusions." It is, she continues, a story of one kind of America: "the comfortable suburban life of white, middle-class Protestants, the homes always impeccably neat and ultraconservative, the men either lawyers, doctors, small-business men or newspaper types, the women always perfectly coiffed and smartly attired, the forces of good and the forces of evil neatly opposed, love finally triumphant over obstacles that would have mired Eros himself." The "major illusion" of the soap opera, one trumpeted by Lipton—realism—is, according to Mannes, is one "sustained by domestic situations familiar to most people and dialogue so simple and explicit that a dropout would understand it. It is also sustained by men and women who might be the people next door, only better-looking."

Mannes goes on to discuss the many ways in which soaps drift away from reality; "Some of these may seem trivial, some are serious." Aesthetically, "[R]eal women do not do their housework in  perfectly pressed little luncheon dresses, with street shoes and coiffures fresh from the dryer" but instead "are often in housedresses or slacks and flat slippers. Their hair is, at the least, inclined to casualness, with detached or errant strands, when it is not—at the worst—in curlers." More important is the life of the average American woman as portrayed in soaps: a "total limitation of their horizons. They are given no independence of mind, spirit or action, as individual human beings; the role assigned them as wife and mother is assumed to permit no extensions and no additions." It is, she says, "indefensible." They don't read, don't take home courses, don't serve as substitute teachers, don't watch the UN on TV.

As she indicates, some of these problems are more trivial than others. We should hardly lose our cool at the lack of clutter in the average soap opera home, unless it's some kind of shaming (as we'd call it today) of the bad housekeeper. But there's something deeper at work, something that she calls "the perpetuation of attitudes which are neither relevant to the changes and needs of present life nor a preparation for a perilous future." The Achilles heel of the American commercial television industry, the need for sponsorship, yields programming—not just soaps, she stresses—that is designed "to keep as many people as possible at home in a suspension of reality and a mood to buy." "Like 'enriched' bread, which is divested of its original nutrient, the soap opera contains just enough additives to make viewers feel it is keeping up with the times." She cites a similar thinking in the way the soaps portray the "new young breed of social and political activists, what of the young idealists and draft protesters who court contempt and prison for their passionate beliefs? They're nary to be seen; "That wouldn't sell goods in Ohio or Georgia or Texas, to name a few."

This is harsh stuff, and while it's enjoyable to read Mannes lay waste to various cliches of the genre, I'm not at all sure they're all fair. Again, you need to keep in mind the context we're in: the end of the Sixties, the growth of Women's Lib. Given this, one can sense a certain disregard for the life of the average housewife, a devaluation of the values of those women who (then as now) derive satisfaction and pleasure from maintaining the home for their husband and children. As we can see from the disasterous decades since, the collapse of the domestic family has played a large role in the subsuming of the structure on which American society was built. And part of the appeal of the soap opera was always in offering housewives the chance to escape their lives for those of their television counterparts, who frequently had it worse than their viewers. In appealing for a more realistic portrayal of the world of "city families living, or trying to live, through strike after strike, through hopeless traffic, through noise and pollution and crowds and the daily brutalities of life," she's essentially advocating a daytime version of East Side/West Side, and I don't know that anybody wants that.

And yet, it would be foolish to use a broad brush in dismissing her objectives. There is something insidious about the way sponsors use programming to push their products, or the way programs of all kinds use their storylines to reinforce certain attitudes and perspectives in the minds of their viewers. It all goes back to that thin line between advocating and reflecting, between showing the world as it is and showing the world the way you, the writer or producer or sponsor, want it to be. 

There's much to be said for, as Mannes puts it, placing "an unlimited succession of human woes, sins and follies" within the context of "living realities instead of manufactured crises." It's time, she concludes, to free the viewer "from the soap that leaves a blurring and distorting film." Perhaps James Lipton, a year later, was trying to reassure Mannes that the soap opera was on its way, headed in that direction even if it hadn't yet reached its destination. 

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During the 60s, the Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace were the premiere variety shows on television. Whenever they appear in TV Guide together, we'll match them up and see who has the best lineup.

Sullivan: Tentatively scheduled guests: George Burns; rock singer Janis Joplin; Jacques d'Amboise of the New York City Ballet (with a ballet version of Irish folk dances); singer Ed Ames; comedian Scoey Mitchell; country stars Chet Atkins and Floyd Cramer; saxophonist Boots Randolph; the USAF Strategic Air Command Band (playing “Strike Up the Band’); Honey Ltd.; and the Carols, novelty act. 

Palace: Sammy Davis Jr, takes the spotlight. Grooving with him are the James Brown Revue, Mod Squad’s Peggy Lipton (in her TV singing debut) and singer Charo (Mrs. Xavier Cugat). Providing comic touches: Nipsey Russell and Laugh-In’s Dave Madden, who comments on trite sayings. .

I swear, people watching Ed's show this week must have gotten some kind of cultural whiplash, being thrown from the old guard (George Burns) to Marya Mannes' "new young breed" (Janis Joplin) to the classical (Jacques d'Amroise) to country (Atkins and Cramer) to the establishment (the SAC Band). I get exhausted just typing it. But if you're in the business of entertaining the entire household, of delivering something for everyone, then this is the show for you. On the other hand, speaking of being exhausted, can you imagine a show with Sammy Davis Jr. and James Brown? I'm really too tired to come up with anything other than a Push for the week.

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

When was the last time we had a positive—I mean really positive—review from ol' Cleve? Well, get ready, because ABC's new variety series This Is Tom Jones is the real thing.

Displaying "one of the most infections grins ever to cross the Atlantic," Jones captivates from the very beginning of the very first show, a program "so sumptuously mounted and inventively shot that, compared to most American variety shows, it broke new ground in not only backgrounds, but in variety too." The camera in production numbers "literally seemed to dart in and out, giving us so many peek-a-boos that at times it almost seemed sublminal." And while Jones occasionally looked "like a sick fish" when he leaned on a rock number, he also displayed a smoothness with his guests and (all-girl) staff that "seemed as charming as Dean Martin." The guests were also, for the most part, very good, particularly "a young French singer, Mireille Mathieu. The only way to stop her from stealing a show would be to arrest her before the show starts." Now, we've read about her in TV Guide before, so we shouldn't be surprised by Cleve's captivation with her, nor that he refers to a later show featuring "a singer from the first show who was evidently out on parole. Can you guess who she was? Well, we'll give you a hint—her initials are M.M." 

Amory had wondered if this first show would be the exceptioin rather than the rule, if they would "still use all this high-test or go back to regular gas" but he needn't have worried; "This Is Tom Jones was high-test all the way," beginning with a performance of "Help Yourself" on a stage "with so much going on that it was just like watching a three-ring circus," before deftly and almost imperceptibly segueing into a soft and memorable rendition of "Green, Green Grass of Home." The show included two particularly memorable guest appearances from relative newcomers: a Welsh singer named Mary Hopkin and a comedian named Richard Pryor. Not bad.  Yes, there's more than Mireille to this show, and as long as Tom Jones brings it, he'll continue his "tremendous start."

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One of the tragedies of American education over the decades is the virtual disappearance of music appreciation courses. Numerous reasons have been given for this, reasons that rapidly become political and which we don't need to discuss here. But I have to wonder how much of a role was played by the cancellation of programs like Captain Kangaroo. The pictures on the left shows highlights from "Jazz Week," a special week beginning April 7, in which the Captain (Bob Keeshan) and Billy Taylor, the American jazz pianist, composer, and broadcaster (he's currently porgram director of New York's WLIB radio) are going to present a history of jazz, featuring special guest artists.

On the top left, we see the African musical group Babatunde Olatunji and Company; tenor saxophonist George Coleman is on bottom left; on on bottom right is ragtime/blues pianist Willie "the Lion" Smith, along with Keeshan and Taylor. Other musicians include Wilbur de Paris' Zeba, talking about improvisations, solos, and counterpoint; the Eddie Daniels Quintet, demonstrating swing and bop; and Taylor's own quintet, performing with the Eric Gales group to demonstrate the influence of jazz on rock. "Might make for some swinging kids," the article concludes.

I was critical, or at least ambivalent, when I wrote about the generation that grew up watching Captain Kangaroo, but at the same time I retain a great affection for the program. My love of reading started with the Captain (as it did for my wife), and it, along with Bugs Bunny cartoons, provided me with an introduction to music appreciation. Programs such as Sesame Street, for all the good they may do, seldom offer such long-form exploration of single topics like music; local children's shows, especially in large cities, often had guests from that city's performaning arts groups. And so, again, I wonder how much the disappearance of shows like these (and Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts) have had to do with the lack of music appreciation. 

The appreciation of the classics, including jazz and its related genres, may seem like a small part of a child's education, but it helps to create a well-rounded, civilized young person growing into adulthood, and I think we can certainly use more of that in today's culture.

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I'm aware that there are a lot of things that were amazing back in the day, but hardly attract any attention now; the fact that I was amazed by these things just reminds me of how old I am. For instance, it's hard to explain what a big deal the Houston Astrodome was when it was built. A domed stadium! Indoor football and baseball! Even a basketball game, with a record crowd! It seemed as if there was nothing the Astrodome couldn't do, and we get an example of this on Saturday's Wide World of Sports, with coverage of last week's Grand Prix Midget Auto Racing Championship for dirt track cars (5:00 p.m. PT, ABC). The idea of indoor auto racing—well, that just about takes the cake. And if you think dirt track rasing isn't the real thing, the drivers are Bobby Unser, Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, and other stars from Indycar racing. You can see highlights of that race weekend here

Sunday's Public Broadcasting Laboratory (8:00 p.m., NET) presents a cinema-verite profile of Johnny Cash, "an authentic folk hero, self-made from the crucible of the American experience during the Depression." The producers explain that Cash's reticence required them to rely on observation; there is no narration, and besides excerpts of Cash performing, we see him visiting his family, returning to an Arkansas shack in which he once lived, and a chance meeting between Cash and Bob Dylan. You can see this documentary on YouTube.

On Monday, a two-hour ABC News Special, "Three Young Americans In Search of Survival" (9:00 p.m.) tells the story of these three young people, working to better the world they live in. One is an environmentalist, the second works with blacks in the ghetto, and the third is fighting water pollution. One could do a similar documentary today, using the same title, to tell of three young people struggling with the prospect of finding work in the rust belt, poverty and illiteracy in the Applechians, and searching for meaning to life in a world rapidly stripping away all cultural norms; that's the kind of thing I think of when someone talks about searching for survival. But we deal here with what we're given; Paul Newman narrates the special. By the way, it's interesting how the definition of "young people" has changed over the years; these three are 26, 32, and 30, respectively; Greta Thunberg would probably accuse them of being part of the establishment.

Tuesday's Red Skelton Hour (8:30 p.m., CBS) features guest star Merv Griffin spoofing his own show, interviewing three of Red's most famous characters: Cauliflower McPugg, Boliver Shagnasty, and Willy Lump-Lump; Merv also sings his back-in-the-day hit, "I've Got a Loverly Bunch of Coconuts." I love hearkening back to those days when talk show hosts had to have some actual talent. After an interlude with The Doris Day Show, CBS continues with an episode of 60 Minutes with Mike Wallace and Harry Reasoner (10:00 p.m.), which, as the listing reminds us, was then a bimonthly show. It's easy to forget that it wasn't until 1971 that 60 Minutes first aired on Sunday nights, and it was 1973 before it settled there for good.

Andy with Donovan. Dig the groovy shirt!
Speaking of Sunday, I always think of Glen Campbell's show as beng on Sunday, probably because he started out as the summer replacement for the Smothers Brothers, but here he is on Wednesday, leading off an interesting night of variety shows. (8:00 p.m., CBS) Glen's guests tonight are Jim Nabors and Bobbie Gentry, and there's a note at the end that Cleveland Amory will be reviewing the series next week. That's followed by a pair of specials on NBC: first, Bob Hope presents "an hour of comedy and song" with guests Jimmy Durante, Cyd Charisse, Ray Charles, and Nancy Sinatra. (9:00 p.m.) After that Andy Williams hosts a flower-power "Love Concert" (even the stage is covered with flowers) with Jose Feliciano, Donovan, the aforementioned Smothers Brothers, and the Ike and Tina Turner Soul Review. (10:00 p.m.) Hang on a minute while I get my Nehur jacket and beads.

I've mentioned this before, I'm sure, but I'm counting on most of you having forgotten about it. (At least I'm honest!) As you're reading this, we're in the midst of March Madness, with everyone and his great-aunt hosting some kind of bracket to make the NCAA basketball tournament worth watching. The tournament wasn't always such a big deal, though; on Saturday afternoon, NBC broadcast an "Elite Eight" doubleheader (it was just called the quarterfinals back then) featuring two of the four games being played—the Eastern and Central time zones got the East and Mideast finals, while the Mountain and Pacific time zones got the Midwest and West finals. Now, on Thursday, the winners of those four games meet in the Final Four in Louisville, and once again the game—yes, you only got to see one of the games—depends on where you live. The East and Central get the first game, the Mountain and Pacific get the second, which in this issue means Drake vs. defending champion UCLA. (7:30 p.m.) Dragnet and The Dean Martin Show follow the game. Once again, we're reminded how times have changed.

NBC finishes the week with a couple of interesting programs on Friday; first, The Name of the Game (8:30 p.m.) showcases a terrific lineup of British guest stars: Honor Blackman, Maurice Evans, Brian Bedford, and Murray Matheson among others. The story takes Glenn Howard (Gene Barry) to London to defend the company against a libel case being prosecuted by a crooked counselor (Blackman). Then, it's a Bell Telephone Hour special on the great Hollywood movies of David O. Selznick. Henry Fonda narrates; the special includes, for the first time on television, the burning of Atlanta scene from Gone with the Wind.

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Finally, the start of baseball season is just around the corner, and one of the most interesting former baseball players around is Joe Garagiola, one of the hosts on NBC's Today. Now, I'll admit that I've never been a particular fan of Garagiola—I always thought his mouth was a little too small for the number of words trying to get out, and I didn't find his humor that funny—but I'll also admit when I'm wrong, and in this case I've come away from Stanley Frank's article much more impressed than before.

Joe's been on Today for the last year and a half, and during that time the show's ratings have risen to an all-time high. After an eight-year career, spent mostly as a backup catcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, he segued into broadcasting. He'd already become a popular after-dinner speaker because of his folksy, self-deprecating sense of humor, and an appearance with Jack Paar eventually led to his role on Today. You might have expected him to serve as the token jock on the show, reading the scores and narrating the highlights from last night's games, but you'd be wrong. "Joe has a marvelous quality of cutting through the malarkey from pundits and pretentious writers by asking the questions viewers want to hear," producer Al Morgan says, explanating why he expanded Garagiola's role beyond sports. "He’s a very bright. guy who does his homework. Besides, I could trust his taste and judgment implicitly." Adds Today host Hugh Downs, "I have a tendency to be stuffy and pedantic. Joe's direct, down-to-earth approach counterbalances that element in me and gives the show the vigor that keeps it moving. He knows how to bring out the truest in a guest. That's his great forte."

Garagiola shares his experiences interviewing people outside the sports beat. Of poet Marianne Moore, whom Garagiola had never heard of prior to researching her for the interview, he said, "She bowled me over with her charm. She had a violent crush on the old Brooklyn Dodgers and reminisced about them for 10 minutes. I finally got her to talk about poetry and I was given a better appreciation of it than I'd ever learned in school." During one interview, he contfronted cultural historian Lewis Mumford, who deplored living conditions in the cities and suburbs, but admitted that although he had an apartment in New York, he went to his house in the country when life in the city got to be too much. "Few people can afford to maintain two homes,” Garagiola replied. "People like you should be working on solutions for urban problems instead of writing off the whole thing as a hopeless mess." And when Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), complaining about discrimination in America, said, "I live here, but it's not really my country," Garagiola told him during a commercial break that "If you want to move, OK. But if you want to live here, you'd better go out there and square yourself with people who are sympathetic to your cause." After they returned, Alcindor said he hadn't really meant to repudiate his citizenship.

Garagiola puts in 12-hour days preparing for interviews. When talking to authors, "Downs admits he skims through 20 percent of a book; but Joe, lacking his colleague’s background, reads it all the way through." The foyer of his house is lined with 20-foot shelves of books; Garagiola has read most of them. He enjoys Today, but admits to an idea he toys with: "I'd like to do a Saturday morning show talking to two kids without patronizing or putting them down and see the world through their eyes." He also recalls talking with members of the hippie compound at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. "When I asked what their beef was against society, they gave me a lot of tired cliches and ended every sentence with, 'You know what | mean?' Well, I didn’t know what they meant and they couldn't express it, clearly and simply. Maybe a guy like me could help them bridge the communications gap." That sounds like a home run idea to me; it's a pity people can't try something like that today.

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MST3k alert:
 The Deadly Mantis (1957) "A paleontologist suspects that a gigantic prehistoric mantis has returned to life. Craig Stevens, Alix Talton, William Hopper." (Saturday, 2:30 p.m., KHSL) 

You would think that a movie starring a couple of superstar detectives like Peter Gunn and Paul Drake would be better than this, right? But it's still good fun. TV  


  1. I'm not familiar with Marya Mannes, but she was clearly ahead of the curve in her condemnation of positive portrayals of white middle class America. If she's still around she will certainly find plenty of outlets for that viewpoint.

    1. What I've read of her is very provocative - I'd compare her somewhat to Camille Paglia in that she can be unpredictable in the angles she comes from. She wrote a novel in the late 1960s called "They" (made into a TV movie), about a world in which people over 50 are segregated from the rest of society for 15 years until they’re finally killed off. She wasn't advocating it, just her observation of the direction society's headed in.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!