April 29, 2023

This week in TV Guide: May 1, 1965

If you're my age or a little older, and come next month I'll be a little older than my age now, you probably remember the two words: "Early Bird." Not as in "The early bird gets the worm," which was only useful when your mom was trying to get you up for school, but the Early Bird communications satellite, which presented equal parts interest for television fans and space enthusiasts alike.

Early Bird, formally known as the Intelsat I, is the world's first commercial communications satellite; it was launched on April 6 to provide a TV link between Europe and North America, and this Sunday it's ready to go online, with a live 60-minute broadcast on all three networks at 10:00 a.m. PT. The broadcast showcases, appropriately, several events utilizing new age technology: a heart-value operation performed in Houston by Dr. Michael DeBakey, shown live for an audience in Geneva, Switzerland, who were able to ask Dr. DeBakey questions in real time; the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros warming up for their game in the new Houston Astrodome, which had just opened the previous week; astronaut Alan Shepard in training; a test of the Concorde supersonic jet engine in Britain; and a variety of musical presentations, including bands playing the same piece from five different cities.

Early Bird programming continues on Monday morning, as NBC's Today originates live from London (7:00 a.m.), where Hugh Downs moderates a discussion between Members of Parliament and congressmen in Washington, and Frank Blair reports the news. Meanwhile, Barbara Walters is in Paris coveraing a fashion show; Jack Lescoulie tours a children's village in Amsterdam; and Aline Sarrinen discusses early Roman architecture from Caroline Hill in the Eternal City. At noon, CBS presents the first live Town Meeting of the World, with a panel including Secretary of State Dean Rusk, former presidental candidate Barry Goldwater, and former British Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home, as they discuss Vietnam; the program will be repeated at 10:00 p.m. NBC's Chet Huntley broadcasts the Huntley-Brinkley Report from London, and Peter Jennings does the same with ABC's evening news. Huntley also joins BBC newsman Richard Dimbleby (who reports from New York) on Panorama (7:30 p.m., NBC) to discuss the stories they've covered during their long careers. All of these programs are live broadcasts which are shown on tape delay in the Pacific time zone, where this week's issue originates. 

Of course, we're used to this kind of thing today, but it was extraordinary back in 1965, and there was something exciting about seeing "live via Early Bird satellite" appear at the beginning of a broadcast. Initially, the networks were allowed free use of Early Bird, which resulteds in live coverage of all kinds of events, from the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June to the splashdown of Gemini 6 in December. (Of course, once Comsat announced their intention to start collecting fees for Early Bird's use, some of that extraneous coverage stopped) Early Bird had only 240 voice circuits, so it could only transmit one TV channel at a time. Soon there would be more satellites up there; Early Bird itself was only designed to operate for 18 months, but lasted until January 1969. It was reactivated that June for the Apollo 11 mission when another of the Intelsat satellites failed, and one last time in 1990 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of its launch. It's still up there, in case you ever get a chance to loook it up. 

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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: Ed’s scheduled guests are comedians Sid Caesar and Nancy Walker, who appear in a sketch; the Rolling Stones, British rock ‘n’ rollers; songstress Leslie Uggams; comedienne Totie Fields; British singer Tom Jones; Morecambe and Wise, British comedy team; and contortionist Gitta Morelly.  

Palace: The host is jazzman Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong, who is saluted for his 50 years in show business and his role as a traveling goodwill ambassador. Actor Edward G. Robinson reads tributes from the President and the Senate, and other accolades are offered by guests Jimmy Durante, blues singer Diahann Carroll, comics Rowan and Martin and the Ballet Folklorico of Mexico.

Sometimes weekly lineups underwhelm. There's nothing wrong with that, it's just the way showbiz is; you can't have a superstar lineup each week. Ah, but this week, who ya gonna pick? Sid Caesar, the Stones, Tom Jones and others, or Satchmo, Eddie G., The Schnozzola, and a message from POTUS? You can't go wrong either way, but even though this isn't the infamous Stones appearance that got them banned from Sullivan, I think I have to give the nod to Ed. That's just my opinion, though—if you're not sure, you can see ten minutes of the Stones and Tom Jones from Sullivan, and you can compare that to  the Palace show and see what you think. 

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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. 

Every MST3K fan out there knows that Gypsy's hero is the one and only Richard Basehart. He's also the hero, or one of them, on the show in Cleveland Amory's bulls-eye this week: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. And guess what? He doesn't hate it! I know; that sounds like faint praise, but he says your children will love it and, more often than not, it will give you some escape. "And these days, that's not too bad, television fare being what it is."

Casting Basehart as Admiral Harriman Nelson was, I think, a stroke of genius; he was a familiar face from both television and the movies, and he projects a gravitas and dignity that is often missing from these kinds of shows. Amory finds him "admirable," [sic] and he plays the role straight, which, "considering the plots and dialog" isn't easy. David Hedison co-stars as Captain Lee Crane, and even though he was offered (and declined) the role of Crane in the original movie version, Amory finds him a less successful character—"possibly because, the way his role is written, he doesn't seem to have any." The remainder of the supporting cast, as well as many of the guest stars, fare better.

One episode in particular seems to have captured Cleve's fancy; it concerns a mission that Nelson and Crane leave the Seaview to undertake; they wind up on an island, where they encounter a mad scientist and a general from the People's Republic of China, back when it was still permissible to portray them as part of the evil empire. "Something is watching us," Nelson tells Crane, and sure enough—the mad scientist has been following their every move via closed-circuit television. "In fact," Amory notes, "from that time on, the entire episode turns out to turn on whether or not the boys are going to be able to turn off their own show." It sets up for a thrilling conclusion—but if you think you're going to read about it here, you're mistaken. Says Cleve, "if you think we’re going to spoil the summer rerun of this gem for you, we’re not."

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The first Saturday in May tells us it's time for the annual "Run for the Roses," and since this Saturday is May 1, it's off to Churchill Downs in Louisville for the 91st Kentucky Derby (2:00 p.m., CBS). This year's winner is one of the lesser-known Derby victors, Lucky Debonair; he was injured in the Preakness and didn't run in the Belmont. Saturday night, as is always the case in this television season, Jim Backus goes up against himself; he's the voice of Mr. Magoo (8:30 p.m., NBC), whose famous adventure this week is "Moby Dick"; he's also Thurston Howell III in Gilligan's Island (8:30 p.m., CBS). It's the only time in television history that the same actor has appeared on two different networks in two different shows scheduled against each other. And for late-night movie fans, there's a Ronald Reagan double feature; Hellcats of the Navy (11:20 p.m., KPIX) stars the Gipper and wife Nancy; while in The Winning Team (midnight, KTVU), he plays baseball star Grover Cleveland Alexander. Dutch also features in possibly his best-known role, that of Drake McHugh, the man whose legs are amputated, in Sunday's Kings Row (11:35 p.m., KTVU). His famous line from that movie, "Where's the rest of me?" will also be the title of Reagan's first autobiography.

During the mid-1960s, ABC featured a number of stars acting as tour guides of their native country; Elizabeth Taylor in London in 1963, Sophia Loren in Rome in 1964, and Inger Stevens in Sweden just this last February. Tonight, it's Melina Mercouri's Greece (9:00 p.m., ABC), "a fascinating hour with this glamorous star in her native land." That goes up against The American West (9:00 p.m., NBC), as Lorne Greene goes on location to tell the story of Ben Cartwright's native land, the Old West. Oh, and Tom Bosley plays a man claiming to be a leprechaun in Ben Casey (10:00 p.m., ABC). Coincidentally, there's also a leprechaun at the heart of the 1948 movie Luck of the Irish (11:00 p.m., KPIX); in this case, Cecil Kellaway is the leprechaun; he'd get an Oscar nomination for Supporting Actor for his performance. And it isn't even St. Patrick's Day—what are the odds?

Tuesday night is the farewell episode of That Was the Week That Was (9:30 p.m., NBC), which never caught on in this country the way its British counterpart did, even with the presence of David Frost. Nancy Ames, Buck Henry, and Pat Englund are also part of this final show; its replacement will be the anthology series Cloak of Mystery, "a series of rerun dramas."

Wednesday sees the premiere of Our Private World (9:30 p.m., CBS), a spin-off from As the World Turns, with Eileen Fulton reprising her role as Lisa Hughes. Don't know if you remember, but our very own Cleveland Amory shared his thoughts about the show in this issue. Airing on both Wednesday and Friday nights, Our Private World is CBS's attempt to compete with ABC's Peyton Place, but the ratings are apparently private as well; the series only lasts until September, berfore Lisa returns home. My, doesn't she look young here?

And here's a show we desperately need now: "The Solutions to all the World's Problems in 53 Minutes and 27 Seconds," this week's edition of The Open Mind (Friday, 9:00 p.m., KQED), with host Eric Goldmen's guests, cartoonist-satirist Jules Feiffer, author Marya Mannes (whom we're read in this space before), actor-comedian Milt Kamen, and author Paul Krassner.

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Following up on last month's cover story about Vince "Ben Casey" Edwards, Henry Harding reports this week that Sam Jaffe, who plays Casey's mentor Dr. Zorba, is leaving the series. There's no mention of Edwards in the story; Harding simply says that Jaffe "has long been bored with the role and eager to relinquish it," and quotes Jaffe as saying he's "So, so happy!" to be leaving. "Why not? I didn't have enough to do. It was like the Chinese water torture." Later on, we'll find out that Edwards' unprofessionalism played a large part in Jaffe's departure. 

That's not the only departure in this week's industry review. It's the last roundup for Eric Fleming, who's riding into the sunset on Rawhide, leaving Clint Eastwood to head up the show. Fleming is one of several regulars departing the series; Eastwood and Paul Brinegar (Wishbone) will be joined by some new characters for the coming season, which will be the series' last. 

Ever wonder what those stars do when their series ends? TV Teletype tells us that these stars of old TV series are soon to appear in new ones: Robert Conrad (Hawaiian Eye) heads for The Wild, Wild West; Edmond O'Brien (Sam Benedict) is in store for The Long, Hot Summer; Peter Brown (Lawman) stays in the west in The Streets of Laredo; and Richard Long (Bourbon Street Beat and 77 Sunset Strip) will be in The Big Valley with Barbara Stanwyck (The Barbara Stanwyck Show). But let's not forget Dennis James, "who has probably been on more panel shows than anybody," has been signed as host/emcee of a new one, Silent Partners. Unfortunately, it never makes it past the pilot.

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Finally, among the missing in action this week is Wendy and Me, the ABC-Warner Bros. sitcom starring Connie Stevens and George Burns, preempted this week for the aforementioned Melina Mercouri special. The show's charm, writes Richard Warren Lewis, is in its resemblance to the old Burns and Allen series, with Connie assuming the scatterbrain role of Gracie Allen. However, not all of the nation's viewers shares Lewis's assessment of the show; its ratings, up against Lucille Ball and Andy Williams, have lagged all season, and last month it was missing from ABC's 1965-66 schedule.

Don't shed any tears for her, though; "she has decorated more than 200 covers of fan magazines and once was named among the Nation’s most admired women in a Gallup poll," and she admits that the thought of being in a long-term series panicked her; "I just don't have the emotional capacity to stick with something for that long." One wonders if that includes marriage; after recounting this tidbit, Lewis goes on to mention her two-year marriage to actor James Stacy. Although Stacy had completed a movie with Hayley Mills just before the marriage, he hasn't been that active lately—and Stevens has. "My wife has given me two more years to support me," Lewis reports Stacy as having confided to friends. And about Connie, he says, "I've learned to live with her." (They would be divorced next year.)

She's determined to succeed in the business (Hedda Hopper calls her "an apple blossom with the wham of a bulldozer") and she lobbied hard for the role of the young wife in the movie version of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which eventually went to Sandy Dennis. She was frustrated during her years on WB's Hawaiian Eye that she wasn't allowed to take on more substantive roles or perform in night clubs. and when she refused to go on a personal appearances tour, Warners suspended her. (It was settled "amicably"). Even though her new Warners contract permits those nightclub apperances, and allowed her to appear earlier this season on The Hollywood Palace and The Red Skelton Hour, she still remembers the dispute. "I haven't worked with that many great actors," she says of her time with WB. "I've been with Warner Brothers for too long."

For all this, Connie Stevens looks forward to the future. She's concentrating on displaying a more mature image (she wears fashionable hats, appears ceaselessly at charity events, and even hired a full-time personal manager). And she doesn't read the fan magazines anymore,even though she does look at the pictures. "And still I get upset, because I don't look like Elizabeth Taylor." Not to worry, though; her second marriage is to Liz's ex-husband, Eddie Fisher. The next-best thing, I suppose. TV  

April 28, 2023

Around the dial

Earlier today, I guested on the Dan Schneider Video Interview, talking with Dan about the 1963-65 version of The Outer Limits. The link is here; as promised, I performed a massive upgrade on the video from my side, so feel free to watch it this time! I don't think I did as good a job as I did on my last appearance, but perhaps I'm being overly critical. I had a great time nonetheless.

At Comfort TV, David takes a fond look back at Blondie Street, the Warner Bros. street where you could find the homes seen on The Partridge Family, Dennis the Menace, I Dream of Jeannie, and other favorites from our youth. They've started tearing them down now; another part of our heritage disappearing. Be sure to read about it.

John's at it again at Cult TV Blog, with another bizarre show from 1970s British TV: The Pink Medicine Show. It's a comedy sketch show involving and written by doctors; some compare it to Monty Python, but it sounds to me as if it defies a neat description, so see what John has to say about it.

Remember the PBS series Alive from Off Center? It ran for twelve seasons, concluding in 1996. At the Broadcast Archives, it's a look at some pictures from "A Tribute to Georges Méliès," a 1989 episode in which "the silent film pioneer's lost scriplts were reinterpreted by modern filmmakers." Hopefully it encourages you to read more about the series.

Another sterling Aventers review from Roger at The View from the Junkyard; this time, it's the episode "A Surfeit of H20," a rare Avengers story that's pure science fiction: what happens when someone starts controlling the weather? It might not be as ridiculous as it seems. . .

Travalanche looks at the contributions of Universal studios to the world of animation, which centers on a character so many of us were introduced to on television when we were kids: Woody Woodpecker. Find out more about Woody's creator, Walter Lanz, and the impact made by his creations (more than just Woody!).

The great Harry Belafonte died this week, aged 96. He was one of the most influential entertainer/activists, with a talent for acting, music, and raising awareness of civil rights. At A Shroud of Thoughts, Terence looks back at his career, which included many appearances on television, including a memorable week as host on The Tonight Show.

Drunk TV is back, as Paul reviews a live-action Hanna-Barbera series! It's Korg: 70,000 B.C., and the complete series of this Saturday morning show was released on DVD a few years ago. Was this a favorite of your childhood? Wondering if it might be for you? See what Paul thinks.

Oh, and the picture at the top? If I'm not very much mistaken, that's a pregnant Jackie Kennedy watching her hubby being nominated for president at the 1960 Democratic Convention, back when political conventions meant something. You don't see pictures like this anymore. TV  

April 26, 2023

What I've been watching: crisis of confidence edition

I was starting to worry.

For years, I’d prided myself on our carefully curated collection of classic television shows, which had been assembled thanks to the knowledge which my underpaid career as a classic television historian has afforded me. Many of the programs had come from my study of the old TV Guides, picking out shows that looked interesting, sounded familiar, received critical praise. Some of them had been on when I was young, and I had faint memories of them; others were blind buys, shows that I looked back at and wished I'd watched at the time. And I'd been on a long winning streak; I'd introduced many new programs as well as old favorites into our viewing schedule, with great satisfaction

But now things were giving me pause.

It started, I suppose, with the final season of Hawaii Five-O. I knew the show, had watched it when I was younger (before before the move to the World's Worst Town™), and used "Be here—aloha" as a catchphrase. We watched it consistently every Thursday night; sure, there were some clunkers in the batch, as there are in every long-running series, but it had been a most agreeable arrangement, watching the weekly exploits of Steve McGarrett and his Five-O team of crimefighters, over the course of eleven seasons. Unfortunately, as any Five-O fan can tell you, the series ran for twelve seasons; and it didn't take me more than two episodes to tell that the twelfth season was going to be a disaster. Danno was gone, Chin was gone, Kono was gone, those remaining were behaving in a most unlike-Five-O way, including putting the power of ancient Hawaiian curses above their duty to Steve. What is this? I said, although I admit my language might have been stronger. 

Some quick internet research informed me that I was correct, that most fans thought the final season was awful, and that as bad as the first two episodes had been, the remainder were going to be even worse. And so, after having watched Five-O every week for more than five years, we pulled the plug. It might have seemed unthinkable, after that time investment, but from that day to this, the final season has remained in the box, unwatched except for two episodes.

Next, it was 77 Sunset Strip. It had been a blind buy, one I'd certainly known about, but had never seen. It had a great legacy, and for five seasons it was a Friday night standard. One could tell by the end of the fifth season that the show was starting to run out of steam, and I suppose that's why WB decided on the radical changes for the show's sixth season: getting rid of the entire cast except for Efrem Zimbalist Jr., ditching the theme song and the familiar settings, and transforming the series into a neo-noir, with Stu Bailey turned into a tough, abrasive (and frequently unlikable) private eye out of the old school. 

We managed to make it through the entire final season, but it was painful, similar to (but far less serious than) watching an old friend waste away. Fortunately, the changes so alienated viewers that the show was cancelled halfway through the season. Even the network must have seen how disastrous things were; when the series went into summer reruns before leaving the airwaves, they didn't even use the newer episodes, only those from seasons past with the old format and cast. And again, my instincts had been confirmed by the opinions of others. 

But the pace was quickening. I liked Mike Hammer, the character; I liked the way Stacy Keach had played him in some episodes from his first go-around playing the private detective. Ergo, I would like Mike Hammer: Private Eye, the third series to star Keach as Hammer. I reviewed it here; not only could I not make it through the entire series, I packaged it up and put it in the pile for Goodwill.

That pile also includes The Rat Patrol, which puzzled me. I'd watched and enjoyed it when it was first on, and I thought it would be fun to watch again. What I learned was 1) Sgt. Troy (Christopher George) was a lousy commander; and 2) it's better described as an adventure series for kids playing soldier in the back yard, not a war series for adults. We did get through the whole thing, but not without a lot of shouting from me. 

Then there was Maverick. Thanks to MeTV, I'd seen enough episodes of it to know that I'd like it; its pedigree was flawless, and who couldn't like James Garner? Me, apparently; the episodes starring Jack Kelly are enjoyable (in fact, although I'm probably in the minoritiy here, I think Kelly is a better actor in this than Garner), and there was something oft-putting about the Garner brother, Bret. He exhibits a kind of benign amorality, and while he hates to get involved, he doesn't hesitate to criticize those who do. (See "Day of Reckoning.") I haven't given up on it, though; I know the show doesn't really hit its stride until the second season, when the satire becomes more fully formed. It's on hiatus, though, replaced for the time being by Cheyenne.

I also dropped Alfred Hitchcock Presents in the middle of its sixth season. It shared the same moral ambiguity that Maverick occasionally displayed, and it started to exchange whimsy for true suspense. Worse, it was showing definite signs of being capricious; bad things were happening to basically decent people without any logical foundation for it, and no penalty for the perpetrators—dangerously close to nihilism. It was violating the Dorothy L. Sayers maxim that if justice is not dispensed in a story, there can be no equilibrium, no restoration of truth. ("The Throwback" was the final straw.) It headed for a long hiatus, replaced by a quartet of British dramas you'll be reading about shortly. But it will be back; there have been just too many good stories to give up.

Finally, and least surprising of all, Twin Peaks. I wrote about this here, and I knew exactly what I'd be in for with the second season. The good news is that we've made it through five episodes, which means we're that much closer to the end of the season. The bad news: there are still seventeen episodes to go. What's particularly interesting about this is that, at some point in the fourth episode, I realized I didn't remember having seen it. It wasn't that I'd blocked out all memory of it; I'd reached the point where I'd quit watching it. Funny; I thought I'd made it further along in the season. That's what pain can do to you, I guess.

Even if one discounts Twin Peaks, all this was enough to shake anyone's confidence. I'd always pictured myself as a champion for quality television, but was I not, perhaps, as discerning a viewer as I fancied myself to be? Was the idea of quality television just a mirage, the kind that the Rat Patrol might have come across in the desert? Was I washed up as a television aficionado? I'd even started to find flaws with shows like Perry Mason and Mystery Science Theater 3000, shows I'd watched and enjoyed many times; were those flaws always there, and I'd just overlooked them before? It was the kind of thing that could cause an existential crisis in a lesser man—perhaps I was a lesser man.

It was up to my wife to talk me down, something she's only too used to having to do. She reminded me that there were plenty of classic shows I'd selected, shows that I'd had little or no problem watching. We'd watched Hogan's Heroes, for instance, all the way through several times, and I wasn't complaining about that. And Perry Mason—well, the shows in the last couple of seasons were weak, but as soon as we cycled back to the beginning, I'd be fine again. She started ticking off a long list of shows I'd been right about: Danger Man, The Prisoner, The Avengers, Doctor Who, The Persuaders!, The Fugitive, Nero Wolfe, The Saint, Sherlock Holmes, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West, Blackadder, Peter Gunn, Search, Brenner, The Human Jungle, Breaking Point, The Green Hornet, Man With a Suitcase—the list went on. (And on, and on.) Out of such a substantial string of hits, there was bound to be a miss or two. And while some of the shows were well-known, just as many were calculated gambles, stabs in the dark, and they'd paid off in a big way. Besides, shows like 77 Sunset Strip were mostly successful.

And, she continued, look at the success I'd had recently with recent shows: Judd for the Defense, possibly headed for my Top Ten list. Combat! Tightrope. Hawaiian Eye. Search. Surfside 6. The Baron. Not all of them were great, but they were fun. (Well, you wouldn't call Combat! fun, but it is excellent.) We just started watching The Twilight Zone after many years, this time in Blu-ray, and weren't disappointed. She was right, and the reminder helped restore my confidence. No, I hadn't lost it after all.

Two nights ago we watched the first episode of Sam Benedict, the 1962-63 legal drama starring Edmund O'Brien; based on the first showing, there's every reason for optimism. In fact, if there's one string that runs through all these shows, it's that many of them were short-lived, running between one and three years. Is it possible that these shows ended before I could get tired of them? Should there perhaps be a break between seasons of longer-running series, the way it was when they were originally on and went into reruns during the summer? Both of these theories are possible; my tastes, eclectic as they are, do tend to result in series that don't exactly exhibit mass appeal. And maybe it would be a good idea to use some of them as breaks between seasons to keep from getting burned out by long-running favorites.

It's something to think about, down the line. Not now, though. For now I'm content to bask in the knowledge that whatever it is, I've still got it. TV  

April 24, 2023

What's on TV? Monday, April 24, 1967

Xs we mentioned on Saturday, Bob Newhart will not be hosting The Tonight Show this week, since Johnny Carson has settled his dispute with NBC; I'd imagine there was general rejoicing all around. Elsewhere, KSBW has a matinee called Escape from Saigon; it's from 1961, so it's about the French involvement in Vietnam. (College kids are pleading for the same thing, though, and they're not talking about the French.) Gotta tell you, when I saw the title of this movie, all I could think of was Martin Sheen. You'll probably be reminded of other things as you go through these listings from the Northern California edition

April 22, 2023

This week in TV Guide: April 22, 1967

In our last episode, TV Guide's David Lachenbruch looked to the future to see what television might have in store for us. This week, he looks back to the past, in an interview with "the father of television," who says, "it realy hasn't turned out at all as I expected."

Dr. Vladimir Kosma Zworykin is currently Honorary Vice President of RCA and recently recived the National Medal of Science from President Johnson at a White House ceremony. The 77-year-old comes by his title as father of television honestly; as the inventor of both the first TV camera tube and the picture tube, his influence is compared to Marconi's in radio. Yet he "would rather look to the future than pack to the past."

But what a past. Zworykin first became interested in television in 1910 in St. Petersburg; after a sojourn in France, Zworykin came to the United States in 1918, and resumed his television experiments at Westinghouse where, in 1923, he demonstrated the first working television system without moving parts. Westinghouse may not have been impressed, telling Zworykin to "work on something more useful," but David Sarnoff was, and in 1929 Zworykin and his entire team moved over to RCA. Ten years later, Sarnoff formally launched the nation's first regular television broadcasting service with a televadts of President Roosevelt opening the New York World's Fair.

Looking back on it all, Zworykin is asked what he'd anticipated from his invention. "Certainly not Amos 'n' Andy," he says of the first television program he'd witnessed. "I essentially visualized an extension of human sight, to let us see what we couldn’t see with our own eyes—whatever was too small, too big, too dangerous or too far." In 1954, he'd written that one day the TV camera would be "the pioneer observer in interplanetary travel." But the entertainment potential quickly overshadowed the scientific, industrial, and educational potential. "You work with something and it blossoms, and turns out to be something quite different from what you visualized," he says, and TV's popularity probably did bring in the investment that allowed development of the products we're now seeing in science and medicine. 

As for his own viewing habits, Zworykin acknowledges that he doesn't watch much TV. "My wife watches, he says, "and she sometimes calls me when a good program is on." His favorites include opera and musical shows—"something which gives pleasure or is instructive." Asked about his opinion on current television, he's blunt: "Too often [programs] try to suit the taste of the majority, and there are many people who don’t agree with the majority. I think you can have a good program without killing half a dozen people in half an hour." He doesn't have much time for television, though; he's working in a new science called "medical engineering." Less than a decade ago, his team developed the radio endosonde, a tiny transmitter which aids in diagnosing ailments when the patient swallows it. Electronics, he ponts out, has already been indespensible in medicine, including closed-circuit TV training for doctors, and he things the computer will "save countless lives." 

Asked to sum it all up, Vladimir Zworykin says, "It has been my privilege to live long enough to see television grow and have my dreams of the past materialize,” and adds: “My only complaint is that it was far slower than we thought it would be.”

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

Sullivan: Scheduled: Bert Lahr; the McGuire Sisters; comedians Jackie Mason, George Kirby and Joan Rivers; singer Bobby Vinton; the Y Americans, a choral group from Brigham Young University in Utah; and balancer Agostino.  

Palace: Hostess Joan Crawford performs "The Dreamer," a dramatic scene about a little girl. Joan also presents singers Nancy Ames and Julius La Rosa; Tim "Rango" Conway, who plays a prison warden; the rock ‘n’ rolling Cyrkle; the Flying Cavarettas, teen-age aerialists; the acrobatic Halasis; and illusionist Ralph Adams.  

This is one of those weeks where the choice depends almost entirely on your own personal tastes. If you're a fan of Joan Crawford, you're probably going to let her pull Nancy Ames and Julius La Rosa across the finish line; meanwhile, if you're fond of Bert Lahr and Jackie Mason, you might the McGuire Sisters and Joan Rivers tag along. I don't have any strong feelings one way or another; if I was a real television historian I might rely on some video clips,but I'm really just typing as fast as I can, so I'm calling it a push.

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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. 

I'm sure some of you are going to tell me you remember the Smothers Brothers from way back when, when they were only "folk-singing comedians." Or maybe you first saw them in their 1965 sitcom, which cast Tom in the unlikely role of an angel and served them poorly. For the rest of us, it's hard to imagine a time when the Smothers Brothers, agree with them or not, weren't associated with political controversy. (For reference, the Pete Seeger controversy doesn't occur until September 1967.)  But that's where we are, in the first season of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and it's almost as if Cleveland Amory is reviewing a show completely different from the one we've since come to know and love—or hate.

It's easy to overlook the "comedy" part of that title, given the trouble with the network and the White House that would come, but at this point, that's what this show is about, and Amory praises the format for allowing more of the "brotherly chit-spats" the duo are known for. Their personalities are defined and work well off each other, particularly Tommy's "Smothersese" doubletalk. At times their bits can remind you of great comedy teams of the past, especially one where Dick accidentelly claps to death a singing mosquito. Accused by Tom of being a murderer, Dick protests. "Everybody kills mosquitos," to which Tom replies, "I know everybody kills mosquitoes. That’s why so few of them make it in show business." All right, maybe it's not Abbott and Costello, but it's still funny. Also funny was a show featuring Jack Benny and George Burns as guests; says Cleve, "great as Benny and Burns have been, you had only to see the Smothers Brothers working with them to see how good the Brothers are now."

There are, however, clouds on the horizon, although they're easier to see in retrospect. Amory thought that a bit including Paul Revere and the Raiders that made fun of Revolutionary heroes was "on the edge of tastelessness," and a recent show that made fun of the Lindbergh flight to Paris ws "definitely over the edge." Nowadays the Founding Fathers are ridiculed as oppressive white men, and Lindbergh's star started to dim with his involvement with Germany before World War II, but in 1967 it was still standard to see them—rightly—as American icons, integral parts of the nation's history. As Amory says, "The line between poking fun and insulting heroes is a thin one—but it is a line." One we can see the Smothers Brothers only too willing to cross. CBS should have seen it coming.

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I've noted in the past how today's network television doesn't have much time for religious holidays compared to how things were in, say, 1967. I'm usually talking about Christmas or Easter, but this week it's Passover, and you'd certainly know it by Sunday's programming. 

CBS offers a Sunday morning doubleheader of sorts, beginning at 8:00 a.m. PT with Ben-Gurion on the Bible, an interview with former Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, who talks about how the Bible's teachings apply to today's world. That's followed at 8:30 a.m. by Passover Today, a roundtable discussion on the meaning of Passover and how it relates to modern times. 

NBC's Eternal Light (5:00 p.m.) presents "How Far Away, How Long Ago," a half-hour drama baesd on a story by 1966 Nobel Prize winner S.Y. Agnon, about two lonely people who attend a Seder together. And later, on their acclaimed documentary series Project 20 (10:00 p.m.), Alexander Scourby narrates "The Law and the Prophets," a look at Old Testament history as seen through paintings of the old masters, including Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Velazquez, Rubens, Raphael and Caravaggio, with music by Robert Russell Bennett. The program is presented without commercial interruption. A few years previously, Project 20 did a similar story on Christmas, and I'd imagine this one is equally good—but then, as my wife says, you'd listen to Alexander Scourby read from the phone book.

Perhaps the most interesting program of the day is on ABC's religion program Directors, which expands to an hour to present the one-act Passover opera "The Final Ingredient," about a Seder held in a Nazi concentration camp. (2:30 p.m.) The music is by the very interesting composer David Amram* with a libretto by Arnold Weinstein, based on a play by Defenders creator Reginald Rose; the opera was commissioned by ABC.

*Fun fact: David Amram also composed the score for The Manchurian Candidate, among other movies.

Specials like this are cultural as well as religious, and obviously the networks don't think the audience for them will be limited to those celebrating Passover. What's changed now? You could argue that programs for Christmas, Easter, Passover, what have you, are passe because not everyone shares those beliefs. You know what? They never did. Perhaps there were more who did back then, but even those who didn't allowed for their cultural importance. Again, what's changed now? Never mind; I'm sure I know the answer.

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Bob Newhart is scheduled to be the guest host for Johnny Carson this week on The Tonight Show, and therein lies a story. Johnny's involved in one of his periodic contract disputes with NBC, according to Richard K. Doan's Doan Report, and nobody's quite sure what the future holds. It all has to do with the recent AFTRA strike, which we covered here (you might remember it as the one that made Arnold Zenker a star). Carson honored the picket line during the strike, but, according to the excellent website Eyes of a Generation, in his absense, "NBC was airing Carson reruns without having negotiated a fee in advance, which his contract called for." Carson insisted that "My contract was terminated" because of NBC's actions, while the network maintained a more concilatory approach. ("We still hope Johnny will return.") Jimmy Dean has already done two weeks in Carson's place and Newhart is up next.

Behind the scenes, Carson's lawyer is supposedly talking with CBS, which is looking for its own late-night show (and finally settles on one with Merv Griffin), while NBC, having just signed Newhart to a new contract, has him waiting in the winds "in case the network decided to switch instead of fight the Carson battle." Of course, we know how this all ends; Carson returns to the show on April 24 (meaning Newhart isn't needed), and while various sources dispute the amount of money Carson was making before and after the walkout, he gets a nice bump in salary upon his return. In all likelihood, neither Carson nor NBC were probably ever serious about there being a split.

But this does create one of those "what-if" scenarios, doesn't it? Suppose NBC had moved on from Carson; after all, he'd only been hosting The Tonight Show for five years, the same length of time that Jack Paar had been the host, and while he was popular, he was hardly an institution at that point. Had Carson gone to CBS, that could have changed the entire dymanic of the late-night battle, or he might have stayed with the show for a few more years and then gone on to something else. Newhart had substituted for Carson several times; had he taken over the show, would he have ever had his succession of hit sitcoms? Would Merv have wound up back at NBC, the network he'd started out at? What about Steve Allen, who started Tonight? And let's not forget that Joey Bishop had started his own show on ABC the week before Carson's return (Carson supposedly waited a week to come back, so that he wouldn't upstage Bishop's debut)—does Bishop become a success? Does he still quit ABC in a contract dispute, ceding the slot to Dick Cavett? Does Jack Paar himself make a dramatic return somewhere? And does the talk show format ever get bumped back to an hour, changing the chemistry of the shows forever? One can only wonder.

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It's a week of specials, but we'll begin Saturday night with a couple of classic Barbara Stanwyck movies that are pretty special themselves. At. 11:00 p.m. on KXTV, it's Double Indemnity, with Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray in one of the great noirs of all time. Or, you could opt for Stanwyck and William Holden in Golden Boy on KHSL; it's the second half of a double feature that begins at 10:00 p.m. with Day of the Badmen, starring—Fred MacMurray. No matter which way you turn, you can't lose here.

The Bell Telephone Hour
ends its penultimate season with "El Prado: Masterpieces and Music" (Sunday, 6:30 p.m., NBC), a tour of Spain's famed El Prado art museum, led by the magnificent classcal guitarist Andrés Segovia. Among the priceless masterpieces at the El Prado are works by Goya, Velazquez, and El Greco. There's also a one-hour documentary on Humphrey Bogart on ABC (8:00 p.m.), narrated by Charlton Heston, that points out the continuing fascination with Bogart. I mention this because KTVU has an episode of the 1963-64 series Hollywood and the Stars earlier in the evening, and the introductory episode of that series was about Humphrey Bogart. Bogart has a dynamic presence on-screen, and I doubt his movies will ever not be popular. I wonder, though, whether the interest in him in the 1960s also has to do with the masculinity he projects—the "Bogart mystique," as it's referred to here—and whether people felt it was a quality in short supply in this hippie era. Just thinking out loud; don't pay any attention to me.

If I wanted to pursue that theory, I might be inclined to look at Monday's KRON-produced special "The Vanishing Cowboy" (7:00 p.m.). After all, read this description: "See the cowboy of today:
A man who's traded his pistol for a hypodermic needle to fight livestock diseases instead of Indians. A man who still ropes, herds and brands cattle in the age-old manner, but lives a life far different than his fictional counterpart—a life perhaps destined to disappear in our time." Note the repeated use of the word "man" as if to imply "real man" or "manly man"; you see it in the Bogart special as well. There are people who would probably call that toxic today. Again, I'm probably thinking too much here, but there are things. . .

Let's look at something else, like Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, in their first television special (funny how the ads always like to point that out), presented by Singer as part of their continuing series of "Singer Presents" music specials; others in the past and future include Frank Sinatra, Elvis (his comeback special), Tony Bennett, and Burt Bacharach. (Monday, 9:00 p.m., CBS) Herb had some really big hits back then; the special features hits like "A Taste of Honey," "Lonely Bull," "Tijuana Taxi," and more. Oh, and note the special offers in the ad, including $75 off of a new Singer color TV. Who knew?

On Tuesday, a CBS News Special entitled "Inside Pop—The Rock Revolution" (10:00 p.m.) features Leonard Bernstein "exploring the world of pop music." Usinghis piano and recordings, Bernstein shows what he thinks is, and isn't valuable in today's sound. We also see performances and interviews with Herman's Hermits, Brian Wilson, the Hollies, Janis Ian, Tim Buckley and others, (And an ad on the page for "significant new talent" Janis Ian's new album, courtesy of Verve/Folkways. The ads in this issue are great!) By the way, you can see that special here.

Wednesday, the Hallmark Hall of Fame presents Jean Simmons, Claire Bloom, and Keith Michell in "Soldier in Love," the story of the friendship between Queen Anne and her friends John and Sarah Churchill*, the first Duke and Duchess of Marlborough. (7:30 p.m., NBC) If you want something a little less highbrow, you might check out tonight's Batman (7:30 p.m., ABC), which stars David Wayne as Jervis Tetch, the Mad Hatter, in his first and, I believe, only appearance. You can see the exciting conclusion tomorrow night, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.

*Fun fact #1: John and Sarah Churchill were the ancestors of Winston Churchill. Fun fact #2: Winston Churchill's daughter, actress Sarah Churchill, was the first host and occasional star of Hallmark Hall of Fame.

Thursday, the hottest fashion model around, Twiggy, is the subject of an ABC profile (8:00 p.m.), shot cinema-verité style by fashion photographer Bert Stern in New York, during the first of three show on her U.S. tour. Yes, fashion models used to go on tour; now I suppose they make reality shows. In non-specials, Dean Martin features twice tonight; first, in the movie Toys in the Attic (9:00 p.m., CBS), an adaptation of the Lillian Helman play that, according to Judith Crist, is decidedly not special (it's "strictly from fantasyland and leads straight to disastersville."). Better to stick with Dean's variety show (10:00 p.m., NBC), with a great guest lineup of Peggy Lee; comedians Buddy Hackett, Guy Marks, and Rowan and Martin; and singer-dancer Dorothy Provine.

Friday's CBS movie is a rerun of the political thriller Advise and Consent, based on Allen Drury's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, directed by Otto Preminger, with an all-star cast including Henry Fonda, Charles Laughton, Don Murray, Walter Pidgeon, Lew Ayres, Franchot Tone, Peter Lawford, and Burgess Meredith. (9;00 p.m.) Not withstanding Judith Crist's thumbs-down ("a mechanically contrived tale that promises much and delivers a bland morality tale"), it's an entertaining-enough movie, although the script has some outrageous factual errors; I find it falls far short of Drury's novel, which itself has become somewhat stale over the years. Premimger wasn't one for sticking to the story, though; he wanted to cast Martin Luther King Jr., if you can believe it, as one of the senators (King reportedly did consider the offer); when someone pointed out to him that there were no black senators at the time, Preminger replied, "Well, there should be." He also offered Richard Nixon the role of vice president; Nixon refused as well, and the role went to Lew Ayres

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No MST3K update this week, but here's an episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea that would have made a splendid "cheesy movie": "Nelson must defeat an ingenious adversary who has learned to control vegetable growth—and who's planning to create a conquering army of plant creatures. Nelson: Richard Basehart. Ben/John Wilson: William Smithers. Crane: David Hedison. Morton: Bob Dowdell. (Sunday, 5:00 p.m., KOVR) I don't think the Satellite of Love could have done any better. TV  

April 21, 2023

Around the dial

First, a bit of self-promotion, as I'm wont to do in this space. Well, after all, it is my space to begin with; if I'm not going to blow my own horn, who is? But I digress: last week I had the pleasure of once again appearing on the Dan Schneider Video Interview; Dan and I are discussing the topic "Why Columbo Is Great." Easy topic there, right? Anyway, I'd be greatly pleased if you'd take some time to check it out; you can see it here. Thanks again to Dan, and please accept my apologies for the poor visual setup on my end; I have corrected the flaws so that my next appearance will look much more aesthetically pleasing, and in the meantime feel free to listen to the audio while you're looking at sometime else.

No that that's out of the way (you have no idea how uncomfortable I am with self-promotion), we'll get to this week's highlights, starting at bare-bones e-zine, where Jack's Hitchcock Project takes us to the works of Talmage Powell, and the sixth-season episode "The Kiss-Off," with Rip Torn brilliant as always.

"Legendary television" is on the docket at Cult TV Blog, as John travels back to the 1970s for "Penda's Fan," an episode of the BBC anthology series Play for Today. It's an ambitious drama that manages to cram in sexuality, theology, Manichaeism, and the music of Edward Elgar. Talk about ambitious indeed!

Some great news from Jodie at Garroway at Large, as we're treated to a preview of the cover for her long-awaited Peace: The Wide, Wide World of Dave Garroway, Television's Original Master Communicator. Stay tuned for more information, including how to order. I can't wait!

I don't know how many great female television directors there have been over the years; probably not enough. At Eyes of a Generation you can read about the first: Francis Buss Buch, who joined CBS in the 1940s and made her mark with a number of firsts, as you can read about.

Ready for some more about The Avengers? How about "The Murder Market," a nasty little story about a dating agency that's a cover for an assassination bureau. Can Steed and Emma get to the bottom of it? Find out in this week's entry at The View from the JunkyardTV  

April 19, 2023

The Descent into Hell: "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street" (1960)

Maple Street, Anytown, U.S.A. A nice place to live, where the neighbors are friendly, where the children play in the street, where (this being the very beginning of the 1960s) you imagine nobody locks their doors at night. Jim and Betty Anderson might live next door, Donna and Alex Stone across the street, and the Cleavers just around the corner, right next to where Steve Douglas is raising his three sons. It’s that kind of neighborhood.

Let’s take a walk down Maple Street, shall we? It might not look terribly interesting to us right now, but in just a little while, everyone in this close-knit community will be trying to kill each other. And if you pay close attention, you’ll have a how-to manual on how to destroy a civilization.

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As the story opens on our idyllic little setting—"A tree-lined little world of front porch gliders, barbecues, the laughter of children, and the bell of an ice cream vendor."—a shadow passes over the neighborhood, along with a roar and a bright flash of light. (Note: stories in which a shadow passes over you rarely end well.) At first, everyone is content with a simple explanation: it’s probably a meteor.

Soon, they discover that something has happened. Not only has there been a power outage, but things that aren’t dependent on electricity—gas stoves, lawnmowers, phones, portable radios, even cars—have stopped working. There’s no logical explanation for it, no reason why all these different items should stop working. The neighbors gather in the street to discuss the situation; as Steve Brand (Claude Akins) says, what has happened doesn’t make sense. "It isn’t just the power failure, Charlie," he tells a friend. "If it was, we’d still be able to get a broadcast on the portable [radio]." One of the other neighbors, Pete Van Horn (Ben Elway), decides to cut through the back yard to Floral Street, and see if they’re having the same trouble. Meanwhile, Charlie (Jack Weston) and Steve start the walk downtown (remember, the cars don’t work) to check with the police.  

Just then, they’re warned by Tommy (Jan Handzlik), a young teenager, that they’d better not go. "They don’t want you to," he says. When Steve asks him who "they" are, Tommy replies, "Whoever was in that thing that came by overhead." The neighbors are skeptical, but Tommy is insistent: "It’s always that way, in every story I ever read about a ship landing from outer space." Steve tells the boy to go home, but he continues; nobody will be able to leave "except the people they’d sent down ahead of them. They looked just like humans." However fanciful Tommy’s theory, it has unsettled the neighbors even more, and angered some of them. Tommy continues on about the aliens, though. According to the stories he’s read, "They sent four people. A mother and a father and two kids who looked just like humans. But they weren’t."

As the fear intensifies, so does the paranoia. Les Goodman’s (Barry Atwater) car suddenly starts on its own, and someone remembers seeing him in his backyard late nights, looking up at the sky "as if he were waiting for something." When Steve tries to diffuse the situation, Charlie brins up the radio set he works on in his basement. "What kind of ‘radio set’ you workin' on?" he asks Steve. "I never seen it. Neither has anyone else. Who you talk to on that radio set? And who talks to you?" 

As the neighbors trade accusations, they’re silenced by the approach of a figure walking in the darkness. One of them, Don, points a shotgun at the figure. Steve tries to calm him down, but Charlie grabs the gun from Don’s hands. "No more talk, Steve. You're going to talk us into a grave! You'd let whatever's out there walk right over us, wouldn't yuh? Well, some of us won't!" With that he fires at the figure, which turns out to be—Pete Van Horn, returning from Spring Street. He’s dead. 

You know you're in trouble when Claude Akins
is your voice of reason
Charlie frantically tries to defend himself, and then the lights in his house suddenly come on. Now he’s become the prime suspect. "You were so quick to kill, Charlie," Goodman says, "and you were so quick to tell us who we had to be careful of. Well, maybe you had to kill. Maybe Peter there was trying to tell us something. Maybe he'd found out something and came back to tell us who there was amongst us we should watch out for—" Charlie runs, and the group chases him back to his house. In desperation, he points the finger at the boy, Tommy. "He knew!" a woman chimes in: "He was the only one who knew! He told us all about it. Well, how did he know? How could he have known?"

Up and down the street, lights start flashing on and off. It’s Bob Weaver’s house! one person says. It’s Don Martin’s place! says another. It’s the kid, Charlie repeats. Soon it’s every family for themselves, as full-scale rioting breaks out. As it does, the camera pans back to a spacecraft, hidden in the darkness. The meteor was, in fact, an alien ship, and two aliens are observing the havoc on Maple Street. "Understand the procedure now?" one of them says. "Just stop a few of their machines and radios and telephones and lawn mowers...throw them into darkness for a few hours and then you just sit back and watch the pattern." The second alien asks if the pattern is always the same. Yes, replies the first. "With few variations. They pick the most dangerous enemy they can find...and it's themselves. And all we need do is sit back...and watch." And what happens next? "Their world is full of Maple Streets. And we'll go from one to the other and let them destroy themselves. One to the other...one to the other...one to the other…"   

Don’t you just love a twist ending like that?

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Our third excursion into The Twilight Zone, "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street," aired on CBS on March 4, 1960; it was the twenty-second episode of the series, aired on CBS. Viewers who've watched The Twilight Zone remember the episode vividly (it's considered one of the show's greatest stories); in 2009, Time named it one of the ten best TZ episodes. Even those who haven't watched the series may well have heard of it.

The script, not surprisingly, is by Rod Serling, and allegorical interpretations abound. Serling clearly intends this to be one of his "message" scripts; his closing narration states that "thoughts, attitudes, prejudices" are weapons found only in our minds, and that "prejudices can kill...and suspicion can destroy...and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own—for the children and the children yet unborn." It could be a treatise on McCarthyism and the Red Scare, or a warning about racism; both are causes that were close to Serling’s heart. It's definitely meant to, as one critic put it, "turn a mirror on ourselves."

The point is, there’s something timeless about this story, as there is about all great stories. Whatever allegory Serling might have intended at the time, one can watch it today and find all kinds of meaning in it. It could be about terrorism, discrimination, immigration, fear of the "different"—even COVID.

Do you remember, during the COVID panic, how people were being urged to "snitch" on those they saw violating the norms of "social distancing"? We saw social media ridicule individuals who fail to join in nightly neighborhood celebrations of health workers. We read of places of business that discriminated against people based on their vaccination status. And we heard about families across America being torn apart along political and ideological lines. We divided as we always do, whether liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, red state or blue, vaxxer or anti-vaxxer. We made claims, exchanged accusations, and hurled invective. Those who claimed to be protecting lives were called tyrants; those who claimed to be protecting jobs were called traitors. If we didn’t close everything up, people would die. If we didn’t open everything up, people would die. And, as is always the case, anyone who disagreed with us was a fool. 

That’s why, when the COVID restrictions first started, I immediately thought of "The Monsters," and the picture it painted of people being turned against one another, of resentments coming to the surface. 

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Maybe the residents of Maple Street always harbored dark thoughts about their neighbors. It would be strange if they didn’t; what we say to our neighbors as we chat over the fence or across the street isn’t always the same as what we say when we’re in the privacy of our homes, with the doors and windows shut.  There, beyond earshot of others, we experience a kind of domestic in vino veritas—"in wine, there is truth," only in this case it’s what happens within the confines of our four walls. (In domus veritas?)

Some people think of this as hypocrisy, but others would use the term civilized. We know what is expected of us in public, or at least we used to know. You don’t tell a new mother that her child is ugly. You don’t tell people their clothes make them look fat. You know the routine. The withholding of your true opinion until you’re safely behind doors—it’s a basic kindness, but it’s really more than that. It’s one of the foundations of a civilized society. Without it, we’d find it impossible for even the most basic of human interactions. 

What happens when we weaponize those thoughts, though, when we use them against the subjects of those thoughts? When we share those thoughts with others, with friends or neighbors or acquaintances ("Did you hear what Ralph was doing last night?"), it’s called gossip; it’s a sin, and rightly so. And it results in a breakdown in trust, even if the subject of your whisperings never gets wind of it. After all, what do you think when someone shares gossip with you? If you really think about it, you’d wonder, "If this is what he says about Ralph when he’s not around, what does he say about me when I’m not around?" And when you add fear to the equation, when you bring these whisperings out in the open so everyone can hear them, they become accusations, and those eccentricities and hobbies become traitorous efforts to communicate with aliens from another world. That was the goal of the aliens in "The Monsters," and it worked wonderfully.

But what happens when you share them with, let’s say, an agent of the government, or some other figure of authority? That’s called being an informant, although there’s a better, more descriptive word for it—snitch. Some people snitch for ideological reasons, some do it for profit, some to achieve a sort of protection by insinuating themselves with the government, some to curry favor with the authorities. And not only is it an effective way of gathering information, it creates a sense of fear and paranoia. Most important, the lack of trust creates an environment making it difficult, if not impossible, to form a cohesive opposition. That is the goal of a totalitarian government, and it often works wonderfully.

The COVID scare, like other scares of the past that were manipulated and used by the government to exercise a certain kind of power, brought out the worst in people, or at least brought it to the surface. It acted not as a unifier, a "We’re all in this together" moment. It didn’t create bonds, it ruptured them. Whatever the motives happened to be, for individuals and communities alike, the attempts to isolate and discriminate created that very sense of unease and mistrust that a totalitarian might well desire. 

And if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck. . .

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In 2003, there was a remake, of sorts, of "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street." It was part of one of the periodic revivals of The Twilight Zone, and it was called  "The Monsters are on Maple Street" with a script by Erin Maher and Kay Reindl, and a "story by" credit to Serling; whether the new title is an improvement or not is up to you, based on whether you think external events can turn people into monsters, or whether they’re already monsters to begin with. 

In the 2003 "Monsters," the prime suspects are not aliens, but terrorists. As the panic and uncertainty caused by a mysterious power surge spreads up and down Maple Street, hidden jealousies and simmering resentments come to the surface. Suspicion immediately falls on a family new to the neighborhood; they’ve put up a chain link fence around their property, and they were the only ones not to fly a flag on Veterans’ Day. The discovery of surveillance cameras around everyone’s house convinces the neighbors that the new family must be terrorists; the father works at an electrical firm (explaining the presence of the cameras), and their house is the only one on Maple Street that still has electricity. Instead of a full-scale riot, the neighbors invade the new family’s home, leaving them fearing for their lives.  

Meanwhile, in a truck parked on an isolated street (the classic "black van"?) two U.S. Army soldiers observe the ongoing attack on television monitors. It was the Army, not aliens or terrorists or the Boogie Man, that was responsible for the power surge. It’s all part of an experiment on "isolated communities" to see "how people behave in times of crisis." The military’s hope, apparently, was that such communities would band together under a common threat, but It’s clear from the reaction of the two that Maple Street has failed miserably, taking only five hours to descend into chaos and violence. As the new family’s house goes up in flames, one of the soldiers remarks, "If the other civilian security tests went like this, we’re all in trouble." 

In his closing voiceover, Forrest Whittaker, host of this incarnation of The Twilight Zone, comments that in a time of uncertainty, "we're so sure that villains lurk around every corner that we will create them ourselves if we can't find them. For while fear may keep us vigilant, it's also fear that tears us apart."And America itself may in be jeopardy if Americans divide against one another so quickly.

The plot of this version resembles that of the 1963 Outer Limits episode "Nightmare," in which we are led to believe that aliens are holding prisoner and interrogating several soldiers from Earth, taken in an interplanetary war (although not explicitly stated, the "Unified Earth" forces presumably represent the United Nations). At the episode’s conclusion, we find out that this is actually an experiment being conducted by the Earth’s united military to see how men respond to interrogation and psychological stress. In both cases, we find out that the perpetrators of this cruel hoax are governments, who have no compunction about using their own citizens as guinea pigs. 

Of course, we know the stories about how the United States government experimented on black men for 40 years during the 20th Century, or how we discovered that the government had been spraying zinc cadmium sulfide, a toxic substance, in cities around the country as part of a military experiment. (And this is just the tip of the iceberg.) Nothing to fear though, even though subsequent research suggests the government may have added a radioactive agent to the chemical compound. After all, they’re from the government and they’re here to help.

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Someone once said that behind every act of violence, there’s a desire for revenge. If this is true, and it doesn’t occur to me to doubt it, then a story such as "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street" should chill us to the marrow, as I’m sure Serling intended. We can understand the concept of revenge; most of us have, at one time or another, felt the desire to get even for something that’s happened to us, and we’ve probably done things that have made others want to get even for what we’ve done to them. For some people, that desire metastases into a grudge, a lifelong attempt to even the score; the result is usually either a ruined life or the stuff of epic literature. A lot of the time we’re trying to get even for things than in retrospect might seem small: an insult, an injustice, a stolen girlfriend. Other times, we’re confronted with something more serious: a murdered relative, an abused child, something so horrific that we not only understand the desire, we empathize with it, we defend it, we might even (if we have the opportunity) help facilitate it. These may be more rare, but they’re also more visible.


What about the idea of someone who reacts violently to us because of who we are, what we are, what we represent? What kind of a threat can we possibly pose to them? Why on earth are they trying to get even with us?

What did I ever do to you? you ask them. Their reply: You exist.

They’re driven by envy, jealousy, a feeling of inferiority, a simmering resentment. They feel as if life has dealt them a bad hand, that they haven’t been treated the way they should be, that the world hasn’t given them what they deserve. They resent your success, your happiness, your philosophy, your beliefs. They’ll use terms like unearned privilege and cultural appropriation and various types of oppression, because you don’t recognize them for what they are: the elites, the enlightened, the superior. You don’t bow down to them, and they want to make sure you get the message. They’re determined to take it out on you because somehow it’s your fault, because in the end there has to be a scapegoat. There are no longer two sides to every story; there’s only one: theirs. Because error has no rights. And if you offer a differing opinion, they’ll deny it, because they don’t want to lose their influence, their leverage, their power. 

And it really is all about that, isn’t it? Power. The kind that thrives on fear and intimidation, that pits friends, neighbors, and countrymen against one another. Whether it’s an alien force looking to conquer Earth, a government experimenting on its own citizens, or a regime willing to subvert and divide to remain in control.  

On June 16, 1858, Abraham Lincoln delivered what came to be known as his "House Divided" speech, given before an assembly at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. It is not only one of Lincoln’s most famous speeches, it’s one of the most cherished in Americana; in the speech’s money quote, the future president says that "A house divided against itself cannot stand." It is a philosophy that resounds throughout American history; Benjamin Franklin, at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, is supposed to have said, "We must all hang together or we will all hang separately" (although he wasn’t credited with it until 1840, making its origins somewhat suspect). Through wars and depressions and external threats, from Shay’s Rebellion to the Civil War to Vietnam, some of the nation’s greatest crises have come from times when "Neighbors turned against neighbors, [and] even fathers and sons turned against each other." The Founding Fathers spoke of America as a great experiment, but reminded us that there were no guarantees of success. 

Throughout history, civilizations have faced many threats; but it seems as if it’s always the internal ones that are the most chilling, that cause the most damage and destruction. Those are the stakes, and in case there are any doubts, recall the words from which Lincoln drew his inspiration. For as Christ said, "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand." It’s a warning that has yet to be disproved. And then we will know the monsters are here, because we will have seen them. They are us. TV