May 31, 2023

World without end

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 29, 2023

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

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

May 27, 2023

This week in TV Guide: May 29, 1965

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 26, 2023

Around the dial

This week I'm starting with an extended quote from my friend John at Cult TV Blog, who makes a point that I think is worth repeatng. 

There is something spectacularly contrary about the cult TV world. The TV stations wipe all their shows (for Reasons) thinking that we won't ever want to watch them again and we spend decades on the internet locating reel to reel off-air recordings and wipe-shaming the BBC into remaking the shows that they made in the first place. We damn well WILL see those shows again even if it's on an odd reel that somehow made its way to Cape Town—it's almost as if the cult TV world *prefers* TV which has been wiped.

He goes on to point out how missing episodes of Doctor Who have been reconstructed, and missing episodes of The Avengers are recreated through the Big Finish audios. I'm sure that if more of this would happen (especially in the United States), at some point, television networks would find they've spent more money on recreations than it would have cost to preserve the shows in the first place. Very interesting! Anyway, the prompt for this meditation is Hancock's Half Hour, a series from 1959 that's benefitted from the desire to put things back the way they were.

At Comfort TV, David has a very nice mention of yours truly and the blog as a preface to an essay that really cuts to the heart of what comfort TV is and why it's so important these days. It is a nice compliment to his most recent book, When Television Brought Us Together (and if you don't have this book, why?), and it reminds us that no matter what else happens, our memories are one thing they can't take away from us. 

The Broadcasting Archives links to A Word from Our Sponsor for a terrific series of graphics on the general topic, "What is the future of television?" I've linked to the first one, but be sure to click on the home page and look at them all—you'll thank me for it. 

And from Garroway at Large, the news we've been waiting for these last few years: Jodie's book Peace: The Wide, Wide World of Dave Garroway, Television's Original Master Communicator is now a reality! We talked about this way back in 2017, and I couldn't be prouder of her!

At Silver Scenes, a link to an article at ReMind magazine on iconic TV houses that are now being demolished. Which leads me back to David's piece earlier—pretty soon, it seems as if all we will be left with are memories. That's why all of us feel it's important to keep the institutional memory of classic TV alive. If we won't do it, who will?

If you read Wednesday's piece, you'll know that I've been adding a fair number of British programs to our viewing schedule, but Cult TV Lounge looks at one that I haven't yet seen: The Professionals, the late 1970s show that provides a very violent (and prophetic?) look at a counter-terrorist squad that pretty much makes its own law.

Martin Grams has a new book out: Maverick: A History of the Television Series, written with Linda Alexander and Steven Thompson. I'll be getting back to that series before too long, but if the book is as spectacular as the picture on the cover, then it ought to be a winner.

At Shadow & Substance, Paul looks at a less-than-memorable episode of The Twilight Zone: the third season comedy "Cavender is Coming," which starred Carol Burnett and was originally intended as a pilot. Serling wasn't happy with it, and penned an elegant apology to Carol, along with a promise that if he got a second chance (which he didn't), he'd make it up to her.

On the occasion of Leslie Uggams's 80th birthday, Travalanche flashes back to her 1969 variety series The Leslie Uggams Show, a quick fill-in for the cancelled Smothers Brothers, and takes a look at her career and influence.

It's time for another look at The Avengers at The View from the Junkyard, and this week Roger and Mike compare notes on "Two's a Crowd," a fourth-season episode that, as Roger says, is something unusual at this point in the series: "a straight-up spy story."

Speaking of The Avengers, here's a nifty site that you should definitely check out: Alan Hayes's The Avengers Declassified. It's a very good looking site, and the information in it is even better! If you're a fan of Steed and Mrs. Peel (or Mrs. Gale, or Tara King, or David Keel, or Venus Smith), you're going to want to spend a lot of time here. And if you're not a fan, who should be!

Finally, I know that some of you don't read the Saturday material until Monday, so for those of you in the United States, have a safe and restful Memorial Day, and remember what the day is all about. TV  

May 24, 2023

What I've been watching: special British edition

Shows I’ve Watched:
Shows I've Added:
The Man in Room 17
One Step Beyond
Public Eye
Man of the World

When last we visited this feature, you'll recall, I was recovering from a crisis of confidence in my ability to successfully pick TV shows to watch. There were consequences to be dealt with after the fact, though; one doesn't come through an ordeal like that without leaving some scar tissue.  

My decision to temporarily shelve Alfred Hitchcock Presents left a four-night hole in our television viewing, and there was still some apprehension on my part about choosing the replacement. Rather than play it safe, I decided to go for broke; not one, but four shows would take Hitchcock's place: furthermore, all of them would be an hour in length, and to top it off, they were all British series from the early-to mid-1960s. I'm happy to report that these changes have made for a mostt satisfying result to the TV crisis, so let's take a look at this latest version of Britian's Fab Four.

Michael Aldrich (left) and Richard Vernon
For Monday night, I chose The Man in Room 17, a quirky 1965-67 mystery series from Granada TV, starring Richard Vernon and Michael Aldridge as, respectively, Edwin Oldenshaw and Ian Dimmock*, criminologists working for the British Department of Social Research in the top-secret Room 17 (a room so secure it has a double-door entrance; nobody can enter without being let in). Their job is to assist the authorities in solving difficult cases, often involving sensitive political or diplomatic issues. The gimmick: they never leave Room 17; instead, they solve the cases through intuition and research, issuing instructions to various contacts (official and otherwise) after a thorough analysis of the situation.

*Due to illness, Michael Aldrige is replaced in the second season by Denholm Elliot as the similarly-monogrammed Imlac Defraits; the reason for this obsession with initials will be explained in due course.

Oldenshaw and Dimmock undertake their assignments (provided they choose to accept them) with rapid-fire erudition and caustic wit, as well as total distain for their internal liaison, the bumptious and easily flustered Sir Geoffrey Norton (Willoughby Goddard). As one critic puts it, "Giving them orders would be an exercise in futility since they’d only ignore them anyway." When we come upon them, they're invariably engaged either in drinking tea, reading the newspaper, or playing the board game Go (the show's opening credits utilize the game's black and white stones as the motif). Each assignment is treated as an irritating intrusion, but they soon become wrapped up in the outcome—not so much because they want to defeat their adversary, but rather to prove they were right all along.

Some viewers might find the duo a little hard to take at times, with their air of condescension and superiority; Oldenshaw, in particular, can be acidly cynical about the government's involvement in these situations in the first place. They don't strike me that way, though; they're quirky, original characters, that you'll warm to, and their cases never fail to interest us—even when they don't interest them.

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I consider myself fortunate to have found Rupert Davies's version of Maigret for Tuesday nights. Many actors have assumed the role of Georges Simenon's famous French police detective, including Michael Gambon and Rowan Atkinson, and while Gambon's excellent interpretation is probably the best-known, but for my money the definitive interpretation belongs to Davies, who played Maigret for four seasons between 1960 and 1963; among those who share my opinion is Simenon himself, who, upon meeting Davies for the first time, shouted, "At last, I have found the perfect Maigret!"

The exterior scenes in Maigret were filmed on location in Paris, lending an appropriate touch given that all of the actors are clearly British and make no attempt whatsoever to suggest any kind of French accents (a trait shared by all other British versions of the series*). That can be disconcerting at first, especially since French terms—monsieur and mademoiselle, oui, merci, patron (boss)—are sprinkled throughout the series. It doesn't take long, however, to get into the swing of things, thanks to well-written stories, an excellent supporting cast (Neville Jason and Victor Lucas as Maigret's colleagues, and Helen Shingler as his loving wife), and the performance of Davies himself.

*By contrast, if Maigret was adapted for American televsion, they'd simply relocate the series to New York or Los Angeles, change everyone's name, and lose all of the charm in the process.

As Maigret, Davies infuses the character with shrewdness and intuition, a world-weariness offset by wry good humor, and a blunt, direct style of questioning; he has a particular ability to put himself in place of the victim and see where it leads him, and a determination to get there. Unlike, say, Oldenshaw and Dimmock, he also projects a warmth and humanity unusual in most serious police dramas. He can be tough when necessary, and isn't above slapping around someone who deserves it, but it's so unexpected when it happens that it underscores Maigret's dedication to finding the truth. He's honest, loyal to his colleagues, and devoted to his wife. The cases are always interesting and the outcomes not always predictable, but the real pleasure is in watching Maigret solve them—and it is a real pleasure.

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Not all private detectives are as suave as Peter Gunn, as tough as Mike Hammer, or as ready with a quip as Richard Diamond. Some of them are just hard workers, like Frank Marker, the title character of Public Eye, which aired on ABC Weekend TV and Thames Television from 1965 to 1975, and runs on Wednesday nights for me. As played by Alfred Burke, Marker is the prototypical private detective: a loner, cynical and world-weary, working out of a shabby, cramped office, taking on whatever cases come his way. 

Public Eye makes clear that the business of being an "enquiry agent" is hardly glamorous; there are no car chases, no shootouts, no romances with beautiful, mysterious clients, and very few flying fists; his cases range from divorce actions to missing persons, what we're left with is Marker wearing out shoe leather, assuming various identities in order to ask lots of questions, and arriving at what is often an ambivalent conclusion to the case. In the case of the missing girl, nothing really changes at the end: Marker tracks her to an organized crime gang, where she has become a high-priced prostitute. She refuses his offer of help, thinking she has the leverage to take care of herself. She doesn't, of course, but she only finds this out too late, by which time Marker himself has been threatened off the case, forcing him to relocate from London to Birmingham. By the end of the third season, when Marker is betrayed by his client and winds up in prison after being convicted of receiving stolen property. The fourth season begins with him being released on parole, and having to accustom himself to life outside prison, his relationship with his landlady, and return to investigating. 

Public Eye's long and successful run, and its status as a much-loved show of the past, can be attributed to the partnership of creator/writer Roger Marshall, and the performance of Burke. Burke is excellent in his portrayal of a three-dimensional, low-key hero who brings a sense of dignity to a quest for justice that often remains unfulfilled; while Marshall's stories are often downbeat and thought-provoking, frequently failing to provide neat and clean solutions to scenarios that don't wrap themselves up nicely at the end of the hour. Working together, the two give us a look at the moody, atmospheric world of England in the 1960s and 1970s, a world where the truth is elusive and there are no easy answers

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Speaking as we were of Peter Gunn, two of the men who made that series so memorable—Craig Stevens and Henry Mancini—reunite for Man of the World, the 1962-63 ITC drama that provides a perfect conclusion to this quartet of programs. Stevens is charming, smooth, and in control—in short, everything you'd expect him to be—as Michael Strait, a world-famous American photojournalist who travels around the world on his boat, covering stories big and small, accompanied by his lovely and resourceful assistant Maggie MacFarland (Tracy Reed), who's become quite used to her boss's duties bringing him out from behind the camera lens. Throw in Mancini's elegant opening theme, and you're all set for an hour of globetrotting glamour and adventure.

You wouldn't necessarily think that beng a photographer would be so dramatic, not to mention dangerous (it's a lot safer operating a studio in a busy storefront), but Strait obviously thrives on it, often taking on assignments for intelligence agencies in locales such as West Berlin, Vietnam, and Cuba, using his photographic skills to provide cover for obtaining information on various threats to the free world. And when he's not involved in high-stakes geopolitics, he's dealing with millionaire clients, mysterious heiresses, and ruthless killers. I guess it does beat working for a portrait studio. One early episode, "The Sentimental Agent," serves as a backdoor pilot for the later series of the same name, starring Carlos Thompson as an import-export agent who, for the right prices, is willing to undertake assignments as far removed from his business as, well, photography is for Strait. In this case, he's recruited by Maggie to rescue Strait from a Cuban prison after Michael's been caught taking pictures of the wrong person. Does he succeed?  C'mon, it's only the sixth episode; what do you think?

If you think Man of the World sounds as if it bears a passing resemblance to shows like The Saint and The Baron, you're absolutely correct. It also comes from an era when Lew Grade, the head of ITC, was convinced that casting an American star was the way to crack the U.S. market, a la The Avengers and The Saint. It didn't work, which is why this series might not be familiar to more of you. And while it doesn't have the dash and success that the latter two series had, it's certainly a pleasant way to spend an hour. Best of all, it won't leave you second-guessing your viewing choices—like some series we could name. TV  

May 22, 2023

What's on TV? Friday, May 27, 1955

We're back in the Big Apple this week, and fortunately there's a baseball game to keep us occupied. It's not just any game though; it's the bitter National League rivals, the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants, from the Polo Grounds (7:55 p.m., WPIX). You'll note that the game is proceeded by the pregame show with actress Laraine Day, and if you're wondering when she switched over to a sports host, it's because she's married to Giants manager Leo Durocher. In other family matters, Margaret Truman sits in for Edward R. Murrow on Person to Person (10:30 p.m., CBS), and her guests are: her parents, former President Truman and Bess. Talk about a cushy assignment! And the Thomas Dodd guesting on People's Lobby (7:00 p.m., WNHC) is the father of future U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd, who would go on to be the head of the Motion Picture Association of Amerca. See if you can find any other favorites from this week!

May 20, 2023

This week in TV Guide: May 21, 1955

This week's "Back in the Day" item: live television covearge of an atom bomb blast. 

It was called "Operation Q," the involvement of an NBC-CBS pooled crew of 95 technicians, engineers, announcers and photographers in Yucca Flat, Nevada*, for the planned detonation of an atomic bomb. The plan brought such media luminaries as Charles Collingwood, Dave Garroway, Walter Cronkite, John Cameron Swayze, Morgan Beatty, Sarah Churchill, and John Daly from New York to the frigid (28 degrees) site for an event that was to become "the highest rated show never to go on the air." 

*Yes, the same Yucca Flat as in the immortal MST3K movie The Beast of Yucca Flats.

Collingwood (CBS) and Garroway (NBC) were there for their networks' respective morning shows, with the plan of showing not only the blast itself, but the instant reactions from those hunched in a trench less than two miles (!) from the 500-foot steel tower holding the bomb. The technicians had arrived five days ahead of the scheduled April 26 date to set up their equipment, including seven cameras and a microwave route to Las Vegas, from which the picture would be transmitted via cable to Los Angeles. 

Only one problem with this carefully planned scenario: it doesn't happen. Apparently even the prospect of nuclear war is dependent on things being glitch-free, and Operation Q was far from that. The test was plagued with postponment after postponment, with each one causting the networks $5,000 per day, in addition to the original $80,000 setup cost. Finally, after the seventh postponment, the networks pulled the plug on the planned coverage; everyone headed home, leaving just one camera crew behind to cover the event, which finally came off on May 5.

You're probably quite familiar with this atomic bomb test; you've seen it many times, even if you weren't aware of it. This was the test in which the military built a replica town in Yucca Flat, complete with "furnished homes, industrial buildings, and clothed mannequins." The journalists covering the test called it "Doom Town," (I can see why that wasn't included in the TV Guide story.) The film of the explosion and its effect on the town have been a standard part of nuclear blast warnings ever since, and even after all these years pictures of it never fail to shock:

Life magazine did an extensive layout of the effecs of the test on Doom Town, which you can see here. It's sobering, to say the least. It's also quite understandable that television would want to cover something like it; it was yet another example of the awesome power made availabe by science, and being unleashed by man. True, you could have seen it in a newsreel in your local theater, but the idea of bringing this into one's home to share with viewers—well, I suppose it was meant to be both frightening and reassuring at the same time. (Send a message to those Russkies, you know.) I'm not quite sure what today's equivalent would be. 

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It would be nice if I had something clever to follow up with here, something like a story about the biggest television bombs of the year, but I'm afraid the best I can do is another story on the effect violent (but non-atomic) television has on children, this one by Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver. Kefauver, who previously garnered headlines for his investingation into organized crime, is now looking at juvenile deliquency, and while TV has been helpful in calling attention to this situation, there's still work to be done. 

Understand, Kefauver is not a critic of television in the way that so many others are in the 1950s. Indeed, the medium has been very kind to him; television coverage of his committee's hearings on organized crime was a hit, catapulting him to national prominence (his victory in the 1952 New Hamphsire presidential primary encouraged President Harry Truman to drop out of the race), and the publicity for his deliquency hearings promises to keep him in the headlines. Personally, Kefauver and his family enjoy television, with practical restrictions. "In my family, there is one rule for all four of my children. They must do their homework before they are permitted to watch TV. Then they may watch till bedtime." The youngest aren't allowed to watch programs with violence, but his older kids (9 and 13) can watch whatever they want. "There are travelogs, historical shows, programs of news and current events. Generally speaking, television does a fine job." 

This wouldn't be much of a story if all the news was good, though, and Kefauver insists that, for the recent progress television has made, there's still too much violence being portrayed. There are other effects that concern him as well; to those who claim that police shows like Dragnet teach kids that crime doesn't pay, Kefauver counters that it can send a mixed message. "The boy, in the training school for a relatively minor infraction, sometimes sits up and comments, 'Hey, I didn’t do anything nearly as bad as that and the law sent me here for even longer.' So those programs teach some boys they can commit lots worse offenses and pay no heavier penalty."

He also thinks that, while censorship is wrong, the government should be stronger in creating overall standards, and that stations violating the voluntary Code of Good Practice should be reported to the FCC. "It should be evidence to be considered at license renewal time." He also believes that too many producers of filmed shows subscribe to the Code, and that one answer might be for the industry to form a board of review, similar to that in existence for movies, which can issue a seal of approval for shows that comply with its guidelines. 

I don't know; it sometimes gets tiresome looking at these stories on TV and violence. They come up so regularly, and after an initial flurry of activity nothing really seems to change. And ten years from now, in the mid-60s, we'll be talking about what effect Saturday mornng superhero cartoons have on kids. But it's a sign of the culture, of how important this issue seems to people, that it keeps coming up.

There's also something interesting about Kefauver and television; as I mentioned earlier, he was one of the first politicians to realize the potential for TV to expand the reach of candidates for high office. As in 1952, he's one of the front-runners for the Democratic presidential nomination again in 1956, again losing out to Adlai Stevenson. But when Stevenson leaves the choice of running mate up to convention delegates, he engages in a spirited contest wth young Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy, another advocate for the power of television in politics, with Kefauver eventually winning out. Had he chosen to run a third time, he would have been one of the favorites, and again would have clashed with Kennedy; he decides against it, though. Ironically, he dies in 1963—just as Kennedy does. 

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Ah, you ask—but what's actually on TV this week? 

Remember You Are There, the program that recounted historical events as if they were being covered on television? It started on radio in 1947, where it continued until 1950, and then moved to television in 1953, and ran until 1957, with Walter Cronkite as host. (There was also a brief revival as a Saturday morning show in 1971.) This week, Cronkite and crew cover the sinking of the Titanic (Sunday, 6:30 p.m., CBS). Now, as you know, I've always been fascinated by related to the Titanic, so you'd expect me to bring this up, right? For good measure, here's the link to the broadcast. Not quite as spectacular, perhaps, as Kraft Television Theatre's live production of A Night to Remember the following year, but it will certainly do.

Keeping with the nautical theme, Ed Sullivan and his guests salute Armed Forces Week onboard the USS Wisconsin on Toast of the Town (8:00 p.m., CBS); Ed's guests include balladeer Burl Ives (who's currently in the Tennessee Williams play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof *) with the Arizona Boys Choir; Carol Haney, a star in The Pajama Game; comedian Jack E. Leonard; singer June Valli; British comedian Richard Hearne; jugglers The Balladinis; and the Marines drill team, along with the band of the Wisconsin. Ed's competition is Promenade (7:30 p.m., NBC), a Max Liebman color review, hosted by Tyrone Power, with actresses Judy Holliday, Barbara Baxley, and Janet Blair; dancers Bambi Linn and Rod Alexander; singers Kay Starr and Jack Russell; and comedian Herb Shriner. Who do you give the edge to there?

*Ironically, the movie version, which Ives is also in, comes out in 1958, the same year as The Big Country, for which Burl wins a Best Supporting Actor Oscar; good year for him.

On Monday, Today (7:00 a.m., NBC) continues a series of reports on the upcoming British parlimentary elections, to be held on Thursday, with Edwin Newman in London. Edward R. Murrow is also in London for the elections, and he'll be presenting his report on See It Now (Tuesday, 10:30 p.m., CBS) The contenders are the current Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, and Labour leader (and former Prime Minister) Clement Attlee. You can tell the hightened interest in the elections here in the United States; Winston Churchill, America's favorite prime minister, had retired just the previous month, with his successor, Eden, calling a snap election to obtain a mandate. He gets it, as the Conservativs win a 60 seat majority; Eden himself will resign less than two years later following the Suez debacle. See how much history you can learn here?

Walt Disney shows us what he does best on this week's Disneyland (would that Disney would do that today), with a preview of the upcoming animated movie Lady and the Tramp, feauting Peggy Lee recording several of the voices she does for the movie. (Wednesday, 7:30 p,m., ABC). There's also a montage of cartoons featuring Pluto, celebrating his 24th year in movies. Meanwhile, on Kraft Television Theatre (9:00 p.m., NBC), we get a look at the early pre-Bewitched career of Dick York, who plays a rookie major league pitcher in "Million Dollar Rookie." 

Burl Ives is back on TV Friday morning as Jack Paar's guest on The Morning Show (7:00 a.m., CBS), and again, he's described as a balladeer—the thesaurus must not have been at arm's length this week. (No mention of his acting career, though.) Today (7:00 a.m., NBC) presents a roundup of the British elections, as I imagine the other news programs will also. And in non-British politics, Margaret Truman guest hosts for Murrow on Person to Person (10:30 p.m., CBS); you can read more about that in my Monday piece.

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And now, away we go with Gleason's million-dollar baby, Audrey Meadows, profiled by Kathy Pedell.

The Great One recently signed a contract with his sponsor and with CBS that amounts to $11,000,000, and for playing Ralph Kramden's long-suffering wife Alice, Audrey gets approximately one-eleventh of that—in other words, a cool million. It hasn't changed her that much, though; she bought a few good things ("I didn't feel too guilty when I bought my (first) mink stole"), and bought a new bedspread and some drapes for the three-room apartment that she used to share with her sister, Jayne, before Jayne married Steve Allen; Audrey says she's planning to stay there. But in case the temptation gets too strong, most of her cash was tied up by her lawyer brothers in investments; she admits she had more spending money when she was earning $75 a week.

Who says they're not a couple of dolls?
The two sisters, who have a close relationship in a business that's been known to drive wedges between celebrity siblings, have "Audrey" and "Jayne" dolls hitting the market this summer, they're also doing some recording and endorsing products. It's best not to take things for granted, Audrey says; "You may be in favor for three years—or 10—and then you may be out."

Getting the Gleason gig wasn't particularly straightforward; "[H]e had never seen me act, he had never heard of me, except from my manager. He didn’t know if I could act." And when her manager first suggested Audrey to Gleason, he vetoed her on the grounds that she was too pretty. "Alice has gotta be a mess," he said. Whereupon she brought in some photographers for a candid session. "My hair was uncombed, I wore my oldest clothes, a torn apron and no make-up. Then I stood in the kitchen and fried eggs. I looked awful. Even the eggs didn't look edible." When Gleason saw the pictures, and confirmed that it was Audrey, he said, "Any girl who would let herself be seen like that for a job deserves it."

Oh, and those lawyer brothers that Pedell mentioned at the outset? Well, as it turns out, brother Edward inserted a clause into that contract with Gleason providing that, should the Honeymooners episodes ever be rebroadcast, Audrey would receive a payment for them. Over time, she earned millions of dollars in residuals from the "Classic 39." She would be the only cast member to do so; only when the "lost" episodes were later released would anyone else receive them. Sometimes, it pays to have your brothers look after you.

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It might only interest me—I mean, let's face it, that's what this blog is all about—but I enjoyed this brief articles showing us what goes into putting on the WCBS Late News, anchored by Ron Cochran. 

It's a different era for news broadcating. There are no computers, no satellite hookups, no video cameras allowing for live remote broadcasts. The remote footage is comprised of film which has to be brought back to the station, developed, and edited before it can be shown. There's nothing fancy about the WCBS News Department, a cramped space located on the top floor of the Grand Central Station Annex, "an aged combination of sprawling, corridor-like rooms and tiny, closet-like offices" filled with teletype machines, cameras and projectors, typewriters, writers and newsmen. There's a constant rush of people back and forth, loud, chaotic. Cochran, who arrives at his office at 5:00 p.m., is the picture of calm, a man "who never raises his voice, or lowers his tie." He will be in the eye of the storm until he goes on the air.

It begins with a review of the early newspapers and wire services. At 6:30 p.m. there's a brief break for dinner, and then watching the 7:30 Douglas Edwards national news for a look at the news film. The top eight or ten stories are selected and given to the editor. The latest news film is screened; there's this  description: "Cut out shots of mother crying over body of son, killed by car. Cut interview with cop; too funny for this tragedy." Not using the crying mother film shows a sensitivity that seems so alien to the "if it bleeds, it leads" culture, and I'd like to know what that cop interview was like. 

The stories are divided up and work commences on the script. There are worries that the film needed for two stories won't be available until 10 p.m.; it arrives at 9:27, a triumph for everyone. The first run-through is at 10:05; the show runs 30 seconds too long. A story is cut, the teleprompter is edited, the cues in the script are changed. An additional story is added at 10:20, "just in case we run short." Cochran heads to the studio for makeup at 10:27. Camera cues are reviewed. Twenty minutes before airtime, a story requires updating; it's too late to change the teleprompter copy so Cochran will have to read the story from the script.

Finally, at 11 p.m., it's airtime. The theme runs, the announcer makes the intro, Cochran begins. Cues fly from the control room. Film is inserted into the broadcast. Cochran receives updates on timing. Fifteen minutes later, after the last story runs; "That's the news. Good night, all." It's 11:15 p.m, time for The Late Show.

Do you think Ted Baxter could have handled it all?

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Last but not least, the shape of things to come, from the TV Teletype: "A long-time top-rated Los Angeles show, LAWRENCE WELK and his "champagne music," makes its network bow Sunday, July 2, on ABC." It remains in first-run, in one form or another, until 1982, and in reruns forever after. TV  

May 19, 2023

Around the dial

Whenever we'd go to Chicago, we'd always include in our stops a trip to the Museum of Broadcast Communications, one of my favorite museums. The Broadcast Archives has the story of how the MBC has been forced out of its home; hopefully, this won't be the end of the line for them.  

At Classic Film & TV Cafe, Rick shares seven things to know about The Jimmy Stewart Show, the 1971-72 comedy that marked the star's first foray into series television. As was the case with so many 1970s series fronted by major movie stars, the show lasted a single season, so here's your chance to learn more about it.

The Hitchcock Project continues at bare-bones e-zine, with Jack beginning his look at the teleplays of Halsted Welles. This week's episode, from the show's fourth season, is "The Dusty Drawer," a revenge story starring Dick York and Philip Coolidge. Not one of my favorites, but Jack's writeup, as always, is spot-on.

Keeping with the Hitchcockian theme, The Last Drive In series on the leading ladies of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour returns with some fine work by Betty Field, Teresa Wright, Kim Hunter, Margaret Leighton, and Juanita Moore. Stand by for extensive episode descriptions and pictures galore!

At The Horn Section, Hal is back in F Troop land with the season one episode "A Fort's Best Friend is Not a Mother," and the mother in question is Captain Parmenter's own. How do O'Rourke and Agarn get the Captain out of this jam and preserve the good thing they've got going with O'Rourke Enterprises? Don't worry; they're up for the challenge.

Hammer House of Horror is always good for a chill or two, and at Realweegiemidget, Gill takes us through the chilling "Children of the New Moon," with a terrific performance by British film star Diana Dors as the "far too helpful and friendly" woman we always know we should be wary of.

One of the things I always appreciated about Columbo was that the show didn't skimp on big stars in supporting parts—not just the killer, but smaller roles as well. This week, at Once Upon a Screen, Aurora focuses on those murderers, with five movie stars turned Columbo killers. Not that they actually killed Columbo—you get the point.

Cult TV Blog makes a rare trip across the Atlantic as John reviews the Kojak episode "The Chinatown Murders," a terrific two-hour episode in which Theo Kojak has to deal with a Mafia war in Chinatown, including plenty of twists and turns. 

One of the more interesting aspects of domestic sitcoms is the architecture of the family home. While most of them were similar in construction, Terence looks at a couple of exceptions at A Shroud of Thoughts: the homes seen in The Real McCoys and Dobie Gillis. Find out what makes these homes unusual.

Speaking of Dobie Gillis, at Travalanche, Trav looks at the many shows of its star, Dwayne Hickman. Thanks to the aforementioned Horn Section, we know Dwayne from Love That Bob as well as Dobie, but you'll be able to see a long list of credits here.

And where would we be without a look at The Avengers, a show which is about to reappear on our personal weekly viewing schedule. At The View from the Junkyard, Roger and Mike take turns on the sci-fi flavored "Man-Eater of Surrey Green," with Steed and Mrs. Peel battling man-eating plants.

There—that should give you all something to chew on, so to speak. TV