June 10, 2023

This week in TV Guide: June 10, 1978

In the decade-plus that I've been writing this feature, we've dealt with many topics: politics, sex, sports, drugs, nihilism, and on occasion even television. Never before, as far as I can recall (unless it had to do with The Invaders), have we delved into the mystery of Unidentified Flying Objects. Until now.

The cover story of this week's issue, written by Dick Russell (and, by the way, isn't that a terrific illustration on the cover? It's by the great John Berkey), is sparked by the new Jack Webb series Project U.F.O., which premiered in February 1978 and, as Russell points, is "television's first attempt to dramatize the isse in some sort of authentic fashion." Just as Webb's police dramas Dragnet and Adam-12 come from authentic police files, the incidents in Project U.F.O. come from the Air Force's Project Blue Book, which investigated UFO reports for 22 years. Roughly 70 percent of the cases from Blue Book were, according to Webb, "Natural phenomenia like balloons or clouds." Other reports were hoaxes. "But about 12 to 15 per cent are true unknowns." Webb's producer is retired Air Force colonel WIlliam Coleman, who headed Blue Book in the early 1960s. Coleman says he's seen several UFOs himself, all of which were eventually identified as natural phenomenia, except one. When Coleman became head of the project, he found that his report on the 1954 incident was missing, which sounds about right the way the government does business.

Examinations of the mysterious appearances continues; the United Nations has recently started its own debate, and the United States budget contains about $21 million over the next seven years for a project called "Search for Extraterrestial Intelligence," designed to detect "artificially generated radio signals possibly being beamed toward our solar system from distant planets." The project's manager, Robert Edelson, doesn't think the answer lies in little green men, or aliens of any color. "What's involved is either an absolutely incredible energy expenditure or an extremely long travel time, and probably both," noting that a round trip journey to the nearest star, traveling at seven-tenths the spead of light, would require "about 500,000 times the annual electrical output of the entire U.S." And that's without any recharging stations on the way. 

Astronomer Dr. J. Allen Hynek is convinced that there's more to this. He's convinced that "there's an intelligence connected with this. I don't know whether this intelligence is from very far off, or whether it is metaterrestrial . . . or whether it will finally turn out to be from inner space, some strange manifestation of our own psychic energy." It could even be a parallel dimension. Then again, as Isaac Asimov says, it could be a lot of baloney. "Eyewitness reports of actual spaceships and actual extraterrestials are, in themselves, totally unreliable." He puts them in the same league as ghosts, angels, levitation, zombies, and werewolves. Whatever the case, apparently there were not enough people interested in it to make Project U.F.O. a success, as it exits these mortal coils after 22 episodes.

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One flying object that's anything but unidentified is the satellite. Not that long ago, we saw the dramatic impact introduced by the Early Bird communications satellite, and now, says Don Kowet, the satellite is having a "startling" impact on the pay-TV industry. 

Our story begins on November 8, 1972, when HBO's microwave antenna on the Pan Am Building in New York was toppled by a sudden storm. It was hoisted back up just in time, and the programming went on as scheduled. Critics warned that this was an omen, that HBO's project was doomed to failure. Instead, six years later, HBO's subscrption base has increased from 365 to over a million, on 500 cable systems in 46 states and Puerto Rico. It controls about 80 percent of the pay-cable industry, now worth $14.2 million monthly. And with Showtime joining an increasing number of packages, the future looks rosy. "Within 10 years," one network official says, "cable will be generating annual revenues of $2.5 billion." With assets like this, he says, "the best shows on TV will end up on pay." 

The secret to cable's success lies in the satellite. The costs of transmission via satellite as opposd to traditional land lines is less than half, and it costs just as much to broadcast to thousands of receivers as it does just one. "Before the satellite," says HBO chairman Gerald Levin, "there were an isolated 3500 cable systems across the country. Immediately, with the satellite, we had the potential of a national network, with millions of homes across the country available." 

A second break for the cable companies came with a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling in 1977 that ended prohibitions on what kind of movies systems were allowed to show (previously, they'd been prevented from showing any movie between three and 10 years old), and the amount of sporting content they could carry. Says Levin, the decision "gave us the freedom not to be artificially denied a particular film merely because it was a certain age." 

The remaining obstacle to cable's success is the peneration of major metropolitan markets. While cable is a hit in rural areas and places where getting a clear signal can be difficult, basic cable reaches only 5.7 percent of homes in the top-50 core cities. Levin sees those rates going up, with disconnect rates going down. The introduction of lightweight "optical fibers" might aid in expansion as well. William Donnelly, a vice president at Young & Rubicam advertising agency, says he expects a 30 percent penetration by Christmas 1981, at which time advertisers will be very interested. But as Viacom's Ralph Baruch says, "I don't believe the American public is ready to have pay cable and, in addition, be besieged by commercials." Baruch is also doubtful about things like pay-per-view; "How do you persuade the viewer to pay $2 to $3 a program above the basic cable fee, when he was paying $8 to $10 a month above the basic cable fee for a whole lot of programming?"

Times change. That network official who predicted the best programming would wind up on pay-TV has been proven right. As for the delivery method, though—just the other day, I read the latest article projecting the upcoming death of cable, as cord-cutting continues to increase; the eventual move of ESPN to an over-the-top service could be the final straw. One analyst predicted that an over-the-top ESPN could cost $50 or more per month, and that a sports fan who wanted to see all his favorite teams compete in various sports conceivably could wind up paying $500 a month to see them all. The exponential increase in prices for both cable and streaming have led many people to give up on television altogether, or to go with ad-supported free channels such as Roku and Pluto. Services such as Netflix, Paramount+, Peacock, and Max are doubling down on Baruch's analysis, asking people to pay more per month to avoid commercials. In short, television has passed through an entire phase, going from broadcast to cable to streaming to cord-cutting. The future did come true, though, even though it was for a relatively short time.

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On weeks when we can, we'll match up two of the biggest rock shows of the era, NBC's The Midnight Special and the syndicated Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, and see who's better, who's best.

Kirshner: The performers are Patti Labelle, Gary Wright, Robert Gordon with Link Wray, Ricci Martin, and comic Ellis Levinson. Songs: "Isn't It a Shame?" "Funky Music," "You Are my Friend" (Patti).minneapomin

Special: Host Mac Davis, Rod Stewart, Todd Rundgren, Andrew Gold, Johnny Paycheck and George Benson. Highlights: "You Put Music in My Life," "You Are" (Mac); "Can We Still Be Friends?" (Todd).

As you know, I'm frequently ambivalent about this feature; it can sometimes be difficult to tell a real difference between the lineups. Not this week: I must admit, probably to my shame, that other than Patti Labelle I don't recognize anyone from Kirshner, although I might recognize the music. On the other hand, I may not like country music, but there's no denying Mac Davis is a star, as are Todd Rundgren and Johnny Paycheck, and I am a George Benson fan (Benson and Earl Klugh; good times back in the day). So this week Special wins in a song.

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This week's issue contains more than just a documentation of what was on TV in St. Louis, Missouri the week of June 10, 1978; it contains, in a way, a little piece of the life of the owner of this issue. Paging through the listings, we see programs circled and notes made, indicating what he or she (or they) watched that week. We've seen this kind of thing before in the issues we look at; it makes the issue more alive to me —more personal, more like a document that tells a human story. Did they watch highbrow drama or lowbrow comedy? Were movies their thing, and if so, who were their favorite stars? Were they, like I was at this time in my life, a sports fan who'd watch anything with a stick, a ball, or a tire? Let's find out, complete with the program descriptions that helped attract their attention.

Our viewer begins Saturday with the movie The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (noon, KPLR), producer Stanley Kramer's fascinating excursion into childhood fantasy, starring Hans Conried and Tommy Rettig. A 1977 made-for-TV movie captures primetime viewing: Sharon: Portrait of a Mistress (8:00 p.m., NBC), stars Trish Van Devere as a career woman with a history of compulsive affairs with married men, who has become involved with an impetuous single man. However, Fantasy Island (9:00 p.m., ABC) is also circled, perhaps in case Sharon isn't that captivating. (After all, Judith Crist did say that "affairs with married men do a lady little good.") The two fantasies for tonight feature Maureen McCormick as the daughter of a former glamour queen itching to win a beauty contest; and three adventurers who want to find the lost treasure of a nororious pirate. 

Sharon was circled, while Fantasy Island had a box around its title, but our viewer must really have wanted to watch FDR (11:30 p.m., KETC), because it's both circled and starred! Anyway, FDR was a half-hour series broadcast on ABC in 1965, running for 26 episodes, covering the Roosevelt presidency. Tonight's episode, "The Hundred Days," covers FDR's inaugural speech and the first months of his Presidency when Congress passed 15 New Deal bills.

Either our viewer isn't a sports fan, or is just planning to surf around Sunday afternoon's schedule, which includes boxing, tennis, women's golf, and auto racing. Instead, we cut to another starred program at 7:00 p.m., an ABC News Special entitled "1968: A Crack in Time," hosted by Cliff Robertson and Frank Reynolds, which provides a retrospective on major news stories of that year. Film clips are scheduled to review the Presidential campaigns, the Tet offensive in South Vietnam, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the capture of the Pueblo, student riots in New York and Paris, the stormy Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and Apollo 8 orbiting the moon. There are also scenes from the topical Laugh-In and memorable moments in sports: the summer and winter Olympics, and Joe Namath's Super Bowl win (even though that actually happened in January 1969). People who lived through that must have marveled that it was already (or only?) ten years ago; frankly, I'm surprised they were able to cover it all in an hour.

There are big stars next to two Tuesday movies, so unless there's a VCR in the house, something's got to give for this viewer: at 8:00 p.m., it's CBS's repeat of the Woody Allen hit Play It Again, Sam, starring Allen as Allen Felix, an insecure writer whose love life hits bottom when his wife walks out on him; coming to his aid is the ghost of his movie idol, Humphrey Bogart, who offers some hard-boiled advice. Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Susan Anspach, and Jerry Lacy co-star. However, at 9:00 p.m. on NBC, it's the final hour of the three-hour Raid on Entebbe (joined in progress following St. Louis Cardinals baseball), the story of the June 1976 terrorist skyjacking, and the ordeal and rescue of the Israeli hostages at Uganda's Entebbe airport. There are more stars in this movie than there is time to show them, but Peter Finsh, Charles Bronson, and Yaphet Kotto are, in Crist's words, "outstanding."

There's another program starred at 9:00 p.m., though: Six American Families, a PBS documentary about the Burks, a family of 12 from rural Georgia. (This viewer was a real fan of documentaries!) In their isolated hollow, Arlon Burk, 65, and his wife Grace, 56, have $128-a-month social security to compensate for a lifetime of demeaning jobs, boredom, alcoholism an dalienation. Yet the Burks also have a spirit of survival, and are stoic about their plight.

's star belongs to Great Performances (7:00 p.m., PBS), and the San Francisco Ballet's performance of Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet," acclaimed for its "vigor and energy" by dance critic Clive Barnes. "I was struck by the speed and brilliance of [choreographer and comp;any codirector Michael] Smuin's conception," he wrote. "His images of love and death have an instant appeal." The TV stays tuned to PBS on Thursday for The Ascent of Man (8:00 p.m.), Jacob Bronowski's acclaimed 13-part series on the development of human society through its understanding of science. Tonight's part two traces the change from nomad to village agriculture. Bronowski follows Iran's Bakhtiari tribe, which migrates as it did 10,000 years ago. And Friday wraps up with yet another documentary, Treasure Galleon (8:00 p.m., KDNL), the 1973 story about the recovery of treasure from a Spanish ship sunk in a 1715 hurricane.

So what do we know about this real-life viewer? Well, he or she (or they) liked documentaries and PBS specials. They didn't watch much sports, or at least didn't make a point of blocking out time to watch it. The movies they watched tended to be more serious, with the exception of  The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T , and the only non-documentary weekly series they watched was Fantasy Island. Perhaps most important, they were people who don't appear to have planned their lives around television; I like to think that they spent their time reading, doing things outside, or getting together with friends. We'll probably never know for sure, but it's interesting to speculate, isn't it?

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And what didn't they watch? For one thing, the Belmont Stakes (Saturday, 4:00 p.m., CBS), with Affirmed going for—and winning—the Triple Crown over Alydar, who finished second in all three races. Saturday night, ABC has the movie Vanishing Point (8:00 p.m.), with Barry Newman; Judith Crist found it without virtue, but it's gone on to attain cult status in the years since. Remember Circus of the Stars? It's on Sunday night (7:00 p.m., CBS), with Lucille Ball, Telly Savalas, Cindy Williams, and Michael York as ringmasters, and you won't want to miss Peter Fonda motorcycling on the high wire!  The Carol Burnett Show returns for summer reruns (Wednesday, 7:00 p.m., CBS), and tonight's guest is Rock Hudson. Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord) goes undercover on Hawaii Five-O (Thursday, 8:00 p.m., CBS), and who's going to believe that? Ann-Margret's a guest on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (Friday, 10:30 p.m., NBC), and Michael Caine stars in the heist classic The Italian Job (Friday, 12:50 a.m., KMOX).

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Last (but certainly not least), PBS has released a first draft of their upcoming fall and winter schedule. It's a mixture of old and new; among the returning favorites are Masterpiece Theatre, Wall $treet Week, and The MacNeil/Lehrer Report. Julia Child returns with a new series, Julia Child and Company, that promises "new menus and culinary techniques." The Long Search will be an indepth look at world religions, similar to Civilisation and the aforementioned Ascent of Man. Cinema Showcase will present ten critically acclaimed international movies, with titles such as Seven Beauties, Pumping Iron, and Harlan County, U.S.A.

And speaking of movies, there's one other program mentioned; not too many details included, but it's described as a "consumer guide to movies," showing clips from new releases. It's called Sneak Previews, and though there's no word on who the host or hosts will be, I'm sure they'll come up with someone who'll earn a thumbs-up from viewers. TV  

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