June 17, 2023

This week in TV Guide: June 18, 1966

Odds are, you've never heard of Pippa Passes, Kentucky, in eastern Knott County. Its population in 1990 was 195, and I'd imagine it wasn't much different back in 1966, when it makes its one and (to my knowledge, at least) only starring appearance in TV Guide. It is, according to Edward Morris, assistant professor of English at Alice Lloyd College, "one of the most isolated and culturally deprived areas in America. It has no locally published newspaper, no radio station, no bookstore, no indoor theater, no tavern, not even a bowling alley. Some of its narrow valleys are so rugged that mail has to be taken in on muleback." Up until a few years ago, there was "no significant contact" between eastern Kentucky and the world beyond; "The scattered area newspapers and radio stations devoted themselves almost exclusively to local matters. Salaries were so low that teachers from other parts of the country generally were unwilling to come here. Those who did were often faced with such suspicion and resistance that they left or adopted the local attitudes."

And then something happened. Television came to town, via a community antenna system. Because of it, says Morris, "TV is doing more to educate the people about the realities of modern life than all the teachers have ever done."

One of the first things to notice, according to Morris, is how easy it was for television to become a part of the local environmnt. "[T]elevision, unlike the typical outsider, did not criticize, did not demand, did not so obviously condescend. Seeing no overt threat to their old ways of life, the people succumbed to this pleasant intruder. And the first thing one knew, square dancing was out and frugging was in."

TV has taught the residents of Pippa Passes about more than dancing, though. "They have learned through newscasts and 'specials' that poverty is no more common to them than it is to the Harlem slum-dweller, that their substandard educational system has its counterparts in other states, and that their ballads are at once the prized obsession of the scraggly folksinger and the urbane musicologist." They no longer look with suspicion upon government workers engaging in the "war on poverty" (well, they might regret that later), and their children are exposed to things they've never had the chance to contemplate. Sea Hunt provides them with their first glimpse of a body of water they couldn't jump across. One girl, seeing Grant Wood's "American Gothic" for the first time, cried, "Look! New Country Corn Flakes!" "One would be hard-pressed," says Morris, "to imagine a more delightful, if elementary, introduction to art." 

  Edgle Sloan, a resident of Pippa Passes, patches the
   lead-in wire which brings television into his home.
Morris recounts how, thanks to the World War II espionage show Blue Light, he can now talk to students about Hitler "with reasonable assurance that students can identify him by decade and nationality." Thanks to sitcoms like The Donna Reed Show, "they are being exposed to better grammar and vocabulary than is commonly used in their homes and public schools." They've learned to ask more critical questions about issues like Vietnam than their fathers and grandfathers might have, and don't look to the war as "an escape exit." 

It's particularly interesting when Morris engages in a conversation with a senior citizen, a man who could barely sign his own name, who wondered if the space program was "tampering with the will of the Almighty." "Before I could protest my ignorance of theological niceties, he rambled into such a minutely detailed account of our most recent space shot and its consequent evils that he sounded for the world like Jules Bergman with a drawl." (Notice how all the shows he mentions are on ABC? That must be the affiliate they have access to.) There's also the housewife who, thanks to television, has been introduced to labor-saving products that have "revolutionized" her household routine. 

There are, Morris says, many places like Pippa Passes, places "where most viewers do not belong to book clubs, have never had the chance to visit museums or art galleries, are not totally convinced of the efficacy of regular tooth-brushing and are not aware that uncritical enjoyment is a cultural sin." For all the criticism of television, much of it valid, it has literally opened a window to the world for people who live in areas like this. It is, in its way, a miracle—but it comes with its own sober reminder. Writing in this week's As We See It editorial, Merrill Panitt, reflecting on the Pippa Passes story and how TV has changed the lives of its residents, reminds the television industry that "The men and women responsible for the programs beamed to Pippa Passes—and to the rest of the world—are, in a way, playing God. It is not a role to be taken lightly."

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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 guests on this show, originally telecast from Hollywood last October, are Helen Hayes; Duke Ellington and his band; the Smothers Brothers, comedy folk singers; Herman’s Hermits, rock ‘n’ rollers; comics Myron Cohen and Richard Pryor; the Manuela Vargas Ballet Troupe, flamenco dancers; rock ‘n’ roll singer Marvin Gaye; and the Hardy Family, acrobatic tumblers.  

Palace: Host Bing Crosby introduces singer-actress Tammy Grimes; musical-comedy star Nanette Fabray, who joins Bing for a humorous history of duets; British satirist David Frost; comic Jackie Mason; comedy pantomimist Cully Richards; and the Harris Nelson family, who play unusual musical instruments.  

Usually, Bing's presence gives Palace a pretty good chance of winning. Usually, but not always. I enjoy Jackie Mason, but neither Tammy Grimes, Nanette Fabray, or David Frost do anything for me. (I don't know about the Harris Nelson family, although it does remind me of a Rowan and Marting bit. Dan: "I have a brother who plays the piano by ear." Dick: "That's nothing. I have an uncle who fiddles with his navel.") Even that joke, lame though it may be, can't elevate Palace over a lineup that starts with Helen Hayes and Duke Ellington, and includes Herman's Hermits, Richard Pryor, and Marvin Gaye. This week belongs to Sullivan, and that's no joke.

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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. 

This week, Cleveland Amory presents us with a two-part column, beginning with his presentation of the Amorys, his end-of-season awards for the best performances on television. Several of our favorits are among the winners: Patrick McGoohan (Secret Agent) and Diana Rigg (The Avengers) as best actor and actress, respectively, in a drama, and Dean Martin as best performer in a variety series. Hard to complain about those, or most of the rest—although I do have to quibble about Jonathan Harris, of Lost in Space, beating out The Fugitive's Barry Morse for best supporting actor. (Best supporting actress is Joanna Barnes of Trials of O'Brien; best actress in a comedy is Bewitched's Elizabeth Montgomery; and best actor in a comedy goes to Don Adams in Get Smart.)

Cleve dismissed those awards in a single paragraph, as I've just done here; the bulk of the column goes to second thoughts on other shows from the season, including some that claimed awards of a lesser kind, such as Emmys and Peabodys. He's confused as to the four Emmys won by The Dick Van Dyke Show; "honestly, we would have asked for at least four of its old awards back." Barbra Streisand's Peabody ("for heaven's sake") also puzzled Cleve, but it was for her first of her two specials last season; "By the time of the second even the Peabodys, presumably, had had it." He also has his doubts on the Peabody that went to CBS's "National Drivers Test." "Frankly, we found this year’s so-called audience-participation shows better not only with no audio, but also with no video." Shows like this, which encourage viewers to take the test along with everyone else, made Amory "a testy case indeed." The best specials, winners of the Amorys as well as the Peabodys, go to the National Geographic series of documentaries, with honorable mentions to, among others, Jack Paar's "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the White House."

Finally, Amory has some harsh words for the way TV news handles controversial subjects: "it leans over backward until its head touches its foot, which is by that time in its mouth." One two-part segment on the CBS Evening News on the subject of pet-stealing for research laboratories is a good example; "After weeks of work, it came up with a show that was so confused it was meaningless." Walter Cronkite, Amory winner for best newsman, deserved better. Thinking of all the lawsuits news organizations have encountered over the years for bias in their documentaries, I'm thinking that the viewer deserves better as well.

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There are some truly notable events in the world of sports this week which deserve more attention than usual. beginning with ABC's coverage of the the U.S. Open Golf Championship from the Olympic Club in San Francisco (Saturday and Sunday, 3:00 p.m. PT; Monday, 1:00 p.m.). 

Casper (R) consoles Palmer   
As ABC's cameras pick up the action on the closing holes of Sunday's final round, Arnold Palmer holds a seven-shot lead over his nearest competitor, Billy Casper. With only nine holes remaining and victory all but certain, Palmer decides to attack Ben Hogan's 72-hole record score for the Open. And that's when things begin to unravel quicker than an Arsenal supporter's scarf—Palmer bogies five of those final nine holes, while Casper makes clutch birdies on 15 and 16; after Palmer's bogey on 17, the two men are tied, forcing an 18-hole playoff on Monday. In the playoff, Palmer opens up an early two-shot lead, but after 12 holes the two are tied, and Casper's birdie on 13 is the beginning of the end. Palmer's double-bogey on 16 seals his fate, and Casper wins by four shots. It's one of the most memorable U.S. Opens, and one of golf's most famous blown leads; Palmer is gracious in defeat, acknowledging that his quest for the record ultimately cost him the tournament, but it should be noted that Casper recorded under-par scores in four of his five rounds, and without his three birdies on Sunday's back nine, Palmer still would have hung on for victory. You can see it all, as it happened, here.

That's followed, at least on the West Coast, by Wide World of Sports and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, live via Early Bird satellite (Saturday, 5:00 p.m., tape-delayed from the live broadcast earlier in the day), with Charlie Brockman announcing, joined by American driver and former World Champion Phil Hill, who provides insight between stints in the race. Le Mans has even more significance than usual due to the battle between Ford and Ferrari; after a failed attempt to purchase Ferrari in 1963, followed by an unsuccessful debut at Le Mans in 1964, Henry Ford II turned to designer Carroll Shelby and driver Ken Miles to manage the GT program. This year, Ford is determined to take the top spot, and interest is fueled, so to speak, by ABC's live Saturday telecast of the seventh hour, followed by live coverage of Sunday's conclusion, from 7:30—8:10 a.m. PT. (You can see a portion of the telecast here.) And this time Ford comes through, taking the top three spots. It's not quite free from controversy though; in an attempt to showcase their dominance, Ford has the #1 car, which has led most of the race, slow up so that the #2 Ford can cross the finish line in tandem with it. However, becuase the #2 car had started farther back in the field, it is awarded the victory due to having travelled the longest distance. Ah, rules.

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It's been a pretty eventful issue so far, and we've barely scratched the surface of the week's programming. Let's rectify that, starting with a late-Saturday movie doubleheader that requires you to make a choice. On one hand, you have The Spirit of St. Louis (11:00 p.m., KCRA), with Jimmy Stewart as Charles Lindbergh. It's a pretty entertaining movie, once you look beyond the fact that Stewart is way too old to be playing Lucky Lindy; above all, it remind you of what a titanic accomplishment Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic really was, and how that collective spirit of adventure seems to be missing in today's world. If you want to go in the other direction, there's No Way Out (11:20 p.m., KPIX); the listing includes only Richard Widmark and Linda Darnell, but KPIX's ad gives top billing to Sidney Poitier, who plays a doctor treating vile racist Widmark. I seem to recall reading that Widmark became physically ill at having to say some of the racial slurs to Poitier and apologized to him profusely, even though it was in the script, because he found it so distateful. 

Sunday gives us a snapshot of life in these United States; civil rights activists Stokely Carmichael and James Meredith are the guests on Face the Nation (8:30 a.m., CBS) and Meet the Press (1:00 p.m, NBC), and Robert Abernathy hosts a 90-minute look at Senate hearings of air pollution (1:30 p.m., NBC). Meanwhile, there are several reports on Vietnam, from ABC Scope (noon, KOVR; 2:30 p.m., KRCR) to a Vietnam Review (5:00 p.m., KRON and KRCR), and The Frank McGee Report (6:00 p.m., NBC) measures European reaction to U.S. policy. Lest we forget the ongoing moon program, CBS presents a special, hosted by Charles Kuralt, on the unmanned Surveyor probe that landed on the moon June 2 (6:00 p.m.).

Most of the week's regular fare consists of reruns, although I've Got a Secret begins its 15th season Monday night (8:00 p.m., CBS) with Steve Allen hosting Henry Morgan, Bess Myerson, Bill Cullen, and Betsy Palmer. Meanwhile, The Avengers (10:00 p.m., ABC) also has a first-run episode, with Steed and Mrs. Peel investigating the case of an economist murdered by a bow-and-arrow. On Tuesday, "live from the beach of Santa Cruz," KSBW presents the annual Miss California Parade, the prelude to the pageant over the weekend, featuring contestants, bands, and floats. (7:00 p.m.) At 10:00 p.m., it's another Vietnam special, this time the CBS News Special "Eric Sevareid's Personal Report," which continues the growing drumbeat against the war. It's probably more pleasing to watch an hour of Peggy Lee singing her favorite songs on Something Special. (10:00 p.m., KSTV) 

Wednesday's Batman rerun (7:30 p.m., ABC) is part of one the Caped Crusaders' clash against Zelda the Great (Anne Baxter), and Rob recalls how, during his Army days, he nearly lost Laura in a raffle on The Dick Van Dyke Show (9:30 p.m., CBS). I wonder what Cleveland Amory thought of this episode, since he apparently didn't dig the show's four Emmys. Musically, Lena Horne has her own one-hour, one-woman show (9:00 p.m., KTVU), which I think I'd choose over Peggy Lee—but then, who am I to judge? On Thursday, two Soviet cosmonauts land on Gilligan's Island (8:00 p.m., CBS), but rest assured this won't increase the castaways' chances for rescue. And while Laugh-In isn't a thing yet, that doesn't mean Rowan and Martin aren't; their summer replacement for Dean Martin continues, with a focus on the series regulars, including Lainie Kazan, Judi Rolin, and Dom De Luise. (10:00 p.m., NBC) 

Friday, The Flintstones do one of their occasional pop culture parodies, this time of the fellow-ABC program Shindig, with that show's host Jimmy O'Neill voicing Shinrock's host, Jimmy O'Neilstone. The Beau Brummels provide the entertainment. (7:30 p.m., ABC) Mr. Television himself, Milton Berle, is the guest on Sing Along with Mitch (8:30 p.m., NBC), as he reminisces about his long career in show biz. And if you had any doubts about Gomer Pyle, USMC's status as a fantasy, look no further then this rerun, as Sgt. Carter tries to get Gomer out of his hair by ordering him to take a furlough. More likely he would have ordered him deployed to Vietnam, and it probably wouldn't have made any difference in the outcome. (9:00 p.m., CBS)

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A little industry update for you: The Teletype reports that Robert Lansing, formerly on 12 O'clock High, will be starring in the new fall series The Man Who Never Was, which I briefly covered here. ABC has more plans for upcoming shows; the network "may put on a new daytimer, The Newlywed Game, near the end of summer." 

And we're accustomed to hearing (and voicing) complaints about television's influence on sports, but Henry Harding's On the Record points out how TV's reach extends off the playing fields as well: because of the length of CBS's contract with the NFL and NBC's with the AFL, the two leagues will not merge into a unified league until 1970, even though the agreement to merge has already been reached. It would have been too complicated, Harding notes, to consolidate before then. Also to be determined: who's going to televise the first "world championship" game next January. (Answer: both of them.) However, says Harding, even after the merger, the new league will continue the two-network policy. (How many networks is the NFL on now? How deep is the ocean, how high is the sky?) 

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MST3K alert: The Black Scorpion
(1957). While investigating a recently formed volcano in Mexico, two geologists encounter a prehistoric scorpion which had been freed from its underground habitat. Richard Denning, Mara Corday. (Saturday, 1:00 p.m., KNTV) Richard Denning, after solving mysteries with his wife on Mr. and Mrs. North, but before being elected governor of Hawaii (even though we all know Steve McGarrett really ran the state), had time to hunt down giant scorpions. If you've seen the MST3K take, you'll agree with me that they should have left Juanito down in that cavern. TV  

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