August 30, 2023

What I've been watching: August, 2023

Shows I’ve Watched:
Shows I’ve Added:
Captains and the Kings
Harbor Command
Science Fiction Theatre


I first saw Captains and the Kings during its original airing back in 1976, when it was the inaugural offering of NBC's new series Best Sellers—a series comprised entirely of miniseries—and at some point, perhaps during the fourth episode, I had one of those "Hey, wait a minute!" moments when it occurred to me I'd seen this story before. Not the actual miniseries, of course, nor any previous adaptation of Taylor Caldwell's best-seller, which had only been published in 1972. 

Nonetheless, even at age 16 I had a premonition as to how things would end, and when it concluded, after eight chapters and nine hours, it was indeed as I had expected; all the parallels became obvious, and I recall having felt somewhat cheated that it could be so predictable. All the same, the miniseries had made an impact on me; I was at that impressionable time in life when one starts to assess his future, and one of the things I knew was that I someday wanted to write. (I also wanted to be a politican and a sportscaster; one out of three isn't bad, I guess.) I was intrigued by the relationship between a miniseries and the book that spawned it, and I've been interested in that ever since; the same goes for Captains and the Kings.

I won't spoil the fun for those of you who haven't seen it (although if you aren't planning to watch it but still want to know how it ends, email me and I'll provided you with the details), but, after running across the complete series at Half Price Books, I was interested in finding out whether or not it still held up, nearly 50 years later. And the answer to that is yes—and no.

Captains and the Kings is dominated by the performance of Richard Jordan as Joseph Armagh, an Irish immigrant living out the ultimate American dream, a rags-to-riches story of becoming one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the United States, an amalgam of John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and every other robber baron and business magnate you can think of, determined to make people and events bend to his will. He is, to be sure, naturally gifted at business, but he's also an exploiter of workers, indifferent to ethics and morals, distainful of his wife, and single-minded in pursuit of his life's goal, to which all his fortune and power is devoted: make his son Rory the first Irish-Catholic president of the United States. 

Joseph P. Kennedy with sons   
Joe Jr., Jack, and Bobby   
And then you realize who Joseph Armagh really is, and why you've seen this story before. He's another Irish-Catholic named Joseph, who shared Armagh's passion for power and politics and making his son president: Joseph P. Kennedy. And once you understand that, everything falls into place—you can even tick off the events as they unfold during the course of the miniseries.

For instance: compare Armagh's daughter Mary, who suffers brain damage in a riding accident and winds up little more than a vegetable, with Joseph Kennedy's daughter Rosemary, who suffered from violent personality swings that resulted in her being subjected to a lobotomy, which left her unable to care for herself. Check.

Then there's Armagh's younger son Kevin, killed while fighting with Theodore Roosevelt in the Spanish-American war, who serves as the stand-in for Joseph Kennedy Jr., the Kennedy son who was supposed to become president but was killed during World War II. Check.

And there's Rory's secret wife, Marjorie; Armagh had the marriage wiped from the books because he had arranged for Rory to marry the Catholic daughter of a political ally*. Does that find its parallel in the rumor that JFK was secretly married to socialite Durie Malcolm in 1947, only to have Joe arrange for the marriage to be annulled and the records made to disappear? Check. So, as we watch Rory's presidential campaign unfold—managed, of course, by Rory's brother Brian, just as JFK's was managed by RFK—we pretty much know who he's supposed to be, right?

*That ally of Armagh's, Charles Desmond (played by a smarmy Robert Vaughn) is the U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James, a position held in real life by none other than Joseph P. Kennedy.

This isn't to say that everything in Captains and the Kings is a carbon-copy of the Kennedy story. fter all, Joe Kennedy supposedly made his fortune as a rumrunner during Prohibition, while Joseph Armagh made his fortune as a gunrunner during the Civil War. So there.

With all this as prologue, we come to the true elephant in the room: Armagh's quest to make his son the first Irish-Catholic president. One of the problems with historical fiction, which Captains and the Kings surely is, is when it bumps into historical fact. And unless you want to create an alternate history, one in which a whole bunch of things that happened in real-life maybe didn't happen, you're going to run into trouble. In this case, it's that the viewer knows Rory Armagh isn't going to become the first Irish-Catholic president, because John F. Kennedy was the first Irish-Catholic president. (Had Taylor Caldwell chosen to write a story about a man's quest to make his son the first Jewish president, for example, we might be on to something.)

Someone once wrote that it's almost impossible to play ducks and drakes with historical events such as the assassination of Abraham Lincoln; when that happens, your suspension of disbelief goes to hell in a handbasket. I think the same applies to JFK. Almost 60 years after his death, John Kennedy remains one of the nation's most admired—indeed, revered—presidents, and the Kennedy name remains magic. Such would have been even more the case back in the 1970s; Kennedy had been in his grave less than a decade when the novel was published; his brother Robert was assassinated eight years before the miniseries. So if you're going to pretend that JFK was not the first Irish-Catholic president, it seems to me you've got to have a bigger historical purpose than Captains and the Kings presents; while Caldwell spends a great deal of time examining the role of world business leaders in manipulating the fortunes of nations and peoples alike in their pursuit of even more wealth and power (she'd probably be considered a conspiracy spreader today), there must have been other ways in which the question could have been examined. Unless, of course, she wanted us to understand she was writing a fictionalized version of the life of the Kennedys.

What all this means is that the ending, to both the book and miniseries, can hardly be considered a surprise. I recognized this back when I was 16; there was no other way the story could possibly have ended. When I said earlier that I'd seen it before, I had—eight years before, in fact, in 1968. But if there's simply no other way for a story to end, does that invalidate the story itself? I think not, and Captains and the Kings, for all its shortcomings, has something to say—not just about the New World Order, but the emptiness of power, wealth, and privilege without love, without faith, without the companionship of others. Joseph Armagh's accomplishments, impressive as they are, mean nothing when they are not just the means to an end (although that's questionable enough) but the end itself. That's a message worth sending, Sam Goldwyn to the contrary. 

So there's Captains and the Kings as history, but what about as entertainment? Does the miniseries hold up after nearly 50 years? Mostly, if you keep in mind that you're watching television from the more sedate 1970s, rather than the days of show-everything prestige TV. Thus, the sex scenes—and there are several of them—are enticing enough (especially when Jane Seymour is involved), but of course there is no nudity, so they wind up suggesting sex rather than portraying it. It's actually not a bad way to conduct business, but I'm just warning you of what to expect, so you don't get your hopes up. (Or anything else, for that matter.) The point is that while we might expect something more salacious today, something with more of an edge, this was plenty for 1976, and it worked well enough—quite well, actually. 

Likewise, while the production quality is very good for a television series, especially for the time, you're not going to see the creativity nor the cinematography that you might find in today's auteur-driven television. What you do get are some fairly dynamic performances from a typically big-name miniseries cast, starting with Richard Jordan as the story's antihero. Jordan was always a fine actor, capable of playing both villains and heroes, and in Captains and the Kings he gets to be a little of both. We admire him in his early years, as the plucky underdog fighting against discrimination and privilege, but, in much the same way as All the King's Men's Willie Stark turns into the very evil that he sets out to fight, Joseph Armagh as paterfamilias and business magnate becomes worthy of contempt, even—something he would have despised—of pity. I never quite understood why Jordan didn't become an even bigger star than he did, but he towers over the story with a charisma and magnetism that even Joseph Kennedy didn't quite have.  

There are a number of terrific performances in support of Jordan: Harvey Jason as Harry Zieff, a mild soul who attaches himself to Joseph early in the story and rises with him as his accountant, adviser, and fixer. Zieff is one of the few characters who could be said to have any ethics whatsoever; he may be Joseph's hatchet man, but at least he seems uneasy about it. Jason is the only actor, other than Jordan, to appear in every episode. Along the way, we also run into Charles Durning in a bawdy, delightfully over-the-top performance as Big Ed Healey, young Joseph's business mentor; Vic Morrow, in a Snidley Whiplash-worthy one as Tom Hennessey, Joseph's early business rival, married to Katherine (Joanna Pettet), the saintly woman Joseph loves from afar); and Patty Duke as the daughter whom the dying Katherine begs Joseph to take as his wife in order to get her away from the abusive Hennessey. Joseph doesn't love her—he loves Elizabeth (Blair Brown), Big Ed's daughter, but she's become pregnant by Hennessey and is going to marry him for appearances' sake—but Bernadette marries Joseph anyway, and then becomes an alcoholic. (As my wife noted, maybe she's supposed to be Joan Kennedy?) Anyway, you get the idea. 

About halfway through we meet Rory, the anointed one; Perry King is very good as a man conflicted between his love for Marjorie (Jane Seymour), his love for his father, and the thought of being president—an idea that alternately attracts and repels him. In an ideal world, King's performance would have been the equal of Jordan's, but even as the focus of the narrative shifts to Rory, Joseph's shadow continues to lurk over the whole thing, and King's performance never quite emerges from it—as, indeed, may have been necessary. Seymour, not yet the queen of the miniseries, is both attractive and heartbreaking as Rory's doomed wife: doomed to know that her husband will never stand up for her to his father; doomed to have that marriage erased, doomed to have the man she loves taken away from her. (I tell you, the women who come in contact with the Armaghs have about as much success as the women who lived in the orbit of the Kennedys.) There are also smaller, but equally satisfying, appearances by big names from Ray Bolger to Celeste Holm to Henry Fonda. As I said, a typical 1970s miniseries.

What saves all this from sinking into a mire of soap opera suds—watchable ones, though!—is the point that Caldwell has in mind, one that keeps appearing through the bubbles, even those in the miniserises. In the forward to the novel, Caldwell writes of "plots against the people," and refers to "the gnomes of Zurich," a phrase first used by future British prime minister Harold Wilson in 1956, and later echoed by none other than John F. Kennedy. It refers to the sefcretive world of Swiss bankers, of conspirators pulling the strings and controlling world affairs; in Captains and the Kings, they go by the names "Committee for Foreign Studies" and "Scardo Society." Writes Caldwell, "The Caesars they put into power are their creatures, whether they kno it or not, and the peoples of all nations are helpless, whether they live in America, Europe, Russia, China, Africa, or South America. They will always be helpless until they are aware of their real enemy." Heady stuff for a historical romance, eh? It almost seems ripe for a remake today, doesn't it?

Before we go, I should mention the lovely score by the great Elmer Bernstein, the sweeping tones of which capture the scope of a story that spans generations and histories. There's something very American about it, in both the grandeur that the United States has always provided and the tragedy that often accompanies it. The main theme wound up being used for the Best Sellers series as a whole, which included three additional miniseries based on historical novels: Once an Eagle, Seventh Avenue, and The Rhinemann Exchange. Despite that (and even though Once an Eagle stars Sam Elliott!), none of the others quite managed the interest generated by Captains and the Kings. Despite its flaws, it was good to revisit it, all these years later.

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This last month also saw us start three new series: Harbor Command, from 1957 starring Wendell Corey, and Science Fiction Theatre, from 1955; both are from the always-reliable Ziv Television Programs, which you'll remember from Sea Hunt and Highway Patrol, among others. There's also Quiller, based on the same series of spy novels that spawned the movie The Quiller Memorandum. I'm still trying to find out what the memo is, but you'll be reading more about these three series next time around. TV  

August 28, 2023

What's on TV? Wednesday, August 31, 1955

I've got vacationing on my mind, seeing as how we're getting ready to go on one shortly ourselves, and judging from this week, it's a good time to take one. Garry Moore, Arthur Godfrey, and Robert Q. Lewis are all taking some time off this week, probably their last chance before the new season begins. Speaking of new seasons, Father Knows Best is back "by popular demand" with a new sponsor, Scott Paper Company; my guess is that the old sponsor must have decided not to go on, putting the show's continuation in jeopardy. But fear not, Scott knows best. Meanwhile, baseball fans are probably aware that during the Red Scare of the 1950s, the Cincinnati Reds were known as the Redlegs, but to the best of my knowledge that never extended to the Boston Red Sox, and yet WGN's listing for today's Chicago White Sox game has them playing the "Boston Redlegs." Perhaps someone was just being extra cautious. Anyway, today's listings come to you courtesy of the Chicago edition.

August 26, 2023

This week in TV Guide: August 27, 1955

It isn't often that a horse race provides the lead story in TV Guide. It isn't often that a weekday afternoon sporting event, other than the World Series, becomes the most talked-about event of the week. But then, it isn't often that you see two horses like Swaps and Nashua, and therein lies the story.

The California-bred Swaps won the Kentucky Derby in May, defeating Nashua, the "Pride of the East," by a length-and-a-half—a "convincing victory," according to Sports Illustrated. Yet Swaps' owner  chose not to run him in the remaining Triple Crown races, returning instead to the West Coast, where the horse remained undefeated through the summer. Nashua, on the other hand, ran in, and won, both the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes; the Derby defeat to Swaps was his only loss of the year. The public, and the horse racing industry, clamored for a rematch between the two, to settle the question of which horse was the year's best.

Before we go any further, you have to remember that two of the biggest sports in the United States, circa 1955, were horse racing and boxing. Professional football was just beginning to outgrow its infancy, but was not yet as popular as its college counterpart. Baseball was, undisputedly, the national pastime, but the World Series was still a month away. Basketball, hockey, soccer—well, those are sports for another day. Horse racing was where the wealthy rubbed elbows with ordinary folk, where educated touts who studied the Daily Racing Forum matched wits against amateurs betting on a hunch or a lucky number. It was a brilliant microcosm of America in the 1950s. And so, when Ben Lindheimer, the owner of Washington Park in Chicago, arranged for a match race between the two horses to decide things once and for all, it captured the attention of the nation.

The race was scheduled for the afternoon of Wednesday, August 31, at Washington Park: just the two horses, the Eastern champion vs. the Western champion for horse racing supremacy. The jockeys, Willie Shoemaker on Swaps and Eddie Arcaro on Nashua, were two of the very best in the game. The prize was $100,000, winner-take-all. CBS would broadcast the race live to a national television and radio audience estimated in the millions, and despite a post time of just past 5:00 p.m. Central time, a crowd of 35,262 came to Chicago from around the country, while millions more tuned in on radio or television. It was the Super Bowl of its day.

After all that, was the race an anticlimax? Perhaps, although championship games have a way of generating a mystique all their own, regardless of the outcome. Arcaro drives Nashua from the start, forcing Swaps to the outside on a heavy track. (The Western champ was also troubled by a chronic foot problem, but the stakes had been too high to even think of cancelling the race.) Nashua wins the race by six-and-a-half lengths, and with it, the Horse of the Year. Swaps would not race again in 1955, but returned as a four-year-old and won Horse of the Year the following season. Nashua continued to run mostly in the East, Swaps mostly in the West, and although they both raced until 1956, the two never met again. 

And even though the names might fade into the history books—unless you're a dedicated sports or racing fan, do you even remember them?—Nashua leaves his mark: his half-brother, Bold Ruler, a champion in his own right, will sire another horse who created a bit of a stir. His name is Secretariat.

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Well, that's quite a way to start the week, isn't it?  There's actually more big-time sports over the weekend, though it doesn't quite create as much of a buzz: the Davis Cup tennis finals between the defending champion United States team and the challengers from Australia. (Saturday, 1:30 pm., Sunday, 1:00 p.m., NBC) The Davis Cup is a team competition spread over three days: two singles matches on Friday, a doubles match on Saturday, two singles matches Sunday. The first team to win three matches wins the Cup, although all five matches are played regardless. The U.S., as defending champion, was seeded directly into the final, while Australia competed against 34 other countries in matches running from March through early August. No matter; the Aussies, with some of the world's greatest players on the team, sweep the Americans 5-0 to take back the Cup; they'll win again in 1956 and 1957.

Musical comedy is always a crowd pleaser, and on Saturday Max Liebman Presents showcases 1943's "One Touch of Venus" in a live broadcast (8:00 p.m., NBC) with Janet Blair, Russell Nype, and George Gaynes. The music is by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Ogden Nash, and the book by Nash and S.J. Perelman; I think there are as many stars in the credits as there are in the cast. The TV production is generally considered superior to the movie version (you can see a clip of it here; it's on DVD), which starred Ava Gardner and Robert Walker, but I wonder how well it did in the ratings? Live "spectaculars" such as this were the brainchild of NBC's Pat Weaver, but the lavish productions were costly (one Liebman special cost $500,000), and the ratings seldom justified that kind of spending. Lawrence Welk is on at the same time as Liebman, and I'd bet the maestro more than held his own.  

You all know the premise of You Are There, right? The show presents a historical event as it might have been covered had television been in existence at the time, with Walter Cronkite as the host and actual CBS newsmen interviewing the participants. I don't know that I've ever seen them do a presentation of an event that actually was broadcast on TV, though, but they come pretty close on Sunday, as the show relives the events of December 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor. (5:30 p.m., CBS) As we know, New York television stations carried wire service reports of the attack (no video from Hawaii, of course), but the major radio networks covered the breaking news. I wonder how many of the newsmen on You Are There were part of that radio coverage?

On Sunday's Toast of the Town (7:00 p.m., CBS), Ed Sullivan's guests are Eartha Kitt, the singing Mariners (formerly of the Arthur Godfrey show); comedian Jay Lawrence; German child acrobat "Wonder Boy John;" and the Chicago Festival singers. Godfrey and Sullivan feuded over Sullivan's propensity of featuring fired Godfrey performers (e.g. Julius LaRosa) on his show, so I'll bet Ed loved zinging Godfrey by having the Mariners on. Opposite Sullivan, the Colgate Variety Hour (7:00 p.m., NBC) has Charlton Heston as host, promoting his new movie The Private War of Major Benson with reenactments of scenes from the movie; his guests are singer-dancer Marjorie Fields, Edger Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, and comedian Bob Wiliams. 

A couple of prominent shows feature guest hosts this week; on the season premiere of The Loretta Young Show (Sunday, 9:00 p.m., NBC), Rosalind Russell fills in as hostess for the ailing Loretta, who won't return to the show until Christmastime; her Hollywood friends will continue to sub for her until then. Meanwhile, Steve Allen isn't ill, just on vacation after finishing his lead role in the movie The Benny Goodman Story, so Ernie Kovacs guest hosts for two weeks on Tonight (M-F, 11:00 p.m., NBC). Ernie winds up hosting Tonight two nights a week beginning the next season.

Speaking of vacations, Kukla, Fran and Ollie return from the summer break on Monday (6:00 p.m., ABC), and compare notes on what each one of them did on their summer vacations. And they're not the only ones starting the new season; Jane Wyman is the new host and occasional star on the dramatic anthology series Fireside Theater (not to be confused with Firesign Theatre), which returns Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. on NBC. Father Knows Best returns for a second season (Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., NBC), with Scott Paper as the new sponsor, keeping the show on the air after Kent cigarettes chose not to renewJoe Friday and Frank Smith kick off the fifth season of Dragnet (Thursday, 8:00 p.m., NBC), and  Edward R. Murrow is back, too, with his first Person to Person show of the new season featuring Dick Powell and his wife, June Allyson, plus the famed photographer Margaret Bourke-White. (Friday, 9:30 p.m., CBS)

And in a preview of coming attractions, The Big Picture, ABC's Army documentary, goes off the air on Tuesday, to be replaced next week by a series that revolutionizes the television Western: The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp

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This week's cover story by Robert E. Johnson begins with an anecdote about "a shrewd operator who studied the best-seller lists and decided the most consistent money-makers were books about Lincoln, doctors and dogs. So he sat down and wrote a book called Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog. There is such a story, by the way, a short story by Christopher Morley that was adapted into an episode of Screen Director's Playhouse; it'll be seen at the end of 1955, with Robert Ryan as Lincoln and Charles Bickford as the doctor. (No note on who plays the dog.)

I digress, though. The point of the story is that health, dogs, and Lincoln are three of the subjects most commonly explored on Groucho Marx's You Bet Your Life, now entering its eighth season (including radio) and boasting a weekly audience of 40 million. And what we're here to learn about is what makes the ideal contestant—or foil, if you prefer—for Groucho. According to Bernie Smith, head talent scout for the show, that would be "a sexy relative of Abraham Lincoln's who made a lot of money raising dogs and now spends it trying to improve her health by eating baby food." Failing that, school teachers are always popular; in addition to knowing a lot about Lincoln, "a lot of them are good looking, and we always have at least one pretty girl on the show."

Groucho with contestant Jean Moorhead of MST3K fame    
Smith and his staff look through the yellow pages (that was the business part of the phone book, for those of you too young to remember, and it was printed on yellow paper), searching for offbeat occupations; public officials and war heroes are also well-received, and if you've been fortunate enough to have gotten your name in the paper recently (for a good reason), you can expect a call from the show. Once they've been vetted, they're interviewed by members of the staff    in order to compile information that Groucho and his writers can use for his jokes. "If he knows, for instance, that a man was born a block from the Fulton Fish Market," Smith says, "he’s got the basis for a dozen gags."

Johnson's look behind the scenes ends with the story of the female contestant, a mountain climber who'd climed higher mountains than any other woman. Four months later, another contestant, a female aqualung diver who'd gone lower than any other woman. "Now," Groucho said, "all we need on this show is a woman who never did anything!" One hundred fifty letters followed, from women who'd "never been kissed, never had an operation, never been anywhere." One of them wound up a lucky contestant, and ruined her perfect record: she won $145.

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If you've been reading these reviews for any length of time, first of all, you might require a doctor's care, so you'd better check just to be sure. Second, you'll know that one topic I frequently return to is that of movies on TV—or, nowadays, the lack thereof. In 1955, movies comprise between 25 and 30 percent of the average station's broadcast day; when you filter out network programming, movies make up more than half of a station's local schedule. In fact, as Frank De Blois points out, one New York station airs 50 different movies each week, or more than 1,500 bookings (including repeats) over the course of a year. With all those movies floating about, how do stations decide what to show?

William C. Lacey, manager of the film department at WCBS in New York, explains to De Blois his movie programming philosophy. WCBS programs four movies per day, starting with the Late Matinee, which runs Monday through Friday between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m. ("Liberally pruned with the editor's shears," De Blois notes). For this time slot, Lacey prefers "romantic adventure stories," such as Salome, starring Yvonne De Carlo, aka Lily Munster. The Early Show, from 6:15 to 7:25 p.m., features "family" viewing, including It's a Wonderful Life—which, as I've mentioned before, was not always limited to Christmastime viewing.

Beginning at 11:15 p.m., The Late Show, perhaps the most famous of the WCBS movie slots, is geared toward an "adult" audience, with "high adventure, romance and an occasional dash of gore." One of this week's features, Susan Hayward's Smash-Up: the Story of a Woman is a good example, as is the station's most popular late night movie, Pygmalion, "which ran 14 times on four channels in New York during a single year." Also in this timeslot: 20 Charlie Chan mysteris, which Lacey bought several years ago; each was run six times, for a total of 120 showings. Chan you beat that?

The most outspoken audience belongs to The Late Late Show, which starts around 12:30 a.m. and runs until nearly dawn. The show boasts of nearly 300,000 regular viewers: "shipyard workers, cab drivers, firemen, waitresses, bartenders, short-order cooks in all-night cafeterias, invalids and people who just can’t sleep." It was temporarly dropped a year or so ago after it lost its sponsor, but viwer outcry was such that the station was forced to bring it back.

Nothing is perfect in TV land, of course, and viewers have complaints about the movies they're offered. Given how the studios view television as a threat to the business, they're reluctant to offer stations anything new; amost all the movies on TV are pre-1950, and it isn't until 1961 and the advent of NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies that movies made post-1950 were shown on network TV. Likewise, viewers get miffed about seeing the same films over and over. ("If you show 'The Bowery Boys' once more," one viewer complained, "I’ll stinkbomb the studio.") And then there are those who complain that the movies are too new: they still want to see Rudolph Valentino and Mary Pickford.

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Are there such things as celebrity authors anymore? I'm not talking about someone like Stephen King, who I view as more "celebrity" than "author" (and I'm still trying to figure that one out), but authors who are famous for being authors. I noted somewhere that when Colson Whitehead appeared on the cover of Time in 2019, it was the first time an author had been on the magazine's cover since Jonathan Franzen in 2010.

There was a time, though, when it was an event for a mainstream novelist to come out with a new book, and that's the case on Friday's Today (7:00 a.m., NBC), when Herman Wouk sits for an interview with Dave Garroway. Wouk, who won the Pulitzer Prize for The Caine Mutiny in 1951, is promoting his new novel, Marjorie Morningstar, which (natch) lands him on the cover of Time, and gets made into a movie starring Natalie Wood, Gene Kelly, and Claire Trevor. 

The reason I point this out, though (aside from having a vested interest in the fame of authors) is that Herman Wouk has a significant link to television. His novel The Winds of War was published 1971, and its sequel War and Remembrance followed in 1978; both were made into huge miniseres for ABC in the late 1980s and were ratings successes (The Winds of War was the most-watched miniseries ever at the time), but they were also expensive; War and Remembrance, which ran for 30 hours, was the most expensive miniseries ever made, and when it underperformed in the ratings (although winning its timeslot), it was one of the factors that cost ABC programming chief Brandon Stoddard his job. ABC lost between $30 and $40 million on the production, and along with the changing times and the growth of cable, signaled the beginning of the end of the prestige miniseries format.

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That's kind of a downer, though, so let's end on a brighter note, with a look at Eddie Anderson, who's risen to fame—an American institution, according to this unbylined article—as Rochester Van Jones, Jack Benny's valet and foil on the latter's popular radio and television series. Anderson's been with Benny since he debuted in 1937 as a gravel-voiced porter; he proved to be so popuar that the Rochester character was created for him. (Jack Benny owned the copyright to the Rochester character, and sold it to Anderson—for a dollar.)

That was 18 years ago, and now he makes upward of $75,000 a year, owns a custom-built sports car, lives in a handsome four-bedroom home in Los Angeles (with a pool), and until a few years ago had a stable of race horses (none of then named Swaps, sad to say). He's at a bit of a loss since the recent death of his wife; he talks about producing a Western with a Negro cast, based on a true-life character. In the meantime, he lives with his adopted son Billy (a former world-record hurdler and professional football player with the Chicago Bears) and Billy's wife and daughter.

Rochester was an enormously popular character, and despite his status as a "colored" servant, he often got the better of Jack, frequently offering acidic commentary that got huge laughts (which is all that Benny ever cared for; he was never selfish about who got them); the writers continuously worked to phase out stereotypical aspects of the character. Anderson remained with Benny until 1965, when the TV show ended, and the two maintained a friendship that lasted until Benny's death in 1974. For many years, Eddie Anderson was the highest-paid black entertainer in the business; he invested his money wisely, and had several business interests. He's a member of the Radio Hall of Fame, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. As a descendant of slaves who traveled to freedom on the Underground Railroad, that's not bad at all. America—what a country! TV  

August 25, 2023

Around the dial

When it comes to classic television, I've long since given up on anything of substance coming from Rolling Stone; its latest is a list of "TV's Worst Decisions." At Comfort TV, David reviews those choices that pertain to our favorite genre, and makes some much-needed recommendations of his own. I might add one of the more egregious moments in TV history: the Heidi Game from 1968. 

At bare-bones e-zine, Jack begins a new chapter in his Hitchcock Project with Alan Gordon's "Very Moral Theft," an affecting sixth-season episode starring Walter Matthau and Betty Field. It's another reminder that Matthau was a very good dramatic actor, and one wonders what kind of a career he would have had had he not goine into more comedic roles.

John takes a break from his X-Files and the American Dream series at Cult TV Blog to look at some of the other programs he's been watching: Monty Python's Flying Circus; Murder, She Wrote; Max Headroom; and The Monkees. I like a man with eclectic tastes in television—probably one reason why we get along well! 

The title of The Avengers episode "How to Murder" seems to portend the answer to a practical question, one I'm sure many of us have wondered about from time to time. Alas, the answer we get from Roger and Mike at The View from the Junkyard suggests that this episode is a below-average one, but we're always free to watch and decide for ourselves.

Travalanche resurrects an unusual effort by Rankin-Bass from 1970: The Mad, Mad, Mad Comedians, which the advertisement describes as "Cartoon recreations of famous comics doing your favorite routines." Animated renditions of famous entertainment personalities are nothing new, but to have an entire hour's worth, with voices by Groucho Marx, George Burns, Jack Benny, George Jessel, Henny Youngman, and Jack E. Leonard, amoung others, is intriguing to say the least.

Did you know that in 1993 NBC planned to resurrect the NBC Mystery Movie, with Raymond Burr as Perry Mason, plus vehicles starring Larry Hagman, Louis Gosset Jr., and Kenny Rogers? You can learn about it in a pair of pieces (1) (2) at Those Were the Days, highlighting the Rogers element, which was called "MacShayne." I wonder if the title was supposed to be a nod to the old Mystery Movie, with McCloud, McMillian, and (briefly) McCoy?

Thankfully, we no longer live in Minnesota, although I still have a fondness for the memories of growng up there. One of those memories was the kids' show Cap'n Ken, which would later morph into Grandpa Ken; while it's not the most famous of the kids' shows that aired back then, it ran from 1960 to 1973, and this piece at Minnesota Kidvid reminds me of what a big part these local programs played in a child's life, and shows what kids are missing today.

Speaking of kids's shows from the past, the Broadcast Archives links to an article at Slate about the 1970s PBS show ZOOM, which at one time had more viewers than Sesame Street. I knew that Zoom was popular, but I had no idea just how popular; this comment was brought to you by the word "surprised."

Martin Grams has a new book out (where does he get the time?)—Clayton Moore and the Legend of the Lone Ranger 1970-1984, written with Terry Salomonson, which focuses on the controversy surround actor Clayton Moore and the making of of the 1981 movie The Legend of the Lone Ranger (which starred Klinton Spilsbury as the Lone Ranger and Twin Peaks' Michael Horse as Tonto). If you thought you knew the background regarding the controversial movie, you might be surprised.

Now here's a story from Andrew at The Lucky Strike Papers about another program I hadn't been much familiar with: Trash or Treasure, which aired on DuMont in 1952-1953 and was, according to Andrew, a progenitor to Antiques Roadshow. (Proving that it really is true that what's old is new again.) There's also a brief sidelight concerning the show's announcer, Bill Wendell, who would go on to work with Kovacs and Letterman. Good stuff. TV  

August 23, 2023

"Coronet Blue" and the mysterious world of the amnesiac

"He calls himself 'Michael Alden,' but says that this is not his name. He claims not to know his real name, nor who he is, nor anything that happened to him up until two months ago. Tonight we explore the mystery that is amnesia—the loss of a person's memory, and with it, the loss of his humanity as well. I'm Walter Cronkite, and this is The 21st Century."

Obviously, this never happened. As classic TV fans know, "Michael Alden" is the character played by Frank Converse in the cult classic series, Coronet Blue. And, as our ersatz Walter Cronkite says, Michael Alden has amnesia. He was dragged half dead out of the water, murmuring the words "Coronet Blue." He has no idea what this means, nor about anything else that has happened to him up until the time he is rescued. He doesn't even know his own name; he picks the name Michael Alden because it's a combination of his doctor's first name and the name of the hospital where he was treated. For the remaining thirteen episodes, Alden will search for clues as to his real identity, and what "Coronet Blue" really means—while the people who tried to kill him look to finish the job.

It's a great idea for a television series, and had Coronet Blue existed in the real world (as is the case with many TV shows today), it's quite likely that Alden would have been an ideal subject for a science program like The 21st Century (which aired on CBS from 1967-1970; it's predecessor, The 20th Century, began in 1957). But just how plausible is the idea behind Coronet Blue? And how realistic is pop culture's depiction of amnesia?

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What do we know about Michael Alden? Not much. As Coronet Blue opens, he’s onboard a ship, one piece in a moving puzzle. It’s clear that he’s part of some kind of plot; a heist, perhaps, or some kind of undercover operation—we just don’t know. Quickly, it becomes apparent that something’s gone wrong, that his confederates have discovered something about him—he had ratted them out, he wasn’t who he claimed to be, something like that—and consequently he’s been targeted for death. There’s a struggle, he goes over the rail of the ship and into the water, the bad guys take a couple of shots at him (or are they good guys? We just don’t know), and after a time he’s dragged ashore, nearly dead, mumbling the words “coronet blue.” He recovers, physically. Mentally, however, he’s a mess. He doesn’t know who he is, how he got there, why someone would want to kill him, and he has no idea what “coronet blue” means. Michael Alden has amnesia.

In pop culture, the situation most like Alden’s is probably that of Jason Bourne, the character played by Matt Damon in the Bourne movies. Like Alden, Bourne is pulled out of the water after someone has tried to kill him; like Alden, he has no memory of his identity, although he retains his language and motor skills.

Both Alden and Bourne suffer from a type of psychogenic dissociative amnesia called “retrograde” amnesia. As opposed to "anterograde" amnesia, which affects the ability of the mind to form new memories, retrograde amnesia means the inability to recall things that happened before a specific date, usually the date of an accident or trauma. In both of these cases, we see how retrograde amnesia “tends to negatively affect episodic, autobiographical, and declarative memory while usually keeping procedural memory intact with no difficulty for learning new knowledge.”

Now, within this fairly broad diagnosis, there are two subsets which we could be dealing with. The first, “situation-specific” amnesia, sometimes called “suppressed memory,” means that memory loss is confined to a specific traumatic event, with the victim able to remember things that happened both before and after the event. In the Twilight Zone episode “Nightmare as a Child,” for example, Janice Rule plays Helen Foley, a woman who unknowingly suffers from such a condition: Helen has no memory of her mother’s murder, nor that the young Helen was a witness to the murder, until the appearance of a little girl (Helen when she was young; an apparition? A manifestation of her subconscious? It is the Twilight Zone, after all) brings her memory back in time to apprehend the murderer, who’s returned to eliminate the only witness—Helen.*  That’s an example of “situation-specific” amnesia.

*The moral of the story being that, at least if you’re a murderer, it’s best to leave well-enough alone.

However, Alden’s amnesia appears more likely to be a type known as “global-transient”; in other words, a major gap in the part of the memory that relates to personal identity. The most common illustration of global-transient amnesia is a “fugue state,” in which there is “a sudden retrograde loss of autobiographical memory resulting in impairment of personal identity and usually accompanied by a period of wandering.” That last is significant, because the premise of Coronet Blue is built around Alden’s attempts to find out who he is, resulting in travelling—wandering—to different parts of the country, searching for anyone or anything that can help him discover who he is. And what coronet blue means, of course.

It’s likely that Alden’s doctors would have checked for some type of brain damage or other organic cause of his amnesia; they didn’t find anything, but even with today’s advancements in medical science, it’s unlikely that his amnesia was caused by anything as mundane as the proverbial “bump on the head.” Most of the time, psychogenic amnesia is traceable back to some type of psychological trigger; with Alden, it’s almost certainly related to the attack on him at the beginning of the first episode.

I wonder, though: does he really want to remember? Or is it fear—fear of what he doesn’t know—that keeps his memory from returning? All the time, though, he remains focused on “coronet blue,” and it’s not just because the theme keeps playing in the background. Find out the meaning, he knows, and it’s likely he’ll be able to unlock the mystery.

That fear of finding out what his past might be, though—that leads us to an obvious question: is Alden’s amnesia genuine? Is he a reliable narrator, or is he withholding something from the viewers?

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There are at least four episodes from the great legal drama Perry Mason that deal with amnesia. The first season episodes "The Case of the Crooked Candle," and "The Case of the Desperate Daughter," the fifth season episode "The Case of the Glamorous Ghost," and the seventh season episode "The Case of the Nervous Neighbor" all involve Perry dealing with someone—generally a woman—claiming some form of amnesia.

Is there a significance in this gender distinction? Possibly. While there's no particular evidence to suggest that women are more susceptible than men to amnesia, the victim in "Glamorous Ghost," Eleanor Corbin, claims to be suffering from amnesia "after police find her running and screaming through woods near her apartment building." Doubtless someone would have referred to Eleanor as being "hysterical." And that term, as understood and applied to women, dates back over 4,000 years. The National Center for Biotechnology Information calls hysteria "the first mental disorder attributable to women, accurately described in the second millennium BC, and until Freud considered an exclusively female disease."

Therefore, with Eleanor displaying no signs of physical injury, the suggestion is that her amnesia is a  form of retrograde amnesia known as "hysterical reaction," one that does not appear to depend upon an actual brain disorder. Perry accepts this diagnosis, at least insofar as it provides him with the opportunity to stall for time while he tries to assemble the facts. The police, however, are suspicious: and for good reason, as Encyclopaedia Britannica notes darkly: "Although most dramatic, such cases are extremely rare and seldom wholly convincing."

In fact, malingering—that is, the rational output of a neurologically normal brain aiming at the surreptitious achievement of a well identified gain—is a constant threat in such cases. It's understandable, then, that law enforcement officials have long been leery about such diagnoses, and for years they’ve pushed for some kind of standardized test for amnesia. Unlike the M'Naghten rule, which tests for criminal insanity, judging the legitimacy of amnesia claims defies application of uniform standards. As one expert remarks, amnesia cases “differ in onset, duration, and content forgotten” to the extent that it cannot be broadly defined in legal circumstances. And in a landmark case in England in 1959, a jury was called on to determine whether a defendant was faking amnesia, making him legally unfit to stand trial. The jury ruled he was faking (and convicted him, to boot). In truth, most cases of psychogenic retrograde autobiographical amnesia resolve themselves on their own accord, so if Hamilton Burger is willing to be patient, he might well be able to wait his suspect out. And, in fact, Eleanor Corbin is faking her amnesia, a deception which is soon uncovered by the police.* Could Michael Alden be doing the same thing?

*Don't worry; Perry wins, in spite of his client—which is frequently the case.

The police were, it appears, suspicious of his claim; however, that suspicion was mitigated by the fact that he wasn't accused of having committed any crime. Indeed, the only crime apparent seems to have been perpetrated against him. But if he is faking it, it's reasonable to assume that the reason goes back to that mysterious scene at the beginning of the series. Which means that there's something in his past he's trying to hide, something very dark indeed. And he knows full well what it is.

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Even a series as reliable as The Fugitive has an amnesia episode. It's the ninth episode of the second season, "Escape into Black," in which Dr. Richard Kimble is caught in an explosion at a diner. He awakens in a hospital, badly injured, and with no idea who he is or what has happened to him. Fortunately, there's a social worker on the scene, one determined to look out for Kimble's interests even though he can't look out for them himself. Learning that Kimble had been asking about a one-armed man prior to the explosion, she renews the search herself. A good thing, too, because Kimble, having found out he's wanted for murder and with no idea of whether or not he's guilty, is on the verge of surrendering himself to Lt. Gerard.

We know how it ends, of course: Kimble regains his memory in time to escape Gerard and resume his search for the one-armed man. It's mighty convenient for us all that his problem clears up before the episode ends—but how likely is it?

Well, it's at least plausible. That same article from the Encyclopaedia Britannica notes that retrograde amnesia cases "usually clear up with relative rapidity, with or without psychotherapy." Once Michael Alden's doctors make their diagnosis (which, although it’s not mentioned by name, is almost certainly psychogenic retrograde autobiographical amnesia), then comes the treatment. Or at least it would, if Alden was willing to stand still for it. But he’s still running for his life, remember, and he realizes that he can’t afford to sit around undergoing extensive therapy to try and recover his memory. While that’s happening, the killers could catch up to him again, and this time they might not miss. (They could keep him in the hospital, of course, but then who knows if his insurance covers it, or even if he has insurance? It’s not as if they can look him up.) The treatment, however, would almost certainly have been a course of psychological therapy. Now, in the early decades of the 20th century, the therapy might have consisted of “truth serum” drugs such as barbiturates and benzodiazepines, and doubtless there are those who might wonder why his doctors didn’t try that. In fact, however, those drugs weren’t very successful in dealing with cases of amnesia—while they did make it possible for the patient to speak more easily about things, they also lowered the threshold of suggestibility, with the result that the information from the patient lacked reliability. By the 1960s, that kind of treatment would have been out.

It’s far more likely that a course of psychoanalysis would be suggested, and I think it’s intriguing that one of the possible diagnoses to come from such treatment would have been along Freudian lines, by suggesting that his amnesia was a form of self-punishment, “with the obliteration of personal identity as an alternative to suicide.” I wonder if that will come up in the course of the series? Is it possible that Alden’s apparent dual identity at the start of the series has to do with something so secretive, so horrifying, that his subconscious simply can’t deal with it anymore, with the result that he tries to sweep it all clean? In an early episode, someone shrewdly observes that he has an opportunity few people ever get: to make a brand-new start to life, with no baggage, nothing linking him to the past. Is that what he’s subconsciously trying to do, to divorce himself from something he doesn’t want to be reminded of? In such conversations, Alden invariably states that all he’s interested in is the truth of who he is, and if it turns out that there’s something bad in his past (in one episode, he thinks he might be a killer), well, so be it—that’s the risk he’s willing to take.

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And this, Walter Cronkite would probably discover, is where the story ends. In cases involving brain damage, doctors may be able to find a cause, and perhaps a cure. But Michael Alden's case remains a mystery. It is likely, but not certain, that his amnesia will eventually clear up. It may happen relatively quickly, or it may take a protracted period of psychoanalysis. But as to how or why it happens, and how or why it resolves itself? And what the amnesiac goes through, a man without a past, whose continued survival depends on reclaiming that past? It is, surely, part of the mysterious world of the amnesiac. One thing is for certain, however: the trauma that Michael Alden faces is one that most of us will never have to deal with.

There is, however, another kind of amnesia, one which probably would not have been covered on The 21st Century, but which would certainly be included on any contemporary science show dealing with the memory. And, unlike that portrayed on Coronet Blue, this one is fickle and pernicious, and it strikes with impunity.

Dementia. Alzheimer's.

Wendy Suzuki, a professor of neural science and psychology in the Center for Neural Science at New York University, hosts a popular podcast at Live Science. Back in 2005, she did an episode with her friend and colleague Neal Cohen, a professor at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, The topic: amnesia in pop culture. The emphasis is on movies rather than television, though their discussion of the Bourne movies is reflected in our discussion here. (If you're looking for realistic portrayals of amnesia, don't bother with 50 First Dates; check out Memento instead.)

I suppose you could call Alzheimer's a form of retrograde amnesia, although it works backwards, wiping the most recent memories first while leaving the oldest intact until the end. It's mostly anterograde, though: unlike Michael Alden, there will be no new memories for someone suffering from dementia, for those new memories will simply disappear. And there is no hope that the situation will resolve itself.

One of the realizations that comes from this awareness, Suzuki says, is that at the end of the day, the only thing you have for certain is the present, the knowledge that you have to live fully in the moment. If you can’t remember all the details, at least you can be content that at the moment you were 100% there.

My current "present" consists of observing a culture and a world that seems bent on total self-destruction. While it would be wrong to say that it dominates every waking moment of my life, it can make the prospect of living in this present a profoundly depressing one. As Peggy Lee might ask, if this is all there is. . . The thought of being fully present in this life, with no past, no future, nothing at all but what is right here and right now—well, that falls somewhere between terrifying and unbearable. Pray God, it ends soon, because nobody wants to be 100% here.

Yet it could be my future, or yours, or anyone out there. Not simply from fate, or bad decisions, but because it's something that strikes at you, and tears at you, until there's literally nothing left.

Don't wait; that should be the moral of the story. Do your living now, while you can, while you can still live in the present. That's what Michael Alden does, in Coronet Blue. He does it because he has no choice. And really, neither do we. Life is not meant for inertia, but for movement. Forward movement. However you can, wherever you can, whenever you can. Even if you're not like Michael Alden.

But we have a couple of advantages over Mike: for one thing, he doesn't know who's shooting at him, but we know who's shooting at us. Life is firing the bullets, and the one thing of which we can be certain is that one of them, somewhere, has your name on it, and another one has mine. For another, most of us don't have to worry about our series being cancelled before we find out the answers.

There's only one problem with this analogy, of course. We don't know what "coronet blue" means either. TV  

A note before you comment: Yes, I know that Larry Cohen, the show's creator, has since explained what "coronet blue" means and who Michael Alden really is. But if you know that, please don't discuss it in the comments section. The show's available on DVD and Blu, and I don't want it spoiled for anyone yet to see the series. This means you!

August 21, 2023

What's on TV? Wednesday, August 27, 1969

Tonight's ABC movie, Crack in the World, is a science fiction thriller about the dangers of science run amok. The plot, which sounds quite similar to the Doctor Who episode "Inferno," concerns scientists trying to untap unlimited energy by drilling deep into the earth's surface. Predictably, this doesn't go so well. (It didn't in "Inferno," either. So much for following the science, I guess.) Judith Crist likes it; "the performances are fine, the technical effects excellent and the conclusion rip-roaring in every sense of the words." Dana Andrews stars as the lead scientist, which can only give credibility to the movie. For more of what's on today, check out these listings from the Northern California edition.

August 19, 2023

This week in TV Guide: August 23, 1969

Sometimes, the luck of the draw means you've got to go with what you have, and when the big sports event of the week is the Little League World Series (Saturday, 5:00 p.m. PT, ABC), you can be pretty sure this is one of those times. Such is often the case in summer, when there's not much new on, what is new often isn't very good, and like the people watching back in the day, you have to hope you catch something you missed the first time it was on. Don't worry, we'll make it—we always do.

For instance, we've got an interview with Stockton Helffrich, director of the National Association of Broadcasters’ Code Authority—or, as Richard K. Doan's article bills him, "television's chief censor." We've seen articles about television censorship many times; you can probably find them over on the right sidebar. The question of censorship (or "censorship") has been a running theme in TV Guide over the decades, so we're only going to hit the highlights. 

Two of the most controversial programs of recent history are Laugh-In and Turn-On, in both cases due to the sexual content and use of double-entrendres. Helffrich calls Laugh-In "an approach to topical humor, including sexual humor, which to me rather consistently. and effectively stops short of going too far." Turn-On, one of the most notorious bombs in TV history, is another case: "It happened we inadvertently missed that show," he explains. "We normally monitor every premiere. I asked for a rescreening of it because I received one or two station comments on it.* Personally, I felt it was heavy-handed and did not, in some sequences, stop while it was winning. It might have succeeded, I think, if they had approached it just a little more gingerly."

*"One or two"? Within two days, 75 ABC affiliates, roughly half the network's total, had told executives they wouldn't air the show again.

He believes the Televison Code needs updating. "Society is tolerating greater candor, and the Code endeavors to respond to the sentiments of broadcasters and viewers alike." He says that the networks have "cut 'way back on violence," but that shouldn't be taken to mean there was too much in the first place. "[W]e do know there is public concern about violence and a fear that the broadcast media might have been contributing to it, so we've inhibited ourselves out of a preoccupation with that concern." His office may have had something to do with the cutback, but "I belive the networks would have done it anyway, of their own volition."

What I find most interesting is the proposal by Senator John O. Pastore, longtime critic of violence on television, that the networks ought to submit their programs to the Code Authority for prescreening. That's not as bad as having to submit them to the government, of course, but this sounds suspiciously to me like social media companies screening content for "fake news" and the like. And Helffrich seems to share this: "Our position, I'd say, parallels that of many broadcasters, including the networks: a concern that this could lead to prior censorship." And anyway, NBC and ABC already do this in the case of their pilots; "It's a consult-and-advise arrangement. If we question something, it's up to the network to decide what to do about it. If we disagree after-the-fact, either of us can urge a review by the Code [Review] Board."

The Television Code was suspended in 1976 after a judge ruled that the Family Viewing Hour violated the First Amendment, and the Code was eliminated altogether in 1983. Following that, the networks, now forced to self-regulate, established their own codes. I don't know what those codes are, partly because I don't want to take the time to research them, and partly because what we see on contemporary television leads me to wonder if there are any codes at all. Helffrich comments that "if you don’t hear from people, you just have to assume you are doing pretty much what they want and expect." Either that, or they just don't give a damn anymore.

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Perhaps the whole world isn't watching it, but Saturday night's movie The Whole World Is Watching (9:00 p.m., NBC) is a repeat of the pilot for The Bold Ones segment "The Lawyers," with Burl Ives, Joseph Campanella, and James Farentino starring as a legal team (older man, two brothers) defending a student leader accused of murdering a college campus policeman during a riot. It's topical, to be sure, but, according to Judith Crist, it's also too slick by half; "unfortunately some well-established realistic atmosphere is vitiated by the derring-do tactics of the defense attorneys and a soothe-the-Establishment conclusion." This fall, The Bold Ones, comprised of "The Lawyers," "The New Doctors," and "The Protectors," will premiere on Sunday nights.

On Sunday, it's a rerun of a different—and more welcome—kind. Walt Disney's World (7:30 p.m., NBC) begins a series of repeats of "Davy Crockett—Indian Fighter," starring Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen, which fjrst aired as the eighth episode of ABC's Disneyland on December 15, 1954. The series of five episodes, which ran in 1954-55, was a huge hit, reintroducing Crockett as a national legend, making a star out of Parker, and making a rich(er) man out of Walt Disney; by the end of 1955, "Americans had purchased over $300 million worth of Davy Crockett merchandise, including coonskin caps and bubble gum cards." The NBC repeats mark the first time that the Crokett episodes have ever been seen on TV in color.

One of the rare original programs this week is an NBC news inquiry into the Pueblo incident. (Monday, 7:30 p.m.) The Pueblo, for those of you who may have forgotten (1968 was a busy year, after all) was an American spy ship captured by North Korea in January 1968, a week before the start of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. The crewmen of the Pueblo were held for 11 months before beng released, and the ship's captain, Lloyd Bucher, was repeatedly tortured by the North Koreans; Bucher and his crew were eventually released after 11 months, although the ship remains with the North Koreans to this day. The documentary, reported by Frank McGee, focuses on why the ship wasn't better protected, why the government didn't respond more forcefully, and why more classified documents weren't destroyed. It's not one of the more shining moments in American history.

On Tuesday, a rerun of the Star Trek episode "The Lights of Zetar" (7:30 p.m., NBC) stands out for one reason: the script is written by puppeteer Shari Lewis and her husband Jeremy Tarcher. I don't suppose we should be surprised, since she wrote more than 60 books for children, but as far as I know, this represents her only foray into this kind of teleplay. We shouldn't discount her husband's contribution to this,either: his sister is novelist Judith Krantz. Later, in one of those "failed-pilot playhouse" presentations, Kerwin Mathews and Cal Bellini star as a couple of paranormal private investigators hired by Marj Dusay to rid her mansion of ghosts in In the Dead of Night (8:30 p.m., ABC). It's co-produced by Dan Curtis; I'm surprised the network didn't pick it up. You'll have to skip this week's edition of Liberace's summer variety show to see it, though; Lee's guests are French singer Sacha Distel, comedian Stu Gilliam, British singer Anita Harris and the Duke of Bedford, who shows pictures of his ancestral home Woburn Abbey. (8:30 p.m., CBS). Maybe there's a reason for all those summer reruns after all.

Rod McKuen was all the rage in the sensitive Sixties, and he's on TV twice this week. On Saturday, the "poet-singer" was the celebrity bachelor (!) on The Dating Game (7:30 p.m., ABC), and on Wednesday the "poet-songwriter" appears as one of Don Ho's guests on the Kraft Summer Music Hall (9:00 p.m., NBC). In case you don't remember Rod McKuen, first of all, good for you. Second, my favorite description of McKuen's poetry comes courtesy of the always-reliable Wikipedia, which quotes critic Frank Hoffmann that McKuen was "tailor-made for the 1960s ... poetry with a verse that drawled in country cadences from one shapeless line to the next, carrying the rusticated innocence of a Carl Sandburg thickened by the treacle of a man who preferred to prettify the world before he described it." True, I'm not a fan of McKuen, but I repeat this (I could have chosen worse) mostly to indicate what kind of a decade the 1960s had become by 1969. 

(By the way, promotion for The Bold Ones continues on Wednesday; this time, the "New Doctors"  E.G. Marshall, John Saxon and David Hartman appear on NBC's Today (7:00 a.m.) If only Rod McKuen had been on The Bold Ones as a guest, they'd have had it made.)

Thursday's best is rerun of It Takes a Thief (10:00 p.m., ABC) featuring guest star Paul Henreid, making a rare television acting appearance (he was mostly a director by then; he directed 28 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, for example) as a Swiss police inspector on Mundy's trail; Mundy's being framed for crimes all over Europe. The episode also features the final acting appearance by the lovely Gia Scala, who dies in 1972, age 38, from a drug and alcohol overdose.

The Name of the Game wasn't the greatest series of all time, but it was often an interesting one, a 90-minute wheel series (like The Bold Ones!) featuring rotating stories starring Tony Franciosa, Robert Stack, and Gene Barry, and revolving around the world of magazine publishing. Friday night's episode, "An Agent of the Plantiff" (8:30 p.m., NBC) stars Barry, who's involved in a libel action in London, but it becomes must-see based on an outstanding lineup of guest stars: Honor Blackman, Maurice Evans, Brian Bedford, Murray Matheson, and Anthony Caruso. Beat that!

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Believe it or not, the moon landing was only last month, but the residue from that monumental event continues to linger. For instance, we're starting to see ads touting CBS's "First on the Moon!" coverage, with Walter Cronkite and Wally Schirra defeating "Network B" (NBC) and "Network C" (ABC) decisively in the ratings. 

According to this week's As We See It, the editors concur in the good judgement of the viewers, lauding Cronkite for "service far above and beyond television’s normally high standards of space-shoot coverage." Cronkite's dedication to the space program, including his research on facets of the mission, were evident in his abiloity "to tell his viewers not only what was happening, but why it was happening in that particular way." In conclusion, "The other networks did creditable jobs and had a number of fine, resourceful touches to brighten the long-hours of Apollo 11's epic journey. Their commentators were good. Walter Cronkite was superb."*

*Interestingly enough, a number of fellow space buffs whose opinions I value have been critical of Cronkite's work, particularly on the pivotal moment when Neil Armstrong was about to set foot on the moon, noting that Cronkite midjudged when that first step would occur, and almost spoke over Armstrong's "One small step" words. I think Cronkite was very good, but I don't disagree with their assessment of this moment.

The Doan Report of August 2 also referenced those viewer numbers for Cronkite's coverage, but that gets a dissenting view from a couple of this week's Letters to the Editor. Mr. and Mrs. Robert W. Pierce of Gibsonia, Pennsylvania "watched Frank Reynolds and Jules Bergman on ABC and thought their coverage of Apollo 11 was marvelous," whiloe Ruth F. Lea of Columbus Ohio was tuned to NBC. "The presentation was superb," she writes, "and the lack of any mention of this in 'The Doan Report' is a serious oversight. Of course, if Mr. Doan's eyes were glued only on CBS, he couldn’t very well report on NBC." (For what it's worth, having seen the moon coverage from all three networks over the years\, I thought they were all pretty good, but I have to admit I share the Pierce's fondness for portions of the ABC covearge.)

Finally, A CBS News Special examines "The Heritage of Apollo" (Tuesday, 10:00 p.m.). A week before the moon landing, Mike Wallace traveled through the Greek Islands with prominent figures involved in shaping the future, including city planner Constantinos Doxiadis, anthropologist Margaret Mead and engineer R. Buckminster Fuller. Their conversations form a part of Doxiadis's Delos Symposium, as they discuss "the links between the ideology surrounding the Greek god Apollo (associated with enlightenment), man’s journey into space and his prospects here on earth." Heady stuff, but then it was a heady time, and a perfect time for some serious reflection on the state of things.

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I mentioned at the very top that the Little League World Series was the biggest sports event of the week. While that's true as far as actual competition goes, what I found most interesting was the release of the 1969-70 TV football guide, on pages A-6, A-7, and A-16. It gives us the weekly schedule of televised games for the AFL, the NFL, and the NCAA—what time they start, and what channel they're on

This interested me for several reasons, not the least of which being just how much more football there is on television today than there was 50-some years ago. Back then, many of the college games were selected at the beginning of the season, based on the pre-season rankings and the number of times a team could appear on national television during the course of a season. Today, if you've got the right combination of of OTA and streaming services, you can see pretty much any major college game you want, but not back then. By my count, the schedule allows for seventeen games, not including the bowls (and there are only eight of those), and only two or three of them are TBA games, ones that ABC can select on short notice. That's not to say that this list is inclusive; many of the games in both the college and pro sections are shown regionally, and all we're seeng here is what Northern California is scheduled to get. 

Still, it's enlightening as to what you can get when games are chosen at the start of the season. The December 6 game between Texas and Arkansas, for instance, turns out to be the game of the season, between the undefeated top-two teams in the country, with President Nixon on hand to declare the winner to be national champion. On the other hand, the November 1 game features a 2-4 team (Northwestern) playing the nation's number one team at the time (Ohio State). Ohio State wins, 35-6. You win some, you lose some.

And even though there are two professional football leagues, you only have about half the number of games you can see today. Each league features doubleheaders on most Sundays, but there's no Sunday night football, no Monday night football, no Thursday night football, no Sunday morning football, no NFL Sunday Ticket. As I say, different times.

Everything culminates as you'd expect; the college national championship is settled on January 1, when Texas defeats Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl. The Super Bowl is played on January 11, about a month earlier than today, when Kansas City upsets Minnesota. You know, I think I preferred those days.

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I promised we'd make it through this week and we're almost there, but I couldn't resist this one. On Monday night, KCRA in Sacramento is showing A Star Is Born (8:30 p.m.). Now, I'm sure you're aware there have been several versions of this story—four I can think of, including the most recent one from a couple of years ago. But here's one that I thought I must be unfamiliar with. The story's the same, but the cast includes Judy Mason, Jack Carson, and Charles Bickford. It couldn't have been a made-for-TV version, not with a running time of 150 minutes; and both Carson and Bickford are big names. It was made in 1955, and a quick check confirmed my suspicion: the stars are Judy Garland and James Mason. These things happen, true; they happen to me often enough. Still, that's a sloppy mistake for TV Guide to make.

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MST3K alert: This Island Earth (1955) A nuclear scientist receives a visit from Exeter, who is gathering the top scientists on earth. Jeff Morrow, Rex Reason. (Thursday, 11:30 p.m., KXTV, Sacramento) Yes, this is the movie that was riffed in the long-awaited Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie. The MST3K movie was a controversial project on several levels, was not promoted by the studio, and left most of the participants with a bad taste in their mouths. Still, to riff a movie, you have to have a movie, and this is it. And I can't think of a better note on which to bring the week to a close. TV