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  

1 comment:

  1. Someone recently posted COMPLETE episodes of the first two Turn-On shows on YouTube (with commercials!). Watch 'em before they disappear:


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