September 30, 2023

This week in TV Guide: September 30, 1972

We—and by that I mean you and me and everyone else who watches television—complain a lot about what's on, but rarely do we discuss the shows that almost made it to our home screens. Sure, we may seem some of them in the "Failed-Pilot Playhouse" anthologies that used to populate the summer months, but what about those pilots that were really good, did well in the ratings, scored big in the corporate boardroom, and seemed to be a sure thing to make it to the fall schedule—until they didn't? That's what Dick Adler's looking at this week.

    Jim Hutton and Connie Stevens
For instance, have you heard of Call Her Mom, a sitcom starring Connie Stevens and Jim Hutton? The story of a beautiful young woman who becomes a frat house-mother, was last season's highest-rated pilot movie, and yet ABC "never really looked at it as a series," according to producer Doug Cramer, who points out that CBS took The Homecoming—"which wasn't intended to be a pilot, just a television special"—and made it into The Waltons. Says Cramer, "You figure it out." One unnamed source reports that the reason it didn't make the cut was because a top network executive "just doesn't like Connie Stevens." It sounds to me as if it would have been perfect ABC fodder.

Then there was Fireball Forward, which I actually do remember. The movie starred Ben Gazzara as a tough, unorthodox World War II general, was produced by Patton's Frank McCarthy, and had thousands of feet of battle footage from both Patton and Tora! Tora! Tora! It was pretty good; even though it did come across as something of a lower-budget version of Patton. In this case, the problem wasn't the network, it was Gazzara. "Ben went into the movie without an option on his services for a series," says McCarthy. "He loved the script but didn't want to be committed." Rock Hudson (McMillan) and Anthony Quinn (The Man and the City) were of similar dispositions, but did their series "when the big money was dangled in front of them." Not so for Gazzara; "No matter what we dangled, Ben wouldn't agree—and ABC just wouldn't do the series without him." I wonder what the spin would have been on it, having had to maneuver through the tangled legacy of Vietnam.

Robert Conrad's Nick Carter, with
Shelley Winters
And so the stories go. Fitzgerald and Pride, a legal drama, started out with James Stacey and Barbara Stanwyck at the helm; when Stanwick fell ill, Susan Hayward stepped in. It got solid reviews and ratings, and supposedly CBS felt it was a toss-up between Fitzgerald and Pride and the aformentioned The Waltons. Personally, I think they should have gone the other way, but what do I know? ABC looked closely at a wheel series called The Great Detectives, which would have starred Robdert Conrad as Nick Carter, Stuart Granger as Sherlock Holmes, and Eve Arden as Hildegarde Withers. That sounds like a winner, but the network worried that viewers wouldn't go for the British background in Holmes, and that the Hildegarde Withers stories were contemporary instead of period pieces. And yet, the Nick Carter segment, which almost made it on its own, was killed because it was a period piece—New York at the turn of the century. Conrad wound up on Assignment: Vienna instead.

    Alex Dreier from Nemtin
The satiric program This Week in Nemtin came very close; it was "virtually a 30-minute ethnic joke, done as a newscast from a mythical, slightly dumb country" starring Alex Dreier (a real-life news announcer) as the anchor, and Carl Reiner, Ed Asner, and McLean Stevenson as others in the cast. The response was very positive, and it nearly made it onto the second season schedule as a replacement for Sandy Duncan's show when she became ill, but lost out to Me and the Chimp. Then the network passed on it for fall, saying it would work better as a mid-season replacement. Co-creater Saul Turtletaub says its best chance is probably in first-run syndication. The sitcom Wednesday Night Out even made it to the early fall schedules on NBC; directed by Jerry Paris, it featured Jim Hutton, Pat Harrington, and Gloria DeHaven in a tale about "four diverse couples who meet weekly at one another's homes for an evening of fun and bigotry." It apparently fell victim to the FCC's Prime Time Access Rule giving a half-hour back to the affiliates. I don't know if the show would have been any good, but that FCC access ruling remains idiotic.

So this is our story of what might-have-been. It's possible that television history could have been changed by any or all of these series, had they been picked up. The shows themselves could have been smashes, or it might have been the case that their existance meant that another show—The Waltons, for example—would have missed out. And what would Mary Tyler Moore have been like without Ed Asner, or M*A*S*H without McLean Stevenson, if they'd both been off in Nemtin instead? We'll never know, of course, but what is for sure is that television could have been much better—or much worse—with any of them on the schedule.

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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. 

Forewarned is forearmed: Cleveland Amory isn't so hot on a show with the word new in the title. You know, The New Phil Silvers Show or The New Loretta Young Show or The New Dick Van Dyke Show, for starters. "Chances are," Cleve points out, "it's the same something that was wrong in the old show." (The New Price is Right is an exception to all this, I'm guessing, although maybe removing that word from the title has something to do with it still being on the air.) Happily, he's proud to announce, such is not the case with CBS's The New Bill Cosby Show.

For one thing, it really is new; the old Bill Cosby show was a sitcom on another network, whereas this is an hour-long variety show. It's also been blessed with a terrific guest-star lineup: the first episode featured Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte, while subsequent episodes have included Peter Sellers, Lily Tomlin, Tim Conway, and Anthony Newley. And then there's Cosby's supporting cast, including Lola Falana, a "charmboat" who can "not only sing and dance, but also can do introductions while doing both of them at once"; and Foster Brooks, very funny in the inaugural episode as a hard-drinking CBS executive who welcomed "Bob" Cosby to the network "On be-hic-half of the e-hic-s-hic-utives."

The real gem is Cosby himself. "You don't get tired of him at all," Amory says. "He takes his time, because it's a vital part of his humor, in whatever he does." He doesn't take too much time, though, and everything really moves around him. And the more that's required from him, the better he does. "Mr. C's new show is strictly grade A," Cleve concludes. Now, of course, we know that during all this time, Cosby was far from the avuncular charmer that we appeared to be, and that he's been accused of doing some truly horrific things, regardless of what the courts might finally decide. And it's this kind of thing that will probably keep some people from judging the merits of Cosby's work, including this show. It becomes easy to laugh at Amory's positive comments in retrospect, and difficult to look at Cosby and see what people saw at the time. I've written about this before (remember this piece?), and I don't know that things have changed much since then. But as I've said many times, you can't always view history through today's filter; if you liked Cosby in I Spy or The Cosby Show or this show, for that matter, you've got every right to feel that way. It might not be easy, but that's the way it is.

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It's a big movie week, so let's go right to Judith Crist, with her reviews of the best—and worst.

It starts with NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies and Goldie Hawn's movie debut, Cattus Flower (9:00 p.m. ET), co-starring Walter Matthau as a swinging dentist, and Ingrid Bergman as his uptight nurse. "But it is Goldie, as cuddlesome a sex kitten as ever had a bit of intelligence and a womanly heart to brighten the dumb-blonde stereotype, who, as Matthau's kooky youg mistress, provides the vitality and sheer likability to make this slikish story come alive and capture you." Goldie captured a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance, which introduced her as more than just the sock-it-to-me girl from Laugh-In

follows with the network television premiere of Love Story (9:00 p.m., ABC), the Erich Segal-penned smash hit from 1970, "that proved that schmaltz can be sold wholesale when properly packaged." Ryan O'Neal and Ali McGraw somehow copped Best Actor and Actress nominations, as did the picture (it lost to Patton, thankfully), which earns one of Crist's greatest reviews: Love Story "involved an inarticulate Harvard jock [O'Neal] and a doomed-to-die-of-an-unidentified disease Radcliffe Mozart maven [McGraw] whose articulation consisted primarily of four- and eight-letter obscenities. Since these are no-no words on television, we can anticipate a near-silent up-dated version of "Camille," with [McGraw and O'Neal] bleeping their way into the hearts of the Nation—with an unspoken 'Hello, sucker' for those who reach for the Kleenex instead of the Alka-Seltzer."

Crist suggests the Alka-Seltzer should be kept for Monday's offering, The Beguiled (9:00 p.m., NBC), a Clint Eastwood vehicle that she calls "one of 1971's worst movies, obviously designed so that the family that likes to get sick together can do it at the movies—or while watching TV." I know this has become something of a cult favorite over the years, and it gets a favorable review from Quentin Tarantino, but as far as Crist is concerned, it's "a must for sadists and woman-haters." Oh well, she never did like Clint.

I've seen portions of The Beguiled, probably on one of its many showings on TBS (or was it TNT? I can never remember), but not enough to make a judgment. One movie I have seen, though, is 1949's The Stratton Story, the Tuesday night late movie (11:30 p.m., CBS), with Jimmy Stewart giving a moving performance as real-life Chicago White Sox pitcher Monty Stratton, who made a comeback after losing a leg in a hunting accident. It's one of those rare sports films that doesn't descend into schmaltz, probably because of Stewart and June Allyson, who plays his wife. Crist calls Stewart's performance "a personal triumph," and adds that "even non-ball-fans will thrill to ninth-inning excitement on the diamond and the heart and sentiment of the story."

Rolling Man, Wednesday's Movie of the Week on ABC (8:30 p.m.), stars Dennis Weaver as a man just out of prison, looking for revenge against "the man who wrecked his life," in what Crist sees as the "usual melodrama." And on Thursday, The Undefeated (9:00 p.m., CBS) offers John Wayne, Rock Hudson, and Rebel soldiers, Mexican bandits, Indians on the warpath, and Andrew V. McLaglen's "usual immortalize-the-worst-of-Western-cliches direction." Compared to Love Story and The Beguiled, though, it "almost seems bearable." 

The week ends on a positive note, though, with Friday's rerun of 1967's To Sir, with Love (9:00 p.m., CBS), starring Sidney Poitier as a dedicated teacher trying to get through to students in the London slums. It's sentimental and cliche, of course, but Poitier is terrific, as is Judy Geeson; Crist says it has "a charm that I, for one, find irrestible." And, of course, there's Lulu's hit rendition of the theme, which should have, but wasn't, nominated for an Oscar. For trivia fans, the movie was written and directed by James Clavell, before he started writing mammothly successful novels about Japan.

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But wait—there's more! Joan Crawford makes a rare television appearance Saturday on The Sixth Sense (10:00 p.m.), ABC's paranormal series starring Gary Collins as a parapsychology researcher. (You're perhaps more familiar with this series having seen chopped-up versions of it inserted into the syndicated release of Night Gallery.) Tonight, Crawford plays "the terrified victim of amateur psychics planning to prove heir powers by—quite literally—scaring her to death. It's directed by John Newland, best-known as the host of the classic One Step Beyond.

Johnny Carson's actually working on Monday, and for good reason: it's his 10th anniversary as host of The Tonight Show, and the stars are out to help him celebrate. (11:30 p.m., NBC; the prime-time celebrations haven't started yet) Among the luminaries: Jack Benny, Joey Bishop, George Burns, Sammy Davis Jr., NBC president Don Durgin, Jerry Lewis, Ronald Reagan, and Rowan and Martin. You can see the whole show here, and it's worth it; I remember staying up late to watch, even though I had to get up for school the next day. Boy, that kind of thing right there makes retirement worth it.

Sticking with late-night, Dick Cavett has another of his single-guest shows, and tonight his only guest is Bob Hope. who can easily fill 90 minutes. (Wednesday, 11:30 p.m., ABC) Here it is, if you're looking for proof. And earlier that night on the same network, Robert Goulet is the only guest on an all-music episode of The Julie Andrews Hour (10:00 p.m.). The pair, performing together for the first time since their Broadway run in Camelot, do medleys from Broadway shows that were playing at the same time, as well as Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. You can see that on YouTube as well!

And there's one more show we ought to note: The Last of the Curlews (Wednesday, 4:30 p.m.) the debut episode of the ABC Afterschool Special (you can, of course, see it here), which would be a mainstay of ABC's daytime schedule for 25 years, with 154 episodes from 1972 to 1997. During that run, the series won 51 Daytime Emmy Awards and four Peabody Awards.

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Earlier, I made a snide comment about the FCC's Prime Time Access Ruling, for which I have absolutely no intention of apologizing. It was intended to provide greater community-oriented programming, but instead wound up giving us shows like Police Surgeon and endless strips of sitcom reruns. (There's also Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, which ironically had the reverse effect of making local schedules look even more homogeneous, rather than being tailored to the needs of individual markets.)

But, as Daniel Yergin points out, there is one redeeming thing to have come out of this misguided order, and that's the appearance of Doctor in the House, an import from London Weekend Television (LWT) that's making a surprise breakthrough on American television. We've become accustomed to seeing British imports over here, especially on PBS, but that hasn't always been the case; While American shows have become increasingly prevalent across the ocean, Yergin notes that it's been mostly one-way traffic.* Richard Price, LWT's international sales agent, says that with the U.S. market comprising well over 50 percent of the entire world market, it's vital to make entry. Doctor in the House, however, was a tough sell. 

*I'm assuming that Yergin is discounting programs isuch as The Avengers, Danger Man, The Prisoner, and The Saint, which appeared on network television (rather than in syndication) and, in some cases, were joint productions with American networks. 

"Programming people in the U.S. had traditionally been worried about the American backwoods," Price says, echoing the concerns we read earlier about the proposed Sherlock Holmes series. "We told them that with an ever-larger number of people moving across the Atlantic, breaking down barriers, there would be more acceptance of English attitudes and accents." Finally, he was able to convince some executives from Group W to watch an episode, and "they fell out of their chairs." 

It seems surprising to hear all this provincial talk about British shows, given how prevalent Anglophiles are today, but it's true that PBS had a lot to do with the growth of British TV here—so much so, in fact, that early critics of PBS claimed the network's dependence on the BBC stunted the growth of programs made in America. That's a topic for another day (and, indeed, there's an article in this issue by Dr. John C. Schwarzwalder, a top executive at Minneapolis-St. Paul public-TV station KTCA and a longtime critic of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, on how public television needs to be reformed), but for now we can see that the British invasion of American television is in full swing, and there hasn't been a letup yet.

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MST3K alert: War of the Monsters, aka Gamera vs. Barugon (Japanese; 1966) Tokyo ravaged by special-effect creations. Kojiro Jongo, Akira Natsuki, Kyoko Enami. (Saturday, midnight, WRCB in Chattanooga) The description really sells this movie short; it's the long-awaited sequel to 1965's Gamera, the Giant Monster, and the 13th movie in the epic saga of the flying, flame-spewing turtle who started out as a monster determined to wreak havoc on Tokyo but morphed into "a protector of humanity especially children, nature, and the Earth from extraterrestrial races and other giant monsters." The lesson, I suppose, is to be good to giant monsters, and they'll be good to you. TV  

September 29, 2023

Around the dial

The great David McCallum died this week, aged 90. Although he had a long and successful run on the show NCIS, for many, he'll always be remembered as Illya Kuryakin on The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the man given the seemingly impossible task of humanizing Robert Vaughn—and succeeding. He was, indeed, "ultra-cool," as Terence says in this fond appreciation of his career at A Shroud of Thoughts

In the "same church, different pew" category, we skip to Cult TV Lounge and the much-maligned The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., starring Stefanie Powers and Noel Harrison. In truth, the series had enough highlights that it wasn't a total waste, but it unfortunately arrived on the scene when its partner series was at its nadir, and the franchise build experiment ended after one season.

From spies to cowboys—at Television's New Frontier: the 1960s, we arrive at Gunsmoke in 1962, a year which sees the Western continue to evolve in a one-hour format, adds Burt Reynolds to the cast, and introduces another character that wouldn't become a regular for another year: Festus Haggen, played by Ken Curtis. 

From the definitive Western, we go to the definitive animated space opera, as Mike continues his look at the animated Star Trek with the episode "One of Our Planets is Missing" at The View from the Junkyard. I always did enjoy how it displays such continuity with the original series, and Mike rightly sees it as a continuation of TOS.

I write often about how prominent movies were during the fundamental days of classic television, and what would those days be without the science fiction and fantasy classics helmed by George Pal? Martin Grams reviews a new biography of Pal, George Pal: Man of Tomorrow, writen by Justin Humphreys; if you're a fan of his work, this book is for you.

At Drunk TV, Paul explores the third season of Dennis the Menace, which includes the sudden death of Joseph Kearns, the actor who played Mr. Wilson. What did it mean for the series to lose a character so important to the story? And how does Gale Gordon fare as Mr. Wilson's brother, in what looks to be a test for his future role as Lucille Ball's exasperated foil? Read all about it.

We've spent today mostly in the 1960s, so let's skip ahead a few years, as David continues his Comfort TV journey through 1970s TV with a stop at Saturday nights, 1972. It wasn't always sports and reruns on Saturday, as we see from a list that includes classics such as All in the Family, Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, Mission: Impossible (all on CBS!), plus Emergency! and The Streets of San Francisco.

Cult TV Blog keeps us in the 1970s, as John kicks off his look at the decade with the corporate-intrigue drama The Organization,  and while you probably haven't heard of it, it was winner of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain Award for Best Television Drama Series in 1973. And by the way, John has a new address for the blog; be sure to make a note of it.

Finally, an interesting piece at the religion site Aleteia on how G.K. Chesterton explains why "prestige television" is boring. Agree or disagree, there are some provocative points to consider here, and some that you've read in comments here in the past. We know that not all classic TV is classic, but today's writers could do a lot worse that to look to the past to see what works. TV  

September 27, 2023

Guest Essay: Growing up with KTVU

Today I'm pleased to present a guest column by Bill Griffiths, a loyal reader of It's About TV. Sparked by our recent Northern California TV Guides, Bill and I struck up an email conversation, and Bill offered to share his memories of television in Northern California, in particular the then-independent giant KTVU. Whether or not you're from the Bay Area, I think you'll enjoy his essay; I'll bet it brings back some fond memories for you as well! 

by Bill Griffiths

Some time ago I came across It’s About TV and started reading with great interest Mitchell’s entries about TV Guide. No matter what the year or the regional edition, I’ve encountered fascinating nuggets about television and media history. It is also a reminder about how great and influential a magazine TV Guide had once been. The name may still be around, but the product is indistinguishable from other entertainment publications. What has inspired me to contribute an article came about from the recent spotlight of Northern California TV Guides. I am a native of the San Francisco Bay Area, and while these late 1960’s issues predate me, I enjoy reading about the highlights and listings of these familiar channels—the ones I used to watch: KRON 4 (NBC), KPIX 5 (CBS), KGO 7 (ABC), KQED 9 (PBS). Unfortunately, we were not able to adequately view most of the UHF stations, although independent KFTY-TV 50 in Santa Rosa came in pretty good. 

Of all these channels, there is one that stood out, and it was easy to see why it was one of the top-rated independent stations in the country: KTVU Channel 2. As a child, it was impossible to watch KTVU for too long without hearing its memorable slogan "There’s Only One Two" accompanied by its familiar logo, which was refereed by many as the Circle Laser 2. While KTVU has changed over the years, going from an independent channel to a charter affiliate of the Fox broadcast network to being owned by the Fox Television Stations Group, the classic "2" logo is still in use as it has been since 1975. Even you have never lived in the Bay Area, you may have heard of or even seen a little of KTVU. The alliance with Fox would bring the station some national recognition with several scenes in the 1993 Robin Williams comedy hit Mrs. Doubtfire utilizing the Channel 2 studios at Jack London Square in Oakland. I remember watching the movie upon its release and when an establishing shot of the building signage came on the screen, there was an audible reaction by most people in the theater! 

Growing up in the 1970’s and 1980’s, those years viewing KTVU were a golden time. For starters, they seemed to have the best selection of cartoons such as the pre-1948 color Merrie Melodies/Looney Tunes, Tom & Jerry and Droopy, Woody Woodpecker, Popeye, Mighty Mouse, Heckle and Jeckle, Bullwinkle and Rocky, Spider-Man, and Scooby-Doo. Coming home from school, afternoons didn’t’ seem complete without some animated entertainment which generally was followed around 4:30 by that great live-action cartoon series Gilligan’s Island. Occasionally Gilligan and the crew would take a rest and another kid-friendly sitcom would turn up for a while such as the color episodes of My Three Sons and even the Barney Miller spin-off Fish.  

Even with these re-airings of repeats, KTVU was willing to try something different in the late afternoon hours. In the 1960s there was Captain Satellite (Bob March). Almost a decade after its finale, came Captain Cosmic (with his wonder robot 2T2!) which was primarily formatted around dubbed versions of Japanese superhero shows. Capitalizing on the popularity of Star Wars and Star Trek (which enjoyed a long run in the early evenings on KTVU starting in 1969) the show was a hit for a time. The cosmic captain was played by Bob Wilkins, who also hosted the phenomenally popular late Saturday night Creature Features. I only have vague memories of Captain Cosmic, but vividly recall one of the featured programs "Ultraman". Then again, I was never much into science fiction and thus did not see too many Star Trek episodes. 

Pat McCormick
In between all this entertainment, KTVU made sure to throw in a little education during the commercial breaks. These gentle life lessons were called "Bits & Pieces" and generally ran about one minute each. The PSA’s ranged from promoting good manners and kindness to acknowledging people’s diverse backgrounds and heritage without being heavy-handed or divisive. The most entertaining featured the puppets Charley and Humphrey who were created, performed and voiced by the legendary KTVU personality Pat McCormick. Not until later did I discover that Charley (a horse) and Humphrey (a bulldog) once hosted their own popular afternoon show featuring many of those classic cartoon shorts I would ultimately enjoy. "Bits & Pieces" would rerun consistently into the early 90’s. McCormick was quite a presence on KTVU, hosting the live Dialing for Dollars movie series middays, being the MC of a short-lived interactive kids game called TV Powww, co-hosting the local portions of the annual Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon and serving as weatherman on The 10 O’Clock News until his retirement in 1995. 

I would move on from the classic cartoons, but would eventually revisit them and develop a deeper appreciation for their humor which was more mature than my boy brain could ever realize.  From cartoons, my viewings of choice on Channel 2 shifted to comedies. Besides Gilligan, I laughed at the antics of I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show, Bewitched, The Odd Couple and other classics. In the 1980’s I often would watch M*A*S*H reruns, and that series proved very important to KTVU. Soon after the beginning of off-network repeats in 1979 the show became one of the biggest hits in the station’s history, so much so that it was being aired twice each evening. Significantly, the costs of each episode were made back in the commercial immediately following the opening credits. After that it was pure profit. That money went towards construction of a new state-of-the-art studio nearby from the old facilities. The building became known to staffers as "the house that M*A*S*H built". Equally enjoyable for me laugh-wise were other grown-up sitcoms such as Three’s Company, WKRP in Cincinnati, and two programs I first saw on KTVU before regularly watching them in first-run: Cheers and NewhartCheers followed a similar trajectory as M*A*S*H in that soon after its addition to the schedule it was being seen twice a night.  

Popular rerun shows had always been the foundation of KTVU’s success in spite of the fact that the idea behind "There’s Only One Two" was to emphasize their strong position of independence. When looking at those 1960’s TV Guide listings, it surprised me that Channel 2 picked up some of CBS’s daytime schedule that was not cleared by KPIX. Thus, future classics such as The Jack Benny Program, The Andy Griffith Show and The Beverly Hillbillies had a weekday presence on Channel 2 while they were still producing new episodes. This even extended to game shows such as The [New] Price is Right when it premiered in 1972. Management must have decided that despite the prestige of network programming, by 1975 no CBS daytime shows were being seen on KTVU. If it wasn’t cleared by KPIX, one would have to look for them on either Channels 20 or 44, if they were picked up at all. Channel 20 (as KTZO and later KOFY) would take some CBS and NBC shows in the 1980’s (including daytime Price is Right) but that’s another story. 

    Betty Ann Bruno and Dennis Richmond, 1980s
KTVU would proudly assert its status as a popular independent station through first-run syndicated programs, movie series (The 8 O’Clock Movie, Weekend Premiere, Sunday Super Cinema, KTVU Presents, Dialing for Dollars, The Movie of the Week, Chiller Diller and Creature Features), acquired documentaries, talk shows, British imports (Benny Hill was a long time late night staple), the aforementioned off-network reruns, and a nightly 10 p.m. news program. The 10 O’Clock News was the quintessential example of an honest straight-forward award-winning newscast with anchors and reporters staying on for years and even decades-long tenures. To name more than a few: Dennis Richmond, Elaine Corral, Barbara Simpson, Vern Hawkins, John Fowler, Rob Roth, Betty Ann Bruno, Faith Fancher, Rita Williams, Lloyd LaCuesta, George Watson, Leslie Griffith, Bob Shaw, Tom Vacar, Brian Banmiller on business, sports with Gary Park, Mark Ibanez and Joe Fonzi, weather with Pat McCormick and Bill Martin, and feature reporter Bob MacKenzie who also reviewed shows for TV Guide. Some of his reviews you may have seen on this blog. 

It was a surprise when KTVU became a charter affiliate of the Fox Network in 1986. While Channel 2 could have stayed independent, research and ratings were showing the growing influence of cable/satellite which would ultimately make it more challenging to acquire first-rate movies and series-- thus the decision to join with an upstart network. Because Fox began with a limited schedule, KTVU would continue to look much like an independent station into the early 1990’s. Gradually during the decade Channel 2 would increasingly identify on-air as "Fox 2", which It does to this day. 

I do miss those simpler times coming home from school and turning the set onto Channel 2 to be entertained for a while. Thanks to YouTube, I can experience some of those bits and pieces of KTVU video memories. For example, I recently discovered a half-hour 50th anniversary special from 2008 comprised of various clips and interviews covering the station’s history and legacy. Going further back is an almost complete 1968 episode of Captain Satellite with promos for upcoming telecasts of roller derby, Giants vs. Dodgers baseball and Romper Room. Others have posted shorter moments such as promos, station ID’s, Charley and Humphrey's PSA's, Bob Wilkins’ sardonic host segments, and the introductions to movie broadcasts with graphics and music that could rival those of the networks. They’re worth checking out. Perhaps they may lead you to look for local television clips from where you grew up. For me, seeing those KTVU Channel 2 images come alive once more takes me back to a time of the not-too-distant past where "There’s Only One Two". 

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Many thanks, Bill! I'm grateful for you taking the time to share your thoughtful essay. The warmth of those memories shows through in what you've written, and I think that's precisely what so many people feel about television of the past, and what we risk losing in these homogenized times when the local imprint of television seems to be getting smaller and smaller. This will certainly enhance the experience for me whenever I write about a TV Guide from the Bay Area!

If you'd like to share your memories of growing up with television, or if you have a TV Guide you'd like to relive, I'd be only too happy to share them with everyone else. You know how to reach me! TV  

September 25, 2023

What's on TV? Sunday, September 27. 1970

Good memories of Sundays back in the day: remember Bullwinkle and The Perils of Penelope Pitstop? Or Notre Dame football replays with Lindsey Nelson and Paul Hornung, and Bill Fleming narrating highlights of other games? Or the Boston Patriots? As I said, good memories. A couple of other things I noticed: despite having a dozen stations in this Central Virginia edition, there are no independent stations; all of them are network affiliates. Not unprecedented, just something I noticed. Also, despite Raleigh being the capital of North Carolina, they have only two stations: WRAL, then with ABC, now with NBC; and WTVD, in Durham, a dual CBS-NBC affiliate then, but now with ABC. That area now has 15 stations; times do change, don't they?

September 23, 2023

This week in TV Guide: September 26, 1970

Occasionally I'll run across people talking about how, back in the "good old days" (i.e. unlike today), the news on TV was just that—news, without any bias, given by real newscasters without a partisan angle. Now, there's something to this; I think the newscasters of the past—Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley, Smith, Reynolds, Reasoner—were men of gravitas who presented the news with a seriousness and, dare I say, dignity, that dwarfs what we see on television today. I have great respect for them; sometimes I'll go on YouTube and watch an old newscast from the 1960s or '70s just to see how things used to be.

But when it comes to bias, let's be honest: claims of bias in news reporting go way back, even beyond those good old days to the very beginning of television. And as we enter the decade of the Seventies, the clamor and discontent with TV newsmen is in full swing, articulated by Vice President Spiro Agnew's attacks on the "nattering nabobs of negativism," the influential journalists who "espouse a liberal or anti-Establishment breed of politics and display that bias in their reporting." Seldom, he complains, are the conservative viewpoints represented or even honestly explained.

And so we come to this week's lead story by Max Gunther looking at media coverage of one particular aspect of the race riots in Asbury Park, New Jersey on July 7-8, 1970. The fulcrum around which this story centers is reporter Dell Wade, covering the riots for WABC in New York. Appearing with his head bandaged and face bruised, Wade went on to tell of police firing shots into black crowds, using clubs to keep people away, and in one case, "pushing a man through a plate glass window." When he tried to report on this violence, he said, he was beaten by police and arrested. Their purpose, Wade believes, was to prevent him from "trying to tell it like it was."

"Maybe the story was true," Gunther writes. "On the other hand, maybe it wasn't. A doubt exists, and its existence illustrates some prickly and so far intractable problems facint the TV news business in this nervous age." 

In the wake of Wade's reporting, residents of Asbury Park flooded newspapers and television stations with complaints about coverage of the riot, protesting "erroneous information, slanted editing, leading questions, inflammatory comments." Police officials, led by chief Thomas S. Smith (himself a black officer) agreed with the comments. "It seems to me the news media should try to be constructive in a situation like this," he tells Gunther. "Help cool things off, not get everyobody heated up stil worse." While he wouldn't comment further on the situation, he gave Gunther carte blanche to talk with his officers on the spot, without time for them to prepare or coordinate any comments. And while their stories—at first—parallel Wade's account, the two versions soon diverge "so sharply that it's hard to believe you're hearing about the same episode." 

In contrast to Wade's accusations of police brutality, the officers single out Wade as the sole reporter on the scene who refused to stay behind the line set up for media reporters; says Special Officer Patrick Barrett, "[T]here was this guy with his tape recorder—no helmet, no protection. State police lieutenant tells me, 'Get that guy out of here while he's still alive!'" Barrett moved Wade back to where the other reporters were stationed, "But a while later I see him out there again!" This version is backed up by one newspaperman who says that "Wade was distinctly out of line. He didn't need to go prancing iup there 10 feet from the kids. I could see everything perfectly from where I was, behind the police line." 

Wade tells Gunther the police "started firing. I didn't actually see anybody hit, but I did see that the police were shooting level—I mean, not into the air. Shooting level. And I saw one cop push a man through a plate-glass window with a baton at his throat." According to Patrolman Charles Rockhill, however, "There was a kind of hush, you know? Both sides waiting to see what was going to happen. And then I heard this man Wade shouting into his tape recorder, 'They're shooting people! They just pushed a man through a plate-glass window1' Nothing of the kind was happening." Adds Barrett, "The crowd was falling back. We didn't need to use violence." And Asbury Park Evening Press reporter Raymond Tuers notes, "I've never known Pat Barrett to lie to me." There were protesters treated for gunshot wounds following the riot. But a doctor at Jersey Shore Medical Center says "most of the wounds were small—like birdshot, not police bullets." And many in the group were themselves carrying guns. There are further discrepencies throughout the stories, including Wade's treatment at the police station.

Wade, a reporter with excellent credentials, insists, "I'm a trained observer. I don't report what I don't see." Special Officer Barret says, "My post takes in the black district. I like the people there and they like me. Why would I be shooting them? Why would I cover up if I saw anybody else pushing them around?"

    Scenes from Asbury Park
What to make of it all? Writes Gunther, "Only three conclusions are possible, and each is unpleasant in its own peculiar way." One, the police are lying, or "recalling the events inaccurately." Two, Wade is lying, or "gripped by hysteria, simply didn't see what he imagined he saw." Or three, both Wade and the police are telling the story inaccurately. "This conclusion may be twice as bad as either of the others." Whatever conclusion you come to, Gunther concludes, "it can't conceivably make you content."

Covering breaking news stories such as a riot is never an easy thing. Having witnessed the reporting first-hand during the 2020 riots in my former home (those, like the one in Asbury Park, were race-based), I heard a great deal of criticism that news reporters were shading the news, presenting an inaccurate version of events (particularly when it came to the killing of George Floyd), ignoring the violence that continued in the aftermath of events. I also read the reports of the police brutalizing citizens, using excessive violence, and targeting people based on their race. Leaving aside the specific events in the Floyd case, I've read plausible stories supporting critics of the police, and other stories supporting critics of the media. 

One of the problems we have today, in a society that has lost trust in virtually every institution, is that when that trust is gone, it isn't easy to tell who's telling the truth. There is, in fact, a tendency to assume what Gunther called option three, that everyone is lying about some aspect of the story. But, as we see here, this isn't something new, something that's just started in the last few years. It may be more pronounced today, but it has, in fact, been around forever.

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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. 

One sure sign of fall, in addition to the turning of the leaves, is the return of Cleveland Amory to the pages of TV Guide, What new, exciting program will he have in his sights this week? One of the breakout shows of the new season? A returning series with a retooled format? 

Or maybe a once-a-month newsmagazine?

If you're feeling a bit let-down, don't be. We all know our Cleve is a sucker for thoughtful, intelligent programming, and NBC's First Tuesday certainly fits the bill. Hosted by veteran newsman Sander Vanocur, First Tuesday is a two-hour, once-a-month examination of news features big and small—not just the stories we know about, but the stories we ought to know more about. There was, for instance, a story about baton twirling, and while that might seem trite on the surface, it morphed into what Amory calls "a truly powerful expose of an awful mother-daughter push." He also praises Tom Pettit's report on chemical and biological warfare, "The Secrets of Secrecy," done without the cooperation of the Department of Defense, which was "a sterling example of TV reporting at its all-too-rare in[depth and investigative best"—think of what a reporter like Pettit might have been able to come up with in Wuhan, if news outlets still adhered to reporting instead of partisan shilling. A later feature on an increasing Soviet presence in the Middle East included a memorable interview with Israeli prime minister Golda Meir, who was asked if U.S. policy in the Middle East had encouraged a deeper Russian involvement. "Let me put it more kindly," she replied. "It hasn't discouraged them."

Remember that First Tuesday aired in an era when 60 Minutes had yet to become an institution; in fact, Mike Wallace and Harry Reasoner weren't even on every week back then, only every other Tuesday, meaning that once a month First Tuesday and 60 Minutes opposed each other for an hour. Just think: NBC's quixotic effort to mount a successful clone of 60 Minutes went through no less than fifteen failed attempts prior to landing on Dateline NBC. And here they'd had it all along, if only they'd stuck to it. 

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ABC has a lot of ad space in this week's issue, touting its new fall lineup. When I see this kind of advertising, I usually think one of two things: either these programs are really good, or they need all the help they can get. Which is it this time? I'll let you be the judge.

The lineup on Saturday is a bit misleading, insofar as ABC is sticking with it's tried-and-true favorites: Let's Make a Deal at 7:30 p.m. and The Dating Game at 8:00 p.m., followed by The Lawrence Welk Show at 8:30 p.m. Its only new Saturday offering, The Most Deadly Game, doesn't premiere until October, possibly because of the need to recast Inger Stevens' role after she committed suicide following the pilot; the role goes to Yvette Mimieux. Its timeslot tonight is filled by a comedy-variety special, "Howdy," hosted by Ferlin Husky, with guest stars Glenn Ford, Pat Buttram, Nanette Fabray, and Terry-Thomas. (9:30 p.m.)

night starts off with The Young Rebels (7:00 p.m.), a Revolutionary War drama that tries—and fails—to show that today's kids are really no different from their predecessors, willing to fight for what they believe in. As we'll see tomorrow night, it's not the only show on the network to emphasize the word Young. How did it do? Well, it's up against Lassie and The Wonderful World of Disney, if that gives you any ideas. (15 episodes) That's paired with the only other returning shows to get the ad treatment: The FBI (8:00 p.m.), starting its sixth season, and The ABC Sunday Night Movie (9:00 p.m.), this week presenting Hurry Sundown, starring Michael Caine, Jane Fonda, and Diahann Carroll. Despite the big-name cast, Judith Crist pans it as "unadulterated tastelessness," and for good measure adds that it has "idiot plotting and [a] patronizing approach to blacks." 

Monday it's a double-dose of new programming, beginning at 7:30 p.m. with The Young Lawyers, with Lee J. Cobb mentoring a group of, well, young lawyers—no, make that idealistic young lawyers—including Zalman King, who tonight defends a young man currently serving time for murder-two as the result of a plea bargain; he insists he's innocent. (24 episodes) That's followed by The Silent Force, starring Ed Nelson as the leader of a undercover government team fighting against the mob. He's aided by Percy Rodriguez and Lynda Day; Day will receive a promotion next season, as she moves over to Mission: Impossible. (15 episodes)

On Tuesday, we get a full-page layout for the Movie of the Week, Night Slaves (8:30 p.m.), starring James Franciscus, Leslie Nielsen, and Lee Grant. It's a science-fiction thriller with Franciscus as a man who, one night, witnesses various townsfolk, including his wife, boarding trucks to leave town; the next morning, they're back, with no memory of it ever happening. Sounds suspicious, but then Franciscus is recovering after an auto accident that left him with a metal plate in his head—can we believe what he thinks he saw? 

starts off with a new show that's not really new; it's Danny Thomas in the revival of Make Room for Daddy, only now he's Granddaddy. (8:00 p.m.) Marjorie Lord and Rusty Hamer are back, and Angela Cartwright makes an appearance in the first episode. The only thing that doesn't come back are the viewers, even with big-name guest stars, such as tonight's guest, Sammy Davis Jr.* (24 episodes) Later, Burt Reynolds stars in the crime drama Dan August (10:00 p.m.), a rare misfire from Quinn Martin. Later, Reynolds would memorably say, "I swore I'd never play a cop on TV because you can't make jokes or have a broad. You wind up loving your car a lot. I was halfway out the door when Quinn said the magic words–$15,000 a week." (24 episodes)

*Sammy also guest-stars as himself on Monday's Here's Lucy, on opposite The Silent Force.

Thursday gives us another example of a returning star in a new vehicle: Vince Edwards as the "community psychiatrist" Matt Lincoln* (7:30 p.m.), who tonight tries to prevent killer Martin Sheen from killing again. Sheen's character is named Charlie—after his son, perhaps? I'd hate to think he'd name his son after this kind of character. (16 episodes) At 9:00 p.m., it's back-to-back Neil Simon adaptations, beginning with Barefoot in the Park, starring Scoey Mitchell and Tracy Reed playing the roles made famous by Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. (12 episodes) That's followed by another of Simon's hits, The Odd Couple, with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall taking over for Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. As opposed to some of ABC's other offerings, this one pays dividends for both the network and audiences. (114 episodes)

*As Matt Lincoln was championing a new and relevant kind of psychiatry, perhaps it should have been named The Jung Rebels.

Come Friday, and it's time for ABC to pair the returning Brady Bunch with The Partridge Family (8:30 p.m.), starring Shirley Jones, David Cassidy, Susan Dey, Suzanne Crough, Jeremy Gelbwaks, and Danny Bonaduce—oh, and Dave Madden, who keeps things from getting too sugary. Tonight Harry Morgan plays the heavy, which must have been a nice change from being Jack Webb's sidekick on Dragnet. (96 episodes, eight albums)

There's one other new series I forgot to mention earlier, one that's had a fair amount of success. It's called Monday Night Football, and this week it's the second-ever MNF game, featuring the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and the Baltimore Colts. (9:00 p.m.) The Chiefs win the game, 44-24; the Colts, however, wind up winning the Super Bowl. (719 episodes—er, games—and counting)

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I don't want you to have the wrong impression here; there are some non-ABC programs worth mentioning this week. 

Personally, I think ABC could have left The Hollywood Palace on Saturday night; it couldn't have underperformed any more than The Most Deadly Game. It also gives me one more easy mark each week, when I can compare it to Ed Sullivan. But while Palace is no more, Ed is still hanging in there for one more season, and on Sunday (8:00 p.m., CBS) he presents highlights from the Holiday on Ice Revue, a competitor to ice shows like the Ice Capades and Ice Follies. As a bonus, he also has performances from Bobby Vinton, Karen Syman, and the Rare Earth rock group. I'm not sure, but I think I'd probably go with Palace no matter what the lineup might have been.

OK, one more ABC mention: on Monday night following the football game, Dick Cavett welcomes author Norman Mailer as his only guest for the entire 90 minutes (12:15 a.m., time approximate). The controversial Mailer is scheduled to discuss his reasons for quitting politics (he ran for mayor of New York City in 1969); his new book Of a Fire on the Moon, about the Apollo 11 mission; and his recent movie Maidstone, about a film director who runs for president.

The Men from Shiloh, which we all knew and loved as The Virginian before it changed its name for its final season, features a rare television appearance by Janet Leigh as the Virginian's old flame, who's being threatened by three mysterious men. (Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., NBC) 

Kraft Music Hall
presents another in its occasional series of Friars Club roasts on Wednesday (9:00 p.m., NBC), with Don Rickles in the role of the victim. Those on the dais make up an odd collection: Johnny Carson, Milton Berle, and Henny Youngman, but also George C. Scott, Dick Cavett, and Chet Huntley (!). If you've not seen the Friars Club roasts before, they're the model for the popular Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts, although the Friars, in their unedited formats, could get a bit more, well, adult

Joseph Campanella turns in a "powerful" performance as a heroin addict on Ironside (Thursday, 8:30 p.m., NBC), with Ironside trying to nurse his old friend through withrdawal when the men are isolated in a mountain cabin by a heavy snowfall. Also on Thursday, it's the network premiere of the movie Butterfield 8 (9:00 p.m., CBS), which won Elizabeth Taylor her 1960 Best Actress Oscar. It's a movie with "a certain nostalgia for those interested n our changing mores" according to Judith Crist, who added that when it was made it was considered a "lingerie meller." 

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This week's cover story is a profile of Michael Constantine, the beleagered principal Seymour Kaufman on ABC's Room 222, and a man with no illusions about his fame within the Greek community, a community which includes such luminaries as Telly Savalas, Christopher George, George Maharis, and Melina Mercouri. "Greek people couldn't care less what kind of parts I play," Constantine says. "All they care about is that they can look at our show and bask in the refledtion of a good Greek face on the screen."

He's proud of his Greek upbringing, having grown up in a home where everyone spoke Greek and he didn't speak a word of English until he was seven. (He can still read and write in the language.) Although he loved being Greek, he hated being patronized for being different. He still hates it, but he doesn't let it define him; "Nobody makes me feel inferior without my permission," he recalls hearing and old black woman say. "And that's how I feel."

Constantine honed his acting chops in New York, working in off-Broadway shows and the occasional TV drama, but found Hollywood more profitable. "I"d fly out to do an Untouchables or a Fugitive and they'd pay me twice as much as I got in New York doing Defenders or Naked City. 'What am I doing in New York?' I finally asked myself. 'What am I proving, how artsy-craftsy I am?' The next time I went to Hollywood I stayed, and nothing wil get me back." There are other benefits to working on the West Coast as well; "An actor in New York is treated like contemptible dirt—humiliated by receptionists, made to feel worthless by producers, made to feel desperately grateful for crumbs. Contrary to legend, in Hollywood they treat actors like human beings." 

So Michael Constantine is living the good life, with his wife and two children. When he's not on Room 222, he's at Theater East, an L.A. workshop for actors. He studies photography, reads, and enjoys the sun. His colleagues love him; "The show spins around him," says producer Gene Reynolds, "and he holds it all together." Co-stars Lloyd Haynes and Denise Nicholas are great admirers. And every once in a while, he gets to head back to his home town of Reading, Pennsylvania, where he found himself invited to a Greek wedding. "I sang, I danced, I had a ball," he says. "It was sublimely, soul-nourishingly Greek."

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MST3K alert: San Francisco International 
(Made-for-TV, 1970) This TV-movie, filmed on location, previews one part of the new "Four in One" series. Like the movies "Airport" and "The V.I.P.s," this behind-the scenes airport drama is jam-packed with plot angles: a plan to rob $3,000,000; a kidnapping; a marriage near collapse. Pernell Roberts, Clu Gulager, Tab Hunter. (Tuesday, 9:00 p.m., NBC) It isn't often that we see a riffed movie during its network run, but this effort deserves it. And while Pernell Roberts is the putative star of this pilot, he'll be replaced by Lloyd Bridges when the series begins. Including tonight's movie, there are seven episodes in total, beginning at the end of October. According to Wikipedia, the MST3K airing "rescued" the movie from obscurity. A double-edged sword, if you ask me. TV  

September 22, 2023

Around the dial

Let's start this week at bare-bones e-zine, where Jack welcomes a new writer to the Hitchcock Project. It's Dick Carr, author of the first season episode "The Big Switch," a story of gunfighters and possibly divine intervention, with a stirling cast including Gene Barry, Darren McGavin, and Ellen Corby.

At Classic Film & TV Cafe, Rick applies his "Seven Things to Know" talent to Zorro, the late-1950s Walt Disney-produced series for ABC, starring Guy Williams as the famed masked crimefighter. Did you know that Annette was a big fan of Zorro and appeared on four episodes?

The Secret Sanctum of Captain Video goes the graphic route, with this Kung Fu story "The Rising Storm." Excellent artwork in this adaptation, which reminds me that I really should go back and watch this series again at some point.

Roger takes on the 1995 Columbo episode "Strange Bedfellows" over at The View from the Junkyard. Reading the description, the story didn't sound familiar, and I've got the Columbo boxed set. It made sense when I saw the 1995 date; we skipped most of the movies, which failed to live up to the standards of the original series. As for this episode? Sounds like we made the right choice.

A couple of anniversary recognitions from Terence at A Shroud of Thoughts. First, it's the 60th anniversary of The Fugitive, one of the great TV shows of all time. Next, it's 60 years for The Patty Duke Show, the series that made "identical cousins" a thing, even though the odds on that happening are something like a billion to one. (Like so much else, you can actually look it up online!)

At The Hits Just Keep On Comin', JB posts some random thoughts, including a review of what sounds like an interesting book, TV Snapshots: An Archive of Everyday Life, by Lynn Spigel. (Embedded is a link to another interesting piece, this one by Drew Magary, on the meaning a television set can have.)

David raises an interesting question at Comfort TV: what does it mean when we say a television character has "integrity"? Some interesting examples follow; I always enjoy it when someone measures television charactes as if they were actual people, and David does a very good job of it. Good comments here as well.

At Cult TV Blog, John wraps up (for now) his excellent series on The X-Files and the American Dream, and comes to some conclusions. You'll want to make sure to catch up on the latest entries from the past week, Thought-provoking as always.  TV