October 28, 2023

This week in TV Guide: October 29, 1966




We've read so many articles in the pages of TV Guide about the future of pay-TV, it's hard to keep track of them. It always seems to be just over the horizon, waiting for whatever it is that is sure to unlock its potential. And now, in this week's As We See It, we learn that pay television is dead.

The editors take no pleasure in writing this, for it's clear that commercial, over-the-air television could use some competition to force it to provide a greater variety of programming, and pay-TV has always promised big movies, sporting events, and cultural fare. But it's been tried, over the years, in city after city, and in each and every case it has failed. It became evident, say the editors, that pay-TV viewers weren't interested in "but movies and the most important sporting events" 

After all, educational television now answers the call for lectures, symphonies, and cultural programming. Furthermore, "[n]o one needs a pay-television system for sports any more. There may be a couple of big events a year that aren’t on free television." And as for movies, "ABC and CBS have just contracted for another $92.3 million worth of them. That just about clears the vaults of movies that haven’t been offered to free television." The conclusion: "There may have been a reason for pay television once, but not now. It’s all over."

We have to make some allowances here for the idea that pay-TV often was used to describe what would later be referred to as pay-per-view. And if you want to limit it to that, then the editors were mostly right; more on that in a minute. If, however, you take the term "pay-TV" literally—as in "TV you pay to watch"—then the editors were way off the mark. Pay-TV, not only in the form of HBO but in cable (and later streaming) packages, has come to define television—so much so that free television came to be seen as an anachronism. "Prestige television" was almost exclusively seen on services we paid to watch, cable and streaming shows dominated the Emmys, and every time we turned around, another studio was starting up its own streaming service. And as for public television answering the call for cultural and educational programming—that was a laugh.

Now, however, things have changed again, leaving television in a state of what could charitably be called "flux." Cable-TV is on the verge (so we're told) of total collapse, while streaming hasn't taken off as predicted. And while many people still watch their local stations via antennas, "FAST" (Free Ad-Supported Television) services such as Pluto, Roku, Tubi, Xumo, and the like are what many people mean when they talk about free television.  

Which brings us back to that pay-per-view discussion I started a couple of paragraphs ago. Contrary to what the editors thought, PPV did survive, but it was—and continues to be—driven mostly by sports. Many media analysts say that many of those who continue to subscribe to cable TV do so in order to watch sports. Streamers, from Amazon to Apple to WB-Discovery, look to sports to add the value they need to continue. Virtually all of the top 100 programs on television the past season were sports, mostly football. Sports is the only type of programming that is consumed live anymore; virtually everything else is on-demand, a term that would have utterly thrown the editors back in 1966. I'm watching a football game right now as I write this.

"No one needs a pay-television system for sports any more," the editors wrote. And yet today the only league that continues to broadcast the majority of its games on free television is the NFL. The college football playoffs are on cable. The World Series may be on Fox, but the majority of playoff games are not; neither are those in hockey and basketball, and college basketball's Final Four is on cable every other year. It's almost easier to list the major sporting events that aren't on pay-TV. (Well, that might be an exaggeration, but only slightly.)

The whole thing is kind of hard to summarize. The editors were way off-the-mark in predicting that pay-TV was dead. They were, kind-of, correct in thinking that pay-per-view wasn't the answer. And they were absolutely right in their assessment that sports would drive pay-TV, although they were wrong in thinking that major sporting events wouldn't migrate to pay-TV. It's easy to see that, almost 60 years later. Nowadays, you'd be a fool to predict what the television landscape will look like 60 days from now.   

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During the 60s, the Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace were the premiere variety shows on television. Whenever they appear in TV Guide together, we'll match them up and see who has the best lineup.

Sullivan: Ed's guests are George Jessel; rock 'n' rollers James Brown and Nancy Sinatra; "singing" grandmother Elva Miller; comedians Arthur Hynes and Rich Little; and the tumbling Rudas Dancers.

Palace: Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass host this week, with comedian Shelley Berman; French vocalist Gilbert Becaud; the rock ‘n’ rolling Supremes; Ullett and Hendra, comedy team; the Sorreletis, musical-comedy quartet; and the Santos, low-wire act.

I'm not positive, but this could be the only time we ever see James Brown and Nancy Sinatra mentioned in the same sentence as performers in the same genre. I just never thought of them that way; no imagination, I guess. Anyway, when you have hosts like Herb Alpert and the TJB, you can bet they're going to be the featured act of the night, and such is the case, as they perform their hits, including "The Lonely Bull," "Zorba the Greek," "Mame," "Spanish Flea," "Whipped Cream," "A Taste of Honey," and "The Mexican Shuffle Work Song." No one else on either show can match that, and when you throw in the Supremes, singing "Somewhere" and "Keep Me Hanging On," that pretty much settles things. This week, Palace hits the high notes.

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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. 

The Time Tunnel, ABC's new sci-fi adventure series, aims to take us back to the Good Old Days, says Cleveland Amory. "You remember those carefree happy times—Dunkirk, Appomattox, Valley Forge . . ." And Cleve really liked—well, the first scene of the very first episode was terrific. We got to see a U.S. senator whisked from the desert to a huge underground lab where 12,000 people, including Whit Bissell, John Zaremba, and Lee Meriwether are spending billions to send man into time. And to prove how important this secret project is, scientist Tony Newman (James Darren) dashes into the time tunnel before it's even known how to bring him back!

In that first episode, Tony finds himself on the deck of the Titanic, trying futilely to warn Captain Smith of the ship's impending disaster. It doesn't work, of course; these things never work in time travel stories. The scientists back at the other end of the tunnel send Tony's partner Doug Phillips (Robert Colbert) back after him, but even with a copy of the newspaper showing what happened, they're powerless to prevent it. They are able to escape before going down with the ship, though, and soon they find themselves in Honolulu, at the Japanese consulate, on December 6, 1941. You can see where this is going, can't you? Of course, they aren't able to change this any more than they were the Titanic. Obviously, they haven't read the documentation that states time travelers can't change history.

It's no wonder that Cleve finds The Time Tunnel "one of the most annoying shows we've seen." The gimmickry and photography are inventive, but the acting is "stilted and unbelievable, the dialog is soap-operaish." Not to mention how ridiculous it is to have bombs coming up the tunnel, when they can't do the same for Tony and Doug. By the time they encounter Halley's Comet, one of the scientists says, "I think the time has come to rethink this whole project." Concludes Amory, "We couldn’t have agreed more."

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I've been a fan of Van Williams ever since I saw him in Bourbon Street Beat a few years ago. His character in BSB, Ken Madison, then transferred to Surfside 6, where he hung out for a couple of seasons, and while the show's quality let him down, I thought Williams himself was pretty good. From there he moved on to the show that probably brought him the most fame, as well as an appearance on this week's cover, The Green Hornet. And for Van Williams, a man who acts not because he needs the money—he's co-owner of a bank (along with his business manager and James Garner!), a ranch, a shopping center, and a downtown building in Fort Worth, Texas—but because he enjoys it, playing the Hornet suits him just fine. 

Raddatz makes the point, and I think we can see it as well, that Williams—VanZandt Jarvis Williams, to be exact, from a family whose Texas roots go back to "when Fort Worth was really a fort"—is a change from the usual celebrity profile we read in these pages. He has "none of the tortured self-seeking or the need for love or escape from a deprived childhood which traditionally mark so many of his contemporaries." He has no pretentions about being a thespian; he's objected to two Hornet scripts because they had too much dialogue and not enough action. "The Green Hornet is a pretty dead-pan guy," he tells Leslie Raddatz. "Lots of action—that's what makes a show." In fact, he'd never planned to be an actor; he was intending to be a rancher in his home of Fort Worth, but fate intervened during a vacation in Hawaii, when he met the late Mike Todd, who gave him the acting bug. Warner Bros. picked him up after a role in G.E. Theater, and that's where BSB came in. 

On the set he's charming and likable; the only time his charm ran out was on the Surfside 6 set when he lost his patience with an actress (I'm betting it was Margarita Sierra) who was perennially late on the set. "After some weeks, an observer recalls, 'Van just blew up. One day when she came in late, he gave her a kick in the derriére—not a hard kick but an impressive one— and said, "If I can be here on time, you can, too."" He's an admitted tightwad who keeps a close eye on spending and only bought a new car after signing for Hornet. And as far as his acting career, "I’d like to be a success, but I’d never count on it —it’s too harum-scarum." But, Raddatz concludes, "he is also, at 32, still kid enough to enjoy running around in that silly mask." In other words, just a good guy.

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This week's Mission: Impossible (Saturday, 9:00 p.m., CBS) features a story that bothered me the first time I saw it, and has stayed with me since: "A Free World country may become a dictatorship unless IMF can insure an honest election and get the frightened populace to the polls." IMF's way of doing the former is to tamper with the voting machines themselves, to override the tampering that's already been done by the ruling junta. In other words, a quasi-official government agency is directly involving itself in the internal affairs of an independent nation in order to guarantee the election of a government that will be friendly to the United States. I know it's only a TV show (and a favorite of mine), and this episode is just as entertaining as any of them, but still—there's a message here that doesn't pass the smell test, and today I imagine it looks much worse than it did back then.

Sunday has always been a prime night for variety shows, and I'm not just talking about Ed Sullivan; the Tiffany Network will team Ed with The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour in the years to come, and this year Ed is followed by The Garry Moore Show (9:00 p.m., CBS); Garry's regulars in this second incarnation of his prime-time show are Durward Kirby, Jackie Vernon, and John Byner, and his guests tonight are Dick Van Dyke, Connie Francis, and Jim Kweskin and his jug band. After that, switch over to NBC for The Andy Williams Show (10:00 p.m.), with a cast that would probably top both Sullivan and The Palace this week: Bing Crosby, Kate Smith, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and the Young Americans. If you're looking for a different type of variety, look no further than The Play of the Week (8:00 p.m., NET) and part one of 1960's two-part "The Iceman Cometh," with Jason Robards, Myron McCormick, and Robert Redford, directed by Sidney Lumet.

Carol Burnett stars in part one of a two-part Lucy Show on Monday (8:30 p.m., CBS). Carol plays a librarian who answers Lucy's ad for a quiet roommate. I wonder what David Stewart, of Agincourt, Ontario, thinks of this? In this week's Letters, he writes of the recent special Carol & Company that it "was so unbelievably bad I was so fascinated I couldn't turn it off," and wonders, "Was this show deliberately unprofessional and humorless as a stunt to discover what the public could be made to endure?" I guess he won't be watching it, then. Instead, check out one of the early tests of Monday Night Football, as the Chicago Bears take on the St. Louis Cardinals. (9:30 p.m., CBS, taped from a live telecast earlier in the evening) The game's being played in St. Louis, of course, as Wrigley Field, the Bears' home stadium, still lacks lights.

Tuesday's syndicated episode of The Outer Limits (9:00 p.m., KTVU) is a personal favorite of mine: "O.B.I.T.," a disturbing story about a secret government project involving a machine that "allows the observation of anyone, anywhere, at any time," and the courageous U.S. senator (Peter Breck) determined to discover the truth about the machine's existence. It's both dark and prophetic, the kind of story that Outer Limits does so well.

On Wednesday, Don Adams hosts the 30th annual Shipstads and Johnson Ice Follies, from San Francisco. (9:00 p.m., NBC) We've seen these shows in the pages of TV Guide many times over the years, and they're always crowd pleasers. Adams was obviously chosen in order to promote Get Smart; he's kind of an unusual choice, I think, since past hosts, such as Ed Ames, Arthur Godfrey, and Jimmy Dean were also singers who could provide a tune or two. I'd expect jokes from Adams, who'll probably be comic relief for the skaters, such as Follies favorite Richard Dwyer (who was still skating last year at age 87!), former world champion Don Jackson (the first man to perform a triple Lutz in international competition, seen here on Wide World of Sports), and West German champion Ina Bauer (would you believe she actually has a figure skating move named after her?).

The set-up on this shot is a faithful reproduction    
 of Chet and David's convention layout. As for    
the mayhem — perhaps a preview of Chicago '68?   
On Thursday's highlight is "Dizzoner the Penguin," part two of the Batman story that began yesterday, a very funny satire on politics that lines up well with next week's elections. (7:30 p.m., ABC) Aside from the obvious jab at politics itself—Batman, campaigning against The Penguin for mayor of Gotham City, confidently says that "I’m convinced the American electorate is too mature to be taken in by cheap vaudeville trickery. After all, if our national leaders were elected on the basis of tricky slogans, brass bands, and pretty girls, our country would be in a terrible mess, wouldn’t it?"—the episode's highlights include the clever wordplay used for the names of the episode's characters: Gotham City mayor Lindseed (New York mayor John Lindsay), third-place candidate Harry Goldwinner (Barry Goldwater), and the pollsters Gallus, Rooper, and Trendek (Gallup, Roper, and Trendex); and the obligatory brawl that breaks out during a jewelry store robbery, with cameos by TV personalities playing reporters covering the story as if it was a political convention: Dennis James as Chet Chumley, Allen Ludden as David Dooley, Don Wilson as Walter Klondike, and Jack Bailey as the moderator of a debate interrupted by the robbery. I think you can guess who they're supposed to be. Oh, and there's also Paul Revere and the Raiders!

Friday features a pair of movies for the whole family, beginning with the ABC special Hans Christian Anderson (7:30 p.m.), the 1952 musical starring Danny Kaye, and featuring classic Frank Loesser songs including "Thumbelina" and "The Inchworm." Jeanmarie and Farley Granger co-star. Later in the evening, the CBS Friday Night Movie is 1964's First Men in the Moon (9:00 p.m.), with a cameo appearance by Peter Finch, and special effects by the great Ray Harryhausen. Perhaps it's not quite the way it plays out for Apollo 11 in three years, but with H.G. Wells, it's hard to go wrong.

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At The Doan Report, NBC president Julian Goodman says the network may introduce a prime evening hour each week, starting next fall, that will be dedicated exclusively to news, public affairs, and cultural programming. (You know, the kind you don't need pay-per-view to watch.) It would reduce the number of specials aired by the network each year; they've already cut back to about a dozen this year, as opposed to the 40 or more that they aired a few years ago. Pat Weaver must be spinning in his grave hearing that.

Meanwhile, ABC's thinking about devoting not one but two movies on Wednesday nights beginning in January. Under this plan, Batman would be followed by Off to See the Wizard, a Disney knockoff featuring movies from MGM. (This would include movies such as Flipper, Tarzan, and Clarence, the Cross-eyed Lion, all of which have been turned into weekly series on other networks.) Wizard would be followed by The ABC Wednesday Night Movie. In the end, Wizard doesn't premiere until the fall of 1967, on Friday night rather than Wednesday.

Speaking of movies, Chevrolet denies rumors that they offered the producers of the James Bond movies $3.5 million for the television rights in an attempt to "get back at Ford for knocking Bonanza off its top ratings perch with the ABC showing of The Bridge on the River Kwai." I guess such machinations aren't restricted to politics. 

And remember that article from a couple of weeks ago on television's coverage of Vietnam? Well, CBS News president Dick Salant made a trip to Saigon earlier this month. His conclusion: "If the public will tolerate it, we’ve got to tell more in words and less in pictures."

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MST3K alert: Night of the Blood Beast (1958) An alien entity takes control of an astronaut’s body. Michael Emmet, Angela Greene, Ed Nelson, Tyler McVey, Ross Sturlin. (Saturday, 1:15 a.m., KCRA in Sacramento) You have to imagine what the prospect of manned space travel was like in the late 1950s—a total unknown, when we didn't even know if the human body could survive the stress, let alone what might happen to him once he made it into outer space. It's a trope that stretches from B-movies like this to The Twilight Zone, and everywhere in-between. And I hope it never goes away. The MST3K version is combined with a really bad short, "Once Upon a Honeymoon," which features Virginia Gibson before she wound up on ABC's Discovery. Well, I guess everybody has to start somewhere. TV  

4 comments:

  1. Well, I'm gonna play the fool and make a prediction about the future TV landscape. While everyone is focused on the death of Cable and rise of streaming, what is being overlooked what has happened to local television. Not sure what it's like where you are, but all around the country local stations are being bought up in droves by media companies with big money. Ours is Gray TV which owns every station you can pick up with an antenna. That includes CBS, NBC, and Fox. MeTV, Circle, CW, and ION thrown in with that. No ABC or PBS station.
    I have a feeling these corporations are the future of Broadcast TV and will get bigger and expand over time giving the Networks real competition.

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    1. I wouldn't doubt it - I don't watch enough local TV here to have a lot of background on it, but I do know that one company owns both our ABC and NBC affiliate; one of them is on the main channel, and the other on a subchannel. I think they share the same newscasts.

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  2. The green turtleneck that James Darren wore on The Time Tunnel was pretty magical. It was able to withstand The Titantic, an erupting volcano, and Custer's last stand, and yet didn't need cleaning.

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    1. I always did think they made things to last better back then! :)

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Thanks for writing! Drive safely!