November 25, 2023

This week in TV Guide: November 26, 1960

After years—nay, decades—of asking who's to blame for the lousy programs we see on television, we at last have a final and definitive answer: we are.

Well, that's comforting.

The man providing the answer is Hubbell Robinson, formerly EVP of programming for CBS, now head of Hubbell Robinson Productions, and the reasoning behind his answer is actually very sound: we get mediocre programs because we don't demand more from the networks; we "passively accept it that way." Furthermore, when networks do offer informational and public-affairs programming, we don't watch them.

This is, of course, an argument with a double-edged potential to it. Yes, Robinson seems to be saying, if you will watch it, they will make it; ratings, after all, rule the roost. And, as H.L. Mencken may or may not have said, nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people. However, in his pious appeal to the Latin phrase Sic transit gloria rei publicae ("Thus passes away the glory of the republic"), he comes dangerously close to the elitist attitude that the public doesn't know what's good for them, that if only they'd watch what we prepare for them, everything would be all right. Quoting Pericles, Robinson ponderously pronounces that "We consider the man not informed about public affairs not only harmless but useless," and he comments on how it's a good thing that the creators of TV's public-affairs, informational, and news programs are "a hardy lot." "In spite of the relatively small percentage of rabbit ears pointed their way," he sys, "they continue to enlarge and lift their horizons." 

Give Robinson credit, though; he allows that, for its part, television must "mature and upgrade the level of its entertainment, show some of the skills in the arts it has displayed in the crafts, manage to bring its creative accomplishment more in line with its electronic genius." Just because shows like 77 Sunset Strip, Gunsmoke, The Untouchables, and "that obeisance to the cult of something for nothing, The Price is Right" are popular, executives should not assume that these are the only kinds of shows that can be popular. And for the record, I think many, if not most, people would consider Gunsmoke and The Untouchables to be above-average drama series at least, while Sunset Strip is far better than a "mediocre" program. (The Price is Right? Well, as someone pointed out in an issue from a few weeks ago, people have to have knowledge of current market pricing and the ability to make rapid calculations in order to succeed at it.)

Setting aside all that, what does Robinson think should be done to improve the quality of shows seen on our tubes? For one thing, television's creative talents must accept "the need to be popular" in order to succeed. That may seem an odd thing, but remember how fashionable it's been to criticize artists for producing "popular" works? They wear their lack of commercial success as a badge of honor, and that has to stop. Other than that, though, there should be no constraint on their output; they should have "complete freedom." Combine the discipline of working in a popular medium with the latitude to take on "message" projects will not only improve programming, it will help to attract and retain talented writers, producers, and directors. Sponsors and networks also have to make a commitment to support such shows—the financial sinew, he says, "to start and keep going."

And here's where it all returns to us. These changes can't be achieved by industry critics, or by the "antics" of someone like David Susskind, someone who wants to make a lot of noise with not much to show for it. (Methinks there's more to the story there.) It can only happen by "a network or networks partnered with independent production ventures and the major talents themselves." And it must be supported by the 100,000,000 Americans who run television by nature of their repeated viewership. "It is not a question of whether television can afford to take this step," Robinson concludes. "The question is: can it afford not to?" Based on the 60+ years of programming that have followed, I think Robinson would conclude that television, apparently, can quite easily afford not to.

l  l  l

College football's regular season comes to an end this Saturday in Philadelphia, where more than 100,000 fans will be in attendance for the game of the year, the 61st meeting between Army and Navy. (1:00 p.m. ET, ABC) And lest you think this is all hype, consider the words of sportswriter Melvin Durslag: "Irrespective of the records of Army and Navy during the course of the season, the 105,000 seats in Philadelphia Stadium are hardly enough to meet the demand. People flock to this even from all over the Nation, even though television brings it to the warmth and comfort of one's parlor." The first use of television instant replay was during an Army-Navy game, and ABC's going all-out for this year's broadcast, with Curt Gowdy and Paul Christman in the booth, and Bob Neal roaming the sidelines (with a portable camera called the "sneaky-peepy." Seven cameras will be covering the action (a "whopping" number), and the pre-game parade of Cadets and Midshipmen will be shown on television for the first time. So, yes, this game is a big deal.

That might seem hard to believe now. Neither Army nor Navy have been considered major forces in college football since, well, the 1960s. Ah, but Navy produced two Heisman Trophy winners in that decade, Joe Bellino and Roger Staubach, and the 1963 team finished #2 in the country, behind only Texas; Navy enters this year's game ranked #7, and winds up with a #4 ranking. The golden years for Army's Black Knights have, alas, been fewer and farther between. These days, successful seasons mean battles not for the national championship, but for spots in some of the second-tier bowl games, and while they're capable of producing nine- or ten-win seasons, this year's game will be typical of recent contests, with the two teams having combined for a total of eight victories (at this time of writing). 

But while the stakes not what they once were—it's hard to imagine, for instance, drawing 100,000 fans to this year's game—Army-Navy is still a thing. Although the Air Force has enjoyed greater success over the past few decades, their games against Army and Navy never attract the same level of excitement. The game is privileged with an exclusive spot on the schedule, after all the regular season and conference championship games are played (one could argue that this is the only way the game keeps its place on the national stage), and among the spectators is often the president of the United States. It even has a corporate sponsor, the ultimate sign of prestige as it goes in sports. 

Oh, and by the way, if you're curious to see how that 1960 Army-Navy game went, you can see it right here.

l  l  l

This week's starlet is the lissome Diane Cannon, and it really is true that while she was sitting in a restaurant having lunch one day, a man came up to her and said, "Honey, are you in pictures? Because if you're not, you should be." That man turned out to be an agent, and before you knew it, Diane had gone from being a showroom assistant for a sweater manufacturer to having appeared in three episodes of NBC's Matinee Theater

Since then, she's done a publicity tour for MGM's Les Girls (even though neither she nor the other two women doing the tour actually appeared in the movie), and from then on, it's been steady work: the feature film The Sleepwalkers, Playhouse 90 (three times), 77 Sunset Strip, and Bat Masterson among other TV series; and work on the soap operas For Better or Worse and Full Circle. The latter title earned her a one-year contract at CBS. Working a live, five-day-a-week soap is easy for her; "I'm a fast study. Eight years of concert piano study taught me how to memorize things in a hurry."

Diane's real name is Camille Diane Friesen, but she has one more name change in store, altering the spelling of her first name to "Dyan." So that's how Dyan Cannon got her start—and she hasn't stopped since. Since this article in TV Guide, she's earned three Academy Award nominations (including one for Best Live Action Short), married Cary Grant (with whom she had daughter Jennifer), became a favorite guest of Johnny Carson's on The Tonight Show (where she frequently showed off her infectious laugh), and was a regular at courtside seats for the Los Angeles Lakers. She has had, by any definition, a terrific career, and she's still active at age 86. Could anyone have predicted this by reading this article in 1960? If so, they're a shrewd judge of talent.

l  l  l

Dwight Whitney reports that, unless there's a last-minute settlement, Maverick star James Garner's legal battle with Warner Bros. will be going to court this week, and it promises to be one of the biggest stories Hollywood has seen in years. 

For the uninitiated, the dispute goes back to last March, when the suspended star was laid off from Warner Bros. due to, of all things, a writers' strike. The studio invoked its force majeure provision of the contract, under which it claimed the strike was akin to an Act of God—in other words, beyond the control of the studio. Since Maverick couldn't be made without scripts, the show went on hiatus, and under force majeure, the studio wouldn't have to continue paying Garner's salary. Garner filed suit against Warner, claiming that the action was a breach of Garner's contract with the studio, making him a free agent. "I feel like a side of beef," Garner complained to TV Guide. "Every once and a while, the studio cuts off a hunk." Garner has made no secret of wanting out of his contract. "Contracts are completely one-sided affairs," he says. "If you you click, the studio owns you." He's been particularly frustrated about not being free to do movies, claiming that it would benefit the studio as much as it would him. "If we made two movies a year we'd do 15 times as well."

Garner's colleagues at Warner Bros. have already returned to work during his suspension; both Jack Kelly and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. have signed new deals that include healthy increases, and Roger Moore, who took Garner's place on Maverick, had it written into his contract that, should Garner return to the show, Moore wouldn't have to do any more TV at all.

"Should Garner return to the show. . ." Therein lies the rub. In a precedent-setting decision, Garner wins his lawsuit against Warner Bros., and wins again when the studio appeals the verdict. "I remember my lawyer asked me what I wanted," Garner would recall years later. "He said, 'Do you want a new contract, do you want a raise, or do you want out?' I said, 'I want out.'" And out he went—of the many WB stars suspended at one time or another by the studio, Garner would be the only one to win his freedom. "I wanted to be in control of my career. I didn't want somebody else making those decisions. If I was going to be a success, I wanted to be my success. If I was going to be a failure, I wanted to be my failure, not somebody else’s because they made the wrong choices."

l  l  l

After all this, let's get to some shows, shall we? 

On Sunday night, ABC debuts its new documentary series The Valiant Years (10:30 p.m.), based on the memoirs of Sir Winston Churchill. It is, TV Guide says in an accompanying article, "the greatest drama of our times." Churchill had nothing to do with the production of the series and does not appear except in archival footage; as former producer Edgar Peterson, who helped get the project started, says, "We don't need Churchill, [he] has already written the script and that we have the original words." He thinks of the story as the ultimate Western: "We have a wonderful hero, Churchill; a dastardly villain, Hitler; and a terrific chase—World War II." Gary Merrill narrates the series, while the words of Churchill are,  read by Richard Burton; composer Richard Rodgers will win an Emmy for his incidental music. I suppose this is an example of the kind of show that Hubbell Robinson thinks of when he points the finger at viewers, and he has a point; I've seen from several editions of TV Guide that there were too many affiliates who didn't clear the series or aired it at other times; they'd rather show movies or syndicated programs that garner higher ratings and provide the stations with higher ad revenue.

Tuesday, an NBC White Paper (10:00 p.m.) takes an in-depth look at "The U-2 Affair." Chet Huntley hosts the hour, which presents a minute-by-minute timeline of the shooting down of an American U-2 spy plane by the Soviet Union in May. Initially, the United States claimed the plane was involved in civilian weather research, but were eventually forced to concede the existence of the U-2 after the Soviets produced its pilot, Francis Gary Powers, who was then tried and convicted of espionage in August. The affair resulted in the collapse of a U.S.-Soviet summit planned in Paris and gave Soviet premier Khrushchev another opportunity to grandstand in public; all in all, it was not one of America's more shining hours.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Family Classics presents a two-part adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' "The Three Musketeers" (7:30 p.m. each night, CBS), featuring a wonderful cast including Maximilian Schell as the heroic D'Artagnan, Vincent Price as the evil Cardinal Richelieu, Patricia Cutts as Milady de Winter, Felicia Farr* as Constance, Barry Morse as Athos, John Colicos as Porthos, and Tim O'Connor as Aramis. 

*In two years, she'll be Mrs. Jack Lemmon.

Also on Wednesday: Red Skelton's half-hour weekly variety series doesn't expand to an hour until 1962, but this week, in addition to his regular Tuesday night show, Red stars in an hour-long color special (8:30 p.m., CBS) in which his regular characters—Clem Kadiddlehopper, Freddie the Freeloader, Sheriff Deadeye, and others—take a tour along Hollywood Boulevard. Not surprisingly, they'll run into some famous folks along the way: Frank Sinatra, Dinah Shore, George Raft, Bobby Rydell, and William Demarist.

On Friday, the docudrama series Our American Heritage (9:00 p.m., NBC), hosted by Lowell Thomas, presents "Born a Giant," the story of Andrew Jackson's life prior to being elected president. British actor Bill Travers plays Jackson (an interesting choice), but the real interest is in the guest stars: Barbara Rush, Farley Granger, Walter Matthau, John Colicos (fresh from saving France as a Musketeer), and Robert Redford.

l  l  l

Those are the highlights of the week after Thanksgiving. Each weekday afternoon at 5:15, WTRF in Wheeling, West Virginia has a 15-minute kids' program called Santa Claus, and KDKA in Pittsburgh has an identically-titled show for 10 minutes at 6:20; I suppose they're those shows where kids call in and talk to Santa and tell him what they want for Christmas (while mom and dad listen in to find out what to go shopping for). Otherwise, there are no Christmas programs to be seen.

Regular readers will have heard me bring this up—many times. But new readers come along all the time (so I can hope), and so it's worth repeating that Christmas programs in the early 1960s didn't start the moment the clock struck 12:00 on the day after Thanksgiving Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, in 1962, was the first animated Christmas special made for television, and the first to be shown annually. Rudolph came along in 1964, and the others after that. The networks, however, had the decency to at least wait until early December to start showing them. Nowadays, most of these shows exist for one reason only: to use their commercials to push ads aimed at the kids who are watching, and it wouldn't do to have these shows air too closely to Christmas; wouldn't give the parents much time to buy the goodies for the kiddies, would it? This year, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer airs on November 24

As we get closer to Christmas, we'll see more programs with a seasonal flair: movies, variety shows, and the like. And while they were certainly intended to push merchandise—after all, who can forget Ed Herlihy's commercials for Kraft and their holiday recipes, or the card commercials on Hallmark Hall of Fame?—they were also intended to provide a festive atmosphere for viewers. Amahl and the Night Visitors, the first Christmas special to be aired annually (as well as the first Hall of Fame special), made its television debut on December 24, and when variety shows were a regular part of television, they all aired their Christmas episodes a week or so out. 

Today, so much holiday programming consists of regurgitated romance movies from Hallmark (how far they've fallen!), Netflix, and the like, starting—I dunno, sometime right after Halloween? And, let's be honest, their actual connection to Christmas is tenuous at best; what they're really selling is a chaste form of romanticized sex. (I wonder what Hubbell Robinson would think of them?) As for more traditional Christmas specials, it almost seems as if the closer one gets to the big day, the fewer there are, at least on networks. Maybe things are different this year; in all honesty, I've stopped checking the schedules.

Don't worry, though. As far as "This Week in TV Guide" is concerned, the Christmas programs will be along shortly, if not quite as early as you've come to expect. Remember, good things come to those who wait. TV  


  1. Thanks for the clarity on Garner's absence from "Maverick," initiated by the writer's strike. As a kid, I recall being disappointed when it seemed like "The Jack Kelly Show."

    I was surprised in recent years to see Dyan Cannon's small role on a couple of episodes of "Have Gun -- Will Travel." Another of Paladin's romantic ventures.

    1. That's one of the things I like about these old issues - being able to read the historical background of something as it happened. Nowadays it's ancient history, but back then it was a current event!

      It was always interesting to see Dyan show up in the credits as DIane!

  2. Hi, Mitchell. Looking at the illustration at the top of your page, I'm wondering who illustrated it. I figure it's not too difficult to add the "Hadley Vision" logo in the tv screen, but the scene (Is it indoors, outdoors, or both?) appears to have a copy of your own book, THE ELECTRONIC MIRROR, on the floor/ground nearby the man on the bearskin rug. (That bear looks ferocious too.) It's a very good job, whoever did it.

    Hubbell Robinson Productions only created THRILLER among shows of which I'm aware, then Mr. Robinson apparently went back to work at CBS, as the book I have about Desilu mentioned that he was in a chain of CBS execs who had to tell Desi that some scripts for THE LUCY SHOW weren't very good.

    1. It's from a school of art called "Retrofuturism," and the artist in question is Charles Schridde. He did a series of illustrations for Motorola after they'd asked him to envision the homes of the future centered around Motorola’s most recent line of electronics. The ads created by Schridde ran in Life Magazine and The Saturday Evening Post from 1961 to 1963. And congratulations - I think you're the first person to notice that almost every illustration I use on the top of the page has a copy of the book somewhere in it! There are a couple that don't, I think, but most of the ones I rotate regularly have it!

      Your comment about Robinson sounds in line with some of the other things I've read about him.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!