December 30, 2023

This week in TV Guide: December 30, 1961

The new movie, Maestro, directed by and starring Bradley Cooper, tells the story—OK, a story—of Leonard Bernstein, the famed conductor and composer, one of the giants of the classical/pop culture crossover of the 20th Century. This week's feature article, by Edith Efron, also tells a story of Leonard Bernstein—specifically, the Young People's Concerts that began on CBS in 1958 and ran for 13 seasons and, I think, represent his most important and lasting contribution to classical music.

Efron joins Bernstein following his first telecast of the 1961-62 season, a study of impressionism that, lucidly and literately, explains the musical style to an audience of children who listen, transfixed, to Bernstein's talk—lecture would be far too stuffy a word to describe how he communicates the complexities of musical theory, in such a way that both children and adults can understand such concepts as how bitonality aids in creating the dreamy image that is impressionism. The whole of the interview takes place in Bernstein's cramped dressing room, where we're exposed to the full-on magnitude of the maestro's blinding rock-star celebrity. 

It's a chaotic scene, with Efron (the "girl reporter") crammed into a crouching position under the sink while Bernstein tries to shave without cutting himself. She's hard-pressed to get her questions in between interruptions: elegantly-dressed ladies praising Bernstein's performance; children asking for autographs; photographers asking him to pose standing up, sitting down, pretending to be conducting ("I can't fake conducting," Bernstein snaps at one); aides and press agents, all looking for a piece of the maestro. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I have to wonder if it could possibly capture the kinetic energy of the scene.

In between it all, though, we do get some interesting perspectives on Bernstein's thoughts about music. Asked why children should be introduced to music, he replies, almost disbelievingly, "The purpose is pleasure. Pleasure—nothing else. Music makes life more enjoyable, more exalted, more berable." If it's true that many children consider listening to classical music a duty, it's "[b]ecause so many adults consider it as a duty." It becomes a challenge if the parent doesn't like classical music; "Children are sensitive to parents' likes and dislikes. On the other hand, music is there. A child can discover it independently." And there should be no limit to the kind of music that a child is exposed to; "Very few things are beyond a child's comprehension. Any good music will do. The only thing to watch out for is not to strain a child's attention span." 

We learn some other things about Bernstein's philosophy. While scrambling around for his shirt (it turns out he already has it on), he proffers the idea that there is no such thing as bad taste in music. "There is only good art and bad art," he says, extending the analogy, "good Beethoven and dull Beethoven, good rock 'n' roll and bad rock 'n' roll." The last catches Efron off-guard—the master of classical music praising rock music? "Elvis Presley," he goes on. "There's one, 'I'm All Shook Up'." I like it. Presley's performance is fantastic." 

Through all this, I think we get an insight into why Bernstein was such a good teacher. Because he gives children credit for being able to comprehend ideas and concepts, he doesn't talk down to them—instead, he breaks ideas down into more digestible bits and pieces, using references that are relevant to them. He doesn't tell them to be interested in classical music; instead, he demonstrates what makes it interesting, trusting that they'll accompany him on the journey. He conveys the passion, the love he has for music, confident that they'll catch the bug as he once did. 

I was a faithful viewer of the Young People's Concerts for the few years that I was of an age to understand them. I was fortunate to be introduced to classical music in school, by the Young People's Concerts that the Minneapolis Symphony staged. I had a mother who appreciated classical music, and was willing to invest in it on my behalf. Even though I've never played an instrument, it has, in Bernstein's words, provided pleasure.

It's true that public schools don't make that investment any more. Television doesn't either; it hasn't invested in anything particularly artistic in decades. The audience for the long-haired stuff is getting older all the time, and nobody quite seems to know how to attract younger audiences. That's an issue for another day. But if Maestro the movie does well, one can hope that, no matter how fleeting, classical music can be cool again. If that happens, then the maestro will have succeeded once again.

l  l  l

New Year's Day, in 1962 as well as 2024, is Monday, and that means one thing: football. Well, actually it means more than that, but we'll get to the rest later. But, as Melvin Durslag writes, football fans are "up to their eyeballs" in bowl games, and the colleges are loving every minute of it. 

There are twelve bowl games scheduled for the end of the season (as contrasted to the 42 being played this year), and none of them are named after corporate advertisers. But, as any fan can tell you, there are only four that really matter, and all of them are being played on January 1: the Rose, Sugar, Cotton, and Orange Bowls. They are the games "in whose stadia loot is collected in the largest quantities and whose fame is enhanced each New Year's Day with national television before enormous audiences."

Despite the revenue and exposure generated by the games, there are critics in the educational realm who feel the games are unnecessary, creating an overemphasis on athletics. That the regular season usually ends in late November, with the national champion already chosen before the bowls are played, only strengthen the argument. It's one reason, in fact, why, Ohio State's faculty council declined the invitation to the 1962 Rose Bowl despite the Buckeyes winning the Big 10 championship, which would ordinarily have resulted in a trip to Pasadena. They hoped their decision would "vastly improv[e] the university's reputation as an academic institution fit for service in a Cold War political economy."* At any rate, as Durslag points out, money being thrown around by TV has boosted the overall budgets of the participating schools and their conferences to such an extent that any sentiment to the contrary is becoming a moot point.  

*I went into the behind-the-scenes drama of the 1962 bowl selection process in this 2012 article, which you can read here.

Which brings us to the big day itself, starting at 12:45 p.m. ET with ABC's coverage of the Orange Bowl, pitting #4 LSU against #7 Colorado, reported by Curt Gowdy, Paul Christman, and Jim Simpson. (LSU 25, Colorado 7) At 1:45 p.m., NBC kicks off the first of its New Year's Day doubleheader, with undefeated national champion Alabama taking on #9 Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl; Lindsey Nelson and Art Gleason are behind the mic. (Alabama 10, Arkansas 3) If that's not enough for you, CBS joins the fray at 2:15 p.m. with the Cotton Bowl, as Tom Harmon and Johnny Lujack covering the action between #5 Mississippi and #3 Texas. (Texas 12, Mississippi 7) Finally, it's the Granddaddy of them all, the Rose Bowl, beginning at 4:45 p.m. on NBC, with Mel Allen and Braven Dyer calling the game between #6 Minnesota, becoming the first Big 10 team to make consecutive appearances in the Rose Bowl, and unranked UCLA. (Minnesota 21, UCLA 3) 

These games were, practically speaking, exhibition games, originally meant to boost tourism in the host cities. They did not count in the standings, the national champion already having been selected; and they served as a reward for excellence, with players often expressing preferences based on the cities they'd like to travel to. (New Orleans was always a popular destination.) Perhaps it wasn't the best way to choose the best team, and Heaven knows there was plenty of corruption in college sports even then, but it seems like it was much simpler, maybe even more fun than it is today. I feel for those who never got a chance to experience it, even just as a fan.

l  l  l

There's more to New Year's than football, though, hard as it may be to believe. I myself used to scoff, back in the day, at the idea that there could be anything more important than the bowl games. Not being a partier, my idea of a good time on New Year's Eve was sitting down with one of the lesser bowl games and then watching the ball drop in New York. The parties that we did go to were sedate ones with family or friends, always in someone's home. Lately, it's been New Year's Eve marathons with The Three Stooges, Thin Man or Matt Helm movies, and so on. If we make it to midnight, it's been a good day.

So I have to ask, is New Year's Eve still a thing? Do people go out, or did the virus finally kill all that off? It was a thing back in 1961; as kind of a pre-show, Gordon and Sheila MacRae host Highways of Melody (10:00 p.m., NBC), a musical hour sponsored by Cities Service (Citgo), which explains the "Highway" motif. Their guests include George Chakiris, Buddy Ebsen, Kathryn Grayson, Jack Jones, Rita Moreno, Jane Morgan, the Cities Service Singers and Dancers, and Paul Lavalle and the Band of America.

At 11:15 p.m. on NBC, the serious shows begin. Bandleader Xavier Cugat and his then-wife, singer Abby Lane, host a New Year's Eve party from the ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. (NBC). Just before midnight, the cameras switch to Times Square, where Ben Grauer covers the ball drop. Mr. New Year's Eve himself, Guy Lombardo, does the honors on CBS (11:15 p.m.), with newsman Robert Trout in Times Square.

That brings us to New Year's Day itself and the parades, and you'll notice the plural. It actually starts on Saturday night, with live coverage of the King Orange Jamboree Parade in Miami, with Jim McKay and George Fenneman describing the spectacular (7:30 p.m., ABC). This parade ceased after the national television contract ended (a misfortune that also befell the Cotton Bowl Parade), but it made the game itself feel more special, more than just a simple football game.

This being a Philadelphia edition, it's appropriate that Monday morning begins on multiple channels with the Mummers Parade (9:30 a.m., WFIL and WCAU in Philadelphia, plus stations in Lebanon, Harrisburg, and York), a marathon that runs nearly five hours, either non-stop or sandwiched between bowl games, depending on the station. At 11:30 a.m. on NBC, it's the Granddaddy of all parades, the Tournament of Roses, live and in color (except for the first 15 minutes). Former Tournament president John Davidson narrates the opening portion of the telecast, reviewing the history of the parade and what to expect today. He's then joined by Betty White and NBC newsman Roy Neal (a curious choice) for commentary. Among the stars appearing in the parade are actors John McIntire, Scott Miller, Frank McGrath, and Terry Wilson from Wagon Train; John Russell and Peter Brown from Lawman; and Grand Marshal Albert Rosellini, governor of Washington, who was probably chosen based on Seattle hosting the 1962 World's Fair.

l  l  l

That seems like a pretty big start to the year, but there's more. Not content to turn the spotlight over completely to the college game, the NFL Championship is Sunday, with the New York Giants taking on the Green Bay Packers in the first championship game ever played in Green Bay (1:45 p.m., NBC). Lindsey Nelson, who heads to New Orleans after the game to cover Monday's Sugar Bowl, and Chris Schenkel are on the play-by-play. The Packers, who lost in heartbreaking fashion to the Philadelphia Eagles in last year's title tilt, rout the Giants 37-0, the start of a reign of terror over the rest of the league that will result in five championships over seven years (including three in a row), plus the first two Super Bowls. They remain the last team to win three consecutive league championships. It's the oldest NFL Championship game for which the original TV broadcast exists; you can see the game in its entirety here.

Also on Sunday is a curious program that attracted my attention for an even more curious reason. It's called Let Freedom Ring (3:00 p.m., CBS), featuring Richard Boone, Laraine Day, Howard Keel, and Dan O'Herlihy, and starring the group now known as the the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square. It's an hour of patriotic music, interspersed with dramatic readings and performances by the four stars; Boone recites the Gettysburg Address, for example, and Day reads Lincoln's famous Letter to Mrs. Bixby; neither of these choices was coincidental, given that 1961 was the 100th anniversary of Lincoln's presidency. It is, in its way, a perfect example of a Sunday afternoon program, one that would have been at home on Omnibus. It's a bit static, very serious, and ultimately sounds a hopeful note for the nation as the new year approaches.

As for the curious reason why this stood out for me: the program was rebroadcast by CBS on Saturday morning, November 23, 1963, as part of the network's coverage of the aftermath of JFK's assassination. You might think this an odd choice, and if it were to be seen purely as an entertainment show, you'd be right. But the very nature of it being static, serious, and hopeful is why it was shown: it was a reminder to a shell-shocked nation about the greatness of America, reflected in part through the words of its first martyred president. Of the several memorial concerts broadcast over that weekend, I think this was the only one not specifically done for the occasion. But then, maybe this kind of thing only interests me. 

With the bowl games taking up Monday, there are several weekday programs making their debuts on Tuesday, including Your First Impression, a new game show hosted by Bill Leydon (noon, NBC). It's a variation on the mystery guest segment of What's My Line?, with a panel of celebrities trying to guess the identity of the guest based on clues given to them by Leydon; Dennis James is a regular panelist and fills in for Leydon on occasion. The show has a healthy run, lasting until June, 1964. Also premiering this day is Floyd Kalber's five-minute afternoon newscast (2:25 p.m., NBC), a staple for many years. By the way Kalber's nickname was "The Big Tuna"; has any newsman ever had a better one? Jane Wyman returns as host and occasional star of her eponymous dramatic anthology series (2:00 p.m., ABC), and NBC debuts the serial Our Five Daughters (3:30 p.m.), "the story of Helen and Jim Lee and their daughters." It had better be a short story; the series is gone nine months later, barely time for one of the daughters to have a baby.

There's a pictorial feature this week on how makeup artists prepare Sebastian Cabot's beard for the detective series Checkmate (among other tidbits, the reddish-brown hair is sprayed with glit paint, since it shows up as jet black on B&W), and his beard needs to be in good form in Wednesday's episode (8:30 p.m., CBS), as Jack Benny makes his TV dramatic debut playing a comedian who discovers someone has planted a bomb in his suitcase. Also on Wednesday, Bonanza stars Lorne Greene and Dan Blocker guest on Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall (9:00 p.m., NBC).

The end of the year is a great time for year-end reviews: poet John Ciardi hosts Accent on 1961 (Thursday, 9:00 p.m.), a special edition of his weekly CBS series, and his words accompany a picture montage of the major events of the past year. And what a year it was—Alan Shepard's space shot, Roger Maris's 61st home run, Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall, the Freedom Riders in the South, the JFK inauguration, and more. The flip side of a year-end review is a preview of the coming year, and that's what NBC has in store with Projection '62 (Friday, 9:30 p.m.), with Frank McGee hosting hosting the network's domestic and foreign correspondents in a look back at the year past, and predictions on what might be ahead. And it tells you something about how large news staffs used to be, with McGee talking to correspondents covering Berlin, Moscow, Tokyo, Africa, South America, India and the Middle East, London, Paris, Southeast Asia, Cuba and the Caribbean, and the White House. Not for nothing was NBC the leading news source on television.

l  l  l

On the cover this week is Cynthia Pepper, star of the new ABC sitcom Margie, set in the flapper era of 1926. Actually, Jim Henaghan's story is as much about her stage father Jack, a failed vaudevillian who reared Cynthia for the very purpose of stardom. Despite being called "one of [20th Century Fox's] most valuable properties," her career is of limited duration; Margie is her only starring role in a series, and she might be just as well-known for playing Midge in Elvis Presley's Kissin' Cousins. I wonder what Leonard Bernstein thought of the music in that? Still, as I always note in situations like this, her movie career lasted a lot longer than mine. 

There's also an interesting behind-the-scenes look at one of the most high-pressure quiz shows on television, and the exhaustive preparation required by the participants prior to appearing on it. No, it's not Jeopardy; that doesn't even premiere until 1964, and anyway, as far as intellectual wattage is concerned, it doesn't even begin to compare to the show in question, G-E College Bowl. I always considered it a moment of great pride to be able to correctly answer one question on that show; I'm not sure that the hardest question on today's Jeopardy would even make it to a practice round of College Bowl. At the time of this article, Allen Ludden is the host of College Bowl, but as his other show, Password, adds a nighttime edition to its weekly daytime version, he cedes the role to Robert Earle, the host whom I remember. I was always sorry about the show leaving the air; t the time, with violent dissent running wild on college campuses, General Electric decided it was bad optics to be associated with such radicals. It was revived for a couple of seasons in 2020 with Peyton Manning as host, but I'm sorry—after Ludden and Earle (and Art Fleming, who hosted an earlier revival), it's hard to take a show like College Bowl seriously with Peyton Manning as host. 

l  l  l

And so we come to the end of another year of "This week in TV Guide," and for the first time in many, many years, we've had 52 new issues, with no repeats from previous years, something I'm very pleased about. Unlike many collectors, I don't own a full set of TV Guides covering multiple decades; in fact, I don't even have a complete set of issues from any single year. I've been fortunate enough to piece together this year thanks to a combination of issues I own, those loaned to me by others, those from the Internet Archive, and some from other online sources. Although I've got a couple of dozen lined up so far for next year, with more to come, I don't know if we'll ever see an entire year of new issues again. 

Nevertheless, it's been satisfying to pull it off, and I've got you to thank for helping me do it. I've done around 500 through the years, and if you have an issue you'd like to see me cover, feel free to email me about it. And when we come back on Monday for the listings, they'll be from a new year, 1962, and we'll be in a new year, 2024. Until then, have a safe and happy New Year. TV  

December 29, 2023

Around the dial

Up first for this last "Around the Dial" of the Spyear is Jack's Hitchcock Project at bare-bones e-zine, where we're up to Thomas Grant's second contribution to the series, "Hooked," airing in 1960 and starring Robert Horton and Anne Francis, with a terrific twist ending.

At Cult TV Blog, John looks at The Avengers episode "Quick-Quick Slow Death," and just as Jack often compares the TV version of a story with the original source material, John looks at the episode from two different angles: the television broadcast, and a version aired on the South African Springbok Radio. Interesting comparison.

The View from the Junkyard travels to Avengers territory as well, with Roger and Mike comparing notes on "Return of the Cybernauts," a sequel to the hugely popular original Cybernauts story; the show's favorite villains are back with a cautionary message about the growth of technology. See what the two of them have to say.

Last week I linked to Variety's 100 Greatest TV Shows of All Time list, which I managed to avoid reading. If you're curious, though, head over to Comfort TV, where David's done the heavy lifting so you don't have to. Hint: it's what you'd expect, with a few pleasant surprises along the way. Unpleasant ones as well: no room for Gunsmoke or Perry Mason, but Sex and the City at #6? Bite me.

Speaking of "Bite Me," if you're a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000, you'll recognize that phrase. And for those fans, you'll enjoy Jeffrey Blehar's appreciation of the series at the unlikely site of National Review. Over the many years of this feature, I've linked to both National Review and The Atlantic, which I think says something for my open-mindedness.

And since we're on the subject of favorites, Christmas is, indeed, the most wonderful time of the year, and one of my favorite specials from the Yuletide season is the 1966 edition of The Andy Williams Christmas Show. You can both see it and read about it in this Christmas present from the Metzinger Sisters at Silver Scenes.

At Drunk TV, Paul has moved on to season four of Mister Ed, and it's a return to form for the series, with the season featuring some of the show's best episodes (including the epic "Leo Durocher Meets Mister Ed"), along with a new supporting cast for Ed, Wilbur, and Carol. This was one of those after-school shows for me when I was in grade school, along with Gilligan's Island.

The Horn Section is back, and with it comes F Troop. This week, Hal gives us part one of a more in-depth look at how F Troop did in the ratings during the 1965-66 season. Did it really only place 40th in the ratings for the season, or does it deserve more credit than that? Inquiring minds want to know, and Hal has an answer.

At The Classic TV History Blog, Stephen Bowie interviews director Robert Butler about his experiences directing the first episode of Shane, the 1966 series starring David Carradine that was an ill-fated attempt to continue the story of the legendary movie of the same name. It's a sidebar to this piece from last month, which has more on the background of the series

Tom Smothers died a couple of days ago, aged 86, and not surprisingly, we have a couple of remembrances of the man who formed one half of the influential comedy team; this one from Travalanche, and this one from Terence at A Shroud of Thoughts. I have never pretended to be a fan of the Smothers Brothers; neither, however, have I ever denied their influence and impact.

At Shadow & Substance, Paul has the details on this year's Twilight Zone marathon on Syfy. Well, actually, it would be next year's marathon as well, wouldn't it? It starts on Saturday, December 30, and runs through the early hours of Tuesday, January 2. I'm going to stick to my continuing rewatch of the series on DVD, but this is still a great thing to have.

Before we close, I want to take a moment to thank all of these bloggers, many of whom I know, for their contributions to classic television history over the past year—and to simply providing entertaining reads. Let's do it again next year! TV  

December 25, 2023

What's on TV? Sunday, December 25, 1955

Merry Christmas, everyone! As TV Guide mentions in its Christmas programming preview, the networks will be devoting Christmas Day almost exclusively to special programming. We covered some of these on Saturday, but that was only the tip of the Christmas tree, so to speak, so let's see what else is in store in this Chicagoland edition.

With Christmas Day falling on Sunday, many of the morning's regular religious programs have a Christmas theme, including Look Up and Live (8:30 a.m. CT, CBS), with Merv Griffin, Bruce Buckley, and the Mary Anthony Dancers providing the musical entertainment, plus jazz expert Rev. Alvin Kershaw. WTMJ is back with a Christmas morning service from Mt. Olive Lutheran Church (9:00 a.m.), and NBC presents the Christmas Day Service from Washington National Cathedral (10:00 a.m.); this is another tradition which NBC carried into the 1980s. 

The CBS science program Adventure (2:30 p.m.) shows how Christmas is celebrated in different parts of the world, with a remote from a convent in Bethlehem, Connecticut that displays Nativity sets from all races and cultures. That's followed at 3:00 p.m. by This Day We Celebrate, with informal Christmas readings are given by Rosalind Russell, Danny Thomas, Ann Blyth and Frank Lovejoy. At 4:00 p.m., Omnibus presents a semi-staged performance of Handel's "Messiah" with Leonard Bernstein conducting the Symphony of the Air. Fortunately, that broadcast has been preserved, and can be seen here (part one) and here (part two). On You Are There (5:30 p.m., CBS), Walter Cronkite and his reporters join George Washington in his famous Christmas crossing of the Delaware.

Even Dr. Benjamin Spock gets into the act; his childcare advice program (2:00 p.m., NBC) features a choir and narration of the Christmas story. And while it's not, strictly speaking, a Christmas show, Meet the Press (5:00 p.m., NBC) has, as its special guest, poet Robert Frost, talking about the place of poetry and the poet in American culture. Norman Cousins is among the panelists.

In primetime, ABC offers a special Christmas presentation of the movie classic The Red Shoes (6:30 p.m.), starring Moira Shearer, and featuring a ballet based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale of the same name. (A pity it wasn't shown in color, but you can see that here.) On NBC, It’s a Great Life (6:00 p.m.) repeats its Christmas show, "There Is a Santa Claus," in which a small boy’s faith in Santa is restored and three skeptics see something to astonish them. The Loretta Young Show (9:00 p.m.) sees its star return from her illness to play a waitress whose faith in the Christmas spirit is restored in "Christmas Stopover." Over on CBS, Ed Sullivan's Christmas show (7:00 p.m.) is for the kids, with an ice show, puppets, animal acts, and bell ringers. And on Appointment with Adventure (9:00 p.m.), "A Touch of Christmas" stars James Daly in a story of Civil War soldiers at Christmastime.

The day ends with WBKB's midnight triple feature of half-hour made-for-TV Christmas stories: "Christmas for Sweeney," "Joe Santa Claus,' and Vincent Price's "Christmas Carol." Combined with the programs we looked at on Saturday, it shapes up to be quite a day, doesn't it? 

December 23, 2023

This week in TV Guide: December 24, 1955

If you couldn't already tell from the cover, Christmas is coming right at ya this week, with Christmas Eve on Saturday. With that in mind, I thought I'd do something a little different this week: rather than just tell you about the holiday programs, I'll show you as well!

l  l  l

We start with this Saturday afternoon presentation on WNBQ, Chicago's NBC affiliate, starring Ned Locke as Santa. Locke was a Chicago television legend, "Ringmaster Ned" on WGN-TV's Bozo's Circus from 1961 to 1976. It also features John Conrad's Elmer the Elephant, the beloved Chicago children's character. It's notable for being the first all-live color program to originate from Chicago.

This program remains a much-loved Christmas memory for many, as it was shown not just in Chicago but all around the country, sponsored by local Bell Telephone companies throughout the 1950s and 1960s; it's this kind of tradition that means so much to people and precisely what we seem to be missing today. You can see it here.

"Babes in Toyland," loosely based on the Victor Herbert operetta, was first shown to great acclaim in 1954; this is a repeat performance on Max Liebman Presents. But in 1955, a repeat performance means that it's being done all over again, live, and on Christmas Eve to boot. It's not the Laurel & Hardy version, but stars Dave Garroway as a Macy's Santa taking care of a lost girl until her mother can show up; in the meantime, he reads her the story of "Babes in Toyland." The performances, particularly by Garroway, are charming. Both the 1954 and 1955 broadcasts were preserved on kinescope and issued on DVD a few years ago; you can see the 1954 broadcast (the better of the two) here.

Moving now from Christmas Eve to Christmas Day, "No Room at the Inn" is the inaugural presentation of NBC's His Way, His Word program, a series of four religious dramas, to be shown monthly on Sunday afternoons. There's nothing I was able to find on who stars in this special, but I'm sure there's one of you out there who can tell us more about it.

Why, oh why, did the networks do this to us? On Sunday night, it's NBC's annual presentation of Gian-Carlo Menotti's modern classic "Amahl and the Night Visitors," on The Alcoa Hour, versus The General Electric Theater's presentation of Bernard Hermann's "A Child is Born," based on the play by Stephen Vincent Benét. Fortunately for us (though it didn't do much good for viewers back then), they're both available; you can see "A Child is Born" here, while "Amahl," in addition to being commercially issued on DVD, can be seen here.

Finally, here's an early television appearance of It's a Wonderful Life (its Chicago TV debut, and on Christmas night to boot), being marketed not as a Christmas movie, but as a romantic drama.

There's more, of course; specials and Christmas episodes of regular series are on throughout Christmas Day, and you'll be able to read more about them in the listings for December 25. In the meantime, though, let's see what's on for the rest of the week.

l  l  l

There's plenty of Christmas programming on Saturday besides what we've already looked at. 

It's the time for regular series to offer their Christmas episodes, starting with Paul Winchell's Saturday morning show, joined by Carol Burnett singing "All I Want for Christmas," and Milton Delugg as Santa (10:30 a.m., NBC). Locally, Chicagoland legend Ray Raymer hosts a Christmas party for all of the children of WBBM employees (1:00 p.m.), and at 1:30 p.m., WBKB's Curtain Up has a double-feature of half-hour made-for-TV stories: "Joe Santa Claus" and "Christmas for Sweeney," the latter with a script by Rod Serling. I've included links to both.

Moving on to primetime, we've got The Honeymooners, as Alice tells Ralph that the gift one of their neighbors received is "pretty sad," not knowing that Ralph has bought the same gift for her. (7:30 p.m., CBS; see it here) And on Damon Runyon Theater, Broderick Crawford stars in "Dancing Dan's Christmas," the story of a big-time gangster moving in on a previously happy couple. My bet is that love triumphs over all. (9:30 p.m., CBS)

If you're in the mood for some Christmas Eve music, there's plenty of that as well. Ozark Jubilee (6:30 p.m., ABC), The Perry Como Show (7:00 p.m., NBC), Stage Show (7:00 p.m., CBS), and The Lawrence Welk Show (8:00 p.m., ABC) all offering Christmas shows; Your Hit Parade (9:30 p.m., NBC) broadcasts from the skating rink at Rockefeller Center, and you can see it here. On WGN, the Fifth Army Show, with music and variety from the Fifth Army Chorus and other military members. (7:00 p.m.)

Did someone mention movies? We've got them! The Cheaters (2:00 p.m., WBBM) was a familiar feature on Christmas throughout the 1960s and 1970s, while Escape into Dreams (2:30 p.m., WBKB) deals with Italian POWs in a WWII American POW camp at Christmastime, looking back at their past romances. 

The king of Christmas movies is A Christmas Carol, and we get it twice on Saturday, first in a half-hour version narrated by Vincent Price (6:00 p.m., WBKB)—well, let's face it, it's mostly told by Price, with a minimum of action accompanying his narration, but when you've got Vincent Price telling your story, you're still in pretty good shape. See it for yourself here. And at 9:30 p.m. on WTMJ, it's the famed 1951 version starring Alastair Sim in the title role of Scrooge. Until George C. Scott's version came out in 1984, this was pretty much considered the definitive movie, although the versions with Reginald Owen and Sir Seymour Hicks have their fans. Today, it still holds up as a great adaptation. (It's also on Sunday on WGN.)

Christmas, as Andy Williams once dryly remarked, is a very religious time of the year, and that's reflected in the Christmas Eve church services on network and local television. Prior to NBC's yearly telecast of Midnight Mass from the Vatican (which started in the late 1970s), the network's tradition was to carry the Mass from St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City (11:00 p.m. CT), and so it is this year. Over on CBS, the Midnight Mass comes to us from the chapel at the famous Boys' Town, Nebraska. (12:00 a.m.) Locally, WBKB telecasts the Mass from Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral, beginning with a musical prelude at 11:30 p.m.; the celebrant is Samuel Cardinal Stritch, after whom the well-known college is named. And in Milwaukee, it's WTMJ with a religious program from the Milwaukee Council of Churches at 11:30 p.m., followed at midnight by the Mass at St. Roberts Church in Milwaukee.

l  l  l

Here's a show that doesn't seem to have anything to do with Christmas, but is worth mentioning: The Children's Corner (Saturday, 9:00 a.m., NBC) returns for a second season, with hosts Fred Rogers and Josie Carey and their puppets, "Daniel S. Tiger, King Friday 13th, X-Scape the Owl. Henrietta the Cat, and Grandpere." Sound familiar? It's that Fred Rogers.

l  l  l

Monday afternoon football? Well, why not? Sports has not yet intruded on Christmas Day itself, which means that the NFL Championship game between the defending champion Cleveland Browns (yes, you read that right) and the Los Angeles Rams. (2:45 p.m., NBC) It's the first time the championship game has been telecast on NBC; the four prior title games had been shown on DuMont. Playing before a championship-record crowd of nearly 90,000, the Browns repeat as champs, defeating the Rams 38-14. It was the third NFL championship won by the Browns in the decade of the 1950s; they'd win again in 1964, and haven't won since. The Rams, for their part, would not return to the title game until 1980, and didn't win it until 2000. 

The NFL would again move the championship game from Sunday to Monday because of Christmas in 1960; shortly after that, the title games started being played in January. Although there are three games on Christmas this year, for the most part the league still avoids scheduling a full slate of games on Christmas Day itself.

l  l  l

A last word on Christmas: nowadays, it seems that, as soon as December 25 is over, everyone is on to the next holiday. But, of course, the twelve days of Christmas start on December 25, and it used to be a given that the festivities would continue on through New Year's Day. So it is with TV as well; on Monday, WTTW, the educational station, presents "The Juggler of Notre Dame," performed by students from the Barton elementary school (4:15 p.m.), and The Star of Bethlehem (6:45 p.m.). Meantime, Robert Montgomery Presents has "The Second Day of Christmas" (8:30 p.m., NBC), a story of Hans Christian Anderson and Jenny Lind. Looking back, Tony Martin presents the hits of 1955 (6:30 p.m., NBC); looking ahead, both Topper (6:30 p.m., WBKB) and Caesar's Hour (7:00 p.m., NBC) have New Year's-themed stories. I say, let the good times last as long as possible!

l  l  l

Anything else on this week? Well, NBC's Project 20 documentary series premieres on Tuesday with "Nightmare in Red," a newsreel history of Russia from the 1905 revolution to the death of Stalin (8:30 p.m.). Project 20, which also goes by the name of Project XX, will air on an occasional basis until 1970. 

I thought I knew about most of the Titanic television stories, but here's one I wasn't aware of: "Titanic Incident," an episode of Screen Director's Playhouse (Wednesday, 7:00 p.m., NBC). It tells the fictional story of a cardsharp and his wife who've targeted a wealthy Britisher during the voyage; after meeting up with the iceberg, only two of the three can be saved. I'm not sure how they arrive at this considering there were roughly 400 spaces available on the Titanic's lifeboats as they left the ship, but I suspect the story will explain how they waited until the last minute to leave, when the last boats were full. Incidentally, while several episodes of the series exist on YouTube, this is apparently not one of them.

Thursday's episode of Climax, "Bail Out at 43,000" (7:30 p.m., CBS) has a well-known cast: Charlton Heston, Richard Boone, and future First Lady Nancy Davis, who in 1952 married Ronald Reagan. At 8:00 p.m., Dragnet has a New Year's episode; Joe Friday, attending a New Year's Eve party at the home of his partner Frank Smith, looks back about some of the most memorable cases of the past year. Mary Dean appears as Frank's oft-mentioned but seldom-seen wife, Fay. And Edward G. Robinson makes a rare television appearance in Ford Theatre as a former gangster trying to dissuade his son from following in his footsteps. (8:30 p.m., NBC)

One of the things you might have noticed this week is that, aside from the NFL Championship on Monday, there's been very little sports, and in particular no bowl games. That's because all the bowl action comes next Monday, when six of the season's seven bowl games are played. Here's something on Friday, though: the final of the ECAC Holiday Festival college basketball tournament, live from Madison Square Garden in New York (9:00 p.m., NBC). For years, some of the best college teams from the East Coast Athletic Conference would take on powerhouse teams from the rest of the country in an eight-team tournament, with the winner sure to be a major contender for the national title. The Holiday Festival still exists, in a muted form, with two games played on one day and no overall champion, but in its day it was a game worthy of national television coverage. In the 1955-56 season, the great Bill Russell will lead undefeated San Francisco to the second of two consecutive national championships (and 55 consecutive victories); one of their wins comes in the Holiday Festival championship game, where they defeat UCLA 70-53.

l  l  l

There's a pictorial story near the end of this issue on the offspring of famous stars trying for their own careers in show biz. Looking through them, it's clear that some succeeded more than others.

Most successful, I think it's safe to say, was Elizabeth Montgomery, daughter of Robert Montgomery and future star of Bewitched. Although her dad was a movie star and television pioneer, many of you will think of him as Liz's father, rather than the other way around. She got her start as part of her dad's summer repertory company, but now she's setting out on her own. I wonder if anyone anticipated the success she'd attain?

Another big success story is James MacArthur, adopted son of Helen Hayes and Charles MacArthur. He's gotten plaudits for a recent performance on Climax (in an episode directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Macdonald Carey and Phyllis Thaxter), but his lasting fame will come from eleven years as Danno on Hawaii Five-O.

David and Ricky Nelson were already stars at this point, having played fictionalized versions of themselves in The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Both of them had entertainment careers; of the two, I suppose Ricky's is the better-known, as well as the more tragic, but David did work as a producer and director as well as an actor through 1990. A better career than mine, at least.

Gary Crosby, son of Bing, had a pretty good career on television, and did some singing. It's possible, however, that he's best known for the abuse allegations he'd later make against his father—allegations for which, Crosby biographer Gary Giddins has said, there is no substantive proof,  Bing's brother, bandleader Bob Crosby, has an offspring of his own; despite frequent appearances as a vocalist on Bob's afternoon show, however, her career never really takes off except for appearances in a half-dozen movies. Ronnie Burns, son of George and Gracie, appeared on his parents' show and a few others, but leaves show business early. And Arthur Godfrey's son, Dick, is currently working as a newscaster for a San Francisco radio station, but doesn't make the big time. 

Still, as I said at the top, it's always hard to say what the future will bring.

l  l  l

Pretty good issue this week, I'd say. Next week we'll be ringing out the old year by looking at an issue that celebrates a new year. In the meantime, though, here are my wishes for a happy, safe, and blessed Christmas one and all! Let's close with this week's two-page ad from WBKB.


December 22, 2023

Around the dial

During its nine-year run, The Facts of Life aired five Christmas episodes, and this week at Comfort TV, David ranks those five episodes, from worst to first. There's still time to add them to your pre-Christmas viewing list!

At Garroway at Large, Jodie looks back at the past year, which included the publication of Peace, and what's ahead for the future. There's also a video of Dave with Arlene Francis and Betty White; as Jodie says, what better way to get ready for Christmas?

John visits the wonderful world of Sherlock Holmes at Cult TV Blog, with the 1968 episode "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle," starring Peter Cushing as Holmes and Nigel Stock as Watson. I quite enjoy Cushing's Holmes, and John's review helps explain why. As a bonus, John includes a recipe for Christmas pudding, and a couple of podcast recommendations!

Remembebr how, at Drunk TV, Paul had just received the complete box set of Bonanza? Well, this week, he's back with a look at the show's excellent first season, which sets the stage for the following 13 seasons. This set is a textbook example of how a complete series collection ought to be done.

Let's keep with the Western motif for a moment, as Television's New Frontier: the 1960s looks at the 1962 episodes of Cheyenne. It's the seventh and final season for television's first hour-long drama with recurring characters, and while it doesn't have a final episode per se, the season seems to serve as a fitting end to the popular series.

It's the 40th anniversary of the classic A Christmas Story, which we watched a couple of nights ago, and at A Shroud of Thoughts, Terence celebrates the anniversary with some great background information that's sure to increase your appreciation for the film. 

Can you imagine the original Star Trek without James T. Kirk? That's the question Mike asks at The View from the Junkyard, and he answers it with the animated episode "The Slaver Weapon," an outstanding and thought-provoking story written by Larry Niven, one of the genre's greats. 

Variety looks at the 100 greatest TV shows of all time, and before I've even looked at it, I can tell you two things: 1) it will be controversial, and 2) it will be weighted toward more contemporary programs. Nonetheless, it's here if you're interested!

I'll be back tomorrow with the TV Guide Christmas issue from—well, stick around and see what year we visit this time. However, for those of you who may be offline or traveling on this holiday weekend, let me take the opportunity to wish you all a safe and blessed Christmas, and to end with links to a couple of beloved local favorites from my youth: "Walking in My Winter Underwear" from Lunch with Casey, and "The Night Before Christmas" from Axel's Treehouse. I don't think you need to be from the Twin Cities to enjoy these! TV  

December 20, 2023

Book Review: The FBI Dossier, by Bill Sullivan with Ed Robertson

I've told this story before, but it bears repeating: when I was growing up, the opening to The FBI was one of the most thrilling things I'd ever seen. This was before the real-life Federal Bureau of Investigation had become as controversial as it is today; back then, it was one of the most respected law enforcement agencies in the world, headed by J. Edgar Hoover, who'd attained legendary status from his wars against organized crime and communism. There were a lot of things we didn't know back then, perhaps things we didn't want to know, but that wouldn't have meant anything to a kid back then.

The FBI Dossier: A Guide to the Classic TV Series Produced by Quinn Martin and Starring Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. 

by Bill Sullivan with Ed Robertson

Black Pawn Press, 900 pages, $49.99

My rating: ★★★★ (out of ★★★★)

Anyway, the first thing to appear on the screen (after the "In Color" slide) was the FBI's mission: "to protect the innocent and identify the enemies of the United States Government." That opening title scene was perfect, really; perhaps only the start of Perry Mason did a better job of summarizing what the show was all about. After a cold opening that gave us a look at the episode’s criminal, along with the case number and why he or she was wanted by the FBI, the scene dissolved into shots of Washington icons: the Capitol, the Washington Monument, and the Supreme Court, ending with a zoom-in on the Justice Department, home of the Bureau. Between that and the majestic theme, written by Bronislaw Kaper, it was enough to make you run right out there and sign up. I’m sure Hoover must have loved it.

After all that, it's pretty obvious that I'd be about as receptive as anyone could possibly be to a book about the show. Enter Bill Sullivan and Ed Robertson, authors of The FBI Dossier: A Guide to the Classic TV Series Produced by Quinn Martin and Starring Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. At nearly 900 pages, this is a big book: but then, this is a big topic. The FBI ran for nine seasons and 241 episodes between 1965 and 1974, with stories based on actual FBI cases. It was the centerpiece of the great Quinn Martin's television empire, and one of the hallmark series of the time; it even helped knock one of television's institutions, The Ed Sullivan Show, off the air. As for its cultural impact, one need go no further than the number of agents through the years who were inspired to join the Bureau because of the series. Including me; who knows but what, had I been older at the time it came on the air, you might be reading the musings of a former FBI agent. 

And yet, it's strangely overlooked today; as the authors point out in the introductory section, even the FBI's Wikipedia pages fails to mention the series in its "Media Portrayal" section. It is, as radio host Tom Gulley says, "the most successful long-running show that no one seems to remember." One wonders how we could be so shortsighted as to forget it? Fortunately, the entire series has been issued on DVD, and it's currently streaming for free on Tubi, making it possible for a new generation to discover and enjoy it. This book should do the same.

As you might gather from the page count, The FBI Dossier is much more than just an episode guide; it begins with a brief history of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, before guiding the reader through the show's origins, from Quinn Martin’s initial reluctance to take on the job (he was, he thought, "too liberal" to tell the "conservative" Bureau's stories), to the close relationship between Zimbalist and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (he was invited to sit in the FBI section of mourners at Hoover's funeral). We read about behind-the-scenes activities involving both the series and the network, and we see a lineup of guest stars as good as that of any television series of the time: Richard Anderson, Anne Archer, Ed Asner, Michael Bell, Eric Braeden, Beau Bridges, Henry Darrow, Robert Hooks, Ketty Lester, Donna Mills, Stefanie Powers, Suzanne Pleshette, Peter Mark Richman, Roy Thinnes, Joan Van Ark, Lindsay Wagner, and Dawn Wells, among many others. The writing is knowledgeable, literate, and to the point.

There is an episode guide, of course, with each one getting between two and five pages on average, including credits for the cast and production personnel (many of which include interesting personal details). Additionally, there are recaps of off-season developments, ads for the show, reviews, pictures, and other production notes, plus appendices that provide neat details, such as "Episodes that depict FBI investigations into mob activities," and the transcript of the speech that former FBI director Robert Mueller gave honoring Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in 2009. An extensive bibliography and list of sources follow, for anyone who wants to pursue one or two of the rabbit holes that a book like this will invariably produce. Honestly, I can't think of anything that isn't covered in this book.

The authors, Bill Sullivan and Ed Robertson, are well-equipped to take on a project of this scope; Sullivan, in addition to a collection of 888 TV Guides from 1954 to 1971 (I must meet this man!) previously authored a guide to the Perry Mason series, while Robertson has written books on television classics such as The Fugitive, Maverick, The Rockford Files, and Star Trek, and hosts the syndicated talk show Television Confidential.* The FBI Dossier was seven years in the research and writing, interviewing many people involved in the making of the series, both in front of and behind the cameras, some of whom have passed away since; as I've often mentioned, these people from the era of classic television aren't going to be with us forever, and we owe a debt of gratitude to Sullivan and Robertson for capturing and documenting their stories before it was too late. 

*Full disclosure: In the past, I have appeared as a guest (albeit one of the lesser ones) on Television Confidential. I believe both you and Ed Robertson trust me enough to know that this would not and does not influence my review.

The book is dedicated to one of those actors, William Reynolds, who played Erskine's longest-running partner, Special Agent Tom Colby. Reynolds, who died just over a year ago at age ninety, was an important part of The FBI Dossier, with his insights, memories, and background on the early days of television. Ed Robertson's warm remembrance confirms what I, and anyone watching the show, might have suspected: that William Reynolds, in addition to being a talented actor and integral part of the success of The FBI, was a good guy.
Don't let the book's size be daunting; if you’re a fan of The FBI—either from its original run or through the DVDs that Warner issued in the last few yearsThe FBI Dossier is a must-have. If you’re unfamiliar with the series, or have seen just a few episodes, you’ll find yourself wanting to read, and watch, more. If you're already watching, you'll want to use the book to follow along, episode by episode. If you want to just pick it up at random and read about a few episodes, or the series in general, it's perfect. I’ve seen every episode of The FBI and own the DVDs, I’ve read articles about the series and its stars, and I found myself learning many things that I didn’t know—and things that I didn’t know I wanted to know.  

What more can I say, other than this: The FBI Dossier is a book I would have been proud to have written. I wish I had, except I couldn’t have done nearly as good a job. Bill Sullivan and Ed Robertson have given readers a wonderful book: not just a trip back in time, but a companion on a journey that's bound to continue.  TV  

December 18, 2023

What's on TV? Tuesday, December 16. 1969

Ron Magers, the anchor of the KPIX morning news at 7:30, would go on to be the anchor of the 6:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. news on KSTP in St. Paul-Minneapolis from 1974-81. (His younger brother Paul would be the principal anchor at another Twin Cities station, KARE, from 1983-2003.) He was a popular figure in the Twin Cities (during his time there, KSTP broke the ratings dominance of rival giant WCCO), never more so than in 1979, when he endeared himself to viewers during a newsbreak with his acidic commentary on the show then being broadcast on KSTP, ABC's Playboy's Pajama Party. You can see it here, thanks to TCMedia; I didn't see this when it happened, but you can bet I read about it the days to follow. Whether or not it was the professional thing to do, almost everyone agreed it was the right thing to do. No such excitement with these listings from the Northern California edition, but fun nonetheless.