January 31, 2024

The history of game shows in one easy lesson

X couple of weeks ago, I appeared on Dan Schneider's American TV history series to discuss the history of game shows. It was a lot of fun, and I hope you'll check it out here

My primary reference source for the show was the book Game Shows FAQ: All That's Left to Know About the Pioneers, the Scandals, the Hosts and the Jackpots, by Adam Nedeff. It's a book I've had for a few years, and while I did mention it at the end of the program, I realize I've been remiss in not writing about it sooner, because it's an indispensable resource as well as one of the best television history books of recent years.

Game Shows FAQ: All That's Left to Know About the Pioneers, the Scandals, the Hosts and the Jackpots
by Adam Nedeff
Applause, 388 pages, $19.99

My rating: ★★★★ (out of ★★★★)

As you might gather from the title, this is no dry recitation of the history of television game shows. Neither, however, is it a series of headlines that read like internet clickbait. As the Amazon description reads (and why bother trying to reinvent something that says exactly what needs to be said?), "this book examines the most relevant game shows of every decade, exploring how the genre changed and the reasons behind its evolution." And it does so in a totally readable way.

Did you know, for example, that the first recorded game quiz on radio was in 1923, on radio station WNYC in New York, that it was called "Brooklyn Eagle Quiz on Current Events," and that the host the host was H.V. Kaltenborn, who would go on to become a respected newscaster and commentator? Or that "Uncle Jim’s Question Bee" was the first quiz show on television in 1941, when it appeared on WNBT in  New York in a special made for the first day of official broadcasting? You would if you read Game Show FAQ. You'd also know how and why old game shows become new game shows, how Merv Griffin and Chuck Barris each brought their own unique (and very different!) way of thinking to the genre, why many doubted the choice of Alex Trebek as the host of the revived Jeopardy!, how ABC ruined its biggest cash cow, and more.  

Game shows have changed dramatically from those days of the "Brooklyn Eagle Quiz on Current Events," when high school students stood on stage and competed until only one contestant remained. Daytime shows depended on knowledge of practical facts, such as how much household items might cost (The Price is Right), facts that might appeal to a predominantly female audience. Evening shows, seeking to make a bigger splash (and higher ratings) became big-money super-shows (Twenty-One, The $64,000 Question) based on high-level knowledge of specialized subjects ranging from mathematics to movies and boxing. Those shows produced their own superstars—and their own problems, as Nedeff details in his chapter on the Quiz Show Scandal. 

Following the scandal, a new generation of game show came to the front: panel shows driven by celebrities (What's My Line?, I've Got a Secret, To Tell the Truth), tests of a contestant's wits (Jeopardy!, Password, Concentration), and shows where the competition sometimes seemed to take a backseat to comedy (The Hollywood Squares, Match Game, Let's Make a Deal). The stakes were demonstrably lower, and eventually the genre began to die off, only to make a resurgence with a new generation of shows, from Family Feud to Wheel of Fortune, culminating in the prime-time sensations Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and The Weakest Link. What about shows like American Idol and Survivor? Nedeff covers them as well. 

Sometimes books on television history can seem, well, more fan-based than historical; other times, the prose is so dry and scholarly that the shows described barely resemble the ones we remember having watched. Fortunately, this doesn't describe Game Show FAQ; Through nearly 400 pages, Nedeff goes through the history of game shows—from those unknown programs of early radio days to the shows that we all remember from those days when we were sick and couldn't go to schoolin a style that's both breezy and informative, and exceptionally well-written. The man knows his topic (he's written other books on game shows), and more important he knows how to write about it: not only the historical facts, but the backstage information as well: feuds, misplaced jokes, network interference, hosts that didn't pan out, you name it. 

If you have a fondness for game shows—either those from childhood or today's shows populating the many game show-specific subchannels and streamers—you're going to find it in this book. Even if you're not a game show fanatic but enjoy the history of television, you'll learn about the role these shows have had and continue to have in the medium. For that, we have Adam Nedeff to thank, and Game Show FAQ deserves its place in the television library for that alone. That it's a great read just adds to the enjoyment. TV  

January 29, 2024

What's on TV? Tuesday, January 29, 1980

If you're a fan of M*A*S*H and you have a sharp eye, you've probably been able to figure out the episode that's on WKYT, Channel 27, at 7:30 p.m. Since it's listed in black-and-white, it has to be "The Interview," the final episode of the fourth season and the only one to be shot in B&W, and features TV journalist Clete Roberts essentially playing himself as a war correspondent interviewing members of the 4077th. For my money, the pick of the night is 1964's Seven Days in May, on of the great political thrillers of all time, with Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster and a brewing military coup in the U.S. As timely as ever, don't you think? The listings are from the Kentucky edition.

January 27, 2024

This week in TV Guide: January 26, 1980

Having started the year with issues from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, it seems only appropriate that this week we look at the 1980s. I don't think you should count on this trend continuing with the 1990s next week, though. I'm only willing to take this kind of thing so far.  And if you're thinking this is too bad because the Nineties were your favorite television decade, I can only offer this by way of consolation: Life isn't fair.

We begin, however, with a question that's as relevant today as it was forty-four years ago, and by relevant I mean a question that we find ourselves right smack-dab in the middle of: should television bring war coverage live to your living room? 

Tom Wolzien, a producer for NBC Nightly News, is the one asking the question. You may think of it as one that's been asked and answered already. Vietnam, after all, was "the living-room war," the first war brought into the intimacy of our homes. But, as Wolzien points out, there was a difference back then: "[D]uring Vietnam there was a large gap between an event and the time it was seen in the states—sometimes 24 hours or more. And then the pictures were in the murky, subdued colors of film processed in the Far East." Now, imagine the vivid colors of modern television, combined with the minicams that can go anywhere, and the ability to broadcast live.

The example Wolzien uses is one that cuts particularly close at the moment: that of an Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon to crush a PLO training camp. Government-run Israeli television transmits live pictures showing heavy fighting around the camp. "At the same time, PLO cameras are showing live pictures of the Israelis attacking the camp. But from the PLO cameras, the place looks more like a refugee camp than a guerrilla base." Each side wants to present its own version of events; who do you believe? Furthermore, the pictures, whether accurate or not, have to be considered propaganda since they're being produced by government organizations. Do U.S. TV networks want to be accused of airing propaganda? Not just that, but what if the live coverage captures images of soldiers being shot and killed as it happens, for everyone (including family and loved ones) to see instantaneously. Bad taste? Images that could be used to manipulate the public to either favor or oppose the war? 

What Wolzien imagines is, I think, a little different from the coverage that embedded reporters provided during the Gulf Wars. I don't recall, during either of those conflicts, an interview being conducted with an officer while his battalion was involved in active battle. But would that happen if U.S. forces were involved in, say, Ukraine or China? Would the government impose some type of control over satellite transmissions and try to block those that put the war in a bad light, and would that turn into a more general censorship of all negative war news? 

On the other hand, such a question probably wouldn't be limited to television; in all likelihood we'd be talking about coverage on social media, and we all know how many faked images and old photographs purporting to show some wartime atrocity or other have popped up online. AI just makes things more complicated, the truth more elusive. Perhaps live coverage is the answer after all, provided we can guarantee the coverage is live, and not manufactured. As if there weren't enough ethical questions regarding war to begin with, now we have to consider how the war is covered. 

Wolzen warns that the technology is coming; well, it's long since been here. "But in the end, there are only two real questions: Is it ethical to show a war live on television? Is it moral not to?" There is no conclusion to this conversation, other than to say that there are no easy answers.

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I've probably done Robert MacKenzie an injustice over the years; for all of the Cleveland Amory reviews I've looked at, I seldom have anything to say about MacKenzie's, which tell us just as much about the TV landscape of the times. I figure this seems to be a good time to rectify that injustice, so for our mutual edification, we look at—The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo

Lobo, a spinoff from NBC's BJ and the Bear, is a flagrant practitioner of what Mac calls "bun shots," that is, shots that "contrive to have a girl in shorts or tight pants on some errand that heads her away from the camera." (Of course, nowadays she'd be doing that strut without the shorts or tight pants, but that's progress for you.) Lobo makes a practice of using these shots with frequency; not only that, the camera "invariably zooms in for a tight frame of the featured position." And MacKenzie admits to being a little embarrassed by these shots. "I mean, a man might well wish to let his eye rove over a lady and pause at a likely curve. But a zoom-in bun shot makes a blatant voyeur out of the viewer. There's no way he can pretend to be checking out the actress's hairdo." But then, as he points out, Lobo does not pretend to be a masterclass in subtlety. 

has a two-season run, producing 38 episodes, and if MacKenzie is embarrassed by the bun shots, I'm a little embarrassed on behalf of the network that they let the show run for that long. Lobo is played by Claude Akins, a man with "a face like an abused prune" (beat that description, Cleve!), was the heavy in BJ, but here he's called to be "convincingly treacherous and decent at the same time," and whether it's Akins' abilities or the scripts he has to work with, he can't pull it off. When he does the right thing, it just seems contrived; "he smells fraudulent, like a perfumed outhouse." Some actors weren't meant to be good guys, and I've always thought that of Akins, who often plays men who seem dedicated to making you want to punch them in the face. Miles Watson, who plays Lobo's corrupt Deputy Perkins, does the slapstick well (especially when prompted by Brian Kerwin's naïve Deputy Hawkins), but "the car chases and destruction gags frequently fall a bit flat (because there’s no laughtrack? I'd hate to think so)." 

The most damning statement comes at the end, when MacKenzie returns to the show's most notable feature: "breaking a woman down into parts is a low male-chauvinist trick. Those zooms implicate me in the director's piggism, and I resent it—even when I secretly enjoy it." Guilty pleasures like that are often an indication that perhaps you shouldn't be enjoying it in the first place.

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On weeks when we can, we'll match up two of the biggest rock shows of the era, NBC's The Midnight Special and the syndicated Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, and see who's better, who's best.

Kirshner: Performers include Ashford & Simpson, Kansas, Michael Jackson, Brooklyn Dreams, Stephanie Mills and comic Garry Shandling. Music: "People of the South Wind."

Special: Part 2 of the seventh-anniversary show features Captain & Tennille (hosts), Crystal Gayle, the Commodores, Olivia Newton-John, the Village People, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Andy Kaufman, the Outraged and Outrageous players. The Captain & Tennille sing "Do That to Me One More Time," and the Commodores sing "Still" and "Sail On."

There's a sports term called "backing in to the playoffs," referring to a team that clinches a playoff spot even though they've lost, because their closest competitor has also lost and now can no longer catch them in the standings. Well, that might be what we have this week. Of the Special's guests, I can only vouch for Olivia and Dolly, while Kirshner's class rests with Kansas, Michael, and Garry Shandling. Should a comic be the deciding vote when comparing two music shows? I don't know, but this week, Kirshner gets the last laugh.

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It's coming up on sweeps time, and while things won't really hit their stride until next week, we've got a good number of specials and new shows being hyped this week. I'll spare you most of the ads, but you can be the judge as to whether or not any of these shows are truly special.

Saturday features one of those episodes that you see so often during sweeps: Barbi Benton on Fantasy Island (10:00 p.m. ET, ABC), as a former centerfold (really stretching her acting range, isn't she?) who wants a chance to treat men like sex objects. I assume there was a long line of men at the Island offering to help out with this one, don't you?

If you're looking for science fiction, then Sunday's the night for you! It starts with Galactica 1980 (7:00 p.m., ABC), the low-rent sequel to the late Battlestar Galactica, with Lorne Greene reprising his role as Adama, leader of the space wanderers. In tonight's episode, the first of a three-part story, Galactica has finally found Earth—now what do they do? Guest stars include Kent McCord, Barry Van Dyke, Robyn Douglass, and Robert Reed. Though I never watched it, I think you're better off with Sci-Fi's reboot of the series in 2003. 

Or, you can just wait an hour for part one of the six-hour miniseries The Martian Chronicles (8:00 p.m., NBC), based on the Ray Bradbury classic. Chronicles boasts an even bigger-name cast, led by Rock Hudson, with Nicholas Hammond, Roddy McDowall, Darren McGavin, Fritz Weaver, Bernadette Peters*, and Maria Schell. Parts two and three air Monday and Tuesday nights at the same time, and Ray Bradbury would probably prefer that you skip it; Bradbury bluntly told Fred Silverman that the miniseries was "boring," which is, to my way of thinking, even worse than being bad, and told friends that sitting through it was "his idea of hell."

*That ad does Bernadette Peters a real injustice: "The sexiest woman on Mars," it reads. "The only woman on Mars." I think she could stand up to any competition.

Sci-fi aside, ABC follows Galactica with the special two-hour premiere of Tenspeed and Brown Shoe (8:00 p.m.), starring Ben Vereen and Jeff Goldblum in, according to the late Tom Shales of the Washington Post, "One of the most dazzling, dizzying, exhilarating debuts an action series has ever made on television." I can understand why this series might have been greenlighted; odd couple-buddy movies are often good fodder for comedy/action concepts, and it was heavily promoted both before and during the network's coverage of the Winter Olympics, but after a promising start, the ratings fall dramatically, and the show is cancelled after 14 episodes.

Following Tenspeed, it's Donna Summer in her first TV special! Honest, that's what it says in the ad. The special (10:00 p.m., ABC) wisely avoids most of the variety special tropes, concentrating on Summer in concert at the Hollywood Bowl, augmented by staged numbers taped in-studio. Except for a campy version of "Bad Girls" that features Donna's "backup trio" of Twiggy, Debralee Scott, and Pat Ast, it's pretty much all music, all Donna.

Tenspeed and Brown Shoe isn't the only series that must have seemed like a good idea at the time; on Monday, Dennis Weaver stars in Stone (9:00 p.m., ABC), playing a police detective who writes best-selling novels on the side. (Sound familiar?) Like Tenspeed, Stone was produced by Stephen J. Cannell, who also created the series with Richard Levinson and William Link. Weaver's an established star with a pedigree as a cop, so you'd think this would have done well, but perhaps viewers missed the cowboy hat; only nine episodes were produced, seven of which were aired before the show was cancelled in March.

On Tuesday, ABC brings out "The comedy that's the new hit of the 80's!" (Again, that's what it says.) Goodtime Girls (8:30 p.m.) stars Annie Potts, Lorna Patterson, Georgia Engel, and Francine Tacker as four woman sharing an apartment in Washington, D.C. during World War II. It's a joint effort of Paramount and Garry Marshall's production company, and they must have hoped they had the next Laverne & Shirley on their hands, but it was more like the next Stone; twelve of the thirteen episodes make it to the air before the show meets its demise. 

And now we find ourselves on the horns of a dilemma.  NBC boasts that Wednesday is "The Funniest Night of the Week!" and looks to back it up with Real People at 8:00 p.m., Diff'rent Strokes at 9:00, Hello, Larry at 9:30, and The Best of Saturday Night Live at 10:00. However, that comes in direct conflict with Thursday, which ABC calls "TV's Funniest Night!" To bolster their claim, ABC points to Mork & Mindy at 8:00 p.m., Benson at 8:30, Barney Miller at 9:00, and Soap at 9:30. (I'm not sure how the producers of 20/20, which airs at 10:00, feel about it.) I think history will record ABC as having the more accurate pronouncement.

Speaking of Soap, though, this week's cover story profiles Richard Mulligan, who plays the goofy Burt Campbell. Mulligan has a long career of playing dramatic roles on stage and in the movies, and is a serious man (he discusses Montaigne and Gnosticism easily), but when he auditioned for the role of Burt, he bowled over producer Susan Harris, who now says that "I can't remember my original concept because when I think of Burt I think of Richard and when I think of Richard I think of Burt."

I've always enjoyed Mulligan's work; in his previous sitcom, 1966's The Hero, he played an actor who was a heroic cowboy type on a TV Western but in his personal life was, as The New York Times described him, "a good-natured family man with 10 thumbs and a fear of horses." In other words, a quirky character not completely unlike Burt Campbell. I also thought he was hilarious in the Blake Edwards movie S.O.B., where he plays a suicidal movie producer trying to salvage his latest movie, a bomb starring his wife (Julie Andrews). No matter what he was in, he was never the biggest name in the cast—but when he was on-screen, he was the one you noticed. -He wins an Emmy for Soap in 1981, and a few years later he'll win another one (and a Golden Globe) or the sitcom Empty Nest.

On Friday, it's the network TV debut of An Unmarried Woman (9:00 p.m., ABC), with Jill Clayburgh in her Oscar-nominated role of a woman trying to cope with life after marriage. Judith Crist calls it a "feminist milestone-movie," with Clayburgh brilliant as the woman forced to start over after her husband leaves her, and fine supporting work from Michael Murphy and Alan Bates. 

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I alluded to the Winter Olympics earlier; ABC's coverage of the Games, being held this year in Lake Placid, New York, begins on February 12. But it's the Summer Olympics getting our attention this week. In the face of a possible boycott of the Games by the United States, Rick Cohen reports that NBC is moving ahead with their broadcast plans, but acknowledges that they do have "contingency plans" in case the Games are cancelled or boycotted by the U.S. That boycott is the topic of this week's "As We See It," a rare full-page editorial entitled "Moscow Is No Place For the Olympic Games." 

"The argument that the Games are above international politics is idealistic but fallacious," the editorial states at the outset. Comparing the situation to that faced in 1936, when the Summer Olympics were held in Nazi Berlin, the editorial acknowledges that the four gold medals won by Jesse Owens did, "somewhat," tarnish Hitler's triumph, but goes on to say that, "in hindsight it was a mistake. We should have taken the opportunity to show the German people that the United States, at least, refused to countenance the barbaric cruelty of the German government." Referring to the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan and Cambodia, and its proxy wars being conducted in Angola and Ethiopia, the editors ask, "How can we think of clean competition and sportsmanship on the playing fields in Moscow"? The Soviet veto of a UN resolution calling for economic sanctions against Iran because of the hostage crisis simply underscores "not only the Soviet enmity toward this country but their determination to undermine the West and force their political system upon the world by whatever means."

Yes, it's true that boycotting the Summer Olympics would be a great disappointment for American athletes who, through no fault of their own, would lose perhaps the only chance they'd ever have to compete in the Games—not to mention the millions of Americans who enjoy the Games on television and look forward to the international spectacle every four years. Despite this, the editorial concludes, "it would be in the best interest of our country—and the world—if we were to tell the Soviet people in unmistakable terms that we are not hypocrites, that we cannot send our athletes to compete in a country whose government flouts basic human rights, bullies small countries, and poses a constant threat to world peace." 

I wonder what the editors would have had to say about the recent Summer and Winter Games in Beijing? From where I sit, red is red whether the shade is Soviet or Chinese. TV  

January 26, 2024

Around the dial

Saturday Night Life was a show that wasn't shown on the NBC affiliate back when I lived in the World's Worst Town™. This was back when the show debuted, so I was never sure whether the station thought it was too controversial, or simply wanted the revenue from showing old movies instead. At any rate, that was about 45 years ago, or around the same time that Garry Berman stopped watching it altogether. This week, he tells us why.

For years, we've been inundated with more television than anyone could possibly watch, thanks to the increase in streaming. But now, according to Mary Kate Carr at The A.V. Club, the end of Peak TV also means a decline in new television shows, by as much as 25%, if you can notice it. What does the future hold? It's a question we ask often, but nobody really knows the answer.

Kat Lively's latest episode of her podcast Calling Old Hollywood is now available, as she interviews screenwriter Neal Gumpel about Hollywood and the entertainment industry, films, AI, existentialism, the evolution (and censorship) of comedy, and other wide-ranging topics. You can see that episode here, along with past episodes, articles, and more. 

At Realweegiemidget, Gill looks at one of her favorites among the "retro television reunion film" genre, 1983's The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E., starring our heroes Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, with Patrick Macnee stepping in for the late Leo G. Carroll. It's one of the earliest of the reunion movies, and one of the most enjoyable; too bad it didn't result in a few more.

The Hitchcock Project continues unabated at barebones e-zine, with Jack reviewing the second and last contribution of Richard Fielder, 1963's "To Catch a Butterfly," starring Bradford Dillman, Diana Hyland, and Ed Asner. It's not just a gripping mystery, it is, as Jack says, "a fascinating look at parenting styles in America in the 1950s and 1960s," the kind of thing TV does so well.

The Broadcast Archives has a number of fascinating posts this week, including a 1949 Science Illustrated article (not written by AI, as Sports Illustrated might have done) on "What Every Family Wants to Know About Television," but I'm also recommending this look at Dave Garroway's pre-Today series Garroway at Large, an excellent example of the "Chicago Style" of television.

At Cult TV Blog, John continues his series of articles wondering if Patrick McGoohan's Number 6 was a plant, not a Prisoner, with the episode "Many Happy Returns." It's one of the series' more bizarre episodes, and looking at it from John's perspective makes it even more bizarre, but does it prove that Number 6 is a plant? You'll have to see for yourself.

Television Obscurities looks at a recent list from the Television Academy (the people who put on the Emmys) on the Top 75 Most Impactful Television Moments. Aside from my refusal to recognize "impactful" as a real word, I agree with Robert that it's nice to see a list that's not loaded with the recency bias that we see in so many of these lists. As always, YMMV.

Norman Jewison, the director whose works include the movies In the Heat of the Night, Rollerball, Fiddler on the Roof, and many more, died this week, aged 97. As Terence points out at A Shroud of Thoughts, Jewison also did a lot of television earlier in his career, particularly variety shows and specials. Quite a career, any way you measure it.

It seems like just yesterday that we were reading about Paul's journey through Season 1 of Bonanza, and already we're on to Season 2, as he recounts at Drunk TV. The legendary Western is hitting is its stride, and this season's episodes develops and expands on themes and characters introduced in the first season. It's already clear that Bonanza is not the average TV horse opera.

At The View from the Junkyard, Mike digs into "The Practical Joker," from the second season of Star Trek: The Animated Series. Romulans, gas clouds, practical jokes, and our first look at what is obviously The Next Generation's holodeck—what more, really, could anyone hope for from a 23-minute animated show? 

And finally, my friend Rodney Marshall has edited a new book, New Waves: 1980s TV In Britain, a collection of essays on the decade in British television drama. If that isn't enough, Maddy at Classic Film and TV Corner is one of the contributors, as she looks at The Gentle Touch, the first British series to feature a female police officer as the lead. Be sure to check it out. TV  

January 24, 2024

The news leader of the Upper Midwest

I don't often do posts these days that are primarily devoted to videos, but there are occasions that call for an exception. And just because I've moved out of Minnesota and washed my hands of the whole place, I still have an interest in the history of television in the Twin Cities. Today, we have an intersection of those two topics.

A few weeks ago, I revisited "Miracle on 9th Street," a 1974 episode of the WCCO public affairs program Moore on Sunday. At the time, I mentioned WCCO's commitment to producing local programming, and took the opportunity to, well, complain about the state of local programming in television today.

Over the last few days, the indispensable site tcmedianow.com has put up several new WCCO news videos that they've just digitized; I thought you might find them interesting because they give us a more comprehensive look at the type of local programming that WCCO did; it's also a chance to see how news coverage has changed over the years. (Also, for those of you whose only reference point for Twin Cities newscasts are the ones you see with Ted Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, you'll see why WCCO was considered one of the best news stations in the nation.)

The first video begins with a program consisting of the station's award-winning entry in the 1960 George Foster Peabody Awards competition. The Peabody was presented to WCCO "In recognition of several distinguished locally produced programs, including Unwed Mothers, Sister Kenny Scandal, and Arle Haeberle’s Capsule Fashion Course, a specifically created therapy for the women patients at Anoka State Mental Hospital." As anchor Dave Moore points out in the introduction, WCCO produced 32 documentaries in 1960 alone, covering topics "from politics to poverty on skid row." Thirty-two documentaries—think about it; that's one every 12 days or so. Imagine that kind of output, and from a three-man unit. These aren't power-puff topics, either—they're hard-hitting looks at issues that people might have been hesitant to talk about in public. There are a couple different versions of this, including raw footage that lacks narration, so I've cued the video to begin at 21:07, but if you don't mind repetition the entire segment is worth watching. 

The second segment, beginning at 29:42, is the 10:00 p.m. newscast from Tuesday, September 3, 1957. (The date isn't included in the video, but I was able to pinpoint it based on the news story about a military jet crash, and the baseball scores given in the sports.) I love looking at these local news videos for several reasons; you get an idea of the kind of news stories being presented on local news, and you can also see that the sets used by local stations are a good deal more sophisticated-looking than what you see portrayed in sci-fi B-movies of the era. But check out those graphics on the weather! And can you imagine a newscaster today doing the commercials as well? Especially commercials that are made to look like news stories!

Just to prove that the "Miracle on 9th Street" of Moore on Sunday was the exception rather than the rule, I'm also including an episode from November 4, 1973, covering the increasing problem of violence in schools. Again, this is something that's more than a five-minute segment on a sensational topic or a veiled promotion for something on the network later on, but a half-hour in-depth look at a serious issue. 

And here's a bonus—a 1963 WCCO Reports on the role that Minnesota plays in the burgeoning computer/electronics industry, long before anyone had ever heard of Silicon Valley. I wonder what would have happened if that had stayed in Minnesota rather than migrated to the Left Coast. 

As I've written before (many times before), I'd like to think that this, rather than game shows or endless reruns of stupid sitcoms, is what the FCC had in mind with its Prime Time Access rule. WCCO would produce many such documentaries over the years, on subjects ranging from "The Hollow Victory: Vietnam Under Communism" to "From Belfast With Love." (There's actually a WCCO page on the Peabody Awards website.) Maybe the graphics today are flashier, and the presenters and presentations are more polished, but back then the reporters had something of substance between the ears. And thanks again to tcmedianow.com for digitizing these clips and preserving an essential part of television history. TV  

January 22, 2024

What's on TV? Friday, January 23, 1970

Held over from Saturday's TV Guide review of this Northern California edition is "Married Alive," a presentation of Prudential's On Stage series of occasional plays, which appeared on NBC between 1968 and 1970. "Married Alive" stars Robert Culp and Diana Rigg in a comedy about an explorer (Culp) who says he's been suffering from amnesia for the last ten years and claims to be the long-lost husband of a wealthy English woman (Rigg). The two get along famously, and the children love him, but is he really who he claims to be? Now, you'll recall that in Diana Rigg's final episode of The Avengers, which aired in 1968, Mrs. Peel leaves with her husband Peter, a pilot who had been lost (and presumed dead) after an air crash in the Amazon. (Not for ten years, alas, but only three.) Considering how many roles actors play, I doubt that Diana Rigg saw the irony in this, but I'd like to think so, wouldn't you? 

January 20, 2024

This week in TV Guide: January 17, 1970

It's not often that we lead off with one of our features; thinking back on it, I'm not sure that I've ever done it before. But, then, I'm not sure that we've ever encountered anyone quite like Michael James Brody, Jr., especially not on The Ed Sullivan Show. And when you have the potential to use that as the lede, why look any further?

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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 Muhammad Ali, actress June Allyson, singer Buddy Greco, comics Bill Dana (as Jose Jimenez) and Minnie Pearl, magician Mac Ronay, millionaire Michael James Brody Jr. and his wife Rennie, and the Kessler Twins, singer-dancers. 

Palace: Hosts Bobbie Gentry, John Hartford and Roy Clark present Frankie Laine, Louis Nye, dancers Szony and Agnese, the rocking Brooklyn Bridge and comic Jackie Gayle.

The listing for this week's Sullivan show was skimpy on details, forcing me to consult the IMDb to find out exactly who appeared, and I'm glad I did; otherwise, we'd have no reason to talk about Michael James Brody Jr.. 

Brody, a 21-year-old margarine heir from New York, was, for a time, "the most beloved millionaire in the world"; newspaper headlines proclaimed him as the "Hippie Angel," dedicated to world peace and the sharing of prosperity. He had a fortune of $25 million, or so he said, his portion of a trust fund set up by his grandfather, margarine magnate John Jelke. He first started to attract headlines when he bought out all the seats on a Pam Am 707 (cost: $7,000) so that he and his new wife, Renee (whom he'd met three weeks before when she showed up at his house to make a hash delivery for her drug-dealing then-boyfriend) could return home from their Jamaican honeymoon in private. 

Naturally, that kind of behavior is bound to garner attention, and after Pan Am spread the story, photographers and newsmen were on hand at Kennedy Airport to capture their arrival. Apparently inspired by all the publicity, Brody fanned the flames by announcing that he wanted to give away his fortune. (New York Times headline: "He Wants to Aid Poor and Peace.") "Money hasn’t made me satisfied," he told the Times reporter. "I wasn’t satisfied until I found Renee. Now I have everything I want—love, fresh air, food. So why shouldn’t I give my money away?" He made public his phone number and address, and urged people to send him their requests. He was said to be worth at least $25 million, and NBC placed the number at $50 million. Predictably, he was besieged by letters, telegrams, and calls, and opened up an office to handle the deluge of mail.

His behavior was extravagant; said the Times, "He is reported to have given $2,500 to a man with mortgage trouble, $1,000 to a taxi driver, $500 to a heroin addict, $100 to a barber who opened a door for him and $100 to a newsboy who sold him a paper—all on Thursday." And, in the midst of all this, he and Renee (her name appears as "Rennie" on the IMDb credits) wound up on The Ed Sullivan Show, where he received $3,500 for his appearance, which included "play[ing] a Bob Dylan song ("You Ain't Going Nowhere") on his acoustic guitar as the host marveled over 'the youngster giving away $25 million.' Audience members applauded wildly." And you thought last week's issue was full of stories behind the stories. He signed a record contract, and tried to land a helicopter on the lawn at the White House, where he wanted to meet with President Nixon and discuss world peace.

If it all seems too good—or too weird—to be true, it unfortunately proves to be the case. Checks started to bounce, and it turned out that he'd overestimated his fortune just slightly: in reality, his portion of the trust was worth more like $1.25 million. Checks started to bounce, Brody briefly disappeared from sight, and in April he was being held in a psychiatric center in the Bay Area. In May, he was arrested on drug charges, and the following year he was arrested for threatening President Nixon's life. He ultimately took his own life by gunshot on January 26, 1973.

You can read more about this colorful and, ultimately, very sad story in this feature at the New York Post (which incorrectly identifies the date of his Sullivan appearance as January 11). And even though The Hollywood Palace has a strong Country-themed lineup—in fact, it's probably a stronger lineup overall—nothing is going to top a story like that. This week, Sullivan is worth a million.

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Well, I admit that's a hard act to follow, but we'll gamely soldier on. Carolyn See knows a little about that; getting Don Galloway to talk about himself is a little like pulling teeth, or, as she puts it, getting blood from a stone. He's reticent to talk about himself and his accomplishments in the business, which have peaked with his current role on Ironside, in which he plays one of Raymond Burr's trusted lieutenants—or, in the case of Galloway's character, Ed Brown, sergeant. "Perhaps," See wonders, "his modesty and shyness are not so much a by-product of being a supporting actor as they are reasons for his becoming a supporting actor in the first place."

Up to now, his career has consisted mainly of "generally forgettable parts," or fairly good parts "in forgettable series," including Arrest and Trial, 90 Bristol Court, and the movie Rare Breed, in which he was overshadowed by stars Brian Keith and Maureen O'Hara. Ironside would seem to offer, as See says, few challenges, but Galloway is fine with it. "It’s a question of values. Some people want to be a star. Some people want to be rich. I really just want to act and make a living acting." And then he shifts the talk, as he has been doing throughout the interview, away from himself and toward, in this case, "that big guy who rides in a wheel chair." "I've been quoted as saying that Raymond Burr is the best actor in America. I actually didn’t say exactly that. I said there are none better." A stickler for detail, he adds, "There may possibly be actors as good as he is—l mean, you could argue it—but | don’t believe there’s a better actor in the country."

So much for his career. "I just feel that the story of my life isn't exactly high drama." When asked how he met his wife, he responds simply, "On a cigarette commercial." Pressed for details, he adds, "In Red Bank, New Jersey." And when asked for the best time he's ever had in his life, he mentions The Rare Breed, and steers it once again away from his career. "That's when my wife had our first daughter, and | met my old friend and poker-playing buddy, Jack Elam." His passions are his work, his family, and poker, and it's hard not to understand Don Galloway as a happy, satisfied man. "When you come home from work, and talk to your wife and play with the kids, and play a little poker, there isn’t much time left."

In his series of "It's About TV" articles on Ironside, Stephen Taylor mentions Don Galloway, and his first impressions are quite similar to what we read here: "He’s just an anonymous guy wearing a suit who happens to carry a badge. He has no gravitas. No bearing. He’s simply not believable." And then immediately corrects himself; in the third season episode "Tom Dayton Is Loose Among Us," he shows to us all that he can really act. That episode is due to air in April 1970; I wonder if Carolyn See was able to catch it?

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Let's take a look at some sports. 

    Program from the final game
For ten years, the American Football League has battled for recognition and respect from the National Football League and football fans throughout the nation. Over the last four years, the rebel league has battled the establishment to a dead heat in the Super Bowl, with each league winning two games. Now, as the leagues merge into the new and improved NFL, the AFL plays its last-ever game, as the best of the Eastern and Western Divisions clash in the final AFL All-Star Game, live from the Houston Astrodome (Saturday, 11:00 a.m., NBC). It's the end of an era, one that I think many American Football League fans are sorry to see come to a conclusion; by being merged into the NFL, where it will become the "American Conference" (complete with three teams from the NFL joining the ten former AFL teams), the league loses something of its identity, its style of play, its "rebel with a cause" reputation. Those were the days.

But there's more: on Sunday it's the NFL's turn, with the 20th annual Pro Bowl, another East-West affair, from Los Angeles (1:00 p.m., CBS). The Pro Bowl will continue as an American Conference vs. National Conference setup, with steadily decreasing interest, until the game is finally abolished in 2022 (the 2021 game was cancelled because of the virus). And on Tuesday night, it's basketball's turn, as stars from the East and West meet in Philadelphia (5:30 p.m., ABC). 

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The previous year, the NBA All-Star Game had been played on the same night as President Johnson's final State of the Union Address; in one of the strangest occurrences in the history of televised sports, ABC breaks away from the live action midway through the first half to switch to Washington for the speech, returning at halftime and, after showing a brief highlights package, resuming live coverage with the start of the third quarter. There's no such conflict this year, as President Nixon delivers his first State of the Union on Thursday at 9:30 a.m.—that's 12:30 p.m. in Washington. It's been years since I've watched that dog and pony show, but as far as I know, it's usually in primetime; it's hard to imagine such a major media event being doing during the day today.

But that means Thursday's TV schedule is unaffected, including the debut of a show hosted by Nixon's fellow politician, Pat Paulsen. Paulsen's 1968 presidential campaign now gives way to the premiere of The Pat Paulsen Half a Comedy Hour (7:30 p.m., ABC), with special guests Hubert Humphrey (probably still thinking it should be him giving the State of the Union), Debbie Reynolds, and Daffy Duck. You might recall that back in 1968, the producers of Laugh-In tried unsuccessfully to get Humphrey to appear on the show; instead, it was Nixon who got the "Sock it to me" line and won the election. Perhaps Hubert has learned his lesson, as tonight he makes his comedy acting debut in a sketch that involves him aiding a distressed motorist (Pat)—you can see how that plays out here. Myself, I thought Hubert did pretty well, but the series only lasts 13 episodes; perhaps Pat should have had him on every week. 

Unfortunately, having the State of the Union on in the afternoon also means that the premiere of Paris 7000 goes on as scheduled (10:00 p.m., ABC). No offense to George Hamilton, whom I quite liked when I saw him at the Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention last year, but this show, in which he plays a troubleshooter working out of the U.S. consulate in Paris, is even less successful than Pat Paulsen's—it runs for only 10 episodes. Maybe they could have had an episode featuring Hubert Humphrey stopping by while passing through France.

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Thursday's not the only night that sees new shows in the lineup; if we go back a night we'll run into a few more, again on ABC, which, I suppose, tells us something about the network's relative standing in the ratings race. On Wednesday, the luminous Juliet Mills stars in Nanny and the Professor (7:30 p.m., ABC), in which she plays a nanny who mysteriously shows up at the home of widowed professor Richard Long and his three children. Says TV Guide, "She can't fly, and she's no magician, but this British nanny is quite extraordinary all the same," and truer words have seldom been spoken.

Next, it's the return of The Johnny Cash Show (9:00 p.m., ABC), which had a successful run as a summer replacement for The Hollywood Palace. Tonight, Johnny's show is from the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, where he welcomes guests Arlo Guthrie, Jose Feliciano, and Bobbie Gentry; his regulars include his wife June Carter Cash and the Carter Family, Carl Perkins, the Statler Brothers, and the Tennessee Three. In the history of television (and you can freely correct me here), I'm not sure there are many stars with the stature and star power of Johnny Cash who have ever hosted their own weekly series. That's followed at 10:00 p.m. 

The night is topped off by ABC's answer to, well, their own star. Having had great success with the weekly series hosted by Welch singer Tom Jones, the network is back with The Engelbert Humperdinck Show, hosted by the British singer of the same name. Both Jones and Humperdinck wear tuxedos, have great sex appeal with the ladies, and speak with accents, but Engelbert doesn't quite become the sensation that Tom is; his series runs for six months (and may have only been a limited series anyway). Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, you can see eleven of the eighteen episodes here.

In addition to the premieres, ABC's been moving around some of their established shows. It Takes a Thief is now on at 7:30 p.m. Monday (replacing The Music Scene and a portion of The New People, both toast), while The Flying Nun has moved to Fridays at 7:30 p.m. (in place of Let's Make a Deal), and Love, American Style takes the 10:00 p.m. slot formerly held by Jimmy Durante Presents the Lennon Sisters.*

*And that isn't even the show with the longest title of the season; that honor belongs to Lana Turner starring in Harold Robbins' "The Survivors". Beat that!

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As it's turning out, Wednesday is a pretty big night on the tube. In addition to ABC's shenanigans, Joan Crawford makes a rare dramatic television appearance on The Virginian (7:30 p.m., NBC) in the story "Nightmare," written especially for her by Gerry Day and Bethel Leslie*. She plays the new wife of a prominent businessman in town, who faces the "smoldering jealousies" and resentments from people who don't want to accept her in her new role. Well, you know what they say about the trouble with stepmothers. 

*Yes, Bethel Leslie the actress, who featured on so many television shows of the 1950s and 1960s. In addition to acting, she was an accomplished scriptwriter, writing for Gunsmoke, Barnaby Jones, McCloud, Falcon Crest, and other series. She was also the head writer for The Secret Storm.

That's followed by a special episode of Kraft Music Hall, as the Friars Club roasts Jack Benny. Johnny Carson is the roastmaster, with George Burns, Ed Sullivan, Alan King, Milton Berle, Henny Youngman, Phil Harris, and Dennis Day. Oh, and there's one more special guest: the vice president of the United States, Spiro Agnew. ("I don’t know how old Jack is. I only know that the Treasury Department sent me Jack’s income-tax return, and his Social Security number was 1.") The unbylined article on the taping of the roast gives us a look at the backstage preparations: Johnny Carson, "brandishing a nailed-on grin"; the half-dozen blue-suited Secret Service agents scanning the room, each wearing "a face that would stop a clock"; and various comics (including Benny) walking off their nerves and trying out lines that bomb. The actual roast lasts about 90 minutes but is edited down to a little over half that time for broadcast. "It’s shorter because some of the wisecracks fizzled and—more important—a few of the ad libs would send NBC’s Priscilla Goodbody into cardiac arrest." When the Friars roast, they use a blue flame, to put it mildly. Here's the version that aired—you knew it would be on YouTube, didn't you?

Some movies of interest round out the week. Judith Crist is bullish on NBC's Saturday night move, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (9:00 p.m.), the funniest thing being director Richard Lester, who directed the Beatles in A Hard Day's Night and Help!, and provides his special brand of film fun here. Even better are stars Zero Mostel, Jack Gilford, and Phil Silvers, "these pros make a funny thing just that." She also likes How to Steal a Million (Monday, 9:00 p.m., ABC), a heist caper with Audrey Hepburn and Peter O'Toole as "an utterly delightful pair of respectable thieves" and Eli Wallach and Hugh Griffin on hand "to steal scenes." It's "an absolute strawberry shortcake of a film." Never Too Late (Thursday, 9:00 p.m., CBS), with Paul Ford and Maureen O'Sullivan, is a delight; the two veterans "make the contrivances very bearable indeed." And she recommends My Sweet Charlie (Tuesday, 9:00 p.m., NBC) sight unseen, based on stars Patty Duke and Al Freeman Jr. "Their performances in a vehicle derived from a fine novel and excellent stage play cannot be less than interesting."

And last but not least, on KXTV in Sacramento, Thursday brings The Killers (9:00 p.m.), the existential 1964 remake of the 1946 classic based on the short story by Ernest Hemingway, with Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager as the hitmen trying to find out why their latest target (John Cassavetes) put up no resistance when they arrived to kill him. Angie Dickinson is the moll who traps men in her web, and in his final screen role (and only time as the heavy), Ronald Reagan plays the crime boss at the center of it all. It was supposed to be part of NBC's Project 120 made-for-TV movies, but it was deemed too violent for TV, and wound up in the theaters. It's a dandy remake, and part of quite a string of films for Lee Marvin: between 1964 and 1967, he made The Killers, Cat Ballou, Ship of Fools, The Professionals, The Dirty Dozen, and Point Blank. That's not a bad record for any actor. TV  

January 19, 2024

Around the dial

We begin this week at The Guardian, where David Chase says that with the introduction of commercials to formerly commercial-free streaming services, the "era of complex and ambitious TV is over." I'm of two minds about this, since I'm sure many of my favorite programs from the era of classic television would fall outside of Chase's definition of "quality"; nonetheless, it's hard not to agree with his assessment, at least as it's applied to today's television. The money quote: "That means above all that TV shows, as they always have, will be directed towards advertising executives and not toward the public. You can thus expect the same tired old action driven sludge procedurals like NCIS or Blue Bloods and mindless situation comedies starring Tim Allen." I don't think that's a fair criticism of Tim Allen (although I've never been a fan of his shows per se, or any contemporary sitcoms for that matter), but even the quality shows of the Golden Age had to fight interference by advertisers and network executives, so what goes around, comes around.

If you're a fan of MST3K, you know what it's like when Tom Servo gets so overwhelmed by something that his head explodes? That's kind of the state that John finds himself in at Cult TV Blog, in trying to reconcile his Prisoner theory that Number 6 is a plant with the most recent episode he looks at, "The Schizoid Man." Read along and see what you think.

At Comfort TV, David continues his series on his 50 favorite classic TV characters with Lindsay Wagner as Jaime Sommers, the Bionic Woman. An Emmy winner for Outstanding Lead Actress, her portrayal of a superhero shines on multiple levels, making her a popular character during the show's lifetime and warmly remembered in the years since.

The View from the Junkyard returns to the world of The Avengers, as Roger and Mike compare notes on "Dead Man's Treasure," an adventure that combines murder and auto racing in a most charming, entertaining way. Think Wacky Races or The Great Race, and add the patented Avengers twist, and—well, you're on the way. 

It doesn't have anything to do with television—not really, anyway—but Andrew's piece at The Lucky Strike Papers on how certain dates just stand out in our memories strikes home with me. They can be happy memories (your birthday, or, in my case, a date like December 24), or they can be less so (November 22), but they become shorthand for something of great importance to us.

Travalanche pays tribute to Joyce Randolph, the last surviving member (by 20 years!) of the original Honeymooners cast, who died last week aged 99. Although she played other roles after Trixie Norton, fans always remembered her; her death means that those living from the Golden Age continue to grow smaller and smaller.

At A Shroud of Thoughts, Terence looks back on the 50th anniversary of Happy Days, which premiered on ABC in 1974. Now, you'll recall that this is when I was exiled in the World's Worst Town™, so I wasn't there, so to speak, at the start; although I was always aware of it, it was never a show that I got into, but there's no question it's a part of television history. TV  

January 17, 2024

The journalist who dallied with Castro

It was in the January 25, 1964 issue of TV Guide that I first became acquainted with Lisa Howard. That was the issue that looked back at TV's coverage of the JFK assassinations; I've written before about how I grew up with that issue, reading it over and over until I was familiar with the most obscure programs (several of which have since wound up in my video collection), knowing that this was a gateway to a time that I was a part of but only vaguely remembered. In that issue was an article by Alan Gill about the "ever-persistent" Lisa Howard, a reporter for ABC, accompanied by a picture of a redhead wearing a vivid shade of red on her lips. It was a very effective photograph, not the kind of thing you're likely to forget. The article discussed her transition from soap opera actress to political activist to reporter, particularly her headline-making interview with Fidel Castro. Since I'd committed the contents of that issue to memory, I filed the name Lisa Howard there as well.

There haven't been many opportunities over the years to use that information. Howard appears in ABC's JFK assassination coverage, but aside from her daily show she doesn't show up as much as you'd think she should, given her credentials. Indeed, her story takes a tragic turn; after being fired from ABC and suffering a miscarriage, she fell into a deep depression and committed suicide in 1965 at the age of 39—less than 18 months after the TV Guide article appeared.

All this is background to a fascinating article by Peter Kornbluh in Politico, "'My Dearest Fidel': An ABC Journalist's Secret Liaison With Fidel Castro." Without even seeing the story, bells were going off in my head, and I had an idea who that journalist would be; clicking on it merely confirmed my suspicion.

It's a brilliant piece of long journalism, the kind that we don't see often enough anymore, documenting the details of how Howard became an intermediary between Havana and the White House, a story of politics and intrigue worthy of any spy novelist. And, befitting a spy novel, there's a romance between Howard and Castro, which makes the story even more intriguing. In some ways Howard reminds me of Dorothy Kilgallen, another famous female reporter of the time, one who covered the big stories (and, in the case of Dr. Sam Sheppard, was part of it), saw herself as part of history, and died under tragic circumstances from an overdose of pills.

You'll want to set aside some time and read this; whether or not you've ever heard of Lisa Howard, and no matter what you think of Fidel Castro, you'll be pulled into the narrative, and hard-pressed to stop before you get to the end. And as an added bonusthink of it as the companion to the articlehere are a pair of YouTube videos. The first is the Howard-Castro interview as presented on ABC, while the second offers an interview with Peter Kornbluh, author of that Politico story.

Would I have even noticed this article had I not read that long-ago TV Guide profile? Kornbluh writes that while at one time she was one of the "most famous TV journalists in the United States," today "almost no one remembers Lisa Howard." I remember Lisa Howard, though, thanks to that issue from over 50 years ago. Like so many things I've run across over the years, it's part of the permanent record. TV