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  


  1. I have always been fascinated by Richard Mulligan's last marriage to the actress Rachel Ryan out of his four. There are so many things that we don't know about that relationship. Like how they met... if she was a fan of his... if he was a fan of hers? They were only married for six months, so I wonder if his acting career got in the way or if hers did?

    1. Yeah, for all the info online, there's never quite as much as you'd like to see.


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