January 6, 2024

This week in TV Guide: January 6, 1968

Well, here we are with the first issue of 1968, and after everything that happened last year—the "long hot summer" of race riots, especially in Detroit and Newark; the expansion of the war in Vietnam; the Apollo 1 fire; the Six-Day War in the Middle East; and that's just for starters—it's a new year, and with it a fresh start. I mean, 1968 can't help but be better, right? Right?

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If you're hoping for something "fresh and innovative" on television this coming season, you're probably out of luck. That's the message from Richard K. Doan at this week's Doan Report, where the word is that "Unless the networks are keeping something up their sleeves—which is possible but unlikely—the new prime-time-shows next season will be just more of the familiar stuff." 

The dilemma that network programmers face is a twin one: on the one hand, they feel "it is too risky and expensive to try the untried." (Nothing new there.) On the other hand, though, they've already tried "just about every variation in a known successful series formula." One executive reports the mood in Hollywood as being "panic-stricken. Nobody knows which way to turn next." The elephant in the room, if there is one, has been the prime-time movie, which has overrun all but the most popular of weekly series. Those shows—think Gomer Pyle, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Bonanza—can't last forever, though; sitcom "nonsense" abounds with its endless variations, Westerns are just about dead, and the only new variety shows are those helmed by Jonathan Winters on CBS and Rowan and Martin on NBC. With Doris Day the only big name on the calendar for the new season, the odds of finding something to take on the big, bad movies, and the ratings, seem pretty slim; NBC's plans to add a third movie night in the fall are proof of that.

When you look at the programming for the next few seasons, you see the problem. Next year's schedule includes 60 Minutes, which is probably as close to "new and innovative" as it comes, and the biggest drama series are Hawaii Five-O and Columbo. ABC's Movie of the Week series, comprised entirely of made-for-TV movies, adds to the movie onslaught. Old, tired formats such as Danny Thomas's return in Make Room for Granddaddy, and The New Andy William Show, prove to be short-lived. In the end, the most ground-breaking shows of the next few years are a pair of sitcoms: All in the Family and The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  

Oh, and there's one other series that makes its debut in a couple of seasons, one that's still on today: Monday Night Football. But hold that thought; we'll be back to it at the end.

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Throughout the 60s and early 70s, TV Guide's weekly reviews were written by the witty and acerbic Cleveland Amory. Whenever we get the chance, we'll look at Cleve's latest take on the shows of the era. 

The creative team responsible for The Dick Van Dyke Show—Bill Persky, Sam Denoff, Sheldon Leonard, and Carl Reiner—have been at work on a new sitcom for CBS, Good Morning World. The problem, says Cleveland Amory, is that it was "obviously not very hard." The idea behind the show is, apparently, "not to have any idea at all. Just have five characters in search of an offer." Well, that's not a very promising start, is it?

The five characters in question are a pair of radio disc jockeys, their big, bad boss, the wife of one of the DJs, and their next door neighbor. And if the show really does have no idea, then that's offset by the fact that it also has no stars. The best of them, Joby Baker, as good-guy DJ David, "somehow manages to get some real fun into his role," but his sidekick, Ronnie Schell, the swinging sidekick Larry, "comes on strong as the bad guy" who wants to stay single, for at least the length of the series. "Our guess is he'll make it in a walk." Billy de Wolfe, the boss, "mugs and shrugs his way through his role" (if you've ever seen the animated Frosty the Snowman, where he voices the evil magician, you'll understand what Cleve's talking about), while Julie Parrish plays Joby's wife, and Goldie Hawn, who has bigger and better things ahead of her, is the neighbor, who's in love with Ronnie. 

At least, Amory says, "if you've got no basic idea for your show, then you've at least got to come up each episode with something pretty new and different. "Typical plots include Sandy, stuck with a girlfriend who's starting to get "ideas," telling her he can't marry her because doctors don't know how long he has to live. (But, then, whose doctor can?) "The important thing is to live each day to the hilt—with a smile on your face—like Ben Gazzara." Unfortunately, that was the high point of the episode; had they really wanted to be clever, they might have had the DJs interview Gazzara as himself, plugging Run for Your Life. Sure, it's on another network, but why not? And then, there was the story about the duo having to do their show on location from the Sunshine Dude Ranch. Only problem is that there's been a misunderstanding: it's actually the Sunshine Nude Ranch. Well, you get where it goes from there. Points to the writers for coming up with something different each week. But wouldn't it have just been easier to come up with an idea instead? "[N]ot a big one, mind you, just a teensy weensy little one."

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The bowl games are over, and the Super Bowl isn't until next week, but that doesn't mean we don't have football on tap, including the most meaningless football game of the season, the Playoff Bowl (Sunday, 11:00 a.m. PT, CBS). The concept of the Playoff Bowl, a charity game played in Miami to benefit the NFL players' pension fund, pits the second place teams of the Eastern and Western Conferences in a game for third place; it was originally called the Runner-Up Bowl, a more descriptive if no more glamorous title. If you're a football fan, you're no doubt aware of the growing trend in the college game of players opting out of meaningless dot.com bowl games in order to eliminate the risk of getting injured prior to the draft. You also probably know that the Pro Bowl, the NFL's all-star game, was changed to a skills competition a few years ago, for more or less the same reason. Now imagine telling these players that they're expected to play in a nationally televised game to determine the third best team in the league—or "second loser," if you will. No wonder the game ended after ten years. For the record, in this year's game, the Los Angeles Rams defeat the Cleveland Browns, 30-6.
A far more meaningful version of the game can be found in the critically acclaimed documentary The Violent World of Sam Huff (Sunday, 6:00 p.m., CBS), a profile of the New York Giants star linebacker originally telecast in 1960 but being rerun now because of Huff's recent retirement. Narrated by Walter Cronkite, The Violent World of Sam Huff was the first film to afford viewers the opportunity to actually see and hear the sounds of pro football, via ground-level cameras and a microphone embedded in Huff's uniform. The "controlled violence" of the sport thrilled and captivated the audience, and, coming as it did on the heels of the 1958 NFL Championship Game, aka "The Greatest Game Ever Played," and with Cronkite's gravitas providing a suitable background, The Violent World of Sam Huff played a major role in the growing popularity of professional football. More than 60 years later, the documentary still holds up today, as you can see here.

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January traditionally marks the start of television's second season, so there are a good number of premieres and specials among the week's offerings. 

Saturday Night at the Movies opens the season with an instant classic: the network TV premiere of Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 nightmarish The Birds, starring Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren (9:00 p.m., NBC). Hitchcock called it his "Vision of Judgment Day," while Judith Crist calls it "tedious" for as long as the humans hold center stage. "But when those winged creatures come to the fore the blandness of Tippi Hedren and stolidity of Rod Taylor are overshadowed and Hitchcockian terror takes over triumphantly. It’s enough to make you kick the next pigeon you come across."

How about Jack Palance as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? He's the star of a two-and-a-half hour adaptation this week, produced by Dan Curtis (Sunday, 9:00 p.m., ABC), and featuring Leo Genn, Oscar Homolka, Billie Whitelaw, and Denholm Elliott. It's been a troubled production from the start: Jason Robards was originally scheduled to star (that would have been interesting), working off a script by Rod Serling. However, Robards was unhappy with the script, and shooting delays led to him dropping out. Curtis hired Ian McLellan Hunter for a new script, hired Palance (whom he'd worked with in Dracula) to replace Robards, and moved production from London to Toronto, where shooting would be cheaper. It was nominated for four Emmys, including Outstanding Dramatic Program; you can see it for free at Tubi.

On Monday, Jacques Cousteau debuts the first of a proposed twelve-part documentary series (telecast over three years) called "The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau" (7:30 p.m., ABC). Although Cousteau had first appeared on ABC in 1966 in a film called "Conshelf Adventure," it is "The Undersea World," which winds up producing 36 episodes and lasts until 1976, that clinches his reputation as "television's most celebrated maker and presenter of documentaries about the underwater world." Although it's not mentioned in this issue, Rod Serling narrates the series on ABC (Richard Johnson does the honors on the BBC); later on, it will be the equally distinguished Joseph Campanella.

Monday night, Robert Wagner's a guest on The Joey Bishop Show (11:30 p.m., ABC); Tuesday, it's the "Special World Premiere" of Wagner's new series, It Takes a Thief (8:30 p.m., ABC). Coincidence? I think not. For those of you who don't remember the premise, Wagner appears as Alexander Mundy, a convicted cat burglar who's paroled from prison in order to ply his trade for a thinly-disguised version of the CIA, with Malachi Throne as his handler, Noah Bain. It's a fun series, running for three seasons; some of the best episodes involve Mundy's father Alistair (Fred Astaire), also a master thief. Tonight's 90-minute debut, directed by Leslie Stevens, pulls out all the stops, featuring a guest cast including Senta Berger, John Saxon, and Susan Saint James, with cameos from Raymond Burr, Wally Cox, Joe Louis, Leslie Nielsen, and others. It's up against The Red Skelton Hour (8:30 p.m., CBS), in which Red presents a one-man show reviewing his career from vaudeville days to the present.

The Avengers returns for a new season on Wednesday (7:30 p.m., ABC), with Steed and Mrs. Peel investigating the case of a treasury official who's been shrunk to miniature size, along with the Rolls-Royce he was driving. I've often wondered about the usefulness of a shrinking machine, whether it could be used for good purposes as well as world domination—and by the way, just how would that work ruling the world as a giant? It didn't do much good for that guy living in the beanstalk, did it? On the Kraft Music Hall, Bobby Darin is the host and the theme is "It's a Grand Night for Swinging" (9:00 p.m., NBC), with his guests Bobbie Gentry, George Kirby, and Bobby Van. One of Kirby's bits involves an impression of Bobby Kennedy; I wonder if they tried to get Bobby Vinton or Bobby Rydell?

Robert Wagner isn't the only one doing the late-show promo circuit; on Wednesday, former astronaut John Glenn appears on The Tonight Show (11:30 p.m., NBC) to promote his program the following night, Great Explorations (Thursday, 7:30 p.m., NBC), a David Wolper production (his second of the week!) in which Glenn follows the trail taken by Henry Stanley in his search for Dr. David Livingston. The show, and Glenn's role in it, is the subject of producer and writer John Peer Nugent's article. Glenn, whom the team comes to call "Bwana Satellite," takes an active role in the making of the show, having insisted before accepting the assignment that "The emphasis must be not on what the explorers did so much as what their discoveries did, or did not do, for the peoples and lands discovered." At one point Glenn is forced to drop a rogue elephant with a couple of well-placed shots from his rifle. It is a task which gives him no great pleasure; " 'In the war, I had to kill and I didn’t like it then,' he said, oblivious to the shouts of congratulations. 'I don’t like it now either.' " It's interesting to see Glenn here in something other than as either an astronaut or a politician.

On Friday night, it's the premiere of the nighttime edition of The Hollywood Squares—not the syndicated version, but the network run that would last until September as a midseason replacement for Accidental Family (and NBC didn't make an accident with that change, did they?). Tonight's players are Edie Adams, Morey Amsterdam, Milton Berle, Raymond Burr, Wally Cox, Abby Dalton, Nanette Fabray, Buddy Hackett and Charley Weaver (9:30 p.m., NBC). If that's not your style, you might prefer the CBS Friday movie, A Shot in the Dark (9:00 p.m.), the second outing of Peter Sellers' bumbling Inspector Clouseau. It's once again directed by Blake Edwards, and having Elke Sommer in it doesn't hurt. 

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Robert Musel takes a look at Lee Bouvier Radziwill's upcoming acting debut in ABC's remake of Laura, scheduled for next week. In a previous TV Guide review from last year, I shared some of the reviews from that broadcast, including star Robert Stack's comment that "the production resembled a junior high school effort." Musel takes a closer look at the drama behind the scenes of David Susskind's production, which he describes as "Society Girl Becomes Overnight Star." That's not what happens, though. 

Lee Radziwill and Farley Granger 
Susskind, well-aware of the challenge of turning Jacqueline Kennedy's sister into an instant star despite the lack of acting experience, surrounded her with a veteran cast, including Arlene Francis, who thinks that she'll turn out all right even though "she’s had no time to develop her talent or her technique." "Her performance is a tribute to what can be done with a camera, boom shots, writing, lighting, direction and patience," Arlene continues. "And she looks ravishingly beautiful."

Lee Bouvier grew up in a world of privilege, wealth, and social position. She's married to Prince Stanislas Radziwill, a real-estate millionaire and descendant of Polish royalty. She campaigned vigorously in 1960 for her brother-in-law, John F. Kennedy. She regularly appears in fashion magazines and on best-dressed lists. But inside, she harbored the desire to be an actress; her friend, Truman Capote, convinced her to follow that dream. Two years of private coaching followed, and last June she debuted in Chicago in a stage revival of The Philadelphia Story. It was the first time in her 34 years that she'd appeared on any professional stage. Representative of the reviews was one critic who commented, "A star is not born." She insists this is not a hobby, that if she didn't try it, "I'd never know if I had it in me."

Susskind says all the right things. "I really think she'll be a star," he says, comparing her to another princess, Grace Kelly. "A star is one who attracts an audience. . . She has that quality." Farley Granger, who plays her lover, says "She's working hard," and that she's learning. Robert Stack calls her "uncomplicated and untemperamental," and adds that "she doesn’t seem to have any of the qualms that a beginner usually has." Musil himself concludes by saying that she's "already thinking about her next starring role." It never comes.

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One last word about football. We've got three letters to the editor this week lamenting the amount of football on television each week: Patricia McClintic of Jeffersonville, Indiana asks, "Why must we be subjected to football game after football game for two whole days every, weekend?" while Mrs. Jim Grace of Shepherd, Michigan says, "I've sat at home Saturday after Saturday afternoon and steamed because channel after channel has nothing but sports to offer." And it's not just limited to the football widow, either; Charles A. Westfall of Severance, NY writes, "Frankly I am so fed up with football games I could scream!" And this was when the usual compliment of games amounted to five or six per weekend; it now starts on Thursday, ends on Monday, and encompasses perhaps a dozen games on broadcast television, plus dozens more on cable or streaming.

But to the point of this week's letter-writers, the fact is that nobody seems to think there's too much football on television today. Well, I don't literally mean "nobody"; I'm exaggerating to make a point—the point being that, according to Sportico, 82 of the top 100 most-watched U.S. TV broadcasts of 2022 were NFL games, and of the remaining 18, five were college football games. Only six of the programs were non-sports related, those being the Oscars, the Macy's parade, and news/political events. "The nearest a scripted TV episode got to the upper echelons was Paramount Global’s multi-network simulcast of the Season 5 premiere of Yellowstone, which claimed the No. 132 entry with an average draw of 12.5 million live-plus-same-day viewers." CBS's FBI, the highest-rated entertainment series on television, averages 7.21 million viewers per week, compared to the games in the Sunday football window, which average 25.8 million per week.

True, streaming, on-demand programming, and viewing habits, among other things, have changed everything. Still, the overall dominance of football on TV is impressive. I suppose the good news for people like Mrs. Grace is that she has more non-football shows than ever to choose from. That is good news, right? TV  

1 comment:

  1. Poor Jerry Van Dyke didn't have a hit until he was a co-star on COACH. ACCIDENTAL FAMILY did even worse than MY MOTHER THE CAR, being cancelled at mid-season.

    Those NBC primetime HOLLYWOOD SQUARES episodes are mostly if not entirely still intact, and GSN started showing them, along with syndicated 1970s episodes, in 2002.


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