February 23, 2024

Around the dial

At bare-bones e-zine, we start the week with Jack's Hitchcock Project, looking at Irving Elman's seventh-season teleplay "The Door Without a Key," starring the great Claude Rains, John Larch, and Billy Mumy, familiar faces all.

The Broadcast Archives has a small but important explanation for why it's important to preserve broadcast archives. I wish--no, I ache for all the material that's been lost over the years because it wasn't preserved.

Did you ever wonder how TV bloggers get ideas on what to write about? One way is by having a constant supply of programs to watch, and at Cult TV Blog, John shares some of the contents of his laptop. We'll be reading about them later!

At The Horn Section, Hal is back to continue his series dispelling myths about the ratings for the series F Troop, which were actually much better than those for more heralded show such as That Girl.

The Avengers returns at The View from the Junkyard, with "The Forget-Me-Knot," and a restatement of what the series is all about: "lots of fights, some baddies with a dastardly plan, eccentric secret agents, a gimmicky element to the story, and plenty of humour." Find out how all these come together.

Was The Love Boat the most influential program ever to air on television? This article from CNN, discussing the impact the show made on the cruise industry, makes a compelling case that it was; what do you think?

Did you ever wonder how James Garner wound up as Jim Rockford? My old friend Billy Ingram has the story at TVParty, the site that gave me my start in the classic TV business!

We're up to the 1962 episodes of the sitcom Dennis the Menace, and Television's New Frontier: The 1960s takes an in-depth look at the year's episodes and the direction the show is headed, including the transition from Joseph Kearns to Gale Gordon.

TV Obseurities presents a new audio exhibit looking at the closing credits to the 1975-76 season of All in the Family,. It's worth it for the voiceover promotions you hear over the credits, a great look back at what the network had to offer almost 50 years ago.

At Cult TV Lounge, it's a look at one of the best episodes of The Twilight Zone, the chilling, surprising "The After Hours," starring Anne Francis as a department store customer who isn't what she seems, in a store that isn't what it seems.

Finally, the podcast Flipside: The True Story of Bob Crane presents a special Bob hosted to mark the 8th anniversary of his KNX-CBS radio program. It's a reminder of what a great radio host he was, and how entertaining his show was. TV  

February 21, 2024

The New Top Ten: Judd for the Defense

It seems to me to have been a few months ago when I made some kind of rash promise that I was going to update my Top Ten show list, which you see on the sidebar. As I say, it was a rash thing to do, because here we are months later, well into the new year, and if you were to check that list, you'd see that nothing had changed. It isn't that I bite off more than I can chew, or promise more than I can deliver, or at least I don't think it is. I've thought about it, which has to count for something. And I wasn't trying to deceive anyone—matter of fact, the reason I mentioned it when I did was to give me time to do something about it. 

Well, I'm finally doing just that. There are several series out there that have earned a place on the current Top Ten list, and I think it's about time to give them their due. Notice that I'm not doing them all at once; after that first paragraph, there should be no explanation necessary, and this way I get a little more mileage out of it, a few more pieces to help fill out those quiet weeks. There's also an ulterior motive, as always: the more I talk about this, the more I force myself to follow through, lest you hold me accountable and demonstrate to everyone out there that I really am the fraud you suspected me of being.

But if you choose to bring that charge against me, I can't think of anyone better to defend me than the protagonist of the first addition to the list, Clinton Judd, the high-priced, high-profile defense attorney of Judd for the Defense. I rediscovered this show a few years ago, and almost immediately realized that my memories from having seen it originally were doing a great disservice to the show. What I had remembered, back when I was eight years old, was a show with a liberal viewpoint, one sharply at odds with the law-and-order ideology I grew up with and cultivated over the next five decades. Call them do-gooders, bleeding hearts, whatever you want, but Judd was definitely not Perry Mason.

And you know what? It isn't Perry Mason, and that's a good thing. Whereas Mason's pleasure lies in its predictability through a formula that plays episode after episode with little variation, Judd gives us something that's in stark contrast: a lawyer dealing with sometimes shockingly contemporary issues, ones that aren't always cut-and-dried, black-and-white, right-and-wrong, and may not even be solvable within the 60 minutes allotted to the story—in fact, we don't always even see the verdict come in.

That's because Judd, for the Defense is not a show about whodunnit, or at least not always. It's a show about ideas, about what a variable thing the law can be when you take the time to study it, how defending the law isn't always popular, and why it's more important than ever nowadays. John Adams—the same Adams from The Adams Chronicles—wrote, in his defense of the British soldiers charged with the Boston Massacre, that "it's of more importance to community, that innocence should be protected, than it is, that guilt should be punished." It was, Adams went on to argue, a distillation of Blackstone's Ratio, that it is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer. (Benjamin Franklin actually upped the ante; he made the ration 100 guilty and one innocent.) In other words, you don't apply the law only for the case today, but for the case tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.

At a time when individual rights are being trampled upon with increasing frequency, when the application of the law itself is being politicized beyond what we might have thought possible, and when law enforcement agencies often view citizens not as human beings to be protected, but as threats to be disarmed and persecuted, one readily comes to appreciate the importance of having someone standing in your corner, defending your rights, making sure you're not being taken advantage of by a system that can seem to care more about obtaining convictions than imparting justice. Someone once said that if the guilty occasionally seem to use the system to go free, it's so that the system can protect the innocent, the law exists not to punish the guilty, but to free the innocent, and that put things in a completely different perspective for me. Perhaps I have become more liberal over the years, at least in some ways. I suppose it's part and parcel of becoming a reactionary.

As I mentioned above, Judd is often a show about ideas, and shows like that can get preachy if you're not careful. In truth, there are moments when Judd seems to be standing on a soapbox instead of inside a courtroom, but that doesn't happen all that often, and even when it does, you're not really irritated by it, primarily because of the power with which these polemics are being delivered by Judd's star, Carl Betz. Best-known as Alex Stone, the pediatrician-husband of Donna Reed on The Donna Reed Show, Betz plays Clinton Judd with an edgy toughness; a man of integrity, committed to justice, and willing to do whatever it takes to achieve it for his client—even a client he doesn't particularly like, whose cause he doesn't especially approve of, because justice belongs to everyone, not just those who don't need it.

I also like Judd's able assistant, Ben Caldwell, played by Stephen Young; it's hard to pigeonhole him in the traditional mentor/student relationship we see so often on television (Ben Casey, Dr. Kildare, etc.) You can tell he's already a good lawyer (he gets to try a couple of cases during the series, and Judd wouldn't have him at his side if he wasn't); he's learning from Judd how to be a great lawyer. 

As I've gotten older over the years, I've begun to appreciate that not everything is as cut-and-dried as one would like it to be. This is especially the case when it comes to legal dramas. (Get it? Legal drama? Case? Never mind.) In an episode of The Defenders, another series I'm starting to reassess, Robert Reed's character, young lawyer Kenneth Preston, complains to his father, experienced attorney Lawrence, (E.G. Marshall), that sometimes the law is too unbending, to which the elder Preston replies that, as an attorney, it's Kenneth's job to figure out how to bend it when that's what's needed. 

I find myself feeling the same way, understanding that there is a dynamic that exists between law enforcement—the entire justice system, really—and the average citizen that is, right now, not a particularly healthy one. Maybe that's the way it's always been—unequal access, unequal outcomes—or maybe it's just become more pronounced over the last couple of decades; it's certainly become more political. Whatever the case, it's true that political conservatives, who have always been the greatest champions of law and order, have come to understand that the law is not always your friend, and it doesn't always work for justice. I've voiced this complaint many times over the years, particularly in the series of posts I wrote a few years ago about how America is more and more resembling a police state (You can see this one, this one, and this one for starters), so I'm not going to plow that ground again. 

My point is that the oft-heard argument that "if you're innocent, you have nothing to worry about" doesn't hold water any more. Perry Mason often tells his clients not to talk to police unless he's with them (and this was before Miranda), and I think this has only increased over the years. In such an atmosphere, lawyers like Clinton Judd, lawyers who realize what "justice" really means, become very appealing characters. There is a reason, after all, why more legal dramas tell the story of defense attorneys than they do prosecutors. It's difficult for us to envision ourselves as the murder, the rapist, the bank robber—but it's no longer impossible for us to suppose that we're innocent citizens who've found ourselves in some kind of Kafkaesque world where we're on trial for a crime we didn't commit, and nobody will listen to us. Judd, and shows like it, exist to remind us that there is one person who'll listen, and who'll fight on your behalf: your lawyer.

Provided you have the right lawyer, of course. That's something that Judd's very aware of; he's committed to taking pro bono cases on occasion for that precise purpose, but you get the idea that it does trouble him, the idea that not every defendant has the same access to receive the same benefits that his clients do, and it fuels his determination to fight on behalf of that amorphous, sometimes unbending concept of justice. It's not a matter of ideology or altruism; it always comes back to the idea that you preserve the rights of the guilty in order to protect the rights of the innocent. 

There are other things I like about Judd; the gravitas and literacy with which the issues are presented; the absence of stock characters such as Mason's Della Street, who—let's be honest here—can get a little annoying sometimes with her cutesy comments and presumptions; and the disinclination toward wrapping things up at the end with a nice little joke or feel-good moment—such scenes happen but rarely.

I've written about Judd a couple of times—here and here—and so I don't want to be guilty of repeating myself. And anyway, these Top Ten essays were never formal reviews of the shows themselves so much as they were descriptions of my personal relationships with the shows, the little things that elevate them from something I enjoy to something just a little bit more. Judd for the Defense is one of those series I get a great pleasure from; a serious show that makes one think, but also an exciting, enjoyable drama that one looks forward to each week. But it's also a noble depiction of what justice really means, and while there might be more than a dash of idealism in that presentation, well, I think that's all right, too. After all, a fella can dream, can't he? TV  

February 19, 2024

What's on TV? Wednesday, February 19, 1958

Not so long ago, I saw an article—at the CBS News website, no less—stating outright that Carol Burnett was the first woman to host a TV variety show. Meaning no disrespect to Carol, I can't see how this claim holds water, unless you parse it with some narrow definition of what a "variety" show is. We already know, not only from today's listing but from our look at Saturday's issue, that Patti Page was hosting The Big Record (8:30 p.m., ironically on CBS). But tonight also features The Patrice Munsel Show (10:30 p.m., WHEN), and Patrice Munsel was most assuredly a woman. She came to fame as a soprano at the Metropolitan Opera, debuting there at age 18 in 1943, the youngest singer ever to star there. She sang at the Met until 1958, but also san frequently on television, on her own show and others, and performed in musical theater until 2008. If you're of an age, you might remember her as the lead voice on Camp Fire Girls commercials, singing "Sing Around the Campfire." Betty White, who has a brief article in this issue about her diet, also hosted her own show; unless you're going to quibble about the definition of a variety show, I can't understand how the networks aren't even aware of their own history. All someone would have had to do is read this New York State edition.

February 17, 2024

This week in TV Guide: February 15, 1958

Xt was something of a tradition for TV Guide, back in the 1950s and '60s, to come out with these issues that I like to call "What a Week!" issues. (This one happens to say "A Great Week," but you get my point.) The What a Week! issues usually came out during Sweeps, and the ones I most remember were from the week after Thanksgiving. We're a little early for that here, but the effect is the same; the networks have some blockbuster shows scheduled to keep us entertained. We'll get to them all, but let's start with the four biggest ones, those that appear on the cover.

The week kicks off with NBC Opera Theatre's production of Verdi's tragic "Rigoletto" (Sunday, 2:00 p.m. ET), the first major American production of the opera to be staged in English. It comes to us live and in color from NBC's studios in Brooklyn, and stars Igon Gorin, Dorothy Coulter, and Kirk Oreste, with Jean-Paul Morel conducting the Symphony of the Air. You can see the broadcast, which unfortunately survives only in black and white, here. And in case you wonder about the commercial viability of opera, and its place as a "big event" on television, a contemporary newspaper article headlined "TV Opera Succeeds in Tagging Popular Audience" says that "Opera is fast becoming a popular mass entertainment in the U. S." The broadcasts on NBC averaged about 15 million viewers; by contrast, last year's most-watched non-sports program, Yellowstone, averaged 11.6 million. I know; different times.

Next up, Victor Borge presents the third of his Comedy in Music specials (Wednesday, 9:00 p.m., CBS), for which, we're told, he'll be picking up a handsome $250,000. Brooks Atkinson, the famous theater critic of The New York Times, describes Borge as "the funniest entertainer in the world," but despite his hugely successful specials, he has no desire to do a weekly broadcast. "I tried one, years ago, with some breakfast-food people," he says. "But although their cereal was delicious, their suggestions were a trifle hard to swallow." We'll have more on how advertising agencies develop TV series later on.

   Check out the art work by Hirschfeld!
On Thursday, Playhouse 90 presents "Point of No Return" (9:30 p.m., CBS), based on the novel by past Pulitzer Prize-winner John P Marquand, and adapted for television by future Pulitzer winner Frank Gilroy. Franklin Schaffner, a veteran director of live television (who will later win an Oscar for directing Patton) helms the production, which stars Charlton Heston as an executive who realizes during a trip to his old home town that there's more to life than business success. Heston got his start on live TV, and even though he's now a major movie star, he's never forgotten how important television was to his success. Later this year, he'll be heading off to Italy to film Ben-Hur, for which he'll win his own Oscar.

The final blockbuster of the week comes on Friday, with DuPont Show of the Month's live (and in color!) musical adaptation of "Aladdin" (7:30 p.m., CBS), with music and lyrics by Cole Porter (his final work for the theater), and humorist S.J. Perelman responsible for the book. Sal Mineo plays Aladdin, and he's joined by an all-star cast including Anna Maria Alberghetti, Cyril Ritchard, Dennis King, Basil Rathbone, and Howard Morris. Perhaps the only thing bigger than the cast is the budget; NBC's expenses for "Rigoletto" were $125,000, but they're dwarfed by the half-million dollar cost for "Aladdin." Was it worth it? See what you think in this black and white kinescope.

As far as truth in advertising goes, I think the cover has it right: it is a "Great Week," and there's still more to come. 

l  l  l

Starting in 1954, Steve Allen helmed his own NBC variety show which, at the beginning, aired opposite that of Ed Sullivan. It didn't run as long as Ed's, of course, but then Allen said his goal was never to conquer Ed, just to coexist with him, which he did for several seasons. Let's see who gets the best of the contest this week. 

Sullivan: Ed's guests tonight include singers Vic Damone and Toni Dalli, popular vocalist from Italy; the Little Gaelic Singers from Ireland; the Four Esquires, vocal quartet; the comic team of Davis and Reese; vaudeville comedians Willie, West, and McGinty, with their classic "House-building" sketch; Spanish illusionist Richiardi; and pantomime artist George Cahl.

Allen: Tonight's show originates for the second week from Hollywood. Steve's guests are actor Dale Robertson, star of the TV series Wells Fargo; the Hi-Lo's, vocal group; songstress Peggy King; and comedian Don Adams. Dale Robertson joins Steve and the regulars in a comedy sketch, "How a Movie Star Is Born."

It's been over a year since we've looked at a matchup between Sullivan and Allen, but that doesn't mean it's been forgotten. Tonight's lineups have a little of everything; Ed leans heavily into vaudeville's roots, with the team of Willie, West, and McGinty, plus a quartet, an illusionist and a pantomimist. Steverino's cast strikes me as being more representative of the direction entertainment is going: a TV series star (Robertson), a stand-up comedian headed for his own series stardom (Adams), and a pop singer (King). Perhaps it's my own bias showing, and maybe I'd have a different opinion if I'd seen both shows, but this week the future sounds more to my liking, and Allen takes the prize.

l  l  l

I mentioned earlier that those four blockbusters on the cover weren't the only big shows to air this week, and as you know, I'm nothing if not a man of my word, so let's count the stars.

Saturday evening sees the premiere of The Dick Clark Show (7:30 p.m., ABC). This is in addition to, rather than instead of, his Monday through Friday afternoon duties on American Bandstand, making Dick one of the busier men on television. It runs for two years, later known as The Dick Clark Saturday Night Beech-Nut Show. Later, Lawrence Welk's Dodge Dancing Party (9:00 p.m., ABC) observes the 60th anniversary of the battleship Maine, the event that triggered the Spanish-American War, with songs dedicated to Spanish War veterans. 

On Sunday night, Claudette Colbert stars in "The Last Town Car" on "TV's Most Popular Dramatic Show," General Electric Theater, hosted by Ronald Reagan. (9:00 p.m., CBS) Monday night, American tenor Richard Tucker is the featured star on Voice of Firestone (9:00 p.m., ABC). Tuesday, Jerry Lewis presents "60 Madcap Minutes" on The Jerry Lewis Show (8:00 p.m.), one in his series of occasional NBC specials, from the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. He's joined by Betty Grable and Sophie Tucker; according to the Teletype, Jerry also wanted Elvis Presley as a guest on the show—but not at a $100,000 price tag.

, it's a special Shirley Temple's Storybook (7:30 p.m., NBC), as Shirley narrates the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale "The Nightingale," with Thomas Mitchell starring as the Chinese Emperor who brings the beautiful bird to his palace. The story is the basis for Stravinsky's opera Le Rossignol. The music for tonight's production, however, comes from Mack David* and Jerry Livingston, the pair responsible for the theme to 77 Sunset Strip and so many other Warner Bros. television series. Also on Wednesday, Milton Berle plays a straight dramatic role in the Kraft Theatre presentation "Material Witness" (9:00 p.m., NBC); Berle was, in fact, a very good dramatic actor, as he would show in this and other performances over the years.

*His brother, the lyricist Hal David, was the long-time collaborator on so many hit songs with Burt Bacharach. 

It's been a busy week for Don Adams; not only does he appear on Steve Allen's show Sunday, he's also Rosemary Clooney's guest on The Rosemary Clooney Show (Thursday, 10:00 p.m., NBC). And rounding out the week is a dramatic story on The Frank Sinatra Show (Friday, 9:00 p.m., ABC). In an unorthodox format, the Sinatra show features a combination of musical variety programs, dramas starring Sinatra, and dramas starring other actors that are introduced by Sinatra. Tonight's show falls into the third category: "A Time to Cry," starring Anne Bancroft, Lloyd Bridges, and John Archer. It's generally conceded that this format was doomed to failure, and indeed the series lasts only one season; Sinatra's future television specials will be musical hours.

l  l  l

This week's review is The Big Record, the CBS musical variety show hosted by singer Patti Page, and though the show has struggled in the ratings, it's an unpretentious, entertaining show. The credit for that goes mainly to Page, who sings in "a pleasing, unaffected way," and exhibits a natural warmth and energy as host. 

The show has put on display a strong lineup of guests throughout the season, including Hoagy Carmichael, Sammy Davis Jr., Johnnie Ray, Eydie Gorme, Gale Storm, and Benny Goodman. And they don't just show up and do their thing; they're integrated into duets and production numbers with Patti and her team of dancers (choreographed by June Taylor, longtime choreographer for The Jackie Gleason Show), and exhibit other talents as well—Gale Storm, for instance, not only sang her own current hit and then did a duet with Patti, she also turns out to be a gifted vocal mimic. "The entire bit could have been successfully presented in any of the more expensive night clubs."

True, the show is not highbrow—it's just entertainment, pure and simple. Unfortunately, the clock is running on The Big Record; in the Teletype, it's noted that one of the alternate-week sponsors has already given notice, and in March it's cut from an hour to thirty minutes. It leaves the air entirely in June, but fear not: Patti Page will be back next season with The Patti Page Oldsmobile Show—I'm betting that Olds was not the sponsor that cancelled out. And speaking of sponsors, that leads us to this week's final segment.

l  l  l

I've mentioned numerous times over the years how advertising agencies used to be responsible for creating and producing the majority of television shows. It was one of the factors in the Quiz Show Scandal, which was in turn one of the many reasons why networks eventually assumed control over the creative process. This week, we're going to take a look behind the scenes with two of the preeminent figures involved in devising, planning, producing, and sponsoring the shows we watch.

First is C. Terence Clyne, vice president and chairman of the plans review board of the TV and radio department at the McCann-Erickson advertising agency in New York. Clyne's clients sponsor such shows as Studio One, Climax!, Disneyland, and The Frank Sinatra Show. He tells TV Guide that the most important aspect is instinct. "In this business," he says, "you have to know h ow to guess. If the guess is a good one, you're a genius." 

One of Clyne's shows is the time-share arrangement between comedian George Gobel and singer Eddie Fisher, who alternate as hosts of an hour-long variety show seen Tuesday nights on NBC. "First the word went out from one of our sponsors that they were interested in live personalities," Clyne says. Although Gobel's last show suffered a steep decline in ratings, and Fisher's was cancelled, Clyne felt that each of them had "sufficient friends" to make their show palatable to the sponsor. Each star has his own writers, director and producer, so Clyne had to coordinate the two staffs so they would work together. When the sponsor decided he only wanted to cover the weeks when Fisher was host, Clyne worked with another agency to get a sponsor for Gobel. The final step involved "sparring" with NBC to get the timeslot for the program. 

Nicholas E. Keesely, senior vice president in charge of radio and television at the Lennen and Newell agency, also in New York, says the first thing he looks for a show is "heart." Among the shows he's bought are Queen for a Day, Stop the Music, Ted Mack's Amateur Hour, and The Court of Last Resort. He says the key is to "put something in a show that makes people want to come back and look at it next week and the week after." Keesely prefers tear-jerkers and human-interest stories; "We find the public sympathizes with an advertiser it associates with a good cause." 

He points to The Court of Last Resort, a drama based on a real-life organization assembled by Perry Mason author Erle Stanley Gardner to investigate legal cases featuring people who may have been wrongfully convicted of crimes. The original idea came from the sponsor; "Somebody up there had been reading [Gardner's] stories in Argosy. He thought they had pictorial value. I agreed. I thought they had heart."

To set up a show for success, a crucial aspect is finding the right time slot; it helps to follow a show with good ratings. "And, of course, we want to buy the time that best reaches the market our client wants to hit." Food sponsors, for example, prefer early evening hours, while tobacco companies, such as the one that sponsors Last Resort, look for later times. In this case, "we aimed at a later time period than the one we got—8 P.M. on Fridays—but we had to settle for what we could get."

Both men agree that while ratings are important, they aren't everything. "The factors governing the life or death of a TV show also include the personalities involved and the sale of the sponsor's product," Clyne says. "There have been shows with terrific ratings which nevertheless were dropped by their sponsors because the products weren't moving." Adds Keesely, "If a weak show has an ideal time slot, it may have a better rating than it deserves. On the other hand, I've known good shows to struggle along on poor ratings because of bad time slots." 

One question that stumped both men was, perhaps, the most important: "What are the ingredients for a perfect TV show?" For that, the author defers to another ad man, Hal Davis, VP in charge of radio and television at the Grey Advertising Agency, who said that "The perfect TV show (at this moment) would feature a cowboy sitting on a stool in an isolation booth." If you ask me, they still haven't found the secret. TV  

February 16, 2024

Around the dial

No look at the history of television would be complete without touching on professional wrestling, a "sport" which seems to have been tailor-made for the confines of the television screen. At Comfort TV, David asks (and answers) the question, can professional wrestling be Comfort TV, complete with a few examples.

At Cult TV Blog, John writes about a series that even he hadn't heard of before, Inside Victor Lewis-Smith, a 1993 comedy series with a concept so bizarre that I'm not even going to try and explain it; read what John has to say about it or, better yet, check out one of the episodes on YouTube.

Update from Garroway at Large: Jodie's still around, and she has     , including a new YouTube Garroway at Large from 1951, and a second title to come from Tyger River Books, publisher of Peace. (And I hope you've gotten your copy; if not, why not?)

At Eyes of a Generation Bobby has a couple of very cool visual posts: one includes the two (apparently) remaining camera cards from Jack Paar's Tonight Show (the "More to Come" cards that we remember from Carson's time), and the second is on how television graphics came to be. Both well worth your time.

Television Obscurities reports the discovery of what is now the earliest surviving entertainment program on color videotape, the October 1958 premiere of Kraft Music Hall, starring Milton Berle. It's going to be shown next week at the UCLA Film & Television Library, for anyone who can make it. Great news for TV preservationists!

James Dean doesn't have a lot to do with classic TV, although he did do some live television, but Travalanche has a look at Dean—the man forever frozen at age 24—that is too interesting to pass up.

At The Lucky Strike Papers, Andrew uses a recent interview with Ringo Starr in the AARP magazine (ouch for all of us!) as a jumping-off point to look at the early years of the Beatles, including their famous Sullivan appearance, and reminds us of Starr's role in the group's success. 

The View from the Junkyard returns to the animated Star Trek with this look at the second-season episode that brings the animated series to a worthy conclusion, "The Counter-Clock Incident." Would we do it the same way if we had it to do all over again? Find out what the answer is. TV  

February 12, 2024

What's on TV? Sunday, February 8, 1970

The Democratic "Political Talk" which all three networks are offering Sunday morning is the party's official response to President Nixon's State of the Union speech from a couple of weeks ago. Each network has its own approach; NBC has delegated one hour, and ABC 55 minutes (allowing for the intro to its NBA Game of the Week), but CBS has given the Democrats 45 minutes—the same length of time which Nixon's speech ran—with the remaining 15 minutes given over to analysis of the presentation. Sunday morning seems, at first glance, to be an odd time for a rebuttal—as if the networks were sticking it into a "dead air" time. However, Sunday morning is, after all, the time when political discussion programs are usually aired, so it probably draws the appropriate audience. Also, the SOTU was given in the afternoon; had it been a primetime address, I suspect the response would have been as well. Nowadays, the response is prepared in advance and given immediately following the speech, as if it had nothing to do with the contents of the speech itself. That's progress, I guess. We're looking this week at the slimmed-down Northern California listings.

February 10, 2024

This week in TV Guide: February 7, 1970

No, I didn't inhale. Never even had the desire. But then, I always was a square, even though the edges have been worn off over the years.  

Now that we have that joke out of the way, we can get on to Dick Hobson's report on Marijuana use in Hollywood. I suppose there's a tendency to think of this as being part of the "good old days," as opposed to today's talk about fentanyl or other opioids. But "The use of marijuana is one of the most vigorously debated subjects in America today," and Hollywood is a community, just like any other, with adults trying to figure out how to cope with this latest aspect of the Generation Gap. Some try to supervise the drug's use by their children; some, like Meredith MacRae, take a benign attitude towards it. "I have friends who smoke it and some who don't," she says. "So long as they're not hurting anyone else, why not?" Others, like Buddy Ebsen, will have no part of it. He says that "Parents who do that are soft-headed pseudo-intellectuals!"

Everyone has an opinion on this, and most of them are pretty predictable: Peter Fonda is for it, Dick Clark says its use is "rampant" in Hollywood and elsewhere, Eddie Albert sees it as the "in-thing" for swingers, and an act of rebellion by kids. Steve McQueen thinks it should be allowed, but the "bad drugs" should be banned. Jack Webb doesn't buy the distinction; "I am a very narrow-minded person on this subject." MacRae acknowledges that if she were to be caught with it, it would ruin her career; her contract with Petticoat Junction includes the standard morals clause, which would "probably not be invoked until bad publicity began to hurt the show."

For our purposes, what I find interesting is how television is handling this ticklish subject. Art Linkletter, whose daughter died after taking LSD, complains that many top 40 songs contain "secret messages" on drugs, and Hobson notes that "most" variety shows, including The Ed Sullivan Show, feature "head music." Ernest Chambers, producer of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and The Leslie Uggams Show, says that "CBS censors are going crazy," citing an example from the Smothers Brothers show in which Leigh French was prevented from calling herself "Mary Wanna" but okayed the name "Goldie O'Keefe," only to wonder later if "'Goldie' referred to Acapulco Gold, high-grade Mexican marijuana, and 'Keefe' to kef, a high-grade variety from Morocco." "They were always coming to us with 'Does this mean something? Does that mean anything?' Chambers says. "They think the young are putting something over on them."

What all this tells me is that the line is always being drawn somewhere, and the same issues keep coming back time and again, under different guises. Take sex, for example; it has, at various times, been about married couples in separate beds, use of the word "pregnant," Elvis Presley's swiveling hips, pre-marital sex, nudity, homosexuality, and transsexuality. It all boils down to the same thing, one way or another; it's just the scale that keeps sliding. Violence, language, "Me Too," drug use—it's all the same. Half of the concern is about what's being shown on-screen, the other half is about what's being done off-screen by those responsible for what's being seen on-screen. TV Guide was always at the forefront of asking these questions, back in the day. The magazine, such as it is, doesn't cover these issues anymore, at least not in any serious way, and that's too bad, because it would be interesting to see what it would say about the times we live in today.

l  l  l

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 scheduled guests include country music’s Chet Atkins, Floyd Cramer and Boots Randolph; comic-impressionist David Frye; Connie Stevens; comic Richard Pryor; and Sam and Sammy, balancing act. 

Palace: Bing Crosby, who hosted opening night at the Palace on Jan. 4, 1964, rings down the curtain with a large sampling of highlights from the past six years.

If we were traversing these TV Guides in chronological order, we would be coming to the end of this feature today, as The Hollywood Palace bows out after a six-year run. Fortunately (or not, depending on how you look at things), that's not how it goes around here, so you still have many more episodes of Sullivan vs The Palace to look forward to. We're not playing by the regular rules this week, though: who can argue with a highlights package that ranges from Nat King Cole and Fred Astaire to James Brown and Sammy Davis Jr., and stops along the way to pick up Ed Wynn, Bert Lahr, Buster Keaton,  Milton Berle, Buddy Rich, Tiny Tim, Kate Smith, Don Rickles, Petula Clark, Burns and Schreiber, Perry Como, David Janssen, and so many others we've read about through the years. And who better to guide us through this history than Bing Crosby, who hosted Palace more than anyone else. I'm not even going to bother looking at Ed's lineup (or whether or not it has any head songs), because this week The Hollywood Palace takes the prize for old times' sake

l  l  l

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. 

If there's one thing—OK, make that two things—we've seen in abundance over the last couple of seasons, it's been sitcoms featuring widows and sitcoms featuring widowers. To break the mold, says Cleveland Amory, The Brady Bunch gives us something new and different: a sitcom about a widow who marries a widower. Not only that, but there are children, too—the widow has three, who all happen to be girls, and the widower has three, who—"you'll never guess this"—all happen to be boys. And there's a dog, too! As for the "all-knowing housekeeper," don't worry. "The all-wise people who run this show have her, all right." This show seems to have everything—except a point.

"There's nothing really wrong with The Brady Bunch," Amory acknowledges. "But nothing is really right, either. Everything is so contrived that you don't believe what goes on any more than you believe sketches in a variety show." In one episode, for instance, Alice the housekeeper begins to feel unneeded, and tells the family she has to leave to tend to a sick relative in Seattle. "Don't you," asks Cindy, "like us better than Attle?" ("Honestly, that's what she said—we wrote it down.") "Seattle's a place," one of the boys replies, "like Mississippi." "Mrs. who?" asks the girl. "We tell you," Cleve says, "kids not only say the darnedest things, they also have the damnedest writers." Another episode features Bobby, the youngest boy, wanting to run away from home because, after seeing Cinderella on television, he thinks his stepmom, Carol, doesn't love him. Amory's theory is that "he didn't really want to run away from home—just the show." 

I paid scant attention to The Brady Bunch when I was growing up, and I've never had the urge to revisit it in later years. Lately, we've been watching The Defenders, that great legal drama from the early 1960s, and every week I wonder how Robert Reed, the junior half of that father-and-son law partnership, ever wound up on a show like The Brady Bunch. There is a temptation to suggest that Reed's agent may have urged him to take the role as a career move, stressing how it would be good for the public image of a man who was, in fact, a closeted homosexual. I'm not sure, but I think Amory may have furnished another possibility. "There are millions of stepchildren nowadays," he notes, "and surely their problems, and those of their parents, deserve, even in a comedy series, something more than this mish-mush." Perhaps that possibility was something that appealed to Reed's serious side as an actor, when he signed up to play Mike Brady. Unfortunately, for both him and us, Sherwood Schwartz had other ideas.

l  l  l

A couple of weeks ago, we were looking at an issue from this same year, 1970. In that issue, we read about "Married Alive," a comedy starring Diana Rigg and Robert Culp that seemed to promise some light entertainment. I wasn't familiar with it, nor was one of our commentators, who was sure he must have seen it but didn't have any recollection of it. Now, thanks to a fairly pointless feature called "Second Look" by Scott MacDonough, we can get some idea of what it was all about.

I call this feature pointless not necessarily because of MacDonough's writing, nor his judgment, but because the purpose of "Second Look" is, for the most part, to look back at what's just been on TV*. That makes sense today, but back in 1970, with no VCRs, no video-on-demand, no way to see a show again unless it's shown during the summer rerun season, what service does it perform to let us know about a show that's already aired, especially a one-off special? I can understand how a single episode from a given series might tell us something about the quality of episodes to come—that's Cleveland Amory's gig. And Judith Crist's movie reviews can help us decide whether or not to invest a couple of hours of our time on the CBS Thursday Night Movie. But unless there's some in-depth analysis to be found in the review, I don't see where it does us any good. If the show's going to be repeated later in the year, that's the time I can use a reminder of how good (or how bad) it was, not in the immediate aftermath, when I'm likely to have forgotten about it by the time it's shown again. And as I've said, it's not as if I've recorded it for playback later; that technology doesn't exist yet for you and me.

*As if to prove me a liar, MacDonough also has a (very good) preview of an upcoming program, but in this recurring feature that's generally the exception, rather than the rule

As for "Married Alive," MacDonough wasn't impressed. While he liked Rigg and Culp (farceurs supreme, he calls them), the story itself was a piece of "flapdoodle." "When a playwright has nothing to say and nowhere to go," he writes, "a fashionable way of padding is to bring on the food and drink. During "Married Alive," Mr. Culp (by our tally) consumed four lightly boiled eggs, two pots of tea, two slices of whole-wheat toast, four Scotch and sodas, and a half-bottle of ketchup. Draw your own conclusions." MacDonough says he mentions this "primarily for the benefit of trend-spotters," so I suppose we should automatically be suspicious of any future shows that feature people eating and drinking, which doesn't bode well for the next airing of the movie Tom Jones, I guess. But will I remember it by the time "Married Alive" rolls around again? Your guess is as good as mine. 

l  l  l

Some highlights from a quiet week:

Saturday's Wide World of Sports (5:00 p.m., ABC) comes from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where we get tape-delay coverage of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, with Jim McKay and Dick Button on hand to describe the finals in men's, women's, and pairs competition. I suppose it ages me that, as is with the case in most other sports, I recognize all these names—Tim Wood, John Misha Petkevich, Janet Lynn, and Julie Lynn Holmes—while I couldn't name the current champions if you offered me a million dollars. I also recognize the names on a colorful Andy Williams Show (7:30 p.m., NBC), as Andy welcomes Sid Caesar, Dusty Springfield, and Jo Anne Worley in a something-for-everyone show. 

morning offers a possible example as to why religious belief has steadily been falling in the united states over the last few decades. It comes in a CBS religious special, "Concern, Confrontation and Crisis" (8:00 a.m.), hosted by Hughes Rudd, and discusses the two challenges facing the National Council of Churches: "how to embrace more Christians (including Catholics) and recruit additional black leaders." Notice there's nothing there about things like, you know, spreading Christianity and preaching the Gospel. I suppose they know best. In more pleasant news, we greet some old friends once again, as Kukla, Fran and Ollie return for a five-episode run on NET (5:00 p.m.). On tonight's episode, Ollie attempts to engage the Supremes and the Beatles for a variety show—gratis. Good luck, Ollie! 

The Shape of Things to Come, part two: Last week, it was NBC's special "The Voice of the Dragon"; this week, it's "In the Company of Men," a report on NET Journal (Monday, 9:00 p.m., NET). From the description: "A sensitivity-training session becomes a battleground for thrashing out the hostilities between whites and blacks. At a Southern auto factory, films show psychiatrists’ work with white foremen and blacks who have been termed ‘hard-core unemployed.” On camera: preparatory sessions with the foremen; roleplaying sessions where blacks and whites exchange jobs; and a candid discussion about the ambitions of both foremen and workers." Reminds me more than a little bit of Jane Elliott's "blue-eyes-brown-eyes" experiment from the same era, don't you agree?

That favorable preview by Scott MacDonough that I mentioned above was for "The Day Before Sunday" (Tuesday, 9:30 p.m., CBS), an original drama written for CBS Playhouse, starring Uta Hagen and Martin Balsam as two middle-aged people who meet on a flight Hagen is taking to her niece's prep school graduation, and the obstacles that stand in the way of a possible relationship. It's an examination of the rapidly changing mores of a culture that, with its turbulent shifts, seems to be tearing itself apart, The "free-swinging hedonism and forthright honesty of the 'younger generation'" is presented as both appealing and appalling, resulting in a ending that is "inconclusive, or, if you prefer, [a] cop-out." Best to tune out ten minutes before the end, to appreciate Hagen's powerful performance, as well as strong supporting portrayals by Michael Anderson Jr. and Dianne Hull. I should note here that not all contemporary critics were as kind to the play as MacDonough, so perhaps there's hope for "Married Alive" after all.

On Wednesday, Lorne Greene and Bobbie Gentry host highlights from the 30th edition of the Ice Capades (9:00 p.m., NBC), an annual television special. It's part of an evening's entertainment that's heavy on music on all three networks; CBS offers Hee Haw, with the gang welcoming Lynn Anderson and George Jones (7:30 p.m.), while ABC counters with The Johnny Cash Show, featuring Ray Charles, Neil Diamond, and Tammy Wynette (9:00 p.m.), followed at 10:00 p.m. by The Engelbert Humperdinck Show, with Lena Horne, Joel Grey, Trisha Noble, and Vanity Fare.

Thursday is Lincoln's Birthday, which in 1970 was a holiday in 24 states and the District of Columbia, and to commemorate the 161st anniversary of his birth, Daniel Boone tells the story of the stormy courtship of Lincoln's parents, Tom Lincoln and Nancy Hanks (7;30 p.m., NBC). The Boones' efforts to bring the couple together are hampered by Tom's practicality, which clashes with Nancy's conviction that she will have a "boy baby who will sit in high places." William Wright's script is based on characterizations from Carl Sandberg's The Prairie Years

The Name of the Game is another one of those wheel series that revolves around a central concept, in this case, a publishing company. There were three rotating leads; Gene Barry was the publisher, while Tony Franciosa and Robert Stack played, respectively, a reporter and an editor of other publications. Susan Saint James, in her pre-McMillan and Wife days, was the only constant appearing with all three leads. The episodes starring Barry could, at times, be quite offbeat or surreal, as we see on Friday in "Tarot" (8:30 p.m., NBC), which stars Jose Ferrer in a rare television appearance involving the occult and an alleged suicide. William Shatner, David Carradine, and Bethel Leslie costar.

l  l  l

Robert Musel takes a look at what British television has had to offer this season, and among the notes we read about "Monty Python’s Flying Circus—the name means nothing—a late-night comedy show which is the end product of giving five young. actor-writers complete artistic freedom and an adequate budget. It is a strident, biting, sometimes cruel mélange of sketches and animation that some of its small, fanatically loyal audience might describe as satire, although the cast dreads the word." No word on whether or not this show will ever be seen in the United States.

Staying with the subject of possible British imports, The Doan Report speculates that "A TV-user tax similar to Great Britain’s is being quietly discussed in Washington now as the prime means for generating millions of dollars yearly for U.S. public television." According to the proposal (which, thankfully, never comes to pass, the plan would mean something like "a levy of $2 or $3 on each TV set in the home, paid annually with income taxes." It might work, says one cynical insider, "because the taxpayer has no lobby to fight it."

And Carolyn See profiles Dick Sargent, the new Darrin on Bewitched, who comes across as a wry, modest fellow who's extremely proud of the work he's done renovating his house, particularly the garden. ("Oh, actors have a lot of time on their hands, you know, ha ha.") Among other things, we learn that he was actually suggested to play Darrin when the series first started, but at the time he was committed to Broadside, a spinoff of McHale's Navy that ran for the 1964-65 season. Did he regret how things turned out? "No, I couldn’t tell then which series was going to make it. I don’t think anybody really knows what's going to happen, although they generally make enough remarks one way or the other to cover themselves either way." In the entertainment business, as in politics, that's the name of the game, isn't it?

l  l  l

MST3K alert: 
(English; 1961) It might not have been a good idea to bring that live prehistoric monster to London— it has a parent that’s coming after it. Bill Travers, William Sylvester, Vincent Winter, Bruce Seton, Martin Benson. (Friday, 6:30 p.m., KTXL in Sacramento) Leonard Maltin's memorable cameo as himself, trying to come up with the world's worst movie in order to torture Mike and the Bots, is one of the great bits in the show's history. Asked if this movie was going to "hurt" them, he replies, "Well, that's a matter of opinion, Mike. Now I actually like Gorgo, but when we reviewed it for my number one best-selling Movie and Video Guide, it put two of my assistant editors into intensive care. So who knows?" Need we say more? TV  

February 9, 2024

Around the dial

We'll begin this week's review at Comfort TV, where David's journey through 1970s TV takes him (and us) to Thursday, 1973: The Waltons, Kung-Fu, Ironside, The Streets of San Francisco and more. A very interesting night of TV.

At the Broadcast Archives, a two-page layout for an NBC promotional piece (probably NBC Star Time or one of those magazines they used to put out for the new season) bills NBC in 1962 as "A pageant of the past, the promise of the future." Isn't that a great tag line?

The Hitchcock Project continues apace at bare•bones e-zine, with Jack dissecting the Irving Elman-penned episode "Murder Me Twice," a fourth-season story with a twist ending on the twist ending that appeared in the original short story (and which I preferred, to be honest). See what you think!

One of the stranger, i.e. more illogical, episodes of The Prisoner is "It's Your Funeral," but that doesn't stop John from applying to it the continuing theory that Number 6 is a plant, in his latest installment at Cult TV Blog. It reminds me I have to rewatch Danger Man soon, as a warmup to The Prisoner.

At Realweegiemidget, Gill announces the latest blogathon, the "Mismatched Couples Blogathon," in which we look at movies and TV shows featuring odd couples that have been paired together. This one sounds like fun, and I'll have to think it over. Any suggestions, readers?

Linda Cristal will be well-remembered by anyone who watched The High Chaparral back in the day, and in his latest "Seven Things to Know" feature at Classic Film & TV Café, Rick gives us a deeper look at the life and times of this vivacious star.

At Drunk TV, Paul gives us a pleasing alternative to the Super Bowl: the 1981 telemovie, The Oklahoma City Dolls, perhaps one of the greatest women-playing-football movies around. I don't know how large that genre is, but this still has to be at the top of the list. 

Terence remembers Don Murray, who died last week at age 94, at A Shroud of Thoughts. He had a long and varied career, and is probably best-remembered for the movie Bus Stop and the TV series Knots Landing, but I'm very glad he was still around to feature in Twin Peaks: The Return.

The View from the Junkyard focuses on The Avengers episode "Murdersville," an episode that, writes Roger, shows us "beauty and horror" hidden in a sleepy village. Frankly, I've yet to see many small towns on television that weren't oozing with some kind of evil lurking in the shadows!

It's the 60th anniversary of The Beatles' first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show; can it really be that long ago? Garry Berman is flashing back to that moment this week with a trio of articles on the subject; part one, the Beatles on NYC radio, can be found here.

Finally, I don't often step outside the bounds of television here, and I hardly ever do so with this feature, but indulge me for a moment. Those of you who used to read In Other Words, the culture blog that I used to run (and may revive someday if I need something else to do) might remember the feature "This Just In," an outrageous news satire reminiscent of the things you read at The Onion and The Babylon Bee. Many of those pieces were the brainchild of Steve Harris, aka Hadleyblogger Steve, who not only has a keen and bizarre sense of humor but is also a gifted writer. He has a new book available for pre-order, Dads Like Us: A Survival Guide for Fathers Raising a Child with Disabilities—a topic with which Steve has first-hand experience. If you're living in this kind of situation, or know someone who is, I recommend you get this book. I promise you, you'll be glad you did. TV 

February 7, 2024

What I've been watching: Winter edition

Shows I’ve Watched:
Shows I've Added:
The Adams Chronicles
The Defenders
Harbor Command
The Protectors

You're probably wondering what I've been watching lately. Or maybe not; I'd like to think that some of you have more interesting things to do than that. But let's face it; you've been coming here for years, and there's no mystery what this site is all about, so you've had fair warning. 

The Adams Chronicles—the story of the Adams political family over a 150-year span—was PBS's bicentennial birthday present to America, and if one gets something of a melancholy feeling while watching it, it's not merely because we seem so far away from what the Founding Fathers had envisioned—in fact, one could suggest that the times we live in today are, in a sense, the culmination of that vision for America. But more about that later. 

No, for all the hoopla that accompanied the 200th anniversary of the nation's founding, those of us who were around at the time recall that these were not necessarily the best of times in 1976. We were only a couple of years removed from Watergate; the country remained divided over Vietnam, even though our participation in the war had ended; and we were in the process of finding out a lot of things about America that we didn't know—or perhaps didn't want to know.

And so, when The Adams Chronicles debuted in January of 1976, it attempted to present not only a history lesson, telling the story of our nation's first 150 years through the eyes of one of America's greatest political families, it also sought to remind us of the fragility of our political system, from those early days to the present. It will be up to the people, it overtly tells us, to ensure that this great experiment will not only survive but thrive in the generations to come—but only if we are vigilant, holding not only our leaders accountable, but ourselves. Given the times, there's no doubt what the producers had in mind.

The story begins with young John Adams (George Grizzard, in the role of his lifetime), a struggling Boston lawyer whose twin passions for politics and his wife Abagail are the driving force behind the first half of the miniseries' twelve episodes. We see Adams in all his defining and conflicting roles: a seeker of justice who defends the British soldiers accused of the Boston Massacre on a matter of principle; a patriot dedicated to the independence cause when the Crown leaves him with no alternative; a most undiplomatic diplomat, parlaying with European nations to fund the war effort without selling out the nation's freedom; a devoted family man, professing a desire for the simplicity of the farm yet unwilling to turn away from his duty to the country, which causes him to spend years away from home at Philadelphia and then the capitals of Europe. 

He is at once principled and vain, refusing to seek office but only too eager to make himself available when opportunity comes calling. His unshakable belief in his nation and in himself leads him first to the vice presidency (under George Washington), and then, after Washington declines a third term, to the presidency itself—an office he which he holds for only four years before being defeated by Thomas Jefferson, once a close friend but now a bitter rival. Jefferson doesn't come across very well in this rendition of history, appearing as an opportunist, a man for whom the political is personal, with a vision of America that clashes violently with that of Adams.*

*Nor does Benjamin Franklin, who comes across as shifty and untrustworthy, often putting his own vanity—which was even greater than Adams's—ahead of the interests of his country

Adams's legacy, both personal and political, dominates the series, even after the old man's death, as his descendants try to live up not only to his standards as an Adams, but his legacy of service to America. The closest to approach that legacy was perhaps his eldest son John Quincy (William Daniels, who played John Adams in the movie 1776), who follows in his father's footsteps both as Minister to Great Britain and, eventually, the presidency, although whereas John Adams helped author the Declaration of Independence, John Quincy had to be satisfied as the architect of the Monroe Doctrine while serving as Monroe's Secretary of State. Like his father, he is destined to serve only one term; unlike the elder Adams, who contented himself (if any Adams could ever be said to be content) in the role of elder statesman, Quincy returned to politics after his defeat, with a long career in the U.S. House of Representatives, and an increasingly visible role in the anti-slavery movement.

The scene then shifts to Quincy's youngest son, Charles Francis (Thomas Stewart), who continues the family tradition of diplomatic service as Minister to Great Britain, where he helps to keep European nations out of involvement in the American Civil War. He, too, might have become president, had he been willing to seek it out, but he refused to do so, believing that an active campaign for the presidency would be demeaning to the office and to himself. He becomes the patriarch of the family upon Quincy's death, overseeing the growth of his two sons, Henry (Peter Brandon) and Charles Francis II (Charles Siebert). Both sons eschew elective politics; Henry becomes a historian and author, posthumously winning the Pulitzer Prize for his autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams, and authoring the best-selling novel Democracy, although he wasn't revealed as the author until after his death. Francis, in the meantime, makes his mark in the world of business, becoming president of the Union Pacific railroad, an endeavor in which he ultimately failed; he watches in dismay the growth of populism, and laments the loss of power and influence by landowners. (Well, nobody's perfect.) 

As the miniseries concludes, Henry and Charles stand together, looking at a portrait of the great patriarch of the family, John Adams, and wondering what he would have thought of them; although they often felt they had failed in living up to his legacy, they conclude that maybe they'd done all right after all. And so there, in four paragraphs and twelve one-hour episodes, we have the story of the first century-and-a-half of the United States of America. 

Any story of the Adams family would be incomplete, however, without the Adams women, most notably Abigail (played by Kathryn Walker as a younger woman and Leora Dana in her later years), who was the perfect mate for John, and one of the great women in all of American history. Of all the Adams women, it is she who understands not only what it means to be an Adams, but an American; only a woman with that knowledge, self-confidence, and power of mind could possibly have put up with the often insufferable John for so many years. (She stands in marked contrast to, for example, Henry's wife Minnie (Patricia Elliott), who suffered from mental illness and eventually took her own life after the death of her beloved father.) Their love story is a marvel in and of itself.

About the miniseries itself, since presumably you haven't come here solely for a history lesson: it was nominated for 20 Emmys and won four, including Lead Actress for Kathryn Walker. Watching it is a strange and somewhat dated experience, though. There is very little incidental music other than that heard at diplomatic receptions, and during the opening and closing credits, which may enhance the feeling that one is watching a stage production, but can leave a somewhat sterile taste in the mouth. It was shot entirely on videotape, which echoes the feel of the old Hallmark Hall of Fame, but extending the use of tape to the exterior scenes diminishes the impact; such scenes can feel too much as if they were shot against a green screen. They wasn't, of course, but that's the way it often is with video: what works well in the studio often fails in the wide-open spaces. British television had, at the time, made a habit of using film for exterior shooting while retaining tape for studio shots, but I can see how that transition, which (to be honest) was always a little disturbing to me in shows like Doctor Who, was probably not favored for American television audiences. Filming the whole thing was probably cost-prohibitive for PBS.

And about that: The Adams Chronicles should not be considered as merely an adjunct to Masterpiece Theatre*. Although it has the look and the scope of a British limited series, it isfittingly, in my opinionan all-American project, made by PBS, with American actors. There is no host, a la Alistair Cooke; instead, the stage-setting is done in voiceover by actor Michael Tolan.

*In fact, when public television began the practice of importing British series (which resulted eventually in Masterpiece Theatre), they were criticized by some, including many NET affiliates, for stunting the growth of American-made drama. You'll note that PBS has done very few American projects of this scope since; most of their drama programming is done as a co-production with the BBC or other British networks.

So if one were to make an epic of the great American family without resorting to fiction (Captains and the Kings, for instance), one need only turn to the Adams family, without whom there may well not have been an America. And that brings me to that point I brought up at the start: Was America destined to wind up this way?

It seems unthinkable at first, and it's difficult to really know for sure, but in setting out to establish a republic, the Founders—men of the Enlightenment, though they rejected a monarchy and embraced republicanismwere treading on some very slippery groundlook at revolutionary France, for instance, and remember that Jefferson was a supporter of the French Revolution, if not the extremity of the subsequent Terror. The Founders were quite resolved that America should be a republic, rather than a democracy; the attitude of Charles Francis II toward the prospect of power transitioning from old-line families to "the people" testifies to that. In establishing the constitutional duties of the presidency, Adams was well aware that it had been shaped to fit George Washington, and worried about how it could be abused by a president lacking Washington's integrity. And then, of course, there was Franklin's pronouncement, when asked by Elizabeth Willing Powel what kind of a country the Constitutional Convention had created, replied, "A republic, if you can keep it." 

So where does that leave us? Well, the Roman Republic fell, eventually; a historian as learned as Henry Adams was well aware of that. The Founders themselves considered the United States to be the great American Experiment, and not every experiment succeeds. There's no doubt that if John Adams and his immediate descendants could see what the country has become today, they'd be appalled. Would they consider that it had, in some way, been inevitable?

I don't know if that question can be answered. I do know, however, that if we, as a nation, continue to behave more like the Addams Family than the Adams Family, we won't have long to find out. TV