February 3, 2024

This week in TV Guide: February 5, 1966

I remember the first time I saw a demonstration of High-Definition television. It was in the KSTP booth at the Minnesota State Fair, and the presenter told us this was the future of television. It was impressive, all right; the clarity of the picture was astounding, and that was just while it was showing images of trees and plants. When it switched over to something one might actually watch—like football—it was even more impressive. A few years later, we got our first HD television, which remains our living room TV to this day; the first program we saw was a match from the 2010 World Cup, and the fact that we could see the footprints left on the grass by the players was truly amazing.

I bring all this up not to sing the praises of HDTV, which has absolutely nothing to do with this week's issue, but as an intro to the wonder of television technology, circa 1966: color TV. Now, there had been color broadcasts on TV since the 1950s, but it wouldn't be until the fall of 1966 that the three networks were broadcasting exclusively in color for prime time, and it wasn't until 1972 that more than 50 percent of American homes had a color set. So in February 1966, "Color TV" is still something pretty sexy, not to be taken for granted. You can see this in the way color programming is featured in advertising. Take KTVU, the independent station in San Francisco-Oakland, where Tuesday nights are a "Cavalcade of Color."

Notice the programs they're broadcasting in color—they involve travel to exotic lands with colorful scenes; think about the kind of pictures you saw in National Geographic. Perfect shows to take advantage of the color palette. And look at the way "Color" is emphasized in the ad; even when limited to black and gray, it still manages to convey the sense of multicolored images. It makes you want to go out there and get a color set if you don't already have one; and if you have to choose between a show broadcast in color and one being shown in black-and-white, is there any doubt which one you're going to choose? It's precisely the sensation the ad is designed to produce. 

KTVU isn't the only station emphasizing color programming, of course. San Francisco's KGO and KOVR in Sacramento both highlight movies that were shot in color, and KCRA (also in Sacramento) even makes it part of their logo. There's something about these ads that identify their stations with progress, modernity, technology, broadcasting shows that jump right out—things that might put them a step ahead of the competition. And after all, we all want to stick with a winner, right? 

In February, 1966, according to Broadcasting magazine, about 70 percent of the combined prime time programming from the three networks was in color (almost all of NBC's schedule was in color, while CBS and ABC were at roughly 50 percent). By the fall of '66, all three networks will be broadcasting their primetime shows 100 percent in color. And TV Guide, which had always indicated which shows were being broadcast in color, changes that policy in 1971 or so; since color programs are now the rule, rather than the exception, they only show when a program is in black-and-white.

All these changes were extremely exciting; I remember what it was like when we visited friends with a color set, and it was even more exciting when we got a color set of our own in the 1970s. Younger people won't understand this; for them, color is the way it's always been, so much so that the black-and-white label almost carries a stigma with it. I'm sure that many of them don't even recall the pre-HD days, probably can't imagine that there was a time when the picture didn't fill up the entire screen.

Is there any kind of technology today that can provide the kind of thrill we got with the color experience, or the amazement we felt the first time we saw a show in high-def? I suppose nowadays it's like getting the latest iPhone, but I feel sorry in a ay for people who don't know what it was like having your socks knocked off by something like color television. It may seem simple today; it was anything but simple, back then. 

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During the 60s, the Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace were the premiere variety shows on television. Whenever they appear in TV Guide together, we'll match them up and see who has the best lineup.

Sullivan: Ed's scheduled guests: comedian Alan King; singer Rosemary Clooney, rock 'in' rollers Simon and Garfunkel, dancer Peter Gennaro and the rock 'n' rolling Animals.

Palace: Host Vincent "Ben Casey" Edwards presents an all-female guest lineup: actress Bette Davis, giving a reading; singer Liza Minnelli; comedienne Joan Rivers; dancer Liliane Montevecchi; the acrobatic Rogge Sisters; performing elephants Bertha and Tina; and Miss Elizabeth, trapeze artist.

As you know, these reviews are purely subjective on my part; your mileage may vary. So when I downgrade Ed's lineup because I don't like Simon and Garfunkel, that's just my opinion. And because I do like the Animals, I can say that the two offset each other. On the other hand, Ed has Rosemary Clooney and Alan King. I'm not a big fan of either Vince Edwards or Joan Rivers, and I don't think Bette Davis and Liza are quite enough to make up for it, not even with a pair of performing elephants thrown into the mix. This week, Sullivan takes the crown.  

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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. 

So, is Lost in Space a children's program or not? Well, according to Cleveland Amory, that depends. Like most shows designed primarily for children, it seems to be written by them as well. It was created by Irwin Allen, "whom you may forget—if not forgive —for having given us Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea." (Hey, I like that show!) And it has what Cleve calls "an irritating backyard quality, complete with boy-next-planet, girl-next-star, etc." that extends to the casting, with the typical parents, the family friend, one blonde daughter, one brunette daughter, and a freckle-faced boy. It's all straight out of Central Casting.

But don't let this discourage you from watching Lost in Space, for it has two qualities which define it as something out of the ordinary. The first is the robot, without which there would be no show. "He knows his lines. He’s appealing to both boys and girls, and he’s even neat and well-mannered enough for the old folks to stand him." And whenever something happens, no matter what, he's the one the Robinsons turn to, that "when the chips are down, he’ll do his duty, even if it means a hopeless charge against the alien space ship’s 'force field.' Like the brave TV executives upstairs, his not to reason why, his but to program and die."

Added to that is perhaps the best villain television has to offer, Dr. Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris). "He is responsible almost every week for lousing up outer space with his innate rottenness, and you’ve got to love him for it." As a counterpoint to the too-perfect Robinsons, he gives the show the spark and dimension it needs. And while Robinson and West would probably just as soon pitch him into space and lose him, the women and children always seem to get in the way; "Why they continue, week after week, to trust Dr. Smith beats us." But let's hope they always do, because without him, Lost in Space might be lost in the ratings.

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Let's see what the week has to offer. There's always something, even if it is in black-and-white.

The worlds of sports and entertainment collide yet again this weekend, with coverage of the fourth and fifth rounds of the Bob Hope Desert Classic (Saturday, 1:00 p.m.; Sunday, 12:30 p.m., NBC). The five-day, 90-hole tournament (longest on the pro circuit) delivers some of the biggest names on the pro golf tour: defending champion Billy Casper, Arnold Palmer, Tony Lema, Julius Boros, Gene Littler, Doug Sanders and Tommy Aaron. Celebrities are plentiful as well, with Kirk Douglas, Joe DiMaggio, James Garner, Phil Harris and Ray Bolger among the stars competing on the amateur side. They're all on-hand to see Sanders take the victory on Sunday, in a playoff over Palmer. 

Sunday has a serious side, as well. I'm not going to say anything else about this, except that, looking at it from today's perspective, it seems to cut a little too close to the bone for me. I'll add this, though: they were entirely upfront about what they were going to do and how they were going to do it (Sunday, 6:30 p.m., NBC):

On Tuesday, the CBS News Special "16 in Webster Groves" (10:00 p.m.) looks to find out "what 16-year-olds think of love, war, cheating, and parents." Webster Groves, Missouri, is a suburb of St. Louis, and in 1966 the population was probably around 29,000 (it's a little over 24,000 today). The special's producer, Arthur Barron, calls it a representative suburb, and that it "may well be like this in other American suburbs." Interviews with host Charles Kuralt "point up the teenagers’ desire for social acceptance—to be 'in' rather than 'out'—and cameras show the youngsters during confrontations with their parents, and at class, the local drag strip, a traditional football rally and a night club for teens only." In many ways, teens back in 1966 are much like teens are today; I'd wager, though, that the things they do when they're acting out, the ways in which they seek to be "in," their hopes and fears—those might be a little different today. Do they think the world will be a better place when they're adults? Do they think their children will have a better quality of life than they do? Do they even think there will be a future? I wonder. But on the very next page of this week's issue, there's an add for the latest volume from Time-Life Books, and that might give us the answer:

Meanwhile, all Richard Kimble has to worry about on The Fugitive (Tuesday, 10:00 p.m., ABC) is whether or not his new female friend's uncle, a retired detective, is on to him. Just a little thing, right?

Here's a kind of Whitman's sampler of some of the more popular programs on Wednesday: On the aforementioned Lost in Space (7:30 p.m,. CBS), "Will insists on repairing the rusted robot he found, despite a warning from the Robinsons’ own robot that the device is actually a robotoid—capable of free choice." Danger, Will Robinson! You can't say that Cleveland Amory didn't warn us about what happens when the Robinsons ignore the robot's recommendations. On The Beverly Hillbillies (8:30 p.m., CBS), "Sonny Drysdale [Louis Nye], who's been attending college for 19 years, is summoned home by his stepfather. The elder Drysdale wants Sonny to try working for a change—and he'd also like to see him get married to Elly May." You know what? I don't think so. And on The Big Valley (9:00 p.m., ABC), "Jarrod wants to help Keno Nash, who has been released from prison after serving nine years for a crime he didn’t commit. Jarrod, as prosecuting attorney, helped put Nash behind bars." Considering that Nash is played by the always-disagreeable Albert Salmi, I don't think it's going to be as easy as all that.

On Friday, Sammy Davis Jr. returns as host of The Sammy Davis Jr. Show (8:30 p.m., NBC), and if you're wondering why this is such a big deal, let's flash back to this article, which recounts the troubled history of the show, particularly the contractual problem that Sammy found himself in as a result of an ABC special called "Sammy and His Friends," which had aired the previous week and prohibited Davis from appearing on any other network for the three weeks immediately preceding the show. (Both Davis and NBC had hoped that ABC would either air the special earlier, or waive the provision in the contract, but the network was unwilling to budge on either.) So while this week's episode is the fifth to air, it's only the second one to feature Sammy as the host of his own show. (Johnny Carson, Sean Connery, and Jerry Lewis filled in as hosts while Davis was sidelined.) Unfortunately, the show only runs for 15 weeks, but that's another story. Oh well; Sammy's guests tonight are Trini Lopez, Corbett Monica, Paula Wayne, and dancer Johnny Brown, who performs as part of a production number with the cast of "Golden Boy," the musical in which Davis stars on Broadway. 

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Later on Friday, it's The Smothers Brothers Show (9:30 p.m, CBS), and the story behind this odd series is covered in a feature article by Leslie Raddatz. Unlike their controversial variety show, this version of The Smothers Brothers Show is a sitcom, featuring Dick as a junior executive at a publishing company, and Tom as his deceased brother, who has returned as an apprentice angel trying to earn his wings. (And if that isn't a recipe for disaster, I don't know what is.) What is the same, however, is the controversy behind the scenes, with the Brothers providing more than a little stubborn when it comes to putting the show on the air.

Everything was smooth going, Raddatz recounts, until the Brothers read the first script. They hated it—"It was too gimmicky and full of old jokes."—and they refused to shoot the script until it was rewritten. The delay cost the studio, Four Star Television, a reported $15,000. Tom and Dick insist that they tried to be cooperative, but as they watched the dailies, they could tell the show wasn't working. "We didn't know what we wanted, but we knew what we didn't want," Tom says. As one source reports, "the attitude on the set was murder." Phil Sharp, then the show's producer, says that he didn't think the Brothers understood how the humor of a sitcom works, and felt their complaints were hiding the fact they were afraid. When Thomas McDermott, president of Four Star, suggested that if everyone couldn't get along, they should just call it quits, the Brothers rose in unison, said, "Fine!" and got up to leave. They were almost out the door before McDermott caught them. The upshot was that Phil Sharp was out as producer, replaced by Fred de Cordova, and the quality of the show—and the Brothers' satisfaction—gradually improved. Raddatz concludes that, "as Messrs. Sharp and McDermott discovered, you don’t tamper with the Smothers Brothers."

Now, I've never been a fan of the Smothers Brothers, and I can easily believe how difficult they may have been to work with in this case. But I have to feel some sympathy with them here, being asked to do something that is clearly not a good fit. The variety show, whether one thought it was funny or not, was a format that was perfect for them; trying to shoehorn them into a sitcom premise like this doesn't strike me as the best use of the very talent that brought them to the public eye in the first place. But, then, what do I know?

I do know this about the picture there and the headline that accompanies it: This must have been the only time the Smothers Brothers ever tilted to the right.

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MST3K alert: Untamed Youth (1957) Two sisters are arrested for vagrancy. Mamie Van Doren, Lori Nelson, John Russell, Don Burnett. (Wednesday, 11:30 p.m., KNTV in San Jose). As far as let's-put-on-a-show musicals goes, this one is actually a cut above normal. Could it be because of John Russell's performance as the evil work-farm overlord, or Lurene Tuttle in her patented weak-needy-woman role as the judge who unwittingly provides Russell with free labor because she's secretly married to him? No, everyone knows that, besides the musical numbers, there are two reasons this movie stands out: Mamie Van Doren. As Dr. Erhardt says, the Mad Scientists should keep her movies for themselves. TV  


  1. It's interesting - I thought, by your extensive comments about "color TV," and the fact that "I Dream Of Jeannie" was on the cover, that you were leading up to the fact that - to my knowledge - "Jeannie's" first season was one of the last two network series in black & white. I remember that it was because they didn't think the "magic" effects worked yet in color. (And the other B&W series was the WW2 drama "Convoy," because they were intercutting the fictional scenes with authentic Navy footage.)

    1. There was another tie-in with CONVOY to this week: Sammy Davis, Jr.'s show replaced CONVOY on the NBC Friday night schedule after CONVOY's December cancellation.

  2. The TV GUIDE designation for color programs switching to B&W was with the issue of Aug. 26, 1972. After the May 31, 1969 font switch in the listings, the original "COLOR" designation was switched to a shorter "C", which had a description on the Channels Listed page of "indicates color program". The B&W designation, "BW" in the listings, had a longer description that "BW" was the exception rather than the rule.

    As for my own family, we didn't have our first color set until we got an old set that my grandmother was no longer using late in 1979. I didn't start caring about having color tv until around 1977, so I didn't "suffer" too long. We even had our first microwave oven a few months before color tv.

  3. When everything went color, many B&W reruns in syndication only showed the color episodes. B&W episodes of Bewitched and My Three Sons for example were out of circulation until Nick at Nite showed them in the 90s.

    1. And for both shows (especially Bewitched) the B&W seasons were by far the best. Same with Lost in Space, The Fugitive and Petticoat Junction.

    2. I'd add Combat to that list as well - not that the color episodes aren't good, but there's something about war that almost demands B&W.

  4. I think the first season of Bewitched was produced by Danny Arnold, who would later go on to Barney Miller in the 70s. There was a more adult 'feel' to the episodes. Darrin and Samantha drank A LOT in those episodes, and there were a few sexual innuendos I was surprised got past the censors of the time. A far cry from the kid-oriented show it became later.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!