March 30, 2024

This week in TV Guide: April 1, 1961

Xoap opera fans have always been known as a loyal and hearty lot. It might be hard for many to appreciate today, with the soaps all but gone from television, but in those first decades of TV fans were consumed by the stories of their favorite series (reminding us once again that the word "fan" derives from "fanatic") with a level of passion perhaps rivaled only by European soccer fans, with stories of actors and actresses accosted on the street by fans furious over some misdeed they'd perpetrated in a recent story.

However, things reached a new high (or low) earlier in the year when CBS' The Edge of Night decided to kill off D.A. Mike Karr's faithful wife Sarah, by having her hit by a car while saving her small daughter from being run over. (Melodramatic, in the best tradition of soap operas.) Although it was actress Teal Ames' choice to leave the show in order to pursue work on Broadway, that didn't stop the show's devoted fans—over seven million each day, mostly housewives—from letting the network and the show's sponsors, including Pet-Ritz, know how they felt about it.

CBS received 2,500 letters the the first week, and the mail was still pouring in as this article was written. A "disillusioned" viewer from Columbus, Ohio wrote that she was finished with Edge, and with CBS. "I had baked a Pet-Ritz cherry pie, but I could hardly eat it last night for supper after that terrible episode.  No more Pet products for me." Meanwhile, a high school in Delco, North Carolina said that "Shakespeare himself did not create a more convincing cast of praiseworthy personalities," and wondered "what perversion of common decency prompted anyone to shatter such a team?" One writer suggested that "you have these sadistic writers locked up in a safe place."

Here's that complete episode, including the melodramatic conclusion that triggered so much angst in the faithful. It was, as TV Guide styled it, a "Death in the Afternoon."
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Sunday, April 2, is Easter, with appropriate programming for the day. On the religious side, CBS leads off at 9:00 a.m. with the special Songs of Triumph from the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston; that's followed at 10:00 a.m. by a Protestant service live from Riverside Church in New York City, the former home of William Sloane Coffin.

Also at 10:00, NBC has a live broadcast of the Easter Sunday Mass, back at Holy Cross in Boston, presided over by Richard Cardinal Cushing. The live broadcast is only scheduled for an hour, which seems awfully short to me; I wonder if it was a low, rather than high, Mass. Locally, WTCN presents a live broadcast at 11:00 a.m. from the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Mark in downtown Minneapolis; I've been in that church, which is architecturally stunning.

Under the category of "holiday viewing for the whole family," The Shirley Temple Show (6:00 p.m., NBC) presents a rerun of "The Land of Oz," L. Frank Baum's sequel to The Wizard of Oz, with Agnes Moorehead as the evil Mombi the Witch (three years before she plays another witch on Bewitched); Jonathan Winters as the equally evil Lord Nikdik, who plots with Mombi to take over Oz; Shirley herself as Princess Ozma, the rightful ruler of Oz; and comedian Ben Blue, as the Scarecrow. You can see it for yourself on YouTube.

Ed Sullivan's Easter program features Charlton Heston, reading selections from the Bible; opera star Leontyne Price; singer Anita Bryant; and the Bill Baird Marionettes. Later, on G.E. Theater, hosted by Ronald Reagan, it's the iconic French short The Red Balloon (8:00 p.m., CBS), the charming story of a balloon that takes on a life of it's own. It's an unusual presentation for G.E. Theater, which usually shows original programming, but it won't be unprecedented for CBS; three years later, perhaps inspired by this showing, The Twilight Zone airs the French short feature An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, which goes on to win the Best Short Subject award at the Oscars.And Roy Rogers and Dale Evans host a "down-home Easter party" on The Chevy Show (8:00 p.m., NBC), with guests Eddy Arnold, the Limeliters, Martin Milner and George Maharis, Cathie Taylor, and Cliff Arquette, probably as Charley Weaver.

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This week's cover story is on Roger Smith, suave and handsome co-star of ABC's 77 Sunset Strip, destined to become one of the luckiest men in Hollywood in a few years when he marries Ann-Margret. But for now, the focus is on Smith's (Ouch!) penchant for being accident-prone; an interesting penchant for a man who makes his living in a television show that "requires that he be slapped, socked, slugged, banged, bashed, bonked, creamed, cracked, and coshed."
"I don't know why it is, but I always seem to be getting hurt," he tells author Richard Gehman that "I was sewed up 22 times before I was five," and since then was knocked out while playing football in college, has had nine car accidents, sprained his ankle doing a stunt for the show, and suffered a blot clot after bumping his head that was diagnosed only hours before it would have been fatal. As he and Gehman chat, walking down a studio street, Smith promptly trips over an electric cable. "They treat me like a child around here," he says. "They won't let me do anything, they're so afraid I'll get hurt." They would appear to be entirely justified in doing so.

Smith is a happy man, charming and engaging and, as Gehman puts it, spreading "effervescence and ebullience"; not cocky, but "full of himself," which seems to be the proper disposition for a man who's destined to marry Ann-Margret. He's also full of energy, from his incessant conversations (Gehman notes that he barely had to ask a question during three days of interviewing) to his exhausting work for charities, which "would make Jerry Lewis seem reserved." He's obsessed with working around the house, helping build the swimming pool in the backyard, and doing all the work on the garden. Oh, and he's also building an atomic-bomb shelter under the house, including a door that he got from an old Navy destroyer that he found in a junkyard. And did I mention that he's also written scripts for Sunset Strip? And that, as he's telling Gehman all this, he turns the corner and runs into an actress from Hawaiian Eye?

Yes, Roger Smith is a man who has everything going for him. "I never thought when I was a kid I'd have this much fun when I grew up." (And this is without Ann-Margret.) Here, he pauses to stumble over the threshold of the studio. "And you know what? It was all an accident." I can't imagine a more fitting way to put it.

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And now for the sports. On ABC's Fight of the Week (Saturday, 9:00 p.m.), Emile Griffith wins the world welterweight championship, knocking out champion Benny "Kid" Paret in the thirteenth round. The two would meet again in September, with Paret winning back the title. Just under a year later, on March 29, 1962, the two men would fight for a third time, and this time Griffith would deliver a twelfth round KO, putting Paret into a coma from which he would never recover; his death ten days later was the beginning of the end for regularly scheduled prime time boxing on TV.
The NBA playoffs continue this weekend on NBC, with games on both Saturday (1:00 p.m.) and Sunday (1:30 p.m.). Now, there's nothing particularly unusual about this, except for a couple of things. First, both games involve the St. Louis Hawks, and in today's era, where back-to-back games are kept to a minimum, the idea of a team playing playoff games on consecutive days is unthinkable. Second, Saturday's tilt is the seventh and deciding game of the Western Division finals, with the Hawks defeating the Los Angeles Lakers four games to three; for Sunday's game, the Hawks have to fly to Boston for game one of the finals, with no rest, against the two-time defending champion Celtics, who haven't played since March 26. Is it any wonder that the Celtics win that game, 129-95, en route to a third straight championship, defeating St. Louis four games to one.

Making sure we give all three networks some coverage, The Masters begins on April 6, with CBS covering the final two rounds next Saturday and Sunday. To prepare viewers on what to watch for, current PGA champion Jay Hebert* (pronounced AAY-bear) provides TV Guide readers with a look at the final four holes, where the championship will likely be one or lost, as has been the case in the last five years. These holes, writes Hebert—or, more likely, his ghostwriter—are among "the greatest finishing holes in golf," demanding everything a golfer has to offer. "[T]here are no let-up holes at Augusta," Hebert warns the players, and "if you fall asleep there, this course will get you." There was no let-up in the weather, either; rain forced the final round to be played on Monday, when Gary Player would win the first of his three green jackets, beating Arnold Palmer and amateur Charles Coe by one shot after Palmer double-bogeyed the final hole.

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The rest of the week's highlights, and there are many.

morning at 10:00 a,m., WTCN presents a perfectly awful movie called Granny Get Your Gun which, believe it or not (and I'd rather not) was based on Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason novel The Case of the Dangerous Dowager, only without Mason. It was said that Gardner wept when he saw it, which was one reason it was so hard to convince him to agree to a television series. Fortunately, he changed his mind. Better that we should stick to primetime, which includes Our American Heritage (8:30 p.m., NBC), hosted by news legend Lowell Thomas; tonight, Raymond Massey reprises his most famous role, that of Abraham Lincoln, in "Not in Vain," the story of the Gettysburg Address and how it was received at the time.

We've pretty much covered Sunday already, but let's add in the special Marineland Circus (7:00 p.m., NBC), from Marineland Park in Florida, hosted by Rosemary Clooney and featuring Sea Hunt's Lloyd Bridges and actor and former Olympic gold medal swimmer Buster Crabbe. If you remember those Ice Follies and Ice Capades shows we've talked about in the past, think of this as similar to that, but on water. And we shouldn't leave without mentioning The Jack Benny Program (8:30 p.m., CBS), with the aforementioned Ann-Margret, plus juggler Francis Brunn, and George Burns, who discovered Ann-Margret.

Why is it that whenever celebrities play thinly disguised versions of themselves on a show, those characters always shares the same first name as the person playing them? It happens again on Monday, when Paul Anka guests as young singer "Paul Pryor" on The Danny Thomas Show (8:00 p.m., CBS). He's auditioning for Danny, and he's grateful to "join the 'grand old entertainer' his grandfather told him about." What a burn! Later, on The DuPont Show with June Allyson (9:30 p.m., CBS), Lloyd Bridges reappears, this time in a one-character show in which he finds himself the sole person left on board a sinking ship during a hurricane. Even Mike Nelson might be challenged by this one. 

Tuesday, Buddy Hackett takes on a rare dramatic role in The Rifleman (7:00 p.m., WTCN), as Clarence Bibbs, a good ole boy janitor whose gun goes off accidentally, killing a gunfighter—and causing him to think he's now the fastest gun in the West. Among the guest stars is Lee Van Cleef, and since he doesn't play the gunman killed at the beginning of the story, I suspect he's the one who's going to call Clarence's bluff. I'm also betting that Lucas McCain's going to have to bail Clarence out before it's all over. Later, Nat King Cole is one of the guests on The Garry Moore Show (9:00 p.m., CBS); you'll also be able to catch Nat on Wednesday in his own syndicated hour-long special, with British comedian Dave King. (9:00 p.m., WCCO, preempting CBS's U.S. Steel Hour). 

is the American premiere of British import Danger Man (7:30 p.m., CBS), starring Patrick McGoohan as globe-trotting NATO agent John Drake. This half-hour show will eventually morph into a one-hour series, renamed (in the United States) Secret Agent Man* which McGoohan would quit after three seasons to begin a new series: The Prisoner. Now, die-hard fans of the series (like me) will argue endlessly as to whether or not John Drake is also The Prisoner's Number 6. McGoohan did not have contractual rights to the name "John Drake," which  could explain why he always denied that Drake and Number 6 were one and the same; personally, having watched all 86 episodes of Danger Man/Secret Agent Man through to the 17 episodes of The Prisoner, I think there are too many similarities between the two—in manner, forms of speech, and the like—for there to be any doubt. But that's just my opinion.

*Using Johnny Rivers' hit single of the same name as the title theme, which contains the provocative lyric "They've given you a number/and taken away your name."

On Thursday, Ernie Kovacs is back with another episode of Silents Please (9:30 p.m., ABC), a program concept taking advantage of the resurgence of interest in silent movies that was then in vogue. Kovacs acted as host, a role not unlike that played by Robert Osborne or Bob Dorian in later years, introducing the movie and then discussing various aspects afterward. This is Kovacs the film aficionado, not Kovacs the satirist, and the affection he holds for these old films is evident. Tonight's classic is 1923's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, starring Lon Chaney in the title role. Coincidentally, Tennessee Ernie Ford's guest on The Ford Show (8:30 p.m., NBC) is Charles Laughton, who, of course, played Quasimodo in the 1939 version of Hunchback.

A couple of first-rate actors highlight Friday's lineup; Walter Matthau reminds us of what a fine dramatic actor he is, on a Route 66 episode in which he plays a gambler who heads to Reno holding the life savings from the citizens of the small town of Knee, Nevada. They want him to "invest" their savings in order to raise money to boost the town's tourist trade (7:30 p.m., CBS). Later, in a classic episode of The Twilight Zone, Cliff Robertson plays a wagon trailmaster who's also headed West, leading a group of settlers from the East, but he won't believe what's waiting for him "A Hundred Yards over the Rim." (8:30 p.m., CBS).

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Last, but most assuredly not least, the Teletype scoops us with some chatter on coming attractions, in this case two animated series, both among my favorites. First, Hanna-Barbera is auditioning voices for the six cats in the upcoming ABC series Top Cat. So far they've heard from Hack Oakie, Ken Murray, Stubby Kaye, Jesse White, Herschel Bernardi and the man who would, legendarily, eventually voice Top Cat himself, Arnold Stang. A better choice for the role I couldn't imagine.

There's also a note about CBS's upcoming Alvin and the Chipmunks, which would eventually air as The Alvin Show, based on Ross Bagdasarian's recording characters. Now, to emphasize, this is not the Alvin and the Chipmunks of the 21st century movies, the chipmunks with an attitude (left); neither is it the pseudo-children version of the 1980s revival (center); we're talking about the originals (right):

I know, I know, I'm showing my age again, living in the past, shouting at the sky. But the original chipmunks had attitude enough—ever hear Dave yell "Alllllllvinnnnn"? They weren't punks, they weren't the kind of kids you'd cross the street to avoid. They weren't kids at all—they were chipmunks. Oh well. Classic TV wouldn't be so distinctive were there not so much to contrast with contemporary life.

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Speaking of Easter as we were, my wishes for a peaceful and blessed Easter Sunday for those of you who celebrate—and I do mean celebrate—the story of the Good News. TV  

March 29, 2024

Two of a kind: the odd couple that makes Harry O worth watching

David Janssen and Anthony Zerbe, stars of Harry O and a very mismatched couple

The following is part of The Mismatched Couples Blogathon, running this weekend at many of your favorite blogs. Be sure to check the sponsors, Cinematic Catharsis and Realweegiemidget, throughout the weekend for the latest posts. "Around the Dial" will return next Fridaysame time, same channel.

Somewhere in the dusty archives housing the history of television, there must be a playbook on private detective shows that states the P.I. must always have a love-hate relationship with a foil in the police department: someone who can be counted on to grumble about how our hero is always meddling in his cases, holding out on information he's discovered, and operating just outside the law. Nevertheless, said foil can always be counted on to come through in the clutch, showing up just in time to save the detective's bacon—or, more often, to slap the cuffs on the bad guys just after our hero has single-handedly subdued them with his gun, his fists, or both. Case solved, they can go out together afterward for a beer (or two). It's a dependable formula, responsible for more than one hit action series over the years. Of these relationships, one of the most unique is that between private detective Harry Orwell and detective lieutenant K.C. Trench of the Santa Monica Police Department. By any definition, they can be considered one of television's mismatched couples. 

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David Janssen enjoyed an enviable career in television. He starred in two hit series in which he played iconic characters—Richard Diamond, Private Detective and The Fugitive—and he guested in a plethora of dramatic series and made-for-TV movies. (His movie career wasn't bad either, although he never attained the success he hoped for.) He was an intelligent and skilled actor, popular with viewers, and was capable of making a show better than it should have been simply by his presence. He died much too soon, at age 48, in 1980. But before then, he had one last memorable role up his sleeve—that of private detective Harry Orwell in the series Harry O.

Orwell was a former detective on the San Diego police department; he'd retired after having been shot in the back, and when the series premiered in September 1974, he was working out of his beachfront home as a private detective. For inside information, he relied on Lieutenant Manny Quinlan (Henry Darrow), and while Orwell could occasionally try Quinlan's patience, their relationship was based on a personal friendship, as well as respect between former colleagues who'd solved many cases together.

However, halfway through that first season, the series underwent a retooling. Harry had found himself in Santa Monica on a case, and following the case's resolution, had decided to stick around. Naturally, he needed a new foil, in the form of Lieutenant K.C. Trench, played by Anthony Zerbe. Zerbe was one of television's better-known character actors, appearing in virtually every dramatic series of the 1960s and 1970s, usually as some type of greasy heavy. Harry O was his first co-starring role in a television series, and he made the most of it, winning an Emmy in 1976 for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. He shines in the role, and the relationship between Orwell and Trench will become the highlight of the remainder of the series.

Orwell runs afoul of Trench fairly early in the going, in the episode "For the Love of Money." Like most police investigators, Trench doesn't particularly appreciate interference by private detectives, especially when he thinks they're holding out on him. "You know I'm about to book you as an accessory, Orwell," Trench says in that first exchange. "Accessory to what?" Orwell replies. "Don't play dumb," Trench snaps. "I'm not playing dumb," Harry says. "That's the real me, coming through." 

But Trench takes the time to check out Orwell's background, and he knows that Harry was a good detective on the force, and is likely a good detective in private practice as well." At the end of that first case, Trench concedes this. "I like the way you operate, Orwell. Like a cop. Who knows? Maybe we'll get along. Just don't ever keep anything from me." Famous last words, right?

However, it's the second season opener, "Anatomy of a Frame," that sheds the most light on Trench and helps explain his relationship with Orwell. In this story, Trench is framed for the murder of an informer, and with nowhere else to turn, he comes to Harry for help. "The only person available to whom I can unburden my soul is a middle aged beach bum of somewhat questionable repute," he explains to Harry, who replies, "You have a problem." Orwell has no doubts as to the lieutenant's innocence: "Trench, you have tunnel vision about your work. By your own admission, you do not drink in public, you do not socialize with the other members of the department. You're a snob, you're opinionated, and what's worse, you're usually right." But Harry knows that Trench is an honest cop, not a murderer. And Trench knows that Orwell is good; furthermore, he trusts him in a case that may be the most important in the lieutenant's life.

(Orwell is able to clear Trench, of course, for which Trench is sincerely thankful. But when he extends his had to shake Harry's, Harry instead hands him a crumpled piece of paper: his bill. The bill itself doesn't bother Trench; I think he would have been offended had it been otherwisethat's not the way Trench does business. But it's just a handwritten mess, sloppy, difficult to read. "Has it occurred to you to get a typewriter?" Trench asks, stuffing the bill in Harry's coat pocket. "I expect things to be done in a businesslike manner. That's why I hired you, Orwell.")

Over time, the two become something approaching frenemies, with Harry casually strolling into Trench's office whenever he feels like it, something that drives the lieutenant crazy. ("Orwell, I do not appreciate it when people walk into my office without knocking," he tells him, at which point Harry steps back out of the office, closes the door, knocks, and walks in without waiting for an invitation.) Trench may find himself giving Orwell a new lead or a look at a file, often against his better judgment, in return for Harry's promise that he'll share with Trench whatever he finds out, a promise that Orwell may or may not keep. They frequently clash, such as when Orwell's convinced that Trench is after the wrong suspect, or Trench accuses Orwell of seeing clues that aren't really there. Their arguments can get heated at times. Seldom, however, is there a suggestion from one that the other doesn't know what he's doing. It's that mutual respect for the abilities and the integrity of each that binds the two and allows them to work together. 

Still, that doesn't stop Trench from becoming irritated at Orwell's constant presence in an apparently open-and-shut case, or Harry's frustration that Trench doesn't see the connections that Harry does, connections that point to his client's innocence. At times, it seems to the long-suffering Trench that there's no escaping Harry. "At first, I thought it was just a bad dream; Orwell wasn't really all over this building, in every room and corridor that I pass," he says after running into Orwell in the pathologist's office. "It would be too much, even for a nightmare. But then I thought, 'Trench, maybe reality is really worse than a dream, maybe this apparition is indeed a fact.'" Turning to the pathologist and nodding in Trench's direction, Harry says, "He really likes me." 

"Orwell, I do not want to see you around here   
again, do you understand?" 
And indeed, one suspects that, beyond Trench's sarcasm, his exaggerated formality and theatrical way of speaking, there is the possibility that, down deep, he actually does—like?—Harry. In the episode "The Acolyte," Trench visits Orwell after a gunshot pierced the window of Harry's beach house. "Do you have any specific notions as to who might have taken a shot at you," he asks Orwell, "or shall I just start going through the phone book?" But when it turns out that Harry might be in actual trouble, Trench rushes to the scene, telling his assistant, Sergeant Roberts (Paul Tulley), "I hope we're not too late." So he is worried about Harry! But if he ever actually let on to such an emotion, he probably would add, "If you ever tell Orwell I said that, you'll be walking a beat for the rest of your natural life."

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Harry O ran on ABC from 1974 to 1976; it was, from the start, an unconventional detective series. For starters, Orwell walks around with a bullet still lodged in his back, a remnant of the shooting that forced his retirement from the force, which serves to restrict his mobility (although as the series progresses, the network's desire for action scenes necessitated a marked improvement in Harry's physical condition). There are also very few high-speed car chases, since Harry's beater of a car spends far more time in the repair shop than it does in his driveway, with the result that he spends a good amount of time riding the bus to meet his clients. Orwell's voiceover narrations were often noir-like, more closely resembling existential interior monologues than mere plot advancers.

All this means that the climax to a typical Harry O episode is far less likely to involve Harry shooting, beating up, running down, or otherwise physically incapacitating his prey than in other detective shows (i.e. The Rockford Files). It does mean that Lieutenant Trench is often on the scene, slapping the cuffs on the suspect, witnessing that Orwell's hunches have paid off once again. And while they're not apt to head off to the bar together for that celebratory beer, there is the satisfaction of a job well done.

For this reason, Harry O was never a ratings success in the same way as other, more action-oriented P.I. shows. It was different, though, and the critics looked upon it favorably. David Janssen poured himself into the role, and felt the series contained some of his best work; Anthony Zerbe, as I mentioned, won an Emmy for his performance as Trench. But in an effort to boost the ratings, the network couldn't help but meddle. The location was changed, the narration became more conventional, more action and gunplay was added, and Harry was given a proto-girlfriend in Farrah Fawcett-Majors. Ratings did improve, and had it not been for programming chief Fred Silverman and his preference for jiggle TV, it might have continued. But, alas, Harry O was out, and Charlie's Angels, complete with Farrah, was soon in. And so it goes.

Still, Harry O is an enjoyable series to watch, often good, occasionally better than that. But even its lesser episodes have something to offer that's worth watching, and that's the relationship between our hero: cynical, rumpled, wearing a sportscoat with a tie that's often askew and rarely pulled tight, and a crooked smile that tells you he's already seen more than most people; and his upright police foil: formal, precise in his language, always dressed in a three-piece suit, and likely with a bottomless supply of aspirin in a desk drawer. Harry O and Lieutenant Trench are among the oddest and most unlikely of couples, mismatched in every way except their desire for justice. They're proof that opposites do attract, and it's why Harry O is a series worth watching. TV  

March 27, 2024

Darkness at noon

Unless you've been hiding under a rock somewhere, you probably know there's a total solar eclipse coming up on April 8. As this article at details, it will be (weather permitting) one of the longest, darkest, and most spectacular solar eclipses in hundreds of years, as well as one of the longest and darkest. The eclipse will affect the entire United States to one extent or another, and because the path of totality passes through so many large cities from Texas to Maine (including Dallas-Fort Worth, Little Rock, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Buffalo, Rochester, and Montreal), it will be the most-watched ever in North America.   

The totality path runs right through Indiana—it'll be about 99.8 percent total where we live—and there's a tremendous amount of excitement around here; we've been getting all kinds of emails from places ranging from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to Santa Claus, Indiana, offering deals for people to plan their eclipse viewing.* Warby Parker is offering free solar eclipse viewing glasses from April 1 until the big day, stores are selling Total Eclipse t-shirts, and Delta has a special flight scheduled from Austin, Texas to Detroit, flying along the path of the moon's shadow. Even where the eclipse isn't total, people are excited; eclipses come and go every few years around the world, but this one does seem to be a once-in-a-lifetime event.

*Remember, it's dangerous to look directly at a solar eclipse, yadda yadda.

There was a similar sensation back on March 7, 1970, when a total solar eclipse occurred through Mexico, the South and along the Eastern seaboard. That was called the "Great Eclipse," with a period of totality lasting up to three minutes and ten seconds—this one will be the longest in the United States since then. And because it happened on a Saturday, the networks offered live coverage as the eclipse made its way across the country. It would be the first time this kind of an event had been covered on live television (It was something of a bomb, since the weather along much of the path was cloudy; let's hope for better weather this time.)  

To see what it was like experiencing the Great Eclipse, here's the CBS broadcast from March 7, anchored by Charles Kuralt, with correspondents posted along the path of totality. (At the end of the recording is ABC's coverage of the October 16, 1978 total eclipse, which crossed from the Pacific Northwest down through Texas.) Even though the weather didn't cooperate, it's still an awesome sight; especially the speed with which the sky brightens after the totality passes. There's also a nice moment 43 minutes in, when the experts mention the date of "a very good one, a relative of this eclipse" that will be coming up in April of the year 2024; that must have seemed an awfully long time in the future, back then. 

If the upcoming eclipse is half as spectacular as we're being told, it should be unforgettable; hopefully, it might also serve to remind people that such wonders of the universe don't happen by chance. TV  

March 25, 2024

What's on TV? Monday, March 25, 1963

Something you see with a certain degree of frequency in issues from this era: shows interrupted by news updates. You'll note this tonight half an hour into the broadcast of The Steve Allen Show on WPIX; in other issues, you've probably noticed movies that also had news breaks in them, and these aren't just news headlines or one-minute updates; they usually run ten (in this case) or fifteen minutes. Do you think people have the attention span for something like this today, or would they get itchy fingers on the remote? (I'd probably fall into that latter category.) All this and more, in this week's New York City Edition.

March 23, 2024

This week in TV Guide: March 23, 1963

Let's start the week with some hoops, just for a change of pace. It is March Madness after all, even though nobody's thought to call it that yet, and the nation's two major college basketball tournaments have their championship games on Saturday—one of them rather routine, all things considered, while the other boasts a historical significance that reaches beyond the court. 

At Madison Square Garden in New York, the National Invitation Tournament, now seen as a consolation tournament but at one time the most prestigious competition in the country, comes to a conclusion as Providence defeats Canisius 81-66 (6:00 p.m. ET, WNBC, on a two-hour tape delay). Providence completes the season as the #13-ranked team in the country, but otherwise the game leaves little in the way of an imprint.

Later that same night, the championship game of the 25th NCAA Basketball Tournament tips off from Freedom Hall in Louisville, with Loyola (Chicago) taking on the two-time defending champions from the University of Cincinnati (9:30 p.m., syndicated by Sports Network Incorporated). Why is this significant? Well, remember that we're still in the era of segregated sports—there's even an unofficial rule of thumb in college basketball that no more that two of a team's five players on the court at any one time will be black. But when Loyola and Cincinnati line up for the tip-off, seven of the ten players starting the game are black—four for Loyola, three for Cincinnati; it's the first time time in championship game history in which a majority of the players are black. It is a memorable game all-around; Loyola rallies from a 15-point second-half deficit to send the game against Cincinnati into overtime, where Loyola eventually prevails with a last-second shot, 60-58 to win the NCAA championship. 

     Loyola's title-winning team.
Loyola had faced hostile conditions throughout the season due to their integrated lineup*, but perhaps the most dramatic moment came in their second round tournament game in East Lansing, Michigan against Mississippi State, which has come to be known as the "Game of Change." An unofficial state law at the time prohibited Mississippi teams from competing against black players, but Mississippi State university president Dean Colvard was determined that the team should play in tournament; in order to avoid an injunction from state, the team used decoy players and snuck out of the state on a charter plane. After a handshake between the captains of the two teams (with photographic flashbulbs popping everywhere, Loyola went on to win an uneventful game, 61-51. It's debatable as to how much actual "change" came about as a result of the "Game of Change," but regardless of its historical legacy, its historical moment in time is undeniable, as it is in the case of the Loyola-Cincinnati championship game. 

*When the team played Loyola of New Orleans the previous season, black and white players were forced to stay in separate hotels; during a game in Houston, fans shouted slurs and threw popcorn and ice at the players. 

Three years later, Texas Western, fielding an all-black starting lineup, would defeat the all-white University of Kentucky to win the championship, and that's the game most people remember as the landmark moment in desegregating college basketball. But it had to start somewhere, and there's no debating that when Loyola and Cincinnati took the court on Saturday night with seven black starters between them, it was a significant moment. I wonder how many people watching that night, either on the three stations in this issue carrying it (WNEW and WPIX in New York and WNHC in New Haven), or on stations around the country, were aware they were seeing history as it happened?

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Leading our look back at the week: a pair of documentaries on recently deceased legends, along with a pair of shows that look ahead to equally unpleasant times.

At 9:30 p.m. on Sunday (ABC), Mike Wallace hosts a half-hour retrospective on the life and career of the late Marilyn Monroe, only seven months after her untimely death. The special portrays her meteoric rise to stardom, "But while her fame grows and her public image is being formed, the seeds of her premature death have already taken root." I have always wondered how many of these "seeds" were seen at the time as predictive, and how many have been retrofitted to conform to the narrative that has grown since. I suspect Wallace got the narrating job for this documentary based on his work with the syndicated series Biography.

Gary Cooper died in May 1961, but had been a superstar long before then. NBC's documentary series Project 20 remembers "Gary Cooper—Tall American," narrated by Walter Brennan. (Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.) Cooper was a two-time Oscar winner (plus an honorary Oscar in 1961, just a month before his death), and "in the eyes of the rest of the world, he became the image of the American frontiersman." He might not be nearly as enticing or mysterious today—I don't think Elton John ever wrote a song about him—but he was every bit the star Marilyn Monroe was, and left every bit as big a legacy.

Also on Tuesday is an ABC news special that looks to the future, even though we don't know it yet. "A Conversation with the Vice President" (10:30 p.m.) is a half-hour interview with the current holder of the office, Lyndon B. Johnson. During his term, Johnson has traveled throughout the world on behalf of the United States; in addition to his official duties as president of the Senate, he's also chairman of the National Aeronautics and Space Council, and a member of the National Security Council. Johnson is very unconvincing when he tells ABC correspondents about how satisfying he finds the Vice Presidency; he comes across as a once-powerful man who knows his political career is all but finished. Portions of this interview are replayed on ABC the night of November 22. 

In that same vein, one of Andy Williams's guests on his NBC variety series (Thursday, 10:00 p.m.) is comedian Vaughn Meader, fresh off his success with his best-selling record The First Family, in which Meader and his supporting cast satirize President Kennedy and various family members. (Here's a clip of him from that show.) It was, at the time, the fastest-selling record in U.S. history, and would go on to win the 1963 Grammy as Album of the Year. His career would, essentially, be over by the end of the year.

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Speaking of Andy Williams, he's this week's cover story. He's been successful in nightclubs and on records, and he's done his time as a summer-replacement host, but this is his first shot at success with a show that belongs to him—or, perhaps more accurately, a show with his name on it, because it's pretty clear that the TV people don't know what in the world to do with him. You'd think this would require very little thought; take a young man with natural, easy-going charm and one of the best sets of pipes in the business, throw in a guest star or two each week, and let him do what he does best. But, as Dwight Whitney points out, that's not how it works in the TV business.

You see, in order to succeed, you have to have an image. And those TV people who know about such things don't know what Andy Williams' s image is. The goal, according to head writer Mort Green, is to develop him as a Bing Crosby-type, the kind of entertainer who would "go on forever." But he's an "unknown entity. There was nothing for him to talk about. Crosby’s writers could make hair jokes (Crosby wore a toupee), money jokes (Crosby was rich), kid jokes (Crosby had lots of kids), horse jokes (Crosby’s horses were notably slow), Bob Hope jokes, etc., all bouncing off commonly known facts about Crosby." Said one friend, "Mort just didn't know what to do with Andy, whether to make him into Mortimer Snerd or Noel Coward."  All he knew, the source says, was that "this troubadour should become the biggest thing since Corn Flakes." 

Ideas are tried and discarded: The New Christy Minstrels were added for a time, and that worked fine "until they began to be staged like the Bolshoi Ballet." A couple of "coffee-house types," Marion Mercer and R.G. Brown, were added for comic touches. It was all as appropriate as "ketchup on ice cream." Ratings floundered, and last month the network told Andy that for the coming season, his show would be cut back from weekly to a series of twelve one-hour specials. Even Williams admits that "there are times when I'm confused about what I am." 

That's not to say that everything has been a bust; the "most significant addition," according to Whitney, has been the addition of the Osmond Brothers, "whose youngest member, Jay, 7, bore a startling resemblance to Andy when he first began to wow them" (wait until they see Donny), and under producer Bob Finkel, the show has taken on a "folksy, all-purpose informality" including a ramp that brings Andy closer to the audience. But regardless of what happens on television, Dwight Whitney says not to worry about Andy's future; his natural milieu is the night club and, after all, "He is a singer, and as long as those pipes hold out, he'll find a market." Like Branson, say09.

With all of this, one is left to wonder0- just how it was that Andy Williams became one of the most popular stars on television? Well, despite all the confusion portrayed in Whitney's article, The Andy Williams Show winds up winning an Emmy for Outstanding Variety Series in 1963, while Andy himself is nominated for Outstanding Performance. And then there are the Christmas specials, which include the Williams Brothers, mom and dad, wife Claudine, and an increasing number of children; those specials came to rival those of none other than Bing Crosby himself, enshrining Andy as Mr. Christmas to an entire generation of television viewers. You can even see clips from his non-Christmas programs on YouTube, and buy DVDs of them. People liked Andy Williams, and once they were allowed to see him, they watched him.

You'll remember that just last week we read about Tennessee Ernie Ford, another entertainer who knew more about what viewers wanted to see than the supposed TV experts did. A similar situation existed with Jimmy Dean, who knew—far better than the executives did—what his viewers would buy, as we saw in a piece from several years ago. "In the show's first season," I wrote then, "when the network had tried to pass him off as urbane and sophisticated, the show teetered on the edge of cancellation until Dean put his foot down. 'Lemme do it mah way,' he told the suits, and the ratings took off." These examples, and others (like trying to make Richard Pryor appropriate for TV) show that you can't always rely on the "experts" to know what's best. Sort of like economists, I guess, or those scientists at the CDC.

There's a saying, in fields as diverse as sports and politics, that goes, "Let [name of person] be [name of person]." In other words, stop fooling around with a particular way of packaging someone, and let that person be himself or herself, not someone else. It's a lesson that some people never learn, which is why so many ideas that look great on paper turn out to be failures. In the case of Andy Williams, I'd say they finally got it right. 

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As you can see from this two-page spread, Steve Allen is back on late-night TV. His new show, syndicated through Group W, premiered in June of last year, three months after Jack Paar's final Tonight, and a little less than four months before Johnny Carson's debut. (Note that the quotes compare Allen favorably to both Carson and Paar.) The timing was important; there was no certainty that Carson would succeed, let alone become a legend, and word is that Allen is positioning himself in the event that NBC deems the Carson experiment a failure. We all know how that turned out, don't we? 

The show is very much in the vein of Allen's previous shows, which is to say it wasn't a strictly traditional talk show; think of something more like David Letterman's early work. For instance, a show from the first season began with Steve perched, with his piano atop a 75-foot flagpole in the parking lot of the Hollywood Ranch Market; that show also featured an elephant tug-o-war. Allen was joined by a cast of regulars, including Don Knotts, Bill Dana, Tom Poston, and Steve's wife Jayne. 
You can find out more about The Steve Allen Westinghouse Show in this interview with Allen from the Emmy Legends YouTube channel; it's well worth watching. Allen would leave the show after a little less than two-and-a-half years following a dispute with Westinghouse over creative control, but not before putting on an episode that featured a roundtable discussion involving historical figures in costume, a demonstration episode for a new series Allen was proposing, which became his show Meeting of Minds.

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Some other highlights of the week: 
  • Zero Mostel and Julie Harris star in Magic Magic Magic (Sunday, 7:00 p.m., WOR), an "enchanting full-hour of entertainment," featuring magician Milbourne Christopher. It's the first in a series of hour-long specials for the whole family. 
  • Lucy visits the White House with Viv and their pack of Cub Scouts on The Lucy Show (Monday, 8:30 p.m., CBS); comedian Elliott Reid, known for his impression of John F. Kennedy, plays "The Voice." Could have been Vaughn Meader. . 
  • On Tuesday, Festival of Performing Arts (9:00 p.m., WNEW) showcases folk singer Miriam Makeba, who was "introduced to U.S. viewers four years ago on Steve Allen’s network show."
  • Also on Tuesday, Jack Benny (9:30 p.m., CBS) does an adaptation of Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Mikado," with Jack as Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner; Dennis Day as the Wandering Minstrel; and Don Wilson in the title role as the Mikado. 
  • Winthrop Rockefeller, brother of New York Governor Nelson and himself future governor of Arkansas, is Harry Reasoner's guest on Portrait (Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., CBS). 
  • Andy Williams' wife, Claudine Longet, is one of the guest stars on McHale's Navy (Thursday, 9:30 p.m., ABC). She plays a French beauty who invites Tim Conway's Ensign Parker to spend the weekend at her father's island plantation.
  • On Friday night, Dave Garroway's Exploring the Universe (8:00 p.m., WNDT) examines the possibility of life on other planets. Astronomy was one of the many interests of Garroway, a true Renaissance man. 

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Finally, it's time for the fourth annual TV Guide Awards, in which you, the readers, choose the winners! And while the deadline for sending in your ballot has long passed, I thought you might be interested in seeing the ballot with the nominees in the eight categories. What are your picks for the winners? We'll have the final results in a future issue.


March 22, 2024

Around the dial

We've got a full slate of action this week, so let's get right to it at Cult TV Blog, where John makes a trip to the 1950s with Shadow Squad, a private detective series from 1958, and the episode "The Missing Cheese." Of course, we all know that it's missing because the cheese always stands alone.

At bare-bones e-zine, Jack's Hitchcock Project continues with the second story from Calvin Clements, the seventh-season episode "The Old Pro," starring a couple of old pros, Richard Conte and John Anderson, and directed by another one, Paul Henreid.

Cult TV Lounge reviews three episodes from season two of The Outer Limits: "The Invisible Enemy," "Wolf 359," and "I, Robot." Ignoring the lame special effects, all three stories offer typically (for the series) provocative questions that don't lend themselves to easy answers.

At Shadow & Substance, Paul looks at the climactic scene of the Twilight Zone episode "Long Distance Call," and the dramatic changes that the scene underwent between its original version and how it was rewritten (and performed).

Let's stay in the Zone for a minute more and visit The Twilight Zone Vortex, back after a long break with the fifth season episode "The Last Night of a Jockey," a one-man show with a bravura performance from Mickey Rooney, reminding us all just how good he was.

Steve Lawrence died earlier this month, aged 88; besides his singing fame with his wife Eydie Gormé, he was a very good dramatic actor, a frequent comic guest on Carol Burnett's show, and a regular on talk and game shows. Terence has an appreciation for his life and times this week at A Shroud of Thoughts.  

At Travalanche, it's a look back at the career of Edward Platt on the 50th anniversary of his death. He's known primarily for one role, that of The Chief in Get Smart!, but he had a long career in both movies and television, and he was a welcome presence in anything he appeared in.

Anyone who's watched British television will recognize Julian Glover, who played many a delightfully villainous character over the years. He's a main presence in "Split!", the Steed/Tara adventure that's the subject of this week's review of The Avengers at The View from the Junkyard.

I've mentioned several times how television is a lot older than we think it is, and Garry Berman shows us just how old, with a look at the first magazine devoted to television, appropriately called Television. It's first issue: March, 1928.

Martin Grams gives us a review of the latest offering from ClassicFlix, the short-lived 1959 series World of Giants, starring Marshall Thompson. I've reviewed two of their previous releases, The O. Henry Playhouse and 21 Beacon Street, and I'm looking forward to adding this to the list.

At The Lucky Strike Papers, Andrew shares the 1951 St. Patrick's Day episode of Your Hit Parade, which features a performance by the dance team of Bob Fosse and his then-wife, Mary Ann Niles. It's always fun to see someone like Fosse in the days before his greatest fame. TV  

March 20, 2024

Television and the Id


It's quiz time once again boys and girls.  The quote below is a bit lengthy, but I'd hope you agree it's worth it. I've removed a couple of words that would help you to identify the writer and the context of the quote because I think that's one of the most interesting things about this excerpt. As you read it, consider what it says not only about our culture today, but also the world of entertainment, television in particular. As usual, I'll identify the speaker and the context at the end.

We live today in a world that is as deeply devoted to material things as was [theirs]. For example, [they] were obsessed by health, diet, and exercise.  They spent more time in baths and health clubs than in churches, temples, libraries, and law courts.  They were devoted to consumption. A man could make a reputation by spending more than his neighbor, even if he had to borrow the money to do it. And if he never paid back his creditors, he was honored for having made a noble attempt to cut a fine figure in the world.

They were excited by travel, news, and entertainment. The most important cultural productions [...], from books to extravaganzas in the theaters and circuses that occupied a central place in every [...] city or town, dealt with amusing fictions about faraway peoples and with a fantasy peace and happiness that did not exist in their real lives. They were fascinated by fame and did  not care how it was acquired. If you were famous enough, the fact that you might be a rascal or worse was ignored or forgiven.

[They] cared most about success, which they interpreted as being ahead for today, and let tomorrow take care of itself. They were proud, greedy, and vain.  In short, they were much like ourselves.

A pretty good description of the world today, don't you think?

The only difference is that it was written in 1991, and it was written about a people living in the fourth century—the Romans, near the end of the empire. The late Roman world, indeed, was quite like ours.

And the author? If you're a classic television fan, you'll probably recognize the name of the late Charles Van Doren. Yes, the same Charles Van Doren of the quiz show scandals in the late 1950s. Following his disgrace, Van Doren went into a self-imposed public exile, eventually returning to a life of writing (at first under a pseudonym) and becoming an editor at Encyclopaedia Britannica. He authored a number of philosophical and scholastic books (some with his friend Mortimer Adler), the best known of which is probably the one from which this excerpt came, A History of Knowledge.

The relationship of this to television? Well, I can't imagine a better description of the celebrity-infused culture of TMZ, the world of "reality" programming that has little relation to reality, knows almost no bounds, and seems to consist primarily of people who've become famous for being famous. Can you say "Kardashians"? "Real Housewives"? And if Van Doren's description of reality stars and viewers hits the mark, he's no less accurate in describing the world of consumption in which television dwells, not only in how advertising dominates the medium, but in how so much of the programming—not only reality but scripted—glorifies such consumption.

If there's anything optimistic to be taken from this, it's in how it shows that there is truly nothing new under the sun. Van Doren obviously felt that this series of paragraphs were fairly descriptive of the cultural world of the 1980s and '90s, even as it was written about a society that existed some 1500 years before that, and could doubtlessly be used similarly to describe countless societies and cultures in between.

On the other hand, we have to recall that the Roman Empire crumbled - not at the hands of a military enemy, but from internal decay. The historian Arnold Toynbee, himself a writer in the pages of TV Guide, posited that "the Roman Empire itself was a rotten system from its inception, and that the entire Imperial era was one of steady decay of institutions founded in Republican times." I'm afraid that if you're looking for reassuring sentiments in that statement, you're going to have to look elsewhere.

The id of Sigmund Freud has been described as the devil on the shoulder of the super-ego, an inflated sense of self-worth, "a mass of instinctive drives and impulses [that] needs immediate satisfaction." It is to the id that television thus appeals, in its ability to satisfy the insatiable desire for fame that consumes so many of its participants, and its ability to transmit that to viewers who consume it voraciously and live it vicariously. Something, in fact, that Charles Van Doren himself fell victim to at the pivotal moment in his life.

All this is not to lay the blame solely at the feet of television. As regular readers know, I've always felt that television as a medium is morally neutral—it's how you use the technology that counts—although I'll admit that I've been wavering in that belief over the last few years. (A subject for a future article, perhaps?) My fear is that the technology is not being used very well, nor has it been for some time, but even there one can suggest that it is at least as much of a reflection of out culture as it is the source of our dilemmas. And while it's true that television does satisfy that voracious appetite for what Van Doren called "amusing fictions about faraway peoples," but the people and the appetite had to exist in the first place - television merely exploited it and expanded it, but it has been a part of the human condition since Original Sin.  Sic semper erat, et sic semper erit: Thus has it always been, thus shall it ever be. TV