March 9, 2024

This week in TV Guide: March 9, 1968

It's an election year, 1968 is, in case you hadn't noticed. And things kick off this Tuesday with the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire Primary, one of the most fateful editions in the Granite State's history. The Republican side is pretty much cut-and-dried; after Michigan Governor George Romney dropped out of the race two weeks ago, the way has been left open for Richard Nixon, who wins a decisive victory en route to the Republican nomination. However, the Democratic race is anything but cut-and-dried, and it is Senator Eugene McCarthy's surprise showing against President Johnson (although he finished second behind LBJ, his 42 percent vote total was a deadly blow to the president) that is the story of the night.

The networks have plans in place for coverage of the primary results; both CBS and ABC plan hour-long reports beginning at 10:00 p.m. ET*; NBC's coverage runs a half-hour, from 11:30 p.m. to midnight, although they plan a ten-minute update during Tuesday Night at the Movies (Invitation to a Gunfighter, in case you're keeping score). In fact, you can see the CBS broadcast here, which includes coverage of the day's other big news event: the appearance of Secretary of State Dean Rusk before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. ("Networks may pre-empt regular programming to cover the hearings," we're advised.) As far as things go, it's all Vietnam, all the time.

*Richard K. Doan, in an article that was already dated when it appeared in the following week's issue, mentioned that the networks had "canceled plans for prime-time primary-night specials in favor of bulletins and brief late-evening vote summaries." Had they reassessed those plans in light of a McCarthy rise in the polls, or was the decision made after this edition went to press? We may never know.

Last month, Walter Cronkite had delivered his verdict on Vietnam ("To say we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion. . . Negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy and did the best they could."), and now, as we see in The Doan Report, the media gloves are off. Cronkite's CBS colleague Eric Sevareid says LBJ is trapped in a situation "largely of his own making," and that a bombing pause could "pretty certainly save thousands of lives." On NBC Radio, David Brinkley argues that U.S. policy is achieving nothing, that "It is destroying Vietnam in the process of saving it." ABC's Bob Young "couldn't agree with Brinkley more," and says that the threat touted by the Administration "is yet to be proved out." Of the regular nighttime newsman, Doan says, only Howard K. Smith and Chet Huntley could be said to be supporting LBJ's war policy; Huntley calls a potential bombing pause "extremely hazardous," and says that more troops "are the only route open to us so far." All the newsmen hasten to add that these are their views, not their network's.

I mention all this not just because it's here, but to demonstrate how much Vietnam dominates everything right now. Even the civil rights movement has become entangled with it, with figures from Martin Luther King Jr. to Muhammad Ali speaking out on it. This is the beginning of a hectic few months in the news business, and we'll be witness to it all: Johnson drops out, Kennedy drops in, King and Kennedy are both assassinated in a matter of weeks, and then there's the Chicago convention. And, although we won't know about it for awhile, the same day that Kennedy announces his candidacy, there's a massacre in My Lai. Fasten your seatbelts; it's going to be a bumpy ride. And, as we'll see next, we're not the only ones wondering about how television presents it.

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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. 

It's not often that Cleveland Amory steps away from the world of entertainment to review a news program; even less often does he step away from prime time altogether to critique a Sunday morning show. That's the case this week, though, as Cleve takes on the venerable NBC press conference of the air, Meet the Press. And what happens when the press meets Cleveland Amory?

Meet the Press is, Amory stresses, an important show. It is one of the few live programs still broadcast on television, which makes it "a sort of last best hope for the kind of public figure who, before he reaches your screen, is so often carefully cut, edited and fitted in to the politics of the news show involved." There are, however, some "very strange things" about the show, things that make one think that the show could do better. One is the statement, repeated on every program, that "The questions asked do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the panelists." Does this, Amory wonders, mean that "the line of questioning for the panelists is planned in advance"? If so that really renders them as little more than mouthpieces, playing roles in a predetermined story that follows a script written by someone else. Another is the producer and regular panelist, Lawrence E. Spivak, whom most people think of as 
the face of Meet the Press. "Either Mr. Spivak is one of the country’s rudest men or he feels that, for the good of his show, he should appear to be ruder than he is. We prefer to believe the latter—in any case, he regularly chooses extraordinarily rude panels." Again, if this is true, it means that the show is more interested in providing entertainment than simply presenting the facts. It kind of reminds you of the shows on the so-called "news" channels today, doesn't it?

There is, of course, another possibility. In a recenpartt show, featuring three well-known anti-war activists: Senator J. William Fulbright, Dr. Benjamin Spock, and Rev. William Sloane Coffin, the guests "were subjected to a grilling that would have embarrassed Joe Pyne," the controversial conservative talk-show host. By contrast, a program featuring General William Westmoreland and Ellsworth Bunker, ambassador to South Vietnam—"two guests whose pompous complacency fairly cried out for at least one reasonably puncturing question"—featured such deference that it "made you feel that the Messrs. Spivak and his associates were either already employees of President Johnson or confidently hoped, by their performances, to become so." Yet another program saw the scheduled guests bumped in favor of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and Secretary of State Dean Rusk, at the request of the White House; once again, "the fact remained that here again the panelists fairly oozed unctuous subservience." Especially in an election year, this is a bad look for a program that purports to represent the best in television journalism. Meet the Press, Amory insists, can do better than that. "Otherwise it may find that it may not, like so many programs, just go off the air—it may be the first to be actually voted off." It's still on the air, 56 years later, but is it doing any better?

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The Hollywood Palace
is pre-empted Saturday night for "Götterdämmerung," the conclusion of ABC's epic three-night adaptation of William Shirer's best-seller The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. (9:30 p.m.) Parts one and two aired last Wednesday and Friday nights; the documentary, from David L. Wolper's production company, is narrated by Richard Basehart and boasts a score by Lalo Schifrin, parts of which were later used, virtually intact, on Mission: Impossible

Now what, I ask you, are the odds of this? Sunday afternoon at 5:30 p.m., KGSC in San Jose has the movie Blondie's Secret, part of the long-running film series (28 movies!) with Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake as the famed comic strip characters Blondie and Dagwood Bumstead. At exactly the same time, Bay Area station KBHK is showing Blondie's Hero, part of the same series, featuring the same stars. Can you believe it? And as if that enough, Sacramento's KOVR, again at the same time, is showing Li'l Abner, yet another movie with comic strip roots. Well, maybe it's something to watch while you're reading the Sunday funnies.

Let's get a little more serious about movies, with ABC's Sunday movie presentation of The Bridge on the River Kwai, David Lean's 1957 Oscar winner starring Alec Guinness, which won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture. (8:00 p.m.) As Judith Crist points out, the significance of its first airing on September 25, 1966 is part of television history: the movie, with a running time of three hours and 47 minutes, was presented uncut, in one night (rather than being split into two parts), and, with a record audience of 72 million (a 61 percent audience share), "programmers were convinced that feature films were the method of drawing an audience." That the figures are now equally high for "cheap-Jack tailored-for-television melodramas and far lesser motion pictures" is, she adds, "a comment on viewers rather than on Bridge."

Here's an interesting preview of things to come: on Monday night's Andy Griffith Show (9:00 p.m., CBS), it's the first of three episodes featuring Ken Berry as farmer Sam Jones, whom Andy and friends persuade to run for city council, even though Emmett has his eye on the same office. These episodes, coming near the end of the show's final season, set the stage for its successor, Mayberry R.F.D., which stars Berry in the lead role. That has to be one of the better transitions in spin-off history.

Speaking of history, Tuesday's history comes later in the evening, but in the meantime, KOVR, the one station that apparently wasn't showing Blondie movies on Sunday, makes up for it with Blondie's Anniversary (6:00 p.m.), meaning we only have 25 movies in the series to go. Later, The Red Skelton Hour gives us an interesting pairing of guests: Mannix star Mike Connors and singer Tom Jones (8:30 p.m., CBS), while Don Rickles has a double appearance, first on The Jerry Lewis Show (8:00 p.m., NBC) with Michele Lee, and later on Pat Boone in Hollywood (8:30 p.m., syndicated), with Frank Sinatra Jr., Cesar Romero, and Judy Carne. 

Ed McMahon is the host on Wednesday's Kraft Music Hall (9:00 p.m., NBC), in a salute to "Vaudeville '68," with Shelley Berman, Joan Rivers, Ed Ames, Sonny and Cher and the Young Rascals. It's along way from Perry Como, isn't it? After that, it's The Jonathan Winters Show (10:00 p.m., CBS), which I remember having enjoyed back in the day—but then, how can you not like Jonathan Winters? Anyway, his guests are Robert Morse, Vikki Carr, and the Young Saints (not to be confused with the Young Rascals, one supposes). 

Thursday, it's the final episode of Batman (7:30 p.m., ABC), which isn't a final episode at all, befitting the times. It's actually a little disappointing, in fact; for all the great signature villains appearing through the show's three seasons—Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, Frank Gorshin, and either Julie Newmar or Eartha Kitt—the show says farewell with one of the gimmicky celebrity appearances that happened more and more in the final season: Zsa Zsa Gabor as Minerva. One wonders what might have been had the series actually moved to NBC for the fourth season, but, alas, the sets had already been dismantled by the time NBC made its move. I do like TV Guide's programming note mentioning the last show int the series, though; you'll have to see if you can find it in this coming Monday's piece. We're nowhere near the final episode of Ironside, but tonight's script is noteworthy in that it was co-written by mystery novelists Brett Halliday, the creator of detective Michael Shayne, and Bill S. Ballinger. Tonight, the burly chief investigates the connection between a plane bombing and an infant abandoned in his van. (9:00 p.m., NBC)

features a trio of varied programs that we'll look at to close out the week: first, The Actor (8:30 p.m., ABC) takes a psychological look at the occupation of stage actor, as prominent actors and actresses from the British stage give their impressions of the actor and his work; Alec Guinness narrates from a script written by critic Kenneth Tynan. On the nighttime version of The Hollywood Squares (9:30 p.m., NBC), Adam West is among the players, plugging his now-deceased show. Holy cancellation, Batman! And that's followed by the Junior Miss Pageant, live (or, in this Northern California edition, live-on-tape) from Mobile, Alabama (10:00 p.m,, NBC). Lorne Greene and Joanie Sommers are the co-hosts, and if you look it up, you'll find that the winner is Miss Oklahoma, Debi Faubion. 

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Once upon a time there was a woman named Candy Howard. "A cute little blonde," as Leslie Raddatz describes her. On December 20, 1965, she appeared on the inaugural broadcast of The Dating Game. A year later, she was a contestant on Dream Girl of '67, a program designed to identify "the most marriageable girl in America." Candy Howard did well on this program, but had to drop out because she married a young man she met on The Dating Game. Together, she and her new husband went on to appear on The Newlywed Game. Had it lasted longer, it's reasonable to assume she and her family might have made it to The Family Game as well. These four shows, last season, accounted for eleven hours per week on ABC, and they all come from "the current genius of the TV industry," Chuck Barris. Ah, only in America. 

For some psychiatrists, the success of the Barris shows is indicative of something deeper in society. Dr. Martin Grotjahn, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Southern California, compares them to group therapy and sees in them "the need to confess, the need for release everyone seeks in the horrible isolation in which we all live." And Dr. Steven Topel, another L.A.-based psychiatrist, adds, that "The people who play these games on television do so because they want to communicate. But if someone said, 'You have just revealed yourself—this is the way it is'-—they would say, 'Oh, no, we were just playing a game.' There are so many forces barring communication today that people find it difficult to communicate unless they think they are playing a game." I wonder how closely this correlates to the confessional state we see in social media—I mean, do people think that, somehow, baring their souls (and, in some cases, a lot more!) on X or Instagram doesn't really count, that they were, as Dr. Topel says, "just playing a game"? Boy, are they in for a surprise.

Ask Barris about the success of his shows, and he offers a more earthy answer. "I don’t know what contribution we’re making to science or literature—the shows have to be fun," Barris tells Raddatz. Candy Howard Bell, an aspiring actress, "went on for the exposure," but adds, "Most of the people go on to meet someone." And a contestant on Family Game had another explanation: "Greed—if it weren’t for the money, most of them would never do it."

Five couples who met on The Dating Game have since married, and one of those marriages has already broken up. (I wonder how that compares with, say, The Bachelor?) One actress ditched her date after a couple of days in Italy and went by herself to Denmark, leaving the date and their chaperone on their own. The article doesn't say who she was; I wonder if anyone knows, or if that's just one of those urban legends? And by the way, the chaperones? "They are usually the young, mini-skirted members of Barris’s staff of 100-odd," Raddatz notes, with the only requirement that they be over 21. And, one supposes, authorized to perform hits on behalf of the CIA.

What about the people who watch these shows? Says Dr. Topel, "People who watch these shows do so because they enjoy seeing people communicate." The most popular form of communication, not surprisingly, is the double-entendre, which tends to be more prevalent on daytime shows than those airing in primetime. While contestants are wanted not to "talk dirty," the briefings they are given are often "laced with Borscht Belt jokes that become so vulgar that one woman contestant on The Family Game said, 'My husband was ready to tell that guy he didn’t allow language like that in front of his wife.'" Barris says the purpose is to "enliven the atmosphere" and make things fun, but as one staffer says, "You never know the results until they spit it out." I'm sure that most of us who've seen these shows can insert our favorite examples here, otherwise, you can probably find them on YouTube. 

Not that long ago, Chuck Barris was working at ABC, in charge of daytime programming in Hollywood. He then started his own company, and shortly thereafter sold The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game to the network. His big break, he says, came courtesy of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. You see, the day The Newlywed Game premiered, CBS preempted Password to carry a speech by McNamara. (Vietnam, you know.) People not in the mood for current events switched to ABC, giving the show a much bigger audience than it otherwise would have had. Many of them stayed as time went on. Eventually, CBS cancelled Password. And the rest—including, or perhaps especially, Chuck Barris—is history.

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A little behind-the-scenes news: NBC's changed its mind about The Saint after sponsor feedback; instead, the network's decided to renew I Dream of Jeannie and add a new sitcom, Julia, starring Diahann Carroll. (The Saint does make it on the schedule, though, as a summer replacement for Star Trek.) The network failed in its efforts to sign Tennessee Ernie Ford, so in his place they're planning a variety hour with Phyllis Diller. (Good luck with that.) 

In other news, ◀ Burl Ives will be playing Gepetto, replacing Art Carney, in the Christmas Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation of "Pinocchio," with Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits playing the wooden marionette. Carney, meanwhile, is said to be heading to London to costar with the aforementioned Phyllis Diller in the movie, The Adding Machine. He doesn't appear in that either, though; I wonder if his noted problems with alcohol played any part in either of these.

Barbara Rush and Tippy Walker are "all set" to join the cast of Peyton Place as mother and daughter, which they do. Steve Allen's coming back with a new talk-variety show, which will be available to local stations in both 60- and 90-minute versions. Political humorist Art Buchwald has been signed by CBS to be a "very special commentator" on their coverage of the Republican and Democratic conventions; will people remember him as much as they do William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal over at ABC? 

And in case you're wondering about the question on the cover—Is Television Really Keeping Us Informed?—the answer, at least according to Neil Hickey, is No. Television news, currently, is "a medium of headlines and short feature stories, and has neither the time nor the capacity to describe a day’s worth of world and local events in the fullness of their detail and meaning," with the result that "many Americans are now thinking and voting their prejudices—and even shaping their lives— based on television’s skeletal version of what’s really going on in an increasingly complex and incomprehensible world." How very like today, don't you think? TV  

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