April 29, 2024

What's on TV? Tuesday, April 30, 1974

I don't know much about the Burt Bacharach special airing on WCCO at 8:30 p.m., but it has all the earmarks of being a non-network (i.e., syndicated) special: the lack of any ad, not being labeled as a special, and its very presence on WCCO, which was known for pre-empting network shows in favor of programming like this. In fact, a little interweb research tells us that it's Another Evening with Burt Bacharach, first shown in 1970 as an episode of The Kraft Music Hall, and originally made for British TV. The NBC special Love from A to Z, with Liza Minnelli and Charles Aznavour, on opposite Burt, is very much new, however, and as you can see, it's very good. 

April 27, 2024

This week in TV Guide: April 27, 1974

I'm not quite sure why QBVII isn't better-remembered. Perhaps it's because it was so quickly overshadowed by the epic miniseries craze, Rich Man, Poor Man, Roots, Holocaust and the others that came afterward. It has the right pedigree, for sure: based on the best-selling novel by Leon Uris, featuring an all-star cast led by Ben Gazzara, Lee Remick, Anthony Hopkins, Leslie Caron and Anthony Quayle*, with a huge budget ($2.5 million), an international flavor (filmed in four countries) an epic story (spanning 25 years, taking three years to produce), a script from a big-name author (two-time Oscar winner Edward Anhalt), and the largest cast (167 speaking roles) ever assembled for a television production. And it all comes to TV this week (Monday, 8:00 p.m. CT, Tuesday, 7:30 p.m., ABC)

*Ben Gazarra, fresh off Run For Your Life, was actually a bigger star in America at that point than Anthony Hopkins, who was primarily known for the movie The Lion in Winter and the Masterpiece Theatre series War and Peace—which, coincidentally, is airing in repeats Saturday nights on KTCA, the PBS affiliate.

QBVII—QB for "Queen's Bench," and VII for "seven," the number of the courtroom in which the climactic trial occurs—is, to this point, the longest TV movie ever made, an "unprecedented" event, over six hours long. In fact, Peter Greenberg's background article sheds an interesting light on the entire process surrounding the making of QBVII. Uris' agent initially turned down the proposal from John Mitchell and Art Frankel, the Screen Gems executives who pushed for the project. "We looked for a book that was interesting, generic, popular and that couldn't possibly be made into a movie," says Mitchell. They pointed out to Uris' agent that nobody would be able to make the movie in less than six hours, and that no company would ever try doing a two-part movie in the local theater. The only answer, Frankel argued, was TV. Still, the agent was skeptical about having QBVII "relegated" to television, until Frankel finally asked for the bottom line: how much will it cost to buy the rights? The agent said $250,000; three hours later Mitchell and Frankel had gotten a commitment from ABC, and the deal was done.

Unlike its miniseries offspring, QBVII is broadcast over only two nights (three hours on Monday, three-and-a-quarter on Tuesday) rather than a week or more. I find that interesting, because it suggests that television hasn't quite yet formulated the unique art form that the miniseries would become, instead, perhaps illustrating the attitude that Uris' agent had had, ABC chooses to imitate the "event" feel of major motion pictures finally being shown on television—movies so big* that they have to be spread out over consecutive nights. Nowadays television is comfortable enough in its own skin that it doesn't have to do that, but clearly ABC's going for a vibe that could be summed up as "an event so big, you'll think it was made for the movie theater—but TV can produce that kind of quality, too!" In the event, the movie is a hit, nominated for 13 Emmys and winning six. It makes a big impression at the time, and you could truthfully argue that it makes the future miniseries possible. 

*Gone with the Wind or Ben-Hur, for example, or another of Uris' huge best-sellers, Exodus.

I didn't see QBVII when it was on; I was, at the time, living in the World's Worst Town™, which of course didn't carry such exotic fare on its one commercial broadcast station. (Our fare consisted of Limbo, a Monday night movie "about three women adjusting to the uncertain fates of their husbands" in the Vietnam War, and a Liza Minelli special on Tuesday, which, to be fair, looks pretty good, with co-star Charles Aznavour). I did, however, finally catch it on DVD a few years ago. What did I think? To be honest, I didn't like it; I found it melodramatic, manipulative, and unconvincing, particularly when it came to the final disposition of Anthony Hopkins' character. If Ben Gazzara's character was, in fact, supposed to be the protagonist, he made for a very unappealing one. (And that doesn't even consider the unlikelihood that Gazzara, at his smarmy worst, would be tomcatting around while he was married to Juliet Mills. Seriously? That requires a suspension of disbelief.)

Your mileage may vary, I know; after all, are you going to believe me or all those Emmy voters? But personally, well, it made for VI hours of my life I'll never got back. 

l  l  l

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

"If you're wondering where most of the Westerns went," Cleveland Amory begins, "they went thataway. Unfortunately," he continues, "this one didn't." "This one" is The Cowboys, ABC's new half-hour series, based on the 1972 John Wayne movie of the same name, although it doesn't have John Wayne. It does have four of the original cast members, but only two of them play the same characters as they did in the movie, and if you're able to keep track of all this without a scorecard, you're doing well. 

According to the network, The Cowboys is the story of "Seven boys [facing] the trials of —coming to manhood as they help a widow run a ranch." The widdow (or "widder," as the show would put it) is played by Diana Douglas, the ranch foreman by Moses Gunn, and the marshal by Jim Davis. "To say they all deserve better," Cleve says, "is an understatement." The typical plot consists of a bad guy or two threatening the ranch and/or the widder—er, widow—and Gunn, as the foreman, showing up to help; "In almost every episode," Amory notes, "he's either shot or, like the rest of us, hit over the head." There's also the recurring theme that these kids are, in fact, kids; one plot concerns their need for continuing education; in another, one of them witnesses a murder but is doubted because, after all, he's just a kid. There's even a kidnapping in one episode, whereupon the rest of the boys get together and, drawing their inspiration from the Biblical story of David, attack the baddies with slingshots. Well, what did you expect; after all, you're not going to give a group of six-year-olds guns, are you? As the episode ends, "the kids go out and do a lot of running around. You know—to prove they're just kids."  

One of the problems with The Cowboys, aside from the lack of John Wayne, is that the show was originally conceived as an hour-long drama, but was cut back to 30 minutes by the network. I don't mean to suggest that the episodes were chopped up to fit the time, but conceptually, the show seems like it ought to occupy a larger timeslot; maybe they should have just had three boys instead of seven. Whatever the case, if you're inspired by Amory to check it out, either because you want to watch a Western and Gunsmoke is your only other choice, or because you want to see if the show's really that bad, you'd better hurry, because next week's episode will be the last. At least this review made it in time.

l  l  l

While I may have been denied QBVII at the time—was it a blessing in disguise?— I did receive my introduction to one of the great political thrillers of all time, The Manchurian Candidate, appearing on television for the first time since 1966 (Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET, NBC). I cannot overstate the impression this movie had on me; it was, perhaps, the most powerful thing I'd ever seen on TV to that point. When I found out it was based on a novel, I had to read that as well. I was already interested in politics back then, but this just added fuel to the fire; it was the first of a quintet of movies/books that have stayed with me to this day, the other four being Seven Days in May, Fail-Safe, The Best Man, and Advise and Consent*, all grim, cynical stories dealing with the weaknesses of powerful men and the fragility of order, a far cry from the conspiracy-laden mush and soap opera stylings that pass for political fiction nowadays. Judith Crist calls it "one of the best political-suspensers of recent years," and praises the "sparkling" cast that includes Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Angela Lansbury, and Janet Leigh.

*Airing Thursday night at 10:50 p.m. on WCCO in Minneapolis.

Enough reminiscing about my past, though. Let's get down to brass tacks, as they say in the carpentry industry, and look at the rest of the week.*

*Fun fact: according to the always-reliable Wikipedia, the phrase "get down to brass tacks" originated in Texas, likely coming "from the brass tacks in the counter of a hardware store or draper’s shop used to measure cloth in precise units (rather than holding one end to the nose and stretching out the arm to approximately one yard." Doesn't have much to do with television, but aren't you glad you know this now?

I've mentioned the WCCO public affairs program Moore on Sunday, hosted by Dave Moore, in the past; this week's edition is "Mary Tyler Moore's Minneapolis Adventure" (Sunday, 9:30 p.m.), in which a film crew "battles enthusiastic crowds, rain-drenched streets and a stubborn Minneapolis homeowner to produce the opening for their Emmy award-winning series." Thanks to the magic of video and the wonderful conservation efforts of TC Media, you can see that episode here.

You know how I mentioned Ben Gazzara's foolishness in cheating on Juliet Mills in QBVII? Dick Van Dyke shows similar bad taste in Monday's episode of The New Dick Van Dyke Show (8:30 p.m., CBS) when he complains that his new leading lady kisses like a dead mackerel. That leading lady? Barbara Rush. I think there are a lot of guys out there who'd be glad to switch places with you, Dick. By the way, the reporter who breaks the story is played by James Mason's former wife, Pamela; good supporting cast. And speaking of supporting roles, tonight's Medical Center (9:00 p.m., CBS), features Kay Medford, Audrey Totter, and Bruce Kirby, but we'll remember the actress who plays Medford's daughter: series regular James Daly's daughter Tyne. 

On Tuesday, PBS poses the question "Should the Lady Take a Chance?" (7:30 p.m., KTCA) Now, this could mean any of a number of things, some of them inappropriate for family reading, but in this case the producers are talking about the possibility of legalized casino gambling in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Gambling did in fact come to pass along the Boardwalk but, as is so often the case, the results have been decidedly mixed; with the city flirting in recent years with bankruptcy, partly because of the property tax on casinos; that doesn't even begin to get into the drugs, prostitution and crime that have come along for the ride. Way to rejuvenate the area, guys.

Back in the day, Geraldo Rivera hosted a late-night show on ABC called Good Night, America, which was part of the network's Wide World of Entertainment. (It was on this show, by the way, that the famous Zapruder film was shown on television for the very first time.) On Wednesday (10:30 p.m.), Geraldo's topic is one that sounds right up his alley: the careers and deaths of rock superstars, including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Brian Jones.

Thursday, on a special two-hour Ironside (7:00 p.m., NBC), the chief resigns from the force after a murder witness, a 10-year-old boy, dies while in his custody, and becomes a derelict on skid row. Will he pull himself back together? What do you think? That's followed by an hour of country music on Music Country U.S.A. (9:00 p.m., NBC), hosted by Charlie Rich and featuring performances by Dionne Warwicke, Tammy Wynette, Mac Davis, Mel Tillis, the Statler Brothers, Hank Williams Jr., Tanya Tucker, and more. I don't know about you, but I never miss a Dionne Warwicke country album.

It's a double-dose of Charlie Rich this week; he also hosts The Midnight Special (Friday, midnight, NBC), with Anne Murray, Dobie Gray, the Staple Singers, and the Treasures. Kirshner's Rock Concert ended its first-run season last week, so nothing to compare here. Earlier in the evening, Senator Barry Goldwater is the honoree on the celebrity roast segment of The Dean Martin Show (9:00 p.m., NBC), with William Holden, Dan Rowan, Nipsey Russell, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Steve Landesberg among those on the panel; this was before the celebrity roast became a stand-alone show of its own. What a difference; nowadays, if a Republican's being roasted on television, they're doing it literally.

l  l  l

In sports, the playoff season is in full swing, at least on the weekends, when CBS has coverage of the NBA finals and NBC counters with the NHL semifinals. During the week, the independent WTCN will pick up the rest of the NBA and NHL games, as well as anything involving the WHA's Minnesota Fighting Saints. Boy, those were the days, weren't they? Not a pay-streaming service in sight.

Meanwhile, a couple of weeks ago, sportswriter Melvin Durslag penned his annual predictions for the upcoming baseball season, which appears to have provoked a number of protests from readers. I don't have Durslag's predictions in front of me, but based on this week's Letters to the Editor, which is dominated by opinions about those predictions, I think we can get a good idea of what they were. Peter Cole, of Scarsdale, New York takes Durslag to task for picking the St. Louis Cardinals to win the National League East Division: "Durslag must not have watched any games last year, or he would know that the Reds, Dodgers, Giants, Pirates and Mets are the greatest teams," a sentiment echoed by Alan Fogel of Brooklyn, who says "it's more likely Durslag's first-rated St. Louis Cardinals will be in fifth, and the Mets in first." Russel Baker of Towaco, New Jersey also puts the Mets at the top of the division, followed by the Pirates, Cardinals and Expos. In the meantime, "the San Diego Padres will be able to ship Melvin Durslag a bushel of lemons," according to Betty Smick of (not surprisingly) San Diego, in response to Durslag's apparent diss of the Pads. And Kevin Young, of Mamaroneck, New York, says simply that "Mel Durslag is a writer of science fiction."

In the event, let's take a look at the final standings, and how well Durslag's—and the fans'—predictions turned out. There must have been great disappointment in store for Mets fans (as usual); with a record of 71-91, the team bested only the hapless Chicago Cubs in the East, and Betty Smick's Padres in the West. The much-derided Cardinals did not win the division but they came close, finishing a mere 1½ games behind the eventual division champs, the Pittsburgh Pirates, whom nobody appears to have picked. Peter Cole's placing of the Giants as among the greatest teams was something of a pipe dream; they finished only one game better than the Mets at 71-90. He was, however, rather perceptive in his inclusion of the Dodgers in that group; with a record of 102-60, they bested the Reds by four games, then went on to defeat the Pirates in the NLCS 3-1 before succumbing in five games to the Oakland A's in the World Series, the third consecutive Series win for Oakland. As far as I know, Durslag's science fiction output remains unpublished.

l  l  l

   John Chancellor announcing McGee's death
The News Watch feature at the beginning of the programming section, where we usually get tidbits about what's going on in the industry, is instead devoted this week to Gene Farinet's moving tribute to NBC newsman Frank McGee, who had died earlier in April from bone cancer. Farinet had been a longtime colleague of McGee at NBC, and shares many of the details on what made McGee such a good journalist and anchorman, as well as consummate professional.

It's hard to imagine today, given the celebrity gabfest that the Today show has become, but McGee hosted Today at the time of his death, and brought to it a hard news sensibility that is sorely lacking today. His best-remembered work, I think, was probably his coverage of the space program. Unlike the situation at CBS, where Walter Cronkite was genuinely interested in it, neither Chet Huntley nor David Brinkley were particularly invested in the topic beyond anchoring the coverage, leaving NBC's heavy lifting to those who had a passion for it, McGee and Bill Ryan. McGee, as Farinet notes, had the ability to make "the complex . . . simple. He translated space jargon into understandable terms" and presented it with a steely calm that sought to inform without sensationalizing. From McGee, the viewer received both the information and the excitement, no mean feat.

Farinet describes McGee as "a calm voice when it was not popular or fashionable," and nowhere is this more apparent than in his work on November 22, 1963, when he was one of NBC's main anchors during the breaking news of JFK's assassination. His was very much a "just the facts" presentation, with the viewer's needs foremost in mind; like most people watching at home, he'd come in to the story after it had already started, and he figured that both he and them would like to be brought up to speed on exactly what had happened. Inside he, like his colleagues, was in tumult, but his calm exterior wavered only once, after midnight, as NBC's coverage drew to a close on that most tumultuous day.

One of Farinet's comments particularly stands out in today's times. "McGee was a man whose deep inner convictions could never be shaken," he said. "He could never be intimidated, cajoled or misled." That seems to be a quality in short supply in today's television journalism, or anywhere, for that matter. There's a final anecdote that Farinet tells that, I think, is emblematic of Frank McGee's class and ability, particularly when one thinks of how so many on-screen newscasters today are simply readers with little knowledge of what they report on.

"On one occasion McGee was hustled into a studio and told that NBC News was about to take to the air. But McGee was not told why. The red light was on—and McGee started talking. Fortunately, he says, they put up a picture of the United Nations on the monitor—so he figured that that's what it was all about. He ad-libbed 90 seconds on the UN, assuming that this was to be a promo for coverage later in the day. As he was most of the time, McGee was right."

I like that story—just as I liked Frank McGee. He was a professional in a time of professionals, and we could use a little more of that nowadays.

l  l  l

MST3K alert: The Mole People
(1956) Scientists are held captive in a lost mountain city in Asia. John Agar, Cynthia Patrick, Hugh Beaumont. (Saturday/Sunday, 2:00 a.m., KSTP) This is the fourth and final appearance on MST3K by Hugh Beaumont, but without question his most memorable "appearance" is on Lost Continent, when, during one of the host segments, Mike Nelson portrays him as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. ("I come bearing a message of unholy death. I'm really going to give you the business, destroy you, your world, and all that you know. But first, a stern talking-to.") In all the long history of MST3K, it's perhaps the most absurd moment ever, which is why it's so great. But a last word on The Mole People: although he's not listed in the TV Guide, the cast also includes Alan Napier. So we've got Ward Cleaver, Alfred the butler, and the former Mr. Shirley Temple. How cool is that? TV  

April 26, 2024

Around the dial

At Realweegiemidget, Gill looks at the 1956 Robert Montgomery Presents version of Sunset Boulevard. Most of us are probably familiar with the classic movie, starring Gloria Swanson and William Holden, but how does this version hold up, with Mary Astor and Darren McGavin? Let's find out!

There's always been controversy about the effect scary television shows have on children. I've never heard of a scary TV lamp, though—at least not until this bit at the Broadcast Archives. TV lamps are, themselves, an interesting subject, so be sure to check out the link within the piece for more.

At Cult TV Blog, John turns his attention to the long-running British series Comedy Playhouse, and the episode, "Elementary, My Dear Watson." If you like Monty Python, John assures us, you'll probably like this Holmes takeoff, with John Cleese as the master detective. Well, I do, so I'll have to watch this!

We've lived in Indiana for 2½ years now, and after having moved so many times, I'd be happy to never see the interior of a moving van again. There are several classic TV families who felt the same way, contemplating moving but deciding to stay put: read about them in David's latest at Comfort TV.

We all know that the growth of television had a major effect on radio, meaning it was up to local DJs to find a formula that would keep them (and their stations) in business. Martin Grams reviews one such example with Janice and Mike Olszewski's book Mad Daddy, a look at the career of Cleveland's legendary Pete Myers.

Terry Carter, whose TV career ranged from military camps to the streets of New York to the stars and beyond, died this week, aged 95. At A Shroud of Thoughts, Terence remembers the actor, whose work included The Phil Silvers Show, McCloud, Battlestar Galactica, and much more.

At Travalanche, it's a look at Edward R. Murrow and his legendary series Person to Person. There's always been something of a dichotomy between Murrow, the hard journalist, and the celebrity interviews he did in Person; learn more about the man, his career, and the show.

"Noon Doomsday" is the latest Avengers episode to get the treatment from Roger and Mike at The View from the Junkyard. It's a Western-themed episode written by Terry Nation, creator of the Daleks, and like most Nation scripts, it has its good points and bad. Does this one have more good than bad?

Finally, A Vintage Nerd looks at the impressive list of classic Hollywood actors who appeared in Rod Serling's Night Gallery. Daffny lists over one hundred of them, and that's quite a list for any series, let alone one with a relatively short run. Makes you want to watch an episode right now. TV  

April 24, 2024

If I ran the network

A while back, I had a note from James McGrail, a loyal reader and regular commentator, who had an interesting suggestion for a new series of articles:

Have you ever thought about a blog post on TV series ideas from your imagination? Shows you'd love to propose to Hollywood producers, but you don't because you know they'd screw it up.

Brother, you're speaking my language here. Over the years, I've had several ideas that I thought would make for good, or at least interesting, television series. However, having read Cleveland Amory's experience seeing his own series concept, O.K. Crackerby, turned into, well, something other than what he'd conceived, I have no doubt my own ideas would meet a similarly horrific fate.

Nevertheless, I persist. Also, it makes for good writing ideas.

l  l  l

The premise of The Killer was simple: The Equalizer with a license to kill. It would have starred Lee Marvin*, who was alive at the time (I suppose now it would be Liam Neeson) as a man who wore only the finest suits, dined at the most elegant restaurants, drank the finest wines, and was a connoisseur in art and literature. He was also a professional assassin, an independent contractor with no ties to the mob or any other organization, who accepted assignments only through referrals from previous clients, and only if he was interested in the job.

*Of course, Marvin would never have returned to series television; he'd already done that gig with M Squad. But if you want to know why I always thought of him in the role, just watch two of his movies: Point Blank and The Killers. You'll get the idea.

His clientele, we would learn in the pilot, were desperate people who found themselves in hopeless situations, often through no fault of their own. They were victims themselves: trapped in abusive marriages or manipulative business deals, at the mercy of corrupt union officials or small-town elected politicians, survivors of ruthless crimes that had gone unpunished, living with constant threats hanging over their heads. There was no hope of them finding a conventional solution through law enforcement agencies or legal remedies, and anyone attempting to intervene on their behalf might find themselves badly beaten in a dark alley, or even dead. In other words, chances for a peaceful resolution to their situation were pretty remote, and they were now at their wits' end. 

He'd put you through a test before he'd agree to take your job, though. If you were lying to him or deceiving him, if your reasons for hiring him weren't compelling enough or justifiable, or if he found out you were using him for personal gain (a philandering husband making up a story in order to hit his wife or mistress, for example), he might well come back and kill you. He was up front about that.

It was a bit of a reaction to The Equalizer, which was popular at the time. I found that McCall, the Edward Woodward character, wasn't nearly tough enough for my taste. (Unlike, for example, Denzel Washington's version.) Oftentimes, the episode would end with a scene that was the equivalent of those  Westers where Hopalong Cassidy shoots the gun out of the villain's hand, leaving him otherwise unhurt. 

Not that every episode of The Killer would necessarily end with a killing; one of the great things about Lee Marvin as an actor is the world-weariness he was able to project, the sense that there had to be an easier way for something to be handled. In this series, he would often give his prey a way out, exhibiting that same weariness—"Look, you and I both know there's no way out of this for you. Why don't you just do the right thing [pay him off, leave the woman alone, whatever]? It's a lot less messy, and it makes my job a lot easier." Of course, the bad guys (or femme fatales; I believe in equal opportunities) would generally be arrogant enough to react contemptuously to his suggestion, which would leave him no alternative. . .

Sure, it was derivative and manipulative, contrived and somewhat implausible—all qualities that were in the best tradition of successful TV series. There was a point to it all, though, something that I hoped would elevate it to the status of what is today called "prestige television." Remember, this was in an era when the television antihero was limited to characters like J.R. Ewing, whose worst crimes might have been sleeping with someone else's wife or swindling an associate on a business deal. Even J.R., however, wasn't likely to actually murder someone in cold blood; that was something you were more apt to see happen to him, rather than by him. It would have been episodic, with a new case each week, rather than featuring continuing storylines; in that sense, it was pretty conventional. 

However, there was a point to all this that I wanted to build up to, something that would challenge viewers and make them think about what it was they were watching. To challenge themand, in that sense, to challenge their own ideals, their sense of right and wrong, their concept of justice. For here we had a protagonist with whom viewers were clearly meant to identify. The people he hunted down were child abusers, rapists, corrupt public officials, and the like, cruel and manipulative and worthy of our scorn and hatred. You sympathized with their victims, and understood that Marvin was a last resort when all legal options had failed. You rooted for him, wanted him to succeed. But you had to ask yourself this question: am I really comfortable rooting for a man who, in essence, is a well-paid murderer? Does the end justify the means?  

Remember, I first thought of this in the days before shows like The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Dexter, Better Call Saul—shows featuring anti-heroes crossing the line between right and wrong, moral and immoral, legal and illegal. Marvin's character (who never was identified by name) was charming and likeable, and there was never any doubt that he was to be considered the righteous dude, the good guy in any confrontation; this would be made clear in the writers' bible that accompanied the series. He wasn't a psychopath, in the sense that, say, Dexter, was; and like most respectable hitmen, he didn't kill for pleasure, or on a whim, or because you'd taken his parking space. He was just a man who was doing his job, a job which he did exceptionally well, which it just so happened was putting the squeeze on people who deserved it, even killing them if necessary (which, more often than not, would be the case). 

l  l  l

So, would a series like The Killer work today? I still think this show would be extremely successful, particularly since anti-heroes have become more fashionable. People might or might not like having their own beliefs challenged; I don't know about that. 

What I do know without doubt is that, back in the 1980s when the idea first came to me, there would have been no possibility that my vision of The Killer would have made it intact to the screen. I'm sure that at least one network executive would have said something about how "There's just so much killing it." I don't know anything about scriptwriting, or doing treatments for series proposals, and even if I did, I'm not sure that I would have done anything with this. After all, although it's called The Killer, I wouldn't have wanted to see an executive perform euthanasia on it. TV  

April 22, 2024

What's on TV? Tuesday, April 22, 1969

Tonight's heavyweight title fight between champ Joe Frazier and challenger Dave Zyglewicz, live from Houston (6:30 p.m., KTXL), is for the "five-state" heavyweight championship, and if that sounds as ridiculous to read as it did to type, there's a good reason for it: when Muhammad Ali was stripped of his title, the World Boxing Association set up a tournament to select his successor. Frazier, the top-ranked contender, refused to take part in the tournament, and was subsequently recognized as the champion by the influential New York State Athletic Commission and five states (Massachusetts, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Texas and Maine), plus Mexico and Argentina. He knocks out Zyglewicz in the first round, and eventually defeats Jimmy Ellis, the WBA champion, to unify the title; he will become undisputed champion after beating Ali in 1971. That Ali fight wasn't on live home TV, though, while tonight's bout is a prominent part of the Northern California edition.

April 20, 2024

This week in TV Guide: April 19, 1969

You may recall the sensation that was The Beatles: Get Back, the eight-hour documentary directed by Peter Jackson that ran on Disney+ over three consecutive nights beginning on Thanksgiving Day, 2021. It seemed, at least to this non-Beatles fan, that everyone was either watching it, talking about it, or both; it aired to great reviews and great ratings. In addition, a feature film was made of the famous rooftop concert that features in the documentary.

I bring all this up because in this week's TV Guide, we have a pictorial featuring the Fab Four, performing on that rooftop, as part of Michael Lindsay-Hogg's documentary Let It Be, being made in support of the album of the same name. "The reason for making an album is obvious. The reason for filming the session is to let the world—all over which the Beatles hope to sell the documentary in a few months— know just how the Beatles go about their work." And part of that work is the recording session on the roof of the Apple Corps building, located in London's Savile Row. Needless to say, the impromptu session attracted quite a number of passersby, who proceeded to gather on the streets and sidewalks below, prompting calls from neighboring shops to the Metropolitan Police demanding that they "quell the noise." But, as TV Guide notes, "Even bobbies couldn't do that."  

The original documentary came out in 1970, by which time it served as something of an epitaph for the group, which was in the process of a highly publicized breakup. As was noted at the time, a good portion of Jackson's documentary was comprised of footage shot by Lindsay-Hogg, which Jackson proceeded to restore and enhance; Jackson himself referred to it as "a documentary about a documentary," a supplement to, rather than a replacement of, the original. It also presented a revisionist account of the making of the Let It Be album, presenting a far more upbeat atmosphere than had been previously thought.

As you know, we're always searching for relevancy here at It's About TV!, and it seems to me that nothing could be more relevant that a pictorial in support of a documentary that would come out the following year and then would be reprised more than fifty years later to become another TV sensation. Who knew?

l  l  l

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

Sullivan: Ed's scheduled guests: Norm Crosby; Ken Berry of Mayberry R.F.D.; dancer Peter Gennaro; comic Pat Cooper; and singers Julie Budd, Grace Markay, and the Chambers Brothers.

Palace: Host Steve Lawrence presents Phyllis Diller, Broadway songstress Florence Henderson and Bill Dana (as skydiving instructor Jose Jimenez). Also: the singing Fuller Brothers; ventriloquist Russ Lewis; the Rhodins, aerialists; and Pat Anthony’s wild-animal act. 

To be perfectly honest, neither lineup overwhelms this week, but since I copped out with a push last week, I'm forced to make a choice, so let's bear down and get to it. I've always enjoyed Steve Lawrence, a versatile performer, and although it isn't fashionable anymore, Bill Dana's Jose Jiminez act was very funny. And who can really vote against Mrs. Brady? I liked Norm Crosby on Palace last week, so I have to like him on Sullivan this week, but while there's nothing wrong with Ed's show, I'll give the nod to Palace this week.

l  l  l

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

That Show isn't, as you might think, one of those epaulets that people use when they're talking about something they might have found slightly distasteful, as in, "Did you see that show last night?" It is, in fact, the title of Joan Rivers' new talk show, syndicated five-times-a-week to stations around the country, and as Cleveland Amory says, it really is different from the run-of-the-mill talkfest. For one thing, Rivers attempts to engage her audience during her opening monologue. It might be a little too much for some viewers, with Rivers "[j]umping and bouncing around, weaving, waving, punching and gyrating," and trying (sometimes successfully, sometimes not) to provoke a reaction. In one show, she emerged to great applause from the audience, except for one man who stubbornly refused to clap. Rivers, who honed her talent on the nightclub circuit, naturally picked him out; "You have guts, mister," she said.

Rivers really works the audience, "and make no mistake— she works hard." When a joke fails to get a response she doubles down, building on it until something happens. After a string of cracks about her supposed lack of talent at housekeeping failed to elicit much reaction, she finally got some applause for proclaiming that she had a nice, clean garden. "'Now, you're applauding,' she said, smiling. "I like your applause, you know. I’m a mother—and a working mother."

Perhaps the most novel aspect of That Show—and it is novel—is how Rivers mixes her guests, matching the typical talk show celebrity with a non-celebrity who has an unusual or interesting job or hobby, "which becomes the basis for a discussion with both Miss Rivers and the celebrity. Most of the time the celebrity has only two choices—either play second fiddle or just burn." The match-ups are meant to be incongruous, or at least humorous; one show, for example, paired an etiquette writer and former middleweight boxing champion Rocky Graziano; another featured a psychotherapist who'd authored a book on marital fights, along with James Earl Jones, star of The Great White Hope. Naturally, Rivers and Jones staged a pretend fight for the doctor to critique, at one point moaning, "Where did we lose the magic?" I've never been a fan of Rivers, though I didn't have the animosity toward her that some did, and I have a feeling I'd have asked the same question about That Show.

l  l  l

Some interesting specials highlight the best of the week, starting on Sunday night with the 23rd presentation of the Tony Awards (10:00 p.m., CBS), hosted by Diahann Carroll and Alan King. It's hard to know how relevant the Tonys have ever been to the public at large; I know that Broadway is a tourist trap, and people planning a trip to the city may depend on the Tonys to give them some idea of what's hot, but I can't help thinking that in 1969, Broadway was much more relevant to the entertainment industry, considering how many stars had roots in the legitimate theater. Just look at some of this year's nominees: Art Carney, James Earl Jones, Brenda Vaccaro, Charlotte Rae, Herschel Bernardi, Jack Cassidy, Angela Lansbury, Joel Grey, Jerry Orbach, and Donald Pleasence. Nowadays, when a big name appears on stage, it's seen as a bid to attract a mainstream audience; back then, it was called making a living.

Monday features an uninterrupted evening of specials, ranging from animation to concerts to dramatic poetry readings, starting with the Babar the Elephant (7:30 p.m., NBC), narrated and voiced charmingly by Peter Ustinov, and based on the first three Babar books. That's followed by the latest Singer Presents musical special starring Don Ho (previous specials have included the legendary Elvis comeback, Sinatra's "A Man and His Music," and Tony Bennett); the theme is "Hawaii-HO!" (I wonder where they got that idea, hmm?), with Don leading viewers on a musical tour of Hawaii (8:00 p.m., NBC; no video, but you can listen to the soundtrack here.) Speaking of Sinatra, you can see him in a repeat of Francis Albert Sinatra Does His Thing (9:00 p.m., CBS), in which Frank is joined by Diahann Carroll and the 5th Dimension for music that's "swinging, soul, spiritual and psychedilic." Sinatra was famous for an aversion to doing multiple takes, and tonight's program is the dress rehearsal tape—Sinatra liked it and decided not to do a final taping. The poetry comes from Spoon River (10:00 p.m., CBS), a one-hour adaptation of Edger Lee Masters' free-verse Spoon River Anthology. Charles Aidman, who stars along with Jason Robards, Joyce Van Patten, and Jennifer West, wrote and directs the play, which he adapted from his own 1963 Broadway version; Hal Lynch and Naomi Caryl Hirshhorn perform the folk songs that accompany Masters' poems. I'm not sure I can imagine anything like this on American television today, not even on PBS.

Things turn more serious on Tuesday's NBC White Paper "Ordeal of the American City" (7:30 p.m.), a 90-minute look at "how urban ills are reflected on campus," with a focus on student unrest, teacher strikes, minority-group protests, and international conflicts. If this sounds a lot like what's going on in the world of education today, I suspect it's no coincidence; this should have been called "a look at how urban ills are caused and exacerbated by what's taught on campus." 

On Wednesday, Barry Sullivan and E.G. Marshall star in "This Town Will Never Be the Same," the latest presentation of Prudential's On Stage series of dramatic stories relating to today's issues (9:00 p.m., NBC). Sullivan plays a newspaper editor facing a dual crisis: his paper is on the verge of collapse, and his son has been implicated as a drug dealer. Vincent Gardenia and Roy Scheider headline a distinguished supporting cast.

Thursday, NBC's acclaimed Project 20 series turns its eye on the father of the country in "Meet George Washington" (7:30 p.m.), the story of "the best-known unknown in our history." In Susan Ludel's background article on the show, producer/director Donald Hyatt explains why Washington should be relevant to the "Now" generation, young people more interested in "new" revolutionaries than old ones: "Most people don't know what George Washington stood for; they don’t know why he was great. People are vague about the principles of the American Revolution, and many of them are unclear about the basic ideas behind the Declaration of Independence. Americans today are." (He could be talking about millennials, couldn't he?) He rejects the idea that history has no bearing on our lives today, and says that "knowledge of the past is a prerequisite to dealing successfully with the present"; "It is ideas that make history and that make the present intelligible. It is from ideas that all movements spring. To say that history doesn’t matter is to say that ideas don’t matter. But they do." Perhaps someone should dust this program off and show it today.

Finally, The Wild Wild West isn't a special, but Friday's episode is special in a way, with Pat Paulson making a surprisingly effective dramatic acting debut as a greenhorn agent assigned to assist West in "The Night of the Camera" (7:30 p.m., CBS). Incidentally, this episode is notable in that Ross Martin's character, Aretemus Gordon, does not appear; Martin suffered a heart attack in August 1968, necessitating guest appearances by several actors filling in for him during his absence. Martin's place in this story is taken by none other than Charles Aidman, who appeared in four episodes; other actors included William Schallert and Alan Hale, Jr. (who is also quite effective, by the way; showing some acting chops he didn't get to display in Gilligan's Island.

l  l  l

You'll notice I didn't mention Saturday up there, but that doesn't mean I've forgotten it completely—otherwise, we wouldn't have that groovy illustration of him on this week's cover. (And by the way, that just doesn't seem right, does it? A psychedelic Lawrence Welk? You'd have had an easier time selling me the idea of Ronald Reagan as the Democratic nominee for president.) But if you're looking for an entertainer trying to successfully bridge the Generation Gap, who better to turn to than the maestro?

"I think young," Welk tells a somewhat apprehensive Digby Diehl. "I listen to KHJ [a middle-of-the-road rock station in Los Angeles], to the Top 40, in my car and at home, and so I know what goes on. If I hear a song I like, my associates and I analyze it and perhaps try it out at the Hollywood Palladium before considering it for the show." Welk explains the need for a careful, cautious approach; "We've had the mothers and fathers so long, we don’t want to do anything to displease them. We want them to depend upon the fact that we’re not going to use any swear words or do anything that would be inappropriate, in the moral sense, to carry into the home. If there’s a double meaning, we don’t play it on television." He freely admits he doesn't understand much of the new stuff; for instance, a few years back he had a hit with "Puff, the Magic Dragon," and was later horrified to discover the song's possible link to the drug culture. "One of my musicians once told me a couple of years ago, 'Lawrence, I didn’t think there were still people in the world as naïve as you!'"

He carefully considers the meaning behind the Generation Gap. "I think that there are some forces working to disturb us," he says. "If you bring me a song, and I and a group of other people can't understand it, then you're talking about something that's pretty far out. Good music, sensible music, will bring about good thoughts, good living, good common sense. Music out of this world that you can’t understand will bring about confusion." He adds, however, that "if we have an open mind towards this younger generation, we can learn many good things from them."

If it's true, as Diehl asserts, that Welk really doesn't understand what's happening in the world of contemporary pop music, it's also true that it doesn't really matter. Welk has already outlasted Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, and Harry James; the way things are going, he may go beyond the Beatles and Elvis as well. "I'm dedicated to entertaining people. I'm more interested in that than in creating art. If people pay a dollar to hear us, then we ought to give them a dollar and a half's entertainment. If we just do something for ourselves that's 'Art,' we've cheated them. Well, here we are, 55 years later, and The Lawrence Welk Show is still going strong with reruns on many PBS stations. And this is after running on the network and in syndication until 1982—indeed, long after the Beatles (see above) and Elvis fled the scene. That's not to say the others aren't still popular, but so is Welk. The maestro, it would seem, knew what he was talking about after all.

l  l  l

There's a rare full-page editorial on the cancellation of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour by CBS. As the editors note, "This publication has in the past wholeheartedly defended the right of even the Smothers Brothers to have their say on the issues of the day." They continue, "We are in full accord, however, with the Columbia Broadcasting System in its wise, determined and wholly justified insistence on meeting its responsibilities by retaining the right to preview what it will telecast over its facilities." And the Smothers made that impossible by delaying the delivery of their finished shows to the network for review, as was their contractual obligation. It's their right to do so; after all, it's CBS that "is open to censure from the public for its telecasts; it therefore should have some control of what is said. And the Smothers Brothers have been saying plenty to arouse a substantial part of America." 

To those who claim CBS's decision stomps on free speech, the Editors respond that "Freedom of speech is not, the issue. The issue is taste. And responsibility. And honesty. And perspective. And a proper respect for the views of others." They continue, "Shall entertainers using a mass medium for all the people be allowed to amuse a few by satirizing religion while offending the substantial majority?. . . Shall a network be required to provide time for a Joan Baez to pay tribute to her draft-evading husband while hundreds of thousands of viewers in the households of men fighting and dying in Vietnam look on in shocked resentment?" These are good questions, ones not easily answered, possibly because we've lived in a culture that reveres egalitarianism so much that we casually brush off the idea of anything being sacred. And yet, this was not always the case.

"For all the Smothers Brothers’ pseudo-intellectualism, it seems doubtful that they have ever encountered George Bernard Shaw’s statement that 'Liberty means responsibility.'" The editors agree with CBS's decision, based on a policy "that is determined not to insult the general mores of the country." They also applaud the judgment shown by NBC and ABC in not picking up the Brothers. "Tom Smothers has been quoted recently as saying, “We don’t want to offend anyone out there. But if you get offended, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.” The last person who made a social pronouncement in terms of pastry was Marie Antoinette. And look what happened to her."

l  l  l

What else? Well, Liz Trotta, one of the best television reporters and war correspondents, talks about her experiences in Vietnam. I would have written about this, except I'm afraid you might be getting Vietnam fatigue. Nonetheless, I didn't want to pass up the opportunity to link to this article I wrote a few years ago about Trotta and her two books, including Fighting for Air: In the Trenches with Television News, a wonderful memoir of her career, including her time in Vietnam. If you're interested, I'd suggest reading the book rather than her brief TV Guide article; it will give you much, much more.

And there's an article by Merle Miller on his hometown of Marshalltown, Iowa, a town where people just don't watch much TV. I have no idea whether or not that is still the case, having never visited Marshalltown despite spending most of my life in a neighboring state that was only a good afternoon's drive away. But let's be honest here; this is a website about television. Do we really want to read about people who don't watch television, even though they may be far more well-rounded and mentally adjusted than we are?

l  l  l

MST3K alert: Cat Women of the Moon
(1954) A rocket ship from the Earth lands on the moon, where its crew discovers a civilization of cat women. Sonny Tufts, Marie Windsor, Victor Jory. (Saturday, 8:00 a.m., KCRA in Sacramento) This is another Rifftrax feature, which, as you know, is close enough for us, if not for government work. Appropriately enough, our riffers are Mary Jo Pehl, who played Pearl Forrester on MST3K, and Bridget Nelson, the better half of Michael J. Nelson. Marie Windsor is campily evil, and Victor Jory appropriately heroic. All this, and Sonny Tufts too! TV  

April 19, 2024

Around the dial

Before we get to our usual Friday content, a couple of notes from the mailbag. 

First, reader Gary asks if anyone knows whether or not there are copies of extant episodes of Woody Woodbury's talk show from 1967-68. I'm not aware of any; I've seen a handful of clips on YouTube, and the Woody Woodbury YouTube channel consists of excerpts from his comedy albums. My guess is that the tapes of his show were probably wiped back in the day, but as I'm the first to admit, I'm far from knowing everything, so if anyone out there has any thoughts, just let me know.

I also had a great email from Bill, whose family viewing habits have come to include Petticoat Junction, including the initial black-and-white episodes. "My wife said she used to watch the reruns as a child. However, they were only the color episodes as the first two years in black-and-white were not available for syndication.  So in a way, the first 74 shows were new to her.  For me, it’s gratifying to see my daughter appreciate a classic series.  Until now, with the exception of some of the game shows on Buzzr (Classic Concentration, Password Plus), she has not been interested in anything old-time TV let alone a show filmed in monochrome!  It’s also nice that we can sit down as a family and watch a program that doesn’t disturb or offend." Is this great or what? Aside from validating the worth of B&W programming, it's a throwback to the days when families used to, you know, do things together. Made my day! 

We begin this week's tour around the dial at bare-bones e-zine, where Jack's Hitchcock Project looks at the first of two contributions from the team of Albert E. Lewin and Burt Styler, the fourth-season episode "Cheap is Cheap," with a great starring turn by Jack Benny regular Dennis Day, who turns the tables on convention by being the cheap one in this tale of spousal murder.

John returns to the world of The Avengers this week at Cult TV Blog; he takes on "Double Danger," a first-season episode that no longer exists in video form. No problem for John, as his review is based on the original camera script, which he's read; now it's his turn to share it with us.

Benny Hill actually did have a career before his eponymous sketch comedy series; one example comes to us from the Metzinger Sisters at Silver Scenes, where they review Hill's starring role in the 1956 farce Who Done It?, where he plays a detective trying to smash a plot to destroy England though a weather-making machine. 

After a long break, The Twilight Zone Vortex returns with Jordan's review of the September/October, 1983 issue of The Twilight Zone Magazine, the bulk of which concerns the summer's release of Twilight Zone: The Movie, plus fiction features, interviews with director John Landis and writer Richard Matheson, and more!

TZ also features in A View from the Junkyard, where Mike and Roger butt heads over the 1963 episode "Steel," starring Lee Marvin in a future where boxing has been outlawed, and prizefighters replaced with robots. When his robot-boxer breaks down, Marvin is determined (foolish? Pig-headed?) to take the robot's place in order to get the money to repair it.

At Travalanche, it's a belated tribute to newsman Robert MacNeil, who died on April 12. I always had great respect for MacNeil; his reporting of the Kennedy assassination, his work on Washington Week in Review, his long stint on The MacNeil/Lehrer Report, and his hosting of other specials. He was one of the last of the great reporters of the era.

Television's New Frontier: The 1960s turns his attention to the 1959-60 syndicated dramatic anthology Deadline, featuring Paul Stewart as the host and occasional star of stories that flash back to a time when reporters were "heroes and the guardians of truth and justice." We started watching this a couple of months ago; while it's not great, it's usually pretty good and quite interesting.

Last Tuesday would have been the 100th birthday of the great composer Henry Mancini; among his many hits, Terence at A Shroud of Thoughts singles out perhaps his most influential: the "Peter Gunn Theme." If ever an instrumental theme summed up the coolness of a television show, this is it. 

"While Jim wrestles with the man-eating alligator, you can't afford for your family to wrestle with financial problems after you die. That's why you need insurance from Mutual of Omaha." If you remember Marlin Perkins saying something like this (and who doesn't?), you'll enjoy a review of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom by Paul at Drunk TVTV  

April 15, 2024

What's on TV? Monday, April 18, 1966

Tonight's Academy Awards broadcast begins at 7:00 p.m. here on the West Coast, which means it starts at 10:00 p.m. out East. Now, if you think that's really late, remember that the show is scheduled to run for only two hours, as we can see from the shows scheduled to air after the Oscars, and because of the live broadcast, ABC affiliates in this Northern California edition get a bonus hour of prime time programming (starting at 7:00 and ending at 11:30). Speaking of which, at 10:30 it's Twelve O'clock High (a Quinn Martin production!), and if you live in Sacramento, after that you can see the movie on which it was based, starring Gregory Peck and Dean Jagger. I wonder how many times that happens?

April 13, 2024

This week in TV Guide: April 16, 1966

I can appreciate that some of you are, by now, tired of the continuous references to Vietnam in the TV Guides of this era. If, like me, you lived through that time, you might well prefer not going through it again; on the other hand, if you're too young to remember all that, you might not care about what seems to you like ancient history. 

Nevertheless, the fact that Vietnam is written about so frequently in a television magazine shows how thoroughly it dominated the culture in the second half of the 1960s. Such is the case once again this week, in "A Remarkable Letter from Vietnam,"* written by Jesse Zousmer, ABC's vice president and director of TV news and a veteran newsman, shortly before he and his wife were killed in a plane crash near Tokyo. 

*Which, I should add, has absolutely nothing to do with the pictures of the three beauties from Petticoat Junction that grace the cover.

The letter was written to Elmer Lower, president of ABC News, in an attempt to explain, to him and all ABC staffers concerned, about the problems encountered in covering this war. "It is," he says, "like trying to cover our South in revolt on a bicycle with one correspondent." It is, he continues, being 13 miles from the biggest battle of the day "and not [hearing] a word of it, even though I talked to such as Westmoreland, Kinnard, the 7th commander, Col. Moore and more damn [Public Information Officers] than you could smile at." His point: "They didn’t know either."

You'd better be ready to find your own way around, too. "It is just frequently not possible to get from one base to another. If we score a big victory, the Army will lay on planes for all who want to go. But generally you are on your own. You just show up at the airport and check in." You pack the night before, "the shaving mirror and the anti-insect stuff, the extra everythings, the toilet paper and the candy, the extra towel for around the neck to absorb sweat and keep the sand from settling on your collar and giving you a rash." It's unspeakably hot, especially when the sun comes up; "When it gets noonish, run for the shade." And it's important to stay in constant shape—it's the only way to keep up, and you must keep up.

      Jesse Zousmer
Just as the jeep was the mode of transportation in previous wars, in Vietnam it's the helicopter. "And each time you ride, a gunner sits half out the left and right sides, peering for action. We saw no bullets and heard none. But these kids don’t kid around." The choppers take off and land 24 hours a day, every day. "There are so many you can't ever count what you can see at one time." They take you to a bombed-out jungle—"We are Americans. Where there are jungles, we tear them down. Where there are forests, we level them. Where there are mountains, we cut roads through them. Where there are bomb-blasted tree stumps, we use them as foundations for our construction." One sniper can threaten the whole area; "If he fires one bullet at us, we respond with an arsenal of howitzers and mortars and all those ugly things that have big numbers followed by mm... like 105 mm and 155 mm etc." And there's one motto: "Kill the VC's." [Viet Cong]

The correspondents sleep 15 to a tent with no pillows, no blankets. Cooking is done inside on Coleman stoves; the tent's flaps are down to keep the blackout. "It’s a night of racking coughing, and some guys dreaming out loud." Then, there are the pounding sounds of the heavy guns and the ever-present helicopters. "Let the VC’s fire a gun . . one of our birds someplace up there sees it, and for fun or fear he calls in artillery corrections, etc. God, how the hell the VC’s must feel . . . how hopeless against our power .. . what they must consider our waste ... if they had any comprehension of our costs." (Yeah, probably felt hopeless all the way to victory, right?)  

Zousmer has great admiration for the correspondents reporting from Vietnam, particularly the cameramen lugging their heavy equipment everywhere. "Our guys are superb," he says. "Smiling, helpful, hep, quick, brave." That's nothing compared to what he feels for the soldiers there, though; "veteran soldiers, all kids, all in different kinds of the same clothes, each carrying a different weapon, or a different piece of gear." 

All in all, Zousmer's depiction of covering the war is a depressing one, and that's just for the press; it must have been multiple times worse for the soldiers themselves—miserable conditions in the middle of nowhere, out of contact, not sure why they're there, with even their leaders not sure what's going on. As many have written, before and since, it was a war unlike anything we were used to, and one can only think that the troops showed great courage in the face of it. It's too bad that courage proved to be in a wasted effort.

l  l  l

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

Sullivan: Ed's scheduled guests: Jimmy Durante; singer Petula Clark; the rock 'n' rolling Animals; opera singers Franco Corelli and Dorothy Kirsten; comic Myron Cohen; Gita Morelly, contortionist; and, in a taped segment, the Swingle Singers, who use jazz rhythms in performing classical music.

Palace: Singer Tony Martin and dancer Cyd Charisse (Mrs. Martin) introduce actor Cesar Romero, who appears in the sketch "At Home with the Martins"; singer Vikki Carr; the comedy team of Rowan and Martin; comedian Norm Crosby; juggler Bobby Winters; and the acrobatic Suns Family. 

Tough call this week. I like a lot of Ed's lineup, from Durante to a really good lineup of singers (including Petula Clark, who's identified in the listing as "Pet" Clark), and Myron Cohen, who generally has a very funny routine. On the other hand, I also like Rowan and Martin, and Norm Crosby (although I know some people don't like his schtick), and I'd enjoy seeing the skit with Cesar Romero and the Martins. And if Cyd Charisse dances, well, that's a bonus. So what would you do? As Crow T. Robot would say, "If you're past midfield, go for it. Or just punt." That's what I'm going to do—punt. This week is a Push.

l  l  l

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

The Wild' Wild West is, Cleveland Amory says, for those who appreciate the good old days, the "post-Civil War times when men were men and women were women and there weren't any teen-agers at all." And while the show's two stars, Robert Conrad and Ross Martin, are pretty good, what's really wild about it are the gadgets. I mean, who among us wouldn't want our man cave to be a pool hall with one ball that turns into a smoke bomb, and two cues that turn into, respectively, a rapier and a gun? Or to walk around with a pistol in the heel of our shoes, bullets in the belt buckle, and secret pockets with keys to open every door? Says Cleve, "The only thing lacking to make a real vacation of it was credit cards."

Of course it requires a certain suspension of disbelief—what action series, then or now, doesn't?—it's also true that the action keeps you on your toes enough that you won't have time to notice it. And, after all, why should we be in any doubt about a plot to assassinate a Supreme Court justice masterminded by a master puppeteer operating a world of steam-filled puppets under the sea, assisted by a beautiful girl puppet who turns out to be a real woman? Or an episode starring Nehemiah Persofff, who turns out to be Victor Buono in disguise? Admit it: considering the headlines we're subjected to every day in the news, does this really seem to be that implausible? It makes a hell of a lot more sense than anything I've read online lately.

What's most implausible, Amory says, is the title. Originally it was to be called The Wild West, but "some genius upstairs had the wild idea of calling it The Wild, Wild West." Which was pretty stupid, since the hero's name is West and it is a Western. It should have been called The Wild West West. But who, I ask you, would believe a series with a title like that?

l  l  l

The entertainment highlight of the week is the 38th Academy Awards, hosted once again by Bob Hope, and broadcast for the first time in color! (Monday, 7:00 p.m. PT, ABC) George Christy, in this week's cover story, makes a compelling case for the idea that the best show actually happens off camera. (Considering what the Oscarcast has become over the last few years, one would hope this is still the case.) Take 1961, for example, when Mitzi Gaynor, scheduled to interview the winners, was left waiting because Best Actress winner Elizabeth Taylor had passed out in the ladies' room. "Poor Mitzi was left on camera with egg on her face," says producer-director Dick Dunlap, doing this year's show for the sixth time; "Nobody bothered to say much to her; all the action was backstage" with people, including the other winners, off looking for Liz.

Costume consultant Edith Head, an eight-time Oscar winner for costume design, announces the red carpet arrival on television and radio, and always checks the stars' gowns at the Sunday afternoon dress rehearsal. But it seems as if some of the stars are determined to defy her; "Come evening, when the show is in progress, Edith, looking at her notes, announces, 'Here comes Judy Garland in black velvet'—only Judy has switched at the last minute to red silk, and when Edith looks up, she feels like a goon," Dunlap recounts grimly. 

No article on off-camera drama would be complete without recounting the 1963 Oscars, and the clash between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. Both women, who had co-starred in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, were scheduled presenters; in addition, Davis had been nominated for Best Actress for the movie, while Crawford (who had not been nominated) had agreed to accept for Anne Bancroft—nominated for The Miracle Worker—should she win. "There are only two large dressing rooms backstage," Dunlap explains. "Sinatra [that year's host] was automatically assigned one, and who do you think took over the other? Joan, of course, who moved right in with two Pepsi-Cola coolers, a portable bar stocked with champagne and booze, and a buffet table." Dunlap arranged for Davis to use Sinatra's dressing room to wait in, and as Maximillian Schell began to read the names of the nominees, the drama rose to peak pitch, leaving Dunlap with a decision to make. "[T]here is a desperation between actresses to win. [Bette would have been the first three-time Best Actress winner.] And Joan was not even a nominee, but if Anne Bancroft won, she would save face and dazzle the audience. For a second, I debated: Should I show the scene to the viewers? I decided I couldn’t—it would have been cruel."

In the end, Schell ripped open the envelope—and announced Anne Bancroft's name. "Joan instantly stood erect—shoulders back, neck straight, head up. She stamped out her cigaret butt, grabbed the hand of the stage manager, who blurted afterward that she 'practically broke all my fingers with her strength.' Then she soared calmly on-stage with that incomparable Crawford composure. Backstage, Bette bit her cigaret and seemed to stop breathing. Joan was out there; suddenly it was her night." Now, how could anything on-screen hope to compete with that?

As far as this year's broadcast is concerned, it's become fashionable for nominees to be no-shows, so only two of the Best Actor nominees are present: Lee Marvin for Cat Ballou, and Rod Steiger, for The Pawnbroker. Either would be worthy winners, but it's Marvin who takes home the prize. He joins Julie Christie, who wins Best Actress for Darling, and Robert Wise, Best Director for the year's Best Picture, The Sound of Music

l  l  l

Sometimes we run into one of those "where are they now" moments, when we read about someone who was supposed to become the Next Big Thing but instead turned out to be someone we've never heard of, who has an IMDb listing of one or two lines. It happens in the sports world as well as the entertainment business, as we see in the ABC News documentary The Big Guy (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., KOVR in Sacramento), a profile of heavyweight boxer Jim Beattie. The show covers Beattie's preparation for an upcoming fight against journeyman Dick Wipperman at Madison Square Garden in New York.  Beattie, who weighs in at 6' 9" and 240, is touted as a future contender for the heavyweight crown, but the fight against Wipperman, who comes in with 26 wins in 30 fights, is a major step up. 

In the fight, Wipperman gives Beattie a tough battle before Beattie scores a TKO in the seventh round. Beattie's rise in the rankings finally comes to an end in 1968 when he's knocked out by heavyweight contender Buster Mathis; after losing his following fight, he steps away from the sport. Although he makes a comeback in 1976, fighting on local cards in his hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota, he retires for good in 1979 with a career record 0f 40-10, never really fulfilling that early promise. His closest whiff of the crown coming in the 1970 James Earl Jones movie The Great White Hope, where Beattie plays "the Kid"—as you can find in IMDb. 

l  l  l

Elsewhere in sports, Saturday is the season debut of the baseball Game of the Week (11:00 a.m., NBC), with the New York Yankees taking on the Baltimore Orioles, led by their newest addition, former National League MVP Frank Robinson. In October, the Orioles will win the World Series, while Robinson wins the Triple Crown and American League MVP. Meanwhile, on Sunday it's the first game of the NBA Finals (11:00 a.m., ABC), as the defending champion Boston Celtics host the Los Angeles Lakers. It's the tenth consecutive appearance in the finals for the Celtics, seeking their eighth straight title; although the Lakers win game one in overtime, 133-129, the Celtics come out on top in a thrilling seven-game series.

sees the debut of The John Bartholomew Tucker Show (weekdays, 3:30 p.m., KPIX in San Francisco). Tucker comes from radio, where he worked for WJZ in Baltimore, hosts this live "variety show for happy people," with former Miss Minnesota Sharon Carnes and the Ralph Sharon Trio; guest on this opening show is Jimmy Dean. By the way, for those of you who remember NBC's radio program Monitor, Tucker was one of the final two communicators with the show when it ended in 1975.

Fred Astaire concludes a rare dramatic television role on Dr. Kildare (Tuesday, 8:30 p.m., NBC), in the conclusion of a four-part story, in which he plays pool shark Joe Quinlan, reunited with his seriously ill daughter, a nun (Laura Devon). By this time Kildare is a half-hour series, broadcast twice weekly, so the story isn't really as long as it might seem; it's really a two-hour story spread out over four episodes. In tonight's final episode, Quinlin—himself suffering from a heart ailment—insists on leaving the hospital to play in a big-stakes tournament, with plenty of stress.

Wednesday, Danny Thomas returns with another in his series of variety specials, a spoof of the Bing Crosby-Bob Hope "Road" movies (9:00 p.m., NBC). It all begins on The Today Show, where Crosby tells Hugh Downs that he doesn't want Hope as his co-star in his latest movie, The Road to Lebanon. Danny Thomas would be perfect," Crosby says. "He's younger, fresher, and Lebanese." Claudine Auger, the Bond Girl in Thunderball, rounds out the cast (no pun intended). 

Horrors! The Howells find out from a radio broadcast that they're not legally married, in a traumatic Gilligan's Island (Thursday, 8:00 p.m., CBS). Without looking this episode up, I'm willing to bet that the solution to this awkward situation is to have the Skipper marry them, since we all know that ship's captains are authorized to perform marriages, right? Wrong! According to the always-reliable Wikipedia (which I verified by watching an episode of Perry Mason), a ship's captain does not have the legal right to officiate a wedding at sea, unless he's either a judge, a justice of the peace, a minister, or a Notary Public. (Hey—you could have been married by me back in the day!) Now, it is true that most Princess Cruise captains have Bermuda licenses to perform weddings, so you can get married on certain Princess ships. But you have to go to a judge and swear that everything in the documentation is accurate. There are various theories as to how the trope came into being, but it's not worth going into now; if you're planning to get married at sea in the near future, I'll leave it to you to check things out beforehand.

On Friday, it's the fourth and final movie in the series of UN dramas shown on ABC over the last three years, The Poppy is Also a Flower (7:30 p.m.). The series, which I wrote about here, dramatizes (or propagandizes, depending on your point of view) the vital role played in the world by the UN—in this case, the fight against the international drug trade. Like the others, tonight's movie is sponsored by Xerox and presented without commercial interruption, and features a true all-star cast from top to bottom: directed by three-time James Bond director Terence Young, based on a story idea by Ian Fleming, introduced by Princess Grace of Monaco, and starring (among others) E.G. Marshall, Trevor Howard, Angie Dickinson, Yul Brynner, Rita Hayworth, Marcello Mastroianni, Omar Sharif, Barry Sullivan, and Eli Wallach. It makes my fingers hurt just to list them all.

Also on Friday, it's the final episode of Sammy Davis Jr., ill-fated variety show (8:30 p.m., NBC). I wrote about some of the show's challenges here; although Davis would buckle down in an effort to right the ship, it came too late to save it from the chopping block. Tonight's show is, quite possibly, the best of the series: a one-man show starring Sammy, which you can see here.

l  l  l

MST3K alert: The Amazing Colossal Man
(1957) After being burned in a plutonium explosion, an Army colonel starts growing at the rate of 10 feet per day. Glenn Langan, Cathy Downs. (Wednesday, 5:00 p.m., KGO in San Francisco) Unfortunately, since the rights to use the movie expired, you can no longer see the MST3K version, except on YouTube. However, you can still catch the unwanted, unasked-for sequel, War of the Colossal Beast, with a completely different cast. Take it from me: if you've seen one colossal man, you've seen them all. TV