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?

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

Sullivan: Ed's scheduled guests: 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.

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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. 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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."

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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?

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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  


  1. Solid proof of the naivete of Lawrence Welk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKslYBMycHM


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