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. 

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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. 

"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.

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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.

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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.

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   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.

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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  


  1. Republicans literally roasted on television. Gee, really? "Literally," as in, on fire? You just can't keep your extreme right MAGA politics out of it, can you? Good thing Trumpism is dying, Biden will be reelected, MAGA will be in the dustbin of history, and the J6 domestic terrorists are getting what they deserve. Stick to the TV Guide reviews.

    1. The funny thing is, I'm not a Trump supporter, and if you read this site more carefully, you probably would have figured that out by now. And if you don't like that, then I won't miss you as a former reader.

    2. I'm no fan of Biden or Trump. Some people just can't except the existence of what I call "the political atheist". I go after both sides equally.

    3. Absolutely right. Or that just because you feel one way on Topic A, you can feel another way on Topic B. I would proudly proclaim myself an independent today, with many friends on each side. The day I lose a friendship over a political stance is the day I just pack it in.

    4. Pretty sure Michell doesn't want to turn his entertainment blog into a political blot. Heck, I come here to get AWAY from that. And I have plenty of unpopular opinions.

  2. I remember The Cowboys tv show. It was produced by David Dortort, who did Bonanza. He also tried The Chisholms in the 80s I think. By then westerns pretty much vanished from network TV.

    1. According to Amory, by the time "The Cowboys" was on, the only other remaining Western on TV was "Gunsmoke." Right off the top of my head, I can't imagine any other one that would have been on when "The Chisholms" came on, although I could be wrong.

  3. You give mention of The New Dick Van Dyke Show. I remember watching it as a kid. It came on the heels of the Mary Tyler Moore and was sold as Van Dyke's return to series TV. It all the hallmarks that SHOULD have made it a success. Carl Reiner produced it. The same writers from the original show and stage actress Hope Lange (fresh from the Ghost and Mrs. Muir) as his wife. Had all the right ingredients.
    And it flopped.

    1. And yet it wound up running for far fewer seasons than "Diagnosis: Murder." Go figure.

    2. I always thought Diagnosis: Murder was a good timewaster, but no more than that. The only episode I go out of my way to watch is the one with Mannix.

    3. BTW, feel free to correct any bad grammar.

  4. One reason QB VII was not as well-remembered: Odd scheduling. ABC added an hour in prime time, scheduling part 1 to air from 9 to midnight Eastern(following 'The Rookies'). The network occasionally did that for Sunday movies, but rarely on other nights.
    The already-unusual schedule was also delayed by President Nixon's Oval Office address announcing that the now-infamous audio tapes were to be handed over to the Judiciary Committee, which would have delayed programming for more than 30 minutes(assuming analysis before and after the speech).

    1. Very good point about President Nixon's speech - that would not have helped the overall schedule. And to this day I can't understand what ABC was thinking in the way they scheduled QBVII. Asking people to stay up until midnight on a weeknight (or school night, as it would have been in my case) is a big ask.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!