July 13, 2024

This week in TV Guide: July 15, 1961

The brooding visage on the cover of this week's TV Guide is not that of Dave Garroway, although you'd be forgiven for thinking that it was, given how it seems to be a perfect match for the sidebar teaser on the left. No, on the cover you see Gardner McKay, star of Adventures in Paradise. More about him later. First, here's Garroway.

David Cunningham Garroway, the subject of Richard Gehman's multi-part profile, is one of the pioneers of television, a man of immeasurable influence insofar as on-camera persona is concerned. He is a very complex man as well, a troubled man, and for once the psychoanalytical angle that Gehman so likes to use comes in handy.

Garroway is the star of NBC's Today Show, or to be more precise, The Dave Garroway Today Show, as it is currently known. His friendly demeanor, inquisitive mind and engaging personality all combine to make him one of the first big stars in the new medium. Today reflects that personality perfectly. Would that today's Today (a cumbersome handle, to be sure) had as much variety and innovation as Garroway's did.

And yet the Dave Garroway that millions see every weekday morning is a far cry from the offscreen Garroway. It's sometimes said that when TV viewers see a personality on their sets often enough, they come to feel as if they actually know that person. In Garroway's case, those viewers probably know as much about him as his friends and coworkers do. Garroway is almost painfully shy, far preferring the company of his cars and telescopes to human interaction. He used to disguise himself before leaving the house, and he has a bomb shelter in his Manhattan townhouse, along with a bottle of Secanol in case of nuclear war. He tells Gehman that his anxieties actually make him better on TV, where "he can be himself" in the unblinking eye of the camera lens.

I described Garroway above as the host of Today; actually, that will be true only for another two days. Come Monday morning, John Chancellor will take over as host of the new, hard-news version of Today. Garroway had made the announcement in May, a month after his wife had committed suicide by swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills, that he would be leaving the show in October, or earlier if possible. He cites the need to recharge his batteries, to get away from the entertainment business for awhile. The article promises that part two will tell why Garroway really left Today; unfortunately, I don't have that issue. (But if you think I should have it, in order to finish the story, I'll gladly give you my PayPal address.)

I've frequently picked on Richard Gehman's writing style as being unnecessarily sarcastic and snarky, making his own cleverness too much a part of the story. And yet, perhaps this time, as I suggested earlier, the subject is a perfect match for the writer. His opening paragraph is certainly as good as anything you'll read in classic TV Guide*: "In these troubled and abandoned days, some of the more troubled and abandoned among us celebrate the birth of Christ by behaving much like the very Romans who crucified Him. A bacchanalian Christmas party given three years ago by the staff of the Today show would have delighted a contemporary Edward Gibbon."

*When I mentioned this to my wife, she asked if today's TV Guide even has any writing; she thought maybe all they did was compose captions to pictures.\

Gehman goes on to discuss Garroway's obvious boredom and discomfort in these surroundings, taking it for as long as he could before getting up and disappearing. He continues, comparing Garroway to Tod Hackett, the protagonist of Nathaneal West's novel The Day of the Locust: "He was really a very complicated young man with a whole set of personalities, one inside the other like a nest of Chinese boxes." Garroway, a "very complicated 48," knows this better than anyone. "For 14 years, off and on, he has been seeing a psychiatrist in an effort to learn what is inside those boxes. And what he has learned is that there are more boxes." 

What I particularly like about those paragraphs is that Gehman assumes his readers will recognize the name Edward Gibbon, that they will know who Nathaneal West was and perhaps might even have read one of his books. It doesn't strike me that he's forcing these references; he's simply respecting his audience. TV Guide always prided itself on being more than a fan magazine, with readers who were a far cry from those who read the other rags; writing such as this tends to confirm that assumption.

Dave Garroway's story is a sad one, and it's not just because one of the pioneers of television is virtually unknown today. He appeared on various media off and on through the years, hosting a science show on NET, several radio programs on both coasts, and occasional guest appearances in various series, including on Today show anniversaries. He was married three times; the first ended in divorce, the second (as we saw above) with the suicide of his wife in 1961; his third to an astronomer, not surprising given his interest in that field. He underwent heart surgery in 1982 and, suffering from complications as well as his continuing battle with depression, killed himself with a single blast from a shotgun later that year. He was only 69 years old. 

Here's a clip from the first episode of Today in January, 1952. And here is a clip from Garroway's last television appearance, on the 30th anniversary show, where he's reunited with his old Today partners, Jack Lescoulie and Frank Blair. And to learn more about him, I highly recommend Jodie Peeler's wonderful biography of Garroway, Peace.

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And now on to Gardner McKay. He was discovered by Dominick Dunne, who was at the time a producer at 20th Century Fox, and hired to star in a new series Dunne was co-producing, Adventures in Paradise. Standing an imposing 6'5", he cuts a figure that leads Life magazine, in a cover story, to dub him "the new Apollo." McKay considers himself to still be a rookie when it comes to acting—"I'm no real actor," he tells the unnamed interviewer; "Show me a two-page speech from 'Antigone' and I'd get sick."—but Dunne, who first spotted McKay reading a book of poetry in a coffee shop, says that though he was a nobody in Hollywood terms, "his attitude declared that he was somebody." Despite the criticism of his acting, McKay is unquestionably a star, receiving up to 3,000 pieces of fan mail a week, and is well-liked by the crew that services his series.

Adventures in Paradise is now in its third and final season, but McKay remains untouched by his celebrity; he still drives the same 1958 Chevy convertible he had before Paradise, and he has no press agent, no business manager. On his weekly salary of over $1,500, he has "a few blue chip stocks and a bank account." In 1961, "the future burns brightly" for Gardner McKay. 

Like Dave Garroway after Today, Gardner McKay's life will travel a different route after Adventures in Paradise ends, but unlike Garroway's, it has a happy ending. After the series ends, McKay declines to renew his contract with Fox and turns down a chance to co-star in a movie with Marilyn Monroe, who personally lobbied him to take the part. Giving up acting completely, McKay works in the Amazon for two years and spends time in France and Egypt before returning to Hawaii, where he finds new success as a writer*, publishing several novels, an autobiography, and numerous short stories, as well as writing plays (winning a Drama Critics Circle Award for "Sea Marks"). In addition, he serves for five years as the drama critic for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and teaches a writing class at UCLA.

*I remember once seeing an interview with him, perhaps on Today; he was plugging his latest book, possibly The Kinsmanand mentioned how at first people didn't believe he'd written it himself, until they realized the depth of detail with which he wrote about sailing.

A friend said that he always considered himself a writer rather than an actor, and added that "He hated the fact that he was known for that television series. It was not the professional or private path he wanted to take." Gardner McKay was 69, the same age as Dave Garroway, when he died of cancer, a man who by all appearances was able to write himself a happy ending.

And if you're interested, you can see the episode of Adventures in Paradise that played in this episode: a rerun of "The Big Surf."

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If you're of an age where you only remember Julie London as nurse Dixie McCall on Emergency, you don't know what you've been missing.

London, who's already had a successful career as a singer but looks to add acting to her repertoire, complains of her lack of roles in Hollywood: "Sometimes I think they tend to measure an actress's talents by her—uh—measurements. If the measurements go beyond a certain point, they figure she can't possibly act." London's measurements, the unnamed writer helpfully points out, are 5'3", 37-23-36.

London was formerly married to Jack Webb*; the marriage was a good one until the success of Dragnet, with which he became obsessed. (Don't get me wrong; I love Jack Webb, but what do you say about a man who's married to Julie London and becomes obsessed with a television show?) They divorce in 1953, and in 1959 she marries jazz musician Bobby Troup, who also starred in Emergency but is probably best known (as he should be) for writing the song "Route 66," which made a lot of money for both him and Nat King Cole, among others.

*Of course, the irony here is that Webb, who remained on good terms with London, would hire both her and Troup for Emergency. When it came to television, Webb apparently only cared about getting the right people.

Today, though she continues singing, she still waits for the right role. "All I really want," she says, "is what every other girl in this town wants—a really good script."

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Saturday starts with golf, ends with murder, and features beauty in-between. The golf comes from the Royal Birkdale Golf Course in Southport, England, where Wide World of Sports expands to two hours for the final round of the British Open, taped earlier in the day. (5:00 p.m. ET, ABC) Arnold Palmer is scheduled to join Jim Simpson for commentary on the final three holes, but he'll have to work hard to fit it in; Arnie's busy winning his second Open Championship (and first of two in a row), defeating Welch golfer Dai Rees by one shot. The beauty can be found in Miami Beach, where Germany's Marlene Schmidt* is crowned Miss Universe. (10:00 p.m., CBS). Johnny Carson is the emcee at the Miami Beach Convention Center, while the broadcast hosts are John Daly and Jayne Meadows. And the murder comes from the 1946 movie The Killers, one of the great film noirs of all time, starring Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, and Edmund O'Brien.

*Fun fact: Marlene Schmidt was the third of eight wives of Bronco star Ty Hardin.

's episode of Dennis the Menace (7:30 p.m., CBS) presents the long-suffering Mr. Wilson (Joseph Kearns) with yet another headache: a washed-out bridge leaves him trapped at a mountain campsite with Dennis and five other young boys. A profile of Kearns shows us another side of the actor, who was once a child actor himself. Now, however, he's a veteran character actor, worried that "the 24 inmates of a nursery school will find out that Mr. Wilson lives right across the street." And the house he lives in? It's a 2½ story soundproof home he designed and built around a 26-rank Wurlitzer pipe organ that was originally designed for Warner Brothers back in 1926 and which he delights in playing for guests.  

On Monday, the aforementioned Ty Harden appears with Clint Walker and Will Hutchins in a rare Cheyenne episode featuring all three of its stars (7:30 p.m., ABC), as they battle someone who doesn't want Cheyenne's cattle drive to reach its destination. Later, the irrepressible Spike Jones and his wife, singer Helen Grayco, return for a second season of hosting a summer replacement series, this time for Danny Thomas. Their guests for this first show are Bill Dana and Jack Jones. 

Stagecoach West (Tuesday, 9:00 p.m., ABC) is the first of a trio of obscure series that we're looking at this week; it's the first primetime starring role for Wayne Rogers, who, along with Robert Bray, operates a stagecoach in the Wyoming Territory. Tonight's episode features guest stars Pippa Scott and Warren Oats, along with Robert Vaughn, whose character has the perfectly Robert Vaughn-ish name Beaumont Butler Buell. Wonderfully smarmy, don't you think?

Remember Father Dowling Mysteries, the series starring Tom Bosley as a priest who solved murders in his spare time? (A priest told me once that he only wished he had that kind of free time; some days he barely had a chance to eat.) The series was based on the novels by Catholic author Ralph McInerny, but he wasn't the literary world's first crime-fighting prelate; before him, there was Father Brown*, the hero of G.K. Chesterton's short stories that mixed mystery and theology. Wednesday, we see an example of it in the 1954 movie The Detective (11:30 p.m., WCPO in Columbus), with Alec Guinness essaying the priestly role, and Peter Finch as the archcriminal Flambeau. 

*The current Father Brown series on BBC, starring Mark Williams, strays considerably from the moral theology with which Chesterton invested his stories.

Outlaws is a two-season Western, running between 1960 and 1962, starring Barton MacLane, Don Collier, and Wynn Pearce as U.S. Marshals patrolling the Oklahoma Territory in the latter part of the 19th Century. Despite the fact that the series focused on the lives of the outlaws rather than the lawmen, Thursday's episode (7:30 p.m., NBC) remains unusual in that none of the regular cast appear in it; this story of a cowhand-turned-outlaw is carried entirely by the guest cast, including Joe Maross as the badman. I must admit this is one of the many series with which I haven't previously been familiar until now.

Don Wilson, Jack Benny's longtime announcer, makes a rare straight acting appearance as an oil tycoon in Harrigan and Son (Friday, 8:00 p.m., ABC), a sitcom starring Pat O'Brien and Roger Perry as father-and-son attorneys. You'll be forgiven if you haven't heard on this one, either; it had a single-season run. Far more stimulating is the late movie on Dayton's WHIO, the 1949 adaptation of Ayn Rand's novel The Fountainhead, starring Gary Cooper as Howard Roarke, the uncompromising architect, and Patricia Neal as the woman who loves him.

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Finally, a couple of programs that epitomize the notion of television as a time capsule, and point out the importance of television preservation as an original document of cultural history.

The cover of George Lefferts'
collection of scripts from the show
We begin with NBC's series of occasional afternoon programs, Special For Woman, which returns on Tuesday for a six-week primetime run (10:00 p.m.). "Each taped drama," according to the program description, "deals with a problem faced by women in America," and concludes with a brief discussion led by NBC news reporter Pauline Frederick.* This week's episode, entitled "The Single Woman," presents the dilemma of Elisabeth Greenway (Barbara Baxley), who "has reached an age where she knows she ought to get married." She has a beau (Michael Tolan) ready and willing to tie the knot, but "Elisabeth just can't see her way clear to committing herself to him—or any man—for life." Although it's not mentioned in the description, she's also being wooed by a married man, played by Patrick O'Neal. Following the play, Frederick interviews psychiatrist Louis English.

*An example of the "women's stories" that Frederick complained about, prior to becoming NBC's U.N. correspondent. 

Here's a great reminder of the culture of the early 1960s, when marriage and a family is still considered the norm for women, and the stigma that's attached to being an unmarried woman—even the idea that she's not quite respectable. I wager that the phrase "old maid" isn't used nearly as much today as it was back then; now, we might think such an unmarried woman is just coming into her own today. As for her choices, does she choose boyfriend Michael Tolan, or is she content to be the "other woman" with Patrick O'Neal? And what role does the psychiatrist play in the discussion? Is he there to reassure women that the desire to remain single is not abnormal—or does he encourage them to confront their fear of commitment?*

*I cheated a bit, and skipped to the end of George Lefferts' collection of scripts from the show, which you can find at the Internet Archive; she chooses Michael Tolan. "I don't know when I'll be ready to marry you, Mikemaybe not for a long while. I need some time to think and maybe grow up a little more. But if you have the patience" Says Dr. English in the summary, "Finding the right man is a by-product of doing the things that you yourself enjoy." Go to page 89 for more.     

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This week's other blast from the past comes courtesy of CBS' Sunday morning religious series Look Up and Live (10:00 a.m.) that, with few adaptations, could be presented today. "The Police," based on the play by Polish writer Slawomir Mrozek, tells the story of a prison rapidly losing its reason for being. "All the other prisoners, convinced that they were living under 'the best system in the world,' have confessed their crimes against the state, received their pardons and gone home. Now there's only one prisoner left, and he too wants to confess. The Commissioner receives this news with a certain amount of regret."

Mrozek, often compared to the Absurdist playwright Eugène Ionesco, is a fascinating character himself. He was once an ardent Communist, praising Polish authorities for their persecution of religious leaders, and took part in demonstrations defaming Catholic priests. Following his defection from Poland in 1963, he became a harsh critic of Communism. The always-reliable Wikipedia offers this quote from him, explaining the change: "Being twenty years old, I was ready to accept any ideological proposition without looking a gift-horse in the mouth—as long as it was revolutionary. [. . .] I was lucky not to be born German say in 1913. I would have been a Hitlerite because the recruitment method was the same." "The Police" was published in 1958, bearing the marks of his growing skepticism of totalitarianism. I wonder what he'd think about the world of today? TV  

July 12, 2024

Around the dial

The actress Shelley Duvall died yesterday, aged 75, with a legion of fans and a resume that ran the gamut from Robert Altman movies to the television shows Faerie Tale Theatre and Tall Tales and Legends. We have two appreciations of her this week, from Terence at A Shroud of Thoughts and Trav S.D. at Travalanche.  

At The View from the Junkyard, Roger and Mike take on the Twilight Zone episode "The Long Morrow," and it isn't a pretty picture. TZ is in its fifth and final season, and it's far from the glory days of yore, yet there's still Robert Lansing and Mariette Hartley to look forward to, and that isn't bad.

Those Were the Days flashes back to the TV Guide cover from July 11, 1964, highlighting the anchormen about to cover the Republican National Convention in San Francisco. It's a bittersweet reminder not only of when political conventions were important, but when giants ruled the news.

Speaking of giants, at Comfort TV, David's journey through 1970s TV continues with Tuesday nights in 1974, and that night's shows cast giant footprints indeed: Happy Days, Marcus Welby, Good Times, M*A*S*H, Hawaii Five-O, Barnaby Jones, Adam-12, and Police Story. Not bad.

At Cult TV Blog, John flashes back to the very first assignment of Sapphire and Steel, a Twilight Zone-type story that gets the chance to dig much deeper into a strange world of disappearing people and mysterious protagonists; it's good enough to get you hooked into the rest of the series.

And at bare•bones e-zine, it's the latest entry in Jack's Hitchcock Project, "Completely Foolproof," Anthony Terpiloff's tenth-season story about a couple of grim and unlikeable people who, I think, get what's coming to them. It's a completely foolproof to wrap up this week's classic television review. TV  

July 8, 2024

What's on TV? Tuesday, July 11, 1967

Starting times of programs following the game are approximate." Well, that certainly was the case with today's baseball All-Star Game. As I mentioned on Saturday, the game, lasting 15 innings, ran for almost four hours, meaning that it didn't end until around 11:00 p.m. in the East, and NBC surely must have been tempted to pull a Heidi (even though that hadn't happened yet). You see, the game should have been over by 10:00 p.m., to be followed by the highly-touted and heavily-promoted documentary Khrushchev in Exile, a look at the former Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev, that included his first interview since his spectacular fall from power. Unfortunately, at 10:00 p.m., the time the game was entering the 12th inning, with three more innings (and over an hour) to go. The network was helpless to do anything about it, except go ahead and air Khrushchev in Exile after the game as planned, outside of primetime in the Eastern and Central time zones; it would have been around midnight in the East when it finished, which might have been fine for Thelonious Monk but doesn't do much for TV viewers, or TV ratings. It aired as scheduled in our Northern California edition, but without the local programming that preceded it. NBC aired the documentary again on July 31, this time at 8:00 p.m., leaving no room for runs, hits, or errors.

July 6, 2024

This week in TV Guide: July 8, 1967

ohn Edgar Hoover likes The F.B.I. I mean, he really likes The F.B.I. The longtime director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been a staunch supporter of the ABC series ever since its debut in 1965. Testifying before a House subcommittee, Hoover says that "I have received hundreds of letters from people saying that the inspector on the FBI series portrayed what they thought an FBI agent should portray." He added, "I want our agents to live up to that image."

The inspector in question is Lewis Erskine, portrayed by Efrem Zimbalist Jr., formerly of 77 Sunset Strip, and the subject of this week's unbylined cover story. Hoover is also a big fan of Zimbalist; he says that the actor "has captured the esprit de corps of the FBI and what it is like to be an FBI agent . . . He has helped to depict the dedication of law enforcement officers to duty, integrity, and law and order."

Zimbalist is in Washington. D.C. to film some background shots for the upcoming season of The F.B.I., and he receives a hero's welcome from the Bureau's agents, three of whom provide Zimbalist with an escort as he and a camera crew drive past the city's landmarks, establishing the proper atmosphere for the series. Following filming, Zimbalist will be ushered in to a brief private meeting with Hoover, as he has several times during the run of the series. Hoover calls Zimbalist "one of the team."

I've often spoken of my fondness for The F.B.I., particularly the opening credits from the series' first few seasons. Besides the memorable theme music, the opening provides a montage of Washington's most revered symbols: the Capitol building, the Washington Monument, the Supreme Court, and the Department of Justice building, the original home of the FBI. I swear, it makes you want to run out there and sign up. 

The F.B.I.
was more than a propaganda piece, though it certainly portrayed the Bureau in an exceptional light. At the time the FBI was indeed a highly respected department—referred to be CBS during a report on the JFK assassination as "almost never doubted"with agents that were thought by the public to be incorruptible. (That may not have reflected the reality then, and almost certainly doesn't now, but that was in fact the image, and we all know what wins out when perception clashes with reality.) But the series succeeded on its own merits, portraying hard-working law enforcement agents who rarely had the improbable flashes of brilliance and technological miracles of today's police procedural. Instead, they depended on the science of the day, combined with good, exhaustive investigative work. In place of quirky, stereotypical characters, the emphasis was on plot and detection, and the unquenchable thirst for justice.

My favorite story about The F.B.I. concerns a pair of columns written by the political satirist Art Buchwald. One mentions an FBI agent named Efrem Zumgard; the other tells the story of the first wiretap, when Hoover himself personally bugged the first phone call made by Alexander Graham Bell. ("When he said, 'Mr. Watson, come here—I want to see you,' the Bureau had the tape in 30 minutes.") Buchwald has Hoover registering in the hotel under the name of Zimbalist. Still makes me smile.

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For the first time in history, baseball's All-Star Game is being televised in prime-time. It's being played at the four-year-old Anaheim Stadium, home of the California Angels, and NBC is taking advantage of the time difference to start the game at 7:15 p.m. Eastern time, 4:15 p.m. on the West Coast.

Unfortunately, starting the game at that hour produces some unintended side-effects, chief among which is that the late-afternoon sun is right in the batter's eye for much of the game. The National League scores in the top of the second, the American League ties it up in the bottom of the sixth, and there it remains for awhile. Quite awhile, in fact. It isn't until Tony Perez' home run in the top of the 15th inning, almost four hours later, that the National League wins the snoozer, 2-1. The game sets records for most strikeouts (30, as every one of the game's twelve pitchers records at least one strikeout) and innings played, and is the first All-Star game in which every run is scored via home run. Had the game simply started at the usual time for a game being played in the Pacific time zone, it would have made it into prime time in the East anyway.

This year's game is the middle edition in a troika of dismal Midsummer "Classics"; last year's affair, played in the afternoon in St. Louis, featured a game-time temperature of 105° (turning the stadium, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, into a "torture chamber"), while the 1968 contest, another prime-time game played in the air-conditioned comfort of the Houston Astrodome (where the angle of the sun won't make a difference) will be yet another dull clash, won by the National League 1-0 via a first inning run scored on a double play. Except for 1969, when the game is played on Wednesday afternoon due to rain, the game will remain in prime-time thereon.

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Radziwill with Farley Granger in Laura
There's a note in the Doan Report that David Susskind has lined up a blockbuster for one of his two-hour ABC dramas next month: Princess Lee Radziwill, sister of Jacqueline Kennedy, will star in The Voice of the Turtle, John Van Druten's Broadway hit, adapted by Truman Capote. Now, as far as I can tell, "The Voice of the Turtle" never made it to television, and the story behind that might be interesting. What did make it to TV the next season was a disastrous adaptation of the mystery classic Laura, starring Radziwill (billed as Lee Bouvier, her maiden name), and adapted by Capote. To say that it was panned doesn't quite do it justice; it was absolutely trashed. "Slow moving," "Awkward material," "The wardrobe alone emerges unscathed," were some of the kinder comments.

Now that I think of it, I'm sure the story of how The Voice of the Turtle became Laura would be more interesting. I do know that Capote, a longtime friend of Radziwill, was the one who encouraged her to get into acting, talked Susskind into casting her, and wrote the script for her. Ironically, a repeat broadcast of Laura in June 1968 will postponed due to the assassination of Lee Radziwill's brother-in-law, Robert Kennedy.

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Doan also reports on high hopes that the bill authorizing creation of the Public Broadcasting Corporation, currently in Congress, will pass. It does, although not without some fireworks, and by 1969 we'll see the debut of PBS' most lasting legacy, Sesame Street.*

*Note: this is not the famous hearing in which Fred Rogers swayed Senator John Pastore's mind on funding for PBS; that happens in 1969.

Not everyone is a fan of government funding for education, however. California Governor Ronald Reagan, himself a former actor, comes out against the government entering into "direct competition with private television," and says that educational TV should be developed through closed-circuit systems, aka cable-TV. To this day, there's more than one TV critic, including yours truly, wondering what PBS offers today that can't be found elsewhere in the cable or streaming universe. Supporters of public broadcasting counter that, without government funding, the network has to rely on programming that attracts viewers, just like commercial networks, rather than providing the kind of niche programs that its supporters envisioned. 

Oh, by the way, although The Voice of the Turtle never made it as a TV play, it was made into a movie by Hollywood. One of its stars? None other than Ronald Reagan. But, as far as I know, the movie has never been shown on a PBS station.

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Alan Kogosowski today
No "Sullivan vs. The Palace" this week; Piccadilly Palace, Hollywood's summer replacement, is itself pre-empted on Saturday night by the Coaches' All-America all-star college football game, (6:30 p.m. PT, ABC). Ed's around, though (Sunday, 8:00 p.m., CBS), with a rerun featuring Tony Bennett, Nancy Sinatra, Count Basie and his orchestra, dancer-choreographer Peter Gennaro, comedienne Totie Fields and the comedy team of Hendra and Ullet, 13-year-old classical pianist Alan Kogosowski, and the acrobatic Mecners.

Neither my wife nor I were familiar with Alan Kogosowski, and between us we're pretty savvy when it comes to classical music. Naturally I wondered if this 13-year-old had ever amounted to anything, so of course I looked him up on the always-reliable Wikipedia. His story turns out to be quite interesting: he did indeed achieve some fame as a concert pianist, particularly in performing the works of Chopin, but perhaps more significant has been his work researching and treating carpal tunnel syndrome and repetitive strain injury. Who knew?

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Every year, we run into the staple of the summer television season, a collection of unsold pilots that have been packaged into a series that would run for 13 or so weeks. Monday night features Vacation Playhouse (8:00 p.m., CBS), a charming title which hides the faint odor of failure. Tonight's episode (from 1963!) stars Ethel Merman as Maggie Brown, the owner of a restaurant near a U.S. Navy base.  My recollection of these playhouse-type episodes is that it was easy to see why none of the pilots ever made it as regular series. Speaking of vacations, on The Tonight Show, Bob Newhart begins a three-week stint as guest host for Johnny Carson. (11:30 p.m., NBC) Must be nice.

One of the week's original programs is Spotlight (Tuesday, 8:30 p.m., CBS)a British import hosted by comedian Shelly Berman and singer Shani Wallis (and, for a couple of weeks, Benny Hill!) that serves as the replacement for The Red Skelton Hour. (Tom Jones also has a turn as host during the series' run, which would lead in turn to This Is Tom Jones a couple of years later.) Tonight's special guest is Englebert Humperdinck; it might be worth a watch, especially if you're trying to stay awake after that All-Star game. 

One of the week's few original programs is The Steve Allen Comedy Hour (Wednesday, 10:00 p.m., CBS), the summer replacement for The Danny Kaye Show, with Steve's wife Jayne Meadows, and guests Tim Conway, Lou Rawls, and Stiller and Meara. Interesting note is that the sketches are directed by Harvey Korman. As for the reruns, Otto Preminger plays Mr. Freeze in Batman (7:30 p.m., ABC), and country stars Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs (who recorded "The Ballad of Jed Clampett") play themselves in a Beverly Hillbilles episode that involves the Clampetts filming a soap commercial (8:30 p.m., CBS). And speaking of Batman, Yvonne Craig is one of the guests on The Joey Bishop Show (11:30 p.m., ABC). You're welcome.

Thursday's highlight, at least for me, is the ABC documentary series Summer Focus, a collection of reruns from the various ABC docuseries. Tonight's episode is "I Am a Soldier," originally shown in 1965 on the network's Saga of Western Man series. The program's focus is on Captain Theodore S. Danielsen, a company commander with the First Cavalry Division in Vietnam, who completed his second tour a year ago. As was the case with Alan Kogosowski I was curious about Capt. Danielsen; whenever I see one of these Vietnam documentaries, I always wonder what happened to the soldiers they profiled. In other words, did they make it back home? I'm happy to report that, in this case, he did, retiring from the U.S. Army as Lt. Colonel Danielsen, after 27 years of service, during which time he was the recipient of the Silver Star and three Bronze Stars with Valor. He died in 2011, aged 75,  survived by his wife of 46 years, two children, and many relatives, and highly respected by the men who served with and under him. Not to mention a grateful nation.

The Green Hornet goes off the air on Friday with a repeat of the conclusion to a two-part episode involving the operator of a crooked health-club (7:30 p.m., ABC). As I think I've mentioned before, The Green Hornet had trouble in balancing expectations: was it a campy superhero series, a la Batman? After all, it had the same producer, Bill Dozier, and there was even a crossover story between the two series. On the other hand, Hornet lacked the eccentric villains and big-name guest stars of Batman, and had a decidedly straighter tone to it. Regardless, I'm sorry it only lasted one season; having watched the complete series a couple of years ago, I thought it was a lot of fun. Could have used more Bruce Lee, though. A lot more.

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Joseph Finnigan has a wry article on the Golden Globes, which he calls "the tongue-in-cheek awards," based on their longtime reputation for awarding performances based on suspicious criteria. For example, at this point very few nominees appeared for the show, and those who did were invariably the winners, which led more than one person to suspect that the only way to induce stars to show up was to promise they would win. The show has had a successful run for several years as part of The Andy Williams Show, but its reputation would catch up with it in 1968, when the FCC ruled that this practice constituted "mis[leading] the public as to how the winners were determined," which in turn led NBC to drop coverage of the show until 1975. Sounds vaguely familiar, don't you think?

The strange thing about this article, though, is that the Golden Globes were held on February 15, nearly five months before this article ran, and the 1968 show wouldn't be broadcast at all due to the FCC ruling. Usually you want some kind of a hook when your piece is going to runand I can't imagine why anyone would have been interested in reading about the Golden Globes in July. Can you?

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MST3K alert: 12 to the Moon
(1960) Moon beings fear that earthmen on their first manned spaceship are bringing greed and destruction to their world. They plan to retaliate. Ken Clark, Michi Kobi. (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., KCRA in Sacramento.) This ponderous space/soap opera isn't nearly as weird as Design for Dreaming, the short accompanying it on the MST3K broadcast. Masked people dancing to the future in the middle of the General Motors Autorama? Now, tell me that isn't weird. Almost as weird as Mr. B Natural, right? TV  

July 5, 2024

Around the dial

Happy Fifth of July to all of you out there; hopefully, you're joining us with all your digits still intact, because you'll want to make sure you can maneuver your keyboard around the latest news from the week.

At Second Union, Chris looks at the 1983 telemovie Still the Beaver, and the subsequent revival series that ran, first on the Disney Channel and then on TBS, for four seasons from 1983 through 1989. It's a great in-depth look that covers everything you might want to know, including why it's never been released on DVD.

Paul revisits the 1981 miniseries East of Eden at Drunk TV, an adaptation of John Steinbeck's classic that's much more faithful than the iconic 1955 James Dean feature, and includes Jane Seymour (padding her resume as Queen of the Miniseries) as the delightfully evil villain. How does it stack up to the movie in entertainment terms? Read and find out.

Martin Mull died last week, aged 80, leaving behind many happy memories for his fans, and at A Shroud of Thoughts, Terence reviews Mull's long career, from his comedic songwriting in the 1970s to his unforgettable roles in the Mary Hartman universe, to his many appearances guest-starring in television and the movies. You can also read about his many roles in a tribute at Inner Toob.

At Television Obscurities, Robert has an excellent editorial on why YouTube is not suitable for preserving television. This is of particular interest to those of us involved in writing about the history of the medium, and considering how frustrating it can be dealing with the careless way in which the industry itself treats its history. While you're there, look at all of Robert's posts for July 1, as he celebrates "Lost TV Day 2024."

Television's New Frontier: the 1960s dips into the 1962 episodes of Naked City, one of my favorite police dramas. It does a very good job, particularly in the opening paragraphs, of describing what made Naked City different from other police shows of the era, as well as those procedurals we often have to suffer through today.

At Tales from the Junkyard, Roger and Mike compare notes on "Wish You Were Here," an Avengers episode that parodies The Prisoner, if you can believe that. The show may not be on its A game with this one, not that it would have been an easy task in the first place, but, unlike Mike, I still count myself a fan of The Avengers, so I'll give it a mulligan.

I've never seen Anatomy of a Murder in a theater, but I've seen it many times on television, which means I'm counting it here; this week, Rick looks back on it at Classic Film & TV Café and speculates that it might be the greatest courtroom drama ever. If you've never seen it, you'll be doing yourself a favor by checking out Jimmy Stewart's last Oscar-nominated performance.

For the first time in eleven years, John returns to the world of Spyder's Web at Cult TV Blog; the 1972 series tells the story of a secret government espionage unit (always a worthwhile subject), and features among its stars Anthony Ainley, so memorable as The Master on Doctor Who. It is, says John, of a kind with 1960s eccentric TV, which makes it worth a look.

David continues his Comfort TV look at his 50 favorite classic TV characters with Sabrina Duncan, the Charlie's Angel played by Kate Jackson. Though she may have been difficult in real life, there's no questioning the importance of her character to the success of Charlie's Angels; as David says, there was no coming back once she left.

Last week was the fiftieth anniversary of Bob Crane's murder (can it really be that long ago?), and at Bob Crane: Life & Legacy, the team looks back at that date, and takes the time to, once again, correct the malicious and false stories that always appear at these anniversaries. Hard to believe that Bob Crane has now been dead longer than he lived. TV  

July 3, 2024

If I ran the network, part 4

Recently I kicked off a new feature, "If I Ran the Network," a series of TV concepts that would never have made it to the small screen without network executives screwing them up. If you have similar ideas, please share them in the comments section; if I get enough, I'll use them to put together a complete prime-time lineup for the fictional HBC Network!

As ABC and CBS eventually discovered, a network has to have a late-night talk show in its lineup in order to achieve some level of credibility; the Fox network even kicked off its programming with one, The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers, a full six months before its primetime lineup debuted. The sad fact is that many of these shows were failures, in terms of ratings if not quality, and the even sadder fact is that we would be infinitely better off if we had old movies running in place of the "talk" shows that exist in late-night today. 

I don't say this because of any particular political content (note that, Guardian), but because today's shows have completely lost the art of conversation; there isn’t much talking, guests don’t stick around to engage in banter, and an hour isn’t much time to get a good conversation in anyway. Let’s face it; today’s shows are mostly for actors and singers to talk about their latest movies or albums, and for comedians to tell a few jokes. Everything’s been pre-screened, and the host isn’t much more than a glorified press agent setting the guests up for whatever it is they want to plug. Such has always been the case, to a point, but Carson and Paar and Cavett knew how to interview someone, rather than simply feed them lines. Perhaps more important, they knew how to listen.

So in developing the station's flagship late-night show, I had several criteria to keep in mind. First, the running time needed to be restored to the traditional 90 minutes; second, guests should be encouraged to remain for the entire show, taking part in the conversation; third, the show had to have a host that could carry the load—glib, knowledgeable, a good listener as well as talker, with the ability to not only interview guests but keep the conversation going, and able to handle serious interviews as well as light ones. A sardonic sense of humor was definitely a plus. That's not asking too much, is it?

Thus was the genesis of The Bobby Rivers Show. I enjoyed him on his VH-1 program Watch Bobby Rivers, and thought he'd be perfect for the kind of program I had in mind. Like Cavett, he had the ability to ask incisive questions; like Carson, he knew how to play off of his guests; like Paar, he knew the show would only be as good as the guests made it. He could puncture pomposity without being cruel, and didn't take himself too seriously. And he knew everyone. I thought that with a format similar to that used by, say, Graham Norton—no desk, guests sitting around in a way conducive to conversation—and a Tonight Show-style house band led by a Quincy Jones protégé, we'd have a hit on our hands. I'd kind of filed the idea away, but was reminded of it when he died last year, and I still think it would have been a terrific show.

After that, viewers need something to wind down, and to provide a contrast to Bobby Rivers, I propose a one-hour show called Q&A. Similar to the original format of Tom Snyder's Tomorrow, this would have been a one-on-one interview, appropriate to a 1:00 a.m. hour: no studio audience, no musical guests, and no set—just a black backdrop, illuminating only the host and the guest. And here's the twist: except for the introduction at the beginning of the show and the transitions going into and coming out of the commercial break, the camera would remain focused only on the guest. No reaction shots of the host, no mugging for the viewers. You might see that guest from two or three different angles; it wouldn't be a static shot, as if you were watching a security camera. But this would be all about the guest.

Obviously you'd need a special kind of host for a program like this, and I never did come up with someone I thought would really work, which is why Q&A probably would never have seen the light of day. (Airing at one in the morning, it wouldn't have seen the light anyway, but you know what I mean.) The obvious contemporary choice would have been someone like Charlie Rose, or Brian Lamb from C-SPAN's Booknotes. James Lipton might have been a good choice, but I don't think he could have been satisfied with not being seen on camera, and I've got other plans for him anyway. 

The problems with a late-night lineup like this should be obvious to you. Too boring, the network suits would have said. Nobody wants to think just before they go to sleep—they want personalities. In other words, these shows would have been too smart for viewers. And maybe they're right, but I don't think so. Late-night programs nowadays have a very narrow, niche audience; they're not mainstream, and they don't try to be. It's unfortunate, and that's why I think there would be an audience for them. We'd have to get someone other than Bobby Rivers, unfortunately; maybe we can check and see what Graham Norton is doing. TV  

July 1, 2024

What's on TV? Monday, July 5, 1965

What better for the Fifth of July than a little Monday Afternoon Baseball? The national television situation for baseball is a little complicated right now; 1965 is the first year in which cities with major league baseball teams are not blacked out of the Game of the Week; previously, those cities would only get games broadcast by their local teams. ABC is the national broadcaster for the Game of the Week, except for games by the Phillies and Yankees, who had their own television deals. (The Yankees were on CBS, since the network owned the team.) ABC's contract includes special games on Independence Day and Labor Day, and since the 4th falls on Sunday, the broadcast takes place on Monday, the public holiday. Considering the mess that exists today, what with regional sports networks and their carriage problems on cable systems, various blackout rules, and games spread across all kinds of streaming services, I'm not sure that we're in any better shape today. But then, I'm not sure the game's in very good shape today, either. The listings for today come from the Northern California edition.