Sunday, February 22, 2009

1971 TV Guide Fall Preview – The Comments

I don't really know what I had planned for these retrospective pieces about the TV Guide Fall Previews but this one at least drew a sufficient number of comments that I thought I could wring a second posting out of responding to the comments so here goes.

First up we have this from my good friend Ivan G. Shreve:

The New Dick Van Dyke Show managed to hang on for three seasons. In its last season, Van Dyke's character got a gig on a soap opera and with the exception of Lange, the supporting cast were pretty much scrapped and replaced with new faces.

As tragic as this may seem, I also remember being a fan of
The Chicago Teddy Bears. You're right about John Banner, he was the best thing on it.

Me: You're right about The New Dick Van Dyke Show. It did in fact run for three years rather than two. My memory problem on this show stems from the radical change in the show between the second and third seasons. As a result, in my mind – after 38 years of not really thinking about the show – the first and second seasons were condensed into a single season. The change in the show was really quite radical after all, going from a local talk show host in Phoenix to a soap opera actor in Los Angeles. What I do recall is that the Los Angeles season was far less enjoyable, for me at least, than the first two.

Looking at the Wikipedia article on the show, after writing the article I discovered a number of interesting things about things behind the scenes at the show. The show had drawn good ratings in the first season where it followed The Mary Tyler Moore Show but they were apparently lower than other shows on the night so the network moved it to Sunday night where it was placed between the revived Sandy Duncan Show and Mannix. The other shows on the night were Anna And The King with Samantha Eggar and Yul Brynner, and a little show called M*A*S*H. It wasn't exactly a strong night for CBS and ratings for The New Dick Van Dyke Show were worse than the previous season, low enough that under normal circumstances the show would have been cancelled. However, in order to lure Dick Van Dyke back to TV, CBS had given him a guaranteed three year contract, so instead of cancelling the show CBS totally recast the show except for Van Dyke, Hope Lange and Angela Powell (who played their daughter). Reportedly the ratings for the third season improved, but there was tension on the set. Carl Reiner, who had been reunited with Van Dyke as one of the writers on the show wrote an episode in which the daughter entered her parent's bedroom to find them making love. The network decided that such a story line was "incompatible with Van Dyke's family-friendly image." Reiner cried hypocrisy – after all CBS was airing All In The Family (starring Reiner's son Rob of course) – and vowed never to work for CBS again. The network was willing to renew the show but between Reiner quitting the show and his desire to get away from Los Angeles and back to Arizona, Dick Van Dyke refused to do a fourth season.

The Chicago Teddy Bears married a terrible idea with what mass of badly miscast actors. I mean really – Dean Jones as the owner of a speakeasy? John Banner as the uncle of both Jones and Art Metrano? The show was just barely funny even if you were just into your teens. I can hardly imagine an adult watching this – even a nostalgic adult almost forty years later.

Next up we have this snippet from Todd, who did a blog with the American TV Guide website until they discontinued those:

Gunsmoke and Bonanza were not the "only westerns left". Alias Smith and Jones was entering its second season.

Me: You're right of course. In my own defense, Alias Smith and Jones never aired in my (one station) part of Canada, so I've never actually seen the show, and the only time I think it ever came to my notice during the time it was running was when Peter Duel committed suicide. Now that's pretty morbid.

Next up this from Jeff Kingston Pierce, who is the publisher of The Rap Sheet blog:

What an absolutely fabulous idea! My own TV Guide collection begins in 1972, and I periodically feel the need to revisit some of my favorite old shows. 1971 was the year before I really became interested in U.S. network television (I was a bit young before that), but I remember fondly the NBC Mystery Movie, Longstreet, and Nichols (all the episodes of which I managed to acquire last year). I very much look forward to further installments of your blog series.

Me: First, let me just say how much I envy you the complete collection of Nichols. Like I said, my first big "TV crush" was on Margot Kidder in the low cut blouses that she wore from time to time on that show. Dare I say that those blouses made a lot out of a little?

One of the things that I dislike about the subsequent repackagings of the shows from the NBC Mystery Theater is the fact that they cut the Henry Mancini created theme. It was one of two that Mancini did that season – the other being the theme from Cade's County. In fact I have both on an album that Manicini released about that time. (You haven't lived till you've heard Mancini's instrumental version of the theme from Shaft!) Both themes were heavily reliant on Mancini fiddling around with an early model Moog synthesizer. I have a special fondness for the Cade's County theme myself (to the point where I'll probably embed a YouTube video of the theme music at the end of this post, and the Mystery Movie theme as well) as well as for the series. While it tended to be a bit pedestrian in terms of the sort of crimes being dealt with, the setting is unique and I suspect that our mutual friend Bill Crider might appreciate at least the concept.

With regard to the Mystery Movie format, each of the series had its own charms, whether it was the breezy sexy relationship between Stuart and Sally Macmillan that was reminiscent of Nick & Nora Charles, the fish out of water antics of Sam McCloud always accompanied by the hot-headed reactions of Chief Clifford (particularly when McCloud saves the day), or the apparently bumbling but actually brilliant Lieutenant Columbo. I think my favourite was always the MacMillan & Wife episodes because of the playfully sexy relationship between husband and wife, but really I loved them all.

Longstreet is another series that I have very fond although mostly vague memories of. The idea of a blind detective may seem a bit absurd today – after all look at the reaction to Blind Justice, the Stephen Bochco series that replaced NYPD Blue but didn't last too long. Back in 1971 when you had detectives combating various infirmities it seemed less absurd. The show was a cut above much of what was on the air at the time but had the bad fortune to be on ABC and the equally bad fortune to be running against Nichols and the CBS Tuesday Night Movie. It's not too surprising that about the only clips from the series I can find online are related to the appearances of Bruce Lee on the series, particularly the episode The Way Of The Intercepting Fist. For that reason – and probably that reason alone – the show is probably more likely to get a DVD release than most of the class of 1971. In fact there are DVDs out there; an authorized Japanese set and a rather expensive Region 0 set of "dubious" provenance. In fact, maybe they're the same disks – oh Ivan!

Next a brief comment from our friend Linda, who does the Yet Another Journal blog and a whole lot of others:

I'm surprised you didn't mention the Prime Time Access Rule, which began that year.

Me: I sort of, kind of did in a roundabout sort of way. I wrote, "In the United States the FCC required the networks to give an hour of what had previously been defined as primetime back to the local stations. The intention had been for the local stations to do their own local programming but what really happened was the birth of the syndication market – and not coincidentally a boost for the Canadian producers." That would be the Prime Time Access Rule, and as I said, for a time it represented a boon for Canadian producers and Canada's CTV network, who were able to defray the costs of shows that were classified as Canadian by selling them as part of syndication packages. The problem that I had was that while I was aware that the rule existed, the 1971 TV Guide didn't actually name it. Here's what the editorial from that issue says: "Perhaps the most important factor shaping the new season is the FCC rule cutting networks from three-and-a-half to three hours of prime-time programming each evening. This rule has sent stations scurrying to find material to fill the gap – and many of the shows they found are brand-new." There's no explanation of the actual name of the rule, although the impact is eminently clear. Incidentally, the Prime Time Access Rule was dropped in 1995, but the networks have not tried to reclaim the time, perhaps knowing that the stations that they don't actually owned themselves would laugh in their faces if they tried. This should serve as a cautionary note to any network boss (say Jeff Zucker) who even contemplates the idea of giving an hour a night or even a full day back to the affiliates – once you lose it you aren't going to get it back.

Finally we have the following from Mike Doran:

I have at least one copy of every TV GUIDE Fall Preview from the first one in 1953 up to the present day (Chicago editions mostly). They didn't start doing write-ups for individual shows until about 1959 or 60 - I'll have to go home and check for sure. Anyway, this is a whiz-bang idea; I'm looking forward to more.

Me: I envy you that collection. I'd love to see some of those early issues, particularly from the 1960s. I also envy the fact that you aren't surrounded by people saying "That's old, get rid of it," or "You don't use that anymore, get rid of it," or "The dog's tail tore the cover off of that one? Well throw it away." I just heard the last one about twenty minutes ago. And heaven forbid that they find out how much some copies sell for on eBay – it's all "Well why don't you sell it and get rid of it." People, at least the one's around me, understand collecting stamps or coins but apparently not collecting – or just keeping – old TV Guides.

My collection is hardly in the best shape. In fact I did have to throw away my first TV Guide – the 1966 edition with The Green Hornet, The Time Tunnels, Mission Impossible, Girl From U.N.C.L.E., The Monkees, and a little show called Star Trek (Spock was described as having "Beatle bangs") – simply because it was far too damaged from repeated reading, being looked at, general abuse in storage, and just being on the sort of paper that these magazines were printed on. Several of my issues don't have covers. And a number of them suffer from being in the hands of someone wasn't collecting when he (I) got them and did things like marking off shows that had been cancelled.

This problem of damage is a major reason why I am scanning the issues and burning them to DVD. Even though the OCR software that came with my All-In-One printer can provide some really funky results, it's still going to cut down on the number of times I'm going to open up those old magazines and make it much easier for me to find specific commentary from specific years. Right now I'm thinking about scanning and writing about one issue every two weeks, with (hopefully) a post like this one in the alternating weeks. That should make this a year-long project. A couple of disclaimers though. First, there are a few issues that I'm missing because I wasn't able to get the issue before they disappeared from the stores (I was never a subscriber). Second, after 1977 I'm dealing with the Canadian version of the magazine. That was the year that Walter Annenberg's Triangle Publications was forced by the Canadian government to sell the magazine or include more Canadian content – Annenberg sold. Initially there wasn't much difference between the US and Canadian versions beyond some Canadian shows and schedules showing up in the main part of the magazine. By the 1990s though there seems to be a total disconnect between the two magazines to the point where nothing in the two magazines was the same, even the actual format. The Canadian edition of TV Guide ceased publication in October 2006.

Next week: 1969, the year of Marcus Welby, The Brady Bunch, and a little known show that was about twenty years before its time.

Meanwhile here's Henry Mancini's Cade's County theme from what appears to be a French dub of the show (which is titled Sam Cade for the French audience).

And here's Mancini's NBC Mystery Movie theme from the second season, when Universal decided to expand the rotation to four sets of characters and added Hec Ramsey (with Richard Boone). When I get to 1972 I have some rather interesting thoughts on Hec Ramsey.

1 comment:

guides costarica said...

this site is excellent and the guides are excellent throughout the network sought and none had information that this site has enabled me congratulate very good information is very varied and interesting is great.