Sunday, March 08, 2009

TV Guide Fall Preview 1969 – The Comments

I was really rather happy with the way that my first post on the TV Guide Fall Previews was received in terms of comments, and the second post did almost as well. One of the things I've been able to do is fill in the holes in the schedule that opened up with the first cancellations. One of the weaknesses of Wikipedia is that it doesn't show the replacement shows for most of the early seasons – all that is shown is the original fall schedule. With that said, let's turn to those comments, starting first with the response to my request for help in filling in the holes in the 1969 line-up.

From Mike Doran:
ABC Wednesday at 10 (9 central): THE ENGELBERT HUMPERDINCK SHOW, from Sir Lew Grade (in an attempt to make Tom Jones's lightning strike twice; it didn't). Hope this helps.

Mike, it certainly did help. I had vague memories of the Humperdinck show from my youth but could never remember – or didn't know – if it was a syndicated show or a network program. And yeah, the idea that Humperdinck would equal Tom Jones in popularity on TV – or just about any other medium – was a vain one. He had and has an excellent voice, but he certainly has none of the dynamism of the Welshman. Then or now. Of course, as Mike pointed out in another post, being up against Hawaii Five-0 in the time slot didn't help either Humperdinck or the NBC show in the time slot, Then Came Bronson.

Mentioning Mr. Humperdinck I reminds me of something I heard a few weeks ago. Someone in the media – a younger person, though I can't remember if it was on radio TV or a podcast – mentioned Englebert Humperdinck in some context and made a comment about why someone would make up such an absurd name. All of which made me despair, yet again, of the education of American youth, particularly in music. For as anyone with even a little knowledge of classical music would know, Engelbert Humperdinck (the original) was a classical composer and contemporary of Richard Wagner. In fact he taught music to Wagner's son Siegfried. His most famous composition is the opera Hansel und Gretel. As for the name Engelbert Humperdinck, he took it at the suggestion of his manager Gordon Mills who thought that Arnold Dorsey (the singer's real name) wasn't "arresting" enough. Mills also renamed a singer called Tom Woodward after the title character of a then popular movie: Tom Jones.

Mike Doran supplies the name of the second ABC show I was having trouble locating: When ABC dropped THE SURVIVORS in midseason, George Hamilton apparently had a pay-or-play with the studio or the network or somebody, so he went right into PARIS 7000, which got IT TAKES A THIEF's slot on Thursday. This was a by-the-numbers adventure show from the Universal mill, which everybody forgot about as soon as it aired.

You're not kidding about people forgetting it; there isn't even a mention of the show in Wikipedia. There were only ten episodes of the show, which featured Hamilton as a State Department trouble shooter in Paris, who worked with an aide played by screen veteran Gene Raymond and a contact in the gendarmes, played by Jacques Aubuchon (who despite the name was born in Fitchburg Massachusetts).

Also from Mike Doran:
A couple of points: as far as ABC was concerned THE GHOST & MRS. MUIR was new – for them (its first season was on NBC). Alos interesting to see the push for Joey Bishop's late night show - which Bishop quit cold in a matter of weeks, paving the way for Dick Cavett at the turn of the year. Oh, and that was William Schallert doing the v.o. on that promo piece, right?

It certainly sounds like Schallert. Not surprising really; Schallert has been doing voice-over work for most of his career.

Being a Canadian I either didn't remember or (more likely) was only vaguely aware that The Ghost & Mrs. Muir debuted on NBC before going over to ABC. I do have extremely fond memories of the series. There was definite chemistry between Hope Lange and Edward Mulhare, and the acting was just as strong as might be expected from actors of their calibre.

And still more from Mike:
Finally, I believe the credit for the famous/notorious "CBS Rural Purge" of 1970 correctly goes not to Fred Silverman but to his nominal boss at the network, President Robert Wood. The details are in Les Brown's book TELEVISION: THE BUSINESS BEHIND THE BOX, which I read when it first came out years ago. Here's the digest version: Wood was one of the first TV execs to buy into demographics in a big way. He was convinced that to forge ahead in the ratings, CBS needed to lose the shows and stars who appealed to older audiences (harder to sell to ad agencies). This was a surprisingly easy sell to CBS's supreme commander, William Paley, who, it turns out, was a snob who was always somewhat embarrassed by the corny rural comedies (remember, it was Paley who ordered the cancellation of the still-popular GILLIGAN'S ISLAND to keep GUNSMOKE on). Wood then forced the de-corning, along with the cashiering of Jackie Gleason and Red Skelton, on CBS's programming chief Mike Dann, who then quit, making way for Silverman (I'm oversimpifying here, but you get the idea). That's all I've got right now ("Isn't that enough?"), which means I'll probably think of something else as soon as I hit Publish.

As it happens I am currently re-reading, yet again, Robert Metz's Reflections In A Bloodshot Eye (it's what I currently take to the bathroom when I'm going to be there for a while). The book isn't one of my favourites; it has plenty of errors and even more interpretations – usually second guessing CBS and Bill Paley – and its picture of Frank Stanton as a poor executive doesn't seem to jibe with current thought on the subject. That said, he certainly does credit Robert Wood with the important aspects of "the rural purge," starting with the end of the Red Skelton and Jackie Gleason shows – losing Petticoat Junction was inevitable following Bea Benaderet's death though they worked mightily to resuscitate it – and gives him the credit for "de-cornifying" the network. Meanwhile Silverman – who Metz usually referred to using the diminutive "Freddy" (which Silverman hates) – is barely mentioned, and not at all in connection with many of the shows he is described in most sources as "masterminding." In her biography of Paley, In All His Glory, Sally Bedel Smith gives a little more credit to Silverman, describing him as "the prime architect of the schedule, along with wood..." Still Wood is credited with making the initial moves to "Get the wrinkles out of the face of the network without eroding our popularity," while Mike Dann was still in charge of programming and therefore while Silverman wasn't in that strong a position to accomplish much.

The interesting thing about Silverman as an advocate of demographics is of course that when he was head of his own production company, his shows skewed older; shows like Jake & The Fatman, The Father Dowling Mysteries, In The Heat Of The Night, Diagnosis Murder, the Perry Mason TV movies with Raymond Burr, and of course Abe Simpson's favourite show, Matlock.

That Paley was a snob, despite his birth in the Chicago neighbourhood known as "Back of the Yards," isn't any secret; his famous "golden gut" once failed him over a period piece about a wealthy family – he couldn't get his mind around the fact that it's hard to sell a show about people with a lot of servants. Still I think that if Mike Dann's 1970-71 line-up had been more successful – if he hadn't been forced to rely on gimmicks and "hiding" shows that weren't working (like Tim Conway's variety show) behind big events in order to beat NBC in the yearly ratings – Paley would probably have been willing to running with Dann's vision at least for a little while longer. Or maybe not; this was William Paley we're talking about after all. Paley was notoriously fickle when it came to executives. He'd have favourites for a while and then find something wanting and dispose of him (always a him) – not unlike the way he behaved with his women.

Next up, a comment from my friend The Real Sam Johnson:
I really wanted to comment about your first TV Guide post. However, I've had major time constraints lately which take me away from everything. What I wanted to say for that one was the fact that I actually remember having that issue as a kid. It was interesting to see how the magazine would as always describe the show, but never really did any handicapping or critiquing of the show. If we were to go by how bad some of the shows were, Survivors would have been gone sooner than later.

That's a major thing about TV Guide, particularly in this period. The magazine's focus was promotional rather than critical at least in the Fall Previews. TV Guide did have critics available, most notably Cleveland Amory, and they did do reviews, but not in the preview issues. I suppose that in the days before VCRs became more available outside of the industry, it might not have been very easy to review shows before they aired. One of the huge advantages that (professional) critics today have over their counterparts forty years ago is that they are being actively courted by producers and the networks in this increasingly competitive marketplace, and that technology in the form of the DVD screener makes that increasingly feasible (doesn't do me much good though – they don't court me).

In later years there seemed to have been a greater critical aspect to the fall previews. At least that was the case in the Canadian editions of the magazine, although they often shared little more than the title with the American magazine. By the last Canadian editions they included "what works" and "what doesn't work" in the previews of shows. Of course by the time of those last Canadian editions, the pictures were very large and the writing was very small...and I'm not talking about the size of the print.

Finishing up, I'm including a couple of YouTube clips of themes from the 1969-70 season. I really like doing these where I have the material, and would like to include a well known show and then something that is pretty obscure from each season. First off is one that is fairly well known, from a show that had a good run, Room 222.

And then there's this relative obscurity (really used only because the real obscurities I wanted to usehad their embedding disabled) The Bill Cosby Show. Proof - if any were really needed as to why Bill Cosby shouldn't be allowed to sing, even if the music is by Quincy Jones. Especially if the music is by Quincy Jones.

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