Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Who Does The PTC Hate Now

It's been a while since I've written one of these PTC pieces, and there's a reason. They make me ill. Oh, I don't mean that I want to vomit when writing one or anything like that (most of the time at least), but I usually end up spending too much time on them - because there's only a short length of time that I can look at their site - and feeling that my time could have been spent in so many more productive pursuits...like having a nap or picking lint out of my navel. At times like this it's even worse because while I clearly don't agree with the PTC, their methods, or their views on what is and isn't acceptable on television today, I have to confess that there are times when I sort of agree with what they're saying; there are shows out there with content that I find objectionable, and that I think would be better if they were in a later time slot. The difference is that if there's something that I don't like or find objectionable, I say that I don't like it and find it objectionable; I make no effort to impose my views on you or anyone else. The PTC in their neverending, and increasingly irrelevant and unsuccessful efforts to become America's national nanny not only tells you that they don't like something and find it objectionable but claim to speak for you. So let me make it clear, right now, that I don't like the PTC and I find them objectionable.

The big thing of course – and the reason why I'm writing this – is that the PTC has fired up the "big complaint machine" to go after one of the organization's favourite targets, Seth McFarland and Family Guy and the March 8th episode of the show in particular. A piece headlined Fox's Family Guy Spreads Filth on YOUR Airwaves on the PTC website leads directly to their pre-written email complaint set up. All you have to do is fill in your name, address and email and click the "Sign & Submit FCC Complaint" button. You don't even have to inconvenience yourself by watching the episode, or even reading the content that "you," through the medium of the PTC, are complaining about. There is a link to an article (which is filled with the usual level of invective from the PTC, and includes words such as "showered audiences in filth," "pump their sewage into YOUR living room," and "shows that corrupt YOUR kids and YOUR culture") and documentation in the letter that "you" are sending to the FCC, but the way the letter is laid out, the documentation is hidden unless you deliberately scroll down on that part of the page. In other words you don't actually have to know what you're complaining about in order to complain about it. And it is entirely possible that a lot of them don't.

So what is the PTC complaining about? Well here's the text of the documentation part of the PTC article:

In one scene, husband Peter lies in bed, his naked rear exposed. A horse enters and licks Peter's rear, as Peter moans in pleasure. "Mmm, what made you come around, Lois? I love you so much. I love you so much, Lois," Peter groans. The FCC has the DUTY to enforce the law and fine Fox for this gross violation of broadcast decency standards.

Among other atrocities in the episode, Peter warns his family that "some of the milk in the fridge is not milk, it's horse sperm," whereupon Baby Stewie eats cereal covered with the "milk"; Peter's gay lover greets him with news that he has arranged a gay "eleven-way" orgy; and Peter helps his son Chris with math homework:

"One trick I used to use is turning things into a word problem. For example, if there are three glory holes in the bathroom at the club and 28 guys at the circuit party. How many rotations of guys will it take before everybody's had a turn? Nine, with a remainder of Brent…Brent can't fit in the glory hole, and that's why we all like Brent."

Okay, so the PTC wants the FCC to fine or sanction FOX for this show. The question is what do they find to be actionable in the scenes cited in their complaint? As far as I can tell the answer is that there is nothing. According to their website the FCC is, by law, charged with preventing the broadcast of obscene material and enforcing the prohibition against indecent or profane material between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. Material that would be described as obscene according to the FCC definition. The FCC regulates "obscene, indecent, or profane" material and based on the FCC definitions it seems to me that the material cited by the Council does not meet the measure that the FCC has set for obscenity or indecency. Of course that's never stopped the PTC from filing complaints with the FCC in the past, and indeed the FCC has in the recent past – particularly during Kevin Martin's term as chairman – upheld complaints filed by the PTC and fined stations for material which previous commissions had either not found obscene or on which the commission had decided not to rule; nudity on NYPD Blue comes to mind immediately.

That isn't to say that the show isn't offensive to a lot of people. If I were Gay I probably wouldn't appreciate homosexuality being depicted as a lifestyle of anonymous sexual encounters – the reference to "glory holes" – or to promiscuous sexual behaviour – the "eleven way orgy." (I personally am offended that people named "Brent" are depicted as Gay men who are too large to fit through a "glory hole." I for one am not Gay. ;-) ) I'm not even going to touch on the question of the possibility that Stewie was eating cereal with horse semen beyond saying that based on consistency, not to mention taste, only a total moron would not know the difference between the two. However being offended by a show isn't justification for levying a fine on the show; it is justification for not watching the show.

Tied with their FCC complaint is a post in the PTC's TV Trends column called PTC To News Media: "Why Are You Not?" The title comes from a quote by Thoreau and refers to his conversation with Emerson when Thoreau was jailed over his refusal to pay his taxes in opposition to the Mexican War – Emerson: "Henry, why are you here?" Thoreau: "Why are you not?" It is more than a little incongruous for them to use that quote from Thoreau to attack the media in a battle to get government to issue a punitive fine on an issue of censorship, but then the PTC has shown any real understanding of irony. The gist of the column is that the news that the PTC was filing a complaint against FOX and The Family Guy episode was not reported "fairly." This seems to mean in a manner that was supportive of the PTC's aims and goals or failing that, neutral. According to the PTC there were a few news sources that "reported the PTC's request for enforcement of existing broadcast decency laws in a straightforward manner," including Broadcast & Cable, TVNewsday, and Communications Daily. It's worth noting that the outlets cited are all sites that report the news without commentary. And the PTC's complaint qualifies as news. But just because it is news does not mean that people don't have opinions on the subject and should not express them.

The PTC doesn't see it that way of course: "In fact, the much [sic] of the media's coverage was squarely in favor of Family Guy's harmful and offensive content – and took the opportunity to attack the PTC." But the PTC only cites five websites that were, "squarely in favor" and who taking "the opportunity to attack the PTC." The first is "The Hollywood Reporter's James Hibberd." One might assume means that Hibberd writes news articles for the trade paper, but in fact he does a blog for the Reporter website where he not only reports the news but often states his own opinion. Hibberd's article is not long but is ever so slightly mocking of the PTC, which is not unusual for him. (He most recently wrote an article on the PTC's outrage at the self-mastectomy scene in Nip/Tuck which is a cogent dismissal of the PTC and deserves to be read.) In this particular case Hibberd's sins are mocking PTC president Tim Winter – "there's nothing hotter than PTC president Tim Winter talking about graphic TV content" – then sneering (apparently one can sneer in print) "I know. I can't believe I missed Family Guy last week either" after running the PTC's own description of the episode objectionable content in the episode. Worst of all he quotes an interview from The Advocate in which Seth MacFarlane expresses his opinion of the PTC:

Oh, yeah. That's like getting hate mail from Hitler. They're literally terrible human beings. I've read their newsletter, I've visited their website, and they're just rotten to the core. For an organization that prides itself on Christian values – I mean, I'm an atheist, so what do I know? – they spend their entire day hating people. They can all suck my dick as far as I'm concerned.

They also object to Bob Sassone of TV Squad. For those who don't know, Bob has been a TV Squad blogger practically from the beginning of the site. He reviews TV shows and comments on news items. In short he is paid to express his opinions. In this particular article he wrote, "Actually, I was kinda shocked by the episode myself, but I'm always shocked by episodes of Family Guy. That's what makes it funny." That was enough to get him mentioned by the PTC. Celebrity gossip blogger and "self-proclaimed 'queen of all media'" Perez Hilton, who is in the business of expressing opinions, was also mentioned. The PTC said that in his article Hilton, "shrugged off the episode's content in his first sentence: 'Bestiality, orgies and babies eating sperm, oh my!'" and "went on to call the PTC's efforts "a waste of energy." Like Hibberd, Hilton uses the MacFarlane quote and repeats it (using the royal "we"), "The Parents Television Council can suck our dick!!!!"

Then there's what the PTC calls the "infinitely ignorable LA Rag Mag;" not really a "mag" or a "rag," just a website. According to the PTC the site "vomited forth the most vitriol" when describing the PTC as "some crazy Christian organization" with "1.3 million freedom hating members." They also objected to the opinion, expressed by the site, that, "We saw this episode and thought it was one of the funniest episodes we had ever seen. Yes, we did gasp at the sperm bottle consumption and the gay orgy scene." While the LA Rag Mag was factually incorrect in describing the PTC as "some crazy Christian organization" – the PTC is socially conservative but non-denominational – they do have every right to express their opinion that the PTC is "freedom hating." The LA Rag Mag also uses the MacFarlane's "objectionable" quote from The Advocate.

Perhaps the most puzzling reaction is to The Advocate because its article is perhaps the most balanced that the PTC cites. It is not given to opinion, supposedly what the PTC wants, with the PTC's complaint reported "in a straightforward manner." However they did offer MacFarlane's quote as a comment from the other side, which was enough – in the PTC's mind – to put The Advocate in the enemy camp, "implicitly defending Family Guy's offensive depictions of bestiality and babies eating sperm as 'off-the-wall animated comedy.'" But after declaring The Advocate to be the enemy they spend an entire paragraph being bewildered as to why they don't side with the PTC: "The Advocate's opposition to the PTC is odd, given that the Parents Television Council is not an anti-gay organization....The PTC's concern is solely that of protecting children from all graphic sexual content on TV, regardless of the genders or orientations of the individuals involved. Surely, gay parents and families are just as concerned about their children being exposed to graphic and gratuitous sexual content as are heterosexual parents."

Having "proven" that their FCC complaint against The Family Guy was not properly reported because a few outlets whose work frequently involves opinions said that they didn't see anything actionable about the episode, and dared to quote an interview by Seth MacFarlane in which he expressed an opinion of the PTC, the group turns to motive. And here is where they really seem to go off the deep end. Citing a pair of articles where the TV Trends writer "proved" that America's TV critics were "completely out of touch with the beliefs of average Americans" (articles which I examined and attempted to debunk in an earlier post) the writer then attempts to explain why members of the news media don't "properly" report on the PTC's complaint against The Family Guy. The media, they say, suffer from the "same defect" – they are totally out of touch with the beliefs of "average Americans." Their full explanation has to be read to be believed (the use of boldface here is mine; if I'm reading this right, the PTC is accusing the defenders of Seth MacFarlane of somehow benefitting financially as a result of defending him):

But what is truly of concern is this: those in the media are so invested emotionally (and perhaps financially) in defending Seth MacFarlane that none of them shows even the slightest concern about – or even interest in discussing -- the content of Family Guy itself.

The question must be asked: where are the reflective and intellectual qualities with which the nation's journalists are supposedly invested? Where is the news media willing to "speak truth to power," when the "power" is a multi-million-dollar Seth MacFarlane franchise? Is it truly the case that not a single one of these reporters believed that there is anything offensive in showing babies eating horse sperm on a Sunday night cartoon? Do none of America's media commentators believe there is anything indecent about describing "a gay eleven-way" in a show on at 8:00 p.m.? Are there no mainstream bloggers who think that mocking deaf children as "signing frantically" as they die is at all problematic? Is there nothing in this episode which any journalist, critic, or blogger found even mildly offensive or worthy of concern? Family Guy's doesn't content bother any of them? Really?

I am not a fan of The Family Guy. I don't watch the show and frankly some of the things that are described by both mainstream critics and bloggers were enough to persuade me that this show isn't for me. And yet I still defend it. In this case I defend it because even though the material may be offensive to some, it doesn't seem to me to meet any of the standards set by the FCC for censure, just as the episode of Las Vegas that they complained about to the FCC didn't seem to me to meet those standards. Mostly I defend it because this is a case of a small minority trying to decide what all other Americans should be allowed to watch. If every one of the PTC's alleged 1.3 million members were to sign a complaint form they would still be less than one-fifth of the 7.17 million people who watched that episode of Family Guy and quite clearly were not offended by the show, but of course there is no medium for them to make their case.

More and more I have come to regard the PTC as the schoolyard bully who when challenged complains that he is being bullied. There is no doubt that the PTC does try to bully producers, advertisers, networks, TV critics, the media, and in a way even the public it claims to serve. In the case of critics and the media, the organization makes the claim that they are out of touch with the beliefs of "average Americans" which is why the TV critic is a disappearing breed, while those in the media who don't cover the PTC and their actions (specifically their FCC complaints) in a manner that the PTC wants them to then it is the media who "refuses to speak truth to power" that does the work of the evil Seth MacFarlane and presumably (by logicl extension) other producers and shows that the PTC finds objectionable in silencing or ridiculing the PTC before the public. And yet surely if the PTC really did represent the views of "average Americans" they would have more members and the audiences for shows that the PTC finds objectionable, like Family Guy, would decline rather than staying stable or growing. If the PTC is really representing the views of "average Americans" then why isn't their membership larger than the viewership of Family Guy? My conclusion is that they represent only themselves and that while average Americans may be concerned with sex and violence on TV their definitions of what is objectionable are radically different from the puritanical views of the PTC leadership and their members and that real average Americans are dealing with the situation on their own without the "help" of the PTC and without using the organizations "big complaint machine." But what do I know – I'm just a not particularly average Canadian.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sorry Folks

I was hoping to get 1972-73 posted tonight but I was working on something else for the blog and then tonight I've been nursing - unsuccessfully - a nasty headache. '72-73 will either be out Monday night or next weekend (more likely really), with my other project to follow. And who knows, I might get around to reviewing something which is what this whole thing was meant to be about. Wasn't it?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The PTC Will Hate This

I came across this on Mark Evanier's brilliant blog News From Me and thought that it was absolutely brilliant, not to mention hilarious. The background, as provided by the original poster on YouTube – Videoholic50sthru70s – is this. The bit was shot in 1975 when the Family Viewing Hour was instituted by the FCC. This forced All In The Family to be moved to Monday nights at 9 p.m. Eastern from its previous Saturday at 8 p.m. time slot. As Videoholic50sthru70s puts it in his write-up on YouTube, "The cast of All in the Family did a little in-house "tribute" to the Family Viewing our, with their new "1975 version" of the show's opening theme song...and here it is!" It's a great take on TV in 1975, particularly the way Rob and Sally are dressed. It's almost like they're FCC commissioners! You can see the puckish gleam in Carroll O'Connor's eye as he does this.

Given that the Parents Television council clings to the belief that the Family Viewing Hour still exists and indeed should be expanded to cover every hour of the day on every television delivery system that exists or can be imagined, and given that some (if not all) of the people who work for the FCC believe that All In The Family marked the slide of Television from innocent, family friendly entertainment medium to cesspool of depravity, I'm sure that they'll just hate this. Me? I think it's bloody brilliant.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

TV Guide Fall Preview 1970 – The Comments

First up we have Mike Doran, helping to fill in some of the holes that I had in the ABC and CBS line-ups:

I can't call NBC's midseason moves to mind readily (I'll look them up when I get home), but here are the others: CBS replaced Tim Conway's hour with Jackie Gleason repeats from the few years before - most if not all Honeymooners. As for ABC, Lawrence Welk moved up an hour, and Pearl Bailey came in to take his old spot. With the other spots you mention, ABC decided to get a jump on the Prime Time Access Rule by leaving those timeslots open - giving the stations an hour on Sunday and 90 minutes on Saturday.

The Gleason repeats were all hour long Honeymooners from episodes he did in the late 1960s. These colour Honeymooners are nowhere near as well known as the half-hour episodes from the 1950s although the episodes are available on DVD from MPI Home Video and air on American Life TV in the US. I couldn't imagine colour working very well with The Honeymooners but that's probably because the shows I remember are the "classic 39" and the addition of colour makes the Kramden's apartment look somehow less squalid and depressing.

These days it is difficult to imagine a network not programming time that they had a right to, even if it is with reruns. The networks hold onto Saturday nights with a death grip in just this fashion, so it is a bit surprising that ABC would actually give the affiliates two and a half hours even with the Prime Time Access Rule coming into force. Then again that was ABC we're talking about, and not at the height of the network's popularity.

I would like to put in a word for THE MOST DEADLY GAME, which may have been the most snakebitten show in recent TV history. The original female lead was supposed to be Inger Stevens, but her unexpected death knocked things off the rails. Yvette Mimieux came on at literally the last minute to try to keep it going, but the premiere had to be delayed to late October, by which time GAME never had a chance.

I think that snakebitten is an accurate description, although whether it would have lasted longer than it did if everything had gone according to plan is questionable; it was going up against Mary Tyler Moore and the first half-hour of Mannix on CBS and the Saturday Night Movie on NBC. The show had a reasonably strong cast with Ralph Bellamy and George Maharis. Arguably Mimieux might have been more famous than Inger Stevens (although Stevens had been in some pretty good movies after she left her first TV series, The Farmer's Daughter, including Hang 'em High, Five Card Stud, and Madigan) which has to be considered an asset for the series.

One thing that I find interesting is the reluctance of TV to take a failed idea and try to tweak it and remake it into something better; in other words recycling their failures. This is a prime example of a show that could be tweaked a bit and be made into something that works. One could make "Mr. Arcane" (the Ralph Bellamy character) very mysterious – really living up to his name – while his ward (Mimieux's character) and her origins would be only slightly less mysterious. That would leave the Maharis character as an "ordinary" guy who splits his time between working on the cases that are brought to them – possibly cases touching on the "unexplained" or supernatural – and trying to discover the truth about his partners. But of course that's just the bare bones of a concept and there are probably plenty of reasons why it wouldn't work.

In a second comment Mike added:

I finally got around to looking up those NBC replacements, and the pattern set by the other two nets holds. CBS used Gleason reruns, already in house; ABC gave large chunks of time back to the local stations; and NBC simply started their Saturday night movie a half-hour earlier - all in anticipation of the Prime-Time Access Rule , which didn't officially kick in until fall (also known as the coward's way out). Meanwhile, BRACKEN'S WORLD gave way to STRANGE REPORT, a Sir Lew Grade product that had been sitting on NBC's shelf for a couple of years. STRANGE was a detective show starring Sir Anthony Quayle as a scientific sleuth in London. By 1971, Quayle was starring on Broadway in SLEUTH, appropriately enough, which might have been a factor in NBC's decision to finally put it on.

Strange Report had as one of its co-stars Anneke Wills, who dedicated Doctor Who fans might remember as Polly, one of The Doctor's companions. She debuted in The War Machines during Hartnell's time as The Doctor, and left in the first year of the Patrick Troughton's run in the role. Most of her episodes are missing but she once described her take on Polly was that she'd react to any threat by doing the sensible thing and running away. Wills was married to Michael Gough (today best known as Alfred in the Tim Burton-Joel Schumacher Batman movies), who worked with Anthony Quayle in Sarabande For Dead Lovers and QB VII.

The basic hook of Bracken's World – a show which I vaguely remember today – was that one never actually saw Bracken but his orders were generally filtered through the medium of his secretary, played by triple Oscar nominee Eleanor Parker. When the show debuted for its second season this conceit – and Parker – was gone and Bracken was seen, played by Leslie Nielsen. It probably wasn't what killed the show but it certainly didn't help it.

One question: are you moving forward or backward or both in this series? My strongest period for this knowledge is the early-to-mid 60s; my resources start to thin out around 1976.

Forward. 1969 was the earliest Fall Preview issue that I still have (there were earlier ones but in the nature of such ephemera were too damaged to retain). I'm going to run into some troubles the closer I get to modern times. I was never a subscriber to the magazine and towards the end of the Canadian edition's publication history the stores never seemed to get many copies of the Fall Preview issues, and they seemed to disappear from the stores almost as soon as they were put out. Maybe someday I'll get the opportunity to fill in and improve my collection.

And here's a comment from our old friend Sam Johnson:

I am diggin' on these TV guide recaps, Brent. I've always wanted to do a breakdown of Saturday morning cartoons from 1960 up until around the early Ninties kind of like this in some type of form. Still, free time keeps me away from the good times, but I digress.

TVSquad.com has been doing something along that line (the one I've linked to is part of a series but as is typical with TVSquad it isn't easy to locate them all). Still there's always room for more - and probably better – writing on the subject.

I know nothing much of the schedule, but a few of the shows I do remember. I recalled that Arnie had Arlene Gonkola as The Harried wife. The only reason for that was the name was just so weird to me as a kid.

Arlene Golonka (on the left here) didn't play the wife on Arnie; that was Sue Ane Langdon (on the right this is the correct spelling, though you do see it as Sue Anne and Sue Ann). Arlene Golonka was on TV at this time, co-starring on Mayberry RFD as the love interest for Ken Berry's character Sam. It is not a particularly surprising mistake, since the ladies did bear a strong resemblance to each other. Sue Ane – who played Alice Kramden on Jackie Gleason's variety show for less than a year around 1962 – was a pretty hot number in the 1960s. A Google Image search under Sue Ann Langdon yields a couple of "interesting" photos she did for Playboy around 1966 in connection with a movie she did with Sean Connery called A Fine Madness.

I was just starting to read then and began to remember names of TV shows easier. But in my house, the name "Flip Wilson" was the easiest. Before then, it was Bill Cosby, Leslie Uggams, or Lou Rawls with shows (I think Miss Uggams and Mr. Rawls had Summer replacement shows), but seeing Flip with his own show made my family rush to the set to watch what he'd do that week. All I know is that the show brought a lot of pride to my family along with a lot of laughs.

As I pointed out last week, the Leslie Uggams Show debuted in September 1969 and ran for twelve or thirteen episodes before being cancelled. I believe that she was the first African-American woman – and maybe one of the first African-Americans of either sex – to have a variety series. Nat King Cole had a short lived series in the 1950s but that was exclusively a music show, with none of the extras (comedy, dancers) that made for a true variety show. I was a big fan of The Flip Wilson Show as well, but obviously it didn't have the same impact on a skinny white kid from Saskatchewan that it would for you. I suspect that it's in the nature of broad-casting that because it has to appeal to the mass audience it generally reflects, albeit with some delay, the direction that society is proceeding in.

Cappy writes:

The end of The Jackie Gleason Show and the start of Mary Tyler Moore marks the beginning of the decline of Western Civilization.

Interesting opinion. If meant humorously, funny; if meant seriously, it requires at least some explanation.

And now, a couple of themes from the 1970-71 season. First up, one that everyone knows. No, not that one, the other one that everybody knows.

And now for a really obscure one, from a replacement series.

Coming up next weekend 1972!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

1970 – The TV Guide Fall Preview

Ah the 1970-71 Television season. Who knew in September of that year that you would turn into the first shot of a revolution that would sweep TV. The 1970-71 season would see television icons, that had been around practically since the beginning of the medium swept away and a new generation of shows become famous. Looking back, many would hale it as the beginning of new greatness; others – notably the Parents Television Council – would say that it marked the end of Television as a family friendly entertainment medium and the beginning of its descent into the pit of evil and decadence that it has become. But we'll get to that shortly.

To understand some of what would happen by the end of the 1970-71 season one first has to first deal with the events at the end of the 1969-70 season. At CBS Petticoat Junction had been cancelled after an attempt to replace Bea Benaderet, who had died during the 1968-69 season, with June Lockhart as a maternal figure – well really an older sister – had resulted in a serious decline in ratings. At the same time CBS cancelled two variety shows, The Jackie Gleason Show and The Red Skelton Show. Gleason had been with CBS Television since 1952 while Skelton had been with the network since 1953. The reason given for the cancellation of both shows was that they weren't appealing to younger audiences, and in Skelton's case a contract that promised annual salary increases. While Gleason would remain under contract with CBS until the mid-1970s Skelton would defect back to NBC, where he had his first TV show back in 1951. To say the least, the half-hour format of the new show didn't work. The 1969-70 season had also seen the decline of Mike Dann and his programming philosophy which regarded any audience as being acceptable regardless of age, and the full ascendance of network president Robert Wood who was an early believer in demographics and in particular the importance of the 18-49 year-old audience.

For CBS the beginnings of the 1970-71 season seemed relatively innocuous. With the demise of Petticoat Junction, Paul Henning's other "Hooterville" based series Green Acres was moved to Tuesday night between Beverly Hillbillies and Hee-Haw. Replacing Green Acres on Saturday was the Herschel Bernardi sitcom Arnie about a working class guy – the foreman on a loading dock – who suddenly is promoted to the executive suite as a corporate vice-president. His aristocratic, if somewhat dense, boss was portrayed by Roger Bowen who would had just finished playing Colonel Henry Blake in the movie M*A*S*H. The show that replaced Petticoat Junction starred a familiar face in a not so familiar role – Mary Tyler Moore. The Mary Tyler Moore Show (though technically the title card didn't include either the words "The" or "Show") may not have seemed particularly subversive at the time it debuted, but it really was. Mary was a single woman in the city (the city being the relatively benign Minneapolis rather than "wicked" New York or Los Angeles) who was actively in the work force, and not just as a secretary either. Mary at least titularly was an executive – associate producer of the evening news – even if the job paid less than being a secretary. Moreover, while she dated there was no regular man in her life, and for nearly all of the show's run there wasn't one. Of course TV Guide didn't entirely get the point; in their commentary about the show the magazine said, "She [Mary Tyler Moore] plays Mary Richards, 30-ish, unmarried and getting a little desperate about it." Trouble is that the show never really made a point of showing Mary as being desperate to get married. What it did show, admittedly rather timidly compared to series that followed in the next few years, was a woman who used birth control (in one episode she had to get her "pills" from her dresser) and occasionally stayed out overnight with men. In just about every respect, Mary Richards was a liberated woman. But Mary, subtly subversive though she was, may have been the first shot in the revolution to come but the big blow wouldn't come until the midseason replacements started rolling out.

Of course there were other trends and other networks. The "youth movement" – as in don't trust anyone over 30, or in TV terms anyone playing anyone over 30 – was continuing apace, as was the "mentoring" trend that I noted in the 1969 Preview. "Relevant" shows were the rage, although TV's notion of relevant wasn't entirely grounded in what was really relevant at the time. In the 1970 season you had two shows with young lawyers working on cases for people who couldn't afford lawyers. The ABC series was called, with one of those great leaps of imagination that TV was and still is famous for, The Young Lawyers. The one on CBS was more imaginatively named Storefront Lawyers, because they didn't work out of a conventional office but – surprise surprise – out of a storefront – much of the time. Actually there was a bit of deception going on here; the young lawyers in The Young Lawyers weren't actually lawyers, they were law students because in some states law students can go into court and try cases under the supervision of an experienced lawyer – or so said TV Guide. In this case the not quite lawyers – played by Judy Pace and Zalman King (who is best known today as a producer and director of sex-driven material as 9 ½ Weeks, Wild Orchid, Delta of Venus, and Red Shoes Diaries) were mentored by an experienced lawyer played by Lee J. Cobb. The characters in The Storefront Lawyers, led by Robert Foxworth provided legal services from the offices of Neighborhood Legal Services, which Foxworth's character created after he quit his job at a Great Big Law Firm. In the second half of the show's single season he went back to the job at the Great Big Law Firm, and took his younger associates with him.

Medical dramas were also big this year, with the emphasis still on being "relevant." Actually there was one relatively conventional medical drama, The Interns. The show, which was on CBS, featured a collection of young doctors including Christopher Stone and Mike Farrell (who would be playing another doctor in a few years in a much more successful show), all under the tutelage of Dr. Peter Goldstone (Broderick Crawford). The show played strongly to specific "types" including the married one, the woman (who faced hurdles because she was a woman) and the Black one (who faced problems with racism), so I suppose this qualifies under the rubric of "relevant." At one season this show lasted longer than the other two medical dramas of the year. Matt Lincoln, on ABC, starred Vince Edwards (formerly Dr. Ben Casey) as a psychiatrist who ran a free walk-in mental health clinic and teen help line in addition to his regular practices which was paying for all of this. It lasted thirteen episodes.

The third medical series, on NBC, was called The Psychiatrist and starred Roy Thinnes. It ran for six episodes but that was because it was part of another of those "wheel" series that were popular in the late '60s and early '70s (which is why I've separated it from the other medical shows). This one was called Four In One, and logically enough featured four different storylines. The difference was that in this one the series didn't rotate from week to week. Instead each one aired six one hour episodes in a row and then turned the time slot over to the next series. The other three were San Francisco International Airport, featuring Lloyd Bridges as the airport manager (but unlike his role in Airplane! this role was played totally seriously), McCloud featuring Dennis Weaver, and Night Gallery, created by Rod Serling. The latter two series continued on of course, with McCloud becoming part of the NBC Mystery Movie and being expanded to the familiar ninety minute format, while Night Gallery ran as a regular series that ran for two more seasons, one in the hour-long format and one in a half-hour format.

Besides Mary Tyler Moore and Vince Edward, several other iconic TV veterans were coming back to TV in new shows. Danny Thomas attempted to revive his old Make Room For Daddy series as Make Room For Granddaddy with most of the original cast – Marjorie Lord, Rusty Hamer, Angela Cartwright and Hans Conreid – supplemented by Stanley Myron Handelman and Rosey Grier. In the news series, done for ABC, Danny and his wife were taking care of their grandson while daughter Terry and her soldier husband were overseas. The show lasted one season. Two guys whose original series debuted on the original Make Room For Daddy also had shows in the 1970-71 season: Andy Griffith and Don Knotts. Griffith actually had two very different shows for CBS that season. The Headmaster was a "relevant" drama with Griffith dealing with problems as the headmaster in a high class boarding school. It ran thirteen episodes and was cancelled. Griffith came back almost immediately with The New Andy Griffith Show, a comedy in which he played a man who had worked in state government until the mayor of his old home town retired and he went back to fill the position. The show was only slightly more successful than The Headmaster. Don Knotts had better success with his self-titled NBC variety series – it ran for 26 episodes. And of course there was Tim Conway. Conway and his McHale's Navy colleague Joe Flynn had a failed mid-season replacement series in the 1969-70 season, but Conway was back in September 1970 with a variety series for CBS. It suffered the same fate as his other series before and after; gone in 13 weeks, but one member of the cast, Sally Struthers, was headed for something much much bigger.

Two of the most successful series to debut in the Fall of 1970, besides the Mary Tyler Moore Show were The Flip Wilson Show and The Partridge Family. Flip Wilson's series for NBC was an almost instant hit, becoming the second most watched show in the U.S. for the first two seasons of its run and spawned such catch-phrases as, "The Devil made me do it," and of course – as every Geek and Nerd knows – "What you see is what you get," both delivered by Wilson in drag as his character Geraldine Jones. Even the staging of the show was innovative, with the show being done in a "theatre-in-the-round" set-up. ABC's The Partridge Family wasn't anywhere near as innovative. It owed a lot more to The Monkees and The Brady Bunch than to any innovative thinking. But it worked, and in an odd sort of way it would mark the trail for the sort of youth oriented escapist fare that would vault ABC into a leading position in the second half of the 1970s. It wasn't "relevant" and it wasn't hip; in fact it was almost exactly the opposite, uninterested in the latest trends in the real world and old fashioned enough in its set-up that it didn't disturb too many people. Another big hit was one of two adaptations of a Broadway play and later movie that ABC had, The Odd Couple with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall. Oh yeah, and ABC also had its biggest hit ever, with a show called Monday Night Football.

Inevitably there were cancellations during the season. As was common in this period the greatest number of failures came from ABC. They lost The Young Rebels, a series set around British-occupied Philadelphia during the American Revolution but naturally having deliberate echoes to the "young rebels" of 1970 (the show starred Louis Gossett Jr., with a very full head of hair), Silent Force (a half hour drama), Barefoot In The Park (the other TV adaptation of a Broadway play, this one with most of the cast being African American (it was cancelled when star Scoey Mitchell was fired by the producers); and The Immortal (about a man whose blood contained antibodies capable of curing any disease and a billionaire who wanted it – and the man whose body made it – all for himself). NBC dropped Bracken's World, which had barely survived the previous season; and Nancy, a comedy about the daughter of the (unseen) President of the United States who marries a veterinarian. But it was CBS that had the biggest line-up change. When the network cancelled the ailing Governor And JJ, which had debuted the previous season, In January 1971, they moved To Rome With Love from Tuesday night after Hee-Haw (and The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres) into the Wednesday night slot. The show they put after Hee-Haw (and The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres) was called All In The Family.

I can't imagine what it must have been like on January 12, 1970 when people finished watching Roy Clark and the rest of the Hee-Haw gang with their corn-pone humour and were confronted – because that's the only word that fits – with Archie Bunker talking about "Micks," "Polacks," "Hebes," "Spics," and so on. And truth be told the show was not a huge hit initially. In fact it finished 34th in the ratings for the year, and probably if anyone but Robert Wood had been in charge of the CBS Television Network it would have been cancelled for just that reason. But Wood had a vision for the network that included shows like All In The Family and most emphatically did not include Hee-Haw or the rest. All In The Family was a bombshell, the biggest shot so far of the programming revolution that had first popped up with The Mary Tyler Moore Show. While shows like Storefront Lawyers played at being "relevant", All In The Family took on the issues of the day head on. The show talked about the Vietnam War, racial inequality, protests, rape, abortion, gay rights and a host of other issues. It was mentioned in the Watergate Tapes – Nixon hated the younger people but liked that Archie got dressed up to write a letter to him – and was a sensation in the media. Laura Hobson, author of Gentleman's Agreement even commented that the epithets in the show were mild by comparison with the words used in the real world. And over time an odd thing happened; Archie Bunker himself became popular. It was probably inevitable that older viewers regarded Archie as being closer to them, particularly if they were blue-collar workers like Archie. Of course it didn't hurt that the character of Michael Stivic (Rob Reiner) was, quite frankly, something of a pompous ass. For all of his faults Archie (played by Carroll O'Connor) loved his wife (Maureen Stapleton) even as she exasperated him, and adored his "little goil" Gloria (Sally Struthers) and thought that Mike wasn't good enough for her. It was undoubtedly unintended but CBS had a show that was attractive to younger and older viewers for entirely different reasons.

The net results of the successes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the critical success of All In The Family were inevitable with someone like Robert Woods in charge of CBS. Rural shows and older skewing shows were out once and for all. As Pat Butram, who played Mr. Haney on Green Acres put it, "It was the year CBS killed everything with a tree in it." And the so-called "Rural Purge" wasn't just restricted to rural shows, or just to CBS. CBS cancelled Hogan's Heroes, Mayberry RFD, The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, Hee-Haw, To Rome With Love, The Jim Nabors Hour, and The New Andy Grifith Show. ABC dumped The Johnny Cash Show. NBC dropped two of their three remaining westerns, Men From Shiloh (which had been The Virginian until the 1970-71 season) and The High Chaparral (which was particularly popular around Saskatoon because one of the series stars, Cameron Mitchell, had ties to the city; his first wife Johanna, was the daughter of a very prominent local businessman and even after their divorce maintained close ties to the city), as well as Don Knotts's variety series.

And yes, I have left some shows out, because some of the biggest casualties in the Rural Purge weren't rural shows but shows that were closely tied with the beginnings of TV. ABC dropped The Lawrence Welk Show (debuted on ABC in 1955 but had begun on KTLA Los Angeles in 1951) as well as Make Room For Granddaddy, the revival of Make Room For Daddy (which ran from 1953-1964); NBC dropped the half-hour Red Skelton Show (Red had debuted on NBC in 1951, moved to CBS in 1953, and back to NBC in 1970), and the venerable Kraft Music Hall (debuted on TV in 1958 after starting on radio in 1933). And CBS got rid of the oldest of them all, The Ed Sullivan Show which had debuted in June 1948 as Toast of the Town. With the exception of Gunsmoke (debuted on TV in 1955) and Bonanza (debuted in 1959), every show with ties to the first full decade of television in America was gone. And if the Parents Television Council today complains that the debut of All In The Family marks the beginning of TV's descent into the gutter of sex and depravity – as one writer on their website claimed a few months ago – it is probably more accurate to say that All In The Family, and to some extent The Mary Tyler Moore Show ushered in a new sort of realism and true relevance that had never been a part of TV before.

(For those of you who are interested, I am missing details for replacement shows for the following timeslots in the 1970-71 season:

  • ABC: Sunday 7:30-8, Thursday 10:30-11, Saturday 8:30-11.
  • CBS: Sunday 10-11.
  • NBC: Friday 10-11, Saturday 8:30-9.)

Let's take a look at the ABC Fall Preview Show narrated by William Schallert (these seem to be the most common ones on YouTube, and thanks to bobtwcatlanta for posting so many of these).

As a bonus we have a YouTube clip of Richard Nixon talking about Homosexuality and All In The Family from May 13, 1971.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Please Sir, I Wanted Something More

In most fields of endeavour there are people who inspire awe, fear, anger, and tremendous respect. In the field of food and restaurants, Marco Pierre White is one of those people. He trained some of the great chefs of the world including both Mario Batali and Gordon Ramsay. White's behaviour in the kitchen is legendary: he once made Gordon Ramsay cry after the young chef made a mistake and White shouted at him (White on the incident: "I did not make Gordon cry. He chose to cry."); when a young chef complained about the heat in the kitchen, White cut open the back of his chef's jacket and pants with a sharp paring knife; and he once hung a young assistant from a hook by the man's apron strings. Certainly Anthony Bourdain holds White the chef in high regard, certainly in higher regard than he does Gordon Ramsay on Hell's Kitchen (click on "more" to get Bourdain's opinion of both men). But of course what we're talking about here is White the TV personality, or more importantly the TV show that White is fronting on NBC, The Chopping Block.

Sadly my reaction to the two are vastly different. I like White as a TV persona (but more on that later) but the show is an entirely different beast. And since we're doing TV criticism here, that's got to be our focus here.

The problem with The Chopping Block as a TV show is that it bears a stunning but unsurprising resemblance to that old favourite, The Apprentice. It's unsurprising of course because the base of so many different shows has been The Apprentice. In this particular case the sixteen people – this time it's eight couples with a pre-existing relationship, whether it's friends, siblings, husbands and wives, and in one case a couple who used to be married (the husband says that the business part of their relationship was better than the marriage part) – are split into two teams of four couples each, the Red Team and the Black Team. Half of each couple will work front of the house and have will work in the kitchen. They are then given two restaurants – or rather two wrecks of restaurants – that they have to stock with equipment and make safe from the health inspectors. White has a couple of challenges for them before the opening of the restaurants. The first is to give each team two truckloads of supplies. They can keep what they unload. According to White this will show if the teams have any sense of strategy when it comes to menus and such and whether they can "shop smart." Apparently the answer is disgusting to White: none of these people has any sense of a strategic vision for their restaurants at all. Maybe the fact that they've only met a couple of days before might – just might – have something to do with the lack of coordination; they don't know each other's strengths yet.

The second challenge is something familiar to anyone who has ever watched an episode of Hell's Kitchen, the signature dish cook-off. The cooking half of each team is given a period of time to produce a signature dish. The Black Team has an amazing series of mishaps occurring, apparently, one right after the other; the Salamander broiler suddenly drops off the wall onto the cook top, one part of the glass door on the regular oven explodes, and the electricity suddenly goes off. This should probably be a warning for the Black Team, but they just don't know it yet. Once the dishes are completed they are sampled by Chef White to determine which chef on each team will be the head chef for their restaurant for this episode. Inevitably there are dishes on both teams that White finds to be horrible and several others that he finds to be quite good. Actually on the Black Team there are three very good dishes, though heaven forbid that White recognize one of the American classics – Jambalaya – as being worthy of being served in a restaurant that he had anything to do with; at home it may be great but not >arrogant sniff< in a restaurant. One of the chefs on Black Team cooks Salmon in a Beurre Blanc Sauce that White loves while another does a Chicken Florentine with way too much stuff on it. Of course he chose the Chicken – once he cleared the excess salad off of course – because it's a nice dish with simple flavours. Over on the Red Team side he finds one dish, Chicken with Risotto from one of the female chefs bland, and of course if the food is bland the cook is bland too. Instead he chose a Veal Chop prepared by a female chef, apparently because everyone likes a Veal Chop in a restaurant. This sort of judgement makes you want to shake your head.

The next day the teams have just seven hours to get their restaurants set up, from setting up the tables and chairs (and figuring out where they should be) to taking delivery of their drinks, and actual prep work. The teams are impressed with themselves for taking their ramshackle establishments from empty hulks to places that don't look half bad in just seven hours, but as Chef White points out in one of his one-on-one conversations with the camera, "Time Is money." The next thing – the big challenge of the night – is the opening and operation of the restaurants. Needless to say things don't move smoothly. Front of the house doesn't do a great job of communicating with the kitchen and vice versa. It's the usual set of problems seen on just about every episode off Kitchen Nightmares on both sides of the Atlantic; the wait staff doesn't record the tables on the tickets, they're slow in picking up the completed orders, then they get mad at the kitchen when the food is either cold or not ready when they want it. In his brief visit to the Red Kitchen White observes this and tells Lisa, the head chef, to take one of the orders out herself to shame the front of house people into being more efficient. Over in the Black Restaurant Angie, one of the chef's but not the head chef, tried the same trick, only to be told off by the waiter she was trying to get through to, for embarrassing him. This happened while the server was giving his life story to the patrons at the table he was working at. But as we'll see the kitchens in both restaurants aren't entirely perfect either

Judgement between the two teams for each week's service was in the hands of a restaurant critic. His first stop was the Black Restaurant and it was then that I realized that this guy was an absolute snob. His server was Xan (brother of head chef Than; heaven knows what their parents were thinking when they gave their sons names like that) who made the mistake of pronouncing the word "claret" as "clar-ray." Once Xan had gone with their order, the critic immediately told the rest of his party that "the word is pronounced "claret" not "clar-ray"). Personally I would have been more upset with the fact that my server was recommending a wine that he personally hadn't tried. The critic ordered the crab cake as his appetizer. This was the specialty of Khoa who had one of the two best dishes in the head chef competition. Next he had the chicken prepared by Than. The dish was cold and worse, when he cut into it, found that it was pink and oozing a little blood near the bone. Not good performance.

When the critic went to the Red Restaurant he found more to be disappointed with and more to make me think that he was a bloody snob. The restaurant was packed, with people standing at the bar. The camera was quick to point out that there was an empty four top in the restaurant, and it seemed clear that the critic expected to get it. Two things were apparent to observant viewers; the table wasn't set yet, and there were people waiting to be seated ahead of the critic and his party. Eventually they were seated and the critic's party ordered their meal. There was a minor problem, or at least it would probably be a minor problem to anyone who wasn't a restaurant critic. Filet Mignon was listed on the menu but it had proven so popular with the patrons who weren't restaurant critics that there was none left. As the critic's waitress said the only way he'd be able to have any sense of what the Filet was like would be to go out and smell the breath of someone who had eaten one. He had to settle for the Salmon with Beurre Blanc Sauce, which he loved. He was less happy with the desert, Black and White Chocolate Truffles. They were hard – which was a legitimate complaint – and showed that there was no pastry chef – which was not.

It was the critic's job to determine which team would win the evening's contest and which would be forced to send one partnership home. But before that he gave some criticism of the meals. When talking of the Red Team's meal he mentioned the Salmon with Beurre Blanc sauce. He mentioned that he had specifically ordered the sauce to be served separately from the Salmon. He found the fish alone to be rather bland but when he dipped it in the sauce it came alive. Here's a clue pal; the reason they call it Salmon with Beurre Blanc Sauce is that the Salmon is meant to be eaten with the Beurre Blanc Sauce. He didn't like the Truffles, which he mentioned again was an unimaginative choice and were impossible to eat because they were too hard. But it was the Black team that came in for the most criticism, and which lost in the end, entirely because of the underdone chicken. It was left to White to decide which partnership from the Black Team would be going home.

It shouldn't have been a big problem. Xan hadn't been that great in the front of the house but Than had been personally responsible for the botched Chicken dish, and as anyone who has seen any Gordon Ramsay series will tell you, undercooked chicken can kill a customer, and Ramsay isn't kidding, it can. Still, things degenerated into a case of he said she said, or in this case they said they said. Xan went after Angie for coming out of the kitchen with the food, an action that Marco seemed to approve of. There was a lot of other discussion about the difficulties that the brothers had in working with Angie. Still it was rapidly becoming clear that the team that would be going home would be Xan and Than until...

Until Khoa spoke up. He didn't like the atmosphere on the show, hadn't been expecting the fighting and backbiting, and so had decided that he and his sister Denise wanted out of the competition. Amazingly White accepted their resignation, and told the others that they owed Khoa and Denise their respect. He also told Xan and Than point blank that if it weren't for Khoa taking that course they would have been out on their ears. Ramsay wouldn't have given Khoa and Denise the chance to quit, or if he did would have put Xan and Than out after them. He would have asked them who was responsible for the undercooked chicken and fired Xan and Than without any discussion.

Marco Pierre White has a pretty good TV presence. Anthony Bourdain refers to White as being much like Michael Corleone from the Godfather films. He says, "Marco can walk into a room full of strangers and bark out a command, and everyone would do it, no matter what he asked. He's got a real commanding presence. He's physically imposing; he looks like a Venetian prince. He's just somebody born to authority." That comes out quite clearly in those times when he's on screen. He does have a quiet, commanding presence that means that you pay attention to him. He rumbles in a quiet sort of way that makes it obvious that you don't want to be on the receiving end of his anger. The problem is that he doesn't spend any great length of time on camera. There's no real opportunity for him to bark out a command and see others race to do whatever is asked. That's the problem with the Apprentice format; the person who decides on the winner isn't present. That's what makes Hell's Kitchen work as a show. Ramsay is always on screen and the force of his personality is as much an attraction – maybe more of an attraction – as the competitors on the show, who are described by Bourdain as "a bunch of dimwits – the lame, the halt and the delusional.... None of these idiots would be qualified to work a Fryolator at a Chuck E. Cheese much less ever work in any Gordon Ramsay restaurant." I retain my own opinion on the quality of competitors on Hell's Kitchen but I don't think it's wrong to say that I would really like more of a chance to see White's personality in action than is seen on this show.

The Apprentice format – select a team leader, complete a project set by the nominal "boss" of the show who only makes a brief appearance while sending others to evaluate the team performance, select a losing team and get rid of one member from that losing team – is a well worn one. For a while it seemed like every other reality-competition show was using that format, and the only show that took it, twisted it around and made it suit the individual around whom it was built was Hell's Kitchen. Virtually all of those shows died because they weren't different enough from the original Apprentice to stand out. This series was no different from those imitators which is a pity because there are a lot of directions that a show like this could go in. The easiest might have been to use the model of the British series Last Restaurant Standing, where the individual partnerships compete individually, with their own individual visions of what their dream restaurant would be. There are other formats that would work and would showcase White and his commanding personality better. As it stands however, NBC has produced yet another imitation Apprentice and as a result is wasting the new show's only bankable commodity, Marco Pierre White. He and the viewers – for different reasons – deserve better than this.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Who Knew?

I mean seriously. Who'd have thought that you were more likely to get hurt on a show like Dancing With The Stars than on Survivor?

I think I've been pretty good in not writing about reality shows this year – this calendar year that is – and believe me it's been pretty hard. I mean there's a part of me that has been dying to express my opinion about "Coach" on Survivor (a real blowhard), how the group that Ramsay himself says is the best bunch of contestants ever to appear on Hell's Kitchen still can't cook the bleeping risotto, how the great challenges on The Amazing Race are exceeded only by the colourful locals – who frequently behave like they've been indulging in the local potables – who smile and laugh at the crazy Americans, or how one of my favourite poker players – Annie Duke – has so annoyed Joan Rivers (and therefore endeared herself to us all in the process) that Rivers compared her to Mussolini. But until now I've been holding off, holding my fire for the really bad reality shows that are going to be filling the summer schedule. (Okay, so I'm going to have to make an exception for Chopping Block. The host – Marco Pierre White – was Ramsay's first boss and made Gordon f'ing Ransay cry! And he has the pictures – in his autobiography – to prove it! How can you not write about that!!) Still I can't let the spate of injuries that have plagued the cast of Dancing With The Stars pass without some notice.

Let's face it. You'd expect people to get hurt on a "macho" show like Survivor. They're out there, isolated in the wilderness fending for themselves and then competing in those competitions where people are running and grabbing at each other, so obviously they must be getting hurt. What could happen on a "girly" show like Dancing With The Stars beyond the occasional blister on your heel thanks to an ill-fitting dancing pump?

Ah, but you would be wrong my friends. Looking at the list of serious dance related injuries – injuries that either involved broken bones, forced contestants (celebrities or pros) to leave the show before or during the competition or required them to have surgery after the show – on Dancing With The Stars and you come up with an interesting list:

  • Cristián de la Fuente – ruptured tendon in left bicep; kept dancing but needed surgery after show ended. Season 6.
  • Misty May-Treanor
    – ruptured Achilles Tendon during in rehearsal; forced to withdraw from show. Season 7.
  • Susan Lucci – apparently sprained ankle during rehearsal; in fact she had broken two bones in her right foot. Season 7.
  • Lance Bass – broken toe. Season 7.
  • Jewel – initially diagnosed with tendonitis, later discovered she had broken her tibias in both legs during practice; unable to dance. Season 8.
  • Nancy O'Dell – torn meniscus in one knee; surgery required. Season 8.
  • Karina Smirnoff – professional dancer, suffered neck injury requiring surgery. Season 6.

This doesn't include a number of other injuries that weren't serious enough to need surgery, illnesses, or events that injured participants outside of the context of the competition:

  • Li'l Romeo – injured his leg playing basketball; replaced by his father Master P. Season 2.
  • Marie Osmond – fainted while the judges were critiquing her during a live performance show. Season 5.
  • Jane Seymour – food poisoning resulted in her missing a results show. Season 5
  • Kristi Yamaguchi – injured ankle; did not affect her participation on the show. Season 6.
  • Kim Kardashian – cut her foot on a piece of broken mirror in her hotel room day before being named as a contestant; doctors okayed her to participate. Season 7.
  • Jeffrey Ross – suffered a scratched cornea in his left eye during rehearsals; didn't last long enough to know if it would have taken him out. Season 7
  • Brooke Burke – injured foot during camera blocking rehearsal. Season 7.
  • Maurice Greene – hyper-extended leg during rehearsal for group Paso Doble. Season 7.
  • Kym Johnson - professional dancer, hyper-extended leg during rehearsals. Season 3.
  • Mark Balas – professional dancer, dislocated shoulder during encore dance. Season 5.
  • Derek Hough – professional dancer, injured neck while rehearsing a routine for the results show; forced to miss that night's results show. Season 6.
  • Derek Hough – professional dancer, suffered food poisoning after drinking a protein shake. Season 6.
  • Karina Smirnoff – professional dancer, suffered left ankle sprain in rehearsals morning of performance. Season 7.
  • Derek Hough – professional dancer, blacked out after tripping and hitting his head. Taken to hospital but cleared to continue dancing. Season 7.
  • Julianne Hough – professional dancer, initially thought to be suffering a bad stomach ache, she was subsequently diagnosed with Endometriosis and was required to have surgery to remove her appendix; missed two weeks of dancing. Season 7.

Compare that with serious injuries on Survivor (same definition as for Dancing With The Stars):

  • Michael Skupin – fainted while attempting to start a fire and fell into the fire, suffering severe burns to his hands; evacuated from the show and had to have surgery. Season 2.
  • Jonathon Penner – suffered a puncture wound to his knee, which became infected; evacuated. Season 16.
  • James Clement – suffered an injury to his finger which the medical team monitored; when the risk of infection spreading to the joint of his finger was deemed too great he was evacuated. Season 16.

That's it. While seven people have either broken bones, been forced to withdraw or had to undergo surgery during their time on Dancing With The Stars as a direct result of events that took place on the show or in rehearsals for the show, only three people on Survivor have suffered injuries that were serious enough to get them taken off the show.

The big question is, "why is this happening?" The initial reaction was that the professional dancers were forcing their celebrity partners to practice too hard and for too many hours. According to the show's executive producer Conrad Green, speaking to People Magazine the truth may be quite the opposite: "This is now three fit women, if you include Misty May-Treanor from last season, who had to withdraw from the show. Perhaps people who are fitter throw themselves into it with more wild abandon. I really feel for them and we may need to take a look at [how hard people train] in the future." In other words it is the celebrities, and in particular the fittest of the celebrities, who are driving themselves to over-train for this competition.

There are other aspects at work however. Starting in the fourth season of the show, training time was reduced from six weeks to four. According to The Ballroom Dance Channel
blog the logical result of this is that with less time to learn the same number of steps and routines the celebrities – in particular the most competitive ones, who are often also the fittest – are going to drive themselves to do more, often at the risk of injury. The blog includes an interesting statement by amateur latin dancer and blogger Tonya Plank: "I mean, for the average serious beginner, you'd probably take two hours of intense private lessons per week, then about 10-15 hours of less intense, more social-dance-oriented group classes, and about three or four hours a week on your own. So, they are basically spending about a quarter of the time each day training that these DWTS competitors are." Plank also stated that to achieve the level that Dancing With The Stars wants from the celebrities – what's known as "Open Gold" level – usually takes two to four years for most people, and the celebrities on the show are required to achieve that sort of level in not one but two very different disciplines, which most dancers don't attempt.

Pro-am competitor Jerry Bowman explained his normal training routine involves 45 minute training sessions. There are two types of open –choreographed – competition. One of these involves groups and is what is normally seen on television. The other is a "showcase routine" which sounds very much like what is done on Dancing With The Stars: "This is danced with just you and the pro taking the whole floor and being judged on a graded scale with judges comments. This is a choreographed routine that usually has been put together for an exhibition show hosted by the local studio. It then gives an opportunity for the student and teacher to get feedback on the routine. Because these are done for an exhibition/recital type program and are usually more involved then about 20 sessions are used to prepare the routine." Bowman also mentioned that he personally usually spends as much time on his own practicing the routine, at least for the Open Routines (the group dances). He doesn't specifically mention the Showcase Routines, but assuming that he maintains the same routine for those that would mean roughly 30 hour in total spent training for a Showcase Routine, spread over a period of time. And he is an experienced dancer.

So what is the answer for Dancing With The Stars. While Conrad Green seems to suggest that limits should be imposed on the celebrities the editor at the Ballroom Dance Channel blog suggests that the answer might be to give participants more preparation time – at least in terms of the number of weeks that are available for them to work in – would certainly be helpful. In fact the two ideas could work together; an extended preparation period with limits on the total number of hours that could be spent preparing. On the othe hand this might work against the weaker competitors. I'm just guessing but I think that Steve Wozniak is in greater need of practice than Denise Richards or Ty Murray.

One thing is for sure, after the spate of injuries that Dancing With The Stars has had over the years the degree of fitness needed to do well on this show shouldn't be questioned. It's about more than fancy steps and hard-bodied women dressed a few strategically place feathers and sequins – though Lord know, the latter is why I watch!

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.