Sunday, January 29, 2023

Ten Reasons Why Shelley Fabares Is a National Treasure

 

Shelley Fabares had a birthday last week – as a gentleman I won’t specify which one. But she is someone I have always delighted in seeing on my television, and this occasion provides a perfect chance to share that sentiment. 

 

 

As I wrote years ago about Brooke Bundy, it’s not a response that I can easily explain, nor do I feel the need to dissect and analyze it. Her smile makes me smile. Her voice reaches my eardrums like music. And though I know her primarily through the characters she has portrayed on TV for more than 30 years, I am absolutely certain that the real Shelley must be a kind and wonderful person.

 

Why do I think she’s a national treasure? Let me count the ways.

 

She Almost Saved The World On The Twilight Zone (1954)

The episode “Black Leather Jackets” doesn’t rank alongside top-tier TZ episodes like “Living Doll” and “Time Enough At Last,” but it’s unintentionally goofy enough to merit at least one viewing. Three alien teenagers in masks and black leather jackets ride into an unnamed town planing to poison every being on earth by dumping deadly bacteria into the water supply. And they would have gotten away with it too if it weren’t for that meddling Shelley Fabares as Ellen, who catches the eye of one of the aliens. They fall in love, and live happily….no, unfortunately the invaders complete their mission and everyone dies. But at least she tried.

 

“Annette” (1958)

I’ve celebrated my affection for this Mickey Mouse Club serial before in this blog. To me it is one of the most ideal examples of what Comfort TV should be, not just because it features Shelley alongside Annette Funicello, Tim Considine, Roberta Shore and several of the original Mousketeers, but also because it costars several other familiar and always welcome presences in Mary Wickes and Richard Deacon and Doris Packer. Fabares plays the unfortunately-named Moselle Corey (if anyone out there knows anyone actually named Moselle, please let me know), one of the in-crowd teens who come to embrace newcomer Annette. Every tine I watch it I also happily remember how Annette and Shelley first met here, and remained close friends until Annette’s passing. 

 

 

The Donna Reed Show (1958)

As Mary Stone, Shelley Fabares was the Marcia Brady of the 1950s: smart, popular, pretty, well behaved, and just a little full of herself. She and Donna Reed created one of the most supportive and likeable mother-daughter relationships on TV, and they looked so much alike some viewers probably believed they were actually related. Fabares left the series after its fifth season, and the show was never the same.  




“Johnny Angel” (1962)

Shelley Fabares never aspired to be a singer, especially as she knew she wasn’t very good at it. But every TV series wanted its own Ricky Nelson after he began performing hits on The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet. So Shelly and her sitcom brother Paul Petersen were both ordered to cut a record, and Shelley sang “Johnny Angel” on a season four episode of The Donna Reed Show called “Donna’s Prima Donna.” The song reached #1 on the Billboard chart in March of 1962. I don’t know how anyone could watch this two-minute clip and not fall a little in love.

 



“The New Look” (1963)

In this Donna Reed episode, one of Mary’s boyfriends makes the mistake of trying to compliment her with the word “wholesome.” That sends Mary into a tailspin of self-doubt and a desire to change her goody-goody image. What follows is a dream sequence set at the neighborhood malt shop; Mary enters in a dazzling, form-fitting white dress, twirling a parasol and sporting a more sophisticated hairstyle. And all the boys who fell in love with her demure smile and button nose suddenly saw, for the first time, the Shelley Fabares that would catch Elvis’s eye just two years later. No one ever put sweet and sexy together with more potency.

 

She could make an Elvis movie almost watchable (1965-1967)

With the exception of Viva Las Vegas and a few select moments in King Creole and Jailhouse Rock, the Elvis Presley filmography is hardly more distinguished than that of Pauly Shore.  But Shelly Fabares pops up as the love interest in three of the King’s standard B musicals – Girl Happy, Spinout, and Clambake – and now when I stumble across them on TCM I usually stick around for a while. 

 

 

Brian’s Song (1971)

One of the most celebrated and beloved made-for-TV movies followed the friendship of Chicago Bears players Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams) and Brian Piccolo (James Caan). Shelly Fabares plays Piccolo’s wife, Joy. It’s a smaller role but watch the scenes in which Joy listens with rapt attention to Brian while he tells stories over dinner, or how you can read her emotions as Brian tries to defy his terminal diagnosis with plans to play next season. They are small moments, but memorable ones.

 

 

One Day At a Time (1978)

As Francine Webster, Fabares engaged in an office rivalry with Ann Romano that unfolded over more than 30 episodes across five seasons. Granted, most of these happened after the series no longer resembled its “single mom raising two daughters” foundation, so they are not as well remembered as they should be. But it was fun to watch Shelley play someone nasty for a change – who knew she had that in her?

 

Highcliffe Manor (1979)

You can always separate the true Shelley Fabares fans from the average admirers by whether they actually sat through this short-lived send up of horror clichés and soap operas. If you’re in the right mood it can be fun to watch a game and talented cast try to salvage something out of substandard material. 

 

 

Coach (1989)

Future generations will debate how this series lasted nine seasons, and will conclude it has less to do with star Craig T. Nelson, engaging as he was as college football coach Hayden Fox, and more to do with the folks around him. Second banana Jerry Van Dyke deserved some good TV karma after turning down the lead role in Gilligan’s Island for My Mother the Car. As news anchor Christine Armstrong, Fabares’s relationship with Nelson’s coach personified all the clichés of a refined lady dating a lunkhead, but there was chemistry there that delivered the goods. More important, it put Shelley in a class largely by herself; how many TV stars can claim memorable roles in the 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s? That’s how you become a national treasure.

 

 


 

 

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Remembering a Beloved Neighbor, 20 Years Later

 

In every episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, Fred Rogers would take a few seconds to feed the fish in his aquarium. One day he received a letter from a girl who was blind, who wrote that she sometimes worried about his fish and if they were being fed every day. After that, when the time would come to feed them, he would always say that’s what he was doing, so that one girl in his audience would know they had not been forgotten.

 

When I hear a story like that, I realize that however many awards and honors Fred Rogers received in his life, they were not nearly enough. 

 


Not that he cared about such things – for Mr. Rogers the work was the only reward he sought. He was grateful for the opportunity to spend a half-hour on television speaking to children in a way that made them feel special.

 

It wasn’t just the children of divorce, or the abused kids who really needed an encouraging friend. I think about all the kids who were lonely, or ostracized because of their race or religion or how they looked. Perhaps they were too short or tall, too thin or overweight, a little slower to learn, or they just didn’t fare as well in the DNA lottery as their more popular and attractive classmates. For these children, every day at school was a reminder of what they were not. And every day with Mr. Rogers was a reminder that someone liked them just the way they were.

 

He was a daily presence on television for 33 years; most of them in a pre-cable era when few children’s shows aired on weekdays. He communicated with multiple generations of millions of kids, and we’ll never know how many of them were comforted by his benevolent words and gentle support. 

 

 

It has been 20 years since the passing of Fred Rogers. The final new episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was broadcast two years before that. Part of me is glad (or perhaps “relieved” is more apt) that it ended when it did. He and his show were everything that television and our current culture is not – soft-spoken, unhurried, patient, focused, moral, forgiving. 

 


 

I have no doubt he could have remained so for another two decades. I have less certainty that PBS, which had been content to leave him alone, would have continued to do so.

 

Two years ago a segment on a PBS kids show called “Let’s Learn” featured a drag queen named “Li’l Miss Hot Mess,” who serenaded children with the song “The hips on the drag queen go swish, swish, swish…” That’s a long way from Lady Aberlin.

 

In a less dysfunctional society, someone would have realized that this was not a segment appropriate for 3-8 year olds, and have had the integrity to say so. While we respect the rights of adults to live how they wish, we do not foist those choices on children too young to understand them. But we do not live in those times anymore.

 

Of course I have no doubt that if Mr. Rogers had met Li’l Miss Hot Mess he would have offered kind words and a hug as he did to all of his TV neighbors. He was always about inclusion and equity, but that was back when those words still carried their original definitions: No one gets left out. No one should be ostracized because of how they look or for the color of their skin or their hair, or what God they worshipped or if they didn’t go in for that.

 

Today, sadly, those words oversee lectures about unequal binaries in which one side is demeaned and penalized so the other can advance.

 

“Do you know what forgiveness means?” Mr. Rogers once asked. “It’s a decision we make to release a person from the feelings of anger we have against them.” It’s a choice – and not a very popular one these days.

 

Television has changed too since that red trolley made its last stop at the Neighborhood of Make Believe. 

 


Children growing up now have their own cell phones before they start Kindergarten, and by then have already downloaded and mastered more apps than I have or ever will. The TV at home no longer plays a central role in their entertainment universe, taking a back seat to video games and TikTok, where videos have 15 seconds to capture one’s attention before being dismissed. That’s not even enough time for Fred to change from his dress shoes to his sneakers.

 

Where do kids go now to discover the magic of imagination, and how to express themselves by writing stories or drawing pictures? Where will they be introduced to classical music and jazz? And where do children now find the kind of reassurance Fred Rogers once provided? 

 

 

One hopes they are getting it first from their parents and teachers, which is as it should be. But we know that isn’t always the case; sometimes that support must come from elsewhere. Has another series emerged to fill the void left behind by Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood? Thankfully it’s still streaming on Apple TV and elsewhere, for those fortunate enough to find it.

 

A lot of neighborhoods aren’t what they used to be 20 years ago, but the one where Mr. Rogers lives is as safe and welcoming today as it was decades earlier. Watching these shows now is a reminder that the transcendent dimension of being human is never going to be known by some smug modern activist. It is found elsewhere, in community cleanup projects and houses of worship. At Little League games and summertime picnics. And every day, in Mr. Rogers Neighborhood

 


 

 

Monday, January 9, 2023

Revisiting Starsky and Hutch


In the 10+ years this blog has been around I’ve only mentioned Starsky and Hutch (1975-1979) once or twice. 

 


It’s a show I checked out sporadically first-run, and never went back to watch again. But not long ago I was visiting a friend who owned the DVDs, and I borrowed his sets to get reacquainted with the quintessential 1970s buddy cop series. 

 

 

How was it? If I say exactly what I expected, that doesn’t sound like high praise. But I knew I enjoyed it back in the day, and that it was popular enough to generate all the usual merchandise tie-ins, from action figures and a lunchbox to trading cards, a board game, and model kits for Starsky’s famous red Torino. 

 


So what I anticipated was a series that would be rarely surprising, occasionally dated, but fun to watch. I expected at 2-3 episodes an evening it would be an easy, breezy night of television that would not require deep thought or intense concentration.

 

And that was what I got.

 

Shows like this succeed or fail on casting and chemistry. Good scripts help, but there are only so many urban crime stories and criminal investigations to dramatize. Viewers watch to see characters they like inserted into narratives no matter how familiar. And when there are two or more leads, camaraderie is another essential. We want to believe the friendships between the characters, to the point that we’re sure they would enjoy each other’s company after work as well.

 

It’s either there, or it’s not. With Charlie’s Angels, we could see Sabrina, Jill and Kelly hanging out (and often did). When Tiffany joined, we were pretty sure that Kelly and Kris dropped her off at the library when they went out to dinner.

 

With Detectives Dave Starsky and Ken Hutchinson that connection seems natural and believable from the first episode. Paul Michael Glaser (Starsky) and David Soul (Hutch) argue, kvetch and commiserate like the closest of friends and partners. There is no artificiality in the rhythm of their conversations. The actors are gone and all we see are their characters. 

 

 


We don’t get to know them well beyond the duties of their profession, but that was standard for shows like this. Character development and continuity never extended beyond what was necessary, and was often inconsistent. In “The Vampire,” Starsky remains open to the possibility that a series of fanged attacks on young women could be supernatural, while Hutch scoffs at the possibility. But in “The Psychic” Hutch is convinced a man who sees visions can help find a kidnapped girl, while Starsky remains a cynic. One episode has Hutch extolling the virtues of a healthy organic food diet, but later he’s scarfing down chili dogs with his partner at a dumpy fast food joint.

 

The partners are often helped in their cases by Huggy Bear (Antonio Fargas), who is always tuned in to the word on the street (a convenient way to advance the plot), and is shown in a variety of professions throughout the series, only some of which are legal. 

 


The character would likely be condemned now as a negative racial stereotype, but that crowd is listening to NPR and not watching 50 year-old TV shows, so who cares. I will acknowledge, however, that a little of Huggy goes a long way – there’s a reason why the proposed spinoff “Huggy Bear and the Turkey” never went anywhere.

 

 

When you watch a full season of any series over the course of a week or so, the stories tend to blend together into one inclusive experience that either satisfies or does not. I was satisfied, though many of the episodes seemed familiar before I even watched them, because the same plots played out on other shows from the same genre and era.

 

There were the “race against time” episodes like “Savage Sunday” (a bomb ticks away in the back of a stolen car – can our heroes find it before it explodes?) and “A Coffin for Starsky” (Starsky is poisoned and will die in 24 hours unless Hutch finds the only man with the antidote!). There were the undercover assignments that amp up the comedy as the partners try out silly costumes and silly accents (“The Bait,“ “Moonshine”) and the episode in which our detectives get saddled with protecting a sassy kid (Kristy McNichol, in “Little Girl Lost.”

 


 

And inevitably there were multiple episodes in which Starsky or Hutch falls in love with the perfect woman, who also happens to be hiding a criminal past (“Gillian”), or secretly an obsessed psycho (“Fatal Charm”), or just gets killed by bad guys (“Starsky’s Lady”). 

 

Mix in a few car chases in that Torino, a few foot chases and one or two shoot-outs, all of which could be extended or shortened to fit the desired running time, and you’ve got another episode in the can.

 


Maybe I’m sounding too flippant – the fact is I enjoyed most of them. And there were a few that stood out, particularly those written by Michael Mann, who would later create Miami Vice and write memorable films like Heat and The Insider. In his stories the stakes seemed raised and the criminals were more depraved. “JoJo” has the detectives chasing down a vicious serial rapist; in “Texas Longhorn” a used car salesman (clearly based on California’s Cal Worthington) sets out to murder the men who killed his wife before the cops can apprehend them. 

 

I’m probably also giving too little credit to Soul and Glaser, who kept viewers engaged for four seasons and nearly 100 episodes. I’m surprised they didn’t find a way for David Soul to sing on the show - if it could be worked into the plots for Shaun Cassidy on The Hardy Boys, they could have found a way to squeeze “Don’t Give Up on Us” into a story. 

 


 

And this being the 1970s there were always guest stars aplenty: Lynda Carter, Suzanne Somers, Craig Stevens, Joan Collins, Danny DeVito, Karen Valentine, Jeff Goldblum, Kim Cattrall, plus a few that aren’t as well-known but are always welcome by true classic TV lovers – Charles Napier, Michele Carey, Roz Kelly, etc.

 

Word on the street (as Huggy would say) is that David Soul wanted out by season four, and that was probably just as well. The series had already dropped in the ratings and fans of cool dudes in cool cars would soon discover Bo, Luke, and the General Lee (Starsky and Hutch didn’t have a leggy cousin in denim shorts). But their show holds up, and it’s nice to know that its stars remain close friends to this day. 

 


 

Thursday, December 29, 2022

My Journey Through 1970s TV: Wednesday Nights, 1971

 

Thus far it’s been smooth sailing through 1971 in my quest to watch every 1970s prime time series, but there are storm clouds on the horizon now that we’ve hit hump day. Let’s get the easy ones out of the way first:

 

 

NBC

Adam-12

The NBC Mystery Movie (Columbo, McCloud, McMillan and Wife)

Night Gallery

 

Adam-12 moves to Wednesdays from its previous Saturday night timeslot, a change that resulted in a move from #12 to #8 in the season ratings.

 

This was the first year for the classic Mystery Movie lineup, when viewers knew whichever installment was up each week, it was bound to be a good one. That would not be the case in later seasons, when classics like Columbo and McCloud were joined by the likes of Madigan, Tenafly, and The Snoop Sisters.  




Night Gallery was a horror anthology that delivered a few memorable episodes, and always featured world-class talent both behind the camera (Steven Spielberg, making his directorial debut, writer Richard Matheson) and in front (Diane Keaton, Joan Crawford, Patty Duke, Agnes Moorehead, and even Ozzie and Harriet Nelson). But the finished product never consistently measured up to the sum of its parts. Still, “They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar,” written by Rod Serling, is a 40-minute masterpiece, and the climax of “The Dead Man” might keep you awake for a few nights. 

 

  

 

CBS

The Carol Burnett Show

Medical Center

Mannix

 

Carol Burnett and company did not move into its familiar Saturday time slot until December of 1972, where it would wrap up one of the most celebrated prime time schedules in TV history. But here it kicks off the evening’s entertainment, where it was certainly not followed by more music and laughs courtesy of Medical Center and Mannix. Surprisingly Burnett was the night’s weak link, finishing at #23 in the ratings behind Medical Center (#13) and Mannix (#7). 

 


 

ABC

Bewitched

The Courtship of Eddie’s Father

The Smith Family

Shirley’s World

The Man and the City

 

The ABC lineup was bereft of hits in 1971. Bewitched, long past its prime, had dropped out of the top 30, serving as a poor lead-in to what was then a much better series in The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. When lists are made of the greatest TV dads, Bill Bixby’s Tom Corbett deserves a place alongside Ward Cleaver, Jim Anderson and Mike Brady. But I fear his relationship with young Eddie (Brandon Cruz) may be too touchy-feely for a jaded modern audience that prefers sarcasm to sincerity.

 

The Smith Family was released on DVD despite lasting just one season. It was a blind buy for me that I mostly liked, and it’s grown on me more in subsequent viewings. Here’s my full review

 

And here’s where the trouble starts.

 

Shirley’s World disappeared after just 17 episodes, and if the trivia section of IMDB is to be believed, that quick cancelation was a relief to everyone involved. The series continues the trend this year of movie stars trying their luck on TV, following Henry Fonda in The Smith Family, Glenn Ford in Cade’s County, Jimmy Stewart in The Jimmy Stewart Show, and Rock Hudson in McMillan and Wife. Here, it’s Shirley MacLaine as a globetrotting photojournalist always going after the next big story. Like Lois Lane she always gets into trouble, but there’s no Superman here to bail her out. 

 

 

“It was crap,’ Shirley once told Johnny Carson about the finished product. But it was expensive crap for its time, and I’m certainly curious to find out if this is another example of whether a charismatic star can make a substandard script work. There is a DVD release – I just haven’t gotten around to picking it up. 

 


One of the most satisfying parts of this journey will be going back and experiencing the shows I’ve missed thus far. This will be one of them, and I’ll certainly let you know the verdict in an upcoming “Purchase or Pass” blog.

 

Next up is The Man and the City, yet another attempt by a movie star to anchor a series. Anthony Quinn plays Thomas Jefferson Aclala, the long-serving mayor of a growing southwestern city that looks a lot like Albuquerque, New Mexico (because that’s where the series was shot). From what I’ve read each episode is about a problem faced by one of Alcala’s constituents, and how the mayor takes matters into his own hands because that’s what devoted politicians do. At least on television. 

 

 


There’s one intriguing clip on YouTube, in which one of the mayor’s donors asks him to do something about the illegal immigrant situation. The scene is not very well written and also betrays the show’s political perspective. You can watch it here. From that I think I see where this one’s going, but the deal is one full episode or it doesn’t count, so I have to also add The Man and the City to the list below.

 

 

Shows Missed:

The Don Knotts Show (1970)

San Francisco International Airport (1970)

Nancy (1970)

The Headmaster (1970)

Shirley’s World (1971)

The Man and the City (1971)

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

A Second Look at ‘That Girl’’s First Christmas Episode

 

 

One thing about me – I only need one viewing to make up my mind about any Comfort TV episode.  Each is quickly classified into one of these categories:

 

4 Stars: A classic, one of the show’s best episodes

3 Stars: An above-average episode that rewards repeat viewings

2 Stars: Nothing special, but still has its moments

1 Star: An episode I may never watch a second time.

 

In fact, in all the years (decades) I’ve been watching this stuff, I can recall only one time when I changed my opinion – and it happened on a Christmas-themed episode. 

 


 

When I first watched “Christmas and the Hard Luck Kid” from season one of That Girl, it did nothing for me. After one viewing it was relegated to 1.5 star status and omitted from every subsequent year’s holiday lineup, unlike the show’s season three Christmas episode, “’Twas the Night Before Christmas – You’re Under Arrest.” That one earned a solid 3.5 stars on the Comfort TV scale and has become an annual viewing tradition. 

 


 

But last year, after watching another episode on the same disc as “Hard Luck Kid,” I thought what the heck – and let it play again. And while I remembered the reasons for my initially tepid response, I also saw something poignant in the story that went unnoticed the first time around.

 

The episode opens with Donald visiting Ann while she works as one of Santa’s helpers in a New York department store. There she receives a gift from someone named Tommy, and before Don can get jealous she tells him how that friendship was formed a few years earlier. 

 

 

In flashback, we see Ann before she pursued an acting career, working as a teacher at a private school for boys. All of the students are headed home for the holidays except Tommy, whose parents are shooting a movie in Europe. Ann can’t stand the thought of one boy alone in school on Christmas, so she cancels her holiday plans to stay with him. 

 


 

If the voice of Christopher Shea, who played Tommy, sounds familiar, it’s because he also provided the voice for Linus when he told Charlie Brown what Christmas is all about in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” 

 


 

I think what bothered me the first time I watched this episode was the impact Ann’s sudden change of plan had on everyone else. We only get so many Christmases we can spend with our families, so perhaps she should not have given one of hers up so cavalierly. Of course it was a nice gesture, but to me Tommy didn’t seem overly appreciative of her sacrifice. And as it turned out he wouldn’t have been alone anyway, since one of his friends lived close to the school and came by the next day to visit. Together they spent the afternoon playing and having fun, while Ann was relegated to being a third wheel. 

 


 

Tommy then went to his friend’s house for a holiday dinner, leaving Ann alone in the school, missing her parents as I’m sure they were missing her.

 

There’s a feeling of melancholy that pervades the entire episode, and strangely enough I think that’s the reason I was more impressed the second time around. On your typical classic TV Christmas episode, you can always count on a happy ending: Cathy’s father will make it back to the Lane residence in time for Christmas; Carol Brady’s voice will return before she has to sing in church; Donna Stone discovers the meaning of Christmas she thought was lost; Keith Partridge gets the bus running so the family won’t be stuck in  ghost town.

 

And that is as it should be. We look for comfort from these shows, and they rarely let us down. But sometimes you don’t get what you want for Christmas, and when that happens, like Ann, you can try to make the best of it, and the best way to do that is by giving more than receiving. There is ample room in the classic TV universe for that message as well.

 

One interesting trivia footnote about this episode: It was written by Jim Brooks, who later wrote the first season Christmas episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and titled it “Christmas and the Hard Luck Kid II.” Mary, like Ann Marie, has a magical holiday planned with her family, until those plans fall apart. 

 

 

I guess Brooks enjoys ruining holidays for his characters. Here’s hoping your Christmas turns out better. Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

The Prose and Poetry of Father Knows Best

 

In the film National Treasure, Nicolas Cage plays historian Benjamin Franklin Gates, who reads with admiration a quote from the Declaration of Independence, just before he steals it to keep it out of enemy hands:

 

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

 

“People don’t talk that way anymore,” he says, and you hear in his voice a longing for a time when that was not the case.

 

That is often my reaction after watching an episode of Father Knows Best. Out of all the 1950s situation comedies, this is the series that most often celebrated the eloquence of language, not only by quoting its masters from decades and centuries past, but also through the stirring and articulate scripts from writers like Roswell Rogers and Paul West. 

 

 

Take this scene from “The Great Guy,” an episode in which Bud and his friend Kippy get jobs in the circulation department of their local newspaper. On their first day the boss, played by the fine character actor Whit Bissell, explains why working on a newspaper is a sacred trust.

 

“A newspaper is the mirror of man. It’s his conscience, and his crusader. It dries his tears for him, and laughs up his jokes. It shouts his triumphs and records his failures. It brings him into the world and buries him. And finally it goes to its own death carrying out his garbage. But more important than that, it’s the living moment. It’s not yesterday or this morning, it’s now. A late newspaper is no newspaper at all. You can run off five million copies, but that paper does not exist until it’s in the hands of a reader.”

 

 


I sat through a lot of journalism classes in high school and college, and never heard a better description than that one.

 

Perhaps the best-remembered example of oratory from this series is the prayer Jim recites at the end of the first season episode “Thanksgiving.”

 

“Oh Lord, we give thee thanks from the depths of our humble hearts for all the blessings thou has seen fit to bestow upon us. We thank thee for the food, which graces our table, the roof, which covers our head. We thank thee for the privilege of living as free men in a country which respects our freedom and our personal rights to worship and think and speak as we choose. We thank thee for making us a family, for giving us sincerity and understanding. But most of all, dear Lord, we thank thee for giving us the greatest gift a family may know--the gift of love for one another. Amen.”

 

 

The plot of that holiday episode revolves around Jim’s pride after leaning that Kathy wrote the best Thanksgiving poem in her class. Upon hearing the news, he expresses his own love of poetry by reciting Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18:

 

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.

 

And in the midst of his recitation, his secretary enters the office and picks up the next verse without missing a beat. It’s nice to think about a world where everyone can quote Shakespeare from memory.

 

In “Homing Pigeons” the family marvels at how Bud’s pigeons are able to find their way back to their cages from hundreds of miles away. 

 


“How do they do it?” Margaret  asks. In response Jim pulls out a poetry anthology from the living room bookshelf. “There’s a poem by William Cullen Bryant about another bird that might give us the answer”:

 

There is a Power whose care

Teaches thy way along that pathless coast –

Long wandering but not lost.

All day thy wings have fanned

at that far height, the cold thin atmosphere,

Yet stoop not, weary, to the welcome land,

Though the dark night is near.

 

He who, from zone to zone,

Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight,

In the long way that I must tread alone,

Will lead my steps aright.

 

In “The Old Days,” Jim is looking through costumes for a party, when the shopkeeper recommends he and Margaret dress as Robert Burns and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. That inspires the men to quote from Burns’ most famous poem:

 

The year’s at the spring,

And day’s at the morn;

Morning’s at seven;

The hillside’s dew-pearl’d;

The lark’s on the wing;

The snail’s on the thorn;

God’s in His heaven,

All’s right with the world!

 

And in “Betty Goes Steady,” a boy Betty disdains because of peer pressure (played by Robert Vaughn!) gives her a book of essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and suggests she reads the one called “Self-Reliance.” 

 

 

“There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide.”

 

We hear these words through the characters but it’s the writers who insert them into the scripts. Why did they do it? Perhaps because as writers they have a greater appreciation for words – and for those who use them well. And perhaps they hoped that a reference to a poem or an author in the midst of a 30-minute comedy would inspire a viewer to reach for a long-untouched book on a dusty shelf, or go to the library the next day if no such volume was handy.

 

That was one way knowledge and culture could be passed down, especially to younger people who might be more receptive when a lesson emerged from television instead of the classroom.

 

But people don’t talk that way anymore. Even on television. Especially on television. I wish they still did.

Monday, December 5, 2022

My Journey Through 1970s TV: Monday and Tuesday Nights, 1971

 

I’m serving up a two-fer this time, since just about all of the shows on the Monday night prime time schedules were covered in a previous piece in this series. Let's move quickly past the familiar so we can get to the new stuff, like this show (anyone remember?)


 

ABC

Nanny and the Professor

Monday Night Football

 

The only thing interesting here is how ABC moved Nanny and the Professor out of its Friday night lineup from the previous year and scheduled it before their always highly rated weekly football match-up. But if the strategy was to boost the ratings enough for renewal, it didn’t work. 

 


 

CBS

Gunsmoke

Here’s Lucy

The Doris Day Show

My Three Sons

Arnie

 

My Three Sons and Arnie were moved to Mondays from the Saturday night schedule in 1970. Overall a very pleasant evening of television.



NBC

Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In

The NBC Monday Night Movie

 

Both of these shows carry over from the previous year. So let’s move on to Tuesday.

 

TUESDAY

 

ABC

The Mod Squad

Movie of the Week

Marcus Welby, M.D.

 

The numbers were apparently still strong for this Tuesday night line-up, as it’s the same one ABC offered in 1970. 

 

 

CBS

The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour

Hawaii Five-O

Cannon

 

Glen Campbell survived the Tiffany Network’s “rural purge” last year, but would ride off into the sunset after this season. Hawaii Five-O moved to Tuesdays from its previous Thursday slot and dropped from #7 to #12 in the ratings, but would rebound back into the top ten in its next three seasons.

 

This was the debut season for Cannon, yet another Quinn Martin production, starring William Conrad as a private detective and gourmet cook who clearly enjoyed dining on his own entrees. The show would last five seasons and 122 episodes. Not a classic series, but a good one. 

 



 

NBC

Ironside

Sarge

The Funny Side

 

At last we get to the most interesting lineup we’ll look at in this piece, which is not to say it was the most successful. It’s also the only schedule that may present another roadblock in my quest to watch at least one episode of every prime time series from the 1970s.

 

Last year NBC offered up The Don Knotts Show and Julia. This year, they shift Ironside into Tuesday, where the series (about halfway through its eight-year run, continued to perform well. But that’s where the network’s good news ended, for next up was Sarge, a new series starring George Kennedy as Sam Cavanaugh, a San Diego cop who retires and becomes a priest after the murder of his wife. 

 


 

I would readily buy Kennedy as a cop, whether it’s in The Blue Knight or working alongside Frank Drebin at Police Squad. But as a priest? That was the most unlikely ecclesial casting until Robert Blake began handing out Hail Marys on Hell Town

 

One would think a vocation change that unique and profound would necessitate a new perspective on life, but Kennedy plays Cavanaugh as if he were still on the force – except now he says grace before eating. There’s one episode on YouTube if you’re curious.

 

Rounding out the night was The Funny Side, a comedy and music series with an impressive pedigree, a legendary host and a talented cast – none of which helped it avoid the axe after 13 weeks.

 

Created by Bill Persky and Sam Denoff (The Dick Van Dyke Show, That Girl) the show was hosted by Gene Kelly, and featured five couples that performed sketches and songs based on a different theme every week. If you’re a classic TV lover you’ll recognize almost all of them – Cindy Williams, Michael Lembeck, Burt Mustin, John Amos, Teresa Graves, Pat Finley (The Bob Newhart Show), and Warren Berlinger. Dick Clair and Jenna McMahon, perhaps the least-familiar names to most, would achieve greater success writing for The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Carol Burnett Show. They also co-created The Facts of Life and Mama’s Family.

 

How could it miss? Well, see if you think this is funny:

 

 

From the footage I’ve seen, I’d say it did not succeed because it wasn’t as edgy and “out there” as Laugh-In, but it also didn’t have the warmth and affability of a more traditional variety series. But at least almost everyone involved had much better jobs in their future.

 

Shows Missed:

The Don Knotts Show (1970)

San Francisco International Airport (1970)

Nancy (1970)

The Headmaster (1970)