Thursday, May 11, 2023

When Magazines Mattered


When I was in college and beginning my career as a freelance writer, my biggest goal was to sell an article to a national magazine. Having my work appear in a publication available in bookstores across the country was, to me, a sign of prestige and success. It was an exciting day when I achieved that goal for the first time.


Magazines, like bookstores, are no longer viewed with the same reverence – or even interest. Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” now carries no more weight than People’s “Sexiest Man Alive.” The February arrival of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue no longer raises a young man’s pulse rate in an era when beautiful women in bikinis can be ogled on 10,000 websites.


But in the Comfort TV era magazines were still a big deal, which is why I viewed writing for them as a proud achievement. Back then almost every household subscribed to at least one periodical, whether it was People or TV Guide, Newsweek or National Geographic, Good Housekeeping or Better Homes & Gardens. And there was trust that had been built, often over decades, between reader and publication. We had faith in their credibility, whether they were analyzing the Middle East conflict or sharing a recipe for pumpkin spice cake. 




Magazines were so much a part of life in America that they figured into stories on almost every classic TV series.


Let’s start with The Dick Van Dyke Show, where you’d expect the writing staff of The Alan Brady Show to be no strangers to publicity. But in “My Two Showoffs and Me,” Rob is concerned when a reporter from Manhattan magazine wants to spend a day in the writer’s room for a feature story. That day quickly devolves into an exercise in backstabbing and one-upping, as Rob, Buddy and Sally all try to garner a flattering write-up.


The series gave us a second look at the impact one magazine article can make in “My Husband Is the Best One.” A prestigious publication (Time was clearly the model here) is doing a cover story on Alan Brady, for which Rob is interviewed. Unfortunately Laura is there for the interview, and her non-stop praise of Rob’s contributions to the show are featured in the article – to the point where his name is mentioned more than Alan’s. That results in one of Carl Reiner’s classic scenes as the short-tempered Alan Brady (“Shut up Mel!”)



And if show business veterans would react that way to how their names appear in print, imagine the excitement felt by Carol Brady (no relation to Alan) when she is invited to write a story about her blended family for Tomorrow's Woman magazine in “Tell It Like It Is” (The Brady Bunch). 


Carol’s story chronicles both the joys and the challenges of bringing two families together, and is rejected for focusing too much on the challenges. A second draft, more upbeat but less truthful, is accepted. Tomorrow’s Woman apparently preferred telling readers what they thought they wanted to hear, instead of what is actually happening. There’s still a lot of that going around, unfortunately.


Sunday newspapers used to come with magazines, both local and national. That tradition ended after more than 80 years when Parade ceased publication on a print version in 2022. But when the Partridge family lived in San Pueblo everyone read the local Sunday supplement, especially when Danny contributed an article entitled “The X-Rated Life of Keith Partridge.” This episode, entitled “I Am Curious Partridge,” is one of the series’ funniest. 



Another staple of magazines was the test article, with subjects like “How well do you know your spouse?” On The Patty Duke Show, Patty fails a test measuring how well she’s navigating teenage life, and vows to change her ways (“The Perfect Teenager”). 


Episodes like this typically have our characters following the advice of “experts” and regretting it later - another lesson worth remembering now, given the glut of dubious experts bloviating on cable news networks.


Many Comfort TV shows also thought that a magazine must be an interesting place to work, as it allowed characters to cross paths with the powerful and influential. When they weren’t capturing evildoers as Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, Lori and Judy were chasing down stories for Newsmakers magazine. On My World…And Welcome to It, curmudgeon John Monroe contributed stories and cartoons to The Manhattanite. Shirley Logan of Shirley’s World moved to London to shoot photos for World Illustrated.


On That Girl Donald Hollinger wrote for Newsview, and somehow kept his job despite the high-maintenance demands of his girlfriend. On The Doris Day Show, Doris joins Today’s World magazine as an executive secretary, before eventually being promoted to staff writer and later associate editor. Tom Corbett was a publisher of magazines on The Courtship of Eddie’s Father



Donald was in New York, Doris in San Francisco and Tom in Los Angeles – three of the most expensive cities in America. I miss the days when working for a magazine earned an income that made that possible. Tom in particular was too nice a guy not to pay his writers fairly.


The best magazine-set series was The Name of the Game, an ambitious 90-minute drama featuring Robert Stack, Gene Barry and Tony Franciosa, supported by Susan Saint James in her usual sassy sidekick role. Each episode delved into the workings of a major publishing conglomerate and the stories published in their magazines, a wide-open premise that took viewers into international intrigue, corporate battles, political scandals and celebrity misbehavior. 



None of Charlie’s Angels actually worked for a magazine, but they sometimes pretended to be journalists to get closer to a suspect. In “Consenting Adults,” Kelly tells a mob boss who owns racehorses she’s an editor with “New Sport” magazine. “Never heard of it,” he said. “Our first issue hits the stands in three months,” she replies, and that was enough to get the information she needed.  My guess is that only works if you look like Jaclyn Smith. That approach would never work for Barnaby Jones.


Now that I think of it, I believe Emma Peel used a similar cover in The Avengers, though if memory serves she also moonlighted as a real journalist, among her many other talents. 



Now, of course, the Internet has largely devalued magazines, devalued writers, and eliminated the need for anyone to pay very much for well-written content (Bitter? Not me!) And with the emergence of ChatGPT, freelancers will soon be lucky to find places that even pay ten cents a word. So much for taking Ann Marie out to dinner every night. 


  1. Wow, I had no idea so many fictional magazine existed--I thought for sure you'd forgotten Tom Corbett's mag or Lori & Judy's Newsmaker but nope all here... and I laughed out loud at Danny's "The X-Rated Life of Keith Partridge"! David, very impressive but I wish we could see your first publication, that's pretty impressive. Ah I miss the old days!

    1. And I"m sure I missed quite a few more! Thanks as always for reading. I still freelance for a few publications like 'Cowboys & Indians,' a western lifestyles publication.

  2. I always enjoyed reading Parade magazine in our weekend paper.

    I miss print magazines too. I still subscribe to "Good Old Days", but even that is getting thin as people who lived the good old days are dying off.

    There are a few micro-publishers emerging with limited runs of magazines, nothing like Time or Life, but they do provide an outlet for die-hards of physical print like us.

    1. Long may they survive. There was a time when people predicted all print media would be extinct and we'd be reading all of our publications on Kindles and iPads. Thank heaven that didn't come to pass.