Yes, it's time once again for everyone's favorite feature, The Cultural Archaeologist. Let's get started.
A couple of weeks ago, we mentioned the passing of the entertainment and game show icon Kitty Carlisle. Well, in the November 29, 1975 edition of TV Guide there's an article about Kitty written by Peter Funt, son of the legendary TV host Allen Funt. (If you're old enough to remember Candid Camera, you'll know who we mean.) "The only way to see Kitty Carlisle in the same dress twice," the article proclaims, "is to watch reruns of 'To Tell the Truth.' " Funt's story is a charming portrait of an entertainer who takes her job seriously, as well as her responsibility to her fans, and radiates class all the way. "She is one actress who still refuses to appear in public without beautiful clothes, ornate jewelry and a carefully styled coiffure." Particularly humorous is her description of her "pit crew," the wardrobe people responsible for helping her change in the ten minutes between shows (the five-a-week show was taped in a single afternoon). "Every once in a while, I feel like I'm a car in the pits at Indianapolis. Somebody changes the oil, kicks the tires - you know, pats the hair and shoves me back out on the stage."
In the same issue we read about the latest presentation of Hallmark Hall of Fame, an adaptation of Maxwell Anderson's play Valley Forge, starring Richard Basehart as George Washington, leading his troops through the incredibly harsh winter of 1777, trying to hold his struggling new country together. Now, this is in the days before Hall of Fame became a lacrymose, diabetes-inducing disease-of-the-week picture, oozing sentimentality for it's Oprahfied audience. Back then, the Hallmark Hall of Fame was synonymous with quality. Remember their motto - "When you care enough to send the very best"? Can't say the same nowadays, either in their cards or their TV programs.
At 10:30 p.m. Central time on Saturday, November 29, NBC pre-empts Saturday Night Live for a basketball game - but not just any game. It's one of the biggest regular-season college basketball games in many years, defending national champion UCLA playing undefeated, top-ranked Indiana at St. Louis (supposedly a neutral site, but in reality swarming with Hoosier fans cheering their team on). Note the starting time - way out of prime time. Television hadn't quite figured out prime time sports yet, and although everyone realized how big this game was, they still thought it might be a drag on ratings, which is why they stuck it on in such a strange time spot. (The game was telecast live, which means tip-off was at 10:30 local time in St. Louis.) I have extremely bitter personal memories of this game; not because of the result - I was an Indiana fan, and they crushed UCLA 84-64 - but because the local NBC affiliate where I lived didn't show the game. They had a movie on instead, Bridge on the River Kwai, but this had nothing to do with substituting a quality movie for televised sports. It had everything to do with a parochial attitude toward their programming, and a desire to retain as much advertising revenue as possible. When we moved out of that area in 1978, they still had yet to show an episode of Saturday Night Live, never showed the second half of Sunday NFL doubleheaders, and preempted NBC programming with pernicious distain. The FCC should have yanked their license. They're owned by a larger media conglomerate now, and while I would probably regret the loss of local programming, I can't say it'd be a big loss.
Of course this issue marked the start of the Christmas programming season (as it was still called back then), so both Rudolph and Bing Crosby (with special guest Fred Astaire) make appearances, along with a host of lesser Christmas cartoons. Ah, with Thanksgiving just concluded, you could just feel the holiday spirit in the air.
There are other things of note in this issue - some quite interesting bits on the media by Pat Buchanan (who, amazingly enough, has a column in TV Guide at this point) and Edwin Newman. Since this has been a pretty lighthearted piece, I think we'll reserve those thoughts for their own space, and we'll come back to it later this week.
And, by the way, the cover story of this issue features Tony Curtis, star of a new TV series. Does anyone out there still recall that series, McCoy?