Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Back In the Day

By Mitchell

We haven't dipped into the Hadley TV Guide archives for awhile, and I can't think of a better time to do it than Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving 1962 fell on November 22, which would take on an entirely new and darker significance a scant 12 months later. Holiday programming actually started earlier in the week, on Saturday, when Lawrence Welk and his Champagne Music Makers (8:00 Central, ABC) celebrated with an evening of Thanksgiving music, including "Thank the Lord for This Thanksgiving Day," "Bless This House," and "By the Waters of Minnetonka." (Bet you didn't know there were so many Thanksgiving songs, did you?)

Perry Como's Thanksgiving show aired on Wednesday (8:00, NBC), which TV Guide referred to as "Thanksgiving Eve." Thomas Mitchell was the special musical guest, and the theme for the program - a fitting one - was "There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays."

Ah, Thanksgiving Day itself. And what would it be without parades and football? Well, there was plenty of it on Thanksgiving 1962, starting at 9 am. NBC, as is the case to this day, carried the Macy's parade. Only two hours back then as opposed to three hours today - I wonder if they cut out the fluff and the awful lip-synched production numbers? Guess not; the broadcast started off with a half-hour, three-ring circus in front of the store. Donald Duck was the new balloon that year, and Bud Palmer and Chris Schenkel, a couple of well-known sportscasters, were the announcers. I find that interesting, considering that traditionally the hosts of the Today show anchored the parade coverage.

CBS's coverage also started at 9 and ran for two hours. Captain Kangaroo was in New York, hosting the overall coverage of three traditional parades: New York, Philadelphia and Detroit. But here's the interesting thing: all three parades were treated as news events, and anchored by newsmen. Douglas Edwards covered New York, Robert Trout and Gene Crane in Philadelphia, and Dallas Townsend and Bob Murphy were in Detroit. These were all well-known newsmen of the time, although you might not remember them today. Again, I wonder if they were forced to read the excruciatingly bad copy that that parade announcers do today? I doubt it.

When I was a kid, I loved watching these parades, particularly CBS - after all, more parades. They were all sponsored by department stores: in addition to Macy's, Gimbel's sponsored the Philadelphia parade, and Hudson's underwrote Detroit. It was good business for the stores, and good publicity. (For many years CBS would also cover the Santa Claus parade in Canada, where Eaton's department store was the sponsor.)

Of course, most of these stores are gone now, as the shopping centers of large cities moved out of downtown and into the suburbs. The parades are still around, with new sponsors (IKEA is the title sponsor in Philly), and the Detroit parade is syndicated nationally, while others are shown locally. CBS and NBC both dedicate their entire parade broadcasts to New York, and we've shifted our attention to Chicago, where WGN provides national coverage of the McDonald's Thanksgiving Day parade, which was moved to Thanksgiving from an early December date a few years ago.

But I digress. There's more to Thanksgiving television than parades, right? There's football! CBS went directly from their parade coverage to the big NFL game of the day, the traditional Turkey Day matchup between Detroit and Green Bay. The 1962 game was one of the most famous games ever played on Thanksgiving; one of the greatest Packer teams ever came into this game undefeated, only to be crushed by the Lions 26-14, with Packers QB Bart Starr sacked a staggering 11 times.

As soon as the Detroit-Green Bay tilt was over, the network switched to Austin, Texas for coverage of the traditional Texas-Texas A&M matchup. These two teams played for many years on Thanksgiving Day, and have sporatically continued the tradition in recent years (including this year) on ESPN. If you were in the mood for a little AFL football, you could catch the New York Titans (now the Jets) playing the Broncos in Denver at 2 pm on ABC.

There was some other holiday fare, however. Pat Boone had a variety special at 4:30 on NBC, with guest stars Patti Page, Elaine Dunn, and Peter, Paul & Mary (!). Also on NBC, at 6:30, was The Bell Telephone Hour Thanksgiving show, starring John Raitt (father of Bonnie), Martha Wright and Mahalia Jackson, and featuring an appearance by poet and Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg. Now, for our younger readers those names might not mean much, but trust me - this was some big-name talent appearing on this show.

And that was it for Thanksgiving, 1962.

November 22 is the earliest Thanksgiving can fall in the year. In 1963 Thanksgiving was on November 28, the latest it can fall. It was six days after JFK was assassinated, three days after he was buried, one day after LBJ addressed a joint session of Congress. Parades were still held and people came, although nobody seemed that excited about it. It's for the children, the organizers said, in explanation for why the parades went on. Everyone agreed that the diversion was probably a good thing. The special programming was over; football games were played, entertainment specials were broadcast, life went on.

November 22, 1962. Nobody could possibly have anticipated what things would be like 365 days later. But that was all in the future, and people lived with what they had, which was Thanksgiving Day: parades, food and football.

Come to think of it, that's not a bad thing to have. We don't know what the future holds, which is why we're thankful for what the present gives us.

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