Monday, February 3, 2014

Retro TV Monday - This week in TV Guide: February 4, 1967

Dale Robertson is my kind of guy: plain-spoken, to the point, conservative.  The star of ABC's The Iron Horse, and previous Western series such as Tales of Wells Fargo and Death Valley Days, "believes in income taxes but thinks that they should be a flat 25 percent with no limit on how much the high rollers can make."*  He also believes that the troubled urban areas such as Harlem can be rehabilitated by installing some pride of place, perhaps an early version of the "Broken Windows" theory, and that anyone fortunate enough to have the kind of life he has - a loving wife, obedient children, and three square meals a day - should be able to "do anything on God's green earth he sets his mind to."  No wonder that Robertson was out campaigning for Ronald Reagan during his successful 1966 run for Governor of California.

*Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, as I've said more than once.

It's not a surprise to learn Robertson's values; a graduate from Oklahoma Military Academy, joined the Army right after Pearl Harbor, fought with Patton's Third Army in Europe.  Nor is it a surprise to read Robertson's opinions in TV Guide, or that a man with them is the star of a new series.  It's not quite so common today, however, to find conservatives in the industry so outspoken.  As Clint Howard (brother of Ron, and formerly of Gentle Ben) said not too long ago, “I always tell younger conservative-minded people that they better mind their P's and Q's and remember that you want to have a career."  This isn't a judgement on my part, by the way, just an observation. Of course TV Guide, a conservative publication, gives voice to conservative actors.   And there are still conservatives in Hollywood today - they're just a little harder to find.

On the opposite end of the political spectrum, Sunday night features the premiere of one of the most notable, controversial series of the 60s: The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.  Once upon a time I reviewed a DVD release of season 3 of Smothers Brothers.  Upon looking back at it, I find I didn't think much of it, which doesn't surprise me since I didn't think much of the show when it was originally on, just as I never thought much of the Smothers Brothers themselves, other than as a testimonial on just how far one could get in the entertainment business without much talent.

But here we are, at the very beginning.  The Brothers are coming off a mildly amusing sitcom in which Tom played an angel (no typecasting there), not to mention a fairly successful stand-up act, and numerous appearances on various television shows.  Their opening night lineup is amazingly conventional, with Ed Sullivan (welcoming them to the Sunday night lineup; they immediately followed Ed's show), Danny Thomas, Jim Nabors, and Jill St. John.  The ad accompanying the show promises a "riotous new series,*" with "daffy ballads and oddball humor."  Sounds pretty innocuous, doesn't it?  As I mentioned in that review, for all the shouting about the Smothers Brothers, their show was actually pretty conventional, and when it's removed from the topical context it's actually kind of stupid.

*I don't know what CBS was expecting from the show, but I doubt they thought the biggest riots would come from the network's relationship with their stars.

Nonetheless, that innocent listing is exactly the kind of thing we like to look for here: an advertisement for a historic program, with no hint as to what lies ahead.  The Smothers Brothers were, in my opinion, far more influential in terms of the precedent they set for the shows that followed them than they were with their own show.  One thing's for sure, though - the times, they were a 'changing.

Read the rest here

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