Monday, May 7, 2007

The Cultural Archaeologist

By Mitchell

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?


  1. NBC did this procedure too later for Saturday Night's Main Event.

    Indiana vs UCLA at the now-defunct St. Louis Arena sounded interesting with the 11:30 PM (ET) time.

    The St. Louis Arena was demolished in favour of constructing the current Savvis Center, home of the NHL Blues and some college basketball teams. Under terms of a 1976 NBA-ABA merger agreement, an NBA team cannot be contained in St. Louis or in Louisville in order to guarantee the owners of two ABA franchises in those two cites
    which were folding as part of the merger revenue from all future NBA television contracts.

    ESPN would actually have 11:30 PM (ET) tipoffs of games in smaller conferences in the Eastern or Central time zone. Such conferences included the Ohio Valley Conference.

    The NFL has restrictions on doubleheaders. Among the restrictions include restrictions where local markets of the (then) 26 NFL markets (New York with two teams, the Bay Area with two teams) still in use today with 30 markets (add Phoenix, Charlotte, Nashville, Indianapolis, and Jacksonville; the NFL lost the Los Angeles market). If there is a home game by the host market, that market cannot air more than two games, and only one game per network, and at different times. The only exception is when a home game must be blacked out. In that case, both games to air on television must air in the other time slot.

    The local Fox affiliate had a lazy person on the switch this weekend. They started a movie at noon despite a warning from the network at 1 PM they were to show the rain-delayed Crown Royal presents the Jim Stewart 400 from Richmond, Virginia (postponed from Saturday night). At 1, the movie kept running despite the warning. When the cars were on the next-to-last pace lap at 1:13 PM, the broadcast was switched hastily after someone was awaken to change the switch to change from pre-arranged programming to the rescheduled live event. If it had been two minutes later, the green would have waved with the movie showing, and beer cans would have flown out to the station headquarters. Imagine the station falling asleep that the pre-game segment was finished and kickoff was just about to start.

    P. S. I couldn't find the theatre because they didn't tell me exactly where it was, and I was tired from the strange runaround before I arrived just three minutes before the start of Le Nozze di Figaro in English, so I couldn't review it!

    Some thoughts -- different translation than the Converse 2006 edition, there was just one intermission instead of the three, and it makes you think about what "Porgi amor" should sound like! (Remember, I have a recording of that song from a 2003 recital in Florida -- consider who's singing it!)

    And why too many applauses for this, Nicholas Smith's last performance with the South Carolina Philharmonic? I went to three of his last four events (4/21 Belshazzar's Feast, 5/1 Symphonic Movie Spectacular, and 5/5 Le Nozze di Figaro -- there were two shows, on May 4 and 5, I chose the latter). My voice teacher was also expecting to attend, but I didn't see her. (Funny that it happened, since she was slated to attend a local Town Theatre production of Cats, and the date she had planned to see it was sold out.)

    There were many ABC affiliates which refused, when it started, to air NYPD Blue because it was too raunchy.

    The "Oprahified" audience is a problem everywhere. In churches today, I see that they have dumbed down church and the message to be more Oprahified. One kid in church actually insulted me when he saw a pic of me with my voice teacher, and then I played a clip of her singing some Mozart. He called it "Oprah".

  2. I think Hallmark Hall of Fame became womanafied (new word!). It is popular with chicks. How many men do you know who sit down and watch it unless forced to? It was not always so, as Mitchell noted.

    I don't remember that Tony Curtis show. Must not have lasted long.

    Weren't the mid-70s the highpoint of the Quinn-Martin cop shows? I wonder if McCoy was in that stable?

  3. McCoy was part of the NBC Sunday Mystery Movie with Columbo, McCloud and McMillan & Wife for the 1975-76 season. Tony Curtis played a con man who turned the tables on other con artists but only 3 or 4 installments were made. The following year, Universal & NBC replaced this segment with Quincy starring Jack Klugman.

  4. Anonymous,

    You're right! It was the year they were threatening to become the "Mc's," with only Columbo not fitting into the mix. I always thought McCoy for Quincy was not a particularly good trade-off, although Quincy did have a long life of its own.



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