REVEAL SHOT

A SOPHISTICATED LOOK AT FILM AND TELEVISION

By

‘A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’: still one of the more underrated ‘Peanuts’ specials

My MarketWatch story on “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” written last year.

” ‘A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’ defines holiday TV”

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.

— David B. Wilkerson

Enhanced by Zemanta

By

1963-64 in Television: Interesting moments from NBC’s Nov. 22 JFK coverage

Bill Ryan (right, with Frank McGee) at the NBC...

Bill Ryan (right, with Frank McGee) at the NBC Newsroom in New York on November 22, 1963.

A nice crowd gathered in Chicago Friday for the  Museum of Broadcast Communications presentation of the first five hours of NBC News’ Nov. 22, 1963 coverage of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Looking around, there were many who would have remembered where they were that day, along with quite a few schoolchildren and college students.

Museum Founder Bruce DuMont gave a brief introduction, and then at 12:53 — the moment when NBC cut into local programming to bring the first bulletins, the video footage began, taken from the 1988 A&E special “The JFK Assassination: As It Happened.” 1

Some random observations:

  • NBC newsmen Frank McGee, Martin Agronsky, David Brinkley and Edwin Newman were certainly emotional — not in an overly dramatic way — but enough to let people understand that they were as shocked as anyone.

In his 1991 autobiography, Reuven Frank, then executive producer of “The Huntley-Brinkley Report,” recalled being proud of the fact that none of NBC’s on-air personnel cried during that long day, unlike Walter Cronkite of CBS, who famously shed a tear when he reported that the president had died.2

Early on, when Agronsky reported from Washington that he tried to talk to Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s secretary, but she was sobbing too hard to be understood, you could see the pain on his face and hear it in his voice. He was the first person during the network’s marathon coverage to refer to the horrifying fate of such a “vital” young president.

Not long before the network signed off for the day, David Brinkley remarked that it was all “too fast and too ugly” for the senses, comparing the swiftness of the events to death of President Franklin Roosevelt in 1945. “Roosevelt’s body came back to Washington on a train, draped in black crepe,” he said, giving the nation a few days to let reality sink in and come to terms with its grief. Kennedy’s body was flown back to Andrews Air Force Base near Washington within a few hours.

Newman echoed remarks of Chet Huntley made during a special 90-minute version of “Huntley-Brinkley,” blaming the culture of violence that seemed to mark the U.S. as an immature nation.

  • Several times, McGee, Brinkley and others said that President Johnson would serve out  the remainder of Kennedy’s term, which would end in January 1964, rather than ’65. Brinkley even repeated the mistake after he estimated that the term would expire “about a year and a half from now.”

This is certainly not meant in harsh judgment, especially given the circumstances of that afternoon. But clearly the election of November 1964 would determine who would take the oath on Jan. 20, 1965. It seems odd that a producer somewhere (which would have been Frank from 6:30 Eastern) wouldn’t have corrected this.

  • In my last post, I was guilty of assuming that the NBC broadcast did not include a woman reporter; I was wrong.

When LBJ and the late president’s body returned to Andrews Air Force base in the darkness of late afternoon, just after 5 p.m. Eastern, NBC’s Ray Scherer was completely overshadowed by a woman’s voice, who was also reporting on the scene. The camera never shows her, but my first thought was that this must have been Nancy Dickerson,  the pioneering broadcast journalist who worked for NBC from 1963 to 1970, and that was indeed Dickerson. She was very good, describing details at times that the camera hadn’t focused upon yet, like the fact that there were men “struggling with the president’s casket” aboard Air Force One as they prepared to remove it from the plane. The camera quickly panned to catch up with her commentary.

An African-American reporter from another outlet is seen during footage of former President Dwight Eisenhower’s reaction to the assassination. It wasn’t Mal Goode, so I would have to do further research to figure out who it was.

  • The early reaction from people gathered in New York and San Francisco that day was that the murder must have been perpetrated by an “ultra right-wing group” or white supremacists.

A woman who might have been of mixed race was interviewed in New York, and said it was probably white supremacists, who had “set the whole thing up.” A bearded San Francisco man said he hopes that something is done about such “hate groups,” as they are going to “destroy the South.”

This reaction certainly owed something to the heavy television coverage of the civil rights movement, which had risen to a crescendo that summer with the horrible events in Birmingham in June and the March On Washington For Jobs and Freedom in August, which precipitated a round of documentaries, including NBC’s mammoth three-hour “The American Revolution of ’63” on Sept. 2.

  •  There were more WBAP Technicolor cut-ins than I had remembered.    

Early on, the network, broadcasting in black-and-white, throws to Dallas affiliate WBAP-TV(now KXAS), which utilizes its color camera for several cut-ins before reportedly being persuaded by annoyed NBC News officials to transmit in traditional monochrome. I only remembered perhaps two of these color transmissions, but there were at least four. Certainly very few people aside from network executives and appliance store owners had color TV sets at that time, but it’s so fascinating to see the contrast. I looked around the crowd at the museum to see if anyone was whispering to each other about it, but the people I saw seemed unimpressed.

WBAP technicians seemed to have refined that color picture after a first, aborted try at a cut-in that had no sound. Newsman Tom Murphy’s face was a bright pink in that first transmission; subsequently he and a colleague have a more normal appearance.

  • The glitches — in a telephoned report from Robert MacNeil and switches to various bureaus — were handled very smoothly.

I could speculate that, in such an early stage for the medium, technical problems were more common than they are today and that anchors were accordingly more accustomed to patiently enduring them and explaining the problem to viewers, but it was still professional. “As you can well imagine, there’s a certain amount of control room panic,” Bill Ryan said after the first attempt to throw to WBAP failed.

  • It’s staggering to think of what was lost when most of the news broadcasts of this era were erased.

Most of the important events of the ’50s and ’60s — especially the ’60s — were televised, often in as expert a fashion as NBC News managed here. And most of that coverage is lost forever, barring some astounding discovery. What a terrible waste.

— David B. Wilkerson

Enhanced by Zemanta

By

1963-64 in Television: CBS expands evening newscast to 30 minutes

Reveal Shot begins an examination of the 1963-64 television season, which of course began 50 years ago this month. It was a year that saw the medium make great strides in news and entertainment, and one in which several long-running programs distinguished themselves. 

Walter Cronkite.

As mentioned in our posts on network television coverage of the March On Washington For Jobs and Freedom, which had taken place days earlier (Read Parts I and II [now updated]), TV news was beginning to have real confidence in itself as a medium for news. On a nightly basis, it couldn’t offer depth, the way newspapers and magazines could, but the power of televised pictures coming into people’s living rooms — especially with the uniquely immediate look of live or videotaped footage, — had an impact nothing else could match, a kind of urgency that, in the right hands, could be a stunning force.

In his Feb. 6, 1963 column, UPI television critic Rick DuBrow lamented that several weekly documentary shows and other news and public affairs programs were either leaving the airwaves or being reduced to monthly broadcasts. He noted that CBS was canceling  “Eyewitness,” a round-up of the previous week’s events and a look ahead to items of note in coming days, while NBC was going to curtail “Chet Huntley Reporting” and “David Brinkley’s Journal” to once a month in the 1963-64 season.

Both moves were being made, DuBrow reported, because CBS, and then NBC, intended to expand their  nightly newscasts to 30 minutes from 15 minutes. “The expansion of the key daily news reports certainly is a fine thing,” the critic said, but he added: “Daily news reports, even expanded, are still pretty much outlines of top stories … When top informational programs are chopped, when programs like ‘Discovery ’63’ and ‘Calendar’ have a tough time staying on, something is wrong. Except for news and public affairs presentations, there is really very little to even justify the existence of television.”3

Undaunted by such a pessimistic view, the networks moved forward with their plans. Here we’ll see how CBS News President Dick Salant, network president Frank Stanton and founder William S. Paley were able to convince CBS stations around the country to go along with the decision to expand the 15-minute evening newscast to 30 minutes, starting on Sept. 2.

In this clip from the Archive of American Television’s 1999 interview with Walter Cronkite (1916-2009), the “most trusted man in America” explains why the “CBS Evening News” moved to a half hour (6:30-7 p.m. Eastern time), and the peeved reaction of CBS affiliates, which were accustomed to having that time for themselves. He also discusses the scoop he ended up with when he interviewed President John F. Kennedy on that Sept. 2 premiere.

There are two videos here:

 

Cronkite continues to explain the significance of President Kennedy’s remarks on the early days of U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

 

Current “CBS Evening News” anchor Scott Pelley ended his own newscast Monday night with this look back at the first 30-minute newscast, offering further insight into the logistics, and consequences, of that evening.

 

NBC’s “Huntley-Brinkley Report” followed one week later, which Reveal Shot hopes to explore in more detail Sept. 9.

New York Times television critic Jack Gould, writing for that newspaper’s Sept. 22 edition, was cautious in his early assessments of the new half-hour news programs.

“What remains to be seen,” Gould said, “is whether the added time will be used fruitfully in explaining complex issues that require elucidation or will be given over only to light feature material.

“Random sampling of the programs thus far invites only inconclusive nitpicking and personal preference in the handling of individual stories; the balance sheet is extremely even.”4

 

— David B. Wilkerson

 

Related articles

Enhanced by Zemanta

By

‘Many Loves of Dobie Gillis’ cast was golden, as seen on new DVD box set (Part II)

Shout Factory’s deluxe DVD box set The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis: The Complete Series” (CBS, 1959-1963). The suggested retail price is $118.99, but Amazon has it for $91.99. The 21-disc offering includes bonus episodes from “Love That Bob” and “The Stu Erwin Show.”

Following Shout Factory’s recent release of “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” in a complete-series DVD box set, Reveal Shot presents Part II of an interview with television historians Harry Castleman and Walter Podrazik, authors of “Watching TV: Six Decades of American Television” (expanded 2nd ed., 2011). Castleman is an attorney at Boston law firm Michienzie & Sawin LLC, while Podrazik is the curator of the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago.

Read the first part of the interview here.

Reveal Shot: I wanted to zero in on Dwayne Hickman, briefly, in terms of what he brought to this role. Certainly it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing Dobie Gillis.

Castleman: One of the things I liked about him is that — and again, up to this point, teenagers were usually portrayed as goofy, crazy kids — Dwayne Hickman portrayed Dobie as an intelligent guy. Level-headed, if you will. And I admired that. It gave him some gravitas, in the sense that he made you feel like you would feel in a given situation. You don’t feel like a goofball; you feel like you’re a serious guy who’s trying to make his way.

Podrazik: Everyone likes to find the character that’s an everyman, that’s identifiable. Dwayne Hickman managed to be a very accessible, sensible, believable, sympathetic character. You knew he was never going to win, but he didn’t come across as a mope. He came across as someone who picked himself up, dusted himself off, and would start all over again.

Castleman: And even though he had that burning ambition, to be successful, to be rich, to have the girl, to have the car, it wasn’t over the top. He wasn’t like Thalia Menninger. He was still, at heart, a good guy.

Podrazik: Just the timbre of his voice helped. He was not Walter Denton from “Our Miss Brooks,” with a squeaky voice [imitates Richard Crenna’s high voice as the character] like that. He was someone you’d want to have a conversation with. You mentioned breaking the fourth wall; when he did that, he would be saying, this is what’s on my mind. This is what I’m trying to do, this is my scheme this week to have all my dreams come true. Uh oh, here comes Maynard to puncture my balloon again.

Reveal Shot: Turning to Bob Denver. One of the things I noticed in your reviews of his subsequent roles is that when Denver was in a supporting role, as he is here, it’s fine, but when he had to carry a series, as in “Gilligan’s Island,” he wasn’t as effective. What made him successful in this supporting role?

Castleman: Well, just his great quirkiness. Again, thinking of the time frame, he would’ve appeared far more quirky back then. I always loved how he would literally be allergic to the word “work.” It was really funny, and it certainly went against what would’ve been considered the correct concept of American society. Goodness knows where that specific thing came from — it might’ve been Denver or the writers or some collaboration, but it’s a great thing. He’s a wonderful sidekick, and again I think the analogy to Art Carney/Ed Norton and “The Honeymooners” is apt, and you can say that in effect that Norton is a more interesting character than Ralph Kramden, and Maynard is a more interesting character than Dobie, but could there be an “Ed Norton Show?” I don’t know.

Podrazik: … One of my favorite episodes was the “Time Capsule” episode, in which Maynard was really distressed at the state of the world.5 Why bother with a time capsule when everything’s going to be blown up? Maynard could credibly say what might have been niggling in the back of the minds of more proper folks, like, boy, this really is a scary time. But he would actually say it. And that really worked well in contrast to everyone else.

When Bob Denver turned around and became the lead, in something like “Gilligan’s Island” or some of his other roles — and maybe I’ve softened a little on this as time has gone by — as long as some of the other characters took the lead on a particular story, he was good popping in with his “Gilliganisms,” but if it’s all Gilligan all the time (or if it had been all Maynard, all the time), that could be a bit wearying. And that’s why comic relief characters are such golden opportunities, because you can make so much without having that character carry the whole story.

Reveal Shot: I wanted to talk about Frank Faylen, because years ago, when we discussed “Leave It To Beaver,” you both talked about how, while the kids on the show were pretty realistic, the adults were not. So I wanted to address how good Faylen was here, playing this sarcastic and always exasperated father.

Castleman: I would like to compare him favorably to one of my least favorite characters of the ’50s, which was Chester Riley, at least the William Bendix version. I always hated Bendix’s version, because he seemed like such a bag of hot air.

Frank Faylen played what Chester Riley should have been. He’s a very believable dad, a very believable small business operator, a very believable World War II vet who’s in complete conflict with a new generation that he doesn’t understand and makes no sense to him. He’s exasperated, but he’s able to stay human at the same time.

Podrazik: And the marriage between Herbert and Winnie Gillis (Florida Friebus) is credible. They’re basically running a small business together.  And Faylen was absolutely someone you could see putting in the long hours. There are people who look back at their youth and say, “I walked 27 miles to school.” I believe Herbert really would have. He was the type that would work hard, who had a strong belief in the American ethic — that was the character as written. And Faylen pulled it off so well.

And yes, while you definitely followed the teens on the show, as a viewer you could say, I don’t mind going to the adult subplots here, because they’re really good subplots.

Cover of "Watching TV: Six Decades of Ame...Reveal Shot: What about Sheila James? There was a character (Zelda Gilroy) who could have been really annoying, and yet she seemed to find a way to straddle the line between that and bringing out the more endearing aspects of that character.

Castleman: One of the things I’ve been thinking about her, with all the attention these days on “The Big Bang Theory,” that show has always spotlighted the nerdy guys that we’re familiar with, but it now finally has some nerdy girls, too. They deserve equal time. You’re used to just seeing the gorgeous sexpot, who may be funny, but is going to be gorgeous. But let the other side have a say, too. And I think that’s the case with Sheila James as Zelda.

Zelda Gilroy certainly is a believable type. Yes, certainly it’s bordering on slapstick a little bit, with the mannerisms and so forth, but I always enjoyed her, and found her really interesting to watch.

Podrazik: And, not that they constructed series back then to have these grand story arcs, but you knew that’s who Dobie should be with. Despite all of his illusions, and his pursuit of the most gorgeous girl on campus, it was Zelda that would ground him.6 And also, that was staying within his social class; she was not only who he should be with, but she was also who it was appropriate for him to be with, in the eyes of society. So of course when they did the reunion movie [“Bring Me The Head of Dobie Gillis” (1988)]7, they were married.

Reveal Shot: As far as some of the other supporting actors, I’ll just let you comment on anybody else you like — Tuesday Weld, Stephen Franken, and so on.

Castleman: Well, once you get to that level, you’re talking more about characters that more border on caricature. And that’s okay. I love Stephen Franken. Again, I focused on him far more than Warren Beatty during his brief time there. I thought he was very funny, I loved the way his character made fun of the wealthy — which is certainly a long-standing tradition — but they did it very well. I got a big kick out of it. He and the woman who played his mother, Doris Packer, who was also perfect.

Podrazik: I would underscore that of the rich folks, I very much enjoyed Chatsworth’s mom, because she did have her moments of insight. In one episode, she managed to get the Gillis family into the rich circles, because she wanted to demonstrate [to Chatsworth] that there wasn’t something inherently better about [the Gillises], that if they were exposed to, and had, “oodles and oodles of money,” as Thalia might say, they wouldn’t act all that differently from the way the Osbornes act.8

Reveal Shot: Well, I guess I’ll close with my “what if” question: Given that CBS greenlighted “Dobie Gillis” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” what kind of trajectory do you think their sitcom development would have taken if they hadn’t been sidetracked by the success of the rural shows like “The Beverly Hillbilies,” “Petticoat Junction” and “Green Acres?”

Castleman: Sure — you look back on it now, and you say, geez: “Dobie Gillis.” “Dick Van Dyke.” What a great string here — if two makes a string.

I mean, look — that stuff was cutting edge, and it takes time to percolate. Obviously tapping into that rural stream, although you look back at “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “Petticoat Junction” now and kind of shudder and sigh and say, oh my — that kind of thing was far more mainstream, and it certainly did well for CBS’s bottom line for most of the ’60s. So I can’t really fault them on that level.

Podrazik: I started looking at the schedule grids to see what else was on, and you know, “Dobie Gillis” wasn’t entirely alone on the CBS schedule as a non-rural comedy. They had “The Danny Thomas Show” — hardly rural, and depending on how you want to start characterizing them, there’s “My Favorite Martian” (starting in 1963-64) and others…

And I think the difference, if you’re looking at “Dick Van Dyke” and “Dobie Gillis,” since you’re coupling those two, you have to remember that “Dick Van Dyke” came from Carl Reiner basically sitting down and writing the first season (1961-62)9. So this was something that was very rich, in disciplined text, before they had filmed one moment of the show. And again, “Dobie Gillis” comes from someone [Max Shulman] who was a short story writer, who wrote for feature films, so it had a richer literary pedigree than shows that started out — and shamelessly so — as cartoons.

 *******

In its second season, “Dobie Gillis,” squaring off against ABC’s “Wyatt Earp” and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” on NBC 10, continued to be a solid Tuesday night performer for CBS, and was an easy choice for renewal as the network made plans for 1961-62. That fall, ABC tried its own comedy in the Tuesday 8:30 p.m. time slot — a cartoon version of “Amos n’ Andy” (from that show’s creators, Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll) in the form of a fox and a bear. It flopped, while  “Dobie Gillis” usually finished in a comfortable second place against “Hitchcock.” By March 1962, however, CBS was already reported to be contemplating a revamp that would include moving “Dobie” to Wednesday nights.

For its fourth and final season (1962-63), “Dobie Gillis” was seen on Wednesdays at 8:30, against the last half-hour of “The Virginian” on NBC and ABC’s TV version of the Bing Crosby film “Going My Way,” starring Gene Kelly.11  By this time, “Dobie Gillis” was the only television series being produced by Twentieth Century-Fox, which was still reeling from the millions of dollars that had been swallowed up by its feature film “Cleopatra.”

In February 1963, press reports indicated that the “Dobie” had been marked for cancellation by CBS. Though the ratings had declined to some degree, Chicago Tribune TV critic Larry Wolters also reported in his April 28, 1963 column that a number of half-hour series were axed across all of the networks because “some cost-savings could be effected by replacing them with hour-long entries.” He noted that 12 new shows already slated for 1963-64 were 60 minutes long.12

The show immediately became one of the most prized offerings in syndication, and eventually gained a new legion of fans during a long run as part of Nickelodeon’s Nick At Nite schedule.

— David B. Wilkerson

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

By

‘The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis’: DVD set is reminder of sitcom’s special legacy (Part I)

Shout Factory’s deluxe DVD box set The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis: The Complete Series” (CBS, 1959-1963). The suggested retail price is $118.99, but Amazon has it for $91.99. The 21-disc offering includes bonus episodes from “Love That Bob” and “The Stu Erwin Show.”

Following Shout Factory’s recent release of “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” in a complete-series DVD box set, Reveal Shot presents Part I of an interview with television historians Harry Castleman and Walter Podrazik, authors of “Watching TV: Six Decades of American Television” (expanded 2nd ed., 2011). Castleman is an attorney at Boston law firm Michienzie & Sawin LLC, while Podrazik is the curator of the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago.

If you’ve followed this blog (or my work at MarketWatch), you know that Harry and Wally have had a profound influence on the way I view the history of TV. In addition to “Watching TV,” I also find their books “The TV Schedule Book” (1984) and “Harry and Wally’s Favorite TV Shows” (1989) to be invaluable reference resources.

“Dobie Gillis” sprang from the mind of humorist Max Shulman in a series of 1945 short stories. Despite two popular books and a movie based on the character, Shulman told Variety in 1960 that it took him six years to bring the show to television.

“So he fought the TV battle until “Dobie” was finally accepted for network display and became one of last season’s sleepers,” Variety columnist Jack Hellman wrote in the trade magazine’s Aug. 15, 1960 edition. “What made it catch on? Says Shulman, “the point of view, an anti-togetherness approach and the separation of the kids from the parents.” ”

“Dobie Gillis” premiered on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 1959 at 8:30 Eastern time on CBS, opposite the western saga “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp” on ABC and a video version of the long-running radio series “Fibber McGee and Molly” on NBC. By midseason, NBC had given up on “Fibber,” and moved its variety show “Ford Star Time” (which had been getting clobbered by CBS’s “Garry Moore Show at 10)  into the 8:30 slot.13“Dobie Gillis” would battle “Wyatt Earp” for two seasons, never becoming a huge hit in the Nielsens, but was always a solid performer among teenagers and children. Toward the end of its second season, in May 1961, “Dobie’s” TvQ score among teens 12-17 years old was 60, tying it for fourth with NBC’s “Thriller.”14 The show’s TvQ was tied for No. 10, with “My Three Sons” (then on ABC) among children 6-11 years old.15 More on the show’s broadcast history in Part II.

I spoke to Harry Castleman and Wally Podrazik in a telephone interview earlier this month.

Reveal Shot: So, “Dobie Gillis.” What made it stand out in the sitcom universe of that period, aside from Dobie breaking the fourth wall all the time?

Castleman: … Even as we were growing up … we were just consumed with teen culture, and so we just assumed that was the way it always was — that the teenager was always the culture that was always focused upon and doted on.

But that was actually a relatively recent thing, when we were kids watching the reruns in the ’60s. For a convenient point on the timeline, you could choose the rise of Elvis Presley in the mid-’50s as the start of it. Elvis Presley, when he was coming along, admired Dean Martin. When you think of that, you kind of laugh, and say, “‘They were so different.” But that was someone he admired as a great singer, as someone who put a lot of emotion into his songs. Because the focus up to that time was on people who were already out of school, who were “grown-ups.”

…  Dwayne Hickman came over from “Love That Bob.” As a kid, “Love That Bob” never made any sense to me. Why are they focusing on this old geezer, Bob Cummings, who’s running around after pretty girls. He’s much too old! The idea of an older swinger-playboy type seemed incompatible with the teen culture we were used to.

This is a long lead-in to the fact that “Dobie Gillis” is the beginning of that on American television. It’s the first American sitcom to really focus on the teenager. Granted, it comes three years after Elvis had become big, but it takes a while for television to respond to cultural trends. That’s really to be the importance of “Dobie Gillis.”

Cover of "Watching TV: Six Decades of Ame...Podrazik: And just to follow up on that, there had obviously been shows that focused on kids — “Leave It To Beaver,” etc. — and frankly you had shows like “Our Miss Brooks,” in which she taught at a high school. But the title says it all — “Our Miss Brooks.”  The kids were there, but that was not the main focus.

With “Dobie Gillis,” you had this wonderful [premise] in which Dobie did not yet know his place in the world, and he kept trying to figure it out. I don’t want to press the class issue too hard, but he was dreaming of connecting with the rich and powerful, or being  one of the rich and powerful. Having the pretty girl, having the fancy car. And based on what we saw of the Herbert T. Gillis Grocery, that was not what he came from …

And what was fascinating, was that, while you could say, well — all he was doing was thinking about girls — but the show was about what he was doing to reach those marks that society had set up, but society — specifically the girls — kept moving the line.  And so he might accomplish one thing, but then Milton Armitage (Warren Beatty) or Chatsworth Osborne Jr. (Stephen Franken) would just dance in and say, “Yeah, but I have the nice car, and I’ve got the money, and I’ve got the connections, and I’ve got the girl. Goodbye.”

So it was really a chance to consider, what does a teen in this 1950s-1960s world do to grow up, basically? That’s also a set-up for talking about Maynard, too.

Castleman: And of course Maynard, famously, is the first beatnik, or proto-hippie, in American television. You can go on about Maynard for a while, but at first he’s presented as kind of a comic foil. They’re making fun of him, in effect. But as the show progressed, it’s like Maynard becomes a voice of wisdom.

Podrazik: Yeah, in fact, he’s always the one that punctures Dobie’s self-delusion. That doesn’t mean he’s dismissive of his “good buddy” — just the opposite. “I’ve got to tell you — you’re about to do something really dumb.”

Castleman: You can really analogize that as the role Ed Norton serves for Ralph Kramden on “The Honeymooners.”

Podrazik: And when you think about the “Dobie Gillis” setting, which was Doby’s encounters with Chatsworth Osborne and his mom. Everyone likes to reference Warren Beatty as Milton Armitage, because it’s Warren Beatty —

Castleman: But he wasn’t there that long.

Podrazik: But he wasn’t there that long. But, the thing is that because they were in high school together, they had proximity to each other that would never happen again once they left the school environment.

If you will, it’s the template that we see decades later on [“Beverly Hills] 90210.” The poor kids, or the less well-off kids, are in that school environment side by side with the well-heeled side of town …

I want to say one more thing about how working-class [the Gillises] are. We’ve been talking about how the emphasis is on teens. But I loved the authenticity of Mr. G. and Mrs. G.

You walk into that grocery store — and we’re accustomed to the supermarkets, the Safeways of today — but that was a neighborhood grocery store. It felt like a neighborhood grocery store. You just looked at the cans of fruit and vegetables and all, just stacked up there, and said “I know that.” It looked authentic.

Castleman: I can remember, as a kid right around the time that show was airing, going to a similar type of local grocery store, that was still the rule at that time, as supermarkets were beginning to pick up in some places.

Podrazik: I wanted to transition into story arcs. One thing about the show was that — my goodness — Dobie graduated from high school! He didn’t spend six years stuck in high school.

And again, going to the theme of, where does a young man fit in? One of the weirdest [storylines] of the series was when they [Dobie and Maynard, and, later, Chatsworth] joined the military, very briefly. 16 And it feels strange, and you think, what’s he doing? But as someone of that era trying to figure out what to do next, it might occur to someone. And then their thought was, no — that’s not going to work. Let’s go to junior college instead. So there was some believability in that story arc.

Castleman: The Army part always struck me as very weird. Looking back, of course, to that era, that’s a normal thing for a guy that age to be doing. But in terms of constructing a successful TV series, pulling Dobie — and Maynard, of all people [Podrazik laughs] out of the setting where the show originated — high school, teens, romances, parents — and sticking them in the Army, it’s like, hello? It’s completely changing the entire series. It didn’t work, and they, wisely I think, moved on.

Podrazik: And then, in talking about the strength of the high school setting, but also, in general, the character-driven storytelling, you have to make a reference to Max Shulman. Because he comes to this series as the chief writer, having created the character in short stories. Before the series started, he had published two collections of Dobie short stories.17

Castleman: There had been a movie, too, back in ’53.18

Podrazik: Right. And Dwayne Hickman and Tuesday Weld had been in another movie based on another Max Shulman property, “Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys” (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1958). So the people on the writing side and the people on the performing side came into it kind of primed to do their best work.

Coming up in Part II of Reveal Shot’s look at “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” with “Watching TV” authors Harry Castleman and Walter Podrazik, the television historians consider the show’s main cast members, and where “Dobie”  fit among the situation comedies CBS developed during the late ’50s and early ’60s.

 

— David B. Wilkerson

 

 

 

 

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

By

Network television covers the March on Washington – Aug. 28, 1963 (Part II) (UPDATED)

(UPDATE: This post now includes the beginning of CBS News’ continuous coverage of the march, starting at 1:30 p.m. Eastern time  on that Aug. 28, as well as the very end, at about 4:30 p.m.)

Reveal Shot presents Part II of its look at Big Three network coverage of the March On Washington, 50 years ago next Wednesday. In this installment, two of the most fascinating broadcast elements that survive — the start of CBS’ continuous coverage of the march at 1:30 Eastern time, and the first half-hour of NBC’s 4:30 summary of the day’s events.

Read Part I here.

The Aug. 25, 1963 telecast of  NBC’s “Meet The Press” made plain the conventional fears many white Americans had about the March On Washington For Jobs and Freedom, coming up in three days. NAACP Executive Secretary Roy Wilkins and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were the guests that Sunday evening, and “Meet The Press” co-creator Lawrence Spivak began the questioning.

 

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

 

Two things strike me about this excerpt from the beginning of the program.

1) Spivak’s reference to “10,000 militant negroes” and whether or not they could come together without rioting. Aside from the low estimate of a crowd that ended up exceeding 250,000, the notion that the entire contingent would be militant, and that it might be incapable of civilized behavior, is one that would be just as likely to be brought up today, especially on outlets like Fox News.

2) Wilkins, who is clearly aggravated by Spivak’s repeated questions about the “great risks” the march’s organizers are taking, makes it clear that he’s bemused by the turnout estimate, saying he doesn’t know if it’ll be “110,000, 145,000 or 190,000.” I’m sure he knew the number would be closer to the actual total.

The entire program,which was re-aired on many NBC stations on Sunday, is worth seeing, even if only to see how these distinguished black leaders control their anger when reporters question the wisdom of the march and the entire direction of The Movement. King is asked about the Communist ties of Bayard Rustin, deputy director of the March, forcing him into the uncomfortable position of  either having to speculate about Rustin’s affiliations or deflecting the question by pointing out its irrelevance. NBC News reporter Robert MacNeil, later the co-founder of the “MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour,”  irritates Wilkins by pressing him on the possibility of violence, as does Spivak when his turn comes up again. King is asked, inevitably, if it isn’t a better idea to proceed more slowly in the pursuit of civil rights for African Americans. 19

CBS, NBC and ABC present a special report: The March On Washington

The networks readied themselves for the events of Aug. 28, as the march, originally planned as a demand for better jobs and economic opportunity for African Americans, had evolved into a demonstration in support of the civil rights bill President Kennedy had proposed in June, legislation that ultimately became the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Variety described it as, “logistically … a Cape Canaveral moon shot, an Inauguration Day and an Election Night bundled into one and topped off by a total measure of unpredictability.” 20

Read More

By

Network television covers the March on Washington — Aug. 28, 1963 (Part I – A ‘Crucial Summer’)

By June 1963, the Civil Rights Movement was all over network television, and Sen. Strom Thurmond had seen just about enough. Now he was going to say something about it, two months ahead of what would become perhaps the Civil Rights era’s signature television moment, the March On Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

When the Senate held a hearing June 26-28 to consider legislation that would suspend, for the 1964 election cycle, Section 315 of the 1934 Communications Act, which called for equal time on radio (and later television) for all political parties who requested it, CBS President Frank Stanton testified in favor of such a suspension, as it would make it easier to have televised presidential debates between President John F. Kennedy and the GOP standard-bearer, Barry Goldwater. 21Thurmond (D-South Carolina), then 60, saw a chance to confront CBS, and by extension, all three of the New York-based TV networks that had the audacity to devote so much time and energy to the Negro cause.

Chicago Tribune ad for Part 4 of “Crucial Summer: The 1963 Civil Rights Crisis,” a five-part series on ABC’s “Close-Up” program.

A ‘Crucial Summer’

The Movement was by any definition a “hot” story, even if it was partly because many viewers were fearful of, or at least intrigued by, the thought of violence on the part of black militants — even when most of the race-based violence was coming from the other side. Covering the developing situation with anything approaching accuracy carried political risks, however, as the networks would be reminded by Thurmond.

By the time Birmingham, Ala. police bombed the home of A.D. King, Dr. Martin Luther King’s brother, on May 11, the networks had been paying particularly close attention to the Birmingham situation for weeks.  For a year, activists had been working to improve economic opportunities and desegregate schools, lunch counters, and other areas of the city, staging sit-ins and boycotting downtown businesses. Bull Connor, the bigot’s bigot who held the job of Commissioner of Public Safety, came up with an injunction barring these actions. When Martin Luther King decided to ignore the injunction, he was imprisoned on April 12. Rather than pay his bail, the SCLC took the opportunity to raise public awareness of King’s incarceration. NBC’s “Huntley-Brinkley Report” and the other evening news shows made nightly references to Birmingham, and after King was released on April 20, he specifically bolstered the confidence of fellow activists by telling them that their efforts were being seen across the nation on “Huntley-Brinkley.”

Television also found an ideal scenario in the Birmingham “Children’s Crusade.” More than 1,000 students stayed out of school and went to the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, the local movement’s headquarters. More than 600 students were arrested as they marched downtown. The situation could easily have backfired. Malcolm X derided the SCLC’s James Bevel and other organizers of the children’s participation, and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy questioned the wisdom of the tactic. All of this made for scintillating TV viewing, encouraging the networks to go further in their coverage of the Movement. The most despicable horror of Birmingham was still a few months away.

On June 11, Kennedy called out National Guard troops to the University of Alabama to provide safety for Vivian Malone and James Hood, young African Americans who wanted to enroll at the university. Malone and Hood had received death threats from segregationists, and of course, Alabama Governor George Wallace stood at the door of the university in physical defiance of the two students. That night, the president made a speech that was televised on all three networks, in which he called for legislation that would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964.22

When Medgar Evers, a Mississippi field secretary for the NAACP, was gunned down that night by white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith, the networks followed up with extensive coverage.

Other specials followed during the month, including the June 17 CBS special “Summer of Discontent” about the racial crisis in Harlem, and a June 24 program on the same network about the Harlem situation. CBS, among the three networks, seemed most determined to point out that racial strife was not just a Southern phenomenon, airing yet another Harlem-related “CBS Reports” in December.

Thurmond accused the television and radio networks of “following the NAACP line.”

“CBS and other networks slant news to favor Negroes, otherwise they’d have given some major play to [the] slaying of a white man in Lexington, N. C., as given to [the] assassination of Medger[sic]  Evers, Negro NAACP agent in Mississippi, [the] senator said,” reported Broadcasting magazine in its July 1 edition. “Dr. Stanton replied that CBS strives for [the] highest level of objectivity by hiring [the] finest professional newsmen, giving them [a] set of policies and [an] obligation to be fair, honest and accurate.”‘23

At one point, Thurmond inquired of Stanton: “Don’t you care about white people?”24

The networks were undaunted. They pressed on with coverage of the racial violence in Birmingham, Ala., where, despite an agreement to end segregation in that city, unrest continued throughout the summer. In July, ABC announced that it would air a five-part series that would air on Sunday nights, “Crucial Summer: The 1963 Civil Rights Crisis,” from Aug. 11 through Sept. 8, at 10:30 p.m. Eastern time.

On the first “Crucial Summer” installment, Gov. George Wallace of Alabama, William Hartsfield, former mayor of Atlanta, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gov. Orville Faubus of Arkansas  were featured. Later shows included Rosa Parks; U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy; Autherine Lucy, an African American woman who enrolled at the University of Alabama for three days in 1956 before being forced to withdraw; Daisy Bates, activist, newspaper publisher and mentor to the Little Rock Nine, the students who integrated the Arkansas city’s Central High School in 1957; and William Simmons of the white supremacist Citizen’s Council of Jackson, Miss.

CBS would offer an hour-long program on Aug. 21 called “The Press and The Race Issue,” in which it would try to directly confront the allegations made by Sen. Thurmond.

NBC News announced perhaps the biggest project of all — “The American Revolution of ’63,” which would preempt the network’s entire primetime lineup on Sept. 2, just days after the march.

Shows not seen that Monday night would include the highly lucrative “NBC Monday Night At the Movies,” “The Art Linkletter Show” and “David Brinkley’s Journal,” costing NBC ad sales worth an estimated $500,000 [equivalent to $3.82 million in 2013, according to the CPI Inflation Calculator]. The Chicago Tribune reported: “The program … will offer an analysis of how the civil rights issue has affected the American public. There also will be reports on foreign reaction to the issue and events in this country. The program will include discussion periods in which leaders of civil rights movements and their critics, the administration, congress, labor…will participate.”25

But the Sept. 2 special, and other programs slated for the 1963-64 season, would have to wait. The complaints of Thurmond, George Wallace and others were pushed aside as the networks prepared to cover the March On Washington.

Read Network television covers the March on Washington — Part II.

— David B. Wilkerson

Enhanced by Zemanta

By

The original Ironside (Part VII): Cy Chermak remembers (conclusion)

Cy Chermak.

Reveal Shot presents the conclusion of a multi-part interview with Cy Chermak, the executive producer of “Ironside” from 1968-1974. Here, he discusses his final years with the series, and offers his views on the upcoming NBC remake starring Blair Underwood, debuting Oct. 2.

Read the first installment here.
Read the second installment here.
Read the third installment here.

Ironside” sailed through Season 3 (1969-70) as the No. 15-ranked show of the year according to the Nielsen ratings, finally topping time-period nemesis “Bewitched,” before jumping all the way to No. 4 in its fourth season (1970-71), with a 25.7 rating and 39 share, bolstered by its new lead-in, “The Flip Wilson Show,” the second-most watched program on the air (trailing only ABC’s “Marcus Welby, M.D.“)

Barbara Anderson decided to leave the show after Season 4. In Season 5 (1971-72), NBC moved “Ironside” to Tuesday nights at 7:30 p.m. Eastern against ABC’s “The Mod Squad” and “The Glen Campbell Show” on CBS. In “Ironside’s” fifth new episode, “The Gambling Game,” which aired Oct. 5,  Elizabeth Baur was introduced  as Officer Fran Belding, who helped Ironside’s team to nail the gamblers who murdered her father — a cop accused of having worked with the gang. Baur would remain with the series for its remaining three seasons.

The main cast of “Ironside” from Seasons 5-8 (clockwise from left): Don Galloway, Raymond Burr, Don Mitchell, Elizabeth Baur.

Chermak recalls:  I loved Elizabeth, but Ironside used to beat her up a little on the screen. I finally had to take her aside and coach her on how she should react to his sarcasm and intimidation. I did it in two sentences. What I said remains between the two of us. You might ask her. 26

During this period, Chermak was also the executive producer of “The New Doctors” segment of “The Bold Ones,” starring E.G. Marshall, John Saxon and David Hartman. To begin Season 6 of “Ironside,” he produced a two-part crossover episode called “Five Days In the Death of Sergeant Brown.” In Part 1 (aired Sept. 14, 1972), Ed Brown (Don Galloway) is shot in the back by a sniper, naturally triggering painful memories and special concerns for Ironside. Part 2 aired Sept. 19 as a “Bold Ones” episode, with the doctors debating the merits of a dangerous operation that could either save or kill Ed. (For some reason, although Hulu generally only makes the first three seasons of “Ironside” available, it offers both parts of “Five Days In the Death Of Sergeant Brown” — but it calls them “Ironside Pilot, Parts 1 and 2.” Since Seasons 5-8 are not available on DVD in North America (at least as Region 1 releases), it’s a nice, if odd, video opportunity for fans of the show, at least until someone at Hulu realizes the error.)27

Chermak’s schedule became even more hectic when he took on the development of a third show, “Amy Prentiss,” a spin-off from “Ironside” created by his wife, Francine Carroll, who had written scripts for a number of shows including “Ironside.”

The unsold two-hour pilot, “Amy Prentiss, AKA The Chief,” from a story by Carroll and teleplay writers William Gordon and James Doherty, aired during “Ironside’s” seventh season, on May 23, 1974. Jessica Walter guest starred as Prentiss, a police investigator who becomes chief of detectives in the San Francisco police department by having the highest score on a test. Boris Sagal directed. The episode got a very positive review in Variety, which said Walter was “ideally cast,” and that the script provided a “fine showcase” for her talents. It also generated a solid 22.3 rating and 39 share, encouraging NBC to add it to the “NBC Mystery Movie” wheel for the 1974-75 season.

Season 7 would be Chermak’s last on “Ironside.” 28

He recalls: By then Raymond and I had pretty much burned out our relationship, and Frank [Price, head of Universal Television] had a wildfire burning on another stage by the name of “Kolchak, The Night Stalker.” The turmoil on that show has been pretty well documented.29

Joel Rogosin returned to the series as executive producer for the eighth and final season (1974-75).

I had forgotten this when I asked Chermak for his reaction when the show was canceled, abruptly, by NBC in November 1974. The last episode aired on Jan. 16, 1975. Three additional episodes were completed but did not air until the show entered syndication.

Chermak: I was off the show at the time, and this is the first I heard that there were three unaired episodes. I wouldn’t have known because I never saw even one of the episodes [in that final season]. All I ever heard about them was that they didn’t have “my touch.” Which gives me an opportunity to allow my narcissism and egotism to get in a little pitch. On several occasions in my career, I had such a well-oiled machinery going that some untrained executives thought the man at the top didn’t matter. They thought if the machinery is that well-oiled, and running that smoothly, that anyone could do it. Especially someone who thought they knew me well. Surprise!

Reveal Shot: What are your thoughts on the upcoming remake of “Ironside?”
Chermak: I have no problems with them re-making the show, or the star [Blair Underwood]. Based on what I have seen recently, I think it will be more of a shoot-em-up than a cerebral family hour. Remember that the role has [essentially] been played at least once in a feature with Denzel [Washington, who played quadriplegic police forensics expert Lincoln Rhyme in Universal’s “The Bone Collector” in 1999] . Now it will be coming back to TV.

I will leave you with the story that Borden Chase’s son Frank used to love to tell.

Borden’s fame came as the writer of “Red River,” and he freely acknowledged that it was a rip-off of “Mutiny On The Bounty.” The fun started when some people tried to rip-off “Red River” and to get as far away from the cattle drive as possible they set the scene at sea! Then, even though the people doing the second generation rip-off were copying “Red River,” they were sued by the people who controlled “Mutiny on The Bounty.”

 — David B. Wilkerson   

Enhanced by Zemanta

By

The original Ironside (Part VI): Cy Chermak remembers

Cy Chermak

Presenting the third installment of a Reveal Shot exclusive: an interview with former “Ironside” Executive Producer Cy Chermak. Through e-mail correspondence, Chermak offered his fascinating recollections of working on the show, and the ups and downs of being a television producer during the 1960s and ’70s.

Read the first part of the interview here.
See the second installment here.

Other outstanding Season 2 episodes included:
An Obvious Case of Guilt,” (aired Nov. 14, 1968) by Brad Radnitz and directed by Abner Biberman, in which Anne Baxter plays one of Ironside’s old flames, who is accused of killing her husband. Throughout most of the episode, Ironside uses his powers of deduction to find reasons to exonerate her, while Ed, Eve, Mark, and the D.A. (Warren Stevens) insist that she’s guilty, and that she’s using Ironside as a shield. Radnitz throws us a curve at the finale, which has fascinating dialogue.

Puzzlelock,” (aired March 13, 1969) by B.W. Sandefur and directed by Allen Reisner, Simon Oakland plays a former cop who kills his wife and creates an alibi so foolproof that Ironside, who knows he did it, cannot prove his guilt. By all appearances, Oakland was having dinner with Ironside at the time of the murder. Ironside must use any means — fair or foul — to trap him.

“Reprise,” (aired Nov. 21, 1968), by Albert Aley and directed by Don McDougall.  Eve is shot, and everyone reminisces about their early encounters with her. It’s a nice reference to what Eve describes in the pilot, about Ironside noticing her powers of observation when she’s a witness to a robbery. We also see, not for the last time, Ed Brown’s mean streak, when he seeks cold-blooded revenge (at least at first) for Eve’s shooting. Douglas Benton produced.

Mark and Ed get spotlight episodes, as well.

In “Rundown On a Bum Rap” (aired Jan. 30, 1969), directed by Allen Reisner from a Sy Salkowitz script, law student Mark takes a real-life dilemma to his class when he tries to prove this former boxing coach is innocent of a murder he is alleged to have committed, and has to overcome the resistance of his attractive African American professor (Janet McLachlan).

Ed isn’t sure what to believe when he tries to exonerate a cop buddy (Linden Chiles) accused of involvement in a drug ring and murder, in “Moonlight Means Money” (aired Feb. 27, 1969), written by Sy Salkowitz and directed by directed by Don Weis.

Reveal Shot: What were the pros and cons of using freelance writers?
Chermak: There are no cons to using freelance writers. I used them exclusively. They are some of the best we have. The main reason freelancing died was because young writers were made low paid producers and either wanted the writing money for themselves, or the studios / networks mistakenly thought or insisted the new Writer/ Producer could do it all.

Additionally, no one is willing to walk into the boss’ office and tell him that his script stinks.  It just doesn’t happen. So the new producer shoots his first draft. And good scripts aren’t written, they are re-written.  But it takes a real pro to be able to re-write himself, and to understand how to get the best out of another writer and still protect the concept of the show.

I think I mentioned earlier that if you didn’t ride close herd on the writers and directors they would unconsciously think of their episode as if it were an entity of its own, standing alone, without a thought of keeping the show on Frank Price’s tracks.

Actors hated me because they spent time learning their lines only to come to the set at 6:00 AM and find new pages with new thoughts and new words. I felt we had to work to improve the script right up until the director said “action.”

Without Frank or me or the others maintaining eternal vigilance the show would not have lasted half a season. That having been said, if I had a show today I would still use that vast store of talent that is going to waste. Not knowing how to use the writing talent available is the great disgrace of the current crop of execs.

Reveal Shot: Can you discuss some of the ways you worked to keep Ed Brown and Eve Whitfield interesting when their story arcs were not as inherently dramatic as those of Robert Ironside and Mark Sanger?

Chermak: Not really. Frankly, all three characters were second bananas.  We tried to dramatize their roles every once in a while, and Ray was the star, so he got most of the good stuff.

Reveal Shot: You had the Academy Award-winning cinematographer Lionel Lindon working on the show. What were the advantages of having someone of that caliber handling those duties? (Also, I understand he was kind of a character. Are there any amusing anecdotes that come to mind?)

Chermak: Curly Lindon and Bud Thackery were both characters, but they knew their business. Lindon hated working with inexperienced directors, and Bud hated working with everyone. I remember once that Bud shot a close-up of a beautiful actress and there was a black triangular shadow on her cheek. I took a clip down to the set and I told him I would like it re-shot. Bud looked and the clip, looked at me, and said there was nothing wrong with that shot. (He didn’t add “sonny-boy” but his tone implied it.)

“Don’t you see the black triangular shadow on her cheek?” I asked. Very patiently, he explained that the source was coming from her profile, and the shadow was of her nose. A perfectly acceptable shot. I asked if he could do a shot with the light coming from the same source, but without the shadow. “Oh well,” he sighed. “Now you are asking for feature film photography. I can do it but you won’t like the time it will take.” “Re-shoot it,” I said. “I’ll give you the extra time to make my stars beautiful and give you back the time somewhere else.” He said we had a deal. Right then was the beginning of our relationship.

 

Ironside (TV series)

Here is an interesting UPI wire story from Nov. 5, 1968 about the atmosphere on the set during the second season.

Season 2 brought improvement for “Ironside” in the Nielsen ratings. The series ranked No. 16 for the 1968-69 season, with a 22.3 rating and 34 share. ABC’s “Bewitched,” airing opposite the Raymond Burr show in the 8:30 time slot, finished 13th — but “Ironside” was the clear winner among network programs during its second half hour, starting at 9:00, outgunning the CBS movie. 303132

Early in Season 3, “Ironside” presented another two-hour episode, “Goodbye To Yesterday,” (aired Sept. 25, 1969) by Sy Salkowitz and directed by Barry Shear. In the first season, Vera Miles, had guested as Barbara Jones, a former love interest of Ironside’s who turns out to be an amnesia victim who has forgotten her husband (Phillip Carey) and children, but finally reconnects with them.

In “Goodbye to Yesterday,” Barbara’s daughter is kidnapped, and she calls on Ironside for help.

Chermak remembers: Wasn’t “Goodbye To Yesterday” a great title?

You know, rumors were always swirling around Raymond’s sexual orientation so I thought it was a good idea to have him involved with a woman whenever possible. I thought he played that role to the hilt.

It was like the rumors that started swirling about him really being paralyzed. People looked me in the eye and told me that they knew for sure that he was paralyzed. So I did an episode [the aforementioned “Reprise”] in which his thoughts flashed back to days when he could walk, and we showed him walking. You know what? That didn’t even help to squelch the rumors.

Barry Shear was one of my favorites. His work on live TV with Ernie Kovacs remains classic.

Next: The final installment in Reveal Shot’s interview with Cy Chermak.

Enhanced by Zemanta

By

The original Ironside (Part IV): An interview with former executive producer Cy Chermak

Cy Chermak

I’m pleased to announce a Reveal Shot exclusive: an interview with former “IronsideExecutive Producer Cy Chermak. Through e-mail correspondence, Chermak offered his fascinating recollections of working on the show, and the ups and downs of being a television producer during the 1960s and ’70s.

After working in the business as an actor and writer, Chermak joined Universal Studios in 1963. Universal was the last of the majors to maintain the old system, in which actors, writers, directors, producers and crew members were under contract to the studio.

When he became a story editor on Universal’s 90-minute Western series “The Virginian,” Chermak reported to Frank Price, that show’s executive producer. He soon became one of Price’s producers on “The Virginian,” as well as the short-lived 1965 World War II drama “Convoy,” one of the last shows to air on NBC in black-and-white.

Lionel Lindon, A.S.C.

Lionel “Curly” Lindon, A.S.C. (1905-1971), who won an Academy Award for his work on “Around The World In Eighty Days.” (1956) He worked on many Universal productions during the 1960s, including “Ironside.”

Chermak on learning production at Universal, writing Westerns as a kid from Brooklyn, and working with Frank  Price: When I came out from New York I had nary a thought about writing or producing a Western. The real reason it took me so long to make a mark in Hollywood was that the people in charge saw me as a hot young writer from Brooklyn who didn’t know anything about Westerns, which were the TV rage. I was a New York writer.

Well, I broke in with a few Warner Bros. Westerns, and then went to “The Virginian.” After a short time, I was a Western writer, and people wondered if I could do a straight drama.

Story about how I got into production: Frank Price was looking for a story editor — sometimes known as a rewrite man. He called a colleague, Anthony Spinner, for whom I had just written an episode of “The Dakotas.” Spinner told Price that he had this new writer who just got finished doing a brilliant re-write on a “Whitey” Parsons script. Frank asked his name, but Tony Spinner wouldn’t tell him He said he had this writer chained to a desk in the basement, and no one will ever know who he is. So Frank hung up. And what did he do? He called “Whitey” Parsons and asked “How are things going?”

” Terrible, “Whitey” said. “I just had my script butchered by some kid from new York named Cy Chermak.”

Frank called me the next day and offered me a job.

… I don’t think [the studio system] meant much to writers, except to confuse them every once in a while about who is talking to them. It was great for young writers the studio wanted to turn into low-paid producers. I found myself in a highly protected learning environment. They caught my mistakes and helped me correct them. Production experts like [“Virginian” producer] George Santoro and [unit manager] Abby Singer helped me to understand budgeting. Then it became my job to make sure that the money we spent was going to show up on the screen.

(Once Abby Singer, famous for ” just this shot and one more,” warned me that we were about to go into Golden Time. I said “Abby, just what is Golden Time?” He said “I don’t know, but it’s terrible.”)

Department heads like Richard Belding in Editorial ran interference between myself and more experienced editors, and so it went all the way down the line…through the music department, sound, wardrobe. These department heads knew their workers knew more than I did, but they also realized their job was to help me understand the process so that I could fully utilize my own talents. [Cinematographers Lionel] “Curly” Lindon and Bud Thackery could have ignored me but they didn’t. If I asked for things they just couldn’t do in the time we had to make a show, they were patient and generous with their time. In that regard, the studio system was great. That’s why sports franchises have farm teams. You can’t learn the business in film school.

The major drawback was that it engendered split loyalties. The A.D. is not really the director’s assistant. He works for, and reports to, the production department. That’s true of every crew member and department head. In my first year as a producer, I asked a hell of a lot more questions than I gave orders. But when my crew realized my ideas were sound and my intentions were only to make the show better, the split loyalties became a “non factor.”

How would I characterize Frank Price as an exec? Quite simply the best. I don’t know about others under his aegis, but he allowed me a great deal of latitude, and he had the best story mind I had ever seen.

A cute example concerned a writer who shall remain nameless … who was late bringing us a story for “The Virginian” when I was the story editor. [He] said the story got lost when he had to make a wheels up landing in his Beechcraft Bonanza. We all knew [this writer] was fudging the truth a bit, and that he had nothing on paper, or even in his head.

Frank called in his secretary, myself, and Joel Rogosin who was slated to produce the episode. Frank then led [the writer-pilot] and the rest of us through the story from the opening to the ending. The secretary transcribed the story and [the writer] went home and wrote the script.

The cuteness was when I (also a pilot) asked him how he could have made a wheels-up landing. Didn’t he have a warning horn on the plane that told him his gear was not down? [He] said “Yeah, but the damned thing was making so much noise I couldn’t concentrate.”

With the successful “Ironside” TV movie in Nielsen’s ratings books as a hit, Universal Television ordered work on the first six regular episodes. On Thursday Sept. 14, 1967, the first series installment Americans saw was “A Message From Beyond,” which was seventh in production order. NBC slotted the series at 8:30 Eastern time, opposite the popular ABC sitcom “Bewitched” and the final half hour of CBS’s Western drama “Cimarron Strip.” The new show would also face the first half hour, at 9:00, of “The CBS Thursday Night Movies.”

NBC was less than thrilled with the first batch of shows, and creator and executive producer Collier Young took the  blame.

When Young was fired six shows into the first season’s production schedule, he was replaced by Frank Price.  Price brought Chermak over from “The Virginian” as one of his producers.

Chermak: Frank didn’t tell me what he wanted [when I came to “Ironside.” ] He knew that I knew. He wanted it honest. He wanted it truthful. It is the same thing he brought to “The Virginian.”

Let us be very clear about one thing. I ran “Ironside” [after being promoted to executive producer in July 1968]. But the genius behind the Stanislavsky-esque concept of honesty and truth belonged to Frank. He changed “The Virginian” from a musical Western like “Oklahoma” into something that became copied. No black hats. No bad guys simply for the needs of the script. People behave like decent human beings with sincere differences. You bump into a guy, you don’t go for your gun. You say excuse me and move on.

He did the same thing for “Ironside.” I think it interesting that Robert Butler acknowledged that dressing Vince Gardenia up like a “Batman” villain 33 made a viewer have to suspend his disbelief. Frank knew it instinctively. He didn’t want Ironside to become a comic strip.

I did it his way for many years because he was the boss. Then I started doing it his way because I realized Frank was right. He brought Stanislavsky to television writing. And yes, perhaps Frank did tell me what he wanted of me. Honesty and Truth. I think I gave it to him.

Later in the season, Chermak’s colleague Paul Mason produced “All In A Day’s Work,” [airdate Feb. 15, 1968] written by storied crime novelist Ed McBain (Evan Hunter), best known for his 87th Precinct police procedurals. In this episode, Eve has to kill an armed robber who turns out to have been a teenager, and is plagued by guilt.

Chermak: Here is a story you won’t believe. Ed McBain/Evan was probably my favorite fiction writer at the time — excepting only Norman Corwin — and I can’t for the life of me figure out why he chose to do a television episode … I believe the show was written for Raymond. He said he was tired and needed a rest and we should give it to Ed Brown (Don Galloway). We re-did it for Barbara instead. And yes, it was the episode I submitted to the Emmys on her behalf. And yes, she did win.

Sometimes, a very good writer might only work on the show once. This proved to be the case with Luther Davis,  a highly respected TV writer who penned the script for Season 1’s “A Very Cool Hot Car” (aired Nov. 30, 1967), with Chermak producing.

There are a couple of situations that are handled with some finesse. An embittered ex-cop played by Jay C. Flippen  has been forced into retirement after failing to solve one case, the burglary ring of the plot. When he talks to Ironside about it, he can’t help but refer to the black man who replaced him on the case (Bernie Hamilton) as a “college boy from Africa.” The point isn’t dwelt upon, aside from a look of general disdain from Ironside. It’s just a realistic aside that someone his age at that time, in that situation, might have said.

Also, although Mark is concerned that Hamilton is being unfairly maligned — for racial reasons — by the police department for not stopping the burglaries, Hamilton treats Mark as an outsider until he happens to prove himself in the heat of battle. Other shows might have shown portrayed the two of them as fast friends, doing “soul shakes” and the like.

Chermak: I remember the Luther Davis script very well. I don’t believe I was the exec at that time, but I was thrilled to have a writer of Luther Davis’ caliber on the show. Sadly, Luther didn’t like being re-written, even to the smallest extent, so he gracefully and graciously bowed out of future commitments.

“Ironside” finished its first season as the No. 26 program on the air in 1967-68, according to Nielsen, with a 20.5 household rating, a very strong showing considering its formidable competition. “Bewitched” ended the year at No. 11 with a 23.5 rating. Though “Cimarron Strip” finished out of the top 30, and was not renewed, “The CBS Thursday Night Movies” finished No. 23, with a rating of 21.1.

In July 1968, Frank Price was promoted, becoming the head of current programming at Universal, reporting to Sid Sheinberg, then senior vice-president in charge of television production. Chermak became the executive producer of “Ironside.”

Chermak: It was Sid who announced to me that he was making the choice, and I’m sure it was tough for him because he and Paul [Mason] were close personal friends. But I’m sure Frank made the suggestion. Why? You would have to ask him.

But I had been his story editor and then his producer on “The Virginian.”  Then when he went to “Convoy” he took me with him. I am guessing that he had seen enough of my work to think I would stick closest to his framework and give him the least trouble. He was only right about the first part of that sentence. I know that Sid had to, or chose to, run it by Raymond before firming up the decision.

One Thursday after shooting, Raymond asked me to his dressing room for a drink. We sat on opposite sides of a coffee table and Ray opened a bottle of Courvoisier, dramatically threw the cork over his shoulder, put the bottle in the middle of the table and sat down. I looked at the bottle, then at Ray and said, “That is all very well and good, but what are you going to drink?”

“Oho,” responded Raymond. He got up, took a fresh bottle, threw that cork over his shoulder, and placed the bottle in front of himself. Now we each had our own bottle, and we rolled out of the studio at about three in the morning.

The next night Sid called me and told me I was the new exec on “Ironside.”

In the next Reveal Shot post, Chermak remembers the two-hour “Split Second To An Epitaph” and other Season 2 episodes; the series’ 1968 NAACP Image Award, and speaks more broadly about how producers were assigned to each show, which writers could be counted upon when the chips were down, and working with Milton Berle on a dramatic role.

— David B. Wilkerson

Enhanced by Zemanta