Tube: TV’s Tops for 1974 (01/08/75)

There were only two moments on TV this year that made me hold my breath: those long seconds Pacino sat waiting for the instant when he would have to leap up and blow Solozzo’s brains out, and the first countdown in the House Judiciary Committee.

Maybe the conjunction is real. There is an old English adage, much quoted over the last summer: If you intend to strike at the king, you had best make sure you kill him. The Judiciary Committee’s vote was pre­ceded by the search for “the smoking gun”—which one committee member opined would never be found, “because the room is too full of smoke.”

Interesting, violent language. The Judiciary Committee hearings didn’t really exist as a public event outside of TV, but the hearings were more than anything else a search for language. Odd for TV—you listened. If you listened, you heard violence that hit just as hard as anything in The Godfather. I don’t mean the neo-Mick­ey Spillane rough stuff of Charles Sandman, but the violence that took place in the way in which people chose their words. Pauses, speed-ups, nervousness and cold quiet. There was the pause before Barbara Jordan announced: “Now I am an inquisitor.” Think of what she put into that sentence—the way she broke the decorous context of the hearings by insisting on the word “inquisitor,” flaunting the images of torture and death the word brings to the mind, dragging the violence of the event right onto the floor. No script writer would have risked that phrase—too melodramatic, too unsympathetic. But she wasn’t looking for sympathy; she wanted, I think, to scare the audience, and she did.

Network commentators complained that the hearings lacked drama; there were no zoom shots, no reaction shots, no teasing pacing. And yet something extraordinary happened. By the time the committee got to that first, climactic vote, the manner in which each member said “Aye” or “No” became profound, and complex, and in some sense far more intriguing than the fact of the vote. One wanted to linger over the phrasing, to study it. Did Waldie really mean it that way? Did Holzman convey the particular shade of meaning she wanted? The sound of the votes said more than the speeches: each vote was a little one-line play in itself.

How long did the roll-call last, five minutes, six minutes? As with Pacino’s wait before he pulled that gun, the pressure pumped into the event blasted one’s sense of time away. Every second was thrown into unnatural focus, as if the vaguest shading of a voice, the slightest movement of an arm, was a matter of life and death. This year, nothing on TV matched that kind of drama.

_specialsThursday, Jan. 9:
     1 AM (Fri. morning, actually) Ch. 4: Tomorrow: Close analysis of the Superbowl, with Yea-sayer Curt Gowdy, Nay-sayer Dan Jenkins (Semi-Tough), and sportswriter Jane O’Reilly. This year, ought to be more exciting than the game itself.

Saturday, Jan. 11:
     8:30 PM, Ch. 5: The 2000 Year Old Man. Animated special based on Mel Brooks’ and Carl Reiner’s routines, with the men themselves doing the voices. Could be awful, but worth checking out if you liked the schtick in the first place.
     11 PM, Ch. 9: Soundstage—The Paradise Club, Summer of 1958. Return with us now to Idlewild, Michigan, and listen to Jackie Wilson sing “Higher and Higher,” which he didn’t record until years after this show is supposed to be taking place.

Sunday, Jan. 12:
     7:30 PM, Ch. 5: Apple’s Way—“The Price.” Apple’s Way may not be your way, but CBS hopes you’ll at least agree it’s The Way. This week, a nasty “g-u-n,” used in a “c-r-i-m-e” up in evil Chicago, filters down into peace-loving Appleton. It just lies there in the street and scares the shit out of everyone. What if one of the kids sees it? Pastoral America faces another crisis.

Tuesday, Jan. 14:
     4 PM, Ch. 4: Merv Griffin Show. Kate Millet burns, Wm. F. Buckley, Jr. jabs, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. acts rational, while Merv grins and mugs. Could be a classic show.
     10 PM, Ch. 9: Soundstage—David Bromberg & John Sebastian. Bromberg is perhaps the very worst American folk music has to offer: fake, arrogant, empty, and ugly to boot. Sebastian has merely come up lame. The Fool’s Gold Dust Twins get their own show.

Thursday, Jan. 16:
     9 PM, Ch. 7: Streets of San Francisco. Lt. Stone and buddy make it to Alcatraz for a picnic, and discover the skeleton of a long-lost gangster in an abandoned cell while playing hide and seek. And you thought they had problems at Q.

Saturday, Jan. 18:
     8:30 PM, Ch. 5: The Jeffersons. New comedy series about Archie Bunker’s black next-door neighbors. Archie’s son-in-law Mike goes over to tell the Jeffersons that Joe Louis was a hell of a fighter.

Wednesday, Jan. 8:
     10 AM, Ch 2: Alcatraz Express (1962). Two “Untouchables” segments about Elliot Ness dragging Al Capone off to the rock for income-tax evasion. Al doesn’t want to go because he’s heard they keep skeletons in the cells.

Sunday, Jan. 12:
     11 AM, 3 PM, 9 PM, Ch. 31 (a new UHF outfit from Sacramento, receiv¬able on cable, dedicated to great movies rarely seen on TV): The Fallen Idol (1949, Dir. Carol Reed). Study of a young boy who worships servant who may have murdered his wife. A good bet.
     11 PM, Ch. 5: Jailhouse Rock (1957). Elvis’ best movie. The King plays a country boy with a bad temper who kills a man in a fight and learns how to play guitar in prison. He gets out, becomes a star, leaves his old pals behind, and is seduced by Hollywood. Sound familiar? Songs include the title tune, the great “(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care,” and the lovely “Young and Beautiful.” Fine, fine.

Thursday, Jan. 16:
     9 PM, Ch. 9: Ugetsu (1953, Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi). Chilling Japanese ghost story, and a classic.

Friday, Jan. 17:
     8 PM, Ch. 2: Marjoe (1972). The big city looks down on small-town America and finds it uncool. Condescending, shoddy flick.
     9:30 PM, Ch. 5: Shaft (1971). Richard Roundtree stars in one of the first black inner-city westerns. Good movie for TV.

Saturday, Jan. 18:
     11 PM, Ch. 44: Captain Blood (1935). Errol Flynn’s first swashbuckler, and a triumph. A perfect movie for TV (repeated Sunday, Jan. 19, 4 PM).

Sunday, Jan. 19:
     11 AM, 3 PM, 9 PM, Ch. 31: The Dead of Night (1946). Catch it at 9; this is not a film for mornings, let alone afternoons. A string of strange-and-bizarre vignettes, ranging from fair to excellent, climaxing with Michael Redgrave as a crazed ventriloquist under the spell of his dummy. A true chiller; a transcendent TV movie.
     7 PM, Ch. 44: White Heat (1949, Dir. Raoul Walsh). James Cagney as a mad-dog killer only a mother could love, and she does, she does. Overrated. Nice flaming finale, though.

City, January 8, 1975

One thought on “Tube: TV’s Tops for 1974 (01/08/75)

  1. Here are both parts of Jackie Wilson’s performance on “Soundstage—The Paradise Club, Summer of 1958.” It was one of Mr. Excitement’s last recorded performances before his tragic onstage demise:

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