Tube: The Horror, or I Preferred the War (11/27/74)

There have been bad TV shows. There have been rotten TV shows. There have been made-for-TV movies starring David Janssen. There have been TV shows that no living creature could watch without a temperature of 105 and a bed pan. There have been shows compared to which one can say that the Saturday night TV evangelists tricking the miserable out of their money perform an admirable service for all mankind. But there has never been anything like The Waltons. (Thursdays, 8 p.m., Channel 5).waltonsSet in Virginia during the Depres­sion, The Waltons is the continuing tale of a big old family (Mother Oliva, played by Michael Learned; Father John, played by Ralph Waite; eldest son John-Boy, played by Richard Thomas, the creepiest actor to emerge since Edward Albert appeared in Butterflies are Free; plus Granma, Granpa, and various children) and their struggle to instruct the rest of the world on the Nature of Life and good manners. Each show begins with a portentous title (“The Book,” “The Visitors”) and a voice-over from John-Boy as-a-man, looking back (he is, today, a famous writer) to the days of his childhood and the lessons he learned from those hard times. And we’re off.

What links Mom, Pop, and John-Boy is that they are prigs. They always know what’s right; even when they’re trying to come on humble (they’re simple country folk, after all) they condescend. For every act of “kindness,” “generosity,” or even “love” within the family, there is something—a facial expression, a gesture, a fake smile—that makes it clear that the recipient of the big-hearted Walton humanity doesn’t deserve it. The Waltons (and they are so fully brought out that one can’t just hate the characters, one hates the people who play them) are best at shaming people—a traveling salesman, a family from the city that’s trying to make a go in the country (“Country livin’s not for everybody,” sneers Papa Walton, meaning, “Not everybody’s good enough”). The coldness that comes off the parents especially, and the smug­ness of every move Richard Thomas makes, is enough to drive one to drink.

There is a way, though, in which the show is what it pretends to be—a celebration of the good old-fashioned virtues that made this country great and all that. There is a strain in the American character that counterfeits all feeling, that hates everyone and everything different from what it knows, that draws pleasure only from the practice of self-righteousness, that passes off simple cruelty as morality and contempt as instruction.

Which is to say that while one probably cannot blame the Vietnam War and Watergate on The Waltons, one can perhaps blame The Waltons on Watergate and Vietnam. The side of America they represent so well has had a bad press these last few years, and it’s not surprising someone has seen fit to resurrect “the old values” in a more palatable form. Frankly, just as TV, I preferred the war.


Friday, Nov. 29
   8:30 PM, Ch. 44: Dinah! This is a very strange show, in case you’ve never caught it. This time, Dinah hosts Chuck Berry. Will he sing Dinah “My Dingaling” or do her hair? Find out.

Sunday, Dec. 1
   8 PM, Ch. 7: The John Denver Show. America’s favorite koala bear welcomes his soul-mates, Doris Day, George Gobel, and Dick Van Dyke, for a show that Mr. Denver promises will have “far-out things” in it. The Sound of the Seventies rolls on. We dare you to watch.

Tuesday, Dec. 3
   8:30 PM, Ch. 4: TV Movie, The Red Badge of Courage, with Richard Thomas (The Waltons). Previews indicate this one will be alternately soppy and hysterical. A must to avoid.
   10PM, Ch. 9: Soundstage—The World of Randy Newman. Newman is an authentic American original, a singer and songwriter who can take you to places most people don’t even know exist. Look for a good dose of his latest album, Good Old Boys, plus favorites like “Davy the Fat Boy” and “Sail Away.” Don’t even consider missing this one.

Thursday, Dec. 5
   11:30 PM, Ch. 7: The Dick Cavett Show. David Bowie is the only man in the hot seat tonight. Dick will probably ask David if he’s gay and David will probably say something like, “I don’t believe in labels.” That will be the highpoint.

Saturday, Dec. 7
   12:30 PM, Ch. 2: That Good Old Nashville Music. With Dolly Parton, Glamor Queen of Country Music, and also one of the two or three finest female singers in America.
   9:30 PM, Ch. 9: An Hour With Joan Baez. Our Lady of the Political Prisoner sings a song called “Winds of the Old Days,” about Bob Dylan’s recent comeback tour, and chats informally with the audience, who, however, are required to submit their informal chats in writing to Ms. Baez’s manager two weeks before showtime. Authors of the best questions get to kiss Joanie’s feet.
   11:00 PM, Ch. 9: Taj Mahal at the Boarding House. Taj gets cute at times, but just about anything he does is worth listening to.
   11:45 PM, Ch. 9: Speaking Freely—Edwin Newman Interviews Harold Robbins. Educational TV is getting rather weird these days.


Monday, Dec. 2
   8 PM, Ch. 2: Kind Hearts and Coronets (1950). Young dandy is in line to inherit a fortune, except that there are thirteen creepy relatives ahead of him. So, he snuffs every one of them. Alec Guinness plays all the victims. First-rate, with a fine ending.alec g
   9 PM, Ch. 4: The African Queen (1951, Dir. John Huston.) Bogart and Hepburn (in a role sup­posedly suggested by Eleanor Roose­velt), with script by James Agee, make their way down the river into the hands of the Nazis. Not up to its reputation, but good fun if you’ve never seen it.

Thursday, Dec. 5
   8:30 AM, Ch. 7: After the conclusion of The Women comes Part I of Rasputin and the Empress (1932), to be concluded Friday, Dec. 6, same time. Starring all the Barrymores, and dynamite. As Rasputin, Lionel almost makes up for all the hammy atrocities he committed during his endless career, and the death scene is not to be believed.

Friday, Dec. 6
   8 PM, Ch. 2: The Man in the White Suit. Alec Guinness as a chemist who invents a fabric that never wears out. The clothing industry goes berserk trying to get his patent away from him, but by the time they do the fabric falls apart. Not bad.

Saturday, Dec. 7
   7 PM, Ch. 2: Tender is the Night (1959). With Jennifer Jones and Jason Robards, Jr., and a real stinker. Read the book instead.

Sunday, Dec. 8
   4 PM, Ch. 44: They Made Me a Criminal (1939, Dir. Busby Berk­eley). John Garfield as a boxer who leaves town when he thinks he’s killed a man in the ring. Berkeley’s “TKO Fantasia in the Eight Round” is well-known from “Golden Days of Hollywood” TV shows, but the rest of the movie is very obscure. Worth checking out.
   7 PM, Ch. 44: All About Eve (1950, Dir. Joseph Mankiewicz). Bette Davis (great), George Sanders (won­derful) and Anne Baxter in a first-rate soap opera about a conniving young actress (Baxter) who tries to take over the theatre world, knocking off Grande Dame Davis on the way. Perfect movie for TV. Marilyn Monroe makes one of her earliest appearances, to boot.

City, November 27, 1974

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