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Cabbages and Kings

"Say Anything You Like"

By Rudolph Kass

Each week Al Capp, the creator and continuing source of life of L'il Abner, presides over a half hour television program which proceeds on the premise that there is something inherently entertaining in five people sitting before cameras and talking. Doubtful as the premise is, shows of this ilk enjoy considerable popularity on TV schedules, probably because they require no sets, little talent, and to outside appearances, no organization and rehearsal.

As a matter of fact, more work goes into preparing these gab fests than the calibre of the chit-chat that final results would indicate. We discovered all this the other week when prior to a Monday appearance on Capp's show we were asked to appear for a "little get to together...just so we'll know what we're talking about."

At the studio we were met by five "executives" whose duty it was to see that the four guests would understand what was expected of them. "I wouldn't want you people to be embarrassed," a pipe-smoking man who introduced himself as Bo Bernstein said. Mr. Bernstein, it turned out, represented the advertising agency that was running the show. This connection with the moneyed interests of the program made him the head man. Bernstein pointed out a colleague, named Harvey Cushing, who explained our part to us. "Nothing to it," he said, "all we want you to do this half hour is to keep the conversation shallow and entertaining. That's all you really need to remember. After all you're going over to a mass audience. That's all."

Mr. Bernstein said, though, that this was anything but all and after pointing out to his staff that HE was running the show he asked the "guests" to tell him something about what they intended to talk with Capp about. "Suppose we go out of the studio," he offered, "so you kids can talk it over by yourselves and then you can tell us."

With the directors out of the way we whipped together a topic list pretty quickly. Bernstein and company returned upon a pre-arranged signal from us and began frowning over the agenda.

"Whatsis about Boston newspapers?" Curtis asked.

"They're terrible," we answered, "and we thought we'd ask Capp about them."

"Well, I don't know. Mr. Capp has his strip in the Globe... we often have local newspapermen in the audience... er, I think we better lay off that."

"But I thought we could talk on anything?"

"Well, you know... some things you gotta watch out for."

One of us said we'd like to ask Capp about what he thought about Harvard's parietal rules. "Might lead to objectionable grounds," Bernstein said. "I dunno."

"Well then," we said, "Capp's interested in politics. Suppose we ask him about McCarthyism ..."

"Kids," said a man whom the others called Ben, "Let me give you some background on station feeling. It's not fear for a sponsor that troubles us with this one but fear for a license. We are not free to take an editorial stand as a newspaper is. If all of you were anti-McCarthy tonight, we'd have to give him this time next week to hit back. Of course we wouldn't want to do that so we better steer clear of the question. But go on, what else have you got? Talk about anything you like."

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