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A weak week, this week. The wasteland at its wasted best.
8:00 p.m.--The Alamo. In case you missed it a few weeks ago, here's your chance to miss it again. It is an ultimate American film, full of salutes to racism, chauvinism, and (who else) John-by-God-Wayne, who directed, produced, and spent twelve million dollars on a full scale model of the Alamo itself, although it will still appear only a few inches tall on your tube. A large part of the film is offensive, but much of it is also exciting and fun, and it is certainly worth watching if only to see the Duke get skewered by one of Santa Ana's mean minions. It is something I have wanted to do for years, and it provided me much vicarious pleasure I must advise, however, that you have to wait until Friday and Part II to see this epic moment, as NBC is so sure you will watch both parts, enabling them to bombard you with twice as many commercials. Channel 4.
11:30 p.m.--Howard Cosell with the Miami Dolphins. If you really get into offensive personalities after subjecting yourself to the Duke and the Alamo, get into Howie. He is the only sportscaster in America who gives drama to a sports event by his mere presence, but he has no sense of proportion. He is entirely dependent upon his subject matter, which a good sportscaster is not, and the Dolphins' training camp can hardly be imagined to be a hotbed of interesting tidbits. Being a devout Redskins fan, I hope he talks the Dolphins to death. Channel 5.
8:30 p.m.--Duel. A well-executed thriller about a lone traveler in a life and death struggle with a reckless truck driver. When a show like this sneaks into my list of "highlights" for the week, it's time to just unplug your set and read or, if you must, just watch the screen. Maybe if you imagine the truck is the Lechmere limited and you're in a Toyota, you can relate to this movie. I doubt it. Channel 5.
10:00 p.m.--Cannon. Ah. William Conrad has created the only consistently believable character on television since Star Trek, with the notable exception of his contemporary, Peter Falk on Colombo. Cannon, known affectionately as Fat Puss by his devoted following, frets and struts his way through week after week of Grade B and C plots, making them not only suspenseful but enjoyable. It is a rare accomplishment indeed to shine in this medium, but Conrad seems to be playing himself. As he overcomes stupidity on the program, one feels that it is a direct metaphor for his consistent battle to conquer the reigning tunnel vision of television production. Channel 12.
1:35 a.m.--Charlie Chan in London. A friend of mine once remarked, as Electric Uncle George Fennell introduced old Chucko on Five All Night: "If I had a drop of Oriental blood in me, these movies would really be offensive." As you ponder that statement and wonder about your own latent racism, remember that Warner Oland was one of five men to play Chan, none of whom possessed that requisite drop of blood, and none of whom probably thought of being offended by the nonsense in which they were involved. Channel 5.
8:00 p.m.--Point of Order. The classic American documentary by Emile de Antonio. Joseph McCarthy turns in a very convincing performance as an alcoholic, red-baiting Senator who has succeeded in terrorizing the entire country. Joseph N. Welch is not quite as good as Spencer Tracy would have been in the role of the New England lawyer who puts an end to the foolishness ("Senator, at long last, have you no shame?"), but Tracy reportedly wanted too much money for the part. Cameo performanced by Robert F. Kennedy, Roy Cohn, and G. David Schine (who grew up to be executive producer of The French Connection and make a zillion bucks) add sparkle to an otherwise lackluster cast. Channel 2.
The fact is that much of what appears on television is terrible. There is no reason to go into the specific theories of why the law of the lowest intellectual common denominator works, but just to say it does and that this medium is still nearly totally unexplored. When three days of television of three major networks and several other stations can't produce more "highlights" than this, it can provide a sticky problem for the reviewer. This reviewer takes solace, and a touch of sadistic pride, in reviewing the two worst shows he has ever seen, both of which premiered this summer, which must show that things are getting worse instead of better.
The Girl in My Life. A combination of the worst qualities of This Is Your Life and Queen for a Day, in which host Fred Holliday, oozing sincerity from every pore in his microphone styrofoam, introduces women who tell schlocky stories and are rewarded with a visit from somebody they haven't seen in almost a week. Great. Way to kick, ABC.
The Helen Reddy Show: The bad format of a variety show taken to its logical barren conclusion. Take the most consistently banal, if not truly offensive performer on the popular scene and fill the hour with bad guests. She claims to be a feminist, yet permits such racist chauvinist crap as Flip Wilson's Geraldine act to take place on her show. Feminism would be far better off without such plasticized, consumer-oriented pablum as this.
So much for the bombast of one viewer who for ten years has hated to see this medium wasted. Maybe next week there will be some programs to talk about.
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