Network Television: How Far Can They Go?
by Cholly Bilderberger
HERE’S A VERY INSIDE peek at coming attractions on television. Titles and story lines are firm; casting is tentative.
NBC: This troubled network, under the direction of Grant Tinker, is going all out to avoid being third — and a distant third — in the ratings. A few of the pleasant surprises coming your way:
Anne Frank Might Have Been Alive and Well in New York. This little what-if tugger-at-the-heartstrings shows us Anne Frank (Linda Gray) today, as she might have been had not you-know-what happened. She is divorced, with two children (Gary Coleman and Gary Burghof), and runs a very successful interior decorating business. She is dating Mossad agent Schlomo Horowitz (McLean Stevenson). In the pilot, she, Schlomo and the kids trap a Nazi war criminal (a cameo part, Sir Laurence Olivier) who is trying to take over her business in order to infiltrate the Knesset, which she has been asked to redecorate.
Trapper Lev. Brings to the tube the life of the legendary Lev Goldstein, who preceded Lewis and Clark into the upper reaches of the Missouri, and crossed the Rockies into the Northwest. Lev (Merlin Olsen) battles prejudice as well as the wilderness. In the pilot he takes on a Shoshone chief (John Gielgud) who is virulently anti-Semitic, and shows him the error of his ways in hand-to-hand combat. The chief becomes one of Lev’s strongest supporters (they kill a bear together), and his daughter Sockabawaya (Loretta Swit) will be the love interest. She will either convert later, or turn out to have been a Jewish baby captured (somehow) by the Shoshones. This is for the adults as well as kids, and will show everyone what the Old West was really like when the myths are cut away.
Genocide! Based on the movie of the same name produced by Simon Wiesenthal, and narrated by Elizabeth Taylor and Orson Welles. Strong meat, but a must for today’s viewer. The year is 1938. Abraham (“Abe”) Rubenstein (James Garner), a cuckoo clock maker from the Black Forest, is taken from his shop to the local Gestapo headquarters, where he is accused of carving anti-Nazi sentiments and Hebrew symbols in the complicated scrollwork of his clocks. Abe will eventually get to Dachau, but first will have considerable foreplay with the Gestapo. He will escape, be recaptured, escape again, and so on. (Shades of The Fugitive!!) The Gestapo colonel is played by Sir Laurence Olivier, and there is a lovely blonde German girl (Marlo Thomas in a wig) who befriends Abe and helps him in his first escape.
Elm Street. A nostalgic look at Middle Western America in the late 1930s. Judge Arthur Hollins (Elliott Gould) and his wife Gloria (Gilda Radner) are calm on the surface, but quite torn up inside. An elderly Jewish friend (Jimmy Stewart) tells them what is going on in Europe, especially with the Jews, and they do not believe him until he runs some film shots of Kristallnacht, which he took the summer before. When they get the message, their first thought is to let everyone know what they have seen. But they meet with indifference, and someone (the Sheriff is a prime suspect for the audience) has stolen the film.
Candy Man. A reformed black pusher (Ben Vereen) and a reformed white supremacist (Alan Alda) join forces to rid the ghetto of crime. Fast-moving, lots of one-liners. A showcase for young black actors. When the ghetto kids finally decide to be constructive, they put on a musical, I’m Descended From Thomas Jefferson!, which is bound for Broadway. The love interest (for both principals) is Cindee Sandee (Sally Struthers), the child of a mixed marriage.
Happy Birthday to George Burns! Three hours, everyone in show business.
Hello to Milton Berle! Two hours. Most of the big names in show business welcome Milton back for the night.
Goodbye to Frank Sinatra! The memorable singer says farewell and talks about his blue eyes.
Anti-Semitism and the Law. An ambitious examination of the steadily mounting incidents of anti-Semitism in the United States and what can be done about them. College credits.
CBS: A different approach here, with emphasis on human values:
Genocide! Based on the movie of the same name produced by Simon Wiesenthal, and narrated by Elizabeth Taylor and Orson Welles. A fresh look at new material. In the pilot, Claus von Mannerheim (Tab Hunter), a young German aristocrat, discovers that he is Jewish, and slated for immediate deportation to Dachau. Another German aristocrat, who is definitely not Jewish (Gene Wilder), offers to hide him at Schloss Mehlstein, the family country estate. Claus meets a rabbi (Lee Majors) who instructs him in his faith and circumcises him in the stable. Both Claus and the rabbi will end up in Dachau. Only one of them will survive. Love interest will be the rabbi’s niece (Loni Anderson), a beautiful Jewish girl, who has been ravished by a German Junker (Ed Asner).
Bronco Sam. Based on the fact that most of the early cowboys were black, this is the story of one of them, Sam Fotheringhay (Omar Sharif), the first bronco buster in West Texas. Sam, a gentle and cultured cowboy, is constantly attacked for his color and his religious beliefs (he is an agnostic) by a mob led by a corrupt, racist sheriff (Don Rickles). The pilot includes a fight between Bronco Sam and the sheriff. The love interest is the beautiful half-breed mine owner (Veronica Hamel), who is drawn to Bronco Sam because he knows the story of her people, which is, of course, the story of his people.
Ragtime. A spin-off from the book and motion picture of the same title. This continues the nostalgic look back to turn-of-the-century America. J.P. Morgan (George Burns) makes life intolerable for obscure Paul Boniface (John Belushi), who is black but doesn’t know it. Famous figures of the time are recreated in cameo roles: Teddy Roosevelt (Henny Youngman); his daughter Alice (Bette Midler); Lenin (Bob Hope); Stalin (Chuck Barris, who’s the sleeper of the season); and many more. Chaim Weizmann (George Plimpton) comes all the way from Europe and his Zionist obligations to implore J.P. Morgan to let Paul Boniface lead his own life. J.P. refuses and Chaim sends for Sigmund Freud (Bob Newhart), who finally makes the great but tunnel-visioned financier see the light. This action extends over several episodes, naturally.
Muscles. A show devoted to the world of iron pumping, with a special twist. Jake Dastlinger (Robert Wagner) is an aging Jewish body builder who wants one last shot at the Mr. Israel crown. Along with his devoted but bewildered WASP wife (Lily Tomlin), he moves to California in order to work out with experts. There he is chilled to discover that a Nazi war criminal (Sir Laurence Olivier) in hiding in Los Angeles is spreading the gospel of Aryan superiority. It’s a stupendous task for Jake, but he outwits the “Aryan” champion (Jack Klugman) and goes on to Israel.
We Love You, George Burns! Three hours, everyone in show business.
Paisan! A lovingly detailed look at Frank Sinatra’s Sicilian roots. This six-hour special will run on succeeding Sundays, and is narrated by ol’ Blue Eyes himself. The production team has located many of his Sicilian relatives — simple farmers and workers who have retained the Sinatra history in the oral tradition, and tell tales dating back to 1139, to the time of Umberto Sinatra, the singing goatherd.
Young Golda. Golda Meir (Cheryl Tiegs) as a young woman. She already has a fierce sense of fair play and commitment to the ideals of Zion.
The Rise of Anti-Semitism. Eight hours, in succeeding two-hour segments in prime time. A long, hard look at the increasing anti-Semitism throughout the world, but especially in the United States. Experts suggest that we enact laws with stiff penalties for anti-Semitic acts and statements. Jack Lemmon, Jane Fonda, Elliott Gould, Dustin Hoffman, Milton Berle, Elliot Richardson, Averell Harriman, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier, and many, many others. College Credits.
ABC: This organization is going all-out to maintain its image as a leader in quality television.
First Strike! A series based on true stories from the files of Mossad. In the first episode, Mossad agents assassinate a group of German scientists who are plotting to take over the world. The Mossad leader (Rock Hudson) congratulates his men on behalf of civilization. He and his wife (Susan St. James) then fly back to Israel from Germany in time to host a cocktail party for Henry Kissinger (Henry Fonda). One mad German scientist (Richard Dreyfuss) survives, and we know that he will be brewing trouble in sequences to come.
Hell-For-Leather. A Civil War show, based on the incredible exploits of Union cavalry leader Phil Sheridan (Walter Matthau) and his intrepid men. The cast includes an aging Jewish scholar (Carroll O’Connor), who has become Sheridan’s principal aide and mentor, and an Indian scout (Mel Tillis). Many racial clichés are disposed of. The love interest will be supplied by two older Southern belles (Barbara Feldon and Janet Leigh). Robert E. Lee (Ben Gazzara) and Stonewall Jackson (Phil Silvers) are shown in the first episode as decent but uninformed. Nathan Bedford Forrest (Jim Nabors), who later founded the Ku Klux Klan, is revealed as deeply bigoted even then. Abraham Lincoln (Tony Randall) and U.S. Grant (Dean Martin) make cameo appearances.
Genocide! Based on the movie of the same name produced by Simon Wiesenthal, and narrated by Elizabeth Taylor and Orson Welles. A novel slant. Rebecca Nussbaum, a young Jewish girl (Sissy Spacek) and her mother (Loretta Lynn) and the matchmaker, or yenta, from their village (Dolly Parton) decide to outwit the Germans and stay out of the gas chambers. They become an all-girl Alpine dance-and-song team and travel all over wartime Germany entertaining the troops and helping other Jews escape. In the pilot, when they are playing in Nuremberg, they barely avoid discovery by Julius Streicher (Mike Farrell). A cameo appearance by Eva Braun (Stephanie Powers) enhances this episode. The whole show is a deliberately lighthearted approach to genocide, but the essential horror of the times is not forgotten.
Green Valley. The warm story of an Israeli kibbutz on the Golan Heights. A Jewish mother (Mariette Hartley) moves to the valley from New York City with her two children, seeking peace and understanding. She finds it in Moshe Avatar (John Davidson), the dynamic leader of the settlers, and they inspire the others to ward off attacks by the Arabs, led by Arafat (Mickey Rooney). Menachem Begin (Gregory Peck) makes a cameo appearance. The product demonstrates why the Golan Heights are important to security everywhere.
George Burns, You’re God! Three hours, everyone in show business.
Sinatra, the Women. The women in Frank Sinatra’s life.
Anti-Semitism, the Creeping Threat. Sixteen hours, in succeeding segments in prime time. An in-depth inquiry into increasing cases of anti-Semitism in the United States. The host (Archibald Cox) will interview experts throughout this country and ask for solutions. Those to be interviewed include all members of the U.S. Supreme Court, Simon Wiesenthal, Elie Wiesel, Bill Cosby, Elizabeth Taylor, Hank Aaron, sixty Holocaust survivors, and Richard Pryor. Solutions will call for laws with stiff penalties for anti-Semitic acts and statements.
In addition to the above, the commercial networks plan reruns of Holocaust, with college, high school and grade school credits.
Public Television: Doesn’t have the viewers of the big three, but is an influential opinion-maker. Among the offerings:
Gas! A panel discussion of the Nazi extermination policies. Guests will include Jane Fonda, Lillian Hellman, John Galbraith, George Plimpton, Frank Capra, Jimmy Cagney, Orson Welles, Wink Martindale, Anthony Hopkins, John Gielgud, Sir Laurence Olivier, John Ritter, Suzanne Somers and James Garner.
Shakespeare and All That. A British import in which Elizabethan England is shown to have been a hotbed of anti-Semitism, with Shakespeare himself and Elizabeth I among the few holdouts. The few anti-Semitic incidents in the great playwright’s works (Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, for instance) are shown to have been only sops to contemporary opinion and were not meant to be taken seriously. Drake and Raleigh are exposed as raging racists.
Huey Long. An in-depth study narrated by Lillian Hellman, showing how close we came to a fascist dictatorship.
The King Years. Narrated by Dick Cavett. Homage to the tremendous influence of Martin Luther King, Jr. Tributes from important figures in this country and abroad, including Margaret Thatcher and Helmut Schmidt.
Breezy. Another British import. Breezy Bates and his family are Jamaicans living in London, and their natural high spirits contrast sharply with the dour racism of their neighbors. This 39-part series is hilarious and sobering by turns. Introduction to each segment by Lady Antonia Fraser.
Eeny, Meanie . . . ! A dynamic children’s program, designed to show how racism starts. As one of the white children says in the first episode, “The word ‘Meanie’ is not in that old verse by accident. Racism is the meanest sort of thing a kid can do.” The children discover the important roles of black and Jewish people in American history. Abraham Lincoln’s black heritage is discussed openly.
Anti-Semitism and You. A weekly feature in which the increasing anti-Semitism in the United States is pinpointed, and a panel discusses the laws which should be enacted to put anti-Semites behind bars. The panel will include most of official Washington.
As you can see, it’s going to be an exciting TV year! Enjoy!