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Show Business: The New Shows

5 minute read
TIME

CBS and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this month will present a show on which a machine will demonstrate its ability to write TV westerns. Viewers watching the new TV series may be convinced, much of the time, that the machine is already at work. Among the latest arrivals, including some notable exceptions to the machine-tooled mediocrity:

The Tom Ewell Show (CBS) leads a relentless parade of situation comedies, all designed to show that American family life is as cute as a freckle on a five-year-old. The show, which might also be titled Father Knows Nothing, presents the comic with the excavated face as a bumbler named Potter who is trapped in the customary format: Harassed Man Beaten Down by Wife, Three Daughters, Mother-in-Law. In the opening episode, Ewell could find no better way to outsmart his spendthrift women than closing his bank account and ruining his own credit. For those who may have tuned out early, the women were all set to start spending again.

My Three Sons (ABC) stars Fred MacMurray as a widower trying to raise his three sons, and trying, as well, to be another ratings-wealthy Bachelor Father. Like all situation comedies, this one sets its sights low and aims for modest objectives, reaching them with a professionalism as smooth as glass, blown to enclose a vacuum. In the first episode, both MacMurray and his devastatingly cute ten-year-old son were chastely chased by women of appropriate ages.

Guestward Ho! (ABC), a series based on a book by Patrick Dennis (Auntie Mame) and Barbara Hooton, follows a New York family to New Mexico, where they open a dude ranch. The first episode was as dull as the wrinkled eyelid of a

Gila monster. The family struggled to clean up their run-down property, meanwhile trying to avoid being cleaned out by a shrewd Indian called Hawkeye (inevitably J. Carrol Naish), who reads the Wall Street Journal.

The Witness (CBS) is one of the more exciting shows to appear on TV in a long time. Packaged by David Susskind, it effectively utilizes a formula first laid out by more modest shows like Day in Court and The Verdict Is Yours: the simulated hearing or trial. The first episode grilled a fictional “Lucky” Luciano. While the case did not unfold too coherently, and the crowd noises in the simulated hearing room were badly overdone, the program spectacularly captured the disorderly drama of committee hearings, with all their rambling language and flashing anger. Telly Savalas, a comparatively unknown actor, was superb as Luciano—full of gutter cynicism, arrogance, brutality, and yet at moments pathetic. The show’s spontaneity derived partly from the fact that the lawyers involved were real, some of the best courtroom performers in New York (Richard Steel William Geoghan Jr., Charles Haydon,’ Benedict Ginsberg), who ad-libbed much of their argument. On the griddle this week: Huey Long. Later: Arnold Rothstein, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, and former New York Mayor James J. Walker.

Eyewitness to History (CBS), which takes up the top news story of each week and analyzes it in respectable detail, is a good example of the sort of first-rate service television can perform. After beginning two weeks ago with an effective contrast of Ike’s and Khrushchev’s approaches to the U.N., the show last week turned to the Congo, using material that CBS crews had gone to Africa to get. As mpressive as the show itself is its young analyst-narrator, Charles Kuralt, 25, who wrote a human interest column for the Charlotte, N.C. News before CBS hired him. A deep-voiced Carolina Cronkite with more than a little Murrow in his bones, he has one of those low-ratchet, radioactive voices that sound like a roulette wheel stopping.

The Andy Griffith Show (CBS) sets up the fellow who had No Time for Sergeants as a sort of one-man Southern town: he is the cop, justice of the peace, jailer, newspaper editor, coroner, sheriff, mechanic and mailman. As a drawling, broad-shouldered, curly-haired, grits-filled, engagingly handsome example of the U.S.’s vast natural resource of undeveloped intelligence, talented Comedian Griffith is often good for laughs, all of them canned.

Closeup (ABC), a documentary series with an enlightened sponsor (Bell & Howell), opened with a telling study of “prejudice in the North.” From Puerto Rican Harlem to South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation for Sioux Indians, from the besetting problems of a Negro lawyer in Los Angeles to the defeating frustrations of a Jewish doctor trying to buy a home in Grosse Pointe, Mich., the program moved quietly around the country to make its point that discrimination is not merely a regional disgrace.

Westerner (NBC) doffs its Stetson to Freud as Brian Keith, borrowing John Wayne’s hunch and squint, brawls his way through some crisply directed traumas. Last week Keith rescued a girl from a sadist, only to have her refuse to go along with the rescuer because she liked being slapped around after all.

Hong Kong (ABC) is a comic strip come to life about a U.S. foreign correspondent. The opening episode involved more or less comic sailors, a Chinese fortune cooky (France Nuyen), and a plot that had everybody ducking back and forth across the Red frontier as if the Bamboo Curtain were equipped with a revolving door. Against one of the world’s grimmest backdrops, the whole thing had an annoying air of schoolboys playing pranks. The show’s one hope is that it may generate humor by parodying itself, and the first installment made a good start. “The Red Chinese are provoked to an absolute fury,” said the crown colony’s Governor. But then everybody knows how little it takes to infuriate the Red Chinese.

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