Rochester, NY

Happy 50th Anniversary to TV 1971

Herbie J Pilato

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For many, the 1950s is considered television’s “Golden Age.” But as far as I’m concerned, that era expanded in the 1960s and 1970s, during which time I was born and raised in my hometown of Rochester, New York.

As fate would have it, Rochester was one of the test market areas for TV Guide. Who knew, right? I certainly didn’t, not while I was reading and loving every page of the latest edition of that magazine, every week.

I very much looked forward to buying the TV Guide every seven days. I would run, not walk, but RUN to the corner store every end-of-summer to purchase the special, expanded FALL PREVIEW issue.

This all transpired in the era before social media, immediate news, smartphones, cell phones, phone machines, and satellite and cable television. TV, in general, was relatively young, and so was I. It was like we grew up together. In fact, it’s safe to say that I was educated and professionally influenced by TV Guide.

I went on to have a career in television, beginning as an NBC Page, then an actor, TV historian, and TV talk show host all because of the knowledge I attained by way of TV Guide. Oprah was inspired by The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and I was inspired by TV Guide. And yep — I used to collect ’em, especially the FALL PREVIEW issues.

For whatever reason, the 1971 FALL PREVIEW issue is a stand-out edition in my personal history. That year wasn’t exactly a stellar year for new TV shows, and many unmemorable series came and went very swiftly.

But for every show like The Good Life, starring a post-I Dream of Jeannie Larry Hagman and a pre-Knots Landing Donna Mills, or Sarge, starring George Kennedy as detective-turned-priest, there was the debut of soon-to-be-stellar hits like Cannon, starring William Conrad, and noble contenders that were never given a chance, such as Longstreet, with James Franciscus, and The New Dick Van Dyke Show, which was eventually cut way too short at only three seasons.

The year, 1971, was also the year that big-screen superstars like Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart arrived on television with harmless sitcoms of their own that were never given a chance.

The Jimmy Stewart Show and The Smith Family, starring Henry Fonda (and co-starring a post-Andy Griffith Show and pre-Happy Days Ron Howard) were probably two of the sweetest shows ever to hit the small screen. I was ultimately introduced to Stewart and Fonda’s film history because of their TV sitcoms.

I can remember like it was yesterday reading the profiles for all of these then-new shows in the 1971 edition of FALL PREVIEW issue of TV Guide. And yep, again — I still have that issue, and every so often, I pick it up and look through the pages and photos, and it’s yesterday once more. it’s like I’m catapulted back in time.

The annual FALL PREVIEW of TV Guide is in many ways, is a history book, at least when it comes to popular culture which, in many ways, really is just our culture, period.

In addition to the special profile pages of each new show, every annual edition of the FALL PREVIEW issue also had special sections designated to:

  • the “Changes” of already-established shows from previous years
  • a “Movies” section that focused on theatrical films that were debuting on TV that year
  • a “Specials” category, which concentrated on one-time variety hours, holiday shows, news documentaries, and so forth
  • “Syndicated Shows” chronicled new shows that were produced for broadcast beyond the big three networks at the time, ABC, CBS, and NBC.
  • “PBS” would at times have a section all its own, as would the “Saturday Morning TV” preview section.

In all, the annual TV Guide FALL PREVIEW was a highly-anticipated read every year in my household and assuredly in millions of households around the country.

Over the years, other magazines and newspaper supplements have tried to copy its format, but even the TV Guide of today continues to publish the FALL PREVIEW issue every year to this day. But it’s just not the same.

And it’s not the same because TV isn’t the same, and because life isn’t the same.

In the simpler television (if tumultuous real) days of the 1960s and 1970s, and to some extent, the 1980s, and the 1990s, reading about then-new and unique shows like Bewitched, McMillan & Wife, Columbo, The Six Million Dollar Man, Kung Fu, or Life Goes On in the FALL PREVIEW issue of TV Guide was a unique experience unto its own.

The FALL PREVIEW issue was something you would look forward to reading. And it was educational, not just for the information it provided about television, but for what it also presented about life, in general, that was showcased on television and its varied programming.

The FALL PREVIEW issue of TV Guide featured articles, subjects, and topics that you couldn’t read, or that weren’t available anywhere else to read but in that very special, concise, printed, physical annual form.

But today? Today, everybody and their mother can read about next year’s new TV shows and stars, just by Googling it or speaking such a command into our smartphones.

Where the heck is the fun in that?

It’s not there. But it remains forever intact in the FALL PREVIEW “Special Edition” of TV Guide from 1971, which was published exactly five decades ago this week.

Happy 50th Anniversary!

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Writer/producer Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including biographies of Mary Tyler Moore, and "Bewitched" star Elizabeth Montgomery. He also writes for Emmys.com, TVWriter.com, and is the host and an executive producer of "Then Again with Herbie J Pilato," a classic TV talk show.

Los Angeles, CA
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