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TV Guide Book

New TV Guide
Book is Full of Memories

by Jim Longworth

For me, browsing through Dr. Stephen Hofer's new book, TV Guide: Celebrating an Icon, was like flipping through a family album, or watching home movies. That's because Hofer has compiled a loving tribute to classic TV shows and stars who have graced the covers of TV Guide over the past 52 years.

The book is chocked full of TV history, and also serves as the Official Collectors Guide for America's longest running media mag.

Even better, Professor Hofer, who is curator of the Philo Farnsworth TV Museum and an avid collector himself, includes color reproductions of every TV Guide cover issued between April ,1953 and October, 2005. The premiere issue, featuring Lucille Ball and baby Desi, Jr., now fetches nearly $2,000.

I also enjoyed the foreword by TV Guide Editor in Chief, Michael Davis, a contemporary of mine who, like me, was enamored with Superman and Zorro. As an infant, I used to run around the house with a home made cape (really it was my thumb sucking blanket), and try to fly. I also thought I had super human strength, and once tried to lift a sofa off the ground. The attempt sent me to the hospital for a hernia operation. Nevertheless, Davis' remembrances sent me to my video library to look at the new DVD sets of "The Adventures of Superman", and to sift through my antique toy chest to see if my Zorro musket was still in tact.

My Superman stunt not withstanding, most of the nostalgia I feel for television while reading Hofer's book is derived from passive viewing. But it also brought back memories of TV icons with whom I spent time interviewing for my television talk shows, columns, and seminars.

For example, I helped to honor Angela Lansbury during a special "Women in Prime" event for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Ms. Lansbury has been on the cover of TV Guide five times for her portrayal of Jessica Fletcher in "Murder She Wrote". Others who gathered for that special evening included Melina Kanakaredes who is a two-time cover girl (once for Providence, and again for CSI New York), as well as Laura Innes (ER) and Kathryn Morris (Cold Case) who have each appeared once on covers.

In an earlier event that I moderated for the Academy ("Women in Drama"), Tyne Daly was recognized for her work in Cagney & Lacey, and for "Judging Amy". Daly was a delight to interview, and was in no way affected by her fame, her multiple EMMYs, or her two TV Guide covers.

Robert Wagner can now be seen on DVD in "Hart to Hart", but I interviewed him before he joined the cast of that mega hit. At the time, RJ was promoting "Switch", a short-lived series for CBS, and, over the years, he has been featured on seven TV Guide covers. I remember a hush that came over the room when Wagner entered. Women swooned over him, and men wanted to be like him. He is a class act.

During that same trip to Los Angeles 30 years ago, I also interviewed: "Kojak" star Telly Savalas (six covers); "M*A*S*H" doc Mike Farrell (three covers); "The Jeffersons" dynamic duo Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford (they appeared together on five covers); Alice's Linda Lavin (four covers); "All in the Family" star Jean Stapleton (five covers); "Waltons" mom Michael Learned (two covers); "One Day at a Time's" Bonnie Franklin (who appeared on three covers, but mainly shocked everyone by never wearing a bra); Rhoda's mom and McMillan's sidekick Nancy Walker ( who was obnoxious both on screen and off); Maude's husband Bill Macy (three covers); and the legendary Buddy Ebsen, who has appeared on the cover of TV Guide ten times for his roles in "The Beverly Hillbillies", and for "Barnaby Jones".

Hofer's retrospective of celeb covers reminded me that I had talked with Richard Chamberlain on the set of "Dream West", long after he achieved fame as "Dr. Kildare", and just a few years after his resurgence as a TV icon in "The Thorn Birds". Chamberlain was featured on twelve covers. And, this mammoth collection also included Bob Hope, who I once interviewed in an airport conference room because it was the only place he had available for a sit down that week. Hope and his ski nose captured eleven covers over the years.

Of course, the queen of TV Guide covers is Mary Tyler More. Her twenty-one appearances is a testament to her staying power as a TV talent, first as a housewife in "The Dick Van Dyke Show", and later as a pioneering working woman in "The Mary Tyler Moore Show". I interviewed Mary for a story I was writing about her step son Mark Tinker,the EMMY winning director/producer of "St Elsewhere", "The White Shadow", "Brooklyn South", "NYPD Blue", and "The Bob Newhart Show", the latter for which Mark first proved his mettle at father Grant's studio. I subsequently interviewed Newhart (he's been on five covers) to round out my story on Tinker, and I found Bob to be a naturally funny person with an infectious laugh.

Another quick-witted cover boy is my TV hero, Steve Allen. Allen only garnered two covers, but his wife Jayne grabbed four spots, mainly for her role as a panelist on "I've Got a Secret". I spent the day with Steve and Jayne when we honored our friend Bernie Oseransky upon his retirement from MTM Studios, where he oversaw production for a host of classic TV shows.

"60 Minutes" icon Mike Wallace is known for his hard hitting, news-making interviews, and so it is not surprising that he racked up eleven TV Guide covers. But it is his sense of humor that I will always remember. Many years ago I elicited his help in playing a prank on talk show maven Virginia Graham. Wallace assisted with glee.

Our TVparty readers already know that I have written about Dennis Weaver, star of "Gunsmoke" and "McCloud". Weaver, who garnered six cover stories was amused when I told him how, as a four year old TV fanatic, I confounded medical specialists with a limp that I had manufactured as an homage to Chester Goode.

Elizabeth Taylor is best known for her film roles, and only appeared on two TV Guide covers, but I am reminded of the time I interviewed her and her (then) husband John Warner on the campaign trail for a U.S. Senate seat. I was working for a TV station at the time, and was instructed to get everyone I interviewed to don one of our station T-shirts. Warner, ever the pandering politician, quickly pulled the shirt over his head and wore it with pride. Liz, on the other hand could not see fit to fit into her T-shirt. It was an XXL, and she refused to participate in the make-shift fashion show. Taylor's weight had ballooned that year, and I later learned that she ate because she was unhappy as a politician's wife. I felt bad that I had given her one more stressor to deal with.

Of all the TV Guide luminaries I have had the honor to work with, I am reminded of two who showed me great courtesy and generosity over and above the call of duty. One was Red Skelton (he's appeared on 12 covers) who was in town for a concert tour. The event was sold out far in advance and there was no need for Skelton to subject himself to any added publicity, much less agree to do an entire half hour talk show in front of a live audience on the eve of his paid performance. But that he did, and for that I was grateful.

The other super star I will always recall with fondness and appreciation is NASCAR legend Richard Petty (two covers). I had just launched a new television talk show, and Richard had promised to come to the studio that day. At the last minute, his secretary called and delivered the bad news. Richard and Kyle had been summoned to Detroit to meet with a sponsor, and would be unable to tape my show. I told her I understood, but I also mentioned that it was going to leave me in the lurch. The next thing I knew, King Richard came strolling into my studio. He realized the dilemma he had put me in, and had hopped a special flight out of Detroit in time to do my show. Why did he make the extra effort? "‘Cause I give you my word," Petty said. I will never forget his gesture.

Anyway, the point of my nostalgic ramblings is that Dr Hofer's book has given all of us a great gift to enjoy , each in our own way. You might look at the TV Guide covers and think back to what was going on in your life the night J.R. was shot. You might laugh out loud as you recall how Barney forced Gomer to "get down there with them spiders".

Or, you might picture the time you spent watching a groundbreaking news event with a parent or sibling. Fortunately, we can now share those moments again by giving The Official Collectors Guide to our friends and family.

I recommend that you call BangZoom Publishers at 1 800 589-7333, or order on line at

It may just be the best coffee table book ever published. In fact, you'll want to read it 'cover to cover'.

Jim Longworth is host of Triad Today, and author of TV Creators, volumes 1 & 2, and serves as a judge for the prime time EMMYs.

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