How Lee Harvey Oswald Fucked Up Television History
May 6, 2013
My first piece for The AV Club ran last Friday. It’s a look at the ritual of preempting or editing television shows in the aftermath of tragedies like the Boston Marathon bombing – a ritual that extends back at least as far as the murder of John F. Kennedy. (That’s Martin Milner above, in the strange Route 66 episode “I’m Here to Kill a King,” which was meant to air on November 22, 1963, and bears some disturbing parallels to the assassination.)
As I was researching the aftermath of President Kennedy’s assassination, I noticed that the original broadcast dates for at least two of the preempted television episodes have been recorded incorrectly in nearly every reference source. Presumably that’s because historians consulted newspapers’ TV listings without discovering that sudden changes were made after the listings were published. As a sort of wonky footnote, I thought I would untangle those errors here.
Channing, the one-season college drama with Jason Evers and Henry Jones, had an episode entitled “A Window on the War” slated for November 27, five days after the president’s death. An early work by the noted screenwriter David Rayfiel, who was adapting his play P.S. 193, “A Window on the War” involved an adult student’s plot to kill a professor (who is sort of a variation on the teacher character in All Quiet on the Western Front). The subject matter led ABC to push the episode back two weeks, to December 11. The episode that was substituted was Juarez Roberts‘s boxing story “Beyond His Reach,” which had evidently been penciled in for December 11. Wikipedia supplies the correct dates but the Internet Movie Database and the Classic TV Archive still have it wrong.
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour had planned to show “The Cadaver,” a Michael Parks-starring episode about a practical joke involving medical students and a cadaver, as the first post-Kennedy episode, on November 29. Instead, the episode that had been preempted on the night of the assassination, “Body in the Barn,” was shown on November 29, and “The Cadaver” (evidently because of its morbid subject matter) was pushed back until January 17. Most references claim that “The Cadaver” aired as scheduled on November 29 and that “Body in the Barn” didn’t resurface until July 3, in the middle of summer reruns. That’s wrong.
What’s interesting here is that, in their book The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion, Martin Grams Jr. and Patrick Wikstrom figured this out and printed the correct dates, with an explanation as to why they were given incorrectly elsewhere. That book was published in 2000, and yet all of the data aggregation sites on the internet – the IMDb, Wikipedia, TV.com, Epguides, the Classic TV Archive – still reflect the incorrect dates. It’s a good example of how sites like those tend to grab the low-hanging fruit and overlook more obscure sources. Rely upon them at your own peril.
As documentation, I’ve reproduced some pages from some relevant TV listings below. First, an early Los Angeles Times listing for Channing‘s “A Window on the War” on November 27:
Then a New York Times listing for November 27, giving the evening’s episode correctly as “Beyond His Reach”:
A Chicago Tribune listing for “A Window on the War” on its eventual broadcast date, December 11:
A Hartford Courant listing for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour‘s “Body in the Barn” on its original airdate, November 29 (no date is given on the clipping, but the episode titles for other series correspond to 11/29):
“The Cadaver” debuting on January 17, 1964, per the Los Angeles Times:
This New York Times TV listing for July 3 is one of several that declares “Body in the Barn” a repeat:
Also in the AV Club article, I mentioned that Espionage switched around its schedule in order to delay an assassination-themed story. That episode was “A Camel to Ride, a Sheep to Eat,” which was pushed back from November 27 to December 18. “The Light of a Friendly Star,” originally scheduled for December 4, was moved up a week. I’m not sure of the original sequence for the episodes in between, but the Classic TV Archive has the final airdates right. (Apropos of nothing, can I tell you how annoyed I am that the British DVD release of Espionage went out of print before I snagged one?)