Except, possibly, for a handful of seminomadic quinine hunters somewhere in Sumatra, just about everybody in the world has come to realize what American television's basic dedications are. The three networks are very strong for the elimination of cavities, dirt, sweat, Polish wives who can't cook Italian, malnourished pets and burping. They are also very strong for the advancement of better mileage, scented breath and guava-colored jetliners. This is all terrific for the guys in the industry who play a lot of paddle tennis and throw around terms like "thirty-six mill" and "eighty-four thou" as if these were towns near Old Greenwich. The salesmen know the viewers will swing in there with whatever comes up in the big window, be it Secret Squirrel or George Brent. Anyhow, they ask, what do the viewers know about love, which is money? Don't they all have eyes like macaroni with meat sauce, suffer from chronic neck aches and want Walter Cronkite for President? Don't worry about the programming, Billy Tom. Let's all just phase into "21" and do a total face-down in the salad.
Fortunately for at least some of the country's 180 million dial-twisters, the industry is not always so insensitive. There are instances when its thinkers will drive a root canal through the great bicuspid of Madison Avenue and put something live and in color up there in the glorious glass—a political follies, a space shot or, more often than those, a sports event. When this happens, and when it is done well, TV becomes the electronic pleasure pill that it should be.
This occurred almost a year ago in Augusta, Ga., at that essential American quilt spread, the Masters golf tournament. Few annual events lend themselves to television quite as well as the Masters, the first major outdoor sports event of the year. It reeks with live action furnished by a lot of familiar heroes: Our Arnie, Big Jack, Black Gary, Darling Doug, Battling Billy. It also mixes in some old eagles—gray ones like Hogan and bald ones like Snead—and a variety of Chen Ching-pos, with the dogwood and azalea for incidental set decoration. And the whole scene is awash with color, Augusta- CBS color, which, of course, is better than the less vivid hues of God, though perhaps not as good as NBC's.
The Masters is a perfect opportunity for TV to be a newsy, gorgeous, creative showoff, to further enhance the good images left it by Edward R. Murrow's cigarette, Sid Caesar's parodies and Paddy Chayefsky's scripts. It is one of the prestige presentations that CBS has worked hard to keep over the years, like NFL football. Networks have an awful time establishing their identity with the viewers at home, and this kind of show helps. If you ask the average vidiot to tell you the difference between the three networks, you would be fortunate if he could say that NBC has Johnny Carson, Huntley-Brinkley, baseball and I Spy; that ABC has Batman, Combat!, college football and Wide World of Jim McKay—er, Sports; and that CBS has Gun-smoke, Cronkite, Morley Safer's war in Vietnam, the NFL and the Masters.
Doing the Masters right is not easy, not at all what the viewer might imagine—a lone cameraman bounding along a fairway with the equipment on his back and Commentator Jack Whitaker looking more tanned than usual in the giddy social whirl of the 18th green. To come out with the splendid show that CBS did a year ago required 10 years of bungles, worry, argument, mechanical refinement, thought and invention. More specifically, it took months of planning, 150 men, 15 cameras, a bastion of giant trailer trucks, 60,000 feet of underground cable and $600,000. What this produced was four and a half hours of live color coverage that began with Saturday's third round of play and ended late Monday evening with Jack Nicklaus' playoff victory.
Backstage at the 1966 Masters was a sort of athletic event of its own, a week of flickering madness in Producer-Director Frank Chirkinian's control truck when the show was beaming out to millions, and of bizarre hilarity practically everywhere else.
The week started, as most weeks do for TV, with a lot of worry—terrible, grave worry. The site was the lawn in front of the Augusta National Golf Club veranda. The general staff of CBS Sports, all dressed in dark-blue blazers with crests and looking something like a confused group of AAU officials at an Olympics, was wearing out the grass. Its concern was the opening of the show, the fact that it was being written and rewritten, approved and unapproved, and criticized by practically everyone in town. There was also uneasiness about the man who was doing the opening on tape.
The situation was this. CBS had agreed to a request of Tournament Chairman Clifford Roberts, a lifelong friend of Bobby Jones and the man who runs the Masters like Napoleon ran France, that each day's telecast would begin with a solemn opening. The introduction would set a prestigious mood and state the fact that there would be a reduced number of commercials in tribute to the importance of the event.
When Roberts had first asked the sponsors, Travelers insurance and Arrow shirts, for fewer commercials, an agency fellow in New York had said, "What does he think the Masters is, a moon shot?" Nevertheless, Roberts did get five commercials sliced from the scheduled two days of telecasting—a feat, some said, that was comparable to Jones's Grand Slam. But the tournament chairman also felt that this fact should be announced before and after each show by someone outside the realm of sport. A Walter Cronkite, perhaps. Or even a Dwight D. Eisenhower.
For a while no one involved could think of the proper person. Drawing close to deadline, with the Cronkites and Eisenhowers unobtainable, someone in New York got the big idea that Ed Sullivan would be good, and put it to Roberts. " Ed Sullivan!" Roberts reportedly said. "If we wanted anybody from show business, we could get Randolph Scott!"