Boomers Watched the First Presidential TV Debates

We are well into the 2020 presidential election with more than an estimated 6 million people having already cast their ballots in early voting as of this writing. We have had one televised presidential and vice presidential debate each, already. There was to be a televised debate this week, which was to be a town hall format and was cancelled for health reasons. There is still one more planned for next week.

The situation could not be further from what transpired 60 years ago, the first year that presidential debates were televised. However, an examination of the history shows that spats between the two parties appeared from the very first of the TV debates. Mister Boomer has written about that very first debate, which aired on September 26, 1960, between then Vice President Richard Nixon and Senator John Kennedy (The First Televised Presidential Debate was Broadcast In Our Boomer Years).

Nixon and Kennedy had agreed to three debates. Consensus in the press put Kennedy as the victor in the first debate. Kennedy had talked to TV producers to get some pointers on what to wear. The vast majority of viewers would be tuning in on black & white TV sets, and the background was light, so they suggested he wear a navy color suit to stand out in contrast. He also asked about camera angles and lighting. In other words, he tried to prepare for his appearance in this new medium. Nixon was caught off guard in his gray suit and blended into the gray background. Worse yet, unaccustomed to studio lighting and recovering from the flu, close-up shots showed him sweating profusely on his upper lip. Nixon did not fare well in his first TV appearance.

For the second debate on Friday, October 7, 1960, Nixon’s staff got to the TV studio early and turned the thermostat down so their candidate would not be shown sweating. When Kennedy’s people arrived, the studio temperature was described as “frigid.” They went to the thermostat only to find it guarded by Nixon’s people. A discussion ensued and a more reasonable temperature was agreed upon. Most press at the time placed Nixon as the victor in round two.

The third of the debates on October 13, 1960, had the scintillating topic of whether military force should be used to prevent two islands off the coast of China from falling under Communist rule. Now, 60 years later, what is fascinating about that debate is that due to scheduling difficulties, the candidates could not appear in the same studio. Both were on the campaign trail, so Kennedy appeared in a New York studio, while Nixon was in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, the debate moderator and panel of questioners were in Chicago. It was real TV history — a broadcast from three combined locations that was beamed to the TV audience on all three networks (ABC, CBS, NBC). The background was the same for each candidate, so on a split screen the two appeared as if they were in the same studio. The press called this one a draw.

Both parties were exhausted from the rigors of what the televised debates placed on them in the last weeks before the election. Nixon, especially, was said to be devastated by the experience. As a result, there were no more televised presidential debates for three election cycles. Lyndon Johnson refused to participate against Barry Goldwater in 1964, and Richard Nixon declined to participate versus Hubert Humphrey in 1968, and again versus George McGovern in 1972. The next televised debate would not appear until then President Gerald Ford debated former Governor Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Boomers had a front row seat in their living rooms for this historic series of events. Mister Boomer certainly recalls those first TV debates, and remembers having to write about them in Civics class in school. How about you, boomers? Do you remember the first televised presidential debate you watched with your family?

Boomers Had a Favorite Martian

When My Favorite Martian had its debut in September of 1963, there was nothing else like it on television. The 1950s saw a rash of sci-fi movies where the aliens were almost always portrayed as space invaders, and now here, on TV, was an alien anthropologist-observer whose one-person spacecraft nearly collides with a U.S. Air Force X-15 rocket-powered aircraft. Evasive maneuvers resulted in a crash landing in an area of the galaxy without a sufficient source of replacement parts.

Ray Walston played the the part of Martin, the man from Mars, and Bill Bixby was the newspaper reporter Tim O’Hara, who happened to witness the crash landing. Tim investigates and sees an alien emerge from the craft who is far different than most of the previous decade’s imaginings. Here is a man, by appearance, very much like himself instead of a monster. Tim decides to shelter the Martian, keep his identity a secret, and house his spacecraft at his home until Martin can make repairs. Attempting to hide Martin’s identity from his landlady, Mrs. Brown (Pamela Britton), Tim calls him Uncle Martin.

In short order, Tim learns that Martin is no ordinary man. He possessed out-of-this-world powers, like the ability to levitate objects with a wiggling of his finger, read minds telepathically, or become invisible. He could also communicate with animals, freeze people or objects and speed people or himself up to work faster, as if he hit a fast forward button. Most fun of all for young boomers, he sprouted antennae from his head to communicate with his home world.

Inevitably in each episode, someone is on the verge of discovering the truth about Uncle Martin, who ultimately uses his powers and 450 years of experience to keep his identity safe and to solve whatever human dilemma was set up for that episode. Tim often creates a problem by fiddling with various Martian gadgets that Martin has made.

Mister Boomer’s family did not watch the show regularly, the way they did other TV shows of the same time, like The Fugitive, The Avengers or The Outer Limits, which may have been broadcast on ABC at the same time that CBS broadcast My Favorite Martian. As Mister B has written before, the vast majority of families owned just one TV, and what was watched during primetime evening viewing was strictly the preference of the parents. Since there were actual seasons in a TV schedule, Mister B’s family might catch an episode when the shows went to reruns, before the summer replacement shows aired. Mister B recalls that most of what he saw of the show came once it went into syndication, after it ended in 1966.

Hard to believe that one year later, Star Trek (1964-66) was first aired, which gave us a look at a universe filled with aliens that were both good and bad. Nonetheless, future shows like My Living Doll (1964-65), Lost in Space (1965-68), and most definitely Mork & Mindy (1978-82) and Alf (1986-90) owe much of their structure and feeling to My Favorite Martian.

How about you, boomers? Did you watch My Favorite Martian?