Today in History: Nov. 17

The “Heidi Game” was played on this date in 1968.

A late afternoon football game, New York Jets at Oakland Raiders, was on NBC. That network had been advertising the television debut of a new TV movie, Heidi, based on the children’s story, all week. It was an expensive movie, with one sponsor, Timex, footing the entire bill. A football game with interested viewers on both coasts was a great venue for advertising the movie.

The announcements about the movie continued all game long. But so did the game. At 7:00 p.m. EST, with the Jets in the lead 32-29 and very little time left on the clock, NBC started the broadcast of the movie, as advertised. The game was as good as over, as far as NBC executives were concerned.

A half an hour before 7:00 p.m., the phone calls to the network had started to pour in: Half of the callers wanted to make sure the network would keep running the tight game and half were from anxious parents worried that the movie would not start on time. So many calls came in that the network actually lost control of its phone banks, so when the network-level decision was made at the stadium to stick with the game and delay the movie start time, the phone call did not go through and the movie started up instead.

In the final minute of the game, Oakland scored two touchdowns and won the game, something seen only by those in attendance the stadium.

To appease the sports fans, NBC quickly flashed a final score with no explanation of how Oakland had pulled off the remarkable comeback victory. It was during an important, emotional moment in the movie, which is why the screen grab (at top) is unintentionally hilarious.

Thus, NBC managed to anger its entire viewing audience, football fans as well as parents, and added to the mix a lot of confused kids. The network could have instead chosen to merely displease fifty percent in order to suit the other half.

To this day, live sports events are seen through to the end in America on our networks, and all of those network’s executives learned that they needed dedicated internal phone systems to share information on.

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Duck Soup, starring the Marx Brothers, opened in movie theaters on this date in 1933. A famous moment from the film:

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Double Fantasy, John Lennon’s seventh solo album and the last one released in his lifetime, was released on this date in 1980. The album was a collaboration with his wife, Yoko Ono.

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On this date in 1973, at a press conference at Walt Disney World, President Richard Nixon declared this: “People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I’m not a crook. I’ve earned everything I’ve got.”

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Mikhail Bakhtin was born on this date in 1895. Lee Strasberg was born on this date in 1901. Isamu Noguchi was born in 1904 on this date. Shelby Foote was born 100 years ago today. Rock Hudson was born on this date in 1925. Peter Cook was born on this date in 1937. Dean Paul Martin was born on this date in 1951.

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Gordon Lightfoot is 78. Martin Scorsese is 74 today. Lauren Hutton is 73 today. Lorne Michaels is 72 today. Danny DeVito is 72 today. Tom Seaver is 72 today. Jim Boeheim is 72 today. Rem Koolhaas is 72 today. Governor Terry Branstad is 70. Governor Howard Dean is 68. Speaker John Boehner is 67. Stephen Root is 65. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is 58. Jonathan Ross is 56. RuPaul is 56. Daisy Fuentes is 50.

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Please comment here. Thank you, Mark.

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