The brand-new year is barely out of the starting gate, but already the first gushing celebrities have taken the field to honor their own. Oh, Oscar, Emmy, Golden Globe and Tony, your time will come. But for now there is the Sixth Annual Television Academy Hall of Fame Awards, airing next Wednesday (Jan. 24) on the Fox Broadcasting Network. Joining such past luminaries as Sid Caesar, Jackie Gleason and Edward R. Murrow is this year's crop of Academy of Television Arts and Sciences inductees: Carroll O'Connor, Barbara Walters, Perry Como, news-sports producer Roone Arledge, Sesame Street creator Joan Ganz Cooney and the late Fred Astaire.
After cocktails and canapés by klieg light on the lot outside Fox Studio's Stage 6, presenters, ranging from Paula Abdul
to Big Bird, flocked indoors to take turns onstage before 700 black-tie guests. Jane Fonda, Peter Jennings and 20/20 co-host Hugh Downs introduced Walters, who told the crowd, "Hugh and I have been together longer than most marriages." O'Connor gave his in-absentia thanks via tape following a tribute by his All in the Family spouse, Jean Stapleton: "I spent a great deal of time with two gentlemen...at the opposite ends of the social spectrum. One was called Archie Bunker, who was fictional. The other was called Carroll O'Connor, the artist."
Not every tribute was so eloquently put—or quite so ready for prime time. Presenting Perry Como's award, Milton Berle couldn't milk a laugh, even from a celebrity crowd of former colleagues like Dick Van Dyke, Vince Edwards and Robert Stack. But Berle's no-kick shtick didn't compare with the egg Frank Sinatra laid. "If I sound strange," mumbled Ol' Blue Eyes, squinting at the TelePrompTer and fumbling his speech, "it's because I swallowed a shot glass."
Okay, so it wasn't one of TV's shining moments. At least it had candor. One interviewer asked newsman Peter Jennings why his ratings were on the rise. "The person who ultimately figures these things out," intoned the top network anchor, "will become a very rich man, retire—and get out of television."