Service Electric Cable, the local cable company in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, embarks on an ambitious experiment, launching a movie channel that only a few hundred of their subscribers pay extra to receive. The channel, Home Box Office, is the brainchild of a New York City broadcasting entrepreneur seeking a workaround for the tendency of the city’s own high-rise architecture to block over-the-air signals. Originally code-named the Green Channel (presumably for the cash it is hoped it will rake in), HBO begins life with a mix of movies and live sports events (such as pro hockey) with no commercial interruption. Within a year, HBO will be acquired by Time-Life, expanding to nine hours of programming every day. With HBO having proven that cable subscribers will pay extra for an ad-free movie and sports channel, competing pay cable networks such as Showtime will spring up in the years to come. HBO also pioneers the concept of broadcasting exclusively via satellite, years ahead of the broadcast networks.
The ninth episode of Leslie Steven’s “spy-fi” series Search airs on NBC, starring Hugh O’Brian and Burgess Meredith. Bill Bixby (The Incredible Hulk) and Deanna Lund (Land Of The Giants) guest star.
NASA launches Explorer 48, renamed Small Astronomy Satellite B, from an Italian-owned offshore launch platform off the coast of Kenya. SAS-B is a smaller spacecraft than NASA’s larger Orbiting Astronomical Observatory (OAO) series, but can be aimed very precisely at any gamma ray sources that it detects. One of those sources turns out to be the pulsar remnant of a massive supernova, a discovery later named Geminga. An electrical fault will end SAS-B’s functionality in June 1973, and it will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere in 1976.
The Soviet space program, still determined to reach the moon, again loads an unmanned Soyuz/Korabl capsule and lander combo onto the huge N1 rocket for another test launch. At an altitude of nearly 25 miles, the N1 experiences severe structural stresses and disintegrates in mid-air, effectively ending the Soviet drive for the moon. Another N1 is prepared for another launch, with an eye toward orbiting a massive space station with which to upstage the upcoming American Skylab station, only to be dismantled on the ground in favor of more reliable launch vehicles.
Atari releases its first product, the arcade game Pong. A more refined version of the basic video ping pong game introduced by the Magnavox Odyssey, it’s simpler than Nolan Bushnell’s earlier attempt to put video games in public spaces (the complicated Computer Space), and is an engineering trial-by-fire for its designer, engineer Al Alcorn. The game is implemented with analog logic rather than an expensive (at the time) microchip, and is a success, ushering in the coin-op video game era to stay.
The final manned lunar landing mission lifts off atop a Saturn V rocket. Apollo 17 is the first mission to include a qualified geologist, Harrison Schmitt, in its crew; Gene Cernan and Schmitt descend to the surface aboard the lunar lander Challenger, where the last two men to walk on the moon spend a total of 22 hours exploring the Taurus-Littrow valley. For the third mission in a row, a lunar rover is stowed into one side of the lander. Astronaut Ron Evans orbits overhead in the command/service module America. The astronauts return on December 19th, bringing home nearly 250 pounds of lunar soil and rock samples.
NBC premieres the 36th episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, an anthology series of original short plays and short story adaptations hosted by Serling himself. Stuart Whitman (Night Of The Lepus), Barbara Anderson (Star Trek, Ironside), and Ellen Corby (The Waltons) guest star.
NASA launches the Nimbus 5 satellite, designed to observe weather patterns from orbit and test new weather and climate detection technologies. Launched into a polar orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, Nimbus 5 includes newly-developed experiments to examine Earth in the microwave and infrared portions of the spectrum.
NBC airs the 13th episode of the supernatural anthology series Ghost Story, produced by 1960s horror movie mogul William Castle and starring Sebastian Cabot. Angie Dickinson and Madlyn Rhue guest star.
The 24th episode of The Sixth Sense airs on ABC, starring Gary Collins. Meg Foster (Cagney & Lacey) guest stars; Richard Hatch (Battlestar Galactica) appears in one of his earliest screen roles.
The 330th episode of Doctor Who airs on BBC1. This is the series’ first “multi-Doctor” celebratory story, featuring Patrick Troughton as the second Doctor, with appearances by William Hartnell as the first Doctor (though Hartnell’s participation in the story has been significantly reduced due to his failing health; he never appears on set with his successors, appearing only in pre-recorded film inserts). Stephen Thorne guest stars as Omega. Oddly, given the timing of this episode’s broadcast, the “tenth anniversary story” begins airing closer to the ninth anniversary of Doctor Who’s premiere than its tenth.