Monday, April 27, 2009

1973 – The TV Guide Fall Preview

When I looked at the 1972 TV Guide Fall Preview I described the 1972-73 season as being one of TV's golden years – the equivalent of a year like 1939 in the movie business – when a string of truly memorable series burst onto the scene. If there is an equivalent to the 1973-74 season in movies, I'm not aware of it. Perhaps because it would be the sort of year that no one writes about and few talk about except in the deepest darkest recesses of a studio's executive suites, and even then in hushed, conspiratorial tones. How bad was the 1973-74 season? This bad: out of seventeen series that debuted in September of 1973, on all three networks, only two were in the line-up for the 1974-75 season. Of the fifteen new shows that were cancelled ten were gone after thirteen episodes. Mid-season replacements did slightly better – but not much. Four of eight shows in that group were cancelled at the end of the season. The word carnage springs immediately to mind.

It's difficult to know where to start with a season that was this bad. Do you go with the shows that succeeded? The shows that failed? The trends? Or do you go network by network? Maybe a combination of all of them is the best way to go.

CBS was the network that had the most successful show to debut in the September 1973 with Kojak but not by much. Kojak ran for five years, and even though it debuted a month after NBC's Police Story and ended its run ten days before that show, it had twenty-two more episodes (118 for Kojak; 96 for Police Story). The basis of Kojak was an Emmy-winning made for TV movie called The Nelson-Marcus Murders which had aired during the 1972-73 season. The show was brilliantly cast, with Telly Savalas in the lead role of Theo Kojak and a supporting cast that included Dan Frazer as the detective commander at New York's 13th Precinct, and Kevin Dobson, Mark Russell, Vince Conti and George Savalas (billed for most of the series' run as Demosthenes to avoid confusion or allegations of nepotism). But it was the charismatic Savalas who was the absolute focus of attention. Kojak was full of character traits that made him stand out from the assorted detectives on TV at the time. (The 1973 Fall Preview puts it this way, even though it doesn't really convey the strength of the character: "Television has a fat detective, a rumpled detective, a Hawaiian detective, a Polish-American detective, black detectives, a detective in a wheel chair, a detective in a loud sports coat. . . . And now at long last television has a bald detective. Let's hear it for Theo Kojak!") Not only was Kojak bald, he stood out in other ways. There were the clothes. Kojak always looked like he was wearing his entire pay check on his back, with beautifully tailored clothes and hats to go with them. And he was never at a loss for feminine companionship, though never the same woman twice. Then there were the lollipops. Not initially a feature of the character – like Savalas, Kojak was a heavy smoker – it was decided to have the character suck on a lollipop as a replacement for the cigarettes (or were they small cigars) that Kojak was always smoking. Finally there was the catch-phrase that couldn't have been adequately delivered by anyone except Telly Savalas: "Who loves ya baby!" No, Kojak was the stand-out series of the 1973-74 season.

Unfortunately the rest of the CBS line-up was nothing to write home (or articles) about. Someone at CBS decided that there needed to be a revival of the character Perry Mason, and with Raymond Burr still occupied with Ironside, it was decided that the series would be totally rebooted as The New Adventures Of Perry Mason. The cast wasn't horrible – Monte Markham played Mason, Sharon Acker was Della Street, Harry Guardino was Hamilton Burger and Dane Clark was Tragg. Up against Wonderful World Of Disney on NBC and The FBI on ABC it died after fifteen episodes. On Tuesday the network had a movie series that alternated with two series that each aired once a month. One was Shaft starring original cast members Richard Roundtree and Eddie Barth. The show altered the character of John Shaft. Instead of being at odds with the cops, he cooperated with the cops, personified by Eddie Barth's character Lt. Al Rossi. The other show in the timeslot was Hawkins, starring Jimmy Stewart as lawyer Billy-Jim Hawkins and Strother Martin as his investigator cousin R.J. Stewart's character was a country lawyer from West Virginia with a national reputation as a defense attorney. Even though the series was loved by the critics and won a Golden Globe for Stewart as Best Actor in a Drama series, the show only aired for eight episodes. CBS also debuted two comedies on Friday night. One was Calucci's Department starring the great James Coco as Joe Calucci, the supervisor of a New York City unemployment office. The most interesting part of this show wasn't the cast, which also included Candy Azarra, Peggy Pope and Bill Lazarus, but the fact that it was written by actors Joe Bologna and his wife Renee Taylor, with music by Marvin Hamlisch. It lasted thirteen episodes against Sanford And Son. The other comedy was just as successful. Someone at CBS apparently decided that M*A*S*H meant the time was ripe for a revival of service comedies so they came out with Roll Out! The show detailed the happenings at the 5050th Quartermaster Trucking Company of the famous Red Ball Express, which transported supplies and fuel to the American armies after D-Day. The unit (like the units of the real Red Ball Express) was made up of Black enlisted men with White officers. Among the actors were Garrett Morris, Mel Stewart, Stu Gilliam, Val Bisoglio and Ed Begley Jr. It died a quick death against The Odd Couple.

CBS fared somewhat better with their replacement series. The New Adventures Of Perry Mason was replaced with Apple's Way, a family drama with Ronny Cox, Vince Van Patten, and Kristy MacNichol as part of a family that left the hustle and bustle of LA for the calm of the small town founded by one of their ancestors. The show, created by Earl Hamner Jr. who did The Waltons, was strong enough to outlast The FBI but not strong enough to last against The Wonderful World Of Disney. It ran for 28 episodes, from January 1974 to January 1975. The western Dirty Sally replaced Calucci's Department. Dirty Sally was amazingly enough a spin-off of Gunsmoke, starring Jeanette Nolan and Dack Rambo as a mismatched pair travelling to California to pan for gold. It lasted thirteen episodes. Replacing Roll Out! was the biggest success that CBS would have in the entire season: Good Times. A spin-off of Maude, starring Esther Rolle as Florida (Maude's former maid) the matriarch of the Evans family, Good Times ran for six seasons and 133 episodes. It was also the break-out role for a young stand-up comic named Jimmy Walker, who played the eldest Evans son, J.J. JJ's catch-phrase "Dy-No-Mite! became extremely popular as did the character, much to the irritation of Rolle, and John Amos (who played Rolle's husband James for the first three seasons of the show). The show was the first to show an African-American family living in the poverty of the Chicago housing projects, with the Evans family struggling to get by.

Turning to NBC the big success was – as previously mentioned – Police Story. The show was an anthology program created by novelist and (at the time) LAPD detective Joseph Wambaugh who had already written The New Centurions, The Blue Knight and the non-fiction Onion Fields. The series told stories about various LAPD cops. While there were no regular characters there were a number of characters who made repeated appearances. My personal favourites were the episodes starring Tony LoBianco and Don Meredith (yes, the Don Meredith who worked alongside Howard Cossell) as a pair of Robbery Homicide detectives, and the episodes featuring Vic Morrow as a surveillance expert. The series spun off three different series. The most successful of these was Police Woman, starring Angie Dickinson. The other two were less successful. Joe Forrester, starring Lloyd Bridges lasted one season, while Man Undercover with David Cassidy only lasted ten episodes.

NBC debuted three hour-long dramas, The Magician starring Bill Bixby as a playboy philanthropist and magician who uses his stage magic skills to solve crimes and help people in need. Initially the character travelled around the world in a Boeing 720 airliner – which he described as being "like any other mobile home, only faster" – but later moved into an apartment in LA's Magic Castle (a favourite haunt of one of my favourite bloggers Mark Evanier) with an entirely new supporting cast.. Interestingly enough, Bixby did all the magic himself, without trick photography. It lasted the entire season though it moved from Tuesdays at nine to Mondays at eight at the mid-season (about the same time that the location and supporting cast changed). So did another hour long series, Chase, starring Mitchell Ryan, which came from Jack Webb's Mark VII production house. The show started out with Ryan's character Chase Reddick heading a team of young cops who basically used a variety of "alternate" transportation methods to "chase" criminals. About half way through the season the show, which initially aired before The Magician, was moved to Wednesdays at eight (swapping time slots with Webb's Adam-12 as well as the first half-hour of the Wednesday Mystery Movie, which also moved to Tuesday). When Chase moved it also changed its supporting cast. The changes didn't help either series. The third hour-long series was another anthology series, Love Story. There's not much that can be said about this show – literally. TV.com, which is usually a good source for such material, can only manage cast lists for the episodes but not even a bare synopsis of the twelve episodes. This is only slightly better than the website's entry for The NBC Follies, a vaudeville style series that had rotating hosts, although most episodes were supposed to be hosted by either Sammy Davis Jr. or Mickey Rooney. It lasted thirteen episodes.

NBC's big push in the 1973-74 season was in the area of sitcoms. NBC had four of them none of which lasted more than a full season. Diana, starred Dianna Rigg as a newly divorced woman who moves to New York and lives in her brother's apartment. The show lasted thirteen episodes, including one in which Dianna's former flame appeared. He was played by Patrick MacNee in an obvious attempt to gain ratings. It failed (but I'm still running Dianna Rigg's picture here because it's my considered opinion that I should use any excuse to run a picture of Dianna Rigg that I can find). Needles and Pins Featured Norman Fell and Louis Nye as feuding partners in the New York rag trade who hire a young designer from Nebraska. In spite of Fell and Nye, the show died a swift and well-deserved death after thirteen episodes. Lotsa Luck, which started out on Monday nights, was an Americanization of the British show On The Buses, starring Dom Deluise and Kathleen Freeman. TV Guide didn't think too much of the pilot of the show. In their review, the stated that "Bill Persky and Sam Denoff (That Girl) are producing, and Carl Reiner (The Dick Van Dyke Show) wrote the toilet – er, pilot – episode." Despite the cast and the crew it only lasted one season. The Girl With Something Extra also lasted a single season. The show was the sort of sitcom that had been popular a few years before, a domestic situation with a young married couple with a gimmick. The couple were played by John Davidson (?!) and Sally Field, and the gimmick was that Sally Field could read people's minds.

The 1973-74 season was also the second and final season of NBC's Wednesday Mystery Movie. Cool Millions and Madigan were both gone while Banacek was retained for the second season. Added to the rotation were: The Snoop Sisters, with Helen Hayes and Mildred Natwick as a pair of elderly sisters who were also mystery writers and solved crimes; Tenafly, starring James McEachin as a happily married private detective who is a cog in the corporate machine; and Faraday & Company, about an old time private eye who escaped from a South American jail after 25 years and found it hard to adjust to a world where cars didn't have hood ornaments let alone the fact that he had a son with his former secretary who had taken over his agency and made it into a big company. None of these shows was particularly successful, and when the line-up had to be juggled after Diana and Needles and Pins were cancelled Wednesday Mystery Movie moved to Tuesday nights (and was suitably renamed)... and didn't do any better than it had on Wednesdays.

ABC had, marginally, the worst line-up at the start of the year, although it's worth noting that one of the series listed in the Fall Preview issue was a success, but it can't be strictly speaking be lumped in with the rest of the ABC Fall line-up. And in truth there was one show which under ordinary circumstances was a sure thing to be renewed for a second season. That show was called Toma and dealt with the real life of a Newark undercover detective named David Toma. The show, which starred Tony Mussante and Susan Strasberg, was about an undercover cop who was a master of disguise and achieved a tremendous arrest record without once firing his gun. The show earned both critical accolades and strong ratings from the beginning, even as there were complaints about the show's violence. However, in a move which rivals just about anything that David Caruso has managed to pull off in terms of busting his own career, Mussante refused to do a second season of the show. True he had stated that he only intended to do a single season of the series when he signed on for it, but the producers figured that if the show was a success he'd change his mind. When he didn't they looked around for another actor to take over the role of Dave Toma, and settled on Robert Blake. Except that Blake refused to do it. He wasn't going to take on a role that had been created by another actor. So the show was cancelled and retooled to fit Blake, ditching the character's wife and two kids and replacing them with a cockatoo – but that's another story.

ABC put two sitcoms into their Fall line-up that were movie adaptations. Neither ran more than thirteen weeks but they still had some "interesting" qualities. The first was an adaptation of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice – the movie about two couples who experiment with swinging. This version starred Anita Gillette, Anne Archer and a young Robert Urich in his first starring role in a series. One can pretty much guess what the PTC would have said about this show – sight unseen of course – had they existed at the time. The other adaptation was Adam's Rib, an adaptation of the Spencer Tracy-Katherine Hepburn movie. This one starred Ken Howard as the prosecutor and Blythe Danner as his activist defence attorney wife. They had appeared as a married couple the previous year in the movie 1776, as Tom and Martha Jefferson. (In looking at the publicity photos for Adam's Rib one is struck by how much Danner resembles her daughter Gwyneth Paltrow.) The other new ABC show was Griff, which starred Lorne Greene as a former police captain who became a highly paid private detective. Ben Murphy played his associate, the son of a cop killed in the line of duty. The show ran thirteen episodes.

ABC cancelled a number of shows at the mid-season in addition to the new series that they dropped. These were The New Temperature's Rising, Room 222, and Love American Style. Three of the replacement series the network put on, The Cowboys (a continuation of the John Wayne movie of the same name), Firehouse (about a small inner-city fire station, produced by Leonard Goldberg and Aaron Spelling), and medical drama Doc Elliot (starring James Franciscus), were cancelled by the end of the year. Doc Elliott originally once a month in the Wednesday time slot held down by Owen Marshall: Counsellor-At-Law and so was included in the Fall Preview issue. However, when Griff was cancelled Owen Marshall was moved to Saturdays and Doc Elliot took the Wednesday time slot for the rest of the season. Pretty much the same thing seems to have happened with The Six Million Dollar Man. The show, which starred Lee Majors (who was also on Owen Marshall) as Colonel Steve Austin, was originally scheduled to replace the Saturday Suspense Movie once a month, but when Room 222 and Adam's Rib were dropped it became a weekly series. The show ran for five years, made a star of Lee Majors, and made the words "we can rebuild him" something of a catch-phrase.

As for the other series to debut in the winter of 1974, well it had started as a failed pilot that had been converted into an episode of Love American Style. When the teenaged star of the episode was picked by George Lucas to appear in a major motion picture called American Graffiti, it was all that the network needed to revive the pilot, now named Happy Days after the Love American Style episode that spawned it – Love And The Happy Days. There were a couple of changes in the cast, with Tom Bosley replacing Harold Gould as Howard Cunningham, and the addition of a couple of supporting characters named Ralph Malph and Arthur Fonzarelli (initially a minor supporting character who worried the network censors – the forbade the producers to put him in a leather jacket), the circumstances were set for a series that would run for eleven years, and spawn expressions ranging from "Ayyyy" and "sit on it" to "jump the shark." Not bad for a busted pilot.

The end of the 1973-74 season also brought the end for a number of long-lived shows. ABC dropped the venerable – if by now hopelessly elegiac – FBI as well as Owen Marshall: Counsellor at Law, and both The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family. NBC dropped both of their surviving variety shows, Flip Wilson and Dean Martin. As for CBS, Sonny and Cher's divorce ended not only their marriage but also their TV show (at least temporarily) but the big shocker (in its own way) was the cancellation of Here's Lucy. With the exception of a two year break between 1960 and 1962, Lucille Ball had been a staple on CBS since 1951.

(By the way, the missing mid-season shows for this season are ABC between 8 and 8:30 on Thursday, and NBC Thursday between 10 and 11. I'll just assume that the Wednesday from 9-11 time slot was given over to yet another movie package.)

Oddly enough there doesn't seem to be a 1973 ABC Fall Preview posted on YouTube, but I have managed to find a copy of the CBS preview for that year. Quality of the promo reel isn't great but it's there.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Of all the "new" shows that premiered the season of 73-74 not one has survived to this day. Of all the older shows from previous seasons they are all gone too except for Sixty Minutes. They can be seen now on Youtube or cable programs like Tvland. There are also dvds of many shows as well. You can pick up old copies of tv guide at Pastpaper.com or Amazon. My copy of 73/74 Fall preview cost about $16.