Monday, April 13, 2009

TV Guide Fall Preview 1972 – The Comments

First up some comments from Todd Mason:

Actually, the bitter Serling line about NIGHT GALLERY was that it was "MANNIX in a shroud."

Me: I grabbed the Serling "Mannix in a cemetery" quote from Wikipedia (naturally). I should have expected Serling to come up with something better.

Leaving aside social pressures on the brass at CBS, the rationale for dumping
BRIDGET LOVES BERNIE was presumably the amount of the audience BLB was losing from ALL IN THE FAMILY, a consideration that would, for example, later doom any number of NBC sitcoms on Thursday nights in the '80s into the '90s, good, bad and indifferent.

Me: I'd accept that point – which I think was the point that Mike Dann was trying to make – except for a couple of things. First of course is that Dann was wrong about the show hammocking because it did finish the year with a higher rating than Mary Tyler Moore. If you cancel Bridget Loves Bernie wouldn't you cancel MTM following the same logic? The second thing is probably a bit more important. The show finished in fifth place for the year, ahead of MTM and every other show on CBS except Maude and Hawaii Five-0. Even if you think that the show can't stand on its own without the lead-in of All In The Family, surely it seems too highly rated to not at least try to keep it in the line-up by moving it to another night (a modern example was CBS's decision to move Shark out of the post CSI timeslot on Thursday night to Sunday night; it had strong ratings on Thursday but died on Sunday, but at least the network tried). And given the fate of CBS's new comedies launched on Friday nights in September 1973 – Calucci's Department which was cancelled after 12 episodes and Roll Out! which lasted 13 – I think it's fair to say that a relocated Bridget Loves Bernie couldn't have done worse. So why wasn't it tried unless there was pressure on CBS to dump the show.

(Of course, any reason to dump David Birney is usually a good one, as ST. ELSEWHERE would later discover.)

Me: Not to mention Meredith Baxter

Serling had his own side project at about this time...his radio serial ZERO HOUR.

Me: Serling's writing would be perfect for radio.

Certainly, my Saturday nights didn't improve after the move of M*A*S*H back out of the 8:30 slot till 1975, when I was able to watch AITF, the placeholder CBS put in behind AITF, MTM, BOB NEWHART, BURNETT, MONTY PYTHON on the local PBS affiliate, and over to NBC for the first season of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE or, every fourth week, WEEKEND. As a kid, a great if marathon night.

Me: That show at the start of the 1974-75 show would have been Paul Sand In Friends And Lovers. Not a show I ever warmed to, mostly because I couldn't stand Sand. It was replaced in the time slot by the All In The Family spin-off, The Jeffersons. Then the next season – 1975-76 – the FCC regulation on "The Family Hour" forced All In The Family to move to Monday nights at 9 p.m., which was deemed a "suitable" time for the show.

Todd caught this before I had a chance to post on the subject:

funny how memory goes. By the time SNL debuted in 1975, ALL IN THE FAMILY would've been moved to its Family-Friendly Monday slot, so it would've been an hour of relatively bland CBS programming, which I would still watch, before the MTM/BOB NEWHART/BURNETT/PYTHON/SNL (or WEEKEND) marathon for me.

Me: The thing about what I've dubbed as one of the greatest TV line-ups ever is that it only lasted for the 1973-74 season before the "broke up the Yankees" so to speak. The 1975-76 CBS Saturday schedule started with The Jeffersons, followed by Doc (starring Barnard Hughes), and then MTM, Bob Newhart and Carol Burnett. Speaking of SNL there were actually two shows of that name in the Fall of 1975; the NBC late night show that everyone knows, and a primetime ABC variety show opposite The Jeffersons and Doc hosted by none other than Howard Cosell! I'm enough of a masochist to want to know what that show was like!

The attempt to humanize the
M*A*S*H characters killed the comedy, as far as I was concerned. Sharp satire became often bland cuteness.

Me: Or worse, pretentious dramedy.
It's safe to say that the show changed significantly when Wayne Rogers and MacLean Stevenson left. Potter and BJ were interesting characters to be sure but they had what could probably be described as a more realistic quality. They also made Major Houlihan more human – more Margaret and less Hot Lips you might say – so that increasingly Frank Burns seemed out of place; like Yosemite Sam in a live action movie. Winchester was his "human" replacement. I'm not saying that he show didn't work with these changes because quite patently it did, but it was hugely changed (beyond effectively becoming the Alan Alda Show). However you are right that the sharp satire was gone. Maybe for satire to work it has to be largely populated with cartoon characters like the largely incompetent middle management bureaucratic (Colonel Blake), the hyper-efficient "secretary" (Radar), the by the book professional (Major Houlihan),and the gung-ho type with a little power and slightly less intelligence (Frank Burns), that the one or two "humans" (Hawkeye and Trapper) have to do battle with.

Next up more from "Mr. Television" Mike Doran:

The NBC replacement on Tuesday ... surprise, surprise - a movie! NBC had the biggest backlog of theatrical fims , and its long-standing sweetheart deal with MCA-Universal for TV movies, so when two hours opened up anywhere on the schedule, what could be easier? On other fronts, I was a liitle surprised that you didn't mention BANYON's replacement: Bobby Darin's variety show, brought back from the previous summer. The show fared badly and was dropped, and Darin's death followed not long thereafter (but I don't believe there was a connection). One other quick point: if you're wondering why there was so little about Robert Conrad's third of THE MEN, ASSIGNMENT: VIENNA, as opposed to the other two shows, that's because Conrad was a last-minute replacement for Roy Scheider, whose price went up dramatically when FRENCH CONNECTION became a huge boxoffice hit. It was probably still being retooled while ABC was putting the promo together. Back to the vaults now to await your next installment...

Me: Figures that NBC went with movies. Why bother to produce new shows when you can just slot in movies and probably get great ratings with them. And of course any new movies could be potential pilots for next year. Still, it kind of helps to explain why so much of NBC's product in the 1970s was – how should I put it – rather dismal.

The Bobby Darrin Show didn't get a mention because I really haven't been mentioning these short lived shows that often. I probably would have written more about it if I had remembered that he had died so soon after the show ended (about eight months later). And no, the TV work didn't have a connection to his death; it was a series of events starting with forgetting to take prescribe medication after dental work which led to blood poisoning, which led to damage to one of his heart valves which led to his eventual death.

I was wondering about the lack of material for Assignment: Vienna in the ABC preview show. The other two shows were given a lot of time in the show, and Jigsaw in particular looked interesting. Interesting to find this out about Roy Scheider. Twenty years later he wasn't so choosy about TV work (Seaquest DSV of course, a show which I'm sorry to say got progressively worse the longer it ran). It reminds me of the story of the Canadian version of Howdy Doody. The actor originally cast in the role of Timber Tom, James Doohan, wanted more money than the CBC was prepared to pay, so he had to be replaced. The eventual replacement wasn't available for the first week or so of the show so they brought in a temporary replacement named Ranger Bob...played by William Shatner.

And now a little conversation between Mike and Todd:

Mike: In the early to mid 70's ABC aired a program which was similar to Laugh In. It was so over the top it only lasted one episode. I sort of remember watching it. Do you have any idea what it was called?

Mike, that was TURN ON. Only ott by the standards of a nervous ABC, but it was they who mattered.

Me: Turn-On was 1969 and Tim Conway, who was the guest host on the one and only episode, has dined out on this story ever since. He has always claimed that the show was cancelled midway through the episode. Not true, well not totally true. ABC officially dropped the show two days after it aired, but there were two local affiliates, in Cleveland and Denver, went to the first commercial break and didn't go back to the show, while some stations outside the Eastern Time zone simply refused to run the show at all while some stations that aired it told the network that they wouldn't be back the next week. To be fair to ABC (Me? Being fair to a network? Well bite my tongue!) this represented a mutiny by affiliates which makes the current business with NBC's Boston affiliate refusing to air the prime time Jay Leno show look minor by comparison. At the time station ownership was restricted to five stations per owner, so no network could afford to have stations dropping one of its shows so publicly. They could stand on principle and air a full 13 episode season on a dwindling network, or they could knuckle under and dump the show. Guess which one they chose? Turn-On was replaced by the squeaky clean King Family Show.

Turn-On was created by Ed Friendly and George Schlatter, who had also created Laugh-In. They had previously offered the show to NBC and CBS, both of which rejected it. A CBS executive reportedly stated that, "It was so fast with the cuts and chops that some of our people actually got physically disturbed by it." This may be a reference to Photsensitive Epilepsy. In 1977 Schlatter went on to do a revival of Laugh-In, sans Rowan and Martin. It too ran for one episode, largely on the strength of one of the cast members, Robin Williams, who between the time that the show was made and the episode was shown had became a superstar thanks to a little show called Mork & Mindy.

And now, some show themes. First up we have a persona favourite of mine, with music by Patrick Williams. Note the first guest star.

Next up, since we talked so much about it, here's the first couple of minutes of the very first episode of Bridget Loves Bernie. If nothing else, it's a pretty damned good cast. By the way, the pilot episode can be found, in three parts on YouTube.

Next week (or so) 1973. It wasn't the year 1972 was, but it wasn't too bad.

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