Sunday, January 23, 2011

Weekend Videos – Top Rated Series 1970-1974

It’s been a while since I’ve done a video posting, so I thought I’d do another one featuring top-rated series. This time around we enter one of the great transitional periods of American TV, the 1970-1974 period.

To remind you again about the “rules” of this project, as imposed by me on myself., I will list the top three shows for each season along with the percentage of the nation's televisions that were tuned to that show during the season. These figures are drawn from the Complete Directory To Prime Time Network And Cable TV Shows 1946-Present. If the season's top rated show has already been featured either in this post or in the previous post in this series I'll find a clip from the second highest rated show, provided that it also hasn't been featured before, or the third highest rated show if the first and second place shows have been featured, and so on. The same procedure holds true if there are no clips of the show available online. I will be including the overall rating for the show. Previously I've expressed these in percentages however in 1960 the way that A.C. Nielsen calculated ratings changed and I'm not sure that percentages is a precisely accurate manner in which to describe these numbers. Finally I will be including my own comments about the shows.


1. Marcus Welby M.D. 29.6, 2. The Flip Wilson Show 27.9, 3. Here’s Lucy 26.1

Marcus Welby M.D. was a big shift from the way that medical shows had been done up to this point in time, and indeed from the way that such shows are done today. Virtually all medical shows up to that time and since have focused on big city hospitals and cutting edge medical solutions. Contemporary with Marcus Welby M.D. were shows like The Bold Ones: The New Doctors which debuted the season before Welby and Medical Center which debuted in the same season. The medical episodes of The Bold Ones focused on cutting edge medical science, or what was cutting edge at the time, while Medical Center dealt with a large university hospital. Marcus Welby M.D. was about a pair of general practitioners working out of what looked like a private home in a California suburb. What Marcus Welby M.D. had in common with Medical Center was that you had an older doctor working alongside a younger hipper doctor. In Welby you had the eponymous doctor played by Robert Young while his partner Dr. Steven Kiley was played by a young James Brolin (before he became Mr. Barbra Streisand). You could tell that Welby was the older supposedly conservative doctor even in the title sequence because he drove a big pile of Detroit Iron, while the hip Kiley got around on a Japanese motorcycle. The pilot episode of the series made the two men uneasy allies – Kiley was “discontented” with the idea of working as a General Practitioner; he was going to be a neurologist and made it clear that as soon as he could, he’d be gone. However as the series developed, the relationship between Welby and Kiley became a strong mentoring partnership. Welby tended to be the more unorthodox doctor, treating the whole patient and being concerned not only with their ailment but also their temperament, fears and family environment. Kiley tended to take a more textbook oriented approach to medicine. The only other character to be on the show for its entire seven year run (up to that time the longest run for a medical drama) was Welby’s dedicated nurse, Consuelo Lopez, played by Elena Verdugo. This 1974 episode guest stars Lois Nettleton, and Sharon Gless is also in the episode in a recurring role, but isn’t seen in this clip.

1. All In The Family 34.0, 2. The Flip Wilson Show 28.2, 3. Marcus Welby M.D. 27.8

They say that William S. Paley hated All In The Family…right up to the time when he saw the show’s ratings. It’s probably true. Paley has a reputation as an ace programmer who had a “nose” for what the public wanted but All In The Family, based on the British series ‘Til Death Do Us Part can’t have been easy for any programmer to see the appeal of. The concept for the show had been at ABC since 1968 without being picked up because of the controversial nature of the material. Mickey Rooney was considered for the role of Archie Bunker but reportedly rejected the role when he read the script. It is a fact that Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton were in all three of the pilots developed for the show while the actors playing the younger characters changed. Eventually Producer Norman Lear settled on Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers to play the younger generation of the family. O’Connor’s Archie Bunker was a loud, opinionated, bigoted conservative working stiff who loved his country and didn’t like what was happening to it. This made him the perfect target for his brand new son-in-law Michael Stivic who was equally loud and opinionated but on the other side who didn’t like the way his country was behaving. Caught in the middle were Archie’s wife Edith and their daughter Gloria, who was married to Mike. While it was expected that the audience would usually be supportive of Michael over Archie, what happened was that Archie became the breakout character of the show. I think there are a lot of reasons for this. For one thing, there really were a lot of Americans who, if they weren’t as bigoted as Archie was, still had a lot of the same beliefs that he carried with him, including a strong patriotism and a concern with the direction that the country was going in in terms of riots, and “youth rebellion.” At the same time Mike could come across as obnoxious, and he had his own preconceived notions which were in their own way as wrong-headed and prejudiced as Archie’s own. The show debuted in January of 1970 and became a national sensation by its first full season, even being discussed by Nixon on the Watergate tapes (Nixon didn’t exactly understand it, and the nature of the show had to be explained to him). This episode from Season One doesn’t introduce Lionel Jefferson, but it does bring the Jefferson family into the neighbourhood and into conflict with Archie.


1. All In The Family 33.3, 2. Sanford And Son 27.6, 3 Hawaii Five-0 25.2

A year after All In the Family debuted on CBS, Norman Lear brought another British property to the American market. The British series Steptoe And Son was transformed into Sanford And Son in the United States. The story, about a widowed inner city junk man and his son who yearns for something better. What made the American version of the series was the casting of comedian Redd Foxx as junk man Fred Sanford. Foxx, at the time known mainly for his nightclub act and the comedy records that he did of his act (mostly not suitable for radio). Foxx played Sanford as being greedy and lazy, definitely the boss of the business that he co-owned with his son who he frequently fought with and manipulated. Fred’s son Lamont was played by Demond Wilson, a decorated Vietnam War veteran who was a comparative novice at acting (his first TV role was in Lear’s All In The Family). The dynamic between Fred and his son was more complicated than the Archie and Mike relationship in All In The Family; Fred frequently called Lamont “Big Dummy” while Lamont sometimes called Fred “Old Fool”, but the two legitimately loved each other despite their conflict (unlike the British series Wilson and Foxx were close off the set). The show had a large supporting cast, some of whom friends of Foxx’s from his night club work. One of these was LaWanda Page who played Fred’s sister-in-law and biggest nemesis Aunt Esther (Page had worked with Foxx’s wife at the time). The other major supporting character was Grady Wilson, played Whitman Mayo. When Foxx left the show for a season in a contract dispute Mayo, who was probably the most experienced actor in the cast, took over the position of the older lead. The show ran from January 1972 to 1977, and was only out of the top ten in its last season. The show ended primarily because Foxx left the show, this time for keeps. This clip is from late in the show’s run and includes a scene with the great Frank Nelson: “Yeeessss?”


1. All In The Family 31.2, 2. The Waltons 28.1, 3. Sanford and Son 27.5

Just two years after CBS cancelled “everything with a tree in it” (to use Pat Butram’s famous reaction to the network’s “rural purge”) a rural show came back to the network with a vengeance. The Waltons was a show that seemed unlikely to be popular: it was based in the country rather than the city; the focus was on a family rather than the TV triumvirate – doctors, lawyers, and cops – and the family weren’t dysfunctional and funny; and it was a period piece set in the 1930s. A show like that wouldn’t even get to the pilot stage these days, and when the show debuted in 1973 it was generally expected that it would be blasted off the air in short order by the popular Flip Wilson Show. Instead The Waltons basically killed off Wilson’s variety series. The Waltons was introduces with a highly successful holiday movie called The Homecoming: A Christmas Story. Written by Earl Hamner Jr. The Waltons is a semi-autobiographical series based on Hamner’s life in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia in the 1930s (Hamner had previously fictionalized his family life in the book and 1963 theatrical movie Spencer’s Mountain). While most of the actors from The Homecoming were kept for the series, there were three important changes: Ralph Waite replaced Andrew Duggan as John Walton Sr., Michael Learned took over the role of Olivia from Patricia Neal (Hamner and the producers were concerned about Neal’s health), and Edgar Bergen gave up the role of Gandpa Zeb Walton to Will Geer. The only adult character not to be recast was Grandma Esther Walton, played by Ellen Corby. The focus of the show was on the oldest Walton son, John Jr. but universally known as John-Boy played by Richard Thomas. An adult John-Boy (voiced by Hamner) was the narrator of the show, and most episodes center around his life and ambition to become a writer. When Richard Thomas left the show – he was said to have gone to New York to become a professional writer – the focus moved to the other members of the family, brothers Jason, Ben, and Jim-Bob and sisters Mary-Ellen, Erin and Elizabeth. One of the show’s most memorable episodes concerned the return of Grandma to the Mountain – Ellen Corby had suffered a stroke and was written out of the series but her health recovered enough to be able to return to the series. Will Geer died in the hiatus between the sixth and seventh season and the character was stated as having suffered a heart attack at the beginning of the seventh season. The clip that follows is from the show’s first season (identifiable because the title sequence is filmed rather than using sepia toned photos).


1. All In The Family 30.2, 2. Sanford And Son 29.6, 3. Chico And The Man 28.5

Chico And The Man, created by James Komack, was an instant sensation when it debuted in 1974. Oscar winner Jack Albertson took a back seat to stand-up comedian and novice actor Freddie Prinze. Albertson played Ed, the owner of a broken down garage in an ethnically diverse neighbourhood of Los Angeles. Ed, refused to acknowledge the changes in the neighbourhood and had few friends left. When a young Hispanic man named Chico Rodriguez comes looking for a job, Ed throws him out. Chico does come back to clean up the garage and eventually moves into an old van that Ed keeps in the garage. The relationship between Ed and Chico grows increasingly close. While Ed can still be acerbic towards Chico the bond between the becomes almost like father and son. The show had a good supporting cast, most notably Scatman Crothers as one of Ed’s few friends, Louie the Garbage Man (“Bring out your can’s because here comes the garbage man.”) The show also had a number of high profile guest stars. In fact I had hoped to be able to find the third season episode “Old is Gold” for a reason that my friend Ivan G. Shreve would readily understand; it was the last on-screen appearance of Jim Jordan, Fibber McGee from the radio series Fibber McGee and Molly. Unfortunately Chico And The Man is one of those series where no episodes have been posted onto YouTube. Like Sanford And Son, Chico And The Man was based on the relationship between the two leads; because of that the show was unable to survive Freddie Prinze’s suicide at age 22. The producers did try to keep the series going, replacing Prinze’s character with a 12 year-old Mexican orphan name Raul, adding Raull’s aunt (played by Charo) and finally added Julie Hill as Ed’s 18 year-old niece who moved into Chico’s old van. None of it worked and the series was cancelled after its fourth, Chico-less, episode. As no episodes have been posted on YouTube, what I’ve got for this show is the title sequence for the show featuring Jose Feliciano’s great theme song, and as a special bonus, clips from Feliciano’s appearance on the show where he sings “Light My Fire,” and the series theme.

1 comment:

Roger Owen Green said...

Probably my favorite time watching TV, esp CBS Saturday. But yes, i watched Marcus Welby on ABC - I grew up w Father Knows Best.