The start of a new television season is a bit like the start of the NFL season, which coincidentally appears on the cover of this week's issue. It's a time for unlimited optimism, when fans everywhere harbor the dream (or illusion) that this could be the year their teams go all the way. Before that opening kickoff, every team is tied for first. For a lot of teams, it won't get any better than that.
And so it is with the 1974 fall season. The excitement from some of these ads jumps right off the page. Unfortunately, in so many cases the optimism is not only unfounded, it's sadly pathetic. And instead of a tingling leg, the reader is left wondering just who in the hell thought this show was a good idea. More on this in a minute.
Theatrical movies were still a big deal in the 70s, and the new season was a great time for networks to display the additions to their inventory. This week saw three blockbusters: the network premieres of Rachel, Rachel (NBC) and Thunderball (ABC), and the first rerun of Bonnie and Clyde* (CBS). Back then, there were two ways to run movies with big running times: split them into two parts (as was often done with Ben Hur, for example), or put them on Saturday or Sunday night and let them run over the normal time slot. Thunderball, with a running time of 2:45, falls into the second category. It begins at the normal ABC time of 8:00pm CT, and pushes the late local news back by 45 minutes, to 10:45pm. Of course, back then the weekend news wasn't as big a deal; nowadays, pretty much the only time you see programming run over by a substantial amount is when it starts late due to the NFL or breaking news.
*I wonder how much they had to cut out to make it suitable for network television?
Speaking of timing, the NFL's policy in the early 70s was still to start games at 1:00pm local time, perhaps in a nod to churches. Thus, the 1:00pm kickoff of the first game of NBC's doubleheader, coming from Chicago, means that the second game - Chiefs at Raiders - is joined in progress. Mind you, in the early 70s it was at least possible (if not likely) that a game could end in well under three hours, which meant that if you were lucky you might only miss the first quarter of the late game. I can't remember exactly when the league changed to the hard-and-fast noon starting time (except for Baltimore, where the blue laws mandated a 2pm start), but it's hard to believe that "Joined in Progress" used to be a regular part of NFL TV listings.
Now for the teaser: the bonus footage. The cover of the previous week's issue (September 14) was mocked up to look like a horse racing tip sheet with odds on the new shows. Some of the predictions were right on, while others - well, let's just say that if you'd actually gone to Vegas and plunked down some dough based on these odds, you might not be reading this now - because you're homeless and the Starbucks won't let you use the wi-fi without making a purchase.
So let's take a look at what all the shouting was about. Here are the odds on a dozen of the new shows as they appeared on the cover of that issue, along with a catchy tip for each one.
- 1-2. Could take it all.
- Even. Won't monkey around.
- 2-1. Real contender.
- Even. May prove troublesome.
- Even. Entry is well placed.
- 3-1. Should get the nod.
- 8-1. May freeze up.
- 4-5. From good barn.
- Even. Only filly in race.
- 7-2. Might garner support.
- 6-1. May cop it all.
- 10-1. Lost stablemate.
1. Friends and Lovers (CBS). This was everyone's choice as the sure-fire hit of the year. CBS put it in a primo slot, between All In the Family and Mary Tyler Moore. Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell the viewers. Paul Sand's show only made it as far as January 1975, when it was replaced by The Jeffersons.
2. Planet of the Apes (CBS). A spin-off of the hit movie series must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Thirteen weeks later, maybe not.
3. Born Free (NBC). A "real contender"? Another spin-off of another successful movie. Another bomb. By the end of 1974, NBC had set it free.
4. Little House on the Prairie (NBC). It premiered on Wednesday against two other newcomers (That's My Mama on ABC and Sons and Daughters on CBS) and proved troublesome to its competition for nine seasons.
5. Chico and the Man (NBC). It was indeed well-placed, surviving for four seasons. Sadly, its star, Freddie Prinze, did not, committing suicide late in the third season.
6. The Texas Wheelers (ABC). Maybe this MTM-produced sitcom should have gotten the nod, but it didn't. Not against The Rockford Files, that is. Four episodes, with an additional four shown in summer reruns.
7. Kodiak (ABC). Clint Walker (Cheyenne) returns to TV. For four weeks, up against Sanford and Son. 8-1 odds were probably generous.
8. Rhoda (CBS). The optimism about this MTM-spinoff was well-founded. A hit for five seasons.
9. Get Christie Love! (ABC) Why did this show fail? It was up against two newcomers (Petrocelli and The Manhunter, neither of which succeeded. Was it the wrong time for a blackploitation police series? At least it made it for 22 episodes.
10. The Rockford Files (NBC). At 7-2, you could have made some money betting on this one. This was a Friday-night hit for NBC for six seasons, coupled with...
11. Police Woman (NBC). Angie Dickinson in a uniform. Who could ask for anything more? Successful for four seasons; ridiculously underpriced at 6-1. Should make up for Friends and Lovers.
12. The Sonny Comedy Review (ABC). Do I really need to say anything more? After that, what's left but to run for Congress?
So how did you do? Ready to become a programming exec for a TV network? They were right on with Rhoda, Chico and Little House, and could smell the problems with Sonny and Kodiak. But seriously - Friends and Lovers? Get Christie Love!? Born Free? And Police Woman at 6-1? Ah, but that's why they don't run the races on paper, isn't it?