For me, this particular issue took on a significance of its own. We'd just moved from my birthplace of Minneapolis to the Worst Town in the World™, and for the first time I'd be living in a place where I wouldn't be able to watch whatever shows I wanted. We'd have access to only one commercial channel - KCMT, in Alexandria, the hybrid NBC/ABC affiliate. The following six years would create a television vacuum in my life, which coincided with the decline of NBC into one of the worst ratings stretches of its history.*
*I'll try not to let my personal bitterness creep through.
Few of the series in this issue ring much of a bell with me; the best of them would have to wait either for the DVD era or my return to civilization (and the Twin Cities) in 1978, while the worst are little more than cyphers. As a result, I'm placed in the somewhat unique situation of having far more vivid memories of the television series of the 60s than I do of the 70s, even though I might be expected to remember more from those more recent shows. It probably accounts for the fondness I have for the shows - and TV Guides - of that era.
But regardless of the era, there's something magic about the Fall Preview. And looking back at it all, with the passage of time, the adventure takes on a new dimension. No longer are we searching for the show that hopes to become part of our regular weekly viewing; now, it becomes an archaeological dig, checking to see if there were any little-regarded shows that became huge hits, and remembering the touted star vehicles that wound up dipping below the waves of ratings failure.
It’s easy to pick out the hit series that debuted in the fall of 1973.
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Put that way, the hits are – let’s see, there’s Police Story, the NBC anthology series that runs for five seasons, CBS’ Kojak, which is good for five seasons as well, and Lee Majors' The Six-Million-Dollar Man, which not only stuck around for (you guessed it) five seasons* but also spawned a successful spin-off series of its own. And – that’s it. Not a very good season, hmm? Well, there’s also Happy Days and Good Times, arguably the most successful of the new shows that season, but they don’t even debut until the “second season” in January and February, respectively.
*It's easy to imagine some network executive, cigar jutting from the corner of his mouth, looking at the slate of proposals for new series scattered across his desk, removing the cigar, and saying, "Listen, kid - if it's not good for five seasons, don't even bother wasting my time".
But surely there must have been some lost classics, series that, given enough time to grow an audience, would be remembered fondly today, perhaps even in a DVD release.
CBS tries to duplicate M*A*S*H’s success with Roll Out, a World War II sitcom with a mostly black cast to boot. It disappears after the proverbial 12 episodes. It's preceded in death, and in its time slot, by Calucci’s Department, which only makes it to 11. And then there’s my favorite definition of “bad idea” – CBS’ remake of Perry Mason. Even though it's helpfully called The New Perry Mason, with Monte Markham playing the lawyer for all seasons, the reboot doesn't even make it through one season, being convicted of failure after 15 trials.
Don’t think that ABC's immune to failure, either: Griff, another private eye show starring the suddenly Ponderosa-less Lorne Greene, disappears in 13 weeks; Adam’s Rib, in which Ken Howard and Blythe Danner try to fill the shoes of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, meets a similar watery grave; and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, trying to copy the success of the movie of the same name, succeeds only in copying Adam’s Rib’s failure, making it through only seven episodes before getting the ax.
The most interesting of these failures might be ABC’s Toma, which is in fact fairly successful - except, that is, with star Tony Musante, who quits after one season. The retooled program, starring Robert Blake and retitled Baretta, goes on for four more years.*
*Unlike President Richard Nixon, whose own four more years, starting in January of ’73, were cancelled after only two.
Time-sharing: not just for vacation resorts. An interesting trend in 1973 is that of the occasional series, one that appears on a regular, non-weekly basis. We’ve seen this before; for example, Jack Benny’s show appeared every second or third week for much of its run, and Armstrong Circle Theatre and The U.S. Steel Hour alternated weekly for many years. In more recent times, NBC’s Sunday and Wednesday Mystery Movies presented a quartet of rotating elements, in what was known as a “wheel show”.*
*The Sunday segment, longer-lasting and better-known of the two, featured Columbo, McCloud and McMillan as its most stable features.
As for NBC’s Mystery Movies, the Sunday night lineup, including Hec Ramsey* with Richard Boone, remains untouched from the previous year. Wednesday night’s lineup, though, gets a complete overhaul: George Peppard’s Banacek is joined by three new shows – Tenafly, The Snoop Sisters and Faraday and Company. The shows weren’t on long enough to leave much of an impression, let alone for me to take the time to describe them here. Only Banacek enjoyed any real success, and the whole thing is called off at the end of the season.
*Returning for a second season. With the exception of Quincy, which gets spun off into its own timeslot, Hec Ramsey is the only non-Columbo, McCloud or McMillian series to run for more than one season.
And then, of course, there’s the most successful “occasional show” of them all: Monday Night Football returns for its fourth season. That’s long since gone to cable, with NBC taking over the prime-time network coverage on Sunday night, but as a “part-time” series, it’s still going strong.
TV's two definitive 70s-era rock music shows, NBC's The Midnight Special and ABC's In Concert, faced off on Friday nights. Midnight Special was a weekly show, airing after Johnny Carson, while In Concert was an every-other week part of Wide World of Entertainment. Whenever the two slug it out, we'll be there to give you the winner.
This week's head-to-head battle features Gladys Knight vs. ... Gladys Knight. As always, these descriptions come straight from the pages of TV Guide.
In Concert: Soul with Gladys Knight and the Pips, nostalgic rock of Sha-Na-Na, mellow rock sounds of Earth, Wind and Fire, and the African-rock vibrations of Manu Dibango.
Midnight Special: Something for everyone in a show hosted by soul artist Curtis Mayfield, pop sounds from Helen Reddy, Jim Croce and the Bee Gees, soul from Wilson Pickett, and Gladys Knight and the Pips, and rock from Sly and the Family Stone, and War.
Something for everyone? Maybe. Something for me? Not likely. I would have watched Midnight Special in the day, because it would have been the only program available to me at the time. I guess there are some things you just can't take back. But I'm not sure In Concert is much of an alternative. Hate to do this, but this week's verdict is a push.*
*Yes, Don Kirschner's Rock Concert debuts this season, but not yet. According to the online episode guide, we'll have to wait until September 28 for a show that features the Doobie Brothers, Earth Wind and Fire, and Cross Country, with music videos by The Rolling Stones. And don't look to American Bandstand for relief; Curtis Mayfield (again) appears with "the newly crowned Miss Sixteen."
TV Guide's resident critic Judith Crist offers a rundown on this year's coming attractions: 97 scheduled new theatrical films (down from 101 last year), including The Hospital (one of the funniest black humor movies ever made, Funny Girl, Doctor Doolittle, Airport and Rosemary's Baby on ABC, My Fair Lady, A Man For All Seasons, Judgment at Nuremberg and Cool Hand Luke on NBC, and The Graduate, Bonnie and Clyde, Bullitt, Planet of the Apes and Hello, Dolly! on CBS. Movies making a repeat television appearance include A Streetcar Named Desire, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, In Cold Blood, Ben-Hur and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.
I'm not sure any of these movies are strangers to cable TV today, and I'd expect most if not all are available on DVD, as well as through streaming video, so it's a little hard to appreciate how much excitement these announcements could cause at the time. Remember, at this point Gone With the Wind had yet to make its television debut. And yet, it's doubtful that any of these showings would have been entirely satisfying to the movie fan at home. A few weeks ago we read about the controversy being generated at having movies chopped up for comercials*; it's hard to imagine what had to be done to a movie such as Virginia Woolf to make it suitable for broadcast. I wonder, in 10 years' time, how primitive today's delivery systems will seem.
*I can recall the first time I ever saw 2001: A Space Odyssey - it was on television, and included a commercial break right in the middle of Dave Bowman's journey across the surface of Jupiter at the end of the film. Talk about a mood breaker.
Tennis coverage is limited to the big tournaments - Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and Lamar Hunt's World Championship Tennis tour, the premier professional pro circuit - and only appears on weekends. Golf's network of record is ABC, and their coverage of major championships (both U.S. and British Opens and the PGA Championship) runs for two or so hours each on Saturday and Sunday.* College basketball doesn't appear on the networks until the two big tournamens: the NCAA on NBC, and the NIT on CBS. Horse racing, in the wake of Secretariat's Triple Crown-winning year, is still a major sport.
*And then there's the made-for-TV competition, in the form of the CBS Golf and Tennis Classics, a series of one-on-one matches running throughout the year, and Superstars, which becomes a five-part series this year.
Network baseball resides on NBC, where coverage is limited to the Saturday afternoon Game of the Week and Monday night broadcasts through the summer. NBC is also home to American Football Conference games, continuing their longstanding relationship that first started with the American Football League, while CBS continues to cover the National Football Conference. ABC joins in with Monday Night Football. Today, Monday Night Football is on ESPN, a station that didn't even exist in 1973, while Sunday Night Football, a concept that didn't exist back then, is the staple of NBC's schedule. The AFC moved from NBC to CBS, while Fox (yet another twinkle-in-they-eye network) owns the NFC. Got that all straight? Oh, and the Super Bowl is scheduled, in the daytime, on January 13. Yeah.
Finally, an item that I think is kind of ironic given the content of network television today. Fred Silverman, top programmer at CBS, forecasts an end to crime shows on TV. They're overdone, he says, and the trend for the future is "general dramas that don't necessarily feature doctors, lawyers or policemen." Considering that CBS is already home to Mannix, Hawaii Five-O, Kojak, Perry Mason, Hawkins and Shaft, Silverman adds that it won't be all crim shows that disappear - "only the lesser ones," meaning, presumably, those not on CBS. Instead, family fare such as Apple's Way will become the standard.
So what dominates television today? NCIS, CSI, Law & Order and their spinoffs, and a host of quirky amateur detective shows endlessly repeated on cable. I don't know what else you'd call them, but it's certainly a crime, isn't it?
ALL IMAGES FROM HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION