September 7, 2013

This week in TV Guide: September 8, 1973

I don't know about you, but for me the second-most exciting publication of the year, right after the Sears and Penney's Christmas catalogues, was TV Guide's Fall Preview issue. In the days before the internet, before the press junkets that appeared on non-stop entertainment shows, the Fall Preview was our first glimpse at the new season's shows. And for many of us, it became a ritual to go through the glossy section of the Guide, reading the day-by-day rundown of the new series, deciding which ones were forgettable and which were worthy of at least one look, perhaps two.

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.

Click to enlarge
OK, so I’ll be a little liberal in my definition of “hit” – let’s say any series that ran for more than one season.

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.

Right?

How about Lotsa Luck (left), the Dom DeLuise sitcom on NBC? That only lasts for 22 episodes, although you can catch it on DVD if you’re curious. It was partnered with Diana Rigg’s eponymous series Diana, which totally failed to utilize its star’s charisma and bombs after 15 viewings. NBC’s other sitcom double-dip, The Girl With Something Extra (22 weeks) and Needles and Pins (14), part of an all-comedy Friday night, similarly fade without a trace. NBC Follies, a stab at the dying variety show, is in itself a folly – it doesn’t even have its own Wikipedia page!

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.

This year we’re seeing several examples of this, but with a twist. For instance, ABC’s Saturday night Suspense Movie will be pre-empted once a month for Lee Majors’ soon-to-be hit series The Six-Million-Dollar Man – two such movie-length episodes will be aired, in October and November, before the series goes full-time (with a move to Friday nights) in January 1974. The Suspense Movie concept itself will last for the rest of the season. On Tuesday, meanwhile, CBS plans on rotating its New Tuesday Night Movies with two semi-regular segments: Hawkins, a lawyer series starring Jimmy Stewart, and Shaft, the private detective played (as in the feature films) by Richard Roundtree (right). Each would produce seven 90-minute episodes during the season, alternating with made-for-TV movies, before the whole concept is scrapped the next year in favor of Hawaii Five-O and Barnaby Jones. And on Wednesday, ABC’s at it again, with James Franciscus’ medical show Doc Elliot scheduled to run in place of Owen Marshall once a month. Like The Six-Million-Dollar Man, Doc Elliot runs twice before becoming a weekly series the following January; unlike Lee Majors, however, Franciscus’ luck runs out after 11 additional episodes.

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."

***

In the days before widespread cable movie channels, before DVD and VHS and Laserdisc, there was . . . network movie night. It was here that big screen movies would make their television debut, often quite a few years after they'd appeared in theaters, accompanied by great fanfare. Sure, they'd be interrupted by commercials, and they'd be edited for time and/or content (that last bit often made for enticing speculation as to the exised material), but what else were you going to do? Unless you lived in an area that had a revival moviehouse, you were pretty much stuck with what you got on TV. And the fall preview issue always made a big scene of those movies that were at long last headed for the small screen.

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.

***

I've mentioned many times how much sports television has changed over the years, and a look at this issue reinforces how odd the state of the business looks with 40 years' hindsight. One of ABC's biggest sports properties, for example, is the Indianapolis 500, which is shown in prime time on a same-day tape-delay basis; while the Professional Bowlers Tour remains a network staple on Saturday afternoons, right before Wide World of Sports, which expands to include a Sunday edition as well. ABC also scores with its exclusive (except for the bowl games) college football, which this year will feature four - count 'em, four - doubleheaders and 13 national telecasts in addition to its lineup of regional broadcasts (often featuing teams nobody cared about, while the big game was being seen in another part of the country.)

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

12 comments:

  1. This is tremendous, because I had that Fall Preview TV Guide nearly memorized that year. We were big "MASH" fans at my house, so "Roll Out" was a big deal to us. (I seem to remember thinking, even at the tender age of 13, that
    "Calucci's Department" was awful.) And we watched the rotating mysteries on CBS too.

    I can remember watching "The Hospital" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," too, and not really understanding them. Not until I saw them again years later did I understand why I didn't understand them then.

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    1. Good memories, aren't they? And one of my great pleasures was discovering "The Hospital" - like you, I wouldn't have understood them at the time, but by the time I'd discovered just how good George C. Scott was, I was ready. I think, "Patton" notwithstanding, it might be his best role.

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  2. I always looked forward to the Fall TV edition, too (and was bummed when they started dividing into two issues). I remember being enthused to try the NEW PERRY MASON, but the casting was wrong (and I always liked Monte Markham) and the show looked cheap (in a B&W series, the view through a window can be a painting...but that doesn't work on a color show). As for MIDNIGHT SPECIAL vs. IN CONCERT, it's MIDNIGHT SPECIAL always!

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    1. You're right - I've always liked Monte Markham as well, but it will never, ever, EVER be a good idea to remake Perry Mason, as this week's Top Ten piece will vouch. And color is indeed a different animal than B&W.

      I'm a couple of weeks ahead on doing the This Week articles - I don't think I've yet come across one where "In Concert" bests "Midnight Special"!

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  3. Great site!

    I believe Sept. 8 (40 years ago today) was the first night that M*A*S*H joined All in the Family, Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, and Carol Burnett to create the famous "Murderer's Row" of comedies -- likely still the strongest comedy slate ever.

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    1. Thanks, John - just checked yours out as well, and there's a lot of great info for me to go through there!

      That Saturday night lineup was a killer, wasn't it? And it does remind me of when the networks really took Saturday night seriously. I can understand why they don't now, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

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  4. Some points here and there (mostly there):

    - Those "wheel" series became a mini-trend because networks were spending more and more on drama pilots, and the idea of buying more shows with fewer (if longer) episodes looked vaguely economical.
    That the trend didn't last always surprised me a bit. The fact that some shows were more popular than others would seem inevitable, but the ad agency types were starting to buy into that "demo" nonsense.

    - About specific shows:
    Banacek was the Wednesday/Tuesday Mystery Movie that always drew better than the others; the plan after season 2 was to drop the midweek wheel and move Banacek to Sunday with Columbo and the Mcs (Hec Ramsey was out, and Richard Boone's foes were glad to see it go).
    This ran aground when Banacek's showrunner, George Eckstein, decided to leave the series - and George Peppard decided to leave with him. Otherwise, Banacek might have run as long as the others.

    Meanwhile, Jimmy Stewart's Hawkins did reasonably well for CBS on Tuesdays, but Stewart decided that while the show was good, he was getting too old to handle the speedy TV production pace. Otherwise ...
    Anyway, when Stewart opted out, CBS lost interest in the wheel.

    - Probably the oddest TV situation in '73-'74:

    The previous season ('72-'73), ABC put on two sitcoms as part of a deal with William Asher, after the cancellation of Bewitched.
    These were The Paul Lynde Show, with Lynde as a sitcom daddy, and Temperatures Rising, a sort of Bilko-in-a-hospital with Cleavon Little as a con-man intern and James Whitmore as the boss doctor.
    The conventional wisdom was that Lynde would be at least a modest hit, while Temperatures was a throwaway against Bonanza and Maude.
    But something curious happened:
    Dan Blocker's death apparently had a greater impact on Bonanza than anyone realized, and the move from Sunday didn't help.
    Maude was the big winner in the time slot, but Temperatures was surprisngly competitive, running a 30-share second place - a loss-leader, but ABC noticed.
    Meanwhile, Paul Lynde made a mediocre showing on Wednesdays: everybody seemed to think that the format was faulty.
    Came renewal time, and someone had this brilliant idea:
    Since only one show would be renewed, keep Temperatures - but put Paul Lynde in James Whitmore's slot as Cleavon Little's boss.
    The announcement was made, but then ABC doubled down; Bill Asher was shown the door, new producers were brought in, the whole supporting cast was replaced, and the tone was changed from light-hearted to kind of nasty.
    There was some kind of strike in summer (I forget which union, but productions were delayed), and when it ended, everybody rushed to make September premiere dates. The New Temperatures Rising Show (honest, that's what they called it) got on about a month late, and nobody liked it.
    AT ALL.
    ABC did make a half-hearted try at saving things mid-season: the new producers were booted, and Bill Asher came back for the last few episodes of the season, but the die had been cast.
    Happy Days had been launched in the old Tuesday time slot, and we all know what happened after that.
    Meanwhile, the re-reconstituted Temperatures Rising (they went back to the old title) was burned off in late summer.
    I know that this whole story was a shade off-topic, but it shows you what was possible back in the 3-network days.
    In today's TV world of the quick-yank, this could have been even more chaotic.

    More when I can think of it ...

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    1. Mike, that is great background on the Paul Lynde/Temperatures Rising fiasco. As I was in what I think of as my Babylonian exile at this point, my experience with these shows was limited to what I read about them in TV Guide (while not getting a chance to see them), so I always enjoy hearing more about "the rest of the story."

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    2. I remember Temperatures Rising very fondly and was able to get some episodes on DVD from a private source. It's a funny and enjoyable show ... at least in its first season. I had a huge crush on Nancy Fox, who played a slightly scatter-brained but sweet-natured student nurse on the series. I thought at the time (as I still do today) that she was the prettiest and most adorable actress in television history. Over the past few years I have corresponded with Ms. Fox and she gave me some insight into the series. According to her the role played by Cleavon Little was not original written specifically for a black man and among the actors considered for the lead were Frankie Avalon (whose beach movies were directed by William Asher) and John Rubenstein. It was Elizabeth Montgomery who spotted Little in an episode of All in the Family and then recommended that her husband (i.e. Asher) test him for the lead. Ms. Montgomery also saw Nancy in a toothpaste commercial and recommended her as well. Nancy also told me that the show's premiere episode (and series pilot) was banned from a few ABC affiliates in some southern states because it showed a black man flirting with a young white woman.

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  5. If you have that issue, could you please post the ad that appeared for the Saturday ABC Superstar Movie? It was an awful adaptation of "Lost In Space" from a time when Saturday morning cartoons were starting to do animated versions of old prime time shows. The artwork for the ad, however, is superb looking and hilariously has nothing to do with the cartoon version it alleges to depict.

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  6. My better half is an enthusiast of a few of the cooking demonstrates you can discover on TV including one entitled, "Best Chef Masters" (Wednesday evenings at 9:00 PM on Bravo in our market). What's more, starting a couple of weeks back I've turned out to be snared on that show as well. Broadcast network staple

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Thanks for writing! Drive safely!