I particularly enjoy looking at an issue like this because it gives us a chance to read about the season's new series in context, without the baggage that comes from our own knowledge, either through having seen them ourselves, or having read about them in the ensuing decades. For instance, the "As We See It" editorial lauds NBC's experiment with a new format - "a series of four different six-episode series which run in the same time period." It's called Four-in-One, running Wednesday from 9:30 - 11:00 (ET) and, indeed, features four completely unrelated series: McCloud, San Francisco International, Night Gallery, and The Psychiatrist, each of which will run for six consecutive episodes before yielding to the next in line. Two of them, McCloud and Night Gallery, will assume their places in the pantheon of television history; the other two, not so much. It's an interesting experiment - TV Guide says that, if it works, it "could mean a lot more variety in the television schedule - but on balance I'd have to say it doesn't quite work out.
What NBC discovers ultimately is that it's much more effective if the series have something in common, as will be the case when McCloud gets reshuffled into the Mystery Movie series, along with Columbo, McMillian and Wife, and various fourth wheels. It also seems to work better if the shows are rotated each week, rather than burning off their episodes consecutively, as is done with The Bold Ones (a technique that, in fact, dates back all the way to ABC's Warner Bros. Presents in the '50s, and was duplicated later on with their Western series Cheyenne, Bronco, and Sugarfoot). It's probably also more common to see the leads in a series rotated, which we've seen in shows from Maverick to The Name of the Game. In this sense, I think TV Guide's hope for more variety eventually goes wanting.
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There's another trend present in the new season, one that's been percolating for some time but is pronounced now more than ever. "The computers insist," As We See It says, "that the best television audience from the network standpoint, which means from the advertiser standpoint, is young people who have growing children and who buy most of the products advertised on television. Accordingly, the emphasis for the new season, now at hand, is on youth."
CBS's shows joined new offerings from ABC - The Young Rebels, about, well, young, idealistic rebels in the Continental army during the Revolution, The Young Lawyers, about young, idealistic law students working with an established attorney to provide legal aid, and Matt Lincoln, which is not about an idealistic young physician, but is about a "community psychiatrist" running a hotline for troubled teenagers. They join existing series like Room 222, about young teachers teaching young students, and The Mod Squad, about young cops busting young criminals - or at least older criminals preying on young people. And you can't leave out NBC - The Senator, the newest segment of The Bold Ones, is long on relevance and idealism, and its returning shows Julia, Laugh-In, and The Bill Cosby Show certainly play to the younger demographic.
The problem with all this is that corporations - which is what networks are, regardless of what anyone might say about providing entertainment and art and whatnot - are seldom good at playing catchup when it comes to becoming young and hip. At their best they come across as pandering, if not condescending; at their worst, painfully out-of-step, like your grandparents trying to talk the lingo of your friends. Their strident, earnest preaching often is neither effective in presenting an agenda nor entertaining to viewers. Most of the time it depends on the writing and acting, and if either or both of those are very good, then the series has a chance. And so for every Senator, which earns star Hal Holbrook an Emmy, or Mod Squad, which runs for five seasons and spawns a big-screen movie years after the fact, there's The Young Rebels (15 episodes), The Young Lawyers (24 episodes), The Storefront Lawyers (23 episodes), and The Interns (23 episodes). Even The Senator only lasts one season.
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|SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION|
Griffith badly wants to break out of the rural bumpkin mold (and having shown how well he could act in A Face in the Crowd, who could blame him?), but his first try, as star of The Headmaster, is a ratings failure. Viewers don't accept Griffith in "a completely new setting" as headmaster of a private school in California, and the series lasts only 14 episodes before the ax falls. The next attempt, in the same timeslot, is a sitcom called The New Andy Griffith Show, and this time Griffith is cast as - you guessed it - the mayor of a small town in North Carolina. It's more like his old show, but it doesn't capture the magic, lasting only 10 episodes, whereupon CBS replaces it with - what else? Repeats of The Headmaster. I think it's a tribute to Griffith's star power that he was able to have two cracks at success in this timeslot, but old viewing habits die hard, especially when your (kind of) original show, Mayberry R.F.D., is still on.
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We've seen a good number of flops here, but besides Mary Tyler Moore, are there any hits on the horizon, any shows destined to enter television lore? I think so.
For starters, there's one of the biggest prime-time series ever, one that's still on the air: Monday Night Football. It's worth bearing in mind that prime-time football was far from a sure thing when ABC took a chance on it in 1970; CBS, having had the first shot, had already turned the league down. ABC, whose sports department is led by the visionary Roone Arledge and is looking to expand beyond college football and the Olympics, has no problem taking a flyer on it. The key is that while MNF appears to be a sports show, it's really packaged as a variety show, featuring "Keith Jackson with the facts, Don Meredith the expertise and Howard Cosell the controversy," plus numerous drop-in guests, and occasionally a description of what's going on down on the field. When Frank Gifford replaces Jackson the following season, the die is cast: sports becomes prime-time entertainment, and the NFL hasn't been the same since.
And finally Friday night features another sitcom, one that fits right in with an ABC lineup that includes The Brady Bunch, Nanny and the Professor, That Girl, and Love, American Style. It's The Partridge Family, and despite what sounds like a hokey premise ("Wait a minute! Why don't we let Mom sing Gloria's part?"), it is burned into the consciousness of an entire generation.
So that's three sitcoms, a variety show, and football - really, not a bad haul for a season of newcomers.
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CBS and NBC are premiering their new lineups this week, while ABC waits until next week. I love these old "NBC Week" ads; it really ads to the wonder and excitement which used to represent television's fall season. There's just something of an event about these ads. It isn't just returning series that pack in the excitement, though: for instance, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor are the guests on the new season of Here's Lucy, Alan King hosts the season premiere of The Kraft Music Hall, Orson Welles is one of the guests welcoming back Dean Martin, and The Brady Bunch kicks off the new year with a replay of the series premiere, in which Robert Reed and Florence Henderson prove you can have success with a blended family of six kids.
There are also specials to kick off the year. On Saturday night, the Miss America Pageant returns to NBC, and millions watch none other than Phyllis George, Miss Texas, take home the crown. On CBS Wednesday night, it's one of the lesser-known Peanuts specials, It Was a Short Summer, Charlie Brown. Truer words have seldom been spoken.
TV Guide, in its editorial, concludes with this helpful advice: "Try to sample all the new shows at least once. It's the only way to keep up with the medium." Imagine trying to do that today, without a DVR. Even with one, I wonder if anyone who's not a critic tries to do this. All I can say is, Godspeed.