September 9, 2017

This week in TV Guide: September 13, 1975

It's time once again for everyone's favorite game, "Pick the Winners," where you get the chance to go head-to-head against the television experts to choose the year's most successful series! Last year, you may recall, the panel assembled by TV Guide unanimously - unanimously - chose Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers as the sure-thing, can't-miss, "best chance for ratings glory" program of the year. Fifteen weeks later, it was gone. As Neil Hickey says, keep this in mind when you look at their picks

First things first. The experts are eleven of the top advertising agency executives, men paid big bucks to predict where the bigger bucks ought to go. And among these eleven, there is a consensus, three series that show up on more of their lists than any others. Those three: Phyllis, on CBS; Joe Forrester, on NBC, and Switch, on CBS. Phyllis, the second spinoff from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, starring Cloris Leachman, is described as "the enviable filly," sandwiched between Rhoda and All in the Family, with Maude and Medical Center to follow. Joe Forrester, starring Lloyd Bridges in a spinoff from a Police Story episode, is up against the "big gamble of the year," CBS's Masterpiece Theatre-clone Beacon Hill, and ABC's fading Marcus Welby, M.D. Switch, which stars Robert Wagner and Eddie Albert in a "first cousin" to the Oscar-winning The Sting, is strengthened by the likeability of its stars, but handicapped by its tough position going up against Police Story and The Rookies. 

How did they do? Let's go to the judges' cards for the decision. Phyllis lasted two seasons, fewer than Rhoda, although their ratings were comperable. Joe Forrister was clearly a disappointment, lasting only a single season. Switch, however, survived for three seasons before being replaced by The Incredible Hulk.. So as far as that goes, we'll give the experts one out of three, which would give them a pretty good batting average in the major leagues. They do much better when it comes to picking the bombs (it's always embarrassing when you look back and find out that one of their "sure fire flops" turns out to be something like Little House on the Prairie) - the three most likely to fail are On the Rocks ("mostly because nobody could find out why it was conceived at all, much less sent out to compete"). Mobile One (similar reasons, plus it's on up against Sanford and Son, Chico and the Man, and M*A*S*H), and Saturday Night Life with Howard Cosell, which is only remembered today because it's the show that forced SNL to use the title NBC's Saturday Night for the first few weeks.

Were there any shows they really missed? Well, the cop show Starsky and Hutch garnered a fair amount of support, and a sitcom called Welcome Back, Kotter got a vote. On the flip side, there were several votes for Doctors Hospital, starring George Peppard, one of the first "realistic" medical dramas, which probably got less than it deserved.

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SOURCE: H ADLEY TV GUIDES
Let's stay on the prediction binge a little longer here, and turn to Melvin Durslag's prognostications for the new NFL season. Profits are on the downside - each team makes but $2 million from television, the average team shows a profit of a measly $512,000, and eight teams lost money last season. Contrast this with the most recent figures, which show that the average profit margin per team is over $225 million (from the league's revenue pool), and the teams evenly divide about $2.5 billion or so from their television contract. Eh, inflation.

But it's true that Durslag paints something of a grim picture for the NFL in 1975, and at first glance that would seem to be anything but true nowadays. And yet - ratings were down last year for the first time in a while, and we'll see if it was just the election, or if it did have something to do with players kneeling for the national anthem, for sexual assaults and violence and concussions and other off-field happenings, and there's still the threat of labor strife in the future. So when you think about it, for all that's changed, a lot is still the same.

Durslag's predictions for the AFC are straightforward: Miami in the East, Pittsburgh in the Central, Oakland in the West, while in the NFC the division winners are St. Louis in the East, Minnesota in the Central, and Los Angeles in the West. And how did this expert do? Well, in fact, Durslag aces the NFC, with one proviso. He mentions that we are warned that it is "dangerous to pick against Dallas in the division, but the judgment here is that the Cowboys have busted their last bronc for a spell. They must rebuild." He does not pick the Cowboys to win the East, and he is correct. However, they do win the Wild Card (he has them finishing fourth), and then go on to upset both Minnesota and Los Angeles to wind up in the Super Bowl, where they take on: Pittsburgh. While Durslag gets the Steelers and Raiders right, he really blows it in the East, where he picks Baltimore to finish fifth, and for awhile he looks smart; the Colts get out to a 1-4 start before running off seven straight wins, then defeat Miami 10-7 in an overtime thriller in Baltimore, before defeating New England in the final game of the season to finish atop the division. The Steelers win the AFC anyhow, then top Dallas in Super Bowl X.

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I don't often get the chance to do a head-to-head between Don Kirshner's Rock Concert and The Midnight Special, primarily because there aren't often listings for the guests on Kirshner's show. This week is an exception though, and I'm going to take advantage of it.

Kirshner: Yes, David Essex, Brian Cadd, Rush, and the Fania All-Stars are the performers. Also: clips of Jimi Hendrix.

Special: Helen Reddy (hostess), Paul Williams, Phoebe Snow, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and comedian Alan Mandell are the guests. On film: David Bowie.

OK, let's think about this for a minute. On film, you've got David Bowie. On stage, you have Yes and Rush, plus film clips of Hendrix. This week it's a big Yes for Don Kirschner.

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They're not starlets anymore, they're just the "Stars of the Future," and they come in both sexes. Let's see who some of Hollywood's most successful talent scouts have labeled for upcoming stardom.

(L-R) Grant, Conaway, Pringle, Potts, Sublette
Ethel Winant, formerly of CBS and now of Children's Television Workshop, likes Linda Sublette, who's been in Gunsmoke and Mary Tyler Moore, as well as a ton of commercials. "She's very American," says Winant, back when that was an asset. "Cute. Bright. Perky." Al Trescony of NBC, who dates back to MGM and Clary Gable, favors Cliff Potts, whom, he says, "could be another Steve McQueen." Potts has been on "the TV guest-star circuit" and was Gene Barry's assistant in The Name of the Game.

Gail Melnick, of ABC, rather likes Barra Grant, "the most versatile actress I've ever seen." Adds Melnick, "She's right for almost every female part I have." Grant, in addition to doing series guest parts and TV movies, is the daughter of Bess Myerson. Meanwhile, Monique James of Universal City Studios casts her vote for Joan Pringle. "What an actress!" she says of Pringle, who was in the last season of Ironside, had roles in Emergency!, Toma, and Banacek, and is headed for That's My Mama. Eddie Foy III, part of the famous Foy family, is reminded of a young Dick Van Dyke when he thinks of Jeff Conaway. "He's got that marvelous looseness that you don't see in a lot of people today." He played in Grease on stage for a couple of years, and also did an episode of Movin' On.

So how did these predictions go? Well, Jeff Conaway, who died in 2011, had successes in both Taxi and Babylon 5, as well as the movie version of Grease. Joan Pringle did a lot of TV; her best-known role was probably in The White Shadow. Barra Grant appeared in the second series of the BBCseries Take Three Girls, as well as numerous TV shows and movies, but has gone on to do more work as a TV writer and director. Cliff Potts has done a number of movies and TV series, including Silent Running, and acted with Steve McQueen, though he never approached his talent or his magnetism. And Linda Sublette has a few credits to her name, but probably made far more money off of commercials than I'll ever see in my lifetime.

Which just goes to show that predicting success isn't easy, but even a little success is as accomplishment. It's a tough business, as Eddie Foy III says: "Television makes it come too fast, too soon. And it ends quicker than it starts."

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Muhammad Ali, the Heavyweight Champion of the World, hosts his own variety special at 7:00 p.m. CT on ABC Saturday night; his guests are Howard Cosell (natch), Flip Wilson, Aretha Franklin, Gabe Kaplan, The Captain and Tennille, and Barry White. (I swear, this sounds like some kind of SCTV parody, doesn't it?) I remember the host of Welcome Inn, the local "variety" show on Channel 7, talking about the Ali special later in the week and marvelling and how smooth and funny Ali was as a host; even at 15, I was thinking to myself, "Hey lady, have you ever heard of, you know, writers?" The unnamed critic of The Screening Room begs to differ with our Channel 7 hostess, saying that Ali is "out of his element when he's out of the ring. His opening monologue falls flat, his guests praise him fawningly, and his verbal sparring with Howard Cosell is predictable." On the other hand, Aretha Franklin's pretty good.

You can tell we're at the start of a new season just by looking at the heavy guns being brought out on Sunday. At 7:00 p.m., ABC's The Six Million Dollar Man begins its third season with a two-part episode bringing back Steve Austin's flame, Jaime Sommers. Steve saw her die in the previous season after undergoing an operation similar to his, but she's back this season and bionically better than ever, on the way to a series of her own the following year. At 8:00 p.m., it's CBS's turn to welcome a third-season favorite, as Telly Savalas' Kojak investigates a loan shark also under investigation by the Feds, with a guest cast including Eli Wallach, Michael Gazzo, Jerry Orbach, Jennifer Warren, F. Murray Abraham, and Charles Kimbrough. He'll need all that star power, because ABC's coming back with the network premiere of Cabaret, winner of eight Academy Awards, including Best Director (Bob Fosse), Best Supporting Actor (Joel Grey), and Best Actress (Liza Minnelli). Says Judith Crist, "this work is more than a film 'version' of the musical. It is a vivid drama wth music, a compassionate story of people trapped by their own indifference and slowly contaminated by their lack of involvement."

ABC kicks off the college football season Monday night at 8:00 p.m. with an all-Catholic showdown, as Notre Dame, under new head coach Dan Devine, travels to Boston to take on Boston College.* More accurately, they're in Foxboro, home of the New England Patriots, where a crowd of over 61,000 sees the Irish emerge triumphant, 17-3. Remember, we're still in the days when the number of games is limited, so this is it for the weekend, even though the season actually started on Saturday with a big matchup between Michigan State and Ohio State, which ABC shares with highlights during Wide World of Sports. Yup, times have changed.*

*In case you're wondering where Monday Night Football is, remember that in the days of the 14-game NFL season, opening day isn't until next week.

Tuesday morning starts on Today (NBC, 7:00 a.m.) with an interview of Margaret Thatcher, leader of Britain's Conservative Party. I remember when she was elected, the first woman in a Western nation to lead a major political party. People wondered if conservatives would have a problem with that. They didn't. That evening, on what has to be a wonderful rerun of Jean Shepherd's America, "Jean recalls the time his father's huge homemade kite blew away. Jean also tells about his father's first plane ride. . . before the invention of airsickness bags." You know, I can hear Jean Shepherd narrating that, and I can hear Darren McGavin shouting, can't you?

On Wednesday it's Mel Brooks' Robin Hood parody, When Things Were Rotten (7:00 p.m., ABC, with guest star Phil Silvers). I think I've mentioned before that there was a great mystique about programs like this that aired on CBS and, especiallyt, ABC while I lived in The World's Worst Town™. We could get CBS programming on the KELOland station when the weather was good, and on occasion (such as with the Muhammad Ali special above) Channel 7 would telecast ABC programming, since it was a dual affiliation. Rarely the good stuff, though. From what I'd read, I though When Things Were Rotten had to be a hilarious show; I knew Brooks from The Producers, and I thought spoofing Robin Hood was a slam dunk. It wasn't, but such is the aura of a show like that. The man who wrote that "'tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all" never got to watch a TV show he'd always wanted to see only to find out it wasn't any good.

Thursday starts off at 6:30 p.m. on KROC, the NBC affiliate in Rochester, with Space: 1999, the science fiction series starring the late Martin Landeau and Barbara Bain. As I recall, people had high hopes for this series, one of the first really serious sci-fi series since Star Trek, and at the time I remember hearing it was something of a disappointment (we couldn't see it up there, you know), although its reputation may have been burnished in the years since then. Hard to see how it couldn't be good, with that cast, plus Ian McShane (right) as a guest star. Later on (7:30 p.m., NBC), it's Lee Grant's 10-episode sitcom Fay, followed at 8:00 p.m. by the too-short Ellery Queen Mysteries, with Jim Hutton and David Wayne terrific as Queens son and father, Tom Reese dependable as Velle, John Hillerman wonderfully smug as Simon Brimmer, and a knockout guest cast this week: Susan Strasberg, Anne Francis, Don Ameche, Craig Stevens, Jack Kelly, and Ida Lupino. As my wife would say, it's too bad they couldn't get anyone big. Continuing on the crime beat, David Janssen's gritty P.I. drama Harry O (9:00 p.m., ABC) has a hit-and-run story with a desperate client (Carol Rossen, whose father Robert directed the classic All the King's Men, and who herself survived an incredible murder attempt), and a supporting cast including Larry Hagman and Robert Loggia).

It's a rite of passage on M*A*S*H Friday (7:30 p.m., CBS), as "Change of Command" provides an apt title for the episode that introduces the 4077th's new CO: Colonel Sherman Potter, played by the redoubtable Harry Morgan. Elsewhere, Jim Backus, Sherry Jackson, Julie Adams, and Patty McCormack are among the guests on ABC's soon-to-be short-lived series Mobile One (7:00 p.m.), Sgt. Becker - a veteran of the bunco squad - has to ask Rockford to bail him out after he's the victim of a fraud (and don't think Rockford will ever let him hear the end of it) on The Rockford Files (8:00 p.m., NBC), and Paul Picerni, a veteran of Quinn Martin's The Untouchables, returns to the QM stables as he guests on Barnaby Jones (9:00 p.m., CBS) along with Barry Sullivan, Sharon Acker, Charles Durning, and Hayden Rorke.

As I said, Septembers are great if you're looking for big-name guest stars!

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Tidbits collected from the rest of the issue:

ABC, on the heels of hiring Fred Silverman from CBS to run its programming, tried to go to that well again, offering Don Hewitt, producer of 60 Minutes, the job running the network's failing morning show, AM America. Hewitt tells ABC he's under a long-term contract to CBS and has no desire to try and get out of it, but that if he did, the only thing that would interest him would be if "I owned AM America." I know not whether he speaks in jest, but that thought is a very interesting one. Would the program, which features Bill Beutel, Stephanie Edwards, and Peter Jennings, have looked like its successor, Good Morning America, or would it have been something entirely different? I wonder what Hewitt would have had in mind. Like the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop, the world will never know.

George Carlin is set to host the inaugural episode of NBC's live Saturday Night sketch comedy show (it does sound better after Cosell is cancelled, doesn't it?), and more cast signings have been announced: Albert Brooks "will contribute a short film - featuring himself as writer and star - to each of the first seven programs," and Jim Henson has some new Muppet creations set to appear. Producer Lorne Michaels confesses that the hardest part of live television "is making it come out to the right lenght," but that anxiety is what drives good comedy.

This season features the introduction of the "Family Prime Time Period," a nightly two-hour commitment to family-friendly programming agreed to by stations that subscribe to the Television Code fo the National Association of Broadcasters. Note that this is voluntary; there's no government intervention or censorship involved in this, although one could certainly intuit that the threat of government involvement often drives this kind of intervention. Stockton Helfrich, the Director of Code Authority for NAB, takes a moment to explain to TV Guide just what the phrase "family programming" means, and what he'll be looking for. The short answer: bear with us. It's going to take time to implement this, and it's going to be done on a case-by-case basis, rather than one-size-fits-all. Helfrich believes there's already a consensus between networks and broadcasters that "extraneous violence and explicit sexual subject material" is "out of bounds" in the Family Prime Time Period. He has confidence, though, that programmers can exercise their "usual business finesse in selecting broadcast entities that draw and hold audiences." However, he acknowledges that there will be times, such as when a viewer says, "it's all right to show that people fight, but it shouldn't get out of hand" - well, how do you define that? Or when someone speaks of sex and says, "no indecent stuff" - it's not going to be easy.

And it's funny you should mention that, because Monday night's episode of Medical Center (9:00 p.m., CBS) features a storyline in which Robert Reed plays a surgeon seeking a sex change, and his hostile wife and son refuse to intervene on his behalf. "CBS plans an announcement warning that the episode may not be suitable for all family members." Indeed.

6 comments:

  1. Great issue. Potts was brought into MARCUS WELBY M.D. as a younger doctor later that season for several episodes and also had a great opportunity starring in ONCE AN EAGLE not long after that. Like most of the others, he worked steadily for a long time after that. Joan Pringle is an excellent actress. Still does a lot of stage work.

    WHEN THINGS WERE ROTTEN was really funny, I thought. It's fun to compare it to Brooks' later feature, ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS. Myself, I thought Cary Elwes was a better and more Flynn-ish Robin, but Dick Gautier was a great choice for the series. Dick Van Patten appeared in both.

    Robert Reed took on some real stretches as an actor after his BRADY BUNCH years. Not all of them as high profile as ROOTS, but he seemed eager to play against the Mike Brady image.

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    1. I watched that "Medical Center" episode ("The Fourth Sex") when it was online a few years back. Reed's Emmy-nominated performance can break your heart, and it's a jolt if you're accustomed to him as happy Mike Brady. The episode (inspired, IIRC, by Dr. Walter Dishell's experiences with transgender patients) handled the subject with more respect than I expected for 1975, when other medical series might have turned the topic into a B-story oddity.

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  2. The Strange Case Of When Things Were Rotten:

    Here was a real anomaly: A show that was killed by rave reviews.

    1975 was one of the first seasons where "TV critics" were allowed advance screenings of the shows they were to review.
    In the case of ... Rotten, what the "critics" did was to give away all the good jokes before the public could see them.
    Mel Brooks's comedies always depended on the element of surprise for maximum effect; the laugh was louder if you didn't know what was coming.
    Surprise is what made Blazing Saddles a box-office smash; the word-of-mouth drew millions to see it (and everybody was careful not to give all the jokes away).
    I don't think I ever read an advance review of ... Rotten that didn't spell out almost every single gag. The net effect was to make the premiere episode play like a rerun - and to dampen interest for future shows.

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  3. Kirshner won out over Special that week because of one man and one man only: Paul Williams. Face it, he was overly exposed in the mid 70's with all his songwriting credits; plus, if you take him out of that week's Special, Phoebe Snow and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band still hold their own against that monster Kirshner lineup. Paul Williams? Give me a break!

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  4. And in the ROCKFORD episode, a small part was played by future star Gerald McRaney (SIMON & SIMON, MAJOR DAD)

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  5. "AM America" was quite the fiasco, but it's successor, "Good Morning America", has done far better.

    "AM America" got it's title because prior to it's launch, several ABC O&O's had local morning news shows titled "AM (name of city)", such as "AM New York", or "AM Detroit, etc., etc.

    After "AM America" was cancelled, Bill Beutel went back to WABC-TV New York, Peter Jennings went back to London (and eventually, the "World News Tonight" anchor desk), but I think Stephanie Edwards left the show even before it got axed.

    Reportedly, the reason "AM America" got the axe was that it was too much like "Today", whereas "GMA" was (and is) less "formal" (especially in "GMA"'s early days).

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Thanks for writing! Drive safely!