September 30, 2023

This week in TV Guide: September 30, 1972

We—and by that I mean you and me and everyone else who watches television—complain a lot about what's on, but rarely do we discuss the shows that almost made it to our home screens. Sure, we may seem some of them in the "Failed-Pilot Playhouse" anthologies that used to populate the summer months, but what about those pilots that were really good, did well in the ratings, scored big in the corporate boardroom, and seemed to be a sure thing to make it to the fall schedule—until they didn't? That's what Dick Adler's looking at this week.

    Jim Hutton and Connie Stevens
For instance, have you heard of Call Her Mom, a sitcom starring Connie Stevens and Jim Hutton? The story of a beautiful young woman who becomes a frat house-mother, was last season's highest-rated pilot movie, and yet ABC "never really looked at it as a series," according to producer Doug Cramer, who points out that CBS took The Homecoming—"which wasn't intended to be a pilot, just a television special"—and made it into The Waltons. Says Cramer, "You figure it out." One unnamed source reports that the reason it didn't make the cut was because a top network executive "just doesn't like Connie Stevens." It sounds to me as if it would have been perfect ABC fodder.

Then there was Fireball Forward, which I actually do remember. The movie starred Ben Gazzara as a tough, unorthodox World War II general, was produced by Patton's Frank McCarthy, and had thousands of feet of battle footage from both Patton and Tora! Tora! Tora! It was pretty good; even though it did come across as something of a lower-budget version of Patton. In this case, the problem wasn't the network, it was Gazzara. "Ben went into the movie without an option on his services for a series," says McCarthy. "He loved the script but didn't want to be committed." Rock Hudson (McMillan) and Anthony Quinn (The Man and the City) were of similar dispositions, but did their series "when the big money was dangled in front of them." Not so for Gazzara; "No matter what we dangled, Ben wouldn't agree—and ABC just wouldn't do the series without him." I wonder what the spin would have been on it, having had to maneuver through the tangled legacy of Vietnam.

Robert Conrad's Nick Carter, with
Shelley Winters
And so the stories go. Fitzgerald and Pride, a legal drama, started out with James Stacey and Barbara Stanwyck at the helm; when Stanwick fell ill, Susan Hayward stepped in. It got solid reviews and ratings, and supposedly CBS felt it was a toss-up between Fitzgerald and Pride and the aformentioned The Waltons. Personally, I think they should have gone the other way, but what do I know? ABC looked closely at a wheel series called The Great Detectives, which would have starred Robdert Conrad as Nick Carter, Stuart Granger as Sherlock Holmes, and Eve Arden as Hildegarde Withers. That sounds like a winner, but the network worried that viewers wouldn't go for the British background in Holmes, and that the Hildegarde Withers stories were contemporary instead of period pieces. And yet, the Nick Carter segment, which almost made it on its own, was killed because it was a period piece—New York at the turn of the century. Conrad wound up on Assignment: Vienna instead.

    Alex Dreier from Nemtin
The satiric program This Week in Nemtin came very close; it was "virtually a 30-minute ethnic joke, done as a newscast from a mythical, slightly dumb country" starring Alex Dreier (a real-life news announcer) as the anchor, and Carl Reiner, Ed Asner, and McLean Stevenson as others in the cast. The response was very positive, and it nearly made it onto the second season schedule as a replacement for Sandy Duncan's show when she became ill, but lost out to Me and the Chimp. Then the network passed on it for fall, saying it would work better as a mid-season replacement. Co-creater Saul Turtletaub says its best chance is probably in first-run syndication. The sitcom Wednesday Night Out even made it to the early fall schedules on NBC; directed by Jerry Paris, it featured Jim Hutton, Pat Harrington, and Gloria DeHaven in a tale about "four diverse couples who meet weekly at one another's homes for an evening of fun and bigotry." It apparently fell victim to the FCC's Prime Time Access Rule giving a half-hour back to the affiliates. I don't know if the show would have been any good, but that FCC access ruling remains idiotic.

So this is our story of what might-have-been. It's possible that television history could have been changed by any or all of these series, had they been picked up. The shows themselves could have been smashes, or it might have been the case that their existance meant that another show—The Waltons, for example—would have missed out. And what would Mary Tyler Moore have been like without Ed Asner, or M*A*S*H without McLean Stevenson, if they'd both been off in Nemtin instead? We'll never know, of course, but what is for sure is that television could have been much better—or much worse—with any of them on the schedule.

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Throughout the 60s and early 70s, TV Guide's weekly reviews were written by the witty and acerbic Cleveland Amory. Whenever we get the chance, we'll look at Cleve's latest take on the shows of the era. 

Forewarned is forearmed: Cleveland Amory isn't so hot on a show with the word new in the title. You know, The New Phil Silvers Show or The New Loretta Young Show or The New Dick Van Dyke Show, for starters. "Chances are," Cleve points out, "it's the same something that was wrong in the old show." (The New Price is Right is an exception to all this, I'm guessing, although maybe removing that word from the title has something to do with it still being on the air.) Happily, he's proud to announce, such is not the case with CBS's The New Bill Cosby Show.

For one thing, it really is new; the old Bill Cosby show was a sitcom on another network, whereas this is an hour-long variety show. It's also been blessed with a terrific guest-star lineup: the first episode featured Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte, while subsequent episodes have included Peter Sellers, Lily Tomlin, Tim Conway, and Anthony Newley. And then there's Cosby's supporting cast, including Lola Falana, a "charmboat" who can "not only sing and dance, but also can do introductions while doing both of them at once"; and Foster Brooks, very funny in the inaugural episode as a hard-drinking CBS executive who welcomed "Bob" Cosby to the network "On be-hic-half of the e-hic-s-hic-utives."

The real gem is Cosby himself. "You don't get tired of him at all," Amory says. "He takes his time, because it's a vital part of his humor, in whatever he does." He doesn't take too much time, though, and everything really moves around him. And the more that's required from him, the better he does. "Mr. C's new show is strictly grade A," Cleve concludes. Now, of course, we know that during all this time, Cosby was far from the avuncular charmer that we appeared to be, and that he's been accused of doing some truly horrific things, regardless of what the courts might finally decide. And it's this kind of thing that will probably keep some people from judging the merits of Cosby's work, including this show. It becomes easy to laugh at Amory's positive comments in retrospect, and difficult to look at Cosby and see what people saw at the time. I've written about this before (remember this piece?), and I don't know that things have changed much since then. But as I've said many times, you can't always view history through today's filter; if you liked Cosby in I Spy or The Cosby Show or this show, for that matter, you've got every right to feel that way. It might not be easy, but that's the way it is.

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It's a big movie week, so let's go right to Judith Crist, with her reviews of the best—and worst.

It starts with NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies and Goldie Hawn's movie debut, Cattus Flower (9:00 p.m. ET), co-starring Walter Matthau as a swinging dentist, and Ingrid Bergman as his uptight nurse. "But it is Goldie, as cuddlesome a sex kitten as ever had a bit of intelligence and a womanly heart to brighten the dumb-blonde stereotype, who, as Matthau's kooky youg mistress, provides the vitality and sheer likability to make this slikish story come alive and capture you." Goldie captured a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance, which introduced her as more than just the sock-it-to-me girl from Laugh-In

follows with the network television premiere of Love Story (9:00 p.m., ABC), the Erich Segal-penned smash hit from 1970, "that proved that schmaltz can be sold wholesale when properly packaged." Ryan O'Neal and Ali McGraw somehow copped Best Actor and Actress nominations, as did the picture (it lost to Patton, thankfully), which earns one of Crist's greatest reviews: Love Story "involved an inarticulate Harvard jock [O'Neal] and a doomed-to-die-of-an-unidentified disease Radcliffe Mozart maven [McGraw] whose articulation consisted primarily of four- and eight-letter obscenities. Since these are no-no words on television, we can anticipate a near-silent up-dated version of "Camille," with [McGraw and O'Neal] bleeping their way into the hearts of the Nation—with an unspoken 'Hello, sucker' for those who reach for the Kleenex instead of the Alka-Seltzer."

Crist suggests the Alka-Seltzer should be kept for Monday's offering, The Beguiled (9:00 p.m., NBC), a Clint Eastwood vehicle that she calls "one of 1971's worst movies, obviously designed so that the family that likes to get sick together can do it at the movies—or while watching TV." I know this has become something of a cult favorite over the years, and it gets a favorable review from Quentin Tarantino, but as far as Crist is concerned, it's "a must for sadists and woman-haters." Oh well, she never did like Clint.

I've seen portions of The Beguiled, probably on one of its many showings on TBS (or was it TNT? I can never remember), but not enough to make a judgment. One movie I have seen, though, is 1949's The Stratton Story, the Tuesday night late movie (11:30 p.m., CBS), with Jimmy Stewart giving a moving performance as real-life Chicago White Sox pitcher Monty Stratton, who made a comeback after losing a leg in a hunting accident. It's one of those rare sports films that doesn't descend into schmaltz, probably because of Stewart and June Allyson, who plays his wife. Crist calls Stewart's performance "a personal triumph," and adds that "even non-ball-fans will thrill to ninth-inning excitement on the diamond and the heart and sentiment of the story."

Rolling Man, Wednesday's Movie of the Week on ABC (8:30 p.m.), stars Dennis Weaver as a man just out of prison, looking for revenge against "the man who wrecked his life," in what Crist sees as the "usual melodrama." And on Thursday, The Undefeated (9:00 p.m., CBS) offers John Wayne, Rock Hudson, and Rebel soldiers, Mexican bandits, Indians on the warpath, and Andrew V. McLaglen's "usual immortalize-the-worst-of-Western-cliches direction." Compared to Love Story and The Beguiled, though, it "almost seems bearable." 

The week ends on a positive note, though, with Friday's rerun of 1967's To Sir, with Love (9:00 p.m., CBS), starring Sidney Poitier as a dedicated teacher trying to get through to students in the London slums. It's sentimental and cliche, of course, but Poitier is terrific, as is Judy Geeson; Crist says it has "a charm that I, for one, find irrestible." And, of course, there's Lulu's hit rendition of the theme, which should have, but wasn't, nominated for an Oscar. For trivia fans, the movie was written and directed by James Clavell, before he started writing mammothly successful novels about Japan.

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But wait—there's more! Joan Crawford makes a rare television appearance Saturday on The Sixth Sense (10:00 p.m.), ABC's paranormal series starring Gary Collins as a parapsychology researcher. (You're perhaps more familiar with this series having seen chopped-up versions of it inserted into the syndicated release of Night Gallery.) Tonight, Crawford plays "the terrified victim of amateur psychics planning to prove heir powers by—quite literally—scaring her to death. It's directed by John Newland, best-known as the host of the classic One Step Beyond.

Johnny Carson's actually working on Monday, and for good reason: it's his 10th anniversary as host of The Tonight Show, and the stars are out to help him celebrate. (11:30 p.m., NBC; the prime-time celebrations haven't started yet) Among the luminaries: Jack Benny, Joey Bishop, George Burns, Sammy Davis Jr., NBC president Don Durgin, Jerry Lewis, Ronald Reagan, and Rowan and Martin. You can see the whole show here, and it's worth it; I remember staying up late to watch, even though I had to get up for school the next day. Boy, that kind of thing right there makes retirement worth it.

Sticking with late-night, Dick Cavett has another of his single-guest shows, and tonight his only guest is Bob Hope. who can easily fill 90 minutes. (Wednesday, 11:30 p.m., ABC) Here it is, if you're looking for proof. And earlier that night on the same network, Robert Goulet is the only guest on an all-music episode of The Julie Andrews Hour (10:00 p.m.). The pair, performing together for the first time since their Broadway run in Camelot, do medleys from Broadway shows that were playing at the same time, as well as Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. You can see that on YouTube as well!

And there's one more show we ought to note: The Last of the Curlews (Wednesday, 4:30 p.m.) the debut episode of the ABC Afterschool Special (you can, of course, see it here), which would be a mainstay of ABC's daytime schedule for 25 years, with 154 episodes from 1972 to 1997. During that run, the series won 51 Daytime Emmy Awards and four Peabody Awards.

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Earlier, I made a snide comment about the FCC's Prime Time Access Ruling, for which I have absolutely no intention of apologizing. It was intended to provide greater community-oriented programming, but instead wound up giving us shows like Police Surgeon and endless strips of sitcom reruns. (There's also Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, which ironically had the reverse effect of making local schedules look even more homogeneous, rather than being tailored to the needs of individual markets.)

But, as Daniel Yergin points out, there is one redeeming thing to have come out of this misguided order, and that's the appearance of Doctor in the House, an import from London Weekend Television (LWT) that's making a surprise breakthrough on American television. We've become accustomed to seeing British imports over here, especially on PBS, but that hasn't always been the case; While American shows have become increasingly prevalent across the ocean, Yergin notes that it's been mostly one-way traffic.* Richard Price, LWT's international sales agent, says that with the U.S. market comprising well over 50 percent of the entire world market, it's vital to make entry. Doctor in the House, however, was a tough sell. 

*I'm assuming that Yergin is discounting programs isuch as The Avengers, Danger Man, The Prisoner, and The Saint, which appeared on network television (rather than in syndication) and, in some cases, were joint productions with American networks. 

"Programming people in the U.S. had traditionally been worried about the American backwoods," Price says, echoing the concerns we read earlier about the proposed Sherlock Holmes series. "We told them that with an ever-larger number of people moving across the Atlantic, breaking down barriers, there would be more acceptance of English attitudes and accents." Finally, he was able to convince some executives from Group W to watch an episode, and "they fell out of their chairs." 

It seems surprising to hear all this provincial talk about British shows, given how prevalent Anglophiles are today, but it's true that PBS had a lot to do with the growth of British TV here—so much so, in fact, that early critics of PBS claimed the network's dependence on the BBC stunted the growth of programs made in America. That's a topic for another day (and, indeed, there's an article in this issue by Dr. John C. Schwarzwalder, a top executive at Minneapolis-St. Paul public-TV station KTCA and a longtime critic of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, on how public television needs to be reformed), but for now we can see that the British invasion of American television is in full swing, and there hasn't been a letup yet.

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MST3K alert: War of the Monsters, aka Gamera vs. Barugon (Japanese; 1966) Tokyo ravaged by special-effect creations. Kojiro Jongo, Akira Natsuki, Kyoko Enami. (Saturday, midnight, WRCB in Chattanooga) The description really sells this movie short; it's the long-awaited sequel to 1965's Gamera, the Giant Monster, and the 13th movie in the epic saga of the flying, flame-spewing turtle who started out as a monster determined to wreak havoc on Tokyo but morphed into "a protector of humanity especially children, nature, and the Earth from extraterrestrial races and other giant monsters." The lesson, I suppose, is to be good to giant monsters, and they'll be good to you. TV  


  1. Let's get this out of the way right off the bat:
    Today - Saturday, September 30, 2023 - is my 73rd birthday.
    Meaning that when this was a new issue of TV Guide, I was twenty-one years old: legally of age, registered to vote, gainfully employed, all like that there.
    I actually have direct memories of many of the shows you're snarking about here.
    Samples below:
    Call Her Mom was a deliberate farce, aimed at the notion that "school comedies" were headed in an "edgier" direction.
    One of the opening gags showed a statue of the school's founder, with his quote on the base: "Education is not that bad."
    (Hey, I thought it was funny ...)
    Even in 1972, this came off as retro, when the whole business was headed in the opposite direction; that had to have been a factor here.

    This Week In Nemtin had been on CBS's shelf for quite a while.
    The stars you mention here were making network-mandated guest appearances (all were established on other CBS shows), and were not going to be regulars on Nemtin.
    As to the series itself, this format would have run out of gas (or jokes) in about three weeks, tops.
    (And after all these years, I still believe that Alex Dreier would have been the perfect choice to play Nero Wolfe on TV - only Rex Stout was still alive, so there too ...).

    As to that "British Invasion", keep in mind that at this point most British imports were regarded as placeholders for off-season use; the Big 3 networks were shopping close to home for the full-time stuff.

    The Prime-Time Access Rule was spotted out early on as a scam devised by a Westinghouse honcho named Don McGannon, to put his own company in the syndication business; that it backfired surprised few in TV, who knew that McGannon had antagonized many in the business for years ("McGannon prays in public" was the major quote about him - and it was not meant as a compliment).

    I really shouldn't do this so early in the morning: I might have more later on ... maybe.

    1. Happy birthday, Mike! And many more! Yes, I think you're right - Alex Dreier would have made a very good Wolfe; from his commentaries I've heard, he would have soounded just right!

    2. To which I add this:
      If you'd grown up in Chicago in the Fifties and Sixties as I did -
      - and if you'd seen and heard Alex Dreier doing the ten o'clock every night on Channel 5, and then on Channel 7 - looking straight at the camera, never smiling, booming out the stories with full stentorian authority -
      - well, growing up with that face and voice as I had, by the time I started reading Rex Stout as a teenager, it was settled (but who would have been Archie?).
      Those definitely were the days; I only wish that the local stations had saved some kinescopes, so you could see for yourself ...

  2. It was through PBS that I was introduced to British TV comedies. Networks had no problem with the Avengers, the Saint ect., but thought Americans wouldn't get the comedies because England is "a class society" (of course, there's nothing like class distinctions here in the US, eyeroll).
    It wasn't until Cable TV that I saw Britcoms other than Are you Being Served?, Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, and Benny Hill (considered x-rated in the 80s) that were constantly being rerun on PBS.
    I never saw Doctor in the House until it showed up on streaming. I wasn't that impressed with it, but one episode written by John Cleese, served a sort-of backdoor pilot for Fawlty Towers.

    1. Good observation on the comedies, James! I think I'll be doing something in the future on the British invasion of American television.

  3. " One unnamed source reports that the reason it didn't make the cut was because a top network executive "just doesn't like Connie Stevens"

    Myself, I can only wonder what the hell is wrong with that executive.

    1. Agreed - she can get a little annoying in the later years of Hawaiian Eye, but she certainly was winsome in the beginning.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!