Friday, June 28, 2013

One and Done: Seven Short-Lived Series Worth Remembering

Longevity isn’t always a measure of quality when it comes to television (see: Step by Step). That’s especially true over the past 5-10 years when shows like Wonderfalls and Freaks and Geeks and Firefly were pulled before their time. I thought Pan Am had its moments, too.

That was not the case in the classic TV era. Back then if a series was canceled after one season it was usually for good reason. Networks were slower to go to the hook, allowing shows like The Dick Van Dyke Show and Cheers to find their audience despite low-rated first seasons.

Unfortunately, not every show was so lucky. Here are seven Comfort TV series that disappeared too quickly, but still have their fans.

My World and Welcome To It (1969)
Maybe its blend of live-action and animation was ahead of its time. Maybe its basis in the writing of James Thurber made it sound too highbrow – or maybe it was just scheduled against Gunsmoke and never had a chance. Whatever prompted its early cancellation, My World and Welcome To It is one of television’s buried treasures. Sample the clips on YouTube and see if you don’t fall under its whimsical spell. 

Ellery Queen (1975)
After creating one of TV’s greatest detectives in Columbo, Richard Levinson and William Link introduced Ellery Queen to television, in the genial presence of star Jim Hutton. Set in the 1940s, the series revolved around Queen assisting his police detective father (David Wayne) on baffling murder mysteries. The high point of each episode had Hutton turning to the camera and addressing the audience at home, just before he cracked the case. “Have you figured it out?” he’d ask, before reminding us of the suspects and the most important clues. Rarely has it been more fun to match wits with the characters on screen. 

Gidget (1965)
Gidget made Sally Field famous but didn’t find an audience until it was rerun over the summer, not surprising for a show about surfing under the California sun. By then the show had already been canceled, and ABC scrambled to find another vehicle for its breakout star. The best they could do was The Flying Nun, which lasted three seasons but doesn’t hold up nearly as well. For all its carefree sand and surf fun, what really made Gidget memorable was the heartfelt connection between Field and costar Don Porter, who created one of TV’s most appealing father-daughter relationships. 

The Green Hornet (1966)
This Batman spin-off was played with similar visual style but less camp, and is best remembered now for Bruce Lee, who appeared opposite Van Williams as the Green Hornet’s high-kicking chauffeur, Kato. It was the first time many Americans had seen martial arts performed by a master, and the charismatic Lee insisted on authenticity in the fight choreography. Given the shortness of his subsequent film career, it would be wonderful to have more Green Hornet episodes to enjoy. 

The Magician (1973)
Two magic-themed films recently opened to mixed reviews (The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and Now You See Me), and neither was one-tenth as entertaining as The Magician, starring Bill Bixby as a magic man who helps those in trouble with his powers of prestidigitation. Bixby is one of TV’s most appealing leading men, as well as a talented amateur magician. Every illusion in the series was performed with no camera tricks or special effects.  

Jennifer Slept Here (1983)
Ann Jillian deserved a more substantive TV career. She got close with It’s a Living, but with all its title changes and timeslot changes and personnel changes the series never really found its footing. Jennifer Slept Here was her second shot. The high-concept premise has a family moving into a Beverly Hills mansion once owned by glamorous movie star Jennifer Farrell, now deceased.  As a ghost, she appears to the family’s 14 year-old son, and helps him adjust to high school, meeting girls and life in California. Jillian elevated her material as she always did, but the show could not compete against Webster and The Dukes of Hazzard.

Tenspeed and Brown Shoe (1980)
Can too much promotion kill a TV show? I think so. I never watched Malcolm in the Middle because of the obnoxious nonstop promos that FOX aired leading up to its debut. ABC tried that same desperate strategy for Tenspeed and Brown Shoe, which teamed Ben Vereen and Jeff Goldbum as unlikely detectives. Result? Big numbers for the first episode followed by rapidly diminishing returns. Perhaps if the network had merely promised a good show rather than the landmark television event of the season, viewers would have been more patient. 

1 comment:

  1. I submit T.H.E. Cat (NBC, 1966-67), starring Robert Loggia as former circus aerialist and reformed cat burglar Thomas Hewitt Edward Cat. Though Green Hornet had Bruce Lee, in every other respect, the pulpy and exciting T.H.E. Cat was everything in tone and execution that the Green Hornet series should've been. Here's a sample.