Thursday, August 4, 2016

More Retro TV Nights

Back in 2013 I posted a piece about some of the ways classic TV fans watch their DVD collections. One of the most intriguing methods is recreating an evening of network television as it was broadcast 30 or 40 years ago. It’s a way to vicariously travel back into the past and watch the programs that people watched back then, in the order in which they watched them.

Since then, more classic series have become available on DVD, as well as via such nostalgia channels as Me-TV and Antenna. That means it’s now possible to enjoy even more retro TV nights.

Journey back with me to a time when there were just three networks, TV Guide was a quality publication, and you’d never see a commercial that contained the phrase “Ask your doctor about…”

NBC: Wednesday, 1971

NBC Mystery Movie
Night Gallery

One of the benefits of this lineup is variety, as with the Mystery Movie you can alternate as NBC did between Columbo, McMillan & Wife and McCloud. Adam-12 is one of the better police procedurals, and as you’d expect from a Jack Webb series finds much to respect in the job of law enforcement. Rod Serling’s Night Gallery was inconsistent, but its best installments make the series a worthy successor to The Twilight Zone

CBS: Monday, 1974

Medical Center

I’d be curious to hear the strategy behind these pairings – if indeed there was any. How many viewers of a traditional western like Gunsmoke, now nearing the end of its 20-year run, did CBS believe would stick around for the liberal politics of Maude? That’s like following The Lawrence Welk Show with MTV’s Headbangers Ball

From there it’s an easier transition to Rhoda, another sitcom with a strong-willed and charismatic female lead, before delving into disease of the week drama with Chad Everett on Medical Center

ABC: Tuesday, 1987

Who’s the Boss
Growing Pains

The theme for this evening could be “shows that didn’t age as well as we expected.” Who’s the Boss and Growing Pains ran eight seasons and seven seasons, respectively, and together still provide a likable hour of family sitcom fun. Classics? Not on my scorecard but yours may vary. Moonlighting was a revelation in its day – a brilliant speedball of detective fiction and fourth-wall breaking anarchy. The magic was short-lived (barely three seasons, though the show ran five) and the series ended awkwardly amidst declining quality and star ego turmoil. Thirtysomething, likewise, seemed like something brand new when it debuted – a postmodern baby boomer domestic drama. It was popular and critically acclaimed, but was also derided for too much navel-gazing. I wouldn’t revisit this lineup often, but it makes an interesting diversion from the warhorses in my collection. 

NBC: Thursday, 1964

Daniel Boone
Dr. Kildare

Here you have three shows with absolutely nothing in common, begging the question of why some long-forgotten NBC programmer decided to put them together. I tried this rotation once and it didn’t really work for me. But if your tastes run to the eclectic you may enjoy an evening that starts in 18th century Kentucky, segues into medical crises in 20th century Blair General Hospital, then lightens the mood with a mouthy maid, Missy and Mr. B. 

ABC: Tuesday, 1975

Happy Days
Welcome Back, Kotter
The Rookies
Marcus Welby, M.D.

It’s Tiger Beat night! Henry Winkler and Scott Baio were always in the teen magazines, as was John Travolta in his Barbarino days. And Michael Ontkean was considered quite the dreamboat on The Rookies (he left before the 1975 season, but if you're going to try this lineup it's acceptable to cheat with a 1974 episode). With Marcus Welby it wasn’t Robert Young that made the girls swoon but costar James Brolin as motorcycle-riding surgeon Steven Kiley. Back in the day he was cooler than Clooney on E.R

CBS: Friday, 1981

The Incredible Hulk
The Dukes of Hazzard

Now we’re talking. Happy memories for me here, as in 1981 Friday meant sleeping late the next morning and no school for two days. I was primed for escapist entertainment and CBS obliged. The Incredible Hulk found an audience in an era when comic book adaptations were scarce, thanks mainly to Bill Bixby’s poignant portrayal of David Banner. The Dukes of Hazzard wasn’t based on a comic book but it might as well have been, while Dallas offered a more upscale take on Southern pride. For different reasons none of these shows could be taken seriously – just the way I liked them. 


  1. Well, I’ll chip in some of my favorite “classic series” lineups

    • ABC: Friday, 1970
    The Brady Bunch
    Nanny and the Professor
    The Partridge Family
    That Girl
    The Odd Couple
    Love American Style

    At 9 years old, I was the perfect age for this collection of harmless, family sitcoms. And you can’t beat that 10 o’clock hour with Randall & Klugman and some funny sketches and bits on the LAS anthology. (and like you said on your Friday iineup, I was allowed to stay up to the end knowing I could sleep in the next day)

    • CBS: Thursday, 1976
    The Waltons
    Hawaii Five-O
    Barnaby Jones

    The Waltons were in their 5th season, Five-O in their 9th and Barnaby in it’s 3rd, so each series had seen better days, but they were solid dramas, with interesting characters and diverse stories. (a depression era family, a tropical police force and a senior citizen private eye). Besides, CBS must have been happy with this lineup. It remained unchanged for 3 years.

    • CBS: Saturday, 1973
    All In The Family
    The Mary Tyler Moore Show
    The Bob Newhart Show
    The Carol Burnett Show

    My ALL TIME favorite lineup. Three solid hours of comedy. Shows that were right around their prime.
    I’m really glad I wasn’t old enough to go out on Saturday nights in ’73!

    Oh, and no offense to NBC but I can’t remember ever staying with NBC the whole night, back in the day.

  2. The Kraft hour following Hazel (Suspense Theater interrupted monthly by Music Hall hosted by Perry Como) is also available in bits on YouTube, as I've seen openings for Suspense Theater and full episodes of Music Hall, at least from when Milton Berle hosted a few years earlier.

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  4. The original Mission: Impossible TV Series is one of THE best! (The Tom Cruise movies can't even come close in terms of the plots and acting). ALL of these years later, it's still entertaining to watch :)

    1. Unknown, do you think Tom Cruise has relieved himself all over the original "Mission: Impossible" TV series? Cruise's first "Mission: Impossible" feature film made Jim Phelps a villain!

  5. I am in no means trying to poke you and your fine blog, but the WEDNESDAY Mystery movies were not Colombo, McMillan and Wife, or McCloud. They were on Sunday nights. The WEDNESDAY Mystery movies were Banacek, Cool Million, The Snoop Sisters and my favorite, Amy Prentiss (Jessica Walters as the first female Police Chief).

    These shows are not as remembered as the Sunday Night powerhouse, but they deserve recognition.

    1. You are correct- thanks for the clarification!

    2. Actually, David - You were correct.

      When NBC launched the Mystery Movie in the fall of '71, the initial rotation was Columbo and the Mcs.
      The following fall, '72, these three were moved to Sunday, and NBC launched three newbies on Wednesdays: Banacek,Cool Million, and Madigan.
      The fall after that, '73, Banacek was the only returnee, joined by Snoop Sisters and several others which didn't last as long.
      Oh, and Amy Prentiss was part of the Sunday rotation - briefly, but that's when it aired (to add to the confusion, the pilot ran as a two-parter on Ironside, on Thursdays).

      Sorry about the delay, but I only just figured out Google ...