Friday, September 8, 2017

When Septembers Were Special


Septembers aren’t what they used to be.

When the shows that are now comfort TV classics were still in first run, September was the month fans anticipated with the same excitement as any of the festive holidays that followed. This was the time when new programs debuted and old friends returned with new episodes. It was fun and exciting and helped take some of the sting away from the end of summer and the start of school. 



It hasn’t been like that for a long time. These days new shows debut on Netflix every month, and if we don’t watch them now we can get around to it next month or next year. Yes, the broadcast networks still have a fall season, but most new shows don’t come back until October...and then disappear a few weeks later after their “fall finales.”

Let’s hop into the WABAC machine and go back in time to celebrate when things were better, which is what we do best around here. Fifty years is a nice, round number, and that was a particularly memorable September of television. 

Here are some of the more interesting programs that debuted in September of 1967. 

The Carol Burnett Show
We remember it as a ‘70s show now, when it anchored some of the most amazing Saturday night programming lineups ever assembled (The Mary Tyler Moore ShowThe Bob Newhart ShowMASHAll in the Family). But The Carol Burnett Show debuted on a Monday night in 1967, following another impressive evening of CBS television – Gunsmoke at 7:30, The Lucy Show at 8:30, The Andy Griffith Show at 9, and Family Affair at 9:30. Those truly were the days. 



George of the Jungle
This Jay Ward classic has been popular for so long it seems surprising that there were only 17 episodes. It’s still pretty funny stuff, and better than the live-action film it inspired starring Brendan Fraser. Bet you can still sing the theme song. 



The Phil Donahue Show
Here’s a program that deserves praise for what it was, and condemnation for what it inspired. Phil Donahue debuted in Dayton, Ohio with an afternoon talk show that covered controversial, once taboo TV subject matter with empathy and compassion. It brought issues into the open that certainly comforted viewers dealing with the same challenges, but who were used to suffering in silence. Unfortunately, its success opened the floodgates to a zillion inferior copycat shows and impelled us toward a culture where people won’t shut up about their problems. If there were no Donahue there would never have been a Jerry Springer. In that light, you wonder if it was worth it.



He & She
This sitcom featuring real-life married couple Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss was considered one of the more likely breakout hits of the 1967 season. I’ve watched some episodes on YouTube and I don’t see the same potential, though I’ve never been on the Richard Benjamin bandwagon. 



The Invaders
This Quinn Martin production was a follow-up of sorts to The Fugitive, which had recently ended its four-season run. Here we had another man alone (architect David Vincent, played by Roy Thinnes) but this time his mission was to convince anyone that would listen that aliens had infiltrated humanity, and were planning to conquer earth. The Invaders lasted just two seasons but like any decent sci-fi show it built a cult following that endures to this day. 



Cowboy in Africa
Never saw the show but I like the title, and since Chuck Connors played the cowboy I’d have given it a try, if I weren’t three years old when it debuted. The premise had Connors as a rodeo champion hired by an Englishman to bring modern ranching methods to Kenya. 



Mannix
One of TV’s best two-fisted detective shows, but season one did not feature the same Joe Mannix most familiar to fans. In the beginning, Joe worked for a high-tech firm called Intertect, which used a sophisticated computer to crack cases. That didn’t suit Mannix and it wasn’t surprising when the Interact stuff was dropped by season two. 



Coronet Blue
I’m cheating with this one because Coronet Blue first aired in May, but the premise was so intriguing I couldn’t leave it off a list of ’67 debuts. Frank Converse played a man with no known identity who is tossed over the side of a ship and left for dead by some shady associates. When he is rescued he doesn’t know who he is, but the one phrase he recalls is ‘coronet blue.’ What does it mean? The mystery was never solved, since the show never made it to the fall schedule. 



Judd for the Defense
When I first discovered The Donna Reed Show on Nick at Nite, one of the greatest joys attached to that experience was being introduced to Carl Betz, who played Donna’s pediatrician husband, Alex Stone. He immediately became, for me, one of TV’s best dads. Judd for the Defense was his next series – he played a crusading lawyer who tackled cases that were often inspired by the most divisive issues of the day (and in 1967 there were no shortage of those). The only complete episodes on YouTube are in such lousy shape that I’m holding off on watching, and clinging to the long shot hope of a DVD release. The series lasted just two seasons. 



Spider-Man
There were other superhero cartoons around in 1967, including shows about Aquaman and The Fantastic Four. But Spider-Man was in a different class. The animation, though limited, was a cut above other series, and the earlier stories, especially the re-telling of the character’s origin, has a surprising gravitas for a children’s show.



4 comments:

  1. Joe Mannix worked for Intertect, not Interact, in Season 1. Me-TV is in reruns of the show's 8th & final season now, so it should be getting back to Intertect days in a couple weeks now.

    I also miss a couple features associated with the new tv seasons, the preview specials of both network fall schedules and of Saturday morning tv schedules. I last saw (part of) a network preview special in 2001, when Rob Lowe hosted an NBC preview show on Pax-TV, which was owned by or associated with NBC by then. The events of 9/11 moved all the premieres a week back from when they were announced & scheduled. The last network Saturday morning preview special was "Who Shrunk Saturday Morning", aired in Sept. 1989 on NBC and starring the kids from SAVED BY THE BELL, who moved from Disney Channel to NBC that fall. This special can be watched on YouTube now.

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  2. Carol Burnett's show, as well as all the other shows mentioned that night, were on Monday, not Tuesday, nights. That was truly a golden lineup for CBS, and later Carol Burnett became part of scheduling history again, anchoring CBS super-strong Saturday night lineup 1973-77.

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    1. Correct on both counts, Jon - thanks! I made the changes.

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  3. Actually, "The Invaders" premiered on January 10, 1967. The final installment of "The Fugitive" aired on August 29, 1967.

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