Friday, December 8, 2017

Ten Forgotten TV Shows I’d Like to Watch

I’ve always wondered why critically-panned movies that bomb at the box office are still easy to find, while many television shows that suffer a similar fate disappear, never to be seen again. Surely, if there is an audience for Halle Berry’s take on Catwoman, there are also people who would be curious to check out David Soul’s take on Rick Blaine in his 1983 prequel to Casablanca

Here are ten shows long out of circulation that I’d love to watch. Perhaps they would prove disappointing, but as a connoisseur of the Comfort TV era I’m sure I could find redeeming features in all of them.

For the record – I have seen individual episodes of some of these, courtesy of YouTube and other sources. The fact that they’re still on the list means I enjoyed them enough to want to see more.

Window on Main Street (1961)
Thanks to Shout Factory’s Father Knows Best DVD sets, I’ve been able to watch several episodes of this series. It was the second collaboration for Robert Young and Roswell Rogers, who wrote many of Father Knows Best’s most memorable episodes. 

Here, Young plays Cameron Garrett Brooks, a moderately successful author who returns to his hometown of Millsberg to write a book about folks who live there. Each episode of this warm and wise series introduced new characters dealing with the kind of everyday issues that television no longer cares to explore.  

O.K. Crackerby (1965)
This time of year we all get our Burl Ives fix through the annual broadcast of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. But if you’ve also seen The Bold Ones: The Lawyers you know what a compelling presence Ives can be when he’s not a stop-motion snowman. In O.K. Crackerby he played a rustic but filthy-rich Oklahoma widower trying to gain acceptance into a more refined social set. I have no doubt his charisma could carry even a sub-standard show. 

The Man Who Never Was (1966)
Here’s a series that brings together two actors that deserved more substantive careers. Robert Lansing, a natural leading man best known to TV fans for 12 O’Clock High, and the elegant Dana Wynter, a familiar face from 40 years of guest-starring roles on shows from Wagon Train to The Rockford Files

In The Man Who Never Was Lansing played Peter Murphy, an American secret agent who looks exactly like millionaire playboy Mark Wainwright. When foreign agents aiming for Murphy kill Wainwright instead, Murphy assumes his identity – which includes marriage to the millionaire’s wife, Eva (Wynter). Romance and espionage with likable leads, plus the show was filmed in Europe, instead of on those European backlots at Universal that never fooled anyone. 

The Smith Family (1971)
It was a series produced by Don Fedderson Productions (Family Affair, My Three Sons) starring Henry Fonda as a police detective and Ron Howard (between The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days) as his son.  

The Smith Family lasted 39 episodes, and you’d think that many shows coupled with such an impressive pedigree would have earned it a DVD release by now. It could still happen. 

Diana (1973)
I’ve seen one episode of this situation comedy, and based on that experience I’m not surprised it didn’t last. But the ‘Diana’ of the title is Diana Rigg, so I’d gladly watch the rest of it anyway. 

Ozzie’s Girls (1973)
I’ve spent countless happy hours watching Ozzie Nelson do next to nothing on the groundbreaking sitcom The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet. It remains one of my most treasured Comfort TV shows. So of course I’d be an eager viewer of this syndicated show that debuted seven years after that series ended its 14-season run. 

The set-up had Ozzie and Harriet Nelson taking in two college girls as boarders. I love the idea of having one of television’s original idealized sitcom couples negotiate how times have changed since the 1950s, this time while dispensing sage advice to girls instead of their two famous sons. 

Hizzoner (1979)
I always enjoy watching David Huddleston, whether it’s as Santa Claus in a movie that should have been better, or as recurring characters on Petrocelli and The Wonder Years, or in my favorite episodes of The Waltons (“The Literary Man”) and Charlie’s Angels (“Angels in Chains”). So I’d probably like this sitcom in which he starred as the mayor of a small Midwestern town. Plus, each episode featured a musical number, and I’m always a sucker for musical numbers. 

Time Express (1979)
At a time when The Love Boat and Fantasy Island were taking guest stars on memorable journeys, the miniseries Time Express offered a different kind of wish fulfillment. Vincent Price starred as the conductor of a train that transported people to pivotal moments in their pasts, where they could change decisions they would later regret. That’s a very good premise, though apparently not enough viewers thought so at the time. 

Star of the Family (1982)
A talented teenage singer (Kathy Maisnick) starts getting show business offers, much to the consternation of her overprotective firefighter dad (Brian Dennehy). 

I saw a clip from one of the episodes on an installment of Battle of the Network Stars, when Maisnick competed for the ABC team. It was enough to pique my interest. 

Chicago Story (1982)
Ninety-minute dramas were a rarity on TV, especially after the heyday of the anthology shows of the 1950s. Chicago Story was an ambitious attempt to tell bigger stories, while bringing together three stalwart TV genres – cop shows, medical shows and lawyer shows. I’m intrigued by how this series would take stories from one setting to another, and have the characters from the different genres interact. 

Model and Bond Girl Maud Adams was top billed as Dr. Judith Bergstrom, and the large cast featured several actors with better shows in their future: Dennis Franz (playing a policeman – what else?), Molly Cheek, Craig T. Nelson and John Mahoney. 


  1. Notes:

    - The Man Who Never Was:
    Robert Lansing wasn't the original choice for the (dual) lead.
    When the pilot was made early in '66, the lead roles was (were?) played by Donald Harron, a Canadian 'second lead' who was all over prime time back then.
    John Newland, who was producing, had a sale with ABC - or so he thought.
    It seems that an interested sponsor didn't like Donald Harron, who'd usually played villains in his other TV shots; Mr. Sponsor made Harron's replacement a condition of sale.
    At the same time, ABC had a contract hold on Robert Lansing, for a Western, The Long Hunt Of April Savage, which was having "creative differences" amongst its creators.
    ABC thereby ordered Lansing into Man Who ..., thus solving two problems.
    The last-minute change forced Newland to make another casting change, which is why an actor named Alex Davion came to replace the original antagonistic brother - Donald Sutherland.
    Things happen ...

    - Hizzoner:
    David Huddleston said that he used the just-passed Mayor of Chicago, Richard J. Daley, as a model for his characteriztion.
    My family, watching in Chicago, took note of this - and of the casting of comic actor Mickey Deems as Hizzoner's bumbling assistant.
    My father was first to notice that Mickey Deems bore a notable facial resemblance to Michael Bilandic, Daley's successor as Mayor of Chicago.
    That was probably just coincidence ...
    ... or maybe, to use Mickey Deems's catch phrase, " ... Human error, your honor!"

  2. How about "Rituals," a five-day-a-week soap opera that aired in first-run syndication during the 1984-85 television season?

  3. I remember watching O.K. Crackerby! I'd love to see The Man Who Never Was (which I barely remember) and also Blue Light (which I do remember).

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  5. I remember "The Smith Family" and knew it as the next show "Opie Taylor" was in. This was Ron Howard's first show after leaving The Andy Griffith Show. He was still under 18 but leaving an established, long term role had no detriment for him as his acting ability overcame any chance of typecasting.

    I wasn't a fan of Henry Fonda in my youth but I knew his importance in Hollywood. My family watched this show each week and I recall int being on for two seasons as I distinctly remember two different introduction sequences. The show had only a little comedic elements but each week featured the Smith family coping with dad being a cop (who never got hurt on the job and ran no risk of not coming home on time).

    It was mostly filler television. When there are only three channels with the other two showing westerns, this is what we watched to get through thirty minutes until the real entertainment came on. It wasn't bad, the scripts had no rough or questionable dialog, but it lacked a cohesiveness and chemistry. The family members didn't mesh well. As the dad, Fonda really didn't fit into this family as he was a little stiff. I believe that may have lead to its cancellation.

    Like with "He & She" I was too young to get all the nuances. I watched it weekly but I didn't miss the show when they pulled it. He & She I would like to see as an adult to gain a better prospective. By watching it today nothing would change about my feelings for The Smith Family.

    Most don't remember it because after a couple of episodes you made this the time to make popcorn. The ratings dropped and the network knew it was time to pull the plug.

    I hear that Ron did well after leaving the series too! Ron Howard and Bill Mumy were two child stars of my era that were never limited to mere childhood fame. I wish I could have said that for many others stuck in a catch phrase or a costume and never progressing. The kids from The Brady Bunch, the oldest three from The Partridge Family, the kids from The Waltons should have had lengthy careers and gone on to movies. Not having that weekly paycheck really hurts when you're typecast but otherwise forgotten.

    1. Thanks for the details on The Smith Family. It's hard to believe something with Henry Fonda could be just average, but that's what I thought about "The Jimmy Stewart Show" as well, until I saw it.

  6. On my list is "Rafferty", the 1977 Patrick McGoohan vehicle about a cranky doctor.

    Also, the "Rockford Files" spin-off "Richie Brockelman - Private Eye".

  7. Just came upon this post and hope it's not too late to shoehorn in a comment. O.K. CRACKERBY is a fun show. I bought the complete series from a guy in an alley (or the Internet-era equivalent). They're a lot of fun, and Burl Ives is bigger than life. Hal England co-stars as tutor to the Crackerby kids, among whom is the beautiful Brooke Adams. And old singing cowboy Dick Foran is on hand as Slim, though he never interacts with the cast, unfortunately. Lots of good guest stars, too.

    Burl Ives of course went on to another series we enjoy: THE BOLD ONES: THE LAWYERS. His character is similar--a bombastic blowhard that is a delight to listen to. That voice!

    Speaking of THE BOLD ONES, co-star of THE NEW DOCTORS David Hartman has a short-lived series my late mother used to watch that I barely recall but would love to see now: LUCAS TANNER. Hartman played a schoolteacher on that one.

    A later series my kid brother and I loved that came and went too quickly was NIGHT SCHOOL starring James Gregory and Randolph Mantooth. Wow--BARNEY MILLER meets EMERGENCY! Add to my list THE PARTNERS with a post-GET SMART Don Adams and DELVECCHIO with a pre-TAXI Judd Hirsch. And a sentimental favorite: MAKIN' IT from around 1980 with David Naughton.