Thursday, September 29, 2022

My Journey Through 1970s TV: Saturdays in 1970

 

With this piece we’ve completed year one in my journey through the 1970s, and the quest to watch at least one episode from that amazing television decade. Let’s see if the prime time schedules for Saturday were good enough to keep people home.

 

NBC

The Andy Williams Show

Adam-12

NBC Saturday Night Movie

 

As we approach another holiday season, it brings back memories of hosts like Andy Williams and the songs that played on our turntables every December. This was the final year for Williams’ acclaimed variety series, though he’d return to television for Christmas specials for many years to come.

 

Adam-12 was the second most successful paradigm of the Jack Webb school of drama. 

 


The series, which followed the daily routine of L.A. cops Malloy and Reed, had the same poker-faced leads, the same awkward insertions of humor, and the same “don’t mess with authority” message of Webb’s signature series, Dragnet. It’s an approach that no current TV drama would even attempt. But it worked, and occasionally delivered unforgettable moments, as in the remarkable episode “Elegy For a Pig.”

 

ABC

Let’s Make a Deal

The Newlywed Game

The Lawrence Welk Show

The Most Deadly Game

 

Game shows pop up in prime time more often these days, but it also happened back when they were usually found in morning and afternoon time slots. I’m not sure the occasionally risqué Newlywed Game was the best lead-in for the ultra-wholesome Lawrence Welk Show, though neither series ranked in the top 30 that year. 

 

 

“Murder is the most deadly game…these three criminologists play it.” So begins the intro to the short-lived (12 episodes) The Most Deadly Game, an Aaron Spelling series starring Ralph Bellamy, George Maharis and Yvette Mimieux. I’ve watched 3 or 4 episodes, and there wasn’t one part of it that worked for me. 

 


 

We’re supposed to believe that this trio of experts can figure out baffling murder mysteries, but their investigation strategies reveal no talents beyond those developed by every TV detective. Bellamy, as “Mr. Arcane” is certainly no Sherlock Holmes, and the on-again, off-again flirtation between Maharis and Mimieux is bereft of any chemistry. I’m an easy mark for ‘70s stuff, but even I am not this easy.

 

CBS

Mission: Impossible

My Three Sons

Arnie

The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Mannix

 

This was the weakest of Mission: Impossible’s seven seasons. The series was never as good after the season three departures of Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, and after relying on guest female leads in season four, Lesley Ann Warren was cast this year as operative Dana Lambert. Warren looked like a radical just back from an anti-war sit-in at Berkeley, which made Dana an odd fit on a button-down team of conservative government agents. Thankfully, M:I was still capable of turning out classic moments, as in episodes like “The Killer,” “The Innocent” (featuring new team member Sam Elliott) and “The Amateur.”

 

My Three Sons had likewise undergone multiple cast changes since its 1960 debut. Bub was gone, Mike was gone, Steve was married to Barbara and raising Dodie, and Chip was raising triplets with Tina Cole (six-year-old me thought she was adorable). It ran 12 seasons altogether, nine more than the show that aired next. 

 


 

That would be Arnie, starring Herschel Bernardi as a lunch-pail laborer who finds himself unexpectedly promoted to an executive position at the same company.

 

I confess that I still can’t figure out what this show was trying to say. There’s a dash of satire on corporate politics, some exploration of the culture clash between blue collar and white collar America, and generation gap arguments between Arnie (Bernardi) and his long-haired teenage son. But there’s a lack of cohesion to the various threads, even with a capable lead like Bernardi at the helm. As with The Most Deadly Game, you can see why someone thought this might be a good idea, but it just doesn’t work. 

 

 

The Mary Tyler Moore Show, debuting this year, would become the first piece in a now-legendary Saturday night CBS lineup – but clearly we are not there yet. Mannix was about halfway through an impressive run here, and it completes another lineup for which I’m happy to say I’ve watched them all. Now let’s see what 1971 brings. 

 


 

Shows Missed:

The Don Knotts Show (1970)

San Francisco International Airport (1970)

Nancy (1970)

The Headmaster (1970)

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Comfort TV is Sent to Bed


One aspect of classic television I always enjoy is the observance of how people lived their everyday lives in the times these shows were made, and how we’ve changed since then.

 

Here’s an example you may have noticed, that I don’t think applies to our current life and times: when anyone gets a cold, or even the beginnings of a cold, they are immediately ordered into bed.



 

Is that still the first line of defense against illness deployed by parents and spouses? It doesn’t seem that way. We’re much busier now – or at least we feel like we’re busier. Out of respect for coworkers we may not trudge to the office if we’re contagious, but we may still work from home.

 

Apparently that was not the case 50 years ago. When you got sick everything else shut down. It was into your pajamas and into bed, to await a visit from a doctor who still makes house calls. 

 


And while we’d all rather feel healthy, let’s face it – this arrangement doesn’t sound all that bad at first: lounging in a comfortable bed all day, stack of pillows propped up behind you, your meals served on a tray, newspaper or puzzle books in easy arm’s reach, getting to watch the television shows you never see while at work or at school. Where do I go to sign up?

 

As a good health practice this is more understandable with kids than adults. But the most memorable classic TV episodes with this plot show us grown-ups who tend to act like kids when they’re sent to bed to recoup. That’s a situation that can be mined for laughs, not just from the patient but from the spouses drafted to wait on them, in addition to whatever else they had planned to do that day.

 

This was illustrated most clearly in an episode of Bewitched we discussed in detail not that long ago, in which Darren apparently requires a multi-day bed rest over…a sprained ankle? I’ve sprained ankles dozens of times – never got to ride one out that way. But Samantha gets so tired of catering to his every whim that she hexes the house to respond to his desires – and all heck breaks loose.

 


But sometimes the caretaker is eager to help, as in the Our Miss Brooks episode "Pensacola Popovers." Connie sees in taking care of Mr. Boynton a chance to make that arrangement permanent – but of course it doesn’t quite work out that way.

 

And then there were the fakers. Both Marsha and Bobby tried putting themselves to bed to feign illness on The Brady Bunch – Marsha to avoid her first day of high school, and Bobby because he lied to Joe Namath to get the famed quarterback to visit him.

 




And sometimes we see what happens when an edict of bed rest is ignored. In an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show called "The Meershatz Pipe," Rob tries to shake off the flu and get back to work, because he fears for his job.

 

Again, I don’t really know how common it was for colds and flus to require laying in bed for a few days. But it did seem like that was the standard course of action back then. And perhaps that’s why Ozzie Nelson’s decision to stay in bed when he feels fine made for such a memorable episode of The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet.

 

In “A Day in Bed,” Ozzie wakes up and decides to stay put. He quotes the poet Wordsworth – “The world is too much with us.” (Characters on television were more acquainted with literature and poetry back then as well).  “What law is there that compels a man to get up every morning of his life?” he asks Harriet. “I don’t care what people think, I don’t care what I’m supposed to do. I’m going to stay in bed all day!”

 


And no one in or out of his family is quire sure how to react, because it’s the kind of stance that upsets the natural order of things. Familiar routines were a sign of stability and normalcy – get up in the morning at a certain time and go to work; return home at a certain time and sit down to dinner with the family. Catching a cold disrupted that routine, but that’s when an equally familiar alternate procedure would emerge for however long it was needed – one that usually included chicken soup, a spoonful of unpleasant-tasting medicine, and a few days away from the usual responsibilities of life.

 

For Ozzie to remain in his pajamas and stay in bed when he’s perfectly healthy – why, he might as well have dropped his pants in the middle of Main Street – it’s the sort of thing that just simply isn’t done. But on this day a family man who is normally a respecter of custom suddenly feels rebellious.

 

Does he make it? Or do societal pressures and outside temptations coax him away from his tranquil protest? That would be telling, but one of the most remarkable aspects of this wonderful episode is how the community responds to Ozzie’s experiment. It turns out to be a rather eventful day as a steady stream of well wishers try to raise his spirits. They can’t comprehend why any healthy man would still be in bed when the rest of the world is getting on with its responsibilities.

 

That’s what passed for unfathomable behavior in 1956. Today…well, let’s just say some of the things we blithely accept now would have a lot more folks hiding under the covers in Ozzie’s day. The world is too much with us, indeed.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Top TV Moments: Linda Evans

 

Linda Evans starred in two successful television series, but she wasn’t the focal point of either one.

 


 

"Believe me, I know why I'm on the show," she once told an interviewer about playing Audra in The Big Valley. The job consisted primarily of keeping male viewers engaged with her radiant beauty, and a few one-episode romances that always ended badly.

 

And on Dynasty she was the (mostly) good girl whose only character flaw was not being born rich. When Joan Collins joined the cast she got all the juicier dialogue and storylines, elevating Evans’ Krystle only when the two were tussling in the Carrington lilypond. 

 


 

Thankfully, she also found other memorable roles to fill out an impressive classic TV resume.

 

Bachelor Father (1960)

After Evans was cast in Dynasty, much was made of an otherwise forgotten sitcom episode entitled “A Crush on Bentley,” which is the first credit listed on her IMDB page. At the age of 15, she played the daughter of one of Bentley’s clients, who develops a crush on him. Bentley, of course, was played by John Forsythe, who played her husband on Dynasty.   

 


Classic TV viewing is filled with amusing happenstances like this, which always make the journey through these old shows more enjoyable. I don’t recall many viewers remarking on the age difference between Blake and Krystle, but that generational gap is more obvious here.

 

The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet (1960)

Still billed as Linda Evanstad, Evans appeared in five episodes of this classic sitcom, always as a girl that catches Ricky’s eye. They’re all good but I’d start with “The Girl Who Loses Things,” in which she plays the careless teenager of the episode’s title. She also keeps bumping into Ricky, who helps her find the stuff she lost, raising the frustration of Rick’s steady girlfriend, played by the equally adorable Roberta Shore. 

 

 

The Big Valley (1965)

This popular western might not have been Linda Evans’ first series, had a pilot she filmed in 1962 been picked up. It was called Buttons and Her Beaus, and Linda played Buttons. We’ll never know how the television landscape might have been irrevocably changed by this miscarriage of justice.

 

Instead, she became known to audiences on the western that featured Lee Majors before he was bionic and Richard Long before he met Nanny. But the show’s best casting coup was Hollywood legend Barbara Stanwyck, who specialized in tough dames and created a memorable one in matriarch Victoria Barkley. Many of Evans’ most memorable scenes were opposite Stanwyck, where their obvious mutual affection infused the tender moments shared by their characters. 

 

 

Harry O (1974)

This is my favorite Linda Evans performance. In the first-season episode “Guardian at the Gates,” she plays the much put-upon daughter of a brilliant architect and visionary, who has no regard for people but loves his German Shepherd. Harry is hired (begrudgingly) to find out who poisoned the dog (who survives the attack, thank heavens).

 

As Marian, Evans is protective of her father despite his constant belittling of her. She admirably creates a nuanced portrait of a woman who is bold and vulnerable, sexy and insecure, all in a limited amount of screen time.

 

Banacek (1974)

In “Rocket to Oblivion” Evans plays Cherry, the daughter of a former Banacek associate whose crush on the investigator can be acted upon now that she’s all grown up. Is there an ulterior motive to her affection? That’s what Banacek has to discover after a revolutionary new engine worth millions disappears from a trade show run by Cherry. As always with this series the theft is baffling and the solution is inventive.

 

Hunter (1976)

No, this is not the show with Fred Dryer as the cop who plays by his own rules. This one starred Evans and James Franciscus as government agents who are called in to tackle only the toughest and most sensitive espionage cases. William Blinn, who wrote, produced or dreamed up several successful Comfort TV era shows from Fame to Starsky & Hutch to Eight is Enough, created this short-lived series. I can see why it didn’t work, but it’s still fun to see Evans trying out a female James Bond character. 

 

 

Nowhere to Run (1978)

This is another of those great made-for-TV movies that is smarter and features more charismatic stars than what’s playing now at your local multiplex. David Janssen plays a fed-up executive who embarks on a 15-year long scheme to escape a lousy job and loveless marriage, by faking his suicide and starting a new life with enough cash to see him through to his final days.  But just as everything falls into place, he falls in love with Amy, played by Linda Evans. As in Harry O the two share a believable chemistry, to the point where you’d believe a guy who plotted his future so carefully would consider an unplanned detour, which of course threatens to jeopardize the entire plot. It’s a great film if you can find it somewhere online.

 

The Fall Guy (1981)

As with her Bachelor Father appearance, this brief guest spot is made special because Evans once again appears on screen opposite a costar from another series. She plays herself in “Colt’s Angels,” and warmly greets Lee Major as Colt. The moment serves no purpose other than to make Big Valley fans smile – and that’s enough.

 

Dynasty (1981)

It was ABC’s answer to Dallas, with settings that were more opulent, and stories that were often sillier. But it lasted nine years, and Linda Evans was there for more than 200 of its episodes. As previously mentioned it was Joan Collins who kicked the ratings up in the second season and locked down that Wednesday timeslot for years to come. But to most TV fans, this is also how Evans will always be remembered, suffering gracefully in Nolan Miller gowns. 

 


 

Kenny Rogers as The Gambler: The Adventure Continues (1983)

Kenny Rogers rode the Gambler gravy train longer than anyone could have predicted, but this series of films based on his classic song still go down easy if you’re in the right mood. And for Big Valley fans this installment was like having Audra back, even faster with a gun than she was before.

 

 


Monday, September 5, 2022

My Journey Through 1970s TV: Fridays in 1970

 

We are nearing the first week of this exploration of whether I have (or can) watch at least one episode of every prime time television series that aired in the 1970s. And so far I’m surprised I’m doing so well. I figured the older the shows the less likely it would be for all of them to be available somewhere, but thus far there are only a handful of shows from 1970 that I’ve never had a chance to enjoy (or at least watch). Will the Friday lineups add to that list, or will be sail smoothly into a groovy 1970 weekend? Let’s find out. 

 

 

ABC

The Brady Bunch

Nanny and the Professor

The Partridge Family

That Girl

Love American Style

This is Tom Jones

 

What a great lineup. The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family are obviously two of the most enduringly popular family sitcoms of the 1970s. And while Nanny and the Professor lasted just 54 episodes, only about half of what is typically necessary for syndication, the series regularly popped up on local and cable stations for the next 30 years. It also had one of the decade’s more memorable but endearingly loopy theme songs. No DVD release yet, sadly, unless you look into unofficial channels. 

 

 

That Girl was the subject of the very first Comfort TV blog entry back on May 22, 2012. The gist of the piece was about how this wonderful series did not end the way viewers expected, with the wedding of Ann and Don, because Marlo Thomas thought that would send the wrong message to young women. In 1970 married couples with children comprised 40% of American households. Today, that number has dropped to 20%. I guess they got the message.

 

Love American Style also explored romance and attraction outside of marriage, with stories that were mostly trite and silly, but fun to watch now for the appearances of some of the top TV stars of the day. This is also where Happy Days was work-shopped before becoming another iconic ‘70s show.

 

You certainly wouldn’t expect Carol Burnett or Jim Nabors to duet with Janis Joplin, but Tom Jones? He made it happen on his variety series. Didn’t help in the ratings, but the performances endure thanks to YouTube. 

 

 

NBC

The High Chaparral

The Name of the Game

Bracken’s World

 

We’re past the heyday of the TV western but The High Chaparral still had one last season to explore the culture clashes between the cattle-ranching Cannon family, the Apaches and the Mexicans in Arizona territory. Always liked Henry Darrow in this show, which thankfully aired before the era in which actors were accused of cultural appropriation. 

 

 

This was also the final season for The Name of the Game, an ambitious 90-minute drama featuring Robert Stack, Gene Barry and Tony Franciosa, supported by Susan Saint James in her usual young, cute and sassy sidekick role. Each episode delved into the workings of a major publishing conglomerate and the stories published in their magazines, a wide-open premise that took viewers into international intrigue, corporate battles, political scandals and celebrity misbehavior.

 

I managed to catch quite a few episodes during its sporadic syndicated appearances, and always found the Gene Barry stories most intriguing. I wish magazines still had the status they did when the series’ Howard Publications was in business.

 

Bracken’s World was one of the decade’s more ambitious failures. It offered viewers a peek behind the curtain into how a major movie studio was run. As first conceived “Bracken” was the original Charlie Townsend – the man in charge whose voice was heard but who was never seen. That changed later when Leslie Nielsen joined the cast in that role. From how the executives and creative talent react when called into his office, one gets the impression that everyone on Bracken’s payroll is one bad decision away from unemployment. 

 

 

CBS

The Interns

The Headmaster

CBS Friday Night Movie

 

Only two shows to cover here, both short-lived.

 

In CBS promos for the medical drama The Interns, the network proudly proclaimed: “It’s about…what it’s all about.” Yeah, not encouraging. But the couple of episodes that have turned up online certainly held my interest.  

 


 

Broderick Crawford plays the gruff but lovable veteran doctor who oversees the ongoing educations of five interns. From that cast only Mike Farrell went on to bigger and better things, but it’s a talented ensemble. I also enjoyed seeing Elaine Giftos, another charismatic ‘70s star who deserved better roles, as Farrell’s wife.

 

The Headmaster was Andy Griffith’s follow-up series to his classic Mayberry sitcom. As you might guess from the title, he plays the headmaster of a prep school. Sorry to say, I have to add this one to the list of shows I’ve never seen. It was promoted as a series that blended dramatic and comedic stories (Jerry Van Dyke plays the football coach), which wasn’t a common formula back then, and I’ve always been a sucker for shows with a school setting. Sounds like something I’d enjoy. 

 

 

Shows Missed:

The Don Knotts Show (1970)

San Francisco International Airport (1970)

Nancy (1970)

The Headmaster (1970)

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Top TV Moments: Olivia Newton-John

 

I would normally be loath to run back-to-back tribute pieces to recently departed celebrities, but this one could not be avoided.

 

Time stopped in my home when social media announced the passing of Olivia Newton-John.

 




And while I was still processing that news my phone started ringing - calls from friends who knew of my decades-long affection for her music, her movies, and her remarkable grace and beauty. 

 

This is one of my prized possessions.

 



I was hardly alone in my devotion. Most of my generation of males was in love with her, even the headbangers who preferred Motorhead to “Have You Never Been Mellow.” And judging by the global wave of remembrances from peers and performers past and present, she was cherished as much by those fortunate enough to know her as by her legion of captivated fans. Anyone mourned with equal affection by FOX News and NPR clearly was someone very special.

 

As this is a television blog we’ll focus on her Comfort TV-era appearances in the United States. Those wishing for more (and who wouldn’t?) can head over to YouTube for a nice selection of additional guest spots from Australian and British television.

 

The Dean Martin Show (1972)

This was Olivia’s earliest appearance on US television, which aired about a year after her first single (a cover of Bob Dylan’s “If Not For You”) began climbing the music charts. She appears a little nervous and Dean seems a little off his game as well when they perform a medley of love songs – maybe he was smitten too. 

 

 

The Bob Hope Show (1974)

Bob Hope (does anyone under 20 even know who he is anymore?) hosted a Christmas special almost every holiday season for nearly 35 years. One of the traditions of these annual broadcasts was a duet on “Silver Bells” performed by Bob and one of his female guest stars. That spot belonged to Olivia in 1974.

 

John Denver: Rocky Mountain Christmas (1975)

Olivia performs “Let it Shine” on horseback in a beautiful wintry setting, and then duets with John Denver on “Fly Away.” Both are standout moments in an enjoyable holiday special that also featured Steve Martin and Valerie Harper. 

 

Olivia Newton-John: A Special (1976)

This was Olivia's first TV special in America, and it can be procured from certain bootleg sites (and is worth the effort to do so). 

 


The “comedy” bits with Rona Barrett haven’t aged well, but with nearly 20 ONJ songs including every one of her hits to date, this is a must for any fan. And there are also plenty of bonuses for ‘70s TV lovers, including guest appearances from Lee Majors, Ron Howard, and Lynda Carter in full Wonder Woman regalia!

 



American Music Awards (1976)

This makes the list not because she cleaned up that night, winning both Best Pop/Rock Female Artist and Best Country Female artist, as well as Best Pop/Rock Album. 

 


It’s here because she performs a medley of “Let Me Be There,” “Have You Never Been Mellow,” “If You Love Me (Let Me Know),” and “I Honestly Love You,” and then returns later, backed by a full orchestra, for some lovely covers of two Great American Songbook chestnuts – “What’ll I Do” and “Always.” I’m not sure I’ve ever heard the latter sung more tenderly.

 

The Midnight Special (1978)

I’ve seen Stevie Nicks twirl in black chiffon and Madonna writhe across a stage to “Like A Virgin,” and Beyonce’s booty shaking and Shakira’s gravity-defying hips. But for me this will always be the sexiest music performance ever on television. 

 


 

Olivia (1978)

This is the better known of her television specials because it has been released on homevideo (though sadly not yet on DVD). Joining ONJ this time are ABBA and Andy Gibb. Lots of great group performances and conversations among talented people who genuinely seem to like and respect each other. 

 


 

The Music for UNICEF Concert: A Gift of Song (1979)

On this special some of the top singers and bands of the era performed new songs and then donated some or all the royalties to UNICEF. Olivia’s contribution was a duet with Andy Gibb on the ballad “Rest Your Love On Me.” It didn’t raise nearly as much as Abba’s “Chiquitita,” “Too Much Heaven” by the BeeGees, or “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” by Rod Stewart. Have a listen:

 



 

Saturday Night Live (1982)

ONJ (sporting that Markie Post haircut she tried out in the early ‘80s) hosted the final episode of the 1981-82 season. At that time SNL featured cast members Eddie Murphy, Joe Piscopo, Christine Ebersole and Tim Kazurinsky among others. 

 


As season finales go it’s pretty awful, outside of the performance of “Ebony and Ivory” with Murphy as Stevie Wonder and Piscopo as Sinatra. The inevitable Grease sketch is painfully unfunny, as are all of the bits where Olivia bravely does what she can with lousy material. The saving grace is the performances of “Physical,” “Make a Move on Me” and “Landslide.”  

 

A Mom For Christmas (1990)

This was a Disney Christmas TV movie in which ONJ plays a department store mannequin who comes to life to serve as the temporary mother of a lonely girl during the holidays. But what happens at midnight on Christmas Eve? Will she just melt away like Frosty? Not if the magical store saleslady played by Doris Roberts has anything to say about it. But Disney killed Bambi’s mother, so happy endings aren’t always guaranteed...

 


There’s a bit of Mary Poppins in this fantasy tale that you might want to schedule in between the 800 Christmas movies Hallmark now puts out every year. December isn’t that far away.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Vin Scully and Nichelle Nichols – A Tribute

 

What's going on here?

If you've stopped by the blog over the past week or so, you noticed that it looked like someone dropped and broke it, and then couldn't figure out how to put it back together. That's not far from what actually happened. So until the old look gets sorted out, we've gone back to basics so I can keep posting, and you can keep reading without eye strain.  And at some point (I hope) we'll be back to normal. Until then, let's take a moment to celebrate two of the many wonderful people we've lost over the past week. 

 

In a 1964 episode of The Fugitive called “Man On a Spring,” Richard Kimble walks into a tavern, suitcase in hand as always, and on the television behind the bar is a Los Angeles Dodgers game being called by Vin Scully.

 

Scully was then in his 14th year as the Dodgers announcer, and he was just getting started. By the time he retired in 2016 he had spent 67 years in that vocation, a remarkable rarity in not just having the same job, but also to consistently perform it at the highest possible level. Perhaps his cadence did slow a bit in the last couple of years, but fans that tuned in and heard his familiar, reassuring voice still knew that for the next three hours they were in good hands. For baseball lovers, this was Comfort TV. 

 


 

 

His eloquence as a storyteller was unmatched - he could recall moments from games he called decades earlier; he could slide in anecdotes from history or philosophy or popular culture - all without a script, and never miss a pitch call. There's a reason why fans would bring a radio to Dodger Stadium so they could still listen to Scully call the game they watched from the seats. 


If he had a signature call (outside of Sandy Koufax’s perfect game, which happened before most of us were old enough to listen), it would be of a hobbled Kirk Gibson’s game-winning home run in the 1988 World Series. In this unforgettable moment he said nothing while Gibson rounded the bases, letting the pictures speak for themselves. Only as the celebration began did he lend his trademark extemporaneous brilliance to the occasion: “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible just happened.”

 

But this call was my favorite – short and sweet.

 


The big moments didn’t need his help - it was the little moments, the dull moments (frequent in baseball), in which Scully could hold a viewer’s interest like few other broadcasters before or since. His was an old school professionalism that is seemingly lost now, in a world in which calling attention to yourself is the path to more Instagram followers and that’s all that matters.

 

Which brings us to Nichelle Nichols. Yes, there is a parallel.

 

Obits and tributes described her as a trailblazer, which she surely was. What none of them said was how she blazed that trail, the credit for which belongs both to her and to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. 

 

 

When viewers first met Lt. Nyota Uhura she was exactly where we’d become accustomed to seeing her – as a communications officer on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, serving in a position of authority and often playing a critical role in the success of its missions.

 

The fact that the character was black likely did get some media attention at the time, but it was never emphasized on the show. Calling attention to it seemed silly, as the whole point of the series was to show how humanity had evolved in the era of interstellar travel.

 

In three seasons she was rarely a focal point of any episode. Sometimes she only had a handful of lines (“Hailing frequencies open”), and sometimes she didn’t have any. But her mere presence remained powerful, which is why Dr. Martin Luther King urged her to stick with the low-rated series despite her limited screen time.

 

And when she got something interesting to do, as in the alternate universe episode “Mirror, Mirror,” she was unforgettable. 

 

 

Lt. Uhura was a member of an elite crew on the flagship of the Starfleet armada. That alone commanded respect and admiration. We’ll never know how many young women – not all of them African-American – she inspired to dream bigger.

 

You don’t have to call attention to yourself to make an impact. Sometimes – most of the time – just doing your job well is more than enough.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

My Journey Through 1970s TV: Thursdays in 1970

 

Hopefully by now you know the drill: I’m on a quest to find out whether I have watched (or can watch) at least one episode of every prime time television series that aired in the 1970s. I’m up to Thursdays in 1970, which served up a mix of new dramas, some old favorites, and variety shows hosted by people whose names will be unknown to anyone under 50. 

 


ABC

Matt Lincoln

Bewitched

Barefoot In the Park

The Odd Couple

The Immortal

 

The 1960s may be over, but their spirit lives on in the shows that debuted in 1970. Until I began this series I never realized how all three networks targeted the youth market this year with one-hour dramas about iconoclasts in white-collar professions. Perhaps the trend would have been more obvious had any of these shows lasted beyond one season.

 

Following in the tradition of Storefront Lawyers, The Psychiatrist, and The Young Lawyers is Matt Lincoln, which is about…well, I’ll let IMDB handle the description: “Matt Lincoln is a with it psychiatrist in an inner city neighborhood helping disadvantaged young people. Helping him staff the phone lines are streetwise Jimmy and Tag, with Ann and policeman Kevin filling in where needed.”

 

 

Vince Edwards, already once around the block as a maverick medical man in Ben Casey, plays the title role. Each episode takes its title from the first name of one of Matt’s patients. “Sheila” starred Patty Duke as an unwed mother unable to cope with her situation and ready to choose between adoption for her baby or suicide. She’s great, as might be expected, but the allegedly with-it Edwards just seems bored in a series that, as shows about shrinks go, pales in comparison to The Thirteenth Hour.

 

Bewitched was already winding down its impressive run, though it would hang on until 1972. Samantha’s shorter hemlines could not distract viewers from a been-there-done-that feeling, and wondering whether Endora would ever run out of ways to humiliate poor Derwood. 

 


 

Next up: back-to-back sitcoms based on Neil Simon plays – one you know, one you’ve probably never seen. The Odd Couple was an immediate hit, with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman surpassing film leads Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau as the definitive Felix and Oscar.

 

Barefoot in the Park was an even bigger hit for Simon on Broadway, and was adapted into a successful film starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. With that track record how could a series based on the same material miss?

 

It did, because Barefoot in the Park was always a trifle that needs a charismatic cast and a good director to make its slight premise work – especially in a spin-off without Simon’s clever dialogue. I can’t say whether the decision to recast all the roles with African-Americans (Scoey Mitchell and Tracy Reed played the newlyweds) had any role in its fate; but Wikipedia tells us that Mitchell was fired after 12 episodes due to "differences of opinion" with the series' producers, and since the ratings were low the network pulled the plug rather than recast his part.

 

Those who see America as intrinsically racist will be quick to yell and point fingers, because that’s what they do best. But The Flip Wilson Show ranked second among all prime time series in 1970-1971, so maybe the show just wasn’t working. That was my assessment when I watched it years ago on TV Land. 

 

 

I wrote a “Purchase or Pass” piece on The Immortal after the show was released on DVD. You can read my review there.

 

CBS

Family Affair

The Jim Nabors Hour

CBS Thursday Night Movie

 

Only two shows to check off here – one, really, as I’m mostly focused on scripted series and not variety shows.  

 

Family Affair is  - or as I wrote in my book When Television Brought Us Together (wait – you haven’t bought it yet?): an exceptional sitcom, not just in the sense of being well written and performed, but also in how it varied in both content and style from other situation comedies of its era. There’s a remarkable grace and compassion that permeates how sensitive moments are handled, and an emotional authenticity that is extraordinary for escapist entertainment.

 

 

The comedic and musical personas of Jim Nabors were so disparate that it was hard to figure out who he really was. His variety show was typical of the era. It didn’t do much for me, but I always looked forward to his performance of Back Home Again in Indiana” before the Indianapolis 500. He did it for 32 years, and it’s just not the same without him.

 


NBC

The Flip Wilson Show

Ironside

Nancy

The Dean Martin Show

 

Two more variety shows, but both were among the decade’s best so of course I’ve seen them. Ironside I’ve watched but honestly I can’t recall very much about it. Mitchell Hadley recently did a deep dive into the series so I’d refer you to his “It’s About TV” blog for more details.

 

Which brings us to Nancy, another series I must add to the list of those I have never watched. The only video I could find online was the opening credits, which gives very little clue to what it’s actually about:

 



 

Created by Sidney Sheldon (The Patty Duke Show, I Dream of Jeannie) Nancy was about an attractive young woman (Renne Jarrett) who meets an attractive young veterinarian (John Fink), and it’s love at first sight. But their relationship is complicated by the fact that Nancy’s father is the President of the United States. Film star Celeste Holm played the president’s press secretary and Nancy’s date chaperone.

 

Reviews were not kind – most dismissed the series as too syrupy and sentimental. There are worse sins. It also seems odd to focus a series on the daughter of a president, and not have the president be a character in the show. The Chicago Tribune couldn’t help but note, however, that Renne Jarrett is “very, very pretty” and “her legs are especially good, long and tanned, with a blemish on one calf which only proves that she is real.” It takes a lot of effort to notice a calf blemish in the pre-high def era. But perhaps that partly explains why the show pulled a sizable ratings share in its debut. 

 

 

Shows Missed:

The Don Knotts Show (1970)

San Francisco International Airport (1970)

Nancy (1970