Thursday, April 5, 2018

Five Pieces You Won’t See on Comfort TV

If I didn’t have to work for a living, I’m sure I could update this blog twice a week for the rest of my life, and never run out of topics to explore.

The problem has never been ideas but having enough time to write about them. However, that doesn’t mean all my ideas are good. Here are five pieces I considered, and in some cases even started, but then abandoned because there just wasn’t enough ‘there’ there.

Top TV Moments: Marj Dusay
Most TV fans may recognize Marj Dusay from extended stints on Santa Barbara, All My Children and Guiding Light. But prior to her love-in-the-afternoon days, Dusay also had a busy career guest starring on dozens of Comfort TV staples, from Bonanza to The Bionic Woman.

When I looked back on her career I found a few unique moments, such as her appearances in Hogan’s Heroes and as a villainous space-babe in the infamous Star Trek episode “Spock’s Brain.” 

However, most of her roles were standard wife and girlfriend parts on shows like Mannix and Quincy, and not really worth seeking out. It wouldn’t surprise me if Dusay kept getting stuck with scripts already turned down by Lee Meriwether, who had a similar look but bigger name recognition thanks to her Miss America crown.

The Oliver Awards: Saluting Classic TV’s Most Unnecessary Characters
This one seemed stale before I even began to write it. Classic TV fans should already be weary of dumping on Cousin Oliver and Ricky Segall and Scrappy-Doo.

There would have been less prominent nominees as well: How could a show called Eight is Enough ignore its own title and introduce a ninth kid? The addition of Jeremy (Ralph Macchio) sadly disrupted the family chemistry in the series' fifth and final season.

I also skip the Father Knows Best episodes featuring landscaper Frank (pronounced ‘Fronk’ for some inexplicable reason). And I still wonder how Wings’ Budd Bronski was ever considered a worthy replacement for fan-favorite Lowell. 

Seven Great Characters Trapped in Substandard Shows
That’s a good title, isn’t it? I thought it might be interesting to celebrate memorable television characters that were not memorable enough to save their respective series. Think Robert Urich as the egotistical, womanizing talk show host Paul Thurston on Tabitha, or Jack Sheldon as John Davidson’s spaced out brother in The Girl With Something Extra

From Joanna Cassidy in 240-Robert to Delta Burke in Filthy Rich, there are several intriguing nominees, but then the entire piece would be about shows that very few people have watched, or would be interested in watching. I still might do it, though. If I do forget I said anything here.

Top TV Moments: Brenda Benet
I’ve probably started this piece a dozen times over the past year, only to postpone it again in favor of other topics. It’s hard to write about Brenda Benet without feeling sad, and if you know anything of her life you already know why.

She has such wonderful Comfort TV credentials, having been married to both Paul Petersen and Bill Bixby, and she left some really interesting work behind. But knowing what life held in store for her, it sometimes makes it difficult to watch her in lighthearted shows like Wonder Woman, Fantasy Island and Love, American Style.

The Facts of Life book I Almost Wrote
About 15 years ago, I had a fairly long exchange of phone calls and emails with Lisa Whelchel’s ‘people’ about either writing a TV companion book to The Facts of Life, or serving as Whelchel’s ghost writer or editor on a book about the series. 

Obviously nothing came of this, and there still hasn’t been a book about the show. But there were some interesting ideas tossed around back then, and looking back I think it would have been a fun project to work on.

My guess is that the interviews would have been easy to arrange through Whelchel’s help, with Nancy McKeon as the only critical “will she or won’t she” project participant. George Clooney and Molly Ringwald would have been long shots, but I’m guessing Julie Anne Haddock might have been available. 

I never spoke to Lisa directly about the book. Had that happened this would have been a more appealing ‘what might have been’ story. But I didn’t, so it’s not. My one chance to meet Pippa, gone forever. 


  1. Mr. Hofstede, you mentioned all of Marcy Walker's daytime soaps! Thank you SO much for bringing up "Santa Barbara" in particular. There's no doubt in my mind that there won't be a piece from you that will be entitled "Top TV Moments: Mary Louise Weller."

    Um, was "240-Robert" really THAT bad? It was created by Rick Rosner, who also created "CHiPs." Um, how would Randi Oakes, who played Officer Bonnie Clark on "CHiPs," have fared on "240-Robert"? I can't say that I've REALLY seen "240-Robert," but I do find it unfortunate that it has never received a legitimate home-video release, particularly in light of the career resurgence that Mark Harmon has enjoyed over the past 15 years.

    1. I liked 240-Robert myself, but then I have a fondness for most series from that era. If it came out I'd buy it!

  2. A great idea for a post, David. I hope you will consider these ideas "shelved" instead of "abandoned" because some still have promise, especially the heartbreaking Brenda Benet story that I suspect many TV fans don't know. A twist on the David and Bathsheba story that left only tragedy in its wake. Learning it lessened my love for Bill Bixby (I doubt he and Paul Petersen exchanged pleasantries at cocktail parties after 1969), and the bizarre Svengali-like Tammy Bruce is a character straight out of pulp fiction.

    The Oliver Awards has its place. I never tire of bashing characters added by producers looking to woo a new demographic or goose sagging ratings. I don't bash the hapless actors, just the mercenary producers. The insipid Stacks on BJ AND THE BEAR springs to mind as an Oliver Award contender.

    And speaking of shows I love that many deride... I count myself among the fans of TABITHA. It was an unpretentious trifle and made me laugh, real comfort TV (to coin a phrase). It was fun to see Mel Stewart since I always liked his Henry Jefferson character on ALL IN THE FAMILY. If I remember right, a post-S.W.A.T Urich was doing TABITHA and the early episodes of SOAP at the same time. He was great in both, but I'm glad TABITHA ended so he could do VEGA$.

    Please give a second look to Marj Dusay. About the time she was in "Spock's Brain," she was in "The Night of the Kraken" on WILD WILD WEST co-starring with Ted Knight, and she had another stylish role as Andrea Dupre on HAWAII FIVE-O's "24-Carat Kill." She played some imaginative roles before settling into second-tier Lee Meriwether parts (loved your perfect description!).

    Finally, I hope you write that FACTS OF LIFE book! I'd buy a copy. I rediscovered the series when looking for a show to watch with my then-11-year-old daughter. She loved it, and while it was often heavy-handed and larded with "very special episodes," the appealing characters made it worth watching. Don't travel to that undiscovered country without having ever met Pippa!

    1. Hi Gary, thanks for your feedback here and on some of the other pieces - it's always a pleasure to meet another classic TV fan, and I hope you'll be a regular visitor.

      I agree with a lot of what you said, including your fondness for 'Tabitha' - there's a piece on here somewhere under the heading 'Terrible Shows I Like' that shares my feelings on that short-lived series.

      The Marj Dusay performances you mentioned were on the list of ones to be covered. But I like to list at least ten shows worth seeking out. Maybe I'll take a fresh look at her resume down the road.

      And you have re-energized my quest for Pippa. :)

    2. Gary, how has Tammy Bruce been like a Svengali?

  3. It wasn't a TV show, but I'd like to mention Marj Dusay's appearance in Gregory Peck's feature bio of Macarthur.

    She was cast as Mrs. Macarthur, in what I'm guessing was initially a fair-sized featured role.
    But double-extra-long movies were going out of style at that point; to get Macarthur down to two-and-a-half hours, something had to go.
    I dare say that the General's wife being with him in war zones (with a toddler in tow yet) probably struck test audiences as a little much (factual though it was).
    Thusly, Marj Dusay's role as Mrs. Macarthur got cut down to "blink-and-you'll-miss-it".

    That's showbiz ...

  4. I'm surprised you didn't bring up the connection between your first & last topics here. Marj Dusay played Blair's mom on THE FACTS OF LIFE. Do I win a prize for making this connection? ;)

    1. Nicolas Coster played Blair's DAD on "The Facts of Life." He also played Lionel Lockridge on "Santa Barbara."

    2. Jon - I was going to bring it up, but there was enough Facts of Life in this piece already. In fact, there's a really lovely moment in the episode where Ms. Warner tells Blair she's pregnant again, in which she thanks Mrs. Garrett for helping to raise her daughter into such a fine young woman. It gave Dusay a chance to drop all the rich socialite cliches and do some real acting, and she was wonderful.
      Your prize is in the mail anyway. :)

  5. About FATHER KNOWS BEST, I've never seen "Fronk", but I like what I've read about the character, first in a interesting book called "Honey, I'm Home: Sitcoms Selling the American Dream". He's a Mexican immigrant who is so proud to be in the US that he wants to be called "Frank Smith", but with his accent his adopted name ends up being pronounced "Fronk Smeeth". I'm sure he'd never be allowed on tv today, as he'd be deemed too assimilated for the PC crowd.

  6. Sadly, Marj Dusay has passed away. May she rest in peace.