Friday, November 22, 2019

Five Classic Shows That Deserved One More Season


If you could have one more season of any TV show, which show would you choose?

That was a question posted recently in a Facebook classic TV group. The responses ranged from Grizzly Adams to Family Ties to Knots Landing (really? 14 seasons were not enough?), along with more recent shows like Bates Motel and Longmire.



As fans of the Comfort TV era one would think we’d want more episodes of all the shows from that time. But let’s be honest – most of the classics said just about everything they had to say before leaving the air. In fact, one could argue that some should have quit earlier than they did.

Consider how often the final season of a series was its weakest: Bewitched served up barely-rewritten versions of previous (and better) episodes. Marriage and/or kids removed some of the magic from Get Smart and I Dream of Jeannie



Multiple cast changes weakened The Waltons and Laugh-In and Happy Days and Designing Women. Budget cuts and the departures of several talented writers hastened Star Trek’s cancellation. Dallas and Moonlighting were out of good ideas even before their final seasons.

Other classics maintained a high standard of quality right to the end: I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, That Girl, The Bob Newhart Show, The Fugitive, Room 222, The Defenders, The Rockford Files. But I’m not sure I’d want to gamble with their reputations by adding one more season that might fail to measure up to its predecessors.

It’s tempting to just look at shows with comparatively short runs, but that alone should not be sufficient criteria for consideration. Much as I liked them all, I’m fine with The Monkees quitting after two seasons, The Patty Duke Show having just three seasons, and The Partridge Family parking the bus after season four. 



All that said, there certainly have been some shows that left us too soon. After much contemplation, here is my list of five series that deserved (at least) one more year.

The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (1969)
Three Seasons, 73 Episodes
Of the selected shows on my list this one lasted longest, but it still was not enough for me. A fourth season would have had Brandon Cruz’s Eddie approaching his teen years, which would have inspired rich story material to explore between Eddie and Bill Bixby, whose Tom Corbett should be on every TV fan’s list of the medium’s best dads. 



Granted, the show’s final season suffered a bit by playing more to James Komack’s bohemian photographer Norman Tinker. But this would have been an easy correction (“James, thanks for creating the show, but you’re not the reason people are tuning in.”). I’d have welcomed more stories about Mrs. Livingston when she wasn’t cooking and cleaning for the Corbetts – and perhaps a return visit from Suzanne Pleshette as Valerie Bessinger, whose courtship with Eddie’s father was the show’s most memorable.

Gidget (1965)
One Season, 32 Episodes
Gidget had the misfortune of becoming a hit after it was canceled. Scheduled against The Virginian and The Beverly Hillbillies, the series was a flop the first time around, but the ratings soared in summer reruns. By then it was too late to bring it back, so ABC did the next best thing by casting Sally Field in a new series - The Flying Nun.

Gidget was and remains the better show, and Sally Field could not have been more adorable as the sassy, surf-loving beach bunny. 



Don Porter’s casting was equally perfect as Gidget’s understanding father. At least we can be grateful that back in 1965, a single TV season could produce 32 episodes. But 32 more would not just give us more Sally to treasure, it also would have kept her out of the nun’s habit she hated for three years.

Harry O (1973)
Two Seasons, 45 Episodes
As a huge David Janssen fan I would gladly watch more cases be solved by downtrodden beachcomber detective Harry Orwell. 



The prickly friendship between Orwell and Anthony Zerbe as police lieutenant Trench was still a delight to watch, as they both buried their mutual respect between layers of open hostility. There were also memorable supporting turns from Les Lannom as geeky sleuth Lester Hodges, and Farrah Fawcett as Harry’s neighbor with benefits. But like The Fugitive this is Janssen’s show all the way, and he carries every scene with a magnetism that only the best TV stars attain.

Ellery Queen (1975)
One Season, 22 Episodes
After creating one of TV’s greatest detectives in Columbo, Richard Levinson and William Link introduced Ellery Queen to television, in the genial presence of star Jim Hutton. Set in the 1940s, the series revolved around Queen assisting his police detective father (David Wayne) on baffling murder mysteries. The high point of each episode had Hutton turning to the camera and addressing the audience at home, just before he cracked the case. “Have you figured it out?” he’d ask, before reminding us of the suspects and the most important clues. Rarely has it been more fun to match wits with the characters on screen. 



In addition to Hutton, who had a likable Jimmy Stewart quality, and the irascible David Wayne, the series had a great supporting cast: John Hillerman as Simon Brimmer, a supercilious radio personality and amateur sleuth who always guessed wrong, and Ken Swofford as bulldog journalist Frank Flannigan. I wish I could have spent more time in their company.

The Green Hornet (1966)
One Season, 26 Episodes
This Batman spin-off was played with similar visual style but less camp, and is best remembered now for Bruce Lee, who appeared opposite Van Williams as the Green Hornet’s high-kicking chauffeur, Kato. It was the first time many Americans had seen martial arts performed by a master, and the charismatic Lee insisted on authenticity in the fight choreography. 



The Green Hornet was a cult series from day one, and as such was not likely to have a very long shelf life. But one more year would have put the number of episodes over 50, which sounds about right. Given the shortness of his subsequent film career, it would be wonderful to have more Bruce Lee action scenes to enjoy. 

Runners Up:

My World and Welcome To It (1969)
James Thurber whimsy channeled through William Windom. It won Emmys but not  viewers. Perhaps, like Cheers and The Dick Van Dyke Show, it might have found an audience after a slow start had the network stuck with it. 



Apple’s Way (1974)
Writer Earl Hamner Jr.’s second attempt to create a hit series was not as successful as The Waltons, though its premise is one that might work better now: a family gets fed up living in gridlocked Los Angeles and moves to a small rural town in Iowa.  



The Secrets of Isis (1975)
Just 22 episodes? Oh, mighty letdown! 


18 comments:

  1. How about the original "S.W.A.T." TV series? (Yes, the one with Steve Forrest, Robert Urich, and Mark Shera.)

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    1. The network demand that it tone down the action and violence had already weakened the series in its second season, in my opinion.

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  2. Fun Facts:

    - William Dozier intended for The Green Hornet to be an hour-long series - and that it air at a later hour in prime time.
    That's why the series ran three two-part episodes during its single season; Dozier's way of signaling ABC that longer, more detailed stories would work better.
    Hornet was a "bubble" show during its year.
    While waiting for word, Bill Dozier wrote a memo to the ABC brass, pleading for expansion to an hour and a later timeslot. This memo may be found in Martin Grams's encyclopedic account of the character's history in all media; I don't know if it can be found online or anywhere else, but it's definitely worth the search.

    - I still maintain that Ellery Queen might have gotten a second season had Sonny and Cher not staged their ersatz "reunion" in the opposing CBS timeslot.
    I hate hype.
    HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE hype.
    Just plain hate hype.
    And anyway, what happened to the Bonos afterward?
    Cher won an Oscar and Sonny was elected to Congress.
    OK, bad example …

    - My World - And Welcome To It was another "bubble" show.
    What happened was, CBS dropped Red Skelton, and that guy's agent made a phone call to NBC, and the half-hour in front of Laugh-In seemed like a fit - and there you are.

    - The Story I heard was that ABC dropped Harry O for no better reason than Fred Silverman just didn't like David Janssen (something to do with DJ's flopping on CBS with O'Hara a few years before - that capricious).

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    1. Sometimes the stories behind the stories are stranger than the stories themselves. Great info - thanks for sharing.

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    2. I've read that high-ranked US Treasury officials hated that CBS cancelled O'HARA after just 1 season, and as a result audited several CBS execs. Maybe Silverman was 1 of them.

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  3. I would like there to have been at least another season of 'The Rogues' (1964-65). A sophisticated comedy drama with a great cast: Gig Young, Charles Boyer, David Niven, Robert Coote and Gladys Cooper.

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  4. Great topic, great blog--I was sitting here reading this, thinking I loved a lot of 60s-70s tv but they DID seem to go the distance--and then you mentioned 'Gidget'. YES!! Never saw it until the early 90s on Nick at Nite, but WHY did they only produce a single season?? Anyway, 2 shows I was sad to see go was "James at 15" (I was the same age as James and just really related to it). I also liked an early 70's comeback of "Ozzie & Harriet" where they rented out David & Ricky's room to a couple of funky college girls.

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    1. I'm with you on "Ozzie's Girls" can't have enough of the Nelsons.

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  5. GIDGET did show marginal improvement in the second half of 1965-66 after it was moved from Wednesday at 8:30 to Thursday at 8 PM, though it was still up against stiff competition: DANIEL BOONE and GILLIGAN'S ISLAND, both in the top 26. It was 74th at midseason, and 68th at season's end, but failed to hold enough of BATMAN's audience (5th) after the time change.

    I agree, THE FLYING NUN is pretty much unwatchable.

    GREEN HORNET was another victim of a bad timeslot, ranking 75th at mid-season, up against new hit TARZAN and established WILD, WILD WEST. ABC had few hits at the time, and always seemed to make poor decisions with the few they had save BEWITCHED (i.e. the excessive gimmickry and overexposure for BATMAN and THE ADDAMS FAMILY, moving BEN CASEY opposite BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, etc.)

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  6. Mothers in Law
    Harry’s Law
    Mysteries of Laura

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  7. Mothers in Law
    Harry’s Law
    Mysteries of Laura

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  8. Mothers in Law
    Harry’s Law
    Mysteries of Laura

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  9. Clarification: The pilot for "Harry O" premiered in 1973, but the series proper didn't debut until '74.

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  10. Expanding on my comment, two of my picks are ABC shows from the 60's, F TROOP certainly had plenty of gas in the tank and high enough ratings to return for a third season in 1967-68, and HONDO deserved a full season; like GIDGET, the ratings improved after the cancellation was announced.

    Two ABC shows that made the top 40 in a tough time slot against ANDY GRIFFITH, but curiously did not return for a second season: NO TIME FOR SERGEANTS (1964-65) and A MAN CALLED SHENANDOAH (1965-66). I am lukewarm to the second, never have seen the first.

    BRET MAVERICK (1981-82) deserved a second season IMO after ranking 34th out of 105 shows that year and resetting the premise for season two to return Jack Kelly to the cast as Bart. Also, Marion Hargrove was set to write a few scripts for a second season and Roy Huggins was thinking about joining in some capacity. Seems like a missed opportunity IMO.

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  11. Great choices, and I also agree with Gidget. I also liked the cheesy 80s New Gidget, so I am biased.

    My main choice would be Friday the 13th: The Series. Ended after three seasons, with no resolution to the over-arching plot of getting all the cursed antiques back! Argh.

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  12. One more I'd champion: CRAZY LIKE A FOX (1984-86) Jack Warden was never better.

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  13. Of these, ELLERY QUEEN was the one I enjoyed the most. I think it might have lasted longer as one of the Mystery Movies.

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