Tuesday, February 7, 2023

My Journey Through 1970s TV: Thursday Nights, 1971


My choice tonight is either watch the State of the Union or catch up on some of the prime time series that aired on Thursday nights in 1971. As I would prefer to avoid a feeling of overwhelming sadness bordering on hopelessness, this will not be a difficult decision.


The quest to see whether I can watch one episode of every 1970s series continues – and at first glance ABC may present a challenge. 



Alias Smith and Jones

Owen Marshall, Counselor At Law



The ABC Thursday line-up consisted of three shows I’d describe as “tweeners.” By any reasonable measure they were successful (two out of three, anyway) and all still have their admirers. But they never crossed into the mainstream of past classics, the shows that immediately come to mind when discussing favorite television genres.


How many TV westerns will viewers celebrate before they get to Alias Smith and Jones? How many TV lawyers would you name before Owen Marshall? And both those shows were hits compared to Longstreet.


But I’ve seen them all, sparingly I admit. The one I liked most was Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law, which ran three seasons and starred Arthur Hill in the title role, with frequent guest appearances by Pat Harrington as Hamilton Burger (aka the guy who always loses in court). Hill was not known to me when I first checked this series out on TV Land, but he was clearly formed from the same idealistic mold that created Dr. Marcus Welby and Police Sergeant Chad Smith – a distinguished, compassionate, gentleman that brought honor to his profession. 



No one seems to remember Lee Majors was in this – most articles about his career

jump right from The Big Valley to The Six Million Dollar Man. But he appears in more than 50 episodes as Owen’s young colleague Jess Brandon.


For me the show did not measure up to The Defenders or Perry Mason or even Petrocelli. Maybe I didn’t see enough episodes, or maybe I didn’t see examples of the show at its best. I went back before doing this piece and watched a couple more on YouTube, and was very impressed by “The Desertion of Keith Ryder,” featuring Randolph Mantooth as a Vietnam deserter who returns from Canada to the US after his father has a heart attack. I also enjoyed “Shadow of a Name;” with ‘70s super-couple Lee Majors and Farrah Fawcett together, in the same episode in which Ed Begley, Jr. plummets to a fiery death courtesy of Tim Matheson, who is defended by Barry Sullivan, typecast once again as an arrogant jerk.


I could never get into Alias Smith and Jones, which also lasted three seasons and starred Ben Murphy and Pete Duel as a small-screen homage to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.


As for Longstreet, it may be best remembered now not for star James Franciscus playing a blind insurance investigator, but for the four episodes featuring Bruce Lee.

I would guess that’s the reason the series earned a DVD release despite lasting just one season. Lee’s contributions here were not as colorful or action-packed as his stint as Kato in The Green Hornet, but even in quiet moments he has a presence that commands attention.



The Flip Wilson Show


The Dean Martin Show


The only Thursday night series ranked among the top 30 shows in 1971 was The Flip Wilson Show, which finished the year at #2. It’s surprising and sad that Wilson is not better remembered now. Like Dan Rowan and Dick Martin he was a comedian who came out of the nightclub scene, got handed a television series that became an Emmy-winning phenomenon, and then faded back into relative obscurity when it ended.


Wilson’s most famous creation was sassy Geraldine Jones, who turned “The devil made me do it” into a national catchphrase. Had she come along now I wonder whether she’d be targeted by the perpetually angry for advancing a stereotype, or in demand at the nation’s libraries to read stories to third-graders. 



James Garner called Nichols his favorite among the three series he carried, which is odd considering it was also the shortest-lived and least popular of his shows. But longevity is no assurance of value, as The Bachelor continues to prove, so I was certainly looking forward to discovering why he thought it was so special. After watching it, I’m still wondering.


It’s no Maverick, but it's not a bad show; he plays a drifter who becomes sheriff of a small western town, circa 1915, only as a way to pay off a debt. Garner always has charisma to spare, and he’s once again playing a guy who can talk his way out of a fight. The series also features Margot Kidder before she was Lois Lane, and Stuart Margolin. 


Apparently NBC wanted a more traditional western hero, didn’t like what they were getting, and kept moving the series around until it was canceled after 29 episodes.


Who could follow two guys as cool as Flip Wilson and James Garner? Only Dino, the king of cool, whose variety show is one of the gems of the genre. 






CBS Thursday Night Movie


Only one series to discuss here, and one I thought would land on the “missed shows” list until I found a couple of episodes on the Dailymotion website. Bearcats! starred Rod Taylor and Dennis Cole as freelance heroes-for-hire in the early 20th century, who traveled the Southwest in a white Stutz Bearcat automobile.


There were just 14 episodes, and based off the two I watched I would say this is the worst series I’ve found thus far in my 1970s journey; a poor man’s Wild, Wild West with none of that show’s wit or style. But still better than watching the State of the Union.




And best of all, no shows to be added to the “missed” list! We’ll see what Friday brings next time.

Shows Missed:

The Don Knotts Show (1970)

San Francisco International Airport (1970)

Nancy (1970)

The Headmaster (1970)

Shirley’s World (1971)

The Man and the City (1971)


  1. Oddly enough, Bearcats!, unmemorable and short-lived as it was, actually inspired an animated Saturday morning parody/rip-off (pick one) called The Houndcats the following season. You guessed it, the characters are felines. Based on the few episodes I've seen, it wasn't much better than its inspiration source.

    1. Wow. - did not know that. Was it Hanna-Barbera? I get the potential in adapting popular shows (Gilligan's Planet, Partridge Family 2200 AD), but adapting a flop doesn't seem like a smart call.

    2. It was DFE (DePatie-Freleng Enterprises), who you would know as the studio behind the myriad of Pink Panther theatrical shorts, TV shows, and specials. To their credit, they also produced animal-cast "homages" of successful series such as The Barkleys, (All in the Family), and The Oddball Couple (The Odd Couple).

      They did hedge their bets a bit with The Houndcats, and mashed in some Mission: Impossible elements also. Oh, well--at least the theme song is kinda cool:

    3. Actually 3 of the HOUNDCATS were dogs: Dingdog, Musselmutt, and Rhubarb, hence the name "Houndcats". I have this on a DVD set w/ BARKLEYS, a favorite of mine. THE DFE cartoons usually had a very similar look & sound, likely due to the same designer & theme singer/songwriter.

    4. I own that DVD as well, and you can see how long its been since I watched it. Thank you for the correction.

  2. David, thanks for the informative, interesting read. I'd forgotten about Longstreet, haven't seen it in decades but I distinctly remember very much liking that show. I was never a big flip Wilson fan, but I liked how he made my dad laugh. I always wondered what happened to him! I just finished reading about him on Wikipedia now. And finally, I would love to see some Owen Marshall episodes, I remember it being on but we never watched it. Keep up the good work sir. 🙂👍👍

    1. Thanks, Doug. There are a few Owen Marshall eps on YouTube - worth checking out.

    2. Flip Wilson starred in a 1985 single-season sitcom for CBS called CHARLIE & CO. Gladys Knight played his wife, and this was thought to be a ripoff of THE COSBY SHOW in the wake of that sitcom's huge start the year before.

  3. This is a great series, David - particularly enjoy your side comments! Would have been interesting to see what would have happened with "Nichols" if it had been renewed for a second season, with Garner playing Nichols' more traditionally heroic twin brother Jim. Would have been one of the more unique mid-series reboots.

    1. Agreed - that was a St. Elsewhere-level swerve at the last moment. We'll never know if it would have worked.

    2. Nichols:
      In everything he said and wrote in the years afterward, James Garner made clear that when he agreed to the character switch, it was with the intention of tanking the show; if he couldn't do it his way, he wouldn't do it at all.
      Rockford Files was Garner's next series, which he was able to take control of, with his own people in charge; the rest, you know.

  4. What a shame that you can't keep your alt right political leanings and commentary out of it. Sorry...Trump is a traitor and he lost. Get over it.

    1. I have a list of other TV blogs on the right side of the screen. Perhaps one of those would be more to your liking.