Thursday, March 30, 2023

My Journey Through 1970s TV: Saturday Nights, 1971


Time to close out 1971 in my quest to watch at least one episode of every 1970s prime time series. Once again we have a varied batch of hits and misses to review, including a Partridge Family spinoff, a British import with Roger Moore and Tony Curtis, new shows featuring Sandy Duncan and Dick Van Dyke, and our introduction to a guy from Queens named Archie Bunker.  




All In the Family

Funny Face

The New Dick Van Dyke Show

The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Mission: Impossible


So controversial was All In the Family when it debuted that CBS ran a disclaimer before the first episode to prepare viewers for what was to come:


“The program you are about to see is All in the Family. It seeks to throw a humorous spotlight on our frailties, prejudices and concerns. By making them a source of laughter, we hope to show — in a mature fashion — just how absurd they are.”


Perhaps you too are old enough to remember when television viewers were deemed capable of responding to provocative content “in a mature fashion.”


The show was not an immediate hit, but by season’s end it became the top-rated series on television, a position it would hold for five years.



The Tiffany Network owned Saturday nights this season, as it did throughout much of the 1970s. While the Sandy Duncan sitcom Funny Face is not remembered as a hit, it finished the season ranked #8, with The Mary Tyler Moore Show at #10 and The New Dick Van Dyke Show at #18.


I mentioned Funny Face once before in this blog, in a piece about shows that were canceled despite top ten ratings. The series was essentially a west coast version of That Girl – Duncan played Sandy Stockwell, who leaves a small town in Illinois headed for Los Angeles with dreams of a career as an actress. At the time I hadn’t had a chance to watch it, but since then a couple of episodes have turned up online. They were about what I expected – Duncan was delightful but she didn’t get much help from pedestrian scripts and a forgettable supporting cast. 



That said, I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it. In the episode “Dream a Little Recurring Dream of Me,” Sandy has the same odd dream every night about a strange date with a French man, and later finds elements of the dream starting to come true. She plays the reactions to the situation wonderfully, especially in some slapstick moments with Cesare Danova as her French date. Coincidentally, Danova also played a similar dashing foreign character in an episode of That Girl (“The Face In the Shower Room Door”). These little classic TV connections are another reason I so enjoy visiting and revisiting these shows.


CBS tried some clever scheduling by running the Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore shows back-to-back, after audiences previously fell for both of them as husband and wife. I’ve seen several episodes of The New Dick Van Dyke Show, which barely registers now on anyone’s nostalgia-meter. But 72 episodes is not a bad run, and I always like seeing Hope Lange, who plays Dick’s wife. Episodes like “Queasy Rider” gave Van Dyke opportunities for some hilarious physical comedy moments. But I think the biggest problem with The New Dick Van Dyke Show is that it wasn’t the old Dick Van Dyke Show, and too many viewers wondered what Rob Petrie was doing in Arizona. 



As The Mary Tyler Moore Show was entering its peak seasons, Mission: Impossible was beginning to wind down toward cancelation. Episodes like “The Tram” recall the series’ glory days, but too often now there are stories where Phelps’ brilliant plans go awry, forcing the team to improvise. That’s not what made this team of professionals popular in the first place.



The Partners

The Good Life

The NBC Saturday Night Movie


CBS’s ratings dominance destroyed the competition, but thankfully the losses were nothing to weep over.


The Partners starred Don Adams, one year after the end of Get Smart, once again bumbling his way toward foiling criminal plots and frustrating an exasperated boss. I found watching it to be a sad and uncomfortable experience – here was an actor who created one of the most iconic characters of the 1960s, but then that moment passed and it’s as if no one told him. There was really no chance to recreate what had once worked so well within this premise and with this cast, and I felt sorry for him as I watched him try. 



In The Good Life Larry Hagman and Donna Mills played Albert and Jane Miller, a middle-class married couple that take jobs as a butler and cook for wealthy industrialist Charles Dutton (David Wayne). Just 15 episodes were made before everyone moved on to more successful projects. 


I’ve only seen one episode, entitled “A Tremendous Sense of Loyalty,” in which the Millers reveal they made up the references in their resumes; that becomes a problem when one of the millionaires they listed as a former employer is coming to town. 


It wasn’t terrible, but if this episode was typical of the show’s overall tone then for Larry Hagman it was nearly as big a retread as The Partners was for Don Adams. All of the nervous tics he perfected on I Dream of Jeannie are back as he tries to fast-talk and fumble his way out of another embarrassing situation. This installment was also boosted by guest star Bob Cummings, always slightly offbeat and smarmy but in an appealing way.



Getting Together

ABC Movie of the Weekend

The Persuaders


“A Knight In Shining Armor,” the last episode in the first season of The Partridge Family, introduced Bobby Sherman as Bobby Conway, a struggling songwriter who is great with music but terrible with lyrics. The Partridges introduce him to Lionel Poindexter (Wes Stern), an oddball who can’t hold a job but who can write beautiful words to Bobby’s music.


What happened to this unlikely duo next was to be explored in the spinoff series Getting Together. But when I finally watched a couple of episodes many years later, I was surprised to find that the show was nothing like the premise that was promised by the pilot. Gone were all of Lionel’s personality quirks and eccentricities. Even stranger, neither show I saw contained any reference to two guys trying to make it in the music business (though apparently we hear a song from Sherman in every show).



In “Memories Are Made of This,” the boys volunteer for scientific experiments to raise enough money to attend a party. That same plot was used earlier on another

forgotten series called Hey Landlord, and then later with much greater success on a classic episode of Laverne & Shirley. I liked “Blue Christmas” more, about our heroes and their neighbors (played by sitcom stalwarts Jack Burns and Pat Carroll) spending a miserable Christmas in a remote rustic cabin – but then I’m a sucker for holiday shows.


I was certain I was going to like The Persuaders, so it was really surprising when I found I didn’t. Tony Curtis and Roger Moore play wealthy partners, one an American with blue collar roots, the other from the British gentry (I’m sure you can figure out which was which). Together they occasionally solve crimes, despite having no experience in that field, and often wind up making bad situations worse.


I don’t know what went wrong here, at least for me. I loved another British series in which two stylish partners exchange whimsical banter while bodies drop dead around them, but Moore and Curtis are not Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg.  The two stars also reportedly didn’t get along, which likely hurt any chemistry that might have made their scenes click. I will say it’s often a beautiful series to look at, with stunning locations and bold, colorful sets, but try as I might it just didn’t do anything for me. 



The Persuaders (I’m not even sure who they were supposed to be persuading) was a hit in several European markets, but never caught on in the colonies. Its timeslot likely didn’t help; I always question the decision to schedule any series after a movie in prime time, when most people are ready to switch off the set and do something else.


No new shows added to the “Missed” list! So on we go to 1972…


Shows Missed:

The Don Knotts Show (1970)

San Francisco International Airport (1970)

Nancy (1970)

The Headmaster (1970)

The Man and the City (1971)

The Chicago Teddy Bears (1971)


  1. This was intriguing, learning what else was on 1971 TV besides CBS. For pretty much the entire decade, our Saturday nights were devoted to the Tiffany Network. For example, I'm in honest to God shock. I very well remember the so-called pilot episode with Bobby Sherman on The Partridge Family; I had no idea it had actually become a series. Very curious to see it, love me some Bobby sherman! Thank you David, a great read! 🙂👍

  2. Thanks, Doug. Here's an episode that's online: