If you’ve noticed what the networks are serving up on Saturday these days, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that they’re not even trying anymore. But in the 1970s competition for viewers was as intense on the weekend as it was during the week.
As my quest continues to watch one episode from every prime time series during that decade, I’m delighted to see so many familiar classics from Saturday night in 1972. But I sense that one of the shows below is going to be trouble.
All in the Family
Bridget Loves Bernie
The Mary Tyler Moore Show
The Bob Newhart Show
In the early 1970s, Saturday nights belonged to CBS. All in the Family was the year’s top rated show, with newcomer Bridget Loves Bernie ending the season at #5. The Mary Tyler Moore Show ranked #7, and The Bob Newhart Show (also in its first season) finishing at #16.
Only Mission: Impossible failed to crack the top 30, but this was the last of the show’s seven seasons, and few series maintain viewer interest any longer than that. Those who stuck with it saw a few episodes that were retreads of earlier classics (“Two Thousand,” “Cocaine”) and the now obligatory non-mission episode (”Kidnap”). But even these were entertaining, and Barbara Anderson was the best female IMF agent to join the team since Barbara Bain.
Bridget Loves Bernie was a series that deserved a better fate, based not just on its high rating but its overall quality. Meredith Baxter played Bridget Teresa Mary Colleen Fitzgerald, an Irish Catholic teacher who falls in love at first sight with cab driver Bernie Steinberg (David Birney). The couple’s inter-religious marriage and the culture clash of their respective in-laws was the launching point for many of the episodes, but the topics were not explored with the frankness and harder edge of All in the Family. Instead, this was a sweet and gentle sitcom that worked because of the chemistry between Baxter and Birney, who later married (and even later divorced).
CBS canceled the series out of concern over adverse reactions from a vocal minority of intolerant viewers. More than 40 years later it’s still the highest-rated TV series to be canceled. Not one of television’s prouder moments. But I’m happy to have the show on my DVD shelf.
NBC Saturday Night Movie
“Rampart, this is Squad 51.”
“Squad 51 this is Rampart, start an IV with ringers lactate.”
With Emergency! producer and top TV cop Jack Webb pays tribute to another branch of America’s civil servants. As with Dragnet this is a straightforward look at professionals at work, sometimes at the service of an indifferent or outright hostile public.
Randolph Mantooth and Kevin Tighe were the breakout stars and got the prime panels on the lunchbox as paramedics John Gage and Roy DeSoto.
When patients were wheeled into Rampart General they were then treated by Doctors Brackett and Early, played by Robert Fuller and Bobby Troup, assisted by Nurse Dixie McCall (Julie London).
Pilots can be hit and miss as series introductions, but Emergency! had one of the very best ever produced. The Wedsworth-Townsend Act was a movie-length, documentary-style look at the establishment of the Los Angeles Paramedic program, over the objections of some doctors who argued that firemen should not be trusted with administering emergency medicine. More than 50 years later, the decision to endorse that program has saved countless lives.
Alias Smith & Jones
The Streets of San Francisco
The Sixth Sense
This was the third and final season for Alias Smith & Jones. During the previous season costar Pete Duel committed suicide, but rather than cancel the series ABC recast his role with Roger Davis. Fans didn’t buy it, and Davis lasted just 17 episodes before the network finally did the right thing.
However, the network found a new hit with The Streets of San Francisco, starring Karl Malden as veteran police homicide detective Mike Stone, and a young Michael Douglas as his new partner, Steve Keller. The series ran five seasons and some of its more bizarre episodes took up permanent space in my memory. These include casting teen idol Ricky Nelson as a flute-playing killer pimp, and equally wholesome John Davidson as a cross-dressing serial killer.
Even back then Frisco was a little seedy – note the peep show marquee that was a prominent part of the show’s opening credits – but there’s something inescapably sad about watching one of America’s most beautiful cities back when it still earned such accolades, and contrast it to everything that is happening there now. I’m not sure even these cops could cope with the streets of today’s San Francisco.
Which brings us to The Sixth Sense. It was a series about extra-sensory perception (ESP), which was a trending topic in the 1970s. Most police and detective shows devoted an episode to someone with psychic powers, and as we continue our journey through the 1970s we’ll soon encounter The Girl With Something Extra, starring Sally Field as a young bride with ESP.
In this series, Gary Collins starred as a college professor who specialized in parapsychology, and Catherine Ferrar as his research assistant. I don’t know much more about it than that, but according to Wikipedia there were 25 episodes aired over two seasons, after which this hour-long series was trimmed into half-hour installments and aired as part of the syndication package for Rod Serling’s Night Gallery.
Since the show was based on a 1971 television movie called Sweet, Sweet Rachel that is available online, I was tempted to watch that and count it as a win. But unlike the Emergency! pilot, this was had a different cast, so the show could not be fairly judged by that movie. Apparently there was a DVD release in France, so I may one day be able to cross this one off my missed shows list.
The Don Knotts Show (1970)
San Francisco International Airport (1970)
The Headmaster (1970)
The Man and the City (1971)
The Chicago Teddy Bears (1971)
Assignment: Vienna (1972)
The Delphi Bureau (1972)
The Little People (1972)
The Sixth Sense (1972)