Monday, November 20, 2023

My Journey Through 1970s TV; Tuesday Nights, 1973


Two out of three networks were confident enough to bring back their previous year’s Tuesday lineups for 1973. For CBS that made sense, with returning hit shows that continued to dominate in the ratings. For ABC, the move was more an exercise in wishful thinking – one that did not pay dividends. Eventually that network would own the decade with a seemingly never-ending string of successes – but that era would have to wait another couple of years.


Let’s take a look at the night’s selections – and see if my quest to watch at least one episode from every prime time series will be dealt yet another setback.


Tuesday, 1973




The Magician

Police Story


NBC was the only network to opt for a fresh slate of programs. Gone were Bonanza and The Bold Ones, and in their place three new offerings – one hit, one miss, and one that should have lasted longer.


I confess that I had not even heard of Chase before watching an episode online, but after doing so I understand why it was mostly forgotten. Mitchell Ryan, who I remember fondly from Dark Shadows, plays the no-nonsense head of a Los Angeles police department division that specialized in taking on the toughest cases. This was Stephen J. Cannell’s first television creation, but it was produced within the auspices of Jack Webb’s Mark VII trademark. Webb and Cannell had very different styles when it came to telling police stories, and the result here was a mix that never committed fully to either one.


The Magician had all the elements that create successful shows: a charismatic lead in Bill Bixby as magician Tony Blake; a unique premise – Blake uses his skills of sleight of hand and misdirection to solve crimes; and a talented creative team, including producers, writers and directors that previously worked on Mission: Impossible



There was also the interesting hook of Bixby actually performing all of the illusions shown on the series without camera tricks or other cheats. I’d have gladly watched more seasons, but NBC made The Magician disappear after just 21 episodes. What a rotten trick.


The network fared better with Police Story, created by former police officer Joseph Wambaugh. This 90-minute anthology series presented just what the title suggests: stories about police officers, from patrolmen to detectives, all of which delivered a realistic portrayal of the challenges of police work. Among it’s nearly 100 episodes were pilots for Police Woman with Angie Dickinson, and Joe Forrester, with Lloyd Bridges. 





Temperatures Rising

Tuesday Movie of the Week

Marcus Welby, MD


ABC is still inexplicably trying to make Temperatures Rising work. But wholesale cast changes (goodbye James Whitmore, hello, Paul Lynde) would not reverse its fortunes. Once again, an admirable portrayal of doctors personified by Marcus Welby proved more popular with audiences. Whatever happened to kindly family practitioners, anyway? Those were the days.





Hawaii Five-O

Tuesday Night CBS Movie (Hawkins, Shaft)


With Maude at #6 and Hawaii Five-O at #5 for the season, CBS managed to best its competition on Tuesdays, just as it had the previous year. They did make one change to their Tuesday Night Movie by adding films featuring recurring characters, one of which was already familiar to movie fans. That would be Shaft, with Richard Roundtree reprising his role as detective John Shaft.


The recent passing of Richard Roundtree was a reminder of how prominent the character of John Shaft was in the wave of gritty African-American cinema that peaked in the 1970s. The movies weren’t great but they were different. They had style; the characters they presented looked cooler than cool prowling mean streets to some of the decade’s best soundtracks; they took audiences into places they didn’t usually visit, and they introduced charismatic stars like Roundtree and Pam Grier that otherwise would have been saddled with stereotypical roles in mainstream films. 



Of course, Shaft had to be toned down considerably (you can’t say “he’s a bad mutha-“ in prime time). No cursing, no nudity, and none of those shoot-outs that resulted in thugs bleeding Rust-Oleum orange like they did in the movies. Maybe that’s why these seven episodes are not better known. But I enjoyed them, even more so than the other recurring feature, in which Jimmy Stewart played country attorney Billy Jim Hawkins. Reviews were good and Stewart won a Golden Globe for his work here, but after eight episodes he was ready to leave, citing concerns about script quality. 


Both Shaft and Hawkins earned DVD releases for those curious to check them out. What a shame they never thought of filming a crossover case – now that would be a memorable TV movie. Can you dig it?


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)

Search (1972)

Assignment: Vienna (1972)

The Delphi Bureau (1972)

Jigsaw (1972)

The Little People (1972)

The Sixth Sense (1972)



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