Here we go again – another look at one evening’s prime-time schedule from my favorite decade of television. The objective, beyond sharing memories about some great shows, is to discover whether there are any I missed then and still have not had a chance to enjoy.
The Streets of San Francisco
ABC gives us the most interesting lineup for this night, featuring two new shows – one was a hit, the other would likely have become one if its star had not quit after the first season.
Toma was based on the career of David Toma, a real New Jersey police detective (and relentless self-promoter), who was among the founders of that generation of cops to be celebrated on television for, as the marketing pitch goes, playing by their own rules.
Tony Musante played Toma, supported by Simon Oakland as his frequently exasperated boss, and the always-intriguing Susan Strasberg as his loving wife. Stories typically had Toma donning disguises and accents to infiltrate illegal activity and take down the bad guys.
If you search “Toma” on YouTube you’ll find more videos of the real Toma than the series. But I do recall the show and watched the one episode available to refresh my memory. Tony Musante stuck to his vow to shoot only one season, so the series was retooled and returned with Robert Blake as Baretta. The roots of the Toma character were still recognizable after the change, but where Toma had a wife and kids, all Baretta had was a cockatoo named Fred.
While Kung Fu debuted strong in the top 30 and enjoyed a successful three-season run, there will always be a what-might-have-been question over how the series would have fared if it had starred Bruce Lee instead of David Carradine. Accounts vary over how involved Lee was in the concept and his casting status – and whether the studio rejected him because they didn’t think an Asian lead could carry a series.
It still found in audience, though the action scenes were somnambulant compared to the speed and brutality of those in Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon, or even in the low-budget Shaw Brothers films, imported from Hong Kong and filling the urban grindhouses.
The CBS Thursday Night Movie
In its second season The Waltons leaped to #2 in the ratings, and stars Michael Learned and Richard Thomas both deservedly won Emmys.
The Flip Wilson Show
This was the final season for Flip, whose variety show ranked among television’s most popular but like most series built around one star, couldn’t sustain that success beyond a handful of seasons. The track record for such shows makes Carol Burnett’s 11-season run even more impressive.
Ironside still had some legs (I know, poor choice of words), as Raymond Burr’s wheelchair-bound inspector rolled into its seventh season, and would return for one more before cancelation. One of the more intriguing episodes from that year was “Riddle at 24,000 Feet” a pilot for a proposed series that would have starred Desi Arnaz as a crime-solving doctor.
You can read more about that episode in this It’s About TV blog.
It was 13 episodes and out for NBC Follies, a series I presumed was so obscure I almost added it to the missed shows list before even trying to find an episode.
But surprisingly, one did exist on YouTube – the first one as it happens, starring Sammy Davis Jr., Jerry Lewis, Diahann Carroll, Mickey Rooney, the Smothers Brothers, and a whole gaggle of dancers and showgirls.
It was part Vegas, part vaudeville, part ‘60s old-school variety show, filmed before a live audience. It seemed retro for 1973 and close to Paleolithic now, but part of me wishes there was still a place on television for shows like this – and enough multitalented celebrities to give 110% on stage to help us forget our troubles for a while.
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)
Faraday & Company (1973)
Love Story (1973)