Wednesday, May 8, 2024

My Journey Through 1970s TV; Sunday Nights, 1974


My journey through the 1970s arrives at last to 1974, and without looking ahead I’m trying to remember if that it is going to be a good year or not. The previous year featured a high number of quickly canceled shows, so I’m anxious to see if the three networks’ collective return to the drawing board is going to yield better results. 


Sunday, 1974



Apple’s Way




There were great expectations for Apple’s Way, not just from the network but also from the companies that saw profit potential in the kind of tie-in merchandise that was big business with a hit series in the 1970s. 


A new show from Waltons creator Earl Hamner Jr., about another large family with deep roots in a warm rural community? How could it miss?


But it did miss, disappearing after just 28 episodes across two seasons, leaving manufacturers wondering what they were going to do with all those Apple’s Way lunch boxes, board games and Viewmaster reels. 



I watched it, though not regularly, and though it’s been 50(!) years I can still picture that familiar water wheel in the opening credits. In fact I can recall that more clearly than any of the characters, which may have been part of the problem.


Ronny Cox starred as architect George Apple, who gets fed up with the rat race in Los Angeles and moves his family to Appleton, Iowa, which was founded by his ancestors. The Apple clan included wife Barbara (Frances Lee McCain), Grandpa (Malcolm Atterbury), and kids Paul (Vince Van Patten), Cathy (Patti Cohoon), Steven (Eric Olson), and Patricia (Frannie Michel, replaced during the run by Kristy McNichol). 



My view? It failed for two reasons. First, it offered wholesome family entertainment in a time slot opposite The Wonderful World of Disney, which had practically trademarked that concept by the early 1970s. Uncle Walt may have been gone by 1974 but his successors strived to maintain his legacy*, and viewers trusted they could leave their kids in front of the set as long as it was tuned to NBC.


Second, Ronny Cox never struck me as an actor who radiated warmth. Over his long career he would specialize in obnoxious authority figures (St. Elsewhere, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Robocop) so his casting here was less than ideal.


Despite the poor lead-in the series provided, both Kojak (#14) and Mannix (#20) remained among the season’s 20 most watched shows.


* Of course this was the era before Disney dispatched a guy dressed as the evil queen from Snow White in its theme parks, and thought that would be just fine with the family from Kansas that saved up all year for a trip to Disney World.



The Wonderful World of Disney

The NBC Sunday Mystery Movie (Columbo, McMillan and Wife, McCloud, Amy Prentiss)


Sunday was also a strong ratings night for NBC, with Disney at #18 and the Mystery Movie at #22. New to its rotating lineup was Amy Prentiss, starting Jessica Walter as the newly appointed Chief of Detectives at the San Francisco Police Department. Of course, she faces hostility and sexism from the rank-and-file and struggles to win their respect. 



The title of the series’ pilot is “Prime Suspect,” which is ironic since that is also the title of a British series starring Helen Mirren as a Detective Superintendent in London who also confronts institutional sexism. That series is better in every way than Amy Prentiss, which got the hook after just three episodes. Walter usually brings the fire to any character she plays but seems surprisingly muted here; yet, she still won an Emmy for her performance. Go figure.



The Sonny Comedy Hour

ABC Sunday Night Movie


Sonny Bono is deserving of more respect than he usually gets.


He gladly played a self-deprecating role to shift more of the spotlight to Cher, and he’d be the first to tell you as a singer he barely gets by. But he wrote most of Sonny & Cher’s hits, produced their records, and had most of the ideas that launched the duo to success in nightclubs and on television. If you listen to Cher’s commentaries on the Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour DVDs that came out a long time ago, she acknowledges everything he did to put the former hippies over with mainstream America. 


All that said, it was a strange idea to give him his own series. 


Maybe it was just part of the divorce settlement – Cher got custody of the duo’s network – CBS – for her solo series. Sonny moved to ABC but retained custody of the repertory company that populated the Sonny & Cher show comedy segments – Ted Zeigler, Murray Langston, Peter Cullen, etc. Somehow Cher got to hold on to Teri Garr. 


I’m sure everyone tuned in once out of curiosity and then forgot it. I did. Cher’s show lasted longer but was also canceled, and then the duo reunited for another season of The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour


1974 is off to a good start – no new shows to add to the “Missed” list. We’ll see if that continues.  


Shows Missed:

The Don Knotts Show (1970)

San Francisco International Airport (1970)

Nancy (1970)

The Headmaster (1970)

The Man and the City (1971)

Search (1972)

Assignment: Vienna (1972)

The Delphi Bureau (1972)

Jigsaw (1972)

The Little People (1972)

The Sixth Sense (1972)

Tenafly (1973)

Faraday & Company (1973)

Love Story (1973)

Needles & Pins (1973)

Calucci’s Department (1973)


  1. I've never seen an episode of Apple's Way. It's conspicuously absent from Youtube. It appears it may run in syndication on Lifetime in the late 80's. I'm a fan of the Walton's (and Earl Hamner), so I wouldn't mind checking it out.

    1. I'm surprised it never received a DVD release, and with that market now on life support it will likely never happen.

  2. A great look back David--wow, I have zero memory of Sonny Bonos variety show! On the other hand, the theme song to Apples Way began playing in my head the moment I saw that first photo. So cool seeing the board game and lunchbox. Nice. 🙂