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THE TELEPHEMERA YEARS: 1977 – PART 3

Written By:

Alan Boon
telephemera years 1977 exo-man

Ah, telephemera… those shows whose stay with us was tantalisingly brief, snatched away before their time, and sometimes with good cause. They hit the schedules alongside established shows, hoping for a long run, but it’s not always to be, and for every Street Hawk there’s two Manimals. But here at STARBURST we celebrate their existence and mourn their departure, drilling down into the new season’s entertainment with equal opportunities square eyes… these are The Telephemera Years!

1977-78

Garry Marshall ruled the roost in 1977, with Happy Days and its spin-off Laverne & Shirley occupying the top two slots in the Nielsen ratings for ABC. The Alphabet Network also had the number three and four shows as Three’s Company and the top ten’s sole action-adventure series Charlie’s Angels completed a good year for Fred Silverman’s company. It got even better when it came to new shows – Soap, The Love Boat, and Fantasy Island were all massive hits for the group, whose only real competition came from CBS.

The Eye’s perennial ratings juggernaut 60 Minutes was still doing blockbuster business and they unveiled a new Texas oil drama named Dallas in their new season line-up, joining Marvel Comics inspired shows The Incredible Hulk and The Amazing Spider-Man. NBC could only offer CHiPs in return, continuing a dark run for the Peacock. In addition to the Marvel shows, there was no shortage of new telefantasy on the screen, even if The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman were entering their final seasons, but little of it stuck around. At least those shows made it to air – this is the story of 1977’s unsold pilots…

Exo-Man (NBC): Jon Favreau may have kickstarted the Marvel Cinematic Universe when he brought Iron Man to the screen in 2008 but it wasn’t the first attempt to do the idea in live-action, only the first time to di it after actually bothering to acquire the license from Marvel Comics…

Exo-Man tells the story of Dr Nicholas Conrad, a brainiac who is paralysed in an attack by the mob and builds a suit of armour to regain his mobility (fight crime). Any resemblance to Tony Stark, who built a suit of armour to keep himself alive (and fight crime), is purely intentional, although the exo-cution leaves a little to be desired; Exo-Man is less Iron Man and more walking dildo.

Adapted from a book by Martin Caldin (whose Cyborg was adapted into The Six Million Dollar Man), a pilot film was made starring David Ackroyd, broadcast on NBC in June 1977. It did decent ratings for an off-season TV movie but there was no green light for an eventual series, with unsold pilot expert Lee Goldberg speculating that it was because of a lack of merchandising potential. It’s on YouTube if you want to tick a box on your Big List of Superhero Movies.

Stick Around (ABC): Andy Kaufman first performed his Foreign Man character on Saturday Night Live in 1975, during the show’s first few weeks on the air. It was a big hit in those less-enlightened times and was eventually adapted into the character of Latka Gravas on the beloved sitcom Taxi. Before that, though, Foreign Man was given his own project, with less than stellar results.

telephemera years 1977 stick around kaufman

Stick Around starred Kaufman as Andy, a robot servant in the year 2055, speaking with that distinctive voice and including many of the mannerisms that would soon have America laughing themselves off the sofa. The plot revolves around whether Andy’s owners should replace him with a newer model, but he proves his worth by helping them work out what the items in their antiques store – the “antiques” being everyday items from the 1970s – are and they decide to keep him.

ABC aired the thirty-minute pilot in May 1977 but unlike Andy’s owners, they didn’t decide to keep Stick Around and it was consigned to the dustbin of history, freeing Kaufman up for Taxi the next year. The pilot is available to watch on YouTube and you might recognise some of the material from Kaufman’s 1981 film Heartbeeps, where Kaufman and Bernadette Peters played obsolete robots.

The World of Darkness (CBS): The wonderfully named Granville van Dusen was a jobbing actor who lucked into the starring role of Paul Taylor, a sports writer who dies on the operating table only to be brought back to life with the ability to hear the voices of the dead, in this proposed series for CBS.

telephemera years 1977 world of darkness

The pilot film saw Taylor drawn to a creepy New England town where the patriarch of a wealthy family has apparently committed suicide. Written by Dark Shadows creator Art Wallace and directed by Jerry London (who would be best known for helming Shogun in 1980), the film was an attempt to create a supernatural property for the network and although it wasn’t immediately taken to series, the pilot – shown in April 1977 – drew enough interest for a sequel, The World Beyond, to air in January 1978.

Unfortunately, this was the end of the road for Paul Taylor, whose conversations with the dead went unrecorded after these two adventures, and van Dusen later did his best work as the voice of Race Bannon in The New Adventures of Jonny Quest. Only the second film is available on YouTube, which you should watch if you are a fan of golems, like all reasonable people.

Space Force (NBC): You wait ages for a space-themed sitcom on NBC to come along and all of a sudden there’s two… Springing from the pens of Children’s Television Workshop writers John Boni and Norman Stiles, Space Force starred Fred Willard as space Captain Woods, always on the lookout for a scheme. You know, like Bilko in space?

telephemera years 1977 space force willard

In the thirty-minute pilot, Woods and his crew raise money for sick kids by organising a carnival on board their space station, Fort Leo, where they illicitly sell military equipment and give rides in their starship, while the idiot station Commander Hinkley (William Phipps) is pushed towards an interplanetary war by the hawkish Captain Stoner.

Given the choice of two space-bound properties, NBC instead greenlit Quark and eventually showed the Space Force pilot in April 1978, by which point Quark had already been cancelled. The colourful pilot is up there on YouTube and, to be honest, NBC made the right choice.

Good against Evil (ABC): By May 1977, when Good Against Evil aired as part of The ABC Sunday Night Movie slot, The Exorcist was four years old but that didn’t stop it being ripe pickings for sensational TV fare, as the pilot for this proposed series proves (and, if anything, they also take from the even older Rosemary’s Baby).

telephemera years 1977 good against evil dack rambo

Dack Rambo (real name Norman) is a writer who, if I’m honest, is a little bit too pushy in pursuing Elyssa Davalos but eventually persuades her to marry him only to find that she’s prophesised to birth the Anti-Christ. Rather than taking this as a sign that things just weren’t meant to be, they enlist the aid of an exorcist – played by Dan O’Herlihy (Whiz Kids, RoboCop, Twin Peaks) – and do battle with the forces of Satan, marshalled by Richard Lynch’s sinister Mr Rimmin.

There’s a lot going on, and Kim Cattrell appears at some point (later earning top billing in a cash-in re-release when Sex and the City propelled her to stardom), but it was just another supernatural yarn amongst a sea of them in the mid-1970s, despite the presence of Hammer veteran Jimmy Sangster behind the typewriter. It’s on YouTube, of course, and it’s worth watching for Davalos alone, who should have become one of the top scream queens of the 1980s.

The Man with the Power (NBC): Written by Mission: Impossible staffer Allan Balter, and directed by Nicholas Sgarro (The Happy Hooker), The Man with the Power starred newcomer Bob Neill as school teacher Eric Smith, who was unknowingly gifted psychic superpowers by his alien father and is recruited to work for a government agency headed by his childhood friend.

telephemera years 1977 man with the power

Given his first assignment – to protect an exotic princess (played by former Miss India Persis Khambatta, who would go on to appear in Star Trek: The Motion Picture) – Eric fails spectacularly because he’s too busy flirting with his mark (The Bodyguard was still some years off so we can forgive him this oversight), and the princess is kidnapped by Vic Morrow. Well, not actually Vic Morrow but the cardboard cut-out bad guy played by Morrow.

With terrible effects and subpar acting (Neill’s career highlights afterwards came as “Driver” in The Six Million Dollar Man and as “Guard #2” in Tron), this fails in every conceivable way and Balter later reworked the concept into The Powers of Matthew Star, thankfully dying before it was completed. It’s on YouTube, because of course it is.

Next on The Telephemera Years: We’re caught Red Handed watching kids’ TV as 1977 continues!

Check out our other Telephemera articles:

The Telephemera Years: 1966 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1968 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1969 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1971 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1973 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1975 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1977 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1980 (part 12, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1982 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1984 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1986 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1987 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1990 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1992 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1995 (part 12, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1997 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2000 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2003 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2005 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2008 (part 1, 23, 4)

Titans of Telephemera: Irwin Allen

Titans of Telephemera: Stephen J Cannell (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

Titans of Telephemera: Hanna-Barbera (part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Titans of Telephemera: Kenneth Johnson

Titans of Telephemera: Glen A Larson (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

Titans of Telephemera: Quinn Martin (part 1, 2)

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