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THE TELEPHEMERA YEARS: 1967 – PART 2

Written By:

Alan Boon
Cowboy in Africa, 1967

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!

1967-68

Is it 1967 or 1867, because cowboy dramas still have a big hold on US TV this year, with Bonanza and Gunsmoke joined by The High Chapparal, as well as a slew of lesser successful, rightfully-forgotten shows. Andy Griffith and Lucille Ball, of course, were still riding high at the top of the TV charts, with this being The Andy Griffith Show‘s swansong season, but there were sitcoms and variety hours galore to make America laugh while its sons died in a foreign war fought purely over political ideology.

It wasn’t just a dark time for anyone with a relative in Vietnam, there was also tragedy for superhero and sci-fi fans as Batman, The Invaders, Lost in Space, The Man from UNCLE, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea also reached the end of their runs, along with The Monkees (although Head was still waiting, tantalisingly, in November 1968). Never mind, Gentle Ben and Ironside arrived to alleviate the gloom, as well as a whole load of other shows that didn’t stick around in the popular memory. This is the story of more shows from 1967 that failed to capture the public imagination…

Cowboy in Africa (ABC): As the US struggled to define its place in the post-war world, it reached back to the glory days of manifest destiny, elevating the Western to an art form that dominated TV schedules for most the 1950s and 1960s. While more straightforward approaches such as Gunsmoke and Bonanza were obviously popular, there were occasionally efforts to do something a little bit different with the genre and that’s how Cowboy in Africa came to ABC in September 1967.

Set in the modern day, but every bit as rugged as the adventures of the Cartwrights, Cowboy in Africa starred Chuck Connors as Jim Sinclair, an expert ranch hand hired by stiff Englishman Wing Commander Hayes (Ronald Howard) to modernise the operation of his colonial ranch in Kenya. With Sinclair is his constant companion, a Navajo named John Henry (played by the non-Navajo Tom Nardini), and their group is completed by the end of the first episode as Sinclair is adopted by ten-year-old local boy Samson as his surrogate father.

Cowboy in Africa, 1967

Cowboy in Africa had its roots in a pilot produced a year earlier, starring Hugh O’Brien as Sinclair and John Mills as Hayes, which was released instead as a theatrical feature under the title Africa Texas Style. Ivan Tors – who had already brought the likes of Flipper, Daktari, and Gentle Ben to TV – tweaked Andy White’s script to give it enough life to springboard a series, casting former baseball and basketball star Connors, who he’d used in the Flipper movie as his star. Connors had spent five years as Lucas McCain in The Rifleman and was becoming typecast but was, at least, an experienced hand at this sort of thing.

The show was filmed in Los Angeles, but expert animal handler Ralph Helfer was on hand to ensure Sinclair encountered his fair share of exotic wildlife and former child star Marshall Thompson shot second unit footage in Mozambique, as he had done for Daktari (in which he also starred). Still, even all this wasn’t enough to see off Gunsmoke and The Monkees in its timeslot, and the twenty-sixth episode would be the last, replaced for the 1968-69 season by the final season of The Avengers.

Dundee and the Culhane (CBS): John Mills may not have reprised his role as Wing Commander Hayes when Cowboy in Africa came to TV, but he was present as another attempt to do a twist on the Western made its bow in September 1967. Mills was the Dundee in Dundee and the Culhane, one of a pair of lawyers in the Old West. Alongside him was Sean Garrison as The Culhane, a young Irish American legal eagle.

The show was greenlit on the strength of its pilot, “The Turn the Other Cheek Brief” (each episode was titled the something Brief), but as production continued the network started to lose faith in the show, concerned by the quality of subsequent scripts despite creator Sam Rolfe’s best efforts to mix the Western and legal genres.

Dundee and the Culhane, 1967

Still, CBS were hopeful that Dundee and the Culhane would find its audience, scheduling it at ten o’clock on Wednesday nights opposite the The ABC Wednesday Night Movie and a fading Run for Your Life on NBC. Viewers, though, seemed to agree with the network’s conclusion and stayed away in their droves, despite the obvious attractions of Mills, Garrison and guest stars including Charles Bronson, John Barrymore, and Warren Oates.

After just two episodes had aired, CBS cancelled the show, airing the other eleven completed episodes before replacing it with The Jonathan Winters Show, a variety showcase that played host to early performances by the likes of The Doors, Peaches and Herb, and The Strawberry Alarm Clock. Rolfe – who had earlier enjoyed success with Have Gun, Will Travel and The Man from UNCLE – took time to recover from the failure but eventually returned with an adaptation of Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm, leaving the Old West safely back in the 1960s where it belonged.

The Second Hundred Years (ABC): A man out of time has always been a popular idea, as far back as Washington Irving’s Rip van Winkle in 1819. With that in mind, crediting Father Knows Best veteran Roswell Rogers with the “idea” for The Second Hundred Years may well be the greatest grift known to man. Still, that’s what the credits say, although surely Ed Simmons, a joke writer for Jerry Lewis and others, bears the lion’s share of responsibility for this sitcom yarn about a prospector from 1900 who is thawed out after sixty-seven years under ice.

Monte Markham played Luke Carpenter, the hapless gold hunter who left his family one day, seemingly never to return. In 1967, however, he finds his son Edwin now has a song of his own – thirty-three-year-old Ken, who in a clever piece of casting is also played by Markham. Initially bewildered and confused by changes he can barely understand, Luke must learn to live in this new world with his son as his guide.

The Second Hundred Years, 1967

Sworn to secrecy by the military men that had revived him, lest word of his miraculous survival spark a scientific arms race, Luke finds that he is often better at adapting to modern life than stick in the mud Edwin. During the course of the show’s twenty-six-episode run, he meets an old girlfriend, locks his boss at the bank in the vault, falls in love with a hippy, frees a go-go dancer from a cage, and engages in as many swapping hijinks with Ken as you could shake an old stick at.

Critics were not kind ahead of the show’s premiere in September 1967 but it initially garnered strong ratings. These soon fell away, however, and by October The Second Hundred Years was in the bottom twenty-five shows airing in prime time. Still, the network had faith enough to keep plugging away, hopeful that a better lead-in than the moribund Custer might help ratings. The decline continued, however, and even a move to Thursday to fill the slot vacated by Batman didn’t help, a decision made in March 1968 that there would be no second season for The Second Hundred Years.

NASL (CBS): It’s tempting to think of the US as a football backwater. Proper football, that is, rather than the handsy version they claim as their own. However, during the 1920s, the American Soccer League was one of the highest payers in the world, attracting players from Europe and South America to the extent that FIFA threatened to declare them outlaws if they didn’t stop “stealing” players. After that, the US game became a purely amateur affair, at least until TV audiences for the 1966 World Cup showed a resurgent interest in the game.

Reacting to an apparent desire to see top class football by American fans, two rival leagues sprung up for the 1967 season, only one of which – the United Soccer Association – had official backing. Realising that they were two bald men fighting over a comb, a decision was made to merge the leagues into one, the North American Soccer League, inheriting the CBS TV deal negotiated by the other league – the National Professional Soccer League – before the merger.

NASL, 1968

Although it was nothing compared to the razzamatazz that the mid-1970s would bring, this was the beginning of football as a major sport in the US. Seventeen teams, from New York and Washington DC in the east to Los Angeles and Oakland in the west, played for the honour of becoming the first truly national champions in the US for almost forty years, with an Atlanta Chiefs team backed by English club Aston Villa picking up the honours after a play-off final.

CBS showed thirty-two live games on Sunday afternoons during the season, culminating in that play-off final, but ratings were poor even for weekend afternoons and the sight of almost empty stadiums did nothing to help the image of the league. At the end of the 1968 season, all seventeen teams had lost money, resulting in twelve clubs folding and CBS ending the TV deal. It would be 1974 before they came back on board, just in time to welcome Brazilian legend Pele to the New York Cosmos, the league’s glamour side, sparking a six-year spell at the very top of American sports. After that, things fell away again until the arrival of Major League Soccer in 1996, but that’s a story for another day…

Next time on The Telephemera Years: The shows that didn’t make it to air, including the greatest rogue’s gallery in newspaper comic strip history!

Check out our other Telephemera articles:

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

The Telephemera Years: 1967 (part 1)

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: 1978 (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: 1989 (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: 2006 (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: DIC (part 1, 2)

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

Titans of Telephemera: Kenneth Johnson

Titans of Telephemera: Sid & Marty Krofft

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

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

Titans of Telephemera: Ruby-Spears

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