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Written By:

Alan Boon
Dick Tracy, 1968

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!


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. At least they made it to air, though – this is the story of those that didn’t…

Island of the Lost (ABC): Producer Ivan Tors – responsible for Flipper, Daktari, and (more apt for this magazine’s interests) Science Fiction Theatre – turned his hand to the lost island trope with this 1967 pilot, starring Richard Greene. British actor Greene, who had made his name in the title role of the ITV series The Adventures of Robin Hood, returned to the US for the role despite some reservations after an unhappy time there in the 1940s and 1950s.

He was exactly the square-jawed lead Tors needed for the role of anthropologist Josh Macrae, shipwrecked on a remote Pacific Island with his family and discovering that prehistoric creatures have somehow survived there. Lining up alongside him were Sheilah Wells and newcomer Robin Mattson as daughters Sharon and Lizzie, and Flipper’s chief dolphin-botherer Luke Halpin as son Stu.

Island of the Lost, 1967

The dinosaurs and other extinct animals that populated the island – alongside some headhunters straight out of central casting, naturally – were mostly of the “stick some spikes and stuff on a crocodile” variety but there are appropriate amounts of peril, at least for the family audience Tors clearly aimed his shows at.

ABC declined to pick the show up for series and the pilot was re-edited for release as a theatrical feature, complete with an escape by raft to tie things up. Tors still had Daktari on the air at the time and so can’t have been too concerned, although that was followed by a slew of failed pilots and aborted projects, with only Salty – basically Flipper with a seal – getting any traction. That was still better than Halpin, who drifted from small role to bit part, eventually ending up in stunt work and marine film consultancy, but who now lives happily in retirement in Florida.

Mad, Mad Scientist (NBC): It’s fair to say that, after The Munsters ended in 1966, Fred Gwynne was typecast. Playing a seven-foot-tall Frankenstein’s Monster will do that for an actor, even one with as considerable a comic talent as Gwynne, and he struggled for decent roles in both film and television. Luckily, Ed Haas and Norm Liebmann – scripters for The Munsters, Get Smart!, and others – had an idea for a new show, one which would be perfect for Gwynne’s comedic range.

In The Mad, Mad Scientist, Gwynne played Warren Springer, a chemist for a paint company who can’t help but retreat to his home laboratory to concoct strange potions. Bridget Hanley – soon to be cast in Civil War logging comedy Here Come the Brides, alongside David Soul – was his suffering wife Bonnie, with experienced child actor (and future voice of Lucy in the Peanuts animated films) Pamelyn Ferdin as daughter Sally.

Mad Mad Scientist, 1968

A pilot was shot that saw Gwynne’s mad scientist turn housekeeper Phoebe to liquid, among other mishaps, but NBC passed on taking the show to series. It sat on a shelf for almost two years before being aired as special under the title Guess What I Did Today?  in September 1968, when it garnered decent reviews but nothing near those needed to resurrect a long-dead project.

After the failure of the pilot, Gwynne mostly opted out of Hollywood for a while, instead touring with regional theatre companies and indulging his love of musical acting, although he would occasionally do a TV or film project, including a TV remake of the Ealing comedy Arsenic and Old Lace (albeit playing a role made famous by Boris Karloff…). He had a long run in CBS Radio Mystery Hour and was primed for a mainstream comeback with Punky Brewster in 1984 until the director called him Herman one time too many.

Out of the Blue (CBS): 3rd Rock from the Sun was a massive hit for the husband-and-wife team of Bonnie and Terry Turner, running for five seasons from September 1996 and featuring the misadventures of a quartet of aliens masquerading as an Ohio family in order to learn about human beheaviour. Almost thirty years earlier, Bewitched creator Sol Saks came up with almost exactly that premise, proving that both there are no new ideas in Hollywood and that timing is everything…

Out of the Blue starred Shirley Jones and Carl Ballantine as members of an alien spearhead sent to investigate whether Earth was suitable for colonisation by their planet. Taken in by a kindly Professor, the pilot episode saw them encounter strange Earth customs and reveal quirks of their own society, such as the glamourous Jones being considered unattractive on their home planet and the paralysing effect that alcohol had on their species.

Veteran Sherman Marks was brought in to helm the pilot, with a cast that also included It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World’s Marvin Kaplan and future singing Pontius Pilate Barry Dennen, ending with a shot of the aliens driving away with an “unattractive” Earth woman and one of their kind – stiff as a board – in a trailer hitched to their car. Sadly (or not?), that was the last anyone saw of the extra-terrestrials, and even then only when it was aired as part of CBS’s pilot burn-off series Premiere in the Summer of 1968.

Dick Tracy (NBC): Having revolutionised Batman with his hokey, sound-effect laden TV spectacular, William Dozier had an eye on what came next. His Greenaway Productions had already brought Green Hornet – similarly tongue in cheek and starring a young Bruce Lee – to screen, but needed more shows to keep the TV monster well fed. First planning a Wonder Woman show, which got as far as a screen test for Ellie Wood Walker as the titular heroine, the producer instead turned his attentions to a live-action Dick Tracey show, figuring the detective’s rogue’s gallery – which had been building since the newspaper strip’s inception in 1931 – to be every bit the match for those of the Caped Crusader.

Chester Gould’s creation had enjoyed film serials and feature films in the 1940s and 1950s, and even got a TV show of its own in 1950, ending when star Ralph Byrd died in 1952. In early press for the new show, Dozier explained that Dick Tracey had topped a list of cartoons to turn into TV shows even before he started work on Batman, and a newspaper appeal for suggestions to play the title role saw The Chicago Tribune swamped with replies. Victor Mature a clean fan-favourite for the role but the job was given to relative unknown Ray MacDonnell, with production beginning on a pilot in October 1966.

Dick Tracy, 1968

The pilot film saw Tracey got toe-to-toe with the dastardly Mr Memory (Victor Buono), who planned to derail a NATO conference, and was played fairly straight, although it used the trademark Greenaway technicolour palette. Completed in November, it was under consideration as a mid-season replacement for that season but when NBC announced their new line-up, Dick Tracey was absent.

Still, the real goal was a Fall 1967 debut, and the show was included on a list of hopefuls by Broadcasting magazine, but declining ratings for both Batman and The Green Hornet on ABC may have played a part when it failed to make the cut for the NBC line-up released in April 1967. By the turn of the decade, Greenaway Productions was wound up and Dozier went into semi-retirement, making occasional guest appearances on shows such as Love, American Style and Marcus Welby MD. Warren Beatty, of course, gained the rights to Dick Tracey in 1985, delivering a so-so movie in 1990 and holding onto the rights ever since without attempting any further TV or film treatments.

Return of the Original Yellow Tornado (NBC): Having debuted a year earlier to rave reviews and great ratings, Batman was the show everyone was seeking to copy for the 1967 season. CBS had Mr Terrific as a mid-season replacement in January 1967, starring Stephen Strimpell as a mild-mannered gas attendant turned superhero, and NBC offered up Captain Nice, which starred William Daniels as a mild-mannered police chemist turned superhero, but both shows failed to attract much of an audience and were not considered for renewal.

Perhaps the problem was that these were young superheroes, certainly something that The Return of the Original Yellow Tornado could not be accused of. Starring Mickey Rooney as the eponymous retired superhero, and Eddie Mayehoff as his equally ageing sidekick Dickie Boy, the pilot for the proposed series saw them brought back after years of peace by the return of Rooney’s old arch-enemy.

Created by Jack Laird, the script was written by George Bazler, Hal Goldman, and Al Gordon, a trio of funny men who came together on The Jack Benny Program in the early 1950s and had written the original treatment for Mr Terrific. It was planned that Eileen Wesson’s character – introduced as Dickie Boy’s “Gal Friday” – would eventually develop a costumed identity of her own and secretly solve the crimes the elder statesmen could not.

The pilot for The Return of the Original Yellow Tornado had actually been shot before both Captain Nice and Mr Terrific, and languished in their disappointing wake. NBC passed on picking it up, although they did order some reshoots and redubbing in order that the footage be turned into a feature film, but these eventually came to nothing. Thirty years later, however, an ageing super-agent was brought back to deal with the return of his arch-nemesis after years of peace, but that was less superpowers and more Austin Powers

Next time on The Telephemera Years: The kids were alright in 1967 and they had plenty to occupy their Saturday mornings…

Check out our other Telephemera articles:

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

The Telephemera Years: 1967 (part 1, 2)

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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