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THE TELEPHEMERA YEARS: 1970, part 1

Written By:

Alan Boon
The Most Deadly Game, 1970

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!

1970-71

The arrival of a new decade brought with it some significant changes in the network television schedules. The Fall 1970 season was the final time viewers could sit down to enjoy The Ed Sullivan Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, Hogan’s Heroes, and Green Acres, all staples of CBS’s 1960s line-up, with The Newlywed Game and High Chapparal also saying their goodbyes as the year went on. Still, Here’s Lucy ensured that Lucille Ball was still a constant in American homes, while Ironside, Gunsmoke, and Marcus Welby MD all had strong showings in the year-end ratings.

New shows arriving on the scene that would leave a lasting impact included The Odd Couple, The Partridge Family, and Monday Night Football on ABC, The Mary Tyler Moore Show on CBS, and the debut of a new Black comedy star on NBC in The Flip Wilson Show. There were slim pickings for fans of genre television but at least Alias Smith and Jones and The Young Rebels upped the action quota across the week. Those were all shows that found an audience, though; what about those that didn’t? This is the story of four of 1970’s near misses…

The Most Deadly Game (ABC): The most deadly game, of course, is man, and he’s the target of the trio of investigators led by master criminologist Ethan Arcane in this short-lived actioner from Aaron Spelling. Originally titled Zig Zag, the show was created by the prolific team of Morton S Fine and David Freidkin, a partnership formed in the early 1950s that had worked on hits like The Virginian, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and I Spy.

Taken up by Aaron Spelling Productions, a pilot film was completed in 1969 that starred Ralph Bellamy, George Maharis, and Inger Stevens. Enthusiastically received, a series was ordered only for Stevens to sadly take her own life before filming began. The role of college-educated detective Vanessa Smith instead went to Yvette Mimieux, joining Bellamy and Maharis as Arcane and military veteran Jonathan Croft, respectively, and the delay meant that they missed their planned September airdate, debuting on October 10th 1970 instead.

The Most Deadly Game, 1970

The first episode – “Little David” – saw the trio attempt to solve the murder of a man found with a large hole in his head that didn’t come from a bullet, eventually discovering that the killer was using a sling like his biblical namesake. Subsequent adventures featured cryptic poems, a seemingly prophetic murderer, paranoid rock stars, and foreign assassins, with Ethan, Jonathan, and Vanessa stepping into a variety of roles in order to find those vital clues to solve the case of the week.

An intriguing premise that could have had legs for a longer run, The Most Deadly Game’s biggest negative was its time slot, scheduled opposite The Mary Tyler Moore Show and NBC Saturday Night at the Movies, an issue not helped by its late start. With ratings never really recovering and showing no signs of getting any better as 1970 turned into 1971, ABC pulled the plug, the twelfth episode – “I, Said the Sparrow” – being the last. Spelling, of course, went onto much greater things but Bellamy, Maharis, and Mimieux enjoyed a career of small supporting roles, the latter popping up eight years later as the token woman in The Black Hole.

From a Bird’s Eye View (NBC): Made in conjunction with British companies ATV and ITC Entertainment, From a Bird’s Eye View was sold to NBC by Lew Grade, an attempt to make a comedy series that would appeal to both US and UK audiences. Its star was actually in place before anything else as Grade’s first aim was to work with Millicent Martin, a singer and comedy actress who had risen to prominence when starring in her own sketch show, Mainly Millicent.

Grade sent six of Martin’s sketches to US producer Sheldon Leonard, the man behind The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick van Dyke Show, and I Spy, who came up with the sit behind the com: air hostesses. Working titles included Meet Millie and Up She Goes but From a Bird’s Eye View was cheekily decided upon and a search began for a co-star to light up the screen alongside Martin, with stage musical actress Patte Finley eventually getting the nod.

From a Bird's Eye View, 1970

Martin and Finley underwent training with British European Airways and the show begins with their characters – a ditzy Brit and a canny American – working out of London to various European cities for the fictional International Airlines. A whole plane full of new passengers each week allowed ample room for guest stars, with the likes of Richard Briers, Frank Thornton, Clive Dunn, Joan Hickson, and Arthur Mullard all taking their seats, allowing US audiences a glimpse of the best of UK sitcom stars.

The show was originally supposed to debut in the Summer of 1970 as a mid-season replacement, but NBC held it back, initially for Fall and then for Spring, debuting it on Tuesday nights in March 1971. By that time, it had finished its run on ATV in the UK after the decision had been made to cancel it with just sixteen episodes completed. Although Grade’s grand experiment had failed, Leonard returned to the format later that year, enlisting Shirley Maclaine to star in Shirley’s World, another co-production with ITC. It lasted just one episode longer.

Barefoot in the Park (ABC): If there was such a thing as a sure bet in the 1960s it was that you could rely on Neil Simon for a Broadway smash. From his 1961 debut Come Blow Your Horn, through The Odd Couple and Sweet Charity, to 1969’s Last of the Red Hot Lovers, Simon’s scripts enraptured theatregoers, with several of them being made into hit movies, including Barefoot in the Park, the story of two newlyweds learning to live together that starred Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley when it opened in 1963.

Redford reprised the role of Paul Bratter for the 1967 movie version, this time opposite Jane Fonda’s Corie, with reviewers praising the romantic farce for its simplistic delights. Barefoot in the Park was followed by a movie version of The Odd Couple, and both shows were picked to continue as TV shows for the Fall 1970 season on ABC. Jack Klugman and Tony Randall replaced Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau as Felix and Oscar for TV’s Odd Couple, and was an otherwise faithful transfer, but the decision was made to do something a little different with Barefoot in the Park

Barefoot in the Park, 1970

Although American society had made progressive leaps throughout the 1960s when it came to civil rights and race relations, the TV industry had not delivered a show with a predominantly black cast since The Amos ‘n’ Andy Show, which ran from 1951 to 1953 and was riven with complaints of racism from the NAACP, among others. When it came to Barefoot in the Park, executive producer William d’Angelo thought to try a sensitive portrayal of black life, charging Bill Idelson and Harvey Miller with developing Simon’s play as an ongoing TV drama with black leads and black supports, with Italian American Vito Scotti almost a token white man among the cast. Idelson and Miller – who’d worked together on The Mothers-in-Law and That Girl – looked to an actor who’d guested on those shows in Scoey Mitchell to play Paul, with newcomer Tracy Reed as Corie. Jazz singer Thelma Carpenter and comedian Nipsey Russell rounded out the core cast, with a young Garry Marshall pitching in with a script.

The show didn’t get off to the greatest start when its lead-in show, Bewitched, began to shed viewers, a decline that had an obvious knock-on for Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple, which followed it. Thus, when Mitchell and the producers had an irreconcilable falling out after just twelve episodes had been filmed, the decision was made to cancel the show rather than recast the role. The Odd Couple was moved to Fridays and eventually went on to enjoy a five-year run but Barefoot in the Park was soon forgotten, despite its place in Black TV history.

The Silent Force (ABC): Opening with a quote from Robert F Kennedy arguing that “If you do not, on a national scale, attack organized criminals with weapons and techniques as effective as their own, they will destroy us,” The Silent Force told the ongoing story of three US government agents tasked with combatting organised crime in southern California.

Created by Luther Davis, a former US Army Air Force Major who had carved a career writing stage musicals, the show debuted on September 21st 1970 as part of ABC’s new Monday line-up that included Monday Night Football for the first time. B-movie veteran Ed Nelson, Percy Rodriguez (Star Trek and The Man from UNCLE, among others), and the doll-like Lynda Day starred as Ward Fuller, Jason Hart, and Amelia Cole, the government’s best hope against the scourge of organised crime.

Silent Force, 1970

Working undercover and targeting a wide array of mob-associated industries, the three took on loan sharks, shady record company executives, police corruption, union busting, and more, giving ample room for the casting director to bring in guest stars like Joan van Ark, DeForest Kelly, Regis Philbin, Edward G Robinson, and Carmen Zapata.

Despite – or perhaps because of – a similar premise to CBS’s hit show Mission: Impossible, The Silent Force never caught fire with its intended audience, who perhaps wanted simpler pleasures as they prepared to watch huge men in padded armour crash into each other. The show was replaced in the schedules by quiz show The Reel Game, hosted by Jack Barry, returning to TV thirteen years after the quiz show scandals of the 1950s, which ironically would have made for a great case for The Silent Force to investigate…

Next time on The Telephemera Years: More of 1970’s less successful efforts, including The Immortal!

Check out our other Telephemera articles:

The Telephemera Years: pre-1965 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

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

The Telephemera Years: 1967 (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: 1974 (part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

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: 1983 (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: 1998 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

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

The Telephemera Years: 2002 (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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