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THE TELEPHEMERA YEARS: 1970, part 3

Written By:

Alan Boon
Mister Jerico, 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 the action quota across the week. Those were the shows that made it to air but what of those projects that were cut down before they got that chance? This is the story of four unsold pilots…

The Aquarians (NBC): It’s fair to say that Ivan Tors loved the water. The prolific producer – born in Budapest during the First World War – fled to the US to avoid Nazi persecution in 1939 and joined the US Army Air Corps, soon transferring to the Office of Strategic Services, the wartime intelligence bureau. After the war, Tors joined MGM as a screenwriter, scripting seven films before creating his own A-Men company with actor Richard Carlson.

A-Men productions were the stuff of fantastic adventure, with the “Office of Scientific Investigation” trilogy quickly followed by syndicated TV series Science Fiction Theater in 1955. In 1958, he cast Lloyd Bridges in Sea Hunt, his first aquatic outing which led to 1960’s The Aquanauts and Korean war drama Underwater Warrior. His first big hit came in 1963 when Flipper delighted audiences of all ages with its cetacean star swimming to the rescue, and followed it with Daktari, Gentle Ben, and Cowboy in Africa, all variations on the theme.

The Aquarians, 1970

1970 saw Tors combine his two loves of underwater action and science fiction with The Aquarians, starring Ricardo Montalban as a submarine-dwelling scientist racing to find who has stolen a cache of nerve gas from a sunken ship that was carrying it for disposal. Jose Ferrer plays Montalban’s nemesis, ensuring a smouldering Latino stand-off that is all eyebrows and intensity, backed by the usual stunning score from Lalo Shifrin.

NBC passed on taking The Aquanauts to series, possibly wondering how Tors could keep Montalban busy over a full season. The Mexican actor moved onto a pair of Planet of the Apes, eventually setting sail for Fantasy Island, while Ferrer popped up in all manner of roles over the next decade, including the Angel of the Lord and Captain Nemo. For Tors, it was more of the same, with failed pilot Treasure Galleons and short-lived series Primus and Salty (a seal) occupying his time over the next few years.

Hunter (CBS): Written by Bruce Geller and Cliff Gould, who’d first teamed up on Mannix, Hunter starred Canadian former stage actor John Vernon as a government agent with the uncanny ability to inhabit the lives of others. In the pilot film, Steve Ihnat plays famous race car driver Alain Praetorious, who has become the target of brainwashers seeking to turn him into an assassin.

Using the latest mindbending techniques – including repeat viewings of parts of The Wizard of Oz, leading to the infamous line, “stop the monkeys!” – Praetorious is programmed by Fritz Weaver and John (Holmes and Yoyo) Schuck to crash his car into the grandstand where his target will be seated but problems with the brainwashing lead to him crashing his car too soon.

Hunter, 1970

This is where David Hunter (Vernon) comes in. Adopting Praetorious’s identity, he repeats the process in an attempt to discover just who is behind the dastardly scheme. It’s all very Mission: Impossible, and it’ll come as no surprise than Vernon, Weaver, and director Leonard J Horn were all regulars on that show, created in the first instance by Geller.

Although CBS were not interested in taking Hunter to series, they did show the pilot film as part of their New CBS Tuesday Night Movie strain, although not until January 1973, by which time all involved had moved onto other projects (except for Ihnat, for whom this was his last role before his untimely death from heart disease). Interestingly, CBS did greenlight a series called Hunter in 1977 that involved undercover agents, but it had nothing to do with the Geller concept, created as it was by William Blinn. And speaking of…

Cat Ballou (NBC): Along with Andy Griffith Show creator Aaron Ruben, William Blinn was one of a pair of scriptwriters entrusted with bringing the story of Cat Ballou to TV. In the 1965 movie, itself adapted from a novel by Roy Chanslor, Jane Fonda played Catherine “Cat” Ballou, a schoolteacher who turns outlaw when her father is killed by Tim Strawn, a gunslinger in the employ of crooked politicians.

Ballou hires legendary gunfighter Kid Shelleen to help her exact revenge, but he turns out to be a drunken bum and she has to take matters into her own hands. Lee Marvin had won an Oscar for playing both Shelleen and Strawn, but neither of the competing pilots could rely on his star power, nor that of Fonda.

Cat Ballou, 1970

Instead, Ruben’s version cast former ballet dancer Lesley Ann Warren (who’d shot to fame in 1967’s The Happiest Millionaire, the last Disney film completed by Walt before he died) as Cat, with Jack Elam as Kid Shelleen, and a story which revolved around Cat’s aim of building a school for the local children in the face of local opposition.

Blinn’s pilot – directed by Captain Kangaroo co-creator Bob Claver – saw Jo Ann Harris (soon to star as Clint Eastwood’s teen temptress in The Beguiled) hire F-Troop’s Forrest Tucker to protect her ranch from an outlaw gang, throwing in an orphan boy as a sop to family audiences. NBC passed on both pilots but, interestingly, showed them on consecutive evenings in September 1971, which must have been quite the trip for non-TV Guide reading viewers.

Mister Jerico (ABC): Having finished work on The Avengers in early 1969, the trio of producer Julian Wintle, director Sidney Hayers, and screenwriter Philip Levene decided they’d very much like to continue working together and concocted Mister Jerico, a pilot for a proposed series about a loveable conman.

After first choice Robert Wagner turned them down, the trio turned to someone they knew very well and cast Patrick Macnee in the title role, filming in London and Malta in the second half of the year. In the pilot, suave grifter Dudley Jerico targets nasty millionaire Rosso (Herbert Lom) for his famed Gemini diamond, aided by Marty Allen and Connie Stevens as pal Wally and Rosso’s duplicitous secretary.

Mister Jerico, 1970

Macnee plays Jerico with the aristocratic wit that was so successful in bringing John Steed to life, while Allen and Stevens – a sop to their US backers – gave great comedic value in support. Lom, for his part, is terrifically spiteful and the whole thing buzzes along in glorious technicolour, very much a thing of its time (or slightly past its time) with a wonderful Lulu theme song topping a score from Laurie Johnson.

Of course, the fact that it occupies column space here gives away the fact that ABC didn’t take Mister Jerico to series, despite its abundant charms. The same team tried again a year later with The Firechasers – starring Chad Everett as an arson investigator – with the same disappointing result as The Persuaders was taken to series ahead of it. Both pilots were shown as an ABC Movie of the Week, were given UK cinema releases, and can be seen in all their glory on YouTube.

The Kowboys (NBC): Don Kirshner began his career working for a former Tin Pan Alley songwriter, establishing his own Aldon Music publishing company in 1958, representing most of the Brill building songwriters, including Carole King and Neil Sedaka. In the early 1960s, Aldon Music began providing tunes for TV shows and soon became a prime source for pop music used in dramas and sitcoms. When Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider sold their idea for The Monkees to NBC in 1965, the network reached out to Kirshner to provide songs for the fictional (but soon to be real) band featured on the show.

The Monkees, of course, was a huge success, and Kirshner followed it up with a show of his own about a fictional pop band, The Archies. In 1968, he’d assembled a group of musicians to record songs under the illusion that they’d been written and performed by Archie Andrews and his pals from Riverdale, as seen in the famous comic books that depicted their adventures. Teaming with animation studio Filmation, Kirshner grabbed The Archies their own TV show on CBS and then set about trying to craft a live-action follow-up to The Monkees, one which he owned outright.

Just as Rafelson and Schneider had done with the earlier show, Kirshner held an open casting for singers for his new show, which was to be set in the Old West and was titled The Kowboys. Inspired by the co-ed nature of The Archies, The Kowboys included a girl among their neighbour, with the part going to the improbably named Joy Bang. Smitty was joined by four boys – Matthew, Zak, Sweetwater, and Clem – played by Boomer Castleman, Michael Martin Murphy, Jamie Carr, and Frank Welker, respectively,

The Kowboys, 1970

Castleman and Murphy came from their own band, The Survivors, which had recorded for one of Kirshner’s labels. Interestingly, Murphy replaced Michael Nesmith in that band when Nesmith left to join The Monkees. Carr was a singer-songwriter in his own right who released an album on Capitol Records in 1970, while Welker was just beginning his career as one of the industry’s top voice actors.

Kirshner and director Don Pintoff wrote a thirty-minute pilot, with some very broad Western comedy interspersed with country-tinged songs, but NBC opted against a full series and Kirshner received the same reception when he tried to sell the show in the UK. Kirshner tried again soon after with wacky space musical Toomorrow but that’s a story for another day…

Next time on The Telephemera Years: Some very groovy cartoons as we look at the kids’ shows from 1970!

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: 1970 (part 1, 2)

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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