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THE TELEPHEMERA YEARS: 1973 – PART 1

Written By:

Alan Boon
The Girl with Something Extra, 1973

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!

1973-74

With a massive 31.2 rating, CBS’s All in the Family had no competition for the top spot as 1973’s most popular show, with over twenty million viewers tuning in weekly to see what daft old racist Archie Bunker would do next. In fact, CBS controlled the top ten shows to such an extent that only NBC’s Sanford and Son (like All in the Family, a British transplant) earned a spot on the rundown. NBC really couldn’t cope with a CBS line-up that also included The Waltons, M*A*S*H, Hawaii Five-O, and new arrival Kojak, and Police Story seemed to be their only new show to make any impact.

ABC, though, had new smash The Six Million Dollar Man at number eleven, and scored decent placings for Kung Fu, The Streets of San Francisco, and the debuting Happy Days. Although ABC would have preferred to land more blows on the Tiffany Network, they could still rely on Monday Night Football and their various movie slots to pull in viewers, although their schedules – like those of CBS and NBC – were very light on sci-fi and fantasy shows. That was what was happening in terms of shows that people watched but what about those shows that slipped away without gaining a foothold? This is the story of four of 1973’s failed debuts…

The Girl with Something Extra (NBC): Sally Field burst onto the scene as the eponymous boy-crazy surf chick in Gidget, a 1965 sitcom on ABC which failed despite her considerable charms. Wanting to find a vehicle for her, ABC then cast her in The Flying Nun, where she played Sister Bertrille, a nun who could fly when the wind caught her habit just right. Somehow lasting for three seasons, Field didn’t enjoy her time on The Flying Nun and spent the next few years looking around for the right role, finally landing the part of The Girl with Something Extra in 1973.

Field played Sally Burton, a newlywed who reveals to her husband on their wedding night that she has ESP and can read minds. This is the basic situation for the comedy that ensues when husband John (played by John Davidson) is thinking about other women, trying to surprise her with a birthday gift, and wants to bring his mother to visit. Throw in some crazy storylines about John modelling for a nude centrefold, Sally becoming an unwitting agent of the Mob, and Sally discovering that John’s first client in his new job as a lawyer is guilty, and you have a recipe for, well, something extra.

The Girl with Something Extra, 1973

The show was created for Screen Gems by Bernard Slade, the man behind The Flying Nun and The Partridge Family, and it launched with Sanford and Son as its lead-in on NBC on Friday nights. However, audiences just weren’t spellbound as they had been with Bewitched and The Girl with Something Extra finished 59th out of 80 shows on the year-end ratings list. Needless to say, it wasn’t renewed.

Field, of course, switched tracks and became a serious actress, earning Academy Awards for her parts in Norma Rae and Places in the Heart, as well as becoming a regular co-star of Burt Reynolds in such films as Smokey and the Bandit, Smokey and the Bandit II, The End, and Hooper. Having feared she’d be typecast as a sitcom actress – if the variety of roles she played can be considered typecasting – she truly became the girl with something extra, even if playing that part was just a step along that journey.

Hawkins (CBS): In 1971, James Stewart turned his back on Hollywood movies for more regular work on TV, starring in The Jimmy Stewart Show, a sitcom which had him become a small-town professor having to deal with children and grandchildren. It lasted for just a single season and it was clear that it would need something meatier for an actor like Stewart, even on TV.

That something was Hawkins, with Stewart playing Billy Jim Hawkins, a rural lawyer who becomes involved in investigating the cases he takes, much like the role he played in Anatomy of a Murder (for which he received a Best Actor nomination at the 1960 Academy Awards. A ninety-minute pilot episode aired on CBS in March of 1973 and was well-received, resulting in a season of seven further episodes – all of ninety minutes, like the pilot – arriving in October 1973.

Hawkins, 1973

Across that first season, Hawkins defended an heiress charged with a triple murder, a Hollywood star’s husband accused of taking the law into his own hands, a mercy killer, and his own cousin’s killer, with a new episode appearing every three weeks, written mostly by veteran David Karp, with assists from Star Trek‘s Gene L Coon and Irwin Allen right hand man Robert Hamner.

Rather than fail due to diminishing ratings, Stewart himself pulled the plug on the show after those seven episodes because he was concerned that they couldn’t keep up the quality of the show on a TV budget and schedule. He returned to movies in 1976 with The Shootist, by which point his hearing loss was beginning to affect his performance, going into semi-retirement a few years later. Stewart died in 1997, having lived out his final years in Beverly Hills, thankfully never in need of the services of a Billy Jim Hawkins.

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (ABC): As a writer and director, Paul Mazursky was never afraid to make America take a good, long, hard look at itself, earning an Academy Award nomination for An Unmarried Woman and plaudits for his 1980s work such as Down and Out in Beverly Hills and Scenes from a Mall. It was a formula he developed right from the off, his debut movie Bob & Ted & Carol & Alice itself earning an Oscar nomination, including Supporting Actor and Actress nods for Elliot Gould and Dyan Cannon.

In the film, a married couple – Robert Kulp and Natalie Wood – share the freedoms of their newfound casual infidelity with their more conservative neighbours (Gould and Cannon), with hilarious, profound, and sometimes confusing results. It was a massive hit in an America still reckoning with itself during the Vietnam War and, somehow, the concept was brought back for a sitcom for the 1973 Fall line-up on ABC.

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, 1973

Of course, there was no Cannon, Culp, Gould, or Wallace, and no Mazursky, the show guided instead by Larry Rosen, a veteran producer who had just finished up on The Partridge Family. The TV version starred Robert Urich and Anne Archer as the freewheeling Bob and Carol Sanders, with David Spielberg and Anita Gillette as their uptight neighbours, but hit its first snag when the situations depicted in the film – extramarital sex, wife swapping, and group sex – fell foul of the network’s Standards and Practices division, forcing a tweak to the very thing that had made the movie such a cheeky hit.

Still, the TV version did manage to include implied nudity, casual sex, and unmarried couples living together, most of which were deemed out of bounds for network TV at the time, but any viewers attracted by the sensationalism (or by fond memories of the movie) would have been turned off by the scripts, a mixed bag with no real consistent voice.

Launched on Wednesday nights, opposite The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour and Adam-12, the show earned very low ratings and was cancelled after just seven episodes had aired, with a further five produced but left in the can. These received an airing in 1984 on the USA cable network by which time the show was most notable for featuring a ten-year-old Jodie Foster as Ted and Alice’s daughter.

Faraday & Company (NBC): There are some for whom there is no finer period for American film than the early 1970s, the “savage cinema” era birthed by Sam Peckinpah and proliferated through hundreds of earnest, violent dramas. TV wasn’t immune to its effects, and all three networks began playing with the longer form on their schedules, with 1971 bringing the NBC Mystery Movie to the schedules on Sunday nights, where it helped launch series for McCloud, Columbo, and McMillan & Wife.

A year later, NBC also launched the NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie, earning hits with Banacek and Madigan (and the lesser-remembered Cool Million). Brought back for the 1973 season, the NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie had four revolving features as Banacek rotated with The Snoop Sisters, Tenafly, and Faraday & Company. The latter starred Dan Dailey as Frank Faraday, a private investigator wrongly convicted of murdering his partner, escaping after twenty-eight years in a South American prison to pick up his life in San Francisco.

Faraday & Company, 1973

Of course, much has changed in Frank’s absence, and he discovers that he has a grown-up son, Steve, who is also a PI, a role filled by James Naughton, a stage actor making his first steps into TV. Steve works for his mother (and Frank’s old squeeze) Lou Carson, played by Geraldine Brooks, and the cast is completed by a young Sharon Gless as the firm’s secretary.

Episodes aired from September 1973 to January 1974 but the four-week rotation didn’t enable any of the features to gain much traction and Faraday & Company disappeared after just four stories, a similar fate to all but Banacek. In 1974, the slot was dropped and Little House on the Prairie scheduled in its place, launching a decade long empire of peaceful co-existence with nature, rather than with three other crime features.

Next time on The Telephemera Years: Four more failures, although who doesn’t love a helicopter show?

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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