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THE TELEPHEMERA YEARS: 1974, part 2

Written By:

Alan Boon
Planet of the Apes, 1974

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!

1974-75

The sitcom ruled the roost in 1974, with the top seven shows all falling under that heading, although the situation for the comedies ranged from a bigoted dad and his liberal children to urban Chicago, through a junkyard, an odd couple, and the never-ending Korean War. Those shows not looking for laughs but still finding an audience included The Waltons, Hawaii Five-O, and Kojak, with newcomers The Rockford Files, Little House on the Prairie, and Police Woman all delivering their own charms for NBC, which pretty much shared the viewing figures with CBS, ABC nowhere to be seen.

Kung Fu and the actual Odd Couple both started their final seasons for the alphabet network but they pinned their hopes on a trio of new arrivals in Baretta, Barney Miller, and Kolchak: The Night Stalker, all of which made either a commercial or critical impact for ABC. CBS introduced the world to The Jeffersons and Rhoda, with Petrocelli and Chico and the Man joining NBC’s already star-studded line-up, but what about those shows that didn’t trouble the Nielsen ratings? This is the story of four more Fall flops from 1974…

Nakia (ABC): As network executives scrambled to find a fresh take on the detective drama, Charles Larson of Columbia Pictures Television unearthed a diamond. Created by Christopher (son of Dalton) Trumbo and Michael Butler, who would later write Pale Rider for Clint Eastwood, Nakia features a Native American lawman, a deputy Sheriff in the fictional New Mexico town of Concord. And because there are absolutely no Native American actors – none, zero, zip, nada – the part of Nakia Parker went to Robert Forster, then most well-known for his starring role as 1930s detective Banyon.

Forster’s Nakia was torn between traditional and modern ways of doing things, as likely to turn up to a case on horseback as behind the wheel of his police issue pick-up truck. Despite the clumsy casting (and, really, Forster is very good in the role), Nakia was one of the first attempts to show the realities of twentieth century Native American life on TV, filmed largely on location around Albuquerque and not flinching from the challenges experienced by minorities at the time.

Nakia, 1974

Support for Forster came from stage veteran Arthur Kennedy and former MGM starlet Gloria DeHaven, and the show featured guest appearances from the likes of Linda Evans, George Nader, and Pernell Roberts, with former Miss World USA (and future Wonder Woman) Lynda Carter making her acting debut in one episode.

Still, Nakia faced tough competition in its Saturday night timeslot from The Carol Burnett Show and NBC Saturday Night at the Movies, and ABC pulled the plug after just thirteen episodes. After the cancellation, Forster appeared in several other pilots, and became a supporting actor in movies such as The Black Hole and Delta Force, while also headlining a series of B-movies that found friends in high places. He was David Lynch’s first choice to play Sheriff Harry Truman in Twin Peaks but had to turn down the role, and had a late career revival when Quentin Tarantino cast him in Jackie Brown.

Amy Prentiss (NBC): On September 15th 1971, NBC presented a new innovation. Titled The NBC Mystery Movie, each weekly, feature-length episode would showcase one of three fictional detectives. Because nothing is ever truly new, one of the rotating features – McCloud – had debuted a year before as part of a similar series, Four in One, and Columbo had featured in two pilot TV movies, but McMillan & Wife was a brand-new show for the newish series. A year later, a fourth feature – Hec Ramsey – was added to the rotation, along with the accompanying NBC Wednesday Night Mystery Movie, which did the same thing and included Banacek and Madigan amongst its revolving features.

In 1974, despite moving to Tuesdays, the midweek version was cancelled and while Sundays remained the same, it was decided that Hec Ramsey had run its course. In its place came Amy Prentiss, a spin-off from Ironside, starring Play Misty for Me’s Jessica Walter as a widow and single mother who becomes the first female Chief of Detectives in San Francisco when the previous incumbent dies.

Amy Prentiss, 1974

In the first instalment of her own show, which debuted on December 1st 1974, Prentiss (played by) had to deal not only with a friend accused of murder, but also with a mad bomber threatening the city. Subsequent episodes involved dead party guests and renegade cops, but after just three turns at being The NBC Mystery Movie’s fourth, the show was put out to grass.

During its brief run, though, Amy Prentiss had guest appearances from William Shatner, Jamie Farr, and others, and a young Helen Hunt was cast as Prentiss’s pre-teen daughter. It also stood as a rare show created by a female writer, Francine Carroll, who later joined the writing staff on Days of Our Lives. McCoy, starring Tony Curtis as a good-hearted conman, took its place, only lasting for five episodes before stepping aside for a little show named Quincy, ME

Planet of the Apes (CBS): Based on Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel La Planète des Singes, the 1968 movie Planet of the Apes was a blockbuster hit, making five times its budget at the box office and leading to four sequels over the next five years. Although Charlton Heston, star of the original film, did not return for any further outings, Roddy McDowall was an ever-present as evolved chimpanzee Cornelius, and prosthetic make-up artist John Chambers contributed to the full series, all of which were written by British screenwriter Paul Dehn.

Even before the first sequel movie had hit cinemas, discussions were underway to transfer the property to TV under the stewardship of Arthur P Jacobs, but a decision was made to delay the prospective show until after the fifth film, Battle for the Planet of the Apes (which told the origin story of how the apes overthrew man). In the intervening time, Jacobs died and the rights he held were sold to 20th Century Fox. In turn, they sold the TV rights for the first three films to CBS and showings of the movies did huge ratings for the channel.

Planet of the Apes, 1974

It was no surprise that CBS announced a new TV series that reimagined the original story as a launching point and then continued to tell all new stories, loosely based on Jacobs’ existing production plan. McDowall was convinced to reprise the role of Cornelius and with Chambers’s prosthetics still wowing audiences, hopes were high for the network’s first sci-fi hit since Lost in Space. Planet of the Apes premiered on September 13th 1974, retelling the story of the astronauts’ crash on what turns out to be a future Earth, with an initial order of fourteen episodes costing a cool $250,000 apiece.

It was CBS’s main weapon in its Friday night armoury but fared badly in the face of competition from Sanford and Son, Chico and the Man, and The Six Million Dollar Man, grabbing under fifteen million viewers in a slot where Good Times had been doing over twenty. CBS pulled the plug after just thirteen episodes had aired, and later attempted to recoup some of its losses by recutting ten of the episodes into five TV movies, extending the movie series to a ten-film affair. The show did return the following year but in animated form from DePatie-Freleng Enterprises and with no Roddy McDowall.

Kodiak (ABC): If you’ve read this far then you’ll be aware that the 1974 TV schedules were filled with detectives. There were detectives in wheelchairs and sleuths who were lawyers. Gumshoes who were (not) Chinese and Native American lawmen. There were even women policemen, so what in God’s name was left for ABC to plunder in search of the perfect detective show?

Cue Anthony Lawrence, a jobbing writer who had turned out scripts for Hawaii Five-O, amongst others. What if, thought Lawrence, it was Alaska instead of Hawaii? Producer Stanley Shpetner was interested, and Kodiak was born. Cast as Alaska State Trooper Cal “Kodiak” McKay was Clint Walker, who had spent eight years playing Cheyenne Bodie in the Western drama Cheyenne, with the decidedly non-Inuit Abner Biberman as his “Eskimo” sidekick, Abraham Lincoln Imhook.

Kodiak, 1974

It turns out that Alaska hides a lot of killers because each episode saw Kodiak chase one down, getting into wild snowmobile chases across the frozen tundra (filmed in Oregon). It also turns out that people aren’t really that interested in watching a laconic lawman hunt killers in the snow because after just four episodes, ABC quietly cancelled the show, viewing figures never rising above the ten million for the first week.

Alaska would have to wait for Northern Exposure to truly bring home the weirdness of a state which has a total population less than that of Leeds, despite being bigger than France. Kodiak does have one notable claim, however, in that it was the show that replaced The Brady Bunch in the ABC line-up after five seasons of family-smashing schmaltz.

Next on The Telephemera Years: 1974’s unsold pilots, including The Muppet Show?!?

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)

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: 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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