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THE TELEPHEMERA YEARS: 1974, part 4

Written By:

Alan Boon
Wonder Woman, 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 even make it to series? This is the story of four more of 1974’s unsold pilots…

Wonder Woman (ABC): The story of the creation of Wonder Woman, involving as it does the inventor of the lie detector and the throuple he was a part of, is a strange one that might be more well-known if she hadn’t been firmly relegated to a lower status than Batman and Superman for much of her existence. Those two heroes transcended comic books soon after their creation, featuring in radio and film serials, TV shows, and big-screen adventures, but Wonder Woman had to wait until former Miss World USA Lynda Carter donned the magic tiara for her first live-action appearance. Or did she..?

In 1974, John D F Black – associate producer on the first season of Star Trek and co-writer of the Shaft screenplay – wrote and produced a pilot for a proposed Wonder Woman TV show. Heavily influenced by the Star-Spangled Princess’s 1968 overhaul, when incoming editor Denny O’Neill reacted to falling sales by having Wonder Woman renounce her powers and instead study martial arts under the unfortunately named I-Ching. O’Neill’s revamp lasted for five years, during which Diana Prince resembled Emma Peel more than her previous superheroics.

Wonder Woman, 1974

This was the version of the character that former tennis star Cathy Lee Crosby, wearing a fetching red and blue outfit that left everything to the imagination, portrayed in Black’s pilot film. The plot saw her pursue Ricardo Montalban’s Abner Smith and his cache of stolen secrets, overcoming the threats of Smith’s handsome (George, played by Andrew Prine) and ferocious (Anitra Ford as rogue Amazon Ahnjayla) assistants along the way.

By the time the pilot aired to ratings described in The Washington Post as “respectable but not exactly wondrous,” the comic book had returned to its status quo, a blow to the head restoring Wonder Woman’s previous abilities, and it was decided not to go forward with a series based on the spy era. Crosby did claim she was offered the role for what eventually became The New Original Wonder Woman in November 1975, but it’s hard to imagine anyone but Carter in the role now. Interestingly, as part of its Infinite Crisis storyline in 2006, DC Comics made the Crosby Wonder Woman part of its canon, giving her universe the designation Earth-462 where she shared space with Drusilla, Wonder Woman’s younger sister from the Lynda Carter series.

Vector (NBC): It usually took the networks a few years to catch up to what was hot, reacting to Hollywood’s own delayed adoption of tropes with a further delayed TV version of something that was (possibly only briefly) all the rage a few years before. When Michael Crichton wrote The Andromeda Strain as a novel in 1969, inspired by the threat of biological warfare as the Cold War continued and possibly by an outbreak of Marburg disease in 1967, the rights were immediately snapped up by Universal, who released their terrifying big-screen adaptation two years later.

Vector was TV’s response to the disease disaster movie, written by Robert A Cinader and Preston Wood, who’d worked together on the Cinader-created Adam-12 and Emergency! Robert Urich and Maureen Reagan were cast as Dr William Nugent and Dr Christine Scofield, inspectors for the US Public Health Service with a remit to track down the source of mysterious ailments striking down members of the public.

The Specialists, 1975

After just a handful of TV guest appearances, Urich had just made a splash as a rookie cop alongside Clint Eastwood in Magnum Force, a role that would soon see him take a similar part in 1974’s hot new show, SWAT. When he made Vector, though, there were hopes that the chemistry between he and Reagan (daughter of the future US President and then Governor of California) would become the Mulder and Scully of 1974.

The pilot film, titled “The Specialists,” was produced by Jack Webb’s Mark VII Productions, the studio behind hit shows Adam-12, Emergency!, and Dragnet but struggling to find a new hit after the failure of The DA, O’Hara: US Treasury, and others in the early 1970s. NBC were interested in taking Vector to series but ultimately turned it down after Urich was signed by ABC for SWAT. They did, however, air the pilot as The Specialists in January 1975, part of NBC Monday Night at the Movies, but Mark VII’s search only grew more urgent as Adam-12 finished its run four months later.

Planet Earth (ABC): In 1973, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry failed to find to convince CBS to Genesis II, a pilot movie starring Alex Cord and Mariette Hartley, to series. The premise behind Genesis II was of a man thrown forward in time to a post-apocalyptic Earth, the result of a catastrophic Third World War. There, Dylan Hunt must try and rebuild his life amongst the descendants of the NASA scientists responsible for his journey through time, now known as PAX.

When CBS passed, Roddenberry returned to the project and retooled it for submission to ABC. In place of Alex Cord, John Saxon – fresh off starring in Enter the Dragon – was Dylan Hunt, who was now a native of the twenty-second century, a member of the science-based organisation PAX, dedicated to bringing peace and civilisation back to the planet. Several actors returned from Roddenberry’s earlier film, including Ted “Lurch” Cassidy, essentially playing the same character as before, and the basic threat remained the same, although the attacking mutants were now known as the Kreeg rather than the Tyranians.

Planet Earth, 1974

Planet Earth also injects a touch of sexual politics into the mix, with the Amazon-like Confederacy of Ruth just the touch of a sensual man like Hunt away from giving up their dominatrix lifestyles, learning that they need men to defend them because 2133, it seems, is a terrible time to be alive. Saxon played Hunt as a Captain Kirk type, possibly at Roddenberry’s urging, but even this wasn’t enough to sell the pilot as an ongoing concern to ABC, who instead aired it as an ABC Tuesday Movie of the Week in April 1974.

Roddenberry wasn’t quite done with the concept, returning a year later with Strange New World, an odd mix of both pilots and some of Planet of the Apes, with John Saxon on board again. This time he was Captain Anthony Vico, but Roddenberry never gave up on a decent idea: Dylan Hunt would eventually be the protagonist of 2000’s Andromeda, played by man-baby Kevin Sorbo.

The Tribe (ABC): Not to be confused with the funk-soul group of the same name that released the album Ethnic Stew in 1974, The Tribe began life as a project simply named Cro-Magnon. Written by Lane Slate, a former documentary producer who had turned his hand to a series of off-beat screenplays, Cro-Magnon told the story of a tribe of mankind’s ancestors, locked in a battle with Neanderthal rivals for survival in prehistoric times.

Led by Victor French’s Mathis, these cavemen are a likeable lot and probably more advanced than they should be. They also speak English, which is forgivable since two hours of grunting would have been more at home in grindhouses in 1974 than on network TV, and show great affection for each other (although, again, not in the way that would have been more at home in grindhouses).

The Tribe, 1974

Almost plotless, director Richard A Colla presents the Cro-Magnons’ lives as a series of dangerous incidents, with encounters with those pesky evolutionary throwbacks and no small amount of dangerous wildlife featuring high on their daily schedule, probably the most scientifically accurate thing about the thing.

ABC passed on a full series of Cro-Magnon but did air the pilot as part of its ABC Wednesday Movie of the Week block in December 1974. Retitled The Tribe, the film is available to watch on YouTube if you fancy a bleak seventy-five minutes of hirsute peril but it’s unlikely that it was a career highlight for anyone involved. Slate kept at it, returning periodically with new projects that – like 1978’s Have Girls Will Travel and 1981’s Strike Force – made it to series, but he never again tried to make us fall in love with our ancestors.

Next on The Telephemera Years: The 1970s get really 1970s on Saturday mornings in 1974…

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)

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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