Don’t Blink: Shows That Received Pink Slips by the Holidays

One thing I have learned doing blogs the past four years is how many shows don’t make it. Although every year has its share of flops, some years are just notorious for having weak programming. The late 1970s was a period of just truly awful shows. Bob Newhart who starred in The Bob Newhart Show decided to quit in 1978. When asked about ending the show, he said, “I could see what was coming in situation comedy, and I didn’t want to be a part of it. If we’d gone another year, they’d have had the guy and two girls living in the apartment above us, a Martian living on the same floor next door to three girl detectives. The floor below us would have been occupied by a fraternity and a sorority.” As bad as that sounds, the shows that the networks put on the air during this time were even worse. Let’s take a look at some of the programming that didn’t make it through a season in the late 1970s.

A Year at the Top

Photo: imdb.com
Note the young Paul Shaffer

Believe it or not, in 1976 Norman Lear teamed up with Don Kirshner of Rock Concert fame for a sitcom about the music business. This show was supposed to begin in January of that year but was delayed until summer with an entirely different cast. Two young pop stars Greg and Paul (Greg Evigan and Paul Shaffer—yes the Paul Shaffer from David Letterman) move to LA for their big break. They meet a potential agent named Hanover (Gabriel Dell) who agrees to sign them if . . . and if you think the concept is weird so far, get this: Hanover is the devil’s son, and they need to sign over their souls to become famous. The pair never actually sign the contract. It might have taken a year to get on the air but it only lasted five weeks.

Quark

Photo: newyorktimes.com

This show’s concept was also a bit of a reach. It took place on Perma 1, a space station in 2222. Adam Quark (Richard Benjamin) had a mission to clean up all the trash in outer space. Quark took orders from a giant disembodied head called, what else, The Head, along with Perma 1’s architect Otto Palindrome (Conrad Janis). If you think this sounds crazy, wait till you learn about Quark’s crew: a part fish/part fowl first officer, a humanoid vegetable named Ficus, clones Betty 1 and Betty 2, and Andy the Robot, a walking junk pile. I was surprised not that it was cancelled after two months, but that it lasted two months. I was also surprised to learn that Buck Henry was the creative force behind this series.

Sanford Arms

Photo: humormillmag.com

A year later in 1977 we have another interesting set-up. When Redd Foxx and Demond Wilson, the two stars, the only stars, left the show Sanford and Son, Norman Lear was left with a show title only. Aunt Esther (LaWanda Page) had been one of the cast members on Sanford and Son and suddenly she was at the hub of this new show. Phil Wheeler (Theodore Wilson) a widower with teenagers buys the house, the junkyard and Esther’s rooming house and tries to start a residential hotel. A month or so later, before he could even make his first payment, the show was done.

Another Day

Photo: wikipedia.com

David Groh (who had played Rhoda’s husband) is Don Gardner, a struggling businessman who can’t make ends meet. His wife Ginny (Joan Hackett) has to get a job, and they both had to deal with their introverted son Mark (Al Eisenmann) and their extroverted daughter Kelly (Lisa Lindgren), as well as Don’s mom Olive (Hope Summers who had played Clara on The Andy Griffith Show) who is critical of all of them. Don struggled through a few episodes and was finished.

Apple Pie

Photo: wikipedia.com

A lonely hairdresser played by Rue McClanahan named Ginger-Nell Hollyhock placed ads in the newspaper for a family. The family that she “found” included a daughter (Caitlin O’Heaney) who tap-danced, a son (Derrel Maury) who wanted to fly like a bird, an elderly grandfather (Jack Gilford), and con-artist Fast Eddie (Dabney Coleman). The show was set in Kansas City in 1933. It took place during the Depression and depression is what anyone watching felt, although the pain was fleeting. After one episode the network decided no one wanted this family.

Hanging In

This one was so bad they didn’t want any evidence so there are no photos.

Another flop came along with a star who had been another star’s spouse. Bill Macy who played Maude’s long-suffering husband starred in this show as Louis Harper, a former football hero who did not have the right credentials to be a university president. He has a desire to help the underprivileged, but the rest of the faculty is more concerned about raising money. Other cast members included high-pressure dean Maggie Gallager (Barbara Rhoades), PR man Sam Dickey (Dennis Burkley), and housekeeper Pinky Nolan (Nedra Volz). No finals for this series; it was cancelled after a few weeks.

Hizzoner

Photo: imdb.com

David Huddleston plays Mayor Cooper who runs a small Midwestern town. The cast included the mayor’s secretary Ginny (Diana Muldaur), the mayor’s daughter (Kathy Cronkite, yes Walter’s daughter) and several other quirky characters. While the mayor is quite conservative, his children are left-wing liberals. Apparently, the mayor broke out into song at least once an episode. I guess, he was singing the blues because the show was cancelled after 7 episodes.

In the Beginning

Photo: collectors.com

The year 1978 just keeps getting worse for television series. Father Daniel Cleary, played by McLean Stevenson, works in a community center in the heart of Baltimore. Sister Agnes (Priscilla Lopez) works with him. She loves her neighborhood; Father Cleary does not. She is fairly liberal and he is not. It ended almost before it began after seven episodes.

Miss Winslow & Son

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

In this one, an unmarried woman (Darleen Carr) who is an art designer, decides rather than marry a man whom she doesn’t love, she will become a single mother after getting pregnant. Her next-door neighbor Mr. Neistadter (Roscoe Lee Browne) hates kids. Her wealthy and snobby parents are divided about her situation; her father (Elliot Reed) is much more sympathetic than her mother (Sarah Marshall). Before the baby had its first check-up, the show was off the air.

13 Queen’s Boulevard

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

This show was about “a hilarious group of tenants in a garden complex in Queens, New York.” In the first episode, one of the tenants, Felicia Winters (Eileen Brennan) decides to host a class reunion and invites her best friend and spouse, her ex-husband, the class “sexpot,” Fat Hughie, and the class photographer. I don’t know what could possibly go wrong; however, not much went right since it was gone within two months.

Turnabout

Photo: bionicdisco.com

I get Freaky Friday, but in this series the husband and wife switch places. A magic statue allows them to inhabit each other’s bodies.  Sam Alston (John Schuck) is a sportswriter and his wife Penny (Sharon Gless) is a cosmetics executive. The couple tries to live both their own life and their spouse’s life whenever they switch back and forth. They also must focus on keeping the switch a secret. We never know who is who, and all the audience knew is they didn’t like either one of them, and the show was cancelled after a few weeks.

Waverly Wonders

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

NBC decided Joe Namath would be a good person to build a sitcom around. However, he’s not a football player in this show; he’s a former pro basketball player, Joe Casey, who now teaches history at Waverly High in Wisconsin. Linda Harris (Gwynne Gilford) is the principal and Mr. Benton, who they call “Old Prune Face” (Ben Piazza) was the former coach. The only problem is Joe Casey is a bad history teacher and a bad coach. That apparently makes for a bad show because it was cancelled after three episodes aired, although nine were made.

Struck by Lightning

Photo: metershow.com

If you think the concept of some of these shows was weird, wait to you hear about this one. Frank (Jack Elam) is the caretaker of an old inn in Massachusetts. A science teacher, Ted Stein (Jeffrey Kramer) inherits the inn and decides to sell it. Then he realizes that Frank was really a 231-year-old Frankenstein monster. Ted just happens to be the great-great-grandson of the original Dr. Frankenstein. So, they decide to run the inn together. Rounding out the cast was Glenn (Bill Erwin) who had been living there forever, Nora (Millie Slavin) who managed the inn before Ted came, Noras son Brian (Jeff Cotler), and real estate agent Walt (Richard Stahl). Apparently, the only thing “great” about the show was Ted’s relationship to Frankenstein because the network canceled it after five episodes.

So, you might be wondering with all these awful shows, what made it on the air more than a couple of months during the late 1970s. In 1977 the only shows that made it to the next season were Three’s Company and Soap. In 1978 Mork and Mindy and Taxi were the “classics” followed by Diff’rent Strokes and WKRP in Cincinnati. Without Robin Williams, Mork and Mindy would probably have been another concept that would have lasted a couple of weeks. In 1979, out of 21 shows that debuted that fall, Facts of Life was the only one that returned for a second season. With the exception of Taxi and WKRP, I would not rate any of these shows true classics, although you could make a good case for Soap. Anyway, the bar was set pretty low for success during the late 1970s.

At least television viewers could go to the movies for a bit of entertainment.  This was the era of Animal House, Annie Hall, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Grease, Kramer vs Kramer, Rocky, Saturday Night Fever, and Smokey and the Bandit. Things stayed pretty glum on the small screen until 1982 when Cheers, Newhart, and Family Ties saved us.

Just When You Think It Can’t Get Any Weirder, It Does

Although I love The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family, there are a lot of shows on television today that make me shake my head.  It’s amazing what is airing when you scroll through the channels:  Vanilla Ice Goes Amish, I Cloned My Pet, Doomsday Preppers, and these are some of the best reality shows out there.  However, when I researched sitcoms from the classic era, I also found a lot of weird concepts there also.  Let’s take some time to look at a few of them.

 

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Boss Lady (1951)

Lynn Bari was Gwen Allen, owner and operator of Hillendale Homes Construction Co. which was owned by her father.  While this show would not seem unusual at all today, back in 1951 it was not common to see a woman the boss of a construction crew. This show began on the Dumont network and then switched to NBC for twelve episodes, running as a summer replacement from July to September 1952.

 

 

 

Where’s Raymond? (1953)

Believe it or not, this was a musical sitcom.  Ray Bolger (who had sang and danced as The Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz) was a song and dance man named Ray Wallace living in Pelham, New York. He had a girlfriend named Susan (Marjie Millar) and a business partner Peter (Richard Erdman). Verna Felton from December Bride was his understudy’s mother-in-law. The show lasted 2 ½ years on ABC.

 

 

 

The People’s Choice (1955)

Ok, pay attention, because the basis of this show is confusing. Socrates (Sock) Miller played by Jackie Cooper is a Bureau of Fish and Wildlife Orinthologist studying to be a lawyer.  Honestly! He has car trouble one day and is picked up (and picked up) by the mayor’s daughter Mandy who thinks he should be on the city council. Sock decides to be a lawyer to support Mandy.   In the finale to year one, the two elope and conceal their marriage for the entire second season.  When the show came back for a third year, the mayor finds out about the marriage, Sock gets his law license, and Sock’s free-loading pal Rollo (Dick Wesson) moves in with the couple.  Now Sock is managing a real estate development. Just when you thought it could not get more confusing, Sock’s basset hound Cleo would do tricks and comment directly to the audience about situations occurring on the show. LSD had not even become a social problem yet, so it was not responsible for this show, so I’m not sure how this crazy mess stayed on the air for 104 episodes.

 

 

 

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Dick and the Duchess (1957)

Dick Starrett (Patrick O’Neal) is a claims adjuster in London.  There are some exciting scenarios to provide interest. He meets and marries Jane (Hazel Court) a duchess. She becomes his wife and assistant, although she still expects to live in the manner she has become accustomed to.  She humorously gets involved in his investigations. The network must not have thought she was that funny helping out because  CBS cancelled it after 25 episodes.

 

 

 

Mr. Ed (1961)

Let me say, I do not put Mr. Ed in the same category as Dick Van Dyke Show, That Girl, or Bachelor Father, but I don’t mind catching an episode or two now and then.  When looking at strange concepts for show, this one does have to go into the mix.

When the creator asked Young to appear in the show, he turned him down twice. A pilot was made without him. It did not sell, so producers Arthur Luben and Al Simon decided to enter it directly into syndication, and Young then agreed to take on the role. It was very successful, so CBS bought it.

Wilbur Post (Alan Young) is a married architect. Wilbur and his wife Winnie (Connie Hines) bought their house with a horse included. Their neighbors were played by Edna Skinner and Larry Keating. What no one else realized (including his wife), was that Wilbur was the only human who could understand Ed and talk with him.  Ed was quite the character; he was a hypochondriac; a voracious reader; a playboy, or play horse; loved Carl Bernstein and wanted to decorate his stable in Chinese modern.

The voice of Ed was a highly guarded secret until the show ended in 1967 when it was revealed to be Rocky Lane. Ed was played by Bamboo Harvester, a palomino. One interesting fact about this show is that it has been seen in 57 different countries.

 

 

 

My Mother the Car (1965)

This is another one of those shows you roll your eyes about.  Dave Crabtree (Jerry Van Dyke) lives in LA.  He wants to buy a new station wagon, and when he goes shopping, he realizes his mother’s voice is coming through the radio of a 1928 Porter.  Ann Sothern provides his mother’s voice. Of course, he buys the car which irritates his family, but they don’t know his secret. He also has to deal with a car connoisseur who wants to buy the car for his collection. Maybe it’s a Freudian slip, but I’m a bit offended that a mother is portrayed as an old jalopy as opposed to a new, sleek car, but I digress. This show was only on the air for a year and then the radio was turned off.

 

 

 

 

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The Second Hundred Years (1967)

Here is the premise of this one:  In 1900, 33-year-old Luke Carpenter (Monte Markham) is prospecting for gold in Alaska.  An avalanche occurs, and he is buried alive and frozen.

In 1967, Luke’s son Edwin, who is 67, is told that his father has been found alive.  Dad looks 33, but his identity and past has become a top-government secret.  He is released into the custody of Edwin (Arthur O’Connell) and grandson Ken (also Monte Markham). Luke has a hard time adjusting to life in the 1960s. I know you are surprised, but the show was cancelled after 30 episodes.

 

 

My World and Welcome to It (1969)

This show was based on James Thurber’s writings. The show was set in Connecticut where John Monroe (William Windom) was a cartoonist for Manhattanite Magazine. He was intimidated by his wife Ellen (Joan Hotchkiss). To escape his boring and nagging life, he escapes into a secret world where his cartoons come alive and he is a king. He drifted between real and fantasy lives. NBC cancelled the show after a year, but CBS picked it up and aired it from May-September of 1972. So, the presence of LSD does explain the writing on this one. What it doesn’t explain is that this show won two Emmys in 1970 : Outstanding Continued Performance by and Actor in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series and Outstanding Comedy Series. The competition for comedy included Love American Style, Room 222, The Bill Cosby Show, and The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.

 

 

 

The Roller Girls (1977)

Meet the Pittsburgh Pitts, an all-women roller derby team, owned and managed by Don Mitchell (Terry Kiser). The Pitts were pretty but useless when it came to roller derby. James Murtaugh played the team’s announcer Howie Devine. After four episodes, the network agreed this really was the pits and it was cancelled.

 

 

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Apple Pie (1978)

This show aired for one episode – I thought they used to call that a movie. (A couple sources say 2 episodes, perhaps a mini-series.) The show is set in Kansas City, Missouri. A hairdresser named Ginger Nell Hollyhock (Rue McLanahan) is lonely and decides to advertise in the local paper for a family. She ended up with a con artist, Fast Eddie (Dabney Coleman), a tap-dancer daughter, a son who wanted to fly just like birds do, and a grandfather figure (Jack  Guilford).

 

So, when you think you’ve seen it all before, you probably have. I would not be the least surprised to read that in the fall there will be a reality show that features a roller derby team, or a woman who advertised for a family in the personal ads, or an insurance adjustor married to royalty.

I do have to say that both Dick and the Duchess and My World and Welcome To It  seem to have some die-hard fans who appreciate the shows  I guess I should watch a few more episodes.

Listen up you sitcom developers; if you think you have a concept that’s a bit too far out there, it will probably be a big hit. After all, who would have guessed a show about an alien from Ork who traveled in an egg, and gave birth to a 79-year old man would score high ratings?