Two out of three networks
were confident enough to bring back their previous year’s Tuesday lineups for
1973. For CBS that made sense, with returning hit shows that continued to
dominate in the ratings. For ABC, the move was more an exercise in wishful
thinking – one that did not pay dividends. Eventually that network would own
the decade with a seemingly never-ending string of successes – but that era
would have to wait another couple of years.
Let’s take a look at the night’s
selections – and see if my quest to watch at least one episode from every prime
time series will be dealt yet another setback.
NBC was the only network to
opt for a fresh slate of programs. Gone were Bonanza and The Bold Ones,
and in their place three new offerings – one hit, one miss, and one that should
have lasted longer.
I confess that I had not
even heard of Chase before watching
an episode online, but after doing so I understand why it was mostly forgotten.
Mitchell Ryan, who I remember fondly from Dark
Shadows, plays the no-nonsense head of a Los Angeles police department
division that specialized in taking on the toughest cases. This was Stephen J.
Cannell’s first television creation, but it was produced within the auspices of
Jack Webb’s Mark VII trademark. Webb and Cannell had very different styles when
it came to telling police stories, and the result here was a mix that never
committed fully to either one.
The Magician had all the elements that create successful shows: a charismatic lead
in Bill Bixby as magician Tony Blake; a unique premise – Blake uses his skills
of sleight of hand and misdirection to solve crimes; and a talented creative
team, including producers, writers and directors that previously worked on Mission: Impossible.
There was also the
interesting hook of Bixby actually performing all of the illusions shown on the
series without camera tricks or other cheats. I’d have gladly watched more
seasons, but NBC made The Magician
disappear after just 21 episodes. What a rotten trick.
The network fared better
with Police Story, created by former
police officer Joseph Wambaugh. This 90-minute anthology series presented just
what the title suggests: stories about police officers, from patrolmen to
detectives, all of which delivered a realistic portrayal of the challenges of
police work. Among it’s nearly 100 episodes were pilots for Police Woman with Angie Dickinson, and
Joe Forrester, with Lloyd Bridges.
Tuesday Movie of the Week
Marcus Welby, MD
ABC is still inexplicably
trying to make Temperatures Rising
work. But wholesale cast changes (goodbye James Whitmore, hello, Paul Lynde)
would not reverse its fortunes. Once again, an admirable portrayal of doctors
personified by Marcus Welby proved more popular with audiences. Whatever
happened to kindly family practitioners, anyway? Those were the days.
Tuesday Night CBS Movie (Hawkins, Shaft)
With Maude at #6 and Hawaii Five-O
at #5 for the season, CBS managed to best its competition on Tuesdays, just as
it had the previous year. They did make one change to their Tuesday Night Movie
by adding films featuring recurring characters, one of which was already
familiar to movie fans. That would be Shaft,
with Richard Roundtree reprising his role as detective John Shaft.
The recent passing of
Richard Roundtree was a reminder of how prominent the character of John Shaft
was in the wave of gritty African-American cinema that peaked in the 1970s. The
movies weren’t great but they were different. They had style; the characters
they presented looked cooler than cool prowling mean streets to some of the
decade’s best soundtracks; they took audiences into places they didn’t usually
visit, and they introduced charismatic stars like Roundtree and Pam Grier that
otherwise would have been saddled with stereotypical roles in mainstream films.
Of course, Shaft had to be toned down considerably
(you can’t say “he’s a bad mutha-“ in prime time). No cursing, no nudity, and none
of those shoot-outs that resulted in thugs bleeding Rust-Oleum orange like they
did in the movies. Maybe that’s why these seven episodes are not better known.
But I enjoyed them, even more so than the other recurring feature, in which
Jimmy Stewart played country attorney Billy Jim Hawkins. Reviews were good and
Stewart won a Golden Globe for his work here, but after eight episodes he was
ready to leave, citing concerns about script quality.
Both Shaft and Hawkins earned
DVD releases for those curious to check them out. What a shame they never
thought of filming a crossover case – now that would be a memorable TV movie. Can you dig it?
The Don Knotts Show (1970)
San Francisco International Airport (1970)
The Headmaster (1970)
The Man and the City (1971)
The Chicago Teddy Bears (1971)
Assignment: Vienna (1972)
The Delphi Bureau (1972)
The Little People (1972)
The Sixth Sense (1972)
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