US TV shows not broadcast in the UK
THE RANGE RIDER (1951)
The Range Rider was a kids' Western series from Gene Autry's Flying A Productions company that produced many other series of the genre around this time. The Range Rider himself (he was not known by any other name) was played by six foot four inch former stuntman Jock Mahoney. Partnered by Dick West (actor Dick Jones), the duo helped right wrongs without hardly drawing their pistols from their holsters, which was just as well for anyone who opposed them because The Rider's accuracy with his guns was known far and wide. There were no other regular characters. The Rider's trusty steed was Rawhide while Dick rode Lucky. The series theme tune was Home on the Range. The series aired on British television in the 1960s but by that time the pair had ridden off into the sunset. Mahoney later starred in CBS's Yancy Derringer while Dick Jones saddled up once more for the syndicated series Buffalo Bill Jr. (Laurence Marcus)
THE RED BUTTONS SHOW (1952)
Former burlesque and Catskill Mountains resort comedian Red Buttons made his TV debut in September 1952 with a tried and tested format of monologues, dance routines and sketches with his cast of regulars and guest stars. The best known of his sketches were about Red and his wife, played by Dorothy Jolliffe. However, by October Jolliffe had given way to Beverly Dennis who in turn was replaced (at the start of the 1953-54 season) by Betty Ann Grove. By that time though the show, which had been an instant hit with the TV audiences, was visibly floundering. CBS cancelled and The Red Buttons Show was picked up by NBC, who insisted on a change of format. However the show only managed to limp on for another season during which Buttons' difficulties with scriptwriters became legend. As a result of this comedy scribes came and went at an incalculable rate. An 'in-joke' at the time had a writer wandering into Madison Square Garden and, confronted with a screaming mob of 18,000 fans, retreated in panic because he thought he'd stumbled into a meeting of Buttons' writers. In spite of the shows demise Red Buttons went on to have a successful career, earning himself an Academy Award in 1957 as Best Supporting Actor in Sayonara, a film that starred James Garner, Marlon Brando and Ricardo Montalban. (Laurence Marcus)
THE RED SKELTON SHOW (1951)
Like many comedians of this era Red Skelton came to television via a successful radio show bringing with him a whole host of well-rounded comedic characters. Skelton had mastered a type of physical comedy that was ideal for television and it kept him employed on US TV screens for twenty years. The format consisted of an opening monologue by Skelton, musical guest stars and a number of sketches. The only other 'regular' on the show was orchestra leader David Rose (who more famously composed 'The Stripper') who had been with Skelton since his radio days. This changed for the last season when a regular company of players supported the star. Skelton was considered a clown rather than a comic and was highly regarded amongst his fellow professionals. (Laurence Marcus)
THE ROY ROGERS SHOW (1953)
Known as "The King of the Cowboys" Roy Rogers was a clean-cut singing Western movie actor from Cincinnati, Ohio. Transferring to the small screen, Roy lived on the Double R Bar Ranch in Paradise Valley, near Mineral City. From here he maintained law and order in the contemporary west with help from his bumbling sidekick, Pat Brady. Roy's wife, "Queen of the West", Dale Evans, helped him run a diner called the Eureka Café. Pat drove an unreliable jeep known as Nellybelle whilst Roy rode his trusty Palomino stallion, Trigger. As special trappings for the famous horse Roy had a hand-tooled set of saddle, martingale and bridle made (plus chaps and spurs for himself), which were valued at an estimated $50,000. Dale rode the more modest Buttermilk and they also owned a dog called Bullet. Musical accompaniment came from the Sons of the Pioneers.' Evans sang the series' theme song, 'Happy Trails to You,' and the show was broadcast from 1951 to 1957 in the early evening children's slot on Sunday's by NBC, repeated in syndication on Saturday mornings from 1961 to 1964. (Laurence Marcus)
SIX O'CLOCK FOLLIES (1973)
In 1980, it seemed safe to use the Vietnam War as a setting for a television series. After all, the films The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now did well at the box office, and ABC had scored the year before with the sensitive made-for-TV film Friendly Fire, starring Carol Burnett as the mother of a American soldier killed by U.S. troops in Vietnam. So NBC President Fred Silverman figured Vietnam could serve as the backdrop for a war comedy in the style of the still-popular M*A*S*H. Six O'Clock Follies boasted an interesting cast, including Laurence Fishburne, Randall Carver, Joby Baker and Philip Charles MacKenzie. (Also in the cast were future stars Phil Hartman and Bill Paxton.) The setting: Saigon, circa 1967, and the goings-on at an evening news show produced for the Armed Forces Vietnam Network. In her book Up The Tube, Sally Bedell Smith called some of the episodes "tasteless," citing one character who imitated (President) Lyndon Baines Johnson singing the Rolling Stones hit I Can't Get No Satisfaction. One of Silverman's NBC colleagues-offended by another episode that showed soldiers upset about a rumour the war was ending because it would disrupt one of their scams-wondered "how can parents whose sons died in Vietnam watch that?" The answer: not too many. NBC pulled the series after just two episodes in April 1980; two more aired during the summer and two other episodes were never shown. It wasn't until 1987 that television again used Vietnam as the basis of not one but two series-ABC's China Beach and Tour Of Duty on CBS. Of course, they were dramas.
SMALL WONDER (1985)
This unusual comedy is still fondly remembered by its fans-who made it a success despite paper-thin plots, second-rate stunts and an outlandish premise. Ted Lawson (Dick Christie), a research engineer with United Robotroics, secretly developed a robot that looked just like a 10-year old girl. Nicknamed Vicki (short for Voice Input Child Identicon), Ted brought the robot home to his wife Joan (Marla Pennington) and son Jamie (Jerry Supiran). Vicki herself was played by young Tiffany Brissette; she talked in a monotone and took anything anyone said literally-which resulted in embarrassment for Ted and the Lawson family, who tried to hide Vicki's origins from the outside world-especially the nosey little neighbour Harriet Brindle (Emily Schulman), whose dad just happens to be Ted's co-worker at United Robotronics. Critics hated the effort (the BBC Comedy Guide called it one of the worst low-budget sitcoms of all time). But Small Wonder was born at a time when there were few popular off-network sitcoms available for syndication; the show HAD to be produced on the cheap so it could be sold in the USA and around the world at a profit. By the end of the 1980's, there were finally enough repeats of good family sitcoms available to stations (such as The Cosby Show and Who's The Boss), and little incentive to keep Small Wonder in production.
SPORTS NIGHT (1998)
Aaron Sorkin's first television series venture was this comedy-drama about the staff of a cable sports network. Peter Krause and Josh Charles played Casey McCall and Dan Rydell, co-anchors of Sports Night, a wrap-up of the day's sporting events on the Continental Sports Channel. The show's managing editor was Isaac Jaffe (Robert Guillaume); its executive producer was the harried but very competent Dana Whitaker (Felicity Huffman). Other major players in the cast included associate producers Natalie Hurley (Sabrina Lloyd) and Jeremy Goodwin (Joshua Malina). Sports Night set what would become the style of Sorkin's future series--the talk and walk (where the characters chat while on the move); fast-paced dialogue; and the use of current events as the basis of plot developments. Another Sorkin trademark was the male-female relationships: Natalie and Jeremy quickly became an item (though the relationship had its ups and downs); there was a strong on-again, off-again attraction between Casey and Dana; and newly divorced Dan had problems getting back into the dating scene. During the show's first season, Guillaume suffered a stroke; he eventually returned to work and his real-life illness was effectively worked into the character of Isaac Jaffe. Sports Night originally aired with a laugh track, but Sorkin pressured ABC to dump the canned laughs; they became fewer by the end of the first season and were eliminated altogether during Season Two. Though admired by critics for its fine writing and ensemble acting, Sports Night was never a big hit. Several cable networks wanted to continue the show after ABC cancelled it. But Sorkin decided to concentrate on his new NBC drama The West Wing and passed on the opportunity. (He would later return to television as the setting for drama and comedy in the short-lived Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip). Most of the main actors did quite well after Sports Night: Krause later starred in Six Feet Under and Parenthood; Charles became a cast member of The Good Wife; Huffman found success as Lynette Scavo on Desperate Housewives; and Malina joined the West Wing cast as a replacement for the departed Rob Lowe during Season Four.
Many television critics consider this comedy-drama to be one of the worst series ever aired. Conceived as NBC's answer to ABC's hit The Love Boat, it followed the same formula of an ensemble cast, big-name guest stars and several storylines in each episode. But instead of a cruise ship, the setting was a nuclear-powered train that took passengers from New York City to Los Angeles (or vice versa) in just 36 hours. The engineer steering Supertrain onto the small screen was Fred Silverman, the former (and highly successful head programmer) at both CBS and ABC. In early 1978, he accepted the job as president of NBC. His mandate was to turn the third-place network around; by the time he took control, NBC had just one series in the top ten--Little House on the Prairie. Silverman hired producer Dan Curtis (Dark Shadows) to get Supertrain up and running in just a matter of months-a project that normally would take at least a year. NBC itself produced the series, which required elaborate sets (Supertrain itself featured everything from swimming pools to a shopping center, an exercise gym and a disco.) The ensemble cast included Edward Andrews as the conductor, Harry Flood; Robert Alta (father of Alan) played the train's doctor Dan Lewis; Ilene Graff was the social director Penny Whitaker; Harrison Page played porter George Boone, and Michael Delano was cast as the train's bartender Lou Atkins. But the series was cursed from the start. Curtis lost most of his workers because of the tremendous 24/7 effort to get the show filmed; the pilot script (which stole from such films as The Prisoner of Zenda and Strangers On A Train) was dashed off in a few weeks; and a six-thousand pound model of Supertrain used for exterior shots was destroyed in a crash. Worst of all, the accelerated production meant that Supertrain had no high-profile guest stars to promote in the two-hour pilot that aired February 7th, 1979. Thanks to an incessant and expensive promotional campaign, Supertrain did get about a third of the audience watching TV that evening. But curious viewers quickly tuned out (thanks to the weak script and confusing story), leading Silverman to fire Curtis and revamp the program as The All-New Supertrain! But writer Sally Bedell Smith noted that even with changes in the format and cast, "the show had become such a joke that it would have been ignored even if Robert Redford had been chief engineer." All told, Supertrain resulted in an expensive ($5 million) failure for NBC and haunted Silverman until he was deposed as network president in 1981. A footnote: The theme music (written by Bob Colbert) was actually recycled by NBC for a daytime game show called Chain Reaction, which probably summed up the entire Supertrain fiasco.
TO ROME WITH LOVE (1969)
John Forsythe (post-Bachelor Father; pre-Charlie's Angels and Dynasty) starred in this gentle situation comedy from Don Fedderson, the man who brought viewers My Three Sons and Family Affair. Forsythe played Michael Endicott, a widowed college professor living in Iowa with three growing daughters-Alison (Joyce Menges); Penny (Susan Neher) and Mary Jane (Melanie Fullerston). His wife's death led Michael to take an teaching job at the American Overseas School in Rome. Despite their reluctance, the girls agreed to live in Italy. Michael's single sister Harriet (Kay Medford) went with the family during the first season, always trying to get them to return to Iowa. Peggy Mondo and Vito Scotti played neighbors Mama Vitale and Nico. To Rome With Love was a marginal performer in its first season, but CBS renewed the series for a second year after Medford was replaced by veteran character actor Walter Brennan (The Real McCoys). He played Andy Pruitt, Michael's father-in-law who came for a visit and stayed indefinitely. Unfortunately, such was not the case for the series, which ended in September 1971. A bit of trivia: For its second season, To Rome With Love moved from Sunday nights to Tuesdays. In January 1971, "Rome" was moved-again to Wednesday nights, making room for a new sitcom on Tuesdays at 9:30 PM. That comedy, All In The Family, went on to become one of the most successful and controversial series in US television history.
TOMBSTONE TERRITORY (1957)
The files of the oldest weekly newspaper in the American South-West provided the material for Tombstone Territory. Pat Conway starred as Sheriff Clay Hollister whose quickness on the draw was said to be legendary in Tombstone (the town too tough to die), Arizona. The actor, a 6ft 2in. Californian of Irish descent had previously appeared at the Old Vic in a Shakespearian production. Richard Eastham appeared as the newspaper (Tombstone Territory) boss Harris Claibourne as well as lending his voice as host/narrator of the series. ABC cancelled the series in 1959 but it continued for one more year in syndication. (Laurence Marcus)
TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL (1964)
An inspirational drama in the Highway to Heaven tradition, this CBS series featured angels sent down to earth to help others. It proved to be even more popular, lasting nine seasons. Monica (Roma Downey) was an angel to help guide those who faced a personal crisis. Her supervisor was Tess (Della Reese), helping Monica avoid rookie mistakes in her quest to rise from angel to supervisor. Starting in the series' third season, John Dye became a regular as the angel of death. Veteran television performer Valerie Bertinelli played Gloria, a new rookie angel, during the show's final seasons. Touched by an Angel was slotted in a bad time slot during its first season, making it a candidate for cancellation. But a time shift saved the programme, and it later became an anchor on CBS' Sunday night schedule-an appropriate time on a day when most people went to church. In the series finale, Monica finally won her promotion to supervisor. 'Angel' featured a number of guest stars over the years, most playing the people Monica and Tess tried to help. The show spawned a spin-off series, Promised Land, with Gerald McRaney and Wendy Phillips as a couple who travelled the country with their children and helped other people along the way. 'Land' lasted for three seasons and there were cast crossovers with 'Angel' during its run. Della Reese, whose career began as a singer with such hits as "Don't You Know" and "That Reminds Me" in the late 1950's, performed the show's theme song, "Walk with You."
WINDOW ON MAIN STREET (1993)
One year after Father Knows Best ended production, Robert Young and his partner Eugene Rodney returned to series television in this gentle comedy-drama. This time around, Young played Cameron Garrett Brooks, a widowed author who returned to his hometown of Millsburg to continue work on his novel (which shared the show's title). Cameron found his stories among the residents of Millsburg, who included newspaper editor Lloyd Ramsey (Ford Rainey), his secretary Christina Logan (Constance Moore) and her son Arny (Brad Berwick). A young Tim Matheson also appeared as 13-year old Roddy Miller. CBS had high hopes for the series; it was slotted on Monday nights just before the top-ten Danny Thomas Show, and 'Father's' old sponsor Scott Paper Company signed on as alternating sponsor with Toni (maker of home permanents and other beauty aids). Like FKB, 'Window' was filled with pathos, humour and a moral for each episode. But up against NBC's The Price Is Right and The Rifleman on ABC, Window On Main Street lasted just one season. Another factor: During the 1961-62 season, CBS was also airing reruns of Father Knows Best in prime time; viewers were more interested in Young's old series than his new venture. Window On Main Street has resurfaced with episodes (complete with original commercials) as part of the DVD Father Knows Best collections. Each episode of Father Knows Best and Window On Main Street ended with the crest of Rodney-Young Enterprises (the company owned by Robert Young and Eugene Rodney that produced both series). The crest featured the motto "Ars Pro Multis"-which is Latin for "Art For The Masses"!