What’s on the tube?

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 23, 2004

As a child, the first week of the new television season always seemed to bring a sense of excitement as I waited anxiously for the fall line up of programming goodies from the networks.

Even to this day, there’s that sense of curiosity – a better word than excitement over the latter years of continued disappointment – as the networks start boasting their new shows.

Back then, of course, there were only three networks and for that matter, only three channels to watch.

We could never get either of the two ABC affiliates when I was in my pre-teen years so I never got to watch the cool shows like Batman, F Troop or Rat Patrol unless I was invited over to someone’s house.

My time, back in the sixties, was spent watching CBS and NBC and I remember the old standards like The Red Skelton Show on Tuesday nights. It came on right after Rawhide.

My kids watch Gilligan’s Island and laugh when I tell them I remember when it was on in prime time on network TV.

They laugh, not because of my age, but because they have no idea of what &uot;prime time&uot; and &uot;network TV&uot; has to do with anything.

To them, because there are 200 million, thousand channels and everything airs at any given time of day or night, the two terms – prime time and network TV – mean nothing.

But there was a time when only having three channels (in my case, two channels – not entirely true because we could pick up PBS Channel 2 out of Columbia) meant a limited variety, but what seemed to be a better variety.

Since this week really started the premiere of many television shows for the new fall lineup, I thought it might be fun to go back in time to some other premieres of TV programming that might not ever make TV Land’s list of re-runs.

Going back to Sept. 17, 1965, some of you might remember this short-lived World War II series entitled Convoy. It was an hour-long program that starred John Gavin as Commander Dan Talbot, skipper of an escort destroyer for a 200-American ship fleet heading across the North Atlantic. It was one of the last NBC shows to be filmed in black and white and quite possibly the only thing notable about the program. It was canned after 13 weeks.

With all the success Bill Cosby has had over the years, especially in the television sitcom industry, you might remember back to 1976 and a program that debuted on a Sunday night, Sept. 19, on ABC entitled Cos.

This was a variety series aimed at children and hosted by Mr. Cosby with a host of other help. The show was so unsuccessful, the network pulled it after only six weeks. Doubtful you’ll find this on TV Land anywhere.

This next sitcom didn’t actually premiere until the early spring of 1995, but it was such a disappointment for me. The George Wendt Show premiered March 8 and was cancelled following the April 12 showing.

Many of you will remember that Wendt played Norm Peterson in the 11-year running sitcom, Cheers. His character here was one of my favorites on the show.

When I first heard about Wendt having his own television series, I immediately thought of all the great scripts that could be written for &uot;Normy.&uot; This wasn’t to be the case.

The failed George Wendt Show was about two brothers who operated a garage and did their own radio program from Madison, Wisconsin. What a flop.

In 1981, CBS had a one-hour drama series to die twice, Shannon. This was a crime show about this tough cop from New York named Jack Shannon. The first episode had him moving to San Francisco after the death of his wife. Maybe he should have stayed in New York.

The show premiered on November 11 and was pulled December 2. It was, however, revived in the spring and CBS aired another episode on March 17 and the last episode on April 7. Not going to find it on TV Land re-runs.

Here’s a flopper with a couple of interesting twists, Headmaster. It premiered September 18, 1970 and was canned on January 1, 1971.

The show was a half-hour sitcom starring Andy Griffith – his return to television after leaving the Andy Griffith Show (Mayberry, NC) in 1968. There were many hopes for this program as it was produced by Norman Lear, also of the old Andy Griffith show fame of the 1960s. But it flopped.

However, this show gives us a couple of interesting pieces of useless knowledge you can store away in your trivia files. First of all, the show’s name was changed mid-way through the season to The New Andy Griffith Show in an effort to gain some ground. It obviously did not work.

Secondly, the theme song, &uot;Only A Man,&uot; was sung by a virtually unknown of the day, Linda Ronstadt – go find that and add it to your music collection.

Joe Namath made many television appearances during and after his role as quarterback for the New York Jets, but none so fatal as that of Coach Joe Casey in the half-hour sitcom The Waverly Wonders.

Yes, Joe Namath actually did more on TV than make a cameo appearance and possibly this is why the show only aired three times.

The Waverly Wonders was about a high school basketball team that couldn’t win, or at least the idea was set up to make the audience believe they were as hapless as could be. Supposedly, they were to be turned around and made into winners – maybe not necessarily on the scoreboard – but the network pulled the plug after the third week and the rest remains a mystery.

Joe Willie was called in to be the coach to turn them around, but we just never got to see it done. Not likely to find this one on TV Land either.

Now I could fill this newspaper up with countless television shows that didn’t make it past the first couple of weeks after making their premiere – either in the fall or spring – but I’m about as tired writing about it as I’m sure you are of reading about it so I’ll end with just one more.

One of my all time favorite television programs was and still is Perry Mason. Well, the original show was very successful, running nine years as one of CBS’s top programs.

Some seven years after this wonderfully crafted drama in the courtroom went off the air, the executives at CBS decided to revive it with brand new people.

Now let’s think about this for a moment. Only Raymond Burr could play Perry Mason, much like only Andy Griffith could be Sheriff Andy Taylor. Once you’ve put somebody in that role for a long time, they just become the character and visa versa.

In 1973, when CBS launched The New Perry Mason, the leading cast included Monte Markham as Perry Mason and Sharon Acker as Della Street – a surefire way of creating a disaster program waiting to happen. Nope, don’t think you’ll be seeing too many of these re-runs on TV Land either.

There’s still a few more weeks of new programming to hit the networks for the 2004 Fall Season. Have fun seeing if you can tell which ones will be around next year.