70's TV felt like a "proving ground" of sorts where cultures were being redefined and family-socio standards put on a waitng list. The 60's had paved the way for America to branch out, stretch, and push her creative notions to near limitless boundaries. Yet the experiments yielded dynamic results, and in the end, some of the finest television shows of all time were born. Since the birth of television, every decade has brought forth a few absolute masterpieces that define the era, and the 70's had more than their fair share.
Ladies of television never looked better, and some were responsible for enormous fashion statements for years to come.
In 1971, producer Norman Lear offered up a healthy dose of racism, ignorance, and working class retardation in the form of its half-hour family sitcom "All in the Family". No social or political issue was safe; this show targeted them all. It felt strange and awkward then, but only until we got used to the frigid water. Archie Bunker not only became a household word, but his intolerance to just about anything in the world was the fuel for the show. Each character was precisely and strategically defined. The only relief from the social brutality was the loveable and ditzy Edith.
"Bring me the head of Marcia Brady!" No joy comes without suffering. The "B" side of these wonderful new programs were the painful sitcoms that sprung like weeds in a perfectly manicured lawn. Enter The Brady Bunch. Of course, Marcia seemed to be America's crush (I preferred Jan Brady), but the show had nothing whatsoever to offer except to give the viewer a chance to waste thirty non-refundable minutes of life on a weekly basis.
More horror came in the form of the American Graffiti knock-off "Happy Days". Potsy Webber, Ralph Malph, and the all-American boy Ritchie Cunningham were more punishment than entertainment. However, the pace began to pick up a bit; "Laverne and Shirley" was the closest we've ever come to the return of "I Love Lucy". The show begat in the form of two lame brain gals who work in a beer factory, and their equally dunce neighbors Lenny and Squiggy. Milk and Pepsi anyone?
Though sitcoms became cornier, they had a bit of an edge, and tackled more current sociological issues such as drugs, homosexuality, child abuse, crime, and infidelity. These target issues were deliberately side-stepped in the 60's programming which made that era more innocent and less-demanding of our social mores and emotional curves. Still, this is not to say that the 70's sitcoms weren't entertaining. They most definitely were. Some transcended entertainment and became downright hilarious. "Love American Style" was a program made up of vignettes that were wonderful, and more screwball than just about anything in its class. Let us not forget some of the more memorable episodes such as the bride groom getting his mouth stuck on a doorknob, and Arte Johnson who is witnessed murdering a blow-up girl doll.
Pure, unadulterated genius came to us in 1969, and became the longest-running children's show in TV history. Sesame Street was a tidal wave acheivement in the world of educational television. It seemed that there was no human on earth who could resist the natural Muppet charms-least of all, kids who learned like crazy to count and recognize alphabet letters.
1971 ventured further into television experimentation by doing something highly unusual: the 90-minute drama. "The NBC Mystery Movie" was an umbrella program (one that rotates different shows througout the month), that introduced us to some of television's greatest moments. Columbo, McCloud, McMillan and Wife, among others were immensely popular. Even Night Gallery found a place under this umbrella before moving into its own time slot.
"You've got spunk. I hate spunk."says newsroom producer Lou Grant in Mary Richards' job interview at WJM. When the Mary Tyler Moore show appeared on the scene, we were treated to one of the most diverse crowd of lunatics ever tethered together for one sitcom.These goofballs made up the WJM bottom-of-the-barrel newsroom. MTM was indeed a charmer. She could cry better than lucy; her nervous stammer was up to parr with Don Knotts, and her sweetness sparkled with a bit of naivete, was never so far-fetched that we couldn't fall for it. Plus, the writing made this one of the best shows ever.
The Odd Couple was one dynamically charged and hilarious romp through the 70's wastelands of sitcoms. It was a pearl in the ABC oyster. Neil Simon's terrific characters were portrayed (much better in my opinion) on television than in the movie of the same title. When two diametrically opposed opposites connect like magnets, the thoughts of pizza-stained sweatshirts and Spic N' Span meld together like music and lyrics.
70's no-brainer sitcoms ruled in popularity with entries such as "Chico and the Man," "Sanford and Son," and "Welcome Back Kotter." More popular sitcoms were the likes of "Alice," "WKRP in Cincinatti," "One Day at a Time," and "The Ropers," which held high TV positions.
As television and Hollywood has always been famous for, cashing in on past successes by creating sequels became just as popular in the 70's. On television, they were called "Spin-Offs." In the 70's, there were several spin-offs of previous hits, mostly comedy, some not. Also, if we were truly unlucky, there were at times two spin-offs, or spin-offs of the spin-off.
- The Mary Tyler Moore Show - Lou Grant - Rhoda - Phyllis
- M.A.S.H. - Trapper John, M.D.
- All in the Family - Archie Bunker's Place - The Jeffersons - Maude
- - Good Times ("Florida" was Maude's 1 & 2 season's Housekeeper)
- The Brady Bunch - Brady Bunch Kids- The Brady Bunch Variety Hour
"You can take that to the bank," to quote Robert Blake as one of television's most interesting detectives "Baretta". Blake's own natural humor was a support beam for this program that really needed no help to be entertaining. Light-hearted dramas and action shows were rare, and cherished. It was a very good combination, and not a lot of the programs offered the approach. "Baretta" was one of the few. "Kolchak" was another.
"Good night, John-Boy," called out a myriad of syblings in the early 70's runaway freight train hit The Waltons. A multi-Emmy winner, and nominee for even more, this program brought serious drama and heartfelt family bonding to hour-long TV screens. These from the heart shows were few, with many attempts to cash in on the multitude successes of "The Waltons." Some were successful, some not. On the unsuccessful side were shows like "Apple's Way", "The Smith Family," and ultimately "Family."However, one show did manage to be as popular, and that was "Little House on the Prairie."
Made for Television
TV movies adapted from novels were probably-in my opinion-the greatest things of all to come out of the 70's. The birth of the Mini-Series introduced TV audiences to 3 or more part epic movies like "QB VII" and "Rich Man, Poor Man."
Not all of the 70's made for television movies were adapted from novels. Some were very innovative and entertaining original scripts. Two timeless standouts would have to be "Duel" a supreme thriller about an average businessman engaged in a bizarred instance of road rage with a ghostly renegade trucker, and "Gargoyles" a special effects wonder about mythical creatures come to life.
Below is an extremely concise sampling of 70's made for television movies that tackled some of the most taboo and controversial subjects ever considered for mainstream audiences. Among these topics that wouldn't even be permitted at the dinner table, let alone prime time TV screens include: Homosexual relationships, extreme child abuse, male prison rape, racism, interracial love affairs, sexual problems, sexual reassignment, (two of these films featured Robert Reed as a man addicted to making obscene phone calls, and the other as a man who changes to a woman), political scandals, and compelling non-fiction. These films were incredibly well-done, and should be considered as some of the finest films ever made, TV notwithstanding.
- Brian's Song 1970
- My Sweet Charlie 1970
- Duel 1971
- Gargoyles 1972
- That Certain Summer 1972
- The Glass House 1972
- The Blue Knight 1973
- The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman 1974
- The Execution of Private Slovik 1974
- The Missiles of October 1974
- Trilogy of Terror 1975
- The U.F.O. Incident 1975
- Helter Skelter 1976
- Sybil 1976
- The Gathering 1977
- The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald 1977
- The Dark Secret of Harvest Home 1978
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings 1979
- The House on Garibaldi Street 1979