12 forgotten summer replacement TV series of the 1970s

Everyone from country stars to teen idols to mimes brought sunshine to the small screen.

Image: The Everett Collection

In the modern age, there is no longer such a thing as a "television season." As streaming services, diginets and a thousand satellite stations vie for eyeballs, an unending flow of new shows is available. In the pre-cable days, broadcast television networks synched their schedules with schools. A season began in September and run through May, with a little break for the holidays. Summer meant doing things outdoors, ideally, not binging the latest season of Marvel's Luke Cage or awaiting the premiere of World of Dance.

Which is not to say the big three networks were a wasteland in June, July and August. Summertime in the Seventies meant one thing — variety shows. Well, fall and winter also meant variety shows, to be honest. Variety shows were all the rage. But in the summer, when the big variety shows — your Sonny and Chers and Donny and Maries and whatnot — took a vacation, substitutes stepped in. 

These summer replacement shows offered the same mix of song, dance and comedy skits. For the most part, they were fleeting sensations, headlined by some hot pop star. Or Bobby Darin.

Armed with sparkling costumes and hokey jokes, these brief TV shows oozed pure 1970s pop culture. Typically, they also had delightfully outrageous titles. Let's take a swim into the deep end of television for more…

1. Dean Martin Presents: The Bobby Darin Amusement Co.

1972

It had to burn Bobby Darin — former Fifties teen idol and singer of "Splish Splash" — that even on his own show Dean Martin took top billing. Produced by the same time that brought you The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, the Amusement Co. saw Darin riding a second wave of popularity after a successful Vegas revival. Alas, he would pass away the following year, cutting short his television career at the age of 37.

Image: The Everett Collection

2. The Jerry Reed When You're Hot, You're Hot Hour

1972

The veteran country stud scored a major crossover hit in 1971 with his tune "When You're Hot, You're Hot." Not only did the song cross over to pop charts, it inspired this variety show, with one of the meatier titles in TV history. Lasting little more than a month, the Hot Hour held over fans of CBS's Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, which had recently wrapped up.

Image: The Everett Collection

3. The Ken Berry "Wow" Show

1972

Erstwhile star of F Troop and Mayberry R.F.D. and future Vinton of Mama's Family, Ken Berry put a little pep in his step with this variety filler. Here he is backed by his dancers, The Zootsuiters. Mayberry had recently been canceled, despite solid ratings, but Berry landed on his tap-dancing feet, mining much of the talent from the resting Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.

Image: The Everett Collection

4. Joey and Dad

1975

And here we arrive at our first truly unusual variety hour. Joey and Dad paired Las Vegas showgirl and bombshell Joey Heatherton with her dear ol' dad, Ray Heatherton, best remembered for entertaining children in the 1950s with his kiddie show and character The Merry Mailman. This Cher replacement featured guest-stars Captain and Tennille, variety icons themselves, as well as George Jefferson himself, Sherman Hemsley. The Jeffersons star appeared oddly appeared in a "cover version" of Monty Python's legendary dead parrot sketch. Ah, the Seventies!

Image: The Everett Collection

5. Shields and Yarnell

1977–78

Mimes! They may be punchlines in comedy today, but at one time these underrated performers were hot stuff. Shields and Yarnell, disciples of Marcel Marceau, took the French artform to the small screen with this surprisingly successful summer replacement. The duo graced the cover of Dynamite magazine, while Yarnell played a villain on Wonder Woman. The network gambled on the hype, moving the show to primetime midseason. Laverne and Shirley trounced Shields and Yarnell in the ratings.

Image: The Everett Collection

6. Tony Orlando and Dawn

1974–76

A rung below Sonny and Cher and Captain and Tennille on the fame ladder, but a step up from The Starland Vocal Band, Tony Orlando and Dawn was another variety show starring a musical sensation of the day. When Sonny and Cher split up, Tony Orland and Dawn swooped into fill the void, riding on the back of hits like "Knock Three Times" and "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree." The pop trio's show was produced by the folks that had made Sonny and Cher, who followed the formula rigidly.

Image: The Everett Collection

7. The Manhattan Transfer

1975

Joey and Dad lasted a mere four episodes. It was followed by this ritzy pop act, mining nostalgia for the swingin' big band era. Despite the zoot suit vibe, some surprisingly musical acts turned up, like Bob Marley. His Wailers performed "Kinky Reggae." Sha Na Na popped in, too. Now that is a melting pot of pop.

Image: The Everett Collection

8. The Keane Brothers Show

1977

They were like Justin Bieber times two. Minus the tattoos. Plus braces. The teen twosome sold boatloads of records, earning them the shot at TV stardom. Their variety show filled the time slot of Wonder Woman, aiming for the adolescents. Tom Keane, on the right, went on to work with Chaka Khan, Chicago, Celine Dion, etc. John Keane, on the left, earned an Emmy nomination composing music for CSI.

Image: The Everett Collection

9. The Hudson Brothers Show

1974

A substitute for a substitute, the hairy, happy Hudson Brothers filled in for Tony Orlando, who filled in for Sonny and Cher. The kooky singing group featured an emu puppet on their show. No wonder the trio then transitioned to Saturday morning, shifting gears with the fantastically titled Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show. Onetime guests on Captain Kangaroo, they were more comfortable in children's entertainment. Bill Hudson married Goldie Hawn. Yep, that's Kate Hudson's dad!

Image: The Everett Collection

10. The Melba Moore – Clifton Davis Show

1972

In the summer of '72, CBS turned to a charming musical couple to replace The Carol Burnett Show. Moore had a Tony to her credit, thanks to lead role in Purlie on Broadway, while Davis had penned hits for the Jackson 5. Their variety show sets mimicked a working-class street in Harlem or Brooklyn, as skits took place on the stoop or in their apartment.

Image: The Everett Collection

11. The Mac Davis Show

1974–76

Speaking of songwriters, Mac Davis earned every one of those gold chains around his neck, having crafted Elvis classics like "In the Ghetto," "A Little Less Conversation" and "Memories." In the mid-Seventies, his acting career took off, not only with this variety show but also with roles in movies like North Dallas Forty. Funny, how after the supposed "rural purge" of television, country music became mainstream pop in Hollywood.

Image: The Everett Collection

12. The Helen Reddy Show

1973

The singer of the smash "I Am Woman," Reddy had Flip Wilson at her back with this remarkably talent-stuffed variety hour. Just look at the guest stars: Chuck Berry, Albert Brooks, George Carlin, the Eagles, Joan Rivers, Cheech & Chong. The comedy here was top notch, as were the tunes.

Image: The Everett Collection

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