1973 had some of the most fascinating flop TV shows of the decade

Sally Field and Shaft deserved a better chance.

Image: The Everett Collection

Television had undergone a seismic shift at the start of the Seventies. The look, tone and topic of most TV shows went from brightly colored whimsy and country sensibilities to a greater reliance on realism and urban settings. Naturally, there were some growing pains. Some shows brilliantly pioneered a new era, while others felt like desperate attempts to keep up with trends.

In the middle, there were shows that were probably too ahead of their time, interesting concepts that never got the necessary time to click. These shows pushed boundaries, with wonderful casts. Often, it was merely a matter of scheduling that led them to die after a single, short season.

Here, for example, are seven fascinating flops that aired in 1973. They deserved to make it to 1975, at the very least.

1. Assignment Vienna

Technically, this premiered in the fall of '72, though it was still hanging on by a thread in the early months of '73. Assignment Vienna was one of three shows part of The Men, a wheel series that rotated this spy tale with The Delphi Bureau and Jigsaw. Robert Conrad, between The Wild Wild West and Baa Baa Black Sheep, starred as the owner-operator of Jake's Bar & Grill, an American restaurant in the Austrian capital. The star was top shelf, but the true appeal here was Vienna itself, as the series was shot on location — a huge, cinematic change of pace from the standard studio-lot action of most television to that point.

Image: MGM Television

2. Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice

The R-rated 1969 film Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice tackled the changing sexual mores of the time, along to some fantastic music from Quincy Jones and Burt Bacharach. Adapting the swingin' movie for television was going to be a challenge, what with the censors. Certainly, the small-screen version was toned down, but it still pushed boundaries, which is part of the reason behind its failures. Here were two young couples in 1973, discussing promiscuity, skinny-dipping, losing virginity, nudism, and X-rated flicks. The cast, including Robert Urich and Ann Archer, was wonderful. Oh, and it even included Jodie Foster as Ted and Alice's kid.

Image: The Everett Collection

3. Diana

Diana Rigg has delighted sci-fi and fantasy fans for half a century, having played Emma Peel on The Avengers and Olenna Tyrell on Game of Thrones. In 1973, the Brit was starring in her first American sitcom, playing a single, working woman in the mold of Mary Richards of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Derivative? Bah. Television could have used more of the type at the time. Besides, Diana was a fashion designer in Manhattan, not working at a TV station in the midwest. Unfortunately, NBC slotted the show against Gunsmoke and The Rookies, two shows in the Top 25. It didn't stand a chance.

Image: The Everett Collection

4. The Girl With Something Extra

Sally Field brightens up any television show, and had experience playing the charming lead in quirky sitcoms after years of The Flying Nun. Here, the future Oscar-winner was a woman with E.S.P., newly wed to a man played by John Davidson, future host of Hollywood Squares. The supernatural comedy had elements of I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched and My Favorite Martian, which makes it the one show here that felt a little dated, but… the cast was great, including Zohra Lampert, Jack Sheldon and Teri Garr.

Image: The Everett Collection

5. The Magician

When it premiered in the fall of 1973, The Magician was a peanut butter & jelly combination of youthful fantasy and action, Harry Houdini meets James Bond. Here was a master escape artist who drove a growling sports car and lived inside a jumbo jet. ("It's like any other mobile home, only faster.") The playboy magician, Anthony Blake, assisted those in need while trotting the globe. The title character was played by Bill Bixby, who was hot off The Courtship of Eddie's Father and the earlier hit My Favorite Martian. He would later score with The Incredible Hulk, but this zippy yarn, a precursor to the lighthearted adventures of late-'70s, early-'80s TV, deserved to be just as big.

Image: The Everett Collection

6. Roll Out!

A mix of M*A*S*H and Hogan's Heroes, Roll Out! took a lighthearted look at the 5050th Quartermaster Trucking Company of the U.S. Third Army's Red Ball Express. In fact, it was created by Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds, the creators behind M*A*S*H. The distinction here was that these serving men during WWII were largely African-American. The cast had the comedic chops, too, as it featured stand-up comedian Stu Gilliam and soon-to-be Saturday Night Live performer Garrett Morris.

Image: The Everett Collection

7. Shaft

The hit 1971 film Shaft ushered in the era of the black action hero. Richard Roundtree played "the cat that won't cop out when there's danger all about," according to Isacc Hayes. The movie spawned two sequels, Shaft's Big Score! (1972) and Shaft in Africa (1973). Months after the latter, Shaft made the jump to the small screen. What was fascinating about the move was Roundtree himself continued to play the character, unlike most TV adaptations of blockbusters. Some changes were made, largely Shaft's working relationship with the police. The network's big fumble here was alternating Shaft on Tuesday nights with Hawkins, a show with a 65-year-old Jimmy Stewart playing a rural-raised lawyer. Clearly, these were aiming at completely different demographics, and no consistant audience could be built.

Image: The Everett Collection

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LarryAJacobsen 31 months ago
I remember the networks showed a lot of promos for the "new shows coming this fall" all summer, especially CBS.
WILD 31 months ago
I remember The Girl With Something Extra and The Magician and I may have seen a bit of Roll Out! on BET back when I was on vacation in Boston in 1989.
Lacey 61 months ago
This was also the time of the big writer's strike which crippled the start of the new season.
As for "Diana" being ahead of its time, while it was a cute little show, even Cleveland Amory saw it as an MTM ripoff. "For the Murry role we have this guy, we have a Lou in the wings, but who do we have for the Ted role?"
I always found it interesting (now) how much sex was injected into the "Primetime" sitcoms of the era.
Girl With Something Extra would never be allowed TODAY in the #METOO era.
Amalthea 62 months ago
My husband & I both loved "The Magician". My husband loved it so much that recently he got it on DVD & has watched the whole thing...again.
Mockschnel 62 months ago
Assignment: Vienna was originally to be Assignment: Munich and the ABC network aired its 90 minute backdoor pilot as a Sunday night movie. In that version, however, the Robert Conrad part was played by the barely known Roy Schieder and the "star" billing went to Richard Basehart as his commander. Basehart was replaced by low-rent Charles Cioffi when the show finally went to series.

Unfortunately, by the time all the deals were made the city of Munich had been chosen for the 1972 summer olympics, which made the cost and logistics of shooting there extremely problematic. Hence the location was changed to Vienna.

By the way, the original pilot movie was a thinly veiled (and uncredited) retelling of Charade, the 1963 film starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn . . going so far as to naming the villain Max Carson, riffing liberally on Charade's Carson Dyle.
ELEANOR 62 months ago
These shows may have been flops but many times things actually happen behind the scenes, so to speak. Producers and directors have taken been known to notice the talent of unknown actors and actresses, and actors and actresses have been able to rub shoulders with the more experienced to gain experience, wisdom, and develop their acting skills. There are many well known actors and actresses that have been grateful for the leg up in their careers that an appearance in these "flops" gave them.
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