7 short-lived Sixties TV shows that were too ahead of their time

Gene Roddenberry, George C. Scott and Leslie Uggams led these forward-thinking, forgotten series.

Thanks to their visionary creators, The Twilight Zone and Star Trek are continually listed as Sixties television series that were ahead of their time. It's hard to argue, considering that the two franchises are still going more than a half-century later. Those dramas (though sometimes, rarely lighthearted) delved into sociological and philosophical themes. 

But they were not alone. The Sixties being the Sixties, other TV shows from the decade ushered in new ideas, characters and plots that reflected what was happening in the real world. While these shows were praised and acclaimed, they struggled in the ratings for various reasons. Let's take a look.

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1. The Lieutenant

1963–64

In many ways, The Lieutenant served as Gene Roddenberry's practice run for Star Trek. The forward-thinking creator set his first series in a uniform-wearing environment, only it was the very real Marine Corps rather than Starfleet. The lead character, portrayed by Gary Lockwood, even had the middle name "Tiberius." Nichelle Nichols, future Uhura, guest-starred in a particularly notable episode with Don Marshall and Dennis Hopper (seen here) about racial prejudice titled "To Set It Right." The network refused to air it or even pick up the tab for the production. The frustration from this episode led Roddenberry to veil the similar themes of Star Trek behind science-fiction allegory.

Image: The Everett Collection

2. East Side / West Side

1963–64

George C. Scott, the first actor to refuse an Oscar, led the cast of this searing inner-city drama, which also featured Cicely Tyson in the first lead role for a black actor in a primetime drama. The series was the creation of David Susskind, a talk show host famous for his Harry S. Truman interviews, who would tackle issues of the day on his The David Susskind Show. (He was also the first cousin of Norman Lear.) Likewise, East Side / West Side featured plots about real-life problems, which scared away advertisers while garnering critical acclaim. It earned eight Emmy nominations yet lasted a single season.

Image: The Everett Collection

3. Slattery's People

1964–65

"Democracy is a very bad form of government. But I ask you never to forget: All the others are so much worse." So began every episode of this drama about local politics. Richard Crenna (perhaps best known for his later role in the Rambo franchise) starred as noble state legislator James Slattery. Series creator James E. Moser spent nine months researching the legislative process in Sacramento, which led American politicians to praise the show for its realism.

Image: The Everett Collection

4. N.Y.P.D.

1967–69

After seeing a Philadelphia production of A Raisin in the Sun in 1959, Robert Hooks moved to New York to pursue acting. Eight years later, he was headlining a TV police procedural as an African-American detective. This was another series with David Susskind behind the scenes, as well as Arnold Perl, who would later write a screenplay about Malcolm X that posthumously formed the basis for the Spike Lee film. Future film stars Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel, James Earl Jones and Roy Scheider all turned up on this drama that pulled no punches in representing the cases of NYC police. This was decades before acclaimed series like NYPD Blue and Homicide: Life on the Streets.

Image: The Everett Collection

5. He & She

1967–68

As you can tell by the promo image, He & She thought outside the box. The sitcom is credited as blazing a trail for Seventies classics such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show. In fact, He & She shares a lot of DNA with that series. Like The Dick Van Dyke Show, it was somewhat meta, a show about a television creator (played by Richard Benjamin), in this case, a superhero show-within-the-show called Jetman. Benjamin's real-life spouse, Paula Prentiss, portrayed a social work and wife. The sophisticated comedy earned multiple Emmy nominations, including one for Allan Burns, who could go on to create — you guessed it — The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Image: The Everett Collection

6. The Leslie Uggams Show

1969

Nat King Cole was the first black celebrity to host a television variety show, back in 1956. Uggams was the second, and the first African-American woman. The diverse cast and crew (pictured in the "LU" image at the top of this post) created a program that catered to a wide audience. Sly & the Family Stone appeared in the first episode; Don Knotts busted sides in the second, for example. One recurring sketch, "Sugar Hill," centered around a middle-class black family. The one big obstacle? Hoss. This CBS show was scheduled opposite NBC's Bonanza, a ratings juggernaut.

Image: The Everett Collection

7. Turn-On

1969

The creation of George Schlatter, the co-creator and co-producer of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, Turn-On was a brilliantly mind-bending series that imagined a post-modern style of television with busy superimposed images, lightning-fast edits, heady concepts and progressive topics. It would live in ignominy as the only television show in history to be canceled before it even finished airing! It did not make it past its premiere at 8:30PM on February 5, 1969. A Cleveland network affiliate led a campaign to kill the show. Read the full story behind this fascinating flop.

Image: The Everett Collection

10 forgotten musical variety shows of the 1960s

Going to a go-go with the Shin-diggers and more. READ MORE

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Greg 7 days ago
Some company has got to be sitting on these shows that didn't make enough shows to syndicate. I would think they'd rather make a little money on them than not. I think METV is automated the whole channel is probably a on a server computer somewhere.
JoeSHill 28 days ago
"SHINDIG!" and "MUSIC SCENE" were two of ABC-TV's entries in music variety shows of 60's Primetime. "SHINDIG!" was a rock & roll jukebox with a pulse, as host Jimmy O'Neil showed the Top Rock and Roll bands and singers of 1964 and 1965, and it was nothing short of fun and entertaining. the 1964-66 ABC series was produced by Selmur Productions, the people behind the hit ABC series, "COMBAT!" and "GARRISON'S GORILLAS". "SHINDIG!", which included talents like Donna Lorren, Bobby Sherman, and Terri Garr, was the kind of entertainment that was seriously one of a kind, back when Rock Music was still so fresh and great to listen to! the show was even spoofed on ABC's "THE FLINTSTONES" in the "Shinrock Presents" segment in 1965, even using the cartoon likeness of The Beau Brummels, singing their Top 1965 hit, "Laugh, Laugh". "SHINDIG!" left the ABC airwaves in January 1966 and was replaced by "BATMAN"-and, by a rare coincidence, singing duo, Dick & Didi, dressed up in a Batman and Spider costume, were performing Lou Christie's "Lightning Strikes" number, so I am assuming that this was "SHINDIG!"s closing show! "MUSIC SCENE" was another ABC music variety series that was unique because it was part of two 45 minute TV shows that debuted in Fall 1969 on Tuesday nights along with "THE NEW PEOPLE", (Think of "GILLIGAN'S ISLAND" minus the slapstick stuff, mixed with 2004's "LOST") as the variety series, produced by the same people who were responsible for "THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS COMEDY HOUR" on CBS, based all the rock music from Billboard's Top 20 in 1969. the variety show was first hosted by a group of unknown performers before David Steinberg became the regular host through the show's remaining short-lived run, which ended in January 1970 along with "THE NEW PEOPLE" (Rod Serling was the story consultant for that show) and, because of the hit rock song, "Sugar, Sugar" by "The Archies" (Ron Dante) a Billboard Top 20 hit of 1969, "MUSIC SCENE" used the animated footage from CBS's "THE ARCHIE COMEDY HOUR", also from Fall 1969, which, in those days, was rare!
MarkSpeck 1 month ago
Thank you for including NYPD in this list. Now how about finding a place for it on your schedule?
Pacificsun MarkSpeck 1 month ago
That would be a great addition!
AEDC49 1 month ago
Yes they should just all be shown during prime time during whole week and stop showing the overshow stuff that is like a broken record! Along with much else that really is way better in all the categories there are! Glad to see MeTV is still referencing my exceptional list of shows to show I sent them years ago! but they need to show the obscure shows that are Very Good and Fun! to give it a break with milking the same stuff weather good or bad is that it is all made boring to death now and for a number of years showing the same cycle of shows is not good TV to say the least about it! there are shows I haven't seen since they left the air in the 1960's and they should be shown in all the categories there are! "The Monroes", "My World and Welcome To It", 87th Precinct", "Bus Stop" etc! Get the idea!? They also actually had finished making a number of the "Turn On' show which I actually was there and watched the whole one aired episode and got it even though we didn't have a color TV yet! I keep wishing that all the episodes of "Turn On" which had some of the cast members from "Laugh In" on it would be put out officially by Schlatter himself since he promised a good while back ! Still Waiting George!
MarkSpeck AEDC49 1 month ago
Both The Monroes and 87th Precinct are available on DVD from Timeless Media.
Pacificsun AEDC49 1 month ago
Well, there's 2 theories to programming a station like MeTV. One is the opportunity to watch less available shows and (obviously) from the past. Two, is the idea of watching familiar shows that keep bring back the memories (like old friends). I take the position that's there's room for both. They used to rotate those kinds of shows (back in 2015), But it could be now, that the syndication leases require a steady commitment. Without being able to pick and choose among individual series. When MeTV first started in this marketplace, it was very (very) interesting!
Wiseguy AEDC49 1 month ago
MeTV seems to generally show more familiar and long-running series. Also apparently comedy works better for them in prime time. Antenna TV shows some of the lesser-known and one-season shows. Maybe you should write them.
LucyImHome1951 1 month ago
Always wanted to see He And She, they always said it was ahead of it's time. MeTV, could you please show it?
LucyImHome1951 1 month ago
Turn On looked like a interesting show. VERY INTERESTING (Thanks Laugh-In!).

Diz 1 month ago
I also loved The New People. It was an oddity in that it was a 45-minute show. It ran after another 45-minute show, a hip music show called The Music Scene, which featured a group of comedians as hosts. One was a pre-Laugh In Lily Tomlin. While we're at it, what about The Pruitts Of Southampton and Run, Buddy, Run?
Deevah 1 month ago
Whatever happened to Mr. Ed? I used to love that show. He was a talking horse.
Pacificsun Deevah 1 month ago
Mr. Ed was indeed an oddity. Like My Mother the Car. And Green Acres. There ought to be a regular system of rotating those kinds of shows, when there aren't enough individual episodes for full syndication.

However MeTV has run Mr. Ed in the past.
Pacificsun 1 month ago
It'd be nice (MeTV) if you'd mentioned Robert Vaughn once in a while. Although the series had a revolving door of guest stars, Mr. Vaughn appeared in 16 of the 29 episodes, and it's what got him the MFU job. Pat Crowley and Ted Night also appeared in The Lieutenant.
MarkSpeck Pacificsun 1 month ago
It was also the series where Vaughn met Norman Felton, the Executive Producer of The Man From UNCLE.
Pacificsun 1 month ago
Those were such quality television series, viewers didn't even know what to do with them. They would actually hold up today, and should be added to MeTV's Archive Collection run on Sunday nights!
Utzaake 1 month ago
Haven't watched MeTV in years because of its same-old same-old programming. Will definitely watch all of these shows (even Turn-On) if MeTV scheduled them. Was fortunate to have watched a few episodes of East Side/West Side when it was part of the Brilliant but Cancelled series on the now-defunct Trio cable network earlier in this millennium.
Greg Utzaake 7 days ago
Same here I still watch Sven sometimes but the rest of it ugh. I never though I'd get tired of Hogans Heros but I did. At least 1 night a week they could air some of these short run shows.
MikefromJersey 1 month ago
Excellent article. So why doesn't MeTV run them during the summer, it would garner good PR
and make up for running Barnaby Jones. Seriously, you boys have the good taste to
know about the shows in the above article, but you run utter garbage like Barnaby?
Wufferduck 1 month ago
NYPD was a classic!! I loved it!! So authentic!! Great writing, directing and performances!!! Super theme too!!
jholton30062 1 month ago
Gee, I always think of Richard Crenna as Luke McCoy in "The Real McCoys." Which would be a great MeTV show, by the way...
Pacificsun jholton30062 1 month ago
I have never seen "The Real McCoys" run anywhere. Does anybody know more about the series. Used to watch it as a kid all the time.
jholton30062 Pacificsun 29 days ago
"The Real McCoys" was the first TV series I can remember clearly, and I don't think I've seen it since the '60's.
Jeffrey 1 month ago
I've never heard of or watched any of these shows, and for a moment I confused He & She with He Said, She Said. Which I did watch a few episodes of.
Mac2Nite 1 month ago
Don't tease!! So when will MeTV be airing these WONDERFUL series? I loved The Lieutenant, N.Y.P.D, Slattery's People, et al.
Lacey 1 month ago
"Paula Prentiss, portrayed a social work" ??
You mean she was so screwed up that she was ACTUALLY a "social work" for another character? Wow

You also forgot "The Ugliest Girl in Town," which ran from September of 1968 to January of '69.

" Timothy Blair is a Hollywood talent agent. He falls in love with Julie Renfield, a British actress who is visiting the United States to do a movie. After the movie is finished, she returns to England. To help his brother Gene complete a photography assignment, Timothy dresses as a hippie and poses for a photo shoot. The photos are sent to a modeling agent in England who assumes they are of a woman. He offers "her" a job."
CarolKelley Lacey 1 month ago
I think there's just a mistake in the write-up. The writer meant social worker.
GeoRubik CarolKelley 1 month ago
MeTV is known for not proofreading their articles. I don't really care, I just scroll past.
ASperos 1 month ago
I don’t remember these, but does anyone remember a show called The New People? My brother and I used to watch it !
Josie92 ASperos 1 month ago
I loved The New People! No one I know remembers it. That is probably where producers got the idea for the recent hit show "Lost" from. Same thing. My folks were squares! We had to sneak in episodes of Star Trek, Mod Squad and the like!
OzzieMederos 1 month ago
Star Trek the original series might have three season and cartoon series one season after all these years later we’ve all new series with discovery and Picard and lower decks and new captain pike series live long and prosper
MrsPhilHarris 1 month ago
I would like to see He & She.
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I do remember Bridget Loves Bernie
MrsPhilHarris moax429 1 month ago
I remember my parents watching it too!
MrsPhilHarris Tlor 1 month ago
Yeah he was a bit odd.
MarkSpeck moax429 1 month ago
There was talk of a DVD release for He and She, but the prints were in such poor quality that the idea was scrapped.
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