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1970 TV Shows / television in the 1970s
by Billy Ingram

Let's go back to a time when the networks felt the need every fall to do a hard sell, luring viewers to sample their newest video wares.

Undoubtedly one of the seminal years in TV history, the 1970 fall schedule was packed with shows most people would recognize today - The Carol Burnett Show, Bonanza, Gunsmoke Laugh-In, Flip Wilson Show, Mary Tyler Moore Show, Dean Martin Show - I could go on and on. I honestly think the big 3 networks could swap out what they're offering for this fall with what they broadcast 40 years ago and there would be few complaints.

ABC was the come-from-behind kid, the also-ran network. If it hadn't been for Batman, Lawrence Welk and Bewitched in the 1960s the network might not have lived to see the day when they crowded the top 10 with hits like Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley by the mid-1970s.

1970 was the year of the young people (TV was always a few years behind); ABC had purposely gone after a younger demographic instead of the biggest possible numbers for years - but now the other networks were catching wise to this strategic move and skewing younger themselves.

ABC always had the best fall jingles, adaptable to any genre or tempo, in 1970 they reached out those at home with a direct message - "Let's Get Together, We've Got A Lot To Share." And share they did, with an aggressive slate of bold new shows that failed to get renewed - all but three, but they became massive hits. Hey, that was better than the other networks managed that season.

This 30 minute fall preview was broadcast before the new shows debuted and contained clips from the network's new offering.


Monday Night

The Young Lawyers - Law and order procedural shows had been a mainstay on TV from the beginning, the courtroom makes a nice set. But those shows - Perry Mason, Judd For The Defense, The Defenders - were all centered around mature gentlemen. ABC's idea to inject young, idealistic lawyers and relevant themes failed to generate much excitement; no one likes the TV set to get too preachy.

The Silent Force - This drama about undercover feds from the producer of Mannix was gone without a whimper by mid-January.

Monday Night Football - The first of 35 years in primetime and the rare hit for this or any other network in 1970. Out of studio TV cameras had just grown sophisticated enough to capture the action necessary make a major sporting event exciting on an 18 inch screen. It also helped that ABC had sportscasters who were unparalleled, legendary guys like Howard Cossell, 'Dandy' Don Meredith, and Keith Jackson on the first broadcast. Frank Gifford joined in 1971.

Tuesday Night

Mod Squad - Year three for the hippest cop show on TV. That wasn't saying much...

Movie of the Week - Made for TV movies was the big surprise hit of 1969-70, the network gambled and won big. At the same time they created a proving ground for weekly series' pilots. Here are some previews for the dramas and comedies coming in the fall of 1970. You'll notice a lot of stars in these films had a series on ABC that season. This was the year TV movies started rating in the top ten, another night of originals was added the next season.

Marcus Welby, MD - Year two; odd that a network so focused on youth would have its biggest ratings winner with a show about an old fogy doctor. The number one rated show of the season. Batman managed to be a number one show for ABC in 1966 but fizzled out quickly; Marcus Welby had a healthy 7 year run.

Wednesday Night

Courtship Of Eddie's Father - Year two for this father / son dramedy, revolutionary in that it portrayed a highly involved father, something that may not be so rare today (depending) but back in the 1960s it was a pretty radical concept. Housewives outnumbered working women in 1970 so raising kids was still seen as woman's work (wife or maid) forty years ago. Courtship made it okay to be a loving father, it helped that this was a well-written program with an engaging cast.

Make Room For Granddaddy - ABC had a good thing going with Courtship & Room 222 so they unwisely sandwiched a revival of The Danny Thomas Show between them. But Thomas' old fashioned sitcom, with old school guest stars every week, didn't sit well with youngsters hungry for something different. The genteel nature of Eddie's father stood in stark contrast to Thomas' 'yell first and ask questions later' approach to child rearing. Worst show possible for this timeslot but there was no overriding reason to revive this show in the first place, except that it had done so well for so long for the network years earlier.


Room 222 - Second season for this ground-breaking program that focused on a Los Angeles high school with a diverse, racially mixed student body. Room 222 was popular on TV just as busing to achieve racial integration was taking hold across the nation. This was one of the rare times a TV show portrayed teens as anything other than lazy, deluded or malicious. One of the greatest theme songs of all time.

Johnny Cash Show - This fall promo takes an odd approach, that Johnny is just a small town boy who left for the big city and now here he is on ABC. I guess they reckoned a lot of folks hadn't heard of the country singer when they launched this series in 1969 and that might have been true, 'A Boy Named Sue' from 1969 or 'Folsom Prison Blues' from the year before might have been most American's first exposure to the Man in Black and the reason ABC took a chance. Good thing they did, this was one of the finest musical programs in TV history even if it was cancelled after two tours.

Dan August - A detective show from Quinn Martin starring Burt Reynolds, a white guy, as a Native American gumshoe. Native rights groups saw red, no one else saw it at all.

ABC News - Trippy graphic promo for the nightly news.

Thursday Nights

Matt Lincoln - Detective shows were becoming too bland, too conventional. What to do? Give the guy some kind of of affliction (the one that started it all was Ironside, a paraplegic); Matt Lincoln was blind. Soon to come, detectives who were fat, old, black, young, lazy, befuddled, etc, etc, etc.

Bewitched - Year 6, this sitcom was running out of steam and fresh ideas. Ratings were dropping but the series would last another two years. This year should have been the last.

Barefoot in the Park - Clever sitcom version of the Neil Simon play, making this the start of a one-hour block of Simon Broadway hit adaptations. The twist here was that the cast was black.

Odd Couple - This Neil Simon comedy more closely adhered to the original than Barefoot did and fared much better with a 5 year run and stacks of Emmy Awards even though ratings were never spectacular. Whenever critics complained that ABC broadcasts a bunch of crap they could point to The Odd Couple, the program almost everyone agreed was the best television had to offer. People began to wonder, can television be art?

The Immortal - Sci-fi tinged drama about a guy with blood antibodies that gave him immortality. How did they know he'll live forever? Beats me, but that made him valuable to an older rich guy who didn't want to die and would stop at nothing to capture Ben Richard and siphon off his hemoglobin. The chase is on! A lot like The Fugitive but this one died a slow death.

Friday nights

The Brady Bunch - Year two for this perennial favorite.

Nanny & The Professor - Second and last good season for this charming family series, a simpatico follow up to the Bradys. For the next season ABC moved this show to anchor Monday nights, tinkered with the format to make it more like Bewitched, and it sank like a stone.


The Partridge Family - Another enormous success for ABC and everyone involved; The Partridge Family was soon cranking out top ten pop tunes that made the teenyboppers tingle and the other networks green with envy.

Love American Style - Sketch comedy and blackouts related to relationships. Year two, down from an hour to a half hour.

This Is Tom Jones - Spectacular series starring one of the most dynamic performers in pop history. Variety shows that were musically driven were not scoring with the public, at least not until Sonny & Cher came along in the summer of 1971.


Let's Make A Deal - A night for the old folks at home with game shows and Lawrence Welk.

Newlywed Game - One of my favorite shows of all time, I always found this stuff funny.

Lawrence Welk - A one-a and a two-a... boring!

The Most Deadly Game - This early Aaron Spelling drama featured an amazing cast - Ralph Bellamy, George Maharis and Yvette Mimieux - but was one of the first casualties of the season. Inger Stevens was supposed to star but she committed suicide as the production was getting underway.


The Young Rebels - A program about the freedom fighters of the American Revolution, drawing parallels to the youth movement of the 1960s. I guess.

The FBI - Cut and dry crime drama that was a big audience draw on Sunday nights. My entire family huddled around the set to watch this one every week. No blood, no guts, just moral certainty and a stark demonstration of why crime does not pay.

The ABC Sunday Night Movie - Big screen hits from years earlier, many years earlier. Movie studios were reluctant to licence their hits for the home screen but they changed their minds in the 1970s when networks starting paying big bucks for movies that could draw an audience.

This fall preview special ended with what looked like a feminine hygiene commercial with the network's musical plea for togetherness. There would be less time together next season, this was the last year the networks programmed the 7:30-8:00 slot on Monday and Wednesday-Saturday nights; the FCC gave it over to the locals to fill.

This was a winning year for ABC, one of many to follow after decades of bringing up the rear*, with 4 shows in the top 11 for 1970-71.

* Didja hear Beavis & Butthead are coming back?



In the fall of 1970 The Mary Tyler Moore Show debuted and TV comedy changed forever. Moore's show certainly wasn't a lock. While she was popular on The Dick Van Dyke Show, Laura Petrie didn't really have all that much to do. Other TV second bananas had tried and failed to float a series - Bill Cosby, Richard Benjamin & Paula Prentice, Eve Arden, Tammy Grimes; not to mention Jerry Lewis, Debbie Reynolds, Milton Berle, Chuck Connors - all were bigger stars than Ms. Moore and they all fizzled out during the previous 5 seasons.

Here Mary Tyler Moore talks about shooting the pilot, which the first audience didn't like at all, neither did the test audience. This goes back to something I like to say: Nobody wants the next big thing until everybody wants it.

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