1970s in American television
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The decade of the 1970s saw major changes in television programming in the United States. The trends included the decline of the "family sitcoms" and rural programs and more socially modern programs and "young, hip and urban" sitcoms.
Overall trends change
Long-standing trends begin to end change
At the start of the decade, long-standing trends in American television began to end. The Red Skelton Show and The Ed Sullivan Show were canceled after being broadcast for many decades. The "family sitcom" of the 1950s and 1960s were replaced with a newer style such as The Brady Bunch. The series has been broadcast in syndication since 1974. Many children grew up with it. They think of the Bradys as the normal family in 1970s television and all American television.
In 1971, CBS was being called the "Hillbilly Network" because the most of its hit shows were rural-oriented. It ended the shows The Beverly Hillbillies, Hee Haw, Green Acres, Mayberry RFD and every program "that had a tree in it" as described by actor Pat Buttram. They were replaced with programs that appealed to a younger urban viewer. Programming became termed as "social consciousness". It was lead by television producer Norman Lear.
All in the Family ended television barriers. When the series was first broadcast in 1971, Americans heard the words "fag (short for "faggot")," "jigaboo," and "spic" on national television programming for the first time. All in the Family was a part of common dinner conversation in the country. Americans had not seen anything like it on television before. The program became the highest-rated program on U.S. television in the fall of 1971. It stayed in the top slot until 1976.
Maude was Edith Bunker's cousin and Archie's archenemy. She stood for everything liberal and was outspoken about civil rights and feminism. Like All in the Family, Maude broke new ground in television. It presented American audiences with something they had never seen on television before when Maude said that was planning to have an abortion. Maude was comfortable. She hired a black woman as her housekeeper. Maude's housekeeper, Florida Evans (played by Esther Rolle), became popular in her own right. She was given her own television series in 1974, Good Times. The series starred John Amos and Rolle. Good Times was another hit for Lear.
Lear developed two more programs in 1975. The Jeffersons is a spin-off of All in the Family. Archie Bunker's black next-door neighbors moved to an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. One Day at a Time is about a single mother raising her two teenage daughters in Indianapolis.
The decline of the western change
With the rise in socially responsible programming, the television western slowly died out. The first programs to end were The High Chaparral and The Virginian in the spring of 1971. Bonanza ended a year after actor Dan Blocker died during surgery in 1972. CBS's Gunsmoke ended with a star-studded series finale in 1975. During this time, Kung Fu, airing from 1972 to 1975, had a mix of Eastern philosophy and martial arts. Bonanza actor Michael Landon was on a television version of the popular children's book series Little House on the Prairie. The series first aired in 1974 and ran for eight years. The competitor of the program was CBS's The Waltons. It was about family unity during a different time and place (Virginia) during the Great Depression.
Medical shows change
Medical programs were popular in the early 1970s. Marcus Welby, M.D. was the first medical drama to deal with many subjects on television. The series aired for 7 seasons. Emergency! was also the first series ever to have both the paramedic and the emergency hospital. It starred Robert Fuller and Julie London. M*A*S*H, starring Alan Alda, was about the days of the Korean War. It was a comedy drama.
Jiggle television and crime shows change
By the mid-to-late 1970s, viewers no longer wanted socially responsible sitcoms. Former head of programming Fred Silverman left CBS and worked for ABC. He started the trend of TV about sexual gratification, humor and situations. It was nicknamed "jiggle television." Jiggle TV programs included the crime-fighting series Charlie's Angels. It starred soon to be sex symbols Farrah Fawcett, Jaclyn Smith, and Kate Jackson
Charlie's Angels was one of many crime series during the 1970s. Another program, Police Woman was the first to have a female lead in the title role who also became a sex symbol. Other successful TV crime dramas included The Streets of San Francisco, Columbo, Barnaby Jones, The Rockford Files, Starsky & Hutch and Kojak. The most popular was Hawaii Five-O. For many years it was the longest-running crime show in the history of American television. Crime shows were then often criticized during the 1970s because they often had violent content. CHiPs, an action-packed police-buddy show, first aired in 1977. The police rarely used their guns in the show.
Science-fiction became more popular as the 1970s progressed. Many sci-fi programs has some popularity during this time. They included The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, Battlestar Galactica, Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk and Fantasy Island.
Soap operas change
Another popular medium in U.S. television moving into the 1970s was soap operas, which moved from being a genre watched exclusively by housewives to having a sizable audience of men (who largely watched The Edge of Night) and college students. The latter audience helped All My Children gain a devoted following, as it was on during many universities' traditional "lunch period." In a TIME article written about the genre in 1976, it was estimated that as many as 35 million households tuned into at least one soap opera each afternoon, the most popular being As the World Turns. It routinely grabbed viewing figures of twelve million or higher each day.
The soap boom spawned a nighttime soap parody, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. The parody made a quick star out of Louise Lasser, who played the eponymous heroine. A rising soap opera toward the decade's end was Ryan's Hope. It capitalized on the everyman success of the movie Rocky. Despite Ryan's Hope debuting earlier, the show's success came a while after the movie's release. The serial was about an Irish-American family running a pub in New York City. It earned critical acclaim from television critics for its realistic portrayal of an "ethnic" middle-class family in a contemporary setting. The show's matriarch, played by Helen Gallagher, won two Daytime Emmys by decade's end. Also during the decade, General Hospital, a soap that spent most of the decade with bad ratings, saw a rise in popularity around late 1978 due to its more youthful focus. It would not yet become a ratings giant until the 1980s.
ABC aired Soap, a sitcom that parodied soap operas. It garnered controversy by writing in one of the first gay characters on U.S. television. Many stations refused to air the series (another storyline consisted of heroine Corinne Tate, played by Diana Canova, lusting after a priest who eventually left the priesthood to marry her). Silverman's legacy also included the escapist "fantasy" genre. The genre started in 1977 with The Love Boat. The series involved popular movie and television stars in guest roles as passengers on a luxury cruise liner that sailed up and down the Pacific Coast. Silverman followed up in 1978 with Fantasy Island, starring Ricardo Montalban and Hervé Villechaize. The former played the owner of the luxury island resort while the latter played the owner's sidekick.
Daytime game shows change
Daytime television was consumed with several game shows. They aired alongside soap operas during the mornings and afternoons. During the early years of the decade, The Hollywood Squares (NBC) was the most popular. It won numerous Emmy awards. Hosted by masterly emcee Peter Marshall, nine celebrities in a large tic-tac-toe board respond to miscellaneous questions. Contestants must state whether they "agree" or "disagree" with the answers. If they are correct, their "X"/"O" symbol lights up in the celeb's box. The first to get three in a row or a five-square wins succeeds and money. Bluffs and zingers made this the essential show to watch on afternoons.
In the mid-1970s Match Game (CBS) was the most popular game show. It was #1 among them from 1973 to 1977, in a time when there were many of them. Players must match the answers of panelists like Brett Somers and Charles Nelson Reilly.
Fill-in-the-blank questions involving crude humor, zany panelists, several hilarious incidents, and pure "fun" between the panel and "ringmaster" host Gene Rayburn made it popular. At one point, it broke records as the highest-rated daytime TV show in U.S. history. The show launched a spin-off, Family Feud (ABC), an enormously prominent game. It prevailed as the #1 game show of the late 1970s. Two families squared off in assuming the most common answers to surveys of 100 people across the nation with such questions as, "name a public figure most Americans dislike." The simple concept was the main cause of its success. It interested answers and the clever of Richard Dawson fueled the show's amazingly high ratings. Other successful game shows during this decade included The Price Is Right (still on the air to this day), Let's Make a Deal, The $20,000 Pyramid, The Gong Show, The Newlywed Game, Password, Tattletales, Tic Tac Dough, Bowling for Dollars, Break the Bank and The Joker's Wild.
Television newscasts change
Another influential genre was the television newscast. It built on its initial widespread success in the 1960s. Each of the three television networks had widely recognizable and respected journalists helming their newscasts: CBS anchor Walter Cronkite was voted "The Most Trusted Man in America" many times over. He led in the nightly ratings. NBC's John Chancellor and David Brinkley were a strong second, while ABC was in third place in the news department until the 1990s. It had a newscast helmed by Howard K. Smith.
The rise of television movies change
The success of the 1971 television movie Duel signaled the rise of movies produced specifically for television. Some featured a hero or heroine whose life was in jeopardy, while others were pilots for proposed TV series to be picked up by a network. Still others centered on the destructiveness of a certain disease, whether medical or social. Roots is a multi-part miniseries that ran on a number of consecutive nights in early 1977. It proved to be a huge hit in the ratings and thus paved the way for others of its kind like Shogun and The Thorn Birds.
Variety shows change
The variety show received its last hurrah during this decade. Popular during the 1950s and 1960s, variety shows carried on in the 1970s with The Carol Burnett Show. With a repertory company that included Vicki Lawrence, Harvey Korman and Lyle Waggoner, the veterans' series continued to be successful and ran well into the mid-1970s. NBC aired a variety show of its own, starring African-American comedian Flip Wilson. The Flip Wilson Show became a success and became the first show headed by an African-American comedian to become a ratings winner.
In 1971, while Fred Silverman was still working for CBS, he spotted singing duo Sonny & Cher doing a stand-up concert. He decided to turn it into a weekly variety show. In addition to some entertaining stand-up banter between the husband and wife, The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour would also have skits and music (mostly sung by Cher). The show was a ratings winner from the first episode and ran for three years. It was followed in the same vein shortly after by singing duo Tony Orlando and Dawn.
Another group of singers who received a variety show in the 1970s were two of the famous singing Osmonds—Donny and his sister Marie. Sid & Marty Krofft set to work on the siblings' series and Donny & Marie premiered on ABC in the winter of 1976. Although the show became very popular, the Osmonds were equally ridiculed for their wholesome image and Mormon moral reputation (on an episode of Good Times, the lead character, Florida, listed three things in the world you just can't do, and one was "smile wider than Donny and Marie").
Producers of 1970s television change
Many prime-time programs of the 1970s were helmed by independent producers, often in association with a major Hollywood studio. A particularly successful independent producer at the dawn of the decade was Quinn Martin. Martin produced crime shows such as The Streets of San Francisco, Cannon, and Dan August. The latter show was a one-season cop series, starring an up-and-coming actor Burt Reynolds, that would find greater popularity after its star had hit it big at the cinema. Martin's success would fade during the last half of the decade. By the end of 1980, the former mega-producer would be left without a single prime-time network series on the air. As for other producers during the period, Norman Lear produced the socially relevant All in the Family as well as more innocuous fare such as One Day at a Time. Jack Webb, a holdover from previous decades, oversaw Adam-12 and Emergency!. Glen A. Larson produced a number of shows in association with Universal TV (McCloud, Switch, etc.), while David Gerber made a name for himself with such fare as Police Woman and Police Story. The latter was a one-hour anthology series with no series regulars. Among 1970s TV producers, was Aaron Spelling. He would go on to be perhaps, according to an article written by Michael Idato for The Sydney Morning Herald, "the most prolific producer in TV history." Like Quinn Martin, Spelling was known for producing crime dramas (S.W.A.T., Starsky & Hutch). Spelling also produced more escapist fare as represented by the likes of The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, and even the private-eye opus Charlie's Angels. There was also Family, a socially relevant hour-long series. It would win a number of Emmys during its four-year run. Spelling's success would continue well into the 1990s.
Television by year change
- 1970 - Monday Night Football is first broadcast on (ABC). Mary Tyler Moore and All My Children premiere.
- 1971 - All in the Family premieres. John Chancellor becomes the sole anchor of the NBC Nightly News.
- 1972 - M*A*S*H and Bob Barker's The Price Is Right debut. Home Box Office becomes first pay-TV channel.
- 1973 - Large-screen projection color TVs hit the market in the United States. The Young and the Restless, Match Game and Pyramid begin hugely successful daytime TV runs.
- 1974 - Happy Days premieres on ABC. Monty Python's Flying Circus comes to American TV audiences for the first time.
- 1975 - Saturday Night Live, Good Morning America, The Jeffersons and Wheel of Fortune premiere. Sony introduces the Betamax, a home video tape recorder.
- 1976 - Family Feud premieres on ABC
- 1977 - The miniseries Roots airs on ABC. First episode of Three's Company.
- 1978 - Dallas begins the return of prime time soaps in the United States.
- 1979 - 43 million viewers watch Elvis! on ABC. All-sports cable channel ESPN is launched. The Pinwheel Channel changes its name to Nickelodeon.
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