Independent Star-News from Pasadena, California on November 19, 1967 · Page 58
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Independent Star-News from Pasadena, California · Page 58

Pasadena, California
Issue Date:
Sunday, November 19, 1967
Page 58
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Accidental Family: Cancellation Was No Accident CASE IN POINT: The axing of a TV series. (The series will continue until January mid-season replacement time. Reports are it will be replaced by one of several game shows--perhaps Let's Make a Deal or Hollywood Squares.) VICTIM: Accidental Family. A half-hour comedy of the "warm, human interest' genre, about a widower and nightclub entertainer who unexpectedly gains custody of his young son and must raise him on a farm in the San Fernando Valley. Tenant at the farm is an attractive divorcee with a young daughter. Stars: Jerry Van Dyke and Lois Nettleton. Executive Producer: Sheldon Leonard. EXECUTIONER: NBC TV Network. PERTINENT FACTS: Accidental Family aired as one of NBC's new fall series under the auspicious guidance of Sheldon Leonard (who currently has a contract with NBC), and who has a track record of successes including the Dick Van Dyke Show, Andy Griffith, I Spy, the old Danny Thomas series. Accidental Family had two strikes against it to begin with: it aired Fridays, 9:30 PM, in the midst of the Friday night movie; and it had a weaker than usual lineup of affiliate stations that carried the shows--about 75%. . . , Critics were quite favorable to the show in their first reviews. And the series deserved the praise. It had a low-key, non-slapstick humor; a touching but non-cloying evolvement of the father-son relationship; some clever, knowing conversations between the two adults, both in the same marital and parental boat; it had an almost hip quality. Few viewers ever saw the series. The first night it was on, it played opposite part two of the suspenseful movie "The Great Escape." The next week, it had to buck Jmimy Stewart and John Wayne in "Who Killed Liberty Valance?" The third week the show was preempted for an address by President Johnson. Soon after the fifth episode aired, the series was cancelled. REMARKS FROM SOME PRINCIPALS INVOLVED: Jerry Van Dyke (formerly starred in My Mother, the Car, on 12 episodes of the CBS Judy Garland series, host of summer replacement game show Picture This, appeared on his brother's series): "They let us know on a Thursday evening they said, don't bother to come to work Monday--the series is cancelled. "I was very, very dissappointed and shocked. The first ratings were awfully low but I didn't concern myself too much . . . I understood that the network was going to keep the series on and allow it to build viewers. "This was the show no one saw, you know, except maybe my wife! We had some, bad breaks in the beginning--but after the President's speech that time, they didn t By MARIAN DERN even announce that Accidental Family would be back the next week. "I really don't understand. They spent a lot of money. They got Sheldon Leonard to produce. They said they wanted it to build, and then they cancelled it. "For me personally--well, I'm really branded as a failure now. With My Mother, th e Car--no regrets. But this was a very good series. And here I am with a brand- new house, the swimming pool, the whole bit. Well, f have my nightclub act, and I'll be guesting on several shows. But the worst thing of all is that I can't figure out what happened." Sheldon Leonard: (Mr. Leonard was reached by phone in Acapulco, Mexico, where he is working on an I Spy segment): "It's a blow to me, the worst blow in all my years in television. It's a blow to all the people involved, and as far as I'm concerned, a serious threat to the future of TV. "This is the kind of series that needs time to grow--it has no gimmicks--viewers must be given a chance to become involved with the characters. It was the same with the Dick Van Dyke Show. They refer to that series now as some kind of comedy classic, but you know, of course, that it was cancelled after the first year and I had to fight to the last drop of blood to get them to keep it on! Griffith and I Spy started slowly, too. "Accidental Family was a superior series --was evolving very nicely. Some of Jerry s performances would have been worthy of an Emmy nomination. The cancellation is terribly unfair to him--he gets the label of a loser, unjustifiably. "But above all, I was misled by the network They knew, going in, that the ratings wouldn't be high. But they assured me that the series would be evaluated qualitatively, rather than by the numbers. They led me to believe it would be given a real chance for a whole season. "Sure movies on TV are the big fad now --but most of the highest-rated shows besides movies are the half-hour comedies-- Andy Griffith, Corner Pyle, Lucy. I think there'll always be a need for the half-hour comedy." Herb Schiosser: (Vice-President in Charge of Programming for NBC, West Coast) "Accidental Family was cancelled because, in our judgment, it never generated the audience appeal we had hoped for. And we felt, even if it stayed on, it would never generate that appeal. "Of course it did have a basic appeal, or we would never have aired it in the first place. But on the basis of research, program evaluation, etc., we felt it just would never take hold. Of course we have the greatest confidence in Sheldon Leonard. We have a contract with him, and despite the facts of this particular matter, you might say we like the marriage." SOME POST-MORTEM REMARKS: Each year an increasing number of new series are killed off mid-season. Their passing is rarely mourned for long by anyone except those directly involved. But Accidental Family is a particularly unhappy case in point. First--it was a good show, with an even greater potential. It was different in several ways from the current crop of comedies-it didn't hang itself on a gimmick--no witches with twitches, no defrosted ancestors, no broadly slapstick broads-in-law. Just two kids, two parents, farm life contrasted with a touch of Las Vegas life, and the human, humorous situations thereof. The characters were recognizable and 'appealing. Unlike many series, it reflected a few present-day realities--the single parent, the divorced person--(though the original premise, having Van Dyke a divorced father, was nixed by potential sponsors as too touchy). Second--there is an unpleasant aura to the cancellation matter. Obviously a man of Mr. Leonard's stature does not claim he was misled unless he was, in some way, misled. If it was a general misunderstanding, why wasn't the network willing to let him try to prove his point? If, as Mr. Schiosser states, the series had basic appeal, why didn't they take measures to improve it and go along with Leonard's many-times-confirmed accurate evaluation of what makes a good series? Third--The cancellation may, as Leonard mentions, reflect a serious threat to TV. With so many movies, and specials, are the networks interested in creative development of series, or do they just want an instant audience-getter? Is it concern for good programming, or the easy way out, to toss in a game show (whose production costs are far less) rather than try to discover if this could have been another Dick Van Dyke Andy Griffith series? NBC says Accidental Family didn t have audience appeal, and their research proved it. Actually the audience never had a chance to say. PageS

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