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Show Business: Purge Week

3 minute read

On Manhattan’s Sixth Avenue, where the TV networks have their headquarters, you could almost hear the knives being sharpened last week. It was that time of year again, and TV executives were quietly doing in the shows that had failed to measure up in the new season, then announcing their January replacements.

In a move to strengthen its weak showing in the Sunday-night ratings, CBS announced that it would drop two situation comedies, The Sandy Duncan Show and Anna and the King, a handsome but rather tired nonmusical rehash of The King and I. In their place the network laid on a private-eye show starring Buddy Ebsen, who played the daddy in The Beverly Hillbillies, a CBS staple several seasons ago.

ABC needed bolstering on Saturday night, where CBS has a virtual viewer monopoly with All in the Family, Bridget Loves Bernie and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Dropped were Alias Smith and Jones, a western inspired by the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and The Sixth Sense, a pseudo-mystery about extrasensory perception that showed absolutely no prescience about what viewers wanted. As replacements, ABC has scheduled a new comedy starring Shirley Booth called A Touch of Grace—based, like several recent TV successes, on a British series—and a sitcom titled Here We Go Again, starring Larry Hagman and Diane Baker, as a newly married couple who live near their ex-spouses.

The most familiar show to fall in this year’s purge was Bonanza, an NBC western whose beginnings date back almost to TV’s neolithic age—1959. In 13½ years TV viewers have watched Michael Landon, the baby-faced younger brother on the Ponderosa, grow a little jowly, and Lome Greene turn into an oats-and-saddle elder statesman. The series was as popular outside the U.S.: by last count, it was being seen in some 90 countries. The simple message that good always triumphs over bad is just as clear in Farsi as in English.

What finally downed this venerable show was a fusillade from several directions. It never recovered from the death last May of Dan Blocker, who played Hoss, the bluff but gentle giant. Perhaps most important, public taste was changing, and the show’s simple formula did not allow for exploration of the more complicated themes that interest viewers today. In the latest Nielsens, the series had fallen to No. 53. There is still some solace for Bonanza buffs, however. Chances are that it will rerun through syndication for at least another 13 years.

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