These TV shows were Top 10 hits in the 1970s — yet only lasted one year
Television has its own version of the one-hit wonder.
Image: The Everett Collection
Dozens of new TV shows premiere each and every season. Networks would do anything to make these new series a Top 10 hit. Alas — and this is stating the obvious — only 10 shows can make the Top 10.
It takes a perfect storm to have a new show rocket to the top. The cast and writing have to be quality, of course. Then there's the matter of time slot, lead-ins, marketing, etc. You'd think that if a show broke into the Top 10 in its debut season, it would be set for a long life and an afterlife in rerun heaven.
However, in the 1970s, a handful of television series captured America's attention for one year — only to disappear. Some were canceled for controversy, or medical reasons, while others lost their magic time slot. The following titles are hardly household names four decades later. In a way, this was TV's version of Starland Vocal Band's "Afternoon Delight."
Let's take a look!
In 1971, Sandy Duncan was one of the hottest names in showbiz. The spunky, short-haired Broadway star had just won a Tony; she had just shot her first motion picture for Disney. CBS wisely snatched up Duncan for its small screen adaptation of Funny Face, the 1957 musical starring Audrey Hepburn. Critics ripped apart the sitcom, especially its laugh track, yet Duncan earned an Emmy nomination. Funny Face ranked at No. 8 on the Nielsen charts for the 1971–72 season, tied with Adam-12. However, Duncan complained of headaches during production. A brain tumor was found behind her left optic nerve, and the actress had surgery which led to the loss of vision in her eye. Only 13 episodes aired. The following season, CBS retitled the show The Sandy Duncan Show and moved it to another night. That, too, only made it to 13 episodes.
Image: CBS Television Distribution
Bridget Loves Bernie
Meredith Baxter and David Birney had natural chemistry. The two would marry in 1974. That romantic spark was captured in Bridget Loves Bernie, a sitcom about an interfaith marriage. The CBS comedy became the No. 5 show in the 1972–73 season. However, a handful of religious leaders led a vocal attack on the series. Boycotts were threatened and Meredith Baxter claimed to have received bomb threats. That was enough to put an end to Bridget Loves Bernie.
Image: Sony Pictures Television
Rich Man, Poor Man
Okay, admittedly this was a planned mini-series. Still, the television adaptation of a best-selling 1969 novel was a cultural phenomenon. At the end of the 1975–76 season, Rich Man, Poor Man and its follow-up, Rich Man, Poor Man Book II, amounted to the second most watched program on TV, bested only by All in the Family. There's no way a modern studio would let that kind of franchise die. The saga of the Jordache brothers could have easily been stretched into a prime time soap opera.
Image: Universal Television
Oddly, the Rolling Stones hit was not the theme song. (It was instead "Different Worlds" by Maureen McGovern, which went to No. 1 on the Billboard adult contemporary chart.) Starring Donna Pescow, who was fresh off a breakthrough role in Saturday Night Fever, the sitcom centered around a coffee shop waitress who marries a well-to-do doctor. The formula worked, as the series became the No. 5 show of the 1978–79 season. The midseason replacement premiered in February 1979, cruising in the wake of its hit lead-in, Mork & Mindy. A schedule shift hurt the ratings, not to mention the fact viewers lost interest after the couple was married early on. Angie was gone in 1980. Moral: Don't mess with the time slot and save that wedding until the final season.
Image: CBS Television Distribution
Spin-offs were good business in the 1970s. Shows like Laverne & Shirley became massive hits in their own right. Three's Company spawned this comedy, which followed the former landlords to a new neighborhood. It climbed to No. 8 in the 1978–79 season. How much does a time slot matter? Well, when it aired on Tuesdays, The Ropers was a Top 10 hit. After shifting to Saturday nights, it became a BOTTOM 10 dud. Ouch. Still, it did feature the wonderful Jeffrey Tambor alongside star Norman Fell.
It was a similar tale for Flo, a spin-off of Alice. Alas, a catchphrase as great as "Kiss my grits" does not a sitcom make. Nevertheless, Flo started strong, ranking at No. 7 in the 1979–80 season. However, a move to — where else? — Saturday night killed off its audience. After a mere 16-month run, Flo was fired.
Image: Warner Bros. Television
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