9 TV shows that were too ahead of their time in the early 1970s

Even Norman Lear and the M*A*S*H creators came up with some overly ambitious flops.

Images: The Everett Collection

The early Seventies was a revolutionary era for American television. Some call it the "rural purge," but it could just be that tastes were changing with the times. Sitcoms shifted from idyllic, lighthearted tales to topical comedies set in the big city. There were more shows about single women, black families, emergency services, and young Americans, as networks looked more to realism than escapism. 

The era gave us M*A*S*H, Mary Tyler Moore, All in the Family, Police Woman and The Jeffersons, just to name a few. But other forward-looking series did not fare as well. Let's take a look at some forgotten series that were perhaps just too ahead of their time.

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1. The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine

1971

By 1971, Monty Python's Flying Circus had aired two seasons of pioneering sketch comedy in the U.K. However, the British series did not air in the U.S.A. until PBS took a chance on the show in 1974. That made The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine revolutionary for comedy in American airwaves in 1971. Feldman, a chameleon-eyed comic from London, had much in common with Python, even utilizing animations from Terry Gilliam on his Machine. Influential British comedy icon Spike Milligan also appeared on the short-lived ABC series, which was perhaps too different a flavor of humor, like laughter Marmite.

Image: The Everett Collection

2. Longstreet

1971–72

Bruce Lee had become a household name as the sidekick Kato on The Green Hornet in 1966, but Longstreet allowed the martial arts icon to be himself, as he played a Jeet Kune Do instructor name Li Tsung. This was still before Way of the Dragon and Enter the Dragon. The action-drama allowed Lee to deliver his principal philosophies of "be like water," and he taught Longstreet. Which brings us to the main character, Mike Longstreet (James Franciscus), a blind insurance investigator.

Image: The Everett Collection

3. The Corner Bar

1972–73

From the image and title, you can surmise that The Corner Bar was essentially a spiritual precursor to Cheers, which would arrive a decade later. The sitcom centered around the denizens of a NYC watering hole called Grant's Tomb. Most revolutionary, however, was Peter Panama, portrayed by Vincent Schiavelli, the first recurring gay character on American television. The wonderful Anne Meara also nabbed a lead role.

Image: The Everett Collection

4. Search

1972–73

Sometimes, even the technology of a show can be too ahead of its time. The futuristic suspense of Search, a.k.a. Probe, centered around the investigators of the World Securities Corporation. Using circuit-filled rings and medallions, not to mention an array of computers, the three lead agents (Hugh O'Brian, Tony Franciosa, Doug McClure) could use their miniature tech to read vital signs, communicate, film, record, etc. Their boss, played by the wonderful Burgess Meredith, was even named "V.C.R." Remember the VCR had only just hit the consumer market. Some credit the show's failure to being just too advanced technologically — though not set in the future — to seem relatable.

Image: The Everett Collection

5. Temperatures Rising

1972–74

Before 1972, medical shows on television had largely been serious dramas or soap operas. M*A*S*H and Temperatures Rising changed that. While the Korean War dramedy utilized humor as the character's coping mechanism during horrific experiences, Temperatures Rising was pitched more as an outright farce set in the healthcare industry. The notion of not taking doctors seriously shocked some, as Temperatures Rising wrote with a dark, satirical sense of gallows humor, with the doctors' continual malpractice and exorbitant bills. To boot, the sitcom was built around a young black surgeon (Cleavon Little) with a mischievous streak. The doctors of the fictional Capitol General hospital would misread X-rays as they charged patients $185 a night for a room. Lambasted for its irreverence, the show retooled in season two, adding the popular Paul Lynde to the cast, but it was too late to revive.

Image: The Everett Collection

6. Hot l Baltimore

1975

Producer Norman Lear pushed boundaries with frank, contemporary sitcoms such as All in the Family, One Day at a Time, The Jeffersons and Good Times. But some of his productions were perhaps too aggressive. ABC aired a disclaimer before episodes of Hot l Baltimore (the "E" in the hotel sign had burned out) warning of its "mature themes." The characters included illegal immigrants, sex workers and gay couples. Even the Baltimore affiliate opted to air something else. Despite a fantastic cast — Oscar nominee James Cromwell, SAG president Richard Masur, Emmy nominee Conchata Ferrell, Emmy and Tony nominee Charlotte Rae — Hot l checked out quickly as Lear's first major flop.

Image: The Everett Collection

7. Karen

1975

M*A*S*H co-creators Gene Reynolds and Larry Gelbart, hot off their success, realized that American television had set many shows in its capitol about its government. Thus, they came up with Karen, a showcase for Emmy-winner Karen Valentine (Room 222). Karen's character was a consumer advocate and lobbyist for Open America, fighting corruption in Washington, D.C. The critics were condescending and chauvinistic in their appraisals, claiming Karen was "too cute" to be "taken seriously." Writers focused on her appearance, not her character, noting "a pretty face can only take you so far."

Image: The Everett Collection

8. Khan!

1975

No, this was not a series about Captain Kirk and his nemesis. Khigh Dhiegh (best known as Wo Fat on Hawaii Five-O) led a cast that included Asian-American stars Evan C. Kim and Irene Yah-Ling Sun. Khigh Dhiegh, born Kenneth Dickerson in New Jersey, was actually of Anglo-Egyptian Sudanese ancestry, yet was typecast in Asian roles throughout his career. Still, here was a detective show with a primarily minority cast. Dhiegh was a committed practitioner and proponent of Taoism, who founded the Taoist Sanctuary in Hollywood. Perhaps that is what led him to, in an unprecedented move, take no credit for his lead role on Khan! That's right — he was the face of the show but went unbilled. He also eschewed promoting the series, which is probably why it only lasted four episodes. 

Image: The Everett Collection

9. Sunshine

1975

Just look at the little girl's, Elizabeth Cheshire's, face at the bottom of this image. Typically, children on American television had been sweet kids like Beaver Cleaver, at worst charming imps like Dennis the Menace. Sunshine strove for realism. Chicago Tribune called Cheshire a "pest." The series focused on a hippie musician and single father (Cliff DeYoung) struggling to raise his daughter. Yep, that is indeed Bill Mumy, formerly Will Robinson, on the far left as a folkie friend, looking like one of the Beach Boys. The dad was fiercely dedicated to his child, though audiences found the show either too serious and topical or too crunchy and hippie, depending on their outlook. Another critic wisely labeled it "before its time." Thematically. Hippies were certainly not new.

Image: The Everett Collection

SEE MORE: 7 short-lived Sixties TV shows that were too ahead of their time

Gene Roddenberry, George C. Scott and Leslie Uggams led these forward-thinking, forgotten series. READ MORE

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Tim 13 days ago
I went to a taping of Hot l Baltimore. Norman Lear was on set. It was not funny. Audience was dead silent most of the time.
Mom1961 18 days ago
Hey, MeTV! How about showcasing a Season of Flops? Replace Flintstones and/or Happy Days currently programmed time slot to one or two of these short-lived shows, and it can be a yearly festival, as it were:)
MrsPhilHarris 22 days ago
I remember Sunshine because Bill Mumy was on it.
stagebandman 22 days ago
Born in 1960, I watched a LOT of early 70s TV, and, except for the last two, saw and loved all of these shows. I remember the first episode of Hot l Baltimore, with James Cromwell, playing a gay man, was actually hiding in the closet! I swear, every time I hear the phrase "came out of the closet", that scene comes to mind.

And Search started as a TV movie called Probe, and I REALLY loved that show. How about getting those on MeTV??
Bret 23 days ago
I remember Hot L Baltimore. I saw it the few times it was on.
Sooner 23 days ago
Marty Feldman's show was really funny. I was really angry they took it off.
pattysdaughter 24 days ago
Does any one remember a short lived show called Best of the West? It was Green acres in nature:a city man from the east coast taking his southern bell wife out west . It took place after Civil war era. It lasted may be two seasons at best. It has always stuck with me because it was my first realization how tv shows work and how easily they can be cancelled if they can not grab an audience, when in the spring, its all reruns but networks might run a new show with limited number of shows, not the usual 26. I was in my teens so it had to be in the mid 70’s.
Yes, that was a good show
TheDavBow3 24 days ago
Wow! Another group of cool shows a basically never heard of. Except I do remember Hot L Baltimore. I was only 10 but thought it was cool. I didn't comprehend everything that was going on 😉. I remember one cast member played the housekeeper on Two and a Half Men. Search and Khan! look especially interesting.
AlF 24 days ago
I remember watching "Search" as a kid. Really enjoyed that show, especially Hugh O'Brian's and Burgess Meredith's charachters. So bummed when they took it away after a very short run...
Utzaake 24 days ago
1. "Feldman...had much in common with Python..." He was also a regular cast member alongside John Cleese and Graham Chapman on At Last the 1948 Show four years earlier. Here's arguably The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine's most memorable sketch.

2. Highly recommend Be Water, the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary film about Bruce Lee that recently aired. Included in the film is the scene from Longstreet that's pictured above.
5, 7 & 8. Remember each being publicized well enough at the time but failed to watch any of them.
6. The disclaimer scared me away from the series premiere. Curious enough to have watched its last episode by coming in just after the disclaimer. Boy, was I young & stupid or what (was only 8 then). Should've watched Hot l Baltimore from the get-go. Hate censorship to this very day.
9. Either my older brother or older sister or both watched Sunshine, and I just happened to have been in the same room doing likewise. Cliff De Young was always like fingernails on blackboard. And then, there was Meg Foster's eyes!
Evan Utzaake 22 days ago
That was great. Very British humor.
pattysdaughter 24 days ago
Does any one know the Conchitta Ferrell from Hot L Baltimore is the Same Conchitta from Two and 1/2 men?
AEDC49 pattysdaughter 24 days ago
Yes, she is the same. Her first official TV work was on Maude on a 1974 episode is best I know! Her first name is actually spelled different! "Conchata" for most credits; She has done a continuous amount from '74 on and still current! on TV shows!
pattysdaughter AEDC49 24 days ago
Thanks. In the pic of the cast is she 3rd from the left front row? I remember liking that sit com.
AEDC49 24 days ago
Yes when I wrote e-mails when MeTV started & sister stations! mentioning 100's of shows from 40's- 70's and TV movie specials that they have access to and would be better to showcase and during prime time as a unique TV History Showcase I didn't think many years later all they would do is use what I mentioned from early 70's on back as games & quizzes! but yes they should just showcase these types of shows among the way over-shown now way beyond boring reshown shows that never leave the schedule to give the many obscure better shows that have been plagiarize and are todays popular shows of the 21st century and the 90's & 80's TV shows so these deserve to be show and not simply used as a trivia quiz survey and they still seem to ignore the input to showcase these for a few hours an evening or weekend to show the kids where their shows copied from and poorly I might add! considering all the factors! but from this list they should show #'s 1-4 at least as they are good period and I watched all new were better then most of the other shows of the era! Actually I'd rather watch "Pat Paulsen's Half A Comedy Hour" that was aired finally starting in January 1970 as the series was filmed in '69 etc! "Probe" was supposed to be aired in 1971 when already made but was held for ratings wars and aired in February 1972 and I and friends really thought it was cool and amusing having a Spy Adventure with the tech stuff etc! so when it became a series airing for a season in September '72 we watched every episode! to last! and this should be show as there are 2 newer type shows that copy exact of it! also loved "Long Street" & Yes "Cheers" was completely idealed from "The Corner Bar" etc. so these shows deserve to just be show proper and show them for a few runs! got that!?!
JoeSHill 24 days ago
"SEARCH" was an unusual concept because it wasn't science fiction, but it was a highly original action-adventure series and the first of its kind to depict high tech some thirty years ahead of its time. the series was created by executive producer Leslie Stevens, who worked on Universal's "NAME OF THE GAME" series ( 1968-71) but is better remembered as the creator of "THE OUTER LIMITS" and "STONEY BURKE" in the early 60s. "SEARCH" also used former "STAR TREK" associate producer, Robert H. Justman to produce the series, and was replaced in mid-season by former "MAN FROM UNCLE" producer, Anthony Spinner. the impressive set used on the series resembled a NASA Mission Control center but was filmed at Stage 13 of the Warner Bros. Burbank Studios Lot, and much of the high tech hardware used in the background of the Probe Control set was also used in many of the Irwin Allen TV shows that were produced at 20th Century Fox, and even in "BATMAN", but overall, the NBC series that was produced from 1972 to 1973 by Warner Bros. Television deserved a second season, but the ratings said otherwise. the NBC World Premiere TV pilot called "PROBE" that aired on Feb 21, 1972, and had launched "SEARCH" was exceptional and original, setting the stage for other TV shows like "KNIGHT RIDER" and "THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN" to use a lot of the high tech stuff. In fact, in episodes of "WONDER WOMAN" during the 1977-78 season, many of the props used in "SEARCH" were also reused on the Lynda Carter series, since both of these TV shows were produced by Warner Bros. in the 70s.
RoberttheWallace 25 days ago
Monumentally fortunate for all of us devout admirers and fans of " Hawaii Five-O "--Khigh Dhiegh was incorporated into that Iconic series
as the incomparable Wo Fat! With that being said, why has MeTV REFUSED to place " Hawaii Five-O " back into its schedule; inquiring minds want to KNOW! ! !
Hawaii Five-0 with a zero. Doesn't anybody understand that the "Five-0" stands for the number 50?
Khigh Dhiegh had already appeared a number of times on Hawaii Five-O, so I would say that he was hardly 'incorporated' into Five-O after Khan, but more like reinstated.
"Technically," 5-0 represents Hawaii. It would be like saying Delaware 0-1. Delaware was the first state, Hawaii is #50. So the 5-0 has a bit more significance than merely being the # after 49, and before 51.
Lacey 25 days ago
I liked SEARCH and Temperature's Rising. I also thought Hot L Baltimore was never given a chance. Karen was just another attempt to hop on the MTM bandwagon. There were a lot of cute young girls with TV shows at that time. They just never had the chemistry to make it work.
SusanWilkinson 25 days ago
I really enjoyed Search and Temperatures Rising. I know I watched some Longstreet but I don’t remember it.
I remember Longstreet and I liked the show.
AgingDisgracefully 25 days ago
If only someone had written a made-for-TV movie where Karen Valentine, MY one-stop cuteness headquarters, helps Khigh Dhiegh, Wo Fat - why pretend? - find a proper mustache.

It could have been Quality Time or Teaching Moment! Or unintentional YouTube comedy.
GaryGoltz 25 days ago
I got to meet Norman Lear a few years ago and shot this picture of him...
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