Comedy gold. Saturday nights in the Fall of 1973. CBS was the place to be. Years later, ABC would have a formidable Tuesday night anchored by Happy Days! and Laverne & Shirley, and NBC had a must-see Thursday night lineup built around Cheers and ER.
This CBS lineup was my favorite. All in the Family, M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show and The Carol Burnett Show all classic television shows. All in the Family, M*A*S*H and The Mary Tyler Moore Show were all in the top ten rated shows. The Bob Newhart Show ranked in the top 20, and Carol Burnett in the top 30. That’s damn good for Saturday nights.
Let’s look at each one, and then the entire block.
All in the Family (1971-1979) Still the number one show in the Nielsen ratings. In its fourth season, All in the Family had not mellowed, as Archie Bunker was still finding ways to offend people. The Lorenzos join the Jeffersons as neighbors to give Archie more people to interact. Mike and Gloria are still living with the Bunkers to add inter-generational sparring.
The season features several episodes that looking into the marriages of Archie and Edith, and Mike and Gloria, especially the sensitive subject of intimacy problems. One of the best episodes focuses on a young man with a developmental disability who wants to be Gloria’s boyfriend, but Archie gets him fired from his delivery job. Another episode celebrates Lionel’s engagement to a while woman, that gets problems from his family.
M*A*S*H (1972-1983) After the first season, with average ratings, the network moved M*A*S*H into a favored position following All in the Family. M*A*S*H took over for Bridget Loves Bernie, cancelled after one season, whacked by religious leaders who felt the show disrespected Jews and Catholics. Season 2 of M*A*S*H represented an improvement in writing and continued several narrative devices like writing letters home, that would give the show a very successful storytelling practice. The producers shifted the show’s tone from slapstick, jokes and broad comedy into more realistic, character-driven comedy. M*A*S*H had been on Sunday nights where it ranked 46th.
Two of the best episodes were written by McLean Stevenson, one that has Henry in love with a woman half his age, and the other has Henry on trial for helping a nurse who administers care with North Korean civilians. Hawkeye does not sleep for three days and exhibits very odd behavior. Hawkeye needs new boots, but must arrange a variety of “deals” in order to get the requisition approved.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977) Season number four welcomed the addition of Betty White as Sue Ann Niven’s, the Happy Homemaker. This was Valerie Harper’s last season before her show premiered. MTM was operating on all cylinders, the writing was crisp and each character had their turn in the spotlight. This was the best ensemble show on television. Tied for ninth in the Nielsen ratings.
In season four, Lou Grant and wife Edie see a marriage counselor, and Lou must come to grips with her deciding to move out. A bittersweet episode on loss. There are other episodes during season four that deal with dating, marriage and infidelity. One of which is an idea for a human interest story around singles bars, which results in a live segment. Unfortunately, the TV cameras scare off the customers. Mary and Murray are working late and having fun updating the obituary file. Unfortunately, one of them is read on the news, causing Lou to become angry at Mary and suspends her for two weeks. This causes a riff between boss and employee, and friend to friend.
The Bob Newhart Show (1972-1978) Produced by MTM Enterprises, and was in its second season. Debuting at number 16, it moved up to a tie for number 12 in the 1973-1974 season. Like M*A*S*H and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show got better in the second season. The characters yelled and the writing got smarter.
There are many really funny and insightful episodes in season two. In one episode, Bob discovers that Emily has a higher IQ than him, and it results in an inferiority complex for Bob. On the advice of Jerry, Bob hires a business manager and soon regrets it. Bob cannot live on the small allowance and feels like a kid having to ask for his own money. Bob agrees to counsel a minister and is surprised (and embarrassed) when he takes Bob’s advise to change careers.
The Carol Burnett Show (1967-1978) This was the first season the show was on Saturday nights. The comedy-variety show had been on Mondays for four seasons and Wednesdays for two seasons. Saturday nights, actually was a less successful day and time, but viewership in the late slot was as traditionally lower. The show would stay there for four and a half seasons. The cast was Carol, Vicki Lawrence, Harvey Korman and Lyle Waggoner.
Season seven kicked off with Jim Nabors, who opened every season. Tim Conway was not a regular but appeared eight times during the season. Steve Lawrence was also a frequent guest, he appeared five times. Comedienne John Byner appeared three times. Movie parodies, episodes of “As the Stomach Turns,” Harvey Korman/Tim Conway skits and commercial spoofs.
ABC – Tuesday 1978 – 1979
“Happy Days,” “Laverne & Shirley,” “Three’s Company,” “Taxi,” “Starsky and Hutch.”
NBC – Thursday 1984 – 1985
“The Cosby Show,” “Family Ties,” “Cheers,” “Night Court,” and “Hill Street Blues.”
ABC – Friday Night – 1971-72
“The Brady Bunch,” “The Partridge Family,” “Room 222,” “The Odd Couple,” and “Love, American Style.”