1974 Development Season: NBC’s Pilots

Every year, the television networks order pilot episodes for dozens of potential series to premiere in the fall. Only a select few will be picked up. The rest will remain unsold. This three-part special feature examines the 96 pilots developed for the 1974-1975 season, drawn from a list published in the March 4th, 1974 issue of Broadcasting magazine, which included limited information on cast and key creative personnel.

Additional details have been drawn from a variety of sources including Lee Goldberg’s wonderful Unsold Television Pilots Vol. #1, 1955-1976 as well as contemporary newspaper articles and TV listings.

Introduction

NBC had a total of 34 pilots in contention for the 1974-1975 season, only two fewer than ABC but 12 more than CBS. Like ABC, the network was skewed in favor of drama pilots, ultimately picking up eight: Born Free, Little House on the Prairie, Lucas Tanner, Petrocelli, Sierra, Movin’ On, The Rockford Files, and Amy Prentiss (a new segment of The NBC Sunday Mystery Movie.). A ninth pilot would led to a short-lived mid-season replacement called Archer.

(A tenth drama series, Police Woman, was not included in Broadcasting‘s list. A spin-off of NBC’s Police Story starring Angie Dickinson. The first season finale of that series, broadcast in March 1974, served as a backdoor pilot for Police Woman.)

The network only picked up a few sitcoms: Chico and the Man, Sunshine, and The Bob Crane Show. The latter two were pushed back after a court rule forced the FCC to delay its changes to the Prime Time Access Rule until September 1975. They premiered in March 1975.

You can read all about NBC’s Fall 1974 here.

Park Ranger (half hour; adventure)
Universal in association with Mark VII Productions

Fate – Picked up! The series was renamed Sierra and expanded to a half-hour before it premiered on Thursday, September 12th. James G. Richardson and Ernest Thompson starred as rangers with the United States National Park Service working in the fictional Sierra National Park. NBC cancelled the series after just four episodes but allowed all 11 episodes produced to air. The 90-minute pilot telefilm was not broadcast until December 1974, a few weeks after the series went off the air.

For Better, For Worse (half hour; comedy)
Aaron Ruben Productions; with Jack Weston, Marge Redmond

Fate – Unsold. Weston and Redmond played a married couple who have spent decades threatening one another with divorce. Aired in August 1976.

Doctor Domingo (half hour; doctor)
Universal in association with Harbour Productions; Desi Arnaz

Fate – Unsold. Arnaz starred as a doctor suspicious of a pilot’s death in the middle of a flight. Aired as an episode of Ironside (“Riddle at 24,000”) in March 1974 during that show’s seventh season.

Availability: Although Season 7 of Ironside has not been released on DVD in the United States, it was released in Australia and New Zealand (Region 4), with “Riddle at 24,000” included.

Home Free (half hour; comedy)
Playboy Productions; with Jane Alexander, Laurence Luckenbill, Rex Eberhardt

Fate – Unsold. Alexander played a parole officer and Luckenbill her husband, a lawyer. Retitled “Someone to Watch Over Me” and aired in December 1975 as part of a 90-minute block of unsold pilots from the 1974-1975 season under the umbrella title “The Owl, the Pussycat and Friends” (the other pilots were “Moose” and “The Owl and the Pussycat”).

My Wife Next Door (half hour; comedy)
Concept II Productions

Fate – Unsold. Based on a British TV series. James Farentino and Julie Sommars starred as a couple in the middle of a divorce who accidentally rent adjoining beachfront apartments. Aired in December 1975.

Second Start (half hour; comedy)
MTM Productions; with Bob Crane, Trisha Hart, Harold Goule, Todd Susman, Rae Allen

Fate – Picked up! Originally scheduled for Fall 1974, this sitcom was pulled after an appeals court forced the FCC to delay relaxing the Prime Time Access Rule until September 1975. Crane starred as an insurance salesman in his 40s who decides to quit his job and go to medical school. Retitled The Bob Crane Show, it premiered in March 1975 and was off the air 13 weeks later.

Moose (half hour; comedy)
Lorimer Productions

Fate – Unsold. According to contemporary television listings, Scott Jacoby, William James Madden, and George O’Hanlon starred in this sitcom pilot as three teenagers growing up in 1950s Chicago. In Unsold Televisio Pilots: Vol. 1: 1955-1976, Lee Goldberg states that this pilot was set in a small town prior to the start of World war II. Either way, it aired in December 1975 as part of a 90-minute block of unsold pilots from the 1974-1975 season under the umbrella title “The Owl, the Pussycat and Friends” (the other pilots were “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “The Owl and the Pussycat”).

Chico and the Man (half hour; comedy/drama)
Wolper Productions; with Jack Albertson, Freddie Prinze

Fate – Picked up! James Komack created this sitcom, which was a breakout hit and ranked 3rd for the 1974-1975 season, thanks in part to airing after Sanford and Son.

The Owl and the Pussycat (half hour; comedy)
Screen Gems; with Buck Henry

Fate – Unsold. Based on the 1970 film starring George Segal as an aspiring writer and Barbara Streis as an aspiring actress (and hooker) who become friends. For this sitcom pilot, Buck Henry and Bernadette Peters took over the lead roles. Aired in December 1975 as part of a 90-minute block of unsold pilots from the 1974-1975 season under the umbrella title “The Owl, the Pussycat and Friends” (the other pilots were “Moose” and “Someone to Watch Over Me”).

Fraud (half hour; law enforcement)
Universal in association with Mark VII productions; Frank Sinatra Jr., Ed Nelson, Sharon Gless

Fate – Unsold. Nelson starred as an assistant district attorney combating fraud, with Gless and Sinatra, Jr. as agents under his command. Directed by Jack Webb, who later turned it into a March 1974 episode of Adam-12 titled “Clinic on Eighteenth Street.”

Availability: The version of the pilot used in Adam-12 is included in the Season 6 DVD set, released in January 2012 by Shout! Factory.

Sunshine (half hour; drama)
Universal; Cliff DeYoung

Fate – Picked up! Originally scheduled for Fall 1974, this sitcom was pulled after an appeals court forced the FCC to delay relaxing the Prime Time Access Rule until September 1975. DeYoung starred as a widower raising his wife’s 5-year-old daughter from a previous marriage. The sitcom premiered in March 1975 and ended 13 weeks later. Based on a November 1973 made-for-TV movie of the same name.

Bluffer’s Guide (hour; comedy)
Bob Hope Productions; with Bob Hope, David Niven

Fate – Unsold. Based loosely on the Bluffer’s Guides books published in England, this comedy pilot was executive produced by Bob Hope, who served as Master Bluffer, and was hosted by David Niven. It featured a slew of celebrities put into situations they have to bluff their way out of. For example: Carl Reiner was Shakespeare attempting to explain his next play; Merv Griffin had to sing while viewers were shown what he was thinking about; and Ed Asner attempted to handle telephone calls from his wife and two girlfriends at the same time. Other guests included Pat Harrington, Glenn Ford, Jack Benny, Sandy Duncan, Earnest Borgnine.

Born Free (hour; drama)
Screen Gems

Fate – Picked up! Based on Joy Adamson’s 1960 book of the same name (which was turned into a 1966 film starring Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers), this series starred Gary Collins and Diana Muldaur as wildlife conservationist Joy and George Adamson, wildlife conservationists living in Keyna with Elsa the Lioness, trying to protect the animals in their care.

Availability: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released the entire series on DVD in August 2012.

Little House on the Prairie (hour; comedy)
NBC Productions; with Michael Landon, Karen Grassele

Fate – Picked up! This long-running family drama was another hit for NBC, ending the 1974-1975 season in 13th place. Based on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books, the series ran for nine seasons and 203 episodes, ending in May 1982. Landon starred as the patriarch of the Ingalls family. The pilot telefilm aired in March 1974.

Availability: The entire series is available on DVD but the pilot telefilm was only included in the deluxe remastered DVD and Blu-ray sets released in March 2014.

Remember When (hour; comedy)
Danny Thomas Productions; with Jack Warden, Nan Martin, William Schallert, Jamie Smith Jackson, Margaret Willock, Bobby Benson

Fate – Unsold. Set in Hartford, CT during World War II, this pilot followed a family with four sons in combat learning to live with both the constant worry as well as the wartime restrictions faced by those on the homefront. Warden starred as the family’s uncle. The two-hour pilot telefilm aired in March 1974.

Archer (hour; detective)
Paramount; with Peter Graves

Fate – Picked up! Based on novelist Ross Macdonald’s detective Lew Archer character, Graves starred the title character whose investigation into the disappearance of a man years ago results in the murder of the missing man’s son. The pilot telefilm aired in May 1974 under the title The Underground Man. A reworked version of the pilot was turned into a short-lived detective series called Archer starring Brian Keith, which ran from January to March 1975.

The Black Pearl (hour; adventure)
Universal in association with Mark VII Productions; with Keil Martin, Ralph Bellamy, Jack Kruschen

Fate – Unsold. Martin starred as a stockbroker who inherits the ship his grandfather used to search for sunken treasure. He decides to continue his grandfather’s quest for sunken treasure. The pilot telefilm aired in January 1975 under the title The Log of the Black Pearl.

Amy Prentiss (hour; police)
Universal in association with Harbour Productions with Jessica Walter

Fate – Picked up! A segment of The NBC Sunday Mystery Movie., only three episodes of this series aired during the 1974-1975 season. A two-part episode of Ironside broadcast in May 1974 served as the pilot for the series, which starred Walters as the San Francisco Police Department’s first female chief of detectives.

The Law (hour; lawyers)
Universal; with Judd Hirsh, John Beck, Herb Jefferson, George Wynner, Bonnie Franklin, Barbara Baxley, John Hillerman, Gary Busey.

Fate – Unsold. Hirsh starred as a dedicated Los Angeles deputy public defender trying to prove a farm boy innocent of the cruel murder of a football player. The two-and-a-half-hour pilot telefilm aired in October 1974.

The Healers (hour; doctor)
Warner Bros.

Fate – Unsold. John Forsythe starred as the director of a medical research center plagued with low funding, dealing with the loss of key staff members, and a doctor’s use of an untested drug to try to save a dying child. The pilot telefilm aired in May 1974.

Twice in a Lifetime (hour; comedy)
Martin Reckin Productions; with Ernest Borgnine, Della Reese

Fate – Unsold. Borgnine starred as a retired Navy cook who buys an old tugboat hoping to get back to sea but runs into a dishonest dock foreman. The pilot telefilm aired in March 1974.

Night Games (hour; lawyers)
Paramount; with Barry Newman, Susan Howard, Albert Saimi

Fate – Picked up! Broadcasting noted that the series would probably be called Petrocelli if it was picked up and that’s exactly what NBC decided to call it. The legal drama starred Newman as an Italian-American lawyer who leaves his job in Boston to work as a defense attorney in Arizona. The series premiered on Wednesday, September 11th and performed well enough to be picked up for the rest of the season and renewed for the 1975-1976 season but was cancelled after that. The pilot telefilm, Night Games aired in March 1974. Newman had earlier played Petrocelli in a 1970 film called The Lawyer.

In Tandem (hour; comedy)
D’Antoni Produtions; with Claude Akins, Frank Converse

Fate – Picked up! Akins and Converse starred as big rig drivers hauling anything anywhere. The series was renamed Movin’ On before it premiered. It was renewed for the 1975-1976 season but cancelled after that. The pilot telefilm aired in May 1974.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (hour; drama)
20th Century-Fox; with Diana Baker, James Olson, Nancy Malone, Michael Wixton

Fate – Unsold. Based on Betty Smith’s 1943 novel of the same name, which was turned into a 1945 movie directed by Elia Kazan and starring James Dunn and Dorothy McGuire, about life in a poor Brooklyn neighborhood in the early 1990s. In the pilot, Cliff Robertson starred as a kind but alcoholic father with Diane Baker as his wife, forced to support the family. The pilot telefilm aired in March 1974.

Honky Tonk (hour; period western)
MGM Television; with Richard Crenna

Fate – Unsold. Based very loosely on the 1941 Clark Gable/Lana Turner movie about a con man, Richard Crenna starred as Candy Johnson, a young con man out West in the 1880s. The pilot telefilm aired in March 1974.

Punch and Jody (hour; comedy/drama)
Metromedia Producers Corp.; with Glenn Ford, Ruth Roman, Pamela Griffin

Fate – Unsold. Glenn Ford starred as a circus performer who discovers he has a 16-year-old daughter (played by Griffin) when his ex-wife dies and names him guardian. The pilot telefilm aired in November 1974.

The Girl on the Late, Late Show (hour; adventure)
Screen Gems; with Don Murray, Laraine Stephens

Fate – Unsold. Murray starred as the producer of a talk show investigating the mysterious disappearance of an actress from the 1950s, with Gloria Grahame as the actress he’s searching for. The pilot telefilm aired in April 1974.

The Imposter (hour; detective)
Warner Bros.; with Paul Hecht, Nancy Kelly

Fate – Unsold. Hecht starred as a former Army intelligence officer paid to impersonate a contractor receiving death threats. He uses his acting and disguise skills to uncover a larger conspiracy. The pilot telefilm aired in March 1975.

Lucas Tanner (hour; school)
Universal; with David Hartman

Fate – Picked up! Hartman starred as a high school English teacher whose teaching style often put him at odds with his fellow teachers. He had the support of his principal, however. The series premiered on Wednesday, September 11th to decent ratings and was picked up for the remainder of the 1974-1975 season but was cancelled at the end of the season. The pilot telefilm aired in May 1974.

Vector (hour; medical)
Universal in association with Mark VII Productions; with Robert Urich, Maureen Reagan

Fate – Unsold. Robert Urich (as Robert York) and Maureen Reagan starred as epidemiologists working to track down health risks to the public, including mysterious rashes and an accident at a soap factory. The pilot telefilm aired in January 1975 under the title The Specialists part of an NBC Double Feature with another unsold pilot called Target Risk.

American Bag (hour; comedy)
Beards-Blye Productions; with Dennis Weaver

Fate – Unsold. Weaver hosted this variety show pilot which satirized the country’s social and political problems, helped by a cast that included Gabe Kaplan, Dena Dietrich, McLean Stevenson, and Nina Wayne. Aired in February 1974.

Hamburger (hour; comedy)
Beards-Blye Productions

Fate – Unsold. Another variety show pilot that saw the return of Sid Caeser to television after some 15 years. Much like Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, it was a fast-paced mix of sketches, animated sequences, blackouts, and music. Also appearing were Jim Nabors, Charles Nelson Reilly, Robby Vinton, Charlie Callas, Mickey Dolenz, William Conrad, and others. The pilot aired as a special in April 1974 called “Hamburgers.”

The Rockford Files (hour; detective)
Universal in association with Cherokee Productions; with James Garner

Fate – Picked up! Yet another success for NBC, this crime drama starred Garner as a private investigator in Los Angeles. It ranked 12th for the 1974-1975 and remained on the air until January 1980. The pilot telefilm aired in March 1974.

Target Risk (hour; action/adventure)
Universal; with Bo Svenson

Fate – Unsold. Svenson starred as a bonded courier whose girlfriend (played by Meredith Baxter Birney) is kidnapped by jewel thieves who want him to help steal $2 million worth of diamonds. The pilot telefilm aired in January 1975 as part of an NBC Double Feature with another unsold pilot called The Specialists (aka Vector).


3 Comments

  • Was “American Bag” intended as a network “Great American Dream Machine”?

  • Daniel B. says:

    I’m not sure if these would count, but I definitely know two daytime shows were piloted for NBC’s 1974-75 season and debuted at midseason:

    -“Blank Check”, a Jack Barry game show hosted by Art James which had shot its pilot in October 1974. Debuted January 6, 1975, ran until July.

    -“Wheel of Fortune”, a game show that was somewhat a co-production by Merv Griffin and NBC vice president of daytime programming Lin Bolen (and a near-complete overhaul of the disaster that was “Shopper’s Bazaar”, which had been shot for NBC in 1973). Debuted January 6, 1975 as a midseason replacement for “Jeopardy!”, ended June 30, 1989, but continues to this day in syndication.

    • Daniel B. says:

      Forgot a couple of things, sorry about that: the “Wheel of Fortune” pilots (two in total) were shot in August 1974 and hosted by Edd Byrnes of “77 Sunset Strip” fame, who had been recommended by NBC execs…and who had, due to the alcoholism he was battling at the time, ended up hosting the show drunk.

      After test audiences reacted unfavorably to the new set (too busy), the new sound effects (too noisy), and Byrnes (simply didn’t fit), Bolen placed her job on the line to get “Wheel” on the air — if it tanks, give her her walking papers; if it succeeds, she gets a salary increase. NBC execs greenlit the show on the condition that Byrnes was replaced by Chuck Woolery, who had hosted the “Shopper’s Bazaar” pilot.

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