The 1972 CBS Fall Season
CBS premiered eight shows (six sitcoms, one variety show and one drama) in September of 1972, in the process totally revamping its schedule. The network’s emphasis on sitcoms extended to the creation of a new two-hour Sunday comedy block with three new programs and one returning show. Four of the network’s new programs — including The Waltons and Maude — would eventually prove very popular with viewers and another was canceled at the end of the season despite high Nielsen ratings. Several others, such as The Sandy Duncan Show and The New Bill Cosby Show, are much less memorable.
Despite winning the 1971-1972 ratings race, when CBS unveiled its 1972-1973 schedule in early April 1972, not a single evening was left unchanged . Seven shows were canceled, including Arnie, My Three Sons, Cade’s County and O’Hara — U.S. Treasury and seven returning shows were given new times lots. Eight new shows were added, including one drama series, one variety show and six sitcoms. According to Robert D. Wood, president of CBS, the reasoning behind the drastic overhaul was simple: “We had a very hot hand this season, and we’re reaching to keep those dice hot. We wanted to maximize every opportunity so that if two or three of our new shows should explode, the return would be even greater” .
As for its emphasis on comedy, Wood stated that CBS was “a comedy and variety network,” and that its 11 half-hour of sitcoms were indicative of the network’s “interest in providing counter-programming, so that CBS will have a personality distinctly different from the others” . The new shows included a one-hour drama, The Waltons (originally called Spencer’s Mountain, an hour-long variety series, The New Bill Cosby Show, and six half-hour sitcoms: M*A*S*H, Maude (originally called Cousin Maude), Bridget Loves Bernie, The Sandy Duncan Show, Anna & The King and The Bob Newhart Show.
The network’s new schedule was presented to viewers in a snazzy fall preview special, one that was apparently not shown in prime time but instead offered to affiliates to air when they saw fit. In Chicago, for example, it was shown once on the afternoon of Sunday, September 3rd and again during the evening of Monday, September 4th [4, 5]. In Hartford, it aired on Sunday, September 10th, the day before the new season officially got underway.
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The CBS promotional campaign included a catchy slogan set to an equally catchy jingle: “Have we got a fall for you!” A variation of this slogan was used in print ads: “Have we got a night for you!” promoting each night of the CBS schedule. For shows returning from the previous season the slogan was tweaked again, to “Have we got a show for you!” On air promotion also featured additional lyrics: “This time, like last time, its all here on CBS.” The preview special had this jingle playing in the background and repeated the slogan often. .
Five of the new CBS sitcoms were scheduled either on Saturday or Sunday evening, in an effort to create two solid comedy blocks. On Saturday, Bridget Loves Bernie was sandwiched between All in the Family and The Mary Tyler Moore Show at 8:30PM; The Bob Newhart Show followed at 9:30PM. On Sunday, Anna & The King led off the night at 7:30PM, followed by M*A*S*H and The Sandy Duncan Show at 8PM and 8:30PM, respectively, with returning The New Dick Van Dyke Show at 9PM.
Referring to the Sunday line-up, Fred Silverman admitted “There are certain risks, but I think it will work. We’ve been in a bad third place on Sunday night for several seasons. We think our comedy block provides an alternative. When I’m home on Sunday night, there’s not much of a choice” . He furthermore suggested that even if NBC’s The Wonderful World of Disney tops new entries Anna & The King and M*A*S*H from 7:30-8:30PM, younger viewers would switch to The Sandy Duncan Show rather than tune into the NBC Sunday Mystery Movie .
Anna & The King was based on the 1956 movie The King and I which in turn had been based on the 1951 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, also titled The King and I, itself based on Margaret Landon’s 1944 novel Anna and the King of Siam (which fictionalized the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, who served as governess at the court of Siam during the 1860s). A 1946 film version of Landon’s novel starred Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison.
Yul Brynner created the role of the noble (and bald) King Mongkut of Siam on Broadway in 1951 opposite Gertrude Lawrence as Anna, hired to educate the King’s numerous wives and children. Both would win Tony Awards in 1952, as would the musical itself. Brynner also starred in the 1956 movie, this time opposite Deborah Kerr, and would win an Academy Award in 1957. For the 1972 television version, a sitcom, Samantha Eggartook over the role of Anna. The series ran for just four months and thirteen episodes, the last of which was broadcast on December 31st.
Anna & The King wasn’t the only new CBS series based on a movie. M*A*S*H, a somewhat toned-down version of the hit 1970 film (which itself was based on Richard Hooker’s 1969 novel), premiered on September 17th. Alan Alda starred as Hawkeye Pierce, irreverent doctor, womanizer and wise-cracker. Gary Burghoff recreated his movie role as Radar O’Reilly, the quirky company camp. McLean Stevenson, Wayne Rogers and Loretta Swit also starred. Eleven years later the beloved series came to a close with a feature-length finale that still tops the Nielsen record books.
Sandy Duncan, whose first series Funny Face had aired for thirteen weeks on CBS in 1971 before production was shut down so Duncan could recover from surgery, was back in 1972. CBS was more than willing to give her another shot and she revived the character of Sandy Stockton for The Sandy Duncan Show, which co-starred Tom Bosley (later to appear on Happy Days as Howard Cunningham). Like Anna & The King, The Sandy Duncan Show was canceled in December after just 13 episodes.
Bill Cosby, of course, starred in The New Bill Cosby Show, a sketch/variety hour that premiered September 11th, 1972. The original The Bill Cosby Show had aired on NBC from 1969-1971. The new version didn’t last nearly as long. It was canceled after eight months.
Maude was the first of many spin-offs of the popular All In The Family, which itself returned for its third season in the fall of 1972. Maude was Edith’s cousin and Archie’s nemesis. A vocal, opinionated woman, Maude was on her fourth husband. The series ran for six seasons before ending after star Bea Arthur called it quits. At once amusing, dramatic, comedic and controversial, Maude joined many other CBS shows to define the network during the 1970s.
Earl Hamner, Jr.’s sprawling family epic The Waltons premiered on Thursday, September 14th, airing at 8PM. The series stayed in the same time slot until 1981, when it came to a close. Centered on the Walton clan, living on their mountain during the Depression, The Waltons initially focused heavily on eldest son John-Boy Walton (played by Richard Thomas). By the time it ended, Ralph Waite, Michael Learned, Ellen Corby and Richard Thomas had all left The Waltons, while Will Greer had passed away. The surviving cast would return for a variety of reunion movies in the early 1980s and into the 1990s.
One new CBS series drew controversy even before it premiered and that’s reportedly what ended up killing it. Bridget Loves Bernie brought together Meredith Baxter as Bridget Fitzgerald, a practicing Catholic, and Bernie Steinberg, of the Jewish faith. Reactions to the mixed marriage were fierce, both on-screen and off. The show garnered high enough ratings to basically guarantee a renewal but CBS canceled the series after one season.
The Bob Newhart Show starred Bob Newhart as a psychologist, with Suzanne Pleshette as his wife and Bill Daily as their neighbor. It was actually the second Bob Newhart vehicle to be called The Bob Newhart Show; the first was a variety show on NBC during the 1961-1962 season. The sitcom version would run for six seasons and, in one of television’s most famous twists, would be revisited in the series finale of Newhart in May of 1990.
Television shows (both those new and returning) weren’t the only product CBS was pushing for the 1972-1973 season. Premiering major motion pictures on the networks was a bigger deal back in the 1970s than it is nowadays. CBS had three nights of movies, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Among the films CBS premiered that year were Around The World in 80 Days, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, The Undefeated and the made-for-TV movie The Family Rico.
Sports, news and special programming were also an important part of the CBS strategy for the new season
CBS won the 1972-1973 season (which according to official Nielsen figures ran from September 11th, 1972 to April 22nd, 1973) with a 19.8 rating, ahead of NBC’s 19.1 rating and far ahead of ABC’s 17.5 rating . Of the eight new shows premiering on CBS during the fall of 1972, exactly half — Anna & the King, The Sandy Duncan Show, The New Bill Cosby Show and Bridget Loves Bernie — would not return for the 1973-1974 season. What’s more, Anna & the King and The Sandy Duncan Show didn’t even last a full season. On the other hand, the four shows that did first season would all go on to run for six seasons or more: Maude and The Bob Newhart Show both ended in 1978, The Waltons ran until 1981 and M*A*S*H was on the air until 1983. In that respect, the schedule that debuted in September 1972 was a success. How much of that success was due to the fall preview, the jingle, the slogan, the print and on-air promotion is impossible to know.
4 “Today’s Highlights.” Chicago Tribune. 3 Sep. 1972: N1.
5 “TV Hour by Hour.” Chicago Tribune. 4 Sep. 1972: 13.
6 Kramer, Carol. “Two Views of Television’s New Season.” Chicago Tribune. 10 Sep. 1972: N1.
8 “Agency row sees few challengers in new season.” Broadcasting. 10 Sep. 1973: 25.
Originally Published August 20th, 2003
Last Updated October 24th, 2012