Slattery’s People


Slattery’s People was one of the most critically acclaimed new series of the 1964-1965 season. The series starred Richard Crenna as the minority leader in a state legislature as he tackled all manner of problems and concerns relating to his district. Unfortunately, viewers did not tune in. Nevertheless, CBS stood by the series, shifting it to a new day in an attempt to shore up ratings and renewing it for the remainder of the season. Then, in a surprising turn of events, the series was renewed for the 1965-1966 season only weeks after having been given up for dead. Several changes made during the summer of 1965 were intended to make the series more interesting and exciting but failed to draw new viewers. Only weeks into the new season CBS cancelled the series for good.

An Unnamed Politician in an Unnamed State

In late January 1964, CBS revealed the pilots it was considering for its 1964-1965 schedule. Of the seven hour-long programs it had under contention — Calhoun, The House, John Stryker, Mark Dolphin, Mr. Broadway, Tarzan and The Reporter — only five would likely make the final cut [1]. A pilot for The House, from Bing Crosby Productions, was already completed. Created by James Moser, produced by Matthew Rapf and directed by Lamont Johnston, the pilot starred Richard Crenna as a politician in state government [2]. Shortly thereafter, Broadcasting published a tentative grid for the 1964-1965 season. The House, now known as Lawmaker, had been given the Monday 10-11PM time slot [3].

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A finalized schedule, published in the March 9th, 1964 edition of Broadcasting, revealed that Lawmaker would compete on Mondays with Ben Casey on ABC and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour on NBC [4]. The former series was also from Bing Crosby Productions while the latter had aired on CBS during the 1962-1963 and 1963-1964 seasons. On March 23rd, Broadcasting reported that Lawmaker had been retitled again, this time to Slattery’s People [5].

A lengthy CBS advertising section in the September 21st edition of Broadcasting described Slattery’s People in the following manner:

Richard Crenna has already demonstrated his notable talents for comedy. He now reaches new heights of dramatic power as a state legislator dedicated to the interests of his constituents. The action moves from the charged atmosphere of the legislative chamber into highways and byways of the sprawling district which Slattery represents. You can look forward to a novel, compelling hour of adventure. [6]

In the series, Richard Crenna’s character was given no first name. He was known simply as Slattery. The district he represented and therefore the state he lived in was never identified, either. Dick Kleiner of the Newspaper Enterprise Association determined in an early August 1964 article that the series had to be set in California. His reasoning: Slattery’s district was made up of “a seaport, a large city, lumber and mining country, and the legislature set is copied after the one in Sacramento, which narrows it down” [7].

Slattery’s aide, Johnny Ramos, was played by Paul Geary while his secretary, B.J. Clawson, was played by Maxine Stuart. Rounding out the cast were Edward Asner as Frank Radcliffe, a newspaper reporter who was friendly with Slattery, and Tol Avery as House Speaker Bert Metcalf who, despite being a member of the opposition party, was nevertheless on good terms with Slattery. The supporting cast were credited as “co-starring” only in the episodes they appeared in.

Dick Crenna Becomes Richard Crenna

Much of the media attention the series attracted prior to its premiere had to do with its star. Richard Crenna, who had been billed in early roles as Dick Crenna, had portrayed Walter Denton on Our Miss Brooks on CBS from 1952 to 1956 (and on radio from 1948 to 1957). He then starred as Luke McCoy on The Real McCoys from 1957 to 1963. In May 1964, Crenna told United Press International that he hoped to transition to leading man status in features and had turned down dozens of series offers since the end of The Real McCoys. He finally settled on Slattery’s People, having been convinced by his agent that “the only way to make it [to leading man] was to play a heroic character in a series” [8].

Crenna explained that “with this [1964] being an election year the show should attract a lot of attention in the fall” [9]. But despite being a politician, his character wouldn’t be overtly political. “No one will be able to say the character of Slattery is a Republican, Democrat, Liberal or conservative,” said Crenna. He also refused to disclose his own political views, calling them “top secret” because he didn’t want to alienate half the audience “by being identified with either party” [10].

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Copyright © TV Guide, 1964 [1]

In July, Crenna revealed that when he was first offered the lead role on Slattery’s People, he had assumed it was another comedy series. It wasn’t until he read the pilot script that he realized it was the series he had been looking for. He admitted there would be some humor but “certainly no contrived jokes or funny situations” [11]. He compared the series to Ben Casey (also created by James Moser), suggesting that “just as Ben Casey has given viewers valuable insight to medical knowledge, this series will make them aware of the problems and responsibilities of their elected members to the state legislature. I’ve read enough of the scripts to assure you people will be more acutely aware of their duties as citizens if they watch these shows” [12]. And he offered a list of some of the topics the series would cover: “We will deal with current and actual problems on the state level: sex education in the public schools, mental institutions, religious freedom, the questionable legality of wire-tapping, the issue of capital punishment, and even explore the grave problem of increasing homosexuality” [13].

Crenna had it written into his contract that he could direct episodes of the series, although he explained that he planned on waiting until the show’s second season to direct, wanting first to learn his character “through and through” [14].

A Difficult Sell To Advertisers

From the start, CBS had trouble finding advertisers for Slattery’s People. In May 1964, Broadcasting reported that while the remainder of the CBS Monday line-up was fully sold, Slattery’s People still had time available [15]. This despite the fact that three advertisers — Drackett, Phillip Morris and Miles Laboratories — were already on board. At that point, however, Slattery’s People was not alone in having unsold time. The network had only sold out more than half of its weekly series (21 out of 34, to be specific) but was working hard on selling the rest.

In early September 1964, Broadcasting published an updated chart listing advertisers, agencies and unsold time for all weekly series premiering during the upcoming season [16]. Phillip Morris was listed as the primary sponsor for Slattery’s People, with others participating, but the series still had two-thirds of its advertising time unsold. Although other CBS series, like Mr. Broadway and CBS Reports, also had time remaining, none had as much unsold advertising time as Slattery’s People. In fact, no other series on any of the networks was shown to have that much advertising time unsold.

Shortly after the series premiered, Crenna explained that “in the beginning there was some reluctance by the network to get too political” and that the aim of Slattery’s People was not to be an “educational show with a message” [17]. CBS was said to think of the series as “a high type ‘Defenders’ show laid in the political world” [18]. Comparisons between Slattery’s People and The Defenders (which ran on CBS from 1961-1965) would be drawn often.

A Critical & Political Darling

Critics were all but unanimous in their praise of Slattery’s People. In its November 1964 issue, Television Magazine presented its second annual “Consensus” survey of television critics who were asked to rate all the new fall series as Good, Bad or Indifferent. Of the 17 critics involved, 16 rated Slattery’s People Good while one — John McPhee of Time Magazine — was Indifferent [19]. The only other series to do that well as World War I (also on CBS) which 16 critics called Good and one did not rate at all. Terry Turner of the Chicago Daily News, despite rating the series Good, was fairly reserved, writing that it “may bear watching in the future” while worrying the series “indicates it will be merely another Ben Casey–superficially slick, played with force, but lacking any essential commitment to integrity” [20].

Cecil Smith of The Los Angeles Times was effusive in his praise, calling Slattery’s People “intelligent, articulate, meticulously developed and brilliantly executed, this series … is by long odds the most promising dramatic show of the year and perhaps the best since the arrival of The Defenders four years ago.” Likewise, Jack E. Anderson of the Miami Herald suggested “the show may do for politics what The Defenders has done for law.” Terrence O’Flaherty of the San Francisco Chronicle called it “a first-rate effort to bring something just a little unusual to this new fall season.” And Frank Judge of the Detroit News wrote that “Richard Crenna is excellent as a crusading legislator. The show has gotten good scripting from the start.”

Richard Crenna as Slattery
Richard Crenna as Slattery

Jack Gould of The New York Times suggested that the series “in potential at least could be in the tradition of Perry Mason and The Defenders” and praised the pilot episode’s “authenticity and detail” [21]. He was, however, critical of the plot, calling early portions of the episode “quite a turgid work,” although this was tempered by his understanding of “the difficulties that attend the introduction of a new series” [22]. Overall, his review was hopeful:

There were moments of drama, however, in the climactic confrontation between James Whitmore, playing the legislator who could not bluff his way out of disgrace, and Richard Crenna, who portrayed Slattery. Only the future will tell how well the Slattery characterization will develop. On the opening program, particularly in Mr. Crenna’s rather rigid interpretation, he was stronger on smug nobility than human interest. A little moralizing goes a long way.

The test of “Slattery’s People,” of course, will be how realistically it explores political life. At all events the theme is new, and this season that is something to warrant a viewer’s patience in seeing how it turns out. [23]

United Press International’s Rick Du Brow likewise had some issues with the premiere’s “probably necessary bravado and melodrama to establish the stature of its central figure” but argued that “allowing for dramatic license, the one-hour program has the makings of a fine series, and Crenna’s title role has the substance for an altogether admirable weekly hero” [24]. Of the political maneuvering depicted in the premiere, Du Brow wondered if “those in the know about such political matters might or might not have their reservations about various aspects of the handling” [25].

Cleveland Amory’s review for TV Guide was not published until mid-November, giving him time to view more than just the premiere. He lamented the fact that the series was not drawing viewers, suggesting that its “uncompromising unconformity” was turning off viewers [26]. Amory discussed two episodes in his review, praising one for a “suburb courtroom scene that was, for us at least, one traumatic experience after another” and the other for fine acting on the part of Ed Wynn and Richard Kiley [27]. He ended his review by urging CBS to keep the series on the air.

In early November, Crenna spoke with Joan Crosby of the Newspaper Enterprise Association about reviews, telling her “we anticipated the show would be a slow starter, but we received marvelous criticism. Maybe 10 per cent of the critics gave us what most shows would consider good reviews, but with some reservations. The other 90 percent raved. After the second show, a lot of the critics re-reviewed our show and almost 100 per cent accepted us critically” [28].

Politicians were happy with the series, too. Representative James C. Corman of California cited the series in the Congressional Record, calling it “a depiction of a modern legislator that is at once realistic and sympathetic, that is both fair and discerning” and calling it an “effort that deserves our respect and praise” [29]. Furthermore, Corman called Slattery’s People “the first effort of the television industry to dramatize the life of a lawmaker, praised Richard Crenna as “a young actor whose grasp of a legislator’s point of view is remarkable” and declared he was “pleased that they [the producers] have taken the high road to show a legislator’s life, and have not pandered to sensationalism or unreality” [30].

Slattery’s People Don’t Tune In

The September 21st series premiere of Slattery’s People competed with the second episode of Ben Casey‘s fourth season on ABC and a repeat of Sing Along with Mitch on NBC. Based on 26-city Trendex ratings published in Broadcasting, Ben Casey easily ranked first in the Monday 10-11PM time slot, averaging a 23.7 rating and a 51.8 share; Slattery’s People was second with a 10.5/22.9 rating and Sing Along with Mitch third with a 7.4/17 rating [31]. There was a significant drop off in the second half hour (from a 12.1 rating to an 8.9 rating) for Slattery’s People while the other programs actually saw an increase in their second half hours. The September 28th episode performed better in the Trendexes, averaging a 12.6/28.0 rating, again ranking second in the time slot with weaker competition on NBC (an Olympic preview) [32].

On October 5th, when the third season of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour premiered on NBC, Slattery’s People faced new programming on both competing networks, and its Trendex rating dropped to a dismal 8.4/18.3, a distant third in the time slot [33]. Broadcasting began publishing Arbitron ratings for several months as the 1964-1965 season progressed. Based on these numbers, which covered the period running October 5th through November 23rd, Slattery’s People consistently ranked third and averaged a 10.7/23 rating, compared to an 18.5/38 for Ben Casey and a 13.4/28 for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour [4]. Ironically, the only time Slattery’s People performed well was on November 2nd when ABC and NBC aired actual political programming consisting of purchased time by the Republican and Democratic parties and a half-hour ABC special. Slattery’s People averaged an 18.8/42 Arbitron rating, ranking first in the time slot ahead of a 9.7/22 on NBC and an 8.0/18 on ABC [35].

National Nielsen ratings for individual episodes of Slattery’s People are unknown. The series did not crack the Top 50 in any of the initial two-week national Nielsen reports of the 1964-1965 season. Based on the national Nielsen ratings for November/December 1964, the series ranked 89th out of 96 programs. It fared better than Mickey, Harry Against the World, The Joey Bishop Show, CBS Reports, Profiles in Courage, Bell Telephone Hour and World War I [36]. How did its competition do? Ben Casey on ABC did well, ranking 38th, but The Alfred Hitchcock Hour on NBC fared only marginally better than Slattery’s People, ranking 83rd.

Critics Worry About Their Favorite New Show

During the early weeks of the 1964-1965 season, critics were justifiably worried about Slattery’s People. Although the November Nielsen reports were considered the most accurate, and it was believed the networks would not take action until their release, the early reports from October were enough to have critics urging the viewing public to help save the series. Terry Turner, writing on October 17th, had obviously revised his initial opinion of Slattery’s People, calling it “the only new series of 1964-65 that is attempting to be meaningful, mature and adult in its approach. A viewer can watch Slattery’s People and leave with the feeling that he hasn’t completely wasted his time” [37]. Attempting to explain why ratings were so terrible, Turner suggested that “those who would watch Slattery’s People are precisely the kind of individualistic, discerning and aware viewers who would refuse to participate in the silly game of giving out rating information.” He then urged viewers to write CBS in support of the series “otherwise Peyton Place is going to take over the world.”

Cynthia Lowry of the Associated Press wrote on October 25th about the “rugged timetable” of commercial network television in which new series are only given a few weeks to prove themselves [38]. According to her, in three weeks decisions would be made based on the an upcoming Nielsen report about the 32 new and 57 returning series on the three networks. Of the new series, just three were dramas and Lowry called Slattery’s People “far and away the best of these,” arguing that “its authentic background and the acting of star Richard Crenna suggest that this one deserves to survive.” Also on October 25th, Hank Grant of The Hartford Courant reported that CBS was considering shifting the series from Monday nights to escape Ben Casey [39]. Calling it “the most distinguished drama series CBS has put on the air since “The Defenders,” Grant also noted that Bing Crosby Productions had protested CBS scheduling Slattery’s People opposite Ben Casey, given that the company was producing both shows [40].

Edward Asner as Frank Radcliffe
Edward Asner as Frank Radcliffe

In its October 31st issue, TV Guide reported that three new CBS series — Slattery’s People, Mr. Broadway and The Reporter — were in trouble due to low ratings [41]. Both Mr. Broadway and The Reporter would halt production after 13 episodes, with the decision about resuming production to be made following the release of the latest Nielsen report. Cynthia Lowry reported in mid-November that Mr. Broadway would be going off the air at the end of December and it was rumored that Slattery’s People would move from its Monday perch to replace Mr. Broadway in the Saturday 9-10PM time slot “in an effort to save the series” [42]. The rumor suggested CBS was planning on keeping the series on the air rather than cancelling. Why make plans to move a doomed series in an attempt to bolster its ratings?

On December 10th, Val Adams of The New York Times revealed that CBS was considering a number of mid-season changes, including shifting The Reporters (then airing Fridays at 10PM) to Sundays and replacing it with Slattery’s People [43]. Two days later, on December 12th, Adams reported that the sweeping changes to the CBS schedule had been finalized and Slattery’s People would be going off the air until its move to Fridays in mid-season [44]. That same day, UPI’s Rick Du Brow suggested that CBS was hoping Slattery’s People would benefit from airing after Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. while pointing out that a strong lead-in did nothing to help The Reporter; he also noted that CBS was calling for “certain changes in format” for Slattery’s People but that series creator James Moser “had no idea” what that meant other than “the principle that there are ways to improve shows commercially” [45].

The twelfth episode of Slattery’s People (“Question: Which One Has the Privilege?”) was broadcast on Monday, December 7th. The series was pre-empted the following two weeks. Hedda Hopper, a fan of the series, also reported the news that Slattery’s People would be moving to Fridays and confirmed that the move meant the series had been renewed for the remainder of the 1964-1965 season [46]. Broadcasting reported on December 21st that due to changes in its mid-season strategy, Slattery’s People would be able to shift to Fridays beginning December 25th rather than January 1st as originally planned [47]. A repeat of the second episode (“Question: Why the Lonely, Why the Misbegotten?”) was shown that evening. The following week, on January 1st, 1965 Slattery’s People aired its 13th episode (“Question: How Long Is the Shadow of a Man?”) in its new time slot. The episode originally scheduled to air December 14th, 1964 was eventually shown on January 8th, 1965.

The Episodes: Season One

Each episode of Slattery’s People opened with the following voiceover: “Democracy is a very bad form of Government, but I ask you to never to forget it, all the others are far worse.” The quotation is a variation of a line from a November 1947 speech given by Sir Winston Churchill:

“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time; but there is the broad feeling in our country that the people should rule, continuously rule, and that public opinion, expressed by all constitutional means, should shape, guide, and control the actions of Ministers who are their servants and not their masters.” [48]

In the series premiere (“Question: What is Truth?,” originally broadcast September 21st, 1964), Slattery investigates a fellow legislator who has been charged with intentionally — and illegally — defeating a bill he personally opposed. Complicating matters is the fact that Representative Harry Sanborn (played by James Whitmore), who despite being a member of the opposing party is on friendly terms with Slattery and has supported his bills. It was Sanborn’s violation of the rules of the legislature that Jack Gould of The New York Times felt was properly explained. Real life California State Representative Charles Conrad had a brief cameo in this episode.

The series, Richard Crenna explained in late September 1964, would cover the life (and death) of a bill, showing “how a bill begins in committee, finally gets out on the floor and is defeated or passed after much wheeling and dealing” yet insisted that “the workings of the legislature will be secondary to the individual drama” [49]. Like others, he compared Slattery’s People to The Defenders, suggesting that while that series had revaled legal procedure to viewers, his series would show viewers how lawmaking was done and predicting that by the end of the year viewers would be able to say they had learned a lot. Crenna discussed an episode involving lobbyists, explaining “we showed it in Sacramento to members of the legislature and lobbyists and received a splendid reaction. The real lobbyists were most interested. ‘The lobbyist has always been the bad guy in movies,’ said one, ‘the dirty rat. For the first time we’ve been treated honestly. Many thanks'” [50].

The lobbyist episode Crenna referred to was likely the October 19th, 1964 episode (“Question: What are You Doing Out There, Waldo?”) in which Sally Kellerman played a lobbyist fighting to repeal a bill that banned state employees from any political activity. Cleveland Amory cited the episode in his TV Guide review, writing that “even this episode, which could have been dull […] was exciting throughout, thanks to fine dialog by writer Michael Lagor and a truly brilliant performance by Sally Kellerman as, heaven forfend, a female lobbyist–beautiful, unscrupulous and long-suffraging” [51]. The November 23rd, 1964 episode (“Question: What is Honor, What is Death?”) also involved in a lobbyist, this one played by Barry Sullivan, who is willing to do anything to ensure passage of a bill giving several corporations huge tax rebates.

Paul Geary as Johnny Ramos
Paul Geary as Johnny Ramos

Episodes of Slattery’s People were never standard dramatic fare. The fact that the setting was unique meant that storylines were also unique. The series never shied away from controversy. For example, the second episode (“Question: Why the Lonely, Why the Misbegotten?,” originally broadcast on September 28th, 1964) saw Slattery asked to help a soldier who defected to the Viet Cong get his American citizenship back. The November 30th, 1964 episode (“Question: Do the Ignorant Sleep in Pure White Beds?”) involved the uproar caused by a teacher’s sex education classes and Slattery’s sex education bill. And the March 5th, 1965 episode (“Question: Did He Who Made the Lamb Make Thee?”) saw Slattery defending a doctor sued for slander after she accused a father of beating his son.

Other episodes during the 1964-1965 season involved the closure of a state institution for the elderly, a potentially illegal adoption agency, a woman who refuses to let the state put a highway through her land, a legislator who believes his suggestions are being ignored due to the color of his skin, the widow of a legislator blaming Slattery for her husband’s death, an attempt to repeal capital punishment, a teacher leading the charge to stop drugs from being sold to teenagers, the cost of political campaigning, and Slattery trying to stop a friend from being extradited.

Guest stars during the first season included James Whitmore, Michael Constantine, Ed Wynn, Richard Kiley, Sally Kellerman, Arch Johnson, Jeannette Nolan, DeForest Kelley, Vera Miles, Barbara Feldon, Carroll O’Connor, James Dunn, Robert Blake, Simon Oakland, Claude Atkins, Barbara Eden, Ed Begley, Cicely Tyson, Forrest Tucker and Sorrell Booke.

Slattery’s People was twice given a “Close-Up” in TV Guide during its first season, for the November 23rd, 1964 and February 12th, 1965 episodes, respectively. Response to the November 30th, 1964 episode (“Question: Do the Ignorant Sleep in Pure White Beds?”) about sex education was so great (The New York Times noted that CBS received “so many encouraging notes from community leaders and pastors”) that it was repeated on January 29th, 1965 [52]

Question: When Is A TV Show Not Cancelled?

An article by Roger J. Youman in the January 9th, 1965 issue of TV Guide looked back at the start of the 1964-1965 season and the reactions of television critics to the new fall fare. Generally speaking, the critics were not impressed with the season as a whole and only seven new shows were received favorably by the bulk of critics. As with Television‘s survey of critics, the TV Guide analysis of 22 critics found nearly all in favor of Slattery’s People, particularly Jack Anderson of the Miami Herald who called the series “absorbing, taut drama” and Cecil Smith who hailed the series as “easily the best new dramatic series of the season” [53]. But there were a few critics who weren’t fond of Slattery’s People. In addition to Terry Turner, who eventually changed his mind about the series, there was P.M. Clepper of the St. Paul Dispatch, who wrote that it was nothing but “talk, talk, talk” [54].

As Youman pointed out, the two shows the critics liked the most — Slattery’s People and World War I — were among the lowest on the Nielsen charts while shows like Gilligan’s Island and Peyton Place that the critics hated were doing quite well [55]. CBS was certainly happy to have the critical acclaim but was also very aware that it didn’t have viewers tuning in week after week. Renewing the series and shifting it to a new day proved the network was willing to wait. The changes in format the network had announced in December, changes it hoped would engage viewers, were discussed by producer Matthew Rapf in a January 17th, 1965 article in The New York Times. Rapf told Val Adams that the changes would involve Slattery getting out of the State House on occasion:

This will make the show more graphic. It is hard to deal with law enforcement purely in terms of parliamentary or committee debate. So we will let Slattery be asked by the governor to take on special assignments. We have a script now in which Slattery will investigate whether charges of police brutality affect the morale of local police. There probably will be other scripts of this type from time to time. It will give us a better dramatic platform than a debate on the floor of the house. [56]

Rapf also revealed to Adams that the 20th episode was currently before cameras and that a total of 30-32 episodes would be produced [57]. (Ultimately, only 26 were made.) The script Rapf referred to does not appear to fit any of the episodes broadcast during the latter part of the 1964-1965 season. It may have been substantially revised prior to being filmed or perhaps it was never produced. By the time episodes that may have seen Slattery out and about hit airwaves, Slattery’s People was in trouble again. Adams reported on February 5th that the series might be cancelled [58].

Broadcasting revealed in its February 8th issue that CBS had began working on its 1965-1966 schedule in earnest and Slattery’s People was one of more than a dozen shows currently on the air that might not return [59]. The CBS schedule, sent to advertising agencies to gauge reaction, tentatively filled the Friday 10-11PM time slot with a new series called Coronet Blue, from producer Herbert Brodkin. All signs pointed to Slattery’s People ending after its first season.

Maxine Stuart as B.J. Clawson
Maxine Stuart as B.J. Clawson

Then, in late March, came the surprising news that the series wouldn’t be cancelled. The Associated Press reported on March 26th that CBS programming executive Michael Dann hadn’t expected the show to return but due to protests from critics and viewers the network reconsidered. Said Dann, “it was our responsibility as broadcasters to give this show an opportunity to survive” [60]. Reportedly, CBS President James Aubrey, Jr. had signed off on the cancellation and when he was fired in late February, his decision was reversed. As Dann explained, “our decision to continue Slattery’s People owes much to the fine reception and consistent support this series has received both from the critics and the public. Although Slattery’s People has never been in the top 10, we believe this hour of meaningful drama has a place in our schedule next fall” [61].

In response to the last minute reprieve for his series, Richard Crenna issued the following statement:

If ever a cast, crew and production company owed a debt of gratitude to the press, it is we who were involved in Slattery’s People during this season. Quite frankly, we had abandoned all hope for renewal. Slattery’s trousers had been slit to the cuffs, the final meal eaten, the electrodes positioned and it remained only for someone at CBS to pull the switch.

Sitting in death row sweating out a stay of execution, one has lots of time to pause in reflection. What crime had Slattery committed? Was his show too adult for the alleged l2-year old viewer’s mentality? Not enough escapism? Too provocative? Void of laugh tracks?

Slattery was guilty of all these charges. Now, having been returned to TV society, he will continue to transgress. So you might say that Slattery is merely ‘out on bail.’ Whether he retains his freedom depends largely on those individuals, like you, who continue to stump for meaningful programing.

With friends such as you, I have a feeling that Slattery’s longevity is assured. [62]

Slattery’s People would remain in its Friday 10-11PM time slot for the 1965-1966 season. Coronet Blue was shelved by CBS and would not air until 1967.

Slattery Gets A First Name (And Other Changes)

More changes were in store for the series as it prepared to begin its second season, however. The New York Times reported in June that Slattery would have a first name, Jim, and would be getting an assistant and a girlfriend [63]. Creator James Moser obviously didn’t have any trouble deciding on Jim (or James). The first name was necessary because there would be “more of Slattery’s personal affairs woven into the stories next season, including a romantic touch” [64]. But there was an even bigger change in store for the series: highlighting Richard Crenna’s comedic talent.

George Gent revealed in July that “producers expect to peg more of next season’s scripts toward the lighter side of politics in hopes that the program will attract a larger audience than it did last season” [65]. Gent also listed two sets of “themes” the series would cover in the coming season, both serious and light. Among them were wiretapping, gypsy fortune tellers, obscene literature, a stubborn commuter, wiretapping and a battle to save a controversial landmark (decide for yourself which were considered serious and which were considered light) [66].

(Hedda Hopper, writing about Slattery’s People in late July , reported that “thousands wrote the network demanding it be on next year” and that Crenna would be getting a raise, a day off every show and a week of in August to appear on Danny Kaye’s series [67].)

Francine York and Alejandro Rey as Wendy Wendowski and Mike Valera
Francine York and Alejandro Rey as Wendy Wendowski and Mike Valera

The supporting was completely overhauled for the second season with Paul Geary and Maxine Stuart being replaced (Ed Asner had left partway through the first season). Slattery’s new aide, described by George Gent as a “volatile Latin-American,” was Mike Valera, played by Alejandro Rey [68]. His new secretary was Wendy Wendowski, played by Francine York. Kathie Browne also joined the cast as television newscaster Liz Andrews, Slattery’s girlfriend, who occasionally got a little too involved in his job. During the first season Slattery had been seen dating but not seriously.

One final change for season two: the episode titles, which had tended towards the dramatic during the first season, would be toned down somewhat and no longer regularly phrased as a question.

Slattery’s People Still Don’t Tune In

Only weeks into the 1965-1966 season, Slattery’s People was cancelled. Cynthia Lowry reported on October 9th — the day after the fourth episode of the season had aired — that it was the first cancellation of the season, would go off the air following its November 26th episode and that CBS would likely replace it with a new Art Linkletter series [69]. She noted the critical acclaim, the low ratings during the first season and the “emergency repairs of format” made over the summer that involved getting Slattery “personally involved in the plot since most diagnoses of the program’s ailments included the opinion that he was too often a ‘peripheral character,’ instead of being on the firing line” [70].

The New York Times reported later that month that the decision to cancel Slattery’s People had actually been made after just two episodes had been broadcast and before the first official national Nielsen report had been released [71]. Michal Dann apparently fought to save the show again but failed. Producer Irving Elman explained that “when the ax falls nobody wants to take responsibility in writing. You get a phone call from a network official who says, ‘This is unofficial, but you’re dead.’ On that basis the producer is supposed to close down production and tell the actors they don’t have jobs any more” [72].

Only ten episodes were broadcast during the 1965-1966 season, for a total of 36. During its abbreviated second season, Slattery’s People fared even worse in the Nielsen ratings than it did during its first season. Based on national Nielsen ratings for October through December 1965, the series ranked 97th out of 99 programs with a 9.0 rating, ahead of CBS Reports and ABC Scope, making it the lowest-rated scripted series on television during the first few months of the 1965-1966 season [73]. The series was clobbered in the ratings by NBC’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. on NBC, which ranked 18th during the same time period with 21.9 rating; its other competition, ABC’s The Jimmy Dean Show, tied for 78th with a 14.5 rating [74].

The Episodes: Season Two

The not insignificant changes made to Slattery’s People did not fundamentally alter the series, as the second season premiere (“A Sitting Duck Named Slattery,” originally broadcast September 17th, 1965) clearly showed. In it, Slattery was wounded by a sniper and then sent death threats yet he had no idea who was targeting him. The next episode (“He Who Has Ears, Let Him Bug Someone Else”) was also serious and involved Slattery’s office being bugged. The third episode of the season (“How Impregnable Is a Magic Tower?”) was the first of the “lighter” stories and had to do with the fight to keep a condemned landmark from being torn down.

The October 8th episode (“The Unborn”) was likely the most controversial. In it, a friend of Slattery’s learns that her baby will likely be deformed and, unable to get a legal abortion, decides to undergo a dangerous procedure performed by a private abortionist. Although Slattery supported liberalization abortion laws, the episode was not one-sided and offered the opposing point of view as well.

Other episodes during the second season included Slattery going up against “The Frontiersmen,” a militant vigilante organization, defending himself against charges of perjury, opening an investigation into the care of foster children and attempting to help a man who doesn’t want to move but can no longer catch the train at his old station. The final episode (“Color Him Red”) was broadcast on November 26th, 1965. It involved Slattery defending a friend accused of being a Communist and was, according to one brief review, “not a memorable swan song” although it did feature “some believable acting” [75].

Guest stars during the second season included Robert Lansing, John Blondell, Robert F. Simon, Ossie Davis, Earl Holliman, Joyce Van Patten, Lloyd Nolan, Carroll O’Connor (in a different role this season) and Lew Ayres.

Question: Why Has Slattery’s People Been Forgotten?

Despite faring poorly in the Nielsen ratings, Slattery’s People was nominated for quite a few awards over the course of its short live and one a good number of them. It was nominated for four Emmy Awards, one for its first season and three for its second, but did not win any:

  • Richard Crenna, Outstanding Individual Achievements In Entertainment – 1965
  • Richard Crenna, Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Series – 1966
  • Irving Elman (Producer), Outstanding Dramatic Series – 1966
  • Irving Elman (Producer), Outstanding Dramatic Program (“Rally ‘Round Your Own Flag, Mister”) – 1966

Crenna was also nominated for a 1965 Golden Globe in the Best Actor In A Television Series category, but did not win. The series did win the 1965 Screen Producers Guild award for Best Produced Television Show.

Slattery’s People was sold internationally to Australia and Great Britain and perhaps other countries as well [76]. It has never been repeated in the United States. There were no tie-in novels or comic books. No episodes have ever been released commercially. The pilot script was included in Coles Trapnell’s 1966 book Teleplay: An Introduction to Television Writing.

UCLA’s Film & Television Archive has the original, unaired pilot episode in its collection, when the series was still called The Lawmaker (at that point, the pilot episode was titled “Mr. Slattery’s Decision”), as well as one episode from the second season. The Museum of Broadcast Communications has a copy of the aired pilot. A handful of episodes circulate among private collectors. Rights to the series are believed to be currently held by CBS Television Distribution, although Rysher Entertainment may hold some interest in the series as well.

In fairness to CBS, judged by its ratings, Slattery’s People had no business being renewed for the remainder of the 1964-1965 season let alone for the 1965-1966 season. Whether or not CBS truly felt that the quality of the series was such that it should be kept on the air regardless of ratings, the network should be applauded for doing so as long as it did. Maybe for once critical acclaim and letters from viewers actually made a difference.

Works Cited:

1 “1964-65 Will See 40% New Shows.” Broadcasting. 27 Jan. 1964: 28.
2 “1964-65 Will See 40% New Shows.” Broadcasting. 27 Jan. 1964: 30.
3 “How next fall’s TV network schedule looks now.” Broadcasting. 3 Feb. 1964: 51.
4 “Lucy ends ‘retirement’ with CBS contract.” Broadcasting. 9 Mar. 1963: 80-81.
5 “Mother, apple pie and Ed Sullivan.” Broadcasting. 23 Mar. 1964: 88.
6 [Advertisement]. Broadcasting. 21 Sep. 1964: 55.
7 Kleiner, Dick. “Failure in Hollywood is Success in Europe.” Victoria Advocate. Newspaper Enterrprise Association. 2 Aug. 1964: 4.
8 Scott, Vernon. “Richard Crenna Shooting for Strictly Straight Roles.” Tonawanda News [Tonawanda, NY]. United Press International. 8 May 1964: 11.
9 Ibid.
10 “Dick Crenna Refuses to Talk Politics Today.” Hartford Courant. 7 Jun. 1964: 4H.
11 Grant, Hank. “Miss Brooks’ Crazy Kid Matures to Slattery Role.” Binghamton Press. 11 Jul. 1964: 7.
12 Ibid.
13 Ibid.
14 Kleiner, Dick. “Failure in Hollywood is Success in Europe.” Victoria Advocate. Newspaper Enterrprise Association. 2 Aug. 1964: 4.
15 “SRO signs being hung at the TV networks.” Broadcasting. 25 May 1964: 30.
16 “Detailed wrapup of fall TV schedules.” Broadcasting. 7 Sep. 1964: 44-45.
17 Witbeck, Charles. “A Political ‘Defenders’.” Herald Statesman [Yonkers NY]. 26 Sep. 1964: 12.
18 Ibid.
19 “Consensus.” Television Magazine. Nov. 1964: 47.
20 Unless otherwise noted, all reviews were excerpted in the November 1964 issue of Television Magazine (“Consensus,” Page 74).
21 Gould, Jack. “TV: ‘Slattery’s People’ Could Be Key Drama Series.” New York Times. 22 Sep. 1964: 79.
22 Ibid.
23 Ibid.
24 Du Brow, Rick. “TV in Review: Follow that Legislator.” News-Dispatch [Jeannete, PA]. United Press International. 22 Sep. 1964: 5.
25 Ibid.
26 Amory, Cleveland. “Slattery’s People.” TV Guide. 14 Nov. 1964: 21.
27 Ibid.
28 Crosby, Joan. “Crenna Would Love to Fix a Parking Ticket.” The Leader-Herald [Gloversville-Johnston, NY]. Newspaper Enterprise Association. 2 Nov. 1964: 16.
29 “Praise for Slattery’s People Read into Congressional Record.” Binghamton Press. 22 Oct. 1964: 4.
30 Ibid.
31 “New season’s TV ratings: round 2.” Broadcasting. 28 Sep. 1964: 38.
32 “CBS-TV takes lead in Arbitrons.” Broadcasting. 5 Oct. 1964: 53.
33 “Real ratings race is developing.” Broadcasting. 12 Oct. 1964: 89.
34 Arbitron averages exclude November 2nd and November 16th. Ratings published in Broadcasting between October 12th and November 30th.
35 “Arbitrons show NBC election-night sweep.” Broadcasting. 9 Nov. 1964: 52.
36 “Hindsight 65/65.” Television Magazine. Mar. 1965: 34.
37 Turner, Terry. “Try a Little Witchcraft, Slattery.” Binghamton Press. 17 Oct. 1964: 12.
38 Lowry, Cynthia. “Life-Death Decision Near for Lineup of TV Shows.” Victoria Advocate. Associated Press. 25 Oct. 1964: 5.
39 Grant, Hank. “The TV News Beat.” Hartford Courant. 25 Oct. 1964: 9H.
40 Ibid.
41 Harding, Henry. “For the Record.” TV Guide. 31 Oct. 1964: A-3.
42 Lowry, Cynthia. “Nothing Dreary About Special Show on France.” Ocala Star-Banner [Ocala, FL]. Associated Press. 18 Nov. 1964: 6.
43 Adams, Val. “C.B.S. to Change Hour of ‘Reports’.” New York Times. 10 Dec. 1964: 95.
44 Adams, Val. “C.B.S. Shuffles Show Schedules.” New York Times. 12 Dec. 1964: 63.
45 Du Brow, Rick. “CBS-TV Shifting, Dropping.” Long Island Star-Journal. United Press International. 12 Dec. 1964: 8.
46 Hopper, Hedda. “Tish Sothern Gets Contract on Birthday.” Hartford Courant. 19 Dec. 1964: 12.
47 “CBS changes mind on Sunday 9-10 slot.” Broadcasting. 21 Dec. 1964: 48.
48 444 H.C. Deb. 5s. 11 Nov. 1947, col. 203.
49 Witbeck, Charles. “A Political ‘Defenders’.” 12.
50 Ibid.
51 Amory, Cleveland. “Slattery’s People.” 21.
52 Reed, Rex. “Reading Between the Lines.” New York Times. 16 May 1965: X12.
53 Youman, Roger J. “‘…But Nothing sticks to the Ribs’.” TV Guide. 9 Jan. 1965: 7.
54 Ibid.
55 Youman, Roger J. “‘…But Nothing sticks to the Ribs’.” 9.
56 Adams, Val. “Slattery Takes a Walk.” New York Times. 17 Jan. 1965: X15.
57 Ibid.
58 Adams, Val. “A.B.C. Plans New Show on ‘Peyton Place’ Theme.” New York Times. 5 Feb. 1965: 63.
59 “Tackling the ’65-66 jigsaw puzzle.” Broadcasting. 8 Feb. 1965: 64.
60 Thomas, Bob. “A Selling Job: ‘Slattery’ Flattery Wins Show Reprieve.” Tuscaloosa News. Associated Press. 26 Mar. 1965: 3.
61 Molloy, Paul. “Slattery’s Execution is Stayed.” Binghamton Press. 3 Apr. 1965: 13.
62 Molloy, Paul. “Slattery’s Execution is Stayed.” 13-14.
63 Gardner, Paul. “Fickle and Other Viewers to See Subtle Changes in TV Favorites.” New York Times. 25 Jun. 1965: 67.
64 “A First Name for Slattery.” Binghamton Sunday Press. 4 Jul. 1965: 6C.
65 Gent, George. “A Society’s Colorful Tradition.” New York Times. 18 Jul. 1965: X15.
66 Ibid.
67 Hopper, Hedda. “Hedda, Linkletter in Las Vegas Show.” Hartford Courant. 28 Jul. 1965: 8.
68 Gent, George. “A Society’s Colorful Tradition.” X15.
69 Lowry, Cynthia. “‘Uncle’ Has Slattery on Ropes.” Binghamton Press. 9 Oct. 1965: 13.
70 Ibid.
71 Bart, Peter. “Actors on Coast Facing TV Jitters.” New York Times. 20 Oct. 1965: 95.
72 Ibid.
73 “Hindsight 65/66.” Television Magazine. Mar. 1966: 41.
74 Ibid.
75 “Today’s Television Programs.” Long Island Star-Journal. 26 Nov. 1965: 16.
76 “Sullivan show scores 1st overseas sales.” Broadcasting. 31 Aug. 1964: 72; 73.

Image Credits:

1 From TV Guide, September 19th, 1964, Page A-31.

Acknowledgements:

Copies of two episodes of Slattery’s People were provided by Joseph Harder for use in this article.

Originally Published December 24th, 2012
Last Updated December 24th, 2012

12 Comments

  • Thank you for an excellent, well written, and well researched piece. I teach Political Science at a community College in Michigan, and I am presenting a paper on Slattery”s People at the Midwest Political Science Associations annual meeting in Chicago next April. I Have used the show in my State and Local Government class. and students have found it very interesting. I personally own four episodes; the original unaired pilot, Mr. Slattery’s Decision. ( Which featured a different actress playing Slattery’s secretary) ,The adoption episode, “Children of Calamity”, starring Burt Brinkerhof, Larry Gates And Lee Grant (Which was the alternative title of an episode originally entitled ” Where Vanished the Tragic Piper?’ ) and two more from the first season, ” Do You Remember the Dark Sins of Youth?”( With Arthur Hill, Michael Constantine, Joan Blackman and Steve Ihnat.) and “When Do They Hang The Good Samaritan?”( With Claude Akins, Barbara Eden, William Hansen and Marge Redmond.
    I also have a copy of a masters thesis on the first season that was written in Spring, 1965. The author, Susan Keith Lucas, was a grad student at The University of North Carolina. James Moser provided her with copies of all of the first season scripts.
    I was surprised that you did not mention some other interesting details. The pilot was filmed in the State Legislature in Sacramento on November 22nd, 1963. In an interview with the archives of American televion, Crenna recalled being interrupted by a security guard and being given the terrible news from Dallas. The second may be even more interesting. Another institution which has a copy of the pilot is the Jesse Unruh Institute for Politics at he university of Southern California, which shows it every year to a group of selected state legislators. That may be appropiate as James Moser spent nine months in Sacramento researching the show, repeatedly interviewing ‘Big Daddy ” Unruh himself.
    My interest in the show was, in fact, sparked by three odd little things. First, Frank Judge, the very very able tV Critic for the Detroit NeWs frequently referred to ‘that Wonderful Show. Slattery’s People””, even years after it had been cancelled. Secondly, William f. Buckley’s book the Unmaking of A Mayor contains a long excerpt from a column by Murray kempton in which he joked , in passing about the shes poor arting. finaaly, the show was mentioned, once again briefly , in Lou Cannon’s Book, Ronnie and Jesse: A Political Odyssey.

  • I have been told that the show was also aired in Spanish -speaking countries and that the United States Information agency arranged to have it shown In Singapore, and, possibly, elsewhere.

  • Delbert "Dellie Goose" Hutchinson says:

    Please add the video clips of Slattery’s People Closing Credits From First And Second Seasons. with The BCP Crashing Cars Logo And Jingle It Was Patriotic. Slattery’s People Was The Ben Casey In The Government Courtroom. It Was On CBS. Slattery’s People Was The Commander In Chief Of Its Day. did it have the first and only logo This Picture Made Under The Jurresdiction Of IATSEIA Affilliated With AFL-CIO Under A Bing Crosby-Pendick Production In Association With The CBS Television Network Filmed At Desilu Studios. In The Closing Credits. Production Executive John E.Pommer. Executive Producer James E.Moser BCP Bing Crosby Productions. This Series Should Come To DVD. It Should Be On ME-TV Sometime In 2013. Rysher Entertainment And The Richard Crenna Estate. As Well As CBS Television Distribution Are The Owners Of Slattery’s People.

  • Delbert "Dellie Goose" Hutchinson says:

    In The Second Season Of The Closing Credits It Did Really Have This Picture Made Under The Jurresdiction Of IATSEIA Affilliated With AFL-CIO,It Added National Association Of Broadcasters TELEVISION CODE Seal Of Good Practice In The Closing Credits.

  • This is specifically addressed to Delbert. What is your source for asserting that Metv will rerun Slattery’s People next year?
    If this is true, my other and will readily change cable providers, just to see it.

    • Delbert "Dellie Goose" Hutchinson says:

      Slattery’s People Was The Ben Casey In The State Legislature. Slattery’s People Was The Commander In Chief Of Its Day Please Send A Petition To ME-TV About Airing Slattery’s People September Of 2013 On Their Channel Please Ask Rysher Entertainment,The Richard Crenna Estate And CBS Television Distribution About Having Slattery’s People On DVD In 2013 In The Closing Credits Of Slattery’s People TV Series It Had
      A BING CROSBY-PENDICK PRODUCTION In Association With The CBS TELEVISION NETWORK. Filmed At DESILU STUDIOS The Only Logo They Had Was This Picture Made Under The Jurresdiction Of IATSEIA Affilliated With AFL-CIO In The First Season Executive Producer JAMES E.MOSER Production Executive JOHN E.POMMER BCP BING CROSBY PRODUCTIONS Bing Crosby Did Own Slattery’s People CBS Films Had Syndicated Slattery’s People Then In The Second Season It Still Had A BING CROSBY-PENDICK PRODUCTION In Association With THE CBS TELEVISION NETWORK Filmed At DESILU STUDIOS It Still Had This Picture Made Under The Jurresdiction Of IATSEIA Affilliated With AFL-CIO It added National Association Of Broadcasters TELEVISION CODE Seal Of Good Practice In The Closing Credits. Executive Producer JAMES E.MOSER Please Tell Me About The Ben Casey Episode Titled 26 Ways To Spell Heartbreak A B C D

  • BGL says:

    Knowing ME-TV, if they air Slattery’s People, it will probably be on weekends in the graveyard hours, as they did “The Rogues” and are currently airing “Burke’s Law”. The only obscure show they’ve aired at a decent hour was Loretta Young in their “Sunday Showcase” a few weeks ago.

  • Michael Alden says:

    Stop with the ME-TV talk. The show is not available for syndication. In order for anything to ever happen with this show, CBS would have to go back to the 35mm negatives and make videotape masters. Unless some DVD company or cable network is willing to take on this huge expense with no possibility of recouping their costs, this show will lay in the vaults forever.

  • Joseph Harder, Ph.D says:

    The fact that one of the best written, best acted, and best directed television shows, ever – a show that teaches deperately needed lessons about democratic politics and The American way of life- is , as Mr Alden puts it, is stuck in the vaults of CBS and will never see the light of day is a small, but irrefutable proof of the absurdity and injustice of life. All Ican say is . In the increasingly unlikely event that I will ever be rich, my first act will be to buy this show (and The Great adventure and East Side /West side) from the idiots at CBs and remaster them in beautiful new editions.

  • jim says:

    This was a great show & fortunally I was able to find at (3) episodes to add to my collection.

  • Delbert "Dellie Goose" Hutchinson says:

    Please Upload The Video Clip Of Slattery’s People Closing Credits. As Well As The Second Season Slattery’s People Theme Both The Opening And Closing Credits.

  • Fredrick Tucker says:

    Does anyone know the title for an episode of SLATTERY’S PEOPLE which was filmed in 1964 and featured character actress Madge Blake? I’m trying to assemble a complete list of her TV credits. Thanks.

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