San Francisco International Airport

One of four segments in NBC’s Four-in-One, this drama consisted of a pilot film (starring Pernell Roberts) and six hour-long episodes (starring Lloyd Bridges), all of which aired during the 1970-1971 season.

As part of its 1970-1971 schedule, NBC introduced a new program called Four-in-One. As the title suggests, it consisted of four different shows that would rotate throughout the season, each running for six episodes. All four shows were produced by Universal and all four began as made-for-TV movies. Four-in-One premiered on Wednesday, September 16th, 1970 with McCloud. The series ran from 10-11PM. The sixth episode of McCloud was broadcast on October 21st; the following week San Francisco International Airport took over.

The pilot for San Francisco International Airport aired on September 29th, 1970 as an installment of The NBC Tuesday Night Movie. It ranked 14th for the week, tied with The Carol Burnett Show on CBS [1]. Pernell Roberts starred as Jim Conrad, manager of San Francisco International Airport. Clu Gulager played chief of security Bob Hatten. The plot involved the attempted theft of some $3 million with Tab Hunter as a bad guy, Van Johnson as a reporter and David Hartman as a pilot whose wife is being held hostage.

Lloyd Bridges and Clu Gulager as Jim Conrad and Bob Hatten

Lloyd Bridges and Clu Gulager as Jim Conrad and Bob Hatten – September 12th, 1970
Copyright © TV Guide, 1970 [1]

Cecil Smith lamented the fact that the made-for-TV movie was so melodramatic and compared it, in an unfavorable way, to Grand Hotel with its numerous story lines all running at the same time. He did concede that the airport scenery was “as fascinating in fact as the story it enclosed was routine fiction” [2].

When the first hour-long episode of San Francisco International Airport aired on Wednesday, October 28th, Pernell Roberts had been replaced. Jim Conrad was now played by Lloyd Bridges. Clu Gulager returned as Bob Hatten. Joining the cast were Barbara Weste as Conrad’s secretary, June, and Barbara Sigel as his daughter, Suzie. Bridges only agreed to take on the role because it required just a six week commitment:

Unlike a lot of shows I’ve worked on, we had scripts to study at least a month ahead of production this time. That gave us the leeway to really get into the characters and develop them. In addition, a dozen or so stories were bought, then the six best were winnowed out of them. I think they spent about $30,000 extra just to get better material. That, plus the extra time we’ve had to rehearse and shoot, should mean a pretty good end product. [3].

The six episodes that aired involved a scientist planning on blowing up a deadly container of gas in an anti-war demonstration, a general facing an assassination attempt, the mob forcing Conrad to allow them to fly out of the country, a damaged 727 in need of an emergency landing, a proposed study of supersonic transport (SST), and a drug lord connected to a murder. In its Fall Preview issue, TV Guide mentioned two scripts, one of which involved supersonic transport (which was produced), the other a threatened trucking strike (which wasn’t) [4].

Listen to the Opening Theme Song to San Francisco International Airport

Cecil Smith, who called the pilot telefilm routine, had better things to say about the weekly series. He praised Lloyd Bridges and noted that the first episode no longer felt like an airborne Grand Hotel. Furthermore, he called it “straight melodrama in sharp focus with a taut, disciplined script to which the flying and technical material was like the illuminations on a manuscript” [5].

Smith did worry that Four-in-One, which had been doing well in the Nielsen ratings, would have to start fresh with viewers [6]. How San Francisco International Airport fared is unknown. However, of the four shows that made up Four-in-One, only two were renewed for the 1971-1972 season and San Francisco International Airport was not one of them. McCloud returned as part of The NBC Mystery Movie while Night Gallery became a standalone series.

Barbara Werle as June

Barbara Werle as June

Both San Francisco International Airport and the fourth show, The Psychiatrist, were cancelled after their initial six-episode runs.

Works Cited:
1 “NBC-TV moves up in Fast Nielsens.” Broadcasting. 19 Oct. 1970: 42-44.
2 Smith, Cecil. “TV Review: ‘S.F. Airport’ Hits the Melodrama Trail.” Los Angeles Times. 1 Oct. 1970: G20.
3 Knapp, Dan. “Lloyd Bridges.” Los Angeles Times. 25 Oct. 1970: H1.
4 “Wednesday: San Francisco International.” TV Guide. Eastern New England Edition. 12 Sep. 1972: 45.
5 Smith, Cecil. “Airport Begins Its Mini-Series.” Los Angeles Times. 29 Oct. 1970: D14.
6 Ibid.

Image Credits:
1 From TV Guide, Eastern New England Edition, September 12th, 1972, Page 45./div>

Originally Published August 6th, 2009
Last updated May 17th, 2018

11 Replies to “San Francisco International Airport”

  1. Whoops. Instead of embedding the opening theme from San Francisco International Airport here, you seem to have embedded the theme from The New People. You might want to fix that.

    And it doesn’t detract from what is otherwise a fine write-up about a forgotten series.


  2. I remember the pilot for “San Francisco International” with Pernell Roberts was riffed on “Mystery Science Theater 3000” once. It’s interesting that the series wasn’t able to piggyback the success of “Airport” to a longer run since the 70s gave us all kinds of movie and TV movies centered on airplane disasters or potential disasters.

  3. “FOUR-IN-ONE” was basically MCA/Universal’s “broadcast laboratory” for developing potential series in the 1970-’71 season. The ones that were the most successful in the “rotation” were the ones that became regular series- and “NIGHT GALLERY” did, but lasted just two more seasons on its own. “McCLOUD” became a “spoke” of the 90 minute “NBC MYSTERY MOVIE” “wheel” (itself a varation of “THE NAME OF THE GAME”, without a central story “tie-in” involving the alternating characters). Unfortuntely, “SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT” and “THE PSYCHIATRIST” were not that popular enough to warrant further episodes…but that didn’t stop MCA from re-editing some of those hour-long episodes into “feature films” for overseas release and domestic syndication {they never wasted ANY of their TV series’ footage}.

  4. I think you’re right Eric, NBC should have pigged backed this onto the success of AIRPORT but then people might have thought it was just a TV rip off of the movie itself…as for the shows that succeeded, my family and I would’nt miss McCloud, but sadly Night Gallery was just a pale copy of Serling’s best show….THE TWILIGHT ZONE

  5. Hi Guys-

    I’ve been desperately searching for all six episodes of “San Francisco International Airport” for many years. Does anyone have a line on any vids anywhere??? I’ll take bad quality, VHS, whatever it takes.

    PLEASE contact me if you can help:

    [email protected]

    Many thanks,


  6. So, to be clear-Four in One was essentially a weeknight version of The Sunday Mystery Movie, without the wheel?

  7. Hmmm, I often wondered why they replaced Pernell Roberts, I guess they were really still punishing him for leaving BONANZA because Lloyd Bridges struck me as being more than a bit bland.

  8. Pernell Roberts was the tough mysterious guy of Bonanza we always missed. Looks like he missed out on SFIA as well. But i would never have heard of the SFIA series if not for You Tube. But I guess Pernell was right about these TV shows Most of the script of these series were quite poor, that he usually got out of them. He was ahead of his time!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.