Four-in-One: San Francisco International Airport


One of the four segments of NBC’s Four-in-One, this drama series consisted of a pilot film (starring Pernell Roberts) and six hour-long episodes (starring Lloyd Bridges), all of which were broadcast 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 to San Francisco International Airport

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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.

Originally Published August 6th, 2009
Last updated August 6th, 2009

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