To Rome with Love


In his third television series, John Forsthye played a widower rather than a bachelor. It was less successful than Bachelor Father but lasted longer than The John Forsthye Show, running for two seasons on CBS from 1969 to 1971.

Seven years after the end of the successful Bachelor Father and three years after The John Forsythe Show wrapped up its one and only season, John Forsythe returned to television in his third sitcom: To Rome with Love on CBS. The series premiered on Sunday, September 28th, 1969 running from 7:30-8PM opposite Land of the Giants on ABC and The Wonderful World of Disney on NBC. Forsthye starred as Professor Michael Endicott, a widower with three daughters who moves his family to Rome in an attempt to make a fresh start.

Playing the daughters were Melanie Fullerton as Pokey, Susan Neher as Penny and Joyce Mengus as Alison. During the first season, Kay Medford appeared occasionally as Michael’s sister Harriet, who continually attempted to convince his brother to move back to Iowa. Walter Brennan joined the cast in the second season as Michael’s father-in-law who moved to Italy to be closer to his granddaughters. Fleshing out the Italian locale were Vito Scotti and Peggy Mondo as Mr. Mancini and Mama Vitale. To Rome with Love ran for two seasons and 48 episodes, with the final first-run episode airing in February of 1971.

To Rome with Love was produced by Don Fedderson and Edmond Hartmann, the creative team behind My Three Sons and Family Affair. Asked if the show had a good chance of success, Forsythe replied that “it’s slightly different, without being new” and suggested that what viewers really wanted was to “be entertained by people they have grown comfortable with” [1]. He also opined that To Rome with Love would be far better than The John Forsythe Show, explaining that “I choose to forget about that one. It was a disaster from the start. I hope the world forgets it too, especially the name” [2].

Cast of To Rome with Love
“Cast of To Rome with Love – September 13th, 1969
Copyright © TV Guide, 1969 [1]

Reviewing To Rome with Love the day before it premiered, critic Jack Gould wrote that “the personable John Forsythe is the main asset of the series, but it is doubtful if he alone can overcome the handicap of imposing Hollywood nonsense on a city rich in drama and laughter yet to be explored with understanding by TV. For the viewer, one solution is to turn off the sound and settle for incidental scenic background” [3].

The San Diego Union‘s Donald Freeman called the show “all stereotyped and unfailingly pleasant” while Terrence O’Flaherty of The San Francisco Chronicle complained that it “is a giant pizza which appears to be filled with every situation comedy cliche in TV history and every Italian character actor south of San Luis Obispo” [4]. Slightly more positive was Dwight Newton of The San Francisco Examiner, who referred to the show as “another little innocuous comedy drama series” [5].

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According to Broadcasting, To Rome with Love premiered with a 15.0 Nielsen rating; the following week it settled into the middle third of the pack [6, 7]. In late December, Clarence Petersen reported that To Rome with Love was one of several new shows on CBS “having ratings problems” [8]. Nevertheless, CBS renewed the the show for the 1970-1971 season in February of 1970, shifting it to Tuesdays from 7:30-8PM [9].

When its second season premiered in Tuesday, September 15th, 1970, however, To Rome with Love occupied the 9:30-10PM half-hour on Tuesdays. The premiere tied for 36th for the week [10]. Beginning with the January 13th, 1971 broadcast, the show shifted to Wednesdays at 8:30PM. CBS officially cancelled the sitcom on March 17th, 1971 [11]. The final repeat was aired on September 1st.

What went wrong? Likely a variety of factors. Aside from the setting, To Rome with Love was a particularly noteworthy concept. That it received a second season could have been due to a poor development slate rather than belief the show would draw new viewers. Or, perhaps, CBS did think it could improve the show’s numbers. According to an August 9th, 1970 article in The Chicago Tribune, the show “did rather well in its first season last year, even tho it was opposite Walt Disney on Sunday nights. But everyone felt something new should be added in the second year and it was John Forsythe, the star of the show, who suggested to [producer] Don Fedderson that he try to get Walter Brennan to play Grandpa” [12].

In the end, middling ratings and poor critical reception likely combined to doom the show. One final note: when it was first announced in February of 1969, the show was called When in Rome [13].

Works Cited:

1 Gowran, Clay. “TV Today: Lively Rome Story Told.” Chicago Tribune. 7 Aug. 1969: B11.
2 Knapp, ,Dan. “John Forsythe: He’s in Rome… and Loving It.” Los Angeles Times. 28 Sep. 1969: P70.
3 Gould, Jack. “TV Review: Leslie Uggam’s Show in Debut Tomorrow.” New York Times. 27 Sep. 1969: 67.
4 Quoted in “New TV debuts get varied reception,” Broadcasting, October 6th, 1969, Pages 43-46.
5 Ibid.
6 Specifically, the October 13th, 1969 issue of Broadcasting reported that for the week running September 22nd to 29th, “CBS’s top performer was The Jim Nabors Show with a 21.4. Its other new shows, Leslie Uggams, The Governor and JJ, Medical Center and When in Rome received ratings ranging from 18 to 15” (“NBC-TV clings to Nielsen lead,” Pages 46-47).
7 Broadcasting reported that for the week running October 6th to 12th, “In the middle third with ratings from 17.8 to 15.2 were seven new shows, My World and Welcome to It, Then Came Bronson, Bold Ones and Debbie Reynolds on NBC; and To Rome with Love, Tom Jones and Courtship of Eddie’s Father on ABC” (“CBS takes lead in fast Nielsens,” October 27th, 1969, Pages 70-71).
8 Petersen, Clarence. “Networks Get Busy with New Series as They Prepare to Ax Some Oldies.” Chicago Tribune. 28 Dec. 1969: N1.
9 Smith, Cecil. “New Shows, Reshuffling: CBS, NBC Set Fall Slates.” Los Angeles Times. 21 Feb. 1970: A3.
10 “CBS beats NBC in premiere week.” Broadcasting. 5 Oct. 1970: 57-58.
11 Petersen, Clarence. “CBS Drops 13 Series, Adds 7 in Shuffle.” Chicago Tribune. 18 Mar. 1971: C18.
12 Browning, Norma Lee. “Hollywood Today: Walter Brennan Hangs Up HIs Saddle for New Role as a Jolly Grandfather.” Chicago Tribune. 9 Aug. 1970: N1.
13 Gent, George. “‘Get Smart’ Show Rescued by C.B.S.” New York Times. 21 Feb. 1969: 87.

Image Credits:

1 From TV Guide, Eastern New England Edition, September 13th, 1969, Page 30.

Originally Published July 30th, 2009
Last updated July 30th, 2009



7 Comments

  • Phil Zacher says:

    I don’t know how many people know this but the show that replaced To Rome With Love in the Tuesday Night time slot was All In The Family.We now know how that turned out.

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    In essence, CBS asked Don Fedderson to give them exactly what he gave them before- a warm family comedy along the lines of “MY THREE SONS” and “FAMILY AFFAIR” [accompanied by Frank DeVol’s unique theme and score], with the usual “twist”: in this case, a typical Midwestern family living in Rome (even Walter Brennan became the series’ “Uncle Charley” in season two). And on that scale, it was a success. But times were changing, and in the fall of 1969, more viewers preferred seeeing “THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY” on Sundays than Forsythe and Ed Sullivan {and those left over watched “LAND OF THE GIANTS”}. And when “ALL IN THE FAMILY” replaced it on Tuesdays in January 1971, that was the end of an era. Norman Lear’s brand of situation comedy was suddenly in, and Fedderson’s was out. It was also the backlash against comedies that appealed primarily to “rural” audiences as well. After “MY THREE SONS” finally ended in 1972, Don Fedderson couldn’t sell another series like it to CBS ever again…even “THE FESS PARKER SHOW” in 1974, an unsold pilot with him as yet ANOTHER widower with three daughters who marries a woman with three sons (I think)….but it was too “old-fashioned” in the age of “THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW”, “MAUDE”, and other “urban” CBS comedies to fit in.

  • Delbert "Dellie Goose" Hutchinson says:

    CBS Asked Don Fedderson To Do Family Comedy To Rome With Love. Did It Have This Picture Made Under The Jurresdiction Of IATSEIA Affilliated With AFL-CIO,National Association Of Broadcasters TELEVISION CODE Seal Of Good Practice,AMPTP In The TV Series The Pilot Filmed At Paramount Studios The First Season It Really Filmed At The Warner Bros-Seven Arts Studios In Burbank,California. Then In The Second Season It Was Filmed At Warner Bros Studios In Burbank,California.

  • ERIC PLEASANT says:

    I actually do remember this show from my childhood. I found it quite comfortable though a bit too much like MY THREE SONS in Rome.

  • Jeffrey says:

    What caused this show to linger in my memories after many years was that Susan Neher was in both this show and “Getting Together” that starred Bobby Sherman. In response to Barry I. Graumann’s comment, I hear what you’re saying, but I honestly don’t think it would really do justice to compare this show with “All In The Family,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” or “Maude.” Those three shows were aimed at a more mature audience, whereas “To Rome With Love” appealed to a more childlike and adolescent audience. We must not forget that despite all the turmoil in Vietnam and the unrest in the United States with the Flower Children in the 1960’s and the 1970s, we still lived fairly much in innocent times inasmuch as bedroom communities were still safe havens for raising children. This kind of show was what parents wanted their kids to watch. “All In The Family” and “Maude” were both slightly too harsh for young kids to watch. Moreover, this show had a cultural value to it that encouraged kids to learn about the world around them and appreciate diversity, whereas “All In The Family” was a show that parents kept their kids from watching so that they didn’t repeat some of the racial slurs that Archie Bunker made on that show. Every sitcom fairly much had its purpose and its rightful walk in the sun. I was five years old when this show first came on the air and from the faint memories I had of it, I remember liking the warmness that the three daughters and their father showed towards one another. Such things were important to me when I was that little and to a lot of kids of all ages.

    • Troy Turner says:

      Jeffrey,

      I respect your point of view here, but upon doing research of my own on My Three Sons and Family Affair-it does appear that time was running out on all three Fedderson productions by the time To Rome With Love left the air. Without turning this into a sociological discussion, times were indeed changing-and the idealized TV family was becoming anachronistic by 71-72. Not stating right or wrong, just the way it was. It didn’t help Rome, though that it appeared to be not only “My Three Sons in Rome”, but “Bachelor Father in Rome” as well.

      Incidentally, Don Fedderson Productions went on to take over first-run syndication of The Lawrence Welk Show until it ended in 1982.

  • Ben Wagner says:

    Is there any way to watch these episodes today?

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