The first season of The Paper Chase is out on DVD today. Broadcast from 1978-1979 on CBS, the drama was based on the 1973 movie of the same name. Both starred John Houseman as Professor Charles W. Kingsfield, Jr. Howard Rosenberg of The Los Angeles Times wrote that “This is the kind of television you almost never see anymore, not in the weekly series rat race–articulate, intelligent, witty, beautifully concieved and written, admirably performed .
Gary Deeb of The Chicago Tribune called the premiere “one of the finest dramatic pilots ever presented on TV” . Airing opposite Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley on ABC, The Paper Chase faced an uphill battle. Still, in November CBS renewed the series for the rest of the season, despite the fact that it routinely came in at the bottom of the Nielsen rankings .
Following the cancellation of the series in May, news broke that PBS was in talks with 20th Century-Fox Television, producer of the series, about reviving the series . In June of 1980, led by station WTTW in Chicago, some 110 PBS stations signed on to air 13 of the 22 episodes produced for CBS and perhaps produce a handful of new episodes at a later date; Tom Shales of The Washington Post called the move “one of the dumbest ideas in the history of public television,” arguing that spending so much money (close to $1 million for the rights and promotion) on a “mediocre Hollywood drama series about humdrum doings in an Eastern law school” rather than quality shows was “lazy-minded and misguided” .
Ultimately, PBS never got around to producing new episodes or even airing the remaining CBS episodes. In October of 1982 pay cable channel Showtime announced that it would be producing new episodes of The Paper Chase . Between 1983 and 1986 it would air 37 installments over the course of three seasons. A two-part series finale was originally shown in August of 1986.
Also available today is the Dynasty: Season Four, Volume 1, Peanuts: Snoopy’s Reunion, a television special originally broadcast in 1984, and Davey And Goliath: The Lost Episodes, containing ten episodes that were apparently pulled from syndication and until now have never been made available commercially.
1 Rosenberg, Howard. “TV Reviews.” Los Angeles Times. 8 Sep. 1978: F28.
2 Deeb, Gary. “Dark Horse in Ratings Race.” Chicago Tribune. 14 Sep. 1978: A1.
3 “‘Paper Chase’ Renewed Despite Low Ratings.” Los Angeles Times. 30 Nov. 1978: H30.
4 Deeb, Gary. “Tempo TV & Radio.” Chicago Tribune. 14 Jun. 1979: A14.
5 Shales, Tom. “Commentary: Public TV on a Foolish ‘Chase’.” Washington Post. Reprinted in the Los Angeles Times. 26 Jun. 1980: H10.
6 Harmetz, Aljean. “‘Paper Chase’ Is Shifting to Pay-Cable.” New York Times. 13 Oct. 1982: C28.