The Happeners: Unsold Pilot Broadcast on One Local Station

This is a very interesting case. In its February 21st, 1966 issue Broadcasting magazine listed The Happeners as one of the many pilots under consideration by ABC for its 1966-1967 schedule [1]. It wasn’t picked up. That should have been the end of the story unless the network later burned off the pilot during the summer. Instead, the pilot was sold to independent New York City television station WPIX-TV by its production company, Plautus Productions. According to The New York Times, the cost of the pilot, some $400,000, and a lack of enthusiasm on the part of sponsors helped doom the pilot from going to series [2].

A “musical-drama,” The Happeners told the story of a Greenwich Village folk-rock trio making their way in New York City. Singers Suzannah Jordan, Chris Ducey and Craig Smith were chosen to portray the trio after 2,000 auditions in New York City and Hollywood and each episode was to include five original songs written by Bob Bower [3]. According to Alan Morris, administrative vice president for Plautus Productions:

Herb [Brodkin, president of Plautus] has more faith in this show than in anything he’s done since “The Defenders.” But, frankly, we’re realistic enough to know that the odds are against anyone picking up the series at this late date. But we’re hoping. In our agreement with Mr. Thrower [president of WPIX-TV], we stipulated that the show be put on before April 1, to give it a chance for next season. [4]

According to The New York Times, it cost Plautus between $6,000 and $7,000 to buy the airtime to show the pilot [5]. Morris told Broadcasting that “at first, ABC was most interested. It tested well, and [ABC president] Leonard Goldenson called it ‘the finest pilot I’ve ever seen.’ But when sponsorship was not immediately forthcoming, the network withdrew [6].

The Happeners was broadcast by WPIX-TV on Friday, March 17th, 1967 from 7-8PM. If the local showing led to any additional interest in the pilot it ultimately didn’t help. However, copies of the pilot, written by Ernest Kinoy and titled “You Gotta Have Charisma, Baby!,” are held by the Library of Congress, UCLA’s Film and Television Archive, and the Paley Center for Media, where it can be viewed by the public.

Works Cited:
1 “Networks Running Pilots up Flagpole.” Broadcasting. 21 Feb. 1966: 76-77.
2 Gent, George. “Channel 11 Buys Cast-Off TV Pilot.” New York Times. 20 Feb. 1967: 60.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 “Unsold Pilot to Be Seen as Special.” Broadcasting. 27 Feb. 1967: 83.

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8 Replies to “The Happeners: Unsold Pilot Broadcast on One Local Station”

  1. Thanks for the information on The Happeners. Variety magazine called it the ‘unseen hit of the year’. The only correction I have on your listing is that it is Suzannah Jordan not Gordon. Thanks, Suzanne aka Suzannah Jordan

      1. Bob, could you get in contact with me? I am writing a book about Craig Smith, including a section on The Happeners. Would love to talk to you about this. Thanks.

  2. This pilot did generate additional interest in the form of a flood of mail to WPIX encouraging them to pick up the series, which of course, they were in no position to do. ‘The Happeners’ pilot garnered a strong local rating in New York for the early prime hour on an independent station. Mr. Ernest Kinoy penned a compelling script, and had created quite a viable premise for a long-running series that could have resonated with the emerging flower power generation.

    ‘The Happeners’ was developed by ABC as a teen-appeal program, an Alphabet answer to NBC’s ‘The Monkees’ sitcom, and I believe they were thinking of using it in the Friday at 7:30 pm timeslot that ultimately went to even younger-skewing ‘Off to See the Wizard’.

  3. After the show wasn’t picked up, Chris Ducey & Craig Smith (who was on the Andy Williams Show as part of The Good Time Singers) joined as a duo, cut one single for Capitol in 1966, then formed a group called Penny Arkade and made recordings produced by Monkee Mike Nesmith. Smith had success as a songwriter around this time, too…Andy Williams sang ‘Holly’, The Monkees recorded ‘Salesman’ and Glen Campbell did ‘Country Girl’.

  4. I remember watching at least two episodes of a pilot for a situation comedy where the family in the show had the last name Cavallo.This show aired in 1974,75.
    i recall much of the comedy centered around the family dynamic and the scenes i can recall took place around a kitchen table.
    I hope someone can expand on my recollection of this show.

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