Q & A: Cowboy in Africa; The Hero; Tell It To The Camera

I get a lot of e-mails from people asking me about television shows, made-for-TV movies or miniseries they remember from years or decades past. I try to answer each question as best I can. Every now and then I like to dig through my inbox and pull out a few choice e-mails to answer here at Television Obscurities for everyone to read. Keep reading for today’s questions and answers.

Trying to find a short lived series that was about two Texans that assisted an African Game preserve by catching large animals using horses, and lariates. It was on about 1968-69? Thanks great web site it actually won a bet for me in regards to Its About Time.

Cowboy in Africa ran for one season on ABC from 1967 to 1968. Chuck Connors starred. The series was a spin-off of feature film called Africa: Texas Style that starred Hugh O’Brian, John Mills, Nigel Green and Tom Nardini. O’Brian played Jim Sinclair, a cowboy hired by Kenyan rancher Wing Commander Hayes (played by John Mills) to help domesticate cattle. Tom Nardini played John Henry, Sinclair’s Native American sidekick, while Nigel Green was the villain of the picture, another rancher who wasn’t happy about Sinclair’s arrival in Africa.

An Ivan Tors production, the movie opened as a double feature with Devil’s Angel in July 1967 [1]. Interestingly, the television series was announced in early March 1967, three months before the movie was released in theaters. Was Ivan Tors planning a TV version from the start? Or was the film brought to the attention of network executives while still in production?

In any event, Chuck Connors took over the role of Jim Sinclair for the television version. Tom Nardini returned as John Henry and Ronald Howard played Wing Commander Hayes (Howard appared in the movie but as a different). Cowboy in Africa premiered on Monday, September 11th, 1967, broadcast from 7:30-8:30PM opposite Gunsmoke on CBS and The Monkees/The Man from U.N.C.L.E. on NBC. It ranked 53rd for the week [2].

Reviews were mixed. Kay Gardella of the New York Daily News wrote that “as TV series go, this one may hold together” while Percy Shain of the Boston Globe called it “pretty familiar stuff” [3]. Although it managed to last the entire season, Cowboy in Africa was cancelled in March 1968 [4].

I’d like to find out some information about two very obscure television series (i. e. who starred in them, what these actors are doing now, etc). The first series is “The Hero” which aired on NBC, circa 1966, and was a situation comedy about the career and personal family life of a Hollywood actor. The second series is “Tell It To The Camera”, which was a spinoff of “Candid Camera” airing on CBS circa 1964, and involved everyday people getting to voice their opinions and say whatever they wanted to in front of a television camera. I’d appreciate information about these shows.

The Hero ran from September 1966 to January 1967 on NBC. The sitcom starred Richard Mulligan as Sam Garrett, an actor who starred in a show-within-a-show called called “Jed Clayton, U.S. Marshall” as a tough-as-nails cowboy. Mariette Hartley played his wife Ruth and Bobby Horan was their son Paul. Also appearing in the series were Victor French, Joey Baio and Mark London. The humor in the series was built around the fact that Sam Garrett was nothing like his television character; on the contrary, he was a bit of a buffoon.

Reviews of the series were mostly positive, with Harry Harris of the Philadelphia Inquirer writing that the series “has plenty of potential” and Paul Molloy of the Chicago Sun-Times noting that “NBC may have a ‘sleeper’ in this one” [5]. However, the series was up against That Girl on ABC and The CBS Thursday Movie and was crushed in the ratings. The sixteenth and final episode was shown on January 5th, 1967. The following week NBC premiered its revival of “Dragnet,” which did much better.

Richard Mulligan went on to bigger and better things in the 1970s with his role on “Soap” and later “Empty Nest.” He died in 2000. Mariette Hartley won an Emmy in 1979 for an episode of The Incredible Hulk and was nominated again in 1983 for Goodnight, Beantown. Co-star Victor French, in the 1970s and 1980s, had a recurring role in Little House on the Prairie followed by a lead role in Highway to Heaven. He died in 1989.

Tell It To The Camera premiered on December 25th, 1963 on CBS as a replacement for a sitcom called Glynis (starring Glynis Johns and Keith Andes. Like Candid Camera, Allen Funt created and produced Tell It To The Camera. Red Rowe served as host. Reviews were almost universally negative, including this review from Jack Gould in The New York Times:

Allen E. Funt’s new program is a tiresome variation on his tedious “Candid Camera”; the only difference is that people know they are being photographed.

On the premiere, sundry individuals told jokes, voiced complaints, expressed opinions or answered stupid questions. The labored staging of the interviews stripped the half hour of all claim to spontaneity and the show’s tone merely suggested that Mr. Funt derives an odd pleasure from turning ordinary people into unpleasant show-offs. [6]

Francis Coughlin, writing for The Chicago Tribune, praised Candid Camera for becoming “increasingly whimsical and humorous rather than aggressive and belittling” and then lamented the fact that Tell It to the Camera was just the reverse: “The new presentation does not technically make a fool of the citizen who tells it to the camera. He sounds off on trick subjects artfully suggested so that he makes a fool of himself” [7].

Tell It to the Camera ended after just thirteen weeks. Its last broadcast took place on March 25th. It was replaced by Suspense. Larry Wolters, reviewing the 1963-1964 season, called the show “Allen Funt’s dramatic contribution to the failures of the year” and suggested that it sent Red Rowe “along to retirement” [8].

Works Cited:

1 Advertisement in The Los Angeles Times, July 5th, 1967, Page D16.
2 “New Shows Get No Brass Rings.” Broadcasting. 2 Oct. 1967: 60.
3 Qtd. in “Opinions Vary on TV Shows.” Broadcasting. 18 Sep. 1967: 76-78C.
4 Dallos, Robert E. “A.B.C.-TV Plans Replacements for 8 Evening Programs in Fall.” New York Times. 11 Mar. 1968: 83.
5 “Critics’ Views of Hits, Misses.” Broadcasting. 19 Sep. 1966: 58-64; 91.
6 Gould, Jack. “TV Review: ‘Tell It to the Camera’ Replaces ‘Glynis’.” New York Times. 26 Dec. 1963: 51.
7 Coughlin, Francis. “Notable TV Failures Fall with a Dull Thud.” Chicago Tribune. 21 Jan. 1964: 18.
8 Wolters, Larry. “A Critic Rates worst TV Shows of Season.” Chicago Tribune. 27 Mar. 1964: C9.

2 Replies to “Q & A: Cowboy in Africa; The Hero; Tell It To The Camera”

  1. “THE HERO” was produced by Leonard Stern, the man behind NBC’s 1965-’66 hit comedy “GET SMART”; in fact, it was because that series was such a success that he got a firm commitment for “THE HERO” from the network and the sponsors of “GET SMART”: R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Lever Brothers. It couldn’t miss! But “miss” it did [no match for “THE CBS THIRSDAY NIGHT MOVIES” and ABC’s “THAT GIRL”], and everyone involved wondered what to replace it with. Well, it just so happened that Jack Webb had produced a two-hour “pilot” movie to revive “DRAGNET”. It was originally intended to air on one of NBC’s movie nights as “DRAGNET 1966” that fall. But the “buzz” about the pilot was SO good, NBC gave Webb a commitment for a weekly series that November (the movie’s debut was delayed until January 1969, when it finally aired as “DRAGNET”)- and R.J. Reynolds and Lever Brothers “bought” the new series to replace “THE HERO” in January…

  2. As for Red Rowe, he was a popular West Coast TV personality during the ’50s; in fact, he hosted the “Western” edition of CBS’ 1956 early morning answer to NBC’s “TODAY SHOW”, “GOOD MORNING!”, while Will Rogers Jr. was the “national” host in the East and Midwest. Red also hosted a daytime variety program on CBS’ 1959-’60 schedule, Apparently, he was also a “close friend” of CBS’ chief programmer, James T. Aubrey {“The Smiling Cobra”}; he was the one who probably insisted to Allen Funt that Rowe serve as host of “TELL IT TO THE CAMERA”. After it ended, Rowe virtually retired from show business.

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