Bookshelf: Sons and Daughters

Sons and Daughters
By William Johnston
First Published November 1974
Published by Ballantine Books
152 Pages

The phenomenally prolific William Johnston strikes again. He wrote the novelization of Senior Year, a made-for-TV movie that served as the pilot for Sons and Daughters (which you can read more about here). Senior Year aired on CBS in March of 1974 while the weekly series, retitled Sons and Daughters, premiered in September and was canceled in October. So, by the time Ballantine Books published Johnston’s novelization of Senior Year, the television series it spawned had already been canned. For the record, the final episode aired on November 6th, 1974.

To me, the quick rise and fall of Sons and Daughters raises an interesting question about tie-in novels based on made-for-TV movies. It wasn’t uncommon during the 1970s for made-for-TV movies to be novelized, even those that were never intended to lead to a weekly series. But how did publishers and/or production companies decide which made-for-TV movies to novelize? Unless the turnaround on writing the novelization was incredibly quick, I assume William Johnston had several months to complete the final draft, plus several more months to get it ready for publication. That means he must have started writing it in early 1974 at the latest, perhaps even earlier.

Sons and Daughters Front Cover

Sons and Daughters Front Cover – Copyright Ballantine Books

If so, that means the decision to novelize Senior Year came before it was picked up by CBS. I’d be interested in learning whether the novelization was, in fact, ordered before the weekly series was picked up. Otherwise, someone must have thought a novelization of a potentially standalone made-for-TV movie would sell, and how those decisions were made is anybody’s guess.

I bought Sons and Daughters in order to compare it to the broadcast version of Senior Year, because the audio on the copy I have available is missing for the first eight minutes. As I recall, the novelization was similar to the television version but not identical. This could be due to William Johnston working from an early draft (Senior Year was written by M. Charles Cohen). Or perhaps he was expanding or adding scenes for dramatic effect. Either way, the novelization is more than a simple adaptation, although regrettably I don’t have any examples at hand.

The story of Sons and Daughters follows two high school students, Jeff and Anita, as their lives are torn apart. Jeff’s father dies of a heart attack, leaving him the man of the house. Anita, new to town, is shocked when she learns that her mother is having an affair, so imagine how she feels when her mother walks out on their family. All of this takes place just as their relationship is beginning and in the midst all the other stress and turmoil of being a teenager and being in high school.

Sons and Daughters Back Cover

Sons and Daughters Back Cover – Copyright Ballantine Books

There’s a scene in the novel, after Jeff’s father has died, when Jeff confronts his younger brother Danny about how he hasn’t been going to school or doing much of anything, and winds up hinting him. I can’t remember if this also takes place in the television version. Here’s an excerpt:

Jeff hit him. Without being fully aware of what he was doing, he swung widely and struck his brother across the side of the face with the back of his hand. The blow was a thwock! Danny lurched backward, fell over the chair from which he had just risen, then went crashing to the floor. He slid across the linoleum and stopped, sprawled, against the base of the counter.

That’s some blow, huh? Thankfully, Jeff hitting him was apparently just what Danny needed and he comes out of his stupor soon thereafter. As the novel ends, Jeff and Anita are surrounded by friends, driving off to deal with an unruly underclassman. It is high school, after all.

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5 Replies to “Bookshelf: Sons and Daughters”

  1. The SENIOR YEAR backdoor pilot aired on ‘The CBS Friday Night Movies’ on Friday March 22, 1974 and got a very high 24.1HH/39% rating, which no doubt gave CBS great confidence in ordering it to series.

    When it appeared on the CBS fall sked in September 1974, the series garnered a 15.2HH, running a weak third behind ‘Little House on the Prairie’ on NBC and ‘That’s My Mama’ / ‘ABC Wednesday Movie of the Week’ (first half-hour) on ABC.

    I seem to remember that part of the reason it got pulled so fast was in part due to Mr. Fred Silverman (then head of CBS) being very anxious to find a quick timeslot for the ‘Tony Orlando & Dawn’ which had been a big breakout summer hit for the Eye in the summer of 1974, averaging 17.5HH in the summer Wednesday 8-9 pm timeslot (very good numbers for summer!).

    Had Mr. Silverman wanted to save the ‘Sons & Daughters’ series, he might have moved it over to Friday nights where the expensive, much-ballyhooed ‘Planet of the Apes’ had opened strong but was falling in the ratings week-to-week, just getting slaughtered by ‘Sanford & Son’ and ‘Chico & The Man’. I’m sure Mr. Silverman was thinking that if he was just patient enough, eventually viewers would find ‘Planet of the Apes’, so he held steady with through all the fall before stopping production (midway through the November Sweep as I remember), eventually replacing it with ‘Khan’ at mid-season, a short-run detective series tryout that did just abysmally in the ratings.

    When CBS cancelled ‘Sons & Daughters’, I remember there were a handful of unaired episodes that fans of the series clamoured for and that were supposed to be aired later on in the season, but I don’t think CBS ever broadcast them, not even in the summertime — heck, they brought back ABC’s ‘Dan August’ in the summer of 1975 for a run; surely there could have been a timeslot for ‘Sons & Daughters’.

  2. I’ve often wondered if there were unaired episodes of Sons and Daughters. Only nine were aired but the standard initial production run was 13. On the other hand, when a pair of made-for-TV movies were created out of episodes of the series, they were edited out of four of those nine aired episodes rather than unaired material. Plus, the United States Copyright Office only has records for nine episodes (first in 1974 and later in 2002). So perhaps production was halted just after the ninth episode was completed.

    Also, there were 14 episodes of Planet of the Apes, one more than the typical 13-episode order, so obviously it wasn’t a hard-and-fast rule. I believe CBS gave the show a 22-episode commitment before eventually canceling it, as Dumont mentioned. I’m pretty sure there are a handful of scripts for the show that were never produced, suggesting the cancellation was somewhat of a surprise.

  3. MCA/Universal produced “SONS AND DAUGHTERS”; four episodes WERE re-edited into two “feature films” for overseas theatrical distribution, and for syndication on local stations [how many times did WCBS-TV in New York schedule it on their weekend “LATE SHOW”, along with the other “ersatz” features adapted from short-lived Universal TV series, in the late ’70s and early ’80s?]. All nine episodes are still in the NBC/Universal vaults, waiting to be rediscovered…

  4. The sincerest form of television is imitation. “SONS AND DAUGHTERS” was the CBS version of “AMERICAN GRAFITTI.”

    One may recall that the ratings for “HAPPY DAYS” were equally abysmal during that same season. It averaged around 40th place. Perhaps if Fred Silverman had been more patient, “SONS AND DAUGHTERS” could have been a 12 year hit, too.

  5. I always felt that “Sons And Daughters” didn’t ride the 50’s nostalgia wave that was prominent at that time because it was a serious drama (like a mini Peyton Place”-type show) instead of the breezy, carefree show like Happy Days. The 8:00 PM scheduling was a real killer for this show, which certainly deserved better. Also: a nod to composer James DiPasquale, who wrote a very inventive theme for this series.

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