New Spotlight: The American Idea (Specials)

This month’s spotlight is the first to focus not an on obscure TV show or an unsold pilot but on a series of TV specials. Specifically, ABC’s The American Idea specials, produced by Alan Landsburg Productions. Three were planned but only two were ever aired, the first in March 1973 and the second more than three years later in July 1976. Several others were announced or listed in industry publications but never materialized.

I’ve never seen either of the specials and to be honest I can’t really say what drew me to them. I stumbled upon a promotional spot for the first special (“The Land”) in a collection of TV promos and commercials and for some reason it piqued my interest. I thought it would be a simple matter to learn more about it. I was wrong. I easily found television listings for the special, which was promoted as Part 1, and found references to either a three or six-part series. But I wasn’t able to find any information about any other specials airing in 1973 or 1974 or 1975. I finally learned that another special (“The Glory Road West”) aired during Bicentennial weekend in 1976.

Based on the information I’ve found, it seems there were originally supposed to be three specials. The Ford Motor Company apparently agreed to sponsor all three. The first was definitely presented by Ford and it may have featured just one six-minute commercial. I found titles for the two planned to follow “The Land” but it appears they were never produced. So what happened to the other specials? My best guess is that “The Land” did not do well in the ratings and someone involved decided not to move forward. That doesn’t explain why three years later “The Glory Road West” was produced and broadcast. I don’t believe it was sponsored by Ford.

You can read the entire spotlight here. It isn’t very long but it took a frustratingly long time to piece together. If anyone remembers watching either of these specials, or if someone knows more about them, hit the comments with your thoughts. I’d love to know more about The American Idea.

1 Comment

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    I suspect Fred Silverman, who was ABC’s chief programmer from 1975 through ’78, was the most influential in cancelling the third special. He wanted NOTHING to interfere with his “red-hot” schedule- which made ABC the “#1 network” at that time. If a special wasn’t fully sponsored by a major company- as Ben Vereen’s 1977 “Sentry Collection” variety special, sponsored by Sentry Insurance, was (in which Silverman hyped Cheryl Ladd’s guest appearance in the network’s newspaper and TV GUIDE ads this way- “Singing and dancing like you’ve never seen her before on ‘Charlie’s Angels’!”)- then it didn’t belong on “HIS” schedule.

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