45th Anniversary of The Headmaster

The Headmaster, which celebrates its 45th anniversary today, is another obscure TV show I’ve never seen. But in this case, I doubt very much anyone has seen it since it went off the air in January 1971 (transforming into The New Andy Griffith Show). The sitcom was supposed to be Andy Griffith’s triumph return to television and CBS no doubt had very high hopes for the show, having committed to a full season.

Griffith played the headmaster small, coed private school in California. Claudette Nevins played his wife, Jerry Van Dyke the school’s football coach, and Parker Fennelly its custodian. The first episode involved a student nearly overdosing on barbiturates. Critics weren’t impressed.

The series premiered on Friday, September 18th, 1970 and was the the third highest-rated new series debut that week. But viewers tuned out in droves over the next few weeks. Although the networks thought viewers wanted “relevance” on television, apparently they didn’t when it came to Andy Griffith. So The Headmaster was retooled as The New Andy Griffith Show at mid-season, with Griffith playing a small town mayor. It didn’t catch on, either, and was dropped as part of the infamous “rural purge” at the end of the 1970-1971 season.

The only footage I’ve seen is from the 1970 CBS Fall Preview special which features absolutely no actual footage from The Headmaster. If anyone has memories of watching the show back in 1970, hit the comments. My article on The Headmaster can be found here.

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One Reply to “45th Anniversary of The Headmaster”

  1. I must have watched it because I would have watched it; I was a serious 12-year-old at the time and sampled all the new TV shows. But I don’t have specific recollections. Leaving the question of execution aside, I think the series was probably ahead of its time as a “dramedy.” In the Fall Preview footage, Griffith says explicitly that every episode will feature “a combination of comedy and drama,” and although it is true that Room 222 was already operating in that space, it was still far from a familiar approach.

    It must have been quite a disappointment to Griffith that audiences would not accept him in a different sort of role, but that sort of thing happens all the time in popular entertainment (and even the elite arts). People generally want what they know. Pretty boring, if you ask me.

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