Fall 1974: NBC
The 1974-1975 season was a good one for NBC. The network introduced nine new shows, including Little House on the Prairie, The Rockford Files, Movin’ On, and Police Woman. NBC renewed six of these shows but the other three (Born Free, Lucas Tanner, and Sierra) failed to survive the season.
NOTE: No new Tuesday, Saturday or Sunday programming was introduced by NBC during the fall of 1974.
NBC had the honor of premiering the first new series of the 1974-1975 season: Born Free. The hour-long drama, not technically a spin-off pf or follow-up to the 1966 movie of the same name, debuted on September 9th and aired from 8-9PM opposite The Rookies on ABC and Gunsmoke on CBS. Gary Collins and Diana Muldaur starred as George and Joy Adamson, game wardens raising Elsa the Lioness in Kenya. Both the movie and the series told the true story of the real-life Adamsons and the real Elsa the Lioness.
The adventure series was filmed entirely on location in East Africa. Plots involved poachers, killer lions, family reunions and the dangers of the jungle. Critics, hopeful that the series would recapture the tone of the movie, were disappointed with the premiere but didn’t entirely write the show off. Said Bernie Harrison of the Washington Star-News, “Born Free may still make it to the winner’s circle, but that marvelous interplay between humans and animals has been diminished to an echo” .
Copyright © TV Guide, 1974 
Born Free did not make it to the winner’s circle. It rated poorly from the start. On October 10th, The Wall Street Journal reported the series was “almost sure to be cut” . And it was cut, after just thirteen episodes, the last of which was broadcast on December 30th. It was replaced by The Smothers Brothers Show in mid-January 1975.
Three new hour-long dramas made up NBC’s Wednesday schedule: Little House on the Prairie, Lucas Tanner and Petrocelli. One was cancelled after the 1974-1975 season, one returned for the 1975-1976 season and then was cancelled, and one would stay on the air through the 1982-1983 season. All three premiered on September 11th.
Little House on the Prairie led off the night, airing opposite Sons and Daughters on CBS and That’s My Mama and the first half-hour of The Wednesday Movie of the Week on ABC. A pilot telefilm, also titled Little House on the Prairie, was broadcast on March 30th, 1974. Both the telefilm and the series were based on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s "Little House" books.
The series premiere ranked 11th for the week . For the 1974-1975 season as a whole, the series ranked 13th. Michael Landon of Bonanza starred as Charles Ingalls and also served as executive producer for the series was also executive producer). Karen Grassle co-starred as Caroline Ingalls.
Rounding out the main cast were Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls, Melissa Sue Anderson as Mary Ingalls and twins Lindsay and Sidney Green Bush as Carrie Ingalls. The series remained on the air through the 1981-1982 season when most of the cast departed; it was renamed Little House: A New Beginning for its ninth and final season.
Critics made the obvious comparisons to The Waltons. While some positive in their comments on the premiere, others were less than impressed. Gary Deeb of the Chicago Tribune gave it a scathing review, calling the debut episode “a meatless sausage of cloying sweetness, padded dialogue and soap opera background music” .
The second new series, Lucas Tanner, aired from 9-10PM opposite Cannon on CBS and the second half of The Wednesday Movie of the Week on ABC. David Hartman starred as Lucas Tanner, a former sportswriter and former professional baseball player who, after the deaths of his wife and son, decided to become a schoolteacher. A pilot telefilm for the series aired on May 8th, 1974.
Tanner taught English at Harry S Truman Memorial High School, located in Webster Groves, Missouri. He also coached the basketball team, was an avid jogger and played the saxophone. His unorthodox teaching style, however, often led to confrontations with fellow teachers, administration and parents. Rosemary Murphy co-starred as Principal Margaret Blumenthal; Robbie Rist played Glendon, Tanner’s next-door neighbor.
Like Little House on the Prairie, critics were split on Lucas Tanner, with some predicting it would be a hit and others arguing its portrayal of teaching was unrealistic at best. Tom Shales of the Washington Post was one such critic, writing that the premiere was “a tediously romanticied view of a superteacher who inspires his class to absolute frenzies of enlightenment” .
I appreciate seeing someone talk about Lucas Tanner. I lived in Affton, Missouri which is just a couple miles from Webster Groves, Missouri. Anyway they filmed the pilot in Webster Groves. My friend went to the cemetery, by our house, that they used in the pilot. He came to my house and told me all about it. We never had any excitement around Affton like that. They filmed the pilot in Webster Groves but all the other shows were filmed in L.A. We couldn’t wait till it came out. I was in 8th grade when it was on and looked at the show as what High School would be like. I wish it was available on DVD.”
The premiere ranked sixteenth for the week . However, ratings fell off after that. Nevertheless, NBC stuck with the series. In January 1975, a new principal was introduced, played by John Randolph, and Murphy left the series. Lucas Tanner was cancelled in April 1975 . A total of 22 episodes were aired; the last first-run episode was broadcast on April 9th.
Capping off the Wednesday schedule was Petrocelli, which ran from 10-11PM opposite a pair of new shows on the other networks: Get Christie Love on ABC and The Manhunter on CBS. The series was based on a 1970 film called The Lawyer, directed by Sidney J. Firue and starring Barry Newman as lawyer Anthony Petrocelli. Diana Muldaur played his wife, Ruth.
The television version began with a pilot telefilm called Night Games, broadcast on March 16th, 1974. Newman again starred as Petrocelli with Susan Howard taking over as his wife (now called Maggie). Albert Selmi co-starred as Pete Ritter, Petrocelli’s investigator.
Episodes depicted crimes in multiple ways, depending on whose point of view was being depicted. At the end of each episode, Petrocelli would give his own take on the crime, revealing what really happened and proving the innocence of his client.
Critics were impressed with Newman but not all were happy with the premiere. Harry Harris of the Philadelphia Inquirer, for example, while calling the premiere “an engrossing slam-bang melodrama,” also wrote “the arbitrary way in which the trial is resolved is disappintingly devoid of either legality of common sense” .
Although not a huge hit, the series was successful enough to return for the 1975-1976 season. However, it was cancelled at the end of that season with the last few episodes unaired (they were eventually seen in syndication). A total of 45 episodes were produced.
NBC premiered two new Thursdays shows on September 12th. The first, Sierra, aired from 8-9PM opposite The Odd Couple and Paper Moon on ABC and The Waltons on CBS. The series starred Ernest Thompson and James G. Richardson as Matt Harper and Tim Cassidy, rangers for the U.S. National Park Service. The two patrolled the fictional Sierra National Park, charged with protecting tourists and wildlife alike. The series was actually filmed at Yosemite National Park.
Supporting cast members included Jack Hogan as Chief Jack Moore, Mike Warren as P.J. Lewis, and Susan Foster as Julie Beck. Episodes often included multiple plots involving stranded campers, missing children, wild fires, dangerous rescues, poachers and of course, bears. Sierra was created by Jack Webb and produced by his company, Mark VII Limited. The October 24th episode featured a crossover with another Mark VII Limited series, Emergency!
Critics appeciated the sceneary but nothing else about the series. John J. O’Connor’s review of the premiere for The New York Times called Sierra “little more than silly” and suggested it was simply The Rookies or The Mod Squad “plunked into the great outdoors” . The series was crushed in the Nielsen ratings by The Waltons and was cancelled on October 8th . It was replaced by The Mac Davis Show in mid-December.
The second new Thursday series was Movin’ On, which aired from 10-11PM opposite both Harry O on ABC and the last half of The CBS Thursday Night Movies. The series starred Claude Akins as Sonny Pruett, a veteran trucker, and Frank Converse as Will Chandler, his younger co-driver. The theme song to the series was performed by Merle Haggard.
Together, the two criss-crossed the country hauling anything and everything that needed hauling (including, in one episode, the ransom money for a kidnap victim). Episodes often saw Sonny and Will stumbling upon someone in desperate need of help. Plots involved gambling, landslides, theft, romance and intrigue.
Copyright © TV Guide, 1974 
In his review of the premiere, John J. O’Connor noted that the producers “have captured the texture of truckers and trucks with remarkable success” but argued it needed improved scripts to succeed” . Unlike Sierra, Movin’ On did manage to succeed to some degree, surviving the 1974-1975 season and being renewed for the 1975-1976 season.
It was cancelled after two seasons and 46 episodes, the last of which was aired on March 2nd, 1976. A pilot telefilm for the series called In Tandem was broadcast on May 8th, 1974.
NBC introduced three new Friday shows — a sitcom and two dramas — on September 13th, 1974. All three would rank in the Top 15 for the season. Kicking off the night was Sanford and Son in its third season, followed by new sitcom Chico and the Man from 8:30-9PM, which competed with the second half of Planet of the Apes on CBS and the first half of The Six Million Dollar Man on ABC.
Chico and the Man starred Jack Albertson as Ed Brown (“the Man”), an angry widoer who owned a garage in East Los Angeles, and Freddie Prinze as Chico Rodriguez, a young Latino who convinces Ed to hire him. Critic Frank Torez wrote in his review for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner that the premiere “gives America its first look at Mexican-Americans in a regular network series of their own. […] Despite the burden of cliche, the writing opens a promising vein of TV humor. The series does make the usual quota of positive social comments. It has an excellent chance to be a hit” .
The series was a hit and was quickly picked up for the remainder of the 1974-1975 season. It ranked third for the season and was renewed for the 1975-1976 season and again for the 1976-1977 season. In January 1977, half-way through the show’s third season, Freddie Prinze committed suicide. His character was written out of the series, which was renewed for a fourth season. Prinze was replaced by Gabriel Melgar, whose twelve-year-old character was adopted by Ed. The series was cancelled after four seasons.
Next up was The Rockford Files from 9-10PM, which aired opposite the last half-hour of The Six Million Dollar Man and The Texas Wheelers on ABC and the first half of The CBS Friday Night Movie. James Garnder starred as Jim Rockford, a private investigator living in a trailer who prefers cases that won’t require a lot of work.
Noah Berry, Jr. co-starred as Joseph “Rocky” Rockford, Jim’s father, who wants his son to quit investigating and become a truck driver. John Carmody of the Washington Post called the premiere “a fun TV show with slightly off-beat bad guys and a fast-moving script that keeps Rockford’s one-liners in balance” .A pilot telefilm for the series aired on March 27th, 1974. The Rockford Files ranked 12th for the 1974-1975 season and ultimately aired for five and a half seasons, going off the air half-way through the 1979-1980 season after 122 episodes.
Rounding out NBC’s Friday schedule was Police Woman from 10-11PM opposite Kolchak: The Night Stalker on ABC and the second half of The CBS Friday Night Movie. Angie Dickinson starred as “Pepper” Anderson, an undercover police officer for the Los Angeles Police Department. She worked with two other detectives, Joe Styles (played by Ed Bernard) and pete Royster (played by Charles Dierkop). Earl Holliam played Lieutenant Bill Crowley, their commanding officer.
Critics were less than enthiustic about the series, with James Brown of The Los Angeles Times calling it “an excruciating hour of television” . Viewers, however, tuned in and the series ranked 15th for the 1974-1975 season. It would remain on the air through the 1977-1978 season, running for a total of 92 episodes.
2 Connor, Michael J. “NBC Is Surprise Challenger to CBS Lead in TV Ratings Race, with ABC Far Back.” Wall Street Journal. 10 Oct. 1974: 20.
3 Cyclops. “‘Tis the Season to be Cutesy, Fa, la, la, la, and So Forth.” New York Times. 29 Sep. 1974: 133.
4 “Prime-time viewing: the critics’ choice.”
6 Cyclops. “‘Tis the Season to be Cutesy, Fa, la, la, la, and So Forth.”
7 Brown, Les. “NBC Movies Will Pinch-Hit for Baseball.” New York Times 24 Apr. 1975: 51.
8 “Prime-time viewing: the critics’ choice.”
9 O’Connor, John J. “TV: ‘Sierra,’ ‘Paper Moon.’ ‘Harry-O,’ ‘Movin’ On’.” New York Times. 12 Sep. 1974: 77.
10 “NBC-TV to Cancel New Thursday Show.” Hartford Courant. Associated Press. 10 Oct. 1974: 28.
11 O’Connor, John J. “TV: ‘Sierra,’ ‘Paper Moon.’ ‘Harry-O,’ ‘Movin’ On’.”
12 “Critical comment, cont.” Broadcasting. 23 Sep. 1974: 23.
14 “Critical comment, cont.” Broadcasting. 24.
Originally Published August 20th, 2003
Last Updated April 20th, 2018