Mr. Terrific

Mr. Terrific followed the (mis)adventures of Stanley Bemish, who after popping a Power Pill received an hour’s worth of super powers. CBS aired 17 episodes during the 1966-1967 season.

Stephen Strimpell starred in Mr. Terrific as Stanley Beamish, a gas station attendant in Washington, D.C. who moonlighted as a super powered crime fighter for the Bureau of Special Projects. The Power Pill, invented by Dr. Ned Reynolds (played by Ned Glass), could bestow the power of flight, super strength and invulnerability, but it only worked for an hour. Booster pills provided additional ten minute bursts.

Poor, gentle Stanley was the only man the Bureau could find for whom the Power Pill worked its wonders. So, the head of the Bureau, Barton J. Reed (played by John McGiver), decided to enlist his help in fighting crime. Unfortunately — and predictably — the Power Pill would wear off just when Stanley was in the thick of things. Dick Gautier played Hal Waters, who co-owned the gas station with Stanley.

Fresh from his role as Wilbur Post in Mister Ed, Alan Young starred in the original pilot episode for Mr. Terrific, produced by Universal Television. In this version, Stanley Beamish was a shoe salesman. CBS considered Mr. Terrific for its 1966-1967 schedule. In its February 7th, 1966 issue Broadcasting wrote that the pilot was among those “considered hottest prospects by agency men, who said they based their judgment on advance information” from CBS [1].

I have been searching for this answer for a while. I remember when I was little, early 60’s, a television show that started out with a cartoony introduction about a man, while searching for a cure for the common cold, produced a pill that gave him powers. What was this television show?

Several weeks later, on February 21st, Broadcasting reported that it was one of six pilots for CBS “with more than a good chance” [2]. For some unknown reason, however, CBS decided not to move forward with the Alan Young Version. On September 12th, Broadcasting revealed that Stephen Strimpell had replaced Young and that the network now planned to use the show during its 1967-1968 season, although it could be rolled out earlier if needed [3].

Filming on a new pilot with Strimpell began September 19th [4]. On October 3rd, Broadcasting reported that CBS executives were “enthusiastic” about the pilot and had ordered additional episodes [5]. In its October edition, Television Magazine listed Mr. Terrific as a possible mid-season replacement for CBS [6]. Val Adams, in a November 13th article in The New York Times, wrote that Mr. Terrific would be replacing Run, Buddy, Run beginning Monday, January 9th, 1967 [7].

Mr. Terrific would follow Gilligan’s Island and compete with I Dream of Jeannie on NBC and Iron Horse on ABC. Reviews for the most part were negative, with Larry Williams of the Memphis Commercial Appeal calling it “abominably silly” while Hal Humphrey of The Los Angeles Times writing that “the laugh track was overdone and Stanley will need more than his silver cape to keep him aloft on the rating scale” [8]. The Washington Evening Star‘s Bernie Harrison called it “strictly on the pre-school age level” and George Gent of The New York Times opined that it was “nothing less than a disaster” [9].

One slightly more positive review came from Harry Harris, who wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer that the series was “more amusing [than Captain Nice], though hardly hilarious” [10]. Critics who jointly reviewed Mr. Terrific and Captain Nice were almost uniformly more impressed with Captain Nice. For example, Bettelou Peterson wrote in the Detroit Free Press that “Terrific is Terrible. Nice is Nicer” [11]. On the other hand, The Indianapolis Star‘s Julia Inman suggested that “Mr. Terrific shows some possibilities. Captain Nice was just plain bad” [12].

Finally, there were those critics who detested both shows. Paul Molloy wrote in The Chicago Sun-Times that both shows were “so unbelievably bad [they] further emphasize how disastrous the current season is” and UPI’s Rick Du Brow called them “super flops” [13]. Viewers, of course, don’t always agree with critics. The premiere of Mr. Terrific easily beat its competition in both the preliminary Arbitron and Trendex ratings, drawing a 22.7/38 Arbitron rating (compared to a 14.4/24 for Iron Horse and a 12.3/21 for I Dream of Jeannie) and a 22.1/40.8 Trendex rating (compared to a 13.3/24.6 for I Dream of Jeannie and a 12.7/23.5 for Iron Horse) [14].

Broadcasting suggested that its “favorable timeslot” could have something to do with the early success of a “show that didn’t seem to hold much appeal when screened as a pilot” [15]. Nationally, the first two episodes averaged a 24.5 Nielsen rating, placing 14th for the two-week period ending January 22nd [16]. The next two episodes dropped to 27th for the two-week period ending February 5th [17]. The strong showing didn’t keep CBS from canceling Mr. Terrific when it announced its 1967-1968 schedule on February 22nd. A total of 17 episodes were broadcast. The final first-run episode aired on May 8th with repeats continuing through August 27th.

According to The New York Times, despite being “one of the more successful midseason programs” CBS “apparently felt that the series had reached its peak audience with the children and was not likely to pick up steam” [18]. In other words the show simply skewed too young. For the 1966-1967 season as a whole Mr. Terrific ranked 36th with a Nielsen share of 30.2. It beat out shows like Gilligan’s Island, The Fugitive, Star Trek and both installments of Batman (due to Nielsen quirks some of these shows drew a larger share of the audience but had a lower rating) [19].

Said Arnold Becker, Director of Audience Measurement for CBS, “everyone knows they want Lucy back. Everyone knows the shows at the bottom of the ratings are going off. It’s the marginal shows–the Mr. Terrifics of the world–we quibble about” [20].

Mr. Terrific was never syndicated, aside from a made-for-TV movie titled The Pill Caper that was edited from four individual episodes. The series was reportedly very popular in Germany and all 17 episodes were released on DVD in that country on in July 2009. Included was the original English soundtrack as a secondary audio choice. Rob Falcone’s wonderful review of the set can be found here.

Works Cited:
1 “Networks sift their pilots.” Broadcasting. 7 Feb. 1966: 59-60.
2 “Networks running pilots up flagpole.” Broadcasting. 21 Feb. 1966: 76-77.
3 “Stand-bys ready if new shows fail.” Broadcasting. 12 Sep. 1966: 35-37.
4 Ibid.
5 “The fall-backs.” Broadcasting. 3 Oct. 1966: 5.
6 “The Month in Focus.” Television Magazine. Oct. 1966: 18-19.
7 Adams, Val. “Hypoed Heroes Fly High.” New York Times. 13 Nov. 1966: 157.
8 “How the critics rate new shows.” Broadcasting. 16 Jan. 1967: 50-51.
9 Ibid.
10 Ibid.
11 Ibid.
12 Ibid.
13 Ibid.
14 “2nd season off and running.” Broadcasting. 16 Jan. 1967: 50-52.
15 Ibid.
16 “CBS leads latest Nielsen.” Broadcasting. 13 Feb. 1967: 66-68.
17 “National Nielsens give CBS 3 in a row.” Broadcasting. 27 Feb. 1967: 26-27.
18 Gent, George. “Marshall Dillon Gunned Down in C.B.S. Fall Line-up.” New York Times. 23 Feb. 1967: 71.
19 “TV’s Vast Grey Belt.” Television Magazine. Aug. 1967: 54-55; 81.
20 Ibid.

Originally Published December 3rd, 2009
Last updated May 17th, 2018

9 Replies to “Mr. Terrific”

  1. The unaired pilot starring Alan Young is currently posted on YouTube [3 parts]. In that version, Edward Andrews was Young’s co-star, as head of the “O.S.A.” (later the “B.S.P.” in the series- John McGiver replaced him), and Jesse White was Stanley’s boss [as noted in the original concept, Stanley was a hapless shoe clerk in “Finney’s Department Store”]. Three of Jack Benny’s former writers {George Balzer, Al Gordon & Hal Goldman} wrote the original pilot episode, with Joel Kane; they also created another unsuccessful “superhero satire” pilot Universal tried to sell NBC for its 1967-’68 season: “The Return of the Original Yellow Tornado”, co-starring Eddie Mayehoff & Mickey Rooney (try imaging them as a middle-aged “Batman” & “Robin”, and you’ve got the idea behind the series).

    And it should be noted that Dick Gautier turned down the role Rich Little eventually played (“Stan Parker”) on ABC’s “LOVE ON A ROOFTOP” (1966-’67). Fortunately, Dick returned to “GET SMART” in the occasional role of “Hymie the Robot”, after “MR. TERRIFIC” was cancelled.

    “The Pill Caper” was originally released theatrically in foreign markets (as were most of MCA/Universal’s “one-season wonders” re-edited into feature films) in 1968, before it was syndicated to local stations in the ’70s.

  2. …One other interesting tidbit is that to date, Alan Young refuses to discuss why he didn’t continue with the role of “Mr. Terrific”. When “Duck Tales” first premiered, a buddy of mine did an interview with him about becoming the definitive voice of Scrooge McDuck, and while the interview went well when he broached the subject of his post “Mr. Ed” work and “Mr. Terrific” was brought up, Young point-blank said “Let’s talk about something else, like ‘Gibbsville'”. Other reporters have noted the same reluctance by Young to discuss the pilot or the subsequent series. Makes one wonder if Young didn’t get screwed over in some way.

  3. Up to now, I had honestly thought that Young didn’t want anything to do with the series- now, after reading ‘RGJ”s remark that CBS, “for some unknown reason”, rejected the first version of the pilot and had Alan replaced with Stephen Strimpell…it seems to ME that the network wanted the show, but NOT Alan Young in the lead role; perhaps because he was associated with “MISTER ED”, a series that CBS president and chief programmer James T. Aubrey {“The Smiling Cobra”} bought for the network in the fall of 1961, after its first season in syndication. There were some executives at the network who didn’t care for “ED” AND Jim Aubrey {I believe he went ahead with the deal to bring the show to CBS without officially notifying anyone else- he usually made key programming decisions without ANY outside influence, except his own- and, in this case, because of his close ties to Filmways, the outfit that distributed it}, and this was their way of “eliminating” most of Aubrey’s influence on CBS programming over the previous seven years [“The hell with Alan Young! Let’s have Universal film another pilot with someone else…”]. I can understand why Alan won’t discuss it- “MR. TERRIFIC” was his last chance at starring in another TV series. “MISTER ED” had typecast him to the point where some executives just said, “What, you want the guy who talked to that cockamamie horse? Forget it!”. His career in TV had pretty much ended after that….”GIBBSVILLE” was Young’s first series in over a decade, but NBC screwed him on that by delaying its fall premiere in 1976, and just threw it on and off their schedule in early 1977.

  4. …The “Smiling Cobra” connection’s a pretty good theory, and one that I hadn’t considered before. Possibly because to this day I still have the same impression of “Mr. Terrific” that I had when I watched the show’s premier all those years ago: “who the frack is this Strimpell bozo, and does Wally Cox know he’s trying to steal his look-n-feel?” It should also be interesting to know that Strimpell’s acting career died even quicker and deader than Young’s; he never had another major role after that, and last I heard he’s spent the past three decades in NYC as a drama coach.

  5. Stephen Strimpell’s impression seemed to be that CBS had simply decided, for whatever reason, they were going to pass on the show. Later, when they heard that Buck Henry was developing Captain Nice for NBC, they decided that they had to have one. They produced the planned test season and then dropped the series heedless of ratings. (Though the N.Y. Times line of thinking as to why seems to be reasonable.)

    Most fans seem to feel that they ultimately passed on Alan Young, because he was too old for the concept they had in mind. They wanted another Gilligan or something in that vein.

  6. BTW, thanks to RGJ for doing this spotlight. I haven’t read most of those old publications, so much of the information is helpful to my personal research.

    To OM, Stephen passed away in April of 2006. He had, indeed, gone back to teaching acting. Although, his TV Guide profile from 1967 noted that he had graduated from Law School at a very early age, and the one letter I received from him came from “S. Strimpell Attorney-At-Law.”

  7. Have you read Stephen Strimpel’s own account of his experiences on the show in an article in a magazine that I have long forgotten the name but I believe is still being published. He also had a bad time working on the series.

  8. Thanks for writing this and doing a great job in researching it. I absolutely loved this show as a 9-year old (I was also crazy about The New Adventures of Superman cartoon that had premiered in fall ’66). Stephen’s expressive “transformation” was something I’ve never forgotten (and never knew his face changed color until watching it on YouTube… we had a b&w TV back then). You state that the final episode was aired on May 8th of ’67, and the final repeat on August 27. I recall TV Guide at the time listing an episode as the “final episode of the series”. I tuned in as usual, only to be disappointed by a CBS announcer stating it wouldn’t be shown that evening due to an airing of Carol Burnett’s “Once Upon A Mattress” instead. I recall the announcer saying Mr. Terrific would return as usual the next week, but it never did. Would any of your research be able to verify my memory?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.