Swingin’ Together (Unsold Pilot)

Bobby Rydell starred in this unsold 1963 sitcom pilot for a proposed CBS series about band traveling the country via bus, looking for their big break.

On Monday, August 26th, 1963, CBS aired an installment of Vacation Playhouse called “Swingin’ Together.” Vacation Playhouse was an annual summer replacement for The Lucy Show — except in in 1965, when it replaced Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. — that consisted of unsold pilots. (Read more about Vacation Playhouse, which ran from 1963 to 1967, here; a status guide can be found here.)

“Swingin’ Together” was co-produced by Desilu Studios and Ludlow Productions. According to Lee Goldberg’s Unsold Television Pilots Vol. 1: 1955-1976, it was a potential CBS entry for the 1962-1963 season [1].

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Singer and teen idol Bobby Rydell starred in “Swingin’ Together” as Bobby Day, leader of a band — Bobby Day and His Four Knights — that traveled the country in a bus, playing any gig they could get in the hopes of eventually making it big. The Four Knights were Yogi, Big “D”, Steve and Skooby Doo, played by Peter Brooks, Art Metrano, Larry Merrill and Ben Bryant, respectively. James Dunn played the band’s agent and bus driver, P.J. Cunningham. The back of the bus was roomy enough to fit a drum set, a piano and an upright bass, not to mention a guitar and a saxophone. There was even a shower.

Guest stars in the pilot included Stefanie Powers as Linda Craig, a prudish young woman who meets the band at a classy country club and learns to be a little less straight-laced, as well as Dennis, Lindsay and Phillip Crosby (three of Bing Crosby’s sons) who appeared, not surprisingly, as singers. Songs featured in the pilot included “Let’s Twist Again,” “This Could Be the Start of Something Big” and “Little Bitty Tear.” Howard Leeds wrote the pilot, which was directed by Gene Reynolds.

Why didn’t the pilot sell? The concept may have been the perfect showcase for Bobby Rydell’s singing but as a weekly series it didn’t have much to offer. There are only so many venues where Bobby Day and His Four Nights could conceivably have played at before things became repetitive. And after a season of not hitting the big times, viewers may have decided that the band just wasn’t that good.

Works Cited:
1 Goldberg, Lee. Unsold Television Pilots Vol. 1: 1955-1976. 1990. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, 2001: Page 86.

Video courtesy of Maureen.

Originally Published May 20th, 2010
Last Updated August 19th, 2015

8 Replies to “Swingin’ Together (Unsold Pilot)”

  1. This is the extended UNAIRED version of the pilot, the one shown to CBS executives in the winter of 1962- NOT the one shown on “VACATION PLAYHOUSE”, for this has a “Sponsors Message” tag at 2:41, where the sponsor’s I.D. should be {“‘SWINGIN’ TOGETHER’…brought to you by…the makers of ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!”}, followed by the first commercial.

    As to why the network rejected “SWINGIN’ ALONG” as a weekly series, the answer probably lies with ONE man- James T. Aubrey, “The Smiling Cobra” of CBS, as its president and chief programmer from 1959 through ’65. He wanted “simple” sitcoms, especially with a family theme (like “FATHER KNOWS BEST”), or rural-based comedies like “THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW”, “THE REAL McCOYS” [acquired from ABC that season], and “THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES”, that the average viewer could “drowse” through every week, aroused out of their stupor just long enough to pay attention to the sponsor’s message. He didn’t want “noisy comedies” on his network, especially those dealing with “rock ‘n’ roll” (and he didn’t really care for “DOBIE GILLIS” or “THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW”, either).

    Look at the new comedies on CBS’ 1962-’63 schedule: “THE LUCY SHOW” {this was after Aubrey and fellow executive Hunt Stromberg Jr. tried to develop Cara Williams as “the new Lucille Ball” on “PETE AND GLADYS”}, “THE NEW LORETTA YOUNG SHOW” (it was more of a “dramedy”, but it was still “prim” Loretta, as a widow with a family of kids), and the hour-long “FAIR EXCHANGE”. Not a whiff of “experimentation” or “deft writing” in sight [“THE LUCY SHOW” was basically a rehash of “I LOVE LUCY”, without Desi Arnaz or Bill Frawley]- in other words, “the same old shit”. And that’s how Jim Aubrey WANTED it. If he wanted “weird”, there was “MISTER ED” on Thursday nights.

    Besides, there was only ONE Desilu-produced series on the network during 1962-’63: Lucy’s. And the only reason this pilot ever saw the light of a video screen was because “VACATION PLAYHOUSE” was part of the deal Desilu made with CBS for “THE LUCY SHOW”, as her perpetual summer replacement between 1962 and ’67; more than half of the “cast-offs” featured in each summer season were produced by Desilu. After Lucy sold her studio to Paramount in late 1967, there was no more “VACATION PLAYHOUSE”.

  2. I don’t have ratings for separate episodes of ‘Vacation Playhouse’, just averages. Still trying to find the 1963 summer series averages, but ‘Vacation Playhouse’ in 1966 was a top 30 summer series, averaging 15.0HH/40% for the 8 episodes aired that summer. Broadcast networks of today have forgotten that audiences used to enjoy watching series pilots, especially when they were form-breaking or somewhat experimental in nature.

  3. So The Lucy Show didn’t show repeats during the summer months?

    The Lucy Show eps didn’t a get a repeat play until the series went into syndication?

  4. It wasn’t until the summer of 1968 that repeats of “THE LUCY SHOW” aired during the summer, ‘pBOB’ (after the agreement to schedule “VACATION PLAYHOUSE” had been “voided” by the sale of Desilu to Paramount in ’67). In fact, because Lucy had an initial co-production agreement with Paramount on “HERE’S LUCY”, repeats of “THE LUCY SHOW” aired during the summers of 1969, ’70 and ’71. After 1971, when Lucy finally cut all ties to Paramount Television, that’s when “HERE’S LUCY” was finally repeated during the summer.

    CBS also broadcast daytime repeats of “THE LUCY SHOW” from 1968 through ’72. When it finally left the network, Paramount parceled it into local syndication…

    In the summer of 1965, Lucy’s primary sponsor, General Foods, made a slight change involving the title of her “busted pilot” summer showcase: the “VACATION PLAYHOUSE” title was used by them for another summer replacement series after the initial season of “GOMER PYLE, U.S.M.C.” [which they fully sponsored; that edition was sometimes billed as “GENERAL FOODS VACATION PLAYHOUSE”] on Friday nights; those unsold pilots, some of which General Foods had directly financed, were from other studios [20th Century-Fox, Screen Gems/Columbia, ZIV/United Artists, et. al.], and did NOT include any Desilu material. The Desilu pilots on Mondays (again, with a few other studios’ rejected ideas) were shown that summer as “GENERAL FOODS SUMMER PLAYHOUSE”. In the summer of ’66, the “VACATION PLAYHOUSE” title reverted to Monday nights (“GOMER PYLE” began airing repeats that summer, never again using a summer replacement series), and General Foods eventually withdrew as Lucy’s co-sponsor.

  5. I stand corrected:
    There WAS one other series that Desilu produced for CBS in the 1962-’63 season: Cy Howard’s ‘FAIR EXCHANGE”, an hour-long comedy about a British and American family “exchanging” their teenage daughters to live with the other’s family for an entire year (Judy Carne was the English daughter). While Howard was the successful creator/producer of such radio/TV series as “MY FRIEND IRMA” and “LIFE WITH LUIGI”, this series was a dud in the ratings. A revised half-hour format didn’t work either, and CBS cancelled the series in March 1963. Other than the fact that it was the first hour-long weekly sitcom on network TV, there was nothing “special” about it: it featured mostly “predictable” situations…the kind Jim Aubrey insisted upon [and got massive ratings for] in his CBS comedies.

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