Forgotten Sitcoms: "Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers"

In the fall of 1974, TV Guide asked five TV programming pros which new show would be the biggest hit of the coming season. Every single one of them picked the CBS series "Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers." It was a show that seemed to have everything going for it:

* A Tony award-winning comic actor in the title role

* A choice timeslot right between two of TV's most popular shows -- "All in the Family" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show"

* A top-notch creative pedigree -- it was created by James L. Brooks and Allan Burns, the men behind "MTM"

And yet, by January 1975, "Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers" was gone.

Before an explanation, let's back up several years, to early 1971. David Davis and Lorenzo Music have written a script for "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" in which Mary Richards is audited, and then wooed, by a very shy, but charming, IRS agent. It's a natural role for Bob Newhart, who will soon have his own sitcom in the MTM stable. But at the last minute Newhart has to drop out, and no one knows what to do next.

No one except Valerie Harper.

Harper, who plays Rhoda, remembers a friend she worked with in the Second City comedy troupe. His name is Paul Sand. He isn't well known in the TV world, but he has vast stage experience, especially with producer Paul Sills -- in Second City and in another Stills creation, "Story Theatre," for which Sand has won a Tony award.

So Sand is cast in the MTM episode, "1040 or Fight" (you can see it on youtube, or on Hulu). MTM creators Brooks and Burns like Sands and his puppy-dog charm so much that they start thinking of a series concept for him.

But Sands is ambivalent -- he's thinking about going back to the stage. Then one day he sees James L. Brooks walking down the beach. He jogs down to join him, and Sands later recounted their conversation to TV Guide:

"I ran down and walked along with him. We had the following conversation. Jim: 'Ready to do a series, Paul?' Me: 'Yup. As long as I'm not married or a lawyer in it.' Jim: 'OK.' "

In "Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers" Sand would play the unmarried, un-lawyer Robert Dreyfuss, an uptight, upright bass player who finally realizes his dream of becoming part of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

"It should do for the bachelors of the world what ['The] Mary Tyler Moore Show' did for bachelor girls," says CBS honcho Perry Lafferty, adorably.

In the series, pilot, Richard auditions for the symphony. His competition is an arrogant bassist, Mason Woodruff, wonderfully played by Craig Richard Nelson. Just before the auditions, the two men meet.

Robert: What a shame that we have to compete for this one position. Wouldn't it be a wonderful world if everyone got what they wanted the most?

Mason: To me, it would be a wonderful world if they made the best upright bass player king.

Nelson will become a regular on the show as a kind of frenemy for Robert. Also in the cast are Michael Pataki as Robert's brother and Penny Marshall, with "Laverne & Shirley" on the horizon, as Robert's sister-in-law. Robert's various friends and lovers would include young actresses like Robin Strasser and Mariette Hartley. After a few episodes, Robert's parents, played by Jack Gilford and Jan Miner, would become semi-regulars.

So the cast quality is there; the writing quality is there; the timeslot is to die for. But by January 1975, "Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers" is dead.

What happened?

For one thing, given all that the show had going for it, expectations were astronomical. The show HAD to be a hit. There was no theoretical reason for it not to be. But there it was -- a ratings gulf between the high numbers posted by "All in the Family" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."

Some executives thought it was because the show was too "sophisticated"; some thought that Sand just didn't come across well on TV.

At any rate, by late October, a pilot called "The Jeffersons" was completed, and on January 18, 1975, it replaced "Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers" in the treasured time slot, kicking off an 11-season run on CBS. No one would ever accuse that show of being too sophisticated.

The funny thing is, "Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers" was not an outright flop. It ended up in 25th place that season, garnering more viewers than its competition, "Emergency!" on NBC and "The New Land" on ABC. But 25th place isn't good enough when your lead-in is number one. And "The Jeffersons" finished its first season in fourth place.

As for Paul Sand, he has kept busy on stage and in minor film roles. He was a TV regular on "St. Elsewhere" and "Gimme a Break!" but theatre remains his first love -- in fact, at age 91, he's written a play that had a short run in Hollywood earlier this month.    



What Does Jazz Have to Do with "Beat the Clock"? You'd Be Surprised.

When we relocated to Chicago one of my goals was to make new friends. Little did I realize that one of the first would be the city's premiere jazz organist. His name is Chris Foreman and he plays the Hammond B3 -- a massive machine, built in Chicago, with two keyboards and 25 foot pedals.
I was at the Green Mill jazz club last Friday, where Chris has played happy hour for years. He ended one song and told the crowd where he first heard it -- on the game show "Beat the Clock" in the late 1960s. He asked if anyone knew who hosted the show, and I raised my hand: "Jack Narz. He's from my hometown of Louisville." Chris loved it. When his set ended he came to sit next to me at the bar and we talked "Beat the Clock" for 20 minutes. He explained how, as a young organist, he used to listen to Dick Hyman's incidental music on the show and run to his own keyboard to duplicate it. He still can do it all -- the theme song, the music they played before each stunt, everything. And he asked me a favor -- would I know of any source where he could find tapes or DVDs of that show -- anything from the 1969-71 period. And he's called me to check on my progress. So if you can help a guy out, let me know. And here's a clip of Chris in action -- he is the real deal.  

Podcast: Liz and Dick and Lucy and the Ring

In 1969, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were arguably the world's most famous married couple, and they became even more well known when Burton bought his wife a 69-carat diamond ring that cost over a million dollars. At a Hollywood party, their paths crossed with Lucille Ball and an unlikely idea emerged -- within weeks the Burtons were taping an episode of "Here's Lucy" as themselves, with the ring as a special guest star. This is the story of a very large diamond, two very popular movie stars and one of America's favorite comic actresses -- and how they all came together to make TV history.


" 'All I Could See Was Elizabeth and That Rock': What Happened When Taylor and Burton Were Filmed for Next Week's Lucy Show," James Bacon, TV Guide, September 5, 1970

"The Taylor Burton Diamond,"

Loving Lucy: An Illustrated Tribute to Lucille Ball, by Bart Andrews

Elizabeth Taylor: A Private Life for Public Consumption, by Ellis Cashmore

The Richard Burton Diaries, edited by Chris Williams 

Podcast: Sonny and Cher's Long, Strange TV Trip

The career odyssey of Sonny and Cher began in a recording studio, led to an abortive attempt at movies and finally to TV, where their comedy-variety show was one of the most popular of the 1970s. At the same time, it shaped Cher as a showbiz and fashion icon and led to the breakup of their marriage in front of all America, and then their reconciliation -- on the tube, at least.


Television Variety Shows, by David Inman

"The Beat Goes On ... Again," Dick Adler, TV Guide, March 18, 1972

"The Party's Over: Sonny and Cher's Last Show Was Taped in an Atmosphere of Desperate Optimism," Rowland Barber, TV Guide, June 1, 1974

"Cher ... Without Sonny," Rowland Barber, TV Guide, April 12, 1975

"The Life and Loves of Sonny and Cher," Rowland Barber, TV Guide, June 5, 1976

Crooner Embarrasses Woman -- to the Tune of $10,000?!

In late 1931, Susan Hall went to a movie and live show at the Rialto Theatre in downtown Louisville (the theatre was on Fourth Street, just across from what is now the Louisville Palace; it was demolished in 1969). Anyway, the show featured a crooner named Don Galvin, and during his act he came down into the audience, sat next to Susan Hall, and sang to her.

As a result, Susan Hall went into what we used to call a conniption, getting hot and bothered by the attention.

And so, a few weeks later, she sued the management of the Rialto. Here's how the suit was described in Variety:

The article appeared in December 1931. We don't know what became of the suit, or of Mrs. Hall, or Don Galvin.     

In 1954, Louisville Loved Liberace

In the mid-1950s, Variety tracked the performance of syndicated TV shows by publishing the ratings for those shows in many markets. One of them was Louisville.

This is from July 1954, and as you can see, "Liberace," airing on WAVE on Wednesday nights, was the ratings champ by a mile, more than 24 points ahead of "Ramar of the Jungle," airing on WHAS on Tuesday nights. Noting the competition is also interesting -- "Liberace," a big favorite with women viewers, was outpacing boxing matches known as "Blue Ribbon Bouts" (sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer). "Ramar" was leading, by a wide margin, the network dancing show "Arthur Murray Party." And the hysterical historical anti-Communist drama "I Led Three Lives" led the locally-produced "Pee Wee King Show" on WAVE. Let's also note the connection of longtime WAVE announcer Bob Kay to two items on this list -- he was the announcer on "The Pee Wee King Show," doing commercials for Oertel's 92 Beer, and he was the host of "Pop the Question," a locally produced game show being beaten up by "The Cisco Kid" every Sunday afternoon. ("Question" was gone by the fall.)     

Podcast: Life According to "Hey Arnold!"

My daughter Nora joins me to talk about what was probably her (and my) favorite Nickelodeon animated series when she was a kid -- "Hey, Arnold!" We talk about the show's philosophy of diversity as strength and review some memorable episodes, including "The Stoop Kid," "The Pigeon Man," "Ghost Bride" and "Helga on the Couch," detailing the life of' Arnold's truest love/fiercest enemy, Helga Pataki.

Pre-Code vs. Post-Code: "The Crowd Roars" and "Indianapolis Speedway"

Pre-code versus post-code is the difference between a Duesenberg and a Hummer, between cafe au lait and chocolate milk, between a camisole and a union suit.

Take the differences, for instance, between the 1932 film "The Crowd Roars" and the 1939 film "Indianapolis Speedway." Same story (by Howard Hawks, who also directed the first film), same setting, same characters (with different names, in some cases), even much of the same racetrack footage. By the way, want to know how to switch up your stock footage of a crowd? Just flip the image, like this:

And, since these are Warner Bros. films made in the 1930s, naturally both of them feature Frank McHugh -- playing the same character, and even with the same name. Spud. (Frank McHugh was born to play guys named Spud.)

But there's a distinct difference in the way the film's romantic relationships are portrayed, and, by extension, in the relationship between the brothers at the center of the story.

The brothers are Joe and Eddie Greer, played by James Cagney and Eric Linden in "The Crowd Roars" and Pat O'Brien and John Payne in "Indianapolis Speedway." Joe is a world-famous racing driver who drinks and carouses a little too much, tilting slightly but not totally into arrogance. Eddie is his hero-worshiping brother, who also wants to race.

In the 1939 version, Joe's reluctance to work with Eddie has a noble basis -- he wants Eddie to finish college, at Joe's expense. But after Joe leaves his hometown and his visit with Eddie to return to Los Angeles, he finds an unexpected stowaway.

In the 1932 version, Joe's reluctant to work with Eddie for two reasons -- one is because of Eddie's inexperience, but the other is that Joe doesn't want Eddie to know that he's shacking up with longtime frail Lee (Ann Dvorak). Once Eddie enters Joe's life, Joe starts giving the cold shoulder to the bewildered Lee. In "Indianapolis Speedway," by contrast, Joe and Lee (Gale Page) are already engaged, which makes their coupling a little more legitimate. When Joe gives Lee the brushoff in "Indianapolis," he makes it clear it's because he wants to tutor Eddie. In "The Crowd Roars," Lee grins and bears it, but in "Indianapolis Speedway" she gets rightfully honked off. Here are the two scenes:

But the real woman trouble in both movies comes from Lee's friend. In "The Crowd Roars," her name is Ann (Joan Blondell) and in "Indianapolis Speedway" her name is Frankie (Ann Sheridan). In both movies, she's first portrayed as bad news, and Joe doesn't want her "corrupting" his pure younger brother. In "The Crowd Roars," when Ann meets Eddie and starts showing some leg, Joe sneers, "Why don't you stand on your head while you're at it?" -- a line that's as likely to show up in "Indianapolis Speedway" as I am to grow a tail. In "Indianapolis Speedway," Frankie -- who's the roommate of Ann -- is known for feminine wiles that have driven at least one racer track wacky. (Sheridan, at the peak of her reign as Warner's "Oomph Girl," is top billed here -- and like Blondell, she is shown in the skimpiest post-code outfits possible.)

Here's how Cagney and O'Brien handle the problem of the other woman:

Even by Cagney standards, the character of Joe is wound unusually tight. His obsession with keeping Eddie from sinful entanglements and what he perceives as loose women -- playing around for me, but not for thee -- goes beyond brotherly concern and makes him seem like a hypocrite.

O'Brien portrays Joe as a little wearier -- the movie is telling us that what he needs is to settle down with a good woman, but it'll take him about 65 minutes to figure that out.

All around, in fact, the Joe in "Indianapolis Speedway" seems more human and more vulnerable. The relationship between the brothers is much warmer -- in the 1932 film, Joe dominates Eddie the way that Cagney naturally dominates the more diffident Linden. Payne, by contrast, has a stronger screen presence and makes more of an impression opposite O'Brien.

In both versions, Joe's downfall comes when, out of anger at Eddie's romance, he causes a fiery crash that kills Spud (Twice!). Joe is spooked and can't bring himself to race again, but he gravitates toward Indianapolis on the day of the 500. Eddie is racing, and when he is injured, Joe jumps back behind the wheel with Eddie as his co-driver. Guess who wins?

In the 1932 film, the reunion between the brothers isn't even played out -- Joe just jumps in the car and takes off. But in the 1939 version, there's a spoken rapprochement between the brothers, capped off when Eddie gives Joe his trademark cigar to chomp on for good luck. Guess who wins?

Here are the full credits for "The Crowd Roars" (which also features several real-life drivers as themselves) and "Indianapolis Speedway."

Podcast: The Miracle of "A Charlie Brown Christmas"

"A Charlie Brown Christmas" wasn't intentionally created to be timeless, but because of its simplicity and sincerity, timeless it is. Miraculously, it avoids every cliche associated with children's animation and is a perfect blending of music, words and images that clearly conveys one man's vision and philosophy -- Charles Schulz, who drew "Peanuts" from 1950 until his death in 2000.


Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography, by David Michaelis

A Charlie Brown Religion: Exploring the Spiritual Life and Work of Charles Schulz, by Stephen J. Lind

"How 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' Almost Wasn't," Jennings Brown,, November 16, 2016

"The 'Charlie Brown Christmas' Special Was the Flop That Wasn't," Carrie Hagen,, December 9, 2015

Podcast: The Keefe Brasselle Story, or Godfather Knows Best

Keefe Brasselle’s show business career includes a few movies, some TV work, probable arson, extortion, kickbacks, assault with a deadly weapon and lots of threats of bodily harm. His unholy alliance with a CBS executive led to the executive’s downfall, and his repeated boasting about his mafia connections, along with his lack of any real talent, made him a bitter has-been reduced to writing and acting in a 1970s drive-in quickie. In this episode we examine Brasselle’s career and his unsavory associations.

Podcast: The World Accordion to Lawrence Welk

The rise of Lawrence Welk and of rock and roll happened at roughly the same time -- maybe in reaction to each other. Welk's band played classic white-bread tunes -- waltzes, foxtrots and polkas -- and were television favorites for an amazing three decades. Reruns of the show still air on PBS stations across the country. We look at Welk's popularity, despite his awkward stage presence, and the musical "family" he featured on his show, including the Lennon Sisters.