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