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.    



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