Saturday, February 24, 2018

The best show of the series got the series cancelled

The second writing assignment my partner David Isaacs and I got was a short-lived show on CBS called JOE & SONS. We actually wrote two episodes but they were cancelled before our second could air (or be filmed for that matter). It starred Richard Castellano (the big fat guy from THE GODFATHER) and Jerry Stiller. Although the show was not killing in the ratings we had a blast writing it, and loved working with the showrunners, Bernie Kukoff & Jeff Harris.

Side note: Bernie & Jeff worked on ROSEANNE for a time. When they quit Jeff took out a full-page ad in the trades – an open letter to the cast and crew that said, "My wife and I have decided to share a vacation in the peace and quiet of Beirut.”   I can't imagine the poor writers who had to work on her reboot. 

But I digress…

When shows are bordering on cancellation they do whatever they can to stave off execution. Some appeal directly to viewers, enlist letter-writing campaigns, etc. With ALMOST PERFECT the first year we went back to all the TV critics who gave us good reviews and asked if they would do follow-up stories. Many did and that helped. We were renewed.

In the case of JOE & SONS, it was a time when CBS founder William Paley was still alive. He could single-handedly save a show, despite its numbers. This is the story I heard and I’m assuming it’s true because I heard it from several sources.

Bernie & Jeff argued that they were really starting to find the show and that a few of the yet-to-air episodes were really terrific. If CBS gave the series a chance, audiences would eventually find it. Paley was in Los Angeles on business and planned to fly back to New York on the corporate jet. He agreed to watch a couple of the upcoming episodes on the flight.

So off he went into the wild blue yonder with a couple of tapes. He popped in the first episode. I don’t know the details of storyline but it had something to do with someone dying, a funny funeral, hijinks with caskets, whatever. Apparently it was extremely funny – their best show.

Unfortunately…

William Paley’s wife had died recently. By the time they were over Nebraska the show was cancelled.

Talk about “oops!” I’m just glad it wasn’t ours.

20 comments :

Jeannie said...

Richard Castellano uttered one of my favorite movie quotes: "Leave the gun, take the cannoli."

Bill O said...

Babe Paley saved Gunsmoke after her husband cancelled it. Convinced him to off Gilligan's Island and its companion show instead. In its earlier slot Gunsmoke prospered for another thirty years or so.

She coined "You can't be too rich or too thin".

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I've always seen the too rich or too thin thing attributed originally to Wallis Simpson.

wg

Anonymous said...

I love your blog, so please take this as constructive criticism. Babe Paley died in July, 1978 - well after schedules are set in any event. Joe & Sons died in January, 1976. So while I love your blog, this particular edition needs a rewrite.

Mike Doran said...

Actually, Bill Paley didn't cancel Gunsmoke; his rule was to stay aloof from everyday programming decisions, leaving them to the designated department.
Mike Dann, who ran that part of the shop, had some rules of his own, one of them being that any TV series was only good for a decade at most; Gunsmoke was twelve years old, and its Saturday ratings were on a downslide.
The decision by Dann and his lieutenants was made and announced.The Paleys heard about it along with everyone else - and that's when Babe Paley noticed that Gunsmoke was among the missing, and complained to her hubby.
Bill Paley was a notorious snob; he couldn't have cared less about Gunsmoke one way or the other.
But it was Babe's favorite show, and so Bill told Mike Dann to find a way to bring it back - any way at all.
Following orders, Dann scanned the new CBS schedule, and found the one expendable element in a new sitcom whose name I can't recall, which was slated for the slot right after Gilligan.
Since Gunsmoke needed an hour, Gilligan became collateral damage.
Everything I've ever read or heard about the Paleys would indicate that neither of them had ever seen - or even heard of - Gilligan's Island; saving Gunsmoke was the sole consideration.
... And given that Gunsmoke ran for almost another decade, it looks like Babe Paley might have been right after all ...

Peter said...

I'm always surprised when people power saves a show. Timeless was cancelled but a very vocal campaign by the show's fans made the network change its mind and they renewed it for a second season.

Anonymous said...

Babe Paley's father was Harvey Cushing, the greatest neurosurgeon of the 20th Century.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

Forty years later, I'm still peeved CBS gave up so easily on the TV version of "The Paper Chase."

The network scheduled it opposite "Happy Days" and "Laverne & Shirley," where it never had a chance.

CBS did move the show briefly to a later time, but it didn't help.

Despite the poor ratings, I just wish Paley had given "Paper Chase" a "Cheers"-like reprieve and brought it back for a second season.

(Showtime revived "Paper Chase" several years later after PBS reruns of the original series renewed interest in the show. Unfortunately, I didn't have access to Showtime then.)

Ken Levine said...

This was a story told to me by one of the showrunners.

Mike Bloodworth said...

According to Bartlett's, "...'too rich...'" is attributed to "the Duchess of Windsor and others." So, even the experts aren't 100% sure.
M.B.

Mike Bloodworth said...

This just goes to show how abstract and subjective T.V. viewing is. I'm frequently surprised by comments on this blog. That is, when someone likes/liked a show I HATE all I can think of is REALLY?! But, as I've admitted not everone would agree with my taste in shows either. e.g. I liked SLEDGE HAMMER. Apparently, I was the only one. Plus it was up against COSBY when it was at it's height.
M.B.

bruce said...

Friday question I guess: what were your thoughts on the Hollywood Reporter oral history of MASH that came out on Thursday?

https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/features/mash-oral-history-untold-stories-one-tvs-important-shows-1086322

powers said...

I always liked the person who said "We are going to reboot Gilligan's Island,but this time we'll do it as a comedy."

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

Chuck Barris's first wife was Paley's niece. The woman's father--Paley's brother-in-law--supposedly disinherited his daughter because he regarded Barris as an opportunist.

Eventually, Barris became wealthy as producer of "The Dating Game." Yet, coincidentally or not, he never produced a show for the CBS network except a brief 1974 summer revival of "Your Hit Parade."

(Some syndicated Barris shows aired on CBS owned-and-operated stations.)

Using fictional names, Barris detailed some of this in his 1974 novel, "You And Me, Babe."

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

As the story goes, Castellano was supposed to just say “Leave the gun.” He added the delicious ending.

DetroitGuy said...

I absolutely LOVED “Sledgehammer” when it first ran. I was a junior or senior in high school then. About a year ago I stumbled across a few episodes on YouTube and watched them. HORRIBLE! Bad stories, bad writing, bad acting. And because it was 1980...bad clothes and hair.

MikeN said...

I have a hard time believing that show would have made it. Clemenza was not in Godfather 2, reportedly because he wanted to write his own lines.

Andy Rose said...

For what it's worth, Castellano always disputed the claim that he wanted literal approval of all of his dialogue in Godfather Part 2, although he didn't deny having a dispute with Coppola about his character.

https://nypost.com/2012/03/11/leave-the-gun-take-my-career/

Jon H said...

The story that Chuck Barris' father-in-law disinherited his daughter seems strange given that Bart Andrews' book, "The Worst TV Shows of All Time", states that to start his company Barris received a loan from his father-in-law that he repaid [I think] 3 times.

I've seen in the DIFF'RENT STROKES credits that Bernie Kukoff & Jeff Harris created DIFF'RENT STROKES, yet they didn't receive any writing credit for the pilot that aired {It's credited to Ben Starr.) or any other episode of the show. Did they maybe write "20 Minutes to Harlem" that I've read led to the series? I'd love to see if anyone knows. Thanks!

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

Barris borrowed money from his step-father to start his production company in 1965.