Thursday, May 27, 2010

"The 'Hope' Season"

Spring is traditionally the season of hope. With spring’s arrival, Canadians have the hope that winter will soon be over. They’re wrong, but they have that hope.

During Spring Training, every baseball team harbors the hope of making it to the World Series. Even the Orioles.

And in the television business, when the networks announce their Fall Season schedules, people who made pilots that season nurture the hope that their shows will be picked up (and that those shows will subsequently run longer than statistics on the matter indicate they have any reason to expect, making them wealthy, successful and content.)

I was once one of those people.

I will now describe the rollercoaster ride attendant to that experience.

In the spring of 1980, we made a pilot for ABC of a comedy western called Best of the West. After the filming, during which the studio audience had gone wild, enthusiasm for the series ran extremely high. An ABC executive confided, “Our only question is what night we should schedule it on.”

That sounds like they liked it, doesn’t it? I thought so. In fact, I was so happy, I went out and splurged on expensive cowboy hats for the major players on the show as congratulatory mementoes. Texas Hatters of Austin, Texas individually branded “Made Especially For…” (and the person’s full name) inside each hat. I still have mine. The hatband’s made of feathers. Very striking. Very dust collecting.

Comes, what they call, the “Up Fronts”, and ABC announces its new Fall Schedule.

Best of the West is not on it.

Hm. Apparently, they couldn’t decide what night to schedule it on, so they didn’t schedule it at all.

I was looking forward to being on the Fall Schedule. Not just because it meant I had a show on the air, but also because, subsequent to its selection, Best of the West would be showcased in TV Guide’s annual Preview Edition. I’d been saving TV Guide Preview Editions since 1957. What a thrill it would have been to have a show I created immortalized in a "collectible".

It didn’t happen.

Because we weren’t on the schedule.

There was, however, a consolation prize. Though I’m unsure of the reason – I’d like to think it’s because the show was good – ABC ordered twelve episodes of Best of the West for immediate production. Including the pilot, that made a thirteen-show order, a full half-season of episodes.

ABC’s intention appeared to be that, when some fall-scheduled series faltered, Best of the West would be ready to jump in as a mid-season replacement.

We were understandably encouraged by their support. We made twelve really good episodes. Our confidence was high.

Midseason arrived. Shows on ABC’s schedule did, indeed, falter.

Best of the West was not scheduled as a replacement.

The announcement hurt a little less than the first time, partly because it had already happened once, but also because TV Guide’s midseason Preview Edition was not all that special. I didn’t even collect them.

Back then, there were only two television seasons – the fall season (announced in May, beginning broadcast in September) and midseason (announced in November, beginning broadcast in January).

Best of the West had not made it either time. We now had to wait for next “Up Fronts” the following May – a shelved 1980 model vying for contention against the shiny, new 81’s.

After the grueling ordeal of producing twelve episodes, Dr. M and I took a special, “you earned it” vacation, a photographic safari to the game parks of Kenya. When we returned to London on our way home, an agent there relayed the announcement that ABC had (finally) scheduled Best of the West.

It was a bit of an anticlimax, partly because we had made it on our third try, partly because I’m an unappreciated jerk, but also, maybe most significantly, because we had recently been in the company of elephants and rhinos.

On the other hand – my heart pounds retroactively – when TV Guide published its 1981-1982 Fall Preview Edition, there, featured all by itself on Page 51, across from an ad for True cigarettes…

I bought two copies.


Brian said...

I think of all the human emotions, "hope" is the one I am most in awe of. It can be found in the most dire of circumstances and can be held by the most jaded of people... it really is an amazing thing. Of course, so is getting a show mentioned in the TV Guide Fall Preview... and I used to save them too... :) My favorite was the year that The Munsters came on the air... I can remember that issue so well. Really nice post, Earl.

growingupartists said...

Great story, captures it all.