Every new year brings fresh opportunities. It also gives you another chance to feel old. TV is one place you’re bound to turn back the clock… and some series are older than you think. Can you believe these shows hit screens a whopping half-century ago? Read on, if you dare.
Maude (1972 – 78)
Bea Arthur is part of small screen history for her role as Dorothy in The Golden Girls. Years earlier she starred in Maude, which was in turn a spin-off from All in the Family.
The latter show focused on aging bigot Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Connor), whereas Maude was a liberal. That said, she wasn’t exactly subtle about her views, much like Bunker.
During the final season, Maude was getting involved in the political scene at Washington D.C. The idea was that she moved on to pastures new, in what was supposed to be a retooling of the series. Ratings had slipped and producers wanted to freshen things up. Arthur didn’t like the change, so Maude’s exploits ended there.
Sanford and Son (1972 – 77)
Maude originally appeared during All in the Family, a sitcom inspired by the British show Till Death Us Do Part. Sanford and Son was another imported format from the UK, Steptoe and Son. Archie Bunker and the Sanfords also shared a writer, Norman Lear.
The father and son were played by comedy legend Redd Foxx and Desmond Wilson, respectively. Working at the family junkyard, they were always at odds and getting into trouble.
NBC aired it for 6 seasons before the show was scrapped. After a couple of ill-fated spin-offs, Foxx returned for 2 seasons of just Sanford a few years later. Wilson decided not to come back and so Fred found a new partner in the rather different shape of Southern businessman Cal Pettie (Dennis Burkley).
Anna and the King (1972)
A sitcom version of The King and I? Starring Yul Brynner. It happened. Co-starring Samantha Eggar and Keye Luke, it didn’t feature any songs and only lasted one season.
The original author, Margaret Landon, was so unimpressed that she considered the show a pale imitation of her work. It even went to court, with Landon claiming copyright infringement.
She wasn’t successful. However, because the series sank without a trace she probably needn’t have worried. Some might think fifty years isn’t far enough away!
Return to Peyton Place (1972 – 74)
The Peyton Place saga proved controversial for its near-the-knuckle subject matter. It took a nice-looking neighborhood and revealed the surprisingly dark underbelly.
It started with Grace Metalious’s 1956 book, which became a movie the following year, and then a TV soap between 1964-69. Return to Peyton Place did exactly what it said on the package, with cast members returning to pick up the threads on daytime.
It notably included the character of Selena Cross (Margaret Mason) for the first time on TV. She was in the novel and movie of Peyton Place, but her powerful storyline was too strong for network execs. Audiences didn’t show enough interest and the return lasted 3 seasons.
The Streets of San Francisco (1972 – 77)
Lt. Mike Stone and his young partner Steve Keller made a formidable crime-busting team in this tough drama which is still highly-regarded today. Screen veteran Karl Malden played Stone and the role of Keller was taken by an up-and-coming actor named Michael Douglas.
It was a formative experience for Douglas. Speaking about Malden at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in 2019, he said that his old friend “reminded me how blessed we were.” Douglas added that Malden “taught me his work ethic, his tenacity.”
After Douglas decided to leave, he was replaced by Battlestar Galactica star Richard Hatch. The 1992 reunion film didn’t feature Steve Keller either, though with good reason. He’d been bumped off, and it was down to Malden to crack the case.
Kung Fu (1972 – 75)
This distinctive action series starred David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine, who wandered the Old West tackling gunslingers with his martial arts skills.
It isn’t the most politically sensitive of shows by today’s standards. But it thrilled audiences across three seasons. And the format kept coming back for more. David Carradine returned for a 1986 TV movie. A pilot set in the present day was made the following year.
Carradine was back again for Kung Fu: The Legend Continues – this lasted 4 seasons and was another contemporary take. Finally, there is the 2021 revival.
M*A*S*H (1972 – 83)
Robert Altman’s subversive Korean War classic, based on the novel by Richard Hooker, became the unlikely springboard for a long-running TV series.
One cast member who became a household name was Alan Alda (army medic Hawkeye Pierce). Talking to NPR in 2019, Alda mentioned the idea behind the show was that “war was seen for what it is, as a, you know, a place where people are badly hurt.”
The humor emerged from the resulting pressure, meaning that while the action was light-hearted, it didn’t happen at the expense of its subject matter.
The Waltons (1972 – 81)
“Goodnight John Boy!” indeed. The Waltons has always been a nostalgic slice of TV entertainment. But its charm feels even more old school with the knowledge that it began 50 years ago.
Created by Earl Hamner Jr, who also wrote the 1961 source novel (which became a film starring Henry Fonda), it was a surprise success. CBS didn’t have a lot of confidence in the idea, what with the heated political climate. Website All About The Waltons notes it landed “in the homes of America in a time that by all accounts should have spelled failure for a show that exuded family values and wholesomeness.”
The family saga, which happened during the Great Depression and Second World War, kept on rolling to warm hearts and boost ratings. Half a century on, the chronicles of Walton are fresh in people’s minds.
Before he became known as Hannibal Smith in The A-Team, George Peppard had another small-screen success with Banacek. It was part of the Mystery Movie slot, shared with the likes of McCloud and Columbo.
The title character Thomas Banacek roamed the streets of Boston as a private dick. His Polish-American background came into play, lending an international flavor to proceedings. Banacek routinely dispensed some wry wisdom from his homeland such as: “A truly wise man never plays leapfrog with a unicorn.”
Speaking of spiky topics, the show ended after Season 2 because of Peppard’s marriage difficulties. He broke up with Elizabeth Ashley and reportedly couldn’t face handing over large chunks of his income for the settlement.
More from us: Behind The Scenes Tensions of Classic TV Shows Revealed
“In the divorce, Peppard was on the hook for about three grand a month in alimony, psychiatric care and child support” writes MeTV, referring to a Los Angeles Times story.
It wasn’t a smash hit like The A-Team, but Banacek was remembered well enough for The Simpsons to spoof it many years later.