The Top...Um...4 (?) NBC Sitcoms of the 1970s
Two of the very few bright spots for '70s NBC comedy: Eddie Albert (left) and Freddie Prinze.
It's hard to imagine it now, with the relentless success and excellence consistently delivered from the National Broadcasting Network when it comes to sitcoms -- from The Cosby Show to Seinfeld to The Office, but there was a time when NBC's comedic television offerings were as unbelievably piss poor as they were limited in number. That era would be the 1970s, a decade when NBC was clearly not that interested in funny, 30-minute vehicles.
While I, admittedly, was too young to enjoy shows prior to 1975, I watched nearly every show on this list either during its run or in syndication, something that allowed many kids to grow up with shows that were on TV when their parents were young. But even with all the TV watching I did as a kid, I was hard pressed to find a list of 10 sitcoms from NBC during the '70s, so I gave up after four. I guess it's possible that The McLean Stevenson Show, a two-year bit for the guy who walked off M*A*S*H (he managed to make the list anyway), or a weak attempt at putting one of the greatest American actors of any era on TV with The Jimmy Stewart Show might make the list, but when you consider that NBC didn't deliver a successful comedy that lasted more than six seasons, what's the point.
Note that to qualify for the list, shows had to have spent the bulk of their lifespan in the decade of the '70s, but given the paltry list of shows to choose from, that wasn't a difficult task.
4. Hello, Larry (1979-1980)
Premise: One Day at at Time with a single dad.
After McLean Stevenson left the hyper successful M*A*S*H because he wanted a more prominent role in a show, it was natural that other networks would court him. His turn on the wartime comedy was brilliant. Unfortunately, he was never able to come close to his role as Henry Blake. In this, probably his most notable failure, he plays a dad/radio talk show host who moves to Portland from LA with his daughters after a divorce. Unlike One Day at a Time, he didn't have powerhouse creator Norman Lear backing him and the show died after two seasons. It did, however, Kim Richards of Escape to Witch Mountain fame -- the early '70s version, not the Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson reset. She became somewhat of a teen heartthrob in the '80s and now "stars" on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
3. The Bill Cosby Show (1969-1971)
Premise: Cool cat teaches LA high school PE class.
Before Cosby starred in one of the most successful TV series of all time, the comedian had another sitcom that ran for just three seasons. Something of a To Sir, With Love, but with more jokes and fewer tender moments (maybe a precursor to Welcome Back, Kotter and Head of the Class), it featured Cosby's signature coolness and wit. It also followed a trend big in a lot of 1970s television shows: themes performed by a famous musician. In this case, it was Quincy Jones who wrote and recorded the signature theme, one of two theme songs Q has on this rather short list.
2. Chico and the Man (1974-1978)
Premise: Archie Bunker as a mechanic with Latin version of Meathead.
In a first of its kind, Freddie Prinze starred as a prominent Latino actor on a primetime TV series. It also featured
Eddie Albert Jack Albertson (Note: I fall on my sword with this mistake -- got the name wrong trying to go too quickly), who most recognize as Grandpa Joe from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The show, set in a garage in East LA owned by Albert's character, revolved around the relationship between the grumpy old man and the young, vibrant Prinze. The concept of the show was actually based on comedy skits from Cheech and Chong. Unfortunately, Prinze, who struggled with addiction and depression, shot himself in 1977. Anyone who watched the show will tell you it was seriously funny. Prinze had a real future ahead of him before his death. Following the theme of music from famous musicians, Chico's theme was written and recored by Jose Feliciano.
1. Sanford and Son (1972-1977)
Premise: Junk store owner out smart asses all comers.
Fred G. Sanford is, without question, one of the single funniest characters in television history, powered mostly by the wildly talented Redd Foxx. With nearly as many solid catchphrases as his white counterpart, Archie Bunker, ("You big dummy!", "And the G stands for...") Sanford drove one of the more consistently hilarious (never mind unique) plot lines on '70s TV. His most memorable moments were arguing with his son, Lamont, but the cast of diverse actors gave show creator Norman Lear plenty of comedic fodder. Much like the aforementioned Cosby joint, the now famous Sanford and Son theme was penned by Quincy Jones.
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