Tuesday, February 04, 2014

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.”

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.

17 comments:

Jonathan said...

It's a very cute story, but the series was canceled more than two years before Babe Paley died.

Curt Alliaume said...

Jonathan's right. Maybe Paley lost someone else close to him around that time, but per Wikipedia (admittedly not necessarily the most accurate source) Joe and Sons was cancelled in January 1976; Babe Paley died in July 1978.

Chris said...

Friday question: back in the days when they shot multi-cams on film, how did the image on the monitors look? I mean, before they'd develop the actual film roll, the live feed must have looked something like video-tape, right?

You once wrote about shooting a scene of Cheers on video tape with Jimmy Burrows and it looked like crap. Did the image on the monitors look the same?

Ken Levine said...

Well, it was someone very close to him. Or the story is bullshit. But that's the story I heard.

Steven Peterman said...

As Edmond O'Brien's newspaper editor says in "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." ...Unless O'Brien died before Valence was filmed, in which case it was probably "Chinatown."

Mike McCann said...

Folks,

Babe Paley might not have died in 1976, but she was already seriously ill. G-d forbid this happen to any of us, but if our spouses were fighting a terminal illness (even if they were still very much alive), an episode dealing with death was still reaching the wrong audience.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_Cushing#Final_years_and_death

So I'd go with what the producers said.

Brian Pollack said...

Ken

My good friend Robert Illes created Joe and Sons with his partner James Stein. I only say this because I think they deserved a nod.

Brian

Bob Leszczak said...

I've been trying to find ANY episode of this show. Someone must have caught it on Beta. Thus far, it has eluded me. Neither UCLA nor PALEY have it, and it doesn't seem to exist in the collections of any fellow collectors. The program is written about in my SINGLE SEASON SITCOMS book, and I used a great cast photo. If anyone can help me find an episode, you'll be rewarded.

Michael said...

it was a time when CBS founder William Paley was still alive. He could single-handedly save a show, despite its numbers

When CBS first announced its 1967/68 prime-time schedule, the long-running western GUNSMOKE wasn't on it. GUNSMOKE happened to be one of Mrs. William S. Paley's favorite programs, and she wasn't happy about its being cancelled. CBS shortly revised its schedule for the upcoming season to include GUNSMOKE, which made it necessary to cancel a couple of programs that had already been renewed, one of which was GILLIGAN'S ISLAND.

VincentS said...

I think the story - great as it is - is bullshit because I think, like any successful businessman, William Paley was probably able to separate his personal experiences from his business acumen.

Todd Everett said...

Curt Alliaume said...

Jonathan's right. Maybe Paley lost someone else close to him around that time, but per Wikipedia (admittedly not necessarily the most accurate source) Joe and Sons was cancelled in January 1976; Babe Paley died in July 1978.


Where should Ken send the $500.02?

thomas tucker said...

I remember that show. I loved it! Briefly.

Anonymous said...

My older sister LOVED this show and always watched it - even though I was little, I remember how funny it was.

Anonymous said...

Michael: For that matter, Paley was directly responsible for the creation of "Gunsmoke." Back in the late '40s, one of CBS's most popular shows was the private eye series "The Adventures of Philip Marlowe." One day Paley mentioned to his executives that there ought to be a Western version of that show. They got the hint, and began developing a series that they called "Gunsmoke." Originally they took Paley literally, and made it about a private detective in the old West, but they soon realized that that would be anachronistic. So, they made the hero a U.S. marshall who acts like a private detective--in the pilot he is sitting at his desk when a beautiful woman walks into his office, tells him of her troubles, and asks him to investigate. (In fact, the script for this unaired pilot was later recycled for another private eye show, "The New Adventures of Michael Shayne.")

If that does not sound like the "Gunsmoke" everyone knows, this is because, once the series sold, the job of producing it was given to Norman MacDonnell. He had been trying to sell a series entitled "Jeff Spain," starring William Conrad as a notorious gunfighter who becomes sheriff of a lawless town. Basically, he took only the hero's name and job title from the "Gunsmoke" pilot, and otherwise used all his ideas (and the cast) for "Jeff Spain" in the series.

Martin said...

Anonymous: I've heard some of the GUNSMOKE radio shows and like William Conrad's Matt Dillon better than James Arness's. Conrad's Dillon sounds like he could kick the shit out of Arness' s Dillon.

Howard McNear as Doc on the radio show throws me because I hear that voice and keep picturing Floyd the barber from THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW.

Greg Ehrbar said...

"William Paley was probably able to separate his personal experiences from his business acumen."

Years ago, two creatives from my department presented a concept to a VP. The VP asked them to add green because he had just done his bathroom over in green.

Moments later, his wife died. (Sorry! Kidding! Couldn'r resist! Bad taste!)

VP81955 said...

"Gunsmoke" on radio was brilliant, one of the very best series of any genre. Excellent writing, superb sound effects and a great cast; I agree that Conrad is the definitive Marshal Dillon (and that's nothing against James Arness' fine portrayal on TV).

But believe it or not, when the series was being created, some CBS executives suggested the marshal be portrayed by, of all people, Robert Stack! (At the time, there was some reluctance to cast Conrad because he already was so ubiquitous on network radio.