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This Week in Sitcom History – April 30th-May 6th
Special thanks to Chris Meservey, my handsome, talented, and smart husband, for researching this week’s sitcom history happenings.
May 1st, 1967: Captain Nice Nixed by Narrow Ratings
The series finale of the short-lived sitcom, Captain Nice, “Beware of Hidden Prophets,” aired on May 1st, 1967. The show was the brainchild of Buck Henry, one of the creators of Get Smart. It starred William Daniels as a nervous, mild-mannered chemist who discovers a chemical formula that turns him into a reluctant superhero, encouraged by his overbearing mother, played by Alice Ghostley. While the premise sounds promising, the show had no chance airing opposite The Rat Patrol and The Lucy Show, and it was canceled after only 15 episodes.
May 2nd, 1990: Howard Hesseman Had Enough of Head of the Class
“Teacher’s Pet,” Howard Hesseman’s final episode of Head of the Class, aired on May 2nd, 1990. Hesseman left the show after playing teacher Charlie Moore for four seasons, expressing dissatisfaction with the direction of the series. Billy Connolly replaced him as Billy MacGregor for one more season before the show was canceled.
May 3rd, 1979: Gilligan’s Fiendish Fraud Finally Foiled
The second Gilligan’s Island TV movie, The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island, aired on May 3rd, 1979. The movie served as a pilot for a possible spin-off, but it never took off. In the movie, the castaways discover a World War II plane (that apparently they never noticed before?), and the Professor repairs it and attempts to fly them all home, but of course, Gilligan thwarts their rescue attempt by “accidentally” falling out of the plane, making the other castaways go back to look for him. The plane’s old engine falls apart when they land (no doubt due to Gilligan’s sabotage), leaving them once again stranded on the island. However, a Navy captain detects their plane on his radar and finally rescues them, ending Gilligan’s evil plot to keep them on the island forever. A year later, the island has been converted into a tropical resort, and the castaways return to work there...Let me get this straight. They were stranded on this island for years, desperate to be rescued, and when they finally get home, they decide to go back to the island? Will Gilligan’s torment never cease?!
Apparently, the new show was supposed to be similar to The Love Boat, with different segments focusing on the various guests at the resort, but I guess the public was satisfied with only one Love Boat because the ratings were dismal. Creator Sherwood Schwartz blamed the network for changing the air date at the last minute and putting it up against Mork & Mindy. I have to agree. Yet another Gilligan’s Island movie without Tina Louise (Ginger was played by Judith Baldwin) never stood a chance against Robin Williams’s loveable alien.
May 4th, 1987: Valerie Harper Gets the Shaft, Then Gets Justice
The season two finale of Valerie, “The Return of Uncle Skip,” aired on May 4th, 1987. It was the last episode that starred Valerie Harper (of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda fame) as Valerie Hogan. Valerie had been fighting with Lorimar Productions, Thomas Miller and Robert Boyett (who later formed the sitcom juggernaut, Miller-Boyett Productions), and NBC over the direction of the show throughout the first two season. At the end of season two, the show was earning steady ratings, so Valerie requested a raise. When the producers refused, she didn’t show up to shoot the season three premier, so the producers decided to shoot it without her. Rhoda had successfully used this strategy to get a raise while shooting Rhoda, so she probably expected it to work in her favor again.
Soon after, Valerie reached an agreement with Lorimar and returned for the second episode of season three, assuming everything was settled. But Lorimar abruptly fired her, claiming she was a nightmare to work with. In an unusual move, instead of canceling the show, they killed off Valerie’s character and brought it back as Valerie’s Family. Later, they replaced Valerie with Sandy Duncan and renamed the show The Hogan Family.
Valerie, who was not one to be trifled with, sued Lorimar, Miller, Boyett, and NBC for breach of contract. The defendants had the gall to countersue, claiming Valerie had quit the show. During a year-long court battle, Lorimar ran a smear campaign against her, claiming everything from drug use to psychological problems. But don’t cry for Valerie, America. My girl emerged victorious. The jury determined she was wrongfully fired from the show and awarded her $1.4 million in damages plus 12.5% of the show’s profits and $200,000 for a TV movie in which she would have appeared. They also determined that Valerie’s husband, Tony Cacciotti, was wrongfully fired from his role as supervising producer and awarded him $220,000.
Valerie’s firing and subsequent lawsuit were big news in the TV world at the time, even becoming the subject of a few jokes on The Golden Girls. In the season three episode, “Letter to Gorbachev,” when Rose feels depressed after her hopes of influencing world leaders are dashed, Sophia remarks, “Now you know how Valerie Harper feels.” In season four’s “The Days and Nights of Sophia Petrillo,” Sophia threatens a lawsuit against a supermarket, saying, “I got a better case than Valerie Harper!”