The Bionic Woman, Grizzly Adams, and Don Rickles couldn't do it. Perhaps Joe Namath, Dick Clark and King Kong can. With these and other heavyweights in the new fall schedule unveiled yesterday, and of course with a little help from third-place position among the television networks.
NBC announced seven new hours of weekly programming - more than CBS or ABC, whose schedules were already revealed - and the cancellations of six shows: "Police Woman," "James at 16," Chico and the Man," "Grizzly Adams," "The Bionic Woman" and the Don Rickeles comedy "C. P. O. Sharkey." Of eight programs that premiered on NBC last fall, only one, "CHiPS," will be around to see the light of next fall.
NBC is keeping two hours open Sunday through Tuesday nights again next season for more of its so-called "event" programming, to be kicked off on Sunday, Sept. 24, with a multi-part, 25-hour adaption of James A. Michener's "Centennial," 100 years in the life of a mythical Colarado town. NBC has ordered more than 100 made-for-TV movies and about a dozen new miniseries for the "event" timeslots, the biggest such commitment of any network in TV history.
Other miniseries include new versions of "Little Women" (four hours), "Studs Lonigan" (six hours), "Brave New World" (four hours) and "From Here to Eternity" (running time not announced. Other miniseries range from eight hours of "Backstairs at the White House," based on the memoirs of a long-time White House maid, to "A Woman Called Moses," with Cicely Tyson as Harriet Tubman, who founded and ran the "underground railroad" for runaway slaves.
Such "blockbuster" movies as the $25-million Dino De Laurentiis re make of "King Kong," and the popular tear-jerker "The Other Side of the Mountain," based on the life of skier Jill Kinmont, will show up on the network's two movie nights, Monday and Saturday.
The schedule was hailed as "our strongest, most divesified family-oriented series programming in years" by NBC-TV President Robert E. Mulholland and as "the best group of comedy pilots we've had for many seasons" by executive programming vice president Paul L. Klein. The lack of strong weekly shows, especially comedies, with loyal audiences, has been a prime factor in NBC's also-ran status this season.
There seems more room for maneuvering in the announced NBC lineup than in the other networks' and for good if obvious reason; early next month, Silverman, former programmer extraordinaire for ABC, takes over as NBC president. Silverman is expected to tinker with the schedule almost the moment he walks in the door at Rockfeller Center.
Thus NBC ordered 15 episodes of a Norman Lear comedy, "The Arrangement," about an unmarried couple living together, but did not list the program as a season starter yesterday. And "Weekend," the highly regarded late-night newsmagazine previously a prime-time weekly berth, has only three firm air dates at this point, and those are each a month apart. The show's Sunday night timeslot is already reserved for a new mystery series on most weeks.
Perhaps inevitably, some of the new series titles sound like the handiwork of a prankish parodist - "Grandpa Goes to Washington," for one. Others seem at least semi-tantalizing. "Live From Holywood with Dick Clark," Wednesdays at 9 p.m., will feature the terminally youthful TV personality, who fled ABC before Silverman ankled, as host of a one-hour weekly live variety show with "features that range from nostalgia to the latest gossip."
"The Waverly Wonders," Wednesdays at 8 p.m., stars former football great and omnipresent commercials actor Joe Namath in a kind of "Bad News Bears" of the jump shot; Namath will play the coach of a "hapless and hopeless" high school basketball team.
"W. E. B.," Thursdays at 10 p.m. and potentially the most intriguing of all the new shows, will take viewers behind the scenes, allegedly, at a TV network ("web") in trade-paper talk) for the dramatic and humorous adventures of "Ellen Cunningham," chief of daytime programming. The series happens to have been created by and will be produced by Lin Bolen, who from 1972 to 1976 really was chief of daytime programming for NBC.
From Hollywood yesterday, Bolen said the program would be "somewhat autobiographical" and show both "the good and the bad things about television. The characters will be "an amalgam of all the people I know in television" and it will be difficult even for insiders to "isolate" and identify them individually, she said.
Bolen is widely considered the model for the ruthless programmer played by Faye Dunaway in Paddy Chayefsky's savage satire "Network." Bolen says, "I don't think he patterned the character after me" though "I certainly was a very prominent network executive at the time he created that character" and calls her show "my answer to "Network".
Garry Marshall, who created "Happy Days" and "Laverne and Shirley" for ABC, has sold NBC on "Legs," to air Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. The comedy concerns a Las Vegas showgirl with a teen-age son whom she tries to raise "in as normal a homelife as is possible in the midst of sometimes surreal Las Vegas." Scott Baio, who plays the son, was featured on "Happy Days" this season as the Fonz's cousin.
NBC will televise the "Legs" pilot this Friday at 8 p.m.
Another new series, "Sword of Justice," Wednesdays at 10 p.m., stars Dack Rambo as a tennis bum by day who rights "in the tradition of Zorrow" at night. "Coasttocoast," Thursdays at 9 p.m., is a situation comedy about two shapely stewardesses and a male officer on a New York-to-Los Angeles airline. One of the stars, Melaine Griffith, is the daughter of actress Tippi ("The Birds") Hedren.
"Grandpa Goes to Washington," Friday at 8 p.m., provides Jack Albertson with a new vehicle, an hour-long comedy about a retired college professor who balks at inactivity, runs for a U.S. Senate seat, and wins. "Capra," Sundays at 10 p.m. - when "Weekend" doesn't air in that slot - will invite audience to help solve whodunits confronting "a dynamic antiestablishment lawyer."
"Project UFO" and "Operation Runaway," two new hour-long dramatic series introduced recently by NBC, will return in the fall, but such trial balloons as "rollergirls," "Joe and Valerie," "Quark" and the twice-revived "Black Sheep Squadron" have been shot down.
Reached late yesterday at his New York office, programmer Klein declined to predict the NBC would bounce back to become the "No. 1 network."
Broadcast Group President Gene F.Jankowski recently made such a boast for his network, but Klein said former CBS programmer Robert Wussler made the same prediction last year.
Klein didn't want to forecast, either, how much Silverman might tinker with the schedule. "I can't predict what Silverman will do," Klein said.
He conceded, however that the line up is bound to change before the false starting gun which NBC and CBS have set at Sept.18 and ABC has set at Sept.11. "The other guys aren't going to stay this way, either,"said Klein philosophically. "There will be four more moves, according to tradition, and the last one will be just before the deadline for the Fall Preview issue of TV Guide."