Greatest TV Line-Ups: Saturdays 1973-1974

This was one night of television you didn't need to turn the dial away from. I'll be looking at other TV line-ups but it's doubtful I'll find any as good as this.
Mary Tyler Moore Show Cast with Betty White

I’m a complete freak when it comes to television schedules. I have spent many a night scrolling online through TV schedules from yesteryear while watching TV (hey, I’m multi-tasking!), bouncing from channel to streaming service, all in pursuit of a great night’s entertainment. But what if there was one night where you didn’t need to switch, where you could keep the “dial” on one channel, tolerating the commercials because there’s no DVR, no streaming service, and nothing good to switch to?

To me, Saturdays night on CBS during the 1973-1974 season was one night you didn’t need to switch away from because it had the perfect line-up. Saturdays nowadays are nowheresville, a wasteland of repeats, but I guess at the time, families did stay in to watch TV. Here’s the amazing schedule, shown below.

“All in the Family” had only been on for a season and a half but was already the No. 1 show on television; it ran for another seven seasons plus four more as “Archie Bunker’s Place”. Another network, ABC, recently did a live version of an “All in the Family” episode with Marisa Tomei as Edith and Woody Harrelson as Archie; it was paired with “The Jeffersons” starring Wanda Sykes as Weezie and Jamie Foxx as George, and amazingly Marla Gibbs who at 87 years-old reprised her role as Florence.

“M*A*S*H” was only in its second season and was No. 4; it lasted 11 seasons, with the finale watched by an estimated 125 million people.

My favorite of the night was “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, in season four which saw the addition of Betty White as “The Happy Homemaker” Sue Ann Nivens; it was No. 9 for the year and lasted seven years in total.

No. 12 for this season was “The Bob Newhart Show”, in its second year and running six seasons overall; he went on to star in “Newhart”, lasting eight seasons and famously tying into his earlier series, when at the end, his character from the original series wakes up thinking all of “Newhart” had been a bad dream brought on by bad sushi.

Lastly, there was season seven of “The Carol Burnett Show”, No. 27 in ratings for the year. I loved this show as a child and was allowed to watch it although I dreaded seeing her ring her ear lobe, knowing the show as over and I had to go to bed. I’m so thankful she’s still around, just as funny and kind as ever.

“I saw it in the window and I just couldn’t resist it.”

On the other networks (at a time when there were three networks, some local stations mostly showing re-runs, and the dreaded UHF), there wasn’t much competition, with “The Partridge Family” on its last legs, jumping the shark in season four by bringing in a cuter, younger character named Ricky Stevens who was quickly dropped when he didn’t juice ratings. “Emergency!” was not so urgent. I know little about “Griff” which lasted half a season and “Owen Marshall” which lasted three somehow.

This was also the era of TV movies, some of which as a child I found absolutely riveting. One of the best was “The Girl Most Likely To”, written by Joan Rivers (yes, that Joan Rivers) with Stockard Channing and Ed Asner; it’s about an unattractive, overweight girl who gets into a car accident and transforms into a beauty who begins killing all the people who bullied her. It’s a hoot! I’m surprised someone hasn’t remade it.

I’ll be analyzing other TV line-ups such as “Must See TV” and “TGIF”, but I can’t think of any this perfect (there’s usually one dud program they shove in hoping to make a hit by proximity).

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