The Light from the TV Shows: A Remembrance of Summer Replacement Series

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to chat with Drew Carey in conjunction with the upcoming DVD release of PBS’s “American Masters: Johnny Carson,” for which Carey was interviewed, and at some point in the conversation, we got to talking about the phenomenon of summer replacement series. In a world where cheesy, cheap-to-produce reality shows tend to fill the programming void while your favorite shows take their annual summer hiatus, we sometimes forget that there used to be a wealth of cheesy, cheap-to-produce variety shows.

Okay, so maybe they weren’t significantly more substantive in the long run, but here it is almost 40 years since the glory days of these programs – I speak of the ‘70s, of course – and they’re still remembered at least semi-fondly by those of us who lived through the era. Here’s a look back at some of the series that kept us relatively entertained during June, July, and August when I was a kid…

1. Make Your Own Kind of Music (NBC, 1971): Riding high on the soft-pop success of singles like “Close To You” and “We’ve Only Just Begun,” brother-and-sister duo The Carpenters were given their own variety show in the summer of ’71, although it’s one that occasionally slips under the radar for fans of the group due to the fact that their name wasn’t actually in the title. It’s also the sort of program that further cements the Carpenters’ reputation as being less than hip, what with guests like the Doodletown Pipers and Al Hirt, but let’s just remember that, in 2012, a heck of a lot more people still listen to the Carpenters than the Doodletown Pipers. All told, I think it’s fair to say that Karen and Richard had the last laugh.

2. The Helen Reddy Show (NBC, 1973): Yeah, yeah, she was woman, we heard her roar…but that’s really about all most people remember about Helen Reddy’s musical career anymore, though. (I’d almost forgotten about “Delta Dawn” ’til I started writing this piece, and I still can’t place “Angie Baby,” even though it was apparently also a #1 hit for her.) Nowadays, you’re more likely to have people think back to her gig as a very special guest star on “The Muppet Show,” or maybe her occasional stints as an actress, as seen in such ’70s classics as “Airport ’75″ and “Pete’s Dragon.” Oh, right, and that really was her saying “Helen Reddy, standing by” in that episode of “Family Guy.” But in ’73, Reddy got a boost in profile from Flip Wilson, who apparently had a hand in selecting her to serve as the summer replacement for his variety series.

3. The Bobby Darin Amusement Company (NBC, 1973): By the end of 1973, crooner Bobby Darin would be dead, his perpetually poor health finally getting the best of him (he died from complications during heart surgery), but in his final year, he took to the small screen for a summer variety series that continued to prove his versatility as a interpreter of popular song.

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