In the 1960s and the 1970s: When Sunday Night TV Was Cool

Herbie J Pilato

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[The Classic TV Preservation Society]

For many, television of the 1960s and 1970s was superior to present programming.

Certainly, that was the case with Sunday night, in particular, which boasted a plethora of various shows that are now considered classics.

These include NBC shows like The Wonderful World of Disney, Bonanza, Flipper, The NBC Mystery Movie (mainly with McMillan & Wife, McCloud, and Columbo).

On ABC during the '60s and '70s you'd find Irwin Allen's Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Land of the Giants, or The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, The Six Million Dollar Man, and The ABC Sunday Night Movie (a fine mix of classic feature films).

Over at CBS, there were shows like The Ed Sullivan Show, Mannix, and more. And even though Murder, She Wrote aired in the 1980s and 1990s, it had and still does have the charm of a '70s show. So, Angela Lansbury's classic show will receive an honorable mention here.

Either way, contemporary TV watchers just simply do not have the luxury of optimum choices in the modern era.

In the '60s and '70s, television was fun. It wasn't dark or edgy, like today.

Also, unlike today, the characters on TV shows did not all resemble each other.

In the present, all TV characters look the same, sound the same, and behave the same; they're all mean-spirited, with little joy or humor, even in sitcoms. Today's sitcoms are littered with sarcastic characters that exchange unappealing remarks, in conversations that appear more like stand-up comedian acts.

All characters today roll their eyes and look bothered or constipated on a frequent basis.

In short, there is no charm in today's television, any day of the week.

On any one random Sunday night in the 1960s and 1970s, you would find Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James solving crimes in love on McMillan & Wife. Or there would be Dennis Weaver on either Flipper or McCloud. And who hasn't done their own "rumpled raincoat" impression of Peter Falk as Columbo?

TV on Sunday nights didn't get much more fun than the sci-fi/fantasy aspects brought to TV viewers via ABC's Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, starring Richard Basehart and David The Fly Hedison, and Land of the Giants.

ABC began airing The Six Million Dollar Man on Friday nights, until it switched to Sunday nights and became an even more super-powered hit, especially with episodes that featured Bigfoot (as alternately played by Andre the Giant and Ted Cassidy).

ABC essentially regurgitated the Playhouse 90-type anthology programming of the '50s and '60s when it premiered its Tuesday Movie of the Week 90-minute TV-movies, which later spawned the Wednesday Movie of the Week TV-movie edition.

But it was on Sunday nights, with films that were first shown in theatres, that ABC introduced the mainstream TV audience to Sean Connery as James Bond, or Sidney Poiter in big-screen classics such as A Patch of Blue or To Sir With Love.

Assuredly, the 1956 edition of The Ten Commandments found a whole new audience when ABC began annual airings of that classic Charlton Heston film, which continues to be shown today.

In fact, the current-day yearly screening of The Ten Commandments is the one thing that remains from a by-gone TV era that once captivated the audience.

So, maybe there is hope for today's TV?

Because certainly there was tons of hope, including Bob Hope and his wonderful holiday specials, that NBC used to air on Sunday, and in fact, Monday nights.

And Monday nights certainly had their own brand of charm.

But we'll save that observation for another time.

For now, let's at least be grateful for the iconic TV Sunday night classics of the 1960s and 1970s.

Simply? They were just dang cool.

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS: A TREASURE HOUSE OF DECEMBER MEMORIES REVEALED, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA
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