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First Time on Television! 1970s Movies Make Their TV Debut

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Before Netflix, before DVD and VHS, before even HBO, once a movie left the theater, you basically accepted the fact that you would never see this movie again… that is, unless the TV networks decided to pick it up much later (and edit it to kingdom come).

So, as you might imagine, a television premier of a movie was a big thing in the 1970s.  Most families didn’t have a laserdisc or Betamax, and premium channels weren’t common until the end of the decade – so a TV debut was actually something big.  So, let’s have a look at a few announcements from TV Guides…

Walking Tall: The Final Chapter – TV Premier October 1978

1978 Walking Tall TV Guide Ad

In the 1970s, blue collar was king.  Movies about truckers and the downtrodden working-class were abundant – usually featuring the hero “giving it to the man”.

The Sunshine Boys – TV Premier February 1977

sunshin boys february 1977

Initially, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby were proposed as the two ex-vaudevillians, but Neil Simon thought they needed to be Jewish, so he actually went with Red Skelton and Jack Benny.  But, Benny had pancreatic cancer and Skelton wanted more money, so the roles ultimately went to George Burns and Walter Matthau.

Support Your Local Sheriff – TV Premier October 1973

support your local sheriff

Support Your Local Sheriff was James Garner’s first film under his new production company, and it was no easy ride.  First, the film bombed the first week – but Garner begged the studio to keep it in theaters a little longer (even putting up additional money).  His gamble paid off, as the film made a comeback, ending up the 20th most successful film of the year.

Then, the film was sued for being too similar to “Paint Your Wagon”; Garner won the case, but I’m sure the man had many grey hairs as a result of backing this picture.

Young Frankenstein – TV Premier December 1981

young frankenstein

The film was the brainchild of Gene Wilder.  He brought up the idea to Mel Brooks after Blazing Saddles was wrapping up, and the two subsequently hammered it out in Wilder’s hotel room.  The rest is history.

Drive-In – TV Premier April 1979

TV Guide (April 14-20, 1979) (21)

It’s interesting that this little low-budget flick managed to get a prominent ad in TV Guide.  Like Dazed and Confused, it follows Texas teenagers out having fun at the roller rink and drive-in theater.  What’s playing at the drive-in? “Disaster ’76”, a disaster movie parody that would have made a good film on its own.

The Land That Time Forgot – TV Premier March 1977

TV Guide (February 26- March 4, 1977) (6)

What was unique about this dinosaur film was that, instead of stop-motion, they went with puppets… yes, puppets.  It actually doesn’t look too horribly bad – I actually prefer to the overboard CGI we get today.

Jaws 2 – TV Premier February 1981

Jaws 2 movie

Jaws 2 was the highest grossing sequel of all time… until it was dethroned a couple years later by The Empire Strikes Back.  “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…” – perhaps the greatest tagline, ever.

A Man Called Horse –  TV Premier February 1977

a man called horse movie

It only took seven years for this movie to go from the big screen to the small screen (!).  The movie deserves credit for being the first Western to portray the Native Americans as protagonists; however, it still fell a tad short because these “Native Americans” were largely played by whites.  At any rate, it was successful enough to get two sequels, both starring Richard Harris.

The Strongest Man in the World – TV Premier March 1977

TV Guide (February 26- March 4, 1977) (11)

It’s amazing to think that, in just six years, Kurt Russell would be going from goofy Disney movies to being Snake Plissken in Escape from New York.

Caddyshack – TV Premier May 1982

TV Guide (May 8-14, 1982) (13)

Caddyshack initially was met with lackluster reviews and modest ticket sales.  It took time for it to become the comedy classic it is today – perhaps the most quoted movie of all time.

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry – TV Premier February 1977

crazy larry tv movie

Wikipedia claims this movie premiered on television in 1978; however this TV Guide listing is from February 18, 1977 – someone needs to make a correction.

Anyway, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry was basically a car-chase movie – of which there was an endless supply in the 1970s.  Spoiler alert – mimicking Bonny & Clyde, this film had a similar ending.

Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark – TV Premier October 1973

dont be afraid of the dark

Director Guillermo del Toro (who produced and co-wrote the film’s remake) was heavily influenced by it when he saw it on television as a child. He and his brothers would reportedly follow each other around the house saying “Sally, Sally”, mimicking the creatures in the 1973 film. “It was something close to my heart for a very long time,” said Del Toro. “We thought the movie was the most terrifying on Earth.

[Wloszczyna, Susan “Guillermo del Toro Loves the ‘Dark'”. USA Today. August 30, 2011]

2001: A Space Odyssey – TV Premier February 1977

2001 space odyssey

I would have loved to have seen this on the big screen upon its original release – what a head trip that would’ve been.

Survive! – TV Premier February 1977

TV Guide (February 26- March 4, 1977) (14)

A movie about the 1973 Andes flight disaster was inevitable.  It’s a shame that the first adaptation was this godawful mess – produced in Mexico and dubbed.  Roger Ebert gave the film zero stars.

 How to Beat the High Cost of Living – TV Premier May 1982TV Guide (May 8-14, 1982) (14)

This was supposed to be made as far back as 1971 with all of Hollywood’s who’s-who up for parts, including: Ann-Margret, Shirley MacLaine, Faye Dunaway, Raquel Welch, Jane Fonda,  Mary Tyler Moore, Julie Andrews, Goldie Hawn, and Ali MacGraw. Nine years later, it was finally made with Jane Curtan, Susan St. James and Jessica Lange, and was more-or-less a dud.  (Note that Curtan and St. James would go on to star in Kate & Alley together, a successful sitcom in the 1980s).

Animal House – TV Premier February 1981

TV Guide Feb 14_20 1981 (7b)

Animal House was released on videodisc in 1979, then VHS in 1980 – so, this technically wasn’t the first time you could watch this classic on the small screen.  However, for the vast majority, it was.  It’s also worthy of noting that Animal House may hold the record for profit via home media – raking in over $140M – not too shabby for a film made for $2M!

  • njguy54

    In the days before premium cable and home video, watching movies on TV was the only way you could see big releases if you missed them in the theater. The big downside to watching theatrical movies on broadcast TV, though, was the censorship. The TV edit of “Animal House” was so brutal that it made the movie completely incoherent, neither intelligible nor funny. And “Caddyshack” had one of the classic edited lines, changing Rodney Dangerfield’s “Hey everybody — let’s all get laid!” to “Hey everybody — let’s all take a shower!” Opinion varies on which line was better.

    • Alan Smithee

      And independent stations, like KTXL in Sacramento (before the Fox network ruined it) competed with network TV by showing their movies UNCUT and UNCENSORED- I saw both Animal House and Caddyshack on that station uncensored in the mid-80s. I remember trying to watch Animal House on NBC beforehand and it was nearly unwatchable; I think they cut a few scenes for time as well as content.

  • Daniel Longcore

    Everybody rags on edited-for-TV versions of movies (which is deserved), but don’t forgot, they sometimes showed you deleted scenes added back into the movie, which back in the pre-DVD ers, was a plus.

    Stuff like in the first Superman movie, the Kryptonian High Council sending what looked like a Kryptonian Stormtrooper after Jor-El, after detecting high power readings from his living quarters, In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, scenes confirming that Peter Preston is Scotty’s nephew, and in Aliens, the scenes with Newt’s family and life on LV-426 before the Xenomorphs attacked, the stuff with Ripley’s daughter, and the setting up the motion sensor gun scene.

  • bOb Dobbs

    toga, toga, ToGA!, TOGA!. TOGA!

  • Steve Mills

    I fixed the Wikipedia date for “Dirty Mary Crazy Larry” and cited this page.

  • Freakanatcha

    I’m curious if anyone knows of a book or article about the people that wrote the TV Guide ad blurbs. It always struck me as bad writing done well. Was the business a closed circle of writers that rotated from network to network? How did you get in the club? Did they crank out 2 dozen in a day or did they agonize over every little “Smash Hit!”?