How the West was Won

Jim 1970s

Aired: 1978-1979
Oregon Trail
ABC

DAD: Zeb Macahan (James Arness) / Single

DAD’S JOB: Pioneer Homesteader

KIDS: Luke (Bruce Boxleitner), Laura (Kathryn Holcomb), Josh (William Kirby Cullen), Jessie (Vicki Schreck)

WHERE’S MOM?: Dead.

STAND-IN “MOM”: Molly Culhane (Fionnula Flanagan) / Aunt

Sure, The Oregon Trail didn’t work AT ALL, but would that stop a network from building a GIGANTIC series starring TV icon James Arness in the lead TV Single Dad role?

Zeb Macahan, homesteading pioneer guy, wound up with custody of his brother’s kids after the brother went back East to fight in the Civil War The kids had all kinds of problems: Luke, for example, was on the lam from the law, due to his being wanted for killing a few guys in self-defense.

The Oregon Trail

Jim 1970s

Aired: 1977
Oregon Trail

NBC

DAD: Evan Thorpe (Rod Taylor) / Widower

DAD’S JOB: Wagon Train Pioneer Guy

KIDS: Andrew Thorpe (Andrew Stevens) (17), William Thorpe (Tony Becker) (12), Rachel Thorpe (Gina Marie Smika) (10)

WHERE’S MOM?: Dead.

STAND-IN “MOM”: Margaret Devlin (Darleen Carr) / Girlfriend

Perhaps this is another motif buried in TV Single Dad shows: the idea of the Single Dad taking the Jed Clampett route: “moving away from thar” and heading West. Evan Thorpe packed up his family and headed to Oregon with a wagon train. They were only on the trail for a month when the show got cancelled, though. Too bad.

And no, they didn’t all die of dysentery.

The Hardy Boys Mysteries

Jim 1970s

Aired: 1977-79

Hardy Boys Mysteries

ABC

DAD: Fenton Hardy (Edmund Gilbert) / widower

DAD’S JOB: Private Investigator

KIDS: Joe Hardy (Shaun Cassidy), Frank Hardy (Parker Stevenson) (teens)

WHERE’S MOM?: Dead for some time

STAND-IN “MOM”: Aunt Gertrude (Edith Atwater) / Aunt

Just as Xena has Hercules, so Nancy Drew had The Hardy Boys. Like Nancy Drew, the boys had a father deeply involved in police work. The boys seemed to have little to no supervision, though, as they always seemed to be jetting off to Peru or Paris or Timbuktu to solve a case.

Apparently these two shows didn’t support enough of an audience by themselves, so the shows were blended into one big show at the end of 1978 as The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries.

Nancy Drew Mysteries

Jim 1970s

Aired: 1977-78

Nancy Drew Mysteries

ABC

DAD: Carson Drew (William Schallert) / Widower

DAD’S JOB: Criminal Lawyer

KIDS: Nancy (Pamela Sue Martin) (18)

WHERE’S MOM?: Dead for quite some time

STAND-IN “MOM”: Bess (Ruth Cox)

Nancy Drew wasn’t that much different from another child of a Single Dad, Ellery Queen (Ellery’s show doesn’t count, however,since he didn’t live with his father). The plots revolved around Nancy, a paralegal research assistant of her dad’s firm, sleuthing cases, winding up at the wrong end of a gun, and having her dad bail her out on a few occasions.

The Tony Randall Show

Jim 1970s

Aired 1976-1977(ABC), 1977-1978(CBS)

Tony Randall Show

CBSABC

DAD: Judge Walter Franklin (Tony Randall ) / widower

DAD’S JOB: Judge

KIDS: Roberta “Bobby” Franklin (Devon Scott ’76-’77, Penny Peyser ’77-’78) (18), Oliver Wendell Franklin (Brad Savage) (11)

WHERE’S MOM?: Dead for past two years

STAND-IN “MOM”: Mrs. McClellan (Rachel Roberts) / housekeeper

How did I miss *this* one? This show, about a widowed Philadelphia judge and his two kids, was CLASSIC in terms of TV Single Dad templates. You’ve got the wacky housekeeper, the precocious kids, the one-episode girlfriends, and even Uncle Tonoose (Hans Conried) as Grandpa.

A large tilt of the Bruce Wayne Memorial Brass Shakespeare Head to Lynne Torgersen (bellefouche@webtv.net) for pointing out this missing gem. Thanks Lynne!

Popi

Jim 1970s

Aired: Jan-Aug 1976

Popi

CBS

DAD: Abraham Rodriguez (Hector Elizondo)/ widower

DAD’S JOB: Building Handyman

KIDS: “Junior”(Anthony Perez)/14, Luis (Dennis Vasquez)/10

WHERE’S MOM?: Dead

STAND-IN “MOM”: Lupe (Edith Diaz) / Neighbor

Based on the 1969 movie starring Alan Arkin, Popi followed tenement living for the widowed superintendent and how he kept his boys out of trouble. Strange how this show was the mid-season replacement for the cancelled TV Single Dad show Joe and Sons.

By the way, if you haven’t seen the original 1969 Alan Arkin film of the same name, watch it. The story is crazy but credible, and the characters will pull you into the movie after watching the first ten minutes.

Mr. T and Tina

Jim 1970s

Aired: 1976
ABC

Mr T and Tina

DAD: Taro Takahashi — Mr. T (Pat Morita) / Widower

DAD’S JOB: Inventor

KIDS: Sachi (June Angela )(10), Aki (Eugene Profanato) (8)

WHERE’S MOM?: Dead – unknown circumstances

STAND-IN “MOM”: Tina Kelly (Susan Blanchard)

No, silly, the OTHER Mr. T!

Yet another twist: how about if the rest of the family was foreign-born, but the live-in domestic wasn’t? Lots of cultural clashes marked this simple-minded comedy.

Three for the Road

Jim 1970s

Aired: 1975

Three for the Road

CBS

DAD: Pete Karras (Alex Rocco) / widower

DAD’S JOB: Photographer

KIDS: John (Vincent Van Patten) (16), Endy (Leif Garrett) (15)

WHERE’S MOM?: Dead

STAND-IN “MOM”: None

Let’s try analogies on this one — picture Jonny Quest without Race Bannon; make Dr. Quest a freelance photographer; give him a Winnebago instead of a jet; and make Hadji blonde. Another of the many “Dad takes kids on the road with him” dramas. This one went neck-and-neck with Sunshine and was cancelled the same month.

Vincent Van Patten and Leif Garrett – how blonde is THAT?

Bronk

Jim 1970s

Aired: 1975-1976

Bronk

CBS

DAD: Lt. Alex Bronkov (Jack Palance) / widower

DAD’S JOB: Cop

KIDS: Ellen (Dina Ousley)

WHERE’S MOM?: Dead – accident

STAND-IN “MOM”: None

Kind of a west coast Kojak. Lt. Bronkov was a tough special-cases cop who fought The Man in Ocean City, California. Meanwhile, he was also The Dad to his wheelchair-bound daughter, who was disabled in the same car accident that killed his wife. All the typical cop show standard plots were in tow – Want to guess how many times Ellen’s life was in danger?

Sunshine

Jim 1970s

Aired: 1975

NBC

Sunshine

DAD: Sam Hayden (Cliff DeYoung) / widower

DAD’S JOB: Composer/Singer/Odd Jobs

KIDS: Jill (Elizabeth Cheshire) (5)

WHERE’S MOM?: Dead

STAND-IN “MOM”: Nora (Meg Foster) / neighbor

Getting Together returns. How about a one-man Partridge Family, with Dad taking the Shirley Jones role, and the one kid doesn’t sing? Okay, that’s stretching a bit. Dad is raising his stepdaughter, left to him by his late wife (who dies of 90-minute TV Cancer in the pilot), and is not following accepted norms of raising kids. Being in a rock-and-roll band, for example, is frowned on by Sam’s neighbors. Anyway, this tedious little show only lasted eight weeks, so don’t even worry about it.