Saturday, April 10, 2021

This Day in TV History: Two short-lived comedies debut on CBS

OK, these two interesting but failed sitcoms actually debuted 40 years ago yesterday, but you can understand why we wanted to give Digger Doyle the spotlight on Friday. So today let's look at the two programs that preceded that episode of Magnum P.I. on April 9, 1981.

At 8:00, CBS began the night with the premiere of Checking In, Marla Gibbs' spinoff from The Jeffersons.  Maid Florence becomes the "executive housekeeper" at a swank New York City hotel. The T.A.T. Communications (soon to be Embassy) program also featured Larry Linville as Gibbs' boss, who sounds like a classic Linville-style foil; and Liz Torres, but the most interesting regular to me is R&B singer Ruth Brown!

The series is rarely seen, though one episode made it onto the complete series set of The Jeffersons as a bonus feature. Gibbs returned to the flagship program after a paltry 4-episode run on the spinoff. That season's TV Guide Fall preview issue lists this one in the "In the Wings" section and says CBS calls the then-titled Marla Gibbs Show "a definite replacement series."

After Checking In, another sitcom appeared for the first time: Park Place with Harold Gould as a lawyer who runs a NYC clinic offering free legal aid. Of course the lawyers on staff are themselves in need of various forms of aid! It lasted a mere 5 episodes.

Brooks and Marsh's Complete Directory to Prime Time Shows says that Park Place was inspired by "urban gang comedies" like Barney Miller and Taxi. The capsule description amuses me with its rundown of all the character types who make up Gould's staff of young lawyers:

"Jeff O'Neil, the naive eager beaver; Howie beach, the status-seeking opportunist; Jo Keene, the aggressive women's libber; Mac MacRae, the wheelchair-ridden Black Vietnam veteran; and Brad Lincoln, the inexperienced young Harvard graduate trying to obtain some recognition from his peers. Frances, the efficient but spaced-out secretary; and Ernie, the hip receptionist, round out the cast."

That show must have written itself with such an array of rich characters!

One more note: This episode has one of the best behind-the-camera name combos ever. It was created by Reinhold Weege, whose Starry Night Productions later got a hit with Night Court; and directed by longtime vet and former The Bob Newhart Show star Peter Bonerz.

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