Monday, May 19, 2008

Some DVD love for LOBO, anyone?






"Why am I not on DVD yet?"








THE MISADVENTURES OF SHERIFF LOBO/LOBO (1979-1981 NBC/Universal) Starring Claude Akins, Brian Kerwin, Mills Watson, Cydney Crampton, Leeann Hunley, Nell Carter, Nicolas Coster, Tara Buckman. 60 minutes.

"A man of dreams, who guards our things as if they were his own...."


NBC during the 1978-81 Fred Silverman era was notorious for its fiascoes. Spending millions on SUPERTRAIN. Greenlighting the one hit wonder Pink Lady for a variety series. Importing an Australian sitcom notable only for gratuitous nudity, then putting it on the air sans nudity (NUMBER 96). MRS. COLUMBO. HELLO, LARRY. These are the ill-advised, short-lived train wrecks that populate lists of the “Worst TV series of all time”.

But in what I feel is a case of guilt by association, they are often joined on these lists (i.e. TV Guide's) by THE MISADVENTURES OF SHERIFF LOBO, an underrated, funny show that doesn’t deserve the hate.

Claude Akins’ LOBO was a corrupt and menacing bad guy when originally on B.J. AND THE BEAR, but when NBC spun him off into his own series in the wake of CBS' success with THE DUKES OF HAZZARD, he became a rascally money-hungry schemer. This character switch from tough guy to comic (played perfectly by Akins) allowed the producers to combine the chicken fried SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT knockoffs popular at the time with the tried and true conman humor from classic servicecoms like SGT. BILKO and McHALE’S NAVY.

Like BILKO, Sheriff Lobo was stationed in the middle of nowhere (Orly County, Georgia) and his schemes were usually foiled; he’d typically stumble onto a real crime, and have to solve it---often recovering money which he (of course) didn’t get to keep. Like F TROOP’s Sgt. O’Rourke, Lobo also had a not-too-bright assistant (Mills Watson as Deputy Perkins) providing plenty of pratfalls. Add in more wrecked police cars in Orly County than in Hazzard (yes, really) and plenty of shapely ladies in cutoffs each week and the result was a show that was pretty funny and easy to take. It was about like DUKES would have been if Roscoe had been the main character and as smart as Boss Hogg.

Don’t get me wrong, SHERIFF LOBO was no classic. It was outlandish, slapsticky, silly as Hell. There were episodes involving mechanical sharks, UFO's, "Disco Fever", Larry Storch as a hillbilly patriarch and Dean Martin just passin' through Orly. Still, LOBO was no sillier than the aforementioned DUKES, CARTER COUNTRY, or the "Super Fonz" era HAPPY DAYS. A solid cast helped. Claude Akins was clearly having the time of his life doing knockabout comedy after 30 years of playing tough guy supporting roles. The Akins/Watson comedy team had good chemistry; not quite on the level of Hale/Denver or Tucker/Storch, but funny enough. Brian Kerwin provided the ladies with a heartthrob (needed if you’re gonna compete for that DUKES audience, right?).


THE MISADVENTURES OF SHERIFF LOBO was a pretty popular show when it originally aired, despite a daunting Nielsen test for survival: Tuesday nights at 8 ET, up against ABC powerhouses HAPPY DAYS and ANGIE, which were both top 5 shows the prior season. LOBO actually made some inroads, knocking HAPPY DAYS from 4th to 16th and ANGIE from 5th to out of the top 25 altogether. LOBO had several top 25 showings and became the first NBC show to get renewed in the time slot since 1976 (BAA BAA BLACK SHEEP).

Unfortunately, NBC president Fred Silverman and company couldn’t help but screw almost everything up during their Reign of Error. Interviewed by the New York Times in July 1980, Silverman noted that LOBO rated highly in rural areas but not so well in the urban areas. His solution: change the premise, and move the show to Atlanta!
Great going, Fred.

In the second season opener, the Governor visits Orly County, impressed by the “low crime rate” (actually a result of Lobo’s negligence in filing paperwork). The Guv reassigns Lobo, Perkins and Birdie to the Special Crime Task Force in Atlanta. This could have been an amusing season opener, assuming that he eventually recognized their limitations and that everyone ended up back in Orly after a "very special" hour or two in the big city. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. They were now amongst the city slickers for good.

To make matters even worse, the memorable first season opening featuring Frankie Laine’s hilariously earnest theme song and a 10 police car pileup was changed. In season two, each show opens with the three leads sightseeing in Atlanta to the seriousness of Ray Charles’ “Georgia on my Mind”. Lobo became a country Clouseau, bumbling his way to solving crimes with get rich quick schemes all but forgotten.

The result of this network tinkering was predictable: rural viewers who previously liked the show tuned out, and urban viewers who had no interest in LOBO continued to ignore it. The once-promising show was cancelled after two seasons and 37 episodes.


And so, after a few years of sharing a syndication package with B. J. AND THE BEAR, LOBO largely vanished altogether. Meanwhile, all 7 seasons of THE DUKES OF HAZZARD are out on DVD. Episodes of MRS. COLUMBO pop up to tarnish the otherwise excellent COLUMBO season sets. We’ve even seen the complete PINK LADY AND JEFF series released by Rhino! But no love for LOBO. No Nick at Nite. No TV Land. Not a single DVD.

SHERIFF LOBO didn’t even get that ultimate of measuring sticks, the porn parody. Hmm....The Muff Adventures of Sheriff Loadblow? Featuring Ron Jeremy as Deputy Poke-ins?

But I digress. THE MISADVENTURES OF SHERIFF LOBO deserves a Season One boxed set. It’s been ridiculed in print since the day it aired, but I defy anyone to watch a first season episode and not laugh at least a little. Put it out in time for the 30th anniversary already---if SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT 3 and STROKER ACE are available, then LOBO damn well ought to be.

“Lobo….Lobo…..bring back Sheriff Lobo.”

----Homer Simpson (in his sleep)

3 comments:

Marty McKee said...

NBC (or someone) also changed the title to the less dynamic LOBO for Season 2. It's easy to forget that this show was actually something of a hit. I don't know, Hal, you're making it sound a lot more interesting than I recall (and I watched it purt'near every week). I'll let you know when I get there.

Tobin said...

Hal:

Very insightful comments. I was a 'Sheriff Lobo' fan from 1979 to 1981 (and still am), and I was baffled by the critics' hatred.
You're exactly right when you call it "guilt by association." Critics were gunning for Fred Silverman and everything he did at NBC. Shows like "Sheriff Lobo" and "Hello Larry" (which really isn't that bad a show) just got caught in the crossfire.
Here's one thing you might find interesting: Lobo's ratings actually improved in its second season. I was surprised myself. I found ratings information in a couple of old Reader's Digest almanacs. In the '79-'80 season, Lobo was 50th. In the '80-'81 season, it was 36th. In terms of ratings, Silverman might have been right about moving the show to Atlanta. But in terms of quality, I agree with the consensus that the show went downhill.
Still, I wonder why NBC cancelled it in 1981? For NBC, a distant third at the time, 36th place isn't bad -- especially against 'Happy Days'.
Just a few thoughts.

hobbyfan said...

Actually, someone does have some love for Lobo---Retro Television Network. Where I am, Lobo airs Sundays most of the time at 5 pm (ET), last I looked.