|WHO SAYS WE'RE CANCELLED???|
|Major, we were told a 30 share was golden!|
|We're over and IRON HORSE survives? It's the Alamo all over again!|
From the outset, it had always been an uphill battle for F TROOP (as I detailed in my two part review of the Season One DVD). The western sendup premiered on a network that was in third place every season for the entire 1960-69 decade (!) and was scheduled against CBS' THE RED SKELTON SHOW on Tuesdays at 9 ET. SKELTON had killed four consecutive ABC entries in the time slot and ranked as television's # 4 show. Complicating matters, financial considerations (from both ABC and ever-"frugal" Warner Brothers) dictated that F TROOP would air in black and white during the 1965-66 season while well over half of prime time was already in color, and "full color" status was only a season away for all three networks.
|Good thing Red doesn't have any rifles|
Television magazine more or less echoed TV Guide in the March 1966 issue, noting F TROOP was ranked # 27 out of 99 shows with a 21.1 rating as of the week ending January 2, 1966. While the show ended the 1965-66 season at # 40 out of 119 programs (its final ranking pushed down in part by some wildly successful mid-season debuts like DAKTARI and the two BATMANs that had premiered later in January), Tucker, Storch and company maintained a comfortable 31.0 share for the season opposite CBS' invincible SKELTON and NBC's TUESDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES (60th).
For point of comparision, F TROOP posted a 10% increase over its predecessor at 9 PM Tuesdays, ABC's THE TYCOON (28.2 share during 1964-65). F TROOP also outrated both its 8:30 PM lead-in McHALE'S NAVY (# 44) and 9:30 PM lead-out PEYTON PLACE (# 46) for the season. With such a solid performance against a venerable powerhouse, renewal was never in doubt on hit-starved ABC, which had only four of the top 33 programs during 1965-66 (and mid-season phenom BATMAN accounted for two of those!).
F TROOP was given a new time slot (Thursdays at 8 PM) for its second season--in color!
Which, sadly, ended up being the final season (reviewed by yours truly here). But....why, when the show finished 40th out of 113 network shows in a season with few new breakout hits?
Did F TROOP lose too much of lead-in BATMAN's audience? Looking at the ratings, I'd have to say not only no, but Hell no. According to the Television magazine (# 24, Vol. 8) cited, BATMAN ranked # 37 with a 33 share, while F TROOP, as noted above, ranked # 40 with a 31.3 share. BATMAN II's mid-season rating was 19.3 (# 37) to the 18.8 (# 39) for F TROOP. Not much of a drop shown at either point. A far better job of holding onto viewers than (say) # 57 (!) THAT GIRL (28.8 share) did retaining the lead-in audience it received from # 7 BEWITCHED later on Thursdays.
F TROOP also improved noticeably on the ABC show it replaced from 1965-66: GIDGET ranked # 68 with a 26.8 share (third in the time period), despite receiving a lead-in from a # 5 BATMAN instead of one finishing 37th for the season. GIDGET had replaced THE DONNA REED SHOW (# 91, 11.0 rating at mid-season) in January 1966. Any way you look at it, F TROOP dramatically improved ABC's fortunes at 8 PM Thursdays; its share represented a 17% increase over the prior season.
|Hell, F TROOP outrated every show I had after 1954!|
|Wild Eagle can't figure it out either|
Well, okay, did F TROOP take a creative nosedive? As I noted in my review, the show did go through a bit of a sophomore slump in the season's middle third. The reduced involvement of Charles Rondeau, Ed James and Seaman Jacobs in season two hurt, but Austin and Irma Kalish added some inventive scripts, including The Day They Shot Agarn and the final two episodes, Our Brave in F Troop (a terrific refocusing on O'Rourke Enterprises and the introduction to Fort Courage's namesake, played by Cliff Arquette) and Is This Fort Really Necessary?, a very funny entry that also deftly weaved in more plot than most hour long dramatic westerns. Season Two didn't quite match the quality of the first as a whole but ended on a creative high note, closing with arguably the two best color episodes.
In addition to the points made above, only one of the 39 prime time shows ahead of F TROOP received an eviction notice: CBS' MR. TERRIFIC (# 36), a not-so-terrific BATMAN ripoff and midseason replacement that occupied the second half-hour of GUNSMOKE's new 1967-68 home. That show's final Nielsen number was skewed upward by a top 15 debut; it sank quickly afterward. F TROOP was ABC's highest rated show to leave the airwaves, and the highest rated cancellation to air the full season. To name a few examples: THAT GIRL (# 57), HOLLYWOOD PALACE (# 41), BIG VALLEY (# 45), FELONY SQUAD (# 47) and IRON HORSE (# 48) were among the network's shows ranked below F TROOP that were renewed to live another day. The second highest ABC series to end in 1966-67 was THE FUGITIVE (ended by its producers after four seasons) at # 50.
To sum it up, if you're thinking that it just didn't make any sense for ABC to cancel its second highest rated sitcom for two seasons in a row (behind BEWITCHED), and one of only four ABC shows to make the top 40 during both the 1965-66 and 1966-67 seasons (BATMAN, PEYTON PLACE and of course, BEWITCHED being the others), you're right. And in fact, the network didn't cancel it. So who was our true villain? Those aforementioned cheapskates over at Warner Brothers Television.
One cheapskate in particular.....
In Jeff Kisseloff's excellent 1991 book The Box: An Oral History of Television 1920-1961, executive producer William T. Orr singled out WB vice president Benny Kalmenson as the culprit, after noting that their failure to shoot the classic Warner shows (i.e. MAVERICK, 77 SUNSET STRIP) in color cost the studio millions in the long run.
|Millions, I say, millions!! Outrageous!|
Later that same year, Kalmenson famously called Arthur Penn's groundbreaking feature BONNIE AND CLYDE "a piece of shit". Fortunately for Warners, Benny didn't have enough pull to kill that project.
|Whoo! Kalmenson must have been drinking some of this!|
|Sacrebleu! Benny's worse than the Burglar of Banff-ff-f!|
We're left to wonder what might have been. Would F TROOP have continued its upward ratings trend in a third season? Would the show's creative resurgence have continued as well? Perhaps the great Larry Storch would have received a second Emmy nomination and bested childhood friend Don Adams in a rematch.
One thing is certain: despite the untimely and undeserved demise that left it 35 episodes short of the hundred episode mark, F TROOP passed the test of time with flying colors, staying in syndication long after its replacement, THE FLYING NUN, had faded from screens entirely despite the presence of a young Sally Field. Jack Warner should have trusted his son in law (Orr). For depriving us of at least one more season of merriment with the two Greatest Actors Who Ever Lived, THE HORN SECTION deems Benny Kalmenson to be responsible for another of TV's All Time Worst Moments. He retired from the studio in 1969. If only he'd done that three years earlier....
$3,000 over budget. With 31 second season episodes that's 97 bucks per show, Benny! Jeez.