|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|
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 above, BATMAN ranked # 37 with a 33 share, while F TROOP, as noted above, ranked # 40 with a 31.3 share. Not much of a drop. 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 two hours later on Thursdays.
|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, closing with arguably the two very 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. Its 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) 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 (behind BEWITCHED), you're right. And in fact, the network didn't. So who was our true villain? Those aforementioned cheapskates over at Warner Brothers Television.
In Jeff Kisseloff's excellent 1991 book THE BOX, 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 them 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.
|Wild Eagle sniffs what Kalmenson must have been drinking|
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 it three years earlier....
$3,000 over budget. At 31 second season episodes that's 97 bucks per show, Benny! Jeez.