Picture "Dragnet's" Joe Friday as a family man, happily married and determined to keep his job and his homelife separate. There you have the challenge faced by Henry Fonda's Detective Sgt. Chad Smith, and the focal point around which each episode revolved. His determination to safeguard his family's normality is illustrated by their picket fence-enclosed house on Primrose Lane (an image further reinforced by the use of Jerry Wallace's hit "Primrose Lane" as the show's theme song, sung by Mike Minor with special lyrics). Unfortunately, this normality too often translated in the series as "mundane," partially due to excellent performances by a standout cast (which included a post-Opie Ron Howard as teenage son Bob), all of whom never stepped out of character.
The show did have some solid moments to it, including the episode in which a mild-mannered middle-aged gentleman inveigles his way into the Smith household as "an old friend of Chet's" shortly before Chet is due home. The suspense builds, as we're aware that this charming, innocuous individual is actually quite mad, and determined to kill Sgt. Smith for having sent him to prison several years earlier. How Chet manages to save himself and, afterward, keep his family from learning the truth (Chet: "He had an appointment and couldn't stay for supper." Betty: "Oh, what a shame.") is handled without an excess of drama or violence, highly realistically, and delivers a superb payoff. Again unfortunately, however, such quiet heroism is rarely the fare of network TV success.
Had the show delivered a touch either of the "bells and whistles and sirens" of most contemporary police dramas, or else the alcoholism and stress-related angst which several Wambaugh-inspired series would soon introduce into cops' off-duty lives, "The Smith Family" might have stuck around significantly longer. Unfortunately, Chet Smith was simply a decent man fighting the good fight, both on the job and at home; the series' doom came as a result of his winning both fights so handily.
What a shame!