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Pointing the finger at "aimlessness" as the culprit for this excellent
show's early demise is, in a sense, as misleading as describing "The Smith
Family" as "lighthearted." Neither term is fully adequate when discussing
this series. It's more accurate to say that this is a show that deserved
audience, yet failed to find one. Quite likely, such an audience simply
didn't exist; sadly, I doubt even more that one would readily materialize
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!
I would love to find a copy of this show on DVD or VHS. I think it is interesting that a drama series featuring a quality cast of Fonda, Janet Blair, Ron Howard and Charles McGraw would simply disappear without a trace. I have looked far and wide for this program and even collectors of vintage television programs don't have it. I agree with the previous comment about TVLand or another network bringing the 24 reruns back to television or DVD. Since this program was on the air before VHS and there never seemed to have been reruns, "The Smith Family" may be a forever,lost gem of episodic television. Perhaps the estate of the late Don Fedderson or ABC will locate some old film cans and reintroduce the public to a 'lost' television series that featured major stars and was a unique concept in its time.
I always liked Crime Drama's growing up. Henry Fonda as Det. Sgt. Chad Smith was a family man and a Police officer. He fought crime, like nobody's business. Ron Howard was his son. I suppose since he played Opie Taylor, as the son of a Sheriff, on The Andy Griffith Show, blended in well. One episode he was sitting at the teachers desk, in a classroom. Some boys came in pouring gasoline on the floor, to torch the school. Ron picked up the telephone to call the Police. The boys badly beat and battered Ron Howard. Fonda kept his family life separate from his work. If I was a law enforcement officer, I would have my telephone and address unlisted, for safety precautions. Some person, that I may have arrested would probably want to seek revenge. Police officers lives are always in jeopardy. From someone they arrested for a crime to a routine traffic stop. Why don't TV Land or could it be released to DVD whatever? I want to see this show again.
I found a pristine 45 RPM copy of Jerry Wallace's 1959 Challenge
Records hit "Primrose Lane" at a record meet recently (I am getting a
1976 Seeburg jukebox restored and hope to put this oldie in it when
it's fully functional later this year).
I vaguely remembered "Primrose Lane" was the theme of some TV show produced by Don Fedderson Productions, and could never think of the title until now. I do remember my folks had seen a few episodes of "The Smith Family" and it would bring back many untapped childhood memories if I could see this series again (I was only 9 years old in 1971 when "The Smith Family" premiered; we were living in the Detroit suburb of Warren, Michigan and were getting ready to move to Lansing, Michigan that summer. After we had settled into our new home in Lansing, I remember my folks had seen some of the last episodes in early 1972). It sounds as if "The Smith Family" was a show where the father was devoted to his duties as a police officer, yet also cared about his family - his character was treated with *respect,* not ridicule.
"The Smith Family" was also noteworthy in that it was one of the last original network television series produced by Don Fedderson Productions. After "The Smith Family" and "My Three Sons" were canceled in 1972, Fedderson's company didn't make any new series except for a few TV movies; by the mid-1970's until 1982 Don Fedderson Productions was reduced to syndicating (Gag! Choke!) "The Lawrence Welk Show." Then in the fall of 1982 when Welk's show ended Don Fedderson Productions became history.
Perhaps CBS DVD owns the DVD rights to this show? I do believe that, like "My Three Sons," the copyright notice in the closing credits credited the show's ownership to CBS (CBS Television Studios co-produced "The Smith Family" with Don Fedderson Productions; back then, it seemed rather unusual for one network's product to air on another network - in this case, ABC - whereas today it doesn't seem all that uncommon). Or, perhaps, as the other reader pointed out, Don Fedderson's estate might still own "The Smith Family?" Maybe Shout! Factory could get the DVD rights?
(At TV Shows on DVD.com, "The Smith Family" has amassed 67 total votes as of this writing, 96% of which - including myself - have voted for the series in a full season set. If you haven't already done so, you might want to visit TV Shows on DVD.com's website - it's free to become a member if you aren't one already - and vote for "The Smith Family" in a season set. If it gets 100 or more total votes, that might get the attention of CBS DVD, Shout! Factory, etc. - then perhaps they'll consider getting the DVD rights to "The Smith Family.")
In any event, I hope all ownership rights to "The Smith Family" get ironed out and that it may eventually find its way onto DVD. It sounds like a police drama done with much care and attention to *quality,* and as I said above, it'd also bring back some nice, forgotten childhood memories.
For the record,actor Henry Fonda starred in two landmark television
shows that were in fact a decade apart.
First of all,audiences got to see him as U.S. Marshal Simon Frye on the landmark western series THE DEPUTY(Top Gun Productions/Revue Studios-MCA/for NBC-TV that ran from September 12,1959 until July 1,1961)that was produced and created by Roland Kibbee and Norman Lear(future creator and producer of "All In The Family" fame)that ran for two seasons and produced 76 episodes that were in classic black and white.
The second series he did was when he portrayed Detective Sgt. Chad Smith on another short-lived series THE SMITH FAMILY(Don Fedderson Productions/The ABC Television Network that ran from January 20,1971 until June 7,1972)that was produced and created by Edmund Hartmann under executive producer Don Fedderson that was in color and produced 39 episodes. The series ran 30 minutes(which included commercials).
Produced by the same company by brought you "My Three Sons",and "Family Affair","The Smith Family" was a far departure from Don Fedderson's previous sitcoms. But this one had a premise. Picture if you will "Dragnet's" Joe Friday or "The Untouchables'" Elliott Ness as a family man,happily married and determined to keep his job and his homelife separate There you have the challenges faced by Henry Fonda's Detective Sgt. Chad Smith,and focal point around which each episode revolved. It was your average sugarcoated typical family sitcom,but with a kick that includes a lot of police action and tight situations in just about every episode that was above your average half-hour family situation comedy-drama. His determination to safeguard his family's normality is illustrated by their picket-fence enclosed house on Primrose Lane. The series did have some solid moments to it,including the episode in which a mild-mannered man inveighies his way into the Smith household as "an old friend of Chet's" titled "Ex-Con"(Airdate: January 27,1971).
There were some other episodes that were outstanding thanks to actor Ron Howard's brilliant performance as the oldest son Bob. In the episode titled "Where There's Smoke"(Airdate: February 3,1972),Bob is sitting at a teacher's desk when he sees a group of boys pouring gasoline on the floor of the next classroom to torch the school. Bob picks up the phone to call the police when the boys take Bob by force and badly beat him to a pulp. It's up to Bob to call his dad and save the school from being destroyed. Other episodes were great too. From the first episode "Cindy"(the pilot episode airdate:January 20,1971),to "The Peer Group" that guest starred Butch Patrick and Stefan Arngrim(airdate: April 14,1971),to the two part episode titled "Strangers",guest starring Betty Lynn,aka Thelma Lou from "The Andy Griffith Show"(airdates: February 24,1971 and March 3,1971),and including one episode where the teenage daughter is harassed at school by a group of bad girls(one of them is Kathy Garver,aka Cissy Davis of Family Affair is a role that was a far departure from her good girl status). Other guest stars including Stanley Livingston,Jerry Mathers and even Jay North in recurring roles and in one episode William Windom. The final episode of "The Smith Family" was "Father In Law"(airdate: June 7,1972). Repeats of this series ran on ABC from June 14,1972 until August 23,1972.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Bar Bet Special. First get some blow-hard, know-it-all, damn fool and
get the discussion about TV, Movies and who starred in what. You can
probably pin him down to betting that Henry Fonda had never starred in
a TV Series. Then you can really skunk him good! You see, the great
film actor and father of Hanoi Jane actually starred in two (2)
separate series, just about a decade apart.
First of all, we saw him as Marshall Simon Frey in THE DEPUTY (Top Gun Prod./Revue Studios/NBC TV Network, 1959-61). The second was today's honoree and subject of our criticism, THE SMITH FAMILY (Don Fedderson Prod./ABC TV Network, 1971-72).
The Cast of characters featured Det. Sgt. Chad Smith (Mr. Fonda),Mrs. Betty Smith (Janet Blair), Daughter Cindy Smith (Darlene Carr), Son Bob Smith* (Ron Howard), Little Son Brian Smith (Michael-James Wixted), Captain Hughes (Charles McGraw), Sgt. Carter (John Martin) and Detective Paperman (Richard Webb, JET JACKSON, himself.)
AS we recall, there was a fairly equal amount of time spent between the "Job" and the Smith Domestic Scene; just as the run down of the cast indicates.
The purpose of the series seems to have been to remind the public at large that their Police are family men, just as they are and are susceptible to all the problems that any one else is. This Series came out as a cultural counterbalance to the Radical Left at the time when Love, Dope and the Challenging of All Authority seemed to be the National Pastime.**
WE remember one particular episode in which the Son Bob (Mr. Ron Howard) during a meeting of the Police Explorer Scouts at the local Police Station (It's set in L.A.), comes into confrontation with an armed robbery. The teen-ager fears that he is yellow and would not have the courage to be the Real Police some day. His Father, Det. Sgt. Smith, reassures him that fear is a normal and healthy emotion and everyone feels it, even the good Sergeant, himself.
THE SMITH FAMILY seemed that it had all the right ingredients for the the times (for regular people, not for Hippy-Yippie-Druggie-type freaks). It lasted only the part of two different seasons.
IN the final analysis, the series may well have suffered from an inability to be easily classified; for it was thought to be a Sitcom, which it was not of course. It was a unique show, doing a particularly specialized job. We'd sure like to see it out on video.***
NOTE: * No, Schultz, we didn't mean "Buffalo BOB" Smith, who was Howdy Doody's Mentor!
NOTE: ** Of course we're referring to "Peaceful Methods of Protest", such as those used by the Youthful Protesters at the '68 Democratic National Convention, here in Chicago; where methods such as the Pitching of Rocks & Bricks, the Throwing of Bags of Human Excrement & Urine and the Spraying of Cops in the Face with Easy-Off Oven Cleaner.
NOTE: *** This is a similar situation that had befallen Jackie Cooper's great series, HENNESSEY (CBS, 1956-62). It was listed as a comedy, but more in the Classic sense; as it was very Dramatic and had a variety of situational types in its episodes.
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