Sunday, June 14, 2015

Classic TV: Real People (1979)

Now, this is what you call reality television.

George Schlatter, the brains behind Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, delivered one more classic series for NBC with Real People, which launched in 1979, when NBC was struggling to find a primetime hit not named Little House on the Prairie.

People initially aired on Wednesdays, as did Little House before it. Veteran comic Fred Willard came over from the syndicated Fernwood/America 2Night to help anchor a lineup of co-hosts that included fellow comics Bill Rafferty, Skip Stephenson, and political satirist Mark Russell, who seemed to be happy to be on a network other than PBS. Sarah Purcell (ex-The Better Sex) rounded out the group, which would later include Byron Allen and child actor Peter Billingsley.

The focus was, obviously, on ordinary folks like you and me, in small towns you probably had never heard of or can't find on a map. Schlatter, with urging from the network, added two more series to the franchise. Unfortunately, Real Kids, with Billingsley, seemed out of place in primetime and belonged as an accessory to NBC's developing Saturday morning block. Speak Up America, anchored by Marjoe Gortner, was slightly more successful, but not by much. In all, Real People lasted 5 seasons,  moving to Sundays at the end of the run, which might not have been the smartest of moves.

Post-People, Rafferty took over a revived Mark Goodson-Bill Todman series, Card Sharks, but was later cashiered out in favor of game show icon Bob Eubanks. Byron Allen, you probably know, has become a producer through his, but venturing outside of infomercials hasn't borne a lot of fruit of late.

Here's a sample intro:

Rating: A.


magicdog said...

I used to love this show as a kid! Every Wednesday night the whole family tuned in. Sure it had lots of offbeat folk, but there were plenty of serious, tug at your heartstrings stories too. I think the problem now is, watching the show is like watching the feature segment of a typical news program. One odd character doing something that gets them a lot of attention.

I used to have a bit of a crush on Skip Stevenson. He died awfully young IIRC. I think it was just a fw years after RP went off air. This show was the first time I ever saw Mark Russell (and checked out his piano comedy on PBS). Peter Billingsley everyone knew from the Messy Marvin commercials (for Hershey syrup) and of course, "A Christmas Story". Doing a weekly show seemed like a natural fit for him.

Byron Allen really came a long way with his self produced (on the very cheap) entertainment shows. Gotta give the man credit for knowing how to make something out of nothing.

hobbyfan said...

Allen & Willard, I think, are the only ones still active. Stephenson did die rather young, and it was tragic. I had seen some of the Mark Russell specials on PBS before Real People. Have to see if anything's on DVD.....