The Literary Club: Read LOVE THY NEIGHBOR (Pilot – USA, 1973)

Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! In this week’s entry, I’m sharing the pilot script for ABC’s 1973 adaptation of ITV’s Love Thy Neighbour (1972-1976). This 12-episode multi-cam was produced by Herman Rush Associates (with Rush and Ted Bergmann) and led creatively by Arthur Julian (December Bride, F Troop, Hogan’s Heroes, The Doris Day Show, Maude, Gimme A Break!, Amen). It starred Ron Masak (Murder, She Wrote) and Joyce Bulifant (The Bill Cosby Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show) as a married pair of blue collar liberals who are forced to confront their own prejudices when the couple next door, played by Harrison Page (CPO Sharkey, Sledge Hammer!) and Janet MacLachlan (Cagney & Lacey), turn out to be — gasp — black. Further conflict came when Page’s character was hired to be the new efficiency expert at the electronics shop where Masak works, alongside comic Milt Kamen, who recurred… Aside from Julian, other scribes included Ruth Brooks Flippen (Gidget, That Girl, Bewitched, The Brady Bunch), James Fritzell & Everett Greenbaum (Mister Peepers, The Real McCoys, The Andy Griffith Show, MASH), George Arthur Bloom (The Hollywood Palace, Welcome Back, Kotter), Laurence Marks (Hogan’s Heroes, The Doris Day Show, MASH), and Lloyd Turner & Gordon Mitchell (Get Smart, All In The Family, The Jeffersons, Good Times, Mork & Mindy).

Commissioned in 1972, Love Thy Neighbor was one of ABC’s many attempts to duplicate the Tiffany Network’s success with All In The Family, which had finished the ’71-’72 season as the #1 most-watched show (following a rocky start in the spring of ’71). Although not ready to address the narrative trends suggested by the groundbreaking Lear series within its own season (unlike NBC, which had already found a midseason hit with Sanford And Son, another grungy, videotaped Lear-Tandem offering based on a British property), the Alphabet Network ordered two new comedies to premiere, surprisingly but strategically, in the summer of ’72 — both about working class Joes: The Super (co-created by Rob Reiner) and Alan King’s The Corner Bar (notable for having the first regular gay character on a primetime series). Neither was ordered for the fall, but ABC continued its push in this direction during ’72-73 with The Paul Lynde Show — a single-season wonder (with an All In The Family structure) about the generation gap — and a short-lived midseason replacement called A Touch Of Grace, another frank-talking British import. (All four of these ABC shows have been discussed on this blog before.)

Still hoping to cash in on CBS’ newly winning style (and cognizant of NBC’s efforts to do the same — the ’73-’74 season would find the Peacock Network engaging in blatant attempts to replicate both All In The Family  and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, with Lotsa Luck and Diana, respectively), ABC went into ’73 ready to try another summer experiment. Not only would The Corner Bar, moderately well-received at first (unlike The Super), be granted a six-episode reprieve following a re-tooling that brought in new leads Anne Meara and Eugene Roche, but two more British properties would also see adaptations — Nearest And Dearest would become Thicker Than Water with Richard Long and Julie Harris, and Love Thy Neighbour would become, yes, Love Thy Neighbor. While Thicker Than Water saw diminishing returns and was pulled after nine episodes, Love Thy Neighbor, in The Odd Couple‘s old Friday night slot, looked to be one of the hottest shows of the summer — next, of course, to the Watergate scandal, which was just then starting to explode in the press. The series’ initial six-episode order was doubled before it took over Thicker Than Water‘s spot (to make room for the revamped The Corner Bar) and continued to play throughout August and September — two weeks into the new season. (The 1973 WGA strike delayed some starts, including ABC’s Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.)

The buzz surrounding Love Thy Neighbor had some insiders wondering whether ABC would pull down a fall show at the last minute to make room for the new “hit” — maybe the much-tweaked Temperatures Rising or the misbegotten Adam’s Rib. When that — no shocker — didn’t happen, the more likely outcome became everyone’s expectation: Neighbor would be the first midseason plug-in come January ’74. Indeed, new scripts were ordered in the fall for both Love Thy Neighbor and The Corner Bar, which had also done decently. However, Neighbor‘s numbers fell after the first time swap, and they took an even further dive when the new fall season officially began in mid-September. Once faced with real competition for the first time — not series repeats or middling movies — Love Thy Neighbor tanked, and in the official ’73-’74 national ranking, it came in second-to-last place (above only Calucci’s Department, a short-lived CBS effort that I’d love to cover here one day — I only have one episode and desperately want more). Love Thy Neighbor was then deemed a hit in the summer only because there was little else to watch — aside, again, from Watergate coverage — and ABC never put it back into production.

So… how does it stack up creatively? I’m afraid I’ve never seen an episode. (Have you? Share your recollections in the comments below.) And I’ve only watched a little of the British series as a frame of reference. Judging by this pilot script, however, I think the premise is thin and old-hat for summer ’73 — it’s the Bunkers vs. the Jeffersons but with less nuanced characters, only one source of comedy, and a sense of been-there-done-that following two years of All In The Family. The women come across better than the men — reviews at the time also seemed to say as much — but the easy racism jokes get tired fast, and even though one can imagine that this cliché wasn’t hit as hard in the episodes following the premiere, I’m not sure there’s any indication here to support claims on Neighbor showing the potential to become a great character-driven piece. (Or at least one that, as in early All In The Family, had such strong voices that the topics du jour were filtered through defined, motivated perspectives.)

But you be the judge. Here’s Arthur Julian’s pilot script — for your critical and educational pleasure. I am unsure of what draft it is, but you’ll note that Hy Averback is erroneously listed as the director (Hal Cooper would actually helm the opener), and six additional story ideas are attached. So, it’s very early in the process — keep that in mind. Eventually, a version of this was broadcast by ABC — 45 years ago this month — on June 15, 1973.



Come back next Wednesday for another Wildcard post! And tune in Tuesday for more Mad About You!