Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Podcast Tuesday: "Blanskymania!"

Nancy Walker and Tom Bosley on Happy Days.

Title screen for the ill-fated Blansky's Beauties.
In the early 1970s,  CBS ruled the prime time television ratings with one of the strongest lineups in the history of the medium. In retrospect, a real turning point for the company was All in the Family, an edgy, topical sitcom that appealed to a diverse audience. The network cannily turned that one hit show into a profitable franchise with a slew of spinoffs: Maude, Good Times, and The Jeffersons. Meanwhile, however, poor ABC lagged behind. Apart from occasional hits like Marcus Welby, MD, they didn't have much to compete with Archie Bunker and company.

Then came Happy Days. At first, ABC was slow to see the potential of this nostalgic family series. A pilot aired in 1972, but Happy Days didn't get a weekly spot on the network until 1974. Even then, Happy Days was a mere midseason replacement, taking the place of The All New Temperatures Rising Show, a forgotten Paul Lynde vehicle. In its second season, opposite Good Times, Happy Days tumbled badly in the ratings and came very close to cancellation. With some retooling, however, the show rebounded mightily in its third season and even got its own spinoff in the form of Laverne & Shirley. Soon, these two shows would be ruling the Nielsen ratings and dominating popular culture.

It's only natural that ABC wanted to see if lightning could strike thrice in the same place. In February 1977, Happy Days launched its second spinoff, Blansky's Beauties. This new show, again created and produced by Garry Marshall, centered around Nancy Blansky (Nancy Walker), the diminutive but sassy cousin of Happy Days patriarch Howard Cunningham (Tom Bosley). Nancy was the "entertainment director" of a large Las Vegas hotel called the Oasis. She mainly played den mother to a group of leggy showgirls, the "beauties" of the title.

Alas, Blansky's Beauties was a flop. Paired with Fish, itself a spinoff of Barney Miller, it simply could not compete with the powerhouse CBS Saturday lineup and was canceled after 13 painful episodes. This week on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast, we talk about what went wrong with Blansky's Beauties as we review "The Third Anniversary Show," the Happy Days episode that introduced the Nancy Blansky character. Join us, won't you?