Written by Musgo Del Jefe
Although the air dates for Love American Style – Season 1, Volume 1 run from September 29, 1969 to December 22, 1969, this show is pure early Seventies. It's certainly our memory of the early Seventies, looking back almost 40 years later. The bright colors, the hip, quick cuts, the corny jokes and the quirky Herb Alpert-ish score. But 38 years later, what this really represents is an important transition to the core ABC shows that would dominate the ratings for the better part of the Seventies and early Eighties.
Love American Style represents a genre that really doesn't exist anymore – the anthology show and more specifically the comedic anthology show. The formula is basic but really it's brilliant. The hour-long shows consist of anywhere from two to four stories. These separate stories are surround by short filler gags heavily influenced by Laugh-In. These "short attention span" gags were unrelated to each other and usually starred a core group of actors, "The Love American Style Players." The theme song is sung by The Cowsills (best known for Hair) and it's catchy happiness along with the fireworks and red, white and blue heart tell the viewer that this is going to be a light-hearted party. The flexibility of this formula was perfect for syndication (where I first encountered the show at Noon-time just before The Hollywood Squares in the late Seventies). The filler jokes allowed the shows to be edited to 30 minutes by filling out the 20-minute stories.
Because the only criteria for this show is to be about "love", there's a variety of stories that can be adapted for the show. One is the extended joke. In "Love and the Hustler," Flip Wilson plays Red, a Muhammad Ali of the pool-hustling world. The extended skit has Red boasting about his skills until the final reveal when the hustler gets hustled. Only the final line of the piece brings the piece back to a "love" theme. Same for "Love and the Pill" where two parents are first concerned that their daughter may be having sex with her boyfriend and then concerned that something might be wrong because she isn't. These single-scene pieces are cheap to film, usually taking place all in one location and in one time period, like a Saturday Night Live skit.
The second type of story is what I call the "One Man Play". In this type, the set-up is very simple and allows one actor to showcase their comedic talents, including physical humor. In "Love and the Living Doll", Arte Johnson plays a Woody Allen-ish character trying to make his neighbor jealous. The clever episode allows Arte to show off his physical talent by wrestling and dancing with a blow up doll and later letting him try to explain his way out of an accusation of murder when a nosy neighbor sees him disposing of the doll. My favorite of this set is "Love and Who?" featuring TV veteran Sid Caesar. Sid wakes up in a hotel room in Vegas unsure of what happened the night before when he started at a party in L.A. The story showcases Caesar's comedic timing as he finds out that he got married (he's already married!), and starts to try to piece together what this new bride might look like. His one-sided phone conversations with the party host in L.A. and the wedding chapel are worthy of Bob Newhart's best.
The last type of story is the "Pilot" piece. Many of the longer stories feel like rejected pilots or try-outs for a pilot. In fact, Season Three will spin-off both Happy Days and Wait Until Your Father Gets Home. The episode, "Love and the Phone Booth" is a well-acted, well-written story that lasts about forty minutes. There's great chemistry between the actors and it would be easy to see an ongoing story between the lovable nerd from Indiana and the free-spirited naive girl from San Francisco.
This genre works well because of its variety. Stick around and you'll find something to latch onto in almost every episode. There's great writing, quality TV directors like Jerry Paris and a bevy of upcoming actors and established film actors. Volume 1 features Regis Philbin, Shari Lewis, Morey Amsterdam, Harrison Ford, Norman Fell, Robert Reed, Ozzie Nelson, Broderick Crawford, Phyllis Diller, Larry Storch, Bill Bixby and Connie Stevens along with tons of other TV regulars from the Seventies.
The format spawned ABC's biggest hit of the Seventies, Happy Days, a show that spawned other ABC hits in Laverne & Shirley and Mork & Mindy, shows that helped anchor Tuesday nights for almost a decade. The format itself was perfected a few years later with The Love Boat and Fantasy Island – two shows that would conquer Saturday nights for ABC, a tradition that would last into the late Eighties. The Love Boat would take essentially the same format and add a compelling permanent cast around which the weekly stories (three or four usually) could be told. This anchor of an appealing cast is just what Love American Style is missing, ultimately. There's no host (ala Ricardo Montalban) to lead us through the stories each week. Viewers like that steady character to comment on the storylines.
The first release is a bare bones set. You get 12 episodes on three discs and no extras. Some of these episodes must have a helluva background story and I'd love to hear some commentary from these TV icons. You don't get TV shows like this anymore, so keep bringing these out on DVD.