7 short-lived Sixties TV shows that were too ahead of their time

By: Start TV Staff    Posted: October 22, 2020, 2:05PM

Thanks to their visionary creators, The Twilight Zone and Star Trek are continually listed as Sixties television series that were ahead of their time. It's hard to argue, considering that the two franchises are still going more than a half-century later. Those dramas (though sometimes, rarely lighthearted) delved into sociological and philosophical themes. 

But they were not alone. The Sixties being the Sixties, other TV shows from the decade ushered in new ideas, characters and plots that reflected what was happening in the real world. While these shows were praised and acclaimed, they struggled in the ratings for various reasons. Let's take a look.


The Lieutenant


In many ways, The Lieutenant served as Gene Roddenberry's practice run for Star Trek. The forward-thinking creator set his first series in a uniform-wearing environment, only it was the very real Marine Corps rather than Starfleet. The lead character, portrayed by Gary Lockwood, even had the middle name "Tiberius." Nichelle Nichols, future Uhura, guest-starred in a particularly notable episode with Don Marshall and Dennis Hopper (seen here) about racial prejudice titled "To Set It Right." The network refused to air it or even pick up the tab for the production. The frustration from this episode led Roddenberry to veil the similar themes of Star Trek behind science-fiction allegory.

Image: The Everett Collection


East Side / West Side


George C. Scott, the first actor to refuse an Oscar, led the cast of this searing inner-city drama, which also featured Cicely Tyson in the first lead role for a black actor in a primetime drama. The series was the creation of David Susskind, a talk show host famous for his Harry S. Truman interviews, who would tackle issues of the day on his The David Susskind Show. (He was also the first cousin of Norman Lear.) Likewise, East Side / West Side featured plots about real-life problems, which scared away advertisers while garnering critical acclaim. It earned eight Emmy nominations yet lasted a single season.

Image: The Everett Collection


Slattery's People


"Democracy is a very bad form of government. But I ask you never to forget: All the others are so much worse." So began every episode of this drama about local politics. Richard Crenna (perhaps best known for his later role in the Rambo franchise) starred as noble state legislator James Slattery. Series creator James E. Moser spent nine months researching the legislative process in Sacramento, which led American politicians to praise the show for its realism.

Image: The Everett Collection




After seeing a Philadelphia production of A Raisin in the Sun in 1959, Robert Hooks moved to New York to pursue acting. Eight years later, he was headlining a TV police procedural as an African-American detective. This was another series with David Susskind behind the scenes, as well as Arnold Perl, who would later write a screenplay about Malcolm X that posthumously formed the basis for the Spike Lee film. Future film stars Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel, James Earl Jones and Roy Scheider all turned up on this drama that pulled no punches in representing the cases of NYC police. This was decades before acclaimed series like NYPD Blue and Homicide: Life on the Streets.

Image: The Everett Collection


He & She


As you can tell by the promo image, He & She thought outside the box. The sitcom is credited as blazing a trail for Seventies classics such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show. In fact, He & She shares a lot of DNA with that series. Like The Dick Van Dyke Show, it was somewhat meta, a show about a television creator (played by Richard Benjamin), in this case, a superhero show-within-the-show called Jetman. Benjamin's real-life spouse, Paula Prentiss, portrayed a social work and wife. The sophisticated comedy earned multiple Emmy nominations, including one for Allan Burns, who could go on to create — you guessed it — The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Image: The Everett Collection


The Leslie Uggams Show


Nat King Cole was the first black celebrity to host a television variety show, back in 1956. Uggams was the second, and the first African-American woman. The diverse cast and crew (pictured in the "LU" image at the top of this post) created a program that catered to a wide audience. Sly & the Family Stone appeared in the first episode; Don Knotts busted sides in the second, for example. One recurring sketch, "Sugar Hill," centered around a middle-class black family. The one big obstacle? Hoss. This CBS show was scheduled opposite NBC's Bonanza, a ratings juggernaut.

Image: The Everett Collection




The creation of George Schlatter, the co-creator and co-producer of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, Turn-On was a brilliantly mind-bending series that imagined a post-modern style of television with busy superimposed images, lightning-fast edits, heady concepts and progressive topics. It would live in ignominy as the only television show in history to be canceled before it even finished airing! It did not make it past its premiere at 8:30PM on February 5, 1969. A Cleveland network affiliate led a campaign to kill the show. Read the full story behind this fascinating flop.

Image: The Everett Collection