I recently got some tapes/discs of flop shows, some good, some bad. So I’m going to try something a little different with the “Weekend Viewing” posts for a little while: I’ll present an episode from one of these flops, and post it here, so we can see these rare shows and figure out why they flopped, or if they deserved better.
This weekend is the pilot of Bay City Blues, co-created by Steven Bochco for MTM productions (back when MTM still existed as a separate entity; now it’s owned by Fox, which won’t even release the rest of Hill Street Blues, let alone this one) and aired on NBC in 1983. It’s an ensemble drama about a double-A baseball team, the Bay City Bluebirds. As you can tell by the title, the creator, and the format (serialized ensemble show), this was Bochco’s follow-up to Hill Street Blues; if MTM’s St. Elsewhere (not by Bochco) was HSB in a hospital, this is a sports version of HSB. 13 episodes were produced, but NBC only aired four of them; the show was up against the still-popular Hart to Hart, and got crushed.
The show has some of the same virtues as Hill Street, starting with the casting: Bochco, like all successful TV producers, has tremendous casting instincts (that’s really the most important thing for a TV producer to have; unlike movie producers, TV producers can’t rely on getting the big stars, so they have to have a great eye for lesser-known actors). When you see the title sequence, to yet another wistful Mike Post theme tune, you’ll recognize many names of people who would become famous, sometimes on Bochco shows. And a minor league team is really good material for this kind of show, since it automatically includes such a wide mix of people: players who used to be stars in the big leagues, young players on their way up, the manager who wants to win and the owner who is mostly in business to sell players to the big leagues.
The pilot doesn’t make as big an impression as the Hill Street pilot, in part because it’s not as good but also because Hill Street could bring in sudden bursts of violence to shake up the viewer, whereas a show about baseball players has to amble along in a more gentle way. With Hill Street, the viewers were never in doubt that something might happen, even when the scene in front of them seemed to be rambling and aimless; with Bay City, they had no such assurance; in the absence of that assurance, it seemed like a show with too many characters who hadn’t really established themselves as interesting (this took time on Hill Street, but that show at least had the cop stuff to keep us patient) and they switched over to a show where they would be guaranteed a murder and a chase every week. The other problem is the usual one: shows about sports teams are never popular. There’s not enough sports to appeal to sports fans, and too much sports for people who aren’t sports fans.
Here is the pilot, in four parts, right up to the baseball version of the MTM kitten at the end.
Next weekend: a comedy that deserved to flop, but is an important document of an entire era in TV history.
(P.S., I know I planned to do another “election” episode this weekend, but I couldn’t find the one I was going to use, and we’re all a little tired of election stuff anyway.)