1 9 7 9 – 1 9 8 1 (USA)
25 x 30 minute episodes
Surely one of the most unusual programmes broadcast nationally in the US – and possibly one of the first examples of interactive television – this hybrid of sitcom and pseudo game show gave viewers the chance to decide how they would like the story to end.
The format consisted of an 11-minute vignette about the Baxter’s, a middle-class family living in a suburb of St Louis, as they faced a controversial issue.
In one episode they had to decide whether to commit Mother Baxter to a nursing home; in another they had to assess whether the fact that John’s teacher was a homosexual would harm their son; in yet another, Fred faced a dilemma over whether to turn a small, money-losing apartment house he owned into condominiums, thus forcing out some of the tenants.
Each short episode was played as a sitcom but always ended with several options open to the family.
A studio audience assembled at the local station where the show was being carried, then discussed what they thought should be done.
In some cities, viewers could phone in and give their views.
The programme had begun as a local production at WCVB-TV Boston in early 1977, where it had been created by an ex-divinity student named Hubert Jessup as part of his Sunday morning public affairs show.
Jessup persuaded station management to try it in the early evening and to everyone’s surprise, it attracted a loyal – if not large – cult following.
Producer Norman Lear heard about the show and offered to produce the programme in Hollywood and put it into nationwide syndication for the 1979/1980 season.
Despite its good intentions, the show came across as rather heavy-handed, and never reached a very large audience.
Coupled with the high cost of production, this was enough to cause Lear to withdraw after a year, and for the 1980/1981 season, the programme reverted to its Boston originators who syndicated it themselves.
The 1980/1981 episodes were produced in Toronto with an all-new cast and even new first names for the Baxters.
Terri Lynn Wood