1 9 7 9 (USA)
9 x 60 minute episodes
Zooming from New York City to Los Angeles at over 200 miles per hour, the nuclear-powered Supertrain was equipped with restaurants, a 22-by-14-foot swimming pool, spas, a gymnasium (equipped with a steam room), a disco bar, a medical centre and a theatre, and each week’s guest passengers had their own problems to resolve before the end of their trip.
Yep – just like Love Boat, but on rails.
The show had only five permanent cast members; Robert Alda (father of M*A*S*H‘s Alan Alda) as the resident medico, Dr Dan Lewis, Nita Talbot as nurse Rose Casey, Edward Andrews as chief conductor Harry Flood, Patrick Collins as passenger relations officer Dave Noonan and Harrison Page as Chief Porter George Boone.
The short-lived show depended on guest stars (much as Love Boat did), such as Loretta Swit, Jamie Farr, Dick Van Dyke (miscast as a villain), Zsa Zsa Gabor, Roddy McDowall, Bernie Kopell, Abe Vigoda, Victor Buono, Keenan Wynn and Stella Stevens.
Mystery, drama, comedy, international intrigue and romance (along with sex and violence) all took place aboard the sleek land liner as it rocketed across the country at 200 miles per hour.
The real hero of Supertrain was Ned Parsons, the art director who conceived and built the nine-car bullet-nosed train from scratch in little more than three months. He supervised 200 construction workers on the MGM lot who worked around the clock in three shifts on stages 11, 27 and 29.
Each car was about 19 metres long, 8 metres wide and 6.5 metres high. A Lockheed hangar in Burbank was used for miniature sequences.
Supertrain was the most expensive American TV series ever produced at the time – an estimated $12 million before it even aired. It was reported that the failure of this show, along with the US boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics (which NBC was supposed to cover), nearly bankrupted NBC.
The ratings dropped like a rock and it was pulled from the NBC schedule barely one month after it had begun. Efforts were made to rework the concept, including cutting down on the number of regular crew members.
When it returned after a month’s hiatus, only conductor Harry Flood, Dr Lewis and chief porter Boone were left from the original crew. Two new members – chief operations officer Wayne Randall (Joey Aresco) and social director Penny Whitaker (Ilene Graff) – were added, and the behind-the-scenes production team had been changed, but it didn’t help.
Less than six months after its premiere, Supertrain was derailed for good. In the television industry, Supertrain practically became a byword for expensive, overproduced and misconceived TV shows.
Conductor Harry Flood
Porter George Boone
Dr Dan Lewis
Bartender Lou Atkins
Roben the hairdresser
Social Director Penny Whitaker