Supertrain - From The Land Of Forgotten Television

Supertrain is an American television drama/adventure series that ran on NBC from February 7 to May 5, 1979. Nine episodes were made, including a 2-hour pilot episode.

The series took place on the Supertrain, a nuclear-powered bullet train that was equipped with amenities more appropriate to a cruise ship. It had luxuries such as swimming pools and shopping centers. It was so big it had to run on very broad gauge track. While it had a rated top speed of 250 mph, the train cruised at 190 mph. On one episode, the train left New York City in the evening and arrived in Los Angeles the next morning. Some episodes state that the train also stops in Chicago, Denver, a fictitious town in Texas and presumably other cities. Much like its contemporary The Love Boat, the plots concerned the passengers' social lives, usually with multiple intertwining storylines. Most of the cast of a given episode were guest stars. The production was elaborate, with huge sets and a high-tech model train for outside shots.

Supertrain was the most expensive series ever aired in the United States at the time. The production was beset by problems including a model train that crashed. While the series was heavily advertised during the 1978-1979 season, it received poor reviews and low ratings. Despite attempts to salvage the show by reworking the cast, it went off air after only three months. NBC, which had produced the show itself, with help from Dark Shadows producer Dan Curtis, was unable to recoup its losses. Combined with the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics the following season, which cost NBC millions in ad revenue, the series nearly bankrupted the network. For these reasons, Supertrain has been called one of the greatest television flops. - Source

The Production Designer, Ned Parsons, was working with Dan Curtis on a location cowboy film, when Dan was asked by Fred Silverman to produce "The Super Train" 2 hour pilot. Ned called an illustrator friend to quickly "paint up" a concept illustration for a futuristic train racing through the country side! Returning from location, Dan Curtis set up production offices at MGM Studios. Bob Grand, Production Manager, secured five stages for the train's interior sets. Ned Parsons hired Ed McDonald as his Art Director expecting him to organize a drafting room of quick fingers to draw as fast as possible. Twelve roster senior set designers were given rough set plan layouts, expected to develop these flimsy plans into working drawings. Ned Parsons had begun his Hollywood career as a prop-member on a set decorator's swing gang crew. He was promoted by his family connections to a set decorator position. Then he was made an art director. Having some success, Ned was working with Dan Curtis, wrapping a "Western film," when Fred Silverman placed his call for the train film pilot order. This train pilot idea replaced a Fred Silverman approved projected NBC series that was to be about an air plane's passengers experiences on cross country and trans-continental flights. Ned Parsons hired Bruce Kay for his decorator. Into construction, Parsons and McDonald clashed resulting in Ned firing his Art Director. Because Bruce had a long working relationship with Hub Braden, Ned Parsons hired Hub, replacing McDonald. Ned explained the context of the sets with a drafting room set plan review, including stage walk-through of sets under construction. What a mess! And disaster! Ned asked Braden to draw plans for the rear train car, which was to be a swimming pool and rear train observation deck. This drawing was executed in three days and shown to the construction coordinator for him to order materials. Braden had planned to have set designers redraw his plan/elevation schematics for the carpenters. Told by the Coordinator "just give me that drawing and I'll get the set into work." Ironically this was the first set finished prior to filming. - IMDB

The horror of Supertrain almost brought down a network

Some TV shows never even make it past the first season. Maybe a series lacked the ratings to match its artistic accomplishments, or maybe it floundered its way into the network crosshairs, but it’s time to look at one-season series outside the immediate context of ratings and renewals. One-Season Wonders, Weirdos, And Wannabes considers the merits of these short-lived shows. In this installment: Supertrain, which ran for nine episodes on NBC in 1979.

Supertrain is the gold standard against which all other television bombs are measured. It was so heinous, so horrible, that it tarnished a previously stellar career and nearly bankrupted an entire network.

The story of Supertrain begins with the man it is most irrevocably tied to: then-NBC president Fred Silverman. In the days before Supertrain, Silverman could practically do no wrong. He started at WGN-TV in Chicago, then moved to daytime programming at CBS before becoming head of all CBS programming in the early ’70s. He got rid of evening game shows as well as series like Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies in what was later called the “Rural Purge.” Silverman helped set up a comedy lineup still unparalleled in the annals of TV history: All In The Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and The Bob Newhart Show. He then became president of the flagging ABC, making it the home of many hits in the late ’70s: Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Charlie’s Angels, and The Love Boat. He became famous for his “golden gut,” as it was believed that he had an uncanny ability to predict which TV shows would draw viewers. - READ MORE

Supertrain's NBC Broadcast History

There are a total of ten hours, eight 60-minute episodes and one 2-hour movie, of "Supertrain" broadcast beginning Wednesday February 7, 1979 and concluding Saturday July 28, 1979.

NBC originally put "Supertain" as the opening of the network's Wednesday night schedule airing at 8pm (Eastern).

Though "Supertrain" premiered with reportedly decent ratings, the numbers quickly went down. NBC removed the show from its schedule for re-tooling little more than month after its premiere. The first five episodes carried the credit of Dan Curtis as Executive Producer for the series. The "Supertrain" crew for these first five shows included Edward Andrews, Patrick Collins, Harrison Page, Robert Alda, Nita Talbott, Arrika Wells, William Nuckols, and Michael DeLano. - READ MORE

1 comment:

  1. I wrote a post about Supertrain once years ago, but you sir, have blown it straight out of the water. Supertrain is just one of those shows that you have to point out to the world like "look at this, look at what somebody thought was a good idea."