by Doug Snauffer
Like many other independent channels, Get TV kicked off the New Year by revising its programming lineup. One change in particular was the addition of an obscure sitcom from the early 1970s entitled The Girl With Something Extra (NBC, 1973-74).
Most people will have no memory of this short-lived domestic sitcom. It ran for just a single season of 22 episodes before being cancelled unceremoniously by NBC and relegated to deep storage.
Those who do recall the program most likely remember it as a starring vehicle for acclaimed actress Sally Field. She was just 26-years-old when she began work on The Girl With Something Extra, yet she was already a seasoned veteran, having starred in two previous comedies, Gidget and The Flying Nun.
Her third effort cast her opposite the multi-talented John Davidson, an accomplished singer and actor who’d also hosted his own talk show in 1969, as newlyweds Sally and John Burton, who face an unusual dilemma—she has ESP and can read the minds of those around her, including his.
Early on, John argues that the situation isn’t fair because it puts him at a disadvantage—she can lie but he can’t. Not about anything diabolical of course, just the little white lies that can save another persons feelings. In an early episode, John—while kissing Sally—has a vision of his celebrity-teen-crush Annette Funicello in a bikini. Sally picks up on it and is furious.
Sally later explains that when she was a young girl her best friend went off to camp for the summer, and when she returned Sally immediately sensed that she was no longer as important to the girl as she’d once been. That all her life she’d been able to read people’s true feelings about her, personal thoughts that most people really wouldn’t want to know. John was then able to realize that both he and Sally were at a disadvantage, but if they both really truly loved each other it was something they’d be able to overcome.
Field was very good in the role. She has that strong screen presence that kept the networks interested in working with her, and eventually launched her into feature films. Davidson is good too, and together he and Field made an attractive couple. They have chemistry together, particularly in their dramatic scenes. Those are the moments in which both leads really shine and when the series is at it’s best.
The real problem with The Girl With Something Extra was in the writing. It’s the type of program that in the 1980s would be branded a “dramedy,” a genre and term that quickly became extinct. The writers didn’t seem to know which direction they wanted the show to go in—was it a comedy or drama, an old-fashioned comedy or an attempt to explore the trials and tribulations of a modern marriage in the liberal ’70s.
The series did have the benefit of a strong supporting cast. Jack Sheldon played John’s brother Jerry, and Zohar Lampert was Sally’s best friend, Anne. Henry Jones and William Windom, two of television’s best and most recognized character-actors, had recurring roles as Owen Metcalf and Stuart Kline, the senior partners at Jack’s law firm.
It all sounded like a recipe for success—or might have a decade earlier.
MeTV has scheduled The Girl With Something Extra weekday mornings at 7:20 a.m. following Nanny and the Professor (ABC, 1970-71) and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (ABC/NBC, 1968-70). Appropriate company; Both of its lead-ins were shows about couples in which one partner had supernatural abilities.*
Other programs that The Girl With Something Extra can be favorably compared with include Bewitched (ABC, 1964-72), I Dream of Jeannie (NBC, 1965-70), My Living Doll (CBS, 1964-65), and My Brother the Angel (CBS, 1965-66). These shows all debuted in the 1960s when such fantasy concepts were in vogue with TV viewers.
By the early 1970s, though, the television landscape had begun to change. CBS ditched their rural sitcoms in favor of more sophisticated comedies like All In the Family (CBS, 1971-79) and Maude (CBS, 1972-78). NBC placed The Girl With Something Extra on Friday evenings at 8:30 following its established hit Sanford and Son (NBC, 1972-77).
The scheduling choice seems to indicate that NBC had very high expectations for The Girl With Something Extra. At the time in 1973, Sanford and Son was the #2 rated program on TV, making the time-slot following it choice prime-time real estate.
Unfortunately, the two shows simply weren’t compatible. Sanford and Son was a gritty sitcom with an all-black cast that was fueled by race-inspired humor. The Girl With Something Extra was an old-fashioned, fantasy-tinged sitcom about a young, upwardly-mobile, upper-middle class white couple who lived in a loft they couldn’t possibly afford. (Say that three-times fast.) NBC obviously gave it the post-Sanford and Son birth in the hope it would retain the large audience enjoyed by its lead-in. But that simply wasn’t the case. Viewers of Sanford and Son tuned out in droves at the bottom of the hour.
By midseason, the network realized its error and in January, in an effort to salvage the program, moved it from 8:30 to 9:00 (in the process cancelling the freshman sitcom Needles & Pins, which had been occupying the time slot). The move, however, failed to improve the shows performance, and The Girl With Something Extra was cancelled in March of 1974.
Sally Field of course moved on to success in both television and feature films, earning accolades for her roles in the TV miniseries Sybil (1976) and feature films like Smokey and the Bandit (1977) and Norma Rae (1979), while John Davidson continued to pursue both his singing and acting careers. He again hosted his own talk show (NBC, 1976; syndicated, 1980-82) and in 1986 became emcee of The New Hollywood Squares (syndicated, 1986-89).
Fields’ earlier efforts, Gidget and The Flying Nun have both played in syndication, but The Girl With Something Extra has been buried since it went off the air in 1974. Now, thanks to retro-TV networks like Get TV, viewers have an opportunity to see it again, along with many other obscure and mostly forgotten programs like it.
* The nature of Nanny’s incredible intuition was never explained, and she and Professor Everett maintained a platonic relationship, yet had the series continued I suspect romance might have blossomed. And Carolyn Muir and the late Captain Daniel Gregg also maintained a chaste association, but there was an undeniable attraction between the two. It always confused me that the Captain could be seen and heard when he wanted to be, and could interact with the living. So why didn’t he simply do so and claim to be one of his own descendants, and marry Carolyn? Perhaps he would have, but like Nanny and the Professor, the run of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was cut far too short.
TVWriter™ Contributing Editor Douglas Snauffer is an Ohio-based freelance writer. His work has appeared in myriad publications and on SyFy Channel and includes several cult horror films and the books The Show Must Go On and Crime Television. Learn more about him HERE