Now that’s “Something Else”!: A forgotten 1970 music TV show

By on April 9, 2015

In the August 11, 1969, issue of Broadcasting: The Businessweekly of Television and Radio, a two-page ad revealed information about a brand new syndicated music TV series that was to debut in the spring of 1970.

The ad was selling the new show to syndicators in markets all around the country, on a barter basis with the American Dairy Association acting as sponsors.

The ad said that Something Elseis a first run, network quality series,” and stated that it would be available for a guaranteed 26 weeks — “with an option for a longer run… How’s that for Something Else!”

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The series was to be distributed by Rhodes Productions, whose company president, Jack Rhodes, considered himself something of a master of talk show and variety show distribution during the 1960s, promising to the subscribers reading Broadcasting -- who were no doubt trying to make sense of what was happening with all these new-fangled rock acts showing up on their TVs — that this new show would be “thirty minutes of bright, new, wholesome, contemporary entertainment.”

It also mentioned that the show, instead of being shot on a soundstage in Burbank or some other L.A. locale, would be “filmed on location in color,” and even mentioned a few of those locations: San Francisco, Hawaii, Acapulco, Aspen (of these, the show was only ever filmed in San Francisco; in fact, most of the episodes were shot in California).

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The ad further described that this new show would be hosted by comedian-impressionist John Byner, noting his “relaxed style,” who would be seen touring around the country with six girls, the “lively and Lovely Action Faction dancers,” and promised guest stars from the worlds of music, show business, sports, and motions pictures, although the only “nationally renowned personalities” listed in the ad were the artists who appeared on the very first episode: John Hartford, Jim Webb, Merrillee Rush, Three Dog Night and Mephistopheles.

Hartford had already been a writer and performer on the Smothers Brothers’ groundbreaking CBS television variety show, and on the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, which had replaced it, and audiences responded to his appearances favorably, even if they didn’t quite know what to make of it all, like the time he played “Gentle On My Mind” — a Top 40 single for Campbell that had also earned Hartford two songwriting Grammys — on a banjo equipped with a fishbowl and live goldfish.

CBS already had big plans for Hartford, an incredible songwriter and musician — he played banjo on the Byrds’ seminal 1968 LP Sweetheart of the Rodeo — but by the early 70s, Hartford was already realizing he needed to be away from Hollywood and  TV. In his spare time, when he wasn’t touring, recording, and performing on TV shows, he became a licensed riverboat pilot.

On February 28, 1970, an article appeared in the Daily Independent Journal newspaper out of San Rafael, California, under the headline “TV Filming In Turned On Marin County,” TV producer Robert L. Dellinger is quoted as saying: “For years, people have been asking why can’t we see something else on television… that’s the name of our show, and that’s what it’s about.”

The article describes that filming was taking place on the ferryboat named Vallejo, tied up at Gate 5, which was rocking gently as dancer Jan Paul “ran lithely through a dance number to taped rock music, doing high side kicks on the rough wood gangway.”

Dellinger’s 35-member crew, it reported, had been shooting a “musical tour of Marin” for the past week for showing on the nationally-syndicated television show Something Else.

What wasn’t mentioned was that the director of cinematographer on some of these episodes was Paul Lohman, who had DP’d on the biker flick Hell’s Angels ’69 the year before. Within a few short years he would be the DP on movies directed by Robert Altman, including Nashville and California Split, on his way to having a lengthy, celebrated career behind the camera.

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Something Else began airing on CBS sometime around April 1970, and each half-hour episode featured four different musical acts, introduced by Byner, showing him occasionally talking to the foxy Action Faction Dancers in set-ups that were like little comedic bits, Byner’s real comfort zone, but here, they feel a little off, a little staged. Some of these intros were apparently shot separate from the band’s performances, which were, for the most part, lip-synced (it appears that Hartford may have been shot live-to-tape for his songs, though).

In the early episodes, Byrner doesn’t appear to be too comfortable, considering the hipsterish 70s way he spoke to the audience at home, as if he felt they were an older demographic who needed to be educated about this new breed of bands that were taking over their primetime network. Perhaps he was getting notes from the CBS execs at the time.

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Mike Love of the Beach Boys

The list of artists who appeared on Something Else is simply staggering (check the full episode list below): The Flying Burrito Brothers, Taj Mahal, Tony Joe White, The Beach Boys, Sweetwater, The Grass Roots, The Turtles, Rick Nelson, The Carpenters, Phil Ochs, Shocking Blue, Canned Heat, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Dr. John, Carla Thomas, Boyce & Hart, Thomas & Richard Frost, Ides of March, Lou Christie, Dion, Rick Nelson, Richie Havens, Terry Reid, Evie Sands, Gary Puckett & The Union Gap, Andy Kim, Country Joe & The Fish, Norman Greenbaum, Melanie, Spiral Starecase, Lou Rawls, the Guess Who, Roy Clark, Johnny Mathis, Iron Butterfly and many others.

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Iron Butterfly

We couldn’t find really reliable statistics about ratings for the show, but we think it’s pretty safe to say that it was a very expensive television show to produce, shooting all around the country, and probably was always a show that CBS thought would do better than it did.

Byner hosted a total of 25 episodes.

We spoke to Evie Sands, who appeared on episode #4, and here’s what she had to say about her experience: “My segment was shot on the grounds of a private home in the French Quarter. From the street, the outside was a nondescript, unadorned wall. However, once inside – like when Dorothy lands in Oz and it goes from black & white to color – the home was on fairly expansive grounds with all manner of plants, flowers, trees and bursting with colors. The house itself was quite interesting indeed. It was owned by a very nice, eccentric fellow who was completely enamored/obsessed with Napoleon. He was short, dressed in clothes from the era and everything in the house was either antiques from the period or replicas. He also had a number of actual Napoleon items – purchased at auctions or from private dealers – and various Napoleon statues, busts and paintings. Every square inch of the house was overflowing with Napoleon and the era. Being in it was like seriously stepping back in time, plus the friendly owner/host being a short fellow dressed like Napoleon – well, all I can say is, it was something else!”

During episode #19, filmed in Catalina, he was sounding like he was still trying to convince the audience at home to lend their ears to the hip new sound that he was layin’ down. Check out the intro to this performance of “Vehicle” by The Ides of March:

Byner: “The whole music scene has changed… for the better, I think. The sound is different, the look, the whole way of communicating…”

Michael Fennelly’s band, Crabby Appleton, appeared in episode #19 too, lip-syncing their hit “Go Back.”

Michael remembers that, “It was shot on film, so the make-up was heavy (perfect for a warm day at the beach). The most exciting part for us, was taking off from the water in a decrepit old plane on pontoons. The pilot, right in front of us, in this 6-seater, revved that plane up til it shook as though it was about to fall apart… we jussssst made it into the air…”

He adds: “It’s a pity the Action Faction Dancers were filmed separately. I’m sure they had stories to tell… then, again – Crabby wasn’t really a milk drinking group…”

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Michael Fennelly of Crabby Appleton

On June 29, 1970, Broadcasting magazine ran an item in a column called Program Notes, noting that John Hartford had replaced John Byner and that he “will star in the final 12 episodes of the show, appearing in 75 markets.”

Something Else began to take a change in direction with John Hartford hosting the show. There were fewer performances — usually two, sometimes three, instead of four — and more country/bluegrass performers were featured. Hartford himself appeared frequently.

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Gram Parsons / Flying Burrito Bros.

After Something Else came to an end in early 1971, Hartford was offered his very own CBS detective series, but he turned the network down, saying later that he thought it would be difficult to return to music later, after he’d failed at acting, knowing that some of his critics would say he couldn’t hack it. He moved back to Nashville and purposefully eschewed celebrity for the rest of his life, going back to the bluegrass music and riverboat environment he loved. Although he provided voiceovers for projects such as Ken Burns’ Civil War and wrote books like Steamboat in a Cornfield, Hartford devoted his life to bluegrass. He recorded nearly 40 albums, including the 1977 Grammy-winning Mark Twang, and was heard on the soundtrack for the film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” He died in 2001, at age 63.

Within a few years, Byner was already back at CBS, hosting his own show in 1972 called the John Byner Comedy Hour, where the character of Super Dave Osborne, played by Bob Einstein, was first introduced. In the late 1970s, he had a featured role as Detective Donahue on the TV series Soap, and in the 1980s he hosted the Canadian TV comedy series, Bizarre. That show re-introduced many people to hapless daredevil Super Dave. He’s had a lengthy career and continues to make appearances.

Today, you can see a lot of those TV variety shows mentioned above — like Glen Campbell’s — lovingly packaged and preserved on DVD/Blu-ray box sets, but TV shows like Something Else have simply disappeared, whether it was due to contractual issues which preclude them being able to be released again, or certain broadcast rights are in dispute or maybe permissions have been difficult to obtain.

Apparently a company called Research Video owns the rights to the show, but they’re only willing to license it to documentary producers, and not to collectors or fans. So, unless you’re making a documentary and can find some way to license these 34 episodes, they are going to stay hidden away in the vaults.

And, as you can see from the footage that has ended up on the internet, there’s a chance that the quality of the surviving footage is pretty bad, that it probably means that the tapes themselves have oxidized, or browned out, and in some cases, the reversal stocks have faded entirely, leaving a bluish cast to the images.

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Dr. John, The Night Tripper

Episode 1 (San Francisco): Merrilee Rush /John Hartford/ Mephisopheles /Three Dog Night /Jimmy Webb
Episode 2 (Texas State Fair): Motherlode / Hank Thompson / Ferlin Husky / Roy Clark
Episode 3 (Six Flags Over Texas): 1910 Fruitgum Co. / Lou Rawls / Andy Kim / Cathy Green
Episode 4 (New Orleans’ French Quarter): Pete Fountain / Evie Sands  / Taj Majal / Gary Puckett & Union Gap
Episode 5 (New Orleans): Joe South / Tony Joe White / Beach Boys
Episode 6 (Griffith Park, Los Angeles): Lou Christie: Guess Who / Grace Markay / Keith Barbour
Episode 7 (Hollywood): Sweetwater / Boyce & Hart / Bill Medley / Jennifer
Episode 8 (Los Angeles): R.B. Greaves / Grassroots / Thomas & Richard Frost
Episode 9 (Flagstaff, Arizona): The Clique / Merrilee Rush / Hal Fraizer
Episode 10 (Vickenburg, Arizona): B.J. Thomas / Turtles / David Houston / Jody Miller
Episode 11 (Phoenix, Arizona): Johnny Tillotson / Lynn Kellog / Billy Joe Royal /Dennis Yost & Classics IV
Episode 12 (Palm Springs, California): Rick Nelson / Hamilton Camp / The Cufflinks / Susan Barrett
Episode 13 (San Diego, California): O.C. Smith / Steam / Thelma Lou
Episode 14 (San Diego, California): Jeannie C. Riley / Sandpipers / Stony Brook People
Episode 15 (Big Sur, California): Lenny Welch / Mary McCaslin / Spiral Starecase /New York Rock & Roll Ensemble
Episode 16 (Sausalito, California): Vic Dana / Country Joe & The Fish /Noel Harrison / Joanne & Vent Muscatel
Episode 17 (Squaw Valley, California): Noel Harrison / Gladys Knight & The Pips / The Carpenters
Episode 18 (Virginia City, Nevada): Frigid Pink / Phil Ochs / Roberta Flack / Norman Greenbaum
Episode 19 (Catalina Island): Ides Of March / Bobbi Martin / Jack Wild / Crabby Appleton
Episode 20 (Long Beach, California): Melanie / Righteous Brothers / Chambers Brothers
Episode 21 (Newport Beach, California): Poco / Mark Lindsay / Linda Ronstadt / Flying Burrito Brothers
Episode 22 (Malibu Beach, California): Shocking Blue / Blues Image / Smith
Episode 23 (Washington D.C.): Freda Payne / Chairmen Of The Board / Kathy Smith
Episode 24 (Atlanta, Georgia): Dion / Terry Reid / B.B. King
Episode 25 (Nashville): Conway Twitty / Doug Kershaw
Episode 26 (Lexington, Kentucky): Essra Mohawk / Turley Richards / Mason Proffit
Episode 27 (Chicago, Illinois): Jerry Butler /Illinois Speed Press
Episode 28 (Wisconsin): Rotary Connection / Alive And Kicking / Honey Cone
Episode 29 (Sunset Blvd, Hollywood): Johnny Mathis / Iron Butterfly / Amy Rushes / John Hartford
Episode 30 (Cosmic Los Angeles): Kathy Smith / Richie Havens  / John Hartford / Denny Brooks
Episode 31 (Magic Los Angeles): Dorothy Morrison / The Dillards / Canned Heat
Episode 32 (?): Judy Mayhan / Dr. John The Night Tripper / Bobby Bloom / John Hartford
Episode 33 (SF Bay Area, California): Carla Thomas / Bush / Cold Blood / Creedence Clearwater Revival
Episode 34 (Yosemite, California): Nick Lampe / Freda Payne / John Stewart  / John Hartford / Steppenwolf

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.