Friday, May 31, 2013

Before Designing Women There Was Filthy Rich

TV Blog / Dixie Carter in the classic television show Filthy RichIn the fall of 1981 Dallas was the biggest hit on television, JR had just been shot and the nation was in a thrall, so the networks scrambled to find the next big prime-time soap opera. Most were expensive flops but CBS scored a minor hit, albeit for a very brief period.

Filthy Rich was a comedy twist on the Dallas conceptwith a broadly drawn assembly of tacky Southern hick characters. It too often came across as a re-imagining of The Beverly Hillbillies but delivered some hearty low-brow laughs.

Here's the first half of the pilot:

TV Blog / classic television show Filthy Rich From producer / creator Linda Bloodworth (who 5 years later brought the TV audience Designing WomenFilthy Rich centered around the refined but cash poor Beck and the low-life Westchester families, forced to live together in Toad Hall by the death of their ultra-wealthy patriarch 'Big Daddy'.

CBS originally ordered a one-hour Filthy Rich pilot in 1981 but passed on it as a mid-season replacement.  Here's part two of that pilot in 1981:

The network still had hopes for the series, what with ratings for Dallas reaching meteoric levels, so they ordered a second half-hour pilot in 1982 and again declined to pick the series up for fall.

Slim Pickens in Filthty Rich 1981The show itself was uneven but there were plenty of clever zingers and one liners to make it worthwhile. Let's face it, this wasn't exactly the golden age of the sitcom, so by default Filthy Rich was one of the funniest of the 1980s.

The superb cast included Delta Burke, Dixie Carter (at her cattiest best), Ann Wedgeworth, and Nedra Volz. Motion picture western great Slim Pickens was cast as Big Daddy, seen posthumously in videos left behind detailing his wishes for how the family fortune should be spent. Slim Pickens died not long after this sitcom debuted so from that point on Big Daddy was played by Forest Tucker.

The second, very funny pilot is below. Watch how the premise is reset under the premise of a magazine article being written about the family... the exposition super-highway for sitcom writers.

TV Blog / Dixie Carter in the classic television show Filthy RichWhen CBS aired the two pilots over three nights following episodes of M*A*S*H in the summer of '82 the network realized they had a ready-made hit.

The series was rushed into production for the fall, missing the first weeks of the season due to delays. Critics lambasted the crude insult humor and ratings were lousy thanks to a combination of network interference (making the show sillier, as if that was possible) and being slotted against a new smash hit on NBC, Family Ties.

Filthy Rich was yanked after 6 weeks but returned in January of 1983 only to be cancelled quickly again. The remaining episodes were burned off during the summer of 1983.