Friday 15 January 2016


From 1980: the amusingly titled BJ & THE BEAR ANNUAL.

How did Larson, Universal and the network ever get away with this 1979-81 show? 

Not the title but the blatant swipe (switch a big screen sized orangatan for a telly proportioned chimp) of the Clint Eastwood movie EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE, released in late 1978. In Larson's defence, he would have had to have piloted, shot, sold and started work on the first season before Eastwood's film had opened for business. So maybe it was just an example of producers having the same idea... or maybe Larson's nose for a hit was finely attuned enough to predict the Eastwood project was going to be worth knocking off.

The series, the latest in a long (and only occasionally distinguished) line of Larson novelty shows had Greg (My Two Dads) Evigan trucking around the States (read: California and the Universal back lot) getting into all sorts of kid-pleasing scrapes. It must have been a tough gig knowing you were the star of the show but the audience were just waiting to see the truck and the primate. 

The show spanned a not-to-be-sniffed-at 48 episodes over three seasons and improbably spin-off another, less well remembered, comedy drama show THE MISADVENTURES OF SHERIFF LOBO (37 episodes across two seasons from 79-81). 

It's worth noting that the Glen A. Larson telly machine was also deep in the midst of producing BATTLESTAR, BUCK ROGERS (although Larson had little hands-on involvement past the pilot) AND THE HARDY BOYS AND NANCY DREW MYSTERIES as well as, no doubt, others on the go when BJ hit the air.

Kudos to Larson for making BJ (Billie Joe) McKay a Vietnam vet before the war became all pervasive in American pop culture during the next decade... even if the show seldom mined that particular piece of backstory further. 

One episode, about the Hollywood stunt industry (cue lots of back lot shots) may have been a proof of concept for THE FALL GUY, a considerable hit for Larson under his new deal with 20th Century Fox. Like BJ, Larson even roped in his star (Lee Majors) to croon the premise-explaining theme song. 

I loved this show at the time (I was very young... and it had a monkey) but it never resurfaced during the now past boom years for the Hollywood studios to release their back catalogues of action shows on disc. I managed to get a low-fi bootleg set (and Lobo too which, as far as I know, never crossed the Atlantic) which is certainly suitable for an understanding 50 minutes of entertainment. 

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