by Legendary Lew
Master of comic observation, David Brenner, died March 15, 2014 from cancer. The greatest emphasis in remembering him by most media has been his numerous appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Gracing the stage there 158 times since his 1971 debut was quite the feat. It’s currently unmatched by any other guest.
A few obits will mention that Brenner was the star of a extremely short-lived NBC sitcom from 1976 called Snip. How quick was the demise of the show? NBC cancelled the show before a single episode was aired. Normally, this would simply be an insignificant footnote in TV history. However, the story behind what happened is fascinating, leading me to believe that the network had some of the biggest assholes in charge during the 1970’s.
Brenner was a very hot property by the mid-1970’s as one of the best stand-up comics around. Naturally, producers were keen to take notice and one of them, James Komack, was spinning gold as executive producer of the hit shows Welcome Back, Kotter and Chico and the Man. Komack developed a new sitcom called Snip, based somewhat on the box-office winner, Shampoo starring Warren Beatty and Julie Christie. Snip starred David Brenner and Lesley Ann Warren as divorcees who are reunited in a hair salon when he takes a job there. The show also starred Bebe Drake and Walter Wanderman as the salon owner.
NBC pulled out all the stops for promoting the show, saturating the airwaves with announcements of the new “hit” comedy. Although I’ve not seen them in almost 40 years, I recall seeing ads for it. Snip was also buoyed by advance good reviews, presenting a strong case for the network having high hopes.
So why did NBC cancel the show almost literally at the last minute–so drastically that TV Guide didn’t have time to pull this spread from their Fall Preview issue?:
The answer: homophobia.
Snip would have presented the first regularly recurring gay character (played by Wanderman) in television history and NBC was not ready to take the chance. Throwing it into a strange limbo, NBC announced it would be cancelled, then it would be postponed, then it just simply died. NBC wouldn’t try having a gay character again until 1981, when they ran Love Sidney for a two-season run, but not before giving the lead a character castration so that his gayness would be quelled, lest viewers catch something.
The network’s dick move (certainly not the only one they pulled in the 1970’s–The Richard Pryor Show‘s tumultuous journey becoming legendary TV history) didn’t really hurt Brenner’s career. He continued to appear on The Tonight Show, even becoming rumored as a possible replacement for Carson when the latter showed signs of fatigue in the late 1970’s.
The cancellation certainly did, however, make NBC look heartless and it must have damaged Wanderman’s career, as he only made one final TV guest spot before disappearing. The subsequent successful airing of the existing five episodes on Australian television had to have inspired an interesting phone call between Komack and NBC. How I would have been a fly on the wall for that conversation.