Remembering The Remarkably Unremarkable Short-Lived 'Tenafly' TV Series
Photo Credit: S & A
Television

Remembering The Remarkably Unremarkable Short-Lived 'Tenafly' TV Series

nullAfter last week’s repost of the TV show "The Outcasts" (HERE), what better time then to repost another article I wrote a few years ago about

another long forgotten black TV show.

True, it wasn’t as obviously groundbreaking as "The Outcasts." It only lasted four episodes, but in its subtle and understated way, it was, in many ways, just as important and groundbreaking.

I’m referring the 1973 NBC detective series "Tenafly" with James McEachin.

Nowadays, it seems what passes for Black TV is either executive

produced by Tyler Perry, or is designed, for the most part, to make black people

look like complete fools (Which I personally believe is a sinister conspiracy

to dull the minds of the masses). But, in going back to old TV shows, it’s

refreshing to see what was, or what could have been at one time.

The NBC/Universal series was part of an unusual

programming experiment in 1973, when the network rotated four 90-minute mystery

shows, a different one every week, for the NBC Mystery Movie on Wednesday

nights.

At the time, the network thought this was a brilliant and innovative

programming scheme, but in fact, it was a disaster..

What this meant is that you had to wait a month before a

show you saw and liked came back around. Not surprisingly, none of the rotating

shows found an audience and the NBC Mystery Movie was a ratings flop. All the

shows were cancelled, including "Tenafly," which lasted, as I said, only four

episodes, from the fall of 1973 to January 1974.

In fact the show was, not surprisingly, originally conceived

with a white man in the lead, but at the insistence of the head of Universal TV

at the time, the character was changed to a black man, with McEachin in the

lead, who, at the time was doing a lot of work on movies and TV shows for

Universal.

Of course there were those who naturally weren’t too thrilled

about seeing a black man in the role of authority. In a 2011 interview in Shock

Cinema Magazine, McEachin still recalled the hate mail that he and the network

got. One letter he remembers in particular said, "Why would you waste your money putting a black monkey on television, when you know he’s

got no right to arrest a white man."

McEachin himself had an interesting personal background.

As an actor, he appeared in over 100 film and TV roles, but he was also a Korean

War veteran who sustained multiple wounds in combat, and was awarded both the

Silver Star and Purple Heart for bravery and valor (A true man’s man). How many actors can you name who can boast that?  

In the show, he played the main character – an ex-cop now

working as a private detective. The show itself was nothing special, and was pretty much typical of other similar detective crime shows of the time.

But what made "Tenafly" so unique was that it wasn’t. It was totally unremarkable in any

way, which was part of its charm and made it rather remarkable for its period.

"Tenafly" wasn’t

slick, hip or cool. He wasn’t some angry back man raging against the injustices

of the world or the racism that he faced every day. He was just a regular guy.

As you can see from the clip below, from the first episode, he was just an ordinary

working stiff, trying to make a living, to take care of his family, and keep a

roof over their heads.

And his rather ordinary family life was one of central elements

of the show. In the first episode, there was a subplot involving Tenafly’s aunt

who suspected that her husband was sneaking out at night to see another women.

However Tenafly, after trailing him, finds out that the husband was sneaking

out to play jazz with some friends in a club.

The fact that he was black, as well as the issue of race,

was not a major issue on the show and, in fact, some white TV and black

cultural critics criticized the show at the time, because they felt the

character wasn’t "black" or "angry" enough for them. But

the show, for its brief  run, had a major

impact.

In a Shock Cinema Magazine interview, McEachin said

that, perhaps the biggest regret in his acting career was not realizing the importance

of the show at the time. He said that he "grossly

underestimated the power of television. I plead guilty to that. I didn’t know

how important it was to black people. I totally overlooked  that. Maybe it was the shock of being the lead

in a television series. It’s very difficult for anyone to understand what it is

to be the lead in a television series. it is amazing.”

Perhaps, looking at it now, Tenafly may seem slow, old

fashioned and not much to talk about. But when you consider that a lot what’s on

the air as Black TV today seems to be "yaki weave-wearing wives or girlfriends fighting each

other," "Tenafly," in its own little way, becomes more valuable to us in our

current age.

Shadow and Act is a website dedicated to cinema, television and web content of Africa and its global Diaspora. With daily news, interviews, in-depth investigations into the audiovisual industry, and more, Shadow and Act promotes content created by and about people of African descent throughout the world.

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