Wednesday, March 25, 2015

All Aboard the Supertrain!

Let's talk about Supertrain!

Back in the late 70's the ABC television network was enjoying great success on Saturday nights (imagine caring about ratings on Saturday night?) with The Love Boat (and the show following - Fantasy Island - also added to the ratings success.)

The cast of The Love Boat is all smiles at their ratings.

Poor ol' NBC was tanking in the ratings around this time - in third place after ABC and CBS. (No Fox or any other networks around at the time - other than public television - PBS.) NBC decided it was high time to launch a comedy/drama series with a big vehicle carting around a load of guest star passengers every week - not that they were trying to rip anyone off or anything like that. Because no TV network ever ripped off another network's show ever.

"Yeah, that's the ticket!"

ABC had a boat, so NBC would have a train! And not just any train - a SUPERTRAIN. They then proceeded to sink anywhere from $5 million to $6 million building sets and miniatures to show their Supertrain in action. Yeah, that boat show got by with some stock exterior shots of a real cruise ship - but NBC was going to go one better than that! They hired several familiar faces as the crew of Supertrain - led by veteran character actor Edward Andrews - and off they went!

Among the regulars - Robert Alda (Alan's dad); Patrick Collins, Edward Andrews,
and Harrison Page, probably best known as Sledge Hammer's Lt. Trunk. 

The show premiered in early 1979 to decent ratings - but those ratings slipped each subsequent week.

After the fourth episode aired - the show was yanked - for retooling.

When it came back a couple of months later the regular cast was trimmed down - and although touted as the "All New Supertrain" only the credits sequence was different. Five more episodes aired - and NBC pulled the plug. I don't know how much money they lost over the failure of Supertrain - but it was a big loss and really hurt the network, which continued to languish for several more years.

Here's some really amazing pictures of the sets and miniatures. I am a huge fan of miniature vehicles in movies and TV - and I LOVE the Supertrain models. (I mean the toy trains, though that blonde popping up in some of the shots is very easy on my eyes too.)

Here is the full size mock-up sitting in the Grand Central Station set:

Here's model Rhonda Foxx (Wotta moniker!) with the full size engine mock-up:

Here's the swimming pool set:

Now on to the miniatures!

There were two different scale models - the smaller was shot exclusively on miniature sets with photographic backdrops in an airplane hangar in California:

Here's Rhonda Foxx with the smaller model. 

The larger model had two uses - it had interior sets it could be shot on -

But here's the really wild thing about the larger model - they built about 1500 feet of its track - that's nearly a third of a mile - and the train and the track were designed to be taken out on location - so that this train could be shot with natural landscapes as the backdrop - helping make the miniature look all the more real! Check this out:

Here's a video compilation of the miniature trains in action:

Here's an article about the series:

And here's 8 minutes from a 1979 Today show telecast with a big behind the scenes look at the show the day it premiered. It's sad how much the Today hosts keep talking about the giant investment in the show and their hopes for a good long run - considering the nine episodes they got on the air.

And here's an interesting tidbit that appeared long after the show had disappeared:

I actually didn't watch the show when it was on - I don't know what I was watching at the time - probably Mork and Mindy and whatever came after it on ABC. However, I'm working to track down the nine episodes - I know they're out there somewhere - and if I find them you can come watch them with me if you'd like!

Until next post you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!


  1. FANTASTIC post, Craig - I've obviously never heard of this, I doubt very much it would have aired at all over this side of the pond, especially given the small amount of episodes that got produced... but, what an utterly bonkers idea for a TV show! I mean, considering they were looking to compete with the Loveboat show, spending so much money on such an unusual concept seems insane... Still, like yourself, I absolutely love seeing the details on scale models and sets, and these are simply incredible. I really like how they used them in real settings, too... really inventive. If you ever do track the episodes down, I'll look forward to reading your thoughts on them!

    1. Thanks! I had a couple of pictures of the miniatures and planned to run them as a very brief Random Stew post more than a year back - then I found more pics and more info about what a big deal this was - which always fascinates me - it's huge at the time then completely forgotten a few years later. I put this up as a Random Stew post - then realized it's more than one of those - hence the title change. I have a line on the episodes - and am working hard to see if I can get my hands on them!