Mad Dog on TV
Mad Dog was first broadcast at 8.10pm on Wednesday 6 April 1977 on BBC1, in the regular prime-time Survivors slot.
Earlier in the day, after-school programming on BBC1 had begun with the peerless under-five show Playschool — in which Christopher Tranchell (Paul Pitman, Survivors) regularly appeared in the 1970s and early 1980s. This was followed by an episode of the animated Star Trek series and then the launch of a new celebrity quiz show Star Turn, hosted by Bernard Cribbins. Star Turn offered a combination of 'celebrity charades' and an acted-out whodunnit presided over by the Cribbins' character Ivor Notion. John Craven's Newsround was then followed by the 'action-drama' Out of Bounds — in which two aspiring young gymnasts won their way through competitions whilst solving a crime in which the brother of one had been wrongly implicated — which brought the children's schedule to a close.
In England, Scotland and Northern Ireland the 5.40pm News and Nationwide then made way for the early evening film — the derivative 1959 'cowboy and indians' flick Yellowstone Kelly, starring Clint Walker as a fur trapper caught up in a series of (no doubt, murderous) adventures with the US calvalry in the wild west. On BBC Wales, the English-language current affairs round-up Wales Today, was followed by Welsh-language news service Heddiw ('Today') and the soap-opera Pobol Y Cwm ('People of the Valley', 1974-present). BBC Wales then broadcast the series finale of the 1977 Young Scientist of the Year competition, before all four 'regional' BBC1s came back together for the transmission of Mad Dog.
Mad Dog was in turn followed by the Nine O'clock News and Sportsnight; and then at 10.45pm the late-night documentary 'Disaster Diary', part of The Energy File series — in which the oil-well fire-fighter Red Adair discussed the likely consequences of a serious blaze in the North Sea oil fields. After the arts review programme Tonight, the weather and regional news headlines, BBC1 'closed-down' just after midnight.
The Guardian TV listing for Mad Dog, 6 April 1977
Over on BBC2, two documentaries offered an alternative choice for non-Survivors viewers. At 8.10pm, the third instalment of the craft series In the Making focused on the talents of Edinburgh tapestry weaver Archie Brennan. At 8.30pm, Inside Medicine explored the ever-topical controversy of child vaccination — and the dilemmas facing parents forced to balance the benefits of immunisation against the dangers.
Competition for Survivors from regional ITV was varied. In 1977, many decades before the homogenisation of commercial terrestrial TV, 'independent, commercial' television remained a national network — with regional ITV broadcasters able to make numerous local programming choices. As a result, the ITV alternative to Mad Dog depended on where in the country the viewer was tuning in. The most popular network choice was the US cop show The Streets of San Francisco (1972-1976) — in which a young Michael Douglas initially co-starred, alongside the series' lead Karl Malden.
The show had long been the main ITV competition for Survivors — an episode in which a police informant had been shot and seriously wounded had been broadcast directly opposite the Survivors premier The Fourth Horseman on Wednesday 16 April 1975. By the night of Mad Dog, UK transmissions of The Streets of San Francisco had reached the second episode of the third season 'The Most Deadly Species' — a murder-mystery centered on a 'beautiful hitwoman' with whom Detective Stone (Malden) becomes involved. Carried by the ITV London, Granada, Southern and Yorkshire stations, The Streets was easily the most widely-watched alternative to Survivors.
Viewers in three other ITV regions were offered a different US police drama — the short-lived and far less successful Dan August (1970-1971), starring a then-relatively unknown Burt Reynolds in the title role and a pre-Six Million Dollar Man Richard Anderson as his boss. Dan August was carried by the smaller Anglia, Channel and Westward ITV stations.
Other ITV stations opted out of these two main networked choices to run their own programming.
ATV broadcast its own regional beauty pageant — Miss ATV 1977, while HTV and HTV-Wales both carried an hour-long documentary feature on the 'spreading menace' of graffiti and anti-social behaviour, provocatively entitled Vandals Rule OK?.
According to the figures compiled for Kevin Marshall's The Making of Terry Nation's Survivors, 7.42m viewers watched the original BBC1 broadcast of Mad Dog. That put the episode on a par with the season opener Manhunt, but behind the series finale, Power (with 7.52m), and the season's best performer, Bridgehead (with 8.23m). For the first transmission of the episode on UK Gold — when satellite dishes were few and far between, and cable TV was in its infancy — 10 thousand viewers tuned in, and, for the Sunday repeat, 19 thousand.
Inexplicably, Survivors has never been repeated by the BBC, despite its strong original ratings.
The original tapes of the show were kept on the shelves of the BBC archives after 1977, escaping the subsequent 'clear-outs' during which the file copies of many classic BBC shows were sent to landfill dumps, by archivists desperate to free up storage space.
In 1993, the first series of Survivors was released on sell-through video by BBC worldwide. The same year, the first full re-run of Survivors began on the cable-satellite channel UK Gold. Between 1994 and 1998, Mad Dog was repeat broadcast five times on UK Gold, during full re-runs of the show.
In November 2005, Mad Dog was made available on sell-through
format for the first time, as part of the four-disc third series DVD set
released by DD Home Entertainment.
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