getTV Programmer's Pick - MAC DAVIS: SOUNDS LIKE HOME
This March we're pleased to introduce a new feature of the getTV blog - our Programmer's Pick. Each month one of our lead programmers will let us know what his favorite program will be and some of the reasons why it was selected. We will also post these blogs on Facebook, which will give you the opportunity to ask questions and make comments. We kick things off with Senior Vice President of Programming Jeff Meier and his pick for March - the 1977 variety special Mac Davis: Sounds Like Home.
As a television programmer who has spent decades digging through libraries of classic shows, there is nothing more fun than coming across something unexpected. And there is nothing better than having that unexpected surprise turn out to actually be good.
And so, for our first monthly getTV Programmer’s Pick, I can think of nothing better and more fun than to let you know about Mac Davis: Sounds Like Home – airing Monday, March 27 at 10 pm ET/7 pm PT.
Remember Mac Davis? As a younger follower of pop culture, I was only moderately familiar with Mac. I knew he wrote some songs that Elvis had done, and that he had hit the charts on his own with "Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me." But mainly I knew him as a hunky crossover country kind of guy, more memorable for the half-buttoned shirt and the impressively curled mop of hair. The kind of guy that you didn’t take all that seriously. Not "real" country like George Jones or Merle Haggard, but instead the kind of amiable country star that you could also find on Hollywood Squares or Murder, She Wrote (both of which he did…and to be fair, you could probably find Johnny Cash doing the same kind of thing).
So I was both impressed and surprised when I started digging into his network specials. This is a guy who loved music and curated both great songs and impressive guest lists for his shows. These were not specials filled with comedy sketches – they were strong, mostly song-packed hours. getTV aired a great Mac Davis Christmas special this past holiday season with Gladys Knight, Barbara Mandrell, and Ronnie Milsap (which you will be able to catch again in 2017).
But I’ve been even more excited to show you 1977’s Mac Davis: Sounds Like Home. Mac truly brings out some musical heavyweights in Dolly Parton, Donna Summer, and Tom Jones along with a fun stand-up set from George Carlin and opening cameo from blues veteran Furry Lewis. When Furry Lewis opens up an NBC primetime hour, you know you’re not in for your standard variety hour!
The set-up of the special is simple and sincere. Pretty much all on one set, with a studio audience, Mac reminisces about the role music played in his life growing up - when he got his first guitar, how he wrote his first songs. Each guest shares some of their own memories before performing a solo song, usually followed by a duet with Mac.
First up is Dolly Parton, who at the time was still primarily a country star, not the international superstar we know today. In spring of 1977, after years of country success, she was finally attempting to "cross over” and had just recorded her first album outside of Nashville. And who better to help her cross over than hunky mop-topped Mac Davis?
Well, ultimately on this special, they kept it musically "true" to her country roots. As many times as you may hear it, who can ever tire of Dolly Parton singing "Coat of Many Colors?" Not me. It is one of the truest, most heartwarming country songs ever. And instead of choosing the commercial Motown covers or the recent single off her latest album, Mac and Dolly duetted on "Applejack," an album track banjo-strummer about the joys of music that has endured to become the most remembered song from that album. In hindsight, though Dolly has successfully crossed over with slick songs like "9 to 5" and "Islands in the Stream," it’s her country authenticity that has served as the basis for her lasting popularity (and has led to "Coat of Many Colors" inspiring two of the most watched telefilms of the last few seasons – more than 40 years after its initial release).
Tom Jones appears on Mac’s special on the heels of his biggest hit in half a decade "Say You’ll Stay Until Tomorrow," which had just hit #1 on the Country charts and the Top 20 of the U.S. pop charts. How ironic is it that on a special with Mac Davis and Dolly Parton, it was Welshman Tom Jones who had the biggest country hit at the time? When Mac and Tom duet on Mac’s 1974 hit "Stop and Smell the Roses," it’s a perfect picture of Brit vs. American '70s hunkdom, with Tom slender in a post Mod suit opposite Mac’s Dukes of Hazzard era plaid shirt and jeans approach.
Then there’s Donna Summer. In early 1977, Summer was not yet the "Queen of Disco." At that point, her one mainstream hit had been the moan-filled "Love to Love You Baby," and the iconic and still influential "I Feel Love" was still a few months away. But Sounds Like Home was not a "disco" special, so Summer fans will flip to see her performance here. Not only does she do a brief interlude, in German, of “The Age of Aquarius” (which she had sung earlier in her career in the German touring company of Hair), but she knocks out a stellar rendition of the classic Leon Russell-penned ballad "A Song For You" – a song which she frequently performed in concert at the time, but which she never released on record.
The special concludes with a knockout one-time-only medley where Dolly, Donna, Tom, and Mac partner with a gospel choir to sing songs of inspiration – a moment where, despite their different backgrounds, they get to draw on a musical landscape that they all share. They sound great together and each gets a chance to shine. But shining brightest is Mac himself, who throughout the special wears a sincere smile that seems to say "How lucky am I to be able to have brought all this music together in one place?" Of all the moments that delight and surprise in this special, it’s getting a new appreciation of Mac Davis as a music curator that has delighted and surprised me the most.
I hope you enjoy this first Programmer's Pick!