Number 96, American style

In September 1973, the fledgling STAR TV of Toronto, Canada, which had earned a broadcasting licence by promising to cater to "special needs", allowed its viewers to sample Cash Harmon's wares. Number 96 proved too spicy - this on a channel with a reputation for screening almost-blue movies. At the time, Toronto viewers could receive a total of twelve channels. STAR transmissions could also be tuned in by the residents of Buffalo, just across the US/Canadian border.

The chances of a sale to the US were becoming more remote due to its controversial scenes. In the 70s, only "safe" fare, such as Skippy and Chopper Squad were sold in the US. Even in the 80s, Prisoner (Cell Box H) was relegated to obscure timeslots in New York, despite its cult following there.

Programmers all over the world had long coveted the huge ratings and fever-pitch publicity generated by Australia's Number 96. It wasn't until 1980, well after the demise of the original, that America actually attempted a remake. Essentially, all that was bought was the name of the building and a vague idea that the show would have a balance between comedy and melodrama. None of the beloved Australian characters were duplicated. As in the parent version, most of the US cast were television unknowns, except for Greg Mullavey (who had played opposite Louise Lasser in 1976's controversial series, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman).

Number 96 USA

If few Australians remember the 1980 American version of Number 96, that's understandable. There wasn't very much of it and, in the few places where it did air Down Under, it was buried in that non-ratings, late-night timeslot reserved for TV turkeys. Most Americans don't remember it either, although it did premiere in prime time over there...

In NBC's Number 96, Mullavey was cast as Max Quintzel, a man experimenting with the concept of open marriage. Ellen Travolta, lesser-known than her actor sibling, John, was Rita Sugarman. Barney Martin (of The Tony Randall Show), top-lined as Horace, the resident voyeur. Ironically, viewers always seemed to be on the wrong side of Horace's keyhole.

For the record, here is the cast list of regulars:

Horace Batterson, newly-retired naval commander: Portrayed by Barney Martin
Max Quintzel, architect: Greg Mullavey
Marion Quintzel, his bored but beautiful wife, a pianist: Randee Heller
Roger Busky, recently-divorced salesman, seduced by Marion with Max's approval: James Murtaugh
Nathan Sugarman, lovesick policeman: Todd Susman
Anthea Bryan, his English girlfriend: Rosina Widdowson-Reynolds
Lou Sugarman, Nathan's brother: Eddie Barth
Rita Sugarman, Lou's slinky wife: Ellen Travolta
Mark Keaton, a newlywed baseball player: Howard McGillin
Jill Keaton, his naive wife: Sherry Hursey
Sharon St Clair, actress and Mark's former lover: Hilary Thompson
Ginny Ramirez, Sharon's room-mate, a Puerto Rican comic: Maria O'Brien
Chick Walden, debt-ridden, professional con man: John Reilly
Maureen Galloway, alcoholic widow: Betsy Palmer
Sandy Galloway, her daughter, a nurse: Jill Choder
Dr Robert Leon, psychologist and transvestite: William Brian Curran
Lyle Bixler, maintenance man: Charles Bloom
Lisa Brendon: Christine Jones

Life at Number 96 Pacific Way in Southern California was as eventful as in Paddington, Sydney. Episode #1's slapstick seduction of nervy, new tenant Roger by Marion Quintzel was reminiscent of Arnold Feather and his liaison with cooking teacher, Marion Carlton. However, Arnold's performance was interrupted by a phone call from Mr Carlton, not an earthquake.

The American version of Number 96 had a highly-publicised debut on 10th December 1980, with three one-hour episodes being screened over consecutive nights in its first week. After viewers were hooked, the plan was to reel them in with one new episode each Friday night at 9 pm. Unfortunately, the audience had given up on it already and the show vanished from prime-time screens on 2nd January 1981.

Bad TV: The Very Best of the Very Worst (Dell, 1995) by Craig Nelson described America's Number 96 as:

"an hour-long sitcom about a baseball player, a pianist, a Puerto Rican comic,
a cop, a nurse, a widow, an actress, Mary Hartman's husband, and a transvestite,
all living in an L.A. swingles' apartment complex.
Hey, let's do a prime-time show about wild California sexcapades!
The original Australian version gained big controversy and a big audience
through its extensive use of nudity, but without it
the American producers couldn't find a formula to make a hit."

Despite the eight-year time lag, the US still trailed behind Australia's censorship rules. No American version of Number 96 could never be as daring and ground-breaking as the original. Scenes of the calibre of Deborah Gray's infamous full frontal strips, which Australians took for granted in 1977, are still beyond feasibility for US commercial networks.


An annotated episode guide to the Australian series

Character information for the Australian series

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Number 96 Home Page © 1996 Lindsay Street Productions

This page revised February 2000
URL: http://www.ozemail.com.au/~lindsay96/index.html
Email Ian at: lindsay96@ozemail.com.au