Meanwhile, Monty Kaye, the producer of Flip Wilson's television show, suggested that the Manhattan Transfer's singing and performing might work as a variety series. CBS executives took in two Manhattan Transfer concerts - one in Los Angeles at the Roxy Theatre, and another at New York's Bottom Line - and were suitably impressed. Within weeks, contracts were drafted and signed.
The Manhattan Transfer premiered on August 10, 1975 as a 60-minute comedy-variety summer replacement series. "We had two writing teams for that show," said Janis. "Ours - and theirs. It was like Amtrak and Penn Central. Our writers were Joel Silver, Tim's sister and Bruce Vallance. That was Amtrak. And their writers kept going to this variety formula - the show needed comedy and sketch bits in it, and that included Doughie Duck."
"Doughie Duck," a character created by Archie Hahn, was added to the series by the "Penn Central" writers to appeal to youngsters who normally watched The Wonderful World of Disney at that hour. Unfortunately, Doughie Duck was funny only to the writers who created him, and his catchphrase "Hey Tim!" still makes Tim Hauser cringe. "You can clearly see the delineation," said Tim Hauser. "You can see what sections came from which writers."
"And then we had to deal with the censors," added Janis, "because we were on at 7:30 on a Sunday night. We wanted to do some double-entendre material, and they wouldn't let us. We couldn't do some of the songs in our catalog, like 'Well Well Well, My Cat Fell In The Well,' and 'Lederhosen,' in Jack and Jill drag."
"The ratings for our show were very high on the Coasts, and very low in Middle America," replied Tim, "the Trent Lott community did not get it."
"However," said Janis, "in spite of everything, we did do some wonderful things. We had Bob Marley and the Wailers on in their first United States television appearance. We had some very good comedians on, Robert Klein and Steve Landesberg. And we had some good music."
Because of the lack of rehearsal time to learn new material, the Manhattan Transfer mined their catalog for over 30 different songs during the show's four-week run - they went through all their recorded material, the stuff that hadn't been recorded yet, enough music to record a new studio album every Sunday night. "We didn't want to get picked up for another season," said Tim, "because we knew that we couldn't do another season. These shows are put together in a week, and this is why television is what it is. You cannot do quality work in that short a period of time."
They didn't have to worry. During the 1970's, it seemed almost any singing group with a couple of hits got their own television show, and many of them - The Starland Vocal Band Show, The Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. Show, The Captain and Tennille Hour - lasted only a few weeks. The Manhattan Transfer lasted four episodes, and was not renewed for the 1975-76 television season, much to the delight - and relief - of the group.