It Seemed Like a Good Idea: Supertrain

Let's play a game. I'll describe a show, and you name it, OK? Here we go:

People from all walks of life take a trip, and we see their individual stories. Most passengers are played by actors familiar from other TV shows.

Oh, you know it? What's the name of the show?

Not Love Boat. Instead, I'm thinking of NBC's immortal Supertrain. This 1979 would-be blockbuster took place on an enormous nuclear-powered passenger train that could whisk from New York City to Los Angeles in 36 hours. Not only was this train fast, but it was like a luxury resort on rails--it had a pool, a discotheque, gym, all kinds of stuff.

As it turned out, it had everything but viewers.

Originally envisioned as a weekly riff on Murder on the Orient Express, Supertrain was fast-tracked to premiere on February 7, 1979 as what many would consider a clone of Love Boat. While they had the requisite patriarch-like captain and horny doctor, instead of a hip African-American bartender, Supertrain had a hip African-American porter.

Really? The only black guy on the show, and you make him the porter? Right. Moving on.

I think the biggest problem was that the show was rushed into production so quickly that it never seemed quite finished. NBC yanked it for retooling after its fifth episode, which aired on March 14. When it reappeared on April 7, it had a new opening sequence and only three remaining main cast members. They added two new characters the following week, and two episodes later added a laugh track before finally pulling the plug after a total of nine episodes, one of which featured Dick van Dyke as a deranged nutcase.

Aside from the production woes, there were a few other things that puzzle me. How do you have a swimming pool in a giant train moving at like 200 mph? Wouldn't you have to slow down very gradually? Same with the disco. If there's an emergency stop, hitting the dance floor would mean something entirely different.

In the pilot, the reason for Supertrain is that train ridership is down. So to boost rail travel, the head of some company decides to spend 80 kajillion dollars on a train that requires special track and other costly maintenance, not to mention it's nuclear-powered?

Like Love Boat, the show had a cavalcade of familiar faces on board, including one episode with Dr. Bricker himself, Bernie Kopell. I mean, seriously, how many shows could give you the treat of George Hamilton, Steve Lawrence, and Don Meredith, all on the screen at the same time?

No, that was one of the good points.

In another time, this might have been able to last a full season, but in the middle of NBC's notorious dry spell (editor's note: NBC's earlier notorious dry spell, not the current one), it didn't have a chance.

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