The Bad News Bears was a surprise hit film for Paramount Pictures in 1976. Written by Bill Lancaster and directed by Michael Ritchie, the film starred Walter Matthau as Morris Buttermaker, a frequently drunk swimming-pool cleaner who took on a coaching job with the little league baseball team of the title to make some extra money. Buttermaker quickly discovered this misfit team had little athletic skill but was eventually won over by their collective spirit, helping them shape up into a worthwhile team.
The underdog spirit of the film captured the viewing public’s imagination, leading to two sequels: The Bad News Bears In Breaking Training (1977) and The Bad News Bears Go To Japan (1978). Both of the subsequent films downplayed the often-sharp social satire of the original in favor of a more easy-going, family-friendly style.
This kinder, gentler tone was retained when the franchise was developed into a half-hour television series in 1979 by Arthur Silver. Silver retained the characters of Buttermaker and the team players, but altered the plotline. In the television version, Buttermaker (now played by Jack Warden) took on a coaching job for a school baseball team as an alternative to doing prison time for destroying the car of a client who wouldn’t pay for a swimming pool cleaning.
Much like the films, Buttermaker quickly discovered his team members were long on attitude and short on athletic ability. But this time, Buttermaker was aided in his attempts to turn the team into a winning proposition by a new character, school principal Dr. Emily Rappant. The Bears also had to face down new rivals the Lions, whose Coach, Roy Turner, provided a nemesis for Buttermaker. Silver also added an additional player to the team, Josh Matthews.
Despite the popularity of film series and a fine lead performance from Warden, the show never quite became a ratings success. Maybe it was too much mischief for audiences to handle, maybe it was Tanner Boyle’s conversion from a potty-mouthed preteen to a kid who spouted censor-proof gibberish words, but whatever the reason, The Bad News Bears ended its 23-episode run in June 1980. Just the same, this show is notable for providing early roles for Meeno Peluce, who would later star in the sci-fi favorite Voyagers!, as well as future teen heartthrob Corey Feldman.
USA / CBS / x30 minute episodes / Broadcast 1979 – 1980
JACK WARDEN as Morris Buttermaker
CATHERINE HICKS as Dr Emily Rappant
PHILIP R. ALLEN as Roy Turner
SPARKY MARCUS as Leslie Olgilvie
MEENO PELUCE as Tanner Boyle
COREY FELDMAN as Rudi Stein
BILL LAZERUS as Frosty