TV Guide Review

Broadcast History
Episode Guide
Express To Terror
And A Cup Of Kindness, Too
The Queen And The Improbable Knight
Hail To The Chief
A Very Formal Heist
The Green Girl
Where Have You Been Billy Boy
Unproduced Episodes
Lost Episodes
Creative Team
Route Map
Building Supertrain
Grand Central Set
In Action
NBC in 1979
Fred Silverman
Side Tracked
Home Video
TV Guide Review
NBC Publicity
Publicity Stills Collection
Super Stuff
About The Author
Sources and Links

Robert MacKenzie's TV Guide Review

     I suppose I'm out of touch, but the supersized, atom-powered choo-choo in this NBC series isn't my idea of train travel at all.
     My adventure fantasies about trains derive from old Hitchcock movies, with somberly lit Pullmans that rumbled through the night, the rhythm of the wheels at once restful and ominous, as the suspense built subtly in meaningful glances between strangers, until the body tumbled out of the coat locker.  People used to eat on those trains-trout, usually-and even sleep, tossing in fitful dreams.
     Nobody eats or sleeps on Supertrain.  They're too busy discoing and fist-fighting.  Everything here is bigger, gaudier and noisier, including the passengers.
     The design and special-effects people have had a good time, and the train is quite a marvel, cinematically--a gleaming, two-story behemoth complete with gym, swimming pool and fancy suites, and it rockets along through desert and prairie most convincingly.  The control booth has video monitors and the disco has cocktail waitresses in silver hot pants.
     As we might expect, the stories are less impressive than the gear.  It's the usual triumph of technology over art.
     In the long, two-hour premiere, Steve Lawrence was a talent agent and gambling addict, in debt to a gangster named Big Ed.  Aboard the Supertrain, someone kept trying to put Lawrence away-by planting a suitcase bomb in his room, dumping him unconscious into the pool, locking him in a steam room with buddy Don Meredith.  Our attention was called to several suspects:  a lurking criminal type who turned out to be a traveling salesman, a brutish gangster who whiled away the time abusing his girl friend.  This one moseyed on interminable; sometime in the second hour I wanted to get off and catch a bus home.
     One episode shamelessly swiped the plot of Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train."  Dick Van Dyke was the smiling psychopath, apparently out to kill the wife of a stranger, to repay a favor.  In a final twist, Van Dyke turned out to be a harmless eccentric, which made no sense but possibly eased the writer's conscience about stealing the rest of the plot.
     When early ratings proved disappointed, NBC took the series off the air for emergency surgery.  The "All New Supertrain" appeared April 14, looking remarkably like the old Supertrain except that the blustery chief operations officer (Edward Andrews) shipped off to recover from mumps and replaced by a fun couple, Joey Aresco as the new chief and Ilene Graff as a singing social director.  Zsa Zsa Gabor's jewels were stolen.  Our new regulars, with security guard Abe Vigoda, tracked down the obvious suspect.  This tale d-r-a-g-g-e-d even more than previous episodes, despite the attempt to glamorize it with models in bikinis and Peter Lawford playing his usual shopworn sophisticate.
     I have an idea that may cut NBC's losses:  let Salvage-1 haul that train away and sell it for scrap.

In case it means nothing to you, MacKenzie's call for "Salvage-1" to scrap "Supertrain" is a refence to another program running on network TV at the time.  "Salvage-1" was an adventure series that aired on ABC-TV and starred Andy Griffith.
-TV Guide May 19-25, 1979 cover featuring Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams of ABC's "Lavrene & Shirley"
Robert MacKenzie's Review column appears on the first page of the above pictured edition of TV Guide magazine.  Sadly, by the time MacKenzie's review of "Supertrain" is printed the series has just aired its final first-run episode the week prior.  NBC used its Saturday 10pm slot on May 19th, 1979 to air a pilot, "The Nightingales" starring Marcia Strassman best-known from ABC's "Welcome Back, Kotter" series.  "Supertrain" would return in June for repeats of the set of one-hour episodes