The New Loretta Young Show: Christine's Children is billed as a "lost" series on the DVD box. I tracked down as much information as I could on the series (because frankly, I was only familiar with her previous long-running series on NBC), and I could find no indication as to why the 26 episodes of The New Loretta Young Show: Christine's Children would be considered "lost." Its production is well documented in several sources; perhaps the DVD producers thought this box set would sell better with the more mysterious "lost" tag applied to this series?
In 1953, when The Loretta Young Show premiered, it was no exaggeration to say that Young was perhaps the biggest movie star to come to TV up to that time. I'm not sure if contemporary audiences even know who she is, but during her heyday, she was one of the giants of the screen, co-starring with the biggest male stars of the time, and winning an Oscar for The Farmer's Daughter in 1947. And even more importantly, she was literally beloved by her fans, particularly for her outspoken, unashamed defense of traditional Christian values (there were some in the TV audience who disliked her equally for this very same quality). The Loretta Young Show was a weekly anthology that presented morally uplifting teleplays, about half of which starred Miss Young. Each episode was introduced by Miss Young in a manner that would become her trademark (and the frequent target of satirists and comedians): she would come twirling onto a set that resembled a luxurious living room, showing off the latest designer gowns. I remember my mom talking about how women used to tune in just to see what Miss Young was wearing that particular week. If that sounds odd - and it is, I assure you - I suppose it's no different than when people used to tune into Dynasty to see what new designer gown was being modeled, or when people today watch the various "red carpet" awards shows to see their favorite stars and what get-up they have on. In addition, at the end of each teleplay, Miss Young would come back out to the living room, and read a quotation from the Bible, or from Bartlett's Quotations, that would reiterate the moral inherent in the play just seen (now that's odd)
Despite less-than-stellar notices from the critics, The Loretta Young Show lasted eight years on NBC - with most of that staying power directly attributed to the appeal that Miss Young had with her loyal fans. When ratings finally slumped (mostly due to reruns of the show running simultaneously during the day on NBC), Miss Young decided to try her hand at a weekly half-hour drama (never a stable format on TV, anyway - most successful dramas on TV are an hour long). Moving to CBS, Miss Young came up with The New Loretta Young Show. Unfortunately for her, the network put it up against the then red-hot medical show, Ben Casey, and it was slaughtered in the ratings. It only lasted out the year.
The New Loretta Young Show: Christine's Children tells the story of widowed writer Christine Massey (Young), and her seven children, as they live their lives out in comfortable middle-class Ellendale, Connecticut. While it might seem interesting to have a switch on the usual family mix shown on TV (TV likes widowers, not widows), this potentially empowering notion is thrown right out the window when Christine meets magazine publisher Paul Belzer (James Philbrook), who quickly assumes a fatherly role in the drama, eventually marrying Christine in the final episode.
Watching it today, it's hard to see what appeal The New Loretta Young Show: Christine's Children might have had for audiences in 1962, let alone 2006. It's not that it's a poorly made show; it boasts some high-caliber talent behind the camera including motion picture directors Joe Pevney and Norman Foster. The large cast is certainly more than capable, including, of course, Miss Young. Carol Sydes stands out from the young cast as an authentically annoying/engaging teenager - she's very believable in her role, with a quirky sense of fun to her line readings. There's a couple of good supporting bits from guest stars, particularly Joyce Van Patten who does a knockout appearance as a boozy writer (too bad the show wasn't about her). But unfortunately, nothing about the series is original - or for that matter, remotely interesting. It's a flat, dull affair, executed in a lachrymose, almost funereal manner that generates almost no interest in returning back for another visit to the Massey household.
Perhaps most damaging, though, is a wild shift in tone, between and in, various episodes of The New Loretta Young Show: Christine's Children that totally puts the audience off-guard. One minute there's an episode on one of the children running for a school election, the next there's a subplot about the older daughter's psychotic boyfriend, waving around a gun. Huh? What exactly is the show about? When it seems to verge on sitcom, it staggers unconvincingly into sentimental drama, then back to innocuous blandness. Another critical mistake is having Miss Young still make her entrances and exits, out of character, at the beginning and ending of the show. It further distances the audience who are trying to believe Miss Young as Christine Massey. As well, it doesn't help to hear her trite bromides that neatly sum up what we just watched. I understand this is from another time, but it just doesn't play well today; after just a few times of Miss Young ending an episode by making a sanctimonious point, I was inclined to answer her standard send-off of "Good Night, and we'll see you next week?" with an emphatic, "No, thank you."
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.