‘Matlock’ in space

If you liked “Star Trek” and “Battlestar: Galactica,” this is nothing like those. Instead, “Salvage 1” gave ’70s TV viewers Andy Griffith playing Fred Sanford on the Moon

In a scene from the forgotten TV flop “Salvage 1,” Andy Griffith asks Joel Higgins, left, where their careers went wrong, while Trish Stewart tries to remember her agent’s phone number

YouTube is mostly a barf bucket filled with medical misinformation, stunts gone wrong, bad advice and conspiracy theories, but occasionally it still coughs out some good content.

One of the thing that never ceases to amaze me about YouTube is how lost and forgotten old-time TV clips keep showing up on the service. When I was a kid in the pre-DVD and streaming days, if you didn’t see a TV special or a TV show when it aired, it was more or less lost forever.

But thanks to YouTube, a lot of TV history that was presumed lost is suddenly resurfacing. I’ll go looking for something on YouTube — say, “old Pittsburgh newscast” — and lo and behold, someone will have uploaded a 1985 KDKA-TV news broadcast with Bill and Patti Burns, and as soon as the theme music begins, I’m instantly transported back 40 years.

Years ago, I heard that Andy Griffith — beloved folksy comedian and star of “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Matlock” — had once been in a short-lived TV show about a junkyard owner who builds his own rocket and successfully launches it to the moon.

That sounds like a made-up TV show from “30 Rock” or The Onion, right? The show, called “Salvage 1,” aired on ABC television for barely one season (actually, 16 episodes — part of the 1978-79 TV season, and for two weeks during the 1979-80 TV season).

With only 16 episodes produced, it was never put into syndication to be seen in reruns. Apparently, a limited-edition DVD set came out in 2013, but I sure didn’t remember hearing about it.

A new ABC hit?” Spoiler alert …

In other words, other than some yellowed newspaper clippings and mildewed copies of TV Guide, there was nothing to prove the show actually existed.

The other day, the MeTV channel — which airs the classic 1960s “The Andy Griffith Show” — posted an article about another unsuccessful show in which Andy Griffith starred, called “The Yeagers,” in which Griffith played the patriarch of “a fiercely independent lumber and mining family” who owned a business empire in the Northwest. Sort of a Northwoods take on “Dallas” or “Falcon Crest.”

(No, I never heard of “The Yeagers” either — it was cancelled after two episodes.)

The same article mentioned “Salvage 1,” so I thought I’d see if any footage of that was on YouTube …

Lordy, it’s up there — someone has uploaded all of the episodes, plus the original two-hour pilot movie — and it’s every bit as bad as the premise sounds:

Andy Griffith does indeed play a folksy junkyard owner who decides to build his own rocket out of salvaged parts and fly to the moon to collect all of the debris left behind by NASA’s Apollo program.

He recruits a plucky scientist (Trish Stewart, better known as Chris Brooks Foster on “The Young & The Restless”) and a former astronaut who was washed out of the space program and reduced to selling used cars (Joel Higgins, who later played the dad on “Silver Spoons”).

Together, they build a reusable space craft out of scrap (the space capsule is a cement mixer, and the body of the rocket is a old Texaco gasoline tanker) and proceed to fly to the moon and back.

Yes, it’s actually just as dumb as it sounds.

Supposedly, Isaac Asimov served as the scientific consultant for “Salvage 1,” and one of the producers of this turkey was Harve Bennett, who produced three of the “Star Trek” movies.

All I can say is, Isaac Asimov must have been in the bathroom a lot when the scripts were being written, because the stories are idiotic.

As for Harve Bennett, he may have known how to produce good science-fiction, but “Salvage 1” owes a lot more to his previous TV shlock-fests such as “The Six-Million Dollar Man” and “The Bionic Woman.”

I watched at least four episodes, not because they’re so good, but because they’re so bad it’s hard to pull your eyes away. I love a good cheesy TV show, but this is more like fake spray cheez from a can.

The special effects look exactly like someone built a model out of plastic hobby-shop kits and photographed them in front of grainy still images of outer space.

In one episode, the “Salvage 1” rocket (dubbed the “Vulture,” geddit?) has to rescue the crew of a crippled NASA space station. The rocket can’t dock with the space station because the technology is “incompatible,” so instead, Andy Griffith bangs on the outside of the space station’s airlock and yells for someone inside to open the door.

Right, he yells. In space. You know, so they can hear him.

I think that’s also the episode in which the space craft gets caught in a meteor shower. As the meteorites go past, they make “whooshing” noises.

Uh-huh. If you thought “The Six-Million Dollar Man” was sophisticated

In another episode, the “Salvage 1” team finds a treasure map in an antique Bugatti sports car (don’t ask) and goes to an active military base in search of the lost gold of a Spanish conquistador. The guard at the gate cheerfully waves them in without any identification — because naturally, you see, he recognizes them from the news coverage of their flight to the moon.

“That’s all we talk about back in the barracks!” he says.


In yet another, the “Salvage 1” team must rescue a kidnapped FBI agent who’s being held hostage by an African dictator. They build a remote control for the spacecraft using a bread box and a pocket calculator.

The series is part “A-Team,” part “Mission: Impossible,” and yet it somehow makes those shows look like Arthur Miller plays by comparison.

I’m certain that network TV executives were doing a lot of cocaine in the 1970s, but on the other hand, you also can kind of see how this concept might have sounded appealing.

“Star Wars” was massively successful in 1977. The first “Star Trek” movie was in production. NASA’s space shuttle program was just beginning.

Then, too, environmental themes were big in the 1970s. After all, “Salvage 1” was built not just to pick up junk from the moon, but it also could recycle abandoned satellites.

And, the energy crisis was in the news. “Salvage 1” is powered by a mysterious fuel called “monohydrazine” that was invented by Trish Stewart’s character. Just 75 gallons of the miraculous fuel can send the rocket around the world. (NASA is desperate to get the secret of the chemical.)

So “Salvage 1” checks a lot of boxes. Ripped from the headlines? Check. Riding a cultural wave? Check. Socially conscious? Check.

Terrible writing and production values? Check and double-check.

(Edited later: I originally said “terrible acting,” but that’s not fair. The three leads struggle mightily to breathe life into these shows, and if “Salvage 1” works at all, it’s because Griffith, Higgins and Stewart were darned appealing. They needed better material than this, though.)

I guess this was all aimed at small kids, much like “The Six-Million Dollar Man,” but what elementary-schooler was going to be able to follow the story lines? Meanwhile, the science and special effects were so awful, no adult was going to be able to take it seriously.

Honestly: The special effects in “Salvage 1” will give you a new appreciation for the miracles that were worked by the people behind the original “Star Trek” TV show. Though that show had debuted 10 years earlier, and was the product of a tiny studio (Desilu Productions) that was near bankruptcy, it still looked better than “Salvage 1.”

And finally, if you never thought Andy Griffith would make a good action hero: Well, prepare to be surprised because … on the contrary …

OK, no, you’re absolutely right.

Ol’ Andy just grins and aw-shucks his way through the whole thing. One contemporary critic reviewing “Salvage 1” wrote that “you almost expect Don Knotts to pop up at any moment,” and it wouldn’t have made “Salvage 1” any worse than it was.

If you think Andy Griffith wouldn't make a convincing sci-fi action hero, you might be surprised. Wait: No you wouldn't
Believable as the owner of a salvage yard?
Yes, but so was Redd Foxx, and he didn’t pretend to fly into outer space

I’d like to say that “Salvage 1” predicted the current trend of billionaires such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson to build their own vanity space programs, but I think that’s giving the show more credit than it deserves.

The plot device of building a space rocket out of a cement mixer and a tanker-truck does sound eerily similar to the real story behind the Titan submersible, which imploded in June while a group of paying tourists were visiting the wreck of the Titanic. Like the “Salvage 1” rocket in the TV show, the real-life Titan submersible was built on-the-cheap by amateurs, out of salvaged and off-the-shelf components, but it turns out that cutting corners when exploring the sea or outer space doesn’t make you an eccentric folksy genius. It makes you a jerk with more money than brains.

Amazingly, “Salvage 1” didn’t do that terribly in the ratings. The two-hour pilot movie was a hit, and the series ranked 48 out of 114 shows that TV season, beating such better-known shows as “The Rockford Files,” “The Jeffersons” and “Quincy M.E,” and landing only a few spots below “Hawaii Five-O.”

Despite its modest success, I suspect the show was canceled because the special effects — even as crappy as they were — made it too expensive for what was essentially a children’s program. (According to Wikipedia, a line of “Salvage 1” toy rockets was proposed but never put into production.)

Like I said, YouTube is more or less a barf bucket these days, but getting to see a forgotten TV flop such as “Salvage 1” sure is fun.

It doesn’t make up for all of the crazy and harmful video, but it does give you something to laugh about while you’re lamenting how many people are consuming hours of YouTube misinformation, when they could be watching something more useful and intelligent, like Andy Griffith piloting a spaceship made from plastic model kits.

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