Wednesday, 9 January 2019

He Wasn't Disco Peter Cottontail

Was there ever a more uncomfortable TV performer than Daryl Dragon?

Dragon is better known to the world as the Captain half of the Captain and Tennille, who turned a Neil Sedaka/Howard Greenfield song called “Love Will Keep Us Together” into an insanely-huge chart-topper in 1975.

The chirpy song quickly led ABC-TV to sign them to a contract to host a variety show in 1976. Boss Fred Silverman predicted big things, no Big Things, for them. Silverman apparently didn’t predict that Dragon came across on the tube as someone who wanted to be anywhere else but on the tube. Combine that with obvious jokes about Dragon’s hats and Silverman decided by January 1976 the show needed a new producer, a new director and less of the Captain and his wife in comedy sketches. (Freddy insisted the ratings were fine as far as he was concerned, but what else is he going to tell reporters?).

No one was more relieved that the show was cancelled than Mr. and Mrs. Dragon.

Daryl Dragon died a week ago. Three people in show business passed away the same day, all age 76. We didn’t post about Dragon then lest the blog turn into an obituary column, so we’re posting this today. It’s an Associated Press article from July 8, 1977 with the Captain and Tennille’s perspective of the cancellation of their show, the broader perspective of the demise of variety television with music stars, and at least one insipid idea their writers tried to foist on them.

It seems Dragon was as distant and enigmatic off-camera as he was on, according to Tennille’s memoire released in 2016. Yet Tennille remained close (or as close as anyone could get) to him after their divorce and she was with him when he died.

Show's end pleases singing duo

LOS ANGELES (AP) — When television discovered that Sonny and Cher drew good ratings In prime time, tube executives were ecstatic. Here, they thought, is a mother lode of potential family hour filler; thus was born the bubble gum song-and-jokes variety show format.
Executives weren't sure whether it was Cher's navel or the couple's musical talents that brought in the viewers, but that didn't really matter — Tony Orlando and Dawn, Captain and Tennille and Donny and Marie Osmond were quickly drafted to come up with shows of their own.
The plan, like so many television ideas, sounded better than it worked. It turned out that folks really were tuning in to see Cher's navel, and after they had it memorized, well, the talents of the famed divorced couple didn't quite sustain them.
BUT PERHAPS THE the worst consequence of the soft-pop variety show was experienced by the musicians-turned TV performers themselves. Tony Orlando couldn't buy a hit record; Sonny and Cher might have bought Sonny and Cher records, but nobody else did; Donny and Marie didn't suffer as much in sales and neither did the Captain and Tennille, but ask that latter couple what they think of TV variety shows and then cover your ears. The Dragons think television may have been worse for them in terms of their music than for the others.
"It was hell," says Toni Tennille, the pretty, smiling half of the teenybopper's notion of the ideal couple. "Because of television we didn't have time to write. We'll never do another series in our lives, at least till I'm 55 and do a Dinah Shore talk show. It was really hell. It was not fun."
"It can be fun," says Daryl Dragon, the inevitable captain's hat pulled down over his eyebrows. "But I'll tell you what's wrong — variety shows are all based on formulas. They say, 'Well, let's do it like Donny and Marie, that show's successful.' They've never come up with a variety show that's different."
The Dragons think that television may have been worse for them — in terms of their music careers — than for the others.
"See, Donny and Marie, Sonny and Cher were just kind of 'hit and miss' singles artists," says Toni, "every now and then they'd get a hit single, but they never really were big album artists. We have been. People have come to expect quality stuff from us, and we didn't have time to write."
THEY THINK THE PROBLEM is not that pop singers can't transfer successfully to TV but that "the networks are brainwashed into a certain format," Daryl says. "Yeah," Toni joins in, getting excited, "you have to have certain guests on because they draw. They were going to take our last two shows and make them SPECIALS," pronouncing the last word with disdain.
“And that’s real cute. They wanted one to be an Easter special (“What’s wrong with the Easter Bunny? Daryl jokes). And as an opening number, they suggested a disco version of "Here Comes Peter Cottontail!"
"That's what Donny and Marie do, and there's nothing wrong with it," Daryl says.
"Right," Toni chimes, "but Donny and Marie can get away with it ... they're kids. I said, 'Look, you've got The Brady Bunch and Donny and Marie, they can do Peter Cottontail disco, that's not our thing."
IT WAS RIGHT ABOUT at that time that Captain and Tennille realized you can't be serious about your music and have a weekly television series too. They dream about the ideal music series featuring guests like Linda Ronstadt and The Eagles but in the meantime, they've returned full-time to their real vocation, "recording artists, definitely, that's what we are."
Their series, by the way, was dropped by ABC; and the Dragons couldn't be happier.
The pair, both former members of the Beach Boys, are back in their roles as pop stars. They're in the middle of a back-breaking 90-city tour and they are also back in the charts with a new album, "Come in From the Rain."
"Our new album is almost platinum," Toni says, "So as far as I can see, television hasn't really harmed us."


  1. That was the era when any band or group that had any kind of a hit got their own variety show. (Remember The Starland Vocal Band, of "Afternoon Delight" fame? Their show was one of David Letterman's early gigs.) I think it was Carol Burnett who said the variety shows died when non-comedic singers started hosting them.

  2. Steve, I remember that era very well. Look at the singers that the " Big Three " instantly expected to have perfect comedic timing. It was a cookie cutter formula. Sometimes, it was the power of the guest stars that held those shows up.Speaking of Carol Burnett,I remember the parody Carol did on pop music. Suddenly, there's Carol lip syncing to " Love will keep us together ". Carol was wearing her Toni Tennille wig, dancing all over the place, Tim Conway is wearing the Captain's hat, staring blank into space, one hand on the keyboard, the other hand with their two bulldogs on a leash. It was a funny bit.