Question: Could you please refresh my memory as to the lyrics of the Grizzly Adams theme? Frances R., Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Televisionary: It'd be positively beastly of me to refuse, wouldn't it? (And no whining about that pun, please there are plenty more where that came from.) The theme song from the series, which ran on NBC from February 1977 to July 1978, was sort of what you'd get if you threw Michael Murphy's "Wildfire" and anything by Bread into a blender. And went a little something like this:
Deep inside the forest there's a door into another land.
Here is our life and home.
We are staying here forever in the beauty of this place all alone.
We keep on hoping.
Maybe there's a world where we don't have to run.
Maybe there's a time we'll call our own, living free in harmony and majesty.
Take me home. Take me home.
It comes off all pure, sweet and natural, wouldn't you say? Well, just as much of the "natural" bottled water you and I buy is really processed tap water, The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams was mostly the result of market testing and computer modeling, a research process Sunn Classic Pictures founder Charles E. Sellier Jr. was quite proud of.
Sunn Classics first released Grizzly Adams as a feature film in 1974, basing the story on the life of John Adams, a man who moved to the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the 1850s to live a life among the animals. Sunn's family-friendly version of the Adams tale caught on with audiences the $140,000 film brought in more than $65 million at the box office but Selliers said he wasn't surprised since all the people he surveyed nationwide told him that was the movie they wanted to see. When it came to the TV show, they let him know what they liked about each episode before it was ever broadcast.
"We test by carefully worded questionnaire, by open-end interview, by telephone, by videotape, by audio tape and by other ways I'd rather not disclose," Selliers told TV Guide in 1978. "We show them actors' faces to test potential stars. We show them scenes from our show mixed in with scenes from other shows. We get reaction on key words, phrases, ideas, moods, plot sequences, clothes, types of dwellings.... We select only high-test stories and we eliminate any negatives our audience consistently dislikes."
As a result of all that testing, the producers chose a grizzly to be Grizzly's friend Ben rather than another bear (despite the bear's fearsome look, the audience "had no fear of the grizzly because Grizzly Adams had no fear," Selliers explained). Grizzly's pal Mad Jack (Denver Pyle, who also narrated the show) had a burro instead of a horse because burros tested better. Grizzly wore no animal skins and ate no meat because the audience displayed heavy PETA-type leanings.
Even the way the show was shot and Grizzly's no-love love life was the result of testing. Test audiences liked waterfalls and mountain ridges, but didn't like snow unless it was Christmas. And they didn't want women-folk around at all. "NBC has creative control of all scripts, so I went ahead against my better judgment and shot an episode we called 'Woman in the Wilderness,' Selliers recalled. "Then we put it through testing and got a sharply negative reaction our audience didn't want any women in the wilderness. I proved my point, but it was expensive. We scrapped half of the show, reshot the scenes involving the women and changed the emphasis to an Indian and a 12-year-old boy." The audience, he went on to say, likes "eternal summer in the primeval, womanless wilderness."
Of course, testing is a major point of controversy in the industry and it was back then, too. All in the Family tested very poorly with audiences before it went on, for example. And Grizzly star Dan Haggerty wasn't all that crazy about the heavy methodology himself. "People change, the testing doesn't always hold up," he complained. "I'd like more growth, more pizzazz. Isn't it logical that Adams would fall in love with something other than that damned bear?"
Maybe, but the audience fell in love with the bear, too. Meanwhile, the bear, a female grizzly named Bozo in real life, fell in love with Haggerty, a former animal trainer who had an uncanny rapport with animals. So the formula worked for a time. The only element to get slaughtered in the process was accuracy. You see, the real Adams was an avid trapper and hunter who ate plenty of animals in his time, killed others to make clothing and sold many of those he didn't kill to circuses and zoos. It's true he had a menagerie of tame animals he raised himself, but he ran afoul of their brethren on more than one occasion. Before his move to the mountains, he worked as an animal trainer and came away with both numerous scars (a run-in with a cranky Bengal tiger gave him a good portion of those) and a partially exposed brain (courtesy of his namesake, an ornery grizzly). Once in the wild, the run-ins continued: he was attacked by another grizzly, severely wounded in the throat by an elk and had his forearm ripped open by a wolf, leaving him with a wound that never healed properly.
All of which leads me to believe that the one who made out the best when all was said and done was Bozo, whose good behavior earned rewards of jelly sandwiches, hot dogs and marshmellows from her on-set trainer. Her behavior was plenty good and so was life. At the end of the first 13 weeks of production, she gained 100 pounds, probably the only network star to ever put on that kind of weight and still keep her job.