Overanalyzing BJ and the Bear

While researching yesterday’s post, I forced myself to sample an episode of BJ and the Bear on YouTube1. Just a few minutes into the episode “Deadly Cargo”, it quickly became clear that television audiences in the 70’s and early 80’s must have been complete and utter morons. The acting on this show was lousy and the plot was preposterous. Worst of all, despite his character hardly being used at all, the antics of Bear (that’s the chimp) rapidly grew tiresome. They actually managed to ruin a freaking chimpanzee! Yet somehow, this show got not one but two TV Guide covers, along with 48 episodes over three seasons2.

BJ and the Bear on two TV Guide covers
Bear’s wardrobe provided by Gap Kids and an old man’s hat box

Here’s a sample of dialog, which was either plodding or hilarious, depending upon whether the vulgar slang abbreviation for fellatio existed in the 70s. If not, exactly like a fine wine, this bit of dialog got a whole lot funnier with age:

Elizabeth Chambers: You don’t pull any punches, do you Mr. Mckay?
BJ McKay: Hey – BJ. Why doncha give it a try? I think you’re gonna like it.
Elizabeth Chambers: Ok – BJ…I like it. I like it.

While wondering how this awful excuse for entertainment could possibly have lasted three seasons, I read more about the show on Wikipedia. There I came across this explanation of the final season (which kicked off with an episode entitled “BJ and the Seven Lady Truckers”):

In 1981, when the show returned from hiatus, BJ had settled down to run Bear Enterprises, a trucking company based in Los Angeles…BJ was unable to hire experienced truckers, and he was forced to hire several beautiful young female truckers, including Grant’s daughter Cindy (Sherilyn Wolter), and another busty blonde nicknamed “Stacks” (Judy Landers).

It sounds like the catalyst for the show’s existence, as well as its longevity, must have been a team of truly talented writers. No hack could so elegantly give the people exactly what they want (beautiful, busty blondes) in such a believable way (by forcing BJ to hire them all as truckers), and then throw in a goddamned great ape for good measure. It simply had to be crackerjack writing, and my own tastes must be far outside the norm.

Yet the modern-day numbers seem to contradict this conclusion. This convenient graph shows a precipitous drop-off in the number of viewers for each of the five parts of Deadly Cargo on YouTube:

Line Graph showing a precipitous drop-off in viewers.

So perhaps the initial theory (“70’s TV viewers were complete and utter morons”) was the correct one. Of course who the hell are we, the people of 2011, to judge? We’ve got seven different “Real Housewives” series in the US alone.


  1. I absolutely refuse to archive this. ↩︎

  2. Not to mention a spin-off series, The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo. ↩︎