How the Cowsills almost became the Partridge Family

At one point in time, you’ve probably heard the Cowsills on your oldies radio station.  They were a fresh-scrubbed, clean-cut family from Rhode Island who eventually broke through with a series of “sunshine pop” hits.  Of course you know one of their biggest songs, “The Rain, The Park, and Other Things,” don’t you?

And you probably know their OTHER massive hit, a sunshine pop version of the theme from the Broadway rock musical Hair.  Here they are, performing it on a TV variety show.

Such was the popularity of the Cowsills, that legend has it someone suggested they be stars in a sitcom about a family who plays music and travels around the country.  However, once the Cowsill family found out that the show would require replacing their mother, Barbara Cowsill (yes, she’s one of the performers in the band) with another actress, the family balked and walked away from the project.  Of course, the show eventually went on a few years later, and ran for four seasons as The Partridge Family.

But here’s the thing.  There actually WAS at least one dry run to see how a Cowsills sitcom might work.  Timex bankrolled a 30-minute variety special, “The Cowsills: A Family Thing,” which aired in November 1968 on NBC.  The entire Cowsill family – including their father / manager, Bud Cowsill – were introduced by Buddy Ebsen.  The band performed a few sketches and skits, and pantomimed and lip-synced to their current hits “Indian Lake” and “We Can Fly” and a few others.

Someone uploaded the TV special, in two halves, to YouTube, so you can see it here.  Just to be prepared – this show has plenty of 1960’s cringe-worthy humor and some jokes that, while they might have been funny in 1968, are definitely uncomfortable in 2020.

Wait, they postponed an episode of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir for THIS?

Honestly, the best thing I can say for this TV special is that the Cowsills were better as musicians than they were as actors or comedians.  Most of the band’s acting delivery was as wooden as deck furniture, and the show itself feels like more of an expanded time slot for one of their normal variety show appearances.

So maybe the Cowsills weren’t going to be the next hit ABC sitcom product.  Besides, by 1970, the band’s sunshine pop had morphed into psychedelic music and Bible rock.  Because at this point, they were releasing songs like “The Prophecy of Daniel and John the Divine,” which, although technically and lyrically impressive, had absolutely nothing to do with standing in the rain and loving the flower girl, if you know what I mean.