09 Wheels of Fortune
April 29, 1979
Writer: Glen A. Larson
Director: Bruce Bilson
I don't think of Glen A. Larson as any kind of innovative television producer, although he did have many, many popular shows during the 1970s and '80s, but he was a bit ahead of the curve on BJ AND THE BEAR in one respect. He made an attempt at giving trucker BJ McKay (Greg Evigan) something of a continuity during the series, at least during the first season, that few other one-hour shows were doing at the time, except for the soaps like DALLAS. In "Wheels of Fortune" (obviously a takeoff on the daytime game show that was hosted by Chuck Woolery back then), Larson and director Bruce Bilson, who collaborated on the pilot, bring back the character of Toni, who tells us she was one of the sex slaves BJ rescued from Sheriff Lobo (Claude Akins). Played by Melody Anderson, who was probably in London shooting FLASH GORDON when NBC aired this episode, Toni was not really a character in the pilot—just a faceless girl—and she certainly wasn't played by Anderson. However, this little touch reminds us that BJ has a past and that his various adventures resonate within the fictional universe, which was not common in the days when television heroes almost never acknowledged what happened to him the week before.
Following the strong "The Murphy Contingent," "Wheels of Fortune" suffers from having an identical plot. In order to save a charity (a center for disabled children) from foreclosure, BJ's friends (Toni and the members of her college fraternity/sorority) trick him into helping them run an illegal casino at a ski resort. Cops don't get involved, but hoods do, particularly Cannon (QUINCY's Val Bisoglio), who rents the kids his gambling equipment and then dons a pantyhose mask to rip them off.
Action is light and too much screen time is filled with dull musical sequences, but the guest stars, which also include Stuart Pankin (NOT NECESSARILY THE NEWS) and 7-footer Peter Isacksen (CPO SHARKEY), are lively in an episode that was probably based somewhat on ANIMAL HOUSE (Toni's frat wears togas in their first scene and are condescended to by a rival yuppie frat).