The transcript below is from the video “The Truth About Bruce Lee and the TV Show, “Kung Fu”” by Dave Sundstrom.

Dave Sundstrom:

Here are my memories about the TV show, “Kung Fu” which starred David Carradine and ran on the ABC television network during the early 70s. I also talk about the connection between the TV show and martial arts legend, Bruce Lee.

Dave Sundstrom:

When I was growing up as a kid, Elementary school, recess time meant one of two things; I was either trying to talk the other kids into playing ‘Star Trek’ with me, or I was wandering around the schoolyard pretending to be Kwai Chang Caine practicing my amazing kung fu moves and setting myself up to be bullied by the more predatory youngsters on the playground. Yep, I’m sure I looked pretty darn weird but, in my head, it was just like the closing credits from ‘Kung Fu’ with Caine wandering around in the desert.

So, for those folks who aren’t familiar with the TV show ‘Kung Fu’ it starred David Carradine and aired here in the U.S. on the ABC TV network for three seasons from 1972 to 1975. And since that time, it has spawned numerous other iterations of the show. Most of them starring Carradine. You know, just like Batmania was a thing during the 60s, kung fu mania was definitely a thing during the early 70s.

Dave Sundstrom:

In addition to the TV show, there was this song. Without a doubt, ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ was one of my favorite songs from the early 70s. And even though Carl Douglas was something of a one-hit wonder, he was a freaking legend in the mind of every kid back then. I mean, come on. Not only could the guy sing but it stood to reason that he was probably pretty good at kung fu himself. Just look at the sleave from the single. If that’s a guy who knows what he’s doing, I wouldn’t want to mess with him.

Dave Sundstrom:

So, at this point you’re probably asking, what the heck does all of this have to do with Bruce Lee? So, here’s the truth.

Bruce was connected to the ‘Kung Fu’ TV show in a couple of different ways. The first being that he was considered for the role of Kwai Chang Caine but was passed over in favor of Carradine, because at the time the producers felt like he was the more bankable star. They were also worried that Lee’s thick accent would turn audiences away. Keep in mind at the time that these decisions were being made, Lee’s first leading role in a motion picture, ‘The Big Boss’, was still a few months away from hitting theater screens. A year later, Lee would be on fire with the movie ‘Fist of Fury’.

Dave Sundstrom:

But for me Bruce Lee was already a huge star because he’d been Kato on the short-lived TV series ‘The Green Hornet’, which was a spin-off of sorts from one of my all-time favorite TV shows, ‘Batman’. But anyway, let’s get back to Bruce Lee and his connection to kung fu. Like I said, there were two reasons that he is forever connected to the show. And the second one is a doozy.

You see, in 1971 Bruce Lee pitched a TV series called ‘The Warrior’ to television executives, who were open to the premise of the show, which featured a martial arts master in the Old West, searching for his family. Apparently, however, the executives did not like the Old West part of the pitch and Bruce didn’t want to budge on this idea. And as a result, things just kind of fell apart. Now, I can’t say what happened after that. I wasn’t there. But I think it wouldn’t be surprising to anyone, if Bruce was scratching his head just a bit when he discovered that ‘Kung Fu’ had a pretty similar premise. And I’m betting that he was even more surprised when the studio decided to pass on him for the lead role in favor of Carradine.

Dave Sundstrom:

Okay. So, now as long as we’re talking about ‘Kung Fu’, did anyone else have these trading cards? I was never into baseball or football cards but along with those crazy wacky packages stickers, I loved these cards and truthfully, I really didn’t think the enclosed stick of stale bubble gum was all that bad. A couple more things. Although it would take decades, Bruce Lee’s original idea, eventually did make it to television.

Dave Sundstrom:

At the end of the day, whether it was directly or indirectly, I think it’s fair to say that Bruce Lee influenced the creation of the TV show that I loved so much as a kid. And of course, Lee’s influence goes way beyond the TV show ‘Kung Fu’. The man is a pop culture icon and celebrated worldwide, not just for his place in the world of entertainment, but also for the mark that he left on this world more broadly as a human being and as a master martial artist.

Dave Sundstrom:

The first season of the show that he pitched to TV executives so many years ago, ‘Warrior’ aired on Cinemax in 2019. At the time of this video, I believe you can also catch it on Hulu if you subscribe to that streaming service. And season two is in the works. And wouldn’t you know it, ‘Kung Fu’ is coming back as well. That said from everything that I’ve read, the reboot seems to be dramatically re-envisioned. Not only is the lead character female, nothing wrong with that but it seems like those TV executives might have finally gotten their way and excised the western portion of the premise right out of this new version of the show. So, will it be any good? Who knows? Only time will tell, I guess. That said, something tells me that those old episodes of ‘Kung Fu’ from when I was a kid, may be more up my alley.

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