Dark Shadows: Blending Past and Present

Dark Shadows was a unique concept. It was billed as a soap opera. From June of 1966 until April of 1971, it aired daily on ABC. I remember hurrying home from school to catch up on the lives of the Collins family, past and present, in their beautiful, but creepy, mansion in Collinsport, Maine. The show morphed back and forth into different eras and many actors played roles in different time periods.

Photo: obitoftheday.com

Barnabas Collins and Dr. Julia Hoffman are probably the two characters most associated with the series. What is surprising is that they weren’t part of the original cast. The vampire came on close to the end of the first year.

I have read about a lot of different ways producers came up with ideas for shows, but this one is one of the most unusual. Dan Curtis had a dream in 1965 about a mysterious woman on a train. He pitched the idea to ABC who gave it a green light. Art Wallace was brought on board to turn the dream into a pilot. The show was originally called “Shadows on the Wall.”  Other titles considered were “The House on Widows’ Hill” and “Terror at Collinwood.” Curtis took over as creator and executive producer. Directors Lela Swift, John Sedwick, and Henry Kaplan were hired. Robert Cobert developed the musical score. Sy Tomashoff designed the eerie set.

Photo:

The dream became the story of a governess Victoria Winters who arrives at Collinwood for a new job but is also looking for the answers to her mysterious past.

Photo: pinterest.com

The show was one of 18 soap operas on the air in the late sixties. The ratings were not great. In December the show came in 13th of 18. When a third of the shows were cancelled, Dark Shadows’ ratings looked even worse—13th of 13. The show was given an ultimatum—26 weeks to increase viewership or it was done. So, Barnabas Collins was added to the show. Bert Convy was considered for the role of Barnabas before Jonathan Frid got the part. During the second year, the show began to be filmed in color which also helped.

During an interview with Ron Sproat, he said that he and fellow writer Gordon Russell had just met with Curtis and they were told a vampire would be added to the show. Leaving on the elevator, they decided right there that Barnabas would be a reluctant vampire with a conscious.

Twenty-eight characters were in at least seventy shows. Most of the actors who played them were unknown at the time, but some of the well-known stars now include Jonathan Frid (Barnabas Collins), Grayson Hall (Dr. Julia Hoffman), Alexandra Isles (Victoria Winters), Joan Bennett (Elizabeth Collins Stoddard), David Selby (Quentin Collins), Kathryn Leigh Scott (Maggie Collins), Lara Parker (Angelique), Roger Davis (Jeff Clark), and Kate Jackson (Daphne Harridge).

Photo: quizly.com

The music is very memorable for those of us who watched the show. The original soundtrack was in the top 20 US Billboard albums in 1969. The song, “Quentin’s Theme” earned Cobert an Emmy nomination and it peaked at 13 on the Billboard 100.

It definitely took a while for the show to hit its stride. Variety’s review of the first show was not favorable: “Writer Art Wallace took so much time getting into his story that the first episode of the Neo Gothic soaper added up to one big yawn.” It wasn’t until episode 52 that evidence of a real ghost appeared.

Photo: pinterest.com

A basic guide to the episodes is (1) Contemporary Era – Episodes 1-365, (2) The 1795 Era – Episodes 366-460, (3) Contemporary Era – Episodes 461-699. (4) The 1897 Era – Episodes 700-883, (5) The Contemporary Era – Episodes 884-1060, (6) The Future Era – Episodes 1061-1070, (7) The Ghosts of Gerard Stiles and Daphne Harridge Haunting Collinwood/The 1840 Era – Episodes 1071-1186, and (8) The Parallel Time of Contemporary and 1841 – Episodes 1187-1245. (These are not exact because there is some paralleling in different times; also even though 1225 episodes were produced, because of various numbering discrepancies, the final episode was listed as #1245.)

Photo: pinterest.com

As the stories were developed, we learn that the Collins were a wealthy family who had been in Maine for generations. Elizabeth Collins Stoddard and her daughter Carolyn live on the estate. Mr. Stoddard has been missing for twenty years. Elizabeth’s brother Roger Collins and his son David also live there. Roger’s wife had died in a fire. This is the family Victoria Winters works for. When Barnabas came on the show, he said he was a distant cousin of the family but is really a vampire who is not a cousin but was the original Barnabas who lived in the house in the 1700s.

Photo: pinterest.com

Parallel times revealed how Barnabas became a vampire, the relationship he had with a witch Angelique, and we meet Barnabas’ true love Josette Dupres. During the show, Roger brings home a new bride who turns out to be the real Angelique.

Photo: tumblr.com
Angelique

Barnabas meets a young woman named Maggie who reminds him of Josette. Along the way he kidnaps her. Dr. Julia Hoffman wants to transform Barnabas from a vampire back to a man. They are close friends and she is the only one who knows who he truly is; it is obvious that she is in love with him.

Joan Bennett and Louis Edmonds were the only characters to appear in both the first and last episodes.

DARK SHADOWS – Show Coverage – June 12, 1966. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)LOUIS EDMONDS;JOAN BENNETT

Although the show was set in Maine, the show’s exteriors were filmed in Essex, Connecticut. The Griswold Inn was used for the Collinsport Inn; the post office was the Collinsport Police Station, and The Carey Mansion in Newport, Rhode Island was the Collinswood mansion. All the interiors were filmed on sound stages in Manhattan.

Photo: youtube.com

Portraits were inexpensive, but useful, props for the show. There is a portrait of Barnabas which was painted in the 1700s. However, Frid did not pose for it because he had not been hired yet, so Robert Costello, the line producer stepped in and the face was added later. Quentin Collins’ portrait aged and whenever an injury occurred to him, he was fine but the portrait showed the harm. Angelique also had a portrait of herself. This artwork had powers too; when anything happened to her, the portrait cracked and faded; it was not restored until her health was.

Photo: pinterest.com

The weekly budget for creating five episodes was only $70,000. There was little money for decorating and props. Barnabas’ black onyx ring came from Woolworth’s. The prop department painted a green gem black.

The special effects were pretty impressive for where technology was at the time of the show’s existence. Often shows featured ghostly apparitions or other supernatural occurrences. One camera operator realized he could use plastic wrap or Vaseline around the edges of the lens for dream sequences.

Photo: tvbanter.net

It was shot with live-to-tape format which meant each scene was done in one take. Because of this the show is famous for its goofs: crew members visible in a scene, props didn’t work, equipment above actors’ heads, or people calling each other by the wrong names. During one shooting, Kate Jackson’s dress caught on fire because she was surrounded by candles. The camera crew had to keep filming while the fire was put out. At that time, the thought was that the show would only ever be seen once.

Photo: pinterest.com

By 1969 the show had peaked, and many kids were tuning in to watch a storyline set in 1897 with 7-9 million viewers watching daily. When the 1897 plot was over, the writers were trying to come up with another popular story. They decided on “The Leviathans” which proved to not be very popular.

When an economic recession hit in 1971, the networks were forced to cut costs. To make matters worse, cigarette advertising was banned from television which slashed networks’ profits even more. Since Dark Shadows was primarily watched by a younger demographic who were not necessarily purchasing household goods, the show was cancelled. Creator Curtis said he was actually relieved. He said “I was just hoping it was going to end. I couldn’t squeeze my brain any harder to come up with just one more story. I just wanted to move on and out.”

Some episodes have been in a syndication package since 1975. However, the Sci-Fi Channel was granted permission to run all 1225 episodes and they aired in reruns between 1992 and 2003.

Photo: darkshadowseveryday.com

With all the reboots, this show had a different twist. In 2003, the original cast gathered together for a reunion play. It was recorded for MPI and in 2006 audio dramas for a company called Big Finish began, allowing new generations of fans to listen to the show.

With this large of a cast, you would expect to hear about some personality conflicts. However, no rumors of this have surfaced. One of the cast members said that the time the crew spent together daily rehearsing lines and filming made them a close-knit bunch.

Photo: headhuntershorrorhouse.com

A lot of shows that were not in the top ten when they originally aired like The Brady Bunch or Gilligan’s Island have become fan favorites. Dark Shadows might not be known by as many viewers, but those who love it are extremely loyal. It has become a cult classic with an annual convention similar to The Andy Griffith Show. Held annually since 1983, the official Dark Shadows Convention is typically in New York or Los Angeles. Many cast and crew members are there, question-and-answer sessions are held, autographs can be obtained, dinner with the stars is on the menu, and plenty of merchandise is for sale.

There are fan clubs to join and even Dark Shadows cruises where you can meet and mingle with the original cast.

Photo: pinterest.com

If you are more of a homebody, you can buy the complete series. At a price of $599, Amazon features it for only $349. It’s a big, scary price but with 1225 episodes, that is a lot of binge watching. You’ll enjoy more than 612 hours of eerie fun. You could watch an hour and a half a day and it would take a little over a year to finish.

Personally, I am not willing to invest that much money or time into the show, but I have fond memories watching it. I read the books that were published and had a Barnabas Collins jigsaw puzzle. On rainy days the girls in our neighborhood gathered in a basement and often played Dark Shadows.

There was always a fight over who got to be Angelique or Daphne. My favorite episodes back then involved a dollhouse that came to life.

With so many wonderful memories associated with the show, I’m not sure I’m willing to risk watching the original episodes again, but I understand why so many people continue to revisit them.

The Tony Randall Show: It May Have Been Judged Too Quickly

As we wind up our “Don’t Judge Me” blog series, today we’ve been sent to the bench to sit along side Judge Walter Franklin (Tony Randall) on The Tony Randall Show. Judge Franklin is a middle-aged, single-parent, widower living in Philadelphia. His extremely bright kids–teenage daughter Roberta (Devon Scott) and preteen son Oliver (Brad Savage) live with the judge, along with daffy housekeeper Bonnie (Rachel Roberts). At work we get to know his severe secretary “Miss” Janet Reubner (Allyn Ann McLerie), court reporter Jack Terwilliger (Barney Martin), and Mario Lanza (Zane Lasky), no not THAT Mario Lanza, but an overbearing assistant the judge does not care for. Judge Eleanor Cooper (Diana Muldaur) plays his co-worker and “lady friend.”

Photo: wikipedia.com

In the second season, Penny Peyser took over the role of Roberta, and Hans Conried joined the cast as Walter’s father. A lot of famous guest stars found themselves in front of the judge during the two years it was on the air. A handful of stars who appeared around Judge Franklin included Victor Buono, Beverly Garland, Michael Keaton, Hal Smith, David Ogden Stiers, and Dick Van Patten.

If this sounds a little bit like the concept of The Mary Tyler Moore Show where we see a professional at work and at home, that’s because The Tony Randall Show was produced by MTM Enterprises and created by Tom Patchett and Jay Tarses. This was the duo that produced The Bob Newhart Show a few years earlier.

Photo: tvdads.com

The Tony Randall Show debuted on ABC in 1976. When ABC cancelled the show, it was picked up by CBS for a second season. Surprisingly, the show was not cancelled by ABC for low ratings. The show was holding its own going up against Hawaii Five-0 and Best Sellers on Thursday nights. Apparently, Patchett and Tarses did not get along with Tony Randall.  Unfortunately, they did not get along with each other either, and on top of that, they refused to take calls from ABC president Fred Silverman. Tiring of the drama, Silverman ended the show. On CBS, the show moved to Saturday nights and was on at the same time as Operation Petticoat and The Bionic Woman. When CBS cancelled the show, it was done for good.

Photo: jacksonupperco.com

Reflecting on the show, Grant Tinker remembered “Tony was born to work in front of a live audience, and the writing was largely first rate. Ultimately, however, three strong egos could not live together. Since Tony was obviously essential, Tom and Jay retreated to their office and oversaw from a distance, giving two of MTM’s younger writers, Hugh Wilson and Gary David Goldberg their first chance to produce.” (Wilson would go on to create WKRP in Cincinnati and Goldberg would create Family Ties and Brooklyn Bridge.)

Photo: wikipedia.com

At least this turmoil produced some good results. Goldberg said from his time on The Tony Randall Show, he learned you need to hire good people and let them do their job, and that if you have to remind people you are the producer, you’re probably not a very good one.

Ken Levine discussed working with Randall in his blog from June of 2007 (kenlevine.blogspot.com/2007/06/working-with-tony-randall.html). According to Levine, Randall “was the consummate professional. Not only did he know all of his lines, he knew everyone else’s too. . . . I loved working with Tony Randall. Of course, it helped that he thought I was funny and that I didn’t smoke.”

Photo: imdb.com

Everyone seemed to enjoy working with Randall. In a Television Academy interview, Asaad Kelada, one of the directors for the show, described Randall as a “fascinating, erudite, funny man.” He talked about the way he warmed up an audience before the show with his stories. It must have been a fun set sometimes because Kelada said he used to wear a sweater over his shoulders, and it became his trademark. One day he said there was a bit of extra energy on the set, and he suddenly realized absolutely everyone on set from the cameramen to gophers to stars were wearing sweaters, blankets, or towels around their shoulders. The Television Academy also did interviews with Abby Singer, production manager for the show, and Hugh Wilson about his writing and producing. Singer said Randall was “a good guy.” When asked if the rumors that Randall was particular were true, he said “Yes, he was so particular it was unbelievable. You couldn’t even whisper when he was on the set, but he was a sweet guy.” Wilson backed their comments up, saying “It was super to work with Tony Randall. He was a vast library of show business information and very nice.”

Despite all the problems on the set, Randall was nominated for a Golden Globe for his role of Judge Franklin. He lost to Henry Winkler for Happy Days.

Photo: youtube.com

I could not find any official DVDs for The Tony Randall Show, but some of the episodes can be found online. It sounds like the show had all the right ingredients but either did not have enough time to find its true voice or appeared a bit too late in the 1970s at a time when things were changing in television programming. Anytime you can watch Tony Randall on the small screen (or the big screen for that matter) is a special opportunity.

Sirota’s Court: It Never Got a Fair Trial

We are in the middle of my “Don’t Judge Me” blogs. Today I am picking up my gavel to make a ruling on Sirota’s Court.

Photo: filmaffinity.com

This sitcom made its debut December of 1976. By April of 1977, it had disappeared from the airwaves. It was produced by Peter Engel Productions and Universal Television.

The show followed Judge Matthew Sirota (Michael Constantine) who sits on the bench for the night court. He works with, and has an off-again, on-again romantic relationship with, court clerk Maureen O’Conner (Cynthia Harris). The liberal public defender is Gail Goodman (Kathleen Miller) who battles with private attorney Sawyer Dabney (Ted Ross) and assistant district attorney Bud Nugent (Fred Willard). Bailiff John Belson (Owen Bush) has the judge’s back. Like the Mary Tyler Moore Show, the series devotes time to Judge Sirota’s professional and private lives.

Photo: ptwikipedia.com

If that concept sounds eerily familiar, it should. Seven years after Sirota’s Court left the air, Night Court appeared. Maybe Sirota’s Court was ahead of its time or could not survive the scheduled competition, but it’s hard not to see Night Court as an almost identical clone of this show. The newer judicial comedy featuring Harry Anderson would last nine seasons and produce 193 episodes.

In the original version, the Honorable Sirota incorporates a sense of humor and a boatload of common sense into his courtroom. Being in a large metropolitan city, Sirota is a surprisingly compassionate judge, considering the bizarre cases, the odd clients, and the eccentric court comrades he has to deal with. He often had to take on the role of referee between public defender Goodman who was trying to make the world a better place however she could, attorney Dabney who only cared about making a buck, and totally inept assistant district attorney Nugent.

The show employed a lot of different writers for only thirteen episodes. Twelve different writers were credited on the series. Some of the plots included Judge Sirota trying to prevent being named one of the ten worst judges in America, dealing with dentists who were using laughing gas on election night, or the night a full moon brings in an even more ridiculous roster of bizarre situations to rule on.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

The show was on Wednesday nights. There was no way this series was going to obtain satisfactory ratings going up against All in the Family and Baretta. All in the Family was in the seventh year of its nine-year reign and still was in the top twenty. Baretta, which was in its third year, had a solid following and was in the top ten. In addition, the show took a lot of heat for one of its episodes, “Court Fear,” when the judge performed a same-sex wedding. It’s creator, Peter Engel, mentioned several times that the show “never got cancelled, it just sort of faded away.” Another factor may have been too many writers. Considering Jack Winter wrote 4 of the 13 episodes, that left 11 writers covering the other 9 shows. Perhaps there was not enough time to fully develop the characters with so many different perspectives.

Photo: tvtango.com

Considering there were only 13 episodes, it’s impressive that Sirota’s Court was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Art Direction or Scenic Design for a Comedy Series and for a Golden Globe for Constantine for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series, Musical or Comedy. Constantine was up against Tony Randall for The Tony Randall Show, Freddie Prinze for Chico and the Man, Alan Alda for MASH, and winner Henry Winkler for Happy Days.

Photo: pinterest.com

Unfortunately, I could not find DVDs for this show anywhere, even the rare and hard-to-find DVD sites. It would be interesting to compare it with Night Court and see how similar the two shows actually were. My ruling is that the show was competent to stand trial, but the powers that be were too quick to negotiate a settlement.

His Honor Homer Bell: Was It a Comedy? A Western? A Legal Drama? It Was a Mystery.

As we continue our “Don’t Judge Me” series, we check out a show full of mystery: His Honor, Homer Bell.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

This show seemed to be unsure what genre it wanted to be. Was it a drama? A comedy? A western? Some shows were written by Si Rose who wrote for Bachelor Father and McHale’s Navy, but other writers included Michael Cramroy, a Dragnet writer and Jerome Coopersmith who wrote for Hawaii Five-0.

It also didn’t have a definite home. The show was made to go directly into syndication by NBC Films and taped in Brooklyn. There are different statistics about how many episodes were made of the show. Imdb lists only one episode. Some other sites indicate 38 episodes were made. To the best of my research ability, I believe there were 39 episodes including the pilot. It had a budget of one million dollars and episodes were listed in TV Guide.

Those TV Guide descriptions lead to another mystery. The show talks about being in the West but it must be a more contemporary west. In one episode, Judge Bell tries to acquire tickets for a sold-out football game and in another one he delivers a speech to the town traffic commission.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

What we do know for sure is that the show debuted in 1955. The show followed the ups and downs of Homer Bell (Gene Lockhart) who was a respected and much-loved justice of the peace living in a small western town of Spring City. Bell was a widower who lived with Casey (Mary Lee Dearing) and their housekeeper Maude (Jane Moultrie).

Adding to the mystery is whether Casey was his daughter or an orphaned niece he was raising. I found several descriptions listing both cases. However, Casey was a tomboy, and her antics often caused problems for the judge. He was a caring man who went to great lengths to help others. He relied more on good old common sense than legal technicalities to make his decisions. The show was produced by Hy Brown and directed by Derwin Abbe.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

Gene Lockhart, father of actress June Lockhart, transitioned from the big screen to the small screen for this series.

He was born in Ontario, Canada in 1891. His father was musical, and when a band he played with went overseas on tour, he took his family along with him. During most of that time, Gene went to school in London. When the family returned to Canada, Gene’s mother encouraged him to try out for a Broadway play. He moved to New York and received his first offer in 1917 as part of the cast in “The Riviera Girl.” He also began to write for the stage. One of his projects, “The Pierrot Players” toured Canada.

In 1924, Gene married Kathleen Arthur, an English actress and musician. Gene stayed busy. He continued to appear on the stage, he could be heard on radio, he became a writer for theatrical magazines, and he lectured on drama techniques at the Julliard School of Music.

Photo: imdb.com

In 1933, he was offered the role of Uncle Sid in “Ah, Wilderness.” His great reviews in the play led to a contract with RKO Pictures. While he occasionally returned to Broadway, notably in 1949 as Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman,” he found his true calling as a Hollywood actor. He appeared in more than 125 films and was nominated for an Oscar for his work in Algiers in 1938. With 146 acting credits, he had about ten appearances on theater shows in the fifties on television.

Lockhart suffered a heart attack in his sleep in 1957.

Mary Lee Dearing (another mystery was her last name; most places credit her as “Dearing” but I’ve seen “Dearring” and “Deering”) was born in 1939 in New York City. She only has eight acting credits in addition to Homer Bell. She began her career on several theater dramas in the fifties, was on The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Danny Thomas Show, and The Brian Keith Show. I could find very little about her; most of her fame stems from appearing on the episode of Dick Van Dyke as a babysitter when Rob talks Laura into going to a party, leaving a sick Richie with the sitter.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com
Mary Lee Dearing as Janie on The Dick Van Dyke Show

Very little is known about Mary Moultrie as well. She was born in 1903 in Los Angeles. Her only other acting credits occurred in the fifties in several theater drama shows and on Mister Peepers and The Goldbergs.

By this time, you might be asking yourself—If there is more unknown than known about this show, why even write about it? We are losing so much information about the classic age of television. My philosophy is that if we keep the shows in the conversation, they won’t become totally lost. If anyone has any of the answers to the many questions about this show, I would love to hear from you. Besides, what television fan doesn’t love a mystery?

I Married Joan: Fans Said I Love Lucy

This month my blog theme is “Don’t Judge Me.” We’ll take a look at sitcoms featuring judges. The first show on the docket is I Married Joan. Debuting on NBC in 1952, the show starred Joan Davis and Jim Backus and was typically described as the marriage of a respected judge and his scatterbrained wife, Joan and Bradley Stevens. It ran for three seasons and produced 98 episodes.

Photo: dvdtalk.com

The early shows begin in the judge’s chambers where he recalls one of his wife’s wacky adventures followed by the episode and ending with the judge summing up his tale of his wife’s mishap and its similarity to a case he was working on. It was very similar to I Love Lucy; however, this show featured more slapstick comedy by Davis. Marc Daniels directed both shows. The shows also were both filmed in Los Angeles at General Service Studios and debuted October 15 (one year apart). Time hated the show—“It might have better been left on the shelf.” Variety, on the other hand, found it filled with “comic zest and vitality.”

I Married Joan was created and produced by Joan Davis Enterprises. She was a successful businesswoman and a workaholic. Joan earned $7500 a week; in today’s equivalent, that would be about $70,000 per episode. Joan was apparently not a very easy person to work for or with.  Sherwood Schwartz wrote about a third of the episodes. (He would later go on to create The Brady Bunch and Gilligan’s Island.) He did not care for Davis and said that Joan made one of the writers stick close to her when they ran through the show because she often wanted a better joke substituted. Jesse Goldstein also wrote a third of the shows. He had written for Burns and Allen and Red Skelton.

Photo: youtube.com

Other actors also complained about working with Joan. Apparently, Backus detested her because she was not kind to the crew and fellow actors. Sandra Gould (who would later appear as Gladys Kravitz on Bewitched), Hal Smith, and Hope Summers (who both showed up in Mayberry as Otis the drunk and Bee’s friend Clara) confirmed Backus’ stories. There are a couple of other stories floating around that Joan once slapped a child for asking for her autograph and threw a temper tantrum at a salon, knocking over a bottle of bleach. Backus had worked with her on radio before signing on for this role, so I’m surprised he had not been aware of her work abuses before. She was described as a bit quiet and shy in her non-work life and spent her spare time fishing, golfing, watching boxing, or reading her extensive gag files.

Rounding out the cast were Dan Tobin as their friend Kerwin, Geraldine Carr as Mabel, Sheila Bromley as Janet, Sandra Gould as Mildred and Hal Smith as Charlie.

Photo: pinterest.com

For seasons two and three, Joan’s daughter Beverly Wills played Joan’s sister on the show. I guess it was a family affair because Henny Backus, Jim’s wife, also had a role on one episode as Mrs. Bunker.

The plots were about what you would expect on a show from this time era. In one, Joan and her friend admire each other’s houses and decide to swap for a week which quickly cures them of their envy. When Joan finds a dress that her husband is hiding for a friend for his wife; she assumes it is for her and “alters” it–a lot. In one episode, Joan wonders what life would be like if she had never married. In another show, she realizes she doesn’t have enough chicken to serve when Brad brings unannounced guests home. Any of these plots could have come from Burns and Allen, The Ann Sothern Show, Our Miss Brooks, or The Life of Riley.

Photo: wikipedia.com

However, in one show, Joan crawls into an enormous commercial soup pot in order to spy on the kitchen crew to learn the recipe for a chef’s famous soup. As you would expect, all the ingredients suddenly begin to get thrown in all around her. Even reading this description, you can picture Lucille Ball in the predicament. Perhaps this is another reason the show didn’t succeed. It was just too similar to the top-rated show in the nation.

Photo: youtube.com

Many people remember the theme-song lyrics.

I married Joan
What a girl, what a whirl, what a life.
Oh I married Joan
What a find, love is blind, what a wife!
Giddy and gay, all day she keeps my heart laughin’
Never know where her brain has flown.
To each his own
Can’t deny that’s why I married Joan.
I married Joan!

Photo: youtube.com


For the entire three seasons it was on the air, it was up against Arthur Godfrey and His Friends on CBS and news shows on ABC for seasons one and two. The show did so-so in the ratings for the first season. The second season the ratings increased to the number 3 show. Part of it might have come about from the negative publicity Arthur Godfrey got when he fired Julius LaRosa. The third season Disneyland was on ABC, and the ratings declined again. The ratings were especially low in the New York market, so the show was cancelled. Howdy Doody had just gone off the air, so reruns of the show replaced the popular kids’ show in the mornings. Jim Backus had signed a three-year contract and declined to come back; I’m not sure if that contributed to the cancellation of the show or not.

Photo: wikimedia.com
With guest star Bing Crosby

Joan Davis tried to get a few other sitcoms on the air in later years; one interesting idea was for a woman astronaut who was training for a flight to the moon. She officially retired in 1959 and passed away in 1961 after suffering a heart attack.

Photo: wikipedia.com

Jim Backus would go on to have a very successful career. He would cross paths with Sherwood Schwartz again when he accepted the role of Thurston Howell III on Gilligan’s Island. A fun aside is that when the I Married Joan sets were later re-used, Backus’ lines were found written in various places.

Photo: youtube.com

As I noted earlier, the theme for my blog this month is “Don’t Judge Me.” In that spirit, I am trying not to judge Joan Davis too harshly without learning more about her as a person. One thing I have learned in writing television blogs for so long is that several of my favorite characters were not my favorite people; I decided long ago that I could adore the character and abhor the actor. Fortunately, most of the actors in classic television were wonderful people.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

I do remember watching this show in reruns in the late seventies and early eighties. It was not really my cup of tea, but I am not a big lover of slapstick comedy. Most of the fans that bought the DVDs (91%) gave the series 5 stars and made comments like “extremely funny,” “I couldn’t stop laughing,” and “clever writing and great comic acting.” If you are an I Love Lucy fan, you should probably give I Married Joan a try. There are worse ways to spend an evening.  

The Wonder Years Was Wonderful

It’s been a lot of fun this month to visit a variety of eras in my blog series: “Timeless Comedies: Living in the Past.” Last week we learned more about the fifties on Happy Days. Today we travel a few short years and end up in 1968 where we get to know Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage) on The Wonder Years.

Photo: ranker.com

Debuting in 1988 following the Superbowl Game that winter, The Wonder Years is narrated by an older Kevin; it described the life of a 12-year-old boy which is what viewers see. The show would last till 1993, and we were able to follow Kevin in his journey from a preteen to a man. The series produced 115 episodes during its time on the air.

Husband and wife Neal Marlens and Carol Black created the coming-of-age show. Kevin experienced all the typical angst and joy of an American kid growing up in the turbulent sixties. From heart-warming to heart-breaking, we journeyed with Kevin through the ups and downs of growing up.

jPhoto: fourthgradenothing.com

Kevin lives with his father Jack (Dan Lauria), his mom Norma (Ally Mills), his older sister Karen (Olivia d’Abo), and his annoying older brother Wayne (Jason Hervey). We also get to know Kevin’s best friend Paul Pfeiffer (Josh Saviano) and his girlfriend Winnie Cooper (Danica McKellar). Although Kevin narrates the show, it’s narrated from an adult perspective and voiced by Daniel Stern. The narrator for the pilot was Ayre Gross. Later Stern re-recorded the episode so it matched the future shows on DVD.

Photo: sheknows.com

Both the critics and viewers loved this show. After only six episodes aired, the show won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series.

The theme song was Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from My Friends.”

Photo: pinterest.com

When Black and Marlens began casting, all five casting directors they spoke with recommended Fred Savage for the role of Kevin. He had recently been in The Princess Bride. Finding an actress for Winnie became a bit harder. After narrowing down the choices, the creative couple were looking at two sisters, Danica and Crystal McKellar.  It was practically a toss-up, but in the end, they chose Danica.  However, they liked Crystal so much, they wrote her into the show as Becky Slater as an alternate girlfriend for Kevin in the later episodes.

Photo: paste.com

In the pilot episode, Winnie’s older brother is killed in Vietnam. When Kevin consoles her, they end up having their first kiss. It truly was both the actors’ first kiss, so there is a tension there that made it touching. There is always an interest between the two but Winnie starts dating an eighth grader Kirk McCray, and Kevin eventually goes steady with Becky. When he realized he couldn’t shake his feelings for Winnie, he breaks up with Becky. Winnie goes through a similar process. The two share a second kiss at the beginning of their summer vacation the next year but continue to be just friends for a while.

Photo: losangeletimes.com

Winnie and Kevin eventually become a couple. Not long after, Winnie moves. While her house is only a few miles away, she must change schools. The two continue their relationship for a while until Winnie becomes interested in another boy at her new school.

The three schools that Kevin and Winnie attend are RFK Junior High, Lincoln Junior High, and McKinley Senior High. All three were named for famous political men who were assassinated. Another fun fact about the schools is that whenever the kids were in the cafeteria, they have green Jell-O.

Photo: zimbio.com

Winnie and Kevin would get back together again after she is injured in a car crash. They both attend the same high school and date much of that time.

It was tough for both the producers and the cast when you have minors on the set because you have to follow child labor laws. Savage explained his frustration at times. “You have to get at least three hours of school in every day. So, whenever I’m on a break, I go to school. It’s really intense because I have to get a lot done in short periods. And it’s hard because if they need you back on the set, they pull you away every twenty minutes. If you’re writing an essay and suddenly get inspired, you’ve got to stop and go back to work.”

Photo: salon.com

Black and Marlens left the show after season one.  I never found a reason listed, but some sources claimed it was because they were having a baby and wanted to escape the Hollywood environment and bring up their children somewhere else.

The show was cancelled in 1993. It was getting harder to keep the plot innocent and fitting for the primetime slot people were used to with a seventeen-year-old. Escalating costs and declining ratings also took their toll. When the final episode of the series aired, the cast still was not sure if this was the final show or if it would be coming back for a seventh season, so the finale was not as smooth or wrapped up as the team wanted.

Photo: basementrejects.com

I’m sure one of the questions people ask Fred and Danica was were they also in love. The fact and fictional parts of the show blurred a bit. Both Fred and Danica mentioned in a People interview that they had a crush on each other at one time or another. Fred said, “I was in love with her for the same reasons every other boy fell in love with her.”  He also said, “You won’t meet a sweeter, nicer girl—and she’s gorgeous.” Danica also talked about her crush. “In the beginning we had a mutual crush. Then things went into the teasing stuff and then into a more comfortable, brother-sister thing.”

Photo: sheknows.com

Another blurring was some of the script language. I remember Sherwood Schwartz’s daughter complaining that something happened in her life and then it ended up on The Brady Bunch. In a similar manner, some of the writers incorporated things Fred and Danica said to each other off camera into the scripts.

Jason Hervey improvised some of the scenes he had with Kevin. Jason remembered some of the things his older brother did to him and in turn tormented Kevin with them. There are a few scenes when Wayne has to drop Kevin off or pick him up, and he would keep inching the car forward as his little brother tried to get in or out. That happened to him in real life.

Photo: buzzfeed.com

Finally, the show mirrored life in that on the show Paul Pfeiffer attended Harvard to become a lawyer. In real life, Josh Saviano also became a lawyer, after attending Yale.

Photo: yahoo.com

The show has held up surprisingly well in reruns. It’s similar to M*A*S*H. You know the show is set in Korea in 1950, but the themes it demonstrates are timeless and the relationships could occur in other times and places.

Photo: topnews.pink

The Wonder Years works for the same reasons. Neither Kevin nor Winnie are the most popular kids in the school, but they are two of the nicest. If you ever looked back in an old yearbook from junior year or high school, you’ll see kids that you kick yourself for not dating. At the time, they just weren’t the popular kids everyone was interested in, but you realize they were the kids you should have ended up with. Although this show is set with the backdrop of the sixties when times were unpredictable, the primary subject of the show is the relationships Kevin has with this friends and family. The reality and sentimentality of those relationships is the same whether you watch a show from the 1940s, the 1960s, or the 1990s.

Photo: huffingtonpost.com

Do yourself a favor if you never watched the show or haven’t seen it in a couple decades and treat yourself to a week-end of binge watching. It only gets better with age.

Any Time Spent with the Cunninghams Are Happy Days

Continuing the theme “Living in the Past: Timeless Comedies,” we find ourselves transported to Milwaukee, WI in the 1950s getting to know the Cunninghams. Beginning September of 1984, Happy Days entertained fans for more than a decade, producing 255 episodes. When the show began, it was set in 1955, and when it went off the air eleven seasons later, it was 1965.

Photo: aceshowbiz.com

Garry Marshall developed the pilot which first aired on Love American Style in 1972 as “Love and the Television Set.” The network wasn’t interested in turning the pilot into a show when it first came up. However, once George Lucas released American Graffiti in 1973, also starring Ron Howard, ABC took another look at the period show. The first two seasons, the show focused more on Richie Cunningham as he interacted with his friends and family. Jerry Paris (Jerry Helper on The Dick Van Dyke Show) directed 237 of the episodes. Happy Days was described as relentlessly ordinary. The plots revolved around the same types of problems most teens experienced in the fifties: dating, wanting to be popular, peer pressure, and similar experiences.

Richie’s family includes his father Howard (Tom Bosley) who owns a hardware store, and his mother Marion (Marion Ross). Howard is a family man and is also loyal to his lodge. Marion is content to stay at home, except for a brief stint when she gets a job as a waitress at Arnold’s. The cast also includes his younger sister Joanie (Erin Moran) and an older brother Chuck.

Photo: parade.com

Chuck would not be around long. At the end of the series, Tom Bosley says “he had the joy of raising two wonderful kids and watching them and their friends grow up into wonderful adults.” Poor Chuck. His existence wasn’t even acknowledged in the finale. When a character just disappears without an explanation, it is often referred to as the “Chuck Cunningham Syndrome.”

Photo: sharetv.com

Richie’s friends include Potsie Weber (Anson Williams) and Ralph Malph (Donny Most). Potsie, whose real name is Warren, was a singer. When Richie went into the Army so did Ralph. A famous catchphrase from the show was Ralph’s uttering “I still got it!” after he told a joke. Richie’s girlfriend is Lori Beth Allen (Lynda Goodfriend). She and Richie marry later in the series. The friends hung out at Arnold’s and got to know Arnold (Pat Morita) well. They listen to a lot of music at the restaurant; Richie’s favorite song was “Blueberry Hill” by Fats Domino. One fun fact about the drive-in was that the restrooms were labeled “Guys and Dolls.” Eventually, Arnold sells the restaurant to Al (Al Molinaro).

Photo: nbcnews.com

The pilot included Ross, Howard, and Williams in their later roles. Harold Gould played the part of Howard and Susan Neher was Joanie. When the show got the go-ahead, Gould was involved in a play abroad and declined, so the role was given to Bosley.

Photo: businessinsider.com

Robby Benson and Donny Most were both under consideration for the role of Richie. They had appeared in a commercial for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups together. When Howard was given the role, the role of Ralph was created for Most.

There are several references during the show made about Ron Howard’s past acting roles. One of these occurred when the family is leaving a theater where they watched The Music Man in 1962. Marion comments that she thought the little boy in the movie looked just like Richie when he was little. Howard did in fact play the role of Winthrop Paroo in The Music Man in 1962 when he was eight years old.

Photo: neatorama.com

There were two primary sets for the show: The Cunningham residence and Arnold’s Drive-In. The real exterior of the house was in Los Angeles. However, Arnold’s found its inspiration in The Milky Way Drive-In located on Port Washington Road in Glendale, WI, more recently Kopp’s Frozen Custard.

Photo: hollywood.com

The ratings began to decline during the second season, so Garry Marshall made Fonzie (Henry Winkler) more involved in the show. Fonzie moved into the apartment above the Cunninghams’ garage. Eventually he and Richie become best friends, and Fonzie is a basically a member of the family. Marion is the only person who is allowed to call him Arthur. Fonzie was also fond of Joanie and nicknamed her “Shortcake.” His best-known catchphrase was “Heyyyy!” By 1976 the show was number one.

Photo: sidereel.com

In season four, Arnold sells his restaurant to Al (Al Molinaro). That same year, Fonzie’s cousin Chachi (Scott Baio) comes to town. He would eventually fall in love with Joanie. After season nine, Ron Howard left the show, and Howard’s nephew Roger (Ted McGinley) joins the cast as the new phy-ed teacher at the high school.

In season ten, Joanie and Chachi also leave the show; Moran and Baio starred in the spinoff Joanie Loves Chachi, but when the new show failed, both characters returned to Happy Days. Richie’s leaving was explained by him joining the Army. In season 11 he returns briefly to learn his parents have obtained an interview for him with the Milwaukee Journal. Not wanting to hurt their feelings, he eventually admits his wish is to go to California and try his hand at screenwriting.

Photo: happydays.wikia.com

Some of the best-known guest stars include sports star Hank Aaron, singer Frankie Avalon, western star Lorne Greene, Brady kids Maureen McCormick and Christopher Knight, legends Tom Hanks and Danny Thomas, and blonde beauties Morgan Fairchild, Charlene Tilton, and Cheryl Ladd.

The show’s theme song was a new version of an old standard, “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets. The theme was so popular it reached #39 in 1974; in real life, in 1955, the song had been a number one hit.  Beginning in season three, a newer song, “Happy Days” was featured at the beginning of the show.

Photo: fanarttv.com

Amazingly, the show would be the source for a variety of spinoffs including Laverne & Shirley, Mork and Mindy, Joanie Loves Chachi, Blansky’s Beauties, and Out of the Blue.

Once so many of the main characters began leaving the show, the writing was on the wall. “Jumping the shark” is an expression that was coined when The Fonz actually jumped a shark. It’s a symbol for when a show grasps at straws to increase the ratings. Rarely is that type of exaggeration successful and it was not for Happy Days.

The show was so popular it never left its Tuesday night line-up. It aired at 8 pm EST for the first ten seasons and switched to 8:30 for its final season. However, the show had lost its magic, and the cancellation was inevitable. In fact, the show probably should have ended a season earlier. In addition to actors wanting to move on to new projects, the sixties were a very different time period than the fifties. The warm and fuzzy family themes that carried the show through the fifties and early sixties could not continue as the series had to survive the hippy era and the Vietnam War.

Photo: theweeklings.com

Although the show was a team effort, there is no denying that Winkler’s portrayal of the Fonz was the most popular character of the decade and one of the most iconic in television history. After the show was cancelled, his leather jacket was acquired by the Smithsonian Institution for the National Museum of American History. A bronze statue of the Fonz was erected in Milwaukee in 2008 along the Milwaukee Riverwalk.

This character warrants a closer look. One of the people who auditioned for the role of Fonzie was Micky Dolenz from The Monkees. He was a lot taller than the other cast members, so he was bypassed while they looked for a shorter actor which ended in Winkler’s hiring. Fonzie’s real name is Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli. His grandmother raised him and his nickname was Skippy. His hero is The Lone Ranger, and he carries a picture of him in his wallet.

Photo: realtor.com

Winkler said he based some of Fonzie’s movements and speech after Sylvester Stallone whom he had worked with in The Lords of Flatbush. The Fonz loved motorcycles, but Winkler decidedly did not, so most scenes were shot with the bike attached to a platform which was pulled by a truck, so Winkler never had to ride it. The cycle was the same model Steve McQueen rode in The Great Escape in 1963.

Photo: commonsensemedia.com

This show had a slew of catchphrases, and one of them came from The Fonz whenever he was trying to get someone to answer a question correctly.  When they said the right answer, his response was “correctamundo.”

Fonzie was adored by many kids, especially kids who needed some extra help or attention. Marshall was asked if the show could do something to help kids realize how important reading was. On one of the episodes, The Fonz went to the library and checked out a book, saying “Everybody is allowed to read.” That week, library card registrations increased by 500%. During one day of filming, a call came to Paramount Studios. It was from a teenage boy who was contemplating suicide. He wanted to talk to Fonzie. Winkler picked up the call and gave the boy hope, convincing him not to take his life.

The only negative thing about Fonzie was the result he had on Winkler’s future acting career.  It took a long time before he could shake that image and be considered for other types of acting roles.

Photo: happydays.wikia.com

In 2019, the cast reunited to celebrate the life of Garry Marshall who passed away in 2016. In an article by Gina Vivinetto in Today on November 14, 2019, Donny Most discussed the cast. “We were so good at what we did because we respected each other and loved each other.” He went on to say “we made it look easy and it wasn’t.”

In another article during that same event written by Zach Seemayer November 17, 2019], Williams and Howard both talked about the mentoring they received from Marshall. Williams said, “He really cared about us. More than as actors. He really inspired us to learn because he said [we might] wanna wear many hats.” Howard also learned from his mentor, saying “Garry was a natural teacher and he loved collecting theories and axioms about life but also making a show. They were all hilarious but they all rang true and they were great lessons.”

Both Howard and Winkler told writer Stephanie Nolasco of Fox News how they felt about each other and their time on Happy Days. Winkler had a hard time dealing with his sudden fame, and Howard was able to provide some grounding for him. Winkler described this time, “It’s unnatural—the human condition does not prepare you for stardom. That’s just the way it is. So, you have to hold on to yourself and then you’ve got friends like Ron who doesn’t take it all seriously. I learned from him; he was my teacher. And Garry Marshall never took bad behavior from anybody. He was a father figure. He was very funny and very idiosyncratic, and then he was very strict.”

UNITED STATES – JULY 10: HAPPY DAYS – Gallery – Season Two – 7/10/75 Fonzie (Henry Winkler) Richie (Ron Howard) Potsie (Anson WIlliams) and Ralph (Donny Most) (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)

Winkler also discussed his friendship with Howard. “I think people gravitate to the Fonzie/Richie relationship because Ron and I are ten years apart. He was 19 and I was 27. We had a connection that you cannot describe in real life, and it was similar off-camera. He gave me my first mitt; I’d never played baseball before. He’s my brother.”

Howard echoed the sentiments. “We were fast friends from the beginning. It continues all these years later. It was exciting for me to work with Henry because he was really a trained actor who attended Yale Drama School; just a trained New York actor. And, I’d grown up sort of through the Hollywood television system, so for me to work with this guy who was so thoughtful, so creative, and yet so hilarious, was really an opportunity for me to learn and grow and we just clicked, you know.”

UNITED STATES – AUGUST 11: HAPPY DAYS – “Get a Job” 2/25/75 Ron Howard, Henry Winkler (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)

The entire cast spent a lot of time together and participated in softball events. Marshall put the league together with casts from other television shows partly to help keep actors out of trouble and away from drugs. Winkler described the cast being “very much like a family. I love them, I talk to them, I email them, and I see them.”

Photo: thenewyorktimes.com

For eleven years Happy Days provided all of us with lovely memories of the Cunningham family and their friends. It is one of the best sitcoms of the 1970s and has held up beautifully in syndication. Life in the fifties was a fun and heart-warming time (at least on television), but all good things must come to an end, and Happy Days was no exception. The good news is we can get immersed back into the Cunninghams’ lives whenever we want to. Eleven seasons provides for a lot of binge watching. Better make some extra popcorn.

The Audience Did Not Have a Good Time Watching The Goodtime Girls.

During our blog journey this month, we have gone back in time to Sherwood Forest and then sped forward to the 1860 Wild West. Today, as we continue with “Living in the Past: Timeless Comedies,” we time travel 80 years ahead and land in Washington DC in 1942. When we arrive, we find ourselves in the midst of The Goodtime Girls, a show that debuted in 1980 and was created by Lenora Thuna in association with Garry Marshall’s Henderson Productions and Paramount Television.

Photo: episodate.com

The women, all familiar stereotypes, live together in a small attic apartment. There is dumb-blonde Loretta (Georgia Engel), girl-next-door Betty (Lorna Patterson), level-headed Edith (Annie Potts), and arrogant Camille (Francine Tacker). They must learn to depend on each other and navigate life working in jobs to help aid the war effort.

Rounding out the cast were their landlords, Mr. and Mrs. Coolidge (Marcia Lewis and Merwin Goldsmith), their buddy Frankie (Adrian Zmed) who’s a cab driver, and was rejected from military duty because of his flat feet, and his pal Benny (Peter Scolari). Frankie and Benny lived on another floor of the home.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

Edith, Betty, and Loretta were living in the apartment and already feeling confined and crowded. Camille, a reporter, covering the plight of people dealing with a housing shortage in the capital, is then added by the landlords when she loses her apartment. Camille’s personality didn’t help her earn a warm welcome by the other women. Edith works for the Office of Price Admissions, Betty was at the US Secretary of War’s office, and Loretta worked for General Culpepper (Richard Stahl) at the Pentagon. I was not sure what the Office of Price Admissions was. After a little research, I learned that it began in 1941 and was set up to establish price controls on nonagricultural commodities and rationing essential consumer goods during WWII. One of the first products to receive their ruling on rationing was automobile tires. The Office was disbanded in May of 1947.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

The shortage of consumer goods and men didn’t help the situation the women found themselves in either. Loretta was the only married tenant, but Edith is the one who tended to “mother” the other girls, doling out advice and wisdom. Frankie and Benny often joined the girls’ adventures.

This was one of the few Garry Marshall series that didn’t become a hit. Several guest stars appeared during the season including Happy Days’ Scott Baio as Edith’s brother and Laverne and Shirley’s Michael McKean as a bitter soldier confined to a wheelchair.

The mostly forgotten theme song, “When Everyone Cared” was written by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel.

Photo: nostalgiacentral.com

The show never connected with viewers. It began life on ABC on Tuesday nights following Happy Days which should have ensured its success. It tested very well with audiences. Rather than a fall debut, the show began January 22, 1980. After the February sweeps (older viewers will fondly recall the exciting sweeps month followed by “nothing new in March”), the show went off the air. Its competition was the White Shadow and a show I don’t remember at all, California Fever. (The description on imdb was “Vince and Ross are suburban LA teenagers enjoying disco, surfing, cars, and the rest of the Southern California lifestyle. Musical Vince runs an underground radio station and mechanical Ross is into custom cars.”  It only lasted ten episodes, so I guess I’m not the only one who doesn’t remember it.)

Goodtime Girls returned in April for three weeks on Saturday night and then was pulled again. Although the show was cancelled in May, five of the remaining episodes were aired in August on Friday nights. For some reason, episode 3, “Night and Day” was never shown.

Photo: imdb.com

I’m not sure why the show never caught on. It had a great cast but most viewers didn’t appreciate the comic aspects of the show. Laverne and Shirley and Mork and Mindy could get away with more slapstick routines than many shows airing in the eighties. At this time, M*A*S*H was still going strong, and if you were doing war humor, it would be a hard show to compete with. Maybe this show just seemed too banal and predictable. It was always discussed as being character driven; perhaps the characters were too typecast to be interesting.

As a noteworthy item of information, I don’t think Betty and Camille got along much better after the show ended. Robert Ginty who was married to Francine Tacker for three years later wed Lorna Patterson only fifty days after his divorce became final. However, their marriage only lasted six years.

Unfortunately, the audience was not having as good a time as the cast. I have never seen the show in reruns, and there is no mention of a DVD ever having been released. Learning about so many shows that didn’t make it helps us appreciate those series that became mega-hits. If nothing else, the demise of this show made it possible for Scolari to accept a role on Bosom Buddies.

Viewers Found Best of the West “So-So of the West”

As we continue the “Living in the Past: Timeless Comedies,” we travel back to the frontier for Best of the West. Like the show we discussed in my last blog, When Things Were Rotten, this series was also a rapid fire of gags, puns, and one-liners.

Photo: wikipedia.com

Westerns ruled the airwaves in the 1950s, but with the demise of Gunsmoke in 1975, the cowboys shows had all ridden off into the sunset.  The Best of the West made its debut in 1981. The show, created by Earl Pomerantz, was a parody of the previous decades of oaters. Civil War veteran Sam Best (Joel Higgins) moves his family from posh Philadelphia to Copper Creek at the western border in 1865. He was not your typical western hero—more of a city slicker.

Photo: imdb.com

A store owner by trade, he knew little about guns or fighting. After arriving in the town, he accidentally scares off The Calico Kid (Christopher Lloyd), one of the “bad guys,” and the townspeople lobby him to be their mayor.

Sam’s nemesis is Parker Tillman (Leonard Frey), who runs the saloon with a slew of other bad guys, most notably his sidekick Frog Rothchild Jr. (Tracey Walter). With Sam are his southern belle wife Elvira (Carlene Watkins) and his smart-alecky son Daniel (Meeno Peluce). Sam is also friends with the town doctor, Jerome Kullens (Tom Ewell), who is a bit of a lush.

Photo: imdb.com

Sam reminds me a bit of F-Troop’s Will Parmenter. He’s a likable guy placed in a situation that he did not pursue. Sam’s family is not happy in their new setting. They had gotten used to the comforts of a big city. Elvira is beside herself because she can never get the dirt off the floor, until Sam reminded her it was literally a dirt floor.

Photo: imdb.com

The plots on this show were a bit similar to many of the story lines we became familiar with from decades of westerns. In one show the doctor’s mail-order bride is described as having a vivid personality with a past to match. In one episode, Sam and Tillman try to convince the railroad company to connect with Copper Creek. Another example is when Sam shoots himself in the leg and the jail begins to fall apart, and the town reconsiders his ability to lead them, or the classic tale of Elvira and Daniel exploring a cave that is booby-trapped and ready to collapse around them.

Photo: imdb.com

The show never seemed to catch on with viewers. It was hard to fault the writers. David Lloyd, Sam Simon, and Earl Pomerantz were working together on Taxi, and they would go on to write for Cheers in 1982.

Photo: imdb.com
Dixie Carter

The show also had some amazing celebrity guest stars: Dixie Carter, Chuck Connors, Andy Griffith, Al Lewis, and Betty White.

Photo: imdb.com
Andy Griffith

For a while, parodies like Airplane! were all the rage, and maybe the fad had just played out.

Perhaps, western fans, with their fond memories of growing up with Bonanza and The Rifle Man, just weren’t ready to make fun of their childhood shows.

Photo: imdb.com
Betty White

It was hard to find information about the show. As you can see in these photos, the majority of them came from imdb.com; there just aren’t many photos out there otherwise.

ABC didn’t outright cancel the show, but they took a lot of time trying to decide whether to renew it or not. In the meantime, Joel Higgins got tired of waiting and accepted the role of Edward Stratton on Silver Spoons. With the star gone and the ratings mediocre, the show ended after 22 episodes.

Photo: pinterest.com

Silver Spoons would be the show that brought Joel Higgins success. However, he had an interesting career. He graduated from Michigan State with a degree in advertising. He went to work for General Motors for six months. When he enlisted in the Army, his title was Special Services Sergeant in Charge of Entertainment. This role seemed to redirect his path. Post-Army life, he was busy with both television roles and theater performances. He also started a business with two friends. They wrote more than 200 jingles for a variety of products, including Kool-Aid, M&Ms, Schwepps Soda, and Coors beer, as well as several themes for shows such as Life with Lucy, one of Lucille Ball’s many shows.

Photo: imdb.com
The Calico Kid

His family members Carlene Watkins and Meeno Peluce never found their “Silver Spoons.” Carlene had been on The Secret Empire in 1979. After Best of the West, she would go on to be part of the cast of five more shows–It’s Not Easy, Mary, The Tortellis, Dear John, and Bob–none of which lasted very long. Peluce was part of the Bad News Bears from 1979-80 and later would land a regular role on Voyagers from 1982-83. He did make appearances on many shows, including Silver Spoons in 1984.

Photo: collider.com

Many viewers seem to have fond memories of this show. If you want to see what the show was like, CBS-DVD released the show as a manufactured-on-demand DVD in 2017. While this series might not portray the best of the west, it certainly was not the worst of the west either.

When Things Were Rotten: No “Happily Ever After” for this Tale

This month’s series is “Living in the Past: Timeless Comedies.” For our first blog, we travel back to the 12th century to Sherwood Forest to a time When Things Were Rotten. After viewing one episode of this show, you knew it could only have been created by the comic legend Mel Brooks. In this case, he had the help of John Boni and Norman Stiles.

Photo: nostalgiacentral.com

Debuting in 1975 on ABC, Brooks considered what life would have been truly like if the legend was just hype, and Robin and his Merry Men were just a bunch of buffoons. The series has many of the traits found in Brooks’ Blazing Saddles or Monty Python episodes.

Reading the list of brilliant cast members, this show seems like one that should have been a huge hit, but in reality, it only lasted for thirteen episodes. Based on its brief airing, perhaps Robert Klein was wise to turn down the role of Robin. Dick Gautier, who worked with Brooks on Get Smart, agreed to take on the role of the heroic leader. Henry Polic II played the Sheriff of Nottingham who always got taken in by the gang. Ron Rifkin is Prince John. Misty Rowe, known best for her Hee-Haw performances, is Maid Marian. The Merry Men were indeed merry, being made up of Bernie Kopell, Dick Van Patten, Richard Dimitri (who had a dual role as identical twin brothers), and David Sabin.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

Of course, in this parody, slapstick is involved in every episode. The sight gags were always described as hilarious, and every script was full of great one-liners. It was definitely not everyone’s cup of tea. For example, at times the sheriff was said to be barking mad and he would literally bark. In one episode, the “barking” sheriff asks Bertram to hang up some banners and a cutaway scene shows a husband, wife and two children on a wall saying, “Hi, we’re the Banners.” Another example is Richard the-Lion-Hearted coming ashore after the Crusades to be met by an umpire, yelling “Safe,” at which point the sheriff shouts, “Kill the umpire.” The humor came fast and furious at a rapid-fire pace. Brooks described the construction of the show by saying: “We took great liberties, and the writing was very crazy and funny.”

Photo: imdb.com

Unlike some parodies, the production of the show was high quality with lavish costumes and sets. Every episode featured a well-known guest star. Dudley Moore appeared as a piano-playing sheik named Achmed Muhammad Ben Gazzara. Other stars included Carl Ballantine, John Byner, Sid Caesar, Paul Williams, and Mel Brooks himself. Brooks said his favorite episode was “The French Disconnection” starring Caesar as a French ambassador.

Photo: imdb.com

The theme song was written by Lee Adams and Charles Strouse who had done the well-known theme for All in the Family as well as many composing for many popular musicals. The lyrics were:

“Once upon a time when things were rotten,
Not just food, but also kings were rotten.
Everybody kicked the peasants,
Things were bad and that ain’t good,
Then came Robin Hood (Ba-bahh!)

“Soon a band of merry men he’d gotten,
They wore outfits made of plain green cotton,
Helping victims was their business.
Boy oh boy was business good —
Good for Robin Hood!

“They laughed, they loved, they fought, they drank,
They jumped a lot of fences.
They robbed the rich, gave to the poor —
Except what they kept for expenses!

“So when other legends are forgotten
We’ll remember back when things were rotten.
Yay for Robin Hood!”

When Things Were Rotten was definitely a product of its time. Like Laugh-In or even Sesame Street, viewers had no time to reflect on a comment. Things moved at a frenetic pace. One of the New York Times critics, John O’Connor, timed the gags and noted there was a new one every fifteen seconds.

Photo: imdb.com

The critics gave the series great reviews and mentioned its inventiveness and quick humor. The ratings never backed up the praise however. Brooks had a different perspective. In an interview with Frank DeCaro in the New York Times (7-19-2013), Brooks discussed the show’s ending. “The show was canceled, Mr. Brooks said, not because it failed to find an audience — ‘The ratings weren’t bad,’ he insisted — but because, as a one-camera show, shot like a film, it just cost too much to produce. ‘I was very happy with When Things Were Rotten,’ he said. “We were on our way to doing 36 episodes, and then someone at Paramount called and said, ‘Mel, could you do it as a three-camera show?’ I said, ‘You mean like “I Love Lucy”? Are you crazy?’” When the network pulled the plug, Mr. Brooks remembers, friends offered their condolences. ‘Everybody said, ‘I’m sorry it didn’t work.’ I said: ‘It did work. It was just too expensive.’”

Photo:

The same reason many viewers might still appreciate the show today is also one of the factors of its demise. The show depended on fans knowing a lot of pop culture knowledge. People who love cultural history would have a blast watching the show, but the younger generations whom don’t have that database in the brain might feel disconnected.

Photo: imdb.com

Of course, the television schedule always has a lot of sway about whether a show is a hit or a flop. This show was on Wednesday nights. Its competition was Tony Orlando and Dawn and Little House on the Prairie. While Tony Orlando and Dawn was on its last legs and would not return in 1976, Little House on the Prairie was very popular. This was the second season for the show which had a huge audience; the show would continue until 1983.

Photo: nytimes.com
Comedy legend Mel Brooks

The show might have ended, but Brooks could not let the concept go. In 1993, his film, Robin Hood: Men in Tights would continue the concept. In this version, Cary Elwes as Robin leads his men, but if you look closely, you might think The Abbot (Dick Van Patten) resembles Friar Tuck in When Things Were Rotten.

Photo: imdb.com

One interesting technological advancement is that a show like this typically would never have been released on DVD because of its short run. Now, however, manufactured-on-demand makes the show available on Amazon. It’s the perfect length for a week-end marathon. You might realize that When Things Were Rotten, they were also pretty good and funny.