Why That Girl Was That Great

This fall marks the 50th anniversary of That Girl.  What is it about a show filmed in 1966 that allows it to remain fresh and fun in 2016?  That’s what I was thinking about this week.  As I’ve mentioned before, nostalgia certainly plays into movies and television shows from that era, but there are many more shows forgotten than remembered.  The series that remain in syndication must have something more to them that continues to lure new viewers and retain fans who watched the show live on television when it was first written.

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That Girl was on the air five seasons, cancelled not because of bad ratings but at the request of the actors involved in the production.  Five characters stayed the course of the show:  Ann Marie (Marlo Thomas), Don Hollinger (Ted Bessell), Lou Marie (Lew Parker), Helen Marie (Rosemary DeCamp), and Jerry Bauman (Bernie Kopell).  Hundreds of characters made an appearance on one or two, or even ten, shows throughout the years.  The five major characters were the glue that kept the show together – they were real characters who had flaws and made some bad choices, but we truly cared about each of them and liked them for who they were.

The shows were filmed at Desilu-Cahuenga Studios, started by Desi and Lucille Ball.  Many early classic shows were produced there including I Spy, Hogan’s Heroes, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Danny Thomas Show, and The Andy Griffith Show, which began as an episode on The Danny Thomas Show.

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Ann Marie was based somewhat on Marlo Thomas who purposely searched for a vehicle to star in.  Marlo went to school to become a teacher and then pursued her acting dream.  When she got her first apartment, against her father’s wishes, she called home to complain about ants, and her father yelled to her mother, “Miss Independence has ants.”  Her life became the germination for That Girl.  Two great writers, Bill Persky and Sam Denoff, agreed to write for the first year.  Bill’s parents were always referring to his sister as “that girl” which gave the series its name and the opening feature where someone referred to Ann as “that girl” to begin every episode.

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One of the reasons this show remains watchable today can be seen in Marlo Thomas’s take on the series:  “It was not a fall-down funny show.  It was a relationship show.”  I think all great shows have that at the core.  Funny shows go in and out of fashion, but relationships stay valid throughout the decades.

Ann is a sweet, warm, smart young woman just starting out on her career, full of hope.  Don is a kind, funny, well-read guy who truly loves her.  Her parents worry about her, their only child, and want her to be happy.  That is the premise of the show.  We get to watch Ann as she grows as an actress and a person, experiencing joy and disappointment at the way life works.

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Another reason the show is so good is that they knew when to end it.  Marlo wanted the show to end before the wedding even though Don and Ann were engaged the final season.  Neither Marlo nor Ted thought the marriage would have taken place.  Ted guessed Don would have married someone else and Ann would have a successful acting career, and maybe after his wife died they would have gotten back together again.  But the show was about that time when a young woman is exploring her world and herself and full of hope about her future.  Marlo felt once Ann became a successful actress or married, the show’s concept was gone.

I just wanted to share some of my favorite episodes with you:

What’s In a Name? Debuting in November the first year, this episode is a reworking of the pilot.  Ann’s agent thinks having two first names is confusing and wants her to change her name.  When she comes up with Marie Brewster, she thinks it’s great but her father is hurt.  Despite his unhappiness about the choice, he watches the show on television with her that will show her new name in the credits, only to learn she kept her real name because it was so important to him.

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Rain, Snow, and Rice. In February of 1967 Don’s friend Jerry marries Margie; Don and Ann go along as witnesses.  Bad weather forces them to stay at a hotel with one available room for Don and Ann.  They are obviously awkward and uncomfortable.  When her parents call the front desk and realize they are in the same room, they travel to Connecticut to force a marriage, only to find they spent most of the night playing cards fully dressed.

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 Paper Hats and Everything. The very next show was one where Ann thought her friends were planning a surprise birthday party while her dad took her out to dinner.  There was no party but when they realize she thinks she’s getting one, they quickly plan it and comically inform her father.  Lou and Ann have a very beautiful moment when she asks him if he was disappointed she was not a boy and his answer is sweet and loving, and there is no doubt he was never disappointed.

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A Muggy Day in Central Park. In this show from 1968, Ann is mugged.  When Don comes to the police station to get her, he learns that there is a task force where the men dress as women to try to catch muggers.  In order to write about it for his magazine, he dresses as a woman and accompanies another officer posing as his boyfriend.  Ann’s dad sees Don in drag and assumes the worst, trying to keep Ann from learning the truth.  Ann, knowing exactly where Don was, cannot figure out what is wrong with her father.

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My Sister’s Keeper. This show from 1969 is fun because all of Ann’s siblings and her father are cast.  Ann cannot sing but gets a commercial for her looks, while another singer’s voice is dubbed in.  Ann thinks this is wrong and tries to get the singer to do the commercial, only to realize the singer is a nun and does not want to be in the public eye but loves to sing.  The nun is Marlo’s real sister, her brother plays an agent on the show, and at one point at the convent a priest brushes by Ann, and she says “Excuse me father,” and we realize that priest is Danny Thomas.

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So why do we continue to watch?  Young girls still long to move to the big city to find their careers, young men still fall in love with those girls, and parents still worry about their kids and want them to be happy.  That is quite simply the reason we still love That Girl.

 

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Gee, Mom There’s Nothin’ To Watch on TV

After complaining about the number of lack-luster shows on the 2016-17 schedule, I decided to look back 50 years to see how the line-up looked in 1966.  I was surprised to learn that things haven’t really changed too much.

One of my all-time favorite shows aired in the fall of 1966–That Girl.  I’ll write about the show next week.  Two other shows that debuted in 1966 were Family Affair and The Monkees, shows I would not consider classic comedies but shows we remember nonetheless.

Let’s take a look at the other shows from fall of 1966.  Let me know how many of these, if any, you remember.

The Hero – Richard Mulligan (later to star in Soap and Empty Nest) plays Sam Garret, a TV actor on a western who was scared of horses, allergic to sagebrush, and extremely clumsy.  If you don’t’ remember this show, don’t feel bad; it only lasted four months.

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Hey Landlord – A writer (Will Hutchins) and a comedian (Sandy Baron) become landlords for a Manhattan brownstone.  Apparently they only had a one-year lease, because they were gone by 1967.  Cast members included Ann Morgan Guilbert (Milly from the Dick Van Dyke Show) and Sally Field (Gidget, the Flying Nun, and Nora on Brothers and Sisters).

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It’s About Time – Two astronauts break the time barrier and end up in the Prehistoric Era. After saving a boy, they get to know his family.  When they return home in 1966, they realize the family hid themselves aboard the rocket.  The astronauts have to keep them secret from NASA officials, and the family has to learn to live in a modern society.  Someone might have dreamed about Jeannie, but no one dreamed about this show.

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The Jean Arthur Show – Movie star Jean Arthur is part of a mother-son law firm, Marshall & Marshall.  Arthur gets involved in their clients’ wacky situations.  After three months, they were legally cancelled.

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Love On a Rooftop – Judy Carne and Peter Duel are a young couple living in San Francisco.  He’s an apprentice architect and she’s an art student who gave up her rich father’s money for marrying him.  Rich Little played their neighbor Stan who composed menus for a living.  The network said “Sock it to Them” by cancelling the show.

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Mr. Terrific – Two friends Stanley and Hal are roommates.  Stan works for the government. When they give him a pill, he becomes Mr. Terrific, crime solver.  They send him on missions, but the pill only lasts an hour so it wears off at the worst of times.  I don’t think the network thought it too terrific, because it was gone in seven months.

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My Name’s McGooley, What’s Yours? – The show centered around a scheming father, his daughter and her husband, a beer-guzzling loser.  I think it took longer to read the title than to watch the episodes because it was not renewed for the next year.

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Occasional Wife – A baby food company only hires married men as executives, so Peter convinces his friend Greta to pose as his wife when necessary.  They live on different floors of the same apartment building and get into a lot of complicated situations.  Apparently viewers only watched occasionally because it was cut from the schedule.

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Pistols ‘n Petticoats – Ann Sheridan came to the TV screen to play Hank, short for Henrietta, a member of a family in Wretched, Colorado in 1871.  The family has to keep law and order in the town because the local sheriff is incompetent.  People did believe they were wretched, and it was gone before 1967.

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The Pruitts of Southhampton – The premise of this show was that a formerly wealthy family realizes they owe $10,000,000 in taxes and has to downsize their lifestyle while keeping it from all their friends.  The network agreed they were poor and cut it for 1967.  What was amazing about this show not being a hit was the cast:  John Astin, Richard Deacon, Billy De Wolfe, Phyllis Diller, Reginald Gardiner, Marty Ingels, Gypsy Rose Lee, Paul Lynde, John McGiver, and Louis Nye.  Talk about a dream cast.

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Rango – Tim Conway starred in this western sitcom.  His Rango character was totally inept and was assigned to a town with a 20-year peaceful record where he couldn’t get into trouble.  Of course, after he arrives, a crime spree begins.  ABC decided the show inept as well, and it was cancelled after a few months.

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The Rounders – Westerns were definitely a theme in 1966.  In this version, two not-very-bright cowboys are hired as hands at a ranch.  After four months, the network rounded up the cast and ran them out of Dodge.

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Run Buddy Run – Buddy Overstreet, a shy accountant, is in a steam room when he overhears gangsters plotting a murder.  When they realize Buddy knows their plan, they try to capture him.  After only four months, the network cancelled Buddy before the gangsters could.

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The Tammy Grimes Show – Tammy Grimes, a Broadway star, plays a young heiress who’s on a small allowance until she turns 30.  She tries to fulfill her elaborate lifestyle with wacky schemes.  Dick Sargent (Darrin on Bewitched) plays her boring twin brother.  Perhaps the show had a small allowance too because it only lasted three weeks!

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Whoo!  This line-up of shows makes Family Affair, which lasted five years, and The Monkees, which lasted two years, look like successful, classic shows.  It doesn’t make this fall’s shows any better, but at least we’re in good company.  We’ll talk about That Girl next week.

Larger-Than-Life Characters

It’s that time of year when I typically get happy and re-energized.  Temperatures are cool enough to turn off the A/C and let in some fresh air, soft sweaters come off the shelf, kick-offs ring in the sounds of autumn, while televisions that have been shut off all summer come on in anticipation of the new fall schedule.  This year, I’m in search of some great books to pick me up.  I reviewed about 80 shows that will start some time between now and June, and not one of them is on my “I can’t wait to watch that” list.

Disappointed at best, I was reminiscing about some of the beloved characters from past decades:  Alan Alda as Hawkeye Pierce, Marlo Thomas as Ann Marie, and William Demerest as Uncle Charlie.  Thanks to Antenna and Me TV networks and DVD production, we can tune in to these shows whenever we wish.

Some of these beloved characters have transcended the small screen and been immortalized in statues across the country.  So, as you’re traveling throughout the year, here are a dozen detours you could take to view these endearing works of art.

James Garner – Norman, Oklahoma.  Located near the Sooner Theater at the corner of W. Main St. and S. Jones Ave., you’ll find James decked out in his Bret Maverick gear.  I bet you’ll love it.

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Mister Rogers – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Everyone’s favorite sweater guy ties his shoes while smiling at the crowd.  Weighing in at 4 tons, everyone knows whose neighborhood this is.

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Andy Griffith and Ron Howard – Mount Airy, North Carolina.  TV Land donated this statue of Andy and Opie walking to the fishing hole.  Mayberry is based on Mount Airy, but if Mayberry started receiving the 50,000 annual visitors this statue brings in, Andy and Barney would have to hire another deputy.

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Henry Winkler – Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  The “Bronze Fonz,” dressed in his iconic jeans and black leather jacket, gives two thumbs up to the crowd.  With the placing of this statue, Happy Days are once again in Milwaukee.

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Bob Newhart – Chicago, Illinois.  Bob Newhart, depicted as Robert Hartley, sits in a chair at Navy Pier.  A couch is next to him so you can sit down and say “Hi Bob.”  Don’t worry, it’s no dream.

Mary Tyler Moore – Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Independent woman Mary Richards keeps watch at the corner of Nicollet Mall and Seventh St.  Hats off to Mary.

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Elizabeth Montgomery – Salem, Massachusetts.  Another TV Land donation, this sculpture is in Lappin Park and features Samantha sitting on her broom.  Don’t miss this bewitching statue, but don’t bother looking for Durwood, Darnell, or whatever his name is; he’s not there.

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Jackie Gleason – Manhattan, New York.  This 8-foot statue of Ralph Kramden greets visitors at Midtown, the Port Authority Bus Terminal, carrying his lunch box.  Maybe he’s waiting for Norton to emerge from the sewers.

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Lucille Ball – Celeron, New York.  Here you get two times the fun.  Lucy grew up here and a statue was donated to the city in 2009.  Located in an amusement park, it’s referred to as “Scary Lucy” and does resemble an evil Mary Poppins-like figure.  A new statue, just unveiled, now graces the city.  This Lucy wears a 1950s polka-dot dress which she accessorizes with pearls and a handbag. Surprisingly, Scary Lucy is staying put because she draws so many visitors to the area.

If you’re traveling out of the United States, you still can check out a few statues on your vacations.

Leonard Nimoy – Vulcan, Alberta, Canada.  Star Trek memorabilia abounds in Vulcan – from murals to film showings to themed hotel rooms.  The post office even cancels mail with an Enterprise icon.  A bust of Nimoy, dedicated in July 2016, honors the man and the visit he made there in 2010.

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Peter Falk – Hungary.  Wearing his rumpled coat and looking confused, Columbo stands in a Budapest street.  No one knows why the statue was erected.  An urban legend is that Miksa Falk, a Hungarian politician who lived from 1828-1908 was a distant relative.  No evidence exists to support this.  Apparently, the only person who could solve this mystery is Columbo, so we’ll forever wonder.

If you’ve ever seen any of these larger-than-life characters, I’d like to know what you thought.  If you haven’t, keep an eye out as you’re traveling.

I’m Not Sorry

I have a confession.  When I’m alone on a Friday night and nobody is watching me, I’m watching That Girl, My Three Sons, or The Dick Van Dyke Show.  It could even be Petticoat Junction, M*A*S*H, Bachelor Father, or Burns and Allen.  I’ve been a classic sitcom closet watcher for decades.  And, as long as I’m putting everything on the table, I admit most nights I’ll choose a Doris Day movie over Kathryn Hepburn, as much as I enjoy and appreciate Hepburn movies.

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I’m not apologizing for his behavior any longer. I realized I’m defending this habit to people even as they’re looking up the next episode of Parking Wars or Celebrity Plastic Surgeons of Beverly Hills.

These characters have been part of my life longer than anyone but my siblings, and sorry family, you don’t make me laugh as much as they do.

So, why do many of us have this connection with characters we’ve gotten to know on screens?  That’s what this blog will explore.  Sure, some of it is nostalgia.  When I watch a Partridge Family episode, I’m 9 again, sitting in a living room next to Patti Thomas and Connie Rougeux.  I enjoy being with that kid; she keeps me young.  I know it’s more than nostalgia, though, because I feel the same way about the cast of the Big Bang Theory, the Baxter family on Last Man Standing, and Rizzoli and Isles.  Just like certain people in our personal lives, there are characters that are fun to be around, and I never get tired of watching them.  All in the Family has a nostalgia feel for sure, but I’d rather go to the dentist than watch a season of episodes with the Bunkers–nothing personal Dr. Machgan.

Your favorites might not be my favorites. I’d love to know what your go-to shows are.   Maybe you would love to take a trip on the Enterprise, or spend a week at the Ponderosa, or solve a mystery with McMillan and Wife.  If you have a penchant for characters you first met in the TV guide, then come along on the journey to re-visit these old friends.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to one of my all-time favorite TV stars.  Bob Newhart celebrates his birthday today—Happy Birthday Bob!

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See you next week, and open those curtains next time you spend an evening watching Antenna TV.