From Fall of 1963 to Spring of 1966, you could watch My Favorite Martian on television every week; I’m sure he was your favorite Martian too.
John L. Greene created the plot and developed the characters for the show produced by Jack Chertok. The plot was that a 450-year-old extraterrestrial anthropologist, who was not small and green, collides with an air force plane. A young reporter, Tim O’Hara (Bill Bixby) is returning home after an interview at Edwards Air Force Base and sees the crash. Tim takes the Martian (Ray Walston) home and refers to him as Uncle Martin, although his real name is Exigius 12 1/2. Tim agrees to protect his identity while he repairs his spaceship.
Besides being an anthropologist, Uncle Martin is an inventor, which sometimes causes headaches for Tim. A time machine sends him and Martin to other times and brings Leonard da Vinci and Jesse James back to the present. A molecular separator allows Martin to take apart the molecules of one object and rearrange them into something else like a squirrel to a human. Another product lets Martin save memories in a pill form to relearn later.
In addition to his inventions, Martin has some unusual powers. He is telepathic and can read and influence minds; he can levitate objects with his index finger, communicate with animals, both freeze or speed up objects or people, and can raise two antennae to become invisible. Raising the antennae was done with a transistor under his collar.
Luckily Tim’s landlady, Lorelei Brown (Pamela Britton), is a bit scatterbrained. She and Uncle Martin have a bit of a romance but it never gets serious since Martin knows he must leave the planet.
The network didn’t like Chertok’s scripts, so they hired Sherwood Schwartz (later known as the creator behind Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch) to doctor the plots.
The theme music was composed by George Greeley and performed by Paul Tanner, a former member of Glenn Miller’s band. Tanner used an electro-theremin which could later be heard on The Beach Boys’ hit “Good Vibrations.”
The first two seasons were filmed in black and white with the third being shot in color.
Season one found My Favorite Martian ranked tenth overall. This was a surprise to me because it was up against The World of Disney. By the end of the second season, it was down to 24th but was renewed for a third year. Ratings declined significantly in the third season; often mentioned was the redundant storylines. If kids were still watching Disney, adults might have split their viewership. In it second season, this show was on at the same time as Wagon Train and in its last season it was up against Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
For only being on the air three years, the show had a lot of after lives. Saturday morning cartoons were all over the place during this decade. One of the cartoons to debut in 1973 was My Favorite Martians featuring Martin; his nephew Andromeda, or Andy; Tim; Mrs. Brown; and her boyfriend Detective Brennan. The animation series relied on scripts that had been written for a potential fourth season but never used.
In 1999, the show also came to the big screen starring Christopher Lloyd as Martin and Jeff Daniels as Tim. Walston has an appearance as another Martian trapped on Earth, although a lot of the ET characteristics had changed from the original concepts.
Gold Key Comics developed a comic book series around the show and published nine issues between 1963 and 1966.
The series debuted during the time that merchandising was beginning to increase greatly. This show resulted in a board game, a magic set, a paint-by-numbers kit, a spaceship model kit, and a beanie hat.
One fun fact I learned was that the spaceship prop used in the series was bought by magician David Copperfield for $100,000 in 2018.
Although My Favorite Martian will not go down as one of the best sitcoms in the golden age of television, it was important as one of the first sci-fi television shows. Most fans cite their special effects as pretty impressive for the time.
The first two seasons were filmed at Desilu and the great Sheldon Leonard directed the pilot. It would have been interesting to see the progression of the show if he had stayed on the payroll. He seemed to have an intuition for developing realistic and likable characters. Ray Walston later regretted taking the role of Uncle Martin. He said he did it for the money but felt it typecast him for many years. However, he did say that he enjoyed working with Bixby, and they became life-long friends.
Let’s end with one of their conversations that show how this series turned comedy upside down.
Tim: I thought you could give my article on ESP a special slant.
Martin causes Tim to stand at an angle through telepathy.
If you want a special slant on early sci-fi, give this one a try, but save yourself some grief and leave season three in the box.