Sabrina Won Us Over Without Magic

We are on the last week of our Teen Scene blog series. We began the month with Melissa Joan Hart in Clarissa Explains It All, and we end with Melissa Joan Hart in Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

Photo: wonderwall.com

Clarissa Explains It All went off the air in 1994, and two years later Sabrina hit the airwaves. The show was on ABC from Fall of 1996 until May of 2000 and then moved to The WB network for three seasons, going off the air in April of 2003.

Photo: usmagazine.com

Neil Scovell created the show based on the Sabrina the Teenage Witch character from the Archie comic series. The premise was that on her sixteenth birthday, Sabrina (Hart) learns that she has magical powers. She lives with her aunts who she learns are 600 years old and also witches: Hilda (Caroline Rhea) and Zelda (Beth Broderick) and their cat Salem who is also magical. Salem was voiced by Nick Bakay. The three family members live in Boston.

A lot of the plots are based on spells that don’t go quite right as Sabrina learns her magic skills. Unlike Bewitched, it’s her father’s side of the family that she inherited her powers from. Other plots come from the circumstances that arise as she tries to keep the fact that she is a witch from her friends Jenny (Michelle Beaudoin), Valerie (Lindsay Sloane), her boyfriend Harvey (Nate Richert), and her suspicious principal Willard Kraft (Martin Mull).

Photo: livingly.com

Sabrina has an annoying cousin but rather than Hart playing both roles like in Bewitched or I Dream of Jeannie, her sister Emily portrays cousin Amanda.

There was no live studio audience because of the complex visual effects that were necessary for the filming.

Season one is Sabrina dealing with the fact that she is a witch and that she needs to learn how to deal with her special powers. In season two, she learns she needs to earn her witch’s license or give up her powers. She has to attend witch boot camp before her test.

For season three, she learns before she can use her license, she must discover her family secret. Different family members provide her with clues throughout the year, and eventually, she learns every family member is born with a twin. Harvey learns during season four that Sabrina is a witch. Their relationship is on and off again but he leaves the show at the end of the year.

Photo: etcanada.com

For season five, Sabrina begins college and moves into a house with other students. She goes to work at a local coffee shop. Her aunts want to stay close to her so Hilda buys the coffee shop and Zelda becomes a professor at the school. Sabrina gets a new boyfriend Josh.

Josh is offered a job abroad and while he is trying to decide, Harvey reenters Sabrina’s life because he is dating her roommate Morgan. Eventually, Josh and Harvey both move away. At the beginning of the last season, Sabrina and her roommates Morgan and Roxie move into her aunt’s house and Sabrina becomes a writer for a magazine. She meets a new guy, Aaron, to whom she eventually becomes engaged. However, in the series finale, Harvey returns on her wedding day and Sabrina leaves with him.

Photo: yahoo.com

The series was well known for its music and musical guests. During the run of the show, Britney Spears, Avril Lavigne, N*Sync, Coolio, The Backstreet Boys, Paula Abdul, the Violent Femmes, 10000 Maniacs, and Usher all make appearances.

One of my favorite moments comes during an episode in season 2, “Dante’s Inferno.” In this episode, Aunt Hilda has an illness called pun-itis where everything she says becomes literally true. She says there’s a monkey on her shoulder and voila, it is.  However, it’s no ordinary monkey. It’s Monkee member Davey Jones wrapped around her shoulder.

Photo: insider.com

This show was genuinely funny. Sabrina was youthful and optimistic and fun. Her aunts truly loved her and brought a warmth and a kindness to the show. Salem’s dry sense of humor and sarcasm make him a delightful pet. They were a delightful family to spend time with.

Doogie Howser MD: The Smartest Kid on TV

We are in the midst of our Teen Scene blog series this month. Today we learn about a true teen genius, Doogie Howser, MD.

Picture
Photo: sitcomanddramas.weebly.com

This half-hour sitcom was created for the fall of 1989 by Steven Bochco who created Hill Street Blues and LA Law and would go on to develop NYPD Blue. He asked David E. Kelley for help writing the pilot. Kelley, who also wrote for Hill Street Blues, would go on to write for Picket Fences, Ally McBeal, The Practice, Boston Public, and Boston Legal. Bochco and Co felt Neil Patrick Harris was the perfect kid to play a teenage doctor. ABC did not like the casting and was not fond of the show in general or the pilot. However, Bochco’s contract required that if the network canceled his project, they had to pay a penalty. They ended up putting the show on the air because test screenings ranked so well. The show ended up being on the air for four seasons, creating 97 episodes. It was one of the first sitcoms not to have a live audience or a laugh track.

While Doogie had to deal with professional medical problems at work, in his personal career, he was still a teenager dealing with the same issues all teenagers do. His best friend Vinnie (Max Casella) had been in his life since kindergarten. Vinnie wanted to pursue film school, but his dad wanted him to join the family business. Doogie’s family business was medicine; his dad, Dr. David Howser (James B. Sikking) had a family practice, and his mother Katherine (Belinda Montgomery) became a patient advocate at the hospital.

Sikking, Harris, and Montgomery Photo: showbizjunkies.com

Doogie and Vinnie dated best friends. Wanda (Lisa Dean Ryan) was Doogie’s girlfriend but before the end of the show, she left to attend the Art Institute of Chicago and they broke up. Vinnie’s girlfriend Janine (Lucy Boyer) drops out of college to become a department store buyer.

Doogie’s professional colleagues include Dr. Benjamin Canfield (Lawrence Pressman), head of the hospital and friend of Doogie’s father; Dr. Jack McGuire (Mitchell Anderson), a resident who eventually moves overseas to help third-world countries; Mary Margaret Spaulding (Kathryn Layng) a nurse who ironically dates McGuire, Canfield, and Doogie; and Raymond (Markus Redmond), an orderly who Doogie got hired after he left gang life. In seasons 2-4, Barry Livingston (Ernie from My Three Sons), plays Dr. Bob Rickett, a fellow doctor at the hospital.

Doogie Howser, M.D. (ABC-TV, 1989-93) Shown (l. to r.): James B. Sikking (as Dr. David Howser), Belinda Montgomery (as Katherine Howser), Markus Redmond (as Raymond), Neil Patrick Harris (as Doogie Howser), Lawrence Pressman (as Dr. Canfield), Kathryn Layng (as Nurse Curly Spaulding), Max Casella (as Vinnie)

Doogie’s (Douglas) story is that he was a two-time survivor of early-stage pediatric leukemia which gave him a desire to become a doctor. He was labeled a genius in school and had an eidetic memory and earned a perfect SAT score at the age of six, graduating from high school in only nine weeks at which time he entered Princeton at age 10. By 14, he had finished medical school and was beginning his career. A couple of sources I read said Bochco based the character of Doogie somewhat on his own father who was a violin prodigy.

Harris, Cassella Photo: flickr.com

We meet him at 16 when he is a second-year resident surgeon at Eastman Medical Center in LA. He lives at home with his parents, and he keeps a digital diary which he typically ends the show with, writing as he makes observations about what he has learned during the episode.

The show dealt with some heavier topics including AIDS awareness, racism, homophobia, and gang violence, but most of the shows also involve Doogie’s personal life and his social issues being a teen in an adult world. By the time the show ends, Doogie has moved into his own apartment. Howser then resigns from the hospital to take a trip to Europe. If the show had come back for a fifth season, the creators planned to have Doogie explore a writing career.

While audiences responded enthusiastically to the show, critics were not on board. Marvin Kitman of Newsday rated the first season 40/100 and said sarcastically, “What a wasted childhood my kids have had, I got to thinking while watching this otherwise normal Doogie Howser. It makes you look at your kids differently. What lazy bums they must be still in high school at 16.” Christopher Smith of the Bangor Daily News gave it a C and said, “No classic, this series.”

Harris, Dean Ryan Photo: sitcomsonline.com

However, fans continued to tune in, and a review by c l lance on imdb.com, in 2005, said “Doogie Houser [Howser], MD. Just the name brings a smile of remembrance to me. In the tradition of such television classics as L.A. LAW, NYPD Blue and Hill Street Blues, Doogie Houser, MD was wonderfully funny with a touch of life. As a 30-something adult when I first watched Doogie in late-night reruns, I was hooked by its humor and wit while watching this “kid” with an adult mind, yet the hormones and maturity of a teenager, grow into independence. Memorable episodes include his first day, the late-night skinny dip (as mentioned by another viewer), the practical joke he played on other hospital staff only to have it ruthlessly reciprocated, and the apartment with his best friend Vinny. There is some risqué humor but it is nothing when compared to today’s standards. I always enjoyed seeing the relationship he had with his dad and mom. I had the entire series recorded but sacrificed them for NFL games. BIG mistake!! Doogie Houser, MD will long be cherished by this now 40 something dad and his now 20 something daughters. I look forward to seeing Doogie’s journal again.”

A lot of us knew Harris better from his role of Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother. During one episode, “The Bracket,” Barney writes in his computerized diary while the theme song for Doogie Howser plays in the background.

UNITED STATES – SEPTEMBER 19: DOOGIE HOWSER, M.D. – Season One – Pilot – 9/19/89, Neil Patrick Harris played 16-year-old child prodigy Douglas “Doogie” Howser, a second-year resident at Eastman Medical Center who zipped through high school in two months, graduated from Princeton at 10, and medical school at 14. At the end of each episode, Doogie entered his experiences in his electronic diary, on his computer. , (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)

On September 19, 2019, USA Today did an interview with Harris on the 30th anniversary of the show and mentioned that upon the death of Steven Bochco, Harris reflected about his time on the show: “I look back on that with fondness. That was a very remarkably wonderful chapter for somebody who had never really been in the entertainment business before.” Doogie might have missed his chance to become an author, but Harris has written a series of kids’ books, The Magic Misfits, as well as an autobiography.

I do remember watching the show during prime time. If I was home, I watched it but it was not a must-see show for me. It was an interesting concept though and seemed realistic enough given the few people who would experience this type of life. I think the bigger issue for me was that the first three years it was on against Night Court, so I probably watched more of the fourth season when it was sandwiched between The Wonder Years and Home Improvement.

Photo: pinterest.com

Gidget: The Craziest Kid on TV

As we are in the midst of our Teen Scene blog series, we go back a few decades today to 1965 to take a look at Gidget.

Winter, Field, Conner, Porter, Duel Photo: alchetron.com

Beginning in September of 1965, Gidget went on the air and was one of the first color programs on ABC. The show was adapted from a novel Gidget, the Little Girl with Big Ideas by Frederick Kohner, published in 1957. It became a movie in 1959 starring Sandra Dee. Kohner then served as a script consultant for the television show. The book, movie, and tv show each differ somewhat from each other.

The television show features Gidget Lawrence (Sally Field), a typical, boy-crazy 15-year-old teen who lives with her widowed father Russell (Don Porter), a UCLA professor. Gidget’s older sister Anne (Betty Conner) is married to John Cooper (Peter Duel), a fun-loving psychology student. Anne often tries to mother Gidget while John tries to understand her psychologically. Gidget’s best friend Larue (Lynette Winter) is also part of the cast.

Gidget narrates each episode and directly addresses the audience somewhat like Modern Family. Field said she got to pick out her hairdos and clothing style. Her nickname (her real name is Frances) apparently was given her by her boyfriend, Jeff Matthews who goes by Moondoggie because she is petite and comes from combing “girl midget.” Jeff is going to school at Princeton by the time the show began but Gidget still wears his ring around her neck even though she is dating other boys including a young Martin Milner as Kahuna and a young Daniel J. Travanti as Tom.

Winter and Field Photo: pinterest.com

Seventy-five girls tried out for the role of Gidget. The plots were very similar to a lot of shows in the sixties and seventies: The kids’ favorite hangout, The Shaggy Dog, is in danger of being closed to build a new museum. Gidget and her dad find themselves on opposite sides of an issue; Gidget gets a job driving a floral delivery truck. There’s just one problem—she doesn’t have a driver’s license; and Gidget falls for surfer legend Kahuna and even convinces her father to invite him over. She soon finds out that Kahuna is, when not on the beach, not that interesting.

The series was filmed at the Columbia/Warner Bros. Ranch in Burbank, CA. As with most of the homes at that lot, you will notice that the Lawrence kitchen is the same one Hazel works in and the house next door is the Stephens house from Bewitched.

The theme song is a familiar one to people growing up in the sixties. It was called “Wait Till You See My Gidget” and was written by Howard Greenfield with music composed by Jack Keller. The Four Freshmen sang it in the pilot, but Johnny Tillotson did the vocals for season one.

Photo: pinterest.com

Gidget faced some tough competition. ABC put it on the schedule Wednesday nights against The Beverly Hillbillies which was a top ten show and The Virginian, a top thirty show. Halfway through the year, the network moved it to Thursdays but it faced Gilligan’s Island which was very popular at the time. ABC canceled the show. When it put it on as a rerun for summer, the ratings increased significantly, but by that time it was too late to bring it back for fall.

The show can be seen on several networks. Antenna TV sometimes airs it for special days. It’s also available on DVD.

Photo: nostalgiacentral.com

It sounds like the cast became fairly close during their year together. When the DVD was released, Field did an interview in which she stated that Don Porter and she had a father/daughter relationship off-screen too. Because she was new to the business, he often mentored her and helped her avoid embarrassing moments. In an interview reflecting on her time on the show, Sally said that she always loved working with Lynette Winter and looked forward to their time on the show together. Field also became friends in real life with Winter.

I do remember watching this show in reruns and I always liked it, but I think it was definitely a product of its time and probably spoke more to people who were teens in the early sixties. If nothing else, we can be thankful for this show because it launched the amazing career of Sally Field.

Clarissa Explains It All: The Most Fun Kid on TV

This month’s blog series is all about the Teen Scene. We are going to start and end the series with Melissa Joan Hart.

What Ever Happened to Sam From Clarissa Explains It All? - E! Online
Cast of Clarissa Explains It All Photo: eonline.com

Those of you who grew up in the 1990s or, as in my case, had kids growing up in the 1990s, will remember Clarissa Explains It All. My son Shawn loved this show, and I began watching it with him and actually looked forward to tuning in.

Mitchell Kriegman created this show for the Nickelodeon network. From March of 1991 through October of 1994, 65 episodes were produced. As a personal aside, Kriegman also created Bear in the Big Blue House. With kids growing up in the nineties and 2000s, can I say Clarissa Explains It All, Bear in the Big Blue House, and Arthur were a breath of fresh air compared to most of the kids’ programs on television at that time.

Clarissa Darling (Hart) is a teenager who lives with her brother, Ferguson (Jason Zimbler), whom she finds extremely annoying, and her parents, Janet (Elizabeth Hess) and Marshall (Joe O’Connor), whom she likes a lot. She also has a best friend Sam (Sean O’Neal) who happens to be a boy. Clarissa also has a pet alligator named Elvis.

Photo: variety.com

Like George Burns in his 1950s show, Clarissa often addresses the audience directly. The plots had to do with things all teens are sweating out like first crushes, training bras, getting a driver’s license, cheating at school, etc. Another unusual feature of the show was Clarissa explaining the theme by using a fictional video game or a news segment. Clarissa has pretty liberal parents, so sometimes she has to do her own punishments or life lessons. For example, in one show she mistakenly takes a piece of lingerie from a store. Her parents don’t punish her because it was an accident, so she spends the episode trying to fix the situation.

Clarissa’s character makes the show. Although she is a teenager, she is witty, sarcastic, realistic, and a lot of fun to be around. Kriegman says the role of Clarissa was between two actresses, Melissa and another girl. He thought the other girl really seemed to be “Clarissa,” but he said Hart “was so charming and she just lit up the screen. Because she did that, I could load her up—make her really quirky and different. She could make it play.”

Photo: pinterest.com

Clarissa also has a creative fashion look. Her unique style was created by Lisa Lederer who came from the magazine industry. Lederer didn’t want Clarissa to look like a tomboy or a weird girl: she wanted her to be able to express herself. She said, “It felt like what we were doing was creating this girl in a more real way, to represent the way that girls—that people—normally dress.” Her clothes were all about expression. She did influence people. Girls’ clothing at the time was pretty matchy-matchy, but an ABC executive told Kriegman that his daughter came downstairs in mismatched items and leggings. He asked her what that was all about and she said “I’m dressing like Clarissa.”

Photo: consequence.com

Her brother Ferguson is a mischievous guy who is always trying to spy on her. He loves money and is often trying to come up with schemes to get some. Like Alex on Family Ties, he considers himself a loyal Republican. The show emphasized that sibling rivalry was just part of the family’s life, nothing to make a moral of. Kriegman said writers got extra points if they came up with a good sibling rivalry story.

Sam is very bright and loves skateboarding. His parents are divorced. He lives with his dad, a sports journalist because his mother “ran away” to the Roller Derby. Sam is often seen climbing a ladder to her room introduced by the same guitar chord. Kriegman explained that this was a way to get him into the house to interact with her quicker and there was never any connotation that they were in a relationship.

That bedroom set was the most complex one on the show. On the wall there is a They Might Be Giants poster. In Kriegman’s stylebook for the show, he said there was a science experiment in one corner regarding watering plants with club soda, Perrier, and Evian. There was also a dollhouse made by Marshall for Clarissa, as well as a collection of hats, and hubcaps. Kriegman said that he had a specific idea for the look of the room. The designer wanted it to be a girly room and insisted on painting it pink. So, after it was painted, Kriegman informed the designer that now they were using black car paint to paint checkers all over the wall.

Sam and his ladder Photo: imdb.com

As a funny aside, Kriegman made a rule that no purple could be used on the set. No, he was not anti-Minnesota Vikings. The explanation was odder than that. He said he didn’t mind purple, but he had advice from someone in the business who told him to make an executive rule and stick to it, so that was his executive rule. He said it became a bit of a challenge for set and clothing designers to sneak in purple when they could.

Clarissa’s mom is often sought out by Clarissa for life advice. She works at a children’s museum and is an environmentalist and a proponent of vegan and organic food. Her meals were often mentioned in the episodes. Her dad was an architect who often designs very unusual buildings with creative shapes, often tourist attractions. Like the Keatons on Family Ties, Marshall and Janet were hippies in their earlier life. He typically refers to Clarissa as “Sport” and his advice is not as sage as his wife’s.

Part of the fun that surrounds the show came from Kriegman’s background. He was a short story writer and had worked on a variety of shows including Sesame Street and Saturday Night Live. He wanted the audience to be able to get into a 13-year-old’s mind to understand the events she was experiencing. One of the writers on the show was Suzanne Collins who went on to write The Hunger Games. Some other writers include Michael Borkow who wrote for Roseanne, Malcolm in the Middle; and Friends, Becky Hartman Edwards who wrote for The Larry Sanders Show; Glen Eichler who wrote for the Colbert Report; Peter Gaffney who wrote for The Simpsons; and Alexa Junge who wrote for Friends and The West Wing.

CLARISSA EXPLAINS IT ALL - Sitcoms Online Photo Galleries
Photo: sitcomsonline.com

Rachel Sweet sang the theme song which was a melody singing “na na na na na na” with snippets of “Way cool” or “Just do it,” or “All right! All right!” Perhaps she was a fan of Matthew McConaughey. Kriegman said Sweet was a friend of his and he did not give her any direction for the song.

The show was nominated for an Emmy Award in 1994 for Outstanding Children’s Program. It was beat out by Kids Killing Kids/Kids Saving Kids. Avonlea was also nominated that year, and I would emphasize that neither Clarissa or Avonlea was really a children’s program; it was great viewing for everyone. Also, Hart, O’Neal, and Zimbler all received Young Artist Award nominations; Hart won three Young Artist Awards during the run of the show.

The show continued to have great ratings, but the network canceled the show because they felt Clarissa was getting too old. The cast didn’t have any warning that things were coming to an end. They spent about 70 hours on each episode, so they spent a lot of time together and were very close. Some of the crew helped Melissa with her school projects, and the cast threw a high school graduation party for her. Kriegman said that “adults and kids got together Friday nights after the show was done and had the best party. Everybody was so happy to be with each other.”

Photo: cosmopolitan.com

I have great memories watching this show with my kids and repeating one-liners from the show. It had realistic but humorous plots, fun and memorable characters, and interesting dialogue. It appealed to both kids and adults and to boys and girls. Kriegman said that “The idea that you do something 20 years ago, and everybody still remembers it–not just remembers it fondly, but passionately, and cares about it—I just love it. It’s the most satisfying thing in my career.”

The show was refreshing and witty. Clarissa once said, “Maturity is a boring state of mind.” If that’s true, no cast members or television viewers were very mature during an episode of Clarissa Explains It All.

Lassie: This Series Had Five Lives

We are finishing our series Life with Pets. Although the shows we have looked at so far this month have featured some unusual pets, I knew that we had to include man’s best friend at some point, and really, how could you have a blog series about pets without Lassie who was a very unusual dog?

Except for The Hathaways, the other shows we learned about this month were based on a movie, which was often based on a book. Lassie is no exception. English author Eric Knight wrote a book in 1940 called Lassie Come Home. Several films were produced between 1943 and 1951 about Lassie. Once the seventh and final film was completed, Lassie’s (or Pal as he is known in his real life), owner Rudd Weatherwax was given all rights to the Lassie trademark and name. Weatherwax began taking Pal to local fairs and rodeos.

File:Lassie cast 1955.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Clayton, Rettig, Cleveland Photo: wikimedia.com

Robert Maxwell convinced him to feature Pal in a weekly television show. The men developed the story of Lassie who lived with a young boy named Jeff Miller (Tommy Rettig), age 11; his widowed mother Ellen (Jan Clayton); and her father-in-law (George Cleveland) who all lived on a farm. The show was approved, Campbell’s Soup agreed to sponsor the first year of shows, and the series debuted in 1954 on Sunday nights at 7 pm EST.

Campbell’s would continue its role as sponsor for 19 more years, which totaled 591 episodes. The company asked to have their products featured on the set, so you will see them in background shots. The soup company held a contest in 1956 to name Lassie’s puppies. Grand prizes included $2,000 and ownership of the pups which were hand-delivered by executives. In 1958, viewers could send in 25 cents and a label from a Swanson’s TV dinner to get a friendship ring; the company mailed 77,715 of them to fans. In 1959, fans could send in five labels from Campbell’s products and receive a wallet with a photo of Lassie. More than 1.3 million were mailed and Campbell’s profits rose 70% after its sponsorship began.

In 1957, Jack Wrather who owned The Lone Ranger and Sergeant Preston of the Yukon purchased the show for $3.25 million. In 1958 Lassie received new owners. Both Clayton and Rettig expressed an interest in wanting to leave the show. Cleveland had passed away the year before. Adoptee Timmy Martin (Jon Provost) becomes his master and they live with his parents, Ruth Martin (Cloris Leachman) and Paul Martin (Jon Shepodd).

Lassie (TV Series 1954–1974) - Photo Gallery - IMDb
Photo: imdb.com

In 1958 Wrather dropped Leachman and Shepodd, replacing them with June Lockhart and Hugh Reilly. A neighbor Cully Wilson (Andy Clyde) was also added.

Lassie received good ratings from 1954-1958. In 1959 it fell out of the top 30. By 1960 with the change in characters, the show shot back and made it to #13 in 1964.

However, just as things were looking up, Provost declined to renew his contract. So, ten years after its debut, the show changed its focus to conservation and environmentalism, teaming Lassie with a group of US Forest Service members. In 1965 the show transitioned to color, but the ratings decline had already begun.

Season 17 transitioned again and this time it was an anthology season with Lassie traveling on her own, finding adventures along the way. CBS cancelled the show after season 17, but it became a syndicated show for networks to pick up.

The final two seasons were spent with Garth Holden (Ron Hayes) on the Holden Ranch, a home for orphaned boys. After season 19, the show went off the air for good.

Five of Pal’s descendants also played the role of Lassie. They included Lassie Jr. (1954-59), Spook (1960), Baby (1960-1966), Mire (1966-1971), and Hey Hey (1971-73). Like the show, Pal lived to be 19.

The show was filmed at Stage One of KTTV in Los Angeles from 1954-57 and then moved to Desilu for a year. The Timmy seasons were filmed at the Grand Canyon and High Sierra and the Forest Service seasons were filmed in Alaska and Puerto Rico, among other sites.

Photo: ashroudofthoughts.com

Most of the plots involved the boys or other characters needing help and Lassie coming to the rescue. However, ironically the biggest spoof of the show is Timmy falling down a well and Lassie saving him, but no one ever fell down a well on the show except Lassie in season 17. It is such an iconic plot, that Provost wrote his autobiography in 2007 and called it Timmy’s in the Well: The Jon Provost Story. On his website, Provost says he kept in touch with Rettig. He says that he always ended their conversations with “Thanks for the dog, Jeff” which was his line in the series when he took over the show.

During the nineteen years that the show was on the air, several theme songs were used. For the first season, the theme was “Secret of the Silent Hills” composed by William Lava. The song was originally created for a 1940 radio show, “The Courageous Dr. Christian.” The song was tweaked a bit for the second and third seasons. An orchestral version of an aria from Faust, “Dio Possente” came in for the next year. Beginning with year five, the most famous version was aired: “Lassie Main & End Title” was created by Les Baxter and whistled by Muzzy Marcellino. After the Martin years, an orchestral version of “The Whistler” was used for a few years, and then Nathan Scott’s arrangement of “Greensleeves’ finished the run.

The series received two Emmy Awards for Best Children’s Program in 1955 and 1956 and a nomination in 1960. In addition, June Lockhart was nominated for Leading Actress in a Dramatic Series in 1959, Jan Clayton was nominated for the same award in 1957 and 1958, and the show was nominated for Best Dramatic Series in 1957.

The series was released on DVD during the years 2001-2007.

I do remember watching Lassie during the Provost years, but I actually was not aware of the other seasons. Like Flipper and Gentle Ben, it was a family show where everyone could sit around the television and watch together on a Sunday evening. With the show being on the air for 19 years, it is fondly remembered by several generations and made a ton of money marketing merchandise.

One of the things I love most about the show is that people are sure they remember Timmy falling into the well. It would be fun to do a blog about things that people are positive they remember but never happened. It’s similar to the Robot on Lost in Space saying “Danger Will Robinson” which he never actually did. It just proves that some shows live on in our imaginations for a long time.

Born Free: A Roaring Good Time

Before we get into this month’s series, I just wanted to say a big THANK YOU to all of you who read my blog. Today is my 300th blog post. I have absolutely thoroughly enjoyed getting to know so many classic television cast and crew members, and I have learned so much the past six years. This month we are looking at “Life with Pets” blog series by learning a bit more about some of the classic shows about families and their pets. So far, we have learned about some unusual pets: monkeys, dolphins, and bears. Today is no exception; we are looking at the series Born Free which featured a lion.

Photo: imdb.com

Like Flipper and Gentle Ben, Born Free was also based on a movie titled Born Free. which was released in 1966. In 1974, it became a television series. The film was based on a true story. Considering how many people fondly remember the show, I was surprised to learn that it only was on the air from September to December.

Muldaur and Collins Photo: imdb.com

The show tells the story of George (Gary Collins) and Joy Adamson (Diana Muldaur) who lived in Kenya with their lioness Elsa. George and Joy were game wardens who helped care for wildlife. They primarily protected them from weather disasters and poachers. Part of the show’s mission was to educate viewers about animal conservation. Other cast members included Hal Frederick as Makedde; Dawn Lyn, Dodie from My Three Sons, as Reagan one of their friend’s granddaughters who lives with them for a while; and Peter Lukoye as Nuru.

In the Adamsons’ true story, Elsa and her sisters who were orphaned were treated like pets by the couple. George was forced to kill their mother when she charged him, but he later said he understood she felt threatened. Joy fed the four-day-old cubs unsweetened milk mixed with cod liver oil, glucose, bone meal, and salt. After the first couple of weeks, they took their food from baby bottles. They were allowed to roam like house pets but at night they were put into a pen of rock and sand to protect them from hyenas, jackals, elephants, and other lions.

Eventually, Elsa’s two siblings were sent to a zoo in the Netherlands, but Elsa being a runt, could not make the trip. Joy then taught her how to behave like a wild lion so she could survive with the other animals.

On the show, the episodes were a bit different. In “Maneaters of Merti,” two lions have begun killing humans, so George leads a search with villagers and game wardens to find them.

In the middle of the season, “The Flying Doctor of Kenya” aired with Juliet Mills starring as Dr. Claire Hanley who is making her first village medical tour. She needs to learn the customs of the villagers as well as how to adapt to the tough living conditions. Joy helps her get acclimated to the new job.

The theme song was composed by John Barry which was the same song used in the movie. Barry won an Oscar for the film’s soundtrack. Lyrics were provided by Don Black. Most of us remember the words to the song from hearing it on the radio. They were:

Born free, as free as the wind blows
As free as the grass grows
Born free to follow your heart

Live free and beauty surrounds you
The world still astounds you
Each time you look at a star

Stay free, where no walls divide you
You’re free as the roaring tide
So there’s no need to hide

Born free, and life is worth living
But only worth living
’cause you’re born free

(Stay free, where no walls divide you)
You’re free as the roaring tide
So there’s no need to hide

Born free, and life is worth living
But only worth living
’cause you’re born free

To walk with others... | Kate on Conservation
George Adamson Photo: kateonconservation.com

I was also surprised to learn that the show was actually filmed in Kenya. NBC put the show on Monday night against The Rookies and Gunsmoke which were both in the top 20-30% of popular shows. After 13 episodes, the show was canceled due to low ratings.

62 George and Joy Adamson ideas | george, lions, out of africa
Joy Adamson and Elsa Photo: pinterest.com

Although Joy and George were divorced by the time the television series was created, she served as a consultant for the show and supervised the stories. Sadly, she was stabbed to death in 1980, and George was shot by poachers in 1989 while trying to help a tourist.

Elsa did acclimate to the wild but visited George and Joy from time to time. She brought her three cubs to show the couple. Elsa was five when she contracted a tick-borne blood disease similar to malaria. She passed away and was buried in the Meru National Park. When Joy died, she was buried next to Elsa. George was buried in the Kora National Park in northern Kenya where he was working. He was buried near his brother and Boy, another lion featured in the film version.

The legacy of the film and television show is that the Born Free Foundation has a mission to protect the lions of Meru National Park.

Photo: twitter.com

Although I was surprised by a few things in this show, one thing I was not surprised by was its quick cancellation. For some reason, so many shows in the sixties were adapted from movies and could not be sustained as a weekly show. M*A*S*H was one of the few shows to do this well. It seems though it would be a tough thing to sustain interesting shows when you are limited to natural disasters and poachers. Here again, you would assume the scenery would almost be a character you could develop. I’m also sure it was not cheap to film the show in Africa which would make it harder to keep if it was not producing decent ratings.

While none of the shows we have learned about in the series became long-running shows, next week we wind up our series with a look at one of the enduring pet shows.

Gentle Ben: A Bear Hug for Everyone

As we continue our blog series about The Life of Pets, we feature a show about a boy and his bear: Gentle Ben. In 1965, Walt Morey published his novel, Gentle Ben. He had written adult books, but then his wife, a teacher, challenged him to write an adventure kids’ book similar to a Jack London story. Gentle Ben is the story about Mark and his bear Ben. He set the story in Alaska, where he had worked, and he said many of the characters were based on real people. He also said the story of a boy befriending a bear was also based on real stories he read and heard about. The book sold almost 3 million copies.

Photo: ebay.com

The Morey family owned some land which became the Walt Morey Park in Wilsonville, Oregon, a bear-themed adventure. An eight-foot statue of Gentle Ben is one of the park sights.

Photo: metv.com

The book became a movie on the big screen, and like Flipper, it moved to the small screen a few years later. In fact, the house for the Ricks family on Flipper is the same house used by the Wedloe family on Gentle Ben.

The television show debuted on CBS in 1967 and continued for two seasons, with 58 episodes. The series was produced by Ivan Tors who also produced Flipper, Sea Hunt, and Daktari. The TV show was set in Florida instead of Alaska. Tom Wedloe (Dennis Weaver) is a wildlife officer in the Everglades and he lives with his wife Ellen (Beth Brickell) and son Mark (Clint Howard, Ron’s brother) and his pet bear, Ben. Clint and Ron’s father Rance also penned a few of the scripts for the show.

Other characters showing up weekly included Hank Minegar (Robertson White), a local squatter, and Mark’s friend Willie (Angelo Rutherford).

Photo: DVDTalk.com

Like Flipper, there were several bears who played Ben, but the bear used most was Bruno, a black bear. Bruno had a good disposition and a variety of facial expressions. Bruno and his friends traveled from Canada because they had thicker coats which photographed better. They were declawed and most of their teeth had been removed.

Ben only made animal noises but they were spoken through Candy Candido, a voice actor and musician. I’m not sure why a kookaburra was used for Flipper and a human for Ben; you would think they could have used recordings of a dolphin and a bear. Bruno later moved to Hollywood to continue acting and died about 1980.

Most of the stories featured Tom’s work with wildlife and included animal management, children getting lost in the Everglades, weather disasters, and illegal activities such as poaching.

Gentle Ben was a great success and reached #2 in the ratings its first season. The popularity of the show was translated into a lot of merchandise including a board game, books, a stuffed bear, and comic books. The show was on Sunday nights sandwiched between Lassie and The Ed Sullivan Show.

During its second season, the show failed to even get into the top twenty. Lassie also suffered and received a significant drop in the ratings. I think the fact that the shows were on opposite Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color probably had a lot to do with its ratings drop. Also, if you liked animals you had to make a choice because Lassie competed with Wild Kingdom.

While the show highlighted family values and respect for nature, it was criticized for portraying wildlife as a pet. Ben even stayed indoors with the family sometimes. In 1971, National Park Service Officer John Hast recalled that “the television series Gentle Ben was the worst thing that ever happened to us. People saw this big, lovable bear on television and when they see a bear in the park, I guess they think it’s the same one. They don’t realize how wrong they are till they are bleeding.”

Photo: pinterest.com

I think kids from the sixties have fond memories of Gentle Ben, and many kids remember watching it. However, I guess the novelty of the show wore off quickly. You can only have so many things a real bear can do. Compare this show to Mister Ed where featuring a talking horse might seem far-fetched; however, that show lasted on the air eight years because Ed was as much of a character as anyone else on the show.

Shows like Flipper and Gentle Ben had their place, but they just didn’t have the memorable characters, quality scripts, or lush photography that might have extended their popularity. However, they are worth remembering and discussing. They prodded kids to imagine having their own special animal that only they could tame and love.

Flipper: Smarter Than Your Average Bear

We are in the midst of our blog series, Life with Unusual Pets. Today we are looking at Flipper.

Kelly, Nordin, and Halpin Photo: nostalgiacentral.com

From 1964-67, Flipper aired Saturday nights at 6:30 EST. The movie Flipper came out in 1963, and the television show was adapted from the movie. The premise of the television show is that Porter Ricks (Brian Kelly) is the Chief Warden at the Coral Key Park and Marine Reserve in Florida and a widower. He lives with his two sons, Sandy who is 15 (Luke Halpin) and Bud who is 10 (Tommy Nordin). Flipper, a wild bottlenose dolphin, is their pet. Flipper is a very intelligent animal who helps enforce regulations, performs rescues at sea with Porter, and “babysits” Sandy and Bud.

Photo: ranker.com

Additional cast members included Hap Gorman (Andy Devine) who was a carpenter and storyteller; Ulla Norstrand (Ulla Stromstedt) who was an oceanographer; and Ed Dennis (Dan Chandler), another warden.

Home on Flipper and Gentle Ben Photo: wikiwand.com

The show was filmed in Miami in cooperation with the Miami Seaquarium. Gentle Ben, which we’ll learn a bit more about next week, was also filmed there, and the families used the same home. The show was praised for its lush photography and colorful underwater scenes. The background music for underwater scenes was inspired by Ravel’s “Daphnis and Chloe.”

Photo: nostalgiacentral.com

The show’s theme was composed by Henry Vars, and lyrics were written by By Dunham. If you grew up in the early sixties, you will definitely remember this song:

They call him Flipper, Flipper, faster than lightning,
No-one you see, is smarter than he,
And we know Flipper, lives in a world full of wonder,
Flying there-under, under the sea!

Everyone loves the king of the sea,
Ever so kind and gentle is he,
Tricks he will do when children appear,
And how they laugh when he’s near!

They call him Flipper, Flipper, faster than lightning,
No-one you see, is smarter than he,
And we know Flipper, lives in a world full of wonder,
Flying there-under, under the sea!

The role of Flipper was played by at least five different dolphins. Susie was the primary actor, followed by Kathy, Patty, Scotty, and Squirt. The show used female dolphins because they are less aggressive and males tend to have more “fighting” scars, so female dolphins look more alike for photography. Surprisingly, the Flipper voice everyone remembers was an altered version of the song of a kookaburra bird. Some critics felt Flipper was portrayed as too intelligent. However, many scientists have stated that dolphins rank with chimpanzees and dogs as the most intelligent animals. They have a complex communication system and often live to be 50 years old.

During the first two seasons, Flipper was in the top 30 shows, but in season three the ratings declined. Both the boys felt they had outgrown their roles and wanted to leave the show. The last episode of season three has Sandy enrolling at the Coast Guard Academy and Bud going to an out-of-state private school. A new family moved into the area composed of a widow and her son and daughter; apparently, they would be Flipper’s companions for season four, but the show was not renewed.

Photo: mycomicshop.com

Flipper was one of the first shows to generate a lot of merchandise aimed at kids. At the time you could buy lunch boxes, comic books, novels, spoons, puzzles, a board game, a watch, and View Master reels.

Halpin must have enjoyed his time on the show. Following the cancellation of the show, he settled into a Hollywood career in marine services, working as a diver and stuntman for many shows including Miami Vice.

Flipper is one of those shows a lot of people have fond memories of watching with their family. There was really nothing groundbreaking in the show, and it was an average quality show—nothing to overly praise or denounce. In our current television schedule, we don’t have many of these family shows. Shows tend to be created for adults, teens, or kids but not all three. Maybe that’s why shows like Flipper, Gentle Ben, and Lassie are so warmly remembered from our childhood.

The Hathaways: Getting Paid to Monkey Around on TV

This month we are taking a look at our favorite unusual pet sitcoms. We start our series with a show that began in 1961: The Hathaways.

Photo: tvparty.com

This one-season show was on ABC. Elinore (Peggy Cass) and Walter (Jack Weston) Hathaway were a suburban Los Angeles couple who took in a trio of chimps (Candy, Charlie, and Enoch) which they were surrogate parents for. Walter was a real estate agent, while Elinore looked after the chimps. The chimps had their own bedroom and a full wardrobe of children’s clothing. Before becoming sitcom stars, the chimps had appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Jack Benny Show, and a variety of commercials.

Photo: imdb.com

Rounding out the cast were the great Mary Grace Canfield as housekeeper Amanda; Elinore’s best friend and neighbor, Thelma Brockway (Barbara Perry); theatrical agent Jerry Roper (Harvey Lembeck); and Belle Montrose who was another neighbor (and in real life was the mother of Steve Allen). Montrose’s only other acting credits were for the two Disney movies, Son of Flubber and The Absentminded Professor.

Eleven different writers wrote the 26 episodes and four men took on the role of director. The show was on Friday night before The Flintstones but it went up against Clint Eastwood’s western, Rawhide.

The storylines were similar to other sitcoms from the early sixties. In the first episode, the Brockways move in next door and don’t like pets. In the succeeding episodes, Elinor winds up in jail for an unpaid parking ticket that Charlie pocketed before she saw it, Elinor is worried when they leave the chimps with a babysitter while they vacation in Palm Springs, and Elinor and Walter try to find their housekeeper a boyfriend.

The Hathaways with Jack Weston and Peggy Cass | Classic tv, And peggy, 60s  sitcoms
Photo: pinterest.com

It sounds like the type of show that would have been very popular in that era, but ratings were extremely low. In 1982, critics Castleman and Podrazik called the show “possibly the worst series ever to air on a network,” due to the “utterly degrading” premise, bad scripts, inept production, and the “total worthlessness” of the program. The pair wrote seven books about pop culture.

The show was specifically created to star the Marquis Chimps, and when that was shared in 1961, TV columnist Bill Fiset, wrote, “Heaven help us all? It may be that by the time you read this I’ll have taken the gas pipe, a victim of sheer frustration from trying to work as a serious essayist on a subject matter put into the hands of monkeys.”

Star Peggy Cass had mixed feelings. She admitted that she took the job for the money because she did not think the pilot would sell. While the show was on the air, she did an interview, stating that “Those chimps are natural comics. And believe me, they’re hard to top.”

TV When I was Born: 07/09/16
Photo: tvwhenIwasborn.com

Cass would go on to a variety of television series and guest appearances. She was a regular on the game show circuit and might best be remembered for more than 270 episodes of To Tell the Truth. Weston also stayed very busy on television till the 1980s. And the chimps? Don’t feel too bad for them. They continued to show up on variety shows, including numerous appearances with Ed Sullivan. Ironically, they appeared on more Ed Sullivan episodes than they did their own sitcom. When they weren’t working, they could relax on their Las Vegas ranch. I’m sure they were treated to many luxuries there since they were making a quarter of a million dollars at the peak of their career!

I’m a Writer? I’m a Writer!

This month we have been learning about some unique stories about television writing. I thought it would be fun to wind up the series learning a little bit more about what goes on inside the writers’ room and how you might get there.

Review: The Dick Van Dyke Show, “The Curious Thing About Women” | This Was  Television
Dick Van Dyke Show Photo: thiswastelevision.com

Since watching The Dick Van Dyke Show, I have always thought how much fun it would be to be part of a writers’ group for a successful comedy. Nothing I have ever read about the cons of the writing life—late nights, severe writers’ block, procrastination, writers’ arguments–has ever made me question whether this would be an amazing job or not.

So, what exactly is a writers’ room? It’s an office where writers of a television show get together to brainstorm the stories that make it on the air. Depending on the show, you can have two to twenty people in the room. There are other people in addition to writers who pop in and out. A script coordinator, staff writer, story editor, executive story editor, producer, and supervising producer are all positions that might be sitting in on a writing session. Writers’ assistants can take notes, do research, and then there are runners who make copies, get lunch and coffee, and schedule calls.

Just like police officers, doctors, or funeral directors, writers have a lingo all their own. So, let’s take a look at a few of these expressions. A bottle episode takes place in one location and often depends more on dialogue. A Gilligan cut is just what you might guess. It goes back to the show Gilligan’s Island which often showed a contrast in action: one character says Gilligan says nothing in the world will get him to climb that tree and the next scene shows him in the tree. A face heel is where a good guy is now revealed to be a bad guy. A Frankenstein draft is one that is made up of a variety of parts—multiple writers work on the script and then it is unified. A gorilla is a joke or scene that the audience will remember long after the episode is over.

Sitcom Writers Talk Shop: Behind the Scenes with Carl Reiner, Norman Lear,  and Other Geniuses of TV Comedy (9781538109182): Finn, Paula, Asner, Ed,  Kane, Carol: Books - Amazon.com

If you are interested in television writers, there is a great book by Paula Finn called Sitcom Writers Talk Shop. (It’s available on amazon.com and at most of your favorite book stores) Her dad, Herb Finn, was a television writer and, for all of you who think Ralph Kramden and Fred Flintstone seem similar, her dad Herb, wrote for both shows.

She has some great interviews in the book. If you read the book, you’ll learn a lot about the highs and lows of television writing. James L. Brooks–who wrote for Room 222, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Taxi, and The Simpsons—had some great insights.

James L. Brooks looks back at the making of his unforgettable films | EW.com
James L. Brooks Photo: ew.com

When asked about how you know you’re in the zone, he responded that “you hear your characters talking to you, and you’re taking dictation.” When asked about how it feels to work with a partner you get paired with, he said that you know you are a good team when “you don’t have an absolute sense of who does what.” When asked what was the best way to learn the craft of comedy, he said, “That’s obvious: It’s just doing it.” My favorite answer to a question of his was when he was asked if he could have found fulfillment doing a different job, he said, “I can’t imagine having done anything else. I never had the ambition to be a writer because it seemed impossible.” He went on to say that it’s a common feeling for writers that you do it for years and years and then suddenly, “somebody asks you what you do for a living, you can say ‘a writer’ without your voice catching or rising. Because it’s just an amazing thing.”

If you are a fan of MasterClass, you know they have a lot of great learning opportunities. One of their courses about writing for television is taught by Shonda Rimes. The MasterClass staff put together five tips for succeeding in a writers’ room. I would take it a step further and say they were five tips for succeeding in life. They are:

  1. Be useful.
  2. Be respectful.
  3. Be brave.
  4. Be collaborative.
  5. Be flexible.

So, if after reading this blog, you too think it would be fun to be part of the writers’ room, what is the best way to do it? Often writers start as assistants. You’re able to make contacts and see how the job is done from the inside. Of course, writing scripts and more scripts and more scripts until someone decides one of them is just what they need is another option. Many aspiring writers find agents who can try to sell the work for them.

Humor (and Hard Work) Inside 'The Big Bang Theory's Writer's Room
The Writers’ Room – The Big Bang Theory Photo: tvinsider.com

Sharing your work with as many people as possible is always a great way to get your name out there. Writer/Producer Lee Goldberg gave this advice in a post from November 2020: “The first thing you have to do is learn your craft. Take classes, preferably taught by people who have had some success as TV writers. There’s another reason to take a TV writing course besides learning the basics of the craft. If you’re the least bit likable, you’ll make a few friends among the other classmates. This is good, because you’ll have other people you can show your work to. This is also good because somebody in the class may sell his or her first script before you do, and suddenly, you’ll have a friend in the business.”

My best piece of advice if you want to be a comedy writer is to keep a journal. I cannot tell you how many times when I was researching television writers, they said some of their best shows came from real life. And during the years of researching for my blog, I have read quotes by many family members who said they often saw their private family life on the screen. There are some things you just can’t make up. Those situations can often become the basis of a television script. There are as many different paths to becoming a writer as there are writers in the industry.

WHAT IS A WRITERS ROOM?. 5 key points | by Filmarket Hub | Filmarket Hub |  Medium
Photo: medium.com

I wanted to end with a bit of inspiration that I received from James Brooks in Paula Finn’s book that he took from someone else, which is how writers work all the time. Anyway, I always struggle when trying to explain why pop culture is so important and why I choose to write about it. I often feel that I have to over-defend writing about television. His quote: “I forget who said it, but somebody terrific: The purpose of popular culture is to let people know they’re not alone.” Thanks to all of you for being not alone with me!