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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Dixie Carter

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.’”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

A Face in the Crowd

Today we are taking a peek at what goes into being a background performer. Like the composers, costumers, and cameramen, the group of people surrounding the stars is a critical element for every television show.

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If you were a fan of Friends, think back to Central Perk.  While the group of friends on the show held court on the orange sofa, there were people all through the coffee shop chatting and drinking tea or lattès that you might not have paid much attention to.  If you watched The Big Bang Theory, you’ll remember the cafeteria scenes when the guys had lunch together. The room was full of other staff members enjoying their lunch as well. 

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While you can relate to these scenes, you probably can’t give me any details about specific characters who appeared in them. That’s what a good background actor is; someone who has a nonspeaking role and is in the setting to make the scene appear more realistic. Although you don’t notice the actors in the background, you definitely notice when they’re not there.

There are many people who choose to become background actors. Perhaps they are waiting for their acting career to escalate, and this is how they are making a bit of extra money. Maybe they are a fan of television and just enjoy being behind the scenes.  Behind the scenes is definitely where you’ll spend most of your time waiting and waiting and waiting. Usually the 2nd Assistant Director or Background Production Assistant will let you know what your instructions are.

Typically background actors who aren’t part of SAG or other unions earn minimum wage. There are a few situations where you get a bit of extra money which is called a “bump.” For example, you get a bump if you are required to smoke, if your car is used in the filming, or if you have to bring some personal effects with you such as sporting equipment or a unique costume.

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Background actors on Hawaii Five-0

You can take a look at Central Casting’s website. They cast hundreds of roles daily, including stand-ins and doubles. They have offices in Los Angeles, New York, Louisiana, and Georgia.

On the day I wrote this blog, some of the positions they were trying to fill included men who owned a snake that they could be booked with; men who were okay getting a very short, military-regulated haircut; men and women in their 20s to 50s who are familiar with a variety of firearms to play law enforcement roles; and Hispanic house painters ages 28-40.

This is not the glamorous life most people envision when they think of filming television shows or blockbuster movies. Often you are waiting for an upcoming scene or you have to repeat a single shot, perhaps dozens of times. It’s not unusual that after a fifteen-hour day, your part is cut from the episode.

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It’s hard to see him, but Bruce Willis was just a
background actor in The Verdict early in his career.

When you’re on the set, it’s like a long game of “Don’t Break the Sugar Bowl.” You have to appear to be realistically having a conversation or reading, or whatever, but you cannot make any noise that could interfere with the dialogue occurring on the set.

The conditions you are working in are not always comfortable. It might be a beautiful 85-degree summer day, and you find yourself standing around in a parka and mittens, filming a snow scene for a long, long time.

While stars might have access to an amazing food banquet, extras have more limited choices. You are encouraged to bring snacks for the day.

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Before they were stars, Damon and Affleck were extras in
Field of Dreams as part of the crowd watching a baseball game.

Some people might think that a perk of working on a television show is getting to talk to your favorite star. Think again.  Most of the time, stars are considered off limits for background extras. It probably goes without saying that phones are not allowed on set and photos are a big no-no.

I talked with an actor friend of mine who lives in New York. She did background work at the beginning of her career. I asked her for an honest assessment of what the work was like. She said if you are in the union, the wages are actually not bad and you earn health and pension credits. If you’re not in the union, it can still be beneficial; you just have to understand the reality of the job. She said first of all, “be on time and bring whatever they tell you to bring.” Understand if you want to make a living this way, it is hard work. “You will always be hustling for the next job. Your days will be long ones.”

She said another downside to the job is that “a lot of your time is spent in holding; it can be exhausting because some people want to talk constantly.” That might be okay for an hour but not so much for a ten-hour day. She often took earbuds and a book along for quiet time.

Know that you are being hired to be insignificant. You will wear drab clothing, you might work in the rain, you might work overnight. My friend mentioned that sometimes you have to realize that you are “a walking hanger,” because they need you because of a specific item you have, perhaps a blue-sequined evening gown or a gorilla suit.

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Background performers on Grey’s Anatomy

My friend recalled one of her first jobs when she was a stand-in for a movie. She didn’t get breaks because she had to watch the star in rehearsals, so she knew what would be required of her. When the star went to rest or to eat or to make-up, my friend would stand in. The crew would figure out lighting and blocking and sometimes she had to be in the same position for more than half an hour. She did this for two weeks, and it was a long, arduous process; however, she said the knowledge she gained made the experience worth it. She learned so much about the filming of a movie and all the different crew members and what their specific roles were.

Mark Falvo is an attorney and sports broadcaster in Pennsylvania. He has a lot of experience in background acting both on television and in movies. You will see him on the big screen in Slap Shot, Hoosiers, Bull Durham, Happy Gilmore, Twister, and Remember the Titans among many, many other films. Tune into the small screen to see him in Veep, House of Cards, and Law and Order. His experience was that every job was positive because he learned something on each project. He said that “after a while, the crowd scenes in sport movies became tough because you had to continue to move around, but they were jobs.”

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Mark Falvo in character

Falvo said he was able to get to know other actors. “Meeting old friends and getting a chance to talk to them even while waiting was good. Hurry up and wait is part of the job, so bring a book or some work to do.”

His advice to beginners is “Don’t have high expectations!!! You are there to do a job, no matter what the director wants, keep your energy high and always be ready.”

Let’s take another look at that group of coffee drinkers at Central Perk. When you place your order, most likely Gunther (James Michael Tyler) will be your barista. Gunther is a permanent member of the show, working at Central Perk and in love with Rachel. He never really becomes part of the group, but he is invited to some of their parties and get-togethers. Tyler got the part because he was the only extra who knew how to use an espresso machine; he received his first speaking line in episode 33.

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So, every once in a while, there is a happy-ever-after ending. You just might be the person who finds it.

Hi Bob! We’re Always Happy to See The Bob Newhart Show

From 1972-1978 we were able to benefit from the sage advice of Dr. Robert Hartley from the comfort of our own living rooms. Created by David Davis and Lorenzo Music, and produced by MTM Enterprises, The Bob Newhart Show gifted us with 142 episodes for us treat ourselves to after the show left the air.

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In an online article by Marc Freeman in April of 2018, Dave Davis discussed the evolution of the sitcom. “Lorenzo and I wrote a segment for Bob on Love American Style. Bob wasn’t available. So, we got Sid Caesar. A few years later, we did a script for Bob for the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Again, Bob wasn’t available. After we became story editors on Mary’s show, MTM Enterprises decided to branch out and asked Lorenzo and me to do a pilot. We knew exactly what we wanted to do. We wanted a show with Bob.”

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When Bob Newhart was approached about starring in the show, he required two changes from the original concept. First, he wanted his character to be a psychiatrist instead of a psychologist. This seems like a minor request, but he was very wise because he did not want anyone to think the show was making fun of mental illness. He also insisted that his character not have children. The “father doesn’t know best but thinks he does” underlying concept was not one he wanted the show to focus on. Bob was careful when creating the character of Bob Hartley. Newhart once said “the key to building a show around a stand-up is maintaining the integrity of the persona you create.” This was definitely true for the Bob Newhart Show.

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The show has a very simple premise in that we see Bob dealing with the same everyday problems the rest of us did. It was grounded in reality. Bob was the straight man. He was surrounded by all these quirky characters, but they were believable and likeable.

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The show moves back and forth between Bob’s practice and his home; we get to know his co-workers and his friends and family. At work, he shares his floor and receptionist Carol Kester (Marcia Wallace) with orthodontist Jerry Robinson (Peter Bonerz) and urologist Bernie Tupperman (Larry Gelman). Carol and Jerry become two of his best friends. We also get to know some of his regular patients including Elliot Carlin (Jack Riley), Emile Peterson (John Fiedler), and Mrs. Bakerman (Florida Friebus).

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Bob is married to Emily (Suzanne Pleshette) who is a school teacher. Across the hall is the apartment of their friend and neighbor Howard Borden (Bill Daily), an airline navigator. Although Bob insisted on no children, in many ways, Howard was Bob and Emily’s child.

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In season four of the show, Howard meets and begins dating Bob’s sister Ellen (Pat Finley) and they eventually marry, making Howard a legal family member.

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Bob and Emily were the only characters to appear in all 142 episodes. Suzanne Pleshette was asked to play Emily after she appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson one night. She was seated next to Bob, and the producers thought the two of them had great chemistry. In real life Bob and Suzy, as he called her, were best friends. He spoke at her funeral. When he recalled their time together, he said “Her laugh. Her laugh. We just laughed. We just had a great time. We all loved each other and respected each other and we got paid for it.” Bob also remains close friends with Marcia Wallace.

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They worked so well as a couple because Emily is very bright and funny. She and Bob argued because they were both a bit stubborn, but they always found a way to compromise at the end of the day. Bob often shared his wisdom through stories. He would do a bit of a monologue that related to what was happening on the show. It was referred to as the “Emily, sit down” moment.

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The phone is also important on the show. If you are familiar with Newhart’s career, you realize some of the first skits that escalated his stand-up career were phone conversations. On this show, we often hear a one-sided conversation when he chats with friends or patients. One example of this is:

Bob:  “Yes, this is Dr. Hartley. What can I do for you?

Well, Mr. Johnson, smiling and whistling while you work doesn’t seem to be a problem you should – you should see a psychologist about.

You drive a hearse?”

Although all the major characters on the show were like family to the Hartleys, the mailman on the show was truly family. Bill Quinn who played the postman was Bob Newhart’s father-in-law.

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Bonerz who played Jerry became interested in directing. He ended up directing 29 episodes of this show and then went on to a successful career as a director. He directed episodes on a variety of shows including E/R, Alf, Wings, Murphy Brown, Friends, and Home Improvement. His view of the importance of the show was that “the most interesting thing about the show and why its successful is that it brings up things that come up in your life. That’s what art’s supposed to do. That’s what TV should be doing. When it does, people remember it and reflect how much they like it.”

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The show was on Saturday nights. For the first five seasons, it followed The Mary Tyler Moore Show airing at 9:30 EDT and its competition on NBC was Saturday Night at the Movies. For season five, the show was changed to earlier in the evening against Starsky and Hutch on ABC. For its final year, The Mary Tyler Moore Show was off the air and Bob’s show aired at 8 pm Saturday opposite Fish and The Bionic Woman. The sitcom placed in the top 20 for the first three seasons and the top 30 for season four.

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Bob had requested the network move the show to a different night. That didn’t happen, and the television executives wanted Emily to have a baby, even though Bob had specified that not be part of the plot. So, he ended the show after six years. When asked about ending the show, he said, “I could see what was coming in situation comedy, and I didn’t want to be a part of it. If we’d gone another year, they’d have had the guy and two girls living in the apartment above us, a Martian living on the same floor next door to three girl detectives. The floor below us would have been occupied by a fraternity and a sorority.”

If you read my blog on Bob Newhart recently, you know how incensed I was that this show never won an Emmy, and was only nominated once, and Newhart never received an Emmy for any of his sitcoms in the seventies and eighties. It would take his recurring role on The Big Bang Theory as Professor Proton for him to win the Emmy.

However, the show was ranked ninth and fiftieth on “TV Guide’s 100 Greatest Episodes of All Times in 1997.”

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In 2004, TV Land picked this show as one of the series it commemorated with a sculpture. A statue of Newhart seated in a chair facing an empty couch is located in the Navy Pier entertainment complex.

I have to admit I was not a big fan of the finale of The Bob Newhart Show. Bob closes his practice in Chicago and accepts a teaching position at a small college in Oregon. I just don’t picture Bob and Emily being happy in a small Oregon town. However, the finale for Bob Newhart’s sitcom, Newhart, more than makes up for this ending.

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Bob Newhart credits his wife Ginnie with coming up with the idea for the finale of Newhart. Newhart is set in Vermont where Bob and his wife Joanna run a historic inn. They have to deal with some wacky locals and their maid and handy man. This show ran eight years. In the finale, Bob wakes up in bed. We hear him restless and wanting to talk about his dream. Suddenly we realize he and Emily Hartley are in bed together. Part of their conversation is:

Emily:  All right, Bob? What is it?

Bob: I was an innkeeper in this crazy little town in Vermont.

Emily: No more Japanese food before you go to bed.

Another great television moment occurred on Murphy Brown in 1994. Bonerz was the director of the sitcom. Of course, we remember how fast Murphy went through secretaries. She found fault with all of them. In this episode, Marcia Wallace appears as Carol Kester. She is Murphy’s 66th secretary. Murphy thinks Carol is a wonderful secretary, and she is finally satisfied. However, Bob Newhart shows up as Bob Hartley, begging Carol to come back to work for him.

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One of the iconic lines from the show was “Hi Bob.” Howard Borden said it 118 times, Jerry said it 43, Carol came in at 36, and Emily at 17. Even minor characters would utter the line from time to time, and Bob said it once himself. College students turned this into a drinking game watching the reruns, taking a shot whenever the line occurred.

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The best evidence that this was one of the best sitcoms ever produced is that people still love it today, more than four decades after it went off the air. The comedy is timeless. Let’s give Bob Newhart the final word about what the show meant to him. As he reflected the show’s legacy, he said, “I’m very proud of the show, the cast and the writing. Look at how long it’s lasted and how long people have enjoyed it. I run into people more and more who come up to me and say, ‘We used to sit as a family and watch your show.’ They look upon it as a wonderful time in their life. It’s very real to them and an important part of their life. It’s nice to be remembered that you made people laugh.”

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Bob Newhart: Laughing Through Life

This month I wanted to honor one of our most beloved television comedians: Bob Newhart. Next week we’ll spend some time learning more about The Bob Newhart Show.

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Newhart was born George Robert Newhart in 1929 in Oak Park, IL. He grew up in a typical midwestern family where his father was part owner of a plumbing and heating supply company, and his mom was a housewife. As a young boy, he always wanted to be called Bob. He had a Catholic education and went on to Loyola University of Chicago in 1947. Graduating in 1952 with a business degree, he was soon drafted into the US Army in the Korean war where he stayed until 1954. He considered getting a law degree and went back to Loyola. He decided not to pursue that; some sources site that he was asked to behave unethically during an internship which led him down a different career path.

He worked as an accountant and as an unemployment office clerk. In 1958 he was hired as a copywriter for Fred Niles who was a television producer in Chicago. It was while working here that Newhart and a colleague began entertaining each other by making telephone calls about absurd scenarios. They sent these to radio stations as audition tapes. A radio station disc jockey Dan Sorkin introduced Newhart to a Warner Brothers Records executive who signed him in 1959 based on those recordings. Bob then began creating stand-up routines which he performed at nightclubs.

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He released an album in 1960 which changed his life. Titled, The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, the comedy album made number one on the Billboard charts, and he won a Grammy for best new artist. A follow-up album, The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back was released soon thereafter. He would continue releasing comedy albums in 1961, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1967, 1971, and 1973.

During a 2005 interview for American Masters on public television, Bob stated that his favorite routine was Abe Lincoln vs Madison Avenue which was on his first album. A promoter for Abraham Lincoln has to deal with his reluctance to boost his image. A tv director named Bill Daily suggested the routine to him. Daily would be known later as Howard Borden on The Bob Newhart Show (as well as Roger Healey on I Dream of Jeannie).

The success of that first album led to a variety show titled The Bob Newhart Show. It only lasted a year, but it did receive both an Emmy nomination and a Peabody award. Apparently, he didn’t enjoy his time during the show so much. Halfway through the season he wanted to quit, but his agent explained that being under contract meant that was not possible. At a later date, he referred to his first show, saying “It won an Emmy, a Peabody Award, and a pink slip from NBC. All in the same year.”

He began making the rounds on television shows, appearing on The Dean Martin Show 24 times and The Ed Sullivan Show 8 times. He guest hosted The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson 87 times. When discussing his appearances on Johnny’s show, he stated “I remember once when I emceed The Tonight Show in New York, I arrived with my manager’s son. After a while, they asked, ‘When are the rest of your people coming?’ I had to say, ‘This is it.’”

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In 1962 Newhart accepted his first movie role, Hell is for Heroes, starring Steve McQueen. He would continue to do movie roles throughout his career including the Christmas classic Elf, but the small screen would make him famous.

In 1963 Buddy Hackett introduced Bob to Virginia Quinn, whose father was character actor Bill Quinn. They wed in January of 1963 and 57 years later are still happily married.

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For the next decade, he continued to accept movie and television roles. In 1972, television history was made when The Bob Newhart Show debuted. Until 1978, Newhart played Bob Hartley, psychologist, and we got to know his unusual patients, quirky co-workers, and eccentric friends, including neighbor Howard Borden. Bob chose a psychologist based partly on his old telephone routines. As he said, “Much of my humor comes out of reaction to what other people are saying. A psychologist is a man who listens, who is sympathetic.”

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In 1982, Bob gave television another go for another eight years. Simply titled Newhart, the show featured Bob as Dick Loudon, an innkeeper and author from Vermont. He still had quirky co-workers and eccentric friends.

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On cue a decade later in 1992, Bob showed up in a new show even more simply titled, Bob as Bob McKay a comic book writer and artist who had retired long ago and was trying to get back into the workplace. Unfortunately, after 33 episodes the show was canceled due to low ratings.

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In 1997, Newhart starred in his last sitcom, George and Leo. As George Stoody, a bookstore owner, Newhart offers a temporary home to a full-time magician and part-time criminal who recently robbed a Mafia-owned casino. The series failed to catch on with viewers, and it was canceled after a season as well.

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Though he never took on another sitcom, Newhart has made appearances with recurring characters in several shows. In 2003, he showed up on ER as Ben Hollander. In 2005, he was Morty on Desperate Housewives. As Judson, he guest starred on The Librarians.

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Perhaps, younger audiences know him best as Arthur Jeffries or Professor Proton on The Big Bang Theory. He had been Sheldon’s boyhood hero who played the professor on television. Sheldon idolized the professor while the professor tolerated Sheldon.

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It’s hard to believe with all of his years being a successful television comedian, but Newhart won his first Emmy in 2013 for his role of Professor Proton. I can’t argue with the nominees for most of the 1970s during the airing of The Bob Newhart Show–names like Tony Randall, Jack Klugman, Alan Alda, and Hal Linden. Even with my bias of Norman Lear shows, I get nominating Carroll O’Connor every single one of those years. I understand the tough competition. What I don’t understand is the fact that he was never nominated during that eight-year period. When Jack Albertson wins, and Bob Newhart is not even nominated that is wrong. During the Newhart years, he was at least nominated three times. But I don’t understand it when John Ritter wins for Three’s Company or Richard Mulligan for Soap and no nomination for Bob Newhart. What especially appalls me is the fact that The Bob Newhart Show was only nominated one year; I can accept the fact that it got beat out by The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I cannot accept is that during this same time, Three’s Company, Mork and Mindy, and Welcome Back Kotter received nominations, and The Bob Newhart Show did not. Anyway, this blog is not about the television academy and its procedures, so let’s move on.

Photo: flickr.com

Even though he was never awarded with an Emmy for his time as Bob Hartley, TV Land placed a life-sized statue of Newhart in front of Navy Pier, complete with an empty couch. He was best friends with Suzanne Pleshette, his wife from the show, and spoke at her funeral. He remembered their time together, “Her laugh. Her laugh. We just laughed. We just had a great time. We all loved each other and respected each other and we got paid for it.” Bob also remains close friends with Marcia Wallace who played his receptionist Carol on the show.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

While Bob has appeared as different characters throughout his career, he has also remained the same character. With his deadpan delivery and slight stammer, he perfected the straight-man role, surrounding himself with wacky castmates. He has often cited George Gobel and Bob and Ray as influences in his comedy career. When discussing his career choice, he explained “I like the humor to come out of character. When you’re going for a joke, you’re stuck out there if it doesn’t work. There’s nowhere to go. You’ve done the drum role and the cymbal clash and you’re out on the end of the plank.”

Photo: barnesandnoble.com

In 2006, he released a book I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This. It’s a memoir with some of his classic comedy routines. Actor David Hyde Pierce reported that “the only difference between Bob Newhart on stage and Bob Newhart offstage is that there is no stage.”

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I am so appreciative of those stars who agree to entertain us for our entire life, such as Betty White, Carol Burnett, and Bob Newhart. They are classic comedians who can make us laugh no matter what. Bob’s view on comedy was that “laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it and then move on.” What an amazing career and what an amazing man. With all its negatives and sometimes destructive tendencies, television can be a harmful place, but a comedian like Bob Newhart demonstrates what a positive and uplifting experience television can be when done right. Thanks for doing it right for sixty years.

The Joey Bishop Show: Versions 1, 2, 3, and 4!

Although the Rat Pack have all passed on, their influence still surrounds us. We can listen to Frank Sinatra’s music channel on Sirius. Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin movies still play late at night. Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford can both be seen on a variety of sitcom reruns. One member we don’t see as often is Joey Bishop. While he is not as well known as the other friends, he actually was the only one of the group who starred in his own sitcom.

Photo: mentalfloss.com

Two series went by the name “The Joey Bishop Show.” One was a sitcom and aired from 1961-1965, producing 125 episodes. For most of the run, Joey played a talk show host named Joey Barnes. The other show was an actual talk show that he hosted which ran from 1967-1969 and produced 682 episodes.

Photo: amazon.com

This blog looks at the sitcom created by Danny Thomas and Louis F. Edelman specifically for Joey Bishop. Danny served as executive producer, and the show was filmed at Desilu Studios before a live audience. When it debuted in 1961, it was filmed in black and white. One episode was shot in color and then the second and third seasons followed suit. NBC canceled the show after season three and CBS picked it up but filmed that season in black and white again. I imagine fans of the show weren’t happy to go from color to gray tones again; it would be like visiting Oz and then being sent back to Kansas.

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Version 2

Like The Andy Griffith Show, the pilot was an episode of the Danny Thomas Show. Joey played Joey Mason who was an incompetent public relations staffer. Danny arrives in Los Angeles exhausted but has no place to stay and is forced to sleep at Joey’s house with his parents and his two sisters, the younger one being Stella, an aspiring actress played by Marlo Thomas.

Photo: wikimedia.com

Before airing the next fall, the pilot had some revisions. Now Joey’s last name was Barnes. His father was dropped from the cast but two family members were added:  a younger brother named Larry (Warren Berlinger) and a brother-in-law Frank (Joe Flynn) who was married to Betty (Virginia Vincent), the older sister. His mother continued to be played by Madge Blake who would go on to play Aunt Harriet on Batman.

Joey continued his public relations career and supports his family. The secretary at the PR firm, Barbara (Nancy Hadley) is his girlfriend. A lot of the plots revolve around family members taking advantage of Joey’s influence which they think is significant but is really almost nonexistent.

The show didn’t do well in the ratings, so it was retooled once again. Betty, Frank, and Barbara were all dropped from the show. The series was renewed for a second season, but the show would change its format again.

Photo: newsfromme.com
Newly married

From season two on, Bishop became the host of a New York City talk show. The cast from the first season disappeared altogether in this fourth reincarnation. Abby Dalton plays Joey’s wife Ellie. The couple now live in a posh apartment building and, at the end of the second season, they have a baby boy. Hilda (Mary Treen) is the Barnes’ maid and baby nurse, and she often trades insults with Joey similar to the banter Florence and George had on The Jeffersons a decade later. The Jillsons (Joe Besser and Maxine Semon) are the superintendents of the building. Like Howard’s mother on The Big Bang, Maxine is heard but not seen. Guy Marks played Freddie, Joey’s manager.

Photo: akaguymarks.weebly.com
Version 3

There were some rumors that Joe Flynn had been let go the prior season because he was too popular; this would mean that Bishop was so insecure that he was willing to totally revamp his show to get rid of one character. That doesn’t seem to make sense. However, Cynthia Lowry’s column in The Evening Independent from September of 1963 reported that “Actor’s feuds can be very fierce. Joe Flynn, who now plays the sarcastic Captain Binghamton in McHale’s Navy still is so annoyed with The Joey Bishop Show that he doesn’t even mention it in his list of acting credits – although he included brief appearances on Hawaiian Eye, Ozzie and Harriet, and The Eddie Fisher Show. Flynn played a sharp-tongued ne’er do well brother-in-law during the first year of the Bishop comedy, a role that was swept away with a lot of others when the series was completely revamped.”

One review for the second season by Bob Thomas, AP Movie-TV Writer in the Ocala Star-Banner from August of 1962 stated:

“About the only resemblance between last season’s Joey Bishop show and the coming season’s is the name. It’s still The Joey Bishop Show, NBC having vetoed the comedian’s suggestion to call it The New Joey Bishop Show. Bishop fans may be startled to find their hero is no longer a press agent but a late-night television comic. Furthermore, he has jettisoned his mother, bless her heart, for a curvy wife. And he has acquired a whole new bunch of pals. That Joey was able to make these changes is one the minor miracles of television. Just about everyone, Joey especially, agreed that something was wrong with last season’s shows. When a series pulls a wrongo, it is usually yanked at the first sign of spring. But the series had somehow managed to best its competition on ABC and CBS and rack up an impressive rating. So, when Joey promised a clean sweep in format for the next season, NBC went along. I found Joey in the midst of his fourth show, and absolutely happy – for him. That is, he smiled every 15 minutes. I asked what went wrong the first season. ‘I showed up,’ he replied. But on a more analytical basis, he continued: ‘We did many things wrong. We didn’t have enough time to prepare. We violated a very basic concept in comedy. When you have a clever comedian -and in modesty I think I am-you surround him with funny people. When you have a funny comedian, you surround him with clever people. I made the mistake of working with clever people,’ he said. ‘Now I am working with funny people – Guy Marks, who is a bright young comedian; Joe Besser, who can get laughs just walking on stage; and Abby Dalton from the ‘Hennessy Show, a brilliant talent.’

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

Another review a few weeks later agreed: “Joey Bishop also returned to NBC – on Saturday night. This season he is more poised, more famous, and a successful established night club comedian. He also picked up a wife on the show. The first show involved one of those typical newlywed situations that television situation comedies specialize in. High point of the show, however, was an imitation by Guy Marks, who plays Joeys manager, of a flamingo. Don’t ask how they managed to get that in, but it was very funny! —-”

Photo: youtube.com
Despite the rumors, Bishop proves he’s a team player

Once again there was talk of feuding between the star and a cast member, this time Guy Marks, because he was receiving great reviews. Marks was around for the first 18 episodes and when he left, Corbett Monica came on board as Larry Corbett, Joey’s head writer.

The Montreal Gazette in January of 1963 featured an article by Dorothy Kilgallen that explained, “It’s no secret that the parting between Joey Bishop and Guy Marks was far from friendly, but no one revealed that they were close to the fisticuffs stage.” Some cast members sided with Marks. Other cast members claimed Joey was not egotistical and wanted everyone to succeed. I was not able to determine whose version was closer to the truth, but it is not surprising that the show didn’t last as long as it could have between constant cast changes and in-fighting on the set.

There were also some controversies regarding the writing on the show. In the book Sitcom Writers Talk Shop by Paula Finn, Irma and Austin Kalish who wrote for many great sitcoms in the sixties and seventies were interviewed. She asked the pair if they ever recycled stories for show. They responded no, and continued with this story:

IK: We were once writing The Joey Bishop Show, and we went in to pitch shows to the story editor.

AK: We pitched five shows to him.

IK: And he said, Those sound like good ideas, but you know, I have to pitch them to Joey first. And then our agent called and told us he got word that Joey didnt like any of those ideas. Fine.

AK: Five weeks later–week after week after week after week after week–

IK: Our ideas came on.

AK: Our ideas were stolen. Eventually that guy, the story editor on The Joey Bishop Show, came to us for a job. Needless to say, what goes around comes around.”

Another great writer, Joel Rapp, shared another story about this series. We had a contract for six Joey Bishop Shows and we wrote the first one, and then we went to watch the taping. And there were about three words of our script left in what they finally shot. We asked the producer what happened, and he said Joey got hold of the script, and he changed everything. But we still got the writer credit, which was fine. So then we wrote a second script, and the same thing happened. So for the third script, we turned in thirty-six blank pages, and we were fired. And it was fine with us. We were making plenty of money and had other jobs.”

Of course, many guest stars appeared on the show as themselves being interviewed by Joey, including The Andrews Sisters, Edgar Bergen, Milton Berle, Willie Davis, Don Drysdale, Robert Goulet, Don Knotts, Jerry Lewis, Jack Paar, and Andy Williams.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

Other guest stars who appeared on the show in roles other than themselves included Jack Albertson, Parley Baer, Frank Cady, Jackie Coogan, Nancy Kulp, Sue Ane Langdon, Howard McNear, Barbara Stanwyck, and Dawn Wells.

The theme song was also axed from the first season. “Sometimes I’m Happy” by Irving Caesar and Vincent Youmans was exchanged for “Joey” by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Huesen.

Photo: allstarpicsfamousfix.com

During the third season, one episode was filmed but never shown. John F. Kennedy was a friend of the Rat Pack. On November 15, 1963 Vaughn Meader, who often impersonated the President, was filmed in an episode as the impersonator of President Kennedy. A week later the assassination in Dallas occurred, and the episode was never seen live or in syndication. Most of the sources I consulted could never determine if the episode had been archived or destroyed.

Following all the changes, the ratings had increased during season two but season three saw lower ratings once again, and NBC decided not to renew the show. At the same time, Danny Thomas decided not to return for a twelfth season in his show, so CBS picked up Joey’s show. However, the show went up against the much-loved Bonanza, and the ratings never recovered, so CBS then canceled the show after the fourth season.

Photo: commons.wikimedia.com

Chuck Rothman, who wrote a blog about the show May 28, 2017 on blogspot.com, described it as “filled with gentle comedy. The jokes may have worn a little thin, but the stories hold up surprisingly well. Barnes is a decent guy with a sense of humor and Bishop’s relaxed and subtle style—he never appeared to work to be funny—was charming to watch.”

Another viewer on imdb wrote that “personally, I failed to see the humor of the situations in this show that centered around a dull, middle-aged man who was still living with his mother . . . who was repeatedly being fired from his job.”

Obviously, they were describing two different versions of the show, but there certainly was a difference of opinion.

If you never had a chance to watch the show, Antenna TV began airing it in 2017; the network even transferred the first season’s 35mm film to a more modern technology so it can also be aired. Currently, you can view the show on Antenna TV at 7-8 am (EST) weekdays and 3-4 am (EST) Saturdays.

Photo: commons.wikimedia.org

I have watched a few of the shows on Antenna TV and enjoyed them. All the episodes I was able to watch were during the final three seasons, but it would be interesting to catch a couple from the first year and compare them.












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