Strength in Numbers: Barney Miller

Currently, we are in the series, “Crime Isn’t Funny . . . or Is It?” Today we get to learn a bit more about a show which, along with MASH and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, had one of the best roster of characters ever written. I like to describe Barney Miller as a sitcom with a flair for drama. It debuted in January of 1975 and left the airwaves in May of 1982.

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It was set primarily in a New York Police Department station, supposedly the 12th precinct. NYPD has not had a 12th precinct since 1910. If you were a fan of Castle, you’ll notice that the set was refurbished for that show in 2009.

Most of the action took place in the squad room and Captain Miller’s office. Typically, there were two to three subplots surrounding the suspects that were brought into the station or something one of the detectives were dealing with personally.

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Captain Barney Miller (Hal Linden) is the practical and calm one in the precinct. His sense of humor allows him to deal with his staff and the city. He gets frustrated by all the red tape the city requires but is able to maintain peace and discipline in his precinct.

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Sergeant Philip Fish (Abe Vigoda) is the oldest member and is getting close to retirement at the beginning of the show. Fish leaves the show and gets his own spinoff for a few years before returning to the show in season 7.

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Detective “Wojo” Wojciehowicz (Max Gail) is a bit naïve but has a heart of gold. He sticks to the rules which sometimes causes conflict with his coworkers.

UNITED STATES – OCTOBER 19: BARNEY MILLER – “Non-Involvement” 11/18/76 Ron Glass (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)

Detective Ron Harris (Ron Glass) is the intellectual of the office. He often seems more concerned with his private life and his appearance than his job. He is also a writer. Later in the series he produces a best seller, Blood on the Badge.

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Sergeant Nick Yemana (Jack Soo) is philosophical and sarcastic. During the run of the show, he often makes wry observations about life and the station as other things are going on. Soo passed away during the run of the show and was not on the last three seasons.

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During seasons 1 and 2, Sergeant Miguel Amanguale (Gregory Sierra) was part of the cast. He gets worked up easily when things don’t go well and then rants in rapid Spanish.

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Appearing first in season 2, Sergeant Arthur Dietrich (Steve Landesberg) loves to share his knowledge of pretty much everything. However, he can’t seem to decide on the perfect career.  He comes to police work after leaving both the law and medical fields.

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Inspector Frank Luger (James Gregory) is the thorn in everyone’s side. He is often rambling and old-fashioned, if not worse, in his views.

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Officer Carl Levitt (Ron Carey) is a hard-working employee who aspires to being promoted. Levitt is brought on board in season three.

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Originally Barney’s wife Elizabeth (Barbara Barrie) was a regular character, but after season two she is seen in infrequently, even though Barney refers to her a lot. Once Barrie realized the show was focusing on the precinct, she asked to be released from her contract.

The show was created by Danny Arnold and Theodore J. Flicker. Noam Pitlik directed the majority of the episodes. The pilot originally was unsold. It appeared in a summer anthology series, Just for Laughs, as “The Life and Times of Captain Barney Miller” and only Linden and Vigoda carried into the series. While the pilot was never shown in syndication, it is part of the Shout Factory’s DVD set and was rewritten as the episode, “Ramon.”

The theme song which had several versions during the run of the show was an instrumental jazz piece written by Jack Elliott and Allyn Ferguson.

The cast of “Barney Miller” in September 1976: Ron Glass, Max Gail, Hal Linden, Abe Vigoda, Jack Soo.

Because most scenes were shot in the precinct, the show was filmed like a play. Only about a dozen of the episodes (out of 171 total) were shot outside that set. The way the show was filmed was compared to a marathon session. Seasons one and two were taped in front of an audience and a laugh track was used for additional scenes. Arnold would often rewrite or restage scenes after the audience left to allow for quiet moments. It was not uncommon for a taping to begin in the afternoon and continue late into the night or into the early morning hours.

Emmy-winner writer Ken Levine talked with Tom Reeder, one of the writers on Barney Miller in his blog (http://kenlevine.blogspot.com/2011/10barney-miller-inside-look). Reeder described his time working on the show:

“The day a show was taped, the actors would hang around on the stage waiting for pages to be sent down. Then—sometimes at 2 a.m.—they would have to learn new scenes. Ron Carey (Officer Levitt) would get his fairly quickly: ‘Here’s your mail, Captain.’ On the other hand, poor Steve Landesberg (Dietrich) might have to memorize long speeches explaining how nuclear fission works. Employing a live audience became impractical as lengthy reshoots became commonplace.” By Season 4, only a quiet laugh track was used when necessary.

Barney Miller received praise from police officers, who appreciated the realistic dialogue and quirky characters. In 2005, The New York Times published an op-ed by New York detective Lucas Miller about his view of the show:

“Real cops are not usually fans of cop shows. […] Many police officers maintain that the most realistic police show in the history of television was the sitcom Barney Miller, […] The action was mostly off screen, the squad room the only set, and the guys were a motley bunch of character actors who were in no danger of being picked for the N.Y.P.D. pin-up calendar. But they worked hard, made jokes, got hurt and answered to their straight-man commander. For real detectives, most of the action does happen off screen, and we spend a lot of time back in the squad room writing reports about it. Like Barney Miller’s squad, we crack jokes at one another, at the cases that come in, and at the crazy suspect locked in the holding cell six feet from the new guy’s desk. Life really is more like Barney Miller than NYPD Blue, but our jokes aren’t nearly as funny.”

The show took a while to become a hit. During an interview in November of 2018 with Hal Linden on CloserWeekly.com’s Classic TV & Film Podcast, Linden discussed why there was a lag time till the show found its audience. “ ‘It took a long time for people to catch onto it and become fans,’ Hal tells us during our exclusive conversation. ‘The reason? It wasn’t in your face. It was very subtle, basically. It was relationship, not punchlines. And everybody played it relatively realistically. All the comedy came from outside, in our reaction to the people coming in from outside, and that was not something that was expected in that time. Everything else was more straight line/punchlines. It was more sketchy than realistic. Happy Days, that’s what was expected. And there’s a lot of shows today that are quite sketchy. But [series creator] Danny Arnold envisioned it very differently, and he put the limitations on our doing shtick. His limitation was, ‘Would you go to a police officer for help who behaved like that?’ There was a lid on everything. You could never go too far just to get a laugh. You had to be a police officer, a real police officer that could do his job. Actually, that lesson stood me in good stead for the rest of my television career in terms of what works, how far you can go, or how far not to go.’ ”

It also probably did not help that in its first four and a half seasons it was up against fan favorite Hawaii Five-0.

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The show garnered a lot of awards. It was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series every year from 1976 to 1981 and won in 1982. It also won for writing in 1980 and directing in 1979 in addition to other nominations. It also won a Peabody in 1978.

The show was not cancelled by the network. Arnold ended production because he was worried about repeating storylines after eight seasons.

The blackboard is to the right. Photo: nostalgiacentral.com

After the show ended, the chalkboard which listed whether the policemen were on or off-duty, and the cell door were given to the Smithsonian Television Museum. In addition to the cast of actors in the show, the duty board listed the names of the technicians who worked on the show. The museum also has the police badges used by the actors and Yemana’s coffee mug.

In an article by Ed Gross from February 26, 2018, Hal Linden reflects on his time with the hit series:

“I have nothing but fond memories of Barney. It was certainly the best television experience I ever had, and I mean that from a creative standpoint, because it was like being in a stage company. Like a repertory company that would work together; we knew each other, and we were able to contribute to each other. I have never had as creative an experience in television since.”

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The character-driven scripts are what makes the show memorable today.  There have been technological advances in procedures and detective work, but the fact that people are still the same make the show fun to watch almost fifty years later.  In an article in Today.com by Gael Fashingbauer Cooper from October of 2011, several scenes from the show were discussed that capture the characters’ personalities.

Jack Soo’s Nick Yemana was known for his bad coffee, but in one episode he reveals to Barney that he is using rain water that’s leaking through the ceiling to make a fresh pot. ‘It’s coming through the ceiling, that moldy, termite-infested ceiling!’ protests Barney. ‘It filters out the impurities,’ Yemana insists.  Abe Vigoda, played Phil Fish. But even in the 1970s, Fish was the oldster of the precinct. In a touching scene, Barney tells him he doesn’t think of him as old, but as experienced. ‘In an emergency, you’d be the first one I’d call,’ the captain says loyally. ‘You should call me first, I need time to put my teeth in,’ Fish responds.  Steve Landesberg’s brainy Arthur Dietrich always had a little too much information. When a young black teenager called him “honky,” he’s not offended, instead he explains the word’s etymology. (Who knew it derived from the nasal tone African-Americans believed Caucasians speak with?) His explanation unnerves the kid more than a deluge of profanity ever could have. Hal Linden’s calm and cool Captain Barney Miller held the entire station together, but when he erupted, stand back. He once threatened to stuff a towel in the mouth of a loud-mouthed guy in the jail cell. When the guy blasted back that he wasn’t scared, Miller’s response was ‘You haven’t seen our towel!’ Max Gail’s Stan Wojciehowicz’s was a gentle soul, one who often seemed too kind for a police job. In one episode, Miller tries to explain racism to Harris by using a Polish joke. The gag is funny, but the scene itself is less humorous than it is sweet. ‘Well I thought (racial) differences weren’t important,’ Wojo says. ‘They’re not, but they are.’ Miller responds, only confusing the matter further.  In a classic episode, Wojo’s girlfriend made brownies for the squad, but this being the 1970s, they were hash brownies. When Miller finds out, he orders Ron Glass’ always cool and classy Nathan Harris to have them analyzed. Which he does, by tossing another one in his mouth. ‘NOT THAT WAY!’ howls Miller. He later tells Harris to ‘stay home till you feel better.’ ‘OK, Barn, I’ll stay, but I ain’t never gonna feel no better,’ a herbally happy Harris announces.”

Photo: nostalgiacentral.com

I love the pictures that each of the above snippets portrays of the cast.  I’ll end with a quote by Yemana, who may have been my favorite character on the show. In the episode “Copy Cat” from season 4, Yemana is asked if he likes cop shows:

Det. Sgt. Yemana: No, I don’t watch shows like that. I can’t enjoy them because, being a cop myself, I spot the mistakes and inaccuracies and the fantastic things that in real life never happen.
Victim: On the show they caught him!
Yemana: Good example!

Kate and Allie: The Not-So Odd Couple

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Today we look at a show that never received its due credit post production.  Unless you watched Kate and Allie, you might never have heard of the show. Yet, it had two major female stars in Jane Curtin and Susan St. James. It ran for six seasons. It was in the top 20 until the last season. The series was one of the most popular and critically acclaimed shows of 1984. The show won at least four Emmys and had many nominations.

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Sort of a female Odd Couple, the premise of the show is that Allie Lowell (Curtin) divorces her husband, a doctor, after he was having an affair. They have a son and a daughter. She moves to New York to live with her childhood friend Kate McArdle who is also divorced raising a daughter. Her ex is a part-time actor. Allie’s son Chip is played by Lowell Frederick Koehler and her daughter Jennie by Allison Smith. Kate’s daughter Emma is played by Ari Meyers.

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A lot of stars appeared on the show including Wendie Malick, Dylan Walsh, Andrea Martin, David Groh, Holland Taylor, Patricia Richardson, Barbara Barrie, Ben Stiller Lindsay Wagner, Ricki Lake, and Debra Jo Rupp. Dick Cavett, Dick Butkus, and Joe Namath all played themselves. A fun trivia fact is that Kelsey Grammar had his series acting debut. He played a man who had a blind date with Kate but hit it off with Allie while waiting for Kate to get ready. When he and Kate don’t have a connection, he then asks Allie out, but she spends the entire evening talking about her ex-husband and her divorce.

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John Loeffler sings the theme song, “Along Comes a Friend” composed by Ralph Schuckett. During the first season, Loeffler appeared as a piano teacher in one of the shows. Bill Persky, well respected in television, was the director for the first five years. Persky directed other shows such as That Girl, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Alice and Who’s the Boss. He was the producer for the entire run of That Girl as well. The last season was directed by Linda Day.

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Sherry Coben created the show. She got the idea after attending a high school reunion.  She noticed that the divorced women seemed to relate to each other and received encouragement from each other, so she thought it would make a great show. The working title for the show was “Two Mommies.”

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Kate is free spirited while Allie is more traditional. When the show first begins, Kate is a travel agent, so Allie decides to stay home and take care of the domestic duties for the three kids. At the beginning of the fifth season when the kids are older, Kate quits her job, and Kate and Allie start their own catering company. They both date off and on; the finale for season 5 shows Allie marrying Bob Barsky (Sam Freed), a sportscaster. They get their own apartment for season 6, but the ratings declined so the writers found Bob a new job that required a lot of travel, so Kate moved in with the couple.  The concept never worked because she seemed to be intruding on the newlyweds’ privacy. By this time Kate’s daughter Emma had left the house. In real life, Meyers left the series to attend Yale, but she was in the opening credits and appeared on the show at least once.

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Kate never marries but she has several serious relationships. She dates plumber Ted Bartelo (Greg Salata) during Season 2 but they break up at the end of the year. He re-enters her life in Season 5, but things just don’t work out.

Allie’s husband Charles (Paul Hecht) marries Claire, played by Wendie Malick during the run of the show.

Each episode began with Allie and Kate having a conversation. It reveals how close they were and introduced the episode. At the end of the show, the theme song played and another discussion between the two brought closure to the issue.

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The week the show debuted, it was number four in the ratings. It was consistently in the top 20 for the first five seasons. Persky left after five seasons once Allie married because he felt that the show had accomplished what it set out to do. Allie has learned more about herself, become confident in taking care of herself and relying on her friends to help her navigate life. She now is able to enter a new relationship as a stronger and more independent person. After the drastic changes of Allie getting married and the kids beginning to leave the nest, the ratings declined during Season 6. At the end of the year it was cancelled.

Two of the funniest shows were a parody of I Love Lucy and the episode when the girls go on the Dick Cavett Show.

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St. James and Curtin were friends. St. James’ husband Bob Ebersol worked on Saturday Night Live, which Curtin left in 1980. The two starred in The High Cost of Living, a movie from 1980.

After the show was over, Curtin had several other series including Working it Out and Crumbs which both lasted an unlucky 13 episodes and Third Rock from the Sun, a huge hit and long-running show. Recently she has appeared on The Good Wife and The Librarians.

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St. James was best known for her roles in The Name of the Game, McMillan and Wife, a variety of movies, and an appearance on M*A*S*H.

In an interview with People in June of 2006, St. James said on the show “Jane ran a serious poker game with the kids and crew like Triple Card Cowboy or Blackjack Over Easy.” It sounded like a fun set to work on.

St. James was happy to take on the show because it allowed her to continue living in Connecticut with Dick and their five children. Her TV kids became friends with her own children. Ari Meyers said “I loved Susan . . . I went to her house many times and hung out with her kids.”

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The series spawned two spin-offs but neither went anywhere. Roxie starred Andrea Martin. It aired in April 1987, but after two episodes it was cancelled. Late Bloomer was a season replacement to star Lindsay Wagner, but the show was scrapped before its debut on the air.

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Kate and Allie’s first two seasons were released on DVD in May of 2006, but I don’t think any other seasons have been packaged. The lack of DVD presence and the fact that reruns never ran on a major station keep the show from being remembered. Take some time to watch an episode or two on YouTube and enjoy the camaraderie of these two stars.

 

Fashions Fade, Style is Eternal – Yves Saint Laurent

Fashion trends tend to come and go, but series about the world of models and clothing designers come and go even quicker. Let’s look at a few of the series that centered around the fashion industry.

Love That Jill (1958).  While Love That Bob was about a photographer who did take models’ photos from time to time, Love That Jill was about the heads of two rival Manhattan model agencies (played by real life married couple Anne Jeffreys and Robert Sterling). The show only lasted three months. Jill Johnson runs a top modeling agency, putting her in direct competition with one headed by Jack Gibson. Jack is not above trying to steal her clients, but Jill, with the help of her secretary Richard (Jimmy Lydon), holds her own.  Jack also tries to steal her heart, and when they are not fighting about business, Jack and Jill find time for romancing each other. Some of the models on the show were Betty Lynn as Pearl, Polly Rose as Myrtle, Barbara Nichols as Ginger, Nancy Hadley as Melody, and Kay Elhardt as Peaches.

 

 

Diana (1973). Diana Rigg (previously Emma Peel on The Avengers) was a divorced woman seeking new life in America.  She was a fashion coordinator at Butley’s, a fashionable Fifth Avenue department store, where she was in charge of merchandising and advertising. Her brother has rented an apartment for her, but numerous other people seem to have keys to it as well which leads to some interesting situations. Some of the other characters included commercial model Holly Green (Carol Androsky), Butley’s president Norman Brodnik (David Sheiner), Brodnik’s wife Norma (Barbara Barrie), copywriter and office mate Howard Tolbrook (Richard B . Shull), and window dresser Marshall Tyler (Robert Moore). After four months, Diana switched jobs when her series was cancelled.

 

 

Needles and Pins (1973). This show was set in New York’s garment district. Nathan Davidson (Norman Fell) owned the Lorelei Fashion House which created women’s clothing. His brother and partner was Harry (Louis Nye) and their designer was Wendy (Deidre Lenihan) who came from Nebraska. Other characters included Sonia the bookkeeper (Sandra Deel), Charlie, a salesman (Bernie Kopell), Max a fabric cutter (Larry Gelman), Myron the patternmaker (Alex Henteloff), and Julius Singer (Milton Selzer) who was their competition in the industry. Apparently, the cast had a right to be on needles and pins because the show only lasted half a season.

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Veronica’s Closet (1997-2000).  Veronica is the best romance expert around. Unfortunately, her expertise only works for others. If the details about this show and its characters seem confusing to you, you are not alone.

Veronica Chase (Kirstie Alley) owns a lingerie company called Veronica’s Closet. After divorcing her husband of many years (after discovering that he has been cheating on her), she throws herself into her work. She is aided by her best friend, Olive (Kathy Najimy); Josh (Wallace Langham), her secretary whom everybody says is gay but he says he is not; and Leo (Daryl Mitchell) and Perry (Dan Cortese), two other employees.

Ok, get ready to pay attention. At the end of the first season, she took in a partner who died and the dead woman’s inept son took control of the company, wrecking it. In the next season, Alec Bilson, her previous partner’s ex-husband, bought the company from his stepson and decided to work with Veronica, or Ronnie as she is called. And while she didn’t like the arrangement, she liked him. In the third season, after Ronnie and Alec had a fight, he left abruptly and died in an accident, but before he did he married a girl named June who inherited his fortune which included Veronica’s Closet, and she drove Ronnie up the wall.

Apparently, the network felt there were too many fatal accidents and cut the show before another character was killed. While this show lasted three seasons, it actually was almost like three different series.

 

 

Just Shoot Me (1997-2003). Hot-tempered journalist Maya Gallo (Laura San Giancomo) got herself fired from yet another job when she made an anchorwoman cry on the air with some gag copy on the teleprompter. Unable to find a job anywhere else and facing eviction, she is forced to go work for Blush, her father’s (Jack Gallo played by George Segal) fashion magazine. Maya’s father was a workaholic while she was growing up and has been divorced four times.  Their time working together provides them the opportunity to heal their relationship, and Jack eventually turns over the company to his daughter. Personality conflicts quickly ensue with high-strung ex-model who can’t accept the fact that she has aged and her fans have forgotten her, Nina van Horn (Wendie Malick), philandering photographer Elliot DiMauro (Enrico Colantoni), and wise-guy secretary Dennis Finch (David Spade).

This show won its time slot most seasons which is amazing because the network moved it around quite often.  The first six episodes were shown in one month.  The next season it was given a great schedule on Thursday night between Friends and Seinfeld.  When Seinfeld ended its show, Just Shoot Me was moved to Tuesday. For the fifth season, it was moved back to Thursdays between Will & Grace and ER where it remained for two years, getting high ratings. However, for the seventh season, several characters left the show, and it once again aired on Tuesdays. The ratings never recovered and it was cancelled.

 

 

Ugly Betty (2006-2010). This show was based on a Colombian telenovela, “Yo soy Betty, la fea” published in 1999. A young and wise woman named Betty Suarez (America Ferrera), from Queens, goes on a journey to find her inner beauty. The only problem is that it’s hard for an unattractive woman to find her beauty surrounded by tall skinny models at a fashion magazine, but Betty doesn’t let this stop her or her positive attitude towards her work.

When publishing mogul Bradford Meade puts his son Daniel (Eric Mabius) in charge of his Mode magazine, he hires Betty to be Daniel’s new assistant — mostly because he knows that she may be the only woman in Manhattan with whom the younger man won’t sleep. Betty’s hard work and determination earn Daniel’s respect, as she helps him find his way through hurdles of the fashion industry. Tony Plana, Ana Ortiz, Becki Newton, Michael Urie, Mark Indelicato, Vanessa Williams, and Judith Light also play characters on the show.

This is the other fashion show that made it more than three years, and it was also moved around the schedule.  The first three years it had its highest ratings on Thursday nights. When ratings dropped after season 3, it was moved to Fridays.  Fans protested and the show moved to Wednesdays airing with Modern Family and Cougar Town, but it never recovered its previous high ratings and was cancelled. In the finale, Betty accepts a job in London, and Daniel leaves the magazine.

 

 

Lipstick Jungle (2008).  A look at the lives of Nico Reilly, the editor-in-chief of Bonfire magazine (Kim Raver), Wendy Healy, former president of Parador Pictures (Brooke Shields), and Victory Ford, a fashion designer (Lindsay Price) — three of “New York’s 50 Most Powerful Women,” according to The New York Post.  I’m not saying they are shallow, but apparently there was not much to look at because the show only lasted 20 episodes. Andrew McCarthy, Paul Blackthorne, and Robert Buckley also were part of the regular cast.

This was another series based on a novel, Lipstick Jungle by Candace Bushnell. Although the show debuted during the year a major writer’s strike was taking place, it never picked up any substantial ratings and was cancelled.

 

 

That Girl (1966-1971). While That Girl was not technically about on the fashion industry, Anne Marie is known for her incredible wardrobe. In a blog about fashion series, I felt it had to be included.

A young girl who moves to New York City to try to make it as an actress may not sound like revolutionary television, but this was 1966, and Marlo Thomas was an “unlikely pioneer in a flip coif and a Technicolor minidress.” She said this was the first show where a single, perky career gal learned to navigate the big city. She based the concept on her life about a girl who graduated from college, whose parents wanted her to get married while she wants to be an actress. Fans watched the show to see how Ann Marie would fare in the big city, but they also tuned in to see what she was wearing. Thomas personally chose her entire wardrobe for the show and wore many  current designers’ creations. One of the designers she chose was Marilyn Lewis.

Six years before the show debuted, Lewis and her husband Harry ran a restaurant chain called Hamburger Hamlet. She decided to launch a ready-to-wear line of clothing. She could not sew but wanted to design quality apparel. She named her collection Cardinali, and Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman couldn’t get enough of her designs. Marlo Thomas, along with other celebrities such as Nancy Reagan, Betsy Bloomingdale, and Dyan Cannon also bought her outfits. A feature on Marilyn Lewis provided the following details about the designer in 2007:

As a girl growing up in Cleveland, Lewis invented the name Cardinali in homage to her absent father. She was told that he was living in Italy, and at 5 she rechristened herself Cardinali. In her first year of designing, Lewis created a 35-piece collection of suits, dresses and gowns. Her clothes, which Cameron Silver, who owns the Los Angeles vintage boutique Decades, will be showcasing in early June, are a mix of hard and soft: a tweed maxi skirt paired with a floral chiffon blouse, a wool jersey turtleneck halter gown with a plunging back. And Cardinali loved accouterment — a wool bouclé winter coat has a bag and hat to match; a floaty summer day dress comes with its own attached scarf. There is a metallic jumpsuit that Dyan Cannon wore on her first date with Cary Grant, and there is a demure silk gown with ruffles that Nancy Reagan ordered in red. Perhaps Lewis’s most famous designs were worn by Marlo Thomas in the TV show “That Girl.” The chiffon floral dress with its matching frilly umbrella that Thomas twirls during the opening credits says everything about being young and enthralled by Manhattan.

The Cardinali archive is currently stored in the Lewises’ condominium near Century City. Marilyn and Harry rent out their home in Beverly Hills and live in the 5,000-square-foot penthouse, with its breathtaking views of Los Angeles. The condo is decorated with Hamlet memorabilia, modern art and posters from Marilyn’s third career, as a movie producer. Her documentary, “Superstar: The Life and Times of Andy Warhol,” was critically acclaimed, and “The Passion of Ayn Rand,” which starred Helen Mirren, was on Showtime in 1998; Mirren won an Emmy for her performance. “As usual, when I became a producer, my husband thought I was crazy,” Lewis said in her apartment, as she presented each piece of Cardinali. “As usual, I never had doubt, but Harry always has the doubt for me. Luckily he trusts me. I could never have done any of this alone. Harry was always my producer.” She paused. “And I still can’t figure him out after all these years.”

 

With the fashion industry such an influence in our pop culture, it’s hard to believe that there have been only a few sitcoms about the design and modeling business. Although, I must admit that while I’m writing this, I realize that the only one of these shows I watched before I researched this blog was That Girl. Maybe the fashion business is too cut-throat to be funny, or maybe the fashion trends would date the show too much.  While That Girl was one of my favorite shows, I will also admit that one of the reasons I watch today is to watch all those adorable outfits Anne Marie wears.

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Write On!

Happy Monday.  It’s National Encourage a Young Writer Day.  I love to encourage writers of all ages.  If you’re a writer, you know the two golden rules of writing.  (1) Write what you know and (2) Be original.  With those two qualifiers, one would think there would be a myriad of great shows out there about writers.  Not so.  It took a lot of exploring on my part to come up with 12 shows about writers in the past 70 years!

If writers are writing what they know, it seems writers know much more about incompetent parents, complex medical surgeries, and dating bachelors than they do about writing and writers.

Don’t get me started on being original. Unfortunately, any viewer knows that when one genre show succeeds, the next year will feature ten more just like it;  hence, the number of medical and police dramas currently on the schedule.  This doesn’t hold true anywhere else in life.  No grocer says avocados are so popular, let’s replace the oranges and apples with them.  No radio station decides to play the top five songs to the exclusion of the other songs.  That being said, I’ll jump off my soapbox before ranting about how the shows on today’s schedule are either amazingly written or not worth the time it takes to turn on the television. So, let’s look at shows about writers.

Apartment 3-C. In 1949 John and Barbara Gay played themselves.  Living in New York City, he was a writer.  The 15-minute show went off the air after one season. They moved to California where they raised their family and spent 66 years together. As far as I can tell, neither of them acted again, but John went on to be a prolific scriptwriter.

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Young and Gay/The Girls. Debuting in 1950 as Young and Gay, this series was based on an autobiographical novel written by Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimbrough. CBS bought the rights. After the first two episodes, the name was changed to The Girls.  The premise of the show was that two Bryn Mawr graduates come to Greenwich Village after spending time in Europe, trying to develop careers as an actress and a writer.  After a few more episodes, their acting career ended when the show was cancelled.

Dear Phoebe. In 1954, ex-college professor Bill Hastings, played by Peter Lawford, decided he wanted to try his hand at journalism.  The option he receives is becoming Phoebe Goodman, providing advice to the lovelorn. Ironically, his girlfriend, Mickey (Marcia Henderson), is the paper’s sports writer. After one season, they both received advice to seek new work when the show was cancelled.

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My Sister Eileen. It would take half a decade before another show about a writer was produced. In 1960, My Sister Eileen aired.  The concept will sound vaguely familiar.  It’s based on a book and two movies about two sisters from Ohio who move to Greenwich Village wanting to be an actress and a writer. The sisters were played by Elaine Stritch and Shirley Boone. The only memorable thing about the show was the pairing of Rose Marie and Richard Deacon who went on to try their hand at another show a year later called The Dick Van Dyke Show.

The Dick Van Dyke Show. Hands down, this was the best comedy to debut about a writer.  It was also the longest running show, going off the air five years because the cast wanted to quit while the show was still successful. Rob Petrie (Dick Van Dyke) is the head writer of the Alan Brady Show, creating scripts with Sally (Rose Marie) and Buddy (Morey Amsterdam). Mel (Richard Deacon) is the long-suffering producer. This is one of the first shows to concentrate on work life. We get to see what goes on behind the scenes of a comedy/variety show. While Rob, Sally, and Buddy have lives outside the office, they are somewhat married to their work. Sally is always hunting for Mr. Right.  Buddy deals with more comedy at home because of his not-so-bright wife Pickles, although it’s obvious he is in love with Sally. Rob and Laura (Mary Tyler Moore) are both confident and intelligent adults and insecure parents, raising their son Richie (Larry Mathews) in New Rochelle. The show won an Emmy its first year and never left the top 20, producing 157 of the best-written sitcom episodes ever created.

Window on Main Street. Mention the name Robert Young, and most viewers fondly recall Father Knows Best or Marcus Welby.  In this 1961 show, Robert Young plays Cameron Garrett Brooks, an author.  After his son and wife pass away, he returns to his small home town of Millsburg to write about the town’s citizens. It must have been a very small town with few people to write about, because the series was cancelled after one year.

The New Loretta Young Show. Loretta Young starred in several shows using her name so it gets a bit confusing, but in this 1962 version, she plays Christine Massey, a children’s author and widow with 7 children. Living in Connecticut, she decides to get a job with Manhattan Magazine.  However, after meeting the editor she falls in love and marries him. Perhaps the network had a policy banning inter-company marriages, because the show was cancelled after six months.

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Glynis. In 1963 Glynis Granville (played by Glynis Johns) moved to town. She is an amateur sleuth who solves crimes to have something to write about. Her husband Keith (Keith Andes) is an attorney.  She consults with a former policeman Chick Rogers (George Mathews). The show only lasted three months.  Jess Oppenheimer, the producer of I Love Lucy, apparently forgot this was a different show, airing episodes that were very Lucy-esque.

Please Don’t Eat the Daisies. In 1968, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies came to the small screen.  Based on Jean Kerr’s book, it was also a movie starring Doris Day about the Nash family.  James (Mark Miller) is a college professor and his wife Joan (Patricia Crowley) is a free-lance writer. The show featured their four sons, two of whom were twins, their large dog, and their housekeeper Martha (Ellen Corby). Faring better than most of our shows, this one lasted two years.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. This show about a writer, a widow Carolyn Muir (Hope Lange) who moves into an old house in Schooner Bay in New England, appeared in 1968. The house turns out to be haunted by Captain Daniel Gregg (Edward Mulhaney), a captain who built the house in the 1800s. This show was also based on a movie. Captain Gregg is annoyed with the interruption and noise of the new family, but ultimately falls in love with Carolyn. Charles Nelson Reilly plays the Captain’s nephew Claymore Gregg. Dabbs Greer is Noorie Coolidge, the owner of a local lobster restaurant, and Reta Shaw is their housekeeper Martha. The show was on NBC for one year then moved to ABC for one year.  Apparently, CBS declined its turn, so the show was cancelled.

The Debbie Reynolds Show. In 1969, another show produced by Jess Oppenheimer eerily reminiscent of I Love Lucy was on the fall schedule. Jim Thompson (Don Chastain) is a sports writer. His wife Debbie (Debbie Reynolds) is a stay-at-home wife who wants to be a feature writer. Jim discourages her, wanting her to stay home.  Instead of Ethel and Fred, we have her sister Charlotte (Patricia Smith) and her brother-in-law Bob (Tom Bosley).  After one season, the network decided they did not care if  Debbie worked or stayed home and sent the crew packing.

Suddenly Susan. Jump almost thirty years to 1996 and we have another show about a writer, Suddenly Susan, starring Brooke Shields. Susan leaves her husband-to-be at the altar and is forced to ask her ex brother-in-law (Judd Nelson) to hire her back at his magazine.  Most of the show is set in the workplace.  Luis Rivera (Nestor Carbonell), Vicki Groener (Kathy Griffith), and Nana (Barbara Barrie) round out the cast and appear on all the episodes.  (The photo above also includes Andrea Bendewald [the blonde] and David Strickland [laying down] who were in about half the episodes.) The show continued until 2000.

I should mention that because I focused on comedies I did not include Murder She Wrote or Castle, both having long runs of 12 and 8 years respectively. I did not include Everybody Loves Raymond because that show concentrated on his family life, and rarely revealed his writing profession.

I wish I had more encouraging words for writers who wanted to get involved in television.  About the only thing I can tell you, is if you want to develop a successful show around a writer, make it a drama for job security.