When I looked up the definition for “too close for comfort” it said “close enough to make a person feel nervous, worried or upset.” That is exactly how this show made me feel.
I realize that I was hard to please in the 1980s. Coming out of the 1970s with M*A*S*H,The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and The Bob Newhart Show, I did not enjoy All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Alice, Maude, or Diff’rentStrokes. I did watch Cheers, Family Ties, The Cosby Show, Who’s the Boss, and Moonlighting during that decade. Too Close for Comfort, along with Three’s Company, just didn’t strike me as funny.
When you invest in a show, you feel like these characters are part of your life. Ted Knight’s role of Ted Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show was a flawed human being for sure, but I felt like we had spent a lot of time together, and I was able to see beyond the brash, obnoxious exterior to the vulnerable and kind being inside. It was if we had spent lots of hours over the kitchen table having coffee. Characters like Baxter teach us about the world and about ourselves. Ted Knight as Henry Rush was more like the neighbor whom I caught glimpses of out the kitchen window but there was no way to learn more about the character other than the surface appearances. The show was based more on plots than characters.
Too Close for Comfort was based on the British sitcom Keep It in the Family. It debuted in 1980. Henry Rush is a cartoonist who writes about the Cosmic Cow (a space crime fighter) and lives in San Francisco with his wife Muriel, a photographer (Nancy Dussault) and his two adult daughters Jackie (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) who works at a bank and Sara (Lydia Cornell) who is a college student.
The house was a two-family residence and the girls decide to rent from their parents. Henry is not sure it’s a good idea, but it’s the only apartment they can afford because he charges $300 rent for the bottom of the Victorian house. Monroe (Jim Bullock) is a friend of Sara’s who was cast only in one episode but ended up joining not only the cast but living with Henry and Muriel.
The show was on Tuesday nights. The show followed Three’s Company and its main competition was BJ and the Bear.
In season two, Muriel becomes pregnant and Henry’s niece April also comes to live with the Rushes.
One of the signatures of Henry Rush was the variety of college sweatshirts he wore. Fans from around the country would send them to the network hoping to see them on the series. The first sweatshirt to make an appearance was the University of Michigan.
The third season found the show on Thursday nights and ratings declined significantly. The show was up against Cheers on NBC and Simon and Simon on CBS. April moves out and Muriel’s mother Iris (Audrey Meadows) moves in to help with the baby. The show was cancelled by the network. The fourth season went into syndication with new episodes.
A fifth season began, but the show changed so much it really was a new series. The title was changed to The Ted Knight Show, the family now lived in Marin County where Henry bought a newspaper, a new theme song was created, a new opening was shot, and both daughters left the show. However, Monroe moved with Henry and Muriel. The new episodes began airing in April of 1986; 22 episodes were taped and after the first 12 aired, Knight passed away from colon cancer. The final ten episodes were run, and then the series ended.
During the various seasons, the girls changed careers a lot. Jackie moved from the bank to a department store to a fashion designer. Sara held a bunch of part-time jobs while she was in college. She then became a bank teller, a weather woman at the local station KTSF, and an entrepreneur who sells Cosmic Cow Cookies.
In a Fox News interview, Cornell discusses how she received the role of Sara. She said she had to take a bus for the audition and showed up an hour late after being in the rain. The secretary told her auditions had closed but Arne Sultan said to let her audition as long as she came in. They gave her a script to read and a line said “She gives her dad a raspberry.” Sara picks up an imaginary raspberry and hands it to her dad. Sultan asked her what she was doing, and then explained a raspberry was a Bronx cheer. She felt very stupid and they were all laughing. The casting director and executives decided at that time she was perfect for the part and asked her to report to work the next day.
I know that there have been far worse shows than Too Close for Comfort, but I’m not content having the bar set there because there have also been far better shows. Rather than my usual recommendation of buying the DVDs for a weekend of binge watching, I’m going to tell you to buy a good book instead.
In July we learned about Sirota’s Court which Night Court seemed to be a clone of. Debuting on NBC in January of 1984, Night Court ran for nine seasons until May of 1992. The series was supposed to begin in fall of 1983, but the executives at NBC were concerned about Harry Anderson’s lack of experience as an actor. They delayed the show; every show that debuted in fall of 1983 was cancelled, so Night Court was put on the schedule mid-season.
Thursday nights on NBC were part of “Must See Thursday.” The schedule featured The Cosby Show, Family Ties, and Cheers followed by Night Court.
An unconventional judge, Harry Stone (Harry Anderson) presided over a Manhattan night court overseeing petty crime and dealing with a lot of wacky clients, odd coworkers, and bizarre situations. The role of Judge Stone was originally offered to Robert Klein, but he could not come to an agreement on the salary with NBC.
The main characters include Judge Stone, a public defender, a prosecutor, a couple bailiffs, and a clerk of court.
Harry Stone is a humorous judge (and magician). Although he was young, he was appointed because when the outgoing mayor called prospective judges, Harry was the only one who answered the phone. Stone likes old movies, Jean Harlow and adores Mel Tormè. The show’s creator Reinhold Weege discusses Stone’s admiration for Tormè on the DVD commentary. He said Tormè said he began to notice a younger audience at his concerts which he attributed to the Night Court references and happily appeared on an episode of the show.
The public defender role went through several changes during the course of the show. Gail Strickland was Sheila Gardner in the pilot. Paula Kelly was Liz Williams during the first season. Ellen Foley was brought on board for season 2 as a possible romantic interest for Judge Stone. Markie Post showed up for season 3 as Christine Sullivan and stuck around for the next seven seasons. Post was the first choice for the role in 1984 but was committed to The Fall Guy. When that show was cancelled, she was hired. Christine was a bit naïve and committed to helping others. She was a fan of the royal family and collected Princess Diana memorabilia as well as porcelain thimbles.
The prosecutor was Dan Fielding (John Larroquette). He was a sex-obsessed, somewhat witty, egotistical and greedy man. However, at times he could display compassion for others but not for long. He was always trying to get Christine to go out with him, but there was always a romantic tension between her and Stone.
Nostradamus “Bull” Shannon (Richard Moll) was on the show for its entire run. He came off as a bit dim-witted but was patient, kind, and devoted to Judge Stone.
For the first two seasons, he worked with Selma Hacker (Selma Diamond), a chain-smoking older bailiff who had been married six times. Diamond was diagnosed with cancer after season 2 and passed away shortly after. Florence Kleiner (Florence Halop) came on for season 3. Older like Selma, they had similar personalities. “Flo” loved motorcycles and heavy metal music. Halop also was diagnosed with and died from cancer after season 3. Rosalind Russell (Marsha Warfield) began in season four and stayed for the duration of the show. She was a practical, no-nonsense woman.
Clerk Lana Wagner (Karen Austin), was asked to leave the show after only ten episodes. I could not substantiate it, but she claims it was her diagnosis of Bell’s palsy that ended in her being asked to resign. Macintosh “Mac” Robinson (Charles Robinson) would take over in season two for the rest of the series. A Vietnam veteran, he was easy going and funny and always wore a cardigan, plaid shirt and knit tie.
Weege also mentioned in a DVD commentary that he named a lot of the pimps and hookers on the show after friends of his.
Although there were a lot of great crooks on the show, one of the most interesting episodes featured Seinfeld’s Kramer, Michael Richards. He appeared as a burglar who thought he was invisible and showed up naked in court. He was one of the funniest criminals on the show.
Like many of the 1980s shows, Night Court had a jazz instrumental theme song. This one was written by Jack Elliott and featured Ernie Watts on saxophone.
Critics loved the show. It was nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series in the Emmy awards in 1985, 1987, and 1989. In 1985, the show was up against Kate and Allie and the rest of the shows that was part of the Must-See Thursday with The Cosby Show winning. In 1987 it was up against the same slate except Kate and Allie was replaced with The Golden Girls which won. In 1989 it lost to The Wonder Years. Larroquette, who was the most popular character in the show, won the Emmy for Best Supporting Actor four years in a row and then asked that his name be taken out of consideration. Overall, the show was nominated for 31 Emmys and won 7 of those. In an aside, Larroquette was offered his own spin-off show, but he turned down the offer.
Anderson received credit for writing five of the episodes and Anderson, as well as Larroquette and Robinson directed several episodes of the series.
After season seven, the show began losing its audience. The cast members were getting tired of their characters, and the writers had a hard time coming up with new plots. Season eight was supposed to be the last one. Among other character wrap-ups, Harry and Christine would get married and Dan would become a priest. However, at the last minute, NBC renewed the show for another season, so the marriage did not take place and Dan ended up with Christine in the finale. The cast was offered more money to return for a tenth season, but they declined.
In doing a bit of research, I learned that New York’s real night court operates from 5 pm to 1 am. Because of the crazy goings on that happen there, it has become a tourist attraction. It’s the only place where courts operate during these hours. One reporter wrote that “At 12:30 am on a freezing Wednesday morning, it’s not just New York City’s famously 24/7 bar and club scene that’s a hive of activity. Deep in the heart of Manhattan, a man in handcuffs is standing in front of a judge, listening to a string of firearm and assault charges as a crowd of lawyers hum around him and solemn family members watch from the benches. This is night court, an operation that has become a strange kind of tourist attraction for visitors in New York looking for something a little out of the ordinary.”
This show was based on characters rather than plots, and the wrong actors would have made the show a disaster. This cast was able to pull it off. They were quirky but still allowed the audience to get to know them and like them. The fact that the show was set in the same setting for most of the nine seasons and did not seem to be repeating plots over and over again is pretty impressive. I don’t think they should have done a season 9 but hindsight is always 20/20 as they say. The show holds up well after almost four decades. It’s worth watching just to see how the main characters interact and grow during the run of the show.
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know I am a big fan of the show Family starring James Broderick and Sada Thompson. Along with Gary Frank and Kristy McNichol, Meredith Baxter played one of their children on the show. As Nancy, she got divorced and moved into a garage apartment with her son Timmy. She went to law school to follow in her father’s footsteps. Today we will learn a bit more about the life Meredith Baxter had off the show.
Baxter was born in 1947 in California. Her mother was Whitney Blake who played Dorothy Baxter on Hazel. Her father was a radio announcer. Her parents divorced when she was 6. She lived with her brothers and her mother who eventually remarried; Meredith’s stepfather was sitcom writer Allan Manings. Manings wrote for a variety of shows, including McHale’s Navy, Laugh-In, Good Times, and both the original and reboot of One Day at a Time.
Baxter went to Hollywood High. She briefly transferred to Interlochen Center for the Arts as a voice major, but returned to Hollywood High to graduate. Shortly afterward she married Robert Lewis Bush and they had two children. They divorced in 1971.
For the next few years, Meredith appeared on a variety of television shows and in several big-screen movies, including The Doris Day Show and The Partridge Family.
The following year, Meredith got her first major acting role: Bridget Loves Bernie. She starred with David Birney. The premise behind this sitcom is that wealthy, Catholic Bridget Fitzgerald marries lower-class, Jewish Bernie Steinberg who drives a cab. Both sets of parents are uncomfortable with their children’s mates.
Although the show only lasted one season, she and Birney lasted a little longer. They married in 1974 and had twins. In 1989 they divorced and don’t have very good things to say about one another.
In the mid-seventies, television kept Meredith very busy with 11 appearances on shows such as Medical Center and McMillan and Wife and 10 made-for-tv movies.
She appeared on the big screen in All the President’s Men in 1976 before taking the role of Nancy Maitland on Family that same year. Family featured the Lawrences. Kate is a stay-at-home mom and a bit distant but obviously loves her children. Warm, friendly Doug is a lawyer and judge. Nancy is in her twenties but much more mature than her brother Willie who can’t decide what to do with his life. Buddy, a tweener, is the youngest in the family.
Critics as well as viewers were devoted to the show. Baxter was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Continuing Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Drama Series in both 1977 and 1978. She was beat by her “sister” McNichol in 1977 (McNichol was nominated every year the show was on) and by Nancy Marchand for Lou Grant in 1978. For both years, Family was nominated as best show and Sada Thompson as lead actress which she won in 1978 (Thompson was also nominated every year). Gary Frank as Willie won in 1977. James Broderick also received a nomination during those years.
After Family ended, she went back to making made-for-tv movies with 7 during the 1980s and 21 in the 1990s.
The following year, she would land the role that made her the most famous, Elyse Keaton on Family Ties. In this much-beloved show, Elyse and Steven, former hippies, raise their four children who have different values than they did. Alex, the oldest is a conservative interested primarily in money, Mallory cares more about shopping and boys than anything else, Jennifer has a dry sense of humor and is trying to find her spot in the family and the birth of baby Andy doesn’t help her figure that out. The show was on the air for seven seasons.
In 1995, Baxter married actor and screenwriter Michael Blodgett, but their married only lasted five years. (Blodgett wrote for a variety of television shows and several movies.) Shortly before her divorce, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She made a full recovery and has become a spokesperson for treatment and research and developed a skin cream (Signature). A portion of the proceeds is donated for breast cancer prevention.
In 1996, she again attempted a television series, The Faculty. The show wasn’t renewed for a second season. Baxter played the role of a principal who is divorced and a single mother, and features the choices she has to make to balance her busy life. While the critics praised Baxter’s performance, they didn’t find much else to like about the show, and it was cancelled after 13 episodes.
She made several television appearances on various shows or movies but her only recurring role was as Lilly Rush on Cold Case in 2007.
In 2011, Meredith published her memoir, Untied. She talks frankly about her unhappy marriages, including the abusive one with Birney. She also discloses that she was a recovering alcoholic and that she was gay. After coming out, she met Nancy Locke whom she married in 2013.
In 2014 Baxter accepted a role as Maureen, Nicky’s friend, on The Young and the Restless which began and ended that year. Since that time, she has appeared on a variety of television shows and in several movies. She has a couple of movies coming out soon.
Baxter has also done a variety stage work including the two-character play, “Kissing Place” with David Ogden Stiers. Most recently she has appeared in “Women Beyond Borders,” “Angels in America” and “Love Letters.”
Although Meredith has definitely had some trauma and sadness in her life, she has had a varied and long-lasting career. Being cast in three successful television shows is not something that happens for most actors. She seems to have come to a place in her life where she is happy and content and that is something all of us strive for. Join me next week as we look more closely at the show that made her a household name: Family Ties.
One thing I have learned doing blogs the past four years is how many shows don’t make it. Although every year has its share of flops, some years are just notorious for having weak programming. The late 1970s was a period of just truly awful shows. Bob Newhart who starred in The Bob Newhart Show decided to quit in 1978. 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.” As bad as that sounds, the shows that the networks put on the air during this time were even worse. Let’s take a look at some of the programming that didn’t make it through a season in the late 1970s.
A Year at the Top
Believe it or not, in 1976 Norman Lear teamed up with Don Kirshner of Rock Concert fame for a sitcom about the music business. This show was supposed to begin in January of that year but was delayed until summer with an entirely different cast. Two young pop stars Greg and Paul (Greg Evigan and Paul Shaffer—yes the Paul Shaffer from David Letterman) move to LA for their big break. They meet a potential agent named Hanover (Gabriel Dell) who agrees to sign them if . . . and if you think the concept is weird so far, get this: Hanover is the devil’s son, and they need to sign over their souls to become famous. The pair never actually sign the contract. It might have taken a year to get on the air but it only lasted five weeks.
This show’s concept was also a bit of a reach. It took place on Perma 1, a space station in 2222. Adam Quark (Richard Benjamin) had a mission to clean up all the trash in outer space. Quark took orders from a giant disembodied head called, what else, The Head, along with Perma 1’s architect Otto Palindrome (Conrad Janis). If you think this sounds crazy, wait till you learn about Quark’s crew: a part fish/part fowl first officer, a humanoid vegetable named Ficus, clones Betty 1 and Betty 2, and Andy the Robot, a walking junk pile. I was surprised not that it was cancelled after two months, but that it lasted two months. I was also surprised to learn that Buck Henry was the creative force behind this series.
A year later in 1977 we have another interesting set-up. When Redd Foxx and Demond Wilson, the two stars, the only stars, left the show Sanford and Son, Norman Lear was left with a show title only. Aunt Esther (LaWanda Page) had been one of the cast members on Sanford and Son and suddenly she was at the hub of this new show. Phil Wheeler (Theodore Wilson) a widower with teenagers buys the house, the junkyard and Esther’s rooming house and tries to start a residential hotel. A month or so later, before he could even make his first payment, the show was done.
David Groh (who had played Rhoda’s husband) is Don Gardner, a struggling businessman who can’t make ends meet. His wife Ginny (Joan Hackett) has to get a job, and they both had to deal with their introverted son Mark (Al Eisenmann) and their extroverted daughter Kelly (Lisa Lindgren), as well as Don’s mom Olive (Hope Summers who had played Clara on The Andy Griffith Show) who is critical of all of them. Don struggled through a few episodes and was finished.
A lonely hairdresser played by Rue McClanahan named Ginger-Nell Hollyhock placed ads in the newspaper for a family. The family that she “found” included a daughter (Caitlin O’Heaney) who tap-danced, a son (Derrel Maury) who wanted to fly like a bird, an elderly grandfather (Jack Gilford), and con-artist Fast Eddie (Dabney Coleman). The show was set in Kansas City in 1933. It took place during the Depression and depression is what anyone watching felt, although the pain was fleeting. After one episode the network decided no one wanted this family.
This one was so bad they didn’t want any evidence so there are no photos.
Another flop came along with a star who had been another star’s spouse. Bill Macy who played Maude’s long-suffering husband starred in this show as Louis Harper, a former football hero who did not have the right credentials to be a university president. He has a desire to help the underprivileged, but the rest of the faculty is more concerned about raising money. Other cast members included high-pressure dean Maggie Gallager (Barbara Rhoades), PR man Sam Dickey (Dennis Burkley), and housekeeper Pinky Nolan (Nedra Volz). No finals for this series; it was cancelled after a few weeks.
David Huddleston plays Mayor Cooper who runs a small Midwestern town. The cast included the mayor’s secretary Ginny (Diana Muldaur), the mayor’s daughter (Kathy Cronkite, yes Walter’s daughter) and several other quirky characters. While the mayor is quite conservative, his children are left-wing liberals. Apparently, the mayor broke out into song at least once an episode. I guess, he was singing the blues because the show was cancelled after 7 episodes.
In the Beginning
The year 1978 just keeps getting worse for television series. Father Daniel Cleary, played by McLean Stevenson, works in a community center in the heart of Baltimore. Sister Agnes (Priscilla Lopez) works with him. She loves her neighborhood; Father Cleary does not. She is fairly liberal and he is not. It ended almost before it began after seven episodes.
Miss Winslow & Son
In this one, an unmarried woman (Darleen Carr) who is an art designer, decides rather than marry a man whom she doesn’t love, she will become a single mother after getting pregnant. Her next-door neighbor Mr. Neistadter (Roscoe Lee Browne) hates kids. Her wealthy and snobby parents are divided about her situation; her father (Elliot Reed) is much more sympathetic than her mother (Sarah Marshall). Before the baby had its first check-up, the show was off the air.
13 Queen’s Boulevard
This show was about “a hilarious group of tenants in a garden complex in Queens, New York.” In the first episode, one of the tenants, Felicia Winters (Eileen Brennan) decides to host a class reunion and invites her best friend and spouse, her ex-husband, the class “sexpot,” Fat Hughie, and the class photographer. I don’t know what could possibly go wrong; however, not much went right since it was gone within two months.
I get Freaky Friday, but in this series the husband and wife switch places. A magic statue allows them to inhabit each other’s bodies. Sam Alston (John Schuck) is a sportswriter and his wife Penny (Sharon Gless) is a cosmetics executive. The couple tries to live both their own life and their spouse’s life whenever they switch back and forth. They also must focus on keeping the switch a secret. We never know who is who, and all the audience knew is they didn’t like either one of them, and the show was cancelled after a few weeks.
NBC decided Joe Namath would be a good person to build a sitcom around. However, he’s not a football player in this show; he’s a former pro basketball player, Joe Casey, who now teaches history at Waverly High in Wisconsin. Linda Harris (Gwynne Gilford) is the principal and Mr. Benton, who they call “Old Prune Face” (Ben Piazza) was the former coach. The only problem is Joe Casey is a bad history teacher and a bad coach. That apparently makes for a bad show because it was cancelled after three episodes aired, although nine were made.
Struck by Lightning
If you think the concept of some of these shows was weird, wait to you hear about this one. Frank (Jack Elam) is the caretaker of an old inn in Massachusetts. A science teacher, Ted Stein (Jeffrey Kramer) inherits the inn and decides to sell it. Then he realizes that Frank was really a 231-year-old Frankenstein monster. Ted just happens to be the great-great-grandson of the original Dr. Frankenstein. So, they decide to run the inn together. Rounding out the cast was Glenn (Bill Erwin) who had been living there forever, Nora (Millie Slavin) who managed the inn before Ted came, Nora’s son Brian (Jeff Cotler), and real estate agent Walt (Richard Stahl). Apparently, the only thing “great” about the show was Ted’s relationship to Frankenstein because the network canceled it after five episodes.
So, you might be wondering with all these awful shows, what made it on the air more than a couple of months during the late 1970s. In 1977 the only shows that made it to the next season were Three’s Company and Soap. In 1978 Mork and Mindy and Taxi were the “classics” followed by Diff’rent Strokes and WKRP in Cincinnati. Without Robin Williams, Mork and Mindy would probably have been another concept that would have lasted a couple of weeks. In 1979, out of 21 shows that debuted that fall, Facts of Life was the only one that returned for a second season. With the exception of Taxi and WKRP, I would not rate any of these shows true classics, although you could make a good case for Soap. Anyway, the bar was set pretty low for success during the late 1970s.
At least television viewers could go to the movies for a bit of entertainment. This was the era of Animal House, Annie Hall, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Grease, Kramer vs Kramer, Rocky, Saturday Night Fever, and Smokey and the Bandit. Things stayed pretty glum on the small screen until 1982 when Cheers, Newhart, and FamilyTies saved us.
Continuing our series about “Valerie,” today we look at a slice of American life from the 1970s. It’s hard to emphasize how much the movie Saturday Night Fever changed American culture. In the movie, a high school graduate played by John Travolta, escapes his hard life by dancing at the local disco. The hippie culture of the late 1960s and early ‘70s was shoved aside by the bold and brash disco era. It was hard to go anywhere without the background soundtrack of the movie being heard. Extravagant clothing and three-piece suits were back in style, along with platform shoes and blingy jewelry.
A year after the movie debuted, a new show called Joe and Valerie appeared in April of 1978. Joe (Paul Regina) works at his father’s plumbing store. He meets Valerie (Char Fontane) at the disco and they get romantically involved. However, Joe’s roommates, Paulie (David Elliott), a hearse driver, and Frankie (Bill Beyers/Lloyd Alan), a spa worker and chauvinist, have their opinions on the romance as does Valerie’s divorced mother Stella (Arlene Golonka). Rounding out the cast were Robert Costanzo as Joe’s father Vincent and Rita/Thelma (Donna Ponterotto), Valerie’s best friend.
The series was produced by Bob Hope’s production company, Hope Enterprises, and his daughter Linda served as executive producer. Bill Persky, who had been one of the forces behind That Girl, directed the first episode.
The writers for the show included Howard Albrecht, Hal Dresner, Bernie Kahn, and Sol Weinstein. Kahn and Dresner also served as producer for an episode each. Art direction was credited to Bruce Ryan and shop coordinator to Edwin McCormick.
The series was divided into two parts; in 1978 the episodes show Joe and Valerie meeting, falling in love and planning their future. Jumping to January 1979, the episodes center around the couple beginning their married life. Four half-hour episodes aired in April and May of 1978. Four half-hour episodes were set to air in January, but only three did; the final episode never was played on the air.
Episode 1, “The Meeting” aired April 24, 1978. Joe and Valerie meet at the disco and fall in love when Joe bets his roommates that he can take Valerie away from her dancing partner.
Episode 2, “The Perfect Night” aired May 1, 1978. Valerie arranges dates for Frank and Paulie. She sets up Frank with her best friend Thelma and the date is a disaster. The woman she set Paulie up with ended up getting married the night before, so Valerie is frantically looking for a substitute. Albrecht and Weinstein were credited as writers.
Episode 3, “Valerie’s Wild Oat” aired May 3, 1978. Joe and Valerie’s romance hits a potential roadblock when Valerie finds out that her new boss at the store is her ex-boyfriend Ernie (Marcus Smythe).
Episode 4, “The Commitment” aired May 10, 1978. When Valerie’s mother is unexpectedly called away for the weekend, Joe and Valerie face the prospect of spending their first night together. Joe loves Valerie too much to stay but worries how his roommates will react if he doesn’t.
Episode 5, “The Engagement” aired January 5, 1979. Joe and Valerie break the news to their parents that they are going to live together and looking for a place to live through a rental service which adds to the confusion.
Episode 6, “The Wedding Guest” aired January 12, 1979. Joe and Valerie learn that a gangster’s funeral has been scheduled at the same time as their wedding at the church.
Episode 7, “The Wedding” aired January 19, 1979. The newly married couple look back at the events that occurred around their wedding. Some of the problems included Vince wanting Valerie to wear his wife’s old-fashioned wedding dress, Frank and Paulie fighting over who is best man, and Valerie’s mother threatening to stay away from the wedding if her ex-husband comes.
The final episode, “Paulie’s First Love,” was never aired.
This was a bad year for series’ debuts. A number of shows flopped during this year including Hizzoner, Sweepstakes, and Supertrain, none of them making it to more than nine episodes.
Char Fontane (also listed as Fontaine occasionally) was born in California in 1952. She passed away from breast cancer in 2007. Before being cast in Joe and Valerie, she appeared on a variety of tv series in the 1970s and a couple after: LoveAmerican Style (1972), The FBI (1973), Barnaby Jones (1979), Supertrain (1979), Sweepstakes (1979), The Love Boat (1979), and Nero Wolfe (1981). In the mid-1980s she took a role in a made-for-tv movie, The Night the Bridge Fell Down and two movie roles: Too Much (1987) and The Punisher (1989). She was not credited with any roles after the 1989 movie.
Paul Regina was born in Brooklyn in 1956 and passed away from liver cancer in 2006.
Before his role on Joe and Valerie, he had parts in The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Hour and Police Woman both in 1978. After the show ended, his career stayed fairly busy. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, he could be seen on many popular television shows including Benson, Gimme a Break, TJ Hooker, Hunter, and EmptyNest. He would be cast in three series: Zorro and Son in 1983, Brothers from 1984-89, and The Untouchables in 1993-94. He also had a recurring role as a lawyer on LA Law between 1988-1992.
Post 2000 before his death he was in Law and Order several times as well as two movies, The Blue Lizard and Eddie Monroe.
David Elliott had a successful career going when he received the role of Paulie. He began with several roles on tv including a mini-series, Pearl, that Char Fontane was also in. From 1972-1977, he had a role in The Doctors in 272 episodes. Before beginning Joe and Valerie, he had a role on Angie in 1979.
After the show ended, he continued showing up in television series including TJHooker, St. Elsewhere, Simon and Simon, and Murder She Wrote. He ended his credited acting career with seven movies in the 1990s.
He is an interesting guy. After dropping out of high school, he drove a cab in New York. He was a professional boxer, ran a PI business in Hollywood, received his pilot’s license, sat on the board of a major labor union, and traveled extensively through every continent except Africa and Antarctica. Recently he earned a certificate in both long and short fiction from the UCLA Writer’s program and has written a novel, The Star Shield, about a body guard trying to rescue a kidnapped movie star. Currently he is working on a collection of short stories.
The role of Frankie was played by two different actors, Bill Beyers in 1978 and Lloyd Alan in 1979.
Bill Beyers was born in New York in 1955 and died in 1992 in Los Angeles. His first role was that of Frankie on Joe and Valerie. Following the end of that show he was cast in several series including Barnaby Jones, Quincy ME, The Incredible Hulk, CHiPs, Too Close for Comfort, and Murder She Wrote. He had a recurring role on Capitol, appearing in 24 episodes from 1982-1987.
Lloyd Alan was in 1952. He might have had the shortest career of the cast. Before being cast in Joe and Valerie, he was in an episode of Eight is Enough. After he appeared in The Love Boat, Knight Rider, and Baywatch. His last credited acting job was 1998. I was unable to locate a photo of Lloyd Alan.
The actors with the longest careers were Robert Costanzo who played Joe’s father Vince; Arlene Golonka who was Stella, Valerie’s mother; and Donna Ponterotto who played Rita/Thelma, Valerie’s best friend.
Donna Ponterotto had a successful career following the cancellation of Joe and Valerie. She came to the show having appeared on The Police Story, Happy Days, and Rhoda.
Following the show, she appeared on Trapper John MD, Laverne and Shirley, TheLove Boat, Who’s the Boss, Murder She Wrote, Night Court, Murphy Brown, ER, Mad About You, Third Rock from the Sun, and NYPD Blue among others. Her last film was Sharkskin in 2015.
Arlene Golonka grew up in Chicago where she was born in 1936. She began taking acting classes when she was quite young. At age 19, she headed for New York and began a career on Broadway. In the 1960s she relocated to Los Angeles. She continued to appear in movies and appeared in dozens of television programs during the next three decades. While she is probably best known as Millie on Mayberry R.F.D., she has appeared in many respected series.
Golonka came into Joe and Valerie with a strong resume. She had made appearances in shows such as The Naked City, Car 54 Where Are You, The Flying Nun, Big Valley, Get Smart, I Spy, That Girl, M*A*S*H, All in the Family, Barnaby Jones, Alice, The Rockford Files, and Love American Style. She made five appearances on The Doctors with David Elliott.
After Joe and Valerie, she continued to receive many roles including on FantasyIsland, The Love Boat, Simon and Simon, Benson, and Murder She Wrote. Her last appearance was on The King of Queens in 2005, and she is now retired.
Robert Costanzo was born in New York in 1942. He also came into the show with a very strong string of shows, having been in Rhoda, The Bob Newhart Show, and Lou Grant. He also was in several profitable movies including Dog Day Afternoon, The Goodbye Girl, and Saturday Night Fever.
Following the end of Joe and Valerie, he would continue his successful career. Costanzo has been cast in recurring roles in ten shows: Last Resort, Checking In, The White Shadow, Hill Street Blues, LA Law, 1st Ten, Glory Days, NYPD Blue, Charlie and Grace, and Champions. He has continued to take roles on other series including Barney Miller, Alice, Who’s the Boss, Family Ties, St. Elsewhere, The Golden Girls, Friends, and Murder She Wrote.
His movie career has also been very successful, and he is remembered for his roles in Used Cars, Total Recall, Die Hard 2, and Air Bud.
Currently Costanzo is still acting and has several movies debuting in the next couple of years.
I have to admit I do not remember Joe and Valerie, and obviously I did not watch it, but I don’t think I missed much. It’s fun to learn about some of the more obscure shows that had a brief flicker in television history. There are many more shows that lasted for less than 20 episodes than there are the classics we remember today. If nothing else, the show captures a unique time in American history.
Monday is Presidents Day, and as I mention that fact, I can hear the collective groans. Whether you’re in the Hate Trump or Love Trump camp, you are probably thoroughly sick of politics. Believe me, I hear you. However, today we are going to look at presidential moments in television. And before you exit out, be assured I am not talking about the Nixon-Kennedy debates. We’re going to look at my top television episodes that featured a president.
Several series have included presidents with people dressed in costumes at Halloween parties. George Washington showed up on Growing Pains in 1990 and on the first episode of The Munsters in 1964, while Thomas Jefferson appeared on Mike and Molly in 2011. I mention the roles, but we’re not going to concentrate on them.
Several candidates also made whistle stops campaigning on television. Thomas Jefferson was on Simonand Simon in 1986 when they were trying to recover a family journal, Teddy Roosevelt was on TheVirginian in 1962 fighting with the Rough Riders, and Franklin Roosevelt was a minor character on Wonder Woman in 1975, when she used her super powers to return a wounded WWII pilot to Washington. In 2002, Teddy Roosevelt, Abe Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson all made an appearance on Sabrina the Teenage Witch to convince her aunt not to run for city council. Because these were minor appearances and the shows were not about the presidents, I did not include them in my top five.
Here are my top five television episodes featuring a president as a character.
No. 5 – Bewitched: “George Washington Zapped Here” – 1972. When I saw a Bewitched episode that starred George Washington, I was sure I had my number 1 show for this blog. Then I watched the show. I tend to look at Bewitched almost as two different shows. I love the first five years and include them in some of my all-time favorite tv episodes. It was one of the best fantasy shows ever created, but by the last season the fantasy had died. The last season, including this episode, is like trying to watch a wrinkled, saggy grandmother trying to pull off wearing a mini skirt and go-go boots. It’s a bit frustrating, a bit humorous, fairly sad, and extremely uncomfortable. If George Washington had a premonition about appearing in this episode, I’m sure he would have found a way to ban television in the Constitution.
Trying to help Tabitha with her homework, Esmeralda zaps George Washington to the present time. George is played by Will Geer. I feel like this theme of zapping historical figures happened more often than it should have during this show’s run. Also, Esmeralda is not as likeable a character as Aunt Clara or Uncle Arthur. Of course, Washington wanders off and is arrested for speaking without a permit. The only thing more painful than watching this show was the realization that it was a two-parter; the second episode has George going before a local judge and finally being exonerated by the truth. Talking about truth reminds me when George said, “I cannot tell a lie”, and I have to admit this episode is dreadful. Apparently, politics was just as painful 45 years ago as it is today.
No. 4 – Dharma and Greg: “Dutch Treat” – 2001. Numbers 3 and 4 are really a toss-up. Abraham Lincoln stars in both shows, and he appears in dreams in both episodes. This sitcom was on the air from 1997 to 2002 starring Jenna Elfman and Thomas Gibson as a young couple who eloped on their first date. She was raised by hippy parents and he comes from a wealthy family. The show earned eight Golden Globe and six Emmy nominations, and Elfman won the Best Actress Golden Globe in 1999. This episode was a bit too formulaic for me, so Drew Carey beat it out for number 3 in my list.
In this show, Dharma and Greg argue about being a role model for their young college friend. During the argument they both claim to be independent, so they decide to go dutch for a week to find out which one is truly independent. Of course, they end up realizing they are dependent on each other during the experiment. Peter, Greg’s coworker, has some weird dreams during the show. At the end of the episode, Peter leaves for lunch with a bunch of Victoria’s Secret models who think he’s hot (he’s not), and Abraham Lincoln arrives at the office for a consultation with Peter. Dharma and Greg inform him Peter is out and invite him to lunch with them. He takes off his hat to reveal it is full of waffles. At this point, Dharma informs Greg that they are now in Peter’s dream and the show ends. Abe is played by Ryan Stiles and, by chance, our no. 3 show features Stiles as a cast member.
No. 3 – The Drew Carey Show: “Drew’s in a Coma” – 2001. From 1995-2004, Drew portrays the average guy. He works at a department store and has a group of friends he hangs out with, primarily at the Warsaw Tavern. Ryan Stiles is one of these friends, who played Abe Lincoln in the Dharma and Greg episode. He also appeared on Drew’s improv show, Whose Line Is It Anyway?.
In this episode, Drew is in an auto accident and goes into a coma. His friends and family try to bring him out of it, but he is enjoying his unconscious dreams. We see him in an apartment with a bunch of sexy women. Mimi is his sister-in-law who wears flamboyant make-up. They have a love/hate relationship, but in his dreams, she is very conservative looking and tells him she is his slave, being very respectful. He has a pizza tree, a beer fountain, and a door that opens to the greatest moments in sports featuring himself. After several attempts to bring him out of the coma, his family gets ready to pull the plug to see if it shocks his body into waking up. When they unplug the respirator, Drew is in the middle of a Trivial Pursuit game with William Shakespeare and Abe Lincoln. (Abe is played by Charles Brame, and he also was Abe Lincoln on the Growing Pains episode mentioned in the second paragraph of the blog.) Abe is excelling at all the history questions, until Drew reads him a shocking question. The card asks “Who shot Abraham Lincoln?” The shock Abe feels equals the one Drew feels when he is unplugged and it forces him to realize he has to choose between going on to heaven or back to his life on earth. In the words of his fellow gamer, he had to decide “to be or not to be” and he chooses to return to earth for a while.
No. 2 – Spin City: “A Tree Falls in Manhattan” – 2001. Spin City is about a group of city hall employees who work to help the mayor. Mike, played by Michael J. Fox, is great at his job but he is leaving to get married and travel around the world. The staff covers up for the mayor who is not very competent, but they struggle with their personal lives. I did not watch Spin City a lot when it was on the air from 1996 to 2002. This was a funny episode, so it came in at number 2, even though Washington is only an on-air character for a minute or two.
Trying to impress his new girlfriend so they can watch the sun rise over the East River, the mayor orders a tree outside the mansion to be cut down, not realizing that it was a tree planted by George Washington and is protected. Charlie tells a girl he picks up that night about the tree story, not knowing she was the campaign manager for the opposition. She tells her boss, and they go on the air to make an announcement. When Charlie sees her, he realizes what has happened. Four George Washingtons appear in this episode played by David Hayman, Jack Wright, Gelbert Coloma, and Anthony Provenzano Jr. They are part of the Revolutionary War Society picketing city hall. After all this mayhem, Mike realizes he needs to be back in city hall and returns to his job. He arranges for the mayor to go on television saying “I cannot tell a lie, I chopped down George Washington’s tree, but I used the wood to build a shelter for the homeless.” At this time, Fox was dealing with Parkinson’s Disease and announced he would be leaving at the end of this season. When he did eventually leave the show, the explanation was that he accepted a job as an environmental lobbyist who moved to Washington, DC. He met a senator there named Alex P. Keaton, the name of Fox’s character on Family Ties.
No. 1 – My Friend Flicka: ”Rough and Ready” – 1956. I had heard of the book and movie My FriendFlicka, but I did not know that it was ever a television show. It was only on the air one year, and only 39 episodes were made, airing between February 1956- February 1957. It was a mid-season replacement for The Adventures of Champion, a show starring Gene Autry. Unfortunately, neither show could compete with The Adventures of Rin TinTin which was on another channel during this time slot. The show was later aired Monday nights on the Disney Channel in the mid-1980s. Ken McLaughlin, played by Johnny Washbrook, is devoted to his horse Flicka. He and his parents live at the Goose Bar Ranch in Coulee Springs. After this show was cancelled, Washbrook appeared on several shows, including three different characters on My Three Sons, but then went into the banking profession and moved to Martha’s Vineyard.
This episode was a delightful and charming show featuring Theodore Roosevelt played by Frank Albertson. Young Ken McLaughlin decides to write a letter to the president because there is too much overgrazing going on due to the government failing to put restrictions on the lands. A couple of weeks later, the newspaper has an article about Vice President Roosevelt coming to Coulee Springs for a vacation. In the meantime, several families are forced to put their ranches up for sale and move because there is no place for their cattle to graze. Ken meets a man fishing and shows him lures he makes himself. The man is quite impressed, and they make plans to meet again in the morning to fish. The next day, Ken explains what is happening with the land, saying he wrote the president but never heard back, and then tells the man that his family had now put their ranch up for sale also. The man tells Ken to have his father come to town, and he will arrange for him to talk to the vice president. He also has Ken take his picture with a large fish they caught. When he and his father go to town for the meeting, he realizes that the man he has been fishing with is Vice President Theodore Roosevelt who takes care of the situation, putting regulations in place. A few weeks later, Ken gets a letter. Theodore Roosevelt is now President Roosevelt and he wanted to make sure Ken did get a letter back from the President. He also included the photo that Ken took of him and the fish. Albertson did a bully good job playing Teddy.
Hopefully watching some of these episodes will convince you that it is possible to have a Happy Presidents Day. Watching the influence these men still have in our modern-day history reminds us that our Constitution and government were created and modified by great men such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin Roosevelt, creating a strong foundation that is hard to destroy. All you have to do to enjoy politics today is to choose one of these five episodes to watch. And wearing red, white, and blue while you do so wouldn’t hurt.
After reading about That Girl and what a tough time Marlo Thomas and Ted Bessell had finding new roles that did not stereotype them as Don and Ann, I thought about actors who were able to transcend that hurdle. I could think of numerous actors and actresses who were able to have two important television roles. Mary Tyler Moore began as Laura Petrie but Mary Richards was also a strong character. Ron Howard grew up from Opie Taylor to Richie Cunningham. Kristy McNichol lived out her adolescence in Family and then moved to Florida as Barbara in Empty Nest.
I started to do some research and found the following actors who had numerous television series.
Alan Alda – Of course, his iconic role was Hawkeye Pierce in M*A*S*H. From 1972-83 he kept us laughing or crying in Korea. Since M*A*S*H he has taken on roles in several television series including ER (1999), West Wing (2004-06), 30 Rock (2009-10), The Big C (2011-13), and The Blacklist (2013-14).
Fun Fact: He got his start on the Phil Silvers Show in 1957.
Meredith Baxter – Most people remember her as Elyse Keaton in Family Ties (1982-89), but for me it was Nancy in Family (1976-80). Other shows include Bridget Loves Bernie (1972-73), The Faculty (1996), Cold Case (2006-07), The Young and the Restless (2014), and Finding Carter (2014-15).
Fun Fact: Her mother was Whitney Blake, Missy on Hazel.
Sally Field – I think most people will always think of Sally Field as the Flying Nun (1967-70). Her first show was Gidget (1965-66). As we discussed a couple of weeks ago, she had a role in the forgettable Hey Landlord (1967) and she was The Girl with Something Extra (1973-74). Like Alan Alda, she also had a recurring role in ER (2000-06), and her most recent show is Brothers and Sisters (2006-11).
Fun Fact: She won an Emmy for her appearance on ER.
John Forsythe – While younger people only know him as the voice of Charlie on Charlie’s Angels (1976-81) or Blake Carrington from The Colbys (1980-86) which led to Dynasty (1981-89), one of my favorite sitcoms of all is Bachelor Father which John starred as Bentley Greg from 1957-62. Before BachelorFather, he starred in Lights Out (1951-2), Suspense (1951-52) and Studio One (1949-55). Before Charlie’sAngels, he was in the John Forsythe Show (1965-66) and To Rome withLove (1969-71). His last show was The Powers That Be (1992-93).
Fun Fact: Along with Harry Morgan and Meredith Baxter, he was on episodes of The Love Boat.
Harry Morgan – Harry Morgan is the king of shows, with 12 series to his credit. He is probably best remembered for three of them–Pete and Gladys (1960-62), Dragnet (1967), and M*A*S*H (1974-83). His first sitcom was December Bride (1954-59) which spun off Pete and Gladys. In the 60s before Dragnet he was in Kentucky Jones (1964-65) and Dr. Kildare (1965). The seventies saw him in HecRamsey (1972-74) and Gunsmoke (1970-75). After M*A*S*H, he literally was in After M*A*S*H (1983-85), Blacke’s Magic (1986), You Can’t Take It With You (1987-88), and Third Rock From the Sun (1996-97).
Fun Fact: He was in an episode of the Partridge Family in the first season.
Bob Newhart – Bob Newhart gets the award for having the most shows with his name it in. Fans fondly remember The Bob Newhart Show set in Chicago when he played Dr. Hartley (1972-78) or Newhart where he was the inn owner Dick Loudon (1982-90). His first show was The Bob Newhart Show (1961). After Newhart, he tried out Bob (1992-93) and George and Leo (1997-98). Like Alan Alda and Sally Field, he also had a recurring role on ER (2003) and most recently has had a recurring role on The Big Bang Theory (2013-15).
Fun Fact: The 1982-90 show had the best finale ever when the show ended with Bob in bed with his wife from the 1972-78 series thinking Newhart had been a dream.
Ed O’Neill – If any actor should have been stereotyped after a role, Ed O’Neill seemed doomed after Al Bundy in Married. . . With Children (1987-97), yet he now has an even bigger hit in Modern Family as Jay Pritchett (2009-16). In between he was on the Big Apple (2001), Dragnet (2003-4), a remake of Harry Morgan’s show, and John From Cincinnati (2007). Like Alan Alda, he took on a role on The West Wing (2004-05).
Fun Fact: He signed as an undrafted free agent with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1969 but was cut in training camp.
Dick Van Dyke – Finally, we have Dick Van Dyke. Before I researched this blog, I thought he and Bob Newhart might have the most sitcoms to their credit. He comes in with only four starring shows overall. Like Bob, he never wanted to stray far from his name: We had the iconic Dick Van Dyke Show as Rob Petrie (1961-66), The New Dick Van Dyke Show (1971-74), The Dick Van Dyke Show (1988), and then Diagnosis: Murder (1993-2001). Like so many of these actors who have something in common with Alan Alda, Dick Van Dyke’s first appearance in a sitcom was also The Phil Silvers Show (1957-8).
Fun Fact: He can trace his family line back to the Mayflower.
Why do some stars get locked into a role that they are never able to separate themselves from? Think Henry Winkler as the Fonz, Lucille Ball as Lucy, or Don Knotts as Barney. I think part of it is that we get so attached to these characters we almost want to believe they are real and the actor moving on destroys that image.
The above actors all had different situations that allowed them to move on more easily. Alan Alda never had that hit show again. After M*A*S*H, he took on dramatic recurring roles. Meredith Baxter was in a mixed genre of shows. Of her two hit shows, one was a drama, Family, and one a sitcom, Family Ties. Dick Van Dyke had the same formula: The first Dick Van Dyke Show, a sitcom, and Diagnosis: Murder, an action/mystery series. John Forsythe and Harry Morgan came into show business during the golden days of television. They were able to have extremely successful shows and characters and then start over. Forsythe had 10 series to his credit, Morgan had 12. Sally Field, although starting out in television, was certainly better known as a movie actress. Audiences were seeing her on the big screen as other characters so they perhaps don’t pigeon hole her into one role so much. Ed O’Neill actually had success on two sitcoms about families. Maybe Jay Pritchett is so successful because he shows what Al Bundy may have been like growing up in a more enlightened era where the fathers help parent and run the house. And Bob Newhart, I think, was successful because he actually plays the same character in most of his shows, and we love that character so we keep looking for him, no matter what the show is actually titled.