Although the Rat Pack have all passed on, their influence still surrounds us. We can listen to Frank Sinatra’s music channel on Sirius. Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin movies still play late at night. Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford can both be seen on a variety of sitcom reruns. One member we don’t see as often is Joey Bishop. While he is not as well known as the other friends, he actually was the only one of the group who starred in his own sitcom.
Two series went by the name “The Joey Bishop Show.” One was a sitcom and aired from 1961-1965, producing 125 episodes. For most of the run, Joey played a talk show host named Joey Barnes. The other show was an actual talk show that he hosted which ran from 1967-1969 and produced 682 episodes.
This blog looks at the sitcom created by Danny Thomas and Louis F. Edelman specifically for Joey Bishop. Danny served as executive producer, and the show was filmed at Desilu Studios before a live audience. When it debuted in 1961, it was filmed in black and white. One episode was shot in color and then the second and third seasons followed suit. NBC canceled the show after season three and CBS picked it up but filmed that season in black and white again. I imagine fans of the show weren’t happy to go from color to gray tones again; it would be like visiting Oz and then being sent back to Kansas.
Like The Andy Griffith Show, the pilot was an episode of the Danny Thomas Show. Joey played Joey Mason who was an incompetent public relations staffer. Danny arrives in Los Angeles exhausted but has no place to stay and is forced to sleep at Joey’s house with his parents and his two sisters, the younger one being Stella, an aspiring actress played by Marlo Thomas.
Before airing the next fall, the pilot had some revisions. Now Joey’s last name was Barnes. His father was dropped from the cast but two family members were added: a younger brother named Larry (Warren Berlinger) and a brother-in-law Frank (Joe Flynn) who was married to Betty (Virginia Vincent), the older sister. His mother continued to be played by Madge Blake who would go on to play Aunt Harriet on Batman.
Joey continued his public relations career and supports his family. The secretary at the PR firm, Barbara (Nancy Hadley) is his girlfriend. A lot of the plots revolve around family members taking advantage of Joey’s influence which they think is significant but is really almost nonexistent.
The show didn’t do well in the ratings, so it was retooled once again. Betty, Frank, and Barbara were all dropped from the show. The series was renewed for a second season, but the show would change its format again.
From season two on, Bishop became the host of a New York City talk show. The cast from the first season disappeared altogether in this fourth reincarnation. Abby Dalton plays Joey’s wife Ellie. The couple now live in a posh apartment building and, at the end of the second season, they have a baby boy. Hilda (Mary Treen) is the Barnes’ maid and baby nurse, and she often trades insults with Joey similar to the banter Florence and George had on The Jeffersons a decade later. The Jillsons (Joe Besser and Maxine Semon) are the superintendents of the building. Like Howard’s mother on The Big Bang, Maxine is heard but not seen. Guy Marks played Freddie, Joey’s manager.
There were some rumors that Joe Flynn had been let go the prior season because he was too popular; this would mean that Bishop was so insecure that he was willing to totally revamp his show to get rid of one character. That doesn’t seem to make sense. However, Cynthia Lowry’s column in The Evening Independent from September of 1963 reported that “Actor’s feuds can be very fierce. Joe Flynn, who now plays the sarcastic Captain Binghamton in McHale’s Navy still is so annoyed with The Joey Bishop Show that he doesn’t even mention it in his list of acting credits – although he included brief appearances on Hawaiian Eye, Ozzie and Harriet, and The Eddie Fisher Show. Flynn played a sharp-tongued ne’er do well brother-in-law during the first year of the Bishop comedy, a role that was swept away with a lot of others when the series was completely revamped.”
One review for the second season by Bob Thomas, AP Movie-TV Writer in the Ocala Star-Banner from August of 1962 stated:
“About the only resemblance between last season’s Joey Bishop show and the coming season’s is the name. It’s still The Joey Bishop Show, NBC having vetoed the comedian’s suggestion to call it The New Joey Bishop Show. Bishop fans may be startled to find their hero is no longer a press agent but a late-night television comic. Furthermore, he has jettisoned his mother, bless her heart, for a curvy wife. And he has acquired a whole new bunch of pals. That Joey was able to make these changes is one the minor miracles of television. Just about everyone, Joey especially, agreed that something was wrong with last season’s shows. When a series pulls a wrongo, it is usually yanked at the first sign of spring. But the series had somehow managed to best its competition on ABC and CBS and rack up an impressive rating. So, when Joey promised a clean sweep in format for the next season, NBC went along. I found Joey in the midst of his fourth show, and absolutely happy – for him. That is, he smiled every 15 minutes. I asked what went wrong the first season. ‘I showed up,’ he replied. But on a more analytical basis, he continued: ‘We did many things wrong. We didn’t have enough time to prepare. We violated a very basic concept in comedy. When you have a clever comedian -and in modesty I think I am-you surround him with funny people. When you have a funny comedian, you surround him with clever people. I made the mistake of working with clever people,’ he said. ‘Now I am working with funny people – Guy Marks, who is a bright young comedian; Joe Besser, who can get laughs just walking on stage; and Abby Dalton from the ‘Hennessy Show, a brilliant talent.’”
Another review a few weeks later agreed: “Joey Bishop also returned to NBC – on Saturday night. This season he is more poised, more famous, and a successful established night club comedian. He also picked up a wife on the show. The first show involved one of those typical newlywed situations that television situation comedies specialize in. High point of the show, however, was an imitation by Guy Marks, who plays Joey’s manager, of a flamingo. Don’t ask how they managed to get that in, but it was very funny! —-”
Once again there was talk of feuding between the star and a cast member, this time Guy Marks, because he was receiving great reviews. Marks was around for the first 18 episodes and when he left, Corbett Monica came on board as Larry Corbett, Joey’s head writer.
The Montreal Gazette in January of 1963 featured an article by Dorothy Kilgallen that explained, “It’s no secret that the parting between Joey Bishop and Guy Marks was far from friendly, but no one revealed that they were close to the fisticuffs stage.” Some cast members sided with Marks. Other cast members claimed Joey was not egotistical and wanted everyone to succeed. I was not able to determine whose version was closer to the truth, but it is not surprising that the show didn’t last as long as it could have between constant cast changes and in-fighting on the set.
There were also some controversies regarding the writing on the show. In the book Sitcom Writers Talk Shop by Paula Finn, Irma and Austin Kalish who wrote for many great sitcoms in the sixties and seventies were interviewed. She asked the pair if they ever recycled stories for show. They responded no, and continued with this story:
“IK: We were once writing The Joey Bishop Show, and we went in to pitch shows to the story editor.
AK: We pitched five shows to him.
IK: And he said, ‘Those sound like good ideas, but you know, I have to pitch them to Joey first.’ And then our agent called and told us he got word that Joey didn’t like any of those ideas. Fine.
AK: Five weeks later–week after week after week after week after week–
IK: Our ideas came on.
AK: Our ideas were stolen. Eventually that guy, the story editor on The Joey Bishop Show, came to us for a job. Needless to say, what goes around comes around.”
Another great writer, Joel Rapp, shared another story about this series. “We had a contract for six Joey Bishop Shows and we wrote the first one, and then we went to watch the taping. And there were about three words of our script left in what they finally shot. We asked the producer what happened, and he said ‘Joey got hold of the script, and he changed everything.’ But we still got the writer credit, which was fine. So then we wrote a second script, and the same thing happened. So for the third script, we turned in thirty-six blank pages, and we were fired. And it was fine with us. We were making plenty of money and had other jobs.”
Of course, many guest stars appeared on the show as themselves being interviewed by Joey, including The Andrews Sisters, Edgar Bergen, Milton Berle, Willie Davis, Don Drysdale, Robert Goulet, Don Knotts, Jerry Lewis, Jack Paar, and Andy Williams.
Other guest stars who appeared on the show in roles other than themselves included Jack Albertson, Parley Baer, Frank Cady, Jackie Coogan, Nancy Kulp, Sue Ane Langdon, Howard McNear, Barbara Stanwyck, and Dawn Wells.
The theme song was also axed from the first season. “Sometimes I’m Happy” by Irving Caesar and Vincent Youmans was exchanged for “Joey” by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Huesen.
During the third season, one episode was filmed but never shown. John F. Kennedy was a friend of the Rat Pack. On November 15, 1963 Vaughn Meader, who often impersonated the President, was filmed in an episode as the impersonator of President Kennedy. A week later the assassination in Dallas occurred, and the episode was never seen live or in syndication. Most of the sources I consulted could never determine if the episode had been archived or destroyed.
Following all the changes, the ratings had increased during season two but season three saw lower ratings once again, and NBC decided not to renew the show. At the same time, Danny Thomas decided not to return for a twelfth season in his show, so CBS picked up Joey’s show. However, the show went up against the much-loved Bonanza, and the ratings never recovered, so CBS then canceled the show after the fourth season.
Chuck Rothman, who wrote a blog about the show May 28, 2017 on blogspot.com, described it as “filled with gentle comedy. The jokes may have worn a little thin, but the stories hold up surprisingly well. Barnes is a decent guy with a sense of humor and Bishop’s relaxed and subtle style—he never appeared to work to be funny—was charming to watch.”
Another viewer on imdb wrote that “personally, I failed to see the humor of the situations in this show that centered around a dull, middle-aged man who was still living with his mother . . . who was repeatedly being fired from his job.”
Obviously, they were describing two different versions of the show, but there certainly was a difference of opinion.
If you never had a chance to watch the show, Antenna TV began airing it in 2017; the network even transferred the first season’s 35mm film to a more modern technology so it can also be aired. Currently, you can view the show on Antenna TV at 7-8 am (EST) weekdays and 3-4 am (EST) Saturdays.
I have watched a few of the shows on Antenna TV and enjoyed them. All the episodes I was able to watch were during the final three seasons, but it would be interesting to catch a couple from the first year and compare them.