When I decided to do research for a blog series about some of my favorite sitcom actors, I knew Tom Poston had to be on the list. Poston seems to be someone who’s always a bit under the radar, and I’m not sure he ever received the accolades he deserved.
Poston was born in 1921 in Columbus, Ohio. His father was a liquor salesman and dairy chemist, an interesting combination. Poston started at Bethany College in West Virginia but joined the Air Force in 1941. He went to flight school and served as a pilot in the European Theater for WWII and was part of the Normandy invasion.
After returning home, he decided to move to New York City to study acting and graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
He was cast in his first television show, Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, in 1950. In 1955 Poston married actress Jean Sullivan. They would divorce in 1968, having one daughter.
He continued receiving dramatic roles throughout the early fifties. In 1956 he joined the Steve Allen Show, along with his cast mates Don Knotts and Louie Nye. In 1959 he won the Best Supporting Actor Emmy for his work on the show. In 1960 The Steve Allen Show moved to Los Angeles and Poston decided to remain in New York, but Tom and Don Knotts stayed life-long friends. He appeared on Broadway often and began making the game show circuit and continued accepting drama roles on the small screen.
When Mel Brooks was putting together the pilot for Get Smart, ABC was planning on airing the show and they wanted Tom for the star. However, when ABC declined the show and when NBC picked it up, Don Adams got the lead; Poston did appear on the show as a KAOS bad guy.
Poston married for the second time in 1968 to Kay Hudson with whom he had two children. They divorced in 1975 but remarried in 1980 and remained husband and wife until her death from ALS in 1998.
In 1975, he began recurring roles on two different sitcoms: On the Rocks and The Bob Newhart Show. On the Rocks was a show about the friendly rivalry between prisoners and their guards. On the Bob Newhart Show, Poston played “The Peeper,” Bob’s college buddy and big .prankster.
In 1977, Tom took on the role of Damon Jerome, photographer on We’ve Got Each Other. Beverly Archer played his assistant while her husband Stuart Hibbard (Oliver Clark) did the cooking and house cleaning. The show was cancelled after 13 episodes.
He appeared on a variety of shows during the late seventies and from 1979-1981, he portrayed grouchy neighbor Franklin Delano Bickley on Mork and Mindy. Poston said the role he played on the show was written for him. He said Robin was hysterically funny all the time. He said Pam Dawber was a comic genius because she was able to keep the focus on both Mork and Mindy, because anyone else would have been lost in Robin’s antics.
He moved from Colorado on that show to Vermont the next year when he became George Utley, handyman on Newhart. For eight seasons he worked at the Stratford Inn, becoming friends with Dick and Joanna. He was nominated for an Emmy in 1984, 1986, and 1987. (Pat Harrington won in 1984 for One Day at a Time and John Laroquette won for Night Court in 1986 and 1987.)
In an interview with the Television Academy, Poston discussed the last episode of Newhart. He said the cast members were kept in the dark about the ending. He said he was in the stands with the audience when that last scene with Suzanne Pleshette and Bob as Bob Hartley waking up from his “dream” was filmed. He said Bob’s wife Ginny had the idea, and Tom thought it was fabulous.
From 1990-1991, you could find him in Good Grief, playing Ringo Prowley, in a show set in a mortuary; when that show was cancelled, he was back with Bob Newhart on Bob as Jerry Fleisher.
During the 1990s, he would accept five recurring roles: Mr. Looney on Family Matters, Phineas Swenson on Murphy Brown, Dr. Art Hibke on Coach, Floyd Norton on Grace Under Fire, and Burt Sigardson on That Seventies Show. In between, he also managed to find time to guest star on more than thirty other shows including Home Improvement, Cosby, ER, The Drew Carey Show, and Will and Grace. He also accepted roles on the big screen in twelve movies during his career, the last two being The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement and Christmas with the Kranks, both in 2004, as well as 15 Broadway productions.
Tom tried married life once again in 2001 when he married actress Suzanne Pleshette. They were married until his death in 2007 from respiratory failure.
I was just amazed by Tom Poston’s career: a ton of television appearances–he probably had more recurring roles than almost any other actor during that time; a well-respected big screen career, a variety of Broadway roles and many gameshow stints. He was nominated for five Emmys, winning one. He always made the rest of the cast look better. I truly enjoyed getting to know a bit more about Tom Poston, one of our greatest sitcom stars.
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.
Car 54, Where Are You? aired on NBC beginning September of 1961. I was surprised to learn that there are only 60 episodes in this series. The show revolves around officers Gunther Toody, Badge 1432 (Joe E. Ross) and Francis Muldoon, Badge 723 (Fred Gwynne). Their patrol car is Car 54, and they are with the 53rd precinct in New York. Toody and Muldoon are complete opposites which is why they get along so well. Toody is short, extremely talkative and not overly bright. He’s married to Lucille (Beatrice Pons), a bit of a loud, overbearing woman. Muldoon is tall, quiet and very smart. He’s a bachelor who lives with his mother (Ruth Masters) and two younger sisters.
Rounding out the large cast are officers Dave Anderson (Nipsey Russell), Omar Anderson (Ossie Davis), Kissel (Bruce Kirby), Nelson (Jim Gormley), Nicholson (Hank Garrett, O’Hara (Albert Henderson), Schnauser (Al Lewis), Steinmetz (Joe Warren), and Wallace (Frederick O’Neal), as well as Captain Block (Paul Reed), Sergeant Abrams ( Nathaniel Frey), Sylvia Schnauser (Charlotte Rae), and Claire Block (Patricia Bright).
Nat Hiken (the creative force behind The Phil Silvers Show) created the series. He wrote many of the scripts and also directed several episodes, one of which he won an Emmy for. The show was nominated for three other Emmys. It was up for Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Humor in 1961 which went to The Bob Newhart Show (not that Bob Newhart show, this was a variety show hosted by Newhart) and for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Comedy in both 1961 and 1962 but got beat out both years by Carl Reiner for The Dick Van Dyke Show.
As recounted in Martin Grams, Jr.’s book Car 54, Where Are You?, after visiting a New York police precinct house and noticing what a communal feel it had, unlike any of the depictions of police on television, Hiken came up with the idea for a police-themed situation comedy. He continued to do research by spending weeks in a precinct squad room during late 1960, getting a feel for how the officers talked and interacted amongst each other, members of the community, and even repeat offenders, who were often treated more like family than threats. Hiken enlisted the support of Eupolis Productions and then pitched the idea to Proctor & Gamble, who agreed to finance a pilot.
According to Kliph Nesteroff in the definitive account of Joe E. Ross’ tawdry life off-screen, “King of Slobs: The Life of Joe E. Ross,” Hiken originally wanted to cast Jack Weston in the role of Gunther Toody (televisionheaven.co.uk says it was Jack Warden) and Mickey Shaughnessy as Francis Muldoon, but contract negotiations broke down with both, so he turned to Ross and Fred Gwynne as suitable replacements, though in Ross’ case he later regretted it.
John Strauss who had collaborated with Hiken on the theme song for The Phil Silvers Show, teamed up with Hiken once again for this theme. Strauss was married to Charlotte Rae, who appeared on the show. Strass was the composer, and Hiken wrote the lyrics. The familiar theme song is:
There’s a hold-up in the Bronx,
Brooklyn’s broken out in fights;
There’s a traffic jam in Harlem
That’s backed up to Jackson Heights.
There’s a scout troop short a child,
Khrushchev’s due at Idlewild,
Car 54, where are you?
The show was originally titled “The Snow Whites.” (Maybe because the sponsor made Chlorox bleach.) The show was given a great time slot on Sunday nights between Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color and Bonanza. The producers thought the working title would confuse viewers since the show followed Disney. Since the theme song was already written, the last line of the song became the show’s title.
Critics were split on the show. While many people praised the series, some reviewers considered it disrespectful. The Chicago Sun Times deemed it “a preposterous (and sometimes cruel) depiction of the policeman.” The Dallas Times Herald stated, “The humor might be there, all right, but not much of it was showing.” The Alabama Journal complained, “It is insulting to the law enforcement and to the general public.” However, many policemen liked the show and found it funny.
The show was filmed at Biograph Studios in the Bronx and on location. The cars were painted bright red and white which photographed perfectly. There is some controversy about the patrol cars. Some articles listed them as Savoys, some as Dodges. According to Martin Grams’ blog from May 4, 2012, “On June 29, 1961, Arthur Hershkowitz signed the contract and during the first week of July, the following four automobiles were delivered to Eupolis Productions”: two 1961 Plymouth Belvederes, one Dodge Dart, and one Plymouth, all four-door sedans. Grams said “the cars were returned to the dealership and when the show was renewed for season two, the following cars were delivered”: two 1962 Plymouth Belvederes, three 1962 Plymouth Furys, one 1962 Dart 330, and a 1962 Chrysler New Yorker. One article I read said that the large circular object on the dashboard between the officers was an auxiliary fan used before air conditioning was available.
Despite the success of Car 54, which placed 20th in the ratings for 1961-62, Hiken soon began to feel overwhelmed with his responsibilities. Apparently, NBC wanted part ownership in the show in exchange for renewing it for season three, and Hiken would not agree to the deal. The show’s sponsor Proctor and Gamble tried to talk CBS into taking the show over, but there was no room on their schedule. Hiken was a bit burnt out with writing, directing, and overseeing the show and was exasperated with Ross who caused a lot of issues not remembering his lines, so Hiken ended the show and never worked on another series again.
Considering the short time that the show was on the air, there was a full slate of guest stars including Carl Ballantine, Tom Bosley, Wally Cox, Hugh Downs, Margaret Hamilton, Katherine Helmond, Hal Linden, Mitch Miller, Charles Nelson Reilly, Sugar Ray Robinson and Jean Stapleton.
The episodes are well written and similar to other sitcoms at the time.
In one, Toody is feeling henpecked by Lucille, but musters the courage to become king of his castle after seeing a stirring performance of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.”
In another, Muldoon shares a childhood experience when the kids at school called him “Horse Face.” Toody, trying to console him, says “Don’t worry Francis, kids just repeat what other people say” and later added “After all, Francis, everybody liked Black Beauty.”
One script has Toody working an undercover detail in Brooklyn with a female cop posing as his wife and a small boy as his child. When his wife’s sister spots him, the rumors begin.
Even though there were only 60 episodes, the show went into syndication in 1964. It was one of the staples on Nick at Nite in the 1980s, aired on Comedy Central in the 1990s, and a few years ago it could be seen on both MeTV and Decades. The show came out on DVD in 2011 and 2012.
Like any show that was even somewhat successful, the show had a film made based on the series in 1994. The big screen version starred John C. McGinley as Muldoon, David Johansen as Toody, Rosie O’Donnell as Toody’s wife Lucille and Fran Drescher as Velma Velor. Not surprisingly, it was a dud. One reviewer said it “was one of the worst movies to ever come out of Hollywood.”
One fun fact I learned doing research for this blog was that this show was William Faulkner’s favorite tv show. He hated television but visited a friend’s house weekly to watch the show.
This show debuted during the decade when merchandising was a big part of every show. There were at least six comic books based on the show. There was a board game, puppets of Toody and Muldoon, and a car model.
The show was funny in its prime, but I’m not sure it holds up as well today as other shows from the sixties. However, two seasons of DVDs is not a large investment, so check out an episode on youtube and see what you think.
As we wind up our “Don’t Judge Me” blog series, today we’ve been sent to the bench to sit along side Judge Walter Franklin (Tony Randall) on The Tony Randall Show. Judge Franklin is a middle-aged, single-parent, widower living in Philadelphia. His extremely bright kids–teenage daughter Roberta (Devon Scott) and preteen son Oliver (Brad Savage) live with the judge, along with daffy housekeeper Bonnie (Rachel Roberts). At work we get to know his severe secretary “Miss” Janet Reubner (Allyn Ann McLerie), court reporter Jack Terwilliger (Barney Martin), and Mario Lanza (Zane Lasky), no not THAT Mario Lanza, but an overbearing assistant the judge does not care for. Judge Eleanor Cooper (Diana Muldaur) plays his co-worker and “lady friend.”
In the second season, Penny Peyser took over the role of Roberta, and Hans Conried joined the cast as Walter’s father. A lot of famous guest stars found themselves in front of the judge during the two years it was on the air. A handful of stars who appeared around Judge Franklin included Victor Buono, Beverly Garland, Michael Keaton, Hal Smith, David Ogden Stiers, and Dick Van Patten.
If this sounds a little bit like the concept of The Mary Tyler Moore Show where we see a professional at work and at home, that’s because The Tony Randall Show was produced by MTM Enterprises and created by Tom Patchett and Jay Tarses. This was the duo that produced The Bob Newhart Show a few years earlier.
The Tony RandallShow debuted on ABC in 1976. When ABC cancelled the show, it was picked up by CBS for a second season. Surprisingly, the show was not cancelled by ABC for low ratings. The show was holding its own going up against Hawaii Five-0 and Best Sellers on Thursday nights. Apparently, Patchett and Tarses did not get along with Tony Randall. Unfortunately, they did not get along with each other either, and on top of that, they refused to take calls from ABC president Fred Silverman. Tiring of the drama, Silverman ended the show. On CBS, the show moved to Saturday nights and was on at the same time as OperationPetticoat and The Bionic Woman. When CBS cancelled the show, it was done for good.
Reflecting on the show, Grant Tinker remembered “Tony was born to work in front of a live audience, and the writing was largely first rate. Ultimately, however, three strong egos could not live together. Since Tony was obviously essential, Tom and Jay retreated to their office and oversaw from a distance, giving two of MTM’s younger writers, Hugh Wilson and Gary David Goldberg their first chance to produce.” (Wilson would go on to create WKRP in Cincinnati and Goldberg would create Family Ties and Brooklyn Bridge.)
At least this turmoil produced some good results. Goldberg said from his time on The Tony Randall Show, he learned you need to hire good people and let them do their job, and that if you have to remind people you are the producer, you’re probably not a very good one.
Ken Levine discussed working with Randall in his blog from June of 2007 (kenlevine.blogspot.com/2007/06/working-with-tony-randall.html). According to Levine, Randall “was the consummate professional. Not only did he know all of his lines, he knew everyone else’s too. . . . I loved working with Tony Randall. Of course, it helped that he thought I was funny and that I didn’t smoke.”
Everyone seemed to enjoy working with Randall. In a Television Academy interview, Asaad Kelada, one of the directors for the show, described Randall as a “fascinating, erudite, funny man.” He talked about the way he warmed up an audience before the show with his stories. It must have been a fun set sometimes because Kelada said he used to wear a sweater over his shoulders, and it became his trademark. One day he said there was a bit of extra energy on the set, and he suddenly realized absolutely everyone on set from the cameramen to gophers to stars were wearing sweaters, blankets, or towels around their shoulders. The Television Academy also did interviews with Abby Singer, production manager for the show, and Hugh Wilson about his writing and producing. Singer said Randall was “a good guy.” When asked if the rumors that Randall was particular were true, he said “Yes, he was so particular it was unbelievable. You couldn’t even whisper when he was on the set, but he was a sweet guy.” Wilson backed their comments up, saying “It was super to work with Tony Randall. He was a vast library of show business information and very nice.”
Despite all the problems on the set, Randall was nominated for a Golden Globe for his role of Judge Franklin. He lost to Henry Winkler for Happy Days.
I could not find any official DVDs for The Tony Randall Show, but some of the episodes can be found online. It sounds like the show had all the right ingredients but either did not have enough time to find its true voice or appeared a bit too late in the 1970s at a time when things were changing in television programming. Anytime you can watch Tony Randall on the small screen (or the big screen for that matter) is a special opportunity.
From 1972-1978 we were able to benefit from the sage advice of Dr. Robert Hartley from the comfort of our own living rooms. Created by David Davis and Lorenzo Music, and produced by MTM Enterprises, The Bob Newhart Show gifted us with 142 episodes for us treat ourselves to after the show left the air.
In an online article by Marc Freeman in April of 2018, Dave Davis discussed the evolution of the sitcom. “Lorenzo and I wrote a segment for Bob on Love American Style. Bob wasn’t available. So, we got Sid Caesar. A few years later, we did a script for Bob for the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Again, Bob wasn’t available. After we became story editors on Mary’s show, MTM Enterprises decided to branch out and asked Lorenzo and me to do a pilot. We knew exactly what we wanted to do. We wanted a show with Bob.”
When Bob Newhart was approached about starring in the show, he required two changes from the original concept. First, he wanted his character to be a psychiatrist instead of a psychologist. This seems like a minor request, but he was very wise because he did not want anyone to think the show was making fun of mental illness. He also insisted that his character not have children. The “father doesn’t know best but thinks he does” underlying concept was not one he wanted the show to focus on. Bob was careful when creating the character of Bob Hartley. Newhart once said “the key to building a show around a stand-up is maintaining the integrity of the persona you create.” This was definitely true for the Bob Newhart Show.
The show has a very simple premise in that we see Bob dealing with the same everyday problems the rest of us did. It was grounded in reality. Bob was the straight man. He was surrounded by all these quirky characters, but they were believable and likeable.
The show moves back and forth between Bob’s practice and his home; we get to know his co-workers and his friends and family. At work, he shares his floor and receptionist Carol Kester (Marcia Wallace) with orthodontist Jerry Robinson (Peter Bonerz) and urologist Bernie Tupperman (Larry Gelman). Carol and Jerry become two of his best friends. We also get to know some of his regular patients including Elliot Carlin (Jack Riley), Emile Peterson (John Fiedler), and Mrs. Bakerman (Florida Friebus).
Bob is married to Emily (Suzanne Pleshette) who is a school teacher. Across the hall is the apartment of their friend and neighbor Howard Borden (Bill Daily), an airline navigator. Although Bob insisted on no children, in many ways, Howard was Bob and Emily’s child.
In season four of the show, Howard meets and begins dating Bob’s sister Ellen (Pat Finley) and they eventually marry, making Howard a legal family member.
Bob and Emily were the only characters to appear in all 142 episodes. Suzanne Pleshette was asked to play Emily after she appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson one night. She was seated next to Bob, and the producers thought the two of them had great chemistry. In real life Bob and Suzy, as he called her, were best friends. He spoke at her funeral. When he recalled their time together, he said “Her laugh. Her laugh. We just laughed. We just had a great time. We all loved each other and respected each other and we got paid for it.” Bob also remains close friends with Marcia Wallace.
They worked so well as a couple because Emily is very bright and funny. She and Bob argued because they were both a bit stubborn, but they always found a way to compromise at the end of the day. Bob often shared his wisdom through stories. He would do a bit of a monologue that related to what was happening on the show. It was referred to as the “Emily, sit down” moment.
The phone is also important on the show. If you are familiar with Newhart’s career, you realize some of the first skits that escalated his stand-up career were phone conversations. On this show, we often hear a one-sided conversation when he chats with friends or patients. One example of this is:
Bob: “Yes, this is Dr. Hartley. What can I do for you?
Well, Mr. Johnson, smiling and whistling while you work doesn’t seem to be a problem you should – you should see a psychologist about.
You drive a hearse?”
Although all the major characters on the show were like family to the Hartleys, the mailman on the show was truly family. Bill Quinn who played the postman was Bob Newhart’s father-in-law.
Bonerz who played Jerry became interested in directing. He ended up directing 29 episodes of this show and then went on to a successful career as a director. He directed episodes on a variety of shows including E/R, Alf, Wings, Murphy Brown, Friends, and Home Improvement. His view of the importance of the show was that “the most interesting thing about the show and why its successful is that it brings up things that come up in your life. That’s what art’s supposed to do. That’s what TV should be doing. When it does, people remember it and reflect how much they like it.”
The show was on Saturday nights. For the first five seasons, it followed The Mary Tyler Moore Show airing at 9:30 EDT and its competition on NBC was Saturday Night at the Movies. For season five, the show was changed to earlier in the evening against Starsky and Hutch on ABC. For its final year, The Mary Tyler Moore Show was off the air and Bob’s show aired at 8 pm Saturday opposite Fish and The Bionic Woman. The sitcom placed in the top 20 for the first three seasons and the top 30 for season four.
Bob had requested the network move the show to a different night. That didn’t happen, and the television executives wanted Emily to have a baby, even though Bob had specified that not be part of the plot. So, he ended the show after six years. When asked about ending the show, he said, “I could see what was coming in situation comedy, and I didn’t want to be a part of it. If we’d gone another year, they’d have had the guy and two girls living in the apartment above us, a Martian living on the same floor next door to three girl detectives. The floor below us would have been occupied by a fraternity and a sorority.”
If you read my blog on Bob Newhart recently, you know how incensed I was that this show never won an Emmy, and was only nominated once, and Newhart never received an Emmy for any of his sitcoms in the seventies and eighties. It would take his recurring role on The Big Bang Theory as Professor Proton for him to win the Emmy.
However, the show was ranked ninth and fiftieth on “TV Guide’s 100 Greatest Episodes of All Times in 1997.”
In 2004, TV Land picked this show as one of the series it commemorated with a sculpture. A statue of Newhart seated in a chair facing an empty couch is located in the Navy Pier entertainment complex.
I have to admit I was not a big fan of the finale of The Bob Newhart Show. Bob closes his practice in Chicago and accepts a teaching position at a small college in Oregon. I just don’t picture Bob and Emily being happy in a small Oregon town. However, the finale for Bob Newhart’s sitcom, Newhart, more than makes up for this ending.
Bob Newhart credits his wife Ginnie with coming up with the idea for the finale of Newhart. Newhart is set in Vermont where Bob and his wife Joanna run a historic inn. They have to deal with some wacky locals and their maid and handy man. This show ran eight years. In the finale, Bob wakes up in bed. We hear him restless and wanting to talk about his dream. Suddenly we realize he and Emily Hartley are in bed together. Part of their conversation is:
Emily: All right, Bob? What is it?
Bob: I was an innkeeper in this crazy little town in Vermont.
Emily: No more Japanese food before you go to bed.
Another great television moment occurred on Murphy Brown in 1994. Bonerz was the director of the sitcom. Of course, we remember how fast Murphy went through secretaries. She found fault with all of them. In this episode, Marcia Wallace appears as Carol Kester. She is Murphy’s 66th secretary. Murphy thinks Carol is a wonderful secretary, and she is finally satisfied. However, Bob Newhart shows up as Bob Hartley, begging Carol to come back to work for him.
One of the iconic lines from the show was “Hi Bob.” Howard Borden said it 118 times, Jerry said it 43, Carol came in at 36, and Emily at 17. Even minor characters would utter the line from time to time, and Bob said it once himself. College students turned this into a drinking game watching the reruns, taking a shot whenever the line occurred.
The best evidence that this was one of the best sitcoms ever produced is that people still love it today, more than four decades after it went off the air. The comedy is timeless. Let’s give Bob Newhart the final word about what the show meant to him. As he reflected the show’s legacy, he said, “I’m very proud of the show, the cast and the writing. Look at how long it’s lasted and how long people have enjoyed it. I run into people more and more who come up to me and say, ‘We used to sit as a family and watch your show.’ They look upon it as a wonderful time in their life. It’s very real to them and an important part of their life. It’s nice to be remembered that you made people laugh.”
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.
As I finish 1980s Rewind today, I chose a heart-warming show that followed the typical formula by standing it on its head, Who’s the Boss. The show was created by Martin Cohan and Blake Hunter. Cohan was a producer and writer for The Bob Newhart Show and wrote for many other shows including The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Hunter wrote and produced episodes of WKRP in Cincinnati.
Instead of the successful senator who hires a housekeeper like The Farmer’s Daughter, on this show Angela Bower (Judith Light), an advertising executive, hires Tony Micelli (Tony Danza), a former baseball player (St. Louis Cardinals) to be her housekeeper. Instead of Uncle Charlie like My Three Sons, the show has Mona (Katherine Helmond), Angela’s mother giving wise advice and sarcastic comments. Tony has a daughter Samantha (Alyssa Milano) and Angela has a son Jonathan (Danny Pintauro). All together they form one typical family unit. The show was on ABC for eight years from 1984-1992, so viewers literally watched the kids grow up. Tony is laid back and flexible, while Angela is a bit more uptight and organized. Angela and Tony functioned as parents on the show, but they also had the possibility of a romance between them.
After a shoulder injury, Tony is forced to change careers. He wants his daughter to experience a better life. The Bowers live in Connecticut in an upscale neighborhood. Originally, the show was titled “You’re the Boss,” but it was changed to plant a question of who really ran the house. However, viewers all realized that the kids were really the bosses.
The cast jelled very well together. They had their differences of opinion, but they grew close and experienced the normal family ups and downs when five very different people spend so much time together. Mona’s wit and targeted observations kept things light and funny.
During most of the series, Tony and Angela try to avoid the romance developing between them. They both date other people. They also become best friends, relying on each other as a husband and wife would. They often discuss issues the kids are having. They both “parent” each of the kids. They both grow and change during the course of the series. Angela becomes less tense and risks opening her own firm. Tony enrolls in college. Producers always seem to waiver “between should they get together or not.” Shows like Castle, That Girl, and Friends struggled with keeping the magic alive and keeping the show realistic. Somehow the producers and writers for Who’s the Boss kept the tension and potential romance alive for seven years. During the last season, they realize they are in love with each other.
There were many stars who appeared on the show during the years including Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Mike Tyson, and Leslie Nielsen. One of the episodes was when Robert Mandan appeared on a few episodes as Mona’s love interest. Mandan had played her husband on the show Soap.
The theme song lyrics were written by creators Cohan and Hunter. Titled “Brand New Life,” the music was composed by Larry Carlton and Robert Kraft. Three different versions were used over the years: Larry Weiss sang it from 1984-1986; Steve Wariner from 1986-1989; and Jonathan Wolff from 1989-1992.
Early reviews were lukewarm. Critics liked it but they were a bit dismissive of it being a real hit. Viewers didn’t agree. They loved the show. During its tenure, the show was nominated for more than forty awards, including ten Primetime Emmys and five Golden Globes. From 1985-1989, it ranked in the top ten.
The show aired on Tuesday nights for the first seven years. In the fall of 1991, the network moved the show to Saturday nights against The Golden Girls. The ratings went down after the move and the network decided to cancel the show. There was a great debate about whether Tony and Angela should marry in the finale. Sam had married earlier in the season and Tony and Angela admitted they were in love. However, Danza was opposed to the marriage and there was a concern that if a wedding took place, it might affect the syndication options. Instead of a wedding, Tony and Angela break up. But in the last scene, Tony is at Angela’s house applying for the job of housekeeper, very similar to the very first episode of the show.
The show created a spinoff but in a far-reaching definition of spinoff. In one episode, Leah Remini was a friend of Sam’s, a homeless model. Beginning and ending in 1989, the show Living Dolls starred Remini, Michael Learned, and Halle Berry.
While Tony went back to school during the series, Danza emulated him in real life. He graduated with an education degree. He wrote a book, I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had: My Year as a Rookie Teacher at Northeast High. He taught English at a school in Philadelphia.
The cast of Who’s the Boss was a close-knit one, and they still keep in touch almost twenty years later. Light commented that they are all still close and she said she probably kept in touch with Tony the most. “He checks in all the time just to see how the kids are doing, he’s very sweet.” Danza once discussed how emotional it was for him to give Milano away as a bride on the show. “She was like my little girl, you know. She started on this show when she was 10. Now she’s 19, we married her off. I mean, it’s easy to get emotional, it really is.”
Milano was also very close to Light. A couple of years ago, the two stars ran into each other for an event, and Milano tweeted, “Nothing makes me happier than seeing Judith Light. Nothing.”
They were all saddened by the death of Katherine Helmond in March of 2019. Danza also discussed Helmond in an interview. “Katherine Helmond was a remarkable human being and an extraordinary artist; generous, gracious, charming and profoundly funny.” After her death, he commented that “She was such an influence on me. No matter what problem I had, I could go to her. Very few people could match her. She was a consummate professional. She never made a mistake and she always got the laugh. She was the sexy older lady who could keep up with the young people. She just had a way about her.”
Light also discussed Helmond. “She taught me so much about life and inspired me indelibly by watching her work. Katherine was a gift to our business and to the world and will be deeply missed.”
Her television grandchildren also remembered her fondly. Milano paid the following tribute to her: “My beautiful, kind, funny, gracious, compassionate rock. You were an instrumental part of my life. You taught me to hold my head above the marsh! You taught me to do anything for a laugh! What an example you were!” Pintauro said she was “the best TV grandmother a boy could ask for. Even still, I’m just as devastated as I was when I lost my real grandma. A beautiful soul has left us for the next chapter, may you make them laugh Katherine!”
This is another one of those undervalued shows. Although there were some really great shows on television during the mid and late 1980s, some of the top-rated shows on in this decade included Knot’s Landing, Charles in Charge, Diff’rent Strokes, Silver Spoons, and Facts of Life. Who’s the Boss was a much better written and acted show than any of these. The show combined the best elements of sitcoms and created a fresh approach to a family comedy.
In our quest to go behind the scenes during this month of blog posts, today we learn a bit about set decoration. There are several job positions available on the set of a television show. The set decorator is responsible for buying or renting the set items, the storage of items, placement and monitoring the budgets. The assistant set decorator reports to the set decorator. They often do research before planning for the various sets. The set buyer also reports to the set decorator. They take care of purchasing or renting the individual items needed for the set. Buyers create relationships with stores and antique vendors. The lead dresser carries out tasks assigned by the set decorator. The onset dresser takes care of props, cleans items, places items in relationship to the camera lens.
Kushnick, the set decorator for The Good
Wife shares some advice for set design: do your research, create a
decorating workbook, choose an item that sets the tone of the room, carry a
tape measure with you at all times, try out different furniture placement, and consider
using unusual paint colors.
Maggie Masetti wrote an article in 2012 about chatting with Ann Shea, set decorator for The Big Bang Theory. Ann says “she is the set decorator, and so usually once I get the plans and the walls are built is when I start my work of providing the furniture and the plants and the artwork and all the cool objects, the floor coverings and the practical lights.” She has a variety of sources she uses to shop including prop houses, online shops, and retail stores. She said once the sets are developed, she continues to be busy. Sets are put up and taken down over and over and they have to be just right. Also, if a show is on for an extended time period, subtle changes are necessary just like our homes.
Ann said once she determined the set for the comic book store, she was happy, but then a producer said that it had to change every episode like a real store with inventory in and out—as viewers we don’t think about all the work that goes into sometimes more minor settings. I’m thinking about how much a set designer would have to learn to create an astrophysicist’s office/lab. A couple of her favorite items that show up on the show include the DNA sculpture, the WMAP beach ball, and the periodic table shower curtain.
One of the
things I hadn’t considered was that designers have to fill closets and drawers
in the main sets, so everything is realistic.
I thought it would be fun to consider some of the sets from shows that are a bit more unique and then look at shows that had to be more realistic. Let’s take a look at a few shows that had unusual sets: The Munsters, Gilligan’s Island, and Green Acres. Then we’ll compare some apartments of some of our favorite television characters including Mary Richards, Bob and Emily Hartley, and Frasier Crane.
Gilligan’s Island sounds like an easy set to create. Just throw a few huts up on amid trees and jungle greenery, right? However, you have to personalize each hut with basic items to give each one its own personality. There is also that fine line that is often crossed on the show about how much stuff the castaways actually have with them. I am not surprised they had an accident and were wrecked; I don’t think the storm had anything to do with it, I think it was the thousands of pounds of luggage they apparently took on board.
First, we have the Howell’s hut. Flowered red curtains frame the window. There are a number of knick-knacks setting about including Mr. Howell’s polo stick. There are twin beds with elaborate headboards, several wicker chairs, a writing desk, several tables, and a bamboo hutch. Of course, Mr. Howell installed a hidden safe for his valuables and money. A second room was built to store their luggage and clothing.
Gilligan and the Skipper share a hut with hammocks. There is a window for each of them at the front entrance. A bamboo telescope resides under one of the windows. Decorations are minimal but include a photo of the Skipper, several shells, a couple of candles, a small table and chair and a crate for Gilligan’s personal items. Gilligan and the Skipper don’t appear to have any other clothes than their uniforms.
Mary Ann and Ginger also share a hut. A heavy wooden door and one window face the front. A flower box hangs on that. Flowery curtains make it look more “girly.” Each girl has her own cot and here are two tables, one for writing and one for make-up.
I’m assuming the Professor stays in the supply hut. This hut stores supplies, food, water, items salvaged from the SS Minnow and the Professor’s crudely designed laboratory. Like the girls’ hut, it has a heavy door and window out front and includes a smaller window as well. Boxes and crates are placed here and there as is the Professor’s equipment.
The huts help define the characters who live there. In addition, we learn a lot about them by their clothing with the Howells appearing in designer clothing, Ginger in gowns, Mary Ann in informal rural outfits, the Professor in plain shirts and slacks, and Gilligan and the Skipper in their nautical attire.
From the airy, tropical setting, let’s flip to the dark and dingy interior of The Munsters. The Munsters are said to live in an average neighborhood, but their home is anything but average. Located in Universal City, the house was rumored to cost a million dollars to outfit in 1963.
Although Herman works at the local undertakers and Eddie goes to school with the other kids, when friends come over, it is definitely not one of the cookie cutter homes in the neighborhood. There are cobwebs all over the house, and the windows are covered in curtains that let very little light in.
Lily’s bedroom looks more like a setting for a horror movie than a family sitcom, but she and Herman are quite comfortable in their master bedroom.
Although it appears to have been abandoned for quite some time, this is where the family gathers nightly. The furniture is heavy, dark and very Victorian. There is little in the way of knick-knacks.
After open and sunny and then closed and dreary, let’s combine the two and look at the Douglas home on Green Acres. In New York City, Lisa and Oliver were wealthy and lived in a penthouse apartment with expensive furnishings. Their house in Hooterville is anything but exclusive.
The walls are falling down, the wallpaper is peeling off the walls, and one of their bedroom walls is open to the outside elements which makes it easy for them to climb the telephone pole when they need to make a phone call.
Although they are in a rural setting, Lisa continues to wear her designer gowns and negligees and brought all her expensive items from her apartment.
Lisa and Oliver brought all their expensive artwork and furniture with them from their New York penthouse. Somehow it does not seem out of place for the Douglases. Lisa even uses her fine china and crystal daily.
While it’s fun to see some unique designs that set the stage for some of our favorite characters, now we switch gears to analyze three apartments that had more realistic designs. Often, we watch sitcoms and somehow in the middle of a city like New York, someone has a large apartment that we all realize they could not afford. In order to be more believable, set designers must rely on what a character could afford for their home and interior items on their salary.
Let’s take a look at three apartments and see how they change as we increase the salaries the characters have. The one thing all three have in common is a great terrace with a view.
Mary Richards’ apartment on The Mary Tyler Moore Show is an iconic one. Growing up, most girls dream of having an apartment just like this one. Located in a classic Victorian home in Minneapolis, her home was affordable but cute and practical.
$130 a month for her home. Mary often complains about having enough but not any
extra money, so she needs to be a bit frugal with her funds. This is a studio
apartment so her living room and bedroom share the same space. Usually this is
not an issue, but it’s tough to have company stay with her. One night after Mary
has settled down for the night, Rhoda and her date stop by and we see Mary
quickly trying to fold her bed back into the couch, so they don’t have to sit
on her bed and realize they woke her up.
Her rooms are outfitted with great storage options. In her sunken living room, there are shelves running around part of the room where she stores books and knick-knacks. A cozy little area with a chair and table is in front of her terrace window—a fun space where she can read or have coffee with a great view.
wood-burning fireplace sets off the kitchen, making the room cozy.
She has a functional but little kitchen. A decorative shade allows Mary to open up the area between the kitchen and living room or close it off if she doesn’t want people to see a mess in the sink.
To the left of the living room is a door. When it’s open, we see Mary’s closet and we know that if you keep going, you’ll find her bathroom. I don’t recall ever seeing the bathroom during the series, however.
furniture is nice, it probably is not new, and Mary may have picked the items
up at used furniture stores or antique shops. Her larger pieces include her sofa
bed, a wicker coffee table, an armoire, and a table and chairs. Her personal
items strewn around the apartment tell us a bit about Mary. Most people
remember the large “M” that hangs on her wall. She has a Ben Shahn poster on
her wall in the first season and a Toulouse-Lautrec poster, Jane Avril, in
other years. A Laurel lamp is near the reading chair, a pop of sixties
modernism that Mary might have had in school in her room. We see her Samsonite
luggage that is good quality and probably was a present from her parents. The
pumpkin cookie jar adds a bit of color to the kitchen. These items tell us Mary
was sentimental, educated about art but could not afford the real thing, and was
an individual, learning her style now that she was living alone for the first
From Minneapolis, we travel down the interstate to Chicago where we find Bob and Emily Hartley’s apartment on The Bob Newhart Show. Bob and Emily are doing well, but we learn from their furnishings that they don’t care about things much. Bob is a psychologist but seems content to keep a small practice. Emily is a teacher and she and Bob debate about whether she should work or if she should work, so her salary is not necessary to their lifestyle.
They have a
beautiful apartment with a terrace and a view of Lake Michigan. It’s close to
the Thorndale station.
Like Mary, they have a sunken living room with the kitchen located off of it. The kitchen is bigger than Mary’s but still small. Much of the time they eat out or have something easy. Neither Bob nor Emily are gourmet cooks, but Bob grills on the terrace often.
A table between the two rooms is where they take their meals unless they are eating in front of the television. The television is on wheels and Bob can move it back and forth between the living room and the bedroom.
To the left of the living room is their large bedroom and bathroom. To the right is Bob’s den and another bathroom that does not have a tub or shower.
Like Mary, Bob and Emily enjoy art and have several pieces on their living room walls. They switch out their furniture a lot and we see three different sofas in their home: brown, white and royal blue.
My guess is
that they save a lot of their money and what they spend, they spend on travel,
books, and eating out.
hours west of Chicago, we arrive in Seattle, the home of Frasier Crane. Frasier
is also a psychologist like Bob. He is a well-known doctor and has his own
radio show, garnering him more money than Bob.
Frasier lives in Elliott Bay Towers and doesn’t have a view; he has “the” view. The backdrop for the terrace shows the Space Needle which cannot be seen in reality from these apartments. The cost for the backdrop was about $55,000 to construct. It seems very expensive for a prop, but it goes back to making sure everything about the apartment was the best Frasier could obtain.
This was a very expensive set to design. According to the book, Frasier: A Cultural History, by siblings Kate and Joseph Darowki, the architecture and set building cost $250,000 and the total overall for the furnishings and other items came in at about a million dollars. A security guard was on site during shooting.
According to Thrillist.com,
Frasier’s apartment today would cost about three million dollars. We realize
pretty quickly that Frasier is all about the good life and the image he wants
people to have of him as a successful, wealthy person.
Like the other two apartments, he has a small kitchen, but it is well equipped and stylish. Set designer Roy Christopher outdid himself by capturing Frasier’s personality in his home.
There are quite a few bedrooms in the apartment. Frasier has a large one with an expansive master bath, that features a sauna and a whirlpool. His father and Daphne both have their own bedrooms and bathrooms as well.
Frasier’s apartment is ultra-modern and is filled with expensive, high-end furniture and collectibles. His furniture is a replica, although shorter version, of Coco Chanel’s sofa. He has Eames and Wassily chairs and often throws around the designer labels he enjoys. The rooms are filled with decorative architectural details and expensive finishes. Much was made of the artwork scattered around the apartment.
The Dale Chihuly glass bowl on a table near the fireplace was made specifically for the show and reproduced for an exhibit. A Mark Rothko painting was in Frasier’s master bath. Some of the other art included a Nick Berman floating ball, a Pastoe curved sideboard, Le Corbusier lamp, a Steinway grand piano, a Rauschenberg painting in the hall, and a variety of Pre-Columbian and African art.
While Bob and
Emily didn’t care much about their furniture as long as it was comfortable; Frasier
cares dearly about every item in his apartment, except for his father’s Barcalounger
which is a reminder of the design element he does not want in his apartment. It
becomes the centerpiece of the apartment. The prop department did not think it
was “hideous” enough when they located it, so they added some dirt smudges and
duct tape to it. It’s a brilliant juxtaposition. We understand that despite the
expensive items surrounding him, Martin is quite comfortable in Frasier’s
house. His easy-going, but gruff, personality is not off-put by the sophisticated
design nor is he impressed by the expensive art. During the course of the show,
Frasier must learn to be as comfortable in his home as his father is.
It’s been fun
to view some of the spaces our television friends inhabited and take a closer
look at what helped reflect more about the characters as we take an in-depth analysis
of the items they chose to surround themselves with. Take a look around your own
space and see what it says about you to others and how it would help define you
as a sitcom character.
We’ve all experienced that moment we’re at the grocery store and see someone we know, but we can’t remember their name or how we know them. Maybe it was work or school, or their kids were friends with ours. Sometimes we even remember we spent a lot of time with them and like them, but the name and relationship is just not there.
This month we are meeting some of our television friends that we’ve gotten to know, even if we can’t remember their names or what we watched them on. We’ll learn more about eight different character actors. We start off the month learning about Edward Andrews and Herb Edelman.
Edward Andrews from Doris Day and Disney comedies. Anyone who grew up in the
1960s or 1970s will remember this military man with a grandfatherly softness to
Andrews was born in Georgia in 1914. His father was a minister and their family moved a lot; he lived in Pittsburgh; Cleveland; and Wheeling, West Virginia. He had a very small part in a James Gleason production at age 12. He attended college at the University of Virginia. In 1935, he got his first part in a Broadway production, “So Proudly We Hail.” He continued in Broadway for the next twenty years, including a touring production of “I Know My Love” with Lunt and Fontaine. During that time, he took a leave from his career to serve in WWII. He was a Captain and commanding officer of Battery C with the 751st Artillery Battalion of the Army.
In 1955 he married Emily Barnes and they would have three children, remaining together until his death. About the same time, his movie career took off. Andrews looked older than his age which helped him get parts for older roles. He could play a grandfather, then turn around and handle a sleazy businessman or legalistic bureaucrat. He portrayed George Babbitt in Elmer Gantry in 1960. He worked for Disney playing the Defense Secretary in both The Absent-Minded Professor (1961) and Son of Flubber (1963). I remember him fondly in Doris Day’s movies, The Thrill of It All (1963), Send Me No Flowers (1964), and The Glass Bottom Boat (1966). One of his last roles was Grandpa Howard in Sixteen Candles in 1984. His movie credits totaled 46.
Edward also kept busy with television appearances. One of the first actors to guest star on television, in 1950, Andrews was on Mama. As early as 1952, he began acting in the variety of drama shows on television. During the 1950s he would appear in eighteen of these shows including The US Steel Hour, Robert Montgomery Presents, Studio One in Hollywood, and Omnibus.
He showed up in westerns including The Real McCoys, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, and Rawhide. We saw him on medical and legal dramas such as Ben Casey,The Defenders, The Bold Ones, Ironside, and Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law. Mysteries and crime thrillers also found a place for him. You might remember him from Naked City, The Wild Wild West, The Mod Squad, Hawaii Five-0, McMillan and Wife, and Quincy, ME.
Like his films, he seemed to excel in comedy. Andrews played George Baxter in the pilot for Hazel, but unfortunately when the show went into production, the part was recast with Don DeFore. He would guest star in some of the most popular sitcoms, including The Phil Silvers Show, The Andy Griffith Show, I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, The Paul Lynde Show, Love American Style, The Bob Newhart Show, and Three’s Company.
In 1964 he starred in Broadside. Commander Adrian (Edwards) is not happy when a group of Waves are posted to his station on the South Seas island Ranakai. His men no longer have focus, so he spends the series trying to get the women relocated.
In 1970 he had a recurring role on The Doris Day Show as Colonel Fairburn. He also starred as Harry Flood in the show Supertrain in 1979. Playing on the Love Boat and Hotel themes, the show was about a bullet train that had new passengers each episode.
Perhaps Andrews will be best remembered for his guest starring role on two Twilight Zone episodes, “Third From the Sun” (Andrews plays a company man who thinks a coworker William, a nuclear engineer, and his friend Jerry are going to steal a spaceship to leave Earth) and “You Drive” (Andrews hits a newspaper boy and then flees the scene, trying to hide the crime).
In all, he appeared on 118 different television series as well as made-for-television movies.
Andrews enjoyed playing a character actor. He said it ensured more work and longevity in his career. He was quoted as saying, “What you get are people who speak to you. They know you from somewhere, but they don’t think of you as an actor. They stop and say, ‘Harry, how’s everything in Miami?’ I’ve learned by experience not to argue with them.”
In March of 1985, Andrews had a heart attack and passed away at age 70. With his white hair, and horn-rimmed glasses, Andrews was an adaptable character actor. Whether he was playing a lovable doctor, a nosy coworker, a fun-loving grandfather, or a despicable murderer, he was believable. He truly was a great character.
Another fun actor
everyone will recognize is Herb Edelman. Herb was born in Brooklyn, New York in
1933 in the midst of the Depression. Tall, lanky, and prematurely bald, he
would go on to have a long career in movies and television.
Originally, Edelman wanted to be a veterinarian, and he went to school at Cornell but left after his first year. He served in the Army as an announcer for Armed Forces Radio. After he left the service, he started college again, this time studying acting at Brooklyn College. Once again, he dropped out. He made a living as a hotel manager and a cab driver.
In the mid-1960s he began both his film and television careers. Some of his best-known roles were in the movies. He played Harry Pepper, a wise-cracking telephone operator, in Barefoot in the Park and Murray the Cop in The Odd Couple, as well as Harry Michaels in California Suite.
However, it was television where he received most of his work. In the 1960s, he began his career, appearing on a variety of shows, including That Girl, The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., and The Flying Nun. During these years he also dated and married Louise Sorel who he was wed to for six years.
In 1968, he accepted the role of Bert Gamus in The Good Guys. Bert and his friend Rufus (Bob Denver) open a diner, their dream. Bert’s wife Claudia (Joyce Van Patten) helped him serve customers.
In the 1970s, his career continued as he appeared in many shows every year. Some of the hit series we saw him on during this decade include Room 222, Bewitched, McMillan and Wife, The Partridge Family, Love AmericanStyle, Maude, Happy Days, Barney Miller, Kojak, and Charlie’s Angels.
In 1976, he was again cast in a show, Big John Little John. Edelman was a middle school teacher who drank out of the fountain of youth on vacation. Afterward, he would randomly turn into a thirteen-year-old and worked to keep the secret from his friends and coworkers. The show was short-lived.
Edelman’s work schedule did not slow down in the 1980s. He would have roles in the cast of five television shows and spent time in between guest starring on other shows such as Trapper John, Highway to Heaven, The LoveBoat, and thirtysomething.
From 1980-81, he was cast as Reggie on Ladies’ Man, about a woman’s magazine with one male journalist. From 1981-82, he appeared as Commissioner Herb Klein on Strike Force. This show followed a strike force team that handles cases too difficult for the mainstream officers. The following year, he was Harry Nussbaum on Nine to Five, the show based on the movie about a group of office workers. From 1984-88, he was cast as Richard Clarendon on St. Elsewhere, a teaching hospital.
Although his roles decreased in the 1990s, he had one of his most memorable roles during those years as Stanley Zbornak, Dorothy’s ex-husband, on Golden Girls; he was nominated twice for his role on the show.
In 1990, he played Sergeant Levine on Knot’s Landing. Knot’s Landing was a night-time soap about the lives of the wealthy who live in a coastal suburb of LA. His last recurring role was Lieutenant Artie Gelber on Murder She Wrote, about a mystery writer who helps solve crimes.
Edelman died much too early in 1996 from emphysema at age 62.
who was unforgettable in his movie and television roles. Whether playing a repairman,
a cop, a teacher, or a ex-husband, he always came through as an authentic