Lofty Aspirations by Designing Women

This month we begin a new series—“Girls, Girls, Girls.” I am celebrating sitcoms that are based primarily on the relationships of women. We begin with a series that ran for seven years, resulting in 163 episodes. It revealed the joyful, disheartening, and disturbing details that occur in a long-term friendship. Today we learn more about Designing Women.

In September of 1986 a show debuted about not only friendship, but also about running a business, becoming independent, trusting in yourself, and living a truly southern lifestyle. We had watched shows about sisters before, about a workplace staff and how women rely on each other, but this show put it all in one place. Had this show been set in Chicago, Salt Lake City, or Boston, it would have been a totally different show.

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Julia Sugarbaker (Dixie Carter) owns a design firm and runs it from her house. Her shallow sister Suzanne (Delta Burke), who was a beauty queen and is still a diva, works there too, along with a divorced mother Mary Jo (Annie Potts), a naïve country girl Charlene (Jean Smart) and a black ex-con man named  Anthony (Meshach Taylor) who not only delivers furniture for the business but delivers his unique viewpoint as a male among women. For the seven seasons the show was on the air we got to know each of the characters intimately. We saw them fall in and out of love, get married, get dumped, love each other, hate each other, and learn about themselves as they went through all these changes together.

While Julia is the face of the company, Suzanne is a silent partner, Mary Jo is the head designer, Charlene is the office manager, and Anthony takes on a variety of duties that need to be tended to.

The famous exterior of the home/business was The Villa Marre, a Victorian mansion from 1981 that was located in the MacArthur Park Historic District in Little Rock, Arkansas. You can still drive by it today, and it’s listed in the National Registry of Historic Places.

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The Golden Girls (which we’ll look at in a couple of weeks), had premiered the year before Designing Women. You can definitely see a similarity in the two shows. Both were set in the south, the business was in Julia’s house while the older women friends lived in Blanche’s home. You can compare Dorothy to Julia and Charlene to Rose and, with a little stretching, Suzanne to Blanche. With a lot of stretching, Anthony and Mary Jo can be compared to Sophia; they’re more practical and always willing to offer advice, requested or not.

The sitcom was created by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason. She wrote about half of the episodes and was determined to include topics women were concerned about such as extra-marital relationships, body image, racial inequality, and terminal diseases. Although the show tackled many controversial issues, it was never preachy or judgmental. Linda’s husband Harry was an executive producer, so he also influenced the topics. The couple were friends with Bill and Hillary Clinton and voiced a decidedly more liberal viewpoint. This was especially tough on Dixie Carter who was a committed Republican.

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Although the show was beloved by fans, critics weren’t on board, at least at first. Below is an excerpt from a New York Times article that ran September 29, 1986:

Like NBC’s Golden Girls, the new series Designing Women,tonight at 9:30, features four women with wisecracks to spare. Although they don’t live together in Florida, these women spend most of their time working together in a Victorian-type house in Atlanta. They are in the business of interior decorating.

The show was created by, and this evening’s premiere written by, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, who also shares the executive-producer credit with her husband, Harry Thomason. The fictitious firm of Sugarbaker & Associates is headed by Julia Sugarbaker, a glamorous widow who is far from ready to become a blue-haired little old lady. Dixie Carter plays Julia as a graduate of the Beatrice Arthur-Elaine Stritch school of dripping sarcasm. Julia’s three partners are her man-hungry sister Suzanne (Delta Burke), whose alimony checks are filed alphabetically; the recently divorced Mary Jo (Annie Potts), who refused alimony, thinking capital punishment would be more appropriate, and dizzy but shrewd Charlene (Jean Smart), whose latest boyfriend is named Shadow and, for some unexplained reason, is walking around with a bullet hole in his pants.

This, then, is the basic mix, no less promising than any other in a season that continues to give white, middle-class parents to all sorts of minority children. Tonight, Suzanne discovers that her gynecologist is retiring. Let him go,” advises Julia, he’s paid his dues.As it happens, Mary Jo’s former husband is a gynecologist. Suzanne visits his office and promptly returns with the news that they have fallen in love. Julia observes: If sex were fast food, there’d be an arch over your bed.’ . . .

Ms. Bloodworth-Thomason is no Susan Harris, whose crackling humor keeps The Golden Girls popping steadily from week to week. On the other hand, Designing Women has a first-rate cast.  . .

Now, it’s all a matter of figuring out where Designing Women goes from here. Mary Jo’s first husband, a major character this evening, isn’t even mentioned in next week’s episode, which revolves around not interior design but beauty pageants. And sure enough, Julia gets another scene in which she witheringly tells off another icky character. Already the show looks like four terrific actresses in search of a workable sitcom.

I was surprised to learn that none of the actresses auditioned for their roles. Bloodworth-Thomason had the four lead actresses in mind when she wrote the pilot. Smart was the only non-Southern native, having been raised in Seattle. Anthony was not intended to be a regular. He was supposed to have a one-time role but when asked to improvise with the lead characters, the producers were so impressed with the result that he was written into the show, becoming the first cast member to receive an Emmy nomination. All in all, the show would earn eighteen nominations.

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The cast members’ real marriages intertwined with the character’s relationships. Hal Holbrook played Reese on the show, Julia’s beau, and the two were married in real life. Gerald McRaney beat out John Ritter for the role of Suzanne’s ex-husband Dash.

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Although they were exes on the show, they married in real life. Richard Gilliland won the role of Mary Jo’s boyfriend J.D., but he won the heart of Jean Smart whom he married in 1987.

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The show began its run on Monday nights on CBS, following Newhart, and it got decent ratings. For whatever reason, CBS began moving the show all over the place. The ratings went down when it was moved to Thursdays against Night Court and then Sundays up against the movie of the week on both ABC and NBC. CBS was planning on cancelling the show but a public letter-writing campaign saved it from its fate. After receiving 50,000 letters, the network returned it to the Monday night slot again. It was often in the top 20, and always in the top 30 through mid-1992. In late 1992, the network moved the show to Fridays where it again decreased its ratings. The network then cancelled the show in 1993.

It was hard to blame the network for its eventual cancellation though. The cast went through too many changes and the show lost its original charm and focus with so many replacements. In 1990, Delta Burke appeared on a Barbara Walters special and stated that the set was not a happy one. She accused the Thomasons of manipulating her. After that Burke began showing up late and sometimes not at all. The writers had to write two different scripts, one with her and one without her. Some people blamed it on McRaney’s influence, but whatever the reason, her co-stars took the brunt of her difficulties, having to learn two scripts while continuing to fulfill their contracts. They decided as a cast that they could not continue working with her, and she was let go. Julia Duffy, Jan Hooks, and Judith Ivey were all brought onto the show as possible characters, but they were not popular with the audience.

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Burke and Carter had been close friends up to this point and the situation destroyed their friendship, at least temporarily. Later they were able to somewhat repair the strained relationship.

I know it sounds like déjà vu, but as I have to add in many blogs, there is a rumor of a revival of the show for 2020. This past August, CBS confirmed that the show will be debuting again next year.

Like most shows, Designing Women had its highs and lows. Once Burke became difficult to work with, the chemistry on the show was never recaptured. When it was good, it was very good.

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While Julia was a proper southern lady, once her fiery rage was aroused, she could put anyone in their place and she did it well over the years. During season two, the firm is hired by a gay man who is dying of AIDS and wants help designing his funeral. The staff become close to him and learn a lot about HIV. A wealthy client of the firm tells Julia that AIDS is “killing all the right people” which earns him one of her most scathing put-downs. While episodes like this one are heart-breaking, many episodes are just hilarious. In a very funny moment in season three, it is not Julia’s tongue that gets the laughs, it is another body part. As she is participating in a charity fashion show, her dress gets caught in her pantyhose, and she ends up mooning 1200 of Atlanta’s most prestigious citizens, including the mayor. Not many series can excel with such a range of topics, emotions, and comedy skills.

DESIGNING WOMEN. Dixie Carter as Julia Sugarbaker. Image dated 1987. Copyright © 1987 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. Credit: CBS Photo Archive.

If you find yourself with a free week-end or a night with no plans, take some time to watch this award-winning show. Just stick to the first four seasons, so you don’t have to watch its disappointing decline.

Who’s the Boss? On This Show Everyone Acts Like a Boss

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.

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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.

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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.

WHO’S THE BOSS? – “Angela Gets Fired: Part II” – Airdate: September 30, 1986. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)ALYSSA MILANO;DANNY PINTAURO;KATHERINE HELMOND

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

WHO’S THE BOSS? – “Samantha’s Growing Up” – Season One – Airdate: January 8, 1985. (American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.) ALYSSA MILANO, JUDITH LIGHT, KATHERINE HELMOND, TONY DANZA

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

Editorial use only. No book cover usage. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock (1646629a) Who’s The Boss , Katherine Helmond, Tony Danza Film and Television

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.”

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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!”

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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.

Soap: A Series That Bubbled Over with Controversy

We are continuing our series of Oddly Wonderful shows. Next week we look at a show that was a parody of life as a soap opera, and today we learn about a show that was a parody of a soap opera as real life, sort of. After making that crystal clear, let’s delve into Soap, a series which aired from 1977-1981 on ABC, originally on Tuesday nights at 9:30 ET. During those four seasons, only 88 episodes were produced, an average of 22 per year.

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Soap followed the lives of two families, the Tates and the Campbells. Throw in some melodrama, some ridiculous plots, some wacky characters, and some bizarre story lines and you have a truly unique sitcom. The show was taped before a live studio audience which would have been a fun event to be at.

The show was created by Susan Harris, who also was a writer/producer of The Golden Girls, Nurses, Benson, Empty Nest, and I’m a Big Girl Now. Soap was the working name of the show, but no one could come up with a better name, so it transitioned into the actual title of the show.

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Rod Roddy was the announcer for each episode. Most viewers recognize him as game show guru announcer for The Price is Right and The Love Connection. Casey Kasem, the host of the top 40 shows at the time was the narrator in the pilot. When he found out some of the upcoming themes of the show, he backed out, and they had to re-record the pilot with Roddy.

This was a very funny and controversial show. It took on many issues including racism, homosexuality, murder, religion, and family dynamics. The scripts were extremely witty and while there was some physical humor, most of it was intellectual. The fact that it made fun of soaps with its unbelievable plots and characters only added to the reality of the show in a strange way. Some of the shows included alien abduction, demon possession, kidnapping, murder, and insanity.

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The show starred Katherine Helmond as Jessica Tate and Cathryn Damon as her sister, Mary Campbell. Jessica was married to Chester (Robert Mandan) and Katherine was married to Burt (Richard Mulligan). They live in Dunn’s River, Connecticut.

The Tates were very wealthy and upper class. Like most soaps, both Jess and Chester have affairs with other people. They employ a butler/cook named Benson (Robert Guillaume). He was very sarcastic and spoke his mind freely. He can’t stand Chester or their daughter Eunice (Jennifer Salt), but he likes Jessica, their daughter Corinne (Diana Canova) their son, Billy (Jimmy Baio, brother of Scott). Benson was one of the most popular characters and he later got a spinoff, Benson which aired from 1979-1986.

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The Campbells are a working-class family. Mary has a son from her first marriage, Danny Dallas (Ted Wass). He is training to be a gangster. The Mob gives him the task of killing his stepfather, telling him Bert killed his birth father. Danny refuses and, he has to go on the run. Later he realizes Bert did kill the man he thought was his father, but it was self-defense. His hiding from the Mob results in him taking on a variety of disguises throughout the shows. Of course, in soap opera fashion, eventually he finds out his mother had an affair with his uncle Chester before he married Jess, and he is his real father. When the Mob boss’s daughter Elaine (Dinah Manoff) falls in love with Danny, he is safe. Mary also has a son with Bert named Jodie (Billy Crystal) who is gay and having an affair with an well-known NFL quarterback.

The first season ends with Jessica convicted of the murder of Peter Campbell (Robert Urich), who is Bert’s son from a first marriage. He was a tennis pro. The announcer ends the season by telling us that Jess is innocent, but one of five characters did commit the murder. We will find out who in season two.

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Some of the future subplots included Corinne dating a priest, Chester getting amnesia, Eunice having an affair with a Congressman, and Bert’s abduction by aliens.

Another popular character was Chuck Campbell (Jay Johnson) who was also from Bert’s first marriage. He is a ventriloquist and always has Bob, his dummy, with him. They dress alike, and while Chuck is quiet and introverted, Bob is loud, rude, and extroverted.

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Season two and three found the show on Thursday nights. It moved to Wednesdays in season four. The show was riddled with controversy before it aired and that continued to a lesser extent all four seasons. The controversy seemed to increase the popularity of the show. It was supposed to run five seasons and then end. The fourth season, like the prior ones, ended with several cliffhangers but after it aired, ABC cancelled the show. It cited low ratings, but there were always rumors that the sponsors were unhappy with the show, and they put pressure on ABC.

Soap’s reputation has increased since it went off the air. Time magazine panned the show before it debuted, but in 2007, it named the series one of the “Best 100 Shows of All Time.”

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Considering the low number of episodes produced each year, it’s impressive to see it garnered seventeen Emmy nominations. It was nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series three years; Richard Mulligan was nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy twice, winning in 1980; Cathryn Damon was nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series four years; Robert Guillaume was nominated and won for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series in 1979 (he was the first black actor to win the award); Jay Sandrich was nominated for Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series twice; the show won Outstanding Art Direction in a Comedy Series in 1978; and was nominated for Outstanding Achievement in Video Tape Editing in a Comedy Series in 1978.

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The DVDs were released between 2003 and 2008.

A recent series, Trial By Error, reminds me of Soap in a more contemporary setting. Both shows relied on bizarre plots and clever dialogue, and they both work, producing very funny shows. They both produced fewer episodes a year than a typical sitcom. Watching an entire year’s worth of this type of comedy might be too much. The outrageous actions of well-developed characters kept the show fun and interesting.

Though it was a different type of comedy, it was not a show that I watched often. Like most of these shows, I’ve called “oddly wonderful,” I’m not sure I would want to watch it in reruns. It was a product of its time and might not hold up as well in 2019, although sadly, most of the issues Soap dealt with are still being dealt with today.

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July is the Perfect Time for Berry Picking

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Ken Berry was born in Moline, IL in 1933. After watching a group perform when he was 13, he decided he wanted to be a dancer. He loved Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly movies, especially Easter Parade, Royal Wedding, and On the Town. At 16, he traveled with the Horace Heidt Youth Opportunity Program, performing in small towns for 15 months.

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He went into the army at Fort Bragg and was in the artillery. He was then moved to an entertainment division under Leonard Nimoy. During his second year, he won the All-Army Talent competition which allowed him to appear on Ed Sullivan in 1948. Nimoy encouraged him to move to Los Angeles where he made some connections for Berry. Both 20th Century Fox and Universal offered him jobs and he accepted the Universal contract.  In 1956, he opened for Abbott and Costello for their stage act. In 1957, Berry enrolled in Falcon Studios to study acting. He worked at the Cabaret Theater, making $11 per week. The same year he won Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Show.

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In 1958, he received an opportunity to join the Billy Barnes Revue. While in the Billy Barnes Revue, Berry met Jackie Joseph, and they married in 1960. His work in the BBR led to several lucrative connections. Lucille Ball saw him and offered him a job with Desilu Studios for $50 per week. Carol Burnett also watched a performance and had him on her variety show. (In 1972, she would offer him the co-starring role with her in Once Upon a Mattress, a television movie.)

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The first Desilu show he had a regular role on was the Ann Sothern Show. On the air from 1958-1961, Ann played Katy O’Connor who worked at a New York hotel. Originally, Mr. Macauley (Ernest Truex) was her boss, but he was berated by his controlling wife (Reta Shaw). Katy’s best friend from her previous show Private Secretary, which aired from 1953-1957, was Ann Tyrrell as Vi.  In this show, her name is Olive. The format wasn’t working, so Mr. Macauley the hotel owner, was transferred to Calcutta and James Devrey (Don Porter also from Private Secretary) took over.  Ratings improved, and the show was renewed for another season. During this season, Louis Nye was introduced as a funny dentist in the hotel who dates and marries Olive, and Berry played bellboy Woody Hamilton, replacing Jack Mullaney.  Most of the episodes revolve around the staff and guests of the hotel. As in Private Secretary, there is a lingering romance between Mr. Devrey and Katy throughout the run of the show. The ratings fell drastically in 1961 after the show was moved to Thursdays, and the network cancelled it.

In 1961, Berry obtained a job with Dr. Kildare, appearing in 25 episodes as Dr. John Kapish. Richard Chamberlin starred in the series about a doctor working in an urban hospital under his mentor Dr. Leonard Gillespie (Raymond Massey). In the third season, Dr. Kildare was promoted to resident and the series centered on his patients. The show aired until 1966, but Berry left the show in 1964. This was one of the shows that paved the way for Marcus Welby, MD and the medical dramas today including ER and Gray’s Anatomy.

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He also appeared on several shows in the early 1960s: The Jim Backus Show, Hennesey, Ensign O’Toole, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Hazel, and No Time for Sergeants, among others.

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In 1965, he was offered the lead in F-Troop. The show was set during the Civil War.  Berry played Will Parmenter.  At a critical moment during the Battle of Appomattox, Will gets credit for the defeat.  He is a private and was sent to get his commanding officer’s laundry. He was sneezing continuously, but the men thought he was saying “Charge,” so they did.  They won a decisive battle, and Will was promoted for his quick decision-making skills and bravery. He was then promoted to Fort Courage.

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The cast had a crazy bunch of characters. The NCOs at the fort, Sergeant O’Rourke (Forrest Tucker) and Corporal Agarn (Larry Storch) are always scheming to raise money. The Hekawis tribe, with Chief Wild Eagle (Frank de Kova) worked on shady business deals with them. Although the officers manipulate Will, they are also protective of him. Melody Patterson plays Jane Thrift, Will’s girlfriend, who is always pressuring him to propose. The show relied on a lot of puns, slapstick, and running gags.

When F-Troop was cancelled two years later, Berry headlined the cast of Mayberry RFD as widower Sam Jones because Andy Griffith was leaving the show. Since Andy and Helen had married and moved away, Aunt Bee became Sam’s housekeeper. Sam and his son were introduced in Griffith’s final season when Sam is elected to the town council. Arlene Golonka plays Millie, Sam’s love interest. The show was rated as high as 4th and only as low as 15th, so it continued to pull in good ratings, but in 1971, the show was cancelled in the general “rural house cleaning” that the network performed getting rid of any shows such as Green Acres, Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, etc.

During the late 1960s and 1970s, he was on 14 shows including The Danny Thomas Show, The Lucy Show, Love American Style, The Brady Bunch, and The Love Boat.

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The network developed a show Ken Berry WOW, a variety show that lasted five episodes that Berry was not wowed with. In 1973, Sherwood Schwartz wrote a pilot for a Brady Bunch spinoff called Kelly’s Kids. The concept of the show was that Berry adopts three boys, one white, one African American, and one Asian. No network showed an interest in the show.

One of the most unusual jobs he had occurred in 1976.  An album called “Ken Berry RFD,” where he sang, backed by a full orchestra, was released. He and Joseph divorced that same year. Joseph later remarried and continued to have a long and full career.  She appeared on a variety of sitcoms including Designing Women, Full House, Newhart, Love American Style, Petticoat Junction, That Girl, Hogan’s Heroes, McHale’s Navy, F-Troop, and the Andy Griffith Show. She also had a productive movie career, including Gremlins, The Cheyenne Social Club, With Six You Get Eggroll, Who’s Minding the Mint, and Little Shop of Horrors.

Taking a break from television, Ken went on the road, performing in stock shows around the country.  He also played Caesar’s Palace between Andy Griffith and Jerry Van Dyke.

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He returned to television to join the cast of Mama’s Family with Vickie Lawrence. The show derived from a skit on the Carol Burnett Show which led to a TV movie called Eunice. It featured the Harper family and their neighbors and friends. The matriarch is Thelma Harper (Lawrence) who speaks her mind freely. She is hot tempered and sarcastic, but she loves her family as she berates them. And they typically deserve a berating. They move back in with her and are happy to have her clean and cook for them as well.

For the first season and part of the second, the show was on NBC. Thelma lives with her spinster sister Fran (Rue McClanahan) who is a journalist. After Thelma’s daughter-in-law leaves her family, they move in with Thelma. Her son Vint began a relationship with Thelma’s next-door neighbor Naomi Oates (Dorothy Lyman). Her children from the Burnett sketch, Ellen (Betty White) and Eunice (Burnett), along with hubby Ed (Harvey Korman) are seen during this time.

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The show was cancelled after two years and went into syndication.  The reruns were so popular, 100 new episodes were ordered. A new set had to be constructed and some cast adjustments were made as well. Lawrence, Berry and Lyman were the only original characters on this new version. Since White and McClanahan were now starring on The Golden Girls, and Burnette and Korman chose not to return, a new character was created. Mitchel (Allan Kayser) was Eunice’s son who was always getting into trouble. Another addition was Beverly Archer who played Iola Boylen, Thelma’s neighbor and best friend.

Once Mama’s Family was cancelled the second time, Berry traveled around the country, appearing in “The Music Man”, “Gene Kelly’s Salute to Broadway”, and “I Do I Do” with Loretta Swit. He also went back to television for brief appearances on several shows including CHiPs, Fantasy Island, Gimme a Break, Small Wonder, Golden Girls, The New Batman, and Maggie Winters.

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Berry also appeared in six movies including Two for Seesaw (1962), The Lively Set (1964), Hello Down There (1969), Herbie Rides Again (1974), Guardian of the Wilderness (1976), and The Cat from Outer Space (1978).

Guardian of the Wilderness was based on the life of Galen Clark who convinced Abraham Lincoln to make Yosemite Park the first public land grant. It covers a series of unusual adventures Clark had as he battled lumber companies to save wilderness land.  One of my favorite quintessential 1960s movies was Hello Down There.  Tony Randall and Janet Leigh star.  Randall is an architect who creates an underwater home.  To prove a family could live there, he cajoles his family to moving there for the summer.  His kids are in a band so they force him to take the entire band or no one.  Charlotte Rae is their housekeeper. Berry plays a rare role for him as the bad guy.

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Early in his career, Ken appeared in a variety of commercials. From the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, he was the spokesman for Kinney Shoes.

He appeared in two game shows, Hollywood Squares and Tattletales.  He also starred as himself on a variety of shows including Art Linkletter, Joey Bishop, Leslie Uggams, Jim Nabors, Julie Andrews, Sonny and Cher, Dean Martin, Laugh In, and Mike Douglas.

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Berry retired in 1999. Berry loves cars and was an avid motorcyclist and camper.

Although Berry was never in a hugely successful series, he had a long and full career that any actor would be proud of.  Hopefully his well-deserved retirement has been fun and full of memories.

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The White Stuff

It’s hard to imagine anyone with a more versatile or longer-lasting occupation than Betty White.  During her career, she’s starred in 12 sitcoms, had recurring roles on 17 shows, and appeared in another 45 series. In addition, she was in 14 movies; 18 movies made for television; and 305 different shows as herself, including 326 episodes of Match Game, 85 guest spots on the $10,000 Pyramid, 52 appearances on Entertainment Tonight, and 40 times on To Tell the Truth.

Born January 17, 1922 in Oak Park, Illinois, Betty was an only child.  Her family moved to California when she was quite young. Her original goal was to become a Park Ranger, but that career was closed to women at that time.  She started her entertainment career in radio, because she was told she was not photogenic. When World War II broke out, she joined the American Women’s Voluntary Services. She was briefly married to Dick Barker, a pilot; they married and divorced in 1945.  In 1947 she married Lane Allan, an agent, but they divorced in 1949.

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Her career took a major leap in 1952 when Life with Elizabeth was picked up by the network. Betty was the star and producer of the show from 1952-1955. Her show gave her total control both behind and in front of the camera.  She was the first woman to produce a sitcom. She was only 28 years old and living with her parents when this opportunity presented itself.

During the 1950s Betty would also star in the sitcom Date with the Angels, as Vickie Angel.  Vickie and her husband, an insurance salesmen, involved their friends and neighbors in a variety of comic situations. She also appeared on variety shows such as Jack Paar Tonight, as well as The Betty White Show, a talk show.  In 1956, she began an alliance with the Tournament of Roses parade which she co-hosted for 19 years.

The 1960s found her starring in her first movie, Advise and Consent in 1962, portraying Kansas senator Elizabeth Ames Adams. She also began her long partnership with game shows, earning the title, “First Lady of Game Shows.” It was when she appeared on Password that she met her third husband, Allen Ludden, who was the host.  They married in 1963 and were happily living life until his death in 1981. (Note: Wisconsin claims Allen Ludden because he was born in Mineral Point in 1917.)

In the 1970s, Betty re-entered the television series realm.  She guest-starred on the Mary Tyler Moore Show during its fourth season as television host Sue Ann Nivens, the Happy Homemaker. She was such a hit that she became a regular for the rest of the series’ run. In 1977, she and Georgia Engel starred in The Betty White Show (not to be confused with the talk show in the 1950s) which only lasted one season. Because of her affiliation with the Mary Tyler Moore Show, the Tournament of Roses replaced her as host, and she then took on the task of co-hosting the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade for ten years.

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In the 1980s, at age 60, Betty’s career continued to steamroll. She became a regular on Mama’s Family, which aired from 1983-86. In 1985, she accepted the role of Rose Nyland on The Golden Girls.  Originally slated for the part of Blanche, it was suggested that Rue McClanahan and Betty switch roles to keep from becoming typecast.  The role of Rose Nyland kept her busy through 1993.  Golden Girls ended production in 1992; the next season, Estelle Getty, Rue McClanahan, and Betty White reprised their roles for one season on Golden Palace.

During the 1990s, Betty continued her television work. She had a regular role on Maybe This Time where she played Shirley Wallace, a much-married woman, who pushes her daughter, recently divorced, into a relationship, when she just wants to run the family coffee shop and avoid dating altogether. She also was in all 30 episodes of Ladies Man, where she again plays the mother of the main character. He is trying to raise a daughter from his first marriage and a daughter from his current marriage while dealing with a wife, and ex-wife, and a mother.

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As the new century turned over in 2000, at 78, Betty just continued to add to her acting credits.  She had regular roles on Boston Legal and The Bold and the Beautiful.  She also starred in Hot in Cleveland for its entire five-year run. She continued appearing on a variety of television shows during that decade.

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During her career, she was nominated for 21 primetime Emmys and won five. She also won 2 daytime Emmys. She is the only woman to be nominated in every comedy category. She was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995 and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Betty loves animals and is an advocate for many animal associations including the Los Angeles Zoo, the Morris Animal Foundation, and the African Wildlife Foundation. She received the Humane Award in 1987 and had a plaque installed near the gorilla exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo to commemorate her work there.

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It’s hard to know what she will attempt next. She was the oldest person to host Saturday Night Live which she did in 2010. She appeared on the original Tonight Show with Jack Paar and has appeared with Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon. She has been on the Howard Stern Show, the Simpsons, and one of my favorites, Madame’s Place. She has guest starred in both comedies and dramas. She produced Betty White’s Off Their Rockers, where senior citizens played pranks on younger people.

Considering her real name is Betty, not Elizabeth, it’s ironic that her first television role was in Life with Elizabeth and her first movie was portraying Elizabeth Ames Adams.

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At 95, how has she kept so young?  If you ask her co-stars from Hot in Cleveland, they will tell you that she survives on hot dogs, French fries, Diet Coke, and red licorice.  Who am I to argue?

One of her best awards came in 2010 when she was made an Honorary Forest Ranger.  Considering that in 1940 that field was closed to her, when she received her honorary title, one-third of forest rangers were women.

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When asked about why she loves performing, Betty said, “To be able to talk to that camera—the camera became your best friend. You’re looking into that little camera lens and they’re looking into your soul, because they’re right into your eyes. You can’t be phony. You can’t fake it.”

No one has ever accused Betty White of being a fake or a phony.  Everyone she comes in contact with seems to love her. The camera was her best friend, but we all became her friends through those camera portrayals.

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What a wonderful personality.  What a wonderful career.  What a wonderful legacy.

Do We Have Reservations? Yes We Do.

February has finally arrived.   Some of us are getting a bit tired of winter, so this is a popular month for travel to a warmer destination.  If you aren’t able to physically get away, stay home and watch the February Sweeps, the only time you’re guaranteed new episodes of your favorite show for a month straight.  This week I decided to look at sitcoms set in hotels or resorts.  I did not discuss Fantasy Island or The Love Boat because I thought we could talk about them another time.

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Based on the length of many of these shows, the hotel business is a tough one to be successful in. Let’s look at a bunch of shows that didn’t last too long.

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Stanley was a show starring Buddy Hackett and his girlfriend played by Carol Burnett that aired in 1956. Stanley ran a newsstand in the lobby of a New York City hotel. The hotel owner was played by Paul Lynde.  The show was cancelled in March of 1957, supporting the philosophy that no news is good news.

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Happy starred George and Gracie’s son, Ronnie Burns. Ronnie was married to a woman played by Yvonne Lime and they were co-owners and managers of the Desert Palm, a ritzy resort. Included in the cast was their Uncle Charlie and the co-owner played by Doris Packer.  Happy was their son who commented on what was going on, sort of like Family Guy’s Stewie.  It was a summer entry in 1960, but 9 months later it gave birth to a cancellation which made the cast not Happy.  I don’t know why, but apparently viewers could accept a talking horse or a talking car, but not a talking baby.

Another show that began as a summer replacement was Holiday Lodge in 1961. Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster, two comedians from Canada, played social directors at a New York state hotel. They tried to provide entertainment but always ran into trouble, including being taken off the air after a few episodes.

The Bill Dana Show was interestingly based on the character Jose Jiminez developed by Dana for the Steve Allen Show and later brought to the Danny Thomas Show.  In 1963 The Bill Dana Show portrayed Jiminez as a bellhop at the New York City Park Central Hotel and the show centered on him trying to get used to life outside Mexico. Often his dream sequences took him into bizarre situations.  The most interesting fact about this show might be that the house detective was played by Don Adams who went on to star in Get Smart. Jimeniz’s dream became a nightmare when the show was cancelled after 42 episodes.

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One of the most controversial shows to air on television in the 1970s was Hot L Baltimore debuting in the fall of 1975.  Many stations refused to air the show because it was lewd and racy.  Norman Lear, the producer behind All in the Family, Maude, and The Jeffersons developed the concept based on a play. The cast was made up of a desk clerk, his girlfriend, the manager, a hooker, an unemployed waitress, a dying man, a gay couple, and an eccentric woman. After four months, the waitress was not the only one unemployed because the show was done.

The Last Resort was developed by MTM in 1979, the company that created The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, and Phyllis. The resort, set in the Catskills in upper New York, included a bunch of college students working their way through school. It featured a stereotyped crew including the brilliant premed student, a bookworm, a snob, an overweight clumsy guy, the pastry chef who left her wealthy husband to pursue her career, a Japanese chef, and a maitre’d who ran the place like a drill sergeant. It was cancelled after three episodes. Retooled, it came back in December only to be finished for good in March when the last resort of The Last Resort was no more.

Checking In must be in the running for the shortest show to appear on television. In 1980, Marla Gibbs, playing Florence the maid on The Jeffersons, got her own show, transferring to a hotel in New York City where she was the head housekeeper. She answered to a snobby manager played by Larry Linville who would later become Frank Burns on M*A*S*H. The rest of the cast included an assistant, a house detective, a maintenance supervisor, and a bellboy. After several weeks, the hotel was shut down and Florence went back to working for The Jeffersons.

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The Golden Girls was one of the most beloved shows in television, but I’m guessing few people remember The Golden Palace which debuted in 1992.  After Dorothy got married, the other three characters decide to invest in a hotel in Miami. Only two employees are left at the hotel:  a manager and a chef. After 24 shows, no one was left at the hotel.

In 1999 Payne, a remake of the British show Fawlty Towers hit the air.  Set in a California inn, Whispering Pines, the hotel was owned by Royal Payne and his wife Constance.  It went on the air in March.  At the end of April, the network ended its Payne by taking two aspirins and cancelling the show.

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Compared to some of the shows, Whoopi! might have seemed successful, lasting an entire season.  Set in the Lamont Hotel in New York City, a one-hit wonder musician played by Whoopi Goldberg decides to put her money into a hotel and run it the way she sees fit.  She has an assistant from Iran, a brother who is a conservative Republican, and his girlfriend who is white but acts more African American than the black members of the hotel. Of course, these three characters give her much controversy to deal with.  The network, acting as referee, blew the whistle and cancelled the entire thing after one year.

In 2008 Do Not Disturb debuted.  If you missed it, don’t feel bad.  It debuted on Fox and featured The Inn, a hip Manhattan hotel.  The staff is not as competent as they appear to their guests. The manger is arrogant, the head of human resources is loud and tactless, the front desk clerk is an aging model who does not want to be a desk clerk or older, the reservations clerk is a famous musician wannbe, and the head of housekeeping has problems at home. The network, not wanting to disturb the viewing public, pulled the plug after three shows. Larry, played by Jesse Tyler Ferguson, would go on to star in Modern Family in 2009.

Before you begin to think shows about hotels are doomed, let’s check in with four successful shows that knew how to make a profit.

From 1996-2001 The Jamie Foxx Show on WB featured Jamie Foxx as a musician who moves to California to work at his aunt and uncle’s (played by Ellia English and Garett Morris) hotel, King’s Tower.  He has two co-workers played by Christopher B. Duncan and “Fancy” played by Garcelle Beauvais. He is interested in Fancy, but she doesn’t feel the same until the final two seasons when they become engaged. The show aired 100 episodes before the network finally got reservations.

Disney’s Suite Life of Zach and Cody set in the Tipton Hotel ran from 2005-2008. The twins lived in the hotel because their mother was the lounge singer.  Somewhat like Eloise at the Plaza, the boys got into mischief and interacted with other employees including the wealthy heiress London Tipton, the candy counter salesgirl Maddie Fitzpatrick, and the manger Marion Moseby.  In 2008 the show sailed off, literally, and became Suite Life on Deck running until 2011.

With 184 episodes, Newhart debuted in 1982. With its quirky cast of characters, it became a big hit. Set in Vermont, Dick Loudon (Bob Newhart) is a writer who buys the hotel and runs it with his wife Joanna (Mary Frann). Their handyman George Utley (Tom Poston) and their maid Stephanie Vanderkellen (Julia Duffy) make life both easier and more difficult at the inn. Later Dick becomes a local television celebrity working with Michael Harris (Peter Scolari) who marries Stephanie.  Larry, (William Sanderson) his brother Darryl (Tony Papenfuss) and his other brother Darryl (John Voldstad) are memorable characters.  Darryl and Darryl never speak until the final episode.  That finale has the best ending ever in a television series when Bob Newhart wakes up in bed, tells his wife he had a really weird dream, and we see the wife is Suzanne Pleshette, his wife Emily from The Bob Newhart Show in which he played a psychiatrist from 1972-78. This series delightfully captured the life in a small New England town until 1990.

While Newhart is hard to top, my favorite hotel sitcom is Petticoat Junction which featured the Bradley Girls from 1963-1970. Kate (Bea Benaderet) ran the hotel with her three daughters Billie Jo, (Jeannine Riley till 1965, Gunilla Hutton until 1966, and Meredith MacRae until 1970), Bobby Jo (Pat Woodell until 1965 and Lori Saunders through 1970, and Betty Jo (Linda Henning), along with her Uncle Joe (Edgar Buchanan). The Shady Rest is near Hooterville, so we get to know a variety of town folk including Sam Drucker who runs the general store; Floyd and Charley, who run the Cannonball train; and Steve Elliott, crop duster, who is Billie Jo’s boyfriend first but later marries Betty Jo; and we run into the Ziffels and the Douglases from the show Green Acres. It’s a charming and heart-warming show loaded with loveable but zany characters. It ran for 222 episodes, even surviving the death of Bea Benaderet, who was replaced by Janet Craig (June Lockhart), a woman doctor who moves into the hotel. The amazing Charles Lane shows up throughout the series as Homer Bedloe, a railroad employee whose sole mission is shutting down the Cannonball.

If you can’t physically travel this month, take some time and watch a season or two of Newhart or Petticoat Junction, and you can still get away and experience life in a small-town hotel.