US TV shows not broadcast in the UK
Having spent almost two decades as a top radio personality, Jack Benny made the smooth transition to television in 1950, in a series of specials. These were the foundation for a regular -once a month- Sunday night-time slot from 1952 to a bi-weekly series the following year. Benny's radio persona and therefore the format of the show was transferred to the small screen completely intact along with his legendary stinginess (he supposedly had a basement vault where he kept his money), his insistence on being no older than 39, his ancient automobile, Maxwell, and his ineptness at playing the violin. Added to that were Jack's famous pregnant pauses where he would weigh-up a given situation until resolving it with an exasperated "Well-". Jack added a few more touches for the visual medium including a prancing walk, a hand held to his cheek and a long numbed look of total disbelief whenever he was faced by one of life's little traumas. Also transferring from the radio series were Jack Benny's family of players; Mary Livingstone (aka Mrs Jack Benny), Don Wilson, Dennis Day, Artie Auerbach, Frank Nelson and Mel Blanc -the master of a thousand Warner Brother cartoon voices. But perhaps the most celebrated of these supporting artistes was Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson who started out on the radio series as a Pullman porter (making only occasional appearances) until being 'promoted' to Jack's somewhat insolent valet and in the process becoming the highest-paid black actor on US TV at that time. The format of the shows was part variety and part sitcom and boasted a veritable who's who of guest stars, including; Bob Hope, George Burns, Phil Silvers, Lucille Ball, Humphrey Bogart, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. 343 shows were made but of these only 104 were recorded on film and are therefore available today.
JAMES AT 15 (1977)
Novelist Dan Wakefield ("Going All The Way") created this realistic dramatic series about an adolescent boy who faced the trials and tribulations of most teenagers. Lance Kerwin played 15-year old James Hunter, whose college professor father moved the family from Oregon to Boston, Massachusetts to accept a teaching position. After initially running away from home, James reluctantly began to deal with his new surroundings as he tried to make friends at fictional Bunker Hill High School. His friends included Ludwig "Sly" Hazeltine (David Hubbard), a hip middle-class African-American student who gave James advice on various issues-or as he called it, "Slycology." Susan Myers played Marlene Mahoney, James' intellectual friend. Linden Chiles was James' father, Paul Hunter; Lynn Carlin was mom Joan; Kim Richards and Deidre Berthrong were James' sisters Sandy and Kathy, respectively. James was a budding photographer who liked to daydream occasionally; his fantasies sometimes became part of the storyline. But the show never resorted to stereotypes, and it dealt credibly with real-life issues such as alcoholism, cancer, premarital sex and sexually transmitted diseases. In a February 1978 episode, young James marked his 16th birthday by losing his virginity to a Swedish exchange student named Christina (Kirsten Baker); at that point, the series was renamed James At 16. But Wakefield left the show after a dispute with NBC over the use of the word "responsible" as an euphemism for birth control, and the network's insistence that James should express remorse over the sexual encounter. James At 15 initially aired as a made-for-TV film in May 1977; its high ratings led the network to commission a series for the fall. Critics loved it (Tom Shales of The Washington Post said "it communicates something about the state of being young, rather than just communicating that it wishes to lure young viewers"). But ratings were not as high as NBC had hoped, and "James" was not renewed for a second season. Still, it had an impact on future teen dramas. Writer Kevin Williamson said he wanted to create a "James At 15 for the 90's" when he came up with Dawson's Creek. Indeed, "Dawson's"-along with Beverly Hills, 90210, My So-Called Life, Degrassi High and Skins, to name just a few-owe a debt to James At 15 for leading the way.
One of the more popular spin-offs from the ground-breaking All In The Family, The Jeffersons centred on Archie Bunker's African-American neighbours and their new life as they "moved on up" to New York's Manhattan and away from the Bunker's working-class Queens. George Jefferson (Sherman Hemsley) could be considered the "Black Archie", because he has the same disdain for whites as Archie did for anyone who was NOT white. Fortunately, he had long-suffering but headstrong wife Louise (Isabel Sanford) to keep him in line. Americans met the Jeffersons during All In The Family's first season, when college student son Lionel (Mike Evans) was a frequent visitor to the Bunker household, followed soon after by Louise. George, who would not step foot in Archie's home, finally did so during the 1973-74 season. George and Louise moved up from the slums to start a small dry cleaning operation; it was successful enough for the Jeffersons to buy a house in Archie's all-white enclave of Queens. As the business became more successful (with more stores in the New York area), the Jeffersons said so long to "Bunkerville" (as George called it) and moved to an expensive high-rise condo complex on Manhattan's East Side. (The show's gospel-tinged theme song, "Moving on Up" by Jeff Barry and Ja'net DuBois, became one of the classic themes of US sitcom history and a true TV cultural icon). When The Jeffersons premiered January 18th, 1975 as a mid-season replacement on CBS, the new family met eccentric Englisman Harry Bentley (Paul Benedict), whose back often went out and needed George to stand on his spine to relieve the pain. Also living above the Jeffersons was the Willis family-white businessman Tom (Franklin Cover) and his black wife Helen (Roxie Roker); the couple had a daughter, Jenny (Berlinda Tolbert). Much to George's dismay, his son Lionel began dating Jenny; the two finally married on a Christmas 1976 show. The Willis' provided fodder for George's racial putdowns, calling the pair the "zebra couple" and "Mr. Day and Mrs. Night". The Jeffersons was the first US series to depict a loving interracial couple.
If Louise wasn't around to defuse George's bluster, there was the Jeffersons' maid, Florence Johnston (Marla Gibbs), who put down George at every turn; George would counter by calling Florence "lazy" and a bad housekeeper. Other characters included Ralph the doorman (Ned Wertimer), who would do anything to get a hefty tip from George; and George's mother (Zara Cully), known as "Mother Jefferson", who felt George could have married better-and didn't hesitate to let Louise know. (Cully died in 1978; the character was not replaced). All this broad comedy gave CBS another hit from the Norman Lear factory; following All In The Family on Saturday nights, The Jeffersons became an instant top-five hit and stayed among the top 20 shows for much of its run. But its popularity came with criticism from both critics and leaders in the African-American community. Though it was praised for showing a successful black nuclear family at a time when a growing number of blacks were making strides in the corporate world, they faulted George's buffoonish character and were divided over the showing of the interracial Willis'. As the show moved into the 1980's, the show's humour became less racial and there was less talk of George and Louise's former life in the low-income projects. There were changes, both intentional and due to circumstance. Mike Evans left the show in the fall of 1975; the role of Lionel was given to Damon Evans (no relation). Mike Evans returned to the show in 1981 and stayed with it through the remainder of its run. Lionel and Jenny gave birth to a baby girl, Jessica, in 1980. But the couple separated a year later; the pair filed for divorce in 1985. Gibbs briefly appeared in her Florence Johnston character as the chief of a hotel's housekeeping staff in a spin-off series called Checking In (which also featured a post M*A*S*H Larry Linville as her boss, in a role not unlike Major Frank Burns). Checking In checked out after four weeks; Gibbs returned to The Jeffersons soon after. George's dry cleaning business continued to prosper, but The Jeffersons finally came to the end of the road in the spring of 1985, when it succumbed to NBC's action-adventure show The A-Team on Tuesday nights; final episodes were aired during the summer. The Jeffersons at its best was funny with broad characters that proved that a black comedy could succeed on American television. It helped pave the way for other hit comedies with African-American families (most notably The Cosby Show; Family Matters and 227).
THE JUDY GARLAND SHOW (1963)
Musical variety series that starred the much-troubled superstar Judy Garland Click Here for review
Stand-up comic Kevin James found sitcom success with this long-running domestic comedy about a delivery driver, his wife and her father. James played Doug Heffernan who worked for the International Parcel Service and lived in the New York borough of Queens with Carrie (Leah Remini), who also worked as a legal secretary in Manhattan. Also living under the same roof with the Heffernans was Carrie's elderly dad, Arthur Spooner (played by veteran comic and former Seinfeld regular Jerry Stiller), whose eccentric ways complicate Doug and Carrie's lives. At IPS, Doug's best friend was Deacon Palmer (Victor Williams), a settled family man with two kids whose idyllic marriage to wife Kelly (Merrin Dungey) eventually ended in divorce. Doug and Carrie had their own problems, as they tried to better themselves (Doug usually botched up promising ideas).
Kevin James started his career in the comedy clubs doing stand-up and later appeared on various variety and talk shows. He happened to have a friend in high places-fellow comic Ray Romano-and James appeared in several early episodes of Romano's sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond. In 1998, CBS premiered King Of Queens, which was influenced by Jackie Gleason's Honeymooners. Romano also made guest appearances as his Ray Barone character on "Queens." Others who appeared on the series included former Incredible Hulk star Lou Ferringo as Doug and Carrie's neighbor (he played himself) and Ricki Lake as Doug's sister Stephanie. A number of guest stars stopped by in Queens, including Burt Reynolds, Adam Sandler, and Ben Stiller (Jerry's son). The King of Queens was one of the first modern comedies to depict an overweight husband and a hot wife-"inspiring" such comedies as According to Jim. But "King" was more popular than its rival, thanks in part to the fact it was simply a funnier show. Also helping was CBS' slotting of the show on its strong Monday comedy lineup. The final episode showed Doug and Carrie splitting over a series of disagreements, but getting back together to adopt a Chinese baby-only to find Carrie had finally become pregnant, and the couple having the children they had long wanted. (Arthur briefly found happiness in marriage, but viewers learn in the end the union "didn't work out."). The King of Queens theme song for much of its run was "Baby All My Life I Will Be Driving Home To You" by Billy Vera.
THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW (1992)
A vain, neurotic talk show host and the many people behind the scenes. Click Here for review
Dick Wolf's, unique, multi-award winning, two-tiered examination of the complex mechanics of the American justice system ensured that Law & Order ran for a whopping 20 seasons being a success with both critics and the viewing audience at large. Filmed entirely on location in New York City, the series presented an adult, realistic portrait of the intimately intertwined effects of crime and the response to it from the judicial perspective, within the standard framework of a one-hour drama. The initial half of each show detailed the investigation of the crime and the ultimate arrest of the perpetrator(s) by the current regular characters of veteran detective Lennie Briscoe (played by distinguished character actor, Jerry Orbach) and his younger partner, Edward Green (Ally McBeal's Jesse L. Martin) under the watchful eye of their experienced precinct lieutenant, Anita Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson). The second half of the episode then shifted the dramatic focus to the legal aspects of the crime, as the case entered the criminal court arena, where, working under the direction of District Attorney Adam Schiff (Mission Impossible's Steven Hill), dedicated Assistant District Attorneys Jack McCoy (the ever excellent Sam Waterston) and Abbie Carmichael (Angie Harmon) must work within the convoluted minefield which is the complicated justice system, to prosecute the accused. Within this basic framework, Wolf, his production team and a fine ensemble cast, confronted the vexing and contradictory nature of modern day crime and punishment in what we would all like to believe is a civilised and enlightened society. While some of the stories presented to the viewers were relatively open and shut, the majority were neither simple nor clear-cut. The investigations carried out by the police were often challenging and ambiguous, while the eventual prosecutions were complicated, often fraught with frustration-and the authentic decisions about legal procedures and plea-bargaining further mirrored real life by not always showing the DA's as being successful in bringing the guilty to book.
Due to the sheer quality and professionalism of all concerned, Law & Order ranked among the top 20 shows on US television during the 1998-99 season with an average of 14 million viewers, and was the most popular series on NBC aside from the network's Thursday night hits. The success of the series led to the creation of additional shows, making Law & Order a franchise, with several video games, and international adaptations of the series. Challenging, unafraid to confront and address genuinely important questions about the nature of law and punishment, Law and Order's innovative wedding of the standard police procedural format with the ever-intriguing platform of the courtroom drama, resulted in one of the great triumphs of US series television. Bold, intelligent, sophisticated and daring, Law & Order was undoubtedly episodic drama at its crowd-pleasing best.
LIFE WITH ELIZABETH(1953)
The first in a long line of sitcoms featuring veteran actress Betty White, who not only starred but co-produced the programme-a rare feat for a woman in the early 1950's. Life With Elizabeth originally aired live on a Los Angeles television station in 1952; it was sold to local stations across the country a year later. Elizabeth was a suburban housewife married to Alvin (Del Moore). Each 30-minute episode was divided into three short stories, featuring the stars in one incident or another. Inevitably, when things got bad, Alvin would turn to her and say, "Elizabeth, aren't you ashamed?" After Alvin left the scene, she would smile and grin, indicating she had no shame. Unlike many domestic comedies of the era, "Elizabeth" seldom resorted to slapstick; the humour came from the interchange between Elizabeth and Alvin. Jack Narz was the show's announcer and narrator. White would win her first Emmy Award for playing Elizabeth-one of many highlights in a 70-year career that's still going strong in the first decade of the 21st century.
Lucille Ball's place in television history has long been secure, thanks to the brilliance of I Love Lucy and (to a lesser extent) her subsequent series The Lucy Show and Here's Lucy. She was the Queen of Television Comedy, but Lucille Ball's fourth and final series was an all-around disaster. When Here's Lucy ended its run in 1974, Lucy fans had to settle for reruns–but considering her body of work, it wasn't a bad thing. From 1974 until the early 1980's, Lucy appeared in a number of specials–some were well-received, others not. Flash forward to 1986: Aaron Spelling, ABC's top series producer, had an agreement with the network to produce a comedy. The network talked him into doing a show with Ball; she initially declined. ABC then offered her a large amount of money for 22 episodes, whether they aired or not. But the redhead would only do the new comedy if her long-time co-star Gale Gordon appeared, and if her original I Love Lucy writers, Madelyn Davis and Bob Carroll Junior supervised the scripts. ABC agreed. Initially, the idea was to do an ensemble show, not unlike Golden Girls. But the network felt if Lucy's new sitcom was to succeed, it would have to be similar to I Love Lucy. One problem: When "Lucy" first aired in 1951, the comic was in her early 40's. By 1986, she was now 75 years old-and the scripts were asking her to do the same stunts she perfected in the original series. Carroll and Davis came up with the idea of having Lucy play a widow who moves in with her daughter, her husband Ted and their children. Lucy owns half of a small Pasadena, California hardware store with her late husband’s business partner (and Ted’s father), played by Gordon. On the surface, all seemed well: Observers felt Lucy was happy to return to series television, and the live studio audience cheered loudly whenever she appeared on the stage (the comedy was filmed before the audience, using the multi-camera format perfected by I Love Lucy). Behind the scenes, there was reason to worry.
Davis and Carroll (and the show's scriptwriters) fell back on many of the simple plots that worked for Lucy in the past. In some cases, those plots proved to be too familiar, leading to comparisons with I Love Lucy that the new show would never be able to overcome. Another difference was back in the 50's, Lucy had much-needed on-camera support from Vivian Vance and William Frawley, while the talented Desi Arnaz proved to be a skilled producer; he made sure the nuts and bolts of the series ran smoothly so that Lucy could perform her best. But Vance and Frawley were gone and Arnaz was too ill to help Lucy in a time of need. The results were all too obvious. Life With Lucy's first episode aired September 23rd, 1986. But the initial episode was not sent out to critics–and when reviews came out over the next few days, they weren’t kind. They felt the scripts were old-fashioned and predictable and Lucy's timing was a bit off as well, in part because she now relied on cue cards to remember her lines. The viewing public seemed to agree. As the weeks went on, Life With Lucy fell in the ratings; within two months, it was among the lowest-rated shows on television. Aaron Spelling was notified by ABC the show was going off the air and the network would pay off the contracts. Ball was devastated; friends say the legendary comedienne felt the public's rejection of the series showed nobody was interested in her anymore. Soon after, Lucy went back into retirement. Her last television appearance came on March 29th, 1989, when she and Bob Hope appeared together on the Academy Awards show. The two opened a segment honouring the future of Hollywood talent; audiences gave the pair a standing ovation. Less than a month later, she died of heart failure. The nation and the world mourned the passing of television's beloved clown. Today, the memories of Life With Lucy have all but faded; the show has not been released on DVD as of this writing and the episodes have never been rerun or aired since 1986. Perhaps it's just as well. For millions of Lucille Ball fans around the world, the woman known as Lucy Ricardo was (and remains) the true heir to America’s television comedy throne.
LIFE WITH LUIGI (1952)
J. Carrol Naish (the J stood for Joseph) was born in New York in 1896. In spite of his roots he is better known on television as employing a number of ethnic accents in character roles - all except Irish, which is odd because he was of Irish descent. He played the Chinese detective Charlie Chan in 1957 and an American Indian in Guestward Ho! (1960-61), but his most successful role was as Italian immigrant Luigi Basco in Life With Luigi which began on CBS radio in 1948. The series was so successful that by 1950 it was surpassing Bob Hope in the ratings. In 1952 the series transferred to television. Luigi is a newly arrived immigrant who settles in Chicago. Situations arose from Luigi's misunderstanding of American life and language, often taking what was said far too literally. The setting for the series alternated between Luigi's antique shop and his friend Pasquale's (Alan Reed) restaurant. It was Pasquale's aim in life to marry Luigi off to his sister Rosa (Jody Gilbert). Naish only played the character on television for one season and when it briefly returned in 1953 it did so with an entire new cast in the principal roles. However, unlike The Goldbergs, a highly regarded series which chronicled the experience of Jewish immigrants in New York, Life With Luigi was seen as an example of extreme ethnic stereotyping and many viewers complained that they found it offensive. With the bad publicity it started to recieve the sponsors got cold feet and both radio series (last broadcast March 1953) and television series (last broadcast June 1953) were pulled.
THE LORETTA YOUNG SHOW / LETTER TO LORETTA (1953)
This filmed anthology series featured the Oscar-winning actress as host and sometime performer, and was very popular during its run. Each episode began with the star making a dramatic entrance in a beautiful gown to introduce the story (which was parodied by comics of the time), and she read a Bible passage at the show's end to emphasize the story's moral. The series was initially known as Letter To Loretta, where Young read a message from one of her fans faced with a problem; the drama that followed was the answer to the fan's letter. The basic format continued a year later, but the show's title was changed to The Loretta Young Show. Proctor and Gamble sponsored the series for much of its run, and the stories ranged from serious drama to lighthearted fables. Young appeared in at least half of the episodes each season aside a male lead. (Ricardo Montalban guest-starred on nine episodes; actor John Newland-who also directed a number of shows-was Young's most frequent co-star, appearing in 13 installments). Young won three Emmy awards for her television work. In 1955, the star's health required her to have an operation; guest stars would host and perform in the dramas until Young returned to the screen at the end of 1955. When the series ended six years later and the show aired in repeats on NBC's daytime schedule and in syndication, Young asked that the opening scenes with her flowing gowns be replaced; she feared the fashions had become dated with time. In 1962, the actress returned to series television playing a widowed mother who was a freelance magazine writer. But The New Loretta Young Show lasted just one season on CBS. Loretta Young all but retired from acting in the 1960's. A devout Catholic, she focused on charity work until her death from ovarian cancer on August 12th, 2000.
A product of the 1960's, Love, American Style looked all naughty on the outside, but was as prim and proper as television could get. Still, it was an innovative and funny look at the rituals of dating and mating and became a moderate hit for ABC. Love, American Style was an anthology that fit three or four "playlets" into an episode. Between the "playlets" and commercials were blackouts, short skits from a group of repertory players. Each play dealt with an aspect of love and marriage-from dating and mating, to keeping the romance alive or dealing with children more sexually open than the parents. Each playlet’s title began with "Love and..." (Love and the Pill; Love and a Couple of Couples; Love and the Hippie Girl, Love and the Hot Pants). Newcomers were featured in each of the skits, along with popular ABC stars of the period and a number of guest stars-Phyllis Diller, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar and Martha Rae were among those appeared. In many ways, Love, American Style was a forerunner of the even more successful Love Boat, which featured the playlets along with a regular cast on the floating Pacific Princess. Love, American Style also hinted at forbidden passions and the joy of sex, but each playlet ended innocently, with cleared-up misunderstandings or come-upances for the oversexed Romeos. 1972 brought a new feature to the show: "Lovemate of the Week", a video version of the Playboy centerfold.
The series is probably best known today for launching a very successful sitcom for ABC. Producer/writer Gary Marshall created a pilot for the network called New Family in Town. It featured Ron Howard, Anson Williams and Marion Ross as a 1950’s family. ABC passed on the pilot, but aired it on Love, American Style as a February 1972 segment called Love and the Happy Days. A year later, the film American Graffiti became a major hit and rekindled nostalgia for the 1950's. ABC brushed off the Marshall pilot, and with some cast changes it became Happy Days, which lasted eleven seasons. More than a decade after it left the airwaves, ABC revived the show for its daytime lineup, but the New Love, American Style lasted only a few months in 1985. Dating and mating rituals have changed considerably since the original series first premiered and the show looks rather quaint compared to how television can portray sex and relationships today. But to paraphrase a famous song, the fundamental things still apply...and Love, American Style made fun of the fundamentals.
LOVE ON A ROOFTOP (1966)
Newly-married couple David and Julie Willis were from two different worlds: David (Peter Duel) was an apprentice architect making a grand total of $85.37 a week; Julie (Judy Carne) was the daughter of a wealthy family and was more of a dreamer than a practical homemaker. But love won out, and the pair set up housekeeping in a small top-floor walk up apartment with a beautiful view of the San Francisco Bay. David and Julie had to deal with neighbours Stan and Carol Parker (impressionist Rich Little and Barbara Bostock), along with Julie's parents Phyllis and Fred Hammond (Edith Atwater and Herb Voland), who didn't approve of the couple's Spartan lifestyle. Sandy Kenyon was David's co-worker Jim Lucas. Despite decent ratings, ABC ended Love On A Rooftop after just one season. But the network aired repeats during the summer of 1971, in part to capitalize on the two stars-Duel was by that time starring on the series Alias Smith & Jones and Carne was a regular on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In.
LUCAS TANNER (1974)
David Hartman could have been a professional baseball player-or an economist. Instead, he pursued acting and did rather well at it, starring in The New Doctors instalment of NBC's The Bold Ones anthology and guest starring on other series and in films. Lucas Tanner cast Hartman in the title role of a former baseball player and sportswriter who started a new life after his wife and son died in a car accident. He moved to St. Louis, Missouri and became an English teacher at Harry Truman High School in the suburb of Webster Groves (where the series was filmed). His down-to-earth style of education (and his way of dealing with teen issues such as sex, violence and peer pressure) didn't sit well with his fellow teachers, but was supported by principal Margaret Blumenthal (Rosemary Murphy). Young Robbie Rist played Lucas' neighbour Glendon Farrell. In mid-season, Margaret was replaced as school principal by John Hamilton (John Randolph), who was more of an adversary for Lucas. The pilot episode of Lucas Tanner premiered in May 1974 as a 90-minute TV film; an ad in TV Guide magazine featured the headline "Once he pitched in the majors, now he throws curves at the establishment-and the students love him for it!" But the show was a marginal performer in the ratings, and the network set it free after one season. Lucas Tanner was David Hartman's last role as an actor. In November 1975, he began a new career as the host of ABC's breakfast show Good Morning America, which became the first programme to successfully challenge NBC's entrenched Today. Hartman left the show in 1987 after a dispute with ABC over salary and programme control. He continues to host documentaries for public television and other outlets.
In a decade when singles and families with cute children dominated the sitcom form, Mad About You successfully bucked the trend by showing a married couple whose personal life was as wild, as free and as sexually satisfying as any unmarried pair. It also dealt with tough subjects-including the attempt to have a child and the near-breakup of a committed relationship-and left viewers with a lump in the throat in addition to the well-deserved chuckle. Co-star and stand-up comic Paul Reiser teamed up with producer Danny Jacobsen to create this comedy about a newlywed couple. Reiser played Paul Buckman, a bright documentary filmmaker, is also thoughtful and cautious. Not so wife Jamie (Helen Hunt), an impulsive public relations executive with her own quirks. The pair lived in a high-rise apartment in the Manhattan section of New York City with their large dog Murray. Right from the first episode viewers quickly realized this couple was no Ozzie & Harriet: Paul and Jamie wanted to spend an evening alone (it had been five days since they last had sex). But they forgot that they had dinner plans with friends. The episode ended with Paul and Jamie coupling in the kitchen while everyone else was in the living room next door.
As the seasons progressed, Paul and Jamie faced small daily obstacles (who should change the toilet paper when the roll is gone?) and some major ones-including career choices for both, and whether to have a baby. The pair also flirted with infidelity and a near-breakup in the fourth season. Mad About You became a top-20 series after a slow first season. It also did wonders for Reiser, who was first seen in such films as Diner and Beverly Hills Cop. He later appeared in the 1987-1990 NBC sitcom My Two Dads. Hunt first appeared as Murray Slaughter's daughter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show before landing roles on various, short-lived TV series and some movies. Reiser was nominated for a number of Emmys for his "Mad" role, but it was Hunt who walked away with four Emmys in a row for Best Actress in a Comedy Series. Her exposure on the show (she was also an executive producer) helped her budding film career, with such hits as Twister; What Women Want and As Good As It Gets (which co-starred her with Jack Nicholson and gave her an Oscar). Despite declining ratings, NBC-which lost top-rated Seinfeld in 1998-agreed to pay Reiser and Hunt $1 million an episode for a final year of Mad About You. Sadly, the 1998-99 season was the worst for the show, as the cast and crew strained to find humour. Despite appearances by Jerry Seinfeld, Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, the show went heavier toward sexual situations and lost the light, lively touch of the earlier years. The final episode showed Paul and Jamie breaking up-but as they say in the fairy tales, they reunited and lived happily ever after. Mad About You showed the ups and downs of married life with humour and grace-and was a truly nice contrast to the sitcoms that featured single people in the 1990's.
MARTIN KANE, PRIVATE EYE (1949)
Television's first private eye was broadcast live from 1st September 1949 and was also heard on radio for several years. Both formats were sponsored by U.S. Tobacco and as a result Kane could often be found hanging around Happy McCann's tobacco shop where he could discuss with the owner (played by Walter Kinsella) the virtues of buying the sponsor's products. Played by actor William Gargan (pictured), Kane was a New York based private eye, easy-going, wisecracking, cool exterior, all of which masked a tough investigator who was nobody's fool. The stories invariably revolved round a murder investigation that, according to Gargan's own 1969 published biography, were nothing to write home about. 'Very soon in the game I realised our stories were nothing to rave about.' He wrote. 'I developed a tongue-in-cheek style, a spoof of the hard-boiled detective a way of silently saying, 'Don't blame me for the lousy stories, I didn't write them.' Gargan remained in the role for two years but left in 1951. 'It also had a producer I could not abide.... He used the show for a flesh parade. The result was we had pretty, empty-headed girls on the show. blowing lines all over the lot. The show began to slide downhill. In desperation, I began to mug a little more, to cover up the new holes, and the script writers began to write more blatantly. You get into a terrible rut this way. Everybody works harder to undo the damage, and the result is more screeching, more overacting, overwriting, which starts to drive the viewers away.' In spite of Gargan's comments by 1950 the show had reached 12th spot in the ratings, and in two subsequent seasons, reached the top ten. In 1951 Lloyd Nolan took the lead role but he departed after one season to be replaced by Lee Tracy who gave way in 1953 to Mark Stevens. Although cancelled in 1953 the series returned three years later in a British produced, syndicated run entitled The New Adventures of Martin Kane. Gargan's career came to an end in 1958 when he developed throat cancer, and doctors were forced to remove his larynx. Speaking through an artificial voice box, Gargan became an activist and spokesman for the American Cancer Society, often warning about the dangers of smoking. (Laurence Marcus)
Maude Findlay was everything women in American television could not be in the early 1970's. She was middle-aged, loud, boisterous and opinionated. So was her show. The first spin-off from the groundbreaking All In The Family (which was based on the British comedy Till Death Us Do Part), 'Maude' was in many ways the flip side of its parent. While "Family's" Archie Bunker was a lower-middle-class blue collar worker with a supporting wife and conservative Republican--even bigoted--viewpoints, Maude Findlay was a die-hard liberal Democrat, on her fourth marriage in the upper-middle-class suburb of Tuckahoe, New York. And if Carol O'Connor was the perfect man to play Archie, then Bea Arthur--the tall, deep-voiced Broadway actress--fit into Maude's stylish tunics like a dream.
The Maude character was as a cousin of Edith Bunker; she made her first appearance in December 1971, temporarily moving in to 704 Hauser Street in Queens, after the entire Bunker clan comes down with the flu. Before long, sparks between Maude and Archie on everything from politics to her choice of breakfast for an ailing Archie. The character was so pouplar that she made a return appearance later in the season and a spin-off series was commissioned by CBS. Maude's political tone was set virtually from the start when she hires an African-American maid named Florida Evans. Because of her liberal guilt, Maude tries to make Florida a part of the family. Florida would have none of it; she refused to eat with the Findlays and preferred to use the back door instead of the front entrance. Florida proved to be more than a match for the boisterous Mrs. Findlay. Perhaps the most controversial episodes of that first season came in a two-part episode on November 14th and 21st, 1972. Entitled "Maude's Dilemma", the 47-year-old Mrs. Findlay found herself pregnant. And in a first for a US series, Maude debated, then decided that her best option was to get an abortion. The episodes resulted in protests from various churches and anti-abortion groups; when CBS decided to rerun the "Maude's Dilemma" episodes in August 1973, a number of affiliates refused to air them and more than a half-dozen sponsors pulled out because of vocal opposition. To its credit, CBS aired the programmes anyway.
In its first season, Maude was the fourth most-popular series on television, thanks to such hot-button issues as alcoholism; spousal abuse; face-lifts; marital squabbles; Maude's desire for a career in real estate. These and other subjects could have turned viewers away, but were made more tolerable thanks to good scripts and the strong acting of the lead characters. But by 1976, viewers were beginning to get tired of Maude and her controversies; after four years in television's top ten, Maude didn't even make the top-25 that year. Bea Arthur decided to call it quits. As she noted, "One can only live with the same character for so long, and it is time for both of us to take a rest". The final episode of Maude aired on April 29th, 1978. Bea Arthur returned to series television with Amanda's, a US copy of the British comedy classic Fawlty Towers. Arthur played Amanda Cartwright, the owner of a Pacific Coast inn called "Amanda's By The Sea". But critics were unkind and viewers were scarce; Amanda's lasted from February to May 1983 on ABC. In 1985, producer Susan Harris (the creator of Soap and the writer of the Maude abortion episodes), came up with The Golden Girls for NBC. Arthur (who refused to appear in the show until she read the pilot script) co-starred with old Maude pal Rue McClanahan, veteran sitcom actress Betty White and relative newcomer Estelle Getty, in what turned out to be one of the most popular US comedies of the late 1980's and early 90's. Maude is not seen as often as All In The Family in reruns these days, likely because its topical issues have dated the programme. That's a shame, because at its best, Maude was like a weekly 22-minute comedy and drama, starring a woman at the top of her game. And she played the game well.
This late 1960's domestic sitcom had some definite resemblances to I Love Lucy. And for good reason. First off, it was produced by Desi Arnaz (the “I” of “Lucy” who also produced the show and ran Desilu Productions). It was Arnaz’s first independent project since selling his share of Desilu to his ex-wife Lucille Ball in 1962. Most of the episodes were written by “Lucy” scribes Bob Carroll Junior and Madelyn Pugh Davis. And the show was filmed (three cameras before a live studio audience), as was I Love Lucy. Plus, many of the behind-the-scenes staff were “Lucy” veterans. But unlike “Lucy,” The Mothers-In-Law was never a big hit and ran for just two seasons. Still, it was a television showcase for the talented Eve Arden (a popular film comic who made the transition to radio and TV, thanks to Our Miss Brooks) and the funny but unappreciated Kaye Ballard. It was also Arnaz’s swan song as a series producer.
Arden played Eve Hubbard, a prim and proper Los Angeles suburban housewife married to successful lawyer Herb. For 15 years, the conservative Hubbards lived next door to more unconventional (for TV, that is) Kaye and Roger Buell. Kaye (Ballard) was also a housewife (albeit a somewhat sloppy one) while Roger was a television script writer who worked out of his home. The Buells were more loud and fun-loving than the Hubbards, who tolerated the couple. But they became closer after their children fell in love and got married. The premise of The Mothers-In-Law was that Eve and Kaye kept meddling in the young couple’s personal lives, while Herb and Roger tried to put the brakes on their interfering. (Not unlike Lucy Ricardo being told by hubby Ricky to stay out of show business.) To make matters worse, the new couple set up housekeeping in the Hubbards’ converted garage, giving Eve and Kaye plenty of opportunity to barge in and give well-meaning advice to Jerry and Susie. Carroll and Pugh Davis created the concept, and Arnaz shopped it around to the major networks. CBS (which was home to most of Desilu’s programmes in the 1950's and 60's) passed, as did ABC. But NBC liked the show, as did soap and household products maker Proctor & Gamble, which owned the 8:30-9:00 time slot on NBC’s Sunday night schedule, between Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color and the top rated western Bonanza.
The Mothers-In-Law premiered September 10th, 1967. But it didn’t live up to NBC’s expectations. A fair number of viewers switched over to CBS’ Ed Sullivan or The FBI on ABC before returning to NBC for Bonanza. Although NBC wanted to cancel the show after the first season, Proctor & Gamble vetoed the idea. P&G was willing to renew the series if the cast members would forgo a pay raise for the second season. The Mothers-In-Law did even worse in the ratings. This time, there was no reprieve. NBC and the sponsor sent The Mothers-In-Law packing on April 13th, 1969. Arnaz would make appearances on several series, including The Kraft Music Hall; The Virginian and Saturday Night Live before retiring with his second wife Edith Mack Hirsch to Del Mar, California. Hirsch died in 1985. Arnaz himself was diagnosed with lung cancer the following year; he died on December 2nd, 1986. He was 69 years old–but left a legacy (with “Lucy” and Desilu) that is now just being appreciated by a new generation of television historians.
MR. PEEPERS (1952)
One of American television's earliest and best sitcoms, it was a showcase for its star Wally Cox and a stellar supporting cast. Cox, a rising comic of the day, played Robinson Peepers, a science teacher at fictional Jefferson High School. His shy, quiet manner and tendency to get into unusual situations provided the show's gentle humour. Marion Lorne (later to turn up in Bewitched as Aunt Clara) played English teacher Mrs. Gurney; Tony Randall (The Odd Couple) was brash history teacher Harvey Weskit and Patricia Benoit was Nancy Remington, the school's nurse, who eventually became Peepers' romantic interest-and his wife (their 1954 wedding was one of the most-watched television events that year). The Ford Motor Company sponsored the first eight episodes of Mr. Peepers during the summer of 1952; despite good ratings, NBC did not bring it back when the fall season began. But faced with the total critical and ratings failure of a new filmed comedy called Doc Corkle (which lasted just three episodes), NBC quickly rushed Mr. Peepers back into production for a late October 1952 start. The show ran through June 1955. The series aired live from New York City, but only 102 episodes have survived on kinescope; many of those episodes have been released on DVD in the States. Wally Cox became typecast as a milquetoast after Mr. Peepers ended (he was actually an athletic, well-built man who counted former roommate Marlon Brando as one of his closest friends). Cox appeared as a guest on various variety shows and sitcoms; lent his voice to the cartoon character Underdog; and was a regular on the game show The Hollywood Squares. Wally Cox died February 15th, 1973; Brando reportedly kept Cox's ashes with him. When Brando died in 2004, his family scattered both Brando and Cox's ashes over California's Death Valley.
It's unusual for a situation comedy to cause major political controversy. But such was the fate of Murphy Brown, the saga of a hard-driven news reporter who was respected for her skills and performance, but usually--as a good teacher would point out--did not work and play well with others. CBS executives didn't think Candice Bergen--the beautiful and accomplished daughter of ventriloquist Edgar Bergen--could handle a sitcom. (That's despite the fact Bergen proved her chops as a guest-host on Saturday Night Live and in the film Starting Over.) Still, creator and producer Diane English--who helmed such comedies as Foley Square and My Sister Sam--wanted Bergen for the role of Murphy Brown, a correspondent for the fictional television news magazine "FYI", whose hard living (and hard drinking) catches up with her. English got her way despite the fact that she had to audition for the head of programming at CBS.
When the show premiered in November 1988, Murphy had just returned from a stint at the Betty Ford Center to the Washington D.C. studio where "FYI" originates from. Her co-workers include best friend and investigative reporter Frank Fontana, and stuffed shirt "FYI" anchor Jim Dial. Murphy also had to work with a brand-new executive producer--an inexperienced youngster (in his mid-20's) named Miles Silverberg. His job: to get more young viewers watching "FYI". To that end, Miles hired beauty queen and Southern belle Corky Sherwood, whose perky personality and virtual lack of journalistic skills didn't sit well with Murphy. But then, a lot of things could set Murphy's temper flaring and the withering sarcastic quips flying. Such as not having a competent secretary (a running gag that had Murphy go through no less than 93 secretaries during the show's run); a house painter named Eldin, who could never seem to get her upscale townhouse finished; and various politicians (mostly Republicans; Murphy was a died-in-the-wool Democrat). But for the times when she needed some no-nonsense advice, Murphy could turn to Phil, the owner of the nearby bar where the "FYI" gang hung out.
CBS had high hopes for Murphy Brown, even placing the show in the Monday night at 9 p.m. slot, where such shows as I Love Lucy, Andy Griffith and M*A*S*H once thrived. But in its first season, Murphy didn't catch on with audiences. By its second season, however, Murphy Brown was on its way to becoming a top-10 hit. No doubt the incident that caused the biggest uproar came at the start of the show's fourth season, when Murphy became pregnant by her first husband Jake (the two were married for just six days, but briefly reunited at the end of the third season). After considering an abortion, Murphy decided to keep the baby and carried the infant in her own headstrong way. But in May 1992, then-Vice President Dan Quayle gave a speech about the so-called lack of "family values" in American society, and took aim at the sitcom's major plot development: "It doesn't help matters when prime time TV has Murphy Brown, a character who supposedly epitomizes today's intelligent, highly-paid professional woman, mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another lifestyle choice". What began as a discussion about the importance of families turned into a battle, with conservatives supporting Quayle, and most others at the time blasting the vice-president for making an example of a fictional sitcom character. Murphy Brown was not the same after the baby flap. Creator Diane English left the show to produce other projects; her light touch was missed, as the show became more heavy-handed. By the fall of 1997, it was clear Murphy Brown was heading for the last roundup. But unlike many declining sitcoms, this one went out with a bang--and reminded still-loyal viewers why they loved the show in the first place. Diane English returned to oversee the new storyline, which had Murphy deal with breast cancer--including losing her hair to chemotherapy and using marijuana to overcome the chemo-induced nausea she was experiencing. The final Murphy Brown episode, a one-hour special that aired May 18th, 1998, featured such guest stars as Julia Roberts, Bette Midler, and George Clooney. It also had Murphy having to undergo a second operation to remove all the cancer, a turning point that led her to change her mind about retirement and stay as a reporter on "FYI". Murphy Brown was one of the few comedies that depicted a strong, independent yet flawed woman at its centre. That point of view may have led to unwanted controversy, but it helped make the show one of the most popular sitcoms of the early 1990's.
MY FAVOURITE HUSBAND (1953)
My Favourite Husband started life as a 1948 radio series which starred Lucille Ball and was the basis for her famous Lucy character in the TV sitcom I Love Lucy. My Favourite Husband, with Ball co-starring alongside Richard Denning, would have transferred to television and the history of the US sitcom might have been significantly different if it hadn't been for Ball's refusal to do a domestic sitcom without her real-life husband Desi Arnaz. CBS agreed and I Love Lucy was born with several of the 'Husband' radio scripts being reworked into the 'Lucy' series. My Favourite Husband finally made it to television in 1953, starring Joan Caulfield and Barry Nelson as Liz and George Cooper. He was a successful bank executive and she a scatterbrained houswife. They lived comfortably in a suburban home next door to the Cobbs, social high-climbers who were always trying to get the Coopers to improve their image. The series enjoyed modest success for two full seasons but for the third, broadcast 18 months later, CBS decided to make several changes. Vanessa Brown replaced Joan Caulfield as Liz and the next door neighbours became the Shepard's even though Alix Talton, who had played Myra Cobb, was now playing Myra Shepard. If viewers were confused then they needn't have worried too much. Three months after all these changes were made the series folded.
MY LIVING DOLL (1964)
Producer Jack Chertok, who hit paydirt with My Favorite Martian tried a slightly different approach in this comedy about a sexy female robot and the psychologist assigned to care for her. Bob Cummings (in his last major series role) played Doctor Bob McDonald, who looked after "Rhoda Miller" (Julie Newmar), also known as AF709. She was named after her creator, Carl Miller (Henry Beckman). When Miller was reassigned to Pakistan, he asked Bob to complete "Rhoda's" education-teaching her to be the "perfect woman." Of course, Bob had the job of also keeping "Rhoda's" robotic identity a secret. The situation wasn't helped much by neighbour Peter Robinson (Jack Mullaney), who was smitten with "Rhoda." or by Bob's sister, Irene Adams (Doris Dowling) who lived with him as his housekeeper to make sure no hanky-panky was going on between Bob and "Rhoda." My Living Doll was definitely sexist by today's standards, as "Rhoda" was taught to keep house and follow a man's orders. Critics liked Newmar's performance (she would go on to a number of roles, including that of Catwoman on the 1960's series version of Batman) Cummings was also praised; no surprise for the veteran of such sitcoms as My Hero and Love That Bob. But it was scheduled against NBC's top-rated western Bonanza. Predictably, My Living Doll landed in the bottom half of the ratings charts. CBS did move the series to Wednesday nights in an effort to win a larger audience, but Bob Cummings was written out of the show after 21 episodes. (Cummings wanted out of his contract due in part to the show's ratings; there were also reports he and Newmar didn't get along on the set.) The remaining five episodes focused on Peter (who learned "Rhoda" was a robot) and was assigned to care for her after Bob was sent to Pakistan (just like "Rhoda's" creator Carl Miller). Adams was written out of the series and replaced by Nora Marlow, who played Peter's housekeeper Mrs. Moffat. All the changes didn't help, and My Living Doll was not renewed for a second season. The series did leave one legacy to pop culture: The "Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang" says the sci-fi phrase "does not compute" originated on My Living Doll. Which was apt, considering the series didn't.
90 BRISTOL COURT (1964)
An unusual but unsuccessful effort in the sitcom genre, it featured three 30-minute comedies-one after another-with a unifying theme. In this case, 90 Bristol Court was the address of a California apartment complex where the stars of all three sitcoms lived; the only character that appeared in the trio of shows was handyman Cliff Murdoch, played by Guy Raymond. First up was Karen, which starred Debbie Watson as a typical teenage girl named Karen Scott. Her parents were played by Richard Denning and Mary La Roche; Gina Gillespie was her younger sister Mimi. (Trivia: The show's theme song was performed by The Beach Boys!) Next was Tom, Dick and Mary-which, despite its somewhat racy title, was squeaky-clean. Don Galloway and Joyce Bulifant played newlyweds Tom and Mary Gentry. To help pay the rent at 90 Bristol Court, the couple took in Tom's best friend Dick Moran (Steve Franken); all three worked at the same hospital-Tom and Dick were interns; Mary was a secretary. The final series was Harris Against The World (pictured), starring Jack Klugman as Allan Harris, a movie studio employee who had to juggle work with his family. Patricia Barry was his wife Kate; Claire Wilcox and David Macklin were the couple's children DeeDee and Billy. Klugman, who considered himself a serious actor at the time, signed for the "Harris" role before he won an Emmy for an episode of the legal drama The Defenders. Critics didn't take to any of the shows on 90 Bristol Court; one called the experiment "as synthetic in concept as a $15 suit." Viewers seemed to feel the same; up against ABC's Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea along with the powerful CBS trio of To Tell the Truth, I've Got a Secret and The Andy Griffith Show, all three sitcoms landed at the bottom of the Nielsen ratings. But "Karen's" Debbie Watson was a fan favorite, judging by the number of letters sent to NBC. In January 1965, the network axed the 90 Bristol Court concept by cancelling Harris Against the World and Tom, Dick and Mary and eliminating Guy Raymond's handyman character. Only Karen survived as a stand-alone series, but ratings didn't improve, and the teenager and her family was gone at the end of the season. Watson would go on to star in the short-lived sitcom version of Tammy and retired from acting not long after. Klugman did better with The Odd Couple and Quincy, while Bulifant would appear in dozens of sitcoms, including The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Denning, who played Lucille Ball's fictional spouse on radio's "My Favorite Husband," would later become a regular on Hawaii 5-0.
THE NANNY (1993)
Fran Drescher, who first made her acting mark as Connie in Saturday Night Fever, starred in this sometimes cartoonish sitcom about a "Jewish-American Princess" who became a caretaker for the children of a successful Broadway producer. As the show's animated opening theme (and lively title song) established, Fran Fine (Drescher) was fired as a bridal consultant by her fiancee, and ended up selling cosmetics door-to-door. She landed on the doorstep of successful producer Maxwell Sheffield (Charles Shaughnessy), who liked her moxie and quickly hired Fran to care for his three kids-Maggie (Nicholle Tom), Brighton (Benjamin Salsbury) and Grace (Madeline Zima). Working with Fran was Niles (Daniel Davis), the sarcastic butler. Then there was Maxwell's socialite business partner Chastity Claire (C.C.) Babcock (Lauren Lane), who viewed Fran as an underling and a threat to her hopes of making Maxwell her husband. (Niles loved Fran and hated C.C., so it was easy to tell whose side he was on.) Always on hand to give Fran both advice and grief is her equally flamboyant mother Sylvia (Renee Taylor) and grandmother Yetta (Ann Morgan Guilbert, formerly Millie Helper on The Dick Van Dyke Show). It didn't take long for Fran to bond with Maxwell's kids and give the Sheffield household a dose of humour and free spirit, setting the tone with her nasal, foghorn-like voice and her wardrobe. But her middle-class roots served Fran well, whether solving one of the kids' problems or helping Maxwell in his career. Near the end of the show's run, Maxwell realized he loved Fran deeply and eventually married her; Fran adopted Maxwell's children and became pregnant, giving birth to twins. The series finale had the Sheffield family moving from New York to California-and in a real shocker, Niles ended up marrying his nemesis C.C.! Drescher and her then-husband Peter Marc Jacobson created The Nanny with the help of veteran sitcom producers Robert Sternin and Prudence Frasier (Who's The Boss?). CBS Entertainment chairman Jeff Sagnasky loved the premise and stuck by the series, even when its ratings were low. During the summer of 1994, viewers finally found The Nanny, and its popularity rose, ensuring its fate. After the series ended its run, Drescher and Jacobson divorced (Drescher later admitted Jacobson was gay, but the two remained good friends) and she was diagnosed with uterine cancer, requiring a radical hysterectomy. She was given a clean bill of health. Drescher later co-starred in the short-lived sitcom Living With Fran, became a champion for women with cancer and gay rights, and even considered a run for Congress.
OCCASIONAL WIFE (1966)
One of the more outlandish comedies to air on American television. Michael Callan played Peter Christopher, a bachelor and executive at the Brahms Baby Food Company. Since owner Max Brahms (Jack Collins) was devoted to marriage and family, the unattached Peter found it hard to get promoted. His solution came in the form of aspiring painter Greta Patterson (Patricia Harty), who also worked as a hat-check girl. Greta agreed to pose as his "occasional wife" during social and business functions when the boss was around. In return, Peter set Greta up in an apartment on the eighth floor (two floors above his); he also paid for her art lessons and a pair of contact lenses. The humour (such as it was) was caused by the complications of having Peter and Greta pose as husband and wife, forcing them to reach each others apartments through the fire escape-much to the chagrin of their seventh-floor neighbour (Bryan O'Byrne, billed on the series as "Man-in-Middle"). If you became confused by all the developments, narrator and veteran sportscaster Vin Scully was on hand to provide the "play by play action." Viewer interest was strong when Occasional Wife made its debut, but ratings soon fell and NBC ordered a divorce after just one season.
PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DAISIES (1965)
Based on the 1957 best-selling book by Jean Kerr (which also spawned a successful 1960 film starring Doris Day and David Niven), this sitcom centred on an unusual suburban family. Jim Nash (Mark Miller taught English in the town of Ridgemont, New York. Wife Joan (Patricia Crowley) was a freelance writer who used the pen name Joan Holliday. She hated to do housework, cooking and other traditional homemaking chores, making her sort of an early feminist before that term was in vogue. The couple had four boys, oldest son Kyle (Kim Tyler), younger Joel (Brian Nash) and seven-year-old twins Tracey and Trevor (Joe and Jeff Fithian). Veteran actress Ellen Corby (later Esther Walton on The Waltons) appeared occasionally as the family maid Martha O'Reilly; the Nashes also had a 150-pound sheepdog named Ladadog. The family lived in a large, older castle-like home in Ridgemont (228 Circle Avenue) complete with a bell tower. Somewhat ahead of its time, Please Don't Eat The Daisies managed to run for two seasons.