Revisiting 1969-’70: A Look at MY WORLD AND WELCOME TO IT

Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! This week, I’m highlighting a series that’s been on my short list of single-season wonders ever since we covered forgotten ‘60s classics and curios like He & She (1967-1968, CBS) and Good Morning World (1967-1968, CBS), respectively. Three years later, we’re finally going to look at the half-hour comedy adapted from the short stories of James Thurber, My World And Welcome To It (1969-1970, NBC), which has the high honor of being the most recent single-season Emmy recipient as its year’s Outstanding Comedy. Unfortunately, despite this distinction, the series remains unreleased on DVD. However, I have seen all 26 episodes and I’m here to give you my selections for the best! The connection I’ve contrived with Dream On, to help justify why we’re looking at My World And Welcome To It now, is that this show also found narrative and comedic power by fostering a relationship between reality, the depiction of life during the transitional ’69-’70 period, and the imaginative fantasy of Thurber’s words and cartoons, filtered through the head of our protagonist, John Monroe (William Windom, who won an Emmy for his performance). So, because each show needed both truth and whimsy to function, there seemed a kinship. (The real story is simply that it’s an important series and, because the ’69-’70 season is one of TV’s most fascinating and discussion-worthy, I’ve long been looking for an excuse to feature it.) Here we go…

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The process of televising Thurber, whose short stories, essays, and drawings had already proven film fodder, began in the late ’50s with an unsold pilot that aired in June 1959 as part of The Alcoa-Goodyear Playhouse. Arthur O’Connell played John Monroe, a Thurber character who appeared in several of his stories, while the teleplay was written by Mel Shavelson (Yours, Mine, And Ours). Another attempt aired two years later, on The DuPont Show With June Allyson, starring Orson Bean in the Monroe role. Again, no dice. For Shavelson, a third pilot proved the charm when he paired with executive producer Sheldon Leonard (The Danny Thomas Show, The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show) and producer Danny Arnold, whose work on the critically well-received first season of Bewitched and the two strongest years of That Girl gave him significantly more experience in TV comedy than Shavelson, making him the show’s natural creative leader and champion. In fact, it was Arnold who suggested casting William Windom in the lead role, the most crucial decision. The updated concept had Windom as John Monroe — a Thurber proxy — a writer and cartoonist for “The Manhattanite,” and was to follow his daily struggles both at work and especially at home, where he lived with wife Ellen (Joan Hotchkis) and daughter Lydia (Lisa Gerritsen, a year before she became Bess Lindstrom). Others in the cast included Harold J. Stone as the boss and Henry Morgan as Monroe’s writer friend. The show would integrate elements of Thurber’s words and illustrations, as Monroe found “inspiration” of his own through the world around him — as he saw it, of course.

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When the series premiered at 7:30 (before the top-rated Laugh-In) on NBC’s Monday line-up in September ’69, it was moderately well-received (“a genuine original in…a lousy timeslot” reads an L.A. Times review) and pulled decent numbers in the big cities. However, it was no match around the country for CBS’ Gunsmoke (the second most-watched show of the year), meaning that NBC’s offering was destined to consistently lose its timeslot. The inferior ratings are obviously the reason that My World And Welcome To It was cancelled in February of 1970, and while this makes sense at face value, it’s a bit of a cruel irony for two big reasons. First, when a show has potential but is up against a titan, it’s only logical to move the fledgling with potential to see if it can hold its own against different, weaker competition. NBC’s quick abandonment of this series ignored its rapidly improving notices and discounted the possibility for viewership growth. Second, I believe My World, more than a casualty of non-winning ratings, was also a victim of its time and place. Now, I’m not going to bother with the clichéd “it was ahead of its time” argument, because I think it’s foolish to discount what happens in the medium to allow any specific series to organically exist within its own era in the first place. (My World And Welcome To It is very of its period!). But I do believe that if a similar show had premiered with the same notices on NBC three years later, when the genre seemed to have an evolved creative mission statement, it would have had a greater chance of getting a second season. Heck, it may have even had a better fate (however slight) premiering on NBC three years earlier, when the network’s competition with CBS wasn’t quite so fierce and executive faith saved shows.

Even more telling though: I believe if the show had premiered on CBS instead of NBC, it wouldn’t have been a one-season wonder. I’ll explain, but first it’s imperative to have a brief understanding of the era. As you know, 1969-’70 found the medium at the precipice of change — not only would the following season see the premieres of both The Mary Tyler Moore Show and All In The Family, but the mindset of top network executives also seemed to undergo a quick transformation led by a few key figures. When written about today, the programming shift is often associated with the “Rural Purge,” which is said to be a result of the networks, CBS in particular, deciding to no longer target total viewers, but rather key demographics — the ones advertisers were claimed to most desire: young urbanites. The truth is more complicated. In my study of the history, I’ve found that the “Rural Purge” had as much to do with demo-targeting as it did the FCC’s 1970 passage of the Prime Time Access Rule, which limited the number of primetime hours that networks could broadcast (in the hope that affiliate stations would become more creatively emboldened). This would be implemented starting in the fall of ’71, and while the networks could choose which 21 hours to broadcast, by 1972-’73, 8:00-11:00 was the set standard except for Sunday, which ran 30 minutes earlier. Ultimately, three-and-a-half hours of weekly programming were lost in between the falls of ‘69 and ‘71. (This arrangement stuck until ’75, when the networks were granted a full extra hour on Sunday.) So, with less time to program each night, the networks knew they would eventually have to drop shows and cut their own expenses, all the while (hopefully) maximizing profits. This meant, first and foremost, nixing old stars and pricey properties to make room for product that could be more cheaply offered. That’s when rural shows like Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies – now both out of the Top 30 – were axed at the end of ’70-‘71, along with un-winning corn like Family Affair and To Rome With Love (both also off the good charts) – in the second and biggest wave of the so-called “Purge.”

Whether this had a lot to do with the emerging successes of cheaper, newer, more modern programs like The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977, CBS) and All In The Family (1971-1979, CBS), which indeed aimed to be socially present and urban-friendly, cannot be assured. However, it’s my conclusion that demo-targeting was not yet the proven science most now claim when CBS crafted the ’71-’72 schedule. In the fall of ’70, the initial wave of “relevant” programming for which CBS’ new network president Bob Wood advocated (and, to be fair, he did intentionally move CBS in this direction for ’70-’71) seemed less commercially desirable than expected. To wit, the ’71-’72 season saw a return to old forms — prior stars, updated Westerns, goofy comedies (including one with a chimp) — before each of the aforementioned classics began to assert their superiority in both ratings and gold, making sure that by ’72, all three networks had a new cultural mandate. That is, when the cancellation decisions were being made, between the two November ’70 and February ’71 Sweeps periods, the “new order” was not strong enough to be an order. (Les Brown’s book on this history concludes at the end of 1970 and reveals that many CBS execs, including Mike Dann’s replacement, Fred Silverman, then believed the ’70 schedule was not the new normal.)  This may all seem like a tangent, but ’69-’70 is key, because it put in motion changes that led to what we saw in the 1970s. Remember, CBS had long been the most-watched network (total viewers) of the three, which gave it a legitimate claim for being #1. By the ’68-’69 season, NBC was catching up, and almost eked out a victory. Following this failure, the peacock network’s response was essentially, “Oh, well, we’re #1 in the demographics that matter to advertisers.” (“Nanny-nanny-boo-boo!” was the theme of NBC’s “least objectionable” Paul Klein’s correspondence with CBS’ furious Mike Dann.)

There’s some truth, though, to the claim that because #2 and #3 weren’t the most-watched, they had already been attempting throughout the mid-to-late ’60s to skew younger and “hipper” (with shows like Laugh-In and The Mod Squad) than CBS, which only half-heartedly tried to keep up by programming The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (which secured both good totals and the supposedly desired demo, but gave everyone a headache – including relevance-seeking Wood, who cancelled it after its initial renewal for ’69-’70). Yet there’s little doubt that nearly all programming decisions — cancellations and renewals — were still based, for every network, on total viewership: winning. So, CBS entered ’69-’70 with a new president, but business as usual… until it looked like NBC was actually going to win the season in total viewers. This is where the split occurred. CBS’ Senior Programming VP, Mike Dann, who’d essentially been the chief creative decision-maker throughout the decade’s revolving door of presidents, launched a campaign called Operation 100, in which he rejuvenated the CBS schedule by pre-empting low performing shows and replacing them with events — specials, films, one-offs — in a calculated effort to win the year. His tactic worked (depending on when you choose to view the season’s end and start dates), but it didn’t matter anymore. Dann left CBS that summer following a creative coup staged by Bob Wood early in Operation 100, in which he persuaded William Paley that NBC’s “demographics that matter to advertisers” argument was worth pursuing, especially if CBS was going to be #2 with its “business as usual” in the ’69-’70 season; this could be a way for them to win again — inexpensively. When Paley sided with Wood, Dann’s entire strategy was invalidated, giving the new president control over the future of CBS’ programming… if his advice to drop Petticoat Junction, along with Jackie Gleason’s and Red Skelton’s shows, was sound.

Demo-targeting was Wood’s claimed rationale (it was also Dann’s excuse for the mini-purge of game shows in early ’67), but keep in mind that only Skelton’s hour was pulling its weight in total viewership at the time. (And in Skelton’s case, dropping his long-running show, then #7, was as much a demo decision as it was a power play against Dann, a reaction to the fraying relationship CBS had with the costly Skelton, and a psych-out to cocky NBC. Also, though popular, the series would have likely lost its profitability had it been renewed, leaving no financial incentive.) Petticoat Junction and Gleason’s show, meanwhile, were dropping numbers and adding expenses (read: out of the Top 30 and no longer profitable), so total viewership was the primary cause of their departures – though highly visible, they weren’t as successful as they appeared. That’s why they went and, for example, The Beverly Hillbillies (#18) and Mannix (#30) remained. As you can see, CBS’ cuts in ‘70 were few and relatively cautious, and while they perhaps prognosticated the future under Wood, it was all based, as usual, on the numbers — the two most overpriced (Gleason, Skelton) and the rural comedy with the most years out of the Top 30 (Petticoat Junction) were shown the exit. Thus, the “Rural Purge” did not really begin because of demo-targeting, although it was and has always been a convenient excuse. No, it began, largely, to cut costs while attempting a reclaimed victory over NBC. Wood may have indeed sincerely championed a change in CBS’ brand (frankly, I think he programmed shows he liked – and scheduled them accordingly), but his strategy still relied on results. The same generally applied a year later in ’71, when the second and bigger part of the “Purge” came; the Prime Time Access rule was to be implemented, so old expensive properties had to go – yet their demographic appeal was only part of the equation that determined their fates…

Total ratings remained king. Almost every single scripted CBS series that made the season’s Top 30 was renewed in the spring of ‘71, just as all the networks were losing over three weekly programmable hours. The only cancelled offerings of these 30 were Mayberry R.F.D., Hee Haw, and The Jim Nabors Hour. Similarly, almost every scripted CBS series that didn’t make the Top 30 was axed. The only scripted shows reordered from outside this esteemed group were Arnie, Mission: Impossible, and All In The Family. Let’s break it down. If we agree that All In The Family was intriguing and well-received enough to deserve a chance to improve, and recognize that Nabors’ show (#29) was comparatively costly to keep during this penny-pinching time, then there are only two cancellations for which an exclusively older, rural demo was prohibitive to a renewal. While Hee Haw (#16) couldn’t be retooled to get a broader appeal, Mission: Impossible could; and although Mayberry R.F.D. (#15) couldn’t become more like the well-regarded All In The Family, Arnie could. Thus, these last two Heartland-appealing shows are the only casualties during the “Rural Purge,” in my studied opinion, that resulted from CBS choosing to go against its current bottom line in favor of the long-term “demo-targeting” PR strategy. (And truthfully, with hindsight, we know that keeping All In The Family was wise, but Mayberry R.F.D. would have done more financial good for CBS than Arnie, even with higher costs.) Nevertheless, because these exceptions prove the rule, I think it’s better to minimize the common overblown generalization when discussing why, over a period of three years, the network went from a roster that included Green Acres and Lassie to Maude and MASH, for the demos were only part (a big part, but far from all) of the story. And, ultimately, I think it should be known that these decisions didn’t intend to be a rejection of the “rural” portion of CBS’ audience. Rather, this was Wood’s bid to stay connected with them while also expanding the outreach — all to be #1.

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Okay, now that I’ve gone off on this tangent (which I’ve been wanting to write for a while), I’ll bring this back to My World And Welcome To It. Ostensibly, this would have been exactly the kind of show NBC was claiming in ’69 that advertisers desired (probably why it was greenlit in the first place), and yet, in February ’70, with Operation 100 underway at CBS and seasonal rankings still hinged on total viewership (which NBC was winning), the decision was made to drop this critically appreciated and demographically respectable series in favor of… wait for it… Red Skelton’s show, which NBC immediately snatched from CBS’ dumpster! Is this proof that not even NBC was walking the walk regarding this New Order that it had inspired in CBS? I think so. I mean, not until CBS proved that demo-targeting could also yield total viewership victories (which finally became clear during 1971-‘72) did a show with the appeal of a My World And Welcome To It have room to grow on NBC. (Of course, by then it wouldn’t have existed in this form, anyway – it was for and of 1969.) Meanwhile, to Wood’s credit, I also think the show would have been better managed on CBS, where Leonard Stern’s similarly received The Governor And J.J. (1969-1970, CBS) was given 13 more episodes to prove itself, and a perfunctory early example of supposed “demo-targeting,” my beloved He & She (another Stern series hastily axed by Dann because of its poor performance in the fall of ’67), was vindicated that summer (’70) with reruns – setting the table for Wood’s new agenda. (In fact, CBS voiced its own favor for NBC’s Emmy-winning mishandled series by rerunning select episodes in the summer of ‘72.) Yet, wherever it was, My World And Welcome To It would have eventually been cancelled if it couldn’t be a ratings winner — even on CBS — but at least comedies of its smarts, charm, and following were slowly being given space. The 1969-’70 season was the year that foretold the future – mostly in its failures: what wasn’t working, and what wasn’t being allowed to work.

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I’ve written verbosely about the turbulent nature of 1969-‘70 to illustrate just how creatively jumbled the era was, and hopefully help explain why My World And Welcome To It was both an outlier, not destined to triumph, and a direct participant, an attempt by NBC to project this half-practiced directive. But let’s talk about comedy in this period. In general, the sitcoms of the late ’60s were clear-cut — they were either broad, loud romps (Here’s Lucy) or “warmedys,” like Julia, an NBC sitcom that also had a socially progressive nature to give it extra cache. (Strangely, there was rarely any middle ground for a show that aimed to be logical and realistic, but also wanted to deliver grand guffaws.) Simultaneously, the ratings war led to an increased experimentation that made possible the groundbreaking shows that would soon arrive in the early ‘70s, which The Governor And J.J., Julia, and Room 222, for example, all presaged. In these, there existed some slight genre-muddying, whereby a show marketed as a half-hour comedy didn’t feel the need to go for a laugh on every page, and felt freer to engage in heavier, mildly relevant motifs — the kind that would suggest a self-aware reality that could indeed appeal to young urban consumers (the targeted demo). It’s clear watching today that My World And Welcome To It embraces the above notion that, as a comedy, it doesn’t need to reach a laugh quota, for it considers character drama, sometimes founded on warmth and sometimes on the absence of it, to be just as rewarding. And with Thurber as its source material, the series has a natural ability to weave together all sorts of elements — burlesque laugh-eliciting comedy, warm smile-inducing charm, and honest self-aware commentary. It is, essentially, a show of limitless possibilities, unconstrained by the rules typically imposed on sitcoms in the ’60s – a guide that would be tossed, but rewritten, in the ’70s. So, you see, if there was any time to be so free, it was in the tumultuous 1969, when new templates were being written by movers and shakers like Wood.

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Also, I believe that audiences have always been able to recognize well-written material when they’re given the opportunity to find it, but they — we — also like order: being able to define the things we enjoy. (Genre-muddying is popular today, since the advent of cable, but only because these shows are contextualized as being of “quality” in a way that pure laugh-seeking or proudly melodramatic series aren’t. If not defined as “quality,” they would be less palatable.) In 1969, audiences craved television that was new and honest, yet not necessarily structurally rebellious. Unlike most of its peers, My World And Welcome To It didn’t concern itself with being immediately categorized; in fact, its very premise invited the utilization of competing elements — quite literally, as it (like Dream On) reveled in the juxtaposition of reality against fantasy, with both live-action footage and hand-drawn cartoons in support. The combination of a more palpable sense of the times — family, work, sex (yes, sex!) — alongside the variously depicted fantasies ingrained in Thurber’s written work made this, like Dream On, a show with a unique timbre, one that seemed to confront the current and soon-to-be-solved dilemma within the situation comedy — escapist or realistic? — on an episodic basis. So, it was self-aware and timely, but odd looking (with all these elements) and knowingly filled with dichotomies – sweet domesticity meets melancholic introspection. Meanwhile, I can’t say the show is regularly hilarious (but let’s note many “comedies” from this era aren’t), particularly when it veers too close towards either fantasy or reality. Again, like Dream On, balance is vital for both the invocation of premise and its sense of humor. However, the inherent Thurber whimsy and the Danny Arnold/Sheldon Leonard comedic hand means that it regularly procures more than smiles. It’s a little of everything — and initially, anyway, that can be overwhelming.

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But that doesn’t mean it’s not delightful. Actually, having seen all 26 episodes, I opine that the show is of a higher quality than most comedies broadcast during this particular season, because the exploration of Monroe’s psyche through these escapist Thurber stories hits to deeper truths than we could ever find on, say, Here’s Lucy or The Debbie Reynolds Show. This series, without preaching, has things to tell us. According to My World And Welcome To It, life in ’69 was a place from which regular escapism was necessary; television, including this show, offered such an out — while also pinpointing, gently, the realities of our world that have made the escapism so attractive. Like most of Thurber’s work, the series itself is one often-satirical think piece. Yet, all the aforementioned competing styles, most of which are vital to the show’s foundation, naturally make for some initial rough going, both for us and the characters. It takes half this sole season to navigate these problems. For starters, the reliance on Thurber makes it imperative to keep the show character-driven, for his material has to be motivated through the fantasies of the leading man. This requires an understanding, by both show and audience, of the characters — particularly our protagonist. And this is where I think the series, by design, most gave itself trouble. In its commitment to presenting a Thurber hero, a man ripped right from his pages without any glossy televisual blemish-removing, the show unintentionally pushes away the audience. Monroe, simply, is a cold man who is curmudgeonly, prickly, and emotionally distant from his family — which includes his too-understanding wife and his loving daughter, played with truth by Gerritsen. (They provide the ‘60s sentiment – with sincerity.)

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Because Monroe is, basically, a complex hero – one for whom we root based on structure and some tenuous relatability, but who isn’t actually likable or conducive to both the gaggy and sweet comedy of the period – he is undeniably deterring … just like a real human being of this world would be. Yes, the show is maudlin at times and goofy in others — emblematic of all the era offered — but My World And Welcome To It‘s grounding presence is this frosty, distant, complicated lead, who certainly makes for a brilliant characterization, but existed then as a foreign entity in a situation comedy. Too real? Perhaps. But then the right, necessary thing happens. Following a period of adjustment — for us and them — an understanding of his persona is cultivated, enabling the show to better mitigate all that is alienating about the character by motivating it through beats that are connectable – either relatable or anticipated. And, by now, the audience recognizes the character for who he is and appreciates the layers. All of this assists in making the series a better written, more emotionally honest, and for the laugh-demanders like me, funnier show in its back half, through which the Thurber roots are not overshadowed, but encouraged to grow naturally and in a more audience-friendly environment. Additionally, questions about the series’ design — whether the cartoons make it 7:30 “kiddie” fare — are allayed once it’s able to assert itself (in a few key episodes) as an adult comedy, in which both a childlike sense of wonder and a core father-daughter relationship can provide dramatic gravitas… sans condescension. In short, My World And Welcome To It grows to overcome its inherent premise-based genre problems and its Thurber-based character issue to become a show of an extraordinarily fresh nature — amusing, genuine, and, for ’69-’70, modern.

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However, we know how it all turned out. With an identity that guaranteed a warming-up period (not unlike the soon-to-develop MTM formula, although that company was never near as icy — their characters are more emotionally available) and real estate opposite the year’s second most-watched show, My World And Welcome To It would forever remain a critically lauded, Emmy-awarded, and niche-appreciated series: of the time and place it so proudly represented, but where it wouldn’t be allowed to thrive. Featuring terrific writers from memorable shows throughout both the ’60s and ’70s (you’ll note them below), rich Thurber source material with humor and unique heart, and performances that still ring true (especially from Windom, who would play this role for the rest of his life, and Gerritsen, now better known for another part), the series is a treasure. (It’s an ideal candidate for a DVD release, Shout!) And, in a rare representation of the show’s high quality — into which it was settling before its demise — I am able to choose a full list of ten favorites. I am featuring them below in AIRING ORDER.

 

01) Episode 3: “Little Girls Are Sugar And Spice — And Not Always Nice” (Aired: 09/29/69)

John competes against Lydia in chess.

Written by Rick Mittleman | Directed by Lee Philips

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The nature of this series is that there’s something to enjoy in pretty much every episode; however, the show can’t be transcendently funny (beyond the charm intrinsic to Thurber’s work) until the characters are well-established and the scripts learn how to use Monroe in a way that keeps him complicated, but not altogether alienating. Of all the early outings, this one does the best job of furthering his character-building and keeping it both motivated and humorous. Note that Mittleman (Red Skelton, Bewitched) was nominated for a WGA Award for this teleplay.

02) Episode 10: “A Friend Of The Earth” (Aired: 11/17/69)

John feels threatened by a local man’s folksy sense of humor.

Written by Paul Wayne | Directed by Hal Cooper

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In many of these earlier offerings, Monroe’s personality flaws — mainly those that make him appear cold or distant — are mined for dramatic purposes. But this entry is able to use them for character-centric laughs. The premise has Monroe feeling threatened by a local rube (Arthur Hunnicutt) whose homespun witticisms charm everyone, including Ellen and Lydia. The joke battles between the two are so funny that the character was brought back a few weeks later.

03) Episode 11: “Maid In Connecticut” (Aired: 11/24/69)

The family’s new maid is afraid of household appliances.

Written by Tom Koch | Directed by James Sheldon

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There’s a comedic broadness to this entry — specifically to the reality (as opposed to the Thurber fantasy) — that’s uncommon to the series, particularly in the first half of its run. But the purposeful attempt to inject more humor into the show is appreciated, because the half-hour construct demands laughs. This episode delivers, as Queenie Smith plays the family’s new maid, who is deathly afraid of many household appliances — like the toaster. Laugh-driven.

04) Episode 14: “Rally Round The Flag” (Aired: 12/15/69)

John gives Lydia an American flag for Christmas.

Written by Laurence Marks | Directed by James Sheldon

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As the show moves into the second half of its first, and unfortunately, last, season, its identity begins to crystalize, and the types of stories that the series should be telling — based in reality, but with fantasy sequences organically interwoven — are more often recognized. This installment boasts a unique premise that’s in-keeping with what we understand about Monroe’s character, as his emotional distance from Lydia justifies his getting her a flag for Christmas.

05) Episode 15: “The War Between Men And Women” (Aired: 12/22/69)

A spilled drink leads to a feud between a group of husbands and wives.

Written by Rick Mittleman | Directed by Alan Rifkin

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As someone who likes his vintage entertainments for their historical context, the most interesting thing about the show is its depiction of the relationship between men and women, primarily married couples, during this turbulent time of social change. It’s a bit of a sitcom story — with Monroe and his friends (played by Stone, Morgan, and Ray Walston) up against the wives — but through the modernized-for-’69 Thurber lens, there’s more social commentary than usual. This was the basis for a 1972 film, by Arnold and Shavelson, starring Jack Lemmon.

06) Episode 19: “‘Dear’ Is A Four-Letter Word” (Aired: 01/19/70)

John has a meeting with the principal at Lydia’s school.

Written by Eric Tarloff & David Adler | Directed by John Rich

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If one were attempting to select an MVE for this list of offerings, “‘Dear’ Is A Four-Letter Word” would be among the leading contenders. From this assertion, it’s safe to assume that the narrative is a good showcase for the characters, particularly Monroe, who motivates the action, and whose reality is punctuated by the necessarily imaginative Thurber-inspired daydreams. Here, Monroe goes to visit Lydia’s principal, played by Alan Oppenheimer, whose authoritarian aura reminds our hero of Hitler. It’s very funny — one of this show’s most memorable.

07) Episode 20: “The Middle Years” (Aired: 01/26/70)

John fantasizes about a neighbor while his family is away.

Written by Danny Arnold & Ruth Brooks Flippen | Directed by Danny Arnold

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The other entry on today’s list that would be a competitive MVE contender, this installment guest stars Lee Meriwether as a new neighbor with whom Monroe almost engages in a dalliance while his wife and daughter are away. Without a doubt, this is the most “adult” excursion of the entire series, and one of the initial scheduling complaints — that this was a 9:00 (or 8:30) show saddled at 7:30 — seems valid here. The ways the episode uses John’s fantasies — most comedic and imaginative all at once — are revealing of both character and era. Another favorite.

08) Episode 21: “Rules For A Happy Marriage” (Aired: 02/02/70)

John and his coworkers commiserate about their marriages.

Written by Rick Mittleman | Directed by John Rich

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I consider this the companion piece to “The War Between Men And Women,” as the premise essentially has Monroe and his friends — including Stone, Morgan, Frank Aletter, and Stuart Margolin — commiserating about their wives. It’s a fascinating exploratory time capsule of marriage during the era — or, at least, the perception of marriage that was presented on TV by a selection of erudite individuals. And even more than the other husband vs. wife shows, there’s an increased level of both imagination (the show is stretching its legs) and laughs.

09) Episode 24: “The Fourth Estate” (Aired: 02/23/70)

John is rejected by the editor of a sixth grade newspaper.

Written by Lila Garrett & Bernie Kahn | Directed by John Rich

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As with “A Friend Of The Earth,” this delightful episode concerns Monroe’s ego, which is a terrific source of laughs and an easy place through which to motivate action and have it be character-driven. Garrett and Kahn, Bewitched scribes who wrote two episodes of this series, earned a WGA Nomination for their teleplay, which, simply because it’s so appropriately tailored to the protagonist and thus makes room for laughs, is a standout. Allyn Ann McLerie guests.

10) Episode 25: “Monroe The Misogynist” (Aired: 03/02/70)

John is accused of being anti-woman.

Written by Stan Cutler & Martin Donovan | Directed by Allen Baron

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A case could be made for including all three of the Honorable Mentions below in place of this outing, the series’ penultimate, but I think what’s most appreciated about this particular excursion is that the show can exert a level of self-awareness regarding its depiction of John, and thus lend more credibility to the other characters (especially his heretofore VERY understanding wife Ellen, played by Oscar Madison’s future girlfriend). Craig Stevens guests.

 

Other notable episodes that merit mention here include: “Seal In The Bedroom,” one of the most authentically Thurber outings and a precursor for some of the better gender-focused outings ahead, Native Wit,” the successor to the funnier “A Friend Of The Earth,” and the finale, “Child’s Play,” which is a little darker than I comedically appreciate, but truly supplies some fine father-daughter humanity — making it the most difficult exclusion.

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Return next Wednesday for another Wildcard post! And tune in Tuesday for more Dream On!

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34 thoughts on “Revisiting 1969-’70: A Look at MY WORLD AND WELCOME TO IT

  1. Thanks for the excellent coverage of MY WORLD and the illuminating tangent. What I’ve seen of the series I have found very satisfying, not belly-laugh-heavy but smart and original and funny. (I felt the same about Danny Arnold’s BARNEY MILLER, but I won’t re-pick that fight with you here.) I’m off to find more episodes and Les Brown’s book!

    • Hi, Red Herring! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Brown’s book is a great read. I also have good things to say about Metz’s history of CBS (up until 1975). Both are recommended.

    • *of not *off (Let’s all be copy editors!)

      Question: Do you have enough episodes to ever cover THE GOVERNOR & J.J.? This was a wonderfully written and informative post, and I’d love to read your thoughts on this other smart(er) late 60’s series, too.

      Great work, as usual.

      • Also: I know you’ve said before that subscribers can request to see unreleased episodes discussed here. Might I be able to see a few of the ones you discussed here?

        • Hi, Nat! Thanks for reading and commenting.

          I have the entire 13-episode second season of THE GOVERNOR AND J.J., which I’d absolutely like to discuss at some point. I only have a smattering of offerings from the first year (1969-’70) though, so I’m currently unable to give the series the same treatment as MY WORLD AND WELCOME TO IT (or HE & SHE).

          As for getting episodes of MY WORLD AND WELCOME TO IT, I’d be happy to send you a few. I am away from my home office (and full collection) for the month of July, but I can get back to you during the first week of August. In the meantime, pick a handful you’d like to see and prepare for an email delivery next month.

          • Thanks, Jackson! I’m interested in:

            Episode 19: “‘Dear’ Is A Four-Letter Word”
            Episode 20: “The Middle Years”
            Episode 24: “The Fourth Estate”
            Episode 25: “Monroe The Misogynist”

            (And BTW “Death Star”, I was being tongue-in-cheek in case you weren’t aware.)

        • Hi, Death Star! Thanks for reading and commenting.

          I think you’re new to commenting here, so please keep in mind that I don’t tolerate insult-based remarks, especially when they’re directed at other guests. Please be respectful of everyone who responds!

          And for the record, I don’t find either obnoxious. I do wish that folks who comment with typos/corrections would also contribute to the discussion in other ways (instead of just popping up every few months when there’s an error), but I appreciate anyone and everyone who wants to help make my work here more perfect. Always feel free to let me know if there’s an issue — either here or (preferably) by email, as sometimes I get corrections that themselves aren’t accurate.

          In short, just be respectful here — it’s not that difficult!

          • I was once a writer for a digital publication (for many years) and I used to have three types of recurring commenters. The ones who’d comment on anything, the ones who’d comment every now and then when motivated (these are the best), and the ones who’d only comment when they felt they could show-off by “correcting” you or giving additional, but tangential information. It bothered me at first, but it’s really a sign that your work is being read and studied. These people care enough to nitpick. Remember, you’re writing thousands of words a week. They’re writing, as far as we know, twenty. Now I’m not meaning to insult or directly mention anyone here, but that’s just how it goes! End of rant…

            This was a terrific, informative post about a fascinating series and a unique time in TV history. I always knew there was more to the Rural Purge than the “advertisers want young urbans” argument – because otherwise it wouldn’t have been so drastic. This helped put things in perspective. I’m now also eager, based on your writing, to see you discuss more shows from this transitional period. Anything in the pipes?

            • Hi, Elaine! Thanks for reading and commenting.

              I appreciate your kind words, but I wouldn’t put any of my readers or commenters in your third category. If something is inaccurate, I’d rather know so that I can change it. For the most part, everyone here is polite. I’m grateful for them.

              As for other shows from this era, I don’t have anything from the liminal ’68-’72 period planned in the near future, but you may see some stuff from the middle parts of both decades before 2017 wraps; stay tuned…

  2. Jackson you are the only television critic I’ve ever read who didn’t give the same convenient and unoriginally conceived reason for the Rural Purge. Thank you for this–I swear I’ve never found a sitcom book as good as your blog and honey, I’ve read them all. Most of them recycle old information or just don’t go in depth, even if they interview interesting people. (Maybe the Less Brown book is different though…?) Anyway, no one has written about this series or this history like you. Nobody’s writing articles or books like this. Know that you’re appreciated.

    • Hi, Deb! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I fear your praise is hyperbolic and undeserved (in fact, I know it is), but I appreciate the sentiment behind your kind words. Brown was a television reporter and the text in question specifically covers network maneuverings in 1970 (and the years leading up to it). If you’re interested in learning more about the era discussed here, I think you’d like it. It’s not, like most other books on the genre, a repackaged retread of collected info found elsewhere.

  3. intresting review nvr seen this show but interested in late 60s you always write well –
    = looking foward 2 LARRY SANDERS in a few weeks

    • Hi, BB! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Yes, THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW begins the first Tuesday in August; stay tuned…

  4. Thanks so much for the information concerning the “rural purge”. I also did not realize that is when the networks had their primetime hours cut. As much as I love The Beverly Hillbillies I can see why it was cancelled. The ratings were going down and the show was getting tired. The only one I can scratch my head at is Mayberry RFD since it was still in the top 15. I think it may have had a season or two left. But History shows that many of the cancellations had new shows replace them that were huge hits. I love my 60’s shows but also my 70’s shows as well.
    I would also like to know what you thoughts of the Governor and JJ? I thought it was a good show. Thanks again for your insights.

    • Hi, Smitty! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Yes, MAYBERRY R.F.D. is one of the two, I think, demo-motivated CBS cancellations during this era. In fact, it was almost renewed, but tossed aside by Wood in favor of ARNIE, a two-season single-camera sitcom that seemed to start with respectable reviews, but didn’t made the Top 30 and never critically improved throughout its first year. (I have the near complete series in my collection, but have no current plans to discuss it.)

      In a September ’71 article, Silverman says that ARNIE was renewed for a second season and that it would become, essentially, more like ALL IN THE FAMILY (as would other series; Dick Van Dyke’s new comedy is mentioned too — see our full Sitcom Tuesday coverage of that show, if you haven’t already).

      Now, this comment comes after Lear’s series did well in summer reruns, but I suspect Wood was already thinking this way back in February; the cheaper ARNIE was still young enough for retooling, so that it could become more buzz-worthy and find an expanded audience, which was one of the goals behind all this era’s changes. (Of course, ARNIE was then given a rotten timeslot that inhibited success, so there was no expansion during its sophomore, and final, year.)

      In contrast, the more expensive MAYBERRY R.F.D. had a big audience — but it wasn’t going to change or add new viewers. I think it still would have been profitable for several more years, especially if it was offering something the rest of the network’s new line-up wasn’t, but Wood and Silverman took a risk and retained a fledgling “urban” show they greenlit, while dropping the successful “rural” one they didn’t. To me, it’s one of their few pure demo-based decisions — the other being the choice to drop HEE HEW.

      As for THE GOVERNOR AND J.J., you’ll see it here at some point… even if I’m only able to discuss the 13-episode second season…

  5. Someone needs to pass along your analyses of “My World” and “He & She” to the folks at Shout! Factory, because if those won’t convince them to release full-season sets of these wonderful series, nothing will!

    • Hi, Rashad! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      If only I — and these ten commenters — were persuasive enough to prove that those releases would be profitable!

  6. Outstanding insights, as always.
    I’ve always cringed whenever I see a book or website that claims the rural shows were “still very popular” when CBS cancelled them. As you point out, “Green Acres,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” and “Petticoat Junction” were OUT of the top 30 when CBS pulled the plug. They weren’t that popular by ’70 and ’71 — and I say that as a fan. (Yes, “Mayberry RFD” was still in top 20, and in my opinion, CBS should have kept it.)
    I’m wondering, given your knowledge of TV, if you have a source for ratings information for that period — information that goes beyond the Top 30 shows listed in many reference books. Where were these rural shows ranked when they were cancelled? I mean, 31st place is a lot different than 61st place. Where was “My World & Welcome To It” ranked? I’ve always wanted to know.

    • Hi, Toby! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Unfortunately, I have not been able to find yearly Nielsen data for this period beyond the Top 30 lists that are commonly cited. I don’t believe Nielsen has ever publicly released this info, beyond a few notable exceptions. However, unverified sources claim THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES and GREEN ACRES wrapped at #33 and #34, respectively. (But then I’ve also seen slightly more credible outlets place ALL IN THE FAMILY’s first season as 34th in the final nationals — a victory given its rocky launch.)

      I don’t trust any of the above as being 100% accurate, but I do tend to believe that all three Paul Henning rural comedies were indeed in the Top 40 when they were out of the Top 30, and while I can’t confirm this, I have found a newspaper article from Feb. ’71 that lists both lingering Henning comedies as currently hovering around 30 in the season’s national rankings (with only a few months to go). Ditto for PETTICOAT JUNCTION in an article from February ’69, during its second of three years not in the Top 30, and the one believed to be its worst showing.

      As for MY WORLD AND WELCOME TO IT, I’ve never been under the impression that it was in the Top 40, as I’ve never seen anything positive about the show’s national numbers. 50s? 60s? I don’t know. Without publicly accessible data, I can’t confirm anything. (However, I’ll also add that NBC only cancelled about 40% of its shows that placed out of the Top 30 during the ’69-’70 season, which doesn’t bode well for MY WORLD AND WELCOME TO IT’s ranking.)

      • Yeah, old Nielsen info is hard to find.
        I’ve seen some individual weekly ratings from early ’71 that show BH and GA between 30th and 40th place, but nothing that gives a season-long rating for either.
        I once saw a newspaper article, from early ’70, that said CBS was considering cancelling GA then, before deciding to renew it.
        And I read another article that said some of the Petticoat Junction people weren’t happy that CBS cancelled PJ while renewing GA in the spring of ’70. The article claimed PJ had higher ratings than GA that year, without providing specifics.

        Keep up the GREAT work.

        • Every long-running CBS show thought to have the “rural” (or older) appeal was speculated as being ripe for the chopping block in ’70 — including some that finished in the year’s Top 10 (like HERE’S LUCY and FAMILY AFFAIR). Remember, it looked as if NBC would emerge #1 for the first time in over a decade, so word was out that CBS would be resorting to drastic measures. (And of course, “demos” had become the go-to response when a veteran show was cancelled – despite the fact that winning and profitability were always more important, especially in ’70.)

          We can’t yet confirm whether PETTICOAT JUNCTION had higher total ratings than GREEN ACRES in the year the former was cancelled. But it hadn’t made the Top 30 since before the ’67-’68 season, when it moved to Saturdays and started suffering from Benaderet’s ill health. In fact, PETTICOAT JUNCTION was allegedly floated for cancellation at the end of the ’68-’69 season, its second year out of the Top 30 (when GREEN ACRES was #19). Why? Aside from dropping in position and skewing older (I believe it was the oldest-leaning of Henning’s three), it also endured the death of its star. So, PETTICOAT JUNCTION was forever in more danger than GREEN ACRES thereafter, and frankly, I think it entered its last year already *in* the cancellation queue, simply because the network hadn’t been ready to drop it during the season prior.

          ’68-’69 was almost as rocky as its successor. The first half of the TV year had been a wake-up call for CBS; as NBC rose, Dann was almost fired, network president Tom Dawson was replaced with Bob Wood, and Nabors was leaving his #2 sitcom for a variety show that would likely not fare as well. Programming changes were in order — and poaching NBC’s cancelled GET SMART was obviously not a real solution. But since there weren’t many good, different shows in development during late ‘68 to truly address what was necessary for a big shake-up, the network had to prolong its boldness. And Wood needed time to gain some cache with Paley.

          Thus, the new network president made sure CBS was slightly better prepared for change in the following year’s greenlighting period – when an upheaval was even more financially imperative. However, CBS was still cautious; it only took out one Henning sitcom, when Wood could have probably justified dumping something else too, like HOGAN’S HEROES, which had also been out of the Top 30 for three seasons, but long seemed fairly immune from the network’s cancellation eye (because, I believe, it had a sustained youthful appeal that Henning’s Saturday offerings were growing less able to claim – even if this particular demo was, according to CBS, also undesirable).

          Was HOGAN’S doing better than PETTICOAT in ’69-’70 in terms of totals? I don’t know. But during the two years (’65-’66 & ’66-’67) in which they were both in the Top 30, Henning’s show was lower – all evidence that tends to point towards, again, it already being the first long-running sitcom in the drop queue at the start of ’69-’70.

  7. This was an extraordinary analysis. As a Student of popular culture of the 60’s.. this was so interesting… It makes perfect sense. I remember watching the show as a kid… Great work. Thanks

  8. Hi, Jackson. Thanks for your great analysis both of this sitcom and of the network battle going on at the time. I never had read about the buildup to the Rural Purge, at least to this detail. BTW, you mentioned THE GOVERNOR & JJ. Its mid-season cancellation led to CBS replacing it, after moving TO ROME WITH LOVE to another night, with ALL IN THE FAMILY. I’d love to see a few G&JJ episodes to see how often other actual state governors appeared on the show. I know Winthrop Rockefeller of AR & Calvin Rampton of UT were 2 governors who had cameos on this show.

    As you stated, ARNIE was in a terrible time slot in its 2nd season (What network sitcom has ever succeeded at 10:30 PM?). MY THREE SONS premiered its 12th & final season before ARNIE at 10 PM [Monday nights] but was moved mid-season to Thursday nights.

    If you want to read some more in-depth coverage here and can find it, there was a 2-part article in TV GUIDE about Mike Dann’s work at CBS in July 1969. it details his tough work to try to keep CBS #1, including an all-night phone call with Don Adams to talk him into moving GET SMART to CBS that fall.

    I have only watched the pilot episode of MY WORLD (which is how TV GUIDE often abbreviated the title), and I found John Monroe a bit hard to take. I’d seen the opening credits before, where he seems to describe his wife as a monster, so I was surprised to see that she was actually quite a warm, supportive wife. I haven’t read any of Thurber’s stories though, and a friend told me that’s often how Thurber wrote about wives. I notice though that you didn’t choose the pilot as a favorite, so I’m sure the later episodes were probably more fun.

    • Hi, Jon! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I hope to discuss THE GOVERNOR AND J.J. at some point, although only the second season (and a few scant installments from the first) are currently in circulation. I appreciate it, obviously, for the HE & SHE associations.

      It wasn’t a great success, but DOCTOR DOCTOR spent its first two (of three) seasons in a 10:30 slot on CBS in the summer of ’89 and throughout the ’89-’90 season. It survived for one more year. As for already bonafide hits, both KATE & ALLIE and NEWHART were briefly in that period for part of their final seasons (’88-‘89 and ’89-’90, respectively). Also, DEAR JOHN endured a portion of its penultimate season in a 10:30 Saturday slot on NBC, and lived to see another year. Otherwise, you’re right; it’s a death march.

      (Incidentally, the only reason ARNIE was moved from its intended Saturday spot was because CBS decided to use ALL IN THE FAMILY to compete against NBC’s buzzworthy new single-season sitcom THE PARTNERS. ARNIE made it back to Saturdays in the latter half of its sophomore year, once Sandy Duncan went on hiatus and Moore’s series moved times, but it was too late.)

      The Dann article is three parts and can be found in the last three editions from July 1969.

      Regarding Monroe’s depiction, my thoughts were shared above. The show gains a firmer grasp of his characterization around the midway point and learns how to make his fundamental Thurber-based iciness less off-putting. He’s never warm and fuzzy, but that’s part of what keeps the series faithful to its source material’s style.

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