Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! To complement yesterday’s rerun post on the third season of The Golden Girls, this week I’m sharing — with subscribers who comment below — a script from another Witt-Thomas production, Mama’s Boy (1987-1988, NBC), which starred Bruce Weitz (Hill Street Blues) as a sports writing bachelor whose mom (Rhoda‘s Nancy Walker) moves into his Manhattan apartment. Others in the ensemble included Dan Hedaya (then coming off The Tortellis, the failed Cheers spin-off) and James Cromwell (who starred with Walker on the short-lived The Nancy Walker Show) as Weitz’s friends, along with Grace Zabriskie (known to TV fans from Twin Peaks and Seinfeld) as Walker’s sister. (Incidentally, the pilot included three additional regulars who didn’t make it to series: David Leisure, Susan Blakely, and Harold Sylvester.) Staff writers included Co-EPs David Pollock and Elias Davis (The New Dick Van Dyke Show, MASH, The Carol Burnett Show, Frasier) Don Reo (MASH, Blossom, The John Larroquette Show, My Wife And Kids), Bob Schiller & Bob Weiskopf (I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show, All In The Family, Maude), and creator Bill Levinson (General Hospital). Ken Levine & David Isaacs (MASH, Cheers, Wings, Frasier) were uncredited consultants.
Mama’s Boy is most noteworthy — not because of its unique cast and crew — but because it was an experiment for the Peacock Network; this would be what Brandon Tartikoff called a “designated hitter”: a show that wouldn’t be seen every week but could instead be dropped into the schedule throughout the season at the network’s discretion. (This strategy was also tried in ’87-’88 with the single-season dramedy, Beverly Hills Buntz, and the sophomore turn of Ed Asner’s drama, The Bronx Zoo, which switched to a sustaining every-week format after just two broadcasts.) While Mama’s Boy theoretically could (and indeed did) show up on any night, its most frequent home was Saturdays, in the same block as The Golden Girls. In fact, it premiered behind the Girls‘ third season debut. Initial numbers were decent, but Mama’s did lose some of its lead-in, so shortly before its second broadcast (six weeks later, now before 227), the production was put on a temporary hiatus until the new numbers justified continuing. Only seven of the 13 ordered installments (one of which was the already-produced pilot) ended up being completed… because production never resumed. After the third episode was aired (the original pilot, different from the rest of the series) behind a new Cheers on Thanksgiving Day 1987, Mama’s Boy went from being a designated hitter, to a designated sitter (on the bench). Its fate was sealed, but three more of the produced offerings were eventually seen — in April, June, and August 1988 — leaving just one episode forever unbroadcast.
I have a script for that never-broadcast offering, “Scared Straights,” which was written by Jay Folb (Maude, MASH) and directed by J.D. Lobue (Soap, It’s A Living, Soul Train, Herman’s Head). It would have guest starred Jennifer Salt, Jack Riley, and Joe Regalbuto, with the latter playing a man who has just contracted AIDS from having “straight sex.” That’s right; this was to be a very special issue-based episode… Now, without having seen anything else from the series, I can’t comment much on how Mama’s Boy operated beyond this offering, but if this part is an indication of the whole, then the show was not prioritizing character like it should. Oh, sure, there are a few laugh-out-loud one-liners, but character alone is king — especially with this “designated hitter” structure, which requires that scripts work extra hard to keep its audience emotionally invested in the players. And I’m not sure the leads are dimensional enough to hook us. (Not surprisingly, this was a failed experiment — none of the “hitters” outlasted the season. Some later claimed that this “strategy” was merely a way to distract from the fact that none of these new series were worth seeing every week.) Nevertheless, you can read for yourself — if you subscribe below and comment with interest. In the meantime, here’s a sample…
Come back next week for another Wildcard entry! And tune in Monday for our monthly Musical Theatre post!