The Ten Best THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW Episodes of Season Five

Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! This week, we’re continuing our look at the best of The Danny Thomas Show! This season, aside from being found in syndication, has been released on DVD in edited form, and can currently be seen UNEDITED on Amazon Prime. (Most online episode guides for this series are widely inaccurate; these posts reflect the actual air dates, sourced from newspaper and TV Guide listings. Sometimes they contradict DVD order.)

The Danny Thomas Show stars DANNY THOMAS as Danny Williams, MARJORIE LORD as Kathy Williams, SHERRY JACKSON as Terry Williams, RUSTY HAMER as Rusty Williams, and ANGELA CARTWRIGHT as Linda Williams. With AMANDA RANDOLPH as Louise.

The fifth season of The Danny Thomas Show was a new start, as the series moved from the low-rated ABC to the top-rated CBS — snagging the old I Love Lucy slot — and Marjorie Lord officially joined the cast as Danny’s new bride, bringing with her another kid, played now by Angela Cartwright. (This makes Five one of only two years with three children as potential story-pushers, instead of the usual two.) Additionally, this was the first year rotated in syndication for decades, so for many viewers, the first thing they saw was the opening honeymoon entry, which reveals the Williamses as newlyweds, suggesting that, while Danny was allegedly married before, his only wife on the show is the cheery Kathy. But we on this blog know that Danny was married before — we only met Kathy late last season, and by now, she’s already lost some of her initial bite… though perhaps she doesn’t need it anymore; after all, she and Danny are in the early stages of matrimonial bliss, where everyone’s on their best behavior. Of course, future years will prove that Kathy stays a little blander than we’d like, but this season has a fresh angle that gives Five, and pretty much only Five, a purpose: the dramatic circumstance of managing a blended family. As we discussed last week, the show climaxed its original premise, of Danny struggling to be both entertainer and dad, when he became a single parent. Well, now that he’s a newlywed, with stories that are surprisingly eager to employ the emotional continuity of this transition (with, for example, a handful of shows featuring Kathy’s difficult father, played by William Demarest), there’s no longer any doubt about which part of Danny’s life is dominant. And that opening honeymoon outing (a single-cam dud that was supposed to be a two-parter, but was so bad the latter half was buried mid-season) establishes the eradication of this original premise by having Kathy embrace Danny’s career, removing his personal and professional roles from opposition with each other. This enables the series to remain domestic while keeping guest stars and musical numbers in regular supply — and this year, like most, still suffers its fair share of non-character, talent-based outings and scripts with over-earnest sermons about Danny’s noble profession — yet we’ll find even more of this in Six, when CBS asks the show to become even more like its time slot predecessor by indulging even more big names and funny plots.

Speaking of its predecessor, with the Tiffany Network taking a major chance on Danny Thomas by giving it this primo Monday at 9:00 real estate — largely because, as we noted, it was the most similar at the time to I Love Lucy, with its multi-cam aesthetic, work/home conflicts, and show biz veneer — Sheldon Leonard, Arthur Stander, and the rest of the writing staff, both inherently and intentionally, have Five adopt more of the audacious comic energy reminiscent of that aforementioned classic, making Danny Thomas less sentimental than it was in earlier years and more interested in getting frequent laughs. Don’t get me wrong; sometimes the sentiment is still too thick, and in comparison to Lucy, there’s certainly room for more comedy. (Most of Five’s non-featured episodes are unideal for either of those reasons.) But for Danny Thomas, this increase in humor alongside maintained heart makes Five top of the line, and that’s precisely why I call it one of the show’s best years, for the enhanced humor, stemming from the series’ renewed optimism and its extra fertile narrative terrain, meets the dramatic truth of having the show acknowledge its recent shift in family structure, creating a near-perfect, and never rivaled, baseline balance of what we want most from this show: hahas and honesty. We’ll find that Six, my other favorite year, forsakes some of this honesty (and quickly loses Terry), but amps up its laughs, delivering more iconic, classic episodes (yes, the uptick in gimmicks and guests do help with that), than here in Season Five, which has commendable sincerity in its nuclear family, character-led shows, but is more consistently bright than gem-producing… That said, these two years, when taken together — and even when taken with Four and Seven (all united by having Arthur Stander as their virtual head writer) — make for an exciting time in the show’s life, and if there’s any moment to relish in how the show sits between Lucy and the eventual Dick Van Dyke, it’s right about now — with the series stepping into Lucy‘s shoes, finally becoming popular (the #2 most-watched show of the season) and freed from its initial “only moderately funny” bounds by an elevated energy and a new scenario with lots of opportunity… So, I have, as usual, picked ten episodes that I think exemplify this season’s strongest.

 

01) Episode 122: “Terry Vs. Kathy” (Aired: 10/14/57)

Terry refuses to relinquish household duties to Kathy.

Written by Charles Stewart & Jack Elinson | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

Following a disappointing but concept-resetting premiere that saw the family on a Vegas honeymoon, this offering returns to its status quo, or rather, is determined to reach a new status quo, as Kathy finds herself in a one-sided conflict with Terry when the latter has trouble relinquishing control of the house and even schemes to set her new stepmother up for failure. It’s not a hilarious half-hour, but it’s certainly the most honest here, exploring the dramatic possibilities of the year’s new premise with believable characterizations and emotional care.

02) Episode 125: “Parents Are Pigeons” (Aired: 11/04/57)

Rusty and Linda take advantage of their stepparents.

Written by Charles Stewart & Jack Elinson | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

Most of the early shows this season benefit from the authenticity with which they render their blended family dramatics, along with the character continuity this notion provides. But this one has the distinction of being the funniest of the outings in this category, creating marvelous coconspirators in Rusty and Linda, as the two realize they can mutually get whatever they want as long as they play to their respective stepparents, both of whom are eager to be loved by their new children. It’s a terrific idea — perfect for kids their age — showcasing their talents well and displaying the unique dramatic interests of the season. A favorite.

03) Episode 128: “Honesty Is The Best Policy” (Aired: 11/25/57)

Danny makes Rusty expect to be rewarded for returning a lost wallet.

Written by Bill Davenport & Jim Fritzell | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

Davenport & Fritzell were only on staff for this season, and given that most of their credited offerings are featured in some way on this list, my hunch is that they had something to do with the year’s elevated comedic quality. An episode like this is proof, as a somewhat familiar premise where a kid does the right thing by returning a wallet and expects to be rewarded, becomes a hysterical launching pad for great scenes between Thomas and Hamer (one of the best child actors of the era), with a collection of funny lines — totally in contrast to the overly sentimental manner this story was handled on Leave It To Beaver. Larry J. Blake guests.

04) Episode 131: “The Soap Box Derby” (Aired: 12/16/57)

Danny and his father-in-law build rival carts for Rusty’s soap box derby.

Written by Bill Davenport & Jim Fritzell | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

My Three Sons‘ William Demarest makes four of his six appearances here in Five as Kathy’s father, and while never given the chance to be hilarious, he’s a solid presence who reinforces the fresh newfangled family theme of the season. What I like best about this entry — his second — is that it takes the obvious rivalry between father and son-in-law and channels it into a story that puts the two in competition as they endeavor to each build a better cart for Rusty’s soap box derby. And naturally, they decide to race them to find out. If this was Lucy, we might have seen the race, but it’s okay that we don’t — the story and the script sell the idea.

05) Episode 135: “Evil Eye Schultz” (Aired: 01/13/58)

Danny fears that his club opening has been jinxed by an unlucky waiter.

Written by Arthur Stander | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

Funny Marvin Kaplan guests in this installment as the eponymous Schultz, whom Danny is convinced is cursed, making for a lot of theatrics when a run-in with old “evil eye” has Danny fearing for his opening night at the Copa. Despite the extended club centerpiece in the middle of the episode — I don’t like when the show kills time by having a performer do too much of his/her “act” — I enjoy this outing’s clever, original show biz premise, which more than just mines comedy from Danny’s own quirks and insecurities, it also ably keeps Kathy well-involved in the plot too, organically bridging his two (now non-opposed) worlds.

06) Episode 141: “Terry’s Crush” (Aired: 02/24/58)

Danny tries to cure Terry of her crush on Dean Martin.

Written by Charles Stewart & Jack Elinson | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

Dean Martin is the guest star du jour in this offering, which makes this list as Five’s best example of a show written around a known personality. “The Bob Hope Show” — an Honorable Mention — is more memorable, but it doesn’t claim as fine a use of the regulars as “Terry’s Crush,” which lets Dino shine while also putting a lot of the comedic burden on Jackson, who turns in one of her funnier performances as a star struck admirer of the popular singer… and then teaches him (and her father) a lesson when they try to quell her ardor.

07) Episode 142: “Uncle Tonoose Meets Mr. Daly” (Aired: 03/03/58)

Danny and Kathy are caught between warring relatives: his uncle and her father.

Written by Arthur Stander | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

My choice for the year’s Most Valuable Episode (MVE), “Uncle Tonoose Meets Mr. Daly” pits the central couple’s two most-used, larger-than-life family members against each other for a story that not only takes advantage of these two recurring guest actors’ strengths as performers — with Hans Conried being especially funny and Demarest being especially grounded — it also symbolizes the primary dramatic thrust of the season: the everyday, relatable clashes that come with a newly blended family. With each father figure representing their respective child — but without said children being in emotional conflict themselves — the excursion is able to both comment on the year’s drama and keep the action simultaneously relatable and, per its super-objective, funnier than the year’s baseline. The interrupted toast may be the outing’s hallmark, but it’s made by the bit with Rusty and the rollaway bed, a delicious sight gag that likens the series to the two classics bracketing this style: Lucy and Dick Van Dyke.

08) Episode 143: “Danny Roars Again” (Aired: 03/10/58)

Danny tries to curb his temper.

Written by Charles Stewart & Jack Elinson | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

Probably best remembered because of a delightfully comedic fantasy scene where Danny imagines that he and Kathy have switched roles (an excuse to put both of them in drag as the other), this funny moment, which indeed is worth the figurative price of admission, is merely in support of an entry with a strong premise on its own, taking one of the guiding aspects of Danny’s personality — his temper — and manipulating it for both laughs and an exploration of the series’ key relationships, particularly between husband and wife. A smart show.

09) Episode 148: “Family Ties” (Aired: 04/21/58)

Kathy teaches Danny a lesson about family togetherness.

Written by Bill Davenport & Jim Fritzell | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

Kathy shines in this amusing offering, and I wanted to include it here specifically because it’s one of the only times this season where her otherwise amiable character gets to take charge in story, concocting a plot to convince Danny that his edict to Rusty about sticking together with his sister is wrong, by opting to tagalong herself wherever Danny goes, like to his regular poker game (with Sheldon Leonard’s Phil), where she cleans up. This shtick is something we’ve seen before — it’s Lucy-esque — but it’s not out of bounds for the Kathy character and I really appreciate the effort made to engage her in a story that has big comedy.

10) Episode 152: “Too Good For Words” (Aired: 05/19/58)

A reporter comes to do a story on the Williams family.

Written by Roland MacLane and Dick Conway | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

There are two major comedic engines to this outing, the season’s finale and the year’s fourth and final appearance of Mary Wickes (making her swan song), and they are the false image of domesticity that Danny puts on for the visiting reporter and the two younger kids’ attempt to exploit Danny’s even-tempered, idealistic performance for their own benefit. The latter works precisely as “Parents Are Pigeons” did, and the former is interesting because it reinforces just how authentic this series is in comparison to the decade’s other strictly domestic comedies (including Beaver). Also, I think this is a showcase for how excellent Season Five is generally, with a great script filled with little moments that work as well as the big ideas.

 

Other notable entries that merit citation include: the above-mentioned “The Bob Hope Show,” which uses Hope well (it’s his best appearance on the series) but no one else, “Terry’s Coach,” which boasts a guest turn by Conried (not as Tonoose) and a memorable premise that’s more boldly handled the following season in a show with Tennessee Ernie Ford, and “Terry’s Girlfriend,” which is great and has a wonderfully funny scene where Danny’s pals hit on Terry and her friend, but pivots and devotes too much of its emotional energy on the guest character. Of more Honorable Mention quality are three early outings: “The Dinah Shore Show,” which isn’t her best guest appearance on the series (stay tuned) but smartly gets the “Kathy’s show biz bug” out of the way, along with “Two Sleepy People,” a newlywed show with sweet sincerity, and “Danny Meets His Father-In-Law,” the introduction of Demarest’s character and a more honest take on a story that had been done a few weeks prior with Uncle Tonoose and the couple’s roles reversed. I’d also like to mention two individually stellar scenes in “Terry, The Breadwinner,” where Danny goes down to spy on Terry at her department store job, and “The Raffle Tickets,” which yields a forgettable premise but one of the truly outstanding moments of the year as Danny teaches Rusty how to be a salesman.

 

*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Five of The Danny Thomas Show goes to…

“Uncle Tonoose Meets Mr. Daly”

 

 

Come back next week for more Danny Thomas and tomorrow, a new Wildcard Wednesday!

6 thoughts on “The Ten Best THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW Episodes of Season Five

  1. Jackson, thanks for your look back at may have been, judging by your description, the best season of this series. It’s also the only season of this series on DVD, to my knowledge, but I don’t think it sold much better than Season 2 of THE JOEY BISHOP SHOW (which I do own). I did find a few episodes of MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY, including American Tobacco Co. commercials, on DVD, and they were ok, from what I remember.

    Your mention of William Demarest’s appearances in this season give me a bridge to a question I wanted to ask regarding classic tv & your blog: Did you consider reviewing MY THREE SONS among 1960s tv series? The series is available in its entirety, all 12 seasons, on MeTV, and I can say due to weekday recordings off that network, I’ve now seen every episode of the series, so it is available, at least in syndicated form. I know, though, that reviewing each of 12 seasons, which are of varying quality, would be a huge undertaking, but maybe you could share any general thoughts you have of the series, or at least of what you’ve seen of it. I do have to say that the early seasons have many unique episodes. Also Robbie Douglas underwent a huge personality change when he went from being emotional son #2 to level-headed son #1 after the show moved, like this show you’re reviewing, from ABC to CBS. (Oddly enough LEAVE IT TO BEAVER made the opposite network switch.)

    • Hi, Jon! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      No. There’s a better long-running “warmedy” from the 1960s to study — one that can actually produce laughs if it so desires. We’ll be covering that one instead.

    • Hi, Tgibbs! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Yes, but remember this is 1957. Although they had written together before on MISTER PEEPERS, Fritzell & Greenbaum did not solidify a formal partnership until 1958, on the second season of THE REAL MCCOYS. They were unattached here and ready to be paired at a show’s discretion.

      And incidentally, Fritzell would work again with Davenport — an equally prolific writer from the era — when Fritzell & Greenbaum freelanced for the single-season ENSIGN O’TOOLE. (I wonder if the earlier, temporary duo had “war stories” about this sole year working for Sheldon Leonard and Danny Thomas — never known to be easy bosses!)

  2. “Rusty the Man” has two very funny scenes- when Rusty is looking through the want ads for a job with Linda’s “help “ and when Linda tells Danny where Rusty has gone- immediately after promising not to!

    • Hi, John! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I too appreciate the Linda moments in “Rusty, The Man,” an otherwise average episode from this above average season.

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