The Ten Best THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW Episodes of Season Six

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 included in syndication, has been released on DVD and can currently be seen 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 the DVD/Amazon order.)

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

Season Six has been associated with its predecessor here on this blog because I consider them both, together and individually, the best years of The Danny Thomas Show. And indeed, they share many qualities, including a fine balance of humor — which increased upon the series’ move to CBS, its introduction of a new wife and kid, and its desire to retain the I Love Lucy audience — alongside honesty, which exerted itself in the proceedings via the blended family drama, something the show has readily acknowledged and successfully assumed as part of its new premise (in the wake of its abandoned “work vs. home” construct). These two years also, more broadly, share a few key scribes, including technical head writer Arthur Stander, whose four-season tenure marks the period in the show’s life where the characters most often feel like real people — that is, real people who can also be funny at the same time… However, Five and Six have big differences that not only oppose them aesthetically, but make celebrating them together as the series’ best more a recognition of how they complement each other instead of how they align. For instance, Six loses Sherry Jackson’s Terry after one episode — she claimed to be miserable working for Thomas and Leonard — and this means that the overflowing story opportunities seen in Five (from having three kids) are diminished. Additionally, her absence and the simple fact that time is passing also begets thematic changes: there’s less newlywed cheer and not as much acknowledgment of the blended family premise that made Five so ideally authentic. Oh, it’s still there, but more muted, meaning scripts have to work overtime to find something interesting for Kathy to do, and you’ll note below that several shows give her a sort of “Dick Van Dyke‘s Laura Petrie” ethos that works if/when there’s enough humanity in Lord’s portrayal to ground it. Nevertheless, all these character concerns seem somewhat secondary to the year’s more pressing interest: guest stars. Yes — go figure — though Danny Thomas did a good job of maintaining Lucy‘s popularity, CBS apparently became more aggressive about solidifying the series’ appeal, encouraging the incorporation of another baby, which didn’t happen, and the inclusion of more guests, which, as you can tell, did.

Ordinarily, I’d find this unideal, for while guest stars bring more awareness to the series’ show biz aura and reinforce one of the traits that makes this (and Lucy and Dick Van Dyke) special, any script built around a known personality’s talent is inherently less satisfying than one built around the regular characters, who are our reason for watching… Well, this is usually true. Actually, Six deserves credit for delivering many of the best, most memorable guest star shows of the ENTIRE run, including outings with Jack Benny, Dinah Shore, and Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz (with whom Danny Thomas traded in crossovers). And so, when I celebrate Six, I’m also celebrating that it offers the best sample of this recurring aspect of the series’ identity. Also, these gimmicks translate into yet another charge to the show’s comedic engine, and this season ends up being even funnier than Five, which in turn leads to more standout stories and a greater number of entries that I could qualify as gems, in the same camp as Lucy’s and Dick Van Dyke’s. Accordingly, what the show loses in honesty from Five, it makes up for in laughs, and that’s why I find these two years complementary…  One aspect of Six I can’t champion, however, is another stunt that the network encouraged: the inclusion of Disney’s Annette Funicello as Gina, a foreign exchange student from Italy. Her five episodes are only adequate — they kind of fill the missing Terry void by providing teen stories, but they reek of “ratings ploy” and never manage to find either enough humor or heart to justify her inclusion. The show claimed to want her back for the following season, but apparently Disney snatched her back and out she went, leaving the show seeking something else to hang its figurative hat upon in Seven. That’s for next week though… In the meantime, this year is generally great at writing characters believably and comedically, with the scales tipped ever so slightly, unlike Five, more to laughs than truth. Yet while there are more duds because the baseline of quality is therefore less consistent, there are more actual classics in the mix as well, and together, Five and Six make up the best era in the show’s life. So, I have picked ten episodes that I think exemplify this season’s finest.

 

01) Episode 153: “Jack Benny Takes Danny’s Job” (Aired: 10/06/58)

Danny is miffed when Jack Benny takes his spot as host of Rusty’s Scout show.

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

Although not the more famous of Jack Benny’s two big headlining Danny Thomas outings, this one is a pip — one of the best uses of a guest star from the entire series, because not only does it showcase the iconic 39-year-old comic’s well-established persona with precision, it also invests in a story that actually caters to Danny and the particulars of the situation comedy itself. In this regard, it’s more than just an excuse for Benny to do shtick — it’s a chance for Danny Williams to have a run-in with Jack Benny. And this isn’t merely ideal, it’s hilarious, too. A gem.

02) Episode 156: “Terry Goes Steady” (Aired: 10/27/58)

Danny fears that Terry is planning to get married.

Written by David Adler and Arthur Stander | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

Terry’s sole appearance in Season Six, this marks the end of the road for Sherry Jackson, who would be replaced when the series decided to embark upon an arc for her character in Seven. But this is a fitting swan song for the original iteration of Terry, for it emphasizes her maturation into a woman, as she’s now going steady with a guy — a fact that stokes the ire of her overprotective father, leading to some meddling and a lot of big comedy nevertheless rooted in the sincerity of the relationship these characters share (and have always shared).

03) Episode 157: “Take A Message” (Aired: 11/03/58)

Kathy mixes up Danny’s dinner plans.

Written by Arthur Stander | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

My pick for the season’s Most Valuable Episode (MVE), “Take A Message” proves that if there’s any year that comes closest to regularly producing classics, it’s Six, with its great guest star outings and perfectly written situational shows, like such, existing somewhere between I Love Lucy and Dick Van Dyke. This is a prime study, for it feels as if it could belong to Dick Van Dyke, as its comedic-though-relatable premise finds Kathy acting (tears and all!) like Laura Petrie, the well-intentioned but periodically silly and often exasperated wife who doesn’t mean to make things difficult, but does. The stakes are low — Kathy mixes up dinner plans — yet it’s the kind of comic misunderstanding that was common on ’50s and ’60s TV, and again, it’s not hard to imagine Laura making a similar snafu and forcing her husband to endure three tortuous lasagna dinners — heck, Andy Griffith actually would do a version of this story in several years! Now, Dick Van Dyke doesn’t even exist yet, but we’ll find that by 1963, Danny Thomas is going to be actively imitating it, so this foreshadows their aesthetic link and reinforces our coverage’s overall thesis… Still, even in Six’s context, this is an example of the year balancing laughs with believability, and in particular, trying to find a way that Kathy, no longer a newlywed or being explored in “blended family” plots, can propel conflict while also being funny. A few other entries here employ similar ideas, all with more success than those in future years, which seem to lose Kathy’s humanity when trying to make her comedically flawed (usually by having her unbuyably angry). For the record, this excursion, along with “Double Dinner,” was cribbed from Stander’s tenure on I Married Joan, an I Love Lucy wannabe that typically lacked the latter’s strong foundation of character motivation, which in turn supplied truth. This version, from its simplicity, adds in some of that winning Lucy/Dick Van Dyke-esque honesty.

04) Episode 160: “Uncle Tonoose’s Fling” (Aired: 11/24/58)

Uncle Tonoose wants to live a playboy’s life.

Written by David Adler | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

One of the series’ finest Uncle Tonoose shows, this offering earns that distinction because it’s the funniest, as his character shows up ready to mix and mingle now that he’s married off all his relatives and ready to live his own life. The gag is that he starts dating a younger woman (Joyce Jameson) — no rendition of “September Song” can stop that — and ends up having more energy than everyone else, ready to go out and do things… per his famous “strong like bull” mantra (which is believed to have originated on this series with his character, back in Season Four). Also, this contains the show’s best ever version of Thomas’ legendary spit take.

05) Episode 162: “Dinah Shore And Danny Are Rivals” (Aired: 12/08/58)

Danny and Dinah Shore get competitive over cookie selling.

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

This is another one of the best studies from the entire series of how to use a guest star and spotlight her unique talents, all the while crafting a comedic story that otherwise benefits the regulars, especially Danny, and exists on its own terms as a stellar installment. The premise pits Danny against Dinah, for they’re opening at rival clubs on the same night, and channels their feud into a battle over who can sell the most cookies for their respective kid, the centerpiece of which leads to the two dropping in on the same unsuspecting household and trying to out-schmooze the other and land the sale. (Lucy fans, Shirley Mitchell appears.)

06) Episode 163: “The Reunion” (Aired: 12/15/58)

Danny feels inferior after reuniting with his old high school friends.

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

It’s rare to find episodes centering around Danny that aren’t either, A) so earnest that they become self-righteous, often with some speech about the nobility of show biz, or B) merely a chance to showcase his stand-up/singing “act,” which by itself, is not an ideal use of this sitcom’s time. So, what I like best about this offering is that it deploys an imaginative fantasy sequence to examine his character’s insecurities, which are grounded and relatable, and then pays off in actual growth: he finally receives his high school diploma. Alan Reed guests.

07) Episode 166: “Lucille Ball Upsets The Williams’ Household” (Aired: 01/05/59)

Danny tries to help Ricky Ricardo curb his wife’s outrageous behavior.

Written by Sid Dorfman and Arthur Stander | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

If you’re a Lucy fan, chances are you’ve already seen this outing — Ball and Arnaz’s trade-off for the Danny Thomas Show cast having appeared several months prior on an installment of their Desilu Playhouse series (today part of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour collection). Now, that was a gem, because those writers not only knew how to write for their regular characters, and their comedic strengths, but they also found the best traits of the Danny Thomas cast, as well. I can’t say the same for these authors — particularly because the depiction of Lucy, who’s apparently difficult just to be difficult, is a definite outsider’s take on the character, totally missing the expertly well-supplied motivation that usually underscores all her actions. Nevertheless, this is one of the most memorable shows of this series and I appreciate that it explores the Danny/Kathy dynamic, while, for us, contrasting them against I Love Lucy’s central couple and proving why there’s such a discrepancy between the two shows’ comic values.

08) Episode 173: “Gina’s First Date” (Aired: 02/23/59)

Danny becomes protective when Gina prepares for her first American date.

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

I wanted to feature at least one entry with Annette Funicello as Gina, the Italian foreign exchange student. This is her second of five appearances and, while none are truly great — because they’re not overly funny and we just don’t care about her in relation to the rest of the family to invest emotionally or ignore the blatant stunt casting represented by her presence — this one does the best job of trying to build up the Danny/Gina bond (like Danny/Terry) and presents a fine scene between the two as he attempts to give her advice ahead of her date.

09) Episode 174: “Growing Pains” (Aired: 03/02/59)

Kathy thinks Rusty’s hatred of a girl classmate is puppy love.

Written by Arthur Phillips and George Beck | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

The best Rusty show of the season, this hilarious outing isn’t his first encounter with a member of the opposite sex — you’ll remember he had something of a girlfriend in one of the last Kathy episodes of Season Four — but this is the first to consciously play with the idea of linking his interest in girls with his growth (just like we saw in Beaver). The script is also quite funny, affording strong moments not just for Rusty and his girl, but also for Danny and Kathy — so I think, textually, this is one of the year’s best-crafted and tightly told samples.

10) Episode 180: “Double Dinner” (Aired: 04/20/59)

Kathy inadvertently forces Danny to host two separate dinners at once.

Written by Arthur Stander | Directed by Sheldon Leonard

Kathy is again the conflict-provider in this one, and like “Take A Message,” it’s an example of the show trying to make her character sustainably funny in a more traditional context. However, it eschews much of the former’s Dick Van Dyke character-rooted simplicity for plot-based farce, as the Williamses end up playing host to two feuding members of the Friars Club (J. Pat O’Malley and Jack Albertson) at two separate, but simultaneous dinners — one in the kitchen, one in the living room. This series seldom does farce, but with many big hahas that aren’t unearned, it feels at home within this period of the run, and we therefore forgive some of the strain within Kathy’s depiction, primarily in the opening scene where Lord has trouble playing anger. (Again, Stander reworked this story from one of his old I Married Joan scripts.)

 

Other notable entries that merit mention include: three other solid guest-star-led affairs, “Shirley Jones Makes Good,” which is fun chiefly because it spends its first half making us believe, contrary to the show’s usual pattern, that her character is a terrible singer, along with “Tennessee Ernie Stays For Dinner,” a funnier and more emotionally resonant take on a story utilized last season with Hans Conried as a hobo, and another decent offering with the great Bob Hope, “Bob Hope And Danny Become Directors.” Of more Honorable Mention quality, meanwhile, are “Losers Weepers,” which is in the Laura-ish “daffy Kathy” variety (and is one of two scripts this year credited to future head writer Danny Simon, who had previously worked with Dick Van Dyke‘s Carl Reiner on Sid Caesar’s show), “Grampa’s Diet,” which is memorable for its comedic idea of Charles Coburn as a relative trying to sneak food while on a diet, and “Gina For President,” the second best Funicello outing.

 

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

“Take A Message”

 

 

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

4 thoughts on “The Ten Best THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW Episodes of Season Six

  1. I think the title of the episode involving the Ricardos should’ve been “Lucy Ricardo Upsets the Williams’ Household” instead of mentioning Lucille Ball, since it was Lucy Ricardo causing the problem and not the celebrity Lucille Ball. I’ve never seen it, but I should look for it someday, maybe on YouTube.

    As soon as I was reading your description for “Double Dinner”, I thought immediately of an I MARRIED JOAN episode with the same plot, so I’m glad you confirmed that the earlier show had used this plot before. From what I remember, the IMJ plot only took half of its particular episode (the 2nd half, I’m pretty sure), so this Danny Thomas episode must’ve been fleshed out further to fill a whole half-hour.

    If you haven’t done so already (I don’t recall if you have.), are you planning on visiting the spin-off series, MAKE ROOM FOR GRANDDADDY in a Wildcard Wednesday post soon? I’ve read where Marjorie Lord placed a lot of the blame for that series failure on the boy hired to play Danny & Kathy’s grandson (Terry’s son), but I’m sure there were other bigger reasons, maybe along the same lines on how shows of this type, even Lucy’s sitcom (by then HERE’S LUCY), were getting tired by the time of its premiere in 1970.

    • Hi, Jon! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      No. It’s not worth taking a whole post to say that this show is of its era and was no longer funny or sincere when transplanted to a different one.

      Please visit the Coming Attractions page to see what I can confirm for coverage at this time. I don’t plan on making any announcements elsewhere in the immediate future.

  2. I got this season on DVD years ago but skipped S5 because of edited episodes. I remember thinking it was pretty funny but of course not up to the level of the great classics we always go back to.

    However your coverage encouraged me to check out the show again on Amazon and I really have to say that I do see a lot of qualities shared with this show and both Lucy and Dick Van Dyke. Thank you for that because it’s made me want to watch more and now I have something to enjoy over the next week!

    I know you’ll get there soon, but with you calling S5 and S6 the best, I’m worried. How bad are the remaining five years? Even though I know there’s a decline, is there still good episodes (just less of them?) or what?

    • Hi, Elaine! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Don’t worry, almost every season ahead still has a handful of strong episodes that I’d recommend — especially Season Seven, which is available (almost in full) on Amazon Prime. So, you’ve got at least three seasons to stream in which I think you’ll find a lot to enjoy!

      And yes, it’s no I LOVE LUCY or THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, but THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW is largely the reason that we can make an aesthetic link between those two classics. Also, as discussed in our opening post, with so many spin-offs, its TV footprint is just as big!

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