Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! This week, we’re continuing our look at the best of The Danny Thomas Show! This season is currently seen in COZI TV’s rotation. (Also, please remember that most online episode guides for this series are widely inaccurate; these posts reflect the actual air dates, sourced from newspaper and TV Guide listings.) (September 2021 UPDATE: This season is now available to stream on Amazon Prime!)
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, SID MELTON as Charley Halper, PAT CARROLL as Bunny Halper, and BILL DANA as José Jiménez.
After Season Nine’s successful introduction of a secondary couple, Thomas thought he finally found a way to ease out of his on-camera duties, which had been on his agenda since 1959. So, this year was crafted to formally test the viability of this new pair, with Danny and Kathy taking off on a European tour and leaving the Halpers, now parents themselves, to watch Rusty and Linda and anchor the show… Sadly, this begets trouble. The eight Euro episodes, sprinkled throughout the year but shot single-cam and on-location over the summer of 1962 by Sheldon Leonard with Thomas and Lord, are dreadfully unfunny, lacking everything we want from this series, especially relatable familial humanity. (Not even “story consulting” by Arthur Stander, head writer from the best years, can help.) As for the regular home outings filmed in front of an audience and using everyone but Danny/Kathy, they aren’t much better. Although Melton and Carroll are affable, the novelty of a pregnancy arc and a new secondary duo in Nine distracted from the fact that they, and particularly Bunny, were never given actual characterizations. Here in Ten, this becomes glaring when they’re forced to headline typical family stories as proxy versions of Danny/Kathy, bland stand-ins that are neither unique nor genuine. Furthermore, the problems with Rusty have increased; the show doesn’t know how to write for him as a teen, because he’s no longer as funny or authentic, so it instead ignores him. What’s left? Gimmicks mostly. Yes, Linda gets a few shows, as does José Jiménez, the single-dimensional elevator operator who appears more now in advance of his spin-off, but they’re all hit-and-miss. This is surprising, given that veteran scribes Jack Elinson & Charles Stewart took over head writing duties at long last, yet it’s also worth noting that Leonard decreased his involvement, not directing any of the NYC shows except for the first few establishing the tour. Thomas would take over these chores by the end of the season, helming the last few entries upon his and Kathy’s “return,” but this lack of consistent involvement, from a star who essentially gave away his series, condemns the season. (As his sponsors again said, they ordered The Danny Thomas Show, and that meant Danny Thomas.) Fortunately, this is the low — things will improve. In the meantime, I have picked ten episodes that I think exemplify the year’s finest.
01) Episode 289: “Ten Years Ago Today” (Aired: 11/19/62)
Charley and Bunny remember how they first met Danny.
Written by Jack Elinson & Charles Stewart | Directed by Danny Thomas
Danny Thomas is basically a special guest on his own series in this installment, one of his few filmed appearances after shooting the European setup entries but before his formal year-end return. Yet it’s notable because it not only aims to develop Charley and Bunny by giving them a bit of a backstory and deepening their relationships both with each other and with Danny, but it’s also a flashback narrative very much in the Dick Van Dyke mold. Sure, this series had done flashbacks during the Margaret years, and Carl Reiner didn’t have a monopoly on the device, but by this time, it certainly looks as if the writers are taking a page out of the junior series’ book and hoping for the same kind of character relevance. So, with not a lot to choose from, this is my pick for the season’s Most Valuable Episode (MVE) — a chance to see what Ten is like, while also giving us a taste of what it’s still (and in Eleven more so) aspiring to be.
02) Episode 291: “The Ould Sod” (Aired: 12/03/62)
In Ireland, Kathy’s relatives are shocked to learn Danny isn’t Irish.
Written by David Adler | Directed by Sheldon Leonard
This is the best of the European shows and that’s because it manages to do what none of the other plot-driven on-location outings can: reinforce the series’ thematic interest in family and utilize a story that’s specific to these characters and what we know of their definitions. In this half-hour, we get to meet Kathy’s family, who’ve long held the belief that Danny is Irish, giving the series the opportunity to draw on its ethnic particulars. Barbara Mullen guests.
03) Episode 298: “Tonoose Needs Glasses” (Aired: 01/21/63)
Charley and Bunny work to convince Tonoose that he needs glasses.
Written by Jack Elinson & Charles Stewart | Directed by Coby Ruskin
Tonoose is the victim of ye old gaslighting bit, which has become routine for this series after its delectable use in the uproariously fun “Danny And The Little Men,” for this entry doesn’t even come close to matching the original’s enjoyment. But it does give the great Hans Conried a chance to clown and for the New York ensemble to function as something of a cohesive unit in a story that’s character-proof. (And Lucy fans, note the appearance of Philip Ober.)
04) Episode 299: “Million Dollar Dress” (Aired: 01/28/63)
In Paris, Danny schemes to have a copy of an expensive dress made for Kathy.
Written by Robert Shannon | Directed by Sheldon Leonard
Only here because I made the decision to scrounge up a list of ten favorites for this otherwise lackluster season, this offering is the second best of the Euro shows, mostly because its location is incidental to the narrative, a familiar husband/wife sitcom yarn involving an imitation of an expensive gift. The story could happen anywhere, but it nevertheless finds its laughs and doesn’t disrespect the characters by drowning them in plot. Jacques Marin and Pascale Roberts guest.
05) Episode 301: “Charley, The Tiger” (Aired: 02/04/63)
Charley gets the confidence to stand up for himself.
Written by Ray Singer & Dick Chevillat | Directed by Coby Ruskin
Mike Mazurki appears in this episode as a strongman who helps boost Charley’s confidence by teaching him how to stand up for himself (or at least making him think he can stand up for himself). It’s a variation on a story from several years ago with Rusty when Danny wanted to help him with bullies, but I like its incorporation here because it only works by highlighting a personality trait — and a flaw that can be exploited for comedy — in Charley: his meekness. Then, by having him play against type, the show delivers comedic moments while supplying the semblance of a character foundation that it can appear to use in the process.
06) Episode 303: “Jose’s Guided Tour” (Aired: 02/25/63)
José makes money giving tours of the Williamses’ apartment.
Written by Garry Marshall and Fred Freeman | Directed by Al Rafkin
José is a much larger presence this season, as he’s clearly being groomed for a series of his own; in all five of his outings, he’s allowed to dominate the proceedings, despite scant depth. This is one of his better shows, however, courtesy of an imaginative premise that’s more creative and comedic than the bulk of this year’s output. It also uses Rusty, Linda, and Louise well as part of its action, and because it doesn’t rely on pets or schmaltz or gimmicks, I count it as a success. Also, note the writers, one of whom is Garry Marshall, the future Dick Van Dyke scribe who was pulling double duty in 1962-’63 as a frequent contributor on The Joey Bishop Show. (And there’s another Lucy connection: Jerry Hausner guests as one of the tourists.)
07) Episode 308: “Charley, My Boy” (Aired: 04/08/63)
A singer sweet talks Charley and boosts his ego.
Written by Jack Elinson & Charles Stewart | Directed by Jay Sandrich
Ruta Lee appears in this excursion, but for a change, she’s not playing herself — she’s a singer who hopes to get hired for the club and goes overboard flirting with Charley to land the gig. It’s clichéd and not very funny, yet the installment surprisingly has some key scenes for Charley and Bunny, as their relationship takes front and center in the story, giving them some actual points-of-view and a sense of how they would operate if given their own series to anchor.
08) Episode 309: “Linda, The Grownup” (Aired: 04/15/63)
Bunny schemes to discourage Linda from wanting to grow up too fast.
Written by Ed James & Seaman Jacobs | Directed by Jay Sandrich
This is the only rival for this week’s MVE, for it utilizes a story that acknowledges character development in Linda, as she’s starting to grow up and demanding more responsibility, despite the fact that she can’t handle it. There’s also some fun to be had when Bunny gathers the rest of “the family” around to discourage her of this idea, which allows the New York cast to feel like a real ensemble — even though it’s still hard to shake the notion that, as with almost every home show this year, we’d rather have Danny/Kathy. Oh, well… it’s still funny, believable, and character-rooted. Also, note that Jay Sandrich is director; this was the first of two shows he helmed, but they were broadcast in reverse order. (See the above, “Charley My Boy.”)
09) Episode 311: “Tonoose’s Brother” (Aired: 04/29/63)
Danny puts a stop to Tonoose’s bossing by dressing up as his older brother.
Written by Jack Elinson & Charles Stewart | Directed by Danny Thomas
Frankly, I have a hard time celebrating this episode because it stretches credibility a little too far, even by this series’ standards, which already makes room for some sitcom contrivance amidst its typically sincere and honest intentions. The trouble essentially is that, as a way to stop Tonoose from doing his usual bossing (which is almost always the story template in his appearances), Danny has to pretend to be the only member of the family who’s older and therefore has a word more final: Tonoose’s brother. You see, it’s simply not buyable for Danny to dress up as someone and not be recognized — that’s sitcom logic, not real-life logic — but, I can’t deny that it’s iconic to see Thomas as Tonoose’s twin. It’s just too memorable to ignore.
10) Episode 312: “Jose’s Rival” (Aired: 05/06/63)
Danny tries to help José win the affections of his latest crush.
Written by Jack Elinson & Charles Stewart | Directed by Danny Thomas
José’s last appearance on Danny Thomas before riding off to his two-season spin-off, this offering gains points for boasting the series’ most authentic and least annoying/caricatured/single-dimensional depiction of his character. That is, he feels the realest here, and without the falseness that typically comes when the show aims to make him more sympathetic, for this outing is actually funny, with a story that lets him do his thing, and keeps Danny in control, like in enjoyable beats where Danny tries to teach José how to talk to women, and the climactic club scene where several emotional, but earned, moments occur. Bill Bixby guests.
Other notable entries that merit mention include: “Danny’s English Friend,” which features the funny Bernard Fox as future recurring character Alfie, an incompetent waiter whose shtick is so extreme that it isn’t believable and limits investment, “Louise To The Rescue,” which I single out only because it’s one of the few stories where Louise is important, and two of the three other José offerings, “Jose, The Scholar,” which is overdosed with sentiment, and “Jose, The Dog Sitter,” which puts its comic onus not on character, but on a dog. Also, Margaret Hamilton, Jaye P. Morgan, and Harry Ruby make memorable appearances in “Bunny, The Brownie Leader,” “Bunny’s Cousin,” and the season finale, “That Old Feeling.“
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Ten of The Danny Thomas Show goes to…
“Ten Years Ago Today”
Come back next week for more Danny Thomas and tomorrow, a new Wildcard Wednesday!
This analysis is spot on. It is strange that such experienced people behind the scenes such as Leonard, Elinson and Stewart didn’t seem to realize that they weren’t presenting Bunny and Charley in a way that would make a spinoff viable.
Hi, John! Thanks for reading and commenting.
I think Thomas erred, both in Seasons Seven and here in Ten, by testing replacements via their ability to step in and take over his series, as opposed to trying them out in their own uniquely crafted vehicles. After all, the initial MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY concept worked for Thomas because it was about his life and the real genuine work/home conflict he experienced. This simply wasn’t going to apply to Bunny and Charley (the kids weren’t even theirs!), and by forcing them into a structure that wasn’t built for them, this further limited the scripts’ ability to develop characterizations that could then have survived elsewhere. (Although, I once again point out that earlier seasons gave the pair little with which to work — the problem really precedes this year.)
In hindsight and engaging in hypotheticals, I think it would have been smarter to test Bunny and Charley in a summer spin-off series of their own (with Danny/Kathy appearing once to kick it off) that was not using the DANNY THOMAS title or format, just the time slot. If it worked, Thomas could have done one more year and then stepped aside in favor of this whole new show. If not, no harm — he wouldn’t have lost the characters and he wouldn’t have disappointed the powers that be by taking a half-season vacation.
But, oh, well. I think the dissatisfaction in Ten encourages Eleven to try harder; stay tuned…
Good idea about the summer tryout. This would have forced the writers to come up with a format that would have showcased Bunny and Charley on their own. It’s odd that after the first episode of Season 10 the baby was rarely seen or even acknowledged!
I am watching Season 11 again from the beginning on COZI to be ready for next week!
Great! Next week is all about coming full circle with our “bridge between I LOVE LUCY and DICK VAN DYKE” thesis, courtesy of an attempted aesthetic shift toward the latter’s brand of character-based sitcom realism. Stay tuned…
It’s odd that Danny Thomas would just leave his series and only appear part time. Seems like a better idea would have him do the specials like Lucy and Desi did on “The Lucy Desi Hour”. Did the ratings suffer for season 10?
Hi, Smitty! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Well, specials are exactly what Thomas did do, once his series ended — that was always an option he knew he could pick up at any time. His goal here was more nuanced: it was to literally groom a replacement, so that he could produce a successful new series, keep it in the same lucrative timeslot, but not have to be involved every week.
Interestingly, the final ratings ended up slightly better for Season Ten than the year prior because CBS’ Monday lineup was stronger during the 1962-’63 season than 1961-’62 (largely thanks to THE LUCY SHOW). But the network and sponsor still weren’t sold on Melton/Carroll and certainly weren’t going to pay Danny Thomas prices unless they got Danny Thomas. They’d only allowed this European arc because they wanted to keep him mollified; afterwards, they called it unsuccessful and pleaded with him to return.
So, when he came back full-time in 1963, he knew that, while he could continue to develop possible new shows via pilots and backdoor pilots, he had to be all-in on his weekly show if he was going to retain his claim on that desired berth. When he decided he’d had enough by October — despite both network and sponsor interest in a 12th season — he’d already given up on trying to hold Monday at 9:00. He just wanted out.