Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! This week, we’re discussing The Joey Bishop Show (1961-1965, NBC/CBS) and its tortured evolution, focusing on how it — always a mediocre sitcom — intentionally became more like both The Danny Thomas Show (1953-1964, ABC/CBS), the series off from which it spun, along with the superior but similarly constructed The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966, CBS). I’ll also share some picks for the series’ best and/or most important episodes. First, though, an encapsulation: The Joey Bishop Show begins as a workplace bachelor comedy with a non-traditional domestic component and a show biz veneer, very much in The Bob Cummings Show mold, but without the characters that made that series so watchable and fun. The arc of this series is then one towards reality, specifically Joey Bishop’s actual reality, as Season Two gives him a wife and makes him a TV star, keeping the work/home balance but now with a personal life that more resembles its parent, Danny Thomas, and its sibling, the company’s emerging hit, Dick Van Dyke, the best and most realism-based of these comedies and the one that Joey Bishop primarily tries to invoke in its self-referential yet more down-to-earth final season. However, the characters are never fully developed enough on Joey Bishop, and as a result, the show’s storytelling is never able to escape mediocrity and become a classic.
I’m going to be blunt. Joey Bishop is the runt of the Rat Pack — probably the least enduring member of that crew. He’s also not inherently likable on his own, an opinion I don’t enjoy sharing, but one that’s unshakable after forcing myself to watch 123 half-hours of a situation comedy built around him, only to find that he’s never an asset to his own series, never someone we know well enough to like, or like well enough to want to know. Unlike the sincere Danny Thomas and the jolly Dick Van Dyke, Bishop is guarded, less accessible. In fact, by all accounts, he was better displayed on his late-night talk show — the second Joey Bishop Show of the 1960s, where just as in the Rat Pack, Bishop could be remembered as an associate of other, more talented people. This has to be considered when we discuss his sitcom, because he’s only as good as those around him, and any show that stars Joey Bishop is especially beholden to its surroundings: its writers, its ensemble, its structure. And it’s no wonder then that the series spends almost the entirety of its four years in a state of flux, as Bishop and his evolving crew seek to develop the show into something that better reveals him and is more sustainable — never actually succeeding, but making efforts that seem to suggest an awareness of the problems. Needless to say, this show isn’t close to Van Dyke’s or Thomas’, although it looks a lot like them both. Even from the beginning, when Bishop first appeared in a backdoor pilot on the latter’s series, in a March 1961 entry called “Everything Happens To Me,” the premise was similar — a star vehicle for a man in show biz with a work vs. home construct. Yet it wasn’t totally like the other series. Joey, initially given the surname Mason, was rather on the fringes of the industry, playing a befuddled West Coast PR man who counts Joe Flynn as his boss and still lives at home with his family, a mother (Madge Blake), a father (Billy Gilbert), and two sisters (Mary Lee Dearring and Marlo Thomas, the latter being the daughter of you-know-who). The pilot really plays up the would-be regulars, all the while giving business to Danny, and thus leaving Bishop just to anchor. It’s not a great sample of a possible series, but it’s not horrible.
However, when sold to NBC, the network made further changes before its September 1961 premiere — gone were Gilbert and Dearring, as Joe Flynn went from boss to brother-in-law and Virginia Vincent was added as the new married sis, alongside Warren Berlinger as a younger brother, John Griggs as a new boss, and Nancy Hadley as a secretary love interest. By building up the regulars, the show gave Bishop, now playing Joey Barnes, more help, for though the premise, like Thomas’, made room for guest stars via Joey’s job as a PR lackey, it clearly knew it needed a solid main cast. I compared it above to Bob Cummings of the 1950s because early episodes hammer in that Joey is a bachelor, within a familiar dynamic. Think about it: Hadley is a more glamorous Schultzy, recurring Jean Carson is the Rose Marie secretary pal, Blake is Rosemary DeCamp’s Margaret, the younger siblings (together) represent Dwayne Hickman’s Chuck, and the married pair serve as a contrasting influence, à la Harvey/Ruthie. Unfortunately, none of Bishop‘s leads are as well-defined, or bold. The most pinpointable is Blake as Joey’s mom, but she’s more a performative presence than anything else. Meanwhile, much has also been made of Flynn possibly stealing the show as Joey’s lazy brother-in-law, but truthfully, that’s merely because he’s the one-dimensional scapegoat used to push unoriginal conflict. Actually, early episodes are only notable when they rely on their story interests, including guest star gimmicks (Jack Paar, Barbara Stanwyck, Danny Thomas)… although, frankly, even without cameos, the year is always beholden to its episodic ideas for value, as there’s no tangible understanding of character. Perhaps this should be no surprise, for the head writer of this first season was producer Marvin Marx, the Honeymooners vet whose strength was funny ideas, not well-rounded characters. And even when supported by Danny Thomas writers, like Fox/Elinson, Singer/Chevillat, and Crane/Dreben, whose natural inclination is to play up the family, no great strides are made… least of all when, about a third into the year, terrible reviews forced changes: dropping Flynn and his wife, replacing Griggs with Bill Bixby and Hadley with Jackie Russell, and generally trying to update the Joey character so he was less a harried Hollywood grunt and more a smooth-talking quipster — like the Bishop viewers knew from Jack Paar.
Making this evolution within the initial structure was deemed impossible — even after Joe Besser was introduced as Jillson, Joey’s quirky neighbor and odd confidant — and so the year’s final two scripts pivot the show entirely, transforming Joey from PR underling to host of his own TV show. It comes out of nowhere — this character has never shown any talent — and yet, even though it doesn’t make sense, the series is trying to make Joey Barnes more like Joey Bishop, and this is something we want, since we’re craving honesty and, hopefully from there, character comedy. So, when the show returns for Season Two — now regularly in color (as opposed to a few one-offs the prior year) — it’s all NEW. Joey is now a well-known variety/talk TV personality in New York, and his family has disappeared. Now he interacts with his agent, played by Guy Marks, his apartment’s janitor, Jillson (the only carryover), and Mary Treen as Hilda, the housekeeper. Oh, and most importantly, he has a new bride, Ellie, played by Hennessy‘s Abby Dalton, who debuts in a premiere akin to the CBS opener for Danny Thomas: a honeymoon entry with a work/home drama where the new wife quickly dispels the fear that she’ll get in the way of his career. Well, hindsight will say keeping that as a regular conflict may have been wise, because the series remains an unfunny, character-less mess, with some of the most clichéd sitcom stories you’ll find. And the changes, which inevitably make the show more like Thomas’ — including the use of a live audience (in the Desilu style), a new head writer in Thomas’ Milt Josefsberg (Marx held on as lead producer for half the season), and a format that enables even more star cameos — can’t overcome basic character issues. At the same time, as much as these shifts make the show Danny Thomas-esque, it’s here Bishop’s true intent emerges: emulating Dick Van Dyke, which also had its lead working in TV, a wife closer in age to Dalton than Marjorie Lord, and a pair of old-timers in support — that is, Jillson and Hilda, though at home, are more like Buddy and Sally than Rusty and Linda, and this makes sense, for Bishop reportedly wanted his show, now on Saturday nights, to be kid-free and “adult,” a word we’d pair more with the sophisticated Dick Van Dyke than the family-friendly Danny Thomas.
If this adultness never made it onscreen, that’s not only the fault of scripts — contributed by many of the same teams as the previous year, but now with future Danny Thomas and Dick Van Dyke scribe Garry Marshall coauthoring teleplays — but also because Dalton surprised the company when she announced she was pregnant, triggering a clause in her contract that forced the show to write in her blessed event, making the Barneses expectant parents for a storyline that began in March and culminated in a May birth. This seems like the gimmick of all gimmicks — a way to drive up the ratings, which were adequate but still suggested the need for ongoing tinkering, such as the firing of Marks allegedly because he got more laughs than the overly sensitive star, and Marks’ quick replacement with Corbett Monica as Joey’s head writer, Larry, a mini-me version of Joey with fewer story opportunities. But, no, the baby was not a stunt Bishop invited — he didn’t want a family show — and yet, ironically, it ends up actually helping, simply because, as a gimmick, it provides focused story ideas that, okay, aren’t character-driven, but at least feel more personal than the guest star-driven or routine husband/wife fare seen earlier in the Marx era. And if the second half of Two isn’t much of an improvement — aided only by a few appearances from a pair of comic laundry ladies, introduced in the series’ best episode (see below) — the numbers improved, allowing Bishop to convince the network to renew his sitcom (and not foist him into an hour-long variety series, as intended), launching a third season that, thankfully, does see an uptick in quality. This isn’t because anything’s really changed beyond the baby, but because the show is starting to get smarter scripts. Most of the same writers persist, only now there are efforts by Jack Benny‘s John Tackaberry, and a handful of simultaneous Dick Van Dyke scribes, including Ernest Chambers, the soon-to-be famous Bill Persky & Sam Denoff, and Jerry Belson, who became a team with Marshall — providing scripts as a duo to Joey Bishop, Danny Thomas, and Dick Van Dyke, all in the same season!
Truthfully, we’re still dealing with third-tier efforts, below both Dick Van Dyke and Danny Thomas, but these scripts have better ideas, and a few even come close to understanding that the Joey character needs to be flawed, making him the butt of several jokes about his singing in a few key entries (like “Joey And The Andrews Sisters”), which work because they’re starting to give him a characterization that can be exploited for laughs and make him more likable through self-deprecation. Additionally, there are more signs of wannabe-Dick Van Dyke-ness, both with the use of flashbacks (which Reiner employed regularly and more successfully than any other sitcom auteur at the time) and in a characterization of Ellie that begs comparison to Mary Tyler Moore’s Laura. Again, it’s not terribly successful — Danny Thomas was making similar strides during the same season, 1963-’64, in an effort to have more of Dick Van Dyke‘s modern realism, and doing it with better results — but it’s notable and valiant. Despite all this, the network was tiring of the show’s increasingly lackluster performance, and starting to force even more guest stars. So, amidst some decent regular situation comedy episodes by these Van Dyke writers, the first half of the year also sees about 50% of its output riddled with visiting personalities, which make for (mostly) lazy scripts that don’t offer many character rewards. It gets even worse in the back half of the season, where guest stars invade about two out of every three weeks (including the notoriously scrapped show featuring Kennedy impersonator Vaughn Meader, who filmed his episode right before the assassination). The last batch of these were overseen by Garry Marshall, who briefly took over for the departing Josefsberg but didn’t manage to make much of a dent in terms of quality or popularity, leading to a cancellation by NBC… and then a pickup from CBS, which quickly needed an extra comedy with some name-value to put up against the titanic Bonanza. This CBS move brought more changes; aside from a reversion from color back to black-and-white, there was a new head writer in Charles Stewart, one of the last Danny Thomas leaders and co-author of Bishop’s initial backdoor pilot.
Stewart oversaw scripts from Fox/Elinson, along with Marshall/Belson (then preoccupied with Dick Van Dyke), and the new duo of Carl Kleinschmitt and Dale McRaven, who’d both jump over to Dick Van Dyke by the end of the year. In front of the camera, the series changes scenery, adds a new recurring character — a pediatrician played by Joey Forman — and implies that it will do fewer guest star shows, dedicating itself to the regulars. And, for the most part, that’s exactly what it tries to do — sure, there’s a three-episode arc with Rusty Hamer playing his character from Danny Thomas, but this role was originally written as Ellie’s brother, and it was Thomas who encouraged giving his TV son some extra work; otherwise, the show actually tries to be more legitimate. And much of this effort stems from a larger push to be more realistic and self-aware. To wit, the premiere is about how Joey’s TV show was cancelled by NBC and then picked up by CBS… only for them all to learn that he will be facing Bonanza. Now, this wink to the audience, and the ongoing enhanced intelligence the year seeks to suggest, doesn’t compensate for ill-defined characters who can’t propel comedy or story, so the problems with the show remain. Again, though, we can see effort being made to reach this Dick Van Dyke ideal. Also, Dalton became pregnant again, giving the show the chance to do more pregnancy stories — this time more honestly — but it only had so many weeks with Ellie, so it had to be strategic about scheduling, for the last handful would be without her. By this time, the show got a new head writer (Sid Dorfman), introduced a new recurring pal for Joey (Allan Melvin), and had moved to a new time slot in a last-ditch effort to remain viable, but it was all too late. The series ran out of chances — it strove to become as humorously real and sophisticated as the heralded Dick Van Dyke, but merely emulating that great show missed the point: all of Reiner’s characters were so well-built, and that’s why they could be both realistic and funny at the same time. Joey Bishop, sadly, never figured itself out… Still, I have scoured the show’s catalogue — after decades out of circulation, all episodes are now seen on Cable TV and purchasable on DVD and Amazon Prime — and I present my picks for the series’ best and/or most notable below in airing order (this may go against online guides, which tend to have inaccuracies).
Season One (1961-1962, NBC)
01) Episode 7: “Five Brides For Joey” (Aired: 11/01/61)
Joey’s family members each try to set him up with a prospective bride.
Written by Si Rose & Seaman Jacobs | Directed by David Lowell Rich
Admittedly, this decent entry makes this list because I need to highlight at least one from the critically unpopular and narratively contrived first year, which began with a premise more like The Bob Cummings Show than Danny Thomas. This installment is indicative of the early design, with a story about the family thinking Joey needs to settle down and then trying to set him up with a wife. His scheme to discourage their efforts is to convince his secretary love interest (the sexpot version of Schultzy) to pretend to be his regular gal… only she has an ulterior goal of her own. It’s one of the few shows with motivated behavior and plenty for everyone around Joey to do. It’s also one of the five first season offerings that were filmed in color.
Other memorable episodes from Season One include:
“A Windfall For Mom” — Barbara Stanwyck guests
“This Is Your Life” — Danny Thomas guests, fine display of original show biz angle
“Charity Begins At Home” — premise-y show of gang getting arrested
“Help Wanted” — best entry for Joe Flynn’s character
“The Income Tax Caper” — affable dream sequence
“Double Exposure” — Joey plays himself here; key to what lies ahead
“Very Warm For Christmas” — Jillson debuts
“A Show Of His Own” — start of the retooling, also a Danny Thomas plot
“The Image” — first attempt to find conflict with new work vs. home construct
Season Two (1962-1963, NBC)
02) Episode 46: “Joey’s Lucky Cuff Links” (Aired: 12/15/62)
Joey’s search for a missing pair of cuff links takes him to the laundromat.
Teleplay by Fred S. Fox & Iz Elinson | Story by Garry Marshall & Fred Freeman | Directed by James V. Kern
If you’re looking for the funniest episode of the entire run, it’s this one — an imaginative yet not unrealistic premise that starts by rooting itself in a quirky insecurity of Joey’s, his need to perform with his lucky pair of cuff links, which slightly fleshes out his personality and makes him feel like a real person, and then takes us to the laundromat where we’re introduced to Jane Dulo and Muriel Landers as Natalie and Mildred, the daffy co-owners who mistakenly come to believe that Joey’s quest for his missing cuff links is just a pretense to snooker the two of them on Candid Camera. It’s hilarious — and these ladies have the distinction of being the best laugh-out-loud characters on the whole series; that’s why they were used three more times within the next nine months, but never again so effortlessly or originally as here. A gem!
Other memorable episodes from Season Two include (the underlining is for emphasis):
“Penguins Three” — Hilda debuts, Guy Marks clowns
“Joey Takes A Physical” — Danny Thomas story, with a Dick Van Dyke routine
“Double Time” — funny premise, but remake of a Season One show
“Jillson And The Cinnamon Buns” — another funny premise, but one-joke and illogical
“Freddie Goes Highbrow” — more Guy Marks clowning
“Joey’s House Guest” — best use of Larry in story
“The Baby Formula” — Joey and Larry in the kitchen, amusing
“Joey’s Dramatic Debut” — fine centerpiece, wish it was better motivated
“Joey And The Laundry Bag” — laundry ladies back on TV
“My Son, The Doctor” — dream sequence sketch-like comedy with famous ad lib
“My Buddy, My Buddy” — Buddy Hackett and Danny Thomas guest
“The Baby Cometh” — birth show, derivative of Lucy and Dick Van Dyke
Season Three (1963-1964, NBC)
03) Episode 68: “The Baby’s First Day” (Aired: 09/21/63)
Joey is overprotective when his son comes home from the hospital.
Written by Harry Crane and John Tackaberry | Directed by James V. Kern
Contrary to what some online episode guides say, this is the season’s second offering, and the first with Joey Jr. back from the hospital. I feature it here because it’s the best of the baby shows, a genre of story that gives the series some much needed narrative ammunition and generally precludes the over-reliance on unnecessary guests. There’s lots of fun in this one, particularly from Joey himself, whose overprotectiveness around the baby helps to motivate a memorable climax in which he’s mistaken for a burglar (because of the mask on his face).
04) Episode 76: “Joey And The Andrews Sisters” (Aired: 11/16/63)
Joey hopes to join the Andrews Sisters in a song when they guest on his show.
Written by Harry Crane and Garry Marshall | Directed by James V. Kern
Next to the aforementioned classic with the laundry ladies, this is probably the only other segment of Joey Bishop that deserves any real attention, and I discussed it above in the essay because it’s the series’ first significant attempt to exploit one of Joey’s flaws for comedy — in this case, his inability to sing. This is glorious — not only is it connected to his off-camera persona (as a member of the Rat Pack), but it’s essential to character-driven comedy, as Joey’s failure to croon is a self-deprecating form of humor akin to Jack Benny’s cheapness, or more similarly, his apparently awful violin playing. So, the script, for its incorporation of this character idea — while also making great use of its guest stars — is therefore the series’ smartest.
05) Episode 81: “Jack Carter Helps Joey Propose” (Aired: 01/04/64)
Joey and Jack Carter recall how Joey proposed to Ellie.
Written by Harry Crane and Garry Marshall | Directed by James V. Kern
One of many narrative examples throughout the series’ run of singular episodes that are very plainly attempting to copy Dick Van Dyke, this installment is the first of Three’s two flashback shows — an idea-driven gimmick that Carl Reiner employed with frequency, because it allowed him to explore his characters with the extra oomph inherent to this gaudy device. Now, flashbacks worked well (most of the time) on that series because it had the characters to support them, and Joey Bishop can’t claim the same, but this entry, guest starring Jack Carter and his wife Paula Stewart, is cute, funny, and comes close to being what it wants to be.
06) Episode 84: “Joey’s Hideaway Cabin” (Aired: 01/25/64)
Joey and his crew head up to a rustic cabin that turns out to be rundown.
Written by Paul Bregman and Harvey Helm | Directed by James V. Kern
It’s possible this outing could have been kept with the Honorable Mentions, but I think it’s more memorable than what I’ve assembled below, for despite its routine rundown rustic cabin plot, which invites amiable physical gags that are nevertheless unoriginal, it also includes a cameo from Don Knotts as Barney Fife of The Andy Griffith Show, another series under the Danny Thomas umbrella (although not one Joey Bishop sought to imitate). And it’s fun.
Other memorable episodes from Season Three include (the underlining is for emphasis):
“Joey Plugs The Laundry” — last appearance of the laundry ladies
“Joey’s Mustache” — Persky/Denoff script, appealing low-concept (but familiar) premise
“Danny Gives Joey Advice” — very gimmicky guest appearance by Danny Thomas
“The Baby Sitter” — low-concept, Joey does his act
“Joey’s Lost What-Cha-Ma-Call It” — original idea, Stanley Holloway and Jack Benny cameo
“Joey Meets Edgar Bergen” — Victorious Premise of Bergen helping do talking baby prank
“Joey’s Surprise For Ellie” — unoriginal story, but amusing moments
“Two Little Maids Are We” — Joey and Larry work well as a duo, expansion of earlier idea
“Double Play From Foster To Durocher To Joey” — funny idea featuring Phil Foster and Leo Durocher, and with a Persky/Denoff script, but no character concerns whatsoever
“Joey The Comedian Vs. Larry The Writer” — feels self-referential, appreciate the honesty
“Joey, Jack Jones, And The Genie” — the year’s dream sequence show, about Joey’s singing
Season Four (1964-1965, CBS)
07) Episode 103: “The Nielsen Box” (Aired: 11/01/64)
Joey and Larry are convinced that Hilda has become a Nielsen viewer.
Written by Sam Locke & Joel Rapp | Directed by Jerry Paris
Unlike the season premiere, which relishes in its newfound realism by being self-referential on the series’ cancellation and move to CBS, this offering goes beyond its story interests and showcases the same intelligence through established character relationships. That’s right — for with Joey and Larry self-conscious about the ratings for Joey’s new show, they erroneously come to believe that Hilda has become a Nielsen viewer (someone whose viewing habits inform the ratings that networks use to decide shows’ fates), forcing them to treat her nicer than they ever have before. No other entry is as able to project both the year’s self-awareness with an admirable understanding of character. Also, note that Dick Van Dyke‘s Jerry Paris directs.
Other memorable episodes from Season Four include (the underlining is for emphasis):
“Joey Goes To CBS” — so self-referential about the move, this signals new style
“Joey Goes To A Poker Party” — fine, comedic premise, not unbelievable
“Jillson’s Toupee” — one of the few shows for Besser’s character
“A Hobby For Ellie” — all built to get the gag of Joey and Larry fighting while painting
“The Weed City Story” — Cliff Arquette guests as Charley Weaver
“Joey Entertains Rusty’s Fraternity” — third and final Rusty show, excuse to get men in drag
“The Do-It-Yourself Nursery” — old routine of the two guys making a mess of the nursery
“Larry’s Habit” — enjoyable comic premise, lots of Larry
Come back next week for another Wildcard! And stay tuned Tuesday for more Danny Thomas!
Joey Bishop was never likable, engaging or funny. His Tonight Show appearances that have survived on YouTube are painfully uncomfortable to watch.
Hi, Guy! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Although some might disagree with you, I won’t. The only time I’ve ever found Bishop moderately charming is on WHAT’S MY LINE? when he, ever cultured and untouchable, is made to be the unknowing jester like the rest of his peers, which slightly humbles him.
I never had a chance to see this show until it was picked up by Antenna a few years ago. I was fascinated by tracking the many changes, but to my chagrin found that quality never improved: it was always one of those bland entities. I agree that Joey himself is part of the problem. If he was going to be in a hit, it was going to be because everything around him was so good that it could compensate.
I really enjoyed how you showed the “Dick Van Dyke” influences and why they still didn’t work. This was another outstanding, thoughtful piece. Monday and Tuesday nights in quarantine are my favorite because of your blog! I’m so glad you went back to the 1950’s and 1960’s.
Hi, Nat! Thanks for reading and commenting.
That’s a very nice compliment — thank you!
You watched all the episodes of this, Jackson? You deserve a medal! You are so right about Bishop–no appeal at all. How the heck was a show built around him? The only reason I’d watch this series is to see a young Marlo, Abby Dalton, and even Mary Treen. Not to see Joey!
Hi, Mark! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Yes, but in my defense, many of them were watched on 1.5x speed!
One of the writers said in an interview that in the episode where Joey plays dual roles he complained that the second character got more laughs. This perhaps says it all!
Hi, John! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Yes, Fred Freeman said that and it seems to have been one of Bishop’s running complaints — Joe Flynn and Guy Marks were both pink-slipped for allegedly the same reason. Incidentally, Thomas liked the latter well enough to give him work on DANNY THOMAS during ’63-’64 in the hopes of eventually finding the right vehicle. That ended up being RANGO.
Thanks for doing this writeup. I really enjoy your blog.
This show baffles me. I’ve always found Joey Bishop supremely untalented and unlikeable. Why there was so much effort to build a show around him (and constantly retool it when it wasn’t successful) is beyond me. I’ve read a few interviews with various writers who said he was difficult to work with. And I also read that Danny Thomas forced CBS to pick it up because of a clause in his development deal with the network. CBS didn’t want it, threw it up against “Bonanza” to kill it, and ordered them to stop color filming because they didn’t want to spend money on it.
Hi, Kyle! Thanks for reading and commenting.
I’ve not found any corroborating evidence as to Thomas forcing CBS to take THE JOEY BISHOP SHOW. Everything I’ve seen indicates that CBS decided, two months after setting its fall schedule, that it didn’t want to go through with its planned new comedy for William Bendix and Martha Raye (BILL & MARTHA) — allegedly because of his ill health — and then had to scramble for a replacement. Joey Bishop was a known quantity whose show had just been cancelled by NBC but was still in talks with that network to do an hour-long talk/variety series, so he was quickly selected to reassemble his crew and take over the important 9:30 spot opposite BONANZA. (And CBS really did want to make that hour competitive. Believe it or not, they really thought they had a contender in MY LIVING DOLL!)
Ironically, Bishop was moving to CBS just as Thomas was going to NBC, along with Jack Benny, one of Bishop’s high-profile fans. It seems odd to both of us, but Bishop was well-regarded in the early ’60s (perhaps mostly by people who never worked with him – ha!), and at one time, all the networks were eager to find a vehicle for him.
This is an amazing piece. My favorite was season two. I always liked Guy Marks more than Corbett Monica. I think you nailed it on your assessment of this show’s many problems. Too many writer’s room changes and no real commitment to Make this show this show great as with DVD or The DTS.
Hi, Rusty! Thanks for reading and commenting.
I think we’ve been primed to consider Season Two a superior collection due to the narrative of Marks so outshining Bishop that he was fired, and the fact that, for a while, this was the only year released on DVD. I wish I could say I was as impressed as I was supposed to be.
I came across your blog when I saw both Abby Dalton (s2-4) and Warren Berlinger (s1) passed away this week. I think that leaves Marlo Thomas as the last surviving main cast member of The Joey Bishop Show.
I’ve been watching this on Antenna TV for the past few years as I get ready for work. I always felt it’s a watchable show but slightly off for the reasons you stated. The wife often acted like a cliche TV wife. Jillson was poorly used. It’s good eye candy for MCM decor.
There’s one episode where Joey dreams he’s a rock star. It comes across like he’s making fun of what he doesn’t yet realize is going the next big thing (rock n roll) that will soon overtake the nightclub crooners to which he was accustomed.
Hi, nixit! Thanks for reading and commenting.
The episode you’re referring to is Season Three’s “Joey, Jack Jones, And The Genie” (shot in February 1964), and I think you’re right — the “Grasshoppers” dream is lampooning the then-new Beatlemania, treating it like a fad without knowing how the music industry would significantly change over the next few years.
Joey’s defensiveness made for an interesting lead I guess. I find this show more interesting that something like Good Morning World, which hits all of the marks but nothing more.
I only watched the color episodes, though, which are a treat coming from that era.
You are right, the baby helped this show, humanized Joey. If they’d kept Guy Marks, he and Jillson probably could have made for a funny enough show with Joey playing it straighter, or if they’d just embraced Joey’s underlying attitude (which I think would have been unusual at the time.)
Sue me, I would watch this over Dick Van Dyke Show. DVD Show does not work for me because I don’t like how the characters interact. Rob Petrie and his wife I view as being too perfect, not having relatable problems, and I think the clear pecking order of the show, with the far schlubbier Rose Marie and Morey Amsterdam, and Richard Deacon constantly getting picked on – it’s just not a tone I ever liked.
Hi, Jay! Thanks for reading and commenting.
In order for Bishop’s defensiveness to be asserted as Joey’s primary character trait, he’d have to do more reacting to offensive sidekicks, which means he’d first have to let other sidekicks do more acting opposite him. And, as we know, Bishop wasn’t exactly interested in sharing his spotlight — that’s also why Joey’s not the straight man to anyone else. What’s more, he didn’t like being the butt of jokes, which made it impossible for writers to give his character a sustaining flaw or quirk that could be comedically exploited. (A few scripts in Season Three toy with the idea that he’s insecure over his singing, but they’re the exception — not the rule.) So, it was a catch-22 of Bishop’s own making: he was denying others around him the chance to be funny while making it difficult for himself to be depicted as funny too. He was his own show’s worst enemy — and it never ever would have changed unless he did.
As for THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, I would challenge over 90% of the examples you’d cite in support of an argument that Rob and Laura’s conflicts are not relatable, particularly in relation to THE JOEY BISHOP SHOW’s, which I presume you’re alleging (by referencing both series in this context), has more relatable conflicts. This is because, frankly, I don’t think there’s any universe where regulars who are as perennially undefined as Joey and Ellie could inspire more believable stories than Rob and Laura, who, yes, are idealized (the genre was consciously aiming to add sex appeal to suburbia), but are also made to cause the majority of the weekly dramas in which they participate. That is, they are the source of their problems, which means they have to project some basic, recognizable, and recurring flaws in support of them. Do you think the same is true of Joey and Ellie? I don’t.
And regarding “schlubbier” characters being “picked on,” does that not bother you on JOEY BISHOP too, considering that Joey and Ellie are essentially a perfect couple impervious to criticism, while less attractive supporting cast members Jillson and Hilda are ridiculed for being less desirable in comparison (with many jokes literally hinged around their looks)? I mean, I would think the clear “pecking order” in this show would not work for you as well, especially because the disparity between these two sets of characters’ narrative/comedic usages is so glaring, setting a tone that’s, well, not exactly affable either. And, unlike DICK VAN DYKE, there’s no universally applied humanity balancing things out.
I won’t belabor the point on DVD Show. I recognize the influence. Just can’t relate. There are a number of dated elements to the show as far as gender roles. Maybe Rob and Laura Petrie cause their own problems, but to me they just seem too perfect. The dance routines don’t help. Rob falling over the ottoman isn’t enough.
Joey Bishop doesn’t seem perfect to me. He seems like a hot comic shoehorned into a sitcom. Maybe his show was more influential than we think in that sense. There certainly were a lot of those later on, maybe that’s why I can relate a bit. Seems more contemporary, especially the color episodes.
I wouldn’t boost it as some great show. You and I have pointed out the weaknesses. But maybe Joey’s defensiveness adds an unintentional edge that I like. Van Dyke was the better actor, I like him in other stuff. Bishop really isn’t worth seeking out as an actor.
Every work of television is “dated” because it’s meant for consumption at a specific time and place. There’s not a single show covered on this blog that doesn’t reinforce the era in which it was made, and applying a modern bias to knock the quality of a work from the past is disingenuous, particularly when it’s selective. For instance, calling out DICK VAN DYKE for the way it depicts “gender roles” but not JOEY BISHOP, which consciously sought to emulate the former, doesn’t make sense; if you don’t like Laura’s treatment, wouldn’t Ellie’s bother you too?
Also, none of that has anything to do with how the shows are actually written — how they’re able to create a series of comic situations using characters with recognizable continuities. Here, there’s an obvious distinction: THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW has well-defined leads in a low-concept structure where they propel the weekly comic plots, while the similarly premised THE JOEY BISHOP SHOW struggles to do the same. You’ve proved my point via examples; there are “dance routines” on DICK VAN DYKE because Rob is in show business and Laura was a USO dancer. In fact, they only started dating after they performed together for the army (episode five). That’s a fundamental part of their backstory and who they are, so it’s not extraneous when they sing and dance, it’s supported by their well-established history and motivated by his career — their identities.
Also, Rob doesn’t just fall over the ottoman in the opening credits — he’s clumsy right from the start (episode two), and works for a Sid Caesar-esque TV comic for whom he crafts physical routines in this same “ripped-from-real life” spirit. That’s another part of who he is — relatable because it’s consistent and clear, specific to how he’s depicted in the premise and in plot. In contrast, “Joey’s defensiveness” is not ever a conscious trait used by scripts to maximize laughs or story — you may infer a hard-edged attitude about him, but it’s not enough to describe the way he exists in relation to others, primarily for the reason already discussed (that is, it’s a reactive behavior that would require Joey to play against more active figures around him, and this is something Bishop simply doesn’t let his show have).
Meanwhile, with regard to Rob and Laura being perfect, that’s simply not true. Their life is romanticized — on that I agree — but she is constantly making silly choices in her quest to be the perfect wife and mom, leading to regular snafus and probable tears. As for Rob, he’s more of an Everyman anchor in the structure that MTM’s comedies would later popularize, but he’s still comedically off-center — a people-pleasing bumbler, particularly in uncomfortable spots. This is instructive, for Reiner’s show was an early ambassador for this totally low-concept style, where the leads have no premise-motivating goals or obvious flaws, rendering their conflicts accordingly small and garden variety, but supported by the emotional stakes of palpably human leads in relatable, down-to-earth situations (and within Rob’s general DANNY THOMAS-esque work vs. home clash, established in the pilot and reiterated periodically thereafter).
In other words, Rob may not have the major imperfection of Gracie Allen’s unintelligence, and he’s never paired with an overarching objective like Lucy’s desire to break out of the home, but Reiner proves that it doesn’t matter: smaller wants and less exaggerated shortcomings can also drive weekly plots and bring laughs when they’re backed in a sustaining framework by the continuity of a reliable characterization. This is not a lack of definition — it’s a nuanced, more realistic one. And it represents an evolution in the sitcom genre that would continue in the ‘70s and beyond. However, it isn’t seen on JOEY BISHOP, which is similarly low-concept but far less precise with character, making both comedy and drama hard to wrangle — we yearn for something as elemental as a flaw or an objective for Joey that could focus story and create a recurring comedic personality… because he doesn’t have one. That’s the problem.
To that point, I don’t think there’s anything influential about JOEY BISHOP. It cribbed its premise from other, more successful shows (like DICK VAN DYKE), wasn’t the first to “shoehorn” a nightclub comic into a domestic format with self-referential show biz trappings (DANNY THOMAS is the most notable ‘50s example), and, unlike DICK VAN DYKE, it never created an ethos that future sitcoms would try to replicate, because what writer would want to model his creation on a troubled series that was neither a critical or commercial hit? Now, if JOEY BISHOP seems “contemporary” because later decades would offer more mediocre star vehicles with ill-defined leads, then I agree, but why should that be a reason to appreciate it, especially over the more obviously consequential DICK VAN DYKE?